Postcard from The Top of The World – Mount Everest Trek – Nepal

(Writings from my Nepal / China Travels)

“Is it not easy to be a wise man on top of a mountain”.
W. Somerset Maugham —- from The Razor’s Edge

My room was basic, quiet and achingly cold. Begrudgingly, I shuffled my body away from the warm multi-layered blankets and sleeping bag, turning my head toward the window to gaze out into the night.

The prior afternoon, I was climbing the steep mountain ascent that begins above the Himalayan village, Namche Bazaar, when a series of clouds swiftly vanquished a previously gorgeous blue sky, enveloping the lower peaks and cloaking me in a sea of ethereal chilled clouds. The stunted alpine trees and grassy hillsides I was walkking through abruptly took on a mysterious tone.
Soon descending, distant human and animal sounds reached my ears, telling me my destination was near, the Sherpa village of Khumjung.
By nightfall, the fog had gradually lifted over the mountain village, however, the Himalayas, including Mount Everest, still remained a mystery.

For the second night, I was the only guest at a Sherpa family operated lodge that I had chosen for my stay. The warm fireplace stove situated in the center of the dining room was a great welcome and relief, especially since heating sources are a scarce commodity. The food was tasty and filling. The family’s husband loaned me a book on Sir Edmund Hillary, the book dedicated to the 50th anniversary of his Everest summit. I asked if he and his wife had ever met Hillary and he said, “Yes, many times, including the big party thrown in Kathmandu three years ago celebrating the 50th anniversary.” I said “very cool” and we shared a cup of tea.
Since the summit, Sir Edmund Hillary had continued to contribute a great portion of his life to the betterment of the Sherpa people, a people he had become so fond of and admired.

Bedtime is always early in this cold region. I scrambled under my blankets and prayed for clear skies in the morning.
My prayers were answered. I was awestruck when I looked out my bedroom window.

A moonlit night, an abundant horizon of Himalayan giants, including the “Big Guy”, Mount Everest, glowed in the near distance, while crystal clear, sparkling stars danced over their heads. The uniquely shaped Ama Dablam was regally crowned with the Southern Cross constellation. The time was 2AM. I could not wait for daylight.

Morning light marked a truly memorable moment. I was staring at the “top of the world”, Mount Everest and friends: Nuptse, Lhotse, Ama Dablam, and other snow-frosted, steel gray masters of the Himalayan range. The grandeur of the landscape was breathtaking, humbling. I shared many respectful salutations with the peaks, ranging in languages from Nepalese to Navajo. I joyfully shouted the Basque cheer and even did an Irish jig. It was, you may guess, an exciting moment.

Worlds apart from where I stood, these peaks held their court, lived on their own terms far from humanities’ influences. This was the realm of the snow leopard and the Yeti, a fiercely frozen, inhospitable, glorious region.

I thought, if I did come across the Yeti, on the trail, he’d probably freak, immediately reverse direction, hightailing down the mountainside muttering “I’d heard the stories about the existence of the Pecoskid but…I …I really didn’t think he existed!!!”
To no avail, I’d call after him saying “But I thought we’d have espresso!”

So how did I get to this place? The Himalayan Everest trek began with a Yeti Airlines flight from Kathmandu to Lukla. The small aircraft rises over the Kathmandu Valley and within minutes is within view of the approaching Himalayan mountains. The journey climaxes with a swift descent to a narrow mountain valley where Lukla’s small inclined runway assists arrivals.

I grab my backpack, say “no guides, no porters” to many an anxious Nepalese, lift the bag onto my shoulders and proceed briskly forward through Lukla to the beginning demarcation of the trail. Even from Lukla, there are dramatic views of several peaks, their shimmering sections of bleached-white snow set against the steelly gray granite rock peeking above the green canyon valley I now traversed.

The initial five miles of trail is fairly level, sloping first down to the river, past several villages, and gradually ascending parallel to the river. Along the trail, many Swiss-built, reinforced steel cable bridges crisscross the river. They don’t sway TOO much, depending on how many yaks and porters are also on the bridge. Let your eyes drift downward and you realize how small the river now looks!

This particular trail is heavily traveled by trekkers, porters and beasts of burden alike. Initially I maneuver pass the large group processions, each accompanied by their guides and porters. These processions, however, pale in size to the leagues of sherpas and their labored yaks, that regularly traverse this trail’s steep stone steps to deliver supplies to the trail’s linked villages, some many miles away. You skirt along a narrow section of the trail and bang! you have to find a safe spot to position yourself as a long yak team comes lumbering in your direction.

The scenery along the trail is simply beautiful: crystal clear blue river, occasional waterfalls, interesting villages draped in prayer flags, and the occasional appearance from one of the locals.
To my surprise few people, trekkers and locals alike, bothered to take a moment to find a spot to rest their gear and marvel at their surroundings. I did as often as I could.

The scenery directly on the trail usually consists of gray slippery stones, gravel, loose dirt, wet mud and plenty of yak dung! Several Buddhist stupas are positioned along the trail, offering comfort to those laboring sherpas. The sherpa, men and women, all ages, carry everything: full cases of beer and whiskey, propane tanks, beds, wooden beams, you name a product…it’s on their backs!

I spent a very pleasant first night with a Sherpa family. Besides the spectacular moonlight enhanced views of the mountains, waterfall, river, and forested canyon that night, I also gained a friend…the family pet dog. He took a liking to me and sometime in the middle of the night, he had pushed my poorly latched door open so he could sleep on the bed next to mine.

The second day included a steep 2000 foot climb to Namche Bazaar, the veritable metropolis (there’s a lodge with electricity) within the Sherpa Khumbu region.
Always the day’s highlight was gazing upward at those massive snow and rock monoliths, the day’s altering light and moonlight providing different shades and moods to the Himalayas.

This was still an ancient landscape, watched over for centuries by the regions traditional mountain people, the Sherpa. Even here, the encroachment of the modern world provides amusing dichotomies as young Sherpa ogled their cell phones after they’d spent the afternoon grinding corn the same way they had for centuries. The old and the new worlds colliding again.

Each year, more people attempt to summit Mount Everest. Each year, more large groups of ill-prepared, ill fit hikers attempt the trek to base camp. Each year, more red rescue helicopters fly out some of those ill-prepared hikers, at considerable personal expense. On my return, ninety marathon runners passed, upward bound to run a marathon, a route that passed Everest base camp, crossed an 18,000 ft. mountain pass that circled over to Gokyo and back down to Namche Bazaar. More power to them, I thought.

Back in Kathmandu, I smiled when a young Swede told me he decided to see Mount Everest by plane. As his plane passed Mount Everest, he was going to raise his gin and tonic glass, look out the window and toast the poor fools down below struggling up the mountain.

For me, the sweat and struggle of the trekking journey just makes the view of the “top of the world” that much sweeter and a heck of a natural high!

To see more of my Nepal photography, travel books, and more, please visit www.michaelmcguerty.com

Mount Everest View

Everest Trek

Sherpa Kids on Everest Trek

Posted in Nepal Travel, Travel | 5 Comments

Postcards From Cambodia

(Writings from my recent Southeast Asia Travels, sometime in mid-March)

Remember, when exploring Angkor Wat, it’s best to arrive at the crack of dawn. That’s the bewitching hour when the Khmer ancestral faces embedded in the temple rocks come alive!

While other tourists waited patiently in front of Angkor Wat to snap a picture of the morning sun rising over the temple’s shoulders, I continued riding my bicycle toward the “great city” Angkor Thom. The path led me across the moat and through the first stone gate that guarded the great city. A light mist rolled across the mischievous stone faces that encompass the legendary Bayan temple towers.

Several hundred yards up ahead, I could see a dozen elephants lumbering through the tall trees, each driven by a determined master. As I closed the distance on the temple, to my puzzlement, I could find neither elephant nor its driver in sight. Had the dawn’s flickering beams tricked my eyes?

Suddenly, the temple’s smiling faces burst into laughter, generating such a force the very foundation that held the stone walkway where I stood quaked. The reverberation sent a fleet of small, nimble monkeys clamoring from the temple’s westernmost shadows, gaining momentum as the monkeys scurried in my direction.

Now the laughter turned ugly as the stone faces’ eyes narrowed. In unison, a low frequency baritone mantra followed: “Boom Shaka Laka Boom!”; a low frequency mantra that stirred earthly objects. Within seconds, enormous tree roots flowed forward, carrying themselves and panic-stricken monkeys dangerously close to me.

My instincts keen, I swung my right hand to my side and miraculously whipped out a paintbrush and a can of green paint. I wildly swung, painting everything green in my path; first monkeys, then giant roots, progressing forward toward the temple. Every stone face gasped as I covered them in green paint, swiftly sequestering them into silence.
At a fevered pitch I continued, adorning Bayon, then the Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King in a fresh coat of emerald green. Finally reaching exhaustion, I stopped, resting on a stone elephant. So exhausted I must have dozed off for I was awoken by the gasps from a crowd of stunned tourists staring at me and the shining green temples. “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE !!!!!”, they yelled.

The scream in my head awakened me from my incredulous dream. I glanced about my hotel room and sighed. “Wow”, I thought. “I guess I shouldn’t have gone to bed with Angkor Wat and St. Patrick’s Day on my mind!”

The ancient Kmer kingdom Angkor Wat is Cambodia’s heart and soul, a revered heritage and symbol of Cambodian pride that can be seen on everything from the Cambodian flag to its premier beer.
The Angkor Wat complex is vast, spreading across a level plain for many miles, the largest structures being Angkor Wat and the “great city” Angkor Thom. The rectangular moats that encompass these two complexes, the intricately carved bas reliefs and rock sculptures, the architectural complexities and the impressive city planning layout of the entire kingdom represented an incredible achievement by its artisans, engineers and architects of not only their time, but any time in man’s history.

Angkor Wat’s prominence primarily came from its strategic position along the pilgrim trade route that connected India with China, reaching its pinnacle in the 13th century. Quite interesting how so many of the world’s great ancient kingdoms reached great heights during this century. While Europeans were still stacking dung in the countryside and chasing rats away from their dinner plates, wealthy kingdoms such as Kmer’s Angkor Wat, Siam’s Sukothai, Peru’s Incas, the Mongolian Empire ruled by the Khan family (Kubla, Ganghis, and Shaka), the Ottoman Empire in Turkey, and the Anasazi Indians in the American Southwest were all flourishing.
Yet look at today’s societies in Peru, Mongolia, Cambodia, or even Italy or Greece today compared to their Roman and Greek Empire heritage. What rises, falls, nothing is permanent, and what falls may rise again.

Where Angkor Wat reign supreme, ruling lands that included parts of Thailand and Laos, today’s Cambodia ranks as the poorest nation in Southeast Asia, still struggling to get on its feet after the devastating effects of its 1970s civil war and the Kmer Rouge reign of terror.

Strange how in a poor country such as Cambodia when you’re driving through the countryside in a bus how much more picturesque the villages and landscape appear; ample rural scenes, villagers still living in wooden huts on stilts, animals in the family courtyard, oxen in the fields and pulling carts of wood, naked kids running around in the yard laughing, moms preparing dinner as the intense rays of the sun start to fade. One man’s picturesque is another man’s poverty. Yet is it poverty and how would one define poverty.

The Cambodian Buddhist monks I met in the wat courtyard in Siem Reap live life modestly, performing work around their wat while also relying on food from others’ generosity. The fellows I met were all well spoken, speaking English, smiles broad and explaining how they hope to pass on their education by teaching Cambodian kids English and other life skills. One even bid me goodbye in French.

My best conversation while in Siem Reap came just hours before I had to leave Cambodia, speaking with a Cambodian man, thirty years of age who managed a nice small restaurant. He’d seen me order my morning cup of coffee the last three days and that morning sat down to talk. He grew up in one of those same poor picturesque villages I had witnessed through a passing bus window, a village where his family had farmed for a modest living.

They moved to Siem Reap in 1991. It was still a small village at that time. There was no markets, no goods for sale, one lone foreigner hotel, few motorbikes, fewer cars. Clothes were old traditional sarongs, shoes were made from old tires. Yet his family was large and no one went hungry, well not too hungry. He said soldiers would occasionally fire their rifles at birds in the trees for a source of food.

His family and friends made ends meet through bartering of food and services. His grandfather had escaped Cambodia to Thailand with many of his uncles and aunts during the Kmer Rouge purges, coming back in the early 90s to Cambodia with some money to invest in a restaurant. With the early 90s recent renovations and tourist promotion of Angkor Wat, investment money came to Siem Reap and the tourist economy grew. He wears good shoes and good clothes now. He’s lived poor and now lives well, at least by Cambodian standards.

And so I thanked him for his story, a very Cambodian story, and we wished each other well.

To see more of my travel photography, and travel books, please visit www.michaelmcguerty.com

Posted in philosophical, Travel | 8 Comments

Travel Postcards – Camp Columbia

(Writing excerpt from my South America travels)

What I did on my summer vacation….
Completing my sixth week exploring Camp Ecuador, I decided with one week left before returning back to the States to venture north to Columbia….Camp Columbia.

An auspicious beginning, the border crossing was painless. I left the Ecuadorian border town, Tulcan, early Sunday morning by minibus, covering the few remaining kilometers to the border. A naturally defined border, a bridge traverses an Andean river overlooking lush surroundings. The Ecuadorian side had no immigration line, so with a quick passport stamp I nonchalantly cross the bridge to Columbia where I as effortlessly received my entrance passport stamp, quickly exchange money, and begin my journey into Columbia.

In Ecuador, the massive Andean mountain range forms a singular spinal column up the country’s midsection. Upon reaching Columbia, the Andes splits into three separate mountain ranges. The tumultuous division is dramatically illustrated along the road to Popayan, a colonial city some 200 hundred miles north of the Ecuadorian border.

The journey’s first phase is defined by verdant mountainous terrain and chilled air. As the range begins to formulate its divergences, wider, deeper valleys emerge as the road begins its descent. Soon, deep valleys transform into dramatic, plummeting gorges, the landscape now barren and desert-like. Villagers set up modest restaurants to serve passing travelers, their worn structures perched precariously on the mountainside edge.

The road continues weaving downward to a river crossing, suddenly rising precipitously back upward, then downward again, continuing this rollercoaster ride for many more miles as buses and trucks steadily strain their gears.

I must have dosed off during this rollercoaster ride for I soon awoke to discover a sharply contrasting tropical scene outside my window; tall jungle growth encroaching the edges of the pavement. Here’s where the journey gets interesting.

As the bus approached a small village a roadblock impeded our advancement. A half dozen men dressed in guerrilla camouflage fatigues waved our bus to a full stop. They identified themselves as members of the guerrilla group FURC, a benign offshoot of the more notorious group FARC. They were looking for people to volunteer themselves as hostages. I was the only foreigner on board. Seeing my hesitation they quickly announce that tonight back at the guerrilla camp they were having an outdoor showing of classic Laurel and Hardy movies, popcorn included. The enticement worked…. I volunteered.

A covered truck was waiting for us. To keep their whereabouts secret, I allowed the men to blindfold me. The journey seemed an eternity, bouncing around in the back of their truck. Finally we stopped and my blindfold was removed. Squinting, my eyes slowly adjusted to the dim jungle light. The compound was modest in size. My nostrils stung from the pungent odors of farm animals and human sweat. Fortunately, the aroma from the freshly buttered popcorn mollified the less pleasant odors.

As I started to sit down on a log to watch the movies, I saw her: caramel-colored skin, statuesque and garbed in jungle camouflage, the Columbian woman introduced herself as FURC’s leader. The moment was lust at first sight. While the FURC men were preoccupied laughing and eating popcorn, we snuck into her large canvas tent and made passionate love.

The next few days flowed lazily like the tropical heat. Good Columbian espresso in the morning followed by volleyball games between the guerrillas and the hostages. The guerrillas had mistakenly taken as hostages, two champion volleyball players; one Brazilian and one Swedish. Needless to say our hostage team kicked ass!

Finally Friday arrived and although nobody in the outside world had paid my dollar hostage ransom I told the FURC members I had to get back to Ecuador. The Columbian woman reluctantly agreed. Since the group had cunningly confiscated a helicopter from a military installation many months back, they hoped to use the helicopter to haul a lavish jacuzzi from a prominent political figure’s residence back to their compound, to help them entice more volunteer hostages. I told them to e-mail me when they do.

I thought to mention that, as a possible alternative income source, they might consider getting on the ecotourism bandwagon by creating FURC tours. They pondered this new idea.

After saying our goodbyes, they retied my blindfold, we jumped into the truck and returned through the jungle to civilization.

That’s one version of what happened during my Columbian visit. Now…here’s another.

One of the joys and challenges to traveling is separating fact from fiction, the truth from the myth. Though far from completely safe, guerrilla encounters along the major Columbian travel routes have diminished considerably in recent years. My journey to and from Popayan went very smoothly, without incident.
The occasional bus robbery does occur, primarily at night. Are they FARC influenced or just the criminal habits of thieves and thugs. Who knows?

FARC does wield considerable influence in the outlying countryside and villages near Popayan however no tourist, from what I’ve heard, has been bothered. All travelers I’ve spoken with had not encountered any problems and were thoroughly enjoying their travels through Columbia. The usual safeguards and cautions to traveling certainly still apply, especially in the big cities.

Popayan is a very easygoing city, especially in the old town’s colonial section; Whitewashed buildings, wrought iron balconies, churches around every other corner. Popayan had been the seat of power several centuries ago while the region was still under Spanish rule. Power later ceded to Bogota and Popayan, probably to its benefit, has maintained backseat status ever since.

After suffering a devastating earthquake in 1983, within the last ten years, Popayan has gone through a complete renovation, resurrecting itself to surpass its former glory.
My first night in Popayan I experienced a 6.8 magnitude earthquake while sitting in my hostal. The epicenter was over 150 miles away deep below the Columbian coast surface. No damage done in Popayan, just a wild rolling sensation.

A university town, the cultural amenities in Popayan are plentiful as are the beautiful women. The cafes are plentiful as well. Their interiors speak volumes, alluding to a rich colorful history; old, dark wooden chairs and tables, hard wood floors and balconies, cracked stucco and faded cultural posters.

Sipping my espresso I gazed toward the open door and the passing crowd. I can imagine militias and guerrillas running past, protesters marching by, workmen moving their horse drawn work carts and colorful villagers moving their produce on the backs of llamas. Was it yesterday or was it two, three centuries ago. Not too much has changed here in Columbia. And, what great coffee!

To view my travel books and see more of my travel photography, please visit www.michaelmcguerty.com
Also, please feel free to comment on this post and other articles of mine. I appreciate the feedback!

Posted in philosophical, S. America travel, Travel | 1 Comment

President Obama’s Report Card

The August political doldrums have arrived, Congress is in recess and President Obama, after having already given us six months presidential service, has gone on vacation. What better time to evaluate his job performance, catching the politicians off-guard. If CNN can do it, so can I.

After six months at the helm, has President Obama met his expectations? Has he achieved or set in motion any of his campaign goals? Let’s take a look shall we:

First, I’d like to take this moment to offer my congratulations to the American voting majority who helped set a historical precedent this last presidential election. Through their actions, President Obama became the 21st century’s first intelligent, articulate, and humane U.S. president.

The heartfelt euphoria that erupted in the Santa Fe, New Mexico bars and streets after hearing Obama’s victory announcement was palpable. Everyone grinned and hugged, each person’s smile expressing a joyous collective recognition that a truly significant shift in our country’s direction had just occurred.

Two decades ago, this joyous energy reverberated throughout Berlin during the Berlin Wall dismantling, the iconic symbol that represented Communism’s collapse. Our November U.S. election night symbolized America’s defeat of Fascism or at least a crucial turning point in our social/political tide. On a personal note, I felt strange finding myself on the side of Victory, a rare occurrence since for two decades I’ve advocated honest, courageous yet politically obscure Libertarian, Green and Independent candidates.

However, as in Berlin, the jubilation subsides and everyday life settles back in to its various forms of reality. The Wall Street players may be celebrating a recovery gain this summer but back on Main Street, most Americans are still feeling the pain. Grist to the mill, roll up the sleeves, let’s give an honest review.

A seemingly innocuous achievement happened for Obama one warm July evening. The man looked cool throwing the first pitch at the All-Star Game. Name the last president we had that accomplished coolness: Bushes, forget about it. Clinton tried, Reagan tried, Kennedy probably qualified while Calvin “keepin’ the cool” Coolidge, sporting that colorful Indian chief headdress, was arguably the last to succeed in cool.
Why is this significant? Image is important, in our citizens’ eyes, as well as the worlds and our country’s image has been extremely tarnished by the last administration’s actions so coolness, as well as Obama’s propensity for intelligence, reason, and common decency, has already elevated our country’s stature.
Show respect, you get respect in turn. Recent polls indicating a distinct admiration for President Obama among young Arab and Persian men has to be disastrous for Muslim extremist recruitment. Bush was their best recruitment poster. Just by Obama’s presence, America has gained ground here.

Leave it to our friendly neighbors to the north, Canada, to provide a kind reminder on how people should behave. On a community center billboard in Vancouver, B.C., reads four simple rules for the children at the center to follow:
BE RESPONSIBLE AND RESPECTFUL, PLAY FAIR AND SHARE, SAY ‘NO’ TO ABUSE, and BE POSITIVE AND ENCOURAGING.

A president should set the tone and direction for his country. Former president Bush simply used America as a place for his wealthy business cronies to pillage and plunder. Reviewing recent Obama administration domestic policy changes, I believe he’s following those four simple rules’ philosophy. Here are a few of those policy changes already implemented:

Renewing stem cell research
Renewing the GI Bill benefits for Vets
As part of his economic/education stimulus plan, increased spending for Community Colleges which is central to his job creation strategies, part of a large push to retrain unemployed workers and prepare our US workforce.
Increase infrastructure funding including proposal for high speed rail system.
Increase environmental protections such as protecting Oregon’s old growth forest by repealing Bush-era clear cutting executive orders.
The expansion of the Americorp volunteer youth civil service program, creating new programs focused on strengthening schools, improving health care for low-income communities, boosting energy efficiency and cleaning up parks.
Alternative energy initiatives and greenhouse gas reforms
Tax incentives for new homebuyers to help stimulate housing market and for new car buyers to purchase more fuel efficient cars.

Utilizing the rules “play fair and share” and “say no to abuse” the Obama Administration has implemented the following changes to curb corporate abusive practices:

Helping the average American through the enacted Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act 2009, which implements credit card reforms on credit card companies.
The attempt to close corporate tax loopholes in the Cayman Islands.
Greater FDA rule enforcement on Big Business.
Greater accountability on Wall Street and corporate executive compensation.

I’m not a big government intervention fan, however, these efforts toward rebuilding, retooling, and rethinking a more egalitarian approach to our society, including an overhaul of our corrupt financial systems, are prudent solutions for this country at this time and I commend President Obama for making these efforts; efforts that I have not seen attempted during my adult years by any of our former presidents.

The big issue today is Obama’s healthcare reform bill. Should be easy right. Just eliminate the inflated greedy profits built into our current corrupt system by the insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, HMOs and the occasional doctor. Let’s face reality, we have socialized medicine today, whether through VA benefits or medicare. According to the World Health Organization’s latest survey, United States is #1 in total health expenditure per capita yet ranked #37 for overall health system performance. The problem with our American system is the only ones receiving tender loving care are the private corporations that are richly benefiting from our healthcare fiasco.

A pity the conservative political right doesn’t realize they’re being used and conned again by these very same corporations, thanks to their political and corporate media hacks. Stay vigilant Obama and don’t capitulate to the Republican corporate pressures.

I do feel however the corporate bailout he endorsed was wrong, very wrong, rewarding irresponsible behavior. Would the other political candidates have done different? Only Kucinich, Paul and Nader. Could Obama have defied the establishment powers on this issue, if he wanted to. Probably not. Hence, I do feel he is a transitional president in this regard. The definitive “real change” this country needs may not happen under his watch. We’ll have to wait and see.

I’m less encouraged by the Obama Administration’s foreign policy. The strategies for Afghanistan and Iraq are too similar to the Bush’s administration. The Iraq withdrawal timetable has gone slower than Obama originally promised. Both transitional steps, not necessarily the correct steps. Status quo, long range objectives within the halls of the military industrial complex are still being achieved.

My main concern with President Obama is the company he keeps. His Cabinet is inundated with Council on Foreign Relations members, albeit a smarter, possibly kinder, gentler representation than those members in Bush’s cabinet. Could there be a darker agenda hidden underneath the perceived and tangible benevolent intentions? I have to say I’m not clear yet on the answer to this question.

Best to stay vigilant, keep Obama to his word, keep him focus on accomplishing prudent, humane policies for this country’s citizenry, and to maintain a stewardship that guides this country toward (what the heck I’ll say it) a brighter tomorrow. Make those Vancouver community center kids proud!

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Postcards From Thailand

(Writings from my recent Southeast Asia travels)

The tour to the Hill tribe villages began innocently. We started our journey in Chiang Mai, chauffeured in a nice a/c minibus, watching the city limits gradually fade into a serene countryside. We were driving north to the mountains, an infamous region known as the Golden Triangle, a remote region that encompasses the connecting borders of Thailand, Burma, and Laos.

A dirt road detour leads us to our starting point. We trek deep into the jungle until we come to a river crossing. Our guide points up to a large tree. We look at each other, shrug, and decide “why not?” In good shape, I scramble up the tall banyan tree, get a good grip on one of the many elongated vines, give a good push off the tree and swing to safety to the other side of the river.

Once on solid ground, it’s a brisk hike through the poppy fields to reach the local village. After warm salutations in different languages, we immediately get down to business sipping snake wine and passing the opium pipe. It’s not long before I feel I’m entering an altered state of mind, feeding the lotus eaters and drifting into a prolonged dream…

I don’t know how long I was under. The salt spray coming off the bow of the ship must have finally awakened me. Quite startled, I awaken, physically quite sore. Pushing myself off the wooden deck, I gradually get my balance and stare incredulously at an infinite ocean horizon. I glance around and see the rest of our group, including Texas Bob, are still sleeping on the deck. After several inquiries, to my chagrin I discover that we were all shanghaied aboard a slave ship freighter bound for Dubai.
Man, I don’t remember that part mentioned in the tour guide brochure!

Or maybe, the journey went something like this:

The Hill tribes we would encounter in the Golden Triangle region are the Akha, Hmong, Karen (including Longneck), Lahu and Lisu. Each Hill tribe has its own language, customs, style of dress and spiritual beliefs.
This region WAS infamous for the cultivation and production of opium. These Southeast Asian tribes, fiercely independent, unwilling to succumb, have for centuries been subjected to continual displacement by an array of conquering dynastic regimes; regimes whose kingdoms and nations, through the great equalizer of time, have themselves risen and fallen into obscurity.

Through Thai government and military intervention, gradual pacification progress was implemented in the Golden Triangle region. Also, programs such as the King Project, have helped redirect the Hmong and Akha tribes from the economically enticing cultivation of opium-producing poppies to healthier cash crops such as edible herbs, fruits and vegetables.

Gone are the smuggling days that brought fright and bullets, ill winds that carried secret whispers and dangerous characters; druglords, drugpins, desperadoes and the ubiquitous CIA spooks and Air America yahoos. An illicit chapter in this remote region’s turbulent history that at present has been filed under folklore.

In today’s Golden Triangle marketplace, you won’t find drugs, guns and money. Instead, you’ll find grinning faces and a more pleasurable selection of home grown fruits, vegetables and perhaps a hand-woven scarf.

Several Hill tribes had Tibetan origins, as well as southern China and Laos, while others, such as the Karen tribe, are refugees from neighboring Burma. Within the Karen tribe is a sect known as the Longnecks, a term used to describe the women in the tribe who wear the coiled brass rings around their necks.

Contrary to popular belief, the brass coils, which are loose fitting, do not cause any structural damage to the neck muscles, however, with prolonged usage a slight physical deformation can occur across the collar bone due to the additional weighted pressure.
They may also choose whether or not to wear the brass coils.

There are women within the tribe known as Big Ears that do have distinctly deformed earlobes. I thought to mention to these ladies the large tribe of women we have back home known as the Large Asses, however, I decided otherwise. They just wouldn’t understand.

Which popular theory/story do you think best explains the origin to the “longneck” tradition: (A) the Karen tribesmen had the women wear the neck bracelets to protect them from tiger attacks while the men were away hunting or (B) one tribal queen thought they would be quite fashionable and enhance her physical attraction to which other women would choose later to emulate her and make themselves more beautiful with their bracelets as well.

If you chose (B) you are an astute studier of the human condition and women in particular. Even today, the women do not consider themselves exploited when outsiders come to greet them. On the contrary, they are now considered “celebrities”, unique and very beautiful, by foreigners and local Thais alike.

As to celebrities, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt had visited these Karen refugee camps several days earlier which explained why there were so few visible children. There was one little girl, however, who not only wore the neck bracelets but also wore metal braces on her teeth. She was quite popular when it came time to tune in to the local Thai soap operas on T.V.

The ladies I had the pleasure meeting were very gracious. One woman played a tribal folk tune on her guitar that was reminiscent of U.S. Appalachia music, her voice soft and sweet. The older ladies, since retired from wearing their bracelets, demonstrated with big smiles their deeply blackened teeth, permanently stained from years of steady beetlenut chewing. Fortunately for good marital relationships, they claimed they’re husbands liked the look.

The Karen villagers’ dwellings were constructed of modest, wooden, partitioned huts, not unlike those found in faraway African villages. Driven from their Burmese homelands by a brutal military regime, where the corrupt former Golden Triangle practices have now transferred, the Karen tribes people have adapted well to their new Thai environment, learning quickly including a fair fluency in Thai language and even grasping a fair command of English words. A very impressive, enjoyable visit, even without the shanghai to Dubai experience.

To read more of my travel writing, or to see my travel photography on Southeast Asia, and more, please visit www.michaelmcguerty.com

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Postcards From Vietnam – Part II

( Writings from my recent Southeast Asia travels )

HIHO, HIHO, it’s down the Ho Chi Minh Trail I go!

The journey south began on an overnight sleeper bus. Picture a train sleeper car, equipped with bunk beds, only inside a bus; a dorm on wheels. China’s overnight buses are very similar.
Since I was picked up after Hanoi, the more comfortable individual beds were already taken, thus my remaining choice was the very back of the bus where four people are aligned in an overly cozy row. I mentioned to the Vietnamese man next to me that I felt cheap since he didn’t even buy me dinner. He didn’t get the joke but the German fellow nearby chuckled.

Our route was on the main highway, the only highway in fact, that linked the elongated nation from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, connecting some 80 million people in the process. Financial news stations lauder Vietnam’s burgeoning economic engine. Chief exports include rice, textiles, coffee and people. Yet, coming from the western world, I find it difficult to envision this growing economic powerhouse while our bus drives a maximum forty miles and hour speed down a two lane road; a two lane road where the interstate buses and trucks must honk their horns and slow down for motorbike traffic and little old ladies crossing the street. Even road construction is accomplished mostly through manual labor, with men using crowbars to break up old tarmac.

Today, Vietnam’s northern and southern regions are unified, cultural differences side, into one singular Vietnam, so our sunrise crossing of the Ben Hai River, the physical boundary that defined the DMZ, held little fanfare. The only activity I saw that morning on the river were several fishing boats and some sleepy-looking fishermen.

Of course, the region was the center of the bloodiest battles of the conflict (DON’T MENTION THE …!). Situated throughout this Central Vietnam region are places like the Vinh Moc tunnels, DMZ, Hamburger Hill, Hue, Danang and China Beach; names that I only vaguely recall as a child and are more recognizable to me through movies and television. Poignant reminders of a troubled period, today, with a touch of surrealism, these former battlefields are remembered through day tours offered to international tourists. Hue has been rebuilt and China Beach is soon to go condo. Living history…yet still history.

I stopped for a few days in Hue before continuing on to Hoi An. Hue is famous for establishing the ubiquitous surname Nguyen, a name you find among the majority of the Vietnamese population. Long ago in a place called the Forbidden Purple City, the imperial Nguyen Dynasty ruled the land from their fortress in Hue. Funny, I don’t recall any Smith and Jones Dynasties back in the States?

Hoi An is a very charming town. Whereas Hanoi is a good place to leave, Hoi An is a place you want to stay awhile. Designated a World Heritage Site, Hoi An’s attributes are many. A very laid-back riverfront town, the colorful French colonial-style architecture is reminiscent of New Orlean’s French Quarter or the Portuguese influenced narrow streets and plazas found in Salvador Do Bahia in Northeastern Brazil.

The town also boast colorful characters and delicious food. A few riverfront characters I have given names to such as FuManChu, Hoi An Princess and Gold Tooth. There’s also the jolly gentleman who operates the Easy Rider Danang branch, a group of Vietnamese bikers who take tourist on motorcycles, offering them a Born to be Wild travel experience through the Central Highlands.

Some favorite food dishes I enjoy eating while I’m watching the riverfront world walk by are Cao Lau, a local noodle favorite, spring rolls dipped in fish or chil sauce, a variety combination of yellow noodles with beef, chicken or shrimp, fresh vegetables picked straight from the garden or local lily pond, and hot Vietnamese coffee.

in particular, there’s a food stall canopy I frequent, where each bench area represents a different entrepreneurial cook; a placard designates who is cooking for you. Let me introduce them to you: Mr Son, Ms Bay, Mr. Com Ga, Mr Tung, Ms Nam, Mr Rin, my favorite Ms Quyen, and of course, MR DONG.

Hoi An also serves as a travelers’ harmonic convergence vortex for seeing past travelers. Here, you have a more relaxed opportunity to begin conversations and make friendships with those passing faces you saw on prior buses, street corners, and hotel lobbies.

Sweet dreams are made of this
Who am I to disagree
Travel the world and the Seven Seas
Everybody is looking for something….

(Song verse from Eu rhythmics Sweet Dreams )

Sipping a Vietnamese coffee at a Hoi An cafe served well as a proper respite for reflection, reviewing fellow traveler experiences thus far into my journey.

The vibration or energy a lone traveler must transmit seems to attract and resonate with other like souls for those I’ve conversed with the most have primarily been other independent travelers.

Their stories and reasons for travel ring familiar: people displaced and disillusioned with modern societies gone wrong, whether they quit their jobs in Quebec and Vancouver or were laid off in New York City. Individuals reevaluating their lives, discovering new ways to live, including living with less. Discovering old ways to live before our personal world became awash in unfulfillable stuff acquired through burgeoning credit. These “everybodies” are looking for something, something better in their lives like happiness and sweet dreams…….

An Englishman born for music, continuing a tradition established by his father and father’s father. An accomplished guitarist, he lost his way as a young adult, consumed by rage in a blue collar English city that was consumed by rage. Today…no more. A wife that would not follow, ten year marriage over, he lives contented, peaceful in Thailand learning Buddhism and playing beautiful music with an equally accomplished Thai musician.

An Italian gentleman who teaches meditation and lives half his year in India and the other half in Italy.

A Canadian who bought raw land years ago on Prince Edward Island, built his home, became small town postal delivery man, worked as an NGO volunteer, is an accomplished drummer, has traveled the world and lives life large.

A Dutchman who balances seasonal housesitting and personal apartment rental for lodging and cash flow until he’s ready to get creative, inspired through travel to return home and sculpt.

Then there are the American Vietnam Vets returning to Vietnam, revisiting a land and people they knew long ago during a time of war: today a time of peace. A personal journey for reflection, reconciliation and renewed respect.

To see my Vietnam photography, my travel books, and more, please visit www.michaelmcguerty.com

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Postcards From Vietnam

(Writings from my recent Southeast Asia travels)

Cliche or no cliche, after such a wonderful day I had yesterday cycling through the countryside waving to hundreds of Vietnamese saying “HELLO!” I’m unabashedly ready to proclaim, nay, open the bedroom window shutters and joyously shout, to a sea of glorious stained, brutally gray cinder block roof tops…..GOOOOOOD MORNING VIETNAM !!!!!!!!!!!

In Vietnam, with the currency exchange rate pegged at 17,000 dong to the dollar, it’s easy to feel like a millionaire. You ask the waitress, “How much for my breakfast? “Only 85 thousand. Here’s a hundred thousand…keep the change!”
Of course, back in America, if you arrived flushed with a million dong (sounds dirty doesn’t it) you could barely pay for a bus ticket from Albuquerque to Flagstaff, Arizona.

However, millionaire or no millionaire, February in Hanoi, even staying in its most charming Old Quarter section, provides little inspiration to shout Good Morning salutations to the world.

One might be tempted to say Hanoi is a great city to leave however I shall try to emphasize Hanoi’s positives. For instance, highlights included the best spring rolls I’ve ever tasted and the incredible artwork you see in the different galleries/shops. At night, sections of the Old Quarter look elegant thanks to draping, graceful trees, bright Chinese lanterns and a charming French ambiance, while the city’s prominent lake makes for a pleasant evening stroll. There’s also that unique Vietnamese energy in the streets; people sitting around the sidewalks eating from steaming pots and bowls while women wearing their conical hats pass by carrying everything from pineapples to bricks.

That said, the downside to Hanoi is the February weather; drizzly, gray with insufferable humidity; the motorbikes, creating total mayhem madness in the streets; the touts or hawkers, difficult to walk two blocks without a half dozen “Hey mister, hello, hello!” solicitors trying to sell you something, and the exhaust pollution which leaves you gasping for air.

Hopping on the southbound bus for Ninh Binh was a smart move. Renting a bicycle and “getting lost” among the villagers in the countryside an absolutely brilliant move! I was in my element, peddling away, taking pictures of picturesque karst peaks and ricefields, and encountering numerous smiley-faced Vietnamese, waving and shouting “HELLO, HELLO” a gazillion times; their motivations not self-serving, simply genuine greetings to this strange long-haired stranger riding through their village and sneaking up on them in their ricefields.

School kids in particular were fun to interact with and I received big smiles and “hellos” from a group of girls dressed in their Communist Party High School brown uniforms. Did I mention this was the Peace and Love tour? Just trying to bridge the cultural gap, remember…there is no “ism” in smile. Wait…actually there is, just the letters rearranged. Anyway, it sounds profound.

Creating a nice touch, occasionally I would hear soft Vietnamese music playing over the distant Communist Party community center loudspeaker. I assumed this was music to soothe “THE WORKERS” while they sowed the rice stalks for the next harvest. This reminded me of the MUSAK or elevator music that is played in some corporate capitalist workplaces to soothe the “OFFICE WORKERS” while they sow the seeds for the next set of useless corporate reports.

Are our worlds REALLY so different? Who is ready for a group hug!!!!!!

And, if life couldn’t get any better, even the village dogs (who are, contrary to popular myth, kept as pets, not as appetizers) were very friendly!

To see my Vietnam photography, travel books, and more, please visit www.michaelmcguerty.com

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TRAVEL – THE PAUSE THAT REFRESHES

…Thank you for stopping by. The Pecoskid is currently out of his cyber office. He has gone traveling. This time of year, in New Mexico, it is cold while in Southeast Asia, it is not. Need I say more. The search for the endless summer continues.

I have left the keys to the country with President Obama so the country should be in good hands while I’m away.

Please feel free to follow my Southeast Asia travel adventures at my travel journal web site: www.travelpod.com/members/pecoskid

Besides my In My Opinion writings, please feel free to peruse other aspects of my blog including the Integrity section, and for a giggle, my Funnybone section, each located on the right-side of the site. I would love any and all feedback you have on these sections.

Also, please utilize this site as a resource facilitator to other fabulous sites located under my social / political links.

In the wake of the current global economic crisis, remember these sage words taught to me by a Thai Buddhist monk: Don’t sweat the petty stuff AND don’t pet the sweaty stuff!

Please leave a cyber message…………
(Preferably before December 22nd, 2012)

Ciao!

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Peru – South America- A Traveler’s Journey

The following travel essay is an excerpt from my travel book South America – Pictures, Prose, and Poetry.

I had a good conversation with a Peruvian gentleman on the bus to Puno, Peru. Sharing a common birthday we naturally struck up a quick friendship.

He was a traveling salesman returning to Lima, where he lived with his family. He had a particularly favorable opinion of the Bolivian women in Santa Cruz. He established distribution contacts for the company Nestle throughout Bolivia. He was formerly an engineer recently downsized to make room for cheaper trainees. He said multinational corporations have been conducting this management cost measure of its employees for the last few years. On a macroeconomic level, Peru’s economy and standard of living have improved within the last ten years, now reaching a level near par with Chile.

However, these statistical improvements tend to shine brighter on the accounting ledgers for those in the glass offices. The reality of improvements for those within the middle and lower class ranks tended to be less distinct and measurable.

While our bus waited outside a village marketplace, I pointed out to my gentleman friend the enormous bags of pasta to which he did a surprising facial double take. He explained to me best not to say the word “pasta” when in Peru for the word may get confused with a similar Peruvian word that means “cocaine” and official ears could get nervous.

Within this region of South America all roads north lead to Cusco. Wonderful fellow travelers I’d met as far south as Ushuaia, Argentina and all points in between weeks ago would reappear on the city streets of Cusco. Our origins covered the globe yet we shared a simple lust for life and a yearning for healthier, happier roles for ourselves within life’s intricate web. Some contemplated relocating themselves in South America, utilizing their skills in ecology and biology.
One Brazilian I met was from Porto Alegre, Brazil, where the World Social forum was held, a humane based forum established to counter the gathering of the world’s powerful in Davos, Switzerland. His band had performed for this year’s gathering and he was was currently traveling through other South American countries to learn new styles of music.

Other travelers include the various Motorcycle Diary adventurers who were spotted along this Andean Gringo Trail circuit. Throughout these human encounters the global dialogue exchange was always revealing, extremely informative and vastly entertaining.

The journey from Puno to Cusco is extremely scenic, especially through the lush, verdant mountainous terrain and river valleys that to lead to the ancient Inca capital.

I wish I could have told the bus driver to stop so I could take photos. The rural scenery is always the most picturesque, the passing people, livestock, adobe abodes and beautiful landscape. Along the drive we did stop at some interesting Inca ruin sites and some baroque Spanish churches. Conducting the observations via tour group style is just not the same however as when I have a freer independent approach to my observations. Maybe I should rent a motorbike and conduct my own motorcycle diary journey.

The Spanish colonial churches that were established along the former Inca trail bear a heavy, oppressive, spiritual load within the darkened confines of the church. Dark wooden crucifixes, brutal Biblical scenes and ominous looking saints and bishops, all draped ostentatiously in boastful gold trim, seem to send signals other than love, peace and tranquility to its parishioners.

The Catholic followers who enter the cathedrals and churches are quick to create with their index finger the sign of the cross in a very nervous, stressed manner, fearful of the alleged consequences if they don’t.

Nestled within the Andean highlands is the town of Cusco. The downtown section is quite stunning, especially at night when the plaza, cathedral and neighboring smaller churches are illuminated. It evokes memories of Old World European cities at night. Many of the church structures have kept the older Inca stone walls and foundations both for their durability and cultural appeasement value.

Adjacent to the churches, above street level, are restaurants each with wooden balconies that offer excellent viewing while you’re sipping your coffee. Traditionally dressed men and women still carry their wares on their backs through the plaza on their way to market.

One Friday morning, a group of protesters came marching in solidarity through the plaza. A dose of reality that was refreshing compared to the robotic atmosphere of the street peddlers or the incredibly boring military parade last Sunday. Their chants were in Spanish, but the tempo was strangely familiar, strongly resembling the anti-globalization protest rhythm as in Seattle and Prague. No doubt the subject dealt with either indigenous land rights or better working conditions for local laborers. The political climate in several South American countries, of late Bolivia and Ecuador, is turbulent yet somehow swiftly civilized and bloodless, going through presidents at a rapid pace, almost between coffee refills.

Presidents and revolutions may come and go, but the little boy who sells you finger puppets in the streets still continues as before…

Fortunately, in Cusco anyway, the wave of theft that used to occur has been dealt with and conditions for tourists, as well as for local Peruvians, are quite safe. This has occurred in part due to the past government’s crackdown on the notorious rebel group, The Shining Path, which had wreaked havoc upon the poor villagers of the Andean highlands.

As far as my observations, whether in Bali, Peru, or Costa Rica, the new world economy of tourism within the pristine and culturally stimulating locales of developing countries has led to an overproduction of commercialism, obviously promoted by large corporations.

The usual methods of mass marketing techniques such as television, shopping malls and brass neon signs does not apply in these locations. To adjust, large corporations recruit a legion of locals from these communities to distribute the goods and to personally promote these goods at a more direct level to the public. Often the sales are conducted just as dispassionately as by the multinational’s top executives, and with this emotionless unspoken assumption that all tourists must consume, all items, all the time.

True, there are supply and demand needs being met and overall individual income levels aer being raised, though not as proportionately as the levels of the multinational corporations. However, could there also be detrimental personal impacts upon the developing countries’ population…perhaps some moral value and /or spiritual questions that should also be addressed?

For example, what happens to a community or society that becomes over-dependent on a certain intangible economy, or what becomes of a new generation within these developing countries that is learning a questionable value system i.e. the dollar is everything.

Of courser, environmental issues, such as non-biodegradable products, have become another recent, grave concern since the rise of the new tourism economy, and the proper disposal of these products. Fortunately, there are people trying to address this problem like a couple I met in Copacabana who are introducing a recycling program in their town. And fortunately there are admirable individuals like the inquisitive Peruvian college student who sought knowledge from me, the outside world, in order to better understand his evolving world. I’ll sip to that.

sa-machu-picchu.jpg

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To see more of my South America photography or to peruse my other travel books, please visit my site www.michaelmcguerty.com

Posted in philosophical, S. America travel, Travel | 11 Comments

The Evolution Will Not Be Televised – Part II (The Revolution, However, May Be Videotaped)

“It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.” Song verse by the band REM

A few days ago, during an idyllic Indian summer afternoon, I was relaxing in my backyard, playing my guitar, soaking up the energizing sunshine. Several beautiful migratory birds stopped by, smiled, and enjoyed a quenching sip from the fountain before continuing on their journey. Suddenly from high above a less appreciative feathery friend let loose a messy blob that nearly knocked me off my chair.

This startling display of harsh reality sent my thoughts reflecting upon the latest display of corporate executive arrogance and avaricious behavior, perpetuated by the current global financial “crisis”. I thought, you know, the world would be a much more peaceful, harmonious place if it wasn’t for those few rich, greedy, powerful CEO, CFR, secret hand-shaking Freemason, Illuminati, nudge nudge wink winking Skull and Bones world dominating thugs and thieves periodically dropping a massive load on the rest of us, messing with our lives.

The same players who brought us S&L bank failures, Latin American bank loan failures, massive Wall Street financial fraud and now the housing market fraudulent irresponsible manipulations, are once again gorging themselves at the taxpayers’ trough, demanding a bailout handout; corporate socialism at its best. This blatant arrogance would make Marie Antoinette blush.

Why, after crashing peoples’ housing prices, destroying our economy, creating unemployment, depleting many Americans’ life savings and even breaking the kids’ piggy bank, while THEY continue to live an opulent lifestyle, do we still put our trust with these guys and their rigged financial institutions?

I’m reminded of the scene in the movie Animal House where Kevin Bacon’s character, desperate to join the evil-minded fraternity, is on all-fours in his underwear getting whacked by a wooden mallet screaming “thank you sir may I have another!”

I would think a more appropriate response from people today would be to open their window and, like in the movie Network yell “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

Where are those courageous folk who used to throw pies at the corrupt CEOs?

If these financial institution leaders’ actions have done you harm you may be tempted to contemplate a scenario where these rotten scoundrels are brought to massive public trial, justice determined by a five minute speedy deliberation followed by a good proper hanging.

Another idea could be the creation of a reality show where everyday people get to hunt CEOs, and other corrupt business executives. The average American gets to select the crooked businessman of his choosing to hunt in the wild with paintball guns, a mild form of retribution but certainly cathartic for him, or her, and an appreciative audience.

On a more optimistic note, the current global financial crisis may be evidence of the necessary breakdown in public trust toward our global and national institutions that will lead people’s belief systems to transcend to a higher level as we approach the Mayan prophesied date Dec. 22nd, 2012. Wishful thinking?

Let’s look at the tremendous success of KIVA.org, a financing organization that puts its trust in the compassion and kindness of everyday people. Here’s a micro-loan financing organization, where no profit is sought, where the default rate is practically zero, and is currently so successful that KIVA is asking loaners to be patient while they try to find more eligible loan requests for people to loan to. KIVA.org’s peoples banking system: a fine example where an individual can choose to trust in people helping people rather than our unreliable, corrupt institutional banking systems.

Of course the corporate socialism policy our government leaders have eagerly adopted doesn’t stop with financial institutions. The bailouts, preferential taxbreaks and corporate welfare continue with the auto industry, airline industry, big oil, big agribusiness, large pharmaceuticals companies, etc., rewarding bad business practices and sticking us with lower wages and higher prices at the pump, the grocery store, the hospital, and exorbitant debt.

What’s a better choice? Don’t rely on these crooks. Don’t live beyond your means and be indebted to them. Consume less, live more. Don’t allow your government and its business cronies to pick your pockets while they rummage through your luggage at the airport. Our society is entrenched in this atmosphere of distrust created by the very people who should not be trusted, and is a prevalent perverse philosophy throughout Corporate America.

Long ago, I worked for a government defense contract corporation where corporate executives instill an atmosphere of employee distrust primarily because they know they themselves can’t be trusted, as proven by their morally questionable billing practices, so they assume all people can’t be trusted. How about WalMart whose corporate ethical practices are questionable yet enforces a policy that questions your integrity as a customer by assuming you may be stealing that product you’re carrying out the door.

Our patriarchal systems and institutions say to blindly trust their authority yet as noted by acclaimed author and professor of psychology, Dr. Robert Hare, there is strong evidence that many corporate executives exhibit psychopathic behaviors. Still trust these guys?!

These high profile powerful predators prey on your weaknesses. Don’t capitulate; get strong, get smart. Explore new ideas on how to live our lives and build a better a world. Who is more trustworthy to make better decisions concerning your life than you?

Consider the approach to social/economic solutions mentioned in E.F.Schumacher’s book Small Is Beautiful – Economics As If People Mattered such as Buddhist economics. As an individual, apply Kristnamurti’s philosophy where one is encouraged to question authority. Also, educate yourself to become a citizen of the world, not a globally employable worker as promoted by our corporate influenced educational system.

Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan’s recent apologetic admission that he had not foreseen the potential human irresponsibility and wanton greed inherent in the current financial structures may ring hollow coming from its premier architect; still, it’s a telling confirmation that their economic philosophy is a failure.

We may take encouragement from the Czech and Slovak Republic’s peaceful Velvet Revolution example in which the people just stopped listening to the failed totalitarian dogma.

This troubled period may be the necessary collapse in the failed dogma of unbridled capitalism, greed; institutions’ unchecked governance designed for the benefit of the select rich, powerful few. This is our wake up call. Rome may be burning, but the clever Phoenix is rising from the ashes.

We’re witnessing a pivotal moment in our history to rethink and reform our society; time to deconstruct our institutions, create decentralization and “small is better” solutions that better serve the people and the natural environment.

Look at the recent trend in the medical care field, thanks to new entrepreneurial companies such as House Call Doctors, where doctors are again making house calls, improving medical care while lowering costs. There’s also the innovative approach taken by Ashoka.org, an organization which financially promotes social entrepreneurs; those individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing problems. Social entrepreneurs find what is not working in government and business sectors and solve the problem by changing the system, creating solutions, and persuading entire societies to join in the change.

When able, I like to test the human range of generosity within a corporation, and on a recent roadtrip to the Pacific Northwest, I was able to do just that with my morning coffee craving.
It may be McDonalds’ policy, or it may be mine, either way, I apply the free refill theory to all McDonalds’ outlets as I travel across country and without hesitancy, the employee gladly refills my coffee. While conservative and Christian radio reigns supreme over radio airwaves in America’s rural heartland sowing seeds of hate and discontent, I try to counter the corporate sponsored airwaves by initiating pleasantries and discussions with the good service industry folks you meet along the road, bringing smiles to both our faces.

Will this recent financial crisis help people recognize and understand the impermanence of market values, whether held in one’s stock portfolio, house or commodity prices, and gain greater appreciation for the true tangible values of love, friendship, good health and happiness?

Given to me as a gift by some newfound friends in Brazil, I carry in my wallet a list that contains the five principles of Reiki, Buddhism influenced principles that help me stay spiritually grounded. The five principles are: Just for today, I will give thanks for my many blessings, I will not worry, I will not be angry, I will do my work honestly, and I will be kind to my neighbor and every living thing. They help me keep life in perspective.

One may even find the occasional voice of reason within the ranks of the corporate elite. “I think that the heavens, or natural common wisdom, may be suggesting that we try to live more down-to-earth and honest lives”, says Kyocera’s Chairman Emeritus Kazuo Inamori, who is also a Zen Buddhist priest. He says profit is society’s reward for serving its interests. “In order to restore and revitalize capitalism, it is crucial that business executives regain this attitude”.

As I journeyed down the Pacific Coast, basking in the coastline’s natural beauty, my thoughts about humanity’s silly antics fading away, I was awestruck by the majestic redwood trees’ silent grandeur and the refreshing barks coming from the sealions on the ocean rocks below; Nature’s enduring symbols that supply us with a sense of spiritual clarity and humility.

And now, back home, sitting in my backyard, the sun still shining, the sky an aquamarine blue and the birds still bathing in the fountain, I think I’ll go back to playing my songs and reading my five principles.

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