Earth Wins Coveted “Best Planet Ever” Award

The other day it struck me, we are al living on this great planet, that offers us so much. Not just raw materials and a market place, but it’s also a great canvas for art. Heck, nature paints on the earth canvas masterfully and we just don’t acknowledge it often enough. What I mean, is we do all this hubbub about original Chagalls, Monets, Manets, Van Goghs and of course let’s not forget Da Vinci. All these artists did was copy nature – capture a moment in time or strictly “Einsteinian Physics speaking – since time flows -” a composite of multiple moments in time in a single painting.

Well, people we can have all this for free if we just take a moment and look at nature’s creations in the world we live in. O.K., not in your living room – but a window with a nice frame around it will do the trick – your personal ever changing art collection, you even have your own curator, nature. For example, take Minnesota. I have seen many spectacular and amazing sunsets and sunrises here. It’s especially great after an early Summer storm in the late afternoon, such that sunsets coincides with the clearing storm. That is just amazing.

When I look at what our planet is giving us and how we treat it, I always have to remember the old business lesson, that if you want people to value something, you need to put a value on it. The best example are diamonds – completely useless without instrinsic value, however people lap up, that the love of a man to a woman can be properly expressed by the size of the diamond and the implied price tag. If diamonds would be sold at similar prices as say LPs, CDs or DVDs, they would likely not be as coveted and they would not carry that much symbolism. The same is true for pretty much any other luxury article – sports cars, designer clothing, etc.

But I digress, my wish for you is that you appreciate what nature gives us and then think about how we can continue to treat it with the proper respect. Would you value a rainbow more if you were charged $15 per viewing. Or would you take more time looking at a starry night sky up north if you had to purchase two tickets at $12 each, plus a $10 parking fee.

Having said that, I am attaching a few images, I took of what nature has to offer us here.

Brewing thunderstorm east of Bangkok - going off later over Bangkok

Earth from 11000m (34000 Ft) somewhere over the Indian Ocean

The lousyness of the iPhone camera lets the photo seem like a black & white painting my way of making lemonade when getting lemons.

More earth from way above - amazing we live our lives down there.

I will close with a picture of the a thunderstorm we had here a week ago. It’s the same storm, that was brewing east of Bangkok in the first image – now coming down over Bangkok.

Showtime over Bangkok

Please take a look around you and appreciate nature’s creations and contemplate what we can do to reduce our negative impact on nature and how we can enhance our positive impact. Example: Negative – Dumping trash in the forest or by the road side. Positive – gardening without chemicals perhaps directly from the compost pile.

Alright, I’ll get off my soapbox pulpit.

Take care

Markus \m/

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Forget Bali !

We had a few days off here for Songkran – the festival where you wash away all you past sins. Barbra and I figured, we’d seize the opportunity to travel rather than to wash away sins and went to Bali. The name itself conjured up images of exotic beach beauties, perfect beaches with black or white sands, romantic sunsets and of course breathtaking snorkeling and diving and finally picture book left and right breaks  to surf.

The bad news first, Bali is dirty. I think the Eagles were right when they sang in “The Last Resort” song, “You call something paradise, kiss it good-bye.”

Bali has all the ingredients to be all the things it conjured up for us and it probably was all these things 20 or 30 years ago, but now it is clearly manifesting itself as a used up has been dirt island with littered beaches, trashed water and a dumpy inland. Where ever we went, beaches, the ocean, temples locals as ell as tourist just drop their shit every where and no one bothers. A shame

But there are still a few gems to be enjoyed especially from a far or from very close – they are just not the stereotypical Bali things. Fist things first, the departure from Bangkok in the middle of the night from Bangkok. Standing in line – I am particularly proud of myself, that I was able to see my environment like this at 4:00AM in the morning on an empty stomach. Shortly after this picture was taken we sat very tightly wedged into our seat on Air Asia heading for Denpasar.

We rented a car, although I do not have any images of those 2 days, because i was completely stressed out. Dense traffic in a car sitting on the wrong side, driving on the wrong side….everytime I wanted to turn the blinker on, I had the windshield wipers going. What I did adjust to quickly, was honking.

We rented a motorcycle after that instead, because I am much more comfortable on it, than driving the car.

Gasoline for motorcycles is available everywhere, even where there aren’t any gas stations. Many locals buy gas in bulk and then fill old 1 liter booze bottles up, which they sell on the road side. Wanting to have a little style, we opted for gasoline from an “Absolute Vodka” bottle. Henceforth, the bike ran like a champ.

We made it to UluWatu and finally saw one of the may great surf breaks.

Further on down the road near UluWatu was another great reef break, which would make swimming or amateurish surfing like I do it a suicide mission.

Of course on any good beach vacation, you need to find a place, where a lone rock stands in the wild surf.

Despite the visible pollution, the water was still brilliant turquoise in color.

A few days later, we went towards Tulamben on Bali’s North-East shore on a snorkel excursion. On our way we saw Mount Batur – a still active volcano.

Mount Batur – Volcano

Unfortunately, we only have mental images taken of the underwater world we visited and saw when we were snorkeling – non of our cameras are water and pressure tight.

The last trip we took was into the middle of the island around Ubud, Batur and Bekasih, where the Mother Temple is – unfortunately heavily littered.

Temple towers in the clouds in Besakih

Altar with food offerings

Because there are no highways in Bali any driving is done on rural or heavy traffic city roads. On our ay back we drove through lush green jungle and past rice terraces with juicy greens.

After all is said and done, it was a great vacation. Although I can’t recommend Bali and I have a hard time imagining we’d return to the island any time soon. But there is something said for lush greens, warm rain drops splattering on your skin and the general carefreeness of being on vacation.

Hence, here’s our moment of Zen:

Moment of Zen, brought to you by banana leaves and raindrops getting ready to evaporate.

Until the next time.

Sayonara dudes and dudedettes.

Markus \m/

Melting Moment And Communication Follow-Up

I just realized, that it’s been three weeks since you have had a proper entry in the Global Nomads 2010 blog. After the entry before yesterday’s Obituary entry, I got a mail from a friend of mine, inquiring whether we were still adjusting to the Thai culture. The short answer is “Yes”. The long answer I will not bother you with, but the medium answer is that if we keep reminding ourselves, that cultural differences are something to be embraced, it is easier to deal with. However, when i find myself sometimes in the thick of things, I find myself at the edge of a Melting Moment. The important thing is preparedness and prevention. Prevention means you have to think everything through in minute details and then explain it in the same minute details – Why – How – What. Preparedness is to know how to communicate your rising level of frustration when you come close to the edge. I have created a Thai swear word dictionary. For example: What the hell means – Arai Wa! It’s beautiful, because Thais are not as explicit in their language as Westerners are. There are not so many shades of grey when it comes to swearing and letting off steam. It’s either what in the West would be considered a completely laughable curse, that would make the accursed feel sorry for the guy doing the cursing, because it’s so wimpy or the go nuclear. When they go nuclear, the highest level of attention is required to defuse the situation. Defusion, however is easy for a Westerner, because if someone calls or compares me to a Komodo Dragon …. please, this just pearls off like I am Teflon coated.

Mostly, when my co-workers witness me let loose (which does not happen often), they react with surprise about my extensive “niche vocabulary”, when I struggle mastering Thai in everyday situations. Both sides put in a bit more effort to understand each other and things go from there.

In return, I am teaching a few of my Thai co-workers how one cane have entire conversations just by saying: “Dude” with different pronunciations. This is a lot of fun and improves communication because it makes communication more personal.

Obituaries

Two people left our lives last week. One was Tim Hetherington a photographer, I liked very much. He was killed on April 20th 2011, documenting the war waged by Muarmar al Ghaddafi on his own people. Tim Hetherington walked in the footsteps of Robert Capa, the photographer who defined what it means to document the incredible idiocies and atrocities people wage against each other – War Reportage.

What touched me was that Tim Hetherington was about the same age as I am when he died. Still so much live to live – what a waste, what a loss to his family and friends and what also to society, too. I first heard of Tim Hetherington when I read the book WAR last July, that he co-authored with Sebastian Junger after being embedded seven times over the course of a year with the US marines in the Korengal Valley. Still, I had never contemplated, that war reporting has a very real possibility that the reporter may become a casualty himself, while trying to document the atrocities and suffering, the friendships, the hate, the relief, the fear that make a war a war. I have heard Tim Hetherington being interviewed on PBS and I have followed his images on his website and in his books. I admire his documentary skill, his photographic eye, but I admire most his courage to put himself in harm’s way and to accept the risk that he may pay the ultimate price (as he did on April 20th 2011) documenting war and conflicts all over the world, so that the public can read about them comfortably over a cup of coffee.

The other person that died, I actually knew personally – my uncle Gerhard. We have had a typical weird relationship like they happen in families. For the first twenty-three years of my life I did not have much of him, but then as I was attending university him and my aunt came to visit us and from then on it was a much closer and warmer relation than I had ever had before. I had alway hoped he would visit us in AMerica, so that e could take him and my aunt on a trip around the great south-west, but he was also very thick-headed and it never came to pass. Amazingly and despite the short amount of time we have actually had together he turned out to have a big influence on my resume. In 1996, I needed a graduate internship and he made sure in got one at Mercedes Benz. I finished the internship as one of the three top interns of 1996 – not just because I really enjoyed it, but also to prove to my uncle how much I appreciated the opportunity he had given me. It is funny, even now, when the topic comes internships (quite common among us engineers) my Benz stint gets lots of admiration, oohs and aahs. My uncle was a man who cast a great shadow, physically and metaphorically speaking. In in youth he was a superb field handball player – so good that when it played in my teens, some of the older people asked me if him and I were related. This was definitely just because we were family, not due to my skill on the pitch. He devoted much of his adult to the idea of social democracy and workers unions – the fair and just compensation and treatment of workers. He was one of these people who stood for something and that is something that is harder to find these days. That’s what I respected the most and that’s what I will miss the most. he was a good man and I miss him and every time in work on my car wearing my Mercedes Benz work outfit I will be reminded of him. May he find peace and look after us every now and then from the heavenly coffee table, where he will continue to suffer with his favorite football club SV Waldhof.

At my cousin’s birthday bash, March 2010

at age 78…..

That’s it for today.

Yours Markus \m/

Non-Earth-Shattering News

Good day, how do you do, good ladies and good sirs.

So India won the Cricket World Cup, don’t ask any details, since I don’t have any. My Indian co-workers all have sore throats and are smiling the smile of World Cup Victory. The funny thing is that the World Cup final was the World Cup final, but it wasn’t. The real final was India vs Pakistan (which was actually one of the two semi-finals), which India won. Apparently, the Pakistani captain said word of congratulations and words that were reaching out as opposed to the usual rhetoric that end up being “fighting words”. Great, so all is well in and between India and Pakistan….. Calm down, think big picture.

Thank you.

Now, I have kept my mouth shut about many of the cultural differences that went beyond male vanity, but I can’t anymore. I will spill a few beans. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when I walked past this truck, walked back and took this image. I call it” Oh So True”, because it is Oh So True at least at time.

I hope you see the humor in the photo. Anyway, some of my experiences here have been that people just walk through life oblivious to anything. I will give you an example: You can ask people here for mass of certain items and you get an answer that will say, three liters….MASS. You ask for a distance from A to B and you get hours and minutes back. No how many kilometers, miles, meters. This can be quite frustrating at times and this is only a fraction of what’s going on here. Some Thai’s that were educated abroad or have lived abroad struggle with this, too – good.

But I don’t want to bitch ad I really don’t want to either, because it doesn’t solve the problem and we are guest here and the people are still very nice….it’s just, well may be the cultural values are just vastly different. Western companies didn’t come here because of the phenomenal talent pool, but because of cheap labor, let’s be honest about this. And it still is cheap labor.

Oh well, moving on.

On one of my Sunday morning bike rides, I saw another great example of a cool graffiti art in Bangkok –  in particular I like the Mickey Mouse Skull.

And then finally, a perennial favorite amongst Werewolves – the ever-so-full-moon. Looking at this image it becomes painfully obvious, that we are looking at the moon from a completely different vantage point Bangkok, Thailand vs Minneapolis, MN or Mannheim, GER. Amazing…although this is April 6th today, book it under April Fools Day Joke.

In case you are interested how to do this, here are the instructions:

  1. Check your ISO setting on your camera. Set it to a low number: 80, 100, 125, 160
  2. Set your exposure time to 1/ISO setting. e.g.ISO: 125, Exposure time: 1/125sec
  3. Set your aperture to 8.
  4. Point the camera at the moon, zoom in(if you have a zoom) and focus on the moon.
  5. Press the shutter release button and then start experimenting around with different apertures and ISO settings. I suggest you leave the exposure time fast, so you can continue to shoot w/o a tripod.

Thank you, you’ve been great. I’ll be here all the week.

Your Markus \m/