How Does It Feel To Lose Two Wars In A Row?

Hey, Israel, how does it feel to lose two wars in a row now? Especially the PR war.

Getting a clue yet?

Maybe that clue is this: you can’t keep a people locked up in what is, in essence a concentration camp without them doing the exact same things you did when Jews were locked up and besieged in the Warsaw ghetto? Ring a bell? Perhaps you ought to try a different approach, like actually talking to Hamas, the, erm, elected government of Palestine and then dismantling the settlements in the West Bank and share the water from the Jordan River in a fair and equable fashion?

Because, as it looks to me, and as Col. Lang writes:

The Israelis have failed to humble Hamas. Rockets still arrive in Israel. This failure in their self-declared war aim will cost them dearly in the strategic contest. They are going to halt their “offensive without any sort of concession from Hamas?”

So, you just murdered more than a thousand people for what? Literally nothing. Hamas is still shooting rockets into Southern Israel.

Seriously, I’m not anti-Israel. I’m not opposed to Israel being a state. What I’m opposed to is stupid, bloody minded butchery, especially when it achieves absolutely zero strategic gains. And that is exactly what has happened here. You lost to a bunch of rag tag fighters who are shooting nothing but glorified bottle rockets into Southern Israel, while you had all those fighter jets we sold you, and all those Merkava tanks.

As one commenter at Col. Lang’s notes:

“Instead Israel is planning to resort to its favourite diplomatic manoeuvre: unilateralism. It wants a solution that passes over the heads of Hamas and the Palestinians. Or as Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister, put it: “There is no intention here of creating a diplomatic agreement with Hamas. We need diplomatic agreements against Hamas.”

That’s your strategy? If it is, I can promise you this: Hamas won’t quit. They have nothing to lose. Get it? Nothing to lose.

Do you think, maybe, just maybe, it’s time for a strategic and diplomatic re-evaluation?

Tea!

Tea!Today I went on another jungle hike, this one through the jungle to a tea plantation, not up a small mountain. Jeff and I had a blast. (Jeff’s the guy I met on the bus from Cambodia to Thailand.) We met a wonderful couple from the UK and France and hiked together. Along the way we saw lots of flowers, a small snake (hey, you take what you can get), a really cool lizard, a water fall and a massively huge millipede. Plus a cool wasp.

The highlight of the day was running around through the tea plantation and then having fresh tea.

All of today’s photos are here, and there are a lot.

My favorites are the lizard. He’s a beauty. Any one that can identify him please do so in the comments.

This flower.

A kitty, and this one of me looking like a goof-ball.

We hitchhiked back from the tea plantation to Tanah Rata. It was a breeze getting a ride.

Good stuff, all around. Now I am off to have ‘steamboat,’ yummy!

Not A Lot, But Still Something

On the SummitAs many of you know I injured my back in a 2003 car accident coming down the Himalayas into Nepal. Due to the injuries I haven’t hiked a mountain since then. Until today, that is–a nice jungle hike up a mountain. I climbed to a height of 1,784 meters. Now, that isn’t much. But it’s a huge achievement for me personally. Of all the things I missed most that I lost due to my injury hiking in the mountains and running were the top two. And now, I can hike again.

(Today’s photos can be found here, I especially like the bee flying out of the flower.)

I am sore and I will feel it tomorrow. But I am looking forward to feeling those good aches, those aches when you know you’ve accomplished something, even something minor as a four hour hike up a small mountain and then down again.

It’s been too long since I looked out from the top of a mountain and surveyed all below me. It’s a great feeling and I’d forgotten just how good it is!

So, here’s to baby steps! I may climb the Matterhorn yet, someday. Always dreamed of doing that perhaps I still may.

A Day In The Life of a Global Vagabond

Kids Feeding DovesI’ve received several emails over the last few months asking me to detail what my normal day is like while traveling. “What could possibly be normal about any day while traveling,” you might ask? Actually a lot. There are four kinds of travel days: moving days, seeing days, recovery days and lazy days.

(Before I get to that, here are a handful of photos from today.)

A travel day is always preceded by the ritualistic packing night. That’s when I gather all my stuff, usually thrown around my room in a very haphazard manner, pack it up carefully, shampoo in tight plastic bags–spills suck–clothes folded nice and tight as my backpack is already bursting at the seams and somehow I manage to have it all ready to go early in the morning. The “moving day” begins when I wake up, wolf down breakfast and head to the bus, train or ferry station. The rest of the day is dedicated to looking out the window, wishing I had some food, waiting for the pit stop and reading whatever book I have available. They are usually very long and exhausting days, but sometimes can be some of the most rewarding, what with amazing scenery to see, cool people to talk to (sometimes) and a general sense of movement, which is a great feeling. Travel days are often 24-48 hours of nothing but movement and a great deal of exhaustion ensues once the journey is over.

Seeing days are pretty self-descriptive: I go see stuff. Might be a museum, might be a national park, or just a stroll through the streets of a new town or city. There is occasional interaction with people but those usually occur on lazy days or recovery days. I wake up, eat and head out to whatever destination I’ve chosen for the day and sometimes just hope to get lost in the moment and stumble onto something curious, odd or beautiful. “Lazy days” usually follow “seeing days,” as I also use “lazy days” to process and journal what I’ve seen.

Recovery days are days that follow ‘moving days’ or ‘sick days,’ such days are usually just me sitting in my hotel room, reading, watching my iPod and generally bemoaning the fact that my bowels aren’t what they used to be. Or they are days dedicated to getting acclimated to a new place upon arrival after a ‘moving day.’

Last, but not least, are my favorite days: lazy days. Those are the days when I plan nothing and just let it ride. I wake up, eat, surf the net for a few hours, blog, email, strike up a conversation with a stranger and a host of other inane activities. These days often lead to “seeing days,” as plans are made, formed, discarded and reformulated until it’s well past bedtime and I do the same thing the next day. Lazy days usually happen in pairs or triplets.

Every day has it’s own rhythm, but rarely are the days mixed up. “Seeing days” and “moving days” can be similar in ways, but a “lazy day” is never to be confused with a “moving day” and vice versa. And every one of these days has its benefits. All are necessary for sanity and health. When do I eat my other meals? Whenever I can. Sometimes I eat only twice a day, others three times, but I seem to be on a twice a day track these last few weeks. Depends on how busy the day is really.

Of course there is a fifth kind of day, but they are exceedingly rare. Those are days when strange shit happens, I find myself in the oddest of places, having coffee with a native Batak, being invited to ride a semi-wild elephant, invited to dinner at a locals, stumbling upon a scene of absolute beauty or just a chance meeting with the strangest people. The days when you just go with it. Call ‘em ‘serendipity days’ if you like. Or Zen days, if you like. But know this: one cannot ever plan them. They just happen.

And they are the days when I truly feel alive.

Getting Afghanistan Right

Memo to President-Elect Obama:

“Now it is folly to go against men who could not be kept under even if conquered, while failure would leave us in a very different position from that which we occupied before the enterprise.”

Thucydides, VI, 11.

Wise words from the ancients, Mr. President-elect. I should expect with your education and curiosity of the world you would have read Thucydides at some point. If not, allow me to explain the context of this comment and how it pertains to your apparent plans for Afghanistan.

By the 16th year of the Peloponnesian War the Athenians had gained the upper hand against the Lacedaemonians. They were just then recovering from the plague and the raids by the Spartan soldiers of their fields and farms. They had a golden opportunity to end the war then and there. Alas, they chose to invade Sicily and it was their downfall. It broke the treasury, wrecked their navy and led to the dismantlement of the Athenian long walls. The Athenian empire dead on the shoals of Sicily and around the walls of Syracuse–a place their nation had no material interests in, a place strategically unimportant. All this because of hurbis–they chose to open a new front in a far away land and it ruined them.

Does any of this sound familiar? Sure, the analogy is not perfect, but history’s lessons seldom are so cut and dried. But it is a similar state of affairs we find ourselves in Afghanistan. Except that we are not recovering economically, but sinking deeper into a desperate cycle of deflation. The time for ‘fixing’ Afghanistan, if ever there was one, has long since passed.

The time for pacifying Afghanistan was when the Taliban fled into the hills or went to ground after our 2001 invasion and conquest of the country. Two precious years were lost by your predecessor. Two years when the entire world could have been brought on board with us to help create a more moderate, stable nation–although one far from perfection. Perfection is not for us humans, it is the province of the gods.

That time was pissed away. But for a paltry $30billion we could have lifted Afghanistan out of its misery, restored hope, moderated it politics and broken the feudal warlords with the full force of the world behind us. And in its place a government for and by all the Afghans, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, and Pashtuns. But we failed. Even worse: we didn’t even try.

So, today we are faced with a nation riven by ethnic tensions and international rivalries. Iranians meddle in the West, Indians support the Northern Alliance, or what is left of it and Pakistan is enmeshed in a war of its own on the joint Afghan-Pakistan frontier.

The Petraeus template will not work in Afghanistan. Afghanistan cannot be won. All we can do is ameliorate the effects of the defeat, as we have done in Iraq–although that is still a dirty little secret the media won’t report. But you sir, with your high level briefings and personal intelligence know the truth of the matter. And yet, you persist in the fantasy that Afghanistan can be won? How? We are a bankrupt nation, reeling from a housing, credit and general economic crisis the likes of which we have not seen in 70 years. How can a great power in this kind of shape, think Athens again but at the height of the plague, a nation that cannot even prevent piracy around the Horn Of Africa, expect to win a war 10,000 miles away? All this while trying to reform and rebuild at home? Just ask Lyndon Johnson how well that worked. Is this the legacy you want? Or would you prefer a Dr. Brydon moment?

The lesson of Afghanistan is clear: it is easy to conquer but impossible to hold.

Doubling down is not an option.

A Good Day In The Jungle

Jungle TrailI’m certainly feeling much better. I took a rather vigorous hike in the Taman Negarra Pulau Penang today (Penang National Park). As a matter of fact, it’s the most vigorous hike I’ve taken since I injured my back in 2003. This is a damn good sign to me. My back doesn’t hurt, nor do my ribs–although my muscles are tight as I type this and I will be sore tomorrow, but these are all good signs.

(About two dozen new photos can be found here from today.)

Mind you, it wasn’t like I went hiking up a several thousand foot mountain, just a moderate hike in a hilly jungle setting. Good stuff. I’m ready to move on, ready to hit the Cameron Highlands tomorrow and I reckon by the time I get to the Himalayas I’ll be up for some decent hikes. After almost six months of walking everywhere, losing 30 pounds–I’m at a trim 185 once again–and eating lean Asian cuisine I’m in pretty good shape. Now, the real test will come when I am on the ship to India when I plan to quit smoking. But I digress . . .

I grew up hunting and fishing half of the time in the Brush Country of South Texas and the other half in the Hill Country of Central Texas. My father taught me how to spot wildlife and to this day it’s one of the greatest gifts he ever bestowed upon me. (I prefer not to hunt now, but just to observe, although I have no animus towards hunters–so long as they eat what they kill.) Now, searching for game in South and Central Texas is pretty easy. I’ve got the ‘eye’ for it. Most of the flora is either russet colored or Prickly Pear green. The key is to search for movement and I can spot a rabbit, bobcat or white-tail in a second.

But, as I learned in Belize in 1999, looking for wildlife in the jungle is something of a much more difficult task. Everything is green or bizarre colors that still manage to make the jungle overwhelming. The jungle is always moving. Leaves, coconuts falling, animals with brilliant camouflage make spotting wildlife, even birds, in the jungle quite difficult.

And today was no different. I managed to see two birds, one a a type of heron, the other I assume is a type of plover, or shore bird of a sort. I saw three beautiful monitor lizards and got good photos of two of them (here and here). But the real joy came about halfway through my jungle trek. I sat down to have some water and lit up a smoke. A few minutes later a small nut hit me in the head. I looked around and assumed it fell from a tree. Stuff is always falling from trees in the jungle. But then a minute or so later it happened again. Puzzled, I looked more closely. Focusing my eyes and letting them adjust to the dense foliage around me. And there he was: a young Long-Tailed Macaque not eight feet away from me getting ready to hurl another seed at me. I fancy he smiled at me, as I was now in on the joke. But still, it was an odd encounter. There I was, face to face with a cousin both of us intelligent and inquisitive creatures and I can only assume he clearly wanted some tobacco. (I’ve been told they like it by several people here in Malaysia and in Indonesia.) Soon his mom showed up and shooed him off.

It was the highlight of my day.

As for tonight, I’m going to relax, have another bowl of won-ton mie at the soup stall up the street and some more of this wonderful coffee, then read a book and sleep.

It’s good to be healthy and fit again. And I am ready to move on. Penang, I am happy to say, has grown on me–although I doubt I’ll return. But then again, who knows where my journeys will take me. I’ve given up taking them. They take me. I’m just along for the ride.

More Penang Photos

Dancing DragonSorry that all you are getting are photos right now, but as I said, I have a 2,000 word story due by Monday morning, New Zealand time. I did manage to spend some time zipping around Penang on a moped (no water buffaloes around these parts) and I visited a few pretty interesting sights. A went back to the Tamil Temple, this time I went around to the front. The photos are pretty nice, especially with my new lens, which allows me to get some nice close ups. I also visited a Cantonese House and took lots of people photos. The zoom lens allows me to take great shots without it being so damned obvious I am taking a photo of the person. And I shot a few more silly signs.

Here are some of the shots I like the most:

Ganesha.

Chinese Temple Guardian.

Another Temple Guardian.

An old man.

Another old man.

An Osama bin Laden look alike. (And this is not my label, this is what the locals call him.)

Finally, this Tri-shaw. Just a nice look.

You can see them all here.

Silly Penang Photos

Medicine and Liquor? I took some silly photos around Penang today. I got a new lens for my camera, a 55-200mm, that I absolutely stole the price was so good. I’m still toying around with it but I am looking forward to finally being able to take some sweet bird photos.

Here’s what I took today:

“Howdy,” Malaysian style!

A guy walking.

A close up of an ashtray.

A kid waiting for water.

An old man, very tired and worn out.

And a sign advertising ‘Chicks and Furniture.’ They obviously need to make some additions to the chronology here, adding: ‘Divorce and Furniture Removal Not Included.’

Enjoy!

Staying In Penang

Folks, I am just going to have to stay put here in Penang for the time being. It would be massively stupid for me to put a 25 kilo backpack on, get on a bus and head off for a several hour bus ride to the Highlands at this point. I just don’t have it in me, my ribs hurt too badly. And yes, for those motherly types out there (and I am not being condescending, I appreciate you concerns) I have been to the doctor twice and had two x-rays. So, I’m going to stay put and relax. Now, if I could just find a hotel that wasn’t infested with rats (at least they aren’t as huge as the ones in Medan, hell, they were bigger than the cats there and would probably eat them if they could, and mosquitoes I might be a bit more comfortable. Alas, I also have to stay on budget. Sigh.

On a side note: both Firefox and Gmail really suck here in Asia. Just thought you’d like to know that. For some reason Safari works great, however and I haven’t tried Google’s Chrome, as I don’t think they have a Mac version yet.

Update: So I way wimped out and moved hotels. Same price, different location, no creepy crawlies and a nicer toilet. Usually that stuff doesn’t phase me, but right now I’m just so not in the mood. I imagine after three months of pretty intense travel, and after the emotional let down of leaving Toba I need a little oasis of peace. Not to mention I have a 2,000 word travel article due in 24 hours.

Update 2: Ok, so I went and got a third opinion and a third x-ray. Nothing is broken. I guess the thing which really scared me was the bruising showed up yesterday. Ten days for bruising to show up? I asked the doctor about this and he said, while not normal, it wasn’t abnormal. Barring an MRI, which I am not going to pay for, everything looks and sounds (as in no punctured or torn lungs, et etc. . . ) fine. The doctor was very thorough and complete and gave me a serious once over. I have no fever, which means no internal injuries, as I’d pretty much be septic at this point if I did, anyway, or dead. And how much did all this cost? $25. What would all that have cost back home?

Anyhow, enough editorializing, I’m going to hang in Penang for two or three nights more and then move on to the Cameron Highlands. Just thought all the moms out there would want to know.

Why Did I Leave Toba, Again?

I guess it is to be expected: after having a magical experience I am so hating life right now, especially Penang. There is no way I am waiting here for twelve days for that boat, so I am off tomorrow to the Cameron Highlands to see some Tea Plantations and get some more cool air. This heat in the Straits is too much.

Anyone have any idea how long it takes ribs to heal? Seems like 10 days should be enough, but damn, they still hurt.