Thailand

Mahi Mahi BBQ in Double Bay, Sydney
Having the chance to visit Australia, I made sure to meet up with a couple of friends there: Paul (first met him in Bukit Lawang’s jungle, watched wild Orang-utans together, and made our way out to paved grounds), Charlotta (a colleague from uni, been studying and partying together in Linköping) and Emelie (met her once at Pablo’s place, and listened to her fascinating year driving, literally, around Australia).

My cousin André (who’s been living in Australia the last year) happened to be more than a thousand kilometres north of my destinations, thus we will catch up back in Sweden instead. And last but not least, my friend and colleague Olov (see last post for picture), who is also part of the graduate progamme that brought us ten time zones from Sweden.

Really nice to meet up with all of you guys!

Picture of Emelie and Byron preparing for a lovely BBQ dinner in their garden, in Double Bay, Sydney.

Remote friends

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Olov driving in Adelaide - Erik WInther 2014
I got really challenged in March; a continent to grasp in just a week. Adding to that, four domestic flights and the fact that I worked overtime all five weekdays.

Yet, I do my best! And as usually when there are lots to do on the agenda, I reduce the number of hours in bed and strive to experience as much as possible. Love it.

Picture showing my trainee-colleague Olov, temporarily based in Australia, as he took us to a after work swim on Adelaide’s white beach.

10 days and 4 cities

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Scent marked streetlight in Sydney - Erik Winther 2014
I have so far avoided the subject here as it is politically very complex, and therefore is my short comment easily misunderstood or misinterpreted, but I just can’t ignore it.

What Russia is doing on Crimea these days is awful and unacceptable. Yet they got away with the very same thing in Georgia 2008 when they moved in and took a piece of land; receiving nothing but empty and worthless complaints from the global society. But let me skip the case-specifics.

I would really want to live in a weapon-free world. But, unfortunately, I do not believe the world is homogeneously good-hearted. Therefore, a weapon destruction contract will not work as everyone will not destruct all their weapons at once; leaving the world much less safe as the ’bad guys’ will be far superior in armament – thus also in political power. Power that they, from time to time, will make use of for their very own benefits; in a more or less discretely fashion.

And just as the dogs’ scent markings on and around the photographed streetlight in Sydney result in dead grass, Russia’s wanton behaviour creates irreparable scars on and around Ukraine.

Scent marking Ukraine

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Chilling at the pool in KL - Erik Winther 2014
My trainee-colleague Johanna has already left KL, and Angelica leaves Bangkok in a few days.

It is not without mixed feelings I realize that the first quarter of 2014 is coming to an end, implicating that my stay here in Thailand is facing the same fate.

So with only a few weeks left, I look back and enjoy my fantastic memories, while at the same time try to maximize the remaining days by ‘acquiring professional help’ from Stockholm. In practice my good friend Johan is visiting; a high-performer who rarely omit a party or social gathering. I think we will have lots of fun on Bangkok’s dance floors!

Picture of Johanna, Angelica relaxing in front of Petronas Towers (background), shot from the pool area on 22nd floor at Johanna’s residence in KL during our visit there in February.

Q1 2014 is coming to an end

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Nodding on Koh Samet - Erik Winther 2014
I’ve never been good at Soccer. Never even tried to become good at it. Moreover, I don’t like watching Soccer on TV. Generally no other sport either.

But on one of the lazy days on Koh Samet in January before vacation became work, Frida decided that I had to practice headers. While my skills improved fast, joy was the most important outcome; as the picture probably reveals. A social long-shot that worked, who would have guessed?

Soccer

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Saab APAC Trainees - Erik Winther 2014
Realized that I haven’t posted this picture earlier. I shot this photo in my Bangkok apartment in January, when Frida’s and my adventurous vacation in Thailand and Laos was coming to an end.

So we made our way back to Bangkok, where three of my trainee colleagues had just flown in from Sweden. From left: Johanna (based in Kuala Lumpur during her months abroad), I, Angelica (Bangkok), Cathrine (Jakarta) and my travel companion Frida (Linköping).

Colleagues in Asia

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The Monk, the Tiger and Erik - Erik Winther 2014
Jenny, Henke, Angelica and I visited a wildlife sanctuary last Sunday; similar to the one Frida and I visited outside Chiang Mai in December. They both host numerous tigers, and one get to meet them inside their cages.

No doubt there is a certain adrenaline rush when the 160 kg beast you’re cuddling with makes sure you remember what he is. And that his necklace isn’t chained.

Picture from today, when the monk and I took one of the tigers for a walk outside the cage.

The Monk, the Tiger and I

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Sydney Opera House - Erik Winther 2014
Compared to most of my friends, I have been travelling Asia a lot. But unlike me, several have been in the odd country named Australia; either as exchange students or enjoying Australia’s favourable one-year work-and-vacate-visa.

Not that I haven’t been inclined to go there, but it has always seemed like a place one need more than a month to visit in order to have a fair chance of getting a grip of what it is all about. And I haven’t had such timeslot available yet.

But then work gave me the opportunity to go there for a week, starting yesterday, and guess what: I didn’t hesitate!

Probably not worth mentioning, picture shows Sydney Opera House.

New Continent

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Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, standing tall in the night - Erik Winther 2012
My colleague Angelica and I visited Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur, KL, last weekend (and our friend Johanna of course!). Despite the fact that Malaysia’s labour force is just a third of Thailand’s, their economy (GDP) is almost as big. The difference is obvious when strolling downtown; Thailand’s sidewalk-life with hawker stalls and salesmen all over is completely gone.

Just as Norway and unlike Thailand, nature gave Malaysia oil. Black, shiny liquid gold. It rarely get as obvious as on the border between oil-rich Brunei and rural Sabah; even though Sabah belongs to Malaysia. But what characterizes non-renewable finite resources, such as oil, is that today’s consumption rates are in practice borrowing wealth from coming generations as the resources’ reproduction rates are much slower.

Thus a great deal of consideration should be made when regulating the usage of natural resources. In that sense is Malaysia far behind Norway, as they spend 30% of the oil’s value as soon as is pumped up to the surface. Norway, indeed having far higher living standard and a GDP per capita ten times as high as Malaysia, are spending barely 2% of the value and put the remaining value in two sovereign wealth funds (known as the Oil Fund); which happen to be the world’s most valuable funds.

Picture from a previous KL-visit in December 2011.

Petroleum

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Koh Samet Ao Phrao - Erik Winther
Adjacent to the last post, I want to bring up something that bothers me a lot these days. Because who or what is it that gave me all opportunities I experience in life? Why?

I am both grateful and humble to all of it, but keep reflecting as I walk past several prostitutes on my way to work every day. Passing people who are just as good as me in all aspects, but who were less lucky in life’s lottery of opportunities. Where are the drawbacks and the unacceptable fine print?

And what more is, who am I to decide whether I rightfully can and should continue this awesome journey through life in the fast track? Would the world become a better place if I said ‘no, thank you’ instead? How can I make others share the joy?

Picture of the Gulf of Thailand shot from Koh Samet’s beach Ao Phrao last weekend.

…then again

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Chang beer in Hua Hin - Erik Winther 2014
Things can change swiftly, but returning from the most amazing dinner, I have to be honest to myself and conclude that things are far more than good.

Picture of me enjoying a Chang beer in Hua Hin.

La Vita è Bella

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Scooter in Hua Hin - Erik Winther 2014
With the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) that makes the ASEAN countries consider themselves as one single market by 2015 and Thailand being the prevailing car manufacturer; with Thailand’s ‘first time [car] buyer’-promotion for its people; with the recent termination of Australia’s automotive industry; with low labour costs; and lastly with the fact that Thailand still demand 100% import tax on all vehicles manufactured abroad; there is no doubt why all car manufacturers set up production lines in Thailand, each of them with huge capacity. By 2017, the research company HIS expects ASEAN’s annual demand exceed 3.3 million cars.

Yet despite the collision safety arguments and the possibility to turn on the air conditioning when queuing, status is the only reason for the Thai (and ASEAN) people to replace their numerous, reliable two-wheelers. I mean, few things makes one feel as free as jumping on top of one’s bike and leaving the car queues behind on the way to the beach.

Picture of the 125cc-scooter I rented during a weekend trip to Hua Hin; the capital of retired Swedish seniors.

The Automotive Industry

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Erik surfing at Flow House in Bangkok
To exchange Linköping’s cold and dark climate for Bangkok’s warm sunlight and energizing tempo is really a good deal. Sure it wouldn’t be for everyone, but this time a year and at this time in life; it really fits me well.

Picture of me surfing on the artificial wave at Flow House here in Bangkok. Photo credits to Henrik Wetterling.

High life

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Frida sipping whiskey in Laos - Erik Winther
Sorry for the Swedish heading on this post, it’s just that the well-suited expression makes no sense direct translated.

As earlier mentioned, my colleague Frida travelled with me during this Asia-visit’s first sixteen days; which took us to and around the perfectly-averaged Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, to calm, healing and beautiful Luang Prabang in Laos, and lastly to warm Koh Samet in south-eastern Thailand before we returned to Bangkok.

During our stay in Laos, we went on a full-day hike. As we passed through a small village, we got to try the locals’ rice wine as it is supposed to be served: filtered through sawdust in a large clay jar and drunk with a super long bamboo-straw. With such hospitality, one does not remind them that strong alcohol at 9 am is a little so-so.

Picture from the mountains south of Luang Prabang, with Frida sipping liquor for breakfast.

Morgonstund har guld i mund

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Bangkok Blood - Erik Winther 2014
51 weeks have passed since I graduated from university and started working. It has truly been amazing weeks, and I am really humble and thankful for all the persons I’ve gotten to know and everything the year has taught me.

As you know, the typical student economy is rather slim. I had several friends who were counting their 20 SEK-bills in the end of the month. Thus I went from discussing microeconomics in modest private economy-measures, to corporate economy in macro-class. In just 51 weeks. Hence there are certainly times when it all feels unrealistic; such as last week when a colleague of mine explained that “I always round off order intake and business case-values into whole multiples of 1’000’000’000 SEK, there’s no point in being more specific”.

Picture of Bangkok’s pulsating traffic, shot a few weeks ago from Sirocco; the world’s highest open-air bar.

Quick shifts

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Kuang Si Waterfall - Erik Winther 2014
I used to swim. A lot. 20 hours a week. But just as the Swedish Speedway legend Tony Richardsson did, I too quit for real when I quit with competitive swimming. Thus, I haven’t swum at all the last three years.

But nowadays, with a roof top infinity pool within an elevator-ride, things have changed. To start the day with a refreshing 30-minute crawl session is quite something.

Picture shot by Frida of me swinging into the water in one of the basins below the mighty Kuang Si waterfall outside Luang Prabang, Laos.

Swimming

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native-tribe-woman-in-thailand
I am currently thinking a lot. Trying to find the global optimum (i.e. the best solution, for those of you who does not speak math) to a question with no/one/two/multiple (I don’t know which) correct answers.

To live a grandeur and exciting life in interesting places with people like oneself; or to live a much more down to earth “Svensson-life” with lots of “must-do’s” in a colder, darker and more boring place but with the advantage of having old friends and relatives closer? What is worth the most to me? That is the question.

Picture shot in northern Thailand on December 31, 2013.

The known versus the unknown

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Pad Thai at soi Rambuttri
Across the road from the world’s backpacker hub #1 (Khao San Road, Bangkok) lies a small street, soi, named after the colourful and sweet fruit Rambuttri. The name couldn’t be better chosen, as this is one of my favourite places in Asia.

Walking from Khao San, a temple is hidden in the flourish vegetation on your left while cosy restaurants and €5/h-massage saloons limit the soi on the right side. Between these boundaries you’ll find shopping stalls offering all clothing, books, gears, food and drinks a happy life can ask for. Add to that a bustling crowd of smiling and extrovert travellers who gladly share experiences and memories over a few bottles of Chang beer.

In case you’re still not convinced, Rambuttri’s motorbike-restaurants offer Thailand’s best Pad Thai (picture) and my favourite dessert: Mango w/ Sticky Rice. Awesomeness, for less than five bucks.

Soi Rambuttri

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Korean Hiker
The mountain hike mentioned in last post was organized as a group tour; hence four Korean teacher-students on winter vacation accompanied us. They reminded me of my dear friends Sun, Yonghak, Min, Jin, Chan and all the others; and all the good times we shared.

Frida and I then got the opportunity to have an interesting discussion and comparison the definition of success & joy, school systems, and international politics with them. I was happily impressed by their objective reflections, yet reminded of the effort it takes to counteract strong traditions; whether they are for better or worse.

Korean teachers

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Fascinating Smartphone
We spent the trip’s third night on a mountain top two hours northwest of Chiang Mai, in a Lahu hill tribe village. As the locals were used to the stunning views that surround their everyday lives, the children were far more interested in the games on Frida’s smartphone. Until the battery ran out.

Watching ten year olds who have to sleep on the floor, and whose parents earn less than a dollar a day, play ‘Candy Crush’ is really empathizing what I saw and studied last year in Africa: undeveloped rural areas are leapfrogging compared to the western society when it comes to digital adoption. I wish them good luck and cheer them forward!

Fascinating smartphone

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Convertible in USA
Dear reader,
It has been a while since I wrote to you lastly, thus let me give you a short summary.

I returned to Sweden from Ghana in December 2012, finalized my thesis (see DareAfrica.com if you are interested), graduated and started to work. With exception for a bunch of great weekends and vacations in Finland, Estonia, Netherlands and UK, and of course the amazing roadtrip along the US west coast, I stayed working in Sweden until December 2013.

After lovely days around Christmas with family, relatives and friends in Lund, I left Europe for Asia once more. Twenty days of backpacking in Thailand and Laos with my colleague and friend Frida followed, fantastic days that this blog will return to several times. Meeting up three other colleagues, I made myself ready for a couple of months’ work based here in Bangkok; this bustling and smiling city!

Picture of me in our rented convertible from Highway 1 in July 2013.

Asia 2014Q1

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