Saluting the Anzacs

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HERE is my confession. I have never been to an ANZAC Day dawn service. I have been to numerous war sites around the world, I’ve played two-up with Diggers in my local RSL on ANZAC Day, and watched them march on the streets of Brisbane, but I have never risen before the sun to listen to the hauntingly beautiful Last Post, which honours our soldiers who have died in global conflicts.
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As a young backpacker, I followed in the footsteps of my peers and made the trek to Gallipoli to see where so many Aussie lives were lost on that impossible stretch of beach. I have stood in the trenches where they bled out and died. I remember the undeserved awe in which the Turkish regarded my pilgrimage, so astounded were they that so many young Australians would cross the oceans to honour their dead. I’ve visited the Egyptian pyramids from where the Aussies did some of their training in preparation for Turkey.
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I have knelt in the gas chambers of Dachau in Germany and Auschwitz in Poland and wept at the futility of war itself. I have scanned the piles of suitcases, teeth, hair combs, reading glasses and shoes, and tried to imagine how those captured by the Nazis endured their fate. Tried to fathom the stroke of dumb luck that makes one person survive a war and another perish. I have sauntered through Switzerland and marvelled at how a country so tiny, and in the midst of all the combating countries, could remain neutral.
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In London, I have stayed in the Savoy which miraculously only sustained minor damage during the bombings of World War Two, retained its stiff upper lip and kept trading, and from where Winston Churchill regularly took his Cabinet to lunch. It is believed Churchill made some of his most important decisions regarding the war from the Savoy, whose air-raid shelters were considered some of London’s toughest. And like so many Aussies, I have stood in the London Underground and tried to imagine its role as an air-raid shelter.
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I have sat on the shores of Pearl Harbour and imagined the Japanese fighter planes overhead. On the other side of Oahu, I have seen the beaches from where local Hawaiian kids fled when they saw the jets overhead, before racing inside and crowding with frightened family members around a simple transistor radio to try to understand what was happening to their peaceful paradise.
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In south-east Asia, I have witnessed the effects of war and the cruel regime of Pol Pot in Cambodia in the torture chambers of Phnom Penh and on the streets littered with the limbless in Siem Reap. I have visited the many war museums of Saigon in Vietnam and crawled through part of the Cu Chi Tunnels before becoming overcome with claustrophobia. In Thailand, I have visited the River Kwai many times, and walked along the railway sleepers, the construction of which claimed the lives of so many Australian soldiers. I have paused on the site of Singapore’s Changi Prison and attempted to feel what it must have been like to survive the heartless humidity and the chaos of capture.
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As recently as last month, I was up in Papua New Guinea where I learned that it was actually in Rabaul that the first Australian soldier lost their life in any global conflict back in 1914. There’s war history galore there and I walked into in one of the tunnels which the Japanese forced the Aussies, along with other Allied soldiers, to build so that the enemy could store their food, weapons and themselves during air raids. I visited the Bitapaka War Cemetery, funded by AusAID, which pays homage to thousands of soldiers, many of them Australians. There’s even a remaining tree there from which the Germans are said to have climbed to shoot at the Aussies during World War One.
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Thanks to the ANZACS, I’ve been granted the freedom to travel the world and to experience their stories. Because of them, I live in a free and beautiful country. On this ANZAC Day, and not just because it’s the 100th anniversary since the ANZACS tried to steal Gallipoli but because it’s high time, I intend to set my clock, rise before the kookaburras, and tip my hat in their honour and of all of those who have perished in war. Lest We Forget.
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River Kwai Delights

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THE River Kwai is a jade jewel as late afternoon concedes languidly to dusk. The longtail boat in which I am travelling roars and sputters like an indigent politician up the infamous waterway towards the floating jungle rafts I have come to know and love so much. Travel writers don’t particularly like returning to the same place – there’s too much world to explore – but there are some destinations which become firmly etched into your psyche. And so entrenched in your soul you are unwittingly lured back. And for me, this is one of them, in part for its brutal war history involving the bravado of Australian soldiers and in part for its sheer natural beauty.
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I penned these words a year ago on my fourth trip to the rustic and incredibly beautiful River Kwai region, pondering what it was that kept drawing me back to this part of the world. I still have no answers, but the pull to return there has emerged again, and this year, I’d love to take some of you with me. And so, I am delighted to announce I have launched a new tour River Kwai Travel Writing Delights with The Global Goddess. In early August, we will be meeting in Bangkok where we will spend two nights in a luxury five-star hotel, before we embark on our journey to the River Kwai. And along the way, we’ll be observing, day dreaming and writing about our travels.
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If we’re lucky, we’ll bump into my good friend Sam Season, about whom I have written before. I first met Sam Season several years ago, and over the years I have been speaking with him about the most salacious of all subjects: love. Regular readers of The Global Goddess will remember this 22-year-old tour guide, a Mon man from one of the earliest tribes to live in South East Asia. Considered neither Burmese, nor Thai, the Mon exist in a small slither of land along the River Kwai, not far from the Burmese border. The Mon number some 8.14 million people but I remain captivated by this one man. This man called Sam.
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At night, he paints his face in traditional Mon markings but speaks with an English accent plucked out of a south London pub, with a smattering of Aussie twang – picked up solely from the tourists with which he works every day. He moved to this particular village when he was 9, and has been studying to finish High School since, in between working 6 days a week at the River Kwai Jungle Rafts. And Sam is in love with a girl called Jaytarmon with beautiful long black hair who lives in a neighbouring village down the river. But access to this girl, like internet, electricity and hot water, are elusive in these parts. And to complicate things more, Sam is being pursued by a girl in his own village, who cooks for him and washes his clothes.
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Last time we parted ways, on the banks of that beautiful river, Sam had plans to spend the year perfecting his English, so he can gain a mechanics scholarship in Australia and work towards his dream of becoming a car mechanic along the Thai/Burmese border. His plans included professing his love for Jaytarmon and asking her to wait for him and his love. Those of you who know me personally, or have met me through my words alone, know that this will be a journey of humility, heart and humour – the three cornerstones I believe make a great writer, and good human being. Please come and join me in one of the most beautiful trips I have ever done. It will change your life.
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For more details on my tour River Kwai Travel Writing Delights with The Global Goddess, please click on this link: https://theglobalgoddess.com/joinmythailandtour/
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Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

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I’ve been to Nice and the isle of Greece
 where I sipped champagne on yacht, 
I moved like Harlow in Monte Carlo and showed ’em what I’ve got. 
I’ve been undressed by kings and I’ve seen some things that 
a woman ain’t s’posed to see, I’ve been to paradise…Charlene (1977)
FOR me, Christmas is a time to reflect. It’s when I briefly stop travelling, slow down and glance back on the year. It would be so easy in my job as a travel writer to stumble from destination to destination and chase the rush of the next story and adventure, discarding the last place I’ve visited as simply a fuzzy memory. Recently, while filing a piece to camera for my colleagues over at TravelThereNext, I was asked what I “collect” on my travels. And it’s pretty simple. I collect characters. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things in every corner of the planet. I try to capture them in my stories and in the quiet corners of my mind. Store them up for those rainy days when I need reminding that the world is truly a remarkable place. And so I present to you some of the great characters I’ve met of 2014.

First World White Girls, who performed at the Judith Wright Centre, reminded me of how fortunate I am.

First World White Girls, who performed at the Judith Wright Centre, reminded me of how fortunate I am.

I began my travelling year in Bali in January where I met Cekorda, 85, a respected medicine man. “How old are you?” he asks as I sit with my back against his knees, his wiry fingers probing my skull.
“43,” I respond.
“Not so young,” he mutters to himself, much to my amusement. He then asks me my problems.
“I have a broken heart,” I reply.
I lay down on a mat and he presses between my toes with a stick. My third toe on my left foot hurts and I yelp.
“Your broken heart is healed. It is your mind. You have self doubt.”
Cekorda then stands above me and traces his magical stick over my body to clear my aura, before announcing that I no longer have a problem.
He turns to an Western bystander who speaks Indonesian.
“Women are very complex,” the bystander translates for Cekorda. I laugh all the way from Bali back to Brisbane.

Bali medicine man Cekorda

Bali medicine man Cekorda

In February, I’m up in Thailand, where I return to the River Kwai and meet up with my young friend Sam Season, a traditional Mon Man who works on the River Kwai Jungle Rafts. Sam has two big dreams: to gain an apprenticeship as a mechanic in Australia and to marry the love of his life, Jaytarmon who lives in a neighbouring village. I ask him whether this mysterious girl with the long black hair is still beautiful. He doesn’t hesitate. “Oh, awesome. I want to listen to her voice.” He pulls out his iPhone until he finds a photo of her, laying dreamily on a bed with her hands in her chin. “I look at her photo every night before I go to bed. I have to make her believe in myself and trust in myself. When I finish my education I will be ready. I have to show her ‘can you wait for me?’ One day, when I have an education we will have a good life and then we will marry.”

Sam Season

Sam Season

March finds me back in Brisbane, struck by the sadness of the drought which is consuming my country. My journey takes me a few suburbs away where I catch up with Tom Conley, 3, who was born just before the 2011 Brisbane floods and ironically now bakes for drought relief with his mum, Sally Gardner. “Tom gets involved in all the cooking adventures in our home. He especially loves baking and as soon as I get the utensils out he rushes over, climbs up and wants to measure ingredients, crack the eggs and lick the bowl, We talk about who we are helping or who we are baking for, he enjoys drawing pictures for the drought-affected families.”

Tom Conley

Tom Conley

In April I return to Bali, to spend Easter alone at a yoga retreat and to recover from yet another disappointing relationship. Purely by chance I select OneWorld Retreats Escape The World program in Ubud where, along with twice-daily yoga sessions, I am challenged to sit with myself for one glorious day of silence. Claude Chouinard, who runs the retreat with his partner Iyan Yaspriyana, reminds us that despite everyone around us seemingly being able to travel, we are only a small percentage of the world who is wealthy enough to do so. He encourages us to embrace our 24 hours of silence and see it for the gift that it is.
“For just one day you can consider this silence a form of torture or one of the greatest gifts you’ll ever give yourself. What we know as time is in fact an illusion. For human beings, time is limited to the moment we are born, to the moment we leave this planet, a very short journey considering the age of the universe. Live every day by the minute and enjoy as much as you possibly can…the illusion goes by quickly.”

Iyan Yaspriyana

Iyan Yaspriyana

May is chaotic and colourful as I spend nearly a month in Europe chasing a range of stories. And I meet a range of those fabulous characters I so treasure….A sultry Slovenian who compliments me on my “good English” when I reveal I’m Australian; Skanky from Mumbai who eats one gigantic meal a day as he doesn’t wish to “get sick on German food”; Suzie, the Filipino Canadian whose love of Schnitzel knows no bounds; Calamity Jane from Chicago who wanders the streets of Berlin pointing at every single wall and asking our tour guide whether it is a piece of the Berlin Wall; and a jolly gay guy from Wales.

A bold Berliner

A bold Berliner

June is spent in Christchurch, which was devastated in February 2011 by an earthquake in which 187 people were killed and 1000 buildings destroyed. At the C1 Espresso café I speak with owner Sam Crofskey, 37, who not only lost his original café across the road in the quake, but his house as well. Sam was working in his high street café when the earthquake hit.
“I was a little bit confused. The coffee grinders fell off and landed on my legs and the power went off and then I could hardly stand. We needed to get rid of the customers, the staff and then ourselves. We had more than 100 people in the café at the time. Out on the street everyone was distraught and I thought everyone was over-reacting. I thought we’d come back tomorrow and clean everything up. It took a lot more for me to understand the city was actually gone. When you are here with no power or phone you have no idea what’s going on. I was like, my business if fucked, my house is fucked…that’s annoying.”

Sam Crofskey

Sam Crofskey

The mercury had plunged to minus 2 degrees out in Southern Queensland Country in July when I ventured to the Dalby Cattle Sales in search of myths and men. I spend two hours chasing cattle and cowboys around the cattle yards before I decide to leave. On the way back to the car, I hear a voice behind me. “So, have you got your story?” a cowboy says, following me quickly out of the cattle yards. “Yep. I don’t have all morning to be chasing you boys around,” I say defiantly. “Where are you staying tonight?” he directs this question at my breasts. “Chinchilla,” I say. He stands and considers this for a moment, calculating whether I’m worth the hour drive to the next town. And just as I’m about to turn to leave he says: “Well, I guess I’ll see you around then.” The interaction keeps me entertained for several days and hundreds of kilometres later.

Dalby cowboys

Dalby cowboys

I spend the most perfect August day with a close mate where we escape to the Sunshine Coast and the Eumundi Markets and Noosa. We stroll and laugh. Steal languid pauses to smell the roses, or in this case, the pungent soap on sale. Chat to a stallholder about his carnivorous plants. Try on eclectic outfits. Resist the seduction of sparkly jewellery. Wander through aisles of books. Observe the colourful characters. Pat a camel. We stumble across a “Willy Washer” and spend some time discussing its purpose. There’s a male fairy guarding some jewellery that resembles the young man selling the silver, fashioned from old knives, forks and spoons. An ancient typewriter has been dismantled, somewhat to our dismay, and crafted into trinkets. Colourful hand-woven handbags remind us of our travels around the globe. We discover Noosa Reds – plump, juicy tomatoes bursting with the distinct flavours of this fertile region – deliciously packed in crunchy brown paper bags. A giant gecko mural hugs a pole. There’s glass-blowing and some beaut ukes. And all the while, we keep winding through the marketplace, unravelling our lives.

A Eumundi Fairy

A Eumundi Fairy

On a stunning September afternoon I find myself staring at boobs and Broadbeach on the Gold Coast, at a High Tea to launch Kim McCosker’s cookbook Cook 4 a Cure to raise funds for the National Breast Cancer Foundation, and to celebrate the opening of Australia’s newest resort brand ULTIQA Resorts. Guest speaker Mark Wood volunteers his time to speak about breast cancer after losing his wife Annie to the disease seven years ago, and says one in eight Australian women will be told they have breast cancer at some stage.
“Today, 37 women will be told they have breast cancer. To think that’s happening to 37 people today and the day after is far too many. And seven people would have lost that battle today. My wife got a death sentence but my daughter, who was 12 at the time that Annie died, got a life sentence losing her mother so young. Twenty years ago, 37 per cent of women diagnosed with the disease died, but that’s now been halved through awareness and education.”
All of a sudden I feel tired and emotional, but as I furtively glance around the room, I find I am not alone. There’s not a dry eye in the house.

Kim McCosker

Kim McCosker

October was spent in Fiji at the Australian Society of Travel Writers Awards where I won Best Food Travel Story for a piece I wrote about a group of six hardcore Wellington prisoners who were being rehabilitated through a cooking program “From Prison Gate to Plate”. Talk about collecting characters. And the words of celebrity chef Martin Bosley, who runs the program, still ring in my head. “I didn’t realise what a loss of freedom truly meant before I went in there. As a community we need to change our perceptions and be prepared that one day these men are getting out and we need to pick up where prisons leave off and reduce re-offending.”

Fiji School Kids

Fiji School Kids

I returned to Hawaii for the first time in 22 years in November, where there were characters galore including the mythical menehune. Sheraton Kona Cultural Tour Officer Lily Dudoit explains these little red men. “Everywhere in Hawaii we are known for our myths and legends. We have the little people who only come out at night to do their work. We call them Menehune and they are said to have reddish skin colour. There was a couple who had their wedding photo by this tree and when they had the photo developed there was a Menehune peeking out from behind the tree. They like to make trouble. Sometimes things go missing or they move something. You don’t find them. They find you.” I spend the rest of my time in this land of rainbows searching for possibly the most intriguing men I will meet all year.

Hawaiian Kids

Hawaiian Kids

Which brings me to December. While many leave Brisbane and Australia, this is the time of year where I sit on my back deck with a cold beer and warm memories. There’s movies and coffees and catch ups with friends and family, the all-important support cast of characters in my life. Thank you to everyone I have met out there in the big wide world this year, to those who have come on the journey with me, and to those who continue to love and support me back at home. Sending you love and light this season and may we all experience peace on earth.
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Five things I love about Thailand

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The characters…

This little girl was taking her bath, mid-morning, in the middle of Bangkok

This little girl was taking her bath, mid-morning, in the middle of Bangkok


While this little boy was practising his Muay Thai boxing late afternoon

While this little boy was practising his Muay Thai boxing late afternoon


The culture…
Early morning and this beautiful Mon woman was washing down by the River Kwai

This beautiful Mon woman was washing down by the River Kwai


Late afternoon, I found this monk was sweeping in the Mon village along the River Kwai

This monk was sweeping in the Mon village along the River Kwai


The cuisine…
Enjoy exotic food from top-notch restaurants...

Enjoy exotic food from top-notch restaurants…


Or dine in local, lively markets

Or dine in local, lively markets


The colour…
Thailand is an artist's palette of colour

Thailand is an artist’s palette of colour


You'll find the most amazing hues in the most unlikely places

You’ll find the most amazing hues in the most unlikely places


The coconuts…
Thai coconuts are tasty, cheap and full of goodness - the perfect way to beat the heat

Thai coconuts are tasty, cheap and full of goodness – the perfect way to beat the heat


The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of the Tourism Authority of Thailand – http://www.tourismthailand.org
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A new Season for Sam

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THE River Kwai is a jade jewel as late afternoon concedes languidly to dusk. The longtail boat in which I am travelling roars and sputters like an indignant politician up the infamous waterway towards the floating jungle rafts I have come to know and love so much. Travel writers don’t particularly like returning to the same place – there’s too much world to explore – but there are some destinations which become firmly etched in your psyche. And so entrenched in your soul you are unwittingly lured back. And for me, this is one of them, in part for its brutal war history involving the bravado of Australian soldiers and in part for its sheer natural beauty.
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He doesn’t know I’m coming back to this place with no electricity and where internet connection is notoriously unreliable on the limited generator in his village. And anyway, I wish it to be a surprise visit to an old friend. Six months ago I found myself on my third trip to Thailand’s romantic River Kwai Jungle Rafts and I told him I’d be back for the next chapter of his story. But even I didn’t know it would be so soon.
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I first met Sam Season several years ago, and over the years I have been speaking with him about the most salacious of all subjects: love. Regular readers of The Global Goddess will remember this 22-year-old tour guide, a Mon man from one of the earliest tribes to live in South East Asia. Considered neither Burmese, nor Thai, the Mon exist in a small slither of land along the River Kwai, not far from the Burmese border. The Mon number some 8.14 million people but I am remain captivated by this one man. This man called Sam.
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At night, he paints his face in traditional Mon markings but speaks with an English accent plucked out of a south London pub, with a smattering of Aussie twang – picked up solely from the tourists with which he works every day. He moved to this particular village when he was 9, and has been studying to finish High School since, in between working 6 days a week at the River Kwai Jungle Rafts. And Sam is in love with a girl called Jaytarmon with beautiful long black hair who lives in a neighbouring village down the river. But access to this girl, like internet, electricity and hot water, are elusive in these parts. And to complicate things more, Sam is being pursued by a girl in his own village, who cooks for him and washes his clothes.
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Last month I returned to the River Kwai Jungle Rafts on a last-minute work trip. Word travels fast in these parts and I’m sitting at dinner when a young man, his face painted in Mon tribal markings, walks up to me, his arms outstretched and in that unmistakable Aussie/British accent says: “It’s so good to see you, why didn’t you Facebook me to tell me you were coming?”. We laugh, hug and chat politely for a few moments and I tell him I am here to collect the next chapter of his love story. He blushes, coyly. “Well, it’s complicated but a few things have changed in that direction. I will explain to you tomorrow.” The one thing I have learned about my many visits to this beautiful region, and this young man Sam, is that you must take your time. Pause. Enjoy. Sway in a hammock and daydream. Listen to the river gurgle like a baby. And the story will eventually float down the rapids towards you.
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The next night after dinner and by the light of a kerosene lamp, Sam pulls me aside to give me his next chapter. And he’s excited. He’s learned that a scholarship exists in Australia for which he may be eligible. He’s going to apply for it in one year, when he feels his English is adequate. He tells me he has only told his parents and me of his dream. “I really want to go for it,” he says, “I think it will change my life. I want to help my parents and we have a house but it is just bamboo. I want to build a house for my parents. I need to keep going with my dreams.”
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I ask him about the state of his love life. He has finished his relationship with the girl in his village who cooks for him because “she is not nice to tourists. How can I introduce this girl to my family when she acts like this?”. So Last January Sam phoned Jaytarmon after an absence of a year. “I said Happy New Year, it is a New Year and I want to start new things with you. The past I just want to forget it. You can punish me however you like but please apologise me but don’t push me away,” he says in his broken, yet impressive English.
“She said it may be too late and that maybe she has a boyfriend. I said ‘I don’t want to have anyone else, please give me a second chance’. I told her ‘you are the one who can keep going with me for my whole life’. I told her ‘I have tried another girl, she doesn’t work out for me, but you are one of the best’.
“I asked her ‘when can I call you?’ She said maybe once a week. She just wants to test that I will keep going with this to test me. So I call her once a week, sometimes twice a week. We talk about our daily work and how many tourists.”
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We wade into the murky waters of sex. “We are traditional Mon people. If we kiss we need to be married.” I ask him whether this mysterious girl with the long black hair is still beautiful. He doesn’t hesitate. “Oh, awesome. I want to listen to her voice.” He pulls out his iPhone until he finds a photo of her, laying dreamily on a bed with her hands in her chin. “I look at her photo every night before I go to bed.”

Photo of Jaytarmon, courtesy of Sam Season

Photo of Jaytarmon, courtesy of Sam Season


In the meantime, Sam will spend the next year perfecting his English, so he can gain the scholarship and work towards his dream of becoming a car mechanic along the Thai/Burmese border. If he is successful, he will be in Australia for between four and five years, which raises the question of Jaytarmon.
“I have to make her believe in myself and trust in myself. When I finish my education I will be ready. I have to show her ‘can you wait for me?’ One day, when I have an education we will have a good life and then we will marry.”
Our short but magical time comes to an end. The next morning Sam walks me to the long-tail boat to say goodbye. I go to shake his hand and he says “come on” as if to say handshakes are for strangers, and gives me a big hug. I wave farewell to my friend, this impressive young man, and smile all the way back down that beautiful jade river.
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The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of the Tourism Authority of Thailand and Thai Airways. Sam’s original story, and others, appears in Christine Retschlag’s first book (just released) Destination Desire – The Global Goddess, a single woman’s journey. This travel and dating book is available as an eBook via Amazon for $4.99 or as a limited-edition print run for $14.99 through The Goddess herself at Christine.retschlag@theglobalgoddess.com. http://www.theglobalgoddess.com
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One night in Bangkok

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IT’S all so covert it’s like I’m a character in a spy novel. I am instructed to have my bags packed ready to go for Monday morning. There’s no itinerary and my plane tickets arrive in the cab on the way to the airport. I am whisked through customs and immigration and before I know it I am on an empty Thai Airways flight to Bangkok. I have no idea what I’m doing or who I’m meeting apart from this sliver of information: “You are on a fact-finding mission for the Thai government”. My imagination gallops like a wild bush brumby. Am I being summoned to Bangkok to learn something from the Thai government or do they wish to learn something from me? I scan my mind for what I could teach them. I have become somewhat of on expert in Brisbane’s disastrous dating scene and am convinced they wish me to confirm the unbelievable tales about which I have been writing for some time. Yes, Your Honour, he really did say his three favourite things were his gun, sex and bible. No, he can’t spell. Not even his own name.
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Nine hours later the plot thickens. There’s a sign at the airport with my name, and a woman checks my passport just in case I am someone else masquerading as me. A private car with a female driver, whose name I later learn is Fa, ferries me through a series of dark back alleys like we are being tailed, before we arrive promptly at the Rembrandt Hotel and I am hurriedly shuffled to the Executive Lounge and checked in.
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The next morning a familiar face sidles up to me at breakfast. I realise it’s the Rembrandt’s General Manager Erik Hallin with whom I had dinner at the hotel’s signature Indian restaurant on my last trip to Bangkok just six months ago. We talk politics, the reason I suspect I am really in Thailand. Since last November, protestors disgruntled at what they say is a corrupt government run by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra have been taking to the streets of the Thai capital in what have been largely traffic-disrupting, but peaceful protests. Erik informs me that occupancy of his hotel is running at 70 per cent, which isn’t bad but “people are scared off by the protests”.
“You learn to walk everywhere in this city,” he says wryly.
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From what I can piece together, the Thai government has called me, and three other colleagues – one from Sydney, one from Melbourne, and the other from Auckland, to write a piece proclaiming it’s “business as usual in Bangkok”. Except there’s a few hiccups with this scenario. Problems which becoming increasingly more apparent as the week wears on. The day I arrive, disgruntled rice farmers from rural Thailand have also joined the democratic protestors, claiming they have not been paid under a rice subsidy scheme instigated by the Thai government. And, less-widely reported, so have rubber plantation farmers. And they are trying to block Yingluck’s physical return to Government House with barricades established in key parts of the capital.
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At first it does seem like another day in Bangkok. If anything, it’s a bit more quiet than usual, like the capital is nursing a New Year’s Day hangover. I wander down to the protest site and take some photos. But after lunch things change swiftly. A restaurant owner asks me what I’m planning to do next. “I’m just going back to my room to do some work,” I reply. “Good he says. The traffic is very bad, the fighting has broken out again. But don’t worry, you will be safe.” Given the protests have been peaceful, I take his words “fighting” to mean little more than a war of words and return to my hotel room to work. At 6pm I turn on the BBC and am shocked. At this stage, three people have been killed and dozens others have been injured when a grenade was tossed and riot police moved in on the protestors. I meet my Sydney colleague Rod Eime http://www.traveloscopy.com
and we head down to one of the protest sites and there are crowds of people, but no violence in this particular area.
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By the end of this one night in Bangkok, four people are confirmed dead, 64 are injured and there’s speculation by witnesses that the police, not the protestors, tossed the grenade. Our planned visit to the “peaceful protest” site is rapidy cancelled by the Thai government, along with a press conference that evening, with “bad traffic” cited as the reason. Wading into another country’s politics, as a foreign journalist visiting for just a few days, is a risky business. You snatch a glimpse, often polished by the PR machine, and are then diverted. And the truth remains the casualty.
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A local journalist, who didn’t want to be named for fear of deportment, tells me over breakfast that it is essentially “business as usual” in Bangkok, but warns me to stay away from the protest sites as things can escalate rapidly.
“I’m not concerned at all. The Thais will sort it out in their way. The best thing for this country is for the Generals to take over. Forget what other countries say. It is Thai culture, it has been happening for hundreds of years. Let them sort out what they’ve got to do,” he says.
“Today is going to be a an interesting day here. (Exiled former Prime Minister) Taksin’s ex wife saw a fortune teller in Burma who said if Yingluck didn’t get back into government today she never will.
“The Thais are very superstitious. I don’t know whether there will be more violence. But no one is particularly perturbed.”
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It is a surprisingly peaceful day but despite the obvious casualties, there is another victim in this scenario: tourism. Thailand relies heavily on the tourist dollar, particularly from Australians who have long held a love affair with the Land of Smiles. Mark Armsden, a mate and former colleague from our Gold Coast Bulletin news reporting days some 20 years ago, now lives in Bangkok and handles the PR for Tune Hotels. He’s passionate about how the situation is impacting on Thailand’s key income earner: “If you think the protests are having little effect on tourism, speak to hoteliers, tailors, restaurants and bars and other local businesses between Sukhumvit 33 and MBK. Then speak to the thousands of young working Thais who rely on the service charge they earn to supplement their income – this nonsense has been devastating on the “spine” of Bangkok tourism….and that’s before you get down to the river and all the businesses that rely on tourism there as well. You should also check on how devastating it has been on the flag carrier (Thai Airways) as well.”
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Mark’s opinion is one echoed all over Thailand. Perhaps it’s our isolation as a nation, but Australians adopt an interesting approach when it comes to violence overseas. We hear there has been conflict in a city and we avoid a country altogether. We’re strangely conservative like that. But the reality is somewhat different. Even in Bangkok, while the protests were exploding in some parts of the city, it is business as usual in others. We dine at the exquisite Naj restaurant on high-end Thai food while the protestors are outside. Attend a Muay Thai boxing class. And there’s plenty of parts of Thailand that remain unaffected. Along the ravishingly beautiful River Kwai, a tour guide tells me the situation is having a massive impact on tourism, far away from Bangkok.
“It’s high season here and we should be full but we’re not. This is how we make our money, from tourism,” he says.
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On Saturday afternoon and back in Bangkok in a beauty salon, I ask the girls whether there has been any more strife since I’ve been down in the remote River Kwai. They laugh and talk to each other rapidly in Thai, the only word I can understand is “farang” which means foreigner and I ask them what they are saying. “Farang knows more about Thai politics than Thai people,” they giggle. I fly out midnight Saturday night and on Sunday afternoon the situation has changed again, when a woman and child are killed, and 22 more people injured, in a grenade attack near a popular shopping area. In recent months, a total of 19 people have died and hundreds more have been injured. As far as I know, none of these have been foreign tourists.
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But as we know, perception is everything. After the 2012 Bali bombings in which 88 Australians were killed, we all boycotted Bali. But we were also the first nationality to return. We may be a conservative nation but we are also resilient. So spare a thought for Thailand and those who are dying in the name of democracy, whose livelihoods rely on the tourist dollar and do what Aussies do best. Bounce back. Your neighbours need you. I’ll certainly be back, apart from the fact I love this city, I’ve got a Brisbane dating report to deliver to the Thai government.
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The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Thai Airways, Rembrandt Hotel, Bangkok and the River Kwai Jungle Rafts. For more information go to http://www.tourismthailand.org
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A Sam for all Seasons

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A GORILLAS in the mist afternoon is rolling smugly in over the emerald mountains of Kanchanaburi and I am slung equally low and languid in a hammock, overlooking Thailand’s River Kwai, contemplating life and love. Not my life, nor my love, but that of a man called Sam. Sam Season.
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Sam is a Mon man, from the displaced Mon people, considered one of the earliest tribes to live in South East Asia. Not considered Burmese, nor Thai, the Mon exist in a small slither of land along the River Kwai, not far from the Burmese border. The Mon number some 8.14 million people but I am captivated by this one man. This man called Sam.
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Sam, 22, a tour guide at the River Kwai Jungle Rafts, is a paradox like the story of his people. A heady blend of naivety and worldliness. At night, he paints his face in traditional Mon markings but speaks with an English accent straight out of a south London pub, with a smattering of Aussie twang – picked up solely from the tourists with which he works every day. He moved to this particular village when he was 9, and has been studying to finish High School since, in between working 6 days a week at the River Kwai Jungle Rafts.
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And Sam is in love. But love, like most things along the River Kwai, is complicated. I first met Sam two years ago when I visited the River Kwai Jungle Rafts and he told me of a girl in a neighbouring village, a girl with beautiful long black hair. A girl who made him blush. A girl called Jaytarmon. I told him what I knew of women “tell her she has beautiful hair, women love to be complimented on their hair,” I urged. And then I left, to go back into the “real world”, one of electricity, hot showers and easy internet access, all these things elusive to Sam. That, and the fact he doesn’t own a boat to visit Jaytarmon in the next village, relying on tours to the cave to try and catch a glimpse of her and her luscious locks. I leave, urging him to follow his heart.
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So, when I returned to the River Kwai last week, I was thrilled to see Sam again. “We need to talk,” I told him, “I need to know about a certain girl.” He laughed. “I can’t believe you remember that. Well, there’s been some progress”. It was the final half hour on my last day when Sam and I finally snatched a moment to chat. “About six months ago I sent a message to her telling her that ‘I’m really missing you’. I said I couldn’t stop thinking about her. She wrote back asking me why. She said everything has stopped now and what was between us was finished,” Sam says, looking frustrated and confused.
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But matters of the heart are never simple and it turns out Sam is being pursued by a girl in his own village, who cooks for him and washes his clothes. “Who are you going to choose between, the one who loves you or the one who you love? I don’t know which one yet. This one at the moment is fine. She does everything for me. But I’m still missing Jaytarmon,” he says, as he pulls out his mobile phone with two photos of the gorgeous Jaytarmon on it.
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And Sam has plans. Grand plans. He hopes to stay at River Kwai Jungle Rafts for two more years and then save enough money to go to college for four years to become a car mechanic. He aims to open a garage at the border, between Burma and Thailand. There’s not a lot of cars down in these parts but Sam likes old cars. “You’ve got to think about doing something that is possible. And you must have a family and kids. When you are old your kids can take care of you. Jaytarmon’s mum really likes me. I have the green light from the mum’s side, but the daughter is still a yellow. I want to go to college and return back to the one I’ll always love.”
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Our short time is up, and just as I walk away Sam points out the other girl. The one in his village who washes his clothes and cooks him food. “She’s good enough for me?” he asks. I turn and look him in the eye. “Follow your heart,” I say, before catching the boat home.

The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Scoot Airlines (www.flyscoot.com); The Pullman Bangkok King Power (www.pullmanbangkokkingpower.com); The Tourism Authority of Thailand (www.tourismthailand.org); and the Ibis Bencoolen Singapore (www.ibishotels.com)
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