Saturday, February 26, 2011

US Politics (1 of 3)

I've been following politics since the 1952 conventions - B&W and floor fights too.  Those were exciting days.  One thing I learned was to "Follow The Money".  The first thing I looked at in Obama's campaign were all the Wall Street campaign contributions.  


Then I "met" Rahm on the Tube. Before he opened his mouth his body language told me “Here is a real Jerk”.  I knew we would win thanks to Obama's charisma (especially after Sarah Palin's VP selection) but I knew all was already lost.  Even behind the scenes, Rahm is such an acerbic, foul mouthed jerk he nullifies Obama's polish.  It also telegraphed to the Muslim world that nothing would change in the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and we were in for a rough ride.  

Emanuel was such a bad decision that it brings Obama's judgment into question.  When he stumped on "Change We Can Believe In", in fact it is politics as usual.

Ken Salazar was another disingenuous selection that violated “Doing the right thing.” I'm a naturalist, and wildlife/conservation issues are important to me.  Obama went to school in my Honolulu neighborhood, so I expected far more from him in focusing on Nature.  Many Hawai'i residents consider whaling as Genocide, but Barack has totally ignored wildlife and the environment - very unusual for an "Akamai" Hawai'i resident.  By playing politics with Wall Street, making Washington Insiders and the rest of us endure Emanuel, and ignoring conservation issues, Obama told us that "Change We Can Believe In" was just a campaign slogan.  

See you on the water, Ling Yai (Thai for 'Big Monkey') AKA John Caveman Gray

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Phang Nga Reality (2 of 2)

You remember the multi-lingual cartoons Oh displayed?  

I've offered them to all the companies, and the Harbors department, and the TAT - for free to use in their briefings and display on the piers.  It's isn't a brick wall, but the vapors of a mental vacuum that greets the idea.  Nobody cares.  The other companies have briefings.  The only one I've heard was four lines:

"Hey Mister, you go Patong last night?"
"Did your wife enjoy the woman you take?"
"Are you sure that was a woman, and not a Katoy?"
"Don't worry; your children are too young to know the difference!"

Now you know what speedboat owners think of tourists.  Can this mentality even understand quiet in the Hong, or environmental quality, or safety training?

I only founded the industry, and on my 20 year anniversary I was actually invited to be a training guide (they kidnapped 12 of my guides at once to break our quality, so I demanded to be a training guide.)  I got to go on a trip to James Bond (gag me with a spoon). 

There were five other training guides - one a National Geographic Scuba operator - but no kayakers.  When they went to James Bond, I asked my guides if the vendors still had the baby gibbon, and if so, did the trainers complain or at least educate the participants?  "There wasn't just one gibbon, there were four.  Twenty other mothers and babies died before those four survived their fall, but all the trainers just walked by as if it was normal, and never said a word."  

The next day when I gave a 3-hour lecture about 200 attended and were riveted.  They got the message but have no back-up from their owners.  When I talked about how bad it is to feel bananas to the macaques, 50 others walked out en mass, but graduated anyway. 

When I came here, I knew it would be tough.  In Hawai'i, I made more in a week than I do here in a year. and Phuket's cost of living isn't cheap.  I knew I would not see the fruits of my labor in my lifetime, but we have to start somewhere, and if it isn't here, now, we will lose the Planet.

Unfortunately, my 21 year experiment says we aren't going to make it.  We truly are nothing but overgrown monkeys, and the speedboat operators of the World prevail because they have no ethics, but a lot of corruption.  

So what keeps me going?  I've always had the spirit, and the resolve, to make a difference no matter the cost.  And I’ve got a friend who works for the World Bank who shares my ethic.  He's Ph.D. Economics from Berkeley, I'm academic scholarship UCLA.  My friend could be on Wall Street in a cushy office, but he takes on the most difficult assignments.  When we met, he was a Sub-Saharan Africa specialist - the garden spots of Chad, Niger, etc.  He went to Indonesia, and then managed the Amazon Rain Forest Protection Project.  World Bank said five years in that hot seat was enough, so he could take any posting he wanted.  He returned to Indonesia, and now he's splitting his time in Haiti.  

Sure, I'm trying to change the World with "Natural History By Sea Kayaking Since 1983" but my friend, and thousands more like him, contribute far more than I.

I only wish I could get those volume controls introduced - and get the other companies to stop shouting.  They treat the Hongs like they are Patong.  Despite their wealth, or perhaps in pursuit of wealth, my Gift to Thailand is merely Pearls Before Swine.

See you on the water, Ling Yai (Thai for 'Big Monkey') AKA John Caveman Gray

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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Phang Nga Reality (1 of 2)

I am making this comments because of a guest who took the time to make a comment in our book -we care what you think.

Sawasdee and Aloha Kim and Paul,

Thanks for your kind comments. We do our best and I hope that every trip we run is just a little bit better than the last.

Longevity is the key to our guide team.  My original hire of 20 years ago is still with us and we have several guides with 15+ years of experience.  In fact, Oh is the New Kid on the Block, with four years experience. He used to work for one of the noisy companies, but saw the light and moved over with us.

Your comments make me cry.  I left a high profile career in Hawai'i, where people still stop me on the street whenever I can return, to bring the Environmental ethic to Asia. I preached volume limits, professional standards, and quality. Quite frankly, I wasted the 20 most productive years of my life chasing windmills, starting the first Community-Based Tourism program I've ever heard of, winning six major Ecotourism awards in five years, always putting the awards in the company name and not mine.

After 12 years, my protégé fired me, saying "I'm tired of being professional, so I've decided to use your name and reputation to lower our quality and make a lot of money.  Since you gave away all the shares for free and didn't keep even one for yourself, technically you are just an employee.  You are fired!"  My trump card was the logo, which is still legally registered to me.  "I'm going to use your logo whether you like it or not.  Complaining is dangerous for your health."
I was headed back to Hawai'i, but 23 of 30 staff asked me to stay so we can prove that Thai ecotourism programs can be as good as anybody. Five of those who stayed were relatives and two power-control jerks who were not invited.

My theme at John Gray Sea Canoe uses kayaks and local fishermen to create low-cost CBT programs that benefit a village, reduce urban migration while encouraging natural history education and provide above average-income jobs.  But by that time, Phi-Phi/James Bond speedboat operators figured that if they cut their costs to the bone and kept their prices just below ours, they could get rich.  And they did. (We have never made a profit).

Speedboats and kayaks go together like oil and water, especially 2-stroke, which they all are. Speedboat owners could care less about environment, dignity, or the quality of their own country. Over the years I've pulled 8,531 garbage bags of rubbish out of the bay - many plastic bottles with their logos - and they just laugh at me for actually caring.

Privately, these guys laugh at me, saying I'm a fool for caring about quality and the environment, and making them rich.  They pay corruption instead of taxes and park fees, and pull underage kids out of school to get around the minimum age, "John, you spread sheet everything and keep your quality high and profit low.  We compete to see who can be the worst.  Our trips are really worth B600-700 so we can come up close to you and make almost B3,000 free money per booking - times 200-500/day.  My mansion is B20 million, his, 17, his 15, etc.  We all drive Mercedes while you are homeless and don't even own a motorbike."

None of these people kayak, care about the environment, and I've never seen another owner or manager in the bay.  Many companies have had fatalities, and they don't even stop for a day to assess their "safety" practices.

Did you go into the "Mangrove" hong?  I gave it the name because of the thick, healthy mangroves.  The other companies use it as a playground, and now the mangroves are almost gone, many by sitting in them for a photo op, playing Tarzan, walking or kayaking over Brugeria pneumataphores.   Our first copy-cat discovered auger shells around the Hong’s decaying trees. While we quietly explained their role in the Hong’s ecosystem, they brought a bucket, had a B-B-Q and destroyed the composition of the hong forever.  They don't know, and could care less.

See you on the water, Ling Yai (Thai for 'Big Monkey') AKA John Caveman Gray

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