Saturday, 23 July 2005

the Laughing Cow is taking over the world

On a lighter note, a minor observation I have made of similarities between countries as diverse as Morocco and Laos. Cheese in developing and generally hot countries, is very hard to find. I imagine this is because of a lack of refrigeration in such countries.

May I introduce the Laughing Cow, a synthetic attempt at cheese with an infinite shelf life, available in individually foil wrapped triangles on which a red cow possessing a sinister grin and cheese earrings stares back at you. Ask for cheese in countries across the globe and you are offered the Western delight of a single triangle of Laughing Cow cheese. (May i warn you in advance that it tastes absolutely foul in omelets). What Coca-cola has done for beverages; the Laughing Cow has done for cheese. The Laughing Cow is literally taking over the world.

Terror around the globe

Well the terrorists are keeping us on our toes aren't they? Those of you in the UK will be tucked up in bed right now, but as I am six hours ahead over here I've already been watching the news. At least two bombs that have gone off in an Egyptian tourist resort. At least 43 dead and 150 injured at the last count, but this is sure to rise. Link here to the story if you haven't already heard.

I would imagine it will turn out to be the workings of an extremist muslin fact I would put what little money I have and my beloved iMac G5 on it.

Iraqis have also had it tough with extensive casualties as a result of a surge in suicide bombings in recent weeks.

Pakistan was the scene of demonstrations against a crackdown on extremism in the wake of the London bombs.

On Tuesday the US embassy in Saudi Arabia warned US citizens there of a potential terror attack.

Fighting and skirmishes have become increasingly frequent in Israel on the run up to the Israeli pull out of Gaza in August. More suicide bombs on the part of Hamas; the Israeli army respond with fire power.

There are many other areas that I could mention.

Then, of course, there is London with our home bred terrorists. According to an ex chief of police, we could have up to three hundred such terrorists living amongst us and he claims the terror attacks could continue for the next twenty years.

So what do I think of it. Well, according to CIA figures, there are 1.48 billion Muslims world wide. Out of a population of around 6.5 billion (6,450,560,687 to be exact), Muslims make up a substantial proportion of the population. Of those 1.48 billion, the majority are living in peace, leading very normal lives. When you place the number of Muslims against the number of terror attacks, terrorists who follow a pervaded form of Islam are a minority. Unfortunately, a single suicide bomber has the propensity to murder many people.

Why do they do it? Who knows. What we mustn't forget however, is that the West has played a huge role in what is happening around the world. The West has had countless fingers in an infinite number of political pies. It has flexed its muscles and used trade agreements to control politics in other countries. The West has taken sides, (supporting Israel over Palestine for decades for example,) we have supported dictators such as Saddam Hussein, supplied him with weapons to fight the Iran-Iraq war and taken advantages of his country's vast oil wealth. When he turned against us, we crushed him. We educated Osama bin Laden. We were instrumental in the Taliban's rule over Afghanistan, providing them with weapons for their war against the Soviet Union. Then we left them to their own devices before crushing them after 9/11. We have had trade agreements with Pakistan and turned a blind eye to the atrocities in Kashmir. I could go on.

Is it any wonder that a minority of Muslims in these areas of the world are feeling like pawns in a Western game of chess? They watch as leaders are alternately supported and then dropped by the world's super powers. They have watched US and British rhetoric of 'the War against Terror' at work, providing excuses for the invasion of Iraq and the killing of innocent civilians in what amounts to a war over precious oil fields.

What we must not forget also is that the news we watch on TV or read in the papers is socially constructed. The stories we are shown are determined by the current political climate, those that are most likely to sell papers and the slant of stories often determined by the political orientation of the media corporation. Our support for the Israelis has been obvious in our one-sided journalistic portrayals of events in Israel.

In many ways, by getting so deeply involved in foreign affairs, we ourselves created the rift that is now being exploited by terrorists in the name of a twisted version of Islam. I do not condone the terror attacks, nor do I condone the atrocities that Saddam or the Taliban were involved in but I do believe that at the backs of our minds we have to be aware of the involvement of the world's super powers in what is now happening on our doorsteps.

Will the terrorists strike again? Of course they will. What is happening today has been simmering for the last twenty to thirty years. It is the culmination of training camps established decades ago spewing out brain washed men who believe they are fighting a global jihad against Israel and the West and ready to die for their cause. Unfortunately, they feel the need to fly the flag of Islam, to the detriment of Islamic communities around the globe. The book Al Qaeda is worth a read for the background on the origins of the training camps.

How will terrorism affect Britain? In many ways despite deaths and the obvious disruption, I think the terrorist acts we have currently seen and those still to come, will eventually benefit our multicultural society. London is a dynamic place where people of all races, religions, creeds and colours live together very happily. The bombs in public transport are targeted at all London citizens, regardless of ethnic origins or religious beliefs. I think, if anything, this indiscriminate bombing will bring our diverse community closer together. It affects everyone and therefore the only way terrorism can be defeated is if we act as a single community together.

Finally, will I be changing my plans as a result. Not a chance.

I would be glad to hear some alternative views so please feel free to comment away on the recent events.

Thursday, 21 July 2005

Politics of the third world.

I am officially stranded in Vientiane for the next week. I am not allowed to leave the city. No joke!

As of yesterday, Vientiane is in full blown preparation for the 38th Asean ministerial meeting. Police have noticeably increased, guarding every road junction. Market stall sellers have been ushered off their usual sites and told not to return until after the meeting (apparently they make the place look untidy) and a mammoth operation of dust removal from the roads along which the delegates will pass in their air conditioned, blacked out cars, is underway(never mind the locals who endure the dust on a daily basis or the fact that money would be better spent on schools and healthcare).

Roads are closed, shops, restaurants, bars and schools are closed. No foreigner may enter the city for the entire week (bar delegates and specific journalists with the correct paperwork). Should I leave the city, I would be unable to return. So much for my weekend in Thailand. A short trip across the friendship bridge a few km out of town and I could have savoured the delights of Tescos (yes the British supermarket). Instead I shall probably be sat in my office working on my dissertation...the joys!

Other news. Lao Hmong refugees, who are currently based in no mans land in northern Thailand, have been offered aid by Thailand but have been refused entry to the US. Apparently, many of them crossed the border believing that the US would take them in, as they had 15,000 others. Unfortunately, the US is not planning to take in any more so the refugees are stuck in Thailand. They are seeking political refuge because they claim they are being persecuted by the communist government of Laos.

Also, today is the start of Buddhist Lent, marking the anniversary of the first sermon by Buddha. Lent lasts three months until September, when everyone takes a few days off work and enjoy boat races down the Mekong. The temples look absolutely stunning at the moment with flowers and incense everywhere.

apart from a little insight into the goings on in Laos, I've not been up to much. Working hard and not really playing much. Heading out tomorrow night with a bunch of people for food and drinkies which will make a change. I'm also catching up with an American guy my age, who is based out here teaching English. He seems like a sound guy so hopefully, he'll be able to take me out someplace new. It'll be nice to have someone my age to chat to for a change :) !

The only other thing of consequence that I have noted these last few days, is the reproductive rates of my pet geckos in my hotel room. There seem to be babies everywhere. Today, I even had one in my hair which took me by surprise ! They're fabulous little creatures though and they munch any stray mosquitoes that manage to muscle their way in through the net.

Tuesday, 19 July 2005

A truly multi-national kayak trip!

One German, one Swiss, two Dutch, one Mexican, two Brits, two Canadians and an obligatory couple of Irish folk made up my kayak group on Sunday. About as multinational as it gets out here!

Saturday night I succumbed to a Friends cafe and a pizza, but avoided the happy shakes and the amphetamine-laced cocktails. A warning notice in an internet cafe highlighting the rather regular occurrence of tourists getting arrested, fined and their passports confiscated was enough to put me off. I imagine a Laos prison cell would be a 'site of special interest', but it is not one that I wish to witness. You really don't want to mess with a communist / corrupt police force on your travels.

I spent my evening as a true falang, watching Friends and eating pizza before a not-so-falang early nighter- so much for my experience of Ibiza in Laos. There is something inherently sad about attempting to go clubbing by yourself, (it is not the same as going to a bar and reading a book, which I do on a regular basis) and after my aromatic encounter with a backpacker on the bus that morning, I felt no need to be sociable.

Sunday morning I woke to the sound of torrential rain. I wouldn't have been at all surprised if it had continued throughout the day, such is my luck with water-based activities(I shaln't go into my treacherous boat ride on Lake Titicaca to the Island of the Sun where I then witnessed a snow storm). Thankfully, the rain abated and I spent a great day on the Ngum river, banked on both side by impenetrable jungle. The environment there was absolutely stunning and, at least in that area, completely unspoilt.

I was really surprised at the river's ability to appear perfectly calm one minute, only for it to turn into an angry, roaring, monster around a corner. Ok, that may be a slight exaggeration. The rapids weren't exactly beasts, they were more domestic cat than lion. Still, everyone bar me capsized(because I was with an instructor...not because of a hidden talent for kayaking). I was with an instructor because I was the only singleton there, everyone else was part of a couple. There are certain times when I miss my man; that was one of them.

I managed to keep my bottom firmly inside my kayak for the first our and a half, despite a regular soaking by my hyperactive instructor, who insisted on standing on the back of the kayak and using his paddle to drench everyone. It was worth it to cool down from the glaringly, hot midday sun though.

We ate lunch on the banks of the river before continuing our journey by kayak. In the afternoon, my attempts to resist an encounter with parasitic life in the river were futile(specialising in parasitology as an undergrad was not the best idea for someone who enjoys international travel)as we ended up in a kayak capsizing fight. My instructor had the knack and between us we managed to capsize everyone. As with all cases of warfare though, it was'nt long before everyone ganged up for a revenge attack and I ended up fully immersed in the ominously murky water. It was great fun. After that we had a soggy tuk tuk ride for a couple of hours to the capital.

Back in Vientiane with an unhealthy attachment to this computer. Thankfully it didn't crash this evening.