Thursday, August 11, 2016

Olympicat!

It's less than three weeks until my next motorcycle journey in West Java, Indonesia. It does kinda say something that my life is measured by how long it is until I get my next vacation. Things have become somewhat of a grind.

Things are changing here in Yangon. The pace of development has increased significantly. I see things changing so rapidly. There's half a dozen HUGE building projects in progress right now. It won't be until 2017 until they're done, but their potential for changing things looms large.

For me, of course, the biggest change has been Badger, the kitten I adopted 3 weeks ago. Oh, you should see all the scratches I've got. It's been a challenge to train this little guy that my hands are not playthings, and my legs are not trees to be climbed.

It's also Olympics time. I enjoy watching these international competitions, and my satellite TV package gives me plenty of feeds to watch. For example, this evening I watched China play Venezuela in basketball. Badger kitten enjoyed it too.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Can't let what might be determine the now

Wow. I've just looked at my 'posts' and saw that it's been 7 weeks since I've last posted on my blog. That's a long time! I apologize to my half-dozen readers for the lapse. I've been doing creative stuff in my YouTube page, and my blog on Ajarn.com and have been neglecting my own personal blog.

So what's new?

The phototherapy is working on my psoriasis. On the 20+ patches of the condition on my body where it was relatively mild, after 7 weeks of treatment, the UV light has practically eliminated the symptoms. On the big patches on my shins, that's gotten better, but it's going to take some time.

Tomorrow, I'm adopting a kitten. I've been thinking about this for some time, weighing the pros and cons. I've always been a cat guy, but a nomadic life is incompatible with cat ownership, so I haven't gotten a kitty in Asia. After 2+ years in Yangon, I think I'm starting to feel settled in enough that I can adopt a kitty. If later I decide to move, I'm encouraged by the story of the woman who has been taking care of my kitten's momma. When she came here from India 6 months ago, she brought her cat with her. Myanmar isn't too restrictive about importing house pets. I can't imagine any country I would travel to next would be all that restrictive either. Badger, that's his name, is 9 weeks old now, old enough to be away from his mom. I went to visit him a couple weeks ago... When he crawled up on my foot. Yeah, see for yourself.

It's been a tough decision because work keeps telling me I might be going back to Naypyitaw soon... if we get such and such contract. I wouldn't mind going back to Naypyitaw. In fact, I'd like it. But I've heard this before, and nothing came of it. I've decided that I can't let what might happen next in life can't control what I do now. If my company wants to send me back to Naypyitaw, they will have to arrange housing with a hotel that allows pets.

In other news, this last Tuesday, Myanmar celebrated Martyr's Day. It's a national holiday recognizing that tragic day in July, 1946, when the soon-to-be ruling cabinet of an independent Burma was meeting and a gang of assassins burst in and killed them all. Of them, the man considered to be the founding father of Myanmar, Aung San, and the real life father of The Lady, Aung San Suu Kyi, was killed. Many have speculated how the fate of Myanmar would have been different had General Aung San not been tragically killed a month before his country regained its independence.

I had Martyr's Day off. I should have mentioned it in the video, but I forgot. It was a bit of a first for me. It was the first time I tried to sing a song in Myanmar language. I think it worked out okay.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The End of the Tour d'Borneo and New Beginnings

I have a chronic disease for which there is no cure. It's called psoriasis and I've suffered from it for 20 years. Every few years, I give the medical world a chance to treat it, but almost without fail, what the doctors have proscribed has had no effect.

Mind you, psoriasis is not a dangerous condition. The swaths of skin I have which are covered by pustulous, white, placquey lesions may itch a bit, but they don't hurt me otherwise. I've learned to live with people staring at my shins when I walk by while wearing shorts. I've come to accept being disfigured.

To make things worse, psoriasis is extremely rare amongst Asians, and so as I walk down the street in Yangon, no one has ever seen anything like my psoriatic skin. 

 photo legs_zpsyep9pnja.jpg
My psoriasis

 Yesterday, I decided to give Myanmar medicine a chance to help me out. I went to what I had been told was the best dermatologist in the country. I mentioned that doctors have never really been able to help me out with my condition, but there's been one exception. Two and a half years ago, I became a patient at the Thailand Dermatology Center in Bangkok. Over the course of a few months, with a combination of topical steroids and phototherapy, my symptoms were reduced by 95%. The psoriasis was practically gone. 

Phototherapy is the treatment of skin conditions with ultraviolet light. The symptoms of psoriasis can be reduced by exposure the UV light in some patients. I am one of those patients. 

This method is preferable to other recently developed treatments to psoriasis, i.e., pharmaceuticals. See, psoriasis is essentially a hyperactive disorder of the immune system. The psoriatic dermis, AKA our skin, thinks it's in constant need of replenishing itself because its been damaged when it hasn't. My skin is constantly replacing itself when it doesn't need to. So, drugs have been developed which suppress the immune system and this helps with the skin's hyperactivity. As you might imagine, there's dangers involved with suppressing one's immune system, and so drug-based psoriasis treatments require constant monitoring to make sure you're not subjecting yourself to lots of other diseases while making your skin more pretty. 

Furthermore, anti-psoriasis drugs are really hard on the liver. Anyone with a shaky liver shouldn't take them. 


So, when I went to the dermatologist yesterday, she ordered the full assortment of blood and urine tests. She needed to know how healthy I was before proceeding with any treatment. I haven't had a full panel, a full assessment of my health in several years. I was a bit nervous about the results which I picked up this morning. 

I have high cholesterol and my liver function report was well well outside (on the dangerous side) what is acceptable. 

I could have guessed that was coming. I know I'm fat, eat too much red meat and fried food. I probably drink too much too. 

Anyways, the pharmaceutical path towards alleviating my psoriasis is out of the question. My liver is a beaten pup; it can't take much more. 

There are two upsides to these last couple days. 

First, I feel, for the first time in years, that I need to pay attention to my diet. No more massive quantities of meat and cheese (cholesterol). I gotta cut back on the drinking (liver).

The second upside was that I learned from my dermatologist that there actually is a phototherapy facility here in Yangon. She's on the staff of the clinic there. See, these phototherapy machines are outrageously expensive and given that Myanmar is, well, Myanmar, I didn't think there'd be anyplace in town that had these machines. Unfortunately, the clinic is all the way in Downtown, but at least I know the one thing that's helped me in my life with my skin condition is available here in the backwaters of SE Asia. 

I start treatment on Thursday. 

______

In addition, the Tour d'Borneo is ending with this blog. Please watch the final episode of what was an incredible journey. 


 


Friday, May 27, 2016

Tour d'Borneo 12: The Wildlife Edition

I spent another night at the Nusantara Resort, just north of Mempawah, West Borneo. You saw bits and pieces of this place in the last video. It was advertised as having a swimming pool, a fishing pond, miniature golf and beach access. The beach was a mud flat. The swimming pool was brown and the miniature golf course had been plowed over long ago.

At least on the mud flats, I got see these creatures, mudskippers, the strangest fish I've ever seen. After some time observing them, I have to conclude that the number one thing mudskippers do is chase around other mudskippers.


They can't even keep a basketball hoop maintained.
Everything about the Nusantara resort was dilapidated. Although anything but exciting, and still there was no beer to be found anywhere, it was a nice place to chill and relax.

At one point, I got see what happens when you put a camera onto an ant path.


Enjoy the video.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Tour d'Borneo 11: Goint to Last Resorts

G'bye Singkawang. I enjoyed my stay.
So the journey around West Borneo continues. I was entering the home stretch of the holiday, vaguely regretful that this might be the last journey like this for me for some time.

As I've mentioned several times on this blog, the one thing that's been the best thing about my job here in Myanmar has been the time off. I've taught for 8 weeks, then I got a week off. Taught 8 more weeks, then got TWO weeks off. Another 8 weeks, then another week off. And so on.

Could the Samudera Indah Beach compare
to Pasar Pnajang? The video shows.
Talk about an ideal schedule to do what I love: travel around the most exotic region of the planet, southeast Asia.

Unfortunately, this schedule has proven to be not economically viable for my employer, and so it's been scrapped.

Just before the April break, we were told that the schedule was changing dramatically. All contracts that were going to be renewed would have our time off reduced from 10 weeks per year to 6 weeks. Gone were the weeks off between terms. Our business was going from being closed about 20% of the year to less than 10%. We won't be closed again until NEXT April.

Mind you, I have a contract under which I still am owed 6 weeks of vacation through next March. They have to honor that. What's going to happen is that I get to schedule my own time off  for 4 weeks (I'm thinking the entire month of December), and the other two weeks are going to just be paid out to me in cash.

Literally, at the end of the road.
Ultimately, the best part of my job has been eliminated.

It's kind of like what happened to me at Lowe's just before I decided to leave the country.

After some employee feedback (I think it was my argument that made the real impact on our CEO), new contracts are now going to include 8 weeks of annual leave, not 6. That's not as good as 10, but it's going to mean 3 weeks for the April Buddhist New Year, one week at Christmas, and 4 weeks flexible, to be scheduled by the teacher and the Director of Studies.

Oh, the horror. Only 8 weeks of paid leave. Americans usually get two weeks.

On to the video. This is the second-to-last installment in this series. I wander slowly down the coast of Western Borneo, checking out every so-called beach resort along the way.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Tour d'Borneo 10: A Day at the Beach

How's this as your kid's sandbox?
As the journey was winding down, I spent a couple of days at the Pantai Pasir Panjang Indah resort. The name translates into English as Beautiful Long Sands Beach, and the name is fitting. 


Hello? There's no one manning the reception desk.
In the previous video, you saw that there were quite a few other guests there at the resort. The beach and the hotel were somewhat busy. It wasn't at all like that on the second day. There had been a conference at the hotel the previous day. Now that it was over, it seemed like I was Palapa Hotel's only guest. 

Next to the Palapa Hotel, there were a long line of beachside restaurants and souvenir shops. They had little to no business. They stood empty. Now, there's nothing quite like a cold beer at the end of a day on the beach, and you might think that that would be a specialty of these restaurants.
Nope. Of the 20 or 30 establishments, only one sold beer. And it wasn't cold. This was something I remembered from my time in Indonesia 25 years ago: beer with ice. 

I got to talking with the proprietor of that one restaurant. I asked how business was. He told me it was okay, enough to feed the family. He also reported that they used to get a lot more tourists, even foreign tourists, but no so much these days. When I asked about the beer, he said that a beer license is prohibitively expensive. None of his neighbors wanted to pay for a license when the product itself just isn't in demand. Again, West Borneo is very Muslim. 


At the moment this picture happened, I was being painfully stung by a jellyfish. It really hurt and this was the last time I went in the water on the trip. 


I've been through the desert on a horse with one ear...


Beaches which face west are the best. 



 Enjoy the video. 


Monday, May 9, 2016

Tour d'Borneo 9: To the Lovely Pasir Panjang Beach Resort

As the motorcycle tour of Kalimantan Barat entered its second week, I found myself turning my two wheels towards the beach. I had been having a wonderful time riding through the villages and hills of Indonesian Borneo, but I was looking forward to settling in for a few days on a warm, tropical seaside. Give me a deck chair, a fresh coconut, sunshine and a good book, and I'm quite happy to just spend the day listening to waves crash in.
Look at those huge waves! Actually, it's a matter of perspective. They're about an inch high

The beaches south of Singkawang were just a short drive away, but I wasn't able to make a reservation online at either of the two resorts I'd seen on the Google maps. One had no web presence that I could find and the other came back as full. All I could do was just head over and check them out.


The Palapa Beach Hotel was buzzing with activity, but they did, in fact, have a room. There was an ongoing conference of healthcare professionals happening at the time, and so I was surrounded by other guests, all of whom regarded me with curiosity. Again, I had random Kalimantaners ask to take selfies with me.

The beach was nice, but one feature of the hotel confused me to no end. Dotted along the resort's boundary with the beach were some lovely gazebos, just as one might find in any beachside accommodation. They looked like just the kind of structure that I could lie in, nap, read and just chill. 

Nice gazebo!
Strangely though, the gazebos had hard concrete floors and nothing else. No deck chairs. No regular chairs. Not even a table. What are they even for? As I say in the video, it's as if the designers of the hotel had seen similar gazebos in other beach resorts and decided they needed them too without regard what guests might use them for.


Wtf?
Despite the hotel's wifi not working (I was able to get data off my phone), the little jellyfish stings in the murky water, the lack of beer and the very limited options at the restaurant, at least the beach was clean, the scenery was enticing and they did have coconuts. I got most of what I wanted.