Thursday, November 27, 2008

Incredible India

As the tragic events continue to unfold in Mumbai, I took a minute to look through my own photos taken at and around Taj Hotel .

Built in 1903, the "Taj" is one of the most famous hotels in the world. The hotel is an architectural marvel and brings together Moorish, Oriental and Florentine styles.

One of my favorire restaurants is located on property - The Golden Dragon. It is the first authentic Sichuan restaurant in India.



On the right is my long time friend & comedian Tom Fletcher and me sharing a libation at the Harbour Bar located on the ground floor of the Taj Hotel.

It opened its doors in 1933, and was Mumbai's first licensed bar and has long been a city favourite.
Although I've visited the "Taj" many times, I only got to stay there once. It was a great experience.

Fortunately, the owners have vowed to rebuild this historic site even as the last embers are still smoldering....



A few short steps from the Taj is the Gateway of India.

The Gateway of India was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Bombay (now Mumbai) , prior to the Delhi Durbar, in December 1911.


Located on the waterfront in South Mumbai, the Gateway is a basalt arch 85 ft high. In earlier times, the Gateway was the monument that visitors arriving by boat would have first seen in the city of Bombay.




Just a short walk away from the luxurious Taj Hotel is the contrasting city streets & markets that most locals inhabit. Here is one, just a few blocks away....



Anyone who has visited Mumbai will tell you this is a "good" neighborhood compared to many shanty towns that populate the area.

Friday, November 21, 2008

When the Dow Breaks...

I've been waking up at 3:45am a lot lately. Here in Thailand, that is 15 minutes before the close of NYSE closes in New York.

Back in June 2008, I wrote a blog about the impending worldwide financial meltdown that was predicted to occur in the Sep - Nov timeframe. I got a lot of scoffing from friends who considered themselves to be "financial experts".

Quoting from the London Telegraph...

"A report by the bank's (RBS) research team warns that the S&P 500 index of Wall Street equities is likely to fall by more than 300 points to around 1050 by September as "all the chickens come home to roost" from the excesses of the global boom, with contagion spreading across Europe and emerging markets.


Such a slide on world bourses would amount to one of the worst bear markets over the last century."


One friend of mine in Nashville wrote me and said "Actually that kind of move in the market is a good thing in the long run as it finally give it a "bottom" and if you are correct this is the perfect time to buy contrarian stocks such as gold and other stocks that benefit from a downward market."

To be honest, his attitude irked me. Instead of being concerned with the global ramifications of such a tumultuous event, he only saw it as an opportunity to personally profit on the downturn.

When the Big 3 Automakers are on the verge of failure, stock markets from Tokyo to London are in freefall, oil closed at $48 a barrel and unemployment is at a 16 year high, there needs to be more than concerns of personal profit.

The Dow was at around 12,029 at that time and the S&P 500 was at 1337.

Today the Dow closed just above 7,500.

Gold was selling at $887.50 in June ...today it's at $738.00. So much for Gold as a safe refuge.

My "financial expert" friends aren't so gleeful anymore. Most are in far worse financial shape than they were just six months ago. Just like those who lost their hirt in the IT Bust eight years ago, catching a falling knife ain't easy.

Of course the RBS Bank analysts were wrong too, as far as the S&P Prediction of 1050.... today it was down to 752!!

I can't repeat it too often, today CASH IS KING. Anyone who thinks they know when we've hit the bottom are living in a fool's paradise. Until proven otherwise, assume there are tougher times ahead.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Bargains Still Exist!

One of the great things about Thailand is the unbeleivably low cost of living compared to many other countries.


Several of my fellow cruise ship entertainers are seriously looking at relocating to the Land of Smiles. As a result, they've asked me to keep an eye out for Condo prices.


One website I've found has an interesting search engine that allows users to query based on price, sq. meters, # of rooms etc. I do not know the website personally, other than to browse it's listings so please don't take this as a "recomendation".


To check it out, point your browser to http://www.fairproperties.com/cgi-bin/condos_for_sale.pl


Although prices aren't as low as they were a few years ago (I saw Condos starting at $12,000 U$D in 2006), there are still bargains to be had. A few examples...


Studio for Sale : Nirun Condo (26 Sq.m) on the 4th floor. Bedroom, bathroom, fridge, Air conditioned, Cable TV, hot shower, safety box, fully furnished and decorated, balcony, 24hr security, 2 communal swimming pools, central Pattaya. Priced at 550,000 Baht


That's about $15,715.00 USD at today's rate.


Studio for Sale : Nirun Condo (26 Sq.m) on the 3rd floor. Bedroom, bathroom, fridge, wooden floor, Air conditioned, fully furnished and decorated, sink on the balcony, Cable TV, DVD, communal swimming pool. Priced at 570,000 Baht


That's about $16,285.00 USD at today's rate.


Studio for Sale : Sombat Condo 1 (38 Sq.m) on the 5th floor. Bedroom, bathroom, small kitchen, tiled floor, fan, fully furnished and decorated, 24hr security, 500M from the beach.
Priced at 750,000 Baht


That's about $21,425.00 USD at today's rate.


You get the picture. Are these luxury Condo's with a breathtaking ocean view? Probably not, they tend to start around 1.2 million Baht (about $35,000.00 USD) and can climb to hundreds of thousands of dollars..if you want.


If you are on a budget, love warm & sunny weather year round, appreciate other cultures and foods, there are a LOT of worse places to be!

Friday, November 14, 2008

35

Living overseas is always complicated when you are paid in one currency ans spend in another. For those of us in Thailand, we've seen two years of a weakened dollar combined higher inflation.

When I first moved to the Land of Smile, I could buy 38 Thai Baht for 1 U$D. Earlier this year, rates were as low as 31 Baht to the Dollar - a loss of almost 20% in value.

Amid the current global crisis, we've seen a weakening of the Thai currency vs. the world. As the dollar crept up against the Euro & the UK Pound, the same has occured here as well.

For Ex-Pats who still have money in U$D Accounts, thats good news. For those who transfered their money out of the US currency, they've lost value.

Yesterday, the Baht crossed the 35 Baht/1 U$D mark.

There's no telling which way the currency markets will move next. I've hedged my bets and have kept the majority of my savings in a US Bank, keeping enough in Thailand to satisfy Immigration officials.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Farewell to A Queen

The QE2 finally retires this week after almost 40 years in service. It's probably the best known cruise ship in the world.

It is now on it's final voyage, after which it will become a luxury hotel in Dubai.

During it's illustrious career, it sailed 6 million nautical miles, 25 World Cruises , crossed the Atlantic 800 times and carried 2.5 million passengers.

I had the pleasure of performing on her last in March of 2007 on the Bangkok - Mumbai segment of the World Cruise.

By then, the grand old lady was showing her age. There were significant air conditioning issues (most unwelcome in that part of the world) and she had visible signs of wear & tear.

In spite of that, she remained a favorite of many passengers who were deeply saddened to see her "retired". The new QM2 (Queen Mary 2) is the fleets' flagship.


QE2's passengers have included most of the crowned heads of Europe, politicians such as Lady Thatcher and Nelson Mandela, and the astronaut Buzz Aldrin. British stars have included the singer Vera Lynn, most of the Beatles, individually, Mick Jagger and David Bowie. The Hollywood actors Elizabeth Taylor, Bob Hope and Paul Newman have also sailed on the QE2.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Loy Krathong

One of the most beautiful holidays of the year in Thailand is celebrated this time of the year - Loy Krathong.

It is held on the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar. In the western calendar this usually falls in November.


{From Wikipedia}

"Loi" means "to float". "Krathong" is a raft about a handspan in diameter traditionally made from a section of banana tree trunk (although modern-day versions use specially made bread 'flowers' and may use styrofoam), decorated with elaborately-folded banana leaves, flowers, candles, incense sticks etc.

During the night of the full moon, many people will release a small raft like this on a river. Governmental offices, corporations and other organizations also build much bigger and more elaborate rafts, and these are often judged in contests. In addition, fireworks and beauty contests take place during the festival.

The festival probably originated in India as a Hindu festival similar to Deepavali as thanksgiving to the deity of the Ganges with floating lanterns for giving life throughout the year.

Launched Khom FaiAccording to the writings of H.M. King Rama IV in 1863, the originally Brahmanical festival was adapted by Buddhists in Thailand as a ceremony to honour the original Buddha, Siddhartha Guatama. Apart from venerating the Buddha with light (the candle on the raft), the act of floating away the candle raft is symbolic of letting go of all one's grudges, anger and defilements, so that one can start life afresh on a better foot.

People will also cut their fingernails and hair and add them to the raft as a symbol of letting go of the bad parts of oneself. Many Thai believe that floating a krathong will create good luck, and they do it to honor and thank the Goddess of Water, Phra Mae Khongkha.

The Thai tradition of Loy Kratong started off in Sukhothai, but is now celebrated throughout Thailand, with the festivities in Chiang Mai and Ayutthaya being particularly well known.

A multitude of Lanna-style hot-air lanterns (khom fai) are also launched into the air where they resemble large flocks of giant fluorescent jellyfish gracefully floating by through the skies. These are believed to help rid the locals of troubles and are also taken to decorate houses and streets.
If you ever have the opportunity to experience this wonderful event, don't miss it!!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Dirty Little Secret...

A lot of people find my career transition from ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) Paramedic to Cabaret Headline Entertainer unusual.

I spent the better part of 12 years (starting at age 16) jumping in and out of ambulances from Florida to Arizona and South Carolina. In Charleston, I was Shift Supervisor on the highest run unit (approx. 20 emergency responses per 24 hour shift) in the County.



To then go to the Stage and play banjo & tell jokes seems quite a stretch. Actually, it's not.



There IS a common denominator.....

ADRENALIN

The dirty little secret most Police, Fire & EMS personel share is the fact the job delivers a rush!
After awhile, you find you need that on a day to day basis.


It's sad to see so many retired Emergency workers with police scanners in their cars showing up at emergencies trying to the capture the old Adrenal rush. Many never adjust to "civilian" life.

Had I ended up in a"normal" job, I too might have met the same fate. Instead, I chose a field that requires me to stand in front of 1000+ strangers a night and entertain them for close to an hour!

Now THAT'S an adrenal rush!!!!

It's been 24 years since my last energency call, and, to be honest I don't get the full rush on stage I got in the beginning of my career.

I've been able to slowly wean myself off "the drug".