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Thursday, November 20, 2014

FALL CIRCLE PACIFIC ADVENTURE: Day #17--Goodbye Thailand, Hello Japan

If you are planning a trip to Thailand and will land in Bangkok (there are 11 international airports in Thailand, versus one for Singapore), you will arrive at the hard to remember Suvarnabhumi Airport.  The former international airport, Don Muang, is now for domestic flights.  There are myriad ways to find your way into town, around 20 miles away.  There are 13 million vehicles in the city, and traffic jams can be grievous.  There are various toll charges and you can click on THIS for more information.  However, to simplify:
  • As I usually arrive late at night, to avoid the scams, touts and general hassles, I immediately go to the AOT official airport limousine desk and pay 1200 baht ($32), and they will lead you to your vehicle to be transported to your hotel in Bangkok.  It can cost a little less and a lot more, depending on the type of car you select.  No tipping necessary.
  • When I need to return to the international airport, I simply catch a metered taxi from my hotel, and pay anywhere from $7 to $15, depending on your taxi driver.  Not worth the debate to insist on the meter price.  No tipping necessary.
  • With little baggage, try the Airport Rail Link Line, which runs every 15 minutes, takes 25 minutes and costs a bit more than a buck.   There is an express option which is quicker and more expensive.  Then catch a cab to your hotel.   Never tried this system. 
  • Yes, there are buses, too.
I did a "comprehensive poll of attitudes" while here, and here are the results:
  • Americans are most liked.
  • Australians are up there with us.
  • The Japanese are okay.
  • Vietnamese are also okay.
  • There is ambivalence about South Koreans.
  • Russians are rare but not well liked.
  • There is discomfort with the Chinese.
  • There is negativity towards Indians, something to do with too many coming here to live.
Oh, I should mention that the above info came from my taxi driver taking me to the airport.  But, they do well represent public opinion in any city.

There is military rule prevailing in Thailand today.  Government sensitivity can affect lifestyle.  For example, the plug was pulled on Hunger Games:  Mockingjay, Part 1, because there was potential for a "Raise Three Fingers, Bring Popcorn and Go to Theatre" campaign.  Leaders felt that the dystopian setting of the film would lead to more protests.

I enjoyed a snack at the Thai Airlines lounge:



It was a particularly pleasant flight from Bangkok to Haneda Airport on Thai Air.  This was a two class Boeing 777, where business class was not unlike first class on United Airllines international.

The taxi ride from Haneda to the Sheraton Miyako cost around $85.  There are cheaper ways but it was nearly midnight.  This Sheraton is old and limited.  My room view to the right.  The internet works well, but I'm moving later today to the Ritz-Carleton. 

Travel is educational, for you talk to people and read the local papers.  Here is my take on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe:

  • He has called a snap election for December 14, where members of the lower house (the upper house is mostly ceremonial, and the cost of this nonsense just for the House will be 60 billion yen, or around $500 million) of their Diet need to all run for re-election.  Abe's Liberal Democratic Party coalition (partner Komeito, logo, right, is really a religious group) will prevail, mostly because there are too many opposition parties and they are in shambles.  If all the opposition factions unite, they would control the country.  But Abe knows this won't happen, and wants to use this mandate to push other matters not related to taxes and the economy.
  • Ostensibly, this is to gain approval to delay the second phase of the consumer tax, but this makes no sense.
  • Why?  He can simply delay the tax without going to the waste of time and money to hold elections.
  • As William Pesek (right) recently said, "What Japan needs is action, not another election."
  • Abe's popularity during the past month has dropped from 52% to 44%.
  • The Japanese economy is now officially in recession.
  • The dollar exchange is now about 120 yen to the dollar.  Two years ago, it was 78:1.  In other words Japan's currency is 54% lower today.  This means their exports are 54% cheaper and a tourist from America to Japan gets an equivalent value of $1.54 for the dollar, or a $10 meal two years ago can be had today for $6.50.
  • Abe, against all public opinion, continues to:
    • Push for restoration of nuclear power
    • Piss off his regional competitors (note China Xi's facial attitude when shaking hands with Japan's Abe)
    • Want to spend more money for military upgrades
  • Abe has been to 50 countries the past two years, but has not once gone to South Korea.  China refuses to negotiate "peace."  Why?
    • For South Korea, this mostly has to do with comfort women.
    • For China, official visits to Yasukuni Shrine grate.
    • For both, recognition of disputed territories irritate.
I have another simple solution for Japan and Abe.  More than three years ago I wrote in the Huffington Post:


Well, did they listen to me?  Nope.  Instead, with little sun and meager winds, the government went crazy over solar PV and wind machines.  Fukushima set the table for a failing Japanese economy, and there is not enough sun and winds to cost-effectively solve Japan's energy problem.

So, today, my SIMPLE SOLUTIONS FOR JAPAN are:
  • Convene a summit with China, South Korea and Russia, and negotiate to share all those disputed territories.  If any kind of agreement can be reached, even transitional, there would be little need for a stronger military to posture and threat...for ALL those countries.  The money saved can go to more beneficial priorities.  In Japan, maybe there might be no need to raise consumer taxes.  Mind you, the 5% tax was raised to 8% this spring, and was supposed to go up to 10%.
  • Move the remains of war criminals away from Yasukuni Shrine to another shrine.  Mind you, there are 2,466,532 people interred here, including 1068 convicted of war crimes.  The State Shinto philosophy and policies, of course, will be difficult to rationalize, but, what the heck, this action will go a long way to mending hard feelings from World War II.
  • Admit "some" fault for using comfort women, and compensate those still living.

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