Bangkok

Bangkok is the capital city of Thailand. I recently spent a number of days there as part of a family holiday. It is over 600 square miles in size and is home to north of 8 million people.

Bangkok is a heaving metropolis that has everything you would expect of a large regional business centre. The first thing you’ll notice is the proliferation of skyscrapers, including the very cool MahaNakhon that reminded me of the half-finished death star from the Star Wars movies. The presence of sky scrapers of this size and quantity makes Bangkok feel, superficially at least, like any other major metropolis you would find in the US or Europe.

The traffic in Bangkok is pretty chronic, so driving is not something I would recommend. Where possible use the BTS which is very efficient, clean, cheap, and air-conditioned to the point where a Polar Bear would be looking for a duffel coat if he had to go three stops on it. It’s a welcome respite from the heat, in a city that feels considerably hotter than any of the other places I visited in Thailand.

If the BTS doesn’t go where you need to be (and that’s a lot of places in Bangkok) then a taxi is your next best option. Whilst the traffic can be chronic, if you avoid the peak hours and plan your day so you’re going in a sensible sequence rather than crisscrossing the city, you can do it. Taxis are cheap, very cheap, by European standards. A ride from the airport to where we were staying which took an hour and twenty minutes cost me around six euro’s. Be aware that the taxi drivers by and large speak no English, so have where you’re going written on your phone, or on a piece of paper in Thai, that you can show to him.

Tuk-tuks are available everywhere and will work for shorter journeys but get uncomfortable after a while and you’re exposed to the elements so if its rainy season, you’re gonna get soaked. There are busses which we didn’t use because we didn’t need to. They look like they are from the 70’s and judging by the depressed faces of everyone on them and all the windows being open, I’m gonna say they aren’t airconditioned so make your own choice.

In terms of what to see and do in Bangkok there is literally an endless list. I’m going to break the stuff we did into two categories, “shopping” and “everything else”. I’ll start with the everything else category.

The Jim Thompson house is a the home of an american who is credited with getting the silk trade up and running in Thailand. He disappeared into a jungle and never came back, but his house has been preserved. The tour doesn’t take long, you’ll have it covered in less than 90 minutes and its a nice introduction to Thailand and to Bangkok and a means to dip your toe into the culture fountain if you’ve just arrived. This is definitely a good first day activity to help you ease over the jet-lag and get your feet moving after a long flight.

The Snake Farm is another attraction that is worth a visit. It’s quite cheap and they have a good collection of snakes. The farm exists to make anti-venom, snakes are a problem in Thailand in all areas and there are a wide range of venomous ones that can cause serious issues including death if you get tagged and don’t have medical assistance nearby. The farm is run by the red cross and uses tourists to supplement its income. Do try to catch the show, it’s very entertaining. Bear in mind that its only open till about lunchtime and the show runs earlier than that, around 11 o’clock.

The Summer Palace is outside the city, about an hours drive. Its worth the trip built when we visited there was a lot of construction and restoration/maintainance going on. A new king is going to be crowned in Thailand in 2019 and I imagine they are sprucing the place up in advance of that. The gardens make for a lovely walk.

The other item to see on the outskirts of the city is Wat Mahathat which is the old capital of Thailand. It was destroyed by the Burmans when they came through and they knocked the heads off all of the statues of the Buddha, I guess they wanted to say there was a new religion in town. The ruins are impressive, again, bring your walking shoes, there’s a bit to see. The most impressive thing is the Buddha head which has had the roots of a tree grow around it, it’s very cool.

Back in the city itself, you have to visit Wat Pho, specifically to see the reclining Buddha. I could fire a load of numbers at you, its X big, Y long. None of these things will do it justice, it needs to be seen to be believed for sheer scale. It takes time just to walk from one end of it to the other. I’ve given a short few words to it here which don’t do it justice, go and see it.

The jewel in the crown, in terms of history and culture in Bangkok and probably all of Thailand, is the grand palace. The grand palace is busy, crowded, hot, teeming with life (mainly Chinese tourists) and has to be seen to be believed. The complex is massive, it will take you a few hours to get around it. Go early in the morning if you want to beat some of the crowds, but I can’t imagine it’s ever quite there. You absolutely must hire a tour guide to explain what you are going to see, it will bring the place to life in a way that walking around it unaided simply will not. There are registered guides touting for business. Our’s was brilliant, thank you Jackie, you were one of the highlights of our trip. Be aware that legs and shoulders have to be covered, that’s guys as well as ladies. There are people outside selling elephant pants if you need them but you’ll get them cheaper in the markets if you buy in advance.

In a first for Edrates, this is going to be a two parter. I’ll talk about the shopping experience in a separate blog post at a later date because otherwise this is going to turn into War & Peace.

Bangkok – Culture & general 9/10

There is an endless stream of things to see and down in Bangkok from a history and culture perspective. I have only scratched the surface. It’s not getting 10/10 because nothings perfect, but a point has to be deducted for the traffic which can be pretty infuriating. Don’t let it put you off though, Bangkok and its culture and history are worth a wait in a traffic jam to see.

The 8th Amendment Referendum

So this is a thorny topic about which much was written in the run up and in the aftermath of the last 24 hours or so since the result became clear.

On May 25th Ireland voted by about 2 to 1 to remove the 8th amendment from the Irish Constitution. The 8th ammendment placed in the constitution the right to life of an unborn child making abortion incredibly restrictive and to all intents and purposes, impossible legally within the state.

As a general rule I am extremely socially liberal, I knocked on doors and happily voted for same-sex marriage, I am a member of the Green Party and would be left leaning in almost every respect. However this is probably the one area where I could be considered conservative.

Having studied Philosophy and later Law at University I found there to be no good conclusive argument as to the point at which human life begins. Being unable to arrive at that conclusion for myself I fall back to the precautionary principle, being that the potential harm (ie the ending of a human life) being greater than the opposite, the most ethical approach is to restrict abortion to a limited set of circumstances.

That does not translate to being happy with the situation pre the repeal vote, i.e. that women and girls in the most horrific circumstances such as being victims of rape or incest or being in the horrible position of being pregnant with a child who will not survive had to go to the UK to access termination services, or order medication over the internet, clearly not a safe proposition.

This is a position I have held for some time, long before the current debate heated up. With the announcement of the intended legislation including unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks, my position probably hardened somewhat and I informed my party colleagues that I would not be taking an active part in the campaign, something I genuinely felt, and still feel, guilty about.

As the weeks rolled on and the debate intensified, it became clear that the momentum was with the repeal side. Poster’s seemed to be a 50/50 split and the national media gave as far as I could tell equal time to both sides. However the activists on the repeal side were far far better. Their stories were more personal. Their statements more impactful. Their arguments struck at the core of emotion and they owned words like sympathy, compassion, understanding and justice throughout the campaign.

On the no side there were the muted arguments from the Catholic Church. Does anyone under retirement age listen to them anymore? Clearly they have lost all moral authority in the wake of scandal after scandal after scandal and they may never recover, nor do they deserve to.

 

The no side completely failed to counter the arguments that they were oppressing women, infringing on women’s rights, and generally wanted to put women back into the kitchen, preferably barefoot and within handy reach of the kitchen sink. Women-hating catholic fascists the lot of them. And yes, Ronan Mullen is all of those things. But what chance did the no-side have when the likes of him and Declan Ganley (is there a more failed politician in the history of the state) are trotted out as the spokespersons?

As a “no” voter I felt extremely isolated. Where were the young professionals who wanted to make the ethical argument for the other side? Where were the calls to a higher level of debate beyond “God says its wrong” or “this proposal is too extreme”. I found myself in the very uncomfortable position of being on the same side of a debate as the Healy-Rae’s and the Mattie McGrath’s of the world.

For the first time ever I felt isolated in my social media bubble. Being a left leaning environmentalist, my twitter feed, my Facebook and indeed my real-world peer group would all be of a broadly similar mindset. Left leaning, under 40, liberal. For the first time I saw the smugness that the left is often accused of in full flight from the other side of the fence. There was an amount of gloating and rubbing it in, in the wake of the result from a great many people. Not from people I know in real life particularly, but in a big way from the noxious troll-fest that twitter can be.

I don’t feel that Ronan Mullen and the Bishops represent me in any way shape or form, and I saw no-one on the no-side that did represent those who are of a similar age and background to me.

As the final week of the referendum came around my wife told me she had changed her mind and was voting yes. Her argument being along the lines of most of what has been heard, it’s a personal choice for women to make and they need to be trusted with that. This was the point where I started to waver. As the week drew to a close I paid more attention to the issue of abortion tablets being purchased on the internet. As someone who is an avid user of the web (hello, probably the last person on earth with a blog I make no money from) it’s not quite clear to me why this wasn’t something I was more aware of earlier. I can’t tell you why it particularly resonated with me in the week leading up to the debate.

Approximately 1000 women in Ireland were taking abortion tablets on an annual basis in Ireland. Unsupervised. From unknown sources. With all the risks that come with anything you buy on the web from a less than reputable source.

And now the ethical argument opens back up again. The precautionary principle is now flipped on its head. We have the fact that abortions are happening in Ireland, whether I like it or not, whether the law likes it or not. Retaining the 8th amendment will not change that. So onus placed on protection the potential human life of the unborn slides away, because the battle is lost. Now the precautionary principle applies to the mother. The potential harm from taking sub-standard, illegal medication in an unsupervised fashion becomes the only risk and the ethical thing to do flips from trying to protect the potential human life, because you can’t, that battle is lost, to protecting the life and wellbeing of the mother.

I voted yes. I suspect that I am in a camp of hesitent/reluctant yes voters. I am still not comfortable with the prospect of abortion on demand but have come to the realisation that there is nothing I can do about and if its going to happen anyway it should be done in as safe and controlled a fashion as possible.

I must confess to being embarrassed that I did not arrive at this position earlier.  In spite of my reservations, I am glad that the law has changed. I was not happy with the status quo and I felt very uneasy putting my anti-abortion views, particularly because I’m a man, onto other people.

The Repeal side are to be commended for an amazing campaign.

There is no rating on this blog post, it’s not something that you can score. I take away from it several lessons. One being that its important to challenge yourself and your own beliefs because you never know when you might change your mind. The second being that life outside of your social media bubble is uncomfortable. The third being that we could all do with having a bit more respect for the opposite point of view to our own.

I promise that the next post won’t be so heavy. I’ll find a nice crafty ale somewhere and pontificate at length about its virtues or otherwise.

Cube Attain Pro Disc 2017

The Cube Attain Pro is a carbon fibre framed road bike with disc brakes. It retails around €2500 and last May, I brought one. I have been an avid cyclist for a number of years. I have been riding a Felt z95 for the previous five years, and it had served me well but it was definitely time to upgrade.

The bike itself is good solid all round bike that is certainly a step up from the entry level Giants and Treks that dominate this end of the market. It’s lower end of mid-range or the upper end of entry level depending on how you want to slice it.

I chose the bike having done plenty of research and arrived at the conclusion that it was time I had a carbon frame and also time to go to disc brakes. The Cube has certainly met my needs and more besides. 80% of my miles are commuter miles so I’m looking for something comfortable and reliable that won’t complain too much when it’s subjected to the daily drenching that is the Irish winter and equally can handle the sometimes questionable surfaces we have on Irish roads. When I’m not commuting I’m a keen club cyclist and I’ve been known to do a few sportive rides including long distance multiday rides. Once upon a time I had a racing licence but those days are probably in the rear view mirror.

I have now been cycling this bike for seven months and in that time I’ve clocked up more than 10’000 kilometres. In that time I have had zero issues with the bike itself. It’s been able to take everything I’ve asked it to do and come through with flying colours.

In terms of the characteristics of the bike itself, it feels nippy and quick through corners and responds well when power is put down on exit. The frame feels stiff. I have subsequently sat back on the old aluminium Felt and it feels like riding a sponge so the difference is definitely notable. It will roll along smoothly with little effort on the flat which to be fair you would expect from any modern road bike.

I’m a big guy, 100kgs+ most of the time, so I don’t stress about a few grams here and there on the weight of my bike. That being said, it is obviously much lighter than the Felt. However I did the pick-up test (very unscientific) with my wife’s Boardman and the Boardman feels a little lighter. So if you’re a lightweight climbing junkie who does obsess about the weight you might want to bear it in mind. I’m never fast going up a hill so it means little to me.

It comes with Shimano Ultegra components except for the pedals which I opted to add. Really this was a vanity move, there was little difference between the standard pedals and the Ultegra. There’s lots of clearance for wide tyres, 28 or more fit easily. I have also fitted clip on mudgaurds for the winter and again, there was no issue with clearence.

The bike is an eye-catcher, you will stand out from the crowd at a sportive. The bright orange hubs, bright orange cables and flashing on the frame and saddle pop when set against the black background of the rest of the bike. It remains to be seen whether I will be able to get the same orange colouring when it comes time to replace wheels and cables.

Another distinguishing feature is a loud freewheel hub noise. This is not annoying and in fact proved useful to me when I was cycling in Wales during the summer, my ride partners commenting that they could always hear me coming up behind them on the descents.

Descending is where this bike really comes into its own. The big feature is the hydraulic disc brakes. It’s very hard to explain how much better disc brakes are when descending over rim brakes, particularly when it’s damp which is basically all the time in Ireland. The confidence that comes from knowing your stopping distance is greatly less than the person next to you is difficult to quantify. Safe to say that you can have a lot of fun on a road you know well throwing yourself down the hill in the complete knowledge that the brakes will slow you down to a reasonable speed in a much shorter distance than any rim brake you want to mention. The disc brakes are great on the commute as well, stopping suddenly when needed for the rogue car that pulls out in front of you or the ubiquitous dog off a lead on a cycle track.

I have two minor quibbles, the first being that I am slightly concerned about replacing components with like for like colours when the time comes. This is pure vanity. The second, and this is more to do with Shimano than the bike, twice the front derailleur has become clogged up with road gunk and refused to budge, no doubt brought on by the state of Irish roads in the winter and probably by a lack of TLC from me.

Ed Rating: 9/10

The Cube can do all the commuting, training miles, club runs and sportive rides that you would ever want and handle all of these things while keeping you comfortable and confident in your machine. I can attest from direct experience that 600+ kilometres in five days and not have a sore back, knees, elbows etc. I expect you could race on it as well but I have never tried so I won’t venture to comment. I can say with confidence that I’ve never had so much fun descending as I have on this bike.

You’re going to have to work very hard to find a better bike for your money in this price range.

PS: I purchased the bike from The Hub Bike for Life in Limerick. They have been extremely helpful at point of sale and also with after sales service. I would recommend them to anyone living in the Limerick area for all of your cycling needs. https://www.facebook.com/thehublimerick/