Never Blame the Victim. But…

My neighborhood has a social website using the Nextdoor app. I really appreciate the crime reports and other community information there. But there are things that pop up that are perplexing.

First of all, we want to think we live in a nice neighborhood in a civil society. But the reality is that evil does lurk in the shadows. Evil seeks the easiest opportunity to prey on others.

I just saw a request on Nextdoor that someone’s bike was stolen last night and to let them know if anyone sees it. The first question that always pops up is, "did you leave your bike unsecured outside?" The answer is usually "yes". I know, they shouldn’t be blamed for being a victim. But again, there is evil in this world.

Its crazy in this day that people would leave their car doors unlocked outside. I used to live in rural America where you could leave everything unlocked. We even had neighbors borrow a ladder or other tool and bring it back when they were finished. It was a different time and place. But today, you have to be careful.

When you leave your car door unlocked, the first worry is your garage door opener. Can they get into your house with access to your belongings or, worse yet, your family? When you think of that, its absolutely idiotic to leave your car door unlocked. Next is identity theft. There is a lot of information in your glove box with insurance and vehicle registration and who know’s what. But people even leave wallets, purses, cellphones, and other personal items in their cars….unlocked! So when they say "poor me, someone broke into my car", you have to shake your head in disgust at their idiocy.

To be honest, I thought I was safe living in my Pleasantville. But one dark morning at 5am, I was walking my dogs. Like I always did, I left the garage door open as I walked around the block. I mean, its just 10 minutes and I would be back. One morning as I was walking back up to my house with my two dogs, a car pulls up in front on my house. Two guys get out and start to enter into my garage. I hurried up to catch up to them and yelled "where are you guys going?" They said "we’re just going home". I said "that’s MY home". Then they said something about "oh, I was at the wrong house". Then they ran to their car and sped away. But I got their license plate number and called the police just in case they had already done mischief elsewhere. I’m glad I did because they’ve been on the police’s radar several times in the past. Needless to say, I don’t leave my garage door open anymore.

When you read police blotters about someone getting mugged or hit by a drunk driver. Again, never blame the victim because we all have the right to live in peace. But…. If you are wandering around at 2 O’clock on a warm summer night, evil lurks in the shadows. So if you want to play with fire, you are going to get burned sooner or later. I know, its the old fuddy duddy who goes to bed at 9pm saying these things. But its the truth. Read the statistics.

I think what people lack is common sense. No, I honestly don’t think they have a special trust in human nature that the rest of us don’t have. Its that they are not thinking. Nobody is asking to be a victim. But evil lurks in the shadows. And people are really stupid. You need to be on your guard.

So stay out of the shadows!! Nuff said.

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A Quick Note on Intermittent Fasting

My journey with Intermittent Fasting (IF) is continually evolving. Since dinner is quite often my biggest (and sometimes only) meal of the day, I’m quite full and happy after I eat. And because my stomach seemingly shrinks due to not eating for a long period, my stomach is self restricting how much I eat. I’m not counting calories or managing portion size. It regulates itself.

So what is cool about this dinner thang is that I’m totally satiated. I have zero desire for snacks at night. I think that is where many of us fall short on dieting. Night eating to me is the biggest problem with overeating or unhealthy eating. So if I eat before 530pm, I’ll already have a 12 hour fast when I am up in the morning. I have a cup of coffee or two and I’m easily good for several more hours. But, if I’ve had a hard workout the day before or gone on a run in the heat (like I did yesterday), then its no problem to stop at 13 or 14 hours and grab a bite to eat.

Again, its much better if you can stay ketogenic and not eat sugar or carbs for breakfast. Some say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I’d say its the crappiest and least nutritious meal of the day. Yes, that means cereal, pastries, donuts, pancakes, waffles, bagels, toast, sweetened yogurt, fruit,… but I don’t mind that at all. On a weekend when I’m home, its even better because I could make eggs and sausage. If you miss those sweet carbs, eat them for lunch or dinner instead. But the nutrition value of those treats are very low. So make sure you eat some veggies and protein with them too.

The key here: fasting while you are sleeping curbs any hunger. You wake up fresh as a baby!

Top 15 Thailand Tips

I had such a wonderful time in Thailand this year. I really want to go back. But I’m certain to do it better next time. Here are my top 15 for having an even better trip.

1. Wear Smog Mask for Air Pollution
The number 1 problem we had was the pollution. I decided to be the tough guy and not wear a mask. By the 2nd day in Bangkok, my lungs were chock full of soot. And I’m really not joking about this. You’re probably thinking, “what a baby, what would a little cough do to you”. Think more like Whooping Cough. I would cough so hard all through the night that I didn’t know if I’d ever breathe back in again. And it got to where my abs were so sore from coughing I dreaded how painful every cough could be. Then I coughed for a month when I got home. Its just not fun! The worst places are the BTS train platforms that are directly over heavy traffic. And walking clogged streets. Get one of the apps that shows the Air Quality Index (AQI). It will show when times are worst and where its really bad. Don’t ruin your trip by not being prepared. Places near the coast like Phuket and Pattaya have a bit better air quality. But city centers like Bangkok and Chiang Mai are really bad. Add that farmers are burning crops makes it even worse.

2. Mosquito Protection

The dengue fever epidemic is real. Many people in SE Asia are infected with many deaths. Just because you live there doesn’t make you immune. And don’t let people tell you that natural products work. I’m a scientist and I dug deep into the science. Just because you want to be organic or earthy in some way, its not worth your life to live on such principles. Use DEET if you can tolerate it. But just as effective is Picaradin. My wife can’t use DEET at all, but totally was on board with Picaradin. You need to apply before you go outside, but its super sticky. So go into your hotel shower, spray yourself down with Picaradin or DEET, and go about your day. Remember you can sweat it off, so reapply as needed. We forgot to apply one morning before sunrise. We regretted that. Mosquitoes got into our rental car and we had millions of mosquitoes in there. We jumped out and sprayed down right away. Don’t risk it. We also took B-complex vitamins that are supposed to have an effect (scientifically). Some people have taken a bath with a cap full of bleach. It makes me wonder if jumping in a swimming pool with chlorine would help (?). I haven’t investigated that. And I sprayed all my clothes with Permathryn before arriving since it can last 10-14 days. I put those clothes in a plastic bag since that stuff is a bit toxic. You don’t spray it on your skin at all.

3. Buy Tickets Online if you can
One of my favorite events that are very cultural too is Muay Thai fights. While it may be seen as a fringe following outside of Thailand, its the nation’s national sport. There is so much culture and tradition involved. I would highly recommend going to a [reputable] venue like Rajadamnern, Lumphini, or Max Pattaya. Many off-site venues are just for show and are often rigged with poorly trained fighters. For Rajadamnern, I purchased tickets before arriving to Thailand. Buy 2nd class. You want to immerse yourself by witnessing all the wagering that takes place. The wagering crowd is huge and very loud. Its so much fun. Don’t get roped into buying tickets at the door. The attendants will swarm you and drag you to buy a first class ticket. Yes, they are up front and have seat backs, but its very costly and you don’t experience the crowd as well. There are many other types of venues where, if you can buy online ahead of time, it will save you from the swarm.

4. Fly in Country if you Can
We took a flight from Chiang Mai to Pattaya on a regional airline. It was as good or better than most international airlines. And it was super cheap. The airports are really fun too. They had coffee and other goodies all around. We had to take a taxi from Pattaya to Bangkok and that’s not a lot of fun. And if you don’t get the newer train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, its not the most comfortable ride. You can’t open the windows and the AC is not very good. You seem to smell train smoke the entire trip. The sleeper train was fun one time, but I don’t think I’ll do it again. Be careful about the train schedules. We were supposed to go from Pattaya to Bangkok at a scheduled time. But what the schedule didn’t say was that it was only for the weekends. On a weekday, we would have been stranded at the very remote train station if our taxi driver left us quickly. I wouldn’t have wanted to walk 10 miles to the next nearest town.

5. Use Grab App, but Take the Taxi
I would say we were successful with Grab about 10% of the time, especially in Bangkok. The traffic is so bad in Bangkok that even if a Grab driver is a mile away, it may take 20 minutes to get there. The driver texts you on the app to make sure you are still there. And you keep responding. Then, 15 minutes later the driver dropped the pickup. So you end up starting over again. Its such a pain. What you do instead is get the fare quote on Grab for your destination. And then use that fare to haggle with a taxi driver. Taxis are so much more abundant. When you walk by, you’ll hear “Where you going” from 50 drivers a day. We just smile and keep walking. We didn’t take a Tuk Tuk because of pollution and reports that they’ll take you to a market or tailor shop before taking you to your destination. But I guess we should risk it at least once next time. Definitely don’t take a motorcycle taxi unless you have a death wish 🙂

6. Water Taxis Rule!!!
The best way to travel in Bangkok is water taxis. It is so fun, relaxing, and super cheap. You can go from Hua Chang Pier to Phanfa Bridge for about 30 baht. Probably less because we gave them what we thought was the correct rate and they always gave us change back. And the ferries on the Chao Phraya river are amazing! There is so much to see.

7. BTS/MRT skytrain and subways
After the water taxis, the skytrain and subways are awesome. But its hit or miss how crowded they will be. Mid-morning, we had the train to ourselves on a weekend. But taking the skytrain to the airport with our bags was a little harrowing. We were total sardines as people rushed to work. But they are very air conditioned and easy to navigate. Not all stations have functional kiosks that you can pay with cash. And, if you don’t know the money well, you’ll get upset locals who will start to try to help you (thank you btw) because you are so slow. For us, it was always better to go to a cashier. Its really fast. Just tell them where you want to go. And, we would sometimes use larger bills so we had small bills to carry. Make sure you know the first stop and last stop for every train route (not your destinations but the end of the line). That’s the train you get on in the direction of the end of the line. Obey the rules since there is an armed policeman at each platform. Thai people are polite and obey lines. So don’t do something stupid. And—make sure you wear a mask on most platforms. Its the most air polluted place in Bangkok. Plus you can keep from getting sick from someone in close quarters.

8. Holiday Inns
We may venture out to other hotels for better locations next time. Some of the Hostels look nice and are super cheap. There are luxury accommodations in neat places too, like across from Wat Arun on the Chao Phraya River. But for Type A Americans like me, booking all my locations through Holiday Inn was awesome. I know my credit card is a little more safe that way and I can get points for stays. Here is the key: Holiday Inns in Asia are like 5 or 6 star hotels in the States. You’ll have valets, doormen, complimentary drink and wet hand towel when you arrive, and really good service. I was talking with a missionary who has lived in Thailand. He said Holiday Inns are special because they have carpet. Carpet with the water levels and humidity are a rarity in many places. So that’s how you know Holiday Inn is special. And, you can cancel with short notice if you have to. We also stayed at the IHG partners, like Crowne Plaza in Bangkok and Hotel Intercontinental in Pattaya. Talk about posh living. It was SO nice!!

9. Traditional Thai Massage
For some reason, the “traditional” part seems useful. So that’s what I always chose. You can get a Thai massage every day if you’d like. It was my primary reason for going to Thailand since I had just finished Thai Massage School. The one you absolutely have to go to, but won’t have the best massage, is the Massage School at Wat Pho. Its not very expensive but you have to pay entry to Wat Pho to get there. But that’s my absolute favorite temple area too, so I don’t mind. Definitely try some of the other “Schools” though because you can be guaranteed a more thoughtful massage. I found some “Spa” places in big malls that turned out to be incredible too. They are more upscale and you get treated like a spa. Beware of bonus massages in more hole in the wall places or in red light districts. It probably wouldn’t get a legitimate Thai massage on Patpong Alley in Bangkok or on the walking street in Pattaya. Definitely do your research. But the cheap prices makes for such a worthwhile experience.

10. Out of the Way Places
Definitely find places that are away from tourist places. Especially restaurants by the little lakes. We went to a place with no name off the grid North of the Pattaya airport. These are the places the locals and their families go to. They are stilted places over the water. We went to a Thai recreation area north of Chiang Mai. We didn’t see a single Farang (foreigner). And nobody spoke English. But it was the best experience ever. These are the gems of Thailand.

11. The Village People
We have a very good friend who is from the Hmong tribe. All around Chiang Mai and throughout the North, you can find Hill Tribes. They are mostly farmers who live very traditional lifestyles. We went to the Hill Tribe museum in Chiang Mai that was very worthwhile. Then travel up and visit either a Hmong market or just exist among the people. You can even stay with a family if you’d like. It is the best immersion into culture you’ll find. We didn’t get to actually visit a tribe, but will definitely do it next time.

12. Renting a Car
So to warn you, automobile accidents in Thailand are a primary cause of death. And the roads can be confusing at times. There will be drives into the country where you’ll be super glad you rented, like a trip up to the highest point in Thailand, Doi Inthanon. Then there will be other times during rush hour with alleys and such where you’d like to pull over and walk away from it. Here are a few tips. First, get the insurance. I’m not a terrible driver, but being on the wrong side of the wheel, I ended up in a rush and backed into a pole. It wasn’t so bad at the rental agency because I had the insurance that paid for it all. There were numerous times where I thought an accident was imminent, so get the insurance. Second, if you can, don’t get an electric car. Driving up the mountain, we didn’t think we’d make it. We got down to like 5 kph up a steep climb. It was very white knuckled trip all the way up. An electric car doesn’t cut it for power. Third, always print out maps. This is where we failed. There are GPS/cell phone blackout areas in Thailand. We were driving in the North side of town in Pattaya when we lost any coverage by Google Maps. I even had maps downloaded, but wasn’t being tracked anymore. The roads were jam packed with people and you easily ended up in dead end alleys. A map would have helped a lot. But overall, outside of Bangkok, I would rent again. I’d leave it up to public transportation for inner cities. But it works well for the country-side.

13. Don’t Get Temple Fatigue
Although, the temples are the primary thing to do in Thailand. They are absolute wonders. But, I’d pick a few top temples to visit and stick with that. You don’t have to go to all the temples in Thailand. A few of my favorites: Wat Arun, Wat Pho, Golden Mountain Temple (Wat Saket), Wat Chedi Luang and Doi Inthanon (Chiang Mai), Big Buddha Hill (Pattaya). Not technically a temple is the Sanctuary of Truth. Its a huge, modern, wooden structure with elaborate carvings in Pattaya. You have to go there. Also, there is a temple in Bangkok that is off the beaten track that we didn’t visit, but want to. It is Wat Paknam Phasi Charoen in western Bangkok. And all the old temple ruins in Ayutthaya. Its best to go early before it gets too hot. Nearly all temples are in closed in spaces with walls, so they get hot. The crowds make it hotter not to mention men and women need to cover knees and shoulders. I wore sandals with a heel strap everywhere. You end up taking shoes on and off at temples a lot, so think about that. Go to the temples then change into your shorts for the afternoon. Otherwise, you end up walking around in long pants everywhere like I did.

14. Try the Food, but don’t drink the water
Start with the regional favorites and popular things. In Chiang Mai, Khao Soi and Garlic Beef are local favorites. Elsewhere, you’ve got to do the Pad Thai, Green Curry, and Mango Sticky Rice. Otherwise, try it all. We didn’t do street food, but I would next time. If I see something cooking right on the grill, I’ll ask for what’s being cooked. Not something that’s been sitting there for who knows how long. I know its probably just the Farang in me, but knowing about the stray dog population and dog meat trade, I get wary of meats I’m not familiar with. Just sayin. Like I said, the out of way places where locals eat are great places. Also, I opted for beer most often (Singha is my fav; though Leo and Chang are decent too). Get a can or bottled soda. But never get the ice. They say ice that is hollowed out is safe, but I didn’t trust it. You need to buy lots of bottled water for in your room (drinking, brushing teeth,…). But don’t worry about getting it on the street. Some temples give away water. There are purified taps to fill your reusable bottle too, but that’s less frequent. Also, the Thai coffee that’s super sweet and cold makes me wary since they use cold tap water sometimes. So I didn’t opt for that though I hear its good. I think most people get some stomach illness in Thailand. But we were able to escape that completely with our methods. I carried purification tabs and a filter straw, but never ended up using them. And I feel terrible creating more plastic bottle waste, but I didn’t find a good alternative. Keep your lips closed on the water taxis and in the shower.

15. Travel Light; Hand Wash Clothes
We couldn’t find laundry detergent at the 7-Eleven, so ended up at a supermarket. Every night, I would wash our clothes and hang them to dry. They never totally dried out the next morning, but it cooled us off as we walked around. They say don’t wear any artificial fibers, go all natural. I wore cotton linen that was pretty much see through. But I’m fine with that. I’d sweat and it cooled me because it evaporated immediately in the heat. I wore white since it reflected the sun. Don’t wear dark colors or anything polyester. You’ll die. I basically had one long pants (for temples, nice shorts, swim shorts, one white linen shirt, and a burnout tee shirt to workout or go to the swimming pool in. That’s it. And we washed every night. I only wore self-made huaraches the entire trip. So I didn’t pack any shoes. We carried a very small backpack each, like foldable 25L pack that is waterproof. Your pack must have mesh water bottle holders. I would put a water bottle in one and clothes that were drying in the other. You’ll totally regret a big pack. You can buy stuff so cheap. We left our carry-on rolling luggage in a Lock Box at the airport. Then anything extra we bought the last day, we had a place to put it. If you can reserve your Lock Box ahead of time, do that since there aren’t that many. But we never had a problem. The Lock Box at the Siam Paragon in Bangkok is right next to the Skytrain stop, so you can use that too. You really don’t need much in Thailand. I used a small Pentax camera that is waterproof and shockproof. I had spare batteries but never used them. Also, I used a fanny pack around town and my wife used a bigger money belt as her purse. You don’t want stuff on your shoulders during the heat of the day. The one regret was not having something protective for our passports. You end up taking them out about 20 times a day. You need it to exchange money and make almost any purchase. Even to use wifi at McDonalds. Your passport is everything. So a waterproof covering that kept it closed and dry would have been nice. Next time!

Most of all, have fun. I am an over-precautious person at heart. The scientist in me (including a degree in microbiology) always keeps me curious. To me, when I’m paying so much time and money for this adventure, it doesn’t pay to be sick while traveling. You’ll totally regret it if you get sick. Always smile and be happy. Its the Thai way!

The Top 3 Over-rated Exercises/Equipment

#1 – Anything in the Smith Machine. That goes for squats, deadlifts, bench press, overhead press,… Just don’t do it. When I was in high school, people only worked out on the Universal Gym machines. Football players would lift the whole stack for every lift. It was a huge ego booster for them. While little ole me worked out at home with barbells and dumbbells. Believe me, the real world, functional strength you get from balancing a bar is unmatched. I would put a light weight (135#) on the bench and one of our heavyweight wrestlers on our team couldn’t lift it. He only worked machines. Another strong friend came over to my house and tried to bench with a bar and it ended up crashing on his hips. He couldn’t balance it. And, our bodies never move linearly. There is always a natural curve when you are squatting or pressing. You need to let your body move naturally in movements. The Smith Machines in the world should be melted down and turned into real barbells.

#2 – Hip Thrusters. Yes, I think this is a valuable exercise. If the Rock Johnson is doing them, then shouldn’t everybody? My rule is when you see some tiny thing (man or woman) loading 315+ pounds on a bar and does it for 10-12 reps, then its probably ego-driven and totally for show. The times I’ve done this exercise, I paid a huge price in my groin. No amount of pads every removed the intense pain on my giblets. If you ever study kinesiology (aka body mechanics), you realize extension at the hip isn’t magic. You can make the same shape with squats, deadlifts, hypers, etc… without the pain and stupid setup. Add a heavy flex circle band around your knees in squats and you’ll add mass to your gluteus medius and minimus. Believe me, you don’t need this movement even if its amazing.

#3 – Leg Press Machine. When I was a 20-something scoutin for chicks at the gym, the leg press machine was my go-to device to impress everyone. I think that’s actually its only purpose. To drive big egos. I’d load 900# on it (10x 45# plates on each side) and make sure they clanked really loudly so everyone would look my way. A nice scream would alert everyone I was doing it too. It gave me lots of gym cred. But I also think its one thing that killed my lumbar spine. Since my hamstrings weren’t super flexible, I slightly tucked my hip under to lessen the hamstring load. Then all the pressure was directed at L4-L5. After one such behemoth lift, I pretty much couldn’t stand up or walk out of the gym. Squats and deadlifts are much better exercises to show real strength. I know little thangs who lift heavy on the leg press but can’t squat their bodyweight. Also, full range of motion isn’t possible with the leg press. It would look like a quarter squat standing with a barbell. Its really not worth it. All it gives you is a big head!