Category Archives: travel tales from faraway

I’m really proud of these little stories. One day there’ll be more :)

The subtle effects of Bhutan and where to from here …

This isn’t a travel piece on Bhutan.

This is a piece about the after effects of Bhutan, for Steve and I discovered only yesterday that it has quietly, pervasively, had a profound effect on both of us.

It’s also a review of Jane Gleeson-White’s new book Six Capitals.

And it’s also about saving the world from environmental disaster and finding a place of peace in the process.

Not my everyday blog lol.

Better get a cuppa.

Just to give you a little back story … the reason Bhutan has long been on our wish list is because I studied journalism (here in Bathurst) with a boy from Bhutan and a girl from Singapore in the early 80s. They ended up getting married and have spent their lives in the Land of the Thunder Dragon, a tiny kingdom to the east of Nepal in the Himalayas. Bhutan is the country that espouses Gross National Happiness (as opposed to GDP) and after spending most of his life setting up and editing the country’s first English speaking newspaper, for the past six years (following the king’s abdication to make way for democracy) our friend Kinley has found himself in the role of Secretary for Information and Communication. When our daughter Madeleine was heading to Nepal with friends we suggested dovetailing into the front of her trip with a week as a family in Bhutan. That was in October just past.

We, like everyone else who visits Bhutan (unless you are invited as a guest), spent the week traveling with a guide and driver but despite the formal arrangements we were able to break away and catch up with Kinley and Pek throughout the week.

On leaving, Kinley left me with this, a book of gentle short stories he’s written that captures the spirit and values of the Bhutan he knows and loves. Values that are being seriously challenged as the country slowly opens its doors to the developed world.


During a very busy three and a half weeks we had three days in both Bangkok and Siem Reap, the week in Bhutan, a week in Nepal and finished with four days in Delhi. The contrasts between those destinations were acute and that’s for another piece but Bhutan is the one that’s stayed with us.

Upon return, a stint in hospital. A quiet recovery. Down time to reflect – for both of us.

Devouring books.

Including this one which I just have to share with you … Jane Gleeson-White’s Six Capitals ~ the revolution capitalism has to have – or can accountants save the planet?


The dog tags represent insights and aha moments. I couldn’t put it down which is astounding given that it’s largely about economics and environmental law.


You know me. I’m not an economist, I’m not a political animal, I’m just an individual who has been, in her own way, worrying about the state of the world, the increasing power of corporations, the pervasive ‘endless more’ value system we see in the developed world and ultimately concerned that the environment will be the biggest casualty.


In a nutshell, Gleeson-White is putting forward a case that just as the agricultural and industrial revolutions spawned accounting practices to cope with rapidly changing economies, a completely new accounting system is now needed in the technological age to capture and measure all the ‘externalities’ that aren’t included in standard double entry accounting or GDP figures.

And the big one that is missing, the elephant is the room … is nature.

“The problem of externalities is best expressed by former World Bank economist Raj Patel in his hypothetical ‘$200 hamburger’. In this thought experiment Patel estimated the real cost of a McDonald’s Big Mac to be $200. The reason that Big Macs sell for almost one-hundredth of this figure is that their price does not account for their real costs. These include their carbon footprint, their impact on the environment in terms of water use and soil degradation, and the enormous health-care costs of diet-related illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. Traditional accounting models do not take these costs into account, but they still have to be paid; it is just that the McDonald’s Corporation does not pay them. We do. Society as a whole pays, in the form of environmental disasters, climate change, the depletion of natural resources and higher health costs.”

It is one of many examples she cites.

She describes how, since the 1970s, numerous attempts have been made around the world to try and build these intangible externalities into a new ‘integrated’ accounting framework. The six potential capitals that would be included are: financial capital, manufactured capital, intellectual capital, human capital, social and relationship capital and finally natural capital. The sad fact is though that financial capital will always win out because “the corporation as we know it, is legally bound to make decisions in favour of financial capital.” Corporations currently exist to make profits for their shareholders. Hang the rest.

The six capitals model is noble but ultimately I think it lacks teeth. It’s like asking a gummy octogenarian to try and eat a steak. I think there’s also something profoundly tricky in expecting corporations, whose sole raison d’être to date has been to make profit, to now expect them to change their value system. How can we trust them to tell their stories truthfully? And even though there are some amazing corporations trying to do amazing things it still, to me, feels like applying band-aids to a cancer patient. Over at the guesthouse at Duckmaloi there is a 50 year old washing machine that still works as well as the day it was bought. Why can’t modern corporations do that today? Some are yes, but while the current model is to make profit, no, I can’t trust corporations to do the right thing.

What interested me far more in the book is the idea of giving nature legal rights.

“In 1972, legal scholar Christopher D. Stone published an article called Should Trees Have Standing?: Toward legal rights for natural objects, which challenged the legal precedent that trees–nature–are objects and therefore have no rights in law. Stone argued instead that trees should be given legal rights … He argues that just as over the centuries we have extended legal rights to an increasing number of human beings – including slaves, women, children and racial minorities – and granted legal personhood to various inanimate things such as trusts, ships, nation states and the ubiquitous corporation itself, so it is time to extend these rights of legal personhood to nature.”


Think about it.

The Alaskan Coast vs Exxon, The Gulf of Mexico vs BP. Perhaps I’m oversimplifying Stone’s argument, possibly not. But the fact is, it’s happening, very, very slowly.

“On 15 October 2012, Bolivia passed the world’s first law granting all nature equal rights to humans: the Framework Law on Mother Earth and Integral Development to Live Well … The Inclusion of ‘Integral Development to Live Well’ refers to Bolivia’s indigenous philosophy of ‘vivir bien’, which is central to a new body of legislation passed by the country since 2006. It is defined as ‘a civilizational and cultural alternative to capitalism based on the indigenous worldview’ that ‘signifies living in complementarity, harmony and balance with Mother Nature and societies, in equality and solidarity and eliminating inequalities and forms of domination. It is to Live Well among each other, Live Well with our Surroundings and Live Well with ourselves.”

Oh Bolivia!

And while we’re in the neighbourhood a quick look at Costa Rica.

“In 1997, Costa Rica became a pioneer in the developing world when it introduced its own payments for ecosystems services …. to pay landowners for the services provided by the forests on their land … The results have been impressive. Not only have Costa Rica’s forests and natural areas been protected since the launch of the program in 1997, but large tracts of ruined land have also been restored. In the late 1980s, only 21% of Costa Rica was covered by forests; by 2010 that had risen to 52%. This was accompanied by improvements in the country’s living standards and energy savings. In 1985, only half of Costa Rica’s energy came from renewable sources. By 2010, this figure had risen to 92%.”


Don’t get me started on Australia’s environmental standing at the moment.

But while we’re in our own neighbourhood it’s worth mentioning that in September 2012, a river in the North Island of New Zealand, the Whanganui River, became a legal person.


solar fountain

I am sitting at our kitchen table looking out at a beautiful blue day. We have a little solar powered fountain in the garden. It still blows me away that it needs no traditional power.

These past couple of weeks I have been forced to lay low, to take things quietly.

And it has been the most beautiful gift.

Ultimately for me, life comes down to values. I was so pleased to see Gleeson-White reflect on this. Kinley, too, when he signed our book. Every time I’ve ever been in an unhappy workplace there’s been a rub of values. The same with relationships. The value of ‘endless more’ is at the heart of my concerns about the current trajectory of Corporation Earth. Endless more does not preserve our environment. Endless more is not making us happy. It is doing the exact opposite, especially for those who are at risk of having endless less.

I believe the Bhutanese are on to something with their Gross National Happiness model. As Kinley said to me, “My main concern is that a small country with big ideas may not be able to change a big world with small ideas.” Touche.

Apart from the Buddhist beliefs that permeate every layer of society, the Bhutanese spend their lives living in the shadow of the Himalayas. It has a way of keeping you in your place. It makes you realise how small you are in the scheme of things. That every living creature has its place. Even cats ;)

even cats


It has definitely left its mark on us.


Congratulations Jane on a superb book. I’ve just scratched at the edges here. Friends, if you’re interested, it’s available here.

Unless Kinley has a stash of books somewhere, his is a little more difficult to find.

Have a beautiful Christmas. Be kind to the planet. Be kind to each other.

Thanks so much for being here this year.

I love our little quiet corner of the internet.

loads of love.




A bag full of glimpses …

It is dark. And still.

The storm and lightening have passed and compared to an hour or two ago it is relatively cool.

We are staying in The River Garden and down below in the open kitchen, the girls have stopped laughing.

It is late.

They are making their way home along the river. Apsaras all. The loveliest compliment I can give a Cambodian girl. So gorgeous. And funny.

We are lapping up the peace after the frenzy of Bangkok.

I am milking the last moments of a happy night learning to play Briscola with the kids.

The frogs are filling the garden with their deep throated tubercular croaks.

It’s been too quick a detour but what can I tell you …



Three days in Siem Reap will buy you a bag full of glimpses.



Frozen moments at Angkor Wat.


Time and her entourage of characters will march right before your eyes …

monks angkor wat

You will see colour everywhere you turn …

angkor wat

And if you make a journey to a lost city in the dark you will see a sunrise, perhaps a sunrise that happens only twice a year and crowns a temple in gold.

sunrise angkor wat

You will see the most intricate stories. And bas-reliefs that will blow your mind…

details of angkor war

Hidden passages that lead to doorways bathed in blinding sunlight …

monk angkor wat

Seductive reminders of a world long gone …

reliefs at angkor wat

But still remembered.

dancer at bayon temple


You will see it all.


However, sometimes it’s not about what you see.


It’s about what you don’t see.


headless statues angkor wat


In three days in Siem Reap we saw no elders.

Not one.

We were treated with kindness and warmth and surrounded by smiles.

But there was not a toothless one among them …

Cambodia is a country playing catchup.

A country that has lived through storm and lightening.

Three days will buy you a bag full of glimpses but it’s what I didn’t see that has left its mark.


it is never too late to be what you might have been


And now makes me want to return.




You’ve got to throw in some new horizons …

A not unfamiliar race to the departure gate in Sydney. My fault. Last minute frantic banking. Not a good start.

An easy 10 hour flight.

Dropping through the clouds the whole landscape became a sea of Rosalie Gascoigne assemblages. Watery patinated panels of dirty browns and greens, muted turquoise, soft mauves and pinks. Pinks! Camera bag in the overhead. Blink. Snap. Blink. Snap. Commit it to memory. The colours!! The shapes. The meandering channels of water breaking the geometry.

You can’t keep painting the same landscape, telling the same story.

You’ve got to throw in some new horizons.

fields of rosalie gascoigne

The fuggy moist warmth wraps its arms around you on arrival.

The chaos of the streets.

The chaos of colour.

Oh colour how I have missed you.

Trains and a taxi to our little hotel on the river. A blind dog barks at our arrival. We are walking through the grounds of a temple. No signage. Dark. Edgy. We have done this to the kids before “What the?” Finally a marker. A clue. An alley.

Loy La Long.

Enter The White Room. Smaller than it looked online but spotlessly clean with glossy white wooden floors and welcoming crisp white sheets. A secret door in our loft leads to a verandah overlooking the river, the main artery of the city.


Towering Sheritans and Hiltons in the distance.

view from the loylalong hotel

But I wonder … can you feel the warm breeze on your face you high risers? Can you smell the spices? Can you hear the tinkle of wooden chimes, the river lapping against the shore? The cacophony of boats plying their many and varied trades along the river?

We are resting with our heads on the chest of Chinatown.

We are in Bangkok.

And I can feel her heartbeat.


This chic little hotel caught my eye the moment I saw their website. It’s so clever. The owner, C, is an ex-copywriter, a young guy who worked for Ogilvy and Mather for 15 years till the day he saw a FOR LEASE sign from the water taxi on his way to work. In a matter of days the deal was done. The leap was made. It’s important to leap every now and then. One of my nieces is stag leaping her way around South America. No fear. I like it.

loy la long hotel details

loylalong hotel lounge


“HE was leaning against the pole of the water taxi, shaded by the canopy but already damp from the morning’s heat. Staring out at nothing in particular, the ramshackle shanties tenuously clinging to life on the water’s edge, the light glaring off the turquoise blue glass of the Sheriton and Hilton in the distance.

Same same. Every morning.

But then something caught his eye.

Amidst the dark rotting timbers, a woman in a white dinner shirt, early 50s maybe, sitting quietly in a shadowy corner of a little hidden hotel. Watching the cacophony of boats plying their trades along the river. She was watching but not watching. She was there but not there. The water taxi sped past. She was gone but he could still see her face. A once beautiful face now written with sadness.”




“SHE had woken at first light, the sonorous roll of engines on the river a sign that the city was waking up. The family was still asleep so she tiptoed her way over the glossy wooden floors, collected up her camera and watercolours and stepped up to the dark timber deck that all but touched the river.

A golden hour of light but she did not take up her camera and her sketchbook remained closed.

She was lost in her own thoughts and a wave of missingness washed over her.

Thinking about what was and what is.

Thinking about where she now fits if she fits at all. 

Staring at the river boats passing left and right she had a fleeting sense that someone was watching her from the water taxi but the figures were blurred – her glasses forgotten in the room – another sharp reminder of her vulnerability.

She knew she should feel happy. This might be a last family holiday together. Children growing up.

But there was a knot of sadness in her that she was struggling to understand and untangle.  

Thinking of what is and what might be.

Her shoulders dropped, her gaze lowered to the slow brown river below, the water taxi rounded a corner and the river, for a moment, was quiet. 



We had a mixed up kind of day yesterday which is often the way as you land in a new country and find your feet, not only as a foreigner, but as a family. It takes a few days to peel off the plastic and get used to each other again.

Two weeks ago I discovered my dormant Graves disease had returned with a vengeance and as much as I would love to follow Carla Coulson’s example and tackle it naturally, I’ve opted for meds as the trip was looming. Still not feeling quite myself. A little foggy and disconnected.


street food and shopping

A street masseuse latched on to me in Kho Sahn Road last night, told me I should come back tomorrow and he’d fuck me good, all the time working my neck, working his story. His grand finale was to tilt my head back and blow?/suck? into my nose (I think). Wham! Bam! WTF?! Have felt a little violated ever since as if he’s breathed some of his seedy spirit into me. Gag. Bill Nighy spasm.

Despite his inviting offer we took our leave and had dinner at Hemlock, recommended by C. Great call. The meal was special. Particularly the starter, Miang Kham. A mixture of freshly grated coconut browned and roasted, peanuts, dried shrimps, finely diced ginger, lime, Thai green chilli and French shallots – all placed on an individual leaf, topped with a spoonful of sweet sauce, wrapped up tight and popped in the mouth. A sensational mixture of flavours.

miang kham at Hemlock Bangkok








she said to herself.





reclining buddha Bangkok


There are fish jumping at my feet in front of the hotel’s verandah as I write.


A mattress is floating past.


Welcome to Asia my friends.


Sweet crazy dreams.



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    Hi I’m Margaret. I live in Australia.
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