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Blazing Saddles: Cycling to happiness

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Blazing Saddles: Cycling to happiness | The Thaiger

PHUKET: In 2006 the United Nations announced that more than half the world’s population was now living in urban areas and that by 2030 almost five billion of us will be urbanized.

Like most areas of rapid urbanization, Phuket has being deeply wounded by the rush to develop. Firstly, the island has become progressively reoriented around motorized traffic and secondly many public spaces and resources have been privatized.

This reorganization of our island is unfair and cruel as the urbanized residents of Phuket are increasingly denied the opportunity to enjoy simple daily pleasures such as walking on convivial streets, sitting around in public areas, or just playing together.

Children have largely disappeared from Phuket’s streets which have have been rendered dangerous and polluted by traffic volume. Phuket’s rapid urbanization is driven by people seeking a better life for themselves through increased prosperity.

Tourism workers, developers, hoteliers, restaurateurs, noodle vendors, yacht brokers and media types all share this common desire, and yet Phuket seems to be making people more miserable and stressed through this pursuit of prosperity.

The sad thing is that the more people flock to Phuket for the good life – money, opportunity, novelty – the more crowded, expensive, polluted and congested the island becomes. The result? Surveys show that Phuketians rate themselves as among the least happy people in Thailand, despite living in one of the richest regions in the country.

Is Phuket’s urban design really powerful enough to make or break our happiness? The question deserves consideration, because the most dynamic economies of the 20th century have produced the most miserable cities according to the World Health Organization. Surely not what we are trying to do here?

If one was to judge by sheer wealth, the last half-century should have been an ecstatically happy time for people in the US and other rich nations such as Canada, Japan and Great Britain. And yet the boom decades of the late 20th century were not accompanied by a boom in well being. Indeed the British got richer by more than 40 per cent between 1993 and 2012, but the rate of psychiatric disorders and neuroses grew exponentially.

Sadly an unintended consequence of Phuket’s urbanization and traffic density is that our human networks and the interactions are becoming degraded. People just don’t want to engage with the traffic to go out and see friends and relatives like they used to. Upon returning from the daily commute to work, many Phuketians collapse in a deranged heap in front of the TV and hibernate.

Much as we complain about other people, there is nothing worse for mental health than a social desert. The more connected we are to family and community the less likely we are to experience heart attacks, strokes, cancer and depression. Connected people sleep better at night. They live longer. They consistently report being happier.

There is a clear connection between social deficit and the shape of urbanization. A Swedish study found that people who endure more than a 45-minute commute were 40 per cent more likely to divorce. People who live in mono-functional, car dependent neighborhoods are much less trusting of other people than people who live in walkable neighborhoods where housing is mixed with shops, services and work places.

However, one particular group of commuters report enjoying themselves. These are people who travel to work under their own steam… they walk, run, or ride bicycles.

Why would travelling more slowly and using more effort offer more satisfaction than driving? Part of the answer exists in our basic human physiology.

We were born to move. Immobility is to the human body what rust is to a car. Stop moving long enough and your muscles will atrophy. Bones will weaken. Blood will clot. You will find it harder to concentrate and solve problems. Immobility is not merely a state that is closer to death… it actually hastens it.

Cycling gives even a lazy rider the ability to travel three or four times faster than someone walking, while using less than a quarter the energy. Cyclists report feeling connected to the world around them in a way that is simply not possible in the sealed environment of a car, bus or train. Their journeys are both sensual and kinesthetic.

So if we really care about freedom for everyone, we need to plan Phuket’s urbanization for everyone, not just the brave or foolhardy who are currently willing to risk their lives in order to cycle.

The TAT recently saw fit to try and capitalize on the global passion for cycling by declaring the country a cyclist’s paradise. This is of course pure hype, with no tangible initiatives to support the rhetoric.

But Phuket could quite easily be made more of a cyclists’ paradise by constructing cycling and walking pathways around perimeter areas such as Cape Panwa, the Nai Harn headland, Chalong Bay or through the central mountain peaks.

The investment costs would be minimal and could be readily amortized by charging a small fee to cycle or walk the pathways. Bike hire and cycle-friendly cafes along the way would offer locals employment and business opportunities.

Will any of this happen? While holding your breath is probably wise while cycling along Phuket’s main arteries, doing so in anticipation of such positive cycling initiatives appearing here is probably a fast track to asphyxiation!

While the search for happiness continues, chances are you’ll get there on a bike.

— Baz Daniels

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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Business

Out of 37 countries, Thailand has the worst pension system, says Bloomberg

May Taylor

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Out of 37 countries, Thailand has the worst pension system, says Bloomberg | The Thaiger

Thai Residents reports that on Sunday, Bloomberg published an article on the world’s best pension systems, using information gathered from the 2019 Melbourne Mercer Global Pensions Index.

The survey looked at the pension systems of 37 countries with metrics including employee rights, savings, the number of homeowners, growth of assets, and growth of the economy. The purpose of the analysis was to determine what was needed to improve state pension systems and to gauge the level of confidence citizens had in their state pension system.

The Netherlands and Denmark were found to have the world’s best state pensions, with Australia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Singapore, New Zealand, Canada, and Chile next. Out of all 37 countries, Thailand finished last, with what the report described as an extremely ineffective and ambiguous system.

“Thailand was in the bottom slot and should introduce a minimum level of mandatory retirement savings and increase support for the poorest.”

Out of 37 countries, Thailand has the worst pension system, says Bloomberg | News by The Thaiger

Photo: WorkpointNews

Thai Residents states that only those employed within the government system in Thailand are eligible for a pension based on salary. For most Thai citizens, pension amounts vary from 600 baht to 1,000 baht a month, depending on the recipient’s age.

A report carried out by The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) advises Thai citizens to have at least 4 million baht saved by the time they retire, but Thai Residents reports that 60% of Thai retirees have less than 1 million baht in savings, with one in three citizens who have reached retirement age are forced to continue working in order to survive.

SOURCE: thairesidents.com

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Bangkok

Tax on salt content being considered

Greeley Pulitzer

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Tax on salt content being considered | The Thaiger

The Excise Department is considering imposing a tax on the salt content of food to encourage food producers to reduce the sodium content of snacks, instant noodles and seasoning cubes.

The director of the Office of Tax Planning said that the department is discussing a limit on the amount of sodium food can contain, in line with the standard set by the World Health Organization (WHO), which is 2,000 milligrams of salt per day.

In reality, Thai people consume an average of 1,000 milligrams per meal, making their daily intake well above WHO guidelines, according to the director.

He said any tax imposed would be at a level which would encourage food producers to reduce the sodium in their processed food without being punitive, adding that the proposal isn’t intended to generate more tax revenue, but to help protect the health of consumers. Excessive sodium in the diet can lead to high blood pressure and kidney disease.

Fish sauce, soy sauce and salt would not be taxed.

SOURCE: thaipbsworld.com

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News

Water shortage warnings in 22 provinces

Greeley Pulitzer

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Water shortage warnings in 22 provinces | The Thaiger

People living in 22 Thai provinces are being warned to prepare for shortages of drinking water during the upcoming dry season, due to start on November 1st.

The warning was issued by the National Water Resources Office, citing low levels in reservoirs, which are the main sources for tap water production waterworks in 22 provinces.

Areas at risk identified by the office are in northern, north-eastern, eastern and southern provinces.

Measures have been adopted by agencies charged with dealing with water shortages. including dredging water channels to allow greater volumes of water to flow into reservoirs, drilling underground wells, enlarging storage ponds and the purchase of water to supply to those in urgent need.

The Royal Irrigation Department has announced that people should use water sparingly.

There are currently about 6 billion cubic metres of usable water in reservoirs in the affected provinces, with 5 billion cubic metres reserved for consumption and ecological preservation, leaving only 1 billion cubic metres for use in agriculture.

This means farmers in the Chao Phraya river basin may not be able to grow a second crop of rice this year.

SOURCE: thaipbsworld.com

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