World Countdown–Published in Jetwings December 2009

Ten, nine eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one….Happy New Year! The countdown, the strike of the clock, the revelry of the crowd and the clinking of the glasses are heard all over the world on 31st December. The New Year’s night is one of hope – hope that the New Year will bring good fortune and good health. This hope is universal; a few customs however, some of them quirky, differ from country to country.
Scotland
New Year’s is Hogmanay in Scotland. It is a four to five day blast, including parties, street festivals, entertainment and fire festivals originating from the Vikings. A few traditions include cleaning one’s house as in Indian Diwali or Jewish Passover. Sweeping the fireplace is a must during this time.
First Footing is an ancient tradition where after the stroke of midnight, neighbors visit each other, bearing traditional symbolic gifts such as shortbread or black bun, a kind of fruit cake. A toast is then made by the host with Scottish whiskey. If you have a lot of friends, you will be offered a great deal of whisky!
The first person to enter a house in the New Year, the first foot, could bring luck for the New Year. The luckiest was a tall, dark and handsome man. The unluckiest is a red head and the unluckiest of all a red-headed woman.
Another ritual practiced is setting barrels of tar on fire and gradually rolled down the streets in the villages of Scotland. This ritual symbolizes that the old year is burned up and New Year is going to begin.

Mexico
Those with hopes of traveling in the New Year carry a suitcase around the house at midnight and those who want to travel to far-off places carry it around the block.
Mexicans search for luck in various innovative ways. If luck in love is the goal for the New Year then red underwear should be worn. Yellow underwear should be worn when you are searching for luck in money.

Spain
In Spain people gather in the town center bringing with them bunches of grapes. They proceed to eat 12 grapes as the clock strikes midnight, one each time the clock chimes. This ritual originated in the twentieth century when there was an unseasonable bumper harvest of grapes. Not able to decide what to do about so many grapes at Christmas time, the King of Spain and the grape growers came up with the idea of the New Year ritual. A few seconds before midnight people make a wish for the New Year and after eating the grapes the crowds disperse to dance, sing and make merry.

America
Nearly forty-five percent of American adults make one or more New Year’s resolutions each year. All sorts of resolutions are made. Weight loss, better financial planning, and to quit smoking are the most common.
The first Ball was lowered at Times Square on December 31, 1907 and is now a symbol of the turn of the New Year. It seen via satellite by more than one billion people each year.

Italy
On New Year’s Eve friends gather together and enjoy a special meal in Italy. Each region is known for its special food for example in the Northern hilly regions, pork, polenta, lentils and crostini are especially made. Each person must wear something old, something new and something torn or broken. A special cake known as monte bianco, made with liqueur and cream is meant to keep the warmth inside during the winter months it is enjoyed that night.

Columbia
The New Year traditions in Columbia is unique. People put jewelry in a champagne glass before toasting at midnight. A plate of rice mixed with lentils at midnight. The first custom is done for wealth while the second custom is done for getting good crops for the year ahead.

Another major ritual among New Year traditions in Columbia is to prepare New Year’s Bread. It is baked with a coin placed inside. The bread is cut at midnight and the person who receives the coin is supposed to enjoy good fortune for the entire year.

Poland
The New Year’s Day and its eve, known in Poland as St. Silvester’s Day, begins a period of balls and parties known as the carnival. For centuries sleigh rides known as kulig was a traditional form of having fun and is still popular. A parade of horse-pulled sleighs and sledges went from one house to another, entertained everywhere with hearty meals followed and then by dances. Today the rides are less less of a thrill but ends in a fun meal and a bonfire.
The last Thursday of the carnival the Poles fill their stomaches with with pączki (doughnuts) and deep-fried narrow strips of pastry known as chrust or faworki.
Shrove Tuesday ends the carnival . It is known as śledzik or the “herring feast”, after the herrings eaten on that day.

Puerto Rico and Paraguay
Families stuff a life-size male doll with straw and old cloth and dress it in old clothes from each family member, symbolizing the ‘old year.’ At the stroke of midnight the doll is set on fire. The doll is stuffed with bad memories or sadness associated with them are burned away this will help one to forget the unpleasant happenings of the past year and usher in happiness with the coming year.

Greece
In Greece New Year’s Day is known as the Festival of Saint Basil. Children leave their shoes by the fireside on with the hope that Saint Basil, who was famous for his kindness, will come and fill their shoes with gifts.

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Putting in Pattaya–Published in Jetwings Feb. 2009

Beaches, spas, nightlife and poolside lazing are the visions that come to mind when thinking about a holiday in Pattaya.
However, the best kept secrets of this Thai Paradise are its golf courses. The city is a treat for golf enthusiasts and even if you have a 15-day golf holiday in Pattaya you would not be able to play all the courses. Moreover, all the courses are worth a visit as the quality of the courses are on par with world championship standards, designed by well known golfers such as Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Nick Faldo and other world-class golf course architects.
Tropical landscapes make Pattya’s golf courses amongst the most picturesque in the world and each of the thirty courses is within a 60 minute drive from the city. A few prominent ones are highlighted here:

Siam Country Club
Siam Country Club has two courses, one 18-hole and one 27-hole. The original “Old Course” is the first privately owned golf club in Thailand, founded by the late Dr. Thaworn Phornprapha, whose vision was to see Thailand with a golf course that will proudly stand among international courses. This year the golf course was proud to be a host to many golfing events such as the Thailand Open, many Asian Golf Circuits and the “Honda LPGA Thailand 2007”.
The new Siam Country Club golf course is known as “Plantation,” a name given in the honor of the historic Sugar Cane, Tapioca, and Pineapple plantations. Both golf courses are designed by a well known Arizona based Schmidt & Curley Design Inc. The Siam Country Club Plantation Course has the reputation of being one of the toughest courses in Thailand. This 27-hole layout is routed through rolling terrain with distant panoramic views of beautiful Pattaya Beach and the Gulf of Thailand.
The course features one difficult hole after another. Long carries, blind shots, giant high-lipped bunkers, and most of all shaved fringes on every hole are in play to challenge even the professional golfer. The distance from the tips is a long 7404 and 7495 yards, which makes the Siam Country Club Plantation Course the longest Pattaya golf course.
Each of the courses has its own distinctive style. The lush green Old Course is a traditional classic tree-lined golf course. The Plantation, on the other hand, is uniquely different, contemporary, and refreshing from any other golf courses in the region. An architectural “Bird Wing” clubhouse sits high on the hills with a view of the golf course overlooking the Pattaya Ocean.

St. Andrews 2000
St. Andrews 2000, named in honour of Scotland’s famous St. Andrews golf course is located in the picturesque hilly countryside of the South Eastern Thai province of Rayong, just over half and hour’s drive from Pattaya city. Designed by English-born and Cambridge-educated architect Desmond Muirhead, the sprawling par 74 course adjoins the layout of its neighbour, the older, par 72 layout of the Rayong Green Valley Country Club.
St. Andrews 2000 is a difficult and challenging golf course that will test even the best of golfers to their limits. With its undulating natural topography, St. Andrews 2000 was built to replicate the wind-swept Scottish courses, offering a challenge aimed at players with handicaps of 18 or lower.
The Course demands a combination of both power and accuracy as the strategic positioning of obstacles forcing the player to remain focused on every shot. This is a demanding course that that will test you and leave you with a golf high bringing you back for more.

Laem Chabang Golf Club
Laem Chabang Golf Club, a picturesque Jack Nicklaus designed championship course is reputed as having the best layout in Pattaya and to be truly one of Thailand’s finest. Laem Chabang consists of 27 holes on 700 acres and making use of three types of features, which characterize each of the nine holes.
Hazards to stop you reaching greens are in abundance with a lot of bunkers, sand traps and water hazards. In addition, there are also many natural hazards in the shape of exposed rock formations, lakes, ponds and creeks.
With many scenic views from the course, it all blends pleasantly into a great golfing experience and one that is uniquely Thai due to the native vegetation.
This creation is widely hailed by critics for the unique usage of the land’s mixed terrain of mountains, lakes and river valleys that are attractive as well as functional. Mountain, Lake and Valley are the names of the each 9- hole course aptly as each compromises the distinctive terrain.

The Khao Kheow Club
The Khao Kheow 27-hole golf course is located in the heart of the Pattaya “golf strip” between Bangkok and Pattaya. Careful shot making is required to overcome not only the windy conditions but also to take into account the numerous large ponds, bunkers and hills that surround the well manicured fairways which is typical of Pete Dye design. Greens are heavily undulating which makes precise putting necessary to scoring well.
The course really has something for everyone. In particular, the signature par-three seventeen, which plays to an island green is a challenge for both amateurs and professionals. The first 18 have been designed as a championship course, while the final nine holes are easier, more like a resort course.

Excellent clubhouse facilities and accommodation perfectly complement most all the courses. The restaurant at the Khao Kheow serves all Thai golfer’s favorites like spring rolls, minced pork with basil, phad thai, and a wide selection of noodle soups. There are ample amenities such as spas and other sports facilities for rest and relaxation.Many Thai tours specialize in golfing holidays and sampling several courses is an option. If you need to practice your stroke there are quite a few driving ranges within the city as well as some of the clubs.
With excellent designs, pristine views, stylish clubhouses of modern comforts, and well maintained properties Pattaya has proven to be a golfer’s dream holiday. For exclusive golf holiday planning there are sites such as golfasian.com and golforient.com to take care of all your travel and golfing needs,

Caribbean Gems–Published in Jetwings Feb. 2009

With over 35 unique destinations, all with azure waters and white sandy beaches, the Caribbean provides a wide variety of tropical isles for all kinds of vacationers. Beach-goers, snorkelers, divers, golfers, and those in need of some serious relaxation will find this and more.
On land, the larger towns provide excellent shopping opportunities; lush rainforests are home to hundreds of plant and bird species, golf courses, horse stables, provide other recreation activities. The islands also range in size and popularity; some attract cruise ships, shoppers, or families, while others are small and secluded — perfect for newlyweds on their honeymoon.
The extensive archipelago is strung between south of Florida through South America with each area having assorted cultures, languages and currencies. The Windward Islands of Grenada, St. Lucia, Dominica, and St. Vincent are known for volcanic peaks and French and African influences.
The six Leeward Islands, known for coral limestone formations and some of the nicest beaches in the Caribbean include Montserrat, Nevis, and St. Kitts, Antigua, Barbuda, and Anguilla.
The Virgin Islands are divided between the British and United States with the United States islands offering many entertainment choices, and the British islands offering more seclusion and quiet. There are three main United States Virgin Islands: St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix. Although there are many more British Virgin Islands, the two largest are Tortola and Virgin Gorda.
The French Antilles and the Netherlands Antilles exude a French and Dutch influence when it comes to culture, food, and lifestyle. This part of the Caribbean is known for its well preserved coral reefs.
The following are a few of the lesser known gems of the Caribbean Islands.
St. Thomas
Separating the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, St. Thomas is perhaps the busiest of the United States Virgin Islands and the number one point of call for cruise chips sailing the Caribbean. St. Thomas is a destination for visitors who enjoy the bustle of duty-free shopping, fine dining and exciting nightlife. Excellent scuba diving and snorkeling, a wonderful golf course, tennis courts, and 44 fabulous beaches are all on the offer. Magens Bay on the north coast is considered one of the world’s best beaches with a stunning view.
The main street of the picturesque town of Charlotte Amalie is a shopping mecca where you will find duty-free shopping on liquor, linens, china, crystal, jewelry, designer fashions, perfume, and other luxury goods. Locally produced goods include native shell jewelry, carved fruit bowls, straw brooms, woven baskets, and handmade dolls.
Coral World Ocean Park and Underwater Observatory at Coki Point reigns as St.Thomas’s number-one attraction. Visitors can tour Coral World Ocean Park and Underwater Observatory, take a Sea Trek along the ocean floor, snorkel in the crystal-clear waters, take a scuba diving lesson, experience Snuba(a cross between scuba diving and snorkeling), or just swim in the warm waters.Sea trekkers wear special air-supplied helmets with a large glass masks along with foot protection as they walk 15 feet underwater through the coral reefs. Trekkers hold onto a handrail as they follow their guide along the 60-yard underwater trail, where they see yellowtails, tang, trumpet fish, sergeant majors, sponges, and sea fans.

Anguilla
Looking for the best place to do absolutely nothing, then look no further than Anguilla, a quiet, laid back home to fabulous beaches, friendly people, and wonderful dining. One of Anguilla’s loveliest beaches is Shoal Bay East, also considered one of the most beautiful in the world. Here you will find white talcum sand bordered by coconut trees and sparkling turquoise waters, all which hold visitors awestruck. A barrier reef that runs along the beach keeps the water calm. Those wanting to explore the blue waters and its underwater creatures can snorkel right off the beach, where shining fish, stingrays, lobster, crayfish, and eels collectively meet. Numerous dive shops offer scuba diving trips to the reefs, walls, canyons, boulders, and sunken wrecks all that have earned Anguilla a reputation as a great place for scuba diving.Serious pampering occurs at the island’s three world-class resorts, each with its own signature spa treatments in idyllic settings. There are a host of activities at the resorts including a cooking school. Gourmets delight in Anguilla’s lively food scene. With more than 70 restaurants, there’s plenty of places to enjoy a wonderful meal. Blanchard’s, Kemia at Cap Juluca, Malliouhana, KoalKeel, and Straw Hat are a few of the Anguilla’s popular restaurants.
St. Barts
A branded destination for the super wealthy, St. Barts, part of the French West Indies, remains a favored destination for sophisticated travelers. The formal name is St. Barthelemy, named for Bartheleme, brother of Christopher Columbus who discovered the mountainous, eight-square-mile volcanic island in 1493.Today, St. Barts is a popular port-of-call for small cruise ships; the small harbor cannot accommodate larger vessels. Moreover, there are no direct flights to St. Barts, visitors must fly to a major island (St. Martin/St. Maarten, Guadeloupe, St. Thomas, Puerto Rico), then catch a small plane for the short hop to the St. Barts airstrip. Other travelers take the ferry from St. Martin. When a plane lands on the small airstrip, it comes to the end of the beach nearly touching the water, almost emulating a thrilling amusement park ride. The official currency is the Euro and the official language is French and Creole. Locals appreciate any attempt at their language, so be prepared.
While St. Barts is renowned for duty-free shopping, gourmet dining and 22 white-sand beaches (all are public and free), St. Barts’ main attraction is its plethora of villa rentals. In fact, the island claims more villas than hotels.On St. Barts, the term villa can mean anything from a modest cottage to a luxurious estate. High end villas throw in a housekeeper and even a private French chef. Prices vary widely, depending on season, location, size, and amenities. Daily rates range from about $250 per night to $5,000 for a sprawling, 6 or 7-bedroom beachfront mansion with private staff.
Curacao
Yes, the blue alcohol stems from this small island and visitors can take a tour of the distilleries that produce the liqueur made from the peels of bitter oranges native to the island. Curaçao is perhaps the most Dutch of the Caribbean’s Netherlands Antillesand with its restored mansions and tiny houses painted in an array of pastel and bright colors. In addition, the native language Papiamentu, a mixture of Spanish, Portuguese, English, Dutch, and other languages is widely spoken. In addition to Dutch, English, and Spanish, almost everyone speaks English.
As the island is positioning itself as a tourism powerhouse, with the construction of six new resorts and the renovation of five existing properties by end of this year travelers will find more choice in quality lodging than ever before.
In Curaçao one will want to spend outdoors as the island is packed with sporting attractions. On land or on water, active vacationers can choose from a wide range of activities, ranging from swimming and snorkeling to hiking and horseback riding. Finally, shopping is an extremely popular pastime for those visiting the island, especially among cruise ship passengers.
Antigua
Antiqua is recognized as the sunniest of the Eastern Caribbean Islands and with 365 white sand beaches, Antigua claims to have one for every day of the year. The great majority rest inside the calm, protected waters of the island’s Caribbean side. All are open to the public, so it is a daunting task to choose which to enjoy for the day. Scuba divers and snorkelers, come from around the globe to explore the spectacular, nearly unbroken wall of coral reef that surrounds the island.
English Harbour, Antigua’s elegant and reminiscent historic district, is focused on the fifteen square miles of Nelson’s Dockyard National Park. Further above the harbour, at Shirley Heights, are the partially restored fortifications of the harbour’s colonial observation post with the view extending as far as across the Caribbean to Montserrat and Guadaloupe.
All of the viewing points, as well as the park’s beaches, become especially popular spectator positions during Antigua’s renowned Sailing Week. Usually held in April, this event draws sailing enthusiasts from all over the world. This year will the event’s 40th anniversary and preparations for the festivities are already in full swing.
For those who want to try their luck at the tables, Antigua is the hot spot for its casinos. The glamorous Grand Princess in Jolly Harbour, the swanky Kings Casino at the Heritage Quay shopping and entertainment complex, the Royal Antiguan Beach and Tennis Resort on Deep Bay, and the Casino Riviera at Runaway Bay are all worth trying your luck at.

Disappearing Beauties –Published in Jetwings, December 2008

Island beach holidays — Maldives, Andamans, Fiji, Bermuda, oh so many beautiful islands —swimming, snorkeling, enjoying the sight of the sea and the calm of island life– it is many times what people work for all year around. The idea that the islands may not be part of our world in 50 short years does not come to mind.

The reality is that several small islands, have been entirely washed away from the earth’s surface and many more are on the verge of the same fate.

The Indian islands located in the Bay of Bengal of Lohachara and Suparibhanga were submerged under water in 2006. Tebua Tarawa and Abanuea in the island state of Kiribati located in the Pacific were washed away with the waves in 1999. These are only a few examples of islands that have already disappeared; there are dozens more all over the world under this same ominous threat.

Unfortunately this phenomenon is not geological evolution but rather a man made disaster that has taken place through the past century. For many of us global warming, the greenhouse effect, and carbon emissions are all buzzwords that we hear often and may be doing our part to reduce. The inhabitants living on endangered islands see the effects of global warming on a daily basis through flooding and the inability to grow crops due to soil erosion.
Simply explained increased human activity has increased the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, thus creating and imbalance and warming the atmosphere. The increased greenhouse gas concentration or carbon emissions have led to changes in temperature and precipitation. This has resulted in global changes in soil moisture, an increase in global mean sea level, and projection for more severe extreme high-temperature events such as floods and droughts in some places. The evidence of these types of occurrences has been mounting worldwide.
There are several endangered islands all over globe. Only a few prominent are highlighted here.

Maldives
Situated 500 kms from Sri Lanka, its unmatched white sands and bright blue water home to beautiful marine life have made this tropical paradise one of the world’s top honeymoon destinations.

The population of the Maldives is currently a bit over three hundred thousand. Dhivehi is the common language and Islam is the common religion. Both bind the people to a unified and peaceful society.

With more than 80% of the land area of the Maldives less than a meter above mean sea level, the slightest rise in sea level proves extremely threatening. Many of the 1190 islands already suffer flooding and shoreline erosion. “Maldives…Come Visit Us Before We Disappear” was ironically a marketing slogan for the country a few years ago.
Along with rising sea levels, increased beach and soil erosion, more powerful storms, higher storm surges, and threats to biodiversity are among the major threatens to the Maldives due to climate change over the coming decades.

Kribalti
Kribalti is situated in the South Pacific near Fiji. Kiribati consists of 33 coral islands divided among three island groups: the Gilbert Islands, the Phoenix Islands, and the Line Islands. Twenty one of these islands are inhabited with 94,000 people.
Kiribati is not the typical tropical holiday destination. Unlike the Maldives Tahiti, Hawaii, etc. where you can go to relax and order room service it has few visitors and very few hotels options and no luxury resorts.
With a population of 50,000 South Tarawa, is one of the most densely populated places in the world. Other islands have far fewer people, but getting to them can be difficult, and conditions are even more primitive. Most tourists, especially from the USA and Europe, go to Kiritimati (Christmas Island). It was in the news on January 1,2000 as the first place to experience the new millennium. Conditions there are somewhat better than in the rest of Kiribati.
The highest point of land on Kiribati is now just two meters above sea level, climate change for the residents of Kribai is not an issue of economic development but an issue of human survival.
As two of Kiribati’s islands have already given to the sea, many of the residents of the remaining islands living in shoreline village communities have already been relocated from century-old sites.
Only Tarawa and Christmas Island are serviced by international flights. You can fly to Kiribati via Nauru on Air Nauru/Our Airline or to Christmas Island from Honolulu and Suva, Fiji. Norwegian Cruse Lines also has Kiribati has one of the stops on their South Pacific routes. They have an 8 hour halt at Tarawa.

Tuvalu
Tuvalu, a string of narrow coral atolls barely 1m above the high-tide mark in the South Pacific, also faces extinction within a century.
Once a British colony known as the Ellice Islands, Tuvalu (the name means “group of eight (there are actually nine islands, but the southernmost one, Niulakita, has never been permanently inhabited) gained its independence in 1978. Today it has a population of a little over 10,000, and a total land area of about 26 sq km.
The code name for Tuvalu’s tiny international airport is FUN, it is located in its capital island of Fanafuti. From Suva in Fiji, Air Fiji flies two to three times weekly to Funafuti. Tuvalu is a gem in the island world but it is not the typical fun and sun you would get in the Caribbean, Andamans, or Sri Lanka. There is only one commercial hotel. This unspoiled remote island, however, offers a peaceful and non-commercialized surrounding that is ideal for pure rest and relaxation. The period between May and September is the most pleasant time for visitors, as the easterly trade winds moderate the tropical climate. The average annual temperature is about 30°C (86°F), varying relatively little throughout the year.
Actions Taken
Today roughly 1 million people live on coral islands worldwide, and many more millions live on low-lying real estate vulnerable to the rising waves. At risk are not just islands or their populations but unique human cultures. Faced with the possibility of flooding, these people are beginning to envision the disintegration of their lands in front of their eyes.
Others are buying higher land wherever they can. Some groups are preparing lawsuits that will challenge the right of the developed world to emit carbon gases threatening to cause the flooding and soil erosion of their homelands. Some countries are negotiating being “taken in” by the US or Australia or other main culprits of high carbon emissions. The citizens of tropical island nations are likely destined to become the world’s first “environmental refugees” — although they contribute only 0.6 percent of greenhouse-gas pollution.
Kyoto Protocol
The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change adopted in 1997 and put in force in 2005. The major feature of the Kyoto Protocol is that it sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This amounts to an average of five per cent against 1990 levels over the five-year period 2008-2012.
Under the Treaty, countries must meet their targets primarily through national measures. A reporting system is also implemented.
One hundred eighty parties have ratified the Protocol to date. The Kyoto Protocol sounds simple and fair yet the United States, the largest carbon emitting nation has not signed it.
Associations
The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) is a group of small island and low-lying coastal countries that share similar development challenges and environment concerns, especially focusing on the adverse effects of global climate change. It functions primarily as an informal lobby and negotiating voice for small island developing States (SIDS) within the United Nations system.
AOSIS has a membership of 43 States and observers, from all oceans and regions of the world: Africa, Caribbean, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean, Pacific and South China Sea. Together, SIDS communities constitute some five percent of the global population.
ISISA, International Small Island Studies Association, is a voluntary, non-profit and independent organization whose objectives are to study islands on their own terms, and to encourage scholarly discussion on small island related matters such as smallness, insularity, dependency, resource management and environment, and the nature of island life.
Solutions
The only solution to prevent endangerment of islands is to decrease carbon emissions. The entire world has been witness to increasing catastrophes around the world in recent times, many of them due to climate change…cyclones in Myanamar, hurricanes on the southeast coast of the US and Caribbean, and flooding in Orissa to name only a few. This is not by coincidence as many critiques may argue but by deliberate abuse of our globe caused by uncontrolled industrialization.
Individually we should take action to reduce our consumption and waste every day. During a beach holiday understand the ecosystems of the oceans. Be conscious of the damage done to the world around and spread awareness to the same effect.