Friday, July 3, 2015

STUDENTS - EVERY DAY OF THE WEEK

This song played over the end credits of a Sopranos episode that I watched the other night.  I loved the guitar part, doubtless the inspiration for The Bristol Stomp by the Dovells a few years later.  Doubtless?  Maybe not.  Those chords were kind of in the air at the time. 

I was sure that it was Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, so I had a hard time finding it on the 'Tube.  But the Internet is amazing these days, and I quickly found a couple of sites that list every song played in every episode of the Sopranos.  The Students!  From Cincinnati!  Great job, fellows.

Teaching Trip To Korat

The official name of the province is now Nakorn Rachasima, but no one seems to call it that.  Thais prefer to stick with the traditional name, which is Korat.

I got to the Moachit bus station in Bangkok with no trouble, but then everything went to hell pretty quickly.  Note to self:  from now on always go to the bathroom and buy a couple of sandwiches BEFORE buying the tickets.

The NOW problem.  Now means something different in Thailand.  In Thai or in English, the concept is viewed in a different light.  I bought the ticket and asked, in good Thai, when the bus was leaving.  The answer was, "now."  They even had a guy bring me to the bus.  I told him that I would like to use the bathroom first and he said that I had to get on the bus "now."  I sat on the bus for a half hour before we finally left.  I'm sure that it was still "now."

The ticket said "1st Class," and the bus said, "1st Class," but really it was a lousy old bus from the get-go.  Zero suspension; tired air-con; uncomfortable seats with no arm rests; exposed wiring some of the lights and speakers.

The trip to Korat should be three and a half to four hours, and the first two and a half hours were trouble free.  Then something broke, the hydraulic system or something.  Maybe the clutch?  That vocabulary is over my head.

The crazy Farang sitting behind me started mumbling immediately.  "This is not good," over and over again.  We were the only two Farang on the bus.  I'd seen him at our fueling stop, standing over to the side making weird faces and repetitive, circular hand movements, and had there and then resolved not to talk to him under any circumstances.  I didn't have to worry.  Within a few minutes of the bus stopping, he took up all of his things, put on his hat, and got off the bus in the middle of nowhere.  I didn't see him anymore.

We were there for two and a half hours before another bus stopped.  Same company, at least ten of their buses had passed us already.  This driver was also a bus mechanic, and he had some ideas.  Our own driver and the "bus assistant" had been poking around to little purpose beyond getting dirty with the oldest, rustiest set of tools in a ratty back-pack that you've ever seen.  The new guy began supervising, and within fifteen minutes or so something in the bowels of the bus gave up all of its pressure with a huge sigh.  The new guy seemed pleased and prepared to leave, buttoning up his shirt.  He had been joking with me me a little bit and talking at some length to another passenger that I had also become friendly with.  We were about the only passengers on the bus, us and two Tamils who never looked anyone in the eye, including each other, preferring to glare off into space.  My friend was a factory mechanic and he was interested in the proceedings; I found standing around outside equally uncomfortable so I switched off between outside and sitting on the hot bus. The driver exchanged words with my friend and he told us not to make a fuss but to keep quiet and come with him, he only had two free seats on his bus.  The rest of the passengers had to soldier on. 

To be fair, this was only the third time in over ten years that a bus had broken down on me in Thailand.  

So I left the house at 8:50 am and got to Korat at 5:30 pm.  I was so hungry that I ate at the bus station.  The tuk-tuk to the hotel was a bright spot.  He gave me the Thai price right away and was a very nice guy, very helpful regarding buses back to Bangkok.  I gave him a forty Baht tip and he was wildly appreciative.

I had booked and paid for the hotel room on Agoda dot com, but the hotel was not expecting me. I didn't have a print out, but I did remember the confirmation number.  That didn't really help.  I fired up my Chrome Book on the wi-fi and showed him the confirmation.  He was still lost.  He made a couple of notes and went back to the office for a while.  When he returned, he had a paper from his "manager," and said the manager told him that it was all good.  They got confused the next day too when I didn't check out.  I got back from teaching and they thought that I was going to check out late and leave.  No, I explained, I paid for two nights.  They issued a new room card and I could stay in the same room, so it could have been worse. 

The hotel was only okay.  I won't give the name, because they had so much trouble with the Agoda that I don't know if I trust them.  It was okay, though.  There was hot water, the free breakfast buffet was great, and the air-con worked.  Only Sy-Fy and the Universal Channel on the TV, plus a soccer channel in English.  The rest of the channels were in Thai.  So it was two days of House, and Law and Order, and 500 Mile Per Hour Storm.  (I only watch Sy-Fy in hotels, and of all things the last time I stayed in a hotel the same movie was playing.  500 Mile Per Hour Storm is okay, for a Sy-Fy movie, but isn't it funny how these things work out?)  One wall in the lobby was covered with pictures of military aircraft, most of which were signed by pilots and crew from many other countries.  The U.S., Singapore, Australia, Europe was in there too.  Some signed their names, some their call-signs, some both.  Thor; Minion; Bookworm.  Many said, "To Top and the rest of the staff at the ___________ Hotel."  Top sounds like a call-sign too, so maybe the owner of the hotel is a former pilot.   I guess there's a big training air base nearby. 

Later on I went to the lobby to inquire about the less-than-intuitive wi-fi in the rooms.  I rode down on the elevator with an old Asian man who probably wasn't Thai.  He was dressed like a Commodore, white military cut suit, white peaked cap, white shoes.  We smiled but only I spoke, I tried Thai and English but neither worked very well.  When we got off at the lobby he took a handful of amulets out of his pocket and gave me one.  The only thing he said the whole time was, "good luck!"

Teaching and the return trip were uneventful.  The bus coming back was much nicer, cooler and more comfortable, and I got to watch Lucy in Thai.  It's nice to travel, but it's oh, so nice to come home.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Fathers' Day Note

Fathers and sons, maybe there's always a little tension in that relationship.  Almost all fathers are imperfect in the role; almost all children don't live up to the limitless hopes and dreams that parents have for them.  This stuff ain't easy. 

 The following is a letter that the great Michelangelo sent to his father back in long ago Florence.  I got it from a magazine called Lapham's Quarterly, which has a generous website and is always worth a look. 

Father vs. Son


Dearest Father—

I was amazed at your behavior the other day when I didn’t find you at home, and now, when I hear that you’re complaining about me and saying I turned you out, I am even more amazed; for I’m certain that never, from the day I was born till now, have I thought of doing anything, great or small, to harm you; and always all the toils I’ve endured, I’ve endured them for your sake. And since I came back to Florence from Rome, I’ve always looked after you, and you know I confirmed that all I have is yours; and indeed it’s only a few days ago, when you were ill, that I told you and promised that I would do my best never to fail you as long as I live, and this I confirm. Now I’m amazed that you’ve forgotten everything so soon. Yet you’ve tried me out these thirty years, you and your sons, and you know I’ve always thought about you and helped you whenever I could. How can you go around saying that I turned you out? Don’t you see what a reputation you’re giving me when they can say I turned you out? That’s all I needed, on top of my worries about other things, and all for your sake! A nice way you have of thanking me!


Back to Khun Fred here.  So, fathers, and sons too for that matter, are often guilty of unreasonable expectations or ingratitude.  It happens. 

Happy Fathers' Day to all of the dads out there in general, and to my own father and my sons in particular.  (One son a father already; another son aspirational at this point.)  If you did the best that you could, or if you're doing that now, your conscience is clear.  Being imperfect is not your fault.  

I hope that you had a great day!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Heard You Missed Me

How's that title for wishful thinking?

I've been busy, and that other thing that can make a blogger go quiet.  One month in America, denied access by my friends at Google.  Came back to teach the summer term.  Then proctoring tests.  Then moving to a new (rented) condo.  It's been a busy, slightly stressful time.

Just settling into the new place now.  Very interesting.  It's on the 12th floor and it has a nice view.  One great component of the view is that I'll be able to watch them build this thing.  The tallest building in South East Asia at a proposed 615 meters.  The Rama IX Super Tower, named for Thailand's king, I'm pretty sure, although it does front on Rama IX Road.  Okay, both named for the king, most likely.  125 floors!  Not a bad design, to my eye.

So don't worry, I'm fine.  More wishful thinking! 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Joys Of Air Travel

(From notes made on April 23, 2015.) 

Which turned out to be a Thursday.  I had confused myself mightily about the day that I was taking off to return to Thailand.  My flight left at half-past midnight, but was I going to the airport on Wednesday evening or Thursday evening?  I had been in the U.S. for four weeks, and I was in quite a state by the last few days.

This was the hardest trip that I’ve ever taken.  But at least I was at the gate waiting for the plane to go home to my adopted country.  The easiest part would be sitting through the eighteen hours of air time, in two legs, before I got there.

I do not recommend traveling with guitars.  They look all light and airy watching a YouTube video or something, but once you put them in hard cases and carry them by the handles they get awfully heavy very bloody quickly.  On this trip I was traveling with one suitcase as big as Dallas; one canvas attaché case that felt like I was smuggling Glocks; and two guitars.  I was thinking, hoping, that both of the guitars would to in the checked baggage.  But no, when the dimensional computations had been completed, one went to “oversize,” delivered by me, and the other went to “gate use,” hand carried to the gate by me.  I was afraid that I’d have to carry it around the stopover airport too, but happily it went straight through to “oversize baggage” in Bangkok. 

None of this, not the bags, not the guitars, not the eighteen flight hours, will even approach the top of the “bloody awful” list for this trip.  But those are stories for another day, at least until after the nightmares stop.

Having spoken with my cousin, whom I call “Mr. Up-In-The-Air,” with untold millions of miles to his credit, I tried a new trick at check-in.  “Are there any upgrades available?”  Indeed, there were.  I was offered an upgrade to premium economy for a mere $750.  I declined.  Those seats are only slightly more spacious, and they are laid out in a 2-4-2 configuration.  I much prefer the 3-3-3 of regular economy, and I had the “G” seat, which I think is perfect.  That’s on the right isle, the starboard isle, of the middle three.  In a “G” seat, I’ve never had anyone climb over me to get out, not once.  Often the middle seat is empty, those are the last ones to go, and often the people in the “E” and the “F” seats are traveling together.  If the “F” wants to get out, he’ll climb over his friend.   So no, I’ll stick with my “G” seat. The middle seat was, indeed, empty.  

I did mention business class upgrades.  I had been prepared to pay up to $1000 for the privilege.  “Yes, sir,” said the lovely Chinese Tiffany, “$3000.”  I declined as politely as I could manage, which only included one brief chocked scream. 

In case anyone needs a lesson, and provided strictly as a public service, here’s what you do on a commercial flight:

You sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up.

You sit down and you come to rest.

You leave the seat back upright and the tray table up.

You shut your phone off, preferably before they ask you to turn it off.

And please know that there is a particularly disagreeable circle of Hell prepared for people who grab and twist the seat back in front of them willy-nilly. 

And no flipping around like a sturgeon in the bottom of a boat either.  There’ll be plenty of time for calisthenics when you get where you’re going.

And no disturbing the peace of the seat back in front of you, keep your knees off of it as well as your hands.  (Unless you’re over 6’2”, in which case you can’t help it and you have my sympathy.  But even then, please keep it to a minimum. )

Issue of first impression!!!  I’ve been traveling by plane for over sixty years now, and this had never happened before.  We were at altitude with the cabin lights out and suddenly there’s an urgent announcement and the lights come on.  “Would all doctors or other medical personnel please step forward immediately.”  The entire cabin crew started running up and down the isles frantically asking us individually if we were doctors.  I was afraid that we’d have to make an emergency landing in the Aleutians or something, but the subject never came up.  We never heard what had happened.


I’ve never been so glad to be home.  When our wheels touched the ground in Bangkok I smiled ear to ear for five minutes.  I even brought the good weather!  April is the hottest month in Thailand, by far, and the typical three week hot streak broke the day that I arrived.  Then it started raining, and temperatures moderated even further.   Further proof that I am a lucky man, as if more proof were needed.    


Sunday, April 26, 2015

So Yes, I'm Back

I'm back from my trip to the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.  Back in the country that actually calls itself "The Land of the Free," right in the country's name (Thailand).  I'm very happy to be here, to be home.

The less said about the trip the better, although I'm sure that it will come up.  After the nightmares stop, maybe.

Google, and Hotmail too for that matter, decided to protect me from myself for the entire trip.  On this trip, and for the first time, after ten years of traveling around and signing in from everywhere, they decided that I was a security risk to myself because I was not at my customary IPO.  There was nothing that I could do to convince them that it was me, either.  Believe me, I tried.  I was provided with codes that somehow never "matched the code in our files."  Even after I got back it took me a half hour to convince them that it was me now and it had been me in Los Angeles too.  I'm sure they'll apologize.

Nice to be back.  Sorry for the forced absence.

Not A Movie Review: Godzilla Raids Again

This is the rare one.  The first sequel, released in Japan in 1955.  It's been hard to see for all of this time.  I've seen all of the other Godzilla movies multiple times, but I had never seen this one until I got hold of a very nice DVD recently.  Full length, in Japanese, with English subtitles (or in a dubbed version, both are on the DVD).

I always say, "not a movie review," because my concerns are not academic at all.  For instance, I'm overly fascinated with the devices and the vehicles.

And the suits are a fascinating subject too.  The suit in "Raids Again" was a good one, certainly much better than the movies that followed in the 1960's.  Godzilla usually appears at night in this movie, with great use of fire as a prop.  The high contrast scenes enhance the effectiveness of the G suit.

There's always a lot of discussion in the Godzilla community about the quality of the monster fights.  The fights in this movie were spectacular, better than anything that followed until 2001's Godzilla, Mothra, King Gidorah:  Giant Monsters All Out Attack.  The opponent in this movie is called Anguilas.  The climactic fight ends in a spectacular, bloody kill with a neck-breaking bite followed by a blast of Atomic Breath.

That's the leading man on the left, Hiroshi Koizumi.  He had made twelve movies already, and went on to clock ninety-four all together, including Mothra and five other Godzilla movies.  The actors in these movies were real pros, they could be believable in any type of role.

The fellow on the right is the best friend, Minoru Chiaki.  You may remember him from Seven Samurai (1954?), where he played the likeable but very strong, heavy set samurai who was an old comrade of Takashi Shimura's.  (Takashi's in this movie too, same professor as in the original Godzilla).  He was in a lot of really high quality movies, starting out with Stray Dog in 1949.  Always the best friend.  He died in Seven Samurai, and he dies in this movie too.  The curse of the best man.

The leading lady, Setsuko Wakayama.  This was her only Godzilla movie.  She does a good job of it.

I include this picture for my Thai friends.  This is a party to celebrate (prematurely) the end of this Godzilla crisis, and the party is being held in the Yayoi Restaurant!  Just like the Yayoi in every mall in Bangkok!

There's a long interlude of peaceful human interaction after Godzilla kills Anguilas, but off course the G-Man returns.  They "kill" him by causing avalanches that buries him in snow and ice.

Very good music in this movie, too.  It echos the themes of the original, but is simultaneously more martial and less strident.

It's a good movie.  I have no idea why it's been kept so under wraps all of these years.  It's certainly better on all counts than some of the '60's movies.  Better human characters, better story, better acting, better monster fights.  I'm glad that it's out there to see at this point.