Monday, December 31, 2007

The Little Party

"Come to our house for New Years! We're having a little party for some friends."

I tried to picture it, but I left room for surprises, I've been around this block before. "We" is a nice young couple, both Ajan's, professors of some junior stripe. He was kind enough to pick me up, and insisted on driving me home too, home I could have taken a cab. We got there and it was one of the most lavish, palatial gated communities in Thailand, no lie, up the block there was a giant party thrown by a big time general, army, at the home of his wife number three (at the same time, of course), which was so elaborate that at midnight they had their own fireworks and it was like Dodger Stadium, there must have been fifty helmeted police there, and all of the help were dressed as cowboys and the guests got hats and bandannas too.

My party was less elaborate, but my host turned out to be a big shot too. It was the Ajan wife's family; her father was the president of our university for almost fifteen years, now semi-retired and on the board of directors. I made him love me before I found out he was so big time, that worked out pretty good.

Lots of university big-wigs were there, we all got pretty lit. The food was great, including rack-of-lamb chops, New Zealand, and Australian red wine, not cheap. There was an endless stream of people dropping by to give the boss a giant gift basket for New Years, on their knees no less, this is grown, rich people.

Quite a lot of talk about politics, even direct questions to me. I protested that I was just a guest in Thailand and answered elliptically. Politics here is besides the point, the culture is really in the driver's seat, politics just gets the garbage picked up. As it should be.

All in all, a very good use of my time.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Happy New Year!

I think of you all and I value you all in my way, and I wish you all a Happy New Year, quite sincerely, because most of you actually deserve it and the rest, well, I'm just feeling the holiday spirit.

So drive safely, keep your identities to yourselves, eat and drink in moderation, and never say anything on a cell phone that you would not say directly to an FBI agent.


The Floating Market, Etc

"Tomorrow we will go to the floating market . . . do you want to come?" Well, yes so off we went. A little easier to get found, since I was picked up at the same 7-11, the "do you know the 7-11" 7-11. I know enough not to guess what we'd actually be doing, but I was pretty sure we'd be going to the Bangkok floating market. I even mentioned it and was not contradicted. So we set off.

And we drove to another province, compass directions are so hard to follow here, the river twists and turns pell mell, the sun is always directly overhead, there are no mountains, or even hills. It was a nice market, lots of fun food, the little eggs, roti, different kinds of grilled this and that, Thai sausage, star fruit as big as Dallas. About eleven we were ready to go, I wondered idly if we were heading home, I could use a nap, I thought.

First we went to a museum, the Thai Cultural Museum, which was closed for New Year's, but located under the approaches of a really nice group of bridges, there's at least four, maybe five, giant beautiful new bridges with high, graceful approaches, that was fun.

Then we set off for the "orange farm." You can't imagine the incredible maze of turns that our driver made to find both the floating market and the "orange farm." I couldn't have pointed to downtown Bangkok if my life depended on it, oh, wait, there is no downtown Bangkok. The "orange farm" turned out to be the remote home of a poor couple who made a living making gift baskets out of palm fronds, very fancy, and they kept oranges on hand to fill them. My ajan bought a nice one.

Then we went a long, long way to the house of the ajan's sister. It was a palace in a gated community somewhere, I believe, to the east and/or south of Bangkok, not too far, a district of Bangkok, I'm pretty sure. The family was very nice, I especially enjoyed talking to the son, he'd just come back from thirteen years in Maryland and Washington, D.C., got a BA and an MA and some good work experience.

Then we all went to lunch. My driver knew a very good place, "close by." I sat in the big Mercedes next to the driving son, it was great. We drove over bridges and through moors and gradually left civilization well behind. Something like twenty bridges all together. Little ones, over canals. We got to where land was being reclaimed from the sea, it was like being in Holland, but with palm trees. We drove so far that I was glad I had my passport. As it turned out, we'd driven to another province. "Close by" my ass. But the place was very good, all seafood, all excellent.

I finally got back home at six p.m. Tra-la-la-la . . . line up for the Magical Mystery Tour!

Friday, December 28, 2007


No surprise, but Thailand is so disorganized. A couple of weeks ago I took a Saturday trip to a remote campus with a couple of Ajans. "Be at the Big C at six thirty," were my instructions, clear as a bell. I was there, early of course. After a while I got a call, where are you? Well, I'm at the Big C. After a little bit of trying to tell me where to go, I was told to wait for the research assistant. She showed up in about five minutes and walked me back to the car, an exhausting in the heat almost ten minutes for me, lots of steps were involved, those I can't do fast anymore.

Today, another trip to a remote campus, meet me . . . I volunteered to be at the Major Cineplex, close to where I had to walk to the last time. Again, six thirty. I was there, early again. Finally at ten to seven I called the Ajan. Where are you? Well, I'm at the Major just like I said. After trying to tell me where to go for about five minutes on a cell phone on a typically loud Thai main road, she says to me, can you come to the 7-11? I had already seen five 7-11's this morning, and there's one around every corner, but I resisted the temptation to say something sarcastic. "Wait there, Nong (research assistant) will come and get you."

"Can you find the 7-11 again," well, yes, because now I know which of the 7,000 7-11's there are in Bangkok. It was seven o'clock. "I hope that you weren't waiting for me long."

No, we just got here. Half an hour late, I got up in the dark for nothing and that Hour of the Wolf, the hour before sunrise, humans really like to sleep through that hour. At least I do.

This could be so easy. There's no traffic, it would take literally five minutes to pick me up close to my apartment at a place certain. As it is, I have a considerable walk and then dodgy public transportation and then another good walk to get to Big C or Major, it all takes a half a hour, and then there's the half hour when the Thai person tries to find me, although I'm at the place that we agreed upon and everyone knows were it is.

But if it were well organized, it wouldn't be Thailand anymore, it would be Germany or something, and being Thailand is better.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


I have a strange hero-set. As a young boy I thought that Steven Decatur (spelling?) fit the bill, he of the wildly successful naval expedition against the Tripoli pirates, as in "to the shores of Tripoli," I thought he was one gutsy son of a gun. Four thousand miles of ocean away from home, in sailboats, and then start gunfights with guys who live there, and totally kick their asses for them, yeah, those guys had guts.

I also liked several WWII pilots. Now I'd say the bomber pilots were heroic, keeping the plane straight and level with all those 88's firing away at you. But then it was a couple of fighter pilots, Butch O'Hare, whose brother I actually knew, four degrees of separation from Al Capone, but that's another story, and Saburo Sakai, a Zero pilot who flew a damaged plane to his far away base with a .50 cal. slug stuck in the back of his head, yes, that's what I said.

I also admired the greatest ground attack pilot in history, past or future, no one will ever match this guy, Hans Ulrich Rudel. This guy flew against the Russians for four years and ran up a total of over five hundred tanks, a similar number of trucks, and one battleship, moored at the time, right down the stack. Plus, after the amputation of one leg, he was flying Focke-Wolfe's at the end of the war and was credited with quite a few kills at that enterprise too. I did not initially know, and later chose to view separately, his ardent defense of Nazism to the end of his life in South America, a peaceful death in old age. All these guys are on the web.

Then I learned something of the world and Martin Luther King was a hero to me. His death only sealed his hero status, I figured it was coming, that was heroic too.

And Benazir Butto. She is, was, five years younger than me. I became aware of her, I suppose I was about thirty, I thought she was hot. Then later I realized that she was really, really smart. Then later she achieved hero status. She could have led a quiet, very, very prosperous life, but chose instead to join in the "dialog" of that crazy cluster-f*ck that is (redacted). God bless her, and if there's a heaven, I'll get to meet her someday. Keep the ice cold, baby, and the bar stocked.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Part Two: the Fly in the Oitment

All of the bootleg software has little peculiarities. I had Sound Forge, a four hundred dollar program, I paid 139 Baht. It was a teaser version, set to stop working after a certain number of saves. All I had to do at that point was uninstall it and reinstall it, and I got the certain number of saves all over again. I repeated this process many times.

On this computer, this one here in front of me, all of the Microsoft is bootleg. When you bring up Word, it takes about four minutes. First it says, like, this feature did not install properly, please insert CD now, then it kind of fools around like, Word is looking for your settings or something. After you close a few dialog boxes and wait for it to think a little you can get started. The program seems to run okay.

My last computer wouldn't run MS Word Help, the Help files weren't on the bootleg.

There's a good reason Thai's put up with these software imperfections:

Thai's don't have the money for the real stuff. They don't buy bootlegs because they are evil. Thai's, like most people around the world with limited wherewithal, are masters of the backdoor acquisition, especially if that is the only way that they are going to watch bootleg DVD's on their computers.

If the price was in line with reality, maybe they'd get in line

Thai Computers

Last year a joint American-Thai commission was formed to see what could be done about software piracy in Thailand. Microsoft donated all the computers, and an office was set up in Bangkok. After a while, some Microsoft big-wigs came over to see how it was going. Within days they realized that all the computers in the office were running bootleg Microsoft software.

I can tell you that when they brought this up to the Thai commission members they would have been met by that, "Farang have the damnedest ideas" look, like adults being patient with petulant children. What did you expect? You think we're made of money?

Anyone who wants hundreds of dollars for a cd and a badly written pamphlet is asking for it, and in Asia, they get it.

My new lap-top, for instance, came with a teaser version of Power DVD, a good program, it sunsets in thirty days, the teaser that is. It says, come to our website and get Power DVD now! Bear in mind, this is an Asia lap-top, Asian company, Asian electronics and plugs, Thai keyboard, all Asia. I went to the website and they want one hundred dollars for the program, as a download, no hard copy, get back to us if you want it on your desk-top as well. That's one hundred dollars American, $100, which is about Baht 3,700 or so. That's half a month's pay for a new teacher, not to mention the half of the Thai population that is just out of the lap-top-luck doing shitty jobs for about the cost of the program for a month's work.

Now also bear in mind that you can go to any computer mall and buy Power DVD for about B125. One hundred and twenty five Baht. And what do you expect people to do?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Mr. Fred's Poetry Corner: The Thing

If I do say so myself, I really like this one.

The Thing

Pressure building,
Grey skin fast
Against the terrors of the deep,
Dark shape
In ice cold water,
Quiet, peaceful . . . another world.

Muffled voices,
Souls consumed in better times,
But now the tension is complete.
The thing can neither breathe
Nor eat, but only be
In placid vigilance.

Diving now,
To dull depths descending,
Leaving only gentle foam,
Rising, disappearing.
No sinister purpose, it glides
Now half asleep: all savage innocence.

No enemies,
Save what past and future be.
Strength to crush entire realms,
The ruler of the sea,
And of men’s fates.

Sensing others of its kind,
It takes no notice, majestic,
Undisturbed in its long journey.
Blunt nose and tapering tail,
It is dead, and yet it moves
With restless energy.

Dead eyes, but unknown power
To sense, to find, to receive.
The fire in its belly,
Quiet now, awaiting a signal
That only it will know, and then,
With will and spark,
It will seek to destroy.

Grey skin, fins are
Making small adjustments,
Driving now, not predator,
Not prey, but subject to either condition.
Its passage noticed by lesser creatures
Who move away instinctively.

Coiled to spring
If given ruthless meaning,
Waiting, with supernatural patience,
Never losing focus, attentive,
But even it cannot bear its
Tense reality without respite.

More it cannot bear,
Ascending now, the pressure less and less,
In growing light, it breaks the surface,
Crashing! Thunder!
The endless tension exploding, in the light now,
Taking on the attitude of a pleasure craft,
Making idly for shore.
The sea settles and the thing appears at rest.

Anybody catch the quote from "The Crow?" I love that line.

Apologies to Francophiles Everywhere

Yesterday I met the European language teachers, two Spanish ladies, Ladies of Spain, so to speak; a nice Russian lady, my age, who had the same reasons as me for staying in Thailand: Siberia, not surprisingly, made her joints hurt, I told her, baby, I understand, even Los Angeles makes my joints hurt; two Frenchmen, more on that later; and three German teachers, two quite conventional, women, thirty-something women, with hairy arms and big noses, very tall, and one startlingly unconventional: an African man from Mali, Dr. Salif, highly educated and very handsome, his German was perfect and his English was also superb. The Greek teacher of Greek looked so standoffish that I stood well off him.

On my arrival I took a seat, I thought, among the Spanish teachers, most of whom I had met several days ago, hence my invitation to today’s event. To my right was a lady that I’d not met, naturally, by natural instinct that is, mine and every other man’s, I spoke to her first. After that had gone pretty well for a while I asked her if the fellow sitting on my left was Spanish.

Let me backtrack a little. When I sat down, my first horrifying thought was, is that me? There was a terrible smell. After I satisfied myself that no, it was rather the fellow to my left, I had zeroed in on the Spanish woman, kind of cute in a hairy, Southern European way, I am forgiving on those issues. Now back to our narrative.

She told me, no, he’s French! What a cliché! Paul B. was telling me just before I left (redacted) that the French use less soap per capita than any other people in the world. And as long ago as the 1950’s, discriminating relatives were warning me that the French concept of home heating was “the sweater.” And why do they call a “French Bath” a “French Bath?” Like on a very cold day, when it’s been weeks since you’ve sweated at all, and you just take little bits of water and clean your pits.

What a fascinating little zoo! My new playground. Between the teachers and watching the students try to master the intricacies of German articles this will keep me entertained for some time.

Flushing, Queens

From Simon Jenkins, an Englishman:

"This Christmas marks the 350th anniversary of the least-honoured genesis of American freedom, to be celebrated in the New York suburb of Queens. For only the fourth time in its history a fragile piece of paper called the Flushing Remonstrance will go on display.

"Written in 1657 by the English citizens of the Long Island village of Flushing, it asserted their right to freedom of conscience against the autocracy of Peter Stuyvesant, the Dutch governor of their colony of New Netherland. It thus long predated the “self-evident truths” of Jefferson’s 1776 Declaration of Independence.

"The Flushing Remonstrance protested against Stuyvesant’s arrest, torture and expulsion of a Quaker preacher for defying his ban on all religions but Dutch Reformed protestantism. The 30 signatories were not themselves Quakers but demanded that in the new colony: 'If any persons . . . Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist or Quaker . . . come in love to us, we cannot in conscience lay violent hands upon them.' Indeed they demanded that 'the law of love, peace and liberty . . . [extend] to Jews, Turks and Egyptians . . . which is the glory of the outward state of Holland and condemns hatred, war and bondage'. The citizens of Flushing ringingly declared: 'Let every man stand or fall to his own Master.' "

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

In the Dogroverse

I love to watch dogs interact . . . the subtle choreography of canine social intercourse. Before I left my little Northern city I saw this one.

My Dirty-Smelly is a substantial dog, at least forty pounds, but when he was a pup he was badly roughed up by a neighborhood dog. He was bitten, and he bled, and he retains a morbid fear of the other dog to this day. The dog in question is a little white dog, very, very aggressive, very territorial, all far out of proportion to his size.

The little white dog is quite the martinet; he does not walk, he struts; he is a bully to dogs, cows and chickens alike. I don't like him one bit. He has a concubine, a very attractive black and tan bitch. She will join in the bullying of other dogs, especially Dirty-Smelly. She's a nice looking dog, but I don't like her either.

Lately I had noticed another dog in the neighborhood, a large brown, white and black male with huge, bone-crushing, neck-crushing jaws, jaws like a Pit Bull, like a real fighting dog. Very stately he is, almost noble, no owner, I'll warrant, just passing through, he'll stay as long as he can find food. He must weigh sixty pounds, a real canine Hercules.

On the day in question I was idly sitting, reading and drinking, in that order, in the mid-afternoon when I heard a clamour from the dodgroverse. First a whining sound, like a chastised, submitting dog, 'that will be Dirty-Smelly' I correctly guessed. I looked up and saw the black and tan bitch go by, followed closely by the new dog, who was in turn followed closely by the little white dog, who was growling impressively but not showing any teeth at all, not even the tip of one.

The new dog was obviously interested in the bitch, he was following her closely. She proceeded as though disinterested. The little white dog was growling so furiously that it was a little disturbing to listen to. Sometimes he would walk around in front of the new dog as though to impede his progress, thrusting his snout to within an inch of the snout of the new dog and growling, I swear, malevolently.

The new dog would pause momentarily, look away, clench his vast, dangerous jaw muscles, stand still with his ears and tail held high, then turn slightly and begin again to follow the bitch as though the little white dog were not there. The little white dog would then take a few steps off and claw at the ground with desparate energy; then he would begin to growl again and go back to following the new dog.

When I am witness to scenes like this, whether it is dogs, or birds, or whatever animals are involved, I feel witness to the pre-verbal communications of my own kind: the hominids. We were once thus.

The bitch was saying: you boys work it out.
The little white dog sayeth: please don't kill, me but this is my bitch.
The new dog said: the bitch is nothing to me, and you can growl all you want, but if you show me your teeth this is your last day on earth.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Signing In Late

All Thai schools have a system of the teachers signing in every morning. There are clipboards out for the various grades or departments, you find the one with your name on it and sign in. In fact, you sign out too. "Fred Ceely . . . //s// . . . 7:00 . . . //s// . . . 16:30." The times are always the same. The sheets are then collected and binderized and preserved for all time on a bookshelf in the admin office.

So it was no surprise that I sign in here at Ramkhamhaeng. It's the same kind of sheet, the required time entries are 6:00 to 16:30, although no one gets here before 8:00, except me, because I am afraid of the traffic after 7:00.

(Bring up Twilight Zone music . . .) Yesterday I ran into the department secretary. She's the one who set me up with the sign in procedure. Well, it seems that I've been doing it wrong. It took some time for me to understand my error, partly due to the language barrier but mostly due to the incredible nature of her new instructions. My mistake: I've been signing in every morning for that day, like sign Monday morning for Monday. No, no, no.

I must, she explained to me, wait until tomorrow to sign in for today, that is, sign in for Monday on Tuesday. Please no more signing in today, for today. Even better, wait until next Monday and sign in for this whole week, which will be last week.

And people wonder why I love this country. It's a bottomless pit of fascination for one thing.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Mr. Fred's Poetry Corner: "Manchurian Dream."

This new job allows me lots of spare time. Here's proof:

Manchurian Dream

I was alone the other day,
Describing things in my own way,
Then everyone’s favorite Manchu,
The glamorous Professor Dr. Fu,
He visited poor little me.
He was a sorry sight to see,
No little smile, no arching brow,
He was as stood before me now,
A shadow and an echo of
The Fu Manchu that we all love.

I said, “my friend! How good of you!
You have so very much to do,
Come in! That is if you have time,
I’ll get some snacks, perhaps some wine,
Come in and sit down by the heater,
And let me go turn down that speaker.”
He sat and looked down at the floor,
I thought, shit! I can take no more,
“Please tell me friend,” I took his hand,
“What’s up? I’ll help you if I can.”

He wrung his hands and shook his head,
And finally looked up and said,
“I’ve been so bad, and for so long,
And now it is the same old song,
Closeness of death, mortality,
It forces all of us to see,
The foolishness that was our life,
Did we bring happiness or strife?
Who wronged we and by whom were wronged?
You see? It is the same old song.”

“Dear Fu,” I said, “this will not do!
Long years of life are left in you,
In fact, my friend, if I recall,
You’ll last much longer than us all.”
“Oh! Cruel remembrance of those rites!
I sought escape from that cold night,
But I succeeded only too
Prolong the night. Oh! Stupid Fu!
Nearness of death, for you goes quickly,
I’m there forever! Or, damn nearly.

For I have made a long dark night
To hold my deeds up to the light,
Yes now, dear friend, I must explore
The things that I have done before.
The pain and death, can words express?
Yes, now, in old age I confess,
Old age! For me it is old ages!
I confess, these are my wages,
For all the evil I have wrought,
The cruelest fate is all I’ve bought.

All thoughts of England make me sad.
I made those Englishmen so mad!
And all the women, and the slaves,
I’m terribly sorry for the slaves,
The people that I killed return,
I see their faces and I burn
With dread, for sure when we next meet,
It’s me who will confront defeat.
I’m sorry now for all my wrong,
You see it is the same old song!”

“Fu, don’t put up so great a fight,
For who’s to say what’s wrong or right?
The things you did were yours to do,
No need to cry now, dearest Fu.
You were an instrument of doom,
And doom will all the world consume,
Yes with your help or now without,
So stand up with me now and shout!
I’m different now! I’m a new man!
And offer all the help you can.”

“So do you think that all will fade,
And cancel out the bad I’ve made?”
“Yes! Through the lens of greater deeds,
The so-called evil will recede,
And you’ve so long to recompense
The things that you have done come hence.
It’s up to you though, you old sod,
I’d still be proud of your score card.
Some things perhaps were importune,
But it was other’s misfortune.”

“Thanks dear friend! You’ve helped me see
That life’s not over yet for me.
I’ll take that snack now, and the wine,
I see now that I have the time
To give things to the world I’ve wronged.
Great gifts unique to me belong,
And rites I know that can impart
Great happiness to human hearts.
I’ll be a friend to all, no lie,
And hardly anyone will die!”

We Are the Krue Farang

We are the Krue Farang, and life is good. In most aspects, we are not like teachers at all, we are just accessories to the Thai teachers that we work with.

We cannot really talk to students. Even my Masters’ Degree law students miss most of the simple sentences that I say to them so slowly and carefully. The Thai teachers can talk to the students, and do, including about us, in our presence, even if we can understand a little, they know it’s just a little, and they can function as real teachers, at least they know a lot more than the students do, a teacher only needs to be a week or two in front of the students after all.

One of us said, it seems so long ago now, that his co-teacher told him that he was like a tape recorder, the teacher pressed play and he spoke the English words, and he found this attitude confusing and aggravating. But it’s true.

We are just accessories to the Thai teachers, and for them. We don’t participate in the real processes of education, grading, evaluation and counseling, not really, and we are not invited to the meetings, all because the language barrier is almost never successfully crossed.

But life is good for the Krue Farang, although it is an incomplete experience of what it appears to be, much like the kept woman is an incomplete image of a wife. But, the champagne is chilled, the flowers are fresh, the rent is paid and we are only required to be beautiful when called upon to do so. The rest of the time we must only smile and put in our hours, waiting to serve. Like the woman cares for her hair and skin, figure and nails, I bide my time reading and writing, I do love the so-called English language, really an archaic dialect of German onto which has been grafted most of Latin and French, plus a vast treasure trove of words from all of the four corners of the globe. Like the woman I wait patiently and try to be useful when called upon. Not called upon I retreat, I have learned not to step forward too frequently to remind people of their inadequacies.

We are the Krue Farang.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Thank you!

I'm getting some positive feedback, both on these pages and on others. I just want to say that it warms the cockles of my heart, and those of you who know me well know that my cockles always need warming.

Thank you all very much.

A Regular Perry Mason

There are three kinds of lawyers. No, not bad, evil and Satanic, really, there are three kinds of lawyers: 1) office lawyers; 2) book lawyers; and 3) courtroom lawyers.

I won't comment on the quality of my work, the statute of limitations has not run on everything, but for better or for worse I was a courtroom lawyer. I was there all the time. I did lots of trials and appeared at hundreds upon hundreds of motion hearings, not to mention bullshit hearings like name changes and even one "hearing to correct a mere accounting error." Plus all of the depositions, arbitrations, mediations. I was out there.

Now that I am on the Faculty of Law of a "Worldwide University," their words, not mine, I am surrounded by academics, Thai academics; most are in category two above, some in category one, I may be the only one in category three. It makes me even more fascinating. Not only am I Farang, but I am also a real-world-experienced lawyer. This means that I have seen the dark side of the law, like I have had to tell a client, yes, we lost, and yes, you will lose your house, and yes, you still owe me the rest of the money.

I feel about lawyering about the same as I feel about growing up in New York City: I'm glad it all happened, but please god don't make me go back.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Thrills, Chills and No Spills

Ramkhamhaeng has twenty-one campuses, and I found out today that if one of the Ajans wants to drive to one, they don't waste any time doing it.

BKK to Lomsak, Petchabun (that's Jason S's old stomping grounds), five hours including a long lunch stop at a gai-yang place, a real OG moo-bahn gai-yang place, that's the chickens from the yard, the big ones with the tough, usually tough meat, this stuff was pretty good.

This guy drove like I drove my taxi in the 70's, like anybody drove a VW Beetle, either full throttle, to the floor, or brakes jammed up tight. The car was a pretty nice Volvo, natural gas no less, fast anyway, who knew? What passing technique this guy has! On the main road, with a couple of lanes to work with, we passed everybody, we passed other vehicles like a skier passes slalom gates, left and right. My favorite was the smaller, two lane blacktop roads, where he would flash his lights and pull out to pass even if there was a car passing someone in the opposite direction at the same time. Get outta Denver, baby. That's four abreast on a two lane road with small shoulders and a combined, "collision" speed of about 100 mph, as close as you can get to two solid objects occupying the same space at the same time. Hey, we're law professors, we don't know from no laws of physics.

After lunch all three passengers were sleeping and he really poured it on, singing and whistling along to a Karaoke video, you read that right, semi-naked women on a video screen in the console.

We made it, I knew we would. This guy does it all the time, there are no marks on his car. You have to learn to trust your fellow man.

Saturday, December 8, 2007


I'm so pleased with myself any time that I remember anything. This morning I was getting ready to leave my apartment and I remembered to take my meds. I smiled and thought, that was really great.

Then I even remembered that I should take a map with me, and then I even found the map I was looking for. I could lose my head if it weren't for my neck.

Life's little triumphs.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

How's the Weather?

Derek is right, but this was not the first time that I was honest to a fault. But note that I do get the face thing; I let them have a meeting where they decided to 'let me go;' and I did find them a replacement, I don't know how that went but I served her up on a silver platter. But yes, I should have told them I had to return to America because, well, you think of something.

So, on to Huamark, Bangkapi, my new neighborhood. My apartment is in between two universities, so there are students everywhere, many of whom are of course beautiful, so that's a good thing. It also creates a concentration of cheap, good eating opportunities that has to be seen to be believed, there must be a thousand. There are virtually no Farang; there are many Thai Muslims. But oh! the traffic.

I thought that I had been scared on motorcycles before, actually I'm sure that I have. Once, on a trafficless Monday in the Malibu mountains, I took a little fun ride on my 650. I knew the road was flat, and you could see what was coming on that section of the road, so I kind of let it out, let it really breathe, I was doing about ninety in third, engine at the red line, around this sweeping turn. I had my ass hanging half off the seat and the center stand was scraping on the pavement. I became aware that I was gradually moving towards the edge of the road, closer to the shoulder, which was gravel and only about seven feet wide, seven feet from the road to the cliff, precipice, whatever you want to call it, to a flying lesson is more like it. Yes, I was scared.

But riding to school, the short ride to school, is really scary. People, especially people on motorcycles, behave like they are infected with that virus from the movie, "28 Days Later." The virus that makes everyone frantically, insatiably homicidal. Yeah, like that, and some riders act like they are blindfolded besides. I hear it's much worse in the middle east but that is small consolation to me. I have no plans to go there.

School is, well, so far it looks like it can go one of two ways: either 1) the money will be good and I'll have tons and tons of free time; or 2) the money will be fantastic and I'll have plenty free time. That's some good options. My classes are very small, like two students, even Thai university students are afraid to listen to English being spoken in a classroom. But I'm lobbying the students, hey, I talk real slow, I like to really spell things out, no "hide the ball," I give easy tests and I'll tell you everything that'll be on the tests, nobody who shows up all the time will fail, come on, we'll have fun. It's all good; I'm very comfortable.

My apartment is on the twelth floor, I only hope that the original building permit wasn't for eight stories, that sh*t happens all the time here, they only find out when something collapses. It faces North-East too, that's always good when you are fifty feet from the sun.

Thanks for the comments.

Friday, November 23, 2007


Khun Krissana sounded like she was ready to kill me. What about the students! We were good to you! We have a contract! I’m feeling very negative! Then she hung up on me. I have to e-mail her instructions in how to really be angry in English.

Than Pitak: I was anguished, not an act really, I like the guy, I love the school, now a burnt bridge, I do, did, hate to tell them so suddenly, I’m not comfortable with naked self-interest. I knelt at his desk like a student and prayed to him with my eyes closed. “I’m sorry! I could not say no! Faculty of Law! Money! Travel! I apologize! It’s so impolite! What could I do! I couldn’t say no!” He’d do the same, he knows it. The money alone would do it for a Thai man.

He too acted like I was asking: “we’ll have a meeting on Monday,” like to decide if they’ll let me go, like a summons. I’ll go on Monday, but only out of a misplaced, guilt-driven good-heartedness. He should only know what a contract with a lawyer is worth . . . we study hard about breaking those things . . . a California lawyer no less! Contracts in California aren’t worth the cost of the copies.

Anyway, try to enforce a service contract, I thought, no remaining court on earth would or could force me to work out the contract. I remember Contracts One, from law school, I remember the example case: forcing the work would be akin to slavery. The remedies are enjoining the work of the former employee for a competitor, and maybe, maybe damages. I’m going to a new world, get over it. Fight it out in court for what? With no chance of success against the biggest law faculty in Thailand. And where’s the down side for me? The worst that could happen is I lose my work permit and visa and I have to go home. Like Thailand was the only show in town. I could return immediately to Lao, Vietnam, Korea, Japan, shit, I could return immediately to Thailand . . . I have options. Besides, people don’t go to court when they know it can’t possibly give them what they want, like a teacher to come back. Yesterday’s gone.

I’m not comfortable with it, I signed the contract, but it was really just a formality to: 1) get me a work permit and visa; and 2) guarantee me a job for one year. What a laugh, like if they ran out of budget it wouldn’t be, sorry Charlie, goodbye. So, sorry Charlie, goodbye, but I do feel bad about my students, the fifteen or so who really profited from my teaching, out of like seven hundred and fifty.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


One of the less attractive aspects of human existence is that we are sometimes faced with difficult choices. Difficult, mutually exclusive, sometimes impossible choices, and yet between the several paths we must choose only one. This is man’s fate.

Last week I got a phone call, a bolt from the blue really. “Something has happened; someone has died suddenly; someone may need someone with just your qualities and experience.” It’s nice to have friends who remember you when luck is in the air. “You should call this man.”

Well I did call the man, on Friday, a professor at one of the big state universities of Thailand, Ramkhamhaeng University, famous as a training ground for Thai lawyers, a professor of the Faculty of Law at the main campus in Bangkok. We spoke for a time and got on very well; a mutual friend or two had spoken of me highly and he was positively disposed even before we had spoken. “We need a professor for our English classes immediately.” He was shy to mention money, but he felt it was a threshold issue that needed to be addressed early in the conversation. “The salary is low,” he said. I am familiar with salaries in Thailand and could ball-park the pay even before he explained it to me. It was as I expected, and it came to more than twice the amount of my current very good salary. I could feel his relief on the phone when I said that it was a generous salary. He sighed and said, “thank you for your understanding. Most American lawyers feel that they cannot work for so little pay.” That I could also understand. The salary came to about 25% of what even a mediocre lawyer could expect in California, where I am admitted to the bar. In Thailand, however, the salary was a prince’s ransom. “Can you be in Bangkok on Monday?”

I could, and I was, and we had a nice meeting after which I was introduced to the Dean of the Faculty of Law. So within seventy-two hours I was faced with this choice between two things, each of which I found abhorrent. I could either: 1) suddenly quit my job and leave in the lurch my high school, my 750 students, and my principal who had been kind enough to hire me only seven months ago; or 2) turn down what for me amounted to the best job in Thailand, with money, respect, paid travel and great adventure. I fell back on my legal training and made a ruthless cost-benefit analysis. It took about one minute.

On Monday I accepted the position. On Tuesday I located a suitable apartment, and on Wednesday I returned to my northern city faced with a most disagreeable task: telling my current employer that I must leave suddenly. Now Friday has come around again and it’s crunch time. I’ll tell them today and smile through their shock and anger at my good fortune. Before long they will realize that I could not possibly have turned down such a great opportunity, but that will do little to assuage their misery. The misery that I will cause them.
They’ll get over it, and perhaps the other three Farang English teachers can take up the slack and maybe enjoy the extra money. I’ll get over it too. Life goes on. In my case, a life of rapid success in my chosen career, a meteoric rise from volunteer grade school English teacher to Professor of the Faculty of Law at a big, high quality university.
So I’ll tell them with a smile and a little expression of genuine appreciation for their hiring me in the first place and now understanding my position. It could not be otherwise, really. When life deals you a full house, kings over tens, you cannot lose your nerve and fold, frown, place your cards face down on the table and say, “I’m out,” no, it’s impossible really, all you can do, what you must do, is try to hide your enthusiasm and figure out how to boost the pot, which is now, after all, your money.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Drama Queens

Drama Queen number one: Nothing so serious, really; a computer virus that wiped a hard drive; an issue of first impression for the Thai Ministry of Labor Office, Phrae; the usual VISA issues; finals; travel. The usual stuff.

Drama Queen number two: Our pilot on the second leg of my trip to L.A. Captain Roger Aignsworthy (sp), who one hour or so before our landing in Taipei made the following announcement in the hopes of creating a heroic persona for himself: "We are beginning our approach to the Taipei airport. There is a typhoon in the area and heavy turbulence is expected. We will proceed with the landing only as far as it is safe to do so. I will make one attempt to land and if conditions do not allow a landing I will divert the aircraft to Hong Kong." I had checked the weather and it looked like the typhoon would be about one thousand miles to the east at the time of our landing. Sure enough, the landing was as smooth as a baby's ass.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Oh, My Trials Lord

I'm quite sure that you all miss me, both of you. I miss you too. I'm clawing my way out of two or three hells at once. I'll be in touch.

Monday, August 27, 2007

A Death in Cloud-Computer-Land

A virus that lacked even the common decency to name itself has washed the hard drive on the computer that I generally use, washed it like Spin and Marty washed a new pair of jeans to break them in. So I'll talk to you soon, my lads and lassies.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Guest Blogger: Eric Blair

“. . . [N]othing from a meal to a battle ever happens at the appointed time. As a general rule, things happen too late, but just occasionally—just so that you shan’t even be able to depend of their happening late—they happen early.” George Orwell.

In this case, Mr. Orwell, ne Blair, was talking about Spain, (in “Homage to Catalonia”) but he could just as easily have been referring to Thailand. I have expressed exasperation with this phenomenon before; if I can find it on a disk somewhere I’ll put it up.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


No supernova in a distant star field; no new life from the mud of a strange planet. But something is changing, history is being altered. A thousand unborn souls sigh and dissolve. And some of us lose.

The Pool Party/ Rickshaw Drivers' Lovefest

I finally got my benefactor into the swimming pool at the local “luxury” hotel. The pool is really nice and before about four in the afternoon you have it to yourself because Thai people think the sun will make their skin way to dark so that they look like Cambodians or something. She’d never been swimming before, never even in the water, not in a lake, not in the river, nothing. She was scared sh*tless at the prospect, although she mysteriously owned several bathing suits.

I had to trick her. I had tried to get her into the pool several times before but she always found excuses. This day, a Saturday, I asked her, “what must you do today?” The answer was: no housework; no laundry; nowhere to go; no shopping; no nothing. So I said, “let’s go swimming!” In the face of my enthusiasm, plus the fact that I had head her excuses off at the pass, she could only say, timidly, “OK.”

At the pool she took forever to get into a swimsuit, and then fussed around with everything, draping this and that over the chairs and milling around. Her suit had a very modest neck, and I couldn't tell you what the bottom looked like because she wore short pants over the suit.

Finally in the pool, she was completely delighted. “Look at my feet!” she said, marveling at the distortion. Once in the pool, it was hard to get her out.

We had lunch, very nice, but they never expect too much business at this hotel so many menu items are “already done” pretty early. So, no Fried Morning-glory Salad, and no Spicy Duck Curry. The ordering got a little confused; I wanted to order two things but we ended up with four if you count a accidental side order of two fried eggs. A very nice Chicken Curry; Pineapple Fried Rice; and Chicken Fried Rice, plus the eggs. It was too much food but I almost never consider that a problem. It all seemed expensive at the time but it only came to seven dollars or so, so what the hell. It was all delicious. I tipped the server forty Baht and he went away dancing at the generosity of Farang.

But here’s the best part, the part that money can’t buy: I walked the short way to the liquor store next to the hotel to buy some cigarettes and I passed a long row of sam-laws in the parking lot. Those are the local cyclos, rickshaws, you know, the typical Asian bicycle taxis. They are still an integral part of the transportation network in my city. I remembered a couple of the guys from rides home from the bus station; they remembered me too. I drove a taxi for two years in New York and I can tell you, you remember a good tipper forever, like it was yesterday.

So I asked them in Thai if the hotel was receiving Farang today, and where they were from. It was a batch of Frenchmen, and I asked them if Frenchmen gave them any extra money, like a tip. Oh, no, was the response.

On the way back they all wanted to see my purchases, which were cigarettes, vodka, and a can of beer, so they were delighted to find that I was a kindred spirit. I suggested that they tell the Frenchmen, you know, Germans always give us an extra fifty Baht. Oh, no, was the response.

I think it’s all part of the tour package, price included and the company pays the sam-law drivers. And the cheap f*ck tourists don’t know any better than to give a poor working man fifty Baht, like a dollar, to say thanks for peddling my fat ass around you beautiful city. Then they go to the Pizza Company for overpriced bad pizza, that they’ve got money for.

So then one of the guys cranked up the old pedals and pulled out of line and said, get in! I told him, like he’d forgotten or something, I’m going to the pool, like thirty yards away, but he insisted. “I’ll take you!” All of this is in Thai, my snake-snake-fish-fish Thai. I climbed in and he took me around the back of the hotel, I gave him ten Baht and we had a good laugh.

It’s no wonder that I love this country. Here, I’m rich, tall and sexually desirable, even if it’s for dubious reasons, which who cares, basically. I’m a little bit mysterious, because no one can have a serious conversation with me, and I’m actually kind of useful, since competitiveness in the world market demands proficiency in English. Plus, although I have only learned enough Thai to barely get by in a simple conversation, everybody thinks it’s great, and I can validate lots of so-called low status individuals just by paying attention to them and being sympathetic to their rather desperate lives.

Did I mention that the food is great and the women are beautiful?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

About the Author: Part Four

It was so uncomfortable in my house that all I wanted to do was go out. As in, where are you going? Out. What are you going to do? Nothing. Because Allah is merciful, my mother didn’t seem to care how much time I spent running around, or what I did, as long as none of it got back to her.

When I was ten or eleven I smoked a few cigarettes and boy, was my interest piqued. When I was twelve, me and my friend Jackie M. lifted a couple of non-filter, king-sized Chesterfields from his mom. Those things were strong. We went to the park and smoked them. I got such a buzz that I thought, wow, no wonder the adults smoke these things, they really make it. I’m still addicted.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

August 16, 2007

Fifty-nine, approaching sixty.

Hell, in Asia I'm sixty already.

That's almost late-middle-aged,
and there's not a damn thing that I can do about it.

Three-fourths dead, and counting.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

I Surrender, Dear

I love the Dash, I really do . . . but.

Just scooting around the countryside it's a total gas, fast and fun, but back and forth from school it's just the wrong tool. Constantly revving the engine to keep it from stalling is ok unless you have to work the front brake at the same time, then it's like prestidigitation. And now, the last straw.

It's always been hard to find neutral, but now there is a budding electrical problem. The current is fading. At night, unless the engine is really revving, you can hardly see the lights. And during the day, unless you are really twisting the wick, the neutral light stays dark.

So, I surrender dear, I'm joining the "old lady bike" generation. Not as much fun, but it'll probably add years to my life.

Friday, August 10, 2007

All About the Author: Part Three

I’m not sure if I discovered Rock and Roll or shoplifting first. Anyway, I became passionate about both. It was right around the time that Elvis went to RCA. I still have my Elvis EP’s in picture covers. I attribute this to poor toilet training.

Around that time I got one of those new “tiny” Japanese transistor radios. It lasted me many happy years. I put it under my pillow at night and listened to Murray the K and, later on, to Cassius Clay fights.

In 1958 my father decided that we, his wife and children, were not working out as he had planned so he began traveling with his job between three and seven days a week.
Over the next ten or twelve years I lifted countless books and magazines from stores all over Queens. If I found a store with a good set up I’d go back time after time. Of course I made purchases too, maybe candy, more often a five cent newspaper with a magazine stuck in the middle. My room ended up looking like the Collier brothers’ apartment. I can’t imagine where my parents thought all of those publications came from. When I was younger I was more daring, and I lifted a wider range of products. I was never caught.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

ASPCA vs. Khun Fred

"Oh, pretty tough with dogs, eh?"

Well, yes, not to put too fine a point on it. I am now 33-0-1, and I'll take a rematch with the draw; he was a big dog but he's real old by now.

And that's nothing, you should see me take on cats. Claws, shmaws, I'm ready for anything that weighs less than ten pounds.

About the Author: Part Two

Around that time I was enrolled in St. Fidelis School, becoming acquainted with the nuns of the Dominican Order, to my eternal regret.

I loved television. I had a Winky Dink set; Sky King; Kookla, Fran and Ollie; I watched Howdy Doody and had nightmares for twenty years; The Million Dollar Movie; The Ed Sullivan Show; Andy’s Gang; American Bandstand; Crazy Cat; Victory at Sea; Rocky Jones, Space Ranger; Mighty Mouse; Mickey Mouse Club; professional wrestling; Flash Gordon/Buck Rodgers; the Nat "King" Cole Show; war movies every Sunday afternoon; the Gillette Friday Night Fights (I liked the bleeders, like Gene Fulmer); the Jimmy Durante Show; The Jackie Gleeson Show; Beanie and Cecil; Soupy Sales. I’m still addicted.

Some time in 1954 John Bauer taught me how to curse. It has been my passion ever since.

Around the same time I discovered the entertainment value of fire. It was my favorite toy for six or eight years. I never destroyed anything that I did not set out to destroy, and I never got in trouble for my experiments. No one notice the ever-present burns on my hands.

My record collection grew. A big favorite was, “That’s Amore,” by Dean Martin.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Mr. C's Poetry Corner

I heard a pair of rumors the other day, rumors such that if I repeated them here straight out and was discovered I would at least be deported and perhaps even jailed for a time. So I'll resort to poetry. Think of Thailand, and read between the lines.

The Rumors

A rumor may come at home or at work,
True or false you can’t be sure;
But oft’ come falsehoods with the quirk,
A truth within may make it pure.

A rumor may express a hope
For something dearly longed to be;
Or terror mask for what you know,
You hope dear god never to see.

Some rumors bring news of a brute,
Well hated and to soon depart;
While others strangely speak of fruit,
That ripens in some purer heart.

We hope for one but do not dare,
Consider what we could not bear.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Guest Blogger: Peg Leg Lee

Some county want nuke bomb. Want big boom, rocket too. Nuke complicate, too much. Is problem for them. I know, they will get Farang make nuke, get Indian man, very black, do hard work, get Filipino man, do danger work, I’m sure. Want nuke so much, like big sword, big dick, I know. Maybe good business, I don’t know.

A Nice Cup of Herbal Tea

Here's a nice recipe for herbal tea. My doctor buddy tells me that it's good for lowering cholesterol.

1. Take thirty or forty dollars worth of saffron;

2. Put it in a big immersion device;

3. Put it in a good size teapot; and

4. Add boiling water.

It's really quite delicious, hot or cold, no sugar necessary. It's probably easier for me; last weekend I bought a bag of saffron as big as my head for two dollars and fifty cents.

Dead Dog Walking

It was Kaopensa, a really big time Buddhist holy day, the beginning of Buddhist lent, so maybe it was not a good time for me to completely lose my temper and make a sincere effort to murder my benefactor’s dog. Actually I’m not sure you can murder a dog, but this would have been manslaughter anyway because I was provoked. I’m sure you can’t manslaughter a dog, that would just be silly.

This is one of those dogs that constantly attempts to dominate his owner, my benefactor. She is a Buddhist and seems to take it pretty well, live and let live. “Be careful,” she told me, “he is wild.” The dog has a system: he dashes into the house when someone is careless with the gate. His owner’s response to this is to go and get some old chicken parts or something and entice him back out the gate for a snack. I’m pretty sure that this is the principal reason he comes into the house in the first place. She hates him in the house, however, because he makes an ungodly mess; his very name translates to English as “Dirty-Messy.” I thought the whole thing was low comedy until Dirty-Messy made it personal.

One time he did his thing and I stepped in to help get rid of him. I am a dog person, a reasonable man, and you may believe that I prefer to settle all differences of opinion peacefully. I was very gentle. I spoke to him in a friendly manner, gently blocked his way and leaned over to push him in the direction of “out.” He exploded in a fury of white fur and teeth, twisting in the air and snapping his jaws and making an awful racket. He could easily have bitten me, but he did not, and that was his big mistake. I took it as a sign of weakness. I gave him a cursory kick in the ribs and he walked out the door.

Smiling all the while, I brooded something dark and deadly over his display of his teeth to me, as though I were some lesser dog that he could impress with that kind of canine bullsh*t. Been around Buddhists too long, I thought, thinks he’s going to live forever. I am a Christian, though, and we are bloody people, as our history well represents. I resolved that the next time he tried that move I would teach him the power and the majesty of a full grown, 170 pound, angry hominid male.

My chance came soon enough. One rainy day, our little buddy Dirty-Messy sneaked into the house by a neglected back door and oye, vey ist mir did he make a mess. I had the house to myself on this occasion. I ignored him, preferring to arm myself properly before a confrontation. He struck an imperious pose at the top of the stairs, looking quite pleased with himself. With the heaviest motorcycle helmet in the house in my right hand, and a stout bamboo pole in my left, I calmly ascended the stairs. His lack of concern was infuriating.

I gave him the helmet, full in the teeth, and introduced a vocabulary and tone of voice that he had not encountered before. He adopted a fighting pose and pulled his lips back as far as they would go, snarling and displaying his teeth very impressively. I put the pole against his chest and brought the helmet down sharply on his head. He turned to slink away and I gave him another good descending blow to the hips. Still snarling, he hid under a piece of furniture. I poked him with the pole a few times, threatening, among other things, to find and kill his entire family. About an hour later he came sheepishly out from his hiding place and left the house.

One or two lesser episodes and I thought he’d gotten the message: show Fred your teeth and meet the other Fred, the unkind Fred, the Fred who will hurt you, the Fred that even Fred is afraid of. It was great. He didn’t try anything for a few weeks, I gave him bones, I scratched his neck, we were friends.

Well on Kaopensa he came in again, and with three Thai friends around I tried to usher him out in a friendly manner and he stood his ground, bared his teeth and growled menacingly. I just lost it. I growled myself, said bad words, seized a handy helmet and smashed him in the head with it. It was one of those five dollar Thai helmets and it demonstrated its uselessness by breaking. He retreated to a hard to reach spot and I ran to fetch a pole, all I could see was red, I couldn’t wait to bust out one of his eyes. When he heard me coming, banging the pole on the tiles, he ran out the gate and kept going.

My friends were quite shocked. I mumbled something about I can’t let him show me his teeth or something and picked up some things that I had knocked over.

Later I apologized to my benefactor and it turned out that she was just as glad that someone was trying to beat some sense into Dirty-Messy. She told me she was afraid of him. I told her that if he was my dog he’d find himself in doggy-heaven as fast as I could buy the poison and some chop meat.

Everything has levels, deeper meanings not immediately apparent, and Dirty-Messy is no exception. He is simply the affront that I will not tolerate. In Thailand, everyone must maintain a veneer of cheerfulness; everyone must keep negative emotions hidden and always pretend that everything is hunky-dory. This means that everyday, everyone must swallow the full range of annoyances that life presents, annoyances present in Thailand as much as anywhere else. Everything from a casual, wow, you use so much water! (This upon my making a cup of instant at the hot water thermos, just a small cup but I suppose she’d prefer I just took one inch of water.) To someone dragging my locked motorcycle four feet so they could park in the motorcycle spaces. That one had steam coming out of my ears, I was ready to key the side of the car, but if I let on that this stuff disturbs me I do myself a great disservice.

This dog is an affront to my dignity that I can safely acknowledge and act on. When this dog mocks me and threatens me, in my house, it is socially acceptable for me to react in the same spirit that he has introduced into the interaction.

This dog, this unfortunate dog, because I will f*ck him up one of these days, is the embodiment of all of the little indignities that I must smile through and ignore. He is the annoyance where I am permitted to draw the line, he is the last straw, he’s all I can stands ‘cause I can’t stands no more, and when he sets me off he collects the bounty of my frustration. If he keeps threatening me with his teeth they’ll be calling him “Winky,” or “Hoppy,’ before Christmas, and that’s if he’s around to collect his presents at all.

About the Author: Part One

I was born on August 16, 1948; approximately twelve hours after the death of Babe Ruth; the same date on which Robert Johnson had previously died; the same date on which Elvis Presley would subsequently die.

My father’s family was English with a heavy influence of things Irish and my mother’s family was Irish with a heavy influence of things alcoholic.

In 1952 I received my first record player, a very boxy thing, a very Monolith-Monsters-kind-of-thing, that RCA had manufactured to play their new 45 rpm records. My first record was “Thumbelina.” I still own this record.

In January, 1953, my sister was born. Twenty or thirty years later I got to know her and she turned out to be ok.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Need for Drama

Looking back over my efforts, I must say that they are nice bed time stories but by and large they lack drama. So how about a nice dog fight? You may not know it, but I am an accomplished dog fighter; I don't mean setting up matches between two dogs, I mean, in the blue corner a sometimes substantial dog and in the red corner, Khun Fred.

I was a letter carrier for two years long ago and that's where I served my apprenticeship. I was thirty and 0, with one draw, and one law suit after I TKO'd a standard poodle. I remain undefeated. Tomorrow I'll share with you my most recent exploits combating the canine race.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Call of Old What’s-His-Name

My benefactor has a dog, a white dog, and darned if he doesn’t make me recall that loyal old what’s-his-name in “Call of the Wild.” He’s a lot more wild than tame too, that’s for sure. I can’t pronounce his name, but it’s Thai for “dirty dog.” He comes to me now whatever I call him because I am generous with chicken bones, after I am through with them that is, dogs are so easy.

He’s a healthy looking dog, a sturdy, muscular 45 pounds or so, with a powerful neck and jaws. He is a white dog, also like old what’s-his-name. I say healthy looking, healthy except for the fact that he has no balls.

I don’t mean to say that he lacks courage. He’ll charge even the largest chicken in the local field. He only shies away from the bulls, which after all is probably a good idea. I mean that, literally, he has no balls. He’s not fixed; they don’t do that here. He just got cheated, or maybe it’s like the English music hall song (if I may paraphrase), “and when they said testicles, he thought they’d said spectacles, and he said, oh! I’ll have none of those.”

I observed him during the recent dog mating interval, and his technique with female dogs was very simple: he ignored them completely. I saw a very attractive, young, good sized female come a’ calling one day. She stood about 15 yards away for a while, then slowly approached. He stood up and quietly stood still. She approached and it seemed to me like she smelled his breath, that was a new one on me. Then she moved along his body so they could get a snoot-full of each other. She moved away and smelled around his bowl; it was empty at the time. She did all this unmolested. She kept her dignity as she walked away but I’m sure that she was quite humiliated.

Our reticent champion prefers cavorting with other, even less dominant dogs. If they are sufficiently obsequious, or perhaps crippled in some way, he can be quite a bully.

No, old unpronounceable has either stunted testicles, or undeveloped testicles, or undescended testicles, but for whatever reason he just has a little flap of skin with nothing in it. He doesn’t seem to miss them. I suppose most men wouldn’t either if they’d never had them in the first place.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Guest Blogger: Peg Leg Lee

I love Khun Fred, he is respect like Thai man. Many Farang not respect, I not like too much. Khun Fred ask, want to help Lee, not ask, Lee help Khun Fred. Very help Lee, many time. Call me Khun Lung Lee, very respect, wai very good. I love Khun Fred.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The East is Red

It's so easy to generalize; you who know me well, though, know that I myself am loathe to generalize. But as I get around I see so many uncouth Chinese men and women that sometimes think, god, the Chinese are uncouth. More likely, of course, that the shear numbers of Chinese insure that there will be lots of the great uncouth among them. The place is so big that maybe there are whole huge backwaters that are full of them.

I'd hate to be judged by the behavior of a random sample of Americans traveling overseas, as in 'ooooooo-wwweeeee Earle!!! this here red stuff is Spicy!!!

Fact remains, however, there are lots of uncouth Chinese traveling around Asia. I've seen them in Thailand and I saw them recently in Kuala Lumpur too. Women eating like cowboys, or pirates; sitting way back from the table, legs wide open, elbows out, holding up big chunks of food on the tips of their forks and taking noisy bites; talking to people at their own table at the top of their lungs; laughing and shouting greetings to every friend they see, no matter how far away; wearing every cheap outfit imaginable; standing interminably in front of the coffee pots stirring their cups; taking little bites of tropical fruit, smacking their lips loudly and making a face like they were doing mathematics.

To be fair, I avoid the expensive hotels so I don't rub shoulders too often with the hoi-paloi of any country. Also, the Chinese haven't gotten out much recently, I mean in the last two thousand years, so maybe they just get over-excited.

Sh*t, I can be pretty uncouth myself, but I think (hope) that I am much better at hiding the fact.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Cool Website Alert! Version 2.0

That which I thought was lost appears below; let me know which one you prefer.

There are guys out there, you know who you are, guys with talents and abilities that make a mockery of the rest of us. Like the guy that, just for the hell of it, built, on his own milling machines, at his house, a fully functional one/fifth scale reproduction of a 1970’s Chrysler Hemi engine. It bears clarification: he started with the original blueprints, scaled every part down to the new spec’s, hand built every part, painted the thing factory colors, put it all together and it runs, with its own little just-like-the-original radiator for cooling, in fact it runs like it could pull a train, it torques on the mounts like it was ready for the drags.

Check it out:

They have a little video clip of him starting it up, it’s spooky.

Cool Website Alert!

There are people out there, you know who you are, who have otherworldly talents. Like the guy who built, from solid billits of steel on his own mill and lathe, an exact replica of a 1970's Chrysler Hemi engine that is as big as a shoe box.

Don't take my word for it, go to: They have a little movie clip of him starting it up, you heard me, it runs. It even torques on the mounts like a muscle-car engine. It has it's own perfect scale radiator for water cooling. Every single part, valves, springs, everything, is reproduced in, what is it, one/fifth scale or something. Everything that is on the original blueprints.

These guys are nuts, but I mean that in a good way, not like there's anything wrong with it.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Swans and Magpies

There I was, sitting, watching Australian football, having a couple of pops, hanging out, having fun.

I can't help myself, I like Aussie football. The players look like huge, muscular soccer players; they need to run around pell-mell for long periods but they need to be able to absorb big impacts too. More often than not, some of them are bleeding at any given time. Lots of broken noses in evidence, lots of teeth missing, arms and legs scarred by errant spikes. And a powerful scent of bad attitude: is that all you've got Bruce? My auntie hits harder than you. Pirates looked like this; Viking raiders too. Mongol horsemen too, only shorter. Maybe Attila's boys.

I know that they talk about American football like the rugby players do, "those American boys in all them pads and helmets, bunch of Mommy's boys." I would love to take the Collinsworth Magpies, or the Sydney Swans, or the who-si-whats Bulldogs, give them ten weeks to get ready, and put them in a balls-to-the-wall American football game with the Steelers, that'd wipe the smiles off their faces. All the pads and helmets in the world won't save you when you get hit head on by a six foot four inches tall, two hundred, eighty pound man who can run the forty meters in nine seconds flat and bench press four hundred and fifty pounds. And I'd love to see any two of them try to move one of those plow-boys who play guard or tackle, that mountain's staying right where it is.

But these Australian boys are game, and their game is rough, no doubt. They take quite a beating in their shorts and tank tops. When all is said and done, though, and they retire from their game, I bet they are better off orthopaedically than their American cousins.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Amazing Malaysia

One night I went to 7-11 to pick up some stuff for my little fridge. The newspapers were just inside the door and a slightly disheveled looking Chinese gentleman in shorts was sitting on the floor with a Mandarin paper spread out in front of him.

I did some shopping and when I left he was outside waiting for me. He greeted me warmly and offered me an English language newspaper, he had two. I smiled and told him thanks anyway, but I have one already. He started to go on about his hotel across the street, it was small and rather untidy. I told him I was all set up. He followed me when I tried to leave and kept up the pleading about his hotel. Finally I stopped and shook his hand to try to get rid of him.

He gave me a secret handshake, tickle the palm with a fingertip, I thought maybe he was a Mason. I returned the handshake to see what would happen and he leaned in and whispered, "I love you, I love you." As in I love you long time, over at my hotel.

I made my last apologies and left, and when I looked back I was relieved not to see him standing there.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Doing What I Can to Foster Tolerance in a Hostile World

Last night I was idly wandering around a street market in Kuala Lumpur, at 7: or so, starting to think about dinner. I was hailed from a small, outdoor cafe kind of place, much like one is hailed by Indian tailors standing outside their shops. I just smiled and kept going. Within five minutes, though, I was hungry and I figured, he sounded friendly enough, I'll go back. It was worth it.

"Tarzan Malaysia" was the name of the restaurant, not "Tarzan's Malaysia," or "Tarzan of Malaysia," and it was Tarzan himself who had hailed me. I went over and sat at the table next to his. Also at my table was an enigmatic younger man, it was a big table. Both were Muslim, but no beards, just mustaches, and no little Muslim hats, you know, Muslim-but-let's-not-get-carried-away. The other patrons, however, were Muslims who were quite carried away, with the beards, the hats, the floor length shirts, the whole magilla.

The man at my table spoke good English, and he was as friendly as you can be without ever smiling. Tarzan was delighted to see me, like a kid at Christmas. He had no trouble smiling, in fact he never stopped except to laugh, and he spoke fast to the second man and pointed to me like, tell him what I'm saying.

Tarzan was a restaurateur and part time Guinness World Record seeker. He showed me their notification of his status: world's longest and most dangerous shower in actual corrosive acid. I said, "but you still have hair!" He almost fell out of his chair laughing. I guess in Malaysia there's money in acid showers. The two of them organize thrill shows for the locals, with the Guinness people as the theme, like "longest, thickest nail driven straight up the nose" kind of stuff, eating broken glass was mentioned.

I asked for food, roti, if possible, and some curry, maybe some chicken, and a bottle of water. I had had a couple of pops at the hotel and I was feeling mellow. The curry came with two pieces of white bread, it was that kind of restaurant, like the food was an afterthought. The curry was pretty good; the chicken was that jungle fowl, so tough it's like eating a diver's wet suit. But I was having fun.

I heard all about their thrill businesses, and the second man, Zalli, was also something of a herbologist, also an aroma therapist, acupuncturist, masseuse and yoga "master." In the thrill shows he lays on a bed of nails and they break a cinder block over his chest with a sledge. Like an Indian Fakir, or "faker" as they are called in America. His daughter has an even better routine: she sits in the middle of a raging fire for "a few minutes" and then jumps out with no ill effects. I got one of Zalli's cards, "Borneo Herbalist Center."

We were getting along famously, I am very good at smiling my way through half understood bullsh*t sessions, and I do really enjoy them. These guys were talkative and priceless. Zalli got a bowl of "tom yam," which is the local foreign food, Thai tom yam gai in this case. He took a huge portion of the noodles and put them in my bowl, "very spicy," he said like it was a warning. Pretty good, I agreed.

Now Zalli's fifteen year old son shows up with a box of small bottles, the fluid was green on the bottom and white on top. Aleef was the boy's name, I told him that I had a son named Oliver but he didn't seem impressed. He and Tarzan began to affix labels to the bottles and when they were done the bottles went into a display case at the edge of the restaurant. Zalli then produced a bottle like a roll-on deodorant bottle and presented it to me with a flourish. "For massage," he said, it smelled like Ban Gay. "I mix myself, " he explained, "the proportions are perfect, it will release blockages in the blood flow." (Not like that crap that charlatans sell.)

So here's the punchline: at one point Zalli gets ready to leave for his "clinic" and I stood up and said to Tarzan something like "may I pay now," or "now I must pay you." He roared laughing and backhanded Zalli like, get that! He wants to pay! Even Zalli smiled at that. It seems that I was a guest, money, shmunny, we were having fun!

No one had mentioned politics or religion even once, not even in passing. Economics, maybe; Zalli thought that I should come to Malaysia and start a business, "you can make a fortune," he suggested. He was suggesting, no doubt, that I start a business with him. "Buy a beautiful house, only RM 300,000. " (About $100,000) So there are many Muslims in Malaysia for whom your religion is not a consideration; if your money is green you can worship the broken carcass of an airplane in a cargo cult for all they care, not like that nun in Phrae. These guys wrote the book on tolerance.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Big Excitement at the Little Dinner Table

I don't think that food is a very interesting topic for a blog, but there are exceptions:

1. On Wednesday, my benefactor got hold of some "Lanna food." It was a huge bag filled with bright green powder. She cooked it up with some garlic, a little pork, oyster sauce and some bean sauce and dished it into two big plates, two vast green mounds on the table, no rice, "not need with wegable." It was some kind of "plankton" that the hill tribes gather in the jungle, "only at one time in a year." It wasn't bad.

2. On Thursday, we had larb. I looked in the wok and said, oh, good, pork larb, but no. "Not pork," said my benefactor, "is bird." It was some kind of red meat, but a bird, I guessed chicken, maybe duck? "No," she said, "litten bird." I tried to get to the bottom of it and, son of a gun, it was the hill tribes again. Some kind of jungle bird as big as your fist, they must catch them by the hundreds. Here's the twist: they leave in the bones. I think they just grind up the whole d*mn bird, the stuff was liberally sprinkled with white flecks, and not too small either. It was crunchy as hell, not bad actually, although you needed to be careful with the crunch part, either that or lose a filling. Spitting out pieces of bone as big as match heads was fun, good balistics, good distance.

Do You Want to Proceed?

Do you want to proceed?

The security certificate for this site is either expired or has not yet been validated.

Do you want to proceed?

Well, do you, punk?

I'm off to Malaysia for VISA purposes. Indian food, Muslim food, and if I can I'll take a ride as far up the Petronas Towers as they let you go.

Do you want to proceed?

I must click that thing five times to get on the Hotmail site, but only once to get on g-mail. Does Microsoft really trust google more than they trust themselves?

Monday, July 2, 2007

VISA Update

No one in the Immigration office in Chiang Mai can tell you what rule anyone in any other office will apply; they cannot tell you what rule anyone else in that self same office will apply today or what rule they themselves will apply or waive the next time you come; no Farang can tell you anything but his own experiences, and yours will certainly be different, even if you talk to the same Immigration official.

If you look at the websites for the Thai Consulate in L.A. and for the one in Dakka, where is that, Bangladesh? you will find two different lists of papers that you need to bring with you to get a work permit VISA. Plus of course another Farang will tell you that you don't need any of that, just bring a letter from your potential employer and do the rest when you get back.

lt's a little confusing but there are no bad results available so just hang with it, I say. Get a trip to Kuala Lumpur out of the deal anyway, eat some Indian food. Or maybe I'll just go to Burma for 5 minutes next weekend and get another tourist VISA, two months, and get an extension for another month, then get the work permit VISA in L.A. in October when I'll be there anyway.

I must learn to deal with uncertainty.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Tales from the Tube: the Spanish Inquisition

I “interviewed” at several schools in Phrae along the way, one of them was a Catholic school. I put old grudges aside and figured, these days the Catholic schools are just interested in tuition, no more of that old imperative: turn out as many terrified, obedient Catholics as possible. I went in to see the director, who was supposedly expecting me.

The gatekeeper was a sullen looking Thai man about forty years old. I explained to him the nature of my mission, and that I had an appointment. I did it in Thai, which of course my Thai is not the best but although it is still pretty snake-snake-fish-fish people understand me pretty well. He gave me a look, I mean a look, like Brother Thomas Burns at Holy Cross, my Holy Cross to bear long ago, had caught some poor student with a Playboy magazine in his locker. Like Torquemada gave the heretics. A look, and he said, sarcastically yet, “do you speak English?” I told him again of my mission, and he set me straight right away. “You can’t expect to walk in here and talk to the director,” he, what, spit out the words? Sneered? Whatever it was it was rude beyond belief. He must have thought that I was lying about the appointment. He gave me an application and I left. Of course the director calls several people later in the afternoon: where is the Farang? I went back the next day.

The director was a nun who supposedly spoke English but you couldn’t tell by me because she only spoke rapid-fire Thai to me. She asked me what religion I was and I told her I was Catholic. I found out later that the next thing she asked me was, so, if you’re Catholic and you lived in Phrae for two years, why did I never see you in Church? She lost me; the interview didn’t last long.

At first I thought she was just displeased with the state of my Catholicism, god knows she had a right to be. But actually I believe that she thought that I was lying about being Catholic. Trying to curry favor to get a job at her sh*t school. Can you imagine? Me, who has received five of the sacraments by now, Baptism, First Communion, Penance, Confirmation and Marriage, I think that’s five out of seven. Unless becoming a nun is “Ordination,” which I doubt, I’m one up on Sister So-and-So.

I realized that I offered no middle name, no “Confirmation name,” further proof that I was lying. Never try to fool the geniuses of the world; you can’t get over on them. With their superior intellects and mysterious powers of deduction they will catch you in any lie.

And so what if I were a Protestant, even a Unitarian, or, even worse, a Jew, or some kind of Buddhist-Farang hybrid, or if I worshiped an airplane carcass in some cargo-cult, or so what if I worshiped Satan himself? Twenty people right here in Phrae can tell the woman that they have known me for years and that I am a good man and a good teacher. Two years in the Peace Corps is a nice introduction too.

She still has my bowels in an uproar. Who is she to judge me? Get a clue woman: when god sends you a nice gift, don’t criticize the wrapping paper.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Guest Blogger: Peg Leg Lee

Now I no pirate, long time, I business man now, I’m sure. I sell Honda motorcy, good wood from Burma, I make much money, sell many thing. I have restaurant, many restaurant. Is easy for me, money talk, bullsh*t walk. I sell many thing, I know many police, very easy for me.

Tales from the Tube: My New Motorcycle

Life can be so simple, but on my planet we prefer to complicate matters. For instance: I needed to buy a motorcycle for transportation, so did I buy a nice, sedate Honda Wave like everyone else in Thailand? Did I buy an even more sedate Honda Dream like many people of my advanced age seem to prefer? Those bikes, kick them once and they settle immediately into a nice, quiet idle; nice little mudguards to protect your pants; semi-automatic transmission, real easy . . . so did I get one? No.

No, not at all. I opted instead for a used Honda Dash. Idle? Not hardly, it won’t idle at all. If you let go of the throttle it stalls immediately. Start on the first kick? Maybe, but sometimes you need to jiggle the key around until the proper electrical connection is made. Shifting? Actually, it shifts quite well. But if you can find neutral inside of about thirty seconds I’ll give you a dollar.

My rational for buying this machine went like this: I have had motorcycles for thirty-five years. They have all had a clutch. They have all had flat bars and rear-set foot pegs so you had to lean forward a little bit. They have all been fast and not particularly comfortable. A Honda Wave meets none of those criteria. A Honda Dash meets them all.

The Dash has a 2-stroke, 100cc, water cooled engine that sounds like all Hell breaking loose. It sounds like a drunken steel band celebrating the explosion of a small fireworks factory. The Dash has a six speed, close ratio gear box that will move it along very quickly indeed to the top of its range. Where is that? I don’t know, the speedo is broken, but it’ll keep up with the cars on the “superhighway,” a two lane blacktop with a good surface. I’ve had bikes that would embarrass the Dash in an acceleration contest from 60 to 90 miles per hour. The Dash won’t even do ninety, probably. But under 60 mph the Dash will keep up with almost anything. It’ll pick up the front wheel in first, second and third gear, and it easily does those wild burn outs like the mutants in “Road Warrior.”

It’s a looker too. It’s got lots of extra chrome; an aftermarket double-caliper disk brake in the front; the stock disk brake on the mono-shock rear end. Under the skin I’m sure it’s a little tired, the engine is still real strong but I expect it to give up the ghost at some point. It’s got 60,000 kilometers on it, and it’s a tiny, way over-tuned 2-stroke. I don’t know how old it is but the license plate looks older than me. But it only cost Bhat 13,000, about $350. So f*ck it, if the motor breaks I’ll get a new one put in.

I’m glad it’s loud: it helps the opposition to avoid hitting me, you know it’s coming, that’s for sure. I’m glad it’s fast too: I’m not reckless but I really like to go fast. I love the Dash. It’s my middle-age-crisis-red-Corvette but I got it for literally one half of one percent of the price of a Corvette, do the math, and under 60 mph it’d probably stay close to the ‘vette. Wish me luck, I’m going to need it.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Thailight Zone: the VISA

I am reminded of a t-shirt that I saw one time: "No Passport; No VISA; No money; but Funny," except that I have a passport and money. I know that I'm funny, doctors have made that face and told me I was a little funny, but a VISA? I landed in Bangkok on April 18th and I assumed that they stamped me in for 90 days, which is what they cheerfully did in Thailand for years. But no, I assumed, and I thereby made an "ass" out of "u" and "me." Even though you weren't even here. They stamped me in for 60 days, and I ran out about one week ago.

No, in Thailand they can change the rules, or the interpretation of the rules, or the enforcement of the rules, for bad reasons, or the wrong reasons, or for no reasons at all. It's like Bizaro Germany: we need tourism to survive! let's make it hard to get a VISA!

I'm not too worried because after all I am free, white and twenty-one, and I have the wherewithall to pay fines. I'm sure that it'll all work out. Pretty sure anyway. I'll let you know.

Guest Blogger: Peg Leg Lee

Many country have army, I can kill them all, no problem. They hire pirate to be general, better for them. I can introduce. Many pirate now in Straights of (redacted) very smart, very tough, bad man. I know, better for many country, make them bad, I’m sure. Just ask Lee. I help. You pay Lee.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Tales from the Tube: Suddenly!

In one of my classes I asked the students a series of questions and had them write down their answers. One of the questions was, “please tell me three things that you did this morning before you came to school.” I really leaned on the “did,” and the, “came (to school).” I was looking for answers in the past tense. One answer in particular made me laugh so hard that I almost swallowed my gum.

It was a good answer, given in the simple past. That put him leagues ahead of most of them, but I thought that he included a word that he did not adequately understand. “This morning,” he wrote, “I got up, ate breakfast, suddenly I read a book, next time, I went to school.” I read this sentence as an example to my M.6 classes (high school seniors). I jumped dramatically into the “suddenly!” part with a look of panic on my face. “Be careful with your new words,” I told them, “you cannot suddenly read a book.” An elephant can suddenly crash into your house, but you cannot suddenly read a book.

The whole thing got me thinking though. Thailand can be a funny place that way, many things come at you from odd angles, suddenly, when you don’t expect anything of the kind. One night my friend and I were about to eat our dinner, ready-to-eat stuff from the local night market, when the phone rang. It was actually a little late for a Thai dinner hour. On the phone was my friend’s niece, who I’m told has a very good job in Vientiane, the capitol of nearby Lao. (These days, in case you haven’t heard, calling the place “Laos” marks you as a running dog of the cultural imperialists.) A good job, I thought, in Lao? If it were true she would probably have the only good job for a South East Asian girl in the whole city. Vientiane makes due with about forty-five old Peugeots and a couple of hundred ancient motorcycles; they’re still satisfied using the buildings that the French built long ago.

“I want to take you to a restaurant!” she enthused, “Ban Fai restaurant!” That’s one of the best restaurants in town, pretty expensive, I’d have to guess. I really don’t know because although I have eaten there many times I have never paid, never even seen a bill, or a menu for that matter. For most of my time here I was a Peace Corps volunteer and no one had the nerve to ask me to chip in for anything. I’m happy to go, I thought, but it’s awfully short notice. Maybe she’s in town for a short visit and “suddenly” remembered that she’d like to see her aunt. We said great and she said, “I’ll pick you up.”

Five minutes later she was in our driveway honking her horn. At the restaurant we were met by a management woman who seemed very glad to see us. She ushered us to one of the large, private Karaoke rooms, where we were greeted by my friend’s entire family: three younger sisters, a couple of husbands, some adult children with friends in tow, and me, the Farang friend. I am a long time friend of the entire family; I am officially “uncle” Fred. I was very glad that I was kind of dressed up because everyone else was kind of dressed up, but then again I like to be kind of dressed up even to go outside to get the paper in the morning, so I cannot chalk it up to foresight.

Thais have a certain disinclination to plan ahead and many things go from conception to execution with great speed. So maybe the kid did suddenly read a book, as in, “I was about to have a simple dinner at home when suddenly! I was invited to a fancy dinner party at an upscale restaurant.”

The dinner was delicious and we all had a great time. I increased my streak of eating at Ban Fai without paying. I sang a few songs that I really hate, songs that Thais for some reason love, songs which often are the only songs in English on the Karaoke machine, songs like “Sealed With a Kiss,” “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” and of course, the dreaded, “Country Road.” I no longer gag when I sing these songs; I put my heart into them in spite of myself. Then it was time to go home and salvage what was left of a good night’s sleep. “Suddenly! my alarm went off.”