Sunday, May 30, 2010

Wat Bang Na On The Cha Prayao River Bangkok

This is a nice place. This was the big Buddhist holiday, Wisaka Bucha, the birthday/death anniversary of the big man himself. Notice, they bring out the large animals for the holiday, so you can make merit by feeding them and being nice to them, before you go home and eat their cousins for dinner.

More tomorrow, showing the worshipers and the river.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Jackie Chanish Bamboo Scaffolding In Bangkok

The condo building across from me is resurfacing their physical plant. Note the spidery, loosely roped together bamboo scaffolding. Does one of these guys have a guide-line on? I've seen a couple that did. That barefoot gentleman don't need no stinking guideline! Must be a professional daredevil.

The Friendly Old Dream

I had a visit last night from an old friend, a completely terrifying dream about a giant monster. In this instance, a huge, angry, ultra-destructive vision of King Kong. It is strangely comforting for me to dream of these things, because this has been a recurring nightmare for me since I was a small boy. Even though my fear during these dreams is very real, gripping and quite horrifying, I am familiar enough with them to know that they are probably, in their way, cathartic, a way of discharging some real-world tension. I survive the dreams, after all. So I welcome them.

This dream went on for a very long time; it was actually a suite of dreams. I woke up with my head full of the imagery of it, and considered it for a short time before visiting the toilet, and then to the kitchen to drink some water. Upon returning to sleep, the dream picked up again in mid-stream. I awoke again some time later, amazed at the vastness of the dream landscape, an entire city in broad daylight, being demolished by the roaring creature, complete with people running in every direction, some being crushed, some being seized and throw against buildings. Thereafter, I drifted in and out of sleep, and in and out of the same dream. What a marathon!

I tried alternately to escape and to find good places to hide. I interacted with lots of people, some of whom were hysterical, some of whom were hiding, and some of whom were strangely at peace, as though nothing were happening. These last I attempted to warn, to varying effect.

Sometimes I would be hiding in some interior room just to have the beast rip the entire side off of the building. Off running again, in heartfelt, hair-on-end terror. I can remember the smell of the fear. This was King Kong on steroids, more the size of Godzilla, over two-hundred-and-fifty feet. And angry! The roaring! The stomping! The lashing out!

I began to have these dreams before I started school, and they had adopted their particular, recurring character by the time I was in the first grade, six years old. I remember going over one in class while Mrs. Leopkeger was trying to teach us spelling. I have had them on a regular basis ever since, lets say two to four times a year. That’s between one- and two-hundred dreams! It’s always a different scene, sometimes daylight, sometimes at night, different monsters, sometimes multiple monsters, often there’s another plot angle grafted onto it, like invasion from outer-space. Quite amazing, but like I say, there must be some psychological purpose to them, so now I just accept them.

My wife always felt that there was nothing in the world more boring than listening to me recount one of my dreams, but honestly, I find some of them to be utterly fascinating!

Idol Judge Update

With Simon leaving, I'd like to nominate John Waters for the job. He has a book coming out, and I'm sure he'd take the job even if he didn't need the plugs.

Simon will be a tough act to follow, with his particular talent for being simultaneously loved and hated. John Waters is a good fit.

(Note on the last show: nice of them to bring Casey back to add some charisma to the stage. The two finalists live in a charisma free universe.)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Jaynettes , Sally , Go Round The Roses

Just playing with my computer here. See what happens.

Canal Taxi In Bangkapi, Bangkok

That's the Hotel Alexander on the left at the beginning, nice place but not near anything, good room service. After the bridge transition, that's the Mall Bangkapi on the left. Very nice, usually crowded, almost no Farang, lots of Thai college students, many great lunch opportunities! The water taxi is about forty-five cents, and it goes amazingly far through the city.

How Do You Say Lazy In German?

"Faul," for your information. I remember that, because I am, at least a little.

I failed to mention that I have a new German buddy here in Condo Ex-Pat. We White ex-pats are actually pretty rare in my Condo Wonderland. Most of the residents are Thai, and the remainder are mostly Asian or Middle-Eastern. How does one count the Russians? Many of them are Asians, technically.

But this German, he's interesting. Sixty-seven years old, he was a German soldier for forty years, still a good recommendation, in spite of all that trouble years ago. Before I was born! Another world.

Nice guy. He must have lots of experience talking to foreigners, he looks me right in the eyes and speaks German slowly and clearly, which is doubly amazing, because he's from Bavaria, and even the rest of the Germans can't understand those people. It must have been the forty years in the army.

So now I have these three languages running rampant in my head, it's bloody confusing, I must say.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Entertainment Breakdown

The Rainy Season is getting underway over here, which means that my cable will be going out on a regular basis. Sometimes even before the first drops fall, atmospheric pressure or something.

So I really need to do something to get my DVD player hooked up properly. Somehow it got re-wired when I had the cable box worked on, and ever since then there's picture but no sound. I need to find someone who understands such things, I tried every different configuration that I could think of and still no dice.

I'll think of something, I hope.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Laziness Vs. Just Plain Being Over-Matched

I studied German at college, and I can tell you that I found it bloody hard. I ended up with 24 credits of German, speaking and reading pretty well. You may recall that college for me covered the period from 1965 to 1985, so I had plenty of time. Later on, when I could actually talk to Germans, some of them told me that they also thought that "es gibt zu viele Artikale und Endungen auf Deutsch." (There are too many articles and endings in German.) I couldn't agree more. French is even worse. I finally embraced the concept by getting involved with German poetry. It seemed that you could completely explode the word order without altering the meaning, because of all the endings, articles, and declinations. That was cool, so I learned it, because it was fun that way.

Thai is nothing like English, or German. Officially, Thai has "no grammar." There are no endings, tenses, articles, declinations, or genders, nothing but words. And the words are mostly one syllable, differentiated from another word of the same syllable by a different tone scheme, and the same syllable is usually at least six words by that method. Then there are the compound words, made up of several smaller words, which may or may not be in the dictionary. Sometimes I think it's a plot to keep foreigners in the dark. It has certainly kept me in the dark.

Several intelligent commentators on the present political crisis in Thailand have focused on the dearth of Farang (foreigners) who can actually speak fluent Thai, which makes it hard for outsiders to actually understand what's going on. This is true. They say, Thai is a language where nothing is stated directly, and it is possible to express two opposing views simultaneously. That's true, I know. Plus, Thai people are loathe to say anything bad about anyone, even someone that they hate with a passion. So it's all very subtle, and there's a lot of reading between the lines.

Whatever. Thai people are telling me all the time that I sound great, and it's great that I can speak Thai. I know what they mean, the little that I can say, they can understand, which already puts me leagues ahead of most foreigners, and I can actually explain things like what I want, or where I'm going. I can even have a simple conversation about everyday subjects, frequently I really surprise myself, and the taxi driver too. But when I watch TV, and people are discussing the current crisis, they might as well be speaking fucking Hungarian for all I know.

I don't think that it's laziness on my part, although I've had five or six years to get a handle on it. That's part of it, because I know that I could study more. I'm going for over-matched, because it puts me in a much better light.

Follow Up: The Leggings

Honestly, I remember how to fold and stow everything else. The white-hats, the drill-instructor taught us how to fold them and then told us that it was impossible, so we had to always keep the extra two hats in the locked drawer of our "locker" so they wouldn't be dinged in inspections.

The leggings, I guess we always had them on when the barracks inspections happened, we were always out somewhere. But where they were when we took them off at the end of the day, I can't remember at all.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Ramkhamhaeng At Soi 42

This is my neighborhood during the current troubles. Looks pretty normal, doesn't it?

But I did read today that a "satellite stage" has been set up in front of the main gate of my (nearby) university. So maybe that'll change.

Boomer Nostalgia: The Leggings.

It's the little things, remembering them, wondering sometimes.

I remember Navy boot-camp fondly, no, really! and sometimes I think I can remember every minute of it clearly. Watching a TV show recently, I was reminded that we wore those same leggings over our cuffs and shoe-tops, those heavy, lace-together canvas leggings. But I can't for the life of me remember where we stowed them when we weren't wearing them.

There was a place for everything, and everything had to be folded properly and stowed in its proper place. I remember the place for everything else, but what was the proper place for the leggings?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Life In BKK

Some of you may be wondering: why doesn't Mr. Fred tell us about the troubles in BKK? Well, I don't want any of the myriad officialdoms to think that I harbor a single negative thought against my wonderful host country, so no clear meanings or potential misunderstandings from me, no sir!

Besides, Spin Easy Time is all about the sweetness and light, unless I'm in a bad mood, which happens sometimes.

But if I see you . . .

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Ubon Hotel Ratchatani

This was more like it, the "Latanee" hotel, as my taxi driver said. 770 Baht, including a nice breakfast from the menu, which is better than the buffets, which may have been out for a while.

Nice evening food fair right across the street too, so dinner was fun, cheap and delicious.

Ubon Train Station

Outside of Bangkok, this is the biggest, nicest train station that I have seen in Thailand. The old locomotive is interesting. Anything over forty years or so ago they were still pulling the trains around here. My buddy Ajan K., who's even older than me, remembers when the train from BKK to the east came to a big grade and they actually had to split the boggies, remove half the wheels, so the locomotive could pull half the wheels up the hill and then return for the rest of the train, after which they had to put the whole thing back together again.

Now that's entertainment!

Not A Movie Review: It Came From Outer Space II

Not a sequel, but a remake, written, they tell us, by a couple of new guys, from an original story by Ray Bradbury and a 1950's screenplay by Harry Essex.

I knew Harry much later, in the 1990's. He was a good guy, and a client of mine with regard to a slip-and-fall accident on the grounds of the L.A. County Art Museum. Not much that I could do with it, but Harry had known all along that it was a very weak case. He was eighty at the time; he had been wearing expensive, leather soled Italian loafers; the grounds of the museum were well kept. Juries generally defense the fall cases of older plaintiffs, especially if there was a poor choice of shoes.

Back in the Fifties, Harry had written the scripts for a lot of those Roger Coreman movies, monsters and aliens, including “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.” I liked him, it was good to see his name on screen again.

Monday, May 10, 2010

New Hotel Surin

This is a room in the "New Hotel" in Surin, Thailand.

The air-con was way on the old side, it only knocked the temp down a little bit, the room was still a sweat box. Notice the two showers on the wall in the bathroom; one attached to a heater, and the other au-natural, cool from a tank on the roof. It's so hot in Surin that the cool was lots better. The faucet on the sink was of the two hands variety: hold the spout while you twist or the whole thing just spins around.

Notice the huge, hard pillows, almost a foot high, real neck breakers . . . the bed was only ok, but at least it was all clean.

Lots of channels on the TV, almost all Thai, but with Deutsche Welle auf Deutsch; Le Monde in French; Al Jezeera; Australian TV for news and sports; Eurosport; a weird Indian channel that had Hindi speaking stand up comedians every time I looked; and Channel News Asia, from Singapore. It could have been worse.

"The Pacific" According To The Garps

Just re-watching episodes Three and Four of "The Pacific," I missed a couple of weeks traveling around and for some reason today's re-run is from a couple of weeks ago.

I enjoyed "Band of Brothers," and I thought it did justice to the guys in the Airborne, but this "Pacific" just makes these Marines look like a bunch of dorks who won the war by accident, terrified the entire time. For a character to refer to John Basilone like, "we all did stuff like that," well maybe he didn't win the war single handed but he was wildly heroic in a unique manner on more than one occasion and got two Medals of Honor, dying for the last one, and the Marines named the entrance road to El Toro after him. He made a distinct impression on somebody, and if you read the accounts, he'll make a distinct impression on you too, he was not just some "everybody," and real Marines know it.

And Maybe Eugene Sledge will come to life soon, maybe they'll let him turn into something besides a semi-shocked-out cry-baby. In real life, he accomplished quite a bit at Pelilui and Okinawa, and afterward, and wrote a great book about it, you should read it.

Thai Transportation Diary: Way Out East In Isan

Last week I taught a class in Chiang Rai, the northernmost province in Thailand, which was no challenge at all. So many foreigners go there that the Air Asia tickets cost me a fortune, twice as much as a ticket to somewhere just as far, with just as many people on the plane, but where foreigners don’t go so much, like way out east, in Isan.

This week I went, indeed, to Isan. I taught a class in the province of Surin, where they have an airport, but no planes go there, so I had to improvise. My class was on Saturday, the eighth.

So I got a ticket on Air Asia to Ubon Ratchatani, not the nearest airport, but the one I found. I flew in on Friday, we landed about eight-thirty in the morning. One plane at a time at this airport, they fly in and out within a half hour, otherwise it’s a ghost-town. They have a booth for taxis in the “international terminal,” so called because they get about a flight a day that goes to Lao (as in, that’s “Lao” to you cowboy, don’t give us that colonialist “Laos” shit). One hundred Baht flat rate to town, fifty Baht extra for the airport fee. It’s reasonable.

My driver was a guy with a pretty new Honda City, made in Thailand, like a junior Civic, unmarked except for some fancy pillows and stuffed animals. Just a guy who bought a license to become an “airport limousine,” he makes a living with his car. Nice fellow, he could understand my Thai, after a little practice, and I could understand him after I had convinced him to speak slowly and use simple words, “like I was a kindergarten student,” which of course I am in Thai.

He took me to the bus station, and I milked him for information. I needed the name of a decent hotel to stay at when I returned on Sunday. We talked about prices and features and finally he decided that the hotel for me was the “Latanee.” I wrote it down. He figured that he had a live one on his hands, so he sprung the expense of giving me a home-made business card. His name was Wanchai, and the card was very nice, I must admit.

I asked him, should I call you when I get back on Sunday? He turned completely around, while driving, and gave me a look, like, does a bear shit in the woods?

At the bus station, he made sure that I knew the name of the good bus company, and got out of the car to take me to the ticket window, explaining to the ticket seller just what I needed. I thought that he was very gaeng, conscientious, and gave him an extra forty Baht. He was thrilled.

The next decent bus was about three hours away, but the lesser, un-air-conditioned buses are really a trial, especially in the hot season, which is now, so I figured I would wait. The good bus to Surin would be a three hour ride, four or more on a very hot, lesser bus.

The bus station was a trip. Nine o’clock, nice and cool, a little breeze, no problem; ten, getting there; eleven; beyond nice and hot; noon and one o’clock were so hot that I was getting dizzy just sitting there in the shade, the sweat was pouring off of me, I completely lost the ability to do mathematics or any higher reasoning. About one hundred and three degrees, as it turned out, and humid.

I got a glass of Thai iced tea, very nice; later on I got some lunch, cheap and delicious, as always. At some point I used the rest room, three Baht. Some Thai man about forty-five or so followed me in and stood at the urinal to my right, this has never happened before, he started leaning over the divider and ogling my penis with a leering grin on his face. He said something, I couldn’t quite catch it, and then he reached his left hand over to touch me “there.” I gave him a stern “hey!” and gave him my best Thai version of “cut that shit out right now!” First time for everything, I suppose.

The bus was late, and I began to wonder if I’d missed it somehow, I was almost delirious from the heat. It was all good though, the bus showed up, bearing all of the correct legends, and they honored my ticket. Another little success.

We got to Surin ok, in just about three hours as per the schedule. Surin is a really, really poor place in the middle of nowhere, very close to Cambodia, close enough that lots of Cambodians make it across and settle there, it seems like a rich place to them. There was a nice looking hotel right next to the bus station, the “Majestic,” so I went over to check it out. A bell hop outside smilingly grabbed my bag and took me in. I asked him how much the rooms cost, and he said about 900 Baht, including breakfast. About twenty-eight bucks, a little steep but those are really nice rooms. I could do that. At the desk, though, they told me that they only had “Super Deluxe” rooms available, for 1,200 Baht per night. I never believe this line, they just want to sell the higher priced room, that’s my understanding and I’m sticking to it. I smiled and said, no thanks!

Back at the bus station, I consulted a sam law operator, these are the Thai version of the rickshaw (China), or cyclo (Vietnam), three-wheeled bicycle taxis. He suggested something called “The New Hotel,” and I asked him how much it was. He thought laboriously for a minute or so, rolling his eyes, using his fingers and moving his lips, before he answered, about six hundred Baht he said, so I figured that was ok, those places are usually fine. I asked him how much his services would cost me, and after another laborious battle with numbers he said, “five-ty Baht!” Ok, I said, climbing up into the contraption.

We got there in about ninety seconds, and he grabbed my bag and took it, and me, into the lobby, where he said that his fee was one hundred Baht. Now this was not my first time in the big city, I know that for a Thai person this was a twenty Baht ride, and he’d only taken me into the lobby to make sure that he got his finder’s fee. I gave him a good-natured scolding and seventy Baht, good riddance.

The two girls behind the desk were amazed to see a Farang in their dingy, little, rather old, down-in-heel “New Hotel.” They asked me if I wanted to see the room, this has happened to me before, they’re afraid that after they do all the work to sign you up you’ll take one look at the room and say, hell no! I asked them if the room had air-conditioning (“air-con”), they said, yeah; TV? yeah; a bathroom? yeah; warm water (shower), yeah; I said that was all ok, I didn’t need to look at it. You can always count on the room, however Spartan, being clean and bug-free. They had me fill in the forth line of a form; the first three lines were filled in by foreigners during 2008 and 2009. They quoted me 550 Baht per night, which I thought was a bit high, but I said ok, two nights. They didn’t make me pay in advance.

The room, by the way, was clean but lousy, big time. Video to follow. TV was ok, lots of channels, almost all Thai, but with BBC and Al Jazeera.

My students, including a former provincial governor by the way, told me that 550 Baht was much too high for the New Hotel, more like 400, which was what I thought too. I considered giving the desk girls some shit about it when I checked out, but they were so nice. Including the incredibly surly “bell boy,” who didn’t look at me directly, or smile even slightly, until the second day of my stay, after I had tipped him twice for simple tasks, which Thai people would never do, and spoken to him kindly a couple of times. The counter girls were delightful, actually, one was quite beautiful, and they had fun talking to me, I had fun too, I was a real treat for them, evidentially. When I checked out, the girl charged me 660 Baht for two nights, so I believe that my sparkling personality won them over and they decided to charge me the regular price. When I left, the bell boy gave me a big smile and a gracious send-off. Maybe a first for him! I had the impression that he would really miss me, probably the only two tips he had received for a while, a total of about a buck and a half, but enough to pay for his lunch both days of my stay.

I returned to Ubon Ratchatani by train, which was right across the street from the good old “New Hotel.” Only 150 Baht for a nice, air-con train, only two hours as opposed to three for the bus. When I got to the station in Ubon, I called my buddy Wanchai. “Hey! Ajan Fred, from Friday!” He was surprised to hear from me, and said he’d be there in about fifteen minutes, which he made in exactly that time. I was a taxi driver myself, if you do it for a while you can predict how long any ride will take very closely.

I said, let’s go to the Latanee hotel, which was his idea in the first place, before long we were there. It was actually “The Ratchatani Hotel,” that’s how I found out that the locals call the place “Ubon Latanee,” in the manner of “Nu ‘Awlens,” or “Nu Yawk,” locals rule! We arranged for him to pick me up the following morning and take me to the airport. I reached for my wallet, but he smiled and motioned me away, “tomorrow!” he said.

He was early, and we got to the airport in plenty of time. He had correctly identified me as a guy who’d overpay him, left to my own devices, so he never quoted me prices except to say that almost any ride in the city was 100 Baht. At the airport, I gave him 250 Baht for the two rides, he was delighted.

Coming back to BKK I had an over-six-foot Dutchman behind me, and that was a trial. I understand that it’s tough to keep one’s knees completely off the chair in front if one is over two meters tall, but did he have to keep moving around like a fidgeting teenager? It was like a massage chair, with no “off” switch. Did he have to get up about seven times? Grabbing and twisting my seat back every time to pull himself up and let himself gently back into his chair? No, I don’t think so. If the flight had been more than an hour, we’d have had words.

Adventures in transportation.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Forbidden Blog Posts

I just spent a half hour writing a post about a forbidden subject, an area of inquiry so dangerous that it could kill you, or break your back financially and ruin your family, or at least cause you untold emotional suffering.

I was ruminating on the subject of coming down with major diseases in old age. As I neared the end of the piece, I realized that anything that I may have mentioned casually, as the sheerest idle speculation, in the writing, could be used someday as proof of a “pre-existing condition,” and used as a pretext by an insurer denying coverage. As in, “he knew he had fucking Huntington’s Chorea, and he didn’t tell us!” Maybe even, “he knew he’d be hit by a bus!” (As though I were Deepak Chopra or something.) Coverage denied!!!

I’m afraid to even leave it on my computer. Can you guarantee that the research methodology of the insurance companies does not include checking my hard drive? I didn’t think so. Those greedy, arrogant little shits at the “rescission desks” mean business. Nothing personal, guys! You know I love you. Poetic license only.

For the record, I get comprehensive checkups every year and I am not now aware that I suffer from any condition at all except the dreaded not being eighteen anymore.

(So, if they refuse coverage based on some technicality, they return all of the premiums that they accepted in the meantime, right?)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Wat Rong Khun Chiang Rai Thailand

This place is nuts. There's nothing else like it in Thailand, or the world, most likely. A Thai artist, a painter, had a dream or something in which he saw a white temple. The place looks like a giant wedding cake, except much, much more elaborately decorated.

The dream, I believe, was to become very famous, and to wildly increase the value of the artist's lavish output of paintings, etc, not to mention the sales from the gift shop of the temple, which was built almost entirely from donations.

Whatever, the place is shocking when you see it in bright sunlight, and the huge whiteness of the place makes it about the brightest place in Thailand, and that's saying something.

Some Neighborhood Temple In Chiang Rai

This is a nice Lanna style temple tucked into a neighborhood featuring lots of cheap "guest house" hotels and eateries catering to young foreigners. The Lanna kingdom occupied the "Golden Triangle" area long ago, parts of Thailand, Lao, and Burma, where they all come together. How long ago? I'm no statistician. So, no surprise, the Lanna style includes elements of more typically Thai, Lao and Burmese temples.

The walls inside are covered with painted vignettes from the life of, who is it? Rama? Buddha? If the story elements are clear, I can identify them alright, but when they get all jumbled up, as they do in this place, I get lost. The paintings are nice, though, a mid-range effort, talent wise.