Bangkok: The Rainy Season
The rainy season has brought overcast skies but little rain to Bangkok. The clouds appear to trap the pollution close to the ground. It seems like someone’s pressing piece of dirty wet gauze over my eyes and nose. Some days I find it hard to breathe. I cough more than usual and at times feel overwhelmed with exhaustion. Later this week I plan to go to Jomtien Beach (Paradise by the Sea), the next town down coast from Pattaya, (The Outskirts of Hell). I expect cleaner air there.
The monsoon rain clouds funnel up the Bay of Thailand where they then scurry along the Chao Phraya River running through Bangkok on their way up into the mountains near Chiang Mai to drop most of their moisture. They generally leave the beach areas around The Outskirts of Hell and Paradise by the Sea somewhat overcast free. Sea breezes push the air at the beaches inland leaving them relatively absent of air pollution.
My grandson one day asked her to make a scarf he could give to his mom as a present, even though he knew his mom would throw it out anyway. Once she started making them, LM refused to stop. My apartment now looks like something out of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice with wool scarves multiplying uncontrollably. I expect that one day I will come home and find that I am unable to get into my apartment because it’s filled floor to ceiling with knitted wool scarves. (“The Scarf that Swallowed Bangkok,” soon to become a major motion picture starring Johnny Depp).
I only eat sweet and sour chicken with steamed rice or pork fried rice. Not so much because I particularly like those dishes, but because whenever I look at the menu for something else I find it printed in Thai with slightly out of focus photos of the dishes, making them all look-alike.
Off to the Seashore
Early on a dark and rainy Wednesday morning I left for Jomtien Beach. I went by van. Vans take about the same time to get there as do taxis but are significantly less expensive. The van driver was interesting. Although it is common for most Thai drivers to insist on using the shoulder for passing, he treated it as the high-speed lane. As a result, we got to our destination quicker than usual, especially when for unknown reasons he skipped the usual pee-pee break at the rest-stop where the vans generally gas up.
The sun was out when we arrived and thankfully the air felt much cleaner than in Bangkok.
This trip I did not stay at the guest house of the sad-faced woman and the child with the tragic birth defects, but at a place nearby with slightly larger rooms for about the same price. The street, Soi 2, is quite narrow with 4 to 6 story balconied shop houses lining each side. One can watch the life of the neighborhood going on in the streets below and on the balconies. It reminded me a bit like living in the Bronx.
In the early morning I watched and listened to the Soi awaken. It is no Catfish Row, but I imagine someone could put it to music: The snap of the cloth as the woman in the apartment across from me hangs out her washing; The high-pitched murmurings of the yings (Thai for young woman) speaking into their mobile phones as they walk to or from work; The scrape and bang of the merchants raising the security barriers as they open their shops; The throaty rumble of the motorbikes; the chopping sound made by the woman with the sidewalk food stand as she prepares the day’s Papaya Pak Pak ( better known as Som Tam). All we now need is a happy-go-lucky crippled beggar cheerfully greeting everyone as he passes by.
Last night, for some reason unknown to me, someone in the Soi below my room set up some amplifying equipment into which two drunken yings screamed off-key songs to no one in particular until two in the morning. Now and then a western tourist would wander by and snap a photograph of the clearly deranged young women.
During the day I walked along the beach about two miles early in the morning, and again at midday and once again in the evening. For most of the rest of the day, I sat on a rental canvas beach chair under a large blue beach umbrella, watched the vendors pass by, stared at the surf and dozed.
Some tipsy young men with their Thai women friends sat on the chairs on either side of me. Two Swedes to my left and a Brit to my right. There was a lot of laughing and loud talking. The vendors seemed to congregate around them smiling and joking. I was a bit jealous. “Why” I thought, “couldn’t I be as jovial and sociable?” Eventually the Swede sitting closest to me turned to me and asked “How come these vendors always stop and gather around me yet they pass you right by?
I responded, “Because as soon as they get close enough, I close my eyes and pretend I’m asleep.” The Swede stared at me for a while in silence then exclaimed, “Wow!” A few moments later, thoroughly embarrassed, I got up and left.
Sometimes I forget why people flock to Thailand in such great numbers. After all, its beaches are ok, but there are many other places with better. It’s cities are so polluted they rival Mexico City. Its historical buildings are interesting, but far less grand than those in many countries. Most of the country sits in a sweltering swamp. Their people smile a lot but they are not smiles of kindness or concern. The traffic is as awful as anywhere in the world and corruption and cheating the tourist are endemic. It’s food is good but quality examples of it at a reasonable price can rarely be found anywhere a casual tourist could locate. So what is it that recently reminded me why I and many others come here?
In India, people twist their bodies into unnatural shapes and sit for years on dung heaps until they can ignore their discomfort, call it enlightenment and convince themselves that now they are truly happy. In China and Japan some go up mountains to where the air is thin and the ground is cold and where they sit until they can think of nothing at all and assume they have found contentment. Then they believe they are happy. In the US and many countries of the West as well as other “advanced” countries, people, day and night, engage in the single-minded pursuit of stealing wealth from others so that their stoned children can ride around a lake in a yacht and they can imagine they have accomplished something and then they can declare themselves really happy.
But, here in Thailand there is a temple called Wat PO on the grounds of the royal palace where there, and in similar temples throughout the country, Thais from all over the nation gather to learn the traditional Thai art of rubbing another persons body until that person experiences a sense of something approaching bliss.
Imagine, if you will, in Saint Peter’s Basilica somewhere huddled among Bernini’s’ columns there is a similar school where cowled nuns and tonsured monks upon completing their course of study then go out into the world to, at an affordable price, apply their hands to the bodies of others, both men and women, so that they can know the experience of true orgasms and be happy.
That is why, over the years, people came to Thailand and why even now in some of the country’s most expensive accommodations on some of the most exclusive beaches many people can still find happiness.
Back in Bangkok
I woke up today in a very good mood. LM came by to make breakfast before heading off to work at the health club. While I was sitting at the table eating and fiddling with the computer, I was alternately grumbling and cursing sotto voce at the internet connection service that at times breaks down every few seconds, especially this morning. LM after observing me for a while said, “Some people think you are not 100 percent.” (That means somewhere in between insane and mentally retarded.) “Why do you say so,” I responded? (Note: The quotes are approximations and best guesses since our language deficiencies require us to communicate in a mixture of pidgin English and pantomime.) “At the movies you cry and talk to the screen like it is real and happening to you.”
My first thought was to feel sad for those people who were unable to emotionally involve themselves in a work of art, no matter how marginal. After all, the artists and others involved probably work hard trying to make a living at attempting to entertain you. I decided however, no response was the best response, so I grunted and returned to my recalcitrant computer.
She then said, “A lot of people have told me you are gullible, believe everything that they say and give all your money away.”
Now at this point, if I had any interpersonal sensitivities at all, I should have realized something was bothering her. Instead I was furious that here I was in a good mood, a state that requires, for a short time at least, forgetting your inadequacies and failures, when now this person had to go and remind me of them. So, I slammed the computer closed, finished dressing and stormed off to the Health Club.
Along the walk, I rattled back and forth between feeling sorry for myself, shame at my utter lack of empathy with LM or anyone else for that matter and furious that, with every step I took, many of my life’s innumerable embarrassments were now flooding back into my consciousness.
At the club, after reading the mornings newspapers and barely responding to the attempts of the aging ex US merchant marine guy sitting next to me to engage me in swapping stories of drugs, booze and sex, I put on my bathing suit went to the pool. Once I got into the water, I attacked it in fury, intending to swim until struck by a heart attack so that I could feel even more sorry for myself. Alas, all I got for my efforts was tired, so I left the pool took a steam bath showered and left the club.
I walked to my new favorite massage parlor nearby, where after two hours I began feeling better; not less self-absorbed, just less upset about it. I then went to Terminal 21 and had a root beer float at Swenson’s and things began to look and feel rosy enough that even the overcast sky could not disperse it.
I came home to my apartment crawled into my bed and wrote this. It is all about me of course, it is always all about me. I should change the name of this email series from “This and that…” to “It’s all about me, of course.”
I think I need to leave Bangkok and get a life.
I have just returned from dinner and have reread what I have written above. I am not going to erase it. This is a journal after all. But, let’s just take another look at what we have here: A guy gets up in the morning after a good sleep and someone makes him breakfast which he eats while playing on his computer and ignoring the world. He then takes a leisurely walk to the Health Club where after reading the newspaper and talking to a friend, he goes for a swim and take a steam bath followed by a lengthy massage and capped off by a root beer float. Returning to his apartment he takes a nap, plays some more on his computer and goes out and has a nice dinner. All this he considers something from which he must flee to find a better life because he happens to assume that someone hinted that he was an insensitive, dull-witted loser. Well, if you ask me, there certainly seems to be enough evidence here to prove that that person may be right.
I Reconsider Again and Dream of Adventure
It has become obvious that the time has come for me to leave Bangkok and return to the US for a while. I originally thought I was going to leave on about the 14th or so of July when I planned to accompany my grandson back to the US stopping briefly in Italy and the US East Coast. On the day before we were to leave, his mother changed the plans and left with my grandson in my place. I then had thought I would fly back sometime before my grandson begins school. Now that too appears unlikely.
I have now committed, in my mind at least, to leaving sometime around the middle of August. Having apparently no time constraints any longer, I have decided to treat myself to an adventure. I looked into flying somewhere odd, like Vladivostok or Bora Bora on my way back but those type of options have become too expensive for me in my reduced financial circumstances. I then looked into traveling by cargo ship, but that also is somewhat expensive and a bit difficult to arrange as they require those over 70 to have a physical check up and a doctor willing to certify that he would not need medical attention on the high seas. So here are the three options that I came up with:
1. Travel West by plane, stopping off in India (bucket list item) for a few days and visiting the Mogul architectural masterpieces outside of Delhi. Then on to Milan for a while visiting with friends followed by a flight to the East Coast to go see my daughter in Washington before returning to California. Unfortunately, in order to make this work financially I need to take advantage of a deeply discounted flight over the Atlantic that would not be available until mid-September.
2. While researching my travel options, I became fascinated by train travel options in Asia and looked into the railway that follows the Silk Route through Asia (another bucket list item). But that entire trip is also too expensive for me at this time and I had also promised Peter Grenell many years ago that I would take that trip with him. So instead, I decided to consider flying to Saigon and taking the train from there to Hong Kong and from there flying back to SF. The train ride would take six days. I probably would stop for overnights in places like Hanoi and Nanning extending the journey by another two or three days. It has been suggested by some of those to whom I mentioned I was considering this option, that I may still be suffering from something I inhaled many years ago when trips like this were common among my hippy peers. There may be something to be said for that since I would not see it as unlikely that I could find myself dead in the Chinese countryside somewhere about 150 miles outside of Hong Kong.
3. Forget the whole adventure fantasy, act my age and get on a plane that flies directly from BKK to SFO (and remember to get out of my seat and exercise every hour or so).
Number three is the winner
I Reflect on the Meaning, if not of it All, at Least of a Little Bit.
I have just realized what may have motivated me to write the above items that obviously record my recent emotional disintegration. About a week or so ago I suddenly stopped reading any more novels, having read over 90 in the past 3 months sometimes reading for eight hours straight. I stopped because the Amazon program feeding that obsession has run out of books to promote that I am interested in reading much less buying. Reading has never been for me an information gathering or entertainment activity but rather an addiction. One, like most addictions, I use to avoid confronting reality. Of course, obsessive reading of escapist literature does not have the same physical downside as hard drugs or liquor. It’s more like taking Methadone. You get to keep your habit but you get no fun out of it (Well maybe a little fun. Perhaps it’s more like taking Oxycontin. You feel pretty good but, alas, without the orgasmic jolt). As in ending any addiction, I suffer physical and psychological difficulties, tremors, sweating, waking at night screaming, ghosts and paranoia prompting the need to escape.
(Of course everything I have written so far is post hoc rationalization made necessary by the need to make sense out of the irrationality of history so that one can avoid responding to questions about what happened with “I haven’t the slightest idea” or as Vonnegut put it, “So it goes” or more appropriately “why are you wasting my time?”)
Well, so far today it’s been a good day. No one has called me an insensitive, dull-witted loser for a few days now (well maybe they have, but we’ll get to that later). I woke up, dressed and walked to the health club. The overcast skies had departed briefly and the sun was shining. At the club, I sat in the lobby among the Old Men’s Caucus reading the newspapers and swapping stories.
After I did that for a while, I accompanied the Old Sailor to his locker where he took out a wooden box about the size of a small cigar box. He told me it contained the ashes of a close friend of his who had died a few months ago. The dead man’s sister, who lives in Ohio, sent them to the Old Sailor telling him that one of her brother’s last wishes was to send some of his ashes to the Old Sailor so that he could spread them around Bangkok’s houses of ill repute in his memory. So, the Old Sailor explained, he dutifully carried the box with him during his pleasure rounds sprinkling some of his friend’s remains around as he leaves the various establishments.
Now although at first this may seem to be simply a quirky amusing story, alas, it has a less appealing context. It demonstrates for the billion-billionth time that the average human male equates his life with his genitals.
I suspect women tend to think there is more to their life than the happiness of their vaginas. I could never imagine a sane woman sending her ashes to her best friend and instructing her to sprinkle them over the floor of the singles bar whenever she leaves with some guy. Maybe pouring it into an ex-husbands coffee, perhaps.
After that, I left to do some banking and get my ticket to return to the US.
After obtaining the ticket, I returned to the health club, swam, enjoyed a steam bath, showered and left for my weekly massage. Following that I walked back to my apartment, took a brief nap and wrote this. All and all it has been a good day so far.
Of course, I am of the temperament that believes that in life all good must be balanced by an equal or greater amount of bad. Although I try always to remain conscious of my motto, Dum Spiro, Spero (Where there’s Life there’s Hope), unfortunately, far too often I believe in its darker alternative: Dum Spiro, non Spero (Where there’s Life, there is no Hope). Nevertheless, whenever I feel entrapped in one of my periodic episodes of existential dread, I try to focus on the advice of three of my favorite American philosophers whose wisdom seems to me to fit most circumstances I face in my life:
Rosanna Rosannadanna: “It’s always something.”
Scarlett O’Hara: “Tomorrow is another day.”
Woody Allen: “Don’t knock masturbation. It’s sex with someone you love.”
For those reading this you probably think I’m kidding. Well, let’s see about that.
Assume you have just experienced a serious tragedy. The first thing you may want to tell your self is, “It’s always something.” If that does not work for you, then try, “Tomorrow is another day.” That still doesn’t do it, then it may be time for you to try sex with someone you love (or at least never tells you they don’t feel like it right now).
Khao San Road
Well, another pretty good day in the bank. It started at the Old Man’s Caucus at the health club. The Old Sailor and I decided to go to Khao San Road so that I can pick up a driver’s license. Despite its notoriety I had never been to Khao San Road before. It has been described as, “The Place to Disappear.” For years it was the backpackers center of Thailand where one could buy almost anything, especially drugs and STD. To me it looked more like the Venice California boardwalk than Bangkok, only the sellers in the stalls lining both sides of the street were not western tourists.
After securing the license, we stopped for lunch at McDonald’s where we were joined by Joe a man who looked like the cadaverous twin of Al Gore. Both the Old Sailor and Joe hinted that they were suffering some truly life threatening maladies. Oozing sores Pock-marked Joe’s skin. It disappointed me to learn that although I thought they both were substantially older than I, they were actually two years younger.
I spent the afternoon sitting in that McDonald’s on Khao San Road listening to their stories of trips around the world with stolen credit cards, dope deals gone bad, scams that worked and those that didn’t and the mysterious disappearance of four kilos of gold. After that, we went to the travel agency and internet café around the corner where we played on Skype for a while talking to some guy in the Philippines to arrange for Joe’s accommodation’s there when he visits in two weeks. I decided to check with the agent to see if they would have been able to get me a better price for my air travel to the US than I was able to get after about a week of trying. I was quite upset they found a ticket for one-third less than I had paid. We then said goodbye to Joe and left Khao San Road. After a two-hour bus ride through downtown BKK, I returned to my apartment.
Another Day, Another Conspiracy
Today was somewhat interesting. It rained and swimming was not an option. So after attending the Old Men’s Caucus at the health club, I only took a steam bath and shower. As I prepared to leave, I was enticed into a discussion with a likable, intelligent, paranoid conspiracy theorist. His name is Christopher. He was born in Australia of a Jewish father and Australian mother. His father’s family is originally from Transylvania but spent a few generations in Vienna before emigrating to Australia.
He identifies himself proudly as an anarchist and firmly believes in just about every conspiracy I have heard about and a few that I did not: The Twin Towers Conspiracy, Bilderberg Group, Trilateral Commission and so on and on. One of them I did not know about goes something like this:
Since the signing of Magna Carta, we unknowingly have been subject to Admiralty Law and not Common Law; which means that we are not individuals but chattel in the eyes of the law. Among the proofs of this amazing assertion was his claim that all birth certificates since then have been written on special paper usually used to write Bills of Lading for transporting goods by ship. Since Bills of Lading are often negotiable documents and can be used as security for debts, our birth certificates over the years have become owned by banks because they were used as collateral by nation states to secure their loans for various wars and the like. He says if you look at a real birth certificate instead of the copy you usually receive (the real ones are kept in the vaults of the major international banks) you will discover on the back stamps from the banks and financial institutions you have been pledged to.
This was probably the least shocking conspiracy he revealed in the several hour conversation I had with him. At one point, he mentioned that if your name is written in all capital letters on a document, that means you are a corporation and not an individual. At least that is what I thought he said.
It was, for me, a few hours fascinating voyage into the arcane world of the truly sublimely insane. Much better than the books I have been reading recently.
He claims he made enough money converting his training as a biochemist and phlebotomist into a series of blood testing centers around Australia and England to retire to Thailand. I thought this was an interesting choice of occupation for someone whose family is originally from Transylvania. Anyway, he invited me to join him for dinner one evening before I return to the US.
An Interesting Email
A few days ago I received an interesting email. It seems that about four years ago as I was closing down my law practice before escaping to Thailand, someone, I no longer remember, asked me to begin some litigation on his behalf for free. I pointed out to him that I did not do litigation and although during the prior few years of practice most of my clients failed to pay their bills, I was not interested in beginning another pro bono representation. The prospective client then explained that the statute of limitations to bring the action would run out in a few days and begged me, as a favor, to file the action so that he could have the time to find an attorney willing to represent him for free. Alas, always a sucker for a sad story, I agreed and filed the case. As could be expected, my friend did not secure alternative representation by the time a mandatory settlement conference was set up. I missed conference and was fined by the court. Ultimately the case was resolved with no further problems and I left the US. Unfortunately I forgot to pay the fine. Now over four years later I learn from my friends through the email that I have been prohibited by the Bar Association from further practice of law in California because I had failed to pay the fine.
Around the same time as my departure from the US, I also tried to retire from the Bar. I was told that to do so I would have to pay all unpaid back dues, a fee for retirement and annual dues to remain on inactive status. This conversation occurred during that time when the Bar Association had been unfunded by the California (In effect disbarred by California) and was somewhat desperate for money. After a few arguments over the telephone with representatives of the Bar about my inability to pay the back fees all at once and the unreasonableness of having to pay a fee and dues, no matter how small, to retire and receiving no satisfaction, I explained to them what I thought they could do with their demands. Eventually I began to receive notices by mail from the Bar Association which I assumed were continuing demands for payment of the dues. I treated them just the same as I treated notices from credit card companies demanding payment and threatening to ruin my already ruined credit rating; I threw them all unopened into the trash until, after about a year when my forwarding address ceased to be operative, they ceased. I assume some of these notices contained demands for the payment of fine as well.
At least I was not accused of moral turpitude. Although I certainly have in my life often turpituded my morals, my failing, it seems, was not the terps and tudes that usually gets the Bar Association’s knickers in a twist.
Now to save what remains of my reputation and avoid the malicious whisperings of those who should know better, I am faced with the option of possibility paying many thousands of dollars so that I can be reinstated and continue to pay the Bar Association to remain on inactive status. I find my chances of choosing this route highly unlikely.
On the other hand, one of my favorite mystery writers, Christopher Moore’s, main character in many of his novels is named Vinnie Calvino, a half Italian, half Jewish lawyer from NY who was disbarred who now lives in Bangkok and eaks out a living as a PI. I find, on the whole, the Calvino approach to dealing with recalcitrant bar associations rather romantic.
A Tussle Without a Hustle
One morning a few days ago on my way to breakfast I had just passed Nana Plaza which bills itself as The Worlds Largest Adult Playground when I stopped to buy a newspaper from the old Thai woman at the newsstand right by the entrance.
Morning at Nana Plaza.
Suddenly I noticed a commotion a few feet away. On the sidewalk, two ladies of the very late evening or the very early morning were fighting with each other. A crowd of Thais had quickly gathered around watching. Some were taking pictures with their smart phones. At first I thought the combatants had torn each others clothing off. But on closer look I realized that the shrink wrapped uniform usually worn by the sidewalk purveyors of passion for a price had rolled up like an old window shade into a small band of fabric around their midsections. They looked a lot like Sumo wrestlers with their tiny belts separating vast rolls of ponderous swinging flesh.
No one moved to intervene, including me because, in my case, I have learned from hard experience not to intervene in disputes like this unless one party is helpless and at risk or blood is being spilled. In this case each combatant had the other’s hair wrapped in a death-grip and with their free hand landing looping ineffective blows to each other’s back while at the same time trying to kick each other’s shins with their bare feet. Their greatest physical danger would occur if they lost their balance, fell and cracked their heads on the cement.
Eventually, some of the orange shirted motorcycle messengers came over and separated them. Strangely, after separating the fighters the bike messengers would immediately leave them alone again. This allowed the combatants to quickly resume battling each other. It occurred at least four times until suddenly the fight just ended with each gladiator strutting around while trying to unravel their dresses to cover up their exposed stocks in trade. Although a police substation stood on the corner about twenty feet away, no police showed up.
The entertainment over the crowd dispersed and I continued on across Sukhumvit through Little Arabia and into FoodLand where I ate my breakfast and read the newspaper.
Adventures with the Good/Bad David and Theo
The good/bad David is back in town. We had lunch a his favorite restaurant on the 5th floor of Terminal 21. We were joined by a friend of David’s, a man named Theo. I liked him immediately for having a name like Theo. He is British and spends about half the year in Thailand. He works as an assistant director on large commercials and some movies. As such, he spent much of his career in Los Angeles where he lived not too far from Ruth. I learned from him that assistant directors are a trade somewhat separate from directors. He spent much of the lunch explaining how it used to be a normal career progression to go from assistant director to director under the old studio system. But with the coming of the financial industry to the making of motion pictures, directors began to be chosen for their bankability and not for their expertise or creativity. Bankers poison everything. Once again people controlling the money believed they know everything but usually behave like neophyte gamblers.
Theo like millions of others has written a movie script or two that he carries around hoping to find someone to produce it. His most interesting script is about LA in 1948 when the City’s great jazz scene blossomed with the black jazz musicians moving in after the war. A the main character (true story) wins a major motorcycle race and saves the company that produces the vehicles. Between races, he spends time in the Jazz clubs where he falls in love and eventually meets Claude Rains dressed as a French policeman. He then abandons the woman he loves at the coffee shop in Santa Barbara Airport. He and Claude walk off together into the Sonoran Desert and were never seen again.
I Return to the Seashore One Last Time
I set off to Paradise by the Sea for a couple of days before returning to the US. The Good and sometime Bad David and I took off for the beach early one morning. Two women friends of David’s drove us there. They were very much in love with each other. After arriving we checked into the hotel and set off to our respective rooms for naps. That evening the women departed for The Walking Street to troll the lesbian bars. David and I walked to one of my favorite restaurants in Thailand, Cafe Des Amis. Not only is the French food excellent but it is an oasis of western civility. The place is owned by a westerner with the unusual name Blue. His wife is Thai. Her name strangely enough does not rhyme with his. They have an 18 month old son who spends his evenings at the restaurant (easy enough to do since they live in a house at the back of the property). We had dinner with Theo, my British assistant movie director friend and a woman who lives with a mysterious but wealthy English gold and jewel dealer.
David, LM on the right and the mysterious gold dealers woman friend standing in the street outside of Cafe Des Amis.
Theo and I spent most of the evening happily discussing the golden age of film directing. We commiserated together over the passing of that art form. We also spent some time reminiscing about the a-cappella do-whop singing groups (e.g. Dion and the Belmonts and others) of the 50’s through the early 70’s.
The next morning I woke up somewhat hung over so I stayed in bed until noon when I went for a brief beach walk and then joined the two even more hung over young women for our drive back to BKK. David stayed in Pattaya.
LM’s recent efforts to create clothing accessories of no use in Thailand that I will carry in my luggage for disposal in the US. I probably will give them away as an unwanted gift.