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Archive for February, 2012

Pun Day

During my travels, like many who go on vacation, I like to send to close and not too close friends emails (today’s postcards) regaling them of my good fortune in travelling the world and their ill-luck at being forced, for whatever reason, to remain at home. Not too long ago I settled for a while in Jomtien Beach, Thailand and began to send out an incessant stream or emails regarding my new life. During a particularly frustrating period of trying to adjust to life there, I received a few emails from some of my correspondents commenting that my recent emails dwelled too much on the difficulties of my ex-pat life and were becoming a bit of a downer.

Although I thought I was just providing a humorous take on the foibles of my current situation, I took the criticism seriously and I realize that perhaps I may have fallen into a rut. So one morning when I awoke I decided to do something different and declared that day May 8, Punday.

I got the idea for this, as I usually get most of my ideas, from one of my favorite authors William Kotzwinkle. As with Henry David Thoreau he is a favorite of mine not necessarily because of his literary output (Although he did write the screenplay for “ET the Extraterrestrial” and the stories for the “Walter the Farting Dog” series) but for the audacity of attempting a literary career with a name like Kotzwinkle.

Anyway, in his novel “The Fan Man,” about an archetypical New Yorker who, during the hot sticky days of the New York City summer, travelled about the City holding in front of him one of those little battery operated fans to cool himself off (Hence “The Fan Man” in case you have not already guessed). In one of the chapters of the book our Fan Man wakes up and declares that day to be Dorkey Day in which he would only speak the word Dorkey throughout the day [By the way for those with interest is such things Dork is a common and respected name for boys in Armenia]. The remainder of the chapter, for about 10 to 12 pages, consists exclusively of the word Dorkey repeated endlessly (Dorkey,Dorkey, Dorkey… for those who may need help visualizing) broken only by the variously perplexed or angry responses of the other citizens of the City whose paths may have crossed that of our hero on that day.

Shakespeare must have eaten his heart out. Can you imagine what the world of the theater would have been if Hamlet had instead of “The play’s the thing, in which we’ll catch the conscience of the King,” our prince of Denmark announced, “Today is Dorkey Day.”

Anyway, Punday comes also from one of my other literary mentors, cuzin Irwin (to whom I beg forgiveness) who sent me the following:

its Snow White’s birthday.
The dwarves buy her a camera as a present.
She is ecstatic and takes pictures of every thing she sees.

She takes the film in to be developed.
She goes back the next day to pick the pictures up.
The man behind the counter shakes his head as if to say, “No”.

Snow White cries.
the man behind the counter says
“Don’t worry Snow White, someday your prints will come.”

And for all you Snow Whites out there, may you prints come soon, but please always use protection or you may end up with a Kotzwinkle.

Have Pun.

Ciao…

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We spent the night at Gun Girl‘s house in Chyaphum a town in Issan. It is located near another national park that lies astride the divide between Lanna and Issan that I had visited once before. The divide like the Sierra Nevada’s rises gently on one side and falls off steeply on the side facing Lanna. On the Issan facing slopes grow a remarkable purple flower that looks like lupine with somewhat larger and waxier petals. What is unusual about them is that when in bloom they grow in great profusion over the meadows and hills of the park, each on its individual stalk without leaves, containing a single group of flowers per plant and these stalks grow separately about 18 inches from one another as though some god came down and planted them for his own amusement because like most gods he was insane.

Anyway Gun Girl‘s house was, along with her automobile in which we had been riding, the spoils of her recent divorce.

The next morning no one felt like moving too much so we spent the day straightening up the house, cleaning the car, walking around the neighborhood and visiting GG‘s relatives. I spent most of my time traveling from my bedroom to the bathroom and then to the porch where putting up my feet on the railing, I sat and read old magazines from Australia that I assumes belonged to the now unlamented husband.

The following day we left for Korat. Korat is a relatively large city that functions as the gateway to Issan. When I was here last, almost 10 years ago, it was a center of the pottery and ceramics industry much like Gubbio and the surrounding hill towns in Italy are the centers of the Faience (Majolica) industry. In addition to the pottery and the like the artisans of Korat specialize in large bas reliefs, some twenty or thirty feet wide. There is one of an elephant on the exterior wall of the house in Chiang Mai.

All cultures everywhere have similar centers of artisans. After a society disappears, when archeologists dig around in its detritus, it is often the product of these industries that are dug up and declared great art. During the Renaissance, when many of the grey marble statues of classical civilization came to light, they became the models for the great art that began to be produced at the time. Unbeknownst or ignored by the aesthetes then and now, these classical artworks were more often than not, the by-products of the same sort of workshops that one found in Korat and not only that but they originally were all brightly painted in colors that today we would find amusing on a circus clown. Nevertheless, the paint having worn off during the centuries leaving only the bare stone and metal prompted artists down almost to today to sculpt their images in unpainted stone (except for the Della Robbia family who sculpted in clay and fired it with colored glaze).

Anyway, we went to the house of GG‘s sister. The house was quite large and originally belonged to the sister’s departed (dead) husband who was a high government official of some sort. The sister had used the money she had stolen from us and from our employees that she supervised to remodel the first floor into the restaurant, According to her, her customers made up the nouveau riche of the area (She serves wine and steak as well as Thai food).

After graciously showing me around and offering me a job (that I ignored) we all left and drove almost non stop back to Paradise by the Sea where I was left off. I ran up to my apartment, took a shower and went right to bed, “…to sleep perchance to dream….” And dream I did, of my masseuse who was due to arrive tomorrow for my two-day massage. “Ay there’s the rub.

Finis…

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banmai-resort-and-restaurant-pak-chong-thailand-011317-dc-photographer

After departing Ayutthaya we trundled across the remainder of the Central Lowlands and entered a small town called Pak Chong. Here we planned to stop at a restaurant that Gun Girl said Is one or her favorites in all of Thailand.

We got off  the main road and passed through several interconnected alleyways and arrived at a place called “Banmai Resort”. There had been no signs advertising the place that I saw anywhere during our drive through the town . Nevertheless, when we did arrive at the resort there were several large ones announcing that you indeed had arrived. It was difficult to assess from the outside what we arrived at since the entrance just beyond a wide spot in the alley, gave no indication of what existed inside and the signs were no help either, being written in Thai.

We entered into a large wide hall. On each side of the hall stood many glass fronted exhibition cases containing collections of dolls of all sorts and a huge variety of antique packaging of everything from laundry detergent to canned soup and a lot of other things besides.

The hall eventually ended in something like a small covered plaza that marked the connection between what seemed like several large old wooden buildings, giving the place a look and feel of a large open barn. In these buildings, each going off in a different direction, there appeared to be several places to eat, some quite large and some quite small and one containing only a single table. Some had separate kitchens and some not. On my right, a raised room appeared containing a large sofa on which sat life-sized models of the Blues Brothers.” Another restaurant extending off to the right seemed to be closed but the staff looked like they were preparing for a later opening.

In front of me, full-sized figures of Colonel Sanders and Marilyn Monroe stood on each side of the entrance to a large room stuffed full of curios like in an old antique shop.

What I saw all around me, crammed into every space appeared to me to be one of the largest collection of curios and Bric-a-brac I had ever seen.  I felt as though I stumbled on the place that collections of, nick-knacks, tchotchke (Yiddish), Gotsadella (Southern Italian mispronunciation of the Italian word for “dust catcher”) kitsch,  and junk of all sort, go to die.

As many of you know, all my life I  collected strange and useless things (all gone now, lost or given away) and pursued the purchase of such curios assiduously. I always searched out  folk art museums and museums of strange obsessions wherever I traveled. But, I had rarely seen anything quite like the vastness and range of examples of useless human endeavor that I saw all around me today.

There were the obligatory collection of Betty Boop dolls, glassware of all sorts including commemorative drinking glasses, things made out of wood out of plastic, out of metal and just about every the substance imaginable, toys, metal trucks, trains and airplanes, photographs, old soda bottles in old bottle crates, perfume containers, a complete collection of Japanese nymphet figurines, movie posters, post cards, old condom packaging and on and on.  Even a few antique foosball games and pinball machines appeared here and there among the clutter.

We all sat down at one of the larger eating places overlooking the swollen and flooded river flowing past the buildings. I wolfed down my meal and spent the rest of the time walking around in wonder, examining the displays while my companions ate at a more leisurely pace and rested a bit to recover from the day’s travel.

I tried to identify if there were collections of memorabilia they may have missed. At first, I thought they had failed to include a supply of those devotional lucky penises that the Thais like so much, but found a number of them tucked away in a display case in one of the back rooms. They had literally hundreds of commemorative plates. But, I could not find one of Jack Kennedy.

In 1968, while I was living in Italy, there was at the time a small industry in commemorative plates and figurines containing the images of both Kennedy and Pope John XIII together. I collected almost all of them – but, alas even that  is now long gone. Anyway, I could not find any examples in this hoard.

I tried to see if there were things I had acquired that they did not. I could not find a collection of walking sticks, but I was sure they had them somewhere.

Anyway, eventually, Gun Girl decided the time had come to leave and I reluctantly followed her and her companions back into the automobile.  We drove off into the darkness and the rain to find the place where we intended to spend the night.

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The next morning I left my room and went down to the lobby to have coffee and to wait for the others.  I assumed I would be waiting for a while since they had gone night-clubbing last night and did not return until about four in the morning.

It had rained all night and the busy street in front of the motel was flooded with water deep enough to entirely cover the tires of an ordinary car.

As I drank my coffee, I watched as the different vehicles drove or at times were pushed through the water. The motor bikes were especially interesting. Some of the riders would ride or walk their bikes through the water drenching their trousers or dresses. Others however would motor through the water happily perched on their seat, the soles of their feet gaily resting on the handlebars. Every now and then a motor bike would be swamped by the wake thrown off by one or another of the large buses rushing to wherever, as though there were no flood.

Eventually my companions awakened, we bid good-by to Lek and started off bleary eyed to cross the central lowlands once again.

We reached Ayutthaya a little after midday and drove into the city. 

Ayutthaya was the capitol of Thailand or Siam as it was then called from the Fourteenth to the Eighteenth centuries when it was overthrown and destroyed by the invading Burmese. It was more or less governed as an absolute monarchy where much of the population lived in a form of  serfhood or slavery. The kings in addition to their political status were also the religious leaders of the country, a lot like the Renaissance Popes in the Papal States. A number of the kings saw their monkish life to be at least as, if not more important than the affairs of state. Coupled with the fact that they lacked clear rules for succession when the old king died, the kingdom was often in a state of turmoil as one general or another or one royal prince or another rebelled and as often as not usurped the throne.

Nevertheless, the kingdom lasted for over 400 years as the dominant force in all or South East Asia (more than twice as long as the United States) until it was overthrown. During its heyday, it controlled in one way or another, in addition to the territory of modern Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore and much of Burma. 

At one time during the Seventeenth Century the city of Ayutthaya was reputed to be the largest city in the world with about one million inhabitants. Now all that is left are the red brick ruins of the royal precincts  standing like Ozymandias as a reminder of the ephemeral nature of fame and power.

We drove around for a while looking for something, up and down the same back roads, past the same corners, calls were made, maps consulted, pedestrians interrogated. When I inquired as to what was going on, I was told that a friend of ours, Jo-Jo, who used to work at AVA now lived in this city with her husband and child. 

Eventually it seemed we found what we were looking for in the center of the ruins of the old Siamese capital. We pulled to the curb and waited, then drove off and returned to the same spot by a different route. We waited again for about a minute than drove off again, taking a third route and returning again to the same spot for the same minute or so and then drove off again, this time not returning but proceeding back onto the highway and continuing our transect of the lowlands. 

I did not ask what all the driving and stopping was about, deciding that sometimes it is more interesting not knowing something than knowing it.

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The kitchen of in my current apartment is infested by rats that, at night after the lights are out, gaily scamper about the room. Recently the maid put out an anti-rodent device that consists basically of a plastic sheet covered with a glue type substance that traps the rat unlucky enough to step on it and results in what appears to be a cruel and painful death.

My feelings about the Rodentia situation in my apartment are somewhat ambiguous. I feel neither fear, sympathy or disgust for the circumstances of either the infestation or the rodenticide. It is more like the feeling one has when one seeks to avoid meeting with someone one prefers not to meet, on the one hand one feels a little bit cowardly skulking away while on the other-hand one also is generally aware that forcing a meeting through some misplaced moral sense is probably as stupid a thing to do as can be imagined.

This ambivalence about rats I find strange given my history with the species. Growing up in New York I generally fell asleep with the sounds of rats scurrying through the walls. As a child, I was never able to settle on whether these sounds in the walls by my bed frightened me or comforted me.

When I was about six years old my family was homeless for a while. Ultimately we found an empty store that we moved into and soaped up the glass front for privacy. There was neither heat nor hot water and at night the large Norwegian roof rats would enter the room through the spaces between walls and ceilings of the store and the various pipes and plumbing servicing the residential apartments above and the grocery store next door.

Every night my mother would remain awake armed with a knife to chase away the rats while my brother and I slept. One evening while so armed and on guard she fell asleep sitting beside the kitchen table. She was suddenly jolted awaken by the sound of the rats scrabbling to get into a cake box on the table. The rats startled by her movement, leaped onto her face and head as it was the highest point in the room between the floor and the exposed pipes available to them to make their escape. She fell to the floor in an epileptic seizure, beginning a 10 year period of seizures and hospitalizations.

After her being taken away in an ambulance that night, I spent the next four years living with various relatives and strangers who took me in, but mostly with my grandparents. I never knew where my brother lived during this time.

After a few years and hospitalizations we began living together again but her periodic fits continued until I was about 17 years old and in a surprise to everyone mom became pregnant again with my sister and the seizures stopped. She considered both the pregnancy and the curing of the epilepsy a miracle. I was not so sure.

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There comes a time in every journey where novelty begins to pale and events become merely circumstances to endure on the way home. Awakening this morning after a night of almost no sleep became that point for me.

One of my favorite travel books is entitled A “Short Walk Through the Hindu Kush.” It was written by Eric Newby who in 1956, at the age of 36, ended his London career in fashion and decided impulsively to travel to a remote corner of Afghanistan where no European had ventured for 50 years. Although ill-prepared and poorly experienced, Newby and his friend Hugh vowed to climb Mir Samir, an unclimbed 20,000 foot glacial peak in the Hindu Kush. He and his friend prepared for the venture by spending a weekend with their girlfriends hiking in Wales. Then, after driving a Volkswagen van from London to Kabul where they picked up their cook, they began their trek. Long before they had reached Mt. Samir (which they ultimately never climbed) they had arrived at the same juncture that I had this morning.

For today’s trip I was asked to ride in the new truck of the friend in whose house I had spent the sleepless night. She drove and Lek and I accompanied her.

Lek told me about her concerns for her friend’s happiness and marriage. It seems the friend had married a man who worked for the Thai version of the forest service. According to Lek, he treated his wife badly, telling her he was going to work but later appearing in the city with a woman he claimed was his daughter. Lek also was unhappy that he had persuaded his wife to spend their money on this new truck when they already had a perfectly serviceable older vehicle. In addition the man apparently had alienated the wife’s children from a prior marriage.

Having met the gentleman, I concluded that Lek’s concerns were probably accurate.

We spent most of the day traveling to the other end of the lake (or to a new lake, I did not know which) I dozed on and off throughout the drive. I was so exhausted I was dizzy.

We arrived at a place that I was told contained the longest wooden bridge in Thailand. It was built from scrap lumber and crossed the lake to connect two villages that had been forced to relocate on higher ground when their original villages were inundated by the rising water caused by the construction of a dam forming the lake. One village was Karen and one was Mon. I did not know which was which.

Anyway, the building of the bridge by the townspeople, with little assistance from anyone, was considered so remarkable that it was almost miraculous, prompting the local temple to conduct extensive and colorful ceremonies every year commemorating the completion of construction and as a side benefit bringing substantial tourist dollars to the temple and community.

We crossed the extremely rickety bridge, that was undergoing repair and reconstruction for the first time since it was built and walked down to the lake shore where a small village of houseboats awaited.

We got into a rooster-tail boat to cross the lake to view the partially submerged ruins of the local temple. The water level in the lake had dropped about 20 feet in the last few years for some reason, so the temple now stood on its own little Island. The trip came complete with the obligatory mysterious and miraculous legend.

It seems the head monk who built the temple 20 years or so ago also planted a grove of palm trees that he tended assiduously throughout his life. On the day of his death, mysteriously and miraculously all the palm trees died. You can still the tips of their blackened trunks rising above the waters of the lake.

We returned to the shore. Ate lunch in a local restaurant, recrossed the bridge and headed back. We ate dinner at the same roadside place as last night. I was too exhausted to know what I was eating. Then off to drive back to Kanchanburi through a driving rainstorm to a motel where I went directly to my room and immediately dropped off to sleep without stopping to remove my clothing.

 

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I am called Glabix XI or Eleven for short. Being a soldier is not too bad a life. Once the Old Horror, The Queen, may she long live and reign in peace and prosperity, choses her consorts (one of whom was my father) the rest of us were free to go about our business without all that hustling about, preening and fighting for poon-tang so to speak. It takes a lot of pressure off guys. The ladies still have to hang around the nursery and the old Queen waiting for her to sicken so that they can beat each other up too see which one gets laid and takes over running things. Not us guys though, we just keep doing what were doing until one of the ladies wins the fight and in her sex-crazed madness jumps our bones. Then, for the lucky two or three guys it’s an even softer job than being a cop like me. In return for giving it up, so to speak, to the Queen whenever she is in the mood, the consort gets to boss everyone else around just like the Queen.
Most of my days are spent wandering the tunnels searching for things that do not smell right, usually that means there is an intruder to deal with. It is pretty easy stuff really, except when the Old Horror, The Queen, my beloved mother, may her reign be long and glorious, is up and about pushing everyone around for whatever it is that itches her tooth at that moment. If truth be known most of us soldiers are a big and lazy lot, but when the time comes we do our job. Our job…? Well primarily, it is to push out from the tunnels those things that do not smell right. Sometimes when it is something too big and too dangerous to push out, it is the job of one of us soldiers to, well, give ourselves up to be eaten so that the intruder busies itself dining long enough for the rest of us to wall off the tunnel the intruder used to get in. I know it is a thankless job, but someone has to do it.

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