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I have not written to you all in a while because of the bane and obsession of the ex-pat community everywhere, visas. I entered Thailand on a 30-day tourist visa intending to convert it to a retirement visa (one year renewable) during those thirty days, the most common method of obtaining the RV. Unfortunately, I did not know that the change of visas requires 21 days. I applied with only 19 days left on my original tourist visa and therefore they could not process it in Chiang Mai. Last weekend, I flew to Bangkok because I was told that the 21-day rule did not apply there. All I got for my efforts was annoyed.

So now, I have to leave the country briefly to renew my 30-day visa. Normally that would not be much of an issue. For years ex-pats on a tourist visa would take the bus to one of the borders, cross it and immediately return with an additional 30-day visa.

Unfortunately for me, a few years ago in the fervor of anti-immigration patriotism that rivaled the frenzy of the GOP on the subject, the Thais changed their immigration laws so that a land border crossing gets you only 15 more days while flying in and out remains as it was. I will leave it to you to contemplate the rational, effectiveness and consequences of the change.

Anyway, I am now making plans to fly to Kuala Lumpur Malaysia for a few days to renew the visa. Stay tuned.

I missed my jungle trip as a result of this travail. Hayden went with some friends anyway. Today’s photo shows him with a tiger cub.

Joe…

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FROM MY JOURNAL:

January 29 2010.

11am
I am on the Air Nok 10:45 flight to Don Muang airport BKK. I am going to see if Tai can arrange for my visa. I called this morning. She still has not gotten the information regarding the visa from her brother. This is the third day that it was supposed to be coming. That and the lack of response to my call to her this morning leads me to suspect that something else is going on. Maybe Natalie is right she is married to a policeman. After all, I have not been allowed to visit her apartment and she did not show up to the hotel as she promised the last time I was in BKK claiming the baby was sick and her phone was not working.

Last night I sat on the patio musing about how big a fool I have been with Natalie (and most women), believing what they say with my arrogant insecurities. I am doing the same with Tai as I did with her. Fuck, I am still an adolescent.

Spoke with Natalie. She accused me of going to BKK only to see the “bitch”. She prohibited me from visiting AVA because she did not want any “trouble” from her. I assured her I was coming to BKK only to resolve my visa problems and that if I cannot then I will have to go to Kuala Lumpur to renew my 30-day tourist visa. Am I any better than them? No, just not as good at it.

Cordt and Nikki are supposed to take Hayden to the Tiger Park and the other animal attractions outside of Chiang Mai. Cordt is to pick up Nikki at our house at 11 AM. As of 10:50 Nikki was still in the supermarket. Will Cordt wait for his return? Stay tuned.

Spoke with Anthony this morning. He told me Hiromi sold the dining room set to a used furniture dealer for only $300. Ann has the paintings and they will continue to try to sell them. They have almost paid for the car registration and insurance.

10:23 PM
I checked into the Swan Hotel near the river and across the street from the Haroon Mosque, near the Assumption School and church and the Oriental Hotel. The manager’s body oder made me gag. I could not help but think that at times I must smell like that. It embarrassed me.

Waited over an hour for Tai. Went to MacDonald’s in Robinson’s. Ordered a Big Mac meal. Tai said she was not hungry. She had put on about 20 pounds as a result of the pregnancy. On her, it looked good. The conversation at lunch was strained and mostly concerned Natalie.

I returned to my hotel and she went to check on the baby. I was becoming furious because she had not responded to me with any affection. What did I expect? I had gone to Chiang Mai for Hayden and had put her and her child off.

I took a shower and then spent about a half an hour trying to kill a mosquito buzzing around the room with no success. Slept for about an hour and a half, through many bites from the damned insect. Woke up and saw him lying on the bed enormously engorged with my blood and unable to take flight. I swatted him and my blood splattered on the sheet.

Waited for Tai then went to the lobby and called her on my cell phone. She said her uncle would not return until Monday and I would not learn about my chance of obtaining the Marriage Visa. I was greatly annoyed by this since she had almost a week to find out and I had traveled all the way to BKK to hopefully process it.

She came to the hotel and we left for dinner. She was wearing the same things she had worn earlier, jeans and a T-shirt with writing on it most of which I could not make out because it was printed in faded light blue.

While waiting for a taxi a European woman was almost struck by a taxi as she ran across the street.

We went to the Good View Restaurant on the river and sat at an outside table located at the corner of the balcony in such a way that it felt as though we were sitting on the prow of a large ship.

We ordered. Mine was prawns stir-fried in egg. I did not like the texture of the eggs and their color which was orange. I drank watermelon juice and switched to coke. Again we spoke mostly of Natalie and the conversation got so stilted that we stopped talking and stared over each other’s shoulder. I began to feel that the relationship was over.

In the cab, as we rode back to the hotel, I resolved to tell her that the relationship was over and blame my self for it. I realized that I was feeling sorry for myself and only trying to generate an emotional commitment from her as would any other adolescent.

When we got to the hotel I did not speak. She led me back to my room. After some desultory conversation, she lay on the bed and said that she had to go pick up the baby since she had left him with a friend. I was furious believing that she had a lover back at her apartment. I tried to say what I had thought of in the car. I did not get far.  We embraced. She felt good. The extra weight made her both soft and firm. My dick hardened. I began to undress her. She said that the doctor told her she could not have sex until he examined her incision. Suspicion again. She told me to shower and said she will go and pick up the baby and return tomorrow. She promised to spend the night with me then since her auntie would return and be available to take care of the infant. I showed her my boner sticking up in my pants. She grabbed hold of it. It felt electric. We kissed and hugged some more and she got up from the bed and came around to my side and told me to undress for the shower so that she can leave. I did and my boner was as hard as it ever gets now. She asked for 1000 baht to pay the sitter. I gave her two. She stood there and leaned down and kissed me. Then she played with my cock. I wanted to cum. This went on until she pulled away saying if she stayed any longer she would not be able to leave. I got up and held her thinking if I go to Ke Sahn for a massage tomorrow would I still be able to get it up after the orgasm the Kesorn would elicit from me. She left and I took my shower and am now writing this.

3:00 AM
Cannot sleep, mosquitos. Lowered Temp. to 18C on theory mosquitoes do not like cold. Am lying in bed typing this waiting for the room to chill eating a KitKat and drinking water

January 30, 2010

12:30 PM (Saturday)
Woke up showered, dressed and called Tai. Spoke for moments and phone went out called back many times.No answers. Suspected she was with a boyfriend.

Called Anthony, Hiromi gave most of my things away to charity.

Called Nikki,. No answer.

Went to Starbucks. Ordered caffe latte and croissant. Tried to connect with internet. Could not because it required joining their system and then resisted all my attempts to do so.

Walked to Skytrain. Took it to NANA. Went back way to Ambassador and up to health club. Asked for Kesorn. Told she would not be in until 1PM. Left walked to Asia Books on Sukhumvit near Asoke. Saw new Hewson. Looked for a bird identification handbook. Could not find one. Decided not to buy. Left.

Natalie called. Did not answer.

Tai called. Answered. She explained phone was out of order. Agreed to meet up later.

Called Nikki. He found a barber and other shops across from the school. He also found out from maid info on electric bills and HOA fees. Said I could not access the internet for research on Laos and Cambodia visa requirements. He said he would do so. Asked me to say hello to Ke Sahn for him. Agreed to pick me up at the airport tomorrow morning. Returned to Ambassador. Drank a Pepsi float. Wrote this and went upstairs to the health club.

4pm.
Waited for Kesorn. She acted very excited to see me. She was still in her street clothes. She grabbed me by the hand and dragged me to the massage room. Hugged and kissed me. She started the shower for me and helped me into the tub and left. I showered, dried off and laid down in the massage table to wait for her to return. She came back with her massage oils and uniform. She stripped off her clothes and got into the tub to shower. Finished. Stepped out. Put on only her bra and tights. “No one will see”, she said. She then leaned over me and kissed me long and hard. Then I turned over and she began with her deft strokes on my back working slowly down my back to my buttocks where she concentrated for quite a while first with feather-like strokes of my asshole followed by stronger strokes. Then my dick and balls were oiled and stroked. Sometimes both my asshole and dick were worked at the same time. I began to moan and I felt the exquisite rising of my cum. This went on for a while and then she went on with the massage of my legs and feet. I turned over. She oiled my dick and began working on it. She bent over and began sucking on it as I moaned with the rising implacable orgasm. Again and again, I came. Then it was over and she washed me off and dried me and finished the massage as I drifted in and out of sleep. After, I invited her to Chiang Mai where she had been before. She gave me her number and said she would take the train. I paid and left.

Got on the Skytrain and spoke with Nikki on the cell. He said Natalie had called him asking if I were back yet. He said I was still working on my visa. I guess so.

Tai called. said she had not found a baby sitter, but hoped she could join me for dinner.

Returned to hotel. Ate Pad Thai and drank a watermelon juice. Went to my room then sat outside, lit up my cigar, watched the overweight tourists mostly women sunning themselves by the pool and wrote this.

9:30 PM
Just returned from dinner with Tai and some of her family. She called me before dinner, said, “come down to the lobby my uncle and brother are going to dinner with us”. I thought they were preparing to execute me for marrying and not supporting Tai. I probably thought this because they are Muslim and my conscience was not clear.

Instead, I was met with the Auntie with Tai’s baby, Tai’s sister-in-law with her two-year-old, Tai’s female cousin who works in the Chinese Embassy or some such. Went to a fish place, ate, drank coke and had a chocolate sundae. While ordering I was over-conscious of their being Muslim and did not order beer or pork. The men arrived later. I slipped Tai 2000 baht to pay for dinner (there were seven adults and two children and a baby). The bill came to about $8 per adult.

Decided to prepare budget for Tai.

I am now back in hotel waiting for her.

January 31 2010.

Sunday 8AM
She did not show up nor call. Once again I am the fool. When I was a child when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I usually answered, “a bum and a clown”. It looks like I will get my wish. When the Chiang Mai house is sold I will be a bum and I have more and more become Emmet Kelly. I am now at the airport waiting for the plane that will return me to..what?

February 2 2010

Tuesday 5PM
Well, she called eventually that day. Said she fell asleep with the baby and woke up at two in the morning and did not want to wake me up by calling. Do you believe it?

Anyway got back to CM, took a nap and saw Nikki off to the airport.

On Monday morning Hayden wanted to take his bicycle to school. After a few blocks, he asked me to bring the bike home with me after getting to school. Told him could not. He then wanted to bring the bike back to the house we did and drove to school. Got a shave, 50 baht. Gave 50 baht tip.

Tried to buy tickets to KL. Debt card not accepted.

Used Skype to talk with Nikki.

This morning Hayden decided he did not want to shower and made the maid and I chase him around the yard laughing. Caught him, carried him up the stairs to BR

After shower and dress, I drove to school.

I drove to US consulate. Broke my left side mirror as I passed too close to someone on a motor bike going the other way. Do not know if I struck him or he struck me with his hand for getting too close.

Parked across the river from Consulate, talked, experienced security entered the inner sanctum, got my notarized document and fled.

Went to Central, parked waited in Starbucks for the mall to open, went to ATM, denied. Drove home in a panic. Called BOW straitened things out. Natalie called said she was coming up while I went to KL. Thought about this called Tom arranged for additional 7 days on current visa. Picked up Hayden, drove to Big C, got 5000 baht from ATM, ate donuts. Returned home called Natalie, said I was not going to KL until next week. Suggested she did not need to come to CM. She agreed.

Called Tai told her to try again to get visa in BKK.

COMMENTS:

From Irwin:

joe – it seems more than somewhat ironic that a person such as you who spent years dealing with, manipulating and often overcoming stringent government bureacracy and regulations to find yourself having to sojourn for 1/2 week in parasitic filled malaysia due to a visa screw up – not a place i would want to visit right now; come to think of it i don’t visit anywhere at the moment, i am in my isolation period having cancelled all my luncheon appointments with relatives (one) and former collegue political operatives (three) and worrying about not cancelling a date previously planned for next week with my younger son (one) to attend mexican wrestling (“sexo y violencia”) at the mayan theatre in downtown los angeles. speaking of “younger son”, hayden appears to be a good looking young chap obviously resembling the good looks of his mother and probably doesn’t even care for scampi.. please take extra precaution while in kuala lumpur remembering not to speak hebrew or to stare in people’s eyes, particularly those wearing turbans and the like.

although i am in isolation, i still take my daily walk. on it i pass two churches. today’s photo is the more curious of the two. the building does not have any windows. i’m not sure if it’s to keep their god in or out.

take care!

Joe’s response:
Irwin, you may be remembering me from the days before my psychiatrist put me on Prozac. Since then I have been happy but worthless in any professional or personal endeavor that requires any amount of aggressiveness or cynicism. The choice was to retire or quit Prozac. I tried going cold turkey and found out what that means.
ciao

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Today’s photograph–me at the coffee shop. Sorry about that but I am running out of local points of interest since my days so far have been limited to exploring the route from my house to the coffee shop.

There were no chickens on the road today nor for that matter very many people. I did however notice the huge number and variety of orchids festooned to the trees of everyone’s yard as I walked by.

The houses along our walk range from one that I call the Thai Hearst Castle to a row of small mostly rental units. I consider my house the second best in the subdivision, second only to Hearst Castle. Second best, I prefer to call it penultimate. It sounds more like you have won something.

One good thing happened yesterday. I met my driver. He is Laotian and speaks no English and I speak no Lao or Thai so I have not yet figured out how to get him to go where I want.

I promise never to write again with so little to say.

Have a great whatever you want.

Joe…

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EMAILS WITH NIKKI REGARDING HAYDEN:

Joe’s email to Nikki:


I walked with Hayden to his school this morning. I spoke with two of his teachers. They told me Hayden is much better behaved since I arrived.
The principal said, “Natalie must be very brave, I could never leave my child the way she has”. Enough said.
She was supposed to come to Chang Mai yesterday. She called and announced that she was too busy and would come today. We will see.

Look forward to seeing you.

Nikki’s response:

OK this is a good start and things are going to be even better in the future
the boy is realizing the meaning of a stable school and life and thank to your tuitition he will improve his english reading and other things.
After we are ok with that we can start working on his sport life like put him on a soccer team or a karate class the neiborough is nice lots of people just he need to be social .
I hope u settle ok in the house maybe u need an office or a desk, when i will be there i ll drive u around and we can start to fix the house put a cable tv and a wifi line and other things we need.
try the new little restaurant close to the house is cheap and good thai food ask hayden he knows where is it
see u guys soon

From Nikki:

Ok joe
i am back safe in italy last development is that She is planning to leave again around the end of march or beginning of april.
i was firm to not make the baby travel again and she mention to leave by herself
moneywise she diddn’t put anything in chang mai yet
i payed the eletric and the food plus 2 thousand bath for food so all the new request of money is for her private expenses
the rationale here is that u should not giving her nothing unless is a verified bill with a valid proof of payments otherwise the money will go to her trough the maid
talk to geery about the security bill and the cost of the water
also tell her that i opened an account with bangkok bank to cover all the bills and food and baby needs so she don’t have to pay nothing in chang mai and will see what she come up with by the end of month i have to pay the school and i will send u the money
if she want she can stay in chang mai to eat and survive i am not gonna feed another mouth in bkk
let me know what Geery said about the water and ur visa deal
tomorrow i am busy for the all day so send me an eamil
ciao kiss to hayden

EXCHANGE OF EMAILS WITH IRWIN SHATZMAN:

From Irwin:

how far away is the coffee shop and don’t you have a kitchen at home? what is the significance of the orchids? and here’s a solution for dealing with your driver: draw some pictures ahead of time (i.e. like an airplane when you want to go to the airport, or a beach scene when you want to go surfing. as for f_____g i’m sure you can figure out some type of diagram). actually you can probably download pictures from the internet showing a market or downtown – how you are connected i am not sure as my imagination has you living in snake country awaiting the arrival of islamic militants.

i.

Joe’s response:


You are either up very late or very early.
It is a 20 min walk.
Yes, I have a kitchen and a maid also, but she does not make espresso.
Filling up space.
Thanks for the advice. I wanted him to drive me to the massage parlor. I will enjoy searching the web for appropriate pictures. Any sites that you recommend?
I am in the north of Thailand, few Muslims but there are a lot of snakes, drug wars, white (brown) slavers, corrupt police and of course elephants.

By the way, how did you sent up your blog? You did a great job. I am pleased that the recent postings are optimistic. I am happy for you.

Joe….

By the way, Hayden calls me his Pookie. Should I be embarrassed?
PS: I just turned on my spell check and it suggested: “Statesman” as a replacement for “Schatzman”. I always knew you were bound for great things. I suppose the next time it will suggest “Nobel”.
Petrillo on the other hand usually turns up “petrol” or “petrel”, black ooze or a damned bird.

Frpm Irwin:

You are either up very late or very early. i get up about 8:30 am, take breakfast at the computer and stay on the keyboard until noon, mostly reading non-personal emails (i.e. ny times, la times, food blogs, etc.). then either about 12:30 pm or 1:00 pm i take a nap and stay in bed until around 3:00 pm. i go for a walk around the subdivision (1.5 miles) no chickens, or elephants but lots of dogs, and crows; i take a walking stick with me to beat off the asians. after that i go to the market, dry cleaners, bank or visit my mom in the retirement care facility. then at 5:00 pm i start watching tv and make diner, after dinner i watch basketball on tv and then a violence movie or maybe i’ll read until midnight. once a month or two i try to get together for an uninspired lunch with former political operatives and we laugh at old tales. all of this is boring.

It is a 20 min walk. kaiser permanente say’s one should excersize for a least thirty minutes a day at least there days a week. i think it has something to do with releasing endorphins in your head or is a scam to encourage people to buy nike shoes. i never believed in it but its something to do and it’s the only time people on the street say “hello”. also i can use it against the doctor when i tell him i follow his advice but still feel like shit.

Yes, I have a kitchen and a maid also, but she does not make espresso. did you ever think about buying an expresso machine and giving the maid something to do. does she like make youe meals? what does she make and is it all spicy? last night i watched a movie bancok dangerous with nicholas cage. in a scene he was eating spicy thai food and had to chew some green leaves to cool off. the other scenes were better..he was killing people, but he didn’t score with the chick.

Filling up space. it’s the hardest thing you will ever have to do. i usually listen to a 24/7 opera radio station on the internet http://www.radiotower.com/player.php?channel_id=7366 and/or to a ham radio repeater station where they talk dirty. if i’m lucky the opera is italian, my favorite is puccinni, and not mozart although i beleive him to be one of the best composers of music.

Joe’s Response:

Thanks for the advice. I wanted him to drive me to the massage parlor. I will enjoy searching the web for appropriate pictures. Any sites that you recommend?
on the search bar just enter “image of a….” and spell out what the image is that you want..

I am in the north of Thailand, provide me with the name of the locale and address so i can google it and see the location on a map, few muslims but there are a lot of snakes what’s the difference, drug wars, white (brown) slavers, my favorite corrupt police my kinda’ guys and of course elephants.dumbo?

By the way, how did you sent up your blog? it’s all free and fairly easy. go to google.com and set up a name and password. then once in, click on “more” then click on “even more” and then click on “blogger”. i suppose you might just do a search for “blogger”. once in, everything is explained and you just have to experiment. the main thing i haven’t figured out yet is how to notify people of a new post without sending them a separate email which is what i do. if you haven’t all readyYou did a great job. I am pleased that the recent postings are optimistic. I am happy for you. thanks. thanks but i am not more optimistic i am just more realistic and have begun to face reality which is the wonderment of anxiety, depression and dispair within which i have lived and will for the remainder of my life. i fully believe that my physical/mental disabilities.infirmities are genetic and that the most i can do is alleviate the syptoms and recognize that that there is no cure. instead of avoiding the draft i should have joined the marines…maybe they would have made a man out of me.

Joe….

By the way Hayden calls me his Pookie. Should I be embarrassed? i’d be flattered. i think “pookie” was a positive character on the soupy sales show but i don’t remember what kind of character he was. not a dog like “white fang” or “black tooth”. although maybe “pookie” means something in thai! better get a dictionary.
PS: I just turned on my spell check and it suggested “Statesman” as replacement for “Schatzman”. I always knew you were bound for great things. I suppose the next time it will suggest “Nobel”.unlikely. i was once chased by a man in israel who came after to me to tell me that my name, which i had just signed on a guest book, meant “spokesman for the people”. usually, schatzman refers to a “dear man” or someone like a “treasurer: the word “dear” meaning worth something like money or jewels, i suppose i could have been at least a contender but was burdened instead by listing to the little guy on my shoulder carrying a pitchfork telling me that, “It’s all good, no one will know, you can get away with it.” But that little guy on my shoulder didn’t tell me that in the real world, you don’t get away with it because even when you are the only one who knows, that is enough to destroy you. It just will happen from the inside out.

Petrillo on the other hand usually turns up “petrol” or “petrel”, black ooze or a damed bird. no. i think petrillo comes from the name peter which is derived from the greek word for “rock”. you know like stong like a rock. wasn’t that a song by bob seger?

Irwin’s response:

what i really want to know before i die is that you had to pay for four wives. three children. were $80k in credit card debt and are now living in a palacial estate in an exotic country with a maid, chauffer, and god knows what else at your disposal. how was this managed?

the weather gauge is turning red and we are allerted by radar that torrential rains are anticipated within the next two hours. we have now had rain storms daily for three days. last night i noticed that my feet got damp when i stood on the carpet next to the french door in the computer room. my last wife, who sleeps upstairs, woke up this morning a head full of wet hair and a spot on the livingroom ceiling is brown and water has dripped down the wall. my backyard isn’t large enough to build an ark…i won’t complain, at least its not a tsunami coming over the back wall.

we are doomed i tell you but at least we maybe don;t have to deal with al gore anymore.

i.

Joe’s Response:


In my subdivision, I use my walking stick to beat off the Europeans. Today I will try to get the driver to take me to the Mall. From there I think I can find my way to the massage parlor.


My evenings so far are spent with Hayden.

The maid makes my breakfast and my dinner. Lunch I fend for myself. Breakfast is bland and dinner spicy. She is not a very good cook but she cleans the house, tends the garden and and washes my clothes.

I prefer watching the the young attractive barristas and waitresses to watching the maid who is kind of square shaped.

I always cry at the final aria of Co Co San in Madame Butterfly. Thanks for the site. I will try it tonight.

I am midway between the city of Chiang Mai and the village of Hang Dong (if you can believe it). I tried google maps but they are not very good for Thailand.

I have to go. My driver has arrived. Will write again later.

Joe…

From Irwin:

how far are you from Chiang Mai and how far is that from bankcok? i see that apartments in chiang mai are $13 us a night so i am beginning to understand how you might be able to afford a house – but it looks like you are in the middle of nowhere;hope you don’t need a doctor in the middle of the night. well i’m still in semi-civilization
and about to leave for the kosher butcher.

Joe’s response is missing.

From Irwin:

worldclub lane is not a very exotic name. who were the subdividers, people from the uk?

it’s now 6:30pm here (sunday) what time (and day) is it there? any palestinians?

if orchid’s grow on trees in one’s backyard what flowers do high school girls wear for a corsage at their prom?

irwin

Joe’s Response:

  1. It is exotic to the Thai’s. The developer is Thai. I think he was hoping that Chiang Mai would host the World Cup or maybe the Olympics. It has a huge indoor-outdoor pool in the health club that is now an American Christian high school. The school, I hear is being booted out for being assholes.

This is a strange subdivision. As near as I can tell there are virtually no zoning, health or design controls. As a result it now contains at least two pre-schools and an elementary schools, a pretty good convenience store in someone’s garage, a martial arts studio in someones house and a couple of restaurants. One of the restaurants is run by an old lady who is the widow of one of the City’s ex-mayors (The current one a woman, has just been caught in a notorious sex scandal). Anyway the widow lives on adjacent to a stub-end street that she closed off and now uses as an open air restaurant that she services from the kitchen in her house. She also grows most of her vegetables and herbs on the open area at the end of the stub-end. She also makes herbal medicines and a wine made from some fruit no-one can name or show me and mysterious herbs. The wine takes three months to “mature”. It begins as a rose’ and at “maturity” turns deep red like a burgundy. It actually does not taste bad, a little like a retsina. You get sort of a mellow drunk with a lot of giggling and no appreciable hangover. We think the one of herbs used is ganja.

My corner of the subdivision is the upscale section, with big houses with elaborate gardens and imposing walls and gates. Most of the occupants are corrupt Thai politicians and businessmen and a few Europeans. In other sections one sees enormous houses filling up the entire lot. On some lots, there are more that one house on others someone will develop a few row houses. It the low rent district there are about 50 row houses. These were the first and probably built for the athletes that never came

2. If it is 6:30 PM in California on Sunday, it would be 9:30 AM monday here.

3. The next time I take a teenage Thai girl to her prom I will ask.

Joe…

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I. Introduction to the Labyrinth.

When charging into their respective hearts of darkness, Kafka’s protagonist prowling the endless dim halls of bureaucracy and Conrad’s hero plunging through the green walls of the jungle in search of Kurtz, both experienced the grim pleasure of knowing that giving up was not an option. So it was with me a few days ago as I set out to renew my retirement visa for Thailand.

As with anyone planning a difficult voyage, I spent several days preparing as best I could; reviewing procedures and requirements, collecting documents, assembling funds and choosing the clothing I was going to wear. Most time-consuming of all, however, was figuring out how to get to the Thai immigration Office in Bangkok.

About two years ago, the Immigration Department moved from an easy to reach central location in downtown Bangkok to the massive Government Complex in the nether reaches of the city, far from most public transit facilities except for a few buses and the ever-present taxi’s.

Thai Government Complex - Nonthaburi (Greater ...

Thai Government Complex – Nonthaburi (Greater Bangkok)

The Complex, I discovered, appears on no maps of the city that I could find. The interactive website that integrates all of the cities transit and provides simple to use directions from and to anywhere in the city, did not, or would not, direct one to the Government Complex. Neither the Complex, the surrounding streets or nearby notable sites like hospitals and the like are listed. At first I thought it might have something to do with an overzealous concern about security, until I discovered the Immigration Department’s own website advising those with business with the Department to take a taxi.

Nevertheless, after about an hour of so of searching, I discovered a i-tube video, complete with a zit faced post-adolescent in a baseball cap and the light wisp of a mustache demonstrating how, for only 50 cents in fares, it can be done. It was quite simple really and I decided to follow his directions.

English: Toyota Taxi, Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok,...

English: Toyota Taxi, Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok,

I have been to the Immigration Offices at the Governmental Center several times in the past. those times I have either taken a Taxi which charges a flat rate of at least $10 or gone with my roommate, the Little Masseuse on a voyage taking about two or more hours and requiring at least four bus changes. This time I decided I was going to make it on my own. Like Willard on the Mekong in Apocalypse Now I was determined to find my way to Kurtz no mater the risk.

So on the day I had chosen, I got up very early, dressed as I had planned, gathered my things and left my apartment. After a big breakfast (I did not know when I would get to eat again), I took the skytrain to Mo Chit*Station at the end of the line just as the lad on the video recommended. He had advised then taking the 52 bus that stops at Mo Chit and goes directly past the Government Complex.

From the bridge Mo Chit skytrain station

From the bridge Mo Chit skytrain station (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Unfortunately, when I arrived, I discovered a significant transit center with many busses, taxi’s and vans milling about. I began to doubt my video guides directions, especially since they all seemed to be going in the opposite direction to where I was headed. So, for some reason, I decided I should abandon my guide and take a taxi instead of trying to figure things out. When I told the first Taxi driver I accosted where I was going he quoted me a price that was the same as that charged by the taxi drivers near my apartment. Of course I refused to be ripped off and moved on to the vans. I knew from past experience many of them went past the Complex.

I approached a knot of drivers standing by a line of vans and asked which one was going to the Complex. I was ignored. Undaunted, I began asking individual drivers. Although most continued to ignore me, one smiling fellow seemed eager to help and took me toward one of the vans. The driver shook us off and quickly drove away. Then there ensued a series of angry exchanges between the smiling helpful driver and the other drivers. Finally, the helpful driver, having lost his ever-present smile, turned to me and explained that it would be a long time before a van to the Complex would come by and that I would be better off taking a taxi.

Crestfallen I was still determined not to be taken for the $10 demanded by the Taxi mafia that I had now become convinced ran the city. Unfortunately my confidence ebbed out of me like air from a punctured balloon. I began to feel I had over estimated my abilities as an explorer. Perhaps there was no way to get there from here. I began panic and began to believe that I may have to take the damned taxi after all.

English: Daewoo bus in BMTA / Bangkok Thailand

English: Daewoo bus in BMTA / Bangkok Thailand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Suddenly a beggar, missing teeth, wispy hair and rumpled clothes, appeared along side of me and said, “Take the bus if you want to get to the Government Center.” And, just as he said it, a number 52 bus slowed down in the street right next to us.

Bangkok busses do not really stop but usually slow down just enough for passengers to jump on or off. I jumped on and sure enough it dropped me off at the Complex. I made a note to on my way back find the beggar and give him some money, perhaps the entire $10 I saved on the taxi, minus the 25 cent cost of the bus.

I was feeling good.

* There are many “chits” (ch is pronounced sh in Thai) in Bangkok. The Skytrain has three, Mo, Phloem and Lom. At one time there were plans for a movie to be called, “Three Chits in Thailand” but it was cancelled by the head of the chit project for lack of interest….. I know, I am a chit for writing this.

II. Stunned in the Sun.

I arrived at the building that housed the Thai Visa and Immigration Office and a

Thai Government Complex - Nonthaburi (Greater ...

Thai Government Complex – Nonthaburi (Greater Bangkok) (Photo credit: Philip Roeland)

number of other agencies. It was one of the 20 or so government buildings in the Government Complex. It is a huge building that looks like a giant arrow-head plunged into the ground. It has an enclosed central court as large as half a football field. The location of the Complex is so remote that the basement of the building houses a complete shopping center, including banks, restaurants, grocery stores, a car dealership I believe and a lot more.

I was in good spirits. I entered the crowded visa and immigration offices, marched up to the intake desk and handed them my passports. I had two passports because my previous passport was due to expire in December and while I was in the US I had its replacement issued. The smiling young woman behind the desk sporting a badge that announced “trainee,” took my passports and earnestly leafed through them. Her ever-present smile creased into a frown and collapsed. Sensing the anxiety rising in my gut, I babbled my explanation for the two passports. She asked did you show the passport officer at the airport both passports. “No,” I responded, “one had been cancelled so I showed him only the valid one.” Her frown deepened. She turned and spoke with another woman dressed in a military uniform.

Panic rose to my throat as they spoke and rifled through the document now and then glancing in my direction. Then the uniformed one broke away and walked to the counter at which I was standing. She was not smiling. Said, “you have the wrong stamp.” Forcing a smile I inquired, “how do I get the right stamp.”

“You need to go to immigration to get it changed.”

Relieved I responded, “where is that,” hopeful it would be in the same building.

“At airport”

“But,” my smile gone, “this is immigration. “Can’t you do it here” I pleaded?

She looked at me for a moment then turned went back to the no longer smiling trainee. They leaned close together and spoke Now and then they would glance at me. Then the Trainee, smiling again came back to me and said come with me. My heart leaped with joy.

We walked into the large processing room with hundreds of people stagnating around staring perhaps fifty or more cubicles with red lights on the front flashing various numbers. We walked up to another counter behind which sat a man in uniform. She spoke to him in Thai. I gave my story again. They spoke some more. He gave her a piece of paper with a number on it. She then turned and said come with me.

We marched to one of the cubicles with the same number as on the piece of paper. She went in. Came out again said “you have to go to airport. Have stamp changed.”

“But” I sputtered, “Why not here? Where in airport?” and things like that. I was losing it.

She took me back to the first uniformed man. They spoke animatedly. She came back to me. We returned to the cubicle. This time I went in and sat before a grim-faced man in a uniform with ribbons on his shirt and braid on his shoulder. I started to explain again. He took the passports and looked through them going back and forth among the pages; looked at me and said, “You have the wrong stamp. You have to go to the fourth floor immigration at the airport and have it changed.”

Although I sensed defeat, I pleaded, “how do I know where at the airport. What happens if they refuse?”

He looked at me took the little paper I have been given with the number of his office and on the back wrote, “Fourth Floor, Immigration” in English and Thai and handed it back to me.

Knowing that it was the best I was going to do and guessing that at least I could wave the piece of paper around the airport and claim it was from Bangkok Central Immigration Office, I left the building and caught a van back to the Mo Chit Skytrain station.

My confidence slowly returned. I was on a mission. It was still only 10am. I could get it done today. I felt like Willard on the Mekong. Giving up was not an option.

III. Off to the Airport.

I got back to the Mo Chit Skytrain station without too much difficulty and took the train a few stops back to where it meets up with the elevated railway that goes to the airport. I crossed over to the Airport train station and paid my fare. I discovered that I had paid a three dollar fare for the luxury express. I did not know there was such a thing. Normally I would have chosen the lower fare train, but I guess in my hurry I was not paying attention. When the train arrived and I entered the car I was surprised. Normally the rail cars have the usual bench like plastic seats aligned along the walls facing each other. Here they were upholstered airline seats in orderly rows facing forward. As I took my seat and the train started up I was pleased despite my extravagance. I was comfortable and the trip would be shorter than the local giving me time to get my business done at the airport and return to the Immigration Offices.

Although the existing Skytrain had been built through the center of Bangkok, touching almost all the tourist and commercial areas and had already been extended halfway to the airport, the powers that be, both financial and governmental, decided it would be in their interests to create a separate company and transit line just to service the airport. They placed their stations where the airport line intersected existing mass transit lines . The theory being, I suppose, that the people, in the tourist and commercial areas and the like who wanted to get to the airport by less expensive mass transit would be willing to lug their suitcases on to one mass transit facility, travel for quite some time to the transfer point and then lug their things over to the new line for the final trip to the airport. Everyone was surprised when it didn’t work and the expected ridership failed to occur. Since then there have been the usual marketing campaigns, promoted by marketing mavens who convinced the powers that be that poor marketing was the problem and not any defect in the concept. That has not worked either.

Anyway I took my seat and stared out of my window as we rode high above the city. In an effort to reduce costs, in addition to scrimping on the quality of the stations, the roadway and the rolling stock, a route was chosen that avoided the developed portions of the city thereby lowering land acquisition expenses. From a point somewhere not too far from the Royal Palace grounds on the river and extending almost all the way to the new international airport there exists a relatively undeveloped strip of land about a half a mile wide. I have no idea what urban development dynamics caused this. Through this stretch the airport rail line travelled.

As I looked out my window I could see that in this stretch of land the jungle still existed. Not the jungle one sees in documentaries with thick gnarled trees and multi-storied green terraces, but a marsh jungle of grassland, clumps of thick vegetation with wispy leaved trees and black waters peeping through from beneath it all. In the distance the shining high rises gleamed and the pressed in on the margins. Here and there a collection of shacks of what I have learned are referred to as “informal communities” appeared. Rusted corrugated roofing covering dwellings and shops made from a variety of urban detritus, Narrow little lanes teeming with people zigzagged through each community. The structures were either built on stilts over the black waters of the marsh, or crowding over remnant canals.

I was enjoying the view and my contemplation of it when the first attack occurred. Fleas began their relentless assault of stinging bites all over my body. I wanted to run from the train howling, but it was the express, so I had no choice but to sit there. When the train rolled into the airport, I left it quickly. I already had started to feel the little red welts rising all over my body. I thought I must have looked as though I had come down with a case of measles.

At least I had arrived. I consoled myself with the thought that the protagonists of Conrad, Kafka and Coppola who furnished the material for this extended and convoluted metaphor faced worse.

IV. At the Airport with no Place to Go.

Terminal de l'aéroport international de Bangko...

Terminal de l’aéroport international de Bangkok (Suvarnabhumi International Airport) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Having arrived at the airport and ignoring the insane itching all over my body from the flea bites, I rushed up to the fourth floor as I was directed to by the bemedalled and braided uniformed character back at the immigration office. I was still clutching the tiny slip of paper with my printed interview number on one side and the scribblings of that esteemed gentleman on the other: “Airport, fourth floor immigration” in both Thai and English.

Upon reaching the fourth floor, I recognized it as the departure floor with its row upon row of counters for ticketing and hundreds and hundreds of people busily engaged in going or processing the going or cleaning up after whoever was going actually went.

Knowing that in all this turmoil I could never figure out the location of the immigration office, I sought out an airport information desk. Found it. The woman behind the desk smiled at me. I explained the situation to her and waved around the piece of paper. Her smile disappeared and she motioned me to wait while she called someone. After speaking to whomever for a few minutes she put down the phone and told me to wait and then proceeded to completely ignore me. I recognized that particular Thai trait. To her I had suddenly become a non-entity; someone no longer quite human.

Perhaps a little explanation about Thai culture would help to understand her reaction. To a Thai you are not completely human if you are not Thai or are a lower social status (this is a trait not unknown among Americans also). Farangs (Western foreigners), could be forgiven their non-Thai-ness only if they are of a superior class . A superior class in Thailand usually means, money. If you have it you are rewarded with a smile and an acknowledgement of potential humanness even as they try to separate you from the money. There were three reasons that disqualified me from being truly human in the eyes of the lady behind the information desk; 1) I was not Thai; 2) I was not dressed like I had money (I was in my Ocean’s Eleven outfit, flowered shirt, short pants and floppy hat) and; 3) If I had money, I would not be doing this myself but would have paid some Thai some of it to run around collecting the documents and paying the bribes on my behalf.

The phone rang. She picked it up, spoke for a moment and handed the receiver to me. I explained everything to the woman on the other end and waved the piece of paper around even if she could not see it. She said that I should hang up and wait until someone calls back. I did and waited. After awhile the phone rang and we repeated the process, at the end of which the voice at the other end directed me to be at door M-28 at precisely 20 minutes after the hour where someone will appear there to help me. After profusely thanking the voice, I hung up. I asked the information lady where door M-28 was located. She pointed vaguely across the departure area to the right and returned to ignoring me. I went off in search of door M-28 full of optimism that someone there would finally solve all my problems. It was only 10 after the hour. I, nevertheless, rushed to find door M-28 not wanting to risk being late.

V. Disgust and Loathing.

I got to door M-28 with plenty of time to spare – except there was no door. The only M-28 I found was a counter at the end of a long row of counters for various airlines. The only doors nearby were two departure gates. So I nervously stood there waiting for my assignation. Twenty minutes after the hour came and went, then thirty minutes. When forty minutes came and went, I was really concerned, so I approached a woman sitting behind counter M-28 and told her my story and waved the little piece of paper. Instead of smiling blankly or ignoring me as most Thais would do this woman unleashed an exceedingly vicious attack on me saying that she did was not interested in nor cared about my troubles and that this was an airline counter and I should not be standing there. She pointed to the boarding gate and told me to go stand there if I must stand near some doors.

Taken aback, I was speechless and stepped a few feet away from the counter to try to figure out what to do next. I decided to go to one of the gates and try there. Maybe the rude counter Nazi was right.

So I went to the gate and found a woman in uniform, explained my story and waved the piece of paper as well as my passports. She smiled took my passports, leafed through them as though she knew what she was looking for and said, “I understand. Stay right here. I will be right back.” She took my passports passed through security and went-up to two uniformed passport officers behind their counters. They talked. They all looked my way. Then she turned and came back with a large smile on her face. Like someone suffering Stockholm Syndrome my heart leapt for joy at her smile.

“It is all taken care of,” she said. “Come with me.”
VI. Hope Diminished

So, I followed her, ever hopeful that this time it would all work out. She led me to Airport security. After I passed through the usual minor strip-search, I looked around for the woman. She was gone leaving me confused about what I was supposed to do next. I decided approaching the two uniformed passport officers I had seen her speaking with was the most reasonable thing to do.

I walked over to the counter they sat behind. Told them my story while waving around the increasingly wrinkled, sweat stained and forlorn piece of paper. I handed them my passports. They leafed through them knowingly. Spoke to each other. Then looked over at me and spoke to each other again. Finally one of them took possession of the passports turned towards me and told me that he would handle it. I was elated.

“Give me your boarding pass,” he demanded. I plunged into depression. With my voice rising with my hysteria I said, “No, no you do not understand” and I began to tell my story again and wave the little piece of paper around, at which point a younger man in a darker uniform with a bit more ribbons and braid arrived. Spoke to the passport officer. I repeated my story again and showed him the piece of paper.

“No problem,” he said. “Come with me”

I followed him through the passport review post and into an office that contained two desks behind one sat a similarly uniformed officer and behind the other he sat down. He leafed through the passports. Just to be sure, I explained everything again and showed him the piece of paper one more time. “No Problem,” he smiled and turned to fiddle a bit with his computer. My happiness level began to rise one more time.

Finally he finished whatever he was doing, satisfied he turned to me and asked, “Now where is it you are traveling to today?”
VI. Helpless in Savarunbumi.

“No,” I shouted, hysteria overcoming any sense of decorum and common sense I had left. “You do not understand, I am not going anywhere today.” I then explained my story once again and handed the little slip of paper to him.

He looked at it, nodded, got up and went over to his office mate, a slightly older uniformed man with a little more braid. They talked, looked over at me, ten leafed through my passports and talked some more. Finally, the younger man turned to me, handed back my passports and said, “Immigration, second floor.”

“But, but,” I spluttered. “The man at downtown immigration said airport fourth floor. See he wrote it down here.” I offered him the slip of paper.

He did not take it, but repeated more firmly this time, “second floor immigration.”

Sensing defeat, I pleaded, “How do I find it? What if they send me back up here again?”

“I will take you,” he responded.

Somewhat relieved I followed him back through the offices, past the customs officers through security and then across the building to a bank of elevators. I got in the elevator. He reached in. Pressed the button for #2 and quickly walked away as the doors closed on me.

The elevator did not stop at the second floor.
VII. It Gets Worse

Of course I did not know the elevator did not stop on the second floor until it passed that floor and halted on the first. I took the escalator to the second floor in search of the Immigration Office. The second floor was the arrivals level and lacked the bustle of the 4th floor departure level. There were essentially only the money changing kiosks and two large openings in the far wall from which people arriving in BKK were disgorged. I could not see anything that announced it had anything to do with immigration. Eventually I spotted a door before which stood a woman dressed in a uniform different from most of the others, lighter in color and lacking braid or ribbons. I walked up to her and explained my story and showed her the slip of paper. She smiled and said, “I understand. Follow me.”

She led me into a small room where a man in a similar uniform sat next to a table smaller than a card table. He seemed to have little of no english capabilities, nevertheless I explained everything again showed him the slip of paper and my passport. He leafed through my passport and seemed confused and looked to the woman with what I interpreted as a look of bewilderment.

I said, “Immigration Office. Second Floor. The people on the fourth floor told me to go here. Where is it?” The woman seemed to translate it for him. He fumbled some more through my passports. Eventually I tired of this and asked her “Where is the Immigration office on the second floor?”

She said “in there” and pointed to a door at the back of the room.

“Great” I said. “I will go in there.”

After another brief discussion in Thai with the man, she said, “you can’t”

“What do you mean I cannot. The people on the fourth floor sent me here.” I was clearly getting upset my voice was rising. Thai’s hate people who get emotional.

They spoke again briefly, then the woman said come with me and took me back into the main hall, vaguely pointed toward the opposite wall and said, “Ask at information counter over there.”
VII. A Light at the End of the Tunnel.

I was now back to where I started, at the Airport Information Desk, two floors below where I had begun. I told the woman behind the counter my story and waved the slip of paper around. She called someone. Hung up. Told me to wait. The phone rang again. She handed me the receiver. I explained everything again to the person on the other end. Hung up. Waited. The phone rang again. A very angry person at the other end wanted to know why I was not at Gate M-28. Said that someone went to the trouble of going there and I was not there and now everyone is very angry at me. I decided I was better off not trying to explain. The voice told me to be at M-28 in five minutes and clearly left the impression that if I did not do so my days in Thailand were numbered.

I hung up the phone and ran up the two flights to M-28 on the fourth floor. The nasty woman behind the counter glared at me. I avoided her gaze. Five minutes went by. At about the 10 minute mark I noticed a woman dressed in half a uniform (uniform shirt, regular slacks) striding purposefully across the airport floor in the general direction of M-28. She was not smiling. The land of smiles did not exist for me that day.

I asked if she were the person I was to meet and handed her my passports and showed her the piece of paper. She scowled but did not speak. She took the passports and leafed through them and scowled some more. She motioned me to follow her and led me to an elevator at the back wall of the office of the uniformed man who walked me all the way across the airport to the elevator that did not stop at the second floor.

We entered the elevator. She pressed the button for the second floor. This time the elevator stopped at that floor. Without speaking she set off walking through several offices and around some partitions until we reached the arrivals area where there was a long table. She motioned me to sit. I sat. She disappeared into an office.

The table was sticky with spilled soft drinks and was crawling with ants. I could see in front of me the passport control section dedicated to arriving flight crews. I watched the crews arrive and pass through passport control for about an hour. Finally the woman came out of the office. She was smiling. I was not too sure how to read that.

She said, “I fixed it.”

I looked at the stamp in question. My heart sank. It looked the same. Said that. She explained that she had changed the date of my temporary visa from the 30 day temporary limit to Friday three days away. I looked at her with a look of confusion. She said that Friday is the day my retirement visa runs out as though that explained everything.

She then asked me why I did not hand both passports to the passport control officer when I arrived. I said, “because I did not want to confuse him.” She laughed at me.

Then led me to the passport control exit, motioned me through, bowed and with a broad smile said, “Well then, let me welcome you for the second time to Amazing Thailand, the land of smiles.”

I left the airport. It was too late to return to the Immigration Office, so I went back to my apartment. That night I slept fitfully. All I accomplished today was to reduce the time I could remain in the country to three more days. I kept asking myself, what would Willard do, if after reaching Captain Kurtz’s compound in Cambodia he realized he had to start all over again with a new set of orders. AWOL most likely.

IX. Return to the Immigration office and Redemption

The next day I got up early and returned to the Immigration Office at the Government Center, hopeful but not optimistic.

When I arrived I marched up to the same woman who I started with yesterday. She seemed not to recognize me. I gave her my passports. She leafed through them, smiled and pointed me through the door on her right.

I went through that door to the counter behind which sat the same uniformed and braided man who had sent be to the uniformed man with more braid who humorlessly sent me on yesterday’s odyssey.

Today he simply looked at my passport, grunted and gave me a slip of paper on which was printed the section I was to go to and a number. He pointed to the offices that made up that section.

I took a seat outside of the offices. Seven hours later my number was called. I went into the cubicle where another uniformed man with braids on one shoulder sat. I gave him my passports. He looked through them, took a stamp out of a drawer, slammed in on a page of my new passport, wrote something and handed them back to me with a smile.

Taken aback by this sudden display of simplicity, I asked, “How much do I have to pay in fees for my new retirement visa?”

“Nothing,” he responded. “Just extended your existing visa to the original date it would have been had your US passport not expired.”

“You mean I have to do this again in five months not a year?”

He smiled.

“Well can I get re-entry permit so I can leave and return to Thailand without losing my retirement visa?”

He said, “you have to go to another section.” He gave me another slip of paper with a section letter and a number on it.

I went to that section. Two hours later I walked out of the building with both my retirement visa and reëntry permit, $100 poorer for the permit.

X. Postscript

As with the completion of any journey or quest my feelings were equivocal as I thought about the last two days. It was good that I achieved what I had set out to accomplish, more or less, but I did not feel especially happy about it.

Life seems to me to be little more than a series of side trips along a longer journey. And like all journeys no matter how pedestrian or mundane they contain the same elements; hope, disappointment, determination, surprise, boredom and just about every other human emotion that one can conger up. I guess that may be why most literature is about a journey of some sort.

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Songthaew

 

Recently while leaving Paradise by the Sea (Jomtien Beach) to return to Bangkok the little masseuse and I took the small converted pick up truck transit vehicle called a songthaew from the condo to the bus station to catch the Pattaya-Bangkok bus. When we arrived at the bus station my masseuse went to pay the songthaew driver our fare. Suddenly an enormous row ensued. The driver jumped out of his vehicle, leaving the other passengers to wait while the two of them went at it, shouting at each other.

For a while, I enjoyed the spectacle of the diminutive masseuse all 5 feet of her and the much larger bus driver (about my size) shred the Thai cultural requirement of Jai Yen (Maintaining a cool heart). Finally, I stepped between them and the driver returned to his vehicle and drove off in a huff.

When I asked my friend what had caused the argument, she answered:

“I tried to pay the driver the usual 10 baht(about 30 cents) per person fare, but he insisted that I pay 20 baht instead. I asked him why he is demanding twice the amount for the ride than I usually pay. He answered, ‘That was when you traveled by yourself, this time you are traveling with a farang.’”

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girls_with_guns_uranium_cafe_ 27

Three or so hours later we had crossed the entire central plains of Thailand and arrived at the foothills of the mountains that separated Thailand from Burma.

The huge blue sea of a sky sporting an archipelago of white clouds relieved the melancholy press of Thai traffic as we crossed the central lowlands.  The shocking green of the still flooded rice paddies with their rapidly maturing plants lined each side of the highway. These were not your cute little paddies tended by picturesque farmers in conical hats, but industrial agribusiness paddies of many acres each much like those one sees in California’s Central Valley near Sacramento. It is from these paddies that Thailand feeds much of southern Asia.

Hoards of the Southeast Asian version of egrets and herons (Storks? Spoonbills?) thronged the paddies. Not just one or two here and there or even the hundred or so one sees while traveling along the Coast Highway in and around Bolinas Lagoon near the rookery, but hundreds and hundreds maybe even thousands, standing one-legged, head cocked, sharp beak and dark baleful eye searching to devour whatever wiggles within their reach. Above them swarmed flocks of the Asian equivalent of starlings and swallows swooping up any insect rising from the water.

The first city we encountered was Kanchanaburi, where almost 20 years ago Richard “Uncle Mask” McCarthy, Bill Gates and I ventured to view the Bridge over the River Kawai (or fully translated, Buffalo River Bridge). It was on that trip, if I remember correctly, that the three of us came up with the idea of opening a bar in Bangkok. Originally we thought of naming it, “California Dick’s,” but Richard was still sensitive about his youthful nickname. Then in a fit of originality, we came up with the alternative name “California Joe’s” (I having no objection to embarrassment and humiliation). Later when we suggested it to our Thai partners, they objected because Thais could not pronounce long western names. So, despite the fact that our target clientel would be westerners and not Thai, we acceded to the name AVA. The first of what would be many mistakes in our business, social and personal dealings with our Thai partners.

The Bridge over the River Kawai was an Oscar-winning movie that glorified the less than heroic deaths of the 16,000 allied prisoners who were forced by the Japanese during World War II to labor on the construction of the bridge and the railroad line between Kanchanaburi and Burma that came to be known as the “Death Railway.” Unfortunately, in typical western centrism of Hollywood, it failed to acknowledge the 10 times as many Southeast Asian slave laborers who also died in its construction.

Alec Guinness played the British military officer in charge of building the bridge on behalf of the Japanese who goes batshit over the attempt by the allies to take down the bridge by sabotage. In real life, the bridge was destroyed in an allied bomber attack. Cinematic heroism was in short supply in POW slave labor camps during the Second World War.

The city has grown considerably since I was there last. The allied prisoners who died working on the bridge are buried in a cemetery that at the time I visited it over a decade ago was located in a rural area surrounded by fields and meadows. It appeared then to be large and stately. Now the city has grown up all around it and the cemetery mostly looks surprisingly small and forlorn.

We met up with a woman friend of Gun Girl’s named Lek and stopped for dinner at an outdoor restaurant. No sooner had we sat down when a police car drove up disgorging a handsome young Thai policeman who proceeded to walk off-hand in hand with Teddy Bear Boy. They did not return until the rest of us had finished dinner and were ready to leave. After talking a few photos of the cop and TBB with their arms entwined.

Following the photo session, Gun Girl instructed me to get into Lek’s automobile for the remainder of the drive to wherever we were to spend the night. I was introduced to who would be driving. He was accompanied by his girlfriend. Lek and I got into the back seat.

Lek, a pleasantly round Thai woman informed me that she wanted to practice her English. So I patiently listened to her story of growing up poor but through the sacrifices of her honest farmer parents and her hard work she became a nurse and labored 10 years in the emergency room of the local hospital. She now is retired and works as a part-time tour guide in the area. That is why she has to keep improving her English skills.

It was night now, the road rose gently into the mountains much like the roads into the Sierra when one climbs up from the Central Valley.

About an hour or so later, we arrived at a resort that straddles a river containing stepped waterfalls. Lights illuminated the water tumbling over the staircase cascade until the river itself vanished into the shadows. The river was not very wide about 30 feet or so, but what it lacked in breadth in made up in exuberance. I counted at least 23 major steps to the falls each about 3 to 4 feet high until they disappeared above and below me into the gloom of the jungle. Innumerable smaller falls and cataracts were interspersed among the larger ones as well as on the many lesser streams that discharged into the main watercourse. Some of these tributaries passed under and around the resort buildings.

The place was called “Bamboo Hut Resort” and indeed it included a large bamboo structure that housed an open restaurant and reception area. About eight similarly constructed (but enclosed) small cabins made up the remainder of the resort.

We rented two nice cabins with double king-sized beds perched directly over the falls. Exhausted by the events of the day,  I needed to sleep so I took one of the cabins while everyone else partied in the other. Teddy Bear Boy was assigned as my cabin mate. Despite my slight discomfort at that, the surprisingly mesmerizing roar and rumble of the falls and my fatigue put me right to sleep and I slept undisturbed until morning.

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