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Posts Tagged ‘Thailand’

HaydenandJoe2,Oct15,2011_2
Hayden and I, March 2011.

The following post from 2011 describes some of my impressions of California upon returning after spending one year living in Thailand.

“I guess leaving Paradise by the Sea and traveling to the Big Endive by the Bay can be looked at as an adventure that at least began in Thailand and ended back there as well.”

“Some of my Impressions of America after a one-year absence”:

“Following the adjustment of my system to the shock of the relatively cool and dismal weather, my initial impression was distress at the dark, drab, shapelessness of the clothing that everyone seems to prefer wearing. It was interesting to me that when I commented to others about my perception they readily agreed that the fashion was indeed dark and perhaps drab, but they denied it was shapeless. One person even went so far as to hold up a dark grey T-shirt as evidence that some people (himself in particular) did not wear shapeless clothing. And indeed, I could discern that it had the classic shape of a T-shirt.”

“Although the Bay Area looked mostly the same wherever I go, the latinization of the Mission district in San Francisco continues unabated, extending at least another 5 to 10 blocks in either direction along that thoroughfare and into the neighborhoods surrounding it. On the other hand, the Sinoization of North Beach appears to have slowed in favor of the Sunset.”

“The Holidays were, as usual, a mixed bag and the serious illnesses and suffering of several of my friends made almost everything appear listless. Nevertheless, my traditional Christmas Eve dinner with my daughter and seeing my son and his family along with my sisters family and my grandchildren cheered me up.”

“During my stay, I re-connected with many friends, Maurice Trad and his daughter Molly, Bill Gates, his daughter and his friend Tiffany, Peter and Barry Grenell, Sheldon Siegel, Terry Goggin et.al. and Bob and Charlotte Uram. Unfortunately, I was only able to contact others by phone.”

“In Sacramento, I spent three lovely days with Bill Geyer and Naida West on their ranch and a day with Stevie and Norbert Dall. Surprisingly, I was asked to take Hayden with me during this time so that his mother could go off to the coast (Pismo Beach) with “friends”. He had just returned the prior evening from spending 5 weeks with a family he hardly knew in Seattle while his mother traveled to Thailand to have what appeared to me to be a facelift. Nevertheless, I enjoyed his company and was quite sad when I had to leave him and return to San Francisco.”

 

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I do not know why it is but I usually find the most unpleasant trips the most interesting. It was that way on my recent trip back from Thailand. We left the apartment in Bangkok at about 7PM in order to get to the airport early enough for me to get a good seat. Suvarnabhumi Airport was more crowded and disorganized than it usually is. After a difficult time securing my ticket, I was told the flight was delayed until 6:30 in the morning.

I waited. Slept in fits on uncomfortable chairs. Walked around a lot. Drank water. Thought about how annoyed, uncomfortable and tired I felt and what I would do to the CEO of the airline if I had him in front of me. Eventually, we boarded the plane and took off. I was too exhausted to sleep. The movies were unappealing and the food not much better.

Because the flight took off so late, I arrived in Shanghai just as my connecting flight to the US was leaving. I rushed off the plane. Well, actually I did not rush because I had been seated at the back of the plane and no one but me seemed to be in any particular hurry.

As I exited the plane, I saw a young man with a sign that announced, “Transfer Passenger Assistance” and showed him my ticket. He looked confused. Walked away to speak to someone, returned and pointed vaguely toward a corridor leading from the hall. I had forgotten how the Chinese bureaucratic system differs from that in the US. In the US, probably for reasons of cost, people relating to the public are trained, for better or worse, to handle a number of somewhat discretionary activities. The Chinese it seems are not. Each functionary there appears to have been assigned only a single, not particularly discretionary, action.

Anyway, after passing through several hallways, I entered a large room containing several counters. Above one was a sign in English that read, “24-hour transit passengers.” I guessed that was the counter I was looking for. There was a long line and only one clerk. When I got to her and showed her my ticket she responded, “Transit Hotel.” I asked “Where?” She handed me a paper with my name on it and pointed to another traveler and said, “Follow that woman.”

“That woman” proved to be another lost and confused American who missed the same connecting flight as I. We passed through another warren of hallways until we came to a room even larger than the previous one with a lot of counters around the walls in front of which were crowds of clamoring travelers. We noticed a group of people in the center of the room who we recognized from our plane and asked them if they knew what was happening. One said, “I think we are supposed to wait here until someone comes for us.”

I noticed a counter over which was a sign that read something like “Transit Supervisor.” I approached him and asked what it is we should do. He pointed at a bunch of chairs against one wall and said, “Sit there, someone will come for you.”

So, we sat there for a long time and to our relief eventually, someone came and ordered us to follow him. We asked where we were going but received no answer. He marched us to a bus, too small to sit all of us and our luggage so many had to stand in the aisle amid the piled suitcases.

After a long long ride that ultimately brought us back to an airport hotel across the street from where we began, we disembarked and entered the hotel and milled around the lobby until one of us thought it would be a good idea to approach the reception desk. We did and at first, they did not seem to understand what we were all doing there. Then one of the women behind the desk motioned to us and began assigning rooms. When I approached and asked for a single room she said brusquely, “Two to a room” and assigned an elderly Japanese man to room with me. At first, I was offended that I had to share a room and with another, an old man no less, but I then realized he was no older than me and perhaps even younger. He spoke barely any English and I no Japanese but I soon discovered him to be one of the nicest and kindest people I had ever met.

I then asked about dinner and there ensued a several hour hullabaloo where I turned into the ugly American. I thoroughly enjoyed it, shouting away and laughing until everyone turned their back on me except for the servers who laughed with me (or at me, who knows).

Eventually, dinner arrived. It was as expected unappetizing.

The old man decided to go out on the town to a  symphony or something I might not have understood properly. I declined preferring to cry into my pillow.

The next morning at the airport the lines and confusion were staggering after about an hour or so of standing in a line that bearly moved, a guard came by and asked if I was on the plane to SF. When I answered in the affirmative he whisked me through everything and off I flew.

Having slept well the night before, I could not fall asleep during the flight so I watched all three episodes of Lord of the Rings. I found Frodo’s bulging eyes disconcerting and wondered why everyone in the movie had blue eyes.

After arriving in San Francisco I set off for Hobbitown in the Golden Hills. It took five hours or so to get there.

Back in El Dorado Hills.

Now some might wonder how I could equate EDH with the Shire. Easy, they both have a certain picturesque attractiveness; they both are set among rolling hills; they both are self-indulgent inward looking societies; they both see the outside world as full of orcs, goblins, sorcerers, violence and malevolence and; the citizens of both have hairy feet and do not wear shoes. Well, actually, the citizens of EDH do wear shoes.

I have resumed my life here as before; wake in the morning; drive HRM to school; Bella Bru for cafe latte and cinnamon raisin bagel with cream cheese; walk about three miles around the lake; return home and read a book; nap; have dinner and; retire to my room for my daily dose of existential anguish.

On Wednesday, I leave to spend a week at my sister’s home in Mendocino. She is hosting an engagement party for her son Brendan and his intended Ashley. She expects about 60 people to spend the weekend in and around the house. The Paella Lady and her huge paella pan will be there. Also, lots of Italian and Philippine food to eat and I expect a lot of music too.

On Sunday we plan to attend Paul Bunyan Day in Fort Bragg.

Life is good.

 

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Please note on your calendars that July 15 is NATIONAL BE A DORK DAY.

TODAY FROM THAILAND:

A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN BANGKOK:

I arrived in Bangkok, the city of the “Sidewalks of Death.” Should one stroll about the town one might: find the sidewalk beneath of him suddenly open up, plunging him into the fetid miasmatic water below and carrying him off to the equally pestilential waters of some ancient canal, there to drown — trip on a crack in the pavement sending him tumbling into the street where he is maimed or killed by hoards of crazed bikers trying to beat the traffic light — be attacked by rabid soi dogs and sewer rats who gnaw off his ankles — be abducted by an evil tuk-tuk driver and disappear forever — be set upon by a group of manic ladyboys pouring out of an alley who either ravish his body or beat him senseless and steal his money. I love this city.

The flight from Rome to Bangkok was uneventful except during the leg from Kuwait to Bangkok where the young man sitting next to me, who appeared to be a religious of some sort, insisted that I listen to a recording of incessant chanting by some Iman or something. That was OK because there is nothing I prefer to sleep through than chanting.

Bangkok is hot (but not as hot as is parts of California right now). It rains every afternoon and evening— often big grumbling thunder showers. So, I go about whatever I go about these days in the mornings and lie in my bed and stare at the ceiling or tap away at my computer in the afternoon and evenings.
Thailand is billed by the Thai Visitors Bureau as the “Land of Smiles.” Thais have at least 15 types of smile, none of which means I’m pleased to see you — except for of shopkeepers, grifters and bar girls who unfortunately see you only as an ATM machine.

In the morning, as I walk from my apartment to the health club, I check to see which of the denizens of the street I have come to recognize over the years are missing since the last time I visited. The massive homeless young man often seen sprawled in a stupor on the sidewalks of Soi Nana or wandering in a daze down the street seems to be gone. The one legged “king of the beggars” as I named him because of his handsome features, meticulous trimmed hair and beard who I now and then see entering for lunch some of the better restaurants on Soi 11, has resumed his post on the sunny corner of Sukhumvit and Soi 5.

My part of Bangkok continues to change and disappear. The old buildings with the cheap restaurants, go-go bars, and nightclubs get torn down, replaced with gleaming silver towers boasting that they contain the greatest award winning condominiums, or offices, or the finest of the three or four other luxury hotels with the same name in the city. The people who lived worked or played there move out and new people move in — the ongoing migration of a vibrant urban area. The extent of pain and dislocation caused by it is usually a function of how rapidly it occurs.

One of Thailand’s major preoccupations is with massage. It is ingrained in the religious and cultural subconscious of the country. The Thais even developed their own brand of massage that is taught in the most prestigious temples throughout the nation. It consists of vigorous application of the hands, elbows, forearms, and feet by the masseuse to various points on the customer’s body accompanied by periodic sudden stretching or wrenching of his joints. Although a Thai massage can make you feel great after it is over, many people find the process too painful. As a result foreigners often, after a brief flirtation with “the real thing,” eventually turn to more traditional massage with its vigorous rubbing of the body with oil, with or without a happy ending. Many “legitimate” massage establishments do not provide happy endings (it is, in fact, illegal).
Speaking of legitimate massage in Bangkok, I would like to make a pitch to those who may visit the city to try Silk Spa on Sukhumvit Soi 13. It is rated by several travel magazines as one of the best massage parlors in Bangkok. My old friends, Gary and Pui, own the place. Gary is Canadian. He plays ice hockey in the Thai ice hockey league. The Spa is located on Soi 13 about 50 yards off Sukhumvit. Inside, it is a little gem of a place. Gary spends many days designing and building the interior. The evidence of his craftsmanship is everywhere, from the handsome gray slate floor and attractively painted walls of the massage rooms to the marvelous two person sauna with its shining blond wood. I go there three or four times a week after I finish my mornings at the health club.
Pasted Graphic

Although I like Bangkok a lot, there is one thing I despise. That is when I am riding the bus or the Skytrain and hanging onto the strap because it is crowded and I see someone, who I am convinced is older and more decrepit than I, get up out of his or her seat and offer it to me. I usually reject the offer somewhat coldly, unless of course, I am very tired. Then, I take the seat and sit there mortified (a word not often used anymore) on the one hand and relieved on the other. It is these internal conflicts that…Hmm, I think I’ve gone on about this long enough.

I spent a couple of delightful hours with my friend the Old Sailor. He is a kind man who has lived a fascinating life as a sailor, commercial deep sea diver, treasure hunter, and the like. He lived most of his life in places by the sea in south Florida (Key West), the Virgin Islands, Easter Island and French Polynesia (Bora Bora). He now resides in a second rate hotel in Bangkok. The walls of his room are covered with photographs organized by year. When I asked him about that, he said that he was beginning to have trouble remembering things. He had, he went on, an interesting life and he did not want to forget any of it before the inevitable dimming of the light.

One day, at a nearby Italian restaurant, in the course of our rambling conversation, he began a sentence with the words, “I sailed the Windward Passage three times.” It seemed to be an interesting story was in the offing and I was right.

One time, he either worked for or partnered with the Captain of a boat docked somewhere in South Florida. The Captain was having a dispute with someone over money or ownership or something like that. So, in the middle of the night, he and the Captain took the boat, leaving with no money between them and almost no gas to power the engines. So, they broke into a nearby refueling dock during the dark of night, refueled, and set off for wherever. Needing money, they stopped in the Virgin Islands and found a gig towing a large sailboat through the Windward Passage south of Cuba to Jamaica.

Somewhere near Cuba, a storm came upon them. At that most inopportune moment, their engine decided to quit and the boat slowed down. Unfortunately, the large sailboat did not and it smashed into their stern grabbing onto it like a shark grabbing onto a seal. Even more, unfortunately, the bowsprit of sailboat broke off and began thrashing back and forth across the deck making it impossible for the two adventures to get to it and untangle the lines and separate the boats. So, they spent the night hoping they would live to see the sunrise. The tale stopped there. Obviously, at least the Old Sailor survived. I do not know what became of the boats or the Captain or whether whatever he was fleeing from eventually caught up to him. I see in this a potential Hemingwayesque novella, “Captains Not So Very Courageous.”

A few years ago, some travel magazine commissioned a poll in which people from many countries of the world were asked if they thought it was ok to cheat foreigners out of their money. The citizens of no country responded with acceptance of such callous amoral behavior anywhere near 50% except for the Thais, over 80% of whom could see no problem in that conduct.

On Wednesday, I had lunch with the Gemologist. He is also a well-known ethnologist (The Vanishing Tribes of Burma), artist (sculpture and painting), adventurer, writer, businessman, raconteur, and man about town. I have written about him before. He has recently returned from several trips into the hill country of Burma where he photographed one of the hill tribes in their traditional dress and re-established his trading connections with the Gurkha miners and gem merchants working there. He has resumed trading high-value rubies and sapphires and showed me photographs of several beautiful examples (in the one million dollars and up each range).
IMG_1181.jpg
A Million Dollar Flawless Sapphire Recently Sold

It is always a pleasure spending an afternoon with him. We spoke of many things, mostly our disappointment with the political situation in America and the rigors of getting old.
IMG_2952

B. NEWS STRAIGHT OR SLIGHTLY BENT:

In California.

. Naida’s heart surgery has been successful and she is back home recovering. Unfortunately, Bill continues to suffer increasingly debilitating effects from his diabetes.

. Peter’s hip replacement surgery has been put off for a month. Although he continues to experience ever increasing pain, he still performs several times a week with other geriatric musicians at his various euphonic gigs.

In Spain.

The intrepid pilgrims, Vittorio and Teacher Brian have reached Burgos the historic capital of the Kingdom of Castile on their 30-day trek to Santiago de Compostela.

In Bangkok

. In Bangkok this week, five people died after falling into a sewer pipe.

. The Thai Prime Minister recently banned the police from continuing the practice of parading suspects before the press and re-enacting their crimes for the benefit of the cameras.

. The Thai Prime Minister, previously a general who headed the nation’s military, denied that the main purpose of the upcoming meeting in Washington with Donald Trump was to negotiate the sale of military hardware for the Thai armed forces. He seemed to indicate that since they are already getting military hardware from China and other countries, procurement of armaments from the US is not even on the agenda.

The day after the above statement was issued the Thai English language newspapers reported that the US has agreed to sell five Blackhawk helicopter gunships to the Thai military.

. TheThai Labour Ministry plans to improve the professional standards of massage therapists and promises those interested in becoming certified therapists a guaranteed standard wage ranging from 440 baht (about $14) to 815 ($27) baht per day.
“It’s important to standardize the practice of Thai massage, which is not only good for relieving muscle pain but also promotes good health,” said Labour Minister Gen Sirichai Distakul who described it as the art of health care and healing with a simple touch of the hands.(The Bangkok Post)
I assume, “Happy endings” remain negotiable.

. Also from the Bangkok Post:

PATTAYA: A 33-year-old man (A western tourist most likely) has learned a painful and embarrassing lesson after an experiment with penis rings went terribly wrong.
Identified only as Moss, the man had to seek help after the two rings he had attached caused the organ to swell painfully and he was unable to remove them himself.
He went to Pattaya City Hospital to see if the staff there could handle the consequences of his bold decision. Doctors tried in vain to remove the rings and finally had to call rescue workers from the Sawang Boriboon Foundation to handle the delicate procedure.
The rescue experts used a small metal sheet to shield the organ and very carefully applied a cutting tool to break the rings open.
The relieved patient thanked his rescuers for their help and went away in considerably less pain than when he arrived. He did not tell them why he had put the rings on.
So goes a day in Bangkok, “The Place of Olive Plums.

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It has been a while since I updated the status of the several soaps I watch while eating dinner in my apartment.

One of my favorites ended a few weeks ago. It concerned a young man who wore a cowboy hat and covered his face with a scarf when he would be up and about beating up other people for some reason. His nemesis was also a young man who could pass for the masked man’s twin. They would periodically battle because each thought the other was the bad guy. After many weeks of this, the real bad guy turned out to be the guy with the mustache who not only had a gang but had magic powers as well. Mustache could defeat each of the young men alone. So the two young men joined forces for the ultimate showdown with him.

Now unlike US melodrama where such confrontations are resolved in a blaze of gunfire, explosions, and car chases, the low-budget Thai soaps are limited to climatic battles with hands, feet, at times swords and very bad special effects. After two full episodes where the young men are fairly well trashed by the mustache, they manage to combine their much weaker magic powers and destroy the source of the mustache’s magic powers and thoroughly beat him up. They were unable to kill him, however, so they staked him out in the middle of a field so that the vultures could eat him alive; which they did in living color while I was eating my dinner.

In the following final episode the masked man put his cowboy hat and scarf into a trunk and with the girl who had on and off rejected him, stood somewhere in the countryside with his counterpart and his counterpart’s often imperiled girl friend and they all smiled at each other for a long time.

 

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I arrived in Bangkok, the city of the “Sidewalks of Death.” Should one stroll about the town one might: find the sidewalk beneath of him suddenly open up, plunging him into the fetid miasmatic water below and carrying him off to the equally pestilential waters of some ancient canal, there to drown — trip on a crack in the pavement sending him tumbling into the street where he is maimed or killed by hoards of crazed bikers trying to beat the traffic light — be attacked by rabid soi dogs and sewer rats who gnaw off his ankles — be abducted by an evil tuk-tuk driver and disappear forever — be set upon by a group of manic ladyboys pouring out of an alley who either ravish his body or beat him senseless and steal his money. I love this city.

 

The flight from Rome to Bangkok was uneventful except during the leg from Kuwait to Bangkok where the young man sitting next to me, who appeared to be a religious of some sort, insisted that I listen to a recording of incessant chanting by some Iman or something. That was OK because there is nothing I prefer to sleep through than chanting.

 

Bangkok is hot (but not as hot as is parts of California right now). It rains every afternoon and evening— often big grumbling thunder showers. So, I go about whatever I go about these days in the mornings and lie in my bed and stare at the ceiling or tap away at my computer in the afternoon and evenings.

 

Thailand is billed by the Thai Visitors Bureau as the “Land of Smiles.” Thais have at least 15 types of smile, none of which means I’m pleased to see you — except for of shopkeepers, grifters and bar girls who unfortunately see you only as an ATM machine.

 

In the morning, as I walk from my apartment to the health club, I check to see which of the denizens of the street I have come to recognize over the years are missing since the last time I visited. The massive homeless young man often seen sprawled in a stupor on the sidewalks of Soi Nana or wandering in a daze down the street seems to be gone. The one-legged “king of the beggars” as I named him because of his handsome features, meticulous trimmed hair and beard who I now and then see entering for lunch some of the better restaurants on Soi 11, has resumed his post on the sunny corner of Sukhumvit and Soi 5.

 

My part of Bangkok continues to change and disappear. The old buildings with the cheap restaurants, go-go bars, and nightclubs get torn down, replaced with gleaming silver towers boasting that they contain the greatest award winning condominiums, or offices, or the finest of the three or four other luxury hotels with the same name in the city. The people who lived, worked or played there move out and new people move in — the ongoing migration of a vibrant urban area. The extent of pain and dislocation caused by it is usually a function of how rapidly it occurs.

 

One of Thailand’s major preoccupations is with massage. It is ingrained in the religious and cultural subconscious of the country. The Thais even developed their own brand of massage that is taught in the most prestigious temples throughout the nation. It consists of vigorous application of the hands, elbows, forearms, and feet by the masseuse to various points on the customer’s body accompanied by periodic sudden stretching or wrenching of his joints. Although a Thai massage can make you feel great after it is over, many people find the process too painful. As a result foreigners often, after a brief flirtation with “the real thing,” eventually turn to more traditional massage with its vigorous rubbing of the body with oil, with or without a happy ending. Many “legitimate” massage establishments do not provide happy endings (it is, in fact, illegal).

 

Speaking of legitimate massage in Bangkok, I would like to make a pitch to those who may visit the city to try Silk Spa on Sukhumvit Soi 13. It is rated by several travel magazines as one of the best massage parlors in Bangkok. My old friends, Gary and Pui, own the place. Gary is Canadian. He plays ice hockey in the Thai ice hockey league. The Spa is located on Soi 13 about 50 yards off Sukhumvit. Inside, it is a little gem of a place. Gary spends many days designing and building the interior. The evidence of his craftsmanship is everywhere, from the handsome gray slate floor and attractively painted walls of the massage rooms to the marvelous two person sauna with its shining blond wood. I go there three or four times a week after I finish my mornings at the health club.
Pasted Graphic

 

Although I like Bangkok a lot, there is one thing I despise. That is when I am riding the bus or the Skytrain and hanging onto the strap because it is crowded and I see someone, who I am convinced is older and more decrepit than I, get up out of his or her seat and offer it to me. I usually reject the offer somewhat coldly, unless of course, I am very tired. Then, I take the seat and sit there mortified (a word not often used anymore) on the one hand and relieved on the other. It is these internal conflicts that…Hmm, I think I’ve gone on about this long enough.

 

I spent a couple of delightful hours with my friend the Old Sailor. He is a kind man who has lived a fascinating life as a sailor, commercial deep sea diver, treasure hunter, and the like. He lived most of his life on or by the sea in South Florida (Key West), the Virgin Islands, Easter Island and French Polynesia (Bora Bora). He now resides in a second rate hotel in Bangkok. The walls of his room are covered with photographs organized by year. When I asked him about that, he said that he was beginning to have trouble remembering things. He had, he went on, an interesting life and he did not want to forget any of it before the inevitable dimming of the light.

 

One day, at a nearby Italian restaurant, in the course of our rambling conversation, he began a sentence with the words, “I sailed the Windward Passage three times.” It seemed to be an interesting story was in the offing and I was right.

 

One time, he either worked for or partnered with the Captain of a boat docked somewhere in South Florida. The Captain was having a dispute with someone over money or ownership or something like that. So, in the middle of the night, he and the Captain took the boat, leaving with no money between them and almost no gas to power the engines. So, they broke into a nearby refueling dock during the dark of night, refueled, and set off for wherever. Needing money, they stopped in the Virgin Islands and found a gig towing a large sailboat through the Windward Passage south of Cuba to Jamaica.

 

Somewhere near Cuba, a storm came upon them. At that most inopportune moment, their engine decided to quit and the boat slowed down. Unfortunately, the large sailboat did not and it smashed into their stern grabbing onto it like a shark grabbing onto a seal. Even more, unfortunately, the bowsprit of sailboat broke off and began thrashing back and forth across the deck making it impossible for the two adventures to get to it and untangle the lines and separate the boats. So, they spent the night hoping they would live to see the sunrise. The tale stopped there. Obviously, at least the Old Sailor survived. I do not know what became of the boats or the Captain or whether whatever he was fleeing from eventually caught up to him. I see in this a potential Hemingwayesque novella, “Captains Not So Very Courageous.”

 

A few years ago, some travel magazine commissioned a poll in which people from many countries of the world were asked if they thought it was ok to cheat foreigners out of their money. The citizens of no country responded with acceptance of such callous amoral behavior anywhere near 50% except for the Thais, over 80% of whom could see no problem in that conduct.

 

On Wednesday, I had lunch with the Gemologist. He is also a well-known ethnologist (The Vanishing Tribes of Burma), artist (sculpture and painting), adventurer, writer, businessman, raconteur, and man about town. I have written about him before. He has recently returned from several trips into the hill country of Burma where he photographed one of the hill tribes in their traditional dress and re-established his trading connections with the Gurkha miners and gem merchants working there. He has resumed trading high-value rubies and sapphires and showed me photographs of several beautiful examples (in the one million dollars and up each range).
IMG_1181
A Million Dollar Flawless Sapphire Recently Sold

 

It is always a pleasure spending an afternoon with him. We spoke of many things, mostly our disappointment with the political situation in America and the rigors of getting old.
IMG_2952

 

Read Full Post »

 

I arrived in Bangkok, the city of the “Sidewalks of Death.” Should one stroll about the town one might: find the sidewalk beneath of him suddenly open up, plunging him into the fetid miasmatic water below and carrying him off to the equally pestilential waters of some ancient canal, there to drown — trip on a crack in the pavement sending him tumbling into the street where he is maimed or killed by hoards of crazed bikers trying to beat the traffic light — be attacked by rabid soi dogs and sewer rats who gnaw off his ankles — be abducted by an evil tuk-tuk driver and disappear forever — be set upon by a group of manic ladyboys pouring out of an alley who either ravish his body or beat him senseless and steal his money. I love this city.

 

The flight from Rome to Bangkok was uneventful except during the leg from Kuwait to Bangkok where the young man sitting next to me, who appeared to be a religious of some sort, insisted that I listen to a recording of incessant chanting by some Iman or something. That was OK because there is nothing I prefer to sleep through than chanting.

 

Bangkok is hot (but not as hot as is parts of California right now). It rains every afternoon and evening— often big grumbling thunder showers. So, I go about whatever I go about these days in the mornings and lie in my bed and stare at the ceiling or tap away at my computer in the afternoon and evenings.

 

Thailand is billed by the Thai Visitors Bureau as the “Land of Smiles.” Thais have at least 15 types of smile, none of which means I’m pleased to see you — except for of shopkeepers, grifters and bar girls who unfortunately see you only as an ATM machine.

 

In the morning, as I walk from my apartment to the health club, I check to see which of the denizens of the street I have come to recognize over the years are missing since the last time I visited. The massive homeless young man often seen sprawled in a stupor on the sidewalks of Soi Nana or wandering in a daze down the street seems to be gone. The one-legged “king of the beggars” as I named him because of his handsome features, meticulous trimmed hair and beard who I now and then see entering for lunch some of the better restaurants on Soi 11, has resumed his post on the sunny corner of Sukhumvit and Soi 5.

 

My part of Bangkok continues to change and disappear. The old buildings with the cheap restaurants, go-go bars, and nightclubs get torn down, replaced with gleaming silver towers boasting that they contain the greatest award winning condominiums, or offices, or the finest of the three or four other luxury hotels with the same name in the city. The people who lived, worked, or played there move out and new people move in — the ongoing migration of a vibrant urban area. The extent of pain and dislocation caused by it is usually a function of how rapidly it occurs.

 

One of Thailand’s major preoccupations is with massage. It is ingrained in the religious and cultural subconscious of the country. The Thais even developed their own brand of massage that is taught in the most prestigious temples throughout the nation. It consists of vigorous application of the hands, elbows, forearms, and feet by the masseuse to various points on the customer’s body accompanied by periodic sudden stretching or wrenching of his joints. Although a Thai massage can make you feel great after it is over, many people find the process too painful. As a result foreigners often, after a brief flirtation with “the real thing,” eventually turn to more traditional massage with its vigorous rubbing of the body with oil, with or without a happy ending. Many “legitimate” massage establishments do not provide happy endings (it is, in fact, illegal).

 

Speaking of legitimate massage in Bangkok, I would like to make a pitch to those who may visit the city to try Silk Spa on Sukhumvit Soi 13. It is rated by several travel magazines as one of the best massage parlors in Bangkok. My old friends, Gary and Pui, own the place. Gary is Canadian. He plays ice hockey in the Thai ice hockey league. The Spa is located on Soi 13 about 50 yards off Sukhumvit. Inside, it is a little gem of a place. Gary spends many days designing and building the interior. The evidence of his craftsmanship is everywhere, from the handsome gray slate floor and attractively painted walls of the massage rooms to the marvelous two person sauna with its shining blond wood. I go there three or four times a week after I finish my mornings at the health club.
Pasted Graphic

 

Although I like Bangkok a lot, there is one thing I despise. That is when I am riding the bus or the Skytrain and hanging onto the strap because it is crowded and I see someone, who I am convinced is older and more decrepit than I, get up out of his or her seat and offer it to me. I usually reject the offer somewhat coldly, unless of course, I am very tired. Then, I take the seat and sit there mortified (a word not often used anymore) on the one hand and relieved on the other. It is these internal conflicts that…Hmm, I think I’ve gone on about this long enough.

 

I spent a couple of delightful hours with my friend the Old Sailor. He is a kind man who has lived a fascinating life as a sailor, commercial deep sea diver, treasure hunter, and the like. He lived most of his life on or by the sea in South Florida (Key West), the Virgin Islands, Easter Island and French Polynesia (Bora Bora). He now resides in a second rate hotel in Bangkok. The walls of his room are covered with photographs organized by year. When I asked him about that, he said that he was beginning to have trouble remembering things. He had, he went on, an interesting life and he did not want to forget any of it before the inevitable dimming of the light.

 

One day, at a nearby Italian restaurant, in the course of our rambling conversation, he began a sentence with the words, “I sailed the Windward Passage three times.” It seemed to be an interesting story was in the offing and I was right.

 

One time, he either worked for or partnered with the Captain of a boat docked somewhere in South Florida. The Captain was having a dispute with someone over money or ownership or something like that. So, in the middle of the night, he and the Captain took the boat, leaving with no money between them and almost no gas to power the engines. So, they broke into a nearby refueling dock during the dark of night, refueled, and set off for wherever. Needing money, they stopped in the Virgin Islands and found a gig towing a large sailboat through the Windward Passage south of Cuba to Jamaica.

 

Somewhere near Cuba, a storm came upon them. At that most inopportune moment, their engine decided to quit and the boat slowed down. Unfortunately, the large sailboat did not and it smashed into their stern grabbing onto it like a shark grabbing onto a seal. Even more unfortunately, the bowsprit of sailboat broke off and began thrashing back and forth across the deck making it impossible for the two adventures to get to it and untangle the lines and separate the boats. So, they spent the night hoping they would live to see the sunrise. The tale stopped there. Obviously, at least the Old Sailor survived. I do not know what became of the boats or the Captain or whether whatever he was fleeing from eventually caught up to him. I see in this a potential Hemingwayesque novella, “Captains Not So Very Courageous.”

 

A few years ago, some travel magazine commissioned a poll in which people from many countries of the world were asked if they thought it was ok to cheat foreigners out of their money. The citizens of no country responded with acceptance of such callous amoral behavior anywhere near 50% except for the Thais, over 80% of whom could see no problem in that conduct.

 

On Wednesday, I had lunch with the Gemologist. He is also a well-known ethnologist (The Vanishing Tribes of Burma), artist (sculpture and painting), adventurer, writer, businessman, raconteur, and man about town. I have written about him before. He has recently returned from several trips into the hill country of Burma where he photographed one of the hill tribes in their traditional dress and re-established his trading connections with the Gurkha miners and gem merchants working there. He has resumed trading high-value rubies and sapphires and showed me photographs of several beautiful examples (in the one million dollar and up each range).
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A Million Dollar Flawless Sapphire Recently Sold

 

It is always a pleasure spending an afternoon with him. We spoke of many things, mostly our disappointment with the political situation in America and the rigors of getting old.
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As most of you know by now, I am a hypochondriac. I overreact to the slightest bodily unease with visions of my imminent demise. I guess you can say I am a melodramatic hypochondriac. What follows is my experience during my recent travels to Thailand.

With SWAC’s 20 kilo suitcase to deliver to friends and family in Thailand in tow, Dick dropped me off at the Capital Corridor station in Sacramento. About four hours later, I found myself standing at the Air China counter at SFO listening to the attendant tell me that there were no aisle seats available. I responded that if I did not get an aisle seat I would die of a pulmonary embolism like I almost did once before and I would bleed all over the plane from my recent operation and then my estate would sue the airline for all they were worth* and there would be a lot of trouble. She laughed, repeated “trouble” and gave me an aisle seat.

(* As my old torts professor told us that the victim in a lawsuit is worth far more injured and in permanent horrible pain than dead. So if you are ever at fault in an accident make sure your victims are dead and not injured. You will make your insurance company very happy.)

In the plane, a Philippine-American woman of indeterminant age (clearly too old to be young and a few years short of being old) sat in the middle seat next to me. She asked if I would be willing to change seats with her. I laughed and said, “I fought too hard for this seat to give it up now.”

During the flight, as I watched the movies (mostly cartoons), I noticed the woman next to me talking to the movie on her screen. So, I shut down mine, watched hers, and listened to her non-stop dialogue with the actors.

About two-thirds of the way across the Pacific, I realized I had not taken my blood thinner pill. Convinced I would die of an embolism if I did not do so, I rooted through my carry-on, found the bottle, and swallowed a pill. Alas, after I had done so, I recalled that I normally break the pill apart and take only about one-quarter of it. Believing my now super-thinned blood would soon leach into my body cavity followed by the bursting of the scars from my recent operation, I was sure I would be dead before we landed in Beijing.

I did not die. Instead, I experienced the Chinese international flight transfer passengers ritual. In the USA, the TSA continues to add more and more personnel to stand around and bully passengers but they never seem to increase the number of lanes for processing. The Chinese, on the other hand, place a single functionary at each end of several long halls through which the transferring passengers are forced to walk. Each functionary slowly checks over the same traveler’s documents (passport and ticket) as they pass from hall to hall. Finally, the travelers having had their passports checked by several functionaries, arrive at a place where many signs are posted requiring the passengers to empty their luggage of just about everything they could possibly carry and place them in separate bins to pass through the security equipment. This whole procedure so slows down the process that only a single security apparatus is adequate to handle the dribbling in of passengers as they emerge from the lengthy bureaucratic gauntlet.

Anyway, off I flew from Beijing on a much smaller aircraft. One without personal TV at each seat. About an hour into the five-hour flight, I developed a need to use the lavatory.

When I was discharged from the hospital after my recent operation, I was given a number of sheets of paper describing what I should or shouldn’t do as I recuperate. On one, in bold type, was written: YOU MAY EXPERIENCE AN EPISODE WHEN YOUR URINE STREAM IS THE COLOR AND TEXTURE OF CATSUP. THIS IS NORMAL. DO NOT BE AFRAID. At my post-op meeting with the urologist three days before my flight, the doctor repeated the warning and urged me not to be afraid if this happens. So here I was in the tiny restroom of an airplane 35,000 feet above China and I looked down to see a steady stream of catsup flowing out of my body into the bowl. Despite all the warnings, I was afraid — very afraid.

I made my way back to my seat and sat there somewhat rigidly, persuaded I was sure to die before we arrived in Bangkok. We arrived in BKK at about midnight and I was still alive. I took a taxi to my apartment and upon entering it went directly to the bathroom. The catsup was still flowing.

Now, convinced death certainly would overtake me before morning, I contemplated the possibility of spending my last night on earth running up Soi Nanna, dashing through the ladyboy center of the universe at Nana Plaza, climbing to the top of the building and throwing myself off to crash through the roof of Bangkok Hooters or Bangkok Bunnies night club as a demonstration of my opposition to the corporate commercialization of what used to be simple two-part exchanges. Alas, like most people when confronted with the end having not completed their bucket list, I went to bed — and dreamed:

I dreamt I was a very very rich and very corrupt man who realized that the world was rapidly going to hell, primarily because of the activities rich and corrupt people like me. I could, I thought, use my wealth and power to protect myself and continue living the high life while the world careened to its end. Perhaps even building a huge underground bunker somewhere in the Rockies where I could live with my mothballed yachts and automobiles until it all blew over.

Alas, I realized instead, sooner or later things would get so bad that the proles would grab their guns, break into my bunker and shoot my sorry ass even before the rest of the world ends. So, I decided the best way to protect myself was to save the world myself and while so doing become even richer and more corrupt. As an added benefit, should I be successful, I, eventually, would be considered a saint or hero by the public who survive along with me.

The next day I woke up at about noon and found that I was still alive. In the bathroom, I checked and found the catsup gone replaced by something that looked more like year old green tea dregs. I took this as a sign that I would live for a few more days at least, so I decided to eat a breakfast of instant coffee and some buns from 7/11 that were renowned for their lack of taste. By the time I finished eating and staring at the wall, it was 4 o’clock and almost time for dinner, so I dressed, went to a small restaurant near the apartment and had a pretty good plate of sweet and sour pork. I returned to my apartment and was struck with jet-lag so I went back to bed. And I had another dream:

I was riding in a car driving along a ridge near the California Coast and as I looked our over the ocean I saw, far off, a wave building that was higher than the ridge we were driving on. The driver said it looks like we were going to be hit by several giant tsunamis and we must get over the mountains and into to the Central Valley to be safe. He drove me about five miles inland where he dropped me off to meet my brother. We planned to ride our bicycles across the coastal range and into the valley. But, unfortunately, my bike was lost. So my brother (who was nine years old) and I ran for our house. We climbed to the third floor hoping to ride out the Tsunami. The first wave hit. I protected my brother with my body. We survived. I knew we had to leave before the next wave arrived.

I went to the front of the house where some relatives lived to see if they survived. I despised this family — no that’s not strong enough — I loathed them. Even that is not strong enough. I hated them since I was two when I went directly from the security of my baby bottle to loathing these people. (I have many unresolved anger management issues in my dreams.)

During my youth, not knowing where my parents were, I spent much of my time being passed around to various families among whom were these particular relatives. Among the many reasons for my hate of them in addition to their generally detestable behavior was that they told me told me Santa Claus was not real then laughed at my disappointment. Actually, there was one member of the family I could tolerate. He was always very nice to me. Many years later I learned he became a serial child molester.

They all survived the tsunami except for my uncle by marriage’s mother. “I had hoped you all were dead” I screamed at them. “I’m glad the old lady is dead. Now we don’t have to drag her wretched boney ass across the mountains.” I ran back up to the third floor and picked up my brother who had shrunk from a nine-year-old to a three-year-old.

We stood there by the window looking out at the mountains. We saw our father driving what looked like a 1925 Rolls-Royce Phaeton racing a 2016 black Lexus down the mountain. They drove straight at the house. At the last moment. they swerved off in a wide circle around the house. When they appeared again, they seemed to be heading back up the mountain. Suddenly my father’s car slid on a puddle of water, skidded across the road, bumped over the curb careened through a large parking lot and over another curb, smashed through a fence and climbed up a billboard where they stopped teetering on the edge. My mother and father exited the car and climbed down from the billboard on which it hung. My father stood there, arms upraised shouting, “Why me God? Why me?” My mother, furious, stalked away. They were dressed in 1940s style. My mom in a smart floral print dress and a tiny hat and my father looking a bit like Clyde Barker.

I was distraught, I imagined that we would have to walk up the mountain with the slight hope of crossing it before the next tsunami. In addition, I would have to carry my now screaming and urine soaked brother. I also would be traveling in the company of relatives I despised and wished were dead while being forced to listen to my parents argue. I imagined my mother saying something like, “Why God? I’ll tell you why God. Because you’re stupid, no you’re a fucking idiot, that’s why God.”

Suddenly I started laughing uncontrollably and the laughing woke me up and it woke up the Little Masseuse who was sleeping on the floor at the foot of the bed. She said, “You crazy. You very crazy.”

I lay back on my pillow and tried to figure out what the dream meant. I remembered that I had read somewhere that dreaming about water had something to do with sex. Putting that together with the rest of my dream, I realized I did not want to go there. So, I practiced my breathing exercises and contemplated the words of that great American philosopher and wry observer of antebellum Georgia society Scarlett O’Hara who, following Sherman’s laying waste to everything important in her life, opined, “Tomorrow is another day.”

At least, I certainly hope so.

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