Thursday, June 19, 2014

Through My Viewfinder Pt. 2... And Some Thoughts On Time

Mist on the morning river in the Chonburi area

This is the second post of a series that will more than likely be another herky-jerk affair; Part 1 being some miscellaneous pictures from days spent in Bangkok proper; the enormous sprawl of city itself that easily covers over 600 square miles, and some of the outlying metropolitan areas that are almost another 8,000 square miles. 

Bamboo scaffolding on a
building in Chonburi
Each time I visit I try to venture out of the Big Mango, though; getting out among the good people of Thailand makes a trip so much more memorable... in my admittedly less-than-humble opinion, anyway.

If you're willing to step a ways out of your usual tourist comfort zone you're bound to meet new friends. Now closing in on 20 times in the kingdom I've met many, and the problem (we should all have such problems, frankly) is that even when I'm there for a month or so I have to be selective about who I tell about my intended trips there. There simply isn't enough time to catch up with everyone. I've long maintained a person can't have too many friends... just too many to keep up with. That's the case stateside here, and it's become the case there, too.

"There's a place I'd love to show you," my Thai friends write "and I hope you'll save some time for us to go there on your next visit!" Sometimes they'll send a link to pictures they've taken there themselves, sometimes it's just a crap shoot that I have to put my faith in. I've very rarely been disappointed. I guess that's why I've yet to make it to Phuket and some of the more regularly visited spots; those can be seen on countless web sites. I haven't seen a few of my friends for several years, but there's always next time. I hope.

The G.O.D. disco on Silom Soi 2, shortly before opening time. I've never been up late enough to venture inside. I'm a lousy dancer, anyway.

If you've been along on the ride here so far you've seen posts about Laem Sing, Chantaburi, Phitsanulok, Amphawa, Udonthani, Lopburi, Surin and quite a number of other spots; the stories can be found in the right-hand column "labels" listings, if you've got a little time to invest - but a lack of that is understandable; time is our most precious commodity, so enjoy them as your time allows. A yard-long post usually gets a "skip over" from me, so no penalty accrued if you don't have time today. Unless Google pulls yet another unpleasant shenanigan they'll wait for you.

There's comfort in familiarity, though, and I still spend time both in Bangkok and visiting the sponsored students on the outskirts of Pattaya. Most of you will remember the posts about the students here, so I don't think I need to re-hash those. For newer readers you can see some of them here.

My best Isaan friend has moved to Europe to work, another from Bangkok has become a beautician in Germany and a third managed to get himself here to the USA, where he now does a couple of business ventures; primarily real estate, but also maintains an online business. They were able to make good on their dreams, and while miss seeing them there, I admire their dedication. 

A pond and rice fields outside my country bungalow on my last visit

I carry a camera most everywhere I go, and I love taking photos of everyday things I walk, drive or bicycle by along the way. I lead a hectic enough life here at home, even though I'm retired (hence the dearth of posts the past few months), but I'm longing to be back there again, and going through my pictures can be a comfort. 

A tree full of blossoms near Hua Hin

Where will I end up next time?  Who knows... I sure don't. There are a few physician friends (well, one's a dentist) who have been after me to get away with them for four years now, but that may be because they'd like a break themselves. They invariably pay at least their own way, and so generously indulge this old fart who so often says "Oh, wait... pull over, would you? I want to take a picture."

It's just the time. It goes by so fast there.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sleeping, Part 13: Napping At The Bangkok Demonstrations, 2014

A minor encampment in front of the Sport Science Bureau, next to MBK

The ongoing demonstrations in Thailand, while occurring in different parts of the country at different times, are primarily based in the Big Mango - Bangkok. Now the hub of note is Lumpini Park - or at least a portion of it, with traffic still brought to a standstill when the group moves out to march one place or another.

On the sidewalk in front of the MBK McDonalds

Meanwhile, people still need a place to sleep. That, and, as George Carlin used to do a routine about, "keep a smaller version of 'their stuff'". In January that included camping tents. Thousands of them, spread around at the protest sites. The small number of them above were next to, and below, the National Stadium BTS station, adjacent to the enormous Mah Boon Krong [MBK] Shopping Mall. The area where the B-Boys (breakdancers) used to hold court by that station is now cordoned off, so the free shows are on hiatus. 

When I was there most of the speeches and rallying took place in the evenings, and when the "Nine to Five" folks got off work many of them would make their way to the stage sites to hear the speakers, clack their plastic hand noisemakers and raise a combined shriek with thousands of whistles when they heard something they liked coming from the concert-sized banks of amplifiers.

Napping at noontime next to the National Stadium BTS station

During the daytime, much of the area was quiet; cart vendors ruling the scene, and many of the others just in town for the protests (so to speak) were snoozing wherever they could. Come to think of it, it was much the same at nighttime for random napping, but I honestly don't understand how very many could sleep through the 100 decibel racket.  I'd say "sleep of the innocent", but from distant past experience I tend to doubt that was the case!

Evidently he wasn't as taken by the speech going on as some were...

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Thai Smiles, Part 57: At The Chiang Mai Flower Festival Parade

One of the float participants, waiting with his friends for their ride

Every so often the stars align correctly and my travel schedule allows me to take in places and events I wouldn't ordinarily experience. This past trip I found myself in Chiang Mai during the days of the annual flower festival, and if you're any sort of flower fanatic it's a sight not to be missed. Since we haven't added anything to the Thai Smiles series since last August it seems time for a new set, and here it is.

A male and a female? Two males? Two females? Half the fun is in the guessing, so no clues...

As has been my usual modus operandi I'm going to start off with some pictures taken before the actual event, and cover the peripheral information, parade and floats themselves in the near future. If I space on that again (there's still more to come on the ocean-side Maruekatayawan teak palace post from last December, for example) feel free to e-kick me in the butt and remind me.

Two guys working on a power generator at the staging area

There was a staging area for the float participants to gather and await the walk to their floats that had been parked on side streets in preparation for the parade. The parade itself was on Thai Time, and if it actually got started at 16:00 I couldn't tell you where; no place near the parade route, that's for sure.

A tourist's child, sitting with three participants

So... here today are a few of the people awaiting further instructions. More about the parade (and festival) to come soon.

The traditional costumes were - as you'd expect - quite colorful

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Something Old(er) To Share With You

Something a little different to share with you today: a site I've visited often over the past few years, but haven't gotten around to doing a post about - to my minor shame. I'm adding the link in the Other Sites You May Enjoy section on the right-hand column of the site here.

The site is named Monrakplengthai (มนต์รักเพลงไทย) - and it's a treasure trove of Thai music. No, not the most modern stuff, but things you're likely to hear if you're outside of a city, and trust me... that's a good thing.

Primarily taken from cassettes produced over the past 20 years or so, Monrakplengthai features a generous selection of music from throughout the country; available to preview and/or download. Many of these are smaller-scale productions, and it's always an aural adventure when they make a new post.

Their intoductory blurb says they feature  "a collection of great music made by the people of Thailand;," and there isn't much more I need to add to that.  You'll find Morlam, Luk Krung, Luk Thung, "regional folk styles and more". The sound and style isn't for everyone - some I enjoy more than others, I admit - but, as I said, it's an adventure, and an adventure often has some unexpected surprises.

Taste in music being a subjective thing I won't list my favorites I've heard from the site, but if you've ever heard something in Thailand at a market or festival, at a street gathering, in a taxi, while shopping in a store, while visiting a friend's home or by chance somewhere that struck a chord with you (pardon the pun), you're bound to hear something you like there.

In addition to the wide range of music available there are also some links almost guaranteed to derail your day by an hour or so as you drop down the rabbit hole.

Check it out. Everyone deserves some toe-tapping time, if not a little while dancing around, waving your arms in the air...wherever you happen to be now. I bet you'll to catch yourself keeping time with the infectious rhythms.

The page on March 5, 2011

Monday, March 17, 2014

Same Same, But Different! Pt. 16: Spring Cleaning And Home Repairs

Honey? Would you walk into the front room and tell me what the weather looks like today, please?

It's March 17 - Saint Patrick's Day in many places. There's the first hint of corned beef beginning to rise from the slow-cooker here in my home; the warm aroma of peppercorn, bay leaves, and mustard seed leading the pack. That means there will be a fine dinner tonight. 

Fortunately the days of the annual St. Patrick tsunami of bock beer, Bushmills (with Irish Coffees for balance) and anything else that could be hammered into a means to get hammered in general are long past me, thank goodness, along with that irritating faux macho bravado that tends to push the abuse along.

Although there are still plenty of areas in the U.S. this year where the sighting of the First Robin of Spring may involve a dead bird frozen in some grey icy sludge, it's fair weather here in California... and that means Spring Cleaning to a lot of us. It's taken a longer ramping-up period for me this year because of settling in and catching up after my extended month in Thailand/Taiwan, but I'm finally at it in earnest.

The annual house-cleaning time is in April in Thailand, although the holiday it precedes - Songkran - is far more often associated with the more joyous habit of water tossing, but it's also the time of year you'd clean house, both literally and spiritually.  That's really where the idea of pouring a minimal amount of water over the hands or head came from, anyway: a spiritual cleaning and blessing. More on that in about a month, when Songkran begins.

Regardless of how grand or how humble your home is in many countries in Asia, it's important to sweep it out and prepare it for the beginning of the new year, whenever that occurs in your area... and although we're far removed from the Western New Year, the tradition of Spring Cleaning has had me busy the past few days.

A roadside barber, Udonthani. I know families who live in shelters not much more "complete" than this - by our standards - but home is home... and New Year cleaning is still New Year cleaning.

Unlike the Thai roof in the top picture today nothing needed major renovations, just a basic cleaning: sweeping, moving furniture and vacuuming behind and beneath it, dusting cabinets and their contents (how does so much dust get into a closed cabinet, anyway?), giving the kitchen and bathrooms a good scrubbing down and doing a purge of things in the garage and storage. Coming from a long line of pack-rats that annual purge alone takes a couple of days.

There was a small leak in the conservatory roof that needed addressing, and I was reminded of the Thai commercial for Shera ceiling panels, so I took a break and looked it up again. It's still clever, I think.

There are still windows to wash and rain gutters to check, so I suppose this is as good a spot as any to close for today. Happy Saint Patrick's Day.  Be safe.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Through My Viewfinder, Pt. 1: Miscellaneous Bangkok

Call it what you will... I can't see the "fun" in this place

I freely admit I overuse the word "wander", but it best describes how I choose to spend a lot of time while on holiday, wherever that may be, and the implication that it's an unhurried walk around looking at people, places and things is often an apt description.

What remains of the canal below the Chong Nonsi BTS station

It probably goes without saying that I take a lot of pictures while on these casual excursions. I tend to group them for posts here by category, and that often leaves some of them in a batch that don't quite fit into any specific niche.  This series is an attempt to gather some of these digital "orphans" together and share them, if for no other reason than they pleased my eye at the time and I'd like to pass them along.

A Mexican restaurant near Silom Soi 4, if not on it... I'm not sure

A good friend and fellow blogger recently added his vote while we were on the phone that my composition skills leave a bit (OK, more than a bit) to be desired, but hey - everyone's a critic! Some people make baseless criticism their life's work. I don't understand the satisfaction in that, so I'll leave it to them and wish them well with it. I myself already know several reasonably well-known painters and photographers who support themselves quite well with their work, and if they say my composition skills suck, they probably do, wo who am I to argue?  Leaves me room for improvement, I suppose - and isn't that what the journey's mainly about, anyway?

The early morning sky, reflected in the wavy glass of an office building in the Sathorn area

So, here's Part One. As I now have well over 50,000 images from Thailand it could go on a while. Don't tempt me.

By the way... to address a recent message (and for those who don't read the introductory flotsam and jetsam on sites they visit) yes, unless I note otherwise I do take all of the images I post here myself. Wouldn't be honest if I didn't. Hopefully this puts the subject to rest again for a while.

An oddly-angled intersection near Siam Discovery

As always, comments are always welcome. Hope you enjoy the pictures.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Wow. I Slept Through An Entire MONTH That Time...

This man could have undoubtedly have found a more peaceful place to be snoozing than along a walkway in the departures terminal of Taoyuan International in Taipei... but there he was.

Most of you have heard the expression "be careful what you wish for", and I'm here to bear witness it might be something we'd all be wise to take to heart more often.  This past few months I'd been happily bobbling along, working on three of my five regular, ongoing projects and trying to convince myself I didn't truly need to visit Asia as much as I wanted to. Friends in the Land of Smiles would regularly send tempting emails about one enticing festival, event or place they thought I ought to be at or a part of, but I managed to stay on task... until the middle of January, anyway.

Then one day about seven weeks ago an excuse came to light, an opportunity arose, an airfare I couldn't resist popped up and - after a 20 hour voyage - I found myself again trudging along through the arrival corridors of Suvarnabhumi International Airport. It was a somewhat spur-of-the-moment decision, and while I don't regret making the trip it was another whirlwind series of adventures that find me in somewhat of a damp heap today; back at home with a pile of laundry needing attention, two full notebooks and another daunting heap of pocket notes, scribbled on whatever happened to be within reach at the moment. 

So, now that you know where I've spent the past five weeks or so, I'll try to fill you in on more of the details as time allows.  Now that I'm home my life will return to what passes for normal here, so while I'd like to post like I used to, that's not going to happen. I'll make an effort, though. 

This trip I caught up with a precious few of my Thai friends and only three of my usual farang contacts, but I did meet some new folks, ventured off to some new spots with a couple of old stand-by friends and stayed in a handful of new places. As usual, I took a lot of pictures - in fact, I believe I set a new record with close to 8,000 in five weeks - but then I was slowed to a near-standstill by a cold for about four days.  

So, let's give this another kick in the butt and see what happens. It's nice to be stateside again. To those who sent email and other messages asking where/how I was - thank you.  

To those who wrote saying they wished I'd begin posting stories and photos again: be careful what you wish for!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Same Same, But Different! Pt. 15: Civil Disobedience Here (And There)

The "I have a dream" speech crowd near the Washington Monument 50+ years ago

During the decade of the 1960s - a bit over 50 years ago - the United States had its share of unrest. Not only then, mind you, but it's been the most influential and progressive time during my life, even if I was a bit young to fully grasp what was going on at the beginning of it. Some of it was difficult to watch, but there it was, anyway: beamed into our homes daily by an industry just getting the hang of the immediate impact of televised news.

An image of Victory Monument, taken a few mornings ago by a friend on his way into work

There is similar civil disobedience happening (again) in Thailand; this time perhaps more organized, and certainly more visible. As you saw on the map from last Sunday there are seven key areas that have hosted the largest "camp-ins" in the city's history, and, as human nature has shown us over time, not everyone is content to wait things out. That's when the trouble starts. Acting alone or (more than likely) at the behest of someone or some group, violence erupts. Just as it did in 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama.

The famous Charles Moore photo of high school students being hit with high-pressure hoses in Birmingham in 1963

It depended on personal, regional and cultural differences how one felt about what was happening in the news - as it often does - but enough people were outraged by the 1960s images here today that changes were made. Not all of said changes were taken to heart by everyone, but things have made progress over the last half-century, I suppose.

In keeping with the "same-same, but different" thought today, over the past couple of days there has been similar uncivil disobedience in Bangkok. On the 18th it was reported that a grenade was tossed down from a building in an attempt to take out Suthep Thaugsuban one of the organizers.

A similar view of Victory Monument in Bangkok, taken by the same friend. This time he was on his way home.

Within 24 hours another grenade was tossed by the man below, said to have been caught on closed circuit TV. Aiming for a tent, he missed... and it landed on top of a coffee shop, injuring many folks nearby.

Adjusted photo from the Crime Reporter and Photographer Association of Thailand, published in the Bangkok Post 

Many embassies are advising visitors to reconsider going to Thailand at this time, especially Bangkok, but most people's vacation plans don't include wading into dangerous situations to begin with, so while some would disagree I'd suggest that with some advance planning (and some common sense while there) I personally don't see why a person couldn't have a good trip to Thailand... as things stand today. Situations can change in a heartbeat.

If you are thinking of visiting Thailand (I tend to think about it often), I'd suggest a few things: do your homework, consider steering clear of Bangkok or, if you do spend time there, use common sense and stay away from the demonstrations.  

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Now It Begins...Or DOES It?

Graphic from the Bangkok Post

It's nearing dawn in Bangkok on Monday the 13th of January. Without getting into a re-hash of posted news and without joining in to spew my own opinion on what may or may not happen I offer this graphic from the Bangkok Post as reference for you folks around the globe. It shows where street closures have been scheduled; many of you will recognize familiar spots on the map. 

I'll be anxiously watching the news feeds myself over the next 24 hours - at least. I suspect a while longer than that, actually. 

To my friends there: steer clear of the protest sites, if possible. There will be enough daredevils out gathering stories and photographs.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The True Spirit: "The Day The Kid Got His Peaches"

A San Francisco intersection at Christmas

[Today's post is a repeat of one that I've run the past couple of years, but a reader thought it worth repeating again for the newer readers, and I agreed. A couple of decades ago I read an article with a lesson to it that's stuck with me over the years, and in the spirit of the Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa holidays I thought I'd share it with you again today. If you can make the time in your hectic holiday schedule I hope you'll stop and read it. It's worth the time. Here's wishing the best holidays possible to all of you. Again, thank you for reading my stuff.]

By Al Martinez [San Francisco Chronicle: December 23, 1990] 

It happened one Christmas Eve a long time ago in a place called Oakland, California, on a newspaper called the Tribune with a city editor named Alfred P. Reck.

I was working swing shift on general assignment, writing the story of a boy who was dying of leukemia and whose greatest wish was for fresh peaches. It was a story that, in the tradition of 1950s journalism, would be milked for every sob we could squeeze from it, because everyone loved a good cry at Christmas.

We knew how to play a tear-jerker in those days, and I was full of the kind of passions that could make a sailor weep. I remember it was about 11 p.m. and pouring rain outside when I began putting the piece together for the next day’s editions. Deadline was an hour away, but an hour is a lifetime when you’re young and fast and never get tired. Then the telephone rang. It was Al Reck calling, as he always did at night, and he’d had a few under his belt.

Reck was a drinking man. With diabetes and epilepsy, hard liquor was about the last thing he ought to be messing with. But you didn’t tell Al what he ought or ought not to do. He was essentially a gentle man who rarely raised his voice, but you knew he was the city editor, and in those days the city editor was the law and word in the newsroom.

But there was more than fear and tradition at work for Al. We respected him immensely, not only for his abilities as a newsman, but for his humanity. Al was sensitive both to our needs and the needs of those whose names and faces appeared in the pages of the Oakland Tribune.

“What’s up?” he asked me that Christmas eve in a voice as soft and slurred as a summer breeze. He already knew what was up because, during 25 years on the city desk, Reck somehow always knew what was up, but he wanted to hear it from the man handling the story.

I told him about the kid dying of leukemia and about the peaches and about how there simply were no fresh peaches, but it still made a good piece. We had art and a hole on Page One.

Al listened for a moment and then said, “How long’s he got?” “Not long,” I said. “His doctor says maybe a day or two.” There was a long silence and then Al said, “Get the kid his peaches.”

“I’ve called all over,” I said. “None of the produce places in the Bay Area have fresh peaches. They’re just plain out of season. It’s winter.” “Not everywhere. Call Australia.” “Al,” I began to argue, “it’s after 11 and I have no idea...” “Call Australia,” he said, and then hung up.
If Al said call Australia, I would call Australia.

I don’t quite remember who I telephoned, newspapers maybe and agricultural associations, but I ended up finding fresh peaches and an airline that would fly them to the San Francisco Bay Area before the end of Christmas Day. There was only one problem. Customs wouldn’t clear them. They were an agricultural product and would be hung up at San Francisco International at least for a day, and possibly forever.

Reck called again. He listened to the problem and told me to telephone the secretary of agriculture and have him clear the peaches when they arrived. “It’s close to midnight,” I argued. “His office is closed.” “Take this number down,” Reck said. “It’s his home. Tell him I told you to call.”

It was axiomatic among the admirers of Al Reck that he knew everyone and everyone knew him, from cops on the street to government leaders in their Georgetown estates. No one knew how Al knew them or why, but he did. I called the secretary and he said he’d have the peaches cleared when they arrived and give Al Reck his best.

“All right,” Al said on his third and final call to me, “now arrange for one of the photographers to meet the plane and take the peaches over to the boy’s house.” He had been drinking steadily throughout the evening, and the slurring had become almost impossible to understand.
By then it was a few minutes past midnight, and just a heartbeat and a half to the final deadline.
“Al,” I said “if I don’t start writing this now I’ll never get the story in the paper.”

I won’t forget this moment. “I didn’t say get the story,” Reck replied gently. “I said get the kid his peaches.”

If there is a flashpoint in our lives to which we can refer later, moments that shape our attitudes and effect our futures, that was mine.

Alfred Pierce Reck had defined for me the importance of what we do, lifting it beyond newsprint and deadline to a level of humanity that transcends job. He understood not only what we did but what we were supposed to do. I didn’t say get the story. I said get the kid his peaches.

The boy got his peaches and the story made the home edition, and I received a lesson in journalism more important than any I’ve learned since.