Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year 2555/2556

Well, it's almost 2013/2556 in Bangkok. In about 45 minutes the parties in many, many parts of the city - indeed, throughout the kingdom - will reach a crescendo as people begin to tick off the last seconds of 2012/2555, and fireworks will bloom in the sky to the staccato of concussive sounds from all directions. In fact, most of my un-Westernized friends there call it "countdown" and not New Year's Eve.

It's been a fine holiday season for me (I hope it has been for all of you, too), and I've really enjoyed not only the break from the routine of everyday life, but the opportunity to renew my thoughts and attitude for the year to come. That's the best part of the holidays for me, anyway; a time to reflect and take an inventory of the year ending, a chance to learn from mistakes and make mental note of things I'd like to improve on in the year to come. Not really New Year resolutions, per se - those often fall to the wayside by the end of the first week. I've learned that simply being willing to make an earnest attempt at improvement is enough for this old codger, and something I'm far more likely to follow through on.

Thank you all very kindly for the greetings you paused to send along while celebrating your own traditions for this time of year... I appreciated them all. 

Regular posts will resume tomorrow, I suppose. I've woken up the past quarter century or so on January 1st (as opposed to coming to) so I'm flat out of excuses for not returning to sharing on a more consistant basis. Nice some of you missed them, and I'll make that earnest attempt to be here on schedule in the coming year.

Here's wishing you all a healthy, happy and prosperous 2013 (or 2556) - and in that order.

[The clips today are not mine. The top one was taken in Bangkok, the bottom one was in Pattaya.]

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Day The Kid Got His Peaches, Redux

Christmas lights in front of Siam Paragon, Bangkok

[Today's post is a repeat of one that ran last Christmas, on the 23rd, but it bears repeating for the newer readers. 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. It was written by a man named Al Martinez, and had been reprinted in my local paper from another in Los Angeles. If you can make the time in your hectic holiday schedule I hope you'll stop and read it. It's worth the time.]

The Day The Kid Got His Peaches

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 and I received a lesson in journalism more important than any I’ve learned since.


[Note: In addition to being busy with assorted Christmas festivities, I will be spending the next few days with my family and most likely not here online posting.  May your holidays be all you can make of them. Best wishes from here!]

Monday, December 24, 2012

December 24th: Here Wishing You A "Silent Night"

It's the morning of Christmas Eve here in the U.S. - for those who participate in that flavor of festivities, anyway. My spiritual beliefs don't fit very well with any organized Christian-based religion, but I love the holiday. Always have.

The last couple of years I've posted the above clip of a choral group singing "Silent Night," and that's what I'll share with you again this year - for a few reasons.

First and foremost: if you leave the religion-specific references out of it it expresses a sentiment that's all too often left behind in the world today, and it needs repeating, I think.

Secondly, it's the most beautiful rendition I've ever heard of the song. If you know of another, leave us the performer's name in the comments section and I'll check it out.

Third, a niece and nephew of mine are among the voices of the large chorale singing this particular version, and since it's my playhouse I'm taking the opportunity to be a bit proud of them both. Nice job.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

KFC For Christmas

Kentucky Fried Christmas. Does this qualify as child abuse? LOL

There's a long, cholesterol-laden vein of Kentucky Fried Chicken lore that runs through my family.

Before we knew it was somewhat akin to putting a clothespin on your aorta - say, back in the late 1950s and early 1960s -  it was a treat we had when relatives came through town and nobody who cooked wanted to be in the kitchen.

I've made a few other mentions of this now world-wide chain, and you might want to start with this one, as it gives more of an overview of KFC in general. To keep with the true theme of the blog, though - Thailand - there's another about a visit to a KFC in the Land of Smiles here.

The picture today is not one of my own. I may have my times where my honorary parenting skills aren't all they might be but I wouldn't feed KFC to a child this small. I think they ought to be at least old enough to sit up at the table before you begin compromising their circulatory systems, don't you?

No, it was emailed to me by one of the regular readers who thought I'd get a kick out of seeing it after he'd read posts about KFC here... and he was right. Thanks, Louis!

I don't suppose it was taken in Thailand, but the mat the kid is sitting on is something we've seen before, right?  I'll give you a big hint: you'd see a lot of them in a post about the grass weaving workshop I visited.

Posts have been somewhat sporadic here lately, but if you work, have regular obligations and still try to observe any of the holiday traditions this time of year you certainly understand how busy things can get. This is something I enjoy, though, so I'll be here as often as time allows.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas In Thailand: Shopping Observations

Christmas decorations at Siam Paragon in Bangkok

People were out Holiday shopping in packs this past weekend in my corner of the world. Nowhere near "visions of sugarplums"; it was alarmingly more like images of wolves circling a defenseless young deer.

I could hear the dull roar from the mall across the street from the grocery store I stopped in at and thanked my lucky stars that - through some forethought, for a change - I wasn't obligated to join in with them.  I was just out for cream of tartar, something I only use at Christmastime for an old cookie recipe my Grandmother used to make. I baked a variety of cookies yesterday; somewhere near 18 dozen over six hours. By the end of the evening I was fairly well "baked" myself, and I slept like a rock.

People were somewhat less rabid in the grocery store, but that'll change as the days people cook traditional meals get closer and the turkeys become more dear. Not the turkeys pushing the carts, mind you - there's rarely a scarcity of them between the 22nd and 25th of December - but the fresh ones that don't need time to thaw.

Every so often you'd hear car horns blaring loud and long, and I could just image the red-faced driver laying on their horn as another shopper slipped into the parking space they'd been waiting for; something that's likely to get your vehicle rammed in this day and age, if not setting yourself up to have the crap beat out of you by a woman jumping out of her car while wildly swinging an oversize purse.

A tree of lights outside of Siam
Paragon in Bangkok -
Siam Discovery's behind it.
Things - among the Thai themselves, anyway - tend to be far more calm during holidays observed in the Land of Smiles.  So far.  Let's hope it stays that way.

Oh, sure - they've yet to master the idea of lining (or queuing) up in an orderly fashion for anything, but unless there's some sort of disaster where panic over-rules civility things are different there.

When flooding or some other such disaster is imminent the store shelves are emptied in a mad rush, but that's self-preservation and happens anywhere. I'm talking more of the people trampled here in the U.S. for needless items at Wal-Mart before dawn on Black Friday.

As any regular reader knows, I'm quite fond of people watching; sitting somewhere and watching people go about their days. It's even more enjoyable in another country or culture. You're bound to learn something from the experience, and if it's the "easier, softer way" the Thai tend to go about their shopping, it's a lesson worth learning!

If you happen to be in an urban area of Thailand (read: Bangkok) and feeling a tad homesick for some traditional comestibles you can't find elsewhere (such as BigC or Tesco) I'd suggest trying the Villa Market near the Chong Nonsi or Ari BTS stations. They're usually expensive for imported items, but you can't put a price on a fond memory, can you?

Those of you who find yourselves in Pattaya there's the Friendship Market on South Pattaya Road that also carries a few reminders of home, although not the range that Villa does. There's a Villa on Second Road in Pattaya, too. If there are others you'd care to share, the comments section is open.

Better still, ask some folks who live there where they go for things they miss from home.  You might just make a positive new acquaintance, and that's worth the minor effort, too.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Thai Smiles, Part 53: Some Verticals For A Friday

This interviewee (#257) was really a hoot.

First of all, thank you to those who sent messages to ask if I have been OK this week. The short answer is yes, I have been... just overbooked.

Unlike some sites I think it's really lame to merely flesh out things found out there on the web (i.e. Wikepedia) and call them my own just to fill space, so with the exception of a few posts - such as the Thanksgiving posts - I've written all of them myself, and believe me: that takes time. Come to think of it, that may be part of why the art of writing letters has edged so close to extinction. Our e-World hasn't done meaningful communication many favors. Especially that "tweeting" thing.

A sailor - during a brief visit while we
waited for our buses in Bangkok

But getting back on track, the holiday season is a magnificent one for me, although I tend to go a little overboard with plans, leaving me little time for some of my regular obligations - this being one of them.

Students who called ME over to try out
their limited English. 

That said, posts may brief and sporadic for the next couple of weeks. I'd rather do that than pad the thing out just for the hell of it. I'll be around, though, so check in when you can. Here are a few more examples of Thai Smiles, taken around the kingdom. All vertical shots today, and all but the students workers of one form or another.

See you on Monday.

Filling bags of crushed ice near Chantaburi

I think she was just smiling about the sale,
because she was pretty dour
the rest of the time.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

MBK (Mahboonkrong) Christmas

Mahboonkrong (MBK) Center in Bangkok

I mentioned on the 10th about a trip I took to Thailand near Christmas time, and here are a couple more pictures from that same trip. As I've already admitted, it was a mistake for me to get back home that close to the days I host so much of my family, but I'm grateful I can still do it. I hope I'm not "free" to be away from home at Christmas for many years to come, if you know what I mean.

Most of my friends in Thailand don't observe the commercial Western Christmas, which isn't such a bad thing, come to think of it. Many enjoy the decorations and lights, but they could be appreciated there for any reason, frankly. Other than ex-patriot friends I know very few there who follow any sort of christian beliefs, and that's just fine with me, too. Mahboonkrong, being the enormous shopping block it is, definitely gets itself gussied up for Christmas.

I'll post pictures of other shopping centers as we move towards Christmas itself. Today I get to stand in line again at the post office - a recurring holiday nightmare I do my best to avoid, but again this year it appears my best wasn't good enough.  See you back here on Friday, if I'm not trampled in the queue.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Christmas In Thailand

This may well be a toss-up between a Christmas post and one from the Same Same, But Different series. Obviously the U.S. doesn't have an exclusive on heavily-decorated shopping malls!

The photo today is of the main tree in front of the Big C Supercenter at Central Plaza Mall (at 78/12 Moo 9 Pattaya Sai 2 Road, Nongprue, Bang Lamung, Chon Buri 20260, for the detail oriented).

This tree was also in a panorama post from an overbooked day's post couple of years ago, but the images were actually taken in 2008 on a rare December trip to the Land of Smiles, when I ought to have been home preparing for the big family gatherings.

I got home barely a week before Christmas itself, and after jet lag did its sometimes brutal number on me I slammed the holidays together in one huge, jumbled rush; a mistake I hope I'm wise enough not to make again - at least as long as I'm blessed with fine family to host for the holidays.

That said, there's a long "to do" list on the table next to me, and I'm off to address that today.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

You May Say I'm A Dreamer...

I freely admit to perhaps being a bit too hopeful and optimistic in many situations. It doesn't always make good copy for people seeking the acerbic faux cynicism that keeps some news sources and opinion writers in business - "FOX News" comes to mind, and using those two words together is a slap in the face to honest journalism overall - but let's not run too far off track.

Weekend posts have been infrequent occurrences for the last year or so, but here's one, albeit merely a repeated reminder of a couple of thoughts; one far brighter than the other.

Thirty-two years ago today, John Lennon was murdered while returning to his home in New York City. That's obviously the dark thought. Being the person I am, my favorite song of his has long been "Imagine", and again this morning I was reminded of both that dark day, but also of some of the times I've heard that song since.

Believing in the possibility of more people agreeing to "live as one" is obviously the brighter thought, and during the holiday season many people's thoughts can wander along with that hope, if not necessarily their deeds.

One of the more notable times I heard "Imagine" was at dinner at a hotel in Bangkok, where a Thai man filled my request for a Beatles song by singing Lennon's somewhat wistful message of hope. For newer readers, the April 2012 story about that evening is here.

Thanks for the song, John. Trust me... you're not "the only one".

Friday, December 7, 2012

Pussy Sightings On Silom Soi 4, Bangkok

This cat had just lost a rat that had scurried under the walkway.

Anyone who knows me at all knows I'm a dog person, not a cat person. Kittens I can tolerate, but unfortunately they grow up to be cats, and there's honestly nothing about a cat's habits I find endearing in the slightest. 

Somewhat scrawny, this black pussy was napping on a chair

Nevertheless, someone asked me about cats in Thailand the other day, and asked if I'd post some pictures of them if I had any.  Now, normally, while I'd slow my car down to avoid hitting one I wouldn't stop to take pictures of them, but this was a different situation.

Peeking out from beneath a motocy

One afternoon while walking down to take photos of the setting up of the Patpong Night Market (you can see two different posts about that transformation and the guys doing it by clicking on the links here) I stopped and walked a ways down Silom Soi 4, home to some restaurants I like and a variety of clubs and other shops. I wasn't 15 feet down the dead-end soi when I saw the first clump of cats, and there were lots of them; more than I saw the rest of my trip.

Quietly singing an impromptu version of an old nursery rhyme to myself along the lines of "Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been?", "I've been to Soi 4 to visit the queens," "Pussycat, pussycat, what did you there?", "I frightened some foot-long rats under the stairs!" I did take some pictures as the cats lounged around and looked for food.

So... while odds are you won't see many more pictures of cats on the blog here, here are a few.  

Perhaps waiting for Sphinx to open?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Follow-up To Yesterday's Party Post

Yesterday I posted my annual appeal for donations to the Pattaya Street Kids Project fund for the Hauy Phong Orphanage Christmas party, but I neglected to include the clip. I had it uploading from another machine in the other room while I was writing it, and just forgot. Sorry. Sometimes I really think I belong in a care home of some sort.  If I live long enough that'll probably happen.

Here are some of the kids at the "slum kids" party I was able to attend one year. Those of you who have children, nieces, nephews or grandchildren know that getting pictures of them while they're at play is, at best, a hit and miss adventure. More like trying to nail Jello to a tree, frankly. It was taken during one of the snack times - a break in the more active festivities.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

"Making Seasons Bright" For Others, Too...

The younger kids playing "pass the animal". If you're holding it when the music stops, you're out ... but you get a treat as a consolation prize, anyway.

The eve of the new year is usually a good time to reflect back over the year just ending, and most of us, despite the normal ups and downs of life, have a great deal to be thankful for: a roof over our heads, more often then not too much food to eat, plenty of clothing to wear in any weather, and a long list of other creature comforts.  My wish is that everyone reading this continue to be graced with the same for the rest of their lives. Millions don't share those comforts, as you all know.

I don't like being told what to do with my money, so I'm merely making a suggestion that I'd ask you to consider, as I've done the past couple of years at this time.

Every so often most of us do something to help another human being that (pardon my language here) barely have a pot to piss in.  You know who they are. Sometimes you see them sitting on the sidewalks in the city, but there are millions more you'll never run into, unless we venture WAY outside of our own little bubbles.

Proud parents with their baby boy at the party. Their daughter played games, and everyone got to eat.

Finalists vie for the last spot
playing Musical Chairs
I see them regularly each trip I make to Thailand, and some of these families I've come to know better since I've been sponsoring their children's education. I don't need to go into detail, but if most of us lived as they did there'd be some major bitching and moaning going on, I can assure you of that.

If you love Thailand as I do, I have a charity to suggest that makes a real difference in people's lives there on an on-going basis; one I recommend with a freely admitted bias, since I've had the pleasure of dealing with the people involved directly and seen with my own eyes where the donated funds go, and that's the Pattaya Street Kids Support Project.

To save the comments, I'm aware that there are homeless in my own city (I help here, too), and I know we can't save the world, but we can save little pieces of it.

Here's a simple, painless way you can join in and do something that can brighten someone's life: make a donation to the New Year party that PSKSP funds for the children at the Hauy Phong orphanage. It's a full day of music, special food, games, prizes, gifts and fun for the 350+ children who live on the campus. This year's party is in the planning stages now.

I'm not suggesting you do anything more than skip having one meal out somewhere this month and pass that money along to help this party out.  If you have another charity you've done some research on and are comfortable donating to, more power to you... but do it. What's that, total?  $10US? Seven Euros? Six pounds? Nine AUD?  Next to nothing, whatever it is.

You can't put a price on the happiness shared during a party like this.

The Pattaya Street Kids Project is a registered charity in the United Kingdom, and they maintain a level of complete transparency regarding their accounting. There are plenty of details in a PDF file from the registered charity here.

If you want to, you can make your donation to their fund earmarked for the annual party they also fund for the slum family kids and children under the care of the Mercy Centre in Pattaya. Today's photos are from that party last year, as I wasn't able to attend the Hauy Phong party.

Check the PSKSP site, and please make a donation if you're able to do so.  School sponsorship opportunities are always available, too.

Thanks for thinking about it. I appreciate it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Happy Birthday, Your Majesty

He's still a handsome man today - but King Bhumibol was really an adorable infant. He's front center in this picture.

From where I sit, in another six hours or so the sun will rise on a day of celebration in Thailand - December 5th - the day we in the West would call Father's Day, but more importantly for the Thai it will be the 85th birthday of His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej. For the detail oriented out there his full title is Phra Bat Somdet Phra Poramintharamaha Bhumibol Adulyadej Mahitalathibet Ramathibodi Chakkrinaruebodin Sayamminthrathirat Borommanatbophit.

Some of you may have already read the other posts about the King here and elsewhere, but newer readers can reference HM Bhumibol Adulyadej - The King As A Younger Man, and/or the post from his birthday last year, Happy Birthday To His Majesty if they wish.

The love the Thai have for their king borders on profound reverence, and only a fool would voice an unfavorable thought about him while visiting Thailand. That's your traveler's tip for today.

His Majesty's health hasn't been the best for the last few years (and that's carefully worded right there) but he has made some public appearances. Just a couple of weeks ago he granted an audience with President Barack Obama, below:

President Barack Obama and His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej - 18 November, 2555

Having been on the throne since June of 1946 he is the only ruler many Thai know, and it will be a long, difficult period of mourning for the nation when he passes away. I wish him many more happy and comfortable years in the meantime.

There will be observances throughout Thailand for his day this year, including a scheduled appearance at the open amphitheater of Benjakiti Park, next door to the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center.

The King will travel from his hospital residence to the park via motorcade, guaranteeing a record-breaking traffic jam along the way from Point A to Point B. I'd suggest not planning to get anywhere in a hurry in that area from the afternoon onward.

Happy birthday to His Majesty, and here's wishing him many more returns of the day.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Santa Held Hostage

An old post card from the turn of the last century, found in a box of family things

I love the holiday season, don't you?

Well, not all of it.

I could do without the crass advertising that tries to make a Thighmaster or a new septic system sound like an appropriate gift (and I suppose that one is, if your toilet isn't working), impatient people out running fool's errands at the shopping malls; sometimes literally fighting over a parking spot, and other commercialization like crafts fairs filled with carnival-like barkers selling overpriced "hand made" items imported wholesale from Asia - nonsense like that; but overall the opportunity to gather with family and friends to wind down another full year is often the gift I enjoy the most, so I avoid as much of the rest of it as possible and savor the kith and kin, so to speak.

The preparation for these final weeks of the year can be an enormous amount of work, though. As the years go by I find it takes me longer and longer to get the house decorated, and if it weren't for the little ones coming to visit I probably would cut back dramatically on making the place look like Santa's Whorehouse, as an old college friend so quaintly put it one year.

I mentor a half-dozen men, and this year I just may take them up on their offer to help with some of the more time-consuming parts of it. I spend a couple of hours a week lending an ear with each of them and helping keep them on a better path, so accepting the help's fair play, I suppose.

Each trip to Thailand I run across some form of Christmas decorations, and this year I decided to put them all out.  Maybe I'll get around to posting some images of the places and share them before the season's over; the road to Hell being paved with good intentions, and all that...

So, if you've begun your holiday plans (of any type) I hope they're going well.  Some of you will be  making the trip to the Land of Smiles, and I'd envy you that if I didn't have other things I'd rather be doing. I've been there around Christmas a few times, but never for the days themselves. Perhaps some day.

After a full weekend of decorating I'm feeling rather like the Santa held hostage up top today - a post card from my family archives - and I'm going to take things a little easier.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Rain, Rain, Rain...And More Rain

A Buche de Noel that graced our holiday table  nearly 20 years ago. Time intensive, but delightful.

Torrential rain is sweeping over the area I live in California; the rise and fall of each wave as it passes somewhat reminiscent of a drum roll on the roof that's thankfully keeping me dry this morning, and dry is what I intend to stay today. It reminds me of the heavy downpours I've been caught in and watched from indoors while in Thailand, but those are usually much warmer!

Thailand has been having unseasonable rains, too, and I felt bad for the Loy Krathong revelers who were rained on while observing the holiday - even if it is a time many Thai honor Phra Mae Khongkha, the Goddess of Water. Somewhat fitting they'd get wet while doing so, but still...

It looks like we're in for several days of rain, and forewarned of that I stopped at the store yesterday and stocked up on supplies to begin Christmas preparations, something I take great pleasure in, even if the obligatory nature of those duties are occasionally overwhelming as they've increased over the years.

There will be close to two dozen relatives here in your humble host's home for nearly a week at Christmas - some just for the daytime gatherings and some staying through, sleeping throughout the place wherever they can find room for an inflatable bed, sofa, or, lacking that, a simple pallet in catawampus fashion on the floor.

So, I'm off into the kitchen today to begin prep work and the baking that serves as my "basket weaving"; my thinking time, when I can just put my mind into neutral and listen to the music of the season, the percussion on the roof and the occasional rumble of thunder in the distance as the house fills with the smell of vanilla, caramel and cinnamon.

Have a wonderful weekend - unless you've made other plans.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Just My Two Satang, But This Seemed Silly...

A vertical panorama of some of the trees along Beach Road, as they looked earlier this year. 

One of my favorite walks when I'm in Pattaya has long been the uninterrupted path along Beach Road, upgraded to a paved walkway a few years back. It's somewhere along about a four kilometer  (2.5 mile) walk, depending on where you start and stop.

Earlier in the morning and early evening are my favorite times, but if it isn't too hot later in the morning or afternoon would usually work, too.

Until recently, I hear.

Some time back the city of Pattaya began another of their well-intentioned but inexplicable public work projects: "trimming" the trees along Beach Road.

When I first heard about it I figured they'd just be clearing dead fronds from the palm trees or perhaps some of the lower-hanging branches that can be inconvenient for those who regularly use the walkway, but that wasn't it; they hacked almost all of the shade trees down completely, leaving precious little shade anywhere along the way. Many palms remain, but they don't give you much shelter from the sun.

Photo from a post on the Thai Visa Forums

I haven't seen it yet myself, but I'm not looking forward to it. The best picture I could find to illustrate the decimation was one posted on the Thai Visa forum, a site I thank for use of the image and freely recommend as a reasonably sane place to ask questions, do research for a Thailand trip and discuss all topics Thai.  The link is now in the reference section to the right.

I've heard several opinions as to why they essentially clear-cut the area, and those tended to lean toward security. Evidently the closed circuit television camera (CCTV) viewpoints were being blocked, as was the light from the streetlights along the way, but it would seem to me that it would have been a much better idea to just lower the level of the lights, move the CCTV points or simply trim the branches that blocked the cameras.

It'll take decades for the trees to grow back again, even if clearer heads do prevail in the future.  One of the less pleasant aspects of "Amazing Thailand," I'd say.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Happy Loy Krathong 2012/2555

Loy Krathong at the Dusit Zoo

Where I sit this morning it's Wednesday, November 28th - but in Thailand it's already late in the evening, and many of the traditional Loy Krathong festivities will be winding down.

The full moon of this 12th month of the lunar calendar is now  high in the skies of Thailand as cold rain begins to sweep over California.

The weather reports are showing some areas may be getting rained on in Bangkok and other regions of Thailand, too, but it's bound to be warmer, and I'd much rather be there.

It's been a while since I was able to participate in the Loy Krathong festival(s) in Thailand, but it's nice to think that some things continue, despite the march of time and what sometimes passes for social progress.

We've covered Loy Krathong a couple of times before (in both 2010 and 2011, if you want to look) so I won't drag you through the history of it again, but you won't have any trouble doing a search for it; Wikipedia has a nice page, in English, anyway.

Krathong for sale in Bangkok

Wherever you are on this big blue marble I hope you'll consider taking a moment to reflect on how we're using/abusing the finite resources available to us here, and perhaps join in with the Thai (and myself) in making both an amends and a wish that we'll do better in the year ahead.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Night Photos, Part 23 - Day-Night Spots: Salt & Pepper And Le Bordeaux

Salt & Pepper, on Day-Night 2 in Pattaya

A couple of weeks ago you saw some available light night photos in Part 22 of that series, taken on a walk around Pattaya one evening.  The colors and tones longer exposures tend to produce interest me, and as unpredictable as the technology can be it's often a surprise to see what pops up in the viewfinder after the exposure. Sometimes when I think it's unlikely I'd get anything out of the effort (mainly due to my unsteady hand holding the camera) the better images appear. Go figure.

The Day-Night area is a quieter spot at night than some in the vicinity, and there are several reasonably-priced (and nice) places to stay - such as Baan Dok Mai, a place we've looked at a couple of times already. It's on Day-Night 3. I've also had the Mosaik apartments recommended, but can't speak of them from personal experience other than seeing the outsides. They're above both of the restaurants mentioned today.

The top panorama is three images of the Salt and Pepper restaurant, stitched together. Salt and Pepper is a casual, homey spot owned for many years by a Pakistani man named Mr. Zee and his Thai wife, who seem to be there from dawn to dark. As a side note I understand she lost a sister and a couple of nieces in the same auto accident in the first part of October, which is quite sad. I must remember to pass along condolences when I'm there next trip.

A friend had suggested lunch there a few years ago, and that was my first visit. They make a pretty darned good cheeseburger and  other Western items, but their basic Thai food is very good, too, and that's what I've usually had there at dinner time. It's also a fine place to sit and have a cool one in the afternoon and watch the world going by. Inexpensive, as well.

Le Bordeaux restaurant, Day-Night Soi 2, Pattaya

The picture above of Le Bordeaux is two images, blended together, and I only have comments from people I know about the quality and pricing of the place... and I'm told it's nice. Le Bordeaux is a French-style restaurant, also on Day-Night 2, right near Salt and Pepper. If you can read French you can click on their name and open their web site.  It's a little "Hi-so" for my usual travels there, but I may try it next trip. If you've got two satang to add about either place, feel free to leave a comment.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Christmas Decorating 2012

Now that Thanksgiving has faded to being a series of leftovers in people's refrigerators, Christmas looms on the horizon. Black Friday mutated and now we have Cyber Monday, where shoppers in the U.S. alone are expected to spend about four billion (that's with a B) U.S. dollars online today, at least 20% more than they did last year.  Incredible.

I'm not much of a shopper, but I do enjoy the holidays... and I decorate the place to the nines. A dear friend once told me the place "looked like Santa's whorehouse," but he had too many Grinch genes, I think.

The boxes above are most of what awaited me this morning after I dragged them down from the attic over the weekend, and that's what I launched into instead of writing a post. My apologies. I'll make another stab at it tomorrow.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday? No, Thank you... Is There Any Pie Left?

Big Fun (NOT) at Wal-Mart on Black Friday

Over the years, the day after Thanksgiving has been one of the biggest retail shopping days of the year. The idea was that it ended the red in on the ledgers and put businesses "into the black" as people began to shop for the 4th quarter holidays - i.e. Christmas, Hanukkah, etc. The title of biggest shopping day was passed to December 26th some years back; what you in the UK would call Boxing Day. People here go for enormous quantities of half-off merchandise on the 26th.

Risking life and limb to save $5.00

As more and more money was to be made, the boundaries began to be stretched, and somewhere along the line the whole idea mutated like an uncontrolled and untreated tumor. The stores began to open earlier and earlier on Friday morning, and the lines outside at 0-dark-30 began to stretch around the building.

Then the lines became queues and crushes, and then people started to die in the rush to get through the doors when they finally opened at 05:00 or whenever the floodgates were opened. Some stores this year were actually open on Thanksgiving.

No, I was here first. Gimme.

I stood in line seven or eight years ago - when things were foolish but not dangerous - for a PC monitor - and saved nearly 70% off of the regular price - but nothing since then. It was unpleasant... and needless, really. Twenty years ago I used to get up early (that's normal for me, anyway), find a bench in a large mall to sit in and just watch the hordes hurry from store to store, free from the need to participate. THAT was fun. Now I'd have to check to make sure my insurance covered such folly.

For those of you who will be out shopping this weekend - good luck! Today I slept in a couple of hours later than usual, and have nothing whatsoever planned. I'm staying in, watching a few movies I've had lined up to see and grazing on leftovers from yesterdays bacchanalia.

By the way, today's images were all pulled from the internet. See you again on Monday!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

It's Thanksgiving For the USA, But Pull Up A Chair...

Normally I don't have the luxury of time to stop and take a pre-feast photo, but here's one from a smaller gathering in 2002. It's much the same each year.

Today is Thanksgiving in the USA, a holiday that's unfortunately all too often buried beneath an armload of newspaper advertising supplements for Black Friday, one of the biggest retail shopping days of the year. Tomorrow morning (meaning before dawn) a couple of people will probably be trampled to death in the crush to get a pair of UGGS, those somewhat dorky looking boot slippers or some other frivolity.  Sometimes makes me want to pack up and move to New Zealand, truth be known.

Again this year I'll be hosting my family here, roasting a 20+ pound turkey and making a few of the other traditional dishes. My siblings will add to the over-abundance of the overall feast, and by sundown I expect to still be full enough that we'll be asking each other if there's room for pumpkin pie yet, or if we should watch a movie or fire up the X-Box and wait a while still.

Today's post is a near repeat of the post from this same day last year. My thoughts on the holiday and what I think it ought to represent aren't much different today than they were a year ago, other than they've aged and (hopefully) mellowed a bit more. 

So... here again is the piece from one of my all-time favorite columnists, Jon Carroll. To my way of thinking it neatly ties the whole bundle up with a bow, and has become part of my annual tradition; a somewhat calm port before the storm of  The Holidays officially begins.  I hope it means something to you, too. 

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Thank you for reading my stuff here. 


A Song of Thanks; A Grat Etude

by Jon Carroll, copyright held by the San Francisco Chronicle

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. It is comfortably free of the strident religious and/or militaristic overtones that give the other holidays their soft emanations of uneasiness.

At Christmas, for instance, we are required to deal with the divinity of Jesus -- I know some of you folks have made up your minds about that one, but not me -- and on the Fourth of July we must wrestle with the question of whether all those simulated aerial bombardments represent the most useful form of nationalism available.

At Thanksgiving, all we have to worry about is whether we can wholeheartedly support (a) roasted turkey, (b) friends and (c) gratitude. My opinions on these matters are unambiguous; I am in favor of them all. I understand that there's another story attached to Thanksgiving, all about a meal that may not have happened at all and certainly didn't happen on the fourth Thursday of November. 

The implication of the school-pageant version of Thanksgiving is that everything was just swell between the Pilgrims and the Indians. That's not true, and things got a lot worse before they got marginally better. But Thanksgiving isn't about that -- it's a harvest festival. We can attach some dopey Squanto-give-corn narrative to it, but it's really about how once more the earth has been fruitful and all the crops are safely in the barn. Thus, for me, the thrill of Thanksgiving is undiminished by caveats, codicils or carps. That alone is something to be thankful for.

Thanksgiving provides a formal context in which to consider the instances of kindness that have enlightened our lives, the moments of grace that have gotten us through when all seemed lost. These are fine and sentimental subjects for contemplation.

First, there are the public personalities, artists and entertainers and philosophers, who have been there when they were needed, whether they knew it or not. Let us think kind thoughts about Nancy Pelosi and Helen Mirren, Barbara Lee and Frank Gore, Al Gore and David Milch, David Simon and Mikhail Baryshnikov, Tom Stoppard and Keith Olbermann, Jennifer Egan and Peter Carey, Van Morrison and Clarence Fountain, Don Asmussen and Judith Martin, Duncan Black and Joshua Micah Marshall, Dan Savage and Masi Oka -- this is my partial list; feel free to create your own.

And the teachers, the men and women who took the time to fire a passion for the abstract, to give us each a visceral sense of the continuity of history and the adventure of the future. Our society seems determined to denigrate its teachers -- at its peril, and at ours. This is their day as well.

Even closer. Companions. We all learned about good sex from somebody, and that person deserves a moment. Somebody taught us some hard lesson of life, told us something for our own good, and that willingness to risk conflict for friendship is worth a pause this day. And somebody sat with us through one long night, and listened to our crazy talk and turned it toward sanity; that person has earned this moment too.

And a moment for old friends now estranged, victims of the flux of alliances and changing perceptions. There was something there once, and that something is worth honoring as well.

Our parents, of course, and our children; our grandparents and our grandchildren. We are caught in the dance of life with them and, however tedious that dance can sometimes seem, it is the music of our lives. To deny it is to deny our heritage and our legacy.

And thanks, too, for all the past Thanksgivings, and for all the people we shared them with. Thanks for the time the turkey fell on the floor during the carving process; for the time Uncle Benny was persuaded to sing "Peg o' My Heart"; for the time two strangers fell in love, and two lovers fell asleep, in front of the fire, even before the pumpkin pie.

And the final bead on the string is for this very Thanksgiving, this particular Thursday, and the people with whom we will be sharing it. Whoever they are and whatever the circumstances that have brought us together, we will today be celebrating with them the gift of life and the persistence of charity in a world that seems bent on ending one and denying the other.

Thanks. A lot.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A (Brief) Musical Interlude While Housekeeping

The Summer palace of King Rama Vi, (known as Maruekhathaiyawan Palace) is on the Western edge of the Gulf of Thailand, between Hua Hin and Cha-Am.

The palace is an airy, sprawling set of beautifully crafted buildings made of blonde teak wood, all connected by long open walkways. Designed with a royal flair by a designer from Italy it was constructed in 1923, but still looks new today - despite it being right on the beach and vulnerable to the salt air. It's obviously been meticulously kept up.

I'll try to get to a proper report about it soon, but what made me think of it today were the solid rosewood wind chimes outside my window this morning as they stirred in the wind, striking notes that reminded me of the ranat (wooden xylophones) and other instruments I heard played there one afternoon. The tone bars of the ranat are often made from rosewood, you see. There's a short clip of the musicians below.

It's raining off and on this morning and it's a little cool to have the windows open, but I've left them ajar so I'll hear the chimes singing amid the gusts of wind as I scurry around, preparing my house for Thanksgiving visitors tomorrow.

Here's wishing you a day just as fine as the one I'm having.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Wat Tham Kong Pen: An Isaan Oddity (2)

The main "drum cave" area

Candles and incense, lit
before prayer
The grounds of Wat Tham Kong Pen are unlike those of many other temples. There aren't formal walls or tiled walkways, except in the area called the "drum cave", called that because they'd found a large drum just inside of it way back when - or so I was told.  My Northeastern friend isn't as educated as some of my other friends, but what he lacks in that and English skills he makes up for with a good heart.

In the grand scheme of things it wasn't really all that important to know, anyway; just being there and having the opportunity to share such a peaceful spot was enough for me. Feel free to Google the place if you want to learn more.  Remember that spelling while transliterating can vary widely, and I've also seen it spelled "tham khong phen" and "thum klong paen".

My friend referred to the area as "fah-lest" (forest), and there were more trees than brush, I noticed; the welcome breeze making them sing softly as they moved overhead. It made an almost eerie whispering sound when you were standing inside the main part of the cave area, and the large gong added a harmony of sorts.

The allegedly ancient drum, next to the "rubbing gong"

The gongs (in the photo above) were intended to be touched. Most of you have made a glass "sing" by running your fingertip around the lip of it, and the raised circular center of these gongs responded the same way if you moved the palm of your hand around the sides of them, and the soft, undulating tone would reverberate around the large open area of the cave.

The alter, seen between overhanging boulders in the drum cave

Detail of offerings left by visitors

My friend naturally stopped to light a candle and incense as he bowed his head reverently in prayer for a few minutes, as did I.  When I raised my head and opened my eyes he was smiling at me and said "good". "Life is good," I replied "we need to say thank you." He nodded his head in agreement, and we walked outside to look around.

Another view of the main image area

Nearby there were several other small areas with a Buddha statue, each also having offerings in front of them - some larger, like the one below, some only a couple of feet tall, tucked into a crevice in the rocks. We didn't see any other visitors stop at them, but my friend did at a couple, while I stood at a distance and left him in peace.

Since we weren't in any hurry that afternoon we went back inside the museum to look around and learn a little more about the Venerable Luang Pu Khao Analayo.

Detail from a finely done oil portrait of the man

He was born Khao Koratha into a farming family in the the village of Ban Bo Cha Nang Nong Kaeo in Ubon Ratchathani province on December 28, 1888, where he went to school, married, and fathered seven children.

Another oil painting of Luang Pu Khao Analayo on display. I don't know the story behind it, sorry to say.

After relocating a few times during his lifetime, he eventually ended up (in 1958) at Wat Tham Klong Phane, in the Nong Bua Lam Phu District of the Udonthani Province. There he worshiped and taught until his death at the age of 95 years and five months on May 16, 1983.

Much like at Madame Tussauds, this statue was quite realistic

We asked our ride to wait down along the road a ways so we could walk and get a better look at some of the unusual architecture, as you'll see below.

Aside from the bell tower that began yesterday's post, most of the buildings in the area were built incorporated with the surrounding boulders and massive stone walls, such as the one below:

Here's a view of it from the left side, showing the rock it sits beneath:

Well, I suppose I've kept you here long enough today. If you're in the area (there's a map in yesterday's post, too) I'd say it'd be worth the hour or so drive there to see the place, if for no other reason than the rock formations and the buildings set into them.  I enjoyed my visit.