Friday, August 31, 2012

Trip Report, Pt. 23: A Bar Boy's Retirement Home

An unexpected story waited on the other side of this bridge

Anyone who's been reading this for a while already knows I've collected stories from a lot of bar boys (or gogo boys or Rented Admirers, whichever label you prefer to use).  Since I speak precious little Thai I've been very fortunate to have friends who have acted as translators and go-between help. Not that one really needs to speak Thai to enjoy visiting or traveling through Thailand, but personally I think it's only polite (and respectful) to have some words and phrases memorized - hence book report one, and we'll cover others as we go along.

But getting back to bar boys: there have been posts about visiting their room, how one found a farang partner and happily left the business, being mistreated by abusive bosses, doing double duty while working in club, one about my first interviewee, and one telling of a young man whose life was cut far too short by HIV, to reference just a few I've collected. There are also a few other related stories you can look through if you click on the Gogo Boys label in the right-hand column.

As to the girls or ladies working the same club/gogo/sex trade - also known as the World's Oldest Profession - I still haven't conjured up the interest to try interviews with any of them, but my possibly rash assumption is that the underlying details would be much the same. That's an error I intend to rectify next trip. [Yes, I did say that before the last trip, too. Mea culpa.]

But that's far enough to stray - back to today's topic.

My friend was driving us through Chantaburi on our weekend getaway and had stopped at a spot a ways off of our charted course to get drinks. Naturally, I wandered off, camera in hand.  I'd seen the masts of some fishing boats above the shrubbery a short ways away and wanted to get a better look. Rounding a corner I came to a wooden footbridge over the end of a narrow side canal.

The simple bridge crossed the shallow water to a house on the opposite side, where a small house stood. On the somewhat hobbled together stoop were a few potted plants and some wind chimes, making their music under the eaves of the roof near a tattered Thai flag... and a man, leaning on the railing and smoking a cigarette. He saw me taking pictures of the boats nearby and waved a greeting to me, smiling.

I said hello to him and went back to watching another man, sitting barefoot in one of the boats and singing to himself as he mended one of his fishing nets.  He didn't hear me, so he didn't look up until the man on the porch called to him and got his attention. He looked over to me, waved, and went back to his work.

Satisfied with the images I'd gotten, I'd turned to go back to the car when I saw my friend coming to collect me so we could be on our way.  He reached me just as the man outside the house called to him, and they spoke briefly in Thai; my friend pointing at me, and them both laughing a little. "I told him you're a visitor from America who has to take pictures of everything," he smiled, as the man called out again, waving us over to him.  We crossed the bridge - me hoping it would hold the both of us and keep me (and my camera) from landing in the water below.

Mending fishing nets 

Approaching the porch I could hear a woman speaking to someone, and soon two small faces peered out from around the edge of the open doorway. They stared for a minute until I said "Good morning" to them, and then quickly disappeared, giggling.  A minute later they peeked out again while my friend spoke briefly to the man. Turning to me, the man spoke to me in Thai. My friend translated. "He wants to know what you're doing out in the countryside," he said, and I replied with a short explanation about enjoying seeing Thai life away from the city. Through my friend I asked how long he'd been fishing. All his life?  Did he come from a fishing family?

His name was Wut, and it turned out that he did - his family had been fishing for several generations, but that he'd done other work for a while in the past.  Out of curiosity I'd asked what else he'd done, and he chuckled and said that during a rather trying financial stretch for the family when he was about 20 he'd followed one of his friends to Bangkok to seek his fortune and help the family.

I ought to have left it at that, but something made me ask my friend to inquire what he'd done in Bangkok.  Wut said something to my friend, who seemed a little surprised. "He said he worked in a bar for a couple of years," I was told, and Wut winked at me and said - in English - "boy bar".  I managed to keep what would have been a surprised look off of my face, but even having a pretty good idea of the Thai mai pen rai view regarding sexuality his frankness did take me by surprise.

I just smiled and said "you were a good son to help your family," and was ready to leave it at that, but my friend sensed a story, and being far more knowledgeable about cultural boundaries of propriety than I asked him a few other things, and they spoke quickly back and forth while I stood there, uneasily, wondering if we weren't prying into an area we should have steered clear of.

Wut, talking with my friend about days in his past

"He said it was a long time ago - a good 25 years ago, and he doesn't care if he talks about it now," said my friend. It was an opportunity I'd never had before, so we took some time and listened to Wut's story. While the World's Oldest Profession is just that, his tale was from a viewpoint based in a very different world I'd never heard. He was only at it for about two years, had worked steadily and with a purpose, saved his money and got out relatively unscathed.

It was one of the less colorful stories I've heard, but again, it was clear it came from a different era entirely. I was really grateful to have heard it, and I'll post Wut's story one of these times.

When we'd finished visiting with Wut we said our goodbyes and went back to the car, got back on the road and headed further South to our destination.

This boat hadn't been anywhere in a while, and may still be sitting in the same spot it was in five months ago.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Trip Report, Pt. 22: Details Along Laem Sing Beach

Friends walking along Laem Sing beach one afternoon

Tiny treasures
My friend and I had several opportunities to walk on both the sand and promenade that runs the length of a good portion of Laem Sing beach on the weekend getaway, along with a lot of locals.

It's not as easy as you might think to blend in with a crowd of people when you're the obviously different-looking outsider, but things like parks, waterfalls and beaches can be good times to try.

A beach is a beach, in some cases, but if you take the time to look a little more closely there's almost always a variety of interesting items - and if you're not paying attention, you miss them.

A small group of mollusks, clinging to a rock

It's not just the chance to do some people watching, although sharing the experience of being there with others is a benefit in and of itself; there are often opportunities to interact with others along the way, even if it's on nothing more than the "isn't this a beautiful place?" smile after making eye contact when you notice someone examining shells clinging to a rock as the water laps over them.

Moving with a purpose, a sand crab works to clear his hiding spot

Sand crabs are usually pretty skittish about something thousands of times larger than they are as we humans come walking along, but this one was hard at work pushing pellets of sand out of the burrow it was digging, moving them out around the hole it would duck into with lightning speed if it sensed any danger.

Several people of assorted ages back home are always happy to see whatever unusual shells I bring back for them. I don't tend to lug back a sack full, but every so often there's one worthy of dropping into a pocket and taking back to the room. I rinse them off and put them into a small baggie that I wrap in clothing to get it back home with the shells intact.

The children above were just picking up things to throw into the water most of the time, but you'll see even the smallest of visitors occasionally pick up some new "treasure" and tuck it away to take away with them, and who can blame them? Sometimes the smallest mementos are the most precious reminders of a trip to the shore.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Having Coffee Here, But Thinking Of Thailand

Homes and gardens huddled together beneath the surrounding business buildings - taken while having coffee one morning atop the Trinity Silom complex in Bangkok

As I was sitting in the yard this morning, having a second cup of coffee and watching a falcon circling high overhead circle slowly as it scanned the area for breakfast my mind drifted back to the many places in Thailand where I'd had similar peaceful moments.

There's really nothing out of the ordinary about that, in and of itself; I often think of times and places in Thailand when I'm looking over the (usually) extensive list of things on my To Do list for the day and wishing I was on a break from the everyday obligations of my regular life. I'd guess many of you have similar thoughts.

Today I've been called to help a friend out with some personal but pressing things, and that means my morning has been filled - the time I normally reserve to put together something to share with you.

Trust me, I'd much rather be going through and preparing Thailand photos for a regular post - which allows my thoughts to stray all the further from the realities of life - but to be realistic I can see that's not going to happen today. I'll see you back here tomorrow. Have a good day, wherever you are - unless you've made other plans.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Book Report 2: Doing The Crime, Doing The Time

If we're to believe what most accused people say there are precious few folks in custody for one infraction or another who are actually guilty. If you dig back into your earliest memories of childhood I'd guess you can all remember someone tagged for something and hollering in protest "I didn't DO it!" Siblings in particular come to mind, but school friends were undoubtedly included too, right?

Anyone who's watched professional sports like basketball, baseball or football - gridiron and soccer combined - or most any other has heard it repeatedly, even when a replay shows their claim to be an obvious lie. In the corporate world it's all too often a job requirement. It's one of the less honorable forms of lying, and I'd wager lunch that with rare exceptions it's a part of every culture around the world.

The recent "I didn't do it" stories in the sporting news lately reminded me of it, so here's the second book report/review for the series.

Oftentimes greed is more a part of it than a matter of honor by dishonorable means, and that greed can be a want of prestige, popularity or face; but more often than not it's in an effort to gain money, one way or another.  It can also have to do with sex and/or drugs, but those themselves are  a form of currency in many cases. 

Warren Fellows wrote a book in the late 1990s called "4,000 Days - My Life and Survival in a Bangkok Prison" that I'd heard of but didn't get around to reading until 2005, after hearing repeatedly in Thailand of how horrific conditions were said to be in most Thailand prisons. In it, he spends 20 pages describing how he got himself involved with areas of Thai life no clear thinking foreigner has any business dabbling in, and then another 180 talking about how horrific the penalties of said dabbling can be.

On the first page of the prologue he says "I do not tell this story to bring pity on myself. I know that many people hate me for what I did and would believe that I deserved whatever I got. If, at the end of my story you still believe that anyone could deserve the horrors that I saw, then you, too, are a criminal."  Hmmm.  I damn near put the book back on the shelf at Asia Books in Bangkok after reading that, but I was told it was a good representation of inhuman prison practices there, so  I thumbed through the rest of it for another few minutes and then purchased it.  I read a bit of it while resting in my room that afternoon, said to myself "Oh, man... what a whiner", and didn't get back to it until a couple of years later back home.

Let me be clear here, however: I find the gross inhumanity visited on prisoners in many parts of the world to be reprehensible, but I'm not at all sure we have the privilege of telling those of other countries and cultures that what we find gross indecencies should be stopped because we don't do it that way in our own homelands.  There's no debate here today - just a report. 

Giving credit where credit is due, the book may well have been intended as a warning to others, but in all honesty, after Fellows extensive sharing about how much he knew of the pitfalls of drug smuggling and cooperating with the seediest sides of trafficking between Australia and Thailand it's difficult to see him as a sympathetic character, despite the horrific things he experienced and witnessed.  I felt for him, but I kept saying to myself "but you knew". 

If you're a person who's genuinely disturbed by man's inhumane treatment of other human beings, this isn't a book for you.  However, if stories of life in Bang Kwang, Maha Chai, Bumbud and other places referred to in general as the "Monkey House" pique your morbid curiosity, you'll find stories a-plenty here.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Those Ubiquitous Thai School Uniforms

School kids, as seen in the "Gift of a Lifetime" post

Throughout Thailand you'll see them: millions of children heading to and from school in their regulation attire. You'll see them in a lot of other places around town, too, because most of them don't go directly to and from home any more regularly than we did as kids; stopping for snacks, to play with friends, shop, and do everyday things. On any laundry day you'll see the same uniforms hanging in the yards of houses, apartments, and condos. Many times I've seen them hanging on balconies with the rest of the laundry to dry.

Two boys having ice cream at a school luncheon

According to figures I've seen there are almost 6 million primary students in Thailand, 4.7 million in secondary schools and over three quarters of a million in vocational education. Education is compulsory for the first 9 grades of school, and the government pays for much of it, as it should. Evidently they're not doing too bad a job of it, as the completion rate is just shy of 82% and the literacy rate for youth aged 15-24 is 97.98%. Figures and statistics can be manipulated from hell to breakfast, so take these with as many grains of salt as you wish, but we're in the ballpark.

Some of the hundreds of uniform items in the story I visited

While out shopping with one of the students I sponsor there this last trip they were interested in buying some sports equipment with their allotted spending money, and we'd stopped in at a shop that just happened to sell uniforms for some of the schools in Pattaya. Many of the students from more humble homes are quite pleased to have the proper clothing and equipment for their favorite sport, and I've bought my share of soccer balls, shin guards and cleats for them at different times.

While I was waiting for the clerk to tally my total I looked around the shop and found a large corner of it stocked with the very uniforms I'd seen around the city. In addition to the uniforms there was another small shop just next door that did the custom stitching of the school and student's name. I'd been to similar stores here in the U.S. during my own school days, but only to buy the required attire for the physical education classes, one of my least favorite parts of my school day. 

While today's post may not be as interesting to everyone as some aspects of Thai life, it's very much a part of it.

Some families are hard pressed to come up with the funds for their part of the school costs, and that gives me another opportunity to suggest that if you can afford $10 a month you might want to to check out the Pattaya Street Kids Support Project site and help. A year's donation will mean you have two or three less dinners out a year, but it can make a lasting difference in the life of a child - and their children to come. As I've said before, we can't save the world, but we can save little pieces of it.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Trip Report: Pt. 21A: Wat Carnival / Fundraiser 2

A monk shared thoughts and bestowed blessings on the assembled, using a long bamboo brush he would dip in water

[This is part 21A of a series that may or may not ever find its way to a proper conclusion. It has to do with my latest trip to Thailand, and the people, places and things I encountered along the way. You can find the rest of the series by clicking here on Trip Reports.]

As you saw yesterday, the work-in-progress temple area along Laem Sing Beach was holding a fundraising festival a few of the nights I was staying nearby at the Seashell Village Resort. Since I don't know the name of it I'm just going to call it the Laem Sing temple. If anyone can provide more of a name than that I'll be more than happy to amend the post.

Boys playing with radio controlled cars at the festival

This monk spoke some English
and was kind enough to spend
some time visiting with me
Both evenings I spent there were fun, even if I did get a little tired of standing to watch the entertainment up on stage after having already walked around sightseeing most of the day.

I confess that part of my time sitting and listening to the monks speaking wasn't entirely driven by a desire for enlightenment - after all, I don't understand much Thai - but it did provide some meditation time; something I'd been shy on for a few days.

Since I didn't understand much of what was being spoken I just tuned it down and spent the time lost within my own thoughts, listening to people nearby having fun and the laughter of the children playing, and frankly that and of itself was as much of a blessing as the water sprinkled on me by the monk that evening.

After my blessing that evening I noticed a somewhat handsome 30-something monk apparently waiting for me at the edge of the group, on my way to the games and food area.  As one of the faith does I offered a high, respectful wai to him, but as he got closer I noticed the unmistakable scent of some form of whiskey on his breath. While I tried to back up he kept moving towards me so it wasn't easy to keep at arm's length.  Then he began to speak, in very limited English, and his speech left no doubt that he'd been celebrating something. [Note: this was NOT the kind monk pictured to the upper left here].

The faithful gather at the festival

I don't mean to sound surprised about a human being acting human, and monks - although they are living life in an honorable service - are human beings. My Thai friend was within reach so I looked to him for his reaction. The monk reached for my arm and held it, pulling me gently towards the area where the new building would be built, off in the direction of the monk's residence.

Worshipers participating in a ceremony

My friend translated for me that my company back off somewhere more private was being requested, but while it was flattering I smiled and shook my head at the monk to indicate "no, thank you." He let go, but he followed us around for a little while afterwards. It's hands down the oddest thing I've ever had happen to me on temple grounds.

The rest of the festival was all I'd hoped it would be, and more.  Children of all ages were playing different games and watching the singers and dancers on the stage to one side of the large, open area.

What you catch you can keep... but it takes some quick reflexes!

In addition to the "fishing" game above, there was a ball toss, a long counter lined with people throwing darts at a wall of balloons, radio controlled cars to race and several other games of skill and chance. The fish game the boys are playing above cost 10 baht.  For that, you were given a cup and a small "net" - a wire circle covered with an extremely thin layer of what I took to be some sort of tissue. The tissue quickly became too week to hold a fish, so you had to move fast to catch even a single one.  I handed the man running it two 20 baht notes and pointed to the two above, giving me time enough to get a picture, but not much more than that.

The stage was a hive of activity. Group after group were introduced and took the stage. Most appeared to be amateur acts; perhaps there was a better-known act of sorts after we'd left, but what I saw were more or less just regular folks you'd see at any small town show.

The little kids were the most fun to watch, because it seemed as if they were having the most fun in the spotlight. I usually don't care for heavy makeup on little girls - like the ones below - but it was difficult not to smile along with them as they giggled while attempting to do their rather graceful routines. 

There were snacks a-plenty, and fireworks, to boot.  In fact, the fireworks were set off right in the middle of things and not off in a separate area as they'd be done here at home.  We were close enough that it made me jump when they started in with them, and, as you can see, they weren't all that securely grounded!

Some of the mortars launched one night

Popcorn for sale at one booth - there were three popcorn booths

They were both nice evenings, and it was even nicer to be welcomed in by the locals for the event.  As usual, a few wanted to come up and say hello to practice their English, and that was an added bonus.  If you ever see an event such as this, I encourage you to stop and wander through. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Trip Report: Pt. 21: Wat Carnival / Fundraiser 1

The festival stage, which competed somewhat noisily with the amplified blessings and message from the monk bedhind where I was standing to take this

Cutting my breaded and
fried chicken breasts into a
bag for my take-away
Along the short stretch of roadway that runs parallel with Laem Sing Beach is a wat, or temple. I wish I'd have taken a photo of some sort of signage there because I didn't make note of it at the time and neither myself nor my friend remember the name of it.

It had some buildings and a small multi-purpose room that was serving as the place of worship, but other than a couple of smaller buildings there was no actual temple structure.  It was a work in progress.

Two of the nights I was in town there was a fundraiser going on to raise money for the construction of a new temple, and we spent several hours there each evening, joining in with the prayer and meditation as well as the games, dancing and other activities.

Boys trying to toss balls into pots to win prizes

I know we didn't eat an organized dinner one of the two evenings because we passed the festival on our way to the open-air restaurant we'd planned to eat at, and I'd fooled myself into thinking I could just stop in at such an event and only stay a few minutes to look around.  My friend knew better, but he went along with it and had a variety of walk-away snacks for dinner along with me.

By the time I was finished with my "few minutes" it was closer to bedtime than dinner time.  I'll post more about the festival tomorrow, including my somewhat extended visit with a monk who was somewhat tipsy and anxious to show me around.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Courtesy On The Road (And Sidewalk)

A slice of the morning commute activity at the Victory Monument roundabout in Bangkok

While watching drivers in foreign countries - especially countries where there may not be as much emphasis put onto, say, learning to drive properly before being granted a license - it's easy to fall into the trap of saying "Jeez, the drivers here are nuts" without giving some credit where credit is due; especially when we momentarily forget the drivers we have to deal with back home.

I took the lead photo today one morning while people watching during a morning commute around one of Bangkok' busier transit hubs - Victory Monument- as I've done more than a few mornings .

I have no way of knowing how many people pass through this area in any 24 hour period during the working week. It's not only a BTS station, it's also one of the main points in that part of the city to catch transit buses and vans, bound for almost all points of the compass, so I'm going to guess hundreds of thousands per day, give or take a few bus loads. Two friends of mine pass through this area regularly on their way to and from work. One catches a van to a spot by Don Muang airport from an area beneath the elevated walkway there. 

A quieter moment at Victory Monument, with the elevated walkway to the BTS on the left.

While this constant flow of humanity moves through the area at ground level and on elevated walkways, it moves with a purpose, and in an orderly fashion. I just rode the BTS around a couple of mornings, stopping to look around at several of the busier transfer stations and I couldn't help but feel somewhat like just another living cell, being carried along by the current through the veins and arteries of the city. I'd compare it to walking around through MBK Mall, but in all honesty that's more like being in an ant farm - and another story for another day.

While it's not often safe to make generalizations I'd venture to say the people you'd encounter on a walk through a commute rush in Bangkok are - by and large - polite. It's not a matter of them having all day to get where they're supposed to be, but there's a more resigned (if you will) attitude; something along the lines of "we all have to get someplace... let's just cooperate and get there". Call it a facet of the "mai pen rai" attitude that can often make things run more smoothly or whatever you wish, but it's a help.

Can you tell this photo was taken on a Monday morning before yellow shirts took on the implication of being a political statement?

Even on the sidewalks and assorted walkways people seem to be aware of what's going on around them, most of the time. In the USA too many - especially in urban and busy suburban areas - are so wrapped in our own little worlds that a sense of entitlement sours many of our social skills. That's not as dangerous while on foot, but when you're sailing along in four thousand pounds of over-sized land whale it puts everyone around you at peril.

Now, don't get me wrong: I'm not saying the Thai are good drivers - I've more than a few times seen cars and tuk tuks actually driven on the sidewalk, for example - or even that the majority of them behind the wheel of a car (or the handles of a motor scooter) know the true rules of the road, but there's less of what I call the "Me First" mentality in evidence. Maybe it's that they don't want their cars or motocy dinged up, but I'd say there's less "pushiness" going on, overall.

[Disclaimer: Yes, I'm well aware that many countries in Asia have no idea of what "line up and wait in an orderly fashion" means (that's queue, to some of you), but that's not quite the same thing.]

Unless it's a farang driving you're not as likely to hear a prolonged blast of a car horn there; a short beep or two to indicate something basic usually does the trick. Here in the US people lay on their horns as though each extra few seconds gets them a rebate of some sort on their auto insurance premiums. It's too bad we couldn't learn a little from the Thai about patience. I guess that's the observation today.

Maybe we could teach them something about sidewalks being more for pedestrians at the same time.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Trip Report, Pt. 20: What's So Special About Laeng Sing?

Shellfish farming and fishing huts on the wide Welu River as it approaches the Gulf of Thailand

[This is part 20 of a series that may or may not ever find its way to a proper conclusion. It has to do with my latest trip to Thailand, and the people, places and things I encountered along the way. You can find the rest of the series by clicking here on Trip Reports.]

The beach-side village area of Laem Sing is really no different than hundreds of other Thai towns along the coastlines of the Gulf of Thailand or the Andaman Sea; indeed, no different than tens of thousands of towns throughout the kingdom.  As you'd expect, fishing is the industry that keeps much of the area alive, but there's also shrimp farming. We'll look at that another day this week.

A child charges gleefully into the water on Laem Sing beach

It's one of 65 small villages that make up the Laem Sing District; most of them between 3,000 and 5,000 people, and the district is over one third of the coastline to the Chantaburi province.

There's a local open-air market, a temple, some restaurants (both established and mobile), a few shops and stores, and places to buy a variety of things and quite a number of hotels and mini-resorts, primarily there for the Thai.  Farang are in the distinct minority; I saw very few Westerners on my long weekend there.  No bars or clubs, per se, although there were locals gathered in restaurants to drink, watch sports on TV and enjoy the mild evenings, so if you're in that small segment of folks who need an excess of nightlife this might not be for you.  If you enjoy peaceful time among the Thai, though, it definitely is.

Families build stands in front of their homes along the roadways to sell rambutan, pumello, sweet potatoes, squash - anything that happens to be in season in their garden. The stand below also had recycled bottles of liquor that had been filled with wild honey.

No, that's not gasoline, it's wild local honey

Every so often you'll come across a stand with three or four rows of liquor bottles that have been re-filled with a different type of fuel - gasoline and diesel. Somewhat odd to see, say, 100 Pipers bottles full of gold and reddish liquid, as if there'd been some quality assurance problem at the bottling plant and a few cases of reject booze had shipped by mistake.

Diesel fuel in liquor bottles; behind the engine oil, but in front of the sodas and beer.

Diesel fuel in this case is used in the smaller vehicle engines, and comes in the reddish-colored bottles you see above.

As a child, my friend remembers wondering why people didn't drink it, since it looked good and was for sale in the same places other beverages were.  Not knowing at the time what it was he'd said to himself "When I am grown up, I will drink this!"  He laughed at the memory as we cruised through town, and I told him "Well, you could now, but probably only once!"

We stopped at one of two local 7-eleven type stores in town, although neither was part of a chain.  I stocked up on water and things for my bungalow and my friend bought us some baked goods as a snack while we explored the rest of the town, which turned out to be about another half-mile of road before it became relatively untamed vegetation again.

Seashell Village resort was less than five miles away but not a part of Laem Sing.  If we wanted to go "into town," though, that's where we'd go.  We had most of our sit-down meals there, walked the beach several late afternoon/early evenings, visited with locals and even attended a fundraiser festival for the local temple which was looking to expand.  More on that another day soon, too - there are several stories coming.

Would I be content to live in such a small community full-time myself?  I honestly don't know.  I've asked myself that same question many times when I've found myself visiting places so small they don't always show on a map, and I don't have a firm answer.

They are, however, blissful breaks from the congestion, noise and commercialism of a larger city or suburb.  I'll still have to give that some thought.

Monday, August 20, 2012

"Comfort Food" At Le Cafe Royale

The comfortable and welcoming terrace at Le Cafe Royale

As much as those of you reading this may love to visit Thailand, there usually comes a day on most any vacation where you miss a dish from home.  I suppose that's far too specific for most of you, come to think of it; no matter where on the planet I go I usually find myself missing something from home, but some form of comfort food often cures whatever glimmer of (usually very brief) homesickness that hits.

Most of us have an item or two of comfort food on our personal list, but I'm not going to open a vein about my own guilty culinary pleasures because they're so junky they're embarrassing. Let's stick with a more gentle example and use a decent hamburger as an example, shall we?

A hamburger and fries of a reasonable proportion. Pigging out in the tropics can make many of us more sloth-like than usual.

The burger today was one of several I've enjoyed at Le Cafe Royale on Pattayaland Soi 3, two or three minute's walk off of Second Road, in the heart of the Boyztown area.

During the daytime their terrace seating area is a really nice spot to take a break and still have the opportunity to people watch while the other eateries, clubs and establishments go about the daily business of  re-stocking and preparing for the evening, when most of the rest of the soi comes to life.

The expression in English is "that's a tall drink of cool water," and I've thought of that many a time while relaxing on the terrace there, enjoying a chat with a waiter or two and basking in the cool breeze of multiple overhead fans.

As close as I can remember, Le Cafe Royale has been there since it opened in 1992 as part of a hotel of 20 rooms, which would make this its 20th anniversary.

Mac (on the left) and Tui (on the right) in 2006

This last visit I again had Mac waiting on me, and was somewhat surprised to hear him say he'd been there for 20 years.  To me that says something about the quality of an operation overall, even though a few things, including bosses, have changed there over the years (rest in peace, Ian). Nevertheless, Mac continues to age well and is just as pleasant today as when I first met him years ago.

Mac again - this time in 2012

A friend travelling with me two years ago wasn't staying there but had visited Le Care Royale one afternoon with me, so I wasn't all that surprised when he'd called one morning to tell me he was heading out to have breakfast there, and asking if I would care to join him. I'd already eaten, but joined him for coffee while he had the full breakfast (below) that he said was quite good; hot, prepared just as he'd asked and more than filling.  

My friend's breakfast at Le Cafe Royale

The Cafe, which is open 24 hours a day, serves a reasonably wide range of dishes that you can see on their website, along with information about rooms for rent:

While there are other places to eat during the daylight hours in the immediate vicinity, this is my pick.  If you have a favorite you'd like to share, please do so!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Sleeping, Part 10: Anytime, Anywhere

Granted, this young man had the sound of the waterfall at Nam Tok Phlio to lull him to sleep, but he was sleeping on rocks.

Many of us have the gift (and it is a gift, make no mistake about that) to be able to just nap briefly during the day and wake up refreshed and ready to go.  I was behind the door when that ability was being handed out, and it's always a roll of the dice for me; never knowing if I'll be renewed or feel somewhat "dulled" and figuratively stumble through the rest of the day.

If you're tuned in to see them you'll notice people snoozing anywhere around the globe, but I'm told I tend to catch more of them than my friends and family do when we're out and about together. Maybe it's just another of my minor quirks - I sport more than a few, I admit - but thankfully this one amuses me, so I don't mind.

The young man sleeping in the parking garage across from my hotel room had company on the next bench, but they both snoozed peacefully between tasks

Not only can you see people sleeping at any time, but in some of the damnedest places, too.

The couple in the photo below were a somewhat unfortunate pair. You've already seen a picture of them sleeping in Lumphini Park in the post about alcohol and drug abuse, and while I don't mean to make light of their situation in any way, I was somewhat surprised at how the young woman managed to sleep on the step - partially over the edge and undoubtedly "over the edge" when sleep finally pulled her under - without rolling back just a tad too far and dropping down a step.

In case anyone is tempted to think otherwise I left money under one of her shoes for these unfortunates to (hopefully) eat with when their fiscal morning dawned.

A reminder to be grateful for our own homes, however humble

The last picture this week is of a young man, sleeping between customers in the family restaurant stand near a BTS station in Bangkok. It was past lunchtime, and evidently a slow time. Looks pretty peaceful, doesn't it?  Maybe I'll roll those dice this afternoon and see how I wake up after an hour or so.  Worth the risk, I'd say.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Thai Smiles, Part 49: Work Is Work

Married owners of a fruit cart "stall" near the Glow hotel

Thursday. It's only Thursday.

When I was doing a fast-paced, high stress job with a publishing company some time back I'd occasionally find myself shutting myself off and hide in my office, head in hand, and wish, wish, wish it was late Friday afternoon; the freedom of the weekend just a bit too far out of reach. All too often, though, the opening scene of "Apocalypse Now" would come to mind. If you've seen the movie you probably remember it: the camera shows some dusty, ratty little room and Martin Sheen's voice-over laments in a helpless and hopeless tone "Saigon. Shit...I'm still only in Saigon."

Raking leaves, clearing tables and sweeping up, this man was preparing the Just One restaurant one morning for the day's business

While there are days I can still get myself wrapped around the axle about things, by and large my work today is a blessing from [insert higher power of your choice here]. Many can't say the same thing, and while I can both sympathize and empathize with them - I've had some jobs far beyond miserable - if I'm asked I offer the same solution: don't do it. Find something else. Push an ice cream cart around your neighborhood, if it makes you happy. You could adjust to a simpler lifestyle - we all could.

Renting sail boards on a beach North of Pattaya

I don't judge anyone by what they do to hold body and soul together financially as long as it doesn't harm or abuse anyone else and has at least some semblance of honor to it.

A couple work l-o-n-g days in an alley - setting up, cooking waffles and cleaning up / breaking down shop afterwards.

You've seen sewer workers, prison workers, construction laborers, massage and more blatant sex trade workers here (although they've never been directly identified as such, out of respect for their privacy) and a lot of other jobs you as readers might recoil from doing, but it's honest work, and I applaud them for being able to do it with a smile. As I've said before, in most cases the Thai feel if there isn't some fun (sanuk) to be found in doing something - why bother? Even begging on the street can be a legitimate option in some cases, and thank goodness for the mercy of those with an extra coin or five.

Using a weighted pipe spade a worker digs hole after hole in the hard, dry earth at a park construction site.

So, here today are some people who do a wide range of work, starting with the couple up top (who  plied me with samples of things I had never tried while selling me fruit to stock my hotel refrigerator with) to the laborers toiling in the hot sun on a day I didn't even care to be outdoors because of the heat.

Although it isn't Labor Day, I tip my hat to them all.