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.