Tuesday, December 24, 2013

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

A San Francisco intersection at Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas 2013

After this clip posted last Christmas a number of you were kind enough to send messages thanking me for sharing it; a few asking where they could purchase a recording of it.  To the first group: you're more than welcome - it's long been my favorite reading of the piece. As for obtaining a copy, although it was professionally recorded in concert it's not in commercial release. You might catch it being broadcast on a rare occasion - National Public Radio ran it on Christmas eve some years ago, for example - but even my disc is a white-label performer's copy.

It's just past lunchtime on 24 December in the Land of Smiles, and while I'd appreciate an afternoon on the beach there somewhere I'm more than content being home here with family and friends... so I'll share this again. If we don't meet here tomorrow, have a fantastic Christmas holiday.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Birth Of A Different Bao Bao

Mei Xiang nuzzles her newly born cub Bao Bao

Reader Dax recently sent an email, alerting me to a news item I'd missed. His message read in part "I wanted to wish you the very best of the holidays and congratulate you on the National Zoo's naming of their baby panda Bao Bao."

Bao Bao was born on August 23rd at the Smithsonian's National Zoo to Mei Xiang, brought here herself from China as part of a diplomatic program begun by Richard Nixon back in the early 1970s. Bao Bao is a female, and her name received the highest number of votes from the 120,000 members of the Friends of the National Zoo who participated in the selection process.

Evidently, in Chinese her name means "precious" or "treasure". I don't recall this blog ever being referred to in those terms - and I'd never claim it to be, naturally - but most regulars will remember that since Bao Bao means "gentle" or "easy" in Thai (or so I've long been told) so perhaps today's blip on the wide horizon of the internet would better fit into the same same, but different folder.

If you're dead set to have a Thailand tie-in for the post today I'll refer you to the Chiang Mai Zoo, where they've hosted pandas on loan from China and most likely have some there now. Check their web site for more information, as I've not been there yet - just the Dusit Zoo in Bangkok.

So, as the holidays are ramping up for me I'll close for today and get back to the exhaustive list of things demanding attention, but a special thanks to Dax for taking the time to alert me to the new namesake. Best wishes for the holidays to you, too.

Bao Bao, learning to walk and climb on 6 December

Thursday, December 5, 2013

His Majesty Turns 86

An internet image of His Majesty on his birthday last year.

Having missed more than my share of birthdays for folks I know again this year I suppose it isn't all that surprising to have "officially" miss the 86th birthday of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, ruling king of Thailand.

From where I sit, the day there is technically over, but it's still the 5th of December here, so here's wishing him a healthy and happy birthday. May he have many, many more.

As a side note: since his birthday is the day observed as Father's Day in Thailand, here's to all of them, too!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Maruekatayawan: Royal Teak Home On The Beach

A beach view fit for... well, a King.

There have been recent reports that since his stay at Siriraj Hospital HM King Bumbhibol had been residing at the royal residence called Klai Kangwon in Hua Hin, begun by Rama VII in the late 1920s. Klai Kangwon means "away from worries", I'm told, and that sounds like a good place to get away to after a prolonged hospital stay, especially as he's heading toward his 86th birthday in three more days.

Possibly also wanting to take a sea-side break he'd also recently headed slightly North for a day trip to Cha-Am in the Petchaburi district to pay a visit to Maruekatayawan Palace, another of the royal summer homes in the kingdom.

A gorgeous, open, airy, teak wonder, Maruekatayawan Palace rests on the shore of the Gulf of Thailand. The overall feel of the place is one of casual elegance; you know you're in a royal residence, but it's so peaceful and relaxing it's easily my favorite so far.

Pink  and yellow plumeria dot the grounds at Maruekatayawan 

In general the royal residences have, over time, been built to accommodate the wishes of the current ruler, naturally. Maruekatayawan was built by His Majesty King Varjiravudh (Rama VI) in the early 1920s, and is one of the oldest remaining residences. Rama VI personally designed it and saw the interior completed he paid his last visit there in 1925, the year he passed on.

A family rests in the shades on the expansive and well-groomed grounds

Maruekatayawan and the beach it graces are fine spots to relax, meditate, take pictures, have a picnic and relax.

I had a leisurely visit there with a friend one afternoon, and we ended up spending several more hours there than we'd intended.  He kept saying "I knew you'd like this", and he was right. I wondered to myself why he hadn't planned a bit longer to stop there - I'd planned to stay in the Big Mango that night - but we did get back to Bangkok that evening, although it was close to the witching hour.

A meeting and receiving hall

For photographers it's a cornucopia of photo opportunities, and I took a lot of pictures as we wandered the grounds. Rather than slam through this wonderful spot in one post I figure we'll do it in at least two installments. Hope that's OK with the majority of you.

Light blue and yellow are the predominant colors for the building exteriors

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Song Of Thanks; A Grat Etude - Yet Again

Some local colors of Autumn in my area

Thanksgiving is a more or less uniquely U.S.A event, but as work, travel and relocation spread us to the four points of the compass (and all points in-between) you'll see it observed around the world during this time of November, as well as in different ways on other dates. Besides, stopping for a moment on any day to be grateful for what we have - be it humble or more - is a worthwhile thing, I say. Only the most foolish would write it off as anything less.

Today's post is a near repeat of the post from this same time last year. My thoughts on the holiday and what I think it ought to represent match those of Mr. Carroll, and aren't much different today than they were a quarter century ago when I first read it; other than I've aged and (hopefully) mellowed a bit more since then. 

So... here again is the piece by one of my all-time favorite columnists, Jon Carroll. To my way of thinking it neatly ties up the whole bundle - with a bow, no less - 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 and again gives you pause for thought, 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.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Bangkok Balcony Boy

Sunrise colors the sky over the Siam Discovery area, awash itself in an LED glare

While I'm a few decades past being what most anyone would consider a boy (even by gay tourist vernacular, which usually means someone between the ages of, say, 18 to 25 or so there; more what would qualify as a "twink" here at home) I still get a chance to feel a spark of youthful rejuvenation with each dawn I'm awake to appreciate. I can't speak for you, but that alone makes me feel good.

Dawn and dusk are my two favorite times of day. Many around the world appreciate nap time in the middle of the day, but a nap has become a rare guilty pleasure for me, so any daylight sleeping hours would become the third favorite, I suppose.

Part of the beauty of dawn and dusk is the light. The light and colors of the morning and evening sky and the way they tint everything they touch make for not only sometimes breath-taking scenes, but also often gorgeous light for photography. Sometimes the combination of that light and the dark shadows often cast by them are absolutely magnificent, I think.

Looking towards the Siam Discovery Center, Mah Boon Krong (MBK) mall and the National and Siam BTS stations.

Regulars have seen other posts about early morning hours - such as this one from six months ago - or any of a number of others that fit (one way or another) under the sunrise/sunset label.

These golden morning and evening hours are same same, but different in the city, the suburbs, the coast and the countryside; each having their own charm. On my last trip I was able to enjoy them in quite a variety of settings, but the pictures today were taken from my perch on the balcony of my rooms in Bangkok - a spot I tend to choose as my roost of choice most any time it's not too hot and I have the luxury of some unscheduled time - hence the title today.

An arm reached for the items near the center of this image after I'd taken this one morning. Probably went out of the room on the owner that very day.

I've found it's not only a fine spot to collect my thoughts for the day after some meditation time, it's a calming and centering experience. Sitting and sipping down a cup or two of Peets Major Dickason blend coffee I've brought from home (and just freshly brewed) I've found it easy enough to lose myself and suddenly realize I've been out on my balcony for an hour and a half, just watching the sky and city below me changing.

[I don't care for the small tubes of granulated Nescafe and Coffeemate that seem to be the standard in rooms throughout the kingdom, so I bring my own coffee. With a bit of luggage space you can, too: the link to that post is here.]

The large LED billboard that faces the courtyard between Siam Discovery and Siam Center is shut off during the wee small hours, but it flares to life again at dawn, as if it's trying to out-do the sun.  As you can see to the far right in the top image today, it is bright.

The BTS elevated travel train lines open at 06:00, and it's shortly thereafter that you see them snaking along their set paths. The one below was on it's way to the Ratchathewi station from Siam, headed toward the (current) end of the Sukhumvit line at the Mo Chit station. Work is underway to take it out well North into the Nonthaburi area, but who knows when that will be completed.

A Sukhumvit line train heads North as the sky brightens: the morning commute has already begun.

Many of you have already seen the posts here about the BTS lines, but for any new arrivals there are "Newbie's Guides" sprinkled through the blog here, including an introduction,  one on statistics, another on buying tickets, others showing route maps, shops and - yes - even a post about young lovers and PDAs - Public Displays of Affection. You can find all of those by clicking here.

Well before I've finished my coffee and caught up with the previous days' paper (the one that's usually sat neatly folded on my coffee table since the previous afternoon) the commute has begun down below.

Tuk-tuks, taxis, bicycles, a sprinkling of other vehicles and a stream of pedestrians make their way in both directions over the Hua Chang bridge, which stretches over the Khlong Saen Saep longboat water taxi stop.

The "show" varies a bit from day to day; a downpour of rain or a minor traffic accident on the bridge can add their own color, but I never seem to tire of it.  Easily amused?  Perhaps, but as I say to many people I see rushing around while on holiday: it's usually too nice a day to hurry. Take a look yourself the next time you're traveling... and up that early.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Yes, Thank You... I'm Still Around!

If your month has been as good as mine has, you've been extremely fortunate. I'll hold that hope for you all. Even with losing a couple of favored people from our spinning blue marble I've had a wonderful October.  As I'd mentioned a while back: I have a life that reaches far beyond blogging, and for that I'm eternally grateful.

That said, it's probably only fair to at least check in and make some mention of what I've been up to since that last post on the first of the month.  I've even been a bit slow to answer email and messages asking me "what's up?", and I apologize... I do appreciate you asking.

My most consistently abusive reader prematurely celebrated the demise of this blog, and perhaps one day he'll get his wish. For now I'm enjoying the hundreds of visits a day from people who have discovered what I hope will continue to be a growing cornucopia of information based on my own experiences and not merely borrowed and reworded from elsewhere on the web.

Normally I'm a relatively private person, but let me share a little bit of what my life's like:

I have five books in various stages of production, a couple of family members who need regular care, five men who I meet with weekly as a mentor for about 90 minutes or so (in addition to daily phone contact), keeping in touch by phone, email and messaging with people I care about on different points on Earth, an exercise regimen of sorts, my own personal time for meditation, contemplation and enrichment, a house to keep and the time I spend reading and watching TV. Oh, right... and there's also eating, sleeping and the other minutiae of life.

I'm also asked to speak every so often on travel in Thailand, and that often requires some prep time beforehand - i.e. going through 45,000+ photos taken in Thailand but not well categorized - to assemble relevant photos and prepare speaking notes. Sure, I could just borrow pictures and present them as my own, but that's dishonest.

So, you see, I'm just plain old busy. Too busy for a retired person, that's for damn sure. While this was a nearly all-consuming addiction for me when I began it some 45 months ago, it's not now. I enjoy it, but it's become more of a guilty pleasure to "steal" some time and share with you all.  I'm not throwing in the towel, but - obviously - I'm not posting like I used to.  It's my hope that after this upcoming presentation I'll be able to get back to the list of posts in progress and be here more often.

In the meantime, don't give up on me. I DO answer emails, and consider those of you who've stuck with me as peripheral friends. I'm here if I can help.

So... why today to catch up? First, I'd like to be able to say I've at least posted a couple of times a month lately, and second, today is one of my favorite holidays... All Hallow's Eve. Second only to Christmas, in my book.

Hallowe'en (invariably misspelled in the U.S.A. today as Halloween), is something we've already covered - acknowledging some of how this odd holiday is observed in Thailand [Halloween: Drag Out The Feather Boas] and I've shared some about how I observe it here stateside [Ghosts, Ghouls And Goblins: It's Halloween]. It's a delightful holiday, so I thought I'd add a few postcards from a family scrapbook that commemorate the day.

These were all from around 1910, when they only required a penny stamp to mail.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Reader's Research Request

This mophead hydrangea (hydrangea macrophylla) in Bangkok has nothing to do with today's post whatsoever, but it's a nice image, I suppose.

A request came in a little while ago from reader Kai Jonas, a doctor looking for gay men willing to participate in a survey of travelers and expats being run from Amsterdam in the Netherlands as part of an ongoing project, so I figured I'd put it out there for anyone who wants to participate. I personally have no connection with this research, and while I've completed the survey you're all (naturally) free to make up your own minds if you wish to participate or not. It's not just internet spam... this is a legitimate research project, done with the cooperation of the Amsterdam Health Authority.

What's it all about?  In a nutshell, it's about gay travelers and expats having sex while traveling or living abroad.  There.  THAT got some of your ears up. I'd question their thought that "having sex while travelling or while living abroad has become normal", but maybe that's just me... for the traveling part, anyway.

Since I run a reasonably family-friendly site here I'll offer you the (almost needless) cautionary warning about sexual images in the survey, but the very few you're asked about are clinical in nature and not prurient in the least.

Read the explanatory introductory letter below from Dr. Kai Jonas, the man who sent it to me, and then make your own decision about taking it yourself.  They say it takes 10 to 15 minutes to complete, but I'd say that'd only be if you gave the questions a LOT of thought, and I'm guessing most answers will come to you faster than that.

If you want to see results of the survey at some point in the future you have a chance at the end of the survey to provide an email address to receive them.  Seemed worthwhile to me.

To take the survey, click HERE, and I've added the doctor's introductory letter below. As usual, the link should open a new window for you.

Thanks for asking, Kai. I hope you get some helpers from this post.


Survey on Sexual Health Risks for Gay Travellers To and Expats Living in SE Asia

In modern societies, having sex while travelling or while living abroad has become normal. Yet, there are certain health risks (sexually transmitted diseases or infections = STI/STD) related to this. Little is known on how gay men deal with these risks and how prevention and medical treatment can be improved for this group. 

In this project, in cooperation with the Amsterdam Health Authority, we want to gather data in order to tailor information and prevention for this group. Why do we do this from Amsterdam? There are two reasons. First of all, we are gay ourselves and open to the issues of gay men worldwide. Secondly, Amsterdam is an international hub and often sees gay travellers and expats with STIs and STDs. 

In this study we are seeking information regarding your time in Thailand or Southeast Asia. When we speak of Thais or Thailand in this study it is an example, you may think of other countries, like Laos, Cambodia, etc. too. You are also going to see sexually explicit images. But it is going to be fun! 

The study takes, on average, 15-20 minutes. Your answers are fully anonymous. We are not interested in single cases, but want to investigate trends across many participants. 

If you have questions regarding the study, please get in contact with the principal investigator of the project, Dr. Kai J. Jonas, k.j.jonas@uva.nl The study has been approved by the ethics commission of the University of Amsterdam (CE 2013-2835)

Monday, September 23, 2013

Unexpected Layover at Taoyuan International, Conclusion

Our service in the boarding gate was nowhere near this polished, but it was appreciated.

[Part 2 of a story begun last Friday. Part 1 is here]

OK, where were we?  Ah, yes... my aircraft had experienced some technical difficulties, and I'd been disembarked (along with more than 300 others) back into a boarding gate at Taoyuan International airport in Taipei, Taiwan. We should have taken off for the West coast of the USA several hours before, but here we sat. I'd already taken a sleeping pill for the long haul, and had been fighting sleep off for a couple of hours. All of us were a little displeased, at the least; some more vocal than others. There. That's the Tweet Version. Here's the rest of the story:

By now we were well past 02:00, and my sleeping meds were in full swing.  My head dropped down any number of times, and occasionally I'd wake myself back up with a loud snort - to the delight of two nearby Chinese children, grateful for any kind of diversion in this bare gate environment. It took another 20 minutes or so for the rumbling at the counter to die down, but many of the people weren't placated by the assurances of the gate employees, and they continued to grumble as they found a spot to sit and stew in their own juices.

Speaking of juices, shortly after we'd plopped into the gate chairs to wait, carts from the plane (I guess) appeared, serving us all juice, water and soft drinks.  Wisely they didn't choose - or weren't allowed to - serve alcoholic beverages, and who could blame them? Irate travelers in the wee small hours are difficult enough; boozing them up wouldn't make things any easier for much of anyone.

I toyed with the idea of hauling my camera out and documenting this misfortune, but 1) there really wasn't much to see, and 2) the people around me were not festive folks.

About 30 minutes or so later EVA carts with what would have been our flight meals came wheeling off of our plane, with the stewards and stewardesses pushing them along.  When you're in your seat as the meals come by you don't get much of a look at the boxy carts they push along the aisles, but out in the open in the gate area they look pretty beat up, most likely from being slid in and out of racks on- and off-board. At least, that was my guess by the scrapes along the sides.

Dining in an airplane seat behind First- or Business-class can be an adventure, depending on the over-spill from passengers seated next to you. Sit between two wide-body travelers and you're likely to end up eating your meal looking rather like a preying mantis. In the gate area there were people sitting in chairs, on window ledges, on the floor and a few actually stood, balancing their tray on one hand while eating with the other.  This led to further entertainment for the nearby kids, as one tray tipped and its cargo slid noisily to the floor.  Woke me up, anyway.

To a captive audience, most anything's entertainment...

I don't know where they found the replacement aircraft - and I probably don't want to know - but with EVA's main hub being there at Taoyuan International it was probably just a spare of some sort.  A round of applause rose as we saw it pull up to the jetway, another 75 minutes after the food had rolled off of our first "ride" and it had been taken back to the stable, so to speak.

Announcements for boarding were made, and a worse-than-usual crushing queue of passengers assembled to get back on board and be on their way.

Strapping myself back into my seat I was fighting sleep big time, but I did pull out a pen and paper to note the time on my boarding pass: it was now 05:34, and the sky was beginning to glow on the Eastern horizon. The entire mess had taken a little over six hours, and has been - so far - the most strange flight delay I've been a party to.  The loudest of the "I'm gonna be late" guys was still going on about it, vowing to get free flights out of the mishap, and perhaps he did. There were gracious offers made when I wrote a letter or two to the Northern California and Taoyuan headquarter offices, and I just as gracefully accepted.

Those letters, though, would come a few days later. Now I just re-set my watch to "home" time, put in my ear buds, leaned against the bulkhead by my window and was out in a minute flat. I slept through take-off and whatever else happened for the next eight or nine hours, waking up to the smell of breakfast somewhere late in the afternoon, according to my watch.

So, not quite an unexpected overnight layover, but a layover nevertheless. I don't remember when I've been as happy to stand in line to have my passport stamped and hear the agent say "welcome back."

That extended and unexpected layover was an experience, but I don't need to have it pop up again any time soon.

Immigration at SFO

Friday, September 20, 2013

Getting Laid (Over) At Taoyuan Airport, Taipei

It had been a wonderful month in the Land of Smiles, but I had run myself ragged, as usual, so I was quite ready to return home. The privilege of travel is a valued commodity - in my mind, anyway - but at the end of it there's truly nothing like getting back and sleeping in your own bed.

Wistfully, I sat in the Taipei EVA lounge, watching people in the immigration lines one level down. "One more long nap and I'll be doing that," I thought to myself, polishing off the last of my pork bun and salad before folding up a Chinese newspaper for a friend back home, tucking it into my book bag and getting up to head out to the boarding gate, down the escalator and through the assortment of boutique name-brand and duty free stops. It was closing in on 23:00, or 11:00pm.

I don't know about you, but that stretch through the airport - in my case from upstairs at the lounge, out along the gate walkways and down to where you check in for the flight home - can sometimes seem like a couple of miles.  The excitement that makes the outbound journey has faded, I suppose, replaced by travel fatigue and the knowledge that the realities and responsibilities of life are about to take their standard stranglehold on my time. On the outbound legs I walk with a spring in my step, but on the way home I tend to shuffle a bit. Or a lot.

A little different view of some of the duty free shopping at Taoyuan International in Taipei

The flight from Suvarnabhumi to Taipei had been on time, and after a reasonable layover I was scheduled to leave on a later flight home from Taoyuan this trip. I was looking forward to the longer flight so I could adjust to the time difference and just maybe cut down on some of the jet lag I usually wrestle with. Boarding began, and I settled into my seat.

Because I don't sleep as soundly on planes as some folks I know I take advantage of an aid prescribed to me by my old "family" doctor.  By "family" I don't mean he's a relation, but let's say he'll never marry and sire children like many of my friends have. It was one of the reasons I started seeing him 30 years ago. For the first handful of years, when I lived a more colorful life, I was probably a difficult patient. Since I've changed habits we now have a deal that he rarely prescribes anything I'd likely want more of, and if he does it's with good reason, and in a limited quantity. I sometimes get an odd look from the pharmacy folks when I turn in a prescription for four sleeping pills before a trip, but so it goes.

This time I was glad to have them, and as I headed to the gate I washed one of them down with the last of the water I'd picked up in the lounge. The aircraft that was waiting when I got there, and I was happy to see that the staff were already shuffling papers as I waded in among the other 300-plus passengers. Soon a young woman took the microphone to announce they'd begin boarding shortly, and most of the crowd rose as one to press toward the boarding queue, as usual.

I waited until the wheelchair folks and "those traveling with small children" were taken aboard, and then joined in at the back of the bunch. When my class was called I worked my way through them, boarded, and settled in for my trans-Pacific nap. I don't often eat much of the meal served after take-off if I'm planning to sleep, so I buckled my seat belt and watched the ground crew scurry around on the tarmac around our aircraft for a few minutes before closing my eyes and cat-napping a bit.

The cabin crew going through snapping the overhead bins shut soon woke me up, but as the regular announcements were made and I felt the gentle push of the plane's movement away from the gate I again closed my eyes.  We moved out along the tarmac towards our departure runway, but stopped just short of actually heading out to it.  There we sat for about 10 minutes before the announcement was made: "Ladies and gentlemen - we're experiencing some technical problems with the navigational system of our aircraft this evening, and the captain is trying to isolate it. We appreciate your understanding while we try to resolve this problem."

OK, I thought. Just a short delay. Another 10 minutes passed before the next announcement. "Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for waiting. We will be taking off shortly. Flight crew: please prepare for departure." Having missed our original place in line we moved out and joined the back of the queue of waiting aircraft.

Shortly before I'd have guessed we'd be next to turn onto the main departure runway there was another announcement. "Ladies and gentlemen - we're still experiencing some technical problems with our aircraft this evening, and we'll be moving out of the queue to resolve it. Our captain has elected to re-boot the main computer system." While this announcement was being made you could hear the engines powering down just after we'd turned onto the last possible side area so as to allow other aircraft to pass us. There we sat for another 15 minutes. Finally the engines apparently began to rev up again, and a collective murmur of relief went up throughout the cabin.

Most of us aboard probably thought as I did: we were moving along to circle back and re-join the departure queue, but that wasn't the case. The public address system popped on and off a couple of times, and then there was another announcement. "Ladies and gentlemen - our captain has decided to return to the gate to allow a maintenance crew to come aboard and check the systems. Please remain seated and we'll keep you updated." Didn't bother me... I was close to zoning out, anyway, but I pushed myself to stay awake so as to hear what the problem was. After all, this was the metal tube that was to hurtle me five thousand miles across the ocean at 30,000 feet, and I'd rather have them find out what's wrong before we take off... wouldn't you?

We sat. And sat. And sat. For nearly an hour.  Finally, the words none of us wanted to hear crackled from the speakers above: "Ladies and gentlemen - we're sorry to tell you that our captain has decided we will be taking another aircraft this evening, so we'll be asking you to disembark from this aircraft and return to the boarding gate. Another aircraft will be brought to that gate as soon as possible."

As the ground crew moved about frantically below to attach the jetway and begin the process of removing all of the baggage and cargo a low, rolling round of complaints began to rise from folks in the cabin around me, with "You've got to be kidding me" and "I'm going to miss my connecting flight" seeming to be the loudest. One man stood up, shouting, and banged his head on the overhead baggage compartment above him, which didn't improve his mood any. Somewhat bent over he loudly went on to the people in the rows behind him about missing his flight, as if anyone sitting there listening to his tirade could do anything about it - or, indeed - cared.

It took a while for them to prepare for our disembarkation, and as is often the case people assembled their carry-on items and packed into the aisles, pushing toward the front exit doors and packing themselves in a fashion those of you who are familiar with military basic training may remember as "nut to butt".  I sat in my seat, figuring that due to our circumstances we were going nowhere fast. I let the thundering hordes off ahead of me and then took my time getting off the aircraft.

Once off the jetway we were directed into another boarding gate to wait. People jockeyed for position at the counter, waiving their arms and creating a somewhat musical cacophony of concerns and complaints. "Two parts Stockhausen, one part Yoko Ono, and a smidgen of some other form of concrete," I said to myself, but out loud. The man next to me almost made the connection and replied with "Sounds more like a bunch of cats in a burlap bag being soaked with a hose."  He might have been closer than I was.

[The conclusion to the story on Monday]

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Thai Smiles, Part 56: More Random Folks

I may have used this in the past somewhere. Apologies if so, but it's one I like.

OK, I guess the "break's" about over: I'm back from a stay in Hawaii. For a lot of you that probably conjures up images of beaches, umbrella drinks and lazy days, but this trip was to inter a family member's ashes and begin clearing their houseful of possessions - a good 65 years' worth. We put a very small dent in the total.

I learned that muggy and dusty don't play well together. I'd like to call it a fine patina of history you accumulate on your damp skin, but in truth it's just a layer of grime that makes a tepid shower a treat at least a couple of times a day. Like Thailand, but in this case not merely to cool off or get yourself "freshy," as a Thai friend likes to call it.

It was fun, though, in an odd sort of way - and I freely admit to be an odd sort of person.  The three of us going through things laughed a lot, and caught ourselves smiling over and over again when we'd come across something that sparked a happy memory... which is the best sort of memorial service any of us left behind can offer up, I think! The local UPS shop may send a Christmas card this year after processing about relatively weighty 20 cases of memorabilia and family history for shipment home here; I think I doubled their total week's income.

That said, I found myself going back to the folder of "Smiles" photos a day or two ago simply as a pick-me-up now that the dust has settled, figuratively and literally. It's been a little over three months since we've added to the series, so here are a few more from the archives:

The kid above was one at an orphanage I'd visited in support of a charity. It was lunchtime when we arrived there, but before we'd left the boys had put their plates away and were enjoying their free time. For a variety of reasons the girls are in their own area on the grounds. Visitors are a novelty - you can't simply show up; clearance and supervision are wisely required - and farang visitors are even less common. That adds to the novelty factor, and the kids are always ready to mug for the camera.

This guy was working along Beach Road in Pattaya one morning, trying to get tourists to allow him to set them up with activities for the morning or day. Anyone who's done door-to-door sales (or worse, "cold calling" phone sales) can appreciate him relating how when he gives his pitch he gets turned down a hundred times a day. I made it 101, but he smiled for the photo anyway.

Life's a game, but a game can provide a break in daily life, too

It was lunchtime on an unusually hot day in Bangkok when I took the picture of the two men playing checkers on the sidewalk in front of Pantip Plaza.

The one in the athletic t-shirt (known to some here in the U.S. as "wife beaters", but forgive me for starting in on something that would take too much time to explain) saw me standing and watching and actually thought I might be of some assistance. He made a move, but kept his finger on the piece while glancing up for my approval. Not wanting to butt in I just shrugged my shoulders. As he finalized the move and the man in blue took advantage of his mistake the one in the tee looked up again, shrugged his shoulders and I caught the smile.

Students on a field trip at Doi Suthep, near Chiang Mai 

The last image today is of a group of students I met at Doi Suthep, high on the hillside above Chiang Mai. There's no story behind it, but it's one of those pictures that makes me smile, so I'm sharing it with you.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

What? Taking ANOTHER Break?


I like oatmeal - providing it isn't cooked until it's slime - but if life isn't a box of chocolates you could liken it to a bowl of oatmeal, and that inevitably means some lumps.

A couple of weeks ago a woman who's been a second mother to me passed away after what was - in reality - a short illness. Since then, I've had a friend of more than 20 years die in his sleep of cardiac arrest, another told he has stage four pancreatic cancer, another who lost his father suddenly, and yet another awaits test results for probable liver cancer.

That means I'm going to be on the road and away from the blog for a week or so. There are memorials and interments to attend, folks to grieve with, hugs to be shared and hands to be held.

Back in a while.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Koh Samet: White Sand And Black Oil Gunk

Ao Phai beach, on the opposite side of the island from the recent spill

As weeks go, the island of Koh Samet (or Samed, if you prefer... I flip-flop on some transliterations) hasn't had a very good one. The story goes that PTT Global Chemical was pumping crude oil from an offshore drilling platform to a container ship when a leak in the piping allowed somewhere between 50,000 liters (according to PTT) up to 100,000 liters (according to some environmental groups) of crude oil into the Gulf of Thailand, forming a thick layer of gunk on the relatively pristine water of Phrao Bay, on the Western side of the island.

On the map below I've added an insert that shows a little detail of where the spill occurred and came ashore at Ao Phrao. In the main map most of Koh Samet is covered by "Khao Yaem La - Mu Ko Samet", which is the national park whose boundaries cover a large part of the central area and Eastern side of the island.

I recently stayed on the Eastern side of Samet, on the beach at Ao Phai (near the asterisk on the inset map) so when the news began to leak - pardon the weak pun - I was concerned that the beautiful spot I'd visited was now awash in thick, sticky crude oil. Thankfully that was not the case, and I'll post about that resort soon.

Outside my bungalow on Ao Phai beach on the Eastern shore of Koh Samet, a few months back

While the lion's share of tourists vacation on the long stretch of beaches on the Eastern shore, the Western shore is home to some of the more pricey resorts, and I'm sure they're hurting now. Estimates are that it may be up to a year before the mess is truly cleaned up, and although PTTGC has said they'll make good on losses to the fishing and tourist industries, I tend to doubt that's really going to happen.

PTTGC has said they'll cover any damages over their $50 million in insurance coverage, but that remains to be seen, of course. Any of you who've had to deal with insurance companies know that their prime marching orders are to make you put in claim(s) multiple times, reduce any amounts claimed as often as they can and make any payments they're cornered into making for as long as possible. While the corporate resorts may do OK, many of the smaller interests will suffer. That's a sure bet.

The latest news I've read is that the island is essentially shut down at this point; the regular-as-clockwork (or as regular as anything on Thai time can be) ferries and other boats to and from the main pier of Ban Phe have stopped running and most of the people who don't actually live on the island have been evacuated.

The beach at Phrao Bay, bearing the brunt of the mess... so far.

With the oil slick now moving up over the Northern end of the island and heading toward the mainland - Koh Pla Teen, Koh Kudee and Koh Kham seem to be the "guesstimated" targets for it to hit land. Unfortunately there are important coral reefs in its path, and there's great danger of harming or destroying the delicate life there. Let's hope the damage is as minimal as possible.

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Foreign Affair

Tom Waits in concert 1976

A friend cornered me during a social event the night before last, breathlessly relating yet another tale of a bar boy who had become the love of his life. As he's quite the butterfly while on the road I had to ask (to his chagrin) which of his rented admirers this might have been.

To be clear: I have no problem whatsoever with people who are primarily sex tourists - whatever floats your long boat, I say. As long as they show their rented admirers some respect and treat them as they'd themselves wish to be treated, what's the problem with being a participant in the transactions of the World's Oldest Profession? My grandfather used to say "as long as you don't do it in the streets and scare the horses", and that's probably as handy a measure to use as any. But I've already veered off topic, so let's return to my friend's new love.

I've known him for at least 20 years, and while he's a good-hearted person overall he's a strongly opinionated, my-way-or-the-highway kind of guy. The closest I've ever come to coming out on top in a debate is to agree to disagree about the topic at hand; the best one can hope for when talking with someone who has more immovable opinions than Thailand has motor scooters. As usual, I simply smiled, said "good for you" and wished him luck. I suggested he keep his emotional guard up and keep his options open.  Hearing him speak two breaths later of soon getting back to the clubs in Bangkok I'm guessing that's precisely what he's going to do!

The overwhelming majority of stories I hear from people who are on the prowl while on holiday are more firmly footed in the land of the short term (or butterfly) relationships. I know a few U.S./Thai couples who are sharing life across an ocean between visits, but they're part of an extremely small percentage of couples I've seen made it work. Most I know are happy with a loosely-bound coupling, if they even consider anything more than casual hook-ups.

If you're single and far from home - unless you're joined at the hip traveling with someone - you have the opportunity to savor the moment when the thought comes to you that you're a stranger in a strange land, and, for at least that moment, nobody knows you and nobody that does know you has any idea where you are.  That idea terrifies one person I know, but I find it usually makes me feel pleasantly giddy.  Granted, you have to suspend your fears for a bit, but your odds of being harmed while walking down a country road in Isaan are certainly no higher than they are in your own neighborhood back home.

So... what the hell does any of this have to do with the "Foreign Affairs" title or the photo up top today? Since you've stayed with me this far I suppose you deserve an explanation, so, as convoluted as it is, here's the Reader's Digest version:

I became a fan of Tom Waits back in the early 1970s. The man's own singing voice can set off nearby car alarms if I'm playing his recordings at much of a volume, but he's a songwriter (and more importantly a storyteller) who can paint a picture with his lyrics that can move me like few others can. How can one not appreciate a song about leaving someone without saying goodbye that begins "I will leave behind all of my clothes I wore when I was with you", or lines like "the rain sounds like a round of applause" or "how can you close your eyes and say good night, and go to sleep without me"?

I've seen Waits perform, but I've only had the opportunity to get proper pictures of him on stage one time - in November 1976 - and one of those photos is the lead picture today.

While I'm out wandering about in Thailand the tune and lyrics to his song "A Foreign Affair" often come to my mind, for some reason. Maybe it's inspired by that "nobody knows where I am" thing, but often it's while observing other people visiting the same place.

I'm posting the lyrics below, and below them are audio and YouTube links to an Asian guy playing and singing a credible version of the song... certainly as good as what I sing to myself while walking. For those of you willing to try Waits' original version it's at the very end of today's post.

A Foreign Affair

When traveling abroad in the continental style 
It's my belief one must attempt to be discreet 
And subsequently bear in mind your transient position 
Allows you a perspective that's unique 

And though you'll find your itinerary's a blessing and a curse 
Your wanderlust won't let you settle down 
And you'll wonder how you ever fathomed that you'd be content 
To stay within the city limits of a small Midwestern town 

Most vagabonds I knowed don't ever want to find the culprit 
That remains the object of their long relentless quest 
The obsession's in the chasing and not the apprehending 
The pursuit, you see, and never the arrest 

Without fear of contradiction "bon voyage" is always hollered 
In conjunction with a handkerchief from shore 
By a girl who drives a rambler and furthermore 
Is overly concerned that she won't see him anymore 

Planes and trains and boats and buses 
Characteristically evoke a common attitude of blue 
Unless you have a suitcase and a ticket and a passport 
And the cargo that they're carrying is you 

A foreign affair juxtaposed with a stateside 
And domestically approved romantic fancy 
Is mysteriously attractive due to circumstances knowing 
It will only be parlayed into a memory

The Tom Waits version. You've been warned... his style easily qualifies as "an acquired taste".

Monday, July 15, 2013

Hot And Wet - OK, Make That Hot And Sweaty

I should have realized this little girl at Pantip Plaza wasn't sleepy - she was just too darned hot to squirm around.

On my first trip to Thailand my travel companion and I arrived near midnight in August at Don Muang International. The cabin crew made the announcement that the outside temperature was 29C (85F), and that the humidity was 90%. "Swell," said my friend, a native of Massachusetts "just like back home".

As we stepped through the exit door of the plane it was almost as if we were being pushed back by a wall of thick, damp air; the smell of exhaust fumes added to the scent of the moist, tropical breath being exhaled by the Big Mango itself. Clambering down the portable stairway to the tarmac we made our way to the shuttle bus that would deliver us to the terminal proper, but the aircon wasn't working in the bus, so we were even happier to get inside to claim our baggage and be on our way to the hotel.

Upon arrival to my room the bellboy (by default, I'm sure) flicked on the air conditioner and cranked it way "down", even before dropping my bags, accepting his tip and making his exit. Being from a relatively temperate climate I hadn't been as happy to hear air conditioning beginning to blast in long time, even though I did have to make an adjustment soon to keep from freezing the fruit on the welcome plate. Since that first visit I've learned I'm most comfortable overall keeping the room in the middle 70s, even when I sleep. Usually I don't use a blanket, so I'm fine with that even at night.

The entrance steps to Pantip Plaza near noon

A year or so ago I was there during a stretch of similar weather. I'd woken up later than usual (unexpected stomach problem in the wee small hours) and missed that golden window of time for an early morning walk; the temperature was already unpleasantly warm, and I knew it'd be a fool's errand to go out on foot for any extended period of time. In addition to that I had a guest arriving closer to dinnertime: a regular reader of the blog, making his first visit to Thailand. I figured I ought to save some steam for a potentially late evening out, so I tried to think of someplace to go for a few hours before coming back for some reading and a bit of a nap.

Some time back I'd already posted about the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, a lovely spot to people watch, look about and see the ever-changing exhibits (their link is here), but since it was also a place I thought my soon-to-arrive "guest" would appreciate I set that idea aside and figured I'd just take the easy stroll from the Ratchathewi BTS station to Pantip Plaza. I needed a cable I'd somehow left behind and knew I could find a replacement there. Besides, it wasn't all that far, and I figured I'd do just fine. I was mistaken.  I was low on water in my system - but it really wasn't all that bad. I grabbed a bottle of water out of the refrigerator, downed half of it, and headed out.

Resting on the Pantip Plaza steps

Stepping out of the BTS train at high noon I was reminded of that first trip I mentioned earlier, except it was hotter.  Much hotter. The temperature in the shade of the station, even up on the open train platform, (some three stories up) was a good 103F/104F (39-40C), and there was no breeze whatsoever.

Cutting down through the Asia Hotel that's connected to that station (always a fair was to cheat the heat for a few minutes) I headed off toward Pantip Plaza, making a detour into the first 7-Eleven I came to. My shirt was already clinging to me when I got inside, so I went for a sports drink instead of water - just to keep some electrolytes in the system.

If you're paying attention while out behaving like a mad dog in the mid-day sun you'll notice many Thai without a hat shielding themselves from the direct sun with whatever they happen to be carrying, be that a newspaper, a flyer or whatever. Part of that is to avoid sunburn or tanning, but part of it is surely just to deflect the heat. If they have nothing to use, they'll vary their course as they walk along to edge along the sidewalk in whatever shade's available. Along the way I joined just such a line of folks in what probably looked like a pick-up game of Follow the Leader, with one farang in the middle.

This man didn't seem upset that nobody was buying heavy slippers in the heat

Arriving at Pantip I quickly found my cable, but I wasn't looking forward to the walk back to the hotel. I'm not a cheapskate by any means, but I felt a little foolish spending the money for a taxi back to the cool of my room when I could walk it, so I just stood around in front of Pantip and gathered my energy for a while while watching - with an odd pleasure, I admit - the locals also wilting slightly in the heat. Misery loving company, and all that, you see.

Two brothers played quietly in the shade while their parents sold cold drinks

The snack vendors weren't doing all that bad - it was, after all, lunchtime - but the drink vendors were doing a brisk and lively land office business, as my late grandfather would have said. Busy enough that I had to wait for nearly 10 minutes for enough of a break in sales to get the picture below without a half-dozen people in it. I bought a coconut, myself, and considered a second but opted for a bottle of water instead.

Thankfully, the first hint of a breeze came up that wasn't caused by the traffic on the street. It grew to a steady pace, giving everyone a bit of a break from the stagnant, dead noontime air. Figuring I still had time to read a chapter or two and snooze some before my "guest" was to arrive from Suvarnabhumi I began my walk back to the BTS station and home.

Slowly, of course... and weaving along the way to stay in the shade wherever possible.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Jake "Going For Broke" On The 4th Of July

Although we (meaning our own United States government) authorized the internment of somewhere around 110,000 Japanese-Americans living on the West coast during World War II, they thought it was just fine to allow some of these same prisoners to lay down their lives, fighting for the very government who chose to leave them out in some of the more God-forsaken desert areas available.

Most were nisei - first-generation Japanese, born in the U.S; grouped as "enemy aliens" (4C) shortly after the bombing at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

All of the Japanese in Hawai'i weren't hauled away... that would have involved relocating over 150,000 - one-third of the island population - but they did imprison between 1,200 and 1,800 of them, over 60% of them american citizens. Those left "free" were subjected to discrimination and abuse from mile to severe.

Members of my own family have shared tales I won't go into here, but one I will share was a visit to one of their homes from the military who took away their radio and returned it with the parts that might allow a transmission removed. I guess macadamia nut farmers were a threat, but they were lucky, compared to many others.

While the internment to these "War Relocation Camps" was sometimes justified as being "for their own protection", it was, to many clearer-thinking folks, a knee-jerk reaction. Another fine example of mob mentality in many cases, in my less than humble opinion. A sister-in-law and a few cousins were born behind barbed wire fences, and many lost their land and the personal possessions they couldn't carry with them, if they were allowed to take much of anything.

The most notable regiment of them all was the 442nd Infantry Regiment that fought in Italy, France and Germany.  When I say fought, I mean fought... the 442nd was the most decorated regiment in U.S. military history, called the Purple Heart Battalion. The motto they marched to was "Go for broke," and they fought just as bravely as any others - perhaps more so.

Many decades later, my friend Jake Shimabukuro put together a tribute to this group, and used their motto as the title. Jake is a noted virtuoso on the ukulele, and I thought I'd give him a minor plug while tipping my hat to my late family member who was one of the heros of the 442nd. For obvious reasons I'm not posting a personal picture of Jake to the blog here, but he's both a good man and a fine looking guy. There are plenty of images on his web site.

Thank you Jake, and most of all thank you Art, wherever your spirit is today. When the "rocket's red glare" light the sky tonight, I'll think of you.

Happy 4th of July, everyone. Have a safe holiday.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

D.O.M.A. Is Dead, And Congratulations From Bangkok Prompt A Follow-up

Coming clean on a minor white lie: these were the actual subjects. Although I had their permission to post it, I didn't want to identify them, so I'd altered a couple of details 

Nearly two years ago I posted a story about a young motorcycle taxi driver and his boyfriend. It was really more about taking a walk in the area of the (then) new BTS stations, but seeing a firsthand example of how being gay is accepted by so many there made my short interaction with the two guys above the highlight of the afternoon. 

Normally I wouldn't comment here on a news story that didn't have some sort of tie to Thailand, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruling today giving great hope for equal rights to those who happen to fall in love with someone of their own sex provided a tie-in, and in a most unexpected way.

I almost always give my email address to people I meet and visit with in Thailand; new friends and interviewees, of course, but also folks who seem at all interested in photos I take of them. If I hear from them, I'm happy to send their images along.  Less than ten per cent of the time do I hear from anyone - probably more because of a language barrier than anything else - so it's always a nice surprise.

About 15 minutes ago I happened to check the account I use for these contacts, and there was a new item in my "in" box: a short email from the motocy guys, using one of their accounts. It was the same account the picture request had come from, so I was wondering why I was hearing from them past that initial exchange when I'd sent them the picture and asked if it was OK to post on the blog here. That got a quick "OK", but nothing past that since.

It appears as though some news travels through channels we wouldn't expect. I don't know how, but they had heard of today's news regarding equal rights in marriage. Their email message - probably mangled by an online translator - was very short. There was a tiny bit about them and where they were currently living, but the key part was this:

"Happy day gay news america! Gay marry good happy!! Happy You?"

They'd attached another photo of the two of them, this time with one kissing the other on the cheek... something they would not have done on the street when the first one was taken. This shot looked like it could have been taken in their room or the room of a friend, by the background. They both looked happy, too, and it made me feel good to think they were still together, and also to think that good news can travel fast, too... to people and places you'd think less likely to hear it.

As overjoyed as I was to see the news broadcasts this morning, I was even more pleased to receive the email from E & M.  Yes, guys... Happy Me.