Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Rock

by Steve Rosse

I was waiting for Shaky Derek at the Secondary Sexual Characteristics Bar yesterday. I was going to tell him that I was finished teaching him Thai. About a month ago Shaky caught me in a distracted moment and suckered me into giving him lessons. He then missed the first appointment, claiming a massive hangover, a condition that hadn’t stopped me from driving all the way into Patong to teach him. The second lesson he missed because he had to go to immigration for a last-minute extension on his Non-Immigrant Type U (Undesirable) visa, and the next week his excuse was a visit to the clinic to be treated for a case of sexually transmitted leeches.

Shaky Derek showed up an hour late, coming directly from the Hash Run. He was soaked with sweat, covered with mud and stinking of beer. He had on a Hash House T-shirt, with the logo of the local club on the back and on the front an illustration of a European man submitting an Asian woman to a particularly degrading sex act. For Shaky Derek, he looked pretty good. He levered himself onto the stool next to mine, twitching like a doped race-horse, and seeing that my beer bottle was almost empty, ordered us a couple more.

Normally, Shaky Derek drinks Mekhong, two pints per day, thus his nickname. But on Hash days he sticks to beer. He shouted at the bartendy "Hey! Nahng, Nahng! Song Sing-beer, lek-lek!" With his tones, this translates as "Sit! Sit! Transmit beer thing, metal-metal!" But they know Shaky Derek at the Second Sex, and understand him, so the girl brought us two beers.

"You know," I told him, "there are guys on death row that would be embarrassed to wear a shirt like that." He looked down at his chest and said "Wot? It’s just a bloody cartoon." I don’t like the Second Sex, and hate to hang around there, so I got right to the subject. "I don’t want to teach you, Shaky." I said.

Click here for the rest of the article.

He was trying to light a cigarette, holding the lighter in both hands and still coming dangerously close to lighting his eyebrows on fire. "Woi not?" he asked.

"Because you don’t want to learn."

"I bloody-well do! I’m tired of paying the bloody farang price for everything. And I want to know what these birds are sayin’ about me."

"I’ll save you the time and trouble. They’re saying you’re an idiot."

A comment like that goes right over Shaky Derek’s head. He looked thoughtful and began picking the label off of his beer bottle. "Awroit, then. I’ll just learn by meself. A lot of the blokes talk good as you, I’ll just pick stuff up around the bars, like they did."

"You’ll never learn to speak Thai by throwing darts with a bunch of Eurotrash, man."

"Hell with them," said Shaky Derek. "I’ll have the birds teach me. Wide Wally calls it the 'Sleeping Dictionary' method, an’ he reckons it works a treat."

"That’s probably the dumbest reason for living with a bargirl that there is," I told him. "Teaching is a skill, like skiing or playing the piano. Good teachers are born with a talent, and refine it with years of training and practice. Good teachers are rare, and you never find them dancing naked in bars. Even if by some twist of fate a Miss Jean Brodie or Annie Sullivan was shakin’ her bootie down at the Meat Market, she still wouldn’t teach you any Thai worth knowing. The more independent you are, the less you need her outside the bedroom. By teaching you Thai she’s pushing herself off the gravy train. Most of these girls don’t brush their teeth in the morning if there isn’t a profit in it, and the last thing she needs is a customer who can understand when she’s telling her friends about the stupid noises he makes in bed. In most cases, all a guy learns from his 'Sleeping Dictionary' are the most impolite terms for having sex and moving your bowels."

Shaky Derek pouted for a minute. His hands danced out of control on the bar like a couple of pink spiders on a three-day cocaine binge. His right foot kept tapping the chrome leg of his bar stool: ping-ping-ping-ping... He was a living example of four-dimensional physics, traveling at the speed of light without ever leaving the barstool.

"Bloody Hell." he finally said. "I reckon Murray can teach me. He graduated from the AUA school in Chiang Mai, ya know. I’ve drunk enough beer in his bar to earn a few lessons, I guess."

"Sure," I said. "Murray speaks Kam Muang like a Lannathai prince, and none of these Malay-Chinese bumpkins in Phuket can understand one word of it. He hasn’t left his bar except to rent X-rated videos for five years; study with him and you’ll learn how to say, 'This giant lizard of an ice machine is on the fritz again!' and nothing else."

I swallowed the last of my beer and asked the bartendy, in English, for my bill. Using Thai of any quality in a Soi Bangla bar is a waste of effort; after a year on the job all those girls can make change in Swahili. "So what do I do?" he asked me as I stood up. "Look, man," I answered, "if you’re serious about it, find a Thai public school teacher who needs the extra income and pay him to tutor you. Three hours a week, hundred baht an hour, and in between lessons, watch Thai TV, listen to Thai music, read the Thai newspapers. It can be fun, you know, reading the biographies of the new sing-a-song girls in Phuket Town in the social columns of Siang Dai. Put a little effort into it, Shaky, nothing good comes easy."

My friend, and that’s what he is, I guess, looked down at his vibrating fingers and said "I can’t, mate. Those polite Thais won’t come near me." I looked at him, with his sweaty, muddy Hasher T-shirt and his bleary, blinky eyes. "Aw jeez." I said. "Courage, Camille."

But he was right, damn him, no respectable Asian would spend ten minutes in Shaky Derek’s company. I pulled a copy of Rodh Fai out of my bag and tossed it in his lap. "Study this, you jerk-off. I’ll see you next week. And do the exercises at the end of chapter one, or that’s it, I give up on you." He snatched up the book and flipped it open to a random page, making a big show out of studying chapter six. I sighed and left him there.

When I got home I told Mem about it. Since then she’s been teasing me, calling me Ajarn. Some day I’m going to teach that woman a lesson.

I Know It When I See It

Pornography is illegal in Thailand. Well... let me rephrase that: Photographs of naked people are illegal in Thailand. However, if you are an artist, you can take a raunchy 4 x 6 inch photo of a Penthouse Pet, and create a 4 x 6 foot painting of it and set it out next to the sidewalk where old ladies and little kids walk by, and everything is perfectly fine... although the cops presumably will confiscate the 4 x 6 inch photo if they see it.

I put up this picture of Ass Crack In Red Velvet because it was the tamest of the bunch (while still making my point).

Monday, January 30, 2006

$1.19 Per Gallon

Read this article.

Did you know that many cars being built in America today are "flex fuel" vehicles, meaning that they can run on both gasoline and much cheaper, more environmentally-friendly ethanol? If you own a Ford Taurus, Ford Explorer, Chevy Suburban, and many other models, you could be saving the environment (and lots of money) by putting ethanol in your tank today.

In Brazil, currently 70% of all cars sold are flex fuel vehicles, and ethanol there costs $1.19 per gallon. Not only are they avoiding buying oil from the Middle East, but they are creating thousands of jobs and reinvigorating their agricultural sector.

America could be foreign-oil independent today, if gas stations would simply add ethanol to their pumps, and the cost of fuel would be cut by more than 50%... and all of the bad shit that comes out of your tailpipe would be a thing of the past. (And wouldn't it just suck to put the entire Middle East out of business?)

Read the article, and see what the future holds.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Rock

by Steve Rosse

My friend Barry invited me to go to the fights with him tonight. I told him that I had to go to the funeral of a close friend instead, and since I hate to lie, now I have to go find a close friend and kill him. Barry is a big enthusiast of Thai boxing, a sport that to my mind combines the worst attributes of a prayer meeting and a riot.

If you’ve never attended a Thai boxing match, let me first congratulate you, then fill you in on what you missed. First you sit down in a crowded arena that’s hot enough to grow orchids and smells like old socks. You’re jammed in with about a thousand of the worst characters in the province, all of whom have had their personalities modified for the evening by whiskey and blood-lust. There is a dress code: every spectator must wear clothing that he’s slept in for at least three nights.

Your ticket will bear the number of a seat in some stadium destroyed by allied bombers back in 1944, so you claim a spot on a hard wooden bench at random, and sit on your program to keep the larger splinters out of your butt. Even before the boxers appear the crowd will be shouting and screaming and waving their arms. The yelling is in reference to the projected odds of the first fight; the arm waving is aimed at the mosquitoes that are drawn to the oceans of blood spilled at these events.

Soon the first pair of gladiators are led out into the ring by their phi liang, which translates as “nanny” or “nursemaid”. At this point the band kicks in. The orchestra at a Thai boxing match consists of three very ancient and venerable men playing even older instruments: drum, cymbals and flute. Their job is to provide a noise like a train wreck, only louder and more prolonged.

Click here for the rest of the article.

The boxers begin a series of semi-graceful movements designed to pay homage to their dance teachers. They circle the ring, dipping and bowing, posturing and posing, making obeisance to the four cardinal points of the compass, the four primary elements, and the four Marx Brothers. After they’ve exhausted themselves this way, they’re given a rest period during which the crowd commences betting. This activity is illegal, so everybody does it surreptitiously, by waving handfuls of money in the air and screaming out their bets at the tops of their lungs. A few bet on the outcome of the fight, but most bet on which fighter will be the first to jump the top rope and begin beating the hell out of the orchestra.

Eventually the two combatants are brought to the center of the ring and the referee explains The Rule. There is only one rule in Thai boxing: you cannot poke the other guy in the eye. Since people who make their livings this way can’t be too bright, they are made to wear thickly padded gloves in case they forget The Rule. The fighters return to their corners, do some more stylized praying and bowing, and get a few last minute good-luck tattoos applied by their coaches. The band wheezes up a squeaky crescendo, the gong sounds and the fight is on.

A Thai boxer’s uniform consists of a pair of polyester trunks that go from his ribs to his knees, in any of a large assortment of unattractive colors. The trunks are so large because they need to accommodate a lot of advertisements, sold by the promoters to a wide range of products. Most of the products will be in the health-care field, as befits an athletic event, like tobacco and alcohol. The size of the trunks and the weight of the appliqu├ęd corporate logos will dictate a fighter’s style. Some fight with one hand and hold up the trunks with the other, while some prefer to throw a flurry of blows with both hands then back off and pull up their trunks.

In Thai boxing you are allowed to hit your opponent with anything except patio furniture, so there’s a lot of kicking, elbowing, kneeing and butting with the head. Betting continues until the last round, or until one of the fighters, or a farang in the audience, attacks the band.

A win is achieved by knock-out or by points awarded by a panel of judges. All of the judges are blind but one; this makes bribery much easier. Points are calculated on an arcane system of judgment based on form, technique and how long a boxer lets his trunks slip down before pulling them back up. When a victor is announced both fighters raise their hands in triumph, strut around the ring bowing to the people who bet on them, and fall into each other’s arms like brothers instead of two guys who just spent fifteen minutes beating the crap out of each other. They stumble out of the ring and into an ambulance and everyone throws peanut shells at the band until the next pair of boxers appears.

An evening of Thai boxing goes on as long as there are still pairs of contestants willing to listen to the squeaking and squawking of the orchestra. They are carefully paired by height, weight and tattoos. While western boxing ranks fighters by Bantam Weight, Light Weight, Heavy Weight, etc., a Thai boxer will fight in the Stubby Little Guys With Salamanders On Their Forearms class, or Wiry Little Guys With Monkeys On Their Backs, Really Skinny Little Guys With Tigers On Their Tummies, etc. The bands are ranked too, by titles like Terrible, Abysmal and Simply Awful.

While I don’t enjoy the fights myself, I don’t begrudge Barry his infatuation with the sport. Every year I wake up at 4:30 am on the first of February to watch the American Super Bowl, a game that Aussies like Barry say is for “seppo wimps”. Imagine players being paid up to ten thousand dollars each to play perhaps ten minutes of a game where they are allowed to wear more protective gear than plutonium miners. I agree with him on that point: it takes a lot of guts to climb into the ring wearing nothing but a pair of gaudy bloomers and face the music.

Three Brothers

Early in the earth's history, mankind was uncivilized, rude, and brutal, and not yet settled to agriculture. Man's ingratitude to the Heavenly Spirit so angered the chief of the gods that he unloosed an enormous flood upon the earth from which only three chiefs escaped, Khun Khan, Khun Khek, and Khun Pu Lang Song. They made submission to the chief of the gods and remained with him in heaven until the floods subsided. At that time, they returned to earth with a buffalo, which helped them lay out rice fields in the great plain around Dien Bien Phu and then died. From the nostrils of the dead buffalo there grew an enormous plant bearing gourds from which there soon came loud noises. When the gourds were pierced, mankind came pouring out to populate the earth.

— From "Thailand, A Short History"

Therefore the three little brothers have been named: Khun Khan, Khun Khek, and Khun Pu Lang Song.

Oh... and since I don't think I've ever explained it before, the mother and two uncles — Pridi, Phibun, and Pramoj — are named after three World-War-2 era Prime Ministers of Thailand. I'm sure that goes over with a dull thud here on my blog, but it does get an amused raised eyebrow from Thai people.

It's Funny Because It's True

It's not that this parody video of President Bush is funny (it is), but that it captures so perfectly everything about the man that makes liberals grind their hair and pull out their teeth.

A century from now, people will ask "how did the world see George Bush?" They will have this video to watch, and understand... understand that perception of a President is based on a collection of tiny moments snatched from throughout that President's time in office that are bundled together to create an entire person who reinforces what we believe to be true about him.

In other words, the idiot we will remember is a cumulation of 8 years of little specks of idiocy that never actually strung themselves together in a cohesive whole in any place except for our memories and expectations... and this video.

Photo courtesy of Crooks and Liars.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Don't Know Whatcha Got... Till It's Bloomed

It's a known fact that if you put a twig in the ground in Thailand, in a month or two, you'll have a prize-winning hydrangea or lotus or coconut tree. Still though, it never ceases to amaze me.

When I moved in to my new house, there was this "stick in a bucket" on the patio. It was so demented and dead looking that I moved it over to the far corner of the pool, out of sight. Today, I woke up and it was covered with bright pink flowers.

The hardest thing to get used to though is there seems to be no "season" for blossoming... you know, like spring. Plants everywhere just say, "Oh... this seems like a good week for flowers!" Then, a week after that, they are as dull and green as they were before.

I have these 2 "skeleton trees" along my front walk, with absolutely not a leaf on them. Now, I see they are growing green leaves everywhere, and white flowers are blossoming. Quite nice actually.

I remember when the local expatriate population had a hissy fit when the Thais came to the prettiest tree-lined beach on Thailand's East Coast, and scalped all of those gorgeous, leafy trees down to nothing but a trunk. It was suddenly a beach lined with telephone poles. Angry letters poured into the newspapers, and everyone nearly lost their minds.

Now, a year later, the trees are back to their old selves... threatening to drop 200-pound overloaded branches down on unsuspecting sunbathers, power lines, and pedestrians. Just the way we farangs like it.

The "Please Send Me To Jail" Post

Actually, I'm kind of curious as to how the police actually reacted to this, since it had to be so surprising as to make them stop and say, "Wha???"
An argument over a football match resulted in one drunken supporter being charged with grievous bodily harm and two others with damage to property. At 4:10 a.m. on January 16, Pol Maj Chachai Srisuwan, duty inspector at Pattaya police station, received a report of a fight at Andy’s Place Bar in Soi Honey Inn. On arrival at the scene officers apprehended a man identified as Christopher Rogers, an 18-year-old British national. He had struck and injured David John Tarrant, 63, who had suffered a cut eyebrow, and who was sent to Pattaya Memorial Hospital for treatment that required seven stitches. Rogers was locked up and charged with grievous bodily harm.
Later two drunken foreign nationals came to visit Rogers and when they found their friend had been locked up they proceeded to beat upon a black Nissan saloon car belonging to Pol Maj Chachai, putting a dent in the door.

(Not that I can think of any country on the planet where it is a good idea to go out into the police station parking lot and beat the snot out of the duty officer's ride.)

"Boss! There are two guys outside kicking and beating on your car!"

"Oh very funny Pete. You can't think I'm stupid enough to fall for that one."

It seems that 90% of all the tourist arrests in Pattaya are (1) Brits fighting about football, (2) Germans fighting about their bar tab, or (3) Frenchmen fighting with their girlfriends. The other 10% involves Swedes walking around Beach Road naked at 4:00 a.m. for some reason.

Oh: I've never heard of a tourist getting arrested for drunk driving though.

Learning English

Another thing I like about Thailand is that you are often forced to stop and think... really think... about the English language. This is especially true if you are around English students who are just starting to hit their stride in their studies, where they are coming across all the different ways to say the exact same thing, but have no idea when you say them.

"What is the difference between 'I have no idea' and 'I don't know', and when do you use each one?"

I had to sit down in front of the internet today for 15 minutes to teach myself how to properly explain the conditional "would" to someone whose language contains no such concept.

Even if you are not one of the thousands of native-English-speaking English teachers employed in Thailand, on a daily basis, you will be called upon to stop and think about your own language and explain it to somebody who is hearing it for the first time.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Baht Gold

One of my favorite things about Thailand is Baht Gold: 23-point-something carat gold that is a fun and exciting combination of bling and bonds. You buy necklaces (or bracelets) in Baht units, from 0.5 up to 5, 10, or even 20 baht. Currently, 1 baht of gold is about 10,500 baht... or $260.

So... and here is the fun part: If you have a spare $100 or $500 or $5000 sitting around, you go to the gold store and buy some jewelry... with literally thousands of designs to choose from. Let's say you spend $1,000 on a 4-baht necklace. You take home your gold and enjoy it just like everything else you own.

You wear your necklace for 2 or 3 years, and then take it to the gold shop and they buy it back from you for $1,200... or whatever the price of gold is. If you have an emergency, you can turn your necklace into the cash equivalent about as easily as you can turn an empty soda can into a nickel.

Oh... and if you think that it might be a bad investment, last April, that 4 baht necklace would have cost you $800. Today, just 10 months later, that same necklace is selling for $1,100. That's a 25% return on investment for 1 year. It's expected to do the same in 2006.

So, guess what I'm buying with part of my hefty tax return this year?

p.s. Walking into a gogo bar wearing a 10-baht necklace has about the same effect on the girls as if you walked into the bar with a Ferrari strapped to your back.

Friday Cat Blogging

Not Done With Mirrors

The New 'Uns

I call this one "Lack Of Headroom"

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Ooooh! I want some too!

WARNING: Slide-rule-caliber geekiness ahead.

This is Aerogel, which is "the lightest solid on earth"... about 99.8% air, with the rest glass. It looks like a handful of blue smoke. This is what the Stardust Capsule used to collect the samples of comet tail that it brought back to earth recently. (Article)

You can't buy it on the open market of course... WRONG! You can get your own 2" x 2" block for $500 right here! Act now supplies are running out. (You don't get geek points for owning the small $25 dime-sized pieces sold here, but then geek points aren't everything.)

Other funkilicious high-res photos (like the one stolen above) to be found on the NASA JPL website, right here.

p.s. Makes a geekeriffic Christmas Gift for geeky bloggers everywhere, if you happen to know someone of that persuasion, Dad.

I Deserve Praise

It is a monumental task to keep myself from breaking the bloggers code of not blogging about cats on days other than Friday with 3 new fuzzy infant kitties to talk about.

Must. Resist. Temptation.... =^o^= =^o^= =^o^=


Inconvenient Facts

The Washintgon Post (who got their story from a blogger (!!!)) writes about a rather damning story of White House flip-floppery.
The Bush administration rejected a 2002 Senate proposal that would have made it easier for FBI agents to obtain surveillance warrants in terrorism cases, concluding that the system was working well and that it would likely be unconstitutional to lower the legal standard.
The administration has contended that it launched a secret program of warrantless domestic eavesdropping by the National Security Agency in part because of the time it takes to obtain such secret warrants from federal judges under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
However, the White House submitted (i.e. endorsed) to Congress a Justice Department memo stating that the 72-hour period provided for in The Patriot Act for obtaining warrants after the actual eavesdropping took place had given the administration "the speed and flexibility it needed in order to engage in eavesdropping"... the complete opposite of what they claimed is their reason for going around it now.

So, to sum up: BEFORE, the White House said that proposed adjustments to the law they are now breaking... changes which would have made their current actions legal... were unconstitutional, and that as the current law was set up, they had all the resources they needed to operate within the law.

Well, as always, I'm sure there will be semantics, skewed logical arguments, and Clintonite "definition of is" twisting of meanings, but in the world of appearances, which is all that the average dumb American (i.e. the 40% of us who don't know which political party controls Congress) cares about, this is not at all good.

The Rock


by Steve Rosse

The most popular man on Phuket is the New Boy. Any tourist fresh off the plane, his nose red with sunburn, the crease still sharp in his Ocean Motion baggy surf trunks, Tintin frozen in bright colors on his T-shirt, a wad of purple notes and a receipt from the currency exchange bearing this morning’s date stuffed into a plastic bottle hung on a string around his neck, will be greeted on a red carpet and handed the key to the city by a phalanx of smiling citizens. If his English is broken and heavily accented his friends will number more than grains of sand on Patong Beach.

He is the beloved of the bar girl, the delight of the desk clerk and the patron of the policeman. Tuk-tuk drivers will call him Brother, renters of jeeps and motorcycles will sing his praises and Immigration will extend his visa with a nudge and a wink. Somtam vendors will leave the black crabs out of his salad without being asked to, and massage girls will actually give him a massage first.

Farang who speak Thai, on the other hand, are received by the island folk in one of two ways. The first is with brusque disdain, as summed up by the common expression “farang ru mahk mai dee” or “a farang who knows a lot is no good.” In this case “knowing a lot” means knowing what things should cost, or knowing the phone number of the local police station and the name of the night duty officer, or knowing what it means in this society when someone clinks her glass down on top of yours in a toast.

Click here for the rest of the article.

Speaking a few words of Thai, even if they are all pronounced in the middle tone with consistently long vowels, immediately puts one under a black cloud of “ru mahk” suspicion, and that makes you about as popular as the positive results of a blood test broadcast over local radio.

Still, as much as we all like to be liked, the pariah status earned by asking the price of something in Thai is preferable to the second kind of response, which is known on the island as the Talking Dog Syndrome.

Imagine that you are walking down Main Street back in your home town, and you come upon a dog sitting in the shade of a lamp post. Imagine that as you pass by you smile at the dog and say “Hello there, dog. How ya doin’, boy?”

Imagine further that the dog looks up at you with his big brown eyes and lolling tongue and replies “Good Afternoon to you, Sir or Madame, I’m doing quite well. Thank you for asking.”

Well, you’d be surprised, wouldn’t you? You would stop and consider this remarkable talking dog. After all, everyone in your country knows that, among other traits, dogs smell bad, have terrible manners and aren’t too bright, which is probably why your government requires dogs of all breeds to leave the country and renew their visas every few months. You would probably start asking the dog all sorts of dumb questions, just to hear him speak in that funny dog accent.

How come you can speak? you would ask. How long have you been here? Do you have a girlfriend yet? (You would probably giggle when you asked this one.) How much did you pay for your watch? How much do you weigh? And on and on and on.

And knowing as you do, as indeed everyone in your country knows, that dogs combine their simple-minded natures with unimaginable wealth, you would probably call over all your friends to view this amazing talking dog, and you would all be very friendly to him in the hope that he might want to invest in a business with you, or buy some land from you, or at the very least spring for dinner and a few drinks. All of your friends would ask the same questions you just asked, and laugh delightedly at the dog’s obscene mispronunciation of the word “snow”. One of your friends would rattle off a few insults to establish that if you stick to local dialect and speak quickly, you can still talk freely in front of the dog, at which point you would all begin to discuss how big his nose is and how fat he is. Finally, you would all try to get the dog to sing a song, and maybe one of the group would shyly ask the dog if he could learn some dog language, because he really wants to get a good job in one of the big hotels.

Meanwhile, the dog, who was just standing there waiting for a bus, is aware that if a real human being of equal education, job title and address were accosted in the street by a group of pushy strangers, he could call a cop or tell them all to get lost. But since dogs are outside the normal system of rank and privilege they are required to observe its rules without enjoying its benefits, and so the poor mutt continues to make polite, somewhat stiff conversation, praying for his bus to come soon.

A few episodes like this and the most assimilated expat throws away his AUA Thai Grammar book and resorts to phrases like “I want go post office, you take me 20 baht, Okay?”

But occasionally we slip, and should not be surprised to one day pick up the newspaper and read the headline:


A Public Service Announcement

I happen to be aware that my reader demographic is overwhelmingly middle-to-older-aged men, and with age comes the slow migration of the body away from its' youthful state... and certain measures will become inevitable to maintain the quality of life.

Therefore, I offer up this link to arm you with the knowledge necessary as you move into the years where maintenance of the body and health may require a visit to the operating room: Don't let this happen to you.

Female Kidney Turns Lumberjack on to Housework

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

You Know You've Been In Thailand Too Long...

... when you catch yourself saying, "Oh shit! I'd better get a picture of this... people at home might actually think it's interesting," when you see something like this.

If It's Not Sunday, It's...

My very own columnist, Steve Rosse, is so excited about his new assignment that he has been sending me pieces every other day. Therefore, since I already have about 2 months of these priceless (pun intended) Steve Rosse columns backed up in my inbox, one day a week is not enough to get them all out. Therefore... I'll get them out to you as soon as Steve gets them to me.

The Rock

by Steve Rosse

I was a mang da last night. This is the Thai word for a horseshoe crab, a species notable in that the male spends his life riding on the back of the female and living off her scraps. A mang da is also a pimp.

Any farang man who lives on Phuket has had this happen. A male friend from back in the World comes to visit, and the first time you take him out on the town, he assumes that you're a horseshoe crab. "Take me where the women are," he'll say. "Do the bargaining for me. Make sure I'll be safe, and make sure I get one with long hair, and a great figure, and make sure she knows that I'm ticklish around my ears.

Normally, I put visitors like this into a tuk-tuk and tell the driver to take care of them. But yesterday an old friend from The States came to town with two of his buddies. I took them out myself because there are very few Americans on Phuket, and sometimes I miss the accent and the attitude.

Click here for the rest of the article.

We went to Patong, and I showed them the sights. We ended up at a Karaoke where I know the boss, the girls are all over 18 and the liquor doesn't taste watered.

We got settled into the big sofas and were joined by some girls. They introduced themselves as Nok, Moo, and Gop. I said "This is Miss Bird, Miss Pig and Miss Frog," feeling like a guest on The Muppet Show.

The guys all spoke at once. I repeated "He says you're beautiful" three times in Thai, the girls giggled, and suddenly it was a free-for-all with six people pulling at my sleeves and yelling over the music. They were yelling things like "Tell her I've been married twenty years and never cheated on my wife!" and "Tell her I think her skin's real soft!" and "Tell him my mother's sick and I really need money."

Every year thousands of fat, bald, short guys with bad breath and crooked teeth come to Phuket and get lucky without my help. Why three good-looking men who in their business control million-dollar budgets and hundreds of workers need me to hold their hands while they shake the dew off their lilies, I'll never know. But finally they went off with the Muppets and I was left to discuss the recent land-appropriation scandal with the puppetmaster, a man named Daeng who used to sell Amway products in Nakon Nayok.

Barely fifteen minutes later one of the Americans came back. He was a big guy, who for the sake of discretion I'll call Ziggy. He dropped into the leatherette couch next to me and said "Man, that was great!"

"Yeah, well it was quick." I said.

"She don't speak much English." Ziggy answered. "And anyway, I wanted to talk to you for a minute without the other guys around."

"About what?"

And then Ziggy gave me his views of Phuket. "These're the nicest people on Earth. Not like the Messicans," he said. "They just need someone to teach 'em a little organization, that's all." Based on one afternoon spent snorkelling off of Krabi, he declared the waters of the Andaman Sea to be the best diving in the world. He let me know that he had always loved Thai food back in LA, and found it even better on Phuket.

Ziggy told me how he wanted to bring his kids here, and asked me about the International School. He talked about moving a substantial portion of his assets over and asked me which bank I recommended. He talked about bringing over a bunch of fiberglass extruding guns and setting up a shop to produce boat hulls. "There's money to be made here," he said.

I smiled, and nodded, and sneaked glances at my watch in the glow from the wide-screen TV. Finally, the others came back grinning like apes and everybody had a last cuddle on the sofa while I tried to settle the bill. At one point Ziggy went off to the bathroom, and my old friend said to me, "This night was just what Ziggy needed. You know in three days he's going home to face a divorce."

And I realised that Ziggy had meant what he said; he really was going to move here. The guy doesn't know who is Prime Minister or when to use which of the seven pronouns that mean "you" or even that he should take his shoes off in a Karaoke VIP room, but he was going to pack up his kids and his money and his fiberglass guns and c'mon over.

In the taxi back to their hotel I tried to calm him down. I told him that of the two million tourists on Phuket every year, at least a hundred must have had the same idea about the boat hull factory, and if it could be done, it would have been, years ago. But for every reason I gave him to be cautious he said, "But you live here, right?"

I finally gave up and recommended a few good books he should read before the big move, though I knew he'd never bother. We all exchanged business cards in the lobby of their hotel and then I got on my motorcycle and drove home.

First impressions are convincing, but usually not correct. I once took my mother on a tour of Patong. We saw the transvestite review, visited a go-go bar, a disco and a massage parlor. And when we had seen it all, my mother had only one comment:

"None of these girls is getting enough to eat," she said.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Birthday Photos

T+ about 10 minutes. I actually thought Pridi was just scoping out a nest for some time in the future when she started scratching around today, so I emptied out a cabinet under the bar and put down some towels for padding, and a bedsheet on top, closed one of the doors and left the other open. She climbed right in.

Then I went and took a nap, and came back and she was still lying there. I checked back on her after a few minutes, and: Baby!

So far it is just one. Pridi was not gravid-looking at all, so I'm not sure how many more there will be.

... and yes, based on the markings, it looks like Phibun, Pridi's sister, may be the culprit / mastermind / father behind this. Eww.

Three little lumps. All boys. All have the exact same coloring as their grandmother, the late Talay... 100% light tan. I don't know how much that will change.

SOTU Primer: HSA's

President Bush plans on trotting out "Health Savings Accounts" (HSA's) during his State of the Union address. I highly recommend clicking here to find out more about these brain farts... although here is a tidbit to get you started.

The idea here is simple. Conservatives believe Americans have too much health insurance, that they spend heedlessly and wastefully on care, procedures, and medications they would simply forego if insurance plans didn't pick up the tab. Ergo, HSA's, which end risk pooling, forcing care to come directly from pockets. Newly responsible for their medical bills, consumers will be spurred by the Magic of the Market to make smarter decisions, show more prudence, lead healthier lifestyles, smile more often, and smell springtime fresh. It's gonna be awesome.

At least if you're healthy. Because what HSA's really do is separate the young from the old, the well from the sick. Currently, insurance operates off of the concept of risk pooling. Since health costs tend to be unpredictable and illness isn't thought a moral failing, we all pay a bit more than we expect to use in order to subsidize those who end up needing much more than they ever thought possible. The well subsidize the sick, the young subsidize the old, and we all accept the arrangement because one day we will be old, and one day we will be sick, and no one wants to shoulder that alone.

But HSA's slice right through this intergenerational, redistributionist arrangement: they're a great deal for young, healthy folks because they don't force subsidization. Just don't get sick. And if you're already sick, don't think you can hide by remaining in traditional insurance plans: when the healthy rush towards HSA's, older plans will hold only the ill, and insurance companies will send premiums skyrocketing to recoup the difference.

Thankfully, when you're old, sick, poor, and bitter, schadenfreude will keep you warm. Eventually all those young bucks who left you for their HSA's will get sick, and when they do, it's all coming out of their pocket. And if, like most Americans, they're not terribly good savers and their HSA only has a couple thousand (or hundred) in it, it's all coming out of their bank accounts. Currently, more than half of all bankruptcies are due to medical costs. Post-HSA's, expect that number to rocket upwards. Lucky thing, then, that the financial industry, along with a compliant Congress, just made it harder and costlier to declare bankruptcy.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Krungthep Ho!

In the 2½ years I've lived in Thailand, I can count the number of times I've been to Bangkok (a.k.a. "Krungthep Maha Nakorn Amorn Ratanakosindra Mahindrayudhya Mahadilokpop Noparatana Rajdhani Burirom Udom Rajnivet Mahastan Amorn Pimarn Avantarn Satit Sakkatuttiya Vishnukarm Prasit") — not counting the airport — on one hand... two of those times within a week of each other when my mother came to visit.

The truth is, unless you have a meeting with the king or the prime minister, want to buy real Gucci as opposed to knock-offs, or need a new passport, everything you need is in Pattaya.

My monthly visa runs to Cambodia eat up my passport at an alarming rate thanks primarily to the Cambodian visa, which takes up exactly one page in a passport... possibly to discourage visa running, or an ego booster for such a small country. 48 pages in 24 months. That, along with some odd stares from the immigration officials due to my dated passport photo, caused me to need a new passport.

So off to the bus station I went. I like the bus from Pattaya to Bangkok. There are 2 busses every 15 minutes coming and going all day long, and it is $2.50 each way. I usually take along my Thai flash cards and study them to make the 2-hour trip go buy more quickly. I hop off the bus in Bangkok at a curbside stop about a mile before the Ekamai bus station and get on the sky train which zips me 100 feet in the air above jam-packed Sukhumvit Road, down to Wireless Road for 75 cents, and a motorcycle taxi drives me the last half mile to the doors of American Citizen Services for another 50 cents.

I was in and out of the Embassy in about 2 hours, having to go through the line once to make sure everything on the form was filled out properly, once at the cashier's to pay the $67 renewal fee, once again to drop off the form with cashier's receipt, once again to answer the inevitable questions about my dated passport photo, once again to drop off an add-new-pages-to-my-passport-please form, and then once again to get my passport-with-new-pages returned to me.

So even though there were only 2 or 3 people in the line each time... it did stretch out a bit.

After that, it was quickly back to the bus station and on the next bus out of town... which, other than the 2 visits with my mother... is exactly the same as every other visit I've ever had to Bangkok: Bus station, sky train, embassy, sky train, bus station.

Well, if I ever have an appointment with His Highness Majesty**, I'm sure I will see a couple of other things Bangkok has to offer then.
** Steve Rosse writes, "You refer to a prince as "His Highness", you refer to a King as "His Majesty". You'll see them in the papers, HRH for His Royal Highness and HRM for His Royal Majesty."

Sunday, January 22, 2006

If It's Sunday, It's...

Thai TV

There are two kinds of expatriates on Phuket: those who can watch Thai TV and those who can't. Being able to watch Thai TV has nothing to do with understanding the language, since popular culture in any country is aimed at teenagers and full of slang and idioms that they don't teach at the AUA Purty Good Language School. Watching Thai TV has more to do with understanding that it is a metaphor for life here, sort of a Rorschach blot found in a Chinese fortune cookie.

Sometimes you'll be watching one of the evening soap operas and there will come a scene shot in a hallway or bathroom or some other enclosed space. Four actors will be sharing a single microphone, and you can't hear half their lines and the other half sound like their being spoken over a cell phone from the Arctic circle. And you'll think: that's just how it was at the Immigration Department today. It was like everybody had water in their ears, nobody could communicate the simplest idea.

And sometimes you'll be watching a situation comedy, and you'll see the masking tape seams on the plywood walls and the wrinkles in the painted backdrop behind the glassless window. An actor will speak into a phone that has no cord connecting it to the wall, and another actor will start for the door an instant before the doorbell rings. And you'll think: that's just how it was at that party last night. Everybody making a big show, making face and making moves, and all of it transparent as onion skin. The jokes were old and the laughter forced and there was Seng Thip in the Chivas bottle.

Click here for the rest of the article.

Then sometimes you'll be watching a game show and you'll be stricken by how handsome the men on stage are, how beautiful the women. Jintara's eyes, Santisuk's hair. And you'll think: that's just how it was in the market today. The young women selling fish, surrounded by noise and filth and stench, their skin was clear and their eyes sparkled and their voices were bright as they shouted vulgar insults at the boys who carry the ice on their backs. God must have made the people here last of all the world, because here he got it just right.

And sometimes you'll be watching the news, and you'll see some politician bitching about the West imposing its cultural values on Asia. Then a commercial comes on and the sound track is lifted from an old Credence Clearwater Revival song, the models are all half-European and they're wearing Levi's blue jeans, Mickey Mouse T-shirts and New York Yankees caps turned sideways. And you'll think: that's how it was downtown today, with taxi drivers giving you the thumbs-up and "USA numbah one!" and then charging you three times the official rate for a ride to the post office.

And sometimes you'll be watching Si Thoom Square, and Tongchai MacIntyre will come on to talk about his new Fuji commercial. He'll bring the pair of snow boots he had to wear while filming on an Alaskan glacier, and the camera will linger on those boots for minutes on end, while the audience oooooohs and aaaaaaahs and Bird chooses just the right moment to produce the thick woolly socks he wore in the boots and is rewarded for his impeccable sense of dramatic timing by a sustained gasp of awe from the audience.

And you'll think: It's just a pair of boots, what's the big deal? This is like Michael Jackson going on The Tonight Show and demonstrating a Pah Kao Ma to Jay Leno. "You can wear it around your waist if you're a man," Michael would squeak, "or around your breasts if you're a woman." Jay would mug for the camera and ask "Where do you where yours, Michael?" The audience would laugh on cue and Michael would blush a bit, then go on to explain how the Pah Kao Ma can be used as a blanket, a hat, a bag or a towel. And the sophisticated LA audience would oooooooh and aaaaaaaah while some Thai restaurateur in Reseda is sitting in front of his TV thinking "It's just a Pah Kao Ma, what's the big deal?"
And sometimes, you'll be watching Poo Ying Yak Roo or Week Soon Jed or one of the other "live" shows, and you'll see an actor go up on his lines and flounder around a bit before the others jump in to save him, or he'll reach for a prop that's not there or turn to greet another actor who's just missed his entrance and you'll think: that's just like life here; sometimes things happen and you have to improvise. You've got to keep on dancing as fast as you can while the orchestra picks up their sheet music off the floor and tries to find their place again.

Sometimes we all get homesick for a life with better production values. But just then something will happen, something like a stranger stopping on the road to help you fix a flat tire, and suddenly life will be a shot of royalty sloshing through the muddy streets of some upcountry village to greet the peasants, or Siriam's smile as she sells hair care products, or a rollicking old Chinese kung-fu movie inexplicably broadcast in its original Mandarin...

You never get to be the director of the TV show of your life. You usually have to settle for prop man, or hairdresser, or more often than not, just a member of the studio audience.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

I Am The Ombudsman Of The World

OK... here we go:

One, part A: It's not about spying. It's not about who is being spied upon. It's not about the ability to spy. It's about what the law says, and obeying that law. The law says you can't spy on Americans without a warrant. If that was a problem, the President should have gone about fixing the law... not breaking it.

One, part B: Breaking a law does not become NOT a problem because you are (a) the President, (b) leading a war, (c) you believe congress said it is alright. Breaking in to Democratic headquarters and breaking in to other Americans' phone records without a warrant are both against the law.

Two, part A: There is a difference between giving money to Democrats, and telling the Indian tribes whom you are ripping off and scamming to give money to Democrats. I'll call it the "buffer sucker"... when there is a middleman sucker operating between the criminal and the candidate.

Two, part B: Saying "Jack Abramoff and his clients gave money to Democrats" is not the logical equivalent of "0+2=2". It's actually the same as saying "Cheetos and the allied forces contributed to the downfall of Nazi Germany." So when you read about "Jack Abramoff and his clients" it in the newspapers, please recognize it as bullshit.

Oh... and just in support of Arnold (the motorcyclist... not the governor), who is getting flak for driving a motorcycle without a motorcycle license: Puh-leeze. Every 16-year-old knows that a motorcycle license is the "high school diploma"version of drivers licenses, while a (car) license is the "college diploma" version of drivers licenses. If you have the latter, you do not need the former... as far as I know.

After a little research, apparently you do need a motorcycle license to ride one in California... but it could more accurately be described as a "2 Wheeled Vehicle license" and Arnold was riding a motorcycle with a side car... 3 wheels. Apparently he gets away with it this time.

Apparently nobody got my "Cheetos beating the Nazis" example, so I shall elaborate...

Abramoff's clients gave money to Democrats. Abramoff himself did not give money to Democrats. Journalists, in order to still pretend that Abramoff gave money to Democrats, are now writing "Abramoff and his clients gave money to Democrats", or, in other words, 0+2=2 as far as they are concerned. However, everyone without a clue who reads it will think that Abramoff gave money to the Democrats on his own... along with his clients. So therefore, it is like writing "Cheetos and the Allied Forces defeated the Nazis," knowing full well that it was the Allied Forces alone that defeated the Nazis... but thinking that you can throw "Cheetos" in there because 0 (cheetos) +2 (allied forces) = 2 (allied forces defeated the Nazis), but everyone who reads it gets the impression that Cheetos played a part in defeating the Nazis.


Friday, January 20, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging

Atrios may have the juice everywhere else, but he can't touch my Friday Cat Blogging photos.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Targeting The Missles, Part II

It seems like the next big thing in online information will be visually recording every square foot of the world so that you can see exactly what is where. This started off with Mapquest.com and Streetmap.co.uk with satellite images. Then moved on to Google Earth with zooming in and out. Then local.live.com came along with a guy flying his plane at about 2,000 feet, snapping a high-res photo of every square mile from 4 different perspectives. (No, I still haven't figured out why podunk little Bath, New York has been scanned, but... say... downtown Houston hasn't. I still have a blast browsing the megamansions of Beverly Hills though.)

Anyway, now someone with far too much time on their hands (or an offer of exceptionally good money) has driven the length of most every street in most every major city in America, and snapped a photograph every 20 feet or so.

Say Hi Nancy. (Yes... that's her in the picture.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

You Lose

The surest way to win a battle of values and ideals is to present an idea in a way that nobody in their right mind could possibly disagree with it, and yet your oponent, based on his on values and ideals has to attack it in order to be consistent.

Here is a perfect example of what losing looks like, penned by the Agape Press, the media arm of the (hate-filled) American Family Association.

A new report finds that 13 out of 16 institutions in the University of North Carolina system have at least one policy that "clearly and substantially" restricts free speech... [That is] especially hostile to Christian students and their religious liberty.

What would those policies be? Lessee...
  • A ban on "insults, taunts, or challenges directed toward another person" (Appalachian State University).
  • A practice of outlawing "statements of intolerance" (North Carolina Central University).
  • A requirement that all students "respect the dignity of all persons" and "strive for the openness to learn from differences in people" lest they be punished (UNC Asheville).
In case you aren't aware of why these policies irk these "Christians" (not real Christians, by the way), it is because they know that policies like this might stop them from calling people who are not like them "sinner", "wicked", "depraved", "hell-bound", et cetera, et cetera.

Like I said, when you are a Christian group that is reduced to railing against policies that "respect the dignity of all persons," you need to face the fact that you have really, really lost the argument.


Ever since Pridi has gotten knocked up, her brothers have been standing over her like this. I'm starting to worry that I'm going to wind up with a bunch of mutant buck-toothed West Virginia kittens.

Damned-If-You-Do/Don't Rant

It's common knowledge that our soldiers in Iraq are still trying to get the government to ship them body armor... body armor that the Pentagon admits could have reduced American deaths from torso wounds by some 80%.

So, with the Pentagon dragging its feet on getting body armor to our soldiers in the field, what has been happening? Soldiers, and their concerned parents, are going out and buying the body armor with their own money. (Think about that: American soldiers are having to spend their own money to equip the United States Army.)

What is the final insult?
The soldiers were ordered to leave their privately purchased body armor at home or face the possibility of both losing their life insurance benefit and facing disciplinary action.
Oh... that's fair. How much you want to bet that the officer who told them that was wearing army-issued-and-approved body armor at the time?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Slack Jawed Nonsense

In case you're stoned and watching the flying blue sock in the tumble dryer just isn't doing it for you anymore, try staring at these thousand blue balls for a while.

Monday, January 16, 2006

I Miss The 80s

I know that people look down their noses at the 1980s a lot, but I grew up then, and it is "my" decade... and I miss it. It was a decade where culturally, appearances were everything, substance was nothing. It was a decade where we all wanted to date Belinda Carlisle, we all wanted John Taylor's hair, and we all wanted Sonny Crocket's wardrobe.

I recognize the value in certain things that people who were born after me don't understand. I know what people thought about music before Thriller and after, before the Beastie Boys and after. I know what people thought about movies before Arnold and after, before Eddie and after, before Molly and after. Before Miami Vice and after. Before Roseanne and after.

It was a decade of really great bands that played really crap music, but nobody cared. When Iron Maiden came out with a new album, the first question anybody asked was, "Oh yeah? What's the album cover look like?" Bands like Cinderella and Brittney Fox had the best hair, and we sat in front of MTV for hours just to see the Tawny Kitaen on the hood of that Jag one more time.

But the 1980s also had some of the best music as well... at least 10 times the amount of will-still-be-popular-a-century-from-now music as the 1990s. We had Madonna, The Police, and INXS. We had pop music that was still varied, like Genesis, Van Halen, Billy Joel, Prince, and the Thompson Twins. We had great music that the radio wouldn't play, but everyone still listened to, like Judas Priest and The Scorpions, LL Cool J and Eazy E. We had weird music that the radio stations didn't play, but everyone still knew was cool, even if we didn't fully understand it, like Morrisey, Love and Rockets, Talking Heads, Siouxsie, Devo.

Lead guitarists were almost as (or more) famous as the lead singers they played for. Even the bassist had to be able to sing harmony. People went to concerts just to hear a kick-ass drum solo. And lead singers: Whether you were up high like Steve Perry, or down low like Billy Idol, rough like Ronnie James, smooth like Freddy, or quirky like Ozzy, you had to have the personality and power to lead 15,000 screaming fans through 2 hours of stadium madness.

But the 1980s wasn't just about music. I know the pure, unadulterated excitement associated with the first time ever that our TV went blank, stopped showing moving pictures, and there was a black screen with 2 white bars, and two zeros at the top: Pong had arrived. Opening our first Atari on Christmas morning was a seizure-inducing event. Every new electronic introduction beyond that was truly ground breaking, as Intellivision replaced Atari, Colecovision replaced Intellivision, and Nintendo replaced them all.

We used to call the dentist's office at 11:00 at night just to hear the town's first answering machine. We would pause our Betamax recording of Magnum PI every other minute just because it was so cool to be able to stare at a single frozen picture on your TV for as long as you wanted, and we would fast-scan through the commercials, giggling at the hyper-movement of the people. We laughed at the possibility of owning our own $1,000 compact disc player.

We didn't laugh at our clothes... or our hair. Big hair was beautiful. Wearing suspenders was stylish. Argyle socks were in for a while... along with thin leather ties. Collar up. Neon colors for a while were in, and then black-and-white... whatever Chess King dictated. Guys got their ears pierced and mousse and gel and spray were as important as toothpaste and deodorant. Concert T-shirts were also important, to show that you were cool enough to be there, but a Hard Rock Cafe T-shirt from some exotic locale was worth its weight in gold.

We were always 5 minutes away from being vaporized by Russians, but nobody could catch AIDS unless they were gay. Gang violence and crack cocaine was a more immediate threat to our children than sugar-filled fruit drinks and mind-numbing video games.

Ours was also the first time since the turn of the century to idolize business acumen. We made celebrities out of Iacocca and Trump. Revenge of the Nerds was more than a movie, with Bill Gates and Steven Hawking and Carl Sagan becoming respected household names.

Well... I'm sure there are all kinds of other things about the 1980s that made it a great decade, but I was only a teenager then. These are the things that I remember.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Introducing Steve Rosse

Steve Rosse is a world-famous author (in the world of expatriate-Phuket). Back in the day, he was a columnist for The Nation, Thailand's largest English-language newspaper. To quote Steve:
For a time The Nation put my face and name on the sides of buses in Bangkok: "Read Steve Rosse in The Nation: Thailand's Dave Berry!"
Anyway, Steve has agreed — for a substantial fee, of course — to let me publish excerpts from his upcoming book, "The Rock" here on my blog... once a week, every Sunday. I think you will enjoy the snark, satire, and sagacious writing, even if it is about That Other P Place... and not Pattaya.

Oh... and if you want to buy Steve's first book, "Thai Vignettes" already in bookstores all around Thailand (and available via the internet as well), please click here to order.

If It's Sunday, It's...

The Lost Tribes

Among the tropical ailments that expatriates are prone to here on Phuket, loneliness is by far the most common. It can, in advanced cases, force sufferers to resort to the most embarrassing of remedies: talking to tourists. In an effort to prevent this malady local residents have established a variety of clubs and organizations, designed to provide the patient with an opportunity to hear his native language spoken in the accents of his youth, among people who grew up watching the same TV shows he did.

The American University Alumni, the Alliance Francais and Goerthe Institute all offer films and discussion groups for those with an academic mind, which on Phuket is about three people. There are the Kiwanis and the Lions and the Rotarians, but if you’re not going to talk business you might as well not go. It’s the same for the golf and tennis clubs, and anyway, if you can afford the green fees for a three-hour round of golf you can afford to fly home for a week. There’s the Hash House Harriers, a support group for victims of severe head trauma, and there’s an International Women’s Club, but they keep out the riff-raff by requiring possession of a double-X chromosome for admission.

There are bars that try to fill the void: bars where the Germans go, where the Italians go, where the Brits, Swedes or Aussies go. Only the Swiss go to them all, and to frequent these places you’ve got to be prepared to stomach "home-made" national foods that taste nothing like you remember, and have conversations with geeks that you wouldn’t give the time of day to if you were back home.

But the biggest club here is B.O.O.B.: the Benevolent Order of the Once Burned. Membership is open to anyone who is now twice shy.

Click here for the rest of the article.

Investors in shrimp farms and owners of condos in Patong are eligible to hold the office of Treasurer, and the president must have signed a legal contract, written in Thai, without having it translated first. Meetings are held wherever two or more members come together, and are run on the Alcoholics Anonymous model: new members stand up before the group and introduce themselves; "Hi, I’m Steve, and I’m a jerk. I sent a bar girl through hair dressing college." The tales of woe bring us together, make us feel better about our mistakes, and reaffirm our commitments to be more careful in future.

Old members bring in stories of temptation overcome, like "I met this guy, and he said that he knew where a new golf course was going into Nakhon Nayok, and we could buy up the land real cheap... but I said ‘No!’" Everybody applauds his strength, and the meeting adjourns for refreshments.

Membership in the club is not limited by sex or race or nationality. However, all members can be recognized by a certain cynical attitude, and by their motto: "Oh, yeah? Prove it!" Sheila is a member. She came to Phuket from Perth, on a yacht that she and her boyfriend had purchased with their life’s savings. While she was in the hospital with Dengue Fever, the boyfriend sailed away with a French girl who was "crewing" her way around the world, and Sheila had to teach English in the hotels for a year to make enough money to get home.

Hans bought an old-style teak house and moved in with a girl from Ubon. The house was built "tongue-in-groove", not a nail in the whole structure, and when he came back from his next visa run he found that the house had been dismantled, board by board, loaded onto a flat-bed truck, and both house and girl had departed for parts unknown. Hans is a member in good standing.

Dan left his comfortable job with a relief agency, doing good work for the hill tribes, because he thought his girlfriend Neung deserved a better life than his NGO salary could provide. He went home for a year, slaved at a job he hated and sent all the money to Neung. When he thought she must have a tidy nest-egg saved up he returned to Phuket to find that for a year Neung had been spending all his money on a 23-year-old Italian football player named Luca. Dan is a member.

And the club isn’t just for expatriates. Oi met an Aussie in a bar when she was seventeen years old, and fell in love. She lived with him in a dirty shack without running water for seven years, during which time he "didn’t give her so much as a cracker, mate!". Then he kicked Oi out and married the niece of the headman of Baan Tanhaa, bought six rai of land from his new father in law, and built his bride a six-room house. Oi went back to the bars, her peak earning years behind her, without so much as a half-baht gold bracelet to show for them. Oi is a member.

Lek met a man in a bar in Patong, and agreed to go back to his rented house in Kathu for the night. At the house there were several more men. Lek spent three days drugged and abused in that house before waking up on the floor to find the men gone, the furniture gone, her clothes and purse gone, and the landlord pounding on the door demanding the rent. Lek is a member.

We’re probably all members. Chances are this is the biggest social organization on the island. And the club is big enough that we all get to meet other people who speak the way we do, eat the foods we do and remember the same dead presidents we do. The meetings help us get that craving for contact out of our system, and that’s important, because without some interaction with your fellows, you’ll find yourself in an over-decorated house, abusing the help and writing bitchy letters to the editorial pages of the Bangkok Post.

Or worse, talking to tourists.

But Jil... Where Have You Been?

Right here, dear reader.

I've been doing nothing but work, sleep, and watch TV. Hell: I haven't even been off of my property more than ten times in the last month... and that includes 5-minute trips to the store for milk 'n stuff.

The television series "24", season 2, has been replaying here every night at 7:00, Monday through Friday, so right when I should be putting the exclamation point on a long day of typing, I'm stopping for an hour to watch deus ex machina duke it out with Murphy's Law. Therefore, the 8:00 p.m. bar jaunt is out for a month. (That is assuming that season 3 isn't up next.)

Go is still cleaning her heart out. Took is still studying... but she is sick now with a throat-based illness of some kind, and has had it for a week already.

Pridi is pregnant... probably by the big tomcat next door. Well, after this litter, everyone is going to the vet's for feline antieugenics. At $30 bucks a snip, it's not that bad. Should have done it sooner, but why cut off my family after one generation?

Pramoj is my white shadow, following me everywhere as if my presence were his oxygen. He — in very un-cat-like fashion — crawls under my covers at night and curls up against my belly to sleep.

Speaking of bellies, mine is quite large still. I'm going to be purchasing an exercise bike soon, and will be pedaling away the pounds... kicking the kilos. (Assuming I can stop that goddamn Burger King delivery guy from stopping by my house every day with a Whopper. I don't know what his problem is.)

Work Update

November and December generally sucked, work-wise. My supervisor e-mailed me, "We would like to add some University of Texas accounts to your overnight stat work." It was awful: There were two accounts, and each one had 15 or 20 jobs per night, and each job was anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes in length (and that is exceptionally long, if you didn't know).

What's worse is that apparently in Texas, there is a speed limit on dictation... and it is very slow. It is estimated that doctors normally dictate at around 600 lines per hour. Therefore a 10-minute job would be 100 lines. Nuh-uh: Some 10 minute jobs only had 30 or 40 lines in them, which meant that most of my time was spent sitting around, hands at the ready, waiting for Dr. So-and-so to finish drinking his coffee and figuring out what he wanted to say next.

My transcription speed went from 400 lines per hour down to 250 lines per hour.

So I complained... as politely as I could. I pointed out how all of my other accounts were suffering. I pointed out how these jobs weren't really "stat"... as in needing immediate attention.

Finally, after New Year's, the Texas jobs stopped showing up in my queue, and all was back to normal.

There... now we're all caught up on what's been going on in the Wrinkle Residence, Thailand Branch.

Alito v. Wade

I've given a fair amount of thought about whether the Supreme Court will ever overturn Roe v. Wade. I don't think it will — Republicans won't allow it to happen.

Seriously. It's a lose-lose situation for conservatives: If Roe v. Wade is overturned (federally), Republicans and conservative groups will have lost their major fund-raising-talking-point-to-get-out-the-vote issue.

What's worse, the Democrats and liberals could say to the 60-plus-percent of the (exceptionally-surprised) American population who actually wanted abortion to remain legal, "it's what the Republican's wanted," and not a single Republican would be able to deny it... after campaigning on it for 30-plus years. If abortion rights were returned to the state level, hundreds of state-level Republicans would be at risk of losing their next election immediately after R.v.W. is overturned by an upset population attempting to safeguard the last front line of "choice."

It's like supporting Pat Robertson's primary campaign for president and then saying, "Wait... hold on a minute... I didn't think he'd actually win! Aw jeez... That's not good."

But on the other hand, maybe I'm overestimating the reaction of the moderate pro-choicers. Maybe they will just shrug their shoulders and go buy Trojans or Ortho pills.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

I Hear Buzzing

It seems that someone has started giving Ultralight tours. You know: Ultralight... a hang glider, lawn mower and propeller.

I live at the exact distance from Big Budda that if you are flying your lawnmover at about 1,000 feet, making a nice gentle circle, you have a perfect view of him if you fly right over my house.

Well, of all the things that go past my house in the course of a day, a lawnmower at 1,000 feet hardly even registers on my noise scale. Truth be told, 107th Street was quieter than where I live now. The teacher from Peanuts rides around in a truck with a loudspeaker all day. Motorcycles - which are chainsaws with wheels - buzz by.

Even the Thai birds are in on the noise game, with one particularly grating bird called the gow-wow bird (gow-wow sounding quite like its call, if you repeat it over and over for 5 minutes in a row) who wakes me up in the morning.

Well, it probably wouldn't be so loud if I didn't have every window in the house open... but I like being close to the outdoors, noises and all.

Google Photos

Handiest thing in Thailand: Google Photos.

It is so much easier to just call up a photo of Frosted Flakes or hamburger buns or a toothbrush than to try explaining it or grabbing a dictionary. I really need to get internet service on my mobile phone so that I can do it on the road as well.

A Little Analysis

There are two kinds of guys that live in Pattaya. (I'm sure that everyone who lives in Pattaya writes that at least once in their lives.)

The first is the guy who has pulled himself towards Pattaya: The one who said, "Thailand... yeah! That's where I want to be." He is always relaxed, even when he is stressed out. He is always happy, even when he's pissed off. He's always broke, even when he just got paid. He hangs out with all of the other happy, relaxed, broke fellows at his favorite bar... and will be there with his friends until the place is torn down. He speaks (or tries to speak) Thai, finds a Thai girl and settles down.

The second is the guy who has pushed himself away from someplace else: The one who said, "I can't stand it here anymore." He wound up in Pattaya because it was heads, and Angeles City was tails, when he was at the airport buying a one-way ticket. Chances are he is mad at the world, probably because the world doesn't care for him very much (probably because he is a bit of a dick once you get to know him). He's sour, even when he puts on his happy face. He's rich because he actually had a life before he lost it and found himself exiled to this place. He goes to one bar for a month or two, makes some casual acquaintances, and then finds a new place to hang before people get to know him. He makes sure he never spends more than one night with a local girl. He likes to say "I like to know I can pack up and get out whenver I want." (You hear that a lot in this town.) His Thai consists primarily of "mai ao" to the vendors, "check bin" to the waitresses, and "mai shai Cheap Charlie" to the bar girls (even though he inevitably is).

Stickman summed it up so well: You don't want to make friends with a Thai girl who has a Tattoo, and you don't want to make friends with a Farang who still can't speak a bit of Thai after living here for 5 years.

Thailand truly has some of the coolest people on earth living here as expatriates... people you instantly trust and understand. You never have to know a thing about them before they rode into town, but you still can get a perfect grasp of who they are by one evening sharing a corner of a bar at a local pub.

With a little practice, you can sniff out the other type of expatriate just as easily.

Friday Cat Blogging

Sorry for the downtime. Will try to post more in the coming days.

Two Brothers Nap Time

Kitties Meet Mantis

This photos was just 10 minutes ago. The cats didn't eat the mantis... the thing is still sitting right there, praying.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Licensed to ill, The Next Generation

Move over Beastie Boys. This is the funniest thing that Saturday Night Live has put on in years. "You can call us Aaron Burr by the way we're droppin' Hamiltons!" Classic.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

New Year's Eve

New Year's in Pattaya. Probably the best holiday to spend here, although I guess Loy Krathong is a little better.

Took and I went out to see the Narnia movie, which was better than I expected it would be... mostly thanks to Tilda Swinton, the White Witch. Funny though: The movie didn't seem as magical as the book to me. But I was ten years old when I read the book, and I had a much better imagination then than I do today.

After that, at around 10:30, we went to TQ2 but it was generally empty — at least empty of people I knew. We stuck around for 1 drink.

After that, it was off to Margaritavilla where we met up with Rick and Mike for the New Year's countdown.

As always, Soi Rungland (where Margaritavilla is located) is the best place to celebrate New Year's Eve. It's the Wild West of New Year's celebrations; the place that has the for-profit ambulances hanging out because they know that someone will be blowing themselves up with fireworks.

The folks in the German restaurant next to Margaritavilla were having a "who can set off more fireworks" competition with the OK Corral down the street. Even with commercial-grade fireworks selling for the bargain basement price of about $4 each, we estimated that die menschen next door easily spent $2000 blowing shit up.

That included one German toe. Heheh. That got a laugh. Drunk laughing 9-toed German dude was loaded into the back of a baht bus to be taken to the hospital... or another bar... we couldn't figure out which.

(<-- Soi Rungland littered with firework debris.)

Next time you go to the Fourth of July fireworks display, and find it nice but a little boring, try sitting 15 feet from where the fireworks are being launched: The "kaboom" at launch to get them to altitude is almost as big as the kaboom they make once they are up there.

Anyway, at about 1:00 we were off to Boys Boys Boys (obviously a gay bar) to join Lolo and the Tiffany's girls for a drink. Oad, Seiko, Kling, Bob were there. It was nice to see them again. I don't see them nearly enough, considering how much fun they are to hang with.

Oh. Boys Boys Boys has the most expensive drinks of any gogo bar in Pattaya: A Spy Wine Cooler cost 140 baht ($3.50).

So at about 1:45 it was off to home. The traffic was bumper-to-bumper, at a literal standstill all the way from Soi Pattayland and Beach Road all the way to Jomtien. Yes: Those new traffic lights are doing a hell of a job.