Thursday, June 07, 2007

UP 2 U

UP 2 U

Khuk Khak, Thailand 2007 - The Suits, the stuffed shirts, the 'Big Boht' (Big Boss) from up in the front offices came down here talking about the need for a whole new way of thinking in the development of a product line, far beyond 'all these wire and bamboo shower caddies and coconut ashtrays.'

They said we were wayyyy the hell overstocked, and either needed a global marketing surge to unload our current inventory, or to start thinking 'outside the box' toward the creation of new products. "These shower caddies and bong plungers have just about played out," they said. "Think jewelry. Think 'his and hers'. Think toward the future," they said.

I don't know what they expected from me and a crew of outsourced help from Myanmar, working for 50 baht per day, and I couldn't feature a bamboo necklace, either. It seemed so big and clumsy. They were talking about the wire.

"Wire has unlimited potential. Wire and SEA SHELLS," they said. There's an ocean full of 'em! Whatever you come up with, it's up to you."

So there we were, walking the beaches of Khuk Khak and Bansak, looking for the full nautilus (as always), and seashells with a tiny hole for a .26 gauge wire, for bracelets; and two weeks later, we had a whole new inventory of abalone bracelets, his and hers coconut soap dishes, and a triple-decker shower caddy equivalent of a 17th century HMS frigate or Portuguese Man-O-War.

"THIS should impress Mr. Big Bought at the front office," I said to the Myanmar bamboo and coconut production crew, who all smiled and nodded their heads, since they don't speak any English and I can't talk Burmese, and we do most of our communicating in sign language.

They understand Baht. Thai baht.

At the premier showcasing of the new stuff, people looked at that triple-decker shower caddy and just shook their, 'maybe it's too much...lookit the work that went into it...and...but look how many they've got here. Maybe we should get one.'

Went like hotcakes. Sold out. All three hundred and forty-three, including a couple dozen, top-o-the-line Shower Caddy DLEs, Deluxe Edition. They had a big 'Shao-wah Cad-DY' party over at the 300-strong, corrugated tin and plywood Myanmar illegal immigrant camp, just around the corner from my house, between me and the Wat Komaneeyakhet across the lake, where all the monks hang out. The food was excellent.

Simple living in a 12x12 cubical space for a family of four or five. Everyone lives in long rows of low cubes, raised off the ground. Dogs and chickens running around. The women with their faces painted in powdered swirls. Babies and puppies in abundance. Each evening after work, the boys and men play takraw in the sand, performing incredible gymnastics and acrobatics, sending the ball back over the net with every part of their bodies but their hands.

A few of the cubes have television, but every family has a rice cooker and small florescent light, both run off a pirated, jerry-rigged splice off the main electrical line that nobody says anything about, except the cops that come through every once in awhile, checking for visas, when everyone scatters like chickens until they leave, which they won't do until somebody pays somebody some baht.


The recent 3-meter tidal surge from a 7.5 'afterchock' off the southern coast of Myanmar at first cleaned the beaches from Khao Lak to Cape Pakarang, then produced a plethora of new shells churned up from the undersea discombobulation, filling seaside resort kitchens with knee-deep sand, destroying others, and raising anew among the locals the certainty of another imminent tsunami, despite the assurances from all us foreigners that the likelihood of it occurring again wouldn't happen for another thousand years.

In their thinking, it's like, "It happened once. It can happen again.'

I'm not so certain they're not right. Down there on that beach, it's hard to not look out to sea every once in awhile, y' know, just checking. Checking for a line of froth.

But you'd know. You'd know ahead of time. You'd know by the water at first 'going away'. But I would be one of those doomed fools out there looking at the recently exposed seabed. And they say when the wave came, it was accompanied and preceded by a loud, ominous, creepy, moaning sound that had everyone at first looking up into the sky, wondering, before looking out to sea to see the water building and rushing at them.

Assured by geological science and statistical facts, nearly all of the investors, consortiums, and local resort owners have re-built and expanded their holdings all up and down 'The Strip' of commercial properties and businesses in the killing zone from Khao Lak to the Cape.

On the surface, particularly with the recovery of the vegetation, you'd never know anything happened here, except for that big police boat in Bang Niang, parked 2 kilometers inland, now a stark and silent national monument; and the Dresden-like ghost-shell of the former five-star Sofitel resort in Khuk Khak, on the beach right down the road from me, where they can't seem to keep night shift security guards because of the 600 ghosts of the Sofitel, still laughing and partying at night in the ruins, lost souls, they say, laughing and talking in German, Swedish, and English.

One of the older Thai guards said it didn't bother him so much, as long as they kept it down.

It's a beautiful beach. The loveliest in the area. The Thai people don't go there much. "Thai people no like Khuk Khak beach," they say.

So who can call it superstition? I had to ask what it was for, to the Thai lady who had spread out a huge meal on the sand, along with candles, incense, sweets, and bottled water. I had gone way down the beach, and when I returned, she was still there.

She had been beachcombing the previous day, and that night in her sleep had been bothered by a man, a 'farang', a foreigner in nothing but a swimsuit, waking her, shaking her, she said, asking for something to eat, asking for food, then evaporating.

She had selected a spot high up on the sand, up near the vegetation where high tide would take it all away...and laid it all out, kneeling, bowing, her forehead on the sand, praying up there, for a long, long time.


Four More Chalk Outlines

"I'm not a real doctor...I mean, I never finished medical school, and I practice without a license...out-patient service, first response," I said to the Thai man who announced that he was an EMT trainee as he placed a rolled up towel under the neck of the woman from Amsterdam who lay in the street after being broadsided on her honda by a speeding tour van, right outside Nang Thong market where hundreds of mostly German and Swedish tourists gather at night and spill out dangerously into the street, now gathered in a gawking circle.

"But I don't suppose she cares, does she?"

No concussion. Fractured femur. Maybe a fractured pelvis. Cuts and abrasions. Definitely a trip to Takuapa hospital. Definitely an end to the holiday for her and her three comforting friends, who spoke English.

"Ask her if her head hurts."

Fortunately, not. Headed out of Khao Lak on my motorbike, I had heard the screech of tires just behind me, and then the impact, and what the hell, it's like being an English teacher, you just can't help yourself, and as a medic, you've gotta stop.

The lady from Amsterdam was the first of eight patients treated by Brovic's Emergency Roadside Outpatient Medical Service, operational from Khao Lak to Takuapa aboard a 125 cc. honda. Nothing to do for the Myanmar lady but put a sheet over her head and wait for the cops and an ambulance after she stepped backward from her six-person weed-cutting crew onto the highway into the path of a songtau up by Bansak beach, so she didn't count as a patient. She only counted as somebody's wife and mother before going out to work that morning for fifty baht per day, her third-world wage.

The funniest mishap was the two girls from Germany, riding double, waiting on the side of the road, who I passed and then saw shoot directly across the road, over the embankment, and off into the vegetation.

They were more embarrassed than hurt. The girl who was driving kept asking about the bike.

"The bike's okay," I told her. "How long have you had it?"

"We just got it this morning," she said. "A couple of hours ago."

For cleaning wounds, I've got alcohol, which stings, and hydrogen peroxide, which does not. Guess which one I used on those girls.

With it's 'anything goes' attitude toward rules of the road, Thailand has the highest traffic fatality rate in S.E. Asia. When you think, 'Baby Seat', you visualize what?...a bluish-gray plastic, padded, belted, corduroy affair for baby in the backseat, right? Over here, it's a wicker seat, custom-made to fit over the frame of a motorbike, secured by momma's knees.

Get Your Act Together

In response to people wondering when I was going to get my act together, I arranged to meet with Paul, a heavy-drinking ex-pat Brit, and a prospective member of the comedy troupe, at the beer garden on the fountain circle in Vientiane, Laos.

He showed up with another guy, a retired high school principal from Wisconsin who was involved with some northern hill tribes, I forget doing exactly what...some kinda puppet show or something...with full-sized paper mache', cardboard, and tin foil spacesuits to encourage the hilltribe kids to become astronauts. I never quite made a clear-channel connection on his mission. It was noisy, and I only caught fragments.

"How's it going?" I asked as they approached the table.

"Still got 'em all," Paul laughed, twirling his hands in the air, showing me he still had all his fingers after twenty years of UXO bomb disposal work along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos and Cambodia, a rather incongruent occupation for a comic, it would seem.

Besides P' Kao, who could fill a good ten minutes with his terrific Superman in Thailand act, we still needed three more members to fill an hour show in our playbill for the Bob Hope Memorial Uninterrupted Hilarity Comedy Tour through Baghdad, Mosul and two other Iraqi venues, and two additional stops in Afghanistan, having already secured a tentative booking through our BHMUHCT agent and the U.S. DOD Dept. of Special Services Asia representative.

"Why the fuck would I want to go into a combat zone?" asked Paul as he ordered up a pitcher. "They like to capture and behead Brits and Americans in that part of the world."

An entirely legitimate question, forgoing the obvious rationale of 'Country' (he wouldn't care; he was an ex-pat), 'Our people in uniform', 'Bob Hope' (reason enough, in and of itself, to a comic), and 'expiation or deliverance of sin' (at which he laughed uproariously. Paul once joked that he had planted much of the ordnance that he was now removing).

Through the first three pitchers and chain-smoking Pall Malls, he kept saying, "I prefer my head just where it is, thank you. On my neck. Attached to my body."

Four pitchers later, after talk of a resurrected comedy career and an extended dispute with the Thai interpreter/guide about the historic nature of the Emerald Buddha at Bangkok's Wat Phra Kaew, which the Lao waiter, who was majoring in physics at Vientiane University, bitterly assured us had been stolen from Laos in the 18th century, Paul said he'd go.

He had a great bag of bomb jokes tailor-made for a military audience, and could easily fill ten or fifteen minutes of stage time. We'd need only one more member. By the end of the evening, it was looking like a green light launch, all the way. All we needed was to get a for-sure booking nailed down before the troop pullout, Iraqi government stability, or the 2008 elections, whichever came first.

For my wrap-up segment, I had twelve minutes of re-worked but possibly incendiary uncensored Thunderclap 2.0 Poor Sap-in-Uniform material, including Jesse Jackson in Sherwood Forest, Bin Laden on 'Good Morning, America', and homeboy body bag jokes that were sure to get 'em on their feet. Should be fun. We've just got to get to them before they come home or declare it over.

We encountered a slight problem/delay at the Lao/Thai border crossing on the way back, with those two German Shepherds going bananas when I went through, no doubt going bananas over that pungent Lao tobacco that I had purchased the night before and had just finished smoking in the back of the cyclo-taxi.

It's always best to keep in mind those guys (Lao) are still Communists, and intolerant of any monkey business, clearly lacking any sense of humor, and particularly sensitive to any references to the Emerald Buddha.*

"Why dogs go bananas for you?" asked the border guard.

"I don't know," I replied. "The metric system?"

"You say here, 'Comic', on 'profession'?" asked the border guard, looking critically at my passport. "Okay, funny man. Make me raff."


* turns out, there's still dispute, even among scholars. Some say the source was India, 45 B.C., with transit through Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Ankor Wat, and Ayutthaya. From there, up to Chiang Mai and over to Luang Prabang. Then there was some sort of hazy, legendary mix-up involving elephants, but there seems to be little argument that one of the warrior kings, King Whatchamacallit, Rama I to-be, went up there and sacked Vientiane about the time of the American Revolution, 1779, snagged the Emerald Buddha, and took it back home with him.

It's actually made of jade.

Dr.'s Orders

Although people may question a doctor's diagnosis and seek a second opinion, nobody seems to question the doctor's orders. It occurred to me that it's a perfectly lame but acceptable excuse to toss up to practically any 'why?' question.

"Why did you do that?"

"Doctor's orders."

So, you really don't have to be a doctor if you just act like a doctor. In all my years of practicing medicine without a license, I've never once had someone question my legitimacy or authority. What they always say, is, "Yes, Doctor."