Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Man on Fire

Man On Fire - Tons Of Notes

Ayutthaya, Thailand 2/2008 - It's been a while, but I've got notes!

That business about sprinting 150 yards along the Mekong riverfront in Vientiane like a man on fire in midday heat? Stop me if you've already heard it.

Standing out on the dried up sands of the Mekong, now shunken to 1/8 it's high-water size, the lights of Vientiane's awakening economy were reflected in enterprises lining the riverfront; banks, bars, bistros, bakeries, bed & breakfasts, baht exchanges, bazaars, and boutiques surrounded the block-long waterfront temple.

The city is a sort of magical place where the French presence is still strong, the pace slower, and the people very kind, graceful and friendly. Among the other farang (western, non-asian) tourists, the French stand out by their flair. There's usually some kinda scarf involved.

Since the beginning of time those Mekong waters had been draining from the Tibetan plateau, south through China, Myanmar, Lao, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam before emptying into the South China Sea. I wondered what was pulling me there.

Maybe it was a ride forty years ago in a helicopter provided by my uncle, riding north to south along the other side of the Annamite moutain range running through SE Asia. At 4,000 ft., looking westward into Laos, a pre-sunset rainstorm had created a misty pink and purple curtain-like veil over the mountains, serene and breathtaking against a backdrop of war. At the time, I thought some day to return and explore the other side in a more peaceful time.

Clustered near the city's fountain, over by the beer garden, tuk tuk drivers asked me daily, 'Tuk tuk, Sir? and at night, whispered, 'Mariwah-na? Lay-dee?'

'Am I that easy a mark?' I asked one driver.

'I hab everything,' he said. 'Mariwah-na, hashish, opium...herion...lay-dee.'

'Have you got anything for a sore knee?'


Down south, the shower caddy venture played out. You could've called it an enterprise, sure. Overstocked inventory, illegal immigrant issues and we, uh, whaddayacallit?

Think outside the box. We needed to...'diversify,' is the word that held me up. We needed to diversify, they said. Think outside the box. The whole thing fell flat so we shifted over into the development of an outsourced off-shoot to the Slim Buttes Auxilliary of the Smithsonian Institution Museum of Aviation History, Sub-orbital Flight.

Forgoing some of the sexy, later models like the B-1, or the SR 71, we're focusing on WWI aircraft. We worked out some of the technicalities of the fuselage and landing gear, and simplified the entire assembly process for the wing struts, thanks to an insightful suggestion from Wan. So, that's moving forward. Right now, out of the fourteen aircraft we've built here in Thailand, ten have already been given away.

Stop me if you've already heard this. The high wire act? The Bob Hope Commemorative comedy tour to Baghdad? 'The African American Bowhunter'? Stop me if you've heard it.

Like I said, it's been a while, and the trailer on the rez got robbed twice, and they took my laptop, tools, and some other stuff, and before that, over here, well, never mind. Haven't felt like writing.

Avoid redundancy, they said. But they also said, 'A good tale is worth telling twice.'

I could see home furnishings, but jewelry? Bamboo and coconut jewelry? That was the problem, they said, we wudden thinking outside da box.

They envisioned wire and sea shell necklaces and bracelets, like, thinking along the wire line, an essential component of the shower caddy, and going with the wire and shell thing, and with the help from the Myanmar, we could keep our production down and expand into, you know, other, you know.

As vague as that sounded, we proceeded, me and the myanmar crew, but the early give-away pilot models were scratching the girl's throats and wrists, and after a couple of days, they quit wearing them, and there were immigrant issues, and the Myanmar tore down their camp to leave, but then ended up rebuilding just adjacent, there at the intersection of the Sofitel Road and the road to the temple, another, bigger camp, housing some 300 people, most of whom are now employed as laborers in the rebuilding of the Sofitel hotel, the five-star resort on the beach that got wiped out, and is now, here for the last year or so, slowly being reconstructed.

It'd be hard to say about the ghosts, the whole area is totally rebuilt. in Khao Lak, three new 7-11s, four new optical shops, six new tailors. Whole place - rebuilt. Third-year tsunami anniversary, ho-hum. Back to business. Back to Euros.

That's in Khao Lak. Out in Thung Maphrao, the location of the glass house project ('Welcome to the Nature'),* where I teach English to four classes of 3rd through sixth graders once a week, it's totally Thai, and they're making me learn the lingo out of neccesity.

A strange phenomena awaited me when the students arose at the command of one of the bigger girls, 'All Students Stand!' she said, then with the clasped hands wai, they all said in unison, 'Good morning, Teacher', and later, 'thank you, Teacher,' whenever I said, 'Very good.' At the end of class, they all rise, wai, and say again, 'Thank you, Teacher.'

'That kind of respect doesn't happen in America,' I told my Thai colleague. 'There, the students shoot the teachers.'


"Repeat after me...'What are you looking at? Have you got a problem?' No 'hab'...'haVE'. HaVE."

They're not accustomed to using their teeth to make the 'V', or the 'th' requiring extending the tongue to touch the bottom of the teeth. Much less, 'L', and 'R', or 'ch' and 'sh', sounds we take for granted.

"LLLLLLLLook. Same same 'Helllllllllo'." Which they can say.

Realizing a need to unhitch my cerebral and academic approach to one that's MORE FUN, I taught them a version of 'Ask Your Mom For Fifty Cents', a popular reservation birthday greeting song commonly aired on the local radio.

'Ask Your Mom For Ha Sip Baht'; and they picked right up on it, clapping along and laughing, but that's a lot for a kid to be asking for, relatively speaking, given the value of fifty cents these days.

Digger is teaching math, and Melanie, English, at the international school here in Ayutthaya, a definite stop on the temple tour, a hour north of Bangkok. An ancient imperial city without stoplights, every intersection is a free-for-all, Up 2 U, thus, you see chalk outlines and bits of broken glass and plastic at many intersections.

This was the capital of Siam and the location of the royal palace before moving downriver to Bangkok. The glorius Khmer temples and architecture were left in ruins by invading Burmese back when the French and Indians were fighting on the North American continent.

Stopped here to celebrate Digger's 22nd birthday, enroute to and from Thai embassy in Vientiane, Lao. That explains why I was sprinting along the Mekong riverfront, a full-bore, flat-out, heartpounding wind sprint for 150 yards adjacent to a tourist-crowded pedestrian sidewalk in midday heat as a cure for a wrenched knee.

I hadn't experienced exertion to that extent since basketball practice in '79, or lifting those marine batteries off of my crushed foot last summer.

Last summer. Still no water to my place on the rez, no electricity. I've got the solar panels and the batteries, but I still need the whatchamacallit to run the whole shebang.

So, where was I? Thinking, 'I can't challenge Downs for his position (3rd) in the tennis lineup, and I can't do that until I get past Wilbert (Randy Wilbert, 5th).' And that won't happen on these lungs, nor these knees. Sixth man, low man on the totem pole, but good enough to play for tournament points and fend off the guys in the lower ranks of the order, and good enough to teach those kids over at Komaneeyakhet School, across the lake at the Wat.


Feed The Monk

This shit is farrrrr too rambling.

There's no single, consistent, coherent train of thought through the whole thing, so far. Trying to knock off a year of rust. Or do you follow? Are you with me? Can I get an 'Amen'?

One is supposed to say 'Amen' after the monk finishes giving you his blessing after you make your offering.

He was in line over at 7-11, across the street from the train station where I got off from a fitfull overnight from Nhon Khai, just this side of the Mekong from Vientiane, you can check it on the map, fitfull because of the aching knee from the run, and from the freezing air-conditioned compartment.

Anyway, one can always use blessings, right? so I tried to catch him before he paid, and had an idea of getting him one of those pastries they like, and one of those yogurt drinks, since I never have rice unless I buy it, but here he came on out, and so I run over there and put fifty baht in his totally empty begging bowl. I don't know what he had under his sleeve from the 7-11, but he bought something. Anyway, I forgot the amen. And I also forgot the wai. That's how stupid I am.

I also, and I hate to admit this, but I also forgot to get exactly what I needed in Lao, the express purpose of my trip. You gotta SAY, 'multiple-entry', 'one-year'. there's rules. And you can't assume the paperwork's right.

New rules, I might add. Everything is tightening up. I see where you need a passport, a driver's license, a birth certificate, a urine sample and DNA evidence now just to...what was it? gain access into......

....your grocery account. You thought I was going to say, 'Canada', right?

Yeah. It's not just me being paranoid, which I accept, I am. The doctors agreed. They look up my ass every time. Department of Homeland Security. Not the doctors. I'm on their terrorist watch list, but you gotta go through a whole bunch of shit just to get your name off it, and it's not just the one-way ticket business. Every single time I board a flight or come home, it's the same shit, and as a red, white & black all-american purple heart vietnam vet, I take offense.

It ain't me you're lookin' for, babe.

What Did You Just Say To Me?

There's this bird right outside the window here that keeps saying, 'For Real, For Real, For Real.'
and those frogs or lizards or whoever's saying it, down there on the pond by the bungalow in the jungalow - I can't even repeat what they're saying in English, because it's far too vulgar and explicit, and to the Thai, it's probably all lizard jibberish, but in English it's clear as a bell, and I was wondering, 'are they just saying that to me?'

No, not the 'fuck you' lizards. This was some rude shit. I know, I'm bad and profane at times, but there's just some shit you shouldn't say, either in print or in a comedy act, which has a LOT of latitude regarding 'crossing the line' of acceptable public prudence, even in a combat zone, where people can get their back up about body bags and such.

What the hell. They were saying...

....can't bring myself to say it. Although I've said some shameless things, and carried out some shameless acts, I've got to rein it in somefuckingwhere along the line of decency.

it was just too plain rude.

they're still out there. wait till the rainy season.


Fight to Die

Digger said he and Tilo were driving in one of the TVC (tsunami vol. ctr.) trucks one day, when he asked Tilo, 'You ever hit an animal in Thailand?'

Tilo said, 'No.'

No sooner were the words out of his mouth, Digger said, when a cat loped out in front of the truck, and, 'SPLAT!'


You try not to screech your tires on a motorbike, because everybody looks up and you feel like a fool. Thai dogs are notorious for laying in the road, and you always see some limping around on three legs, as traffic-wary as they appear to be.

Rolling through Khuk Khak village, a cat strolled out three paces into the street in front of me, not looking up, totally unconcerned of any traffic, and exuding the distinct impression that it had all nine of it's lives remaining, caused me to screech my tires. The people gathered there at the noodle stand all looked up, the cat, a calico, looked up in shock and flitted on across the street in advanced haste.

I gave it a scowl and asked it, like the Thai do the dogs lying in the road, 'You want fini? You want die?'


The dogs here often run in packs, and don't fight the way American dogs do. I've witnessed some horrific dog fights over here that have stopped traffic. They just don't stop. It goes on and on, and the sounds are vicious and satanic.

Sitting at a restaurant table with an American guest and P' Su, a dog fight broke out next door and continued to such an extent in front of the raised-floor that the policemen sitting at an adjacent table jumped up and began blowing their whistles, two Swedish couples grabbed their children and moved to the center of the restaurant, a man from the house next door ran out and stumbled over the small hedge, tumbling into the yard, Bill got up and went over to get a better look, and hundreds of stunned onlookers attending a large fair and concert event on the adjacent lot all took in the spectacle.

Neither dog would yield, and neither would yelp or whine as they went after each other so violently that they ignored the rocks, sticks, whistles, clapping, and shouts of anyone courageous enough to attempt an intervention, kind of like the UN and nations at war. The small black dog was defending the restaurant turf, and the big dog could go anywhere he wanted to, and the small black dog was saying, 'no you can't.'

When it fiiiiiiiinally ended, to the relief of everybody in the immediate vicinity, I said, 'In Amer-eegah, we no hab. Dog fi three may fi fi long ti.'

P' Su replied, 'In Thai LAND, dog fi to die. No brrrreak. Fi to die.'


Stepped across a cobra last week. Evidently not the spitting kind (King Cobra) that can blind you accurately at a dozen paces. This guy was little, about two feet long, deadlier then his mama, they say. And it looked just like any other snake, making his way behind the cooler, so I turned him around with a spongemop and he raised up and spread his fan out, and I thought, 'Oh SHIT! A cobra!' And before he went off the porch and under the deck, he raised up again and fanned out, just to make certain, and I thought, 'You're a fucking cobra, FOR SURE!'

That's why the glass house is up. Everything, up. Up.

And that's why the Thai build their houses on stilts, right? That, and air, and water during the rainy season. Makes perfect sense. Only since cement have they laid the flat slab houses. the Thai LOVE concrete. It's cool. It's cheap. Anyone can hab a hou.


Thai TV

Showed up on Thai television after being called from the studio audience, 'COME ON UP!' on a game show, 'Name That Tune,' and although I'm familiar with a number of popular Thai radio tunes, I sure as hell didn't know their titles, but as senseless as it seemed, I went onstage, live.

The reigning champion had these tall-ass stacks of money in front of him and I was thinking there's no fucking way I'm gonna beat this guy, and as soon as we began the first round, they started the song and the guy immediately hit his buzzer.

'NAME THAT TUNE,' said the host, pointing at the champ. The Champ says some shit in Thai, and the host says, 'Yoooooouuuuuur're RIGHT!' and they give him more money.

Round two, same thing. The champ hit his buzzer as soon, and I mean, as soon as the first note came out, you know, like you can do with an oldie but goodie. They give him more money, and we go on to round three, and I'm thinking, 'I'm gonna beat that sonofabitch to the buzzer this time', so as soon as they dropped the needle on the record, I slapped my buzzer.

Everything stopped for a second. I beat the champ to the buzzer. The studio audience said, 'OHHHHHH?'

The host, stunned, said, 'OHHHHHH?'

The champ said, 'OHH?

After recovering his composure, the host spun and pointed his finger at me and said, 'NAME THAT TUNE!'

After a second's flustered hesitation, I spit out, 'Mai Khao Jai?' ('I don't understand').

'HHHRRRRRNNNNTTT' went an in-house buzzer. WRONG!

The host turned to the champ, pointing and saying, 'Name That Tune!' to which the champ responded accurately, and they gave him more money and the audience clapped and cheered.

After the commercial break, the host says, 'Although you didn't win any money today, we don't want you to leave empty-handed, so we're going to give youuuuuuuuu...ASETACHOPSTICKS!'

woke up in hysterics, something I haven't done in a long time.

end -

*'Welcome To The Nature' - On a huge outdoor sign at the entrance to a new housing development, south of Ayutthaya.

Protect The Nature - On the back of an eco-tourism jeep in Khao Lak.