Tuesday, July 26, 2011


I've met nearly everybody on this trip.  I've met the French, English, Spanish, Estonians, and other random Europeans.  I've met people from Taiwan, Macau, South Korea, and so forth.  I've even met stateless people, like the Shans.  But today I'm going to write about one indivdual who isn't even human.  His name is Gershom, and he's a four month old Oriental kitten.

There are thousands of stray "Soi" cats and dogs here in Chiang Mai (Soi is Thai for alley, and strays are called Soi cats).  There aren't many animal shelters, and there aren't many laws regarding pet ownership.  So one day when I was walking out by an abandoned factory, I heard a meow.  I figured it was just another stray, but I called to it anyways.  Much to my surprise the little guy jumped into my arms.  Being the sucker I am, I couldn't put him down and walk off.  So I took him to my apartment.  Besides, it was real obvious that this cat was too little to be on his own.

Anybody who knows me knows I love animals.  My family has taken in numerous cats and dogs over the years.  I myself have rescued a number of strays.  Of the two cats I live with in my apartment in America, one I rescued from among the reeds by an abandoned one-room schoolhouse.  I named him Moses, cause it sounded appropreiate.  He needed a compaion, so I adopted a shelter cat, and to be funny named her Zipporah, the wife of Moses.  In the Bible, Gershom is the son of Moses and Zipporah, so it was only fitting.  And besides, he reminds me a lot of my two cats.

Thai cats are renowned throughout the world.  Everybody knows of the Siamese cat.  An Oriental cat is
like a Siamese, but it comes in more variety of colors.  Orientals are known for being very vocal, affectionate, demanding, and possessive of their owners.

Everyday when I came home, Gershom would yell at me with his loud, droning, "Meeeeeeeeeeeew."  Whenever I'd go to sleep, he was always by my head.  Though because he was young and teething, he'd always wake me up in the middle of the night by biting me non-stop.  He played with everything, and made a real mess of my apartment.

Sadly, I'm not able to take him to America.  My airplane doesn't allow animals under six months, and I don't have the money to pay to put him in quarantine.  So I gave him to my friend Pan, who in turn gave him to one of her workers who is a middle aged woman who lives alone.  Seeing how they both have feisty personalities, I have no doubt they've probably killed each other by now.

One of the possibilities I did find was one of the few animals sanctuaries in Chiang Mai.  It's run by a Western woman.  It seems like a neat place, and the woman there is trying to get laws passed that would protect animals.  I wish her nothing but the best.

While it was sad to see him go, it was fun having him for eleven nights.  I'm glad I was able to take a stray animal and give him a chance to live a better life.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Jim Thompson

Going off from my last two posts about Bangkok and America, I'd like to share with everybody the story of another great American.  This man is named Jim Thompson.

Jim Thompson is proof that the only stories that make the press in America are bad ones.  We like to talk about people who start wars and go about doing random acts of terrorism, but we never talk about people who do good things.  Jim Thompson is a great man who has been sadly forgotten by Americans.

When David and I arrived in Bangkok, on our map we saw a landmark marked, "Jim Thompson's House."  We both scratched our heads and wondered, "Um, who?"  So we had to check it out.

Jim Thompson was a former CIA opperative who was active in Thailand.  He fell in love with the country and later left the CIA and relocated permanetly to Bangkok.  At that time Thailand was very modernized, and many traditional customs had been nearly forgotten.  Of those were traditional Thai houses and the silk industry.  Jim Thompson successfully revived both of those traditions.

Jim Thompson was not only interested in Thai houses and the silk trade, but also was an avid collector of Thai art.  Today his house and art collection is maintained by the Jim Thompson Foundation.  He is a local legend for the Thai people.

Sadly, in 1967 Jim Thompson dissappeared in a trek in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia.  Nobody knows what happened to him.  Some people think he died there, while others think he faked his death and went into hiding.  Jim Thompson is something of a Thai version of Elvis Pressley.

As Americans, we need to talk more about people like Jim Thompson.  We talk too much about the bad things, like all the nations we've conquered, and forget the good stuff.  I'm not saying we try to use the good stuff to cover up the bad, I'm just saying we need to look at things from a balanced perspective.  Seeing somebody like Jim Thompson makes me proud to be an American.  It shows that deep down we're not really about imperialism, but about kindness and friendship.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The American Post

So I wanted to do a post on the Fourth of July about America, but as it turned out I wasn't able to.  So instead of doing a late Fourth of July post, I decided to wait until another great American anniversary.  Today marks the 85th birthday of one of my favorite actors, Harry Dean Stanton.

Since movies are an art form invented by Americans, it's only fitting to look to an actor or actress as representing what America is all about.  Having appeared in over 100 movies and 50 television episodes, Harry Dean Stanton has done it all.  From portraying a hardened automobine repossessor in Alex Cox's Repo Man to a clean-cut police investigator in John Carpenter's Christine, and from a charismatic prophet of a fundamentalist Mormon sect in HBO's Big Love to a blind bankrobbing mole in the CGI film Rango, there's little this guy hasn't done.  His wide range of characters is a reflection of the diversity of the American people.  He's an Everyman, and shows that even the minor characters can play a big part in life--and there's nothing more American than that.  Mister Stanton is good friends with Bob Dylan, and he and Jack Nicholson once were roommates when both were young and struggling actors.  He's a genuine American in the finest sense.

Everywhere I go people are asking me all about America.  Almost always I tell them, "If you want to see a movie that truly captures the American spirit, go no further than Paris, Texas."  Which stars... well you know who.

In the movie, we see the main character, Travis, on a journey looking for his estranged wife and child, and ultimately his own identity.  It's something I can relate to out here in Thailand, because I too an on a journey of self-discovery.

One of the things I think about everyday out here is what does it mean to be American?  My buddy from England, David, told me that most of the Americans he's met talk about this vacuum in their lives, of not knowing what it means to be American.  We've been taught at a young age that America is a land of immigrants, and all are welcome.  We're taught that all the things we enjoy, like apple pie, automobiles, fireworks, and firearms, are all imported from somewhere else in the world.  (Hell, even my favorite movie was made by a German!)  We're told that what history we have is shallow compared to other countries, and worse yet it's not hard to look at our history and find that we were making life a lot more difficult for another group of people.

So something I've been thinking of almost everyday out here is what does it mean to be American, and how can I be proud of it?
Thailand is a great place to reflect upon American identity, because Thailand is America's oldest Asian ally.  For over 200 years the two countries have been friends.  In the early 18th century, King Rama III became increasingly concerned with the British and French colonialism in Southeast Asia.  He feared the day would come when they'd try to take Thailand.  So in order to keep Thailand free, the king decided he needed a powerful ally.  He reached out to the United States.

With our help, Thailand became one of the few nations in the world to successfully resist colonialism.  It's something that makes me real proud.  We didn't reach out to these people because we wanted their oil, we didn't reach out to them because we feared they had weapons of mass destruction, we didn't try to enslave them, and we didn't outsouce all our factories over there.  We recognized the value of the Thai people's plea to stand up as a soverign nation.  Again, it's not hard to look at U.S. history and find numerous things that are appalling--but here's one thing we got right!

As the old saying goes, we're our own worst critic.  We Americans don't give ourselves credit for the great things we've done in the world.  Everywhere I go people are telling me how great America is and how much they want to visit it.  People are always telling me about the time they went to New York, or how much they want to see Bob Dylan in concert, or how beautiful American women are.  In the eyes of the Thai people, America still is a magical fantasy land where everyday is like waking up in Disneyland and all your dreams can come true.

Sure, things are a complete mess right now.  Whether you're a conservative or a liberal, you're probably scratching you're head and wondering how we managed to mess up so badly.  Yes, things are real rough, but the good news is the fundamental values of American society, of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are something that have inspired people halfway across the world, and so we should be proud of that.

The big problem from the way I see it is we've lost sight in what our country is all about.  We're too wrapped up in all the negative things and don't look at the good.  We take for granted the liberties that America was founded on--liberties that some people only wish they had.

So I say, be proud America!  We've given the world something great to believe in.  We only need to find the courage to believe in it ourselves.

Though while I'm trying to focus on the good things, there is one negative that needs to be changed.  Everywhere I go, the stereotype of Americans is that they're insular.  We're seen by many as the global leader, so it's truly appalling that less than 25% of U.S. citizens hold a passport.  Heck, I remember once going to a liquor store and trying to use my passport as I.D., and the woman behind the counter looked at me funny and asked, "What is this?"

We need to be more globally minded in America.  I'm ashamed that everywhere I go most people were starting to learn a second language in grade school, while I'm struggling to learn at 23.  We should be teaching our kids Chinese and Arabic beginning in kindergarten.

Every now and then I've been watching the news and hearing all about the debt ceiling debates.  I don't think people in America understand how much influence we have on the world.  Barack Obama and John Boehner are arguably the two most powerful politicians in the world, but do either of them think about how their policies are going to affect my Burmese friends who sell fried pork on the streetside until 4am?  Arguably all six billion (or however many it is now) people in the world are affected when we hold elections, but only a small sliver of those people get to vote--and even smaller actually do vote.

That all said, I'm looking forward to going back to America.  Being here has really helped me discover my identity as an American, and I'm looking forward to falling in love with America all over again.  I'm looking forward to studying all the great American works of art, everything from the movies of John Wayne to the novels of Thomas Pynchon and the music of Neil Young.  (Okay, so Neil Young is Canadian, but same difference!)

Before I head out on my next trip to Thailand in 2013 (Yes, I'm already telling people I'm coming back in two years.) I'm looking forward to taking the opportunity to explore more of America.

To tie everything altoghether, go see either Paris, Texas or Repo Man.  Go on, humor me!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Bangkok Post

The title needs an explanation, as probably nobody will catch the pun.  "The Bangkok Post" is a Thai newspaper printed in English that I purchase every now and then.  So I figured it was only fitting to have it as the blog title.

So on the Fourth of July, when Americans were celebrating Independence Day, I found myself in Pan's Kitchen eating lunch with noneother than an Englishman.  He said to me, "Happy Independence Day.  We didn't want you anyways."

Coincidentually, his name is David, which is my middle name, and his middle name is Charles, which is... well you know.  David just finished a year studying in Bejing and was heading down to Southeast Asia before heading back to England.  When we met, he said he was going to Bangkok, and I asked to tag along.  I said I could help him with the language.  So next thing I know I'm on a train to Bangkok.

I had never been there before, but I had heard stories.  Bangkok is glorified in movies such as "The Hangover II" as being some big and dangerous destination.  The reputation is about half right.  It was a surprise leaving Chiang Mai, where everybody is friendly and willing to help you out, to Bangkok where people were less friendly.

As soon as David and I got off the train, we became surrounded by people trying to sell us rides in taxis, people trying to sell t-shirts, food, and everything.  We made a joke about it after awhile.  We'd keep individual score as to how many times somebody tried to sell us a custom-made suit, a tattoo, or admission to a "ping pong show."

We did meet some really nice people.  Every morning David and I would eat street food from a vendor outside our guest house.  We'd get rice, a meat and vegetable curry, and a pork patty and sausage for close to a dollar.  I'd be able to practice my Thai with them, and they'd shower me with compliments.

One of the must-see places for me was the Royal Palace.  I told David, "I'm not leaving until I see it!"  As the King is one of my heroes, I had to see it.  Though the day we went there the palace was closed because the royal family and Prime Minister-Elect Yingluck Shinawatra were in there praying.  It was amazing to see a living piece of history and know history is still being made there today.  I felt honored.

And throughout the palace grounds there were all these elaborate paintings on the walls depicting battles with monsters.  I have no idea what they're about, but they sure caught my attention.  I can't grow tired of looking at them.

I especially love the last one.  The monster rises up and becomes the temple!  Salvador Dali would have loved these paintings.  As soon as I get back to America I'm going to do some deep research on Thai are and try to figure out what these are all about.

We used a lot of public transportation in Bangkok, but one we used the most were boats.  For about forty cents you can buy a boat ticket that'll take you either up or down the Chao Phraya River.  Every time the boat approached a dock there would be a guy blowing a loud whistle.  By the end David and I should have found a good audiologist.

Every night David and I would have deep talks about things ranging from politics, our countries, to books and movies.  David was the first person the whole trip that I met whose first language is English, so it was weird to be talking in English again.

By the end of our four days in Bangkok, David and I parted ways.  David headed out to Malaysia, and I headed back to Chiang Mai.  Hearing David talk all about Bejing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and London made me want to go visit them badly.  Hopefully when the times comes for me to go to either China or the U.K. he'll be around to give me a tour.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Khao Soi

Now doesn't that look delicious?  Noodles with yellow curry, pickled cabbage and shallots, with chicken and topped with pork rinds and lime.  Yum yum!

This is my absolute favorite lunch.  About once or twice a week I get it for a little under a dollar at my favorite restaurant.

Flashback to Sukhothai/mid June: I had just parted ways with my French frends and had gone back on the bus to Chiang Mai.  It's 3 in the afternoon and I'm hungry.  Back then I only knew the names of five or so Thai dishes, and those were all I ate because I was so determined to order my food in Thai.

So I walk into this restaurant and say, "Mee Khao Soi mai kap?" which means, "Do you have Khao Soi?"  The woman who runs the place says, "Khun phut Thai geng!" which means, "You speak Thai well!"  This is a standard reply from any Thai person to  foreigner who says a word or two in Thai.

Because nobody was there and because the restauranty owner is so extroverted she can't go two minutes without talking to somebody, she pulls up a chair and talks to me.  We speak in both Thai and English, and I go through the basics about who I am and where I'm from, and what I'm studying.  She told me her name is Pan, and she is fifty-two years old and divorced with one son about my age.  She's in the process of selling her home, car, and everything she owns to pay for her son to go to Australia and work on his Ph.D.

There are some people I meet that leave me thinking, "Watch out for this person!  They're going to have a big impact on your life!"  Pan was one of those people.  I left the restaurant and thanked her.  Next thing I know I'm back at my apartment complex and I bump into her.  Turns out we live in the same place!

So I go back the next day and ask if she has my favorite curry dish, Kaeng Matsaman.  As Kaeng Matsaman is a southern Thai dish and I'm stuck in northern Thailand, I've had no luck finding a place that serves it.  Though Pan, being the nice person she is (and wanting my money at the same time) she said, "Tommorow I make Kaeng Matsaman just for you!"

So anytime I want a certain Thai dish made, I go to her and she'll make it for me.  Being the nice guy I am, I let her keep the change.  After all, what's a dollar to someone like me?  But to someone like Pan, it means a whole lot.

Another important thing is that Pan is nearly fluent in English.  Every day at lunch I practice Thai and she practices English.  She's helped me out by letting me borrow a workbook she once used when she was teaching foreigners how to speak Thai.

I am grateful for Pan, becuse if it wasn't for her I have no idea how I would have come so far on learning Thai.  When I first met her I only knew a couple words and phrases, but now I've been able to have conversations (even if they're basic) with Thai people.  Not only that, but she's introduced me to some great food that I know I'll be cooking for friends in the future.

Just the other day I was at Pan's Kitchen and I told her, "I'm thinking of going to Bangkok soon."  As I'm sitting down and eating my Khao Soi, another forienger comes in.  He's by himself, so I said hello and invited him to my table.  His name is David.  Coincidentially David was heading out to Bangkok that afternoon.  So Pan comes over and says to me, "If you want to go to Bangkok, you go together."

And that's the beginning of the next jouney I'll talk about.  To be continued...

Saturday, July 2, 2011


Alright, so I said earlier I wouldn't talk about Thai politics--but I'm going to anyways.  I find the whole process so fascinating and I would like to share.

I'd like to start off by talking about which political candidate I support in the upcoming polls: Nobody.  I am neither for or against any candidate or party.  I don't live here in Thailand permanently, and therefore I don't feel I have a right to a political opinion.  I'm not the one who has to live with the benefits and consequences this upcoming election will bring.

It bothers me to no end how Americans (and people from other countries) have strong opinions on how another country should run things.  My belief is: Unless you live in that country and know the culture and language, you have no right to an opinion on how they operate.  It scares me to death how people will watch a thirty minute news program or read a five hundred word article and then think they know everything they need to know to make a serious judgment call that affects the lives of thousands.

That being said, back to the subject at hand:

When I first arrived here back in June, it didn't take long before I ran into a political sign.  All of Thailand is littered with them!  I knew going into this trip that it would be during the election.  I knew ahead of time about the two main parties and their candidates for prime minister, so it was little surprise to me.

A little bit of background: The incumbent prime minister is Abhisit Vejjajiva of the Democrat Party.  On all the political signs around Thailand, Abhisit's all bear the number 10.  Here is a picture:

The woman with him is (I'm guessing) the parliamentry candidate.  As I've moved out of Chiang Mai and to other cities, I've noticed the woman on the poster changes to some other person.  The same is true for the political posters for Yingluck Shinawatra, the prime minister candidate for the Puea Thai Party.  Her posters are all red and all have a number one on them.  Her posters look like this:

This is the first time a woman has a serious chance at becoming prime minister.  It is interesting to note that from my district in Chiang Mai, both of the member of Parliament candidates are women.

Of the two major parties, both of them have another unique campaign method.  Each has trucks that drive around the city and blast out loud political speeches and pop songs.  I can only imagine what this would be like in America if Barack Obama or Newt Gingrich did the same thing.

There are a number of other candidates running, but much like Pat Buchannan in America, none of them have a serious chance.  There are at least 34 candidates total.

One of the minor candidates always makes me laugh.  He's a very irate looking fellow with a nasty scowl on his face complete with bulging eyes and a ferocious underbite and sweat dripping down his face.  One of my Thai friends says she's scared of him.  I don't know who he is, so I call him the Angry Guy.  Here is what his campaign posters look like:

I stumbled upon a political event for the Angry Guy and was quite surprised at what I saw.  In the middle of the mall there was a tarped off section and a white robot was on display.  People were throwing red and blue paint at the robot while a machine blared a political speech.  Everyone stopped and stared.  I have never seen anything like it.

There also is a very active "Vote No" (or "none of the above") campaign.  They have a number of posters depicting the main two political parties as monsters, wild beasts, and even the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.  They hold several concerts and events throughout the city.  Here is what their political posters look like:

On this last one, it is interesting to note who the two figures are.  On the right we have Abhisit, but on the left we have not Yingluck Shinawatra but Thaksin Shinawatra, her older brother.  Thaksin was Thailand's prime minister from 2001 to 2006.  He holds the title of being the one and only prime minister who was elected and served a full term.  He was ousted during his second term in a military coup and has been in exile ever since.  Many people feel that Yingluck is a stand-in for her popular yet controversial brother.

I think a "None of the Above" option is really needed in America.  It would certainly get more disillusioned people to vote, and when you have a recount election like in 2000 or in Minnesota in 2008 you don't have people's ballots being thrown out because they didn't fill in a circle for every office.

Things since the last coup have been rough.  Before I came to Thailand the first time in 2009, weeks before the airport in Bangkok was seized and shut down by a massive group of protesters.  Last year a group of protesters were attacked by armed soldiers leaving some 90 people dead.  Before I came back to Thailand, an attempted assassination was made on  member of parliament.

We see around the world in places like Thailand, the Middle East, Wisconsin, and many other places much political upheaval.  My theory is we're seeing a global political restructiring.  We're seeing old power systems being challenged from people all over the political spectrum.  What these old power systems will be replaced with, I don't know.  Whether it's for the good or the better, I don't know.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


American father's day and Thai father's day are two different days.  Thai father's day is on October 23, on the anniversary of the death of Chulalongkorn the Great--one of the most respected Thai kings.

So when I showed up to Talaat Romsak and said that today was father's day, Khun Mae said, "Ah!  Father in America birthday!"  Nope, not quite Khun Mae.  Fortunately the Japanese food stall behind us knew what I was trying to explain, and then I pulled out my gidt for Khun Pa: a bottle of Singha beer.

Singha beer is brewed by the Boon Rawd Brewery.  It is significant for many reasons.  Unlike many breweries in third world nations, Boon Rawd is not owned by a larger western corporation.  Boon Rawd is owned by Thais and their products are made affordable for Thai people.

This is especially significant since Boon Rawd also is one of the major distributors of bottled water throughout the country.  Much like the rest of the third world, the water that comes out of the faucet is far from safe to drink.

I remember back at United being at the presentation by the global justice group that went to Chiapas, Mexico, and they said there were many problems with Coca Cola controlling the bottled water market, forcing the people to pay huge prices or else drink the tap water.  I am glad to say this is far from the case in Thailand.

Thailand has a number of breweries and soft drink distributors that easily rival big western companies.  Coca Cola products are common, but are secondary to Thai products.  Pepsi barely has presence in the country.

In Thailand there are a number of western businesses--KFC, Pizza Hut, Dunkin Donuts, and more--that have come in and charge higher prices for their food.  Though while this is the case for food, on the beverage side western corporations don't stand a chance against Thai products.