Category Archives: Thailand

In a debauch of sun

We just got back from Thailand and the heat, my God, the heat.  Oppressive does not begin to describe it.  Continuous defeat of all reasonable attempts at ambition is more like it.  You get acclimated after a while, but we were there only a month, not nearly long enough.

Glaring white sunlight in the rice paddies, Phanat Nikhom, Thailand, obscuring all else.

Put me in mind of  my favorite description of tropical scorch, from George Orwell’s vastly underappreciated Burmese Days:

They went out into the glaring white sunlight. The heat rolled from the earth like the breath of an oven. The flowers, oppressive to the eyes, blazed with not a petal stirring, in a debauch of sun. The glare sent a weariness through one’s bones. There was something horrible in it–horrible to think of that blue, blinding
sky, stretching on and on over Burma and India, over Siam, Cambodia, China, cloudless and interminable. The plates of Mr Macgregor’s waiting car were too hot to touch. The evil time of day was beginning, the time, as the Burmese say, ‘when feet are silent’. Hardly a living creature stirred, except men, and the
black columns of ants, stimulated by the heat, which marched ribbon-like across the path, and the tail-less vultures which soared on the currents of the air.

Bangkok burns

I’m not sure, but I think this is the CentralWorld shopping center in Bangkok:

When I first moved to Thailand I used to meet up with cronies at the food court several times a week there, and was constantly seeking refuge in the air conditioning when traversing downtown on various teaching gigs.  Now the protestors have set it on fire and there’s a curfew, even out in the village where we used to live.   Thailand used to just stagger on.  Now I fear it’s on the verge of falling over. It sure isn’t looking good.

Image from godalone.

So it has always been

Old news footage of soldiers behaving badly in Bangkok.

There have been “camp followers” since there were camps with soldiers in them, no doubt, but I wonder if this was the first time soldiers were flown in by the planeload to the camp followers?  Note, too, that the Thai officials got over the “decline in morals” when they scented the cash, if the approximately 10,000 girlie bars in Thailand as of 2010 are any evidence.

The scary section

In Japan there was once a department store hall that featured a crucified Santa as part of a “Christmas” campaign (though Snopes says this is of dubious authenticity).  I personally saw an energy drink advertisement in a subway with salarymen dragging a cross a la Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. More amusing than offensive, really, unless you are one of those who take ancient parchments and Hollywood scripts far too seriously.

But surely advertisements featuring Adolf Hitler represent a universal taboo, right?  Right?

Nope.

The Thai says: "Hitler is not dead!"

The Thai says: "Hitler is not dead!"

This giant billboard was prominently displayed on the main highway into Pattaya, Thailand, where about half a million Thais live, 3 million foreign tourists visit annually, I used to drive to work every day, and the scioness was born.  Meant to promote some new waxworks “attraction”, the sign drew more than 100 letters of protest and an official letter of protest from the Israeli embassy.  The managing director of the museum, Somporn Naksuetrong, doesn’t understand what the fuss is all about:

“We think of Hitler as an important person, but not in a good way,” he said.
“In the museum we don’t show him with other world leaders, we show him in the scary section.”

“We think of Hitler as an important person, but not in a good way,” he said. “In the museum we don’t show him with other world leaders, we show him in the scary section.”

Ohhhh, the scary section.  I see.  Well, never mind then.  Besides:

Mr Somporn said they were considering offering discounted entry to the museum by way of an apology.

Problem solved, then.  Ah, Thailand.  You stagger on.  I’m looking forward to visiting you again, seeing the village and in-laws, re-acquainting the scioness with half her heritage.  And then leaving again.

How the other two-thirds lives

While Americans are munching on Mel’s Mega Burgers and bemoaning the end the Hyper-Sized American Dream, this is how folks in my soon-to-be abandoned neck of the woods are living:


Open sewer running beside market fruit stalls, Bangkok.


Bangkok’s canal network is both a transportation system and an open sewer.

It’s all relative, is what I’m saying. Things are rough everywhere and getting rougher, but if you’re reading this in the First World, just take a moment to reassure yourself that things aren’t that bad.

And lest you think all Asia looks like this,


This is an open drain & not a river, Mysore India.

here’s a sewer in Japan:

Some have sewer rivers, some have sewer Transformers.

Images via Crooked Brains.

What we’ll be missing about Siam

I’ve been asked what I’ll miss about Thailand. Also, I’ve been encouraged to write some more about Siam while still here. Alright. You know what we’ll miss? This:


That’s a rhino bug. Which wandered up on our porch last night, probably looking for something to eat, or a child to beat up.

The second-coolest bug in Siam. The coolest is a walking stick, but I didn’t have a camera the time one fell in the water basin and was skittering around like, well, like a stick that walks.

In my second-to-next life I’m going to be an entomologist. (That’s after I finish being a country singer in the next one.) I’ll be over here, cataloging bizarre bugs with one hand, stuffing mango with sticky rice and coconut milk in my mouth with the other.

The rhino bug, then, in all its hairy glory:


UPDATE, 8:25 AM 27 Feb: An alert reader sent along a link to this video of two rhino bugs dueling it out:

What we'll be missing about Siam

I’ve been asked what I’ll miss about Thailand. Also, I’ve been encouraged to write some more about Siam while still here. Alright. You know what we’ll miss? This:


That’s a rhino bug. Which wandered up on our porch last night, probably looking for something to eat, or a child to beat up.

The second-coolest bug in Siam. The coolest is a walking stick, but I didn’t have a camera the time one fell in the water basin and was skittering around like, well, like a stick that walks.

In my second-to-next life I’m going to be an entomologist. (That’s after I finish being a country singer in the next one.) I’ll be over here, cataloging bizarre bugs with one hand, stuffing mango with sticky rice and coconut milk in my mouth with the other.

The rhino bug, then, in all its hairy glory:


UPDATE, 8:25 AM 27 Feb: An alert reader sent along a link to this video of two rhino bugs dueling it out:

Aspirations, or, Ecstatically Average

It’s coming up on mid-terms where I’m teaching, which means mid-term reviews. I play a little game with the students . I put them in 6 groups and call out a question. For each turn, each group has a secretary who writes the answer down and comes to show it to me. The first group to finish gets 6 points, the 2nd 5 points, the 3rd 4, etc. Makes things a little more interesting than a boring lecture review.

Anyhow, since I can pretty much do these reviews on autopilot (note to teacher-readers: prep time required: 0.25 minutes)by now, I conduct mini-studies of human nature. For instance. Aspiration. This game requires students to be motivated enough to try and quickly, correctly answer questions in order to win. They’re playing for pride here. Various groups quickly emerge. There are the smarty-pants, who strut around getting 6 or 5 points every time, sometimes a little shy about showing off their prowess, but always confident enough to do it. There’s the perennial have-nots, who shrug off their 2s and 1s with a show of teenage indifference. They’re too cool for school, these kids. And then there are the Ecstatic In-betweeners. These leap around widely with hoots of triumph when they get a 3 or a 4. Not just once. But every time. They give high fives to their friends. They holler war chants. They get cheered by their teammates. They’re heroes.

I don’t know what to make of these kids, the escstatically average. How can they be so stoked about besting 49% of their peers? Such celebration for a triumph of the mean, such ambition to be average. Better than having them pout about it, I’ll grant you, but damned if I know what it signifies. Do you?

Who Put Thailand Up For Sale?

Thailand has a well-earned reputation of making some of its prettiest female citizens front-line soldiers in the battle for the tourist dollar. This post over at Khi Kwai (an interesting-looking site I just came across) puts the whole pay-for-play situation in a historical and cultural context. Sure, plenty of knuckle-dragging sweathogs drag themselves to slap down some crusty baht bill for sex with nubile young things. But for every one of them, there are dozens of local enablers who make it all happen. If there’s blame to be assigned, there’s plenty of it to go around.

Some of the political earthquakes currently rumbling across Thailand are directly linked to what is mentioned in the post. As is where Thailand staggers next. Anyone’s guess on that one, but I think it’s a safe bet that bargirls and go-go bars won’t be going away any time soon. Far too many people have far too much riding on who rides whom for that.