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Sunday, December 24, 2006

I could sit here for the next few years and regale you with tales of living in Thailand as a tragically white guy, and you might even like it, but it wouldn't be the best you could read - Gor is.

GO HERE. Unfortunately, Gor is in jail. The great thing is, he's still being written about, even if he can't write himself - you can read years of posts on his site, and they're really worth reading.

He's been writing for for nine years (interrupted by his recent incarceration) - since he was 12.

Go visit Gor.

Posted at Sunday, December 24, 2006 by chris
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Saturday, December 23, 2006
Things I See Every Day, pt. 3

One of the things that are easy for me to see every day is a Kuhli Loach. I see three of them every day, actually - they're easy for me to see because they live in a fish tank right here on my desk. They look like this:

Once you get used to having little eels swimming around next to you, they're really fun to watch. They are fish with personality - they hang out together all the time, and when the mood strikes, they chase each other around or take turns sliding down the leaves of the plastic plant I have in there.

My three loaches have grown from about 1 inch to 4 inches long, and they've outlived the last two cycles of other fish. They're tough - it seems like they have only one thing to fear - getting so excited and whizzing around so fast that they jump right out of the tank and die on the desk. Sara found a dried-out mini-snake on the mousepad one morning, and no one was very pleased about that...

I could go on and on, but I won't because I know it's weird and sad to talk about fish like they're children - even weirder and sadder than Dog People when they get going. This website can go on and on for me, so you can go back to thinking about me as weird in other ways.

Posted at Saturday, December 23, 2006 by chris
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Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Asian Games have been going on recently, and I've been getting updates from my students about how Thailand is doing (mostly %&$*ing soccer scores). I haven't been watching the games because we don't have a TV, but I have seen a few shots here and there on other TVs scattered around my usual routes.

One of these places is a restaurant down the road which has a big-screen TV. I usually ignore it while we're eating, because they're usually showing a %&$*ing soccer (foot-bon) game, and I don't like %&$*ing soccer. (See, I started out with ambivalent feelings about %&$*ing soccer, but it seems like I've developed an actual strong dislike for the sport.)

*digression alert*

One of the reasons I don't like %&$*ing soccer is that it's boring - 'pass-pass-pass-pass-pass-pass-pass-pass-pass-pass-pass-pass-pass-pass-shoot-miss'. Again. They always miss. A genius like David Beckham has one job - kick this little ball in such a way as to somehow get it into this house-sized net. He does nothing but this job - he has practiced it his whole life, and 99% of the time, he misses...and he's one of the best at this job in the world. Most matches end up 0-0, and that seems ok with most soccer fans (supporters, sorry). I'm told that the excitement is in the set-up - the 90 minutes of passing and missing is supposedly a glorious poem of strategy and athletic grace. Sure - wake me up if someone, anyone, ever scores. No wonder there are so many giant brawls and riots at footie matches - it's all that pent-up frustration from years of scoreless games, watching the best in the world repeatedly kick a ball anywhere but into the actual net. I think I could be the greatest soccer player in history - I virtually guarantee that I can miss that net every time.

*thus endeth the digression*

Anyway, one night a couple of weeks ago, the restaurant with the big-screen was showing something other than the usual fare, and what I saw made me put the chopsticks down and stare in amazement. They were showing the finals of the 'Seprak Takraw' tournament at the Asian Games, between Thailand and Malaysia.

Seprak Takraw is a bit like volleyball, except that players are not allowed to touch the ball (woven bamboo or plastic) with their hands. Three to a side, played on a court the size of a doubles badminton court, with a volleyball-height net across the middle. Imagine this sport for a second - how would you get a ball over the net without using your hands, at speeds which make it difficult to return? Martial arts maneuvers and bicycle-kicks, right? Right.

Look at THIS .

Action...athleticism...non-stop scoring...the Thai team eventually won the gold, but I think they all deserve big prizes just for excelling at something so very very bizarre.

Sara has declared it her new favourite sport. I'm sticking with hockey, but I will say this - Seprak Takraw beats the shortpants off %&$*ing soccer any day of the week.


Posted at Thursday, December 21, 2006 by chris
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Wednesday, December 20, 2006
What's in a name?

What's in a name? Quite a lot, if the name you're talking about is the actual name of Bangkok. - the real, official, full name of Bangkok is :

Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit

which translates to :

The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city (of Ayuthaya) of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn.

This is the longest city name in the world (167 letters), and I'm very happy that they decided to shorten it. Thais call it "Krung Thep", which means something like "village of wild plums" - sounds very nice, but the city isn't very nice at all. The King (of Thailand) has called Bangkok "a toilet without a flush" - and he lives there. I don't like Bangkok, and I have found out that there may be more in a name than I ever thought - the word "Bangkok" means "City of Angels". Los Angeles and Bangkok have a name in common, and I can add one other thing - I don't care if I never go to either city again.

One other note, while we're on the topic of city names - "Chiang Mai" (where we live) means "New City".

It's over 700 years old.


Posted at Wednesday, December 20, 2006 by chris
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Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Local News Roundup

I just realized something - Chiang Mai doesn't have a local paper...except for the English-language ex-pat sneer mag "Chiang Mai CityLife", and the (also English-language ex-pat centric) "Chiang Mai Mail" (currently not publishing), which serve mainly to remind you that there are way too many of us here, and we mostly want to point and laugh at our surroundings from inside the safety of pool tournaments and (insert name of small group of someones pretending that this is wherever they came from) Theme Nights.

Then I realized something else - Osaka doesn't have a local paper either. Both Thailand and Japan seem to be ok with having regional news delivered by giant newspapers in the capital. In Osaka, there are usually about 2 pages stuck into whichever national paper you're reading, to cover "Kansai Region" - an area roughly the size and population of Tokyo.

Here, there isn't even a special section for anything outside the central area of the country - news from Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai is mixed in with all the Bangkok Bangkok Bangkok, with a little bit of "Monsoon Dooms South" and "Terrorists in South Casually Behead 700 Over Weekend" sprinkled around, just to keep it all fair. The Northeast (Esan) region is not highly regarded around the country (proximity to, and shared heritage with Laos places Esan people on a fairly low rung of the hierarchy), so we don't hear much about them.

What gives? Where I come from, any berg with more than a thousand people has at least a weekly rag. Most of them resemble family newsletters - how the weather affected the crops, how many goals Kenny Henderson,14,  scored in the all-county championship and how the naming of the old concession road for a local family has the other 2 local families in an uproar. It's not earth-shattering news, but at least they're making the effort.

Maybe nothing interesting happens outside of Bangkok - not enough to print a whole other paper, anyway. But, Sara reads the Bangkok Post every morning, and gives me little precis of interesting bits, and often the most interesting bits come from our own neighbourhood up here in the Ignored North. Here's some now :


Ex-nun gets jail

LESE MAJESTE :The Ayutthaya provincial court yesterday sentenced a former Buddhist nun to three years in prison for lese majeste.

Contrary to what I've heard about the King not taking this charge seriously any more, it appears that Benjawan Bensungnern, 73 and a novice monk have been clapped in irons for saying or doing something which denigrates or harms the reputation of the King. I couldn't find out what she did, but apparently it was pretty serious. The whole (short) story is HERE .


Chiang Rai declares disaster as temperatures plummet

'Christmas cold snap' hits the North

When Sara told me that Chiang Rai had been declared a Disaster Area, my first thought was, "Oh no...floods, landslides, armed insurrection - I hope Josh (a guy we know up there) is ok...". As it turns out, the disaster is that it's chilly. For those who don't believe me when I say that it is really really hot here all the time, consider this - the disaster relief office has said that "Up to 150,000 blankets and 800,000 items of warm clothing are needed" because "the temperature was measured at 12.7 degrees Celsius in the town of Chiang Rai and nine degrees at Doi Tung mountain" (somewhere around 50 F). This kind of thing reminds me of stories about 50-car pileups when it snows for ten minutes in Georgia. I understand that people in a hot climate don't do well with lower temperatures, but...disaster ? I think we're abusing that word a bit.


and, my old friend is back to put a jolt of pure fear through me :

Minor earthquake rattles Chiang Mai

A minor earthquake of 2.7 magnitude was felt in Chiang Mai Tuesday morning, according to the Chiang Mai-based Meteorological Centre.

There is no report of injuries or damage.

The quake occurred at three minutes after 7 a.m. at the area that was hit with a moderate earthquake last Wednesday. That quake, of 5.1 magnitude last week, caused slight cracks in four buildings at Mae Jo university.

'Minor' and 'moderate' are the right words to use here, but that doesn't stop me from whining like a dog during a thunderstorm. During that 5.1 shake last week, I was striding around looking for something solid to crawl under...while Sara said "Hm." in a mildly interested tone before she went back to her book. Earthquakes scare the stuff out of me, even small ones. There's an excellent reason for that - when the room starts sliding back and forth, you don't know how long or how big it's going to be - they all start out the same way. That way is wrong wrong wrong - giant buildings shouldn't move, and that's my whole take on it. I'm against it.


So there you have it - some interesting things do actually happen up here in the freezing North. We have nuns and monks bad-mouthing the King, a million people desperately in need of sweatshirts, and Chris standing in a door frame whimpering like a child. Admittedly, none of these items are any more earth-shattering than the small town news discussed earlier, but at least The Bangkok Post allows that they're building-cracking...

That's it from the Chiang Mai Bureau Desk - "That's news to me"..."Stay classy, blogosphere"...and "I'm Chris, and you're not...".


Posted at Tuesday, December 19, 2006 by chris
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Monday, December 18, 2006
Things I See Every Day, pt. 2.1

Just a short update on the last post - one of the two geckos who live under our coffee machine has decided that we're friendly, apparently. For the last couple of days, when I do something on the counter, he (?) just skitters back a few sticky paces and stares at me with cartoonishly bulging eyes. He waits until I go away, and then he comes back out to hunt for ants, rattle a dish or two and poop on something in the sink - none of which is a big deal for us, and it seems he now agrees - hiding's for suckers.

However...there's a fine line between brave and brash - this gecko crossed it yesterday. Sara was cutting up some lettuce for a salad, and the gecko darted out from under the coffee machine, grabbed a small mouthful of something from the midst of the lettuce and slither-scampered back into his lair.

I don't mind them living here, especially because they keep the insect population to a minimum...but when they start pilfering from our dinner, I have to put my foot down (not literally, of course). The 'HungryHungryHippo' routine has to be nipped in the bud, or we'll be faced with the same problem created by outdoor restaurants and the local birds. I don't want a herd (flock? gang? gaggle? murder?) of little Gummi lizards lined up in our kitchen, looking at me like they have every right to bites of my sandwich.

I don't know exactly what to do about a brazen gecko - any suggestions would be appreciated.

Posted at Monday, December 18, 2006 by chris
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Saturday, December 16, 2006
Things I See Every Day, pt. 2

Another thing I see every day is geckos. That's a fanciful graphic rendering of a gecko up there at the top, under the tastefully understated 'noodleshop' title.

You (whoever you are) that are reading this may also see geckos every day - I had no idea how common these things are - Canada's not the best environment for geckos, and there aren't any that I know about in Japan. The first time I ever saw one was about 6 years ago, when I was here in Thailand on vacation from Osaka - I picked up my duffel bag in the cheap bungalow I'd rented, and a half-dozen of these little lizards scattered to the far corners of the room (all 8 of 'em), and it scared the bejeezus out of me. I wasn't used to naturally-occurring lizards, see.

Well, now I am used to lizards scattered around my personal environment. In fact, I welcome and celebrate them. Geckos live on insects - I would much rather see a gecko slithering across my wall than to see my counter-top covered with ants. I see at least one gecko every day, in my own home. There are two that live under my coffee machine, so I see them panic and scoot behind the counter every time I get a cup of coffee (which is every day, several times a day).

Every once in awhile, the ants multiply too fast for our resident geckos to keep up with them, and I have to spray some poison around (don't get me wrong - I have no end of respect for the ant also - it's just that they get into my peanut butter and the geckos don't, so I come down on the side of the geckos every time). When that happens, I invariably find tiny baby dead geckos here and there, and I feel pretty bad about that. I have absolutely zero animosity toward the gecko...

Geckos are literally everywhere in Thailand. I've grown complacent about them - one of those things that I don't find strange any more. I see them everywhere - bars, restaurants, in the classrooms where I try to teach English - everywhere. One thing I've noticed about them - they are slightly chameleon-like...that is, they take on their backgrounds as their personal coloration. I don't know if this is a commonly-known fact about geckos, but I've seen wood-grain geckos, pure white geckos and purple  geckos, and I've always seen them blending in (for the most part) with their environments.

There's only one problem with geckos, and it's a strange one - I want to put them in my mouth.

I have a little-publicised weakness for a certain colour of orange, and it's the same problem I have with geckos...namely, that I want to put them in my mouth. There's a certain colour of orange - the orange of a very very hot electric stove element, which is the same as the orange of digital readouts on the pinball machines of the 90's and the orange of Caution lights on highways. I have the virtually irresistible impulse to put that colour in my mouth, and I think the reader can see the obvious trouble that would arise from giving in to this impulse. Same goes for geckos - maybe it's because they resemble Gummi candies - they look delicious. Now, I know that they probably aren't delicious - they live on ants, right? I doubt they taste as good as Gummi Bears or Gummi Worms, but they have that same translucent and seemingly delicious look. I've managed so far to keep from trying to put them in my mouth, but I don't know if I can hold out forever. I know for sure that putting a gecko in my mouth would probably be one of the worst experiences of my life, but they'

No worries - they're really hard to catch. Fast fast fast.

Anyway, I see geckos every day, and I have no problem with that.

Posted at Saturday, December 16, 2006 by chris
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Sunday, November 26, 2006
the king and i


Awhile back, I promised to let you know why I think that His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand is possibly the coolest world leader of all time, and I haven't forgotten that promise.

Anyone who knows me might find it strange that I consider a king to be praiseworthy. That would be because you haven't done your homework. Here's your chance :

Click HERE to read virtually all there is to read about this man, and see if you don't agree that this is one of those very very few Good people in the world. He started out as the Man Who Would Not Be King, and has become, to my mind, someone who has spent his allotted time here on Earth in some of the most admirable ways possible.

Before we moved here, I had heard that HM the King was revered in Thailand - fanatically so. I'd read about an American-owned Thai restaurant (in D.C.) which used a [photoshopped] picture of the king dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and sporting a birthday hat to promote the one-year anniversary of the restaurant, and the resulting letters to the restaurant (wailing protests and death threats, for mocking the king, from very angry Thais). Also, I recently found out Thailand is only one of two countries in the world (The Sultancy of Brunei being the other) which still has the charge of  lese majeste on the books (although the king has said that these charges wouldn't be taken seriously any more).

I thought at that time (before moving here) that maybe this was one of those countries in which "I Love The King" is just a bit of patriotic lip service - "I Love Whichever King Happens to be Sitting on the Big Gilded Throne". I have since come to realize that the Thai people don't love him because he's King - they love him for who he is, and for what he's done. In fact, some of my students have let me in on what seems to be a national attitude here, and that is that the next king isn't much liked, much less adored like King Bhumibol (pronounced 'Pu-mee-pon').

Anyway - I like this guy, and if you spend a little time reading up on him and his life, I think you'd be hard pressed to disagree. The Bangkok Post has put up an impressive bio, and it's really worth the time to read it. They certainly have saved me a lot of typing - all the reasons that I could have given for being awfully impressed with the king are there. Enjoy it, please. In the meantime, here's a picture of one of the reasons to be impressed with the king - he hung out with The King!

Posted at Sunday, November 26, 2006 by chris
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Saturday, November 11, 2006

The International Horticultural Exposition for His Majesty The King is taking place just down the road a piece from us, and I'll bet you're just as envious as can be. Around here, it's known as the "Royal Flora Ratchapruek" - the 'ratchapruek' part refers to the ratchapruek tree, a spiritually and royally significant tree in Thailand. You can find out more about why that type of tree is special on the Royal Flora site, but I feel it's important here to point out that in English, 'ratchapruek' means 'golden shower'. I point this out, not for cheap laughs at the expense of the Thais, but as a way to add to my 6-year project of trying to remind non-English speakers of the importance of checking with someone before plowing ahead with a translation. That's all. That, and of course, a few cheap laughs.

I haven't been to the expo, but I might go. It's not that I love walking slowly along with thousands to look at flowers - I don't really enjoy looking at flowers on purpose - I don't feel one way or the other about it, actually. Okay look - if they're right in front of me, I guess I don't mind that they're right in front of me...but I'm not going out of my way to go and look at flowers. That's not entirely true...I think I'll probably end up going to this thing. Damn.

The mascots alone are worth the trip, if the site is to be believed. Someone took a long long time to write up flowing descriptions for these little characters - personalities, character sketches, dreams,'s like reading the Playmate profiles. I think Nari, (the naughty little princess)'s turnoffs include rainy days and mean people...

Whether it's your ambition to stand beneath a Golden Shower Tree, or to finally meet Kan Yao the Durian, "The King of Tropical Fruit" (durian, by the way, smells like a soiled diaper...fresh, ripe or rotting in an alley) could do worse than swinging by Chiang Mai in the next few months.

I'll let you know how it is when I get back from maybe possibly probably definitely going.


Posted at Saturday, November 11, 2006 by chris
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Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Loy Krathong

I know it's been another little while, and I apologize for that (again). The reasons are numerous and boring, but I've been a little busy with a few things - most notably getting married. I'll be sitting down someday soon to write something long and tedious about the ceremony itself, but until then, here are a few photos of the day, just to make you wonder and ask obvious questions :






There are about 80 or so more, and you are more than welcome to flip through them HERE . Be forewarned, however - until I get around to writing up all the ins and outs of the ceremony, the photos may be a bit confusing, re: strange headgear, forehead markings and handcuffs made of string. This may be a good opportunity for you to compose your own narrative, based solely on what you glean from the s[l]ideshow...


Until I figure out how to explain all of that, here's some stuff that's happening right now :


I got up for work today, and found that I didn't start sweating 2 minutes after I got out of bed. The season has finally descended which I will call "Autumn" or "Winter" or "not 100 degrees with scattered scorchiness and air that's like trying to breathe soup made of Jungle and tepid puddle-water". In short, I'm not in shorts. This is, one hopes, the first of about 30 precious days a year that are actually comfortable, and in which we're not in constant danger of being flooded out of our homes, swarmed by Dengue Fever-carrying mosquitoes, or wrung dry into our own clothes by the Constant Pounding Heat. The relatively cool weather means the end of the rainy season, which is best described by Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump the part in which he describes the many types of rain in the similarly precipitation-besieged Vietnam. I'm not really making this temporary clearing in the Jungle sound very wonderful, but it's still home, and I still like it, contrary to any honest opinions about its environs.


I'm sitting in the living room of our large, comfortable and surprisingly cheap apartment on the eighth floor of a converted hotel on the Western edge of Chiang Mai. Looking out the window, I see Doi Suthep, a big nice-looking mountain, and spread out in front of it I see a largish open 'park' sort of area, covered in brittle crabgrass and sprinkled with big trees which provide shade for the half-dozen songtaews (red pick-ups with seating in the back - roving gypsy cabs, piloted by surly men who spend their days (supposedly) taking anyone anywhere, any time - the fare for this service directly proportional to the shade of one's skin) that are always there, peopled by drivers who are sleeping when they should be cruising the city, refusing to take people where they want to go.


Songtaew Park, as it's come to be known in our family, is currently sporting several fluorescent lights on sticks, set up for the Loy Krathong Festival - a yearly exercise in removing the eyebrows and fingers from celebrants by way of cheaply-made and overly loud illegal firecrackers and poorly deployed bottle-rockets. Several (about a dozen) locals are actually killed [read : dead. no more living. vital signs absent.] during this time, mostly due to massive burns from the aforementioned cheap fireworks, drinking formaldehyde-based beer and whiskey until they stop breathing, or falling off an over-packed bridge into shallow water. The focal point of this mayhem is the Nawarat Bridge on the glorious(ly filthy) Ping River. We went last year, in much the same spirit as I suppose a Senator from the late 60's might have toured a battlefield in Da Nang - it was spectacularly unsafe, we definitely didn't belong there, but we wanted to Have Been There. We escaped unscathed last year so, (probably much like that Senator considering another fact-finding tour) we decided to skip it this year and stuck to one of the calmer observances available to the Loy Krathong attendee.


Imagine a 6-foot paper condom. Now imagine a wire 'x' across the open end of that Brobdignagian prophylactic. Affix to the center of that x, a ring of cardboard and wax. Next, set fire to the wax/cardboard ring, and allow the condom to fill with very hot and smoky air. Hold onto the whole rig until you feel it starting to gently tug upwards, and let it go. Now, watch (with your mouth kind of soft-headedly hanging open) as your 'kom loy' floats gently up into the stratosphere to join literally hundreds of other such paper-and-wire hot-air balloons-cum-unbelievably dangerous flying fire hazards. The stated reason for this bizarre yet strangely calming ritual is that you are supposedly attaching all of your bad luck and depressing defeats to the balloon, and sending them off, smoking and glowing orange into the night. Once in awhile, the paper of the balloon gives in to combustion, and you can watch as it bursts into flames and plummets in slow-motion to land on something probably flammable, and likely important to its owner. The day after a kom loy-floating party, the landscape is dotted embarrassingly with the smoke-scorched leavings of everyone's bad luck like giants had gathered for a party, after which there are going to be some uncomfortable silences and apologies not easily delivered.


Sara and I floated two kom loys and then beat a hasty retreat from Songtaew Park, before we were killed dead by exuberant 10 to 55 year-olds with artillery shells disguised as firecrackers. We went to a local bar filled with its usual assortment of defeated-looking 52 year old men and their bored 20 year old temporary girlfriends, and drank to our sudden lightness after sending our bad luck over the horizon. I like kom loys, and I like even more that this practice is not only legal, but encouraged by all authorities who really should know better.


The other Loy Krathong ceremony we lived through last year and decided to skip this year is the floating of the krathong. (You may have noticed a theme here 'loy' means 'to float'; either on air as in 'kom loy' or on water, as in 'loy krathong'). All relevant information, background, history and pictures of chubby schoolchildren can be perused HERE. Be sure to read the descriptions of the day written by the children my favourite is Anon's. The reason we didn't want to float our krathongs this year is that the best place to do so is at the Ping River, and you're literally going to take your life into your hands for the dubious pleasure of putting a few coins in a floating banana leaf, setting the obligatory fire on it, and watching it bob a few meters downriver, where poor children with little regard for tradition or chemical burns from the river water will wade in, steal the coins from your krathong, and fling it distractedly back into the water no way is your wish coming true then. I'd rather let the German tourists jostle for position on the bank of a stinky river and shoot underexposed video of each other getting angry when poor children take their wishmoney. I'll slip a few baht to the next hill-tribe family I see on the street, and put off being shot to cinders by roman candles for another time.


There are a few things to write about, and I'll try to get to them more 'things I see every day', a full description of our strange wedding ceremony, and reflections upon waking up to find I'm living in a police state.


Until then, may your krathong float away unmolested by the needy, and may all your bad luck drift off slowly into the night




Posted at Tuesday, November 07, 2006 by chris
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