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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Cousin Pete has a stoop, and he's putting it to extraordinarily good use.

Posted at Thursday, July 27, 2006 by chris
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Saturday, July 22, 2006
Things I See Every Day, Pt. I

"Well…there's something you don't see every day…". 


Everyone knows and uses this phrase – usually reserved for the bizarre, unexpected, etc. - literally, something you don't see every day. I've decided to use this (albeit in a slightly different way) to try to tell you about living day-to-day in the North of Thailand. I'm going to post a short series of (hopefully short) observations about Things I DO See Every Day, but that might seem out of the ordinary for anyone reading this outside of Thailand.


My friend Tim (of plainwhiteroom fame) told me once, after I'd been in Japan for about a month, "You'd better take pictures or make notes about the things you find strange here, because before you know it, they don't seem strange any more" (or something along those lines). This proved to be very good advice, because after awhile I started believing things like, 'Everyone apologizes and asks permission in the same breath for entering a room. Right? Err…', etc. I'm not even kidding a little bit when I say that I'm not really sure about proper N.American codes of conduct and polite behaviour any more. I mean, I know them, but it would take a while for them to become automatic again.


I've been here for about a year now – it sometimes seems like a week, and it sometimes seems like a decade, but I think I can still separate the unique from the ordinary, and point out a few interesting things for the interested.


So, on with it, already – Things I See Every Day, Pt. I :


Spirit Houses


I thought I should start with one of things included in the Noodleshop "redecoration for Siam" motif I've adopted here. Up there in the top left corner, above the comments section, you'll see a picture of an elaborately carved and just plain cool looking little house. You know who lives in there? Ghosts.


Thais believe in ghosts like you and I believe in cars and trucks. They just ARE. You can go ahead and not believe in cars, but woe betide anyone who refuses to believe in the one bearing down on him/her. I mean, just as we would think it silly and counter-productive to discount the existence of motor vehicles, most Thai people just look at you like you're some kind of an idiot if you ask whether or not they believe in ghosts.

Of course they do, and why don't you?


I teach English for a (meager) living – part of the job is to administer tests, and part of the test is an interview section.  One of the questions is: "What are two things you dislike, and why?".  I would say that about 90% of the responses include these two answers: "Snake, because scare", and "Ghost, because scare". I agree with both of these answers. Northern Thailand and Southern Burma/Myanmar (not far away) contain something like half of the top ten most deadly snake breeds in the world, so fear of snakes seems like a reasonable thing. And, if you happen to believe in ghosts (which I'm sorry to report, I do not), fear of them seems like another well-considered feeling.


So, if you can live with the prima facie idea of ghosts, why not go about getting practical about it, and give them a place to live? If you were to do that, you might come up with the idea of a Spirit House.


Every home and business – hotels, banks, nightclubs, mansions and hovels, have some kind of spirit house. I've heard two different and opposite reasons for the house: one is that it's a place for spirits (ghosts) to live comfortably while they protect the home or business; the other is to give malevolent ghosts a place to live so they don't live malevolently in the adjoining home or business. Nothing's worse for your profit margins than an uncomfortable ghost, I guess…


The little houses are beautiful, and the level of ornate carving and size of the spirit house is supposed to match the level of opulence of the building to which it's attached. If owners renovate or add something nice to the main building, they must also upgrade the spirit house, lest the ghosts get envious and move into the main house. Owners place small carvings or figures inside to represent the ghosts, decorate the houses with carvings of elephants or other sacred objects, and make regular offerings of  food, flowers and drink to keep everyone inside happy and calm.


I'm not sure about the traditions regarding a change of ownership, but it seems that the old spirit house remains in place until the new owners take possession and replace it. If a building is torn down and an empty lot just sits there with no new building, the spirit house stays put, until someone comes along and builds a new building and likewise gives the ghosts a new place to live. One thing I do know about new owners is, they must humbly ask permission of the inhabitants of the spirit house before beginning any new projects, or the business/family plans will surely fail.


[ a quick aside here, on this topic – Why are so many gods and supernatural beings such little whiners about everything? 'I'm a jealous god – do as I say, or I'll throw a hissy fit in the store, right in front of everyone…surely you don't want that?' If I'm meant to believe that these ghosts and gods can harness the powers of the infinite, answer prayers and juggle Everything All At Once, why must I also be asked to believe that this same ethereal being/energy force/big white bearded guy can also get a little testy in a very human way, and start acting like an immature ass if He/She/It doesn't get his/her/its way? My God isn't like that – my God thinks I'm very handsome and clever, and wants me to eat as many cookies as I want…anyway…]


A strange dichotomy emerges however, when you consider another Thai custom/belief: always step over a doorjamb – never step on it, because it shows disrespect and angers the spirits of the house. What? Aren't the spirits of the house over there in their little house, sipping red Fanta and kicking back in their tiny recliners? What are they doing in the house? I guess this custom is for homeowners who have neglected to provide a suitable cottage off in the corner of the yard…


That's why I have a picture of a Spirit House up there in the corner of the Noodleshop. But wait…I don't believe in ghosts – why have a nice place for them to live? Just like throwing spilled salt over my left shoulder, not washing the hockey socks when I'm on a scoring streak and knocking on wood…better safe than sorry.

Posted at Saturday, July 22, 2006 by chris
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Friday, July 21, 2006

The amount of time I spend on this site is literally unbelievable. That is, time spent playing this game could be much better spent on almost any other pursuit.

It's called NANACA+CRASH!! and it makes almost no sense. I've figured out what to do and how to do it, but I still have no idea why I'm doing it. This feeling is familiar to me, and is a good summary of a lot of things I do.

I can't stop playing it, and I think it's making me stupider. It's Japanese - go figure...

My high score is 5791.48 meters (* note for Americans - a "meter" is what the rest of the world calls a "yard"...*note for the British - a "yard" is what you call a "garden").

Go play.

Posted at Friday, July 21, 2006 by chris
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Sunday, July 02, 2006

Happy Canada Day, everyone...



I left Canada for stranger climes exactly 6 years ago today - I left Japan and arrived in Thailand exactly one year ago today. Just a coincidence, but it makes it easier to keep track of where and when I've been. Of course, no one around here even knows there's a reason for a party, so I'll have a beer and think of old Stanley Cup highlight reels while humming Gordon Lightfoot songs.

It's a very good place, and the longer I'm away the more I realize that it may be the very best country in the world. Wish I could be there - I send my best wishes for Canada's 139th birthday.

Posted at Sunday, July 02, 2006 by chris
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Sunday, June 25, 2006
sawasdee khrab

Well, it's been about a year, and I guess it's about time to pop my head out and say howdy...

It's hard to know where to begin, and beginning at the beginning would be tedious, so let's begin at today, and I'll try to fill in any holes that need filling along the way.

The latest development is getting this computer, and a nice connection to go along with it - I've been promising it in the sporadic mass emails I've sent out over the last year or so, and it's nice to be able to make good. Thailand moves along at its own pace concerning most things - answers to innocent questions, dinner, electricity - and a reliable internet connection is among those things that you may just have to wait for. I don't know why I have to wait for them, but as long as I smile pleasantly and nod when I find out I can't have certain things, everyone gets along nicely.

I'm slapping this together from our new(ish) apartment in Chiang Mai, in Northern Thailand. All the sober, bookish facts about our new home can be found HERE , and I promise I'll add several comments about the things found there in the near future.

The very quick update is this : Sara and I are not yet married (due to bureaucratic and budgetary concerns), but we hope to be Mr and Mrs within a time period to be determined by the speed of clerks in the Thai, Canadian and American embassies...we're both working as teachers of English as a Second Language again, and the school we work for is peopled with interesting students and good co-workers...Thailand is hot. Hot. HOT HOT HOT. I'm a fragile Canadian boy, and I just ain't wired for this kind of heat, but I'm getting used to it...we're studying Thai language, and I'm trying desperately to keep up. Sara seems to be much much better at learning this stuff than I am - a Sanskrit-based tonal language is fairly difficult to latch onto, and I've found that, at 36 years old, the only class I'm comfortable in is one that I'm teaching...the *&%$@ World Cup of boring chess-like soccer/football is all anyone wants to talk about, and I've about had it with the culture of adoration for this most uninteresting of all sports. I'm sorry. I had to get that out. I haven't seen a hockey game in about 5 years, and I don't think I can even call myself a fan any more...Thailand is about what I expected, and more, and less, and some other weird tangential qualifier that I don't know quite how to express - this place is going to be difficult to tell about, but I'll do my best...

This place really is hard to get a handle on and describe - if you're here, you're here, and you won't mistake it for any other place.  I'll give it a go in posts after this one, and questions/answers are always welcome.

I'll leave it at this for today - regular posts are forthcoming, and I apologize for the 51 weeks of silence between then and now. I hope everyone's well and living in interesting times.

Just one more thing - I say a lot of smartass things around here, and it may be hard to figure out if I'm kidding or not sometimes, but every now and then I try to type something straightforward and true. Just so you know, I actually mean this :

This month marks the 60th year of the reign of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand (the longest reign of any monarch on Earth), and I join the Thai people in expressing my respect, admiration and congratulations. I'm impressed by the king, and I'll tell you why when I get a chance...

Anyway, that being said, see you again soon with reams of cheap malarkey for your skimming pleasure.




Posted at Sunday, June 25, 2006 by chris
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Thursday, June 30, 2005

This is probably the last post from Noodleshop Japan - Sara and I leave for a new home in Thailand on Friday. We're not positive about where we'll end up, and online time may be rare or impossible, especially in some of the areas we're thinking about ending up. If I can sit at a computer for any length of time, I think a Thai Noodleshop is probable...

Just in case it's a long time between now and something new in this space (not uncommon around here), I'll take this opportunity to thank everyone who has come here to see what's going on in Osaka, especially those of you who visited twice or more - five years (almost to the day) in this country has given me quite a bit to write about, and I only got to about 1% of it - thanks for being interested.

I hope to be back soon - until then,

See ya.


Posted at Thursday, June 30, 2005 by chris
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Tuesday, June 28, 2005
comfy ?

Now here's a guy who knows how to snuggle right
down into a subway ride.


Posted at Tuesday, June 28, 2005 by chris
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Sunday, June 26, 2005

It's hectic packing night here in Daikokucho - we have to go though 5 years' worth of kipple and put a few things in boxes, and we're on a bit of a deadline. The plan is to be living in the Kingdom of Siam on or around July 1st, and that date's looming large...throwing a shadow over this apartment and its still-unpacked mounds, stacks and caches of all descriptions. As a result, I'm really far far too busy tonight to post anything, so I'll just slap up this old email that I wrote to Sara a couple of months ago.

I had a day off and she was at work - keep in mind that this whole thing was typed out with one thumb on the keypad of my cell phone...I was pretty irritated about being awakened, but as it was a day off, I took the time to peck this note out, one tiny button at a time. Time off is good...not always productive:

Slept in, woke up 30 min ago to someone blasting a car horn in 
(approx.) 1/2 minute bursts. this has been going on for the past halfhour(i.e. 
my entire waking day)right below our window. there are worse things, 
granted, but it does get puzzling & irritating after 10 min or so...not 
sure what can be done about it. if it's kids, i have to assume that 
someone responsible for their care/feeding will come along soon and hit 
them with shovels - that's hardly my responsibility. if it's an actual 
"adult", i have to consider carefully the grab-bag of possible reasons for 
this recital of Klaxon Koncerto #7 For Midsized Minivans:

1. the performer is not all that [s]he could be...umm...mentally, in 
which case see note above, re: handlers/persuasion with gardening 
2. the performer is angry with someone in a nearby building, and has 
decided to exact revenge, one compressed-air note at a time - this 
individual is not approachable with reason, and i must again conclude that 
'shovel' would be the best investigative tool.

3. this person has developed an astonishing new way to sound a car horn 
(maybe voice-activated or a complicated combination of stereo 
settings), and this is the testing phase of the r&d. if this is the case, then i 
have to think that research assistants (perhaps grad students 
brandishing shovels) must be about to shout, "it works!!", and they can all go 
off to a coffee shop together to eat sandwiches and fill out patent 
4. some jackass thinks it's fun to spend his lunch hour providing this 
kind of entertainment for the neighbourhood. if so, said jackass richly 
deserves a sound shovelling. at least.

...this has been going on for over an hour now. i'm off to the hardware 
store. watch for me on the news...

Posted at Sunday, June 26, 2005 by chris
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Monday, June 20, 2005
oh, and of course...

Happy Father's day to my Dad.

Posted at Monday, June 20, 2005 by chris
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This is exquisite nonsense. I received it out of nowhere in my cellphone mail inbox, and I don't know what to do about it :

Call out Gouranga be happy!!
Gouranga Gouranga Gouranga...
That which brings the highest happiness!!

I'm a bit concerned that if I follow these directions and thrice speak the word Gouranga, some ethereal genie-like thing will appear and dish up an offer that I can't refuse. The thing is, these things always seem to backfire (viz. Leprechaun, Bedazzled, Beetlejuice, Candyman, and pretty much every other legend or tale involving the fateful "three wishes").

As reluctant as I may be about taking cautionary advice from a Hollywood 'B' movie, I'm not sure that following directions given by anonymous spammers is a better idea.

On the other hand, "highest happiness" sounds like a pretty good thing...

I leave this in the hands of the Comment Brigade - any advice would be most appreciated.

Posted at Monday, June 20, 2005 by chris
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