Happy New Year. Today is the first day of the second year of my new calendar. I hope you all had an enjoyable free day yesterday. Not only is today the winter solstice, but if you are reading this you have also survived the end of the world. I spent my free day and observed the world’s end at Paradise by the Sea.
TODAY FROM THAILAND:
A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN THAILAND:
Today I went shopping. My friend Ann asked me to buy a knock-off name brand watch like the one she bought during her trip to Thailand. Her new husband had admired it so she wanted to give him one as a present. LM and I headed off to the market to find something suitable. We took the number two bus. I have developed a love hate relationship with that bus. It lacks air conditioning, but its 25 cent fare allows you to stand and sweat among a class of Thais one does not often associate with. Being a foreigner, I have no idea what actually, if anything, is going on during the bus ride. On the other hand, throughout the world, riding a bus usually means disappearance of that part of ones life, a form of temporary death. We arrived at the stop closest to the shopping area. It was not the great Chatuchuck Market, beloved of tourists, where we had purchased Ann’s watch several years ago. To get there I would have to take the Skytrain all the way to Mo Chit, and I recently have had enough chit to last me a long while.
We were going to the Pathunam shopping area, a vast section of downtown Bangkok that contains at least a square mile of shopping, from the toney malls like Central World, Paragon and the like to the bazaar like emporiums of Pathunam.
A night-time photograph of Central World in the heart of Bangkok’s downtown shopping district.
LM seemed out of sorts, and though I could think of a lot or reasons for that, since it was lunch time I guessed that was it and suggested we first stop to eat in the food courts one of the more down-scale markets. The food courts serving Thai or Chinese food, whether in the most expensive malls or least fashionable ones, are some of the cheapest places to eat in the city other than at the sidewalk stands. About one dollar and a quarter gets you a plate of typical Thai or Chinese fare. Some people think that the food court food is safer than that sold on the sidewalks. I am not so sure about that, there is usually no refrigeration at the food courts either. Of course, the larger malls often contain a second more upscale and expensive food court where one can get all the McDonald’s, Swenson’s, Taco Bell’s, KFC’s and the like that one would want.
After lunch, with LM in better spirits, we plunged into the market. Thai markets lack the picturesque mystery of the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul with its hot tea and haggling for hours over a dollar. They also lack the raucous hawking of the souks as the shopkeepers there beg, cajole and entice you to enter their stores. In Thailand, a barely post-pubescent clerk is usually sprawled on the floor of the shop avidly playing on a smart phone. Only in the few Arab or Indian owned shops do the employees actually try to sell you something. In Bangkok Indians control the custom-made rag trade. They stand in front of their shops calling out to whomever walks by. In the hotel where my health club is located there is a small tailor shop in the lobby owned by an Indian gentleman. For the last decade every time I have walked by he has invited me to have a look in his shop. Every time I pass by his shop I feel, not annoyance at his ceaseless importuning, but fear that this time he would not.
Anyway, the shopping areas of Pathunam are endless open front cubicles lining each side of a three-foot wide passage way. They are vastly larger than anything I have found in North Africa or the Near East and packed with two or three times the people per square meter than there. After several tries we found a shop that sold the particular name brand knock-off I was looking for and LM and the clerk began to haggle.
I admit, I had no idea of the difference between one watch and another, and although the shops had large books with the names of the most well-known and expensive watches as well as photographs of their various offerings, I figured I was ok as long as whatever I bought had the brand name on its face.
The haggling concluded with me buying the watch at about one-third the originally quoted price.
After we left the shop, I knew, in Thai fashion, I was now obligated to reward LM for her help. We agreed that I would buy her something of her choice at the market costing about 1/2 of what I had spent of the watch. After going from shop to shop for about an hour, as I expected and typical of Thai women I have known, LM said “Why don’t you just give me the money and I will come back later and buy something.” I readily agreed, handed over the cash and we pushed our way out of the market and walked to the bus stop.
While we waited, I learned some things: first although going in the direction from where we started the number 2 and its air-conditioned counterpart number 511 (Fare 50 cents) pass every two minutes or so, they arrive only about every half hour going back and; second not all of them (the 2 and 511) return along the same route. So, there I stood for the next hour or so, next to the endless lines of mostly stopped traffic, breathing in the exhaust fumes while the insides of my nose dried out and caked like the ancient lake beds of Death Valley and my eyes burned from the soot until they teared and the sweat from the 93% December heat dropped from my armpits and ran down over my ribs, evaporating in a dollop of coolness before reaching the lowest rib. I stood there wishing I were standing instead in the number two bus, crushed among hordes of zombie Thais. Heaven is a relative thing.
2. Fun in the labyrinth or giggles in the heart of darkness (continued from last post).
I arrived at the building that housed the Thai Visa and Immigration Office and a number of other agencies. It was one of the 20 or so government buildings in the Government Complex. It is a huge building that looks like a giant arrow-head plunged into the ground. It has an enclosed central court as large as half a football field. The Complex is so remote that the basement of the building houses a complete shopping center, including banks, restaurants, grocery stores, a car dealership I believe and a lot more.
I was in good spirits. I entered the crowded visa and immigration offices, marched up to the intake desk and handed them my passports. I had two passports because my previous passport was due to expire in December and while I was in the US I had its replacement issued. The smiling young woman behind the desk sporting a badge that announced “trainee,” took my passports and earnestly leafed through them. Her ever-present smile creased into a frown and collapsed. Sensing the anxiety rising in my gut, I babbled my explanation for the two passports. She asked did you show the passport officer at the airport both passports. “No,” I responded, “one had been cancelled so I showed him only the valid one.” Her frown deepened. She turned and spoke with another woman dressed in a military uniform.
Panic rose to my throat as they spoke and rifled through the document every now and then glancing in my direction. Then the uniformed one broke away and walked to the counter at which I was standing. She was not smiling. Said, “you have the wrong stamp.” Forcing a smile I inquired, “how do I get the right stamp.”
“You need to go to immigration to get it changed.”
Relieved I responded, “where is that,” hopeful it would be in the same building.
“But,” my smile gone, “this is immigration. Can’t you do it here” I pleaded?”
She looked at me for a moment then turned went back to the no longer smiling trainee. They leaned close together and spoke Now and then they would glance at me. Then the Trainee, smiling again came back to me and said come with me. My heart leaped with joy.
We walked into the large processing room with hundreds of people stagnating around staring perhaps fifty or more cubicles with red lights on the front flashing various numbers. We walked up to another counter behind which sat a man in uniform. She spoke to him in Thai. I gave my story again. They spoke some more. He gave her a piece of paper with a number on it. She then turned and said come with me.
We marched to one of the cubicles with the same number as on the piece of paper. She went in. Came out again said “you have to go to airport. Have stamp changed.”
“But” I sputtered, “Why not here? Where in airport?” and things like that. I was losing it.
She took me back to the first uniformed man. They spoke animatedly. She came back to me. We returned to the cubicle. This time I went in and sat before a grim-faced man in a uniform with ribbons on his shirt and braid on his shoulder. I started to explain again. He took the passports and looked through them going back and forth among the pages; looked at me and said, “You have the wrong stamp. You have to go to the fourth floor immigration at the airport and have it changed.”
Although I sensed defeat, I pleaded, “how do I know where at the airport. What happens if they refuse?”
He looked at me took the little paper I have been given with the number of his office and on the back wrote, “Fourth Floor, Immigration” in English and Thai and handed it back to me.
Knowing that it was the best I was going to do and guessing that at least I could wave the piece of paper around the airport and claim it was from Bangkok Central Immigration Office, I left the building and caught a van back to the Mo Chit Skytrain station.
My confidence slowly returned. I was on a mission. It was still only 10am. I could get it done today. I felt like Willard on the Mekong. Giving up was not an option. (To be continued)
I have been spending some time reading and rereading the novels of Ken Bruen and Tana French.
In Bruen the old Ireland meets the new and shudders. With French, the new Ireland meets its future and despairs.
Old Ireland had its language, its music, its religion, its poverty and its “Playboy of the Western World.” The new Ireland has its failing malls, crumbling subdivisions, its bewildered immigrants and the likes of the playboy will not pass that way again.
B. NEWS STRAIGHT OR SLIGHTLY BENT:
2013 Pookie’s Predictions:
Last year at about this time, in keeping with the fashion at this time of year I made some predictions for the year. Now it is time for Pookie’s predictions for 2013. Unlike most other prognosticators (guessers) who almost never remind anyone when they are wrong, Pookie always owns up to his mistakes.
1. The US Economy:
Last years predictions: Last year I predicted for the US economy:
“a. As money floods into US treasuries on account of the perceived lack of “safe” alternatives, it alleviates pressure to deal immediately with public and private debt allowing for some minor stimulus actions by the administration, such as;
b. encouraging an escalation of inflation both “natural” and government induced, and;
c. there may be a slight temporary improvement in trade balance.
The economic upturn will reverse by years end (but not in time to effect the presidential race) and the nation should sink into another recession, because:
a. the European crises will get worse and the US administration no longer has a political reason to prop it up ,
b. the value of the dollar will rise eliminating any balance of trade benefits and
c. inflation will surpass deficits as the focus of Republican wrath.”
In March I updated these by commenting that the mild upturn the nation currently is experiencing had been stronger that expected and that no reason to alter downturn prediction had appeared.
Actually, the “flood” of money into US treasuries as predicted continue even today, however, although the up-turn in trade balance this engendered occurred (thank god it did, since it to a great extent moderated the recession) the predicted inflationary pressure did not.
The economic upturn did stall briefly sometime in September but my prediction that we would sink into another recession by year’s end was wrong. My predictions on the European situation, the value of the dollar and the political focus on inflation was flat-out wrong.
Assuming we stumble through the so-called “fiscal cliff” on more or less the terms laid out in the Presidents budget (see above) and I expect we will, the nation can expect an accelerating recovery through the middle of the year when inflation fears will be fanned by those concerned that a recovering economy would be bad for their political aspirations. As a result, the recovery will be moderated but continue throughout the year. I suspect the stimulus portion of the Presidents budget will not be adopted in as robust a form as proposed so that the recovery although generally positive will not be particularly vigorous.
Return of manufacturers to the US will increase as the economy improves and as production is increasingly automated (robots). (That is lower wages in low-cost jurisdiction will not be able to compete with robots producing goods near to the consumers thereby cutting down on transportation costs. As a result shipping revenues increases should begin to level out by the end of the year.)
Employment rebound will lag during the recovery because it usually does and structural problems (such as mentioned in the above paragraph) will appear. (Also, I have discussed elsewhere the effect of social media on employment and chooses people with make as to what and how much they chose to work, e.g., more people willing to work in lower paying service jobs and work part-time. Reducing demand for “big-ticket” items.)
The value of the dollar should begin to increase by mid-year or so placing a slight moderating influence on the recovery.
In short, be happy you probably will have a job but you will not be paid as well as you hoped. If you are in the financial trades you should begin to think about a new career. Since you probably are not qualified for anything, Wal-Mart or Starbucks jobs may be available for most of you, although Costco would be a better choice (see below).
What “Occupy” is all about and what it really wants:
I posted this not because of “The Chairman’s” view of religion [much of which, however, I share], but because of my surprise at his knowledge of the travesty that occurred at Alexandria when Christian mobs burned whatever books remained in the various libraries of Alexandria, closed the schools in favor of teaching religion at home or in churches instead of science at the various schools Alexandria was famous for (sounds familiar) and, for trying to save some books from the bonfire, murdered Hypatia, one of the greatest mathematician of antiquity, by cutting her into pieces while she was still breathing.
The total populations of the six countries listed about equals the total population of the US. Gun murders however total about eighteen times less. The six countries have strict firearms legislation. They also all have vibrant democracies and except for Spain have economies similar to or more robust than that of the US. Of course, the argument against any gun control usually is that if someone wants to kill someone with a gun they will do so no matter the law and that an emphasis on crime prevention and arming yourself would be better approaches than regulating gun possession. Nevertheless, it seems to me that, since these other countries find it not to be the case that people wanting to do harm to others grab guns and do it even in the face of strict gun control laws, that argument implies Americans are a bunch of uncivilized and out of control beasts that should be quarantined by the rest of humanity.
- Day 15 – (Bangkok to Chang Mai) – Bangkok, Thailand (travelpod.com)
- The most photographed places on Instagram are … (nbcnews.com)
- 20 Random Things about Thailand and the 1000th post on the blog (beontheroad.com)