Please note on your calendars that July 15 is NATIONAL BE A DORK DAY.
TODAY FROM THAILAND:
A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN BANGKOK:
I arrived in Bangkok, the city of the “Sidewalks of Death.” Should one stroll about the town one might: find the sidewalk beneath of him suddenly open up, plunging him into the fetid miasmatic water below and carrying him off to the equally pestilential waters of some ancient canal, there to drown — trip on a crack in the pavement sending him tumbling into the street where he is maimed or killed by hoards of crazed bikers trying to beat the traffic light — be attacked by rabid soi dogs and sewer rats who gnaw off his ankles — be abducted by an evil tuk-tuk driver and disappear forever — be set upon by a group of manic ladyboys pouring out of an alley who either ravish his body or beat him senseless and steal his money. I love this city.
The flight from Rome to Bangkok was uneventful except during the leg from Kuwait to Bangkok where the young man sitting next to me, who appeared to be a religious of some sort, insisted that I listen to a recording of incessant chanting by some Iman or something. That was OK because there is nothing I prefer to sleep through than chanting.
Bangkok is hot (but not as hot as is parts of California right now). It rains every afternoon and evening— often big grumbling thunder showers. So, I go about whatever I go about these days in the mornings and lie in my bed and stare at the ceiling or tap away at my computer in the afternoon and evenings.
Thailand is billed by the Thai Visitors Bureau as the “Land of Smiles.” Thais have at least 15 types of smile, none of which means I’m pleased to see you — except for of shopkeepers, grifters and bar girls who unfortunately see you only as an ATM machine.
In the morning, as I walk from my apartment to the health club, I check to see which of the denizens of the street I have come to recognize over the years are missing since the last time I visited. The massive homeless young man often seen sprawled in a stupor on the sidewalks of Soi Nana or wandering in a daze down the street seems to be gone. The one legged “king of the beggars” as I named him because of his handsome features, meticulous trimmed hair and beard who I now and then see entering for lunch some of the better restaurants on Soi 11, has resumed his post on the sunny corner of Sukhumvit and Soi 5.
My part of Bangkok continues to change and disappear. The old buildings with the cheap restaurants, go-go bars, and nightclubs get torn down, replaced with gleaming silver towers boasting that they contain the greatest award winning condominiums, or offices, or the finest of the three or four other luxury hotels with the same name in the city. The people who lived worked or played there move out and new people move in — the ongoing migration of a vibrant urban area. The extent of pain and dislocation caused by it is usually a function of how rapidly it occurs.
One of Thailand’s major preoccupations is with massage. It is ingrained in the religious and cultural subconscious of the country. The Thais even developed their own brand of massage that is taught in the most prestigious temples throughout the nation. It consists of vigorous application of the hands, elbows, forearms, and feet by the masseuse to various points on the customer’s body accompanied by periodic sudden stretching or wrenching of his joints. Although a Thai massage can make you feel great after it is over, many people find the process too painful. As a result foreigners often, after a brief flirtation with “the real thing,” eventually turn to more traditional massage with its vigorous rubbing of the body with oil, with or without a happy ending. Many “legitimate” massage establishments do not provide happy endings (it is, in fact, illegal).
Speaking of legitimate massage in Bangkok, I would like to make a pitch to those who may visit the city to try Silk Spa on Sukhumvit Soi 13. It is rated by several travel magazines as one of the best massage parlors in Bangkok. My old friends, Gary and Pui, own the place. Gary is Canadian. He plays ice hockey in the Thai ice hockey league. The Spa is located on Soi 13 about 50 yards off Sukhumvit. Inside, it is a little gem of a place. Gary spends many days designing and building the interior. The evidence of his craftsmanship is everywhere, from the handsome gray slate floor and attractively painted walls of the massage rooms to the marvelous two person sauna with its shining blond wood. I go there three or four times a week after I finish my mornings at the health club.
Although I like Bangkok a lot, there is one thing I despise. That is when I am riding the bus or the Skytrain and hanging onto the strap because it is crowded and I see someone, who I am convinced is older and more decrepit than I, get up out of his or her seat and offer it to me. I usually reject the offer somewhat coldly, unless of course, I am very tired. Then, I take the seat and sit there mortified (a word not often used anymore) on the one hand and relieved on the other. It is these internal conflicts that…Hmm, I think I’ve gone on about this long enough.
I spent a couple of delightful hours with my friend the Old Sailor. He is a kind man who has lived a fascinating life as a sailor, commercial deep sea diver, treasure hunter, and the like. He lived most of his life in places by the sea in south Florida (Key West), the Virgin Islands, Easter Island and French Polynesia (Bora Bora). He now resides in a second rate hotel in Bangkok. The walls of his room are covered with photographs organized by year. When I asked him about that, he said that he was beginning to have trouble remembering things. He had, he went on, an interesting life and he did not want to forget any of it before the inevitable dimming of the light.
One day, at a nearby Italian restaurant, in the course of our rambling conversation, he began a sentence with the words, “I sailed the Windward Passage three times.” It seemed to be an interesting story was in the offing and I was right.
One time, he either worked for or partnered with the Captain of a boat docked somewhere in South Florida. The Captain was having a dispute with someone over money or ownership or something like that. So, in the middle of the night, he and the Captain took the boat, leaving with no money between them and almost no gas to power the engines. So, they broke into a nearby refueling dock during the dark of night, refueled, and set off for wherever. Needing money, they stopped in the Virgin Islands and found a gig towing a large sailboat through the Windward Passage south of Cuba to Jamaica.
Somewhere near Cuba, a storm came upon them. At that most inopportune moment, their engine decided to quit and the boat slowed down. Unfortunately, the large sailboat did not and it smashed into their stern grabbing onto it like a shark grabbing onto a seal. Even more, unfortunately, the bowsprit of sailboat broke off and began thrashing back and forth across the deck making it impossible for the two adventures to get to it and untangle the lines and separate the boats. So, they spent the night hoping they would live to see the sunrise. The tale stopped there. Obviously, at least the Old Sailor survived. I do not know what became of the boats or the Captain or whether whatever he was fleeing from eventually caught up to him. I see in this a potential Hemingwayesque novella, “Captains Not So Very Courageous.”
A few years ago, some travel magazine commissioned a poll in which people from many countries of the world were asked if they thought it was ok to cheat foreigners out of their money. The citizens of no country responded with acceptance of such callous amoral behavior anywhere near 50% except for the Thais, over 80% of whom could see no problem in that conduct.
On Wednesday, I had lunch with the Gemologist. He is also a well-known ethnologist (The Vanishing Tribes of Burma), artist (sculpture and painting), adventurer, writer, businessman, raconteur, and man about town. I have written about him before. He has recently returned from several trips into the hill country of Burma where he photographed one of the hill tribes in their traditional dress and re-established his trading connections with the Gurkha miners and gem merchants working there. He has resumed trading high-value rubies and sapphires and showed me photographs of several beautiful examples (in the one million dollars and up each range).
A Million Dollar Flawless Sapphire Recently Sold
It is always a pleasure spending an afternoon with him. We spoke of many things, mostly our disappointment with the political situation in America and the rigors of getting old.
B. NEWS STRAIGHT OR SLIGHTLY BENT:
. Naida’s heart surgery has been successful and she is back home recovering. Unfortunately, Bill continues to suffer increasingly debilitating effects from his diabetes.
. Peter’s hip replacement surgery has been put off for a month. Although he continues to experience ever increasing pain, he still performs several times a week with other geriatric musicians at his various euphonic gigs.
The intrepid pilgrims, Vittorio and Teacher Brian have reached Burgos the historic capital of the Kingdom of Castile on their 30-day trek to Santiago de Compostela.
. In Bangkok this week, five people died after falling into a sewer pipe.
. The Thai Prime Minister recently banned the police from continuing the practice of parading suspects before the press and re-enacting their crimes for the benefit of the cameras.
. The Thai Prime Minister, previously a general who headed the nation’s military, denied that the main purpose of the upcoming meeting in Washington with Donald Trump was to negotiate the sale of military hardware for the Thai armed forces. He seemed to indicate that since they are already getting military hardware from China and other countries, procurement of armaments from the US is not even on the agenda.
The day after the above statement was issued the Thai English language newspapers reported that the US has agreed to sell five Blackhawk helicopter gunships to the Thai military.
. TheThai Labour Ministry plans to improve the professional standards of massage therapists and promises those interested in becoming certified therapists a guaranteed standard wage ranging from 440 baht (about $14) to 815 ($27) baht per day.
“It’s important to standardize the practice of Thai massage, which is not only good for relieving muscle pain but also promotes good health,” said Labour Minister Gen Sirichai Distakul who described it as the art of health care and healing with a simple touch of the hands.(The Bangkok Post)
I assume, “Happy endings” remain negotiable.
. Also from the Bangkok Post:
PATTAYA: A 33-year-old man (A western tourist most likely) has learned a painful and embarrassing lesson after an experiment with penis rings went terribly wrong.
Identified only as Moss, the man had to seek help after the two rings he had attached caused the organ to swell painfully and he was unable to remove them himself.
He went to Pattaya City Hospital to see if the staff there could handle the consequences of his bold decision. Doctors tried in vain to remove the rings and finally had to call rescue workers from the Sawang Boriboon Foundation to handle the delicate procedure.
The rescue experts used a small metal sheet to shield the organ and very carefully applied a cutting tool to break the rings open.
The relieved patient thanked his rescuers for their help and went away in considerably less pain than when he arrived. He did not tell them why he had put the rings on.
So goes a day in Bangkok, “The Place of Olive Plums.”
It is true, as Donald Trump claims, that he has accomplished more in the first 150 days of his presidency than any other president during their entire term. At least in foreign policy that is so. And, no, it is not because he manages to become the laughing stock of the entire world. While that is certainly an accomplishment of some sorts and no other president can touch his level of success in that endeavor, I am thinking of something else.
In a few short months, he has managed to destroy the world order that has been in place since the beginning of WWII. It was a world order led by the US and supported by a community of nations more or less democratic and more or less prosperous, to resist those nations both large and small they saw as less democratic or wedded to an economic dogma inconsistent with their own.
It was a world order more or less agreed upon by the two major political parties in the United States. The Democrats tended to exercise American leadership more through International economic development and assistance to both friend and foe who were not bound to our perceived adversaries. The Republicans preferred strong military development and reduced economic aid. They were generally less concerned with commitments to democracy and economic improvement than in a commitment to oppose those adversaries and a willingness to engage in the vigorous development of joint defense arrangements.
In practice, it was often difficult to see the policy differences between the two parties. In fact, there often were not any differences that those we were allied with and supported could perceive in the actual programs that carried out those policies. It is also true that for the most part, those programs were far more beneficial to our own interests than to those of our allies.
It was a world order despised by both extremes of American political thought, the extreme right, and the extreme left. The extreme left often saw this as merely a cover for the exportation of regressive American economic and social policy, the support of fascist dictatorships and opposition to legitimate desire of the people of a country to change a political system they saw as repressive. The far right saw this policy as a creeping commitment to Internationalism and reduction of our national independence. They both were right in some ways.
Nevertheless, despite the cynicism and self-interest (as there is in any significant socio-political initiative), there was the glimmer of an ideal upon which the people of the world and their governments could rely. That ideal was that a great power, rather than subjugating the lesser states, would commit their wealth and power, at least in part (and often grudgingly), in alliance with like minded nations to make things better and assume the burdens of leadership in their mutual defense from those they saw as a threat to their way of life. That underlying confidence had remarkable historical consequences. Political systems changed, most for the better, international cooperation blossomed, economies flourished, and the arts and sciences advanced. This order produced a golden age like none other in history with more people than ever enjoying its benefits.
In a scant 150 days, Donald Trump has managed to utterly destroy that world order and it shall not rise again in the foreseeable future. Why did he do it? I doubt even he knows for sure. Why will it not arise again after he is gone? Because no government and no people can ever again rely upon America to exercise trustworthy leadership. It is the old confidence issue. How can any level of confidence be regained by a government or its people when that trust has so rapidly been shattered in the past?
I do not know whether it may or may not be a good thing that, as a result of this, the smaller nations of the world combine into blocks to try to effectively deal with the two remaining active super-powers and far off the United States should it ever again attempt to engage its historical allies in any manner other than as an adversary.
I do know, however, that although Donald Trump has failed to “make the US great again” in his first 150 days, in international relations he certainly has made us mostly irrelevant.
The English form of Bangkok’s actual name ( In Thai: Krung thep mahanakhon amon rattanakosin mahinthara ayuthaya mahadilok phop noppharat ratchathani burirom udomratchaniwet mahasathan amon piman awatan sathit sakkathattiya witsanukam prasit. Alternative forms include Krung-dēvamahānagara amararatanakosindra mahindrayudhyā mahātilakabhava navaratanarājadhānī purīrāmasya utamarājanivēsana mahāsthāna amaravimāna avatārasthitya shakrasdattiya vishnukarmaprasiddhi, Krungthep mahanakhon amonrattanakosin mahintharayutthaya mahadilokphop noppharatratchathani burirom-udomratchaniwet mahasathan amonphiman awatansathit sakkathattiya witsanu kamprasit, Krungthep mahanakhon amon rattanakosin mahintara ayuthaya mahadilok popnopparat ratchathani burirom udomratchaniwet mahasathan amonpiman avatansathit sakkathattiya visnukamprasit) is “The City of Angels, the Great City, the Eternal Jewel City, the Impregnable City 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 Vishnukam.”
The word Bangkok means, “The Place of Olive Plums.”
Correlation or Coincidence?
A Thai Fishing Boat Gets Ready for a Day at Sea.