Sunday, July 28, 2013

What I Fear Most Driving a Motorcycle

In all the years I’ve been riding motorcycles, my biggest fear has always been high-speed mechanical breakdown. I’ve got faith in my abilities as a driver; I know how to stay out of trouble on the road.  The road itself is sometimes a concern, particularly when driving on one you’ve never traveled down before. Other drivers, gotta look out for them.  Of all these possible hazards the one that strikes fear in my heart is having something go wrong with the motorcycle itself while I am cruising at high speed. 

That happened this last weekend on my trip to Southeast Thailand.  As I mentioned in the previous blog, I had gotten my bike tuned up and repaired in Pattaya, and as I headed south out of town Sunday morning, I was really impressed with how well it was running.  Out in the countryside, there wasn’t much traffic, so I really opened her up, at least as much as one can open up on a 110 cc motorcycle.

I was cruising along at about 100 kph (60 mph) for a good 15 minutes uninterrupted.  I was running at about 95% throttle, and the little engine was whirring away happily.  Or so I thought.

Coming to the top of a small hill, the engine freezes up.  Piston stuck.  After a sudden slowdown, and a really sad sound from the motor, the wheels lock.  I’m still going at about 80 kph at this point in a controlled skid.  Oh shit.  The tires screech.  My heart skips a beat.  It occurs to me quickly that my bike is toast and worse yet, I am probably about to crash.  The front wheel wobbles a bit despite me trying to hold it straight the best I can.

Then, the engine pops back into gear.  The piston unfreezes and I’m rolling along in 4th gear like nothing ever happened.   

Really dodged a bullet there.

As you might imagine, I continued my journey to Rayong at a much slower pace.  As soon as I could find a place, I pulled over, had an iced coffee and let the bike cool down.   

A couple days later on my return drive to Bangkok, I took my time, rarely taking the bike over 70 kph.

As for my time in Rayong, my friend wasn’t too keen on the video idea, so I got nothing from there.  Suffice to say, I had an interesting time.
I did get some great footage at a place on the road between Pattaya and Rayong.  It’s called the Nongnooch Tropical Botanical Gardens.  Yes, a tiger cub is as soft and cuddly as you might imagine. 

As some of you know, Merikay used to make whimsical animal sculptures as her job; I think she would enjoy Nongnooch. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Pattaya: I am Not a Whoremonger (nsfw)

Pattaya.  What can I say about this place?  First off, it is beautiful here.  Perhaps the highlight of day two of my holiday was heading up to the top of the hill south of town which separates Pattaya from its little sister Jomtien. It was just at sunset, and as you’ll see in the video that follows, it was indescribably beautiful up there.  

Perhaps it was as I saw the spectacular show of nature up there on the hilltop.  Perhaps it was when I sat on my flipflops on the beach, meditating.  Perhaps it was when the random Thai person seeing me sitting there on the steps of the 7/11 by myself and asking “You have no friend?”.  I’m not sure when it was that night that I cleared up the mental dissonance that had been plaguing me by daytime.  

Left alone to contemplate my thoughts for a couple of hours in the Honda dealerships waiting room started it off.  Also, I am currently reading Fifty Degrees Below by Kim Stanley Robinson.  If you’re not familiar with KSR, become so.  He writes in a way that gets his readers enmeshed in the ennui and confusion of his characters, making it tremendously engaging.  It also means that if you’re feeling a bit uncertain about life yourself, the KSR book just amplifies that.  You read on hoping that the characters in it resolve the conflict created not by the plot, but by their own inner contemplations. 

In any case, here in the capital of the Kingdom of Sex, I was frustrated.   

Without launching into a whole self-analysis of how the last 7 or 8 years of my life have been a mental struggle against the inescapable reality of getting older, how most of what I’ve done over that time has been a futile attempt to hang onto my youth, I can say one thing: I wasn’t having a good time.  I was feeling anxious. Depressed. Lonely. 

This is not how one should feel on holiday! 

Easy enough solution to be found everywhere in Pattaya: companionship for hire!  

I was a little restricted in this thought in that my motorcycle repairs had bit into my budget for the trip.  I only brought so much with me, and that is all there was.  No ATM was going to give me more.

Walking around Pattaya in the late afternoon I kinda became disgusted with my fellow Farang, the other foreigners…

I wrote the above on the Saturday night of the trip.  I was about to launch into a critique of all the old guys I saw walking around Pattaya with hot Thai girls on their arms who were 20, 30 even 40 years younger than them.

Who am I to critique?  If that’s what these guys want and the Thai girls are willing to sell them that, who am I to comdemn from  my imbued Midwestern American value system?  Thing is, I don’t want to be that guy 5, 10, 20 years from now. 

Hence the self-realization,  or justification I got near the end of the night.

I’d rather pay nothing and be entertained by a bunch of sexy, dancing bodies than pay a bunch of money to have someone half-heartedly provide more personal intimacy.  Sex workers aren’t any different than any other workers: they want to do the least possible work for what they’re getting paid.

Any moral implications aside, this inescapable work dynamic seems to me to be a good reason enough reason not to be a whoremonger.


Video Notes:
The first 60 seconds of the video chronicle the events of Friday Night, which I’ve already blogged about here.  Feel free to go back and check that out. It’s got pics, but no video. 
I’m including ‘frame grabs’ from the video here because I know some people aren’t able or willing to watch a video.

Highlights from the hilltop:

I’m not sure if recording someone else’s girlfriend posing in front of the skyline qualifies as voyeurism or not, but I can pretend.

Other framegrabs from the video:

I saw something I have never seen before: a rainbow patch in the sky.  What is this? 

The Father of the Thai Navy:

From the cabaret show, perhaps the most remarkable moment was when the ladyboy began singing “I am Woman” in full drag, and then stripped down to being shirtless.  Memorable, to say the least. 

In the next episode, I leave Pattaya for Rayong.  


Friday, July 19, 2013

A Thai Guy in His Underwear Fondles My Tailpipe: Long Weekend Blog: Friday

Weekend adventure live blogging. Day One.

After lunch here at the end of getting paid to do very little week, I was so itching to leave early.  I took my usual approach that I’ve always used when wanting to leave work early.  I inform.  I don’t ask. I tell the boss I gotta go.  I don’t request permission.   I even had meteorological data to back up my excuse. 

Right about 1 PM, the monsoon hit Bangkok.  The bigtime thunder and lightning I’ve only experienced in the tropics…. And Texas.  There were grumblings in the staffroom.  This being the start of a 4-day weekend, I wasn’t the only one with plans.  One of my co-workers even said, “I get the feeling this is going to be one of those storms that last for hours and hours,” which is usually not the case here in Thailand.  My experience so far of the Rainy Season is that although it rains most days, it’s always in the afternoon and never more than an hour or so. 

Still, I was worried about how this was going to effect my plans to drive my motorcycle the 70 miles or so to the beachside resort town of Pattaya.  I certainly didn’t want to drive in a thunderstorm.

As usual, the rain stopped after about 45 minutes.  I found a website that gave hour-by-hour weather forecasts for Bangkok.  Thunderstorms:  1 PM and again at 4 PM. 

So, at 2:15 I told the boss I had to leave for weather reasons. 

Had it been a normal day, he would have totally bought it, but since ALL of us were doing nothing productive and  were itching to leave early, let me alone get away with it wouldn’t seem fair.  All of us marching out nearly two hours early at 2:15 might have caused problems. I had to stay.

At 3:00, I tried again, and this time, it worked.  Off to Pattaya!! A quick stop at home and I was on the road by 4:00. 

The traffic was surprisingly light for a getaway Friday.  I was cruising along for quite a stretch at 90 kph or so when suddenly I noticed something quite different about the sound of my motorcycle.  It was a whole lot quieter.  The rumble caused by the crack in my tailpipe that’s been there since I bought the thing was suddenly gone.  It sounded like a normal motorbike.  What the?
The bike continued to operate fine.  No problems at all with how it was running. Still, I had to check out this mysterious curing of my tailpipe crack.  I pulled over and examined the exhaust system. 

I quickly figured it out.  The nut and bolt that held the muffler to the frame had vibrated itself out of its hole and now the whole tailpipe was just hanging there loose.  The change in it’s angle had sealed the crack, with the aft part of the pipe now wedged thoroughly into the fore.  What to do?  I was in Nakhon Nowhere. I didn’t know the Thai word for “mechanic” and I certainly wouldn’t be able to recognize the Thai writing for the word. 

What else could I do?  I drove on, hoping the tailpipe would continue to hang in place until I reached something that screamed MECHANIC at me or I got to my destination, still a good 40 miles or so away. 

Also, it was important I not waste a bunch of time getting to Pattaya either.  I didn’t have a firm hotel reservation, merely an e-mail I’d sent a place I liked online to which I got no response.  I needed to get to Pattaya to find a place to stay before everything booked up for the long weekend.

Everything seemed to be going fine until I found myself at a red light somewhere between Chon Buri and Sri Racha.  I looked down at my tailpipe and it was almost scraping the ground.  I wasn’t going to make it. Soon the tailpipe was going to snap clean off and then I’d really be in trouble.  I even thought to myself, ‘one speed bum and that things is toast.’
I was really starting to panic when I came upon a gas station with the symbol of a cogged wheel out front.  Aha!  The international symbol of the mechanic!  I pulled in. 

The symbol referred to a place way in the back that looked to be merely an lube & oil joint.  It looked closed.  I pulled into the sole bay and I saw guy through a cracked bathroom door.  He was brushing his teeth and wearing only boxer shorts. 

That’s when I hit the speed bump.  The entire muffler assemble fell to the asphault just as I was stopping and shutting off the engine. 

My horrendous Thai language skills were a little better than this guy’s English, meaning he didn’t speak any at all, but with lots of miming and some basic phrases, I got through to him that I wanted to fix this now, by whatever means necessary because I was on my way to Pattaya.
I’m not sure what he actually said in Thai, but from the delivery and body language, it seemed to me he was probably saying: “Dude, you’re totally fucked.  There is no way getting that fixed here and now.”

When it looked like he wasn’t going to help me, I asked if I could leave the bike there while I want went roaming the streets of Chon Buri looking for an appropriate sized nut and bolt to replace what had fallen out.  He said something and disappeared into the shop, only to come back with a wrench, a nut driver and big plastic box filled with nuts and bolts of various sizes.   


I used my riding gloves to hold the still very hot tailpipe in place while he fastened the muffler back to the frame. 

Unfortunately, what had been an annoying hairline crack in the tailpipe was now a quarter inch gap.  Might as well not even have a muffler at all. It was going to be very, very, illegally loud. 

Then boxer shorts dude walks back into the shop and comes out with an empty Pepsi can, some aviation shears and some wire.  Aha.  I immediately realized what he was thinking.  He cut away the top and bottom of the can and used the remaining cylinder to MacGyver a collar to go over the gap in the exhaust assembly.  He used the wire to tighten it in place.  Brilliant!  I started up the bike and it still sounded offensively loud.. but it was better than nothing, and I could continue on my way.

The improvised collar lasted all of a few miles before disintegrating.

In any case, I made it, exhausted, to Pattaya.

The place I had e-mailed had no idea who I was and they certainly didn’t have any rooms.  I went to half a dozen other places and they were either way too expensive, had no vacancies or didn’t have internet in their rooms (a necessity).
The most embarrassing part of the room search was pulling into these little side streets.  The bike wasn’t all that offensive out on the main roads with their wide expanses.  A Thai ‘soi’ is little more than an alleyway with the buildings crowding in on it.  The sound of my bike echoed like someone lighting off an M-80 every few fractions of a second.  

Even the bargirls covered their ears.  

But I found a place.  I am here. Tomorrow, I go to a real mechanic to see about fixing the bike.  

The road was long and tiring, so I got a nice massage before writing this tonight, so at least story includes a happy ending. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Gettin Paid to Do Nuthin Week

Day One of Getting Paid to Do Nuthin Week is in the books. See, it’s midterms week for all of my students’ other classes, and so only tests are scheduled.  English classes are cancelled, but we still diligently show up at 7:30, leave at four and are available for our makeup exams for any students absent last week.

Sure, there is still plenty to do.  Ostensibly, this week is for grading the mid-terms.  No better time than the present, so that’s what I did today. For all my classes. Finished. Then I also calculated the average midterm score for each class.  Then I determined the median.  I added up the scores of their previous quizzes and looked at their predictive value as related to the midterm score.  I looked for trends of improvement and whose starting to slack off.  I bought little star stickers to put on the highest scoring tests.  I got plenty of stickers left.  On the whole, the scores were pretty bad.  Not a single student scored 20 out 20 points.

Tomorrow, I’ll start getting a huge jump on activity planning for the second half of this semester. 

I’ve also invented a new game.  Using a straw as blowgun, how many little wadded up bits of paper can I land on my supervisor’s desk when he’s not looking? Not as simple as it sounds as the flow of the AC creates a jet stream, a virtual wind wall right at the edge of his desk, and since it is only about 8 feet away, it’s very easy to overshoot my mark as well.

After a week of reviewing past stuff and administering exams, I already miss teaching the little monsters.  As appealing as getting paid to do nothing may sound, I’d rather be in front of students. I’m sure by next Monday, I’ll be a teaching tornado.  


Today's video is from Saturday night past. A friend of mine asked me to play at her birthday party. 


I thought I was going to retire there. I was the senior staff member. I'd been there longer than anyone. It. Is. Not. Fair.  But on the ...