Saturday, November 30, 2013

On the Protests in Bangkok

It's Sunday morning, the First of December, on what may go down as an important day in Thai history. Or, it may not.

Today is the day the most noteworthy leader of the anti-government protests here in Thailand has promised will be the day a new “People's Assembly” will ascend and
end the rule of the current regime. The demonstrations here have been going on for a month now, and have been increasing in intensity all the while. Over the last week, they've begun to occupy government buildings, sharpen the tone of their rhetoric and even cut power to the national telecommunications company (as this disabled some important servers, and killed internet access for 750,000 households, it wasn't a popular move). Now, this leader has set other deadlines in the past, and although they've moved the ball forward at times, new deadlines were created as the anti-government
forces saw that they were moving closer to their ultimate goal: the ousting of the Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawattra.

I won't go over all the intricacies of the policies and history, suffice to say that Thai politics over the last decade or so has been dominated by two sides who either support or oppose one man: Taksin Shinawattra. Note the same last name as the current
PM. She's his sister. Some call him a great leader. Some hate him and anything he's connected with. He's not here in Thailand right now, living in self-imposed exile in Dubai after he was convicted on corruption charges in absentia, and given a 2-year prison term.

The current round of protests started about a month ago when Taksin's party pushed through a bill in parliament that granted blanket amnesty to thousands going back a decade or more and would have allowed Taksin to come home (On a side note, the man's name is pronounced like a mix of toxin and taxin', both very unfortunate monikers for a politician). The bill was rejected by the Senate, the bill was withdrawn but the protests continued. What started as a protest against a particular piece of legislation has ballooned into a full blown call for Yingluck's resignation and new elections.  

Meanwhile, thousands of 'red shirts', supporters of the gov't in power, have taken up camp at another protest site as a counter-demonstration to what the anti-Taksinists are up to. 

Last night, the first real clash between these two groups occurred on a road I had driven down earlier that day. One dead, multiple injured. The police are out in force to keep the peace. Special security measures have been instituted city-wide. Tensions are high. Anything could happen.

Or, nothing could happen, and next week the protests will continue.

Interesting times.

It's against the backdrop that I ventured out yesterday with my camera to both of the two camps. Spent the morning with red-shirts. Spent the afternoon with the yellow-shirts. Got a feel for what's going on. The sites themselves were full of energy, loud speeches, passionate people and lots and lots of vendors selling stuff. Enjoy the video.

Now, do I dare go out today and do it again? Neither side is in any way anti-foreigner, and I am as neutral as one can get on the issues. I'd be just as safe as any other I day I leave the clutches of my condo. I think. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

The NFL, weather, D&D and the Pickadaily Shopping Center

I just finished watching the Seahawks-Vikings game on NFL Game Pass.  Back when the season started in September, after much frustration trying to get the pirated NFL feeds to work on my computer (there is no such thing as a free lunch), I said heck with it and paid the 2500 Baht for a subscription to the NFL's online TV package.  

2500 Baht is the equivalent of about 80 meals.  

Anyhoots, worth every penny.  I love football, and I really love football when my favorite team is tied for the best record in the league and looking like they're Super Bowl contenders.  

During the second half of the 'Hawks game, the temperature dropped precipitously into the 40's F, the incessant rain began falling, and I thought back to my five years living in the Emerald City, the five years I spent before moving here to Thailans.  I loved Seattle for lots of reasons. It's a great town!  The people are wonderful and the most friendly people I've ever met in America. The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful.  The culture is exciting and avant guard.  The weather, now, that's another story. The weather is shitty. 

I saw that drizzle rain and realized that this being November, this was the vanguard of a rainy season that would last until May.  It will rain every single day in Seattle from now until mid-spring. It'll be 35 to 45 degrees all the time during that rain.  There might be a few days when the rain turns to snow, but not that many.  

I wrote last time on this blog about how here in Thailand, there's this constant harsh environment right outside your window that one has to protect oneself from.  Same thing this time of year in Seattle.  Which is worse?  To be a be a bit warm and sweaty in 85 degree temps with high humidity or to be cold and wet in the 40F Northwest winter rains?

It can't be 68 degrees all the time (well, it can if you never leave a climate controlled home), but if I had to choose between cold and wet versus warm and sweaty, I'll pick the latter. 


Last night, I went and did something that I've not done in twenty years, but had been a very integral part of my life back in those days.  I went and played Dungeons and Dragons. Nowadays, D&D has a new name, 'Pathfinders', and the 'official' rules have migrated over to a new organization.  Last time I played back in 1993, D&D was on its Second Edition.  They're now on their 4th.  

All that aside, role playing games are still role playing games, no matter what the underlying rules or how long its been since one has played.  For me, it felt like putting on an old, comfortable shoe, although my foot has changed quite a bit in those 20 years. 

I found myself shushing my fellow players. Shushing people?!?  WTF was that?  Lets just say that the 43 year old Joko doesn't run the same kind of character that the 23 year old Joko did.

We play RPG's in order to have fun pretending to be someone else, but in my first trip back to that game in a long time, I found myself profoundly impacted by who I am now.

D&D self-analyzation.  



I've seen the signs for months now as the place has been slowly constructed near the OnNut-Srinakarin junction. They put up a clock tower. They've got faux-Tudor style architecture. About a week ago, a big, red, double-decker bus facade went on the side facing OnNut. Finally, this weekend, Pickadaily Square opened up here in Bangkok.

That name... Is it just a horrible misspelling, or was it chosen for marketing purposes? I've been wondering this for months. Today, I visited Pickadaily Bangkok for the first time, and I'd have to say it is the latter. See, they've got this sign in the square that touts this place as an "English Style Daily Arcade"... Okay, I'm not sure what a daily arcade is supposed to be, but it's gotta figure in the name.
Not too schmaltzy. They put a lot of thought and work into this little mini-mall.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Living in Thailand is like Living on Mars

Living in Thailand is kinda like living on Mars. When one reads that, one thing that might run through the minds of my sophisticated readers might be: “Which Mars?”. Yeah, no one has ever lived on Mars, so I must be referring to the fictionalized accounts of life on the Red Planet.

Kim Stanley Robertson's Red-Green-Blue Mars series? As a reader, this has been my favorite Mars series of SF books. The Mars of KSR is a planet of intrigue, complex relationships between the colonists and a dynamic environment.  When it comes to Thailand, the first two are somewhat true, and although there is dynamism here, I haven't been able to perceive it like I might. It's out there. I just don't know the place well enough to see it. Thailand is changing; I just don't know where it started from.

Maybe the Mars of Percival Lowell. He was a really rich American guy.
Educated, successful, but known more as a man who lived a fantasy life speculating about Mars. He saw 'canals' based upon a mis-interpretation of the Italian word for 'channels'. There sure are plenty of canals here in Bangkok, and there's lots of old, white, rich guys who are living a fantasy life.

For me and my Martian Thai experience, I'm living in Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles. Environmentally, I can live outside my climate-controlled personal habitat, but the tropics are a constantly hostile force beating down the sliding glass door of my condo.

The battle with the heat makes the nice moments all that much better. At 7 AM, when I'm riding my motorcycle to my teaching job, before I hit the carbon monoxide laden rush hour of the main road, zipping down my back street, it feels great. There's nothing better than feeling naturally cool when the sun is rising.

Also in Bradbury's Mars were Martians. One of that things that made his stories so great were how he took an alien species, made them mysteriously alien enough to be believable, but also endowed them with universal, human emotions.

Thais are Martians to me. I'm on an upsurge right now in my desire to learn the language, but still, I am surrounded by aliens. I've got maybe 2 or 4 Thai acquaintances who I might call friends. I might be able to double that number if I could befriend my students, but that's not really allowed.

Rock Hudson with a Martian
One theme of Ray's books was how the Earthers eventually wiped out and replaced the Martians. Whether or not he intended to imply the impact on western culture on the cultures of developing nations, I dunno. Point being, I don't know how long I'll be here (meaning I am not committed to being here long-term), so I doubt I'll ever reach that final scene from the TV version of the Martian Chronicles where the Earthling announces he is Martian... 


Monday, November 11, 2013

Thailand versus California

Many times over the last 7 months, I've thought to myself how useful it would be to show my readers the scale of the place I am at versus something they know, say, a map of the state of California.

Unfortunately, I was too lazy to compose the overlapping maps using photoshop or what have you.  I have often thought, 'wouldn't it be cool if there were some app on the 'net that would do this for you?' and then was too lazy to look for it.

It exists!  It's called!

Turns out, Thailand is just a bit bigger than California.  However crowded California may seem, it also has about half the population of Thailand.

Click here for an interactive map from the website.

How about Thailand versus the UK? 

Here we are...

I hope this blog gives you a bit a sense of scale...

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Teaching New Subjects

Haven't been anyplace exciting nor had anything all that interesting happen these last few weeks, hence the gap in my blogging. I'm just plugging away at this new semester, really getting into being a teacher.

My course on using English for the new ASEAN future class is going well. They took their first test and everyone passed! I'm going to be pivoting this week away from economics and demographics and begin looking at culture and customs with the business world in mind. Monday's lecture will be all about different greetings rituals used throughout the region. The second half of the class will be 'shaking hands practice'. Yes, I am teaching them how to shake hands. There are many wrong ways of doing it.

One thing Asians are known for is the soft handshake, and I'm not going to try to cure them of that as it is the custom here. In America (I don't know how they do it in Europe), men shaking hands is almost a contest of strength. A 'firm handshake' is considered a virtue, a positive character trait. In Asia, the hand is lightly gripped and it can go on a while. In America, you look the other man in the eye when shaking his hand. Here, that would be challenging and disrespectful. I will, in handshaking practice, teach them a little of these western ways too, as if they ever find themselves having to shake hands with a burly, culturally-unaware American, I don't want them risking having their metacarpals broken.

Also next week, we get further into a unit in another class where our topic is titled 'dying for your beliefs'. We're reading a long article about some parents who were charged with a homicide when they let their 11 year old die of diabetes. They were Christian Scientists who don't go to doctors for these kinds of things and believe that prayer and The Scriptures can cure diseases.

Normally, the readings for our English studies are banal subjects like music, movies, sports and food. Talking about religion, well, it's kinda weird. A lot of my students are also of the mindset that prayer, meditation, using the power of the mind itself can be more effective than 'western' medicine. That's fine. In no way, shape or form am I here to change that opinion. Still, when summarizing the content of these rather difficult paragraphs in the reading, it is hard for me to keep my personal opinions out of the tone of my voice when I say things like: “They believed that only God could help their child with diabetes.”

Then again, who am I to talk? I specifically requested my mom send me a bottle of some South American herb called 'maca', based on the advice from a random friend on the internet. When I was writing about the bulging disk in my back, I got an e-mail from a friend who told me that this herbal remedy had done wonders for her when she had a similar problem. She swears by it. I was in so much pain, I was willing to try anything, and Mom was dutiful in shipping me this box of pills.

It's supposed to take a few weeks for this stuff to build up in your system and become effective, but my back still hurts. I haven't lost all faith in the maca, but it just goes to show that however derisive I am of the Christian Scientists, I'm sure a western-trained orthopedist would scoff at us going through all this trouble for some obscure Peruvian root. The label doesn't even indicate it is for skeletal issues. In fact, the maca says it is for Healthy Sexual Libido, Function and Fertility. It's herbal Viagra!

Come to think of it, I have been feeling a little more frisky lately....

Sunday, November 3, 2013

My First Time Ever on the Teevee!

YAY! Despite only working the last week of October, I got paid yesterday. The no-back-support chair crisis is over. Freshly assmenbled from Tesco for 790 Baht ($25)...

Tomorrow, it's back to school for week two of the new term. I teach a total of about 300 students. ALL of them got 'homework' assignments to watch English Breakfast on Thai PBS this morning. Having a cameo role on a relatively little-known show on public broadcasting won't exactly make me a celebrity, but it will be interesting to see if whether or not this appearance on the teevee will effect my credibility in the classroom. Students won't learn from teachers they don't respect, and as well as being a nice thing to add to my CV as a teacher, appearing on national television might do wonders for my 'classroom cred'.

As an 'ajarn farang', in the minds of most of these kids, I get bulked in with the dozen or two other foreign teachers they've had. I'm a person they can barely understand, can't talk to them in their own language and not really a teacher worthy of the kind of respect they give their real (Thai) teachers. Thank God I usually have a Thai co-teacher in every one of my classes else complete chaos would be the norm instead of happening on occasion.

Being a bit older than their usual ajarn farang, I do get a bit more respect than I otherwise would. Coming into this gig, someone I love and respect told me that teaching class in not like open-mic night. If I approached teaching as being an entertainer, I wouldn't garner the authority I need to maintain control in a room full of 40 13-year-old boys. I've seen that and understand it first-hand now. That said, over the course of this last half year, I think 90% of my students look forward to my time teaching them. The get excited and interested when I enter the room because I'm going to be engaging, unpredictable and yes... entertaining.

What makes a good ajarn farng? Seems to be a theme recently here on my blog, so it's kind of fitting that it was the question that Bro and Home Boy asked of their victims... errr.. interviewees.

I can't seem to find a URL that will allow me to embed the video here in my blog, so I ask you to please click the link below to visit to view the wonderful teleplay written by my friend Bobby. I think he had me in mind when he came up with the character of an ukulele-playing NES teacher. (I appear at about 10:00 into the vid, so be patient).


As I mentioned here a few weeks back, it's been a lifelong goal of mine to be on TV. I don't mean in a crowd shot at a sporting event or because of some unique circumstances or characteristics, I mean as an actor. Now, I've done it. Do I feel any different?

Yeah, a little. I feel a little bit more experienced, mature. I feel more accomplished, recognized.

Heck, I'm driving through this life with not that much sense of direction or purpose; if I can find a smooth patch of road here or there, might not be as exciting, but certainly a lot nicer to drive down.


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 ...