Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Thin Blue Line

No, I am not going to speak here of the 1988 documentary by Errol Morris about the murder of a Dallas police officer in which a judge claimed that the police are the "thin blue line" separating society from anarchy. I'm not sure I agree with that. ("The Thin Blue Line" was also a late-1990s BBC sitcom starring Rowan "Mr. Bean" Atkinson.) No, my thin blue line showed up mysteriously on my computer screen a couple of days ago. It's not supposed to be there. And so I will take my precious and irreplaceable MacBook laptop to the Macintosh Center on the 4th floor of Siam Discovery Center and let them fix the problem. I have been told this may require shipping it to Singapore and, at best, should take no more than a week. It will be like sending my child off to Iraq, with no certainty that he (or she) will return unchanged. While it's gone, I will be dependent on internet cafés in the neighborhood.

I've learned that Bumrungrad Hospital reads my blog. After writing about The High Cost of Health, I received an email from Elizabeth Skanes ("Coordination Nurse, Medical Support") who wanted to reassure me that a "preliminary review would indicate that the costs are appropriate." I hastened to assure her that I was not questioning the amount of the charges so much as my ability to pay similar high costs in the future. If a couple of skin biopsies runs $375, then I will think twice before getting more. But since then I have received my new Blue Cross membership card, and if I can maneuver through the paper work, I may be reimbursed for at least a portion of my recent expenses. And Bumrungrad tells me that they will bill any future in-hospital charges to Blue Cross (but I must take care of out-patient bills). So heart attacks, strokes, etc., should be taken care of. Once again, I'm grateful to be in the UC retirement system.

Recently I joined Facebook, yet another social network. This one used my list of Yahoo and Hotmail contacts to tell me who else was a member. Todd Everett, an old friend from my misbegotten music business days, was listed, and I scanned his friends to find any mutual acquaintances. He mentioned Ed Ward. Now Ed was a writer for Rolling Stone in its glory days when I was a PR man for Atlantic Records, and we used to run into each other from time to time at music events. He came to visit me in Santa Cruz after my retirement, and the last I saw of him he was off to Austin to hang out with his friends, Asleep at the Wheel. The next I heard of him was on Terry Gross's NPR radio interview show. Ed, who was now living in Berlin for some strange reason (he explains it, sort of, on his site), had a five-minute spot at the end to display his esoteric musical knowledge. Why are you in Berlin? I messaged him. Why are you in Bangkok? he replied. Touché.

Levi jeans are popular in Thailand. I've seen knock-offs on sale cheap on the sidewalk along Sukhumvit, and in Hua Hin I visited a Levi store in the large Market Village shopping center where new 501s were going for over 2000 baht probably more than they would cost in the U.S. But a couple of weeks ago I bought a pair of used Levis on sale for 150 baht at a Big C store (although the C doesn't stand for Costco, it resembled one). I've also seen used Levis for sale at the more upscale Robinson's. Where were they used, in Thailand or the U.S.? The jeans I bought are fine except for frayed cuffs, and hardly used at all.

Samak Sundaravej, Thailand's newly elected prime minister (and also self-appointed as defense minister), has stirred up a tempest here with his interview on CNN when he declared that only "one unlucky guy" died during an attack on students at Thammasat University and nearby Sanam Luang parade ground on Oct. 6, 1976 (he said the same thing in an interview with Aljazeera TV). The official death toll for the massacre was 46 but it is suspected that many more were killed and wounded. Samak had been deputy interior minister but had been removed from his position the day before the shootings. An avowed anti-communist, on the evening of the massacre he led a mob of right-wing demonstrators, including the brutal paramilitary Red Gaur and the royalist Village Scouts, and many believe he is responsible for the attack against supposedly left-wing students. Immediately after the massacre, there was a military coup against the democratic government of Prime Minister Seni Pramoj. Samak was named minister of the interior in the new government. From 2000 to 2003 he was governor of Bangkok. And when Thaksin Shinawatra was overthrown in a military coup last year and his Thai Rak Thai Party was disbanded, Samak became leader of the People's Power Party which included many supporters of the ousted Prime Minister. The two English papers in Bangkok have been very critical of Samak and the members he picked for his new government, but the comments he made about the massacre, in which he undoubtedly had a role, have ignited a firestorm of criticism. Yesterday, historians at Thammasat University held a seminar to discuss what they see as distortions of history by the Prime Minister. This is an issue that probably won't go away until more is revealed about the events of October 6.

Since I don't have cable TV, I can't watch the political events as they unfold here. And I'm also missing live coverage of the primaries in the states. What a pity. I do have a television set, however, and lately I've been using it to watch videos of "Weeds," that wonderful series about people who live in little boxes in an affluent Southern California planned community and who cope with the problems of modern life by getting (and staying) stoned. While I no longer partake of the weed, I have been addicted for a couple of weeks to the zany characters in Jenji Kohan's comedy-(pro)crime-drama. The music is terrific (you can see the songs and singers in each episode here). I've already downloaded the contributions from Great Lake Swimmers and Rogue Wave. Each week, after the first few episodes, someone different interprets Malvina Reynolds' bitter hymn to idiotic consumption, "Little Boxes." And after watching the third season finale, in which a fire fueled by Santa Ana winds sweeps down from the hills to threaten the community (and the dope dealer's grow house), I was pleased to discover a fourth season will begin in June. While it seemed like the end for Nancy Botwin, the widowed housewife turned drug lord, and her children Shane and Silas, not to mention her eight-toed brother-in-law, Andy, apparently Milfweed, Conrad's strain of super pot, will rise from the ashes. Conrad's aunt, Heylia, is my favorite character of many. Her smart-talking dismissal of whites and their cultural stupidities is the moral center of "Weeds." And have I mentioned that there is lots of on-screen, full-frontal nudity. Definitely a family drama for the new millennium.

As of February 11, it is now illegal to smoke in all bars and restaurants throughout Thailand. Although smoking was already banned in air-conditioned restaurants, some public places and government buildings, the ban is now extended even to outdoor venues like the Chatuchak weekend market. Smokers can be fined 2000 baht and clubs and restaurant owners 20,000 baht. No Smoking signs have popped up everywhere and smokers can be seen congregating outside of the Nana bars. I'm not sure if that will help the already polluted air of Bangkok. At least before the ban smoke was confined inside of smoky establishments where the drinkers were usually too drunk to care about the air they breathe.

My lady is learning to read English by perusing the classics. While I had bought for her The Little Prince and the first Harry Potter volume, they proved to be overwhelming, in vocabulary and in length. A friend loaned her a copy of Pocahontas, the supposedly true story of the Indian maiden, and it was the first English book she was able to finish reading. The slim volume is part of the Oxford Bookworms Library, a series of graded stages for new readers of truncated literary works. It was a stage 1 volume and featured a vocabulary of only 400 words. She next completed an abridgment of A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, another stage 1 book, and followed it with a shortened version of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. She is now reading Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, a stage 2 book with a vocabulary of 700 words, and when finished will take up Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, a stage 4 book. DK Books in Bangkok, a store specializing in books for students of English, is packed to the rafters with tiny versions of the classics, as well as books based on movies such as "The Death of Karen Silkwood" and "The Elephant Man." I've been unable to find anything similar for students of Thai like myself. A friend loaned me a kid's book with pictures about a king and an old monk and I've been struggling to make sense of it. But then Pim studied English in school as a young girl, and I'm a very late bloomer.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well written article.