Friday, March 26, 2010

Following Edward


Parenting is work for the young. I learned that lesson once again as I followed after Edward, a stick-thin but incredibly energetic seven year old, on the beach and in the surf during a three-day holiday this week on Ko Samed in the Gulf of Thailand. Edward is fearless and, protected only by an inflatable tube, he ventured into deep waters and occasionally too close to where speedboats back up to load and unload travelers. That he speaks very little English beyond "Hello" and "Good morning" and my Thai is equally incomplete made control and discipline difficult.

Edward's aunt is Yuan, Nan's mother, and they've come down from their small village in Phayao to visit us in Bangkok. We'd all met a couple of months ago in Chiang Rai when I went to get Nan after the death of her father (he and Yuan divorced long ago; she remarried and is the mother of Nok, a 16-year-old son). Last month Yuan's mother died and Nan returned for the funeral which was attended by local dignitaries and several hundred people. Edward had never been to Bangkok and Yuan's last visit was over eight years ago so I wanted to show them a good time in the big city. They arrived early in the morning by taxi from the bus station accompanied by Nan's sister Ann, and that evening Ann's boyfriend Surin took us all out to dinner. The following night we had Thai barbecue at a cavernous restaurant on the Chao Phraya River underneath Pinklao Bridge. In the absence of a shared language, food paves the way. Nan and Yuan went shopping at Tesco Lotus and returned laden with supplies. They may not cook the familiar Thai dishes you find in American restaurants, but I've never eaten so well at home (and I have the padded stomach and extra kilos to show for it), served by two lovely Thai cooks

Last weekend, they got Edward a new bathing suit and an inner tube and went swimming in our building's pool. Later, Nan took her mother and cousin for a ride on the river to Wat Pho while I worked at Mahachula University, interviewing several hundred prospective volunteers for the big Day of Vesak celebration in May and testing their English. In the mornings we watched cartoons on TV and in the evening a popular lakorn about ghosts. Our tiny apartment accommodated the four of us very well. Edward likes robots and I got him the two Transformers DVDs to watch (dubbed in Thai for him, subtitled in English for me). I tried to imagine, without much success, how strange and wonderful everything in Bangkok must seem to him. He was curious about everything and affectionate with the old farang that he began to call Papa.

Edward's father raises sheep in New Zealand but they've never met. He wrote Banyen not long after the birth that his wife threatened to take the ranch if he returned to Thailand. Banyen left home at 13 and became a high-class prostitute. She traveled to Europe and built homes for herself and her mother in Phayao. Edward's birth was difficult. He was two months' premature and spent another month in an incubator. Several years later, Banyen died of cancer, and he has been raised by the grandmother who just died along with Nan's mother. From all reports, he's a happy boy with lots of friends in the small village. When we met in Chiang Rai, Nan bought him a bicycle to ride to school. When she returned for a visit, I bought him a toy robot which she took back with her and it made him very happy.

Our trip to the islands was an adventure. Finding a taxi on a Monday morning did not turn out to be easy. When we finally got one, he managed to get lost inside the camp of the red shirts, and although I've been sympathetic to their cause I did not want to watch them eat breakfast. We finally reached the station at Ekkamai not long before the bus left for Ban Phe. The short ferry ride to Ko Samed was a thrill for both Yuan and Edward (Nan and I had done it last June), and we went over the dirt road in the back of a pickup truck to our hotel, Samed Villa. There is a high entrance fee on the island for tourists but my work permit got me in at the Thai rate. When we checked into the luxurious family suite, I discovered my work permit missing and suspected that I dropped it in the truck. After about ten minutes of extreme panic, I received a call from the man who found it (my mobile number was in the permit book). But he was at Wang Duan, a beach farther down the island. When a driver quoted us the outrageous one-way fee of 200 baht, we rented a motorbike for 150 and drove over the rutted and bumpy road to retrieve the missing document. No helmets were available and I was scared to death, but necessity is the mother of courage.

Ko Samed is less developed than the more popular island and beach destinations and seems to attract more Thais and fewer western tourists. There is not much of bar scene and children almost outnumber adults. On the first night we walked up the beach to eat on the sand at Ploy Talay and watch their incredible fire show (on my first visit I posted a video of it to YouTube and found dozens of others from similar shows there). I swam just enough to get a pink sunburn on my legs where Nan said I was “stingy” with the sunblock. She rented a big inner tube while Yuan and I relaxed in the shade of a beach umbrella. Edward, a regular fish, rarely left the water. I finished The Ghost Ocean by Richard Benke, a fellow reporter on the Pasadena Star-News forty years ago. After many years with AP in New Mexico, he’s published two novels. The second night we had dinner at Tubtim Resort on Pudsa Beach where I stayed a year ago with my kids Molly and Nicky. For our return trip home at midday Wednesday, we finished the adventure with a speedboat ride to Ban Phe in a third the time of the ferry.

Back in Bangkok we were greeted by troops massed near Government House and trucks blockading the roads with razor wire. Without a computer or newspapers, the political struggle in Thailand had fallen off my radar. But I quickly caught up on the news. The government’s show of strength backfired as overkill, and the blockades were dismantled the next afternoon. Some 500 protestors, men and women, old and young, shaved their heads yesterday, a symbolic gesture almost as bizarre as the blood sacrifice last week. The reds remain encamped near the Democracy Monument and both sides have refrained from violence so far, although there have been several mysterious grenade blasts with little damage. Reportedly, the Prince’s head photographer visited the rally a few weeks ago and was quickly fired. The Prince was at one time said to be friendly with exiled Prime Minister Thaksin, symbolic center of the red universe. While numbers may have dropped down to perhaps 25,000, new recruits from the provinces are expected for a large demonstration on Saturday. The Thai media, particularly the English press, continues to demonize and exaggerate the threat by the reds, although some commentators are suggesting that they be taken seriously. If you remove Thaksin from the mix, you have an unprecidented challenge to the oligarchy of unelected elites and military that have ruled Thailand for decades.

Jim Marshall, a character every bit as colorful as the rock musicians he photographed for over 40 years, died in his sleep at a New York hotel on Wednesday at the age of 74. Marshall’s iconic black and white pictures of the San Francisco music scene in the 1960’s captured the spirit and sound of the times. He was an in-your-face kind of a guy who rubbed many people the wrong way. I got to know him when I was doing PR for Atlantic Records in Hollywood and he used to come to my office to thumb through my collection of books about music to see if anyone had stolen his photographs. Jim was aggressive about access to his subjects and ownership of his work, and he let it be known that he carried a gun and would use it if necessary. I visited his Union Street home and hired him to take photos at the first Willie Nelson picnic in Dripping Springs, Texas, in 1973. Jim knew everyone and introduced me to quite a few. But after I left the music business and was working for Guitar Player Magazine in northern California as the art director, I encountered his nasty side. For a story on Jerry Garcia, we used a Jim Marshall photo given to us by the Grateful Dead’s management which they said they owned. When the magazine came out, Jim thought differently. He called and threatened to shoot me. “You know I’m not kidding,” I recall him saying. It definitely soured our relationship. But his creativity as well as his eccentricity will long be remembered. R.I.P., Jim.

Last week Nan and I went to see Sek Loso at an aircraft-hanger sized club within walking distance of our apartment. We met my Canadian friend Tony, a graduate student in Buddhist Studies, whose 65th birthday party we’d recently attended. He was with Reynu, his Thai girlfriend. We were told to arrive at 8 in order to get a seat and then learned that the headliner would not go on until after 11:30. But Nan was excited since Sek Loso is a superstar here, with numerous CDs and even a bit of international fame to his credit. After saving a table close to the stage, we ate dinner al fresco in the large garden restaurant outside. Once inside the club, we watched the opening act, a large band fronted by two men and a woman who sang an array of Thai standards mixed with comedy that exceeded my understanding. The room was packed and most people seemed to be drinking whisky. Our table was near the powder room and a steady stream of girls filed in to adjust their makeup (according to Nan who said few were using the toilets). When I entered the man's side, I was surrounded by several men who proceeded to apply hot towels to my neck and massage my shoulders in search of a tip. This is apparently the custom at Thai nightclubs, but it definitely inhibited my flow. I was without doubt the oldest rocker in the house. Sek Loso’s midnight show began with cheers and flashbulbs (everyone now owns a camera in Thailand), led by an entourage from his fan club (they carried a sign). He reminded me of Bruce Springsteen with the same rugged charisma (more apparent with sunglasses than without), and I enjoyed the music, standing and dancing like those around us. The next day I ordered a selection of his recordings from iTunes. Tony and Reynu faded early but we stayed for at least an hour, it being a work day for Nan.

School's out for summer now and I have time on my hands. I spoke with the Venerable Hansa who is organizing the Vesak celebration for MCU and volunteered my services. I think he wants me involved with the English-speaking academics who will be come from all over to present papers on Buddhism and politics, economics and the environment, as they did last year. My duties remain to be described. This Sunday we will move from the 10th to the 9th floor into an apartment that is slightly bigger and a bit cheaper. Yuan will help with the cleaning, packing and moving. Edward will play with the new Transformer I bought him yesterday. Last night we set up a new internet account with True and requested that the TV cable be moved to our new location. After our guests leave, I am sure I will miss Edward and his energy. We have few weeks free before leaving for our vacation during Songkran week at Ao Nang, a beach near Krabi. Life is very full for this happy old man.

1 comment:

Boonsong said...

An interesting post. Thanks