Monday, August 04, 2008

Bye Bye Bush

President Bush comes to Bangkok on Wednesday, the first anniversary of my arrival here last August. I wouldn't walk across the street to see the man whom I believe has incredibly hastened America's current decline, but his "Farewell to Asia" tour, no doubt an excuse for free tickets to the Olympics in Beijing which opens Thursday, gives me an excuse to use this press photo of the village idiot from Texas at prayer (next to his Godfather). He granted an audience to the Bangkok Post and other Asian journalists last week and it is astounding for its inanities. For a display quote, the English language paper used this: "There is a lot left to be done. In the Far East, absolutely." He said little else that was any more illuminating. Besides having dinner with Prime Minister Samak, among his stops while in the city (will he drop by the Nana bars while Laura is up at the border with Burma visiting refugee camps?) will be at the Human Development Foundation run by Jerry's pal, Fr. Joe Maier, priest of the Klong Toey Slum.

I have been heartened by the friends who've written to ask why I have not blogged for at least 10 days, a rare interlude in this space. They were concerned about the difficulties I've reported on with Pim, and no news is not always good news. But in this case, I've been busy, teaching English to the monks after a two-week hiatus for various Buddhist holidays, undergoing minor laser surgery for two skin irritations, and completing documents for my work permit application. I also attended a talk by Pandit Bhikku on the "Inner Guru" at the Shambhala Center in Bangkok, went bowling with Pim and her colleagues from Thailand Post, had dinner with Jerry and Lamyai during one of her rare trips away from the Surin farm, watched a half dozen episodes of the U.S. TV show "Mad Men" as well as the latest "Weeds," visited the new Bangkok Art & Culture Centre, and finished reading the autobiography by porn star Georgina Spelvin. Not a bad week's work for a retired gentleman.

Pim's younger sister Song (a family nickname meaning two; Pim's is Neung, which means one) arrived in Bangkok from Kalasin last week to begin a month-long training for a job selling cosmetics. She was here for Pim's 28th birthday which we celebrated with two of her co-workers, Boy and Jun. It was our first party and, amazingly, five people fit comfortably in our small apartment. At one point there were three in the minuscule kitchen helping Pim's best friend Boy cook a sumptuous feast (fresh shrimp was the dominant ingregient) which we washed down liberally with bottles of Bacardi Breezer rum sodas. Another reason for the party was to watch the finale of "Academy Fantasia 5," the hugely popular Thai talent show. Eight men and eight women started out in the contest 12 weeks ago, living together in a large mansion where they rehearsed songs and dances for the weekly Saturday night performances. AF5 was supponsored by True, a Thai communications conglomerate, and voting could be done only with mobile phones using its service. Pim and I had our favorites, Green, a willowy model, and Ron, a talented dancer with a golden smile. After Beau, perhaps the best singer, had been voted off, we decided that Good, with her Mariah Carey-strength voice, should be the winner. Green was the loser last week, however, and did not make the final five in the finale. At the end of the evening Saturday, Ron came in 2nd and Good 4th. The winner was Nat, a shy young man with an adequate singing ability and good legs (Pim was certain he was gay). The criteria was not talent so much as the number of votes you can muster from your fans. Boy, who proudly proclaims that he is "real gay," was very happy since Nat was his choice.

Pim is slowly introducing me to her postal colleagues. The party was my introduction to Jun who was recently married to a fellow Post Office employee. But he works several hours away and the couple maintains separate rooms, getting together only on weekends. Na, who has a similar situation with her husband, had come to see us not long after the move, and we went bowling with her and Boy a week ago. And on another night last week I met Chompoo at a sidewalk restaurant serving excellent Isan food. But Pim remains unable to tell her school friends about me, like Nui who flew to Belgium on Saturday with her new husband Ronnie, and Pik who joined them for a farewell gathering at the airport. Other than her mother and sister, other relatives, in Bangkok and Kalasin remain in the dark about Pim's old farang boyfriend. It remains a bone of contention. But at the moment we are cavorting like newlyweds.

The space-age Bangkok Art and Culture Centre opened at the end of July in an 11-storey building on the Pathumwan intersection in mall-packed Siam Square. Designed by Robert G. Boughey & Associations, the Centre was years in the making, but still has only an acting director, and the gorgeous building is mostly empty. The top floor is devoted to an exhibition of photographs by Princes Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, the King's unmarried daughter who is favored by Thais over her playboy brother. The show is called "Always Roaming with a Hungry Heart" (a quote for Tennyson) and consists of 230 photographs taken over the last five years during her trips to 20 countries. The royal photographer has an eye for color and line. I recognized a few of the locations (Krishna's "butterball" rock in Mamallapuram, India). Most are landscapes rather than of people, and a number were taken from helicopters, a VIP form of travel. There were a few people looking at her work, but most of the building was empty save for some janitors and security guards looking busy on every floor. The view from the top floor of MBK across the street and the Skytrain tracks is impressive. When the space is filled with shops, galleries and studios, it could become the hub for Bangkok's art scene. Now, the working artists only occupy the outdoor "mARTket" in front of the entrance, selling kitsch and crafts as well as paintings of The Buddha. In the evening I listened to a group of blind and crippled musicians on an outdoor stage playing "Country Roads" in Thai style.

Tuesday (Bangkok time)

I had intended to round this blog off with some pithy wisdom, maybe reference Bush again and offer some thoughts on the end of my first year in Bangkok. But my attempts at self-reflection yesterday came up empty handed. Last night Pim and I with three of her co-workers ate at one of the do-it-yourself barbecue places that Thais like so much. We cooked meat (outside as well as inside organs), seafood (including jellyfish, a first), mushrooms and other veggies not over an open fire but on a round heated griddle. I learned that the Thai expression for talking too much translates as "he (or she) has a dog in his mouth." My dinner partners wanted to know if Americans had as much fun as Thais when they go out to eat. I said that I could not recall any restaurants back in the U.S. where people cooked their own food. And eating the national cuisine at Mcdonald's is nowhere near as much fun.

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