Thursday, December 31, 2009

One Year Ago

or

Finally, He Posts New Year's Pictures...from Last New Year's

As of yesterday I had been away from home for one year; we left on the 28th on an 18 hour flight and landed on the thirtieth. Dates are crazy. As of about 2-3 PM today I have been a resident of Thailand for a year. If you had asked me two years ago if I'd ever live in Thailand, I probably would have laughed at you and said no; and yet I have six more months.

365 days ago I landed in Suvarnabhumi airport (several weeks after it had been released by the PAD) and took a taxi in to Bangkok. We got situated in our hotel, vegged out for a couple of minutes, and then went in to the city to Central World mall.


They may not be a predominantly Christian country but Thais will certainly take any reason to throw a party or decorate like crazy. The malls are absolutely dripping in lights and displays for several weeks and huge trees are found both on the inside and the outside of the malls. They last through days after New Year's, which is why I have pictures of them even though I wasn't in Bangkok last year on the 25th.



New Years itself sees large celebrations, and last year we spent most of the night on a blocked off road in front of Central World. Normally stopping in the middle of this street would have gotten you turned to paste by several cars, and run over by a motorcycle taxi to boot. But for New Year's it is fertile ground for laying down, and camping out while you wait for the count down.



Finally midnight strikes and there is great applause and fireworks are launched, to great cheering and celebrating; the same the world over. If I closed my eyes during the applause and the explosions, I could have been home. Thirty seconds earlier, during the countdown, wasn't quite so familiar however given they were counting down in Thai.


video

I haven't talked a whole lot about New Year's eve. There was originally some debate as to what we were going to do. Nathan wanted to go to Central World and see what they were doing, while his friend Susie wanted to go to a club called Santika. Nathan pressed, and Susie isn't the argumentative sort, and so we went to the mall.

Due to a combination of faulty pyrotechnics, terrible insulation, fewer doors than required by fire code and plate glass windows, 59 people were killed and many more injured as Santika burned down. So yeah, I got to call my mom on New Year's day to reassure her I hadn't died in a horrible fire, no doubt making her quite confident of the time I would be spending in Bangkok.

After that things progressed, and you know how the rest of the year went. My next post will be more of a reflection on a year here, I just wanted to finally throw up the couple of pictures I had from last New Year's.

T-Minus 1 hour 20 minutes till New Year's 2010, Happy New Year's everyone.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

But What If They're Acquitted?

or

The Rule of Law



Apparently I need to stop watching U.S. Television. Or at least reasonable facsimiles thereof, because I keep getting embroiled in wasting braincells on the hyped up controversies of Cable News I was so happy to leave behind (to adopt the Thai versions, which involve more riots, and fewer words I understand).

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is going to stand trial in New York City, they say, before immediately following the most ancient rule of steady and intelligent journalism: Running in little circles of panic and shouting. (When your faced with danger, when beset by doubt, run in little circles, wave your arms and shout!)

I think it is a terribly damning statement of the culture America has let itself adopt that the biggest story of a news cycle when we're trying to get health care for the approximately seventy four trillion people in the U.S. who can't afford it is people losing their shit about Obama bowing to a diminutive Japanese figurehead and someone getting a normal trial.

Giuliani was on Fox News talking about how it is a terrible idea, that the terrorists can use this to recruit. I was frothing at the mouth for those statements, unchecked by fact or reason as they are, before he dropped the big whammy: "We don't often take criminals back to the scene of the crime."

Now according to the Golden God of Information, Wikipedia, Rudy Giuliani graduated cum laude from the New York University School of Law in 1968. But clearly this is a malicious lie made up by trolls on the internet wishing to smear the reputation of the NYU School of Law, because I find it hard to imagine that you could spend 3 years there, make law review, and receive a J.D. with honors and not have heard of a couple of things.

Like Juris-fricking-diction. You know, that thing where you tend to be tried in the same area you committed the crime in, jackass? If I murder someone in Denver they normally don't send me to Portland for the trial!

Now, as my brother will be quick to point out, there are circumstances where you do move jurisdiction, such as when it can be proven that a defendant will not be able to get a fair or impartial trial in the area he should be tried in, necessitating the change to an area where they can. And had Rudy been arguing this point, that the likelihood of Sheikh Mohammed getting a totally impartial trial in New York is somewhere between 'My bed turning to solid gold in the next twenty minutes' and 'Me waking up in the morning in the body of a 75 year old German woman named Gertrude von Hohffensteffen', I would have respected him for it. As it stands, however, it strikes me as both a particularly moronic bit of political grandstanding and a particularly damning review of the legal curriculum at NYU.

But my favorite argument came, unsurprisingly, from the actual paid commentators of Fox News. Aside from the 'turning New York prisons into terrorist training camps' trite, my absolute favorite was run several times along these lines: 'What if he is acquitted' or 'What if it's thrown out for technicalities'. Because what it boils down to is 'What if we've fucked up so badly we don't get to kill him?'

We've had this guy since 2003, and we have him on record admitting that he was part of it. If we can't build a case that will stand up to cross examination, or if we blow this because we don't follow the rules, then we deserve to lose. We've had him for six years, people, and the government isn't that incompetent.

But more than that it bothers me we have to make this argument at all. You can't argue that someone shouldn't have a trial just because someone might not be found guilty, or we don't have a rule of law. I can even understand the necessity of military courts and tribunals, but I also think it's important to keep in our minds that the military tribunal should not be the first and most common court of the land. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed doesn't represent a recognized nation, state or army, and no state of war existed when his crimes were committed. It may well have been an act of war but first and foremost it was an attack on the citizens of this country in general and of New York City in particular, and it is in the name of those citizens that the trial should be held.

And all philosophical points aside, what do you think the odds are that a group of New Yorkers is going to find him not guilty in a building mere blocks away from Ground Zero? And, as John Stewart pointed out, what do you think would happen if he was found not guilty and they had to let him out on to the streets of New York City? There isn't a jurisdiction, a judge or a jury in America that would find him innocent. We could send Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to a trial by jury in the leper colony on island of Molokai, Hawaii and he would still get the chair. And when he goes in to prison, do you think its' more likely that he'll start a new gang, or get shanked in the prison yard? Let's be real here, people.

If we blow this case because we try to bend the rules then we deserve all of the scorn and dire consequences that will follow. The best way to combat the lies and hate spread by these terrorists is to give them this trial, to follow every law and procedure and inane little dance so that everything is above the board. Let them be shown that the American legal system works and extends its protection even to the lowest scum before they're found guilty in the single fairest trial we have ever produced. Let's show the world that the Rule of Law still has a place in America.

Because that is what this is about. This is the proper place to try him, in the court of the People. An open court, subject to oversight and regulation, not a shadowed council behind locked doors. We will not be judged based on how well we uphold that rule to the criminals we like, but to the ones we would like to string up from a tree. And if we don't do this, if we hide or lie or shadow ourselves on this issue, then we deserve the consequences. You cannot argue someone should not get their fair trial because they might get off, because then you don't have the rule of law. Then you have star chambers, and secret councils, and shadowy tribunals, and all of the things that should scare the shit out of people, as opposed to whether or not Obama is a socialist. Because if we give up this we have a lot of things, but they aren't American, and they certainly aren't Just.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Liberal

or

Ranting



I've been watching a lot of Glenn Beck and Fox News recently. Or at least I've been watching a lot of the coverage that the Daily Show has of Glenn Beck and Fox News, which I'll be the first to admit likely doesn't show me the whole spectrum of their opinions. But I've been trying to keep up with the health care debate to find out if I might actually have some when I go back to the states, and a lot of what has been said well and truly pisses me off.

I've been a card carrying Democrat since I registered to vote for the 2004 election, and anyone who was surprised I registered as a Democrat clearly hadn't been paying attention. And at not one point in the time I have been a member of the Democratic party have I ever woken up in the morning and said 'Golly, you know what I hate? Liberty. And freedom can suck my balls.' Not once.

I love freedom, and when it comes to liberty not only have I had the Kool-Aid but I've made some to share. I believe whole heartedly in a Government that cannot restrict my right to practice whatever religion I want, that cannot tell me what I have to believe, and that cannot tell me who I can or cannot get married to. I believe in a government whose right's extend to my bedroom or my body only in circumstances where I am trying to set them on fire or the rough equivalents, because dammit that's what freedom means. It means if I want to have gay sex up and down the states of California, Louisiana and Mississippi I can damn well do so; if I want to marry someone named Roger and adopt a child so long as we promise (the same as any other adoptive couple) not to screw the kid up substantially more than we individually are screwed up that Roger and I can have our chance to give that child years of therapy the same as everyone else. Not, to assuage my mother, that I'm planning on marrying someone named Roger.

It is not a contravention of liberty for the government to say 'Hey, if you can't afford to keep yourself from dying of the common cold every year, we'll pass a buck or two'. Do you think for a moment that a majority of Americans would choose to have their health care run by the government if they could help it? I wouldn't take a government issued piece of toilet paper if I could help it, since I'd probably have to sign for triplicate and wait in line for an hour, by which point the issue likely would have resolved itself in any case.

And I'm sorry, it isn't a dire Nazi-esque abrogation of your rights to have to pay five dollars a year to make sure fifty million Americans can afford to get a freaking flu shot and some preventive maintenance. While the GOP is railing about how much this is going to cost, let's remember how much a 500 million dollar and unto this point entirely defective missile defense program could buy at RiteAid; do you think we could get some chicken soup with all that money spent on wiretapping phones so the FBI knows exactly when I'm calling a phone sex line, dirty g-men that they are? I bet we could get at least a bowl, how about you.

We're accused of trying to force everyone to walk in lockstep with our morality, but it is the Catholic church in D.C. that is saying they will be unable to provide shelter and services if that city passes laws allowing same sex marriages as it has been talking about. Because paying for up to 1/6th of the U.S. population to be able to stop from getting the Herp is clearly the work of Lucifer, but holding tens of thousand of people hostage to your close minded morality simply because thinking about gay marriage makes you uncomfortably tingly is fine, Archbishop? Way to turn the other cheek you sanctimonious prig. Do you think Jesus is up there in heaven going "Way to go, that is exactly what I meant by 'turn the other cheek' and 'love thy neighbor'. When I talked to the Samaritans, who were pariahs from Jewish society for a difference in belief they were born in to, I totally would have just pimp slapped em if they had been gay."

But two things really get me. One of them I've been arguing for years, and as always one of the best views on it comes from the West Wing, which I will crib from heavily and without notation, MLA or Chicago style (haha, suck that liberal arts education). Liberal. When in the course of our history did Liberal become a bad word, and why in the hell did we let it happen?

Liberalism has been the driving force behind this country since day 1. Liberalism is challenging the status quo when it doesn't work to make it work better, and not just hanging on to something because it's how we've done it for a while now. Liberalism took a group of people in the British colony of America and made them say 'What if we actually had a say in the governance of this land we're on, and the people writing the laws have only seen in paintings'. Liberalism passed the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act when the industries that were poisoning our world had no desire to change the way it was. Liberalism gave women the right to vote, gave the same Medicare to our seniors that they love while going to town hall meetings and saying they don't support government health care.

And liberalism freed the slaves.

Yes, I went there. And yes it was a Republican President who freed the slaves, but under no definition ever set forth at the time would Abraham Lincoln have been conservative on the issue of slavery. Abraham Lincoln may have said some things that we scratch our heads at now but he was miles to the left of a majority of the country for a long time on his beliefs of slavery.

The Republican party was founded by liberals, by men who saw the status quo sucked musket balls and wanted to throw it out the window if that is what it took. It was founded by Democrats who were sick of the South's stagnation and control of the party, by Whigs who were tired of nobody wanting to even talk about slavery, and by Free Soilers who wanted the whole thing to stop. Men of conscience and character who were not afraid to look at the way things were and loudly say 'Bollocks'.

So by God in Heaven I am a Liberal and I am proud of it, because time and time again when there is a need for men of conscience and character to lead the country in to a new age, to say 'Hell no' to an outdated system that no longer protects the freedoms and liberties of our citizens, it will be the Liberals leading the charge. Because we are at the vanguard of rights for all citizens regardless of their race, their gender, their religion or their sexuality. Because we are willing to examine ideas from outside our experience and judge if they have merit, rather than dismissing them with a knee jerk ideological reaction. A true liberal can be in favor of sensible gun ownership, gay rights, small government where applicable, universal health care, and supporting the troops. And I am proud to be all of those things, I will always be proud to support those things, and I will no longer allow men of small mind and smaller character to take what I am and turn it in to a curse word.

And God Dammit if I see one more person comparing health care (universal, intergalactic, socialized, antisocial or otherwise) to the Nazis I am going to declare a Jewhad on their asses and just go sixteen different kinds of crazy, got it?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Away With Darkness and Gloom

or

No, I'm not Depressed, why do you ask?


I sat out at a little bar on 101/1 (my soi) last night. It was a beautiful night, warm but with a cool breeze and the setting sun making the few clouds pink and purple. I had good, spicy food and a nice cool beer, and a decent book to read. It was a wonderful night, and highlights just how easy it is to have good times in Bangkok even without profundities of liquor and prostitution.

Of course 2 hours later there was so much rain I was half inspired to collect animals two by two, but the rapid weather changes just remind me of home.

After I got a couple of emails from my last several posts asking 'so how are things, really', I realized that perhaps my blog had been negative recently, and that was giving the wrong impression. So first and foremost, allow me to say:

I am having a lot of fun in Bangkok. 99% of the time I do not regret moving out here, and even though I am looking forward to the possibility of going home next July I do know there will be things I miss here for the rest of my life.

Are there things that I think are messed up here? Yes. I will not miss the idle wondering whether another political protest will turn into a giant clusterfuck. I will not miss the curious looks I get every time I get off at the Nana BTS station, with the locals wondering if I am another farang looking for a hooker (for the record, my embassy friends live near Nana).

I will not miss the truly silly situations I seem to get in to at school, the overly sensitive hippy dippy kids glove approach that makes me (the uber-liberal-sensitive-pinko) wince and long for a little bit of tough love. I won't miss the raise I was supposed to but never got, or the particular breed of fly or ant that seems to come from my upstairs neighbor in to my apartment. Or the cockroaches the size of my thumb.

I won't miss the smell of the city, or the flooding, or the trash; it might be kind of nice, I concede, to come back to a city where 'City Planning' is more than the punchline to a joke, and the sidewalks do not have more protrusions than a military obstacle course.

But when I do come home there are going to be a whole host of things that I will miss about Bangkok and Thailand. Some of them are the comforts, some of them are more emotional or ephemeral.

Bangkok is the first city in which I have had my own apartment. No roommates, not paid for by my parents or our student loans or a combination of the two, but an apartment paid for entirely out of my pocket and entirely in my own name. Sure it is the size of a hotel room and no kitchen, but it is mine.

Teaching at Glory is the first job I've ever gotten as a Bachelor of Arts, since I got it after I graduated. Sears I was essentially graduated for, but given their hiring policy required a pulse and we think did not exclude someone who wanted to eat the still beating heart of every third customer, it doesn't count. This job required me to have gone to school and gotten my silly and meaningless degree, rather than just thinking it was cute I had it.

And this is the first time I have lived more than an hour away from my parents in my life (not accounting for traffic). I didn't go to college across the country, and even with crazy stupid I-25 traffic I was still no more than two hours away. This is the first time I've been away and as close to totally on my own as I am likely to ever get.

Beyond those emotional milestones there are also the myriad of comforts that Bangkok offers. It is October, and when Denver is always on edge for a blizzard it has not been below 70 degrees farenheit here. We had an outdoor SCA event in October and were not freezing, or running from precipitation.

I can have a feast of a meal, as I did yesterday, and spend a pittance. A plate of ka pow gai (spelling incorrect, a chicken stir fry with rice), a big beer, two cokes, a plate of som tam (spicy papaya salad) and sticky rice all for six dollars. And that was going absolutely wild; I can eat for a dollar and twenty five cents a day.

I like not having a car, and my life is so much cheaper for it. If I could realistically ditch my clunker back in the States and survive, I would. As limited and in need of expansion as Bangkok's mass transit system is, between cheap taxis and a skytrain and the subway, I can get anywhere I need to go in a good amount of time for a variable amount of money. The same cannot be said of getting places in the Denver Metro area. During rush hour the skytrains show up every three minutes, as compared to fifteen or thirty for Denver. And they run from 5 AM until 11 PM.

Thai movie theaters are without peer in comfort, and as much as you want to spend there is that much more comfort. A Thai movie will never be oversold on accident because there are assigned seats; you may get a bad seat, but you have that choice going in. And if you want to spend 600 baht a person and get a huge sofa sleeper instead, well there are theaters that offer that.

Thai malls make American malls look small, diseased, and uninspired. Central World makes the Mall of America look like it was designed by people with limited imagination and small, pitiful dreams. Without fail every Thai movie theater has at least one food court, restaurant row and either a bowling alley or a movie theater. A majority of them, at least the big ones (MBK, Siam Paragon, Central World) have both, or more than one. And the malls are more than just clothing outlets with a Sbarro's (I'm looking at you, Park Meadows). Siam Paragon and Siam Emporium are the upper crust malls, Central World is the everything mall, MBK is the bargain and teen and cell phone mall, while Pantip is the Electronics Mall. Pantip might have a couple of clothing stores, but you go there to buy a laptop or a camera. Even Cherry Creek is primarily clothing stores or bedding/housewares stores with some other things thrown in.

I never figured how Nathan could be bored in Denver. I moved from Denver to Greeley when I went to University and that was quite an adjustment; getting used to the idea that if I wasn't out drinking or eating, the town closed at like 9 PM; certain movies would never open in Greeley, which was new. Moving back to Denver was coming back to the big city after a long absence, being back in a city where there were multiple play houses and concert venues and there was hardly ever a movie that didn't open there.

And then Bangkok, which is one of the great metropolises of the world. I can see now how Denver would seem restricting when no matter what you want to do there is some way of doing it until about 4 AM in Bangkok. The only time I have ever seen things really closed is a brief stretch from 4 AM until 4:30 AM when I came back from Laos the second time. Other than that New York cannot have anything on Bangkok for being the City that Never Sleeps, because Bangkok must be one hell of a power napper not to collapse in a heap.

I live, I work, I play. I am the founding seneschal of an SCA group where there has never been an SCA group before. I autocratted (ran) the first event in the group, even if I didn't win the Coronet. I have seen things maybe one percent of America will ever see, and done things no one I know has ever done. I have had a seder in Bangkok, celebrated Songkran (even though this one was Black Songkran), and toasted events and milestones (birthday, first sca group) with great people I respect in settings both high and low in this great city.

So I am not alone, or depressed, or bitter and raging against the world. Do I wish that Brits would come over here and be less stupid so they don't paint us all with the brush of their whiteness? Yes. But except for the fact that my family is elsewhere is there anywhere else I'd rather be?

Absolutely not.

Matt/Uji

Monday, September 07, 2009

Situational Intelligence


I frequently joked when I worked at Sears, a time of my life I prefer not to discuss if possible, that whenever someone entered a retail or service space they lose 50 IQ points, and I very rarely received any arguments to the contrary. This has led, in various places and with various people, to amusing situations such as:

'Should I take my car to the pedestrian mall?'

An argument where I vigorously tried to dissuade someone from believing the 1 1/2 carat gold connectors at the end of a 'premium' HD Cable did anything.

Having to explain approximately 4,754,422 times that if you had cable you did not need a digital converter box. Note that for those of you who know the Sears I worked at this is approximately four million seven hundred and fifty four thousand more customers than we actually had, but sometimes we had to explain it twice.

Dad being told that a woman didn't want a book on Taoism (pronounced correctly), but a book on Taoism (pronounced incorrectly)

Every Sears Protection Agreement sale ever (although this usually requires 75+ points of IQ loss).

And Nathan once attempting for a half an hour to make someone understand the difference between a digital converter and a DVD in the ultimate absurdist take on 'You can't get there from here.'

I thought, as I am want to do, that surely there could be no greater example of situational or locational intelligence loss as the shoppers at Sears and other retail stores experience. And yet, as happens so frequently in my life, I was proven wrong simply by continuing to exist, as if nature went out of it's way to provide further examples. Two things challenged this assertion.

First off, I began teaching. The whole world of education must be insane if the rest of it is anything like some of the environments that we run in to at Glory. I have received so many weird and unusual complaints that I have felt the need to make several blog posts and Facebook updates on the subject. Parents who are totally reasonable in the outside world who lose it when you start dealing with their precious little flowers.

And secondly I read an article stating that based on the total number of deaths per year, Thailand is the most lethal tourist spot for Britons. Accompanying the article was vox populi commentary weighing in on why this was so. The general consensus was that more than anyone else in the world or anywhere else in the world, when British people come to Thailand they just totally lose their shit.

Drunk driving, blithely wandering around bad parts of town, starting fights, buying drugs...the commentary section was this litany about the sins of Brits when they come to Thailand. Now in their defense this same litany could be given for any nation that visits Thailand, and it is easier to visit Thailand from the U.K. then from America, but it made me think.

The most dangerous state of mind for your IQ level is not 'I need to buy a plasma tv', but apparently 'I'm on vacation'. It is one of the fascinating things about living abroad, is getting to see just how many people do come out and throw away any standards of politeness or etiquette. My first week here with Nathan we were eating at a burrito shop in a mall, with a woman yelling at the serving staff because they brought her a smoothie not a Daquiri, and where the hell was her Tequila.

Important to note above and beyond the fact that she was using the same tones for a lack of liquor that people use when McDonalds gives them a fried chicken head in their McNuggets was the fact that it was 11:30 AM, and she was there with husband and more importantly child.

This ties in to my commentary on me-generations, but apparently the modern western world has decided that the moment you are on vacation the wheels of the universe exist only to supply you with a constant stream of entertainment, food and alcohol. I have seen just staggering displays towards local culture and people by tourists in my time, a distinction that you only really get to see when you live in a place versus visiting there.

Vacation is about enjoying yourself, I don't deny that. My Mom and Step-Dad like going to lighthouses. I personally find that terminally boring, but I don't deny them their dubious coastal pleasures. But that light-bearing enjoyment doesn't come at the expense of anyone who has to deal with them, except maybe Sean if he doesn't learn to love the lighthouse. Why have we decided that when we travel we get to be stupid, lazy and indolent?

I remember arguing when I was in France with someone on the trip, can't remember who, why it was unreasonable for them to expect all the signs and people at the Eiffel Tower to be in or speak English. As much as you'd think common sense would make it a cliche, I have heard many a farang out here using the 'speak slowly and loudly' method of translation.

And we wonder why people think we're stupid?

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Somewhere the Greatest Generation is Weeping...

or

When the next generation makes me look like a hard-ass, there is something wrong here...


I posted on my Facebook a while back that I had been told by the school that I was no longer allowed to cross out student's wrong answers, but was instead to circle them, because seeing a page with lots of crossed out answers would make the children feel bad. My question of why our response should be 'I'm sorry that seeing 9 out of every 10 questions crossed out made you feel bad, I'll circle them next time' as opposed to 'Well, if you don't want to see so many things crossed out then you should study more' went largely unanswered.

My first response to this was of course disbelief. I think that if I had told my teachers that they should not cross out answers because it made me feel bad, they would have responded exactly as I was want to; that the responsibility for their being so many red marks on my paper was not their responsibility but mine, and only I had the power to change it. If my parents had done the same, the answer would probably have been a more polite version of the same.

But here's the thing I realized: My parents wouldn't have gone to the school to make that complaint. With all the love of good parents they would have told me to study more if I wanted to see fewer marks on the sheet, and that it was the teacher's job to mark my answers wrong. And more importantly than the realization that my parents, who would go to bat for me for anything major that I needed, wouldn't have considered this a real complaint was this realization: That among all of the silly complaints I did have about school, this was never one of them.

I was never exactly a big tough guy during school, physically or mentally. The most common appellations I give to myself in conversation are 'doughy' 'pasty' and 'Jewboy', the last one not indicating lack of emotional toughness as much as a lack of ability to be a professional sport's star (because that's all that stands in my way). I've learned to have a pretty thick skin about a lot of things, but for a lot of years that wasn't true. I was very much desperate to be accepted, and totally retarded on how I went about it, while at the same time trying to hide that behind my (self-inflated) brilliance.

So what does it say that I apparently had, at my most emotionally frail, more emotional resilience than the kids at my school?

When I posted that Mom said that she was told the same thing, with the additional caveat that she couldn't use red pens any more for the same reason. I did not have one person comment to me that they supported this, and yet if it is infecting both Bangkok and Denver (not known for similarities or closeness), it must be fairly epidemic.

I think it's sad that the next generation doesn't have any appreciation of work or sacrifice, and I think it is sad that someone from the first mega-Instant Gratification generation is the one saying it. It makes me feel incredibly old to say, but how have we come to a generation that seems to have no concept of sacrifice for gain or reward for effort?

I realize that it is the fault of my generation and the one immediately before me. For a long time I was very self-centered and spoiled in that way, but I went to college and kind of mellowed the heck out (although I still blog, which seems to be the ultimate act of net vanity). If I hadn't had that mellowing out and space to examine myself, I can easily see me passing on virtues to my theoretical children that would lead to situations like this.

Add to this that Glory does not serve a poor demographic in general, given that our base cost is 60,000 per three month term when a lot of the people in the city live on 6,000 a month, and we are serving a solidly upper middle class group of people. The upper middle class and the lower upper class (confused yet?) have not traditionally been known for their restraint or humility, and between sports classes and private tutoring and easy to get out of mandatory military service and not seeing anything crossed out on their paper any more, I don't think there is a lot of time for these lessons to be imparted to the kids I teach.

I never had a great work ethic, and I still struggle with a finely tuned tendency towards procrastination, but at least I'm self-aware enough to recognize that I am not owed everything in life for nothing (although I'd like to be), and that the hardships I suffer are generally of my own making (although I'd like them not to be). While I did get the chance to move to Thailand and go to various Asian nations because of it, I recognize that I didn't work hard in college and so I ended up working at Sears, and had to pretty much leave the country to get serious professional experience.

I know I'm not the only one who cares that we are training a generation of whiners and sissies, and I'm not sure what I can do about it. I just know that every time we've needed to pull something major out in the USA, in the World, in the whole of History, it has come through hard work and sacrifice; nothing is ever given to us on a silver platter. And maybe it's just that I'm in this now; maybe the Greatest Generation were whiners before World War II and just got their shit together for a couple of years there. But I just wonder what we'll be willing to sacrifice in 40 years, when all of our leaders had to be protected from the evil of crossed out wrong answers?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Loss of Lions


News is still coming in on exactly where and when, but CNN is reporting that Senator Ted Kennedy died this evening U.S. time, succumbing to his fight with brain cancer.

Even though he had known for months it is still tragic, the passing both of one of the last lions of the left in the U.S. Senate and the end to the political dynasty that lasted from Camelot through Iraq. For many people who did not grow up in the Kennedy generation, Edward Kennedy was the only link to a near mythic time and to two of the tragedies that rocked our country in the 1960s, the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy.

No matter how you feel about his politics it is safe to say that one of the last of the old guard of the Senate has passed away, and a dynasty is truly at an end. We mourn the loss of Edward Kennedy.
Wenn es Dienstag ist, muss es Zeit für Lappalien sein!


(If it is Tuesday...)

When Nathan was here we tried valiantly to find a trivia game, but struck out on the two we tried. One said over the phone they had stopped, the other said that when we got there and were greeted by their creepy midget dressed as a Leprechaun.

However, once he returned to the States Nathan came through, and found trivia at The Londoner Pub. A nice place that brews it's own (decent) beer, a little expensive for dinner but an entertaining trivia round. We came in 7th out of 12th, decent for our first time.

So here are (some of) the questions! There were 75 questions; some I can't remember, and some relied on music or pictures so we couldn't transcribe. Answers to follow at the end

1) In what year did the British reach an agreement to establish a trading post in Singapore?

2) Who starred as Rick Decker in Blade Runner?

3) With what country does Austria share its' shortest land border?

4) With what 3 countries does Vietnam have a border?

5) In 1997 what country changed its' mailboxes from red to green?

6) Where did the QE1 burn down and sink?

7) If you write the numbers from 1 to 100, how many times do you use the number 9?

8) What U.S. University is home to the Fighting Irish? (Easy for us, but there were a lot of Brits at the Pub)

9) Which of the following numbers is not a prime: 319, 521, 103

10) According to Warhol, how many minutes of fame do you get?

11) What U.K. city is known as the 'Granite City'?

12) In which Asian country was the Rickshaw invented?

13) What color is Cerulean?

14) How long is a nano second?

15) In 'Gone with the Wind' what was the name of Scarlett O'Hara's home?

16) On which continent is the nation of Israel on?

17) What was the name of the terrorist group responsible for the murder of the Israeli Olympians at the 1972 Munich Olympics?

18) In what year were the Rome Olympics, which is also the year Ben Hur won Best Picture at the Academy Awards?

19) How many years in prison did the gang of 12 get for the 'Great Train Robbery' in 1964?

20) What North African City's name means 'White House' in Spanish?

21) What was the first Asian country to host a Formula One (F1) race?

22) What is Absolute Zero in Farenheit, to the nearest 10 degrees?

23) If you go two miles south, two miles east and two miles north and end up where you started, where are you?

At the end of each round was a question where you had to name 4 things, and then get 2 bonus points for telling what the Common Denominator (theme) was.

24) A) Crack or Crevasse
B) A controlled opening
C) Main highway or road
D) A group of people convened for a specific purpose or task
THEME:

25) 1) End
2) An outer garment
3) A false appearance of quality
4) To grow or increase in prosperity
THEME:

26) 1) A.K.A. Kit Walker
2) Varying by a slight degree
3) Fictional terrorist organization
4) Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?
THEME:










ANSWERS:

1) 1819
2) Harrison Ford
3) Lichtenstein (Like 34 kilometers)
4) Laos, Cambodia and China
5) Hong Kong, China
6) Hong Kong, at the time not China
7) 20 (9, 19, 29, 39, 49, 59, 69, 79, 89 and then 90-99)
8) Notre Dame
9) 319
10) 15
11) Aberdeen
12) Japan
13) Blue
14) One billionth of a second
15) Tara
16) Asia
17) Black September
18) 1960
19) 307, we guessed 312 and won a free round of bad drinks
20) Casablanca
21) Japan
22) -459.67 degrees, we guessed 450. Made it by .33
23) North Pole
24) A) Vein B) Valve C) Artery D) Chamber THEME: Parts of the heart
25) A) Finish B) Coat C) Gloss or Veneer D) Wax THEME: Things you do to furniture or a car
26) A) The Phantom B) Shade C) SPECTRE D) The Shadow THEME: Ghosts.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Untranslatable



I have been involved in Karate at various points in my life, and I've been involved in the SCA for five years now, so there are some things that I have done on a fairly regular basis that most people don't; and I don't give this a lot of thought, it is just a part of who I am. But something came up in my class today that really made me stop and think about the difference in experience that I've had. I came to a realization.

I would estimate that roughly 75-80 percent of Americans will never seriously, in the entirety of their lives, ever bow to another person. Conversely that number is 0 percent of Thais (at least in Thailand) who will never bow to another person.

Now the second part of that is fairly obvious; Thailand is in Asia, and for various reasons and in various different forms people bow to one another. But the first number really kind of shocked me to just how vast the difference is.

The issue that brought this up was one of translation. It was Thai Mother's day on August 12th, Mother's day being celebrated on Queen Sirikit's birthday. I made the students, as I am want to do, write about what they did on the holiday with their Mothers. Two of the students, sister and brother Millie and Best, needed to say that they did something. The word was 'Glaab', or some less idiotic spelling thereof, and we eventually decided on the word prostrate.

To Glaab is to ritually prostrate one's self before another person. You go down on your knees and wai (the Thai greeting involving hands together as if in prayer at face level with a bow) all the way down to the floor. You do it a different number of times depending on who you are doing it to. One for another person, three for a monk or the King. Prostrate is a decent word, but at least to me it doesn't have the same effect really. Prostration is something you do once, not multiple times. And kowtow, while originally likely the exact same (at least in the original Chinese we bastardized it from) has now come to mean an act of appeasement (and a somewhat degrading one).

It made me think a lot about the gap between experiences, and also about the challenges posed by cross-lingual communication (and teaching). There are words that literally have no meaning in other languages, words that are so psychologically linked to the culture that they come from that they cannot be translated to another culture let alone another tongue.

Like all good moments of philosophy, I was reminded of the West Wing, in a Season Five episode. The President is asked if he knows the Korean word 'Han', and comes to the following conclusion about the word: ""There is no literal English translation. It's a state of mind. Of soul, really. A sadness. A sadness so deep no tears will come. And yet still there's hope."

It amazes me that anyone ever learns another language, when our languages and our cultures and our psyches are so loaded with these traps and dark corners that we cannot even comprehend of a way to share. How is it we can teach one another when we have so many things about ourselves we can hardly put in to words?

It is a humbling thought. The world spins quickly around us, and what keeps it spinning is the medium of language. Wars are fought and averted, won and lost or avoided altogether, with words that represent the thoughts behind them. I read recently in the book Among the Righteous that the author was baffled to find a Muslim friend of his who supported Israel's right to exist but hated Zionism. Because to her, and to her culture, Zionism meant differently than a belief in the right of Jews to a homeland. To her, because of where she came from and her culture, Zionism was a form of racism involving the systematic persecution of Arabs by Jews.

How can we ever hope to come to a table and find common ground with one another in all of the dark places where conflict rises when we cannot even agree on the meaning of words, let alone these ephemeral cultural concepts locked away in our collective cultural psyches?

If you thought I was going to have an answer at the end of this I am afraid you are going to be in for a long bout of han. Perhaps the only answer is the one we have been trying for so long. To keep trying, to be undoubted, to never give so fully into the despair at the distance between us that you lose that point of hope that spites it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Simultaneity of Time



Next year is an interesting time. I don't mean this in the way that I have prophetic powers or anything of that nature, though that would would be awesome. I just mean that in the past couple of weeks I have had some very strange feelings about next year, both as a concept and as a specific time frame.

The plan on the table right now is to come home next July, but to come home the other way around the world to meet Mom and Spike in London. AirAsia runs remarkably affordable flights from Kuala Lumpur to London's other airport (not Heathrow), and it is cheap to get from Bangkok to KL by several different methods. We would spend time in London, then fly to Dublin, and I would fly home from Dublin. This would have the effect of allowing me to have circumnavigated the globe in my travels, which I think would be really awesome. If I could afford it I might also spend some time on my own in the U.K., a couple extra days and see if I could get to Wales or Scotland or something.

None of my feelings are that this would be a bad trip; far from it, this would be an amazing way to cap off my time abroad and see places I have always wanted to. Maybe try to get out to Hadrian's wall, stand on ground that Roman legions patrolled 2 during the time of Julius Caesar (and that my own Knight walked along in a less vigorous fashion a bit ago). I am really looking forward to it.

I have been a little bit daunted by the prospect of starting a new and full school year, especially given that the current batch of Kindergartners has me tearing what little remains of my hair out. The prospect of a whole year makes the target date of July 2010 seem like a very long way away indeed.

But at the same time I feel very rushed to make the plans. Mom and Spike have to book using their miles and that requires a lot of planning in the future; so it feels like we are rushing to meet a deadline to do this even though it is a whole year away, which is somewhat jarring. Adult, as well, but still jarring.

It is very confusing to me how 12 months can seem like an eternity and next week at the same time. I would like to go back to boring linear time now, thank you.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

ANSWERS:

ROUND 3 (Drug Quotations, you name the person who said it):

1) "Turn on, tune in, drop out." TIMOTHY LEARY
2) "You see, I think drugs have done some good things for us. I really do. And if you don't believe drugs have done good things for us, do me a favor. Go home tonight. Take all your albums, all your tapes and all your CDs and burn them. 'Cause you know what, the musicians that made all that great music that's enhanced your lives throughout the years were rrreal fucking high on drugs." BILL HICKS
3) (Commenting on the song 'One Toke Over the Line' playing on the radio) "One toke? You poor fool! Wait till you see those goddamn bats." (I GOT THIS! Despite never having seen the movie). They wanted the movie: FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS
4) Can't remember, didn't write down.
5) "Just Say No" NANCY REAGAN
6) "To Alcohol! The cause of--and solution to--all life's problems." HOMER SIMPSON

Round 5 (Tell me how they died):

1) Michael Hutchins (INXS) AUTO EROTIC ASPHYXIATION
2) Cliff Burton (Metallica) BUS CRASH
3) Ian Curtis (Joy Division) DEATH BY HANGING
4) Joe Strummer (The Clash) UNDIAGNOSED CONGENITAL HEART DEFECT
5) Sonny Bono SKIING ACCIDENT (TREE)
6) Marvin Gaye SHOT BY FATHER
If It's Tuesday, It Must Be Trivia

An ancient and hallowed tradition for half of my family is to go to Old Chicago's on a tuesday night and play Trivia. It is one of the things that I miss, the competition and fraternity, and so I was quite surprised when I read on Wikitravel:

"Le Pub, 175/22 Pham Ngu Lao, located on the small road which connects Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien. Always busy after 6PM, famous for its western strength drinks, daily dollar-specials (e.g. Tuesday $1 for vodka mixers all night) and friendly staff. It has the same owner as Le Pub in Hanoi. The Pub Quiz (almost every Tuesday) is very popular with expats, especially the english teachers. Get there early or it's too packed to find a place to sit down. Indoors and outdoor tables available."

Yes, that is right, Tuesday Night Trivia in Ho Chi Minh City. How exciting.

Of course this is U.K. style Pub Quiz, rather than what we're used to, so it was much more multimedia. The theme for the evening was 'Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll'. The first round was pictograms that added up to rock star names, the second was songs where we had to name what Michael Jackson song they sampled, the third was quotes about drugs, can't remember the fourth, the fifth gave us the celebrity and we needed to name the cause of death, and the sixth were pictures and we had to decide if the person was in pleasure (in a porno) or in pain (as an athlete).

ROUND 3 (Drug Quotations, you name the person who said it):

1) "Turn on, tune in, drop out."
2) "You see, I think drugs have done some good things for us. I really do. And if you don't believe drugs have done good things for us, do me a favor. Go home tonight. Take all your albums, all your tapes and all your CDs and burn them. 'Cause you know what, the musicians that made all that great music that's enhanced your lives throughout the years were rrreal fucking high on drugs."
3) (Commenting on the song 'One Toke Over the Line' playing on the radio) "One toke? You poor fool! Wait till you see those goddamn bats." (I GOT THIS! Despite never having seen the movie).
4) Can't remember, didn't write down.
5) "Just Say No"
6) "To Alcohol! The cause of--and solution to--all life's problems."

Round 5 (Tell me how they died):

1) Michael Hutchins (INXS)
2) Cliff Burton (Metallica)
3) Ian Curtis (Joy Division)
4) Joe Strummer (The Clash)
5) Sonny Bono
6) Marvin Gaye

Round 6 was strange. They gave us a super close up of the face, and we had to guess if it was a porn store getting laid or an athlete in the throes of exertion. And somehow we managed to get every single one right. We felt very dirty afterwords.

We came in sixth, and it was a blast. I wish that I was going to be here next week, I would do it again in a heartbeat. And I count it as one of those unique opportunities in my life; plus some combination of codeine, tylenol, colchicine and alcohol made my foot bearable, so I'll try shotgunning my codeine, tylenol and colchicine tomorrow morning to go be touristy.

Matt

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Update

Despite the plane being an Airbus, I have safely arrived, allowing me to be one of the few Americans in history (relatively) to say the following:

Man, I'm glad to be in Vietnam on the 4th of July, this is neat!

More to come, after I've eaten (it's 7 PM)

Matt

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Fragments

The Ideas that are still percolating, or images that are not enough to make a full post yet:



AYN RAND:

I have been thinking about doing a post on Ayn Rand recently, given her rising prominence in the Republican Party book list. And I still might, try for a piece about enlightened self interest and the limits therein, and I kind of already have in my piece about poverty. So we'll see. But nothing I can say sums it better than this, a quotation I saw in a piece I forgot but was inspired to copy and paste.

"There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its' unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs."


HE STILL WOULDN'T LIKE YOU

I saw the strangest thing on the Skytrain home from CentalWorld the other day. I was standing and looked over to see a young Indian man who had the look and shakes of a meth head going through withdrawal, shaking as he sat there and staring at his hands from time to time. Very thin, kind of out of it.

He had a bag with him, which looked normal, messenger style. Except that I was drawn to a pin that he had put on it: A swastika. Yes, a swastika, on a white background, with a red circle around it. Now my first thought was 'Ok, he doesn't know, and just thinks it's the Buddhist peace symbol'. But then I thought 'No, those go the other direction, and how do you not know? The Nazis are hard to miss'.

The more I thought about it the more ridiculous it got, until I was staring at this guy saying in my head 'No matter how much crank you boys do, Hitler will never look at you and say "You know what, dark skinned person, you're alright. Let's bounce.' Just not gonna happen."

GOODBYES (FOR NOW)

Even though they drive me crazy and I cannot guarantee you they actually learned anything this year (and I'll be seeing a couple of them for summer school in a week), I was sad to see my kids leave today (last day of the school year).


Matt
Uji

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Somewhere Gregory House is Weeping

or

Reverse Utilitarianism



The philosophy of utilitarianism says that you should strive to do good for the greatest number of people possible in a situation. It is the classic Spock in Wrath of Khan philosophy, that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one. He goes in to the reactor to satisfy the needs of the writers, who outnumber him, to have an easy hook for a sequel.

And this generally makes sense. When presented with equal chances of victory a General will go with a plan that gets 10 people killed rather than 10,000, or even 10 over 100. We expect that in any situation some people will not benefit, and that we should generally go with situations that minimize harm and maximize benefit.

So the FDA is considering limiting the dosages available for the drug acetomenaphin. If this sounds familiar that is because it is what makes major painkillers from Tylenol to Vicodin tick. Currently available in a maximum dosage of 500 milligrams pure, it can be combined with other drugs to make the super painkillers vicodin and percocet.

So following the philosophy of utilitarianism, an FDA panel looked at usage (in perscriptions and purchases) versus people killed/admitted to hospitals each year due to overdose on acetomenaphin. The numbers are 42,000, 400 and 100,000,000+ respectively, and I want you to match each number to it's category, given the knowledge that the panel voted to ban vicodin and percocet, and limit acetomenaphin dosage.

You would think the government would only do such a thing if the numbers went thusly:
1) 400 killed
2) 100,000,000 hospitalized
3) 42,000 number of prescriptions.

But that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, how can more people be hospitalized than take the drug, and if something is hospitalizing 1 in 3 Americans how is it only killing 400? But...it doesn't make sense any other way. Surely if 42,000 people (A little over 1/100th of the US population) are hospitalized each year out of 100,000,000 (33.3 percent of the US Population) the Government won't do anything. Right? RIGHT?

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/01/health/01fda.html?em

Read it, I'll wait.

Yeah. And for the record if 400 people die per year that is a little over 1/1000th of the U.S. Population that the panel recommends the FDA work furiously to save at the cost of inconveniencing the one out of every 3 Americans that statistically need the pills every year. Oh, and that one hundred million only applies specifically to Vicodin and its' generics, not Percocet (one of the other most popular pain killers in the world) and Tylenol (which needs no explanation).

As you no doubt read (seriously, I waited for you) they recommend (in addition to banning Vicodin and Percocet) lowering the maximum pill size from 500 to 325 milligrams, and lowering the maximum daily dosage to under 4,000 milligrams. Ok, fine, let us suppose that .0001 percent of the population getting themselves killed is worth the million dollars the panel spent on this and the disruption of pain management of a third of the country. But lowering the maximum dosage seems to me to lead to a scenario, which I hope you will follow me on.

Scenario 1) John J. Johnson (the J. stands for Joshua, not John) has a headache that feels like Dwarves of Norse Legend are fashioning an incredibly tiny Mjolnir inside his cerebellum, and he wishes to serve them a pharmacalogical eviction notice. He used to take two 500 milligram pills to get 1000 and subdue them. Now he looks at the bottle and realizes that it has been lowered, so instead he takes three, which gives him 975 milligrams. So the FDA has made him waste another pill and lowered his risk of overdosing by...25 milligrams. Now I don't have the numbers here, but according to the Parker Institute of Common Sense and Outright Fabrications, 25 milligrams doesn't seem to be a major overdose risk. Marilyn Monroe did not sit on the floor looking at the pills and saying 'Damn, 25 mg over...' Especially since everyone knows Robert Kennedy strangled her with a garrote made of 100 dollar bills.

Between myself, Dad, Andrew and Spike we necessitate 8 other people not taking Vicodin each year, as we are proscribed acetomenaphin medications for our head, shoulders, knees and toes. I am not sure what I would have done for my initial gout attacks if I hadn't had a pain killer, so maybe I'm a little bit sensitive on the subject, and maybe I'm being greedy as one of the 33 instead of the .00013. But damn, I want my drugs, and I don't have the money to start up an import business of the stuff from Thailand to get in before any sort of ban picks up. If I get back to the states and get a gout attack and I have to settle for 325 milligrams of tylenol and a fond wish from the government, I might have to research if throttling people to death due to lack of acetamenophin would help raise the fatality number.

God I love this picture.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

De-Laosing 2: Home Sickle

My two times in to the country now it has struck me that Laos seems to have a very specialized industry. While it is true that a lot of countries rely on tourism to support them, Laos seems to have carved a very specialized niche for itself: It caters to the Visa run. As the closest foreign country to Bangkok according to maps I may not have looked at too closely, it seems like the number one reason why anyone goes to Vientiane is so they can go back to Bangkok for a while longer yet.

Laos is an interesting country. In people and food it is so mingled with Thailand and the Thais to be fairly indistinguishable, the two people (and languages and foods) sharing common ancestry among the Khmer and later Kingdoms. Vientiane could be a spruced up Thai city in one of the provinces, large but certainly not Bangkok. There is an almost charming feel of having not left...


Ok, so there might be a couple of differences.

One gets to Vientiane from Bangkok one of several ways. Driving, whether in one's own automobile or in a bus (which I did the second time), taking the train from Hualampung Station in the city, or flying out of Suvarnabhumi airport. This also ends the spelling test preparation, make sure you took notes and have studied the words for Friday.

The first time I went I took a 2nd Class sleeper train, which left the station at 8 PM. On a 2nd Class sleeper train you sit on seats normally until you (or the other person you share a berth with) want to sleep, at which point the magic happens. The two seats fold together and get a mattress over them to form the lower berth, and the top one pops out of a compartment on the ceiling. Maybe all sleeper trains are this magical, this is the only one I've been on as an adult. Magic I sadly do not have a picture of.

But I do have a picture of the train so you can get an idea of the layout I'm talking about. Which is really necessary, unless you generally know what a train looks like and having a fairly good imagination. Ok, so entirely unnecessary, but still: Photo time.

Picture Related. Haha.

In that picture you can see a guy from England whose name I forgot in blue, and a hot Canadian who didn't seem particularly interested in talking to me in the red shirt. So, being barred from hitting on the hot Canadian or her friend (apparently Canadians, like Geese, travel to warmer climes in flocks), I instead drank beers with the Brits.

They were a hoot, and the evening passed well. What would ultimately cause my second trip out was the two hours we spent waiting at one stop, doing nothing except...waiting. Daring eachother to walk across the tracks to the 7-11...and waiting more. We were told we were waiting for passengers, which I feel fairly unaccountable unless the passengers were Jesus and Buddha coming back from an all night bender. Given the unlikelihood, I think there must have been another reason unknown to us.

When you pull in to the border town of Nong Khai you then make your way to the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge (or the Lao-Thai FB, depending on the side), which is exactly what it says on the tin: A bridge across the Mekong river. You get your passport stamped on the Thai side, and then arrange taxi or take the shuttle across the border in to Laos.


The Mekong is not an unimpressive river to say the least, and that picture was actually snapped on the way back to Thailand (in the interest of full disclosure), not having been in a position to get a good picture going across the first time. Once in to Laos you go to Lao Immigration where you pay them 1,500 baht (40 bucks) to get in to the country for up to a month, plus one dollar (35 baht) if you are not there between 8 AM and 4 PM. If you are actually staying a month 40(41) dollars doesn't seem bad, but for three days it seemed somewhat excessive.

You then drive in to the city, and are at liberty. It takes 2 business days to get a Visa, you drop off morning A and pick it up afternoon B, and that was the problem with waiting two hours for Jesus and Buddha's All Night Party Train: We didn't get in before they stopped taking Passports for Visas that morning.

Like many formerly colonial countries Vietnam has a great deal of foreign heritage still left in it. A part of French-Indochina before they gained their independence, they have a great lingual legacy still lingering in their streets and avenues. The palace for the former French representative is now owned by the state, and the street signs come language enabled for your convenience.

Hos in different Country Codes...

My French classes come in handy.

This also comes out in the food. This is the view of Nam Phou, the city Fountain, from the view of Le Provencal, a very lovely French/Italian fusion kind of restaurant right on the fountain square.

And this is a view of the Fountain itself.
Of course, that is not to say that there is not Asian heritage or blood running through Vientiane's streets. As with the other countries in the region Monks walking down the streets are not uncommon, and the temples are also major tourist attractions. Ho Phra Keo is a temple, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, although the Emerald Buddha was taken back (re: swiped) by Thailand some centuries ago and now resides in Bangkok's Wat Phra Kaew. I have been there, I went with Nathan, but unfortunately like many major Buddhist relics it is considered rude to snap pictures of said viridian enlightened one.

Also, a quick primer on Buddhism. If I say 'Buddha', what do you think of. If you answered 'a rotund gentleman, frequently in gold, who does not look like he has ever starved himself let alone done so until the secrets of the Universe were revealed'...

The Good Life

Then I have bad news for you. The fat guys are totally different Bodhisatvas, enlightened ones. The real Buddha is not a chubby grinning man, he is a much more wise looking skinny fellow of an Indian aspect...


Who is not afraid to show off a little bit of nipple. Now Buddha is a big part of Southeast Asia, and they are a little bit less shy about showing him than Christians. Which seems remarkable, given Churches do not exactly shy away from the Iconography. But one of the temples in Vientiane, Wat Sisaket, puts them to shame. It is like the International Headquarters of Iconographical Overload (IHIO? So close to a functional acronym).

Consider the following picture:


Now first off, yes they have dressed that Buddha. One of the ways in which Buddhists (at least in this area) make merit (good deeds for good karma) is to play Buddha Dream House with the statues and clothe them, and leave them offerings (as the bottle of Guiness two posts ago). But pay attention to the nooks behind them: Each one contains two smaller Buddhas, just kind of hanging out. Now take a look at this:


Now imagine the whole temple, every outside wall, covered in the big Buddhas and the small Buddhas in the nooks. Rather than make you try to torture though the math, I'll give you the approximate figures from Wat Sisaket themselves:

In ur templez, Enlightening ur peoplez

10,136 Buddhas all chilling out in one place, staring at one another and hi-fiving when no one is looking. Think they're a little Buddhist?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Absolutely Killing Me

or

An Interlude of Politics


Before I go any further let me first establish my liberal credentials. I voted for Kerry in 2004, I voted for Obama in 2008, and I have never voted for a Republican in a local, municipal or national race. I donated money to Howard Dean in 2004, and then Obama this last year. I was at the DNC when he gave his speech, and I was moved when he won in November.

I think that George W. Bush was one of the worst Presidents in recent memory, and I disagree with the stated platforms of the current incarnation of the Republican party. I am pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, and pro-welfare. I believe in the truly conservative value of the government not being able to tell me who I can or can't have sex with, not being able to tell me I have to pray in school or listen to prayers, and not being able to post any kind of religion in any kind of state building. I opposed George Bush's policies on almost every front, except for the one time I applauded him: When he raised veteran's benefits and made that change retroactive to the beginning of the invasion of Afghanistan.

So I cannot tell you how angry I am at my fellow liberals at the moment because they put me in the very awkward position of having to defend the man. But here I go:

If I hear one more person whine on the internet about how the Iranian Presidential Election scandal is exactly the same as the 2000 U.S. Presidential Election, I am going to have to open up a can of Grade A Whoop-Ass, ok?

Told you it was Grade A

I was as pissed as anyone when the Supreme Court handed down a ruling in Bush v Gore. I felt like the election had been stolen, like the voices of the American people had been silenced by cronyism and vote buying, like fraud and corruption had replaced freedom and democracy as the catch words of the American Republic.

But let us all look to Iran and realize that we didn't, even for a moment, know what a stolen election looked like. It's like when you get your first tooth ache and think there is no pain greater than this, and then you get your wisdom teeth out and realize you were wrong. And then you get shot, and realize that once again you had no idea what you were talking about. But the 2000 U.S. Election is not the tooth ache to Iran's being shot; it is the paper cut to Iran's being hit by a bus after being shot.

At the end of the day the 2000 election still came down to the corrupting of 500,000 votes in one state. George Bush by himself, with only the regular corruption inherent in politics, managed to get 50 million, four hundred fifty six thousand and two people to vote for him on nothing more than his own dubious credentials. Out of roughly one hundred million voters, any fraud or coercion in our election came down to half of a percentage point of the total number of voters in the election.

Estimates vary in Iran right now as to the spread of the corruption, influence or lies with the official party line of course being that there were none. However a large number of scholars and journalists have come out and made varying estimates. One estimate, from a professor at the University of Hawaii, estimates that the numbers could be off by something like six million votes, our of a total voting population of 38 million. That is over 15 percent of the total votes cast, if they are true.

In the weeks leading up to the election there had also been campaigns of direct and possibly targeted censorship, which many charge were at the directive of the Government. Wikipedia cites Al Jazeera English charging that the Iranian government forced them to " change their editorials or their main headlines". The BBC had a reporter arrested and his files stolen, and several other nations suffered similar harrasment to their press and correspondents working in Tehran.

Furthermore the government cracked down on sites such as Facebook, which the opposition parties were using to form rallies and protests to gather support for the election. Once again from the inimitable Wikipedia: "On 13 June 2009, when thousands of opposition supporters clashed with the police, Facebook was filtered again...mobile phone services inluding text messaging also stopped or became very difficult to use. Specifically, all websites affiliated with the BBC were shut off, as were ones with The Guardian. The Associated Press labeled the actions "ominous measures apparently seeking to undercut liberal voices." The restrictions were likely intended to precent Mousavi's supporters from organizing large-scale protests."

This is in addition to the already standard censorship in Iran, where anything related to 'counter-revolutionary' ideas (democracy, women's rights, freedom of religion, words you can make from the letters in Ahmadinejad) are routinely deleted or forced to change. In the 1980s a death sentence was given for the creators of a radio program in which a female caller said she most idolized a Japanese soap star, rather than the daughter of Mohammed. So this is not a country that is new to censorship, which makes these acts even more blaring. And most ominously Ahmadinejad said about the protests over the censorship: ""[d]on't worry about freedom in Iran... Newspapers come and go and reappear. Don't worry about it."

I genuinely feel like the voices of a lot of Americans were left out during the 2000 U.S. Presidential Elections, and I genuinely feel that there were a lot of wrong decisions made and terrible consequences that came from them. We were left worse off for the election, in my opinion, and it cast a shadow of illegitimacy over our government and even made it's way to the forefront during the 2004 election. An election was decided by the courts, not the people, and that is never a great situation.

And yet they were decided within the bounds of the law and the Constitution of the United States. In the end the merits and flaws were debated over by scholars, and the men charged to be independent of their parties in the interpretation of our laws; and while I may not agree with the decision, I do not doubt that they were the legitimate source to decide it. I disagree with the interpretation, not the interpreters. While the election might have been given away and might have damaged our nation, we can not say it was stolen.

A stolen election is 15 percent of the votes disappearing or changing sides. A stolen election is when the government decides to keep itself in power, and violently suppress opposition to that move. A stolen election is when any media source that dares to side with the opposition is silenced, blacked out, or arrested. We had no concept of what a stolen election looked like in America, and we still have only ever maybe had the one (the Corrupt Bargain that ended Reconstruction).

So dammit Liberals, don't ever put me in this position again. George Bush did not steal the 2000 election, he blundered his way in to the Oval Office. And Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not a George Bush that speaks Farsi, he is an entirely different animal. Let us not sully our own politics and our own history with the comparison, and let us not be so blind to the realities of the world and the suffering of our brothers and sisters a world a way.

And please, please don't ever make me defend George W. Bush again, alright? I'm wearing a red shirt today and defending George W. Bush and it just doesn't feel right. And if you make me do it again, you know what I'll have to do.

De-Laosing Part 1: Penang

Ok, so I did manage to get one more Laos joke out of the way, but I really do think I am spent now. So here are more pictures, although I still haven't gotten around to doing New Year's Eve in Bangkok yet. That will either be later this week or next, and I apologize for the anachronistic order. Fortunately a large number of my readers are comfortable with anachronisms. Har har.

But first...on February 25th I had to do my first Visa run, and rather than doing the normal destinations of Vientiane (Laos) or Phnom Penh (Cambodia), I found a special on Air Asia for round trip tickets to Penang, one of the major cities in Malaysia. I figured I would have ample opportunity to visit Laos (which I now have, excessively) and Cambodia later. So I hopped on a plane and winged my way to the island of Penang.

Malaysia was a fascinating trip. Like most of the other areas in Asia that had been colonies to Western powers it is an intriguing mix of cultures and histories co-existing. On one street through Georgetown, which is the capital of the island, there are two Mosques, an Anglican Church and a Chinese clan/spirit house. Proximity to China, the English colonization and the fact that according to the government all ethnic Malays are Muslim lead us to a fascinating confluence of cultures.


Of course one of the fun things about going anywhere outside of the U.S. or England is having fun with local signs translated into English. Of course there are no doubt blogs out there with people from Mexico laughing at the warning sings in Spanish we have posted in the U.S., so it all tends to balance out in the end I suppose.

I don't have any pictures of my hotel room, because it's kind of what I like to call 'Generic Cheap Chic'. Four white walls, a fan and an ugly bedspread is all it takes to get me in for the night when I'm on the road. One of the delightful benefits of being 23 is that without a significant other or child to plan for I can just book in to a cheap shack and be out the next morning to get the show on the road. Of course sometimes morning means 11 AM...but that is still morning, darn it.

I also don't have any pictures of the Thai Consulate because...yeah. The Consular section was boring, and they don't let you in to the pretty parts. So after spending Thursday morning getting my Passport submitted for a Visa, I went to play the part of the tourist. First off I hit the Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi, the Khoo family Clan House. It is quiet, with a sort of restrained elegance, a subtle air about it.


Uh...



Or not. It is pretty awesome, though. If your clan's spirits are going to live there for all eternity and watch over you and their other descendants, you might as well bling up the place. This is the Chinese Buddhist equivalent of spinning rims and big gold electroplated crosses. Penang, gangster style.

It is pretty impressive, however. Part temple, part shrine and part booster club, it also serves as part graveyard. Tucked away in one of the other buildings to one side of the Palace de Bling up above, is the memorial to past members of the family.


And here is a close-up on them:


It is actually very interesting to be in. You pay 5 Malaysian Ringitt to get in (about $1.50), which does give it a mildly mercenary feeling, but there is a lot of history here. Some interesting paintings that were too large to get any kind of good snapshot of, shrines and pictures and incense to be lit and all sorts of history going on in the building.


The Eight Immortals

One of the most unique buildings I have been in, and I am quickly racking up unique buildings.

Next I went to a couple of mosques. As I said there were two on the street that the Khoo Spirit house and the Anglican church. I didn't get too many pictures of the first one because it was not architecturally interesting. I walked up to a gate and let myself in to this small mosque on the end of the street, and the two old men inside paid me absolutely no notice. They wandered around for a bit, and then went to sleep. I took this as a sign that it was ok to explore, rather than that this tubby white boy wandering around was so boring as to drop them in to a coma.

Part of the Muslim service involves ritual cleaning before prayer, and mosques have pools set up for the faithful to do this in (segregated in to different pools for men and women). This is the pool at the first mosque.


The second mosque I went to was advertised on WikiTravel and in local pamphlets as being the mosque that handles tourists, a must see to stop by on the way so I went to do so. I managed to get one good picture, and about only one good picture. Not because it wasn't architecturally interesting, however.


I thought that was a particularly compelling and interesting feature to be set up in the windows of a mosque. You can't see it, but those windows wrap all the way around a kind of central dome raised from the roof of the mosque. From memory I would say there were about sixteen of the windows, sixteen green tinted Star of David windows letting in light to Penang's premier mosque.

Now I did say that I only got the one picture, and not because of a lack of interesting architecture. I only got the one picture because shortly after taking it I was very politely thrown out of the mosque. Apparently the central area that I was traipsing through is reserved only for muslims at this locale. I later found a tour through the rest of the mosque, but I can still say that I have been escorted out of a mosque which is fun. It is also interesting that the tourist mosque wouldn't let me wander around willy nilly and had a security guard, but the out of the way 'non tourist' one had two sleeping men who didn't care enough to not take a nap about my wanderings. Life is fun.

So then I wandered down to the Anglican church. The oldest Anglican church in South-East Asia (which seems, upon reflection, to be similar to claiming to be the richest white Jew in my apartment building, but sounds more impressive), it was...church-shaped and surprisingly boring. For a church that came out of decades of bloody fighting and on the backs of several decapitated Queens (Crown, not drag) they seemed to stick to pretty austere buildings.


After this I did stop by a couple of Buddhist temples, in a couple of different locations. My apartment was right in Chinatown, so I was literally next door to one and there were several on the street that included the mosque and the church.



One of the unique aspects to Buddhism, which it shares with animistic religions, is the nature of the offerings to Buddhe/the spirits. While Jews once sacrificed bulls in the temple and Christians and Muslims give to charity and donate to the church for spiritual means, Buddhist offerings different. They are actually concerned with giving the Buddha or their ancestors comforts from the real world, things that they would have appreciated while they were here. Offerings of food are common, in case they got hungry I suppose.


But at the Buddhist temple right next to my hotel I saw the best thing ever. I almost converted on the spot right there, simply on the promise that someday one of my descendants might leave me this offering, to help ease my soul in the afterlife and let me know that they were thinking of me. It was a religious experience. It stood there like some kind of divine artifact, drawing me in.



Yeah baby. I think I'm a convert.