Environmental Monarch

Thai fishermen have declared they will no longer intentionally catch the Mekong Giant Catfish, in honor of their king: LINK
Granted, this only covers part of the problem as the river runs through/is boundary to multiple countries. Plus, I can just imagine the rush of people cutting up nets to collect on multiple $500 payoffs. But still… It speaks a lot for having a monarchy that is respected and revered.
(via Magnoy)

Never called on a long solo

Dave just sent in this article regarding the King of Thailand’s love of jazz. (I hereby refuse to use CNN’s pathetically retarded titles as links anymore.)
No denying the king seems really cool, but it must be pretty damn hard for him to get an honest opinion of his music.
Nam was in Bangkok this weekend and she said there were more yellow shirts than Ojibagaeri (it’s a Tenrikyo thing, baby) in August.

In the grass

Nam called me up in a panic yesterday because she crossed paths with a snake in the yard of our house (in Thailand). She told me it was about a meter long and light green, and she asked what she should do so I said LEAVE IT ALONE, because all I could think of was:
albolabris.jpg
Behold the awesome glory of the White-lipped Pitviper.
Of course, it might have been the Toothless Leaf-eating Snake of Northern Thailand, but I wasn’t about to ask her to see if its head was shaped like a diamond or not (and I’m sure Steve Irwin and Jeff Corwin would have agreed with that decision). Meanwhile, the snake decided to escape – up the storm drain of our house and onto the first story roof. Cool!
I told Nam to go get help, but just then a university kid happened to walk by, so he helped her somehow knock the snake off the roof and over the back wall into the adjoining forest. So all ended well, because I had heard before that Thais immediately kill any snakes that come near their homes, but Nam assures me that people in the Isaan region (where our house is) think it’s bad juju to wantonly kill shit, so they just try and get along with nature. That makes the Discovery Channeler in me so goddam happy to hear…
Thailand is not the best place for those squeamish about snakes and crawly things – a large portion of the cobra family (including the King Cobra), krait family (including the beautiful Red-headed Krait), as well as several kinds of waterbound and sea snakes can be found pretty much throughout the country.

King of Siam

You know what? The political situation in Thailand right now is confusing the hell out of me. From what I gather, another round of parliamentary elections was cancelled last weekend, and the king is like, stop screwing around. Oh, and also, stop trying to dump this mess in my lap.
You know what? His Majesty is really showing his smarts. The issue isn’t so much that using his constitutional rights to settle the issue would be partisan (specifically, anti-Thaksin), but that Thailand really needs an effective democratic solution. It isn’t too hard to imagine somebody else in the king’s position just doing the absolute minimum in a puppet role, so it’s very nice to see that he has the skills and the wisdom to match his power.
You know what’s even nicer? The government may be in semi-chaos right now, but it’s still safe to be there… That says a lot about the country and its people. Try that shit next door and there’d be tanks running over students on CNN.

Hi!


I poke your eye out!
So this is it. Right about now, the sweet memories of my vacation to Thailand are almost completely pushed out of my day-to-day consciousness, so I decided to post my best photo in an effort to fight off the effects of the grind.
I got to close to this silly bird at an ostrich farm located only 15 minutes from Nam’s house, adjacent to a riverside restaurant where we were invited to lunch. I leaned over a rail while looking through my camera’s viewfinder and got a bit too close, and realized I had entered within striking distance just before I hit the shutter release… I hastily stepped backwards and accidentally took this shot as I raised my arm in self defense.
Of course, the ostrich never actually took a nip at me, he just psyched me out and then did this weird victory dance… I still have to look over the video we took to see if that came out or not, and if it did, I’ll post it later.
There’s nothing like an overgrown bird mocking you with a victory dance.

Magical Beaches, Whole Roast Chicken, and a Girl Named Magnum

As time passes and the memories of the vacation I just came back from slowly fade away, it gets harder and harder to write about it. Well, there’s nothing like paper pushing to stifle one’s creativity, as I always say. Still, I have a few more thoughts and photos to share on the matter, so I shall push on…
In a previous post, I wrote about mucking about in the temple ruins at Buri Ram. We finished there early in the afternoon and had lunch with Nam’s family at a nearby outdoor restaurant.

It was pretty hot and I was in meltdown mode after running around like an idiot in the midday sun (or maybe it was more like an Englishman; must consult w/Ben). I wasn’t the only one, either: T started going aggro at Nutty (did I mention that they used to date when she was living in Japan and BOTH thought it a really good idea to go on this road trip – before it started, of course – together as FRIENDS) partway down the road, mainly do to the fact that we couldn’t find a roadmap to buy ALL DAY. As a consolation, we did find many other things…







As I was saying, we stopped at many, many roadside stores and gas stations throughout the drive and couldn’t find a single map for sale. We eventually came to the conclusion that Thai people are either:
(A) Born with a good sense of direction, or
(B) Wont to ask those along the road “which way is the road to [INSERT DESTINATION]”
Since we were personally witness to Nutty getting lost in her current hometown of Bangkok on multiple occasions, we figured (A) perhaps was not the correct choice, and decided to go native and try (B) out for a while. This resulted in me nearly getting gored by, respectively, a water buffalo, and a decidedly non-Holstein dairy cow.



But where was I? Oh, yes, I would be amiss to allow this post to be published without listing a couple of the things T felt it pertinent Nutty should know, while she was driving:
– When driving someone to Bangkok airport during rush hour, the highway is preferable to surface streets (a reference to his last trip here)
– Passing on a two-lane highway (in a two-ton turbodiesel king cab) is dangerous
* (especially at night)
** (unless you turn off the A/C first)
*** (turning off the OD is not the same as turning off the A/C)
– High beams can be a nuisance to incoming traffic, so use them carefully
High beams? He’s lecturing about headlights? Nam and I giggled about this in the backseat. Finally, Nutty reached her limit after a couple hours, pulled over to the side of the road, and asked me to drive.
I drove.



We reached our destination, a resort at Chao Lao Beach, and decided to have dinner at a beachside cafe . Having been subjected to popsy Thai music for the duration of the trip, we were aghast when the German owner of the cafe turned on a huge karaoke machine that happened to be pointed directly at our table. It rattled our teeth and made my beer glass dance even more seductively than the token ladyboy at the bar, until T decided to speak up and asked them to turn it down. Awesome! Usually, I have to be the bad one and tell people to do shit they don’t like, so it was fun watching T use his irritation, to achieve the desired effect, this time. And it worked! German owner guy turned off the Karaoke Deathbox and flipped on a boombox behind the bar instead, much to the consternation of aforementioned ladyboy.
We finished eating and went searching for a place to stay, only to find that most of the rooms at the various resorts had filled and front offices for the most part, had closed. In the end, we resorted to an ancient Jedi mind control technique, and, at the most promising place, made the guard at the (barred) front gate find the manager, open the office, and rent us a room. There was only one left, but it was large, so all four of us fit into it. While the girls took showers, T and I drank beers on the front porch and swatted at fat mosquitoes lazily cruising through the humid air. Our two-day beach respite had begun.

The next morning we rushed to the beach, which was fairly decent sand-, water-, and wave-wise, only to find that they were building a new swimming pool along our stretch. Ogling workcrews and the cacophony of jackhammers do not a relaxing beach day make, so we immediately decided to try our luck at our next resort destination, Rayong.
I knew nothing of Rayong to this point, except that it was more popular with Thais and less so with farang (foreigners), which seemed as good a reason to go than any after being absolutely turned off to the Obnoxiously Hip World Traveller crowd in Pattaya and the Pedophile-in-Lederhosen Heaven that is Phuket on past trips. This single piece of hearsay turned out to be completely true – all the foreigners I saw in Rayong were holed up in the lobby of the single touristy hotel on the strip, playing cards next to the minibar and watching CNN on the poolside TV! The irony killed me, even before the sunburn. But I am getting ahead of myself.
One of the coolest things about travelling Thailand by car is the roadside foodstands. Let me state this simply: I am a chowhound of the first order (gold fruit clusters). I have had very few bad foodstand experiences (one involved fried cockroaches because I felt adventurous, and the other involved something my memory doesn’t allow me to remember as far as taste, smell, or appearance goes) in Thailand; for the most part, I think most foodstands, regardless of location and assuming they are serving something you want to eat, rock. I know this is an overly Japanese/American view of things, but where else can you eat a delicious bowl of steaming hot ramen with full garnishes at three in the morning for a measly 30-50 cents?


The really cool thing about roadside stands is that the food they sell changes from region to region. The road to Rayong was lined on both sides with stands that looked just like this:

That, my friends, is the most delicious roast chicken I have ever eaten, bar none, and I might add that my roast chicken credentials include growing up on authentic Huli Huli chicken and having tasted the delectable Volailles at La Tupina. The entire roast chicken as well as a bag of sticky Isan rice cost only 110 baht (chicken: 90, rice: 20), around three dollars at the current exchange rate. I couldn’t even do the math to figure out how little a chicken’s life is worth in Thailand, since it must cost something to roast them on a spit all day, etc. The old lady at the stand pulled out a seriously well-used butcher’s knife and chop-chop-chopped the bird into manageable pieces, and included a couple different sauces in baggies for us. The smell of roast chicken, in the hot confines of Nutty’s truck, were overpowering. It made me so happy to be in the car with that smell, I started singing! In Spanish! And I don’t even speak Spanish anymore!
I must warn you that from this point on, I took no more photos. I was too happy and sandy to screw around with a camera.
We drove down the entire length of Mae Ramphueng Beach (which may not sound too impressive unless you can imagine 12 whole kilometers of continuous sand and a narrow band of shade trees on one side of the road, and resorts, shops, and condominiums on the other) before finding the hotel which caught our fancy. It had very reasonable prices posted and looked very new and clean, which in sand-encrusted buttcrack speak means “probably has decent showers,” and that is what I look for in beachside accomodations. It also had a guarded parking lot, which would allow us to leave Nutty’s truck for a day if we decided to go to Koh Samet (visible in the distance and less than an hour by boat) without her having to worry about it. Haven’t you ever wanted to walk into a decent hotel and ask for their best room? That’s what we did, and after hearing the cost of the UberPoshDeluxe suite (about $55), we sprung for it. It was huge. It had industrial size air condititioners. We were happy, and then we fell upon the helpless chicken.
Note: I will attempt to describe the chicken in a subjective manner so as not to start drooling upon the workstation I now sit before. Oops.. too late. This is one powerful memory.
Imagine two plastic baggies, each containing a delicious sauce, and each sealed at the end with a red rubber band. One sauce is the traditional Thai sweet & spicy “orange with red chili flecks” sauce used for roast chicken and fish (Mae Pranom is the most common brand). The other is a Hoisin-based sauce with large clumps of herbs and long green chilies marinating in it. Both baggies are opened and each sauce is poured over lateral halves of the chicken, which is resting peacefully in its glistening styrofoam container home. It may only be your imagination when the sauce sizzles as it hits the crispy skin, and this does not bar you from grabbing the nearest piece… The tender parts of the chicken literally melt in your mouth, and even areas with dense meat that are usually quite dry and tasteless – are moist and flavorful, a product of skillful marination and slow roasting over charcoal. The sweet stickiness of the orange sauce runs down your face and coats your fingers, then is burned off by the fiery following of the Hoisin. Paradise.
Appetites sated, we spent the remainder of the day and a good part of the night, as well, at the beach. Going to the beach consisted of leaving the hotel, passing by the outdoor bar (the Bob Marley Bar, complete with scanned and enlarged Legend cd jacket on the signpost), and crossing to the other side of the street. Outdoor foodstands lined the road on the other side, and we dealt with the one directly opposite our hotel. We ordered drinks and used their beach chairs, and the proprietor’s little sister, a girl of about 11 or 12, took an instant liking to Nam. There was something instantly likeable about this girl, who told us her name was Magnum, but didn’t really explain the reason behind it (I strongly suspected her dad was some kind of asshole, as opposed to a harmless Clint Eastwood fan).
She was like, Nature Girl, and she had befriended a pack of stray dogs who patrolled the area, and knew every little fact about her surroundings there was to know – Nam was really tripped out anytime she started chatting about this and that, like what creature had dug this little hole in the sand, and when the rising tide would cover those rocks, and what constellation that one is, and….. Sometime after it got dark and I had tired of swimming in the surprisingly warm yet refreshing ocean, I collapsed out on the beach and fell asleep.
I awoke to a sky full of stars, and an earful of water since the tide had come up. Nam, practicing for future roles as professor and mother, was sitting in the sand close by and asking Magnum about her life, her future, her dreams. In answer, the little girl pointed at the long streak of a shooting star…

Dumb? Retarded? You, too, can become an Immigration Officer!

I picked up Nam at Kansai Airport after work on Friday and she told me of her plight coming through immigration. Apparently trying to crack down on the number of overseas students completing doctoral studies at Japanese universities, Immigration decided to single her out for questioning.
Considering the number of drug smugglers and Thai nationals about to enter Japan as sex slaves on tourist visas, on the same flight, it is remarkable that Immigration can single out one of the few with legit credentials, like Nam.
Even more amazing is the intelligence of the questions asked:

Immigration Officer (leafing though Nam’s passport): I see that your student visa has expired…
Nam: Yeah, you see, they stamp “EXPIRED” on the old one when you renew it. The current one is on the next page.
Immigration Officer: Oh.

……..

Immigration Officer (noticing that Nam lived in Nara prefecture last year, as evidenced by her student ID): So, is Osaka University located in Nara?
Nam: Uh, no. Osaka University is located in Osaka.
Immigration Officer: Oh. OK, you’re free to go.

I don’t know about you, but I:
A. Feel safer already, and
B. Am sure happy to see my tax yennage being spent to keep geographically-challenged fucktards employed by the government instead of, say, McDonalds, where they might screw up my order of large fries and a shake.
Assholes.

Random Cattlecar

This is a fairly common sight on the dusty roads of the Thai countryside:

Men riding on the top or other exposed areas of a vehicle often wear full bank robber hoods to block the sun; the heat underneath is apparently preferable to the killer rays of the midday sun (I can attest to the discomfort caused by prolonged exposure).
Another shot:

It’s hard to tell how the cows feel about it all. Maybe it beats grazing in some hot ass ditch on the side of the road; who knows?

Warning Signs

Here’s a couple of interesting signs I found on the trip:

This is actually the best “slippery when wet” warning illustration I have ever seen. Seen outside a public restroom at a highway rest stop on the way to Mahasarakham.

Likewise, this is the best “Caution: Falling Durian” illustration I’ve ever seen. I came upon this sign in the middle of the jungle at the backside of a roadside fruit stand/cafe. Awesome.