Sunday, December 21, 2008

Blue Christmas (Tree)

It's made of over 50,000 used CDs--I want one!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

People Who Take Pictures

They're as much fun to watch as what they're taking pictures of, don't you think?

Christmas Can Be Fun

I wish I could show you the blaze of lights on and around MBK Center--it is gorgeous and fun and exactly like Christmas meets the Fourth of July meets Mardi Gras. This is a pale rendition of what is there--plus no live music and food and big TV screens augmenting it all--you'll just have to take my word for it.

And the new Ong Bak is proof that Tony Jaa should not attempt to write and direct his martial arts opuses (opi?) but it's fun anyway. Check it out when it comes your way--but don't watch it at home--it needs a theater and popcorn!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Taking to the Streets

If I spend too much time in my apartment, crouched over my laptop, working with people in the States and Canada, I begin to feel fragmented and lonely, wondering where I really am. 

My apartment is Western enough in its appearance that it could be in Seattle, and my soi is quiet enough during the day that I could be on the moon. (At night, when the little street urchins come out to play, it's quite another story. I leave my windows open to hear their exuberant shouts, and to absorb some of their joy.)

My attention is completely gobbled up by news and emails and web content from the other side of the globe, and my thoughts rest there as well. When I go out to get food, I blink like a dazed mole, stripped of any sense of place, and I begin to yearn for the company of friends.

My best female friend Usa is in Sydney until April, my best male friend Rodney is in Idaho until the end of this month,  my two friends Mickey and Banana, who were always at their restaurant for a drink and a chat, now live in Pranburi. A woman who was becoming a good shopping/lunch/conversation friend was called by a family emergency to London until February.

When I lived in Bangkok before, my life was one big classroom, which means I was always on stage and always talking with people. Now my life is one big computer screen.

Unless I pull myself away from it--this is an essential survival skill, I've discovered--turning off my laptop, leaving my neighborhood, getting on a bus, and finding new neighborhoods or new things in old neighborhoods. 

Riding a bus puts you in a community that the faster, more efficient subway and skytrain do not. Bus riders are all in it together--the hygienic, rapid transit capsules provide privacy bubbles for every passenger. You see and hear people behave on the skytrain and subway as though they were in their living rooms. On the bus, people are in a new, temporary village--presided over by the conductress, headed by the bus driver.  And for the moment, all passengers live together.

On a bus, there is contact, fleeting, but very real, and the view from its windows provides ever-changing entertainment. The best buses take me to a destination I hadn't anticipated, the "mystery buses" that seem to change routes on the whim of the driver, although it's actually a result of my poor reading skills, or the ones I've chosen to ride to the end of the line.

It's a bargain--community, exploration, and therapy--all for around thirty cents US. I can't do it every day of course--I have work to do, appointments to keep--but every three days or so, my prescription for disorientation and missing my friends and family is to take two buses and keep my eyes open.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Graffiti, Anyone?

Or perhaps a dog sleeping in the street?

Night Light

Night comes fast here--one minute the sky's pink and violet, then the light switches off. (Don't forget to click on these to get a larger image, and the ones in the tis the season post too. Makes a difference in what you see.)

Tis the Season

I can't help it--it is so cool to finally be able to show people the city I live in with a teeny little unobtrusive camera. So here are some things I saw today...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

More Exploring

A grubby but well-loved little dog with a hairdo, two spirithouses in a garden with no visible residence for corporeal entities, a house that I want for my own--tattered curtains and all--and a soi that curves and has greenery and mystery and a pedestrian from Africa. (I, hightech illiterate that I am, found that left-clicking on these pictures brings up a much larger image--I live, I learn...)

Walking through the City

Wreathes delivered on motorcycles and Hindu-inspired statues at a Buddhist temple--have I mentioned recently that I love Bangkok?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tropical Winter

I bought a blanket the other day, a blithe little tartan in shades of rainbow sherbet and made of cotton, I think--definitely not wool or even acrylic. It's the size and shape of an over-sized beach towel and adds just enough heft to the sheet I've been snuggling under for the past month to prevent me from reliving the night that I woke up shivering under its light weight.

Well, perhaps not a shiver--but a definite feeling of light chill awoke me and sent me out later in search of something a little more...comforting but not a comforter. Especially not the polyester duvets I've seen in Thai markets, looking a lot like a slumberland version of Crocs, brightly colored and potentially slimy with sweat.

It's odd how quickly heat becomes the norm--I left a city where I slept under a lightweight down comforter constantly, except for a few weeks in midsummer. The light and warmth that I'd longed for in Seattle fell upon me like an ancient curse..."Be careful what you wish for..." when I first arrived in Bangkok. Now, in "winter" with its slightly lower temperatures that would constitute a heatwave in the Pacific Northwest, I wear longsleeved tshirts and wish that I had brought my fingerless gloves to wear in the airconditioned arctic blasts of the skytrain and subway.

This is the time of year that residents of Thailand yearn for, in the same way that Northwesterners wait for their several months of summer sunlight, buying fans and lightweight clothing that they will use as often as Bangkokians will use the sweaters and hooded jackets that fill the market stalls now. Although you never know--one of my first delighted glimpses of the idiosyncratic fashion sense of this city was on a scorching day when I saw a girl in the shortest of shorts, with the upper portion of her body securely wrapped in a brilliant pink pashmina, because after all you just can't be too careful--the temperature could plummet all the way down to 90 F or 30 C in a heartbeat!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Stop Day

A day when you stop is the phrase for day off in Thailand, and today in this part of the world, the pace slowed, the skytrain and subway were uncrowded, and my little street was quiet. The sky was brilliant and the air was cool and the sunlight felt like a benediction, not a punishment. 

Today the King of Thailand turned 81 and the love that his people feel for him was almost something that could be held between two outstretched hands--it permeated the air of this often frenzied city and made it nearly still. 

Tonight at the time that he was born, my little subsoi went dark and the light of candles appeared at windows and doorways. All over the kingdom, at that moment, people stood in honor of their king, holding blazing tapers. The sounds of exploding fireworks could be heard in the distance, as flames flickered in the darkness, every one of them a silent wish.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Acid Test

After three days of no internet access at home, back it came tonight, better than ever. As the ultimate test of its efficacy, I posted photos, which is usually a big, fat exercise in frustration--but not tonight! It's a good omen, perhaps--I'll take whatever auspicious signs and portents that I can get--and I'll share any good luck that comes with it.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Neither Love nor Money

There is no way out of Alcatraz. Or Bangkok. With the airports closed, now the trains and buses are filled with people trying to get to Kuala Lumpur, Vientianne, Phnom Penh--anywhere with a functioning airport that will get them safely home. Bangkok effectively belongs to the PAD at this point. The Prime Minister has decided to stay in Chiang Mai, for safety reasons. I'm sure that the travelers stuck at Suvannaphum Airport, sleeping on the floor and eating whatever food the PAD chooses to give them, are fully sympathetic with his decision.

My friend Don Gilliland made it out of Myanmar and back to Bangkok by traveling to the coast and taking a boat to Thailand, then a bus back to Bangkok from Ranong. Check out his blog for a story of his odyssey, which I hope he has the energy to post soon!

My friend Lee, who has traveled to Bangkok every six months for the past decade or so, is on his third day of involuntary vacation extension and is still upbeat. His hotel brings him gifts of food to cheer him and he has taken on enough of the spirit of mai bpen rai and jai yen to keep him going without living in a state of frustration. He also is lucky to have a place that is essentially his vacation home, since he has stayed in the same hotel ever since he first arrived in Bangkok.

And yet, and yet...there is no mail service in or out of the country and nobody knows when this state of idiocy is going to end. The opposing forces are becoming impatient and I examine the contents of my closet, thinking that my red shirts are looking pretty attractive right now.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sunday, November 23, 2008

I Simply Do Not Know

Okay, I try to be happy--I really do. I have been given an opportunity to live out my dream of living and working and writing in the city I've yearned to return to from the moment I left it. But within twenty-four hours of my arrival here, the world in general has been spinning more and more out of control.

The economy of my country is so deeply in the toilet that I pray every day that nobody decides to flush. Obama's victory was a moment of pure, unadulterated joy but what that man faces is no cause for any kind of celebration, once you stop and think about it.

The political debacle that has engulfed the country that I live in now is an ongoing horror show, with no good guys and no happy ending in sight--and only minutes ago I went online to learn that a gunman killed at least one person in a shopping mall not far from where I lived six weeks ago.

I keep thinking of the Ray Charles song about "the world is in an uproar, the danger zone is everywhere" and realize that it's no coincidence that, although I try to be happy, I really do, what I really feel, every time I look at a newspaper or its internet equivalent, is "sad and lonely, all the time--guess it's just because I've got a worried mind." Sing it, Ray--I hear you.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Living Without Words

On the bus, snapping at what I saw. It's Chinatown...

Friday, November 14, 2008

New Blog on the Block

Yes, there is a new listing on blogs that I love, and the name will sound quite familiar--

It is a place for news about my forthcoming book, news about things to do in Bangkok, and--if we're lucky--perhaps some photos by Nana Chen.

At the moment, I'm writing about my favorite Bangkok bookstores. I have so many that it will take a few posts to try to do justice to them all--take a peek!

Making Another Home

I should have remembered. If you want to feel at home in a new domicile, leave for a couple of days. When you return after staying in the anonymity of a hotel room, everything in your new spot suddenly looks quite familiar and completely your own.

When I returned from Pranburi, that shift in perspective miraculously took place and my apartment was mine, truly mine. It was a fabulous birthday gift, as was the sun that woke me on the morning that I turned sixty.

I spent the day getting rid of the television that had failed me on election day--no CNN, plenty of Russia Today--and filling the space with a little more furniture. I was presented with a weird, lovely, prehistoric looking flowering succulent and suddenly I had a living room. And a home. (And a world full of festive Loy Kratong high-range explosives outside my bedroom window that kept me awake and sitting in my new armchair for most of the first night that I was sixty.)

The next morning I found out that my very dear oldest son had spent two days in the hospital and for twenty-four hours none of my domestic transformations meant a damned thing. I was ready to walk away from anything that I had here and go back to be near my children--the one who was hospitalized and the one who spent time with him when he was there. No things are comforting when you are worried about someone you love.

But today I received a reassuring message that all was truly well, and I'd had enough sleep that I could let myself believe that. The sun has gone, but my new living room is extremely pleasing--and once again I know I've found a home.