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.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Snubbed by the Sun

I'm a firm believer that there's no such thing as bad beach weather, but this weekend tested that theory to its breaking point.

I tagged along with friends on their trip to Pranburi, desperately longing for sunlight and turquoise water. What I got was wind and waves and the companionship of insouciant beach dogs.

Even without sun, the area we stayed in is lovely, and with sunlight is probably irresistible. I'll let you know next time I have the chance to run away...

Saturday, November 8, 2008

standing in one spot

This is what I saw while standing still in one place in the middle of the city--one reason why I love Bangkok!

Monday, November 3, 2008

In My Hands

This is the cover of my book, photographed by the brilliant Nana Chen. This morning I opened a package from my publisher at ThingsAsian Press and those little faces were what was waiting for me.

In the past months while I waited for the printed book to come into being, I wondered how it would feel to hold it in my hands. Now I know.

It's exciting and joyful and a little frightening--a bit like holding your first child for the first time. And Nana's pictures, along with the talents of its incomparable graphic designer, Janet McKelpin, make this book beautiful.

There are more milestones to come--the first day that I see it in a bookstore, the first day I hear feedback--good or bad--from a reader, but nothing can be as surprising and wonderful as opening a package and seeing the faces of those two little boys. If anything can make this book sell, that photo will.

If You Can Read This Ballot, Thank a Thai Teenager

It's November 3 in Bangkok and I still don't have an absentee ballot. This means I'm relegated to an emergency ballot that I have to print out from a website graciously provided by my government. (Gee, thanks. I'd be a lot more grateful if I could cast a ballot at my embassy and have them send it home in a diplomatic pouch--but no...)

Since I don't have a printer, I went to an internet shop near my house, where a man who was mopping and remopping the floors switched on a PC for me. I found the ballot and tried to print it out--no luck. The balding floor mopper was apparently as techno-savvy as I am because he called into the back of the shop and out came a boy with trendy hair, a gorgeously ironed piercingly white shirt that would not have disgraced a CEO, and bare feet, who put the ballot on a thumb drive and, after a few false starts, printed the damned thing out.

Then I had to go to a Mailbox Etc (much faster and less crowded than a Post Office) to send it on its way--tomorrow, the clerk assured me, and would take two weeks. That is, of course, if it makes it through the various postal channels, and then god only knows if it will be counted at all.

It's my right and responsibility and duty as a citizen to cast my ballot, and I do believe that every vote is crucial , especially in this election. But damn it, WHY must the voting process be a matter of states' rights, why can't it be standardized on a federal level, and why can't overseas citizens cast ballots at their embassy? I do not understand why my right to vote had to be guaranteed by a barefooted Thai teenager in an internet shop--although I'm deeply grateful that he was there to ensure that I had a ballot.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

...While I Kiss the Sky

The Clothes-Body Problem

I knew I was in trouble when I was coming in from the airport-- slightly bedraggled from my sleepless- from- Seattle flight to Bangkok-- and my cab driver asked me in serviceable English if I were a sister. For the past 16 hours I had felt appropriately dressed for travel, even a tiny bit professional, in black and white, only to discover that in the city I love best in the world I looked like a nun.

Nuns and I have never been friends, and their clothing has had much to do with that hard, cold fact of life. Even after Vatican II, when the sisterhood adopted civilian clothing, to me an invisible black habit still enveloped them in an aura of gloom. As I assured my obviously skeptical cabbie that no I was not a sister, I felt quite proud of myself for not bursting into tears, but inwardly I felt extremely depressed.

Seattle clothes do not translate well to Southeast Asia--even what laughingly passes for summer in that city still requires weightier fabric than is comfortable in near-equatorial humidity. I had brought the few things that I had to wear that weren't wool, but knew one of the first tasks ahead of me was to find comfortable garments.

Clothes in Bangkok are famous for being inexpensive and pretty--but in a city where the prevailing age is in the early twenties, and bodies are dazzlingly slender, I knew that my well-padded, almost sixty-year-old frame wouldn't be easy to shop for. To make matters even more challenging, I knew from past experience that women of a certain age dressed in a certain fashion and I was damned if I knew what it was after being away for seven years.

I'm fortunate--there are many more expat women here now than there were in the past and some of them are-- as we say--mature. I saw several of my own kind in a chain called Pena House, went in to investigate, and came away a happier, and only slightly poorer, woman. LL sizes in Pena House are my new holy grail for cotton tshirts, and there are even slacks that fit--proving to me that there is indeed a god and she is an aging female.

And although black is still the underpinning color of my wardrobe and my clothing still errs on the side of conservatism, I take great delight in the fact that in the past few weeks, nobody  has offered to direct me to the nearest convent. (I give full credit for that to my new shoes...)