Monday, December 31, 2007

Day 3 - Chatuchak, Chinatown And Hippies

For our final day in Thailand we had a bunch of things we wanted to be sure to get in that we hadn't seen yet. First on our agenda was going to the weekend (this would now be Sunday, November 11th) Chatuchak Market in the northern suburban area of Bangkok. We took the SkyTrain to the end of the line, with just about every other tourist in Bangkok it seemed.

Chatuchak Market is a huge, sprawling place with just about anything and everything you might want to buy, from food to souvenirs to music to clothes to pets. There are also a lot of street performers and artists either busking for money or trying to sell their crafts.





We walked around the market for a while, watching American and European tourists trying to bargain down shopkeepers for their goods so they could save a big 50 cents or a buck. We bought several souvenirs for my nieces, little change purses with elephants on them, and Lisa bought a collection of black ceramic elephants for our shelf at home as well as a shirt with an elephant on it. You can sense the theme of the trip when it came to souvenirs.

We pretty much always paid what the asking price was for everything because, well, it was already pretty damn cheap without having to try to haggle with the guy or woman running the stall. If we bought more than one thing at a stand they would always give you a break in the price. The whole bargaining thing would become much more of an issue later in our trip.

I also bought a silk tie, sans elephant image, for 100 THB (about 3 bucks), as my big purchase in Thailand.

We also saw another interesting and somewhat unexpected sight at the market. It seems that the creepy, old, white Western men don't just have sex with the young Thai girls while in the city. They also take them out during the day for sightseeing and shopping. It already seemed odd enough to me that one would travel halfway around the world just to pay for sex. But were they really also paying for a "girlfriend" for their stay?

After noticing it the first time we noticed it a bunch of times while walking around Bangkok, especially at the market. We managed to take a stealth picture of one of these creepy dudes with his two "dates" while I pretended to pose for a picture at a coffee stand.



Well after that we figured we'd seen all we wanted to see at the market, so we took off. We wanted to see Bangkok's Chinatown. We grabbed the SkyTrain again, transferred to the subway at Asok/Sukhumvit and headed to Hua Lamphong train station to walk over to Chinatown.

All in all, the Chinatown in Bangkok isn't a whole lot different than many cities' Chinatowns in the States. Crowded, lots of stands selling stuff, tons of smelly seafood and countless jewelry stores. Though the main drag was a pretty impressive sight.




After checking out Chinatown for a while we then headed over to the pier and caught the commuter boat back up to Phra Athit, in the Banglamphoo neighborhood. We wanted to get a look at Khao San Road, which is basically the backpacker district in Bangkok.

After seeing it I couldn't figure out why people would travel to Thailand to hang out at Khao San Road. I could see the one positive aspect, that it was closed to traffic. Very few places in Bangkok can you get away from the cars and motorbikes.

But the rest of it, what the hell? Pizza places, Irish pubs, music stores and clubs pumping out hip-hop or reggae, and places to get your hair done Rastafarian style. And hippies everywhere. American hippies mostly. So you come all the way from America to Thailand just to hang out with other American hippies and eat pizza and drink Guinness? It would have been a hell of a lot cheaper to go to San Francisco. There really wasn't a big difference between this and Haight-Ashbury, except for maybe the absence of a Ben & Jerry's. Hell, pick a neighborhood in just about any major American city. Williamsburg in New York, Little Five Points in Atlanta, North Halsted in Chicago, Capitol Hill in Seattle. You would pretty much get the same experience in any of these places as you would on Khao San Road.

Bangkok deserves better than to be turned into a nightclub for twenty-something Americans.

Even worse, there was a poster advertising a Linkin Park concert that night. Geeze, what mean thing did the Thai people ever do to us that they deserve this? They give us the wonderful Thai food and we pay them back by sending them our dirty old men to have sex with their young girls and our awful, awful poseur-punk/metal bands? How cruel can we be?

On behalf of my people, I'm sorry Bangkok.

After heading over to May Kaidee's for one more fantastic Thai vegetarian meal, we made our way to the dock to grab the boat home.

We got to the pier, walking down that alleyway with the bar in it. Now, a couple nights before when we got there around the same time the ticket counter was not manned and people just paid on the boat. This night there was a kid standing there. I walked up and told him two people and he said "twenty baht." I tried to give him a 100 THB note and he said "no change." This should have been my second red flag (the first being that the counter wasn't open the other night). Lisa had a twenty she gave him and he put two tickets on the counter. We waited on the pier and I was looking at the tickets and I noticed something. The tickets were already ripped. I showed this to Lisa and we were thinking about going up and saying something to the kid, but we didn't know what we would be getting into. I think we were also a little gun-shy after looking like a couple of American ass-holes at the Wat in Ayutthaya.

The kid sold a good game, putting on a life jacket at one point and telling the crowd that the boat was approaching soon, but disappeared before the boat actually docked.

Sure enough, several people were scammed by this kid. The tickets were used ones he had gathered up. At the moment we were on the boat he was probably enjoying some beers bought with money he had conned out of some tourists, including us. Very annoying to get taken like that. But all in all, getting scammed out of the equivalent of about 70 cents isn't anything to get too wound-up about.

Once getting off the Sky Train at Nana, we walked up Sukhumvit Road one last time looking at all the skeezy sex tourist and their companions. Stood behind a couple of them at a drugstore buying a single pack of a condom while we were getting some postcards.

Back at the hotel I bought a beer in the restaurant and went down to sit by the pool. Started a conversation with a French guy who had the same idea as me. We talked about the whole sex tourism thing in Bangkok and I came to an understanding about the whole thing. After seeing all these guys out and about with their "dates" during the day acting like a couple I suddenly understood the whole thing to a certain extent. The reason all these guys go to Bangkok for this isn't just because of "yellow fever" or the fact that the girls are young and pretty (thought that is surely part of it).

No, it's because they play the part better, as the Frenchman pointed out. You don't just get the sex. You also get a girlfriend who will hold your hand, visit the museums with you, let you buy her stuff and generally act like she is totally in to you. For whatever amount of time you pay for, you are in a relationship.

I then saw these guys not just as skeezy, but also sad and pathetic. I almost felt sorry for them. Almost.



Next - Cambodia!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Day 2 (Part 2) - Wats Of Ayutthaya And Dirty White Men Of Bangkok

We arrived at the Ayutthaya train station and made our way into the waiting area to collect our thoughts and look at the map. The guidebook we were using, the Fodor's See It line - not recommended at all, great pictures but short on practical information and decent maps - said that Ayutthaya was a walkable town, but that it was suggested to hire a tuk-tuk to see all the major sights. Since we were only planning on seeing a couple of the wats we figured we would do it on foot. Still trying to avoid the tuk-tuk scene at this point. So we turned down the woman at the station who was offering to take us around, along with half dozen other tuk-tuk drivers who kept offering us rides on between the station and the street, and made our way down the road toward town.

Ayutthaya's train station is on the opposite side of a river from the main part of town and where all the stuff a tourist wants to see is located. We would soon discover that it was quite a bit further than it looked on the Fodor's map. We stopped for refreshment at one of Thailand's many thousand 7-11s. For those of you wondering, and I know you are, yes the 7-11s in Thailand have the hot dog rollers/warmers and the chili/cheese sauce pumps.

Like any suburban area, the roads in Ayutthaya are pretty wide and straight and not always very pedestrian friendly. Just finding the stairs to get up to the sidewalk on the bridge took us a good ten minutes. It was hidden around a corner under the bridge and no sidewalk led to it. We crossed the bridge, hung a right and I thought we were just around the corner from where we were heading. But we walked and walked, yet didn't seem to be getting anywhere. The part of town we were in looked mostly like any nondescript, run down American suburb. We could have just as easily been in Jersey City as Thailand.

I kept having to check the map to see if we were still going the right direction, which of course made tuk-tuk drivers stop to try to get us to jump in. It was hot and sunny, but Lisa and I tend to try to walk places when we travel so we kept turning them down. What took us over an hour to do could have been done in about ten minutes, so there are drawbacks. But hey, we weren't on a schedule.

We'd been in this situation before. When we went to Rome several years ago every guidebook said don't try to walk down the Appian Way to The Catacombs as the road is long, busy and lacking sidewalks. We did it anyway. Not only did the road lack sidewalks and shoulders most of the way, but it is bordered by a wall. So every time a group of cars came speeding down the road we stood up against the wall until they passed.

For some reason this was seeming more arduous than that. Maybe because we were older or that it was hotter than Rome. It could have been because in Rome there was stuff to stop and look at and take pictures of along the way instead of feeling like we were in Newark.

But finally we were able to spot one of the towers of Wat Phra Mahathat and just walked towards it without having to keep looking for street names.

When we got to the main intersection by the Wats there was a huge herd of cattle making their way down the street.




We had seen in our guidebook that the Wats were free to enter, but when we walked in the entrance a woman at a little hut kept yelling at us to buy a ticket. We kind of ignored her and she came in after us and said we needed to pay. Having been in places before (like Egypt) where their is a lot of conning of tourists with fake ticket takers or "security" at tomb entrances, we tried to hold our ground and insist that we didn't have to pay because it was free. We started to wonder though, and I went and checked out the hut outside and it appeared to be on the up and up.

So instead keeping ourselves from getting ripped off like a couple of stupid tourists, we pretty much just came across like a couple of ass-hole Americans. George W. Bush would have been so proud.

We checked out the two wats for a while, which included seeing a Buddha statue ruin which had been taken over by a tree and the roots grew around its head.


And a stray dog climbing all over the ruins.



We then decided to go back to the station to get the train back to Bangkok. No way were we going to walk again. We hired a tuk-tuk (though Lisa found out later it was something called a Songthaew and not technically a tuk-tuk) to get us back.

Train ride back took longer as the train kept having to stop for long periods for some reason. It was also a heck of a lot more crowded than on the way there. I also noticed that mnay people on the train had big bags of rice with them. We're talking about bags that looked like 20 to 50 pounds each. I never did figure it out, but many people were met at the Bangkok station by family members to help them with the bags. There must be a place north of Ayutthaya that sells rice so cheap that it makes it worth the trip.

After getting back to Bangkok it was too late to go up to May Kaidee's to eat again, like I wanted to, because we wouldn't be able to catch the boat back. So we decided to go an Indian restaurant we saw in the Sukhumvit area by the hotel that we saw on the way to the subway earlier that day.

After a fine Indian meal at a place called Namuskaar we strolled up Sukhumvit toward the hotel. That was when we finally saw the sex tourism industry right out in the open.

As we were walking up the street I suddenly realized that there were women around dressed a heck of a lot skimpier than any Thai women we had seen out and about at all. There was definitely a "hooker dress" look to many girls' ensembles. I actually saw short-shorts on a girl, who also happened to be basically on top of a guy up against a wall. And they were all hanging out with older white guys. There was no discretion at all. Guys were walking down the street holding hands with girls that were obviously "in the business" on the way back to hotels.

Then, as we got to the corner of the lane our hotel was on, I noticed a place called, if memory serves, The Champagne Club. I hadn't noticed this sign before even though we had walked by there so many times. I realized that was because it wasn't open and the sign wasn't turned on during the day. Inside the door, in a foyer next to some stairs, were two chairs with two very scantily-clad young girls sitting there. It was pretty damn obvious what that place was all about.

"Holy crap," I thought, "No wonder our hotel is so crazy about the whole 'no sex tourists' thing, it's right around the corner from us."

Now that we had finally seen it with our own eyes, we wouldn't be able to stop noticing it the rest of the time we were in Bangkok.


Next - Chatachak Market, Chinatown and falling victim to our first scam

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Google At Your Own Risk

I've decided to stretch out my Asia traveling posts even longer, and intersperse them with my usual rantings. I promise I will eventually get through the whole trip. It might just take a few months.

---Deni


Like a lot of you out there I do a decent amount of people Googling. Not the celebrity or historical figure Googling, but of people you know or used to know. We all do it, just like we all Google ourselves from time to time. I don't do that very often, and usually it is just this blog that shows up anyway. I used to show up quite often in reviews of plays that I had directed, but since I don't really do a lot of that these days those don't really show up too much anymore.

But quite often I will type in the name of some long lost friend or acquaintance if I happen to think about them and will suddenly want to know where they're at and what they are doing with their lives.

It is also true that I have Googled the names of certain bullies or some other ass hole I hated in high school, secretly hoping to find an obituary, arrest report or sex offender registry. But alas, nothing like that has turned up yet. I'm still convinced that John Knox from Lake Zurich High School in Illinois must have turned out to be a serial rapist. I'm just sure of it.

But mostly I use it to try to find people with whom I actually would like to get back in touch. If you've done this yourself you know it doesn't work as often as you like. If you had a friend a long time ago named John Smith you are basically screwed. But every once in a while you get a hit. My friend Ben, who I've known since about 3rd grade in Georgia, has a unique enough of a last name that he was the first thing to pop up when I typed in his name. That led to reconnecting with our mutual friend Ian since Ben was still in touch. Great to reconnect and for the most part no real major revelations, Ben still married to the girl he married the last time I had seen him, though no kids, which I suppose surprised me a little. Ian had gotten married since I had last seen him, not a real surprise since that's what a lot of people do between the ages of 22 and thirty-something.

I thought my friend Lee Baca from high school in Illinois had a unique enough name that he would pop up right away, but it turns out that he has the exact same name as the sheriff of Los Angeles. I'm not sure how many pages I scrolled through before I gave up on that one. Like I said, not always a successful search.

I'm not an easy one either. If anyone from my pre-college past has ever tried to Google search me they would have hit dead ends as well. I changed the spelling of my first name during college. That's actually why I recently added to my blogger bio to include my old spelling and the cities I've lived in, just in case any old friends are looking for me. Or any ass hole bullies having a Flatliners moment in life and want to make up for previous wrongs.

The other night for some reason I thought about my old friend Andy Riemer from Lake Zurich High School in Illinois (I moved my senior year in case you are confused about the Georgia/Illinois thing). I haven't seen Andy since probably 1991, when a bunch of us went up to see him one summer weekend after he had moved to some godforsaken hell-hole called Richland Center in Wisconsin.

Andy was the friend I hung out with the most my first year out of high school. I was still hanging around the shit hole suburb of Lake Zurich because I didn't have the money to start college yet, and Andy was a year behind me in school so he was still stuck there too. Typical of all my friends, he was a misfit as well. The only person I ever knew who answered "Stray Cats" to the question of favorite band. Seriously, do you know anybody who says the Stray Cats are their favorite band?

He had a pretty screwed up home life. His dad seemed fairly distant and grumpy all the time, his younger brother was into killing small animals and had way too many weapons and he had an older brother who was a coke-fiend. A coke-head to the point that one night we were hanging at his place when his parents were out of town and we found his brother passed out in one of the rooms, with his arms kind of up in the air and his hands in a stiff, claw-like position.

Beyond being distant, his parents were generally pretty shitty too. Even though he was still in high school, when he turned 18 they booted him out of the house. So he moved in with my family. He was there for a while. We had planned to room together at college the next year, but he ended up not graduating. At some point he moved out of my mom's house and up to Wisconsin where his parents had moved. I don't know if they asked him back in to the fold or if he begged back.

Between my being in school in downstate Illinois and his residence being in Wisconsin we didn't see each other very often after that. The final time was the aforementioned weekend of wild debauchery at his apartment in Richland Center after he moved out, or was booted out, of his parents' place again. There is actually video of this weekend out there somewhere that would kill me if I decided to start a political career.

Sometime after this Andy went off the deep end. I'm not sure when or how it happened, but at some point he had a born again moment and became a Jesus freak. He had been drifting and was pretty damn vulnerable, which is exactly was those religious fanatics look for in a victim. Eventually Andy shunned our friend Rachel, probably his closest friend at the time, because she had a history of bisexual relationships. My last conversation with him was about how he treated her and my own status as a non-born again. I don't remember the exact quote, but he said something to me along the lines of his duty now being about converting people, and if they won't then he would be done with them.

And that was the end of what had been a pretty close friendship. Last I heard he was still in Wisconsin, married with a kid and still über-religious, but that was probably more than a decade ago.

Like I said, I was thinking about him the other night for some reason. So I typed his name in to Google.

I wish I hadn't.

I had hopes that I would find out he got through his religious wackery phase and became like a normal human again. Completely the opposite was true. He seems to have gotten in even deeper and become even more of a loon.

I found a blog he keeps right here on blogger, called Riemer Ramblings, which is just basically a journal of his mundane family life. First thing I find out is that he doesn't just have one kid, he has NINE FUCKING CHILDREN! It is just not possible that I was ever friends with someone who would go on to have nine kids. I looked around his blog looking for clues to this being a different Andy Riemer, but it was him. Mentions of places he's lived pretty much sealed it.

And he is still praising god all the time, using capital letters for the h's in him and he, and always thanking him for the few good things that come their way. He even does this when the good thing was something done for them by an actual flesh and blood human being. Some people bought them some groceries, others gave them money when their new kid was sick in the hospital. He wrote posts each time thanking god and saying how he always provides, instead of writing how thankful he is for the PEOPLE that provided for his family in a time of need. He is, of course, a worship leader for a small congregation, whatever the hell that means.

I thought I was going to be sick. I couldn't believe this was actually someone who was once a friend of mine, a close friend at that. The worst was a post he wrote about Wal-Mart, which you really should read to believe. He puts up a letter he wrote to Wal-Mart to make a complaint. It was a really, really long letter that came down to two basic beefs with the local Super Wal-Mart. Their substandard grocery bagging by their clerks and the quality of their produce. At one point he suggests a retraining every month of their clerks on correct bagging, I fucking kid you not.

See, myself and the kind of people I generally hang around have our own beefs with Wal-Mart too. But our complaint is Wal-Marts substandard fucking waged they pay their poor slaves, not that the underpaid, overworked people accidentally put toilet paper in the same bag as the frozen food.

Typical of most religious people I experience. They claim to care about the world but they are really only interested in their own self-satisfaction and convenience. Any negative effect it has on the rest of the world isn't their problem.

He even at one point, I kid you not, accuses them of going upscale like Target. Let me say that again, he accuses them of going upscale like Target.

I can't possibly have ever known this guy.

I didn't leave him a message. What could I have said? "Hey man, long time no talk. I see you are still a crazy bible-thumper who has made both your life and the world a worse place by breeding too goddamn much." Probably wouldn't have gone over well.

Oh Google, you have brought me so much joy. I suppose enduring some bad every once in a while is a small price to pay for what you give us. But this one was really painful.

I would have been better off not knowing.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Day 2 (Part 1) - Slow Train To Ayutthaya

After seeing how long my day 1 post became, I'm going to try to keep the blogs shorter and more often instead of long posts only a couple of times a week. So days will probably often be broken into parts. I figure this is better than writing such monster-sized single postings. It should be easier on us all.
---Deni


Yay, another day of international transit geekiness. Yesterday it was SkyTrain and boat, today it would be subway and regular train.

We walked to the closest subway station, a little way down Sukhumvit Road. We turned right on to Sukhumvit from the lane that our hotel was on, which was the first time we walked that direction since we arrived. We gone to the left both when we walked around town after arriving and to go to the SkyTrain stop the next day. This area of Sukhumvit that were right around the corner from turned out to be what seemed like the big tourist area. Almost all of the lanes similar to ours going off of the main road were heavy with things to attract Westerners. We passed by lanes with Irish pubs, English pubs, Australian pubs (all three seemed to advertise fish and chips), restaurants with "American-style breakfast," custom tailors with prices listed in dollars or euros, and a ton of hotels both big and small, luxury and budget. Along the way guys standing in front of "custom made suits" stores kept trying to get me to come in to their shop.

There were, of course, more 7-11s. And lots of places offering Thai massage.


We got to the Sukhumvit subway station, where there is also a SkyTrain stop. Something they do on the subway in Bangkok that they don't do on the SkyTrain is a bag check at the entrance. Nothing too major, just a quick looksie in the bag by security guys standing at the top of the escalator. We bought our fare discs, little black plastic things about the size of a quarter but a little thicker. To go six stops the fare was 26 THB (almost a dollar) and you waved the disc in front of a sensor on the turnstile to get in then deposited it in the slot to exit.

We would've gotten some good pictures on the subway except that photos are not allowed, along with just about everything else it seemed:


Yes, Lisa did take a picture of the sign that tells you pictures are not allowed.

We took the subway to the end of the line, Hua Lamphong, the main Bangkok train station. The main hall of the train station had a stage set up with children singing as part of the month-long celebration leading up to the king's birthday. Really. These people are insane about their king. They actually celebrate for a month before his birthday.

Too bad, I could have gotten a better picture of the train station without all of the kids in yellow shirts in the way.


The train station does employ these wonderful people in baby blue uniforms to help out tourist trying to take the train. A young lady asked us where we were trying to go and she pointed us to the right window and told us how long it would take to get to Ayutthaya. Luckily for us we got there right on time and the next train was leaving in 10 minutes. We bought our tickets, and a third class seat on a train ride that would be about 3 hours cost 15 THB (50 cents) each, about half the cost, or even less, than every ride we took on the SkyTrain or subway in the city. Kind of fucked up if you asked me, and probably has a lot to do with why you see poor people taking motorbike taxis and crappy buses instead of the rail system.

We made our way to the front car of the train since those are usually the least crowded. The first car also happened to be the car that has the disabled/monk seating area. Of course we used this opportunity to take another stealth picture of a monk.


Third class cars in Thailand are the bare-bone, open window and overhead fan type. As someone who lives in America and has mostly taken the train here and in Europe (with one overnight train in Egypt as well) this is the first time I've been on a passenger train with open windows and fans that wasn't some amusement park or old-time excursion train. Those usually go in a small circle and include some sort of "train robbers" on horseback or some other hokey shit. The train at Stone Mountain Park in Georgia was like that.

No, this was a train that people actually rode to get someplace. Mostly local people. We were the only tourists in our car from what we could tell. Close in to the city there are a lot of people that live right next to the train tracks. Poor people that is. Lots of slapped together tin houses.



Pretty damn hot on the train for the ride up. Every window on the train was open, so it was hot and you got to get dust in your eyes. Fun. Actually it was really interesting to do. I imagine that, like commuter trains in the States, there are people that take this train every day.

For some reason there are a lot of brush fires by the tracks. At one point we passed by one and a bunch of flying ash flew inside our window and we were covered with it. The hazards of the open window cooling system. took a while to brush off, and my shirt pretty much smelled like most of my clothes did through my college years.

Finally we made it to Ayutthaya.


Next - Walking for miles in Ayutthaya and the previously promised sex tourist sighting (I promise).

Friday, December 07, 2007

Day 1 - May Kaidee And The Pigeon Man

First morning in Bangkok. Excited as hell.

We did a good job of staying up the night before, about 10:00ish, so I thought we were in good shape for beating the jet lag. But when you are dealing with a time difference that is exactly the opposite of the zone you live in it is hard to do that in one day.

So Lisa was wide awake at 4:00am and I was up around 5:00. How the hell I could just wake up after less than seven hours even though I really hadn't slept for the previous twenty-something hours is beyond me. I guess the body clock is a pretty strong time-keeper. Though if that's the case, why the heck did I oversleep class and work so many damn times? Oh right, the partying.

Still, not too bad for the first morning.

We made our way out into the city after breakfast. I decided to be adventurous and try a Thai breakfast of rice congee, a rice pudding type of dish, with a small omelet, egg cooked with radish and salt eggs. The rice congee was OK, had to add a lot of sugar. But the salt eggs were the most gawd-awful thing I have tasted in a long time. I wasn't too adventurous for breakfast after that. Stuck with Western breakfasts from there on out.

So we took off to see the sights. We did pretty much the top tourist attractions on the first day - Golden Palace, Wat Pho, National Museum - so we weren't going anywhere off the beaten path or anything. But when you are going to large tourist spots you do have to know what the common scams are since there will be people trying to pull them no matter what continent your visiting. Lonely Planet is one of the best guidebooks for letting you know what to watch out for, I think.

Bangkok is infamous for its traffic, and I was determined to avoid taking cabs, tuk-tuks or anything else that involved wheels on pavement while we were there. That's my general goal when I travel anywhere, though it's not always possible in the developing world. Luckily, Bangkok joined the world of modern mass transit in 1999 when the first SkyTrain line opened. It now has two lines, Sukhumvit and Silom, and was joined in 2004 by the first subway line. These don't cover nearly as much of the city as they should, but combined with the state railway's local stations, a boat service that traverses the Chao Phraya and the smaller long boats that work the city's canal system, you have quite the intermodal system. They don't have the concept of free transfers down yet, not even between the subway and SkyTrain, but the modes do at least cross paths enough to make transferring between them fairly easy. (map of the "system")

For a transit geek like me it is a lot of fun to figure out all the logistics of getting around the city. I wanted to make sure I knew how to get anywhere we were going at all times so we could avoid asking anybody directions (might as well out a big sign on my head that says "I'm a lost tourist, take advantage of me") and turn down any offers from taxi or tuk-tuk drivers.

We pretty much got to use all the modes of mass transport while we were in Bangkok. We were in a great location for it too, being walking distance to both the SkyTrain and the subway. So we walked to the Siam Central SkyTrain station. Along the way we passed the Erawan Shrine, a crazy busy Hindu shrine. We thought there was a special event going on when we first passed by, but we eventually found out that it is like this all the time.


We caught the Silom line to the current southern end of the line, Saphan Taksin, on the edge of the river right next to Central Pier. Train cost us 35 Thai baht (THB) based on the distance. I thought it was kind of expensive for Bangkok since Thailand is a fairly poor country. Fares on the train, based on distance, seem to be in the range of 30-40 THB per ride, which is US$1-1.35. Considering that a can of Coke can be had for around 12 THB, this is a pretty heavy cost for the local residents. But it is a damn fine system. Really modern and clean, and the stations are really big.



Anyway, we got to the boat dock and asked about tickets and we got the tourist boat tickets pressed on us. Unlimited rides on day long on the special tourist boat or any of the other regular commuter boats for only 100 THB. This looks like a go deal until you find out that individual trips on the regular boats, at least within the area where you will go as a tourist, cost between 9 and 13 THB. So there is no way you get your money's worth on the tourist ticket. We only made that mistake the first day.

We climbed on the boat and made our way to Tha Thien to go to the Grand Palace/Wat Phra Kaeo grounds. A great way to travel in Bangkok, along the river away from the traffic and the masses of people on the sidewalks.



And Monks travel that way too!

We actually got off the boat one stop too early and had to walk all along the western wall of the palace to get to the entrance. Which was a great walk except for all the tuk-tuk drivers trying to get us to take a ride with them by telling us the palace was closed. This is apparently a common ploy to get you to ride with them to shop where they get a commission for delivering customers.

Wat Phra Kaeo is home to the famous/sacred Emerald Buddha, which we couldn't get a picture of because of something to do with praying or worshiping or some shit. Sheesh.

If I'm on vacation and I don't get a picture of something, does it exist?

So we went there for a while, stopped in the palace cafe for a cold drink that included trying a coconut.

It wasn't that good.

Then we went to the National Museum and then doubled back down to Wat Pho. This would be only the beginning of a good solid week of seeing Wats in Thailand and Cambodia. By the time we would leave Cambodia I would pretty much have seen all the Wats I would ever care to see.

At least Wat Pho had the Reclining Buddha.

I know this is supposed to be a revered figure and everything, but I can't find it anything but funny myself.

One thing that happened on the way down to Wat Pho is the kind of thing you watch out for when traveling. We were walking along Sanam Luang, a large esplanade north of the Grand Palace, when we were accosted by a guy shoving little baggies of corn in our hands. We kept saying "no thank you" and shoving them away but he really was pushing them on us, even opening them up on the second try so that they would already be falling out. He was trying to get us to feed the pigeons. If you've ever done any international traveling at all, you've seen this before. Someone pushes something on you for a "picture moment" even though you didn't ask for it, and then expects a ridiculous amount of money for it afterwards. Another time I remember this happening to me was in Rome, with two guys hanging outside the Colosseum or something, in full Roman soldier costume with plastic Roman helmets to put on people for a picture.

This always bothers me. Even if it is something I want to do, I don't like to be bamboozled. When you are in a place like Venice you go up to a guy with a cart of seeds, with a sign and a price list, and you buy them of your own free will and you feed the pigeons. That's great. This sucked, because I knew there would be a confrontation after the pigeons had been fed. Lisa loved feeding the pigeons, she always does. I had no real problem with giving the guy some money, it is a poor country after all, so I asked him ow much. He wanted 150 THB. So, like five bucks for about a nickel's worth of corn kernels, and I didn't even take a picture. I tried to give him some of my loose change and he told me "paper money." I lied and told him I didn't have any paper money and that I also didn't ask for the corn to begin with and blah blah blah....

He tried to be a little intimidating but I stuck to my claim that I didn't have any paper money on me so if he didn't want my change then he would get nothing. He took the change.



Finally, toward the end of the day we made our way back to the boat to go up to a vegetarian restaurant I read about called May Kaidee's. We took the boat up to Phra Athit, upon exiting the dock you walk down a narrow walkway to the street. In the evening the walkway is actually a bar with tables and chairs. A great little spot.


Had a great meal at May Kaidee's, vegetables with a spicy peanut sauce and spring rolls, with the other customers being mostly European and American vegetarians. My favorite restaurant on our whole trip. Mmmmm....

Caught the last boat back to Central Pier - the biggest problem with the boat service is that it ends at 7:30 even though the rail lines run until past midnight - to catch the SkyTrain back to Siam Central and walk back to the hotel

Strolled along Sukhumvit Road on our way back to the hotel, through the masses of people.

Still wondered where the heck all of the sex tourists were. We'd been in town for day and a half and still hadn't seen any obvious sex tourism. Where the heck does it happen? Were we in the wrong neighborhood?

We would finally find out the next night.


Next - Ayutthaya and Bangkok's skeezy white men (Finally!)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Arrival: One Night In Bangkok

Sorry, couldn't resist that title


Our plane finally landed at around 4:00pm Bangkok time, which was 4:00am at home. I had, after hours of doing crossword puzzles, watching movies, playing Pong and listening to George Carlin, actually managed to doze off toward the end of the flight only to be woken up pretty shortly for our last meal of the flight. It was the first time in my life that I had actually eaten three dinners in a row. I was just arriving in Asia and I was almost tired of noodles and rice already.

The new Airport in Bangkok is enormous and we must have walked for 15 minutes before finally getting to the passport control lines. Something like an 30-60 minutes later (I'm pretty fuzzy at this point) we finally got through and to our luggage. Someone who may or may not have worked for the airline tried to steer us toward the "Official Airport Taxi" desk. Despite its name and color of the counter, yellow checkerboard, this is not the taxi stand but a car service that would, presumably, be more expensive. We waved them off, and all other people standing outside offering taxi rides, to go to the real taxi stand outside and caught a cab for 450 Thai baht (about $15) to our hotel.

Anybody who knows me knows that I'm a total transit geek, and taking a cab is usually not my first choice for any trip. This ride was even more frustrating for a couple of reasons. It was after 5:00pm when we started our taxi ride to the city, so rush hour in a city with a reputation for congestion. I also knew that they were building a rail line, an extension of their SkyTrain, out to the airport. It was originally scheduled to be open last year, but Bangkok's construction companies seem to run about as efficient as the ones in charge of Boston's Big Dig. It was killing me to see the elevated track that I couldn't ride on as we made our way in the taxi on our hour-and-a-half journey to central Bangkok. The new rail line touts a time of 15-minutes to downtown once it is running.

How exactly they could complete an entire new, huge airport but still be working on a simple rail line to get to it is beyond me.

We had read about the Thai people's love of their king before we went there, but until you see it firsthand you don't really get it. When we were getting off the plane I noticed that all of the Jetways leading to the planes had huge letters on the side of them spelling out LONG LIVE THE KING. Crazy, I thought, but not really a big deal since it was a government-built airport, so of course they would have king-praising propaganda. No different than the money in so many countries that have monarchs.

But then we got into the cab. As we were driving along we noticed the driver had a picture of the king taped to the ceiling of the taxi, among other decorations that indicated the king, like the symbol from his crest or flag. And then you see his damn picture everywhere. His huge mug will be on the side of tall office towers, the side of bridge overpasses, billboards and even small homemade signs on people's homes. Seems that the guidebooks telling you to be sure not to make any jokes or say anything bad about their beloved king is good advice.

On the trip to the hotel I noticed the most surprising sight. I half expected we would see a Starbucks or a McDonald's in Bangkok, there seems to be very few places you can go to avoid that. What I didn't expect was 7-11s on almost every block. Really, we even saw 7-11s across the street from each other, a la Starbucks in Seattle, New York or just about every other American city. We would eventually see a Starbucks as well, once we got to the more tourist area, but nothing matched the presence of the 7-11. They are everywhere.

We finally arrived at our hotel, the Atlanta, at the end of a long lane just off the tourist-laden strip of Sukhumvit Road. I wrote before we left for our trip about how the hotel's website was very serious with their zero tolerance warnings about sex tourism at their property. Well, if you didn't get the point before, you certainly do when you pull up to the hotel. We didn't see the Atlanta until we were right on top of it. And how we knew we were there was not because of the small "The Atlanta" sign above the door, which you couldn't really see at night and it is not at eye level so would have been easily missed. No, the clue we were at the right place was the big, in your face sign next to the front door.

SEX TOURISTS NOT WELCOME

"This is it," I said to the cab driver, who was having a hard time finding it.

A bellhop grabbed our bags at the front door and we went to the desk to check-in. We were brought a refreshing fresh juice drink while Lisa was filling out the registration card.

They were served on these coasters:



You know, the word "lout" just doesn't get used enough. The coaster inspired me to try to throw it in to conversations more often.

After we settled in our room we went for a walk around the neighborhood to get oriented to the city. I had felt like warmed-over shit when the plane landed, but with the excitement of being in a place I'd never been before I had tons of energy. Lisa did as well, so we walked a lot that night, dodging the crazy traffic and constantly being on the lookout for obvious sex tourists. I, of course, also kept looking up every time one of the sleek SkyTrains went by overhead. I think we were offered a tuk-tuk ride about 30 times during our walk.

The rest of the night is a little fuzzy. I don't really remember if we got food that night. I do remember that, I'm somewhat embarrassed to say, we stopped at a 7-11 so Lisa could get a Diet Coke since we knew the 7-11 would have it if they actually sold Diet Coke in this country. I also grabbed a couple bottles of Thai beer to drink before bed.

We then crashed out, exhausted as hell.

Oh, and of course I had my picture taken with the sex tourists sign before we left Bangkok:


Next - First full day in Bangkok

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Southeast Asia Trip - Prologue

November 7th and 8th - Flight from JFK to Bangkok

There really isn't anything that prepares you for what a 17-hour flight will be like, except for having actually been on one before. Prior to this trip I think my longest time on one flight maxed out at about ten hours. That's still a whole lot less than what we were about to do. Just making sure you have enough distractions for 17 hours is an issue. But I had that all figured out.

We were flying on Thai Airways, the only way to go non-stop to Bangkok from New York. They also had the added bonus of using their newest planes for this route that are completely pimped-out with TV screens at every seat with dozens of movies and TV episodes to choose from. I also had a couple of George Carlin CDs that my buddy Joe burned for me, a copy of Catcher In The Rye, a book of collected Monday to Friday New York Times crossword puzzles and the newest issue of No Depression music magazine that I forced myself not to crack open until we left.

And of course the Ativan for my nervous flying problem.

We had bought our tickets back in March so we got the first crack at seat choices. Second row of the economy section on the right side of the plane, one window and one aisle next to each other (a 2-4-2 configuration). Perfect, no other people next to us and no middle seat to deal with.

We were rushing around in the morning trying to get everything done before we left, so we were running a little behind. We caught the subway to the airport trying to get there at 10:00am for a 12:00 noon flight. We got to the airport about 10:30, no big problem we thought. Well, it almost turned out to be one.

Rule that I usually go by but happened to forget this time was to check on the flight status on-line before leaving. Turns out that since we had bought the tickets they changed the flight time from noon to 11:30am. But we got checked in fast so it wasn't a major issue.

Second hiccup happened when we looked at our boarding passes while in the security line. We weren't assigned to the seats I reserved at all, not even close. Somehow our seats got taken away from us and now we were in two in the middle section. I was pissed as hell. We checked at the counter at the gate and they had absolutely no answer to why it happened, nor did they have any seats left to switch us back to one of the two-seat sides.

Deep breath Deni, deep breath. About to get on a super long flight for a really long vacation, gotta stay relaxed. But dammit, why do they let you pick seats on their web-site if you don't actually get to have those seats?

And the seats. You don't have any high expectations when you are flying economy about the comfort level, but international flights are usually not too bad. I think Thai Air had the least comfortable coach seats of any overseas flight I've ever been on. I'm even more comfortable on a Jet Blue flight, and they're an economy domestic airline. So weird. So many of the seats in our section also had these metal boxes under them that they took up half the space. As in the space where a tall guy puts his legs.

So I didn't get to stretch my legs out while sitting during the whole flight. That sucked.

But...

The in-flight entertainment did live up to expectations and more. Not only did I get to watch many movies - my wife Lisa and I watched Once together (had to time the pressing of the play button together so our screens were in sync. Great damn movie by the way) and I also watched Bourne Identity again along with one or two more movies I think - but they also had video games!

At first I wasn't that psyched about the video game thing, figuring it would just be a bunch of post-eighties Nintendo/Sega type games that I wouldn't be interested in. I took a scan through the menu and was shocked to find Centipede. Not my favorite game from my youth, but this was promising. I had my fingers crossed for Donkey Kong but, alas, no.

Then, I couldn't believe what I saw.

Pong!

Doesn't make up for switching our seat location or the lack of leg room, but fuck man, Pong! When was the last time you played Pong? Nineteen-seventy-what?

I think that was three of the 17 hours right there.

Next stop Bangkok.

Monday, November 26, 2007

There And Back Again...

Well, we're home. At about 9:30 this morning we walked through the door of our apartment a mere 28 hours after we jumped in a taxi at our hotel in Hanoi to begin our journey home.

Now spending the day just trying to stay awake long enough to be able to go to bed at a reasonably normal time so we're not wide awake at 3:00 in the morning.

New York seems positively tranquil compared to being in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi the last week.

Will spend the next day or so getting some semblance of a brain back and will start posting some stuff about our trip (probably in my usual over-long, boring fashion).

Brace yourself, this will more than likely be my subject matter for the next couple of weeks. I kept a journal and want to write about everything we saw and the great people we met. And hopefully include some helpful information for anyone who wants to plan a trip to this part of the world (highly recommended by the way) since on-line info can be somewhat lacking on certain things that might be helpful to know about traveling in Cambodia and Vietnam.

So I will hopefully start writing some great stories about our adventures in Southeast Asia, and posting some pictures, within the next day or so.

Needless to say, it was a wonder...zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.... what? I'm awake, I'm awake....

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Auto Reply: Out Of Office

Well, I'm sorry to disappoint you my adoring fan, but I will not be writing a blog for about the next three weeks. My wife and I, after more than three years of marriage, are finally taking our honeymoon. We will be in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam and I won't be getting the chance to write any of my wonderful thoughts to share with the world because, well, if I went to southeast Asia and spent my time in Internet cafes I should have my head examined.

I am more than excited for this trip. We're starting off in Bangkok and then working our way through Cambodia to Vietnam and ending in Ha Noi. Hopefully I'll have something to write about when we get back, after the 26th of November.

One thing already has given me a snicker. The first hotel we are staying at in Bangkok is called the Atlanta. All over their website are warnings that absolutely no sex tourism is welcome and you'll be booted for even suspicion of it. On the top of their "caveat" page is the line "The Atlanta is run on conservative principles and fosters traditional values."

Now, I see that on a hotel in America there is no way I stay there. But seeing how Thailand has way too many skeezy fuckin' Westerners going to get their kicks with 14-year-olds, this is a good thing to see.

But there is another section that mentions their video/DVD showings and it says this:

"Quality movie shows including the largest selection of films celebrating good food and of films set in or relating to East Asia."

I can't wait to see how big the largest selection of "films celebrating good food" (???) looks like.

Right underneath that announcement is this bold-faced and italicized warning:

"Pop music, violent or pornographic videos are banned."

So wait, not only did pop music get included in the same category as violent and pornographic videos, it was actually listed first! Oh yea, I can't wait to check this place out.

In the meantime, for your blog fix while I'm gone, go on over to Hairshirt where my friend Joe writes things about a zillion times funnier than me. He also has a key to my place, so if you need to borrow a cup of sugar or anything, he'll happy to get that for ya.

Or check out my buddy The Beige One, who posts about as often as me (brothers in laziness) and is almost as good at writing long, meandering, blogs.

For your fix of my style of angry ranting, well, I guess you could go watch the homeless guy that yells at people outside the 7-11.

That should hold you over until I get back.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Divergent Paths

In 1985 The Smiths toured America for the first time. Lead singer Morrissey, guitarist Johnny Marr and the rest of the band who most people can't name were joined on the tour bus by opening act Billy Bragg. The Smiths and Billy had seen their careers take off around the same time and it seemed fitting that they would be on the same bill for The Smiths first U.S. tour (Billy Bragg had already made his American debut the year before).

It must have been quite a double-bill to see. First a man comes out and plays a guitar and sings at the crowd his socialist rants against Thatcher's England and the conservative-controlled media followed by an onslaught of a full band railing against, well, Thatcher's England, corporal punishment and eating meat.

I didn't get to see this tour. I was only 14 at the time and they never even came close to my hometown of Atlanta. I ended up never seeing the Smiths at all. Due to their short-lived existence, they only played the States on one more tour, which skipped Atlanta again.

I have since that time seen Morrissey a few times and Billy Bragg, being one of my two favorite singer-songwriters, dozens of times.

My wife and I just saw them both recently, in an eight day span. Seeing shows by two legendary artists on consecutive weekends is a damn good week.

What was interesting about the two shows though, was that something that was a perfect fit in 1985, Morrissey and Bragg on the same stage, would seem absolutely wrong today. The two concerts were a crazy study in contrasts.

The first weekend we went and saw Billy at The Concert Hall at The New York Society for Ethical Culture. A beautiful, intimate space that holds about 800 people in comfortable pew-like seats. People working at the venue were really laid back and friendly and we were shown to our seats. They seemed to be people who work at the Society and there wasn't a yellow "security" shirt in sight. Not one bouncer stood in front of the stage.

Billy played a great solo show for a good two hours. Went through some of his greatest songs, did some political proselytizing, told jokes and really connected with the audience. He was on stage for a solid two hours. A classic Billy show, really stripped down and casual. No big theatrics or costumes, just a man with a guitar, three to five chords, jokes and a point of view. I walked out bouncing on air.

The next weekend we went to the Hammerstein Ballroom to see Moz. Wow, what a difference. Now I'm not a big fan of big venues anyway, the Hammerstein I think holds close to 3,000, but they can work if designed and run well. The old Poplar Creek amphitheatre in suburban Chicago was a fine example of that. Sadly it was torn down over a decade ago. I'm old.

Anyway, the Hammerstein is neither well designed nor well run. I think it may be the worst place I've seen a show in years. Off the top of my head I think only Rosemont Horizon in Illinois and the Agganis Arena in Boston are as bad or worse. We had general admission seating in the first mezzanine so we got there early to be able to get a decent spot. The Hammerstein only puts the door opening time on their ticket, web site and advertising, not the actual show time. We showed up at 6:00 for the 6:30 doors. After the half an hour in line we then got yelled at over and over by yellow shirts to keep moving, have our tickets out and have our bags open. Then the lovely experience of being patted down by some guy making eight bucks an hour before being herded like cattle into the venue. We got to the first mezzanine and the bored looking woman there told us to sit anywhere except seats blocked off by yellow tape.

The yellow tape covered the first six or so rows of the entire center section. Fucking bourgeois bullshit.

The seating arrangement was complete shit. Chairs that looked like they belonged at a wedding reception shoved as close together as possible, leaving no shoulder room between concert-goers. The tiers they were sitting on were obviously designed to hold a row of chairs with small tables in front of them. That would have been great. Too bad that's not how they did it. Instead they squeezed in two rows of seats. So no leg room to go along with the lack of shoulder space. I hadn't had this small of a space to sit in since a flight from Hurghada to Cairo on EgyptAir.

For this we paid $65, plus service charges, each uncomfortable seat.

My wife went to check out the merch table. She came back a minute later and said that the security woman wouldn't let her go. Once we're in the mezzanine we can't leave. And we would eventually discover that the show didn't start until 8:00. I already couldn't feel my legs anymore.

Eventually got through a completely shitty opening act called Girl In A Coma (hey, there's a way to get an opening gig, pander to the headliner by naming your band after one of his songs) to see Morrissey take the stage sometime after 9:00 I think, though it felt like the next day.

Moz did a great selection of his hits from both The Smiths and his solo work. A slick production with film projections before his entrance, fancy light show and matching costumes for his band. And of course he struts around the stage and postures in a way not unlike a Frank Sinatra, often reaching out to the front of the stage to let the crowd touch his hands and give him flowers and other gifts. The rabid fans love hm for it. As stiff as I think he seems at his shows, he is still a great performer. He knows the power of a pose and that he is a sex symbol to tons of girls and boys who were teenagers in the 80s, including my wife. Other times seeing him I thought he seemed bored and was just phoning it in. Now I understand that standing there looking stylishly bored is the performance. Seeming distant is a key part of the attraction.

They just eat it up. It makes them want even more. At the beginning of the show I told my wife that my guess was five people making it up on stage to try to hug Morrissey. To pat myself on the back, I was right on. During the one song encore exactly five fans made it all the way up to the stage and got to hug the man himself, and the crowd went nuts every time. Many more tried and didn't make it. If it hadn't been for the front-of-stage bouncers and the on-stage bouncer it probably would have been about 30.

It was a sight of theatrical excess.

It was during this that I thought of the Billy Bragg show eight days earlier. Not only were the show so completely different, but so were the crowds. The idea of a hardcore Bragg fan, which I count myself as one, rushing to the stage for a hug is laughable.

The Bard of Barking also gave his fans a considerably longer show for less money.

Trying to imagine that these two guys had shared the same stage before was almost impossible when I figured it was quite possible that my wife and I are the only two people in New York that went to both of their shows.

I really wouldn't be surprised if we were.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Shocking Revelations

On Sunday, the day of the last game of the ALCS between the Red Sox and the Indians, the San Francisco Chronicle printed a story about Indians' pitcher Paul Byrd having in the past purchased human growth hormone. Now this is a big story of course, the use of HGH and steroids, known as cheating, is said to run rampant in baseball. And the news just happen to come out on the same day as the biggest game of the Indians' season. The reporters at ESPN were absolutely giddy having a big story to run with for the day. And they all seemed shocked.

What struck me was why they were shocked. They weren't surprised by the fact it was a pitcher caught doing it. The conventional wisdom of it being only hitters "juicing" was blown out of the water when they actually started drug testing in baseball and tons of hurlers were busted.

No what kept being mentioned over and over by so many of the commentators was that they were shocked because Paul Byrd is "deeply religious."

Huh?

Where exactly did this myth come from that religious people were somehow more virtuous than other people? There is nothing throughout history that has shown this to be the case, so what gives? I'm guessing that just because Christian types run this country from top to bottom this fallacy continues to be pushed as some sort of "truth." People like to believe that those who are like them are the most honest and decent people around.

But I have yet to see anything to make me believe that hardcore religious people are better human beings than those who aren't. In fact, in my world all of the non-believers I know are a heck of a lot better people than the Jesus/Abraham/Mohammad freaks I know. I'm not saying that religion makes you a bad person, I know many good and decent people that believe in one of the major fairy tales. But religious certainly does not equal virtuous.

Look at things like the Inquisition in history to see how shitty the pious types can be. Jeez, as recently in history as World War II we had the head of an entire world faith that openly supported a man who wanted to eradicate an entire group of people from the planet. (That would be the Pope, Hitler and the Jews for those of you with a modern public high school education).

All the southern people who lynched black people for talking to/whistling at/looking towards a white woman were super-duper Christians. Heck, the bible was their reason for why they treated blacks the way they did.

Cheating and stealing? One needs to look no farther than your average TV preacher to find guys who do that. Jim Bakker slept around with women other than his wife and stole money.

And do I even need to remind people how many Catholic Priests, in many countries, were molesting children in their care? Worse yet, the leadership of that very same religion found out about it, helped cover it up and let those sick fucks continue to have jobs working with kids. Every atheist I know would have called the cops if they found out something like that.

These commentators are shocked by a religious baseball player who cheated? Are they forgetting something? The guy most of the public figures to be the biggest cheater of them all, Barry Bonds, based on the major increase in the size of his head and feet in his mid-thirties, is one of the most religious people in the game. He is a seriously devout Christian. And not only does he cheat at his profession, he's also a major adulterer. And I doubt you could find too many people that would say that Barry loves his neighbor.

Speaking of adultery, we live in a country that a vast majority of the population consider themselves religious. Yet statistics show that over half of the married people in the U.S. have had extramarital affairs. Presumably this does not count swingers, who do so with their spouse's permission.

In fact, baseball is full of seriously religious people. Probably over 90% of players are pretty damn religious people. Most insiders in the game figure that well over 50% of them are taking performance enhancing drugs. In other words, lying and cheating.

Shocked by a dishonest believer?

Not me brother.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Jock-ularity

I've been accused many o' time of not having any respect for religion. Guilty as charged of course, and pretty damn proud of that.

But really, how am I supposed to take religion seriously? Those of you of the religious persuasion don't actually take it seriously yourselves. Oh, you say you do, but you really don't. Most of you, I've noticed, just treat god as your good luck charm. He's been relegated to the same status as a rabbit's foot. Though an imaginary deity is at least less gruesome than a piece of a dead animal's carcass.

Watching the baseball playoffs I am constantly seeing players who have a little ritual of tapping their shoulders, chest or whatever and kissing their hand and then pointing to the sky to thank god.

Now really, you want to try to convince me that there is some sort of all powerful god and somehow he's responsible for helping some one hit a little white ball with a stick? I'm supposed to not laugh at that?

And pitchers who kiss the little cross on their necklace before they pitch. With both these guys hoping for god to help them, how's an omnipotent to choose? What this means, Christian folk, is that if you are right (which you are not) your god is one horrible parent who plays favorites. And why would I pray to that?

And what about these sports types who are always claiming that it was god who helped them win the game, or score that point or break some record? Why does god get the credit for success but never the blame for failure? And the praying believers on the losing side, does god just hate those fuckers?

Football players are always praying at the end of games in the muddle of the field in a huddle. I suppose they are thanking god for not turning their brain to Jello that week. But not playing a game that involves smacking your head against things would be better than praying to escape a concussion. It's not that hard to figure that one out. If you don't want to get hurt or die from something dangerous, you probably should just skip it instead of asking god to protect you. Football-playing Christians I guess aren't really that different from those poison-drinking, snake-handling ones.

I really love the boxers who thank god and give him credit for their feats. Really? God was there to give you the strength to beat the snot out of that guy and knock him unconscious? Maybe even left him with a bloodied face and put him in the hospital? Damn, that dude must have really pissed god off. What was he, a child molester or something? No? He was just another one of the people who honor god and pray too him all the time too? Oh. Well shit, he must suck at it.

See, if he's helping the winners that means he's deciding who loses.

That would make god a pretty big asshole.

And apparently he's a huge Rockies fan. Maybe it's because they are the team closest to heaven.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Immunize Me

So some idiot members of the GOP are in a tizzy over the fact that a team of congressional committee staffers were advised to get immunizations before a trip to a couple of NASCAR events. They were advised to do so because they were going to be visiting the health care facilities, detention centers and other places where they could be exposed to communicable diseases. They were doing this to make sure that there was appropriate coordination and communication between the Department of Homeland Security and local authorities in case of a major disaster at a large event much like one where there are hundreds of thousands of rednecks watching cars go around in a circle.

So of course the Republicans went out of their way to make a big deal out of the non-issue, playing to their brain-dead base by issuing silly statements like these:

"Democrats should know that there is no preventive measure yet designed to ward off the blue-collar values and patriotism that NASCAR fans represent."
---Linda Daves, chairwoman of the North Carolina Republican Party


"To suggest that vaccines are needed to attend NASCAR races is insulting to millions of hardworking Americans who love their country and the smell of burnt rubber."
---Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI)


There are more, but I'll spare you the stupidity. You get the point.

It is amazing how these fools can go out of their way to make an issue where there isn't one. Like Barak Obama not wearing one of those silly American flag lapel pins.

But there is a real issue here. It's not that they got immunized that is the problem. It's that they got all the wrong immunizations. They wasted their time getting things like hepatitis A, hepatitis B, tetanus, diphtheria and influenza. Well those aren't going to do you any good at a NASCAR race.

How is a tetanus shot going to protect you from the "wife-beater" shaped sun burn?

Think about all the exposure those poor congressional staffers got because they weren't given their tooth-loss immunization. And what about the pills to protect them from ending up living in a trailer park? And don't forget the southern drawl mouth rinse, which also offers the extra protection stopping you from liking the taste of possum.

Don't forget the hair gel that protects against growing a white hood on your head and the body lotion to ward off swastika tattoos.

And I just can't believe they sent these poor fools out into the field without the anti-sex-with-your-sister booster. That's the most important protection you need at a NASCAR event. Just ahead of the serum that keeps you safe from finding cars going around in a circle for hours interesting. Or thinking that it in any way resembles a sport

Personally, I wouldn't have gone without a haz-mat suit.



Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Around The Old Ballpark

Well, I don't really write all that much about sports, mostly because I'm not really in to that many of them and that sport blogs are pretty boring. They are either guys whining about how their team was robbed (see any Yankee fan about the "bug game" in Cleveland) or in your face dumbasses always going on about their team being the greatest ever (see any Yankee fan).

But I am a big baseball fan and this is my favorite time of the year. So a few thoughts...

The Yankees not making the playoff at all would have been my first choice, but them being knocked out in the first round by a team I really like is pretty sweet too.

Speaking of the Evil Empire, they are responsible for my favorite part of the post-season so far. In the 6th inning last night, Derek "most overrated player since Dave Kingman" Jeter comes to the plate with runners on first and third, a run already scored in the inning. A classic Yankee rally in the making. The crowd is going nuts and the TBS cameras cut away to fans holding signs that say "El Capitan" and "Captain Clutch" (Jeter is the Yankees' captain).

He then promptly hit in to a rally killing, inning ending double play.

I'm not sure which part of it was sweeter, Mr. Yankee choking or hearing the sound of 50k plus Yankee fans reacting like they got hit in the gut. From loudmouth obnoxiousness to stunned silence was such a sweet thing to hear. I almost fell off the couch laughing.

Like many other times during the night I immediately called Joe, who grew up close to Cleveland and was watching the game up at his place in Harlem. We laughed and laughed at Captain Clutch. Good times.

I'm no fan of the wild card format, and this year they've made it worse by stretching out the playoff games even more. If the World Series goes to a game seven it will be on November 1st.

The other thing I hate a out it is how the reward has been diminished for a team. This series with the Indians and Yankees was a complete gut-wrenching battle. It used to be that once you got through beating a really good team you got to play in the World Series. Now the reward is having to take on an even better team.

I really don't understand the celebrating with champagne showers after winning the first round. I mean, you win your division and you celebrate. You win the League Championship Series to make you the champ of either the American League or the Senior Circuit (what baseball geeks love to call the National League), you celebrate. Makes sense. You get to hang a pennant up in your park on the next opening day for doing either of those things. But winning a first round series? What exactly are you celebrating? Nobody puts a pennant up on opening day that says "First round of the playoff winners."

There's a reason that the sports that have had multiple round (weak-ass) playoff systems for a long time don't celebrate after each win. Can you imagine it? "Woo-Hoo, pop the cork! We just beat an eighth-seeded team with a .500 record!"

I gotta tell ya, even with some weak announcers, I like the playoffs being on TBS better than FOX so far. They don't overload the game with sound effects and graphics to the point of annoyance. Yet.

Chip Carey is by no means a perfect announcer, but there is one example of why I love him. At one point during the game when there was a hit that bounced in the outfield and went over the wall, Carey called it a "rule book double." I find that most announcers call that a "ground rule double" even though that's not right. A ball that bounces over the outfield wall is a double in any baseball park. A "ground rule" means something specific to that park, such as when the ball gets stuck in the ivy at Wrigley Field or hits a beam in one of the awful domed stadiums. Knowing the difference means you've got an announcer who knows the game.

I dread having to listen to Joe Buck and Tim McCarver calling the ALCS on FOX. McCarver has got to be the most annoying baseball announcer ever. I wish he would insult a cripple or a minority like Steve Lyons did so he would get fired too.

I wish like crazy that the Indians would change both the name of the team and that disgusting Chief Wahoo logo. I love this team a lot and would feel better about rooting for them if their name wasn't so damn racist. It would be really easy to use the old name of the original Cleveland Major League team, the Spiders. I hope the next owner is more PC and lives in the 21st century instead of the 18th.

Whoever this Frank guy is that is getting his own late night comedy show on TBS, I wish someone would beat him to death with the bat he's carrying in the ads that have been playing during the games. The last thing this country needs more of, besides Christians, is Nicholson/De Niro/Bush impersonators.

My lame-ass predictions: Indians over Red Sox in 7 brutal, hard fought ALCS games. Rockies over Diamondbacks in 5 for the NLCS And in the World Series, the Indians overpowering the Rockies in 5 to take their first championship since 1948.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Hello Dalai

Watching the Mets game on the last day of the season I was struck by, besides laughter at their complete collapse down the stretch, the number of people in the stands that were crying.

Seriously? Tears?

Now the kid who was put on the cover of the New York Post is understandable, kids cry over pointless, stupid shit all the time. That's what kids do. But I saw many middle-aged women and men crying. I mean really, this is what can make you cry? Your damn team loses? Come on, it's a game.

Ask anybody who knows me, I love baseball. But to get that upset over my team not making the playoffs? Not on your life. It's called perspective. The Mets winning would not have made your life any better and their losing does not make your life any worse. It's entertainment. Get a life.

You know what has gotten me choked up lately? Burma.

I followed the situation of the protests happening in Burma with great interest. With thousands of people demonstrating against the evil military junta, could this finally be the moment in history when democracy and freedom begin to come back to Burma? Or will it be crushed again, like in 1988?

We all know the answer now of course. It crushed my heart to see the images coming out of Burma after the regime sent in its soldiers to put down the uprising. With the little information that could be obtained it is thought that hundreds are dead and many more injured. No way to know how many more were detained, but it quite realistically could be in the thousands. The Buddhist monks who had been flooding the streets everyday in protest against the regime were suddenly nowhere to be found, either taken away or blockaded inside their own monasteries.

Once again the junta has stamped out dissent.

What followed was basically a bunch of lip service from world leaders but no real call to action. Bush froze a few American-based assets of the regime's generals (of which there really isn't very much) and sent his spokeswoman out to speak a collection of meaningless platitudes.

Russia, Thailand, China and India, countries that benefit from making deals with the junta for Burma's resources were, of course, silent.

You know who else has been effectively silent? The Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of the world's Buddhists. Beyond this written statement, he has said and done pretty much nothing. He has not gone to the media to voice his protest against the regime of Burma. He has led no marches or protests at any Burmese consulate or embassy.

He offered his prayers. And some empty words about supporting democracy. That's it.

The true colors of the Lama come shining through. Like all religious leaders, his true concern is not his people but his own hold on power and prominence.

If he were to speak out against the junta of Burma he may piss of his Indian masters, who don't want to anger the Burmese regime lest they decide to not sell them raw materials anymore. The Dalai Lama remains muted so India allows him to stay and maintain his power over an autonomous area they have granted him.

That may also have something to do with why this man of "peace" has been a vocal supporter of India's nuclear weapons program.

His statement supporting democracy in Burma is laughable considering he doesn't even support democracy for his own home of Tibet. If China left Tibet tomorrow (something I wholeheartedly support) would there be free elections there? That answer would be no. The Dalai Lama does not want to free the Tibetan people for the cause of representative democracy. He wants to be returned to his throne.

He claims to be the leader of Tibet by divine right, anointed by god himself to rule over the people of that land and answerable to no one but god. He claims this right as he is supposed to be the reincarnation of the original Dalai Lama, a story as silly as the resurrection of Jesus.

He doesn't sound like someone who supports democracy to me. Dissent is no more tolerated under the rule of the Dalai Lama than it is under the rule of the Chinese. Possibly less violently put down, but put down nonetheless. A cute old man in a robe as a dictator is still a dictator.

While the monks of Burma bravely fight against repression and for a return of democracy to their homeland, and Aung San Suu Kyi continues to live under house arrest, the leader of Tibetan Buddhism tours the world gathering support for the cause of restoring the power and glory of his monarchy.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Racist Nation

It has been a while since I've done a political post, so let's see if I can flush out a right-wing racist troll to flame on me. Like my old friend Kyle in Seattle or that freak from stop-immigration .org.

I've tried to stay away from speaking about the goings on in Jena, Louisiana because it is being covered so much in the news and on thousands of other blogs so I didn't think there would be a point. But then I saw the news conference yesterday held by Reed Walters, the District Attorney in that part of the state. Now I have to say something.

I can understand how people might be a little conflicted about how they feel about this case when Al Sharpton is involved. Well meaning people have been burned my him before, and he doesn't admit when he's wrong about a case of racism that turns out not to be that. And he doesn't apologize when he has made a mistake. So I understand the reservation on taking Sharpton at his word.

BUT,

After looking at the things that have transpired in Jena over the last year, anyone who says that there is no racism problem in that town are liars, fools or both.

DA Reed says race played no part in his decision making. He has made a big stink of pointing out that he has no law available to prosecute the kids who hung the nooses from the tree at the high school. He claims that he can't prosecute with the hate crime statue because there needs to be another crime to be able to pile the hate crime rule on top of. While this is true, he is being dishonest in claiming he needs a hate crime law to prosecute the guys who did it. You do not need a hate crime statute to prosecute someone for threats and intimidation. He has also avoided answering why he did not go after the white kids who committed acts of violence against the black kids. In one of the incidents a white kid pulled a shotgun on some black kids, they wrestled it away from him. Instead of the white kid being charged with threatening them with a gun, they were charged with stealing the gun. Prior to that a group of white kids beat up a black kid that involved someone hitting him over the head with a bottle.

Almost nothing was done by the DA to go after anyone with white skin who committed an act of violence against someone with black skin. If he had done his job from the beginning it is possible that what finally came to pass in this small town may never have happened.

What irks me more than anything in this whole case is the claim by local white people and the right-wing propaganda machine that there is no racial problem in Jena. The real truth is there is a huge racial problem there

I grew up in the south, in a town not that much different in size than Jena, albeit much closer to an urban area, outside of Atlanta. I've heard the subtle racist-speak many times. And it is very pervasive in the mouths of the white Jena residents, the DA and the right-wing "press".

The biggest charge is that all of the problems in Jena are being caused by "outsiders" and that there is no problem between blacks and whites there. Check out news footage from the south in the 50s and 60s and you will see the exact same language. The translation is "uppity niggers from up north are causing these problems."

"Outsiders" has always been the code for civil rights workers in the south. The problem isn't that they are outsiders. The problem, for the white people of Jena, is that they are there shining a light on your bigoted ways and encouraging the local minorities to stand up for themselves instead of take their shit.

By the way, there not being a government imposed segregation in high school does not equal no race problem. Self-imposed segregation is still a race problem. Harder to fix than a government sanctioned one to be sure. To not even try to address why whites sit with whites and blacks with blacks at lunch shows a complete disregard for racial equality.

Local officials and the local newspaper have gone on record as saying the noose incident that happened at the high school was a prank and not racially motivated. This may be the most laughable of all the claims made by the whites citizens of Jena. Check out this page (scroll down) of the timeline of events as told by the Jena Times. They go out of their way to claim that none of this is race related and all of the problems are being caused by outsiders and that very few Jena residents are involved. They lay blame on the liberal media for fanning the flames of racism. If you check the staff page of the paper's website you see that there are no blacks represented. But there is no race problem in Jena.

Saying that there was no racial intent to the noose incident is the most offensive claim of the entire sordid chain of events. If it were actually true (which I don't believe) that those white kids didn't know the significance of what a noose hung from a tree means in America, and especially the south, then the high school needs to immediately fire and publicly flog their history teacher.

The other highly offensive thing is something that has been done by the national media, under pressure to show some sort of "other side" of the story. Trying to give some sort of credence to these claims of no race problem in Jena, CNN's Kyra Phillips did a puff piece talking to residents of Jena, including students and teachers at the high school, who claim that blacks and whites get along fine there. Funny thing is, she never showed any black people saying that. Everyone who claimed there is no black/white problem in Jena just happened to be white.

CNN also gives a voice to the vile Jesse Lee Peterson, a black man who calls the NAACP a hate group and runs an anti-civil rights organization backed almost exclusively by right-wing white nationalists. He is even supported by the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white separatist group. He is a pathetic Uncle Tom tool of the white racist movement who is enlisted to give credibility to their agenda by having a black man read off their talking points. "See, this Negro agrees with us, so we can't be racists." (There's a great article about him in The Nation from a couple of years ago)

They have a female version in LaShawn Barber who they rolled out to defend Bill O'Reilly's racist comments about the restaurant in Harlem and also has said publicly that a woman shouldn't be president because they are weaker than men. (And that gay marriage is worse than slavery)

The worst came yesterday, at the press conference by DA Walters. If you haven't seen his quote yet here is what he said toward the end, after announcing he would not appeal the ruling that he never should have tried Mychal Bell as an adult. He decided to take the most mean spirited swipe at the activists who came to his town to protest:

"The only way -- and let me stress that -- the only way that I believe that me or this community has been able to endure the trauma that has been thrust upon us is through the prayers of the Christian people who have sent them up in this community."


And then this:

"I firmly believe that had it not been for the direct intervention of
the Lord Jesus Christ last Thursday, a disaster would have happened."



Anyone who doesn't get what he said, let me translate once again. He basically said that Jesus protected his town from all those trouble-making darkies.

And these people claim they aren't racist. But then so do the Republican presidential candidates who refused to participate in a debate hosted by a traditionally black college that focused on minority issues.

If any further evidence was needed that there is still a race problem in the south, think about a couple of things. LaSalle Parish, where Jena is located, was carried by former Klan leader and Holocaust denier David Duke when he ran for governor in 1991. Exit polls suggested that he took 75% of the white vote in the parish. A Republican stronghold, the current Democratic governor actually carried LaSalle in the 2003 race, when the Republican candidate was Bobby Jindal, the son of Indian immigrants. So much for the "big tent" party.

As for the outsiders causing all the problems in your town, well we'll make you a deal Jena. If you stop sending your stupid crackers in their pickup trucks painted with images of eagles, American flags and burning World Trade Center towers up to lower Manhattan every damn September, we'll stop sending Al Sharpton down there every time you violate the rights of your black citizens. Deal?