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.


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.


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.