musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Archive for the ‘Thailand’ Category

Books! Chinese! Trump! Madness!

books201705

Looking at the calendar, it’s suddenly obvious that this month is almost finished! Damn, another manic, whirlwind thirty days. Business has very brisk at my bookshop in Bangkok, so busy that I rarely have time to even sit down read a book myself when I’m in the shop most days. When it’s time to close up, all I want to do is go home and drink a couple of cold beers and try to unwind after another stressful day.

books201701

Traditionally, the year-end holidays are always busy for us, but that heightened period of retail activity extends to the Chinese New Year — or Lunar New Year — period in late January or early February, depending on the lunar cycle. This year has been no exception, with regular customers combined with hordes of tourists passing through Bangkok, either spending time in Thailand or in transit to a neighboring country.  And it’s not, as you might assume, a lot of Chinese. Yes, there are indeed many tourists from Mainland China and even Hong Kong and Taiwan, but this holiday period is also observed in countries in the region such as Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and even Vietnam and residents of those countries also travel during this time. And it’s not just natives of those countries, but foreigners working in those countries that are getting a long holiday break and many are spending it in Thailand.

books201702

This time of year I also see the usual throngs of Western tourists, many of them who are making an annual visit to Thailand. It’s fun to see these once-a-year regulars and catch up on how they are doing. Holidays or not, the trend I’ve noticed in the past year is a noticeable increase in the number of Asian customers in my bookshop. And it’s interesting to note that many of these Asians are reading and buying English language books. And in these dark days of Trumpovich and his evil regime, the fact that people in other countries — yes, Muslims included! — are looking for English language books and reading them and buying them, is a very encouraging sign.

books201703

The seemingly illiterate Trump and his evil cronies might be intent on cutting themselves off from the rest of the world, and trying to make America white again (that is what he means, right?), but the rest of us — those with working brains — will carry on, trying to pursue our hopes and dreams, and reading good books!

books201704

New Year Reflections

nyarrow

Another New Year is here, which inevitably leads to reflection, resolutions, setting goals, and all those sorts of “start-the-year-anew” things. I’m just glad the idiotic Christmas season is finally over. Even here in Thailand, a predominantly Buddhist country, you can’t escape the people wishing you a “Merry Christmas.” Okay, I realize that most of them mean well, but don’t they have working brains? Why do they I assume that I’m a Christian and/or that I celebrate Christmas simply because I’m a Westerner? I can forgive the Thais, who seem to think that Christmas is nothing more than another festive Western tradition, but I have to wonder about the mentality of the Westerners who so blithely assault you with their inane Christmas cheer. Enough already!

This past year has been a difficult one for me, at least in terms of enjoying life in Thailand. I’ve lived in Bangkok for almost 21 years, but the charm and appeal of day-to-life has definitely faded. Maybe the “honeymoon” is finally over, or perhaps my tolerance for Thais and their “mai pen rai” way of living has finally been exhausted.

Having to “manage” Thai employees has been the real test, a particularly exhausting exercise in patience. Most days I feel like a glorified babysitter, having to monitor these people and dealing with their habitual tardiness, inefficiency, and immature behavior. Turn my back for a single minute and they are playing with their “smart” phone or engaged in idle chatter. I’m not sure how  much longer I can put up with it all.

Actually, I still like Thai people. They are a pleasant, fun, laidback bunch of people — it’s just that I don’t especially like working with them! But I have to remind myself that it’s not all bad — and they aren’t all bad. I see nice people doing nice things every day, and it puts a smile on my face. And I also have to remind myself that I’m living in a city where the cost of living is still relatively low, there aren’t serious safety concerns, and there are a plethora of inexpensive transportation options available. Yes, for all is faults and warts, chaos and congestion, Bangkok remains a very nice place to live. I doubt I would be saying that if I was still living in the USA.

And so I remain in the sanctuary of my bookshop, enjoying the parade of interesting and genuinely kind customers who pass through each day. Just in the past few days, I’ve had nice conversations with regulars such as Phra Ratha (the book-buying monk with a burgeoning library), Sam the Thai Neil Young fan, Jim from Nashville, the nice Canadian lady (then again, aren’t all people from Canada nice?) who will buy a dozen books at a time, Robert from South Dakota, Daniel from New Zealand, Christopher G. Moore the writer, John from Sheffield, Kenny the Walter Mosley fan, Pumas from India, and many other nice but nameless customers. Some days are stressful and it can get insanely busy, but the cool customers help to make the occasional chaos tolerable.

I’m also thankful for the mails or phone calls from old friends that I’ve received this past week: my old boss Richard (who is now in the Philippines), Richard in Dallas, Linda in California, Hach and Pov in Cambodia, Janet in Seattle, Ye Man Oo and Hein Yar Zar in Mandalay, Chiet in Nontaburi (by way of Cambodia), Khin Nwe Lwin in Japan, Keith in London (who was in Istanbul this past week, but luckily not in harm’s way), Thay in Siem Reap, Mar Mar Aye in Nyaung Shwe, and my dependable Florida friends Tony, Dave, and Stan. Suddenly the year ahead — facing the frightening prospect of Donald Trump leading the world’s most powerful nation — doesn’t seem quite so depressing. Then again, buckle up and prepare for the worst!

This morning I was pleasantly surprised to see my old friend Bay at the motorcycle taxi stand near my apartment. He’d been “missing” for the past six months — gone back to his home province, presumably — and I was getting worried, so having him back in town and working as usual was a sign that things are perhaps back to normal.

Normal? I’m not even sure what this is anymore, but here’s hoping for a year that is decidedly less cruel, violent, and heartbreaking.

Enduring Somber Thailand

ns071602

Thailand is often called “The Land of Smiles” but that’s certainly not the case lately. The world is seeing a very sad and somber Thailand the past two weeks after the death of the country’s beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej on October 13. Many previously scheduled events and concerts have been cancelled, regular TV coverage has been disrupted, and most of the citizens — and many foreigners — have been wearing black during this period of mourning.

syp_villager2

I’m not Thai, but I’ve lived here in the kingdom for over 20 years and I share the nation’s loss. King Bhumibol reigned for over 70 years and is often called the father of the country. His birthday, on December 5, is in fact Thailand’s official Father’s Day. But more than the father of this country, I don’t think it’s incorrect to say that the King WAS the country. He was the heart of the country, the soul of the country, the face of the country. You can’t replace someone like that. And so the country mourns.

90stts701

riceduty

Amidst all the mourning, I’m trying to go about my daily duties at work and live my life as usual, but also reflecting on what all of this means to Thailand. Grief, worry, anxiety, uncertainty; emotions are running high. In the past several years I haven’t been as happy living in Thailand as I was when I first moved here, but when I think about the alternatives — moving back to the USA or relocating to another country — I realize things really aren’t so bad here after all. Nevertheless, I think it’s also safe to say that my heart is in Myanmar, a country I visit frequently and one that I’d love to call my home at some point in the future. I’ve said it before and it bears repeating; the country and its people are wonderful.

99_monks3

mts03

And so, here is yet another post with photos from Myanmar; a few images of some of those delightful people that put a smile on my face and a song in my heart when everything else around me is dark and somber.

mbike01

m2b127

m2b144

swingin01

tem091611

leslymps1

tem091609

utinchit05

cousin701

tem091614

chinlone0901

syp_tourist1

puppet701

tem091608

m2b143

tem091613

mps071607

ymo_fog1

tegirls1

tem091601

mps_lunch1

99_monks1

n401

tem091615

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Orlando to Bangkok to Mandalay

ns051614

Where have the last two months gone? It’s been almost that long since I posted anything on this blog. During that time I’ve taken a trip to Myanmar and returned to Bangkok, hosted a friend from Mandalay, and worked myself into a stupor at my bookshop. Then came along this past weekend when news came of a singer being shot to death in my hometown of Orlando, Florida, and less than a day later another news flash about dozens of people killed at a gay nightclub in Orlando (initially, I was confused, believing that both incidents were linked). As of this writing, there are 49 people confirmed killed and nearly that many more injured or hospitalized. This happened in Orlando? The sleepy town we used to jokingly call “Bore-Lando. The mind boggles. Honestly, I can’t fathom such a horrific crime — they are calling it the worst mass murder in US history – occurring in my placid hometown back in Central Florida. But that only goes to show you that such madness can occur anytime and anywhere. But maybe more so in the gun-crazy environs of the USA.

m2b011

ymo_airport

There have been many insightful, eloquent, and thoughtful articles and blog posts already written about the Orlando incident, that I can’t think of much more to say. All I can add is that I hope everyone in Orlando, and in gay clubs, straight clubs, and clubs catering to every musical and ethnic persuasion, remain open and do a booming business this week. Don’t let the lunatic fuckers intimidate you and prevent you from enjoying yourself and being around people you care about. Fight the power. Fight the insanity. And keep on dancing, dammit!

ns051617

m2b018

Meanwhile, there was my trip. I’ll try and post some more photos from that trip in the coming weeks, but honestly, work has been so time-consuming in recent months that I’m not sure how much time I can devote to posting articles and photos. But, as usual, I had a very memorable time in Myanmar and there are some pretty cool tales to tell and fun shots to share.

m2b019

m2b004

m2b022

After spending two weeks in Myanmar — the  highlight of which was taking those irrepressible novice monks from Shan State’s Tat Ein village on a 3-day road trip to the ruins of Bagan — I returned to Bangkok … but not alone. Accompanying me on the flight home was my friend Ye Man Oo from Mandalay, taking his first trip out of Myanmar, not to mention his first time on an airplane. For the past couple of years he has been talking about how his dream was to come to Bangkok and see my bookshop. Well, defying all obstacles, we made that dream come true. More about his trip in a future post, but the two weeks he spent with me in Bangkok was an incredible experience — for both of us. Having him around constantly was a bit tiring — exhausting might be more accurate! — but his upbeat nature and boundless enthusiasm was contagious and by the time I took him back to the airport I was very sad to see him depart. But hey, there’s always a next time, and Ye Man Oo is already trying to convince his parents that he needs to make a return trip this summer. And frankly, he was so helpful at my bookshop every day that we would be thrilled to have him back again.

ymo0506

ymo0509

Twenty Years Gone: Finding a New Life in Thailand

baganss1108sm

This month marks a big anniversary for me: it was exactly twenty years ago, in March of 1996, that I left my home in Orlando, Florida and moved to Bangkok, Thailand. Starting a new life in a new country, surrounded by new sights, sounds, and smells. I’d gone from the plastic environs of Disney World and neighborhoods infested by mosquitoes and churches, to a chaotic but vibrant city packed with Buddhist temples, go-go bars, mangy soi dogs, and 7-Eleven branches on every street (actually, it’s sometimes now three or four of those convenience stores per block in Bangkok). Some people might think that moving halfway around the world to a foreign country where English is not the native language, and where the culture is very different, would be intimidating or uncomfortable, but I’ve found that hasn’t been the case for me at all. I’ve adapted, I’ve learned, and I’ve thrived.

bkk1014

I was getting my hair cut today by a vivacious Thai woman named Pin. She wasn’t the very first person to cut my hair when I moved to Bangkok, but she was probably the second one, and for nearly the entire twenty years that I’ve lived here I’ve let nobody else cut my receding hairline. Happy Anniversary Pin … and Happy Anniversary Thailand! I have never regretted my decision to leave the relative comforts — not to mention the spiraling crime — of the USA and settle in a so-called “backwards” third world country. Hell, if Thailand is considered backwards, let it drop further! Moving to Thailand has given me a new perspective on life, new inspiration, and additional energy. If I was back in the states, I’d be edging towards retirement age and wondering how I was going to survive for the next decade or two, but over here it feels like I’m just getting started and have a lot of life to look forward to living.

bkk1016

streetdancing1101b

For most of these past twenty years I’ve lived in Bangkok, subtracting only the two years that I moved to Cambodia and ran a bookshop in Siem Reap. It’s not like I’m wearing rose-colored glasses. Thailand is far from a perfect place and I see things on a daily basis that drive me crazy, but when I think about the prospect of moving back to the United States I break out into a cold sweat … nd that’s not a funky James Brown sort of groove filled with positive vibes, but a most definite fear of being thrust back into an increasingly disturbing, dysfunctional, and dangerous society. I just sit back and watch the current political soap opera that is unfolding (imploding?) in the USA and thank my lucky San Miguel bottles that I don’t have to be surrounded by all that American nonsense.

shwe1301

sypay013

Okay, it’s not perfect over here either, and I admit that there are things that annoy me greatly about Thailand (don’t get me started about the current political situation!), but putting it all into perspective I’d still MUCH rather be living here in the kooky kingdom than back in the United States of Amnesia. Admittedly, there ARE some things that I miss about the United States and my hometown. I miss seeing some of my friends and I miss certain restaurants (oh, that amazing Cuban food in Florida!), but I don’t miss the family dramas, the high cost of living, or the cruelty ingrained in the culture. And I certainly don’t miss all the creepy Christians or the conservative rednecks who think the Civil War is still being fought and that racist jokes are funny. Uh, no thanks. And yet another thing: since I left Florida I haven’t owned or driven a car (or any motorized vehicle) for the past twenty years. I don’t miss the driving, the parking, the car maintenance, or all those insurance payments either. Honestly, it’s a relief to be free from all of that crap.

lake0902b

bthom03

Living in Thailand is only part of the equation. Using Bangkok as the hub, it makes for relatively quick flights (one to two hours) to neighboring countries such as Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, and Myanmar. I continued tt be dazzled, and comforted, by these amazing places and the kind people who live there. And I still haven’t visited other nearby countries in the regions such as Vietnam, Indonesia (and Bali), Nepal, and the Philippines. Maybe I’ll go to these places someday. In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy the fascinating culture and friendly hospitality of Thailand and the other countries in the region. I’m here to stay!

mbros704

KP05

Music CDs at Dasa in Bangkok

Well, somebody had to do it.

After several years of thinking about it, debating the pros and cons, and talking it over with my business partner, I defied conventional business wisdom and forged ahead last month, adding secondhand music CDs to the product mix at Dasa Books, my shop in Bangkok.

dasa_CD6sm

My decision to “try it and see what happens” has pretty much been my way of doing business. Throughout more than thirty years of managing or owning various retail businesses, I have consistently defied conventional wisdom and simply done what I wanted, or what I thought customers might want, regardless of popularity or trends. I’ve found that if you cater to a niche market and know your product you can succeed.  And CDs have become one such niche market. But nowadays, even in a city as large and cosmopolitan as Bangkok, finding a good selection of music on CD, either new or secondhand, is becoming more and more difficult. Frankly, the selection in local shops sucks. To find CDs that I want, I have to either buy them when I go to Kuala Lumpur (where the Rock Corner branches still have a good selection) or order from online dealers.

Statistics in recent years show that CD sales are declining, of that there is no doubt. Thus many “experts” have declared that CDs are now obsolete, convinced that all music lovers are suddenly going to abandon their CD collection and start downloading and streaming music instead of buying actual discs. Well, hold on there, all you geniuses, maybe that’s not quite the case. Many music addicts still prefer buying and listening to music on compact disc. You can weigh the pros and cons of CDs versus vinyl, or even throw in downloads into the argument, but the fact remains that many people who buy and collect music still want CDs.

dasa_CD8

So yeah, I like CDs, and I buy several hundred each year to satisfy my addiction, but I am a dying breed? I was excited about finally selling music in my shop, but frankly I wasn’t sure how much of a demand that there would be for CDs. If you listen to all those experts and doomsayers, they will tell you that digital is the future and “nobody buys CDs anymore.”

Thankfully, I discovered that’s not the case. We started selling CDs in mid-November, and for our opening stock I plucked about 500 “non-essential” CDs from my personal collection (How many do I still have? Let’s just say that didn’t make much of a dent in my collection!). Since that time the stock has continued to grow as customers have sold us more discs. We now have over 1,300 CDs in stock and the total would be higher, but a strange thing happened: we’ve already sold nearly 400 of the darn things! No market for CDs in this digital age? I beg to differ. Needless to say, I’m happy with the CD sales thus far, and judging from the feedback we’ve gotten, many diehard music lovers are very happy and excited to have another place in Bangkok to buy CDs.

Meanwhile, here are the CDs that I’ve been playing a lot at home and at work recently, reading to close out this year with a sonic bang!

lesambassedeurs

Les Ambassadeurs du Hotel de Bamako

Lee Hazlewood – Poet, Fool or Bum/Back on the Street Again

The Idle Race – Back to the Story

Ryley Walker – Primrose Green

Wet Willie – Manorisms/Which One’s Willie?

 

detroitfunk

Various Artists – Detroit Funk Vaults: Funk and Soul From Dave Hamilton 1968-79

Leon Ware – Moon Ride

Shawn Colvin – Uncovered

Game Theory – Real Nighttime (30th Anniversary Edition)

Various Artists – Loose Funk: Rare Soul from Sound Stage 7 Records

 

haitidirect

Various Artists – Haiti Direct

Frankie Lee – American Dreamer

Continental Drifters – Drifted: In the Beginning &  Beyond

Neil Diamond – The Bang Years 1966-1968

Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell – The Travelling Kind

 

hottunaburgers

Hot Tuna – Burgers

Various Artists – Super Funk 3

Justin Townes Earle – Single Mothers

Bombay Bicycle Club – A Different Kind of Fix

Jeff Lynne’s ELO – Alone in the Universe

 

passionpit

Passion Pit – Kindred

Red Garland Quintet – Soul Junction

Icehouse – Man of Colours

Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band – Stranger in Town

Bob Welch – French Kiss

 

squeezecradle

Squeeze – Cradle to the Grave

Goldberg – Misty Flats

Various Artists – Step Inside My Soul

Catherine Howe – What a Beautiful Place

Jefferson Starship – Red Octopus

 

funkinchangin

Funk Inc. – Hangin’ Out/Superfunk

The 9th Creation – Bubble Gum

Marlena Shaw – The Spice of Life

Various Artists – Los Angeles Soul: Kent-Modern’s Legacy 1962-71

Johnny Hammond – Gears/Forever Taurus

 

inperfectharmony

Various Artists – In Perfect Harmony: Sweet Soul Groups 1968-77

Tame Impala – Lonerism

Roy Wood – The Wizzard

Various Artists – Howie B: Another Late Night

Todd Rundgren & Emil Nikolaisen– Runddans

 

Thailand’s Migrant Trials

The big news in Thailand this past week, as well as in Myanmar, was the announcement that a Thai court had found two migrant workers from Myanmar guilty of the murder last year of two young British tourists on the island of Koh Tao. The two men were sentenced to death by a curiously “unnamed” Thai judge.

kotao2

The verdict has been viewed as a dubious one by people familiar with the case, and has resulted in mass protests by outraged Myanmar citizens outside the Thai Embassy in Yangon and at towns straddling the border of both countries the past two days. Several organizations, including Human Rights Watch and the Migrant Worker Rights Network have called for the court’s ruling to be reviewed.

Anyone who has followed this trial from the outset is well aware of the inconsistencies in the case, not to mention the sloppy way that the Thai authorities handled, collected, and processed the evidence. You can read elsewhere about these issues, suffice to say it raises a lot of doubts.

If was only after two weeks of investigation, missteps, and mounting pressure to find those guilty of the murders that the police officers on the tiny island of Koh Tao amazingly decided that these two workers from Myanmar had committed the crimes. I have no idea if these two young men (who are both 22 years of age) are guilty or not. But based on the “evidence” divulged in the media, and factoring in the accusations that the two suspects were beaten and tortured by police during interrogations, and you have a lot of room for doubt about what really happened.

But one thing of which there is no doubt is there are serious problems with the way that migrant workers are treated in Thailand’s criminal justice system. The operative strategy seems to be: when in doubt, blame the foreigner. I think it’s safe to say that virtually the entire Myanmar migrant community believes that these two men are innocent, and were made scapegoats and framed for the murders. Based on their experiences in Thailand and the way they have been mistreated by police officers and authorities in the past, most migrant workers from Myanmar are inclined to believe that this is another example of one of their own being blamed for something that they didn’t do.

In yet another recent case, highlighted in Sunday’s edition of the Bangkok Post, four young men from Myanmar have been accused of murdering a 17-year-old Thai woman in Ranong three months ago. Once again, there are allegations that Thai police used “brutal and intimidating tactics” to force confessions from the Myanmar migrant workers, two of whom are believed to be underage, having lied about their age in order to get the coveted work permits.

And so it goes. And unfortunately it still does.

 

Tag Cloud