January 29th, 2005

(no subject)

Joe is an american who grew up outside Boston. During the 50s he lived in Berkeley for a few years. I knew there was a Berkeley connection the moment I saw him. He was walking around handing out flyers from a bag with a large handwritten 'Fuck Bush' sign on it. That was amusing, but wouldn't have made me talk to him. What did it was the photograph of Aung San Suu Kyi he was wearing around his neck. Since i've previously been to Myanmar, have read several of her books, and I plan to visit again, it seemed like I should find out what he was up to.

Roughly 2 weeks ago he went to Myanmar. He seems to have spent most of his time teaching children how to give tourists the soft sell. I can't say I'm too greatfull for his efforts. But during his last day he sat in a park, drawing a picture of Aung San. This is 'frowned upon', so he was arrested and questioned for 3 hours. He was put on a plane and removed from the country.

He knew the type of response he would draw, but just couldn't help himself. I consider the act foolish, but I'm greatful to have someone testing these waters. While I don't plan anything quite so revolutionary, I'm glad to see that the thought of revolution exists. But it needs to come from the people of Myanmar, not from smart ass americans.

(no subject)

Apple guest house has delivered more than I had hoped. it is run by 'mama', and there are probably 6 other family members who live there as well. Marion is a german woman, who has been staying at Apple during each of her roughly yearly trips for the last 21 years. She left this morning, but last night we watched The Man Who Knew Too Much then went for dinner at a nice indian resturant on Khao San Road. She managed to tell me about the 'good old days' without ever slipping into a 'it was so much better than' or 'you don't know how easy you have it' mindset. Which is refreshing, and probably far bettert than i could do.

I learned about Mama, how she used to be wild and bawdy. But a few years back her married daughter failed to concieve a child, despite all efforts. Mama went to a monastery, and vowed to remain until she was a grandmother. It took only 3 months, but when she returned she was changed and quieter.

i've met a few folks who have done monastery during my time here. Typically it means 10 days without talking to anyone. You don't look anyone in the eye, hold the door for them, or in any way engage the outside world. You have no journal. Your thoughts are to be all focused internally, and if a thought becomes to complicated to keep in your head, it perishes quickly. I can't say that any of them seem to have found enlightenment. But they certainly come out quieter. And I listen to myself and others I can appreciate some value in that alone.

For my early years I was a bit too quiet. The nicest word might be book-ish, but seeing as how I rarely picked up a book it seems not to fit. In college I parlayed that into becoming the internet geek for a punk rock band. That helped me come out of my shell, and for that I am forever grateful. But now I wonder if that pendalum may have swung a bit too far. I think of the serenity I find in some of the folks I meet. And I wonder if i envy it. If I'd even like to change.

(no subject)

I've heard nothing but raves about Laos (pronounced Lao, drop the 's'). It has developed just enough to make it possible to cross the country and have places to stay, but no so much that it has burned out on tourists or learned to view them as walking atms. I've been told I must visit it now, before the inevitable damage is done. This race for the next big thing is ultimately futile, but the reviews are glowing, and I'm curious what all the fuss is about. For a few days it seemed that a french girl in my dorm, Matilde and I would be in synch and would head there at the same time. but schedules are fickle, and she needs a shorter stay than i. But I have my visa, and i've investigated how to get there. I will ride a train north to Chiang Mai, then some sort of minibus to the border. From there a boat either a slow boat, or a speed boat, down the Mekong River, to Luang Prabang. The rest wil be improvised, but should generally cover the rest of the country heading SE. Whether I'll head to Vietnam, and possibly china... who knows.

Some of this info, and a great deal more, comes courtesy of 2 Danish hippies who arrived in Apple yesterday morning. At about 8:30am I came down to the breakfast table, and began to pour through my book to begin to plan a route. Helga lives in Christiana a semi-autonomous Danish commune. Christopher had been up a night, drinking with a police officer, on the train in from Laos. They provided tips while Christopher poured another beer. An hour later we were still at it and I joined him. By 2pm we had been joined by two other americans. Todd is a 25 year old sailor for tourist deep sea fishing boats off San Diego. Mark is working on his first book, and back in SE Asia for the first time since leaving 10 years earlier, when he had worked as a photojournalist in Cambodia. His book is a retelling of Dostoevsky's 'The Idiot', set in Cambodia. We headed out to look for a pool table and trouble. We found both. I'm proud to say I managed to beat a Thai bar girl, who clearly shoots pretty regularly, and then held th table for 2 extra games. By then we were ready to wander on to the next place. I tried 'joke' for the first time, a thai porridge soup, and we continued to swap stories throught the day. By 10 pm (a pleasant 13 hours semi-binge) i was ready to call it a day. we all scattered and managed to find our respective ways back to the guesthouse.

(no subject)

I travel reasonably light. The only item that i don't consider a travel essential is my domino set. Its tiny, reminds me of first games with Ikam's grandparents, my last games with Ara, and great evenings with close friends in between. Most importantly, its easier to explain than a deck of cards, which is crucial when the person i'm playing with speaks no english.

That last reason made it a great choice to bring down to the table to play with the little girl of the family. I'd guess she's 8, but with such limited communication its tough to be sure. I showed how to match the values, etc, and in a few minutes we were managing something resembling a game. When that seemed to loose attention, you and always line up dominoes and then knock them down. There i probably no game more universal, or more amusing to an 8 year old, so we managed just fine.

Her mother came by, and seemed to be saying 'are you two having a good time/ is she bothering you / or the like' I wai'ed (palms together like a prayer - bow your head) back that everything was going great. Several minutes later mom returned, and began to pack up the dominoes. Seems I had misinterpretted Mom's question, instead I had just offered my one great luxury as a gift to this child. i couldn't bring myself to stop it, but was kicking myself on the inside.

There are 'shops' (ok blankets really) which will buy almost anything, on the assumption that some other backpacker will want what you don't. A few days earlier i had noticed a travel set with Dominoes, checkers, chess and backgammon. I can see why someone else abandoned them, the set is just too large for the kind of traveling i'm doing. but it might work just fine for a replacement gift. If nothing else these Dominoes were bigger, and easier to stack.

I bought it for 240 Baht ($6.30, remember I'm paying 80 Baht per night for my room). I brought it back and cleaned each domino with a dab of spit and my precious toilet paper. (Side note: Mom, thanks for the wet wipes, Great Gift!). I sat with my phrase book and managed to write in thai script -

Domino, misunderstanding, granddaughter. Exchange, this, small domino. Small, good, travel, backpackpack. Granddaughter, sad?

As retarded as that sounds, the thai language is gramatically trivial. There is largely just nouns and verbs. No plauralization, gender, adverbs, and who knows what else we have. Speaking it is hard, because of the 5 tones. Writing it is hard because the vowels can be written before, after, or above the consonants. But the grammar is trivial.

I spoke first with the eldest son, showed him my message. He understood and reassured me the girl would not be sad about this. She was trading up, in a sense, but I still felt like a bastard, taking candy from a baby. I had hoped he'd pass this on, but that never seemed to happen. This evening I approached Mama, and redid my brain damaged speech. She understood, and seemed perfectly alright. After 21+ years of this, I think she's dealt with a lot of cultural misunderstandings. The girl even seemed quite happy with the new gift. Its in a little briefcase with a handle, and even dad smiled approvingly. In theory, tomorrow my Dominos will be returned to me, ( the girl lives elsewhere, but visits almost daily ). Time will tell, but if so i've just closed the largest multinational trade agreement of my career.