Gecko on the Balcony

Yesterday afternoon we had lunch at the Central Chidlom Food Loft, kind of a high end food court, with Tawn’s schoolmate Jack and Jack’s boyfriend David, who is visiting from Sydney.  Jack just returned recently from several years studying in Sydney.  David is looking at selling his house and moving here.  He seems like a nice person.  I’m having a hard time telling just how their relationship is set up, though.  I guess their interactions when I’ve seen them are different than what I’d expect from a couple who is going to shortly be shortening the physical distance between them.  But each couple is different, I suppose.


Since it was the first day of Songkran, or more accurately the eve of Songkran, there were people splashing water all over the place.  Whole families – mostly from the outskirts of town – would pile in the pack of pickup trucks with a 50-gallon barrel of water, and drive around town splashing people and shooting water guns.  Other groups would set up shop along the side of the road, especially aiming for motorcyclists who were driving by.  Needless to say, the fatality rate is quite high over this period.


When we were pulling out of the condo complex, one of our neighbors was standing by the street splashing passers by.  It was kind of sad, really.  She is Thai and has a child and presumably a farang husband although we never see him.  The child was nowhere about and she was just by herself at the side of Asoke, laughing and splashing people as they drove by.  Seemed like she was having fun, though.


As we were waiting for a break in traffic, I wanted to catch a picture so I asked Tawn to roll down the driver’s side window so I could get a clear view.  We didn’t turn down the volume of the stereo and so when the window lowered, the sound of the music attracted her attention.  Before we knew it, a bucket of water was headed our way, through the driver’s side window.  Left: A half second before the splash.


Tawn bore the brunt of the splash and his calm Buddhist patience was tested to the very last straw as he froze in shock for half a minute, not knowing what to say and just barely containing the rising anger.  Fortunately, he retained control and didn’t hop out of the car and “get all kung-fooey” with her.


We met for drinks at Eddy’s house, now supposedly haunted by a spirit from one of the antique mirrors he purchased.  More on that some other time.  We all went out for dinner afterwards at Sompong, the seafood restaurant on the outskirts of the Ekkamai-Ram Intra district that we’ve been to before.  Very good food, very fresh, and quite reasonably priced. 


 


Left: Chris, Tawn, Tao, Jack, David, Eddy and Ble.  Right: about 1/6th of Sompong restaurant.


Woke up this morning about 7:00 to light rain.  Unusual to have moring rain here in Bangkok.  Unusual to have light rain.  The whole thing was strange.  About twenty minutes later the rain had stopped and the sun came out and things started getting really humid.


Most of the day was spent on my computer working on several projects for work.  Tawn went out to Siam Paragon to hang out with Pim.  He bought a Lacoste polo shirt that he had ordered – 20% off from the retail price.  It is interesting how some people look at things from the perspective of how much of a discount they can get, while others look at the price of things from a “what was the final price” perspective.


Finishing up the twelth document I had to write, proofread, and convert into an Adobe PDF file, I looked out to my balcony and noticed that a portion of the floor was moving.  Turned out to be a small gecko that had nicely blended in to the tan pepples and concrete background. 


For dinner we joined Tod at Bella Napoli for pizza, pasta, antipasto and tiramisu.  He’s doing well and managed to stay dry over Songkran.  Word on the street is that his partner from San Francisco, Darrin, may be making it over for a visit later this year.  A first timer in Thailand… should be fun!


 

Bridge and Tunnel Boys

This weekend’s big purchase was a Philips combo waffle iron, sandwich maker, and George Foreman-style grill.  The waffle maker was the major attraction – who really uses those sandwich makers anyhow?  The best thing about it is that the plates are actually removable, making clean-up much easier.


So Sunday morning I cooked my first batch of waffles on the new iron.  Used a recipe for fresh ginger and applesauce waffles.  I substituted whole wheat for half the flour in the recipe, which made them a bit more dense than usual.  But very tasty.


While at Siam Paragon, the huge shopping center that opened in December, I was echoing a sentiment that Tod expressed, that it really has become the center of gay Bangkok.  The place is just swarming with family.  Tawn’s response was that on a Saturday afternoon, it is “filled with bridge and tunnel boys waiting for DJ Station to open.” 


Which I thought was incredibly funny.


“Bridge and tunnel crowd” is a Manhattan-centric term to describe people who live outside the city and come in for partying.  While there are bridges here, there are no tunnels, so the idea of a bridge and tunnel crowd in Bangkok is just really funny.  Even more so that Tawn picked up the expression.


There must be an equally exclusive Thai term to refer to people from the other side of the river.


Anyhow, after just two days this week we’re already at the weekend.  Songkran, the Buddhist New Year, is a 3-day holiday that results in a 5-day weekend this year.  I still have to work, but don’t have school so it is a quasi-holiday for me.


The traditional celebrations, which include washing Buddha images and lightly sprinkling water on the hands of your elders, has undergone a transition in the past generation and in more heavily-trafficked areas (Khaosan Road, Silom, Royal City Avenue) there is a great deal of partying and water fights.


Don’t know if we’ll participate in any wet t-shirt contests or not.  The nice thing is that a lot of the local population leaves the city to return to their hometowns in the provinces, so traffic is really, really light.  In fact, we’re considering looking for a deal at one of the hotels in town and just do an overnight vacation.

Headstands and Instructor’s Farts

Friday was a holiday for me, Union Language School’s day late observance of Wan Chakri, so I was able to begin my work for IKON several hours earlier than usual.  This had the benefit of allowing me to finish work in time to attend the 4:00 pm yoga class at Prana Yoga


It has just been over a month since I last went to yoga class.  I brought my workout gear with me to San Francisco but found neither the time nor location to attend class.  But I did do some yoga poses on my own, so it wasn’t as if I had entirely abandoned the practice.


Getting back into the yoga groove was a good thing, giving my back a much-needed stretch.  Plus, for the first time ever, I attempted a headstand.  Headstands are a pretty intimidating thing in yoga and I was definitely stuck in the, “oh, boy there’s no way I could do that!” mindset.  Probably a good lesson to learn that in life, often the only thing keeping you from doing something is yourself.


Anyhow, the instructor – a short, blonde, Swedish woman with whom I had not taken classes before – said, “Well, why don’t you try?  I’ll help you.”  So she walked me through the steps:


 


Missing from this picture is, of course, the instructor standing right next to you to hold your legs steady and take some of the weight off your shoulders and head. 


This is where the farting comes in.  The instructor is about a foot and a half shorter than me and maybe 80 pounds lighter, so she was really struggling to hold onto me.  In the midst of her struggle she suddenly loses focus (I guess) and I hear her break wind.  While I’m standing on my head. 


Talk about your awkward moments: nobody said anything and we all just kept focusing on our headstands.


Then she helped me out of the pose and told me that I did very well for a first time and to keep trying.


Actually, it’s a wonder that there isn’t more flatulence in yoga class.  Between the extreme twisting, unusual poses, focus on your breathing, and relaxation, I’m surprised more people don’t lose control. 


 

Political Intrigue

While I was in San Francisco, I commented to someone that I hoped the political situation didn’t boil over before I returned to Khrungthep, so that I could be there to witness a coup d’etat first hand. 


Fortunately, the simmer did wait until I returned and, also fotunately, instead of a coup d’etat we just had a questionable election followed by the Prime Minister’s resignation.


Back story: Thaksin Shinawatra (the final “a” in his surname is not aspirated) had three years left in his second term as Prime Minister of Thailand.  Re-elected a year ago by wide margins, his Thai Rak Thai (literally, “Thais love Thais”) political party dominates the parliament and his position as PM was quite secure.  However, his popularity started sliding especially among the middle- and upper-classes of Khrungthep. 


The claim: his administration was chock full of the same corruption and cronyism that has plagued Thai politics for years and it had continuied to escalate.  The tipping point: Sinawatra and his family sold their 49.6% stake in AIS, the major mobile phone services provider, to Tammasak Holdings (the Singapore government’s investment arm), gaining a US$1.9 billion windfall – tax-free thanks to some questionable regulatory manoeuvering.


So a coallition of opposition politicians – including Thaksin’s political mentor – started leading a series of public rallies and protests demanding that he resign.  More covereage available here at 2bangkok.com.  These protests were plaguing the city for the past two months, with tens of thousands (and by some estimates as many as 300,000) of people blocking traffic and disrupting business. 


The protests had such impact on the city that the new Siam Paragon shopping mall closed its doors for two days as a weekend protest took place in the street outside.


In an interesting move, Thaksin called for snap elections – three years early – that were held on Sunday, April 2nd.  The three major opposition parties boycotted the elections and so in many electoral districts the Thai Rak Thai candidate was the only one on the ballot.  The ballot also included an abstention box, effectively a “no” vote against Thaksin.


While Thaksin’s popularity is weak in the Bangkok area and much of the South, it remains higher in the North and Northeastern parts of the country.  As such, TRT (and by extension, Thaksin) won the majority of the 364 seats in the election.  However, TRT received several million fewer votes than the last election, reflecting a significant drop in popular support nationwide.


Additionally and more crucially, in 36 constituencies (all in the South) TRT fielded the only candidates and those candidates failed to receive the constitutionally-required minimum number of votes, which is equal to 20% of the eligible voters in that district.  This means that parliament is short 36 members and, by law, the parliament cannot meet to select a new (or reaffirm the current) PM until all constituencies are represented.


(Take a careful look between the legs of the Thaksin charicature on the poster!)


And thus we reached a critical juncture in this saga…


Asking Tawn on Sunday evening what he thought might happen, he predicted, rightly, that Thaksin would wait for the election results, claim victory, and then make the magnanomous gesture of stepping down. 


Sure enough, on Monday evening after an audience before His Majesty the King (much speculation as to whether he had anything to do with this… most likely not overtly) Thaksin went on the nationwide television pool and announced that in a spirit of reconciliation, putting the intersts of the nation ahead of his own, he was resigning as Prime Minister.


His explained rationale: with the 60th anniversary of His Majesty’s succession to the throne less than two months away, it was necesary that all parties put aside their differences and come together for both the country and for the King.


So what does it all mean?  Well, keep in mind that TRT still won a large majority of the seats in Parliament.  Already, Thaksin has appointed his #1 deputy, Chidchai Wannasathit, as interim PM.  Thaksin will also remain a member of Parliament and the head of the Thai Rak Thai party.  As the headline in this morning’s Bangkok Post put it: “Total Break or Simply A Canny Ploy?”


It is not over yet…


 


Elsewhere, in other news, today is Wan Chakri or Chakri Memorial Day, celebrating the founding of the Chakri Dynasty here in Thailand.  April 6, 1782 was the day King Rama I ascended the throne after the death of King Thaksin.  The current King is Rama IX.  So today is a holiday in Thailand.  Businesses are closed.  Malls are open.  Malls are always open.  For some reason, Union Language School decided that instead of celebrating the holiday today, we would take tomorrow (Friday) off instead.  So I had to go to school today while Tawn stayed home and tomorrow I’ll stay home from school while Tawn goes to work. 


This is a holiday-filled time of year.  Next week we celebrate Songkran, resulting in a 5-day weekend for most people.  ULS is only taking a 4-day weekend, but then what should I expect?  More about Songkran next week.


Yesterday evening we had dinner with Tod.  It was nice to see him again and we were able to drop off all of the things that Darrin had sent back with me from San Francisco: toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, CDs, and an iPod optical digital output line.  The dental items were a thoughtful touch, but just so everyone is clear: you can buy Crest products in Thailand. 


Dinner was a Zen, an inexpensive Japanese restaurant on Soi Convent just off Silom.  After a lengthy and very fun dinner, we decided to go for foot massages, winding up at a second story massage parlor that was somewhat less than reputable.  While the foot massages are on the up-and-up (they take place at the front of the building by the windows so no worries about anything untoward occurring) you can definitely get a full body oil massage with (ahem) extra services at a place like this.  (Left: Tod and Tawn enjoying a post-massage cup of tea)


The massage was relaxing, although I think I prefer the familiar and more conservative environment of the neighborhood massage shop we regularly patronize.  Although the foot massage at the place we went to on Silom was perfectly good, the setting was a bit seedy.  And I miss the friendly masseuses who have come to recognize us and who think my slowly-improving Thai is quite funny.


 

Through the Looking Glass… Again

Friday evening before I left we had a party (three of five if my count is correct) for Emily’s third birthday.  Not sure how she managed to get five parties out of this, but between parties at day care, “immediate” family, the rest of the family, the other side of the family, and her non-day care friends, it added up.  For dinner I prepared pizzas from scratch, mixing the dough in the afternoon and letting it proof before heading over to St. Luke’s Hospital on the Plaza to visit my grandmother, who had undergone some surgery to improve blood circulation in her right leg.  All is well there.


Returning about six o’clock, I consigned my mother to serve as sous chef and started prepping the topings, setting up a mean mise en place.  In addition to a salad of spring field greens, we had the following pizzas:


Emily’s Choice – olives, Italian sausage and cheese


Margheritta – tomato, fresh mozzarella and basil


Hawaiian – Canadian bacon and fresh pineapple


Sauerkraut and Canadian bacon – a tribute to my father’s parents, who introduced this combination to me when I was a child


Arugula Salad – Italian sausage, bell peppers, mushrooms with fresh arugula added after cooking


Zachary’s Special – spinach and mushrooms inspired by the Berkeley pie shop


We were joined by Pat Goodfriend, a long time friend of the family who may be visiting us in Bangkok this autumn. 


 


Above, Pat poses with the Margheritta pizza, the perfect Betty Crocker image.  Other pictures from the trip:


Zoe lazing about in the sun in Jenn’s dining room



 


Enjoying birthday cupcakes at Emily’s day care



Jennifer and her two daughters at Grandma and Grandpa Tebow’s house


 


Emily opening a (big) present from Uncles Chris and Tawn



Kevin and Ava catch a late-night nap


 


 


Just as I was getting acclimated to the cool weather of early Spring in North America (and, I might add, as temperatures were brushing 21° C (70° F) in Kansas City) my time there came to an end and I returned to find the hot season very much underway in Khrungthep.  Yesterday the high was 35° C (95° F) and the overnight “low” was 27°C (80° F).


My trip from Kansas City was smooth, other than a 110 minute delay out of Kansas City that effectively eliminated my layover at O’Hare.  Which isn’t really a bad thing, come to think of it.  The entire trip took about 30 hours from the time I left my sister’s house in to the time Tawn and I pulled into our apartment car park.  By the time I unpacked my suitcases and went to bed, it was about 1:30 Monday morning.  Left: a snack somewhere over Anchorage.


Six hours later I was at Union Language School to continue my Thai language studies.  Exciting!


Of the thirteen students who started Thai with me in November, four of us are still enrolled at ULS.  Two of us are in the same class, repeating Module 3.  Another (Chihiro) is now in Module 4.  And one more (Yoichi) is in Module 5, now pretty fully able to read and write.  Oh, well, they tell us that each module is equivalent to one year of language learning in the Thai primary school system so I’m at, what, seven years old now?  Realistically, though, I think my comprehension rate is more like a pre-schooler.


It is good to be back in town despite the heat.  My tomato seedlings are making slow progress; I think they don’t get enough sun.  Tawn murdered one of houseplants but the remainder of them are doing well.