Happy Birthday Khun Sudha

Today is Tawn’s father’s birthday.  As a good Thai son, Tawn will join his parents this morning to go to their neighborhood Buddhist temple and feed the monks.  This way they will acquire merit on this auspicious day.

Tonight, Tawn will return to his parents’ house for dinner, where they will likely be joined by the many aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins that live nearby for a birthday dinner.

I have a conference call with my boss at 8:00.

Sudha Nui SF 2003 2 That’s not to say that I chose a conference call over celebrating my father-in-law’s birthday.  Unfortunately, though, we’re still not over the hump of Khun Sudha (“Khun” being an honorific equivalent to “Mister”) embracing his son’s gayness and farang partner.

Left: A rare photo of the four of us together, taken when Tawn’s parents came to San Francisco for a visit in (I think) 2002.

I’m an optimist, though.  We’ve made it over the hump of acknowledging the situation already.  We’re making some progress climbing the windward side of the hump of accepting the situation.  So it seems that with enough patience we will make it to the third hump at some point in the future.

It tears Tawn apart, though, as he sees himself as stuck in the middle between his parents (really, just his father as his mother is very embracing) and me.  But I’m a “glass half full” type and think that we’ll get there eventually.  All it takes is a large does of understanding, something needed from both sides.

I’ll have to spend some time today thinking about whether or not it is appropriate to send a birthday card to a father-in-law who would rather not have to confront my existence.  And what exactly do you write in such situations?

 

Trying to be a role model (or just look like one)

This weekend Tawn and I had brunch with an 18-year old exchange student from Canada.  He’s another of those “Xanga friends”, that class of interesting people you meet through this community whom you might otherwise never have the opportunity or occasion to know.

In January I received this message (name changed for privacy):

Hi There, My name is Ian, I’m a Canadian Exchange student currently living in Bangkok. I stumbled upon your blog a few days ago – and meant to send a message, however I thought you might find it odd to receive a comment from a boy 20 years younger than you. (I assure this is not some insane form of reverse pedophilia.) haha, this is simply one person, genuinely interested in the life of another.

The truth is that your entries have really brightened my last few days – Seeing a happy successful Gay Couple gives me a lot of hope for my own future. The truth is that although I accepted my sexuality a few years ago – I never managed to meet anyone with the same lifestyle. I’ve met a lot of confused teenagers – but never any adults like yourself. It’s great to know that people like you and Tawn exist!

Anyways, I hope your New Years was a happy one. This has been my first one outside of North America – it was amazing.

This is the first time I can recall that anyone looked at me and Tawn as role models.  What a responsibility!  What a bad choice on his part!  (Ha ha… just a little self-depracating humor there.)

I stayed in touch with Ian through his blog.  His time here has been interesting: he’s picked up Thai quickly, explored the city and many pats of the country, made many Thai friends as well as friends with other exchange students, and met a young Thai man his age who (it sounds) stole his heart.  Ian says that he’ll be back to study at university as soon as he finished high school.

With Ian’s time in Thailand running out soon, I suggested we should meet up.  He is now 18, so my fears of Rotary International exchange parents hunting me down for corrupting the young have subsided.

To provide a wider range of examples of other Thai-western couples, I invited Stuart and Piyawat and Ken and Suchai to join.  We had a pleasant brunch at Kuppa, a San Francisco-style restaurant situated in a former warehouse on Sukhumvit Soi 16 that roasts its own coffee.

Meeting Ian in person was a nice experience.  He’s young but he handles himself well around what must have been a rather boring bunch of chattering middle (or nearly middle) aged gay men.  But I hope he realizes that there are many other people who have already walked down the same paths he will travel. 

There are multiple paths we represent, from being gay, to being in successful same-sex intercultural relationships (heck, being in any type of successful relationship), to moving to another country and adjusting and thriving in it. 

Most importantly, I hope he realizes that there are many people here who will help and support him when he decides to move here; he’ll have the advantage of a network of resources.

All this got me thinking to the responsibilities we all have to give back, or more accurately, to give forward to the generations that follow us.  What contributions are we making to help younger generations?  Some of us are parents, many more are aunts and uncles either by blood or by choice.  But all of us have the capacity to share our experiences and to help others in their lives.

What other things can I be doing to make this contribution?

 

The Concrete Jungle

Like any major metropolis, Khrungthep stuggles with how to strike a balance between open space and development, between the green of tropical foliage and the grey of the concrete jungle.

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Unlike many other cities around the world, Khrungthep’s development wasn’t concentric, built along major roads radiating out from an old center of the city.  There is Ratanakosin Island, the historic old city – the royal island on which the Grand Palace and the government ministries are located. 

But it is not truly the center of the city.  There were never any high rises there, no physical concentration of the population.  It was originally ministries and mandarins and to this day has a lower concentration of residents than many other areas of the city.

The pattern of the city’s growth is of old waterways and canals – khlongs – being filed in and paved.  Smaller paths – sois – connect to these khlongs and today form the narrow and often twisted backroads that do not make a coherent alternative to the major, vehicle-clogged trafficways.

P1070380 Thanon Sukhumvit – Sukhumvit Road – was once a road to the suburbs, where wealthy families would build their weekend houses to escape from the traffic and polution of the old city.  These days, these same old houses are being hemmed in, right, by condominium developments, quaint reminders of the days when greenery on your property meant a proper garden, not just a potted plant or two on the balcony.

To this day, there is a surprising amount of green in this city, given how little unpaved area there is.  This is more a testament to the robust nature of tropical flora than anything else.

P1070387 Along Sukhumvit, now permanently in the shadow of the Skytrain viaduct overhead, the Metropolitan Authority tries to spruce up the city, planting median barriers with bushes and flowers and trying to bring some green back to the dark monochrome of concrete.  Left, there are even billboards with pictures of tropical foliage, in case the real plants aren’t enough.  The trees that are there exist only because they provide a screen for the national police headquarters behind them.

In the aftermath of the 1997 Asian economic crisis, the shells of three hundred buildings were left uncompleted, in various stages of construction.  These ghost buildings serve as a reminder to us of the pitfalls of an unrestrained lust for development, growth and progress.  Sadly, the reminder goes unheeded, as more lots are graded over, trees pulled down, and single family homes meet the bulldozer so more development can occur.

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At least this development is “in-fill”, within the existing city limits, not expanding them.  Increasing density near existing transit, not encouraging a new generation of car owners.  But it is still at the loss of openness and greenery, taking away the lungs we need to scrub this urban air.

 

Popping Pills Like Candy

This week I’ve been battling a bit of a chest cold, my chest feeling like it was filled with wet sand.  A visit to the doctor Tuesday indicated clear lungs that were moving air effectively, leading to a diagnosis of just a bronchial infection.  As it had lasted a few days already without any signs of clearing, the doctor concluded that it might be bacterial rather than viral and prescribed antibiotics.

It seems that doctors here in Thailand love to prescribe medicines, especially antibiotics.  Since this nice doctor was an expat Indian, I decided to get her perspective on this trend.

She agreed that doctors here are prescription-happy and said there were two main factors:

  • First, because pharmacists have the latitude to prescribe low level antibiotics, they are used “like candy”, leading to many bugs building resistance to these drugs that would normally be sufficient to treat them.  Over time, this leads to doctors having to prescribe stronger medicines more frequently to treat those resistant strains of bacteria.
  • Second, Thais seem to expect that when they go to the hospital or clinic to visit the doctor, they will return with a “goody bag” of colorful pills.  This leads to the prescribing of more medications than might normally be the case.    

Even after this conversation with the doctor I still walked away with antibiotics (azithromycin), a cough suppressant (dextromethophan), and a mucolytic (Mucocin, which I’m fascinated to learn is an extract of the rollinia mucosa, or wild sugar apple, tree – native to the West Indies and Central America!).  So no shortage of medications.  I did save the environment and forego the little paper bag, opting to instead carry the drugs in my messenger bag.

Interesting articles here and here about the overprescription of antibiotics and the public health risk it creates.

 

Bush Sent Me Spam

The auto-response I received from the White House, acknowledging that I had sent an email to the President (explaining that due to the volume of mail a personal response wasn’t… blah, blah, blah…) was caught by Yahoo’s filters and diverted to my spam folder.

Well, if that isn’t the most accurate bit of email filtering I’ve ever seen, I don’t know what is!

 

Dear George…

Body of the email I just sent President Bush:

Dear Mr. President,

I ask for your support of the Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act of 2008, HR6049, which has been passed by the House and was introduced to the Senate last week.

Two years ago, Mr. President, you said that America was addicted to oil.  You even made it sound like you would take some action to break that addiction.  Your latest blustering to Congress shows that you aren’t serious about breaking the addiction at all.  You’re encouraging it!

America needs a strong and innovative energy policy, one that breaks our dependence on oil and that promotes alternative sources of energy.  Offshore and ANWAR drilling are not the answers.  Increased fuel efficiency is important.  But the most important thing is to extend the incentives for alternative energy sources.

Thank you for taking the time to consider changing your position on this issue and lending your support to this important legislation.  You still have a few more months left in which you can work on improving your legacy – this could be your opportunity!

Regards,

Chris Schultz

 

I also sent similar emails to my Senators, asking for their support of the bill.  Here’s a link to the Thomas Friedman column that spurred me to write.

 

Weekend Recap

P1070326 What a busy weekend!  It seems that there was so much to do that the weekend went by in a flash.  Sadly, along the way I managed to catch a bit of a chest cold so I’m coughing and feel like I have cement in my lungs.  Let’s hope a bit more rest clears that up.

We celebrated Tara’s third birthday on Thursday.  She’s the daughter of Tawn’s long-time friend Pim, so we were invited to the family celebration held at The Sylvanian, a family friendly restaurant that has a large play area and caters especially to birthday parties.

For a three-year-old, Tara is quite tall and is very vocal about things.  Anytime Tawn goes over to visit with her, she asks about me, but then when she sees me in person she gets tongue-tied.  Probably because she doesn’t understand either my Thai or my English.

P1070339 We had a fun time, but when the birthday cake came out and the staff came over to sing “Happy Birthday”, Tara was unsettled by the human-sized rabbit that came out for the singing.  I’ve never seen a child climb further into a seat cushion before!

Her Uncle Tawn posed for a picture with the rabbit, but no amount of coaxing would convince her to get near it.

I can understand her concern.  Even as an adult I get a little freaked out by these costumed mascots.  There’s just something strange about them.

Tawn, being born in the year of the rabbit, saw nothing odd about the rabbit at all.  But he’s biased.

 

Both Friday and Sunday I caught films as part of the annual French Film Festival.  This is part of a larger arts festival called Le Fete, which is the largest cultural festival in Khrungthep. 

Friday’s film was Naissance des Pieuvres (Water Lilies), a coming of age story about three teenage girls in suburban Paris who struggle with their sexual identities as they become aware of their desires while also trying to conform to peer expectations.  It was well made, a bit quirky in the way that some French films are, and well acted.  All three of the young actresses have the talent to go on to strong careers.

Diving Bell Sunday’s film was Le Scaphandre et Le Papillon (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), based on the novel by Jean-Dominique Bauby. 

American director Julian Schnabel manages to give vision to something almost unimagineable: the true story of Elle editor Bauby, (played by Mathieu Amalric, shown to the left shaving his father, played by Max von Sydow) who was left entirely paralized by a stroke with the exception of his left eye.  Seemingly impossibly, he learned to communicate and was able to write the book on which the movie is based.

My original expectation was that this film would be haughty and pretencious, as Schnabel himself is known to be.  But it is a gorgeous, touching, and even humorous film that gives a lot of insight into the most trying of circumstances: being locked fully conscious but nearly uncommunicative inside your own body.

 

P1070368 Adding to that fine amount of culture was some exercise.  Markus and I did a 40-km circuit of the old city, stopping by the construction site of the new Airport Express rail line to check on progress.

I’m fascinated by the machinery they use to lift the viaduct sections into place.  I had previously assumed that they lifted each individual section, about 2-3 meters long, and then attached it to the adjacent sections.

But based on what I saw in this picture, it looks like the entire length of 10-11 sections is fastened together on the ground and then lifted into place with this crane.

That seems terribly heavy, but then this is large equipment we’re talking about.

Along the way, we also saw the section of machinery that is being used to construct the viaduct over Asoke Road.  The crane is slowly inching its way out over the road, and based on what they’ve done elsewhere, this will be built section-by-section as they can’t afford to shut this major arterial road down for any more than a few hours in the middle of the night.

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Our bicycle riding also took us down to the hotbed of political protests: Government House.  This is the office of the Prime Minister and we’re back to pre-coup levels of protest and political friction, with rumors running around that we’ll have another coup.  The army head has come out and said that the military has no part in politics and that as long as they are peaceful, the protesters have a right to voice their concerns as part of the democratic process. 

Just remember, that’s what the previous head of the army said shortly before the last coup.

Below, protesters have baricaded the entrance to a four-square block area around the Prime Minister’s office.  We considered entering the area – the protesters invited us to – but figured that there is only so much risk worth taking on a Sunday morning.  The last thing I need is a police officer asking to see my passport.

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With rainy season fast upon us, we’ve been getting near-daily thunderstorms, often torrential in nature.  Compared to the horrific flooding in the American Midwest, the flooding our soi experiences is almost indecent to mention.  However, since it is a feature of life in Khrungthep that isn’t “normal” for most of my readers, I thought I’d share this short video with you that shows the post-rainfall water we regularly contend with.

My thoughts go out to everyone who is dealing with real and devastating flooding.