Thursday, September 01, 2005

3 miles high

Its fun when there is another kid on the plane. The sixteen year old prep school girl sitting next to me didn't seem to care. She was more interested in writing in her journal and listening to Coldplay on her ipod. "Coldplay is just dumbed down Radiohead." according to Sasha. I don't really give a damn. Theses days I'm listening to south-east Asian working class pop. The saddest music ever written, with the exception of real American blues.

The other kid was a forty year old Marine. He had been in the first Gulf War. He was coming back from a two year contracting gig in Cambodia. We met in the 'problem' line at the airport in Bangkok. My ticket didn't match what was in the computer and this was blowing this Asian female supervisor's tiny mind.
"I didn't change it in Bangkok. My travel agent changed it in New York. I sent her an email and she changed it or do you think I somehow hacked into your system?"
You would think they had never even heard of the 21st century.

There was also a pale white guy who looked and postured like a mortician from the 1950's. It turned out that he was a forensic scientist. He had been working in Phuket non-stop since December. His visa had expired and these morons would not cut him any slack. He and his team had invented a portable battery operated dental scanner. I asked him why it was so important to identify the piles of Tsunami victims currently in cold storage. Why not just bury them and let them be? He said that a lot of people down there were captains of industry on vacation. The heirs didn't want to wait seven years to probate a will. Besides, he said, there was a lot of valuable science coming out of the investigation.

"Like what?"
"We have determined that there are genetic markers that differentiate Christians from Buddhists from Muslims."
"Great. That will be really useful in the coming great slaughter."
"We also have conclusively linked the Cambodian race to the Incas."
That was something. I had heard theories like that before on TV. Usually they showed a picture of Machu Pichu, Angkor Wat and a spaceship. Now it was a fact.

The longest leg was from Taipei to Seattle. The prep school girl put her blanket over her head. We ate. I watched Motorcycle Diaries and I Love Huckabees on my portable DVD player until the battery gave out. The stewardess let me charge the battery on the oven but it was gonna take a while.

In Seattle we deplaned while the crew changed and they cleaned up. I ran into the Marine again at the gate. He told me that he had one of those red passports you see in movies. He worked on high security construction projects for the US. These were boom times for him. Washington was rebuilding embassies all over the world.

The plane took off for New York. We circled past Mt Rainer. To the left and right you could clearly see Mt. Baker and Mt St. Helen with her head cleanly blown off. I pointed it out to the prep school girl and she made a face and put her blanket back over her head. Then I spotted the marine. He had his face plastered to the window just like me. We were traveling at thirty two thousand feet going six hundred miles per hour and there was not a single cloud in sight. Every available one had been summoned to New Orleans for the destruction there.

The plane was half empty now. I walked around and stretched a bit. Then I sat down next to the Marine.
"Can you believe this was the leg they were trying to keep me off of?" We both laughed. I switched on the flight monitor and for the next four hours we played like a den of Weeblos. You could see everything. You could see the Snake river, the plateau of Idaho, the Great Divide. We were running away from the sun and soon it passed from a crimson slash to black. The stars twinkled above blended with the horizon and then met with the dots of light from cities and towns below. I glanced at the monitor then back out the tiny portal.
"Hey look. I bet that's Minneapolis." Sure enough it was. Laid out below us a grid of yellow and white lights." We passed over Milwaukee on the shore of Lake Michigan. Below it we could see the great city of Chicago where the lake curved inward. We saw Lake Huron and the isthmus where Detroit was wed with the Canadian city of Windsor. We saw Lake Huron with Cleveland on it's shore.

As we headed deeper east cities and towns came on and disappeared too fast for us to ID. Soon we were circling Newark. I had been traveling now for 26 hours. Most everybody else was asleep. The only city I didn't see was New York. But that was OK. I was going there.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A rainy night in Bangkok

I heard someone call my name. It was Vergina.
"Whatever happened to your Israeli friend?"
"I left him in Phi Phi. I fly home tomorrow."
"What do you do in Bangkok?" I said with a smile.
"Shopping" We both said simultaneously.

After some screaming I managed to get a Tuk Tuk to take us to Bai Yoke for 100 bhat. There was more traffic than I had ever seen even for Asia. The air was so thick you stuff cushions with it. Bai Yoke is a sixty some odd story tower. I think the entire thing and something like eight surrounding blocks are filled entirely with T-shirts. There are enough for everyone in the world to have two and I don't need a single one. I have an entire box of never-used "memory" shirts already. What ever happens to all of this crap when it doesn't sell?

Vergina was also unimpressed. She crossed a few more presents of her list and then we headed to Pantip Plaza. Now that is something. I needed to replace my DVD player and the one I got for a little more than a hundred bucks plays everything. There were even a couple of formats listed that I had never even heard of like SVCD. What's that? I think if you filled it with stones something would appear on the screen. Maybe even the history of the earth.

Pantip is not just a white market but in the cracks and crevices of the multiple floors and thousands of electronic vendors is a black market. We were after cheap movies. If you buy ten you get one free. You give the seller the money and he or she disappears for ten minutes. Then, if uncaught by the police they return with the merchandise. One of our girls almost didn't make it. Then she appeared suddenly with our goods. Out of breath she pointed us out and an associate of hers passed them off to us. Then she disappeared.

We made a dent in our money. Clutching our bags the heavens opened. Despite the gaily colored roof the Tuk Tuks don't keep out much rain. We had our victory dinner in the little row of Thai hipster restaurants on Phra Artit. It's nice to know they exist.

Vergina promised to email me. I've been traveling for enough years not to bother with oaths like that. It was nice to have a shopping buddy for one last night in Bangkok. That was enough. The next day I went to the Travelpoint on Chakrapong. Vergina said that was the cheapest place around. When I walked in I knew immediately where all the settlers from Gaza had disappeared to. I settled in behind a monitor before I got this creepy feeling. Someone was staring at me. It was him.

Friday, August 26, 2005


The blind man plays his leaf song in the town square. He is old. He is crippled. He sits cross legged on a mat. His hair is white. His skin is like hand tooled brown leather. He has a plastic cup filled with spare leaves in front of him. He holds the leaf between his lips and blows. The song he makes is as tunful as the wind and as soulful as the last unmated cicada. If you make a donation he might loan you one of his extra leaves. Maybe he will even teach you how to play it.

The sea park stretches endlessly along the Krabbi bay. The night market is there and you can buy anything you want to eat, even a plate of fried grasshoppers. There is an old woman who makes paper thin cookies, dabbed with meringue, then coconut, then finly shredded baked carrot. Other than the shopkeeper with the ice chest full of western style ice cream treats it is the only sweet in town and everybody knows it.

The main strip is filled with trucks and motor bikes and motor bikes with side attatchments that almost qualifys them as trucks.The Thais do not honk their horns much. Even in Bangkok. At the main intersection there are two bronze statues on two meter high pedestals. They are half man, half ape like, and they face each other.

The pharmacist, who spoke English was happy to tell me where I might buy a CD I was looking for. The driver on my kakyak trip was playing it in his car. I made him write down the name in Thai script. This is a very helpful trick.

The buildings in this part of town are all of poured concrete. They are of a utilitarian post modern style. Built probably a half centuiry ago they are streaked with great stains of black mildew. Johannes would love the architecture. It reminds me of East Berlin.

There is only one movie theater. It is somewhere on the edge of town. It is a great hulking empty place with a giant curved screen. It must have been quite the thing a long time ago. There is only one show daily at eight o'clock. Before it begins you must stand to honor his majesty the king. They play a trailer promotion which can only be described as: creepy. You never see his eyes, only his tinted glasses. I went to see The Island there. It was dubbed into Thai. After the show the motorbike driver who had driven me there was still waiting. He demanded to take me home for the same price for which he had driven me there. His friends were lurking a little too near. I didnt want it but then I did the math. We were talking about $1.25. Better to pay him and walk away.

Today I do some shopping as my stay winds to the end. The shops and streets are plastered with colorful signs. The people who fill them are small, brown, smiling and endlessly friendly. You can imagine why. They are home.

Leaving from Ao Nang beach, Poda, Chicken Island, Princess cave.

There is nothing elegant about a long tail boat. You take an old car engine. You attach a long metal bar to the main drive shaft. You screw a propeller onto the end. You bolt it to the back of an old wooden boat. You stick it in the water and you turn it on. They never go as fast as they do in the movies. James Bond would be long gone. "Chaa, Chaa" as the Thai say, "Slowly, Slowly."

We snorkeled on an ismuth between two islands. The coral was filled with painted fish and clams with giant purple lips. We swam between two massive limestone outcroppings, riddled with caves and covered with green brush. On Poda we lunched under palm trees then walked to the far side of the island.
"Take a picture of me." I asked Victoria. I left my things on the shore and posed in the surf. A bull monkey slipped down from a tree and started going through the pockets of my shorts.
"Hey!" I yelled. His surprised look reminded me of Moe of The Three Stooges. He retreated. I grabbed my pants and he made a run at me with fangs bared. Victoria and I took off down the beach laughing.
"I don't know if it get's any better than this." I said later as we walked along the beach. "I have to keep revising my standard of Paradise, but I can't imagine topping this. This really has to be as good as it gets."

The clouds were painted on the horizon by Dutch masters. Not a single one above us all day. Then the winds picked up. The rain would soon follow. They are brother and sister. I looked at the rising waves from the leeward side of the longtail boat. The medical student from Holland asked me.
"Why don't you take any pictures?"
"I don't like to."
"But your missing all of this spectacular beauty."
"It diminishes the experience." She seemed vaguely interested so I went on.
"You start out with a memory and then you take a picture and then before you know it you only have a memory of looking at a picture. You take a picture and what? You click. When you write you have to really think about it, because it's tricky."
She arched an eyebrow. She was just hanging in there so I went for it.
"See, I can't write "This is the most amazingly, beautiful bay I have ever seen in my life. It's what's called a glittering generality, it says nothing. So I have to look at the scenery, like at that island over there and say, see how it goes in around the bottom? I would write something like 'The massive rock seemed to float impossibly on the turquoise sea' and then I remember it forever. She thought about it for a moment as the boat churned the ocean waves. The motor chugged.
"The sandy ismuth that stretched between the towering rocks was as warm and white as mothers milk." She offered.
"It rose from the ocean like a giant green haired lizard." I countered.
"Like the back of a craggy dinosaur the island chain jutted from the green depths."
"Or see that one with the gigantic chunk lying on the beach, it's like they forgot a piece, or it didn't fit in or it was left over or something."
"Yeah, Yeah."
"See with photography, there is no poetry.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Fire Dancers

As I walked on the path along the beach I saw two moons. One in the sky. One the white ass of a German girl peeing in the dunes. As she stood she glanced over her shoulder, saw me and laughed.
"You mooned me." I said.
"What is that? Moon you?" She asked in accented English.

We went to the Hippie bar for a drink. There was a tall man with curly hair staring at her. He seemed to hate me already.
"Is that your boyfriend I asked."
"No, we travel together, we meet in Ko Pha Ngna and again in Krabbi, so now we share a room. Every night he wakes me up and says: "Vergina if you want to have sex, go ahead, I don't mind.""
"Sounds like he has a different idea about your relationship."
"That's just how Isrealis are, very agressive."

It was midnight and the fire dancers began to dance. The ocean curled in lazily behind them. Palm trees leaned into the breeze. One by one they twirled burning batons or petrol soaked balls of flame attached to long chains. The DJ deftly egged them on. They leapt, they spun, immersing themselves in a trance.

When I left the Israeli was still staring. The next day whenever I passed him he would give me the evil eye. The people in the dive shop also looked rather glum as I passed. Ko Phi Phi was begining to feel like a very small Island. It was time to get out of there.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Hin Muang Hin Daeng

Then the line snapped. Narata and the other two divers who were already in the water began signaling and yelling. I was suited up on the back of the speedboat. The dive master told me to jump in.
"Don't you think we should rescue them first?" I mentioned. He looked at me like:
"wa -huh???"
"They're drifting away." I yelled above the noisy waves. It began to register on him that there was a problem.
"amateurs." I thought to myself.

Hin Muang and Hin Daeng are tiny little rocks in the middle of the Adaman. A single step would take you from shore to shore. The full moon had just passed and there was a terrific current. The dive master began to yell to them to swim to the island. They couldn't make it. They were quickly becoming exhausted. I began to wonder if this clown was going to get his shit together before things got ugly. In the open sea things often do.

The boat captain took control and powered us in reverse towards them. We were able to get them another line. The captains idea was to tow them back to the island.
"Jump in." The dive master said to me again for the third time.
"Shouldn't we wait until we get them back?" I said wondering just how stupid was this guy.
"Oh yeah."
It wasn't pretty, them hanging onto the rope gulping seawater as we dragged them across the choppy waters.

We made our return to the island and the rest of us dove in. Five meters below the surface the current was still powerful but not overwhelming. The reef there has a thirty meter drop. There are plenty of big coral formations and considering how warm the water was is, a good amount of color. We didn't get to see any whale sharks or giant mantaas though.

The weather turned bad again on our return trip to Ko Phi Phi. The speedboat pounded the waves. It was Naratas turn to get sick. He looked quite green as he puked into the roiling wake of the twin engines.

As we hung up our gear in the dive shop I mentioned to Narata about the chaos on the boat while they were adrift. He told me it was my duty to tell the shop owner. With great reluctance I did. They were ok guys, just disorganized. Naratas point was that can be fatal at sea. It was a good one.

The owner was deaf and he had to read my lips. He responded to my story by telling me how he was going to make their night hell. It wasn't at all what I wanted. I thought a review of safety procedures, establishing a chain of command, that might be helpful. But you can't tell anybody anything.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Ko Phi Pi

The smell of Thailand. I certainly won't miss that. Next to the bugs and the sticky wet heat the smell of feces contaminated waste water is the worst thing about old Siam. It runs just below the street in open cement girds everywhere, Chiangmai, Bangkok, and Ko Phi Phi. You often get hit with it in unexpected, nauseating bursts.

Still the spectacular natural beauty of Ko Phi Phi makes you forget all of that. The gigantic limestone outcroppings that rise from the turquoise sea, the white sandy beaches dotted with longtail boats, that is what burns itself into your memory.

I had to go from Phuket to Phi Phi by speedboat. I met an odd guy named Narata onboard as we bounced along the choppy waters. We were both going diving so we decided to team up. He looks Mongolian but proudly declares himself as one hundred percent French. Ok. He is a doctor there. That was convenient because an hour an a half on a speed boat in rough waters made me want to puke. Narata was nice enough to talk me through it.

When I first saw the islands I thought:
"Oh, this is why people think of Phuket as a trash heap." There is a little Provincetown on the ismuth that joins the two main islands. We took a longtail to the other side, to a more secluded beach. The bungalows at "Relax" are made entirely out of bamboo and teak. I jumped from the wooden boat onto the warm white sand. Narata handed me the bags as the warm salt water washed around my legs. Little bare chested brown Thai men ran up to help. It felt like I was in a movie.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Finally in Paradise

In the north you often meet people who say without being asked that the North is the best of Thailand. Its like those people who talk about how much better Chicago is than New York. While in New York people rarely even mention Chicago.

Then you fly down south. You leave the rainy north behind. You forget about the filthy Ping flooding its banks. You forget about how hot it is in Chiang Mai even though its raining, and even though it's raining you still cant breath the air.

It's paradise down here. Nobody has to boast about anything. Even Phuket which is supposed to be the worst of it, with it's fairy tale mountains surrounding the bay, with clouds like the masts of ancient sailing vessels drifting towards the setting sun, is the kind of place that you can imagine would have sent James Mitchner running to his bungalow, where he would spend the night drinking rum, smoking cigarettes and hammering away at the keys of his old Royal typewriter.

It is obvious why Phuket is the epicenter of the flesh trade. It is so warm. It is so relaxed. The sea is clear and the water is as warm and as salty as freshly spent semen. It is a simmering volcano of reproduction. Life didn't crawl from the sea here. It marched out in divisions.

I swam in that ocean today. Then happy brown men put me in a halter, attached to the back of a speed boat. The boat took off pulling me and my brown companion hundreds of feet into the air. Our miracle of flight was aided by the orange para-sail attached to my harness. The little man used his feet and arms to twist the ropes and myself, guiding our trip, pass the setting sun and across the bay.

Tomorrow I get up at dawn and take the ferry to the next island in the chain of the Adamans. Ko Phi Phi, the last piece of heaven on earth.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

My little neighborhood.

The first few night I stayed in the frog hotel. That is the place run by an ex-thai cop. He has a framed picture of himself in uniform over the desk. I don't know how long ago it was taken but it is in sepia tone like something from the forties. I can't imagine it is that old. His wife is framed right next to him. She is also wearing a military style uniform of some sort.

I had to quit that place after four nights because the frogs were driving me crazy. I like the sounds of nature at night but these creatures were unbearable. What sounded like hundreds of them shrieked incessantly from dusk to dawn. Kreee! Kreee! Kreee! Kreee! They live in a little swamp behind the hotel. On the edge of which is one of those ancient teak houses on pillars. I kept peering out the window to see if there was an albino Thai sitting on the porch playing the 'serng' .

Still I like the area I had found. It was on a back street in the old city. There was a curve in the road that made the tuk tuks slow down or avoid it all together. There are many more trees and vegetation on the back streets. They create little pockets of relief from the air pollution here. Across the street is a massage parlor. I got to know the woman there who runs it.

She has a little dog named Moonjee. Moonjee is a white poodle that she dresses up in a pink jacket with tu-tu. There are some other costumes that she has created for her but that one is my favorite. The little critters nails are also painted pink. Normally it is the kind of dog I don't like. But Moonjee adores me. She curls up under my arm when I am being massaged and lays her head against my chest. If I have to move, she arches backwards to pin me down, whimpering.

I moved across the street from D. N. House to V. I. P. guesthouse. The room was fifty cents more per night but bigger and no frogs. There is a whole crew of European ex-pats who make their home there. They are a funny bunch. They are all in their forties and a little worse for wear. All of them have extraordinarily beautiful and young Thai mistresses. It is very common here. The girls speak very little English and the guys make almost no attempt to learn Thai. They are all amazed when they hear me speaking it. They sit in restaurants at their dinner tables talking with their chums while the girls stare listlessly into outer space.

Chiangmai is filled with "Farang" or westerners. They are lonely old men that can only be described as big dumb beasts. Fat and ugly they lumber around in the heat, moping the copious sweat from the bright slash of sunburnt red across their brows. They are the most sought after, most desirable males, by the young Thai women and ladyboys alike.

Everyday I travel to and from Chiangmai RAM, Grace Dental and my little place. There is a little massage parlor on the first floor. I have gotten to know all the ladies and daily have a massage there. In the evenings we sit out front under a large oriental paper umbrella eating tropical fruits and aahaan Chiang Mai which is "phet maak" "very spicy".
"Mai daai." I often say. "Can not do." As I gulp water.

The Farang from the hotel sit there too. Loud, abrupt but still good hearted. I have had many debates about these men and their Thai wives and mistresses. The women from the west despise them. But these are the same women who would not give these men the time of day back home. Here they are considered a rich prize. I once asked a particularly strident Israeli woman if "on the other hand" would she marry a Thai man.
"Why not?"
"Because... I'm not attracted to them."
"So you are not attracted to an entire race of men?" She had to think about that.

I have to wonder why there is NO attraction. Could it have something to do with the fact that they don't have any money? Which is worse?

The men are lonely. The Thai women want to secure their future. They want to be able to take their children to the hospital whenever they need to. They want to care for their parents. The Farang make this all possible. In return the Farang have someone to care for them, give them companionship. Make them feel needed.

You see the same thing in New York. The pretty young women flock to the most powerful, wealthiest few. Here it is only more obvious. It is a mirror held up to them. That is why they are so pissed off.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Chaing Mai RAM

I wandered out of the old city today past the broken battlements trying to find my way back to Chaing Mai Ram. It is the Queens birthday or "Mom's Day" here. Everywhere there are huge portraits of the Queen. There are candle light vigils and bands playing.

I found the hospital after some searching. I had a complete physical exam. They gave me a battery of tests. I had a blood test, urinanalysis, blood pressure, EKG, AIB, chest x-ray, visual acuity and ultra sound for a grand total of $92 dollars.

They took all the samples and did all the testing this morning. I arrived at 9am and I was done by 10:30am. At 2pm that same afternoon all of the results were in and I met with a physician to review them. Can you imagine? In New York City it costs me $100 to go to the "free" clinic. I have to wait at least four or five hours and then I get about ten minutes with a doctor. If I need any additional tests It can take weeks.

Chaing Mai Ram is a private hospital. You don't need to make an appointment. You just show up and there is little or no waiting. There are hospitals that the government subsidises for the rest of the populace. The situation there is the same as it is for me in the U.S.

I decided that while I was there I might as well have my ears tested. The doctor gave me a physical exam then placed me in a sound proof booth with headphones to analyze my sensitivity to various frequency ranges. Then He used another instrument that uses some kind of sonar technology to test the resiliencey and elasticity of my eardrum and the surrounding bones and tissue. That was another $30.

The doctor told me that I had a diminished receptivity to frequencies in the 1000 to 1200 megahertz range. Normal conversation is between 600 to 800mz. Still when I watch movies or TV it is like a slice is missing which makes everything else hard to understand. I asked him what I should do about it and the answer was the most depressing one.
"That's normal for your age."
Owch. Yeah, get used to it. Soon you will die and you wont be able to hear anything anyways. We save our resources for the young who might benefit. Why don't you crawl on out of here old man?

In the end I decided to replace every filling in my mouth, a lifetime of dental work in four sessions over two days. Dr. Chanaka made it as painless as possible. My face was numb and cranky for days but my mouth was filled with beautiful new white teeth. There I got a second chance. I promise to brush and floss three times a day, under one nation, to have and to hold, till death do we part.

The eye doctor gave me a prescription for bi-focals. I really only have a problem with reading small print (which can be a disaster in airports) so I just got reading glasses. I found these snazzy emerald green ones at Tokyo Optic. A small fortune here at $75.

My festival of health care ended and I had still spent under $500. That would buy me only one week of insurance back in Ameri-kaa. I was happy to pay it. I was proud to pay it.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Grace Dental Clinic

Well, she certainly did a good job. I feel like the sun is shining inside my mouth. The office was snazzy too. It was completely modern and spotlessly clean. It was the kind of place that made you wonder if your shoes were good enough. Fortunately they make you remove them before you go into the examination room.

Her name is Jarunee Wattanakra and she is the best dentist I ever had. She explained everything to me. She offered me options. She was painless. She had big color diagrams of teeth which she used to discribe what she was going to do and what she had done. She answered all of my questions without treating me like an annoying idiot. We spoke in Thai, in German and in English.

The best part for me was the price. In New York it is unaffordable for me to go to the dentist. I certainly would never say things like:
"Do whatever needs to be done."
She examined and cleaned all of my teeth down below the gum line.She polished them. Then she talked to me about a polyp I had on the inside of my gum. It had been there for years. She said it wasnt imperative that I have it removed but that sometimes they can cause problems later. She said it could be removed with a lazer. It would be painless and the advantage over a knife is that it would not bleed and would not require stitches. The whole proceedure would take about ten minutes.
"Get rid of it." I said. And it was done. The cleaning cost me 1,200 bhat. The surgery 2,000 bhat. The medicene, (pain killers, anti bacterial mouth wash) 30 bhat. The total in U.S dollars? Eightyone.

Monday, August 08, 2005


I had to resist temptation last night when a very pretty hooker started following me down the street.
"I give you good massage ok ok?"
There is plenty of legitimate massage in Thailand but not usually offered after midnight on street corners.
"Mai aw, Mai aw!" Don't need, don't need! I said shaking my hand and running as fast as I could wearing sandals. Its so cheap here, maybe 25-30 bucks.I think an hour with a hooker in New York City starts at around $200.

Keep in mind that shaking your head "no" means nothing here. You have to shake your hand like the Queen of England only a little faster. Anything else only confuses them. Imagine what you would think if somebody said hello to you while shaking their head "no"?

I am having some very lazy days here in Chaing Mai. The idea is that learning to speak some Thai would make everything more enjoyable. Yet there is so much I would like to do. I would like to go to Pai. I would like to visit Suko Thai the ancient capitol. I want to have some diving down in the south, maybe Ko Phi Phi.Royal says the kayaking in Krabbi is not to be missed.

There is also the idea of affordable health care. I think I need reading glasses. Well, I know I need reading glasses but I keep lying to myself. The computer screen has ruined my eyes. Katerina was laughing at me in Bangkok when I held the menu across the table to be able to read it. Her father is an optomotrist. Here one can see a doctor, get a prescription, glasses everything here for around 25 dollars.

I also wouldn't mind having my teeth cleaned and examined.

For as long as I can remember I have had this little pain in my side. It comes and goes. It is never debilitating so I just ignore it. MRI (including radiologist fee) at Bangkok General Hospital? Around two hundred and fifty dollars. Hard to pass up.

That means I would need another week in Bangkok. Time is running out already.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Doi Inthanon

I said I didnt want to see any elephants abused. She assured me that the drivers have a stick, but "never use". That was untrue. When we got to the elephant farm all of them had one or two fresh bruises on their noggins and a score of scars.

We rode the big grey beasts into the jungle. A driver perched on the head and two passengers on a metal bench. The driver smacked our girl, a massive female with baby in tow, several times shouting.
"Quay Quay"
Somewhere in the wood I asked him if I could take over driving. He smiled and exchanged places with me. He offered me the stick and I said I didnt need it. Instead I petted big mamas head, sang to her and gently urged her on. We got back to the base before anyone else. My fellow passenger David said it was because I was driving her nuts with my singing.

We hiked on into the forest till we saw the first waterfall. With the monsoon in season the stream was raging.We were jumping from rock to rock, diving into the cool water when it started raining in torrents. Our packs on the shore got the brunt of it. We would not be completely dry again for the rest of the trip.

Our first night we stayed at the Meo village. The mountain is home to the Hmong people who have a seperate language from Thai language proper (which is actually a local Bangkok dialect). They were friendly smiling people. They had crafts to sell us, and chips and beer and whiskey and coke. Of course coke. Its everywhere. You can't escape it

Everyone kept emphasising that there would be plenty of beer and whiskey available. I didnt know why they kept saying it. Why would I want whiskey on a nature hike? The first night we were all so wet and exhausted we fell asleep immeadiately. There were about 25 or so villagers and maybe thirty or more trekkers in the tiny hamlet. We were spread out in three seperate one room teak houses on thick mahogony stilts. The bathroom was a single hut down the hill. In the middle of the night we could hear screams coming from the hut that contained a score of people from Ireland. It sounded like they were getting rip roaring drunk.

The next day we hiked some more, visited another waterfall nestled among the huge rock ledges and then stopped at Karen Village. We found a volley ball net and a shrunken but playable ball. Surrounded by mountains we bonded in a riotiously competitive game. That night our guides smiled, played guitar, sang and coaxed the group into a drinking game. I had one or two whiskeys with coke. I fled when I saw it start to tip out of control. The Aussies needed the least persuasion. By ten o'clock everyone was screaming at each other demanding that they take a drink according to the rules of the game. They were ossified with liquor.

The next day they staggered one by one from the hut, holding their heads. I saw how it worked now. It was like a trip to Vegas. Still the drinks were cheap, and what amounted to a fortune for the village barely dented a single westerners bank account. There was one more waterfall to dive into and blissfully no more rain.

Our journey ended with a long lazy ride down the Wang river on bamboo rafts. We passed magnificent trees, rickety bridges and small stretches of tiny rapids. Wet again, we climbed into the back of the truck and headed home.

Khao Soi Gai

Before I went trekking in the mountains I sent off an email to a local Thai teacher in Chaing Mai. The address I found was on a little slip of paper torn from a notice that had been plastered to a cement fence. Three days later I returned from the jungle. I found a cheaper hotel with better TV on a nice side street with more trees. I dropped off a 4 kilo bag of laundry. I ate some 20 bhat food. Then I checked my email and there was an answer.

His name is Ting and he met me at my hotel. I rode on the back of his motor bike to a tree filled plaza by a local monastery. There are monks and monasteries everywhere in Thailand. Almost every young man spends a few years in a Buddhist temple. Even the king, as a prince, spent a few years with a shaved head, wearing an orange frock, meditating and sweeping the parking lot with a palm broom.

We sat on a little cement table by a tree and he ran me through the basics. He is a very slight, very dark young guy. After an hour or so we finished and made plans to meet again. He is doing very well because it was hard to find spots in his crowded schedule.

I decided to try it out and went to a restaurant I like called The Wok. It is a stones throw from The Anodard. They make wonderful food, but perhaps is a little pricey for the locals so it is often filled with horrible Brits. They are all so white and so loud with streaks of bright red sunburn on their foreheads and extremities. The backs of their legs are often covered with the little sores that one gets from scratching mosquito bites too often. One of them was yelling into his cellphone at the table opposite me. He had had a motorbike accident on the road to Pi which he was quite proud of and wanted everyone on this side of the mountain to know about. A group of three girls sauntered in tossing their blonde locks about. One of them had a skirt so short that when when she tugged on it to adjust it, it popped right off, down to her knees exposing her tiny black panties. The English girls are often quite homely or fat or both, but I guess they do make up for it by being wonderful sluts.

No one even tries to say hello in Thai in that place. The waiter came to my table and I greeted him in his own language. He bowed slightly in greeting. Then I said
"Phom jaak kin Khao Soi Gai, Khrap" (I would like to eat the ((Chaing Mai curry)) fried noodles with chicken, please)
His eyes almost lept out of his head. This time he bowed hurridly and scurried off. I had never seen a waiter in Thailand move so fast. I began to wonder if I had gotten it right or if I had cursed the land his grandmother was born on.

The food came and it was what I ordered, including the drink without ice. I was making it.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Not the Night Train to Chiangmai

Now I hear that the night train is quite lovely. The beds are OK and you can actually sleep. Last year in Vietnam it was such a horror that whenever I hear that word I shudder. In Harlem Night Train is a cheap alcoholic wine-ish drink that only the most desperate drink. Too me.. it seemed consistant.

I opted for the day train which takes a little longer. Still you get to see the country. Plenty of it. It took 12 hours to go from Bangkok to Chiangmai. 8 across flat plains of the central highlands. The last four in the mountains. That is when I was happy to see out the window. In the north it seems that people take special pride in their railway stations. They are special little houses with pitched roofs, nicely painted and little, very well kept gardens. If there was not so much to see in so little time I would like to have visited one of these towns. One where not one single flip flop wearing back packer has set foot in.

The train itself was good enough. You could actually use the bathroom without gagging. I hear that on the bus it is like visiting one of the outer rings of hell. They had food service as well. You could eat it. They randomly gave out two kinds of meat, white or red. It didnt really matter. It tasted as if the choice was either dog or rat. Still, you could eat it.

At the station I stopped at the Visitors Information desk to ask about a hotel. The attendant led me out into a completely dark parking lot and asked me to wait in a broken down blue Van. Its amazing what you will do when you are traveling. You have to trust everybody.

The hotel I stayed at is called the Anodard. It is a beat up 1970s style with close to 300 rooms or so. The place was empty. I think there were maybe only 20 guests in the whole place. My room was large with wood paneling like the kind you see on the Brady Bunch. In fact I thing the Brady Bunch dad might have been one of the Architects on this project. His signiture style is everywhere. It has a beautiful swimming pool surrounded by tropical plants and a sort of Walt Disney-esq fake waterfall. Too bad you cant jump from it any more. There is a sign with several Thai words on it blocking the steps leading up. Under the Thai script it says simply "No" in english. Isnt it nice our language is so compact?

Sunday, July 31, 2005

The Wild Orchid Club

The Wild Orchid Club was officially disbanded last night. I was standing on the corner of Khaosan and Chakrapong roads. Emily and Tomec were silhouetted by the huge cheesy signs that celebrated the bars, restaurants, shops and guest houses of Khaosan. Just over Emily shoulder Lucky Beer and Silk Bar flickered with the intermittent pulse of the fluorescent tubes that powered them. It was hot and humid. It's always hot and humid in Bangkok and Emily was leaving tomorrow. She was on her way to Ayhudara, one of the ancient capitols of Thailand.

Carolyn had been the first to leave, then Katerine. Maria was disappearing. Tomec, whose visa would expire at midnight, was heading for the boarder tomorrow, hoping to be able to cross into Lao. The members of The Wild Orchid, officially The Wild Orchid Dinner and Cocktail Club were culled from the Wat Pho School of Traditional medicine. Wat Pho is the monastery next to the Kings Palace where the Emerald Buddha finally ended up. It has been a center of learning and medicine since the 18th century.

After Jenni left I spent most of an entire day hiding in my hotel room. In a city of 8 million, like New York, the feeling of loneliness is palpable. In a city of 30 million its a god damn brick shoved down your throat. Fortunately there is Star Movies. My hotel room might have been a dank, green cement, windowless, pillbox but it did have cable and Star Movies is Asia's answer to suicide prevention hotlines. I saw Die Hard one and two. Tears welled in my eyes during Father of The Bride. I saw a Christopher Walken film called Poolhall Junkies that I swear was never released in the United States.

I made a few forays out into the streets for food. I hated Khaosan. Jet lagged I wandered into the streets at 3am. The strip was filled with brutal Australian drunkards who were trying to force kisses on Thai hookers. Hadn't these guys ever watched television? Everyone knows the sacred rule of prostitutes. No kissing on the mouth. If they didn't know that, then they for sure didn't know that two out of five of the ladies they were groping were not even ladies but ladyboys. There was going to be a lot of blown minds tonight. I knew I had to do something. I was already thinking of getting a flight home. I always go through this. At first I hate to leave. Then I hate being there. Then I start having dreams where my cats can talk and are saying things like. "Where are you? Why did you leave us? Is there any better food around here?" Then something changes. I get hooked in. I find my rhythm. By the end I don't want to go back and as soon as I get home I am surfing the internet for airfares.

In my guide book they mentioned Wat Pho had a course in traditional Thai massage. That was it. It would kill two birds with one stone. I would meet people and it would give my days some focus. The next day (after watching a movie at three AM with Anthony Hopkins where he is a black man who looks white and ends up driving into an ice covered lake with a woman who talks to crows and whose husband is a psycho out to kill them both) I took a Tuk Tuk to the temple. I had to fight with three of them to get the price down to 80 bhat when I knew it should be only 10. The real humiliation came when I realized I could have walked there in ten minutes if I only knew my way around town or... Could read the Thai alphabet. First I visited the reclining Buddha. It is an immense golden statue imprisoned in a temple that can barely contain it. You can hardly get a look at it between all of the pillars. It was the night before the full moon so the site was swarming with Thai. They were praying, lighting incense, and dropping hundreds of coins in the scores of metal pots lined up behind where the graven image lay. One of the monks, in psychedelic orange garb, pointed me the way to the massage center. I got a brochure and asked about when courses start. "Anytime you liiike." The woman in white seated behind an ancient wooden desk cooed to me in that gentle Asian way. "Huh. Well, ah what about tomorrow?" "Yessss. How you liiike." "Say.. 10am? "Anytime between niiine and eleeeeven." I was beginning to wonder if she had any idea of what I was talking about. I had been raised within the much stricter organization of Bostonian Academics.

I made my way there the next day, walking along the massive white walls of the kings palace. It was nine am and already the sun was broiling. There were vendors under every tree. I had countless opportunities for noodle soup with fried fish balls, tropical fruits, rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves, CDs, DVDs (of films that hadn't even been released), images of king Rama I-IX and hand carved buddhas. A band of blind people played tinny Thai folk music their faces red with sunburn and their eyes glazed white. I was led by one of the monks to a side street outside the main temple compound of Wat Pho.

Everywhere out side the temple there were tiny shops filled with herbs and potions and charts of human anatomy. At the end of a grimy street, with a broken wooden dock that hung out over the Phrya, in a vaguely 1950s style medical building I filled out an application. The place was staffed with pretty young Thai girls in blue nurses uniforms. I took off my shoes and went to the third floor with my registration card. There was a small air conditioned hall there. The floors were made with six inch wide mahogany boards and lined in neat little rows with mattresses. Everywhere people were giving and receiving massages. My instructor was a middle aged Thai woman named Pornita. She asked us to call her Porn for short. Later when I knew her better I would mention that she might want to change her nick name if she traveled to the U.S.. That was where I met Emily. She was to be the first member of The Wild Orchid Club. Downstairs we would met Tomec and Katerina. Later we would add Maria and Carolyn.

For a week we became the Wild Orchid Club. We dined together, shared stories, discussed politics, evolved philosophies. Nothing official. It was just that nobody really knew anybodys last name or hotel, but somehow we always saw each other somewhere at some point and it was yelled from the bus or across busy streets.
"We meet tonight at The Wild Orchid, 7 o'clock!"

During our break on the first day of class Emily and I had lunch In a narrow ally way off the street. We each had a bowl of noodle soup with fried pork balls for 30 bhat a serving. It was made by an old woman who guarded the entrance to the ally. A narrow sliver of sunlight shone down on the collection of potted tropical plants she used to decorate the small place. We sat at a little card table on tiny red metal folding chairs. The old woman's associate, who blocked the other side of the ally with her shiny aluminum cart made us a fresh orange juice. Emily and I talked about massage and its healing power. Then the conversation drifted to the slippery slope of prostitution.
"I used to be a very naughty dancer." She offered in her thick cockney accent.
"Oh, I used to like to dirty dance too when that was in. Now I like Salsa." I said, not getting it.
"No, I mean I used to show my ta tas." She smiled at me and wrinkled her nose.
" I ran away to Greece when I was a teenager and got a job in a club there. Turned me straight off blokes. I even had me a lezzie girlfriend."
There was a pause as I let this new information soak in. She was barely 25 now. It was hard to imagine an even younger more petite Emily with her PiPi Longstocking braids and freckled cheeks on the stage of some sleazy disco in Mykonos. Now she was trying to make it as an actress in London. Massage was her fall back plan.

Katerina was the one who broke the mystery of the Thai mass transit system and effectively liberated us from the Tuk Tuks. She figured out by randomly jumping on buses that number 53 would take us to and from Khao San. The buses were framed like the ones I rode in elementary school. The 53 was painted a dark red. At some point the worn out floors had been replaced with six inch wide mahogany slats. They were patrolled by a transit officer in a military style uniform. They conductors often had more braids and ribbons then some 2 star generals do. They walked up and down the ailes clicking a metal cylinder that folded open on its hinges. They cylinders were all personally decorated with sparkles or decoupage and crammed full with coins bills and and neatly rolled tickets. Our bus wound it's way around the markets and temples before dumping us off directly opposite of Wat Pho.

It was me who discovered the public boats. While wandering around Phra Arthit I noticed a peer behind an outdoor bar. At the end of it was a dock and a boat schedule. I was able to decipher that it made its way up the Phrya to Tat Tien which is directly opposite Wat Pho. I told Katerina and she was all for trying it. We made a plan to meet the next morning. Katerina is a very serious young German girl. She has long blonde hair and translucent white skin. She could pass for an eighteen year old high school student but is in reality a 25 year old microbiologist. She got tired of being a stooge for the drug companies and took off for Asia to reassess her life direction. The next morning, while having breakfast where she resided at The Peachy Guest House I asked her. "So what's up with you and Tomec?" Tomec had put me up to this. He is a tall, handsome, curly blonde headed, Architecture student originally from Poland and completely terrified by Katerina's radiance. Everyone is.
"What do you mean?" She responded knowing perfectly well what I meant.
"He looks at you like he adores you. What do you think of him?"
"I don't think of him that way at all." Was her flat response.

W.O.C. IV.
When I made a proposal that we go to see a Thai movie Emily's response was the most adamant.
"I don't. I want to see a proper American movie with popcorn and big chairs."
The idea died with that, but on the last evening of the Wild Orchid Club, the day after Katerina left for home, Tomec asked me if I was still interested in going. Emily texted me that she and Carolyn were having beers at her hotel The Four Sons and watching movies "on the tele." Carolyn, an outer satellite of our club was with her. When we got there the chicks seemed perfectly content to be with their huge bottles of Singha beer and not moving anywhere.

I had asked a waitress at the Wild Orchid for a tip on seeing Thai movies and she wrote down the name of a place on a slip of paper in Thai script.
"Don't pay more than 60 bhat." She warned me. Hmmm. I wish me luck.

We got there for 80 bhat. Sometimes you need to remind yourself that you are arguing over fifty cents. We got tickets for a movie called "Thirty Years Later"

Director: Rutaiwan Wongsirasawad
Cast: Phairote Sangwaribut, Lalana Sulawan
Genre: Comedy
Synopsis: The sequel of the tophitting teen flick in the 1980s comes back after thirty years pass by. The couple of the decade no more need to fight against their fathers. This time however it is more chaotic because they need to help their daughter's love affair. They are just to realize that this new-age love is too confusing.

The theater was in a big mall and very modern. It was so white it glowed. It must take a small army to clean it at night. The cinema was on the third floor and over the ticket and concession stand on a curved wall were the three dimensional letters for Major Cinema. Really, that's what its called.

The seats were plush red and the carpet in multi colored stripes made it difficult not to tumble down them. Before the movie started we all had to stand to hear the national anthem and see a short featuring Rama IX. They never show him head on in this little film as he walks among a multitude of children, cripples and military personnel. He is always wearing these tinted glasses that make him look, well, creepy. If you mention him to anyone in Thailand the automatic response is.
"We love the king."

On the way back we decided to try getting on a bus. The Mall was closing and people and buses were swarming out front in what seemed to me a completely disorganized fashion. We ran to jump on one, anyone, and a girl grabbed my arm.
"Where are you going?"
"Not this bus, 192" Nice. We were going to have an easy trip.

On the way back Tomec was acting morose.
"what's the matter?" He looked at me with soulful eyes. I knew it was about Katerina. "Listen." I said. "Never listen to what women say. So much garbage comes out of their mouths. Watch what they do." That can be said about anyone really. Even though Katerina had verbally rejected Tomec, she spent all of her free time with him, and looked after him like they were partners.
"Slowly, slowly. Its a done deal."
"What should I do?"
"Don't worry about tactics. Just be around. Pursue. She wants you to prove yourself a little." That seemed to cheer him upe. We crossed the Chao Phrya and saw Bangkok by night. Wat Arun was lit up like a Vegas Casino. With the wind blowing through the open bus windows, the town didn't smell half so bad.

Thursday, July 21, 2005


"How much did you pay?" The man smoking cigarette asked me. I was waiting for my driver. He had gone to the bathroom.
"40 Bhat for four stops." I said to the fat Thai man. He was sitting in a narrow slice of shade under a building ledge. He was dressed in slightly soiled white linen. Beads of sweat popped up on his forehead as fast as he could mop them up.
"That's a good price. How did you get that?"
"I was sitting under a tree on the other side of town. A woman came up to me and started chatting me up. She's a midwife at a hospital in Chang Mai. She made a list of places for me to go. Then she got me a Tuk Tuk and she made the price with the driver. What's the deal with the fish?"
"Special fish. They come here to the temple to feed. Only catfish, no other fish."
Past the buddies temple down a narrow ally between the out buildings there was a rusty metal dock. The pea green water there was roiling with catfish.
"I saw a young couple putting baby fish into the water. What was that?"
"What do you think?"
"Something to do with the full moon tomorrow? A special blessing for a baby or wedding or something?"
"Yes. Setting them free. In the next stage of life the catfish will be people. If they see you and remember you and you have no money, they may help you."
At the top of the ramp there had been a man selling food for the fish. I had bought a bowl and sprinkled it on the murky waters of the Chao Phraya. As each little nugget hit the water hundreds of fish vied for it, squirming one on top of each other. If one of them spotted me in their next life I was covered.
"This is a local temple. Not many tourist. Where else did you go?" He took a long drag on his cigarette pulling the blue smoke into his flat brown nostrils.
"I saw the Big Buddha."
The big Buddha is an enormous golden statue on a tiny little park. The key word being "golden". I sat on the grass there text messaging back home. The park is surrounded with small two story concrete houses one next to the other. Once brightly painted, now faded, each house has a porch awning. Scrawny cats prowled around the food vendors there. A mangy yellow dog came up to me and sniffed my hand. He looked at me with sad eyes, whined and then wandered away.
"Where to next?" The cigarette man asked.
"I don't know, some place called "Voglee."
"Oh, very special place, you saw it on TV?"
"No? Even if you have a million dollars you cant get into there without a membership card. I have a gold membership card." He held it up for me to see. "You know Armani?"
"They make all the suit for Armani. They make you an Armani suit for maybe $300. You get a special card and your measurements are on file for life. Every year you get a new catalog in the mail. This week they have a special promotion. For the first time they let tourist in for seven days. Today is the last day. Very good quality, 100 percent cashmere, I know I'm a lawyer."
The driver showed up looking relieved. We took off.

A Tuk Tuk is a little motorbike that has been outfitted with a metal roof and sides and two upholstered seats in the back. Every color of the rainbow is represented in broad stripes on its body and vinyl seat covers. The drivers are little hustlers and you cant trust them. They are forbidden by the government to charge any more than 100 bhat for any trip. They routinely try to get three or four hundred out of you. The local price is 10 bhat per trip. If they take you to a fancy shop, even only to look, they get a kick back of a full tank of petrol from the shop keepers. If you know this, sometimes you can bargain for a free trip.

I was fitted for a suit at Voglee. Then I went to the golden mountain. Later that evening I met up with Jenni. We had dinner in Khaosan, kind of a miniature sleazier version of Las Vegas. The backpackers and the whores go there to mix and mingle. Special extra strong drinks are available in all the bars. They advertise that they don't check IDs. I told her about my day.
"What do you want to do tonight?" She asked.
"Lets go see a ladyboy show."
She laughed.
"Well I figure you're a farm girl from Montana. You moved to Seattle and a few weeks out of college you're now an international business woman. You're already in the outer stratosphere. By now you must be up for anything."
"Ladyboys sounds fine to me." She reached for her purse.
"No, let me treat." I offered.
"No, let me expense it." She countered with a sly smile.
I had been trumped.

The ladyboys are Thai transexuals. So many tourists are fooled by them that the Thai women insist that there is a law that demands that they inform anybody who picks them up, of their gender transformation.
"I think they're just bitter." Jenni told me. "Some of them are more beautiful than any woman. And none of them have asses." Jenni is quite proud of her latina ass.
One Thai man, a self proclaimed playboy, told me that there are 10 million Ladyboys in Thailand or one sixth of the population. Hmmm.

The show was a rip off in style and tone of a Parisian cabaret. The dancing was lame. They did have wonderful costumes and the boys, albeit lip-synching, gave it their all. An Asian sensibility permeated all of the numbers. In one bit a James Bond type guy marries a virgin princess. He them proceeds to shun her for shall we say more experienced women. To please him she transforms herself into a vamp. He rejects her and forces her to once again don her wedding vestments. In the final moments of this tragedy she starts to shoot herself, and then shoots him.

After the show Jenni and I parted. We couldn't stop laughing at the show, especially the ending that featured three Asian ladyboy Marylins dancing in unison with a chorus line of boys with white tophats and tuxedos. I hugged her and kissed her cheek. She jumped into a cab. I rode back in a Tuk Tuk. The next morning she called me. Her boss was sending her to Hong Kong.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


There was a hurricane over Taiwan. The plane bumped and ground its way down to the tarmac in Taipei. A pilot once told me that it would blow my mind how much these big birds can torque. My mind was blown.

We were late leaving Seattle. When I got to the airport only two gates were open. One for our flight and the other for a military flight. There were kids with buzzcuts camped out all over the place. These guys can sleep anywhere. And they do.

I met Jenni waiting to board. She is a jewelry designer out of Seattle. She goes to Bangkok to supervise her work on the production line. She knew how to change planes in Taipei and she let me tag along. After 12 hours in an airplane we were giddy. We were making impossibly bad jokes. It was another 5 hours before we would get to Bangkok.

After I dropped her at her hotel the driver brought me to mine. He was gone by the time I found out I was at the wrong place. Nobody seemed to know where my hotel was. The streets are not marked. Nobody was even able to agree upon what streets were called what. I was wandering around the Khaosan's back alleys delirious with the almost liquid heat that oppresses this city. Past shops piled one on top of each other. Past the squawk and roar of the street traffic. Then I found it. Steps from where I had started. I took a shower. Everything was going to be alright.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Mountain

"We can get you to Paradise."
"That sounds good to me."

It was 8AM. I was downtown at the Sheraton. We were pulling out for Mt. Rainier on a Grayline bus. A tour bus. From the highway you can see the mountain. Ninety miles away and still bigger than any of the skyscrapers downtown. Big fat rain clouds were rolling in from the west. It was not a good sign.

What I would really like to have done was have been dumped off somewhere in the National Forest where I could have done some camping and hiking. If I could spend the night out there. If I could spend a night deep in the woods where a cellphone has never rung. If I could spend the night under those countless stars. I would wake up at 2 am stumble into the moonlight and hug one of those old growth trees. I never understood what people meant when they used "tree hugger" as a pejorative. I mean, who hugs trees? Now after seeing them I get it. This ancient organism. This towering pillar of living strength. You want to hug one. Its irresistible.

The Cascades are part of The Ring of Fire extending deep into South America. The bus was ice cold. It was like we were transporting fish. We stopped at little towns along the way. We bought snacks. We saw huge patches where loggers had clear cut the trees. We listened to the drivers stale jokes.
"Over there you see two kinds of cows, the ones standing and the ones lying down. The ones lying down we call 'ground beef.'"
Groan. Except the eight Japanese sitting on the left in the middle of the bus. They referred themselves to their guide books. Then came another.
"Those horses over there are considered 'outstanding in their field'". A louder, more gut driven groan rang up. The Japanese looked back and forth at their guide books and each other.

An hour passed. We had some more folklore and more history.
"See that snow up there? That's Indian snow. It's extremely rare."
"What's Indian snow?" I said, falling deep for it.
"Apache here and Apache there."
When we got to Paradise the mountain was gone. We had two and a half hours to hit the trails or sit in the lodge and eat buffalo stew.

I headed up along the Skyline trail towards Glacier view. The Glacier, a vital part of Seattles watershed is almost gone. In the last half century it has shrunk into a rivulet. Its not hard to figure out. There. Not there. And still the Bushes and Cheneys don't get it.

I doubled back and headed towards Alta Vista. The wild flowers were in full bloom. The trailside was covered with delicate green bouquets dappled with blue and yellow and pink flowers. A patch of blue was heading our way. As I reached the crest the blue hit followed by a rain of sunlight. The mist dissipated and the mountain revealed itself. My mouth dropped open. The presence of it shocked me, rooted me to the ground. I glanced back and below me where the trails wound back to Paradise. Everyone had stopped. The hikers who had been scurrying back and forth like ants were all staring upward at the massive snow and rock covered cliffs who's pinnacle appeared to dent the sky.

I clamored back down in time to make the bus. We made one more stop at Nerada Falls. We made another at Jason's Ark where I had a piece of apple pie on a scale similar to the mountain whose shadow it was created in. We made our way back. Our cell phones blinked on. Highways wound together. And then we were back. Back in Seattle

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The bluest skies you've ever seen

The sun came out. I got to see one of those legendary Seattle days. The sky was crisp and clear like a blue apple. The air dry and warm. People were saying hello. Strangers.
"That's how they trick you into staying here." Raina said.

All I ever knew about Washington state before came from Here Come The Brides, Frazier and Sleepless In Seattle. I came here with those iconic cultural markers rooted into my subconscious. Needless to say. I never saw Bobby Sherman.

I took the ferry to Bainbridge island and Vashon island. I visited The Gaslight on Capitol Hill. I have seen and visited amazing bookstores. Stores with racks and racks and rooms and rooms of new and used books. Stores jimmied into the parlors and sitting rooms of old houses, run by ex-computer programmers with marvelously long unkempt beards. I swam in a fifty meter salt water pool. 1500 meters.
"Island suburbs!" Raina interjects. "You can have a latte outside of home depot."

As I walked to the bus I noticed that the Amityville Horror house had a string of broken Christmas lights tacked to the front porch. Some Mexicans were out there chopping down all of the weeds.

Beacon Hill is covered with these tiny little houses with lots of pointy roofs and windows. The hours must be very long when the days are short in places like that. I passed by some eight year old boys and one of them was saying to the other.
"See, that's the whole reason we all hate you. You're from Bellevue."
Bellevue is where the rich people live. Beacon hill is where broken Christmas lights hang above the door long after the yellow "Crime Scene Do Not Remove" tape has blown into the wind.

Raina's house is one of these houses. When you enter there is a long hall with hand painted fragments of text in 9 inch high letters that read.
"Everyone I see is missing something." piled on top of each other, repeated over and over again.
She has draped the windows in luxury fabrics, thick and pleated. As if she held a magic wand she has transformed this tired little working class home into her little paradise.

The truth is that Raina has created an amazing life for herself here. She traverses from the working class hamlet of Beacon Hill to the mansions of Bellvue with the ease and grace of an expert skier. She has spent her strongest years building a life here. Too bad the weather sucks.

On my way out to Vashon I saw Rainier. At ninety miles away the base blended seamlessly into the sky leaving the jagged rock and glacier to float above the horizon. It was calling me. I had to go there.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Bad sushi

An old man with a huge dollop of drool hanging from his mouth is hovering above my table. He has a look on his pale, crinkled face like death is staring back at him, at the clouds in his watery blue eyes. The woman with the metal and plastic leg limps along behind him.
"Sold, sold, sold, all these are sold." She says, pointing to the pastel hued watercolors on the wall behind me.
I am drinking a cappuccino, praying that they will move on before a rivulet of his gooey spittle connects to the keyboard of my laptop.

Seattle has so many cute little coffee houses connected to the planetary hub that they have begun to advertise "wi-fi free" zones instead of "free wi-fi" for those sick of being encircled by a cadre of users staring into their monitors. The cafes are cozy. The tattooed hippie-chic baristas genuinely friendly. It is a wonder that Bush ever received a single vote here.

The bad sushi put me in a black mood. The weather was not helping. It is the principle cause of Raina's unhappiness Seattle. She ran over her various plots for escape. I nodded and tried to make comforting sounds. I try to remind her that misery will hover over you like a dark cloud if you let it.You have to wake yourself up. When I was dirt poor and sleeping on pee stained mattress in Brookline somehow I was never happier. I have learned that happiness is a state of mind not a state of being. But nobody wants to hear this..

We had spent the day visiting a series of scenic but heavily polluted lakes. Raina says that the duck crap is so bad that if you don't shower immediately after entering the water you end up with "swimmers itch." We found some sun and stretched out on an brocaded sheet with a heavy basket weave. Raina's lament went on.
I couldn't help thinking if a good humping might do her some good. If only she could let one of these bekerchifed Seattle guys with silver studs in their ears and snappy little beards into her life. But her standards. Way too high.

Raina lives just a stone throws from the corporate headquarters of They are situated on a hill overlooking the city in a 1950s yellow-brick gothic hospital building. One expects to see a giant bronze statue of Dr. Kildare in the lobby. Everything is lush in Seattle. Everything is rotting. The rain is endless. The grey, impenetrable.

Raina sent me emails of yoga studios and art events weeks before I came. She cleaned like crazy. she organized a slot in her bathroom arsenal of beauty products for me to slide my tooth brush into. She made a special shade for my sleeping room before I came. As you draw it up it folds into generous pleats revealing a picture window, her overgrown lawn and a house she refers to as "The Amityville Horror."
"Crack whores are always passing out there." she says with evil glee.
She created my sleep chamber out of her sewing room. The bed is on top of a "cutting table" four feet off of the ground. It is draped in luxurious white fabrics, left over from one of her jobs I presume. It feels like I am sleeping on an altar but with no supplicants.

I went to bed with a stomach ache. Rice and squid battling each other in my lower intestine. I lay on my back breathing deeply trying to release my upper spine. Somehow I slipped off into a dream that I had forgotten to feed my cats. I had forgotten for days. I took the subway downtown from Seattle to New York City. When I got home one of the green plaster walls in the bathroom was caving in. It was filthy and a guest had taken a decorative hand weave from Bali and employed it as a bath mat. I had grabbed a fistful of her frizzy golden locks and was screaming at her when I heard a crash in the lobby. They were preparing a theater piece down there. The director, a Spaniard, was orchestrating dangerous stunts for his cast that involved cable's drilled into my ceiling. We argued and I awoke on the cutting table, with no idea of where I was.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


In the north of Iran, somewhere by the Caspian, is a tiny Caliphate. The Caliph who ruled this province wanted it to be the most modern in the Arab world. He constructed roads. He commissioned schools and hospitals. He built a tiny airport whose magnificent runway stretched towards the sea.

When the oil well that was the engine for all this change dried up, so did the governmental largesse. The roads cracked and heaved in the desert heat. The teachers abandoned the schools. The doctors their patients. The planes ceased to fly. The caliph was no longer beloved by his tribe. He became isolated and bitter.

He began to live a fantasy of what his kingdom might have been. He dressed beggars as dignitaries and paraded them about in broken down limousines. He held lavish dinners where the only thing served was figs and Cous Cous. He held international tribunals with elephants as judges and monkeys as the jurors.

When someone wanted to leave the caliphate they were forced to buy a plane ticket from the only, state run, travel agency. When the time came to leave they were led out onto the blistering tarmac where the graceful jet aircraft had long ago ceased to touch down. Once there they were beaten mercilessly.

The travelers returned home covered in bandages. The returned with fantastic tales of their travels. The told stories of dancing with the English Queen, riding on the backs of bulls in Spain and diving into the Atlantic from the nose of the Statue of Liberty.

So in this way, the wise Caliph, without a dime, out of sand and sea water, created a world as functioning and as normal as any.