Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Political Positions

Both here in Thailand and my country of origin, 2008 is a year of political upheaval. I’m physically cut off from both, but that’s probably good. Emotionally, however, I am involved in both.

Down in BKK (Bangkok), the PAD (Peoples Alliance of Democracy) continues in its third month. It started just before I arrived back from my trip across Asia. Flying back from Athens I was in BKK less than two hours at Savarnabhumi airport—just long enough to clear immigration and catch a flight north. I had been reading about the PAD take over of the Parliament Building. As a guest in this country, I can only watch from the sidelines, so I knew better than to expose my old latent war protest alter ego to even be in the vicinity of a massive sit-in. Better for me to simply follow in the daily news and sympathize with my Thai friends, most of whom support PAD.

Back on the home front my emotional involvement goes even deeper with the historic event now taking place in less than one week. An event with reverberations that will be felt round the earth.

It’s been over 40 years since I had a candidate to vote for that I really believed in. I have been voting all my life for the lesser of two evils. I had hoped to support Bobby Kennedy in 1968. Having recently returned from my first overseas adventure of almost two years, I was newly educated in global perspective. But then we all know what happened that fateful year in history.

Living in San Francisco during the primary in 1972, it was easy to be both enthusiastic and optimistic about McGovern and I put in enough hours working for his campaign that I received a Western Union “Thank You” message over his signature the June night I returned home after getting out the vote successfully for him to be rewarded with a massive win in California. Unfortunately the national election in November did not go so well, but that Western Union message was a prized possession of mine through the "Weird Watergate" years reminding me that I had done my part attempting to avoid the chaos the country went through at that time.

But this time it’s different. I developed a formula* for the Obama Kool Aid all on my own, long before Barack Hussein Obama even knew he was going to run this election cycle. The minute I heard the “skinny guy with the funny name” give the key note address at the DNC convention in Boston, ’04, I said deep in my heart…I want to vote for this man, and I want it to be in the next election. I read both his books and looked into just who he is and I liked every thing about him. He is the composite of all the best candidates I’ve watched parade before us over the course of my six decade lifetime.

So now we are less than a week away from my dream candidate being my next President. As an American who has chosen to live outside the country in my retirement due to budget constraints (affordable health care availability being a big factor), I am a nervous wreck. I can’t be there as I was in 1972 to help get out the vote, but I refuse to believe that this time the Americans will reject the smart, competent one over the erratic, bad-tempered nasty old man.

I don’t want a maverick for my President. That may be fine in the Senate with 99 other folks to stabilize things. A little cyclone activity to stir everyone up may have its benefits there, but not at the level of Commander-in-Chief. I want stable, focused, meticulous attention to detail and organized consensus after all contributing factors are analyzed. Shoot from the hip worked great in the Wild West. It’s not a working formulae in the troubled world of the 21st Century.

If you care about the future of your country and the world at large, go out and vote for the team that brings real change and hope to all of us on planet earth. OBAMA/BIDEN ‘o8!!

*1/3 work, 1/3 commitment, 1/3 sacrifice with a dash of HOPE

Saturday, October 25, 2008

More Memoirs of a Solo Traveler

It's now official. Book #2, If You Haven't Been Pinched...You Haven't Been to Rome, is now LIVE as the publisher likes to say and will soon be available. Estimated time 2-3 weeks. And after they told me I would have to pay if I wanted to include the index, it came through on the galleys at no charge. Yeah!

It's been four years since I published my first book, Safari na Paka, and I hope these new stories will be as well recieved.

How I ever came to write and publish stories of my travels is another story all in itself that goes directly back to my long time friend, Vicki Ramirez. But putting the history of it all aside, I am having fun reliving my years of travel through these stories. I do hope you will enjoy them.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Thai Tonal Tribulations

As great as some locales can be, no place is ever quite perfect. There is always some little nagging drawback. So just what might that snag be in Chiang Mai? In one simple word--LANGUAGE.

Pah-sah Thai (Thai language) is one of the world's major strongly tonal languages. What that means is that the slightest change in pitch can sound like gibberish to a native speaker. Since intonation is one of the first speech features to develop in childhood, it can also be greatly impaired by adulthood. Although I am not entirely tone deaf, as an old English-speaking geezer (a stress vs. tonal language) I constantly battle nuances of sound.

Add to that my history of being very vocal and outspoken about the necessity to learn a language if you intend to live in that country. Just trying to learn doesn't cut it. You have an obligation to learn it. No excuses were good enough and I was often adamant with my uncompassionate stance. So you can well imagine my frustration at not having yet learned anything beyond a few basic phrases. "Walk in my shoes!" How true it is. I've been in Chiang Mai too long for my excuses to hold up against my previous rhetoric.

That's the bad news. The good news is, I haven't given up trying yet. Once again I have started taking class. My two previous attempts were with a private tutor, and this time I am going for a new format--two hours of conversation every afternoon in a group of five other faranges. We are an international group well matched in our language level.
Hopefully I can achieve success, but in the meantime I have my ready list of excuses.

1) It is really, really hard. Just for comparison, Chinese has four tones, Thai has five.

2) My ears are old. I don't hear the tones.

3) Brain circuits are overloaded. (See #2 above.)

4) Social constraints. Local Thais often just stare at you trying to speak Thai. Or worse, they just start to giggle. It can be very intimidating.

5) Immersion constraints. Too much English is spoken in Chiang Mai.

I guess it boils down to a longevity issue. If I hang in long enough I will learn, and genetics are on my side with this one. My family--both sides--has an impressive history of longevity. Data available upon request.
I'll keep you posted on my progress.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Happy Hangouts

Stay anywhere more than 72 hours and you zero in on a few favorite hangouts. Depending upon your preferences, you will find places that fulfill your needs and where you feel comfortable.

Back in the 60's in San Francisco when I was young and idealistic, it was to North Beach I gravitated. That Bohemian attraction to artistic venues never left me. Nor did my personal taste for espresso (early a.m.) and white wine (late p.m.). I don't always have the option of adding creme de framboise to the white wine like I do in Paris, but I can adjust.

In Chiang Mai I have been lucky enough to find both within walking distance of my lodging.

House of Thai Thai Coffee

When I was still new here, I would walk the full length of Ratchadamnoen Rd. for my morning "Joe." A few hundred meters beyond Tha Pha Gate was JJ's with distinctly farang prices, but the espresso was reliably good and their croissants are, in my opinion, the best available in Chiang Mai.

The route took me directly by the Chiang Mai Language Center which is also Chiang Mai Adventure Travel. Sometime my first season here, Thai Thai Coffee Shop made it's debut in with the other two.

As an early riser, I passed it several times before they were open, until one morning I got a late start and decided to try their coffee and stay closer to home. I became an instant convert.

It's a very special place run by a wonderful local family. In addition to coffee drinks they have selection of food, both local dishes and light western meals. But it's the particular care they take with coffee is what this coffee lover appreciates. Only the best beans, stored properly and ground fresh immediately prior to use. Truly the best coffee in Chiang Mai at the lowest cost. They live up to the reputation of their sign, "Unforgetable Coffee."

Over the last two or three years other coffee places have both come and gone, but Thai Thai Coffee holds top honors. Chiang Mai even sports a Starbucks now near Tha Pha Gate, but you better be prepared to pay double if you chose that option.

Writers Club & Wine Bar
How convenient for me. This little gem is right on the street where I live on Ratchadamnoen Rd., about three blocks equivalent from my guesthouse. (And a few hundred meters from my coffee venue.)

Like my morning coffee place, they weren't yet open when I first started hanging out long term in Thailand. But it's been there for so long now I can't remember what was there before.

Owned and run by Bob, a British expat and his charming Thai wife, Tong. Bob Tilley was a freeland journalist for some 50 years+ and still at it. The ambiance is that of a writer's social group with a touch of the Bohemian.

Soon after they opened I noticed the sign, checked the menu and ventured in. They open shortly after noon and this was early afternoon--good time to stop for lunch. I so thoroughly enjoyed both the food, the conversation and the wine, I've been a regular there ever since.

Narrow and long with heavy wooden tables outside surrounded by a jungle of plants, while inside a lot of dark wood makes one feel at home right away. And books--lots of books--in two glassed-in book cases at the back in a corner with comfortable seating and lights to read by.

On one side is the long teak bar with an old manual early 1900's typewriter sitting prominently on one end. The overall feel is warm and cozy. Magazine racks near the bar with a variety of ferang publications--lots are British--but many are local. It's a readers paradise.

I usually stop by in the afternoons when it's quiet and I can enjoy a glass of wine while I read the newspapers. But on Friday evenings the place buzzes with activity as many of the local journalists and writers stop by for lively conversation.

It's been written up in international travel journals, and I consider it one of the premier spots in Chiang Mai. Chock dii!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Chiang Mai Chatter

¿Que hace? Qu'est-ce qui je fais? What do I do in Chiang Mai?

It's a question I'm asked often--and in many languages. Usually I just answer, "I live and enjoy life!!" But there are those who insist...exactly what do you do while you live and enjoy life. There is so much to tell, I almost don't know where to start.

A big reason to be in such a central global location taking advantage of it's low cost of living is to simplify options for my real passion in life--Solo Travel! I traveled often throughout my life and I'm not prepared to give it up yet. Therefore, many of my activities relate to travel in some way. Either I'm planning my next trip or writing up the last one.

Last year I spent a good deal of my time writing the new book I have coming out soon. This year I have been editing and prepping the book for publication. And for anyone out there who says that sounds like work and not play, it's a little of both. But in between my trips and all the work, I do play a lot.

If you've read my first book, you know I like to group stories into categories. So just what are these "fun" categories? They do fit nicely into life categories, i.e., lodging, nourishment and social contacts. One added element as an expat living in Thailand is the adventure of meeting visa requirements. That's a separate story all in itself. So right now we will stick to the three biggies, housing, food and friends.

For my housing I have chosen to live in a guesthouse in central Chiang Mai in the area comprising the old city, inside the moat near Wat Pra Singh. An advantage to that is, I have accessible public transport without the added expense of having to own. All that extra baht goes into the travel budget.

A serendipitous side benefit is that I meet lots of other travelers who invite me to come visit them when I am out "on the road." Definately a win-win situation from my point of view. Nothing can enhance a trip any more than having locals to connect with.

Food fun! This is such a big part of my life, I suspect I will have to do a separate posting to fully cover it. Chiang Mai, in addition to low cost Thai food, has a vast range of restaurants that offer lots of options for a palate such as mine that craves variety in my daily diet. I love to eat and eat well, and I can spend a lot of time in this arena.

So that leaves us with the social scene.

As part of a large expatiate community living in Chiang Mai I can have a huge circle of friends that includes both foreigners and locals. There is an expat club here that meets twice a month and many off-shoot special interest groups. I go regularly to the computer club, occasionally to the photo group, thinking about joining a group who meet once a month to discuss fabrics, have access to a writier's group and there are many other groups I can join if and when I make time for them.

Another big plus in Chiang Mai is the number of universities here that offer free concerts, seminars, out-reach groups...you name it. In short, there is something to fill everyone's needs.

Add to that the fact that Chiang Mai has the largest number of used book stores of almost any place on the planet. As a passionate voracious reader, I love it.

And this year, a huge time sink for me is the focus on the global fascination with the most critical Presidential race in my lifetime. All eyes are on America to do the right thing this time around. I'm a heavy "lurker" on political message boards watching the trends of support. Looking for the kernel of intelligent thought that I want to believe main stream America does possess. Hoping for the insight that will get Obama elected.
Look for separate subject postings soon to expand on activities here in Chiang Mai. Visas, food, language, books, lodging, local travel, festivals and other fun stuff.
It's called "The Good Life."