Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Homeland Comforts

Back barely ten days in Chiang Mai, and I'm settled in, The sheer joy of flying directly into Chiang Mai without having to navigate Bangkok is a nice reward after an excessively long journey of ~20 hours total. That comes courtesy of China Air at the best budget price for the US market.

Being in the "States" wasn't all bad...just a significant portion of it. Unfortunately it was the portion I couldn't avoid, i.e., the simple 'raison d'etre' for the trip itself. The good news, however, is that I did accomplish all the necessary details to resolve the originating issue. I didn't have the same good luck with some of the side issues.

One thing I had hoped to do was to go through those things I still had stored with various family members. I was able to access a lot of it, but not everything. Specifically, I could not get to three trunks I had stashed in Oregon in my niece's garage. They were blocked by an overwhelming collection of who-knows-what. Worse than the proverbial 'Fiber McGee Closet." To get to them I needed help that I could never get cooperation on. Malish! Nevermind that they were chock-a-block full with some of my long-time treasures--some things just weren't meant to happen.

The slightly over ten weeks I spent in the US were confined to the West Coast, namely Oregon and California, with an emphasis on the latter. I traveled to Oregon shortly after I arrived in country, driving up with my niece who lives in LA. I had a nice visit for three days in Portland with a dear friend and her family, followed by a frantic week of sorting through boxes, nick-knacks, documents, old letters, and the global souvenirs of my nomadic life.

After that it was back to California where I spent two weeks with my brother in San Diego. He is in the process of incorporating his business and wanted to put me on the books as major stockholder and CFO. With the current chaos in the econimic sector, assuming the much maligned title of CFO seemed highly appropriate.

I took a break from that and rode Amtrak up to San Jose for a short visit with my nephew and his family in Saratoga. That proved to be a peaceful interlude interacting with the kids, working jigsaw puzzles, and a day trip to San Francisco (my favorite US city dating back to the wild and whacky '60's) to go to coffee with a friend.

Back to the Southland with another week or two in San Diego to finish up all the business matters, interspersed with short stretches in LA (West Hollywood). The advantage in LA is that my niece lives in a lively area where I can walk to everything I need and encounter interesting characters along the way. My San Diego brother lives in North County. True suburban California living in a subdivision that is far from everything and literally without local transport. Pedestrians are rare enough to potentially cause alarm and I was totally dependant on my brother for getting around.

Along with visiting friends and family, I put some focus on food and entertainment. As good as Thai food is, there are certain things that I miss like cheese, lamb, raspberries and even some strange vegetables that many folks don't consider edible such as parsnips and brussel sprouts. As a special treat, my niece and I went for Ethiopian food in LA's famous "Little Ethiopia."

I saw a local production of "The Crucible" with my friend in LA and over indulged in old reruns of Law & Order. My niece turned me on to Dr. House reruns, and she and her brother introduced me to "Cash Cab." What a kick. I'm not big into reality shows, but this one I'll make an exception for. It was great fun.

Sadly, I didn't connect with all the friends I had hoped to see, but it was time for me to go and I bid farewell, issuing everyone invitations to come visit in Thailand.

Friday, March 6, 2009

bpai Amerika

Dreams do get interrupted by reality from time to time. We can face up to reality or go back to our dream life--we do have that choice.

However, some realities require a face-off and just such a reality has cropped up in my life. Two negatives involved--family and finances; rates a double F! Enough said!
I'll spare you the details 'cause they suck, but don't change the fact that I am flying out to the US just in time to celebrate St. Pat's. Perhaps a dose of green beer and Irish stew will take some of the sting out of the trip.


Yes, even downers have a few ups. A full-on Oregon spring with crocuses, daffodils, azaleas, etc., is not a bad thing to experience. I'm well acquainted with them and they have a special spot in my heart.

But the real reward comes when I get to miss Songkran and the intense heat in Thailand that moves in this time of year, along with the air quality alerts from the field burning. For two years now I couldn't get away early enough to skip all that. So at least I'll be dry and breathing free come mid-April.

It's an open question whether I'll post to the blog while I'm away. It wouldn't qualify under "Catstayshome" now would it? It's "Cattravels" but not really. In a category all by itself, so the question then is, "Would it require a new and separate blog?" Maybe I could post one of my old rants on Songkran and pretend like I'm there.

Whatever... I'll be back soon. Chiang Mai is always calling!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Holiday Happenings

A "Triple Crown" event for me this week. Over the weekend it is the Chiang Mai Floral Festival followed on Monday by Makha Bucha Day (Magha Puja), when the monks and the faithful pay homage to Lord Buddha with a candle light procession (wian Tian) at the wat. There was a floral parade Saturday morning with a program, including a beauty pagent, in the evening at the Three Kings Monument.

Then at weeks end, it is time for Khun Meow (that's me, 'meow' being Cat in Thai) to sign in with immigration. Now that I'm on the retirement visa I no longer have to leave country to renew my visa every two months. For a while I took advantage of the requirement to explore a lot of contiguous countries, but it gets tiresome after a while to be on such a confining schedule.

Now the only requirement when I am in country is the 3-month sign-in ritual. I think there is a way to do it on line, but living in Chiang Mai, going to immigration is no big deal--a nice variation on my daily routine. Get there early, sign the book and one can be through quite quickly. This time I can even do double duty while I'm there and get my re-entry permit as required with my visa should I chose to leave country. I can travel anytime I want on this visa as long as I get my re-entry permit before I leave.

This cycle, my sign-in date is 14 February...Happy Heart Day! Been reading in the international news about all the backlash in some countries against the celebration of Valentine's Day. Bad for the morals they claim! Good thing I'm not writing from India or Saudi Arabia or I might have to worry that the government would take down my blog for just hinting that I might celebrate, but this is Thailand and there's nothing "lese majeste" (literally, injury to majestry) about Valentine's Day. Only lese majeste brings on the censorship here.

However, 14 February this year comes on a Saturday and immigration will be closed, so I get the distinct pleasure of showing up on Friday the 13th. And a big BOOOOOO to you!

Way back in another life I was known to celebrate this auspicious date. As a committed counter-culture person back in the Medieval times referred to as "THE '60's, lots of strange events took place. (Didn't Dylan once say "If you remember the '60's you weren't there."?) I may not remember all of it, but I do remember that my friends and I used to celebrate any number of oddball things. Living in San Francisco, earthquake predictions were a favorite excuse for a party as was any random Friday the 13th. Dress up like a black cat and go BOOGIE.

So this year I guess I'll just put on my red and black to cover both celebrations and go sign the immigration book, thankful that I am in Thailand living well, where everyday is a potential party. There are too many festivals here to even keep an accurate count.

Monday, January 26, 2009

New Directions

It is now one week since my new President took office. It has taken me a week almost to come back down to earth. I still pinch myself occasionally to make sure I am really alive to experience this historic transition.

As the glitter and glitz subsides, I pause to take in all the joy that I am feeling. But amidst the jubilation as the events of this past week unfolded, a lot of us were prone to weepy-eyed moments.

Being a 60+ Scottish-English-American growing up in the US post WWII, I was young, but concerned and impressionable during what were Americas "halcyon" years. We were strong and we were good. We helped liberate Europe to defeat the evil scourge of Hitler. We could stand tall and say we were American.

Unfortunately the years of my youth were punctuated with dark moments. McCarthyism swept the country when I was in elementary school and I observed the concrete evidence of the damage divisive hate campaigns can do on a country's psyche. Naive as I was, I could nonetheless feel the pain of this country I was growing up in.

My adult coming of age coincided with the civil rights movement and my first political involvements were the protest marches in the '50's and '60's. I was a beatnik and a folkie, infused with the idea that through community action common people can make a difference for good.

So it should come as no surprise my seminal moments of last week's amazing events. At the inauguration itself, it wasn't the crowds and the electric charge of the moment, but rather the sobriety of the images of the Tuskegee Airmen and Representative Lewis in the audience that brought tears to my eyes.

Tuskegee Airmen, the first black military group during WWII, who flew with distinction and then returned to their own country only to fight continued racism and bigotry. They were equal in death, but not in life.

Representative John Lewis of Georgia, one of the early group of Freedom Riders, the inter-racial group who in 1961 boarded buses in the north destined for the south, with the whites sitting in back and the blacks in front. Brave men and women testing the reality of the Supreme Court decision that in 1946 declared racially segregated seating on buses to be unconstitutional. They faced angry mobs, fire bombs, beatings, stoning, and the full wrath of Bull Conner's Jim Crow.

All of the music was top rate, and, yes, I loved Aretha's hat, but the most memorable moment of the 4-day period preceeding the official inauguration came on Sunday at the We Are One Concert. I was momentarily saddened that Odetta didn't live to sing for the event, but Pete was there for her.
Yes, that grand icon of folk music himself, Pete Seeger. He is the embodiment of what America can be at it's best. His whole life has been a tribute to the very things that the Obama Administration gives promise to--unity, hope, sanity and justice--the re-enfranchisement of an entire segment of America.

Black listed durng those dark McCarthy years, he never gave up believing in the true spirit of the country. That wonderful 89 year old minstrel voice of the people singing Woody's signature song, This Land is Your Land" sent thrilling chills down my spine.

Yes my new President's speech was better than good; it was fantastic. Yet it is not what he says, but what he stands for that fills me with hope and inspiration.

If our nation can come together and work as one, the outcome will always be, "YES WE CAN!" With the true spirit of "Yes We Can," there will always be HOPE!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Visa News

This close to the holiday season seems an appropriate time to be "making a list and checking it twice." However, it's not Santa who's perusing this list, but yours truly, as part of my newly established immigration ritual to prepare for my visa renewal. Nothing "naughty or nice," just prolific.

Mostly it's just a checklist for a gazillion copies of relevant passport pages (I'm at five currently) plus bankbook copies and an official letter from my bank dated within the current week. This last item is of particular interest as they are keen to see that you have money in a Thai bank--it's that transparent. You make a money commitment and the reward is that you get to stay. Since this is my third year now, I know the drill.

After collecting this pile of documents, the final touch is the one known locally as "Riap Roy." This officially translates from Thai as "presentable." Things like, are you dressed respectfully and in my case is your long hair pinned up.

Last year I had a friend query me on this issue. My Thai is not good still, but last year it was really bad and I thought he said "Rob Roy." "Did I go in looking "Rob Roy?" Now the only "Rob Roy" I know is a cocktail made with bourbon and since I don't like bourbon, I think they are nasty, but I jumped to the conclusion that he was asking if I went in drunk. What a strange question!

There was an added component to the "Riap Roy" issue last year, as the sister of the King died and my immigration appearance was during the official mourning period. I needed to wear somber and sedate black to show proper respect, so I had to go out and buy a long black skirt. It has now become my dress of choice for visa application visits. Intensely "Riap Roy."

So bright and early Wednesday morning I presented my "Riap Roy" self to the Chiang Mai Immigration office out near the airport. The Songthaew driver motioned for me to sit in front so he could put to the test my meager Thai. I have a time window of a few days leading up to my current visa expiration, so I picked Wednesday hoping the crowd would be thinner mid-week. My theory proved wrong and I compounded things by signing in the wrong extension book when I arrived. Who would suspect there could be so many categories of extensions.

Arriving early before any windows were open meant I was #2 signing in. Summoned to window #4 soon after they opened I got the bad news that I had to sign the other book at window #2. Now it seems I am #7, which means a longer wait time. So, even with all my documents in order I didn't get through as quickly as in the past. But the approval went without a hitch. I'm legal and in good standing for another year.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Quirky Quests

Resolutions for the New Year are so passe, so 20th Century. What everyone needs in this 21st Century to begin the New Year is a good Quest. Something tangible to strive for. It doesn't have to be a compelling "Holy Grail" sorta thing. No worthiness required, just a desire to seek and find.

An important criteria for a successful quest is the belief achieving success. As long as there is the glimmer of hope that the quest focus is not out of reach entirely, a quest can be exhilarating.

Last year I was handed the gift of a quest, so to speak, from my sister. When she heard I was traveling to Mongolia she asked me to look for a replacement "Mongolian Wedding Ring" for her. She got one when she was there five years ago and it was stolen recently. She was so excited that I could replace it for her. She was almost afraid to ask me, but when I travel I love to explore and look for things I might never see otherwise.

This year again I had my quest handed to me in the absence of what I had come to believe was my 'right of Christmas', the gift of a calendar. Over the years I frequently get wonderful calendars for Christmas gifts, and besides, if I have to get one for myself, they'll be half price in January. I only have wall space for one. No sense in jumping the gun.

The last three years I have been particularly rich with respect to calendars. For two years I had beautiful wildlife calendars from Malawi, and last year I had the "creme de la creme" a Bob Marley calendar. I got to wake up every morning and say "Hi" first thing to Bob. What a great way to start each day.
But this year was a no-calendar year. Up to me to fill the bill--so here I am with an instant quest. Find the perfect wall calendar for 2009.

Here is where my quest met resistance as I began to lose hope that I could be successful. My first destination was the bona fide "Mall" that is a short Songthew ride from my place.

Sometimes referred to as "Central" Kad Suan Gaew is a collection of stores similar to any large western mall. I go there occasionally for farang (foreign) treats at the Tops Super Market. Why not explore the rest of the mall in my search for a calendar?

The complex is four or five stories high (I lost count) with a plethora of stores; heavy emphasis on electronics and knock off clothing. From what I saw, cell phones will soon take over the world. Every third store it seemed was awash with "electronic leashes." Calendars in general were scarce, but limited to desk-top, table-top or wallet varieties. No simple, functional wall calendars to be had.

As I bemoaned this fact later that day with my friends at Writer's Club, the suggestion was made that I go to my bank. I headed straight there only to discover that they were out of calendars. They had dispensed their full quota by Christmas. Brandishing my bank book around got me nowhere.

They suggested DK Bookstore, so I hit the pavement again and took off in their direction. DK is a large well stocked bookstore and I rushed along the moat heading there full of hope. Hope that was quickly dashed when I saw the meager selection available.

Once again, only desk and table top calendars were on display. But even worse, the visuals were totally limiting. I think it's time some enterprising soul here produces a nice calendar of Chiang Mai scenes. There are so many beautiful wats and monuments that could be featured to promote Thailand.

Time to accept defeat, pick out the best desk-top option and accept the fact that I was not meant to decorate my wall with a calendar. Next year, perhaps, but not in 2009!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Xmas Greetings 2008

Another year about to finish and that winter solstice celebration known by a number of names--I grew up with Christmas--followed by what many call New Year.

Living in Asia we have a shifting calendar of New Years. With several to chose from, we can celebrate accordingly.

For me, 2008 was a stellar year, but my scale may be different from others. Travel is a heavy determinant in my personal yearly ratings and once again, this year was a winner.

Trains have obsessed me since childhood, and with the exception of the interrupted stretch continuing on from Kazakhstan, I indulged in a train odyssey of my dreams. Up through western China, a month's stopover in Mongolia, on through portions of Siberia and then south to Kazakhstan.

A small glitch in the form of corruption at the Russian Embassy in Alamaty, Kazakhstan, required that I fly out to my next destination of Ukraine. From there, back to trains and on to visit friends in Europe. (The trip is posted on my companion blog: http://paka-cattravels.blogspot.com/.)

At the end, it was south through the Balkans to fly back from Athens. Over four months "on the road." What more could any travel-addicted nomad ask for?
Let's just say...Santa came early for me this year.

Wishing everyone a wonderful Christmas season and a Happy New Year!
May All Your Dreams Come True!