04 November 2017
Loi (Loy) Krathong festival is celebrated on about the Full Moon of November, after the Rainy Monsoon season has ended. Little baskets are floated on waterways with lit candles. It is a long tradition going way back into pre-history.
Tonight has been the biggest local Loi Krathong celebration in my neighborhood in many years. The Great Flood of 2011 temporarily killed the tradition here for half a dozen years. But tonight it was revived completely to its pre-2011 levels. Crowds of people, many with infants in their arms and small children in hand, completely block the sidewalks in my neighborhood. Young couples on dates stroll through the crowds. It is supreme festivity. Brilliant lights are everywhere, lighting children’s rides and attractions. People hawk great-smelling foods and various wares, including Krathong baskets woven out of banana leaves with candles and decorations.
After dark I entered the crowds and walked my very shortest normal walkway route around by the river and the Rama 7 Bridge and then on around to the nearest “flyover” elevated pedestrian bridge over the highway to near home, about 2 km roundtrip. But it took me a long, long time because the normally open sidewalks were absolutely packed with people. I anticipated this, so I wore no backpack and had minimal valuables in my pockets (pickpocket precautions). I squeezed slowly through the crowds – and Thai people are usually extremely polite and pleasant in such circumstances. It was a joy to see the happy benevolent faces of these people, and I was the only farang in the area.
Under the bridge is a renewed tradition of a temporary stage with loud music and Thai folk dancers. In other years past, I would climb the stairs to the Rama 7 bridge’s pedestrian walkways to see the people below floating their candle-lit krathongs on the river. But tonight there are too many people on these stairways and I could not even get close to the river. I just moved on through the crowds until they thinned out up near the flyover. As I walked back toward the traffic intersection near my home soi, the crowds again became packed, with motorcycles parked everywhere on the sidewalks. I finally broke through the jam and into my quiet soi and on home.
It is really good to see festivities return to our neighborhood, even if temporarily once a year.
29 October 2017
On Thursday 26 October, the entire kingdom of Thailand came pretty much to a stop for the Royal Cremation Ceremonies for the late King Rama IX, Bhumibol Adulyadej. Cinemas were mostly closed. Most markets and stores were closed, as were all banks, etc. (The Rock Pub was closed for at least four nights!) Television programming covered only the ceremonies.
I had stocked up on food the day before, and Tuk and I watched the proceedings on TV all day into the night.
Although the King died a year ago (13 October 2016) his mourning period was for over a year. His body lie enclosed in an urn or coffin at the Grand Palace for this time, and thousands of people came to pay respect. A special temporary crematorium was built at a nearby royal ceremonial ground. The structure was huge and elaborate, with incredible artistic touches, and built to represent Mount Meru, the heavenly center of the world in Buddhist and Hindu mythologies.
On Thursday the 26th, the urn was moved, via an ornate traditional cart in a huge procession, from the Grand Palace to the crematory site. It was a slow march.
The music: A military band marched along in the funeral parade. Since King Rama IX was a musician and a composer, some of his own compositions were mixed in with the more somber dirges. There was even a bit of Jazz played early on in the march. Taps played after dark at the cremation site.
Attendees at the ceremonies: There were dignitaries and folks from all over the world there. There was royalty of all sorts.
Late in the evening, toward the time of lighting the pyre, the mood lightened up a bit, with performances of traditional Thai dance and music out in front of the crematorium. Then a Thai symphony orchestra started a live concert that went on until dawn. As well as Classical standards they played many of the late King’s own musical compositions.
I think the entire kingdom was exhausted the next day, Friday, from the breathless events of the previous day.
King Bhumibol, Rama IX, will be remembered as “Father.” The Moral Father of modern Thailand. He reigned for 70 years, and although without any political power he had immense moral authority. He fathered the people by his caring example.
As I have written before, he never expected to be king when the monarchy was thrown into his lap by the death of his older brother, King Rama VIII. Born in Cambridge, Mass., USA, he had been a student in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he grew up, majoring in French literature, Latin, Greek, and the sciences. He was contentedly into photography and jazz music. There is a famous photo of him as king in the late '50s/ early '60s sitting, with his queen, and in conversation with Elvis Presley (Elvis was in US Army uniform at the time). I have seen this photo in Bangkok's Hard Rock Cafe and in The Saxophone pub.
He is irreplaceable and will be sorely missed.
13 October 2017
It has been far too long since I last wrote in this space. (As if anyone ever reads it anyway!) Writer’s block, I guess. I have been reading constantly, reading randomly, reading everything, and previously there hasn’t been any real news here to report. I have also been trying to exercise regularly, and this often takes up most of my energy reserves and my most productive hours of the day.
But today in Thailand it is the one-year anniversary of the death of our beloved long-reigning King Rama 9 (1927-2016; r.1946-2016). This October is a full month of mourning. Royal cremation will be this coming 26 October. Everyone has been wearing black all year, and I have worn black clothes every day since returning to Thailand in December last. I was in the USA last year when the King died, and I bought up a lot of black clothing then. I have great respect for the late King. He had no political power but he had immense moral authority.
Today Thai television has had extensive coverage of the ongoing royal ceremonies. The bars are all closed, and the country has shut down in many ways. The ceremonies involve harmonic chanting in Pali by the senior monks, and it is very soothing.
One movie that was shown on TV today was of special significance to the memory of the late King: Hachi: a dog’s story (2009), starring Richard Gere and Joan Allen. It is depicted in contemporary America but based on a true story in early 20th century Japan, about the loyalty of a dog to his deceased master. The late King had a special love for dogs and the bonds they often have with humans, often adopting homeless dogs himself. He wrote an inspiring book on just such a homeless dog. This movie was especially appropriate today. Although I had never seen this movie before, and we watched it in Thai language only and without English subtitles, the story was clear, and it was a tear-jerker.
The remainder of this month will be somber, and the days around the cremation on the 26th will see a shutdown of all normal revelry. The entire nation will pause.
In other news: there is a bit of a flooding threat at present, but I don’t see our neighboring national electric company taking any special measures, such the intensive sand-bagging they did before our Great Flood of 2011 disaster, so I’m not terribly worried at the moment. The most we could lose is my new heavy treadmill on the ground floor, too heavy to move up. Many communities up-country have been flooded, but as this is considered to be “normal” not a lot has been done about it. The government only freaks out completely when Bangkok itself is flooded, and even then they don’t know what the hell to do about it. (“Government: What is it good for? Absolutely nothing! Say it again….”)
I will try to post here more often.
08 August 2017
I had put a hammock out on our second floor veranda, thinking I could catch some breezes. It has a good mosquito netting sleeve that can be drawn over it and zipped closed once you’re in. But the hammock body’s fabric is made of nylon parachute silk and is thus too hot for the tropics. It does not breathe well enough, and the breezes do not penetrate.
The only times I could really enjoy it were when a full-out rain storm was blowing through. The veranda roof kept most of the rain off me, but the windy spray could still blow in on me – very refreshing. Blessed coolness, Zen delight!
The hammock is not old, and has never been in the sun, but it failed me a week ago. Our cat Pinky was out on the veranda so I decided to sit out with her. I carefully sat into the hammock. Then, Pow! The nylon parachute fabric split apart and dumped me a full meter onto the concrete floor.
I landed on my ass, hard. I didn’t break anything, but I’ve been sore ever since. I can still walk the several klicks of my neighborhood walking route, but I’m certainly not stepping out as vigorously as normal. It hurts most to sit for a while, such as at a computer. So I will cut this short.
What will such things be like when I one day get old?
21 June 2017
Summer solstice, Midsummer in the Northern Hemisphere. I miss the bonfire nights there.
Here the differences between daylight hours and dark ones are always small, still almost half-and-half. And there is no twilight. Dark falls quickly, and dawn springs up suddenly.
At noon this time of year, the sun is north of us! That is confusing – if one doesn’t have their compass at hand!
I did my 90-day-report of address to Immigration in person yesterday. We hire an old retired taxi driver to take us there. He is a happy friendly guy and a real treat to ride with. When Tuk is along they jabber and laugh about things in Thai.
There was just him and I yesterday, and we have quite a language barrier. I used the Thai/English talking dictionary on my phone to communicate a few key words to him. I explained that my hearing is not good, due in part to Vietnam experience. He tried to tell me something about himself related to Vietnam, but I couldn’t follow. (Tuk will straighten that out at some later time.) He did somehow communicate that he valued my Vietnam service, as Thai people generally appreciated the US help to keep communism at bay. They knew what horrors their neighboring countries experienced.
I told him that my father was a farmer – something that most Thais really relate to and respect. He was curious about our farm, and I told him we always had two dozen head of dairy cows and 200 chickens. We traveled through miles and miles of countryside to and from Immigration, and I so enjoy seeing the rice fields, farms, and tiny villages. I don’t get out much, especially to the countryside.
I have not been into the city much either. But I did get in to see two movies of the Bangkok Silent Film Festival. (I wanted to see more films, but travel kicks the shit out of me, and I was just too much in pain to go more often.) I saw the master filmmaker Fritz Lang’s 1921 Destiny, which was amazing in its drama and visual imagery.
The 1920 The Mark of Zorro was one I especially wanted to see, and it was worth the effort to get into town for. Douglas Fairbanks was an astoundingly acrobatic actor – jumping, climbing, riding, swashbuckling, outclassing numerically superior adversaries at every turn, and laughing in their faces! He defined Zorro in that film.
Zorro was one of my earliest heroes, in the 1957-58 Disney TV show. He was a lone individualist with a strong sense of justice, and he was always against tyranny. He accepted outlaw status and bore his illegality with pride. He loved the night and the full moon.
Ayn Rand, as a teenager in Russia’s Bolshevik slaughterhouse, saw Western films such as this 1920 The Mark of Zorro, and she said these romantic movies saved her from having her spirit extinguished by the brutal horror all around her. When I read Rand’s novels and then found out she was a Zorro fan like me, I thought, “Of course!” A kinship of a heroic “sense of life.”
I will stop here and post this. A big windy rainstorm has just hit at the fall of darkness, and I’ve been tying down windows blown open. I need to inspect the rest of the house.
28 May 2017
This is a long-delayed post. My writer’s block has been bad.
Songkran 2560 BE / 2017 CE
Another Songkran (traditional Thai New Year, 13 April) has passed with its long stretch of holidays. While generally the hottest time of the entire year, it had been a little bit cooler than normal in early April because of clouds and a few rains. Then we had a full week of over 100*F daytime temps – and that is not even factoring in the brutally humid Heat Index.
Not much water was thrown in the neighborhood on Songkran. Only one little kid threw a bit on me as I passed by. Holidays have been more subdued than before.
Tuk got a major promotion at work and was told about it just before the long holiday, so she could relax and enjoy her time off. With our new air conditioning it was much easier to relax.
I miss Beltane and the coming of May in North America. The earth comes alive; it greens and flowers; and the dramatic changes are amazing. My father loved May and June as his favorite time of the year.
Here the month of May often sees some of the beginnings of the Rainy Monsoon Season, but this year the rains came early and have already been frequent and hard. Flash flooding has hit many streets during downpours. I have not been out of our immediate neighborhood much, as I fear storms will make it difficult to get a taxi home late at night. So I have missed a lot of music gigs as well as movies.
We are hoping that there will not be a disastrous flood like we had in 2011. This year the authorities are already increasing outflow from the dams up-country so that they can later hold back more water if the rains continue to be heavy through to September. In 2011 the dams were too full early in the year, and they had to release water to save them from topping out. But then this released water had made the already-swollen Chao Phraya River rage over its banks. Hopefully, not again.
Trying to stay cool and dry here in the Tropics.
19 March 2017
After half a year visiting the States, I found a lot of changes when I returned home on the rim of greater Bangkok. In my old neighborhood there is new construction going on everywhere, new elevated rail lines, new highway overpasses, and new buildings going up. The road intersections are much improved, with traffic circles and newly constructed lanes, all of which makes it much safer to walk and cross roads.
The heat and the dust are the same. Dust everywhere. And my friends are still here. My old neighborhood acquaintances are still good to see as I do my regular walks.
Going down the sidewalk toward the river, a cook greets me with a bit of English (I’m not sure what his background is, but he may not be fully Thai and he has impressive knowledge of the wider world; but I can rarely talk much with him because he is always extremely busy cooking up stuff).
Further along that sidewalk, a Chinese woman and her son sell snacks and cold drinks in front of their apartment, and they always greet me with a smile. All the way down the road to the hospital is the guy who copies keys, and who I talk to at length if he is not too busy; he spent time in the USA many years ago and speaks excellent English.
Closer to home, on the corner where our soi meets the bigger roads, are many folks that I see almost every day. The Popcorn Guy is by the Police Box and pops fresh popcorn. He speaks no English, but we communicate through my pathetically sparse Thai: I can say “Thank you”, and on hot days like today I will point to the sun and say Thai for “hot!”, and he nods and then we shake our heads and laugh. We go back quite a few years now.
There is a couple who sell cold drinks from a cart on the corner on weekends or holidays, with umbrellas for protection from sun or rain. They both speak excellent English. The guy told me that he once worked for an American who consulted/worked for the big electric utility that is at the other end of our soi, and that is how he learned English.
I’m a hermit, but I do have good neighbors that are a delight to see.