Friday, February 05, 2010

Blog from Bangkok

I'm on the loose. I'm away. I'm out. I'm on the lamb, Manfred-style but without a warrant chasing me. But please don't tell anyone my location. Top secret.

On the one hand, farther away from Bolivia I could not be. My daughter and I examined the globe together before I left three weeks ago, one of those older globes where Germany is still two countries and the Soviet Union just one. Thailand is on the other end of the world, south to north, west to east. To get farther away you have to go to the moon. Imagine those frequent flier miles!

But in the back streets away from the high rises where the humble live in narrow alleys there is another Bangkok that feels like another Bolivia with different faces and hotter weather, and cats instead of dogs.

The Beatles are Back


I got taken to lunch one day, at a fancy hotel named for a US political scandal that was also the site for the training workshop I did here. My host was a 20-something sales representative for the hotel who considered lunching with people who hold workshops in his hotel as part of his job. I'd do it too if I were him – free food in exchange for potentially boring conversation. But I did my best for him.

Young men here aiming for a certain professional niche have a particular wardrobe look, identical almost, that can only really be captured this way – The Beatles in about 1964. This isn't the John, Paul, George and Ringo of later years with beards down to their chests and guru shirts bought in India. No the look here is tidy little black suits that look two sizes too small, with giant black leather shoes jutting out from narrow pants. Even the haircut bears a resemblance. I am going to come back in four years and see if Thailand's young professional class all looks like the hairy version of John in bed with Yoko. That would be cool.

So what is it like to be young and aspiring in East Asia at the dawn of the new decade? That seemed to me to be a worthy conversation over pad thai, green curry and sticky buns. If Naruebet, my focus group of one, is any true measure, one thing is optimism. He thinks his region's future is bright – growth, opportunity, excitement. I'm not sure his counterparts headed out of university in the U.S. feel that way these days. There, even after a brief stint of overstated Obama-era optimism, the mood seems more like, anxiety, concern and "crap, what bad timing."

Ok, let's talk China. Not just with him but also with others I have spoken with there is an assumption here that won’t make folks back in the USA too happy. The era of the USA empire is over, declining fast. It is all going to be about China now. That's what people here think. When I was in my 20s big name authors and my graduate school professors along the Charles used to say the same thing about Japan, and that didn't exactly work out. But China's formidable accumulation of economic and political power is likely to be stickier than sticky buns. For 10 points who can name the country from which the US government has borrowed close to a trillion dollars to finance our recent wars and bank bailouts?

"There are Chinese all over the world in high positions opening up economic opportunities for China," my young McCartneyesque lunch partner told me. What kind of empire would China be? "Pushy," he says. Well, I don’t suppose it will be more pushy than the U.S.

Buddha vs. Jesus

Okay, let's talk about the Buddha. This is one of my strongest memories from my last visit to Thailand, to up north in Chiang Mai seven years back.

Those temples. Now I don't mean to disparage Christianity of Christians, but let's just make a comparison on the surface. You walk into a Christian church and there are hard wooden pews, a place of worship designed to make you physically uncomfortable. And Catholics, by the way, don't make things better by adding all the rituals of standing up and sitting down, a particular torment for bored children. And the fellow up on the cross looks none too comfortable either. In the U.S. he looks like he is basically asleep in a really awkward pose. In Latin America Jesus on the cross is all blood and gore – the "suffering Christ" to match the suffering of the poor, my theologian friends might say.

But the Buddhist temples. No hard wooden pews, only open space and faded red carpet. No priests in uncomfortable collars or ministers in uncomfortable shoes, monks in loose-fitting orange robes and bare feet. Not only do they let visitors to the temple take off their shoes as they enter (Can you imagine an Episcopalian doing such a thing!?), it's required.

And the Buddha. He's not being tortured on a wooden cross. He isn't hanging uncomfortably. He is happy as can be in bright gold twenty feet high in what looks like a comfortable pose with his legs crossed. In a contest between a deity who supposedly died for our sins (before we were born and committed any, a confusing notion) and another who just wants us to relax, breath and here silence, Christianity has tough competition in the world. And also, from what I can tell, Buddhists don't go door to door either, trying to convince people. It reminds me of something I saw painted on a wall in Cochabamba. "Si Dios existe, porque tanta propaganda?" If God exists, why so much advertising?

Okay, moving on.

The King

Here, when people speak of the King, they speak neither of Elvis, Larry or a chess piece. They speak of Thai's beloved 82-year-old monarch, Bhumibol Adulyadej (pronounced Bhumibol Adulyadej). And believe me when I say, this guy's photo is everywhere. You would be hard pressed to pass a block without seeing his image posted somewhere. Massive portraits stories high are placed of the King everywhere. There are more of them and they are bigger even than those of Evo back in Bolivia (placed there by Evo mostly). And in most, he has a camera around his neck, old style, film not digital. He is Thailand's Kodachrome King.

The last time I visited Thailand I actually had time to go to a movie and learned the tradition of every movie beginning with a standing tribute to the King. I and the other five other foreigners that day who ditched their responsibilities to see the 2pm matinee of Liar Liar with Jim Carrey were required to stand up at the start for the full duration of a strange 5-minute film homage to the King that mostly included footage of him wandering around in nature with a camera around his neck.

Tourist World

Bangkok is a magnet for young foreigners, most especially from freezing Europe and nearby Australia and New Zealand, who seem attracted like flies and candy to the rituals of mass quantities of beer intake, cheap guest house rooms and cheaper foot messages, and riding about in Tuc-Tuc motorcycle taxis that give one the optimal opportunity to breath in the city's fumes of car pollution.

Whole strange industries have developed around these young tourists. Two favorites of mine include the opportunity to put your feet in a large tank of nibbling fish (I did not try this but perhaps Bolivia could do the same with piranha from the lowlands) and a quite creative collection of tourist-oriented t-shirts. These designs include the popular image of a smiling bride and frowning groom over the title, "Game Over," and another featuring a large tree asking a man, "Please hug me," and the man replying, "no." It might be a statement about global warming, I am unsure.

A whole street, Khoa San Road, is closed off to car traffic and dedicated to such tourism. Here you can by, among other things, a full collection of excellently produced false identifications, ranging from passports of various countries to a false California driver's license. I have only wandered this street twice looking for appropriate souvenirs to bring home, but I am pondering getting an Argentine passport in the name of Dr. Alfred E. Newman, should the need ever arise to have one.

The Food

Okay, we save the best for last. This part is important. Remember it. In Thailand almost all food is Thai food. Really! Do you what they call Thai food in Thailand? Breakfast, lunch, and dinner! I tortured my wife with that joke at least a half dozen times before I left home.

Curry in the morning!
Noodles at night!
Tom Ka Gai soup in the middle!


If I find bagels here as well I might never leave.

And so I say to all of you – sawatdee and see you back in Bolivia soon.

25 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The (in)famous bamboo network has been hyped for years. Too bad most of these high profile chinese ex-pats dream of staying and becoming Americans. Although, I would not mind a bi-polar world, or one where China leads. I would LOVE to see what these so-called humanists/progressives would say about China's empire. After all China does not give a u-know what about people's rights. A couple of Tianamen squares and they would clamoring for US intervention. I know that Chavez and Evo would not mind, after all they also do not believe in individual freedom. Heck, Evo has been advocating that the government is above any individual.

May be Jim can enlighten us on how the Thais and the rest of Indochina feel about being under the US influence vs. being under China's thumb.

10:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

China not as pushy as the US?.... Just you wait.... A culture and system that is a killer of millions of it own people... where the individual is nothing please.... A communsit represive regime with 19th Century Baron Capitalist outlook to the world.... Basically a fascist threat to the world.
China is the dragon waiting to be unleashed on the world.

7:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

China? It is just another location where the multinationals decided to settle and open up their business and industry. Loyalty to the USA? The capitalist have no loyalty to anybody but themselves. While the tea-party creeps are blaming Obama about the downfall of the country; the elites have no worries because their investments are in oriental banks.
Human rights, democracy? What a joke....

7:42 PM  
Anonymous Marty said...

Yeah Cbba had some terrific 'thinking' graffiti. Here in Australia my Dad says message graffiti went the way of the dodo sometime in the 80s. Now it's just sribbled 'tags' on the trains and such. Not sure where the complacency comes from but then, who needs to think when you've got money?

7:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim, now that we have a dual justice system and that Evo's DUI candidate Patzi's "punishment" is only to make 1,000 adobes, I propose that Manfred's punishment be to make 1,231 adobes, Bolivia's Mandela Leopoldo about 872, Goni 534, Evo 778,897,473, and Garcia Linera 543,547,546,756. Give or take a couple.

Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. (Communitarian) justice is served!

1:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1:12 Using your system you would end up eating thousands of adobes. So full of croatic BS you are.

2:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim yo soy tu padre

8:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous 8:56 PM,
Soy tu madre, deja de joder. :-(

9:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bolivia #1 in adobe production!
Jallalla!

11:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Que te den cono, y tu mama tambien

2:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Adobes yes, taxes no!

4:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

does anyone else find it funny that Patzi is all of the sudden accused of being corrupt just as his political ambitions are not to Evo's liking? Funny how he is the very first person arrested, and that the press is right there to document it? All the while, people like Camion Quintana enjoy a carte blanche to steal millions and millions...

5:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

its good for the adobe if u piss on it

5:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Patzi is clearly a racist son of an adobe, Evo has the brains of an adobe, Garcia Linera thinks he is an adobe so he can get screwd by an adobe, and the rest of the mass clan are clueless about how to lead a country...

9:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
— Romans 12:2

12:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yhe let me tell you Jim, being a religious Christian and listening to their music is really popular.

12:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

James, the U.S. is not an empire! Punishment of 10 adobes for you for falsifying history.

8:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Felix Patzi, the MAS former candidate for the governorship of La Paz-, was dropped because the Morales government recently instituted a zero tolerance of drunk driving. Most notable in this law is the life time suspension of driving licenses of those caught driving under the influence of alcohol.

Initially Patzi had the support of his community, hence the "adobe making amend", but that support has subsequently waned.

According to the WHO, "alcohol kills one person every two minutes in the Americas".

The senseless carnage of innocents in Bolivia's roads in DUI accidents shows that Bolivia's recent traffic laws are justified.

No one should be above the law. Keep it going President Evo.

Franco

1:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

James, the US isn't an empire. 10 adobes of punishment for you for spreading falsehoods.

There hasn't been global warming for 15 years. The guy who invented the famous "hockey stick" graph just said so. 50 adobes of punishment for being so naive.

JayCee is the Big Dog. Don't disrespect him with little B(uddha). 500 adobes of punishment lest you go to hell.

China. Mao. 60 million dead. Need I say more?

3:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Evo Morles took his duaghter to see Avatar, but is everyone aware that he likes to date girls younder than her... Since he was the narco chiefleader he has been known to abuse young girls. He even admitted that he liked to make girls cry during an interview. He is also on video stating he wants to settle down with a 15 year girl... what a pervert.

12:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's take these one at a time:

1. "You walk into a Christian church and there are hard wooden pews." True. But many mainstream non-denominational Christian churches have movie theater style comfy chairs--thank God!!

2. "And Catholics, by the way, don't make things better by adding all the rituals of standing up and sitting down, a particular torment for bored children." Sorry all you Catholics, but he's right. Jesus never commanded ANY of the rituals found on Sunday morning in a Catholic church.

3. "And the fellow up on the cross looks none too comfortable either." Sorry Christians. He's right again. I don't think Jesus ever wanted to be remembered this way. He's probably thinking right now, "Geez. Instead of scaring the Hell out of people, literally speaking, I'M scaring the hell out of people, figuratively speaking.

4. "But the Buddhist temples. No hard wooden pews, only open space and faded red carpet. No priests in uncomfortable collars or ministers in uncomfortable shoes, monks in loose-fitting orange robes and bare feet. Not only do they let visitors to the temple take off their shoes as they enter (Can you imagine an Episcopalian doing such a thing!?), it's required." Once again, Christians, Jim is right. Every reference to "the church" in the New Testament does not refer to a building or place but rather to the followers of Christ. No Christian "church/building" was even built until after Constantine legalized Christianity and it became another religion. The early Christians met in the home, relaxed by the fire, ate a feast, sang some songs, and let the kids run free. No uncomfortable ministers--or ministers AT ALL, for that matter. I would dare to say that many in the home in those days took their shoes off!!!

5. "And the Buddha. He's not being tortured on a wooden cross. He isn't hanging uncomfortably. He is happy as can be in bright gold twenty feet high in what looks like a comfortable pose with his legs crossed. In a contest between a deity who supposedly died for our sins (before we were born and committed any, a confusing notion) and another who just wants us to relax, breath and here silence, Christianity has tough competition in the world." Buddha could certainly be happy because he was not called to die for the sins of the human race, which is like a virus that goes back to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil vs. the tree of life (a metaphor for the human race choosing the tree of knowledge rather than life, i.e., Jesus). It's complicated. But the Buddha did not claim to be God. Jesus did, however. Why did God visit the planet through a virgin, live on the planet for 30-something years, die on a tree, and then ascend into the heavens??? God became a human being so that humans can become God in nature (remember all that stuff about love, joy, peace, meekness, etc?).

6. "And also, from what I can tell, Buddhists don't go door to door either, trying to convince people. It reminds me of something I saw painted on a wall in Cochabamba. "Si Dios existe, porque tanta propaganda?" If God exists, why so much advertising?" Christians always say, "If a house were burning down and people were inside wouldn't you do everything in your power to save them?" I think a small population of Christians actually ENJOY walking around, knocking on doors on their day off, getting yelled and spat at, ridiculed, etc.--and the ones that do enjoy it need some serious counseling! As for advertising, Jim's right. No less than a few evangelicals are lining their pockets with adverting (that is, proselytizing) money. If Jesus were still on the planet in human form, he probably would react the same way he did when he visited the Temple to find all those merchants making money in a place where they should have been worshiping God.

OK. Moving on.

12:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Evo's quote... i like to make the girls cry...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dhAczY04uiw&feature=related

12:49 AM  
Blogger Holcombes' Highlights said...

Stick to writing a political blog, you obviously know nothing about Christian theology.

11:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No contest: in the realm of death penalty for trafficking, the opium of the poor will seem ever so popular, just as christiferous "rebirth" is in an American Criminal Justice System Incarceration Population over here.
EFI/LPF

1:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stick to writing a political blog, you obviously know nothing about Christian theology. 11:33 PM

Oh, and you do? If you really knew christian theology you wouldn't be a believer. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is just myth and superstitution that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.

11:57 PM  

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