Tuesday, September 25, 2007

T for Texas, T for ... Thailand?
A recent visitor, a native Greenwich Villager who nonetheless made the inexplicable decision to go to school at Rice University in Houston, made an observation during a hangover ridden Sunday morning as we blearily watched a three wheeled covered 'tuk-tuk' pass sporting a large, red and white "Hua Hin Detox Center" sign on its rear. He's a world traveler. No local yokel, currently residing in mainland China with his equally well traveled Dutch galpal.

"You know, Thailand reminds me more and more of Texas," he said. "I think there are some distinct similarities." We'd spent most of the previous evening at what can only be described as a Thai country music bar, a large, log cabin-styled affair virtually visually indistinguishable from its American counterparts save the neon beer signs for Chang, Leo and Singha instead of Coors, Miller, Pearl or Lone Star. Pickup trucks and choppers had jammed the dirt parking lot and there was even been a photo of Sitting Bull, or "Famous American Indian king," as I explained to a Thai companion. The music was Thai country, Issan province passion, provided by arguably the slickest hardest working house band I've ever seen. Four-plus hours of nonstop sweat, rhythm and soul with a lotta Santana stylings. No Willie or Waylon or Hank, but that's not what we came for. But It was nice to see Sitting Bull still looking solemn and stolid halfway across the world from his Hunkpappa home.

A week earlier we'd been at a local road rally where we'd chowed down on some world class ribs, swilled beer and watched Mad Max-type vehicles along with off-the-showroom floor hump and bump and roar over a mess of hastily constructed dirt obstacles while the emcees screamed encouragement and hyped for Chevy, Ford, Dodge and Toyota in Thai.

I could kinda see my friend's point. To stretch the point further I noted in a recent English language rag that Hua Hin recently enacted a "No Weapons Zone" ban for the "primary tourist areas." In other words: No handguns in the Hilton.

Other superficial similarities fall apart, though. No big hair, no big hats, few shitkicker boots except on occasional German touristas, no "big" anything except Buddhas and wats, and really - that part of the parallel also fails - little of the outright "Don't Mess with Texas" mentality that I picked up on while living there in the army and later during during more enlightening visits to the annual SXSW Music confab in Austin. Corrupt politicos, though. A no-brainer, though they exist everywhere, but certainly no one as purely shameful as Dubya, say, in Thailand despite the generals, exiled former prime minister and other rascals.

There's certainly a frontier, kinda Deadwood, Tombstone feel (I know, neither are Texas) certainly to Hua Hin. Sleazy speculators, myriad roadside taverns and eateries, hookers, hustlers, stray wild dogs, con artists, all despite the benign peaceful ambiance of a great little train station and the Royal Summer Palace.

Food for thought. Gonna go check in my Colt at the door, now, and eat me a mess of Khanom chin namya and maybe some of my favorite fried chicken here, from a sidewalk stand prepared by the world's oldest, homeliest ladyboy.

I call it Colonel Sandra's Fried Chicken. Fried chicken from a balding, aging transvestite probably wouldn't fly in Texas, but, that's another reason I'd prefer Hua Hin to Houston.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I Wanna Be Your Dog
One of my most disturbing memories of my short Bangkok childhood was being in a dusty wat/temple courtyard with my parents on a hot afternoon. The saffron robed monks were lazing placidly about, flies were plentiful and while I can't recall why we were there, what I remember painfully was the anguished howls and whines coming from a small dusty gray short haired mutt trying to drag itself slowly with its front legs. The back legs were useless because its back was clearly broken.

I asked my father why the monks didn't put it out of its misery. The howls were soul searing, bouncing off the courtyard and making the dog's agony all too evident. My dad explained that it was against Buddhist belief to kill an animal, even if was suffering. I found the explanation not entirely satisfying and briefly contemplated finding a brick or rock in an attempt to mercifully smash its head. But, no. We left and I could hear the howls for minutes after the temple was out of sight. It still haunts me today...

Which is probably why I've got a new pal in Hua Hin, a white and brindle, short haired "soi dog", one of seemingly hundreds feral mutts roaming the city and dozens in my benighted neighborhood.

I haven't named her, afraid of getting too attached, I guess, but since I tossed her some dinner scraps about two and a half weeks ago, she's been hard to shake. Faithful, friendly, flea bitten, I don't allow her inside or even through the gates, but her attachment based on the few eggs and scraps I throw her way several days a week has become something of a joke among a couple Thai employees at Faulty Towers.

"We never see you with Thai lady," said one. "But now you have dog. You like dogs, not ladies?"

"Heh," I respond. "Umm, I like ladies fine. But mine is in China. Dog's are easier, too. They don't ask if their butts are too big. They just sniff each others."

"Why you nice to dog? She dirty! Don't feed!"

This is the part I don't comprehend. Yeah, she could use a bath and delousing, but what does a little pat on her head and doggy baby talk and a few scraps cost me? What about making merit? Thais regularly give free food and gifts to monks to make spiritual merit. But I've also seen monks with cell phones and one with what appeared to be an iPod. Meanwhile the dogs are unsightly, loud, yes, but I'd rather make small merit with a soi dog. Maybe because of what I saw so long ago...

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Mystery Train
The mystery is why am I such a sucker for hard luck cases? Inspired by the idyllic glow cast by the Hua Hin train station several weeks ago, this weekend I determined to hop a car south a few hours to Chumphon, a smaller beach town I'd never been, just for the helluva it. In the meantime, M, the hardluck case Cypriot/Brit who'd introduced me to the station's joys had reappeared.

He's been living penniless, without a valid visa with a poor family of "forest people" on the outskirts of Hua Hin where he says they've been feeding him "fried tiny frogs and beetles". I don't doubt it. But I made the mistake of mentioning my weekend plans and after telling me he just wanted to meet me at the station for a "little chat" he showed up with a ratty backpack and hopes I'd take him along.

Sigh. I sprung for two tickets and since then have regretted every minute, beginning from his inability to keep ahold of his ticket within 3 minutes of almost missing the train because he was rolling a (yes, tobacco) cigarette. After I found his ticket on the floor where he'd dropped it, seconds before the conductor almost booted him, he fell asleep snoring and coughing loudly to the disgust of our fellow passengers. But not before he'd seen a young Canadian watching a video iPod near us and asked loudly, as if he'd just arrived from a cave in 19th century Mars, "Wos' 'he wotchin' wha' the bloo'y 'ell is tha?" He'd never seen an iPod though he's 10 years younger than me.

"Well, you know a Walk-Man?" I said slowly as though talking to a mentally challenged 7-year old. "It's an I-POD. I-POD. Like a Walkman only with pictures, video." I didn't even go into the whole tape-is-dead deal.

Our train was late and upon arrival at about 12.30am vs the original 9somethingpm, I disembarked ahead of M who stumbled off completely disoriented, demanding to know where we were and why we weren't in Hua Hin. No, he wasn't stoned and had only had a couple beers. I couldn't account for his confusion and after 20 minutes of first patiently explaing, then screaming that we had: "GONE FROM POINT A. HUA HIN. AND NOW WE'RE AT POINT B. CHUMPHON. PERIOD."

"Bu' I don' unnderstan'" he said. "Sto'p shoutin' a'me."

Nothing like wandering the dark, nearly deserted streets of a strange Thai beachtown at 1am with an impoverished moron who mystically dropped 50 IQ points on the rails in 3 hours. We wandered and finally found a guesthouse. The good news is that it's small, inexpensive, clean, has a working Internet connection, and the staff, including a 20something year old transsexual "lady-boy" with possibly the best breasts I've ever seen, are friendly. The owner is a rotound, chatty, young Thai woman who calls herself Kay and speaks better English than M. The bad news is that Kay just had to leave suddenly: "A cousin's mother has swallowed poison! I must go to hospital."

The road goes on forever and the party never ends...