Saturday, June 12, 2010

Issue #3

Having become somewhat of an aficionado of the surreal, a young man of only 52, interested in art, architecture and old Bavarian mechanical clocks, learned of ChiangRai’s new clock tower. He considered going to see it, and became determined to do so when he learned that he could also witness lots of pre-feudal superstition, associated tattooing, and, better yet, photograph long, long lines of sweaty tri-shaw drivers pedaling dozens of rich tourists, seated uncomfortably, slowly around.
Having studied photography, journalism and cinamatology at university, and gotten work with UPI and some other three-initial groups involved in information gathering, and having put in 30 years, he felt free to do as he liked. Right nearby the extravagant clock-tower, replete with light-show, music and early evening crowds of eagerly expectant viewers, at the Stop-N-Seven convenience store, he noticed wives on sale, on the installment plan even. His job having demanded too much travel for any social stability, and internet dating never having seemed reasonable, he was interested to find that now, here, he could not only meet potential mates face-to-face, but bargain towards an agreement (while a bargaining-time meter ran, at a higher rate than internet connection, certainly, but still reasonable enough). One could even joke with others who were similarly bargaining! It was thus that he was told how, to many locals, buying a wife meant earning good karma, as it wasn’t just helping a poor person, but a whole family. At first all this was just a way, having seen the clock, to pass the time, but soon it became rather engaging, and then he got engaged.
It didn’t take long before he’d met a pretty lass who spoke English with an Italian accent. They didn’t find a lot to talk about; she had a pronounced tendency to ask, “Have you eaten yet?” and “Can I ask you (for) something?”… but the smiling at each other was easy. Finding ChiangRai to be low-stress, low-cost and locally oriented (and thus safe from much of globalization’s havoc), he’d begun to conclude that it might well be a safe retirement haven. It certainly seemed a place where achievement was hardly necessary, and never important. He figured he’d about a half-million US to expect from his pension, and so was in a pretty good bargaining position. There seemed to be plenty enough other people to talk with; mostly, he kept quiet about his past, except when drinking too much, and few took other drinkers’ personal claims very seriously, anyway. Low levels of consequence from past involvement seemed another really big plus, and so, before long he found a nice house and had a combination marriage and house-warming party.
Too keep busy, he first tried volunteer work and a fitness program, but quickly tired of them, and was soon back at the bars. His wife complained bitterly, commenting, “Tiao gaeng” – a fairly untranslatable phrase. “He sure knows how to go out and have fun” just can’t sufficiently denote the measure of distain forcefully implied in just those two words.
So he tried the churches, and then organic gardening, then the bars again, and beer with TV, then meditating in a temple cave, but nothing replaced the obligations of his earlier life.
Nothing, that is, until he re-found access to the surreal, in use of the internet all day.

Sangkalok (Sawankhalok) ware

Sukhothai potters learned from Chinese masters and began making beautiful glazed ceramics in the time of King Ramkamhaeng. Sangkalok style pale blue or off-white porcelain with designs of flowers, foliage and fish painted beneath the glaze, were made at Sukhothai’s sister city Si Satchanalai and later, Kampaeng Phet. Most were bowls and plates, but some sangkalok ware was used for architectural decoration; much was exported to countries throughout Asia (mostly to China, but even to Japan, the Philippines and Indonesia), making Sukhothai the center of a trade empire and perhaps the most important producer of ceramics in Southeast Asia for a time (up to the 16th century). Produced also were “Sangkhalok dolls” (statues that may have been toys), beautifully decorated storage jars, temple roof tiles, and religious sculptures.
The Khmer empire had begun to weaken after the death of its last great ruler, Jayavarman VII, around 1220. In 1238 T’ai princes seized Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai from the Khmer – one was Pha Müang/Sri Indraditya of Müang Rat (maybe near Uttaradit), who’d been a vassal of Angkor; the other, Bang Klang Hao of Müang Bang Yang (maybe near Sukhothai) had not submitted. Sukhothai was the region’s main Khmer outpost (established about 1150); these T’ai princes (whose ancestors may have lived around Sayaburi &/or further northeast) created a new polity on the fringes of the central plains, at the very end of the Himalayan foothills. Attacked at Tak by a T’ai prince of Mae Sot, a 19 year old grandson (son?) pushed through fleeing troops and defeated the attacking commander, thus becoming Rama the Bold, Ramkhamhaeng. When he became king in 1279, he controlled Sukhothai, Sawankhalok, Uttaradit, Kampaengphet and Tak. In 1253 the Mongols took Nanchao (the north of Yunnan), and in 1287 Pagan; T’ai and Lue/Lawa peoples ceased attacks on one another in order to resist Mongol incursions, and did so successfully. When Ramkamhaeng died in 1298, Sukhothai also controlled Phrae, Phayao, Nan and Luang Prabang. The plague which killed over half of China between 1331 and 1351 may have been the last straw for Angkor, but seems not to have reached Lanna or Sukhothai. Ayudhaya first invaded Sukhotai in 1374; in 1420 Sukhotai accepted vassalage; in 1431 Ayudhaya depopulated Angkor. Phayao soon passed to Lanna, which took Nan in 1449, then Phrae, and Si Satchanalai in 1459. In 1460 the ruler of Chaliang swore allegiance to Tilokaratcha (r. 1441- 1487), greatest of the kings of Lanna, and with him unsuccessfully attacked Pitsanulok and Kampaeng Phet, outposts of Ayudhaya. Almost 35 years of war between Ayudhaya and Lanna (1451 to 1486) weakened the area; Chaliang was taken by Ayudhaya in 1474; Sukhothai tried to retake Si Satchanalai that year, but failed. In 1765 the Burmese, with Shan troops and contingents from Lanna and Lan Sang, advanced through the area, taking all and destroying Ayudhaya in 1767. The kilns became forgotten, and Sukhothai just a small town until revived by tourism. Locals can become violently adamant in their assertion of the importance and extent of Ramkamhaeng’s conquests and importance, greatly exaggerated for purposes of political expediency in dealing with European colonialists.
At the height of commercial success (1400?), over 200 huge kilns lined the banks of the MaeNam Yom near Si Satchanalai. Several, at the Si Satchanalai Centre for Study & Preservation of Sangkhalok Kilns, have been excavated, and can be viewed Wed. – Sun., 9 – 4, admission B30.
A museum in Chaliang displays excavated pottery samples, as does Sawankha Woranayok National Museum (17 km/11mi south of Si Satchanalaitel 055-641571, open 8:30 – 4 Wed – Sun, admission B30). Si Satchanalai National Park covers 213 sq. km (82 sq.miles) and has many waterfalls, caves and good bird-watching. Sawankhalok town, 11 km south of the historical park and 35 K. north of Sukhothai (on Rt 101 near where Rts 1195 and 1048 intersect, at the western end of Rts 1180 and a rail line) offers hotels and guest houses, a riverside restaurant and night market, plus beautiful paa haaat siaw hand-woven textiles of the Thai Puan tribe.

Another business recommendation:
Just northwest of the ha-yaek Mangrai statue a sidewalk restaurant offers one of ChiangRai's best eating deals: inexpensive fried chicken, khao man gai and khao mok gai (like khao man gai, but with lightly spiced yellow rice), with a variety of home-made drinks.

Not much of a photographer, let along nature photographer, I yet believe that if one takes enough photos, one will surely get a few good ones, and in support of this theory, and as I enjoy trying to capture images of things that interest me, I present here some shots of nature in Chiang Rai:

noisy kids toy

dangerous catipiller

buk, reputed to be the world's biggest flower and good for containing ingested poisons


Remorseless, egotistical leaders with zero qualms about doing whatever it takes to get their own way have hardly been uncommon, and remain in quite plentiful supply. They’ve often inspired great loyalty, and have even, sometimes, well rewarded that loyalty – for some. For others, the reward has been death, dishonor or desperation. For little more, in return, than admiration of ability to act with both success and amorality, and maybe nurturance of a wish to be able to act that way one’s self, too.

In the early 1990s, Taksin Shinawatra rose from deep indebtedness to a net worth of $2 billion - on abnormal profits from a government-bestowed near-monopoly on mobile phones. He soon got involved in politics - to strengthen that monopoly. He bought elections, and from 2001 to 2005, his government changed laws and rules to boost the Taksin family business empire (which increased in market value by three times in those four years, to about 1% of the Thai GDP). Prior to 2001, he never showed any interest in the plight of the poor, or rural issues, but found those issues convenient for expanding a power base provided by Chamlong Srimaung. After gaining political power, he utilized extra-ordinary budget measures to centralize control over a fifth of his government’s budget, under his own executive authority, while otherwise also acting openly contemptuous of the democratic process.
Taksin’s policies, with endemic corruption and many conflicts of interest, resulted in increased inflation, trade deficits and massive consumer indebtedness – and thus, contrary to Red Shirt claims, hurt the Thai economy. His personal wealth, meanwhile, grew from a reported half a billion US$ equivalency, to several billion (some – well lots – having been placed in the care of servants and relatives before the assets declaration necessary upon entering politics).
Grandson of Princess Jantip na Chiang Mai, while growing up his family was one of the richest and most influential in Chiang Mai. In 1980, he married Pojaman Damapong, daughter of a powerful police general; within 2 years they were in debt to the tune of $2 million US, due to business failures. Then they entered into a pager and data networking service business, and began to make money, in about 1990 – soon expanding from computer rentals into mobile phones and satellite communications; before his election as Prime Minister, Thaksin's Shin Corp. had become the sole provider of satellite and cellular communications in Myanmar. As PM, he “helped” police intimidate store managers who sold anti-government publications.
In the first three months of his “drug war”, according to Human Rights Watch, 2,275 people were killed; his government claimed that only around 50 of the deaths were at the hands of the police, and took no action regarding those 50. The drug war eventually claimed, officially, some 2,500 lives. A later government’s investigation into the anti-drug campaign concluded that as many as 1400 of those 2500 killed had no link to drugs. Many others who were killed weren’t even counted, as they were hill-tribe people without citizenship (at least one was killed in every hill-tribe village). A figure of 2800 is commonly accepted, but doesn’t include many tortured, and many “disappeared”… And meanwhile, and throughout, sale of precursor chemicals for amphetamine production, from Thailand to Myanmar, continued.
Under Taksin, the Thai Army stormed a mosque (Krue Se Mosque) where protesters were holed up, and killed them all. Then, 84 peaceful Muslim demonstrators at Tak Bai died after the Army forced them, at gunpoint, to lie shackled and prone in trucks, stacked like cordwood. The trucks were delayed from moving; the 84, soon overheating, were crushed and asphyxiated. Taksin claimed to be sure of the death of Muslim lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit, who’d disappeared, allegedly abducted and killed by police for his role in defending alleged insurgents who claimed to have been tortured – but refused to explain why. No-one was prosecuted, let alone punished, for any of these things.
There is, of course, more – but these matters alone amount to much more than what the Red Shirts accuse PM Abhisit of – and so clearly portray a Red Shirt proclivity to hypocrisy.
Is human longing for heroes so strong that psychopathic megalomania is unimportant, when people are provided with hope?

Three single young men meet on a cheap red-eye flight to Bangkok from Dubai; it’s a first for each. Excited at the prospect of adventure, they compare notes and discover each has a room booked on Sukhumvit Road. One, a big Norwegian, has a room on Soi 15. Another, an even bigger Canadian, has one on Soi 11. The other, and Englishman, has one on Soi 10. They share a cab, and, noticing the Robinson McDonalds, agree to meet up there later, have some lunch and then go for drinks.
Each arrives on foot. They eat, go out front and ask a tuk-tuk driver to take them to a go-go bar. There’s only one in Bangkok open at that early hour, and it was only a short walk away, but the driver agrees, takes them up Soi 15, down Asoke, left on Sukhimvit to a legal u-turn, and then back onto Asoke, from where he turns into Soi Cowboy and parks.
“!50 baht,” he says. They each chip in 50, and the Brit asks, “Which place?” The driver points to Toy Bar, and they go in.
It’s dark but cool inside; no-one is dancing, but lots of girls are sitting around. There are no other Farang. “Great,” says the Norwegian. “Yeah, way cool, hey,” replies the Canadian.
The Norwegian orders 3 beers and 3 chasers, and sits down to drink them, while the Canadian is joined to each side by a lady. When they reply in the negative to his inquiry as to whether they might tell him where to buy some ganja, he calls over two more, and asks their names. They ask for cokes, he acquiesces, then proceeds to make the same inquiry all over again.
The Brit, meanwhile, at first expecting that they’d be going rounds and that the Norwegian had bought the first one, has started to scowl, and is thus ignored. He finally orders a beer, slowly sips at it, and finally, in frustration at the Norwegian ordering another 3 beers and 3 shots, and the Canadian moving on to ask two more girls about ganja, asks his erstwhile companions, “Well, what do you guys want to do? Don’t you want to find someone to fight?”

Links to an interesting blog about a recent bicycle trip throuth Chiang Rai:

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