Sunday, June 12, 2011

Progress and development

Opening soon will be an important part of the once-imagined ring road around Chiang Rai. From Highway 1233 (the road from SriSimon to WiangChai), perhaps a kilometer east of the little bridge, to Highway 1232 (Poh Khun Road) and the 5023 road to the new airport, will be an alternate route to our main “superhighway” (Route 1, the superhighway with stop lights). This will ease up some holiday traffic.
A new Rajapat University is being built at Chiang Khong. The bridge there to Laos should be finished before much longer, changing our tourist climate a bit. The advent of ever-popular “I’m going to Laos” backpacker traffic will result in fewer stay-overs in our usually quiet province. Khun Maleewan’s Ban Rim Taling is purportedly up for sale already, although there are others much more optimistic. For a long time now, travelers to Laos have often stayed overnight in Chiang Khong; now that will hardly be necessary. Of course, the travelers will lose opportunity to brag, “I’m going to Laos”!
The train from Den Chai in Prae Province (just north of Uttaradit) is projected to come here in 5 years or so, and traffic on the new road through Laos to China to bring in lots of business. That remains to be seen, but many investors clearly believe it, as evidenced by our local housing boom. We’ve no now industry going in, nor much reason to expect much in the way of increased income from tourism or agriculture, although those things, too, could happen.
Or, we could end up with more empty housing – like the many shop-houses from 1997 which never got used, or the housing estates south of the 2nd MaeSai bridge. With another Rajapat opening, one must wonder how well all the new housing near Ban Du’s Rajapat will do… seems to me a lot of young folk would much rather have nice cars, jewelry, nights on the town and lots of phone conversations than a step up in housing. But perhaps a lot of occupancy will come about through a certain kind of gift-giving… in the way of gift-giving with utility for the gift-giver (our short-time hotels don’t appear to have been experiencing any sort of boom).
It could be that some of this investment is in response to fears of Bangkok sinking. Another factor might well be the declining quality of ChiangMai as a destination for hospitality-seekers. But the main things seem to be expectations that the railroad and increased vehicular traffic to and from Yunnan will pick things up here substantially. I suspect that those believing that haven’t really done their homework; it seems entrepneurs agree with me, judging by our restaurants and pubs. But I’m glad there will be an alternate route to our main throughway soon – for a short distance within our capitol-city district, anyway. Will new and better maps, including that route, come about also? One can only hope. Somehow I expect that my paved but unnamed soi, on no maps now, will remain that way.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The roof of the old Funny House restaurant, now La Cuisine, with great staff and pretty good pizza, is a quite nice place to sit. Small, though, which makes me think of the nutty ex-pat who told me of a great B99/hr foot massage place. “Where?” I asked. “I’m not telling!” he gleefully replied.
Another Farang pulled the same about a good shop for big motorcycles – despite that I’ve never even had one. Both were semi-irrationally scared of losing easy access to a good thing, through that good thing gaining too much popularity. But price will keep the FunnyHouse roof available, I think.
At Steve’s “Hangover’s Corner” (was British Pub and Massage), there’s a great-looking pool-table, surely the best in town for anything but snooker. And he’s got clientele now.

Warning: some despicable Farang are working to increase the power of Monsanto here – offering small, short-term help to a few of the poor, to greatly increase the power of the richest (power they happily use to virtually enslave as many of the rest of us as they can).
I won’t name names, but I’m deeply suspicious of a small, privately-owned NGO just north of the Kok River, which was doing “agricultural surveys” a few years ago. It’s easy to think they can get support money by nefariously working to undermine what remains of independent agriculture here. Sound a bit reminiscent of Mr. T’s “populist” plans – to lend money people too quickly spend, thinking it was free? Well, indeed he is involved in this, through a Thai-US “Free Trade Agreement” (the sound in the background is me gagging) the Big Guy tried to push through, just before getting deposed. Monsanto hopes Thailand still has room for another “Hub” – this one a regional base for genetically engineered (GE) products.
Monsanto has sued farmers who wanted no part of them, but had GM pollen blown onto their plants anyway (intellectual copyright infringement; sorry about the further gagging). Not only can Monsanto sue, they eventually force all to buy their Roundup Ready crop seeds, pesticides and fertilizers, as nothing else will work anymore (suddenly, after they get a few farms going).

Monsanto – Worse Than War. And coming here to help increase xenophobia, against YOU!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

It having been quite awhile since I've posted here, I decided to put a little something together...
Not that I'm much up on local current events, finding too little cause to get out and about. But I did visit a couple places in our old village of Nam Lat the other night, and heard that the go-go bars are now visited by the police every night (used to be about once a week). All employees must be over 20, and get checked. Or so I was told - if so, it's quite a big change. Don’t know if the cops are still pretending to protect ASCAP rights to pennies for songs played, but do now one of our longest-term and most popular Farang bars went out of business because of that.
Here in Ban Du lots of housing for students is going up, some, absurdly, tiny single, free-standing (or almost, maybe there's only one bathroom for each pair of units. Not long ago students mostly lived 8 to a room in dorms, but perhaps an easy curriculum and those tight, slitted black skirts, well... anyway, there're lots of entertainment venues around ChiangRai Rajapat University (CRU), some with big ads for VO and Johnnie Walker - not student drinks, if my understanding of things is at all correct. This isn't happening at the other schools - just here. Down the road at MaeFahLuang, apparently they study – or at least the half of the student body on scholarship does. There’re a lot of rich kids up there, but the kids here clearly have more expendable funds. You figure it out.

On an interactive Net forum, someone asked me, "so what is there to do where you are?"

My reply: "Well, we have bars, and temples... and mountains, tribal groups and other exotica...
bookstores, restaurants (Japanese ones at the new Central Department store for the super-rich who no longer want to shop where they live are great, and so's another Japanese one - the rest are mostly just mediocre).
One can swim, or boat, or fish (etc etc) or get involved in agricultural pursuits (we raise fish, mostly catfish, fruit, veges, chickens...)and some of the Farang like to argue with each other, act like jackasses regularly.
Others preach religion (see previous comment)."

He replied, "alright it sounds very good ive seen several cities there and they all seem a bit different some have only karaoke bar some rola up the sidewalks at nite... sounds like you do have some variety ...."
So I went on a spiel:
Here one can do most of what one can do anywhere: enjoy hobbies (paint, play music, garden, grow bonsai or sculpt land, watch birds… one popular thing here which I find peculiar is riding bikes in groups – lots of guys have tight, bright biking suits they put on for this. Other guys who prefer motorized bikes put on pads and leathers which look even hotter – by which I mean sweaty, and, amazingly, even more useless, absurd and ridiculous. But to each their own, different strokes for different folks and all…)…
Most jobs are illegal for us, but there’s still work: teaching for instance. Some teach even though they don’t need the money. When kids learn, it can be well worth it, but most don’t.
One can breed animals, visit jailed inmates, do other kinds of volunteer work, get involved in some sort of business. Shopping is always fun (I used to do it as a business), but it’s good to offset spending money with earning some. Best way to get a little money here: bring a lot of it!
One can, of course, play sports (or watch them: we’ve now some soccer teams), lift weights, walk around… get a massage, learn massage (or a hundred other things), use the Net (I use it to monitor an investment portfolio, as well as play the Tagged Pets game and occasionally fool around “socially”). One can meditate; we’ve places that teach vipassana meditation. Or gossip, gamble, raise kids. Or watch girls, flirt with girls, etc (I used to know where whorehouses were; now I don’t). Some try to stay drunk most of the time; I notice that not working out very well. Combining in drugs to smoke might stretch things out a bit, but one still falls apart well before one would otherwise, even if one gets out for occasional exercize).
We’ve had a playhouse, but I never went. My wife likes to help out at funerals – somehow I suspect that’s not for you. Main thing is, here you can live on less money, with less stress, and with more freedom, than elsewhere. One additional point: anything can get old, but a bit of self-discipline helps fight that.
ChiangRai is not for the easily bored; ChiangMai has many more amusements, but at hefty price (pollution of many sorts, higher cost of living, too much proximity with crazies, more stress, less grace, and things simply aren’t as safe). They’ve ice-skating, butterfly houses, little race cars, bungie jumping, and lots more. We’ve begun to get some of that, but I’m loathe to say more.

Anyway, for what’s it was worth, that’s my two bits. It gave me something to do. I thought about making this suitable for posting on ThaiVisa’s ChiangRai forum, then decided against it. A few people spend a lot of time there, but like Facebook, it too soon gets to feeling limited, and old. I much prefer the quite useless fantasy aspects of the Pets game. Which is pretty silly, but nevermind. I find it amuses…
Anyway, all that said, I thought I'd include what I've done recently (for my other blog, mythrorelics):

A Story With Legs: How a few became a million.

The old woman, chewing some khat (qāt), took her time to get started, but when she did, her words quickly gained steam. This is what she told:

Long ago, a story goes, 3 boys saw, in each other, much more than they saw in others. And so they excited each others’ ambition, and promised mutual assistance, to help those ambitions along. Then, later, they naturally fought.
The story has been retold, changed, and made to serve a variety of differing purposes, pruposes, though, mostly not about transmitting understanding of the human condition. No-one really thinks it wrong that the great no longer are as they were when young, and no longer see things as they did then. And a story is just a way to tell other things, things that come with the story itself.
The three became kings, or heroes, or villains – it doesn’t matter which. They became important, and thus, rivals. Instead of doing each other good, they sometimes did each other harm, much as we sometimes do to ourselves. For though we like to be part of something big, we like even more to be big. And that makes us small.
Over a thousand years, this story travelled 10,000 miles, and then did that again, all the while becoming more and more a part of us, until what had been wrong and tragic had become no more than normal. This happens with stories. So, that three united would unceasingly fight became not a marvel, but expected. And that one might leave honor behind, for another kind of success, became normal too. And bad became good, and good bad, in the swirling eddies of our minds… and what once was laughed off as a Million, a whopper, a Really Big One, became somehow like truth itself, repeated so often and changed so very well that arrogance became idolized, and who was admired despised. It’s an old story indeed, and in many an ancient story you can find its seed.
Consider: those who went out to do good, but did more bad, return to brag on what they learned, telling others of things they’ve been told, and misunderstood.
Consider the story of Nizam, Omar and Hasan, and that of the Peach Tree Vow.

Abu Ali al-Hasan al-Tusi Nizam al-Mulk (or Qiwamu ad-Deen, Abu Ali al-Hasan bin Ali ibn Ishaaq at-Tusi, or Abu Ali al-Hasan al-Tusi Nizam al-Mulk, best known now as Khwaja Nizam al-Mulk al-Tusi) was a Persian scholar, and became (albeit briefly) sole ruler of the Seljuk Empire. Born about 1018, in Tus (now the Iranian city of Imam al-Ghazali), he was educated for administration. When still young he chose to enter into the service of the foreign Seljuks, and in the mid 1040s became an adviser to a commander in Balkh (now part of Afghanistan). It was the custom for the Seljuk princes to rule a portion of the empire in order to gain experience for running the entire empire, and Nizam al-Mulk was able to quickly demonstrate his genius by advising the Turkic prince and heir to the Seljuk throne who became Sultan Alp (or Alab) Arslan. After serving brilliantly as Alp Arslan’s secretary, he became the vazir (like a prime minister) of the new sultan, around 1054. Later, he was also vazir to that sultan’s son, Malik Shah (ruled 1072 to ’92).
By 1059 he was chief administrator of Khorasan province. Despite early poverty, by diligence, perseverance and the strength of a strong persona, he gained great success. Vizier for 30 years, from 1063 to ’92, under two sultans, he abolished taxes, made a new military system, built libraries and paid salaries for both teachers and students. One of the most illustrious ministers of the East, known for redressing the wrongs that occurred under his government and with great ability in organizational matters, he encouraged study of Islamic sciences and arts, and spent much money on the seekers of knowledge, yet, still, he seemed to many aloof and autocratic, and was the subject of much satire. And he irritated Shi’ites, by showing preference for fellow Sunnis.
The Seljuks, a tribe of the Central Asian Kazakh Steppes, driven west by other tribes, entered Anatolia soon after 1000CE, and captured Baghdad in 1055. They soon completely overpowered the Abbāsids but left to the Abbasid caliph his position as religious leader, leaving the caliphate some authority. They built a powerful empire centered on Persia, and came to be seen as the restorers of Muslim unity under the Sunnite caliphate. Soon after 1060, their empire included Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine, and almost all of what’s now Iran; somehow they considered themselves as rightful heirs to all conquered for Islam in Prophet Mohammed’s time. Like the Mongols who came after, they were great horsemen. They were also Sunni Moslems, but with little of Islamic tradition, let alone literary heritage. They adopted much of Abbasid Persian culture. The first invade all of Anatolia, with them Turkey became Islamic.
Malik’s empire controlled much of Arabia, Mesopotamia, and other areas near the Persian Gulf, with a policy of utilizing diplomacy rather than military conquest. Nizam al-Mulk earned the title al-Wazir al-Kabir, meaning “The Great Minister;” Nizam al-Mulk means “the order of state”. A brilliant leader, modest and devoutly religious, brilliant at mathematics and eloquent in his writing, his work did much to smooth over the political gap between the Abbasids (who had the 2nd great Muslim empire, after the Umayyad caliphate) and the Seljuks, and also against their various rivals. He wrote a voluminous treatise on kingship, the Siyasatnameh (Book of Government, King’s Policies or Rules for Kings), a treatise on kingship and governance. A devout Sunni, Nizam founded a number of theological schools, the famous Nizamiyyah schools, which were named for him. He built the famous madrasa (university) in Baghdad named for him, the An-Nizamia, and several other schools (one in his hometown, another in Basra, others in cities you may not have heard of, Nisapur, Marw, Harat, Balkh and Isbahan). He also built and funded hospitals. But his schools were Sunni oriented, the Shia group Ismaelia accused him of being a tyrant, and rebelled against him. After administering affairs of state for 30 years, Nizam-Al-Mulk was overthrown. The principal sultana has been accused of instigating this, and utilizing the aid of the Chamberlain, an enemy to Nizam. Perhaps he was impeached for having rashly declaring that his cap and ink-horn badges of office were connected by divine decree with the throne and diadem of the Sultan. That’s claimed too. At any rate, at age 93, Nizam-Al-Mulk was dismissed from office, and at almost the same time, murdered. The assassination may have been about a rivalry between two groups of religious jurists (Shafi’ites and Hanafites), also, it mioght have been ordered by Hassan i-Sabah, who’d become a personal enemy of Nizam-Al-Mulk, and at odds with the state for at least 15 years. This also involved religious differences. You can decide which seems most likely, as proof, one way or another, is unlikely now to be discovered.

Legend tells that Hasan al Sabah, Omar Khayyam and Nizam al Mulk became tight friends while studying together. They decided to cement their bond, and in a pact just a bit too reminiscent of the Peach Garden Pact at the start of the famous ancient Chinese classic “The Three Kingdoms”, those three swore that, since at least one of them was bound to attain wealth and power, “to whomsoever this fortune falls, he shall share it equally with the rest, and preserve no pre-eminence for himself.” The three personalities, though, or however, were hardly compatible. The story of the three school-fellows is also unlikely to have much truth as Nizam ul-Mulk was at least 12 years older than Hasan, maybe almost 40. Omar Khayyám may have been younger than Nizam, but was also at least a decade older than Hasan. While it’s true that Hasan started his studies at an early age, and friends can have age differences, the age difference is simply too great. But maybe they knew each other: it’s said that while Khayyam was reforming the calendar, Hassan Sabah became mace-bearer to Sultan Alp-Arselan, and that enmity between Hasan and Nizam occurred only after that.
Their agreement, that if one should gain prominence, he’d help the other two to do likewise, meant that when Nizam became vizier, and so the most powerful of the three, he offered both friends positions of rank in the court. It’s significant that he’s now the least (by far) remembered – although it was perhaps he who had the most lasting impact. Omar’s calendar should have been more important – it’s better than the one commonly used now. Omar asked only to be given the means to continue his studies indefinitely; he didn’t want responsibilities at court. So Nizam built him an observatory. Hassan rose to become the court’s Intelligence Chief, but the vizier, whether once a friend or not, became vexed at his ambition, and deviously undermined Hassan’s growing power by pushing Hassan into agreeing to furnish records for the entire kingdom, after just 40 days preparation. Going to make his presentation, Hasan found the records tampered with; the report was ruined, and Hasan shamed before the court. The king, furious, sentenced him to death. Omar Khayyám, pleading for clemency, got the sentence reduced to banishment. Or so one story goes. Some say he was forced to flee after plotting to dispose Nizam as vizier.
Nizam was assassinated much later, in 1092. Some have said he was stabbed by the dagger of a member of the Assassins (Hashshashin), disguised as a dervish. Others tell of a Sufi who pretended to hand Nizam al-Mulk a gift while he was being carried on his litter. As Nizam al-Mulk reached out to take the gift from him, the esoteric stabbed him with a knife in his chest. Nizam al-Mulk died from the wound, and his soldiers later killed the assassin. Another report says he was killed in secret by Malik Shah in an internal power struggle, and his murder avenged by the vizier’s loyal academics. It’s also been insinuated that Nizam al-Mulk was murdered from within the government at the orders of a governor. This governor did not live for more than a few months after Nizam al-Mulk’s assassination. The last words Nizam al-Mulk uttered purportedly were, “Please do not kill my assassin because I have forgiven him. There is no god but Allah.”
Perhaps the top of the whoppers is that he was assassinated with Malik, after a he prepared a debate between Sunni and Shi'a scholars on Malik’s orders, a debate which resulted in both him and the king converting to Shi’a ideology. This story was told by Nizam al-Mulk’s son-in-law Muqatil bin Atiyyah, who attended the debate.
Revolts soon ended Malik Shah’s reign. The empire dissolved. The glorious years for the Seljuqs were over; with Malik’s death came sudden decline. A practice of dividing provinces among a deceased ruler’s sons led to numerous independent and unstable principalities, and internecine war. The last Iranian Seljuqs died in battle in 1194; by 1200 Seljuk power was at an end everywhere except in Anatolia. For a short time a few emirs maintained small principalities in mountainous districts, but soon Mongols were galloping all over the region.
Crusaders and other Europeans, enchanted by highly exaggerated stories of daring-do by Nizari fida’is (self-sacrificing devotees), longed to hear more. Tales were told of people who’d selectively target, then eliminate, prominent enemies of their community – tales of underdogs revenging themselves on overlords.
As Nizari Ismailis became famous as Assassin followers of a mysterious “Old Man of the Mountain,” truths and fictions about them got harder and harder to separate. Marco Polo and his “Million” tall tales, which tens of thousands read in the early 1300s, increased the confusion. One reason for the legend of the longevity of the “Old Man” is that it’s based on two people, one of whom died 70 years after the other. The first was Hasan i-Sabbah, the 2nd, Rashad Sinan. Sinan’s said to be the real “Old Man”, but his castle, Masyaf, stands on a platform only about 60 feet above its surrounding plane. Nearby are the An-Nusayriyah Mountains, of which he’s said to have been a “shaykh al-jabal” (Arabic for “mountain chief”), but the likelihood of mistranslation playing a part in the legend’s development can’t be discounted. Which is much the point here. Sinan’s story was confused with, then grafted onto, that of Hasan-e Sabah. Even now, narration about all this is difficult, as not just names, but other significant terminology relevant, indeed crucial, to explication of what might, or likely did not, occur, does not have standardized spelling. Of course, interpretations of much terminology vary too!
Omar Khayyam may never have written poetry - in a peculiar inversion of “intellectual property,” verses used mostly as quotations were attributed to him, perhaps because of his scholarly reputation. Contemporaries never commented on his verse, and not until two centuries after his death did a few quatrains appear under his name.
By the 1200s, Western writers were telling of Turchia instead of Anatolia. First came the Seljuqs, then other Turkic (Tatar or Tartar) tribes, including the tribe of Osman Gozi, son of Ertugral. He and his Ghazi warriors soon became the Ottomans, with a new empire which stretched from Yemen and the Crimea to Morocco. The rise of the quick-witted, flexible Ottomans in the early 1300s was as swift as that of the Muslim Arabs had been, and by the end of that century, they had a regular, standing army, the 1st professional paid army in Europe (they controlled Bulgaria) since the Romans.
The Mongols had come and gone, and the Ottomans had fought their way to power… To the Ottomans, these stories of a vizier and friends weren’t important. This isn’t history written by the victor. So, who gained? Maybe just the story-tellers, and listeners. Maybe the stories got varied to suit the occasion for telling, Books were still quite rare, and story-telling greatly valued as quality entertainment. And perhaps, really, that’s all these stories are, still…

Here, the teller nodded off.