Sunday, January 17, 2010

Now, with less gunfire!

Last time I was in Bangkok, in May of 2008, I went to play frisbee pickup with the locals here. The field they play on is actually on an army base, and that time we got to play with the troops practicing on the firing range next door, which made for some unusual background noises. My two and a half day stay in Bangkok this time happened to fall on the weekend, and the Soidawgz (the Bangkok frisbee team) even decided to move the pickup game from Sunday to Saturday afternoon to accommodate me (well, it may have had something to do with the army needing the field on Sunday too...). So, I made my way over to the fields for some three hours of running around in the heat, fully expecting a background serenade of gun fire again. Sadly, the Thai military has apparently relocated the firing range, so, still plenty of troops marching all around us, but not gun fire this time. Frisbee was still a lot of fun - starting to justify dragging the cleats around the world with me. If any of the people from 18 months ago were still there, I failed to recognize them, but they didn't seem to have any trouble accepting me anyway.

Beyond frisbee, Bangkok was more of a business trip this time - I got my visa to Burma, my plane ticket to Yangon, tried (and failed) to get my laptop's keyboard repaired (it now comes with a little roll-up pink USB keyboard) and did get my sandals repaired. This didn't leave a lot of room for sightseeing, and having been to Bangkok on three previous occasions, I didn't really feel like I needed much sightseeing anyway, so here are the only two pictures I took this time through Bangkok:

Minis are everywhere around the world, but I don't think I'd seen one in
Thailand before. Has to belong to an expat...

A summary of Khao San road - we buy things. And we sell things. And, really, we do whatever things you want just so we can be of service and get your tourist money!

So, since there are no more pictures, some random musings...

How do you define irony? Well, there's plenty of ways, of course. My favorite at the moment centers on Burma (or call it Myanmar if you like). In 2003, the G.W. Bush administration declared a trade embargo against Burma - probably sensible, the country is being run by a highly oppressive military junta. Result: no trade with America, so no American companies can operate here (this, sadly includes all credit card companies and ATM networks!). Unintended ironic consequence: the country's currency has effectively switched to the US dollar. Pain in the ass for a tourist: need to estimate how much money Burma will cost, get that in crisp new dollar bills in Bangkok, and bring it with you. Otherwise, no money. Secondary annoying consequence: my cell phone doesn't work, I presume because it's ATT, and American company, and they're not allowed to do business here.

[un] fair trade
I upgraded my Burma guide book back in Bangkok - I had arrived with a guide book in Spanish, which I had ordered by mistake, but figured it was better than nothing, and it was, marginally. In Bangkok, I traded it, along with a few other books I had finished, for a nice new English guide book. I felt a little guilty momentarily when I suspected that the lady running the shop didn't realize that my guidebook was actually in Spanish, not just an older English edition. My guilt quickly dissipated when I opened my 'new' guidebook and realized it's just a very well made photo copy. Incredibly well made, admittedly - properly bound, with all the color photos in the right places and I suspect with the outside cover siphoned from the original factory. But the inside pages are all photo copies. And I'm OK with that, actually - it has everything I need. But it certainly isn't a brand new original edition, so she deserves her Spanish guide book - karma!

Skies over Burma
Adding to my list of exotic airlines: Myanmar International Airways for the flight from Bangkok to Yangon. Actually, a perfectly nice airline, and due to local Asian form, they insist on giving us a meal over the course of the flight, which was barely over an hour in duration. First impressions of Burma upon arrival in Yangon? It's every bit as poor and destitute as you hear - most buildings seem rather dilapidated, while the cars (primarily Toyotas and Mazdas) are uniformly ancient and are in various states of disrepair. The people are every bit as nice as I had heard. At one point, while I was trying to find my hotel, wandering around the streets, a lady (with an iPhone, which I also found astounding) insisted on walking me there. Everybody else on the street had tried to help as well, they just weren't that good at it, since the locals don't need hotels a whole lot, I presume.

As for the unexpected
Burma is positioned right between Thailand and India. And it shows as the way the people look, dress, and act all seems like a combination of the two cultures (I couldn't, of course, tell you how much of this is natural and how much is due to the British, former colonial masters, bringing a lot of Indian laborers over, in their infinite wisdom, but the result is unmistakable). One thing that India and Thailand do have in common however is that both drive on the British (wrong, i.e. left) side of the road. Burma? We drive on the right (as in American) side here! Even though every car I've seen so far has the steering wheel on the right. This seems like one of those snap decisions by the military junta in charge of the place - "starting tomorrow, you will all drive on the right side! Done!" Maybe they're just trying to get closer with China, the other major neighboring nation, but so far they don't seem to have a whole lot in common, other than the side of the road on which they drive.

PS. If you're using the website:, I've had some issues recently (in part caused by the painfully slow internet connections here in Burma), and since my next six or so weeks are in Burma and China, there's no guarantees how fast I'll be able to resolve anything. I'll keep making updates though, so for the most up to date location information, you can try checking the twitter feed (, as it will have all of my updates, even should the site itself not process one of them correctly.

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