Monday, January 31, 2011

Pistol whipping and Carabao

"Matt, Matt," he said followed by several sharp raps on the door. I had been dozing lightly. "Go jogging na, jogging."

I got out of the bed and put in my contacts. I ran some toothpaste over my teeth to freshen my breath. My toothbrush was back in Bangkok, 95 kilometers away, about 60 miles. I opened the door to my shared bedroom. My roommate is a tall skinny Japanese guy that stayed up late last night and got drunk, oh those Japanese!

A small brown table sits right in front of the door for the Thais and the farang to eat at. A few feet further in front is the ring, and to the left are the heavy bags. It is a simple gym, and has the usual Thai glamour to it.

I slipped on my shoes and stretched waiting for the critical mass of folks to start jogging. Today the run was mainly myself, a 15 year old named Tam who led the way, a russian boy and his father. We ran down the streets of Kanchanburi province, mainly along a khlong. The view was uninspiring and mainly composed of roadside buffalo shit, the passing motorbike, and a heap of destroyed spirit houses. After we had ran 5 kilometers we returned to the gym, another 5 kilometers. Then it was the glorious living of Muay Thai.

On my way out to the gym in the mini van from Victory Monument to Thamaka I finished reading Ernest Hemingway's "Across the River and Into the Trees." Hemingway in his usual terseness tells the story of an aged colonel who falls in love with a young woman while in Venice, or some fancy European city. The book opens up with the colonel doing what men do, hunt. The former soldier takes exacting shots at ducks while in some sort of contraption called a blind. When he is not shooting he is drinking gin. Eventually pleased, at least to some degree, with his day of sport he returns to the city where he speaks an endless amount of lovesick babble to his sweetheart. Their conversations are ridiculous and when they are not, they are boring prattles about food.

"Excuse me," he said. "Be comfortable, honey dog, please. You asked me to tell you. (she wanted him to talk about the war.)"
"I'm not your honey dog. That must be someone else."
"Correct. You're my last and true and only love (vomit). Is that correct? But you asked me to tell you."
"Please tell me," the girl said. "I'd like to be your honey dog if I knew how to do it. But I am only a girl from this town that loves you (gag)."
"We'll operate on that," the Colonel said. "And I love you (barf). I probably picked up that phrase in the Philippines."

There are some redeeming aspects to their affair of the heart. He teaches her how to pistol whip a fool!

"Incidentally, Daughter, the weapon, not the old pistol, the real pistol, has missed more people in combat than probably any weapon in the world. Don't ever let anyone give you one unless you want to hit people on the head with it at Harry's bar. ...hit him with the barrel, not with the butt. The butt is awfully slow, and it misses and if it lands you get blood on your hands when you put the gun away." p.184

Sage words Hemingway.

Along with learning how to pistol whip I've also been studying my Thai. Next week I hope to have this song by Carabao memorized as all the trainers have asked me, repeatedly to sing it. Next week I said I would do so.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

No Way Out of Paradise

Boonma lived in a shack, a ramshackle shack. The corrugated iron that served as a roof did little to add charm to the abode. He had built the house by taking a wage advance from his employer, a Chinese businessman. The three hundred baht loan, along with the permission to build on his employer's land allowed him to create a home for his wife, their three children and his grandfather. Yet the very loan that gave him the ability to create his own home made him suffer. The money coming in wasn't enough, especially when his wife became pregnant with their third child, and then grandfather was hurt, unable to work.

Boonma's loan was sold to another man and the underemployed protagonist is sent to sea to work. While on the stormy waters trying to eek a living things at home take on an inevitable decline. The poverty induces mother to shack up with another man, and Sida began engaging in sex work. What does Boonma do when he arrives home again? He rages. He beats his wife senselessly and almost destroys the house at the same time. The battered wife slips out in the night, and soon Sida leaves as well. Boonma returns to work on the seas and the two youngest children are left with grandfather to fend for themselves.

Chart Korbjitti's novel read easily on the raft as I floated on the river. I read the short novel in one afternoon whilst on a small raft in the Kanchanaburi province west of Bangkok. The raft floated lazily along the river Kwae Yai, the same river which was immortalized in the movie "Bridge Over the River Kwai." I was on a group vacation, with 8 other friends. We'd come out to Kanchanaburi and headed for one of the northern parks to spend a couple days by the water, and the water falls.

The simple narrative was made more interesting by the varying third person viewpoints, in one chapter it was Grandfather who was the focus, in another it was Ort, the older brother, and shifting back again to Boonma. Like Korbjitti's other novel, The Judgement, which won him the S.E.A novel award, No Way Out focuses on how inescapable fate is. The effects of karma are clear in Korbjitti's novels. If you misbehaved in your last life, you suffer in this one.

Boonma reflects on the horror of his life late in the novel, "What kind of fate was this? He must have committed a lot of sins in his previous life to have to repay with such suffering in this life, he thought (p. 125-126)."

Boonma isn't the only one to feel the heavy hand of fate and internalize life's current plight as one's own fault. Grandfather too blames himself. "'If I hadn't come to Bangkok at that time,' he continued in silence, 'no one would have had to suffer on my account.' ...The old man's life had been like a pretty piece of coloured material whichsomeone had had made up as a shirt and which, when it started to fall apart from use, had begun to lose its value and turned into a tattered old rag. As time had gone by, it had become dirtier and worthless. His life had been just like such a rag, a lonely, exhausting and worthless life. Now it was gone, waiting to be forgotten." Suffering in life is not only one's own fault but one's miserabalism just shows how worthless your life is. You were born in a squalid condition because you lived a squalid life previously. Poor people deserve their poverty in other words.

Korbjitti adds black humor into the mix with his ending. With Grandfather dead, his wife and daughter gone, and Ort arrested while trying to provide for the family, Boonma takes his fate into his own hands and poisons himself and his remaining son. The son dies from the poison, while Boonma is woken in a hospital. "'Don't try to commit suicide again, uncle. Believe me: death never solves anyone's problems. Stand up to life and fight. Fight with all you've got. And you'll be a winner.' The nurse lectured him with words she had ready- prepared for comforting all patients in his situation." The nurse's words don't echo the predominant theme of karma but humorously invoke agency, an agency which is denied to the working poor, as Boonma is. Her statement is also suggestive of the Horatio Alger myth of the western world, of which she may be trying to emulate herself (Nurses would be far more exposed to western concepts than working poor such as Boonma due to university education).

The novel's close is clear from the onset. The back jacket of the book has its last paragraph written on it: "Boonma was sentenced to death, but thecourt commuted the sentence to life imprisonment because of his full confession. He didn't appeal to the Supreme Court. He did nothing, except quietly accept his sentence. Sometimes late at night, fellow prisoners heard him wailing, like a tortured animal, alone..."

Born amongst ruins Boonma is committed to ruin. His house is destroyed, the iron corrugated roof for which he struggled for is wrecked by workingmen, agents of a the landowner. The land could be further capitalized on and so Boonma's house is easily torn apart. The house that was there might as well not have existed. It was worthless like a used up rag.

Korbjitti's novel reflects the dominant Buddhism mores of Thai society. While spectacular myths such as Horatio Alger keep capitalism entrenched in the western world, Buddhism does its own work in the exotic east. Our good friend Karl has always said, "Religion is the opiate of the masses." The Buddhism of Thai society reinforces class hierarchy by reinforcing the idea that one's fate is one's own problem rather than a societal and structural one.

The novel was a sharp contrast to my lazy vacation.Outside of my temporary paradise was a world that was cruel and fixed. I looked at one of the boat boy's and asked my friend how much he got paid. "About two-hundred baht a day," she said, "but you don't need much to live on out here."

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Letters from Thailand

Bangkok, the eternal city, the city of angels... My plane landed late at night, and it took me some time to be processed through immigration and to the sathorn house. I've been staying with friends whom I've lived with before. They moved from where we were living to a new spot in the silom business district. Next to the house is one of the largest office buildings in the area. While most of the international businesses run down sukumwit, the silom features most of the international banks. Droves of office workers flood our small little side soi during the day to eat at the local side street restaurants. The steady stream of hungry proles has inflated the price of food around here from the reasonable price of 30 baht for a dish to 35 baht. Unbelievable!!!

I've spent the last few days since my arrival having sanuk. This has meant lots of clubs both at appropriate hours and after hours. I've spent two nights this week at the after hours club Wongs, which is located close to the sathon house, a short 40 baht ride. Staying up til 5 am drinking at a bar with friends is an outrageous amount of fun but has been damaging to having a regular sleep schedule.

Along with my exciting night life I've been running and exploring the area. The house is located close to Lumpini park. I've enjoyed running to the park and seeing the serene crab grass landscape. They have a handful of ridiculous exercise machines that are for public use. Old people tend to like the weird contraptions the most, I guess age makes one more excited for oddities.

Coming back to BKK has made me interested in Thai politics once again. A friend and I were able to check out the mass gathering around Central World today. With over 30,000 people attending the protest shows the obvious strength and continuing divide within the country. The protest was peaceful when I was there and mainly were people hanging out listening to Isaan music, and/or the speakers. Former Prime Minister Thaksin spoke at one point via a cell phone call, evidently the red shirts do conference calls. The protest was to commemorate the deaths of protesters last year. There was a violent class between the red shirts and the police in which 90 were injured or killed. There has been an interesting class aspect to the red/yellow shirt division with the red shirts being composed of the peasant class and working class within thailand while the yellow shirts tend to be more middle and upper class.

A friend and I were talking about the take over of space between the two colors. The red shirts have taken over a main center of Bangkok business shutting down the high scale shopping in the area. This impact of local/urban business can be juxtaposed to the yellow shirts take over of the Suvarnabhumi airport in eastern Bangkok. While the red shirts impacted local economy the yellow shirts laid seige to the national and international economy of Thailand. The seizure of planes at the airport damaged travel tremendously and Thailand's economy is bolstered heavily by tourism. Looking at the take over of space we can see the class/cultural differences between the two groups. For the peasantry the appropriation of an urban area can be seen as an attempt to claim a "right to the city," removed from Bangkok itself the peasants have a spectacular relationship to the city. Most of the capital is centred in the city while little goes out to support the areas in which they live. With the growing popularity of the internet in the Isaan area the peasants are gaining a virtual access to the city without a physical port to plug into. The yellow shirt acquisition of the airport was an attempt to wrest national power back into their hands, it can be seen as a "right to the state."

The economic impact of the airport take over and the occupation of the Central World area was roughly the same, according to my Thai friend, a native Bangkok resident. While the economic damage is the same the amount of time the two occupations took have been starkly different. The yellow shirts were far more strategically savvy by taking over the airport causing more damage in a week than the two month siege by the red shirts. The red shirts caused a fair amount of terror though as they burned buildings whilst the yellow shirts engaged in no property damage. This is a class difference as well, poor people are always viewed as more violent than the cultured and non violent rich, who merely engage in systematic violence hegemonically.

The violence between the two camps will probably continue on. This will be unfortunate in the coming few years as the health of the 85 year old King is in decline. The King's reign has been a benign impact on Thailand and his regency has been a visible stabilizer within the country during its series of coups and instabilities. With the death of the King a power vacuum will be created. The next in line is the unpopular second child of the royal family, a son. The stabilizing void caused by his death is also not talked about amongst the Thais as they revere their god status king whom has an Orwellian Big Brother appearance throughout the country and abroad (next time you stop in a Thai Restaurant $10 says there's a picture somewhere in the place with a picture of the King. If not you're probably not in a Thai restaurant).

Politics should be interesting out here to say the least.

While running regularly I haven't been training. Hopefully I'll get to that soon. In the meantime I've been catching up on some great music. My latina musical swami Chimatli has been posting some great jams of late. Kid sister throws some solid beats, while Deux has bitching electronic. I of course like the Sisters of Mercy cover that she put on. In addition to the jams from Chimatli I've been listening to some new electronica. My friend recently suggested Boys Noise. Boys Noise falls into the same camp as Bloody Beetroots, Dj Steve Aoiki, and Mstrkft. Arguably this new "hard" electronic is distinctively punk as noted by my homie over at Dead Time Pacifies.

Given my copious amount of free time I plan on keeping the blog updated regularly going back to my once a week production schedule. Stay tuned for more awesome shit!!!