Saturday, November 14, 2009

"The Rounds," Sunday, November 15, 2009

"Evolution isn't perfect. If it were, we
might have wings instead of wisdom teeth."

1. Washington Square News

2. Time to Talk about Thai Bar Girls . . . Again

3. New Airport Link Video

4. TOT to Offer 3G Service

5. Great Online Resource for Learning Much About Thailand (and Other Countries)

6. Terrorists Renounce Terrorism

7. Tips for Travelers from Pros 

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Washington Square News

Well, here I've let it get until Tuesday without writing a word for this column, so thought I should get started. I've decided to start off with news of the Square first this time, as a nod to those whose primary -- maybe sole! -- interest in reading here IS to read the latest about the Square!

First, and technically right outside the Square, there's a new hotel called I Style Trend Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 22 across from the Soi 22 entrance to the Square, i.e., if you're coming from Sukhumvit Road, the hotel will be on your right immediately past the Regency Park Hotel.

I haven't even entered the hotel yet, so can't give you a personal report. (I will try to get a photo of the exterior of it before putting this week's column online.) However, I did research it a little.

At one booking website, the prices for one night/one person started at THB4,100/~US$123.00, so it's not exactly cheap, though neither is that truly expensive for an apparently reasonably upscale hotel located in this area. However, on the hotel's on website a room can be had for as little as THB3,400/~US$102.00. To put this in some context, the Imperial Queen's Park Hotel, just a little further inside the soi, runs around the THB4,000 range, while a room at the Regency Park Hotel (next door to I Style Trend) starts at THB3,525/~US$106.00.

It's worth mentioning that the hotel's own website says the swimming pool won't be open until about the end of this month. I don't imagine someone coming to Thailand to swim would really worry about a swimming pool, not with the Kingdom's long coastlines offering numerous resorts.

It is a bit surprising a new hotel has opened now, especially with three other comparable hotels on the same soi within about two blocks -- and with the number of tourists and business travelers still down, despite recent improvement in that number.

Moving inside Washington Square itself, there may be a new bar opening on the back side of the Square, i.e., the same side where New Square One Pub, Bourbon Street, and the Prince of Wales Bar are located. However, I'm not completely certain of that. I have passed there in the evening a couple nights and seen a few people, some Thai ladies and men, sitting there, mostly outside. Last night, they were singing karaoke -- but no one was making any effort to entice passersby in; it seemed more to be a private party. But maybe whoever has the place now isn't quite ready to open, assuming the intention is to open a bar of some kind there. I'll let you know once I know more.

Though the details aren't set yet, food will be served at the Texas Lone Staar on Saturday afternoons again starting this Saturday, November 14th, according to the manager during a brief chat we had last night. However, it won't be offered free. I asked the manager about pricing, but he said he doesn't know yet; I'll check back in a day or two and post whatever information I learn.

I stopped by Bourbon Street last night and had a  small Kilkenny draft beer, forgetting that the last time I did so a few weeks ago I was surprised that the bill came to THB165, compared with the previous price of around THB120. So, the increase is substantial. I didn't look at the food menu, so I don't know if those prices have gone up as well or not. Still, it's a very nice place with great food, and for people not into the Bangkok bar scene, a welcome port in Washington Square, especially men bringing their wives/girlfriends or children. The service is excellent, and the wait personnel all speak very good English. I do like the place, a lot.

Have run into most of the folks I've mentioned in the last edition or two of this column, and nothing new is going on with any of them, so I'll just make the collective statement they're all doing well.

I have learned since last writing that Herb S. of Las Vegas isn't coming this year. I learned that second-hand, but from someone in a good position to know, so I assume the report to be accurate. This comes as no surprise, really, since last year Herb told me himself that now George of Texas Lone Staar has passed on, last year's trip well might be his last.

However, Charlie W, the "Godfather" of the "Minnesota Mob," is confirmed to be arriving sometime soon. I think his [and our] buddy Bubba may be coming with him. Haven't heard anything about Mike F., another "Mob" member.

Kent C. of Texas Lone Staar is getting settled into his new house and job in Kentucky. He reports his daughters are doing well in school, though switching from a private international school in Bangkok to a public school in Kentucky is something of a huge shock for them -- understandably. Kent does grumble about not being here, though had he insisted to his employers they allow him to stay here, he likely wouldn't have a job, almost certainly not with them! So, all things considered, Kentucky's fine, just fine.

And Roger C., Kent's Dad, already has another ticket out here (I think). No surprise there. He's moped more than once "this will be my last trip" -- then we find out aftger he's headed back to the U.S. that he's already scheming for next trip! And that's fine with everyone around the Square, the staffs and Squaronians alike, as Roger is uniformly very well-liked.

Saw "Big" Joe's girlfriend two or three nights ago, and she mentioned Joe is back in the U.S. right now. She had spoken with him on the phone either that day or the day before, I forget which, and told me he's doing fine, though he didn't say when he'll be heading back out here East of Suez.

Ott of the Silver Dollar Bar remains in Houston running her Thai restaurant in Houston with her daughter, the lovely Khun Pook. I see Ned, Ott's husband, regularly, but haven't asked him of any travel plans either he or Ott might have. I suppose they might want to get together sometime over the holidays, whether here or in Texas.

Saw "Ba" Burt Nestle a few days ago -- did I write this already? Anyway, he's fine. His daughter, the lovely Jan, was off to Los Angeles and due back Sunday, but I haven't heard from her yet.

Had some very positive feedback on the story last week about Tata Young; unsurprisingly, some of the comments were specifically about the sexy photo of her I put at the top of last week's column. A few of the Squaronians have mentioned it; Tata's Father used to let her come with him to the Square back in the days when he was still a regular Squaronian himself, though I haven't seen him in years, and I've never met Tata herself. Maybe I'll search for another nice photo of her to plug in at the top of this edition!

By the way, let me give a plug for the food at the Silver Dollar. It's all good, though I'm particularly fond of their Tex Mex food, especially the pinto bean soup, which is out of this world. They also cook ribs on the grill every Monday night, and even I, not a big fan of ribs, find them simply splendid -- they're delicious. Besides, it's a very comfortable place (but, then, I feel that way about several of the places around the Square!).

Business still isn't all that great around this neighborhood, neither in the Square, nor along Soi 22, nor in Queen's Park Plaza. But all the owners and ladies are hoping this turns out to be a good tourist season; we'll just have to wait to see if more tourists start coming. I hope so, for all concerned.

As for me, I'm fine, and still plotting a trip to the U.S. in the near future -- like in the next week or two, I hope. I haven't been in America for the holiday period since 1997, and Christmas in particular is my favorite time of the year -- yes, I'm still a little kid about it! -- so I sure am looking forward to that. Except I'll probably freeze!

Well, it's only Tuesday, so I'll probably return to this story to add something, if nothing else other than the details about the Saturday meal at the Texas Lone Staar.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

UPDATE, Sunday, November 15, 2009: I deliberately delayed uploading because of two events in the Square yesterday I wanted to attend then write about.

First up is the Silver Dollar Bar's new Saturday lunch offered from noon until 4:30 P.M. They're offering their most excellent spaghetti and meatbals for 140 baht. Garlic bread is available as a side order for just 20 baht. I really like the spaghetti there -- almost as much as I like my Mother's, and I can assure you that's saying something!

Because I ate like a pig Friday night, I wasn't hungry yesterday afternoon, but I did make it a point to make a port call to Silver yesterday -- in fact, I'm in the bar now using their computer to write this update. And I was pleased to see that there was a right healthy amount of business, and everyone was in a fine mood.

The Silver Dollar is a really great bar. I like the bar itself, the staff, the owners, and the other customers -- I'm plain comfortable there. I do hope you'll drop around and give it a try if you've not visited before; you may be in for a pleasant surprise. (For the record, my other two favorite bars are the Texas Lone Staar and New Square One Pub, both also well worth a visit.)

Next up is the new Saturday offering at the Texas Lone Staar. Starting yesterday, they have a 99-baht blue plate special, available all day. I do need to stress this is experimental, but if yesterday was any indication, it's going to turn out to be a roaring success. While it's not my place to blab their business publicly, I will say I asked the manager earlier this morning what their results were for the day, and I was downright shocked by the numbers he quoted, though I knew from having been there the place was booming. It's true that part of that was because yesterday was also the birthday of one of the ladies who is extremely well-liked by one and all. But a lot of the guys there were either newcomers or Squaronians unaware it was Joy's birthday. In any case, they had a good enough day to paste great, big smiles on the owners' faces!!!

Also in connection with Texas Lone Staar, the famed Christopher G. Moore will be holding a book signing there on [American] Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 26, 2009. He will have his latest Vincent Calvino mystery novel, The Corruptionist, as the main feature for just 499 baht (I think -- a discount from the cover price anyway), but get this -- he's also going to have some his older titles on sale for just 249 baht each.

If you're unfamiliar with the Calvino series, Chris has written a total of ten novels which feature American private detective private eye Vincent Calvino as the main character. (As prolific as Chris is, he'll undoubtedly keep expanding the series.) Calvino lives in Bangkok and manages to get himself into the middle of all sorts of affairs, none of them good. Chris has any number of strengths as a writer; two of his chief ones is his excellent character development and his tight plotting; you find yourself breathing quickly and sliding forward in your chair (or scruching further under your covers) as you get excited with keen anticipation for the next development. In other words, the novels are page-turners with memorable characters. His style sometimes approaches the staccato, which he uses to excellent effect, gripping the reader with almost unbearable anticipation.

And Chris as a person is one of the nicest people I've ever met, and it's a great pleasure to count him as a friend. He;s very approachable, not the least bit any sort of stuffed shirt all full of himself, as he might have become given his [ever-growing] success as a writer. (A movie is in the works, but more about that as it firms up.) He is "Grisham Gone East" -- he's a Canadian lawyer who still does some legal work, but writing is is true passion. And he serves as an excellent counter-argument to the notion that lawyers are bad folks: he's a downright great guy.

Do drop by the Texas Lone Staar for his book-signing; I promise you he will greet you warmly -- and with total sincerety. That's Chris.

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Time to Talk about Thai Bar Girls . . . Again

Of late I've noticed that even in places where I'm well known, which means the ladies know I don't like them to ask me for a lady drink, crowd around me, and so on, the ladies are doing exactly that, in some cases: cowding right around me (and I mean several, not just one) fishing for drinks. While I understand that the commissions they get from lady drinks are an important part of their incomes, I still don't care for the pushiness.

However, being an Old Thai Hand, I don't mind simply ignoring them, or, if they get overly and overtly aggressive, I stop ignoring them and tell them point-blank to leave me alone. I don't enjoy either one, but like most people, I simply can't afford to be buying dozens of lady drinks every time I happen into the Square (or anywhere else, for that matter). Nor am I inclined to do so.

Anyone who lives here and likes to go to bars either becomes rather inured -- hardened, some would say -- or go crazy, or maybe go back to wherever home is. 

Old Thai Hands, including Squaronians, have learned this, adapting to the realities of life here (including the widespread poverty, by the way, which is why many of the bar ladies become bar ladies in the first place).

Of course, the ladies get hardened, too; who can blame them?

Newcomers have trouble balancing the thrill of being surrounded by beautiful ladies, all hanging on him seeking his favor, with the cold, hard fact that no, L'il Noi doesn't really love him; she saves that for her husband or boyfriend upcountry, or wherever. Most of the time, she really is helping care for her parents and other family members, and her first duty is to family -- not to you, Mr. Newbie.

One of the best personal stories I have illustrating this whole scenario took place a few years ago in the Internet shop in Washington Square.

I went in to check my e-mail, and there was only one computer available. I sat down, and idly noticed the very attractive Thai lady seated next to me had a sheet of paper from which she was copying English text into an e-mail.

She happened to glance up and made eye contact, then smiled. Hesitantly -- but in darned near perfect English -- asked me if I speak English. When I said I do, she asked if I would check the letter she had written to send out via e-mail. well, I was still actively teaching writing (among other subjects) at the time, so I didn't mind agreeing to read her letter for it.

There wasn't a single error. The words were all correct, including in their forms -- adjectives and adverbs in correct form, verbs in correct tenses, punctuation all spot on.

But it was odd; for instance, it read "Dear _____," "I hope your trip back to _____ was nice," and other fill-in-the-blanks and multiple choices (hot/cold/snowy/rainy). And so on.

Turned out the gal was sending the same e-mail to five foreigners, all of who sent her money each month -- between them, US$4,000, in all.

So, you guys coming here for the first time, realize that most of these ladies (1.) come from extremely impoverished backgrounds, (2.) will do just about anything to improve their lots and take care of their families, (3.) more likely than not have a local boyfriend or husband upcountry, and maybe a kid or two, and, (4.) no, she's not different, and no, she doesn't really love you.

Yes, there are exceptions; I know several foreign-bar lady couples who've been married for decades, and made a go of it. But those fairy tales are incredibly rare; I don't know -- maybe one in 50,000?

Hang onto your hearts -- and your wallets. And don't forget and leave your brain on the plane to Bombay!

For a somewhat different perspective, see the following discussion thread in a Bangkok Post forum about Thai-foreigner marriages; interestingly, a couple Thai ladies made comments.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

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New Airport Link Video

Here's a pretty slick video about the rail link set to go into operation sometime in the relatively near future. While the voice-over is in Thai, for those who don't understand the language but can read English, there are English subtitles.

This should be an excellent service, and not just for air travelers. Two services, actually.

One will be a non-stop express running between Suvarnabhumi Airport (a.k.a. "Bangkok International Airport") and Makkasan Station, which is essentially downtown; the travel time will be just 15 minutes. Furthermore, for people heading out to the airport, there will be check-in facilities -- including for luggage -- at the Makkasan Station.

The other will be a city line serving a total of six stations that has a station at one end on Phayathai Road. Obviously, this route will be slower than the express route, but it adds to speedy ways to get across this often-congested city.

Also, both routes provide connections to the MRT, increasing the effective reach of the system.

The intention isn't just to whisk people back and forth between the airport and the city; the authorities also hope it helps relieve traffic congestion. For that matter, everyone wants to see traffic congestion eased.

I don't know just when this new airport link is scheduled to open; the last I read, which was some weeks ago, was "early next year." And that won't be a moment too soon!

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TOT to Offer 3G Service

Read a story yesterday (which of course I can't find now to send you to; apparently the Bangkok Post has pulled it offline) anyway, it said that the Telephone Organization of Thailand will approve five local companies to offer 3G telephone service starting December 3rd.

The writer also speculated that 3G service will start a price war between the carriers -- and that prices will be only 10% of what they now are.

I don't know about that.

After all, I already pay only 3 baht for the first minute to call a Bangkok hand phone, and half a baht a minute thereafter, and that's pretty darned cheap. Works out to 9 U.S. cents for the first minute and 1.5 cents for further minutes. And I can call the U.S. for just 5 baht per minute, or US$.15 -- whereas the top rate when I came here in 1994 was a wallet-draining US$3.28 per minute. Put another way, the cost for that call today is a little less than 5% of the cost of the same call made during the day on a weekday back then.

But leaving aside the question of pricing, I still am not sure if 3G service will really become available anytime soon. The story mentioned that more than one government agency is involved in awarding licenses, and not everyone has issued those yet.

I've read any number of stories critical of members of the various agencies involved, but those complaints really aren't fair. The regulatory framework is sorely lacking, and that doesn't have anything to do with the individuals serving on the various boards. The Constitutional Court has been asked to consider whether or not certain agencies even have constitutional authority to regulate the industry.

Well -- we'll see. Consecutive governments have had the lofty aim of making Thailand a communications hub for this part of the world, but so far, none have had the remotest success.

Friday, November 13, 2009

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Great Online Resource for Learning
Much About Thailand (and Other Countries)

 Happened across a Bangkok Post forum in which a writer gave his explanation of the name "Thailand," though that explanation is quite controversial.

But never mind that; one person who replied put up a link to a particular essay about Thailand during World War II at the most excellent Country Studies website.

This information was gathered by various U.S. government agencies, so it is dispassionate and straightforward, so anyone seeking titillation is likely to be disappointed. But anyone interested in learning factual background -- the total project took place from 1986 to 1998, so the information is a bit dated -- will find reams of stuff here. For instance, the Thailand index page alone has some 80 entries.

This website is useful for people about to move to another country (or ev en just to visit), for anyone wanting a comprehensive look at their own country, and so on.

Well worth saving in your favorites list!

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Terrorists Renounce Terrorism

The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group leadership has released a new set of guidelines for jihadi -- and they are a direct challenge to al Qaeda generally and Osama bin Laden particularly.

There have been moderate voices raised in the world of Islam denouncing terrorism, but for the LNG to make a formal declaration is especially significant, particularly given that group's own bloody past.

You can read the excellent CNN story here: New jihad code threatens al Qaeda

I just happened across the CNN story. It's puzzling this hasn't made headline news right around the world, since it's clearly the most significant challenge to those terrorist bastards ever, coming, as it does, from within.

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Tips for Travelers from Pros

Ran across a really good list on CNN in a story headlined "These tips for travelers could save your life" that's well worth taking a few minutes to read.

Some are common sense, but others aren't at all obvious. For instance, Americans are advised to leave their Social Security cardes at home, even when traveling domestically.

At the heart of all these recommendations is what security experts call "situational awareness." And that means exactly what it says: be attuned to the people around you and what they're doing.

Sometimes you need to be aware of different building construction practices. For isn't, practically no bar or club, nor even some restaurants, here in Bangkok outfitted with a second exit. That's one reason I quit going to places such as Nana Plaza, Soi Cowboy, and Patpong. all areas targeted by criminals. The places I go in Washington Square mostly have only a single entry and exit, but, then, that's not really a tourist area, so I know practically everyone anyway. And I do take note if a stranger does come in, especially if he appears even slightly drunk, or starts talking loudly, even if he's not speaking rudely to anyone.

Some people reject being situationally aware, arguing they "don't want to think about that." but when a robber sticks a gun in your face, it's too late. Years ago, when I was a security officer, a friend's grandmother who had recently lost her husband asked me to teach her how to load and unload her late husbands 9-mm pistol, so I did, and had her practice loading and unloading it several times until she felt comfortable and became reasonably proficient. Then I started trying to make plans to take her to a gun range a few days to have a professional firearms instructor, a police sergeant I knew who taught rookie  cops and private security officers, to teach her how to shoot. She was horrified, and flat refused. Then she unloaded the pistol, put the bullets back into their box, and asked me to put the pistol up way high in her bedroom closet -- while she locked the pullets in a lock box she kept in a lockable drawer in her bedside night stand. Fat lot of good that would do her. But there was no convincing her. When she died some years later, her grand-daughter told me she found the pistol and bullets exactly where they had been left that evening years before; apparently the lady never got them out again.

Not think about bad guys won't keep them away.

That doesn't mean you need to be paranoid, and I certainly wouldn't dream of urging anyone to arm themselves unless they truly felt a need and were willing to learn how to use the weapon safely. (How many stories have we all heard of one family member shooting another, thinking there was in intruder in the home?)

There is one recommendation I would add to the list: when you're in a new place to dine or drink, try to sit where you can keep an eye on the door. That's especially true if your alone, and even more true if you're a lady. If a robber comes in, at least you'll be able to drop to the floor before any shooting starts.

It's easier to develop the habit of being situationally aware at all times than you might think. And it doesn't have to spoil your enjoyment; for me, it's automatic. 

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