Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Here's the Scoop, May 25, 2010

There is still a few days left before the 1st but it looks like the parts of the puzzle have fallen into place and at the risk of giving the Gods more to laugh at I’ll here record the “plan of record” as it’s penciled today. Please note nothing is in ink (this is a frail attempt to fend off the demons of schedule disruption). 

Ayutuhaya in Black and White
 (has nothing to do with this writing, I just like the image)
I hope to be in Thai language training by the 15th of June. The course start was delayed a week by the recent political upheaval. We’ll keep the house in Chiang Rai and commute back and forth once a week. There is one very exciting possibility of volunteer work which I dare not jinx by reporting just yet. A full article will follow as soon as I can safely report. The work with Chiang Mai University is on hold till August or so (it’s just short term cash flow). The next visa will likely be obtained in Singapore during the last quarter of 2010. I have a definite idea of when my next visit to the States will be, but I need to discuss it with my son before making public mention.

Oh, let me tell you a couple things I’ve learned about my Maliwan since we’ve arrived back in Chiang Rai. Her ability to understand English is a lot better than her ability to speak this crazy language. I have no idea why that should be newsy; after all my ability to understand Thai, Spanish and even Vietnamese is a lot better than my feeble attempts at speaking.

My favorite photographic assistant

It turns out Maliwan, like my daughter-in-law is an avid reader. They have many other traits in common, but I won’t bore you with all that here.

For the past week I’ve been trying to get through to TOT with no results. If they actually have an English speaking representative, I’m sure he’s on maternity leave, or perhaps some sort of sabbatical. The drill is call, press 2 for English, enter the phone number and go into a wait queue. Exactly 5 minutes later the line disconnects. Maliwan has made several calls using the Thai operators and she usually gets through. A week ago the story was that they would come tomorrow. After several days of that, they changed to “will come today”. Gentle reader, as you may have guessed no one has ever showed up or even called to say they were / weren’t coming. This morning I rather insisted that Maliwan tell them that if they didn’t come today we would cancel (Can you here the frustrated bravado)? She called and was told they would be here today. After the call ended, I asked why she didn’t tell them we would cancel. (I’m getting to where I understand just enough to be dangerous). I loved her reply! She just smiled and said sometimes it’s better to do than to say. Perhaps, all the chest beating I’ve been doing for years and years is even more useless than I already knew. “Thank you teacher”.

Maliwan is an excellent cook! I have been in the habit of taking a large bowl of my chicken soup concoction to Khun Choke, my friend and landlord, and his wife Khun Kan. Maliwan decided to give them a bowl her “Tom Yom Gai” yesterday. The Thais are very polite and would, of course, comment on how delicious it was. Would they do so on three separate occasions if it were not true? I think not. My first soup got two compliments and my last effort only one. Three seems to be a very high score!

The past two days I’ve been sitting on the porch reading and waiting. Mick suggested an author and now I can suggest him to you. Colin Cotterill wrote a series of five mystery novels set in Laos in the mid 1970’s. Look for the “Dr. Siri mystery series”. He chose to publish the books in Laos and arrange for the proceeds to go to local charities. They shouldn’t be too hard to find since they have won numerous awards in both Europe and North America. Just as I finished “thirty-three teeth”, Khun Kan” came by with iced coffee for us both. A very pleasant afternoon, I assure you.

The same is true for the one who can read and does not

Sunday we’re going to Chiang Mai for three days. This trip we’ll stay at the Anodard Hotel so we can hang out with my friend Jeff and enjoy the pool. We’ll be carousing several book stores, showing up at “Taste from Heaven” and I have a dental exam and cleaning on Wednesday. Don’t ya just hate the boring stuff? LOL

Tanon Tae Pae, Soi 4, Chiang Mai. Excellent!

Abundant blessings,

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The worst is Over

The trouble is over but it really isn’t over. The business sections of the papers are optimistic; it’s time to clean up the mess and get back to the business of providing commerce.

Bangkok in Turmoil  
Have you ever been somewhere and really wished you understood the language? For the past week I’ve watched the Thai news on T.V., overheard conversations and finally resorted to the English language newspapers. I’m just not at all certain that I really get what’s happened, happening and will happen; maybe no one really has the whole picture. Having said that I’ll share with you some of the things I think are true and some that I think are false. There are four English language sources that I’ve used here.

  • The Bangkok Post which has a fairly good website at www.bangkokpost.com (they were initially pro-UDD but have backed off their public support as the situation worsened).
  • The Nation has a web presence at www.nationmultimedia.com (they have always been pro-government). 
  • International Herald Tribune (The global edition of the New York Times) http://www.global.nytimes.com/  
  • http://www.cnn.com/ (they were interviewing the “red-shirt” rebel general when he was shot).

Back in March (it seems like such a long time ago, but mostly for personal reasons) supporters of the “red-shirt” party started to organize and hold peaceful rallies. My understanding was that the United Front for democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) known as the “red-shirt” party represented, in large, the poor rural people in a classic struggle between the haves and have nots. Their leader and primary source of funding is the ex-prime minister Taksin Shinawatra who lost power in a bloodless coup in 2006. Most of the people in the North and the East were pro-Taksin while most of the Bangkok were against him. .

During his regime Thaksin did much to help the North. Most of his programs have been abandoned by the current administration. Roads and waterways were improved. There was a five year plan to improve the water traffic along the Mekong River which would enhance trade between Thailand and China, Myanmar and Laos. It would have also had a positive effect on trade with Cambodia and Vietnam. Virtually no progress has been made since he left office.

After the coup Taksin fled the country. He was tried in absentia, convicted of corruption and in January sentenced to two years in prison. The sentencing seemed to be the thing that ignited the “red-shirt” protests. Taksin was in Cambodia for a while serving as some sort of financial consultant. This was very unpopular with the Thais. I recently read that he has acquired a citizenship in Dubai where he is investing a lot of money. It is reported that he made off with as much as 374 Billion Baht (7% of the TGNP).

The current Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva is as smooth as any European politician. He’s oxford educated, looks marvelous on television and is very popular with most of the Thai people. The main criticism had been his unwillingness to take action to end the conflict. This complaint came from all quarters, at least that what I have understood. Remember, the “red-shirts” wanted him to dissolve the lower parliament and hold free elections. The rest of the country wanted him to make the demonstrations and disruptions to business and commerce. His press releases constantly talked of using caution and not taking actions that would cause unnecessary casualties. Last Sunday’s papers reported that the nation was on the edge of anarchy and both the Bangkok Post and the Nation called for positive action.

There was a plan to dissolve the lower parliament and schedule elections for November 14th. One of the conditions was that the UDD cease with their demonstrations and their people return home. The deadline passed, as did the next one. At this point the elections were cancelled because of “The UDD failure to keep the agreement”. One of the problems within the UDD has been infighting within it’s leadership. One guy would make an agreement and another leader would refuse to abide. Thaksin, who is hiding overseas and making public statements that he has no responsibility, certainly doesn’t help the situation. On the 16th of May one of the most fanatic of the red-shirt leaders, ex Major General Khattaya Sawasdipol, a.k.a. Seh Dang (red) was assassinated while giving a T.V. interview. There are speculations that the UDD had him killed, and of course the UDD blame the Army. Who knows the truth? Certainly not me. Anyway from there things got worse until it all came to a head on the 19th.

An interesting comparison between Abhist’s methods and those of Taksin can be found in a letter to the editior of the Bangkok Post written by Pierre Paccuad and published on Thursday May 20, 2010. He wrote:

“ I am surprised that a respectable sours as the Bangkok Post dares to publish such a misleading “analysis” as the one headlined, “This is a massacre..”.. Under a very brave pseudonym, it’s author forces us to believe the PM Abshit Vejjajiva is the worse criminal in modern Thai history. We learn that since April 10, more than 50 Thai protestors have been killed—“ more than any crackdown by previous Thail military regimes in the past 50 years!”

“In fact, the worst ever crackdown against protesters occurred under Thaksin Shinawatra’s so-called democratic regime, on October 25, 2004 in Tak Bai. And the protestors there were really unarmed: they did not use women and children as human shields, they did not assault a hospital, they did not throw grenades at a pacific crowd, they did not take hostage a city of 12 million inhabitants, they did not destroy the daily lives of 60,000 workers.

“In Tak Bai, on that single day, at least 85 people died. I repeat: in one single day, and not in two months time. Tak Bai protestors did not get the chance to explain their demands in a live TV debate, they were not offerered a road map. No dialogue, no compromise. No daily deadline. They were killed in cold blood.

“This is not to say that the 50 deaths that occurred during the last month in Bangkok are acceptable. None can be. Or ever should. This is just to remind everyone (and notably the glorious international press) that there is a moral difference between Abshisit and Thaksin’s way of dealing in time of crisis”.

(Not a pseudonym)

Both sides blame each other for the fatalities. The UDD claimed that the M-79 gernade launchings came from the Thai army. A Thai army spokesman went on public television and demonstrated that the M-79 round does not fit in the grenade launchers used by the Thai Army. Their grenade launchers are a bit smaller. 75 or 76 mm. The red-shirts have M-16 rifles as well as AK 47’s. All of this armament is said to come from Thaksin’s involvement with Cambodia, but that could be a whole history book. The Thai army does in fact have M-16’s provided by the United States. To my knowledge they don’t have AK 47’s, but I must reserve my right to be wrong on this point. My personal guess is that most of the violence is the fault of the UDD, but certainly not all of it.

On Wednesday the government started rounding up the protestors and sending them home. Sadly there were renegades who started fires and really created havoc. I’m sure it made the news where ever you may be reading this. Thursday’s paper headlines included “Thailand’s Blackest Day”, “Fiery Anarchy” and “Bangkok in Shambles”. One English Speaking financial expert who has lived in Thailand for over 20 years said on TV yesterday that this situation is by far the worst he has seen. His was unwilling to say that the situation had damaged Thailand in the international markets but did repeat that the world Is watching with a cautious eye.

Thailand is NOT a fallen state, no more than the U.S.A. was a fallen state as a result of the Vietnam protests. The Vietnam protestors did in fact change America, but did America get better, or did the power mongers just get more efficient at covering up wrong doing for the sake of greed and power?

Will similar questions be asked about the Thai situation in years to come? Here the protests may be over, but there is a sense that the conflict remains. Still the Thai have the ability to actually love and respect each other. My guess is that tourism and export will be back on track in short order.

As I finish this, it’s Saturday the 22d of May, 2010. Things here in Thailand are starting to get back to normal. The TV news is trying to make stories out of their own stories, in other words there really isn’t anything new to report so I’ll close this and return to more pleasant subjects.

On a personal note this situation has stiffened my resolve to really understand this language. Only a couple of very minor inconveniences have been inflicted upon this grateful soul as a result of all of this turmoil. I’m grateful and my heart goes out to those who actually have suffered during the past several weeks.

Abundant Blessings,

Jerry Nelson

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Chiang Mai

We’ve spent the three days in Chiang Mai, rested a bit, explored a bit and spent a fair amount of time gathering information. This morning it’s back to Chiang Rai. Maliwan made the comment last evening that she’s tired of hotels. I agree, it’s time to get off the road for a bit. Other than a not too exciting visa run, there isn’t anything on the schedule for the rest of the month except to write, think, pray, meditate, talk and decide. When the first of June rolls around I hope to have a rough plan for the rest of the year. For those of you have not have read, the trip to the States has been tabled for the time being.

As I said in the last post, we’ve been staying at the Parasol Inn right in the heart of old Chiang Mai. Check them out at http://www.parasolinn.com. Lovely boutique place, I highly recommend it. I can’t seem to stay away from the restaurant across the street. (Go out the front door of the Parasol Inn turn left, turn left at the corner and walk a few feet to the stamp collector’s store. The best cook in Chiang Mai is directly across the street. The place is called Pad Thai Rachadumnuta. Sutin is not only a great cook, he’s a great guy. For the past three days he’s been giving Maliwan tips about the area. Sutin is from Isan, like Maliwan.

                 The Parasol Inn         Sutin and myself at his food palace

Just down the street from the Parasl Inn is Wat Chedi Luang. They are having a week long Tamboon event. There are food and flower vendors lining the street and the crowds are pretty impressive. Hawkers directing you to parking spaces in their yards remind me attending baseball games in Baltimore and San Diego. Three  nights ago Maliwan and I went so she could Tamboon. The next evening I returned with cameras. Just inside the main temple they have set up a station of 108 bowls (108 is very significant in the Buddhist faith; their prayer beads have 108 Many wats that are elevated have 108 steps).  People go around and put a coin in each of the bowls.

Wat Chedi Luang

First thing yesterday morning we visited Wat Lok Molee, just across the moat from the old city. It was built in 1527. The Chedi houses the ashes of one of the kings and his wife. The Wat was in ruins for years and has been recently restored. For me one of the highlights of the whole trip was the little apprentice monk and his string on a stick.   There are several decent images showing this temple, but you will have to wait till I get home and get my images processed and uploaded.

The apprentice

I returned to Wat Umong. Mick Connolly and I spent several hours there a month ago. I’m delighted to report that the return was as enlightening as the first trip. Beautiful tunnels were constructed so there would be cool places to pray and meditate. Today the Wat serves as a meditation training center. Yes, dear reader I’m very interested. On the grounds are an abundance of artifacts providing amazing photographic opportunities.

Artifacts at Wat Umong

Our last photo op of the day was Wat Doi Se Tep. It’s up the mountain and must be 5 degrees cool (farenheit). The grounds are lovely. It’s really worth the trip. I was taken by the duplicate of the Emerald Buddha which really stood out amongst all it’s gold neighbor images. Bells are prevalent. There is more than enough to see, but don’t miss the view of the city.

At Wat Doi Se Tep

Monday, May 10, 2010


Yesterday we left Ayutthaya and caught a very nice 2nd class air-conditioned train to Lopburi. We arrived about 13:30 and guess what? It’s just as hot in Lopburi as in Ayutthaya. We were able to store our heavy bags at the train station and had about 7 hours to explore. Some of you know that I was stationed in Lopburi 41 years ago. The thing everyone remembers the most are the temple monkeys. These little guys are prevalent on the streets, wires and buildings around their hangouts. They tend to spend their days around the traffic circle and the wat across the street. The monkeys and ‘monkey circle’ I clearly remember from 1967 – 1969.

Monkey Family, Lopburi (People should be so good to each other)!

The first of yesterday’s highlights was Wat Prang Sam Yot, across the street from the traffic circle and well attended by the monkey population.

See the monkey?

After a couple of stops we ducked into a “Bakery” just down the street from the traffic circle. It’s air-conditioned and they serve excellent food. We re-fueled and then headed to Phra si ratana mahathat. Easily the most impressive in Lopburi and so easy to find. It’s directly across the street from the train station. When we finished we went back to the bakery for a bite to eat and finally went to the train station around 20:00. It was dark and we noticed that the Wat was lighted at night. Beautiful.

The train came and we went. This time 1st class sleeper to Chiang Mai. We arrived this morning and are staying at my favorite little hotel, the Parasol Inn. I found it in early February and chose it for the location. Now I return because of the location, service and value. Check it out if you are ever in Chiang Mai. http://www.parasolinn.com/ More on Chiang Mai later for now I wish you abundant blessings!


Saturday, May 08, 2010

On to Ayutthaya

Being the victim of my best planning, I’m able to report that if you have never ridden a 3rd class train in Thailand,you owe it to yourself to do so. However, let me suggest a short trip, perhaps an hour or so just to get the flavor. The other day I realized that if we went to Buriram in time to catch the 8:30 train we might get seat in one of the air-conditioned cars. (We had pre-existing tickets for a 10:30 train).  At 6:15 Thursday morning, we’re at the bus stop in Nang Rong.  The bus comes at 7:00, not 6:30 as we thought.  No problem we’re in Buriram at 8:00.   The train station attendant informs me that there are no seats in the 8:30 air-conditioned cars, but we can go 2nd class fan (that’s the ticket I had for 10:30)  Great. A 20 baht trade fee and we are on the way.  We get on the train; this isn’t 2nd class dear reader, this is third class. Welcome to the real world!   By the time we get to Ayutthaya 5 hours later we both smell like diesel and sweat.   An hour would have been fun!
The people around me.  Yes the little boy was my favorite
Ayutthaya (translated means “undefeatable city”) is on island located at the point where three rivers merge. During the 16th  and 17th century this ancient capital was a major trading center for merchants from all over the world.   English, French, Portuguese seem to have dominated the European presence.  There was also an abundance of trade with China, India and the Malay areas. The Khmer empire was evident here leaving many wonderful temples and other historical sites. However in the mid 1700’s Ayutthaya was sacked by the Burmese. Most of the artifacts were taken or destroyed.  Still, Ayutthaya is a photographer’s paradise.
We were blessed with a great Tuk Tuk driver (actually a man and his wife) who carried us around to various sites. Yesterday was day one, we went to 4 Wat’s and what I thought was going to be an old elephant corral.  It’s been converted into an elephant ride park.  O.K. I’ve now had my first elephant ride.   By the way it’s hot in Ayutthaya.  I’m pretty sure it cracked 100 Fahrenheit yesterday.  This morning we set out again.  Today we managed to visit another four before we gave up and headed back to the air-conditioned comfort of the Ayuthuya hotel. 
There will be a slew of photo’s posted on Photobucket when I get back to Chiang Rai.  Mick Connolly, please know there are Jerryscapes to be seen, but we’ll just have to wait till next week.  Below is a sampling of the most interesting places.
Wat Maha Tat was our first stop.  The place is abound with old ruins, but the tourist attraction is a Buddha head that is imbedded in a tree. “Everyone” gets their photo taken there. I took one for a couple from Europe and they reciprocated with the one below:
Wat Ratchaburana was almost next door.  Fascinating story about this one.  It seems that When this king died his oldest sons had a battle to see who would be the next king.  Both of them perished and their younger brother became the king.  He built the Wat as merit for his two deceased brothers.  Family feud, what a thing! 
After a stop for lunch and an elephant ride we went to Wat Yai Chaimongkhon.  The main prang is still in great shape and people are allowed to climb up for a spectacular view.  By the time we finished tromping through these ruins we were just done for the day.
 Our first elephant ride
This morning we started out at 9:00, first start was Wat Naphramera.  Thai’s find this to be one of their favorite wats to make merit, Tamboon.  What I found most fascintating was a Chedi with a tree grown around it.  To the Buddhist this is very significant as it demonstrates the connection between man and nature.   
 Tree / Chedi at Wat Naphramera.
Wat Thammarikat was a very strange experience for me.  When I entered the old ruins of the grand hall I got this eerie feeling that I’d been there before.   You know me gentle reader, I do believe in reincarnation and know I’ve had past lives.   Anyway, the area is really very beautiful.
Wat Chai Wattahana is just absolutely amazing!  The temples are in pretty good shape.  As you approach the grounds the view is breath taking.  Walking around is really an adventure.  (I’m positive I’ve never been to this one before, I would have remembered).  We went to a couple more today, but in many ways they are a bit redundant so I’ll spare you today and you can see all the images when they are posted later in the month. 
 Wat Chai Wattahana
Tomorrow it’s a stop in Lopburi and the night train to Chiang Mai.
Abundant Blessings!

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Three Temples in a day

According to the Forgotten Planet the three most interesting temples near Nang Rong are Wat Khao Ankhan, Prasat Muang Tam and of course the venerable Phnom Rung Historical Park.  Yesterday we hired a driver and struck out on this little venture.  Most of the photographs from this trip will be posted on Photobucket, but it's not available from here at the moment.  I'll let you know when they are posted. 

The first stop was Wat Khao Ankhan which is about half way to Phnom Rung (you have take the back roads; bumpy would describe them). There is a huge reclining Buddha which is the first thing that catches your eye when you arrive. Ancient boundry marker stones which are Dvarati style dating back to the 8th or 9th century remind us of the past. The rest of the complex is fairly new, done in an “nouveau-Khmer” style to reflect the history atop this old extinct volcano.  The bot (main prayer room) are Burmese murals with English captions.  The grounds also a Chinese style pagoda.   If you are ever in the Nang Rong area, don’t miss this one!
Wat Khao Ankhan
Prasat Muang Tam was the next stop. Here you can buy a ticket that’s also good for Phnom Rung at a good savings.  Two parks for only 150 baht.  The Thai’s pay 30 baht, but their taxes go to support the national parks.  This area is about 1,000 years old.  Apparently it was abandoned about 500 years ago.  People returned to the area about 100 years ago.  This is ancient Khmer style devoted to the Hindi god Shiva.  The people also paid respect to many other gods at this temple including Vishnu, Indra and Genesha.  Smaller than Phnom Rung, Prasat Muang Tam is in many ways more beautiful; it’s certainly more peaceful and less commercialized. Although the main tower is long gone the history and serenity here make it more than worth the trip. 

Prasat Muang Tam
In January I went to Phnom Rung and was totally impressed.   There are several photographs in the January gallery on Photobucket.   
This was the third stop on a very hot day so we didn’t stay long and decided to only look at a couple of areas we missed in January.   Phnom Rung is large and could easily be the sole attraction for a great day trip from Nang Rong.  It’s also ancient Khmer, constructed between the 10th and 13th century.   It was devoted to Shiva, one of the most significant deities in the Hindu religion.   Anyone interested in history would want to put this park on their must see list. 
Phnom Rung
Today we rest, visit with Maliwan’s family and finish packing.  Tomorrow morning it’s off to Buriram by bus and then a train to Ayutthaya and Lopburi.   I'll post part II of the trip when I have time and connection.  

Monday, May 03, 2010

The trip, Part One

Greetings from Nang Rong
Thursday I left Chiang Rai by bus and switched to the train in Chiang Mai, arriving in Bangkok about 9:30 Friday morning. 
The train compartment was so cold my lens fogged when I went out to take a couple photo's.  The shot below was not a Photoshop trick.
Outside of the train

As soon as I arrived in Bangkok,  I immediately took the subway to Silom Road station (that’s where a lot of the demonstrations and political tension is located).  Walked a few blocks down Silom Road to Niks Camera where I retrieved my primary lens.  It’s pretty much business as usual but there is a certain tension on the streets.   Soldiers on one corner and police on the next; Thailand has a history of power struggles between the two armed elements of the government.   Gentle reader, it could get interesting in Bangkok before this is over.   

Silom Road 
The Army is prepared
                            The police, well judge for yourself

From Niks I grabbed a cab to the Opera Hotel where we used to stay when I was in the 46th Special Forces Company 42 years ago. It’s located on Soi 11, Petchburi Road.  The neighborhood is much quieter than Sukumvit where I usually stay. The signage is a bit worn but the inside and the pool area are all in great shape and the coffee shop is great. Is it nostalgia or the fact that the room rates are THB 800 as opposed to THB 1,300 at the Federal, or is it both?  In any case, I think I’ll be going back to the Opera, unless I feel a real need to have Wi-Fi in my room. There are still a couple of staff who were there back in the day.  The old waitress remembers when we used to jump in the pool from the 2nd story rooms. 

Petchburi Road, Soi 11

I came to Nang Rong on Saturday the 1st.  It’s nice to be out of the big city.  Tomorrow we'll check out a couple of old ruins near Phanom Rung and maybe even return to that wonderful site for more photo's.  Yesterday, we were hanging out at Maliwan's home for a bit.  It was good.   We also went to see her good friend Noung in Burriram.
       She just popped up on the wall, the light was perfect!   
Gun, Maliwan & Noung