Back in the ROC

Back in Taiwan suffering through what is fast-becoming a travelling ritual: the immediate collapse upon arrival into illness and fatigue.

This episode: cramping, vomiting, and diarrhea!

It was nice to leave Thailand.  A job well done, and a good time to leave.  The business model, grossly simplified, is to do a good job, ask for nothing, and move on.  The theory is that a satisfied client will eventually ask you back and so far, we are batting 100.

The next step is to whip things into shape here in the teardrop-shaped semi-tropical isle of Taiwan.  Political sand shift so quickly here I feel like I’m surfing when I’m standing still.

An exciting place to be – I sense the beginnings of a massive braindrain back into mainland China; irony has no memory and history is fortune’s fool.

Me Brilliant Friends

Ah, my genius friends.

The Author, French social critic, globetroter, and writer will soon publish his first book.  In anticipation, I went back into my files to re-read his essay “L’Imperatif Cosmopolite.”  I rembered it as a strong piece when I first read it in Japan, but this time I was hit by a wave of nostalgia as well.

In Japan, I was surrounded by individuals who had decided to step outside of the stream of the quotidienne to cut new paths for their lives.  We easily took for granted that this philosophy was overarching and widespread.  Now that I am travelling in more and more rooted populations of people in Taiwan and Thailand, I realize that this “Cosmopolitan Imperative” is by no means universal – not even common.

Here is an excerpt from The Author’s fine denoument of “L’Imperatif Cosmopolite,” translated from the French:

But finally, the secret and marvelous side of globalization, encouraging and underground – this strange class of men and women too restrained by a single nationality, who live abroad or who travel every year thanks to their studies or their profession, accumulating miles and finding each other through a common language like English, French, or Spanish, in the same places around the world, independent of their origins.

It could be in a globalization “McDo” – forcing myself to face once again my own misdeeds – but it could also be people who meet in an airplane and exchange the address of a jazz cafe in New York, the title of a book about Indian civilization, or a great place to visit in the South of France, thus deepening their understanding of the world.  It is a Frenchman and a Spaniard who discus the opportunity to study in London over dinner in Tokyo.  These are not the acts of uncultivated humans who have poorly digested globalization, quite the contrary, they are the children of the ipod generation who, admittedly, use a container/product manufactured  thanks to economic globalization – designed by Apple and built in a Chinese factory – to exchange cultural content (Romanian songs, the soundtrack of a Brazilian film, or Shanghai jazz).  This class of men and women, still a minority in the world, are true cosmopolitans for whom national borders represent no more than a bit more paperwork to fill out.  Arts, cultures, national dress, and languages stew together, mix, and disappear.  Despite having totally different backgrounds that might make it difficult to find a common language, they find themselves lifted to another elegant stage of simple, joyous, humanity.

I go back and forth on my feelings on what exactly I’m doing.  Sometimes I feel like a glorified backpacker.  A hippie with a haircut.  But then I get that email from London, Vilnius, or Shanghai that opens new doors and I am pulled further down that road.  The Author is right – we are still a minority in the world.  I was lucky to live in Tokyo, a magnet city for these “global cosmopolitans.”  We gathered in cafes and bars and clubs, in parks and karaoke boxes and in clandestine meetings criticizing the social and governmental systems across Asia and the rest of the world.  We exchanged novels, essays, business cards, chatted about our dreams, frustrations, and the realities of life abroad.

Each and everyone of us had an elite CV such that there was no need to impress each other or play the ego game despite being natural overachievers with deeply competitive instincts.  We met backstage, after the game, on our days off.

I still write The Author and our compatriot-in-arms The Politician intermittently.  Last I heard they had met up on the other side of the globe in Washington DC.  The Author is looking to relocate to the USA for the first time to round out his CV and live in a country that, for him, represents  new frontier of the unknown.

We’ll be meeting up again, the three of us, san-nin no masukettiasu, in the South of France for a marathon session of coffees, cigars, and wines, talking about women and culture and politics and art while each plotting our eventual rises to power and world dominion.

Cheers, mates.

More interesting globalization information here.

In Your Pocket: Part III

…it looked like a bunch of aliens from the planet ribble had parked their wobbly blobship on top of the Cathedral.  But, alas, no.  What actually happened was that a bunch of aliens from Nottingham appeared in September and inflated this, erm, thing.  They call themselves the Architechts of Air, and they call the thing a luminarium.  It’s a sophisticated bouncy castle, but instead of removing your shoes to bounce on top of it, you remove your shoes and go inside it.  And it’s bizzare, like being in a modern art student’s brain.  Light is filtered through translucent "walls" to create an atmosphere that is like nothing you haven’t experienced before, and the rooms and avenues were as "chilled" as they were inflated.  Most amazing, however, was the queue.  People were standing for four hours, sometimes in the rain, to get into a blow-up toy.  Clearly they hadn’t heard that in July this year a similar inflatable folly (made by a different company) parted company with the ground in England and sprinkled its inhabitants over a field.  Happily, no such excitement occured in Vilnius…

…once you’ve been released into the arrivals hall, turn hard-right to find an ATM which will happily issue Lithuanian litas in inconveniently large denominations…

…with so much going for it, the city could be run by a damp cardboard box full of petulant monkeys and still prosper…

…there are also numerous other locations around Lithuania which claim to be the burial place of Gediminas, so unless he was hacked to pieces and scattered about the nation, we think it is unlikely that this place has any significance at all.

Where To Stay > Private accommodation > Regina House

A range of flats in excellent Old Town locations, one with a huge balcony overlooking a church which, according to their website, is nice in "worm season," and another with a lovely fireplace.

Restaurants > Middle Eastern > Orient X-Press

Upstairs it looks like someone who was eating a mirror has sneezed onto the blue painted walls, while downstairs there’s a tunnel-like dining room.  It’s all a bit strange, and the menu follows suit with Uzbek, Portugese, Georgian, Karaite kibinai, and a hot dog.

Cafes > Starz

A sign on the door says "hot beer, lousy food, bad service," so you think to yourself: "this must be a fun place," but no!  It’s not an unfunny joke.  It’s a statement of fact.  The service really is bad.  We waited an hour without being allowed to sample the hot beer or lousy food.  But we could see into the kitchen where a man with tampant girly tresses and no hat dished up the food – so somebody’s going to get a hair in their food.

Cafes > SMC (Contemporary Art Centre)

It’s a dark, grismal box full of hirsute hi-jinks in the cooler months – the sort of place where games of chess are happening in which nobody knows whose move it is, and there always seems to be some kind of furniture Tetris happening that ensures you will meet people who you’d probably rather not.  It’s casual, cruisy, can be a bit crazy and is always unpretentious and good fun.

Bars > Absento Fejos (Absinthe Fairies)

If Johnny Depp and Milla Jovovich go together and did something that enabled them to give birth to a cocktail bar, this would be it.

Clubs > Absinth Code

We thought there were four people in here, but then we realised that the two corner walls behind the dance floor are mirrors, and all four people were the same person.  Then we drank lost of absinthe and found out that all twelve of the four people were also the same person as well.  Most of them were enjoying the turn of the century time-warp decoration, musical all-sorts, and the layout with a good mix of spaces for sitting, dancing, and bar-perching.

Nightlife > Gravity

The novelty of burrowing through the long concrete tunnel to this former Soviet bomb shelter hasn’t worn off, but once inside, the once-stylish decor is getting dated, run-down, and grotty.  It certainly bombs out in comparison to the newer clubs.  As one clubber put it: "It’s like being on drugs but without the drugs."

Nightlife > Metro

A waste of a hole in the ground.  This basement venue was almost empty when we checked it out and it didn’t take long before the few staff and bewildered patrons all tacitly agreed that it would be best to give up, lock up, and leave.  The half-hearted pocket-money  setup – orange walls, black vinyl seats, tiled floor, no idea – won’t please anyone and it probably won’t be long before the premisis is restored to its rightful low-rent purpose of selling used prosthetic limbs or vacuum cleaner parts.  It sucks.

Medieval Vilnius Tour

One of the new tourist adventures available in Vilnius is a walk along the old city wall.  Now a tour of a wall might sound about as interesting as, say, an exploration of a doorknob, but what makes the old Vilnius city wall interesting is that it doesn’t exist anymore.

Activities and Sports > The Flying Basket Case (Hot Air Ballooning)

Flights must end before sunset, when your pilot will park your basket on someone’s picnic, or in the middle of a paddock containing a bewildered cow (Best not to wear your finest shoes).

Activities and Sports > Snow and Ice > Ice Palace (Ledo Rumai)

…you can also go to watch the fights and see a hockey game break out.

Don’t think that the "In Your Pocket" guides are just pith and irony.  They do a very good job of getting to the point when discussing attractions with great historical or cultural signifigance:

What to See > Orthodox Churches > Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit (Staciatikiu Sv. Dvasios Cerkve)

See the well-preserved bodies of the martyred Saints Anthony, Ivan, and Eustachius, who are clothed in white during the Christmas period, black during Lent, and red on all other occasions bar each June 26, when they are displayed naked.  It is reported that on this day at this place a huge healing presence is felt.

…in Lithuania and Eastern Europe, it is widely believed and aknowledged that when people die, their souls lake leave someplace far away but return on All Saint’s Eve to visit their loved ones…For All Saint’s Day, people try to communicate with the spirits by leaving food on their tables and lighting candles so they can find their way home.  If you would like to experience the beauty of All Saint’s Day, it is best witnessed from the sky as candles are strewn about every cemetery as sad relatives parade on through…

Saltoniskiu Cemetery (Saltoniskiu kapines)

By Soviet order, all Jewish graves were moved to this contemporary cemetery.  Among them the grave of Gaon of Vilna, commemorated by a massive monument.  Instead of being transferred, many graves were plundered for use in masonry throughout the city.  Before 1991, the steps leading to the Trade Union Hall at Mykolaicio-Putino 5 were made from Jewish gravestones.

Farang Day

Today I took my first day off in more than three months.  The hardest part was forcing myself not to think about work before finally being satisfied if I wasn’t stressing about it.  Once a month, I tend to succumb to my Westerner tendencies and do something utterly touristy.  Today it was heading to Pantip Plaza to buy pirated DVD’s a three dollars a DVD and then to the embarassingly posh Paragon Mall to catch "The Pursuit of Happyness" in a huge Western-style theater.

I feel nostalgic when I see A&W’s in Bangkok.  We don’t even have those in Tokyo, Seoul, or Taipei.  I saw a Burger King today – the first I’ve seen in Asia outside of the Taiwan International Airport and Korea.  My strange moment of the day came as I read "The Satanic Verses" in a Bangkok Burger King surrounded by Midwesterners and Dutch families.  At least I felt safer reading there than elsewhere – posession of the book is a punishable offence in Thailand.  What that punishment is, I have yet to discover.

I have grown oddly comfortable to haggling.  I am to the point where paying the asking price for something would feel strange.  I noticed that in Tokyo the last time I was there.  I felt like I was getting ripped-off all the time.

I like that you stand in the movie theaters while they play a little reel that shows how much the king works for the Thai people and how much he is loved by them.  Both seem to be true from all I have seen.

I find it condecending when foreigners seem to look down on the Thai people’s compassion for the king as being either submission to an oppressive policy, blind nationalism, or the result of manipulative political propaganda.  I see the Thai’s near universal (expressed) support for the king to be as valid or deluded as say, European’s belief that America is the antichrist of international politics without bothering to investigate their own country’s role in the state of affairs.  It’s just as valid as young, liberal Americas belief that seeing inconsistencies in the American system of government somehow makes them progressive, critical thinkers.

We all have our fantasies built on fantasies built on fantasies that help us feel protected, blameless, or empowered.  It is only through the observation of others’ fantasies that we can truly identify our own.

It was good to get away from work.  I enjoyed the film a lot for the pacing and Smith’s very human performance.  It reminded me a bit of the money-grubbing film trend of the eighties, however.  The moment that I related to the most was the protagonist’s realization that he had $21 in his bank account.  It reminded me of the day about 10 months ago when I realized that all I had in the bank was $31 Canadian and about $15,000 US in debt.

I’m glad to have pulled myself out of those times.  I’m not a multi-millionaire yet and no one’s made a movie about me that money-obsessed Thai twenty-somethings will cheer at, but Smith’s character took 25 full years to manage that, so give me some time.

In Your Pocket: Part 2

In Your Pocket: Kaunas

Let’s be honest. Kaunas is to Vilnius what Robin is to Batman. It’s BarnacleBoy to SpongeBob, Dannii to Kylie, Rocky to Bulwinkle, Weasley to Potter, and David Hasslehoff to a black car, some silicone balloons or just about any inanimate object.

Kaunus’s bus station is a purely functional affair offering little in the way of modernity or comfort and plenty in the way of concrete, shady looking characters in tracksuits, and rubbish bin fires. The best thing to do on arrival is to leave immediately.

They’re animal crackers in Kaunas. Not only do they have a Zoological Museum slap bang in the middle of the main shopping street (complete with a big concrete turtle in the foyer for kiddies to ride on and have nightmares about), but they also have the only zoo in Lithuania…

…with much less of a fishy past there’s also the new aquarium in the Mega shopping center. They proudly claim that it is the biggest shopping centre aquarium in Europe. Wow! Huh?

…(at the zoo) there are basically newer style and older style animal enclosures – and the older style enclosures are horrid in every respect. Some of them have rusty bars so tightly spaced that trying to look through them is like examining the back of an old refrigerator (complete with occasional growling noises).

Cages that you can actually see into house miserable beasts that are motionless, bored and forlorn; or are just wearing down grooves in the dirt with their constant pointless pacing. They’re like the public service of the animal world, but they don’t get to go home at 5…

…more pleasing are the delightful (possibly lobotobized) seal duo that constantly pop their heads out of the water and look at you as if they’ve never seen a human before. "Oh, look! There’s a human. Oh, and there’s a human! Wow! There’s a human…" You get the idea. They seem to be delighted to see you as you will be to see them The kids will love it until they get a good splash in the face…

…then to a systematic series of displays that starts with blobby, spongey, sucky, and slithery things and moves up through the animal kingdom to culminate with the charming tableau of a small child looking up at a polar bear eating a seal (The child may not still be there when you visit…)

Restaurants > Lithuanian > Metu Laikai

Somehow it manages to be both gloomy and frilly inside – so it’s like eating in Grandma’s undergarment drawer.

Restaurants > Mediterranian > Pompeja

In the evenings you can even enjoy the entertainment, such as the "Pompeii giddy vortex mind-blowing erotic dance," whatever that is.

What to See > Pharmacy Museum

Apparently, dissolved hair from Venus (the goddess of love, not the planet) is an excellent elixir to keep ladies looking young and lovely. And they’ve got some here. They’ve also got the ground-up heads of dead people which, apparently, take the edge of epilepsy.

What to See > Wacky Kaunus > Devil Museum

Of particular interest are the Hitler and Stalin devils, doing the dance of death over a helpless Lithuania. Dating from Soviet times, Stalin wasn’t in fact depicted as a devil, he just happens to look that way. Essential visiting, this one, especially should you get the chance to see one of the handful of people who believe in asking the devil’s help whilst at the museum.

What to See > Wacky Kaunus > Museum For the Blind

Despite the name, this isn’t a museum for blind people with touchy-feely or talking ehibits, scale models of famous buildings or essays in Braille. In fact, it’s not really a museum at all. It’s more like an opportunity for sighted people to experience blindness and grope around in absolute darkness in the catacombs beneath St. Michael the Archangel church. We won;t tell you exactly what’s in there as that would spoil it, but clearly the designers have had some experience with padded walls and stockings. This is one of the strangest things you’ll never see in Kaunus

What to See > Castle Cruising

Raudondvaris Castle

It’s not really a castle at all, rather a big house with a castle-like bit stuck on one end. The round pointy tower was presumably built to look pretty, as it certainly wouldn’t have been much good at defending against anything more aggressive than, say, boredom.

Vilkija

…The letters C and Z enabled people to write words like cezeti (to scuffle), ciuozi (to skate), and cezeciuozoujame (which means "we skate and scuffle at the same time" and which we just made up).

Raudone Castle

…At the end of that time, Krispin Kirschenstein – a wealthy merchant, not a crunchy sugar-coated breakfast treat – built the current castle.

Birstonas > Getting There

If you’re a fish, finding your way to Birstonas is a doddle. Just swim along the Nemunas until it goes all wiggly and you get dizzy and you’re there. If you’re a person, it’s a bit more tricky…there is only about one road sign that points to Birstonas, and it’s pretty much in Birstonas.

From Kaunas by car

Pretend you’ve gone completely mad and want to go to Warsaw. You’ll drive out on the A5, heading towards a place called Marijampole. As you haven’t gone completely mad, however, you’ll turn off onto route 130 pretty quickly and follow signs to Prienai.

Birstonas > Spas > Tulpe

Accomodation is healthcare bland – fine for those who are recovering from something, but otherwise unspectacular…

Birstonas > Spas > Versme

Founded in 1975, and designed to resemble what the locals thought the future would look like at that time.

Druskininkai > Where to Stay > Jerevan

Out of town and out of the question unless you like the idea of a technicolor yawn before bedtime. Rooms are colour-themed and totally tasteless. The pink room, in particular, is hideous – pink curtains, shimmering pink bedspread, heart-shaped lamps. Small girls might like it, but for everyone else, staying here is a headache waiting to happen.

In Your Pocket: Part 1

The Political Scientist furnished me with three handy travel guides when I was last in Lithuania.  While functional, they have served as a great dose of that fine country while I have been on the road.  Sadly, I have finished the last of them this week.  I wanted to share some of this series of guidebooks’ better entries.  Today’s entry:  Klaipeda In Your Pocket.

Taxis aren’t always available.  If you don’t see one, head to the information desk on the 2nd floor of the arrivals hall and do a little steering wheel mime.  After they’ve stopped laughing, they’ll call a taxi for you.

If you need to store your luggage, you’ll need to exchange 1LT for two old soviet 15 kopeck coins…the machines are directly behind the ticket window and most of them don’t work.

The bus station is diagonally across the street from the train station and is nothing to write home about unless you like writing about dirt and concrete.

We don’t want to sound like your mum, but it has to be said.  Go easy.  Lithuanian beer is all light and bright in terms of taste and texture, but packs a punch.  It seduces you like Lolita in a summer dress and then takes you down like a body slam from Jabba the Hutt.  It can even lead gentlemen to go to bed with one and wake up with the other.

Despite the Miss Disability contest held in Kaunus recently, Lithuania does have an attitude towards disability that is a bit more mature than “just because you’re in a wheelchair doesn’t mean you’re not sexy.”  In terms of bad taste, Miss Disability was up there with Miss Captivity, the beauty contest held for female prison inmates in 2002.

Beer Halls > Memelis
There’s nothing like a menu with bad photography to put you off your food, especially when the long spiraled sausages look like they have been deposited by a dog.

Italian > Buon Appetito

Aside from offering the best impersonation of mozzarella cheese sticks in all of Lithuania and an array of cheap pasta concoctions, the real appeal of this Italian restaurant seems to be the cheap drinks, cheaper beer (3lt), seedy casino atmosphere, and a sad stripper.

Turkish > Senamiestis

It has an arty and alternative feel to it and is frequented by those who think a crappy trestle table next to a bad mural on a crumbling wall is cool.  The most alarming thing about the place (apart, maybe, from the “not real chicken” on the menu) is the untapped potential.

Clubs > Global

If you are a man and would like to fit in, dress in some Adidas knock-offs, slap on a black leather cap and a frown and bump into as many people as possible as you walk around the club.  If you consider yourself a woman, you are already too old for this crowd…Global is full of rough and rowdy gangs of men in various stages of hallucinogenic disarray and the teenage girls that tend to be impressed by such idiots.

Clubs > Kalifornija

About as stylish as a tinfoil hat, but amazingly very popular.  It really is a tatty and run-down dump which, like any good dump, is constantly frequented by a squabbling flock of sea birds and mangy cats (so to speak)…as grim and a s tacky as a rusty bucket of hot tar.

Ask for a dance
Most people you meet in clubs will speak English very goodly.  If you want to ask for a dance, however, it’s always very impressive if you try to use a little Lithuanian language.  At least your tounge will get to do a little dance.

Wanna dance? – Nori sokti?
Would you like a dance? – Ar jus noretumete pasokti?
Something to drink? – Noretumete isgerti?
You have beautiful elbows. – Tu turi grazias alkunes.
Thank you – Aciu (Like a sneezing sound).
Good night – Labanakt.
I’m drunk. – Ugsh gweartus (as in English, almost).

Expat – Juodojo Katino Smukle 2
The impressive barmen utilize their impressive bottled tools quite well, though with a bit too much tossing and shaking for a thirsty man…if you opt for dinner, reflect on the fact that old Adolf once ate in the building back when Klaipeda was known as Memel.  We don’t know what he ordered.

What to see > Castle Museum

…There are some frighteningly bad dummies with bug eyes and alarming furniture-stuffing hair…

“A side note about the Nazi’s and Soviets” – some excerpts:
Mary, Queen of Peace Church – since the grand struggle was completed, the Soviets (bless them) closed it, ripped off the spire, and turned it into a concert hall.  St John’s Church – thoughtfully leveled and turned into a shopping center by the Soviets.  Beachfront – In 1978 the Soviets also had the good sense to demolish the last surviving pre-war home of the area, enabling a part of history to be lost.  Annchen von Tarau – The original girl standing in front of the Drama Theater was removed at some unknown time during WWII, possibly by Nazis (who were supposedly upset that she had her back turned towards a ranting Fuhrer shouting at the masses from the theater balcony in 1939), possibly by the Soviets (who stole just about everything that wasn;t nailed down during their unwelcome stay in the country).

Aquarium & Dolphinarium

…is where the action really happens in even more spectacular shows with dolphins, sea lions, and synchronized swimmers.  Highly recommended for families with children and James Bond-style villains who wish to dip enemies in a pool of hungry… penguins.

Seaside Cycling
This will take you through various calm and pleasant fishing villages where, if you’re the type of cyclist who dresses in colorful Lycra, people will look at you quizzically from their windows.  They’ve never seen a parrot riding a bicycle before.

Palanga > Where to Stay > Voveraite Vardu Salvadoras

The name of the street this modern hotel is deposited on translates as “lover’s alley,” and for no bad reason.  This is where the young and beautiful come to woo, and the hotel provides adequate shelter for many of them.  The rooms are bright and cheerful (some come with excellent views of the above-mentioned young things going all the way on the nearby dunes) and the restaurant is, seemingly, the result of Salvador Dali going into the mail order catalogue business.

Flowers
When giving flowers in Lithuania, there are certain rules that should be adhered to if you wish to keep on the right side of your sweetheart and/or future parents-in-law.  First, unless somebody just died, make sure you give an odd number of flowers.  One ill do, but is not welcomed unless it is a single red rose for the one you love.  Lilies and chrysanthemums are potent symbols of death and should be left well alone unless heading to the cemetery.  If giving flowers to members of the older generations, avoid yellow ones.  Yellow is the colour of jealousy, and can be traced back to the Middle Ages when Yellow was the traditional colour of dresses worn by ladies of a questionable profession.  Carnations, especially red ones, are the symbols of the communists.  Again, avoid.  And if you just happen to be in Lithuania for International Women’s Day, it’s appropriate to give red tulips.  The tradition among men is to buy a bunch in the morning, dish them out willy-nilly to female colleagues at work, then turn up at home late at night rather tipsy, clutching the last, droopy specimen.  It is then traditional for he wife to set about the man with a large heavy object.  Ah, love!

Thai Time: Running Around in Circles

I said that it is important to adapt to things like the pace of life, work ethic, motivation, and work environment from culture to culture, sub-culture to sub-culture, and sub-sub-culture to sub-sub-culture.

If we are meant to meet at 1PM, for example, it is not uncommon to have people show up at around 3pm or so.  Not a problem, as long as you adapt to it.  My noon meeting (which I set for 10AM in anticipation) was a bit of a disaster.

The idea was to get dresses for the two women in the band.  I wanted to take them to one of Bangkok’s oversized boutique malls, Paragon, and get a couple of high-quality, high fashion, simple black dresses.

They suggested another mall, one that was sure to have a greater selection than Paragon and that would be orders of magnitude cheaper.  They swore to it, so I decided to go with the local wisdom.

I knew full well what it would be: a multistory warehouse of counterfeit brand-name ripoffs and cheaply made clingy synthesic things modeled after whatever Paris Hilton wore on a red carpet six months ago.  Not a problem.  You can sometimes stumble across great finds in places like that, and it seemed as though I was in the presence of professionals.  "As long as you can try the dresses on," I said.  "You can try them on sure," they say,  "maybe."

"If ‘sure maybe’ means ‘yes,’ thn we can go there."

I can skip this part of the story, right?

So after wasting an hour getting to the place and sitting down to eat at the Thai A&W, I was late for a meeting in the Paragon.  My idea was that I would go to my meeting, the ladies could browse around the shopping complexes, and then show me what they had found, I would buy it, and we could head back together.

Had my meeting.  Called my friends.  Where shall we meet? Starbucks.  OK.

I show up at Starbucks and no one is there.  I call them again, "Are you still here at the Paragon?"

No, they are waiting for me at Centrum, a smaller, cheaper mall 90 minutes acoss town.  I have 2 hours before I am supposed to teach my class.

Ah.

Times like this remind you why deep breathing was invented.

It makes you reflect on the nature of frustration and anger.

Hey; this was no one’s fault – logic does honestly work differently across cultures.  My Thai is no good, and their English is spotty; we communicate enough to be friends and make jokes, but not to plan  complicated shopping trip, especially when things are going poorly.

This was a trip that was meant to take three hours total.  By the time we had found two dresses that would do the job, we had spent eight and a half hours running around Bangkok.

Hey.  No problem.  I felt at home in this city for the first time.  I knew how do deal with the glacial pace of traffic on Fridays when no taxi will pick you up or less than 300 baht.  I knew that I’d need to hop onto a scooter taxi and that they’d try to rip me off by at least a factor of two.  I zipped around like an action hero – from eleveted train to express riverboat to scooter – and accomplished my own mission impossible.

To top it all off, later that evening after my class, after rehearsal, and after deciding that I wouldn’t have time to train today because of our little adventure, the owner of the theater passed by to tell me that she had just remembered that she had bought two dresses for the ladies.  Could I return anything I had bought for them?

No problem.  Life is life and the trick is to stay to keep your net wide enough to let all the negative little things pass through.  And besides, I found sweet cuttlefish crisps with a great mascot.

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