Laurie’s blog No10 Ramblings from Bangkok

29 01 2009

As mysterious as the weather the light fingered mice of the  financial kleptocracy have been nibbling at my exchange symbols (i.e.$$$) again  reducing them by 16%. If one imagines all the global community who are exchanging currency and how much that 16% adds up to it is apparent that despite economic gloom and doom press reports about the ‘crisis’, the economic structures are as alive and well as ever. The banks , insurance companies and investment sector which undermined the fiscal trust in the dirty paper that runs the world have been well rewarded for their larceny with massive infusions of taxpayer’s moneys and the global system of  economic slaves thoroughly chastened by the threat of unemployment. But like Gollum the banks appear reluctant to lend the money back to the private sector that supplied it via the state and as a result the confidence in the efficiency of dirty paper has not yet returned. It is all so wonderful and copacetic. The quantity of money floating around the world has not diminished. No one has burned any, but like a barren cow, it failed to reproduce as well as usual. It doesn’t buy as much – and all utterly independent of our own actions. Like influenza it just happens. Only the homeless, the utterly destitute and the experiential aristocracy are unaffected. Aristotle said that our problems flow from the misguided belief that money reproduces like a cow. It is the year of the ox. could that be the trouble? Open another bottle Rowley!

Worse, since those responsible, or should we insist  on ‘irresponsible’, for the meltdown have been richly rewarded; and since there have appeared no mechanisms in the system that might control it in future, it is pretty certain to happen again. Dirty paper is dirty paper and is garbage until it moves and with the billionaires sitting on it it is unlikely that it will.Reagan and Thatcher were utterly wrong. The market does not regulate itself. As everyone in ‘the business’ pulls Maynard Keynes off the shelf to avoid revealing their astonishing ignorance of the causal implications of the crisis it begins to appear that even Keyne’s policies –‘spend,spend,spend’ aren’t going to help us enough either, since all the contemporary spending has been  done on credit. Communist countries are also entangled in the credit crunch. Obviously Old World Politics are irrelevent. It appears, Godamit, that we can’t have tomorrow until tomorrow.Open another bottle of Calvados Rowley.Let’s have a little more of too much to tide us over until we can all, once again, be up to our fetlocks in lovely debt. And please, no more pictures of starving peasant’s children. It is so tasteless.A billionaire can’t help being a billionaire with governments throwing money at him. Some of it is bound to stick, isn;t it? So don’t lame the billonaires.It is six p.m as I scribble these notes in my pocket journal. That wonderful thing that is the Thai street food-stand scene is in full operation.Barrows are springing up all along the street, on the sidewalks, on the streets, down alleys;everywhere a barrow could be parked, or a small table even. Already groups of people are eating with a singular delicacy that is very much Thai.The way they hold their tools is delicate, as are their hand motions and the leisureliness with which they eat. It is etiquette for everyone in a party to eat from all the plates ordered and people, before eating sever special pieces—of meat, or fish or egg onto the plates of their companions to ensure that others are served before themselves.The Thais are communally the most graceful diners of any nation I have encountered. Generally the conversations are muted and quiet as well..

I sit watching all this as darkness deepens. A new barrow appears—a three wheel bike with a deck in front over the two front wheels. The deck has a plastic film dome over it.Inside the dome are trays of roasted or barbecued insects—grasshoppers, crickets, worms and so on. Diners get up and buy packets of them and bring them back to the table to augment whatever they have ordered from the stall which owns the table they sit at. There are no competitive quarrels about the right to monopolize customers. I try some grasshoppers which are crunchy like bacon rind and taste a little garlicky. Quite nice really. A little further, parked on the curb is a Toyota pickup with the  enclosed canopy stuffed with beer, whiskey, Chinese rice wine, packets of junk food etc.  No aggressive cops appear to arrest the drinker and confiscate  their beers; or kill anyone, as in Canada, where the police shot and murdered a young  man who in 2008 was drinking a bottle of beer in public. He was in the cell under restraint when the killing took place. The cop was acquitted. It was held that the man was resisting arrest—even though he had already been arrested. Here in Bangkok it is quite likely that a cop will join a table for a while and share a bottle with his friends. But the people of Thailand haven’t been infantilized and cowed by the state as they are in Canada.

However beneath the placid waters of street eating the national politics are rumbling dangerously and politically all is not well in the Kingdom of Thailand. The airport blockade in December 2008 was the finale of a nationwide dissatisfaction with the then government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawata whose pork-barrel politics and corruption finally drove the easy- going Thais to revolt.As a result of the corruption in the Thaksin government Thaksin was convicted of profiteering with his wife on a real-estate deal and sentenced to two years imprisonment. Thaksin escaped the country but the government was taken over by his closest henchman who promulgated his policies..The airport blocade resulted in the dismissal of the government. But the game didn’t end there. Thaksin moved to the U.K. and washed some of his ill-gotten gains buying an English football club. He later sold it to a middle eastern  sheik. But Thaksin, who was born in the north of Thailand had very strong support in the North as a result of farm subsidies and  pork-barrel politics.The country is now, for the first time, deeply divided between North and South , each side claiming the halo of true democracy and wearing Red shirts(North, Thaksin), and Yellow shirts(Bankok and south), Thaksin goes on national T.V from a private station.He vows to return.It is like the war of the roses.Simultaneously in the three southernmost states which lie adjacent to Malaysia and are predominantly Muslim the years of neglect and strong arm politics of the Thaksin regime have created deep divisions that are manifesting by bombings and drive-by shootings, killings of police and one very successful raid on a police station to secure arms. In the interim the new government of Abhisit (yellow) ,buffeted by the global downturn is trying to persuade the international tourist population that all is well in the Kingdom and that despite the melting of their currencies relative to the Baht they should return. High–end hotels are supposed to be cutting their room rates by 50%, the government is cancelling Visa fees for a couple of months and bringing in some policies that have expats(teachers etc) scratching their heads.Anyone coming into the country by land will receive only a fifteen day visa while those who arrive  by air will receive the normal 30 days—a move that is likely to persuade half of potential tourists to go to Malaysia  Indonesia or Bali instead. None of these political waves seem to be causing much disquiet with the existing tourists. There does seem to be a significant lack of coherence in the policies, however and it seems that most of the policies will be counter effective. It is all reminiscent of the eighties when the government decided it wanted to get rid of back-packing tourists and foster the visa crowd. They were then  presented with a study that showed that the backpackers spent more in the country than the visa crowd though they took longer to do so. In the meantime the sun shines every day, the food is wonderful, the people are civilized and pleasant and the women gorgeous.

Thais from all economic strata eat out on the street. It is a wonderfully vital, relaxed scene which , so far, thank god, hasn’t been monopolized, exploited and destroyed by tourism as the Paris scene of the 20’s has been destroyed and changed into a high-price artificial rip off.And so I luxuriate in this wonderful atmosphere, dimly lit by far-apart street lamps and the single small neon tube above each stall.. On one of the barrows a radiant light-point gleams like an errant star.  Kids run everywhere.A ten inch television on the side of the beer pickup holds entranced an audience of about fifteen people, drinking and eating bowls of noodles and other fare. A football game  is playing. From time to time an orgasmic shout of collective joy erupts. Thailand has scored against Vietnam.YEH! Several tables hold four or five men with a jug of ice, glasses and a bottle of whiskey.The drinking is quiet and orderly.It is by no means unusual to see a B.M.W. or Mercedes pull up at the curb and people get out and take their places at the tin topped tables, sitting on plastic stools.The more usual travel mode is Japanese motorcycles. What is it Dear Canada that so scares us that we limit our social pleasures to sterile environments where women don’t want to go to in towns where there is no place for men and women to meet each other. It seems that old Manichean terror of pleasure that morphed into Puritanism  persuaded us that pleasure ,and especially ecstatic pleasure, were dangerous stamps to have on our celestial passports after death. What a sorry lot we are. So controlled! So obedien! I blame the religions as well.They seem to be incapable of understanding that the presence of human laughter and  joy are the surest indicators of the presence of deity and divinity.The sufi’s understood.

.“And those who stood before the tavern Shouted, open the door. Ye know what little time we have to stay, and once departed May return no more.” ( The Rubyiaat of Omar Khayyam”)

It is 6.35 p.m.Night has arrived.I sit at the metal table on the sidewalk writing by the light from the bulb in the glass box of the stall, in which hang slabs of beef, pork, barbeued chicken, tripe. I am immersed in a sea of language I don’t understand coming from all directions around me. Strangely I enoy this reversion to infantilism and the sporadic additions of Thai that I acquire and the pleasure of recognizing these isolated threads in the ambient weave of the language’s texture.Every language produces a characteristic “multi-buzz” I realize, such as one hears in a busy pub where only the occasional phoneme is recognizable. The “multi-buzz”can be soothing or alarming. This one tonight is one I like. In front of me, four feet away is a food stall or barrow on its two bicycle wheels. It is a brightly lit little stage on which three women, visible only above the waist, perform like marionettes;one chopping meat into small pieces for barbecuing, one prepping salad, and the last pounding shredded green papaya with pestle and mortar to make the deliciously spicy ‘SomTum’, that speciality of Issan in the North East of Thailand.It is a delightful little drama that I watch. Casually dressed locals come up and order food. Some stay and eat and drink beer or whisky. Some take their evening meal home with them in plastic bags secured by elastic bands. Informality characterizes everything. Kids come and go running freely around the streets and dark alleys. It seems that Thais have not been told that the world is half full of male pedophiles. Mothers are pleased when I interact with their child or give them candies. How wonderful it is to have my presumption of innocence societally restored.How marvellous it is to play with kids again!

Now, dear World, it is time to go to sleep. Good night to you and love, in the meantme, here’s a stall. som tum staslls 29th jan 09 002 Laurie.

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