Wednesday, August 22, 2012

How to avoid being as stupid as me. Missing a flight.

I missed my flight. I got the dates confused. Now, I'm stuck in Bangkok for at least 5 more days . . . unless the wait list situation gets any better. I have a guaranteed fly out date, but I arrive on the 1st day of class instruction, and $623.00 USD down the fiscal hole. I may have to run from the tarmac to the classroom in a haze. I'm actually pretty calm. I could be like this woman in Hong Kong Airport.

Had I opted for the Business class option of $3,500 bucks they gave me, I would be like the HK lady. For the most part, I pretty much blew it on my part, and I knew it. I got a date fixed in my skull, the wrong date, and I didn't even bother to check. The other thing is that Korean Air sends emails predominately in Korean, and I had no idea what I was looking at. But then, unlike the HK woman, I just was really bummed. I had so many errands to deal with when I got back to the states, that any sort of delay was going to cause ultimate misery, at least for next week. I will be teaching in a stupor.

Tools for retarded travelers.

So, are there tools to make sure you aren't a retard like me? Maybe. Usually, I enter the flight and departure dates into my calendar program. I also usually carry a paper calendar, which I didn't do this time. Maybe that's why I'm sort of off kilter. I rely on my work's Outlook program and my Mac's Calendar program to keep me on schedule due to an array of meetings and projects that often get mushed into my skull. I often have a cramped schedule with a combination of family stuff, work stuff, artsy stuff and just stuff. I've become too reliant on technology, and I think that also was a factor in my brain fart. The other thing is that you don't want to travel with things on your mind if you can help it.

1. Put the actual departure time and date into your calendar program. Assign an alarm. That way, you won't be so dumb as me. Program it.

2. Tripcase. I used it before, and it has been a helpful app. For some reason, I didn't use it this time. You can share itinerary and other stuff.

3. Airline Apps. Korea Air doesn't have an iPad app, just an iPhone app. Since I used the iPad more than the iPhone, I missed out on that one. This isn't to say that it would have kept me on schedule, but some apps do give you alerts.

4. Do not rely on email notifications. If the notification is predominately in a foreign language, you might be clueless. Upon further inspection, I could see an English link, but seeing a sea of Korean didn't register in my head that I was seriously off schedule. Of course, if you book with an airline that uses English mostly, then this point is irrelevant. The other thing is that you often don't always have access to email.

5. Read that darn ticket carefully, and when you have connecting flights, don't look at just the arrival date. I got confused because when you leave the USA for SE Asia, you arrive on the same day. For some reason, I had a mental block and was locked into that concept. You leave and arrive the next day when you fly from Asia to the USA. You should probably HIGHLIGHT the DATE and TIME too. Again, don't be stupid like me. Time Zone issues often make reading a flight schedule tricky. Again, this is weird for me. I usually never make this sort of screw up.

6. Paper calendars. I've decided that I'm going to use paper calendars when I travel, and to refer to them. It's less busy than the iPad, and the act of writing down the time helps me to memorize it.

Pitfalls of missing a flight.

Given the fact that the airlines appear to be packing every flight like a sardine can with additional presurrization, if you miss a flight, you could be in for some big time trouble. Korean Air seems to be an airline that has very few margins for a passenger missed flight. I was intitially given a fly out date that was almost 3 weeks away on September 10. Not good, when the semester starts on August 26. I then had to bargain, and got on a wait list, and a guaranteed flight which unfortunately might make me go from the airport to work with no time to unpack. It's the earliest guarantee I could get, but of course, I had to pay some buckaroos.

I've done quite a bit of traveling in the past few years. Much of it has always been to Thailand, as I visit my best friend from high school, who teaches and does consultation work for a wellness clinic. So, this sort of mistake is really disturbing for me. I'm wondering if I'm having memory problems. In fact, I think it is because of some underlying stress that I have going on. When you are a person who is supposed to fix everything, you get a lot of stress to deal with.

When you go on vacation, do not leave with stress or unresolved issues. They will color the trip, and potentially affect your judgment. I've never ultimately been able to relax this time. If you miss an International flight, you may end up stranded. Well, I'm not really stranded now, but it changes how you feel about a trip. My stress levels are off the chart. It shouldn't be that way. I should be thinking, "Hell, I got 5 more days in Bangkok! Whooohoooo!" But I don't have that feeling. That's perhaps is the worst thing of all.


Friday, August 17, 2012

A Choice: Bangkok or Los Angeles? Thailand or the USA?

Being an American is about having the right to be who you are. Sometimes that doesn't happen.”

― Herb Ritts

“Two centuries ago, a former European colony decided to catch up with Europe. It succeeded so well that the United States of America became a monster, in which the taints, the sickness and the inhumanity of Europe have grown to appalling dimensions”

― Frantz Fanon

No city is perfect. No city is planned perfectly. No city is going to meet all of your needs. But . . .

There is no way that the above scene would have occurred in Los Angeles. You won't see businesses pop up on the sidewalk in front of another business. They'll whine. Americans if they don't get their way, get downright nasty like this one.

The more I watch US Politics, the more I want to stay in Thailand or some other part of the world. The 2012 US Election oozes levels of corruption--so very hard to fathom. And many Americans are totally clueless. Sort of like with the gun issue. In a span of just over 5 weeks, the USA has experienced at least 3 mass killings. The most prominent being the Colorado shooting and the Sikh Temple massacre. Lately, I've been forced to really compare Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia with the United States. I have the most exposure to Thailand, so my assessments will be largely based upon my familiarity with Thailand and Bangkok specifically. Bangkok is the heart of the Thailand economic engine. The longer I stay here, the more attractive it gets, and the less attractive America gets. The thing is that I still have things to do in the States.

In 2012, the political debates in the America are focusing on notions of freedom. I don't feel free in America. The amount of doublespeak and doublethink is getting really bad. Free the "job creators." Hmmm. Small government! Hmmmm. Were not those the people who started the "Great Recession?" Americans talk about freedom, but it is always contexualized. They want specific freedoms, but deny it to others. Free the "job creators" but put down women who don't want to get knocked up. This is part of the American Gene, which established freedom but primarily for white slave owners who owned properties as a preference. Forget about the slaves and poor whites who didn't own property. It's a country of contradictions.

In a general sense, there is a major difference in freedom between Thailand and America. For the most part in Thailand, so long as you honor the King, you are fine. America seems to be going in the opposite direction. People are getting into each others business a tad too much. This is both on Republican and Democratic sides.

For example, Bangkok, hypothetically, should be a Republican's wet dream. But they are so screwed up in the head. At first, they might be having a fiscal orgasm due to the lack of many business regulations, but their anti-gay agenda would be laughable here, and people here despise that type of invasive behavior. Remember, this is a country that has a population of ladyboys called katoeys. American Christian values would also create tension and divisions as they will want to project their ideology upon other people free will. Americans have a bad habit of telling other people how to do their business. That generally doesn't happen in Thailand.

What about corruption? Now, this is a funny one.

American politicians have always been about figuring out how to legally find a way to corruption, and to get into your personal business. Having traveled in this part of the world (SE Asia), I am now throughly convinced that the American political system is one huge quagmire of corruption. The rise of the SuperPacs has infused the 2012 US Election with now officially sanctioned corruption. In Vietnam, there is only one casino sanctioned by the government. In the USA, the man who runs the Venetian Hotel in Vegas is funding the Republican candidate. That's only because he declared it. For most, you don't know who's funding it. It could be foreign countries. You don't know, but the corruption train gets longer. In the USA, corruption is a rich man's game in the shadows.

Corruption exists in Thailand, and in Vietnam. Basically many of the Asian countries have very different ways of doing things. Sometimes in Vietnam, it is expected to give a little extra for the extra help. In Thailand, it also sort of works in the same way. For this reason, it has often been difficult for people to work in SE Asia, but there are opportunities. The key to understanding business in Thailand and in Asia is that it is deeply personal. It's not the contract that is the core but the personal relationship.

Is there a point to regulation?

In some ways, yes. When you compare countries, you do see obvious contrasts. In the US of A, you can actually get to places even though they look all the same. People actually give pedestrians the right of way, at least in LA. Bangkok is the opposite. But everything has a sense of balance. For each benefit, there is a drawback. There is no such thing as perfection. The sensibility that allows you to cross the street is also the sensibility that will mandate who you sleep with and how you sleep with them. Stupid. The cost of true freedom has a price, which might be chaos. If you give everyone freedom to do what they want, you will invoke a sense of chaos.

Bangkok is a city with very little in terms of governmental regulations. Bangkok has several million people living here. Many of them are technically not registered residents. They are all forms of workers who are earning money to send back home, often to the outlying provinces. Many are not here legally from countries like Burma and Cambodia. Many of the venues stay open all night. Bangkok is a city that doesn't sleep except during the morning hours of 5AM it seems. There are places that actually open at 2 AM and close at 9 AM. During the day, the city is often congested, and quite busy during the day. Part of it is the penchant for gridlock in Bangkok. People try to force their way through, and lock up the grid.

Food regulations. There are McDonalds here, and they are considered "Hi End" places. Not because they are good, but because they are expensive for Thais. McDonalds does follow US health standards. But the food still sucks, even though there are menu offerings that do not exist in the USA. In contrast, most Thai's eat at the ubiquitous open air venues. I sometime eat at a stand that would never have passed the food inspectors, but it passed the customer number rate. You rate a restaurant by how many people patronize it. Food stands do not require a wide array of permits either to open. You do have to be good though. Did anyone tell you that if you did not do well with a franchise, that company can take it away from you? Yes, there is a point to regulation to prevent food poisoning. But then, the food at McDonalds is still toxic. It passes the food inspections, but it will still make you into a 300 lb balloon. You will need to go to the plastic surgeon in the background.

In Thailand, it is the consumer who is responsible. If the consumer screws up, it's all on that person. Also, if you wish to file a lawsuit, you must put up a significant amount for a filing fee. If you lose, you lose the money, which can be 20,000 Baht or more. Given the average rate of people just making 8,000 Baht a month, that's a lot of dinero.

Controlled Chaos.

If you just look at what you pass by, the entire country of Thailand would fail US code enforcement. One way to read how much regulation exists in a city is to review the traffic, and how people drive. Signs are not uniform. In fact, there are signs on skyscrapers here, which would have the LA City Council throw a fit. People open up businesses in front of 7/11. Total chaos.

The US of A has a lot of regulations. The suburbs are full of them. In fact, all the garbage about freedom and about big government is a bunch of horse dump. Republicans have big government, but they want to regulate your personal life. They want less government in terms of running ponzi schemes and fraud and being sued for putting out crappy product. Democrats also have big government, but they are trying to regulate how you keep the house painted. Republicans will regulate whom, how, and why you sleep with that person. Oh, and if you get raped, they want to regulate your choice to abort a child as a result of a violent crime. Democrats will regulate the building code for the house that you would be sleeping in. They'll get annoying with some nanny state sort of vibe about the amount of bedrooms per household with children. Basically, both of the poltical parties suck. Republicans are more obnoxious as it seems more personal, invasive and Big Brother. Everything seems to be a sexcrime to them.

There was a time I thought America was going to be like Huxley's Brave New World, but now I'm more inclined to think like Orwell's 1984.

If you want a place free from regulations, for the most part, come to Thailand, or to other parts of SE Asia. There are costs. I have seen motorscooters going in the wrong direction. I've seen neon lights on cars that would get you immediately pulled over by the California Highway Patrol. I've seen 3 lanes develop out of a 2 lane road. In America, you are afraid of driving your own car because the traffic cop might give you a ticket so you stay in your lane. In Thailand, you make your lane. But because of this, you get gridlock all over the place. I've sat in a car for 1 hour just to move a block. The regulations that you have to worry about is legal residency. In that sense, Thailand is a tough nut.

Building Boom

Thailand made huge progress in terms of rebuilding after the 2004 Andaman Ocean Tsunami. I've always wondered why it takes so long for Americans to rebuild after a disaster, especially the slow progress in New Orleans. I now know; it is the reports and code enforcement requirements. It's also insurance companies avoiding paying you like Progressive's fiasco in which they tried to avoid paying by going to trial against their own customer.


For every delay in the USA, Bangkok seems to be putting up another building. In Bangkok, people build buildings, and it seems that the impact to traffic is ignored. There were two buildings going up. TCP supposedly is building ecofriendly towers. This is a Japanese construction company by the way. This lack of restriction makes for a very interesting skyline in Bangkok. People build new malls to outdo the last one. They build taller buildings to outdo the latest.

In the Sukumvit area, you can see very high end properties. Many of the hotels in this area are on par with very expensive hotels in Tokyo and New York. It creates a very interesting skyline. But, it isn't seemless.

You can have right next to each other, high end housing options next to almost slum conditions. In Los Angeles, they regularly bulldoze homeless camps along the freeways and parks. Corregated steel roofs would not get past the code enforcers. So, things are possible in Bangkok, that are impossible in the Unitied States.

Bangkok is organized chaos. Here, buildings sometimes go up without any sort of environmental impact report. You can open up a food business and not worry about the food nazis. You can set up shop in front of a 7/11 with a cart. There is no regulation. In a bad sense, things get to be difficult to complete due to congestion and very strange roads that seem to require a dozen u turns to go one stupid mile or kilo. But, a business can close as fast as get openned. The risk is higher.

Traffic--A signifier for the signified.

The US has a lot of traffic rules. With photo radar, motorcycle cops, and the DUI stops, a driver in Los Angeles is always going to be nervous. But then there are rules to be followed. You will get to the mall to spend money on the same generic item that you could have bought closer to your home.

Bangkok is one of the most unique places to drive, and it is a wonder why people don't get into more accidents. Driving here requires a sort of strange passive aggressive behavior. You let people in, but you also politely cut people off. You have to experience it to understand it. Traffic rules seem to be guidelines more than laws here. It's exponentially more in Hanoi and Saigon.

This is a good example. If you thought going to a mall in the United States was a bear of a project, try it in Bangkok. This regional mall is slammed with traffic during the weekend.


Public transportation in Bangkok versus Los Angeles

Taxis make up a bulk of the traffic in Bangkok. Because of the relative high cost of owning a car, many opt to use taxis or motor-scooters. The CC size of the motorcycle engines are capped off at 250cc. Anything more often gets hit with a severe tax. In a sense, there are governmental controls, but most of it is designed to address infrastructure capacity and needs. Taxis form the backbone of the system here. In fact, you have more options. They convert pickup trucks into short range buses. One of the buses is free. I believe they have no AC, and painted red. Motorcycle taxis are also in abundance. Of course, you have Tuk Tuks, but then they are less prominent than in the past.


With the advent of the MTS Skytrain and subway systems, you have easy transport in core areas of Bangkok. Like LA, people don't normally walk to places. It's not like New York or Tokyo, the other mega-cities where walking is possible. The weather doesn't make it conducive to making this a walking city. Bangkok is a sort of hybrid of New York, Los Angeles, Buenos Aires and anything else. Where it is close to public transportation hubs, you can get some services. If you are not close to them, then you are like in LA--spread out. In Bangkok, things sometimes are very local. People eat, drink, get groceries within a small geographical slice out of the entire city.

Los Angeles is a very cold city. Even though it is built in the middle of a desert, it is cold. The Metro Rail System is simply a duplication of the old Red Car system that we used to have in the 1950s before they got torn up in favor of buses. Again, in Los Angeles, it was a case of corporate corruption. It is still difficult to get to anyplace in Los Angeles without a car now. Getting there in a car is also stressful, as you will always be looking over your shoulder for law enforcement. Even when you get home, you are always worried about city code and other issues about your own house.


Everytime I return to the USA, I feel constrained. There are benefits and drawbacks to all things. On the other hand, my idea about the US of A is that it is one screwed up country. Too many people are "really" trying to control you, and to control your life. I would stick this blame squarely on Republicans who want to regulate whom you sleep with, whom you marry with, whom you drive with, whom you live with. Big Government isn't always about Big Spending. It can be about Over Regulation. The two parties combined now form the government of Orwell's Big Brother. They will do anything to keep order, but order has a price. Freedom has a price as well. It will take you 30 minutes to go 1 block in Sukumvit. Take your chances. One of the more interesting things about the differences is the different take on responsiblity. In America, you will sue a person for something you actually did and maybe actually win. In Thailand, if you make a mistake, that was your choice so suck it up. Americans seem to whine a bit more. Actually I can't say that, I've seen Euros whining quite a bit over here as well.

Los Angeles versus Bangkok. If you want to get anywhere, ironically, Los Angeles is pretty good IF you got a car. If you want to open up a business or dress up in a harajuku outfit, Bangkok is the place. Both have costs and benefits. But, with enough connections, I could live in Thailand. Very possible. But now is not the time, yet.

With freedom, there comes risk. So be ready for anything.


Monday, August 6, 2012

International Drivers License Thailand

What if you still want to drive in Thailand. You can get an International License from AAA offices before you leave the USA. If you move to Thailand, there are other processes that you have to follow.

They had this poster in the Bangkok DMV. If you noticed, you had better have a valid visa.

This is what the official notation is in the office. As you can see, it's all in Thai. So, if you can't read the language, you had better get some help.

The DMV is the same everywhere. You hurry up and sit down and wait your turn. Not exactly the most productive way to spend a day.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Miss Saigon in Thailand vs La Jolla Playhouse's Fiasco

“All knowledge that is about human society, and not about the natural world, is historical knowledge, and therefore rests upon judgment and interpretation. This is not to say that facts or data are nonexistent, but that facts get their importance from what is made of them in interpretation… for interpretations depend very much on who the interpreter is, who he or she is addressing, what his or her purpose is, at what historical moment the interpretation takes place.”

― Edward W. Said

In Thailand, the advertisement for a 2012 production in Bangkok of Miss Saigon is very Thai. I don't see a Western name on that cast list. It's all in Thai script. If there was a Westerner, you would see the Western lettering. Given the history of this musical, I also found it interesting that the production poster of the Bangkok production has not a single white face in it. This got me into a mode of thinking about the problems of being Asian in America.

Much of it is directly because of the social media storm that developed after La Jolla Playhouse did a production of a play set in China with very few Asian actors. Hans Christian Anderson's "The Nightingale" becomes a musical with Duncan Sheik lyrics. The fact that it is based on a fairy tale about Asia by a European is a little weird too. So why the uproar? Asian Pacific Americans (APA) are always either ignored, or misread.

Asians in Asia don't have a hangup on identity. They know who they are. They know what their culture demands. If there are no White actors around, they'll cast an Asian. Screw it. They know that they are on top of the food chain in their country. People ask me, "What's up with Asians in America?" It's complicated; it's also sad. In some ways, I've been trying to develop a noun with a proper definition. My working terminology is APA Purgatorio. We exist existentially in the marginalia of cultural contexts. We don't fit in America. We don't necessarily fit in Asia. We are perhaps truly globalized existential beings.

Asian Pacific Americans (APA) are perpetually under various forms of reductionism in the USA. We get statements like:

You speak English so well. How long have you been here? Where are you really from? Etc.

We are considered foreigners in our own land. In Ronald Takaki's Introduction to A Different Mirror, he discusses how the taxi driver didn't recognize that he was an American. So, in terms of casting, we aren't authentic enough. They will import an actress from Asia. Or they will recast an APA character into a Caucasian character. You would think that if you go to Asia, it would be better. Hold your Mongolian horses dude and dudettes, Bruce Lee is the exception, not a rule.

When an APA comes to a country in which Asians run the show and look down upon White people, it shakes up the perpetual inferiority complex. We become a part of the majority. But that really isn't true. We are not always accepted in Asia either. Being APA is a sort of purgatory in Asia too. My stay in Thailand is sort of complicated. They view me first as Japanese, and then get confused when I say I'm American. I'm unusual. In Japan, being Japanese American isn't exactly an asset. I would be miserable trying to find a job in Japan. In some ways, we are never perceived to be good enough. There is an underlying question of "Why did you leave the mother country? Were you poor, or a failure?" Shoot, the Japanese don't even like Japanese who get educated in the Ivy League or the University of California. Ironically, if you are Japanese American, it makes better sense to move to a third country like Thailand, or Vietnam or Singapore. Your English skills become a clear asset.

The APA Purgatorio condition manifests itself much more strongly in the culture industries--Hollywood and Broadway. The La Jolla Playhouse casting issue never showed up on the radar until an APA actress, Erin Quill posted a blog entry that openly criticized this casting decision. This created a wild fire reaction by the Los Angeles Asian American Theater community, so much so, that the La Jolla Playhouse had to have a forum. Casting Controversy Shadows La Jolla Playhouse's 'Nightingale' | The backlash was sort of weird in the sense of using the premise of a multi-cultural cast was good. But, the lead role went to some white dude? So? What gives?

This is my theory. Asians from Asia are usually preferred over APAs in Hollywood and Broadway. The Harold and Kumar franchise is sort of an exception. This premise of APAs not being good enough to cast as a lead in a role has a long history, and the La Jolla Playhouse drama is not the first or last. They don't believe APAs can draw a theater audience to sell seats. There are examples.

The original production of Miss Saigon takes the wedding cake, the birthday cake, and the upside down cake combined. The fact that the main female protagonist was cast with a Filipina not Vietnamese is intriguing. Lea Salonga is good, but it seems like Hollywood would prefer to import their leading Asian actresses. The fact that the role is being a bargirl doesn't help much in terms of stereotypes of Asian women either. Most of the big Hollywood success stories of Asian male actors are from Asia: Chow Yun Fat, Jet Li, Jackie Chan. To a certain extent Ken Watanabe, but that was Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima. If there are Asians in Hollywood leads, they are most often imported. Having Jonathan Pryce cast as the Eurasian brothel owner just reinforced what I call the lack of belief in the marketing power of APAs. They cast him because he was a name, and Caucasian. Only authentic Asians need apply or a substitute will be found. If they cast, Chow Yun Fat, maybe they would have tried, but he doesn't do musicals. Did "The Nightingale" surprise me? No.

The other thing is that we are foreign, but unfortunately not foreign enough for some people. One of the more basic problems about the existential condition of APAs in the USA is that many Americans perceive all Asians as being the foreigner first. Even if you were born and raised in the US of A, you are still asked if you speak English. This is not isolated to Caucasians. Blacks ask the same question. Mexicans call all Asians, chino. There is a disconnect between our appearance and what we are. This plays a role in casting which is more of a sympton of a wider existential condition.

In the David Henry Hwang's interview about his production of Yellowface (His meditation on the Miss Saigon Controversy), he gets into this entire thing about identity and race. You can watch it and come up with your own opinions.

There may be more basic issues--ethnic diversity. Because America is largely a heterogenous society composed of multiple ethnic communities and cultures, you don't have a cohesive American identity tied to ethnicity and to culture. Thailand and Vietnam, however, do have clear national ethnic identities. They are very proud of their country. With APAs, we are sort of stuck, sort of like Black and Hispanics. Blacks sort of have the identity of being slaves and a part of the history of the making of the country, however, the negative aspects. Mexicans, well, some view parts of the USA as originally Mexico, and so, they feel connected. For APAs, we love our country, but our country doesn't necessarily love us. Despite the Chinese building half the transcontinental railroad, APAs are not often included in the melting pot discussion, except during Asian Pacific History Month. For the most part, Hollywood and Broadway have shunned domestically raised APAs. Even a role that obviously screams for casting an Asian will probably get cast with some white guy or a guy who sort of looks Asian if they can't get someone like a Japanese Actor Ken Watanabe to play the role. There are some pretty glaring examples of this practice. One is from the 80s. The other is from the 70s.

Joel Grey was cast as an Korean martial arts master in the 1985 film, Remo Williams. This was really bad yellowface. The makeup really sucks.

I sort of find it difficult that you couldn't find one single Asian American actor to play a martial arts master. Can you say Mister Miyagi anyone? I think there is a reason why people remember The Karate Kid, not Remo Williams. Some things are less clear. Kung Fu the TV series of the 1970s is one show that is really mixed. I like the show, but the history of the show still stings.

It seems that Asian characters can be cast with White actors, especially if it calls for a mixed race character. David Carradine of Kung Fu is a good example. Bruce Lee came up with the concept, but they didn't let him play the part. America's rejection ended up with a number of Hong Kong flicks that rocked the world, so in a way, it ended up producing some great martial arts films. By rejecting him, they created the legend. Still, if you look at Kung Fu the TV series, APAs did get some good parts, but unfortunately, nothing allowed them to be the lead. Most often, they were given supporting mentoring roles. I call it the old martial arts mentor of young white dude role. Perpetual supporting actors roles seem to be standard fare of APA actors. You would think this perpetual support role slot would have changed since the 70s Kung Fu series. Apparently, it hasn't. Instead of casting changes, they change the entire project now.

The La Jolla Playhouse didn't perceive the casting as an issue. Why? The funny thing is that even White people often get miffed when things get cast in a whitewashed way. They made DragonBall into a live action film with White actors. Bad reviews. They made The Last Airbender, which has obvious Asian characters, with mostly white actors. Most stayed home. There were machinations to make the seminal anime movie, Akira, with white actors. Why the need to pull a David Carradine?

The 18 Mighty Mountain Warrior, sketch comedy team, often explore this issue. Sometime comedy is more effective than a rant. In this piece, the children speak. Right now, if they made the film, I would ignore it like I ignored the other anime based films. By de-asianizing it, you lose the soul of the story. I've heard that they've optioned the Japanese film, Battle Royale. Somehow, I think if they remake it with an all white cast, it will suck. Besides, they already made it already with The Hunger Games. I believe there is such a thing as an Asian aesthetic.

So, what to think of it all? America is one mighty screwed up country. We think of race relations having improved recently. I'm not sure. The racial overtones over Obama is disturbing. Recent articles by the AP say that things are mixed. The Associated Press article, "In Obama Era, has race relations improved," shows some contradictory polling and responses.

My other suspicion is that they just cast their friends. If you want to cast APAs, you have to create the forums for them. People often pull out of their networks, and if their networks are not that extensive, you get what you get.

Interesting comparison. Thailand had a similar casting beef a long time ago. The King is held in high esteem here. 1st Rule of Thailand, "Don't mess with the King." Second rule, refer back to first rule. Remember, The King and I, that musical that became Yul Brynner's meal ticket. It's about Thailand or late 1800s Siam. It's based on basically a British nanny's impression of being a nanny to Asians. Most Americans are exposed to Thailand through this musical. Note: Yul was not Thai, but rather Russian American. King Mongkut is Thai. That sucker is banned here. Production, film, book. Et al. It's considered insulting. The casting was insulting. The storyline is insulting. The history is flawed with inaccuracies. It's Banned. Thailand does not suffer such orientalism lightly.

I guess if you want to do a play or a film about Asia with Asian actors, do it in Asia. If you want to recast a version of Miss Saigon or Madame Butterfly, do it in Asia. Maybe we all have to become cultural Bruce Lee warriors to make it happen. But then, APA Purgatorio is sort of like The Train Station in The Matrix. It's hard to break out. The Train Man is always around to keep you there. You must do what you must do. At least one Eurasian actor got to lead in a franchise.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Ramkhanhaeng Street Food Scene

You too can be like this man. Well, he has handlers. There are people who recon for him, so he doesn't end up with a very unhappy time paying alms to the almighty altar of Montezuma's Revenge.

Street food is interesting in SE Asia. I've actually traveled quite a bit in this part of the world. The first foreign place that I visited was not Mexico (actually still never been there), but rather Phang Na, Thailand. That's where the Andaman Ocean Tsunami of 2004 hit. That's when I got drafted to do charity work. That's how I was forced to overcome my fear of flying, and now I fly everywhere. And, I am good at it now. Food is a major part of my travel agenda. Bangkok is pretty safe in terms of foodie adventures. Vietnam, is also very nice. Cambodia, well, that's a little interesting. That's one of the few countries in which I got traveler's sickness. And in Cambodia, I recommend beer. As with all travel, sometimes beer is safer than the water. I wasn't entirely convinced that bottled water in Cambodia was safer than beer.

Having been to several parts of Thailand, I have to say that the street food scene of the Ramkhanhaeng area is amazing. There are many areas of Bangkok with strong street food sections, but nothing really compares to the density and the variety of food items that you can get here.

Bangkok is synonymous with good food and the street food culture. If there is room on a sidewalk, they will put up a stall. In fact, many of the street food scenes are located near colleges and universities. They serve relatively cheap food for starving students. In the meantime, the vendors earn money. For the most part in Thailand, there is no unemployment insurance. There are also no regulations or licensing. You can start a business with a cart in a day. Wages are low, but unemployment is also low. This is why the street food scene probably is very strong in Bangkok. Prime locations seem to be around the 7/11 and Fresh Mart areas. People walk into these places and buy a coke, or a beer to go along with the food being served up. Competition is fierce. You have to be the best to survive. So, what can you get? Let's see.

You have fruit stalls. The bananas in Thailand are smaller. They are not the same size as the one's in the States. Also, you have fruit like longan, mango and other stuff.

Every vendor pretty much is a specialist. They only do one type of dish. There may be variations, but generally, they are usually very specific. A noodle stall will focus on a type of noodle. Pork stalls will do the same. Duck stall will only deal with duck dishes.

A view of the street shows that the vendors are also literally on the street. You have a sidewalk, but you can then pick your foods from both sides. By the way, this only begins to become active after sundown. Bangkok is known for its nightlife for a reason. The sunlight in Bangkok can be unrelenting, and many prefer to shop and to go out after sundown.

Both sides of the street have food vendors. The guys on the scooters wearing the orange vests, they are motorcycle taxis. They will take you to a spot for about 10 to 20 baht. That's less than a dollar. I avoid them because they are sort of fearless with cars and going in the opposite direction of traffic sometimes.

As you can tell, the space between one vendor and the vendors sitting in the street are very close. You will not see a food truck in this neighborhood. Number one--too big. Number two--Thailand doesn't have the food Nazis. In Los Angeles, the illegal bacon wrapped hot dog vendors run a cat and mouse game with the food police. The food police here are the customers. That sign on the concrete pole means, "Don't climb it!" If you know the wiring and infrastructure of SE Asia, that's good advice.

There are a number of stalls that specialize in fried foods. Fried fish cakes, shrimp cakes and other stuff. There are also a number of stalls that have a variety of sausages and mystery meat. Thais also eat liver, kidneys, and other things that Americans tend to shun. I can't eat liver. Ever since I was a kid, I detested it. I think it was because of the texture.

Side streets along the main street also are populated by stalls. In fact, you can't go anywhere without your senses being overloaded with food. In Thailand, they don't say, "How are you?" They say, "Have you eaten yet?" The servings are small. The prices will be around 30 baht per plate, which is about a dollar.

At the end of the evening, piles of trash accumulate on corners. They still give out plastic bags here, so people use them up.

You can get some flowers for your girl, and you can get some roasted fish. The street scene is so much more interesting sometimes.

Unlike Los Angeles, there is a vibrant life on the streets of Bangkok. This is especially true in the Ramkhanhaeng area. There are things that you would want to watch out for. Because there are no food Nazis, you have to be very careful. If not, you can have a long day of Montezuma's Revenge.

For example, grilled fish. You can get grilled fish for about 30 baht or about a dollar. That might seem like a bargain. Other fish might be 300 baht. Get the 300 baht fish. It's been sourced from some more reputable companies like CP Group. You can ask, but it is better to have another Thai. Sometimes, you do get what you pay for.

If you are careful, you can get some really good stuff. Grilled squid anybody? These must have been big, as the meat chunks are about a half inch thick. And no, they don't taste like a tire either.

So, if you get a chance, check it out. And by the way, if you so desire, you can have your grilled squid with a beer on the sidewalk next to the 7/11. No one cares.

A Walk along the Neighborhood Khlong, Bangkok

Neighborhoods in Bangkok are very diverse. One mile away from the apartment is the bustle of Ramkhanaheng University and the Thai Sports Authority. On that street, you will experience a massive traffic jam, and endless examples of street food. It's the Bangkok of movies. Where I am, it is rather quiet. On an annual basis, I come by to hang out with my old high school friend, Dr. Ton. He's permanently left the USA to do tsunami relief work, and he now resides in Bangkok. At night, it can be crazy. During the day, a lot of people either work, or they hibernate. I woke up at a decent hour, so I decided to go exploring. What do I see out my window?

It's a mix of neighborhoods. That ugly corregated roof is a restaurant complex. Way out in the distance is what counts as a sort of Coliseium here, which is the Thai Sports Authority. As you can tell, Bangkok, although congested, is green. In between the apartment and Ramkhanhaeng is a khlong. Bangkok used to be called the Venice of Asia, but they have been paving these things over in order to add streets to accommodate the ever increasing levels of traffic.
The sidewalks aren't exactly the best, but a walk in the neighborhood reveals many small shops nearby. There are a number of coffee places, a barber shop and across the khlong (canal) a 7/11. By the way, 7/11 is everywhere, and it is where everyone goes for supplies. You literally can have a 7 every 2 blocks.

You will see all sorts of trees and flowers. I was walking down the street towards the khlong, and came across this thing.

I am living very close to the Khlong KaCha. I'm standing on the bridge. One block from here is the 7/11 and a few other stores. They don't serve hot dogs like in the USA. They cut it up, and put mustard or chili sauce on it. No hot dog buns in this part of the town.


Again, there are very very basic forms of housing right next to condo complexes. It's very green here, but the water is really polluted.


You go down the stairs, and there is a walkway. I did this during the day, because I needed the light, and I don't like walking around during the evening in unfamiliar areas not populated by regular steady traffic. Still, it makes for some interesting photos.

People store things on the concrete beams that stretch across the khlong. It can be rather unsightly, but in Bangkok, you don't have the code police writing you up.

Along the khlong, there are numerous small streets. There are small mom/pop restaurants, and the color of the city is again green.


It is actually a pleasant walk. You can tell that there are people who are sort of just scraping by with the patchwork of housing along the way.

But then, it is sort of cool to have this in your backyard. I just wouldn't recommend you do any fishing or swimming or anything else in that water. It's really smelly.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Art of Making Mataba Roti

There is something amazing about the dish that they call roti in Thailand. It can be either a sweet dish often stuffed with bananas, or a savory dish stuffed with some really interesting flavors, much of it being curry in nature. Most of the times, I've eaten the banana version of this dish. On this trip, I finally got a chance to check out a savory version. If you eat roti, generally the venders may be Muslim. It's a dish that has Malaysian roots, and it's sort of a hybridization of global food influences all rolled into a single dish. It's not a crepe. The dough is worked almost like a pizza dough, versus a crepe in which a batter is poured onto one of those pricey crepe pans. There are elements of Indian influences in this dish with the curry. Being often a favorite of Muslims here, it meets the halal requirements as well.

Good food can be found in very humble settings. Most street food chefs are specialists. They focus on one dish and one dish only. When you eat street food in Thailand, it is best to know which vender is good. A local's knowledge is key. By the way, I believe the price was about 40 baht per dish, which is just over a dollar. So this dish is about the same price as an item on the McDonalds dollar menu. Somehow, I think it looks better than a wimpy burger with one pickle.

You can go here to check out a sample of the recipe. This thing is not easy to make. Apparently, there are a lot of people who can make this, but not many people can make it well. Fortunately for me, I'm in an area where a street food stall makes the best in the area. Given the active street food universe of Ramkhanhaeng, it says alot. Competition in street food is fierce. You earn your customer base only if you make good stuff. If you suck, you get no business.

It begins with a dough. I don't know what's in the dough, but it's pretty good stuff. He has it mixed in a way that depending upon how he preps it, it can be chewy or paper thin like filo dough used for baklava. He cooks it on what appears to be a sort of crepe pan, but heated with propane. This is a street food cart, not a food truck or fancy restaurant.

When he is prepping the dough, he tosses it like a pizza man, but the dough becomes paper thin almost translucent. He is also very fast. From beginning to end, it only took a few minutes from tossing to getting it onto the pan.

He would mix the savory contents quickly and efficiently. Egg is also a part of the mix. He was so fast that I couldn't tell exactly what he was putting into the filler. It contains a blend of egg, beef, and chicken with a sort of curry based blend of spices. For a while, I had trouble figuring out what that unique flavor was. Then the little light bulb in my head said, curry powder. Perhaps it is because I'm used to seeing curry in Japanese restaurants and in bowls. Not in a roti.

Into the pan it goes. What the stuff in that pink bowl could be, I am to this day clueless. His hands were too fast for me to pick up on the contents. His wife is the sous chef, and she has all the items ready for him to dump into a mixing bowl. Dump, dump, dump and mix. He then pours the filler into the center of the crisping dough.
On the crepe pan gizmo, he would fold the filler and dough into a square and flip it regularly. Occasionally he would add oil to try to get a crisper texture. We asked for this one to be crispy, and it was great.

Once done, he gets a square parchment paper, and places the mataba on it. He then chops it into bite size pieces.

He always asks you how you want it. The tiny woman is his sous chef wife.

The wife presents the finished product. It comes with a spicy vinegar based dip with cucumbers.

The thumb of approval is declared. From beginning to end, it only took about 10 minutes.

This is how it looks. Can you see the carmelization of the dough? It's crisp, paper thin, and the filling has light hints of curry; it isn't overwhelming. Thin slices of carrot, cucumber and chili are also presented on the side.

We actually got a sweet version as well. This one is filled with bananas. As you can tell, the toppings are not the same. This one was requested as being more chewy. As you can tell, the color of the dough is light, but not crisped.

By the way, he made both of these things under 15 minutes in front of your eyes. Just watching him make this was worth the trip.