Observations and meditations of a 2010 Fulbright Hays GPA scholar/ traveler in SE Asia during Summer 2010 and beyond
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
How to avoid being as stupid as me. Missing a flight.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Public transportation in Bangkok versus Los Angeles
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.
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.
With freedom, there comes risk. So be ready for anything.
Monday, August 6, 2012
International Drivers License Thailand
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
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:
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.
You speak English so well. How long have you been here? Where are you really from? Etc.
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' | KPBS.org. 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
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.
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
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
The Art of Making Mataba Roti
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.
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.