Saturday, November 28, 2009

Is Nothing Sacred?

I've joined my local YMCA.  It's a Pacific Northwest, new agey YMCA which doesn't care whether members are Christian or a same sex couple and they're even open on the Lord's designated day of rest (other local YMCA's are not open on Sunday).  There's no mention in person or on the walls of the "C" in YMCA.  I wear my MP3 player and I sweat to the oldies with the rest of the overweight guys and hausfraus, doing my part to nullify the “Y” in YMCA. 
IMAG0021My local YMCA doesn’t dwell on the “M” in YMCA either. Some genius Dad recently brought in his 4 kids, a boy and 3 little girls into the Men’s locker room.  I wanted to peel off my sweaty clothes but I felt modest in front of the little girls, none was probably older than 5 or 6 and all were clothed, including Dad.  I held off for awhile while the kids played at a large scale off to my left.  Dad saw that I was there and that I was about to pull off my sweaty shorts and reveal my full frontal birthday suit so he called his flock away.

 But one little girl had many questions about the scale and sensitive, new age Dad felt he had to give her all the time she needed, even in the Men’s locker room.  I had enough and stripped.  I was in the right place to be doing that too, if I can’t strip down to my birthday suit to shower and change in the Men’s locker room for fear of offending underage females and being labeled a perv then I might as well wear a burka or just stay home.

My local YMCA has three locker rooms, Men’s, Women's and and one labeled “Family”.  Signs posted at the entrance to each explains that boys younger than 5 are permitted entry into the Women’s locker room.  But as you can see from the outlines on the picture above the Men’s locker room is very inclusive.  Boys, girls and Men and the wheelchair bound are all welcome. 

I went to the showers but Dad had already waddled in there with his brood.  They were all wearing bathing suits, probably washing up before going into the pool.  This Men’s locker room at my YMCA has shower stalls fronted with plastic shower curtains but I came out of my stall wearing nothing but water when I realized that I had forgotten my razor.  One little girl stared at full frontal naked me in amazement.  One of us didn’t belong in there, can you guess which one? 

But it probably doesn’t matter.  I’m sure that the day is coming when men will be encouraged, and persuaded by well meaning laws if necessary to refrain from nakedness and being offensive with their mere presence to young girls in the Men’s locker room.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Still More on Phnom Penh & Cambodia

I'm not sure how they deal with their genocidal past in Camrybodia.  S21/Tuol Sleng where the Khmer Rouge did their photographing and some of their torturing is something of a tourist attraction.  Most of the people I saw visiting inside were foreigners like me but I did see a few locals.  All of the people outside were aggressive beggars waiting to pounce on the foreigners leaving. 

Pol Pot died of old age a free man and his henchmen are either free men or in the current government.  Most of Asia runs on an undercurrent of corruption that would be astonishing by US standards but in Cambodia it's right out there in in the open in such a festering cesspool that even I could smell it.  If a citizen attracts the attention of the Cambodian government and speaks out the government will sue them for defamation, and win.  If you sue them for defamation they'll sue you back for defamation for having sued them and they'll win. 

Another big problem in Cambodia is acid.  They supposedly use it in a process on rubber plantations but it has other more social uses.  Have a grudge against someone?  Just hire some goons, arm them with acid and with just a splash your victim will be taught a lesson they'll never forget (if they live).  Stories like this are easy to find:

There's a whole network of charities just for acid attack survivors.

Phnom Penh still suffers from the Khmer Rouge period.  Phnom Penh was abandoned for a few years and anyone who knew anything about maintaining it (plumbers, electricians, masons, mechanics, elevator repairmen, traffic engineers and planners, etc) was executed.  Today much of Phnom Penh's houses have no electricity, business all keep generators about the size of a small pickup truck out front or out back.  The country has no electric grid.  The government runs what electricity production and importation (from Thailand & VN) there is and charges at the meter about 4 times what electrical service costs in Thailand & VN but hey, someone has to pay for those $80,000 Lexus SUV's and fenced compounds I saw in Phnom Penh.

I flew to Phnom Penh from Bangkok, Phnom Penh makes Bangkok seem like the city of the future.  Bangkok is still a chaotic but loveable mess of a 3rd world city but it has reliable electricity, well stocked stores, modern rail mass transit, even taxis.  Phnom Penh, a national capital of 2 million has none of these things, not even so much as a city bus.  Gangs of street kids aggressively and persistently beg, in English, to pasty white faced me.  I've read that their money goes to glue and gasoline to sniff.

But for a foreigner like me Phnom Penh was memorable fun.  Good food, dollar beer, lots to see but I stayed in the part of town where the UN and the do-gooder NGO's live.  Parts of Phnom Penh that I saw to and from the airport unfortunately looked like 3rd world hell holes.

Friday, October 16, 2009

In Thailand Mr Gray Gets Play

Come to Bangkok and you’ll notice it right away, older White guys with much younger partners.  To my eye the White guys have a much younger woman Thai woman on their arms but sometimes the older white guy is being accompanied by a much younger Thai man.  This situation was much less noticeable in Singapore.  So what’s going on here?

Just as the US has different ethnic groups that have been drawn at different times to different areas of the country (such as Blacks leaving the South for the opportunity in the industrial cities of the Northeast and Midwest) the same is true for Thailand.  Darker skinned country people are drawn to the wealth, glitter and jobs in Bangkok, leaving the farm, poverty and traditional Thai village life.  Thai men get traditional Thai male jobs and women often find their fortunes administering traditional Thai massage, which, depending on the situation may or may not be prostitution.  I’ve been approached over and over for “massasse”.  I didn’t pursue which propositions were for massage and which were for the world’s oldest profession.  But some looked like country girls and some looked like workin’ girls.

So what about the farang men (I suppose it happens but I’ve yet to see an older Thai man with a young white woman on his arm)?  They’re often gray haired, bald, bubble bellied and/or gimpy.  Back in Europe or Australia he’d be Grandpa and no chance to be in the company of a much younger man or woman, much less live with and sleep with them.  Back at home there’d be no play for Mr Gray. 

It’s also a great opportunity for the woman to play Thai social leapfrog.  Darker skinned northern Isan women seem to be at the lower levels of the Thai social pecking order.  Skin color seems to be very important in Thailand, skin whitening and lightening creams are advertised on billboards and in TV commercials that end with a woman finding love only after she finds lighter skin.  With an older white man in her life she can dress better, wear cosmetics and have lighter skinned hapa children.  It seems to be win/win for everybody.  And everybody deserves the chance to be happy.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Phnom Penh – Where Old Camrys Go to Die

What do you call a country where everything is priced in US dollars, where a beer costs just $1 (.75 during happy hour) but signs in English warn you to not patronize the country’s infamous child sex industry? Here’s a hint, I found it in my hotel room but I’m seeing it all over town:

Phnom Penh - Cambodia Welcomes Responsible Tourists

Cambodia is still recovering from wars involving the United States, its neighbor to the east Vietnam and a civil war which culminated in a genocide that wiped out a generation and targeted anyone with any knowledge (doctors, teachers, engineers) about anything beyond day to day farming and peasantry for death.  2 million Cambodians perished at the hands of their countrymen.

Here's a story that ties obvious corruption and a convicted Russian pedophile in one nasty little package: Pedophile Was Permitted To Leave Prison  Why?  To go visit one of his many investments,of course.

The present government of Cambodia is a corrupt mess but I’m sure that most Cambodians find that preferable to the genocidal government that it replaced.  So Cambodia is a land of dollar beer and no local industry to speak of other than tuk-tuk taxi driving and child prostitution.  So why are the streets choked with Lexus cars, motorbikes and tuk-tuks?  And why are a majority of the cars I see in Phnom Penh Toyotas and why are the lions share of those Lexus SUV’s and Toyota Land Cruisers and Camrys yet there are no Honda Accords (but plenty of Honda CRV’s)?  

But wait, it gets stranger.  The Camrys are all American spec with US 2.5 MPH bumpers and I’d bet every last one of them popped out of Toyota’s assembly plant in Georgetown, Kentucky.  They look very different from the Thai assembled Camrys I saw in Bangkok and that Toyota sells in most of the world outside of North America.  I rode in one from the Phnom Penh airport to my hotel and noticed that the speedo showed MPH, not KPH.  Then I started noticing that some of the Camrys on Phnom Penh’s streets carried stickers on their rumps from dealers in places like Miami, FL and Norman, OK.  A few had California license plates, one a Colorado tag.  I’ve combed through the Internet and other travelers have noticed the dominance of the Camry here but nobody has an explanation why. 

My best guess is that these Camrys were indeed built and bought either new or more likely used in America by Cambodians or Cambodian Americans and sent home to the rest of the family. That would also explain the Toyota Tacomas I’m seeing.  Outside of North America the Toyota pickup is known as the Hi-Lux and I’ve seen a few of those along with a few other North America only models such as the Toyota Matrix.

I have no explanation for all of the Toyota Land Cruisers I see in Phnom Penh in both Toyota and Lexus dress.  Most are late model and the Land Cruiser sells for around $65,000 new in the US, the Lexus variant costs around $76,000.  They have big thirsty V-8’s, all of this in a country with next to no economy and no Lexus dealers.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Getting Out of the Tropical Sun

While out for a stroll in Bangkok this morning I notice a part of the street was covered.  See the covered area, right above the blue bus?  Refuge for me.
Bangkok - Rama 4 Road
The sun was bright ands broiling, the air was thick and smothering with humidity and diesel exhaust and I was going to walk down that street anyway, I wonder what’s going on under there?
Well, it’s a kind of local market.  Not the kind of market I’m used to with a dairy section, frozen vegetables and ice cream.  But there was plenty of fresh produce and an abundance of of meat.  Chickens and ducks were crammed into cages and were cackling and calling .  Live frogs encased together in nets that were as big as soccer balls.  Tubs full of squirming eels wriggled in desperation.  Catfish were being grabbed and having their heads hacked off with cleavers.  Turtles were climbing over each other trying to escape.  The sidewalk was slippery with a residue of guts and blood.  It was just another day at the market for the locals in the tin shacks who were gathering up the ingredients of their next few meals.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Viva La Revolucion!

Bangkok seems to have an attraction to Che Guevara.  Locals wear the famous Che shirt and there’s no reason that the attraction should be any less in Bangkok than it is back home in Seattle where an expensive clothing store for children at Pike Place Market sells them to well healed high earning revolutionary parents in baby sizes.  This stall at the Chatujak Market in Bangkok can fill the reddest of cadre’s Marxist-Leninist needs with posters and T shirts.

Bangkok - Che

But Thailand is a monarchy, Massachusetts born King Bhumibol Adulyadej is currently the world’s longest reigning monarch.  The people of Thailand revere their King and the government in Thailand is famously intolerant of dissent on the subject of the King and the royal family.  The Internet is routinely searched for any signs of lèse majesté and those who brave or foolhardy enough speak out against the monarchy are hunted down, found and tossed into a prison system so harsh that even the most conservative or senile member of the US Supreme Court would be sure to find it cruel and inhuman.

Here’s what you see if you try and research the subject of the King of Thailand, even in English, from within Thailand:

Royal Research

Here’s the URL that I was delivered to:  It seems that it’s not only the Chicoms that have a Great Firewall


Saturday, October 03, 2009

Go East (not so) Young Man

International travel sounds so easy.  Find an overseas destination, land an agreeable airfare and jet for adventure.  But oh what a pain in the ass it can be sometimes. 
It took around 24 hours from the moment I set out from my house in Seattle until my taxi pulled up at my hotel in the Sukhumvit section of Bangkok.  Only 24 hours to traverse 14 time zones.  On the other hand it’s quite uneventful, long stretches of sleepless boredom punctuated by an occasional meal, an announcement in Korean from the cockpit (I flew Asiana) or a screaming child.  It would help if I could sleep on a plane but for I simply can’t. 
I awoke at dawn and hit the soi to see the local street food vendors selling breakfast to the locals:

Monday, September 07, 2009

Wal-Mart Watch: Thou Shalt Not Steal

In November 2007 I shot a number of picture in China and uploaded them to Flickr. I enjoy visiting Wal*Mart and Carrefour stores in China, they amazing places where I can rub shoulders with regular people. In a remarkable transition these huge Supercenter stores are actually located under the People’s Square of Chinese cities. On the surface are huge statues and murals of Mao and the other heavy hitters of Chinese communism, below is the fruit of consumerism and capitalism. The Chinese people vote with their feet. I posted my picture of the entrance of a Wal*Mart Supercenter under People’s Square in Guiyang, Guizhou Province here:

In August 2008 posted the article Lest Anyone Forget concerning the unionization of the Wal*Mart Supercenter in Guiyang that I had photographed. The author of the piece, Michael Mignano copied and pasted my picture into his article. There’s really no other explanation for this outright theft of clearly copyrighted material.

The Walmart Watch website exhorts the reader “write to congress”, “tell your friends”, “share your story”. You can contact lots of people but you can't contact Walmart Watch. I tried. You can leave them a comment but you have to identify what kind of supporter you are (donor, volunteer, press enquiry) from a drop down box. I demanded that they remove my picture but they've ignored me.

So, who is Walmartwatch? Their "About Us" page doesn't identify them. I had to trace them through their domain registration information: Their domain is registered to:



1775 K Street, NW

Washington, DC 20006

Contact them there? Ha! From their domain registration information, here's their email address: Administrative Contact , Technical Contact : UFCW INTERNATIONAL UNION

So let’s recap; A website that advocates fairness on the behalf of the largest retailer in the United States in an effort to unionize Wal*Mart’s employees steals one of my copyrighted pictures but they hide when I attempt to contact them to request that they remove my pictures. I requested just this on their contact page they’ve ignored me.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Seattle - Sound Transit Light Rail 7/18/2009

Seattle Light Rail Inaugural Day- Waiting for a TrainFunding for light rail was first passed by area voters in 1996 and with many missteps it's here, Seattle has now joined every other large west coast American city. The fact that Seattle was alone on the West coast without some kind of light rail rankled local politicians but most everyone I know suffered no rail envy after a trip to San Diego or Sacramento. While the system enters normal service on Monday the gates were thrown open to the public for a weekend of free rides. This picture above was taken on opening day August 17, 2009 at Westlake Station looking toward Convention Place.

Clearly the organizers were preparing for huge crowds on opening day that they didn't get, the picture at right was taken on opening day 7/17/2009 at noon at the Pioneer Square Station. Most of the stations had spaces like this with volunteers milling about and folk musicians strumming away for organizing the crowds that I never saw.

Hybrid buses will share this downtown tunnel with light rail once regular fare box service starts. The buses are free in the tunnel but the rail is not and that’s bound to be confusing. Tickets will have to be purchased in the entrance to the stations and the honor system is to be used.

I’ve ridden rail systems from Chicago to Chongqing and while local Seattle area politicians are pulling muscles slapping themselves on the back with congratulations for having joined the league of big and important cities I say hold on there just a minute.

Where's the information on the existing electronic signs telling me when the next train is due? All but the oldest rail systems (such as New York and Chicago) have the opening to the rail cars alight at the station in a predicted location. That's how it works in Taipei and Singapore and people line up before the train arrives in anticipation of boarding. Cites with a less cooperative ridership such as Hong Kong still have this feature, when I was last in Shanghai their metro was being retrofitted for it.

But fair enough, the local area has light rail now where before we had streets, freeways, cars and an extensive series of buses. I’m a bus commuter and I carry a Puget Pass. I drive perhaps 5000 miles a year and if this new train was convenient I'd take it. It will be if I stay at my present job downtown and wait until 2030. That's right, Sound Transit says that if they keep to their schedule light rail will arrive in the neighborhood to the south of me by 2030. As it stands now light rail is of no use to me. It doesn't go to anywhere I'd want to go. It cost a fortune to build. It won't get any cars off the road but it does make us feel as if we've finally arrived as a big city. Just like having the WTO in Seattle was supposed to.

I’m a regular bus commuter and I carry a Puget Pass. I drive perhaps 5000 miles a year and if this new train was convenient I'd take it. It will be if I stay at my present job downtown and wait until 2030. That's right, Sound Transit says that if they keep to their schedule light rail will arrive in the neighborhood to the south of me by 2030. As it stands now light rail is of no use to me. It doesn't go to anywhere I'd want to go. It cost a fortune to build. It won't get any cars off the road but it does make us feel as if we've finally arrived as a big city. Just like having the WTO in Seattle was supposed to.

Each Sound Transit rail car is made in Japan by:

Seattle Light Rail - Kinkisharyo

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Shock of Bangkok

I was only there for four days but from my lofty tourist perch Singapore is everything that almost all other cities in Asia are not. The tap water is fit to drink, drivers stop for pedestrians, the streets are litter free, and English can be understood most everywhere. The people look confident and dress the part. Bangkok has none of these positive virtues. Thailand is a big country with a Buddhist north and a Muslim south and poor people everywhere who are drawn to their nation’s capital and the result is the chaos of car exhaust, crumbling concrete and beggars with every malady imaginable on display behind their begging bowls and filthy dogs and children.

Everything in many Asian cities looks new and old all at the same time. A new shopping development or freeway overpass may have crumbling concrete or exposed rusty rebar. Buildings get stained by car exhaust and rain. It took time, attention to detail, dedication and money to make Singapore look and functions as well as it does. Cities like Bangkok have more pressing needs. For one thing, Bangkok is succeeds in delivering some basic services to its citizens. OK, the water out of the tap isn't fit for human consumption but the Bangkok Skytrain and MTS subway are much better than their counterparts (well, there is no subway) in Kuala Lumpur. They go where people seem to want to go and connect with each other.

Bangkok seems to have been built without electricity and communication by wire in mind so it's been retrofitted on the fly and on the cheap in the most ugly and utilitarian of ways. The wires run amok like someone tripped and dropped a bowl of ramen. I've also seen this in China where wires are tacked up just about anywhere they'll fit. A city does what it can with what it's got. And then there's Bangkok's infamous traffic. The Skytrain and underground rail has helped but it's still the chaos of pedestrian beware. There are plenty of cops out on the street wearing sunglasses and surgical masks but they just nudge things along.  


Saturday, February 28, 2009

Agony of de Feet

I like to walk. Even though I have a desk job I try to walk about 7 or 8 thousand steps per day. But see? On my present trip to Asia I've outdone myself with this new foot pounding total on the left. No wonder I've gotten blisters on this trip and have had to buy a new pair of sandals in Kuala Lumpur. But my feet still feel like numb stumps and the trip isn't over and I have no plans to take a tour bus or to hang out all day in the hotel bar.

See that fellow to the right? He's a reflexologist and for less than $15 US he deeply massaged my feet and legs. He started by putting some of the white lubricant goo in the blue tub onto his fingers and worked on the various part of my feet. First soles, then toes, then legs including my knees. He'd press down deeply into the various parts of my foot flesh and then observe my reaction. If I had no reaction he'd press on to a slightly different region until he got a moan of pain out of me. Then he's tell me in really bad English what corresponding part of my body was having a problem that was being reflected by my feet. The verdict on my health: I walk alot, I spend too much time on the computer, I have a stiff shoulder and neck and a problem with my eyes. So how accurate is his diagnosis? Well, I know that I have a stiff neck and a tight left shoulder and my eye doctor wants to see my for a 2nd round of tests of my possible lack of peripheral vision. But hey, my feet feel better. Well used but better.

I went back the next day for a followup and more massaging. Take a look and listen to me squeal -

Friday, February 27, 2009


English is one of the official languages of Singapore (along with Malay, Tamil, and Chinese). But the only time I hear my mother tongue is when I open my own mouth. Most people in Singapore are ethnic Chinese and speak one of the many Chinese dialects, even the young. Cantonese, Teochew, Hokkien, standard Putonghua Mandarin; they’re all spoken in day to day discourse here. Perhaps that explains the gorgeous Singaporean girl I saw wearing a shirt that said, “I’m Looking for Friends with Benefits” (hmm, or maybe not). Just like the shirt I saw on a fat 11 year old boy in Kuala Lumpur that proclaimed in big day-glo letters all the way down his bulbous belly, “I LIKE GIRLS WHO LIKE GIRLS”. Singapore is green, neat and tidy, an Asian oasis from the surrounding third world madhouse. Everything in Singapore has a place. Singapore is clean. Unlike Tokyo that has no litter baskets and no litter, Singapore has litter baskets everywhere and no visible litter.

Cars have a place in Singapore; they’re well regulated, remotely charged and tracked by the government through a scheme called ERP. The price for driving on that particular street changes every few minutes and depends on time of day and load. The little square antennas above the road and at the bottom of the sign track transponders in each vehicle.

So litter is in its place and cars are in their place. Singapore even has a place for drug dealers. The sign on the Singapore side of the border with Malaysia and on my immigration card promises that drug traffickers would be put to death. Under Singaporean law the death penalty for drugs is mandatory, no getting off on a technicality, no hanky dabbing sob stories, not even the final peace of death from lethal injection.

In Singapore the death penalty is administered old school, the prisoner and their families are informed of the execution date 4 days before it is to be carried out and the condemned is hanged by the neck until dead.

So compared to Kuala Lumpur, Manila or Bangkok everything is squeaky clean and supposedly has next to no crime. I see no slums and I’m told that Singapore is so clean that tap water is fit to drink (I drank it several times and the toilet doesn’t have me on a short leash). Singapore has been spared the fate of other Asian cities because it has a strict immigration policy and it’s a city state surrounded by water. Singapore doesn’t have to accommodate and bear the burden of the nearly inexhaustible supply of the migration of the rural poor of a country like the Philippines.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Kuala Lumpur Mass Transit

When I get a moment I’m going to do some research and discover why the mass transit system in Kuala Lumpur is as disjointed as it is. There are commuter trains, there’s a monorail, there are light rail lines. Sometimes the lines happen to cross paths and while it’s not a free transfer it’s cheap and painless. But other times the lines will come within 2 or 3 blocks of each other and in order to get from one line to another it can be quite a hike up a flight of stairs, across a pedestrian overpass, down a flight of stairs, a 3 block covered walk with the sun beating down on the steel cover and the heat radiating down on commuters and then a flight of stairs up to buy another ticket and another flight of stairs to the next mass transit car. Why is this? Did one hand not know what the other hand was doing? Did some local political warlord demand a payoff for crossing his turf that never came? In some cases huge office buildings were constructed on the northwest side of Kuala Lumpur and either have no train or a line that stops just blocks away. The PetronasTowers cry out for mass transit, a station in the basement as the World Trade Center in NY once had would be ideal. But the train stops a block away across a huge boulevard that teems with traffic and workers stream across dodging traffic to get to their jobs. The monorail terminates a block from KL’s Sentral train station. Would it have been too much to connect them?


Monday, February 23, 2009

Kuala Lumpur - Life Near the Equator

First a word about life near the equator. Kuala Lumpur is hot. It’s humid too and the heat just rocks down out of the sky. And each afternoon isn’t complete without a tropical downpour. But life near the equator also means that day and night are roughly of equal lengths. The sun sets at 7:30 PM and dawn hasn’t broken until nearly 7:30 AM. It’s a constant that I could get used to. KL is big, it's loud and it's kinda Muslim. Here and there women in black burkas Muslim. Commercials on TV condemning Israeli aggression Muslim. But the supermarkets have booze and canned pork from China and there’s no call to prayer five times a day from the few minarets I’ve seen so I guess Malaysia isn’t strict theocratic Muslim even though Islam is the official Malaysian state religion. Fewer beggars on the street than in Bangkok or in China but there's no doubt that this is the 3rd world. The Dorsett hotel is no great shakes. They want $10 US for an Internet connection and I see no trace yet of the promised free municipal wifi that's supposedly up and running. I walked into our room for the first time and immediately stepped on la cucaracha and heard the toilet leaking. I washed my hands and the sink leaked onto the floor and onto my shoes. This inspired Eleanor into her role of whipping the servants into shape and we got another room quick. The hotel is in what’s known locally as the Golden Triangle. It has gigantic concrete hell of shopping malls with lots of fast food franchises. Papa Johns, Beard Papa, Kenny Rogers Roasters, Carl’s Junior. Had dinner in a Chinese restaurant where one of the dinner candidates was eating a fellow dinner offering that was on his back in their aquarium holding tank. At least I've managed to find and consume the King of Fruits.