Category Archives: Bangkok

First Tuesday in Bangkok

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I accompanied Lea on the train and we stopped at Au Bon Pain. I had a nice egg croissant sandwich. After bidding adeiu at the bus stop, I decided to save a few baht and see how long it would take me to walk back to the apartment. Where we had departed was in the financial district, which has quite a bit of foot traffic at 9 in the morning. So I set off in the direction of the train, thinking this would be my best bet in not getting lost. To set the mood, I started listening to some Roderick Long (the series of lectures can be downloaded here). What a great background to walking Bangkok!

I saw some interesting things. One of the things I’ve noticed about Thailand is that restroom privacy is not a high priority. In fact, my first visit to the bathroom in the airport was greeted by a female janitor. No warning or anything. Very efficient. And as I was walking down this road, listening to Long, I passed a man relieving himself on a bush. I was surprised since this was such a busy street, but sometimes you gotta go.

An interesting sign, pictured to the left, labels the separate police areas. I joked on Facebook that Thailand has competing police agencies. Perhaps they will someday.

When I got to the next station, Ratchamaderi, I realized I had been following the train on the wrong direction. So I kept going.

Eventually I made it to the Central World Mall and had difficulty finding an open entrance. When I did, I found out why. Almost every store was closed. Oh well.

I kept walking, planning to again visit the Siam Paragon Mall, which I had previously visited two days before, only this time having my camera to take pictures (I was sad to find out that the Anime convention was over). But along my way I encountered a man who asked where I was going (the most oft-heard phrase in Thailand). I told him I was going to check out the mall and he told me it was closed. He also offered me a one-time deal on a long tail boat ride to a temple. He also told me he worked for the government, as if that would increase my trust. He wanted to flag down a tuk-tuk and send me on my way. But I couldn’t afford his offer with cash on hand, and told him that Lea would be upset if I did something like this without her. In retrospect, I am glad I didn’t accept his offer since we had problems with tuk-tuks subsequent to this. It’s very interesting how it seems there to be a vast conspiracy among tuk-tuk drivers, restaurant owners, tourist activity people, and guys standing on the street looking for foreigners. Might as well be, since everyone and their mom has a restaurant. One can find some pretty good deals. Just learn to negotiate.

So I continued on my way to the Siam Paragon. Even after 11 AM, much of the mall was still closed. It was puzzling. But I found a place to sit (which was quite difficult to find without having to buy something) and read the continuing adventures of Katniss Everdeen.

After that, I took the SkyTrain back to the apartment. I think I have walked more in Thailand than I did the whole previous year. Sorry that there weren’t more exciting stories to tell about this day, but this is what I remember.

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Using Violence to Stop Violence (on TV)

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I was reading through the Bangkok Post and came across a letter to the editor complaining about the amount of violence on the Thai television networks. That is quite fine. It is reasonable to write to the newspaper about what you see as a local issue. However, he suggested that the government not allow certain types of shows to be aired during certain hours. While some might see this also as a reasonable measure, Anarcho-Buddy exists to ask people to look at things critically.

Basically, what is implied by any government mandate is the use of force; i.e. violence. In order to make a ban against TV shows during certain hours effective, the government will have penalties for any network that chooses to disobey. These will typically be in terms of fines. But what happens if they choose not to pay any fines? The usual recourse to this is being arrested and put into a cage. And if one physically resists being put into a cage, they risk possibly being shot. Hence, we come to this conclusion: all government laws are enforced at the barrel of a gun.

And this was the irony I saw in this situation. This man, concerned about what his child watches, wanted there to be less violent programming on TV. I would assume that he would also like there to be less violence in society generally. But what it seems most people have failed to realize is that government is violence. Everything it does is through violence or the threat of violence (otherwise taxes would be called donations). If we really want to reduce the amount of violence we must reduce the State.

I am not claiming that all violence would then go away, for that would be utopian. I would rather be a realist, which I don’t think is necessarily opposed to idealism. Why not have as our ideal the least amount of violence possible? Wouldn’t the most realistic way of achieving this be getting rid of the supposed “legitimate” violence of the State? Max Weber defined the state as the entity which claims a monopoly on the legitimate use of force within a given geographical territory. We would really be utopian to expect that someone granted such a monopoly would not abuse it.

So, if this were a “Dear Abbey” letter rather than a letter to the editor, I would make the following suggestions. First, realize that all government action is backed by violence or the threat of violence, and in asking it to ban more non-aggressive behaviors you have increased the amount of violence and supported its legitimacy. I hope that this realization would lead to a radical change in how one relates to the State. Second, maybe suggest a good book for your little one to read or some other activity than watching TV. Have your wife help you in this regard. I think your child will be better for it and I hope this is practical.

Thanks for reading.

Bangkok Chronicles: Sunday August 26

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I slept like a rock after not seeing a bed for 36 hours or so. Kuhn Tor (Kuhn is added to a name to show respect, kind of like how “San” is added at the end of a name in Japan) took us on a short tour of the neighborhood. It is definitely densely populated, being close to Silom road and next to a station of the Sky Train. There is a grocery store, which is surprisingly expensive. Interestingly enough, it is more affordable to eat out (at the reasonably priced restaurants, of course) than it is to get the bulk of one’s nourishment at the grocer. I’m not sure why this is but it seems like a worthy subject of study. I wonder how much different things will be once the US dollar hegemony ends and the Fed is no longer able to export inflation to the dollar-holding central banks of the world. We then took the Sky Train (BTS) all the way to the Siam stop, at which is where the Siam Paragon is, which I believe is the largest mall in Thailand. And it is huge!

I figure somebody in Bangkok must be doing well, or else a lot of tourists must be, since this mall had designer stores like Dolche & Gabana, Armani, etc. as well as BMW, Maserati, and Lamborghini dealers. I can’t imagine trying to drive a Lamborghini in Bangkok. (Interestingly enough, the grandson of the co-founder of Red Bull would allegedly hit a pedestrian with his Ferrari a week later). I think it also has the bookstore with the largest collection of English books in Thailand. There is surely plenty to see (pictures to come later).

Most people in the mall were on the lower levels, where affordable things, such as goodies at the food court, were available. Foot traffic was pretty crazy. Go to the top floor, and you’ll find a bowling alley and IMAX theatre. And they have some interesting cinematic services available, such as getting a couch and a blanket with food service at your movie. Not sure how much that costs, but I think it costs roughly the same as just going to a new release in the US does.

We spent most of the day here, trying new things. One of the highlights, and what I wish I would have caught a picture of, was the Japan Fest that was happening right outside. Imagine all kinds of anime characters becoming live action, complete with Japanese girl on stage in a short-skirted school uniform, singing a pop song. They had all kinds of costumes. There was Sailor Moon, samurai, even guys looking like they were straight out of Call of Duty. There is also very interesting food offered at the Paragon. One thing we tried was a milk tea cake/ice cream ball thing. It was…interesting. The most tasty drink I might have had so far was from a place with “Amazon” in the title, which was some type of mango smoothie. Yummie.

After being at the Siam Paragon, it hardly felt like I was in Asia. Most of the signs in the mall were in English. I dislike the feeling of sameness everywhere I go. It kind of reminds me when I first took a commercial flight (the only time flying before that was in someone’s private, single engine biplane in Bismarck, ND) and flew to the Denver Airport. It was so huge! I had a 2 hour layover and decided to see how many times I could walk from end to end. That is actually still what I do when I’m in airports: tour. But then I realized that I just kept seeing the same stores over and over. What is that very popular bookstore called? Hudson? And then the same restaurants. And then the same retailers. With the same products, only with a different city pasted across the sweatshirts or coffee mugs. Had these places lost any locally distinctive trait?

Hence, I’ve decided forthwith, that if presented the opportunity (if reasonably priced) I will opt for the local experience over the possibly more comfortable and familiar chain. I will stay at the older couple’s B&B rather than the hotel. Or whatever else seems necessary. Isn’t that part of the reason that we travel? To experience something different? You can get McDonald’s at home.

The Bangkok Chronicles: Thursday, August 23 – Saturday, August 25

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Lea and I flew out of Boise at 9PM Thursday, headed for Seattle. Travelling this late in the day, there was no line to get through security, so of course everyone would get the pleasure of going through the body scanner. I opted out for the pat-down, for which I had to say to the TSA officer: “Be gentle. It’s my first time.” It took a surprisingly long time, with very redundant methods. The fact is though that I could easily sneak a prohibited item past this screening. It’s hard to believe that anyone actually thinks that what the TSA does is for the purpose of security.

It would be in Seattle that we would wait for 16 hours for our flight to Seoul. We passed the time quite well, spending the first hour trying to recover her checked luggage (the layover was so long that they wouldn’t be able to store it until the transfer to the next flight) and pay $9 for someone to hold on to it. We sat in a Starbucks which fortunately served tap water so I didn’t have to pay $4 for a bottle of Fuji. After doing a quick¬†Udacity¬†lesson (which I would highly recommend checking out), we started to read the Hunger Games together. What I at first thought was a teeny-bopper book due to its popularity turned out to be something better than I expected. I’m pretty hooked. I also spent a couple of hours finishing a letter to my dear grandmother in Berthold, North Dakota. Shout out to you, Grandma.

We went on to find a place to sleep in the Seattle airport. This was surprisingly hard to do. The only airport that I’ve slept in overnight was the San Francisco one, and this was made easier by the fact that one could lay out on its furniture. Unfortunately, Seattle had no such forethought, and nearly all its seats were divided by armrests. I tried sleeping sitting up, which didn’t work for me at this point. I then found a table and rested my head on it. This was slightly more comfortable, but I couldn’t release consciousness. So I laid out on the marble floor. I was able to fall asleep but woke up frequently, often to the Gestapo playing every 10 minutes on the PA system: “If you see something, say something.” We later found seating without the armrests (the only piece I found of its type) and were able to spread out on that. Sadly, it still had metal dividers between the seats and sleeping was rough.

Upon waking up, we decided to get cleaned up and head into downtown Seattle for a bit. We took the train and ended up perusing through Pike’s Market. The place I really wanted to see, Chinatown, ended up being cancelled due to time shortages.

We got back to the airport and through security, headed to Seoul. With the greater traffic through the TSA cattle lines, I was able to go through a metal detector instead of a porno-scanner or groping. But on my way to the plane, I moved past a K9 and its handler. Not sure if they were searching for drugs or currency. For some reason the elderly Korean in front of me was stopped for questioning. I, myself, was stopped by what I believe to have been a U.S. Customs agent who asked me where I was going, if I was a student, and how much cash I had on me. This renewed my resolve to make sure that I won’t be victimized by capital controls or precious metal confiscation. Protect your wealth.

It was quite a long flight to Seoul; about 11 hours, I believe. Attempting to get in tune with the culture, I watched a silly Korean movie called, “Dancing Queen.” It is about a Seoul man who is a civil rights attorney and is persuaded to run for mayor. His wife secretly pursues a career as a pop star. I do like that in the debates between the protagonist and his competing candidates that he acknowledges that government bureaucrats have no idea how to run the lives of anyone else. But then when he said he would surround himself with experts and used the platitude of trying to get everyone’s input in coming up with a solution, it seemed less powerful. Strangely, what led to a drop in his popularity was the revelation that his wife is a dancing girl. Maybe this isn’t so strange. The public’s opinions on political figures are based on irrational thing. Anyway, I wouldn’t recommend this movie.

Interestingly, at the Incheon Airport in Seoul, we had to go through security to make a transfer. However, security here is not nearly as demeaning as in the U.S. There were no naked scanners or pat-downs, no taking off shoes or belts. I did, however, get the bottle of water given to me on the flight taken away. Can’t have it all, I guess.

The last leg of the trip, from Seoul to Bangkok, was pretty rough for me. I was very tired and choosing to wear long pants was a mistake. I have trouble napping on airplanes (or anywhere while sitting up). I’m very glad I wouldn’t have to make the return trip for months.

We arrived at the southeast Bangkok airport and took a taxi to our current residence at Escape at Sathorn Terrace. Bangkok is a gigantic town. I have a hard time telling what the “downtown” section is because the skyscrapers go on and on. Our landlord, Tor, was very polite and generous in greeting us at nearly midnight. His English is very good, but he talks quickly and I can’t quite pick up everything. He bid us goodnight and I slept like a rock.