We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us and we drown.

o land of sometimes-smiles:
(i’d be remiss
to suggest
my mouth always pointed
upward;
my cheeks, forever rounded;
my teeth bared in their bliss.
nor do i care to impress
the times of less-than-happiness
are sources of regret;
these moments marked
by fortitude,
in its eventuality,
provide the vital contrast
by which more pleasant times
can shine.
yin
and
yang.)
you’ve been my careful keeper.
i’d like to think
i’ve come to know you well.
of course,
another year in your possession
would only, surely,
bulge
with infinite, intricate mysteries
to unveil.
still,
i think it’s safe to say
i’ve come a long, long way–
from mattresses on borrowed floors
to houses full of furniture that’s hard to sell.

o land of secret smiles:
(i’d be a fool
to assume
i’d be privy to the endless
inner-workings,
the clandestine
culture clockwork,
the ever-changing rules
to unexpected games.)
you let me in– a little.
i’m thankful for the space you made;
a small
farang-sized
gap.
your temperamental, tonal tongue,
both obtuse and nuanced,
would move in ways my ears
could not divine
nor lips produce.
but oh– the happy moment,
the fortunate alignment
of perseverance,
patience,
and a sudden, clumsy gesture,
a providencial potion
to yield certain
understanding.

o land of sacred smiles:
(i’d be negligent
to omit
the vastness of your virtue
that reaches past the plumes
of noxious smoke
that bend and curl
between the frames and panes
where learning should
occur.)
i’m awash in all your blessings
bestowed by more than monks,
barefoot, shorn, serene,
in golden robes
that i may never touch.
by cooling, cleansing rain
that comes in weeks
more than in seasons;
by scentless,
brilliant,
bougainvilleas;
by the richest sunsets,
the sweetest fruits
(in all their curious skins),
the gentlest birdsong,
hypnotizing, trying
to fill my mornings once again
with sleep.
by endless roads
of water,
running, carving
into rocks
and forming pools from power,
years of unrelenting
gravity;
where weekends become baptisms
and we come clean again.

o land of saddened smiles:
(it’d be a shame
to surmise
that one could not sustain
the challenge of
a great romance
so often flecked with pain.)
you’ve been the shepherd
of my love.
the caring pastor,
vigilantly guiding
so it may grow and
multiply,
stealthily hiding
when the wolves had come
to prey.
but sometimes too well
did you stow my love
away,
in the most remote recesses
where even i struggled to find it;
unfurled chaos in the soul
of one young man.
and as we two would battle,
so did i with you–
but never in a way
that could negate
my gratitude.

in this warm, winterless land
how can time pass?
but oh, it has,
and the million smiles,
in all their inspiration
are now kept behind glass.
and muffled footsteps fall
on polished floors
in stoic halls
as i stroll these marble corridors
and climate-controlled rooms
eternally.

Finally– The Thung Song Video Extravaganza!

Well, I’ve been promising you 43 minutes of cinematic gold for a few weeks now and the moment is finally upon us (and… please let the facetiousness of that statement be noted). Over the last few days of our time in Thung Song Wayne and I finally realized a project I’d had in mind for months previous: collecting footage for a video in which we rode around and had little chats with some of the Thais that had become a part of our everyday life during our time in the town. Honestly, I had a 10-minute reel in mind, something similar to but a little more polished than the Jiaxing video.

The footage we ended up with amounted to over two hours’ worth, so you can see how whittling it down to even 43 minutes is still a bit of an accomplishment! Also, there’s some pretty sweet jams to hopefully hold your attention through the whole thing. If 43 minutes still seems like a bit too much to bite off at one time, I’ve recently discovered the option to start YouTube links at various times, allowing me to present a sort of “Chapters” set-up and also to introduce and give background into the characters you’ll encounter.

“Chapter” One: The ride from our house to Pa’Daeng’s laundry, and a peek at Pa’Daeng’s new house. Pa’Daeng (literally “Auntie Red”) is a charismatic 66 year-old laundress who brought smiles and giggles into each laundry run. You’ll notice we drive by her old house/laundry headquarters on our way to the new one– one she bought and moved into about a week before we left, and of which she is very, very proud. She doesn’t have to rent anymore! Oh, and as for the four kids hanging out at her house, still not exactly sure what the story is there, but they were all awful cute.
(Music: “Myth” by Beach House)

Chapter” Two: The ride from Pa’Daeng’s to and around the big morning market, where we pick up some coconut water and a watermelon. On our way out we happen to run spot two of the students from our adult class also cruising around.
(Music: “I Was Thinkin’ of a Dream I Had” by the Walkmen; “Juicebox” by the Strokes)

(note: ‘p,’ pronounced “pee,” is a prefix that technically means “older brother/sister” but is used as a sign of closeness and respect with people older than you.)

“Chapter” Three: At the clinic of “the Indian Doctor,” as we all referred to him until I actually discovered his name on camera (Doctor Raj). One of the better English speakers we encountered in our town, he is the doctor that deduced that Wayne’s and my sore throats were a result of eating too much Thai fruit and who performed the ghastly task of slicing off the slough forming on the burn on my leg. Here he waxes poetic about his origins, reveals the funny reason he feels safe in Thung Song, and proves to be a better doctor than meteorologist.
(Music: “Province” by TV On The Radio“Little April Shower” from the Bambi soundtrack.)

“Chapter” Four: Concluding our tour of the town center, where Wayne gets himself a Buddha necklace (there’s probably better terminology for it than that, but that’s what we’ll go with). Then saying goodbye to teachers and students, at our school and at the adjacent temple, where we arrive only after firming up a lunch date with our favorite shopkeeper, Fai.
(Music: “Those To Come” by the Shins; “Prodigal Son” by the Rolling Stones)

collage we made for the teachers as a goodbye present

such a kind, sweet lady whom we were always excited to pay a visit

a few of the students i “interview”. i finally succeed in getting them to speak a bit of english on camera!!!

you may recognize him as the saw-playing extraordinaire.

“Chapter” Five: Lunch with Fai. And her mom, and her mom’s friend. (She left her brother in charge of things.) As happens so often in Thailand, plans get changed up twice and we end up at our friend Vallapa’s restaurant, Kan Yaeng (aka “The Green Restaurant,” aka “The Pink Restaurant”). We feasted upon a fish and vegetable stir-fry (with a fried egg on the side), two plates of pad thai, an entire fish topped with delicious veggies and herbs, a bowl of tom yum goong, and a tofu/veggie dish that was entirely superfluous.
(Music: “Turn Into” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs)

so much more than a lovely restaurant owner to us! always kind and ready to help in any number of situations, not to mention tons of fun. and she spoke phenomenal english– which she claimed developed largely as a result of watching american tv!

“Chapter” Six:  A chat with our neighbor Jalan about his history with Thung Song, a stop-in at Yim Yim Restaurant to be showered with gifts by Peung and her mother (the owner of the restaurant), a riveting performance by Montrey & Co. at Win Win (with a guest appearance of David on the drums), a look around O’s place, a coffee with Kung, and a quick peek around the Dinosaur Restaurant.
(Music: “Doo Doo Doo (ดูดู่ดู้)” by Job2Do, performed by Montrey; and another Thai song I’m unfortunately unfamiliar with, also performed by Montrey)

(i realized the video kind of only suggests they gave me some taro cakes, when in reality, i received so much more!)

o: the man who wears the most hats in thung song. army man, restaurant owner, leader of the fighting fish and lottery racket (jokes, jokes. it wasn’t a racket.)

kung, the sister of our former-agent yax, and our housemate for our first month in thailand! she runs the coffee shop in front of the office, and is a collector of strays.

“Chapter” Seven: Ollie’s last walk! That river is clean enough, pickup truck is a saw (you’ll know what I mean), and the street dogs run the spectrum of ‘placid’ to ‘jerk.’ Then we run into the famed P’Kiew (whose house is driven past and who is seen at the fried banana stand [not to be confused with the… banana stand] in “Chapter” One and who just drove past us as we walked Ollie) to chat for a second about martial arts, and then invite him to our goodbye dinner at Kan Yeang. He was just a sweet old man who’d lived in Thung Song his whole life. He had the tiniest little concrete house and he enjoyed napping outside it, bent over that little table out front. We’d always chat when I was walking Ollie; he knew a little bit of English and we had fun trying to make ourselves understood. We’d often seen him outside doing the yardwork for his sister, who lives in the nice house next door, and we drank beer with him a few times.
(Music: “Take a Walk” by Spoon; “Title Music (from The Darjeeling Limited)” by Shankar Jaikishan

“Chapter” Eight: Final goodbyes! Leaving the house, a farewell dinner at Kan Yeang, a mad dash for the train with a much-beloved entourage. Scenes from our train. Fine
(Music: “This Time Tomorrow” by the Kinks— itself a tip of the hat to DL.)

And if you wanna just watch it straight through… Here you go (yes, I’m aware that you get the same result if you just click ‘”Chapter” One’ up there). Oh, and if you’re watching this in Thailand (or anywhere else with less-than-desirable internet connection) you might think about just downloading it through SaveMedia.com or KeepVid.com. Will probably work better than waiting for the whole thing to buffer!

Kru Dum Plays the Saw

I just keep finding more and more videos stashed away! This one would have been taken just over a year ago, when Wayne and I were doing our week of lesson planning before the school term started at Tapae. Kru Dum (“Teacher Black,” because his skin is so ‘black’– his words, not mine) was one of the friendliest (of an almost entirely friendly) group of teachers we had the pleasure of working with at the school and he endeared himself to us from Day One. Though his command of English wasn’t the greatest, he loved to practice, and conversation often steered to his specific area of expertise– music.

On this particular day he’d asked if Wayne or I could play any instruments; I informed him I could play both guitar and violin. His ears seemed to perk up when I mentioned the violin, and he indicated he’d like to hear me play. Then he made a bowing motion with his arm, said something in Thai we didn’t understand, and darted off with the indication that he’d be returning soon. I was under the– thankfully wrong– impression he was fetching a violin for me to play, and was dreading having to turn down the request on account of having not practiced in months.

Imagine my surprise when he turned up with a handsaw and a bow, and proceeded to churn out an eerie but unmistakable rendition of “My Heart Will Go On.” The sound was reminiscent to me of a theremin (one of the oldest electronic instruments that, as far as I can tell, runs more off magic than electricity, and is just one of those odd things that makes me gleeful to just think about), and the experience was altogether novel. So here’s a little video of Wayne getting a lesson on the handsaw, and then Kru Dum playing “Happy Birthday” to “Teacher Angela and Teacher Whale” (Thais have a hard time with ‘n’ and ‘l’s at the ends of words. Also yes, this was filmed in November and Wayne’s and my birthdays are in March and September, respectively).

As it turns out, Kru Dum’s skills on the saw have taken him to big places. He made it to the second round of Thailand’s Got Talent!

And as so often happens, after discovering some off-beat information, one begins seeing it everywhere. I discovered the band Frontier Ruckus on Grooveshark, and when perusing their videos was greeted first with this:

Then Wayne and I were watching the movie Another Earth, which features this scene:

Another Earth Saw Instrument Scene from Sevan on Vimeo.

I even read somewhere that the high, wailing sounds heard in that Neutral Milk Hotel masterpiece, “In The Aeroplane Over The Sea” are produced by a saw. (As it happens, I’d previously been under the impression they were made by a theremin. Anyone have any insight on this?)

Um… and sorry, I can’t help myself… I really just love theremins and have to include a few more videos.

Clara Rockmore was a textbook virtuoso on the theremin. She was, as the video information so articulately conveys, “the first performer to bring complete musical artistry to the theremin.”

Any Led Zeppelin fans out there? Are these strange quavering sounds bringing back any fond memories of “Whole Lotta Love”? Turns out guitar isn’t the only thing Jimmy Page knew how to, how you say, shred. (This video isn’t actually a great display of theremin talent, but it’s fun to watch the guys goof around. Seen here with the Edge and Jack White; a deleted scene from It Might Get Loud.)

And if that wasn’t enough to win you over on the coolness of the theremin, it also made  guest appearances in Weeds and The Big Bang Theory.

(Although I suppose the fact that Sheldon owns one might actually subtract a few cool points.)

Throwback: Jiaxing Video

So some of you have probable heard murmurings of (or, in the case of some lucky individuals who were invited to pre-screening sessions, even seen) the Great Forty-Three Minute Thung Song Video of lore. And the day will soon be upon us that I commit to exporting the file and getting it on YouTube. And then on le blog.

But first! Two years (and then some) since leaving that other town in that other Asian country I called home for a year, I’ve finally gotten around to posting the video I made about Jiaxing. I guess “started to make about Jiaxing” would be more appropriate phrasing, because after a week or so of dedicated editing while still in China I completely let it fall to the wayside and… never really got back on the horse. But it still has its charms and I’ve still decided to go ahead and share it will you beautiful people. Hopefully it stirs up some good memories for some?

(Oh, and be sure not to miss ol’ Vinny’s dance at 2:15– my personal favorite moment.)

You Know I Pack Light!

When David came back to Thung Song he had it in his head that he wanted to try to get involved with the music scene there. In a former life he’d done pretty well for himself in the Cali hiphop scene (check him out, he’s pretty rad), and he thought it would be cool to try to incorporate that into our local Thai surroundings. I consider myself lucky to have been a part of this process! It was actually when we went to Tonsai that somehow the idea to do some acoustic/hiphop collaborating entered our little cerebella, but we never put the idea to work until what ended up being the night of the accident. After my wires came off we did end up performing twice more.

I recently re-stumbled upon this video we’d made when we were practicing for our first “show” at Win Win (“practice” and “show” ended up meaning running through like two songs for an hour before meeting up with our crew and then winging a third one once we got there haha), and though I trip up a bit at the end I decided it’s worth sharing, as I look back very fondly on the handful of musical moments I shared with my dear friend. Hope you enjoy our acoustic “mash-up” of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” and David’s own “Pack Light.”

(Oh, and just a warning for those to whom it matters, there is a bit of “adult language” in David’s verse.)

[edit:]

If any of you were wondering just what the heck David means by “steady diggin on a chick like she got the Motts.” The explanation certainly tickled me.

[/edit]

Ollie’s Big Adventure (or, How to Bring a Thai Dog to the United States)

People, myself included, seem to waver somewhere between thinking I was either totally justified or completely crazy to bring little Ollie Pup (official name: Oliver Ollie Pup Oxen Free Goat Fox) with me on the big trip from Thailand to the United States. Looking back, it actually wasn’t that difficult of an affair at all, but it did require a bit of stressful planning on account of the limited and spotty information available out there in English. So I’ve decided it’s pretty much my responsibility to document my own experience to answer all the questions people might have about the process, because believe me, it was totally worth it. Ollie Ollie Ollie!

There were a few sites that I did find helpful. First and foremost there was this one, appropriately titled, “How to Bring a Thai Dog to America, the Story of Dino.” Our stories actually sounded quite similar, and I was able to even contact the author via email to quell certain concerns about the well-being of the dog during transit and layover handling and such. (His most comforting bit of input: “First of all, Thai dogs are extremely tough.  There is no possible way that an 18 hour or even 36 hour flight will harm a Thai dog that’s in a safe cage with food and water.” Turned out to be true!) There’s also good (and still accurate, despite his story taking place a good 6 years ago) contact information for both the Airport Quarantine Station at Suvarnabhumi Airport and for Shamu Shamu Pet Store in Bangkok.

Then there was this site (“Pet Cargo Travel” by pettravel.com) that outlines the specifics of the crate requirements and has other helpful tidbits. Some of them I found to be excessive or untrue, at least for Qatar Airways, such as the need to paste “LIVE ANIMAL” stickers on the crate. Seatmaestro.com has airline-specific information with the different (or often not-so-different) pet policies for each. Of course, speaking to your airline directly and finding out their specifics ends up being necessary as well. I ended up having experience with both Aerosvit Ukrainian Airways and Qatar Airways in this regard, as I had to change my flight. Though Aerosvit doesn’t have the most glowing reviews, their tickets are quite cheap and I favored a layover in Kiev to one in Doha for temperature reasons (despite the reassurance that my dog was a tough one). In both cases, the total trip would have ended up being 23 hours–the shortest I could find anywhere, and no, the dogs are not let out of the crates for the layovers (the doors are cable-tied shut).

I was able to be in contact with representatives from Aerosvit via email (info@aerosvit.com) and was impressed by quick and knowledgable replies (though I’m not thrilled about how withholding they’re being with the refund I was told I could have if I provided the necessary medical documents). Qatar I had to deal with by phone: their numbers can be found here. For Aerosvit it would have cost $250 for him to fly; with Qatar it ended up being $200 (6000 baht paid in cash at the counter… I want to say there may have been an extra 500 baht service charge as well).

The crate. I always tell people that, in the end, it was the getting of the crate that was the most difficult part. Airlines require very specific crates and in a small town like Thung Song they’re just plainly impossible to find in a shop. I considered checking out the offerings in Nakhon Si Thammarat, but ended up deciding it would be easier to order one online. I went to Alibaba.com to find a provider and was successful, though you may recall I was a bit unhappy that circumstances led me to purchase a crate that was so entirely too small for Ollie it was nearly laughable, except for the $70 I lost on account of it not being worth it to send back. Still, I can’t overlook my own hand in the mishap, and was otherwise happy with my experience with the company. Click here for details of the crate, and just be sure to measure the dimensions you’re given against the actual size of your dog. (The first one I bought was the FC-1003; the better one was the FC-1004. Also, in Bangkok it is possible to find the appropriate crates in shops, such as Shamu Shamu, but I think it ends up being cheaper to order, provided you get it right on the first shot.)

this one’s juuuuust right!

wary of it at first…

but it grew on him! snug as a bug.

The train.  Though I searched the forums on Thaivisa.com and such, I found it difficult to determine whether he’d be allowed on a train, how much it would cost, and… how exactly it would work. It ended up being very, very easy (and inexpensive!). After buying our own tickets, we were directed to the Cargo office of the Thung Song train station. We gave him Ollie’s information (size, weight, etc) and our train details and he issued us a ticket for a whopping 90 baht ($3). During the travels he had to stay in the cargo area of the train, in his crate. We were allowed to visit him whenever we liked and the train staff were all really nice. They thought he was so cool, and said he was quiet and well-behaved. They also gave me coffee and mused about him going to America. “He’s going on an airplane?!” “Yes! In three days.” “Wow. I’ve never been on an airplane. I always take the train.” As I mentioned in my previous post, it was a bit of an ordeal to find a taxi to take us from the train station to the airport at a price we considered reasonable, but we finally succeeded (I think he agreed to 500 baht, but we ended up keeping him around for multiple legs of the journey and it ended up being more– 1200 for train station to quarantine to kennel to Khao San Road, including considerable wait times at the quarantine and the kennel. Not bad, really.). It’s worth putting your driver on the phone with the people at the quarantine office so he knows where to take you, because it’s in a different part of the airport from the terminals. Quarantine office information (as found on the “How to Bring a Thai Dog to America” article listed above):
Suvarnabhumi Airport
Animal Quarantine Office.
Free Zone Area, CE-1 Building, 1st Floor
Phone 02-1340731, Fax 02-1340732

In the quarantine office. I checked here to determine what vaccinations were needed to allow Ollie entry to America (note: there’s a photo of an adorable puppy you might be interested in seeing on that site as well). I was surprised (though pleased) to find that the only real requirement is a rabies vaccine administered at least 30 days before the departure. No microchip, no further quarantine time after entering the country (as long as there’s no signs of communicable disease or something like that)… really almost unbelievably easy. The only kind of hangup is the trip to the airport quarantine that’s (allegedly) required exactly three days before the flight date. I say ‘allegedly’ because though I had my dear friend Vallapa call the office in advance to find out and she was very unequivocal in her relaying of their terms– no more and no fewer than three days before departure– I didn’t see anything on the actual documents that specified this, and as a result of the, you know, corpse on the plane I ended up flying four days after the check-up and nothing was mentioned. Still, better safe than sorry: to the best of my knowledge you need to be there three days before.

The check-up itself was almost unsettlingly easy (though for some reason took an hour-and-a-half, mostly idly waiting and talking to the Dutch/Swedish couple who were brining the dog they found on Koh Tao back to Holland. See! It would seem this happens often). I filled out a form with all pertinent information and they took a picture of him with a webcam. Then despite filling out the form with all pertinent information, I had to answer a series of questions from the vet, including, “What sex is your dog?” Which I found to be a bit self-explanatory. Then he filled out his own form with all kinds of more… technical information, like “heart rate” and “hydration level,” even though I’m quite sure the vet never laid a hand on the pup. Then we waited some more, paid 50 baht, and were given all the papers we needed– a certificate of good health and an export license.

Then we had to kennel him for three days because we didn’t want to have to find a place that accepted dogs (though I believe the Dutch/Swedish couple said they were staying happily at the Ibis Riverside hotel with theirs). The quarantine office was able to recommend a nearby place to us that cost 200 baht ($6) a day, so we went with that. On the night that I was supposed to leave we took a 150 baht shuttle from Khao San Road to the airport, and then I was able to get a driver to take me to and from the kennel for 350 baht. It started raining like crazy and the streets on the way there were flooded. Not really relevant but here are two pictures of it. The kennel closed at 8:30 so we were set to wait in the airport for four hours with the dog! Yayyyyy… (in the style of Archer) but he was actually really good. This involved eating, sitting, and listening to screaming girls in waves because K-Pop giants Super Junior were in the airport or something.

(And you thought “Gangnam Style” was good.)

Then we went to check in and there was the whole, you know, corpse on the plane thing.

Important note: dogs and human remains cannot occupy the same cargo hold of a plane. For temperature reasons. And the human remains will win, even if you’ve done everything right.

puppy with super junior fans

on the way to the hotel

So they put us in the Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel, which was nice. So nice, in fact, that Ollie wasn’t allowed in our room and got to hang out with the security guys. They didn’t seem to mind.

‘just helping keep the hotel safe guys!’

with his office mate

But finally it was time to finally go, and he had to say goodbye to Daddy.😦

‘i love you dad! i miss you!’

And though he’d been soooo good the whole time, when it was finally time to get checked in he’d had about enough. Also, though I was sure I’d read somewhere that food must be attached to the outside of the crate for employees to use during the layover, they made me put the food inside the crate with him, which left even less space… poor guy.😦

‘i do not like this anymore guys.’ (too bad pup, you got over 23 hours left…)

locked in there

The layover. During my layover in Doha I found myself getting very worried. Will he get left on the hot tarmac somewhere for two hours? Is he being fed and watered? Are they being nice to him? And I made myself busy trying to find someone who knew anything about the cargo area, specifically if passengers were allowed there, specifically if they had a dog there who they were really eager to see. Finally I found someone who did, and the answer was ‘no,’ but he assured me my dog would be taken very good care of. And when I finally got him, this sticker was on his crate so that would seem to be the case.

In DC. I expected to have to at least go to a quarantine office to pick him up, but instead was told he’d be wheeled right out to me. And he was! I can’t even describe how happy and relieved I was to look into his little face, alive and well, no worse for the wear in spite of his hours in the crate. (To answer the question I know you’re all asking, he’d peed just a little in there. That’s it.)

(Of course, then the next biggest challenge was getting Moose to fall for him… which was a work in progress, but I hear they’ve come a long way.)

bffs

So that’s the not-very-brief (do you know me?) story of how to bring a dog to America. Feel free to contact me if you find yourself in similar straits and are unclear on anything.