15 November, 2011

Dear Diary: Who's a grandpa now? Loykratong 2011. China trip. SO much to catch you up on.


Dennekka Rae Wilde Symes will break hearts in time to come. 
Yep, we're quite the dotty grandparents.
 
 FINALLY - we got to visit our grand-daughter Dennekka in Straya. And wouldn't you know it... as soon as we left, out popped another - Sonny John Wilde Symes - weighing in at a hefty 9lb 8oz, thereby automatically qualifying for the Mount Isa Under 4 football team. Now we're dotty all over again, and will just have to go back asap to be introduced to Sonny :)
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Also visited my ageing mother again ('great-granny' Noreen Stokes) in Adelaide, and Nicolette in Sydney... hi, Nic & Fadi. Yep, it was a full-blown "catch-up-with-the-rellies" trip, and we're not down from the high yet.
Granny and Grandpa get to know Dennekka.
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Being a family is tiring work.
Sonny relaxes on an internally-heated orthopaedic mattress called "Dad".
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 Fa-aantastic to see my son Dale again after 7 years here in Thailand, and to finally meet Jasmine, Dennekka's mum (who was 8 months at the time ...hi Jasmine, hope you're feeling more sprightly now :) Well done to the pair of you, and we certainly admire your Big Joint Project.
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Since our last post, Marie went from Chiangmai to Shanghai & Yiwu with 2 friends for 10 days of retail therapy, rides in Very Fast Trains, and politely refusing Fido Burgers. Here are some of her funky pix:
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The 'Bund', from the British colonial occupation of Shanghai.
Modernity peeps out from behind... and below:
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You can biggen any photo by clicking on it.
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OK, the floods. In the meantime, Bangkok, as you may have noticed, has had a few floods. Take a look at this Youtube film taken from a helicopter. Try to imagine living like this and maintaining your patience for weeks on end - and this was when the floods had not yet reached their peak during high tide times. Here's the Weather Underground website for more detail, maps.
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You can decide whether these pics are serious or funny:
See more flood pix here, including cats with life-jackets, a sky-scraper
tricycle, a tuk-tuk on stilts, and a motorcycle with a snorkel.
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As I've said before in FunkyPix2, building an ever-heavier city on a spongy river delta with a high water table (read: "drain") was never going to be a winner. Poor choice. FAIL. And now there's global warming to add to the problems of a city sinking by about 10cm per year. Per year!  Bangkok, on average, sits only one metre above sea level - ONE metre! Do the sums. Future swamp, man. Parts of Samut Sakhon are already permanently under sea-water. Hey, Chiangmai's lookin' even better, folks :)
BREAKIN' NOOZE... Thai parliament is currently considering the possibility of relocating the entire city of Bangkok! Over the centuries, the capital has been shifted to various locations such as Sukhothai, Ayuthaya, etc, so another move would be a continuation of an age-old Thai tradition. But that was in the days before skyscrapers, concrete and permanence. I'm trying to imagine what the abandonned ruins of Bangkok's Skytrain might look like to tourists 700 years from now ("Hey check this out, Marrvin, ah think there merst hayav bin two perrallel medal rails alahng herre... ah jess cain't imeergine what thayat mardev bin used forr... and Oh My Guard, thar's a jargantic ledder 'M' in red'n'yella"... weirrd"). In an eerie parallel development next-door in Burma, the military regime has literally abandonned Rangoon and built a whole new capital at Naypyidaw. Stay tooned to funkypix2.com/realestatebargains4u.
The Bangkok floods have played a big role in Thailand's ongoing "red vs yellow" political circus, too. Roll up! Roll up! The main reason the newly-elected Redshirt prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra was pushed into power was to legislate to get her criminal fugitive brother Thaksin Shinawatra back into the country without having to serve his (fully deserved) 2-year jail sentence for corruption. Any unilterally legislated amnesty like that would make a total ass of the Law... and (Buddha bless us all) that is exactly what is happening. And hey, when better to do it than during a flood disaster which might help to dampen down enthusiasm for street protests!
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So PM Yingluck, flustered and keen to avoid any political blame for her brother's dodgy amnesty, found herself "unfortunately" stranded [sob] out in the flooded provinces at the time of the cabinet meeting. Her army helicopter had no night navigation equipment, she plaintively bleated (it did, actually, and there was a backup 'copter as well). Hmm. Zero cred... FAIL. Meanwhile, the deputy PM (Chalerm) went ahead with a highly secretive Cabinet meeting with a sign on the door 'INNER CIRCLE CRONIES ONLY'. After the meeting, the public wasn't permitted to know the outcome. Ain't Thai democracy grand? Well, er, "flexible", let's say.
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x Yingluck: What amnesty? I'm stranded out here. Ask Chalerm.
x ChalermShh, it's our secret. Parliamentary privilege, y'know.
x Govt (redshirted) spokesmanDunno, nobody told me nuffink.
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In fact, plans for Yellowshirt protests against Big Brother Thaksin's proposed amnesty (and/or return of confiscated passport) are already underway, floods or no floods.  This next pic could well be foretaste of another uprising in the weeks to come. Perhaps Bangkokians should brace for the OCCUPY SANSAEB CANAL Movement, the revolution which may be known to Historians as "The Thai Autumn", designed to discourage tourists from ever setting foot in the country again...
The Million Man Paddle? Well, it might flush the water out to sea if they
paddled hard enough. You think I'm kidding? No less an authority than
Yingluck's hand-picked Science Minister ordered 1000 boats to rev their
engines on the Chao Phrya River to speed water out to sea (here's the pic).
Yup, any Grade 10 science student could pick the flaws in that bright plan,
but nevertheless, the government trumpeted the exercise as a huge success.
(I also predict the publication of an electronic game called "Angry Boats")
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By contrast, it's sunny and dry up here in beautiful Chiangmai. The living's good, and still as tasty as ever :)  Here's a recent view from our apartment balcony...
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...but here's what things might look like if we were in Bangkok at the moment...
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 As you might have guessed from our paper lanterns, it was the time of the Loy Kratong festival in Thailand - although Bangkok sadly had to cancel theirs due to the floods. As a consequence, lots of tourists bypassed Bangkok in favour of Chiangmai. During Loy Krathong, one dispatches one's previous year's bad luck and accumulated evil-ness off down the river in little candle-boats, or away into the sky in hot-air paper lanterns. Really it's just an excuse to be kids again... especially when it comes to the fireworks which are freely available in shops everywhere. Dennekka, where are you?
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So - here are a few of our 2011 Loy Kratong pix, among which the eagle-eyed observer may spot some cameo appearances by Anna. Last year's festival is reported here.  But we start with me having an altercation with a passing lion even before evening fell:
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A restaurant regaled with typical Loykrathong decorations:
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Kratongs float off, taking with them all your ill fortune, offering you a fresh start.
They comprise a plate-sized banana-leaf boat, a candle, 3 sticks of incense, flowers,
a small coin and hopes for the future. Many people add a fingernail clipping or some
of their hair to personalize it.
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Kratongs on sale near the Ping River
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The royal sacred white elephant. Legend has it that the king who established
Chiangmai more than 700 years ago decided that it was auspicious to do so after
a white elephant was seen walking three times clockwise around the summit
of Mount Doi Suthep (that mountain visible from our balcony).
After the third circuit the critter, like, dropped dead.
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  Yet another noodle vendor canoe...
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Marie gives hi-fours to a new friend
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In this brief Youtube video clip of Chiangmai's Loykratong street parade, you get to see the legendary Buddhist ascetic hermit Phra Reusii getting his annual gong. After all these years, Phra Reusii still hasn't got a Facebook page, yet he makes damn sure that his float is followed by the customary 50,000 decibel speaker-stack playing the ubiquitous Loy Krathong song. Probably spent years on his mountain-top composing it. Towards the end of the video, you'll see a few of the thousands of hot-air paper lanterns as they continuously rise into the night sky (the video will open in its own window for your convenience - after viewing, just close it and you'll be right back here again).
Quite a bit of technology to catch up on, old fruit . . .
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Anna, en route from the UK to Asutralia, stopped by to say g'day to a 3-week old tiger cub and feed a few other assorted mini-beasties:
 (Anna's the one lacking stripes)
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The gorilla her dreams
(See what happens when you forget to feed one?)
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The train driver is reaching for the button called "Squirt Venom Now".
Water, actually. We assume.
The red sign reads: HEAD, HANDS, FEET DO NOT APPLY OUTSIDE OF CAR
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...and Marie, our DNA (Designated Neandertal Authority), narrowly escaped being roasted alive by a volcanic eruption (just visible behind the tree) at Chiangmai Zoo's Adventure Park. Boiling lava oozes up threateningly between cracks in the foreground:
 Lean close to your screen and you might hear faint but scary roaring.
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Later, we saddled up the Honda Jazz and rode up to the pretty and lush region north of Chiang Rai, close to the Burmese border. Visited the village of Mae Salong, which is Thailand's "Little Beijing". The population is distinctly of a Chinese persuasion, being decendants of the Kuomintang who were given Thai settlement rights in exchange for (allegedly) ceasing opium production in the years of the Golden Triangle warlord Khun Sa. Although not spectacular, here is one of the old Chinese-style houses which hadn't been excessively chintzed up for the tourist industry:
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...and going to the opposite extreme, the so-called White Temple (Wat Rong Kuhn) near Chiang Rai is as glitzy/touristy as they come. Here is a dramatic little cautionary tale about the down sides of drinking alcohol (hey, you should see the one about smoking):
Yeah, OK, but there's a string of bars just down the road.
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Anna's gone back to Straya now, but en route we saw some of Bangkok. As we only went to the central city and the airport, it was all dry - the rich folks had enough spare dosh to bribe officials to devert floodwater around the city in the east and western 'burbs. We noticed, however, that Capitalism was taking its natural course, and opportunistic 'flood-gear' fashion shops were popping up on every corner:
 A whole new meaning to the term 'Venture Capital Float'. And after returning to
Chiangmai, we noticed sudden increases in land values in more elevated regions.
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 Water in the Chao Phrya River was fast, turbulent, brown as anything, and carrying all sorts of suspicious objects along in its frothy wake:
Bangkok: old & new.
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When in Bangkok, what to do? Here's your answer:
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Waiting for Anna's plane at the airport, we unearthed further evidence that Thailand's economic recovery is being spear-headed by exports of flatscreen TVs. During our trip to India, we had seen a constant stream of flat-screens arriving in Kolkata and Delhi. This, however, was the first time we had seen them at the start of their trip, in the departure queues at Bangkok airport. So funny... mm, well, I guess you had to be there...
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We'll miss Anna, and wish her the best of luck finding work etc, but we worry because the down-and-under recession in Straya has hit everybody really hard…
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* People are getting pre-declined credit cards in the mail;
* Wives are having sex with their husbands because they can’t afford batteries;
* CEO’s are now playing miniature golf;
* A stripper was killed when her audience showered her with rolls of 5-cent coins while she danced;
* If the bank returns your check marked “Insufficient Funds,” you call them and ask if they meant you or them;
* McDonald’s is selling the 1/4 ouncer;
* Angelina Jolie adopted a child from Melbourne;
* Parents in North Shore are firing their nannies and learning their children’s names;
* A boatload of Australian refugees was arrested near Indonesia (my blogs always come true);
* Casinos in Queensland are now owned by Somali pirates.
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I was so depressed last night thinking about the economy, wars, jobs, savings, retirement funds, etc., I called the Suicide Hotline.  I got a call centre in Pakistan, and when I told them I was suicidal, they got all excited and asked if I could drive a truck.