Monday, November 30, 2009

I think this one is so right on the mark that it deserves second and third thoughts

I am compelled by the comedy work of the late & great George Carlin. Still, of all his work I think this one clip is perhaps his most meaningful comedy and doesn't just compel a laugh. It isn't just great performance & funny, and witty delivery.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Tourist scams at Bangkok airport

There is no question that Thailand has suffered losses in the tourist trade they are so reliant on. It is also certain that the global economic slowwdown and the advent and spread of H1N1 virus has curtailed tourist travel all over the world. However, Thailand has added to their difficulties in several ways that are unique to it. Last year's inexplicable shutdown of the airport as it was occupied by protestors is one example. That Thai authorities did not move decisively to clear the airport, and instead chose to take a major hit to their economy as a result, seems incredible to the average traveler from outside this arcane and internecine country. For those of us who find ourselves on a frequent basis we have a common lament that we share with one another when we encounter something that seems amazingly thick headed. We simply say TIT (this is Thailand) and shrug our shoulders. There are so many things that happen here that fall into the category of beyond comprehension that one would have to wonder if the acronym F.U.B.A.R. retired to Thailand after WWII and found fertile ground here. However, the story that is emerging about corrupt police scouring the airport for unwary tourists to shake-down just about takes the prize. Read on and wonder:
Jul 20, 2009 Bangkok's showcase new international airport is no stranger to controversy. Built between 2002 and 2006, under the governments of then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the opening date was repeatedly delayed. It has been dogged by allegations of corruption, as well as criticism of the design and poor quality of construction.

Then, at the end of last year, the airport was shut down for a week after being occupied by anti-government protesters. Now new allegations have been made that a number of passengers are being detained every month in the duty free area on suspicion of shoplifting, and then held by the police until they pay large sums of money to buy their freedom.

That is what happened to Stephen Ingram and Xi Lin, two IT experts from Cambridge, as they were about to board their flight to London on the night of 25 April this year. They had been browsing in the duty free shop at the airport, and were later approached by security guards, who twice asked to search their bags. They were told a wallet had gone missing, and that Ms Lin had been seen on a security camera taking it out of the shop.

The company that owns the duty free shop, King Power, has since put the CCTV video on its website, which does appear to show her putting something in her bag. However the security guards found no wallet on either of them.

Despite that, they were both taken from the departure gate, back through immigration, and held in an airport police office. That is when their ordeal started to become frightening.

The "Interpreter"
"We were questioned in separate rooms," Mr Ingram said. "We felt really intimidated. They went through our bags and demanded that we tell them where the wallet was." The two were then put in what Mr Ingram describes as a "hot, humid, smelly cell with graffiti and blood on the walls". Mr Ingram managed to phone a Foreign Office helpline he found in a travel guide, and was told someone in the Bangkok embassy would try to help them.

The next morning the two were given an interpreter, a Sri Lankan national called Tony, who works part-time for the police. They were taken by Tony to meet the local police commander - but, says Mr Ingram, for three hours all they discussed was how much money they would have to pay to get out. They were told the charge was very serious. If they did not pay, they would be transferred to the infamous Bangkok Hilton prison, and would have to wait two months for their case to be processed.

Mr Ingram says they wanted £7,500 ($12,250) - for that the police would try to get him back to the UK in time for his mother's funeral on 28 April. But he could not arrange to get that much money transferred in time.

'Zig-zag' scheme

Tony then took them to an ATM machine at the police station, and told Ms Lin to withdraw as much as she could from her own account - £600 - and Mr Ingram then withdrew the equivalent of £3,400 from his account.

This was apparently handed over to the police as "bail", and they were both made to sign a number of papers.

Later they were allowed to move to a squalid hotel within the airport perimeter, but their passports were held and they were warned not to leave or try to contact a lawyer or their embassy.

"I will be watching you," Tony told them, adding that they would have to stay there until the £7,500 was transferred into Tony's account.

On the Monday they managed to sneak out and get a taxi to Bangkok, and met an official at the British Embassy.

She gave the name of a Thai lawyer, and, says Mr Ingram, told them they were being subjected to a classic Thai scam called the "zig-zag".

Their lawyer urged them to expose Tony - but also warned them that if they fought the case it could take months, and they risked a long prison sentence.

After five days the money was transferred to Tony's account, and they were allowed to leave.

Mr Ingram had missed his mother's funeral, but at least they were given a court document stating that there was insufficient evidence against them, and no charge.

"It was a harrowing, stressful experience," he said.

The couple say they now want to take legal action to recover their money.

'Typical' scam

The BBC has spoken to Tony and the regional police commander, Colonel Teeradej Phanuphan.

They both say Tony was merely helping the couple with translation, and raising bail to keep them out of prison.

Tony says about half the £7,500 was for bail, while the rest were "fees" for the bail, for his work, and for a lawyer he says he consulted on their behalf.

In theory, he says, they could try to get the bail portion refunded.

Colonel Teeradej says he will investigate any possible irregularities in their treatment. But he said any arrangement between the couple and Tony was a private affair, which did not involve the police.

Letters of complaint to the papers here in Thailand make it clear that passengers are regularly detained at the airport for alleged shoplifting, and then made to pay middlemen to win their freedom.

The Danish Embassy says one of its nationals was recently subjected to a very similar scam, and earlier this month an Irish scientist managed to flee Thailand with her husband and one year-old son after being arrested at the airport and accused of stealing an eyeliner worth around £17.

Tony told the BBC that so far this year he has "helped" about 150 foreigners in trouble with the police. He says sometimes he does it for no charge.

The British Embassy has also warned passengers at Bangkok Airport to take care not to move items around in the duty free shopping area before paying for them, as this could result in arrest and imprisonment.

It would be easy to become cynical in a place in which corruption seems so ingrained into everyday life. However, I have considerable experience being in Thailand and doing business here. I would have to add to the above in an attempt at fair balance that the vast majority of people I have met and had any interchange with here have treated me fairly and honestly. Like all aberations, it is the few that abuse power or are simply criminal that spoil it for all. That is why I would suspect that a crackdown on the airport "zig zag" scam has probably already quietly begun.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Nick gets his first film role with a lead part

OK, I can't help it but who wouldn't be proud. Nicholas has captured his first film role in Malaysia and it is a major part. He is to play a local tough guy and the title of the film, Gadoh" is the Bhasa for "Fight". This is another effort to promote racial harmony in Malaysia where the lines of demarcation between the races have always been a challenge for the mostly peace loving citizens of this country. While the movie is mostly in Bhasa Malaysia you may want to check it out. Nick just celebrated his 21st Birthday.

Malaysian Film “GADOH” (FIGHT).

"'Gadoh' tells the story of a group of teenagers who fought each other
along racial lines; a cycle of hatred and violence that was further escalated
by their environment and school system.

What was to be a quick resolution to improve the school’s bad image,
was taken as an opportunity by one teacher who believed that real
change was possible. She ropes in the help of an old friend and reluctant
maverick theater activist for this arduous task.

Is there hope amidst the cycle of discrimination that surrounds us?
Watch Gadoh for their story, and what it may very well tell us about

Film Info:
Duration: 70 mins
Director: Brenda Danker, Namron
Producer: Anna Har
Production Company: Big Pictures Productions
Supported by Pusat KOMAS
Starring: Namron, Nicholas Liew Davis, Zahiril Adzim, Amerul Affendi and Maya Tan Abdullah
Language: Bahasa Malaysia with English/BM subtitles
Poster design by: Alexdrina Chong, Lucid Design Collaborative Studio

Gadoh Launch and Preview

Launch Date: May 22nd 2009
Venue: Theaterette HELP University College
For more info:

Public Screening at 5 PM
(Please email for your free tickets).
Official launch and screening at 8 PM (By special invites only).
Limited Gadoh DVDs and stickers will be also be given to viewers on that day only!

Monday, May 4, 2009

The beginning of the toothless period

If life can be described in periods (and life is described that way all the time) then the period I am entering, as of today, might be called the "toothless" period. Today's trip to the hospital for physical therapy included a visit to their dental clinic to have a tooth extracted, an upper secondary molar to be exact. It is only the second time I have had to give up a permanent tooth, and I cannot say that it was without regret that I did so today. The first one I lost was an accident, delivered in the form of a piston sized spring loaded tripod that I knew little about but felt compelled to play with all the thingamajigs attached thereto anyway. That is until I found the release of the spring just as I was bent over the device. The front tooth thus lost, to the effect of my sudden transformation into looking like a hockey player, was replaced by an artificial one that still stands proud and ready to rip meat. The offending tooth extracted today had previously been broken, and I have known for a long time that it would eventually lose it's bony grip. The tooth that appeared on the tray after a deft procedure by the dentist, was rather long. Perhaps I should amend my label for this period of life to "longtooth". That has a certain primitive ring to it and I rather like it. I thought about these things during the taxi ride back to the apartment all the while clamping down on a hunk of gauze provided to stop the bleeding.

Only after I resettled in the apartment, and began to contemplate which pain killer I would take, did I read the instructions provided by the dental office on the care and healing of the wound left in the now unoccupied space in my mouth. Several chunks of the tasteless gauze were provided along with the following instructions:

"Bite the gauze firmly for 1 to 1 1/2 hours for baby tooth to help stop bleeding. If bleeding persists, change to new gauze and continue biting for another 1/2 to 1 hour, or until breeding stops."

So, I guess I could interpret the instructions as a recommendation that no more breeding was desirable, which I further assume is advise designed to avoid birthing any new baby teeth. Surely I was given the wrong instructions I thought. Certainly that long hunk of ivory that lay on the stainless tray in the dental surgery when I last bid it a final goodbye could not be confused with a baby tooth. At least not from any baby I would care to see.

There were no clues in the ensuing sentence on the instruction sheet which only suggested that I avoid "toughing the wound". I can vouch for the fact that I will avoid anything like "toughing" this wound for at least several hours. I am not sure what "toughing" the writer had in mind but the word raises mental images of sintering or repeated striking with a cinder block the why that karate enthusiast are alleged to do. In fact, I was thinking that about the only thing this wound might be exposed to for at least this evening is the eight year old Cuban rum I favor and some nice salty (and soft) chicken porridge. Since the "Big Lebowski" is on HBO tonight I think I can make it through the evening, without thinking about the missing tooth or whether I should have saved it for the tooth fairy, but I'll bet it would have fetched more than a quarter.

P.S. Expatriates and Western visitors get no end of amusement from the kind of "English-as-a-second language mistakes that appear in this part of the world. While we can be rational, and understanding human beings, lets face it, when something strikes your funny bone it is very difficult to be gracious. We know that our hosts are far superior to us who refuse to learn a second language in any communicable form. We also know that we provide no end of hilarity to them through our frequent misguided faux paux here. However, the use of English, especially in Asia, is just too ripe to not find humor in thereof. In fact, we have a name for it apparently. It is called "Engrish" and there is a whole website dedicated to examples of it. Enjoy. By the way, when I have my libation tonight, I think my toast will be..."may the next loss of a tooth take so long".

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

S.M. Grande Apartments Bangkok

For the last two years I have kept a rental apartment in Bangkok due to the amount of time my business requires me to be in that great city. Unfortunately I made a very poor judgement in selecting the S.M. Grande Apartments on Soi 4 (Soi "See") in the Klong Toey district.

Based on my limited experience I've concluded that selecting an apartment can be as challenging as hiring the right person for a job. As much as one may try to objectively evaluate an apartment, there are always some things you will learn only after abiding in the place for a while. Sadly, any one of the things that I have learned about S.M. Grande Apartments would have caused me to walk away had I known them in the first place. The inertia that one has to overcome just to move a few possessions into another place is greater than I would have guessed. I always felt too busy. However, I have recently overcome that inertia and am busily finding an alternative. It occurred to me that I might be doing someone a favor if I listed out my observations of S.M. Grande's shortcomings.

My largest concern has been the fact that the front desk at S.M. Grande is not manned by professional property management people and at evenings and nighttime is not manned at all. English as a second language is not a priority among them and communication is particularly difficult. However, even a person who speaks and understands English only little can be a big help in an emergency. Sadly, the S.M. Grande closes their front desk at seven each evening and it doesn't re-open the desk until the following morning at 9 am (or at least that is the policy). A lot can happen in 14 hours, including one the several power outages I have experienced since I began to use the apartment. I am here approximately 25% of the time so that having been through seven power outages in two years is far too many. I might add that I mention only those outages that effect this building and are not systemic.

A major second concern is that I have yet to experience a full day of uninterrupted internet access. That this has been a continuous problem for the duration of my stay here suggests the lack of management resolve to fix problems as they arise. Interestingly, their solution is to give you the number of the contracted technical support person, whom you may be able to reach, and then again, may not be able to reach. The extent of the support for the internet access (both wireless and cable are available) is a reboot of the local server by desk personnel. In the evening, with no attendant on duty, you are simply going to have to do without. Forget late night catching up on emails or scheduling skype conference calls to the states when this happens.

No surprise, because it is virtually impossible to speak to the management here. They are either "in a meeting" or "out of the office" 100% of the time. The only course for problem resolution is one of the young desk clerks that speaks English poorly as I alluded to earlier. While these folks seem to want to help, they are often lacking any authority to effect a resolution.

This is a location that shows especially well. The apartment building is fitted with an attractive pool area, a well equipped fitness center, as well as steam and sauna. Oddly I find them seldom used and have enjoyed the perk. The apartments themselves were refurbished two years ago and also show well. However, be advised that the walls are paper thin and the corridors and elevator lobby have zero sound suppression considered in their design. The design of the doors and their locking mechanism requires that one must close the door firmly. This always sets off a loud reverberating bang through the hallways that can be easily heard throughout the floor. At 2 am when holiday makers are returning, it will wake you up, guaranteed. Also be advised that the apartment policy allows kids.

For these reasons, and a plethora of much smaller issues, I would give the S.M. Grande a pass whether I was renting by the month or by the day. Oh, did I mention that? While S.M. Grande is intended as a residence, management rents unoccupied apartments by the night to holiday revelers. This can be problematic due to the noise problem I mentioned earlier.

Bangkok is a wonderful city with excellent shopping, superb hotels, and exquisite restaurants. Living here and working here, however, presents challenges to the most experienced ex pats. A good home base, free from the above concerns, would go a long way towards making life here far more pleasant. Good hunting.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Better late than never....

It has been months since I posted here. It isn't that I ran out of steam because of the election. My previous posts were pretty fixated on the recession and the election. However, in November I started a project for a new client that took way more of my time and I simply never found a moment of my own that I didn't just want to collapse into a chair and chill. That is still pretty much the case today except a lower back problem has me on a mandatory chill. With the new found time on my hands I thought I would break the silence (partially in hopes that you will follow in kind).

Following are just some random items. These are posted with the thought in mind that this is what I intended when I started the blog. That it evolved into a running rant about politics and the economy wasn't so much a betrayal of my intentions as much as letting my mind do the walking (and talking). That too is what a blog should be I suppose.

I continue to be mesmerized by great rock guitar and have been downloading music from iTunes and Amazon at a rapid rate. One of my guitar heroes is Jeff Beck who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame for the second time last week. At the bottom of this page you can find his performance (as found on you tube) accompanied by former Yardbird mate Jimmy Page at the induction performance. His musicianship never fails to thrill me.

A week ago I came to Thailand for business and ended up going to a doctor. I knew when I left home that I had an irritating case of sciatica but by the time I reached here and after having made my way through two airports, I finally had to throw in the towel. As a result I have been back to the clinic every day for physical therapy in treatment of a slipped disk that is pressing against the sciatic nerve causing shooting pains from my lower back down the right leg. My lower back has always been a weak link for me but until recently it didn't occur to me that there was actual stuff happening in there. That sounds silly but there are aches and pains you just come to accept as you get older. I guess I will be more alert to this in the future.

This month Nicholas will reprise his role in a locally grounbreaking play called "Aircon". The first run of the play, a year ago, created quite a stir in Malaysia for it's honest and open treatment of homosexuality (a rare thing in this conservative Muslim country). To read about the play and the interview in the local paper of Nick and hiss fellow thespians you can visit this link. I posted the ppicture that Veronica scanned from the newspaper on my Facebook gallery here.

I haven't heard from Kathleen or Jim since before Christmas or from Don for quite a while so I am making a point of poking at them here in hopes of getting a rise. I send the "poke" along with "I love you and miss you!".

In keeping with my temporary sedentary lifestyle I have been watching a lot of television and ploughing my way through movies I have recorded on my disk drive. Last night I watched (for the second time)the most recent Woody Allen feature "Matchpoint". I confess that I have never seen a Woody Allen movie that I did not like and Matchpoint is one of his best. If you haven't seen it I would urge you to do so.

Before I came to Thailand I made a credible jambolaya at home. I think it is the first time I have made it since marrying Veronica and moving here. That was an oversight because it was a huge hit with everyone. Do any of you cook jambolaya at home. I can remember Mom making it frequently in our house.

One of the more interesting news stories of the day involve the taking of an American ship by Somali pirates and the resulting stand-off. I find it appalling that Somali pirates have terrorized a major shipping lane with impunity. I think it is time for that to end and hope there is some punishment meted out to them as a part of the resolution to the current stand off. The latest headline has the pirates issuing a warning to the Americans against any rescue attempts. Utterly infuriating.

Well, I am off to my lazyboy, (the perfect vessel for a body with a bad back).