Monday, January 30, 2006

Hail to the Puppy

It's officially the year of the Dog now. We have brought in the little bitch with due ceremony here in Bangkok, from the streets to the girlie bars. Here's one of the lion dancers outside a temple in Chinatown Saturday night.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Midnight Snack

They actually are tasty. Especially the little frogs. Crunchy. Sort of like shrimp tails, but not as hard. Except the grubs, they're nice and soft, with just a crispy outer shell.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Garbage Connection

Met a couple of Spanish guys at the pool, Airplane mechanics. They tell me there's wifi out front of the hotel. Well, it works better for them on PCs than for me on my Mac. But if I stand by the trash, it works pretty well. Here's a picture Mingui shot with his cell phone camera and then shot to me with Bluetooth. I send it to you via wifi. Funny world.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Pad Thai, Sukhumvit

[I dearly love putting my personal musings out for any and all to read while you should be working, but I also should be working, so I’ll be limiting these spewings forth. They won’t disappear, they’ll just get shorter, I hope. Please don’t feel slighted, and don’t stop checking in on me. It’s just that I have a book to finish, and then when it’s done reading that will feel pretty much the same as reading these, but on paper instead.]


It’s warm. I’m warm. I’m relaxing by degrees, in the other direction.

There’s a lot to say about Bangkok and Thailand and how it’s changed since I’ve been here and all of that commentary on the fast pace of modernization, how change affects a place, and me, a visitor to this one.

But, I’m not up for all of that. (If you want more of that, there are doubtless other blogs you can find which would say very much what I would have said.) Besides, my novel has plenty of that crap in it.

There are other things more worth discussing. One of them, of course, is Pad Thai. There’s something about a metal folding table and a plastic stool on a greasy stretch of concrete that accentuates the dining experience for me. I’m not sure why. It’s not just that it’s cheap – about 75 cents in this case -- I think I feel that if I’m there on the street, I won’t miss anything. And even if there isn’t “anything,” there’s always the ambient low-key drama of people going about and hanging about.

The woman at the noodle stand asked me if I was writing about Pad Thai, which I wasn’t, but I said I was, just to avoid having to explain what I was writing, which was that tropical air seems to have an immediate and irresistible narcotic affect, and that this effect is likely to ease my transition from Tokyo, which was really a head trip for me, having lived there for four years and then been away for fifteen.

Then, since I said “yes,” I decided I’d better at least write something about my first Pad Thai in Thailand in at least ten years. I wrote in my notebook: This Pad Thai tastes like the barnyard. By that I mean the whole yard – scratchings and all. Hot spots, sour spots, pretty far from the homogenous NYC norm.

I meant all of that in a nice way, by the way. It’s virtuous to have a variety in the pad thai. Just like for spaghetti; what’s the point of making it the same every time?

The nice lady showed me all of her ingredients, which were set out in bowls on the front of her cart: dried little shrimps, sugar, peanuts, crumbled hard boiled eggs, dried ground chilies, and something that looked like chopped pickles. There was also a bag of something green chopped up, probably cilantro. Pretty much exactly what they put in our Pad Thai in the US. But this particular pad thai, here on this street at this table, was so different that most people at a restaurant in the states would have sent it back, assuming there’d been a mistake.

I asked if taking a photo would be all right, and she was delighted to oblige. She grabbed her husband, who then took up the pad thai tools and posed for the photo. I don’t know whether he made my pad thai, but I suspect not. (In any event, I have the photo to upload, but I forgot to put it on my little zip chip to bring with me to the Internet joint. Please check in later for it, and many more fun photos from Bangkok.)

This thick magical tropical air, a six-hour flight, and the fact that I’d been up nearly all of the night before drinking, bathing, and getting exfoliated (no euphemism here) had me in a state of mind that otherwise only comes to me with valium, beer, and sex; usually two of the three. I wandered further down the street to one of the grooming salons for foreigners and got a haircut, but the friendly English speaking woman overseeing us kept asking me if I was all right, so I decided to head to my room and call it a night.

My room, by the way, is just fine. It costs about $12. I am fine as well, and can be had for cheaper than that, depending upon the circumstances.

Friday, January 20, 2006

In the Mix

Tokyo is more like an omlet than a set of deviled eggs. Everything is mixed together and you're as likely to find anything anywhere as anywhere else. Yesterday, going to a cutting edge gallery meant walking past the stock exchange, a coffee factory, a cement plant, a building for the Daily Yomiyuri newspaper, crossing a big river, and, of course, maneuvering past a few on-ramps.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Kai Ten Sushi

An English student of mine in Japan once told me, "There are only two kinds of sushi; cheap, and expensive." Under the circumstances, he couldn't explain what he meant, because they were taking me out to dinner. I'm sure he meant that the cheap kind isn't worth it, and the expensive kind is too expensive.

Well, I'm more an epicure than a connoiseur, so the way I see it, the cheap kind of sushi is better than no sushi at all. I'm doing my best to make myself sick of it; I don't forsee having a budget for decent sushi outside Japan anytime soon.

I usually go to the places with conveyer belts. Everything eventually passes right in front of your face, and you just take what looks good. Costs about a dollar a plate, unless you try to get fancy. If you don't see what you want, you can order it, so the peaceful sound of the plastic plates rattling against each other as they round the bends is punctuated by humble suhi orders coming from outside the ring, and the singsong replies from the fishmen on the inside.

I'm quite sure they don't have "California Rolls," and I don't plan on asking.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Time Difference Dope

Don't let anyone tell you that jetlag is one of those little pink stuffed animals that you spend half of your allowance trying to win by knocking down the lead milk bottles at the carnival. If they do, tell them to call me and I'll tell them how it's much more like one of those dragons at the gate to a Japanese temple in the dead of winter, encrusted with ice, yet still miraculously spouting ice cold water. You may try to kiss it, but your lips will freeze to it and a temple monk will have to pee on your face to get you off of it.

For the past week, I've been what they call here a "time difference dope". Sometime in the middle of the afternoon, which is pretty much when the sun sets here, my brain hits a wall. I can barely speak English, let alone Japanese. I spend half of my existence here feeling like a kid who's been drinking all night, and then at 3:00 AM decides to finally buckle down and finish that term paper upon which his graduation depends. In Japanese.

If you've seen "Lost in Translation" then you have a fair idea of how it looks from the outside. That movie is pretty much what the first week here always feels like. I swear, next time I'm going to just sleep whenever I feel like it, and get up when I wake up, and that's that.

One advantage, I must add, is that waking up early makes it easy to get to the Tsukiji fish market, which is all washed up by 9:00 AM. Here's a photo from there. (The sign says, "Turtle"):


Sunday, January 15, 2006

Kids These Days

Sunday in Harajuku has always been for Japanese kids who are really really proud of their outfits, and for a few odd kids who just need some attention.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Tokyo, Week One

[This is the first official dispatch from my trip to Asia. I’ll be gone for roughly five months, finishing my novel in Thailand, where it takes place. I’m in Tokyo for two weeks on the way to Bangkok, from where I’ll head for quieter and even cheaper locations.]


The last time I came to Japan, I spent several hours shouting at a tape recorder and a good portion of the rest of the time wondering who the hell I thought I was. That was in 1995. I’m doing considerably less shouting this time, and the fact that I don’t know who I am doesn’t bother me so much anymore.

I’m not sure what’s different this now, but it might just be that time has mellowed me. I lived in Tokyo for four years during what they call the “bubble,” from 1985 to 1990; and I spent more than a little of that time balled up in weltschmerz. I guess I was just young and the world was so damn far from how I wanted it to be. I took a lot of that angst and ennui out on Japan.

New York probably squoze most of that vinegar out of me. A decade of economic stagnation and a drop from their peak bogeyman status in international influence has mellowed the Japanese, but things are basically the same here, and it is I who have changed, of course.

Tokyo’s no more green than it used to be, but I’m loving the alleys and lights even more than before. The big difference for me is the people. What I used to interpret as apathy now looks more like patience. I used to see helpless despair in the faces of the commuters on the train, now I see relaxed calm after a hard day’s work done. I suspect I communicate with a much lighter touch than I used to, and what I get back from the Japanese people is much more open and warm than I remember.

It’s as though Japan is a box of kittens. I came at them like a five-year-old boy last time, and I got scratched and they ran. (Well, actually they were pretty tolerant of me, and definitely amused.) This time around, I’m surprised to see how nicely things go if I don’t scare the wits out of them from the start.

In any event, I’m much happier now, and loving Japan more than ever. But then it all might just be jetlag and the euphoria that comes with not having to show up at the office (no offence to the office).

Speaking of the office, there’s a little piece in this week’s Time Out that Bob Eckstein and I did together. It’s online as well:

But really, what have I been up to?

Homemade sesame tofu. Sake that tastes like cedar. A Spanish place with paella the size of a temple gong. One hundred photos of a concrete river. Cafes where the waitresses kneel at your table dressed in French Maid outfits. Good sushi for lunch at a dollar a plate. A fish market roughly as busy as Mozart’s synaptic junctions. And bless their hearts, mini skirts and boots are the standard fashion, winter be damned.

I have very comfy accommodations, by the way, in a four bedroom apartment near Hiroo (in Tokyo) with ambient wi-fi, filtered water at one’s choice of three pH levels, and a fancy toilet that washes and dries. There’s no central heating, however, which is normal here. I just hope I don’t set the place on fire with the heaters.

On the agenda for this weekend: Looking for ikebana, going to a spa, and seeing my host’s boyfriend’s band – Music from the Mars [sic]. Probably there will be more drinking of sake.

Now that jetlag is graciously surrendering, I’m looking up old colleagues and drumming up a bit of work. Also, getting up the courage to face old radio cohorts. Wish me luck. I’ll be out of here in another week, so I’m already gearing up for the stress of Thai food, a hotel with a pool, warm weather, etc.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Ginza Monk

in tabi and robes
standing with bowl
no more true
nor less
than all of the lights
all of the signs
the suits
the boots
the legs and the poodles
that flow past him

he avoids my eye
his humble hat a shield

what is he thinking?
what is he trying not to think?

he begs as a practice
I opt not to participate

I’m not sure what kind of ripples
a coin from this gaijin
might set forth
in that guarded pond