Greetings from Bangkok,
Typhoon Haiyan charged it's way westward towards the Philippines during the 26 hours it took me to reach Bangkok. Two days after I arrived in the city on Friday it struck the islands with a ferocity unmatched in recorded history.
My plane arrived early afternoon at a decent 14:00 and I quickly reached the center of the city using the fast city express train out of the airport. Then, boarding a BTS Sky Train, I arrived a few minutes later at the Nana station which is a mere block from the Amari Boulevard Hotel where I had pre-booked my first three nights in the city, taking advantage of the special rates offered by the Hot Deal package. Scruffy from my long 26 hours of sleepless travel with multiple plane changes, I must have looked a mess.
Imagine my surprise when the receptionist instructed me to wait a moment while she called the manager who wanted to greet me personally on my return visit to his hotel! Last year at the end of my stay I wrote a glowing review of the fabulous buffet breakfast and Mr. Frenkel, the General Manager remembered. During our brief chat in the lobby I reminded Alexandre how impressed I had been with the breakfast and that it alone prompted me to stretch my hotel budget in order to enjoy his hotel once again for at least a few days. From that moment on until my final departure, every member of the staff with whom I had contact treated me like a VIP... so, I stayed most of the month with Alexandre providing a special package when the variable posted rates climbed into the stratosphere.
Eventually the hotel became fully booked and I needed to find alternative accommodations for a few days. Fortunately, I remembered the Ambassador Hotel discovered during a previous visit to the city and they also had a special three day promotion packages with manageable $85 rates. To my surprise, their rates jumped out of sight for the fourth night and prompted some emergency hotel shopping as the Amari affordable promotion would not be available again until the following night. Luckily, a mere hundred meters down the same narrow street/alley I found the quite nice and affordable $68 Grand President Hotel. One night there and the Amari rates again dropped back into my comfort zone. Almost everything at the Amari is perfect... save the reliability of the WiFi Internet access. That remained problematical during my entire month long stay. Alexandre acknowledged the problem and noted he intended to give it some budgetary attention, sadly not before my current departure.
Once settled and recovered from the travel stress I dashed over to the Bumrungrad Hospital to set up an appointment for my irregular "annual" comprehensive executive physical examination and later the same day over to the office of Dental Design where I have my dental work done. The comprehensive physical checkup for ancient men like me now costs a whopping $550! The stress test proved to be easy and revealed no problems with the ticker. Blood work results suggested my new intensified exercise plus mostly vegetarian diet has not yet provided the miracle results intended, but there have been modest improvements even with only the few weeks I've been paying really careful attention. The PSA results provided cause for concern and will require retesting after a course of antibiotics to rule out false positive results due to an upper respiratory infection... plus "watchful waiting."
While pausing to enjoy a Coke Zero in the Hospital Mac Donald's restaurant I noticed a commotion around an adjacent table: people seemed to be following something moving around on the floor. As I searched for their object of attention, I saw a small brown rat emerge from the pant leg of a woman at the table. Moving so fast I momentarily lost track of the little rodent, I soon felt something "brush" past my own pant leg. Looking down to see what it might be, I caught sight of that same brown furry creature dashing out of my pant cuff and scampering away. As the well groomed creature disappeared behind a planter, I assumed it must be some kid's escaped pet rat... though no one seemed to be trying to recapture it.
Staying on the really healthful diet has been easier than I expected. Of course, the fabulous buffets here at the Amari Hotel with all its fish and gourmet vegetarian dishes makes it easy and delicious! I'm actually starting to like properly seasoned vegetables! True, I miss ice-cream, pizza, milk shakes and French cooking, but considering the alternative, I'll adjust. As usual, the increased exercise has been easy while traveling. The challenge will be to develop new habits when I return home to the lure of my comfortable easy chair!
I arrived in the city just as huge throngs of dissatisfied Thai citizens poured into the streets to voice their disapproval of the government's decision to grant blanket amnesty to everyone who participated in the violent uprising in 2006... including the the controversial premier, widely thought by critics to be corrupt and eventually tried and convicted on corruption charges. Protestors unleashed wave after wave of "whistle blowers." Hoards of people crowded around protest leaders amplified by powerful loud speakers shouting rude complaints against the current government... in Thai, of course. Each time the speaker would finish a new exhortation, a creepy chirping prolonged whistle sound emerged from the crowds blowing on their police whistles. The whistle symbol is no accident as the protest leaders consider themselves "whistle blowers," focusing attention on rampant corruption believed to permeate the entire legislature: they want to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her Pheu Thai Party: "They are all crooks!" Corruption is an insidious crime, often occurring "under the radar." Sometimes it is notorious: here I think of Italy's Sylvio Berlusconi. In other cases it is embedded in the social fabric itself, a virtual climate of corruption which I saw while touring Africa in 2001 and again in South America during 2005.
During the last week in November the current head of state Yingluck Shinawatra, a younger sister of the previous premier, Thaksin Shinawatra convicted of corruption and now living in exile, confidently called for a vote of confidence for her administration from a legislature dominated by her own party and easily survived the vote... adding credibility to the accusations the entire legislature is still under the control of corrupt political bosses managed by the former premier.
I have been walking the city as is my usual habit, so I've stumbled on quite a few protest gatherings; they are all over town... shifting everyday to keep the authorities off guard. The premier has made avoiding violence a priority and until the last day of November all was calm, if boisterously noisy. Then, pro and anti-government mobs clashed and four people died in the ensuing melee with police attempting to quell the attacking crowds with sewer delivered teargas and irritant spiked water cannons. Down here in the south of the city around the Nana BTS station life for tourists goes on oblivious to the political clashes closer to the center of the city around government buildings.
To my surprise, legions of others have been at work to make the accumulated knowledge of humanity accessible to anyone who wants it... and for free... assuming they have the necessary motivation and access to the Internet. A recent TED talk entitled, "Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity" prompted me to take a serious look at what distance learning courses have become available since I last visited the subject several decades ago. What I found astounded me. There are now dozens of educational consortia participating in the delivery of FREE academic level courses over the Internet! Choose from any of 700 offerings from one group... or even 10,000 courses from another! I initially got excited when I found COURSERA and then VIRTUALPROFESSORS, but the Internet is flooded with MOOC's (Massive Open Online Courses) as the movement has come to be known... most FREE!
My most recent course has been The Origins of Life, selected after watching a marvelous animated film of an exploration of a distant planet where life abounds: Alien Planet. The entertaining hour and a half documentary does a credible job of building a believable story describing the possibilities of varied life forms based on what we know of life on Earth. The cornucopia of knowledge now easily available over the Internet is amazing, making me regret I'll never live long enough to learn more than a tiny sliver of all that might be known by an omniscient being. I'm eighty years old... sort of. My Japanese wife always counted her age as what it would be at her next birthday, confusing me for a long time. Early in my undergraduate scientific training I learned one specific way to round up or down fractional numbers. Using that training, I became eighty years old on November 10th. By Western conventions I won't reach that milestone for another six months.
Until the adventure continues in Colombo, Sri Lanka
Fred L Bellomy