Two Wheels Across Thailand – The Beauty of the North

©Dan White. No repro of words or pictures without authorisation.

For motorcycling enthusiasts Thailand, and indeed neighbouring Laos, are famous worldwide for amazing scenery, great roads and fantastic sightseeing along the way. Above is a movie that gives you a taste of what is  on offer, if you haven’t experienced it already. Below is a piece commissioned by the Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT) that gives you a low-down on how tos, whys and wherefores for those who prefer their scenery experienced from the  open air, rather than from the inside of a moving metal box.

FIVE STAR MOTORCYCLE TOURS – SEEING THE BEST OF THAILAND ON TWO WHEELS

©TAT


When it comes to motorcycle touring, Thailand ranks as one of the world’s great destinations. This is for the very simple reason that it has it all: craggy hills, forests, endless coastlines, unspoiled national parks, historic monuments, magnificent temples, modern cities, ancient ruins, diverse ethnicities, varied cultures, an advanced road network, accommodation to suit all budgets — and, of course, the hospitality and grace that really mark the kingdom out in the world.

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Pampered Pooches or Problem People?

©Dan White. No repro without authorisation.

Some dog owners live in confusion, thinking their beloved pet is actually a person like them,  with real human characteristics.  Dogs, on the other hand, emphatically believe their human nearest and dearest are simply other dogs, albeit a little ungainly. It can make for a worrying state of affairs.

Let me run this by you. There is a Chihuahua in Florida called Conchita who had a choking incident. Obviously it is a distressing experience for any owner of a beloved pet to see their pooch’s eyes bulge as they struggle for air. Conchita, however, was slightly different from your average pooch in that she wasn’t choking on a bone, a slipper or your favourite album cover. She was choking on her very own Cartier necklace worth thousands of dollars. Traumatised by the experience, the little furry Princess who her owner calls ‘the boss’ now refuses to wear diamonds at all.

Undeterred by the mutt’s obvious lack of material consciousness Conchita’s owner still spends $7000 per month to provide her with Louis Vuitton handbags (it’s a well known fact that dogs feel naked without a handbag), bikinis, pearls, dresses and indeed makeup.

It doesn’t stop there. Conchita also has a private bathroom, a pink four-poster bed shaped like a racing car, a widescreen TV and she lunches daily at the swish Miami Shore club, her preferred dish being grilled chicken.  Conchita has her own minder (a man, not a dog). She also ‘enjoys’ weekly manicures with her publicist.

One thing is obvious. This one-year-old 500g chihuahua is living the deeply unnatural life of a neurotic and very human heiress. The second thing that is obvious is that her owner is a total idiot. One Miss Posner, the numeracy of whose father’s dollar bills quite obviously outweighs the numeracy of her own brain cells points out,  ‘I am enamoured by her and so is everyone else’. She goes on to fantasise, ‘She is a demanding diva. She cries like a baby if she thinks she isn’t going to go to the Shore Club.’

Is Miss Posner deluded? According to eminent animal psychologist Dr Werner Krugar, ‘Dogs do not think they are people, they think people are dogs. As the owner, you need to relate to the dog as another dog, rather than a furry person!’  The inference of this is that Conchita should shed the penthouse lifestyle and Miss Posner would better earn Conchita’s love by bounding about pointlessly chasing inanimate objects and publically licking her own private parts.

Despite this learned advice, Miss Posner is not alone in attributing human qualities to her pet despite the fact that poor Conchita would probably be far happier if she was credited with being the dog she is rather than the mini-human her owner wants her to be.

Here in Thailand too a few selected dogs are lined up for lavish attention whilst the vast majority languish at the end of sois licking their festering sores (Although to be fair they haven’t yet occupied central Bangkok and demanded the dissolution of Parliament in the same way as their human brethren). The fact remains that Bangkok is not a very ‘dog friendly’ metropolis. It’s hard to find places to run, roam free and consistently fail to catch frisbees in your mouth. Pavements are uneven when they exist and more often than not you are pinned to the wall by the constant stream of traffic roaring up the all too narrow streets. To add insult to injury, many of the parks that do exist don’t even allow dogs entry.

The Thai dog-pampering industry has come up with answers to combat these gross injustices.

Situated near the end of Sukhumvit soi 28 in Bangkok’s upscale Emporium district, Ozono is a hybrid shopping mall, doggy playground and meeting place for the city’s upper echelons and the dogs they adore. Ozono founder, Khun Dhanesha, explains that the inspiration came from watching the frustration of pet owners at the woeful inadequacies of Bangkok for those both with privilege and four legs. ‘I have had dogs all my life,’ he says, ‘but Bangkok is not a dog-friendly city. You can’t bring dogs anywhere.’

Except to Ozono. There are trendy shops, chic cafes and plenty of green grass, all presented with a friendly nod and a wink to our joyfully surprised canine buddies. They bound blissfully, seemingly in slow motion, ecstatic in the freedom that Ozono provides. Tiny dachshund’s frolic playfully with mighty deerhounds in a utopian bonanza of doggy joy. Owners cavort too caught up in the sheer exuberance of being at Ozono.

Feel like you are looking a bit manky? Ozono’s ‘Aqua Dog’ Beauty Salon is a place for you and your dog to relax in relaxed bliss whilst enjoying the huge number of treatments on offer. The standout feature of Ozono is that the owner may be pampered in parallel with their beloved beast. Both you and Fido can sit about under the hair dryers reading magazines and making idle chitchat about all those things you have in common.  You can swap manicure or pedicure tips (well really only pedicure tips in the case of Fido) whilst ordering lattes.

Once you are both groomed to the zenith of perfection, step out into ‘Petropolis Park’. This 3,200 square meter, purpose-built pet-park is an enclosed oasis planted with tall trees, lush plants and thick shrubbery. Dogs can lounge at tables whilst owners cavort, defecate and run around to their little heart’s content.

There is a dark side to Ozono though. Huge gangs of swarthy soi dogs lost in resentment at the sheer injustice of what they are denied are known to gather at the entrance and bark menacingly at poodles stepping out of Mercedes.

Ozono isn’t the only dog-friendly hangout in the Thai capital. Another popular establishment is the aptly named Doggiedo swimming pool in another upscale part of town – Yen Arkat (meaning Cool Wind) in leafy Sathorn. This giant pool is full of toys for dogs and several decidedly resentful looking staff members in wet suits, swimming with their doggy guests and indeed doing their every bidding in terms of flinging things repeatedly. Owners sit at nearby tables taking photos. 
Prices vary depending on the size of the dog. 50 baht for a ratty looking midget you can carry in your handbag, moving up to 800 baht for a huge German shepherd.

Pooch can’t swim?…… No matter. Life jackets are provided. Does Fido understand life jackets? Of course not. The psychological scars will last a lifetime.

And what would this beautiful country be without the ever-ubiquitous spas that have become such an integral part of the lives of the privileged? Dogs, thankfully, are not excluded.

After a tough day choking on diamonds and frolicking in idyllic pastures a better class of canine can now soak in a fragrant tub scattered with orchid flower petals, or recline on a massage table as an expert masseur (trained not quite sure where) attends to those tired and aching muscles.

‘The special selected blend of herbs help to make the dogs unwind with even fierce dogs able to relax here at our Spa,’ points out veteran dog trainer Jare Jansrisuriyawong who conceived this ‘Thai Dog Resort and Spa’. Set on a leafy acre area of land, just on the outskirts of town, pampered dogs belonging to an even more pampered human elite appreciate treatments using a complex and secret blend of special herbs from Thailand, China and India.

‘I bred dogs for more than 8-years before noticing that some dogs experienced tension too,’ adds Jare, before pointing out the medicinal properties these very expensive treatments impart to his patients. Treatments include a lemongrass rub and the Ayurvedic application of hot stones. We are assured that the dogs really do appreciate this because they tend to fall asleep in the middle of it. Allowances are also made for the international nature of the clientele and most dogs are relieved to discover that the staff at Thai Dog Resort and Spa speaks perfect English.

What does all this say about the dogs on the receiving end of this lavish, complex attention formed by the projections of their owners? Well the simple answer, of course, is nothing at all. Dogs love to eat. They love to run about. They love to sleep. They love affectionate attention from those they trust. According to their breeding dogs will naturally simulate their programmed tasks. Sheep dogs without sheep will naturally herd anything that appears to move, be that a football a chicken or a child. Pointers point. Retrievers retrieve. Despite their reputation as useless ornaments poodles were actually originally also bred as retrievers and have a natural agility in water. Take away some of the haircuts imposed on them by their disturbed owners, and they might even appear proletarian. After border collies, they are also considered the most intelligent breed of dog. German Shepherds guard and attack. Pit Bull’s also attack, but only if accompanied by really bad rap music. Most dogs are bred for a purpose and the really bright ones (most of whom probably live on the street) are a mixture of many. Dogs are actually quite simple and loveable beasts. They are dogs. Their owners, however, are often rather more worrying.

Bongos and Backpacks – Who Controls The Pajama People?

Dan White attempts to read the runes in a world where people drink from buckets and parade in pajamas.

©Dan White. No repro of words or pictures without authorisation.

What is it that getting on a plane and travelling to Asian countries does to the young of Europe, Australia and America? They climb into their economy seats on their cut price flights looking, sounding and talking as normal as anyone else. Within hours of arriving something transforms them and they appear from their rabbit-hutch guest house cubicles decked out in infant’s pajamas whilst eating a strict diet of peculiar pancakes and suffering from a compulsive aversion to footwear. The formerly average become the strangely shaped, flocking from all over the world to wear clothing that would have them arrested in their home country. Most alarmingly of all, they appear to have any sense of humour they might have previously possessed surgically removed on arrival whilst simultaneously acquiring a deep knowledge of all things and an almost messianic need to spread the infinity of their wisdom. It may be only a sinister coincidence that they are all reading from exactly the same book.

Who is doing these terrible things to our kids? What drives the newly anointed pajama people? No one is perfectly sure.  What is known is that for the pajama people money and the not spending of it has been elevated virtually to the status of a religion. They huddle in cafes exercising the virtue of thrift to an almost devotional degree. What is also known is that they enter into a parallel existence through certain portals. The three major ones being Khao San Road in Bangkok and the island of Koh Phangan in Southern Thailand whilst the small mountain town of Pai is now, undoubtedly, the pajama bastion of the north. All these places, like a Hadrian’s wall of cheap unreality, have become hives of the po-of-face and the baby-smooth-of-skin. They exchange tales of hair braiding, bad tattoos and all else that is not too costly. Suddenly perfectly healthy teenagers who in their real lives stacked shelves at Safeway’s, worked in the local pub just near Leatherhead or just completed their A-levels in grammer school in Tonbridge start speaking in a retro hippy patois that they can only be way too young to comprehend. All this whilst looking fashionably disinterested in the sure confidence that they have recently acquired a supreme knowledge. They are of the Book. With solemn appreciation they talk misty eyed of sunrise over the Taj Mahal or the latest Full Moon party… Something that they fail to grasp resembles nothing less than Aya Nappa or summer in Hove at its most naff.

Ominously, some of them start to juggle.

Traditionally it has been a cardinal rule for the pajama people to only collect together where other pajama people have been before them. Like worker ants they tread well-worn and defined paths labeled ‘authentic’ and ‘unspoiled’. Once a suitable spot is found the necessary hive support is constructed; banana pancake stalls, cafes run by a man who looks a little bit like Bob Marley, guest houses designed for the efficient breeding of mosquitoes and three internet cafes for each pajama person. In this way the collective assimilates the authentic and makes it suitable for pajama habitation. All this at an incredibly reasonable price.

What makes the pajama collective different from average tourists? The only way we know is to is to ask them. Like programmed drones they intone “We are not tourists, we are travellers.”  They prove this by bullying hard working, poverty-stricken rice farmers to sell them coconuts at an authentically cheap rate….  all the while jealously fumbling 400 dollar iPods.

Entering through any of the allotted portals to pajama planet is a disconcerting experience for the unwary. The first thing that will strike you is the largeness of their bags. For kids who wear so little clothing or footwear they carry an awful lot about with them. The untested theory amongst pajama experts is that the largeness of the bag carried on the back denotes the importance of status. So next time you are floored getting out of a taxi by the swinging, laden arc of an alarmingly perfumed backpack you can be sure that the person wielding it is surely a big cheese on Koh Phangan.

The second thing that will strike you whilst touring pajama planet is the very controlled and hierarchical nature of the conversations you might over hear. Like ancient shamans on a spiritual quest the mind of the collective is highly focused. Pajama people make the world’s finest accountants and conversations rarely stray far from the word ‘cost’. The second characteristic of pajama interaction is the highly evolved jockeying for status based on the ‘coolness’ of the places they have visited. Although they never stray far from the collective hives pajama people increase their status by talking of visiting places that other pajama people have never been to. Some of them even wildly claim to have eaten in restaurants that are not mentioned in the Lonely Planet. All pajama people know that this is just plain crazy talk. If it’s not ‘in the Book’ then it is not worth going to. Om.

The overriding tragedy of the pajama collective, is that it is held to ransom by a regional mafia for whom the manufacturing of plastic buckets drives a scandalous brutality. In a cruel and outrageous travesty of otherwise naive but slightly pompous fair play, innocent pajama people are forced to drink their dainty shots of sangsom mixed with battery acid and Farley’s rusks out of garishly coloured buckets forced on them by suspicious looking men in ripped jeans with greasy pony tails.  Some of them genuinely don’t understand that they are being humiliated by this brutal application of pastel shades. They guzzle away like cheery, maladjusted piglets before passing out on the sand or each other.

What happens to the pajama people when the pennies run out? One of two things. The best result is a flight home, a job back in Safeway’s or a well earned career as a real accountant with proper shoes and the same kind of hefty mortgage that brings a pleasant frisson of reality into the lives of others. The most horrific scenario is that they actually do learn to juggle. Once you can juggle there is no turning back. There is nothing for you but a life of bongos.

(c) Dan White.

Karaoke – Man’s Inhumanity to Man

©Dan White. No repro of words or pictures without authorisation.

It’s a little known fact that Daisuke Inoue, the supposed inventor of Karaoke failed to patent his invention and never received a dime for his creation even though, since it first appeared in the early seventies, it has taken over the world.

Good. He should be locked up for crimes against humanity. From Delhi to Dili the monstrous caterwauling of the supremely untalented, yet supremely unaware blights lives and provokes all the wrong kind of passions.

In the Philippines singing “My Way” is justifiably against the law as it provokes gangfights with guns. Just the opening chords are enough for sinister mustachioed men to head into a trance of aggression and reach for the pump action.

In Florida a demented 21-year-old woman attacked a man singing ‘Yellow’ by Coldplay. The reason for this violent outburst was precisely explained. He “sucked.”

She screamed, “You suck!” before she punched him in the mouth very hard. Clarity is good. We should understand her pain.

“It took three or four of us to hold her down,” recalled bartender Robert Willmette. When she was escorted outside, she “went absolutely crazy,” throwing punches at anyone who came in reach. Terrified patrolmen then blocked off the street, which inflamed the woman’s fury even further. Before they could handcuff her, she charged the improvised police barricade, head-butted an off-duty officer, drawing blood and knocking him out cold…….. All this might appear extreme. Extreme perhaps, unless you were actually privy to the rendition of ‘Yellow’ that set her off. Who is anyone to judge?
In fact the horror of this viral noise pollution is unlikely to be the work of Daisuke, an unassuming man whose main line of work to this day is selling cockroach repellant.

Most likely, this aural abomination was created as some kind of Nipponese revenge for having lost the Second World War. As the Imperial Japanese army was pushed back across the Pacific and the generals knew it was all over, some demonic psycho deep in the heart of the black-ops division of the Tokyo military machine conceived a revenge so evil and so perfect that ever after the rest of the world would regret ever having won the battle of Midway let alone having bragged about it. For those in the know revenge is sweet. There are inscrutable old men smirking in Okinawa rice paddies to this day.

And now look what they’ve done? You might be in the misty, scenic foothills of Mount Fansipan In North Vietnam. Perhaps enjoying a Pina Calada as the sun sets over the mystical sheen of the idyllic paradise that is Boracay in the Philippines…. As you gently drift off into a reverie of peace, tranquility and calm, you might think that the meaning of life itself could emerge from the softly lit calm gently permeating your soul.

Forget it. In one brutal instant the air is rent by that appalling mid-tonal wailing as some deluded and half drunk stranger manages to hit notes so painfully just off key that even Ornette Coleman would be scratching his head at the split 5ths. It is supposed to be ‘Moon River’ but actually sounds like the last stand of a pig being dragged out of a pick up and into the waiting abattoir.

Perhaps the cruelest horror of Karaoke is the effect it has on those who might otherwise be quite shy and unassuming.  Mousy secretaries suddenly turn into wild and savage sex pests as the strains of Tata Young’s “Sexy, Sexy, Sexy. Bitchy, Bitchy, Bitchy” consume their being and let loose an alter ego that no one could have guessed existed.

Maybe even more terrifying than the warped flowering of the sexually repressed is the smug chest thumping of the truly in love.

It is a depressing thought that some people must actually practice this at home.

One daren’t contemplate what is going through the mind of the cheery couple that get on stage and try to perform an authentically synchronized rendition of ‘Summer Nights’ from Grease. These people know all the moves! Olivia Newton John’s coy semi-virginal come-ons….. John Travolta’s vacant, high-pitched screech as the song is eventually drawn to an excruciating close leaving sane men weeping.

When threatened mankind is capable of swift collective action to defend the species. Governments step in and nationalise banks to defend our savings. Troops are dispatched to far away countries to shoot all kinds of poor people for reasons that no one can quite remember…  One can only hope that common sense will prevail and people do the right thing before its too late.

The time for action is now! Pull the plug! Yank out the fuse!…

Open the doors of the rehab center… Envy the deaf.

(c) Dan White.