Thailand Footprint: The People, Things, Literature, and Music of Thailand and the Region

Posts by Kevin Cummings

“An old man passed me on the street today;
I thought I knew him but I couldn’t say.
I stopped to think if I could place his frame.
When he tipped his hat I knew his name. Hello old friend,
It’s really good to see you once again.”

Those are lyrics from an Eric Clapton song, Hello Old Friend, that began to rumble in my head yesterday as I was strolling along my own garden path in Suan Rod Fai Park in Bangkok, Thailand in the year 2022. Fresh air, nature, and no distractions – the cell phone was turned off. It wasn’t quite Walden Pond, yet it was a welcome respite from the perfunctory chores, work, and habits I left behind.

What happened next was interesting. Creative thoughts entered my consciousness. A visit from my muse – an old friend of sorts. This blog is like another old friend to me. A friend I haven’t spent a lot of time with since March of 2020. It got me thinking about writing and reading, and a little bit less about arithmetic.

I am pondering whether it is now easier or harder to read in the Covid era? At first blush you would think it would be the former. Reading books, particularly novels, tends to be a socially distanced activity, so what better time to beef up the reading schedule? Read here now, to paraphrase Ram Dass.

My favorite 20th Century American novelist is Kurt Vonnegut – by far. Vonnegut made reading literature fun for me. As John Irving said, “It’s not easy being easy to read.” It seems like just a few years ago, but is more likely 6 or 7, when I re-read Slaughterhouse-Five. It was great when I first read it around 1971 and great still. Vonnegut has his share of critics. What successful author doesn’t? Not deep, some say. Surely Vonnegut was plenty deep enough for a California High School kid who was keen to join the “question authority” movement.

So the thought was, return home and write a blog piece on writing and reading and favorite authors. Good intentions and all that. Instead, I chose to watch the 2021 documentary, Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time. All 2 hours and 7 minutes of it. Bravo. If you are a Vonnegut fan or a fan of reading or writing, I recommend that you do the same. Unless, of course, your first response to that suggestion is, “Okay, Boomer.” Then you might want to give it a pass.

The documentary was forty years in the making. First pitched by Robert B. Weide in 1982 in a letter to Vonnegut. Kurt took his time in replying to the then and still ardent fan. Weide is best known, now, for his work on Curb Your Enthusiasm, but in 1982 he had exactly one production credit to his name, a PBS documentary on the Marx Brothers. (Note to self: check it out.) The end product is as much a story about a 2 1/2 decades-long friendship as it is about the life, legacy and craft of one of America’s most beloved 20th Century authors.

My minor complaint with the documentary is that Weide not only interjects himself more than would seem necessary but essentially becomes the co-star as well as the co-director. The construction is disjointed by design with a theme being that past, present, and future comingle. Billy Pilgrim would no doubt approve. As Vonnegut states during the documentary, “My books are mosaics of jokes,” he tells us, “about serious things.” So it seems is Weide’s documentary, with equal parts of comedy and tragedy being recorded. It turns out the likable author was not always likable to those nearest and dearest to him. After Kurt’s beloved sister, Alice, died a mere two days after her husband was tragically killed in a 1958 commuter train accident outside of New York City, Kurt took in his four nephews into his Cape Cod home, where they were joined by Kurt’s own family, including first wife, Jane. The reflections by his seven children, both positive and negative, make for some of the best parts of the documentary.

When well deserved fame and fortune finally arrived for Kurt, other fortunes changed for him also. There is plenty of expected talk about WWII and Dresden, which left Kurt with an inappropriate laugh among other things. It is what occurs in his life from the late 1940s on, until his breakout novel, Slaughterhouse-Five arrives on the scene in 1969 that I enjoyed most.

There is a quote in the documentary that got me thinking again about my stroll in the park and the age of Covid that we all find ourselves living in in early 2022. Vonnegut says, “This day is as real as any we’re going to live, and yet we have an idea that we’re headed for other days, and better days.”

Kurt Vonnegut was my kind of philosopher when I was seventeen-years old and I still enjoy hearing his philosophy on life some fifty years later. He died almost fifteen years ago. The Pall Mall’s never killed him; it was our common enemy, time the conqueror, that got him in the end.

Thanks for the books and the memories, Kurt. It was really good to see you once again.

5 Comments

The Bell Shape Curve has many applications in life. I am on the downward slope to 100 years; an age I have no desire to achieve.

This Blog is 8 years-old this week and has had a very good run. It too is on the downward slope traffic-wise and publication-frequency wise. This is only my second post in the oddball year known as 2021.

Bill Bradley, the former Princeton University student/basketball player, NBA player, and U.S. Senator, who had a very influential book in my life written about him while he was still in university called, A SENSE OF WHERE YOU ARE by creative nonfiction writer John McPhee, felt to truly have a proper professional athletic career one must fully experience the bell curve. Put another way, you start out coming off the bench, making a contribution for your team, you have your peak athletic years and score your biggest points at the top of the curve, and then as age creeps in and skills deteriorate, playing time is reduced and you find yourself back on the bench until it is time to retire or go into coaching. For Bradley, what he emphasises is to enjoy the graph of life every blip of the way no matter what shape your graph turns out to be. It’s good advice. I was ten-years old when I read A SENSE OF WHERE YOU ARE for the first time. The only sense I had at that time was that most of my life was ahead of me. I was on the upward part of the curve with not much thought given to what lay ahead on the downward side – the peak years are what I looked forward to.

Traditional books – novels and works of nonfiction – have played a key role in the content of this blog from the very start. The url is peoplethingsliterature.com after all. Books too, by my evaluation of anecdotal evidence, have seen their peak years come and go. My favorite bookshop and coffee shop in California went bankrupt and became a clothing store aimed at millennials in 2011. My favorite and closest book store in Bangkok is now an opticians shop where they sell sunglasses and prescription eyeglasses at a price point needed to pay the high rent. It gets more customers than the bookstore ever did in the last 10 years. Maybe we are more nearsighted than we used to be?

The question I have been pondering, with Dollar Bill Bradley’s help is, do I retire this blog or not? I am not sure.

That brings me to videos. As the Buggles big music hit declared, “Video killed the radio star”. Literary stars have taken quite a hit from video too, unless they are among the fortunate few to have their works put up on various sized screens available to 35% of the world’s population – that is the percentage of who owns an operating smart phone these days. When I ride the skytrain in Bangkok, which is often in the Covid years, that’s what I see people reading addictively – smart phones not books.

One way to avoid taking the hit is to join the video revolution. In my younger and peak years I read a lot of biographies about musicians and their contribution to music history. Now I watch them on Hulu or Amazon Prime. That’s not all I watch in these social distancing times. YouTubers are in, Ted Talks are in, Master Classes and their free substitutes are in, and I find myself watching all of these and many more.

For now I have come up with a middle-path solution. I will no longer be reviewing traditional books on this blog in a written format. What I will do is recommend some of the more interesting video projects out there in cyberspace, with a Southeast Asia theme, and perhaps I will expand on this idea on a broader level in a new project down the curve. Who knows, it might even be a video project.

So, without further adieu, here they are:

Thai Country Living:

Director: Ben Tubby and Dan Tubby. ⁠Produced by Tubby Brothers Films and Somboon Vichaisre⁠. Executive Producer: Tom Waller. Research by Joe Cummings.

This is a wonderful short film awarded a Vimeo Staff Pick among other film industry awards, as you can see above, that should be watched by anyone with an interest in Thai / Lao culture and/or world music. The fact that it can be watched for free tells you how much quality is out there for no cost viewing if one only takes the time to find them. Take the time and watch it. You will not be dissapointed.

CB Media

Chad Bee the entrepreneur of CB Media, a very popular YouTube Channel, will not be everyone’s cup of tea. In fact I was slow to warm to him. Very slow. Chad is uncouth in a 2021 kind of way. The meek may inherit the earth but it is the shameless that will profit in the interim. Whatever you may think of Chad after watching a few of his videos, and I recommend you do, Chad works hard on his Vlog and he plays very hard. Mr Bee is a legitimate YouTube influencer (and I now know what that is) and there is ample evidence that he is pulling in a six-figure USA dollar income for his considerable effort. His hooks run from the familiar and somewhat lame to different and innovative. Chad gets to know the car/racing/flying/drifting scene in Thailand just for starters. Chad Bee has over 300,000 subscribers since starting his Vlog, which he really concentrated on once the Covid19 lockdown took hold. The future is here and the future, like it or not, seems to be the Chad Bee’s of the world. CB Media has over 38 million views and rising.

Book Talk Conversations

For those who prefer couth to uncouth and books over videos, author Christopher G. Moore has a new monthly video series out called Book Talk Conversations, where he investigates the premise that books have shaped people’s lives in various ways and perhaps even influenced their world view. He does this by interviewing various original thinkers. This is Episode 1 with John Allen Paulos the author of Innumeracy and an avid Mad Magazine reader in his youth. It’s an interesting concept by Christopher worthy of exploration.

So there you have it – three video options to consider in lieu of traditional reading.

John McPhee used a very apt title in his book on Bill Bradley, first published in 1965. It is important in life to have a sense of where you are at any particular moment in time. It is much harder than it sounds.

But wherever you may be on that inevitable curvey graph of life, as Hunter S. Thompson wrote in FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, and this is as applicable in oddball years as much as it ever was,

“Buy the ticket, take the ride…and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well…maybe chalk it up to forced consciousness expansion.”

Until next time. Maybe.

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I was reading one of my free online articles in The New Yorker Magazine titled, “Who Does David Duchovny Think He Is?” It seems the former TV and movie star now writes novels from his Malibu Beach house. His fourth novel, Truly Like Lightning dropped this week. It has six reviews on Amazon so far, all 5 Star Reviews. Good for David. I have not read the book but it sounds intriquing enough. A promo snippet:

‘For the past twenty years, Bronson Powers, former Hollywood stuntman and converted Mormon, has been homesteading deep in the uninhabited desert outside Joshua Tree with his three wives and ten children.”

Duchovny has the education one might expect from a traditionally published novelist nowadays, an undergraduate degree from Princeton and a Master of Arts degree in English Literature from Yale University. Nice pedigree for literary work. His publisher is Farrar, Straus and Giroux, an imprint of McMillian.

A lot of thoughts went through my head as I read the article. The foremost being it must be nice to write a novel from a Malibu Beach house, with some millions in the bank, even if some of the time was spent in a railroad car on the property as he worked on his house remodeling project. Jealous? I hope not. Envious, a little. He has earned his stripes and his right to become a novelist, whether it be as hobbyist or professional.

Artwork of David Duchovny as it appears in the February issue of The New Yorker

I know of Duchovny because I am a baby boomer. There are whole generations out there whom may never have heard of the actor, yet decide to buy his novels anyway. And that is better for the point I am meandering to get to. Our eyeballs are a commodity with a limited vision and a seemingly unlimited supply of choices for what those orbs and ears are able to see and hear. This blog, which will turn eight years old in mid-April of 2021, is just a small example of the thousands if not tens of thousands or more likely, millions of choices out there vying for our attention.

When Duchovny is asked, perhaps hypothetically, who does he think he is, becoming a novelist, he has a fine retort:

“Who does anyone think they are?” Duchovny asked, “You have to have an ego to think you have the right to publish anything. It’s a fine question to ask: Who the fuck do you think you are?”

I think he is spot on, particularly about that last question, “Who the fuck do you think you are?” It IS a fine question to ask and I find that I ask it a lot these days, of myself and others. What direction the question gets tossed depends on my level of introspection versus my level of annoyance.

Nowadays, people don’t read novels at the same rate as before so many distractions came before us. In their stead you can now find Podcasts, Webcasts, Ted Talks, and TikToks. Twitter feeds, Facebook walls, Netflix and Amazon Prime also vie for our attention, with the help of high paid social scientists and psychologists. Everything from ultra-marathons to a 5 meter dash can be found competing for our attention.

The bottom line is, we all think we have something to say from time to time, if not daily or hourly. We all have a need to say it, in some form or fashion. Some more than others, obviously.

Regular readers of this blog, (I’m an optimist by nature) will notice there is no Thailand angle to this piece. After almost eight years this blog may have run its course. Hell, blogging may have run its course – it is well into the 21st century. I’m quite content with my blog as a body of work and I am thinking of going in another direction. Putting it in moth balls so to speak. If i do, the new blog will likely emphasis bite sized chunks of media as opposed to boulders. Few people have the time or the desire to lift boulders anymore. Put another way, if you can’t beat them, join them.

I’ll leave you with this bite-size bit of proclaimed wisdom: the next time the question comes up, “Who the fuck do you think you are?,” contemplate this possible truth: someone who thinks a lot like you do.

Happy 2021. My first blog post of the year. Like the airline pilots of today, I’m clearly a little rusty. The truth is out there. But it doesn’t seem very easy to find if, like me, you have distracted and manipulated eyes.

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As a born and raised California guy my exposure to ice hockey has been limited but often memorable. This was the case last Sunday night in Bangkok when I met Greg Beatty, a Canadian passport holder and, as the odds would have it, a fan and player of the most popular sport of my northern neighbors, along with American photographer Eric Nelson who hails from St Louis, Missouri originally. Eric once shot photographs of a St Louis Blues hockey game back when people still used Kodak film. Our Mission: to watch and photograph a Siam Hockey League game or two.

The year is 2020 – the year from hell – so what better way to spend a Sunday night in the City of Angels than to chill in the cool of the Imperial World Olympic sized ice rink, located on the top floor of Imperial World Samrong 999 Sukhumvit Rd, Samrong Nuea, Samut Prakan 10270, Thailand .

My very first ice hockey game was in 1967 at the Oakland Alameda Coliseum to watch the Bay Area’s first ever NHL team, the California Seals in their debut season. The score was 3-0. The Seals won. It would have been more fun had I actually seen any of the goals being scored. There seemed to be a conspiracy-like theme going on that night: every time I reached down for some popcorn the red light fired on. Damn! This wasn’t basketball, that I was sure of. It’s a fast paced sport. But it was fun to watch, with lots of rough and tumble moments and learning new words like high-sticking, checking, biscuit, sin-bin, and light the lamp.

Lace em up tight, gentlemen – Photo by Eric Nelson

It was 10 full years before I had my next exposure to ice hockey. I was working a summer job at the Lake Placid Lodge in upstate New York. There on the campus of Lake Placid High School was a classic old ice skating rink, which I learned at the time was originally constructed as part of the 1932 Winter Olympics. Nightly pickup ice hockey games occurred there, something I had never seen in person before and never have seen again. We live in a climate-controlled bubble in California. I went three times that summer to watch those informal games, with no referees, no scoreboard, and thankfully no lamps to light. It wasn’t shirts vs skins but it was close enough. While the Lake Placid Arena could hold several thousand people, there were no more than twenty people in the stands those nights. It too was fun to watch. It became more fun a few years later as I watched the Miracle on Ice Olympic ice hockey game between the USA and the dreaded USSR in 1980 played at that same ice rink, which I viewed at C.B. Hannegan’s Irish Bar located in Los Gatos, California. To this day, Mike Eruziane, Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, and Wayne Gretzky are pretty much the litany of hockey players I can recite off the top of my head.

Outside of a chance sighting of The Great One at a San Francisco Giants baseball game in the mid 1980s as he sat with his wife, Janet Jones, this is the extent of my ice hockey history, until November 15th, 2020 in Bangkok.

Sunday Night Siam Hockey League in Bangkok, Thailand in the year of 2020 – Photo by Eric Nelson

Ice hockey in Bangkok has a hardy and persistent existence. It has been around since at least 1995 in one incarnation or another. As one ice rink would have the plug pulled on it, for one reason or another, the players would always find a new home to skate on. There have now been a few past homes but the pucks and players seem to have secured a good one at Imperial World Samrong. Most every Sunday during the winter season and then some, there are two adult league games that have three 17 minute periods, with stoppage time only in the last 2 minutes. The action packed games run about one hour. I arrived early, at 8:30 pm and there was a Thai youth league going on, although it was pretty clear to me that because of equipment costs this was a league of upper middle class and up Thais. It’s a much different sport than the inner-city and rural game of basketball where only a ball, some asphalt, and 2 hoops are needed.

Imperial Samrong Ice Arena – Photo by Eric Nelson

Scotty Murray, AKA Scotty Hockey is 60 years old and still making great plays and scoring occasionally. Scotty deserves the most credit for the success of ice hockey in Bangkok; he has been instrumental in developing the league. The league is called the SHL (Siam Hockey League) which is composed of four teams. They are a mixture of Thai and international players. There are two games every Sunday starting at 9:00 p.m.

Thais and farangs alike mix it up every Sunday in Bangkok – Photo by Eric Nelson

The Thai and flying farangs hockey players were a fit looking lot to be sure. On any given Sunday you may see a retired FBI guy, a well known comedian, a contracts lawyer, and NHL family members out on the ice. Last Sunday I met players or fans from Russia, Finland, Thailand, the USA, and of course Canada. The level of skating ability to my untrained eye seemed top shelf and, no, I am not talking about the goal area, I just learned the other usage of that term last Sunday. The goal-keeping ability is also impressive. The first game was tied 2-2 in the third period and ended dramatically in the final 15 seconds with the undefeated team in blue prevailing at the wire.

Keeping it clean on the ice – Photo by Eric Nelson

If you are looking for something new and different to do in Bangkok, Thailand on a Sunday night you cannot go wrong with checking out the Sunday night SHL at Imperial World Samrong. Spoiler alert: checking and high-sticking are not allowed and I didn’t see anyone end up in the penalty-box, but I hardly noticed. The referees do earn whatever remuneration they get. It is refreshing to see that in places other than Washington D.C., good sportsmanship, and good abilities still exist in the year 2020. There is a tournament going on today all day, Sunday November 22, if you are in the neighborhood. Otherwise Sunday nights at Imperial Samrong is the place to be to witness your own minor miracle on ice in Bangkok, Thailand.

Friends before and after the game. Final score 3-2 Blue team remains undefeated – Photo by Eric Nelson

For Live Video feeds of the Samrong Ice Hockey Challenge click here.

“Only a goalie can appreciate what a goalie goes through”.  Jacques Plante – Photo by Eric Nelson

“For a goalkeeper, there is no hiding place.” Brad Friedel

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Bangkok based author Lawrence Osborne has a new novel out, The Glass Kingdom, so what better time to review a book of nonfiction he wrote almost 10 years ago? The Wet and the Dry – A Drinker’s Journey published by Random House in 2013.

A previous book of nonfiction by the author, which I also enjoyed, The Accidental Connoisseur – An Irreverent Journey through the Wine World was a plum assignment, but The Wet and the Dry trumps that traveling narrative by a long chalk. It’s good work if you can find it and Lawrence Osborne has the ability to do just that.

The premise of the book, or one of them, is to wander the drinking and non-drinking world and decipher whether drinking alcohol is a sign of civilization and sanity, or its polar opposite? Put another way, “Is alcohol the creator of the mask or the thing that strips it away”?

Osborne is a comfortable wanderer and doesn’t mind occasionally getting lost, whether on foot, by car or motorcycle. Getting lost is likely part of the destination for this erudite Oxford educated New Yorker, who saw the advantages of pursuing an earlier career in journalism in the USA over England, his England. That climb wasn’t always smooth and it is the matter-of-fact way in which Osborne writes about the slips on the career-ladder that makes his writing enjoyable and accessible. Whether you favor George Will or Charles Bukowski, a Bombay Sapphire and Tonic or a Leo beer, are a teetotaler or in recovery, Osborne will appeal with his relatable travel stories of inebriation in countries where it is easy to get a drink and others where it takes a great deal of effort. It’s an effort that is richly rewarded, for writing material anyway. In one chapter Osborne is in Poland talking with his father-in-law at the time, a renowned musician and composer with a side trait of alcoholism. Asked what writing prospects he had in order to be able to take care of his daughter properly, Osborne succinctly replies, “None”.

The author drinks with a former warlord, alone, which seems to suit him fine, and with Malaysian sex tourists in the deep south of Thailand to see what makes them tick, just to mention a few. As Audrey Hepburn said, “I don’t want to be alone, I want to be left alone”. And so it seems to be with Osborne often enough as he sips a favorite alcoholic drink in some of the more interesting bars of varying classes around the globe, preferably starting at 6:10 p.m. Countries include: Oman, Turkey, Egypt, Thailand, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates as well as Surakarta in Indonesia and Brooklyn, New York. The ending time for Osborne’s drinks is less precise and a jack-knife into a Dubai swimming pool is worked in at least once before he drags himself or is dragged with help to bed to awaken in a wet suit and tie. Osborne finds Dubai to be a city that is “grimly interesting”. What’s not to like so far?

One cannot write a book on drinking without mentioning the mighty hangover. Osborne’s take on the morning after:

“A hangover is … a complex thing. It is slow, meditative; it inclines us to introspection and clarity. The aftereffect of a mild envenoming is cleansing mentally. It enables one to seize one’s mind anew, to build it up again and regain some kind of eccentric courage.”

In reading The Wet and the Dry I learned a lot of what I didn’t know and re-learned much of my world history, which I had long ago forgotten for lack of usefulness. It was Islam that gave us distillation and the Greeks that gave us fermentation. I knew that, maybe? I also learned a lot about Dionysus, the god of wine, knowledge which should come in handy. Harsh realities are also included, such as that alcohol produces a lot of “unnecessary truthfulness”.

Other truths are proffered. When discussing the teetotaler vs the drinker Osborne concludes, “Each finds the other a bore”. I like the egalitarianism in Osborne’s observations. He is a fine observer of human pleasures and miseries, whether the human is drunk or sober.

My favorite chapter starts on page 127 of the 226 page book. Titled Bar’s in a Man’s Life it leads with another esoteric fact: “The term bar was first used in English in 1591 in Robert Greene’s drama A Notable Discovery of Coosnage”. Osborne has an appreciation for the absurdity of life, including his own. There is a comical scene where a hungry writer is motivated to quarter a frozen turkey with a handily available ax, while living on part of a wealthy architect’s compound during a cold and snowy winter. If you can’t picture Lawrence Osborne drinking wine out of a soup bowl you will after reading The Wet and the Dry. For one brief moment he shares the type of misery and reality found in After Life with Osborne in the role played by Ricky Gervais.

Mr. Osborne is a dutiful listener and a keen observer. He takes what he hears and sees and puts it to the written page as well as anyone. The author is on quite a roll with many of his novels in pre or post film production. While I look forward to reading The Glass Kingdom, which arrived at my home in a cardboard box yesterday, I highly recommend his nonfiction books as well. They could be overlooked with all the buzz he is generating at the moment. The Wet and the Dry produces a buzz of its own kind and in the process helps explain the many paradoxes which occur in parts of the world that allow or prohibit alcoholic drinks.

Lawrence Osborne reminds us during his drinking journey logged in at The Wet and the Dry, that it’s always 6:10 p.m., somewhere.

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Step right up Ladies and Gentlemen, J.D. Strange, “The Artist Formerly Known as Newman”, has a new book out, The Circus. Strange has written a novella that will appeal to circus-goers everywhere. And have you ever met a person who hasn’t gone to the circus more than they should?

Strange lets you peak under the slick, flammable, paraffin-waxed Big Top, where a collection of clowns, acrobats, strong men, human cannonballs, bearded ladies, toilet-lickers and flimflam artistry reside. If you have a copy of Freak Show by Robert Bogdan in your home library then you will love the pathological specimens Strange has caravanned together. What is a circus if it isn’t a family? Our protagonist is Jimmy “Mr. Tightrope Walker” and the antagonist, his twin brother, Joey the Clown. A child has been murdered and hastily buried and the murderer is a mystery of sorts, but then all people are mysteries, so the suspects are obvious and not so obvious.

The author describes Jimmy:

“Twenty-eight or twenty-nine years old hair fallen to the collar, jeans and overcoat are of strange cut. The cage boy is all grown up and enjoys the delicious scent of fried bacon and freshly brewed coffee wafting from the kitchen.”

“The waitress looks over at me and I read her thoughts clearly, ‘What’s all this then? Circus in town?'”

Bingo.

James Dennison Strange must be one lousy hunter because he is one hell of a good story-teller. Who wants to sit around a campfire with a sharp-shooter anyway? The circus Strange has assembled doesn’t just come to town, it is open 24/7 for human curiosities, freaks and non-freaks, dreamers and nightmare awakeners.

The great Harry Houdini once said, “An old trick well done is far better than a new trick with no effect.” Strange has heeded Harry’s advice well; the story-telling is layered much like a clown’s makeup. No spoilers but a couple of the literary devices in The Circus have been used by good and bad novelists alike, often poorly. Not in The Circus. After all, magicians and novelists share commonalities; they both want to create imaginary worlds, but if you can see the trick coming too soon it spoils the illusion. And no one likes their illusions spoiled, especially clowns.

Woven into the two-part, 124 page novella are fun facts and history about the circus and the types of performers who call it home. My favorite is the tidbit on John Wayne Gacy, “dubbed the Killer Clown, assaulted as many as thirty-three young men during his ten-year reign of terror from 1968 to 1978”. That’s information Alex Trebek never asked about.

With the exception of a formatting error on page 25 of my review paperback copy, the text is beautifully edited. Strange rightfully credits Iain Donnelly in the dedication for his assistance, as well as my favorite German comedian, Tom Vater, whose clown knowledge must have been invaluable to the author.

How would I describe The Circus? It is a story about demons, abuse (of drugs and people), addiction and recovery, but mostly it is a story about the mind. A very good story about the mind. Strange is still capable of throwing flames but as the writer has aged his words are better paced and irony laced. There is great contrast between expectation and reality. The strange circus mastered by J.D. is chock-a-bloc with creativity, imagination, black-comedy, and darkness.

A writer’s words are more important than any critic’s. In Part II of the Novella, titled The Farm, Jimmy finds himself in recovery and at a meditation meeting. It is here where Strange sums up one of the morals of the book:

“I expect nothing. Expectations are resentments waiting to happen. It does us well to expect nothing and be grateful for everything, people. But between you and me, guys, together we are nothing less than a bloody miracle.”

Enter The Circus with no expectations and when the show concludes as you read the last page, in one sitting preferably, you will be grateful for the experience. J.D. Strange has created his own bloody miracle in the year 2020 – a great piece of longish short-form fiction in an age of instant gratification and 60 second movies. Good stuff.

Buy The Circus HERE.

Follow the My Strange World blog of J.D. Strange HERE

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Kevin Cummings inner turmoil portrait

Kevin Cummings Inner Turmoil portrait by Ronald Merkesteijn

How is your 2020 year going? My 2019 ended at a health resort in Eastern Thailand where my wife and I brought in the new year calmly and appreciatively at a riverside restaurant and cabin on the Bang Pakong River. The celebration included a Himalayan man-made salt-cave with Kitaro like music to reflect upon. It was groovy.

Bang Kapong River on December 30, 2019

Then we returned to our Bangkok condominium and this was the first sunset of 2020 without a filter, mind you:

January 1, 2020 Sunset – The First Day Ends, the First Night Begins

The year 2020 looked so damned promising, I tell you, but you know that already. Now it is July 1, 2020 in the USA and Thailand has reopened to a new normal which is feeling more and more like the old normal with every passing day. I like to hang onto my illusions as long as they are useful.

It’s the year of Covid-19 around the world and we are as fractured as ever. You have your hard-core science guys. You can spot them wearing their elitist N-95 masks which they got from their friend with a Ph.D in molecular biology. Then you have your traditional liberals wearing their favorite blue bandanna or perhaps a homemade mask by their wife or girlfriend that is color coordinated to their Hawaiian shirt. The moderates are wearing the cheapie disposable masks and then you have a mixture of rebels and rednecks wearing no masks at all and humming along to the Chip Taylor & The New Ukrainians ditty, “FUCK ALL THE PERFECT PEOPLE”. It’s a wonderful world as both Louie Armstrong and Sam Cooke remind us from time to time.

(Best to read while listening to this tune)

Let me cut to the chase. What has Covid-19 and the year 2020 in the name of your Buddha or higher power taught you so far?

For me, it’s an appreciation of movement while simultaneously recognizing that I don’t move as much as I could, and when that old judge who sits on my shoulder chimes in, as much as I should. So I am dedicating the remainder of 2020 and as many years left as the good Lord or science and lifestyle allows me, to movement. Why? Wisdom, hopefully. As the old Joni Mitchell song goes, “You don’t know what you got til it’s gone”. It’s one thing to pave paradise;  it’s quite another to lockdown the parking lot. My movement, such as it is, was taken away from me or so I thought. The thinking part matters too. A lot.

Here are a few of favorite quotes by some cool folks on movement:

“If I am an advocate for anything, it is to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food.” — Anthony Bourdain 

“To me, if life boils down to one thing, it’s movement. To live is to keep moving.” — Jerry Seinfeld

“Sometimes ya gotta move.” —Sista Monica

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” — Mark Twain

“That’s all you need in life, a little place for your stuff. That’s all your house is- a place to keep your stuff. If you didn’t have so much stuff, you wouldn’t need a house. You could just walk around all the time. A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it. You can see that when you’re taking off in an airplane. You look down, you see everybody’s got a little pile of stuff. All the little piles of stuff. And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up. Wouldn’t want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff. They always take the good stuff. They never bother with that crap you’re saving. All they want is the shiny stuff. That’s what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get…more stuff! Sometimes you gotta move, gotta get a bigger house. Why? No room for your stuff anymore.” — George Carlin (It’s the airplane line I like).

“Can I move? I’m better when I move.”  — Sundance Kid from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

So movement it is in 2020 and forever much longer I have. I recently turned 66 years old. My older sister, Roxanne, never saw her 66th year. I never assumed I would. But now that I have made it I plan to enjoy it, and move with it, as much as i can. It takes a village as the saying goes and I have some friendly villagers who are helping me along.

For my June birthday I thought what do I need or want? I feel I pretty much have all the stuff I need. And as George Carlin notes, if I got any more stuff I might need a bigger room to keep my stuff. Who wants that kind of move? Not me.

So I contacted one of my favorite Dutch artists, Ronald Merkesteijn . Ron has long done an inner-turmoil series, which I appreciate. They are often self-portraits but not always. I sent Ron a few photos of me taken first thing in the morning. No shower, no shave, no smile. I did my best to give him some torment to work with. Ron and I have had some laughs about torment. I like that. You can’t get rid of torment but you sure as shootin’ can laugh about it.

The finished work is shown above and in this blog piece. I think he did a great job. I’ve always wanted hair like Jack Nicholson’s. Well, that’s not entirely true, I always wanted hair like Jackson Browne. But I’m older and wiser and male patterned cursed at this stage in my life. So when life hands you onions, make onionaid.

May all my vast readership here at Thailand Footprint have a healthy and movement oriented 2020 and beyond. I hope to see many of you face to face soon. Face to face beats Zuck’s Facebook every time.

Appreciate what you have before (and after) people try their best to take it away.

And if you’d like an inner turmoil portrait of your own, please contact Ron via Facebook. He’s a cool cat. He stares down his inner turmoil often and keeps moving.

Happy July 2020! It beats the alternative, as far I know.

 

 

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It’s hard to keep track of perpetual man-in-motion, Hugh Gallagher. Where is he now? Who is he now? We know he is no longer Von Von Von the entertainer from Antwerp who once nailed his Apollo Theatre appearance. He’s no longer True Player the author of Hugh’s previous book, Yo Ching – Ancient Knowledge for Streets Today. Is he still writing ad copy for Nike and Adidas or have his fortunes turned south like much of the rest of world and he now has to smile while talking to executives from Converse and Underarmour? The horror.

I have no idea if Hugh is in Barcelona, Spain or back in Portland, Oregon. The former teenage viral sensation author of the College Application Essay was also a Bangkok keyboard-expat for a good long spell. All I know is, Hugh is worth trying to keep track of and his latest book is worth reading during these novel cornonavirus and riotous times.

Hugh, of course, is best known for his interview which ran in my second book, DIFFERENT DRUMMERS – BANGKOK BEAT REDUX, which you can read later on at this link: Writer and Showman Rolls the Dice. Hugh has also written other stuff under other names, if you are interested in gleaning the net for it. Hugh Gallagher has more distinct personalities than Sybil did in the 1970s. What else can you expect from a branding specialist who I hold personally responsible for me never buying a single item of anything bearing the name or colors of Tommy Hilfiger. Just Say No to Tommy Hilfiger, I say.

Presently, (and isn’t that the time that really matters?) Hugh has a new novel out called Chicken 65, originally published under, Hugh O’Neil but now changed to Hugh O’Neil Gallagher. I have taken the opportunity to post my review of that book below in the hopes of generating enough traffic to sell a book or two of my own. Hey, we are all self-interested in the long run. Enjoy!

Learn Things Only Grasped at High Speeds in Chicken 65

Hugh Gallagher was once a traditionally published novelist with a dust jacket blurb from Gore Vidal. Hugh now writes purely for the fame, fortune, and the chicks that come with being a writer today. His audience is mostly people who have never heard of Gore Vidal. They are not missing much but you will be if you don’t check out this plucky road-race journey in a car named Pablo Cruise, a road-race which dates back to the Vietnam War.

In Chicken 65 Gallagher has written a book about life, death, and all the fun and dangerous stuff that happens in-between. There is plenty of Thailand with its Land of Smiles qualities as well as other groovy parts of Southeast Asia, contrasted nicely with work-life in the Pacific Northwest or as I like to call it, the Land of Microagressions.

The narrative is a transformative one, which the author shares skillfully with his readers. For me the book is about following your curiosity with all the risks and rewards that come from doing that. Upon finishing Chicken 65 in three sittings, the Jefferson Airplane song, White Rabbit was buzzing in my head. Coincidence? No. The White Rabbit and the Chicken in Chicken 65 are brethren or maybe sistren for some Portland folks but they are definitely in the same family of curiosity. There is indeed a Lewis Carroll THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS quality to the novel, complete with equally memorable characters. The protagonist is solidly single Rich Archer on the tail end of his tail-hunting time in Thailand. Chicken 65 is a chaotic fantastical diversion from the chaotic reality of life in 2020.

The story has a Cannoball Run meets Boogie Nights quality to it. If Mark Wahlberg were not pushing 50 I’d cast him in the film version of Chicken 65 but there is probably an unknown to me Generation Y star in Hollywood that would better fit the bill. There is plenty of autobiographical material from the author’s five-year stint living and working in Thailand and I was initially apprehensive about that, but the story arc transforms at warp speed and concludes wisely.

The author is a borderline A-list writer without, so far, all that cumbersome A-list income. The question I have for Hugh O’Neil Gallagher is, why are you still writing novels and not screenplays? Chicken 65 will be a fun read for those who have taken the road less traveled, people who are stuck WFH nowadays or people who just like to text WTF a lot. A hilarious and lengthy Asian journey with no shortcuts taken by the author. Don’t wait for the movie – buy the book today and find your place in the sun along the way. Five Stars.

 

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Author Stu Lloyd

Stu Lloyd has all the moxie one would expect from someone with his background in the advertising industry. Stu is businesslike, candid, and a collaborative guy with a good sense of humor. I have crossed paths with him one time only at a Checkinn99 incarnation on Sukhumvit Soi 11 a few years ago. Until this week, for reasons logical and illogical, I had never read anything by Stu other than his Hotheads blog, which I regularly enjoy and recommend.

In Bamboozled – – The Lighter Side of Expat Life in Asia, Stu Lloyd reminds me of Mark Twain with frequent displays of wit and wisdom in his assorted tidbit tales, right down to the cover of Bamboozled, which is a perfect rendition of Tom Sawyer persuading the neighbor kid to trade him an apple in exchange for the opportunity of painting a fence. Being bamboozled has a long and glorious history in Asia and elsewhere. It ain’t going anywhere anytime soon from what I can tell, so you might as well enjoy hearing about the tricks and treats from Stu and hopefully strengthen your immune system in the process.

Bamboozled by Stu Lloyd

Bamboozled had me before I even got to Chapter One, with the dedication quotes: “May you live in interesting times.” – Confucious and “Say yes and you’ll figure it out afterwards.” – Tina Fey. Stu Lloyd goes through life much as he does when he takes a one-thousand plus kilometre motorcycle-ride on a Royal Enfield Interceptor in Australia – it’s all about the adventure for him. While Stu knows he will probably swallow an insect or two along the way, he’s more focused on where the best meat pies can be found.

Bamboozled is chock-a-block full of meaty morsels. The appearance of insects that try and ruin Stu’s day (or his house guest) on any given day are quickly repelled and transformed into a funny story or better yet a moral to be learned. Some people are said not to suffer fools gladly. Stu views his fools not with disdain but as straw handed to him willingly to be woven into gold. Whether he’s visiting a friend in a condominium and needs to get by the security guard or is being pushed through a Chinese airport in a wheelchair, Stu finds a way to entertain himself and the reader on every page.

Uniquely, the longest and perhaps most enjoyable story among the many shorts by Stu and other contributors may be the Forward where we get to learn who Stu is and, more importantly, hear his distinctive voice. You can hear it clearly and sometimes even see the twinkle in his eyes. The goal of the author seems clear to me, he wants you to enjoy the stories in Bamboozled as much as he did when he lived or learned of them. Mission accomplished.

The contents of Bamboozled deal with many typical situations that any short-time or long-time expat will recognize: language problems and miscommunications; airports and flying stories; corruption, bribery, and conmen; and immigration, customs and other officialdom, to name just a few. The best compliment I can give to an author is that a read of a first book leads me to purchase another. Done. So let me give Stu a second compliment: thank-you for writing Bamboozled – The Lighter Side of Expat Living in Asia: It’s the perfect whimsical read for these imperfect and serious times.

Stu Lloyd does what every good storyteller does, he tells good stories. It’s a lot harder than it sounds.

Click HERE to view Bamboozed on Amazon.

Click HERE to go to Stu Lloyd’s Facebook Page

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DANCE ME TO THE END OF TIME

Christopher G. Moore gives his readers advance notice that the Vincent Calvino Novel #17 will be the last in the series about Calvino’s world, which began with Spirit House in 1992. Moore chose to set the series finale after the Great Upheaval in a climate changed Bangkok where water is on everybody’s mind. A risky move by Moore but one that pays off like a bell-ringing tourist straight out of Heathrow. As the female mega-cyber-celebrity character, Emily, says, “The worst thing anyone can say at your funeral is that you played it safe. Fuck that.” Moore is a lifelong adventurer and a cultural-detective; he takes his readers along with him on Vinny’s last wild paper case.

Early on in DANCE ME TO THE END OF TIME a metaphor is given about an aging-runner. It makes the reader think about what you might prefer not to think about, but are wiser for doing so. Moore keeps up this rabbit’s pace throughout the 321 page tale told, uncharacteristically, in the first person by our man in Bangkok, Vinny, the former disbarred lawyer from New York City. It’s a Bangkok where age 50 is the new 23 but that’s not all it’s cracked up to be. There’s a lot going on in this classic-noir investigation, which includes a perfect balance of Old School past and a super-technology laden future. The people’s lives in the City of Angels are not-so-balanced. Bangkok has changed – why wouldn’t it? It has Big Ben – the original, not a knockoff, a gigantic ferris-wheel (protected by a sea-wall) that dwarf’s London’s to placate everyone, a Chinese run AI named Henrietta with a sense of humor, ostensibly running the show, and countless displaced climate refugees living in Lumpini Park, among other places, where there aren’t any sinkholes.

Survival of the bittest comes into play when a Chinese scientist, Dr Wen, working on genetically modified mosquitoes is murdered the old fashioned way – with an AK-47. Vinny, meanwhile, has been retained, as he often is, to find someone not particularly looking to be found. Colonel Pratt and Ratana are along for a dangerous ferris-wheel ride that creates a false messiah figure and many deaths. Cranky McPhail is smoking spliffs for the faithful and we’re just getting started.

It was Charlie Chaplin who said, “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.” Never have I laughed-out-loud so often during the reading of a Vincent Calvino Crime novel as I have during DANCE ME TO THE END OF TIME. That may be because I did not have the courage to zoom-in on the various tragedies unfolding in front of my eyes. It may also be that Moore has surrendered to the absurdities of life on this planet rather than bank on being an agent for idealistic change. As he writes in Vinny’s voice on page one, “I’d finished with the drama of tilting at windmills.”

Los Angeles had the Bloods vs the Crips and Bangkok in the future does them one better with the Smarts vs the Religious Guilds – by far one of my favorite parts of the book. And speaking of smart, what a smart novel Christopher G. Moore has crafted in DANCE ME TO THE END OF TIME. It’s not preachy smart; it’s not trigonometry smart, although it wont hurt if you are good at the latter. No, it’s common sense smart; it’s 2+2+2+2=8 smart; it’s funny smart. It’s ecologically smart; it’s scientifically smart. Even the gentle digs at the USA are smartly deserved.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include Vinny’s love interest, Aom, the leader of the always needed Resistance. Vinny is still Vinny and Moore stays in smart form by sticking with a fade to black scene rather than vie for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award. Go, Vinny, go, but behind closed doors it is. Good call in 2020 or 1992.

DANCE ME TO THE END OF TIME dishes out justice artfully and against all odds, fairly, in the long run. Given the circumstances, a surprisingly satisfying ending to a memorable and historic crime series. The crime of the century is administered punishment after all. Who’d have thunk it? Who will inherit this earth anyway? Read DANCE ME TO THE END OF TIME and find out.

Do I have any quibbles with the book? I do not, but I’ll throw some out there for those who will. I didn’t get every literary reference. I also didn’t care. There were a few words I didn’t know the definitions to. I didn’t stop to look them up. I am not a huge science-fiction fan. I stopped reading The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi at page 90. I was worried I might not like Calvino #17 before I turned the cover. I got it wrong.

There is another elephant in the room as I do my last book review of a Vincent Calvino Crime Novel. Will I miss Vinny and the gang? I say, no. You can only miss the dead. I’ll continue to use Vincent Calvino the same way I always have, since I first read Comfort Zone in 2001, as a cultural compass and a diving-board to spring into the mysterious future.

Thanks for all the rides, Vincent.

Christopher G. Moore will be at the book launch for DANCE ME TO THE END OF TIME Saturday, February 1, 2020 at the Bangkok Edge Festival

Click here for more info on Bangkok Edge

Order DANCE ME TO THE END OF TIME AT AMAZON HERE 

Follow Christopher’s Blog HERE

 

 

 

 

 

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