Just realized there was not a single picture of naked male flesh anywhere on my homepage. This should rectify that error. Nicely.
Just realized there was not a single picture of naked male flesh anywhere on my homepage. This should rectify that error. Nicely.
As the years pass I try to avoid becoming yet another grumpy old codger, complaining about the state of the world and telling one and all – or anyone who will listen – how much better things used to be. So I try to give today’s youth a break instead of shaking my head at their collective stupidity, lack of brains, and poor taste in music. We were all young once. And we all made mistakes. Some of us learned. Some of us continue to be as ignorant as we were at sixteen. And some of us still try to date eighteen-year-olds. But a rant about the kids of today, or about grumpy old farang, is not the purpose of today’s post. Instead I’ll share with you what I’ve always thought is a cute story about a friend of mine in Hawaii.
My buddy and running partner Dave, who you’ve met on these pages before, married a local girl in Hawaii, Kim. Who came complete with a ready made family. Which was cool by Dave since he got to avoid the joys of diaper changing. And the kids, his new family, had all reached puberty too, so he also got to avoid that whole mine field. But they were all still young enough they needed parental guidance, wise advise from an elder to help them learn how to deal with what the world might throw their way.
Growing up in the islands doesn’t exactly prepare you for the world beyond Hawaii’s shores. No problemo if you will live your life on Gilligan’s Island, there’s a built in fail safe community of friends and relatives. You need not master even the most basic of life skills, or even bother to learn simple English. Neither is required for a happy life in Hawaii. And that’s okay. A life spent in paradise is nothing to complain about. But if you want the opportunity of success outside of the Aloha State, a basic knowledge of how the world works is required. At the very least.
Dave took to his fathering duties with a passion. And he wanted his kids to have a chance at succeeding at whatever they desired to do in their lives. Having not had a father during their formative years, it was an up-hill battle. But he did his best, taking any and every opportunity to school them in the game of life. Kimo, the oldest boy, was a senior in high school. Good at athletics, popular with the girls, like a lot of local kids he spent most of his time at the beach waiting for the perfect wave. Off the beach, he had the intelligence level of a jellyfish. He may have mastered the difference between a green light and a red one, but that was about the extent of his knowledge of anything that did not have to do with the ocean.
Teenage guys have yet to perfect their sense of style, an accomplishment many guys never manage to master. That’s why so many straight guys are dressed by their wife. In Hawaii, kids live their lives in a pair of shorts. Occasionally a shirt gets thrown on if attending a dress-up affair. In Hawaii, it is quite possible to reach your senior year in high school having never even worn a pair of shoes. Kimo’s senior prom was coming up, he needed a tux, and Dave decided he’d help him and at the same time teach him how to go about choosing and renting one.
The selection process was going along fairly well. Just a minor glitch over Kimo not having brought a pair of socks along to try on shoes. But then being Hawaii, that wasn’t an uncommon obstacle and the tux rental store owner smoothed things over with a loaner pair. Being a teenager, Kimo kept trying on suits of various pastel colors. Dave, to his credit, let the kid exhaust his choice of blues and oranges before suggesting a rather boring black number. And then surpassed the efforts of most parents by getting Kimo to agree he looked a whole lot of a hell hotter in a classic tux than in the chartreuse one he’d been eyeballing. Senior Prom is a big thing in a kid’s life. Why parents allow their child to pick out an outfit that will cause years of embarrassment over their senior prom picture is beyond me. But maybe those years of embarrassment are a payback, so maybe that lack of direction makes sense. Not having kids I often forget one of the joys of parenthood is the psychological scars you can inflict on your offspring over the years.
After being measured for size and picking out a bit of bling to jazz up and personalize the staid tux, the store owner passed over the tux rental form for Dave to complete. That would have been the easy option, but Dave wanted Kimo to learn so he handed the form and a pen to the kid and let him take a stab at it. When Kimo finished filling it out he handed it back to Dave to check:
Yup, first, last, legible. Good job. So far, so good, and Dave was happy.
Numbers and letters, always a tricky combo, but again the kid did good.
Wow! Cell and home numbers without being asked; damn this kid’s on fire!
Well, ‘Senior Prom’ was a bit generic, but this was Hawaii, from the zip code alone they’d know which school it was. So thumbs up again.
Lol. And he’d been doing so good! But ya know, there was some logic at work there. Dave corrected Kimo’s error and immediately began spreading what has always been one of my favorite stories. Kimo had a great time at his prom, I’m sure Leilani did too. I still see Dave and his family a few times each year. And whenever I see Kimo, I ask him for the date. And he always flips me off. How to handle a smart ass is something you learn at an early age, even in Hawaii.
No, no, this tale isn’t about a visit to Soi Cowboy. Different kind of fish, but the ewww! factor is just about the same. The first time I heard about doctor fish, I assumed it had something to do with gynecologists. Eh, okay, so occasionally I’m wrong. The first time I saw one of those ‘fish spa’ tanks along Suriwong Road, I wasn’t too impressed. Worthy of a momentary pause to take a look and wonder about the future of my species, the idea of sitting streetside with your feet in a slightly oversized fish tank while little swimming creatures nibbled away didn’t cause me to jump up and down screaming, “Me next!” But when you are travelling with friends on their first visit to a SE Asian country, it’s not difficult to convince them to try new things. Even if it involves flesh eating fish.
On our stroll through the streets of Patpong one night, my friends and I stumbled past several fish spas which were quickly becoming all the rage. At least all the rage for Thais trying to make a quick buck off of touri. None were doing blockbuster business; few ever seemed to have a customer. Meanwhile, traditional massage shops offering the ever popular happy ending always had customers cuming and going.
Part of their lack of appeal was the ambiance. The idea of a spa treatment stirs visions of serenity, pampering, and indulgence. Sitting a foot away from sex touri on the prowl with your pant legs rolled up and feet steeping in the murky water of a fish tank smaller than that friends have in their homes does not have much of an allure. Visiting the rooftop bar at Lebuha, there was a larger and more refined fish spa in the lobby. But the spa part was hidden away so there was no way to tell if it was just another large fish tank, and dressed to the nines for a red carpet moment descending the staircase under the dome didn’t really suggest a stop off for foot soaking. That’s more of a Khaosan Road type of experience. And so it was.
I spend time on Khaosan Road every trip I make to Bangkok. For business. Which would not make any sense, if this wasn’t Thailand. The premiere backpacker haunt in Bangkok, Khaosan is filled with the scum of society, both local and foreigner. Overpriced Thai food restaurants offering badly prepared food with rickety tables spilling out and taking over the sidewalks compete for space with the most aggressive strolling merchants in the country and hordes of the type of people you try to avoid back home. So it’s a great spot to visit for color and the flavor of a non-Thai version of Thailand. The first time I took my friend Noom there he was stupefied. Thai bar boys do not tend to hang out in Khaosan. He thought he knew what crazy farang were but his definition took on a whole new meaning thanks to the habituates of Khaosan Road. For a change of pace, the backpacker ghetto seemed a perfect place to take my first-time visitors from the U.S.
The nice thing about being a group’s official photographer is that you get to take a pass on things you don’t really care to do using your photographic duties as an excuse. That works especially well when everyone else in your party is obsessed with themselves. Dee, one of a pair of lesbians along for the trip is a cutey. Dee’s smile just makes any picture that much better. The other dyke, Helena, is not as photogenic, but makes great face. So she’d been proving herself the champ for reaction shots throughout the trip. Chris, with lesbian tendencies of his own, managed to always look gay in any shot. Bless his little heart. But he was in love with himself enough that it didn’t matter. Noom was along for the day too. He showed a bit more decorum that the rest of the gang and it was enjoyable watching him watch the others trying to figure out what made these crazy farang tick.
After we’d strolled the length of Khaosan, we ran across a large open-air fish spa with several large wading pool sized tanks that looked like a lot of fun. I thought, “Oh, photo op!” The gang though, “Oh shit, now what is he going to make us do?” They know me well.
Besides location, this fish spa was different. As in all things, size matters. And this place was huge. It had two pools (younger fish that nibbled in one, older fish that bit in the other). Both could comfortably handle a good ten spa aficionados at a time. Plus, knowing their customer base well, their’s was a party experience instead of a spa outing. Rock music blaring, the opportunity to order and suck up a few beers while being eaten alive by the fish added to the party-like atmosphere. The walls were filled with graffiti; you were encouraged to add your own words of wit about your experience. I bartered with the girl running the place; she wasn’t about to lower her price but finally agreed to extend the amount of time for soaking knowing it never hurts to have a gaggle of people having a good time on display for potential customers walking by. The trick to getting people you are travelling with to do things they really do not want to do, and which you have no intention of doing, is to pay for their experience. After I’d handed over a wad of baht, it was difficult for them to say no. Any hesitation on their part was quickly allayed when the girl asked for drink orders.
The business made a small attempt at hygienic care, spritzing down your feet with water before you were allowed to dunk them into the pool. The fish knew their job and immediately headed for any flesh entering their world. In the front pool, the fish were young, curious, and had tiny little teeth. The result was more of being tickled than bitten. Even then there was lots of screaming until everyone told Chris to knock it off. Noom, ever the gentleman, let the three girls go first, carefully watching their reaction and carefully eyeballing the fish. My boy’s no dummy. Since it seemed safe, he finally dropped his feet into the pool too and immediately became the focus of attention; the fish had excellent taste and appeared to be particularly fond of Thai food. Helena is never happy to have someone rain on her parade and wasn’t pleased that the fish that had been swarming around her feet headed over for a meet and eat with Noom. So she decided to advance to the adult fish pool and reclaim her crown.
The second pool with the larger fish was a different experience and the little tickling turned into being chomped on. That became obvious from Helena’s screams (the gang’s response confused at first, because naturally everyone looked at Chris when the screaming began). The idea behind the fish spa is a therapeutic one; the fish are supposed to nibble away the dead skin off your feet. The adult fish confused ‘nibble’ with ‘tear away large chunks of flesh’. Helena, who had been trying to regain the proper amount of attention she deserved, all of a sudden was more than willing to share the wealth, encouraging everyone to switch over to the adult pool so the little fishies had fresh blood to spill.
A few beers and your feet being attended to by piranha, the natural response of a group of entrepreneurs is to channel the Thai within and start discussing the millions they’d soon be making back home offering the fish spa party experience on the county fair circuit. The ideas came fast and furious and a business name was picked; Sucking Fish!
Throughout the rest of the trip, anytime there was a lull in conversation, the Sucking Fish biz got discussed again. Seriously. When we all got home we began major investigation into the idea but were quickly brought up short over the little details: what to do with the critters between fair dates, how to dispose of them when they got too big, or just died, what besides human flesh they’d need to survive, etc. The projected gross still looked good, but the net continued to dwindle until we dropped the idea completely. And a good thing because many states have banned fish spa operations due to health concerns. But in Thailand, hygienics are never allowed to take precedence over profits.
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The amount of gold on display at almost any wat in Thailand is mind-blowing. Lamphun’s Wat Phra That Hariphunchai’s humongous umbrella made of a staggering $323,000 worth of gold alone is a jaw-dropping sight. Add in all of the gold leaf everywhere you look and the total dollar value at today’s price of gold is enough to feed a small nation. Buddha statues papered with gold leaf are a common sight in Thailand. Sometimes, however, all that gold just isn’t enough. Someone decided this Buddha at Wat Phra That Hariphunchai needed more fabulousness and draped it in gold beaded and lamed cloth. Now that’s a fashion statement!
Reclining Buddha statues are not uncommon in Thailand. The most well known is the one at Wat Pho in Bangkok. That statue and a few others spread around the country of great size get most of the press; when it comes to Buddha statues, size matters. This one at Wat Phra That Hariphunchai in Lamphun, however, was a mere fifty feet long and shoved into a corner by the wat’s parking lot.
Lamphun is a quaint Northern Thailand town about 30 minutes south of Chiang Mai. Not exactly off the beaten path, but then I don’t expect it gets all that many visitors either. The drive from Chiang Mai along old Highway 106 is a destination in itself with much of the road to Lamphun lined with lofty hundred foot tall yang-na trees decorated with saffron colored sashes. The town itself, founded six centuries before Chiang Mai and about 1000 years before Bangkok became the capital of Thailand, is probably what Chiang Mai looked liked twenty years ago.
Out of all the times I’d been to Chiang Mai, I’d never heard of Lamphun. Most touri have not. There’s more than enough in and around Chiang Mai to keep your days full. And since most of those activities involve an admission fee – and a kick back to whoever delivered you there – the relatively cheap trip to Lamphun doesn’t get a lot of play. Though it should. On my first visit I only was able to spend time at two and a half wats in Lamphun. I’m looking forward to returning and spending a good deal more time on my next visit.
My initial visit was thanks to a hungry private car driver trolling for a fare who’d accosted me one late morning while I was sipping coffee at the Starbucks on Chan Klan Road in downtown Chiang Mai. I’d challenged him to come up with a place to visit that’d I’d not been to before, and after running through the usual touri activities he’d hit upon the road to Lamphun and was rewarded with a fare for the day. With no advance plans of visiting the town I hadn’t a clue as to what to see or do. It was all in my driver, Mr. Ot’s, hands.
The ride out to see the trees was the initial focus of our journey, the wats an add-on since we were already there. Neither Mr. Ot’s English nor my Thai was good enough to identify the wats I visited; I had to rely on Google after the trip was over and I was back in my hotel room. The first wat we visited turned out to be quite famous and is considered to be one of the most revered pilgrimage sites in the entire country. The second, in the majority of on-line references by touri, was incorrectly identified as it’s more well-known brother. Or just plain misidentified. I don’t think Lamphun has a Tourist Board. If they do, then somebody’s brother or cousin is making a good salary for doing absolutely no work. Not a big surprise in Thailand.
Since my trip I’ve discovered there actually is quite a lot to do and see in Lamphun and the surrounding area. For my first visit, though, the wats were enough. And worth the trip on their own. Like Chiang Mai, Lamphun has a series of brick-lined moats filled with lotus blossoming in the muck running through it (or maybe that’s around it) and we followed along the banks of one, down a small shady street to Wat Phra That Hariphunchai, Lamphun’s most famous wat.
The wat’s small parking lot was bustling with activity, lots of locals running about, a few floats still in the process of being decorated for a parade in town that night, and the detritus of a motorcade accompanied by numerous military vehicles filled the tiny area but managed to maintain a clear path to the ticket booth where anyone who is not Thai pays a 20 baht admission fee. From the look of the crowd inside, the wat’s monks were going to have a difficult time deciding on how best to spend the 20 baht haul they’d made that day; the only white face to be seen was mine.
Built in the 1100s, Wat Phra That Hariphunchai’s wiharn is front and center after passing through its brick arch entrance gate flanked by a pair of large stone guardian lions. On my visit, a military delegation had come calling to pay respect to the wat and it’s head monk. Like with armies the world over, those of rank no longer looked capable of making it through boot camp, but the platoon of young aides scurrying about were all little hotties and looked adorable in their gleaming white uniforms. Thais seem to have a fondness for uniforms. I’m sure they think they look quite impressive decked out in military gear. I doubt they realize how cute they look, all lined up like little toy soldiers.
A humongous bronze gong, believed to be the largest in the world, sits in a place of honor centered in the paved courtyard running along the right side of the wiharn. Behind the, temple the wat’s magnificent gold chedi, which contains a hair of the Lord Buddha, glistens in the afternoon sun competing for attention with a massive nine tiered umbrella made of gold that weighs in at almost 6500 grams reminiscent of the one at Doi Suthep, the popular hill top wat in Chiang Mai which was modelled on Lamphun’s Wat Phra That Hariphunchai.
Further back are a series of smaller temples and chedis, one a crumbling brick worked edifice that must date back to the wat’s origin. A small temple nestled alongside a grassy square is chock full of Buddha statues, leaving but a small area at its entrance for visitors to gawk and worshipers to pray. The Buddha statues inside are made of a variety of materials, some quite ancient, others of a more familiar style and look to frequent visitors to Thailand’s wats. One, sitting next to a window to take advantage of the sun’s rays, was made of a translucent emerald green material, possibly glass, more likely some form of plastic. I’d not previously seen a Buddha made of this substance and it glowed from within setting off the statue’s jeweled adorned headdress.
Outside a gaggle of novice monks gathered to
play with their cell phones show reverence to their religion’s god, while a lone vendor lackadaisically selling caged birds to set free huddled in the shade of the wat’s teak wood library that houses palm-leaf manuscripts from the Pali period. Scattered throughout the wat are numerous small statutes of roosters, Wat Phra That Hariphunchai being the designated Temple for people born under that sign to make a pilgrimage to.
The wat was a great find, an unexpected treasure thanks to Mr. Ot’s campaign to make a buck. After spending more than an hour touring inside I went back out to the parking lot to find my ride, temporarily waylaid by a 50 foot long reclining Buddha statue that seemed to be built as an after thought, being located outside the wat’s compound and buried alongside its parking lot.
Seeing that he’d done well in taking me to Wat Phra That Hariphunchai, Mr. Ot decided we needed to visit one more wat before calling it a day and we headed through Lamphun’s bustling streets to Wat Chamthewi or Wat Ku Kut, or Wat Whatchyamacallit as I dubbed the temple since there seems to be so much confusion over its name.
A smaller, and much more sleepy temple, Wat Chamthewi, dating back to the late 1200s, is located on the outskirts of town. While its temple is quite magnificent, its true claim to fame is the ancient square pagoda containing the ashes of Queen Chamathewi, who ruled the province during the late 9th century. Seventy feet tall,, the Mon styled chedi reaches skyward with five levels of arches comprising little chedis in the corners and a total of sixty Buddha statues, each in the position of giving out blessings.
The second most important temple in the province, Wat Chamthewi’s chedi’s spire was destroyed in a lighting strike, hence its more common name, Wat Ku Kut, or the Pagoda without top. Inside the temple, lines of massive columns adorned in gold leaf and blue glass tiles that echo the temple’s exterior upper facade stretch the length of the building. At the base of many of the pillars, small Buddha statues sit, several made of the same translucent green material I’d first encountered at Wat Phra That Hariphunchai earlier in the day. This time around, the luminescent green Buddhas were joined by several shimmering in a buttery gold color. I was quite fascinated by these images, it took very little light to bring out their beauty, which adds such a godlike reverence to the Buddha I’m surprised I haven’t run across more statues built like these in Thailand.
The half a wat we visited was more a statue situated next to one of the town’s main roads. And the visit was more of a quick pull over to the curb before zooming off again. I guess the stop was mostly Mr. Ot making sure I’d felt I got my money’s worth. It wasn’t the statue of Queen Chamathewi that I found mentioned on the internet, and really wasn’t even worth pulling over to the curb for.
Leaving town we passed a few more small temples and a few more floats being readied for the parade. I asked Mr. Ot about the festivities but he didn’t have a clue, or possibly did but did not want to take a chance that I’d make him spend an additional few hours waiting for the celebration to begin.
If you’ve visited Chiang Mai enough times to have seen the majority of the wats there and are looking for a daytime outing, consider a trip out to Lamphun. You’ll enjoy the ride and if enough visitors make it a stop on their holiday the brother or cousin of somebody in power who is responsible for tourism in Lamphun might get a raise.
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In my recently posted tale of The Thai TSA And Your Junk, I recounted my friend Dee’s experience during a luggage inspection at Suvarnabhumi Airport and her panic that her dildo, disguised as a toothbrush, might be questioned. It didn’t. She got off lucky and suffered no embarrassment. Then I ran across this bit of news about a gay couple returning from a holiday in Costa Rica who were not so lucky.
After flying back into the country from their Central American holiday, the duo changed planes at Houston Intercontinental Airport, checking in two bags with United/Continental for their flight home. When they arrived at their home airport, they were in for a surprise. One of the pair recounts their experience as part of a complaint he sent to management at United/Continental:
“After arriving at our home airport while waiting around the baggage carousel, my partner kept looking for our last bag to come out. Then, a bag did in-fact emerge that had a similar appearance to ours; however, it appeared to be wrapped sporadically with CLEAR plastic tape bearing the logo “Continental” and seemed strangely malformed. As it got closer and much to his surprise…and moreover, his HORROR, he saw a sex toy we had packed, had been removed from the middle of the bag and taped right on top of the bag for everyone to see. SO EMBARRASSED, ABSOLUTELY MORTIFIED…just knowing that everyone in sight had already seen it and after looking at their faces that depicted disbelief, some were snickering, others completely astonished, and of course, disgust was ubiquitous. . . . .”
(Quick note to gay guys: Overuse of caps, italics, and bold font attributes makes your writing sound gay. It’s too easy to read a screeching campy queen into what you write. You may want to tone it down. Especially when you are attempting to stir up your readers’ indignation.)
The reporter posting this news item went on to explain that the bag had been deliberately sabotaged, noting that the zippers on the bag continued to be fully functional and the bag could be securely sealed without any difficulty. He also reported that some type of lubricant was smeared on the dildo in order to insinuate that it had just been used.
The passenger finished his tale:
“He grabbed our bag . . . . then began quickly striding for the exit while clenching the bag towards his chest, struggling to conceal the open end of the bag while in total discomfiture and despair.”
I’ve no doubt the gay couple was embarrassed by the totally inappropriate damage to their bag. And the totally inappropriate handling of their dildo. I’d like to be equally outraged on their behalf, the obvious intention of the journalist breaking this story. But then I have to question just how embarrassed someone who bought, owned, and felt the need to travel with an 18’ long neon purple dildo would really be. But I do award them extra points for using the word ‘discomfiture’ in a sentence.
The article reported that the couple had sent a written complaint to the airline, who responded two days late, the couple having given the airline ten days to respond within. Using words and phrases like ‘intentional infliction of emotional distress’, ‘discrimination’, ‘invasion of privacy’ and demanding a fixed period of time to respond within screams, “I’m gonna sue!” That the airline replied with a note saying nothing more than “they’d look into it” is not surprising. There’s a big difference between a complaint and a grab for cash.
(‘Nother quick note: If you plan on filing a lawsuit, get an attorney involved from the get go. Your initial correspondence will become part of the legal record. Misuse of legal jargon and citing inapplicable laws does not help your case; it just pisses the judge off.)
This could serve as a warning about the dangers of traveling with your favorite sex toy. The more important message is that you need to remember that your checked bags are searched and that, obviously, there is not the degree of supervision of the inspectors that there should be. You may want to remember this when packing valuables like computers, camera equipment, jewelry, and of course, supersized neon purple dildos.
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