Expat@Large

Exotic Customs

Posted in airport, APEC, immigration queues, travel trouble by expatatlarge on October 2, 2011

Travel. Pain in the arse, right?

E@L is talking travel for work, obviously. Those of us with crucial international roles, though not crucial enough or international enough to interest the APEC people, no longer are enthralled by technically exotic locations and the perceived luxury of our accommodation and decidedly nonplussed by the process of check-in, security, immigration, crap food in airlines lounges, lay-overs, airports in general…

That movie where Tom Hanks was trapped in an airport for years in a bureaucratic jumble, man, fuck, E@L’s worst nightmare…

Get me to the taxi, to the hotel, to the hospital (whichever one in whichever country E@L is visiting that day), back to the hotel, back into the taxi, back to the airport and back home where I can scratch where it itches, says E@L.

Each step of getting through the airport is fraught with the possibility of annoying delays and hassles. It’s amazing that E@L hasn’t blogged about it so much more (he has, but couldn’t be fucked cross-referencing).

~~~~~~~~~

First you have to manage the check-in.

Sometimes E@L has to fly on airline that not part of the Star Alliance group (amazing but true) and is limited in his carry-on allowance. Problems and hassles.

Once, traveling QANTAS, he knew that his bags were on the check-in allowance cusp so he compressed some of the heavier paraphernalia into his carry-on bag. After coming through the check-in clean, he was about to line up for the immigration queue when an official airline looking person asked him to place his carry-on on a scale. Not an official looking set of scales at all, but one of those rusted and talcum-powder coated things you’d have in your own bathroom. The disc of numbers spun around inside the chipped glass and its oscillations diminished until it reached a halt. Shit. Overloaded. 11kgs instead of “no more than 7kg”.

It was that motherfucking Compaq brick work computer that weighed about 7kgs on its own that caught him, not all the books (quite weighty tomes they were) he had in there.

“You have exceeded your carry on weight allowance sir,” said the official

“But it’s not that heavy really.”

“It’s too heavy for the overhead lockers, sir. There was a situation recently sir, on a Singapore Airlines flight, where a person suffered an injured neck from a heavy item that fell. We have to enforce this now. All airlines do.”

Bullshit, E@L thought. He had just flown Singapore only a few days earlier and they were actively encouraging people to overload the lockers with suitcases larger, and presumably heavier, by far than the bags E@L had responsibly checked in. No-one seemed concerned about the integrity of E@L’s cervical spine on that occasion.

Sigh, He had to go back out, buy another small bag and check it in with most of his book purchases, leaving only his laptop to bring on.

Annoying. Just let me get onto the plane, I want to get out of this temporal, spatial and political no man’s land, says E@L.

~~~~~~~~~

While he was checking in this second bag, the pretty young lady at the counter next to him was having equivalent issues. However, unlike E@L, she had a newborn baby in a pale cotton cloth papoose strung across her tummy. She was traveling alone, well, with her baby.

The QANTAS woman at the counter had rejected her luggage because one of her suitcases was over the limit, even though her second suitcase wasn’t. In fact, from what E@L could gather, the overall limit had not been reached. So this lady, with a crying baby strapped to her chest, had to step aside, bend over to open the bags in public and rearrange her clothing and her baby things from the heavy bag into a second lighter bag.

What is with you people? Give the struggling woman a break. Get away her, you bitch. It’s only a technical foul after all. E@L reduced his own sense of affront after this watching this embarrassing debacle.

~~~~~~~~~

But checkin is nothing compared to the immigration queue,

Not only is it also getting between E@L and his hotel bed or his bed at home but his happiness factor drops to unmeasurable when significant periods of time are spent in line. Why for example does it take one immigration guy in Thailand 2 minutes 20 seconds to process each person (E@L had been at the sticky end of a 20 person queue and was able to measure and average this guy’s processing time over quite a large sample) while the next counter is putting each one through in a giddying 90 seconds (and smiling at everyone as well?)

You’ve got to pick your queue. How many Chinese mainlanders (aka foreign talent)? How many Filipino guest workers? How many with melatonin rich dermis? (I’m not saying that E@L is racist, I am saying that the immigration people are. Are cautious, I mean.) How many kids? How many sporting groups or Greek families are bunched together so that the queue appears shorter but is actually three to four people wide? Ah, but are there any queues feeding two counters? This can be a winner in Bangkok, you live for those days, the double speed queue. It’s the small victories.

You have only a second or two to make a decision as the plebs economy class passengers are coming up behind you and the lines are going to double fast. So you make a choice. And you live with it. Unless another counter opens up between yours and the next across. Then it’s decision time again. Do you lunge for the new counter, or just sit back and watch the people in front of you disappear. Hey presto you’ve moved up ten places and did bugger all. Laughing.

~~~~~~~~

The Singaporean (? – going on a faintly heard accent) woman at the front of the queue beside E@L’s had two brats kids misbehaving in a mildly meritocratic way, as befits the sibling rivalry of four year old and six year old boys. When she got the counter with kids in close tow, she placed their three passports on the bench. But the immigration officer, a gruff, older, misanthropic-looking Thai gent, held up his left hand. “Only one at a time!”

The woman was disoriented for a few seconds, not sure of what she had just heard. “One at a time!” he repeated.

So she pushed the kids back from the counter and took their passports down. The officer processed (2m20s) her passport only. He then waved her through. While she had realized that this wasn’t going to work and had awkwardly tried to come back and place on of the small kid’s passport on the bench, the annoyed immigration officer became even more be-grumped. But obviously there was no other way. He took one passport of the children’s reluctantly and processed it without leaning over to look at the child. Mum was forced to stand back, she was no longer legally in Thailand. She was waving her hands trying to indicate to the kids to stay there, back behind the line. The children were like, what the fuck is going on, why mum is over there and we are still over here? The second child, the four year old, was getting frantic as mum waved and whispered loudly to him to stay back, stay back. He vacillated, here, there? But he didn’t cry, one wonders why not.

E@L saw this unfold and was stunned, completely in disbelief at this arsehole immigration idiot. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he didn’t at first realize that the second and third passports were for the children he couldn’t even see. He had not been looking at people at all E@L had noticed. But being a grump and a misanthropist, and not wanting to lose face, he was placed in the unfortunate position of making himself look like a total cunt in front of everyone.

~~~~~~~~

It was only a few days ago that two friends of a friend were headed for the United Stated of Paranoia but were stopped at customs at the Mexico Airport by an hyper-efficient official. OK, in fact the suspected (alleged?) smugglers were former and soon-to-be next Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, and the Defence Minister, Stephen Smith…

Suspicious items? Unbeknownst (great, underutilized word) to them, they had each brought a jar of that venerable Aussie staple, Vegemite, in their bags. Two jars, eh? Drugs? Where’s my cut?

They had some time to spend in the country for various relatively important meetings, and both of them – hey, they are dinkum Australians – both of them liked Vegemite on toast at breakfast.

E@L is reliably informed the discussion on the finer points of this variably enjoyed yeast extract entered into a state in which voices were indeed raised and nasturtiums were cast on both sides, one side feeling that their diplomatic immunity status had been unjustifiably disenfranchised, the other enjoying the power-fueled semi-orgasmic thrill of a sadistic satrap. (cf: “Prison Experiment, The Stanford.”)

Eventually, sense was restored, the honorable gentlemen received their jars back, and the Customs Official person was severely castigated. (Ouch! Mexican justice is harsh!)

You all probably remember when the rumour started going around of the FDA banning Vegemite. The usual reason given is that its relatively high level of folate was of concern. As the article explains, the FDA monitors supplementary folate, but as Vegemite’s B vitamins are natural they are not covered by this ruling. Allegedly. The FDA later denied that any such ban ever existed, and…

“Many news outlets are now classifying the weekend reports of a Vegemite ban as a hoax or an urban legend that began with an overenthusiastic border official possibly confiscating a jar of the spread.” (source)

It is possible that the incident E@L described here may have been the source of the controversy but for a slight discrepancy in the dates and countries. 2011 Mexico and 2006 USA.

~~~~~~~~~~

A member of E@L’s family had been through a certain country which may or may not have been Laos. A Canadian was in the travel group. Everyone’s visa was about $30 USD, with some slight variations across the countries – $25, $32 – but when the Canuck presented her application, the request was for $85 USD. What? Why so much more for a Canadian? What was the special relationship between Canada and Laos?

“Why $85?” she asked.

The immigrations officials looked at each other, mumbled some words and then commenced sniggering, then trying not to, they burst out laughing. They pointed at her and slapped their thighs, crying almost. The first guy then sobered up immediately and with a straight face said, “$85.” (Well that’s how the No1 son tells it.)

In a line of six people, they queued for over 20 minutes (about 3m20secs, no big deal) while an immigration official examined each visitor’s passport meticulously. The routine was, allegedly, something like this: Pretend to look at a page; look up and examine the person’s face suspiciously; turn the page; repeat. Show the passport to a colleague who then does his version of the routine. Look at another colleague’s computer. Call several other officers over to look at the computer. Then at the passport. Point at the computer and say something in an hushed tone. Return and hold up the passport to compare the face with the passport photo. Stamp this, stamp that. Next.

On the way through, they looked back to the other side of counters and saw that the immigration official with the popular computer had been playing Solitaire all the time.

~~~~~~~~

E@L was entering the political paradise, free-speech haven and democratic bastion that was Cambodia in 2000. Handphones were confiscated. Cameras were OK. Tourists were not allow to spend US dollars in the country at that time – heck, there were no tourists at that time – but had to exchange their cold hard for warm soggy Foreign Exchange Certificates (FEC) which were about as attractive to retailers as used toilet paper, had they ever even seen toilet paper, the evidence later discovered was that they probably hadn’t. The exchange rate was horrendous.

“FECs $300 USD.” “MUST EXCHANGE $300 USD.” Signs all over the walls and windows of the immigration area read, “MUST BUY FECs TO VALUE OF $300.” May as well have read, “Must give the Military Junta $300 and shut the fuck up.”

E@L’s colleague went first to the currency exchange counter. E@L could see that he passed some money over and that he took a bound pile of what were presumably FECs in return. As he moved away, towards the entry to Burma, he made a point of walking in a slightly larger arc than necessary so that he could whisper to E@L, “Just change one hundred!”

E@L approached the large window to the exchange counter, most of which was plastered over with those “$300” signs. A tough, scarred, solid armed, short soldier was standing beside the window, holding his AK-47 casually as he chatted to the pretty young lady who, E@L noticed, had whorls of what looked like drying talcum powder on her cheeks. The lady turned to E@L. “How much do you wish to exchange?” she asked in pleasant accent. E@L looked again at the signs – “$300,” “$300.” Everywhere it said “$300.”

“One hundred dollars?” asked E@L in return, softly in a shaky voice.

The lady said, “OK. I give you $90 of FEC. I keep $10, OK? Good for you, good for me.”

“Sure,” said E@L. The soldier with the AK-47 was smiling. There were 15 people still in the line.

~~~~~~~~~

Just take me home, says

E@L

(as in the Bruce series, not all E@L’s observations here were actually made by E@L. In other words some of these stories might not be his, and may not be 100% accurate.)

Advertisements

On The Road Agin’

Posted in travel trouble, work by expatatlarge on July 18, 2011

I had three days in Barcelona. Then I spent some time in Berlin with a friend from Singapore who’s living in Lubeck. Two weeks in Croatia with Izzy et al: Split, Brac, Hvar, Korčula, Dubrovnik (clubbing with Izzy and Vicky, time of my life and no chemicals). That was OK, that was brilliant.

~~~~~~~~~~~

From those heady days in the sun and rain, I came back for two weeks work in Thailand; Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, Bangkok. Stepped off the plane then and turned around for two weeks in Australia: Sydney, Brisbane, Sydney again and back for a day in the Gold Coast.

I’ve just finished(? No i haven’t!) packing for the next trip, five days in Tokyo. After that it’s three days in Bangkok. And after that three weeks in Australia. Followed by another week in Bangkok giving training on a product I won’t have played with except for one of the three days coming up…

I tried to count the Singapore (home) days in this period but I have too many fingers to get a number even close.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Once upon a time I would have been astounded by a schedule like this, and yes, the Europe trip was off the edge of the Holy Scale of Greatness, but this jumping around for work is a pain.

I can’t do any tourist stuff (not that un-jaded enough to really care about that – one more night market and I’ll go… somewhere else) and I am usually left to my own devices.

That is dangerous because I tend to turn my thoughts inwards and get philosophical. OK, I get a bit … I was going to say depressed, but that’s harsh. Things are sad when you are by yourself for a extended periods in the evenings in unfamiliar hotels. You feel sad. Lonely. If it wasn’t for the constant sex it would be depressing.

~~~~~~~~~~~

A boy from little old Geelong going to all these places? Amazing. Sometime I lie by the pool, any pool, anywhere, but preferably and rarely by the pool at my apartment, and smile for no obvious reason, even permit myself a small giggle. This is my expat life, how can I complain?

~~~~~~~~~~

A drive to Melbourne, Colac (mother’s family’s home town) or Ballarat was a big deal when I was kid. When a cousin moved to Queensland, there were hushed debates and whispered discussions at family gatherings (the usual hatches, matches and dispatches). Bit funny, that. Why would you go all the way to Brisbane? Strange man.

btw: Sex for sale in Geelong was to be had at Lorraine Starr’s massage parlour and exclusive (homeless bums usually not permitted) brothel. Several of my cricket team members held gold cards for the place.

~~~~~~~~~~

OK, it’s midnight, enough waffling (to keep myself off Facebook), back to packing as the flight is at 9am. Trying to decide what I’ll forget this time. [My Suica card – Japan rail card with stored credit.]

E@L

A Typical Morning’s Work

Posted in breakfast, Thailand, travel trouble, work by expatatlarge on June 27, 2011

What is it with breakfast?

Take the breakfast buffet as the Pullman in Khon Kaen. There is enough food here for the hungry German participants in a major convention, but there is no major convention. There are about four of us. Huge serves of veggies, salads, meats, soups, cheese, fish (last night’s sushi? no thanks) are lying untouched in bain-maries and on plates all around the place. Who is going to eat all this?

Let E@L think of the mathematical description of this inverted homeopathic situation — How about the ratio of unnecessary food to guests decreases according to the inverse exponential of the number of guests. A graph that slides from a number approaching infinity at the Y-axis (when there are zero guests) in a curve down to the X-axis (Y=0) as the number of guests approaches an appropriate number for the amount of food, and it then goes -Y when there is not enough breakfast. (Tom, am I anywhere near right?)

E@L makes barely a dent in this Siamese Babette’s feast. He has a bowl of muesli, diced fruit and yoghurt, and he dehydrates two pieces of wholemeal bread in the “toaster”. (What? No Vegemite?) The seventeen staff give him a Sawadee as he leaves for his 9am pick-up.

Outside, the poor struggle for 30Bht or so to get a bowl of noodle soup or a som-tam at the roadside stalls (and bloody delicious they are too).

~~~~~~~~~

E@L’s sales guy has a gleaming black Beemer. It looks new, but shows 260,000km on the clock. He drives like Mark Webber in pole position, and E@L is thrown several centimetres into the faux leather seat as we accelerate up the nearly empty main street. This is OK except that the dashboard displays a *CHECK BRAKE FLUID LEVEL* warning in read-me red. E@L points this out.

“Fluid leaking, ABS dual system,” he says.

“Are we able to stop?” E@L asks, somewhere between amused and fearful for his life.

“Yes,” he replies and smiles. E@L wonders about emergency evacuation to Singapore.

That conversation was a lot of English for him. Almost everything E@L says to him is answered with a faux smile and “Yes.” E@L is not saying this as a criticism, as his Thai, despite 13 years of visiting Thailand is a pathetic nit noi, mak.

“I couldn’t get to sleep last night. There is a club somewhere, boom boom boom, music,” complains E@L as a way of making conversation in the dreadfully quiet car.

“Yes.”

“Are there girls there?”

He is silent.

“Girls, ladies, at the club?”

“Club? Ladies, yes,” he says and smiles again.

E@L’s evening is sorted.

~~~~~~~~~

True to form for E@L’s hospital visits to inconveniently distant places, the customer will not be available until tomorrow. “You free morning,” he says. “I pick you afternoon, we go KKU.”

They head back to town, but E@L sees the turn-off to his hotel whiz by.

“Where are we going?” E@L asks.

“Service. Car brake problem.”

“Well, do you really expect me to sit and wait for your brakes to be fixed?”

“Yes,” he says. It that yes, I do want you to wait, or yes, as in I have no idea what you just asked?

“Can’t you take me back to the hotel?”

“You want go hotel?”

E@L nods with an incredulous eyebrow raised.

“OK, I pick you up afternoon.”

“What time?” E@L asks.

“Yes,” he answers.

E@L holds up his watch and tap it. “What time will you pick me up?”

He smiles and nods, he gets it. “Seven,” he says. He corrects himself, “Twenty o’clock.” Then again, “Twelve.”

E@L smiles and pats him on the shoulder. “OK, see you midday.”

“Yes,” he says.

~~~~~~~~~~

E@L has time to write this blog and to charge all of his gadgets. Excellently typical morning on the road in Thailand.

E@L

Breakfast Fail

Posted in breakfast, Mr Grumpy, travel trouble by expatatlarge on May 4, 2010

As one travels the Asian circuit being a jet-setting professional piece of “foreign talent”, one morphs into a grumpy old man quite quickly. Small things which a tourist might not even notice rise the ire of the sensitive business traveller.

And no-one is more grumpy, more sensitive and more foreign than E@L.

Breakfast, especially when E@L’s business discount hotel room does not include a voucher and he must pay for it, is the most important meal of the morning. When he is travelling on a holiday tour, it is of course the most important meal of the late afternoon.

E@L has lost a susbtantial percentage of his body-weight in recent months, not that you’d notice, and not into double figures yet. His method has been a regimen that may be familiar to many of you other fat pigs.

White food is evil. Avoid white foods like rice, noodles, potatoes, white bread and lark’s tongues in vanilla flavored aspic. White foods generally have a high glycaemic index, you see and E@L’s pancreas is on the cusp according to the eminent physician who is taking E@L’s money to maintain his Ferrari.

His (E@L’s, not the windswept Doc’s) typical petit dejuener of choice these days has a core of fresh fruit with colored yogurt. Maybe some wholemeal or multigrain toast with some not quite white topping like Vegemite or peanut-butter (bought two jars of Really Good stuff in New Zealand last trip), or some bran or muesli with the fruit. This been working well to whittle promising amounts of the avoirdupois from his flanks.

So imagine his dismay here in the Metropark hotel in Macau when the Cafe de Ciao had:

  • No yoghurt.
  • No wholemeal bread.
  • No meusli.
  • Not much in the way of fruit (canned peaches and watermelon chunks).
  • Terrible tea.

Desengaño again.

E@L

[Addendum: have only seen Vegemite out of Australia in an Australian owned hotel in Saigon.]

Not Self-Aware (I Am a Tourist In My Own Life)

Posted in autobiography, tourists, travel trouble, writing by expatatlarge on July 10, 2009

I have real trouble turning off my internal narrator. The enthusiasm of this continuous monologue is what first made me think I should try my pen at writing/blogging. Then I found out most people have a voice inside their heads who comments on the action, that other people have their own internal narrators and that I was not unique after all. How disappointing, I thought it was just me. But no, we all have one.

Except for those people who, as Izzy insists, are Not Self Aware.

Like the guy tonight that everyone in our cheap Outback style Chiang Mai restaurant found out was from Las Vegas. He lives here, we all leanred, but those people he was with before, they were not his FREINDS, they were his NEIGHBOURS. The Vegan guy would not shut-up. He kept talking continuously at indiscreet volumes to the two Thai girls at his table. On and on he goes. “That happened to my mom, who is,” he leans forwards and speaks slowly, “EIGHT EE SIX YEARS OLD.” They kept eating, not looking at him. Wondering, what the fuck is he yelling at us about? No doubt. He then sends back his steak because it is “a touch more medium than well done. I prefer it more WELL-DONE/medium than medium/well-DONE, as I requested, so could the chef please JUST COOK it a little bitty MORE, thank you sir, I’d appreciate that.” The blank-faced waiter nodded and took the meat back to the kitchen, shrugging his shoulders to the chef.

My waiter rolled his eyes. Tourists. Not self aware, as a species.

This guy could not be self-aware as the voice in his head would not be able to get a word in edgewise. I often wonder, are people who talk incessantly like this capable of… like, *contemplating* anything? Can they ever stop… and just… think? Ever? Are they afraid of what their inner narrator might tell them?

I’m trying to get rid of my inner narrator. I was once told he is slowing me down. Then again, other people say that I think too much. I’m not doing any thinking, of course, I’m just listening to the inner narrator. I’ve been presuming he’s been doing the thinking for both if us and therefore knows what he’s doing, and ergo facto, so do I.

Perhaps I should study my Eckhart Tollë a little more, eh? BE in my present. Stop listening to that inner voice. Stop worrying about the future and regretting the past (which is what my inner voice is or should be talking about, according to Tollë, rather than saying mundane things like “Long shot: Phillip picks up his fork and examines it for traces of dirt”).

And keep those cheques and money orders coming in, says Eckhart.

Yes, I should stop being an actor in the movie that is my life and just live it without awareness. Like a brain-washed new-age zombie. Like a tourist.

As long as I am alive to live it that is.

I just hope that they way to achieve this inner calm is not by talking loudly to uncomprehending people in restaurants, like a total wanker.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The country town of Nan was a bit quiet last night.


Street market at 9pm. More street than market.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

My narrator was haranguing me on helium for the drive back from Nan (on the Nan river, same river that flows through Phitsanulok from two weeks ago) to Chiang Mai; he was having a field day. I only wish I could recall some of it for you. Passages of great descriptive power, episodes of dramatic irony and then some of irony and drama by themselves. Discourses of great social and political import. All of them concerning feats of dangerous driving even more harrowing than earlier in the week. Feats to leave you gasping. More knife-edge curves and split-second swerves… More good luck than good decisions on the corners… It got to the point were E@L had to say, “Please DON’T text while you are driving at twice the recommended speed, on the wrong side of the road, going into a blind curve, with the setting sun right in your eyes!!”

Reply; a pleasant “Hoka-ay. No ploblem. Solly.”

As I couldn’t sleep due to anxiety for the first hour of this trip and due to a full bladder for the last, I also wish that the pictures from my mental camera could be downloaded to share with you. Other than close-ups of oncoming trucks, I mean. Snaps of rice paddies reflecting the burnished clouds of sunset and the silhouettes of the hills.


Oops missed the rice paddies.

Snaps of the teak jungles draped in a suffocating omnipresent vine infestation. Snaps of village markets, rickety shanties on those hillsides, plus large modern mansions with satellite antennae. Snaps of the weather-beaten, lined and tanned face of the man pushing a tractor-tyred cart to the market, or the weary grandmother in traditional hill-tribe dress keeping a hand on the exhuberant children under her supposed control right by the road-side.

I think next time I’ll go by bus.


This bus pulled up next to us at the lights in Lampuang.


Somebody, please explain.

E@L

Nan — With The Lot II

Posted in autobiography, Bruce, Thai girls, Thailand, travel trouble by expatatlarge on July 8, 2009

E@L was kidnapped today. Taken from the Chiang Mai airport, whisked off in a dark van by a person who spoke no English, and driven for hours into places unknown.

“Are we going to my hotel?” asked E@L. “Le Meridien in Chiang Mai. I have booked on the internet for tonight until next Friday.”

The driver looked confused. “No go Chiang Mai. Tonight I go witchew Nan.”

Nan. That was the name of the hospital E@L was to do the demo at tomorrow.

“But tonight I stay Chiang Mai hotel, right”

“No, no. I take you Nan.” It is a very long ‘a’ in Nan: Naaaaaaahn.

We had been driving for two hours already, which is why E@L thought he had better check.

“Nan is, tree, tree… tree tousant kilometer. Take [he held up three fingers] four hours more to drive. You go Nan two day, Chiang Mai I drive you Friday.”

Shit. For some reason, E@L had done this trip’s accommodation booking himself, online. That means he had to pay in advance. Shit. He had no idea that Nan Hospital was not in Chiang Mai. That there was actually an entire province, 200km (not 3000) from Chiang Mai, called Naaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahn.

E@L had confirmed with the Thai team about the trip twice, to makes sure there’d been no schedule changes. Yes, you can book, schedule no change. But no-one mentioned that Naaaaaaaahn was a separate place, distinct from Chiang Mai and that a separate hotel booking had to be made.

Shit. Why had E@L decided this one time to book himself and not just turn up, expecting everything to have been done for him? Mainly because they normally put him up in a shit hotel (the Imperial Pei) when he goes to Chiang Mai (which is rarely).

So he’s gone searching online for nice deals at better establishments – like maybe a Lanna Villa somewhere, or maybe there’d be a special at a top-line hotel, seeing as how the Thailand Tourist Industry is a basket case at the moment. And there was. The lady who organizes his Thai trips could not get a better corporate rate than the on-line rate for the classy new Le Meridien in the heart of town, so she said he could book it himself. She neglected to tell him that he’d only need it from Friday, not from Wednesday.

Shit. Amazing drive though, over three mountain ranges. Fantastic scenery. Village tribes in hovels, kids playing by the side of the road, water-buffalo being driven up paths, terraced crops on the hillsides, wild jungle in several national parks, waterfalls,… As mentioned, it is about 200km as the crow flies, but more like 350km by road. Long and Very Winding Road. And it was lock to lock for the entire freaking trip across those mountains. E@L tried to sleep but was getting tossed awake at every corner. Sleep would have helped him not see the danger at each glance where his driver cut across the double yellow lines or overtook slower vehicles on the approach to a blind corner or a crest. And going as fast as he could, of course. Eventually, as they were coming into yet another blind hair-pin bend at speed and the driver pulled out across double yellow lines to overtake about 40 yards before the corner, E@L had to cry out: “No, no, pull back! Please, stop trying to kill me, OK?”

“OK, solly,” the driver said, and from there on in he went like a grandmother going to church on Sunday. It took nearly six hours.

p.s. The hotel in Nan is shit.

(…but it has free Internet.)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I swear to doG I am going to die on one of these business trips. I’ve told you before. Check the old blog. Forget the immense cardiovascular risk factors, strokes, heart-attacks and prostate cancer.

E@L has his date with destiny as a passenger in a Datsun.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

(Something to tide you over. From The Chronicles of Bruce)

Bruce finished his burger, licked his lips and scrunched up the burger-juice-filled paper to place it in the ash-tray.

Remember ash-trays? Remember cigarettes?

“True story,” he said. Immediately I went into disbelief mode. It must have showed. “I kid you not.” And he put on this butter-wouldn’t-melt look which was quite hilarious on someone with his school-of-hard-knocks appearance. Big shoulders and arms to match his belly, a huge red head with no hair and a bristly goatee and moustache on his acne-pocked face. His thick fingers hardly seem long enough to wrap around the stubbie holder of Beer Chang, but he had already put two down while nibbling on his burger.

“OK” I said, “the hamburger story, let’s hear it.”

“Righto,” he laughed and wet his whistle. “You know Soi Cowboy, right? You’re not a total beginner here, right?”

I nodded. I knew it. I fingered the label on my coaster.

“Here’s the set-up: This is a few years ago, before I was living here. We had this work do in Bangkok, training, marketing, whatever. We’d been at it in the conference room all day, so then we moved on and had few beers and some Thai nosh at Cabbages and Condoms , you know it? Soi 16, not bad grub if it’s your first time in Thailand, not too pricky. Know what I mean?

Prik is chili, isn’t it?” I half-guessed, the bulge of a Thai phrase-book in my pocket.

“Correct. Full points. And afterwards, we put the most of the ladies into a couple of tuk-tuks, while the boys and I, plus one or two of the more… adventurous, or maybe broad-minded is what I mean to say… anyway two of the ladies from the company joined us, and we crossed over the road to Asok and went to Cowboy to check out the show at Long Gun. We stayed there a while, watched the banana popping show and the lesbian show… The girls thought it was hilarious, but tame. It could be pretty gross for some I guess, but not as bad as it used to be at over the road there at Nana, pre-Thaksin. But these ladies they thought it was a tame! They wanted to see some real on-stage fucking. I swear to God, women, I’ll never understand ’em. I had to take the girls to a gay-boy show next night, see some real action, but that’s another story.

“Anyway, it was getting late and no bird in the bar had really taken my fancy. I suppose I was in one of those moods, you know how it is. You can get so over the whole girlie bar racket, right? Some of the other lads had hooked with a bar-girl each and had already headed off to some short-time hotel, or maybe they’d risked the 1000Bht surcharge for a guest at the hotel, I don’t know.

“There were four of us left, the two company ladies, and one other guy – we called him L-G (or Algie, like from that Oscar Wilde, some play…) We called him that because it was his idea to come to Long-Gun tonight, as it’s his favorite place – obviously it was, because he knew the girls’ names and he had already picked up his favorite, a girl called Pim, he’d taken her out a few times before. Actually there were five of us, counting her. And then there was me, with no lady… We were walking along the Cowboy strip up to Soi23 past all the theme bars to find a taxi when L-G noticed a hamburger stand right at the end. There was a girl buying a burger there. She was in normal clothes, a bit suggestive, but not in the uniform of one of the bars on the strip.

“I said – They looked good.

” – The hamburgers or the girls? Long-Gun asked me and everybody laughed.

“I said – I meant the burgers.

“So he said to me – Why didn’t you get one?

” – Burger? I asked.

“He said – No, the girl! There’s one right there for you, and you can share the burger with her as well. It’s a bargain!

“This pretty girl, she was a stunner actually, had paid and was just collecting her burger and turning to walk away when Long Gun approached her. I swear to God he said, – My friend is very shy, he would like to take you home tonight. Indicating to me. She stopped, looked at me for a second and smiled, and then she nodded!

“Well as you can imagine I was very embarrassed, but I got over it. We got in the taxi together with her still eating her burger. We went back to my hotel, I paid the excess and she stayed the night. And she was brilliant in bed. I kid you not, some of the best sex I’ve ever had. Just a random girl who happened to be standing at a burger stand. And she was lovely and polite, and had this perfect body. It was amazing.”

Bruce was rubbing his chin and staring out over my shoulder.

“Did you get her name, her number?” I asked him. “Did you ever go with her again?”

He gradually focused back on to me. “No, of course not. I wouldn’t want to have her number, I might be tempted to call her. That’s not how I operate. I’m not like L-G. Gotta keep a distance. Variety keeps you safe. You never know, otherwise I might fall in love with one of them. And that’d be the fucking end of me, wouldn’t it?” He laughed and knocked back the last third of the beer.

“Bloody L-G, you know he married that bloody hooker, Pim. Stupid fuck-wit. She took for a grand ride alright. But that’s another story, too…

” ‘Nother one, love!” he called to the fierce-eyed waitress who was upset because Bruce could never seem to recollect her name.

E@L

Not Happy [with Addenda]

Posted in breakfast, swift, travel trouble by expatatlarge on January 23, 2009

Turned up at the hotel in Dubai at 3:30am. No booking under my name. This is the first time in 10 years like this something has gone wrong…

Checked myself in and promptly fell asleep into a moody nightmare of dusky skyscrapers and wrong venues and (for some inexplicable reason) hookers, sharks in the swimming pool and (even more dangerous!) ex-girlfriends…

Freud, front and centre please!

Maybe someone from the company will find me today. (I hope not, I still have the presentation to write.)

E@L

[Addendum I: Toaster Wars Strikes Back – at breakfast just then, two dudes each stole one of my twice-run through pieces of toast from the tray in the nano-second I moved away to get a plate. ToFos! Is this is the first time these people have ever eaten out? One was a swarthy type, the other a lanky, old American. So, yes probably. I got my toast back from the Yank – at least he was civilized enough to use the tongs to have picked it up. The other guy I let go with some abstruse mumbled abuse behind his back – who knows which hand he used…

Addendum II: Booking problem solved. It was a name SNAFU at the time of reservation. They had not booked me under my name, nor that of my company, but under one of their local company representatives in order to facilitate the credit card deposit. No-one had told me, I had had no Booking Confirmation number sent to me, so there was no way I could have found it anyway.

Addendum III: I was right. There IS no agenda for the training – as yet! Training starts tomrrow, therefore I have most of the day to put 20 slides or so together. I will need to do some surreptitious competition research but the Internet here is $55 per day! Alas, the swimming pool beckons out my window, down a few floors. Alack, it is freaking chilly here, only 15 degrees oustide currently.]