Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bangkok & Bankers

22-25 January 2010 – Bangkok, Thailand. Garden at the Old Charm Hostel.

I stopped in Bangkok for a few days on my way back to Phuket. The Atlanta was booked so I scoured the internet for cheap digs and found a funky happy hostel in the heart of Bangkok.[bxA]

The Old Charm was a great find at 800 baht (US $24) for a sweetly decorated room with soft sheets, air con, wifi and a view of a peaceful little pond. The only catch was no en suite bathroom which meant a short outdoor trek around the corner to a small building that also housed the loos for a neighboring pub. Live music played until the wee hours, but the music was good and the drunk loo visitors weren’t too unruly. Oh and there was no hot water, but cold showers are fine in hot weather.

I’d returned to Bangkok for an art exhibit that opened in January (and I had hopes of reconnecting with a stranger at the Atlanta regarding music composed by the King, but that’s another story…)

But first I needed some farang stuff from the malls so I started in Siam Square…

Then onto the National Gallery…

…where the exhibit was super cool and made me glad I returned to Bangkok again. (My first two trips to Bangkok were exclusively about renewing my passport under fairly stressed circumstances.)

The artist says ‘the empty holes [in the chests] represent voraciousness, greed and man’s insatiable desire for more.’

Speaking of …the end of January always conjures up all kinds of existential madness in banker world as performance reviews and force rankings are cemented and the only thing left to learn is…drum roll please….February bonuses.

After a year away from it all, I was surprised and thoroughly delighted by the swarm of emails I got from banker friends right about the time I landed in Bangkok. I’m amazed by how genuinely supportive everyone has been of me and my potentially reckless decision to just say Phuket. I stumble across people who try to spew that cliché on me about bankers and corporate workers being slaves to the grind, wanting nothing but the money etc…but that’s, well, in Texas speak, total bullshit. People for the most part are inherently good and everything in life is a trade off…but I’ll save my rant in defense of the cliché because it’s not worth it. Suffice it to say, my corporate friends rock.

Thus, I spent many Bangkok hours snuggled up in the softest bed of the coziest room I’ve enjoyed in ages, chatting on in-room wifi (a rarity), reconnecting with my former life and fielding lots of questions about how I did it, what it’s like, what’s next etc.

Cubicles on Canary Wharf - London, England (October 2008)

I remember banker Januaries well …wondering if the last twelve months were worth it, if I could do it another twelve months, if the bank would step up for once in its life and pay me what I’m worth, or wondering if I’d be defeated and insulted by a pittance of a bonus and a bunch of excuses from a board of directors who just pocketed millions. February always brought my conflict to conclusion, delivering a pile of money just enough to make me feel disappointed, defeated, insulted, relieved, euphoric, profoundly grateful and thoroughly confused.

Vincent Van Gogh’s Prisoners Exercising

To all of you who reached out these past few weeks, all I can offer is that careers are like relationships…they work for you until they don’t anymore. Some people find one that works for them forever, the rest of us struggle with the daily deliberations of thinking it’s still kinda working and maybe if I tweak it I can make it as good as it used to be…or maybe I’d be better off moving on. Then it is not a question of whether to make a break for it, but when. And no one can answer that question for you.

Canary Wharf, London, England (December 2008)

Still, I love fielding all the questions so keep’em coming. It helps me to remember what it was like to be there, in the cubicle staring out at Canary Wharf, thinking it couldn’t be done.

Chalong Pier, Phuket, Thailand.

But it definitely can be done.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

This Little Piggy Went to Market...

January 2010 - Siem Reap, Cambodia. Tuk tuk ride to the temples of Angkor.

On my tuk tuk ride to the Angkor temples (day two), I spotted little baby pigs in a cozy wooden cage on the back of a motorbike.[bxA] It was cute. I could see their little baby pig faces and curly tails moving around comfortably in the big cage. It made me think it was a kinder, gentler way of life there in Cambodia.

But then on the way back from the temples I spotted a motorbike with grown up pigs. Dead. Strapped to the back of the motorbike. Pig corpses.

Oh yeah. Of course. It took this circle-of-pig-life moment for me connect the dots. And feel guilty.

I eat meat, you see.

Lots of it. Not just sometimes, not in moderation, and not only fish. Meat. Chicken, cows, fish, lobster, pigs, lamb…most of God’s creatures.

I am not proud. In fact, increasingly, I am ashamed.

I suffer from cognitive dissonance. I’ve seen the documentaries on factory farms. I know the health risks. But I just can’t stop myself.

In fact…
By the time the next motorbike stacked with dead pigs passed my tuk tuk, I worked it out in my head that these pigs represent the old school good kind of farming. A way of life. The food chain. I imagined these free range old school Cambodian pigs living a nice happy life until the slaughter. Yeah, yeah, I know, the trauma of the slaughter fills the meat with toxins and I’m eating all that bad stuff. But there’s no hope for me and my cognitive dissonance.

And…here’s the really horrible part…I’m ashamed to admit…

It made me crave bacon. I ate it the next day for breakfast.

Feel free to fling a can of red paint on me next time I come ‘round.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Banteay Srei Day

14 January 2010 – Temples of Angkor, Cambodia – Banteay Srei

After two more days of lazing around Siem Reap, I took a long tuk tuk ride to the far away temple of Banteay Srei then back toward Angkor Wat for a couple of temples. [bxA]

On arrival at each site, two or three young women shopkeepers would rush at me with scarves and purses, “Hey lay-dee, you wan’ sumsing? You buy sumsing? You want scaff, laydee?”

I’d say no no no, and one of them would follow me all the way to the entrance saying, “You change your mind, lay-dee, you remember me, okay? You buy from me, okay, lay-dee?”

I made it through the day buying only one purse that I didn’t want but it’s come in handy lately.

Banteay Srei was really fun because all the Hindu gods were familiar from my recent stint at the ashram in India.

I especially wanted to see the carving of the kidnap of Sita (for reasons with which I will not bore you) but…

I spent at least thirty minutes examining the carvings throughout the temple and couldn’t find it.

I also saw Ta Prohm …

and Preah Kahn...

After which I was totally exhausted, starving and dying of thirst. That’s when I spotted the fruit stand on my long walk back to the tuck tuck.

“Hey lay-dee! You wat a pine-appa-ba-na-na, lay-dee?

“How much is a mango?”

“One dall-ah, lay-dee."

“Okay, I’d like a mango, please.”

She set to carving a mango while a younger woman doted on the baby they kept with them at the fruit stand.

“How old are you, lay-dee?”

“Thirty nine.”

Eyes wide.

I smiled, “How old are you?”

“Twenty-fie – I hah three bay-bee.”

“I don’t have any babies,” I offered to save her from asking.

She smiled, seemingly in disbelief, then changed the subject.

“Where you frah?”


She didn’t understand so I tried again, “Yoooo – Esss.”

“Ah! Yoo-Ess-Aye!”

We exchanged my U.S. dollar for her freshly carved mango and I said goodbye.

“Good luck to you, lay-deeh!”

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Pizza Hut & Coca Cola

12 January 2010 – Siem Reap, Cambodia. Pizza place across from Home Sweet Home Guest House.

I was craving farang food so I headed across the road to the pizza hut. In Cambodia, this means I crossed a dirt road to a hut that serves pizza. I ordered the margherita and a coke, but was denied.[bxA]

“No, no have coke. Good coconut today,” the smiley waiter guy told me.

“You don’t have coke?” I pointed to the cokes in the fridge.

“Yes, have coke but coconut is better. Try coconut today?”

“Okay, fine, I’ll have a coconut,” I half-heartedly conceded. I wanted a coke.

The coconut was delicious – served cold and about a zillion times better than the warm ones served at Home Sweet Home guest house. People tell me coconuts are incredibly healthy. And it cost the exact same as a coke: $1.00 USD.

One of the few things I did during my many lazy days in Siem Reap was wander the streets (trolling for posh coffee spots) with my Lonely Planet stashed in my bag and Hot, Flat & Crowded playing on my iPod. (I didn’t want to listen to HotFlatCrowded but I’d discovered the long forgotten audio book my sister gifted me ages ago, and figured I ought to think about something since I was talking to no one.)

Within a couple of days of my conversion to coconuts, I read the Lonely Planet’s ‘Doing Your Bit!’ to minimize the impact of tourism on the local environment, which simply states:

“Drink coconuts rather than soft drinks.”

Meanwhile, on my iPod Thomas L. Friedman’s narrator rattled on (and on and on and on) about the devastating effects to the environment caused by the globally expanding middle class and its demand for products like coca cola. A local tourism brochure explained to me how much more the community benefits economically from tourists paying a dollar for a home grown coconut versus a manufactured can of coke. So, for once, I was doing the right thing not only for the community, but my health and the environment… all thanks to that sweet smiley waiter at the pizza hut.

But, before you go thinking I’m any kind of conscientious environmentalist eco-tourist, stop. I’m not. To me, Copenhagen is a chewing tobacco back in Texas.

Copenhagen, what a wad of flavor.
Copenhagen, you can see it in my smile.
Copenhagen, do yourself a favor.
Chew Copenhagen, drive them pretty girls wild.

- Robert Earl Keen,
Texas Singer Songwriter