Wednesday, June 15, 2011

On and On // Words with Friends

This is a January and February conversation,
why don’t you March your way out of it?
April showers bring May flowers,
June gloom and bloom
into a July boom and Leo’s hot August night.
Do you remember
the 21st night of September?
Or the eight sides of October?
Indian summers of November melting into
the sobering punctuation of December?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


If she had to pick one color, it would have to be blue. Just like that.

The threadbare pastel blue hand-me-down baby blanket. As the youngest and only girl, in a family of seven, she was the last newborn to be received... the warmth inherent within lost since the eldest son, Azure, was born.

The steel blue and white tips of the wet shores, waning and waxing, consuming and integrating, the sounds of the rubber pounding on concrete.

The navy blue of her father’s and brothers’ broad backs as they walked one by one through weathered steel walls and rivets.

The dusty faded cornflower blue specks in the bathroom wallpaper that watched over her quiet examinations of soft spots located by concentrated, translucent dirty blacks and muddled blues.

Looking back, it’s always been like that.
And it always will be.

Ahead are celestial blues, marine blues, midnight blues, deep and true blues like the never-ending expanse of the universe, water, and possibilities.


Written to accompany a series of photos by Miss Adriana Rodriguez.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Motherland Visit, Part 9: Adventures in the [Unintentionally] Profound

I was asked recently if I believed in ghosts. My knee jerk reaction was “yes,” and technically it still is, but trust…

I am not talking some Sixth Sense, out-to-settle-some-unfinished-business, nebulous-embodiment-of-someone-you-used-to-know, creepy type of ghost.* I’m talking about the manifesting but not actually existing at that moment in time, faint trace of something type of ghosts – the ghosts that stem from an experience, a connection, a feeling, that leave a lasting impression on your general mind state. Not entirely unlike Robert M. Pirsig’s ghosts.

*But we can certainly have a conversation about these types of ghosts and how their claimed existence says more about how we are afraid of death than anything else… I’m just saying!

These ghosts I see all the time. They haunt me and find their way into my daily life and private existential conversations between my protons, neurons, and electrons often. To have them with me is not a burden whatsoever, but a blessing. The best ghosts appear after you encounter a new experience, reminding you of the power of that breath, that word, that look, that person, that place. Right now, I feel like my ghosts are joining forces, banding together into a sort of Voltron super-ghost to challenge my development for the better. As of late my Voltronic ghosts are emphasizing:

Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.” Just because something smacks of being not as advanced or developed, doesn’t mean that it’s not evolved or contains the very essence of advancement and development.

The Ouroboros is an ancient symbol that represents the cyclical nature of birth and death, creation and destruction, and beginning and ending.

Out of respect for these tandem concepts, the following are the highlights of my adventure in Thailand, or as I would like to think of it, Adventures in the [Unintentionally] Profound.

Humbleness / Humility

When I asked how most Thai folks greet each other, after they “Wai” (hands in prayer, slight bow), the three most frequent questions are:

  • Where have you been?
  • Where are you going?
  • Have you eaten yet?

It could be said that these questions gauge wisdom (the accumulation of knowledge), sense of perspective (what direction are headed, how far ahead are you looking), and demonstrate a human connection (I care that your basic needs are meet), respectively. These questions point you, at the very least, to concrete answers. Where people can judge you on how you act and the way you conduct yourself rather than by the heat of the air you expel when trying to tell them about yourselves. Juxtapose this with the United States:

  • How are you doing?
  • How’s it going?

These questions assume that receiver of the question knows their internal state well enough to speak on it. Kind of cocky, no? But, I do appreciate that they invoke the abstract. I’ve grown to appreciate the quiet humbleness that accompanies the understanding of how past actions and behaviors are affected by our attitudes and have tried to practice as much as I preach while maintaining my eyes on the metaphysical, abstract prize (figuratively speaking, of course). In order to understand the ways I’ve been affected by my visit to Thailand, I felt it was necessary for me to set up / qualify my thoughts:

Life in Context

We are all products of our environment, or at least in a working relationship with the environment. An extension of humbleness and humility, ghosts of experience past will no longer let me go quietly through life ignoring the constant interaction with my surroundings.

When the environment exerts its energy and we notice it:

When we exert energy to understand the environment around us:

When the energy exerted and created cannot be put into a narrative:

From all my ghosts and my conscious self: Sa Wat Dee Kah for your consideration. This was my Thailand.


Ouroboros, continued:

In a gesture that I thought was incredibly sweet, my mother asked me if I was going to write a “Part 9.” I was in the process of sorting out how I wanted to wrap this series up, letting my thoughts marinate until the spirit moved me, so I said, “Probably.” “Probably” fishing for requests for more writing is more like it; she shut that down quick with the following statement.

In the Thai culture, the number 9 is a lucky number. We always try to make things in 9, so you should do the same.

Never mind what I wrote about. I just needed to complete the circle. Thanks, mom.

In all seriousness, I am actually quite pleased that my 9th entry will be both an ending and beginning. Ending of a series, of the written word, and the beginning of conversation. I look forward to taking this discussion off the written page / typed screen into the space between us... if you’ll have me.

Side note: In Thailand, the pronunciation of the word “nine” is the same as “progress” and “rice.” Pretty much staples in the Thai culture. Additionally, as Buddhists, most Thais follow the tradition of valuing odd numbers, especially the number three. 9 = 3 x 3. Feel me? The Thai Transport Minister certainly does…

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Motherland Visit, Part 8: Living with the Precious

precious |ˈpre sh əs|adjective
(of an object, substance, or resource) of great value; not to be wasted or treated carelessly

Emerald vs. Platinum

Both precious, but in very different ways. One, a gemstone and the mineral that constitutes the famous Emerald Buddha (on show at the Grand Palace). The other, a metal that is the namesake of a multistory, bargain shopping mall.

The Emerald Buddha actually made of Jadeite and has travel the far reaches of South and South East Asia before having come to rest at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha on the grounds of the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

  • Side story: As found in many tourist destinations, there is a fee difference for locals and tourists. Upon entering the Grand Palace, we got the local price and proceeded towards the “Locals Only” entrance. I understand very simple Thai, but speak less. Once big words come into play, I tend to sit out. So when the guard asked me in Thai if I was foreigner (a word I didn’t recognize), I thought it was over for me. Mom and Dad to the rescue, “I’m from Thailand and am Thai, her mom is Thai, so she’s Thai!” BOOM.

The Grand Palace (Please go to the website, if for nothing else, to see that they call the traditional virtual tour “Virtual Reality”), itself, is exquisite. Actively used by the royal family, I could spend all day here. Built along the Chao Praya River, these series of buildings are a solid, almost textbook, example of Thai architecture and art. I’m no expert and there are lots of resources that go into detail. Believe me, the next library trip will include the search for these books.

Don’t ask me how these dirty, hazy photos happened, probably a combination of old camera, expired film, and minimal knowledge about photography. Either way, I kind of like it.
The Emerald Buddha is coveted among the Thai and a popular tourist attraction. It is a very interesting push and pull when it comes to popular Buddhist tourist attractions. I, for one, could have stayed and meditated in front of the Emerald Buddha all day, but I was sweetly rushed out by my dad and given not so sweet disapproving looks from other folks who have to come to “pray.” The norm, it seems, is to stay in front of the Buddha only for as long as it necessary to make a wish – I kid you not, a common wish is to hit the Thai lotto – and then move along. This hurry-up-and-pray aspect seems to be at odds with the original intention of a place that houses a revered statue. And out of respect, one is not to take pictures, so this is my janky rendition of the Emerald Buddha.
The ceiling is high and the statue sits atop a number of tables of different heights, filled with different symbolic offerings. It literally looks as if it is floating. As it should, rising above the earth-bound desires that clutter our heads. To me, the Emerald Buddha was very much an opportunity not to be wasted or treated carelessly. And I believe that Thai people feel the same. If there ever was a country in which it is easy to be spiritual, Thailand would be it. The connection is deep and integrated into the Thai lifestyle, from “tam boon” – donating food to monks – to having a shrine on site at your house or business to temples on the typical Thai tourist itinerary.

Juxtapose this solid, precious mineral symbol of enlightenment with the six story, clusterf*ck, shopping mall named after a precious metal, Platinum. Having cut my teeth on the vast, multilevel malls of Hong Kong where shopping should be a sport, this was daunting after my time at the Emerald Buddha and the Grand Palace, but not entirely undoable (is this English?). Luckily, I had my brother who was also considered a “big” person in Thailand as well, so I only got a mild complex because I didn’t fit into anything / wasn’t "developing country" skinny. We had fun sharpening our LBZ (LadyBoyZ … with so much drama in the LBZ … it goes on) spotting and haggling skills, zig zagging through the maze of stalls, but all in all the most jarring part of this experience was the feeling that this was also place of worship, if you will.

Even if I did take more than just this photo
they would probably not convey to you how thick and heavy the air was with locals and foreigners clamoring to get the best deals on the knock-offs of the latest styles imported to all of the world’s fashion centers. It’s not a stretch of the imagination to see the chain of events: a huge clothing brand decides to produce their line in Thailand, factories and human hands are responsible for producing the new season, the patterns for these clothes make their way into other factories where slight modifications are made to the pattern, perhaps a lesser fabric is used, et voilà, qua! A commodity that fuels the fire of materialism for people in country is that being exploited for… yep, materialism! I always had a funny feeling that having more superfluous decorations was the industrialized country’s visible and arbitrary tally for moving on up in the economic and social ladder, and it’s places like this that cement the notion. All hail the all mighty dollar. Gross.


Very few things are as precious as our own memories, ripe opportunities, or the fact that nothing is permanent.

Saree Sangnavarat [my grandfather on my mother's side]
January 24, 1923 – February 22, 1984


In the twenty years I have been gone from Thailand, my memories come in and out of focus, with faces and places fuzzy, then clear, then fuzzy again. The sequence of events jumps from chronological to importance. Morals of stories have changed to emphasize new lessons that hid themselves between the words.

In hindsight, this is memory of Thailand as a pure state of being, uncluttered by the desires to emulating exciting foreign cultures, can be attributed to my youth (at the time) and nostalgic revision. But is also perpetuated now by the hearing of new stories that involve, to my surprise, harsh lines drawn in the sand…

The most touching stories had involved the ever amorphous concept of love that seems so much more powerful because how preciously it was held … across time, distance, cultures and death.

Stories of men and women loving with a quiet fierceness that transcends the rules of traditional marriage and the black and white of wars. A story of a late night ultimatum and familial obligation. A story of an Indian woman for whom love was always slightly out of reach because it was culturally bound, for whom death swept away the life a young Indian man leaving a softness in the wrinkles around her eyes when she looks up. The story of a workaholic who would finds it more acceptable to take work home before the love found at the office…

Stories that involve true sacrifice I had not been told until now, spoken in the fashion of an ancient fable or movie of the past complete with teller’s glossy eyes that never quite meet yours. Memories and stories preciously held in the eyes and mind of the beholder; the common thread being that the idea of those harsh lines in the sand mark the point in which to judge how far one has to go, or conversely, has come. I’ve been throwing back and forth the idea of the power of those harsh lines for a while, and it seemed only fitting that as the winds of time carry forward, they also stir up the sand in such a way that the harsh lines disappear and only where you currently stand remains.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Motherland Visit, Part 7: Thoughts along the Way

Yes, I am one of those Moleskin-carrying travelers… I have no shame. Here are some thoughts collected during my Thailand journey.


Twenty year old Minolta captures
Twenty year old memories
through a hazy lens

I should probably clean that


heavy air
thick with scooter smoke
puffing dark grey clouds as they dart
like squid
streamlined octopi
appendages all tucked in
between the bulk of
four-wheeled vehicles


cool breezes life the weight of humidity
street vendors heighten the sense of humility


three generations of Kliengkloms
laying on their backs
wooden day beds
eyes to the ceiling
silence for just enough time
to catch our breath

there’s a lot of things to take care of



We’re walking down the street towards the beach in Hua Hin and as per usual, my father is being gregarious to all street venders. In passing and with no intention to buy, he casually asks the Tulian dealer where they are from – tapping into a well of knowledge about local Thai fruit – for if they are grown in certain region, they will have a certain taste. With a wave and a fleeting promise of return, my father continues along his way to the slight annoyance of the vender.

Cut to a couple hours later when we are taking a tuk tuk back to hotel. From the tuk tuk we spot the Tulian stand one block ahead of us. We turn to my father and hastle him about his “friend” at the stand and how he was going to get busted for hurting his feelings. And sure enough, as we all turn to look at the stand, the vender waves right at us. BUSTED. And my dad laughs exactly like if he got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.


In Thai:

Dad: There should be a price difference between playing golf in the morning versus the afternoon. It’s cheaper in the hot time.
Aunt (his sister): Who wants to hit balls when it’s hot?!
Dad: People that want deals!


George: Dad, why don’t you have some friends around here that we can stay with?
Dad: I don’t have friends. Just ex-girlfriends.