Sunday, May 31, 2009

On a Tub of Lard

Did you think the expression "tub of lard" was merely a perjorative to use against the very corpulent?

I've actually seen a tub of lard being served at a dinner table for the first time in my life, and it was here in the village of (I can't remember its name but it was spelled 'Unpronounceable') ... and it was actually served as any accompaniment to bread. No, this is not a land of cholesterol counters.

Their hospitality is, however, amazing. Absolutely amazing. And it was a very pretty tub....

The hospitality of these Czechs ... yes, it is truly beyond belief. Unless it is a plot to clog my arteries. In 2 days I will face the Moravian National Opera; the next 48 hours consists of me trying to solve all the problems back in Bangkok, making sure I don't have an Alzheimer's moment during Nabucco by attempting to commit the score to memory if possible, and of course, ingesting endless tubs of lard. So, I am multitasking right now; playing a video of the Moravian Opera's production of Nabucco which I get to take over on Thursday, sending instructions to Thailand about the sets and costumes for THAIS, and of course, anticipating with salivating jaws the next lard installment.

They are constantly making fun of my trying to order a "mini-porci" of every dish....

Those Wild and Wacky Slovenes

In Bratislava, the opera was showing Haydn's "L'isola deshabitata", one of this rare Esterhazy period operas. I wish I had been able to see it.

I didn't realize that the Slovenians were so musical until I sat on a five-judge panel listening to choirs from all these Eastern European countries (plus China). Slovenian choirs ran off with best of show both in the kiddie and the grownup categories and it was entirely unanimous. The Slovakians, the host country, didn't do quite as well.

The only thing that worried me a bit was when I invited one of their choirs to Thailand, they said, "Isn't it violent there?" The PR people of our government still have their work cut out for them it seems.

So now here am I in Olomouc. having departed Slovakia and slept through the change to another country (my hosts said to me, "Do not worry, there is no border.") Unlike in Bratislava, I encountered no communist-era architectural monstrosities on entering the city (in Bratislava these Stalinist blocks of concrete have been repainted in bright colors hide their origins).

My hosts' hospitality is almost mythlike. Yesterday I was taken out to two successive dinners in two countries, each one huger than the last (the mini-portion suggested by the restaurant turned out to be twice as vast as I expected!) and saw the central square of Olomouc in the middle of the night. I was even shown the prison, which I have to walk past on my way to the opera house from the hotel.

I guess I know what will happen to me if I fail. I can't imagine that Czech prisons would serve dinner twice a day....

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Hostel - 2009

You haven't lived until you've been trapped in a Chinese restaurant in Slovakia with 4 drunk music professors who only speak Czech (or Slovak) ... with broken German the only common language ... while 10,000 miles away, everything you've ever lived for is being torn apart....

Yes! I'm in a bizarre mediaeval hotel where access to the internet is obtained by getting a giant key from the front desk and a sign on the wall reminds you that a closed-circuit camera is watching your every move. There is no room service, but the bacon tastes divine ... so you know what happens to those missing tourists.

However, I heard some of the choirs who are going to compete tomorrow. They're just great -- particular the Slovenes. St. Petersburg is no slouch either. Singapore didn't show -- they're scared of the swine flu. Swine flu? In Bratislava? Well, it seems there is one case ... in the next country over. Well, we know how cautious they are in Singapore.

Got into Vienna this morning. Went straight to Slovakia. Tomorrow, Czechia. That's 3 countries in just about 30 hours. Of course, the Emperor Joseph II didn't know it was three countries; he thought it was just all him.

The above pic is with some of the professors, pre-drunken orgy :) I will reveal more tomorrow, but now jetlag is getting to me.....

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Davy Jones' Locker

Thailand has a new kind of sunken treasure, after a surfeit of Ming dynasty trading ships that happen to sink on dry land conveniently within a few feet of fake antique shops.

I'm referring of course to the recent discovery of containers, a couple of decades old, that may or may not contain the victims of human trafficking, the missing protesters from the 1992 military crackdown, or "toxic waste." Rumors are rampant.

In many ways it would be good to find the 1992 bodies. 1992 is a gaping wound in our society and though finding bodies would not solve anything, it would bring a sense of closure to many lives.

There are more skeletons in closets ... from Thaksin's so-called drug war, in which it was widely believed that people were being extrajudicially bumped off. It seems that prosecutions have now begun.

Once again, I think we all need closure.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Mysterious Purukhanda Strikes Again!

Well, there he goes again, this time treading the most dangerous ground of all ... for this time Purukhanda has tackled the one member of the "red team" whose arguments are entirely logical and who seems, uncynically and passionately, to really believe in the cause. Purukhanda has decided to have a longer intro to the rap this time, allowing the contrast between Mr. J's statements and reality to really sink in before actually proceeding to a virtuoso re-arrangement of J's words to produce complex melodies in the Isaan "mode". Never has so great an amount of intellectual ingenuity been lavished on a work of such little consequence ... or is it so little? Again, there's profound philosophy behind the satire.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Clash of the Pirates

So, the day I saw Star Trek, I read in the paper that the Patpong software pirates were clashing with Thai police who were trying to confiscate their wares.

I have to admit that I'm not suffering from nightmares over Paramount's failure to extract a few more miserable pennies from the third world. However, if a miserable artist such as myself is being hideously exploited, that's different. I see by checking the bit torrent websites that you can download a copy of my novel, Vampire Junction, for free. Each time that happens, I lose about a dollar. If all the dollars I lost were stacked end to end and turned into a noodle, I could probably eat my way to about Soi 12. I just can't get that upset about it. I mean, these people are reading my book. And while we all do this for the money ... no question ... is it really what we do it for?

Perhaps the Thai government should do for pirated movies what it has done for AIDS drugs; simply declare that, as an impoverished special case country, our people simply cannot get their Hollywood fix at Hollywood prices, and the copyrights be damned. Of course, that would be a very improper thing indeed. Joking aside, though, why not tax the illegal DVDs, put the money in a general fund, and distribute it to the owners according to some weighting formula, just as ASCAP distributes composer royalties for radio and TV? A 20 baht tax -- or 50, maybe, since the police would lose their protection money -- and a few underpaid government workers to determine the weighting system and skim a bit off the top, and the artists would probably get as much money as they would have had they been screwed by the real studios in the normal course of events.

Did see the (non-pirated) Star Trek at the Emporium. To my amazement, the luxury seats were sold out and I had to sit with the peons. Still, it was worth it.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Fair Play

Well, well, well. It appears that in the interests of "fair play", the mysterious Purakhanda, whose "Maew Rap" has garnered well over a quarter of a million hits, has responded to those who have impugned his political impartiality by creating a "Mark Rap" deconstructing some Abhisit videos as well. But it seems that the "Mark Rap" is quite critical of the Thaksinites. Perhaps this shows Purakhanda's true colors, or perhaps it merely shows the realities that he has to work with.

In many ways this is a far more interesting artistic construct because Purakhanda uses the rearranged words to send quite a profound message about the nature of politics. Whereas the "Maew Rap" points up an underlying buffoonery in Thailand's political discourse, the "Mark Rap" uses the refined lancet of satire to open up and expose the very bowels of politics.

Using the serendipitous fact that the word "key" in English means "shit" in Thai, Purakhanda shows us that the key to politics is, indeed, shit. In order to be successful, one must get one's hands dirty. I'm afraid, though, that this video isn't as ha-ha funny as the other. The problem is in the raw material. Abhisit is too articulate and too in control of his utterances to be funny per se, so I see that Purakhanda has found other techniques to drive home his point.

It's a pity that the subtleties of this video will be wasted on those who don't speak both Thai and English. But there it is.