Saturday, January 31, 2009

Quick Update From Bangkok

Every morning as I leave my hotel, I am greeted the same friendly way by the same woman; "allowayoulookyfo?" as she thrusts brochures for women I might like to buy. She is the first and from there it just keeps coming. That and the offers for massage, sometimes with 'happy ending'. I am staying in the area known as Silom, and area where pretty much everything and anything goes. The night market of Patpong is a couple of streets over and sells fakes of whatever brand you want and while some is obviously junk, some of it is impossible to tell. Tiffany, Bulgari, Cartier, DSquared, Gucci, and on the list goes ad infinitum. More often than not, the giveaway of the fake isn't  really the way it looks and feels, but more the packaging, like the Gucci dog tags I almost bought which were in a soft carry case and box of Tiffany. I passed and instead I satisfied myself with a U-Boat watch I have been wanting for years.

The Patpong market itself is set up every afternoon and torn down about one in the morning, every day of the week. It also runs the length of one of the most famous or infamous streets in Bangkok, where the ping pong girls work. I am dying to go to one of the shows and see it for myself, but don't want to go alone. I am sure I will be shocked and mortified and will need to share the moment. Just in case you don't now what a ping pong girl is, she can expel many items with surprising accuracy from her area 'down there'. I have heard that the girls even have their own version of darts, and the clubs have very discreet names like my personal favorite, "Super Pussy", which I have yet to visit, but is top on my list. I will write more about all of this in detail once I have seen it with my own eyes.

But my trip has not been so much about fakes and ping pong, I have done an enormous amount of sightseeing. One thing I love about Bangkok is the ability to just walk and explore. Delhi does not really have that expect in certain pockets and just to be able to walk and get lost and discover a city has been great. I walk until my legs turn to rubber and then grab a taxi back to the hotel. And there is tons to discover here in the city. Everyday produces story after story, which I will start writing out from tomorrow when I reach my next destination, a tiny, non-touristy beach community about 5 hours outside of Thailand. Prachuap Khiri Khan is my next destination, a decision that was made when I read that there was very little to do there but relax and take in nature.

After two years in India, I am up for some serious isolation and sensory deprivation. Also, the last days in Bangkok have just been an overload of sights and I need a break. There really does get to be a point when it all just becomes too much and the mind and eyes need a break from it all. So, I am taking that before I head to Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand (actually Siam) which was destroyed by the Burmese. From there, I have no idea what my plans are, maybe more beach, maybe heading north to the area of Chiang Mai. It is supposed to be beautiful and the only thing stopping me is that I don't know how much I want to do alone. I am fine being on my own. I enjoy my own company, we all do, but sometimes it is great to have someone to share it with. It just makes it so much nicer.

So many more stories are on the way and I will write them as soon as I am sitting on a pristine white beach with clear blue water. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

My Revised Fashion Week

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post about a trip I did to London with Nik during Fashion Week . A couple of months ago I was asked by someone at a men’s magazine, which is kind of an Indian version of GQ, to submit samples of my writing for their consideration and as that is one of my favorite stories and also favorite memories with Nik, that is one of the stories I included. I got a response back saying they liked the story, but requested me to rework it as they felt it had a bit of a gay angle to it.

Of course it had a bit of a gay angle, it was a story about Fashion Week. And everyone knows that any men’s magazine that has a focus on anything other than auto parts, and certainly any magazine that focuses on fashion, grooming and lifestyle is going to have a gay or gay friendly reader base. Most of the men that buy Men’s Health aren’t looking for six ways to a washboard stomach, unless that stomach is attached to someone else. But, as I am trying to get my name out there and get published as much as possible, I had to do as requested.

But the dilemma was figuring out what to change without making the story a lie. I couldn’t turn Nik into a woman and change a night out in London with a great friend to a night out with my girlfriend. I have a friend who is always looking over my shoulder making sure I don’t fudge any details. Besides, I have seen Nik in a wig in a Facebook album and it is not a pretty sight. I removed all obvious references and any vocabulary that automatically gets associated with being gay, even if those words are and have been in the dictionary long before they were attached to stereotypes.

So the article has been rewritten and sent off and hopefully will find itself printed on the pages of a magazine. 

Saturday, January 10, 2009

My Magazine Article

Here is my first ever published article, which is in the current issue of Andpersand Magazine in India. The theme of the issue was "Life's a Beach"...

It was a most unexpected sensation. I was in the middle of nowhere outside Jaisalmer in a part of the desert I am not even sure has a name. The sea of sand stretched as far as the eye could see and there was not a sound to be heard. I was enjoying the early morning still after an overnight camel safari. It was early October and already the feeling of autumn was all around. The fog hung cool and low to the ground and the sun had not yet burned through the hazy mist as it would within the hour. Here and there silhouettes of tortured trees gave hint that there was indeed life out there. I went for a walk away from our small group of eight, to take in the quiet and solitude that is the desert. As I walked through the dunes, my feet keeping me connected like some natural umbilical cord to the group, memories and feelings came to the surface and I let my mind swim back to one of my favorite places and times of life; The summer of 1985.

It was the summer when the seemingly endless years of high-school finally pass and suddenly life is full of promise, adventure and, well, life. I was living in Southern California in a place now known as "The OC", but back then, to those us who lived there then, it was just "the beach", the only beach that existed in our little universe. To be more precise, it stretched from 34th street in Newport, just to the left of the lifeguard tower down to the pier in Balboa, just a mile or so away. Behind us was Pacific Coast Highway, crammed with cars loaded up with surfboards and in front of us was the Pacific Ocean. This was where my best friend Ken and I existed. It was our universe, our kingdom.

Walking in the dunes in the middle of nowhere India, I could almost hear the waves smashing into the shore, waves that are the stuff of legend, the subject of songs. My mouth filled with the memory of the cold pizza we would often have for breakfast while watching the surfers catch wave after wave as we debated the hot topics at hand; long boards versus short boards? My memory conjured up the smell of the coconut from the sunscreen. I can still hear Ken's Grandma June, who would sometimes join us, telling Ken and I she didn't want to catch us doing anything we weren't supposed to do. So we put our boogie and surfboards between her and us so we could sneak cigarettes and if she was later asked if we smoked, she could honestly say "Not that I ever saw". She would point out girls she thought we would find cute and that she felt we should go talk to. Once the sun set, we would stake out a fire pit and have Mexican food on sand covered towels. Then the soundtrack of that summer filled my ears, a soundtrack dominated by Depeche Mode.  I closed my eyes to savor the moment.

That time and place now seems so far away and yet so close to me. I carry it everywhere I go. When life gets too much, like it seemed on that morning in October, I go back to that beach, even if only in my dreams and my heart, but that morning, in those dunes, it all seemed so close and real that I could almost see the migrating whales on the distant horizon and touch the dolphins that would sometimes come and play. Until my thoughts were interrupted by the faint ringing of a bell, my camel letting me know it was time to leave.

 For most people, the beach is a destination, but for Ken and me, at least, it was and still is a way of life. It is part of our DNA, our identity. It is also the center of our universe, the temple at which we worship and pray. It doesn't matter if it is sunny or raining, calm or stormy. If we are happy, that is where we celebrate. If we are sad, that is where we go to think and talk. It is where I had my first kiss, where I first fell in love. It is where I first had my heart broken and where I lost my virginity. No matter where I might be in the world, it is where I exist. Every time I go back to California, Ken and I head straight to the beach. We head home.

Thursday, January 08, 2009


Even after two years of being in India, I just don't get the "why" of so many things. It is almost as if logic and reason are not only overlooked, but forbidden in so many ways. Case in point; My visa.

I currently have an employment visa which expires on January 28 and my plan was to extend the visa and take a four month overland trip all around India, writing about it for a magazine. I like the idea. The magazine likes the idea. They want stories and photos. This would make me a travel writer and photographer all in one go. How often does an opportunity like that come up? I started planning it all yesterday. The plan is to leave New Delhi by train and head all the way to Kanyakumari, the southernmost point of India where the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea all come together. From there, the then work my way all over the place, possibly including Bangladesh. I wont go into the details as I am hoping to pull it off and then there will hopefully be lots of surprises.

So Tuesday I went to the FRRO, which is the office that all foreigners staying for extended periods much register to apply for the extension. After 2 hours of pushing, shoving, crying children and one lady telling her story of her passport being stolen to every person she passed, I was informed that I was in the wrong place. I needed to be at the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Yesterday morning I loaded myself up on positive anticipation and dragged myself to Jaisalmer House and the Visa Facilitation Center at the Ministry of Home Affairs. Compared to the FRRO, it seemed almost civilized and organized. I just wanted to know what information I needed to process for my request and then I was planning on returning another day with all the documentation in hand. I was asked to fill in forms in duplicate and then wait to be called for an interview.

Two hours later, I was called for the interview and was immediately told that visa conversions were not done within India and that I needed to leave the country and reenter on a fresh visa. I tried reason. I explain that I had spent hours, days even, trying to get this sorted and everyone told me it was no issue. I argued that I pay more in taxes in a month than most Indians make in a year (not in those words, of course) and was told it was just not possible. They do not convert visas in India.

So now, I have to leave the country and get a new visa, which again raises the issue of if I am going to come back to India now or in a few months. Or ever. I do want to come back. My life is here. I like living here, even if at times it frustrates me beyond belief. I thought that with the travel writing idea, I had figured out how to make the best of both worlds. I might be unemployed, but I would be living a lifelong dream. I( think that is a pretty OK trade-off.

Now I need to figue out where to go and I have to be out of the country by midnight on January 28. I could perhaps go to Sri Lanka and start the overland journey from there. Anjali has a friend that is living one of my other dreams. He has a farm in Sri Lanka and on that farm he has his very own elephant. Perhaps I can go and hang out there with the elephant for awhile. Or maybe even volunteer my time at the elephant orphanage. I also have to decide whether or not to keep the flat here for a few more months until I get all this sorted or give it up and let Manuel find a room or much cheaper place to stay and take my chances on finding an equally nice place when I return.

So many questions and almost no time to figure them all out.

Monday, January 05, 2009

A New Year's Resolution

I know I am a few days late with my resolution, but I have a good excuse. The fact of the matter is, I just didn't have one that seemed worthwhile. I tried and tried to come up with one that would something I would stick with. No need to give up smoking, as I don't smoke. I don't do drugs. I eat healthy. And there is no way I am going to let a new year get in the way of my bubbles.

So, lacking a resolution of my own, I decided to borrow someone else's and make it my very own. The only problem is that most of my friends don't do the resolution thing. I was stranded and had no idea where to turn.

Fortunately for me, help was not so far away. In fact, it was at the tip of my fingertips. I let them do the walking and suddenly I found myself at Shilpa Shetty's website. Shilpa, in case you aren't up to speed became famous when she was on Celebrity Big Brother in the UK. Somebody made some comment about her and for the first time in her life, she was global, front-page news. That was followed up by a little kiss from Richard Gere that had people burning photos of both of them. Her stardom was sealed.

Now, she has unknowingly come to my rescue, saving me from a year without a resolution when she uttered these words: "I'm sure everyone has a new year resolution. Mine this year is to fight terrorism in whatever way I can. Make it yours too." 

How could I resist?