Zoomin’ Around Phnom Penh

by bicyclemark 2 Comments

Beep Beep Beep Beep…. no streetlight so my motorcycle driver just noses his way into the intersection in the exact style of every other scooter, SUV, tuk-tuk, rickshaw, and bull-pulled-wagon. I’ve got one hand on my pocket making sure my camera doesn’t come loose, and the other on Mr. Lee’s back, we’re both sweating like crazy in the midday Cambodian sun.

Me: Whats that plume of black smoke coming out of that house Mr. Lee?

Mr. Lee: Oh that house with the smoke, thats, Crematory.. how do you say.. our dead people..

Me: Oh. Crematorium. They’re very busy today.

We zoom past the national museum, where earlier he had brought me to see the many Buddhist statues, I never saw so many arms in my life. To our right are a series of open garages or perhaps storefronts, each spilling out into the street with artwork. They looked like oil paintings.

Mr. Lee: How many languages you speak Mr Mark?

Me: 5. But they are all European. Nothing fun like Thai or Khmer.

Mr. Lee: Wow. I can only do English, Thai, Khmer. Maybe I learn another one.. like Portuguese haha!

I pop out of my evening snack at Friends, the café run by street kids who are taught how to be professional restauranteurs.  Some of the finest service I’ve ever known.  Mr. Lee is laying back on the saddle of the motorbike, hat tipped over his eyes, the motorcycle guy’s nap pose.

Me: Why do you work as a motorcycle driver?

Mr Lee: I used to have airport job. Everyday had to work, always in the office. No freedom. With motorcycle, I’m free, I can go where I want.  But yes.. money is bad.

Me: Freedom, yes, freedom from a job, I look for the same thing.

He drops me off at the lovely guest house I’m staying at.  Doesn’t say a word about money, it is very obviously up to me what I should pay.  I hand over some american dollar bills and he gives me a smile.  Tomorrow, I take you to Killing Fields. Indeed it is what most tourists do in Phnom Penh and it is certainly what I’ve been looking foward to, if one can look foward to walking on the dead.  Mr Lee tells me he’s off to have some beers with his uncle. Make nice dreams, he tells me.

Hua Hin, Royal Holidays

by bicyclemark 2 Comments

Originally I was coming to the beachside getaway known as Hua Hin in hopes of being closer to an ongoing conflict further south in this province, between a fishing village and the steel corporation that wants to built a smelter on their shores.

However due to my compulsive buying of a ticket to Cambodia, my Hua Hin and subsequent time in Prachuat Kiri Kahn province will be cut short and Ill head back to Bangkok in less than 24 hours.  But I still managed to get down here with a little help from the magic of couch surfing and the international website for people to find and offer places to stay for free, known as hospitalityclub.org.

As it did when I went to New Orleans and met lil Robin, or when I stayed in Heidelberg and stayed with Jenny, the magic of the internet has once again led me to meet a very special human and I’m geatly enjoying my time here with him and his family.  An exciting mix of international and thai culture, the highlight of the house has to be the 7 ear old girl who runs around practicing her english and making the cutest faces at everyone.  She has leant me a two of her finest stuffed animals, the crocodile and the teddy bear, who she recommended I place on my bed.

Hua Hin is an interesting place. Not unique really, as many many tourists can and do easily get here, 3 hours south of Bangkok.  It is more famous for being the vacation place for the royal family.  Talk about loved, Thai people seem crazy about the royal Family.  As a critical mind and a staunch rebel, I have a hard time understanding it.  Every monday there seem to be people wearing all yellow as some sign of royal day, a show of support I guess, for the king.  Looking out the window of the extra-cramped minivan I rode down here in, there are photos of the royal family everywhere, especially right smack over the highway or on random billboards.  It seems like one of those VERY Thai things.

So after a brief visit to the beach, an elephant farm, and other tourist enemities, I will return to Bangkok, as truth be told, I’m gearing up for my 4 day visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

bm264 Prachatai – Alternative Media in Thailand

by bicyclemark 1 Comment

Alternative media is alive and well in Thailand, especially at the offices of Prachatai.com.  I spent the morning with the staff of this Thai alternative news source discussing what the big issues are for Thailand and their experience running such a media organization.

We discuss:

  • The overall media landscape in Thailand
  • Government control, economic influence
  • MY experience with the Royal Anthem
  • Censorship
  • The constitution
  • Labor and Unions
  • Environmentalism in Thailand
  • Funding


  • Eddie Vedder – Rise
  • Herbie Hancock – Tea Leaf Prophecy

Portuguese in Bangkok, 500 years later

by bicyclemark 1 Comment

When I started living in Amsterdam, I always felt an affinity for the Portuguese-Jewish synagogue. Reading those Portuguese names on the walls and reading the story of the Portuguese-JEws who settled and prospered in the city, I wondered if many many generations ago, perhaps my family was of this group, only they converted to Catholicism.  Regardless if it happened or not, my sense of history gives me the romantic feeling that I am, at least now, connected to those Portuguese, doing similar to what they did, (for different reasons of course) hundreds of years later. Here in Bangkok, as the boat cruised down the Chao Praya river, a river that snakes in so many directions with its creamy green water, a friend points out a church on the horizon. Lit up by bright lights against the night sky, a Thai friend rushes towards me “Mark, my father says that is a Portuguese church… Santa Cruz.. from a long time ago when Bangkok has Portuguese community and Portuguese are given titles by King.” I look accross the water and I see the wooden church and the tall steeple.  A little piece of Portugal way out here. It was back in  1511,  when the Portuguese became the first Europeans to land in this region.  They were met with mixed reactions throughout southeast Asia, and somehow were able to get on the king’s good side.  It may have been their usefulness as trade partners, eventually becoming an important source for weapons and ammunition. I like to think it was good manners and mutual respect that made the relationship possible. (wishful thinking) From there, some missionaries were given permission by the Royal court to build their convent and live in this little corner of Bangkok.  This would eventually become the only structure that survived over time, a souvenir from the days when Portugal was an important partner of Thailand. Amazing? No… not amazing. A reminder in fact, that everything is connected, and while the reasons may be difference, 500 years later, Portuguese still come to Bangkok and they’re still given a very kind welcome by the Thai people.