But It’s by Julie Andrews / not by John Coltrane

Ok, 2009 was a shit­ty year finan­cial­ly. The whole world went bust. Or if you were sit­ting in Iowa or Lon­don, that’s what you’d believe if you spent much time look­ing at the tele­vised media. But, that’s not true: Chi­na, India and Indone­sia had a pret­ty good year (and it’s bemus­ing to look back on the Amer­i­can Chi­na doom­say­ers in late 2008 – hope­ful think­ing indeed) and oth­er parts of the so-called third world did as well.

I get some plea­sure out of that realign­ment, even if the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment per­haps are not the most wor­thy ben­e­fi­cia­ries of that, and show few signs of being so in the very near future. The Chi­nese peo­ple are, though, and I’m hope­ful giv­en how far they’ve come in 25 years, that the future is positive.

Oba­ma dis­ap­point­ed many. But take a moment to reflect on how much worse McPalin would have been.

Dubai crashed, but ten min­utes in the desert state would sure­ly have led most peo­ple with their eyes open to the con­clu­sion that it was inevitable. It is/was absolute­ly vac­u­ous. It quite glar­ing­ly has no rea­son to exist and I rather tend, per­haps irra­tional­ly but I think not, to believe that nations only thrive because they are derived from some­thing else tan­gi­ble that exists before the banks and spec­u­la­tors move in.

The only thing Dubai seems to be derived from is a grow­ing bub­ble of greed. It looks like the Gold Coast on bad acid.

Being finan­cial seers, both Brigid and I said to each oth­er in Jan­u­ary, as we wan­dered the end­less over­stocked malls and Porsche filled boule­vards of Dubai, and looked up at the ugly, and bad­ly built Atlantis (whilst sip­ping our $10 cof­fees), the key build­ing in the equal­ly shod­dy Palm, that it would not have a hap­py ending.

Next door, also in the UAE, Abu Dhabi exists as it does because of its nat­ur­al wealth, which bub­bles out of the ground. Dubai had almost none of this and to try and cre­ate sub­stance in a vac­u­um sim­ply doesn’t work. No mat­ter how much water and sand you ship in (yes, even the sand they build from is import­ed – the desert stuff is no good for con­struc­tion). So, yes, it was always going to go, and I con­tin­ue to won­der, after cen­turies of bust and boom finan­cial crises led on by our finan­cial wun­der-wiz­ards, why we con­tin­ue to buy into their non­sense. Pure avarice, I guess. Want some shares in a Niger­ian bank?

And after we buy into the greed, it seems we hun­gri­ly buy into the doom, as was obvi­ous when we were in the US in Jan­u­ary and the cable news chan­nels were run­ning night­ly shows enti­tled Voic­es Of Reces­sion, (whilst we con­tin­ued to be fed moun­tains of unnec­es­sary food in every din­er or cafe and watch the hum­mers strad­dle the grid­locked streets of Manhattan).

How­ev­er, I’m aware that it’s been a very shit­ty year for some and I’m thor­ough­ly grate­ful that most­ly I’m not one of them.

One of my high points was the sur­vival of my best bud­dy Tom Samp­son, who was hit by a bus at the end of 2008. Not only did he sur­vive after a few rather bad months, but it was a renew­al and he thrived.

We didn’t have the best year finan­cial­ly, pri­mar­i­ly because the peo­ple we derive much of our work from sim­ply stopped. But it was ok. We were cush­ioned and 2010 has picked up already.

How­ev­er, on reflec­tion, that aside, we did have a hell of a year. We had a won­der­ful year.

We moved towns, for the rea­sons I blogged a few weeks back (and I got thor­ough­ly abused by a sad old expat whose fan­ta­sy world was col­laps­ing into a well of denial – I delet­ed most of it but for the first time ever turned on com­ment mod­er­a­tion, some­thing that upset me some. It’s a shame some folk are unable to have a ratio­nal dis­course, but that’s yer webs for you, and under­lines the nut­ter-fest I was try­ing to get away from by leav­ing Bali).

But before mov­ing town, we trav­elled lots, as we did the year before and are like­ly to do again this year. My eyes are on Viet­nam some­time soon, and we already have Hong Kong lined up again this month … wheeee …

Close friends mov­ing from Bali to Guangzhou means that the $200 tick­ets there may be a go with­in the next few months, but I’m still drawn to trav­el­ling fur­ther inland in Chi­na. I re-read Peter Hessler’s Riv­er Town this year, yes I know it’s most­ly (all?) gone, but it’s a lure I’m hav­ing trou­bling get­ting past.

The defin­ing trip in 2009, though, was the few weeks we spent in NYC almost a year back. I’ve been to the city a lot over the decades and love it almost with­out reser­va­tion, despite its huge flaws and the grime (hell, I’m in Bangkok – the grime in NYC is noth­ing), but this trip, with Brigid for the first time, was eas­i­ly supreme. It was the best of times, for us at least. We walked, we laughed, we were upgrad­ed to glo­ri­ous suites in every hotel we stayed at – apart from the lit­tle hole in the wall in Noli­ta, but, damn, we were in Noli­ta (and only vis­it­ed the room to sleep), just around the cor­ner from Habana with it’s over­flow­ing margaritas.

We lit­er­al­ly phys­i­cal­ly bumped into an old friend in Broad­way we’d not seen for two decades.

The bands we saw in Brook­lyn, the nights and days wan­der­ing (often with­out any bear­ings) the icy and snow-filled streets and parks of Man­hat­tan, Green­point, Queens and Harlem were some­thing spe­cial – the ice just added to the thrill. And then there were the record stores …

And the fam­i­ly who we didn’t know beyond an inter­net pass­ing, who not only took us to a restau­rant, paid for the meal, but also invit­ed us to drink wine at their Upper West Side apartment.

I bought and read Gotham.

In June I co-host­ed the biggest fam­i­ly reunion I’ve ever been to when close to a 1,000 for­mer habitués of a cou­ple of smelly rooms came togeth­er in Auck­land for one night, and – yes –  it may have been a mas­sive mon­ey los­er (you get that when you fly bands and DJs from all over the world, add the best PA in the city, and then offer free drinks to all for the first hour or so) but the joy and the screams, the massed hug­ging ses­sion it became, made it rather worth it.

New Year’s eve, this week, was a fun­ny one for us.

Young daugh­ter, who is about to head off to board­ing school, leav­ing the nest (which is a huge wrench, not with­out pain, for me) said she’d rather sit on the inter­net and hang with her friends in Bali than wan­der the streets with us. Ok.

We know vir­tu­al­ly nobody in Bangkok, and those we do know were not in-coun­try, so it was our first NYE ever with­out out­side com­pa­ny of some kind. An odd feel­ing, but I quite like wan­der­ing streets.

Despite the fact that it was in the mid-thir­ties, it seemed appro­pri­ate. So, yes, we decid­ed to walk. The streets were rather qui­et. Odd. We saw that the old lady down the road who lives the street with all the cats had a bot­tle of beer. Some­body cared, which was cool.

We found our way to a new-ish wine bar down Eka­mai, filled with a huge vari­ety of pret­ty well-priced wine, and a very strange col­lec­tion of faux medieval Euro­pean art, hung next to some pret­ty aver­age con­tem­po­rary portraiture.

We drank a bot­tle of NZ Sav Blanc, ate some gar­lic bread, and wan­dered on, down Eka­mai 5, across to Thong Lor. Still qui­et. After strolling around the strange bar/restaurant/club com­plex where you can eat nou­veau-Thai in a restau­rant that looks down on the flood­lit indoor night soc­cer fields, we bought gela­to in a new ice-cream par­lour, which Brigid opined would like­ly have won some design award in Auck­land, but here just is.

I had straw­ber­ry and choco­late (hard­ly adven­tur­ous, but they had no Chili-Choco­late). They had no cones either and the own­er said it was because they’d opened 6 days ear­li­er and were wait­ing on them. He asked where we were from. Auck­land. He said he was a recent arrival from Penang. He’d been work­ing in KL but didn’t like the bus­tle and chaos of the place so he’d moved to BKK. Really??

We went look­ing for an Ital­ian eatery we knew of but turned right instead of left in Thong Lor and lost it. So I hailed a cab and asked to be tak­en to Soi  23. The dri­ver laughed and head­ed off in the wrong direc­tion. It was NYE so we gave him the ben­e­fit of the doubt. He roared down an almost emp­ty Upper Sukhumvit (it’s nev­er almost emp­ty – I guess the Farang mas­sive had fled the city) and turned into Soi 24. Mai, mai….23.

The Japan­ese who fre­quent 24 seemed to be out in some num­bers but we want­ed 23. He did a cou­ple of ille­gal turns then drove straight past 23. We decid­ed to walk the dif­fer­ence, a cou­ple of dozen metres, so we stopped and head­ed up the soi. We walked past the neon-lit open­ing to Soi Cow­boy, the first of the ping-pong alleys, which dates to the influx of half a mil­lion sex starved, opi­ate-rid­dled, GIs in the 1960s and ‘70s. It’s seen bet­ter days and, seems filled with the very ugly rem­nants of those same GIs, all hav­ing their very own Deer­hunter moments and an end­less flood of fat Euro­pean and Aus­tralian males look­ing for some sort of plea­sure amongst the hard as nails girls, many of whom, if leg­end is to be believed, are daugh­ters of that first gen­er­a­tion of Yan­kee free­dom fighters.

We went into the very famous, amongst those that write about these things, Le Dalat, a French-Viet­namese restau­rant in an old house, which, I’m told has been there for a very long time, like­ly serv­ing those refugees from Saigon, which per­haps explains it’s location.

It was their last night. They were mov­ing. They had no wine. The own­er apol­o­gised and offered us a glass of bub­bly stuff, which, despite hav­ing no idea what it was, and thus what it might do to my head, we drank. We went back into Soi 23, up to Mini­bar Royale, an almost cool, but a lit­tle too much suf­fer­ing from being sit­u­at­ed in a hotel, albeit a bou­tique one, cafe.

The staff told us to go away. It was full of very young, many far too young, Thai kids, and the thought of a cou­ple of age­ing for­eign­ers crash­ing their gig didn’t work.

I might write them a letter.

We walked off, it was 10 pm. Tem­pus fugit. Still no food (gar­lic bread and gela­to aside) and nowhere to drink in the NY. We walked a lit­tle. We argued a bit. We hugged. We got in a cab and asked to go back to Thong Lor, far away from the SEA war hang­overs and the Thai ado­les­cents on dad’s Amex.

So we were back where we start­ed from, two taxi rides (but only 100B [$3], I love the price of pub­lic trans­port here) and there was anoth­er wine bar. Three peo­ple inside, but hun­dreds of bot­tles and invit­ing wine, a menu and Ital­ian-Amer­i­can gang­ster movie tunes, but not the very obvi­ous ones.


We sat in big com­fort­able chairs and ordered a glass or two of an Ital­ian white, the grape I know not, but it was dry and quite love­ly. We ordered Grilled Chick­en with Peanut Sauce sal­ad, Pork Chips with Sticky Rice, and a Soft Shelled Crab with Wasabi dressing.

And then two more wines.

Across the room, four women sat down and ordered some­thing with bub­bles. At mid­night, or just before to be accu­rate, the staff, who out­num­bered the guests (and were sit­ting out­side with a gui­tar singing Bea­t­les songs) hand­ed out those explod­ing things with a string and we pulled them. The women grabbed us and we formed a cir­cle as they sang what seemed to be an end­less loop of the first four lines of Auld Lang Syne.

It sounds odd, but it was rather neat.

We sat with them. They were sis­ters, four of nine, from Hong Kong. Three live in Bangkok, where one is, so the oth­ers said, a famous pianist.

One lives in Rome, and, they said, one lives in New Zealand. Oh? Where? Auck­land in a place called St Heliers. Cliff Road.

My par­ents live, and my fam­i­ly home was 100 metres from this sis­ter. Heh. So we talked of Auckland’s water­front, of beers and mus­sels in Mis­sion Bay and Vul­can Lane, of Taka­puna Beach, of Piha and it was rather groovy.

And then the piano teacher’s son arrived. He too talked of Auck­land, hav­ing been stay­ing in Albany and study­ing at the school of Audio Engi­neer­ing in Par­nell, tutored by peo­ple I know rather well.

One sis­ter said, if you need any help at immi­gra­tion, I know peo­ple and we smiled but demurred.

We shared num­bers but I guess we may nev­er see them again.

The old­er Viet­namese woman who owned Le Dadat, had also tak­en our num­ber, to invite us to the open­ing of her new restau­rant. On it goes.

I enjoy the con­nec­tions we make on this journey.

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