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.