PONOGRAMS

 

Ponograms:

1-24  The First Twenty-Four
25-48  The Second Twenty-Four
49-72  The Third Twenty-Four
73-96  The Fourth Twenty-Four
97-120  The Fifth Twenty-Four
121-on  The Sixth Set


25  A Week In Sydney
26  Interview with the Widow - 1
27  Interview with the Widow - 2
28  Three Kings of Orient
29  1969 - Year of the Rooster
30  Summer in Europe
31  Bellybuttons & Maggots
32  Yes/No vs. Maybe
33  Blood, Beer and Warm Feet
34  Mine Universe
35  Hands off, Boots on
36  The Accidental Cure
37  It's the Only Thing
38  The Professor's Stable
39  Little House on the Highway
40  "9/11 is OK"
41  Suspected Child Abuse
42  Midlife Crisis
43  Where Am I Today - 1
44  Where Am I Today - 2
45  The Rosebud Period
46  Angular and Giddy
47  Sandin, N. A., Computer
48  Hot Trailers

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(Ponograms #28 and #29 related to Pono’s two year plus stay in Bangkok, Thailand with coworkers Dave and Dick, and the birth of his son, JR.  This Ponogram covers several other incidents, cameos, vignettes, memories and events that transpired during that time.)

HANDS OFF, BOOTS ON

***

The first few days in Bangkok we depended entirely on taxis for mobility and on hotels for our quarters.  This of course had to come to a stop.  We spent some time with agents and rented an apartment.  We went to the car rental recommended by our company and obtained a car.  And I took the test and paid the appropriate bribe to get a driver’s license.  This provided the means and legality for living and driving in Bangkok, but the physical and mental issues took a bit longer.

They drive on the wrong side of the street in Thailand.  They have rules and regulations for the road, but the police don’t seem to be inclined to enforce them!  I can understand why.  The traffic was incredible.  Buses, trucks, cars, tuk-tuks (3-wheeled golf carts pretending to be taxis), motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians all vie for a place on the street.  The delineators marking lanes were irrelevant.  If there was room for a vehicle between two others, someone pulled in there.  The traffic lights were somewhat respected, but railroad crossings were unbelievable!

 Tuk-tuk in Bangkok

Tuk-tuk in full flight

Picture an urban street with four lanes in each direction and a railroad crossing.  The signals go on, traffic stops and the gates come down.  Little by little, traffic (especially the two- and three-wheeled varieties) sneaks up in the *on-coming* lanes to try to get a jump on the “legal” traffic.  As soon as the train has cleared the crossing (and sometimes before), the little ones sneak under and around the gates.  When the gates rise chaos ensues.  Then it takes half an hour to clear the congestion!

I did drive there, with only a few non-serious incidents, but soon acquired a full-time driver so I could relax.  The incidents were mostly jumping the curb on the left side – it was hard to get used to having so much car over there!  Very few drivers actually owned their cars and penalties for accidents were severe.  Newspaper reports of serious accidents usually finished with the sentence “The drivers fled the scene on foot.”

Clae went out several times before we got our own driver.  She was so intimidated by the eight lane streets that she would hire a tuk-tuk to take her across the street rather than to chance the mad dash!  Of course, with JR in her belly, I can’t say that I blame her!

***

The light turned green and Dick punched his huge motorcycle and it stalled.  He tried several times to restart it but failed.  The intersection was arguably the busiest one in Bangkok and traffic was already building behind him.  Dick had to get out of the intersection!

Dick was tall and wide and carried a pile of excess weight.  Volume-wise, Dick would have made about three average Thais.  Thais admired and respected large people, white people, foreigners, and Americans, and Dick was all of those.  He attracted attention wherever he went in Thailand.

But now he had a problem.  His bike wouldn’t start and he had to clear the intersection.  His bulk did not allow him to stand beside the bike and push it out of the way, so he proceeded to stay on the seat and paddle with his feet to progress.  The sight quickly drew a pedestrian crowd.  Traffic in Bangkok has no mercy and this incident was no different.  Cars, buses, trucks, tuk-tuks, and motorized bikes of all kinds packed in from all directions leading to TOTAL gridlock.  Dick was the center of attention for a LONG time.

***

The water taxi approached and swung its rear end up to the dock like a bitch in heat.  June gathered up her belongings and made the small jump to the boat just as a swell moved the boat away from the dock and she went for a swim.  June was rescued and got into the boat and made her way across the Chao Phraya to her appointment in Thonburi.  It was typically hot and except for the ever-present sheen of perspiration, June was mostly dry by the time she got across the river.

Water taxi in Bangkok

Dave’s wife June slipped into the local culture (and the Chao Phraya River) quickly after her arrival in Thailand.  They rented a free standing house with all the maintenance issues that go with it.  When trash disposal became a problem, June immediately went out and bought a pig.  Of course she never considered the facts that a) pigs need more food than the garbage a typical family generates, b) pigs root, c) pigs grow, d) pigs need shelter and a place to do their thing, and e) pigs do their thing wherever they are.  All of these items led to the somewhat distressed sale of a young, *used* pig to the amusement of many.

***

Dick was just outside the break room holding his nose and speaking loud and fast as only he could do.  The words I caught were “stink”, “throw out”, “my refrigerator”, “never”, “agreed”, “instantly”, and perhaps some mild profanities.

Dick had offered to supply a refrigerator for our floor in the Engineering Building, but he retained the authority to dictate what could and could not be stored in it.  For the most part it was used for bag lunches which many of us carried.  However, as in typical buildings, as well as garages, billboards, railroad crossings, and so many other “places”, a Thai family lived on our floor with us.  They kept the place clean and did odd jobs and in return had an 8 x 8 janitor quarters fitted with a bed, had an extension cord and hot plate for cooking in the entry way, had use of the rest rooms for bathing and so forth (although I watched one guy plucking his beard on the raised walkway in front of the computer room – light beard – he never shaved), and pretty much had the run of the place when staff wasn’t present.  They had crossed the line – part of a durian was found in the refrigerator!

Durian fruit

Durian fruit is said to have a creamy, succulent flavor, but first you must survive the smell.  If you can picture a cross or combination of smelly socks and kerosene, and then multiply that a bit, you might be close.  I could never get past the smell, but the Thai family who lived there didn’t even understand Dick’s complaint.

***

Now remember that this is a hands-off restaurant.  We went in and identified ourselves – five of us including the Lt. Col. who was leaving and whose going away party it was.  We shed our shoes and were assigned five young ladies.  We were conducted to a closed room with a sunken table and began to get acquainted with the ladies.  None of them spoke English and of course our Thai was limited at best.  Once in place, the rules were clarified – hands-off!

It was totally improper for any of us to touch food items or silverware, plates, or glasses at any time during the meal.  Our hands were not to be used for any such purpose – we had assistants for that.  We could, however, touch anything else that happened to be in the room.

It was in this setting that I ate a so-called “hundred-year egg”.  This culinary delight is considered to be a real delicacy in some Asian countries.  Preparation of the egg is described variously – some people refer to horse urine, manure, and years of storage, but the truth is probably milder and far less interesting.  However it is processed, the yolk turns blackish while the white is a sickly amber and the object emits a very pronounced sulfurous odor.  On a normal day I wouldn’t touch such an apparition with the legendary 10-ft pole, but since under the hands-off rules I didn’t have to touch it, I opened up and swallowed down.  I don’t think I would do it again, but it wasn’t really that bad.  Neither was the “hands-off” experience.

100 year old egg

***

I was a bit late getting to work that day since I had been up late the night before watching all of the excitement and commentary surrounding the very first moon landing.  Fortunately it had all been carried by the single TV station that broadcast in English.  As I walked into our offices in the Engineering Building at Chulalongkorn University, I saw a gaggle of people around Pim’s desk, talking excitedly and (of course, to me) incoherently.  I was apparently the first American of the morning and you would have thought I was Elvis.  They gathered around me and didn’t let go until every single one had shaken hands or at least verbally congratulated me.  I kept telling them that except for my tax dollars, I really had nothing to do with the moon landing program, but for that day, that hour, and that place I was *the* representative of the astronauts, the program, and the United States of America!  For a brief moment, it was like I had just won an Olympic gold medal!  It was kind of nice!

Pono as seen by Thai friends

Pono as seen by his Thai friends in 1969