Travelogue: Thailand

Dear friend or beloved family member:I regret to inform you that I have been unlawfully and indefinitely detained at a Thai prison camp.Although my ordeal has been trying thus far, and is sure to continue until they have drained me of all my energy and U.S. dollars, I can report that Thai prison camps have fortunately come a long way in recent decades.

For example, I have Internet access, allowing me to send this humble dispatch. The dial-up connection is painfully slow, however, and my surfing privileges are limited to websites advertising Thai Boxing, gambling on Thai boxing, and a Thai version of Facebook aimed at procuring Thai massages (sensual and standard).

I am allowed out of my cell daily, but only several times a day, to play volleyball, snorkel, swim, or use their draconian fitness center (free weights, running machines, stairclimbers and stationary bikes, but no pilates…so much for human rights). I am also occasionally free to roam the perimeter of the expansive and surprisingly well-manicured grounds. Because of my miniscule prison outfit, though, designed ostensibly to prevent the concealment of weapons, I have been forced to endure a rather extreme case of sunburn. Only the most basic of sun creams is provided.

Rest assured that I am being fed. While there are only a few mess halls in the camp, I get three square meals a day of standard Thai fare—pad thai; fried prawns; a small variety of curries with minimal protein selections such as chicken, beef, duck, or pork; an only adequate supply of rice and noodle dishes; and a modest number of extremely spicy yet surprisingly delectable soups. At times, dear friends, I feel the soups are all that keep me going.

One positive note is that the $20 U.S. I had with me at the time of my detainment converted into $220,000,000 Thai Baht, and this gets me some of the essentials such as Marlboro cigarettes, Singha beer, black market fried Calamari (not even on the standard menu), and an occasional Thai massage (standard).

My captors encourage mingling amongst the captives through activities such as movie night, Thai kick boxing lessons (either kicking and boxing or being kicked and boxed), macramé, sailing (within prison zone 1), and more. Thus far, my spirit has been too drained from the hectic daily routines to even commune casually with my fellow inmates. I have been fortunate to meet a tough but otherwise lovely young Singaporean woman, however, whom I have befriended and with whom I have shared the occasional Krabi Colada (named after the province in which our prison sits, it is a nearly unbearable concoction of moderate grade rum, coconut milk, and pineapples). It’s almost as if they try to Krabi Colada us to death here, but this may just reflect the massive availability of coconuts and pineapples and the correspondingly cheap price of the same.

My friend and I have occasional thoughts of attempting escape by various means such as slowly tunneling our way through the fine grained beach or faking gastric distress from a particularly spicy batch of Tom Yam Kung and requesting a transfer to Chiang Mai, where conditions are reportedly better. More likely, however, we will bide our time, do as we’re told, and hope against all odds to someday be released to our respective home countries. At present, we are too sapped of strength and too full with Thai food to try to run. Perhaps tomorrow, between breakfast and brunch or sandwiched between aerobics and my kayaking lesson, I can stealthily escape these evil despots who so cunningly confuse the mind and its will to escape with fleshly delights and sumptuous desserts.

I love you, and am thinking of you in these dire times. Please write a letter to your Congressman demanding my eventual release, and also say a prayer for my weary soul (I don’t want to be a burden, though, so don’t pray too hard).

If there is anything I have learned during my ordeal it is that when we are faced with diversity only then do we learn how strong we are.

Your loving friend and brother,
Jon “Pad Thai” Stang

No Yin No Yang

I guess what I couldn’t see
She was expanding her enterprise
Every night she closed her eyes
Pressed them tight to verify

She needed to be free

But only if there would be no price
And she couldn’t ask for paradise
No yin, no yang, no Jesus Christ

Just the freedom to be gone

And that means there could be no past
No ties to bind or hands to clasp
Two people who might never last

There’s no reason in regret

So now she’s in the atmosphere
In this world, that, or nowhere near
Just a memory that I need to clear

And a future yet to find

& I was as far into the ether
She wasn’t me and I couldn’t be her
But life is still so take a picture

It’s the only way to see she or me
Or anybody

Boys Don’t Cry?

When I was six, my grandmother on my father’s side passed away peacefully in the tiny bathroom of the modest home in which she had lived the bulk of her 77 years. Of my four grandparents, she was the only one I knew to any significant extent; I remember her consistent offerings of Nilla Wafers (always a tad stale), spinning tops on her pitted, brittle kitchen flooring, the smell of mothballs near the bedrooms, and the super futuristic rotating Christmas tree with fiber-optic needles that shone stunningly in red, green, and yellow.I was too young and insulated, though, to feel fully comfortable in this alien world. The house was old, as were Ann and her Nilla Wafers, and the tops were ‘50s vintage at best. Still, I could feel the palpable love and adoration my Mother had for grandma, but I could equally sense the measured, stony distance kept by my Father. He was there in body on those visits, but his mind by force or by nature was elsewhere. On these trips, then, I sensed three distinct feelings–the welcome of a sweet old woman, the encouragement of my Mother to embrace my extended family (something rare in our tree), and, that I was actively betraying my Father by siding in some sense “with the women.” So it was. And there can be nothing else. Continue reading