Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Final Installment

I have now arrived home as have all the students. I actually left Bangkok a day early because my oldest sons and my granddaughter were going to come for a visit.

It's been a good trip and I am, as always, left a little conflicted. I am so glad to be home! I am so tired! I missed Betty and my family and dogs terribly. But, give me a little rest and I'm ready to go again. I guess I'm like the farm dog who always jumps in the truck anytime the door opens. In my mind, I am already planning the next trip.

This was such a great learning experience: culture, food, politics, economy, history. It's all in Southeast Asia in quantity and the students really absorbed it. Some of the best teaching I ever did occurred in Bangkok, on Soi 11, at 11 p.m., at a street food vendors cart. It's a great place to discuss culture and politics, religion and economics, food and spirituality. There's Thai culture, at least quite a bit of it, parading right in front of you.

Another favorite teaching location is in the local markets. People are rushing in to buy things from individual vendors with whom they have a continuing relationship. Shoppers head for their favorite fruit vendor who has the best Dragon fruit. Or, they go rushing off to the person with the best pork, or veggies. People in Southeast Asia still rub shoulders with their neighbors and they still buy from people they know. What a different economic model built on small individual sellers who have been making the same pho, for example, in the same spot and in the same way for 20 years. And they sell to the same customers who come by for the best pho in Ho Chi Minh city every day. There is no Wal Mart, Target, Sam's Costco, or Kroger. There is a new grocery chain "Lotus" and one wonders how that is going to affect things and how will that affect a culture where people know each other and do business on a regular basis.

Bangkok, our last stop, is quiet and things seem pretty normal. There remain fewer tourists and I noticed that the flight from BKK to NRT was about 60% full. It was great for me because I had added room but not good for the local economy.

I wonder if this peace will hold. While Thai peoples were shocked and angered by what happened and how it happened the underlying issues remain. Thailand is a great country but the gulf between the haves and have nots remains vast. If you don't believe me take a trip outside Bangkok to any smaller community and there you will see it first hand.

So, the issues remain and red shirts remain. Can the latest coalition government produce a sustainable solution? Will the current government hold elections in November as promised? What will happen as the king spends more time in the hospital and less time exerting his enormous moral power? Is Thaksin really finished? All of these questions make Thailand a fascinating political topic of interest.

Well, it's hard to believe but my work is done here. Best to all.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Last Post Before Departure . . . Probably

This is Monday June 7, 2010 and the first of the students (Kathryn Jones and Stephanie Goins) both depart tomorrow morning at 5:30 a.m. They will head to the airport after a farewell dinner at 7 p.m. Both are fine travellers and now good friends. I'll miss both of them.

The rest of the group departs 11:30 p.m. tomorrow evening. I may try to fly standby with them as I am now tired and ready to return. I usually stay one day later just in case but this time I may go ahead and try to depart earlier. We'll see how that works. If all else fails I'll fly out Wednesday evening at 11:30 p.m. and I'll arrive at 1:15 p.m. on Thursday in Roanoke.

Bangkok is clearly recovering although Suk11 still remains more empty than I remember from three previous visits. However, I have seen more tourists today than I recall in previous days. All the sites and shopping and history are open. I've still not seen much security.

I do like Bangkok. I suppose it's my favorite. It's so diverse and so vibrant and so immense. It's hard to explain but I don't get tired of being here.

I'll see all in the US. Best.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Another Day in Bangkok

Yesterday we visited Young and Rubicam atSiam Towers here in Bangkok. Oliver Kittipong, who heads their strategy section, hosted us. The students understand that Thai culture is different and we've talked about some differences. From an IMC perspective Oliver was very specific about the environment for advertising/public relations/marketing from a cultural perspective.

For example, the market still relies heavily on tv but not so much cable. Newspapers remain very popular and are tightly focused even though there is one main one. Cell phone penetration is over 90% but internet use remains low although growing. Thai language and humor here requires a very local touch. All of these things set the stage for any campaign and they require constant adaptation. I think we all learned quite a lot.

Today we'll visit Nai, a friend of Dr. Joe Flory's, who works in the Foreign Affairs office. I'll be curious to learn about the government take on the recent riots and its impact on the economy. One story I read claimed that the Thai economy had lost $1.5 billion in revenue. The manager of our hotel said that only 10 rooms were occupied and we have four of them. Other places, she reported, have no customers and staff are being laid off. I thought I saw more people at our place and the streets are more full than they were but things have not yet recovered to pre riot conditions.

I have heard, but can't confirm, that the king is in the hospital. Perhaps that is why he did not take a public stand on the riots.

For now, things seem normal to me although less crowded.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Tiger Temple

I have been to the Tiger Temple north and west of Bangkok four times. Each time I think I won't go in and every time I do. And, every time I enjoy myself.

This year there were more tigers and more cubs. They had added the opportunity to go to a pond and watch the tigers play. I often felt sorry that the tigers were so lethargic during the photo session. You'll note in the pictures that they seem so out of it. However, when they are released to go to the pond things change quickly. All the tigers we say (11 or 12) were under two years old and they played like the kids they are. I'll try to post some video so you can really see what they are like at play.

The drive there and back is about 2.5 hours each way. It was a very good but a tiring day.

Today we'll see Oliver Kittipong at Young and Rubicam. Tomorrow, Nai who works for the Thai government.

For those who are reading, everybody is doing very well and learning quite a lot. We had a good chat with a British restaurant owner who was on Soi 11 where we stay during the riots. His descriptions are scary and interesting.

Each day there are more and more people on the streets and things are beginning to look normal again.  We are safe and happy.