Market-based solutions for beach reading

[Originally posted on a now-defunct blog]

Just a very quick post for the novelty of posting from a small island in the Gulf of Thailand. We completed the 10-day meditation retreat yesterday.

Now staying at the rather posh Panviman resort at Thong Nai Pan beach on the northeast side of Phangan. I’ve been out in the sun all morning and reveling in the brownness, while reading When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management, passed on to me by Parker and to be passed on to Stéphane when I’m done. Have just got to mid-1997, as the Asian financial markets were collapsing, Merton was about to win the Nobel and LTCM was about to implode. Nail-biting!

We are going to have a bit of lunch now and then rent a kayak to paddle round the bay. Afterwards I’ll get back to Merton, LTCM and sun.

You had me at hello

[Originally posted on the Fletcher INTERNet]

In Thailand I live by one simple principle: “When in doubt, wai.”

A wai is the traditional Thai greeting. The palms come together and rise, fingertips pointing upwards, elbows close to the body, head bowed. It resembles the Hindu salutation namaste, where the hands are at heart level and elbows slightly out to either side. Namaste, a Sanskrit phrase, may be translated as “the spirit in me meets the same spirit in you” – a celebration of equality and sacredness in all humans.

Brand localization – the tires in me meet the tires in you

But some are more equal than others, so hierarchy dictates the height of your hands (to the chest, nose, forehead?), the angle of the bowed head and body if applicable, and – perhaps most of all – who wais first?

To figure out the right position and timing when you meet someone, you’ll need to assess the other person’s age and place in society relative to your own, plug it into the how-low-do-you-go? formula printed on the back of every Thai birth certificate, and translate it into a graceful, easy movement… within the space of half a second. All is instinctive to the native, but to a not-totally-Thai such as myself it’s a greeting fraught with subtle terror.

The same delicate calculations are required in interactions all over Asia. In Vietnam, what pronoun should I use to address so-and-so who was two years below me at school but is now my older brother’s wife? In Japan, what angle do I bow to my boss when I see him first thing in the morning? and as the day wears on?

I guess it’s difficult to be too polite. When in doubt, wai.

For more on the wai, check out Leonardo DiCaprio and the Thai Wai on the wonderful website of Sriwittayapaknam school in Samutprakan province outside Bangkok, featuring the only school webcam in Thailand.

E+Co: "Energy Through Enterprise"

[Originally posted on the Fletcher INTERNet]

Currently playing on my imaginary life soundtrack: “Hot in Here” by Nelly. Walking down Bangkok’s Sukhumvit Road at lunchtime today, the equator felt very close as the midday sun beat straight down on my tender Medford skin.

For the next few weeks in Bangkok I am working for E+Co, a U.S.-based not-for-profit that provides business development services and seed capital to clean energy entrepreneurs in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Originally a program of the Rockefeller Foundation, E+Co’s mission is “bringing together technology, people and funding to create viable local enterprises that deliver affordable and clean energy to those in need.”

E+Co’s current investments in Asia vary widely. There’s biogas, biomass, run-of-river hydro, solar photovoltaic, wind, and transmission and distribution, in Nepal, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, India, Bangladesh, and China. Generating capacities range in size from 1 kilowatt miniature wind turbines to 20 megawatt rice husk-fired thermal power plants.

My task will be to produce the semi-annual monitoring and evaluation (M&E) reports for E+Co’s active investments in Asia. The idea is to assess the financial, social and environmental (“triple bottom line”) performance of each enterprise, in order to evaluate investment impact, increase future access to capital and improve the knowledge base for developers and investors alike.

Julia is in Bangkok for a couple of days on her way to Bhutan. I think we’ll be spending some time on two key Thai activities: eating and market shopping.

"On first tasting it I thought it like the flesh of some animal in a state of putrefaction."

[Originally posted on LJ]

August brings many blessings to Thailand, among them the rains. We have slipped into full-on monsoon mode: last Saturday at 2 a.m. as we left Khao San, the rains came so heavy that running was useless. One second of exposure got you as wet as ten. Spared the option of avoiding a soaking, we were free to stroll laughing through sheets of water on asphalt.

Another August blessing is the end of the durian season. Durio zibethinus is that bat-pollinated, spiky-shelled, custard-fleshed fruit of Southeast Asia whose infamous odor has meant its banishment from the region’s air carriers and five-star hotels. I too regard this fruit as a scourge of the olfactory kind. Unfortunately, in our household the majority opinion holds otherwise, and despite my grandmother’s efforts to isolate the peeled durian with plastic wrap, rubber bands and Tupperware, the smell has taken the refrigerator hostage. I never before understood why it is said that mortuary workers can’t get the stench of death out of their hair and clothes. When I grow up my house is going to be a durian-free zone.

Khun yai ja… so, I was wondering, how long is the durian season? Can you get it all year round?” I said as the usual dessert plate of durian was set in front of grandfather at lunch today.

“Oh, no, child. It’s only ripe for about three or four months, starting in April or May, something like that. Why, what about it?” said grandmother suspiciously as I wrinkled my nose.

“Just that, it seems to have been… longer.”

She laughed and slid my grandfather’s plate three inches away. “Ok, is that better?”

I really love her.

Getting ready to go

[Originally posted on LJ]

Thursday statistics

Fellow Japanese lunch eaters: 8
[Pa Mon, noomai, N’Eck, Dear, noman, microps, matana, Jill]

Iberry ice cream flavors tasted: 5
[Horlicks, green tea, red bean, Nutella, noi na (custard apple)]

National Artist exhibitions visited: 1
[Chakrabhand Posayakrit at the Silpakorn University Art Centre, across from the Grand Palace at Tha Prachan. The Old City, or Rattanakosin, is my favorite Bangkok neighborhood, and my favorite street is the studenty Phra Athit. Highlights include the Baan Phra Athit Coffee & More bar/restaurant, Hemlock philosophy café, the roti and mataba stall, the bread and sankaya (coconut custard) stall, Saffron teashop, Passport travel bookshop. Nearby are Thammasat (the LSE of Thailand and seat of political revolutions) and Silpakorn (founded to teach the fine and applied arts) universities and my favorite Bangkok park, the artistic, cooled by river breeze Suan Santichaiprakarn.]

Friends seen for the first time in at least two months: 5


Passing the time Saturday while waiting to rejoin Book, Tip, Nan and Yai:

+66 1 801xxxx 1654h ICT >> Thought would be cool to sms you while wriggling my toes in the sand of a thai beach. Not brighton wifi, but the sand is whiter.
+44 7932 690xxx 1102h GMT >> Way cool. Currently having brunch in berlin. How cosmopolitan we are!
+66 1 801xxxx 1713h ICT >> Wow. I feel like we're in an orange advert. Xx
+44 7932 690xxx 1136h GMT >> The future's bright, the future's ginger!

We are lucky.


A list of jobs I have held, as prompted by ephemer in response to a list of jobs to which I have given more than a passing thought. Though inevitably the tried-it list is much shorter and less colorful, I say life is long…

Jobs For Which I Have Received Monetary Compensation
(Includes one-time paid tasks. Can you tell which ones?)

Assistant to CEO of renewable energy company
Busgirl at fancy restaurant
Classified ads copytaker
Freelance copy editor
Layout designer for start-up philosophy/science magazine
Pianist at some company’s Christmas party
Resident assistant at academic summer program
Runner for NBC News coverage of Princess Diana’s funeral
Teaching assistant at Montessori school
Walk-on chorus understudy for a Washington Opera production of Rigoletto