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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

THE KING AND I




King Rama IX (Bhumibol Adulyadej), while a symbolic figurehead, is a beloved leader of the Thailand. He is the longest reigning current monarch and has been ruling for 63 years. Sad to say that he has been hospitalized now for four months. While the clear next king would be his only son, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, for by law, only males can ascend, plus his mother, Queen Sirikit, and the military support him, life is not all that simple.

His elder sister, Ubolratana Rajakanya, married an American, relinquished her royal title, but got divorced, and returned to Thailand, where she has redeemed herself. Child #3, Royal Princess Galyani Vadhana, is lot more popular (the Crown Prince is considered to be, frankly, a playboy),


generally represents the King at many ceremonies, and is reported to be his his favorite. If there were a national vote, she would most probably be voted as the next monarch. Thus, the transition, while legally and generally straightforward, could well become complicated.

Worse, there is this yellow (current leadership) and red shirt (supporters of former Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra) split (about 50-50, varying depending on who you ask and when) that truly discombobulates the coming future. The yellow shirts closed their airports in 2008 and the red shirts have announced a similar protest for February 16-26. Good luck, if you plan to visit Thailand then, although all indications are that they will be "smarter" this time, whatever that means.


THE HILL TRIBES OF NORTH THAILAND


There are six hill tribes in Thailand, with the Hmong (pronounced mong) and Karen (pronounced Karen, like in the name) being the most recognized. There are now perhaps a quarter million of Hmong ancestry in the U.S., a larger population than now lives in Thailand. Clint Eastwood’s Grand Torino featured this group.

















The Karen numbers around a third of a million in Thailand, and one sub-group features long necks for females. The rings weigh in the range of 10 pounds, and are, actually, one coil of brass. They are placed on a female (no males) as early as the age of 2, although 6 would be more likely, and lengthened over time until the age of 20. There is no standard length, with some being longer than others. Each individual polishes the brass everyday, and live with it for their lifetime. The story has something to do with tigers eating females in the villages when the men are out working, so these rings were protective. Today, there is some controversy about catering to tourism and the like.
















One aside about working animals, as elephants are used for labor, and so are water buffalos, now returning in favor because of the high cost of petrol. However, 1200 monkeys are employed (for a couple of bananas) to pick coconuts. The guide said that a good man can pick 100 coconuts/day, while a great monkey can bring in more than 1000, and you need to pay the man. Actually, it turns out that monkeys are probably only good for 300 coconuts, and they are cheap to maintain.

working monkey


















To end the day, Curtis Lee and I had dinner with Geoffrey and Candy Habich of Bloutville, Tennessee at the Four Seasons Terrace, overlooking a rice field and our two water buffaloes. The wagyu beef was sensational. Chocolate flambe melt not bad, either.



On the next table were Ira and Gloria Slutzky.




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Check the Dow Jones Industrials and $75/barrel price of oil in the right boxes.

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