Archive for the ‘Thailand’ Category
Barcelona- Partly out of boredom and partly out of the itch to simply create something new out of old, I threw together this photo montage over the weekend. In this era of digital photography where one shoots thousands of frames rather than analog hundreds, I was reflecting on how almost all of the images I make will never see the light of day in this regard. I put this video together in a largely random fashion with images that have been just sitting in my laptop for years. I put the photos in the order they came to me as I grabbed them one by one from various folders containing my view of many of the biggest news events of the last 10 years.
Interspersed with them are much more sublime moments of everyday life around the world. An elephant in Thailand, an aged priest in Ethiopia, a glitzy office tower in Manhattan. This has been my reality and is our collective reality. Globalization and social networking simultaneously accelerate worldwide travel and technological integration while hyper compartmentalizing our lives. We speak more so to only those who we want to and listen to those with whom we already agree.
No one knows just where any of this is going. Billionaire fraudsters suddenly imprisoned, social revolutions springing up from seemingly nowhere (though not quite), calcified dictatorships counted on for decades in the interests of “stability” suddenly crumbling to pieces, it seems as if the entire world order is in question.
New York- I have the lead story in today’s edition of Asia Times Online about the hearing of KSM and Khallad at Guantánamo on Saturday, the killing of Fahd-al Quso in southern Yemen (or South Yemen if you prefer) by a drone strike on Sunday, and the apparent leak on Monday of the disruption of a suicide bomb plot believed to have the hand of AQAP’s Ibrahim al-Asiri. A very interesting succession of events to say the very least. The article contains some of my on-the-ground research on the background of the USS Cole attack and how that plan intersected with the 9/11 ‘planes operation.’
Ao Nang- Did an elephant trek here today. Went for a ride atop the local megafauna Elephas maximus. These beasts of burden now take tourists around instead of logging. The other day one of their cousins, a 22 year old female up north in Lampang Province stepped on a land mine along the Burmese border and it gave me a little perspective on these gals down south who don’t have it so bad I rationalized.
Ao Nang- I have a new article in this week’s edition of Jamestown’s Terrorism Monitor about the recent, somewhat mysterious grenade explosions following a recent by-election for a parliamentary seat in Bangkok. The drama in BKK isn’t quite keeping all the tourists away from The Land of Smiles, just a lot out of the capital. Click on the blurb to read on.
Ao Nang- I had planned to head out to the island Ko Phi Phi Don today when a nearly 6ft tall Nordic girl interrupted my conversation with the woman about to vend me a ferry ticket yesterday warning of particularly rough seas from a monsoon bank that would make landfall sometime today. I was doubtful of the severity of her warning until the whipping reality came to fruition exactly as she’d said. Unusually for the past week, it was all blue skies when I woke up today and I was psyched to continue work on my nascent tan, a tan which has been dormant since my last recent summer of glory, 2005. From blue to black, the Euro sun worshippers packed up and scurried off and I was the last man off the beach. I actually like being on the beach when it rains. OK it wasn’t exactly the Saigon embassy evacuation in ’75 but still…
Dude looks like a ladyboy
Thailand has some funny contrasts that are probably healthier than a lot of other countries in terms of societal harmony. I rocked up to a street curry stall after buying my ferry ticket to Phi Phi and it was run by a Malay gal in hijab with a ladyboy waiter/waitress and they made a mean team. Not really knowing what it was I ordered the “Indian” curry thinking it might be milder than the ubër hot Thai curries I’ve been sweating out the past few weeks. Wrong. The Indian curry was not some south asian dish whatsoever, but apparently the hottest of all the curries sold there. Needless to say the hijabi girl and ladyboy were having a few laughs at my expense as I broke into a full sweat with Scandanavian tourists looking at me as if a sidewalk spectacle. I had to sprint to the store for a large, cold Chang® immediately afterwards.
Ao Nang- My time here in Krabi Province has been closer to Cast Away than The Beach, two movies that hit theaters a decade ago about being stranded on beaches. Rather than a sultry latin Virginie Ledoyen (né Fernandez) sauntering out of the tide with a boss techno track blasting,
it’s closer to Wilson the Volleyball. I’ve found some coconuts on the beach that I have befriended that act as a combination bowling/basket/football to play with in the surf. They also act as floatation devices when I get lazy. I’m here at the quietest time of year and was told by a Dutch bar owner who’s establishment I’ve been frequenting in the evenings that in the winter (aka high season), direct charter flights from the Nordic countries to Krabi (ie bypassing BKK) arrive here and this place becomes mobbed with Swedish and Finnish families pushing strollers and Kroner and Euros and prices skyrocket. Now it’s a bit lonely here which suits me just fine for the time being.
It’s hard to say whether the best part of being here is the food or the foot reflexology I’m undergoing. Either way it’s going to be tough to leave to Malaysia when the moment comes (when my 30 days are up on my tourist stamp). Ao Nang is being very lightly hit by the monsoon which I find refreshing. That same monsoon that has apparently killed hundreds (up to 800 at present) in flooding in the decidedly non-party zone of Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa Province. Here all it does is keep the tourists out of the bay and leaves me to swim by myself amongst the anchored long tail boats in the quiet of dusk and read a book on NATO geopolitics on a virtually deserted beach.
Bangkok- My last full day in the city was a fairly quiet one. I went out for the day and my Blackberry battery died and kept to myself by getting a rigorous Thai massage trying to exorcise the demons of some old, nagging injuries that affect my locomotion from time to time. While I was getting turned into a pretzel on Khao San road, a bomb detonated at a bus stop in front of a chain supermarket injuring eight or nine Thais and a Burmese woman. I got back to my hotel and finally plugged in my phone to charge and got a text from a friend that read; “Bomb went off, Rathcadamri. Ten injured, some serious. THEY ARE BACK.” By they, I assume my friend was referring to the claims by some violent members of the Red Shirt (Puea Thai) movement that they would bomb downtown Bangkok if the status quo remained unchanged. They made good on their threat and one of the injured died. There was an election today in Bangkok’s far flung 6th district (where I made a fruitless journey the previous day exploring the possibility of doing a story today) that pitted a Red Shirt candidate, currently imprisoned on charges of terrorism, named Korkaew Pikulthong supporting the return of the exiled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, versus the Yellow Shirt (People’s Alliance for Democracy) candidate Panich Vikitsreth, who supports the current pro-army, pro-business establishment PM Abhisit Vejjajiva, who subsequently won.
While all of this was going, I was buying a bus ticket to throw myself into the mellow maelstrom of the “Banana Pancake Trail,” the beyond well-trodden backpacker trail carved out of Southeast Asia by Australians and other assorted Westerners over the last 25 years, epitomized in the famous “Yellow Bible” (aka the Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a Shoestring). The trailhead begins on the Khao San road, where I crashed in a dingy guesthouse the first few nights, and spirals out eastward into Cambodia, Laos and Viet Nam and southward into Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. I’m making my way through the latter, via Krabi. Last night, I went with my friend Patrik of visualtraveling.com to The Club on Khao San (see above photo) and the place was a madhouse with most patrons decked out in the Australian national dress (board shorts, tank top, and flip flops…sorry, thongs) and fully reveling in blasting techno not caring about red or yellow shirts. All hail the Banana Pancake Trail! For more on this subject, you can read the lyrics to the accompanying song “Banana Pancakes” by Jack Johnson.
Bangkok- I took a very interesting meander through Bangkok’s bustling “Little Arabia” cluster today in more of my seemingly never ending investigation into the road to 9/11 and more specifically following in the footsteps of the so-called San Diego cell of Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi. Here’s why: according to the 9/11 commission section entitled Section 5.2 The “Planes” Operation:
“While in Kuala Lumpur, Khallad wanted to go to Singapore to meet Nibras and Fahd al Quso, two of the operatives in Nashiri’s ship-bombing operation. An attempt to execute that plan by attacking the USS The Sullivans had failed just a few days earlier. Nibras and Quso were bringing Khallad money from Yemen, but were stopped in Bangkok because they lacked visas to continue on to Singapore. Also unable to enter Singapore, Khallad moved the meeting to Bangkok. Hazmi and Mihdhar decided to go there as well, reportedly because they thought it would enhance their cover as tourists to have passport stamps from a popular tourist destination such as Thailand. With Hambali’s help, the three obtained tickets for a flight to Bangkok and left Kuala Lumpur together. Abu Bara did not have a visa permitting him to return to Pakistan, so he traveled to Yemen instead.
In Bangkok, Khallad took Hazmi and Mihdhar to one hotel, then went to another hotel for his meeting on the maritime attack plan. Hazmi and Mihdhar soon moved to that same hotel, but Khallad insists that the two sets of operatives never met with each other or anyone else. After conferring with the ship-bombing operatives, Khallad returned to Karachi and then to Kandahar, where he reported on his casing mission to Bin Ladin.
Bin Ladin canceled the East Asia part of the planes operation in the spring of 2000. He evidently decided it would be too difficult to coordinate this attack with the operation in the United States. As for Hazmi and Mihdhar, they had left Bangkok a few days before Khallad and arrived in Los Angeles on January 15, 2000.”
I find it quite suspect that there is so much vague detail in the 9/11 commission report looking back on it all these years later. Do they (those on the commission chaired by Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton) mean to tell us that they nor their contacts here in Thailand don’t know the names of the hotels in Bangkok? If one looks carefully, there’s an immense amount of detail missing from the finalized 9/11 report. If the people of Alec Station, the CIA’s Bin Laden unit based in Virginia, that was tracking these two and monitoring the Kuala Lumpur AQ summit at Jemmah Islamiyah operative Yazid Sufaat’s condominium, stop tracking them while in they were in Thailand before they went to Los Angeles and rendezvoused with Saudi (agent) Omar al-Bayoumi? Judging by the fact that al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi spoke (supposedly) very limited English, I am guessing that when they arrived in Bangkok, they likely headed straight for Little Arabia where Arabs from the Mashreq, the Maghreb, and the Gulf all seem to congregate here. When al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi arrived in Los Angeles on the flight from Don Mueang airport, they are believed to have immediately gone to a halal restaurant on the border of the Palms neighborhood and Culver City on Venice Boulevard where they met al-Bayoumi (the commission report is sorely lacking in detail on this very clutch episode as well). Now I have no way of proving this is where the two spent there last days before leaving for Southern California but I also don’t have any reason to believe they would have spent their time anywhere else in Bangkok. If you didn’t see Thai women in tank tops and short shorts, you could think you were in a down at the heels part of Amman or Abu Dhabi. The only person I think who would know the answer to this question is the former head of Alec Station but he thus far has not responded to my email query. There remain so many questions still to be answered about 9/11 it boggles the mind.
If I can’t know the answers, I need to at least ask the questions. How long were the hijackers in Bangkok? Who else did they meet with here? How many days were they here and what hotels did they frequent? I am I the only one who desires to know all of these minor but important details? And lastly, why is so much information left out of the 9/11 report?