Life Of The Emirate Rich

Dubai was a backwater pearl port for centuries whose Al Bu Falasa tribe seceded from Abu Dhabi in the 19th Century. The Great Depression Thrusted the small nation further into obscurity, however in the late 50s Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum transformed the oil-less economy into a desert financial hub.

No one believe in the Sheikh’s dream, but Dubai is now the richest and most populous city on the Persian Gulf.

Wealth beyond imagination.

The Sheikdom has golf.

Luxury fantasy villas.

The world within the kingdom.

Russian chuvas.

And sand.

For sand is what will be left once the wealth is gone.

Photos from Bread and Circuses by Nick Hannes

Palm Beach Massage

Not many people have my phone number. Friends, family, my wife and mia noi, so I was surprised to see a Thai phone # appear on the LCD. At first I thought it might be the Bangkok cyber-crime police wondering whether I wanted to work for them as a spy, then I recognized the # as belonging to Jamie Parker.

“Where are you?” I asked wishing I was wherever he was rather than Palm Beach.

“Soi 6 and having a good time. Any go-gos where you at?”

“One named Rachel’s. $20 for a three minute lap dance.” About the price of a short-time visit to the upstairs chambers of any Soi 6 establishment.

“Any skinny girls?” Jamie was privy to my predilection for skin and bones.

“I wouldn’t know.” I hadn’t enough money to visit the West Palm go-go bar and bicycling in that area was potentially offering your possessions and life to the various gangbangers dominating the nightlife of West Palm Beach.

“What are you doing for money?”

Three months ago my faux F1 business was providing my family with more money than the average Thai banker and allowing me to live like a duke in Pattaya. Now I was mansion sitting for $50/day. Main duty consisted of walking an Airedale named Cujo.

“Not much.”

“How you like to make some money?

“Love to,” I answered cautious since Jamie Parker loved to take risks with other people’s freedom, but at this point I really was dying to return to Pattaya and any other city in Thailand as long as they had cold beer. “What you have in mind?”

“How about opening a massage parlor on Palm Beach. One girl, one guy, and a ladyboy for anyone in-between? I know the rents are expensive, but I’m sure you could recoup any expenses within the first week.”

Jamie was right about that. Bentleys, Rolls, and Maseratis would be double-parked on Worth Avenue. Sex in Palm Beach was mostly extra-marital with surgical-enhanced blondes. Only one problem.

“I think it would be hard getting the licenses.” The Palm Beach cops would be difficult too. “This isn’t Thailand.”

“Hey, I’ve been to Florida.” He had spent two months in Dade County jail for vagrancy in 1978. The charges stemmed from his falling asleep in a Miami Beach movie theater. “You have to admit you’d clean up if you opened a massage parlor in Palm Beach.”

“Better to have an escort service. These rich people like to be discreet.”

“The trio are already in New York. You want them to come down. Maybe they could stay with you at that mansion.”

“I’ll let you know.” I hung up before I could think about too much, for while Jamie’s plan was a sure-fire way of making money, it was also guaranteed to place me in jail and Florida jails are no fun in the summer time. Still Palm Beach Massage has a nice ring to it.

Especially in florid neon.

Oh so Palm Beach.

The Best Of Days

Every Tuesday morning Earl flew into New York from Boston for meetings at his investment firm’s main office. Traffic on the highway from the airport was lighter than the previous month. A telling sign of the failing economy. No wait at the Midtown Tunnel’s tollbooths was another. The drive to 57th Street and Madison Avenue took five minutes less than in 2008. The town car stopped before the gleaming skyscraper housing the firm’s headquarters. Earl almost tipped the driver $5, instead he handed him a $10. Things were bad, but not that bad. Earl changed this assessment upon entering the lobby. Only one guard manned the welcome desk. Last month there had been three. Companies were cutting staff and not just from the bottom. He stepped into the elevator. It hadn’t been cleaned this week and he held his breath on the brief trip to the 17th floor.

A firm believer in maintaining a good facade Earl stepped out of the elevator with the intention of exuding the confidence of a man who just penned an agreement with a billionaire, then almost stopped in his tracks upon seeing the brokers’ glum faces.

“What’s up?” Earl asked a sweating salesman.

“Market’s tanking again.”

“How bad?” It wasn’t even 10am. There was no shouting from the trading pit and this was a crew that never shut up.

“Bad.” The trader shook his head. The stock market had entered a dimension where every vector pointed down and the staff wore the misery of the last months like cheap oleo on Wonder Bread in a homeless shelter.

“Bad is good.” Earl stood up straight, knowing it was one thing to be defeated and another to look it. He strode to his corner suite, as if it was still in 2005. No one else bothered to join his parade.

“Good morning.” His secretary greeted him without mentioning his name.

“Why the sad face? Everything is going to be fine.” Derek handed his Brooks Brothers overcoat to Josie. He could smell massacre in the air and locked his office door before calling his boss.

“What’s up?” Earl looked out the window on East 57th Street. Only a few pedestrians were on the sidewalk and the lights atop the taxis indicated none of them had passengers.

“Nothing special.” His boss was a master of deception.

“Nothing special. Everyone in the office looks like someone strangled their puppy. Who’s getting axed?” Earl’s sales were down 50% from 2007, which was 200% better than the other earners in his firm.

“We’re shaking of the tree to get rid of some dead wood. Not you. I promise.” His boss spoke about the advantage of a leaner executive staff and the opportunities presenting by the current challenges. Earl thanked him for his honesty and thirty seconds later was on the phone with a VP of Sales for a Swiss Bank. They offered him a new position. The pay was less than he earned in 2007, but his salary was based on sales.

“Whatever you kill, you get to keep.” The VP of Sales used that expression, because every autumn he hunted moose in Northern Ontario.

“That’s the way I like it.” Earl had once accompanied the VP to the near-frozen wasteland. The banker had missed every shot. Finally Earl paid the guide to shoot at the same time as the banker. One dead moose and ever since then the banker had considered Earl good luck.

He hung up and asked Josie for a list of his calls.

“None of them are happy calls.”

“This isn’t a happy time of year.” Earl shut the door and scanned the calls. Everyone wanted cash out their investments. None of them were getting a cent in 2008. The last two months had exposed the wealth of the nation to be a scam. One number stuck out in the list. It was his cousin. Earl was working at the Plaza Hotel selling diamonds. Earl checked his calendar. Tonight was an open date and he dialed the Diamantaire of the Plaza. He could use a break.

“You open for dinner tonight?” Earl knew the answer. His cousin had no plans other than to return to Thailand.


“Your choice. Money’s no object.” Losing your job was one thing. Not eating at a good restaurant was another.

“Le Bernadin is 4 star. My friend is the maitre de, so we don’t need reservations.”

“I’ll meet you at 6.”

“Come to the diamond store. You know where the Plaza is.”

“Of course.” He had been avoiding the Plaza, because his cousin wanted him to buy his wife an anniversary present. They had been married almost 30 years. Last year they had been contemplating a gala event for a hundred. Now the plans were for a quiet dinner together. Tonight he could celebrate the anniversary of the his bachelor party. His cousin would be his best man and he eagerly said, “I’ll see you then.”

The rest of the day was punctuated by security escorting several people from the office. Survivors wagered bets on who would be next to go in this round of ‘musical chairs’. The bloodletting didn’t stop until the market closed with a slight rally. over for this day. Earl ended the day in the black.

“Good day. Good to have you here.” His boss bumped his fist on the way out. “care to go to Philippe’s for drinks?”

“No thanks. I’m going to meet my cousin.” Philippe’s meant footing a bill for Opus 1 wine. Each bottle cost $700. His cousin was a cheaper date and he didn’t need to be in a restaurant packed with shouting investment bankers. The volume of their conversation increased according to their desperation.

“Your mysterious cousin.” His boss asked to meet Derek on several occasions. Earl knew it was better for those twains to never run into each other. His cousin didn’t know how to keep his mouth shut about anything.

“I’ll see you tomorrow bright and early.”

A light rain accompanied Earl the two blocks to the Plaza. Few stores were crowded with shoppers. FAO Schwartz was the exception, however he noted those exiting the world-famous toy store on 5th Avenue were carrying smaller packages than previous years. The rain drops got heavier as he passed the dry fountain before the hotel. The doorman greet him with a tipped cap. “Going to see Derek?”

“Who else?” Earl cuffed the doorman $5 for this greeting. Some gestures remained sacred in a world without wealth.

Earl passed through the outer lobby and turned right at the Palm Court in the direction of the Oak Bar. He would call his cousin from the bar. Trader Vic’s and the Oyster Bar had been evicted from the newly-renovated Plaza, leaving the Oak bar as the only destination for anyone visiting the hotel. Several tourists peered inside the Oak Bar as if someone famous was at the bar. Earl recognized no one, which was good, since he didn’t want to speak to anyone from work.

At the bar Orlando took his order and Earl phoned his cousin. He could tell Derek was disappointed that he wasn’t coming down to his shop. No one really wanted to buy diamonds in this economy. Beer seemed to be selling better than martinis at the bar, but even Budweiser was taking a hit this winter. Three bankers in the corner were drinking heavier than normal. A man and his wife were fighting over the bill. She had never paid before. Five British tourists were drinking beer as if England had won the World Cup. Earl drank half his beer in one go. Two seconds later he ordered another for Derek, who joined him at the bar.

“How’s work?” Derek drank half his glass to catch up with Earl. They signaled Umberto for two more Stellas.

“It’s been a tough year, but don’t worry, we’re going to have a super dinner tonight. When can we leave?”

“I don’t think yet.” Derek looked out the window. The drizzle had intensified to a downpour.

“What’s the food like here?” Earl examined his cousin. He had gained weight since his return from Thailand last summer. His hair was grayer too.

“Life’s been tough this year.” Derek confessed without any guilt. “Same for everyone, but last year was worst. Always is if you start it with an arrest in a foreign country.”

“But that’s all over?” Earl had heard the story about Derek getting caught in Thailand for copyright infringement. He was lucky not to be in jail.

“Yeah, I’m still persona grata. Let’s finish these and get a table.” Derek settled the bar bill and they were escorted to the dining room by a fashionable blonde. Earl heeded the sommelier’s suggestion for a Bourgogne and the two men drank two bottles throughout dinner. The chef came up with dessert. Crepes Suzettes on the house. The bill came to $900. Mostly for the wine. After calling his wife at the coat check, they went outside to 59th Street.

The rain hadn’t let up.

“Where to?”

“I have a big sale tomorrow.” Derek was bailing on him.

“And what about going for a massage?” Earl was sure that his cousin hadn’t had sex in months. “It’s on me.”

“No, I don’t like those old hookers.”

“What about a strip club?”

“Don’t like Russians, but I’ll tell you something. A friend of mine called today with a tip.”

“A tip?” Earl remembered that JP Morgan said, “When your taxi driver gives you a tip, it’s time to get out of the stock market.”

“Yes, the market is really going to tank all week long.”

“And?” He wasn’t in the mood to hear more bad news.

“Then it’s going to nosedive to 6000.”

“Who’s your informant?”

The name Derek whispered was well-known through the financial markets. “We did drugs together in the 80s. Of course this information can’t help me and probably can’t help you, but at least you’ll be prepared if it comes true.”

“To be honest it doesn’t matter. The whole world is fucked right now. So what’s the use?” Earl was feeling tired. Everything he knew was valueless. The meal in his stomach felt like dust. The wine burned his esophagus. This crisis was killing him and his cousin sensed his loss.

“Okay, strippers. But only for a few hours.”

“That’s more like it.” Earl could forget today in the arms of a stripper. And tomorrow he could forget until then, because today was the best of days.

Surfing in Thailand

I’ve never thought of Thailand as a surfing spot, until seeing the autumn waves on Koh Chang. Growling shorebreak. Some of them had to be rideable and I spotted an ancient surfboard at the nearest hotel. Obviously abandoned, since the deck was wrinkled like a potato chip.

First problem.

No wax.

Undaunted I tucked the board under my arm and waded into the sea. Locals gathered at the water’s edge. I slid onto the board and paddled into the wave. I miraculously glided past the break and sat on the board, my ass slipping from side to side like the board was slathered with eel juice. A wave approached, I turned and paddled for my life. The surge caught the wave and I tried to stand.

Close-out and I was sentenced to the turgid tumble. 

My next two attempts were equally as disastrous and I gave up for the day. My wife was fairly surprised I hadn’t drowned and the native spectators left to find another diversion.

I later learned this break was well-known amongst surfers in Thailand

Sai Keow

Koh Khang gets monsoon waves and a nice beach break with great jungle scenery.

This episode whetted my appetite and I searched for a break around Pattaya.

Not a wave on Pattaya or Jomtien Beach. Koh Lann was equally flat.

I head of a swell in Rayong and checked the following two breaks.

Hinsuay Namsay – Rayong has a natural left hand wave, which only rises from May to Sept. If you’re lucky, very lucky, it could get to 4-5 feet. Mostly it’s knee-height, but can be pleasant as the warm water is clean and the Thaïs have fished all the sharks out of the Gulf to feed the Chinese tourists Shark-fin soup.

Mae Ram Phung – Rayong is another break with erratic wind-driven waves during the monsoon season. The best spot is toward the cape as it’s protected from the wind.

Further away from Pattaya

Chaweng beach – Koh Samui

I love Chaweng beach. Water is clear as gin. There’s a small reef break near the rocks and off shore the waves can get glassy during Monsoon. Otherwise you’re looking at a bathtub.

Kalim beach – Phuket

Kalim lies at the northern end of Patong. When the swell is running obliquely, then this break is one of the best waves in Thailand along with Kata Yai and Noi. Rideable at all stages of tide. Watch out for the coral bottom and also the locals get a little fierce. Since when did anyone own the ocean?

Kata Yai – Phuket

This is a fast break for lefts and can build to overhead. The current is also swift so it’s a struggle to stay at the break. You can rent from Phuket Surf. Mostly long boards.

The best wave to ever hit Thailand was probably the monster wave of 2005.

No one has mentioned trying to ride this Hell.

Surprisingly the woman in this photo survived this day along with her children.

Unless you’re coming from Indonesia, it’s not worth the effort to bring your stick to Thailand.  Boards are rentable in Phuket and you can possibly purchase display models at the various Quiksilver shops in Thailand. They run from 14000-17000 baht.

Thailand is not Bali, but it can be good fun and a nice break from lying on the beach doing nothing for weeks on end. Then again why bother?

Surf’s up!

Bizarro View Of Thailand

I found this wacky website spoofing Wikipedia thanks to friskdude in Pai

It offers a Bizarro vista of Thailand.

Here’s the intro.

Thailand is a very sexy country in Suwannabhumi, in the polar regions near the equator. Everyone in Thailand wears a thai, both men and women, as casual clothing is one of the country’s most favorite sports. They also eat Thai food most of the time.

Thai people are once in a very rare while kind and generous, but have cold mean hearts…for most of time. However, if you win a lottery, you will see an even higher amount of the greedy side of Thai people.

Half of Thai people will claim they’re related to you (being your missing dad, reincarnation of your dog, your old car reborn into a human, whatever) and now need some cash now. The other half will just dauntless ask you to share some of your winning cash (at gunpoint). If you refuse, or give them too little cash, they will insult you, call you a mean person and even threaten to harm you. In fact, they are so hungry for extra cash, they may even kill you. The typical Thai’s hunger of (your) money is unprecedented, and as soon as they see that you have some, they will extract every penny (or Baht) that you have.

One of the traits of Thailand, is that due to rampant dishonesty in their culture, you are likely to be harmed whenever interacting with them (unless you pay them off). Doing business in Thailand is considered about as safe as doing business in Nigeria or San Quentin Prison.

For more of this alternative vision of Thailand go to this URL