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Friday, April 30, 2004

Still here, and with some actual playing time under my belt. The last month and a half, between travel and holidays and family visits, my table time has been almost nil, so it's nice to come back to the game refreshed.

I'm a big believer in phases, and I've switched again back from the NL tables on Empire to the Limit games on Party (plus I get my tasty bonuses for being away from Party so long). It feels good to get back to limit--grinding again, instead of the required lying-in-wait of the low NL games.

And I've stepped up to the 2/4 tables, a higher stake for me, which keeps me tight enough to limit my hands to premium ones, a little looser in late position. And whereas last year my bankroll was too small for me to comfortably aggress at 2/4, my earlier tourney placings this year afford me enough poker cash to raise on the turn, make bolder plays, and so on. Damned fun.

My sessions have been positive ones so far, despite the unavoidable bad beats in some very juicy pots. And I've learned a bit about backing off to re-raisers, unless I know for sure they're maniacs.

Finally, I placed 2nd in a NL qualifier for the first set of Party Million IV semis next week-end--that earns me a free entry into another 29+3 qualifier, but the loss was disappointing—I was chip leader, but I couldn't get anything going heads up, and when I did make a move, I walked right my opponent’s trips. Ouch. Funny thing was, I almost got him to fold his trips to the straight I was representing. Oh well. I just missed this year’s cruise, and I will get on board next year. OK, at least I will try.

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Monday, April 26, 2004

Still here--though I haven't been able to play much poker. I have switched up to the 2/4 tables at Party/Empire--they seem about as loose as the .5/$1 tables, and I've had trouble keeping my play tight enough on the lowest limits.

I did download Absolute Poker (honestly, another garish, over-decorated interface, where it is hard to tell whose action it is--haven't these designers heard of simplicity and clarity?). Anyway, I deposited my $400 at Absolute, got my $80 bonus, played the requisite number of hands (very loosely, at limits from .5/1 to $5/10), lost the $80 plus another $20 (terrible cards, and aggressive play--not a good combo), and then realized I had to keep that money in the account for 30 days before I could withdraw. Dang. Anyway, the unpleasant interface (and a truly terrible run) at Absolute Poker earns my thumbs-down vote. Just have to wait out the month to cut my losses.
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Thursday, April 15, 2004

Just a stepping stone post to keep the weak heartbeat of this blog going--I tried to post a few pix from Thailand directly to the blogger site, but apparently I can't do that. I'll have to find a place to post a small collection of the shots.

Poker has been on the back burner since my return, with work, Easter, birthdays, and my family coming to stay with us this weekend and into next week. When I do get to play again, I'm going to focus on low limit (2/4, 3/6) hold-em and tournaments--my goal this year is win an entry into some big event.

In addition, I've been rehearsing with the bass player and drummer from a former band for a quick show we picked up (after another band's cancellation). The last few months, I'd been playing with the bassist, reviving some old songs and writing some new ones, but we've only rehearsed with the drummer twice, so while the old tunes came back easily, the new ones are still rough in their transitions. (My favorite new tune is "Go Asteroid," a tongue-in-cheek, apocalyptic plea for mother nature to hit control+alt+delete and reboot the planet: "land with a thud / up cloud of dust / go asteroid / do what you must"). Luckily, the performance is at a big art gallery/charity/wine tasting shindig, so I don't think many folks will be paying too much attention to us. Let's hope we're ignored!

I haven't played out for nearly three years, though the band used to play quite a bit. I'm nervous already, and we don't play for 4 more hours.

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Thursday, April 08, 2004

Hi all. No poker today, but my promised post on my recent travels.

What follows are notes on the trip my wife Julia and I made to Thailand and Cambodia in the last two weeks of March 2004. We’ve both traveled quite a bit, but never to SE Asia, never had experienced such intensity of place and sensation. Chaos, heat, and dichotomy of experience were the overarching trends in the trip. Beauty was followed by horror, and then reversed, constantly. The temperature most days was in the upper 90s, and very humid, so part of the battle was just holding on as we moved from place to place.

Chiang Mai

This northern town was our first stop on the trip. Well under a million people, we liked staying here more than we would Bangkok. Though a small city by comparison, Chiang Mai was a good introduction to the insanity of getting around in this part of the world—we often traveled here by tuk-tuk (essentially a motorcycle attached to a cart)—exciting way to get around, but a bit heavy on the pollution) and songtheau (a pick up truck with covered seats in the bed).

We stayed in a small hotel inside the old city walls (dating back 600+ years), and really enjoyed just walking around the town, visiting temples, meeting monks and locals, eating from street vendors (soups, noodles, banana crepes). Thai food is fantastic, my favorite by far; but the problem with eating it in Thailand is that you're often so hot and weary that your appetite is diminished, and you're never sure what you're eating (and whether this will be the meal that lays you out for a few days). The price, however, is sweet: an entire night's strolling and snacking from street venders runs about $2.

We went to the mountaintop wat (temple) of Doi Suthep our first morning there, in a cab that barely made it up the mountain, our drive proudly waving the replacement spark plug as he careened around corners. We arrived there plenty early, and got to hang with the monks (and get blessed for our trip) in peace, the tour groups not arriving until we were on our way out. The second day we did a tour out to an elephant camp and orchid farm, and got to see some of the rural country in the north.

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Tough place. There are 6 million active land mines still in Cambodia, with 2000 new victims a year. Pol Pot killed 3 million people there in his revolution from 1975 to 1979—almost everyone with any education was killed. If you wore glasses, you died.

The town of Siem Reap is dominated by the ruins of Angkor, which have led to the development of huge hotels and resorts there. These hotels, all stemming from foreign investment, stand in shocking contrast with the devastating poverty—and the awe-inspiring humanity—of the people there. We stayed in a modest place (but still air-conditioned), located in the town proper, which was great. Walk out of the hotel and you’re assaulted by the wild chaos of Cambodia, hundreds of people on bikes and mopeds, a few tourists (like us) in taxis, and the rich tourists in hulking black SUVs.

We visited Khmer ruins (Angkor Wat and many others) at least part of all four days we were in Siem Reap, and they are beyond belief. Dating from 800-1300, they range in condition and size, but the most impressive are like nothing we’ve ever seen. Only pictures will give an idea (I'll post some here or on Snapfish, and let you know). The food was wonderful again; the fruit there was the best I’ve eaten.

But more affecting than the temples were the people we met there, and the stories they told. The legacy of Pol Pot is fresh there, and we learned that his generals are now the cabinet ministers, so people are still scared to get too much education, and young men are simply not allowed visas to temporarily leave the country (they would never return). And as many problems as I have with American policy, Republican and Democratic as I’m learning more and more from Noam Chomsky, I have never been so aware of the cosmic luck I enjoy having been born in the U.S.

Our driver, for example: both his parents’ entire families were killed by Pol Pot. There are killing fields in every damned town, and we saw (briefly: a moment was too much) the pagoda in Siem Reap, a glass box filled with bones and skulls.

We met students and monks, who all need money to pay their teachers (teachers make $20 a month, and have to racketeer their students to earn enough to live).

We drove out through the jungle to some more remote temples, and saw the kind of poverty we couldn’t have imagined.

We heard music from ahead upon leaving one of the temples, and stopped to listen, only to have our hearts pulled out as we saw that all the musicians were mine victims, blinded or amputees, or both.

On the brighter side, at the end of one very long, hot, and emotionally exhausting day, we were rejuvenated as we sat atop a hilltop ruins and distributed colored pencils and stickers that we brought to the children hawking their goods there; we spent an hour with them, talking, drawing, taking pictures. They’ve learned English entirely from tourists.

We basically gave away all the money we had in Cambodia, to beggars, schoolkids, monks, our guide at the war museum (a blinded amputee, riddled with shrapnel), and saved only enough to pay the departure taxes and get the hell out. Funny thing is, Cambodia was the highlight of the trip--we'll return there.

Don’t know where to send your money? Want it go far? Send it to the folks at the school we visited for deprived Cambodian children, including orphans, deaf, and blind. Visit their site here: http://www.myfriend.org/krousar-thmey/e/index.html

Bangkok

A polluted, crowded, truly insane city: 10 million people and 4 million cars. The subway is scheduled to open next month. We spent our first three days there exploring the city itself, and then our last three days taking tours to surrounding areas.

In the city, we saw the Grand Palace and some of the major wats, some of Chinatown, the museum of Jim Thompson’s house. We traveled by sky train, tuk-tuk, taxi, river boat, canal boat (and foot).

We attended the Chatuchek week-end market, the largest in the world: 200,000 people in a day. Complete insanity: we were constantly bombarded by opposite information, the smells of food wafting into the stink of filth, beautiful artwork followed by an amputee beggar dragging himself through the market.

We went to a Thai boxing (muay thai) match one night: an amazing spectacle, 10 bouts of five rounds each (we only lasted for the first seven matches, about 3.5 hours), with a band playing cacophonic music to accompany the fights, the music getting more frenzied and louder as the fights got to the later rounds, and the throngs of Thai men betting furiously on the bouts, using hand gestures like traders on Wall Street.
The most risqué thing we did was a katuoey (transvestite) cabaret one night, which was fun, and enough of the “seedy” side for us. We were easily able to resist the offers from driver for "Cigarette show? Ping-pong show?"

Exhausted, we spent our last three days taking tours from Bangkok, succumbing to the luxury of letting someone else handle the details.
The first day we went by bus to the ruins at Ayuthaya (an ancient capital), and then took a needed relaxing lunch and river cruise on the Chao Phraya back to Bangkok (in traffic for 1.5 hours on the way back to our hotel in Bangkok, we got to talk extensively with the father of an Iranian family: I apologized for Bush, he apologized for Khomeni).

On the second day, we went with a driver to a floating market an hour out of Bangkok with a driver, and got there before the throngs of tourist buses. Though it's touristy now, we still did get a feel for what it used to be like, buying fruit and pastries from vendors in small boats, avoiding the people selling all the same junk. Then we went to the Bridge on the River Kwai, another sobering experience.

On the last day, really tired by now, we took a trip to Pattaya beach south of Bangkok, lovely though crowded, and about all we did was swim, relax, eat, and doze. Both our last two nights, we took massages across the street from our hotel (one foot massage, one full body) and ate at a great restaurant we found nearby.

When it came time to leave, though, we were ready to get home again. But the culture shock of coming home was more striking than it was going there: the ease of middle-class American life felt too isolated, too insulated, and still does.

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