NEW BOOK: NEW YORK CITY

During the fall’s “workcation” in Asia, I was kept busy with a couple of different book projects.

The first book was completed while we were in Tokyo and is my tribute to New York City which I’ve had the amazing privilege of visiting regularly for close to four decades, for both work and pleasure.

The new 300-page hardcover book is a visual journey from skylines to sidewalks with 30 pages of fun facts and figures about what makes New York City New York City!

The new book is available at Amazon.com: https://a.co/d/9csCQwQ as well as on Amazon.se https://amzn.eu/d/bRHpYLJ

The Chao Phraya River & Thoughts for 2024
Here’s the majestic Chao Phraya River as seen from the terrace in front of the Apple Store at Icon Siam in Bangkok. Never underestimate a spectacular view.

Although I have ingested the hundreds of film clips and thousands of still images from our three months in Asia, I can’t seem to find the time, energy, or inspiration to go through them all right now. Then again, I don’t have an incentive, no carrot, no stick, forcing me to sort them right now anyway. So I’ll just let them rest for a while until the inclination/inspiration returns.

Doing the best I can to keep my chin up and head above the heavy winter clouds. There’s a pretty good chance we might see the sun today. I’m not holding my breath, though.

I usually have no problem generating my own sunshine if I just maintain a healthy level of physical activity. If I don’t, it’ll be hard to avoid the depths of the quagmire I’m currently wading through.

Seriously considering getting back on the wagon for the entire new year. That would be a neat experiment. My 91 days of sobriety this past fall which ended with a tall glass of delicious cold Sapporo draft beer at the Sushi-Go-Round restaurant somewhere in the belly of Tokyo Station, was surprisingly easy to accomplish.

I didn’t miss being intoxicated as much as I yearned to take part in the ritual of drinking.

There is so much I want to do in 2024, including a considerable list of new and old places I want to visit. As of 2023 and including my latest book “New York City“, I have four print-on-demand books for sale on Amazon right now. I think I could manage to produce as many as five or six more next year. We shall see.


Re-Wiring

I am adjusting from being enveloped in color to being submerged in a sea of grey. From feeling humid heat warm my skin to protecting it from a dry, windy cold. I see expressionlessness and frowns where I just a few days ago was met with genuine smiles and curiosity.

At the sports center this morning, a gym friend asked me where I had gone for the last few months. I don’t think I was missed, but since I’d been away for a while, there was some interest as to where I had gone.

After explaining about our trip with for the early morning hour a throttled level of enthusiasm and detail, I asked how their life had been. I was told that one parent had recently and abruptly died which of course made me feel guilty and sad. I gave a hug and moved on to the next machine, determined to not let the exchange with my gym friend darken an already dark, dreary morning.

But I could feel how recently formed neural pathways in my brain were shutting down and how it was busy re-wiring, adjusting to a less colorful, warm, and happy existence… for a while.


Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK): Parting Shots, and Thoughts.

I find myself sitting in a plush armchair deep within the vast expanse of Suvarnabhumi Airport’s grand lounge, nursing a meticulously crafted Bloody Mary that might be just a tad too potent, even for my taste.

Contemplating whether to replenish my plate with more of the delectable Thai dishes artfully arranged on the extensive buffet or await the arrival of tender Wagyu at 30,000 feet, I decide to settle for a bag of freshly popped buttery popcorn, a treat the bartender has just prepared for a select group of loungers, to which I miraculously belong.

Despite the coziness of this bustling lounge, my thoughts drift to the late afternoons and early evenings spent strolling through the vibrant streets and alleys of the genuinely down-to-earth, working-class neighborhoods along Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River. I reflect on the delightful interactions with locals in restaurants, massage parlors, barbershops, food stalls, and the tiny terminal where we’ve boarded the little white ferry at least twice a day.

Today, my morning was dedicated to a visit to the barber, where I indulged in a head and beard shave executed with such grace and precision that it might have impressed even Herbert von Karajan. Following this, I spent an hour in conversation with an iconic Thai photographer who had worked for fashion magazines in New York during the 1980s and 1990s.

Before returning to our hotel, via the aforementioned ferry, I treated myself to a fantastic massage from a lady who, at some point in her life, might have been a professional wrestler.

Despite numerous visits to this consistently captivating country, my ability to communicate in Thai is embarrassingly limited (and perhaps a bit pathetic). Nevertheless, the roughly hundred words and dozen or so phrases I have mastered consistently elicit surprise and wide smiles from the Thais I converse with.

By making an effort to be exceptionally polite and at least attempting to socialize in their native tongue—with, as I’ve been told decent pronunciation—I feel that I’m reciprocating the same level of humbleness, respectfulness, and politeness that I often experience as a guest here.

In a couple of hours—two and some change—we’ll be boarding our Airbus, embarking on approximately 12 anxious hours high above the clouds before descending to what is arguably one of the world’s finest airports, Kastrup International.

From there, we’ll take the train across the Öresund Bridge, and after reaching Malmö Central Station, we’ll grab a taxi to our apartment. I know that once my house key clicks into the lock and we step inside on what will undoubtedly be some seriously wobbly, jet-lagged legs, this amazing adventure will be over.

Now, I think I need another Bloody Mary. And some more popcorn.


Traveling with Rinvoq

Bangkok. Wednesday. Evening. Thankful.

Three months, three countries, six cities, 12 different hotels, and 93 tablets – yes, this year’s adventure in Asia is coming to a close. We’ve been working as usual, probably even more than usual. Yet, not having to think about most of life’s mundane routines has certainly been refreshing. When not working, we’ve had plenty of time to laze around, soak up the sun, or, during torrential monsoon rains, discover a few new Netflix shows.But believe it or not, after three months without the need to grocery shop, cook, wash dishes, clean, or do laundry, we find ourselves looking forward to doing these everyday chores again. Lutheran guilt?

Since we left Copenhagen in September, Charlotte and I have revisited several old favorites and discovered some entirely new places. We’ll be returning with numerous, multi-sensory memories of people we’ve met, places we’ve seen, food we’ve eaten, and the quiet moments when we’ve just realized how fortunate we are to have the opportunity to go on these long trips.

Similar to last fall, this year’s visit to Asia has been enjoyed with a minimum of bagage. The advantages are numerous, not least of which is the avoidance of temptations to buy stuff along the way. Also, living in tiny hotel rooms, like the one in Tokyo with a floor area of about 6 square meters, which added a unique demand of keeping our stuff organized.

When traveling “light,” the choice of what we bring along becomes almost as important as packing effectively. Not carrying 10 kg of camera equipment has been both mentally liberating and physically relieving.

The single most expensive item I brought from Sweden wasn’t my year-old smartphone, the old laptop from that increasingly profitable California fruit company, or the vintage watch from the alps that I bought for myself as a 60th birthday present last summer. Not even the combined value of these things comes close to what has been stored in my worn toiletry bag.

About three years ago, after a series of tests and scans, I received a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis or RA from a reputable rheumatologist in Malmö. While I had experienced symptoms for several years, I chose to tough it out, ignore, and dismiss the chronic stiffness, persistent joint pain, inadequate sleep, and morning grumpiness. I don’t know, but it seems like a fairly common way for us men to deal with this kind of issue. We tend not to talk to each other about aches and pains. Very few of my male buddies talk to me about stuff they’re going through. Maybe it’s just me they don’t share it with.

Anyway, I certainly didn’t see that all the symptoms I had were somehow connected, and perhaps, most importantly, I didn’t want to admit that there might be an underlying problem that needed a thorough investigation. I didn’t have the energy to be sick and just maybe I felt that I already had enough problems. Wasn’t my already poor and increasingly declining eyesight enough?

After a year and a small fortune invested in various dubious holistic remedies, and then several months of injections and pills containing medications with nearly unpronounceable names, like Methotrexate, (devilish) Prednisone, and biological Adalimumab (Humira), the higher uppers at Sweden’s Social Insurance Agency finally approved my treatment with Rinvoq, a so-called JAK inhibitor. Expensive as hell but covered by the high-cost protection. I see it as a kind of tax refund.

In essence, Rinvoq blocks an enzyme that causes the body’s immune system to work overtime and eventually trigger inflammation, leading to more or less paralyzing rheumatoid arthritis. The long list of potential side effects from Rinvoq makes for rather grim reading, like a catalog of symptoms from the Plague.

Adding fuel to the fire?

It took me some time to come to grips with the fact that despite the risks, the possibility of living a relatively normal and perhaps even an active life outweighed them. At least until those damn enzymes are no longer inhibited by the medication, which can happen after a while.It’s been a little over two years since I started treatment, and so far, the medication is working.

Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, but I believe/hope that I’m keeping the nastiest side effects at bay by living a reasonably healthy life. So, for me, these trips to warmer climates are also about feeling physically better, which I do. Aside from a few minor flare-ups, I’ve been asymptomatic since we landed in Asia almost three months ago.

And so, while I do look forward to returning home where I can cook and eat homemade food, sleep in our comfortable bed, and reunite with friends, I also dread the inevitable cold that awaits us in a few days. This, of course, awakens thoughts about our next trip…

Curious fact: When we left Europe, I brought with me a supply of Rinvoq that would last a little over three months. For a patient in the USA without health insurance, my stash of just over 90 tablets was equivalent to about USD 20,000!

Spice Street along Song Wat Road

This shot is from a section of Song Wat Road that has dozens of small warehouses filled with spices, herbs and dried foodstuff.

From what I gathered after talking to a kind lady that worked in the wholesale shop with the above raw cinnamon sticks, most of what’s stored and later distributed along Song Wat Road comes from China. Which isn’t strange at all since these mom-and-pop wholesalers are geographically located adjacent to Chinatown proper.

But what makes this snippet of Song Wat Road so intriguing to me is how these shops use their goods to dress their windows. I didn’t ask, but it’s as if there is some kind of retail component to their business model after all.

Misty Bangkok Morning

Here’s the view from our hotel room’s balcony this morning. Once the sun had risen above the horizon, a morning mist saturated the other side of the river, as seen above.

After close to an hour with both cardio and weight lifting in the hotel’s gym, we had breakfast.  Charlotte and I then took the little white ferry across the Chao Phraya River to one of Bangkok’s co-working spaces, located in a big postal building, called Thailand Creative & Design Center (TCDC).
Still sifting through clips for the short film I’m making to help promote my new book about New York City. Hopefully, I’ll have a definitive clip list by the end of today.

Laundry and Shrimp Cakes

Bangkok. Saturday. Evening. Weary.

While Charlotte worked at a design center on the other side of the Chao Phraya River, I languidly lingered at our Thonburi hotel, casually attending to tasks like handwashing dirty laundry and curating clips for a short film about a bustling Western metropolis.

As the shirts, underwear, and shorts dried on the balcony and my laptop heated up from importing all the clips, I plunged into the pool for a thorough cooldown. With the entire pool at my disposal, I couldn’t help but wonder where all the screaming kids from breakfast had gone to. Checked out?

I ran 5k on the gym’s treadmill and pumped iron for half an hour. Tuned in to a podcast discussing Kiss, the shadowy side of fame, and the challenge both celebrities and ordinary mortals face in eventually feeling irrelevant. Indeed.

Then back to the room, rearranging the laundry, which strangely wasn’t quite dry. Took an excessively long power nap and felt even more fatigued upon awakening. Note to self: truncate those naps.

Charlotte had barely returned home before it was time to hop on the little ferry again to find the place that supposedly serves the city’s crispiest shrimp rolls accompanied by homemade tamarind sauce.

Wandered around Talat Noi, along Song Wat Road, and delved a little into Chinatown. In dim light, everything becomes beautiful. The blue hour.

I’m somewhat ambivalent about tamarind sauce. It demands a generous dose of salt for the sweetness to land just right on my palate. Nonetheless, We found the restaurant, savored four delicious shrimp pancakes with rice but left the sauce untouched. Two delightfully tasty main courses, a bowl of rice, and two large bottled beers (630cl) in chilled mugs filled with ice cubes: SEK 115. Thank you.

We just made it back on the little ferry. Got home, retrieved the laundry from the balcony. A brisk shower and then the hard mattress blues.

Tomorrow morning, off to the classic and perpetually bustling Chatuchak (Weekend Market) to buy Christmas presents.


Old Bangkok

I have no problem embracing new stuff or appreciating the modernization of places I’ve once fallen in love with.

Today’s Bangkok is way different from when I took my very first weary walk along Surawong Road after checking into the Fuji Hotel back in 1988. And the Los Angeles I grew up in during the 1970s has changed (and grown!) tremendously. Yet I still love visiting both cities. As long as the amazing Chao Phraya River and the beautiful beaches of L.A. remain, I’ll keep coming back for more.

I don’t dwell on nostalgia but from time to time I can get a little giddy whenever I recognize a relic. Like the old moped above which stood against a wall in an old warehouse that’s been converted into a hyper-trendy café in Bangkok’s Song Wat neighborhood.

I guess that once you get as old as I am, it’s inevitable that even the most common utility eventually becomes symbolic of past times. Like an artifact or museum piece.

Soggy Shoes, Cheese Doodles & Christmas Muzak

Bangkok. Friday. Evening. Cheese Doodles. 

Today I went too far. My damp shoes didn’t dry properly, and now both they and my feet stink. A robust scent reminiscent of Cheese Doodles permeates my life right now.
I’m airing the shoes on the balcony, wondering if our neighbors in the next room make the same smell association. They might not even know what Cheese Doodles are.
Earlier today, a young girl at the entrance to an art exhibition suggested I take advantage of their senior’s discount and looked surprised when I told her I’m not 65. I sometimes find it difficult to reconcile that I look my age, which no one else seems to have a problem with.
When the young Burmese guy working at the pool bar spots Charlotte, he quickly turns off the Christmas music. Most people staying here are Chinese and Korean, and neither they nor the hotel’s few Muslim guests seem to appreciate Last Christmas, Jingle Bells, or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The Emperor’s New Clothes? Most definitely. Charlotte explained to the bartender (kindly but firmly) that most Westerners who come here for Christmas come here to escape Christmas. He probably didn’t understand but silenced George Michael, Dean Martin, and Frankie Boy.
The last week has begun. The masochist in me is actually feeling a faint longing for some grey, cold, northern European weather.

Keep it Simple: Ordinary People & Delicious Food

In most of my interactions, regardless of circumstance, I always try to find common ground. My “philosophy,” if I can be allowed to call it that, is elegantly simple: everyone, without exception, has a story worth telling. And if those I engage in conversation with are willing to shed their guardedness and generously offer me a synopsis of their life, I’ll willingly invest some time listening to them.

Throughout my career, I’ve had the privilege of working for and being engaged by an eclectic array of companies and organizations. This professional diversity has gifted me insights into professions, industries, and businesses that would likely have eluded me otherwise.

Consequently, I love discovering shared experiences with almost everyone I have a conversation with, especially with fellow travelers in transit or at hotels.

And thanks to having worked at several hotels during my 20s and then being hired for film and photography gigs by hospitality companies in my 40s and 50s, it doesn’t take long for me to find common ground with just about anyone working at the hotels I stay at.

Naturally, the more shared ground I uncover with strangers, the keener my interest becomes. And should it unfold that our mutual interests extend to the artistic realm, a casual conversation might even metamorphose into a creative collaboration.

In general, for whatever reason, my propensity often veers toward the narratives of ordinary folks. An inclination that illuminates my preference for dining in unpretentious, family-owned eateries where authenticity flows from within the walls, tables, and chairs. The absence of pretentious embellishments allows the food, unburdened by elaborate culinary theatrics, ostentatious plating, or superfluous decor, to eloquently speak for itself.

It’s in such unassuming locales, exemplified by the photo above captured late last night, where I tend to have the most indelible and gratifying dining experiences. Where the focus remains steadfastly on flavor from authentic, traditional, everyday cooking.

Throughout my six decades, I’ve certainly enjoyed a dozen or so fine-dining experiences in the US, Europe, and Asia. Albeit unquestionably memorable occasions, none of them have left me feeling inspired or influenced my cooking very much. Which might be a tell-tale sign of my inability to adopt new ideas into our kitchen…

My life’s narrative, essentially a chronicle of playing the cards I was dealt as best as I could, often leaves me unreceptive to ostentation. From a purely creative standpoint, I’ve learned that it is within confined boundaries that the truly remarkable emerges. Keep it simple…


Leaving Sukhumvit and Delicious Street Food

Last night marked our farewell feast at the street kitchen beneath the Phrom Phong Skytrain station: wok-fried chili shrimp in coconut milk, small deep-fried fish pancakes in red curry, Pad Thai tofu, a portion of plain boiled white rice, and a couple of ice-filled glasses brimming with cold Chang beer.

Throughout this journey, we’ve indulged in this particular eatery’s culinary pleasures at least eight times. And akin to last night, each dish has been an extraordinary delight.

While we’ve predominantly stuck to our tried-and-true favorites, we’ve also ventured into the more peculiar corners of the restaurant’s immense menu.

Courteous and swift service, impeccably cooked dishes, reasonable prices—all set within a splendidly chaotic ambiance. What’s not to like?

Tomorrow we migrate to the Chao Phraya River.

Beyond Benjasiri Park, where I spent a warm and sweaty hour practicing basketball shots yesterday afternoon, we won’t mourn the ceaseless tumult and overbearing exhaust fumes hovering along Sukhumvit Road and its many side streets (soi).

The air quality in central Bangkok is notoriously dismal—save for the neighborhoods on both banks of the Chao Phraya.

In addition to our imminent relocation to a more recently opened and significantly more inspiring hotel venue along the Royal River, we will also enjoy a considerable upgrade in the form of a modern gym, a more expansive pool, a grander breakfast buffet, and, fingers crossed, an improvement in sleep quality.

The correlation between mattress quality and sleep quality hasn’t occurred to the folks that decorate guest rooms at most Asian hotels. Our bodies have been off and on sore throughout this trip.

I can’t speak for other sexagenarians, but the older I get, the more paramount a restful night’s sleep becomes. That said, having hip pain from an overly firm mattress is a quintessential first-world woe, I know, I know!

Another boon of bidding adieu to the Sukhumvit area is the prospect of exploring Thonburi, the district housing our new hotel, and the section of Bangkok opposite Chinatown on the Chao Phraya River’s west bank. This is where the original capital of Siam was established during the 500-year Ayutthaya kingdom.

Adjacent to our new abode stands the colossal Millennium Hilton and a petite wooden pier, offering a swift ferry ride to Chinatown and a nearby skytrain or subway station.


Bus Adventure in Malaysia

A long while back, I sat half asleep on a shaky night bus somewhere in the midst of Malaysia. I had been in Singapore for a few days to renew my visa for Thailand and was heading back north with Bangkok as my final destination.

At some point that night, the bus turned off the highway and pulled into a large parking lot surrounded by jungle and towering, somewhat ominous mountains. I later found out that this rest area was in Cameron Highlands (Malaysian highlands), not far from where American businessman and silk expert Jim Thompson was presumed to have died under unclear circumstances around 1967.

Thirty or forty other colorful long-distance buses were already parked when we pulled in and stopped with a deep sigh between two other Scania buses. There was a crackle from the bus’s speakers, and with a drowsy voice in broken English, the driver asked everyone to leave the bus.

As my fellow passengers and I disembarked, the driver pointed to a small, ramshackle building with a blinking neon sign advertising Malaysian sodapop.

There, he explained with subdued enthusiasm, was where we could buy snacks and drinks, and that behind the building was a shack with several toilets. We were also informed that the bus would depart again in twenty minutes… “and if you are not back in time, we will leave without you”!

I fastened the money belt where I kept my passport, traveler’s checks, and wrinkled vaccination card, pulled my t-shirt over it, and stumbled down the bus’s stairs to get my bearings in the vast parking lot.

On stiff legs, I followed the slow procession of men, women, and children heading towards the kiosk and toilet shack.

I remember how most buses had their headlights on and idling engines, making the ground gently vibrate. The nauseating smell of diesel fumes hung heavily over the entire area. Unpleasant as the dirty air was to breathe, it at least kept the mosquitoes at a reasonable distance.

After finally getting to pee, I got in line for the snack shack to buy something cold to drink and perhaps a pack of crackers, if they had any.

Although I was a bit worried that the bus might leave without me, my thirst was so urgent that there was no way I would be leaving my spot in line until it was my turn at the window.

When I finally reached the counter after about seven or eight minutes, it was a beautiful young woman with a pink hijab and tired eyes who sold me a bottle of lukewarm water. Behind her stood a younger man in a long dark blue tunic. He brought forward all the orders from the back of the shack and handed them to his colleague in front at the window.

I handed over my last Singapore dollars, received the unmarked plastic water bottle, and started walking in the direction where I thought my Bangkok bus was parked.

The thick fog of exhaust seemed to conspire with the headlights just to make it harder for me to find my way. I eventually located my bus and let out a sigh of relief as I boarded, making my way to my window seat just in front of the bus’s rear door. With each passed row along the bus’s dark middle aisle, I heard how the passengers were giggling and laughing.

Were they laughing at me? 

Halfway to my seat, the driver turned on the bus’s ceiling lights. It was only then that I realized that I had really ended up in the wrong place. On every passenger seat sat a Buddhist nun with a shaved head and dressed in pink and white cloth.

I was in the midst of a busload of women who had dedicated their lives to Siddhartha, the enlightened one, Gautama Buddha himself!

With the bus now fully illuminated, all eyes turned to me – the confused, the lost, the guy dressed in a worn-out t-shirt and dirty shorts.

The driver had noticed the comical situation and opened the rear door so that I could make a quick and smooth exit. As I took the final steps out of the bus, I heard all the nuns laughing loudly and joyfully.

With a smile on my face, I continued to look for my bus and probably just minutes before it departed, managed to one with the familiar Singapore-Bangkok sign followed by the numbers 005.

The nuns’ long journey to Nirvana and mine to Bangkok could now continue.

The above photo is from Burma, many years later but contextually close enough to illustrate my bus adventure back in 1989.

Photo: Elle Raboff


The Heavy Metal Juggler

Yesterday, Charlotte and I explored the trendy neighborhood of Song Wat which sits between Talat Noi/Sieng Gong and Chinatown proper. While there, we walked by the intersection where the cover of my book Heavy Metal in Talat Noi was captured and the temptation to take out my colorful balls and juggle just overwhelmed me…


Humidity & Chili Sweaty

It’s the humidity that gets you in Bangkok. Not the exhausts. Not the sun. So it’s the relatively low humidity that makes December such a pleasant month to visit the Thai capital.

Last night, after a full 16k day of walking in and out of malls, jostling with fellow riders in the Skytrain and a taking a ferry across the busy Chao Phraya River, we enjoyed another delicious dinner at an outdoor corner restaurant here in Phrom Phong. We’re now recognized patrons there and once we’d sat down – but before our dinner arrived – I exclaimed with unbridled enthusiasm how wonderfully cool the weather was.

But as soon as our kind waitress presented our food and I had added a few teaspoons of Thai chili to spice my dish up a bit, I started sweating profusely – as if it were April, arguably the hottest, stickiest month of the year here.


Back in Benjasiri

Bangkok. Friday. Evening. Cool (relatively).

I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many down vests, knitted hats, and overcoats along Sukhumvit Road as I did this morning. It was 24 degrees Celsius outside, and several Thais I encountered seemed to be shivering and freezing.

Despite a couple of visits to bars last night, I woke up at seven and looked forward to going out for a few laps in Benjasiri Park, a long-time favorite lung here in Bangkok. A lap around Benjasiri is about 700 meters, and today there were over 100 of us, some walking briskly and others, like me, jogging.

The variety of running techniques offered the usual delightful spectrum: from the slightly rigid T-Rex style where arms barely move and stay close to the body, to those who seem to float on feather-light legs and aerodynamically shining arms. It’s starting to feel perfectly fine to be overtaken more often than passing people – as long as those passing me are younger…

I noticed that in the middle of the park, around the pond with pedal boats, a couple of aerobics classes were taking place, and a group of seniors was practicing Qigong or Tai-Chi. A young guy was shooting penalty shots with a bright green basketball, and the old guy who welcomes everyone at the park’s entrance stood in the warm morning sun, watering Christmas flowers with a content smile on his face.

A few years ago, during a dinner in or near Malmö, I can’t remember where, a friend asked us what it was about Thailand that made us return time and time again. I don’t remember what we answered, probably because there is no simple answer. And to be totally honest, I’m not sure they would understand even if I tried to explain.

Hooked on a feeling, as Swedish singer Björn Skifs once sang.

My first visit to Thailand was in 1988, and I still haven’t been to any country in the world that comes close to offering everything that Thailand still has: friendly, polite, honest people, fascinating culture, delicious food, fantastic natural experiences (mountains, jungles, beaches, islands, cities), and a reasonably solid infrastructure, making it easy (and safe) to stay and enjoy life here. Neither Charlotte nor I would want to live permanently in Thailand, but being able to come here and stay for a while from time to time truly enriches our lives.

Of course, it’s a different Thailand today than when I traveled around the country 35 years ago. Back then, despite my backpacker attire and limited budget, I always felt like a fairly wealthy Westerner who often received more respect than I deserved. Of course, there were well-off Thais even back then, but they were barely visible. Today it’s the opposite. I’m still respected, perhaps mostly because I’m now an older man, and I still wear a variation of the same backpacker outfit (T-shirt, cargo shorts, sneakers). Old habits die hard, I suppose.

But for many years now, there’s a large and visible Thai middle class with a standard of living comparable to that of any average Westerner. And I’m no longer an exotic curiosity from the West but just a slightly older man in backpacker clothes paying with an embarrassingly weak currency (Sweden’s krona).

Well, anyway…

During my very first visit to Bangkok, there were only a few bland department stores (Robinson’s). Today, there are at least a dozen gigantic luxury department stores and an equal number of large, lavishly designed shopping malls – unparalleled in Europe and the USA. Except for some Russians, Chinese, and Japanese, the majority of those shopping in these extravagant palaces are Thai nationals with clearly more disposable income than I have.

Tonight, another mall, EMSPHERE, was inaugurated, where, among many other well-known brands, IKEA has a city store. We were there for the grand opening, but after just a few minutes in the swelling crowd, I felt a hint of claustrophobia and quickly retreated to the aforementioned oasis, Benjasiri Park, where tranquility gradually returned.

Despite the significant changes Bangkok has undergone since my first trip from the old Don Mueang airport in a Tuk-Tuk, as a newly arrived 25-year-old in the late 1980s, fortunately, many of the delightful contrasts that make the city so incredibly exciting and interesting are still abound. High and low, big and small. Ancient and brand new, side by side.

After our flight with Air Asia from Osaka landed at Suvarnabhumi Airport on Tuesday around noon, and our passports were stamped with new visas, we connected our phones to a Thai mobile network and took the express train from the airport to Sukhumvit Road. The sun was setting between the city’s forest of skyscrapers, and downtown seemed to bathe in a beautiful glow. We both felt great to be back in Bangkok. A kind of homecoming.

Ten years ago (2014), Charlotte, Elle, and I lived here for six months, just a few hundred meters from where I’m writing this on Soi 24. We rented a reasonably large apartment with two bedrooms and two bathrooms in a hotel (Oakwood) with a Swedish GM and super-friendly Thai staff. We really appreciated all the conveniences included in the rent and definitely the practical location. Being close to so many good restaurants, department stores, and almost next door to Phrom Phong Skytrain station, if we wanted to leave the neighborhood, was absolutely fantastic.

Unsurprisingly, I have a vast collection of photographs and countless hours of video footage from that lengthy stay and all the times we visited Bangkok before and since. A coffee table book is in the works and should be ready early next year. The above scene of Pooky, a local model and yoga instructor (incidentally married to a Danish fellow), was captured near the pond in Benjasiri Park and might be included in the aforementioned book


A few songs in my Asian November playlist.

Naha Airport Okinawa (OKA)

Captured this just as we were about to board our flight to Osaka yesterday morning at Naha Airport in Okinawa. The cabin crew were genuinely happy when we handed them our flyer for Charlotte’s popular airline website www.airlinestaffrates.com

Flying southwest today.


Jamming at Jam & Relaxing Times in Japan

Meanwhile, in Osaka…

Japan. Evening. Sayonara.

Just a little while ago I was sipping on a glass of Suntory Soda in our hotel room’s small bathtub. Lying there, I was contemplating our trip how much fun we’d had and all the great food we’d enjoyed. Clearly the most enjoyable trip to Japan so far. And the most affordable. The weak yen makes even the weaker Swedish crown stretch quite far.

Before my bath, we had enjoyed a delicious dinner just a few hundred meters from the airport hotel where we were staying tonight. We’ve got an early flight heading southwest tomorrow, so no Osaka this time around.

For most airport restaurants that I’ve ever visited, this principle applies: not good but expensive.

Tonight’s meal offered the opposite: a delightful dinner for a reasonable price: 185 SEK/person, including a large draft beer each (served, as usual, in chilled mugs).

We couldn’t think of any of our meals in Japan that we hadn’t described with at least one superlative followed by an exclamation mark. Even the convenience store food we’ve had a couple of times has been surprisingly tasty.

Will miss Japanese food. And the heated Japanese toilet seats.

But also the Japanese politeness, friendliness, modesty, and honesty.

There is still a deep-seated sensibility here. But also anxiety or reservation that I think we from Sweden both recognize and quite appreciate. At least people of our generation probably feel that way.

Here, you are treated (and judged) based on how you behave, especially us foreigners, the so-called “Gaijin.” I haven’t bowed so much in a long time. But it felt natural to respond to politeness with at least as much politeness.

Yesterday we ate at Jam, one of Okinawa’s many teppanyaki restaurants where a skilled chef cooks your food in front of you on a massive steel grill.

The first time I had Japanese food was in the mid-1980s seated along a teppanyaki table at Mikado in Gothenburg. Mikado was located above White Corner at that time if anyone remembers that place.

There was a lot of showmanship yesterday, but the chef also made really good food, and the drinks at Jam were not watered down. We even had a bit of interaction with the family from Nagano sitting next to us.

After dinner, everyone around the teppanyaki table was ushered to the restaurant’s lounge area where dessert was served (ice cream and green tea).

It took a while, but the Nagano family couldn’t resist and approached us a bit shyly, asking if they could take a group photo with us in it. We agreed, of course. Much chatter and laughter ensued!

I think it was a full moon as we walked back to the hotel at Moon Beach on Okinawa late last night.

Right now, here in Osaka, it’s raining (not to be confused with Åsaka, where my grandfather Eskil comes from). But it looks like it will be sunny in Bangkok tomorrow afternoon…

Sayonara, Japan, and thanks for a couple of magical weeks!


Huge Resorts vs Boutique Hotels

HereFrom a facility perspective, there are definitely more benefits than drawbacks of staying at a huge resort. Most resorts have at least one pool, a sizable gym and offer a decent breakfast buffet.

On the other hand, these larger places tend to make you feel like you’re in a holiday factory, one of numerous anonymous guests shuffling between beach chairs, dining tables, and hotel rooms.

I’ve come to prefer a middle ground, hotels that are somewhere between the small, personable boutique hotel and a ginormous resort. Moon Beach Museum (pictured above) is huge but since we’re here during the off-season and there aren’t many other guests, we’ve had a lot of space and zero crowds to deal with.

Went out for a 5k jog yesterday morning, then breakfast, then laundry, then the beach, then a fabulous dinner at Jam, a Polynesian-style restaurant nearby. Time to head for Osaka.


Trollhättan. Grandpa & Godzilla

It sounds strange, but when I’m in Tokyo, I think about Trollhättan, the city where SAAB cars were once made and where I spent formative time with my grandparents as a youngster.

Let me explain.

For about a year, sometime in the early 1970s, I lived with my grandparents Eskil and Agnes Andersson on Örtagårdsvägen 17 in Trollhättan. At the beginning of this nearly year-long stay with them, communication between my grandfather and me was pretty much impossible. His English vocabulary was just as limited as my Swedish. Grandmother Agnes was no linguist, but she had studied basic English at night school for a few semesters.

When my grandfather and I shared breakfasts, there was often silence at the kitchen table. The only sound was the loud slurping noise when my grandfather ate his thick morning porridge or drank coffee from the saucer with a sugar cube between his teeth. He had already done an hour’s work on the farm before sitting down to have breakfast with me.

Grandma Agnes always had a lot to do in the mornings and rarely took the time to eat with us.

After breakfast, my grandfather would retreat to his study, carefully cutting out the TV schedule from the last page of the local newspaper. With his thick, rough fingers holding a black ink pen, he would circle the television shows he planned to watch that evening.

Eskil Andersson was born in 1901 and was not an educated man. I don’t think he had more than six years of schooling. On the other hand, he was very practical, curious, and eager to learn.

He followed the news on TV, listened to the radio, and meticulously read both the regional paper “Göteborgs-Posten” and the farmer’s specialty magazine “Land”.

He never touched grandmother’s stack of weekly magazines. I, on the other hand, enjoyed them for their cartoons. My favorite was “Året Runt” (Year Around), where the cartoon about the delightful anti-hero “Mister Kronblom” was published.

On weekdays, when my grandfather returned from either farming, the stable, or the smithy in the evening, we had dinner together with my grandmother.

If I didn’t have any homework, we would meet again just before the news program “Rapport” aired in his study, where the TV was placed at the far end of a disproportionally large wooden desk (which, as I recall, was covered with light veneer).

There, my grandfather always sat in his creaky, semi-circular wooden chair with armrests and squeaky wheels. He reached the TV’s volume knob and channel selector (two buttons, one for each channel) by grabbing the desk and pulling himself along the floor.

Once he’d found the right program and adjusted the volume level (he was hard of hearing even back then), he pushed the chair back across the floor, took out his pipe, stirred the burnt tobacco in the bowl with an old match, tapped out the ash, and pressed a fresh pinch of Borkum Riff or John Silver into the pipe.

Then Grandpa lit the tobacco with a new match, leaned back in his chair, took a puff, and exhaled smoke through both his nose and one corner of his mouth. I remember being completely fascinated by his pipe ritual.

During these TV evenings with my grandfather, my grandmother would come in after a while with a bowl of carrot sticks or sliced winter apples for me to snack on.

By then, Grandpa’s study was already filled with smoke, and despite being asthmatic, I really liked the scent of tobacco fumes. Today, whenever I see someone with a pipe or smell the aroma of pipe tobacco, my thoughts immediately go back to those lovely moments with my grandfather Eskil.

Ok. Let’s move on to the connection between Tokyo and Trollhättan.

During lunch break one Friday at Lyrfågelskolan in Trollhättan, the school I attended for a semester, the boys in my class were enthusiastically chatting about a monster movie that would be shown on TV later that evening.

I, of course, wanted to see that movie, but I thought it would be difficult to persuade my grandfather to skip the news at 9:00 PM and instead watch “Destroy All Monsters” with “Gojira” (ゴジラ) aka “Godzilla” in the lead role over on the other of Sweden’s two channels.

When I came home in the afternoon with my blue gym bag over my shoulder, I went straight to my grandfather’s study to check which tv shows he had marked for the evening. To my delight, I saw that “Destroy All Monsters” was circled several times, and that the news show “Aktuellt” was even crossed out!

It was later that Friday evening that my then seventy-something grandfather Eskil and I were introduced to Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, King Ghidorah, Angilas, Minya, and Spiega. And to the city of Tokyo and the mighty Mount Fuji, where part of the film’s exciting plot unfolded.

Here in Okinawa, we don’t hear sirens from police or fire trucks as much as we did in Tokyo last week. But there and then, I often associated those alarming sounds with the old Godzilla movies. And above all, to that very first one that my grandfather and I watched together on the outskirts of Trollhättan back in the early 1970s.


Last Sunset in Naha Okinawa

Okinawa. Thursday. Evening. Joyess.

It’s our last evening in Naha. Tomorrow we head to Moon Beach in northern Okinawa. I will probably miss our amazing corner room (#912) at this hotel more than Naha itself. I must remind myself always to request a corner room in the future.

Strata Hotel is the 22nd or 23rd hotel we have stayed at in 2023, and we have at least 4 hotels left before the year is over. That count includes the hotel nights in the converted movie theatre Draken (Dragon) in Gothenburg over the Christmas holidays. I haven’t celebrated Christmas in Gothenburg since the pandemic. I haven’t been to Draken since Ben-Hur played there in 1978.

To travel is to live. To live is to travel.

Now, after turning 60, there is nothing more important to me than to continue traveling and challenging myself by letting serendipity guide me more often than a map.

Tired after a day of aimless wandering through Naha, we decided to skip eating dinner at a restaurant and instead have a picnic in our beautiful hotel room.

After happy hour in the rooftop bar as Naha bathed in a golden glow from the very last rays of the day, we took the elevator to the ninth floor and laid out several beautifully packed sets of store-bought sushi.

Not entirely surprisingly, the fish turned out to taste significantly better than what we are served by the cheerful Vietnamese folks at our local sushi joint in Västra Hamnen. Whether Japanese food is best cooked by Japanese people in Japan, I’ll leave unsaid.

Just after the last nigiri piece and maki roll were eaten, Elle called from Barcelona. Our hearts filled with love as we talked about how cozy it’s going to be to celebrate Christmas together in Gothenburg. After that call but only for the second time during this lengthy trip, I felt a bit homesick.


The Mazemen Maharoba Noodle Experience

After some deliberation and exploring other options, we finally decided to have dinner last night at a place about a block from bustling Kokusai Street (the main tourist street here in Naha) and close to our hotel called Mazemen Mahoroba.The Mazemen Maharoba Noodle Experience Receipt

From the moment we stepped into this small, rustic place, I immediately noticed that the owner, sporting a knitted hat, radiated a passion for his restaurant. It was evident that he and his team were committed to delivering an exceptional dining experience, promising us one of those truly memorable meals.

What sets Mazemen Mahoroba apart from all the other places we’ve eaten at so far is not just the extraordinarily tasty noodles with a smooth and satisfying texture, paired with a seafood broth rich in umami (making every bite a burst of delectable goodness).

It’s also the laid-back ambiance, excellent service, and reasonable prices. Mazemen Mahoroba is a must-visit destination for noodle enthusiasts and discerning diners alike. I’ve included the receipt from yesterday’s wonderful dining experience to show just how affordable this place is. But not just there. Right now, Japan is one of the most affordable countries in Asia, especially in the get-the-most-bang-for-your-buck category. High quality all-around, great food, friendly folks, super-interesting culture and excellent weather.


Juggling in Tokyo

Here are a few clips that Charlotte helped me film around Tokyo as I continue the surprisingly steep learning curve of juggling three balls. We’re now in Okinawa, the main island in the south of Japan where the weather and temperature are most comfortable. Should be able to manage a few juggling sessions here as well. That is unless Supreme Leader Kim over the pond in the oxymoronically named The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea doesn’t decide to annihilate us while launching another missile. We had just barely eaten dinner last night when we were warned via an SMS (in Japanese) that such a missile was expected to be hurled into the heavens by DRNK. Stay tuned…


Mount Fuji & Enoshima

Tokyo. Japan. Evening. Dark (again).

I’m writing this from a minimalist folding table at one end of our tiny but brilliantly designed hotel room. A half-eaten, triangular-shaped egg and tuna sandwich lies untouched on the right side of the computer’s slightly crumbly keyboard.

I just bought the aforementioned, beautifully packaged sandwich at our nearest Lawson (a more luxurious, cleaner, and neater variant of 7/11), where the friendly staff now seems to recognize us after our daily visits. Right now, both Charlotte and I are exhausted and have stocked up for a cozy Sunday evening here in our “incubator” on the 10th floor.

We were provided with plenty of sunshine today and it warmed our cheeks as we walked along the coast in Kanagawa. Kanagawa is probably best known for the woodcut with the great wave by the artist Hokusai.

With us for most of today’s adventure, almost like a painted backdrop, was the iconic Mt. Fuji.

When the commuter train we took from Tokyo Station rolled into the city of Fujisawa after just 40 minutes of travel, we walked with eager steps through the pedestrian street and quickly over the bridge to the island of Enoshima.

Once we had climbed the 254 steep steps to the island’s highest temple area and taken the elevator to the top deck of the observation tower, we were rewarded with a classic view: the sea in the foreground and the almost unbelievably symmetrical, snow-covered Mt. Fuji in the background.

I think we fell in love with Tokyo in 2006 when we were here to shoot and gather impressions for half a dozen travel articles and guides about the Japanese capital for several Swedish travel magazines.

I vividly remember that we scuttled between Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku, Ginza, Asakusa, and Roppongi to gather impressions and visual material. We almost had to buy extra luggage space to bring all the inspiration with us after that visit!

The relationship with Tokyo was strengthened on our next visit in 2015, and now the feelings have come to life again… because just like almost 17 years ago, Tokyo is still incredibly awesome!

The city is grand and small-scale at the same time and always, always interesting: conventional-futuristic, ultra-commercial-meditative, minimalist-extravagant, and decently-perverse. A wonderful contradiction that gripped us then and still hasn’t let go.

Here, I can hardly put my phone down before it goes up again to film or shoot something that has caught my interest. Incidentally, this is the first time I’m in Japan without bringing any other camera than the one in my year-old phone.

Tokyo is still clean, fresh, well-organized, and extremely easy to navigate. Tokyoites are still friendly, polite, and considerate. Not all the new skyscrapers and high-rises are beautiful, but nothing in the city environment or anything else has been left to chance. Everything has its place, and public communication is rather overt than risking being misunderstood. Everything works!

Sure, the Japanese are only marginally better than Thais at stringing external power lines, and the noise level in the subway is sometimes a bit too high. But everything else works so unbelievably well – trains are on time, the mobile data network is super fast, the food is delightfully good and relatively cheap, and you never need to worry about being robbed, assaulted, or deceived.

The weather this November Sunday reminded us of a beautiful Swedish early summer day. After a couple of months of intense heat in Vietnam, it has been really great with Tokyo’s cooler autumn climate. Soon, we’re heading to the country’s southern islands with diving, surfing, and other activities on the agenda.

Sayonara!


Delightful Day in Tokyo
Here are a few shots from yesterday’s terrific experiences in Tokyo. We had cool and mostly sunny weather as we traversed this great city, revisiting some old favorites and discovering a few totally new places. Spent most of the afternoon in Kappabashi, probably my favorite street in all of Asia with its restaurant supply stores (as The Bowery used to be like in NYC), artisanally crafted fake food and cozy side street Isakayas. Ended up eating dinner tonight at a place where we were the only foreigners, which is always a good sign. Tokyo is surprisingly affordable and definitely a lot less expensive to enjoy than anywhere I’ve been in Sweden these days. Which is something I never thought I would be able to write home about.

The Incredibly Delicious Lawson Egg Salad Sandwich in Tokyo

We arrived early this morning at Narita International Airport outside of Tokyo, Japan. Since the Vietjet night flight from Saigon/HCMC wasn’t full, both Charlotte and I were able to grab and sleep (fetal position) in a three-seat space.

After checking in at our hotel and getting over the fact that our room is just marginally larger than our bathroom in Malmö, we headed to the nearest convenience store, a Lawson, where we bought all kinds of food to try out.

Top of my list was the above egg salad sandwich that Anthony Bourdain recommended during one of his show’s episodes filmed here in Japan. Unsurprisingly, it was really good. Tonight we’re having sushi with our travel buddy Erik at Sushi-Go-Round deep inside Tokyo Station.


Smiles of Asia

Here’s one of my favorite street portraits from Vietnam. When I think of Asia, especially Southeast Asia, which I have been visiting regularly since 1988, I think of how often one is greeted with an infectious smile here. The street life, with its pungent smells, the deafening cacophony of relentless traffic and the dense population, keep me coming back for more. But it’s also all the smiling people I meet and greet on the streets of Bangkok, Singapore, Saigon and Luang Prabang.


Ho Chi Minh City

Here’s a timelapse I compiled from clips mostly taken from our hotel room. Traffic in Ho Chi Minh City is intense. It’s fluid, though. Coming from the relative calm of Da Nang, it takes some time to get used to. Crossing major streets and boulevards is an endeavor with very little wiggle room for hesitation.

I like HCMC more and more. There’s a lot of interesting street life to see here. I only wish I had visited already back in the 1980s before the city’s ongoing transition to a metropolis began.


Ben Thanh Market
Just back from Afternoon Tea on the 12th floor. We’ve now switched hotels and districts in Ho Chi Minh City. I’m glad to be in Downtown now. It’s busier here, but also more interesting than in the quieter Thao Dien neighborhood.

From one of the windows in our new room on the seventh floor of the extraordinary Silverland Hotel, which from the inside looks like a futuristic, luxurious spaceship, we can see the sprawling Bến Thành Market, one of Saigon’s most famous bazaars.

Lest I forget: we ate a delicious lunch at a cool restaurant called Propaganda, which one of the reception staff recommended to us. Kudos for that.


Elle’s 23rd!

Tuesday. Evening. Saigon. Grateful.

Today is our daughter Elle’s 23rd birthday, and because I’m a sensitive dude, I always become a bit more sentimental on November 7th. When I think about how privileged I am to have such a wonderful individual in my life, which in itself is proof that I didn’t completely fail as her father, I become simultaneously teary-eyed and proud.

In a considerably darker place, deep within my soul, I wish that my parents were alive now so that they could see with their own eyes how I, of course, together with the incredibly kind and stable Charlotte, broke the curse they left behind.

Naturally, we are extremely happy and proud of Elle’s ongoing academic achievements and her evolving creative spirit. But it’s her generosity, empathy, and humor that make us feel especially happy today. And grateful.

Congratulations, Elle!

Love you!

Ho Chi Minh City

Here’s a view of Ho Chi Minh City and the colorfully lit skyscraper, Landmark 81 to the right. We’re staying a night at a sparsely furnished “aparthotel” near the Saigon River and moving to a proper hotel tomorrow in Thao Dien (District 2). Humidity here in southern Vietnam feels like it’s off the charts, at least when compared with Da Nang where the evenings were beginning to provide much cooler and more comfortable temperatures.


Giant Jellyfish

Saturday. Evening. Da Nang. Dark.

Just like last weekend, Charlotte and I took a 10k walk on the beach on this beautifully sunny Saturday. We saw a gigantic jellyfish that had washed up on the shore. It literally lay there like a huge blob of jelly. Tried to feel sorry for it, but couldn’t. I had never seen such a large jellyfish before. Charlotte said it was one of the poisonous kinds.

Today’s stroll was the last for this revisit to Da Nang. Of all the things we’ve enjoyed during our over a month-long stay here, I will probably miss My Khe Beach the most. But soon, we’ll get to experience entirely new beaches… By the way, it’s my 80th day of sobriety. Feels good. One day at a time, right?


Bars, Juggling & Dry Vegan Food

Wednesday. Evening. Da Nang. Content.

Woke up reasonably well-rested this morning. Brushed my teeth, got dressed, and stumbled out of the hotel, slowly making my way to the gym seven, eight blocks westward. Along the way, I passed a couple of bars that were still open. Some of the patrons looked to be my age. Phew.

I checked into “My An Sports Center” at 06:05 and warmed up with a long run on the treadmill. A few stations and some weightlifting later, I began the highlight of my morning: juggling.

I’m gradually getting the hang of coordinating hands, eyes, and my tiny, morning-weary brain cells. Quite fascinating that I can still learn something entirely new. Didn’t break any records today, but now I can easily manage 15 and sometimes even 20 throws in a row.

On my way home from the gym, I noticed that the aforementioned bars had closed. Two gray-haired guests were fast asleep, snoring loudly on a scruffy concrete bench on the sidewalk in front of one of the bars.

The sun was already scorching hot, and I thought about how sweaty it would soon get for the old dudes once the sun had gained a little height.

Mrs. Raboff treated me to dinner. We take turns inviting each other to lunch and dinner, more or less every other meal. It’s everyday luxury and generosity, evenly divided between the two of us.

We ate at a vegan place. Healthy and fairly tasty, albeit a bit on the dry side. For the first time since we left Malmö, at the end of September, I missed our kitchen and my own cooking…


Santa Surfer vs Silver Surfer
Charlotte Raboff took this photo on Sunday but had a hard time deciding on which caption to add to it. It was either Santa Surfer or Silver Surfer, both relating to that I’m currently letting all my hair grow.  ‍♂️‍♀️