Sunday, December 19, 2010

Passa Passa - The Dance That Could Save Kingston

In the poor neighborhoods of Jamaica's largest city, far from the typical tourist traps, economic opportunities are few. Can Passa Passa, a wild, ribald, sweaty weekly dance party of up to 20,000 change that?

The club owner's name is Popcorn the Legend, and he gestures toward the rugged parking lot in front of the Garden of Eden lounge. "Park here," he says. "Support the bar, then go to Passa Passa."

It's almost 3:30 on a Thursday morning, and the narrow stretch of Spanish Town Road in the hinterland of West Kingston is clogged with thousands of revelers: Locals, Europeans and Americans jostle with Japanese dancehall-queen wannabes. Raw, salacious and unadulterated, Passa Passa is not your parents' cookie-cutter vacation spot. The name is patois for "mix-up," and it is a phenomenally popular dancehall street party that occurs Wednesday nights into Thursday mornings in Tivoli Gardens, one of the island's most-feared "garrison" communities.

The big draw is the scantily-clad video girls with painted bodies gyrating and mouthing the lyrics to every song. Male dancers with names like Cowboy, Crazy Hype and Sri-Lanka dance in clusters, their movements synchronized. Vendors hawk peanuts, candy, codfish fritters, corn soup, snacks and jerk chicken. The affable, bearded "weedman," a fixture at every Passa session, moves blithely through the crowd offering dried marijuana stalks that sell themselves. Maestro, the voice of Passa Passa, steps behind the DJ booth and whips the crowd into hair-pulling frenzy as he spins the latest club tracks-Nuh Linger, MySpace, Tek Weh Yuhself-chanting ribald lyrics about cunnilingus, loose women and homosexuality.

Come 7:30 a.m., when the party begins to wind down, bus drivers taking locals to work will smile tolerantly while maneuvering through the throng.

Passa Passa was created in 2003 by members of Swatch International sound system. Dylan Powe, chief executive officer for the event, explains, "It's as authentic as dancehall culture comes, and we're not interested in watering it down to make it more palatable." It is ground zero for the culture: music, artists, dance, fashion, slang, as is evident by the frequent presence of luminaries such as Beenie Man, Sean Paul and Shaggy. But its success and longevity defies convention and history. More than entertainment, it presents a viable economic opportunity for Jamaicans.

But to understand why Passa might be a positive force, it's necessary to know the culture of the communities known as garrisons. These communities-Tivoli, Trench Town, Concrete Jungle, Fletcher's Land and others-are governed by gangs and "dons" who control their entrances and exits and act as a liaison between the community and political parties. Wars are fought to protect political boundaries and territories, and protection of political parties insulates the communities from law enforcement. Through Passa Passa, music and Companies have become a catalyst for entrepreneurship, peace and community building. It is also largely devoid of violence in order to avoid the wrath spoiler, so you have a critical game from the face area.

Nearly 20,000 revelers flock to this kind of community good eye on a good night and bring their money with them. As I said, popcorn, an unemployed person may be "to establish the trust, chicken, fish, cigarettes or a box [a buy on credit] beer from a wholesaler and a society.Sell, pay the debt and keep it going. Everybody profits."

New artists come in the hopes of getting their music played, established ones come to test new sounds and discover the next big thing. Dancers-some of them once violent gang members-work to attract the attention from big-name entertainers, producers and promoters. These are opportunities to change their circumstances in ways neither a gun nor a politician can. Powe explains, "The community's close proximity to the harbor, the market and as a main transportation hub for the island makes it a center for commerce. The fact that people here have always had their own shops, businesses and hustle is a natural evolution of what's always been," Powe says.

Ironically, Tivoli is represented in the Jamaican Parliament by current Prime Minister Bruce Golding. He neither condones nor condemns Passa, an event which arguably provides more economic opportunities for his constituents than his government can provide. Much of Passa's staff are residents of the garrisons. If the roads flood after a rainstorm, the vendors lend their handcarts and drums to bail water and clean the streets, so the event can still take place.

Passa's popularity and power as a social and cultural trendsetter has increased over the years. Thanks to cell phones, YouTube and MySpace, what goes on at Passa parties can immediately influence what happens in far-flung locales from Brooklyn to Tokyo to London. Corporate sponsors have also taken notice as evidenced from the strong presence of brands such as Jamaica's Desnoes & Geddes, Digicel and Red Bull. Even so, the bulk of Passa's business is derived from worldwide sale of CDs and DVDs, Passa parties packaged with DJ, artists, dancers and the sound system as well as the recently launched T-shirt line.

While the videolight is on, the community knows they have the attention of the world and, therefore, a stake in and accountability for their future. "It's not only entertainment," Powe says. "We're developing a business model."

"People may not want to live it, but they are eager to experience it. They love to say they had that drink at Passa."

Friday, December 17, 2010

Gay Travel to Thailand

Thailand--the land of smiles--is, at once, a rich cultural experience as well as a gay travel Mecca. With 90% of its population following the Buddhist philosophy, homosexuality is widely accepted without protest or judgment. Though an anything-goes policy is in order once the bedroom doors have been closed, visitors should inform themselves on the otherwise modest customs and traditions of this country's fascinating people. Since some of these can be quite unique and unusual to the westerner, it is advised that one do a bit of research on the topic before embarking on gay vacations to the country, or on any gay tours offered there.

For instance, although the sight of two men walking the streets arm in arm may be completely acceptable and normal to the typical Thai person who views this as 'a simple friendship', a man and a woman holding hands as they walk is not so readily accepted. And though sexual acts are left to the discretion of the involved individuals behind closed doors, public displays of nudity are considered absolutely unacceptable--even wearing shorts and a tank top is questionable in some areas and establishments. Never should one touch another's head, as the head is considered to be sacred. And one should make sure never to point one's feet in the direction of another human being, since this also is viewed as being taboo.

A visit to Thailand can be as relaxed or as active as the traveler chooses it to be. Most gay tours are geared toward the ever popular nightlife scene. Go-go clubs, boy bars and sexy discos have been popping up at an increasing rate over the past few years in larger cities such as Bangkok, Chiangmai and Phuket, making these the ultimate destinations for the sexually adventurous traveler. On the other hand, gay vacations to quieter and more traditional regions like Koh Samui offer visitors a peek into the true, laid-back Thai island experience. Here, the crystal clear waters and magnificent rock formations are the main day-time attractions. But don't be fooled; the nightlife, though less common than in the larger cities, is still widely available and not to be missed.

Some other ideas for gay travel in this fascinating country would include; catching one of the drag performances offered in the larger cities (Calypso in the Bangkok Asia Hotel is considered one of the best), a visit to one of the many Buddhist temples (remember to dress appropriately), joining one of the gay tours which take you to camp out in the hills with tribal villagers or to the rainforest where you'll sleep in a floating bamboo hut.

The best time for travel to Thailand is between November and February, as March and April can be quite hot and May through October, the monsoon season, even hotter and more humid. Gay vacations should be booked keeping in mind that the country offers three separate gay pride festivals in the major cities of Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket.

Thailand, and its people are full of surprises. The phrase 'Mai pen rai', or 'it's nothing/no worries/it's cool' tells all about the country and its inhabitants. Gay people are more than accepted by the general Thai population, making Thailand the ultimate choice for gay travel.

Monday, December 13, 2010

"A Broad Abroad in Thailand" by Dodie Cross

"A Broad Abroad in Thailand" promised to be a book that I could relate to in several ways. Being an expat myself, I always find what other expats have to say about their new countries fascinating; I've always considered myself a broad and I absolutely adore Thailand. So at a first glance I found it hard to imagine that the book could live up to my expectations...

Having read a fair number of books about expat life and experiences, I mostly found them quite imbalanced and superficial. Granted, most of the authors were rather young, but in the majority of cases I was just not overly impressed by them. Dodie Cross' "A Broad Abroad in Thailand" is definitely an exception. The author never tries to hide the fact that she was no spring chicken when she headed to the Land of Smiles, which certainly gives an interesting spin to her observations. We get to learn more about orphanages and healthcare than we do about beach parties and bars, which in my opinion is a nice improvement. Ms. Cross also nicely balances the funny-to-hilarious misadventures with more serious issues and her 'who-could-ever-understand-those-habits' moments with her obvious admiration and respect of Thailand, its culture and its people.

Ms. Cross' memoir begins with a hasty marriage to a golf instructor, which is needed in order for her to be able to accompany him to his new position in Thailand. Although she is not totally certain that marrying Dick (and oh, what an appropriate name for him!) is such a great idea, she decides to go forward with it. Their move to a new country is very eventful - as those moves tend to be... Very soon she is battling not only a badly cracking marriage to a sex addict, but also countless rules and regulations imposed by the wife of Dick's boss, the overpowering Ms. Anorexia. Ms. Cross would rather get to know her new country and meet the people, but all such attempts are considered by Ms. Anorexia as against the rules. Then then the near-fatal accident comes on the infamous Sukhumvit Highway - the reality of which at least as bad as the lady of the Cross, and operation of the bladder with unexpected results. Dick is not restored virginity Dodie's enthusiastic head is not enthusiastic about Dick and Mrs. anorexia is just generally not happy with something, especially with Dodie. This is the sad state of affairs as a whole, which only lead to more difficulties. However, you must read the book itself,learn how Dodie resolves the situation.

Having seen that Ms. Cross has also lived in New Orleans among other places, I will definitely keep an eye out for a book about those experiences. According to the little addendum, she is already working on one about her life in Iran, so I can only hope that the New Orleans one will be next. As for "A Broad Abroad in Thailand," I found it well written and very enjoyable. If you need something to brighten your day, just read one of the funnier chapters, maybe the one about mastering the use of Thai toilets or the joys of buying underwear in a strange country. You will feel so grateful that you do not have to deal with any of this that your day will immediately improve. Great read for expats, expats-to-be, wanna-be- expats, travelers and just about anybody else with a sense of humor.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Why I Meet Pattaya Bar Girls Outside the Bar!

Pattaya is a magical place, truly one of it's kind. I really believe there is no other place with so many beautiful women in one place. Most guys who come to Pattaya on holiday go to the beer bars or go-go's to meet women, but what about those who have chosen to make Pattaya their home?

There can be many reasons why someone doesn't want to go the bars all the time. Maybe you get tired after a while of the same old places or you just don't like drinking so much.

In any case, there are plenty of opportunity to meet Pattaya girls outside the bars. In fact, many local expats and retirees prefer to try and meet women outside the bars.

The obvious advantage with Pattaya is that anywhere you go, there will be attractive women to talk to. You don't have to be in a bar to meet girls. What about the mall or the coffee shop. There are tons of women in Pattaya who would like to meet foreign guys, but are too shy to go to the bars. Some may like to go dancing in one of the Walking Street discos such as Insomnia or Lucifer, but many are too traditional for that even. That may sound hard to believe if you are used to bar girls, but the truth is lots of Thai girls work in the tourist industry or other places and have never been close to a bar. They would still like to meet a western gentleman though.

I say, get out of the bars and start talking to the ladies. All it takes is a smile and some small talk.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Thailand's Best Party Beaches

Thailand is the place to go if you enjoy lively holidays. It has some of the most visually striking beaches in Southeast Asia and a focus on nightlife. While it also comes with quieter, more laid back beaches, the majority of tourists that head for Thailand are here for the buzz.

Partying in Pattaya

While a little bit sleazy, Pattaya is the oldest party beach in Thailand. It is a couple of hours south of Bangkok by highway and has more hotels and bars per capita than anywhere else in Thailand. The actual beach in Pattaya is not as nice as beaches at other prominent beach resorts, yet it is busy and the main focal point by day.

At night, Pattaya really comes into its own. If you are into drinking, eating and women of the night, this is the place to come. Prices here are invariably cheaper than at other popular beach resorts and there are literally hundreds of bars to choose from, from standard hole-in-the-wall watering holes, to expat pubs, go gos, and all out discos.

The liveliest part is Walking Street in the south at the end of the beach. It is traffic-free at nighttime and is wall to wall bars and girls. Although it has a reputation for being a bit unruly, Pattaya's bars are patrolled by tourist police and volunteers.

Lounging in Phuket

Thailand's second-most favorite party beach is Patong, located way down in the southwest of Thailand on the western side of Phuket. The beach and atmosphere in Phuket are a definite one-up from Pattaya, yet prices for accommodation, food, beer and women are steeper. Phuket has totally recovered from the devastation wrought by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Patong Beach is a lot tidier than Pattaya Beach, plus it has some surf and a far prettier promenade. Soi Bangla, right behind the beach, is the main drinking area. It is literally steps from the sand and has every type of bar you could imagine. Head for the south side of the street for the cheaper, less in-yer-face bars and north for heavier action.

The gay area of Patong lies at the second street parallel to the beach amid the Paradise complex. Although virtually anything goes in Patong, it is on the whole a lot less sleazy than Pattaya, plus there are quality beaches to the north and south. In addition, and unlike Pattaya, Phuket has its own international airport with flights from Europe and all over Southeast Asia.

Getting Down in Samui

Thailand's third most happening beach is Chaweng Beach on the island of Koh Samui. It lies in the Gulf of Thailand and also comes with an airport, yet flights here are a lot more expensive than getting to Phuket as one airline, Bangkok Airways, owns the airport and has the monopoly.

Chaweng Beach lies on the east coast of Samui, as it is more commonly known. It is the island's largest beach and has the best spread of accommodation. Prices here are generally higher than at Patong and Pattaya, yet the beach is nicer and somewhat more exclusive. Everything is low-rise and restaurants open out onto the beach at night, while right behind the beach is a string of pumping bars.

Full Moon Fever in Phangnan

Another lively beach is that of Hat Rin on the island of Phangnan to the north of Samui. It gets crazy one night of the year, during the legendary Full Moon Party. Backpackers come from far and wide to drink and revel on the beach here although for the rest of the month it remains a lot quieter. Phangnan is a bit of a pain to get to as it doesn't have an airport. It is accessed by ferry from Samui.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tourists, Alcohol and Children

Why do parents on holiday drag their children along to every single social evening? I realize it can be very difficult when there is nobody to baby sit, but why cannot people stay in while the children are asleep, organize their entertainment for early evenings instead of late nights and put up with the fact that they are parents now and must make some sacrifices?

No longer at liberty to enjoy as many drinks as they might like, they are also no longer free of responsibilities and able to indulge in disco entertainment well into the early hours of the morning. The present trend, however, is to continue doing all the things they did before the children came along, and to avoid missing out, take the kids too!

When you have children, you need to keep earlier hours to suit their routine, not yours. So many times on the Costa Blanca we see exhausted children being hauled into bars and restaurants after ten o'clock at night. Tired from their day on the beach, all they want is to drop onto their cots and sleep until the morning. However, because Mummy and Daddy fancy drinking about eighteen pints of lager between them, the poor kids have to try to make themselves comfortable across a couple of dining chairs in some strange restaurant, or sleep sitting upright in a dining chair or the seat of a pushchair.

Where is the parental responsibility that at one time produced Mums and Dads who would consider going home at nine o'clock so their children could get proper rest? Why is every corner of our town filled with screaming, sun burned, over tired children, accompanied by parents too drunk to remember what the time is, let alone whether their children should be in bed?

One of the ugliest scenes I saw this summer was is that of a drunken mother staggering down the seafront with two children running to keep up with a lurching pushchair, a baby trying to sleep inside it, the others not much older, dummies in their mouths, sobbing with exhaustion, and the father bringing up the rear, complaining at the price of his last pint. They made a degenerate, depressing picture and made everyone who saw them feel tainted by association.

It is very true that parents deserve a well earned rest, as well as the children. As parents, however, what we deserve is not always what we get, due to the difficulty of having to provide our children with their requirements first, as priority. Those who do not feel they can give up their leisure hours when necessary should consider remaining childless, in my opinion.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

How to Pick Up Girls at a Bar

Simple scenario: You walk into the bar with your friends, survey the crowd and decide to get a beer. As you lounge around talking with friends you look to the far side of the bar. There she is, the most beautiful girl in the place, with not another man in sight. You say to yourself, "I just have to go talk to her". You grab another beer and decide its time, so you walk over to her. Just before you get to her, your heart starts pounding, you can't think of what to say, you panic and forget your name. You back off at the last minute and tell yourself you'll try again in a little bit when you calm down. The night passes on a whim and you never see the girl again.  This is a classic problem when trying to pick up girls at a bar.

Does this sound familiar? Do you have trouble coming up with another lame pickup line or for a way to impress a girl? Don't be afraid, it has happened to the best of us. But don't worry; I have a couple of solutions and pointers which will show you how to pick up girls at a bar with a much higher success rate. This way next time you walk in the bar, you'll score the girls.

Don't be cheesy

Lousy pickup lines create a sense of, "Oh my god what is this guy saying to me?" You make yourself look like a fool. Naturally you will not get the girl. You know the cheesy lines you use: "I lost my number, can I get yours?", "I don't know what you think of me, but I hope it's X-rated", etc. How often do they work? Probably not too much, and if you don't know, check your black book for all the numbers you've scored. Kind of small, isn't it?

Skip the beer

Beer breath doesn't smell like mouthwash. You might not realize it because you caught a buzz, but old stinky beer breath is not attractive to women at all. Unless you're Brad Pitt, beer breath will not land you a date, phone number, or even a name for that matter. Stick to something that doesn't leave an aftertaste, like wine or a mixed cocktail. Not only will it improve your breath, but it'll also improve your chances of going home with her tonight. Save the beer nights for Monday night football.

Be genuine

A simple introduction is the only one necessary when meeting with a woman for the first time. Women like guys that can be themselves and not ramble about their days as a star quarterback in high school or that 50 pound bass they caught last week. You wont impress her with an ego-centric attitude. Also, be sure to look her straight in the eyes the whole time.

Smile, Smile, Smile

Like a good salesman, you'll learn that throwing on a winning smile can land you the sale. Women feel more comfortable with a guy that has a sense of humor and can get the most out of life. Don't just stand there like an 800 lb. gorilla and think your biceps are going to win her over. Does Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt have a huge, but they all have that winning smile.

By becoming comfortable around women using these tips, you'll be sure to spend more with the ladies, and less staring at your TV with a bag of chips. Unless of course your into that sort of thing.