by Ron Spence
It’s 6:58 – 2 minutes before they drop the puck.
The attendant points to a computer and I get online, settling in for the Canucks vs. Blue Jackets game.
Bangkok at this time of the morning has vendors opening up their stalls – getting ready to work 15 hour days.
There’s only one customer in the café – a girl talking loudly into a web cam. She’s at the back and won’t interfere with the play by play.
This game is important to me – Columbus is the weird parallel universe to my life in Thailand.
Blue Jacket was a Shawnee chief who lived in the Ohio region. He allied himself with the British during the American Revolutionary War, hoping to keep his people’s land. Then the triumphant Americans started moving west, the Shawnees were defeated and Blue Jacket was forced to sign the Treaty of Greenwell in 1795, making Ohio a part of the U.S.
Four hours – by bus – east of where I’m sitting, there’s another threat of war over land. There was a recent skirmish between the Thais and Cambodians near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple. This left three Cambodian soldiers dead and five Thai troops injured and the Cambodians set up base, backed by armored personnel carriers and truck-mounted Katyusha rocket launchers. Meanwhile, on the Thai side, two fighter jets buzzed over the border in plain view of the Cambodian troops at the temple.
A war waiting to happen.
During the game, there’s no sense of territory. There’s little passion – even during a short scrap – and the Canucks don’t battle down low, let alone in other parts of the defensive or neutral zones. They seem to be going through the motions.
The game is a poorly played chess match, rather than a battle for time and space.
Web cam girl is talking loudly. She’s telling some guy – in English – how much she misses, and loves him.
The Blue Jackets’ name also pays homage to Ohio’s role in America’s history. During the Civil War, Ohio made many of the Union’s uniforms and raised more than twice the number of regiments that President Lincoln had requested. Some of the best Generals were from Ohio: Grant; Sherman and Custer.
There’s a civil war six hundred miles to the south of where I am listening to the game. Islamic terrorists are bombing and killing in Thailand’s three southernmost provinces. The Muslims claim that their actions are the result of bad government policies. They would like to secede from Thailand and join Indonesia.
Blue Jackets’ centre Mike Peca tried to start a schism between the players and owners in March, 2001. He hadn’t played during the 2000-01 season because of a contract dispute with the Sabres.
”I think without a doubt they were determined to teach me a lesson right from the get-go,” he claimed. “And I think without a doubt they had strong support from the league to carry that out. The thinking was, ‘If we can’t get him signed, do whatever we can to keep salaries down around the league until the C.B.A. is up in 2004’ … And there is no doubt in my mind that the league had a hand in it.”
Now web cam lady is speaking in Thai, laughing and telling some guy – presumably Thai – how much she loves, and misses him. I look closely and observe that she’s dressed to party – and is probably on her way home from the bar.
Ohio supported the Union during the Civil War, but a century later numerous Ohioans protested America’s invasion of Cambodia. The result was a handful of Kent State students were killed, and a number of passersby were shot by the National Guard.
Whereas the Americans had been protesting against an unjust war, thousands in Bangkok were demonstrating against a corrupt government.
They were demanding that Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat resign – claiming that there were strong links between the new government and former leader Thaksin Shinawatra (Thaksin is the brother-in-law of Somchai.).
Thaksin was accused of selling domestic assets to international investors and religious desecration. A military junta took over the country in September, 2006, when he was attending a meeting at the United Nations. The deposed Thai Prime Minister returned to Thailand, 17 months later, after his proxy-party PPP had won the open elections.
Then, on August 10, 2008, Thaksin and his wife Pojaman were scheduled to face charges of income tax evasion, corruption and other unlawful conduct. They left and are on the lam.
Columbus’ R. J. Umburger protested against Brian Burke’s insulting contract offers. Umburger, and his agent Brian Lawton, went on the radio and complained to the media. They didn’t like the fact that fellow Canucks’ prospect Ryan Kessler had: been drafted lower that Umburger, had less impressive numbers, and yet had been signed for more money than they were offering to Umburger.
Umburger refused to sign, was traded by Vancouver to New York, who took a second round pick for him when he signed with Philadelphia, who then traded him to Columbus.
The internet café is starting to fill up – late in the second period – with computer game screamers, and web can girl is talking loudly in English again, with another farang, whom she misses and loves. She is working her trapline.
In the village where I live, Kumerung, a carpenter earns $7 a day. My wife had to leave school at twelve-years-of-age to work in the rice fields. She later moved to Bangkok and cooked and sold soup for 15 hours a day, 7 days a week for $100 per month.
Columbus isn’t in a third world country, but its economy is in bad shape. Ohio’s Unemployment Plan isn’t solvent and two large corporations – located in Columbus – have recently closed down. Their economy is characterized by large companies producing large durable items – and little entrepreneurialism.
Columbus’ violent crime numbers have also been going through the roof. Their murder rate is twice the national average, and the number of rapes in Columbus are 2 ½ times as high as the national average, and robbery is 3 ½ times as high.
The rainy season ended here a couple of weeks ago. In October, a heavy monsoon flooded its way across Thailand, killing 26 people and destroying many homes.
The Thais, however, weathered this calamity, and when I was traveling through flooded areas, I saw Thais out fishing.
Columbus has also had floods.
Surveyor Lucas Sullivant founded a permanent settlement on the west bank of the forks of the Scioto River in 1797. It was desirable because it was near navigable rivers, but then a large flood wiped out the settlement the following year. Sullivant and his townspeople rebuilt the year after.
Vancouver didn’t win this hockey morning in Bangkok, but the Blue Jackets and Web Cam Lady did.
But, the Canucks have the same spirit as the Thais. They will persevere through adversity, and welcome back their Blue Jacket back when he’s ready.