I write about anything I come across that I find thought-provoking. Please feel free to leave comments.
I write about anything I come across that I find thought-provoking. Please feel free to leave comments.
“Blow out the candles, Robert, and make a wish. Want something!
Want something!”—Stephen Sondheim, Company.
Surely, she knew love. Had she not felt it—been so convinced of it—many times before? How often she had let those words slip from her lips and watched eyes widen, first with surprise, then confusion, then, finally, distress. How time and time again she’d desperately tried to redact those unforgivable words. You don’t have to say it back.
And it was true—it was never a need to hear them echoed. It was simply that her body could no longer hold those words; they surged upwards, threatening to suffocate, pressing up against mouth clamped shut, seeping through fluttered lids, permeating flesh hot with delirium. Until, inevitably, they spilled forth, bringing mortification with relief.
Was that love? Or was that surging warmth an internal tide searching for an object to bathe and envelope? Any object that lingered long enough to become familiar, long enough to draw the tide with neither warmth nor affection—a cold, silent, steady presence was sufficient. And the tide always came, reaching towards that object with arms outstretched.
Had she known love? To think that her affections gushed and swelled to an inner rhythm, independent of the external, and overflowed onto anything that would receive it. That was a terrible thought.
A Short Story
Contrary to what Earth’s leading scientists believe, there is life on the moon. Moe lived with her family amongst a small colony of mites in one particular crevice on one particular corner of the moon. Which particular corner or which particular crevice, she wasn’t sure. In fact, she wasn’t sure either who were her family. She just assumed that the two older, grayer-looking mites that intermittently sifted through the moondust and lobbed a speck of juicy moonfungus in her general direction did so out of affection. And when she looked at either of them, she did feel a sort of pleasant sensation, perhaps comparable to warmth, wash over her cold, bloodless body. She twiddled her whiskers and cooed a moonmite coo, expressing her love in the only way she knew how, but they just stared past her and continued sifting through the moondust.
Moe couldn’t recall how she came to live here. All she knew was that her recollections since long ago came like the gradual arrival of light in the sky: she never noticed it happening, but before she knew it, she could see the shimmer in the moondust appear beneath her spindly legs. But unlike the light, which dimmed, went out, then returned, her feeling—thinking—seemed to stretch far backwards, uninterrupted, for what felt like a long, long time, falling eventually into the thick, dark folds of the unknowable. There was a time, though, when she too had scurried, it seemed, but she couldn’t remember where she was scurrying to, or why. It didn’t seem like her—Moe. In fact, “Moe” was her own assumption of identity, created and labeled as such simply because of the small, almost imperceptible sound that escaped her body when she opened her mouth to coo. “Moe”.
At first, she remembered, the sound, though quiet, had startled her, bringing her newfound consciousness into sharper focus. It confirmed her existence. None of the other mites seemed to take notice, however, and never paused their scurrying and sifting. She watched the coming and going of the light in the sky, and the shimmer in the moondust, with ever growing fascination. The members of her colony, including her family, scurried around in silence with neither urgency nor sloth. When she tried to approach any one of them, their spindly legs would swiftly rotate, sending the body they carried scurrying on a new trajectory. Moe sensed no animosity—one of many feelings that she had gradually come to know since the beginning of awareness—just a placid, effortless avoidance of collision. Over time, self-conscious surprise and fascination at her surroundings gave way to disappointment. Her coos grew louder, more insistent, and each echo more desperate as it dissipated across the desolate moonscape.
Moe looked up at the sky and watched the looming circle of blue, white, and gray. She didn’t know what it was, but she liked it. The moonscape varied in shades of shimmer, but the circle in the sky—it was different, but not in shade (color was not a part of her awareness). Sometimes, she couldn’t find the circle, no matter how hard she searched among the sparkles. It would disappear from the sky for a while and then reappear, just like the light. Moe twiddled her whiskers and wondered if her existence was a good thing. She looked around at her scurrying colony and considered this. Sometimes, she was glad to know herself as Moe. But other times, she wished she didn’t know. She wished she could be just like the other moonmites, scurrying around, sifting moondust. Not happy, but not unhappy. Not questioning why she had to know, think, feel. Blissfully unaware.
A moment’s hesitation. The inevitable
Tearing open the cocoon of dreams and chatter.
That crease of a smile subsides.
The face once familiar twists and dissipates into emptiness.
I find myself at the shores of a black lake,
Its silent surface ablaze with a million stars above.
I search the dark expanse but there is nothing
And no one.
When I was around 13, I started taking private cello lessons at home. My teacher was (and still is) the principal cellist of the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra. He was a big man with a booming baritone voice, didn’t smile very much, and I was scared of him. I remember him telling me about another female student of his who he said was very beautiful. He also said I’d be really pretty if I didn’t wear glasses. He always used the formal, adult pronouns for you and I in Thai which I was not used to. I always addressed him as “teacher” and myself with the humble Thai word that most kids use when talking to their elders.
One time, he criticized my posture and placed his hand on my upper chest, the area between my neck and my breasts. Then he put his hand at the back of my neck and ran it all the way down to the small of my back, while explaining something about my posture. Afterwards, he instructed me to play while he sat directly behind me where I couldn’t see him, presumably to observe my posture.
How does one react to behavior that isn’t overt? Even now, more than a decade later, I can’t find the right label for that incident. In my mind, sexual assault conjures up a violent image. This was not violent; I wasn’t groped. Neither was it done in a sensual manner, which I would have definitely interpreted as creepy behavior. Instead, he was rough, such that the initial physical contact jolted me, and he spoke in a tone that was gruff and serious rather than lascivious. I thought that perhaps that was his style of teaching and felt ashamed for thinking that it could have been sexual. But it made me extremely uncomfortable.
My experience is mild, compared to what many people endure and I’m not necessarily traumatized by it. It just occasionally pops into my head and makes me angry. But the fact that I catch myself questioning if it was really a big deal, or whether I had misinterpreted his behavior, makes me think that yes, it is always intentional. The grey area—or at least what is perceived to be a grey area—that extends beyond what feels comfortable, but falls short of overt sexual assault, is there to be exploited. It is there to create doubt and redirect shame back to the person who conjured up such dirty thoughts, for suspecting that there was anything other than innocuous intent. Be wary of the grey area. Be wary of terms like “sexual assault” and particularly “sexual assault survivor”, which seem to rule out all non-violent and non life-threatening offenses. Don’t rule them out.
A quiet and curious hopefulness,
Beginning first with bashful concealment of joy
Bursting through all at once
At a face grown familiar and
The crease of a smile.
I’ll soon be joining a team working on a clean energy project in the Lower Mekong region. So, I decided to do some preliminary research into the current investment climate and government policy towards clean energy in Thailand, where I am now based.
The current structure of the Thai power sector is a highly centralized system with the government maintaining its monopoly over transmission and distribution, while there is partial private participation in generation. The three state-owned utilities comprising the power sector are the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT), the Metropolitan Electricity Authority (MEA), and the Provincial Electricity Authority (PEA). MEA and PEA are responsible for distribution, while EGAT—by far the largest and most influential of the three—manages generation and distribution.
In the 1990s, under Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun, Independent power producers (IPPs) were allowed to enter the market. These IPPs competed with EGAT in the generation market, while the latter remained the sole buyer for transmission, resulting in a bizarre setup where EGAT acts as both buyer and seller of electricity. Furthermore, with increased competition in generation, EGAT responded by creating a full subsidiary, the Electricity Generating Company (EGCO), to compete as another IPP.
*SPPs: Small Independent Power Producers; VSPPs: Very Small Independent Power Producers. SPPs and VSPPs comprise much of the country’s renewable energy supply.
EGCO shares were divested and traded on the stock market in 1995, with EGAT retaining the largest stake. Needless to say, the conflict of interest arising from EGAT’s roles as both buyer and seller poses a potential threat to the competitiveness of IPPs.
Nevertheless, a bigger problem facing the Thai energy sector—although somewhat related to competitiveness of IPPs—is the issue of energy security. Thailand is heavily dependent on natural gas, accounting for 76% of the country’s generating capacity. The natural gas supply in the gulf of Thailand is being rapidly depleted and could run out within the next decade or so (Thai PBS, PDP2015: The Return to Coal, aired September 7, 2015).
The Thai energy sector is guided by 20-year power development plans (PDP), revised every five years or so, which forecast electricity and energy demand and map out generation needs for the medium to long term. Yet the PDPs have proven to be less than binding, with some projects being pushed for consideration even before they are included in the PDP. Examples include the 1,260MW Xayaburi dam in Laos and the 4,000MW coal-fired power plants in Dawei, Myanmar. Further, some project proposals lack transparency, with a tendency to overestimate projected demand for electricity. The need for electricity generation is measured by the reserve margin, or the capacity in excess of peak demand, which must be at least 15%. The current reserve margin of 25% is well above the minimum (International Energy Agency 2016).
Prior to 2015, the government had seemed supportive of the renewable sector. Since 2007, power purchase agreements (PPAs) were offered to mostly small (SPPs) and very small (VSPPs) independent producers who generated energy from renewable sources. The price of renewable units sold through these contracts was the wholesale price of electricity plus a premium which varied depending on the type of renewable source—known as the “adder” pricing system.
The Power Development Plan 2015–2036 (PDP2015), however, signaled a shift towards coal rather than renewables to counter the projected exhaustion of natural gas reserves. Included in the plan for construction are three coal-fired power plants at Krabi and Thepa in the south, which continue to face fierce opposition from NGOs, local activists, and communities directly affected. Meanwhile, the adder pricing system for renewable power producers, which allowed prices to fluctuate with the wholesale price of electricity, has been abandoned in favor of a fixed price, known as the “feed-in tariff” system (FiT).
The move was a policy earthquake for the renewables sector. SPPs and VSPPs awarded contracts under the adder system were given the option to switch to a FiT contract, while for submitted applicants awaiting contract approval the switch was mandatory. This presented a potential problem since investment decisions made by those producers were no doubt done under the assumption of adder pricing.
Another major issue is that of transmission grid overload in certain areas, causing the utilities to halt purchasing of renewable energy. To operate as an IPP, different licenses need to be obtained from different ministries; for instance, a license to construct a power facility must be obtained from the Ministry of Interior, while the license to sell electricity must be obtained from the Ministry of Energy. The two ministries do not coordinate in awarding licenses, resulting in scenarios where IPPs are granted licenses, only to be refused sales of electricity.
One example is a palm oil company in Krabi that has a 4MW biogas facility. Due to halted electricity purchases, the plant has resorted to burning off its biogas to avoid excess pressure and risk of explosion, costing the company roughly 100,000 baht per day since last September (Thai PBS, aired February 16, 2017). Krabi is also the province in which the new coal-fired plants are to be located. This raises a lot of questions about the necessity of such plants when renewable resource facilities exist, ready to meet demand. Furthermore, the plans seem at odds with the aforementioned reserve margin of 25%, which far exceeds the minimum of 15%. EGAT’s investment in an Indonesian coal mine was another source of controversy regarding potential conflict of interest.
Clear Signals Needed
Up until now, Thailand had been a leader for renewable energy in the region. However, if it is to continue in this role, the government needs to send out clear signals that it intends to continue supporting the sector and maintaining its commitment to reducing emissions, as per the country’s Alternative Energy Development Plan (AEDP2015). This includes increasing transparency and civil society engagement in the PDP process to ensure that renewables are properly considered. For the PDP2015, which proposed the three coal-fired power plants, town hall-style meetings were held only in Bangkok (even though some of the major plans for plant construction were in the South) and after the PDP draft had already been finalized.
To conclude, until the government offers clearer policy directions, the future of the Thai renewable energy sector remains uncertain and investment in the industry will remain low.
We make it
We spend it
We waste it
We kill it
We run out of it
We measure it
We wear it on our wrists
We need more of it
We reminisce about it
We regret it
We want it to pass
We want it to stop
We want to reverse it
To relive it and remember.