Monday, December 31, 2007

Oh Yeah!

What did the kids think of the trip? A picture tells a thousand words!


Sunday, December 30, 2007

Offensive Signs

I saw these signs while in Hong Kong. Somehow I think if they were in the U.S., someone of asian lineage would cry foul at this racial offensive word.


For those of you not in the know, "slope" is sometimes used as a racial slur towards asian people. It deragatorily refers to the shape of their eyes.

I'm Back & Happy New Year!

Just got back last night from our week in Hong Kong. We didn't get to the house until 3:40 a.m. I guess that's the difference between $200 and $400 airplane tickets.

Still tired though, because we celebrated Christmas this morning at

The trip was a lot of fun, and I have a lot of pictures and blog ideas. They will probably trickle out at times, followed by a deluge.

Here are some ideas:

- Hong Kong Disney on Christmas
- Signs
- Thai Elections
- Hong Kong at a Glance
- Transportation in Hong Kong
- Culture Differences
- Forming a line

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays

The family and I will be leaving for Hong Kong in a few hours, and I just wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. I probably won't be posting to the site for about a week, but when I return, I hope to have a lot of stories and pictures to share.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Drive Away Driver

Today is the last day of employment for our current driver. He is not aware of this fact as of yet, but he will find out tonight.

When we get back from Hong Kong, we'll have a new driver. He is a little more expensive, but we are hoping that the fourth time is a charm.

Horray for Hollywood!

I took the kids to see the Alvin and the Chipmunks movie this afternoon. If you are looking for ground breaking cinema with a riveting plot or a dynamic action thriller, this isn't your film. Still, it wasn't bad, and the kids really enjoyed it. The movie was in English, with Thai subtitles.

Seeing a movie in Thailand is a bit different than in the states. In some ways, its more like attending a sporting event than a movie in the states .

It all starts with buying your tickets. In the States, movie theaters generally operate on a festival seating, or first come, first served model. You buy a ticket and go find a seat. Here in Thailand, you purchase a ticket for a particular seat. There is a computer screen that shows what seats are available, and you tell the cashier (or in my case point to) the seats you wish to purchase. There are a few tiers of seat prices, with the choice seats costing more than the seats in the first few rows. Of course, like Americans at a sparsely attended baseball game, some Thais buy "cheap" seats and make their way to more choice ones.

Before the start of the movie, the theaters show a video tribute to the King. Everyone stands up to show their respect, while the video and music play. Its very much akin to the playing of the National Anthem in the States at sporting events. Of course, its not a live performance, and even if it were, no Thai would disgrace himself or herself as did our very dear American role model, Rosanne Barr.

Another difference is the selection of movies. A 16 screen cineplex might have ten to fifteen different movies playing at once in the States. Here, there may only be two or three, with each playing on four or five screens.

The snack selection is pretty similar here, with popcorn and soft drinks holding places of high prominence in the snack display. The portions are a bit smaller, although the prices are smaller still.

The movie prices are less than in the states, plus their policy on children is very forgiving. I paid for tickets for Jacob, Cat (the nanny) and myself, while Aleena and Nalin were free. So the five of us attended the move for about $15 U.S., plus $1.50 for a large (U.S. medium) caramel popcorn.

The seats, sound and video quality were all quite good. The only real complaint that I have about the movie theaters here are the previews.

We've taken the kids to see three different movies here in Thailand; Bees, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and a Japanese cartoon for kids. At every one, they played the preview for Alien versus Predator II. Its certainly not the scariest preview that I've ever seen, but it is a bit intense for kids. It scares Aleena, Jacob and Nalin. Jacob recognized the preview when it started and turned his head, while Aleena buried her head in my chest. I understand that there are adults in the theater who might be interested in seeing that movie, I might even. The movies we attended, however, were aimed largely at kids. I just don't think they should scare the crap out of little kids by showing previews of a violent rated R movie before a G rated film. If I had taken the kids to see a PG-13 movie, I might understand, but I think the preview was not appropriate. Of course, the ratings to which I refer are U.S. ratings, if there are Thai equivalents, I cannot read them.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Flat Jacob - Famous Places

Sliding into Adventure with the Pyramids.
He towers above the citizenry of France!

Jacob Stands Astride the Great Wall!

A new face on Mount Rushmore!


Flat Jacob - Famous Events













Fruitcake in Paradise?

One of Nalin's classmates gave us a fruitcake for Christmas. That's right, the butt of so many jokes and mockery back in the states is alive and well here in the Kingdom.

Tim told me that the fruitcakes are better here, and that people actually eat them. I've not yet tasted this one to confirm her theory.

Travel's of Paul

I know a lot of my blog is about my adventures in Thailand, but I also want to share some other stories that I think are interesting from other parts of my life.

Prior to my junior year of high school, I attended the Hugh O'Brien Youth Leadership seminar for Kentucky students. It was a 3 or so day enrichment program that was a lot of fun.

One of the speakers was a member of the Kentucky State legislature. When he spoke, he opened his remarks with a story. Unfortunately, I cannot remember his name, and I am far from certain that he is the origin of this story. In any case, its one I enjoy very much, so I will repeat the story he told as best I remember it.

During my last semester at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, I had a huge course load. I had eighteen hours of high level courses in my major, and needed another three credit hours to graduate. I decided to enroll in New Testament Studies. The reason for my choice was that this was widely regarded as the easiest class in school. The entire course grade was determine by the final exam. Every year, without fail, the final exam question was a single question asking the examinee to discuss the travels of the prophet Paul.

I devoted myself the entire semester to the classes in my major. I only attended the New Testament class on the first day to get the syllabus and find out the day of the final exam.

A week before the exam in my New Testament class, I threw myself into studying the life and travels of Paul. By the morning of the exam, I knew Paul's travels almost as well as did he.
As I sat for the exam, I was extremely confident. The professor passed out the exam books. As it I turned the exam over, it was as I expected, a single question. I read it to myself, "Critically discuss the Sermon on the Mount."


Now not only did I receive an "A" on the exam, but they framed and hung my exam in the sacred halls of Xavier. Here is the first sentence of my response:

Let those who will criticise the world of the Lord, I shall discuss the travels of Paul.

Even after twenty plus years, that story makes me smile.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Wai Ronald


I think this image is a great illustration of American and Thai culture hand in hand. It is a statue of Ronald McDonald performing the traditional Thai wai greeting.

Is there any image more representative of American commercialism around the world than the golden arches of McDonalds? Of course Pepsi and Coke are everywhere, and there are probably more KFCs than McDonalds here. But even these formidable brands cannot stand up to the iconic greatness of Ronald McDonald.

In some ways the wai is the western equivalent of a handshake, but it is really much more. It represents the respect and politeness that people show each other in Thai society.

Whenever I see this symbol of America embracing this Thai custom, I sniff a bit and try to suppress the tears of true joy. It is a symbol of how people of the world can unite and come together.
If Ronald McDonald can wai, then can't the Muslims and Israelis get along? Shouldn't the Nobel peace prize awarded to Al Gore more rightly gone to Ronald McDonald? Could two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun replace the dove as the universal symbol of peace?
Or maybe its just a great way to market hamburgers.

Dry Elections

On December 23rd, Thai's will turn out at the polls to elect a new Parliament to replace the interim government installed by the master minds of the 2006 coup. This weekend there was voting for people who were traveling outside there voting precinct. Reports are that they are getting a large turn out.

While its certainly a good thing that Thai's are once again taking a step towards democratic rule, there is a drawback. During these two weekends of voting, bars, restaurants, and other establishments are not allowed to serve alcohol. The ban does not extend only to Thai's to ensure that they are not under the influence of alcohol (instead of the more benevolent influence of bribes), but it extends to us falangs as well.

To paraphrase an op ed piece in the paper, it would really suck to have picked this weekend or next for your vacation if you are into the bar scene. Heck, would put a damper on having a nice glass of wine with your dinner. Fortunately for those who frequent the sex clubs, the drinks that patrons buy dancers are usually non-alcololic, so you can still put some more money in the bar and the girls pockets before bar fining her.

In any case, I'm glad the elections are taking place. I'm tired of seeing the billboards every 20 feet. I need to snap some pictures of them before they are all torn down.

Hillary 08?

A couple of weeks ago, a friend invited me to a fund raiser for the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton. With the election going on over here, I almost forgot that an election is going on back home. Okay, that is a complete lie, I read cnn.com just about every day, so I know what's going on.

If Oprah is pulling for Obama, do you think other day time talk show hosts might get into the act? I mean, Geraldo could do a special where he goes exploring around some empty crypts to find Dennis Kucinch's and Ron Paul's chances of winning. I know Ron Paul has raised a lot of money, but I half expect he is going to advocate reverting back to the gold standard.

Actually, Ron Paul would probably be better served with radio talk show host extraordinaire Art Bell. For those of you not in the know, Art was the long time host of a conspiracy theory talk show. It was funny, Bell had a bunch of 800's to call based on your location. He had one for callers west of the rockies, east of the rockies, first time callers, wild card, and probably others.

The hottest free agent talk host would have to be Cincinnati's own former mayor and Jerry Springer. They say Oprah brings people to the polls who normally don't vote? Hell, think of the kind of people Jerry could bring to a rally.

In reality, Springer is too hot for any one candidate. He could host the debates and conventions. Who wouldn't enjoy watching the candidates get up and personal with each other. I mean, who wouldn't want to see Edward get in Hillary's face, and say "Oh no you ditn't", or Romney telling McCain to "bring it on". Maybe Jerry could have all of Guiliani's ex-wives on the show at once. That might spark some fireworks.

Of course, a Republican would have the brilliant idea to pick up Montel to show that they are ethnically sensitive. Maybe Romney would to help people forget that not too many years ago, Mormons forbid blacks to be leaders in their church.

In any case, I politely decline the offer to attend the rally.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Swimming

Although it can be very hot here, one of the benefits is that its almost always swimming weather. I went swimming with the kids the last two days.

Since winter is over here, we don't have those chilly days with a high of only 85, rather the thermostat reaches a respecatable 90 degrees or more each day. There is not even a chill in the water, its perfect for swimming.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Maid In Uniform

When I think of a maids uniform, an image bubbles to the surface of my mind of a revealing black and white lacey outfit, complete with a feather duster, and a pouty smile. I can almost see the ad campaign now. "Impractical yet ellegant, this pushup black brazier will keep all eyes on your chest, and not the one you were supposed to clean."

Well, for better or worse, the fantasy inducing "French Maid" costume is not the uniform of choice for maids and nannies here in Thailand. Not surprisingly, most wear more practical attire when cleaning, cooking and performing other sweat inspiring and dirt attracting household chores.

Maids will typically wear old tee shirts and faded jeans or three-quarter length pants. Nannies might replace the tee shirt with a yellow king shirt. As you might expect, most don't include applying make-up and hair styling as part of their daily routine.

Its pretty easy then, to tell the maids from their employers around here. First, the majority of employers here are falangs. As the maids are all Thais or Laotians, light skin and non-black hair are a dead give away. The Asian and Thai female employers are also usually easy to distinguish from the maids. Middle and upper class Thai women tend to dress very nicely. You can also usually tell from the way the person carries themselves, and particularly how they interact with the kids. As I explained before, the maids are very deferential to the children.

Recently, however, I was a bit perplexed by someone. My neighbor owns a successful Vietnamese restaurant here in Bangkok. There was a young woman who I saw around the house. This young woman would wash the car, walk the dog, and sweep around the front of the house. Her actions yelled that she was a maid, but her dress told another story. She would wash the car in low heals, a nice blouse and a skirt. Time for sweeping? Our mystery woman would wear a dress. She was doing maid's work, but dressing like she was going to a mall.

While not a mystery for the ages, I was at a bit of a loss. Perhaps she was the daughter of my neighbor. When I asked Tim about it, she was equally perplexed.

I was ready to call in the help of Encyclopedia Brown when I brought in bigger guns. We decided to ask our maid and nanny about this woman. They started laughing, and told us that indeed, the woman was a maid. They thought it was very funny that she would dress so nicely when cleaning.

At first I thought it was ridiculous that someone would be so vain as to wear nice clothes to do dirty work. Then I thought about it a bit. Status is important here in Thailand, and by wearing nice clothing, the maid was able to put doubt in my mind. When she is walking a dog, people that she passes by have no way of knowing that she is a maid.

Perhaps people treat her differently because they think she is a "higher" social class. Are people more polite and deferential to her than they would be if they knew she was a maid? I cannot be certain, but I think they just might.

Food and Christmas

Haven't been doing a lot of in depth blogging recently because I've been working on the application for Tim's company. I am enjoying the work, although I always am doing it in the margins, in my spare time. Tonight, however, I am too tired to think of 1's and 0's, so instead I will paint my thoughts with the colors of the alphabet.

Today was the International Food Festival ("IFF") at ISB. The school put on a nice festival. There were booths boasting foods from at least fifteen countries. The American booth sold chili and cornbread. The food was good. Tim really liked the Korean food, while I thought the Latin burrito was solid.

They also had games and crafts for sale. The cub scouts ran a couple of booths, which meant I worked. The dart throw was very popular.

Later in the afternoon, we went to a Christmas party hosted by the family of one of Jacob's classmates. We were asked to bring a dish to share, and a gift for each of our children for "Santa" to pass out.

Turns out Santa is the guy sitting behind the keyboard typing this blog. Of course, my kids recognized me immediately, as did a few other kids. The hostess gave me a Christmas story to read. After almost ten minutes, I was only half way through the book, so I improvised, and the last half took about a minute.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Let's Dance

Jacob's teacher sent me a link to this, and I created dancing elves of the family. Check it out, its pretty funny.

http://www.elfyourself.com/?id=1351290174

Monday, December 10, 2007

Constitution Day

Today is Constitution Day in Thailand, a national holiday created to celebrate Thailand becoming a modern nation state in 1932. Many offices and schools were closed today.

A fair question would be what constitution is being celebrated today. It may seem strange to those of us, but since 1932, Thailand has had seventeen different charters and constitutions. After a successful military coup, the coup leaders would disolve the old constitution and create a new one.

The latest constitution was ratified by the voters just this fall. It replaced the 1997 constitution which was put to rest by the 2006 coup.

Perhaps its only fair that each constitution gets its own day. I'm sure that children and civil servants would appreciate seventeen paid holidays.

Burning Down the House

Perhaps the bear was right that only I can prevent forest fires, on Sunday I almost created a house fire. Tim was finishing up some work so I decided to make some fried rice.

I put the wok on the stove, put some oil in it, and cranked up the burner. I then cut up some leftover meat and mixed some eggs in a bowl. I smelled something burning, looked over, and saw the pan on fire. The flames danced two or three feet from the top of the pan. Lacking a fire extinguisher, I picked the pan up by the handle. I realized that I couldn't put it in the sink, as the flames might reach the cabinets. I gently sat it down in the middle of the tile floor, and ran upstairs to soak a towel. By the time I returned, the fire had burned through its fuel.

The house was smoky and smelled of buring oil. We went to eat at the club.

Coach for a Day

There was a mixup on Saturday at Jacob's soccer game. Someone on the team distributed a schedule that had the game at 10:30 instead of 9:20. As Jacob joined the team late, I didn't have that schedule, and instead looked on the league web site.

The kids usually have 30 minutes of practice before they start. By 9:50, however, there were only 5 or 6 of the 11 players present and none of the coaches. So your favorite blogger about life in Thailand, despite knowing virtually nothing about soccer, coached the kids.

We ended up picking up another boy who played on a different team, so we started at 6 versus 6 instead of the usual 9 versus 9. Over the courese of the game, a few more players showed up. With about five minutes left, the coach actually showed up and took over.

The kids did a great job. It was a bit sunny and warm, so the boys were pretty tired. I didn't have subs, so they all were iron men, er iron boys. I think the final score was 2-0 against them. Had they been at full strength and had a coach, I think they would have done much better.

One of the parents wasn't happy with me. When I told his son to play defense for a while, the dad yelled that his son was the only one capable of scoring and intimated I didn't know what I was doing. I told him he was welcome to take over for me if he wanted, but I took the fact that he turned and walked down the sideline for a no. I think I broke out the "Look, they are second graders." Oh well.

In fairness, most of the parents were very appreciative. I think just about everyone else thanked me for helping out.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Immigration Sensation

On Friday, Tim and I went down to the Thai Immigration office so that I could apply for a one year visa based on having a Thai wife. The passport stamp actually reads "Thai Wife".

The reader's digest version of the day is that we spent about four hours there, including the time we spent at lunch. The application is complete, and I have to return to the office on January 4th to find out the results. I don't want to be too confident, but part of the process was an interview of me. They told Tim that everything was in order so they didn't have to ask me a single question.

Of course, this trip to Thailand is about experiences. During my four hours, I had some experiences that I'd like to share.

A couple of immigration officials that we worked with really represented the best and worst of Thai people and culture. Its not that they as individuals are the best and worst people in Thailand, but how they interacted with us reveals a lot about this land of smiles.

The "best" was a woman who is a friend of a friend. She doesn't work directly in the visa department, but she knows the people and the system. Over the course of our two trips, she has probably spent seven or eight hours helping us. It started with our arrival. As parking is horrendous at the office, she came out and opened up a reserved spot for us to park. She helped Tim fill out the paperwork, took it to the proper official, and arranged appointments for us so that we did not have to take a number and wait in the queue. She stayed with us while we waited for our interview and sat close by during the interview in case we needed help.

The entire time, she had a smile on her face. She responded "mai ben rai ka" (which means don't worry about it or no problem) and genuinely seemed as though she meant it. She was very nice, and it was clear that she really wanted to help us get this completed, and not just so that we would get out of her hair. She really epitomized "mai been rai ka" for me.

The worst of the Thai people was represented by the supervisor who conducted our interview. To describe the process as an interview is a bit misleading. We sat at her desk for approximately thirty minutes while she reviewed our paper work, and asked Tim a few questions.

Her behavior might have been the rudest that I have ever experienced here in Thailand. Its not what she said, but what she didn't. Not only didn't she say hi, but she didn't even glance at me the entire thirty minutes, although I was sitting two feet away from her at her desk. The only acknowledgement that I was even present was when she put a piece of paper between Tim and I and she pointed at it for a signature.

Even from a western perspective, its rude to not even acknowledge someone sitting at your desk for thirty minutes. But here in Thailand, where people typically great each other with a "sa wa dee" and a wai, it seemed ominous. If she hadn't wai'd me, I would have understood. The when and where to wai has a lot to do with social status and I have hardly mastered its nuances. The fact that she didn't look at me, however, prevented me from saying hello and wai'ing her. I guess on the plus side, she didn't ask me any tough questions.

The woman was also curt with Tim. After the interview, I said to Tim that I thought that this was one of the rudest persons I had met here. She readily agreed, confirming that in this case, I was not the ugly American put off by having to deal with third-world officials. Tim's insight on such matters is valuable to me, because not only is she nicer and more tolerant of ass-hattery than I, she is more in touch with Thai behavior.

I think this woman represented a combination of difficulties working with any immigration service and the hierarchical nature of Thai society. People often complain about difficulty working with governments. I think immigration departments are by nature the most difficult. They are dealing with people who are not citizens of their country. Say what you will about an unresponsive DMV in your county, but if enough voters make a fuss about it, a responsible official hoping to keep his job just might intervene. Immigrations officials are usually working with people who are not citizens, but have not choice but to take it.

Thai society is very hierarchical, with people of a lower social status generally showing a great deal of respect and deference to someone of a higher status. People of a higher status can easily abuse their positions of power and could run roughshod over others. Perhaps the fact that she was a supervisor who had the power to approve our deny our visa request caused her not to show me and Tim much respect.

One final thought on the supervisor. Personally, the fact that she showed me not a modicum of respect caused me not a moments unrest. The fact is, her actions were notable only in that the so differed from how others have treated me. So long as my visa is approved, which is almost certainly will be, I could not give a shit less what she thinks of me.

There were some other interesting things I observed that day. I saw first hand how Thai's different treatment of men and women could affect a family staying together. As you may remember, I described how a woman needs to prove that she makes at least 30,000 baht per month and prove she has paid taxes on it to obtain a visa for a foreign spouse, while a man merely has to sign that he can provide. The amount is actually 40,000 baht per month.

A Thai woman and her German husband talked to the supervisor while we were there. There household income was 30,000. The average Thai income is about 24,000 baht. The supervisor told them that if they didn't have 40,000 baht in monthly income, that he would have to leave when his visa expired. So, unless they increased their household income by 10,000 baht or the wife magically sprouted a penis and the husband a vagina, they very well could be separated.

Adding insult to injury, the supervisor reminded the woman that if he overstayed his visa, the fine was 500 baht per day, which he would be forced to pay if he ever wanted to re-enter the kingdom. The supervisor "confided" to Tim that they had bumped up the fine to 500 baht per day, because foreigners didn't seem deterred by paying 200 baht per day that they overstayed their visa. Given that 200 baht a day would come out to less than $200 a month, I can understand while some westerners might not be bothered. If I were going to overstay my visit for only a month or two, and I had to go through the normal immigration process (i.e., sans our friend who took us to the front of all the lines), I would be sorely tempted to just pay the fine.

Honestly, their story did not completely tug at my heart strings, it was a useful instrument to talk again about how Thai's treat men and women differently. Perhaps I am being too hard on her, but I would not be surprised if they met in one of those establishments where foreigners exchange hard currency for hard "fun".

There was a delivery man who walked by me while I was waiting who walked with a noticeable limp. A quick glance showed that his right foot was turned in, and that he walked shoeless on the side of his foot. I had to think that working a job requiring one to talk a lot, as delivery men are wont to do, would be difficult for someone so situated. In any case I admire his perseverance. Strangely, as we left, I saw a one-armed man order food from a side-walk food stall.

Overall, I would hardly describe the experience as fun, but on reflection it was interesting. Still, I'm hoping the blog entry from January 4th will read "Its approved!"

Thursday, December 6, 2007

What's In a Name

The name of one of the store's in Tim's plaza is named "a cup". I always chuckle when I walk past, and Tim always explains that they prounce it "ah", and not "ay".

I keep telling her she need to get Dunkin Donuts next to "a cup", so you can see the double d's next to the a.

Immigration

Tomorrow I head back down to the immigration department to get my visa renewed for a year. As you may remember, last time we were missing some paperwork so they wouldn't extend my visa based on Tim's status. They did renew the kids for a year, and then gave me a few extra months because of the kids.

For those of you who didn't read, here are the requirements for a visa for a spouse:

Thai Husband For Foreign Spouse
- Thai husband signs a form saying he can and will support the spouse.

Thai Wife for Foreign Spouse
- Wife signs paper stating she can and will support the spouse.
- Wife provides letter from employment demonstrating she makes at least 30,000 baht per month. (The average Thai man doesn't make 1/2 that much).
- Wife provides documentation proving that she has paid income tax for the past three months.

So, if we are lucky, we'll just drop off the paperwork without any problems. Tim just told me that it might take a few weeks to get approved. Its never easy.

Look, two wheels!

I'm helping Nalin learn to ride her bike without training wheels. We tried it in the spring back in Ohio, but she really wasn't interested or ready.

She's doing a great job. We've practiced the last two days for twenty or thirty minutes each. I help her get started, and she is riding about thirty or forty yards. She only fell once, and that was after the bike stopped, it tipped and took her down. She cried for a minute or so, then was okay.

At the current pace, she'll be on her on in a few days.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Happy Father's Day

Tomorrow, December 5th is the King's 80th birthday. It is also Father's Day, which is always celebrated on the King's birthday. Mother's day is celebrated on the Queen's birthday. It is also a national holiday, and the kids are off school.

There will be an absolute sea of yellow shirts as Thai's go out of their way to show their love of the King. Some people have been wearing yellow shirts for five days in a row to mark the occassion.

There have been celebrations underway for several days, and you can see decorations around town in his honor. I can hear some fireworks in the background as I type this blog.

I'm really not sure how we will celebrate. Nalin made me something, and is very excited about giving it to me. Perhaps I'll take a free ride on the train, as all father's, even falang, ride for free on Father's day.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Drinking Water

Water, we can not live long without it. It quenches our thirst, keeps us clean, is a source of food, and is used in the generation of energy.


The Thai word for water is nam (pronounced like the last syllable of Vietnam). The word for thirsty and hungry is the same, hue. If you are thirsty, you would say hue nam. Its customary when someone enters your home to give them a glass of water.

One thing that you do not want to do is to drink water straight out of the tap. Most native Thai's don't engage in that practice. That water that flows so freely out of the spout is carrying passengers. Yes, plain old tap water is not so plain in Thailand, it is also chock full of those wonderfully painful bowel and belly emptying micro-organisms. Imbibe them and while they take a ride around in you, you'll be earning frequent squatting miles on the porcelain express.


Drinking at Home



Okay, so you can't drink straight from the tap, what is a thirsty Thai or falang to do? There are three ways to get clean and safe drinking water at your home. Some people boil the water prior to drinking it. They will keep a a half a dozen or so bottles of boiled water in the refrigerator. Its a cheap way to do it, although you need to remember to keep supply refreshed. You don't want to be thirsty and have to wait ten minutes for the water to boil and then cool it. For people on a budget, this is probably the most common solution.


Middle and upper class Thai's may install a water filtration system. This is convenient, as you can drink straight out of the tap. The up front cost are the highest for this solution. Just remember if you are staying someplace with a filtration system, that all the faucets may not be filtered. If your host has installed the filtration system only on the kitchen faucet, you will sorely regret quenching your midnight thirst with a glass of water from the bathroom faucet.

Another option for clean drinking water is to have a water service deliver water to your home. This is the option we chose we didn't want the hassle of boiling water, but as renters we couldn't justify investing in a water filtration system. We have a water cooler in our kitchen, and the service delivers 18.9 liter bottles every week. We go through four or five bottles a week. The cost is pretty affordable.


Having a water cooler is nice for a few reasons. It cools the water, which is nice, because our refrigerator here doesn't have a water dispenser. The water cooler also reminds me a bit of my office daze. Jacob and I will be standing around the water cooler chatting soccer, cartoons, or the environmental merits of a flatulent powered combustion engine when one of us spots the boss. Jacob will usually glance up at his mom before saying in that slightly too loud voice something on the lines of "Okay then dad. I'll have that TPS report on your desk by 8:00 a.m. sharp." I don't think she is fooled, but she hasn't fired us yet.



Water Out & About

Virtually every restaurant that I've been too has served bottled and not tap water. The charge is usually fairly small, between five and twenty baht. The bottles are usually brought table side and set on a tray with a bucket of ice. The servers generally open the bottle in front of you. This can help to allay worries that an entrepreneurial Thai might have refilled a used bottle from the tap.

Some people are concerned about the water used in making ice. For the most part, I think this is not an issue. Certainly it is possible that a vendor might make ice out of tap water and expose the drinker to unwanted micro-organisms as the ice melts. I usually have ice with my drinks and have never had an issue with it here in Thailand. I don't know if its because I've never had "bad" ice, or that the amount was small enough that it didn't affect me.

The key is to be aware. If the water tastes funny or smells, don't drink it.

Incidentally, I thought I had a bad experience with ice once in Boston , but fortunately it was just "poison". While visiting my friend Tracy, I drank a coke with ice. It had a funny taste, and I thought maybe there was something wrong with the ice. I said something to Tracy, who got a horrified look on her face. She ran over to the cupboard and pulled out one of the glasses, which she kept rightside up. There was a film of pesticide in the bottom of the glass from the recent spraying that she had. Fortunately, I did not consume very much pesticide and did not become ill.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Erection Irregularities

No, I am not providing an insight into my personal life or mocking Asians for their free substitution of "r"s and "l"s. I'm referring to the article in this morning's Bangkok Post on voter fraud.

As you may know, vote buying is a tradition here in Thailand. While it is illegal, it is widely practiced and even expected in some areas. Now there is a new twist. Instead of paying cash for votes as is the normal practice, one party is accused of providing viagra to older voters in order to win their votes.

The headlines could have been:

- Competition Stiffens for Election
- More Voters Able to Work on Poles
- Election Season Lengthens In North
- New Rules Hard On Voter Fraud
- New Rules Prick at Voter Consciences
- Party Hoping for Morning Glory on Election Day

My Voice



Today I had the chance to do something that was a lot of fun. As regular readers know, my wife and her brother are the owners and operators of the Bangkok Bus Terminal, the official government bus terminal for all tour buses that go to the south of Thailand.


Not only does the terminal handle the ticketing, arrival and departure of buses to the south, but it has over three hundred retail stores. So in affect, Tim and Top are managing a combination bus station and plaza. (As a side note, what we call "malls" in America are referred to as "plazas" in Thailand due to some copyright or trademark issue.) During the peak seasons, they will have up to 80,000 people per day going through the station. The overwhelming majority are Thai citizens, but their are a sprinkling of foreign tourists, expats, and falang "johns" escorting their Thai "girlfriends".


Even though 99%+ of the people at the terminal speak Thai, they still do a lot of things in both Thai and English. The signs for the ticketing booth are in both Thai and English (or will be soon, they had to redo them). The same goes for announcements over the PA system. There is a certain "status" afforded to things in English. Its almost as if you are "big time" if you have things in English and Thai.

Tim needed someone to record four or five announcements for the bus terminal in English. These ranged from explaining access to and the location of the safety zone (where you board the bus) to advertising the shopping zones available. She asked me to do it for her.

Now you might bet thinking now, "How sweet, Tim is so enamoured with the sound of Brian's voice that she wants to hear it all day long at work." Unfortunately Tim's reason for selecting me was not so she could sit around her office starry eyed waiting to hear my next utterance. My two qualifications were that I spoke English and would work for free. Hiring a professional to do the recordings in English costs between 6,000 and 10,000 baht (~$175 - 275), so by having me do it, they save some money.

I have never done any professional recordings before. This past year I did have the experience of hearing my voice played back for me. My friend Alachia featured a story that I had written on her podcast wowcast. I read the story for the show. After listening to it, I asked her if that was how I normally sounded. She answered in the affirmative.

We arrived at the recording studio this morning at 10:30. After taking a few pictures with Jacob's Flat Stanley we began. I sat in a sound-proof booth and read my five announcements. I nailed one or two of them on the first try, while a few others took three or so takes.

The technicians coached me a bit after I did my first test reading. They encouraged me to project my voice, slow down a bit and read with a bit more feeling. While we were recording, they told Tim that I had a nice voice, but that I obviously did not know all the tricks of a professional.

Overall it was a fun experience. I have to say, it would be a great gig if you could get it. Professionals do pretty well for an hour or so of work. They told Tim that there are about ten people who record in English in their studio and that they would keep my voice on file. When a customer wants to record something, they play a clip of the different "talent" available. I have no delusions that anyone will want to hire me.

Its pretty neat to be the English voice of the Bangkok Bus Terminal. I mean, who would want to be heard by up to 80,000 people a day, even if most of them don't understand a word that I'm saying.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Power Cord Woes

This morning I woke up and saw a yellow flashing light in my bedroom. My wife was sleeping on her side between the light and I, so at first my sleep muddled brain thought that she was turning off and on the light on the alarm clock.

When I heard the static buzz and smelled the burnt plastic, however, I realized something was amiss. Tim woke up, I turned on the lights and she pulled the cord of of the wall. Only one prong came out, and the plug head was melted in a few spots. I traced the plug right to my laptop, which I typically leave on at night when I'm downloading from usenet. My laptop was fine but the power cord was not.

This is the second laptop power cord I've lost here. The first was a result of the wire getting twisted as I frequently moved it around.

So, my wife is going to send the driver to get another power cord. She is sending the current one with him and telling him exactly where to go. Hopefully he won't end up with a telephone cord instead.

Wish me luck.

Flat Stanley Has Arrived!

Attached are scanned images of Jacob's two Flat Stanleys. I've also included them in the original blog.

Remember, if you can:
  1. Print one of the two Stanley's below.

  2. Take him around some of the notable spots in your area of the world and take pictures of him there. We would also love pictures of him with you and any family and friends you would like to share the experience with.

  3. Email the pictures to me at edwardbrianvogel@yahoo.com before January 7th.

  4. After I get all the pictures, I'll post them on the site.

Please click on the images below to go to the page with the correct sized images. Blogspot changed the jpeg size when I uploaded them.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Flat Stanley

Jacob's second grade class at ISB is participating in the Flat Stanley Project ("FSP") this year. I'm actually pretty excited about this.

Flat Stanley is a story about the adventures of Stanley, a young boy who is smashed flat (but otherwise unhurt) when bulletin board falls on him while he slept. At one point in the story, Stanley's family places him in an envelope and mails him to visit friends in another state. Lest you be appalled that their actions were abuse, take comfort in the fact that they packed him a sandwich.

I believe the FSP was started to help promote literacy, as well as sell books (sorry, couldn't entirely suppress my cynicism). Here is how FSP works. Students read the Flat Stanley book, and then make their own paper doll Flat Stanley. They mail their Stanley to friends, family members or even students at another school. The recipients then take Flat Stanley with them, and take pictures of Flat Stanley with friends and family, in notable places, and with notable people. At the end of his stay, they mail Flat Stanley back along with any pictures and stories.

FSP has really gotten quite big. There is a web site where students around the world can upload pictures. There are pictures of Flat Stanley with world leaders (including at least two U.S. presidents) as well as on a space shuttle mission.

Flat Stanley is near and dear to my heart for a couple of reasons. Thirty-two years ago, I read Flat Stanley as a second-grader at St. Philip Elementary in Melbourne, Kentucky. Its one of the first books I remember reading.

My affection for the FSP also stems from the fact that our family has hosted a Flat Stanley. Three years ago, my niece Pim was a second grade student at ISB, and sent her Flat Stanley to visit us in the U.S. We had a lot of fun with Stanley and took a lot of pictures. I sent a few of those pictures to school with Jacob, and his teach sent me a note asking if I had more, as the children all enjoyed seeing them so much.

Now, dear reader, I am asking for your help. I'd really like to have Jacob's Flat Stanley get his picture taken in as many places and with as many people as possible. I would love to have each of you take pictures with Stanley. The problem is that he has made only two Stanley's, one that will vacation with us over the holidays, and one that will soon visit parents. Stanley cannot be in more than two places at once, or can he.

I've decided to scan in images of Jacob's Flat Stanley and post them all over my site and blog. I am humbly asking each reader to do the following:
  1. Download and print a color copy of one of the two of Jacob's Flat Stanleys below.
  2. Cut out the Flat Stanley to make a "paper doll".

  3. Take pictures of Flat Stanley with yourself, family, friends and in interesting places around your area. If you go on a trip, fold him up, take him with you and snap a few photos.

  4. Send the pictures to me at edwardbrianvogel@yahoo.com by January 7th, 2008.

I don't want anyone to have to put a lot of effort into this. Stanley is pretty small, so he is easy to carry around. But I have friends all over the U.S. and indeed in different parts of the world, so it would be really cool to see Stanley in NYC, Cincinnati, Chicago, England, etc.

Please click on the images below to navigate to the page with the correct sized Flat Stanley images. Blogspot changes the jpeg size during uploading.



Funny News

I usually check out cnn.com for news. There were a couple of articles that I found amusing this morning.

CNN often preface a news story with "Ticker:". For example, Ticker: Bill XYZ Passed in Senate. This morning they had:

Ticker: Cheney to Undgergo Heart Procedure

... aside from the seriousness of the issue, I found the headline very funny. What is next:

  • Boobs: Pamela Anderson Receives Breast Implants
  • Noggin: Manning Receives Concussion
  • Tallywacker: Joey Buttafucko to Star in Reality Series

There was also an article about a "stubbly-faced" Iraqi insurgent trying to sneak across the border dressed as a bride. His picture is in the article found here.

Dammit, that would be one ugly woman. There aren't a whole lot of guys on earth who would finish second in a beauty contest to beloved M.A.S.H. character Sgt. Maxwell Q. Klinger, but I think we just found one.

I have to believe that this guy's "groom" was secretly relieved that they were caught. Can you just imagine him sitting around the insurgent camp fire with his buddies mocking him because people believed he had married the ugliest woman in the world?

Driving Me Crazy!

I noticed that a fair bit of my blog involves complaining about our drivers. By now, its evident that the third time is not always a charm, and your good friend Samnerk will soon be parting company with us. I've written about our drivers so much, I was half-thinking of changing the name of the blog to something like:

  1. Driving Us Crazy
  2. Samnerk the Jerk
  3. Dufus the Driver
  4. My Stupid Thai Driver
  5. Life in the Dumb Lane
  6. Throng Bai Dammit! (throng bai is go straight in Thai)
  7. Wrong Turns
  8. Of Course I Know How to Get There, I Thought You Might Like to Ride Around in Congested Traffic for an Extra 20 Minutes.
  9. The Daze of His Life
So there have been a few more things that have happened that have convinced Tim and I that we need to find a replacement. Saturday night, our driver parked our new van in front of our house. The van is an automatic, and unbeknown to Tim, he left it in drive with the hand brake not set. On Sunday morning Aleena was getting in the side door, and Tim put the key into the ignition to turn on the AC. Tim expected the car to be in neutral, and it lurched forward, causing Aleena to fall forward. Fortunately she was not hurt.

Today Tim asked him why he had left it in drive. He really didn't have an explanation, only saying that he didn't think she could drive it, so it wouldn't be an issue.

Right now our van is very basic. We are having some upgrades performed when we go on our Hong Kong trip, including putting in a tv and dvd player, an upgraded suspension, and perhaps a stereo system.

We did not find it necessary to run our plans past our dear driver. So when he inspected the van, he informed Tim that there were problems with it. He told her that she needed to change the cloth seats because they were harder to clean. Our driver also voiced his displeasure at the lack of a radio in the car. He has obviously doesn't know when to just keep his mouth shut.

Now at this point, perhaps you think I am a cruel falang who is mocking the intelligence of an but warm and kind Thai man because largely because he doesn't speak English. Could I be an ugly American, not realizing the irony in mocking someone for not speaking my language, when I in fact speak so little of his language?

An ugly American I may be, but not because of my discourse on our dear driver. Most of the problems that we have had with him do not involve the language barrier. There have been some to be sure, but I usually do not write about them and really do understand that while they are frustrating, that they are in part my fault as well. Most if the problems have nothing to do with language. Tim speaks Thai fluently, and she still has a lot of problems with him.

"So Brian", you say, "maybe he's not the brightest guy in the world, and maybe he even screws up driving, but he's nice right?" My response to your question is to continue reading and be the judge.

Tim was talking to Cat (our nanny) about the driver. Cat told Tim that she didn't care for him. Apparently, a week ago, he started talking to her about money. He asked her how long she had been here and how much she made. She politely declined to reveal her salary. Our driver then asked her to borrow some money. The money, while not an enormous amount by U.S. standards, was equivalent to a week of her salary. When she politely said that she didn't have any money, did our dear friend shake his head in understanding and thank her anyway? No, instead he challenged her assertion that she didn't have money. "You are single, how can you not have money?” he said. He was clearly displeased that she did not lend him the money. He asked Tim to borrow the amount a few days later, and she agreed.

As a side, most Thai maids and nannies are from poorer parts of the country. While their salaries are fairly low, the come to Bangkok because they make more money here than back home. .These women demonstrate an amazing ability to save the money. They have few expenses here, and most send the bulk of their salary back to their families. So while Cat doesn't have a lot of expenses, the money she does earn goes to help care for her sick father and other family members.

Let me regale you with another story of the friend we are discussing. One of the sad facts about Thailand is that poverty is so rampant, and affects children as well as adults. To help earn money, children will often walk between cars at red lights selling flowers, food, or some crafted item. They will often go up to a car with their
hands together pressed against lips as if in prayer with a pleading look on their faces. It is an incredibly sad sight. It's very hard not to feel enormous empathy for these children.

This past week, one such boy about ten years old and his younger brother approached Tim's car selling grasshopper dolls crafted out of coconut leaves for about sixty cents. Tim rolled down the window and bought some. Now, at this point, a smart driver might have kept his opinions to himself. But as we have established, our driver is not smart. He told Tim that he didn't like those children coming up to the cars and selling things. Now, had he left it at that, one might attribute his dislike of this behavior to the fact that the children could get hurt or that lazy adults were using the children. It would certainly be very understandable if he didn't like it because the pleading faces were too painful to look at.

Well, dear reader, we do not have to resort to telepathy (or for you Potter fans, oculomancy) to derive his motivation. No, he explained himself to Tim very clearly. Our driver had just cleaned the car, and when the child pressed his face against it, it left a mark on the window that he would need to wipe off. Our driver has not happy that this child, who was risking injuring walking through traffic, had put a nose print on Tim's car, and that he would have to pull out a cloth and spend a few seconds wiping it off.

I think when he told Tim that, any reluctance that she might have had about firing him vanished into the ether. Firing someone is never pleasant, and particularly if it might cause them some financial hardship. It is a lot easier, however, to push those concerns aside when dealing with someone who, when looking at a pleading child, can only think of the extra thirty seconds of work that it cost him. It is even easier when he has virtually nothing else to do for the majority of the day.

So Tim called an agency and is looking for someone new. As always, I'll keep you updated.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Skin

Our nanny Cat and our maid Jipp have dark skin. A few days ago, our three year old daughter Aleena, not familiar with the impact of the pigment melanin on skin color, asked each why they had rubbed chocolate all over their skin. They both laughed and told the story to my wife, who in turn told me.

My daughter's made me start thinking about skin color here in Thailand. Thai's have a wide variety of natural skin tones. Some Thai's have skin that is dark brown, while others have light skin. The color difference can be made even greater depending on whether an individual spends a lot time in the sun.

Unlike many Americans who seek to darken their skin through tanning booths and extended sun exposures, Thai's generally prefer to have lighter skin color. I can't recall seeing a Thai person laying out sunning themselves. They often wear longer clothing to avoid the sun.

I think there are a few reasons for this. First, the preference is in part based on perceived social and economic status. Farmers and manual laborers, the bulk of the Thai workforce for certain, spend a lot of time in the sun and usually have dark skin. Their middle and upper class office dwelling brethern, however, receive much less sun exposure, and so are lighter skinned. Class status is very important here, so noone wants to look like they belong to a class below their own.

Perhaps another reason involves the western concepts of beauty. Thai's are bombarded with western ideals of beauty on TV, billboards and movies. While Thai's are fiercely nationalistic, their is also a part of them that seeks to imitate the west. Perhaps they seek to imitate the lighter skin beauties they see from the west. My uneducated guess is that this dates back to King Rama V and Rama VI embracing western ideas and culture.

The Thai love of western beauty is also evident in their view of half-Thai children. Thai's think that children with one Thai and one falang parent are generally beautiful. Before we were married, Tim and I were told that our children would be beautiful. Now we often hear how beautiful Jacob, Nalin and Aleena look. Thai's sometimes touch them as they walk by. We are not alone. A Thai friend of mine who also married an American, was told by her Thai family how they would have beautiful kids. As she has yet to oblige her family and bear children yet, I cannot speak to the veracity of their claims in her case. :D

Christmas Vacation

The holidays have always been about spending time with family. As children, we'd always have Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with our grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. This tradition continued even after my siblings and I were married and started our own families.

In my thirty-nine years, I think there was one Christmas that I didn't spend with my parents and siblings. That was the year when Tim and I were married, and spent six weeks here in Thailand. This year, we'll be away from our family in the states.

Since we can't be with family, we decided to travel this holiday season. Tim and I debated going to Japan for Christmas, but we got a late start with planning. We've decided to postpone that trip until April.

Instead, we are going to spend Christmas in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is about a two and a half hour flight from Bangkok. Our flight arrives on December 23rd, and returns on the 30th. We will spend Christmas day at Hong Kong Disney. Our neighbors here have an apartment in Hong Kong and are letting us stay there. There place is in Discovery Bay, on Lantau Island.

We are currently putting together our itenerary. When we have it all hammered out, I'll post it. I'm really looking forward to Hong Kong, as it has some great sights, a lot for the kids to do, and excellent shopping. I'm looking forward to picking up some lenses and accessories for my camera.

New Van & More Stupid Driver Tales

We bought a new van this week. Its more of a cargo type van than a mini-van. It currently seats fourteen, but we are going to have some work done on it. We are going to have a few seats removed, a suspension upgrade, and an entertainment system added.

Our driver continues to aggrevate the hell out of Tim and I. If our driver was on a Thai version of the gameshow Jeapordy against a blind skunk and a steaming sack of horse shit, I'm not saying I wouldn't bet on him to win. I will say though, that I wouldn't bet all my money on him to win.

Its almost comical that a man who makes his living driving frequently doesn't know where he is going. The fact that he is too proud to admit he doesn't drains most of the humor out of it. This isn't like the U.S. where if you miss a turn you can easily turn around. Here, most of the roads are divided. If you miss a turn, you might have to drive a couple of kilometers until you come to a designated U-turn. When Tim offers guidance (like "go straight here"), he starts to argue or ignore her, so she'll have to repeat herself. Let me tell you, her tone leaves no doubt about how much she likes that. Its funny because while I only understand some of the words, I always understand the conversation.

Today he managed to piss me off a couple of times. I was installing Aleena's car seat in the van. I had to adjust the seatbelt length, and loop it through the seat. I was trying to make the seat tight, so this took several iterations. I was in the middle of looping it through a second time when the driver puts his hand on the buckle and tries to help by pulling it away from me. Barely holding my temper in check, I took it back and said in Thai that I'd do it myself.

I've had a couple of Thai people do this before, try to help by taking something I was working on out of my hand. Now, I understand that they were trying to help, but it really boils my blood. The message I hear when someone pulls something out of my hands is "hey dumb f'er, let me do this for you. "

When we picked Tim up, we moved the car seat and I had to reattach it. I was standing in the van working on the seat, when the driver started pulling out of the parking spot. I said "stop" in English, and Tim said "wait" in Thai. He kept going. I'm not ashamed to say that I gained enormous satisfaction from what occurred next. While Tim said "wait" again louder, I bellowed in a deep and loud voice "stop" again in English. Now, I cannot say for certain whose words caused him to stop the van. Perhaps he heard Tim the second time. Maybe it took ten or fifteen seconds for the first instruction to sink through.

I would like to believe, however, that my yell transcended the language barrier. Could the fury and volume of my voice have conveyed instant understanding? Perhaps not, but it felt very good.

Yelling is so un-Thai. Thai's like to keep a smiling face even when they are unhappy. Most Thai's abhor confrontation and like to pretend nothing is wrong, even when there is an obvious problem. More on that at another time.

Have a Holly Jolly Loy Katong

Today Thai's celebrated Loy Katong. Loy Katong is the celebration in honor of the river goddess. It takes place on the full moon on the 12th month in the traditional Thai calendar. This is typically in November.

Thai's make katongs, small plate sized rafts fashioned out of out of bannana tree trunks and decorated with flowers, candles and incense. They light the candles and incense, place the float in the river, and usually make a wish (or in the case of one of my nieces, five wishes). Fireworks are also part of the ceremony.

Jacob and Nalin made katongs in school. A Thai parent in each of their class came and helped them. Tim, Aleena and myself bought our katongs.

We went to Top and Tham's condo which is on the river. We had an uninspired buffet dinner, and the kids played with their cousins. About 8:30 p.m., we placed our katongs in the rivers. We then watched a fireworks show a little ways down river.

I must confess that I failed to make a wish. When the kids talked about making wishes, I remember fondly what my father said about wishes. Dad said to "shit in one hand and wish in the other. See which gets filled first."

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was a nice but rather quiet affair this year. The kids had school during the day, and Tim ended up working very late.

I really didn't know if I wanted to have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. The supermarket near the house sold turkeys, but it would be a lot of effort to cook a turkey, and frankly, not a lot of it would be eaten. There were no instant pumpkin pie deserts available in the grocery, so the only way to get one would be to make one from scratch. And while I haven't mixed the sugar and salt when baking since I was a teen, the prospect of making a pie wasn't very appealing.

So we ended up with that resembled a Thanksgiving dinner if one did not stare too hard, and was well received by the kids. Tim had the driver pick up a couple of roasted chickens. The chickens were a lot less expensive, already prepared, and were very tasty. One of the wonders of Thailand is that most places will deliver, and the restaurant founded by the famous colonel from the blue grass state is no exception. Three tubs of mash potatoes arrived at our door thirty minutes after I called. I fixed some Stovetop stuffing, a no-bake cheesecake, and a brownie from a box. We added some fruit to the equation and we had our meal. I had intended to go to the market and pick up some corn on the cobb, but ended up forgetting.

Overall the meal was a success. Not surpringly, the deserts are gone, but we still have left over chicken. In typical American fashion, I made a sandwich with some of the leftover meat today for lunch.

In the evening, we called the grandparents to wish them a happy Thanksgiving. The kids always enjoy talking to grandma and grandpa, although Aleena usually doesn't say too much. I stay close when she is on the phone, because she had a tendancy to put the phone down and walk away when I used to call from Columbus.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Funny characters

I'm trying to figure out why my " and ' are coming across as strange symbols. I've noticed it for a while, and Dave asked me about it recently.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Freezing My Butt off In Bangkok

Yesterday we took the kids to Dreamworld, an amusement park in Thailand. Dreamworld is certainly not going to replace the Disney theme parks as the destination of choice for riding seeking children the world through, but it was still a lot of fun.

My wife took the kids to Dreamworld last year, and said it had been a bit dingy and in disrepair. We were impressed with the changes we saw. The park was free of liter, and many of the attractions had been repainted and repaired. It looked like solid mid-level amusement park in the U.S.

The weather was great for our day out. The temperature was in the mid-80’s, but with the constant breeze, it seemed very comfortable. It was nice to go on a Tuesday (kids were off school) because it was not crowded in the least.

My pleasure with the weather and crowd was outstripped by my delight with the kids. Not only did they have a great time, but they behaved very well. At one point, Jacob, Nalin, Tim and I were going to ride a rollercoaster which Aleena was too small to ride. Aleena ran from the nanny to her mom in line, crying that she wanted mommy. Nalin, volunteered to sit out so that Tim could stay with Aleena.

The have a place in the park called Snow Town. It is in a gigantic freezer the size of a an elementary gymnasium. The temperature is -5.5 C, and they have set up Christmas decorations. There is ice all over the room. The highlight, however, is an ice hill where you can sled ride. That is right, I went sled riding in Bangkok yesterday. Tim brought the kids coats, and they provide you with a thin jacket and rubber boots. Still, we only stayed in there thirty minutes, as we were wearing shorts. It was funny to see the nanny react, as she had never experiences such cold in her life.

Most of the rides are geared towards the kids. There were a couple of rides that were aimed only at adults, but those were by far the minority.

I was interested in seeing that Dreamworld used some famous characters and music throughout the park. They had a roller coaster called Space Mountain, and you could hear the Star Wars theme song playing in the background. There was a superman statue that you could pose with, as well as a few Disney related references. I’m not certain whether they paid to use these copyrighted materials, but if they operate like many things in Thailand, then perhaps they did not.

Thailand Number Two



Traditional bathrooms in Thailand are quite different from those to which Western tourists and residents are accustomed. Although they continue to grow in popularity, the traditional porcelain throne and toilet paper that grace American restrooms are not traditional staples in Thai bathrooms.

A "traditional" Thai bathroom stall has a porcelain bowl that rises several inches from the floor. The bowl is oval, and the sides are wider and grooved. Instead of sitting on the bowl, the "user" places their feet on the sides of the bowl and squats.

After vacating their bowels, users traditionally did not clean themselves with toilet paper. Each bathroom would have a bucket of water. Bathroom patrons would clean themselves using the water and their hands.

One challenge for novice porcelain bowl users like me is learning the proper squatting technique. The first time I tried squatting, I actually kept my feet in front of the bowl. I quickly found that my legs grew tired.

My other concern was ensuring that the contents of my bowels ended up in the bowl and not my underwear. As I have not yet mastered the squat, I have sometimes taken off my underwear and shorts and held them while I perform my duty. An issue with this is that Thai bathroom floors are often very wet, so you have to be very careful avoid getting your pants wet.
Certainly Thai bathrooms present more of a challenge for women. A friend of mine from the states explained to me the difficulty in peeing into a porcelain bowl without splashing one's shoes and ankles. My wife, however, explained to me that there is an aiming technique to avoid this undesirable result. I did not ask her for a demonstration, but as I have never noticed her to have wet ankles, I can only assume that she is correct.

Fortunately, I have never had to clean myself without the benefit of toilet paper. Perhaps this Thai tradition of cleaning oneself with water and a hand is related to the fact that they wai instead of shaking hands. I certainly wouldn't want to shake hands with a person who recently used his hand to wipe himself. And while I understand that traditionally one would wipe with one's left hand, if you've ever seen a child's basketball game, you know that some people just can't go to their left.

Interestingly, some bathrooms in Thailand that do have toilet paper do not have it in the individual stalls. Instead, there is a large roll of toilet paper as you enter the restroom. You take what you need before entering the stall. The issue that this presents is that if you are not used to that arrangement, that you might forget and not realize it until you've made your deposit. That is certainly not an enviable position.

Another thing I've noticed about Thai bathrooms is that most don't have paper towels. Some have the electronic dryers, while some don't have anything to dry with except the common toilet paper roll. Personally, I find drying my hands with toilet paper a bad option, as it tends to dissolve when wet. In a pinch, I am wont to use the inside of my pockets to dry my hands.
So what do you do when you come and visit Thailand and the "spirit moves you"? First, don't panic. Western style bathrooms are growing more and more popular, and are found in most tourist places. There is a very good chance that you won't have any issues. The more “touristy” an area, the more likely you will find a porcelain seat. Secondly, before entering any stall, make sure it has toilet paper in it. If not, be sure to look outside the stall to see if you can find any there. Thirdly, unless you yearn for that Thai experience of cleaning with water, bring a small pack of tissues with you when you go out. The packs are small and can fit easily in a pocket or purse.

My final tip is more of a preventative measure. I would advise you to be careful what you eat. You should certainly enjoy the wide variety of food while you are here. There are things that you can taste here that you won't get in the states, some of which is very delicious. However, if you know that your stomach reacts harshly to spicy food, or dairy goes right through you, you might not want to pig out on the spiciest of curries or drink a milkshake fifteen minutes before going out. Learning to squat while incurring Montezuma's wrath might make your trip memorable, but probably not in a pleasant way.

Electricity, Electricity.

Tonight we stopped at an outdoor night market near our house to pick up dinner. Night markets are very popular here in Thailand. Vendors set up small booths selling their wares, mostly food and inexpensive consumer items. It’s a good place to pick up a meal on the cheap, and the fruit is much cheaper than in a grocery store.

Tim and I picked up a few items, and then stopped at a stand to purchase some grilled chicken. They grill the meat on a small charcoal grill. The more popular variety are chicken and pork. There is a large Muslim population near the market so they sell chicken and beef instead.

As we were buying some grilled chicken, there was suddenly a lot of smoke. At first I attributed it to the grilling meat. I looked up, however, and saw an electric cord plugged in flames. A length of the cord about ten feet long was in flames, including the part plugged into the outlet. Someone frantically pulled the plug with a towel covered hand and another stomped out the flames. Everyone laughed and went back to business.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Oui! Oui!

Jacob and Nalin did not have school today. We decided to visit my wife at her work and go out for lunch. There is a French culinary school that operates a restaurant a short distance from my wife’s office.

The purpose of the restaurant is to give the students real life restaurant experience. The cooks, waiters, bus boys, etc. are all students of the school. As you enter the school, there is a letter written in Thai and English that describes the purpose of the school. It reminds patrons that these are still students, and that students can and will make mistakes.

The upside to acting as guinea pigs to future chefs is that the meals are quite reasonably priced. They served a three course meal that included a salad, an entrée, and a desert for only 250B (~$8.00).

Overall, the food and service were good. I enjoyed a poached salmon salad, linguine with scallops, and Crème Brule. The salad was very good, the linguine was decent, but the Crème Brule was excellent. Jacob had a stuffed chicken with mashed potatoes that was also very good. Tim’s roasted duck was the best entrée, and was very good.

Perhaps the highlight of the meal was Jacob’s and Nalin’s behavior. I explained to them before we went that since we were going to a nice restaurant, that they needed to behave them selves and show proper manners. Too frequently, dinners out become a struggle to keep the kids in their seats and stopping them from bickering. Today, they were very good.

Golden Mountain

Yesterday we visited the Golden Mountain temple, a very famous temple in Bangkok. We've been there before, but thought it would be nice to go and get some pictures with the kids. I've posted pictures on my site.

You have to climb up a lot of small steps to reach the top. Once at the top, however, you have a great view of the city. Its interesting to see the contrasting architectural styles over the landscape, particularly the classic temples set against a background of skyscrapers.

Once again our driver demonstrated an unusual lack of wit. As we were driving to the temple, we were still a few blocks away when the driver pulled into a parking lot of sorts. I turned to my wife and asked why we were stopping here. She asked the driver, who responded by pointing to the youth who had been waving him into the lot, and said "he waved me in." My wife, very much used to dealing with very unskilled labor, acerbily asked him "And does that person know where you were going?"

Friday, November 16, 2007

Sidewalks Aren't Just for Breakfast Anymore

When I think of a sidewalk, I think of a strip of pavement or stone along side a road that allows pedestrians to walk to their destination while staying out of the way of traffic. Here in Thailand, people do walk on sidewalks, but they do so much more with them. Unfortunately, the "so much more" often overshadows the primary purpose.

Sidewalks here are home to untold numbers of money making endeavors. Entrepreneurial Thai’s set up shops on the sidewalks, hawking their merchandise. Food and drink are popular offerings. Indeed, some people claim that some of the best food in the kingdom can be found at sidewalk stalls. Inexpensive consumer goods and name brand knockoffs are also offered for sale.

Some of these sidewalk industrialists block only most of the sidewalk with their shops. Others, perhaps less considerate or with a greater inventory find it necessary to block off the entire sidewalk. They might even rope off part of the sidewalk to ensure that some unsuspecting pedestrian does not mistakenly attempt to use their portion of the sidewalk as a place to walk.

One of the big reasons that you see an abundance of sidewalk shops is that it is often rent-free or inexpensive. These people are not making an enormous amount of money. The opportunity to sell goods rent free is often too good to pass up. I do believe, however, that local law enforcement sometimes collects a “fee” from unauthorized vendors.

The shops are not limited to places like downtown Bangkok. When we attended the fireworks, the sidewalk was lined with capitalists selling food, water, and other goods. Those shops were not there yesterday, and may not be there next week.

Pedestrians must not only deal with shops, but they must also compete with motorcycles for use of the sidewalk. In some places, stretches of sidewalk look like a motorcycle parking lot. I’ll write more about motorcycles at another time, but suffice it to say now that they often drive quite recklessly.

In some places, the effect of these competing forces is to push the pedestrians into the street. As you might imagine, weaving through a crowd of people while dodging cars and motorcycles with three young children is enough to raise a falang’s blood pressure.

In fairness, there are a lot of places where you can actually walk on the sidewalk. In many places the motorcycles aren’t allowed to park on it, and the shops can’t entirely block the sidewalk.

Fireworks!

Tonight we went to see a fireworks display. It was actually a competition between three countries, Australia, Italy and China. Tim received the tickets from someone through her work.

The fireworks were shot off over a lake next to a large convention center. There were rows upon rows of plactic chairs set up in adjacent parking lot. There was a large stage set up, with enormous projection screen spaced throughout the viewing area. An orchestra and singers performed between shows.

We arrived at the show about half-way through the Australian display. They were followed by Italy and China wrapped things up. They were all very good., From what we saw, Italy had the best show, although we did miss a part of the Australian show. I'm not sure who officially won, you could text message your vote.

Getting back to the car was a bit of a challenge as the streets were crowded with cars, people and motorcycles. I alternated carrying Aleena and Nalin, as they were both very tired. I had to backtrack once for each of them, as a shoe fell off each one's foot during the trip. I was pleased, but a bit surprised that I found both of them. Once we got to the car, we were stuck for about 25 minutes before things started moving along.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

More Driver Woes

This blog entry was originally about buggers. Well, more precisely, it covered the topic of nose picking here in the Thailand. I say "covered" instead of "would have covered" because I actually wrote the entry out on a yellow notepad. Unfortunately, the notepad is no longer in my possession.

On the way to the grocery store today, I sat in the back seat of the car and wrote out a draft of my blog article. When I arrived, I took the yellow pad and my grocery list into the store and did my shopping. I placed the pad at the bottom of the cart. I had the driver unload the cart into the car, while I ran back into the store to pick up lunch.

I didn't see the notepad when I got back into the car, and I just assumed that it was in the trunk with the groceries. Later in the afternoon, when I could not find the notepad, I called Tim and asked her to speak to the driver. She called me back a few minutes later. He had seen the notepad while unloading the cart, but had left it in there. He didn't know if it was mine, so he left it in there. The driver told Tim that it had a lot of writing on it (in English mind you) so he assumed it wasn't mine.

Aside from the insult that I might not be intelligent enough to write a lot on a notepad, I had been writing the entire time in the back seat. Okay, even if he didn't see me write and thought me too much a dullard to write much, why wouldn't he pick it up if he wasn't certain. If he wasn't certain, wouldn't the reasonably intelligent thing to do have been to take it and asked? If it was mine, then I would have the notepad. If not, we could put it back in the cart.

Unfortunately, this is not this driver's first problem that we've had with this driver. We decided to go to an amusement park named Dreamworld a few weeks back with some neighbors. Its about an hour away from our house with traffic, and the driver assured us he knew the way. Instead of driving to Dreamworld, the driver drove to Safari World on the other side of town. We didn't realize his mistake until we were at Safari World. We ended up staying at Safari World because it would take too long to drive to Dreamworld at that point. While we had fun at Safari World, it was a bit of a disappointment.

On the way back from Safari World, Tim asked the driver if he knew how to go home via the expressway. He interpretted her question as an order to take the expressway. Unfortunately, he did not know how to get home via the expressway, but thought that it was better that he kept that to himself. I'm not sure if he thought that we might not notice that he was driving around lost for twenty or thirty minutes, but after the second or third time passing the same building, even I knew we were driving in circles.

Tim showed extreme generosity after one of his mistakes. When she works really late, Tim will usually give him some money to take a taxi home since the bus can take a long time. After one such day, he was distraught when he told Tim that he had given the cab driver a 1,000 (~$30)baht note instead of 100 baht. A thousand baht represents about half a week's salary for him. Tim gave him the 1,000 baht to be kind.

The thing that really annoyed me most about our current driver was a few weeks back when I had a doctor's appointment at 7:00 p.m. On most days, the driver takes Tim to work, then returns to the house in case we need to go somewhere. He is not supposed to leave without letting me know first. I went downstairs at 6:00 p.m. to leave, and he was gone. I missed my appointment. Turns out he told the maid at 4:30 that we was leaving and drove back to Tim's work. While I wasn't pleased with the maid for not telling me, I was really unhappy with the driver. A few days later, after driving somewhere in the afternoon, he asked if he could go back to Tim's office right then. I told him he could leave at 5:00 p.m.

I don't understand it. Its not like he gets home earlier if he leaves here early. He drives back to Tim's office and waits for her there. She usually doesn't leave until almost 9:00 p.m. He ends angering Tim and I, his employer, for not perceivable benefit to himself.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Yellow, Pink & Green, Oh My!

Its absolutely amazing. As you may remember, Thai's started wearing yellow "King" shirts on Mondays to demonstrate their love for their King. Soon, Thai's started wearing yellow shirts any day of the week to show their devotion.

Merchants made a variety of yellow King shirts. They would trim them in different colors and have slightly different designs. Tim bought me a sharp one with red trim with a saxaphone on it. Apparently, the king played the saxaphone long before our former President Clinton appeared with his on late night TV. There were also "King" shirts in other colors, although they were not nearly so popular.

The King recently took ill and was hospitalized for a few weeks. When he left the hospital, he was seen wearing a pink jacket. Almost immediately, there was a run on pink king shirts. In a scene reminiscent of the cabbage patch craze of the 80's, there were 500 Thais lined up outside a department store that had pink king shirts.

A day or two ago, a picture of the King appeared wearing a green jacket. I thought to myself, "I wonder how long before everyone wants green shirts?" I received my answer the morning in the form of the tront page of the newspaper which proclaimed that now green t-shirts are all the craze.

Its really a tribute to how much the Thai's love their King. I guess you could say that they wear their hearts on their sleeves.

Recycling Bad for Your Health?

An article in the Bangkok Post yesterday had a story about recycling spreading disease. You see, in southern China, people are recycling used condoms to make hair bands. These hair bands are very popular, in part because they much cheaper than other hair bands.

The problem is that even after they are recycled, the rubber can retain some of the disease that might have been deposited from their previous use. There is a concern that the hair bands could spread sexually transmitted diseases. Imagine the conversation as the faithful wife tries to explain to her husband how she gave him herpes. "Really, it was from my headband."

As a side note, this story made me think of the movie, "Something About Mary".

Made to Please

In Thailand, nannies and maids are pretty common in affluent Thai and western homes. It’s really not surprising when you think about it.

Household help make about $250 to $350 a month plus room and board. They typically work six days a week, often twelve hour days, with a handful of paid holidays over the years. In some western households, they have to pay “overtime” for work after 7:00 p.m., but that is not the case in Thai households.

We are largely pleased with our nanny, Cat, and our maid, Jipp. In some households, those two roles are very distinct. The nanny only takes care of the kids, and the maid cooks and cleans the house. Cat and Jipp get along very well, and they help each other out. They both get along with the children very well. Language is a bit of a barrier, as their English is pretty limited, and my Thai is even less impressive. Sometimes we need to call Tim to interpret for us.

One challenge though, is that nannies here don’t say no to kids. They generally give the kids whatever they want, and let them do whatever they want and wouldn’t think of disciplining them. . Cat and Jipp would give the kids candy and popsicles all day long if the kids asked for them.

This is not isolated to our family. There was this annoying little four year old playing out in front of our house. Her nanny tried for thirty minutes to take the brat inside. She would take the child by the hand, and start to lead her back home, The child would pull away, run back over to where she was playing, and the nanny would just stand there. After five or ten minutes, she would try again. Eventually she finally managed to get the kid to acquiesce.

Tim and I were discussing this, and she explained that from the Thai perspective, the kid is the nanny’s boss. A big part of the nanny’s job is to please the child. I can certainly understand the nanny’s perspective. If the child complains about the nanny to the parents, the nanny could lose her job. I also think that Thai parents are very indulgent with their children, and expect the nannies to do the same.

During her youth, Tim and her brothers each had their own nanny. She told me that when the kids would fight with each other, that the nannies would fight with each other as well. Each nanny would take up the side of their child. I think the nanny confrontations were more verbal then physical.

The one time that nannies will “stand up” to the kids is when the parents give specific direction to the nanny. If I say “no candy without asking me first”, they won’t give them to the kids, at least right then. Its not like they will intentionally defy me when I walk out of the room, but they will often forget, or with the language issue, interpret what I said as “no candy right now”.

Even though our maids would indulge the children, I think we can avoid spoiling them. First, I’m here at the house most all the time the kids are home. I am not going to let them chain eat cookies all afternoon long. The kids are not going to defiantly refuse to take a bath while I’m home. Secondly, I don’t think the kids yet fully realize that the nannies are made to please. Don’t get me wrong, I know they are figuring it out, but they are not pushing it to the limits yet. Thirdly, I think that if I specifically and frequently tell the nannies what I expect, I can blunt some of the spoiling. Well, that is my hope anyway.