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 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 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 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


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 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.


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.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Thai Politics

In December, Thais will go to the polls for the first free election since the September 19, 2006 military coup. It’s really quite interesting to follow the entire process in the newspaper.

Not only am I witnessing a democracy reborn (again), but U.S. politics is quite tame in comparison. In the U.S. we spend time talking about a few controversial lines in a speech. In Thailand, they have a military coup, murders, vote buying, and even the purchase of professional soccer teams.

Below is a basic timeline of the events leading up to and following the coup.

January 2001

Thaksin Shinawtra, a very successful businessman from Chang Mai is elected Prime Minister. He founded the Thai Rak Thai (TRT, in English it translates to Thai Love Thai) party which espoused populous policies.
January 2005 Prime Minister Thaksin reelected despite controversies about some of his policies and his personal finances.

February 2006
PM Thaksin dissolves Parliament and schedules elections for April 2006. Opposition parties decide to boycott the April elections.

April 2006
Due in part by the boycott, TRT wins the election by a large measure.
TRT opponents challenge the validity of the election. Thaksin announces he will not accept PM position until controversy is resolved, but will act as the “caretaker” PM.

King Bhumipol asks the Constitutional Court to review the election validity.

May 2006
Constitutional Court rules the elections invalid. New elections scheduled for October 2006.

September 19, 2006
PM Thaksin is in New York and scheduled to speak at the United Nations. Army Commander General Sonthi Boonvaratglin stages a bloodless coup, taking over the government. The military cancelled the upcoming elections, suspended the Constitution, dissolved Parliament, banned protests and all political activities, suppressed and censored the media, declared martial law, and arrested Cabinet members.

Thaskin would soon leave New York for London. He is currently residing in London, and has purchased the Manchester United soccer team.

September 21, 2006
Coup leaders form the Council for National Security (CNS) and announce the reasons for the coup. The reasons given were:

  • Erosion of faith on the national administration and impasse of political differences
  • Drastic increase in disunity among the Thai people
  • Signs of rampant corruption, malfeasance and widespread nepotism
  • Inability to proceed with the reform process as intended by the Constitution
  • Interference in national independent agencies, crippling their ability to function properly and to effectively solve the nation’s problems
  • Certain substantive democratic elements in the Constitution have been undermined
  • Deterioration of social justice
  • Evidence of words and actions which have shaken and proven to be against the very foundation of Thailand’s democracy with His Majesty the King as Head of State

They state they plan to restore democracy within a year.

October 1, 2006
CNS appoints new government with General Surayud Chulanont as Prime Minister.

December 5, 2006
Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej praises the coup leaders. In the immediate aftermath of the coup, it became apparent that the King approved of the coup, and might possibly have had advance notice. The King’s blessing was crucial, as the failed coups in 1981 and 1985 did not have his blessing, while all previous succesfull coups did. (Yeah, they have a number of coups here).

January 2007
Martial law lifted in forty-one provinces. Martial law remains in TRT strongholds in the North.

May 31, 2007
The Constitutional Court bans Thaksin and one hundred and ten TRT leaders from politics for five years.

August 19, 2007
Voters approve a new constitution with 57.8% of the vote. The constituion fared poorly in the North where it received only 40% of the vote.

The constitution was drafted by appointees of the coup. It was illegal to criticize the constitution leading up to the vote, although I seem to remember articles questioning its effectiveness.

September & October 2007
The newspapers are filled with stories about the upcoming election and previous government. There are a number of political parties in the mix. The conservative Democrats are the party most associated with the coup. The Popular People Party (PPP) has taken up the mantle of the defunct TRT party, and its leader, an outspoken former mayor of Bangkok, has promised to contineu TRT policies if elected. The Chart Thai party is another major political party.

While the coup was bloodless, the leadup to the election is not. There have been several political canvassers murdered in the lead up to the election. The PPP party has accused the military of plotting against it to ensure that it does not win.

The Election Committee (EC), charged with administering the election has faced its own challenges. It became embroiled in a controversy around a European Union request to observe the election. The EC refused, in part because many politicians demogogged the issue, rousing national pride and accusing the Europeans of trying to run the elections.

The EC has also stated that it wants to prevent vote buying in this election. This is a tall order, as vote buying is quite common in Thai politics. While they may have some success, they will not eliminate it entirely.

Despite his self-imposed exile, Thaksin shadow looms over the election and Thai politics. The Thai government has charged him with several counts of fraud, and is trying to extridite him from Great Britain. He has challenged the proceedings, claiming that the charges are politically motivated. Great Britain will not extridite for politically motivated charges, so there is a likely court battle ahead.

Thaksin is serving as an unofficial advisor to the PPP party candidates, and many opposing parties have claimed that he is calling the shots. The pro-coup candidates really seem to fear his influence.

In a related story, the King falls ill and is hospitalized for several weeks. Thousands gather outside the hospital to wish him well.

November 2007
Deadline for parties and candidates to register for the election. Election related stories dominate the pages of the paper.

The nearly eighty year old monarch's health is improving. He leaves the hospital and returns to the palace.

December 23, 2007
New elections scheduled.

Help Wanted

As I was sitting down reading the Bangkok Post this morning at breakfast, I opened up the help wanted ads. The ads were interesting in that I saw something in them that you would never see in the U.S. Excerpts from the ads are below:

- Thai female, 2-3 years experience in import/export
- Good command of English & Computer

1 Receptionist
- Thai female, operate Apt.
- Fluent in English
- Age 22-35

Century Park Hotel
General Manager
- Male, Thai Nationality, not over 55 years of age

I guess there are two things that jump out at someone from the West. First, the jobs are gender specific. Secondly, the age of the candidates is specified. As you might guess, jobs that require females tend to be secretarial, while those requesting males tend to be managerial roles.

Certainly not all ads have gender or age requirements. In fact, in the Bangkok Post today, the vast majority did not. Some even explicitly stated male/female. My guess, however, is that it is more prevelant in ads in Thai language papers.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Mexican Restaurant Sign

I forgot to mention in my previous post that the local Mexican restaurant (or rone ahan Mexican) has a sign inside which reads in part "Support Your Local Wetback." Not exactly PC, but then neither is Thailand.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Walking in a Winter Thailand

A week or so ago I noticed that it had stopped raining. The first few months I was here, it would rain frequently for an hour or two a day. I asked Tim if the rainy season was over, and she confirmed my suspicion. In fact, it is now the winter season.

Having spent most of my life in Northern Kentucky and Southwestern Ohio, winter conjures memories of snow, cold and ice. I think of shoveling snow, sled riding, building snowmen and snowball fights.

Well, winter here is a bit different. The average LOW temperature at night is 70 degrees, while the highs get into the high 80's or low 90's.It is a bit more comfortable than during the rainy season, and it is cooler. Even so, its hardly what I consider "cold".

The Thais, however, are not all as dismissive of the cold whether as am I. Some Thais find this weather cold, and actually wear jackets. They don't wear winter coats, mind you, rather thinner fall jackets. Still, its funny to see someone wear a jacket and profess that they are old when you are sweating in shorts and a tee-shirt.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Mexican Restaurant

There is a Mexican Restaurant here in Nichada Thani. We went on Sunday for lunch.

Turns out it is a pretty popular place with the western residents. As we walked into the restaurant, we saw one of Nalin's best friends, Hannah and her family lunching with friends. As we sat down, our neighbors came in. We ended up having lunch with them. There daughter is a friend of both Nalin and Aleena. As we were leaving, we saw one of Jacob's classmates.

The food was okay. Its not a place that I would go back to a lot if it were back in the states. The salsa and chips were okay. The salsa pork I had was pretty good, but the chicken burritos were not great. Still, I think I'll be returning with some frequency.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Ear Infection

I'm still battling an ear infection that flamed up when I flew to Ubon a couple of weeks ago. Last Monday, my ear hurt a lot, so I went to visit a doctor. She prescribed me a bunch of meds, and asked me to come back on Friday. I missed the appointment when our driver inexplicably decided that he was going to drive back to Tim's office without checking if I needed him. By the time he got back, it was too late to make it.

I went back to the doctor today. I am still having trouble hearing out of my right ear, it feels like it needs to pop. She prescribed me some more medicine to help with the inflamation.

In addition to having trouble hearing and having the strange feeling of an "unpopped" ear, I have to stay out of the water. Hopefuly I'll get over this soon. It seems like there has been something for the entire last month.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Ubon Trip

This past weekend we flew to Ubon Ratchathani. Ubon is an Eastern province in Thailand, located in the area also referred to as Isarn. The province borders Laos and Cambodia.

This is a very poor part of the country. It is not an enormously popular tourist area. As one guide book stated, it lacks the beautiful natural scenery that you can find in so many parts of Thailand. Ubon was a stopping point for American airmen in the 60's and 70's, as it hosted U.S. Air Force base during the Vietnam War.

Tim's brother Top belongs to a religious group that was doing some work to help school children in the Ubon province. The group raised about $10K to buy desks, refrigerators, soccer balls, book bags, snacks, blankets, shoes and school supplies. Top invited us to go with them to Ubon in order to participate in a ceremony to give the gifts to the school. We agreed to go, and left Friday afternoon in order to see a bit more of the province. The flight was about an hour long. Many other group members took an eight hour bus ride.

By the time we arrived on Friday, it was already late afternoon. The kids swam in the hotel pool for a while, and then we went out to eat. The meal was pretty good and relatively cheap. I think the crab fried rice was perhaps the best fried rice that I have ever eaten. Our driver then took us to a bridge where we could see boats that were lit up on the river. Some boats used electric lights, while others had small torches that were lit on fire. The lights were shaped into religious and cultural scenes. People were also setting off firecrackers and bottle rockets. There were also some larger fireworks set off from boats on the river.

On Saturday we set off to see a national park that was the home to some ancient cave drawings. On our way, we stopped at an open-air store that sold gongs. We bought a small gong to take back with us. Scientists believe that the cave drawings were made approximately four thousand years ago. We had to walk about three or four kilometers to see them. It involved a fair bit of walking up and down uneven steps and terrain. The paintings were interesting, although not particularly awe inspiring.

The kids, however, were certainly inspired at our next stop on Saturday, where we visited some waterfalls. We had left the swimsuits in the car, so the kids stripped down to their underwear and played in the falls.

Saturday night we dined on a riverside restaurant where we could see Laos across the river. The restaurant specialized in fried fish caught from the river. I'll have to say that it was very good.

On Sunday, there was a ceremony at the school and temple to turn over the donations to the school and students. There were probably sixty or seventy people who had made the trip from Bangkok to participate in the ceremony. The focus of the ceremony was really the kids. The visiting kids who were presenting the donations and gifts, and the local children receiving them.

The ceremony started with the local students performed a traditional Thai dance. After that, the children formed two lines; one for the local children and one for the visiting children. The visiting children had the pleasure of handing the book bags, shoes, blankets and snacks to the local students.

After the school ceremony, we went to the local temple to participate in another ceremony and make a donation. A teenage boy let the ceremony. After that ceremony we had lunch.

As we had a few hours before our flight, we went with Top's wife and kids to another waterfall in the area. The place was an hour or two drive from the church. Although the road was paved, it was full of many large potholes. Tim quipped that if the Prime Minister had been from this province, that it would have smooth roads. This set of waterfalls was not as nice as the ones from the previous day. Still, the kids had fun.

While the trip was not the most exciting ever, it was actually nice. It was a great opportunity to talk to the kids about how lucky they are to have what they do. These local children were not receiving video games, Barbie dolls and expensive toys; no, they received blankets, shoes and book bags. When my daughter asked why the local children got snacks and she hadn't, my wife explained that those might be the only snacks those children received all year.

On the flight home my right ear started bothering me. After a painful night with no sleep, I went to the doctor's office and found out that I had an ear infection, and that the altitude change in the 737 had worsened it.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Trick or Treat

Yesterday was Halloween, one of my favorite holidays. Although Thai's do not typically celebrate Halloween, our neighborhood has a definite western and international flavor, so we had trick or treating.

Jacob dressed up as a vampire and the girls as princesses (Nalin as Ariel and Aleena as Snow White). I put on some red face paint, some horns and wielded a red trident in a poor imitation of the devil. Tim was stuck in traffic, so I took the kids out, while the nanny and maid passed out candy.

While my costume was passable, it was certainly not spectacular. While trick or treating, however, quite a few Thai people pointed at me. At least three asked me to take pictures with them or their child.

Getting candy for Halloween was a bit more challenging than in the states. You can't just go to Kroger where they have an aisle devoted to bags of Halloween candy. Instead, I went to the local grocery story where they had stocked up on boxes of candy. I bought M&M's, Kit Kats, and lollipops. I think I had one hundred and fifty to two hundred pieces. I found out that we ran out after only an hour or so. I'll talk more about that later.

There are a number of small subdivisions in our neighborhood, and in the true spirit of Halloween, I eschewed motor transportation, and decided that we would walk. Many of the kids were transported from subdivision to subdivision in cars or golf carts.

Now when I say that we walked, that was only true for Jacob, Nalin and I. After only about twenty minutes, I hoisted Aleena on my shoulders to relieve her little legs. We trick or treated for about an hour and a half, and covered a fair distance. The kids received a lot of candy. My niece and nephew also came and trick or treated with their friends. They had only a fraction of the candy that Jacob, Nalin and Aleena collected.

Although our neighborhood had trick or treating, not everyone participated. I would guess that twenty to twenty-five percent participated. That is actually not bad, given the number of houses. There were several subdivisions that we didn't go to because the kids were getting tired.

While Thai's do not traditionally celebrate Halloween, they like to have fun, so a number of them joined in the festivities. I would break them down into several categories. The maids and nannies in Nichada Thani (our neighborhood) participated by giving out candy or taking the kids out.

There were also Thai's like my nieces and nephews, who, while not living in the neighborhood, attend western schools and are familiar with the Halloween tradition. They typically dress up in costume just like your typical trick or treaters.

There were also a number of Thai's with no real connection to the neighborhood who came by carloads to participate in the free candy give away. Many of these Thai kids wore costumes, but certainly not all did.

In addition to the kids, there were Thai adults who trick or treated. These adults usually didn't wear costumes. Some would approach costumed kids and ask them for candy.

The kids were incredibly well behaved, and really had a lot of fun. I think that I enjoyed this Halloween more than most. Maybe the reason is that it was something familiar and fun in a land that is often unfamiliar and strange. Perhaps the kids’ age and enthusiasm made it more fun. In any case, it was a great time.

Men and Women

Politeness is very important in Thai society and culture. From wai'ing (placing palms together in front of you and bowing head) when you meet someone to adding an honorific title in front of someone older's name (the kids call their older cousin Pym, "Pee Pym"), respect is an important part of Thai language and behaviors.

One way this politeness manifests itself is at the end of a spoken sentence. It is polite for a man to add "kab" at the end of a sentence, and for a woman to add "ka". The traditional greeting in Thailand is "sa wa dee". A man would say "sa wa dee kab", while a woman would say "sa wa dee ka".

People might drop the kab or ka at the end of a sentence, particulary when speaking to a peer or someone they know well. I certainly don't know the nuances of politeness well enough to distinguish, so I usually err on the side of politeness. Of course most Thai's realize that as a falang, I'm not attuned to their customs and cut me some slack.

One interesting note is that one must be careful when learning Thai from someone of the opposite sex. You can't simply repeat back exactly when they say. If I repeated my wife's "sa wa dee ka" to people at a party, I'm sure that I would elicit a few smiles and laughs.

Haunted Airport

What do you do when workers on your hundreds of millions of dollar construction project report that they have seen ghosts and spirits at the sight? Well, in the US, you look for spirits all right, but you expect to find the kind distilled and bottled. In Thailand, however, they take these claims a little more seriously.
During the construction of the Bangkok International Airport, there were a number of sightings of ghosts. To combat this ill omen, the construction company brought in 99 monks (nine is a very lucky number in Thailand, so 99 is double lucky) for a ceremonly. Witnesses report that during the ceremony, a ghost possessed one of the participants, and claimed he was the grandfather ghosts, and demanded appeasement in the form of a spirit house. They acquised, and problem solved.

Personally, I believe it is a lot of superstition, but many, many Thais ferverently believe in ghosts and spirits. Spirit Worship, or Animism is a big part of the Buddhism practiced here.

Nearly every house and business has a spirit house in front of it.
Its easy to discount their beliefs as that of a less developed or educated people. How can they believe in fortune tellers and ghosts, I ask myself? I keep my thoughts largely to myself in public, but I'm sure my wife is less than enamoured with hearing my beliefs.

Still, people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. How many Americans won't walk under ladders, open an umbrella in a house (other than for fear of breaking a lamp), or believe breaking a mirror is bad luck? Is that any less superstitious? Some cynics might even look at the concept of a virgin birth with raised eyebrows.

Airport Woes

Besides the ghosts during construction, the Bangkok International Airport has had a number of issues. One of the issues is the noise that has detrimentally impacted some of the surrounding neighborhoods.

The government agreed to purchase homes where the sound reached certain levels. Quite a number of residents who did not qualify have complained that they are unable to sleep due to the noise. One family complained that the vibrations caused their elderly father to lose the grip on his walker and fall to the ground.

Frustrated at the lack of attention to their plight, the residents threatened to disrupt air traffic by releasing balloons in the airspace around the airport. This got the government's attention, and meetings were scheduled to examine the problem.

While the government has not agreed to buy their property, they have been supplying these residents with prescription sleeping pills. Trucks arrive and pass out bags of sleeping pills to residents sans a doctors prescription or exam.

Our September Trip to Pattaya

The kids had a four day holiday from school this weekend, so we decided to visit Pattaya. Pattaya is a city on the east coast of the Gulf of Thailand.

It is a very popular tourist destination, although not always for families. You see, Pattaya is very popular for many of the Y chromosome types, as it is widely known for its sex industry. Still, as it is located only 2 hours from
Bangkok and has beaches, it also attracts families.

We booked a room at the Hard Rock Cafe Pattaya for two nights. I had never been, but Tim and the kids had visited a few days last year. This was the place where Jacob, then age 6, was served beer last year. The room was $125 a night, almost as much as the VIP suite at the hospital. Still, it is a very nice hotel.

The two hour drive to Pattaya was pleasant. Tim's brother Top let us borrow his van, which not only gave us more room, but was equipped with a TV to entertain the children.

As we were traveling during lunch time, we stopped at an open air restaurant to eat. The fare was mostly rice and noodles.

We arrived at the hotel on Saturday afternoon. The beaches at Pattaya are a bit polluted. Last year the kids were itchy after swimming in the ocean, so we spent most of the rest of Saturday in the hotel pool. There are actually 4 pools at the hotel. One of the pools has sand and is set up like a beach. There are even little cabanas set up that you can rent next to the beach side. The center pool had a huge inflatable slide in the center of the pool which the kids enjoyed.
From 5:00 to 6:00 Hard Rock had the family version of their famous foam party. They have a foam bubble maker in an enclosed area next to the pool. People dance and play in the foam. At night they have the adult version.

Tim and the kids played in the foam. I stayed outside to take pictures. Between the foam and the water, I didn’t enter for risk of damaging the camera. Everyone had a great time in the foam.

We ate dinner at the hotel buffet, which was very good. As they attract tourists from all over the world, there was a wide selection of food from a lot of nationalities. Of course they had a lot of fresh seafood, including rock lobster, crab, shrimp, fish and octopus.

The buffet also had a section for kids with hot dogs, chicken nuggets, French fries, and other kids’ favorites. That was really nice, because it is something you don’t see as much in

While we were eating, the hotel had a show for kids. They had a Wii set up on a big screen TV for the kids to play. The workers made balloon animals, juggled and balanced spinning plates on a stick for the kids. Jacob, Nalin and Aleena really enjoyed it. Somehow Jacob managed to bowl his worst game ever on the Wii and lost to a boy with a very atypical Thai build.

The performers were part of the hotel staff, and also worked to set things up at the pool. They, along with the rest of the staff were very friendly. They did a nice job with the kids.

The day was nice and relaxing as intended. Tim got to spend a lot of time with the kids, which was nice as she had been working a lot of hours these past few weeks.

A Beer By Any Other Name

This is the story of what happened last year when Tim and the kids went to Thailand. they stayed at the Hard Rock Cafe, a very nice hotel in Pattya.

The hotel has a bar at the pool, and Jacob had a ticket for a free drink that he had won throwing a ball through a hoop. My wife let him go up to the poolside bar and order himself a soft drink. As she was walking by, she saw a beer sitting in front of him untouched. She walked over and asked if the beer was intended for Jacob. The bartender answered in the affirmative, which despite her Thai nationality, shocked my wife a bit.

My wife asked the bartender why he had served him a beer, and the batender said that he had asked for one. Jacob said, "no, I asked for root beer mommy!". Tim turned to the bartender and asked why he would give a child a beer, even if he had asked for one. He explained that he thought it was for Jacob's dad.

For the record, Jacob did not end up with the beer. He ended up with a soft drink of some sort, and we ended up with a great story.

A New Beginning

Well, if you are viewing this blog, you'll see that I have it encompassed in my new web site. In case you are wondering, the site is The site will probably undergo some changes over the next few weeks.

This provides me not only the opportunity to blog when the "spirit moves me", but also to post pictures more efficiently. Although the pictures look nice in the blog, I can only add five per post, and it can take 20+ minutes for me to upload five pictures. Just hover over the Pictures like, and you'll see the pages of pictures available.

Another longer term goal is to put some geneology information on my site. My Uncle Frank did a lot of work in this area and I'd like to share it. I'm not certain of the exact format that I want to use yet.