Wednesday, December 31, 2008


On our last day in Chiang Mai we attended a snake show.

Yes, More Chiang Mai Pictures

I think the highlight of our Chiang Mai trip from the children's point of view was the day that we went elephant riding. There was a tour that offered a package that included an elephant ride, an elephant show, an oxcart ride, a bamboo raft ride, and lunch.

Our driver told us about the tour on our first day, but Tim and I were a bit hesitant because it was pretty expensive (at least from a Thailand perspective). The price was about $45 per adult, with children at half price. We finally decided to go on the second last day of the trip. Tim managed to negotiate a free admission for Aleena, so we paid about $30 per family member, which wasn't too bad.

The tour was fun. It was difficult to take a lot of pictures from the cart or elephant because the rides aren't exactly smooth. Lunch was a surprisingly good buffet. Those things are really hit or miss, as the place isn't really relying on the food to draw you in.

Here are some photographs and a link to the album.

Chiang Mai Adventures

Monday, December 29, 2008

UDD Rally

This past week, the UDD, supporters of Thaksin and the recently deposed Somchai government, started a three day rally at the Thai Parliament to protest the new Abhist government. This is the same Parliament building that was occupied by for several months by the supporters of the new government.

The front page of the paper had a picture of a mass rally, a sea of red, so I decided to go check it out myself. After working out this morning, I grabbed a taxi, and armed with my Canon 40D and a trio of lenses, I went to see what I could see.

There was a fair sized crowd on the streets around Parliament, although no where close to the size on the front page of the paper. The people that I encountered were largely extremely nice. I think that some perhaps may have thought that I represented a Western newspaper, as I sported a pretty nice set of lenses, and wore a "badge". Of course, the badge was merely my Nichada ID.

Overall my experience was very pleasant. A number of people offered me water, and some even food while I walked around photographing the event. Others were more than willing to offer themselves as targets of my pictures.

Several people had signs appealing to the U.N. to help. Others accused PM Abhist of being a draft dodger. For some "odd" reason I had visions of 1992 all over again. PM Ahbist attended school at Oxford, and must have some how avoided the compulsory military service. Or so his critics claim.

Pictures will come soon. Shooting in RAW gives me a lot of editing advantages, but one is not the quick turn around of shots.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Nice Sign

Just in case you don't know what "Men's" means....

My Mountain People Children

During our trip to Chiang Mai, we had the opportunity to visit several villages of Mountain tribe people. One of the best bargains of the whole trip was where you could dress up in traditional mountain garb and take your own pictures for less than a dollar each.

Tim and I abstained, but shamelessly compelled the children to dress up. Okay, for Nalin and Aleena it wasn't really compulsion, and Jacob didn't complain too much.

We took pictures for about twenty-five minutes. When we were about to stop, some Chinese tourists asked if they could take pictures of our "Mountain children". The kids were incredibly well behaved while the "tourists" snapped pictures of them for another five minutes.

Below please find some sample images and a link to the picasa album.

Click here for the entire album.


I took these pictures a few weeks ago after we finished diving. We were waiting by the dock for Ae to get the truck so we could load the gear when I saw these fisherman on a nearby boat. I went over and asked to take their picture and they agreed.

I only took a couple of pictures, but I like how they turned out. When I left, they were all laughing and smiling about it.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Long Neck Picture

Here is one of my favorite pictures from the long neck village.

Chiang Mai Vacation

Last Friday, Tim and I took the family up to Chiang Mai for a six day (five nights) vacation. We flew out in the afternoon, so we had to leave almost immediately after the kids were let out of school.

The Thai Air flight was pretty uneventful. The driver we hired met us at the Chiang Mai airport in an SVU taxi. We hired him and his car for 6 days for a total cost of less than $300, including gas.

Our hotel was located in the Chiang Mai Night Safari, a government run park that specializes in nocturnal safari tours. When we made the reservation, we were thinking that it would be a really nice setting where we could see the wildlife from our room.

Our expectations and reality, however, were quite different. While the room itself was well decorated, the surroundings were hardly inspiring. The four room unit was located at the end of a small paved road. It was surrounded by woods, but did not present a particularly pleasing view. There were no animals in the area, nor was there anywhere close by to get something to eat or drink.

The hotel delivered breakfast in the morning, but it was truly disappointing. The first day's was a fried egg and some sausages (more accurately described as hot dogs). It sounds a lot better than it was, and the fact that it was cold when it arrived hardly increased the appeal. The second day's breakfast was luke warm friend fish and chopped raw cabbage with salad dressing that arrived forty-five minutes late. Thai people often think that salads are made with chopped cabbage instead of chopped lettuce.

I won't do into all the details, but the highlights of the trip included:

- Visiting temples and the King's winter palace;

- Going to the highest point in Thailand. Unfortunately, the view was not very spectacular.

- Visiting the Night Safari. There were two tours where guests rode on a tram to view animals. Somehow we ended up on the Thai speaking tour for the first one.

- Going on an elephant ride, ox cart ride, a river raft and viewing an elephant show;

- Shopping at the night market. This gem included Nalin vomiting in the street and me cleaning it up;

- Attending the monkey and snake shows;

- Visiting a mountain village where the kids dressed up in traditional Northern garb. The best part of it was that after we were finished taking pictures, some other tourists asked to take pictures of the kids.

- Visited other local tribe people, including the long necks. These are the women who put the metal rings on their neck. We bought candy before we entered, and the kids passed it out to the children we met.

- Jacob and I saw the dreadful movie Transporter 3 while the girls shopped again at another night market. He loved the movie, except for the parts when they kissed, at which time he covered his eyes.

Pink Hat

I'm wading through pictures while trying to setup my new computer. Here is one of Aleena that I like. We bought the hat on the second last day of our trip from a vendor in a small village.

New PC

Bought a new PC today, so I'm in the throws of transfering everything over from my laptop to my new acquisition.

Here are some of the relevant specs:

Motherboard: Asus P50 SE/R
Processor: Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 2.33GHz
Disk: 500 GB 7200 RPM SATAII
NVidia GeForce 9600 GT

I've played around for a few minutes with Photoshop and its a lot faster. Hopefully it will help me process pictures more quickly.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Some Chiang Mai Pictures

Here are some pictures from Chiang Mai. Most of them are from the temples located in the mountains of northern Thailand.


Here are a few of the pictures.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ghost of Jacob

During our trip to Chiang Mai, I played around a bit with my camera. Inside one of the temples, I took some pictures using a long exposure. This required a dark area for the long exposure, and the use of a tripod.

The first two pictures are of Jacob in a temple. I had Jacob walk across the room in front of the camera. The camera exposure was four and eight seconds.

You can barely see Jacob near the center of the picture. He was slowing walking across the floor.

This exposure was eight seconds, and believe it or not, Jacob was walking along the wall the entire time the shutter was open. Even though he was walking slowly, he was never in one place long enough to show up on the picture. He was effectively invisible.

I set the timer on my tripod and walked across the room myself. I'm the orange blur on the left side of the picture.

Jacob and I had fun doing these shots. I want to work on the technique some more. Its really a trial and error on how long to keep the exposure open.

Christmas Update

Well, the presents are open, the wrapping paper tossed aside, and the kids are enjoying their new presents. Typical Christmas morning, well sort of. Its in the high 70's right now, so cold weather typical in Ohio is absent but not missed.

They shut off the water to our neighborhood for four hours today to connect a new subdivision. At first I thought that the people who run Nichada had lost their minds. Why would you turn off water from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Christmas morning in a community filled with a large percentage of people who will be celebrating Christmas. This appears to be the city's handiwork. Since Christmas is not an official holiday here, for most Thais this is just another day.

So, on to the loot report. The kids did pretty well, and seemed pleased with their haul. Jacob found a PSP, books, movies and video games under the tree this year. Nalin was the recipient of a new camera and iPod Shuffle, in addition to books and movies. A Vtech camera was the big score for Aleena, along with some books, movies and art supplies.

The jolly fat guy brought Tim some workout pants and tops. The gift for the entire family was a portable DVD player. Our last one mysteriously sprung legs and walked off.

I mentioned my present in yesterday's blog. The iTouch 16 is really nice. I bought the 1st generation ($219) instead of the second generation ($289), but its still really nice.

A Few Chiang Mai Pictures

Here are a few photographs that I took this past week. I have a lot to go through, so it might take a bit of time.

I really like this photograph. It is probably one of my favorite that I've taken.

I like this picture of Tim looking forward. One of the techniques that I've been working on is to not always put the subject in the center of the picture.

Return From Chiang Mai

We just got back from Chiang Mia this evening. I have a lot of pictures, some of them are actually decent. I'll blog about the trip a bit later and upload some pictures.. Yeah, I know, I still have to talk about the seamier side of Pattaya. I'll get to it. Really.

This evening I had to finish a bit of gift wrapping for tomorrow morning. I did most of the wrapping before we left, but there were a few outstanding items.

As you may remember, my iPod died via drowning a month or so ago. I ordered one from Amazon and had it sent to a friend who works at the U.S. Embassy. It avoids the Thai mail that way. I also ordered some books for Nalin. My friend told me that it was unlikely that they would arrive before Christmas. Low and behold, a Christmas miracle occurred, and the items arrived today. After syncing the iPod iTouch, I wrapped it up as my gift. I saved about 30% ordering it from the U.S. I had to wait almost three weeks, but the cost savings justified it. Instant gratification for the loss!

Merry Christmas

I hope everyone back in the States and those abroad have a Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Last Days of School

Today (Thursday) is the kids last full day of school for the semester. They get out at 11:30 a.m. tomorrow, and shortly thereafter we are going to Chiang Mai.

I took a bunch of pictures at Jacob's and Nalin's ES Games days. There are a few good ones in there, but I have a lot of processing to do.

Monday, December 15, 2008

New PM Abhist

Abhist Vejjajiva mee boon mach mach. That is to say that he is a very lucky man.

Abhist is the handsome, forty-four year old Oxford educated head of the Democrat party here in Thailand, and is now also the new Prime Minister. On Monday, the Democrats and their allies managed to wrest control away from the new Peau Thai party, despite last ditched attempts to sway key members.

Amid stories that bribes and threats were in play to sway the Democrats allies to change sides, the Democrats had the MP's stay in a hotel the night before the vote. They also instructed them to travel in pairs to reduce the likelihood of someone succumbing to pressure.

The coalition held together, and Abhist won the vote 235 to 198. Normally there are 470 members of Parliament, but thirty-six members were disqualified by the court, and one MP died on the eve of the vote.

So what does this mean for Thailand? Will this result in peace? The PAD will not be protesting, as this is what they wanted all along. Will the red shirted Thaksin supporters take to the streets to protest the outcome? I hope that they don't resort to the same level of terror as the yellow shirted PAD.

I think that there will be one difference if the pro-Thaksin supporters engage in anything on the lines of what the PAD did. In my opinion, the military and the police will forcefully intervene to stop it. They might first warn them, but make no mistake. This is the results that many of the military top brass wanted all along. Their coup in 2006 failed to produce a government to their liking. They know another coup would be an absolute disaster for both Thailand and the military itself. There would be no charge of massive corruption to justify a 2008 coup.

The military inaction during the PAD crisis and the comments of the top leadership have made it pretty clear where they stand. Perhaps some of the politicians who once supported Thaksin have concluded that the military will never allow Thaksin and his followers to remain in power.

Diving - Open Waters Certification

A few months ago, I signed up for diving classes. The class consists of three or so hours of class time, four or five hours of closed waters diving (i.e., swimming pool), and four open water (i.e., the ocean) dives.

My instructor is named Ae. His shop, Dive Me Crazy, is located in Nichada right across from the gym where I work out. Ae is Thai, speaks English well with a bit of an accent, and is an overall great guy.

I completed most of the class room and close water requirements pretty early. After that, I ended up with a bit of a lull. My goal had been to complete the course before our planned trip to Australia over the holidays. We ended up postponing the trip, so the urgency subsided. The other thing that slowed down my progress was that I had to find a time that Ae was going to Pattaya for the open water portion that matched with my schedule. It requires two days of diving, so I needed to be away from home at least one night.

We finally managed to schedule the trip for December 13th and 14th. I completed my closed water training. I had learned the skills required, but still struggled a bit with my buoyancy.

Our dive site was actually in Sattahip, a small town an hour or so from Pattaya. I didn't know this at the time (Ae had told me Pattaya), so my hotel less than one hundred meters from the beach and Pattaya dock was not very close. Ae called the hotel for me, and they said the taxi would run $30 each way. He was staying at his uncle's condo, about thirty minutes from Sattahip, but Ae graciously offered to come pick me up in the morning and drop me off in the evening.

So I ended up going down to Pattaya on Friday night so that I would be fresh in the morning. We borrowed Tham's driver who dropped me off at my hotel. I stayed at the Sunshine Residence, which is on Soi 8 off the main beach road. The hotel was in the middle of it all, so to speak. I won't go into detail on this entry (I will in another), but let's just say that there were a lot of bars and partying going on around me.

Ae picked me up on Saturday morning, and we arrived at the docks in Sattahip about 9:00 a.m. It was an double decker wooden boat with a weather Thai captain.

I was the only falang on the boat. In addition to Ae, there was his girl friend and fellow dive instructor Pohr, his friend Bas, a newly wed Thai couple the husband of which works at Ae's bar (he is an entrepreneur), and a flight attendant from Thai Air. She did not dive, but rather came along to enjoy the day. The recent airport problems had caused a disruption in her schedule which she said could take a month or more to work out (thank you PAD).

I really liked everyone. I mostly talked to Ae, Pohr, Bas and the flight attendant. Naturally, most of the time they were speaking Thai. A lot of times it is very easy to be left out of the convers not easy to talk during dives. So the group communicated through hand signals. It was actually nice that once under water, I wasn't handicapped by a language barrier. There was no need for translation.

I also want to talk a little about the equipment. Divers wear a wet suit for warmth, along with a mask and fins. The BCD (buoyancy control device) is a vest that is attached to the air tank that can inflate and deflate to control buoyancy. The regulator attaches to the oxygen tank, and has two breathing apparatus. The second one is usually yellow and is known as the octopus. The octopus is for emergency use if a fellow diver runs out of air.

The first dive was a controlled descent down to nine meters. A controlled descent means that the dive instructor (DI) anchored a rope to the floor of the ocean and attached the other end to a buoy. We would descend slowing usintaches to the oxygen tank, and has two breathing apparatus. The second one is usually yellow and is known as the octopus. The octopus is for emergency use if a fellow diver runs out of air.

The first dive was a controlled descent down to nine meters. A controlled descent means that the dive instructor (DI) anchored a rope to the floor of the ocean and attached the other end to a buoy. We would descend slowing using the rope as a hand hold. When we reached the bottom, we tested how to clear our mask of water, how to clear the regulator of water, and how to retrieve our regulator if it falls out of our mouth.

Interestingly, there are two ways to retrieve your regulator. The first way involves slanting your body to the right, and using your arm to hook the regulator. The second way involves reaching back and grasping the base of the regulator hose. While testing in the pool, I had some initial trouble with the first method, but executed the second easily every time. On Saturday, I performed the first quite easily, but had trouble with the second. I managed to retrieve it by myself, but Ae had pulled out his octopus just in case I was in trouble.

After we completed the first part of the test, we explored around for a while. The total dive time was forty-three minutes.

The second dive involved testing what to do when you or your buddy run out of oxygen. The first method was to have the buddy use your octopus to breath while you return to the surface. The second is buddy breathing, where you take turns using your main respirator. Finally, we practiced an emergency surfacing. Again, afterwards we swam around looking at the coral and fish.

The one thing that I remember about the first two dives is that I had to pee pretty badly during both. On the first dive, I just waited until we got back on the boat and then went to the bathroom. Of course, I had to wait while one person changed her clothes in there. On the second dive, I decided that a little yellow water wouldn't hurt the ocean and decided just to pee as I went along. I'm not used to peeing under water, in a wet suit, and often in a supine position. It was really distracting me from the dive, and when I finally managed to pee, I enjoyed the rest of the dive a lot more. One of the divers told me that its common (at least for her) to pee on dives.

Ae picked me up again on Sunday morning. As I was waiting for him, I walked down the street to 7-11 to get a Gatorade. I passed by a bar with a falang and two Thai bar girls still partying the night away. It was a young and inebriated guy who seemed to be trying to speak to the girls in Thai. I didn't understand a word he said, and it didn't sound even a little bit Thai. I'll say this, partying at eight in the morning on a Sunday is pretty hardcore.

We took the same boat out for the second day. The flight attendant had to leave, and another diver, Lek replaced her on the boat.

The object of the two dives was to test our ability to control our depth in the water. Its really important, because you don't want to descend or ascend too quickly. If you go up too quickly, you can get the bends, while descending too quickly can cause ear damage.

Except for two exceptions, I actually did a very good job controlling my buoyancy. I'm not one who likes to toot my own horn, but I found it pretty easy to control my depth with my breathing alone. Except when surfacing, I rarely used my BCD vest to ascend.

The times that I used my BCD to control depth on the third and fourth dives, I ended up having a problem. I over inflated the vest, and started to rise quickly. I tried to release the air as instructed, but air was trapped in my vest, and I rose to the surface. Had we been diving from a greater depth, this could have caused a serious injury, but fortunately we were only ten or so meters deep both times it happened. After the last dive, Ae told me that I needed to straighten my body like I was standing to help release the air. 

Overall the trip was pretty fun. I passed the course, and received my Open Water certification. We saw a number of fish and coral as we explored the world ten or so meters under the water. The ocean is miles deep, and we only scratched the very surface of it.

One thinking that should be emphasized is that safety is a paramount concern of the PADI and the diving instructors. During my training, I spent a lot of time learning what to do in certain emergencies. I asked Ae how often he had to do buddy breathing, or share his octopus with someone. In his seven years diving, he never did. A big part of that is that during the dive, the DI is periodically asking you how much air that you have remaining. I actually ran fairly low on the last dive, but there was still enough, and there was never any danger.

Lek gave me a ride how from Pattaya. More precisely, he drove to Bangkok, dropped me off, and helped me to find a taxi.

Overall it was a fun experience. I'm not sure how much I'll actually dive in the future. If Tim learns to dive, then I think it would be fun to dive together. Otherwise, the problem is that while I can get on with a group and go diving, I don't have a group of friends to dive with.

Don't' get me wrong, I really liked Ae and his group of divers. I enjoyed diving with them. Sometimes though, when you are the only one who doesn't speak the language, you feel like a bit of an outsider. Its not anything any one did, on the contrary, they went out of their way to make me feel included.

Perhaps if I had my iPod with me (its on the way) or brought a book it would be more enjoyable. We'll see next time.

There is one thing that if I continue diving that I want to do. They have training for underwater photography. The water proof casing for my camera is ridiculously expensive, so if I do it, I'll probably buy an inexpensive camera and a water proof casing for it. It will be a lot cheaper that way, and if something happened to the camera, at least I would not be losing my nice one.

Pattaya Trip

Yesterday I got back from a two day trip to Pattaya for my open water diving certification. The good news is that I received my PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) Open Waters diving certification.

There are two main parts to the trip. One is the actual diving experience. The second is my time in Pattaya during the evenings. I'm making these two separate blog entries. While my evening strolls in Pattaya were fairly tame, they do deal with an adult subject and some people might not be comfortable with the topic.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Calling Mr. Newin

The political winds have changed here recently. Although the Constitutional Court dissolved the PPP party and consequently the PPP led government, the conventional wisdom was that its successor party, the Peua Thai party would form the new government. It seems like one man had a different idea.

After the court dissolved the PPP, most of its members joined the newly formed Peau Thai party. About thirty members joined a party named The Friends of Newin. Newin is a former Thai Lak Thai party executive who is currently serving as a five year ban from politics. Newin was the right hand man of deposed PM Thaksin.

Most people thought that the Friends of Newin would support the Peau Thai's attempt to form a new government. To the surprise of many, including his former mentor, Thaksin, Newin has thrown his party's support behind a coalition with the Democrats. As word leaked of Newin's defection, Thaksin's ex-wife vainly attempted to contact the rogue leader to regain his support. Finally, Thaksin himself phone Newin. Newin told Thaksin that it was over and that he would work with the Democrats.

The Democrats have announced that they have enough seats to form a government in a four party coalition. They are requesting an emergency session of Parliament to elect a new Prime Minister. This would appear to be Democrat leader Abhist.

The Peau Thai have not conceded defeat. They are conducting a full court press to try to win back some of the members of The Friends of Newin. It will be interesting to see how much success they will a proxy for Thaksin and cause further unrest. More cynical people might argue that the Democrats made him an offer that was too good to refuse. Maybe he has concluded that hitching his star to the Thaksin wagon is no longer a good long term choice.

If the Democrats are able to form a government, it will mean that the PAD, the group responsible for shutting down the airport, will not cause unrest. They will be very happy with a Democrat led government.

Of course, Thailand might be trading yellow shirt protesters for red shirted ones. The UDD, supporters of Thaksin, have demonstrated their ability to turn out their followers in mass as well. How will they react to losing power? No one could blame them for thinking that both the courts and the military are against them.

Back during the election last December, I thought that the Democrats would probably be the best for Thailand. During the recent turmoil, however, my opinions changed a bit. The Democrats seemed to offer support for the PAD, chiding the government not to take action. I'm not a big proponent of letting your dog loose to savage the country so that you can save it.

Constitution Day

Today is Constitution Day, a legal holiday to celebrate the anniversary of Thailand's first constitution, which was adopted in 1932. The 1932 Constitution established a constitutional monarchy to replace the absolute monarchy that had previously ruled.

The U.S. Constitution was adopted in 1789 and remains in place today. Since 1932, Thailand has had a total of seventeen constitutions. Some remained in place for a number of years, including the 1997 Constitution which lasted until 2006, and the 1978 Constitution which was the law of the land until 1991. There were other stretches where constitutions had a much shorter shelf life. There were new constitutions in 1972, 1974, 1976, 1977 and 1978. There were also three constitutions in the later half of the 1940's.

The current constitution was adopted in 2007 to re-establish democracy after the 2006 coup. The coup leaders appointed scholars and politicians to draft the 2007 constitution, which the Thai people approved by a vote of 58% to 42%.

There are already those who want to change the current constitution, although not scrap it all together. Many of its critics say that in attempting to remove corruption from government, it has made governing much too difficult. The Constitutional Court has already dissolved two governments in less than a year citing constitutional violations.

Sleep Over & Visit to the Clinic

This evening Jacob and Nalin each had a friend over for a sleep over. At about 7:00 p.m., Aleena started screaming from her room.

I ran upstairs and saw her standing naked in her room, with tears streaming down her cheeks. She kept yelling how her butt hurt, but wouldn't let me examine her. I tried to ask her some questions to find out what had happened, but she was just too upset.

After talking to Tim, I thought that perhaps she had not gone to the bathroom in a while and was having difficulty. I decided to take her to the nearby clinic to have her checked out. Of course, when I mentioned the word doctor, Aleena grew even more hysterical.

Over Aleena's strenuous and loud objections, we went to the clinic. By the time that we arrived, Aleena had stopped crying and the pain seemed to have at least lessened. The doctor examined her and found that while her stomach was a bit extended, she was not "backed up" so to speak. She gave her some medicine for gas. The doctor also noticed that Aleena's eyes were a bit red, probably from her allergies and gave her some eye drops.

By the time that we arrived back home, Aleena was tired but fine. Of course, once she saw Nalin and her friend, well, the tired part subsided.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Aleena Says Something Funny

Today Aleena was giving Booah a hard time while Booah was trying to help her do something. Its not just today, Aleena often gives her a hard time.

As is often the case, I have to step in and let Aleena know that she needs to listen to Booah, and that Booah is in charge. I really try to work to break the kids of the notion that Booah is their personal servant. So after I talk with Aleena, she looks at me and says, "Daddy, when I'm bigger than Booah, can I boss her around?"

I laughed and told Aleena that we would talk about it when she was bigger than Booah. That should buy us a few years.

Friday, December 5, 2008

3rd & 4th Grade Athletics is Serious Business

Jacob’s soccer team won again today. They only had eight players show up so they had to play short handed against nine players. They have a very good front line and won by a score of 6 to 2 keeping their perfect record intact.

The team plays in the North Bangkok Soccer League. The players are mostly from ISB but other kids do play. The kids sign up and the league assigns them teams. Jacob’s team, Polyplus has only eleven players. Some teams have twelve while others have eleven. Each team is supposed to field nine players for a game. Unfortunately Jacob’s team often has trouble getting a full compliment of players to the game. Today eight showed up sometimes its seven and sometimes its nine. There might have been one game where all eleven showed up

Most of the other teams understand the dynamics of what’s going on. A few weeks ago when only seven players showed up the other coach (aka “Mr. Reasonable”) agreed that they would play seven on seven. It wasn’t a problem.

Apparently not all coaches see it that way. There are some coaches like the one we played against today (aka “Mr. Win at All Cost”) who think a sure forfeit win is much better than playing a game. Earlier this week, Mr. Reasonable called Steve and told him that they had played against Mr. Win at All cost. Mr. Reasonable’s team only had seven players make it to the game. Mr. Reasonable talked to Mr. Win at All Cost before the game expecting that they would be able to play a seven on seven game. Mr. Win at All Cost refused refusing to play at all unless Mr. Reasonable’s team forfeited the game. Mr. Reasonable relented and forfeited the game.
Here is the best part. Not satisfied with having won the “official” game, Mr. Win at All Cost played nine players against the other team’s seven in the fun game they played. Even though the game did not count for anything he felt the need to have a two person advantage. His team actually trailed most of the game but tied it up at the end.

I could understand if he had agreed to let them play an official game but retained the right to play his nine players against the other team’s seven. At least then the game being played had some meaning. Let’s put aside the feelings of the other team for a second and just examine his own team. If his team beat another team while enjoying a two person advantage its a pretty hollow victory. The kids are stupid they know that it wasn’t a fair game. If his team loses or even ties they couldn’t beat a team even with a two person advantage.

So today Mr. Win at All Cost came up to Steve who told him that he had to forfeit since he had only eight players. Steve said that he wouldn’t forfeit the game and played eight on nine. I don’t know if Mr. Win at All Cost will petition the league or some such nonsense but I’ll guess we will see. Interestingly this is the second time that we played this team. The first time Mr. Win at All Cost was away so a friend of mine coached the game. It was after a huge rain and the field was like a swamp.

The whole thing reminded me a bit of basketball this past season. In the tournament Jacob’s team played in the championship game but lost. The winning team had a boy that from my observation was clearly the best player in the league. He was probably the only 3rd or 4th grader who could handle the ball very well with both hands. The kids was a decent size and had a nice shot.

I don’t know what the official rules were for the basketball teams but I know that in virtually every game I saw the coaches rotated the kids in and out. While the league is competitive it is still instructional. between ten and fifteen points. If they scored only nine points in three quarters they would have had to score thirteen in the final quarter while holding the other team scoreless. That was not going to happen. Even if they were able to cut the lead while the other team’s best player was on the bench the coach could simply put him back in to stem the tide.

The kids who were most disadvantaged by the kid playing the entire game wasn’t Jacob’s team. By the beginning and certainly by the mid point of the fourth quarter the outcome of the game was already determined. The kids most affected were the boy’s teammates. Its not that putting him on the bench would have allowed someone else to play that much more in the game but rather they would get to do more in the game. As is often the case when a team has one stand out player that person ends up with the ball a lot. This boy did most of the ball handling and shooting. He probably had the ball in his hands eighty percent of the time it was in his team’s possession.

I’m not saying that he was a ball hog but sometimes when you have someone really good on your team other players end up relying on them. They don’t have to try as hard.
If he had sat on the bench for a little while his teammates would have had more opportunities to shoot and handle the ball. They would have had to step up their own play. They would have gotten better as a team. Its kind of disappointing that they didn’t get that chance.
When the kids get to middle school and beyond I think things will and should change. At that point I expect it will get more competitive and there will be a greater focus on winning.

Certainly by the later years of middle school (if not the early ones) there will be less emphasis on making sure everyone gets to play and more on putting the best team on the field or court. Oh one last thing. Lest you think that these are all over competitive fathers. The basketball coach was a mom.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

King is Ill

Traditionally, the King has made a speech on father's day. He was scheduled to make one this year, but it was cancelled at the last minute because he was ill.

CNN and the Bangkok Post each had an article about the cancellation on their website. Both discussed how many many Thais had pinned hopes for resolution of the airport seizure on the King.

One difference is that CNN discussed how the Thai people do not share the same love for the aging monarch's heir, the crown prince. The crown prince has been married three times and many quietly sympathized with his first wife upon their divorce. Of course the entire divorce was legally her fault, as to say derogatory things about the crown prince is illegal.

The King has played a stabilizing role in Thai politics for a long time. Although he has no Constitutional powers, he is beloved by his people and is the one person who can often bring opposing sides to some sort of agreement. The King is eighty-one today. Despite the fervent wishes of most Thais, he will not live forever.

What will happen when that stabilizing force of Thai society for the last sixty years is gone? How will Thais get together and talk about what the future holds? The problem is that they cannot publicly discuss it without fear of legal retribution. A politician was investigated for les majeste charges earlier this year talking about the role of the monarchy. His remarks, spoken in English to the foreign press, did not insult the King or his family, but rather talked about the role of the monarchy in a democratic society. That was enough for his enemies to pounce, using the les majeste laws as a weapon against him.

This is one of the reasons that I fervently despise the anti-les majeste laws. Twenty or thirty years ago, perhaps they were not as detrimental. Now, however, Thailand is approaching a cross-roads, and the les majeste laws handicap it from fully exploring how to proceed. Its a giant elephant in the room, and no-one can talk about it.


As you may remember, I ended up soaking my iPod a few weeks ago. Today, I decided to take it to the Fortune IT plaza to see if it could be repaired.

On my way out the door, I realized that I only had a hundred or so baht in my wallet. If I wanted to get some money before I left, I'd have to drive down to the little shopping plaza in Nichada, and then back track to get on the expressway. The round trip would take about ten minutes.

Although I had enough money for the expressway toll and could get cash at one of the many ATM's at Fortune, I really don't like to drive without some money on me. I had never been pulled over before, but I know that money talks when it comes to traffic stops, and you don't always have to have been offending to be stopped. Thailand pays their police force a non-livable wage. While it may offend some of our western tastes, if Thai police didn't accept money in lieu of writing traffic tickets, they would starve in the current system.

So I stopped at ATM and then hit the grocery store for something to drink. I got on the expressway and made my way toward Fortune. After entering the expressway, you have to drive for five kilometers or so before you come to the toll booth. It is located right before the first exit. There are probably ten pay booths, as Thailand does not have the modern electronic methods of accepting payment.

The police sit at toll booth, and will waive offenders over to the left side of the road where they will issue tickets and the like. Last year our driver was directed to the left side, after another officer had clocked him exceeding the speed limit. Incidentally, he was able to talk is way out of it.

As I approached, I saw an officer at the toll booth, but didn't really think much of it. I had not been speeding or breaking any law. The officer looks at my car, and waves me over to the left. He told me that my registration was expired.

"Damn," I thought. There is a registration sticker on the front windshield. I can read the Thai year, 2551 (equivalent to 2008), but cannot read the month which is written in Thai. I had no idea the registration was expired.

After I pulled over, an officer approached and asked me if I could speak Thai. I told him a little, but asked if I could call my wife, explaining that she was Thai. He graciously waited while I rung her up. This was one of those times when I was thinking, "please pick up the phone". Fortunately she did, and after a brief conversation with the officer, Tim explained that I just had to pay a 300 baht fine. I opened my wallet to get out my money, and the officer shook his head and pointed to the small building right in front of me.

It turns out that this stop was not to supplement the income of a third world civil servant, but actually a stop authorized by the state. The officers filled out some forms, accepted my payment, and even issued me a receipt. Tim had explained that if I was pulled over again for the same offense, that I should show the officer the receipt so that I would not be fined a second time. I'm not sure how long this grace lasts, but I hope at least until Tim gets the registration renewed.

I'm so glad that I decided to stop and hit the ATM before I left. The fine was really small, about $9. If I didn't have the money, they would have probably kept my driver's license, and I would have had to jump through some hoops to get it back.

In case you were wondering, the registration was not the only thing that expired. I took the iPod to two shops and both said it couldn't be fixed.

A Tale of Two Wheels

I had a little adventure this morning. It wasn't the most exciting thing in the world, but it actually had all the elements of a good story.

As Tim was getting ready to leave for work today, I reminded her that she had left her phone upstairs in our bedroom. I accompanied her up to retrieve it. We ended up talking for ten minutes about a computer program that she wanted for her company before she had to leave.

After Tim left, I grabbed a drink (non-alcoholic, it was not yet 8:00 a.m., even a jobless scoundrel like me has some standards) and headed up to my room to watch a show that I had downloaded.

When I entered the bedroom, the first thing that I saw was Tim's iPhone sitting on the chair charging. Its very easy to spot with its pink protective case. She and I had been so intent on the conversation that she had forgotten to retrieve the phone.

I grabbed the phone and dashed downstairs. Tim spends a lot of time on the phone, and if she left it at home, she would probably have to come back or send someone back to retrieve it. "Just maybe," I thought, "maybe I can catch up with her before she leaves our community." I had to catch her before she got out of the front gate of Nichada or all hope of a quick girl-phone reunion was lost. I had one kilometer of opportunity.

So it was quick decision time; bike or car. The car can obviously go faster and requires much less physical effort. The speed advantage, however, is tempered by the fact that their are speed bumps all along the road in Nichada. I can often keep up with cars while on my bike, losing ground on the open stretches, and making it up approaching the speed bumps. There are also bikes, scooters, golf carts and construction along the way. These obstacles are more easily navigated with a bicycle. The car was just too risky. While it might have increased my chance of success, it would have required me to drive very aggressively, possibly putting others lives in danger.

I grabbed my helmet, hopped on the bike, and pedalled with all my might. I juggled between gears 20 and 22 as I exited my complex, and made my way on to the main road through Nichada. Buildings, people and cars were a blur around me. My legs had one purpose, drive the gears to move the bike faster. I rode hard for five minutes with no sign of Tim's van. I could feel the slight burning in my legs and lungs from the sprint. When I was about to give up all hope of ever catching her, I saw that familiar white van up in the distance.

With a renewed spirit, I pushed myself to pedal faster. By the time I reached the circle in front of the school, I had gained ground. Perhaps this was not a fools' errand after all.

Still, I tempered my enthusiasm, because after the circle there would be fewer speed bumps and the road much straighter. I redoubled my efforts, seeking oneness with the bike and the road. I was making up ground. I thought that I might have a chance to catch her. I thought briefly about stopping at one of the guards and asking him to radio ahead to the front gate so that they could tell Tim that I was coming with her phone. I quickly dismissed the idea because it would take me much too long to try to explain what I wanted to the guard. If I was going to save the day, I would have to do it myself.

Tim's slowed as it approached the guard station at the front entrance of Nichada. I was still fifty meters behind, and had but one hope. We are residents in Nichada, so the guards would quickly wave us through. Visitors, however, have to exchange their driver's license for a guest pass. If a visitor was in front of Tim, then perhaps it would give me just enough time to catch up.

My hopes were soon dashed, as Tim's van drove through the exit, unimpeded by a visitor. I started to slow. I had failed. In only fifty meters she would make a turn and be gone. Then a miracle happened. I saw the van slow down and start to turn around. Perhaps Tim had heard my thoughts or felt me coming for her. More likely she had wanted to make a phone call.

I raced to her, arriving before she had completed the turn. As I handed her the phone, I knew that this had been more than just a forgotten phone and desperate bike ride. It was an epic story, just on a very small scale.

Father's Day

Thailand celebrates Father's day tomorrow, December 5th. Thais celebrate it on the fifth of December because that is King Rama IX's birthday.

This of course means that whenever a new king is crowned, that Father's Day changes date. It just so happens, however, that Father's Day has been December 5th for the entire life of most Thai people. The reason is that King Rama IX has been king for sixty-one years and is the longest reigning monarch in the world.

So let me take this opportunity to wish happy birthday to his majesty, and happy father's day to my dad, and all the dad's in Thailand.

When is Mother's Day? Of course, Mother's Day is celebrated on August 12, the Queen's birthday.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

2007 Constitution - Bad for Thailand

One of the stated reasons for the coup and an important principle behind the 2007 Thai Constitution was help eliminate corruption from Thai government. Others more cynical than I may assert that the real reason for the coup is that the country's elite did not like the populist billionaire Thaksin running the show, and that the constitution was drafted to keep him out of power.

Let's assume that the coup leaders and drafters of the Constitution, who were appointed by the coup leaders, really did have Thailand's best interest at heart. The anti-corruption provisions have become little more than a weapon for one's political enemies.

The recent court verdict overturned the current government, and banned thirty-four people from politics for five years. Understand, not all thirty-four of those people did something wrong. If an executive of the party is found to have engaged in electoral fraud, then the entire party leadership is banned from politics. An entire government was thrown out because of fraud on the part of a few people.

This is the second time the court has struck down a prime minister. The court removed PM Samak from office because he had a weekly cooking show on television. They ruled that since he was paid for his effort, this represented outside employment prohibited by the constitution. Perhaps the thought behind the provision was to ensure that the PM was not under the employment, and possible control of his employer. This was a public TV station and it was all out in the open. Instead of ruling that he was not eligible to be PM, they could have ruled that his employment was prohibited and given him the option to resign his show. I'm not advocating this for the benefit of Samak, rather for the benefit of Thailand. It is important for Thailand to have a stable government.

There were some cabinet members under investigation because it was believed that they might not have declared all their credit card debt as required. Others were removed for illegal business dealings.

I think the idea of removing corruption from Thai politics is a noble, if not extraordinarily difficult endeavor. As a tool for doing so, I think the 2007 Constitution is a hammer when a scalpel is needed.

PAD Siege on Thai Economy To End

On the heels of yesterday's court decision to dissolve the government, the PAD is abandoning its occupation of the airport and protests. It claimed two victories. First, it said that it preserved the 2007 Constitution by preventing the government from changing it. Secondly, it claims that it toppled the government.

The second claim is utter nonsense. The government dissolved because of the court decision, plain and simple. Unless the PAD are claiming that they secretly influenced or pressured the judiciary to rule against the government, then they did not cause the government collapse.

The first claim does have some merit to it. They did use illegal methods to prevent the lawfully elected government from exercising its constitutional powers to meet. Those constitutional powers provide the ability to modify the constitution. So they did preserve the 2007 constitution from being modified by subverting it.

I'm sure glad that we didn't have patriots like that throughout U.S. history to "preserve" our constitution. You know, those terrible changes made like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, equal protection and the like. I shouldn't get too carried away. The changes that the government sought were not noble ones to preserve the liberties of its people, but rather to keep themselves from being removed from office.

New Route & Near Fatality

Yesterday I set out to find a way to the new Central Plaza via the backroads. Without traffic, I can get to the mall via Chaeng Wattana within ten minutes. Sometimes Chaeng Wattana Road is seriously congested, and the short trip could take twenty or thirty minutes.

There are three gates into Nichada. The Samakee Road gate is probably the "main" gate where traffic enters. There is a gate that gives easy access to express (which requires you to be a member of the health club). The last gate is the Seechaithong Gate. Beyond the Seechaithong Gate is a Thai neighborhood of somewhat narrow streets.

I hopped on my bike and exited the Seechaithong Gate. It took me thirty or so minutes to find how to get to the mall through these back streets. The actual ride, once I knew the route, only took ten or so minutes. The challenge was that not all the streets go straight through, most of them dead end.

Today decided to go grocery shopping at the Top's grocery store at Central Plaza, and to drive the back route. I was driving about 20 mph when I approached a four way intersection with no traffic signs or signals. The other road seemed smaller, so I assumed that I would have the right of way. A motor cycle flew out in front of me traveling at about 40 mph. I slammed my breaks and only just missed him. If I had arrived a second earlier, I would have hit him. Had I arrived three or four seconds earlier, he would have slammed into me. Neither would be my idea of a good time.

Protests Closer to Home

I received a text message on my phone this afternoon that Chaeng Wattana, the major road close to our house was closed because of protests. An hour or so later I received a message that it had been reopened.

Apparently there were some protesters who briefly demonstrated at a government building on Chaeng Wattana. They soon moved on without incident. There was no real danger. I thought about trying to make it to the protests on my bike via the back roads, but the government building was too far down Chaeng Wattana.

500 Baht a Day

Lest you think that all these protesters are so passionate about the PAD's cause that they have given up their lively hood, taken vacation, or otherwise endured financial hardships, think again. The PAD is paying protesters 500 baht each day of the protest. That comes out to about $15 per day.

Fifteen dollars a day isn't a lot by western standards, but if they protested for a month, they would get 15,000 baht. That is more than a lot of them would make doing their regular jobs.

One Percent, Two Percent

Experts have estimated that the airport shutdown will cause a one or two percent reduction in Thailand's GDP. The original estimates were that Thailand's economy would grow between three and four percent, but after the airport fiasco, the expectations are two percent.

Thailand's economy has a gross domestic product 8.5 trillion dollars. One percent of that is 85 billion dollars. So the protests cost between 85 and 160 billion dollars. That is a staggering figure.

The PAD and anti-government types claim that they are protecting Thailand from Thaksin and his corrupt regime. Even if Thaksin was ten times the thief that his worse critics allege, he wouldn't have taken 85 billion from Thailand's economy. Talk about the cure being worse than the disease.

Court Ousts Government

Today the Thai Constitutional Court ruled that the PPP and Chart Thai parties must be dissolved due to election fraud committed by an executive member of the party. The 2007 Thai constitution states that if a party executive is found guilty of election fraud, that not only is that member banned from politics for a period, but the party is dissolved.

The verdict should not surprise anyone watching Thai politics. After the case first emerged a few days after the December election, many believed that the decision was a foregone conclusion. The Thai Constitutional Court was created and the majority of its members appointed by the political enemies of the current government. A more cynical person than I might say that the justices were not objective. I would never make such a claim, particularly since speaking out against the court's verdict can land one in hot water.

So the court did what the demonstrator's did not. They brought down the current government. Actually, the protesters did prevent the government from amending the constitution to prevent the dissolution of the PPP. Of course, occupying the international airport had absolutely nothing to do with stopping the government from amending the constitution. It kept the PM from landing in Bangkok, but not from landing in Chiang Mia. Chiang Mia is the PPP stronghold, and the PAD protesters would have no success occupying its small airport.

Now that the government has been deposed, the PAD (protesters) won, right? Well, if by win you mean wrecking your economy, making Thailand look like a third rate nation, and ending up with a government controlled largely by the same people who are running the government right now, then yes, they were very successful.

The dissolution of the government does not require new elections. Although two parties are dissolved, only those who committed fraud lose their MP seats. The Peau Thai party has already been created for members of the PPP and Chart Thai (possibly) to join. Incidentally, the leader of the new party is Thaksin's cousin. The other government coalition members have already said that they will join them in forming a government. So there will be a new PM and cabinet, but it will not be made up of the PAD's allies.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Maid in Heaven?

Okay, the title is a bit misleading. Things have gotten a lot better with our maid, although crediting the celestial beings for creating a perfect match is a bit of an overstatement.

A few weeks ago, we were looking to get rid of our current maid Booah. She is willing to work very hard, but would sometimes do things to just annoy the hell out of me.

One thing that raised my blood pressure is that sometimes Tim and I would ask her to do something very specific and she would just ignore what we said. This wasn't a matter of not understanding us, this was her deciding that she wasn't going to do what we asked. A good example was one morning when I had Tim tell Booah not to clean Nalin's and Aleena's rooms that day. I wanted the girls to pick up after themselves. Its easy when they have a maid to just leave a mess behind. That afternoon before the kids returned from school, I saw that Aleena's room was clean and tidy. I asked Booah about it. She told me that there was some powder on the floor that she had to mop, so she cleaned the entire room. Those things happened to Tim and I with some frequency.

The other hair pulling personality trait involved communication. She doesn't listen very well. I'll start to ask her to do something, and before I'm half-way done she interrupts and explains that it can't be done. Unfortunately, if she had taken another twenty seconds to listen to me, she would have realized that I was not asking for what she said could not be done, but something else. Even when I did get the entire request out, she would sometimes say that she understood, when in fact she really didn't.

Despite some of our frustrations, Tim and I decided to keep trying to make it work with Booah. Booah really does work hard, and she can speak some English. She is actually a decent cook, cleans pretty well, and the girls are starting to like her. Tim and I also thought that perhaps the fact that she had just started a month before, and that we almost immediately moved might have made it more stressful for Booah. The problems were not all Booah's doings. I would be frustrated by things she did, so when she came to me to tell me that something was broken, or that she needed something, I didn't exert a lot of effort to hide my annoyance. I'm sure that she picked up on it, and didn't make the working relationship any better.

Over the last two or so weeks, things have gotten a lot better. I've made an effort to try to reduce her work load a bit with the kids at bedtime so that Booah can end her day a bit earlier. I've also made it a point to keep a positive attitude. When she interrupts me mid-instruction, I don't get frustrated, I just calmly ask her to listen (I tug on my ear as I do it) and explain what I want. The attitude change has really helped me. Whether she is really doing a better job or I'm just looking at things a bit differently, I'm not sure, but in either case I'm a lot happier with her performance.

Last night I was talking to Booah a bit about her family. I may have already mentioned that she is from Myanmar (formerly Burma). She is thirty years old, married but without children. Her husband works in Bangkok, but since Booah lives here in our house, they only see each other one day a week. She has a younger sister (twenty-seven) and brother (sixteen). Booah sends some of her money to her mother (her father has passed) to help pay for her brother's education. She's been in Thailand for ten years, and plans on staying another ten. I actually hope that she spends a few of those ten with us.

Photo Fun

On Wednesday, I took a cab down to the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew to take some pictures. These are, of course, places that are pretty much must sees for anyone visiting Thailand. As such, I've already seen them a few times. In fact, last Spring I went to Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew to take pictures.

I went again for a couple of reasons. First, I have purchased a new camera and lenses since my last venture down there and wanted to test them out. Secondly, I wanted to try use some of the techniques that I've learned.

I shoot with a Canon 40D. Its a nice camera, although if you considering it now, you might want to consider paying the extra $200 or so dollars and go to the 50D.

Over the summer, I also purchased a wide angle lens. The Canon EFS 10-22 is a lot of fun, and allows for some very wide shots. Shooting wide can be a lot of fun, but there are two issues. One is that you'll get a little bit of distortion at the edges of the pictures. Sometimes something might look like its slightly bent, for example. The other issue is that with a really wide angle its easy to include unwanted objects or persons in the shot. During one shot, there was a woman who was sitting to the side of me and was just in the edge of my shot. I was kind of irritated at first, but the I realized that she would never imagine that she was in the shot. I wouldn't have thought so were I not looking through the view finder.

I did bring a couple of other lenses (Canon 70-200 2.8 IS USM and Canon 24-105 4.0 IS USM), although I shot ninety percent of the shots with the 10-22. I did use the 70-200 for the guard shots. I've shot people with the 10-22, and had some nice results. The problem is that to get the face to fill up the whole frame, you have to get really close. I mean less than a foot. I really didn't think that sticking the lens right in the guards face constitutes crossing a cultural barrier, so I used the 70-200.

I brought my tripod this time. Although its a pain to lug around sometime, it really helps in getting sharp photographs. As a bonus, it also let me put myself in the some of the pictures.

I created an album on picasaweb, and have a sample of pictures below. I took over 300 shots, but only am putting up a couple dozen for now. The number is a bit misleading, as I usually took the same shot multiple times. I may revisit some of the "unpublished" pictures at a later time.

Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew

Saturday, November 29, 2008

New Central Plaza

On Thursday, a new mall opened on Chaeng Wattana Road. The name is Central Plaza, and it is run by the premier plaza group here in Thailand. Here they use the term plaza instead of mall because some company has the trademark to mall or some other such nonsense.

The new Central Plaza is very nice. While its not quite as nice as the Central World downtown, it is very solid. It has two book stores that sell English books (Asia Books sells exclusively English language books) and there is even a pretty decent camera store there. There are a lot of good restaurants renting space as well. They have a movie theater on the seventh floor. Of course, there is the Central Department store anchoring the whole thing. Central is kind of like the Macey's of Thailand.

The Top's grocery store on the bottom floor is a huge plus. Its a lot easier to grocery shop there if I also need to pick up other non-grocery items.

The one thing I wish it had was a Toys-R-Us. Still, Central has a decent, albeit expensive, toy section.

If traffic is light, I can probably get to the mall within five or six minutes. I visited on Friday afternoon, and there was not a lot of traffic. In the evenings,h however, Chaeng Wattana can be quite busy. Tim and I, however, think that we can actually get there via some back roads, which would make traffic even less of a concern. If that is true, I could even ride my bike there.

Soccer Today

Jacob's team, Polyplus, played their fifth game of the season today. They notched their fifth victory, leaving them a perfect 5-0. Jacob played goalie the second half, giving up one goal. I think the final score was 4-1 or 5-1.

Below are some pictures that I took at the game.

Jacob Soccer Nov 29

Friday, November 28, 2008

Protest Update

Yesterday, the government sacked the police chief because of his failed response to the terrorist taking of the airport. Yes, these people who so "love" Thailand are behaving like terrorists. The new chief officially ordered the PAD to leave the airports.

The PAD leadership responded that they would not leave, and would fight to the death. I only hope that if that is true, that the PAD core leadership is in the vanguard that clashes with police. Somehow I think that they are much too humble for such a fate, and would leave the honor of dying for their cause to their simple followers.

The government has been completely inept. Only three days before you officially tell them to stop breaking the law, disrupting commerce and making Thailand look like a third world backwards country. Its not completely their fault, as the police and military have not been responsive. Still, its been reported that each day this is costing Thailand one hundred million dollars. The long term impact could be even great. Still, the government looks like a bunch of fools. The Prime Minister returned from his trip to Peru and only barely mentioned anything about this situation.

The PPP, the dominant party in the government, has just stumbled all over itself since last year's election. First it elected Samak as the PM. Samak, who is known for his controversial statements and clashes with the press essentially said that the PPP was a proxy party for the party of the deposed PM Thaksin. If the goal was to try to bring about national unity, that wasn't the right approach. If the goal was to stir up a hornet's nest, then it was the right approach.

Then, after PM Samak was ruled ineligible because he had a cooking show on TV (he received money for it), the PPP selected Thaksin's brother-in-law to replace him. The second or third largest party in the government coalition then selected Thaksin's cousin as its party leader. You have to wonder if they were just doing it to piss off the opposition or they really don't trust letting the power out of their hands.

The government also keeps pushing to change the 2007 Constitution, drafted under the authority of the 2006 Coup. They are motivated in large part because if they do not, there is court case pending that could dissolve their party and the government.

The big problem is that the government does not have complete power over the military or even the police. In the U.S. and most western democracies, the military is under the command of the civilian government. Here its not legally or traditionally that way. This makes the government extremely ineffective when dealing with a situation like this. While the head of the military has said there will be no coup, he has suggested the government step down.

For all the government's flaws, the PAD is absolutely wrong and must be stopped. They government should attempt to use peaceful means to resolve this, but violence could become necessary. The government cannot agree to resign or to hold new elections without rewarding the PAD's despicable behavior. Even if they held new elections, there is not guarantee that the PAD will like the next one.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner

Last night our family celebrated Thanksgiving much as my family has for many years. We enjoyed the traditional lat na (noodles and gravy), spicy shrimp, dumplings, smoked duck and crispy pork.

The evening conjured up those fond memories of going to mom's and dad's for Thanksgiving. We'd all sit around the table salivating at the smell of the smoked duck. The kids would all fight over the last noodle so they could make a wish. The best part was that we'd all have crispy pork left overs for a week.

Okay, so it wasn't really a traditional Thanksgiving fare. At a Vogel Thanksgiving, you would never find smoked duck in place of turkey, and the gravy was always served on mashed potatoes and stuffing instead of noodles.

Last night was traditional in one important way. We spent the holiday together as a family, and there is nothing that I am more thankful for than that.

State of Emergency

The goverment has declared a state of emergency around the two Bangkok airports. This includes orders to the police to clear the area of protesters. We'll see what happens.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Family is Okay

Despite all the turmoil caused by the anti-goverment forces here, our family is safe and well. Neither our home, the children's school, nor Tim's work are in an area of unrest. This morning I went to the Grand Palace to take some pictures, and there was no sign of disruption there either.

Political Update

Last night, PAD protesters took over Suvarnabhumi International Airport shutting down all outbound flights. Inbound flights were initially allowed to land, but now the airport is effectively closed to all traffic.

When the protesters swarmed the airport, the police were unable to contain the crowd. The government called on the military to help the police to stop the protesters, but the military did not respond.

Some visitors in the airport reported protesters chanting "Fight, fight, fight". I find that a bit hilarious. First, while the PAD has its own "security" force, middle aged men and women make up a large part of the PAD protesters. They are not exactly the fighting type. Secondly, the one time the police did confront them and give them a minor fight, they cried foul and their allies decried the actions of the police.

The PAD has demanded that the government resign. The terms are not negotiable. The government must resign or they will continue their "protests"; in effect trying to shut down the country. With the police unable or unwilling to stop them, and the military sitting on the sideline, they are certainly making progress towards their goal.

I understand that I am a guest here, so when it comes to Thai politics, I really don't take sides. I usually find myself a bemused spectator. I am amazed that the PAD, who profess to love Thailand, are so willing to inflict such damage on it. Not only have they disrupted the legitimately elected government, but now they have effectively driven away tourism, a crucial source of revenue for the Thai economy. With the world economy limping along, tourism was already down from last year. The PAD's is literally preventing people from coming to Thailand. Neighboring countries are advising their citizens to stay away. This is going to have a real effect on the lives of a lot of Thais who depend on tourism.

I'm really not sure of the end game here. The PAD seems unwilling to back down. I guess that they are counting on the government to love the country more than they do. What I mean is that the PAD is willing to destroy the country, and the only way they'll stop is if the government resigns. If Thailand were the baby in the King Solomon story, the PAD would be the woman saying "give me my half".

The government isn't exactly without fault. They are pushing to amend the constitution in order to save their party from possible dissolution. They also have placed people close to deposed PM Thaksin in power, further aggravating his adversaries.

The police seem to have provided some token resistance, and the military has sat on the sidelines. Both sides have support in the police and military. The PAD and anti-government groups have support in the south of Thailand, while the government and the pro-Thaksin faction find a lot of support in Chiang Mai and the north. Bangkok is a bit of a mix, as there are people from everywhere here. Recent elections indicate that it leans towards the anti-government side, but not completely. Since the police and military leadership comes from all over the country, its natural that there is support for both sides.

There is one institution which could probably end this quickly. That institution, though, generally does not involve itself directly in the political sphere. If His Majesty asked the protesters to stop, they almost certainly would. If they refused, they would lose virtually all support except perhaps with their most devoted members.

I hope for the sake of all Thais that this ends soon and peacefully.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Kylie Minogue - X Concert

Last night, the lovely Ms. Vogel and I attended the Kylie Minogue concert with Tim's brother Top and his better half, Tham. Despite the fact that I had never heard of Kylie or her music, the evening was very interesting.

The story behind the tickets is a bit funny. Top received the tickets from Signha Beer. Tim and Top's business are a client of Singha, the main sponsor of the concert. Originally, Signha was going to take Top (and other clients) to England for a week that included watching soccer matches. The problem was that Top, in addition to his duties as CEO of the company, is a police officer (don't ask). Due to the current political turmoil, the police department has ordered all officers on stand by, preventing them from leaving the country. This effectively prevented Top from going to England. As a consolation prize, Singha gave top four tickets to the concert. Bad deal for Top, but a good deal for my blog.

Prior to the concert, the four of us went to dinner. I can't remember the name of the restaurant, but its a place we've ordered out from before. I tried ostrich for the first time in memory. It wasn't anything special, and I don't think I'll have it anytime again soon. Overall though, the food was very good. Roasted chicken and sticky rice are the staple of any good Northeastern Thai cuisine.

The music itself was uninspiring. It sounded to me like any other pop singer from the last twenty or so years. After twenty-four hours most of the songs had faded from memory. There was something about being in some one's arms, and some techno-music about a speaker phone. Actually, I think it was the 90's on the speaker phone asking for the act back.

So you might think, if the the music was blase, why was the concert good for the blog. It was a fun event because it was a great opportunity to people watch. One could learn so much about Thailand just by watching those who attended the concert.

From a Thai perspective, the biggest celebrity at the event was not Kylie. The Crown Prince's daughter attended the event. Her entourage was escorted to their seats by a half dozen police officers, including one sporting a colonel's rank on his shoulder. We actually left the concert before the encore in part to avoid her motorcade when she left.

Apparently, Kylie has an enormous following in the gay community and they turned out in mass for her performance. I would not be surprised if fifteen plus percent of the attendees were very openly gay men. The vast majority fit into that flamboyant gay stereo-type. There were gay couples as well as groups of four or more men. There were gay Thais and gay falangs. Often, there would be a falang-Thai couple. Many of those Thais were undoubtedly sex workers, although one can never be certain.

The gay Thais were a lot more dramatic and flamboyant than the gay falangs. If you saw the falangs when they weren't with another guy, some of them you might suspect as gay, others not. There was absolutely no doubt about the Thais.

The perfect example of this was the couple who sat right in front of Tim at the concert. A European and a Thai guy. The Thai guy was anorexic, wore tight jeans, an open shirt, teased up hair, and some make up.

It wasn't just his outfit (topped off with a shiny silver woman's belt) that gave him away, but it was how he behaved. He acted and danced like a woman. Actually, in a lot of ways, he acted like a thirteen year old girl. He would get so worked up that he would shake his hands at shoulder height and have that excited look on his face. He so wanted to be the center of attention. The guy desperately wanted to stand up on the chair and dance, but no-one around him was doing it. He tried to talk Tim into standing on her chair, so he would have a partner. Finally he jumped up on his partner's chair and danced behind him. That actually worked out better, because if he had danced in his chair (which was directly in front of Tim), I would have had his ass in my face. Instead he was farther over to my right. Gay or straight, I really didn't want his ass in my face during the show.

My attitude towards gays has really mellowed over the last year or two. Truthfully, I don't care if people are gay. I'm really apathetic about the whole gay marriage issue. It really doesn't have any impact on my life, so I just don't care. I will say, however, that I think that those who want gay marriage would find more success if they lobbied for civil unions that are the same as marriage in everything but name. That is a much easier fight. I think its a lot more productive to win an ballot initiative allowing civil unions than to lose one for marriage. After civil unions are legal for a few years and people realize that the continents weren't gobbled up by the seas, then tackle the name issue. Okay, time to jump off my soap box.

So while I'm pretty ambivalent to whether some one is gay, I roll my eyes at the hyper-feminine act. Truthfully, its hard not to laugh at a grown woman who acts like a thirteen year old girl, much less a grown man. Hey, when it came down to it though, that guy in front of me and many others like him kept me entertained.

While Tim had one non-traditional couple sitting in front of her, to my left was the typical Thai-falang. If you thinking "forty-five year old falang with an eighteen(maybe seventeen) year old Thai girl", then you win. I'm guessing on the ages, but I think I was in the ball park. When he came back with a beer for her, I was going to request to have her carded, but why spoil their fun. Well, more precisely, his "fun" and her "day at the office". He didn't grope her too much by bargirl standards, although you don't see Thai couples hanging on each other to that degree.

The guy sitting, or more precisely standing, in front of me was a pretty large falang with a compact digital camera. He probably took fifty pictures at the show, and I'd be willing to bet that not one of them turned out well. The lighting at an event like that makes photography difficult even with the best equipment. Holding a beer in one hand and snapping shots with the camera in the other is just not the recipe for success. Even if you manage to luck and the stage is well lit at the moment you take the picture, from our vantage point, you really couldn't compose much of a picture. He must noticed that the pictures were bad, as he tried a few with his mobile phone. I couldn't help but chuckle.

Of course, there were a number of katoeys at the show. Unfortunately, these were not the "omg, that has to be a woman, she is stunning" variety. No, this was the "omg, are those football players" variety. If you want to chose that life style, more power to you sister, er brother, but put a little effort into it.

There was only one time that I wish that I had brought my camera with me to the show. On the outside of the venue, there were food stalls and souvenir stands. The best was a small stand with two attractive women dressed in red and black selling cigarrets. I wanted to take a picture and caption it "merchants of death" or something to that effect. It was just something you wouldn't see in the states.

Overall, I had fun at the concert. While Kylie's performance didn't carry the night, she attracted the crowd that did.