Thursday, January 31, 2008
Tim hit traffic on her way home from work, so we were a few minutes late to the temple. We sat on blue plastic chairs outside the temple. The temple had sliding glass doors all around it, so you could see in from the outside. It had been hot and muggy all day, so I was prepared to sweat profusely in my long sleeve black shirt and black pants. Thai's wear all black to funerals, although a while shirt is permitted with a suit. I was pleasantly surprised that there was a very nice breeze blowing the entire time, making it very comfortable.
Most of the ceremony involved the head monk giving a ceremony. His voice was very monotone, and of course he was speaking in Thai. Coupled with the pleasant weather, the monotone monologue in a language I do not speak make the perfect conditions for falling asleep. Fortunately, I was able to resist this temptation.
The ceremony was done in less than an hour, which Tim explained was pretty short. She also told me that instead of long monologues, a lot of funerals involved a lot of chanting. They did do a little chanting, and I have to admit, its almost hypnotic. The chanting is fascinating, even though I don't understand the words. Perhaps not understanding the words makes it more "mystic".
Another difference from most Thai funerals was the presence of a lot of foreigners. There are a lot of Westerners in our neighborhood who knew the widow and her husband. We even saw one of Nalin's teachers there.
Today is a bit happier occassion, as my brother-in-law Top is celebrating his 41st birthday. The group in which he belongs, headed by the fortune teller, is throwing him a party. I think I'll keep myself busy tonight by taking my camera and taking pictures.
I still remember the last party that I was at for Top some ten plus years ago. It was the final day of their wedding celebration, and they hosted 800 or so guests at a nice Bangkok Hotel. During part of the celebration, Tim and I stood with Top, Tam and the rest of the family greeting guests. I would smile and say "sa wa dee kab". Unlike the other people in line, I really didn't engage in a lot of small talk, as then I spoke even less Thai than I do now. Most of my time was spent smiling. By the end of the evening, I had smiled so much that my jaw hurt.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Monday, January 28, 2008
If you come and visit Thailand, these places are virtual must visits. The architecture and statues in the temple and palace are really interesting to behold. Interestingly, a visit to the temple can enlighten sight seers on how Thais treat foreigners differently than Thai citizens.
One difference is the entrance costs. The entrance fee for the wat and palace was 250 baht for foreigners. Thais are admitted for free. My wife's Vietnamese friend managed to beat the system by walking through the Thai line. She kept silent and the guards didn't notice that she wasn't Thai. I might have tried that but I'm not sure that the machine gun equipped guards that I saw upon entering would have thought my prank a delightful lark.
The dress code is also slightly different for foreigners and Thais. All men must wear long pants and all women either long pants or a skirt. Foreigners, however, are required to wear closed toed shoes, while Thais are not.
There is also a Thai only exit to the temple. While foreigners must exit through the main gate, there is an exit for Thais in another part of the temple.
You probably won't find this in any travel guides, but there is another things that Thais can do that foreigners cannot, and that is enter the temple in a car. Ten years ago, Tim and I came to Thailand for her brother Top's wedding. I'll write about it in more detail in another entry, but part of the ceremony involved taking a donation to the Wat Phra Kaew.
Tim and I had accompanied Top and Tham to the temple to make their offering. People normally do not drive into the temple, but as they were making a donation of goods they were given permission. When we reached the entrance, the guard spotted me in the back seat. He stopped the car and made me get out. To enter the temple, I was required to pay the entrance fee and enter with the rest of the tourists. I'm still not sure if it was the fact that a falang entering the temple in a Mercedes somehow profaned the holiness of the place, or they just wanted to make sure they got the 250 baht entrance fee.
On our way out, I ducked down in the backseat so the guard didn't see me. I really didn't want to have to walk all the way around to the main exit.
While the difference in treatment may not conform to Western ideals of equal treatment, they actually serve a good purpose. While 250 baht (around $8) is not a lot by Western standards, it can be more than half a days pay for a lot of Thais. Charging Thais 250 baht would effectively prevent a great many Thais from being able to visit and worship at this temple. That would truly be unfair. I'm not sure about the shoes, but its possible that a lot of poorer Thais don't have an Imelda Marcos trailer full of shoes attached to their one room home. As far as the separate exit, perhaps that's a bit gratuitous, but its really not a big deal.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Friday, January 25, 2008
It was pretty fun. Aleena's best friend is a girl named Makala. Her teacher told us that ever since Makala started attending Magic Years in November, the two became fast friends.
Aleena's class competed in quite a few games. One involved parents dragging the kids in a laundry basket hooked up to a rope. There was also a tug of war at the end with all the kids.
The best part of the day were the races. They paired up the kids in her class and had them race around the field. Perhaps not surprisingly, Aleena and Makala were paired together. When the race started, the started running slowly next to each other, each turning their heads and giggling. After the first turn, the two stopped any pretense of running, and started walking together while holding hands. Everyone watched and laughed as the two meandered their way to the finish line.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
The People's Power Party, the remnants of ousted PM Thaskin's Thai Love Thai party is forming a six party coalition to form the new government. The new government will have 315 of the 480 MP seats. In fact, the only party not a part of the coalition is the second place Democrats. The lawsuit that threatened to dissolve the PPP party was resolved in their favor, so they are forming a government.
Three of the parties in the coalition have less than 10 members each. These parties, however, will each get at least one cabinet position because they committed early to join the PPP's coalition. While the two medium parties waited to see what would come of the lawsuits against the PPP and the fraud charges against many PPP MP winners, these smaller parties agreed to join a government. Their support gave the PPP enough of a majority, absent a large number of MP disqualifications, to form the government. They astutely extracted a price for their allegiance, because once one of the medium sized parties signed on, the little ones would be much less necessary.
Interestingly, the Thai Chart Thai party, which appeared to be a solid ally of the Democrats also joined the alliance. Some say their leader may end up being Prime Minister in this government. That won't be decided until the Parliament convenes and votes. PPP leader and former Bangkok Mayor, Samak Sundaravej, is viewed by many as a hot head who doesn't have the right temperment to serve as PM. Another common belief that whoever the PM is, that he will have to have the approval of Thaskin, who many believe pull the strings on the PPP party.
Politics in Thailand is a lot like mid-western weather. If you don't like it, wait a few days and it might change.
Of course, I felt like I pulled a Dave (Mallery for those of you not in the know) when I found out. Yesterday morning I came downstairs and the girls were running late. I was pretty unhappy because Nalin had about one minute to eat her breakfast before she had to leave. We've talked to Cat and Jipp before about making sure they are ready, but like many other things, they forget if you don't constantly remind them. Tim is talking to Cat and Jipp in the dining room and I come in, very unhappy. I start complaining to Tim in English about it. I said, "so what is their excuse this time?" Tim deadpans "Cat has cancer."
Okay, shit, you win. My being upset about the kids running late is very trivial compared to a life and death issue. I feel bad for Cat, but its tough trying to communicate that with her in a language I do not fully grasp.
I spoke to the new nanny on the phone, and her English isn't too bad. She costs an extra $70 per month, but that is a small price if it makes it easier for us to communicate.
Our maid was going to leave this week also. Last night she told Nalin that it was her last day, which came as a bit of a shock to me. Tim ended up talking to her this morning. Apparently the woman at the agency was a real bitch and told her that she wasn't going to pay Jipp for the month (we pay the agency who in turn pays the maid), so Jipp was going to stop working. Tim ended up working it out, so Jipp will stay until March, when she'll find out if she if her school application is accepted. While I don't love having to get a new maid in March, its good to see someone try to better herself.
The good news is that the driver has been working out well. Neither Tim nor I have had any reason to complain yet, which is very good.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Thursday, January 17, 2008
The deciding factor for me was when I called to add the Disney channels to our subscription. The cost was only $5 or so. The problem was that the cable bill is in my landlords name. I can't make any changes directly, I have to go through her. While I understand the way that is the way it is (or was rather), I really don't like it. I don't want to have to call my landlord, explain to her what I want, and then have her call the cable company to make the change. The chances for a misunderstanding or problem are just too high. It would be like playing the telephone game with a room full of first graders.
Tim called the landlord to have it cancelled. She told us that she would give us permission (which we would need) to put up a satellite dish if we wished. I did some research, and like so many things here, its as clear as mud. I am going to hold off for a while. For the price of cable, I can buy 10 or 15 dvd's a month from the local IT mall.
The good news is that I bumped my high speed up from 256 kbps to 2.5 mbps. The cost only went from $20 to $40.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
While Thailand is certainly not unique in having transgender people, there are a number of things that set them apart in Thailand. One of the first things is the beauty of some of these individuals. There are katoey who when clothed look like very attractive women. In some ways they have advantages over "real" Thai women in that they are generally taller, and have larger breasts. Many a john in Thailand has been surprised when the "lady" he brings back to his room can effortlessly pee while standing.
The ladyboy band Venus Flytrap is above.
Our first driver had been a messenger at Tim's company before he started driving for us. The next three drivers were recommended by the same agency that provides our maid and nanny. I am grateful that they are better at recommending maids and nannies than they are drivers.
Interestingly, I was the one who found Thum. Well, sort of. Last week I was having a meeting with a couple of moms for my son's cub scout den and I made some comment about not having a driver and explained some of the challenges that we've had. One of the moms, Megan, said that she actually knew a really good driver who was available.
Megan explained that Thum had driven for her and another Nichada family a few days a week. As Thum needed full time employment, he ended up having to leave to find another job. She gave me his contact number.
As he only speaks a little English, Tim gave him a call. He came by on Sunday to talk to us and we ended up hiring him. So far we have been really pleased. Thum seems to know his way around pretty well, and understands what a driver is supposed to do. Another nice thing is that he actually lives five minutes away from where we do. This is good for him for a few reasons. It really cuts down his transportation time. That is particularly nice since sometimes Tim works late at night. Having a five minute motorcycle ride home is a lot nicer than a 45 minute bus ride after driving the boss home at 9:00 p.m.
Since he is so close, Tim and are fine with him actually waiting at his house when we aren't using him Normally the drivers take Tim to work, drop her off, and come back to the house in case I need to go anywhere. They end up hanging around here, often napping in the car. We told him that so long as he is responsive if I call, he can go home and wait there if he likes.
Anyway, hopefully this will work out well.
Unfortunately, places seem to run out of things quite a bit here. Sometimes its understandable. The grocery Store Villa (was at least at one time part of IGA for those of you who recognize that grocery chain) here in Nichada stocks a lot of Western items. They receive a shipment from the U.S. about once a month. So its not uncommon for them to run out of certain things. We feel this shortage because Aleena only drinks one brand of soy milk, Westsoy. Whenever Villa gets it in stock, I buy a bunch of it.
There are other times where running out of things is not so expected. Like the Subway running out of bread. It really shouldn't happen. There is another restaurant in Nichada, a little place that serves pizza, hot dogs, fries, pasta and a few other dishes. I've been there 4 or 5 times with the kids, and they are always running out of things. Either I am just incredibly gifted at picking the one thing that they are out of, or they really do a poor job stocking their inventory. At least twice they've been out of french fries, one time hamburgers, and other ham for a club sandwich. I might not think this is so funny if not for the fact that there is a grocery store thirty feet from the restaurant, and I know the grocery store has french fries (not one of the items that they seem to run out of frequently), ham and frozen hamburgers.
So what do you do when you go to a Subway and they have no bread? The same thing you have to do whenever you encounter problems here, just smile and say "mai been rai klab".
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Now, I'll have to say that I was pretty disappointed in the pictures that I have been taking. Sure, there are some that I really liked, but if I stood at half court and heaved the ball a few thousand times, I'm sure I would have some swishes. I had two problems, me and the camera lenses.
I did a little reading, but really didn't pay a lot of attention to f-stops and shudder speeds. A lot of the problem with my pictures were that the shutter speed was too fast. In my defense, the vast majority of those bad pictures were shot in auto mode. But then again, if I wanted to shoot in auto mode, I should have just bought a nicer point and shoot camera.
Still, my own ineptitude was only part of the problem. The lenses that I was using were not only inexpensive, but they were cheap as well. Yeah, my zoom lens had a big range, but the quality was low. After some research, I realized that I needed to invest in some new lenses.
I found a nice website for Canon EOS beginners here. The site had a nice discussion on the different types of lenses available. I soon learned that there is a huge range in price and quality for camera lenses. Like so many things in life, you get what you pay for, and quality cost money.
The Cannon "L" series are their top of the line lenses. They are made with high quality material, durable, contain technological improvements, and quite frankly take the best pictures. The price for the "L" series lenses can be quite high. I really wanted to pick up a 24-70mm 2.8 L USM lens, but here it cost about $1,300. As I am still very much a beginner, I had a hard time justifying that expense.
As the "L" series was out, I tried to decide between buying a less expensive Canon lens or a third party lens. Sigma, Tamron and Tokina all make lenses compatible with Canon cameras. The quality of the Canon (and the warranty) were weighed against the better "numbers" of the third party lenses.
Tim and I headed out to the Fortune IT mall. This is a mall where you can buy all kinds of electronics, including computers, cameras, cell phones and more. They also boast a number of shops that sell DVD's and computer software for the low price of $3 - $5 per disk. How do they do it? Fortune was convenient because it also had a place that repaired laptops. (See my previous post).
We found a few stores that had a decent selection of lenses. They didn't have everything I would have liked, and the prices were a bit higher than I'd hoped. I would probably have done much better buying the lenses in Hong Kong for both price and selection, but we ran out of time and I really had not done my research.
In the end, I bought a few things. First, I got the Canon 50 f1.8 lens for $110. Yeah, you can get it cheaper in the states, but I'm here in Krung Tepe. My research showed that this is a very good lens for taking portraits. It has no zoom, but its really a good bargain.
As my "main" lens, I bought a Tamron AF 17-50 mm f2.8 lens for about $350. The numbers are really solid on the lens, and the price was very reasonable. I know I'm not going to take pictures that are going to grace the cover of magazines with this lens, but it should serve me well. Since I plan on upgrading to a nicer Canon lens within the next year, I don't feel so bad about spending $350 on this one. The one catch is that the warranty is only through the camera store. If I need it fixed, I have to take it there. If this were a lens that I planned on using for years and years, I would not agree to that (though of course, even Canon's warranty is only 2 years, and the 2nd year might only be for Thailand).
I also picked up the 430ex flash and a camera vest. A lot of my shorts have multiple pockets, but sometimes the heavier lens bangs against my knee. Okay, the real reason that I bought the vest is my secret desire to look like a complete dork, a desire that I am sure that I have never yet achieved. Screw you who say otherwise!
The upshot is that I'll be taking more pictures and posting them for you to see. Well, I'll post them once I get my laptop back this week.
So, for the next few days, I'm still stuck blogging on this old PC.
Friday, January 11, 2008
If the fact that I might endorse a candidate that you do not support will make you scream, cry, hate me, foam at the mouth, turn a bright shade of red, develop explosive diariah, create a voodoo doll of yours truly, disown me, disembowel me, sign me up for 1,000 magazine subscriptions, fly over to Thailand to yell in my face (okay, if you want to spend the $ to do that one, be my guest), repeatedly bang your head on a table muttering "Ducacus, definitely Ducacus", then please skip this entry.
My endorsement for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States is Barack Obama. The race is essentially between Obama and Hillary Clinton, and I think Senator Obama is a superior choice.
While I am a bit concerned about his lack of leadership experience, I think he brings a message of hope and unity that Senator Clinton cannot match. Senator. Obama is a charismatic figure who would serve as a shining example of how far American has come over the last fifty years, as has the potential to as bring people into the political process who have never before been there. In my mind, he is the first African American whose candidacy is not solely defined by his race and racial issues. He has much more potential to unite people than his current rival.
While I have no doubt that Senator Clinton is an extremely intelligent person, I think the train to her coronation needs to be derailed. I read somewhere that she had thirty-five years of experience in government. That is simply false. Serving as the first lady of Arkansas and the United States does not qualify one to be the president of the United States. While there is no doubt that she has been around for many important decisions and even contributed, she has no executive experience. Her political experience is serving as the Senator from New York, a job she won largely because of her celebrity status as the first lady.
A friend here in Bangkok told me that my daughters could have someone to look up to if Senator Clinton was elected. What message does that send to my daughters? If they are smart, work hard, and marry a man who winds the presidency that they might someday be president. Truthfully, I think it will be an important and historic day when the U.S. has its first woman president. I would prefer to see a woman who has earned her own way rather than one who owes most all of her political existence to her husband's success.
Also, I think that Senator Clinton would be a divisive figure in the White House. If you have enjoyed the extreme partisanship of the last 16 years, you'll have another 4 or 8 years of it with Senator. Clinton. Even if Senator Clinton graciously extended the hand of bi-partisanship, I'm not sure that her opponents wouldn't bite it.
As far as the Republicans, the choice is just as clear, and the man is John McCain. I supported McCain both financially and with my vote in 2000. I agree with Senator McCain on many issues, but also greatly respect that fact that he does not march lock and step with his political party. He has demonstrated the ability to work with his colleagues across the aisle on many occasions. Quite simply he is his own man.
The Senator form Arizona has a tremendous amount of experience, especially in the area of the military and foreign policy. If you believe that character counts, then I'm not sure that there has been a person with higher character run for the White House in my life time. I'm not talking about a person who says all the right things, but rather a person who has shown tremendous personal courage.
For those of you who do not know, Senator McCain was a naval pilot who was shot down during the Vietnam war. He was captured and severely tortured. The Viet Cong learned that Senator McCain's father and grandfather were high ranking admirals and decided to release him as part of a PR campaign. McCain refused to be released, and insisted on staying with his fellow troops in captivity. He paid for his decision with broken bones and further torture, but demonstrated enormous personal character. Do you really think that a guy who stuck to his principals in the face of torture and possible death is going to be afraid to make difficult decisions because of his political future.
The only issue I have with McCain is his age. I would expect him to pick someone as his VP who would also make a strong candidate.
Rudolph Giuliani would be my second choice. His experience as Mayor of New York City gave him enormous executive experience, and his handling of the 9/11 tragedy was rightfully praised. Still, the former Mayor has a ton of personal baggage, including corruption charges against his police commissioner and numerous divorces. While he would probably not appeal strongly to the Evangelical type which could hurt him in the south and Midwest, his more liberal views on social issues might be able to put states in play that are normally safely Democratic.
I'm not a fan of Mitt Romney. He's a bit too slick and I just do not trust him. While some people might find this abhorrent, the biggest thing I have against him is his religion. I just don't want a Mormon in the White House.
Mike Huckabee would be a political disaster for the Republicans. While his folksy manner and evangelical credentials might attract a potion of the Republican base, I think it will result in a huge win for the Democrats.
Fred Thompson is simply not a force in this election at all. Many Republicans put a lot of hope in the former Law in Order star, but they have to be disappointed. He has failed to inspire Republicans, and really hasn't articulated a compelling reason why he should be elected.
I do find the mad scramble to be labeled as the heir to Ronald Reagan a bit amusing. While I think that Reagan served very well as president, the Republican deification of him is a bit much. Its almost akin to worshiping a false idol. Honestly, I'm waiting for a Republican to pull out a paternity report and proudly declare that they are the real heir of Ronald Reagan.
Oh yeah, I forgot about Ron Paul, and so should you. I think the libertarian's slogan should be "Fighting Last Centuries Battles Today". His view on trade and the federal reserve are right out of the conspiracy theorist cook books. He actually has advocated returning to the gold standard, which the U.S. abandoned in 1933. We certainly haven't prospered as a nation since then, have we? And the recent revelation about the news letters bearing his name with racial slurs at best demonstrate poor judgement in his much too cavalier attitude about their existence, and at worst a warped and twisted view of the world.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
The Thai government does not pay policemen very much here. They make about 6,000 baht per month (less than $200), which is less than my maid(who also gets room and board) and barely half of what our nanny makes. Its not really a livable wage.
Thai police supplement their income through collecting bribes on traffic offenses. The way it works is that a policeman will pull over a motorist for a real or concocted offense. The driver will then be given the option to receive a ticket or pay the officer a fee to look the other way. Not only is receiving the ticket more expensive, but the officer will confiscate your license. You have to drive to the police station to pay the fine and retrieve your license. Most drivers quickly pay the bribe rather than deal with the hassle and extra expense of a ticket.
Bribing a police officer is illegal here, but like a lot of illegal activities (prostitution for example), everyone knows it goes on, accepts it, and looks the other way. Still, in typical Thai fashion, you have to be discreet about it.
My friends experience is similar to one I had a few years back. We were visiting her family, and Tim drove her mother and I somewhere. A police officer pulled her over. Not only did Tim lack a valid driver's license, but she also did not have a valid citizen ID card. Now, in the U.S. that might be a bit bad news for my lovely wife, but in the land of smiles anything is possible with a baht and a smile.
Tim asked the officer if he could "help", and he named his price (I think it was $10 or $15). Tim takes the money and thrust it out the window. The cop started waving his hands, telling her to put the money back. She misunderstood and did it again. Finally, he told her to put it under a business card and give it to him. She did, and he sent us on our way.
Incidentally, my friend had the same experience with thrusting the money out. She was a bit irate, and thought that if he was going to take a bribe, he should be willing to do it in the open. Apparently that's the way they do it in Kuwait where she lived before coming here.
This is Thailand, however, and its all about face. To save face is to avoid embarrassment or the loss of personal honor. Thai people do not like when you point out that they did something wrong. Its not considered polite. When you do, both people lose face.
It doesn't matter to Thai people that he actually takes the bribe, that's actually expected. Heck, is welcome in that it keeps down the cost of police salaries. Since most people in Thailand don't drive, they are not really subject to the shakedown. At least not that particular shake down. And make no mistake about it, they are not pulling you over for public safety, rather to put money in their pocket.
What is important is that he does not appear to openly take bribes. It is against the law for him to pull you over to solicit a bribe, and its probably against the law to pay it. Even though putting the money under the driver's license is a thin veil that doesn't fool anyone, it provides the cover to save face. He can pretend like he is looking at your license and decided not to give you a ticket. Passers, although they know with virtually certainty that you are paying him a bribe can pretend he is not. If his supervisor saw him, he could safely ignore what was going on, because it appears to be a normal stop. If he sees money thrust through a window, he might have to act or lose face himself.
I also take a pragmatic view of it. Traffic tickets in the U.S. are largely to generate revenue. Most of the arguments that it is about safety are largely smoke screens to hide the desire to get more cash. Part of the reason for the need for money is to pay police salaries. Here, they just cut out the middle man.
Incidentally, bribes are the norm in more than traffic stops. If for example, you want to win a government contract, you will almost certainly have to pay out money to key government individuals. Certain positions in government can make you quite wealthy.
It brings to mind an image of Richard Nixon standing their with his arms above his head sporting the double victory sign. Speaking of Nixon, the Chinese are much more irritating when it comes to photography. (For those of you not understanding the Nixon/China connection, I was referring to the famous statement that "Only Nixon could go to China." President Nixon made great strides in improving strained U.S. and Chinese relations. The reason for the quote was that Nixon's strong anti-communist standing made him largely immune to criticisms for warming relations with a communist powers. )
In any case, the v sign is very popular in Hong Kong. What is worse, however, is the tendency of people to take pictures of everything. I couldn't count the number of people holding their cameras over their head taking pictures of the fireworks. I'm not an expert, but given the type of cameras often used, I can't imagine that many got good pictures. Perhaps I'm getting to be a bit of a photo snob, but do you really need 87 pictures of the fireworks. Are you every going to look at them.
Even worse than the pictures of fireworks was pictures in gift shops. People were taking posing in the gift shop taking pictures. Its not like there was anything special in the gift shop. Imagine just walking in a store and posing for pictures everywhere. Countless moms had their child hold up some item while they snapped pictures. Other people were posing in front of a shelf of merchandise. Some people were just taking pictures of stuff in the gift shop. One lady was rearranging teddy bears on a shelf to get the perfect shot.
As a general rule, I try to be respectful when people are taking pictures. I try not to walk in front of people as they are taking pictures, either by waiting or walking around them. I had to modify my policy a bit in Hong Kong. I made my choice on a case by case basis. Usually I still deferred, but if your picture took a long time, or you were blocking an enormous area (i.e., trying to take a picture of someone 25 feet away blocking the entire main walkway), I wouldn't break stride. I deemed all pictures taken in a gift shop as fair game for interruption. Don't get me wrong, I didn't intentionally jump into the picture, I just wouldn't do anything to avoid it.
The other "rule" I made for myself was regarding video cameras. When a guy is walking around with video camera filming continuously, I'm not going to make an effort to stay out of my way. Especially for the jack ass who walked right into my shot. In his case, I intentionally got the back of my head into his shot for a few seconds.
So, am I a hater for my picture interuptus philosophy? Nah, just having fun.
Oh, the one bad thing. I actually have a picture of my son with the v pose. /sigh
I encounter this when ordering at a fast food restaurant or paying at a convenient store. My tendency is to leave a little bit of space between myself and the person being helped, and when they are finished, give them a second to leave and for the clerk to look up and acknowledge me. My failure to immediately rush up to the counter and nearly bowl over the person leaving is usually interpreted by other customers as a lack of interest in my part to be helped. Someone will often walk up in front of you.
You also see when there are multiple cashier stations but only one person working. As I stand in line behind the person being helped, a Thai will walk up to an unmanned register. When the clerk is finished helping the first customer, this person will try to grab their attention and order. In the U.S. that usually won't fly. The clerks generally understand the concept of line, and will often ask the person to wait. Here they usually just help the person who cut the queue. I walked out of Burger King without ordering the other day when it happened.
While Thais don't "respect the queue" like those of us in the West, they are not nearly as bad as their Chinese counterparts. A Thai might walk in front of you in line, but in China, a person might just knock you over to get there. Perhaps I'm biased towards Thais, but I really believe that Thais don't realize they are cutting you off, while Chinese don't care.
When we were in Hong Kong, people would frequently try to push and squeeze their way past you. Its one thing if you are in a crowded subway where you are moving with a crowd. Its another thing to try to push people out of the way in lines at amusement parks. In Disney, I literally kept my body on a person in order to prevent her from pushing ahead and stepping on my kids. In Ocean Park, a man pushed aside my three year old daughter as he was climbing up the seats to exit a show.
If someone in a ride queue isn't paying attention, in the U.S. the person behind them will usually wait for a few seconds and then motion for the person to move forward. In Hong Kong, as many people as possible will run past the person in line. People will climb over rails in order to cut the queue. I saw a couple in their 60's climbing over a rail instead of walking 30 feet to get to the actual queue entrance. The funny thing is that the woman struggled mightily to climb over and they ended up in the exact spot they would have had they queued up normally. I told Tim that if they fell, I was going to bust out laughing.
By the end of the trip, I was actually starting to enjoy myself. I took a bit of perverse pleasure in preventing the person from squeezing past me in line. Fortunately I did not have to break out my secret weapon and stand on some one's foot. I would have smiled and apologized profusely of course.
This was only the second Christmas that I hadn't spent with my parents and siblings (not counting the Christmas' where I had no siblings). Since we couldn't be with our family, we decided to do something special for the kids and visit Disneyland on Christmas day. In fact, the desire to take the kids to Disney was the driving force behind our reason for visiting Hong Kong.
Going to Disneyland from Discovery Bay is very easy. Take the DB03 bus to the MRT station and take the Disney MRT line and you are there.
Hong Kong Disneyland on Christmas day was fun, but very crowded. We did the usual Disneyland things, rode rides, saw shows and posed for pictures with characters. The lines were pretty long until about 8:00 or 9:00. I made pretty good use of the Fastpass system to maximize our rides.
Fortunately we do not engage in the character autograph insanity. I don't get it, and if I am fortunate, never will have to wait in line for 45 minutes to collect an obscure autograph from Donald Duck's bastard son. I will say, it is extremely "satisfying" to stand in line so your young children can have their picture taken with Winnie the Pooh while you are waiting for a couple of twenty-somethings (sans kids) getting autographs of their favorite characters.
Another thing that puzzled me was when I saw teenage boys posing for pictures with Winnie the Pooh. Okay, I get it if you were there with your girlfriend and posed with her and Winnie to endear yourself to her. It wasn't just that. I saw four sixteen year old Chinese boys posing for pictures together with the big yellow stuffed animal. I thought "Wow, I guess what's 'cool' in China is a lot different than what's cool in the U.S."
The parade was packed, and I had to fight off Chinese park guests trying to push their way in front of me. We found our place about twenty minutes before it started. I was standing, and the kids were sitting down in front of me waiting. A number of people would try to squeeze by me, and if they had been successful, they would have stepped on the kids. I'll write more in another entry about Thai and Chinese sense of standing in lines and pushing their way to the front, but let's just say that many would not pass the first grade in the U.S. where most of us learn these skills.
I think I've written before how Thai people are very kind and accommodating around children. Even in the U.S., places are really pretty accommodating towards kids. Even if other people's kids drive people crazy, U.S. businesses recognize the enormous market for kids and families. In China, there seems little deference for kids. A lot of Chinese seem perfectly content with pushing kids out of the way to get where they want to go a few seconds earlier. I'll blog on the concept of queues in Thailand and China in a separate post.
Its funny, but just when I began thinking that maybe the Chinese government policy of one child should be made retroactive, a person did something very nice. We were standing in line for the Merry-go-round when Nalin saw a person wearing a ring that flashed different colors. Nalin and Aleena both wanted one, so Tim asked the young woman wearing it where she had bought it. She told Tim that she had bought it outside the park, and then gave it to Nalin and Aleena. It was a very sweet gesture, and the girls really liked it.
The firework show was nice. As we didn't arrive early, we found a place that had a largely unobstructed view a bit away from the fireworks. We were standing next to a waist high wrought iron fence. I was standing in front, and the kids behind me. We left a little bit of space so they could see. As they started, some woman came over and tried to step between the kids and I. She was not successful. Then she puts her camera between them and the fireworks so she could take pictures. I asked Tim if the lady was blocking the kids view, and it turns out she was. So I put my face in front of her camera and smiled. Apparently she did not find my visage angelic, because she moved on.
My family gave us money for the kids Christmas presents. Toy shopping in Bangkok is only mediocre, so we decided to let the kids buy their own presents while in Hong Kong. We let them spend some of their money in Disney, and the rest at Toys-r-us later in the trip.
As the park grew less crowded later in the night, we stayed until the park closed at 11:00 p.m.
Thailand will observe 100 days of mourning in her honor. Black is the color of mourning here, and you see many people wearing black or dark colors.
Its strange, but you don't really see a lot of people in yellow shirts any longer. A large part of that is because of the mourning, but a part of it may have to do with the new year. Part of the reason for the yellow king shirts was to honor the King's 80th birthday.
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Overall, though I was pretty disappointed that I couldn't coax more people to participate. My hope was to have some pictures of him from a lot of different places in the U.S. (and possibly other places), but I guess it didn't work out.
As he won't be back to school until next Tuesday, I'm thinking of sending another email to give people a last reminder.
Again, to those who helped, both Jacob and I really appreciate it. Thanks!
In other "great" news, my laptop is not working. I think it is an overheating issue, although I'm not certain. I hope to take it into a shop soon.
Monday, January 7, 2008
As you may remember, during our first visit we were not able to complete our request because Tim's lack of a penis (a fact for which I am very grateful) required her to provide proof of tax payment, which she didn't have at the time. During our second visit, we had the required paperwork and I met one of the least polite Thai's I've ever encountered. It was also that second visit where I was not asked a single question during my interview. At the end of our second visit, we were instructed to come back on January 7th to learn the results.
Interestingly, my visa actually expired on January 6th. That would have been the date where I learned the result of my interview, but the office was closed on Sunday. I guess I'm fortunate that they didn't arrest me when I entered the office today for overstaying my visa. That would be what they like to call irony.
We left the house at 6:00 today to try to get their early. Before going to the office, we had to stop at Top's house to pick up a letter verifying her employment. The salary listed on the one we provided with my application did not match the tax documentation that Tim provided.
We got to the office a few minutes before 8:00, and Tim had breakfast at the little cafe behind the offices. Our contact was out running errands, so we went and did the unthinkable. We actually put my passport in the queue just like everyone else.
Fortunately, the office wasn't as crowded, and after thirty minutes, the immigration officers reviewed my passport and provided the all important stamps. So, I was free to leave, right? Well, not quite yet.
While I now had the legal privilege to stay in Thailand for a year, if I left for any reason, my visa would be invalidated. So for about $125, I obtained a multiple entry permit, which allows me to leave and re-enter the country multiple times during the year. Of course, our contact had someone in her office fill out the form, and she ran it over for us. Somehow I think the fifteen minutes it took her to get it processed was much faster than waiting in the line.
So, with any luck, our family is not due back in the immigration office until we need to renew the kids' visas in October.
Sunday, January 6, 2008
Yesterday, driver number four started. Once again, there was an auspicious start, and once again, it was not a match made in heaven.
Tim had him meet her at work yesterday and bring the car back home. I saw him laying in the car sleeping during the afternoon, which is not altogether unexpected or uncommon.
At 5:30, we were getting ready to go to meet Tim at her work and go out for dinner. The driver told me through the nanny that the car battery was dead. I verified that it wouldn't start. My first thought was that he had the car radio running while he was laying down napping. Except for the fact that he had managed to let down all the winders (electronically of course), there was no other proof he caused the problem. Of course, it would be quite the coincidence that the battery happened to die the day he started. So we had him take a taxi and pick up our van from Tim's brothers and go pick her up at work.
Tim told the driver to meet her here at 12:30 this afternoon to take her to work. When she went outside at 1:00, he was not there. She called his house and an older woman, probably his mother, answered and said that he had a flat tire. The woman informed Tim that he couldn't call her because he couldn't afford a phone.
Well, unlike baseball, there are not a preset number of strikes that you get as a driver in our family. In this case, two was more than enough. Tim called the agency and fired him.
I am seeing a bit of a pattern. The first and third drivers, while deeply and utterly flawed in their ability to do their jobs, each lasted a few months. The second and fourth drivers, however, lasted less than 24 hours each. As our next driver will be number five, I expect I'll have a few months to share his exploits with you.
Saturday, January 5, 2008
I told you a few weeks ago that Thailand was having its first election since the coup on December 23rd. What I didn't tell you at that time was that my brother-in-law was running as an MP (Member of Parliament) candidate for the PPP (People Power Party).
The two major parties contesting the election were the PPP and the Democrats. The PPP consisted of a lot of former Thai Love Thai members (deposed PM's Thaskin's party), while the Democrats were largely seen as the "pro-coup" party. There are a couple of mid sized and a handful of small parties.
Unlike in the U.S. where smaller parties have virtually no influence, here it is quite different. Since the "winning" party often does not garner enough seats to rule outright, they often court mid-sized and smaller parties to form a coalition government. These smaller parties can often have significant leverage when forming a coalition and can garner important cabinet positions.
Well, my brother-in-law did not win his seat. His party, however did win the most seats of any government. The breakdown was:
Thai Nation Party 37
For the Motherland 25
Thais United 9
Neutral Democratic 7
Royalist's People's 5
These numbers are approximate because I've seen slightly different numbers reported from different sources at different times.
So while the PPP won the most seats, they did not win the 241 needed for an outright majority. The PPP could not form an alliance with the Democrats, and the Thai Nation and Motherland parties are seen as Democrat allies. So the PPP have been courting the three smaller parties. There have been rumblings that if they are able to form the coalition with the three small parties, at least one of the two mid-sized might join as well.
The PPP has a problem that might prevent it from forming a government at all. The Election Commission (EC) is investigating sixty-something PPP candidates for violation of election rules. There are less than 10 candidates from other parties under investigation.
The EC has already disqualified three PPP winners. If more are disqualified, the PPP might not be able to form the coalition.
In addition to difficulty with individual candidates, there have been lawsuits attempting to disqualify the PPP. There are several claims, including that it is an illegal nominee for the outlawed Thai Love Thai party. If it is found guilty it could be dissolved and their chance of forming a government dashed.
The coming weeks should be interesting.
Friday, January 4, 2008
Day 2 (December 24th)
We spent our first full day in Hong Kong on Christmas Eve day. Since we had arrived late the night before, we decided to take it easy this day by starting a bit late. Our plan was to explore a bit around Discovery Bay and visit the Hong Kong Science Museum.
Discovery Bay is a community on the Lantua Island. It is an upscale area that tends to cater to Western residents of Hong Kong. It is accessible to the main land via a ferry (number 3) or by a bus to an MRT (subway) station.A few things noteworthy about Discovery Bay. There were a lot of apartments, but I did not see any stand alone homes. its possible that that they exist, but if they did, I certainly didn't see them. Perhaps the reason is that condos in Discovery Bay range from several hundred thousand to several million dollars.Another interesting feature of Discovery Bay is the lack of cars. Access to Discovery Bay via private cars and taxis is extremely limited. Since residents can't bring their car, many have golf carts to travel around Discovery Bay. Along with the golf carts, the most common vehicles seen on the roads of Discovery Bay were public buses.
At the ferry, there is a small shopping plaza with a nice selection of retail shops and western restaurants. The center of the plaza is a huge circle where stood a little play house decorated for Christmas. You see kids playing in the large circle while parents sit and drink coffee or eat at the tables around it.
We had lunch at Discovery Bay, walked around a bit, and then took the ferry into Hong Kong. There are nine or so ferries that dock at the Central Ferry. From there, it is a fifteen or so minute walk to the bus and MRT lines.
One of the challenges that we initially faced was change for the bus, MRT and ferry. A lot of the machines don't take bills, or if they do, they only take one bill. I had a lot of difficulty getting change. I would ask for change for a 100 in 10's (the highest coins) and I would always get back five $2 coins and the rest bills.
On the fourth day we broke free of our change chain and bought Octopus cards. Wikipedia describes the Octopus card as ".. a rechargeable contactless stored value smart card used to transfer electronic payments in online or offline systems in Hong Kong. " You can use the card for transportation, restaurants, convenience stores, supermarkets and more.
If you travel to Hong Kong and are going to use public transportation (which you almost certainly will), I cannot recommend the Octopus card more highly. An adult card initially costs HK $150, of which $100 is credited on the card and $50 is a refundable deposit. The card can be replenished all over the city.
The brochure stated that the Science Museum was open until 9:00 p.m., so when we arrived at 3:00 p.m., we thought we had six hours to play and explore. When we arrived, we discovered that this was one of the few days during the year where the museum closed at 5:00 p.m.
Despite our shortened stay, we had a lot of fun at the museum. The Hong Kong Science Museum boasts over 500 exhibits of which 70% are described as hands on. The hall of mirrors was pretty cool. I think the kids enjoyed seeing themselves stretched and shrunk, and although I know they didn't completely understand the science behind it, I think Jacob understood that some of it had to do with the shape of the mirrors.
I'm not sure that we saw even a third of the museum before we left as they closed the doors at five. We had hoped to visit it again before we left Hong Kong, but ran out of time. If we return to Hong Kong, we'll definitely go back to the science museum.
After eating dinner at a Chinese restaurant that Tim really enjoyed we made our way to the MRT to head back home. we saw a restaurant named Charlie Brown that had a sign with the Snoopy characters on it.
As it was rush hour, the MRT was absolutely packed. We were going against the direction of most people, so getting to our train was like swimming upstream. I was more worried about the kids getting stepped on our lost, but they held our hands and followed closely behind.
By the time we got back to the flat, I think we were all a bit tired. There had been a lot of walking, and I think the kids weren't fully recovered from the late night before. Still, it was a fun first day in Hong Kong.
After the movie was over, she turned to me and succinctly summed up my feelings for the movie, "That was a bad movie." Now don't get me wrong, I wasn't expecting a cinematic masterpiece that the critics will be talking about for the ages. I was, however, expecting a lot more than I got.
One of the necessary elements for a successful story is to have interesting characters. You want the readers or viewers to related to the characters. Neither Alien nor Predator were very likable or interesting. They both killed humans fairly indiscriminately. The human characters were equally uninspiring. There was weak attempt at the boy loves popular girl story, but it came off really weak.
So I know, this movie is an action movie, forget the story. Aside from the fact that most compelling action films have at least a solid underlying story, the action in this film fell short. I think the problem was that most of the action was in the dark, either at night or underground. It was hard to make out exactly what was going on. When they were fighting, it was sometimes tough to tell where the alien started and the predator ended.
Thursday, January 3, 2008
Thailand's warm and humid weather are apparently the perfect breeding ground for developing the uber mosquito. Although smaller than their cousins in other places, the Thai variety make up for it in nimbleness and ferocity. Trying to swat one of these makes me feel like Grasshopper attempting to snatch the pebble from his master's hand. By the time my hand gets there, the mosquito is gone.
Okay, I know what you are thinking. Brian, you are getting to be an old man, your reflexes are just shot. I might have believed you but for a couple of reasons. First, I have seen other people swatting futilely at these little pests. My most dramatic proof, however, came during our Hong Kong visit. While in the rest room, I was accosted by Chinese mosquitoes. Four claps later and there were four less mosquitoes in the world. Master would have been proud.
First, the email for the cruise vouchers did not arrive prior to leaving the house. While I assumed that we could easily find a place to print it easily in the modern city of Hong Kong, I would later learn the extend of my naivety.
The kids spent part of the afternoon playing in the pool. Tim and I heard screaming and went out toinvestigate. Nalin was holding her mouth and screaming. She was playing with a stick and managed to cut the little membrane between your tongue and the bottom of your mouth. A quick trip to the emergency room confirmed that she was okay.
The flight on Emirates Air was a very pleasant surprise. We had some concerns about the quality given that it was a discount airline, but those were soon dispelled. The plane was nice, and the staff very friendly. Each seat had its own video entertainment system, complete with a wide selection of movies, TV shows, video games and music. The flight was not very crowded, and right before we took off the flight attendants asked Tim of she and the girls would like to spread out. Emirates also gave each child a bag with a puppet, a sleeping mask, a color activity books and a colored pencil set.
Allow me to digress from my tale for a moment and discuss flight attendants. More specifically, I have noticed a big difference between American and Asian flight attendants. Tim and I have both noticed that in general, the American flight attendants are much less friendly and more strict than their Asian counterparts.
The most obvious way you see this is with how they both handle kids. With a lot of American flight attendants, it seems like kids are a bit of a bother. This was especially noticeable when the kids were smaller and had a difficult time sitting in their seats for long periods. The Asian flight attendants would always dote on the kids, sometimes even giving them candy from their own personal supply.
I also noticed that the American flight attendants on the long overseas flights were often older than those from the far east. My guess is that this is seniority based, as the international destinations may be more desirable for flight attendants, so the more senior ones in the U.S. get first preference. In a lot of Asian countries, most of the flight attendants are young and usually attractive women. Places like Thailand are not so concerned with age or gender discrimination.
One thing that bugged me a bit about Emirates was that about 30 minutes before the flight landed, they went through and collected the blankets and headphones from the cabin. Fortunately I had an extra set of headphones that allowed me to finish watching the latest installment of Harry Potter. But come on, why rip the blanket of some sleeping senior to save some time on clean up.
We landed in Hong Kong after about 2.5 hours, and easily cleared customs and immigration.
Our friend had someone meet us at the airport and take us to her flat. It was only a twenty minute bus ride, and it stopped right in front of our building.
To be continued....
The decision to visit Disneyland left us with two obvious choices. We could visit Hong Kong or Japan. Of course, the esteemed rodent has palaces in California, Florida and Paris, but those were just a bit too far away. Besides, Japan and Hong Kong were already on our list of places to visit during our adventure over here.
Initially, we leaned towards visiting Japan. As we started researching it, we realized a few things. The first factor was that Japan was going to be a lot more expensive.
Weather was another consideration. Japan is much colder than Hong Kong in December. While I am certainly not intolerant of cold having grown up in the Midwest, it was certainly not something I missed. The possibility of riding amusement park rides in freezing conditions was less than appealing. I mean, when you are spinning like mad on the tea cups, do you really want to be hit with frozen vomit? I can only imagine that the wind chill factor on a roller coaster would be brutal.
Another compelling reason to visit Hong Kong was that friends of ours in Bangkok used to live there for many years, and they still rent a flat there. They agreed to let us stay there for our trip. Their apartment was in Discovery Bay, an upscale community on the Lantau Island.
Our initial inquiry into flights was hardly promising. The rates averaged about $400 a person, and since we needed to buy five tickets, the cost came up to about two grand. One of Tim's employees knew a travel agent who found us tickets on Emirates Air for only $200 a piece.
The price was great, but it didn't come without a catch. We wouldn't arrive in Hong Kong until about 10:00 p.m., and our return flight to Bangkok wouldn't arrive until after 1:30 a.m. Despite the undesirable arrival times, the cost difference was simply too much to pass up, so we booked on Emirates Air.
On the day before we left, I booked a cruise to watch the Symphony of Lights show. After booking, I received an email telling me that I would receive another email within 24 hours so that I could print out the vouchers necessary board the ship. As I made the reservations only 25 hours before leaving, I was a bit sceptical as to whether they agency would come through.
To be continued...
I went to the doctor today and was diagnosed with red-eye, i.e. a contageous eye infection. I am infectious for the next 7 days, so I am limitting contact with people. The doctor told me not to go to work for 7 days. At least the medicine she gave me has eliminated the irritation and reduce the eye shit.
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
Blogspot has now added integration with Picasa Web Albums, so I'm hosting on blogspot again.
I have a link to my photo albums in the link section of the blog (currently to the left).