Friday, February 29, 2008
The bad news is that Tim won't be able to join us on the trip. She just has too much work to do to take off that long.
The kids are looking forward to see the family and friends, as am I.
There are certainly fruits here that I enjoyed back home. They have very good water melons, although they tend to be of the smaller and rounder variety. Generally they are very good and sweet.
They also have a variety of oranges and tangerines here. One of my favorites are the small tangerines. They are easy to peel and very sweet.
Even more than the small tangerines, I love the oranges that I do not eat at all. Yes, I'm talking about the juice oranges that the use to squeeze fresh orange juice. Fresh squeezed orange juice here is absolutely fantastic. It may be my favorite drink. Sometimes Thais put salt in it, which I don't care for. Still, it is absolutely a fabulous drink. Comparing the taste of commercial orange juice in a carton to fresh squeezed orange juice is like comparing copulation with a prophylactic to copulation without. While both are similar, one is a lot more natural and satisfying. Of course, fresh squeezed orange juice probably won't give you an unexpected surprise in nine months.
Another fruit that you see in the states but that is just a step beyond here is bananas. They simply don't have one type of banana here, they have a whole "bunch"of types. There are the bigger bananas that I was accustomed to seeing, plus smaller bananas such as egg and finger bananas. They all have a slightly different taste and sometimes a slightly different color and texture.
Pineapples are very good here. I've heard that pineapples in Hawaii are very good, and I imagine that these here are comparable. There are also a variety of types of pineapples as well. The pineapples here are so much sweeter than I've ever found at home.
One of the fruits that I had never been a big fan of is mangoes. Mangoes are a bit of a hit or miss. If you get one that is not ripe enough, it is a bit sour and no real pleasure. Tim buys some mangoes from one of her customers who picks out the ripe ones for her and they are absolutely great. If we haven't had them for a few days, Jacob and Nalin will just start devouring them.
I've had papayas and they are okay. I just like the mangoes and oranges a lot more.
Recently I have tried champoos. These are a pink fruit (the Thai word for pink is champoo) that have a taste and texture similar to an apple but distinctive enough that you won't confuse them. The ones I have had are never as sweet as a very sweet apple or quite as tart as the more tart apples. While this isn't my favorite fruit, its actually pretty good. The kids don't eat it as much, so I usually end up munching on them at dinner.
You can get more "traditional" Western fruits here, although sometimes they can be expensive. The grapes and apples from China are generally reasonable in price, but I have a hard time justifying buying $5.00 per pound peaches.
Of course, not all Thai fruits are wonderful. The infamous durian smells awful. While a lot of people enjoy the taste, I didn't really think it was very good. When they were cutting a durian in our kitchen, at first I thought I smelled a natural gas leak. It is just so pungent.
We try to have at least one or two fruits on the table each meal. The fact that we have a maid to cut and prepare the fruit makes it nicer for me.
Another nice thing is that you don't have to go to the grocery store to get good fruit. In fact, you are probably better off not going there and sticking to the small outdoor markets. Not only are the fruits less expensive, but they may be riper.
They held the party at the Nichada club, which has an Olympic sized swimming pool. Around the pool, they had a variety of those giant inflatable slides and games. There was a water slide going into the pool, a regular slide, a 20 foot tall rock climb, a reverse bungee jump (where strapped into 2 giant rubber bands and bounce up and down), basket ball hoops and some sort of laser shooting game.
In addition to the inflatable fun, they also had a band and a clown entertain the kids. They catered a meal for the approximately 75 or more guests. Additionally, they had a cotton candy stand, a Thai desert stand, and a stand that made ornate candy flowers.
The party lasted for four hours. Jacob had a great time. I can't help but think that this party had to cost them several thousand dollars.
Of course, Thai kids who attend ISB generally come from fairly well off families. While a lot of foreigners have their company pay for tuition (although we don't fall into that category), Thais generally pay the entire 15k per kid themselves. There are exceptions to this as there are some Thais who may have been relocated here by their company, but I think this is the exception rather than the rule.
Additionally, it is pretty difficult to get into ISB for Thai students. ISB caps the Thai students at 20% of the student body, and the child's ability to speak English is given a heavy weight local students admission. Some Thai children never make it off the waiting list for ISB. Still, as this is Thailand, I have to believe that being connected helps one get into ISB. Its just the way things are done here.
Interesting, while the Thai kids are generally very well off, the foreign kids are more of a mixed bag. Certainly the higher level managers who are transferred here by U.S. and European countries are likely highly compensated and fairly well off. There are others, who while certainly not poor, of much more modest means. Spending $45k per year to send three of their kids to elementary and middle school would not be part of their plan back in the U.S. For their company, however, its simply the price of doing business.
Today I was in the local grocery store and I saw a cleaning cloth. While this is not particularly remarkable, the packaging was something that you won't see on your local Kroger. The name of the product was Black Man Cleaning Clothes, and there was a small picture of a black man on the front.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
If you ask people to name their favorite Thai food, I'm not sure how many will answer grilled childen, but it is certainly one of mine. Known in Thai as gai bing, grilled chicken is sold in stands that dot the side walks and street corners all over Thailand.
The chicken is marinated, placed on a wooden skewer and grilled over a bed of charcoal. They usually have a quarter or half of a small chicken on the skewer. They will also grill the entrails and sell them separately. Additionally, a lot of the stands also grill catfish. These stands usually sell sticky rice to go with the meat.
They usually charge 20 baht (~ $0.66) for a big skewer of chicken and about 5 baht ($0.15) for a bag of sticky rice so it is very inexpensive. You can eat quite a bit for a few dollars.
As these are individual proprietors, the quality is not always the same, although I've never had any that was bad. I'll have to say that some of it is as good or better than any chicken I've eaten back in the states. There are a few reasons. The marinade gives it a really nice flavor. Secondly, the chicken is thin, so its easier to cook it through without drying out part of it.
One thing that makes this possible is that the phone you buy is not tied to your service provider. You can buy just about any cell phone, place your carrier's chip in it, and you are ready to go. Decoupling the phone is a big boon for small retailers and in my opinion consumers. When I switched from my really terrible Nokia to my Sony Walkman phone, all I did was place my sim card in the new phone.
Of course all is not perfect here. A few months ago there was an article in the paper about a guy trying to activate his iPhone. Apparently when he got it, it was locked and he couldn't do anything at all with it. He went around to several stores, and most of the employees in apple stores hadn't heard of it, and the one that did refused to touch it. He found someone who said he could unlock it. Eventually, after paying his contact to unlock it, he was able to get the iPod part of the phone working, but he couldn't use it as a phone.
Another thing that I don't like about phones here is that very few people use voicemail. Its really annoying. Sometimes I don't need to actually talk to the person, I may just need to leave a quick message. Other times, when I really need to make sure they get the message, I tend to call multiple times.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
I really enjoyed the book, and after reading it, I have to say that my admiration for George Washington continues to grow. Its not because he was the best tactical general in the revolutionary army. He was anything but that. On several occasions he proposed attacks that likely would have either led to a resounding defeat (like the plan to attack Boston over the frozen waters) or resulted in much larger losses to his army than necessary (his plan to attack Yorktown head on without first softening it up with artillery). No, Washington's brilliance seemed to be in his ability to inspire his men when things were hopeless, and his willingness to put his ego aside and listen to those around him.
Although the book did not deal with this, Washington was what he did after the war was over. The world is full of stories of successful revolutionary leaders who seized power for themselves. Washington could very well have been the king of America. Instead, he resigned his commission from the army, and gave up whatever power that he had. After two terms in office, he voluntarily stepped down and did not run for another term.
It also struck me how close a thing that the revolution came to failing. Favorable weather and the indecisiveness of British generals were often as important to America's success as its own army. Perhaps that last statement is not completely fair. Those men in the continental army did a wondrous thing, its just that sometimes they had a little help along the way.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
I don't think the smart money is betting on a guilty conviction for Thaskin or his wife. There have already been stories about coup makers reaching out to Thaskin to make amends.
I guess that's a drawback of engineering a bloodless coup and allowing "free" elections where the deposed government members get back control of the government. I quoted "free" because I find it ironic to call an election free if people are paid to vote for a candidate.
Today I was looking at craigslist and searched for warcraft to see how much people were selling their World of Warcraft accounts for. One of the first entries was a guying selling his account who closed his ad with:
Otherwise I'm just gonna have to delete everything so that I don't blow off sex for battlegrounds ever again.
For those of you not in the know, battlegrounds are one of the Wow areas where players compete directly against other players (pvp, aka player versus player). As funny as it sounds to non-Wow players, I'm confident that many, many Wow players have given up many sexual opportunities in order to play a bit more Wow.
Ironically a year or so ago I heard that China was considering ways to put some limits on online game play in order to discourage players from spending so much time playing. Maybe they have it wrong. Perhaps games like Warcraft provide a "natural" birth control method to help with population control.
Monday, February 25, 2008
A good example of this occurred last week. I was getting a massage (a real one, not one of the erotic flavor) last week and the masseuse was making small talk. She asked me where I learned Thai, and I explained that my wife was Thai. She then asked where my wife was from. "Is she from Isarn, Chang Mai, Phucket, Pattaya?"
I usually just answer Bangkok, which is close enough to true as not to matter. It occurred to me this time, however, that she probably assumed that I had met my wife through the sex industry. Her suggesting Isarn, a very poor part of Thailand where a lot of the bargirls (i.e., sex workers) come from, gave it away. While its certainly not impossible, its probably nto very likely that a guy from America is going to run into a lot of girls from Isarn unless he is visiting the massage parlors (the kind that give the erotic massages) or the sex bars.
I explained that my wife had studied in the U.S and that we met in school. It was funny, her face changed as she nodded her head. She wasn't expecting that.
Of course when we are together it is pretty obvious that we didn't' meet that way for a few reasons. One is the way my wife looks, dresses and behaves. Another is that we are very close in age. If Tim looked ten or fifteen years younger than I, then perhaps people would wonder.
In Nichada, there are a number of falang/Thai couples, and my guess is that most met in the more traditional way. Tim's cousin Pam met an American in college, fell in love and got married.
I can't get too mad at the lady for thinking what she did, after all my wife wasn't with me. When I see an older or unattractive man with a young and pretty Thai woman on his arm, my first thought is hooker and john. While I might be wrong, my guess is that I'm usually not.
Throughout Thailand, I have the feeling that there are quite a few falang/Thai relationships that started out in the sex industry. Bookstores carrying English language inventory have a number of books about falangs falling in love with Thai bar girls. There is one title I remember called "Thai Fever", with a picture of a bargirl on the front, and the back cover promising to tell you all you need to know to help your relationship. I read an interesting novel (Private Dancer) about a falang who fell madly in love with a bargirl and their complicated relationship.
For every relationship of that type that works, I have to imagine that there are many more that fail. Not only are you looking at two completely different cultures, two different socio-economic dynamics, but also very different expectations. The girl is usually looking for money, and may already have a Thai husband or boyfriend. The guy is looking for romance in the Western sense. I read something in a book that said regarding a Thai bargirl girlfriend, "you never lose your girlfriend, sometimes you just lose your place in the queue."
Sunday, February 24, 2008
A house about two minutes outside of Nichada. The house on the right is a more traditional Thai house with an elevated first floor.
This is a short distance from the house above. It is a big field of trash, it almost looks like a garbage dump. There are three kids playing at the edge of it, and there are house just outside the shot on the right.
A Muslim temple in the background. Although Thailand is 95%+ Buddhist, there is a sizeable Muslim population just outside of Nichada.
The front of our townhouse.
Eat fresh, even in Bangkok. This picture is just outside of Nichada. The road bends to the right. Follow it around the bend, take an immediate left and you are at the gates of Nichada.A picture of the small shopping plaza outside of Nichda. This is a four or five minute bike ride.
The same road as the picture above front the opposite direction. The roof on the right is part of the school.
Picture of ISB from the side.
This left me with some unexpected free time. I decided to grab my camera and go out and take some pictures of the area in which we live. Not only would it let me hone my photography skills, but it would let you see a bit of what things looked like here.
I walked for about thirty or forty minutes, snapping about thirty pictures in all. My walk started in the community in which I live, Nichada. I also walked outside Nichada to show the contrast. I only hit a part of the community, and no doubt missed some of the nicer views, especially around the lake.
As I think I've written before, Nichada is a planned community catering to ex-pats, mostly of the Western variety. The key to the community is the presence of the school ISB (International School Bangkok) in Nichada. As ISB is arguably the best international school in the country, a lot of foreigners want to live in Nichada and send their kids to ISB.
Nichada is a pretty upscale community. We live in a four bedroom townhouse that rents for 50,000 baht ( about t $1,600) per month. By Thai standards, that is a princly sum as most Thais do not make much in a month. By Nichada standards, our place is at the lower price range. There are homes that rent here for five or six times the price we pay. When I walked by the real estate office, I looked on the postings and saw a house that was on the market for about $1.6 million U.S.
The way Nichada is laid out is as a community with a number of small complexes consisting of twenty to forty homes. There are three entrances, each with guards posted. Each complex then often has its own guard. The main purpose of the guards is to keep out people who don't belong (as is usually the case for guards). Generally, that involves keeping Thais out, as Nichada differs from the rest of the country in that having a Western face usually makes things easier. Guards often won't stop Westerners that they don't recognize.
On my way back from my little jaunt, I was about five minutes from home when one of the security guards for a complex came up to me. He approached me, asked where I was from. I was wearing my ISB ID (issued to parents) and he grabbed it, held it up and looked at it. I was a bit puzzled at this point because I was not trying to enter his complex. I said where I lived and he pointed at my camera. I just decided to keep walking.
When I got to my complex the guard there approached me and pointed at the camera. He said something about the office. He was speaking rapidly in Thai, so I really didn't understand him. I think that he was telling me that I was not allowed to take pictures in Nichada.
Okay, at that point I was pretty pissed off and decided to just turn away and walk home before I said something in English that he was sure to understand and dislike. I understand that Nichada owns the premisis, and that they are private roads, but this was ridiculous. I was taking pictures from the main streets, I wasn't going into people's yards or even complexes. There is nothing in any of my pictures that you couldn't see just driving through the neighborhood. I was also angry because I'm not sure if the guards even saw me take a picture or not. I could have been carrying my camera to take pictures outside of Nichada (which I did).
I wrote an email to the customer service department and asked them to clarify the rule. I was in a bit of a smart ass mood, but I removed the parts where I asked if I was allowed to take pictures in my own home, or if we all needed to gouge out our eyes because our brain might store the image in it. Sometimes its good to write those parts, even if they don't end up in the final draft.
I shouldn't get so pissed. Oh, I mean its absolutely bull shit, but its so typical Thai. People with a little power tend to be authoritarian, and they are always concerned that someone is going to steal an idea. Yes, that's right, I was taking some pictures so that I, a foreigner who is not allowed to own land, could steal their brilliant layout and build a chain of Nichada's across Thailand.
I was in a bad mood then when I went to the local grocery store to pick up a few dozen things. There was a guy in line, who stepped over to look at some things. I made the mistake of trying to be courteous and leave a little room for him since he had only one item. There might have been two feet between my cart and the person being checked out, which was obviously enough for some Thai woman to squeeze in and start unloading her basket in front of me. I was going to say something, but since I didn't know how to say, "Hey f'ing stupid, you every heard of a line? How come the only time someone in this country is in a hurry at all is when they are trying to check out of a line." Of course then the maid was paying on an account which took several minutes. When the bag boy saw that I had several cases of Coke Zero (which I have bought there dozens of times without incident), he ran off with one for a bit, came back and started saying something. At that point, I decided that I'd had enough Thai for one day, so I told him "mai been rai kab" and left.
Was it really a big deal about the grocery store? No it really wasn't (although the line cutting is really annoying), but I was not happy about the whole camera incident.
This morning I saw the real estate agent who helped us find this place and is our neighbor. She has always been very nice. I told her about what happened. She said that they don't like people coming in to take pictures, but that I should have told them that I lived here. I told her that I did, and that when I came in our actual complex the guard here was giving me grief as well. She told me to take down her number and call her if I had any trouble like that in the future and she would talk to them.
Friday, February 22, 2008
Let me preface this by saying that I am not a network guy. In fact, I really don't like working on networks beyond my own simple one at my house. There are problems that I knew I would encounter that someone with experience would be able to handle easily. A lot of times I learn by trial and error. Unfortunately for me, I am a lot cheaper (free) than experienced and skilled individuals.
The network was a bit of a mess. It was put together ad hoc, and didn't include a lot of the PCs in the company. They had a combination DSL modem and wireless router that was "outdated" to put it kindly. The way it was configured only allowed up to ten specific computers on the network. So I needed to replace the DSL modem, the wireless router, setup the wireless print servers, and set up the printers for each PC.
This isn't the first time I've went to work on this. The Linksys file server which I had installed earlier has malfunctioned, and we had to take it back to the shop for repair. I've run into a lot of other issues, but this time, I was confident that I could at least get the networking and printer servers setup.
I arrived at the office at about 8:00 a.m., and ended up leaving at about 11:30 p.m. After fifteen plus hours of nearly non-stop work (aside from brief meals and a quick trip home), I had accomplished most of what I had set out to do. But like so often is the case in life, just telling you the final result without sharing all the "treasured" moments is a bit of a let down.
Some of the challenges that I encountered:
- Left the print server disk at home, requiring me to go home and get it, wasting time.
- The power cord for the new DSL modem did not have enough ampage. Everything was working well for a few hours when I lost Internet access. After about thirty minutes, I found a new power source and was able to reconnect. Actually, I'm not sure if the power problem caused the outage or it was a problem with the provider that was resolved while I was getting a new power cord.
- One of the print servers was hooked up to an older HP printer. For those of you not familiar, a print server is a device that you hook to a printer that allows you to access the printer from a network. So instead connecting the printer to an individual PC, you connect it to the print server. After setting up the print server, I had to install the software on each PC. Well, the print server required me to set up the printer on each PC first. The HP software wouldn't let me set up the software because the printer wasn't attached. So in some cases, I had to actually carry over the printer to individual PCs, set them up, and then connect it back to the print server.
- A few times the lights on a hub connecting to the new router would start flashing wildly and then the router would lock up. This was made even more lovely by the fact that the Ethernet cable was in a huge tangled mess in their server room.
- On some PCs, the HP installation application displayed in Thai. On a few PCs, I couldn't get it to revert to English, which was a bit of a problem since I don't read Thai.
- There is no firewall or anti-virus software standards at the company (yet). So I would spend quite a bit of time trying to get a particular PC to connect only to find out that the firewall was preventing it from connecting.
- There were keyboards that didn't work as expected. Tim helped me toggle from typing Thai to English, but there were some where pressing keys gave unexpected characters. On one, for instance, clicking "0" gave "*", while clicking "M" gave another result.
- There was a grounding issue on one PC that shocked me when I touched the back of it. That was truly wonderful.
- I thought that I was having an issue with a printer when I discovered that the USB cord that appeared to be connected to a certain PC was instead connected to an extension USB cable.
- An employee had brought his son there who was making annoying and disturbing sounds while playing a computer game.
- I was extra careful around some PCs. The last time I was there I was working on an individual's PC and started to type in "google" in the address bar. The auto complete gave me options for a variety of Thai style male on male entertainment.
That reminded me of a lesson that a computer administrator shared with me back in my days at Computer Science Corporation. The admin was responsible for all the lap tops in the office. He was in the habit of viewing personal files on the laptops when they were turned in. One day that changed when one of our male colleague left pictures on his laptop of himself engaged in very explicit same sex behavior. The admin told me that the pictures were very graphic, so much so that he stopped his file peeping forever. Well, at least for those returned by guys.
In any case, there was a lot of cursing and frustrating moments, but I think things went pretty well. Once I get the file server back, I have to go back and set that up. Then Tim will start using the customer tracking program I wrote for them. Fun stuff.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
For her birthday, we are taking the kids to Dreamworld, the local Bangkok amusement park. This trip is made possible not only by the benevolence of my wife in putting the kids first on her birthday, but also because the kids have a four day weekend to celebrate Makha Bucha.
Makha Bucha is the holiday which celebrates Buddha's first sermon. Tim informed me that it is also marks the day that Buddha was born and died. It is a very important religious holiday. I guess you could say its like having a holiday to celebrate Easter, Christmas and the Sermon on the Mount, minus the gift giving and commercialism.
Tim and the kids went to a religious ceremony with her brother's family and the fortune teller group. I think it involved making another statute, although I'm not certain of that. The reason that I didn't go was that in addition to not being Buddhist, we had already decided that I would go to Tim's work to do some work on their network and setting up some print servers. I don't have enough time at the moment to blog about that lovely experience, but I will when I get a chance.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
The long answer to who is Spurlock could go on for pages and pages, but the short answer is that Spurlock was the name of my main character in the World of Warcraft (“Wow”) online role playing game.
Wow is an online role playing game where characters can explore a rich and exciting world based on the Warcraft Universe. Blizzard (the manufacturer) boasts eight million players.
The setting is similar to the Lord of the Rings, in that you encounter elves, dwarves and other fantastic creatures. Players interact with the world through a character or avatar.
There are a few things that set Wow apart from a slash ‘em sword game you might play on a console. The first thing is that you truly interact with the world and other players. There are literally thousands of players on a server at any one time, and you can interact with them. Not only can you interact with them, but in many cases, there is game content that you cannot access or “beat” without a group. In some cases you need a very skilled group.
Another difference is that the game doesn’t have a real end. As you play, your character continues to improve in a variety of areas. There is really no “end” boss that you beat and win the game. From Blizzard’s perspective, as the game derives revenues from monthly subscriptions, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to have an ending. “Thanks Joe Gamer, you can stop paying us $14.95 a month.”
From the player perspective, they don’t want it to end because they have invested so much time and effort in their characters. There are players who spend forty or more hours a week playing wow. I knew a guy, who for a two or three month period spent almost ninety hours a week playing Wow. Sounds crazy, right? Well just a little.
While I never played an average of ninety or even forty hours a week, Wow was certainly a big part of my life for almost two years. At my peak, I probably played about thirty hours a week. That was when I was living and working in Columbus during the week, while the family was in Cincinnati. I had a lot of free time, and that was how I chose to spend it. Do you think I was crazy, well maybe, but maybe not.
One of the reasons I played is that my best friend from high school Dave played. Wow gave us the chance to hang out together. With a family, I wasn’t always free to run out and meet him for a beer, but we could keep in touch through the game. We would play together online, and even talk through voice over IP services. It was actually a pretty nice setup, I could hang around with my friend, but if my family needed me, I was in the next room. Since I generally played when the kids were sleeping and Tim was watching TV, it didn’t really have a large negative impact on my life.
One thing I didn’t count on when playing wow was its addictive nature. Now I’m using addictive in a very lose way here. I don’t mean that I (or anyone else) is addicted to the game in a clinical sense. I guess what I mean is that I really enjoyed playing the game a lot. As with so many things, I’m either on or off. Once I started playing, I was committed. The game is so engaging, that it’s easy to play more than you expect.
A big part of the reason the game is so engaging is the social aspect. The social aspect is ingrained in the game. Take a dungeon for example. It might take five players working together for two or three hours to complete. When you start it, you feel an obligation to other players to complete it, so it’s easy to end up playing longer than you expect.
For about six months I was playing a part of the game that required a coordinated forty person group to successfully complete. I was amazed that forty strangers could come together and work as a team to accomplish some goal. Of course, forty strangers never did. These other players were teammates in every sense of the word. We worked together towards a common goal. Each member of the group had a role to play. Just like in football, success required each player to accomplish their assigned tasks. It took a lot of coordination and leadership to accomplish.
Another thing I didn’t count on was some of the really amazing people that I met while playing Wow. I played with people not much older than my son and others the same age as my father. Male or female, black, white or yellow, it made no difference. I played with conservatives, liberals and those who show up in surveys as undecided on every issue. I played with people with successful careers, students and the unemployed. It was amazing to see such a diverse group work together.
In a lot of ways I owe this blog to my Wow experience. After listening to some Wow podcasts, I wrote some fictional accounts of my experience, which my dear friend Alachia put on her podcast. That really rekindled my love for writing.
Not all things Wow were flowers and pretty light. I saw people turn on friends all for some in game benefit. Alachia adeptly said that she wanted to market a t-shirt that said “Epic loot > real life friends.” Truly there were people who would lie, cheat or abandon friendships in order to acquire an in game item that made their character the slightest bit better. They were not the majority, but nor were they aberrations.
In the end I stopped playing four months ago, less because of what the game is, but rather because of who I am. I found myself playing out of habit. I was having fun to be sure, but starting up Wow became almost a default behavior. It wasn’t so much a problem when I was working, because work and my family commitments kept me from getting too involved. It would be too easy here in Thailand for me to play all morning and all evening. While that is not necessarily a bad thing, there are a lot of things that I want to do while I am here. Azeroth (the setting for Wow) is truly a wonderful world, that brought me many fond memories, but I needed to make time for the real one too.
The reason I have Spurlock in my blog name is because some of the people with whom I used to play read this blog. When you are playing the game, you don’t always know the real name of the person with whom you are playing so you use their character name. To many of those who I’ve played with, I was Spurlock.
So now you know my dirty online secret. Now you know why I have Spurlock as part of my profile. And if you read carefully, you might have gleaned that while I no longer play Wow, part of Spurlock still lives in me.
One of the ways this manifests itself is by participating in their school activities. Part of this is being the mystery or secret reader for their classes. This basically involves coming to class and reading the kids a few books. Its a mystery or secret because the kids don't know its coming. They generally enjoy it, especially the child whose parent is the actual reader.
Today I was the reader for Jacob's class. I brought Dermit the Frog with me, and while he is not quite as much a celebrity with the second graders as he is the first graders in Nalin's class, he was nonetheless popular. After a bit of schtick with Dermit, I read a couple of books to the kids. I enjoy them at this age because they still appreciate and enjoy silliness. When you use an exagerate voice or facial gesture, they tend to laugh and enjoy it. As I am a bit of a ham at heart, this works well for me.
After I was done, Jacob's teacher came up and talked to me for a minute. She and I have really worked together for Jacob's benefit. When he first got here, he really had a tough time staying focussed in class. I think it was a function of his personality plus changes of the move. Through a lot of work on his part, and Ms. Souza's support, he really has made a lot of progress.
Anyway, Ms. Souza's husband is the the middle school administration (principle or vice principle I think). She said that she had mentioned to him how the kids enjoyed my reading to them, he suggested to her that I should sign up to be a substitute teacher.
Honestly, it was something I've never really considered. I mean, I've actually thought that at some point, if money no longer becomes a driving issue, that I might want to teach, but I never thought of substituting. I think I told her that I'd have to think about it.
Part of me is really interested. It would be a good opportunity to see what it is like to teach. I view it as another life experience, and that's another reason I came here. One concern that I have is that I don't want to be constantly on call. I will probably follow up and find out what the demands are going to be. I really want to figure out how to be a better than horrible photographer.
Monday, February 18, 2008
As an extremely mature adult, I chuckled to myself thinking about that one. "Where are you going tonight, Brian?" "Oh, I'm going to Bang Sue." "Well have fun dear, but hurry, there are alot of people going to Bang Sue this time of day. A lot of them come early to beat the traffic."
Of course, the English spelling is misleading. Bang Sue is not pronounced to rhyme with "dang you". Instead it sounds more like "boang se-ew".
This seems pretty unremarkable, but it actually is quite out of the ordinary. While I instictively try to use gestures when trying to communicate with someone with whom I don't share a common tongue, there are a lot of Thais who won't. Sometimes even pointing to something or a really simple gesture can facilitate understanding.
My other communication issue today was at McDonalds. Tim and I went to an IT mall to drop off a malfunctioning network storage device. She went to the food court to eat, and I stopped by Wai Ronald's to pick up some food to meet her. After a few minutes of waiting, it was my turn to order. I looked on the rack of the items that were already prepared, as otherwise it can take a long time to get food. As in the U.S., McDonald's here have a large numbered picture menu. As I saw a Big Mac already prepared, I pointed to it on the sign and clearly said "hoke, kab", indicating item six. I then pointed to another large picture sign that showed that you could "upsize" for only 10 baht. Not knowing the phrase for "biggie size it", I settled for "yi" (large) and pointed to the upsize sign. The total should have been 119 baht (about $4.00).
I was confident that this would be smooth, for a few reasons. First, I was pointing to a large sign that had both Thai and English writing, it was kind of hard to miss. Secondly, although I speak Thai with a very heavy accent, I've never had any issues with people understanding something simple like numbers. Thirdly, I've been to this McDonalds a few other times before without any issue.
When I saw that she had only rung up a 29 baht total, I knew that things would not be simple. I managed to get across to her that she did not have my order correct. I tried again, and this time she rang me up for a fish filet dinner. After some more head shaking, pointing and speaking, she finally correctly rang up a number six set. She did not, however, upsize it. I thought about it for a few seconds and decided to quit while I was ahead and just forget upsizing it.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
I enjoyed the book, although it certainly did not make me want to enjoy the "hospitality" the Thai prison system. The book is as much about the Thai legal and prison system (from the author's view) as it is about the actual escape. A few things I found interesting. I haven't independently researched them, and the author is certainly not sympathetic to his captors. Still, there is a definite ring of truth in some of them.
- Like in the rest of Thai society, money can buy favors and status in prison here. In fact, without money, a prisoner will not receive enough food to live on.
-The trial judges are not portrayed as impartial advocates. In fact, they fill in the gaps in the prosecutor's case and actively discourage the defense from putting on more than a cursory defense.
- Defense attorneys usually just try to put on as quick a case as possible, often failing to call witnesses who travelled from other parts of the world to testify.
- One Pakistani was convicted of crimes that occurred before he had entered Thailand. The judge's response to his witnesses that showed that his entry permit was not forged was that he probably had another passport under which he travelled.
- Escape is considered an affront to the face of the guards, and they react extremely violently to any escape attempt, including killing or maiming the prisoners attempting to escape. In fact, the other prisoners fear the wrath of the guards in the area of escape that they will actually shout out for guards if they see another prisoner attempt to escape.
- Sentences for drug offenses are extremely harsh. It seems as if a lot of people received fifty years or the death penalty.
- Defendants are not encouraged to exercise their right to prove their innocence. They are rewarded by pleading guilty by a reduction of their sentence by half.
- Often after 4 years in prison here, Americans are able to apply to be transferred to the U.S. The transfer process usually involves a review of their sentence to make it more in line with the punishments in the U.S. for the same crime. Transferees are often therefore released when they get home.
- It is Thailand that we are talking about, so being well connected and having money are very important. It seems like you need to exercise it prior to trial or on appeal. The author made it sound like with all the eyes on a trial, its harder to grease the wheels in your favor. You might prevent ever being charged if you are well placed and financed, and if convicted, favors may be more easily plied in shadowy halls of the courts of appeals.
Jacob and I stayed in a small cabin instead of a tent. The main reason for this, aside from my lack of affection for sleeping in a tent, was my concern that we would have hot, muggy and mosqito filled nights. I was actually wrong, as the temperature dropped into the 70's at night and was quite pleasant.
We arrived at the camp site on Friday evening and departed on Sunday morning. In between, the kids had a whole lot of fun. There were lots of physical activities to keep them busy. One of my favorite memories of the trip was Jacob on the rope bridge. There were two perpendicular ropes suspended over a creek. The kids (or an occassional adult) would cross by walking on one rope and holding the other rope with their hands. The crossing was made more challenging by the fact that some of the older kids were bouncing up and down on the rope trying to dislodge would-be-crossers. As Jacob made his way onto the rope bridge, I noticed that he almost had to stand on his tippy-toes in order to reach the top rope with his hands. I thought that he would have a really difficult time making it across, but he actually managed two out of three times. By contrast, a lot of kids never made it across at all. While his height was a a disadvantage, his weight (or lack of) was a definite advantage. When his feet slipped, he could hold himself up on the rope with his arms very well. That was a bit harder for some of the heavier boys.
I think the highlight for the kids were the water activites, the glow sticks turned light sabers and the marsh mellow roasts. Jacob and I also went on a hike in Khao Yai national park. It was a fairly nice walk, but we spent almost as much time driving to and from as we did hiking. I had an interesting conversation with one of the scout dads who is also a trustee of ISB.
Tim and the girls ended up driving on Saturday and visited the park. After a few hours, they stopped by and saw Jacob and I for a bit and then headed home.
I took some pictures that I will post soon.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
The PPP party did manage to form a coalition government with the former Bangkok mayor and always interesting Samak Sundaravej as Prime Minister. Unlike in many western democracies, the civilian government here does not have complete control over the military. The reassignment of military personnel for example, is not within the purview of the PM. He is part of a group that consists mostly of high ranking military officers which decide such changes. This is important, because the success of a military coup is highly dependent on the loyalty of officers at the level of colonel.
There is some also some non-elected body that retains some power here. I'm really not certain of how it all works together as I've never read a good explanation.
One thing that is certain is that Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej didn't take long to stir up controversy. For those of you not in the know, Samak is an old political veteran called in to lead the PPP, the successor to the now defunct Thai Rak Thai party which was led by deposed PM Thaksin. Samak has a reputation for losing his cool with reporters and saying some pretty outrageous statements.
In a recent interview with CNN, Samak declared that only one person had been killed in the 1976 anti-dictatorship protests staged by students at Thammasat University. The official police count of deaths resulting from the protests is forty-six, although students claimed it was well into the hundreds. Samak has been accused by many of having stirred up anti-communism sentiment that led to the massacre. Interestingly, some of the student leaders of the protests are Samak supporters.
The first Samak quote of interest that I heard was around bribes and election fraud. He stated that it wasn't really that serious of an issue because people didn't die because of bribes and fraud. Personally, I think that in a country with extreme poverty, institutional corruption perpetuates poverty, ensuring that decisions are made for the personal gain of those with power instead of for the best interest of the people. In other words, how many people die of starvation because project A was chosen over project B because project B's owner paid someone off.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
While I have certainly had my share of frustrations, overall the experience has been pretty pleasant. It was obviously a big change, not only moving to a different country with a very different culture (albiet one with which I was not completely unfamiliar), but also changing my role from the primary breadwinner to the primary child care giver (with help from a nanny).
A few more numbers:
156 - The approximate number of days I've been here
113 - The approximate number of days since I've played wow
75 - The percent chance that I'll visit the U.S. this summer with the kids
40 - The birthday I'll celebrate this year
19 - The number of years since my first date with Tim on 2/10/89
8 - The birthday that Jacob will celebrate in March
6 - The number of days a week that Tim generally works
5 - The number of times I've been the mystery reader in Jacob and Nalin's class
2 - The number on a scale of 1 to 10 that I'd rate my photography skills
In the U.S. of course, professional employees generally tend to give two weeks notice before leaving. Here, not only don't some people give advance notice of quitting, they don't even actually notify you that they are quitting at all, rather they just stop showing up for work.
After consulting my expert in all things Thai (i.e., my lovely and talented wife), I realized that there were two reasons for this. First, unlike in the U.S., prospective employers are often not going to call previous employees as a reference. So the "price" of leaving without notice is fairly small, at least for the one leaving.
The other reason boils down to the essence of being Thai; avoiding confrontation. In a much more class conscious society, telling the person who is your boss that you are quitting could be a bit daunting. After all, until you quit, this is a person to whom you show extreme deference. To possibly displease that person with news that you will no longer work for them is a type of confrontation that many Thais would prefer to avoid. So some just stop showing up to work. They will then refuse to pick up the phone to confirm that they have quit.
Of course from my falang perspective, I'd rather just get it over with and tell my boss that I am leaving. Not only am I willing to endure this confrontation, in some ways I enjoy it. Don't get me wrong, I don't sit and rub my hands together maniacally and laugh, but there is a certain satisfaction in telling your boss that you've effectively "fired" him or her. For a Thai though, its s situation often best avoided.
Monday, February 11, 2008
One of the ways bloggers learn about their readership is through the comments. At the bottom of each blog entry is a hyperlink with a number and the word comments, i.e. 3 Comments. The comments section can really turn a blog into a discussion as opposed to a monologue. Since I restarted this back in October, there have been no comments.
I'm asking readers just to add a comment to this (or another) blog so that I know who is reading. It can be as simple as "I'm reading...Mom" or "Maybe we'll get lucky and you'll get thrown in jail so you can blog about something interesting...love, Cousin Freddie"
Adding comments are easy. Just click the comments link at the bottom of a post. This will take you to a form with a comments box. Just fill in your comments. You can use your google account (if you have one when posting), give a nickname (i.e., Mom, Dad, The Guy you owe money to), or post completely anonomously.
If you want to let me know you read my blog, but are too embarrassed to admit it to others, then I would appreciate if you drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A lot of Republicans are seeing red, although not the kind of red you see on an election map. No, they are furious that Senator McCain is the front runner for their party's nomination. Led by the right side of the radio dial, they deride Senator McCain as less than a true conservative and have attempted to label him with the "M" word, moderate.
Two big issues seem to be his stands on immigration and taxes. Senator McCain supported a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. I understand that this angers many Republican voters, but Senator McCain's position was the same as or very close to President Bush's, the Conservative in Chief.
Conservatives also have complained that Senator McCain broke rank with conservative principles by opposing tax cuts that did not have offsetting spending reductions. I am at a bit of a loss though how promoting spending cuts is no longer considered a conservative principle. Does anyone believe that the U.S. budget is so lean that there is no spending that we could do without?
So what is an angry conservative to do about this interloper? Well, one option is to vote in the primary for another candidate, like Governor Huckabee. Some angry elephants have gone further, and pledged that if McCain is the nominee, they will punish the Republicans and vote for Senator Clinton (or perhaps Obama). They claim that since McCain is really a Democrat in Republican clothing, they might as well vote for the real McCoy. It has been said that McCain is no better than Clinton when it comes to upholding conservative principles.
Now I certainly don't want to get in the way of a good temper tantrum, but when my conservative brethren stop holding their breath and jumping up and down, they might want to consider the numbers 82, 8 and 9. These are the lifetime ratings of Senator McCain, Senator Obama and Senator Clinton from the American Conservative Union (ACU), an organization that has rated Congress members on conservative principles since the 70's. A perfect conservative score is 100, while a 0 indicates a liberal pinko commie :D. So while Senator McCain votes for "conservative" principles eight out of ten times, Senators Clinton and Obama do so about one in ten times. Now while I never finished my first semester PhD statistics course at Boston College, I do seem to remember from some where that 8 of 10 is a lot higher than 1 of 10.
Another interesting number is three, which pundits predict will be the number of Supreme Court nominees that the next President will have the opportunity to appoint. I'm sure the appointments of a would-be President Hillary Clinton would be very much in line with Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck's audience. Well, maybe not, but it would give them a lot to complain about, and when it comes down to it, isn't that the most important thing?
A few other comments…
The other day I saw a friend of mine who is a big Hillary supporter pulled over to the side of the road filling her gas tank with a plastic red jug. She saw me and yelled “Don’t you say a word!” I just smiled and couldn’t help but wonder if her predicament was a metaphor for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. As Obama wins primary after primary, I can’t help but wonder if she running out of gas?
I am an admirer of President Ronald Reagan. I think he was an excellent president, the right man at the right time. While some might think the righting of the economy and the destruction of the Soviet Union were inevitable, I think that they would have occurred much later, if at all, under a second Carter or first Mondale presidency.
Despite my admiration for President Reagan, I found the constant invoking of his mantle by Republican candidates this season not only annoying, but bordering on idolatry. Am I the only one that finds the near worship of a human being by members of a party that claims so many fervently religious members ironic?
The whole Reagan mantra thing kind of reminds me of an old game show I watched called the Liar’s Club. They would have 3 guests, who would all say they were the same person. The contestants would get to ask them questions, and then had to guess which guest was telling the truth. At the end they would say “Would the real [Joe Blow] please stand up” at which time Joe Blow would stand. If the candidates were playing it, when they said “Would the real heir to President Reagan’s mantra please stand up”, the candidates would all jump to their feet, point at each other and yell “he’s a moderate” or “he didn’t support Reagan until 1978, he’s a Johnny-come-lately”.
Friday, February 8, 2008
I must confess that I am not a fan of karaoke. I certainly don't want to sing karaoke myself, and listening to others express their inner Whitney Houston is not one of my favorite pass times.
My own voice is hardly melodic. One of the few times that I have sang in public was during my senior class play many years ago. As the villian Judd Fry in the musical Oklahoma, I had one solo song, and a duo with the lead Curly. Roger Heck (interestingly, there were 55 people in my freshman class and two of them were named Roger Heck), who played Curly had a much nicer voice than I. After the show the director told me that during our duo, she slightly turned my microphone down so that his voice would be more prominent.
A lot of the karaoke establishments here are more than just bars; they might be accurately described as a karaoke restaurant. Tim had a dinner for her company employees last night at one such establishment. The place was an outdoor restaurant and bar with a number of private karaoke rooms. Our party was in a room that held about fifty or sixty patrons and sported a large screen TV hooked up to a karaoke system. The wait staff would bring the food and dishes into the main room. As we had the kids with us, we left early and they hadn't started singing yet.
Lest you think that I've not heard the sweet crooning of a number of would be Thai idols, let me assure you that I have. At my brother-in-law's birthday party, at least eight or nine people made their way up to the stage to demonstrate their talents. While some had decent voices, a few of them on par with American Idol contestant William Hung.
My most bizarre karaoke experience came the other morning day when I was out shopping. I stopped by an IT mall to try to find some paper and cartridge for my Kodak printer. At approximately 11:00 a.m., I was walking through the food court when I heard some really bad singing over the speak system. I looked over and saw a small stage in the corner of food court on which a middle age Thai man was singing karaoke while a couple of patrons looked on.
At first I laughed wondering why someone would sing karaoke in a nearly empty food court in the late morning. Then I thought about it, if I ever have the overwhelming compulsion to sing karaoke, I guess I’d rather do it in front of a few people who I might never see again.
Thailand has an abundance of go go bars where one can find a "date" for an hour, a night, or for the duration of an entire trip. There are numerous massage parlors where there is a lot more sex than massaging taking place. Even in some (although certainly not all) respectable massage shops, the girls are sometimes willing to lend a guy a hand to give the massage a happy ending.
Okay, that is hardly a surprise to anyone. Tourists come from around the world to visit Thailand and partake in the sex trade. Its not only foreigners who keep the sex trade prosperous in Thailand. There are bars and massage parlors that cater only to wealthy local Thais.
Despite the openess of the sex trade, prostitution as well as pornography are illegal in Thailand. Those engaged in the sex trade here are violating the law. As with so many things here in Thailand, that is only part of the picture. There is a huge amount of money involved in the sex industry, and those in a position to strictly enforce the laws financially prosper by its continuation. No go go club or massage parlor offering sex services would remain open without the patronage of a powerful Thai official.
While real life sex for money is tolerated by Thai authorities, sexual oriented pictures and movies are more strictly controlled. Thai officials will often digitize nude scenes in movies. They also filter pornographic web sites like Playboy and Penthouse from public consumption in Thailand. I'm not saying that you can't surf the net and find nude pictures here, but they do filter a lot of sites (or so I've read ;) ).
The whole thing is very Thai. Of course its a matter of face for the Thai government that prostitution is illegal here. Yet it is so lucrative that no-one has an incentive to shut it down. In some ways, you could say they are attempting to have their cake and eat it to. They can say its illegal, but continue to prosper from it.
As far as the pornography, I guess the movie studios and internet sites haven't made it worth local officials while to allow access to their sites. Or perhaps some have.
So if you come and visit here, don't be disappointed if you can't visit Penthouse.com. You'll have to settle for visiting one of the many clubs where you can have sex with a Penthouse model.
I'm amazed at how comfortable that Jacob is in speaking in front of people. He really knows how to use tone and to project his voice when he speaks. I really admire his confidence. We signed him up for an after school drama program so he can further develop this skill.
On Monday, Nalin's teacher Ms. Willis returns back from her three month maternity leave. Today there was a "farewell" party for Ms. Stacey, who ably filled in during Ms. Willis' absence.
I've read to Nalin's class a few times, chaperoned a field trip and see the kids most every day when I pick up Nalin. When I've read the past few times, I brought a puppet with me.
Dermit is an orange frog puppet whose cousin is a famous Muppet that I'm sure you've heard of before. Dermit is a bit cynical and frequently makes sarcastic and other "witty" comments while I talk to the kids. He has brought them cookies (which he claims have flies in them). In a lot of ways, Dermit is like the real me, while I am playing nice in front of the kids. Well, one difference is that Dermit has a much higher voice than I, so I just love talking in Dermit's voice for an extended period of time. In any case, the kids know Dermit pretty well, and are very fond of him.
So at 1:30 about 7 or 8 parents go into the classroom to surprise Ms. Stacey. Of course I've brought Dermit along, but I've got him in my backpack because I don't want to detract from Ms. Stacey's moment. When the kids see me, I hear someone say Dermit is here. In less than a minute, twenty-one first graders are chanting "Dermit, Dermit". I felt a bit bad because I really didn't want Dermit (or me) to be the center of attention. The other parents were a bit puzzled at what the kids were talking about.
The kids had to wait a bit for Dermit to actually make an appearance. Poor Dermit had to undergo the constant grabbing of six and seven year old hands, while I fended off the "can I have Dermit" pleas. The party was nice, and the kids really enjoyed eating the cake, cookies, chicken, and other treats brought in by the parents.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
On Sunday, Tim and I bought an aquarium and some fish for the kids. We stopped at some large outdoor market. The market is organized by products, and their was a fairly large section of fish and aquarium vendors.
We bought fresh water fish, as we have heard that they are easier to care for. Unfortunately, we have lost an average of a fish a day since we got them. May have to pull the rest and try to clean the tank.
Everybody Bang Sai
Yesterday Nalin's class took a field trip to Bang Sai and I was a chaperone. I ended up with 5 kids, 3 boys and 2 girls. I was the only one so fortunate to get more than four kids and two boys.
Overall the trip was okay. Bang Sai is an area with some crafts, and a really impoverished aquarium and aviary. The thing the kids liked the most was being able to spend the 100 baht they were allowed to bring in one of the many shops.
Service with a Smile
Today, Jacob and Nalin started their tennis lessons. They have an instructor for one hour per week, and the cost is only 700 baht per session. That's about $23 U.S.
The kids had an absolute blast. The instructor was recommended by one of Jacob's friend's mom, and he is very good. He makes learning fun for the kids. Nalin was asking if she could come back tomorrow. I wanted to have two lessons per week, but his schedule was too full. Some pictures are here.
Saturday, February 2, 2008
They had a buffet with Chinsese food, which was pretty decent. There was a lot of entertainment. They had four or five acts including traditional Thai dancers, acrobats in monkey suits (from the epic story Kohn story), as well as some male dancers dressed as females. These were not katoeys who were trying to pass themselves off as female, rather they were a comedic act and made very, very, very unattractive women. It was actually a pretty funny show.
I can't remember if I've mentioned before that Thai people love karaoke. There aren't as many karaoke bars as massage shops, but there are a lot of them. The reason that I mention it is that after the real entertainment, guests came on stage and sang karokee. Some were decent, others average, and some bad. Tim gathered the kids and had them go on stage and sing happy birthday. At that point, all the guests started filing out and the singing ended. Tim voiced my sentiment when she said that we should have sent the kids up earlier.
Overall we had a good time. It was a pretty big celebration for a 41st birthday, but I guess Top is the CEO of a pretty decent sized company. Its funny, I've known Top for almost twenty years now, since the Thomas More College days. In fact, although I didn't know him well, I probably saw him around campus before I met Tim (she started two years after him). He's always been a good guy, and I'm glad to have him as a brother-in-law.
I had noticed over the last few days that my download speed was very slow. I'd run the adsl test in Thailand, and my speed was usually just under 2 mbps, but when accessing some sites in the U.S., it was 10% of that. After doing a little digging, I found out that they are rerouting a lot of the traffic impacted by the severed cables through what it described as Thailand's already inadequate infrastructure.
The good news is that the cable is supposed to be repaired in a week.
Friday, February 1, 2008
Happy birthday Eric! Happy birthday Top.