Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Big, Big Number

Every wonder what number comes after a trillion? After my son kept making up names for numbers beyond a trillion (a concept he cannot possibly understand), I decided to look it up.

Here are the next few nomenclatures...

# 0's Name
6 million
9 billion
12 trillion
15 quadrillion
18 quintillion
21 sextillion
24 septillion

Macro

There is a Macro store on Chaeng Wattana (or Jang Wattana) road. I havent' been there until today when I finally stopped by. I was going to go to the IT mall after my dental appointment to pick up a new power supply for my laptop (I have to curl the cord to get it to work, don't ask me why it works, it just does), but the traffic was horrible. So on the way home, I decided to stop at Macro.

It was great. It was like being in a Macro's or Sam's in the U.S. I was very happy. I'm going to try to do my next grocery shopping there.

Earlier in the week, I went to the Lotus grocery store, which I also liked a lot. I generally go to Carrefour since its closest and easy to get to. I was a bit annoyed at my last visit, however. I picked up a couple of electric tooth brushes which were sitting above a price tag of 499 baht. I grabbed two (one for Jacob and one for myself), picked up a couple of other items and headed to check out.

I saw an empty cash only lane, and did a quick calculation in my head. I figured that I had about 1,400 to 1,500 baht worth of stuff in the cart and 1,620 baht in my wallet. I confidently unloaded my merchandise in the cash only lane. My smile vanished as the cashier rang up the merchandised and announced in Thai that I owed 1,720 baht. Neung pang jet loi yee sip baht. I didn't have enough. I had miscalculated. Could it be true? I had literally taken two semesters worth of calculus in a two week period before entering Boston College's Finance Phd program, and then went on to yet more complicated math, and yet I had failed to correctly add six or seven items in my grocery cart. Could it be so?

Initially accepting defeat, I asked the cashier to remove one item to put me below the 1,620 baht in my wallet. I could have run over to a nearby ATM, but would that be fair to the poor Thai soul waiting behind me in line (actually, I dont' mind making Thai people wait, spend a few months here and you'll feel the same :D). Then it occurred to me. Maybe I hadn't misadded. When I add the cost of things in the grocery cart, I tend to round. I generally dont' care if I come to a precise number, just close. I knew that what I had put in the cart shouldn't have come to 1,700. So I asked the cashier how much the electric toothbrushes cost. She said 650 baht each. I told her the sign said 499. She called over a roller skate wearing price checking collegue to verify my claim. He zoomed off. She totalled the rest of my items. I declined to pay until I knew the entire price.

Soon the young man on wheels returned, and the cashier smiled, saying that the price was 650 baht. It was as if time froze as she said 650 baht. Beyond her words I could almost hear her thoughts, "stupid falang, you have the wrong price, followed by her mocking laughter. I told her that I didn't want any of it.

What was I to do? I had lost face in front of a lowly cashier. A boy on roller skates had proven me wrong. Should I walk out dejected in defeat? Was my memory faulty? Were those lonely few gray hairs on my temple just one sign of my ever increasing age?

I decided that I would not go quietly off into the night, so I went over to the section where I had found the toothbrush. There, they were, lined up in all their glory. Beneath those electronic cleaners of plaque was a sign that read 499. I approached on of the four workers assigned to the aisle (okay they were probably assigned to a few aisle, but there are a hell of a lot of workers at a Thai grocery store who spend a lot of time standing around), pointed to the tooth brushes and asked in Thai, "how much". She looked at me for a second, that "um, can't you read the numbers" before saying 499 baht. Recognizing something might be amiss, she picked it up and took it over to a price scanner and it rang up at 650 baht. The woman and her collegues all said "oh" at the same time in recognition that the price was mislabelled.

I smiled as I walked out of the store. I felt vindicated that I my memory was not diminished. My basic math skills were still intact. In a strange sense, I felt like I had won. What I had won, I am not certain, but yet I felt like a winner.

Dentists, Fillings & Saving My Baht

As younger man, I was a little too vigorous in brushing my teeth. The result of this was that while I didn't have a cavity until well into my 20's, my gums are receded, making my teeth sensitive to cold. They are also really sensitive if I eat something really sour. I have used toothpaste for sensitive teeth for quite a while now, and it has really done a pretty good job.

So today I went to the dentist and had eight fillings put on my teeth. These fillings were not to fill in cavities, but rather to cover the exposed part of the teeth that is causing sensitivity. The whole procedure took about an hour. It didn't really hurt much, as they didn't have to drill. The dentist put something over the tooth.

The entire cost for the eight teeth was 5,600 baht (about $170). It sounds like quite a bit, but it was only $23 per tooth. My guess is that it would be a bit more expensive in the U.S.

This isn't the first dentist that I have visited in Thailand. A few weeks ago I went to the dentist in Nichada who cleaned my teeth and gave me a fluoride treatment. Interestingly, in Thailand, the dentist cleans your teeth. There is not a dental hygienist who does this job. The cost of this session was 2,700 baht. I was pretty surprised at how expensive it was. The dentist recommended that I have the eight fillings, and quited me the price of 9,600 baht for the entire job.

The dentist in Nichada charges an outrageous premium for his services. He was going to charge almost twice as much to give me my fillings as the dentist I visited today (about 8 minutes away). And the 2,700 baht I paid for my cleaning last week, Tim and all three kids had their teeth cleaned at the other dentist office for 2,700 baht. That's right, the cost of all four of their cleaning was the same as mine alone.

The Nichada dentist is certainly more convenient, as you can ride your bike there in two or three minutes. Despite its close proximity, however, I just can't justify paying so much more for our dental work.

Incidentally, when Tim was growing up, one of her uncle's was a dentist for the Army. He used to treat her and her brothers on weekends when he didn't have other patients. The good news is that he didn't charge them for the work, the bad news is that he generally eschewed using Novocaine or other pain numbing drugs on them.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Thailand on U.S. Priority Watch List

Thailand was one of nine countries on the U.S. priority watch lit for its failure to protect the intellectual property rights of U.S. companies. Countries such as China, Russia and India also made the list.

Thais are a bit upset at being included on the list. Part of the reason for the inclusion is the Thai government's compulsory license of pharmaceutical drugs. While Thailand's desire to ensure that modern medical treatments are available to its rather poor population, that is only part of the story.

Software and movie piracy is rampant in Thailand. A Bangkok Post article quoted a government offical as stating that "[o]ver the past year, 7,000 intellectual property violators faced legal action, and 6.7 million fake products were destroyed in a show (emphasis added) of Thailand's sincerity in tackling the problem.

The problem is that this "show" of sincerity is just that, a show. I know of at least 3 or 4 malls where I could buy pirated software and movies if I was so inclined. I'm not talking about some dark alley where I have to utter a password to gain admittance. I mean malls that have dozens of vendors of pirated wares. This doesn't even account for the place that sell tee shirts, watches and other goods that violate a countries intellectual property rights. And if I and any tourist who enters the country know where to find these places, then the Thai authorities certainly do. They exist with the implicit blessing of the Thai government.

Do I want the Thai government to eagerly crack down on these violators? Actually, I really don't care. Just don't cry about being included on a priority watch list. In Thailand, perhaps a "show" of cracking down will save face and allow everyone to pretend that everything is okay. While this "fig leaf" might suffice in Thailand, it won't in the U.S.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Raingutter Ragatta

Today was the Cub Scout Raingutter Ragatta (RR). The kids build a sail boat that they then race by blowing on the sail. There is a lot less construction than in the Pinewood Derby (PWD). Basically, you sand, paint, attach sail, keel and rudder.

I like the RR more than the PWD for a few reasons. As I mentioned, the construction effort is less for the RR. Additionally, the RR is more interactive for the scouts than the PWD. At the PWD do not race the cars themselves. The kids bring the cars, while the parent volunteers put them in on the track, run the race, record the times, etc. With the RR, the kids must actually provide the wind for their boats to sail. They are actually participating in the race rather than watching it as in the PWD.

They ran the RR as a double elimination challenge for each den. Jacob lost his first race, but managed to string together three or four wins in the row, and managed to finish in second place. Interstingly, Jacob finished second in both the PWD and the RR, and the first place winner in the RR also won the PWD.

Alchohol For Sale

I was in Carrefour (a grocery chain based out of France) picking up grocies on Friday morning. I put a bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label (okay, its not the best Scotch in the world, but its 12 years old, tastes pretty good, and is reasonably priced). When I went to check out, the clerk told me that he couldn't sell it to me.

Turns out that you can only buy alchohol here from 11:00 a.m. through 2:00 p.m. and from 5:00 p.m. until midnight. Selling it outside the proscribed period can result in a jail sentence of two years, or so a sign I read proclaimed.

I'm not sure of the exact reason for this law. Although I had no intention of actually drinking until later in the evening, I'm sure that Thais everywhere are much safer that I did not make my purchase.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Power Failure

This evening, some storms knocked out the power and water in Nichada. The kids and I were eating dinner and were suddenly bereft of the benefit of electricity. Power and water were out for about five hours.

The storms knocked down some trees which hit some power lines. The guard told Tim that someone was killed by falling trees, although I don't think it was actually in Nichada. The details on that are kind of sketchy.

ISB cancelled school tomorrow because of the power outage. I got the text message on my phone about five minutes before the electric came back on.

The kids are sleeping in our room tonight. Thankfully the storms cooled it down a bit, so they were able to sleep before the electricity came back on.

Martial Arts Pictures




Tuesday, April 22, 2008

All Rise

Thailand is one of only a handful of countries where lese majeste is still prosecuted. Lese majeste is the French expression meaning injury to the Majesty. It is essentially offenses against the king and royalty. Thailand’s lese majeste is codified in article 112 of its 2007 constitution which makes it a criminal offense punishable by three to fifteen years in prison for insulting, defaming or threatening the King, Queen, Heir to the Throne or royal regent.

Thai police have charged twenty-seven year old Chotisak Onsoong with lese majeste for an offense occurring in September of 2007. What insult, offense or threat did Mr. Chotisak give against the throne? He refused to stand at the playing of the King’s anthem at the start of a movie.

At the start of every movie here in Thailand, there is a musical and pictorial tribute to the King, at which time all patrons are expected to stand and pay their respects. When Mr. Chotisak refused to rise, one of his fellow patrons became incensed and demanded the movie theater owner take some action. Unsatisfied at the movie theater’s lack of action, this patriotic fellow called the police and demanded that Mr. Chotisak be prosecuted for lese majeste. Six months later, the police did just that.

It’s not certain if the case will be successful. Does failing to rise during the tribute really offer offense to the royal family? Mr. Chotisak has stated that he did not intend to give any offense, but rather thought that everyone had the right to decide for themselves whether to rise or not. Part of the case may hinge on a sixty-five year old degree requiring one to stand during the Royal anthem at public events.

The case is interesting for a few reasons. First, lese majeste is a pretty foreign concept to Americans. The ability to criticize our leadership is a cornerstone of American free speech and democracy (okay, we are really a republic, but let’s not split hairs for the moment). Can you imagine if it were against the law to offer insult to a U.S. President? Rush Limbaugh would be serving consecutive life sentences for his words during the Clinton administration, and Air America would have their own wing in some federal prison for their “thoughtful” critiques of the Bush administration.

As I have mentioned before, Thais love their king. It’s a kind of reverence which I honestly don’t understand. They are very upset by any perceived slight against the king.

To me, this case is a lot like the flag burning cases in the U.S. A lot of people, particularly those who have served in the military get very upset by someone burning the flag. Let me first state that I don’t support burning the flag (except for the proper disposition of the flag) and I think that those who do it are generally jack asses who are starved for attention and largely bereft of reason. They perhaps do not appreciate the irony that the flag they are burning is a symbol of what gives them the right to do the burning in the first place.

I do, however, support the flag burners’ right to burn a flag. The Supreme Court has found it protected speech, and I concur. To prevent someone from burning a flag as political speech would be a restriction of the rights that the flag symbolizes. It’s not necessarily a popular stand, but it seems pretty obvious to me. And before you start filling out my applications for the ACLU and the American Communist Party for me, just remember that Justice Scalia joined the Supreme Court’s decision protecting flag burning. Justice Scalia may be accused of many things, but one of them is not making up rights not in the constitution. I don’t think you’ll find a stricter constructionist than Justice Scalia. Of course, I have no problem with charging the jack asses for burning it in public if burning is against the law there.

Part of the reason for the case may be that it was Mr. Chotisak. He was a former student activist and was involved in an anti-coup group. Although I don’t know a lot about him, I’m speculating that his activism is the type that probably rubs a lot of people the wrong way. My guess is that there are probably people in power who are not sad to see him in trouble. At first I thought that perhaps he was instigating the case for publicity or to challenge the law. The Bangkok Post article makes it sound, however, like the other patron is the one who pushed the issue.

One issue with lese majeste is that it is pretty vague and can encompass a lot of behavior. It can make an excellent tool for discrediting one’s political enemies, as a charge of lese majeste could severely diminish one in the public’s eye. One of the charges against Thaksin by the 2006 coup makers was lese majeste. The King himself said in 2005 that he didn’t take lese majeste very seriously, but apparently some of his more ardent supporters have a different opinion.

When I go to the movies here I stand when they play the King’s anthem. I’m guessing that if, as a falang, you didn’t stand, that you would not face lese majeste charged. The Thais around you might politely indicate to you to stand, or more likely just think you are a stupid falang. In any case, if it takes six months to prosecute, you may well already be gone. I don’t think the U.S. would extradite you for that.

Do or Die, Again

So today is the Pennsylvania primary. Don't think for a minute that being on the other side of the world has diminished my interest in the American political process. I am a big fan of sites such as cnn, realclearpolitics, foxnews, and msnbc.

Pennsylvania is pretty much a do or die state for the once but not future presumptive Democratic nominee. Winning Pennsylvania is necessary but not sufficient for Senator to win the nomination. Even is she wins the remaining primaries by large margins, it is nearly impossible for her to overcome Senator Obama's delegate lead.

So if she wins Pennsylvania, what is next? She has to convince the Democrat super delegates that Senator Obama cannot be Senator McCain. If she cannot do that, then she cannot win. The super delegates will only break her way if they think an Obama candicy will result in another four years of a Republican in the White House.

The problem is that if she does manage to win over the super delegates, she will be seen as having overcome the "will of the people" as expressed in the primaries and caucuses where Senator Obama will have more delegates. The question becomes whether this would fracture the party to such an extent that she will lose support going into November.

In any case, I think its all moot. Senator Obama will stay close in Pennsylvania, and enough Democrats super delegates consider him a viable candidate who can defeat Senator McCain. After all there are polls which support this. Of course, after Senator Kerry won Iowa in 2004, a poll showed him ahead of President Bush in a head to head match up. The Democrats immediately embraced Kerry to their later chagrin.

Monday, April 21, 2008

More on Olympic Torches

Apparently the Olympic torch that was purportedly stolen from the runner after he passed the flame has been returned as was another missing torch. Officials say that the torch was never in fact stolen, instead that security had taken it from him to keep it safe. The former actor still believes that it had been stolen and later returned by the thief.

Tough call as to which way it really happened. The officials certainly don't want to lose face by having allowed someone to take off with the torch. The former actor would not want to endure an loss of face by admitting he was wrong about it being stolen, and that perhaps he even sat it down at some point.

Also in the article was a blurb about a worker finding a third torch on the ground outside a building. A dog was gnawing on the torch, which may have been an extra.

The Heat is On

We are now in the midst of Thai summer. It is pretty warm out. Yesterday it was over 101 degrees Fahrenheit in the city.

As a result of the heat, I find myself sweating what can only be described as profusely. When the kids are in school, I tend to stay in the comforts of my air conditioned room. Still, being in the heat doesn't bother me as much as I might have thought it would. I think having short hair and dressing in shorts helps.

Jacob holds up to the heat very well. I see him playing a game in the living room, and I ask him if he is hot and wants me to turn on the AC. "No, I'm fine" he says as the sweat pours off my brow.

Speaking of the kids, they started back to school today. I'm not sure that they were exactly looking forward to it, but I think they had an okay time.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Forbidden Pictures





Okay, the pictures aren't really forbidden, they were taken in one of the places that they were allowed at the teak palace (lower case emphasis added by me on purpose to show the level of my reverence). I decided to go ahead and post these pictures.


When Tim took a photo of the kids a guard came walking over to me waiving his hand and shaking his head. I really wanted to tell him to f'off and leave me alone unless my mere presence standing there was violating some rule or law. Incidentally, it was one of the few areas where there wasn't a sign forbidding it.

Teak Palace

Today we visited the teak palace. I've been there before, and remembered that it was very nice. What I didn't remember is that you cannot take pictures in or outside the palace itself. Apparently its a respect thing.

Frankly, it really pissed me off and put me in an extremely foul mood. While Tim and the kids visited the different buildings, I waited outside. When they ate lunch at the restaurant on the grounds, I sat and watched.

When I was going through security to the teak palace itself, the female guard saw the bulge in my pocket from the keys. Instead of asking me to empty my pocket, she reach over and grabbed "suspicious" bulge. I was going to ask her if needed a special ticket for that kind of service, but with Tim and the kids there, I refrained. I can't imagine someone doing that in the U.S.

I could understand not letting you take pictures, particularly flash pictures inside the palace. They wouldn't let you take them of the outside of the teak palace. They wouldn't even let you take a cell phone inside lest you sneak a picture. Of course, I saw one guy on the phone in front of the guards for about 30 minutes, and another woman taking pictures.

While I would recommend people to see it if they visit Thailand, they will do it without me around because I'll never go back. I think I am going to delete the few pictures I took in the areas that you were permitted.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Olympic Torch Through Bangkok

The Olympic Torch relay passed through Bangkok this week. While there were small groups of protesters, they did not disrupt the ceremony over the 10.5 km route. Apparently someone did snatch the torch away from one of the participants after he had completed his leg. This does not appear to be related to anti-China protests.

As far as China's human right abuses in Tibet, I'm certainly against them. In fact, I think Chinese human right abuses in China itself are deplorable. China is not like the colonial powers who allowed for broad freedoms for its own citizens while squeezing hard on those in its extended empire. China has a 'rich' history of repressing its own citizens first.

I do have a problem with boycotting the Olympics to send a message to China. Essentially, it is asking a small group of American athletes to pay the price so that you can send a message. Truthfully, its not particularly noble to be generous and giving with other people's effort and money. Just as voting for higher taxes on wealthy people (as defined by some as anyone making more money than you) doesn't make you a generous person, nor does calling for an Olympic boycott. What are you sacrificing, a few hours of television watching? These athletes put in an enormous amount of time and effort into being the best at their sport. For many, the Olympics are the pinacle of their sport. Given the competitive nature of sports, they may only have one chance. If they miss the 2008 Olympics, they may not have the chance to compete in 2012.

I'm not saying that people can't do anything, but rather don't ask someone else to do it for you. Boycott Chinese products if you think it will help. If enough people do it, perhaps you could make a difference, and it would be from your own effort. Just like you appreciate the money you earn more than that you were given, making a difference from your own efforts will be so much more satisfying. And, oh yeah, I don't consider standing on the corner and wringing your hands as effort.

I think that China will slowly change. China is attempting to implement capitialisic economic reforms, while keeping the genie of freedom on the bottle. Technology is already making this more difficult as more and more Chinese have exposure to outside. Can they open the door just wide enough for dollars to flow in, but not for dangerous ideas of free speech and democracy? I don't know, I think it will be hard.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Picture


A picture that I took from the cruise that I liked.


Bowling Pictures


Jacob, Aleena and I went bowling a few days ago. I took some pictures that are here.

Special Delivery

You've heard the saying about the immovable object meeting the irresistible force, right? Well that plays itself out quite frequently here in the streets of Bangkok when pregnant mothers race to the hospital to deliver their newborn babies.

While the baby often provides an irresistible force to enter the world, the traffic here often acts as an immovable object, preventing the mother from getting to the hospital on time. When they meet, it often means a mother giving birth in her car while stuck in traffic.

The Thai police have a traffic division whose sole purpose is to help motorists in need. This could include the pregnant mothers, or simply motorists with car troubles. One officer has assisted in the birth of fourteen babies so far. The total for the division is eighty-one.

A lot of pregnant people of means take matter out of fate's fickle hand and exert more control over the birth day and time. Scheduled c-sections are very popular here among middle and upper class women. There are really two reasons for that. The first is the aforementioned traffic. Delivering in the back seat with a police officer helping is not quite the same as a nice hospital room with a trained staff. Besides, you could really ruin the leather that way.

The other reason for the popularity of scheduled c-sections is because of baby names. Thai's are often a very superstitious lot. They believe that the first letter of your name should be influenced by the day of the week on which you are born. For example, they might believe that if you are born on Friday, that your name should start with a "r" or "k" but certainly not a "p", while on Monday "p" is the preferred letter (this is an example, I don't know the actual days to letters combinations). So if you've decided you really want to name your little darling Petunia, you would like her to be born on Monday if possible, and certainly not Friday. Scheduled c-sections make that a lot easier. Just pick out the name, find the right day, and you are ready to go.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Southern Invasion

They are illegally crossing the border to enter the country looking for work. They sometimes pay their life savings to a smuggler, who often expose them to severe and harsh conditions, just for the chance to take a job like maids, drivers and agricultural workers.

I'm not talking about Mexicans flooding across the southern U.S. border. No, I'm talking about immigrants from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia crossing the Thai borders in search of opportunity. Its kind of strange that while I see such poverty here, to people in some of these other countries, Thailand a land of opportunity.

There was a tragic story recently about fifty-four illegal Myanmar who died in their attempt to find a better life here in Thailand. These fifty-four immigrants were part of a group of one hundred and twenty-one people jammed into a cold storage truck. The container was seven feet wide, seven feet tall, and twenty feet long. The people were packed in the truck with no air conditioning in ninety plus degree heat. At some point the driver became aware of the problem and after opening the storage door, abandoned the truck. When the police arrived, they found the fifty-four victims already dead.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

ISO What?




Today we went out to see a few places and take a few pictures. We stopped at the Rama V statue which is right in front of the parliment building. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that I left my camera set to ISO 1600 instead of ISO 100. Essentially, the faster speed works better in lower light, but at the cost of a grainer picture. I'm not sure if the ISO setting is the problem, my skills or my lens, but I was pretty disappointed in the pictures. Here are a few.


Dinner Cruise

Last night we went on a two hour dinner cruise on the Jao Pia Ya river. We actually had a table at the front of the boat on the upper deck.

The view on the cruise was really nice. Our table was probably one of the best you could get .

There were a few draw backs. The food on the cruise was not particularly good. We were also close to the speakers, which Thais seem to have blare too loudly most of the time. We also had some people kind of crowd near our table to get a better view of the river. Tim said something to them after a while and they left.

The nicest part of the cruise was when they turned the boat around to head back. Most of the people had sat down at that point, and the music wasn't quite as loud.

Its something that I would recommend someone do when they come and visit Thailand. What I think will really be fun is to rent a boat and go see the river during the day. Hopefully we'll manage to do that in the next month or so.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Songklon Fun

A few months ago I picked up a book that purported to list one thousand places in the world that you should see before you die. I was pretty unimpressed with the book. One of the things the book left out about Thailand, but certainly should have included was celebrating Songklon in Thailand. The celebration was not only uniquely Thai, but was an enormous amount of fun.



As I blogged before, Songklon is the traditional Thai new years. Songklon is also celebrated in other parts of Asia, but Thai's celebrate it at a completely different level. What was traditionally a day where people splashed each other has turned into the world's largest water fight.



Tim made all the arrangements for our participation. She procured one of her company pickup trucks, a driver, and about 100 - 150 gallons of water split between an enormous blue bucket and 50 gallon barrel. To deliver our water payload, we had a number of squirt guns and small buckets.



Songklon is celebrated all over Thailand, and in a number of places in Bangkok. We decided against a few of the more popular places, as they can sometimes get kind of rowdy. In some places, they actually close down the streets for people to celebrate Songklon. While it might be fun dragging three kids through a throng of water wielding humanity, chances are better it would not be. Tim talked to a few of her employees who recommended that we go to Ang Sa, a place about 15 minutes from her work. There we could ride in a truck, dose and be dosed, and leave when the kids (or parents) were ready.


Before we made it to Ang Sa, I learned a few lessons about Songklon. One is that for females, wearing a white tee shirt may not be the best option. Oh, its certainly a great way to get attention for oneself, but the 20 something year old girl riding on the back of the motorcycle didn't seem to be out to flaunt her goods.

On our way to Ang Sa, we ran into some scattered celebraters along side the road. These people stand alongside the road with hoses, buckets and squirt guns and dose passers by. Some of their victims, like those on the motorcycle were fairy hapless and just had to "take it". Others, like us, were similarly armed and able to respond their splashing in kind.

When we got to the area of celebration, it was an 6 lane divided highway with sidewalks and shops on the side. In the right lane in each direction (the fast lane, remember we drive on the left side) traffic flowed more or less as normal. Revelers on foot lined the sidewalks and often the left hand lane. In the two left lanes, there were pickup trucks full of people, water and buckets crawled along at a walking pace. The sidewalk revelers soaked those in the trucks, who retaliated in kind against not only their stationary targets, but also against other mobile targets.

The most common delivery method for delivering the h2o payload was a small plastic bowl about two inches high and eight inches in diameter. While the bowls are a very effective method of delivering a fair bit of water in a short burst, it has a couple of limitations. First, it does not have the range of some of the other water weapons. Secondly, the bowls can empty your water supply pretty quickly. A fifty gallon drum is a lot of water, but if you are taking it out a quart or so at a time, it won't last forever. The driver's son was using a bucket most of the time, and he had almost emptied the fifty gallon barrel that we had before we had even put a dent in the larger water bin.

My favorite weapons were the squirt guns. They have a nice range for soaking one's foe a lane or two over and are pretty easy on the water supply. We had a couple that could project water a good thirty feet. Those were a lot of fun to hit people from range.

Another variation was the ammunition. Most people, including us, used tap water. The water was pretty warm, as it was in the 90's outside. Some people used well water, the cleanliness of which is sometimes suspect. A few times I smelled water that stank a bit. Some wonderful revelers actually used ice water. Getting squirted with a squirt gun filled with ice water was no big deal. Getting drenched with bucket after bucket of ice water got a bit old though. We learned which trucks had the cold water, and at least I tried to avoid engaging them. Of course Jacob and the driver's son were not so discriminating in who they attacked. Unfortunately, I, not them, usually ended up getting hit with the buckets of cold water.

We had only six in the back of our truck, which made us much less crowded than most. There were trucks with 15 people in the back of a small pickup truck. Some larger trucks were jammed with 20 or more people.

The celebration was not limited to drenching each other. Other revelers would walk around and put a white paste on people. It has its origins in monk's blessings. At first I declined to allow people to put it on me (not really so big on strangers walking up and touching me), but eventually I relented.

Others lined the streets and danced to the music. It really was a big party. I didn't see a lot of drinking, although I'm sure that some of it certainly goes on. I also didn't see anyone get angry the whole time. There were plent of opportunities for people to get mad when your throwing water in each other's faces, people were all very pleasant. There was one jerk off who kept saying that our water wasn't cool. I don't know if he was upset that he was splashed with warm water or he believed it showed some fundamental lack of holiday understanding. He got the official Brian Vogel jack ass award for Songklon. He really wasn't that bad, its just that everyone else was so much fun to be around.

The family had a really great time but there were a few bumps. Aleena got splashed in the face early on and started to cry. We outfitted her with a pair of goggles, and didn't suffer a repeat. They also each spent time in the cab of the truck warming up or just getting out of the splashing. At the end, when the water in the tub was about 2/3 empty, they actually sat in the tub. The water was warm as bath water, so they actually were warmer than in the air.

Of the ten's of thousands of people that we saw celebrating, I think I saw two or three other falangs. While I wasn't targeted with water because I was a foreigner, people did notice me and yell out to me. "Good afternoon", "bonjour", "hello" and "falang" were among the things shouted at me. It seems like they were genuinely surprised and happy to have a falang celebrating in their mix. Now in some places, there are a lot of foreigners celebrating Songklon among the Thais, but I was not in an area frequented by tourists.

We spent about 2 or 3 hours celebrating, and it was a great time. I'm already thinking about what we should do for next year. In addition to celebrating with the kids like we did this year, I'd also like to go to one of the bigger areas to celebrate.

If anyone is thinking of coming to Thailand, Songklon would be a great time. There are some things closed, so we'd have to plan things well, but the party is a lot of fun.

Songklon Pictures

Today we went out and celebrated Songklon on the back of a pickup truck with 150 gallons of water and some of our favorite methods of soaking others with it. Here are some pictures. I'll blog more about the experience soon.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Start of Songkron

Although Songkron doesn't officially start until Sunday, April 13th, people are already in the spirit of the holiday. What I'm saying is that the water has already started to fly.

Yesterday I picked up 5 large squirt guns at the market. When I walked outside today, I saw that the kids were making use of them. Nalin was manning a garden hose, while Jacob and Domi (Nalin's friend) had squirt guns. A few houses down, the mother and two daughters (11 and 4) were armed with a hose and squirt gun respectively.

I grabbed an unused squirt gun, and decided to make use of the high ground. I was approaching the other family, intending on inflicting "wet from above" when my traitorous son or daughter pointed at me and shouted a warning. In very short order, it became everyone against me. The battle soon made its way to the pool, and of course the kids and I jumped in, squiring each other, and generally having fun.

Soon the mother came up. The pool has a little wall that separates the shallow from the deeper end. The wall is probably 18 - 24 inches wide, and if you stand on it, the water will cover your ankles. The mother was standing on the little wall, when Nalin came up behind her and pushed her into the pool. The effectiveness of my attempts to scold Nalin was probably muted by the fact that I was laughing when I did it. The mother was laughing, and joined in the fun.

A few other kids came up to the pool while we were playing, and were met with a waterly attack. It was all in fun. At the end of the day, I think the only real "casualty" was my face, which suffered a slight sunburn. Lots of fun.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Songkran

Back in the states, we celebrate new years one time a year. Over here, they celebrate three times each year. In addition to the Western change of years on January 1st, the Thais also celebrate the Chinese new year, and of course, their own Thai new year.

The Thai new year is called Songkran and is celebrated from April 13th through April 15th and is called Songkran. It is a major holiday here. A lot of people are off work, and the kids are off school for the entire week. Its one of the few times of year when Bangkok is not crowded, as people return to visit their family for the holidays.

Water is a huge part of Songkran. Traditionally, people would pour a small amount of water on their elders hands or over their shoulders. Now, Songkran has evolved (or devolved depending on your perspective) into a festival of fun with the theme to get soaked and soak others. Thais and expats of all ages armed with squirt guns, water balloons, buckets and even garden hoses seek to dose those around them.

People line some streets with their water arsenal in order to drench passers bye. There are some avenues where pickup trucks filled with squirt gun toting Thais battle it out with those water warriors lining the sidewalk. In order to be competitive, some of these trucks will carry one or more 50 gallon barrels of water. You can buy water if you run out, be you certainly pay a dear price for it.

In addition to water, a powdered paste is now part of the tradition. People will walk up and rub a powdered paste on others. This is believed to be related to the use of the paste by monks in blessings. Its harmless, for the most part. You don't want to wear your nice clothes and have them stained by the powder (I don't know if it comes out easily). In some area of the city, however, the more rowdier bunch use the powder as a pretense to touch women inappropriately. Tim's employees told her of a place to avoid because the women who went there would end up with powdered hand prints all over the clothing covering their breasts and crotch where party goers got a little too feely.

As with anything, some people in the past have gone too far. The police have had to crack down on some behavior. The have tried to stop people from using dirty water or hoses with too high a pressure.

Tim is going to try to get us a truck so that we can partake in the celebration. She's trying to find a place that is a little tamer because of the kids. I really would like to get some pictures of the celebration, but I am definitely leaving my good camera at home. I might take my older one, or just forget it all together. It should be a lot of fun.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Chakri Day

April 6th is Chakri Day. Chakri Day the celebration of the founding the current Chakri dynasty. King Rama I took the throne on April 6, 1782. The current king, and currently the world's longest reigning monarch, is King Rama IX.

Interestingly, the Chakri dynasty took power at roughly the same time as the formation of the United States. The U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1789.

As April 6th is on a Sunday, the official holiday will be celebrated on Monday, April 7th. It is an official public holiday, with school, government offices and many businesses closed.

MORE CHOCOLATE!

Aleena wants more chocolate!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Passing of a Friend

Today I received an email that a friend passed away. Steve Leonard and I worked together at Computer Science Corporation (CSC) for a few years on a number of projects. I consider Steve much more than a co-worker, I also consider him a friend.

Steve was one of those guys that you either liked or you didn't. He was sometimes caustic in his approach, and sometimes his style got in the way of getting what he wanted.

Underneath that exterior was someone who truly cared not only about the work that he was doing, but also about the people that he worked with. What some people saw as abrasiveness was truly a passion to get things done. While many people tell you what you want to hear, Steve was never afraid to tell you how he saw things.

Although Steve and I were about the same age, he had been in the IT field much longer than I, and he was my technology mentor and and staff manager. Our styles and skills really complimented each others, and he pulled me on a number of projects with him.

One of the jobs of a staff manager is to advocate for their staffee during reviews. Steve was one of the few staff managers that I knew who was truly a passionate advocate for his staffees. Unlike some who didn't want to rock the boat, Steve was willing to put his own reputation and self on the line for those that he cared about.

I will miss Steve. I had heard from him a month or two ago, and we were going to try to get together when I come home his summer. The return home will be a little sadder.

No Teeth

The title to this blog entry refers not to what one would prefer when it comes to oral copulation, but rather the Thai policy on official pictures. Read on and I'll explain.

Today I went and got my Thailand driver's license. As some of you may have read, my last attempt failed because I needed a form from the U.S. Embassy saying that I was living here in Thailand. Armed with that document (which cost $30), a medical certificate and my Ohio driver's license, I set off again to obtain the legal right to driver here.

Tim's contact met us at the DMV (not sure what its really called) and helped us jump the queue. After filling out some paperwork, I waited in line with a group of Thais to take a battery of tests. The first test was to determine color blindness, as the tester pointed at the colors and I stated them out loud in English. I could have probably done it in Thai, as I remember green and red, but I frequently forget yellow. The second test was a peripheral vision test. Unlike in the U.S., where they would have wiped the area where you rested your chin between each participant, she wanted until everyone was finished before wiping it down. I guess that way you at least reduce the spread of any disease to about 10 or so people. O.O

The third test was a reflex test. The examinees sat in a chair in front of a little box on the floor with a gas and brake pedal, and about 15 feet away there was a box with a red and green light. You held your foot on the gas until the red light flashed. When the red light flashed you had to hit the break. A light meter on the box showed if you passed or failed.

The final test measured depth perception. You had to line up these two sticks so that they were parallel to each other. The sticks were about 15 feet away, and one was controlled by a two button remote control.

The instructions for all of these were in Thai. Fortunately, Tim managed to translate them for me. On the fourth test, she forgot to tell me that there was a 30 second time limit, so I was taking my time trying to line the two sticks up. Tim yelled at me that I only had 30 seconds.

I managed to pass all the tests. Our contact then helped us jump another queue to get the actual license. When the official went to take my picture, I did what I always did and smiled. He looked at me and said, "no teeth, you can't show your teeth". So, I managed to smile anyway without showing my teeth.

When it comes to taking ones own personal pictures, Thais are free with their smiles and even enjoy flashing the "V" sign with one or both hands. When it comes to official pictures, however, Thais are all business. Tim explained to me that you just are not supposed to smile for official pictures.

It left me wondering, am I the only person in the land of smiles (a nickname for Thailand) with a smile on my driver's license? Probably not, but who knows for certain.

My driver's license is good for one year, after which I can renew it for a five year period. The driver's license is a plastic card, similar to my Ohio one. The official told me that they had just installed the new system. The old one, as Tim showed me, is paper and laminated. The new ones are much nicer.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Pictures of Nalin & Class

Took my camera to Nalin's school today when I picked her up. It was "clone" or "twin" day where they were encouraged to dress up like the same as someone else.


Nalin and her friend Hanna.


Another shot of the two little mermaids.


Many of her classmates wanted to get in on the fun!

Nalin and her teacher, Ms. Willis.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Another Coup?

Thailand's PM Samark extraordinaire has once again made some people shake their heads. Last Friday he told reporters that there were military officers plotting a coup against the current government. As one might expect, the media reported this story. The next day the PM then lashed out at reporters for attempting to keep his government from accomplishing things by reporting about another possible coup. So he criticized them for reporting what he told them.

The spokesman of his own party (the PPP) criticized PM Samark for attacking the media. The PM is truly a blessing for political commentators and pundits. Another coup or the dissolution of the current government would be tragic in the sense that we would lose the inexplicable antics of the current PM.