Saturday, May 31, 2008

A "Friendly" Reminder

I had to be downtown on Friday at 10:50. I was pretty confident that I knew how to get there and get back, but I wasn't 100% sure. The night before I was asking Tim for directions to confirm the way, and she suggested that we use Top's driver. Top is visiting Germany for some other business venture that he is in, so he wasn't using the driver.

Tim called Tham and confirmed the driver was indeed available. The driver confirmed that he would be at the house by 10:00. That would give us plenty of time to get to my appointment on time.

Now those of you who have read my about my previous experiences with Thai drivers will probably not fall off your seats when you read that things hardly went smoothly. When 10:00 rolled around, the driver was not to be found. At 10:15, still no driver, so I had Tim confirm that he was still coming. He was almost there he professed to her. Finally, at 10:30, when I was about to just go on my own, he arrived. At this point, I am doing a fairly good job hiding my anger. I really don't like to be late for an appointment, and at this point there is no way that I'm going to make it on time.

So off we go on our trip downtown. We go on to the expressway via the back entrance of Nichada. The advantage to going out the back entrance is that you can get on the expressway in less than five minutes as opposed to fifteen to thirty minutes exiting out the front gate. The down side is that you have to join the club to use the back entrance. Fortunately, I joined in order to work out.

A few interesting features about the expressways here. First, they are built on large cement support structures, and are actually above the regular roads. Secondly, they are toll roads. The toll from here to the city is a little less than $2 each way. Thirdly, as I was soon to discover, Thailand's finest like to hang around the toll booths to engage in personal revenue enhancement.

As we exited the toll booth, one of the brown clad officers motioned for us to pull over to the side of the road. I just started laughing. Not only had the driver been thirty minutes late, but now we were pulled over. The officer and the driver talked for a few minutes, and the policeman let him go. The driver dropped the name of an officer with whom he was friends (and a higher rank than the officer who pulled us over), so he was released without a ticket.

Once again we were on our way. I was reading a bit when I saw that we exiting the expressway. My appointment was only a hundred yards from the exit, and it was only 10:52. For a moment I was elated, as I thought that I would only be a few minutes late. As I looked around, the buildings didn't look familiar. As luck would have it, the driver got off on the wrong exit. So we spent the next 45 minutes driving, and sometimes just sitting, through Bangkok city traffic.

When we finally arrived, I pointed to the building that I wanted to go and said there in Thai. Usually drivers will then stop and let you out in front of the building and go park. Apparently when I said "there", it sounded to him like I said "don't stop here and drop me off, instead keep moving and drive through four levels of the parking garage and then exit said garage." He certainly followed those directions. Finally, after we exited the garage, I opened my door while we were moving very slowly. The driver was at that point gracious enough to stop and let me out. I looked at the time and saw it was 11:45. By the time I got to where I was going, I was an hour late.

This was just a reminder of how frustrating it is to deal with Thai drivers. There are probably some very good ones out there, but the majority are not. I really don't miss having one in our employ. Sure, its nice to have someone park the car for you in some places, or to take a nap en route. The frustration of waiting just isn't worth it. Next time I need to go somewhere that I don't know how to get to, I'll probably try taking a cab. Or maybe I'll buy a GPS system. I've actually heard good things about some here.


Thursday, May 29, 2008

Light Box

Lighting is a big part of photography. I built myself a small light box for taking some photographs of smaller items. A light box is a controlled light environment. Mine is essentially a box cut out on three sides with thin white paper. On each side I have two five hundred watt lights. The paper difuses the light when it travels through it, eliminating a lot of shadows.

In any case, I started looking around the house for small things to photograph. One of the things that I think came out looking fairly decent are some shots of a camera lens and cap. I'm also posting one of a tennis ball, which I thought looked pretty sharp.

Enjoy, or don't.

Pictures from Jacob & Nalin's Drama Performance

Here are a few pictures from the drama performance today. The zoom on my lense didn't let me get any really good shots during the actual performance.
They both did really well. Jacob played the captain of the ship. His teacher described him as a natural and her star pupil.

Busy Day

Thursdays are generally my busiest day. Its a long day for Aleena, so she doesn't get home until 2:30 on Thursdays, but the kids have a lot going on. Immediately after school, Jacob and Nalin participate in a drama after school program (from 2:15 until 3:15). At 3:00, Aleena has ballet lessons. At 3:30, Jacob has a cub scout meeting (I'm his den leader), and at 5:00, Jacob has tennis practice.

With the help of the nanny, and the close proximity of all the events to each other, its not all that difficult to make sure everyone gets to the next event. The only challenge is getting the kids to stop lingering where they are so we can move on.

Today, Jacob and Nalin had a performance for the parents in the drama class, Aleena had a "recital" for the parents, and Jacob's cub scouts had a pool party. I went to Jacob and Nalin's play, while Tim went to the ballet recital. I caught the end of the ballet recital before taking Jacob to the party.

I had a bit of a scare when we got home from the recital. I couldn't find my flash for my camera. On the way to Aleena's recital, we swung by the school. The drama director had given it to another parent to return to me. Fortunately, I ran into her on the way in.

Aleena Pictures

Sunday, May 25, 2008


I've been reading up on photography lately. I found a few books that gave some good advice on how to take photographs. Up until now, I really used my SLR camera as more of a glorified point and shoot.

So I woke up early this morning and took a few pictures of the sunrise. I was standing on our bedroom balcony. I cleaned them (the pictures not the balconies) up a bit with Photoshop. They aren't great, but they are a lot better than I would have been able to do a few days ago.

Tomorrow I get to pick up my new camera lens. I ordered it through Amazon and had it mailed to my friend who has an APO at the Embassy.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


About a week and a half ago I did something to my left calf. I was on the treadmill and I then felt a sudden pain in my lower left leg. It hurt enough that I had to immediately stop the workout. Of course, I have the really bad habit of not stretching before I work out, and I guess it caught up to me.

It seemed to be getting better, but has bothered me recently. It doesn't hurt too much when I just walk, but steps are a real pain. Unfortunately, our place has a lot of stairs. Walk in the front door, and you walk upstairs to the kitchen and dining room. Want to watch TV in the family room? Another set of stairs are in your future. The girls bedrooms are another flight up, while Tim and my bedroom is up another still. To reach Jacob's bedroom, you guessed it, another set of stairs.

Normally the stairs are just an inconvenience, but with my calf hurting, it really stinks. If it doesn't feel better pretty soon, I'm going to have to go to the doctor.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Help Wanted

At breakfast this morning I was reading the Bangkok Post. On the last page of the classified ads, I saw something that caught my attention. There, among the adds for restaurants, massage parlors, escorts and fetish clubs was a large add for plastic surgery.

What made the ad stand out is that the first item was for a sex change. For only $1,625 you too can be a woman. Actually, the real cost is close to $2,000, as the exchange rate listed was 40 baht per dollar, and the real one is about 33 per dollar. That's right, for a little less than two grand you can get rid of the beans and franks that you are currently sporting and have your very own vagina. Or at least as close to a vagina that a man can make. What I don't know is if that includes a set new breasts. I imagine that it might not, as breast enlargements are also advertised for $1,250 (really about $1,500).

There are a lot of other services available. You can get a liposuction for about $750, while a facelift would set you back about a grand. One nice thing is that they charge Thais and foreigners the same price.

Web Censorship

The Thai government is currently investigating twenty something web sites for criticizing the monarchy (lese majeste). Included in these web sites was a pro-Thaksin website that has already been shut down. As you may remember, a conviction on lese majeste can result in a prison sentence of up to fifteen years.

A few thoughts about this. First, Thailand can only contain criticism within its border. It can shut down sites hosted here, and block access to those outside its borders. In this age, however, it cannot stop the criticism.

Lese majeste laws bother me for a few reasons. Personally, I don't have any criticism of the King. He is loved by Thai people, and by all accounts he has worked tirelessly to earn that love and respect. King Rama IX has been the one stabilizing figure in Thai government over the last sixty years. Without him, its very possible that Thailand could have fallen to the same fate of some of its neighbors who suffer under a military dictatorship. As flawed and fragile as its democracy may be, Thai citizens were able to vote in elections free from physical coercion (of course they may have been paid for their vote, but that's another matter for another discussion). The King and his family have devoted their lives to help the poor here in Thailand.

The problem that I have with the laws is that they have a chilling effect on speech. If an academic wanted to discuss the merits of different government structures for Thailand, would pointing out possible flaws in the current constitutional monarchy constitute an attack on the King? Would discussing a possible future government that did not include a monarchy constitute lese majeste if it talked about disadvantages to having a monarch?

Right now there is not a lot of opposition to the lese majeste laws because the King is so popular. The King is over eighty years old, and however benevolent and great, he will not live forever. It is quite possible that the next King may not be as universally popular as King Rama IX. In fact, its a near certainty. As the current King is really the glue that keeps this all together, Thais owe it to themselves to frankly and honestly discuss what happens next. Can they do that if any potential criticism of the crown prince (or whoever the successor ends up being) results in prosecution and prison?

Aside from keeping Thais from freely discussing their future government, lese majeste laws can be used as a political weapon. One of the charges against Thaksin was that he disrespected the monarchy. I'm not sure what he allegedly did to do that, or if its even true. But having the charges leveled against you can be damaging to ones reputation and career, not to mention one's personal liberty. And as what constitutes disrespect is not well defined, it is a potent weapon to wield against one's enemies.


Yesterday we went to Ayutthaya. Ayutthaya was the capital of Thailand from 1350 until 1767. In 1767 the Burmese invaded Ayutthaya. They destroyed the temples and even cut the heads off the Buddah statues. The ruins are a World Heritage site.

Some pictures are above. There are more here.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Aleena Playing in her room

Here is a video of Aleena playing in her room. Jacob and his wiggly tooth also make an appearance.

Friday, May 16, 2008

School Visits

Things are coming to a close soon at ISB. The kids last day is less than a month away (June 6th). On Wednesday, I went to Nalin's class where the class presented a little movie that they made and presented their portfolio's to us. To those not in the know, a portfolio is a collection of their work.

Nalin's portfolio really brought into focus how much she has improved in her writing. When I looked at the writing she did in Arpil as compared to August, its amazing how much she has improved. In terms of spelling, writing, and pennmanship, she has surpassed her brother. In regards to pennmanship, her hand writing is neater than mine. Not necessarily a tall feat, but true nonetheless.

Today I visited Jacob's class. They are studying Africa, and did a presentation to the parents. They wrapped themselves in cloth to mimic some traditional African and presented a story. Jacob played a drum, and was one of the three kids with a speaking part. He did a great job. I'm including some pictures of it.

Aleena's school year ends on June 4th. She is attending ISB next year, and is very excited to go to the big girl school with her siblings. Of course the bad thing is that her best friend McKayla is a few months too young to attend ISB.

We had a bit of a scare regarding her attending ISB. Tim had applied a few months ago, and received and email confirming her place. I got an email asking if she was interested in going because they hadn't heard from us and only had one spot left. After I reapplied, and a number of exchanged emails, it turns out that they were mistaken and her spot was already secured.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Birthday Party

Today was my niece Pam's sixth year birthday party. Here are some pictures.

Look of Concentration

Today Jacob and Nalin were presented with their yellow belts. Here are some pictures.

Thursday, May 8, 2008


I drove Tim to work today. She wrote out directions for the way home, but I messed up a turn at this circle. I ended up going the wrong way for a while before I got a hold of her. She was trying to give me directions as I read the signs, but she wasn't really sure where I ended up.

So I pulled over and had Tim talk to a cab driver. She instructed him to drive to our house, and I just followed him. The fair was $3, and I gave him a $3 tip. Believe me, it was money well spent.

Cell Phones in Cars

A new law went into effect today, prohibiting the use of cell phones in cars, except when used in conjunction with a hands free device. The first offense is a fine, while the second can also result in the suspension of our license. Authorities are confident that this will result in a significant reduction in traffic accidents.

I don't want to be critical of the the law. This is their country, and I'm just a guest here. Additionally, Thailand is certainly not alone in restricting the use of cell phones in cars. I do wonder, however, if there aren't other areas that might warrant attention first. I might think that they might first focus on things like cracking down on people driving the wrong way on motor cycles, weaving in and out of traffic on motorcycles, cars pulling out in front of people, and maybe just rethinking the back assward road system they have here. Of course, restricting cell phones is easier.

Bad Traffic

We were out driving on the expressway the other day, when I saw something funny. Funny in the sense that it wasn't happening to me.

Traffic was backed up on the expressway. Up forty or fifty feet ahead of us the highway split, and there was a police motorcycle parked in front of the median. The traffic going to the right was at a standstill, and the cop was writing a ticket (or more likely receiving a cash payment if you know what I mean) to the driver of the car stuck in traffic next to him.

Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The guy just got stuck in front of the policeman, so he got "pulled over".

Cyclone Aid

As the details of the havoc and death left in the wake of the cyclone that recently hit Myanmar (Burma), people and countries around the world are looking to help. There have been pledges of money, supplies, and even personnel trained to handle these type of catastrophes.

One of the big obstacles is the Myanmar government. There are emergency personnel waiting to enter with supplies who are waiting to get visas approved. So far the government has not been inclined to waive or expedite visas in order to help its own people. While there are apparently some supplies already in country, those will quickly be exhausted leaving the victims of the storm in more peril.

France has actually floated the idea of a U.N. resolution to allow aid workers to enter Myanmar without visas. They would invoke a "responsibility to protect" clause of the U.N. charter. Presumably, if such measures were taken, the Myanmar government would not forcibly resist such aid. Hopefully it doesn't come to that, and that the Myanmar government doesn't have complete disregard for all of its people. Their past behavior gives one pause, however.

Interestingly, the government had previously scheduled a referendum on a proposed constitution on May 10th. This proposed constitution was written by the military junta, and will do little to reduce its power or provide more freedom to the people of Myanmar. The government has decided to proceed with the vote, except in the areas hit hard by the cyclone. Its really sad to see that it is going to devote at least part of its attention to this sham referendum when so many of its people are suffering.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Driving in Thailand

I'm really glad that I started driving. Although its sometimes nice having a driver when it comes to parking, I really prefer the freedom go somewhere when I need to without waiting for someone to show up. Sometimes I would be waiting at the house while the driver was "stuck in traffic" or whatever excuse he had.

Driving here presents some challenges over driving in U.S. Here you drive on the left instead of the right side of the road. Well, most of the traffic drives on the left side of the road. You'll see motorcycles sometimes driving the wrong way in order to avoid a long u-turn.

The prevalence of u-turns is a bit different. Most roads of consequence here have built in u-turns. I think that's in large part because larger roads are divided highways. If you want to go to a place on the other side of the road, you don't turn against traffic to get there, you drive to a u-turn, turn around, and drive back to your destination. It can make for longer trips. That store you want might be right across the street, but if the u-turn is a mile away, you are going to drive two miles to get there.

Road signs can often present a challenge. Most of them have both English and Thai, but certainly not all of them. Even when you have the English letters, the way things are spelled might not correspond to how you think they are pronounced. For example, a major road near here is named Chaeng Wattana. Its actually pronounced more like Jang Wattana. In fact its spelled differently on different road signs. I've seen the following derivations:

- Chaeng Wattana
- Chaeng Watthana
- Chaing Wattana
- Jang Wattana

Driver's here are fairly aggressive. They have no compunction against pulling out in front of you, and once one does, others will often follow in their tail. Hey, you are already slowed down, right? Before you pull out in front of someone though, remember this, if they flash their lights, it means that they are NOT going to slow down. Yeah, if you think that nice person is flashing you to go ahead and enter, you might get an unpleasant surprise.

On smaller streets, you'll often have people parked on the side with their car, motorcycle or vending cart. On a two lane road, this will often mean that you need to stop in order to allow other traffic to pass. The same thing is when you encounter bicycles or even pedestrians. Hey, its not like there is room on the sidewalk for pedestrians.

Another challenge is just the sheer size of Bangkok. It has a population larger than Chicago, and is layed out in a less than intuitive manner. It takes a while to learn your way around. Tim often calls Top or Tham to get directions, usually on the fly.

So while driving in Bangkok is not nearly as pleasant as driving in Cincinnati, I'm glad I'm doing it.


Its intersting to see Aleena starting to come into her own. Over the last month, and even few weeks, it seems like her language skills and play skills are really developing. Her sentences are a lot more complete and thoughtful.

At dinner, I usually have the kids take turns talking about their day. We don't always do it, and its often side tracked by something, but its a nice chance for them to get to share what happened with the rest of the family. Until recently, Aleena wasn't an active participant. I might ask her some questions, but she really didn't say much on her own. Now, however, she is participating, and its kind of amusing. I'll start with her and she'll start talking about her day. After a lull in the conversation, I'll ask Jacob or Nalin to share. Aleena will get indignant and inform me that she is not done. She gets angry when we try to proceed before she is finished. After a few times of this, I finally came up with a plan that seems to work. Aleena will speak for a while, and then I'll tell her that its one of the other children's turns, but that we can come back to her after everyone has had a turn. This satisfies her, although she never has really asked to come back to her.

One word that Aleena seems to have trouble with is the word "white". She pronounces it "wipe". Its actually amusing to hear her talk about Snow Wipe.

Aleena loves to play with her and Nalin's barbies. Sometimes she will play with me, sometimes the nanny, and other times she'll want to play by herself. When she plays, she can be quite bossy. She has certain dolls that she wants you to use and strong opinions about what their actions should be. It is funny to hear her have the dolls talk to each other, having the "mommy" call the children "sweetie". There is usually a mom, a big sister, a little sister, and sometimes a dad.

Aleena's greatest joy, though is her big sister Nalin. She adores her, wanting to do everything that her big sister does. Nalin is actually a pretty good big sister who looks out for Aleena, but her little sister's attention is not always appreciated.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Cyclone Update

I just wanted to blog a bit about the cyclone that hit Myanmar this past weekend. I've received a few emails checking on how we are doing, and I appreciate it.

As you've undoubtedly heard, a cyclone struck Myanmar this past weekend. I've read estimates putting the dead at 15,000 or 22,000 people. The exact number is not known, and will likely continue to grow. The electricity in the capital city of 6.5 million has been off for four days, and flooding and storms continue to ravage the area hit by the cyclone. Some predict that the aftermath may kill more than the storm itself.

Some of the media coverage has led to some confusion. Myanmar is not part of Thailand. I read one article on the internet where the person clearly thought that Myanmar was a city in Thailand. It is not. Myanmar is a neighbor to Thailand's west, and they share quite a long border. While the cyclone apparently hit Thailand too, it did not have near the devastation here. I'm not sure if there have been any casualties in Thailand from the storm.

There are probably a few reasons for the confusion. Myanmar was formerly named Burma. The military junta changed the name in 1989, although the opposition in Burma continue to call it Burma. While that was nearly 20 years ago, I think a lot of people may not have heard of the country named Myanmar. I didn't realize it until my trip here.

Another reason is that most of the reporting seems to be out of Thailand. The dateline on articles is often Bangkok, Thailand, and sources in Thailand are often quoted in the articles. Due to the suppression of the free press by the military junta, I doubt there were a lot of Western journalist stationed out of Myanmar. The closest place where you could probably find knowledgable people is here in Thailand.

It will be interesting to see what aid the military junta accepts from the United States. The leaders of Myanmar have accused the U.S. of wanting to overthrow their unelected government. Most believe that they will refuse the U.S.'s offer of the assistance of naval resources to help in the rescue and recovery efforts.

Thailand will probably play a pretty significant role in the relief efforts. Despite the fact that Thailand is a democracy (a deeply flawed one, but compared with its neighbors, an absolute brilliant beacon of freedom) and Myanmar an oppressive military dictatorship, the two countries have a cordial relationship. They are neighbors and important trading partners to each other. And lest we forget, its not like Thailand is a stranger to military dictatorships itself.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Breaking Bricks

Jacob and Nalin had their yellow belt tests for Tae Kwon Do on Friday. They both passed and will get their new belts next week.

Part of the challenge was to break a brick with their bare hands. They were like the traditional brick, but only about 1/2 or 1/3 as thick. When Jacob broke his, the instructor put his break on top of two others. Jacob broke it with one try. With Nalin, he helped her by having one end on another brick and the other on the ground. It took her several tries, but she finally broke her brick.

Jacob Pictures

Here are a couple of pictures of Jacob from his last cub scout meeting. Jason Richardson came and did a rope bridge with the kids. They really enjoyed it.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Not Really That Miserable

I know that its very chic right now to be miserable. The news is full of stories about how bad the economy is performing. You've heard it uttered, and maybe even said it, "the worst economy since the great depression." Amazingly, during the last presidential cycle, I seem to remember the same worst economy claims.

While fuel and food prices are certainly up, I think an objective look at the numbers will give people some perspective of how the economy is performing.

One such measure is the misery index. This index consists of the sum of the interest rate and the unemployment rate. The higher the number, the more miserable. A high number means a lot of people out of work and a high cost to borrow money.

The misery index for 2007 was 7.46. This was achieved by low interest rates and pretty low unemployment rates. Well how does 7.46 stack up historically. The actual number for each year is listed here. As a summary, the lowest misery index since 1948 was 3.47. The highest was 20.76. The average for the sixty years was 9.42. One third of the years had a better misery index than 2007, while a full 2/3 had a worse misery index.

The consumer price index is another indicator. Last year's 2.8 percent increase is below the historic 3.8 average since 1948.

There is no doubt that government spending is out of control. Unfortunately, I'm not optimistic that this will satisfactorily addressed by any of the candidates for the Presidency. Indeed, as all bills of spending originate in the House of Representatives, even willing President might be hard pressed to exercised real fiscal restraint.

So what does this all mean? Relax a bit, I say. Yes, gas and food are a bit more expensive at the moment. Will the stay that way? Maybe, maybe not. But one component of economic performance is consumer confidence. If people become overly worried to the point where they are afraid to spend money, then what they fear will come to fruition. People stop buying things, so companies stop making them. And when they stop making things, manufacturers, retailers and others have to lay people off. These unemployed individuals now have less money to spend.

A gloomy economic outlook can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Cheer up.

Forbidden Kingdom

Tim and I took Jacob and Aleena to see the movie Forbidden Kingdom tonight. Nalin was spending the night at a friend's house.

We all liked the movie. I was a little concerned that it might be a bit too much, especially for Aleena, but she did really well. She said it was only a "little" scary.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


I was pretty stoked when I read an article in this mornings Bangkok post about Chinese students protesting the French grocery chain Carrefour. If you are a regular reader, you are probably aware of my dismay over mispriced items at said retailer. For a few seconds I thought that the entire Chinese nation had rallied to my cause; that they, like me, were outraged about the inability to correctly match products and price tags on a shelf.

My elation soon turned to disappointment, as I read on to discover that these Chinese students were protesting Carrefour to demonstrate anti-French sentiment over France's criticisms of China's treatment of Tibet. Now, I'm not one to dismiss criticisms of the French out of hand, I mean it is good sport. One of my favorite lines in all of comics was in Marvel's Ultimates series, when the villain tells Captain America to surrender, to wit the good Captain responds "[d]o you think the A on my forehead stands for France?" Okay, the French aren't really that bad, but its still fun.

The Chinese protesters were chanting slogans against Tibetan independence. They didn't quote the protesters, so I can only imagine some of the slogans.

"You can have my lama when you pry it from my cold dead hand."

"Chinese don't kill Tibetans. Chinese soldiers with guns and tanks kill Tibetans."

"Two, four, six, eight, don't let Tibet separate."

"George Bush stole the election from Al Gore!" (sorry, couldn't resist that one, its a favorite protest line of so many)

"Kill defenseless monks? Haven't you ever seen a martial arts movie? Those guys are dangerous."

"Free the hamsters first!" (a shot at Dalia Lama supporter Richard Gere who was the subject of scurrilous rumors about hamsters and his butt)

Labor Day

Like much of the world, today Thailand celebrated labor day. Most Thais are off of work today. Tim did not go in the office, although she did some work from home.

Aleena was off of school today. The non-teaching staff at ISB was off today, but Nalin and Jacob had classes.

I'm glad the U.S. celelbrates Labor Day in September instead of on May 1st. When I think of May first, I think of May Day as celebrated by the communist regimes. The old Soviet Union celebrated May Day with the parading of tanks, missiles and other manifestations of its military prowess through the streets of Moscow.

Those communist regimes certainly looked out for the workers. In addition to killing over 60 million between them, Soviet Stalin and Chinese Chairman Mao impoverished most of their people. And let's not forget about the worker's paradise that is North Korea, where its people sometimes resort to "feasting" on delicacies such as tree bark.