Friday, June 27, 2008

Back in the U.S.

Well, the kids and I arrived back in the U.S. yesterday. While I'm certainly glad to be back for a month, the trip home was certainly not short or hassle free.

We booked our return trip home on United Airlines. We would fly from Bangkok to Tokyo, layover ninety minutes there, then take an eleven hour and thirty-nine minute flight to Chicago. We had scheduled a five hour layover in Chicago before proceeding to Cincinnati. The reason for the long layover was that although there was a flight for Cincinnati an hour and a half after we landed in Chicago, Tim and I were concerned that we might miss it. Not only did we have to clear customs and immigration, but we had to switch terminals, which would require going through security again.

We arrived at the airport in Bangkok at 4:50 a.m. for our 6:50 a.m. flight. While we arrived plenty early, we were the last people who made it on our flight. In addition to a long line for immigration, I decided to get the kids a sandwich before we left. There are a lot of nice shops and restaurants at the airport, but the are all before you clear security. So instead of getting a sandwich and drink and eating it at the gate while we waited, we ate at the sandwich shop on the other side of security. I lost track of time a bit. When we went through security (which had virtually no line), we were greeted by an United employee who escorted us to the plane.

The trip from Bangkok to Tokyo and Tokyo to Chicago were pretty uneventful. It was a long and boring trip for certain. While United does have a screen in every seat, they don't have the on demand entertainment system that a lot of other airlines have installed. The would loop the same nine programs over and over. The kids did enjoy Horton Hears a Who, but there really wasn't a lot there.

The kids were really spectacular during the trip. Aleena slept a fair bit, and Jacob and Nalin somewhat less so. They really made a great effort in not fighting with each other. Shortly before we arrived in Chicago the flight attendant complimented the children on their behavior. Then she started babbling about children's behavior, and the jist of what she was saying was that Japanese children were so much better behaved than Chinese children.

During the entire trip I told myself that once we got to Chicago that things would be all down hill. We'd be back in the U.S., get a nice meal, relax a bit, and then have a short flight to Cincinnati. I wouldn't have to worry about the language barrier once I got there, or at least it wouldn't be my fault.

Well, I was correct in that things went down hill in Chicago. Things actually started pretty well. We cleared immigration very quickly. There was a big queue for the U.S. citizen section as we arrived at immigration. As we walked up to the queue entrance, the guard motioned for us to keep walking to another queue a little further up the hall. The line there was probably an eighth the size of the first line, so we cleared in less than ten minutes. While we had to have our luggage scanned at customs, it was all pretty painless.

We then got on a train that took us to the domestic terminal. This requires you to clear security again. It wasn't a huge deal since we had intentionally left ourselves plenty of time to make it. Of course, the entire reason we left the extra time was in part because of this wonderful airport "feature".

After we cleared security (for the third time that day), we found an airport that was pretty crowded. Our flight wasn't on the board yet, but there was an earlier flight to Cincinnati leaving out of section C. We were in section B, and made the ten minute walk over to section C. After we were there for a while, I finally asked someone about our gate. If you guess it was back in section B, you are correct. We made the walk back over to section B.

I really wanted to sit down at a restaurant, but the only one in the terminal, Chili's, had a wait. By this point the fatigue had really caught up with my mentally. I was getting grouchy with the kids, and getting on them for really small things. We finally ate some sandwiches at a deli. The food wasn't bad, but was kind of expensive.

After eating we headed to find a seat at our gate. It was full, so we sat in at the gate next to it. After a while, I sent Jacob up to check to make sure that we were indeed at the right gate. I watched as he walked up to the gate attendant and asked her my question, and as they walked together towards the gate at which we were sitting. I walked up to her, and she told me that there was a gate change. If at this point you are jumping up and down yelling "oh, I bet they have to go to section C again", then pat yourself on the back, because that indeed is what has happened.

So again, we made our way over to section C. I don't want to make it sound like we had to walk miles and miles to go back and forth between B and C. Still, it was challenging. I had slept only an hour or so over the past 24 hours, and was responsible for three small and tired children. Since the kids are so young, we had to do almost everything together. If one had to go to the rest room, for example, we all had to go over there. I couldn't leave the kids to sit by the gate while I went to get a coffee or a bottle of water. The circumstances just made everything more difficult, and made walking from B to C frustrating.

When we got to the designated gate, I went up to the agent to verify that I was in the right place. He looked up the flight and told me that the flight had been cancelled, and directed me to the customer service counter a few hundred meters away.

We made our way to the customer service counter to find a line of people already there. It seems as if we might not have been the only flight cancelled that day and United thought that two clerks and a thirty plus minute wait was adequate customer service.

Standing in line behind us were some teachers from a Cincinnati high school who were returning with nine students from a trip to Europe. They were not really excited about the possibility of spending yet another night with the kids and a couple of bossy parents. I think it was some type of religious school, but I'm not sure. They were really nice and were chatting with Jacob. While I wasn't rude, I wasn't particularly friendly because I was so frustrated and tired. The teachers talked about trying to get a flight to Dayton if the last flight to Cincinnati was full that night.

When I got to the counter, the customer service representative informed me that they had rebooked me on the 6:45 flight the next morning. I took a deep breath and told her that I had been traveling for the last 26 hours and had three kids with me, one of whom was sick. She smiled that "sorry about your luck" smile and said there was nothing that she could do. I asked her about the Dayton flight, and to my relief there were open seats. We couldn't all sit together, but Aleena and I could sit together and Jacob and Nalin were in the row in front of us. I was so relieved to get seats on the Dayton flight. We wouldn't get into Dayton until midnight, but I really didn't want to sleep in the airport or try to get a hotel room. I overheard someone later complaining that United was only giving out discounts for the hotel, and not giving free rooms. I had briefly considered trying to drive if the only other option was waiting until the next morning, but I was so exhausted and my driver's license had expired, so I didn't know if I would even be able to rent a car.

After getting booked on the flight, I had to get a hold of my parents to let them know the change of plans. I didn't have a cell phone, so I had to use the airport pay phones. My first attemts to call my parents and my brother were unsuccessful. Finally, I was able to get in touch with my friend Dave by calling collect. Dave was able to get in touch with my parents.

The flight to Dayton was pretty uneventful. The plane was a small jet with thirteen or so rows with two seats on each side of the aisle. Aleena and I sat in the last row, and Jacob and Nalin were each in a window seat in the row in front of us. The aisle seats next to them were each occupied by very large men. They each probably took up a third of the kids seats. Fortunately the kids are small and it didn't matter much.

Mom and dad met us at the Dayton airport. As a final twist, while there had not been room for us on any flights to Cincinnati, there was room for our luggage. While we made our way home that night, our luggage didn't make it back until the next day. Fortunately it was delivered earlier the next afternoon.

It was a long trip, and I was happy to be back.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Safari World

Tim and I took the kids to Safari World today. We gave the new gps system a go, and it performed pretty well. Tim had called Tham to get some directions before we left. The Garmin didn't take us exactly the same way, but we made it in decent time.

Tim drove the van and the kids I took pictures in the Safari Park attraction. The Safari Park is a drive through "zoo" featuring zebras, birds, lions, tigers, bears (oh my), giraffes, deer, and other assorted creatures. While signs everywhere admonish you to stay in the car at all times, you can keep the windows down for most of the drive, except when you enter the lion and tiger area. The signs in those sections say to honk your horn if you break down. There were "park rangers" in small black and white striped pickup trucks throughout the lion and tiger areas. I couldn't help but think that they were mocking the animals. They made the car look like a zebra! You know the pride always has a good laugh at the new lion when he tries to chase down the "giant" zebra.

My pictures there came out decent. The problem was that I don't have a quality telephoto zoom lense. I was using a Canon 24-105 f/4L IS lens. It is a very nice lens, but doesn't have a lot of range for wildlife photography. Even in this environment where we could get close the lens just lacked the reach.

After Safari Park, we went into the more traditional part of the park. The highlight was feeding the giraffe's. Patrons are on an elevated platform that places them at the same height as most of the giraffes. The park sells bunches of bananas for forty baht. The giraffes have long purplish grey tongues and some seriously stained teeth. I don't think they floss well. A park employee told Tim that each giraffe eats two hundred pounds of bananas and leaves every day. That sounds like a lot.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


Here are a couple of pictures from our bowling excursion on Friday. With the help of the nanny, I braved the hallowed lanes of Major Bowl with five people under the age of ten. Just to dispel any notion that Tim and I might have had twins while here, the final two were Domi (Nalin's friend) and Talanka (Jacob's friend).

Taking to the Streets

The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) is demonstrating in the streets against the current Thai government. The PAD were a big anti-Thaksin faction before the September 2006 coup.

PAD held rallies and blocked some streets over the past few weeks. Yesterday, they crossed a police baricade, but fortunately, there was no violence. So far the military hasn't taken any sides.

The political instability has definitely affected the Thai stock market. It was down on the news of the big rally, but shot up the next day when there was no violence.

Will there be another coup? I'm not sure, but I hope not. The current government probably isn't the best money can buy (or maybe they are ;) ), but the instability of another coup is probably bad for Thais.


Today, I went to Fortune IT Mall and bought a new toy. I bought a GPS system. One of the challenges that I have when driving is that I really don't know my way around Bangkok. Its a big city, and I can't always just stop and get directions. And that lovely web site that I loved back in the good ol' USA, mapquest, well, there is no Thai mapquest.

I bought a Garmin nuvi 200 compact navigation device. It cost 12,000 baht loaded with the Thai map software. I haven't had the chance to use it much, and frankly, I probably won't until I get back.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Birthday Party

Nalin's friend Praiwa celebrated her 7th birthday on Friday. I took my camera to capture a few of the moments. The pictures are here.

Lost in Translation

Today I went to Tim's office in the Bangkok Bus Terminal to help out with some IT issues. Just outside her office, there is a massage shop. Tim was still working after I was finished, so I decided to get a foot massage.

The foot massage was very good ($6 for an hour, plus I tipped $6), but what I remember most was the sign. If you look at the last line of the sign, you'll se the advertisement for a "FOOD MASSAGE". I guess that's for when you really want that beef tender.

Kung Fu Panda

Last night Tim and I took the kids (and the nanny) to see Kung Fu Panda, the new Dreamworks animation. This was really a great movie.

You've probably already seen the previews, but the chubby and unathletic panda Poh works in his father's noodle shop, but dreams of becoming a kung fu warrior. When a powerful but evil kung fu practicioner breaks free from his prison, Poh finds himself selected as the dragon warrior.

This is a comedy for grown ups and kids alike. Both Jacob and the nanny laughed pretty much non-stop. Good humor in an animation film like Kung Fu Panda needs to have layers; things are funny on their face for the younger part of the audience, but there is deeper layer that adults will usually pick up on.

This is definitely a movie to see.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Out of Luck?

One of the really frustrating things about Thailand, is that retailers are so often out of things. I understand that the local grocery store might run out of certain American brands. If someone buys the last box of Fruit Loops, I realize it might take some time to get the next shipments.

But some of the shortages are really a result of poor management. When the restaurant that sits twenty feet from a grocery store is out of french fries three times in a two week period, the problem is not international supply lines. Its simply poor planning on the restaurant's part. Those times I wanted to yell, "go next door and buy a bag!", but of course if I raised my voice, I, not the unmotivated and incompetent employee would have lost face.

Today I once again ran into the classic lack of supply. One of Nalin's friends turns 7 tomorrow. I couldn't think of a good gift, and Tim suggested that I get movie tickets. "Excellent idea", I thought. So this afternoon, I went to the local movie theater to buy some tickets. The clerk at the counter didn't understand my request, so she solicited the help of a young man whose command of English was superior to my grasp of Thai. He understood what I wanted, and told me that they were out of those type of tickets. He informed me that I could put in an order, and pick up the tickets sometime next week. Since the birthday party is tomorrow, I had to demur and visit another establishment to acquire a present.

Seriously, how much does it cost to have a stock of gift tickets. I was going to spend about $20 (I was actually going to buy gifts for a couple of people). How can you not have those gift certificates on sites? I can't imagine it in the U.S, but here, its no worries. (mai been rai kab).

Monday, June 9, 2008

Food Court

This evening we had dinner at one of the nicest food courts that I've been to in a long time. Where, might you ask, was this most excellent food court? You might guess it was in an upscale mall like Paragon or Central World. No, this was located in a hospital.

There was nothing to worry about, everyone is fine. We took the girls to the doctor for their allergies an exceema. The doctor's office is actually in the building adjacent to the hospital.

Unlike a lot of food courts where you buy tickets to purchase your food, you receive a card when you enter the food court. When you order food, the merchant adds the item to your cards total. You then pay when you leave.

This food court had Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Cajun, Middle Eastern and American food. I tasted some Thai food that Tim had ordered to my mixed satisfaction. While I was not particularly enamoured with pig intestines and pig liver, I did find the roasted duck curry to be very good. Of course, the fact that the intestines were very chewy didn't help. Tim told me that they were not prepared very well.

I've actually started to like more curries the longer that I've been here. Some of them have some really nice flavors.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Dull

Last night the family went to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. As you probably surmise from the title of this entry, I found this movie to be a bit of a bore. I found myself so bored at one point, that I violated every sacred movie goer tenant by powering up my cell phone to find out the time.

Sometimes I think that Lucas was more worried about making sure that he set the plot in the 1950's than he was in telling a compelling story. The action was pretty lame. I know Harrison Ford is older and perhaps not as capable and daring as he was 20 plus so years ago. I guess going into it I assumed that the magic of editing and special effects wouldn't make it look like he was moving at one third speed. Unfortunately, they failed on that account.

Indy's new sidekick was a character I saw too much of after about thirty seconds. Really lame biker type character, right. Honestly, they would have been better off resurrecting the Fonze for the part. Let's face it, Henry Winkler's over the top portrayal of the Fonze was every bit as convincing as Shia LaBeouf's Mutt Williams. As an added benefit, I would have heard the magical "hey!" with the Fonze.

The movie was two hours long, and it really didn't need to be that long. There was a scene in the beginning of the movie that really added nothing to the plot. If you wonder why something was included, the odds are it shouldn't have been at all. And don't get me started on the ground hogs. I'm still trying to figure out whether they were supposed to be a comedic effect, or whether Lucas et all were saying "Screw you all! You already paid, and this will be a block buster. I'm going to add this just so I can say at Hollywood parties 'Those trolls in the Midwest just lapped it up'" Whatever they were thinking, I think a few weeks of counseling or a few bottle of Scotch are in order.

Despite my misgivings, Tim and the kids liked the movie. Oh well.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Miss or Mrs.

A new law went into effect recently that allowed Thai women to pick whether they would be "Miss" or "Mrs" (actually the Thai equivelents which I don' t have handy) for public records. Prior to this law, only single women (or those whose marriage wasn't registered with the government) could identify themselves as "Miss".

Many women seem happy with the ability to chose their title. Some believe that employers are more favorable towards a "Miss" than a "Mrs." Perhaps "Miss" conjures up a more pleasant image when reviewing resumes. Or perhaps the prospective boss thinks that a "Miss" might be more available to advances, I really don't know.

Of course there are some women not excited about the change. I'm not quite sure why, but there was a quote about fooling oneself.

I, of course, think it is a moderately good idea. The best option is the term "Ms." When I'm writing a letter to a woman named Sally Jones, I don't want to have to figure out whether she is married or not. It is extremely unlikely that the marital status has any relevance. Its just so much simpler. And while I'm not a feminist, I do think its a bit antiquated to have women indicate there marital status through "Miss" or "Mrs."

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Aleena's School Party

Today was an end of year party at Aleena's school. I've posted a few pictures here in addition to the one below.

Left to right: Aleena, Pinky, McKayla

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Kids Say the Darndest Things

Yesterday I came home and Jacob was playing some netless badmitton with some of the neighborhood kids and the mother of two of the girls. The mother, Kuhn Thon is really very nice. My wife Tim really likes her. They don't hang out together very much, but then again my wife really doesn't have a lot of time for that with work.

Thon told me that a few minutes before that Jacob had told her that he didn't think that she was the two girls mother, rather that she was their maid. Nice one Jacob, that's a real way to make friends here. Kuhn Thon was laughing when she told me the story, so she seemed to think it was funny. Its certainly not, however, an effective strategy to verbalize your belief that someone is a maid when they are indeed not.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Dedicated Versus Committed

A boy was sitting at the breakfast table with his dad and asked "Dad, what is the difference between being dedicated and being committed."

The boy's dad looked up from his plate of bacon and eggs and said, "Son, its like this. The chicken was dedicated to getting you this breakfast. The pig on the other hand, it was committed."