Thursday, July 31, 2008

Thaksin Taxes...Ouch

Ex-PM Thaksin's wife, Pojaman Shinawatra, was found guilty of evading millions of dollars in taxes on Thursday. She was sentenced to three years in jail, but remains free on bail pending her appeal. Her brother and secretary were also found guilty and sentenced to prison time.

This is certainly not good news for PM Thaksin. Not only will he be deprived of the company and affection of his wife should her appeal fail, but he is also facing criminal charges of his own regarding his financial dealings.

Return Trip

As some of you may have already heard, I'm coming back to the states again on August 9th. Tim and I decided that we want to try to rent the house in Cincinnati while we are here.

To facilitate such an occurrence, I need to do a lot of packing, cleaning and yard work. I was able to get a little done during our last trip, but with the three kids with me, it made it a lot tougher. Ideally I would have just pushed my ticket back in order to avoid the extra ticket cost. The problem is that the kids had to be back for school, and I couldn't well send them back by themselves.

I am flying on Northwest this time. Until a few minutes ago, the only seat I could get on the eleven hour Tokyo to Minneapolis flight was a middle seat. There were plenty of unassigned aisle (my preference) and window seats on the flight, but I couldn't select them as they are currently reserved for preferred fliers (i.e, someone with a butt load of frequent flyer miles). I've checked three or four times since booking, and I was just now able to select an aisle seat. I really can't imagine having to sit in the middle seat for an eleven hour flight. I know a lot of people do it, but I really and truly do not want to join their ranks.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Back in Thailand ... for a Short Time

The kids and I arrived back in Thailand last night at about midnight local time. Flying with three young children on a twenty-four hour plus trip is a bit challenging. Overall the kids were pretty good, although at times on eleven and a half hour flight to Tokyo, we were all frustrated by the lack of room to spread out and the corresponding inability to sleep.

A few highlights from the trip:

- The Greater Cincinnati Airport has these machines which attempt to detect explosives or perhaps even drugs. Part of the functionality involves blowing a puff of air. This is very evident when someone with long hair goes through, as it blows their hair up. While we were waiting to go through security, Nalin was fascinated with watching the women go through. When we got to the front, they told us that we didn't have to go through. The guard saw the crestfallen look on my children's face and told them that they could go through if they wanted to do so. Jacob goes through, and then Nalin. I turn around and Jacob is standing in it again. I barked out "Jacob, stop it." Of course when he steps out prematurely the alarm went off. The TSA inspector was in pretty good spirits and reset the alarm.

- The flight was pretty smooth. Turbulence doesn't bother me, except for the fact that on some flights the seat belt sign is on the entire flight. On our flight to Tokyo, we were free to roam about the cabin almost the entire flight. The kids and I don't really walk around that much, but sometimes we try to lay them on the floor, or hold them in our lap.

- United's entertainment package is just awful. Yes, there is a TV on ever seat. No, I didn't spend a minute watching any of it. The kids watched a little, but the selection was really poor. Jacob's screen went out about an hour into the long flight. The flight attendant came over, couldn't fix it, and offered to reseat us. Of course she couldn't reseat all four of us, but could have put two of us some ten rows away. Yeah, that would work out really well. In fact, how about just relocating me ten rows back. As we declined relocation, she gave us some card to get bonus frequent flyer miles. About ten minutes later I remembered that Jacob had looked for something under the seat shortly before the TV went out. I asked him to look and see if there was a switch on the box under his seat that feeds the screens. He took a look and "ta da" the screen was fixed. The score, United flight attendant 0, Jacob 1.

- I brought a lot of candy with me on the plane and in my checked luggage. I brought about fifteen pounds of skittles, about twenty Cincinnati style chili packages, and some powdered gravy. You can get the gravy here, but its more expensive. The skittles are very difficult to find, and Cincinnati chili, well you are lucky to find that in most parts of the U.S.

- The pièce de résistance of my culinary imports was the soy cheese for the girls. The girls love cheese, and as you may know are allergic to cow's milk. They can have indirect milk (if its cooked in something), but regular milk and cheese will cause them to itch. Of course, their inability to eat it has only increased their love of it. I froze half a dozen cheese blocks and put them in a container with some of those fluid filled freezer packs. My concern was that the cheese would be warm when we arrived, but to my surprise it was still quite cool.

- On the flight to Bangkok, Nalin sat next to a young Thai woman who was living in Naples, Florida. At one point in the flight, Nalin was actually sleeping with her head rested on the woman's arm. I looked over at one point and the woman just smiled , seeming to indicate that it was okay. That was enough for me.

- All of our flights arrived early. It took us about twenty or thirty minutes to get through immigration. After we had cleared immigration and I piled our bags on a baggage cart, a Thai policeman came up and asked me if I was Brian. He said that my wife had sent him, and handed me the phone so I could talk to her. He pushed the luggage cart through security, which allowed Aleena to be completely lazy and ride in her stroller. When the officer arrived, I was ready to fold up the stroller and throw it up on the luggage cart. Lucky girl. The officer took us right through customs. I'm not sure if we would have been required to run all the luggage through the scanner but for him, but it was nice to avoid heaving around the fifty pound bags while managing the three kids.

So overall the trip wasn't too bad. I really don't look forward to traveling half way around the world with three kids by myself again. I don't look forward to making the trip by myself sans children, but of course, that's what I'm doing next week. More on that later.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Watch Arrived

Tim is fortunate to have some very nice jewelry. One of the pieces was Frank Muller watch that her mom left to her. It was yellow gold with diamonds around the side, and a small sapphire on the knob. The sapphire was broken.

In June of last year, a month before she left for Thailand, Tim sent the watch into a jeweler to get it repaired. She didn't have the certificate of authenticity, so apparently Frank Muller wouldn't repair it. The jewelery store had done extensive work with a jeweler in California who was skilled in this area, so they sent the watch to him.

After Tim left, I received a phone call from the jewelery store. The box containing the watch arrived at the jewelery store, but the watch was missing. Someone had pulled it out of the package and absconded with it. As I'm listening to the manager tell me this, I'm thinking "oh damn, you've got to be f'n kidding me." Before I could voice any concern or objection, he told me that we did not need to worry, that they had insured the watch prior to sending it.

It seems that on more than one occasion that the pieces that they sent to this jeweler had been intercepted and stolen. It appeared as if someone on the inside knew that these packages contained valuable merchandise. The jewelery store suspected it was someone who worked for the delivery service (I won't use its name, but think of the color brown), but they couldn't prove it. The previous stolen shipments had been "self-insured"; that is they relied on their own insurance company to cover the losses. The deliver company did not show any interest in investigating the thefts.

As I mentioned, when they shipped Tim's watch, they insured the package for the value of the watch. When it was stolen, the delivery company had to pay for the content. Perhaps not surprisingly, they took the matter much more seriously when the theft actually cost them money. After a few weeks of investigation, they agreed to pay the claim.

Right before I left for Thailand at the beginning of August, the jewelery store called and laid out our options. They would replace the watch or pay us the value of the insurance. We exchanged some back and forth emails, and in the excitement and confusion of moving to Thailand, I let the matter go for a few months. A big part of the reason is that the jewelery store's response to a couple of my emails ended up in my spam folder, and I forgot. I also wasn't in an enormous hurry, as the watch was going to be shipped to my brother in the U.S. There was no way we would ship it to Thailand.

I spoke to the jewelry store in October, and told them that we wanted the watch. Tim actually didn't like the yellow gold, and instead was able to order the same watch in white gold. The jeweler said that there was a six to nine month wait for the watch. The wait wasn't really important, as it was going to be much longer than that before the watch ever adorned Tim's wrist.

The new watch arrived in the mail today. I am not sure if Tim wants me to bring it with us, or to put it in our safe deposit box. In any case, its good to have the watch back.

I'll have to say that I was very pleased with how the jeweler (Picciones', located near Cleveland) handled things. They were very responsive to our inquiries, and made sure that Tim was made whole. There were actually two big positives to the entire thing. First, Tim got the color of the watch that she really wanted. Secondly, we didn't have to pay for the original watch to be repaired.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Children's Museum

The kids and I went to the Cincinnati Children's Museum on Friday. A friend of mine, Angie Smorey works at the museum and was kind enough to comp us tickets.
In addition to the Children's Museum, we also visited the Museum of Natural Museum and Science. Below is a picture I took of a stalactite exhibit. The quality of the picture is not great, but perhaps you'll find that the exhibit looks like it could have been included in a Masters & Johnson report.
The museums are located in the old Union Terminal building. Although it still operates as a train station, there is little evidence of this during the day. My understanding is that all the trains run very late at night or in the very early morning hours.

The inside of the Union Terminal building looks magnificent. The building has a dome, and the inside is painted with a large mural. A few shots of the mural are below:

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Familly Get Together

Mom and dad threw a family get together today in honor of the kids and I coming back for the month. It was nice to see my cousins, aunts, uncles, etc.

Of course, as is my nature of late, I took a few pictures. You can find them here.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Since I've returned, a few people have told me that they enjoy reading the blog. I want to say thanks, and that I really appreciate the feedback.

I really want to write more, but a few things sometimes constrain me. First is just plain old motivation. I can certainly manage to find the time each day to write, but often when I'm tired I just don't feel like it. Ironically, given how tired I am right now, its a bit of a surprise that I'm actually blogging right now.

Another thing that I do is self-censor. I try for the most part to keep my blog PG-13, or at least a light R. In other words, it has to be mom friendly because, well, my mom reads it. And while in my normal conversations with my friends and peers I make colorful (and hopefully witty) use of four-letter words, they generally aren't words that I use around mom. Its like the time back a few Christmas ago when I introduced my brother to the show South Park. He and I were in the family room by ourselves watching a South Park episode. This episode featured Cartman singing "Kyle's mom's a big fat bitch" to a whimsical melody. In the middle of Cartman's rendition, mom walked in. At that moment, I half expected Cartman to turn to me from TV land, point one of his bloated fingers at me and gloatingly mock "you fail".

I am certainly glad that mom reads and enjoys (hopefully) the blog. What I might do, however, is occasionally mark whether a blog is mom safe or not. That way I can give warning to anyone (mom or otherwise) that I might be dealing with a "delicate" subject. Seems fair to me.

Credit Card Scanners

One thing that I didn't notice that was missing in Thailand but became aware of when I came back to the U.S. was the self-scan machines for credit cards at the check out. They don't have them in Thailand.

The first few times that I bought something with the credit card when I returned, I handed the credit card to the clerk. The clerk in turn asked me to swipe it on the reader. I kind of felt like a dunce for not remembering it.

Credit cards are much more accepted here than in Thailand. You can certainly use credit cards there in larger establishments, but there are a lot of places where only cash is accepted. Even where credit cards are accepted, they are as widely used as they are here.

I'm not sure that Thais would like scanning their cards. It might be considered rude to make your swipe your own card when the cashier is standing right there. And judging from my experience, cashiers are never in a hurry to get you on your way, and the only time speed matters to my fellow shoppers is when they are trying line jump at the counter in front of me.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Operation Minivan a Success. Finally!

When I returned from Thailand, my plan was to use the minivan to get around. I hadn't even planned to take the Acura off the blocks that I placed it on when I left. Like so many things in life, when plan hits reality, reality whips its butt.

First, when I got home I saw that the registration sticker expired in February. I talked to my brother who had taken care of things for me here, and he remembered sending in the payment, but not receiving the sticker. So I called the Ohio BMV. They told me that since the van is only in Tim's name, that in order to do anything, I would need to provide a power of attorney (poa).

The next day I went to the BMV, and renewed my driver's license and registration. I was actually quite pleased with the efficiency and professionalism of the staff. I think I was there for no more than twenty-five minutes, and that included the five or ten minutes waiting for the license to print. The clerk gave me the same answer regarding my wife's information. She said she could not even look up the record to see if they had received the payment without the POA.

So instead of tooling around in the unfashionable, but roomy Honda Odyssey, the three kids and I had to use my Acura TL. The back seat was a bit snug with Aleena and her car seat, Nalin in her booster seat, and Jacob squeezed in between. Fortunately, as an eight year old, Jacob is free of the booster seat requirement. While the kids did fit in the back seat, the situation was not always comfortable. While they generally got along, the bickering in the back was certainly not a pleasant substitute for a radio. You see, my friend, I had not yet found the security code to reactivate my radio.

A few days later, I was digging through the box of mail that had accumulated over the year, and I found the registration sticker for the van. So I called the insurance company and added it to my policy.

I would like to write that the adventure ended here, but alas it would not be quite so easy. When I tried to start up the van, the engine didn't even attempt to turn over. I thought that perhaps the battery had died, so I tried to jump start it. Now, for some reason I had in my head that red was positive and black negative, so I ended up connecting the batteries incorrectly. I was soon become aware of my mistake in the form of sparks and smoke. I quickly disconnected the jumper cables before any permanent damage could take place.

I went Autozone to pick up a new battery. It's a bit of a pain to drag the kids everywhere, particularly in the TL. So I got the battery and returned home to hook it up. Getting the old battery out was actually a bit of a pain. Not only is it heavy, but there were not a way to get a good grip on it. After struggling for ten minutes with it, I was finally able to heave it out.

As I was hooking up the new battery I thought to myself that at least it would be worth the effort. The kids would have much more room in the van, and once I found the code for the TV, they would be entertained. After I finished hooking up the battery, I slid into the driver's seat and turned on the ignition. No sound. After heaving a big sigh, I found the owner's manual and found the location of the fuse box. Sure enough, one of the fuses had blown. Perhaps it had happened with my failed jump start attempt, perhaps not.

So the kids and I once again made our way to Autozone. I made sure to bring the fuse with me in order to ensure that I got the right one. To my surprise, Autozone did not have it in stock. They referred me to one of the other parts store in the vicinity. The parts store across the street didn't have it either, but they offered to order it for me. They could have it in the next morning.

I picked up the part on Thursday morning. When I got home to my dismay, it was not the correct fuse. It looked nearly identical to the fuse that I needed, but the copper prongs on it were a little too long. More than a bit frustrated, I called the Honda dealer. They didn't have the part in either, but said that they could have it in by Saturday.

On Saturday I picked up the part at the Honda dealer. I checked the part before I left, and it appeared to be the correct one. That was confirmed when I returned home and successfully started the van.

On Sunday I found the navigation system and stereo system (including the TV) codes for both the TL and the van. The kids were very excited about having the van.

Pictures at the Playground

The kids and I went to a small park today. The pictures are here.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


A bunch of friends have turned 40 in the last year or so, and Joe threw a party to celebrate. Tim wasn't able to make it, so I left the kids with the grand parents and took an eighteen year old instead. Of course the eighteen year old was a bottle of Scotch.

The party was fun, and of course I took a few photographs. I've posted a few here.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Cincinnati Zoo

Today the kids and I visited the Cincinnati Zoo. I've included some pictures below, and there are more here.

It was a rather cool and wet day with temperatures in the 70's and light rain most of the day. We were pretty fortunate to hit a lull in the rain. The temperature is pretty low for July in Cincinnati. It seemed even cooler because this is probably the coolest weather I've been in since I left with the exception of the week we spent in Hong Kong.

Normally the highlight is the avery where you can feed the parakeets. On some days the birds flock all over the kids. Today the birds didn't seem as interested. Perhaps it was the cold weather. In any case, one of the birds did decide to make the trip a bit more memorable for Jacob as it pooped on him as we left.