Friday, October 31, 2008

Pre K Halloween

As I mentioned in an earlier entry, I volunteered to organize a Halloween party for Aleena's class. The party itself was largely uneventful. I made way too much pudding, and for some reason I made a real mess of the pictures that I took.

What made the event memorable occurred before the festivities. It seems that one of Aleena's classmates' lunch did not agree with him, so he threw up. Unfortunately, he threw up all over the teacher, Ms. Patty. Even more unfortunate, it happened only minutes after I had left the cafeteria, so I wasn't able to get any good pictures.

Ms. Patty was a pretty good sport about it. She got changed and returned to the classroom after a time. Of course, if a certain boy always finds himself last to pick activities and has his work returned with "YOU ARE BAD" scrawled in red marker, then perhaps she isn't a great sport. I guess time will tell.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Bracing for Trick or Treaters

On Friday I am doing a Halloween activity for Aleena's class. Her teacher asks parents to do something for a holiday from their country. The Canadians snatched up Thanksgiving and the Europeans locked out Christmas with their version.

I can't say that I was too disappointed to do Halloween, as is a pretty kick butt holiday. My plan was to have the kids dress up in outrageous costumes, drink beer until they're sick, and carve pumpkins in inappropriate scenes of debauchery. Okay, not so much, but stories, crafts, and a wee bit of candy is fun too.

Apparently Halloween used to be a big event at ISB. The kids would dress up in costumes and they would have a big parade. Then the fun police came out and decided that either candy was bad for the kids, or the holiday was too American, or they were traumatized when someone laughed at their Jack Sparrow costume. Be assured, the fun police were not Thai. In general, Thai's enjoy holidays and having fun. A secular holiday like Halloween is right up their alley. To mix my holiday metaphors, the grinches are of the falang variety.

The worst part about it is that I am trying to teach the kids about Halloween and we can't go around the quad and trick or treat. Its a shame.

Despite the lack of Halloween festivities at ISB, Nichada Thani will rock out Halloween. The club is hosting a party, but most importantly, there will be a whole lot of trick or treating going on. Not only will most kids in Nichada come to trick or treat, but kids from all over will descend on our community. Unlike in the U.S. where virtually every neighborhood has trick or treating, there are very few good trick or treating communities. Before we moved here, Tim was here one Halloween with the kids. She was staying with her brother in another part of town, but they came here to trick or treat.

Last year we ran out of candy when I was out with the kids, so I really don't know how many trick or treaters that we had. On my way home from the IT Square today, I stopped by Macro to pick up some candy. I ran into about 6 or 7 Nichada moms in the candy section. One said that she was expecting 500 trick or treaters. It should be fun.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Two Wheels to Hell

Yesterday Jacob accompanied me to purchase some sheets for our "new" mattresses. On our way, motorcycles weaved in and out of traffic, sometimes taking some pretty foolish risks to get somewhere a few seconds early. I told Jacob that I was afraid that I would end up hitting a motor cycle here before I left. Ironically, today I saw Tim almost do that very thing.

We were driving from our new house to our old house to pick up some more things. Tim was driving the van, while I was in the sedan a little behind her. There was a motorcycle that had passed me in between us. When we got to our old subdivision, Tim turned left into the entrance. We drive on the left side here, so in the U.S. it would be equivalent to turning right from the right lane. The motorcyclist felt compelled to pass her at that very moment, and decided that the best way to do it was to pass on her left, directly into her turn. When I saw the guy pass inside her while she was turning, my stomach dropped for a second. Somehow the guy managed to swerve and Tim braked enough to avoid a collision.

I don't understand the guys thinking. He could have easily passed her on the right, or even slowed down a bit while she turned. Passing her on the left was just amazingly stupid.

When I picked Aleena up from school today, I was chatting a bit with her teacher and relayed the story to her. She told me that not too long ago, that her sister had done the exact same thing, but unfortunately had struck the cyclist, sending him flying through he air. Even though it was completely the cyclist fault, they paid him money just to avoid getting the police involved. Probably a good choice.

Moving Update

Well, between today and yesterday, we have moved most of the stuff into our new home. I really like this place a lot more than our old town house down the street. Its bigger and more open than the other. The kitchen is bigger, and its nice to have all the bedrooms on the same floor.

One thing I won't miss at the old house is the bedtime routine. The bedrooms were on three different floors. So I would walk up a flight (of 8) stairs to tuck Jacob in, then walk down two flights to tuck in the girls, after which I would walk back up a flight to my room, or down two more to the kitchen to get something to drink. Of course if I went to the kitchen, then I went back up three flights.

Tim has done an amazing job begging and borrowing furniture. First she raided her brother Top's old condominium. She managed to find four mattresses (a king and three queens), chairs, tables, dressers, armoires and more. She is getting some desks from one of her companies, and somehow the real estate agent (who used to live a few houses down from us) managed to find a three piece sofa set. We have to buy a few book cases, but not a whole lot else.

Once we get things a little more settled, I'll take some pictures.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Old Dog & New Tricks

Recently, Jacob and I have been working on this times tables. They aren't doing them in school yet, but we try to spend some time learning beyond the curriculum. The nice thing with math is that Jacob enjoys it.

I always did well in school, but I really don't think I learned to effectively study until law school. In most law school classes, your grade for the semester is determined by a single final exam. Law school exam questions typically lay out a fact pattern and require you to identify the issues and relevant points of law. So while memorizing the cases and relevant law is not sufficient to pass an exam, it is necessary to know the relevant law.

Law students almost universally create an outline of the course to study for the exam. The outlines are a condensed version of the law and cases. The students study from their outlines, but are not allowed to take them to exams (with a few exceptions). Some students outlines were very detailed and grammatically correct(my friend Karl Sanders for example). I took a much more Spartan approach. My outlines would only have a few bullet points about the cases, often containing abbreviations and partially completed sentences.

Unlike some outlines which were borrowed by other students, my outlines were useless to anyone but myself. They worked so well for me for a few reasons. First, by the time I was done making the outline, I had a pretty good grasp of the case. My bullet points gave me enough information so that I could recall the important parts of the case. Secondly, I would effectively memorize my outline by reviewing it over and over. I could not efficiently memorize a two paragraph explanation of Marbury v. Madison, but a few bullet points were manageable.

The way I memorized my outline was to break it down into sections. For instance, if there were twenty cases relevant for a course, I would start out by reviewing the first five. Once I could recite the important part of those cases, I would add five more. I would continue this pattern until I had memorized everything. As I added more material though, I would continue to repeat the previous material as well. By the time I got to the last case, I may have repeated the first case a dozen or more times. It was a fairly effective strategy.

I'm trying to use that repetition to help Jacob. We might review three times one through three times five. Once he has that down, we'll add in three times six and three times seven. He complains sometimes about having to repeat it, but it seems to be fairly effective. He knows his 0's, 1's, 2's, 3's, 4's, 5's, 6's, 9's, and 10's.

One of the great things about teaching is that you can learn something yourself. I had heard that there was an easy trick to doing the nine tables, but since I had already memorized them quite a long time ago, I never really tried to figure out the shortcut. While I was teaching Jacob, I took some time and figured it out. Here is what I've found.

For 1 through 10
Take the number that you are multiplying nine with, and subtract one from it. That number will go in the ten position. Subtract the number you put in the ten position from nine and that goes in the one position. An example shows this more easily.

9 x 6
Subtract 1 from 6 to get 5. Put 5 in the ten position. Subtract 5 from 9 to get 4, which you put in the ones position. This gives you 54.

9 x 9
Subtract 1 from 9 to get 8. Put 8 in the ten position. Subtract 8 from 9 to get 1, which you put in the ones position. This gives you 81.

I don't have a pattern for 11, but its easy to multiply.

From 12 to 20
This works largely the same as 1 - 10, but you subtract 2 from the number you are multiplying with nine.

9 x 13 = 117
13 - 2 =11 (place in the ten's and hundreds position)
9 - 1 - 1 = 7 (place in the ones)

I've only done the 1-10 with Jacob, and it has really helped him pick up on the nine table. Now, if only I can come up with a way to motivate him to write.

A Little Mermaid

I was in the pool with Aleena yesterday afternoon. She was wearing the little floaties on her arm and was moving very fast and comfortably in the water. Aleena is now the age where Jacob and Nalin started to learn to swim, so I thought maybe we would give it a try.

I asked her if she would like to try to swim without her floaties, and she acquised. On her first try she demonstrated that she can already doggie paddle very well. I would start out seven or eight feet from her and have her swim to me. As she got closer, I would back up so that she could swim more. I think she probably swam thirty or so feet that way. She was able to swim the width of the pool by herself.

I heaped praise on her, and I think that Aleena was really proud of herself. Very recently she seems interested in becoming a big girl. Up until then, I think she has always been content to be the baby. Guess she is growing up.

Moving Delays

Well, unfortunatley, we did not get to start the move on Friday as we planned. Let's just chalk it up to a gap in communication.

Our revised plan to start moving early this morning ran into a few snags. First, they were still cleaning the new house. When I stopped over at 8:00 a.m., there were seven or eight workers still over there. They didn't finish until early afternoon.

The second issue was that it was raining. The problem with the rain was that we were taking furniture from Tim's brother's "other" house for our new place. Our current abode was furnished, so we had very little furniture. Tim had some of her employees use a pickup truck and our van to move the furniture from Top's place to ours. We didn't want to move the stuff in the rain, as I'm not sure the truck was covered.

Eventually the rain let up, and the workers finished cleaning the house. We moved a bunch of stuff today, but still have some more to go. Tonight we are sleeping at our current place one more time. Tim, I and her minions will finish most of the move tomorrow while the kids are in school.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Koh Chang

The kids were off school this week, so Tim and I took them to the Koh Chang. Koh Chang is the third largest island in Thailand and has become a popular tourist destination. It also is the home to a large national park.

The drive to Koh Chang took about six hours. Top had borrowed the van, so we took the Mercedes. The kids were fighting with each other quite a bit. There is no bridge from the mainland to the island, so you have to take a ferry from the town of Trat. We had to wait about thirty minutes for the ferry, and the trip over took another thirty.

The roads on Koh Chang are narrow and winding. There were places were the road was in an "S" shape.

We stayed at the Barali Beach resort on Klong Prao Beach. It was a nice quiet place a bit off the main road and very close to the water. We liked the location. It helped though that we had a car and weren't really interested in walking around and shopping. If we were interested in the night life, we would have been better suited staying in the White Beach area.

We didn't arrive until 6:00 pm, so we had dinner, spent some time with the kids and went to bed. We had dinner at night at a non-descript Thai-European restaurant. There were a lot of restaurants that advertised Thai and European cuisine, but almost nothing that mentioned American cuisine. This may be in part because most of the tourists to Thailand are European rather than American. Thailand is a lot closer to Europe.

On our first full day in Koh Chang we hung around at the hotel beach and pool. We tried to go see one of the waterfalls on the island, but didn't arrive until thirty minutes before it closed for the day. Instead, we enjoyed a Thai desert called Lothi. Its kind of like a crepe with your choice of sweet topings. Traditionally its served with condensed milk and sugar. Its very good as its made fresh. Of course this means that getting lothi for five takes ten or fifteen minutes; if you are first in line.

That night we had dinner at a seafood restaurant highly recommended by the hotel. It was pretty good food, although a bit pricey. The fried calamari was very good. Aleena slept through this entire meal. She is such a trooper on vacation. She tries to keep up with everyone, but when things slow down a bit, her exhaustion shows and she falls asleep.

On our second full day we booked a trip on a speed boat that took us to four islands for snorkeling and sight seeing. This was by far the best day of the trip. Snorkeling was a lot of fun. Aleena floated along side us as the rest of us snorkeled. We had lunch at one of the finest restaurants in the world that afternoon. The food was a simple container of fried rice in a Styrofoam container, and there was no service to speak of, but the view was absolutely spectacular. Of course, Jacob and Nalin both managed to get sea water in their food at different points of the meal. Kids will be kids.

Perhaps the highlight for the kids was when we floated along side an island populated with monkeys. We had already fed the left over water melon to the fish, so we fed the rinds and scraps to the monkeys. Given the scramble to get this bounty, I'd say the monkeys didn't mind.

That night we had dinner at another place recommended by the hotel. This restaurant was a bit strange in that they had you take off your shoes. Taking off ones shoes when entering a home or temple is standard protocol in Thailand. Tim and I were pretty adamant about it in our home in the U.S. for a while, but became kind of lax later on. Truth be told, this is a Thai custom that I really like. In any case, taking your shoes off in a place of business is not all that typical here. What was even stranger was when Tim stopped at a convenience store later in the evening and they required customers to take off their shoes. Tim was even annoyed by that.

In addition to the food, which was decent, the big deal about this restaurant was that after your meal, they took you on a boat ride to see fireflies. Growing up in Kentucky, I am not a stranger to fireflies. I remember catching them in my hands as a boy. Sitting in a canoe for forty minutes to see some fireflies (we always called them lightning bugs) in the trees was hardly my idea of exciting or fun. For some strange reason, perhaps the dark, Jacob was worried that some ill fate would befall us. Jacob's desperately clutching my arm while Tim was teaching a fellow Thai passenger the words to the "Itsy Bitsy Spider" made a strange if not interesting trip.

We had a few hours of sight seeing available on the day of our departure. We went and saw the elusive waterfall from earlier in the trip. I had injured my ankle a bit the previous day, so the half-kilometer trek to the waterfall really sucked. By the time we arrived, I was in a pretty foul mood and didn't take any pictures there.

Tim actually had planned a one day vacation with some of her employees that started the day our vacation ended. She had someone pick us up in Trak and take us home. This trip was in a conversion van with a television, which helped the kids pass the time nicely.

Overall we had fun. Below are some pictures and a link to the albumn on Picasaweb.

Here is the albumn

Here is the albumn.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Politics Update

Thailand's politics have been up in the air lately. Prime Minister Somchai's government is still in power, although not in possession of the government buildings.

Back in August, PAD (People's Alliance for Democracy) stormed the Prime Minister's building and have occupied it since. PAD is a pro-coup and anti-Thaksin group. It opposes the government elected back in December 2007 claiming that the party in power, the PPP (People's Power Party) is nothing more than a front for the ousted Prime Minister Thaksin. In addition to occupying government buildings, PAD has also blocked streets with its demonstrations.

A cynic might say that PAD should stand for People Against Democracy. They oppose the government duly elected by the Thai people. They are actively trying to bring down a legitimately elected government using force. Interestingly, the government that the PAD seeks would have only thirty percent of Parliament elected by the people. The other seventy percent would be appointed.

In any case, the PAD can be identified by their yellow shirts and the professed love for the King. A few weeks ago, the police clashed with the PAD, resulting in four PAD members dead and a number wounded. This has causes an uproar with the PAD and its supporters who claimed that the police used unnecessary force to deal with the protesters.

Others, this author included, wonder if the police haven't demonstrated remarkable restraint in allowing the occupation of the government buildings for over two months. Imagine for a minute if Republicans marched to Congress and with the intent to occupy the building for several months in order to topple the government. It just wouldn't happen. They would be arrested.

Of course, part of the reason that the protests have been allowed to continue largely unabated is because the PAD have powerful allies in both the military and the police force. The military has made statements of neutrality in the matter. There are some in the police department calling for an end to the protests.

The pro-coup PAD are not the only protesters in town, nor are they the only one with a uniform. The pro-government and pro-Thaksin UDD (United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship) have also demonstrated and clashed with the PAD. Fortunately, its easy to distinguish the two groups, as the UDD sport red shirts. That's right, its like an episode of Star Trek with the security force against the officers. Yellow versus red.

Since the UDD actually supports the government, they are not attempting to block commerce or interfere with the business of government. Many of their protests are aimed directly at the PAD. The UDD has created its own security force that has named itself King Thaksin's Warriors. Truthfully, I can't think of a more stupid name than that. Most Thai's love and nearly worship the King. One of the declared reasons for the coup was that Thaksin was not respectful of the Monarchy, and that he might even have wanted to supplant it. A great way to turn the average Thai against him is to make it appear that he wants to be the King.

Unfortunately for PM Thaksin, misnamed security forces might be the least of his problems. This week he was convicted of corruption charges and was sentenced to two years in prison. He and his wife are still in England seeking political asylum and fighting extradition. One bit of good news for his family is that his wife was acquitted of the same charges.

While I am a "neutral" observer of this drama, I do find myself sometimes favoring one side over the other. At first, I was somewhat sympathetic to the PAD side of things. I thought that perhaps there may have been merit to the corruption charges against Thaksin. As things have dragged on, however, I really am starting to believe that they are doing much more damage than they the group they oppose. Political instability does not help the economy or average Thai people. Uncertainty can keep away foreign investors and hurt tourism.

I believe that the protests and the disruption of commerce and government need to stop. The PAD should use the political process to achieve its ends. Its coup allies were the ones who drafted the current constitution in the first place. Or should the Thai people expect that anytime they elect a government that the PAD and its allies oppose, that there will be an attempt to other throw the goverment, and possibly another coup.

Dont' get me wrong. I think the pro-Thaksin side has done plenty of dumb things as well. Part of what galvinzed the PAD and anti-government forces was the PPP's decision to amend parts of the constitution. These proposed changes were widely seen as a self-serving attempt by the PPP to remove sanctions against members of the Thaksin goverment. Putting the colorful and opinionated Samak as the head of the government may have caused some issues. Replacing him with Thaksin's brother-in-law only served to further enrage their opponents.

I'll just watch and enjoy. Maybe one day I'll even go down and try to get some good photographs of some action. We'll see.


We are moving tomorrow, Friday the 24th into a house down the street. Its still in Nichada, but its a two story house instead of the towne house that we currently occupy. We'll start the move tomorrow, but we will gradually move our stuff in over the course of the week.

The new house is bigger and nicer. I like the subdivision better as well. I certainly won't miss the steps here.

The downside is that the pool is not as nice there, and its a bit farther from school. It won't really be a big deal though,as we'll just ride our bikes instead of walking. At our current home, we walk because it is just as fast as riding bikes if you dont' arrive early to get a close spot on the bike rack.

The only other issue is that our current place is furnished and the new one is not. Tim is going to scavange some furniture from her brother's place tomorrow.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Picture of Jacob

This picture was taken with Canon EF-S 10-22 mm lens. This is a very wide angle lens, so it stretched the facea bit.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

More Pictures of People Shoving Things Through Their Cheeks

Here are some more pictures from the festival. There are 77 photos in this album.

From More Vegetarian Festival Pictures
From More Vegetarian Festival Pictures
From More Vegetarian Festival Pictures
From More Vegetarian Festival Pictures
From More Vegetarian Festival Pictures


On the last night that I was in Phuket for the Vegetarian Festival, I visited one of the temples to witness some firewalking. There were several temples sporting firewalking that evening, so earlier in the day I approached the hotel clerk for her recommendation on which temple to visit.

My previous experience talking to this person did not make me hopeful that she would be of much help. The previous evening she had been unable to recommend a good Chinese restaurant in the city. She only knew of the one across the street. I turns out that I was in luck, and that her minor in college was Phuket Firewalking, Where to Go on the Last Night of the Festival. Okay, not really, but she did tell me that one of the temples was much better than the others. While her location was very good, her timing was typical Thai. She told me that things really wouldn't get started until 9:00 pm. The schedule said 8:00 pm, so I decided to get there at about 7:00 pm to get a good spot to take pictures.

I hopped on a motor cycle taxi to take me to the temple. I rode quite a few motor cycle taxis while in Phuket Town. They are a relatively cheap and quick way to get around. They are not the safest means of transportation, however. Sitting on the back of a motorcycle without a helmet (Thai law requires only the driver to wear a helmet), weaving through traffic is quite an experience. A few times I was fearful that my knees were going to hit another passing vehicle, but I was spared the fate of a deadbeat gambler and made it to the temple intact.

There was a festival going on around the temple. I walked around a bit, and then partook in some of the vegetarian food offered. I'm not sure what I ate, but it wasn't too bad.

At about 7:30 I found where they firewalking would take place. There was a small crowd already, but there were still good spots for my camera work. I saw some Thai kids playing motioned to them if they wanted their pictures taken. For the next thirty minutes, I ended up entertaining about five or six Thai kids. Even though they didn't speak English well at all. One four year old knew how to say "hello teacher" and did so about twenty-five times. Here are a few of the pictures of the kids.

From ThaiKids
From ThaiKids

While I had fun, the problem was that by the time I was finished with my one man show, that the place was pretty full, and I didn't see a vantage point to take pictures. Just before all hope had fled my spirit, I noticed an empty spot on the ground next to a row of chairs and in front of some other spectators. I had to sit down on the ground and shoot through a metal fence. There was just enough room between the bars to place my camera through.

The firewalking was pretty cool. There was a lot of ceremony performed. I suspect that it was in part to let the top layer of ash cool down a bit to make the walk possible.

My vantage point, despite my cramped quarters, was excellent. I had a front on view of the firewalkers as they scampered over the hot coals towards me. The camera work was challenging for a few reasons. First, I didn't have my tripod with me, nor could I have used it in that environment. Secondly, it was at night, and while there was some artificial lighting, it was hardly ideal. Thirdly, the fire pit let off a lot of smoke, making it more difficult to capture sharp images. Finally, the targets were moving, which only exacertabed the lighting issues.

Overall I'm happy with a few of the pictures. I decided to get a bit creative at one point and slow down the camera speed in order to get some of the motion into the picture. Afterall, a picture of a guy frozen in the middle of a firewalk doesn't really capture the spirit of the evening. Anyway, here are a few pictures.

From Firewalking
From Firewalking

Monday, October 13, 2008

Dude Looks Like a Lady

Mom, maybe let dad read this one first.

During my photographic adventure in Phuket, I couldn't help but run into some of the many ladyboys (or katoey in Thai). Ladyboys are basically transvestites in different stages of their transformation.

Thai society is pretty open and accepting of ladyboys. They are out in the open, and really don't face any harassment. Don't' get me wrong, its not like you are going to rise to be CEO of a company as a ladyboy. You're career options are probably limited to the sex industry, waitressing, hair dressing or some service type job.

The last time that I was in Phuket I went to the Simon Cabaret show with Tim. This show features an entire cast of ladyboys performing dance routines in Vegas show-girl like outfits. I didn't go to Simon's this time, but I certainly didn't entirely miss the show.

On my first morning I was taking pictures of the Vegetarian parade when two "women" asked me to take their picture. It took me a few seconds to realize that they were not exactly women, but ladyboys. They were wearing white t-shirt and jeans like most of the parade crowd. They were very nice, so I obliged and took their picture. They didn't hassle me for money like a lot of ladyboys do. Ladyboys seem to like to have their pictures taken. In Patong (the beach resort towns in Phuket), they'll ask you to take their picture, but they'll want money from you. These girls were different, they just seemed to be having fun. They didn't hassle me for money or sell me anything. It was actually kind of nice for someone to just ask me to take their picture. These two girls are at the bottom of the page.

My next katoey moment was walking along Thaweewong road in the afternoon. Along side the vendors hawking suits, t-shirts, taxi rides, and was a group of "ladies" offering massages. One of the ladyboys offered me not only a massage, but to orally enhance my Paton experience for the low price of $30. While I appreciated that she was looking out for my interest, I politely decline her offer. Later I learned that while accosted by an eager masseuse in one of the many massage parlors (they seem like they are every fifty feet), I said I was hungry and had to eat first. In any case, what was most interesting about this particular ladyboy is that I might not even have picked up that she was a ladyboy were it not for the company that she kept.

Phuket is known in part for its sex tourism, and no street epitomizes that more than Bangla Road. This street truly comes alive at dark when the go go bars and beer bars (where you pick up bargirls) open for business. The police close the street off to traffic, and tourists, vendors and those plying the sex trade mingle in a visual feast. It is truly an amazing place to people watch. If you visit Phuket, and if you go to Thailand, I recommend visiting Phuket for its beautiful beaches, then you should visit Bangla street at night. You've probably never seen anything like it.

Of course, the most flamboyant residents of Bangla street are the ladyboys dressed in their show gowns. While the bargirls might not be subtle in applying their charms to get your interest and money, the ladyboys are very aggressive. They are in the middle of the street, trying to get you to take pictures with them or to get them to go to their show. You can avoid them by just walking around them, but if you are walking down the middle of the street with a high end camera and lens around your neck, you'll probably be targeted. I ended up paying two a couple of bucks each to take some photographs. That of course, was like giving a couple of coins to a group of kids. Suddenly others realize that their is money to be had. I ended up tipping a few more for pictures (at a reduced rate) and went on my way. I walked back down the street later and one of the ones from earlier came up and held on to my arm. Her friend asked me if I liked ladyboys. I think that he might have thought that I didn't know that she was a ladyboy. I smiled and said that they were nice to look at, but I wasn't interested in "boom boom" with them. We laughed and I went on my way.

During my entire trip I never had any trouble with the ladyboys. I was always overly polite and wasn't interested in hooking up with them. They do have a reputation for being a bit tempremental. I think if you slighted a ladyboy by acting disgusted by what they are then there might be a bit of a scene. Remember, these are men who were so unhappy with being a man that they underwent surgery and hormone therapy to become a woman. They might not always be the most stable of people.

For those people who are looking to "party" with the ladyboys, I can't offer any advice from first hand experience. From what I've read you should probably be careful. Make sure that you know what you are getting into. Some of the ladyboys are pre-op below the waist, while others have already had the surgery to replace their penis with a "vagina". If you are going to freak out if your hired date can still pee standing up, you should probably find out before you make the arrangements. If you express shock and "awe" shit when she stiffens back at the room, it might not be a good scene. At best you'll probably end up paying for services neither wanted nor rendered, and at worst, a very unpleasant scene.

Ladyboys are also fairly common in areas of Bangkok and Pattaya. If you come to the kingdom, you have to see them.

From Ladies and Gentlemen
From Ladies and Gentlemen
From Ladies and Gentlemen
From Ladies and Gentlemen
From Ladies and Gentlemen
From Ladies and Gentlemen

More Vegetarian Pictures

Here are a couple of pictures from the Phuket Vegetarian Festival that stand out for me. The first is because it was a boy pierced. This little boy was riding on his father's shoulders. He didn't look much older than my son Jacob.

I like this picture for more aesthetic reasons. The side angle of the gun going into his cheek is different than most of my head on shots.

Don't worry, I have lots more pictures to go.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Luck to Die For

So you say you love your spouse, eh? Would you die for him or her. That's exactly what one woman from Bangkok had in mind when she visited a temple in a nearby province. Of course her death was a temporary sort that was part of a purifying ritual that claims to rid participants of bad karma and luck.

The ceremony involves the participants laying in an open coffin where they experience a "spiritual death". The temple's monks pray and perform some a ritual that expels the bad karma and causes the person's rebirth. Hundreds of Thais flock to the temple each day to improve their luck. The lady mentioned above was seeking luck in love in the form of a visa to visit her falang boyfriend in the Netherlands. Others hope the ritual will improve their health or financial situation. There are even numbers around the coffins that can be used to play the lottery. The entire ritual costs less than six dollars per person.

I found this story fascinating because it intersects the superstitious nature of Thai society and the desire of some Thai women to have a falang husband, boyfriend or walking ATM.

How are Thais superstitious you ask? A lot of Thais believe in and consult with fortune tellers and fung shei gurus. These fortune tellers can influence business decisions. Each day of the week has a lucky color that dictates the choice of shirts for many Thais. Religious amulets were quite the craze over the last few years here in the Kingdom. These amulets were supposed to bring luck and protection. I remember at least one story of soldiers and policemen who wore them and believed that they would help protect them from bullets.

Its certainly true that not all Thai women want to marry a falang man. In fact, even among those who do seek out a foreign boyfriend, its not because most find Thai men unappealing or a beer gut on a Western man enticing. The bulge in the back of the falang's pants, and not the front, is what attracts some Thai women.

It actually makes a lot of sense when you think about it. There are certainly women in America and Europe who seek wealthy men. The reason that some women wanted a doctor or lawyer as a husband most likely was not because of pillow talk about the latest outbreak of strep throat or the finer points of the rule of perpetuity's. They do it because doctors tend to be fairly well off financially. And I know that not all women who marry doctors do so for the money. I'm talking about those who seek out a doctor, not find someone who happens to be a doctor.

Its not so different here. The Thai girls who are seeking a foreign boyfriend or husband are usually doing so for financial reasons. The difference is that here you don't have to be a doctor or high roller to be "attractive" financially. An average middle class American or European is quite wealthy when compared to a lot of the Thai women that they might meet while vacationing here. In fact, many of the women that a foreign tourist may meet are from some of the poorest areas of Thailand. And I'm not just talking about those women who work in the sex industry. Women in jobs such as waitresses, clerks and hotel work do not make a lot of money. Prospects back at the family farm are even bleaker, as they would face physically exhausting labor with even less chance of pulling themselves out of poverty.

For some of these women, a foreign husband is an attractive option. Sure he might be a little older and fatter than she'd like, but her life, and the life of any children that they have, will be much more comfortable than if she married a man from her village. Materially her life will undoubtedly be better.

To some foreign guys, the idea of a Thai wife is very attractive. Let's face it, back in the states, young, slim and beautiful young ladies aren't falling over each other to sleep with (or marry) a forty-something year old accountant pulling in 45 grand a year. Add in the fact that Thai people are generally good natured and that Thai women are less independent than their American or European counterparts, and many a falang might think himself in heaven.

Of course, what seems to be too good to be true often is exactly that. Not every Thai woman who seeks out a foreign boyfriend is sincere. This is particularly true with those working in the sex industry. The name of the game there is to get as much money out of the john as you can. Some girls will have many foreign boyfriends, each of whom she "loves", all of whom send money each month, and none of whom know about the others. The girl (or someone with better English skills that she hires to type) sends emails full of tear jerking tales designed to get more money out of the guy. Some view the johns as walking, talking and f'ing ATMs.

Don't get me wrong, its not all the girls fault if you fall in love with a bargirl. Guys really should know better. Its not hard to find tales of guys who come over here, fall in love, and end up throwing a lot of money at a girl who is scamming them. Hell, some guys have even sunk most of their life savings to buy a house here. The catch is that it has to be in the wife's name because foreigners generally can't own property. Oh, the other catch is that she is already married to a Thai man from her village. Oh, the final catch, get the hell out of her new house.

Even when both people really do want an honest relationship, its going to be a struggle. Its not only the cultural chasm that you face, but also the socio-economic differences. What do you have in common with each other? Money can become an issue. The guy wants the girl to love him because of the money, and may withhold money to verify that she "really" loves him. To the girl, giving money represents his love in that it shows his willingness to take care of her and her family. The fact that there might be a fifteen or even twenty year age gap between the two does not make a successful relationship any easier.

I'll have more to say on this issue and the whole sex trade sometime later. I find it a pretty fascinating issue.

Birthday Parties & Basketball Games

The girls each had a birthday party to attend today, and Jacob had two basketball games. His team finished second in the league. Jacob didn't score, but he did a decent job hustling, getting a few steals and rebounds.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Airport Picture

While I rode a bus down to Phuket, I flew back. Let me confirm that an hour and a half hour plane ride is much better than a thirteen hour bus ride.

As I was waiting for the plane, I noticed a Thai gentleman sitting across from me. His face had a lot of character, and I thought that he would make a great subject for a photograph. I asked him if I could take his picture, and he kindly allowed me to take his picture.

He didn't like the first shot which was very tight. I enjoy the pictures where the face fills up most of the frame. He liked the second picture better.
We spoke for a few minutes and it turns out that the gentleman is the president of the Thara Patong Beach Resort & Spa. Next time I'm in Phuket, I'll probably book a room at his hotel.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Aleena Ballet

A picture of Aleena in ballet class.

Parent Teacher Conferences

Today we had the parent-teacher conferences for the kids. ISB does a nice job of grouping them all together, as we had them all back-to-back-to-back.

The kids are all very different, but there was one common theme. They all liked to talk, and they don't necessarily let the fact that class is going on inhibit their self-expression. Translation, they talk a lot, and sometimes when they shouldn't. Nalin apparently brings it out of the kids around her. Her teach said she puts her in a table with the three quietest kids in the class, and the table is the loudest. Its not just Nalin talking, she draws it out of the others as well.

Jacob is very bright, but like me at his age, needs to learn when its appropriate to talk. He does well in everything but writing, which he loaths. Getting him to do his writing homework is a please. If by pleasure you think of a drill bit to the noggin.

Aleena is doing very well socially in school. When she acts up, however, she tries to pull the cute card. Her teacher said that she tried to cut line one day, and she looked at the teacher and said, "but I'm little". I guess that works here where we cut her additional slack because she is the "baby". At school, perhaps not as much.

Phuket Vegetarian Festival

This past weekend, I went down to Phuket to the annual Vegetarian Festival. The festival is a nine day event that occurs in the ninth month of the Chinese calendar. In addition to abstaining from meat, many of the festival participants participate in sacred rituals which they believe will bring them good luck. Such devotees are known as Ma Song.

The sacred rituals include fire walking, climbing ladders made of blades, and piercing one's cheeks or tongue with a variety of objects. Each day of the festival starts with a parade originating from one of the many Chinese shrines throughout the city. A large part of the parade consists of Ma Song who have pierced themselves as well as those around to support them. Those supporters wipe their faces, help them drink water, and sometimes help to carry the items used to pierce the particularly devoted Ma Song.

You see the participants are no longer content to pierce themselves with more "common" items such as knitting needles. A certain one upsmanship seems at play. I witnessed participants that had pierced their cheeks with knives, swords, guns, recorders, metal poles of all sorts, and even trees. A few imaginative folks had model boats attached to their faces.

I took pictures on Saturday and Sunday, the biggest two days of the parade. I arrived Saturday morning via a thirteen hour bus ride. It was Tim's idea, and I don't think I'll do it again. The seat was a little bigger than a coach airline seat, and reclined a bit further. We travelled at night, so I could sleep some of the time, but it wasn't like sleeping in my bed.

After arriving at 7:00 am, I was able to check into my hotel, and within an hour I was taking pictures along the parade route. It was only a fifteen or so minute walk from my hotel, so I didn't have to take a taxi.

Sunday is also a big day for the parade. I took a motor cycle taxi to the temple where the parade was to start, but I got their too late. The brochure said that it started at 8:00, and I arrived at 8:20 or so. After observing the parade for a few minutes, I suspected that I had missed a lot more than the first twenty minutes. A quick conversation with a fellow falang confirmed this.

At first I was a bit disappointed. I thought about trying to run to the front, but realized that this just wouldn't work. I found a motor cycle taxi and somehow managed to explain that I wanted to go to the front of the parade route. Soon I was off an adventure, weaving through the city on the back of a motorcycle. After fifteen or twenty minutes, we arrived at a spot near the front of the parade. Despite the fact that the parade route was packed when I finally arrived, I was able to get a great spot by standing on the small grass medium between the lanes of the road. For some reason people were packed alongside the road, but many didn't come out in the middle. The road was closed, but the one downside was you could be trapped there for periods of time while the parade went by. Still, there were lulls when you could cross the road and leave if you so desired.

One great thing about my vantage point the second day was that I was near a turn around point. So the parade went by my on one side on my right and then later on my left from behind. This was nice in that if I missed a shot that I really wanted, I could watch out for them on the way back.

You might notice a lot of white shirts in the pictures. Most of the crowd gathered around to watch wore white shirts.

Along side the roads, some of the people set up little tables with Chinese statues, fruit, and incense. Some of the Ma Song would come over to the table and perform a ritual as they passed. The Ma Song would sometimes hand out small strips of cloth to the crowd to bring boon (good luck). One lady was carrying a black flag with Chinese writing on it that she draped over me, presumably for good luck.

In all I probably took about 700 or 800 pictures of the parade over the course of the two days. Most of them aren't worth publishing, but I have created an album with some of them here.

I've also posted some pictures below. I'll warn you that they might be a bit shocking. I didn't show Nalin or Aleena the photographs, but Jacob thought they were great.

From Phuket Vegetarian Festival
From Phuket Vegetarian Festival
From Phuket Vegetarian Festival
From Phuket Vegetarian Festival
From Phuket Vegetarian Festival
From Phuket Vegetarian Festival
From Phuket Vegetarian Festival
From Phuket Vegetarian Festival
From Phuket Vegetarian Festival

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Lot of Catching Up to Do

Last night I returned to Bangkok after attending four days of the Vegetarian Festival in Phuket. It was a pretty memorable and fun trip.

I took a lot of pictures while I was there; probably in the order of a thousand. It will take me some time to process them for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that with so many, it takes time just to review them all. Secondly, I shoot in the RAW. Okay before you say "ew, gross", RAW is a file format for pictures. Its main advantages are that unlike JPEG it does not compress the file (possibly losing some data), and allows for some processing (white balance is the big one) not available on JPEG files. The disadvantages are that the files are larger and you have to convert them to JPEG (or another format) to post on the web. This means that after I find the "gems" from my trip, I have to convert the files to JPEG. I also will edit the chosen shots to make them look better.

I'll also blog about some of my trip.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

House on Fire

As you may know, I was pretty disappointed with the Republican House members (and some Democrats) who torpedoed the financial market bailout. I listen to talk radio (via podcast on my iPod) so I realize that it was not necessarily popular with all of "main" street.

A lot of the anger seemed to be directed at the lending institutions who made the bad loans, and the irresponsible borrowers. Many conservatives seem appalled by the fact that these people had made bad decisions, and that tax payers would not bail them out.

Let me make it clear that I do not like the fact that we have to bail someone out. It would feel great to let those who caused this mess to bear the full consequences of their actions; for about thirty minutes. The bailout is not a measure to help preserve Wallstreet's profits and deadbeat's homes, its to avoid a financial meltdown of our economy.

This melt down isn't going to be limited to the wrong doers. It would have a severely negative impact on our economy. Credit will become more dear to both businesses and individuals. Businesses than cannot borrow or have to pay high rates end up losing business and laying people off of work. Those newly unemployed may now find that their equity line has been pulled so they too become behind in their home payments.

Here is an easy way to think of it. You live in a neighborhood where all the houses are close together. Your neighbor smokes in bed. You've told him on a number of occasions that it is dangerous, and that he is going to start a fire. Of course, he doesn't listen to you and eventually catches his house on fire. What are you going to do? Would you risk the entire neighborhood by refusing to call the fire department or even worse block the street in order to teach the offender a lesson? You would only do that if you were a complete moron. That is exactly what some people are doing now with the financial crisis. They are willing to let our economy suffer enormous damage just to teach everyone a lesson. Its not principled, its just stupid.