Sunday, November 30, 2008

Maid in Heaven?

Okay, the title is a bit misleading. Things have gotten a lot better with our maid, although crediting the celestial beings for creating a perfect match is a bit of an overstatement.

A few weeks ago, we were looking to get rid of our current maid Booah. She is willing to work very hard, but would sometimes do things to just annoy the hell out of me.

One thing that raised my blood pressure is that sometimes Tim and I would ask her to do something very specific and she would just ignore what we said. This wasn't a matter of not understanding us, this was her deciding that she wasn't going to do what we asked. A good example was one morning when I had Tim tell Booah not to clean Nalin's and Aleena's rooms that day. I wanted the girls to pick up after themselves. Its easy when they have a maid to just leave a mess behind. That afternoon before the kids returned from school, I saw that Aleena's room was clean and tidy. I asked Booah about it. She told me that there was some powder on the floor that she had to mop, so she cleaned the entire room. Those things happened to Tim and I with some frequency.

The other hair pulling personality trait involved communication. She doesn't listen very well. I'll start to ask her to do something, and before I'm half-way done she interrupts and explains that it can't be done. Unfortunately, if she had taken another twenty seconds to listen to me, she would have realized that I was not asking for what she said could not be done, but something else. Even when I did get the entire request out, she would sometimes say that she understood, when in fact she really didn't.

Despite some of our frustrations, Tim and I decided to keep trying to make it work with Booah. Booah really does work hard, and she can speak some English. She is actually a decent cook, cleans pretty well, and the girls are starting to like her. Tim and I also thought that perhaps the fact that she had just started a month before, and that we almost immediately moved might have made it more stressful for Booah. The problems were not all Booah's doings. I would be frustrated by things she did, so when she came to me to tell me that something was broken, or that she needed something, I didn't exert a lot of effort to hide my annoyance. I'm sure that she picked up on it, and didn't make the working relationship any better.

Over the last two or so weeks, things have gotten a lot better. I've made an effort to try to reduce her work load a bit with the kids at bedtime so that Booah can end her day a bit earlier. I've also made it a point to keep a positive attitude. When she interrupts me mid-instruction, I don't get frustrated, I just calmly ask her to listen (I tug on my ear as I do it) and explain what I want. The attitude change has really helped me. Whether she is really doing a better job or I'm just looking at things a bit differently, I'm not sure, but in either case I'm a lot happier with her performance.

Last night I was talking to Booah a bit about her family. I may have already mentioned that she is from Myanmar (formerly Burma). She is thirty years old, married but without children. Her husband works in Bangkok, but since Booah lives here in our house, they only see each other one day a week. She has a younger sister (twenty-seven) and brother (sixteen). Booah sends some of her money to her mother (her father has passed) to help pay for her brother's education. She's been in Thailand for ten years, and plans on staying another ten. I actually hope that she spends a few of those ten with us.

Photo Fun

On Wednesday, I took a cab down to the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew to take some pictures. These are, of course, places that are pretty much must sees for anyone visiting Thailand. As such, I've already seen them a few times. In fact, last Spring I went to Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew to take pictures.

I went again for a couple of reasons. First, I have purchased a new camera and lenses since my last venture down there and wanted to test them out. Secondly, I wanted to try use some of the techniques that I've learned.

I shoot with a Canon 40D. Its a nice camera, although if you considering it now, you might want to consider paying the extra $200 or so dollars and go to the 50D.

Over the summer, I also purchased a wide angle lens. The Canon EFS 10-22 is a lot of fun, and allows for some very wide shots. Shooting wide can be a lot of fun, but there are two issues. One is that you'll get a little bit of distortion at the edges of the pictures. Sometimes something might look like its slightly bent, for example. The other issue is that with a really wide angle its easy to include unwanted objects or persons in the shot. During one shot, there was a woman who was sitting to the side of me and was just in the edge of my shot. I was kind of irritated at first, but the I realized that she would never imagine that she was in the shot. I wouldn't have thought so were I not looking through the view finder.

I did bring a couple of other lenses (Canon 70-200 2.8 IS USM and Canon 24-105 4.0 IS USM), although I shot ninety percent of the shots with the 10-22. I did use the 70-200 for the guard shots. I've shot people with the 10-22, and had some nice results. The problem is that to get the face to fill up the whole frame, you have to get really close. I mean less than a foot. I really didn't think that sticking the lens right in the guards face constitutes crossing a cultural barrier, so I used the 70-200.

I brought my tripod this time. Although its a pain to lug around sometime, it really helps in getting sharp photographs. As a bonus, it also let me put myself in the some of the pictures.

I created an album on picasaweb, and have a sample of pictures below. I took over 300 shots, but only am putting up a couple dozen for now. The number is a bit misleading, as I usually took the same shot multiple times. I may revisit some of the "unpublished" pictures at a later time.

Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew

Saturday, November 29, 2008

New Central Plaza

On Thursday, a new mall opened on Chaeng Wattana Road. The name is Central Plaza, and it is run by the premier plaza group here in Thailand. Here they use the term plaza instead of mall because some company has the trademark to mall or some other such nonsense.

The new Central Plaza is very nice. While its not quite as nice as the Central World downtown, it is very solid. It has two book stores that sell English books (Asia Books sells exclusively English language books) and there is even a pretty decent camera store there. There are a lot of good restaurants renting space as well. They have a movie theater on the seventh floor. Of course, there is the Central Department store anchoring the whole thing. Central is kind of like the Macey's of Thailand.

The Top's grocery store on the bottom floor is a huge plus. Its a lot easier to grocery shop there if I also need to pick up other non-grocery items.

The one thing I wish it had was a Toys-R-Us. Still, Central has a decent, albeit expensive, toy section.

If traffic is light, I can probably get to the mall within five or six minutes. I visited on Friday afternoon, and there was not a lot of traffic. In the evenings,h however, Chaeng Wattana can be quite busy. Tim and I, however, think that we can actually get there via some back roads, which would make traffic even less of a concern. If that is true, I could even ride my bike there.

Soccer Today

Jacob's team, Polyplus, played their fifth game of the season today. They notched their fifth victory, leaving them a perfect 5-0. Jacob played goalie the second half, giving up one goal. I think the final score was 4-1 or 5-1.

Below are some pictures that I took at the game.

Jacob Soccer Nov 29

Friday, November 28, 2008

Protest Update

Yesterday, the government sacked the police chief because of his failed response to the terrorist taking of the airport. Yes, these people who so "love" Thailand are behaving like terrorists. The new chief officially ordered the PAD to leave the airports.

The PAD leadership responded that they would not leave, and would fight to the death. I only hope that if that is true, that the PAD core leadership is in the vanguard that clashes with police. Somehow I think that they are much too humble for such a fate, and would leave the honor of dying for their cause to their simple followers.

The government has been completely inept. Only three days before you officially tell them to stop breaking the law, disrupting commerce and making Thailand look like a third world backwards country. Its not completely their fault, as the police and military have not been responsive. Still, its been reported that each day this is costing Thailand one hundred million dollars. The long term impact could be even great. Still, the government looks like a bunch of fools. The Prime Minister returned from his trip to Peru and only barely mentioned anything about this situation.

The PPP, the dominant party in the government, has just stumbled all over itself since last year's election. First it elected Samak as the PM. Samak, who is known for his controversial statements and clashes with the press essentially said that the PPP was a proxy party for the party of the deposed PM Thaksin. If the goal was to try to bring about national unity, that wasn't the right approach. If the goal was to stir up a hornet's nest, then it was the right approach.

Then, after PM Samak was ruled ineligible because he had a cooking show on TV (he received money for it), the PPP selected Thaksin's brother-in-law to replace him. The second or third largest party in the government coalition then selected Thaksin's cousin as its party leader. You have to wonder if they were just doing it to piss off the opposition or they really don't trust letting the power out of their hands.

The government also keeps pushing to change the 2007 Constitution, drafted under the authority of the 2006 Coup. They are motivated in large part because if they do not, there is court case pending that could dissolve their party and the government.

The big problem is that the government does not have complete power over the military or even the police. In the U.S. and most western democracies, the military is under the command of the civilian government. Here its not legally or traditionally that way. This makes the government extremely ineffective when dealing with a situation like this. While the head of the military has said there will be no coup, he has suggested the government step down.

For all the government's flaws, the PAD is absolutely wrong and must be stopped. They government should attempt to use peaceful means to resolve this, but violence could become necessary. The government cannot agree to resign or to hold new elections without rewarding the PAD's despicable behavior. Even if they held new elections, there is not guarantee that the PAD will like the next one.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner

Last night our family celebrated Thanksgiving much as my family has for many years. We enjoyed the traditional lat na (noodles and gravy), spicy shrimp, dumplings, smoked duck and crispy pork.

The evening conjured up those fond memories of going to mom's and dad's for Thanksgiving. We'd all sit around the table salivating at the smell of the smoked duck. The kids would all fight over the last noodle so they could make a wish. The best part was that we'd all have crispy pork left overs for a week.

Okay, so it wasn't really a traditional Thanksgiving fare. At a Vogel Thanksgiving, you would never find smoked duck in place of turkey, and the gravy was always served on mashed potatoes and stuffing instead of noodles.

Last night was traditional in one important way. We spent the holiday together as a family, and there is nothing that I am more thankful for than that.

State of Emergency

The goverment has declared a state of emergency around the two Bangkok airports. This includes orders to the police to clear the area of protesters. We'll see what happens.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Family is Okay

Despite all the turmoil caused by the anti-goverment forces here, our family is safe and well. Neither our home, the children's school, nor Tim's work are in an area of unrest. This morning I went to the Grand Palace to take some pictures, and there was no sign of disruption there either.

Political Update

Last night, PAD protesters took over Suvarnabhumi International Airport shutting down all outbound flights. Inbound flights were initially allowed to land, but now the airport is effectively closed to all traffic.

When the protesters swarmed the airport, the police were unable to contain the crowd. The government called on the military to help the police to stop the protesters, but the military did not respond.

Some visitors in the airport reported protesters chanting "Fight, fight, fight". I find that a bit hilarious. First, while the PAD has its own "security" force, middle aged men and women make up a large part of the PAD protesters. They are not exactly the fighting type. Secondly, the one time the police did confront them and give them a minor fight, they cried foul and their allies decried the actions of the police.

The PAD has demanded that the government resign. The terms are not negotiable. The government must resign or they will continue their "protests"; in effect trying to shut down the country. With the police unable or unwilling to stop them, and the military sitting on the sideline, they are certainly making progress towards their goal.

I understand that I am a guest here, so when it comes to Thai politics, I really don't take sides. I usually find myself a bemused spectator. I am amazed that the PAD, who profess to love Thailand, are so willing to inflict such damage on it. Not only have they disrupted the legitimately elected government, but now they have effectively driven away tourism, a crucial source of revenue for the Thai economy. With the world economy limping along, tourism was already down from last year. The PAD's is literally preventing people from coming to Thailand. Neighboring countries are advising their citizens to stay away. This is going to have a real effect on the lives of a lot of Thais who depend on tourism.

I'm really not sure of the end game here. The PAD seems unwilling to back down. I guess that they are counting on the government to love the country more than they do. What I mean is that the PAD is willing to destroy the country, and the only way they'll stop is if the government resigns. If Thailand were the baby in the King Solomon story, the PAD would be the woman saying "give me my half".

The government isn't exactly without fault. They are pushing to amend the constitution in order to save their party from possible dissolution. They also have placed people close to deposed PM Thaksin in power, further aggravating his adversaries.

The police seem to have provided some token resistance, and the military has sat on the sidelines. Both sides have support in the police and military. The PAD and anti-government groups have support in the south of Thailand, while the government and the pro-Thaksin faction find a lot of support in Chiang Mai and the north. Bangkok is a bit of a mix, as there are people from everywhere here. Recent elections indicate that it leans towards the anti-government side, but not completely. Since the police and military leadership comes from all over the country, its natural that there is support for both sides.

There is one institution which could probably end this quickly. That institution, though, generally does not involve itself directly in the political sphere. If His Majesty asked the protesters to stop, they almost certainly would. If they refused, they would lose virtually all support except perhaps with their most devoted members.

I hope for the sake of all Thais that this ends soon and peacefully.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Kylie Minogue - X Concert

Last night, the lovely Ms. Vogel and I attended the Kylie Minogue concert with Tim's brother Top and his better half, Tham. Despite the fact that I had never heard of Kylie or her music, the evening was very interesting.

The story behind the tickets is a bit funny. Top received the tickets from Signha Beer. Tim and Top's business are a client of Singha, the main sponsor of the concert. Originally, Signha was going to take Top (and other clients) to England for a week that included watching soccer matches. The problem was that Top, in addition to his duties as CEO of the company, is a police officer (don't ask). Due to the current political turmoil, the police department has ordered all officers on stand by, preventing them from leaving the country. This effectively prevented Top from going to England. As a consolation prize, Singha gave top four tickets to the concert. Bad deal for Top, but a good deal for my blog.

Prior to the concert, the four of us went to dinner. I can't remember the name of the restaurant, but its a place we've ordered out from before. I tried ostrich for the first time in memory. It wasn't anything special, and I don't think I'll have it anytime again soon. Overall though, the food was very good. Roasted chicken and sticky rice are the staple of any good Northeastern Thai cuisine.

The music itself was uninspiring. It sounded to me like any other pop singer from the last twenty or so years. After twenty-four hours most of the songs had faded from memory. There was something about being in some one's arms, and some techno-music about a speaker phone. Actually, I think it was the 90's on the speaker phone asking for the act back.

So you might think, if the the music was blase, why was the concert good for the blog. It was a fun event because it was a great opportunity to people watch. One could learn so much about Thailand just by watching those who attended the concert.

From a Thai perspective, the biggest celebrity at the event was not Kylie. The Crown Prince's daughter attended the event. Her entourage was escorted to their seats by a half dozen police officers, including one sporting a colonel's rank on his shoulder. We actually left the concert before the encore in part to avoid her motorcade when she left.

Apparently, Kylie has an enormous following in the gay community and they turned out in mass for her performance. I would not be surprised if fifteen plus percent of the attendees were very openly gay men. The vast majority fit into that flamboyant gay stereo-type. There were gay couples as well as groups of four or more men. There were gay Thais and gay falangs. Often, there would be a falang-Thai couple. Many of those Thais were undoubtedly sex workers, although one can never be certain.

The gay Thais were a lot more dramatic and flamboyant than the gay falangs. If you saw the falangs when they weren't with another guy, some of them you might suspect as gay, others not. There was absolutely no doubt about the Thais.

The perfect example of this was the couple who sat right in front of Tim at the concert. A European and a Thai guy. The Thai guy was anorexic, wore tight jeans, an open shirt, teased up hair, and some make up.

It wasn't just his outfit (topped off with a shiny silver woman's belt) that gave him away, but it was how he behaved. He acted and danced like a woman. Actually, in a lot of ways, he acted like a thirteen year old girl. He would get so worked up that he would shake his hands at shoulder height and have that excited look on his face. He so wanted to be the center of attention. The guy desperately wanted to stand up on the chair and dance, but no-one around him was doing it. He tried to talk Tim into standing on her chair, so he would have a partner. Finally he jumped up on his partner's chair and danced behind him. That actually worked out better, because if he had danced in his chair (which was directly in front of Tim), I would have had his ass in my face. Instead he was farther over to my right. Gay or straight, I really didn't want his ass in my face during the show.

My attitude towards gays has really mellowed over the last year or two. Truthfully, I don't care if people are gay. I'm really apathetic about the whole gay marriage issue. It really doesn't have any impact on my life, so I just don't care. I will say, however, that I think that those who want gay marriage would find more success if they lobbied for civil unions that are the same as marriage in everything but name. That is a much easier fight. I think its a lot more productive to win an ballot initiative allowing civil unions than to lose one for marriage. After civil unions are legal for a few years and people realize that the continents weren't gobbled up by the seas, then tackle the name issue. Okay, time to jump off my soap box.

So while I'm pretty ambivalent to whether some one is gay, I roll my eyes at the hyper-feminine act. Truthfully, its hard not to laugh at a grown woman who acts like a thirteen year old girl, much less a grown man. Hey, when it came down to it though, that guy in front of me and many others like him kept me entertained.

While Tim had one non-traditional couple sitting in front of her, to my left was the typical Thai-falang. If you thinking "forty-five year old falang with an eighteen(maybe seventeen) year old Thai girl", then you win. I'm guessing on the ages, but I think I was in the ball park. When he came back with a beer for her, I was going to request to have her carded, but why spoil their fun. Well, more precisely, his "fun" and her "day at the office". He didn't grope her too much by bargirl standards, although you don't see Thai couples hanging on each other to that degree.

The guy sitting, or more precisely standing, in front of me was a pretty large falang with a compact digital camera. He probably took fifty pictures at the show, and I'd be willing to bet that not one of them turned out well. The lighting at an event like that makes photography difficult even with the best equipment. Holding a beer in one hand and snapping shots with the camera in the other is just not the recipe for success. Even if you manage to luck and the stage is well lit at the moment you take the picture, from our vantage point, you really couldn't compose much of a picture. He must noticed that the pictures were bad, as he tried a few with his mobile phone. I couldn't help but chuckle.

Of course, there were a number of katoeys at the show. Unfortunately, these were not the "omg, that has to be a woman, she is stunning" variety. No, this was the "omg, are those football players" variety. If you want to chose that life style, more power to you sister, er brother, but put a little effort into it.

There was only one time that I wish that I had brought my camera with me to the show. On the outside of the venue, there were food stalls and souvenir stands. The best was a small stand with two attractive women dressed in red and black selling cigarrets. I wanted to take a picture and caption it "merchants of death" or something to that effect. It was just something you wouldn't see in the states.

Overall, I had fun at the concert. While Kylie's performance didn't carry the night, she attracted the crowd that did.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Thailand Connection

President elect Obama plans on nominating Federal Reserve Chief Geithner as the Treasury Secratary. Geithner actually completed high school at ISB (International School of Bangkok), where my children attend. Apparently Geithner moved around quite a bit as a child, as the newspaper reported that he had lived in several countries during his youth.

Riding on the Tiger's Back

A few years ago, Tim introduced me to the statement "riding the tiger's back". The phrase refers to doing something dangerous that you are unable to stop without severe consequences. Riding on the back of a tiger is dangerous, but the problems is what happens when you try to get off? At that point you are more likely to serve as the beast's lunch as you are to serve as a good example to others.

She first used the term in reference to those in the bus industry who had ties to the Thai gangs. Once you get involved with them, you can't just decide to stop when you want. Your choices become to go along for the ride or get eaten alive.

People I've spoken to think that maybe the PAD and their opponents are both feeling like they are riding the tiger's back. They have started this protest and confrontation and don't know how to safely extricate themselves, so they keep going. Perhaps they hope that a higher power (I'm not talking divine) will intervene and ask all sides to back down. That would allow everyone to take several steps from the brink without losing face.

Big Rally

The PAD (anti-government, anti-Thaksin) is holding a big rally tomorrow. The potential for violence is certainly there, although hopefully things will work themselves out peacefully.

The labor unions have demanded that the government resign, and has threatened a national strike should their demands be refused. Can you imagine the reaction of the American people, if, at even the depths of President George Bush's approval ratings, if American unions threatened a strike if he didn't resign. People would laugh at them.

Ancient City

Today we went to the Ancient City just outside of Bangkok for the cub scouts "Amazing Race". The event was modeled after the show of the same name, and consisted of scouts and their families finding monuments and completing tasks based on clues provided.

The event was a lot of fun. One issue that we experienced involved Aleena's bike seat on my bike. A screw had come loose and fallen off. The other screw did an adequate job keeping her seat attached, but the missing screw allowed a slight swaying which caused a support rod to touch my rear tire at times. This had the same effect as lightly applying the rear brake at random interval. That was pretty frustrating.

The park is pretty big, but we only got off track a few times. Those mainly involved Jacob riding ahead of us as fast as possible with little idea of where he was going.

There was one accident that required hospitalization. The sister of one of Jacob's den mates cut her knee to the point where she needed first aid. Megan, my assistant den leader from last year who moved on to some much more important role, is a nurse and patched the injured rider up. As a precaution, the family decided to take her to the hospital to more thoroughly clean and treat the wound. Who knew that scouting was a combat sport?

Picture of Aleena

Friday, November 21, 2008

Political Update II

There has been a spat of violence against the PAD over the last few months. This past week, a bomb killed a PAD demonstrator and injured others.

The PAD promises a large protest this Sunday in support of their fallen brotheren. Their leadership has stated that the goverment cannot do anything about their protests and occupation of goverment buildings, because to do so would cause the almost immediate collapse of the goverment.

In related news, an army general who supports the anti-PAD forces (pro-Thaksin, pro-goverment) was assigned to the post of promoting aerobic exercise through dance. The re-assigned general was very angry about the assignment, and ripped his boss in the newspaper. The slighted general described himself a warrior and not a dancer, stating that the only dance he would perform would involve throwing a grendade.

In the U.S., I would never expect to hear a general lash out at his command in the press. Even with freedom of speech, openly ripping your commanding officer in the press is a great way to end your career.

The transfer was undoubtedly designed to remove effective power from this general by taking away units under his command. Its important to remember that the 2006 coup would never have succeeded if the coup leaders did not have control of key troop divisions located in Bangkok. So while the military as a whole has declared itself his Majest's Army, even the general's differ in their support of the elected goverment and the PAD.

Political Update I

Apparently former PM Thaksin is currently in Dubai. Britain revoked his visa while he was in China. The guilty verdict on the corruption charges appears to have influenced that decision.

PM Thaksin is scheduled to address his followers again by phone in the near future. Pundits, politicians and observers worry that he might say something to inflame his followers. He recently announced that he would not appeal his conviction and was considering reentering politics.

My guess is that the reason that he is not appealing the conviction is based on his assertion that the court that convicted him was the product of the 2006 coup which overthrew the legitimate democratically elected government. Appealing the case might appear to demonstrate acquiescence to its power. He did not, as you may know, attend his own trial.

Jacob's Soccer

Below is a link to an album containing some photos of Jacob's soccer game on November 15th.

From November 15 soccer


Below is an albumn with some additional pictures of Aleena's class. I go there at least once a week, and often take my camera. Everyone once in a while I get a decent picture from my efforts.

From Rascals

ipod Death?

I think that I might have killed my ipod. The battery died while I was working out, so I put it in my bag. After I worked out, I jumped in the pool, then took a shower at the club. After I showered, my brain went off on a journey to another dimension and I put the soaking wet clothes of the ipod.

A few hours later I thought about what I had done. By that time the ipod was wet and would not start up. I'm going to let it dry out, try to charge it and start it up again. I'm not hopeful. If that doesn't work, I'll take it to see if I can get it repaired. If that is hopeless, then I might order another.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Born Diplomat

Today I received this email.

Today's encounter .......with your son, Jacob:

"Hi! (big smile, as always) You're Luca's mom, right?!"
"Yes! Hi Jacob!"
"You look weird today."

Hm, I guess that's what I get for going to the hairdresser and putting on a
little lip gloss.......... ;-)))))

He really knows how to charm, doesn't he? Its a good thing that he is friendly and genuine, or such comments might make him unpopular.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tim told me something funny that happened while we were at the zoo this past Sunday. She and Aleena were at the tiger exhibit.

The tigers are behind a glass enclosure. Aleena walks up to the glass, careful not to touch it, looks at the tiger and says "you want a piece of me?" Such bravado. Afraid of a sleeping tiger behind a glass wall? Not Aleena.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Day Tripping

Yesterday we went to an outdoor zoo about ninety minutes outside of Bangkok. Its set up so that you drive your car, a golf cart, or ride a tram to the different exhibits spread out over the large park.

At first we took the tram around the park to get an idea of the layout. Then we rented a golf cart and went around on our own. As far as zoo's go, it didn't have the best or widest selection of animals on display. Still, we had a lot of fun. The highlight of the trip was buying cucumbers, bananas, or string beans to feed to the animals. During the short elephant show, the animal came into the audience and accepted food from the audience. It lifted up Aleena's dress. It was pretty funny.

The weather was absolutely wonderful. Not only was it cool, but it was also overcast. The overcast made taking pictures a lot easier. I even busted out the tripod so I'm actually in some of the pictures.

Entire Album -->
Outdoor Zoo

Friday, November 14, 2008

Loy Katong 2008

This past Wednesday, Thais celebrated Loy Katong. Loy Katong is a celebration of the water goddess. Thais thank the water goddess for her blessings and apologize for misuse of the water (pollution, wasting, etc).

One celebrates Loy Katong by making a katong and floating (the word loy means float in Thai)in the river, ocean, swimming pool, or even your bathtub if that's your pleasure. The katong is round, with a base of Styrofoam, a section of banana tree trunk or bread. The katong is decorated with folded banana leaves, flowers, a candle and incense. Bread is becoming the preferred base, as it dissolves in water and can be eaten by the fish. Apparently the day after Loy Katong involves a lot of clean up of the rivers.

Loy Katong falls on the fifteenth day of the waxing moon in the twelfth lunar month. For those of us not so versed in waxing moon cycles, Loy Katong usually falls sometime in November.

This year the family went to Top's condo on the river to release our katongs. The kids made katongs in class, and I picked up some bread bases for Tim and I. We ended up getting a pretty late start, and by the time we ate and released our katongs it was 9:00 p.m. The kids loved staying up an hour past their bedtime.

Below are some pictures that I took. I tried to get some pictures of Tim releasing the katong's with the kids, but the setup made that really difficult. Well, enjoy my homage to poor picture composition.

Loy Katong Album

A Scare

Two days ago, Nalin came in the house and told me while she was playing out in front of our house, that a Thai man in a truck told her to get into the truck. She said that she grabbed her toys and her sister, and ran into the house.

Needless to say, it gave me a bit of a scare. I'm not one prone to believe in the child predator roaming the neighborhoods of America (or Thailand). This wasn't a second or third hand story though. This was from my daughter.

So I call Tim and walk with the girls to the guard at the entrance of our complex. I wanted Tim to explain to the guard what happened. As we approached the guard station, Nalin points to a man talking to the guard and says he was the culprit (my word not hers). He started waving and smiling at them. I mentioned that fact to Tim, and gave the guard my phone. Tim, however, thought that I had given it to the driver and asked him about his conversation with the girls. There was general confusion at that point.

When Tim returned from work, she talked to the guard and by that time, I had gotten a little more of the story from Nalin. It turns out that the stranger was actually the driver for my neighbor across the street. The driver and his wife have worked for the neighbor for many years and live there. Nalin later told me that he was actually walking towards the neighbors house when he spoke to her.

I don't believe that the guy was trying to abduct the kids. I'm not sure if he was telling someone else to get in the car, if Nalin misunderstood him, or he was trying to make some sort of joke. It just doesn't add up to an abduction. He wasn't trying to grab her, and wasn't even in the car when he allegedly said to get in. There are a lot of people playing and walking about, so it would be a huge risk to try to take someone in broad daylight. Doing it on front of your own house where you will be easiy recognized would require a monumental leap of stupidity.

Although she was never really in any danger, I let Nalin know that she did the right thing in getting herself and her sister to safety. I told her that next time she should leave her toys behind and just worry about getting to safety. I also let her know that it is a good idea to yell her head off at that point. She didn't seem to mind that suggestion too much.

Tires & Wrecks in the Street

When the PAD protesters stormed and began their occupation of several government buildings a few months ago, they blockaded many of the surrounding streets. This has disrupted traffic, and no doubt been less than a boon to local merchants on those streets.

Last week or so, the blockade was more than just a hindrance to average Thai citizens. Today starts the six day funeral for the King's sister, HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana, and the blockade sat right in the middle of the Royal families' route.

The police requested that the PAD remove the blockade to accommodate the Royal family and the funeral route. Anyone who listens to the rhetoric of the PAD would have no doubt expected them to fall all over themselves to remove the barricades. The PAD is the group that professes extreme loyalty to the monarchy, and along with its allies, are not afraid to level les majeste charges against its political opponents.

So what did the PAD say when they were asked to clear the streets for the King and royal family they love so dearly? They said no. The PAD initially told the police to change the funeral route, because they believed that the "risk" to their members outweighed any benefit of removing the barricades.

Keep in mind, there was a young Thai man who was charged with les majeste (acts against the King) for not standing up in a movie when the King's song was played. The PAD was blocking the King's way as he mourned the death of his sister. Truthfully, which is more disrespectful to the King?

There was a strong public outcry against the PAD's decision. It was so strong that the PAD reversed itself and agreed to remove the barricades for two weeks in order to accommodate the royal funeral.

If the PAD had stuck to their ill-conceived refusal, there could have been some severe repercussions. First, they would probably have lost a lot of popular support, even among their followers. This may even have led to pressure to abandon their occupation and protest. Secondly, the military or police may have forcibly removed the barricades. The military leadership has stated on several occasions that they are His Royal Majesty's forces. Its not hard to imagine that the leadership might consider this a form of disrespect to the Royal family.

Fortunately it worked out for the best. Violence was avoided and the stalemate continues.

Wonderful Weather

The weather this past week or so has been fantastic. Although I'm reading that we are still experiencing highs in the upper 80's, it really feels like the upper 70's or lower 80's. Perhaps its a result of lower humidity or a gentle breeze, but its just been so pleasant. The rain has stopped as well, so its overall a good time to be outside.

During most of the year, if I'm at home I'll often have the air conditioner in my room running. This past week I've just had the windows open and fans running and its still very pleasant.

There is an amusing side effect of the cool down. You'll see people around, mostly Thais, wearing jackets to stave off the freezing 80 degree weather.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Triple Standard

I think that I might have mentioned in a previous blog that Thais charge a different price for natives and foreigners to places like museums, parks and historic sites. Thais generally pay a nominal fee if any, while foreigners pay a higher rate.

As I may have mentioned, I have absolutely no problem with this policy. Paying five or ten dollars to visit the Grand Palace is not much of a burden for me. For some Thais, charging that much would put it out of their financial reach. I think it would be obscene if the wealthy people from around the world could fly and enjoy the beauties of Thailand only to have that experience denied to the Thais who live around the corner.

Recently I confirmed, however, that there is not a double standard when it comes to such pricing, but rather a triple standard. On Friday I went to the Ancient Siam, Samutprkan. This is a park that contains replicas of all of the wonders of ancient Siam. By showing my Thai driver's license, they only charged me half of the foreigner price. I'd heard about it before, but finally tried it out and it works.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Saturday Doings

Jacob played his second game of the season this morning. He was the goalie for the first half and gave up three goals. Fortunately his team won with a total of 7 goals. He had a good time. I posted some pictures below. The hyperlink below will take you to the album with the dozen or so pictures I posted.

Of course, there is the all important after the game snack ritual. Jacob somehow ended up with some sort of drink, an apple, a bag of Cheetos and a small Kit Kat bar. He dropped his energy drink, which made it difficult to drink because in rock, paper, scissors, glass always loses against sidewalk. Dad had the fun task of picking up broken glass. Yeah me!

I'm not quite sure why they still bottle energy drinks instead of using plastic bottles. It wasn't until we got back this fall that I saw Gatorade in plastic bottles here. Fortunately, now I only see Gatorade in plastic bottles.

Nalin's Bluebirds troop had a bake sale today. With soccer games and a swim meet, ISB was a buzz with kids looking for food to eat, so it was timed well.

We ended up at school for almost three hours between the soccer game and bake sale. Aleena also liked this, as she played with some other kids and had a great time on the swing. Sometimes I scare the Thai moms and nannies because I swing her a little high. Its not really that high, but some of them seem to think so.

Today we had Booah attend a first aid class at the local clinic. She indicated that it went well, but due to the language barrier, she and aren't really chatty.

Jacob Soccer Nov 8

Thursday, November 6, 2008

No Shoes No Scaring

One funny thing that I forgot to mention about Halloween. While the haunted house was not particularly notable for being scary, it was memorable in one respect. It was the first haunted house that I visited where you had to take off your shoes to enter.

There may be blood and gore on the walls, but it would not be respectful to track dirt onto the floor. When you think about it though, its probably better not to anger the denizens within the house any more than necessary.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

U.S. Presidential Election

Well, after nearly two years of hype and campaigning, we have elected a new President of the United States.  While I cannot say that I supported President-elect Obama, I offer my congratulations to him and his followers. 

The Republicans didn't just get beat for the White House, they took hits in the House and Senate as well.  It looks like they'll have just enough Senate seats to filibuster, but that's only if the party is united.  Overall not a good year for the red state boys.

The Republicans have themselves to blame.  They had the Presidency and both houses of Congress for several years and did precious little to reign in spending.  Of course, they got a lot of the blame for the current financial crisis, which in part can be attributed to decisions from the Clinton administration and reform opposition from Congressional Democrats such as Barney Frank.  Not laying it all the Dems feet, they just deserve a fair share of the blame. 

The Bengals 1-8 and the Republicans routed.  Not a great year for my picks.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Halloween Story

Tim told me this story today after we rode the kids to school. One of her employees lives in a neighborhood on the other side of town. As he was going home, he saw a couple of children dressed up trick or treating.

As I've written before, Halloween is not a holiday that is usually celebrated in Thailand. Tim's employee was familiar with Halloween from Tim talking about it. Unfortunately, none of the people in the neighborhood were familiar with or practiced the holiday. The employee saw the kids go from house to house, leaving with the full brunt of the trick and no treat.

The hero of the story (Tim's employee) felt bad for the kids, so he bought a bunch of candy from 7-11 and gave it to the kids. He talked to them a few minutes and learned that they had recently moved to Thailand and didn't know where they should trick or treat. My guess is that by next Halloween the kids will be haunting the streets of Nichada and finding a much more sugary bounty.


Invoking the spirit of the next major American holiday, I and thankful that my Halloween experience did not turn out like my Halloween pictures.

Tim and I took the kids trick or treating on Halloween, while Booah passed out candy. Assuming she followed instructions, we had about 250 or so trick or treaters.

There were also two haunted houses in Nichada. The first one that we visited was so frightening that Aleena and Nalin laughed through out and went through it four times. The highlight of the first haunted house was when Jacob thought that there was a statue in front of him. He nudged it with his candy bag, only to nearly jump out of his shoes when the "statue" moved. Jacob was the only one of us who visited the second haunted house. The girls had already gone back home, and I passed on the opportunity because it was getting late, lightly drizzling, and appeared to be geared for kids.

Overall the night was a lot of fun. The kids came back with a fair amount of candy, more than they will eat. Tim is going to give a lot of it away to some less fortunate children.

My pictures on Halloween were mostly awful. The pictures I took of Aleena's class mates during the Halloween party were poorly lit and composed. The ones that I took of our kids in their costumes suffered more from poor composition than lighting issues. I may be able to use Photoshop to salvage a few, but you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. (No, that was not a reference to Sarah Palin).

Soccer Pictures

I took some pictures at Jacob's soccer game. I didn't really get any decent ones of him, although I got a few that weren't too bad during warmup. Part of the problem was that my Canon ES 70-200 2.8 IS USM just didn't get close enough, even with the 1.4 extender.

Jacob's team did win. The field was completely saturated with water, with large puddles litering the field. The boys would kick the ball and it would just stop in the water. I think it might have actually saved some goals at one point.

Nalin decided not to play soccer this year, so no pictures of her kicking the ball around in the sport that the rest of the world quantly calls football.

From Jacob Soccer

Monday, November 3, 2008

Home Maid Frustration

Our maid is frustrating the hell out of Tim and I. When Tim tells her to do something a certain way, she doesn't listen, rather does it her own way. Her idea of putting stuff away is just stuffing it in the closest drawer.

Sometimes, I wonder if she is just trying to screw with us. I grabbed a can of coke out of the refrigerator the other day and noticed it was just barely cool. I saw that there were a bunch of cans in there, so I thought that perhaps she had just put them in. The next day I pulled another not so cold can out. I looked at the temperature and she had it set to 1, the warmest temperature other than "off".

Tim, while frustrated, is hoping that it will work out. Still, we are looking for someone else to start working for us. If we find someone else, we'll let them work and keep who is best. Kind of like a two person Survivor challenge.

Gmail Woes

As you may remember, I recently changed my email address. There were a few reasons. First, I wanted to take some precautions against online identity theft. Secondly, I got a bit hacked off at Yahoo for putting some legitimate emails in my spam folder. I actually paid $12 a year for Yahoo's premium service, which made it ad free and provided some other benefits.

I decided to give gmail a try. At first, things seemed pretty nice. I set up multiple accounts as to shield the email accounts that I used for sensitive things such as banking from public consumption. The one annoying part was that I had to log out of my email to use my blog. Kind of a pain, but manageable I guess.

Well, today the pain grew very much larger, covering pretty much my whole ass. Today, gmail started designating all my emails as spam, and as such immediately rejects them. It started when I tried to send an email to nine people. Soon after, even my test emails to myself were rejected.

The technical support is virtually non-existent. You can fill out a form, and perhaps google will do something about it in a week or two. They won't let you know that they did anything, but they assure you they'll read the email. They won't respond to it, but they'll read it. Sure will.

I'm pretty frustrated by this. Its not like email is a life or death thing with me, but the service is unusable. I have no desire to start another gmail account and encounter the same thing in another month or two. Perhaps I'll go back to Yahoo. If I do, I'll probably start a new account to avoid all the spam and to help make it more secure.