Saturday, February 28, 2009

Access Restored?

As some of you may already read from my email, the Thai government or my ISP appear to have been blocking  I was able to gain access again, so I set it up so that I can publish my posts via email.  This means that even if they block it again, I should be able to continue to blog. 

Friday, February 27, 2009


One of Aleena's classmates is from Brazil, and today his parents came to class to teach the kids about Carnival. They talked about Carnival, and showed a short film. Afterwards, the children made masks and a "shaker" made of a soft drink can with dried beans in it.

Here are some pictures of Aleena and her mask. She really worked for a long time on the mask, and she seemed absolutely delighted when people told her how pretty it looked. I hope that I captured some of that joy in the photographs.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Pictures of the Kids with Booah, Our Old Maid

A New Beginning

As of breakfast this morning, Booah completed her time as our maid and nanny. Although there were some frustrating moments, I think we will all miss Booah. She worked incredibly hard, was a good cook, and the girls really loved her.

Before she left, Booah asked if she could have a picture of the family, and we happily obliged. Before school this morning, I took pictures of the kids with Booah.

We interviewed six of seven people over the course of a few days. Some wanted too much money, others couldn't work the desired hours, while others just didn't have the skillset to do the job.

Right before dinner yesterday, a maid for a former neighbor of ours came to speak to me. I had seen her around our old neighborhood before. She spoke with Tim on the phone and she seemed like a good match. Apparently she was very unhappy at her current employer who had yelled at her and called her names over something that she cooked. The girls saw her and also recognized her. The only downside was that she could not start until March 6th. After talking with her, I thought that we would probably end up hiring her. We could certainly manage for a week without a maid. The biggest pain would have been doing the laundry, but it was manageable.

When Tim returned from work last night, she told me that she had spoken with another maid/nanny who was looking for work. She had worked for another former neighbor for many years, but had recently left their employment. I knew her enough to say hi or wave, but hadn't really spoken to her a whole lot. Tim had actually talked to her in the past and liked her.

Tim and I talked about it and decided to offer her the job. The kids already knew her, which would help with the transition. She can also speak English fairly well, which would make interacting with me a lot easier. The biggest downside was that she told Tim that she was not much of a cook. At her previous family, they had a food service deliver meals. There are a lot of ways around that limitation, as I don't mind cooking once a week, and we can order in once or twice a week. Another option is to buy some prepared meals for the week and freeze them. Its actually pretty affordable to do it that way here.

Our new maid starts tomorrow morning at 7:30 a.m., after the kids are off to school. There are going to be some growing pains as she learns our routines, how we like to do things, and where everything is located, but I am cautiously optimistic.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Now Serving

Sometimes translations from Thai to English can result in some humorous signs. Someone reminded me of a funny one last week at lunch.

Our family goes to Denta Joy, a dentist office where they dentist and staff speak English. The service is good and pretty reasonably priced (by Western standards anyway). There is a sign in the lobby that reads "Now Serving Hispanics".

When It Rains

As I mentioned yesterday, my maid informed us yesterday that she will be leaving on Thursday. Earlier in the month, the water delivery service company informed us that they were going out of business, although I believe that there is a ready replacement available. This morning when I returned from dropping the kids off at school, the gentleman who washes our cars informed me that he is leaving at the end of the month to go back home.

I'm starting to wonder if I smell or have become particularly offensive causing people to want to stop working with me.

Photography Tips - The Tripod

This is the first in a series of blog entries that I am writing about photography. While I am hardly an expert, I've learned a lot over the past eighteen months and you might find some of the tips useful.

You can take great vacation photographs without owning an expensive camera or a bagful of premium lenses. One of the keys to taking memorable photographs of landscapes, landmarks or other sites is to use a tripod. Whatever you shoot with, a tripod can be the difference between a picture you mount on the wall and a beautifully composed, but blurry picture.

The tripod’s purpose is to keep your camera still. No matter how steady a photographer’s hands, there is always some slight movement. The longer the shutter is open when taking the picture, the more likely that movement will cause the photo to look blurry. Major camera companies like Canon, Nikon and Sony have implemented technology in their cameras or lenses to help reduce blurriness caused by camera movement. While these technologies do a wonderful job, they cannot eliminate camera movement as well as an inexpensive tripod.
A tripod is particularly useful for landscape and landmark photography for a few reasons. First, when you take landscape photography, you will usually want to use a small aperture. The benefit of using a smaller aperture is that more of the scene will be in focus. The disadvantage is that the smaller the aperture, the smaller the hole that lets the light into the sensor. Since the hole is smaller, the shutter will need to be open longer to allow in the proper amount of light. The longer the shutter is open, the more risk there is that you will have camera shake if you try to hand hold the camera.

Another reason that a tripod is so useful for landscape and landmark photography is that usually the best time to take those shots is at sunrise or sunset. Sunrise and sunset provide a warm light that is often referred to as the golden light. A lot of professionals will only take these kinds of photographs at and around sunrise and sunset. While the sunrise and sunset can provide a warm light that will improve your photography many times over, shooting at these times has a price beyond the loss of sleep and being late for dinner. It’s simply not as bright as in the middle of the afternoon. Since there is less light when the camera opens the shutter, it needs to keep it open longer in order to get the correct exposure.

So how long is that shutter going to be open? When I took my pictures at sunset in Sukhothai, the exposure time ranged from four-tenths of a second to twenty-five seconds or more. Even with anti-shake technology, a person cannot hold a camera perfectly still for almost half a second, much less for nearly half a minute.

The only way that you could hand hold in those situations is to use a larger aperture, resulting in less of the image being in focus, and to crank up the ISO on the image. Increasing the ISO makes the sensor more sensitive to light, which decreases the shutter time. The trade off for increasing the ISO is more noise in your picture.

In Sukhothai, I saw alot of people taking pictures at sunrise hand holding their cameras. My guess is that when they got home, they had either images that were somewhat blurry or that had a lot of noise. I know that in either case, I would be disappointed.

Tripods come in a variety of costs. Like most things, you get what you pay for. You can buy an inexpensive aluminum one for under $20. The downside is that these are often not as sturdy, and more subject to vibration. The high end carbon-fiber tripods are light and eliminate almost all vibration, but can run you hundreds of dollars, and that does not include the tripod head to which you attach your camera. My tripod is aluminum, but is more sturdy and heavier than its cheaper brethren. It cost me about $100. I tried to use a cheaper one when I was back in the U.S. this summer, but I think my camera and lens were a little too heavy for it.

So what kind of tripod is right for you? Serious photographers who are going to be lugging the tripod around a lot and want to try to eliminate any vibrations will probably be looking at the carbon-fiber variety of tripods. If your goal is to make your vacation pictures look a little nicer, then I would consider one of the inexpensive aluminum tripods. Some of them can collapse so that they are less than a foot long. This makes them easier to carry. The easier it is to carry, the less likely you are to leave it back in the hotel room. The best tripod in the world will not help your pictures at all if it is lying folded on your bed.
The tripod has another benefit in that it lets you “get into” the pictures. I mean, you can do like a lot of people and hold your camera at arm’s length and get your face in the shot, but it’s really hard to compose a nice shot when you are not looking through the viewer or at the LCD.

The tripod really is a great way to improve your photographs. It won’t suddenly make you a master at composition or transform a boring screen into a magnificent one, but it will hold your camera still so that you can get a sharp photo. I look at it this way. If I travel to some beautiful place to which I might never return, I would hate to return home and find that the picture that I took that looked perfect in the small LCD screen is blurry when blown up to four by six or larger.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Not a Great Day

So today has not been a great day. While Aleena was well enough to go back to school, Nalin was up all night coughing, so I took her to the clinic. The doctor diagnosed her with bronchitis, and gave her a bunch of medicine. She'll miss school tomorrow, and if she is still coughing tomorrow, she gets to go back to the clinic.

In other wonderful news, our maid told us that she is leaving this week. She has to go back home to Myanmar (Burma) because of some family emergency. She said that she doesn't know how long she will be gone, but we told her that if she comes back, to let us know.

The girls are going to be very sad when we tell them. They tend to like the maids a lot. Jacob, on the other hand, probably won't care so much. For me it sucks because I have to teach someone else the entire routine. I had an interview today with a maid, but she only cooks a little and is not a live in.

Happy Birthday Tim

Today is my lovely wife's birthday. Happy birthday Tim.

It was a pretty quiet day. We went out to a Thai restaurant for lunch. Tim spent some quiet time watching Private Practice episodes.

We ate dinner at home. Instead of cake, we had rice crispy treats for Tim's birthday. I offered to make either, and she picked the rice crispy treats. Truthfully, if she had chosen a cake, I probably would have bought it.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Writer Pardoned

Harry Nicolaides, who was convicted of les majeste for a passage in his 2005 novel "Verisimilitude" received a royal pardon and was deported from Thailand.

Although he was foolish to put such words to paper here, I am very glad that Mr. Nicolaides received the pardon. Prime Minister Abhisit has expressed concern that the les majeste laws are being misused, and in the past the King has said that it is permissible for people to criticize him.

PM Abhisit has a valid reason for his concern. I've read numerous articles in the paper where politicians and activists accuse their opponents of insulting the King. One politician was investigated because he was accused of offering commentary on the constitutional monarchy system.

Bibidy Bobidy Boo

I kept Aleena home from school today. She was running a fever, coughing and had some green mucus occassionally leaking out of her. Yesterday I picked up some medicine from the pharmacy for her. I probably would have kept her out of school yesterday, but I didn't want her to miss the field trip.

Aleena spent most of the day either napping or laying on the couch watching TV. I did take her and Nalin to the school's production of Cinderella. The show was well done, and the girls really enjoyed it.

I was pretty tired myself this morning, as Aleena woke me up a few times during the night. Instead of working out at my usual time of 8:30, I took a nap and didn't go until 10:30. I did the Stair Master for 30 minutes, lifted weights and swam a kilometer. When I got home, I weighed myself, and probably for the first time since I was in my 20's, I weighed less than two hundred pounds. Of course, after I ate lunch and drank plenty of liquids, I was back over by a few pounds, but it was nice to hit that milestone.

Lately, I've felt a bit frustrated by my progress. It felt like I hadn't really lost much weight over the past month. After I did some calculations, I realized that I've lost thirteen pounds in the last thirty days. If I can do the same thing over the next thirty days, I'll be within striking distance of my goal.


I don't want to turn this into a blog about what is bothering me, but I find this next thing both amusing and annoying. This one involves my workout at the pool.

For the last month or so, I have been swimming as part of my workout routine. I try to get to the gym at about 8:30 a.m., work out for thirty minutes, and then swim. The club has an Olympic sized pool, which is fifty meters long and twenty-five meters wide. It is divided into ten lanes length-wise.

There are usually only a few people in the pool by the time I am ready to swim. There is a woman who swims for while, then suns herself, and later swims some more. She is usually there three or four days a week.

The other "regular" is older Asian gentleman. Although he is missing quite a bit of his hair, he does wear a swim cap. The problem with him is that he is all over the pool. I pick a lane and swim in it. On rare occasions, I might drift slightly out of the lane. This guy, however, is all over the pool. He swims diagonally across the pool. Sometimes I think that he must have ran track, because he does pool laps like you do track laps; in a circle.

The reason this guy concerns me, is that I really don't want to bump into someone while swimming. There is absolutely no reason that I should have to worry about bumping into someone when there are two people swimming in an Olympic size pool. With this guy, I do, because he is everywhere.

Some Annoying Things

A few things have annoyed me lately. They are not huge things that have any meaningful impact on my life, but they are annoying none-the-less.

One thing that makes me shake my head in resignation is the people in Nichada who walk on the bike path instead of on the sidewalk. From our house to school, there is a bike path and a sidewalk along the road. It looks something like this:

| S | B |
| i | i |
| d | k | Road
| e | e |
| w | P |
| a | a |
| l | t |
| k | h |

There is actually a bike path on both sides the entire way, but Nichada closed one side for construction parking. I'll ride on that side when I'm traveling towards school by myself, but when I'm with the kids, I ride in the roped off designated bike lane. The sidewalk runs the entire length on one side, but only about half-way to school on the other.

Because they have one side closed, this means that you can get traffic from two directions in the bike lane. The lane is wide enough for passing, but its close. Given the fact that kids, boys in particular, aren't always safety conscious, you have to be a bit more careful. If you are walking on the sidewalk, it is very easy and safe to cross to the other side. I wouldn't let Aleena do it by herself, but Jacob and Nalin are more than capable. The traffic is fairly light, and their are speed bumps which help inforce the 20 mph speed limit (its actually 30 kph, which is very close to 20 mph).

So despite the fact there there are sidewalks lining the entire way, some people feel the need to walk in the bike lane. Often, they do it side by side, talking the entire lane. I do not undertand it. Well, I do. They are lazy, and I guess it is just easier to walk on the path. While sidewalks are generally in good shape and clear of obstacles, there occassionally might be a plant that protrudes a bit. When that happens, the person would have to step on the bike path for a few feet to get around it.

I understand why some people on foot are on the path. If you are a runner, I completely understand. The sidewalk is fine for walking, but I wouldn't run on it. The same goes for someone with a stroller. They could use the sidewalk, and probably should, but walking on the bike path prevents them from having to go over curbs at the driveways.

Its one thing if I see kids doing it. Its still annoying, but I understand that kids aren't always considerate. They often just don't think about what they are doing. Adults, on the other hand, should know better.

So one might ask why I care about this? One of the reasons is safety. With two-way bike traffic and people walking, the bike lane can get crowded. Tim told me how one day on the way to school, Nalin bumped into one of the women walking in the bike path. Tim stopped to ask the woman if she was okay, and the woman said that she was, but said that she didn't know about her phone because it had been knocked out of her hand. Tim was polite, but really didn't care a whole lot about the woman's phone. I'm glad I wasn't there, because I might have told the lady that she just paid the stupid tax. Sometimes it cost you to be stupid. Had she just walked on the sidewalk, she would have no worries about her phone.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Field Trip

Today Aleena's class went on a field trip to the InterContinental Bangkok hotel located in downtown Bangkok. The father of one of Aleena's classmates is the general manager of the hotel.

Fortunately, there were a lot of chaperons for the trip, so each of us only had two kids. I had Aleena and a boy named Ken. Ms. Patty, Aleena's teacher, told me that Ken was very excited to be in my group.

We arrived at the hotel after an forty-five minute bus ride. Unfortunately, the buses are not allowed to go out of the back gate of Nichada which would save at least fifteen minutes. Upon arrival, the kids were given a drink and snack.

You could definitely tell that Aleena's classmates dad was in charge. He was there for part of the tour, and there were always five or six hotel staff with us. The kids saw a very nice suite, a room attendant make up a bed, treats being made in the chocolate shop, the laundry room, the florist, and an ice carving.

At the end of the trip, the hotel provided a meal of hot dogs, french fries and water melon. I teased one of the Italian moms who ate ketchup on her hot dog, since as everyone knows, that is what kids do. She said that she had never had a hot dog before, and was a good sport about the ribbing.

The kids received a bag of cookies and a room key card (inactive of course). A few of the moms decided to stay down town and left during lunch. This caused a minor issue because one mom was holding the key card of a boy in her group (not her son). This boy was very upset that he did not have his card. I tried to explain to him that he would get his card tomorrow, but he was having none of it. The boy looked to be on the verge of tears, so I told Ms. Patty. She convinced a classmate to give up her card for today, in exchange for the card tomorrow and some unnamed reward.

A few interesting facts about the InterContinental Bangkok:
- It employs over eight hundred people.
- Its laundry room has a washing machine that can wash up to 300 sheets at a time, and it runs almost all day.
- The adjacent Holiday Inn is run by the same management as the InterContinental, and together they have almost 700 rooms.

The way back was faster because where we exited the expressway. The kids in the class were really well behaved. Most of time time Aleena and Ken were holding my hands. The other PreK class also went on the trip, and apparently was not so well behaved. The other teacher decided that she wouldn't go on any more field trips this year.

It was fun. I left my camera at home this time. Honestly, for some things, its just more pleasant to not have it with me. We got back to school just in time for me to swim.

I Now Pronounce You Man and Cashier?

This evening I ran out to Carefour, a French-owned grocery super store with locations all over Thailand. I picked up a few things and headed to the the check out lines.

Fortunately I only had a few things. The conveyor belts at Thai stores are very short and the clerks are often extraordinarily slow. Instead of bagging at the end, the clerks bag as they go. That is not a problem by itself, but when the clerk spends thirty seconds deciding which item to ring up next so that it goes in the correct bag, it slows things down a lot.

I found a short line with no wait. It was a small cash only lane, with another lane immediately adjacent to it. The clerk asked me something in Thai, and I said in Thai that I did not understand her, and that I only spoke a little Thai. She informed me that she spoke medium English. I wasn't quite sure why she was telling me this, perhaps she wanted me to know if I had any questions that I could ask in English.

The clerk at the adjacent lane said something in Thai to me. I didn't catch it at first, so I asked her in Thai to repeat it slowly. This time I caught the word "fan", which means spouse or girlfriend. I responded in Thai that I did have a Thai wife.

She then told me that I her friend, the clerk waiting on me, was looking for a boyfriend. For a second I thought, "do I look like I'm from Gallop Polls or something", until I realized from the look on their faces that they were considering me to fill that role. So I said again "me fan" (already have a wife). The other clerk kept saying "mai me, mai me", which means do not have. I was not quite sure if she didn't believe that I had a wife, or that perhaps I had misunderstood and thought that her friend already had a boyfriend.

Then the looking for love in the wrong person clerk asked me where I was from. I told her the U.S., and she responded that she was from Chiang Mai. I said that Chiang Mai was beautiful.

At this point, she had rung up all six of my items, so I was able to leave. I'm grateful that I wasn't doing a full week's shopping, or she may have brought her family out.

I don't for a second think that the woman found me attractive. She saw a falang around the same age as her, who wasn't too fat or too ugly, and that attracted her. A fair number of Thai people think that all foreigners are rich, and comparatively speaking its usually true. A foreign guy can provide the financial security that a lot of Thai women won't have any other way. Before we become too judgemental, remember that doctors and other wealthy professionals in America are often considered a "catch".

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Reading Aleena

One of the things I like about life here is that I get to spend a lot of time with the kids. Part of that includes teaching Aleena to read.

ISB's PreK class includes teaching the letters and their sounds. They send home books for the kids to "read". The kids don't actually read them, but the books are structured to be repetitive with pictures filling in the blank.

Both Jacob and Tim could read before entering kindergarten. Tim did a great job teaching them. Now I am doing the same thing with Aleena. We are using the same book that Tim used with the older kids. Generally Aleena and I do one or two pages a day, three or four times a week. Sometimes we go a little while without doing it.

Currently we are working on chapter 3. Aleena knows the sounds of all the letters, and can sound out simple words. She recognizes words like mom, dad, cat, at and dog by sight. Some days are quite painful, as she is not interested in reading. Lately, however, she has really improved. She grumbles a bit about having to do her reading, but when she sits down to do it, she has been focused. Today was the best day so far. She read all the words with very little prompting from me at all. Days like today make those hair pulling days worth while.

Pictures of the Kids

Here are a few pictures of the kids from the cub scout campout. I took my camera, but really didn't take many pictures.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Mosquito Racket

I've mentioned before that mosquitoes are a problem here in Thailand. I guess its not a surprise that the little blood sucking insects thrive in a warm and wet climate.

This year seems much worse than last year. I'm not sure if its the fact that we have a small yard at the new house, or if its more universal. At night the kids and I wear the Thai equivalent of off, although Tim refuses because she doesn't like the smell.

We leave our shoes outside the house, and before I put mine on, I just nudge them and a swarm of mosquitoes fly out. Jacob's shoes also seem to attract the little pests, as does Aleena's bike helmet and her seat on my bike. We have some storage at the front of the house where the mosquitoes live.

We had the landlord spray, but it really didn't do much. Over the last few weeks, I've been spraying and killing a lot of mosquitoes. The problem is that I really don't like to spray on to things that people touch.

The solution to my problem turned out to be a lot of fun. They sell these electric tennis rackets that zap mosquitoes. Its great, you hold down a button, swat the insect, and the racket gives them a slight correction. By slight correction I mean it kills them, which as far as I'm concerned, is their "correct" state.

I am now actually enjoying taking care of the insects. Perhaps my sadistic side is manifesting itself, or maybe I feel like I am getting revenge for all the bites that I suffered.

Unfortunately, the pain has not been all on the insect's side. The racket is rechargeable, and when I tried to recharge it the first time, I turned it off and plugged it into the wall. I didn't realize that the charging unit and the electrified racket were detachable. When I was plugging it in, I touched the metal part of the racket. Even though the power switch was in the off position, I got a shock.


Okay, so here is a picture that I took today. I'm not exactly thin, but definitely more so that I've been for the last ten plus years.

From Me

Losing Nalin

Moving to Thailand was a big change for our family. The kids had a new school to attend and new friends to make. Tim had to transform herself from stay at home mom to the second in command of a decent sized company.

My challenges were a little different. While I assumed the primary role of child care giver, the role is a bit different here in Thailand. In the states, Tim would cook, do the laundry, clean the house, as well as spend time with the kids. Here in Thailand, we have a maid to do the cooking and housework. If I need to run out for something, I don’t need to bring all the kids with me; I can let the maid watch them.
Still, while life for me is easy in one sense, it presented its own challenges. I went from living in a country where effectively command the written and spoken language to one where I cannot read at all, and can speak only a little. Not only is the language different, but the Thai culture is so different from that in the U.S. It takes time to adapt to it.

One of the biggest challenges was also one of the greatest opportunities. Prior to coming to Thailand, I had a fairly successful IT career. I left an IT consulting position with BMW Financial Services that put me in the upper percentage of wage earners. The reason that I mention earnings is because it represented a big part of my identity. I saw the fact that I was paid so well as evidence of my value to my company and society in general. It was like when I was in school. I always did very well, and it provided an anchor.

When I got to Thailand, I was no longer the wage earner. Not only did I lose some of my identity, but I suddenly had a lot of extra time. While work was not always exciting, it did fill up a lot of the day. I would have to find something else to fill the time with.

Don’t get me wrong, I was actually looking forward to the free time. I thought about some of the things that I wanted to do, but hadn’t gotten around to doing before. One of the first things that I wanted to do was to learn to cook. I could cook some things already, but I wanted to add to my repertoire. I didn’t want to cook every meal, but rather wanted to be able to cook a nice meal when the spirit moved me.

My success in the cooking endeavor has been mixed. I haven’t learned to make a lot of new dishes, but I did master one new skill. I learned to make pasta from scratch. It was actually pretty easy, although it can be a bit time consuming. When I went back to the U.S. this summer, I picked up a pasta roller to help speed up the process. Rolling it out and cutting it with a knife was not fun. Now I can just make it, roll it out, and slice it with the machine.

The second thing that I wanted to do was to learn to be a better photographer. Before I came here, I bought my first digital SLR camera (Canon XT 350). I’ve learned a lot about photography over the last eighteen months. I replaced my original camera and kit lens with a new camera (Canon 40D) and a handful of high quality lenses. I’ve read books, magazines and websites on how to be a better photographer. Between the better equipment, my research, and practice, I think that I’ve really improved. The photographs that I have taken over the last six months are much better than those I took the year before. I believe that my most recent trip to Sukhothai resulted in my best pictures yet.

I love photography in that it has both a technical and creative aspect. It’s not enough to learn how the camera works and the tricks necessary to get a sharp picture. You need to compose the shot; to decide not only what is included in the picture, but what is left out. I really enjoy trying to take a picture from a different angle than everyone else. I’ve got a long way to go in the creative department, but I’m making progress.

The other thing I like about photography is taking pictures of the kids. It will help me preserve these times not only for myself, Tim and the kids, but also for future generations.

The third thing that I really wanted to do while I was here was to get in shape. Weight has been an issue most of my life. I was chubby as a kid, but I slimmed down quite a bit in high school, largely because of cross country and track. I was fairly sedentary in college and law school, and put on quite a few pounds. I probably weighed around 230 pounds when I graduated from law school. In the summer between law school and starting the PhD program at Boston College, I got in shape. I read Susan Powter’s book on low fat diets and became a believer. In addition to eliminating most of the fat from my diet, I began running again. By late fall, I had lost about 70 pounds and was down to a 32 waist again.

After I left Boston College and began working, my exercise and diet regiment slowly deteriorated. For quite a few years I would diet and/or exercise. I would lose 15 or 20 pounds, but would put it all back on in fairly short order.
As those who saw me when I returned to the U.S. this summer, operation weight loss was hardly a smashing success. In fact, I put on a few more pounds when I was here. Although I rode my bike a fair bit, my exercise regiment could kindly be called inconsistent, and my diet was atrocious. Not only was I not eating healthy food, but I was eating a lot of junk.

I’m actually almost embarrassed to say how large I had gotten. I went to the doctor’s back in May, and I weighed in at 114 kilos. My cloths probably accounted for almost 2 kilos, so that put my actual weight at 112 kilos. For those of you who are not familiar with the metric system, one kilo equals two point two pounds. That’s right; my weight was about 246 pounds. I was wearing a 40 waist to boot. There was no question, I was fat. Actually, fat was far in my rear view mirror; I was obese.

This past October, I started back into the gym again. At that point, I probably weighed close to 110 kilos (242 pounds) I’ve started the workout routine a few times since I’ve been here, but after a few weeks I would stop for some reason. Perhaps I’d get sick or I’d go on vacation and throw off my schedule. So during this iteration of my workout phase, I started off on the rowing machine and occasionally lifted weights. Gradually I added the treadmill into my routine. I was exercising three or four days a week. I was making a little progress, but my diet was still pretty much the same as before.

In mid-November, I was at the club and was talking to James, one of the personal trainers. James is an American from Las Vegas who trains people at the Clark Hatch Club here in Nichada. He’s a good guy, and although I hadn’t hired him, whenever he saw me in the gym, he would give me a word of encouragement. I told Jim that I wanted to slim down and that I was tired of being fat. Jim told me that in addition to the exercise, I needed to change my diet. I remember telling him that I didn’t know if I was willing to do that. He looked at me and said, “You already decided you wanted to do it by asking, why you want to talk yourself out of it.”
I walked out that day somewhat skeptical of dieting.

A day or so later I decided to give it a try. James had recommended eating six or so small meals each day. He talked about not eating a lot of fat and sugar. James actually eats mostly Thai food, but I’m not quite there yet. In addition to the diet, James suggested that I use the Stair Master. He said that it was a much better workout than any other cardio machine they had.

I started off exercising fifteen minutes on the Stair Master and another ten or fifteen on an elliptical glider. At first, fifteen minutes was pretty difficult. While not as hard as running, it made me work. It was a much more vigorous workout than the rowing machine, elliptical glider or even the tread mill. I really do not classify using the treadmill as running. I don’t think the efforts are even comparable.

Gradually I increased the time on the Stair Master to thirty minutes, and added swimming to my routine. I started off swimming a few laps, and worked my way up to swimming one kilometer each day. That’s ten full lap in an Olympic size pool. Currently I work out and swim five or six days a week. I had not done a lot of swimming in the last few years, but it’s really nice to be able to swim year round. About six weeks into my workout, my knee started to bother me. I visited an orthopedist who said that there was basically nothing wrong with it, but to avoid exercised that put a lot of stress on the knee. I saw swimming as a great low stress cardio workout.

I’ve really made an effort to control what I eat. I have cut out a lot of junk from my diet. Sometimes I’ll eat stuff that’s not healthy, but it’s in moderation. Instead of eating half or even a whole pizza, I might have two slices. I try not to eat after eight in the evening (although tonight I did for some strange reason). I have actually started eating a lot of sushi.

Within a few weeks of exercising and controlling what I ate, I started to notice some results. I started to lose weight at a pretty decent rate. My waist size didn’t change much at first, but my stomach become noticeably smaller. The shirts in my closet that had been too small began to fit. By mid-December, I was down to 103 kilos. In mid-January my weight was sitting at about 97 kilos. Now I’m between 91 and 93 kilos; just a few pounds over 200.

So in just over three months, I lost twenty kilos; over forty-four pounds. That is Nalin’s approximate weight. I lost an entire child. I lost Nalin.

It’s just the last few weeks that I’ve noticed my waist size changing. I now am wearing size 36 pants, and have punched new holes in all of my belts. I actually bought a pair of size 34 shorts, and I can wear them, but I need to lose a bit more before they “fit”. I’ve been doing some of that lately; buying clothes that are a little too small and “working out” my way into them.

I’m quite pleased with my progress, although I’m not yet at my goal. I want to lose another ten or fifteen kilos, and drop my waist another two to four inches. When I am ready to stop losing and start maintaining, I want to have lost a Jacob.

I’ve kept my exercising out of my blog because I wanted to make sure that I was going to stick with it. Sometimes I wanted to blog about something that might have happened in the gym or that was in some way related to my weight loss plan, but I resisted. I guess if it turned out to be a failure, then I wanted it to be a private one. Even now, part of me wants to hold off, because despite the weight I’ve lost, I’m still too fat.

I decided to go ahead and blog about it because I am confident that I am going to continue this for quite a while. I enjoy working out each day. I feel better, and have more energy. Before I started this, I could actually feel it walking up and down the stairs. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t panting and out of breath, but I could feel my legs.

While I could decide when to share my workout efforts from the people back home, people here noticed. Tim was the first, noticing that my belly was getting smaller. She was probably the only person that I told that I was doing this besides personal trainer at the gym. Other people at the kids’ school have noticed the weight loss and commented on it. It’s nice to hear. What really encourages me though are the results.

At some point I might post some pictures. I don’t know that I have any really good “before” pictures. When I get really fat, I don’t really go out of my way to take my picture taken or even to get on a scale. That’s part of the reason that I don’t really know my maximum weight. I know I weighed almost 250 at one point, but it could have been higher.

My big challenge now is lifting. I have been lifting off and on over the last three months. The issue is that I don’t really love lifting, so it’s easy to omit it from my routine. I find it easy to forgive myself for not lifting when I just spent the entire last hour working my cardio. Still, I need to work it into the routine.
Well, going to head to the gym soon. Lately, I go between 8:30 and 9:00 am. A lot of the moms who go right after they drop off the kids at school have cleared out by then, and the adult swim class vacates the pool at 9:00 am.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Camp Out

Last night, Cub Scout Pack 701 held its annual camp out. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, the location was moved because there have been reports of a number of people getting ill at the original site. The new sight was Samakee Place, a location a bike's ride from Nichada.

Samakee Place is a small community that used to house U.S. Embassy personnel. The reason that we chose it is because it has a large grass field upon which we could set up camp.

The festivities started at 3:00 p.m., and included games, a grill out, some singing, and a marsh mellow roast. The coordinator volunteered me to lead a group of the boys, and somehow I ended up with Jacob and the rest Weblos 2. Jacob actually liked to hang out with the older boys, so it worked out pretty well.

We slept in tents pitched on the grass field. In my case, there was not much sleep to be found, as the combination of warm weather, bugs and hard ground did a perfect storm of comfort make. Tim and the girls were there during the day, but went home to sleep. They returned in the morning.

A local restaurant catered breakfast this morning. It was a western breakfast of bacon, eggs, and pancakes. It wasn't too bad.

One of the bear scout's mom, Nicole, organized everything. She did a great job, particularly after having to change everything a week out.

I've been pretty tired most of the day because of the lack of sleep. I think I've fallen asleep twice. Hopefully I will be able to stay awake the rest of the day, as Tim and I are going to see the musical Chicago in a little while. Sanghai Beer is a sponsor and comped Tim the tickets.

Forgotten Post

This past Tuesday was a bit of a milestone for Tim and I. Twenty years ago we went on our first date together.

More Sukhothai Pictures

I've posted a few more Sukhothai pictures on picasaweb. There are more in the album linked at the bottom.

Second Sukhothai Album

Friday, February 13, 2009

Valentine's Day Party

Today Aleena's class celebrated Valentine's day. One of the mom's organized it. There were some activities for the kids, including decorating a large poster, making a paper flower, and making then eating chocolate covered bannanas. It was a very nice time, and at the end of class the kids were passing out valentines to each other.

The most memorable part of the party for me, however, took place about mid-way through. I was lifting up Aleena and a few of her friends. I'm in the classroom quite a bit, and most of the kids are very comfortable around me. One boy came up, and I picked him up, held him upside down, and pretended like I was trying to shake coins lose from his pockets. When I put him down, he spins around and hits his fist into my private parts. He didn't hit me that hard, but as they say in real estate, its all about location.

Sukhothai Massage

The historic area of Sukhothai is quite beautiful. It’s a great pIace to experience Siamese culture as it has been for many centuries. One thing Sukhothai does not have is a thriving nightlife.

When one visits Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket or Pattaya, there is so much to do. You do not have to participate in naughtiness to be entertained by the people and sites on Pattaya’s Walking Street, for example. Thailand’s more modern places boast plenty of bars, dance clubs, movie theaters and shopping.

Sukhothai is a lot quieter at night. There are some bars, but there is no movie theater or shopping. There was a small beer festival with food, drink and some music not too far from the hotel, but after thirty or so minutes it lost its luster.
Since I had some free time, I decided to get an oil massage. I thought it would be a nice way to relax from a day of walking and riding around on a moped.

Oil massages have the reputation for being “naughty” massages. In certain areas, especially around Sukhumvit Road (where there are a lot of tourists), the reputation is well earned. In many more massage shops, however, that kind of behavior does not go on.

There was a massage shop right next to my hotel, so I decided to give it a try. When I walked in, I was greeted by a rather short and heavy woman munching on a bag of fish balls. Contrary to any rumors to the contrary, fish balls are not the swollen testicles of large fish. Fish balls are like a sausage made out of fish. They have the same color and texture of a white bratwurst, but are shaped like meat balls.

I should have known something was wrong when I explained that I wanted a massage, and the lady seemed more intent on popping the fish balls into her mouth rather than helping me. I was also a bit concerned about her size. She was probably 5’0 or 5’1, and she had to tip the scales at over 225 lbs. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t concerned that she wasn’t thin and beautiful, but rather that her size would actually cause problems. For example, when you are lying on your stomach, some masseuses will straddle your thigh to massage your back. Masseuses here will often use their weight to put pressure during the massage. I put aside those concerns and thought that this woman was obviously not here because she turned heads to bring in customers. Maybe the reason that she was working at this shop is that she was very good.

So I follow the lady into a room in the back of the shop, where there was a matt on the floor. The setups on massage shops vary so much that this wasn’t really a big concern. Some places, especially spas, have very nice massage tables with an opening where you rest your face. Others have tables with a mattress on them, while others like this one have a mattress on the floor.

I stripped down and lay on my stomach. Another lady walked in for a minute or two to help adjust the air conditioning. Almost immediately after the massage started, I knew that this was not going to be a good experience. The first thing was how she applied the oil. Instead of putting it on her hand first, like every other masseuse does, she squirted it on my back. I thought I was in a bad gay porno for a second.

Most masseuses would kneel next to the mattress, start massaging from the legs up or the back down. Instead, this masseuse sits next to me, and leans on me during most of the massage. She used one hand to rub the oil around like she was waxing a car. I’m not sure what she was doing with the other hand, perhaps her friend had brought her another bag of fish balls, or maybe she was using it to support herself.
I was surprised that less than ten minutes into the massage, she have moved from the back and down to my legs. I soon realized that instead of a moving systematically from one set of muscles to the next, that she moved back and forth several times. It was like a kid with ADD after too much sugar and not a lot of sleep; back, legs, back, legs, legs, legs, back.

If a complete lack of technique wasn’t bad enough, she hurt me several times during the massage. I’m not talking about the expected hurt when the masseuse squeezes a muscle a bit too hard for my liking. Some people like a firm massage and that is really the foundation of the more traditional Thai massage. If someone is too firm, I just politely tell them I prefer it softer. That is usually all it takes. Afterwards, most will ask you then “jep mai?” (Does it hurt?)

This lady wasn’t causing me pain because she was giving me a firm massage; rather it was due to her clumsiness. At one point she moved off her bottom, and kneeled next to me. Rather that is what she intended. Instead she partially kneeled on my thigh, pinching it against the ground. This hurt, and not in a good way. She bumped me painfully a few more times during the massage.

At one point, she put her foot up against my privates. It was only there for a few seconds, and I’m not quite sure of the purpose. I suspect that it was not to excite me, rather she was moving her leg to be comfortable and that’s where it ended up. She did move it before I had to say anything. A few other times her hands were a bit too close to the mark. I’m nearly certain that this was a 100% legitimate massage shop where no funny business goes on. My experience is that masseuse who work in such legitimate shops are careful not to touch your privates. “Casually” brushing one’s privates is one of the ways dirty massage shops indicate the extra service is available.

About half way through the massage, the other lady returns and starts talking to me in Thai. Sometimes I don't mind talking during a massage, but I wasn't having a very great time, I could only understand part of what she was saying, and this lady did not even need to be in the room. She kept asking me questions, and after a few minutes started to piss me off. I finally was fed up enough with talking to her that I put on both ear buds and ignored her.

So finally, after ninety minutes or so, the massage was done. I had considered leaving during the first ten or fifteen minutes, but made the decision at that point that I was paying for a story rather than paying for a good massage. So as I go to get dressed, the lady just stands there looking at me. Most of the time they give you a little privacy to change, but I guess she was eating fish balls during that part of massage school as well. I start to walk to the front of the shop where I intended to pay her. That’s the way it’s structured in most places I’ve been. They have someone collect the money as you leave.

Before I opened the door separating to the front of the shop, the lady says something to get my attention. She then thrusts her and out palms up waiting to get paid. I've bought a lot of things in Thailand before, and never had someone stick their hand out for money. It is incredibly rude, but not at all surprising for this lady. The price was about $16, which I paid. Normally, I would tip $5 or even $10. The reason is that the lady only gets about half of the price; the other part goes to the house. Not this time. I paid her the fee and not a baht more. She was not only bad at giving massages, but she was rude and inconsiderate.

I decided to try my luck a second time the next night. This time I found a place about ten minutes from my hotel. I had to wait ten or so minutes for the masseuse to show up. Things started promising, as this lady seemed to be a professional (not that kind of professional).

It didn’t take long before my hopes were once again dashed. Unfortunately, things soon took a turn for the worst. I was lying on my stomach and she was massaging my inner and outer thighs when I felt a pain. She was scratching my inner thigh with her fingernails. It hurt, and I politely told her so. I explained what hurt. She apologized and continued. About ten minutes later, she did it again on the other leg.

At that point I'd had enough. I got up, got dressed, paid her and left. She was actually probably better than the lady from the night before, but by then I really didn’t want to lie there for another hour in order to get another story of a bad massage.

I finally found a nice massage place on my last day in Sukhothai. Just outside the Sukhothai Historic Ruins was a small restaurant which also offered massages. Don’t worry the masseuse and the people who work in the restaurant are not cross functional. The lady there was really very good. So I guess my massage had a happy ending. Well, not that kind of happy ending.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Chinese New Year Festival in Sukhothai

One of the things that surprised me on my Sukhothai trip was that they were still celebrating the Chinese New Year. On Sunday, after returning from a sunrise photography excursion, I saw that there was a parade in the streets near my hotel. Although I was very tired and ready to go to bed, I spent an hour or so taking some pictures.

The album is here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sukhothai - Part 1

Yesterday I returned from a three day trip to Sukhothai. Sukhothai was the home of the first Thai kingdom and was the seat of Thai power during the 13th and 14th centuries. Located between Bangkok to the south and Chiang Mai to the north, Sukhothai attracts tourists to visit the ruins of this early Thai kingdom. The reason that I visited Sukhothai was to photograph some of those ruins.

It is very clear as you land at the Sukhothai airport that you are in a place much different than Bangkok. The airports themselves stand in stark contrast. Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport is a crowded and hectic modern airport. When there are no protestors interfering with its operation, Suvarnabhumi has flights to all parts of the globe. Its shops offer luxury goods from all parts of the planet. It’s the kind of airport that one would find in a major city throughout the world.

Sukhothai Airport is much more humble than its larger sibling in Bangkok. It offers only a handful of flights each day, and all of those are to Bangkok and operated by Bangkok Airways. Cows graze and chickens peck just a stone’s throw from Sukhothai’s one runway. After disembarking, passengers board a small tram and are driven two minutes to a “terminal” unlike any this author has ever seen. The terminal is a large wooden open air structure with twenty foot ceilings. The terminal feels more like a luxury resort lobby than an airport terminal. The typical airport rows of metal and plastic seating are not found, instead waiting passengers sit on ornate wooden benches. There are no long walks to a gate. The distance from the airport entrance to where you board the tram is no more than twenty meters.

Another difference in airports is that there is not a line of taxis waiting to zip you to your hotel. In addition to the vans from the various hotels, Bangkok Airways operates a shuttle that will take you to a number of destinations. I spoke with the agent and told her my hotel. She asked me twice if I had already made the reservation. After I confirmed that I had a reservation for the Sukhothai Resort, she showed me its location on the map. The hotel was actually close to the airport, and about thirty minutes away from new Sukhothai and almost an hour from the ancient ruins. I was not really very happy to hear this, so I asked her for some suggestions. She named a few, and I decided to try the Sukhothai Orchid, located in new Sukhothai. Even though I would be charged for a night’s stay at my original booking, it was much more convenient and actually cheaper to change. The cost of transportation to and from my destinations would quickly overcome the eighteen dollar penalty.

The shuttle ride to new Sukhothai was about six dollars (180 baht). My room in the Sukhothai Orchid cost about eighteen dollars a night, including breakfast. The room was clean but spartan. It did have air conditioning, although the bed was hardly soft and there were only two electric outlets in the room; the one for the television and the one for the mini-refrigerator. I ended up unplugging both at different times to charge things like my iTouch, portable DVD player and camera battery.

I’ll write about the rest of my first day in the next entry.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I will be posting a few blog entries and a number of pictures about my trip. Here is a picture that I thought turned out fairly well.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Five Little Ducks

This evening at dinner, Aleena started singing Five Little Ducks. After she got ready for bed, I convinced her to sing for the video camera.

Campout Cancellation

Next weekend the entire family was going on a cub scout campout for two nights. I received a call this afternoon that the campout was cancelled.

It seems that a lot of people who have visited the camp have returned home ill. The scouts decided that a bunch of vomitting scouts was probably not the best idea.

All is not lost however. They are arranging a one night trip closer to Nichada. It won't be quite the same, but under the circumstances, they are handling it well.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Field Trip

Today I was a chaperon on Jacob's field trip to the Red Cross Snake farm. There were four parent volunteers. Interestingly, two of the other parents were also involved in cub scouts. Megan is now the pack meeting and training coordinator. Last year she was the assistant den leader for Jacob's den. Greg also chaperoned and is currently Jacob's assistant den leader.

Ms. Rodgers split the class into groups of four students. My group included Jacob, Tobi, Ploy and Prong; two boys and two girls.

The bus ride to the snake farm was about an hour long. Megan and I chatted to pass along the time. I haven't really made much of an effort to make a lot of friends here in Thailand, but Megan is one of the people I consider a friend.

When we arrived at the museum, the kids had a snack and then attended a presentation by the head of the snake farm. He brought out half a dozen or so varieties of snakes, and was a wealth of information about the scaly creatures. The only downside was that it was somewhat difficult to understand him with his Thai accent.

My favorite part was when he explained to the third graders that the male snakes have two sex organs. He turned to me and asked me why. A few answers popped into my head, "for double the pleasure", "cuz there are two lady snakes for every boy snake", "snakes like to party all night long and they don't make snake Viagra". Of course none of these answers were appropriate for a third grade audience, so I just shrugged. The snake expert explained that since snakes didn't have hands to help them hold on, they had a sex organ on each side so that they could copulate on whichever side was easiest. One of the mothers was laughing hysterically at his explanation. That or she was thinking of the same answers that I did.

After the presentation, we explored the two floors of the snake museum. The kids had twenty or so questions that they had to record in a little booklet that Ms. Rodgers had made. A few highlights include the number of rows of teeth pythons sport (6), the largest poisonous snake (king cobra), the eye color of an albino python (red) among others.

The kids then watched a presentation where they milked the snakes for venom to make anti-venom serum. Around this time, a group of female Thai students swarmed the place. There were probably half-a-hundred, and they all moved together. It made things a bit crowded, and there was just enough room for the kids to watch the milking. I walked off to the side and played suduko on my iTouch for fifteen minutes.

After the milking show, we ate lunch. I packed some fake-crab sushi, and the kids had sandwiches and a brownie. We took a few pictures together, and then got on the bus and returned home.

The kids seemed to have a lot of fun. Well, Prong said that she didn't like snakes at least ten times, but I suspect that she still enjoyed herself. Ms. Rogers sent out an email saying that this was the best field trip ever. I'm not sure if that was just flattery, but I do think it was a really good blend of learning and fun.

I had fun as well. Before we got on the bus, I told the kids the story about the two boys hiking in the woods. One gets bit by a snake in the behind, and the other runs back to town for help. The doctor tells the boy that he has to go and suck the poison out of his friends wound or he'd die. When the boy returns, his snake-bit friend asks what the doctor said. "He said you are going to die." Jacob and his friends thought it was funny.

This is part of what I enjoy though, getting to go on the trips with the kids. Jacob really likes it when I go. I know I had better enjoy it, because in a few years, I'll be less fun.

Rain Today

Today something happened that I cannot remember happening for the last three months. This afternoon at 2:45 it poured down rain for about thirty minutes.

The timing was a bit off, as Nalin was about to return to school for dance class. I couldn't very well send her off on her bike in the pouring rain, so I dropped her off. While I was out, I decided to stop by the Nichada office to see if my parking stickers were ready.

Every year Nichada requires residents to get new parking stickers for our vehicles. In mid-December, I dutifully went to the Nichada office and filled out the forms. They issue temporary resident passes at that time, and then the official ones are ready in four to six weeks. I'm really not sure why it is a two step process, but if I had to guess, I would say that they copied someone else's process. That seems to explain a lot here. Someone copies a process from someone else, without really customizing it to their business. So the originator may have had a specific reason to do steps 1-5, and while the copy-cat might only need steps 2 and 3, they instead copy all the steps.

Of course, there was a problem even with the temporary stickers. We have two different kind of stickers. The sticker for the van allows access to the back gate near the expressway. The sticker for the Mercedes does not permit the back gate access, however, my Nichada Club membership does. I just bring my badge with me when I drive and need to access the back gate. When the clerk handed me the temporary stickers back in December, he gave the Mercedes access to the back gate instead of the van. This was after I had explained which I wanted at least four times during the twenty minutes that I was there. I even put my badge on the application for the van so that he knew that I wanted the van to have the access. Fortunately, before I left I checked the stickers and had him correct them.

So six weeks later, in mid January, I returned to the Nichada offices to pick up my stickers. After ten minutes of looking through some files and computer records, the clerk informed me that she had the record of my application, but could not find my stickers. She told me that she would call me and let me know what happened.

Since my last trip had been three weeks ago, and I had received no phone call, I decided to stop by and check what was happening. The minute that I walked down into the office, the electricity went out in the office. This time, they were able to find the sticker for the Mercedes, but not the van. The clerk could not check the computer records, since the power was out. She told me that she would find out what happened, and send the sticker to my house. I think that is what she said.

In front of me in line today was a very unhappy resident. She was of asian descent, although I knew that she was not Thai as she was speaking English to the clerk. The resident was angry because she could not pick up her sticker. I got the impression that the sticker was ready, but that they were requiring her to fax some additional information to them before they could release it. I'm not sure about all the details.

What I am sure about is that she was upset and doing little to hid it. She did not yell at the clerk, but she was making her displeasure evident, stating that the office had messed up, and that she the customer was suffering because of it. Although it was clear at that point that they were not releasing the sticker, she continued to bitch at the clerk. In short, she handled things exactly the wrong way here in Thailand.

I stood back watching the scene and wondered to myself if I should say something to the customer. Perhaps she did not know that when you lose your cool with a Thai, you will not get what you want. Yelling at or dressing someone down in public is a loss of face for both parties. Cause a Thai to lose face, and the apathy they showed that was so frustrating can transform into an even more infuriating resistance. If you behave like that with "less sophisticated" Thai men, you might get your bell rung for causing the loss of face.

The customer then turned to me, and "they have my sticker right there and won't give it to me. They messed up and now I have to suffer." My first thought was "oh the drama". Yes its frustrating dealing with the Nichada office. It seems as if every time I go there that something is messed up. In the overall scheme of things, its not really that big of a deal. Its certainly not worth losing your cool over.

I smiled and said, "yes, but if you lose your cool, you lose."

The lady retorted, "Sure but if my husband was here, they would give it to him. They will do anything for someone with a white face."

I laughed a bit and said, "that's not true", responding to the latter part of her statement not the former. As some of you may know, my face is white. Well, its considerably tanner than it was when I first arrived, but I'm still confident that no-one would mistake me for one of asian, hispanic or african descent. I know that they certainly mess up my paperwork and have caused me grief on occasion.

I'm not saying that there is not a grain of truth to what she says, but her blanket statement is wrong. There are times when having a white face might help. Other times it is a hindrance. One thing is for sure, having a dour or angry face is never an advantage.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Another Year

As previously blogged, I went to the Thai Immigration office today to "find out" if my visa was approved. As was virtually certain, it was approved.

Once again, the experience was made much easier by Tim's contact in the Immigration Office. It is very easy for someone to spend four or more hours getting visas renewed. Employees and the families of foreign corporations and governments usually bypass this process entirely, as the corporation or government handles everything. For someone like me, having the contact in the office is a blessing.

I arrived by cab at 9:30 a.m. I took a cab since parking is absolutely horrendous. My contact did not arrive until twenty minutes later. She took my passport, and while I waited in her office, went to the correct counter and had my passport stamped. One of the ladies in her office then filled out the application for a multiple entry permit for me. Without this permit, if I left Thailand, my visa would no longer be valid. My contact then took the application and fee, and returned with my completed passport. The entire process took less than forty-five minutes.

I brought a few bags of oranges as a thank you for all of the help. She would have helped regardless, but I wanted to offer some token of my appreciation. On previous trips, I saw applicants carrying bottles of Johnny Walker Black Label, which I am certain were meant as gifts for immigration officials. I've read stories of people applying for visas who are told by the immigration official that it is too much work, or too difficult. This is usually a thinly veiled request for a gift or "tea money". Fortunately, that is not something that I have had to employ.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Few Other Political Notables

The Rohingya refugee problem continues to grow. Indonesian officials picked up 198 refugees in a boat who had been adrift at sea for three weeks. The refugees claim that the Thai military had dragged their boats back out to sea, leaving them on their own.

The Thai military has denied any wrong doing, although CNN reported that a source in the military confirmed that the towing had occurred. The Abhist government is calling for a regional solution to the problem.

Perhaps this is a new policy by foreign minister Kasit. He seemed delighted by the airport protests that effectively kept people from entering Thailand. Maybe this is just the next step. If the refugees' allegations turn out to be true, perhaps the foreign minister will declare that it was "fun" and that there was "good sun and good waves".

Other "good" news for the Abhist government includes a controversy over some spoiled canned fish given as part of the relief effort for southern flood victims. Apparently someone with a connection to a high level cabinet member donated some canned goods with spoiled fish. The opposition is trying to blame this on the government. It doesn't really appear that it was the government's fault, or that this will have much of an effect on anything, but it is a distraction.

Thaksin is back in the news. Actually, that last statement implies that he has been out of the news for any amount of time. I'm actually not sure if a day goes by where his name is not in the paper. Thaksin is saying that he wants to get back into politics now, and wants to be PM again.

In order for him to fulfill his desire, something has to change. He is currently banned from politics for four more years, and is facing possible jail time for his conviction on corruption charges.

UDD Demands

The UDD (the red shirts) are back in the news again, and have issued three demands to the government. They are demanding the removal of foreign minister Kasit, the dissolution of the government followed by new elections, and prosecution of the PAD for their airport occupation.

Two of the demands are actually pretty reasonable. The PAD's occupation of the airport cost Thailand's economy billions of dollars, and its total impact may not be known for a few years. The PAD protesters clearly broke the law and should be punished for it.

The foreign minister Kasit was a supporter of the PAD. He actually said that the airport protests were "a lot of fun" and "[t]he food was excellent, the music was excellent." One has to wonder how he could possibly be an effective foreign minister when he condones lawlessness, particularly when that lawlessness caused hardships on Thailand's foreign visitors. I have yet to hear a story where any tourist described the airport occupation as "fun". This guy is an extremely polarizing figure, and having him in the government says a lot about the current government. PM Abhist talks about wanting to unite Thais, but the inclusion of Kasit undermines the sincerity of his words.

I am not sure that I am in agreement with the UDD demands for new elections. While I think the Democrats ended up in power because it is what the military wanted, Thailand really needs a stable government. New elections might not be in the UDD's best interest anyway. There have been some elections to replace MP's and some local elections, and the current government has done much better than expected. If the government did call for new elections, the UDD might find its allies filling fewer seats in the Thai Parliament.

Field Trip

On Thursday, I am chaperoning Jacob's field trip to the snake farm. There are three or four parents who signed on the escort the eager bunch of third graders. I actually know two of the parents fairly well from cub scouts.

I've been on field trips with Jacob and Nalin before. This one should be fun. His class has two additional field trips planned this year, but I cannot recall the other destinations.

Immigration Again

Tomorrow I go back to the Thai Immigration office to find out if my visa application was approved. This should just be a formality, but I guess one never knows.

I'm actually going by myself this time. Tim's contact told her that neither of us had to go, that we could send someone with my passport to get it stamped. The reason that I am going is that I also have to purchase a multiple entry stamp. If I don't get the stamp, my visa will expire if I leave the country. Since I plan on doing some traveling over the next year, the multiple entry stamp is a must.

Monday, February 2, 2009


I was talking to the father of one of Aleena's classmates this morning. Based on some things I had heard, I thought that he was involved in politics. It turns out that he was an executive with the Chart Thai Party.

The Chart Thai party was recently disbanded by the Constitutional Court because one of it executive members (not the guy to whom I was speaking) was found guilty of electoral fraud. In addition to disbanding the party, the current Thai constitution imposes a five year ban from politics for all its executives.

There is a certain level of unfairness in banning someone from politics for something that they did not do. The Thai constitution purportedly was designed to clean up the corruption in Thai politics, but wields a heavy hand. It takes the "break a few eggs to make an omelet" philosophy instead of protecting the innocent even if it means a bad actor escapes view point.

Dead Bees

Today there were a bunch of dead bees in our driveway and on the street in front of the house. There were dozens of the dead little yellow and black guys.

Its strange that I don't recall seeing any bees alive around the house. There are always many mosquitoes, but not bees.