Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Upping the Pressure

The battle between former PM Thaksin and the current Thai government has been intensifying recently.  Both sides seem to have upped the ante.

Thaksin, for his part, has called for rallies across Thailand against the current government.  The rally in Bangkok, while attracting 30,000 to 50,000 red clad protesters, fell short of the hundreds of thousands hoped for by Thaksin and his allies.  There are also smaller rallies across the country, whose protesters have pledged to come to Bangkok when asked. 

Thaksin spoke to the rallies, and has accused two members of the Privy Council, a group of the King's advisors, of being behind the plot to oust him.  One of those, Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda became the care taker PM after the 2006 coup.  According to Thaksin, a general involved with the coup recently told him of the Privy Council members' involvement.  General Prem and the other member have denied any involvement with the coup.

The Thai government is also upping the pressure on Thaksin.  They are trying to negotiate extradition treaties with Hong Kong and Dubai, two places that Thaksin is reputed to spend most of his time.  The government is also looking to revoke Thaksin's normal Thai passport, his diplomatic one was revoked in the last few months.

Additionally, the Thai government is seeking to impound Thaksin's two billion dollar fortune.  There is a court case in July at the Thai Supreme Court, which if Thaksin loses, would cost him most of his fortune. 

The government definitely seems to have the upper hand.  Still, its unlikely that Thaksin will go down without a fight.

Government Rejects Alcohol Ban

The Thai government announced that it would not implement a ban on the sale of alcohol during Songkla.  The government was worried about damaging the already ailing tourism industry, and instead will focus heavily on preventing drinking and driving.  There was an article in the Bangkok Post a few days ago that talked about how one of the government ministers is a wine connoisseur, and that was part of the reason for his objection to any ban. 

I think that this was a good decision.  The last thing that Thailand needs is for tourist to be disappointed because they cannot drink a beer at the bar or have a glass of wine with dinner. 

Of course, some of proponents of the ban were not really interested in the drunk driving problem.  There is an element here that believes that drinking is wrong, and would ban it if possible.  They protested and successfully blocked the listing of the company that brews Chang Beer on the Thai Stock Exchange, so they are not without any influence.  I'm glad they lost this round.  As a consolation, however, I pledge that I will not drink during those days. 

Working Out

I'm still doing a pretty good job of working out five or six days a week. I've put more emphasis on weight lifting and a little less cardio. I'm still trying to swim a kilometer a day (five days a week), but I'm doing the stair master less frequently and for shorter intervals.

My diet has been kind of lax lately. Its not quite as bad as it was when I started in November, but its far from ideal.

Overall, I haven't lost weight in the last three of four weeks, but I'm putting on a little muscle. Here is a picture taken today. I made sure to smile, because mom complained last time.


Yesterday the power was out for a few hours in the afternoon.  I ended up taking the kids to the mall for a snack so that they didn't have to sit in a dark and warm house.

I got caught in the rain when it started.  I was just outside of Nichada, and had to ride my bike in a down pour.  At one point, I heard a loud sound and looked up to see a transformer sparking about twenty feet away.  I immediately looked up at the power lines about five feet in front of me, but fortunately it did not fry me. 

Ironically, the power went out for about thirty minutes while I was typing this email. 

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cabbages and Condoms

We went to brunch this morning with Top and his family at the Crepes and Company on Soi 12 off of Sukhumvit Road.  We passed a restaurant on the way named Cabbages & Condoms. 

Diva Derby

Today, Nalin's Blue Bird troop participated in the Diva Derby.  The Diva Derby is the equivalent of the Pinewood Derby.  The girls used the same track and car kits as did the boys.  The only real difference was that they did not have a weight limit for the cars. 

Nalin's car was not the most aesthetically pleasing, but she placed second out of ten in her den.  All the girls received certificates for participating.  They did not give out trophies, which did not seem to bother the girls at all.  Of course, Jacob would have been devestated to finish second and not receive a trophy.  I guess its the difference between boys and girls. 

Friday, March 27, 2009


Yesterday I took the kids to Dreamworld since they were out of school. Of course they had a great time. They always have fun there.

Here are some pictures.

Jacob and our new nanny Yaow.

Jacob & Scuba

When I first told Jacob about my SCUBA diving, of course he also wanted to do it.  The PADI (Professional Association of Dive Instructors) do not instruct children for open water (i.e., the ocean) before the age of ten or eleven.  This means that Jacob has a year or two to wait before he even has a chance to dive.

We went to the pool today, and my dive instructor Ae was conducting dive lessons to some people in the pool.  Prior to diving in the ocean, beginners spend time in the swimming pool learning the equipment, signals and how to handle emergencies. 

Jacob has his snorkel mask and spent about fifteen or twenty minutes watching them underwater.  I was next to Jacob when Ae surfaced.  He asked Jacob if he was interested in going underwater.  Ae had Jacob use his octopus, the secondary breathing regulator, and took him under water for a minute or two.  Jacob got a big thrill out of it.

After Ae and his group took off their equipment, he let Jacob put on his BCD (buoyancy control device), which is the vest that helps regulate moving up and down in the water (the buoyancy).  Jacob really liked that you could push the button and fill the vest up with air, and then press a button to release it. 

This has only added fuel to Jacob's desire to learn to SCUBA.  We'll see what happens when he gets a little older.  It might end up being a really big carrot that he has to do something significant to earn.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Careful What You Wear

This is my public service announcement in the form of a humorous story.  There are people who sometimes wear a t-shirt with words written in a foreign language, even though the wearer cannot read the words.  They think the characters just look cool and do not care that they do not understand.  Sometimes that can be a bad idea. 

Oh, and I'm not sure that this story is mom safe. 

I took the kids to Dreamworld, a Thai amusement park.  Jacob and I were standing in line for a roller coaster when I spotted a teenager wearing a white t-shirt with English word in bright green letters.  My first reaction was pretty negative.  I thought, what jackass wears this out in public where there are a lot of kids.  Still, maybe he really didn't know what it meant. 

So I relaxed a bit, walked up to the kids and his friends, and in a friendly voice asked him in Thai if he understood what it meant, pointing at his t-shirt.  The teen smiled and shook his head no. 

I smiled a bit and pointed at the last word on his shirt saying this and then pointed at my crotch.  The shirt said:

He Likes
The Cock

The kids started laughing.  Then I translated it for them into Thai.  I actually said that "he loves" and pointed at my crotch again because I don't know the Thai word for penis.  My translation was a little off, as I actually know the word for like.  Also, the word I used for he was gender neutral, so they might not have known that it was specifically referring to a male.  Still I conveyed the point pretty accurately. 

The kid and his friends started laughing.  Unfortunately, I had left my camera with the nanny so that it did not get banged around on the roller coaster.  I did manage to take a picture of the kid next to his friend with my mobile phone.  The kids then took their own pictures of each other posing with the arrow pointed at them. 

So the next time you see a t-shirt that looks cool, but you can't read it, remember this story.  You might be advertising something that you are not selling.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Not Going to the Rally

I decided not to go down and take pictures at the rally this morning. Later in the day, I'm going to take the kid to an amusement park, and if I go down to take pictures, I won't get back until the afternoon.

If the rally is still going on next week, maybe I'll go down there.

Protests Tomorrow

The red shirts are planning a big protest tomorrow in front of the Thai Parliament.  I plan on heading down tomorrow morning and take some photographs. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Losing My Cool

Its really easy to get frustrated over here dealing with some of the people that you meet.  There are a number of reasons.  One of the big ones is that I do not speak the language well.  I can understand and speak some Thai, I've just never really put in the effort that I need to master the language.  Part of the reason is that most of the time it is easy to get by here in Nichada while speaking very little Thai.  The other reason is that it is a pretty hard language to master.  The tones and sounds are really difficult to pick up, particularly at my age. 

Another reason that its easy to get frustrated is that a lot of the people that you deal with are not very bright.  I don't mean to be unkind, but the overall education system here is pretty lacking and sometimes it really shows.  My wife, who speaks Thai very well, is often frustrated with dealing with her fellow Thais.

Of course, another fact is that Thai people are, by and large, pretty laid back.  An unkinder soul might say that they are lazy.  That's not really fair though.  A lot of Thai people put in a lot of hours at work.  The problem is that they often produce a whole lot less than an American would in much less time.  Thai's love to have fun, and the Thai word for fun is sanuk.  For some Thais, if its not sanuk, they are not going to put much effort into it. 

Another problem is that sometimes if you do not say something exactly how the person expects to hear it, they give you a blank stare.  For example, if you order a coke in a restaurant, you would say in Thai "I want a glass of coke."  At first, I didn't remember the word for glass, so I would say "I want a coke".  While most Thais would understood what I was saying,  ten or twenty percent would be completely perplexed.  Even though the only way they served coke was by the glass, the fact that I didn't say glass when ordering it confuses them to the point that I might as well be speaking English.  If I  were at a stand that sold cans, bottles and fountain coke, I could understand why the clerk might not know exactly what I wanted if I just said that I want a coke.  In restaurants, there is usually no other way to order it. 

Am I stereo typing Thais?  Sure, I probably am.  The above characteristics are found in a lot of people, although hardly everyone.  There are some very bright and hard working Thais.  My wife is Thai, and she and her brother work extremely hard.  Tim's mother was putting in six ten or twelve hour days when she was in her 70's.   Still, I think that they are the exception. 

The other day I was in the grocery store villa, which is located in Nichada and a five minute bike ride from the house.  The majority of Villa's customers are Westerners who live in Nichada.  Since the grocery is inside Nichada, you need to be a resident, guest, or student of ISB to even get to the store.  Most of their customers do not speak Thai very well, if at all.  As a result, they staff people who usually speak some English.  I guess the exception is at the small deli counter.

Let me make clear, that I've bought lunch meat before in a number of grocery stores here, and in many of them, the deli clerk spoke no English.  I know how to say how many kilo's that I want.  I usually point to the item and say how much I want.  When I order ham, I'll usually say "pork" and point at the particular ham.  Its really pretty simple. 

The first time I bought some lunch meat at Villa, I accidentally said one and a half kilo instead of half a kilo.  The reason is that one and a half is "kilo klueng" while half is "klueng kilo".  It was my mistake, but they took back the excess lunch meat. 

Since then, a different person has waited on me, and she is truly awful.  I do the same thing that I do in every other store and she just stares blankly at me.  I say I want half a kilo, she slices a whole kilo.  I say one, she slices one half.  Its maddening.

This past Sunday, I almost completely lost it.  I wanted a kilo of ham and half a kilo of salami.  I pointed to each and said the correct amount.  She slices very slowly, so I went ahead and picked up a dozen other things that I needed.  I came back and she handed me half a kilo of ham.  I pointed at the ham and said nung kilo (one kilo).  I pointed at the salami and told her klueng kilo.  She points to the ham and says half a kilo and the salami and says a kilo and a half.  I'm baffled at this point.  I point to the salami, and then point to the weight on the label for the ham, which says half a kilo.  She still does not understand.

At this point I'm really frustrated.  I am wondering if she is just trying to screw with me, or she is just stupid.  I know its not kind to say that, but its exactly how I felt.  In most misunderstandings here, I am more than willing to accept that a lot of the blame goes to me because I cannot speak Thai well.  Not this time though.  She understands the words I am saying, but somehow cannot understand what I want, or immediately forgets it.  I hold up my finger for the lady to wait, while I called Tim.  I asked Tim to explain what I want to the clerk.  I told Tim that I was ready drive a nail through my head.  I'm not sure if she understood what I said, but she knew I was frustrated.  Tim was able to explain what I wanted.

I will not buy lunch meat at Villa any longer.  If I need it from there, I'll send the maid.  Truthfully, I don't know how most Westerners order from this lady. 

Bill Paying

Paying bills here in the land of smiles is a bit different than back in the U.S.  In the U.S., Tim and I would usually pay our bills either electronically or via mail.  Like many banks, our bank in the U.S. has an online bill paying system.   Occasionally we would drop an envelope into the mail with a check, although that is was becoming much less frequent since we could simply enter the data in the online payment system and have the bank cut and mail the check.

Here in Thailand, paying bills using a website or via mail is not the norm.  Some of the banks may have online payment systems, but a lot of customers probably do not have regular access to computers.  I do not want to libel the Thai postal service, but I think its safe to say that it may not be quite as reliable as its counterpart back in the U.S.  I would not want to send checks in the mail.  Our electric bill, for example, could easily be as much as an average Thai worker's salary for a month.  I think there would be a lot of temptation along the way as the check made its journey from sender to recipient.  

One way to pay bills here is to go to an agent designated to collect for the billing entity.  7-11 is an example of this.  You can go into 7-11 and pay your phone, cable, utility and perhaps other bills.  That is convenient for bill payers, because unlike in Ohio, there are an enormous number of 7-11's in Thailand.  While it is convenient for paying bills, it can be rather frustrating waiting in line to buy a Gatorade while some one is paying utility bills with loose change.  Imagine standing in line behind someone paying for a $40 item with a bag of unwrapped quarters and dimes and you get the picture.  Its happened to me before, and on at least one occasion, I put my items down and left the store.

Another very popular way to pay bills here is via ATM transfer.  The biller will give you their account number, and you make a funds transfer at the ATM.   Your bank then transfers the money from your account to theirs.  The recipient will know the account number of the person sending the payment, but not necessarily the name or the billing invoice number.  This means that you will often need to make a copy of the ATM receipt, and fax it to the recipient with your name and invoice number.  That way they know where to credit the payment.  Surprisingly the ATM lines aren't longer here, but one of life's true joys is to get behind someone paying some bills at the ATM. 

One thing that I do not think that I have seen here is a drive up ATM.  I've seen a lot of ATM's in Thailand, but I don't think that I've seen a single one with a drive up window or ATM.  Then again, I do not recall seeing a stand alone bank, although it is certainly possible.  I've seen banks in office buildings and malls, but not just its own little building like you might see in Anderson Township for example.  Of course, there is a lot of Thailand and Bangkok that I haven't seen. 

Some bills are paid in cash.  For example, the water delivery company picks up money when they deliver the water. If no-one is home, they leave the bill and collect it on a future delivery. 

Fortunately for me, Tim pays most of the bills.  Actually, she has one of her employees make the ATM transfers, which makes it easier on us. 

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Toilet Thief

A Bangkok man got a rude surprise last week when a thief snatched his wallet and mobile phone. The worst part is that the items were in his pants, which were stolen while he was using the toilet in a local grocery store.

The man hung his trousers on the hook on the door while using the facilities. The thief stood in the adjacent stall, grabbed the pants and ran. The victim came running out of the bathroom in his underwear yelling that he had been robbed.

The police apprehended the suspected thief yesterday. They found numerous other personal items which they suspect may also have been stolen from other victims.

It kind of reminds me of a Seinfeld episode where George would undress to use the toilet. I guess its good for this victim that he did not fully strip down before relieving himself, or he might have run into the store bare bottomed.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Alcohol Free Songkla?

The government is considering a ban the sale of alcohol for the Songkla festival.  The purported reason is the number of alcohol related traffic accidents and deaths each year during the festival.

There are currently two proposals being discussed.  The first is a complete ban on alcohol from April 13 to April 15.  The second proposal is to allow the sale of alcohol from 6:00 p.m. until midnight on those days, and to limit the sale to certain venues, like restaurants and hotels.

The tourism industry, which is already reeling from the airport shutdown and the world economic turn down, has expressed concern that a crack down will further damage the tourism business.  Safety and anti-alcohol advocates argue that the ban will save lives.  The Public Health Ministry is in charge of implementing the ban, and there is a disagreement between the minister and his deputy.  The deputy is in full support of a complete ban, while the minister is also concerned about tourism.

In one sense, the ban does not really affect me because I decided to stop drinking almost three months ago.  One of the driving reasons was part of my desire to get into shape.  I don't need the extra calories, and drinking too much made me less likely to want to exercise the next day.  When I drank too much, I was also more prone to eating junk food.  It was also just too easy for me to have a drink.  I have a lot of time here, and it was just too easy to have a drink when I was bored. 

Despite the fact that I no longer drink, I think the complete alcohol ban is a bad idea.  Part of this is the fact that I general favor personal liberty over government restrictions.  Those freedoms regrettably lead to some people making bad decisions, like drinking and driving.  The overwhelming majority of people are able to behave at least reasonably responsibly when drinking. 

The other reason is that I agree that a complete ban can only hurt tourism.  This year it would reduce the income of bars and restaurants as they could not sell drinks.  In the coming years, it could actually reduce tourism around that time of year.  In the coming years it could actually reduce the number of tourist who visit.  While many people come to Thailand for the beauty of the temples and the land, there are also a lot of people who come to party and have a good time. Songkla is a hug party, and like it or not, alcohol is an important ingredient of any party for a lot of people. 

At least the alternate proposal would soften the blow on tourism.  Most of the foreigners would probably be drinking in the type of establishments allowed to serve alcohol during the ban.  Since most foreigners are not actually driving, allowing them to drink will have virtually no impact on highway accidents or fatalities. 

There is another alternative.  There could be a complete ban on the sale of alcohol, but it could just not be enforced.  How much resources will be devoted to cracking down?  A complete ban might actually be a revenue source from some entrepreneurial law enforcement officers who might look the other way for the right incentive.  This is Thailand after all.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Cold War

Another chapter in the U.S. versus Russia is playing out in a Thai court. The U.S. is attempting to extradite alleged international arms dealer Victor Bout. Bout, a Russian, is reputed to have sold arms to dictators and rebels throughout the world. Bout has been indicted in at least one other country, and the U.N. has banned his travel.

A year ago, Bout was arrested by Thai authorities in a joint sting with the U.S. The reason that he is still sitting in a Thai court and not in the U.S. is that Russia fiercely opposes his extradition. Bout is a Russian citizen, who is alleged to enjoy the protection of the Russian military. Many believe that the Russian military provides him protection and arms, while Bout provides valuable intelligence. If this is true, the Russians are surely loath to have an important intelligence asset fall into U.S. hands. Of course both the Russians and Bout deny this.

Typically the extradition process takes a few weeks. The U.S. and Thailand extradition treaty makes it pretty easy to extradite someone. There have been a number of delays, including illness on the part of Bout's aged attorney. Both the U.S. and Russian embassy personnel are regulars in the court room, and their are allegations that both sides have attempted bribery to secure their desired ruling. The presiding judge has commented on the international diplomatic stakes, and has asked for a statement from the Foreign Ministry.

Ultimately, I believe that the U.S. will win out and extradite Bout. The law is on the U.S.'s side. Additionally, the U.S. has a much more strategic relationship with Thailand than Russia. When it comes down to it, Thailand will act in its own self-interest. That doesn't mean that the process won't drag on, and that concessions might won't be sought. Of course, nothing is certain. This is the legal system where former PM Thaksin's lawyers were convicted of attempting to bribe a judge by leaving a suit case full of money for him.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Politics, Black Magic & Spelling

I was reading an article in today's Bangkok Post about a book that talked about the role of "black magic" in Thai politics.  Apparently, both pro-Thaksin and anti-Thaksin forces have employed black magic and fortune tellers in their attempt to gain powers. 

I've known that Thai people are pretty superstitious for quite a while.  Tim's talked before about family members going to fortune tellers.  There are certain colors deemed "lucky" for particular days of the week, and fortune tellers are consulted when selecting dates for important events like weddings. 

What I did not realize is the extent to which superstition influences Thailand's politics.  Try to follow along.  In 2006, then Thai Prime Minister Thaksin's fortune teller revealed that he was the reincarnation of the eighteenth century Thai King Taksin.  Thai history chronicles that King Taksin was killed by his own generals.  Thaksin believed the revelation, and it became publically known.

Interestingly, PM Thaksin's name is pronounced like "Toxin", while King Taksin's name is pronounced like "Thaksin".  You have to love the person who translated Thai sounds into English letters.  The letter "t" makes a "th" sound and the "th" makes the "t" sound.  Of coures, the names Thaksin and Taksin are not spelled similarly in Thai. 

Thaksin's fortune teller was not alone in revealing a previous life to Thailand's powerful men.  General Sonthi, who would later lead the 2006 coup to depose Thaksin, was informed by his fortune teller that he (General Sonthi) was the reincarnation of one of King Taksin's body guards.  This fortune teller also claimed that King Taksin had not been killed by his generals, but had been whisked away by ten guards, and lived out his life as  monk.  Apparently this caused the good general some consternation.  How could he lead a coup against Thaksin if he was his loyal guard in a previous life. 

General Sonthi's fortune teller allayed his fears by revealing that PM Thaksin was not the reincarnation of King Thaksin, but instead of a King from Burma.  For those of you not aware, Thailand and Burma are ancient rivals.  In any case, the fortune teller assured General Sonthi that he needed to overthrow the reincarnated Burmese King, as Thaksin would only cause misery and pain for Thailand. 

It amazes me that Thailand's politics is so influenced by these fortune tellers.  Political luminaries flock to famous fortune tellers to hear their predictions and receive their blessings.  Of course, each "side" seems to have its own set of fortune tellers. 

It is my nature to be very skeptical of the prognosticating profession.  I believe that they tend to tell people what they want to hear or speak in generalities.  The fact that powerful people here rely on their advice for important decisions gives me pause.  It makes me much less confident about their ability to lead this country out of the third world.

Senator Seppuku and Bonuses

Iowa Senator Grassley recently said that the AIG executives involved in doling out 165 million in bonuses should apologize and then either quit or commit seppuku, the ancient Japanese ritual suicide.  I will discuss the bonuses more in a moment, but let me say that perhaps Senator Grassley is missing the plank in his own eye while adeptly spotting the speck in the AIG executives' eyes.

Let's say that Senator Grassley is correct, and that those who waste U.S. tax payer money should apologize, and then resign or commit suicide.  Senator Grassley was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1981.  In those eighteen years, the federal budget deficit and federal debt have soared.   Between pork projects and earmark spending, I am confident that the U.S. Senate, Senator Grassley included, has wasted U.S. tax payer dollars in ways that AIG executives could never match.

Maybe the AIG executives should do the honorable thing and pay the ultimate price for their wastefulness.  I actually like the idea.  Perhaps though, they should wait for Senator Grassley and his colleagues to lead by example.  Lead the way Senator Seppuku. 

As far as the bonuses paid by AIG, I do not think its as simple as a lot of people want to make it.  Believe me when I say that I turn a shade of red when I hear that a company is paying out large bonuses after being saved by a government bailout.  I've heard radio talk show hosts defend the bonuses, implying that these are all contractually required bonuses, and that the company is legally obligated to pay them. 

Let's break the bonuses down into two broad categories, obligatory and discretionary.  An obligatory bonus would be one that is specified in an employment contract.  For example, if Senior VP Jones meets the ten specified terms of the contract, he receives a bonus of $500,000.  A discretionary bonus is one that is not in a contract, but is given  to reward an employee for individual or company performance, or the popular "retention" bonuses.

Generally speaking, discretionary bonuses should not be given out by companies that need to be bailed out by the federal government.  Retention bonuses, payments to keep these key people seem particularly outrageous.  These "key" individuals performed so well that they not only nearly bankrupt their own company, but threatened the economic well being of the U.S. economy.  I can see why you wouldn't want those people to get away. 

Some people argue that the problems with AIG were all in the credit swap business, and that other areas were profitable.  Why shouldn't people who performed well in those parts of the business be rewarded?  Afterall, they did their jobs well and had nothing to do with the problems.  The reason you do not pay them discretionary bonuses is that the company failed.  Were it not for the threat that AIG's collapse could severely damage the U.S. economy, AIG would be no more, and they would receive no bonuses. 

Unfortunately, obligatory bonuses probably do need to be paid.  The company is still a functioning entity and continues to have legal obligations.  Its satisfying to say "screw them", but the same argument could be made for paying a lot of other bills. 

I'm not sure how much of the bonuses are obligatory and how much are discretionary.  The news has really not discussed it in those terms, as its much better to talk about a bigger number.  My guess is that a lot of the bonuses are discretionary, but I could be mistaken.

The real problem is executive pay.  I'm not very comfortable with the government deciding how much people should make.  Truthfully, there are a lot of people in the Congress who are not very smart.  Many are much more adept at running their mouths than they ever would be a business. 

I think the real problems are the board of directors.  In some ways its the foxes guarding the hen houses.  Executives of Company A sit on the board of Company B, whose executives sit on the board of Company C, etc.  These board members do not have an incentive to keep executive pay low.  They have every incentive to inflate executive pay.   If the executives of Company A now make twenty-five percent more, then Company B will have to match, as will Company C.  Its not quite as crass as the U.S. Congress voting itself a pay raise, but its a difference in degree rather than in kind.

There needs to be more Board of Director accountability to stockholders.  There need to be some changes that make it easier for stockholders to challenge and replace a board of directors.  Right now it can be extremely difficult to effectuate change.  Part of the reason is that large chunks of stock are controlled by mutual funds and pensions, entities that are really not inclined to rock the boat.  I think that those groups tend to go along with the current board, which makes changing members even more difficult.  I'm not certain how the rules need to be changed, but they do.     

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Tim had to go to the hospital for a few days.  She is fine, and there is nothing to worry about. 

Today I took the kids to visit her.  She had text messaged her room information to make it easier to find her.  Although it is an English speaking establishment, she still thought it would be easier. 

The hospital is not along the main roads, so the kids and I took a taxi.  After we got on the expressway, I realized that I left my phone at home.  I would have requested that the cab driver turn around, but my track record in communicating something like that is not stellar. 

When we arrived at the hospital, I went to the information desk to find out Tim's room number.  She asked for the patient's name.  I thought that Tim had probably used her Thai name, so I said Temcharoen.  I told her how to spell it in English, but I have no idea how to spell it in Thai.  She searches for a few minutes and then asks me for the family name.  A little confused, I told her to try Vogel.  After a minute, she finds her.  It seems that when she asked me for the name, she wanted Tim's first name, Pawaree.  In the U.S., you would search for a patient by last name.  Here they do it by first name.

I noticed something else interesting when we were waiting for our cab to return home.  There was a sign on one of the doors that said "Closed 23:00  Open 05:00".  That is the first time that I ever noticed a sign that had the closed sign first.  It was that way in both Thai and English. 

Friday, March 13, 2009


We had rain for about half an hour today. This is only the second time in a few months. Don't worry though, we'll more than make up for it in a few months during the rainy season.

Thailand has three seasons. Right now we are experiencing summer. Summer in Thailand goes from March through June. Its very hot here in the summer with occasional rain. It is mostly dry though.

The rainy season begins in July and lasts through October. As you might guess by the name, it rains quite a bit during the rainy season. Sometimes you might get a proper storm, while others you might get a shower for twenty or thirty minutes. Its pretty hot and humid during the rainy season.

Winter in Thailand begins in November and goes through February. In Bangkok, winter means high temperatures in the mid to upper eighties (as opposed to mid to upper nineties). This past year I don't think it rained at all during the winter.

Winter is by far my favorite season. Its often cool enough to comfortably be outside, but warm enough to swim. During winter I usually don't feel like I need to change my shirt after walking outside for ten minutes.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Jacob's Photographs

Jacob and I were working on a photography achievement for cub scouts. He ended up taking a series of pictures and adding a sentence to each to tell a story. Here is his story.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Parent Teacher Conferences

The kids are off of school for the next two days for parent-teacher conferences.  Our conferences are scheduled for Friday morning.  Jacob and Nalin's conferences are actually student led.  They will present the portfolio of their work for twenty minutes, and then we will have time to speak with the teacher about specific concerns.  Aleena's conference only involves the parents and the teacher. 

I don't really expect any surprises.  I have a pretty decent handle on where the kids stand as far as academics and behavior.  Still, its good to have time set aside to meet with the teacher. 

Monday, March 9, 2009

Its a Small World

Yesterday, Nalin told me that they were working on a project with a school from Cincinnati.  She said that her classmates were writing stories to send to the kids at the other school who would help edit their work.  Those kids would in turn write stories that Nalin's class would help edit.

Nalin was excited about it, and I admit that it piqued my interest.  There are a lot of schools in the U.S. that ISB could have been paired with, so I thought it was pretty neat that they were matched to one in our home town.  I stopped by Nalin's class this morning to ask her teacher the name of the other school.  Her teacher, Ms. Pucci, looked it up and informed me that it was Wilson Elementary on Little Dry Run.

Wilson Elementary is located about a mile from our house and is in the same school district that the kids attended.  Jacob and Nalin attended Mercer Elementary, which is a little closer to the house, but not by much.  Jacob's football team actually practiced one year at Wilson. 

I think that it is really pretty neat that the school is so close to our home in Cincinnati.  I'm going to find out the teacher's name and write her an email, telling her about Nalin's connection.  My goal is to get something in the local paper.  I'm not sure if I can get it into the Enquirer or just the local Anderson newsletter, but I'm going to try.  Maybe I can get Wilson to help push the story, as it would be publicity for what they are doing.  Its a nice human interest story.

I'll keep you updated.

The Watchmen

I did not know that there was a Watchmen movie coming out until only a few weeks ago. A few years back I picked up the graphic novel and really liked it, so I was excited to see the movie adaptation. This morning I rode my bike over to the movie theater in the Chaeng Wattana Central Mall to see the movie. I went by myself because Tim’s schedule is pretty busy, and I didn’t know when she would be available to see it.

I liked the movie. It’s been almost two years since I read the book, so I don’t remember all the details, but the movie seemed pretty close to what I remember. I thought that they did a good job casting the characters, and Dr. Manhattan was done really well.
The movie was almost three hours long but it didn’t seem to go on and on. It was quite like The Dark Knight, where I was completely oblivious to the time, but it certainly didn’t drag on.

The premise of the story is not as advent guard as it was when the book was published in 1985. While the book will go down as one of the seminal works in comic book history, the movie will not achieve that status for films. The idea of a “darker” hero is a lot more common place now than it was then. Perhaps the reason that the movie is not as cutting edge as the book is because the book inspired similar works in the intervening twenty-four years.

My comparison to the comic is not to diminish the movie. It is a very good movie and I enjoyed watching it. It does contain a lot of violence, nudity and a few sex scenes, so it’s not appropriate for children.

Of course, when seeing a movie in Thailand, the movie itself is only part of the story. I was running late when I got to the mall, but I knew that the movies always started fifteen or twenty minutes after the stated start time. When I arrived at the mall, however, it was ten minutes past the start time, so I had to hurry a bit.

I went to the ticket counter to purchase a ticket. Here in Thailand, you actually pick your seat for the movie. There are different prices based on the location of the seats. The very back row of most theaters have a love-seat style chair made for two. While it is nice to be able to pick a seat when you purchase it, it does tend to slow the process down. I’ve been in line before behind people who just couldn’t find that perfect seat.

This time there was no one in front of me in line. The clerk pulled up the screen and showed me the available seats. There was not one seat marked occupied. I pointed to the row in the back and told him that I wanted to buy one seat there. He told me that I had to buy those in pairs. Those seats were about six dollars each, while the next row was five dollars apiece. I was not going to pay twelve dollars to sit in the back row. I thought that they might sell me one seat in the back row since the movie was going to start in less than five minutes and the theater was completely empty. They would have made an extra dollar on the bargain. Wisely, I decided to let it go, because all I would have gotten for my efforts was frustrated.

While I usually watch what I eat, I have a bit of a weakness for caramel popcorn. The first concession stand is open, but the clerk walked in the back room, so I went to the next one. At this point, I knew that I was pushing the time, since the movie was going to start soon. I ordered the special, a large popcorn, drink and a Watchmen clock for six dollars. Mind you, I am the only customer at the counter. The clerk starts to fill my order, and then for some reason starts getting distracted by other things. It took three or four minutes to put the popcorn in the bag and fill the drink cup.

I was starting to get a bit impatient, and was ready to walk away from the counter. Finally they gave me all my stuff, and I handed them a five hundred baht bill. That is equivalent to about fifteen dollars. She looks at the bill, looks at the change drawer, and starts heading for the back room. I pull out my wallet, and saw that I had almost exact change, so I yell to her “excuse me, excuse me”. The guy working saw that I had smaller bills out and called her back. I gave her one hundred and sixty baht for the one hundred and fifty-nine baht charge. She pulls out a plastic wrapped pack of one baht coins and starts struggling to open it. After about twenty seconds with no visible progress, I decided that I did not want to miss part of the movie for one baht (about three cents) so I said don’t worry about it in Thai and went to the theater.

I got to my seat with about two minutes to spare. I actually got there after the King’s anthem, so I was really pushing it.
In Thailand, they sometimes edit the movies by blurring certain parts. I don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone, so if you absolutely don’t want to know anything that happens in the movie, you should stop reading.

During one scene, one of the heroes attacks someone with a cleaver, striking him in the head. The censors blurred out the parts where the cleaver struck the head. Later in the movie, however, they did not censor a character sawing off someone’s hands with a power tool. They left in parts where people were shot in the head and you could clearly see the bullet hole. I’m really not sure of their criteria.

One of the main characters of the story is Dr. Manhattan, a hero who gained the power to manipulate time and space through accidental exposure to radiation. He takes the shape of a blue human. Dr. Manhattan is frequently naked during the film. When they showed a frontal shot of him naked, his private parts were blurred. I’m not sure if that’s the Thai censors, or whether it was that way in the film. I don’t think that Dr. Manhattan has the same problem as Barbie’s Ken, but I just don’t recall from the comic book.

Despite the added entertainment of the Thai workers and censors, I did enjoy the movie.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Brain to Spare?

Tim and I took the kids bowling at a nearby bowling alley.  The place is pretty nice and is definitely targeted at an upscale market.  They have the kid lanes with sport side rails that prevent gutter balls and they have these metal ramps that the kids can roll the ball down to bowl.

When we got there, they asked Tim if she wanted to sign the kids up for their kids club.  Its really a pretty good deal that pretty much pays for itself after two games or so of bowling, so we agreed.

We bowled for a while and then some friends unexpectedly arrived and bowled at the lane next to us.  That was a nice surprise.  Adam was one of the boys who spent the night for Jacob's birthday party, and I'm friends with both parents.

I noticed as we were bowling that they were cleaning the lanes to our right with some machine the width of the lanes.  In the middle of my ninth frame, the guy puts the machine in our lane, and is about to clean it.  I look at Tim who asks the guy what he thinks he's doing (she asked in a nice way).  He says that he is cleaning the lane.  She points out that we are almost finished with a game.  He tells her that he always cleans the lanes at 5:00.  Well, she lets him know that he needs to wait.  So the guy ends putting away his cleaning machine.

Part of me was just flabbergasted.  This guy was going to interrupt our game, making us wait ten or more minutes while he cleaned the lane.  Another part of me was not even the smallest bit surprised.  Here I was bowling in the lane that this guy needed to clean.  Customers can be so inconvenient. 

My satisfaction in our small victory in being able to finish our game was short lived.  The unstated cost of the kids club was that you have to wait for twenty or thirty minutes while the less than stellar clerk tries to figure out how to ring you up.  I'm not sure if they were cleaning the cash register or the lady was just stupid, but in any case it took way too long.    

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Some Pictures of the Kids

This is a picture taken in January at Dreamworld.

This morning the girls came into my room dressed up, so we went outside and took some pictures.

More Les Majeste Detentions

The Thai police raided the offices of Prachatai.com and detained its web master on charges of violations of les majeste and the Computer Act.  According to the Bangkok Post, prachathai.com was formed during the Thaksin government as a critique of his populist policies, but has served as a forum for anti-coup discussions since 2006.  The police have not released information on what content was deemed illegal, although a web site editor speculated that it could have been comments critical of the monarchy posted by users that the web site editors did not take down in a timely enough manner.

PM Abhisit stated that he will work to make the les majeste laws more understandable to the public, and will work to revamp them.  He claims the problem is not with the actual law, but how it is used and enforced.  Deputy PM for security, Suthep Thaugsuban, said that while he will not tolerate insults to the monarch, he will not allow the monarchy to be used as a tool to abuse others.

The newspaper reported the police executed the search based on a warrant issued on March 5, 2008.  At first I was puzzled by the year long wait in executing the warrant. Then I remembered the Australian author who was convicted and later pardoned for les majeste.  I believe that the warrant for his arrest was issued more than a year before it was executed.  I'm not sure if the delay is because of the frequent changes of government and now that there is someone in the right (or wrong) position who wants to aggressively pursue these violations. 

At least PM Abhisit is paying lip service to the need to at least clarify the les majeste laws.  Of course, talk is cheap here, so I'll believe in the changes when I see them.  Well, even then, I might not believe it.  Unfortunately, I believe that politicians and other powerful people here will continue to use the people's love of the King for their own benefit. 


Friday, March 6, 2009

Photo of New Maid

So far our new maid is working out pretty well. She told us that she isn't a great cook, but she has made a few things and they turned out okay.

When I came back from the states this summer, I brought back a dozen or so packs of Gold Star Chili mix. Tim wrote down the directions for Yaow who made it for dinner a few nights ago. The kids loved it.

Yaow speaks English fairly well, and is really good with the kids. Aleena's teacher knows Yaow from her previous employer, and had good things to say. She seems more like part of the family than the other maids and nannies. Tim told her, and I agree, that we hope to have her with us until we go back to the States.

I took a picture of Yaow at Jacob's birthday party.

Birthday Sleep Over

This evening is Jacob's birthday sleep over party. I'm not sure why I thought it was a good idea to give him this option, but I did.

Three of his friends, Ben, Adam and Tobi came over this evening. They started off the festivities by beaning each other with plastic balls. We then had pizza, followed by some more throwing of balls. I managed to distract them from aiming at each other's heads and lower parts with some episodes of Star Wars the Clone Wars and birthday cake.

The boys went to Jacob's room at 8:00, and I can still faintly hear them now (about 9:13 p.m.)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Death of an Icon

On Monday, March 2nd,  Cincinnati television icon Uncle Al (Al Lewis) died at the age of 84.  Lewis hosted the Uncle Al Show television program from 1950 to 1985.

Uncle Al was known to generations of Cincinnati kids.  Thousands of kids appeared on the program throughout its history, including the one writing this blog entry.

Uncle Al will be missed.     

Bears & An Aging Rock Star

This evening was Pack 701's Blue & Gold celebration.  Jacob and four of his den mates earned their Bear badge.  I had ordered badges for all six members of den 5 just in case, and only one did not complete all the requirements.  One of the boys completed his final achievement last night.

Receiving the badge at the Blue & Gold is nice for the boys because it was held in the school's auditorium.  They got to go up on stage and be the center of attention for few moments.  The biggest part of the awards ceremony is for the Weblo II's who "graduate"  to the Boy Scouts. 

In addition to the awards, this year's Blue & Gold featured a father and son cake contest.  Jacob and I used the cup cakes that I made with the extra batter from his birthday cake.  I was unable to buy white icing and didn't want to make it, so we used chocolate icing and decorated the cup cakes with M&Ms.  Due to some behavior issues, we left before the awards or the cake eating. 

Tim did not make it to the Blue & Gold.  The other place to be in Bangkok this evening was the Rod Stewart concert at the Muang Thong Impact Theater.  Tim had been hoping to get comped some tickets from her representative at Singha Beer.  Singha is Thailand's most popular beer, and is usually a major sponsor of concerts and shows.  She talked to him last week and he told her that the concert was very popular, and that the tickets were not trickling down to his level.  Tim was actually thinking about buying a ticket, but they were pretty pricey.  Late last night her contact called and told her that he had managed to get her tickets.  I was already committed to going to the Blue & Gold, so she took someone from work.

I think there will be quite a few Westerners at the concert.  I know of at least five or six other people going, and I haven't really been asking around.  While I don't really miss going to the show, I'm sure the crowd would have provided me with some amusement. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Jacob's Birthday Party

Today we celebrated Jacob's birthday with the family. I baked a cake, which despite how the writing looked on it (see below) tasted pretty good.

Jacob was very happy with the presents he received. His presents included two watches, a pair of sun glasses, and three books.

Below are some pictures of Jacob and his "loot".

Great Minds?

In his recent testimony before Congress, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke answered critics of the government intervening in the economy using the analogy. He asked if you let the house of your neighbor who smokes in bed burn down to teach him a lesson and put the entire neighborhood at risk. You can read what he said below.


Interestingly, I used the exact same analogy back in October. Here is the blog entry.


So, great minds think alike, or is someone reading my blog?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Happy Birthday Jacob

Today is Jacob's ninth birthday.  I made cookies to take to his class today, and even baked a care for tonight.  Tim is picking up his favorite food, KFC, for dinner tonight. 

Two Mysteries Solved

A week or so ago I noticed an odd smell when I opened one of the lower cabinets in the kitchen.  It was unusual because we really don't keep any food in that cabinet.  There were some unfrozen popsicles there, but they certainly did not account for the smell.  Yesterday I opened the cabinet when the maid was in the kitchen, so I asked her to take a look inside.

This morning when I came down from breakfast, Yaow showed me the spoiled bag of lunch meat that she found in the cabinet.  This solved not only the case of the funky smell, but also of the missing lunch meat bag.  A few weeks ago I bought some ham at the grocery store, but couldn't find it later that day.  I usually don't put the groceries away (the maid does), so I assumed that I had forgotten the bag at the store.  It turns out the bagger had put the lunch meat in a bag with some packs of unfrozen popcicles.  Booah had not noticed the lunch meat, so she put the entire bag in the cabinet.     

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Locked Out

I returned back from my workout this morning and my new maid had locked me out of the house. When Booah had locked me out, she had left the door to the maid's quarter open, and I was able to climb in through the kitchen window. Yaow locked all the doors. I was already in a very bad mood this morning, and this did not help.

I called Yaow and told her to come home. By the time she got home, I had found a window in the back that was unlocked and climbed through.

This is not a good start.


Jacob came into my room yesterday "wearing" this box.

He was actually wearing shorts under the cardboard.


I bought this bicycle shortly after I arrived in Thailand a year and a half ago.  I've been meaning to take a picture of this for a while. 

The non-English writing is not Thai, I think its Chinese.