Sunday, April 26, 2009

Five Years

I went to the Thailand DMV this morning and renewed my driver's license.  When you first get your driver's license here, it expires after one year.  Fortunately, there after they renew it for five years.  So, I'm good driving here until 2014. 

This Weekend

This past weekend was pretty busy for kids events. On Saturday, Jacob had the Raingutter Regatta and the girls each had a birthday party to attend. Additionally, the girls had a photo shoot for their dance class, but some how I missed that Nalin had one.

The Raingutter Regatta is a model boat race sponsored by the cub scouts. In my opinion, its a lot more fun than the Pinewood Derby, because although the construction and design of the boat is usually much simpler than a derby car, the kids actually participate in the race by providing the wind for their boat's sails.

Perhaps it is not a shock that the verbose Jacob was able to effectively weild enough hot air to win his den's race. The race was a two and out format. After winning his first race, Jacob's second round race was to close to call. They reraced, and he won easily. Jacob then won first place for his den by winning the third race. Of course, Jacob was very happy because he won a plaque for his efforts.





Aleena and Nalin had fun at the birthday parties. Aleena had her face painted, and I captured a few shots.



Friday, April 24, 2009

Sentosa

Sentosa is an island in the south of Singapore that is dedicated to entertainment. Sentosa can be reached by cable car or tram. There are a dozen or so attractions available, including a 4D movie, a luge, tours of Ft. Silo and a replica of the Merlion.

We took the cable car over, saw the 4D movie Pirates (which I didn't realize that we had already seen somewhere), the Images of Singapore exhibit, the Merlion replica, and the tour of Ft. Silo.

I enjoyed the tour of Ft. Silo, which the Japanese captured from the British in 1942, and the allies retook in 1945. It was a bit hot, but that's expected since Singapore's only 2 degrees from the equator.

























Thursday, April 23, 2009

State of Emergency Lifted

In a move that demonstrates that there is hope yet for political stability, PM Abhisit lifted the two week old State of Emergency today.  In related news, the Thai parliament is in session trying to come up with a solution.  There have been talks of amnesty for those individuals banned from politics for political offenses.  This is not great news for former PM Thaksin, as those convicted of criminal offenses will probably not be included in such an amnesty. 

While I was in Singapore, one of the protest leaders from the yellow shirts, Sondhi Limthongkul, was shot while on the way to his radio show.  The attempt on his life was unsuccessful, and Mr. Sondhi is currently hospitalized.

Jurong Bird Park - Big Thumbs Down

One of the least enjoyable times that I spent in Singapore was the Jurong Bird. I was actually looking forward to the bird park, as the kids really like places where they can feed birds. They've done it here in Thailand and at the Cincinnati Zoo, and its always been a big hit.

I'll start with the good parts about the park. They put on a show called Bird Buddies that was actually very entertaining. It featured a number of birds and had some audience participation. The last thing that we did before leaving was attend the show, so at least it ended the day on a high note.

The other thing that the kids enjoyed was feeding the birds. By that point in the day, however, I was pretty frustrated with the park and decided to take a walk on my own. Tim gave the kids the money to feed the birds a few times. They then pooled some of their money and bought another cup. Jacob was almost in tears when a kid knocked the cup causing him to spill the juice that you feed the birds. The father poured some of theirs into Jacob's cup, which made him feel better.

The problems with the park was that there really was not that much to do and it is kind of expensive. Jacob and I bought a package that included the bird park, the zoo and the night safari, while the girls were free under a special for people with Thai passports.

They had quite a few birds, but I don't remembers seeing any that wow'd me or that I hadn't seen before. I don't think there bird displays were any better than those you would find at the Cincinnati Zoo.

The tram cost extra, and we decided to buy it because they said we could ride it as many times as we wanted, and we thought the park was bigger than it was. It turns out that you could get off and on the tram, but only ride around the park once. I was pretty unhappy about that. Its not like the tram was nice, as it was still rather warm inside, but I get annoyed when I think I'm buying one thing, and later told that its something else.

Perhaps the thing that irritated me the most happened when we first entered the park. They had a place set up for photographs where the kids can hold the birds and have pictures taken. The line wasn't long, so we let them go. The person in front of us in line went to take a picture of her children, and they told her no. I asked, and they explained to me that if the kids hold the birds, you can't use your own camera to take pictures of it. So I let the kids do it, then took the claim checks and walked them over to the garbage can to throw them away.

For the rest of the visit to the bird park, I did not spend a single penny. Tim spent a little on food for the birds and the kids when I was not there, but I refused to spend anything. It really ticked me off.

Here are a few pictures.



Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Back in the States

Well, I'll be returning to the states for a few weeks this summer. This time, however, I will be coming without the wife or kids.

I'm leaving Bangkok on June 24th and returning on July 11th. Best of all, I used my Northwest miles so the flight is virtually free.

Singapore Flyer

Singapore has an enormous ferris wheel-type attraction that was built in the last year or so. Its pretty expensive, but we had a 50% coupon that came as part of our vacation package with Singapore Airlines. Its not something that I would do again, nor would I feel like I got my money's worth if I had paid full fare, but at the discounted rate, it was only mildly disappointing.

The flyer takes thirty minutes to revolve around once. I didn't really get any good pictures inside the flyer, because there was reflection in the glass. I did take some pictures of the flyer that I thought turned out fairly well.





Wet Wet Wild

The highlight of our trip to Singapore was probably our visit to Wet Wet Wild. In case the name doesn't give it away, Wet Wet Wild is a water park.

Tim and I went back and forth on whether to go to the water park. We were leaning towards going to an amusement park instead, but it was so hot and humid that we thought the kids would enjoy the water park more. It was definitely the right choice. The kids all agreed that it was their favorite day of the trip.

Wet Wet Wild has something to do for all kinds of people. There is a water play area that is really great for all family members, especially small children and those looking for a more mild thrill. For those craving a bit more excitement, there are tube slides, a raft ride, and even a two person slide ride that Jacob really loved.

I didn't take any pictures at Wet Wet Wild, but Tim did. Below are a few.





Science Centre Singapore Disaster

The Science Centre Singapore is definitely worth a visit for any family visiting Singapore. The Science Centre has a lot of great exhibits that are entertaining for both children and adults.

When you enter the Centre, you are in a section dedicated to optical illusions. I took this picture at an exhibit where we had Tim's head on Nalin's body.



The space section was definitely fun. The girls really liked the digital fish pond. There was an LCD screen setup like a table that looked like a fish pond. Visitors can interact with the display by moving their hand over the water, fish or lilly pads. Infrared sensors detect the movement, and simulate the interaction with the pond. In other words, if you wave your hand over the virtual water, it ripples as if you had put your hand in it.

The space section was also the site of a mini-tragedy. I was taking the picture below using my tripod and my Canon EFS 10-22 lens. The tripod was only extended to 18 or so inches high when I bumped it. It fell over, striking the carpeted floor. I've dropped my camera before on much harder surfaces, so I didn't immediately panic. I looked down and was shocked that my lens looked as if it had broken in half. At first I thought the camera itself was broken, but it was "only" the lens.

I guess I'm lucky that this was one of my less expensive lenses. It cost about $500, so its certainly not cheap. I'm going to take it somewhere this week and see if there is a chance to repair it.



One thing that I would recommend is to bring a change of clothing for the kids. There is a water section outside that the kids would really enjoy.

Here are a few more pictures.



Singapore Merlion

The Merlion is the symbol of Singapore. We stopped by there on the second day in the city around dusk. Dusk is a great time for taking pictures of landscape, although sometimes its more challenging with people because of the long exposure times needed.

Here are some pictures of us at the Merlion. I was able to be in the picture with Jacob due to the magic of the tripod.













Night Safari

On the third day of our trip, we went to the Sinapore Zoo with the Scott family. In addition to the traditional zoo, they also have a Night Safari.

We've been to the Night Safari in Chiang Mai as well. Truthfully, both were kind of underwhelming. The idea behind the Night Safari sounds great. You can see the animals at night when they are most active. The problem is that you spend most of the time on a tram driving by the exhibits at five to ten miles per hour.

Yes, I know that you can walk around and see some animals. The coolest of these was the flying squirrels, which would occassionally launch themselves from tree to tree over our heads. That was one of the two highlights of the trip.

The other highlight was the Night Safari's animal show. The show itself wasn't that spectacular, but what made it so much fun was that Aleena was picked out of the audience to participate. They were looking for a four or five year old child volunteer. After the first "volunteer" was too afraid to go on stage, we made a bunch of noise and they picked Aleena.

She was a bit nervous at first, but Nalin held her hand and walked her to the stage. Nalin then went back to her seat, and Aleena became a "star". Aleena started off by pulling her dress up to her face, to which the trained explained that it was a family show. It was cute. Aleena then held a grape in one of her two closed hands and an animal picked the correct hand by its sense of smell.

We were very proud of her. She is often reluctant to do things on her own, while she is very "brave" when she is around her sister or brother. This was all her. She received a coupon for Ben & Jerry's for her role in the show.

I took some pictures of her, but the lighting conditions were hardly ideal. The stage was lit, but not well, and flash photography was prohibited. I used my 70-200 lens, which is very fast and wide. Here are a few of the shots that I took.









Hanging Out in Singapore

One of the things that we noticed in our first day in Singapore was people drying their laundry on poles out of their windows. On some of the larger apartment complexes, it appeared as if there were dozens of flag poles proudly displaying the colors of Singapore's wet clothes.




Monday, April 20, 2009

Darwin's Mistake?

Does it make sense for a creature that hops around to have such low hanging fruit, so to speak?

Despise the Demise & No Blood

For some reason, Jacob gets the word demise and despise mixed up.  On many occasions, I hear Jacob say that demises something, when he means despises.  On an equal number of occasions, I correct him. 

The other day Tim had a cut, and Aleena told her that she wished that she didn't have any blood in her body.  When Tim explained that we needed blood to live, Aleena replied that she didn't want her to bleed. 

Monday, April 13, 2009

Singapore Airport

Just arrived in Singapore. They have some free internet terminals, and I decided to make a post while the family made a quick stop.

The flight in was nice. I had "carrot cake" for breakfast, although it in no way resembles the western desert of the same name. If you've ever had turnip cake at a dim sum restaurant you've had something very similar to this carrot cake.

Today we are planning to check into the hotel, and then head to the Singapore Science Centre.

Singapore

Tomorrow morning we will leave for a seven day and six night stay in Singapore.  Our room is supposed to have Internet access, so I'll try to post some updates. 

Government in Action

Today the military cleared the streets of protesters.  The protesters have retreated to their encampment outside of the government offices.

There were clashes early in the morning with shots fired.  The red shirt protesters claimed that the military killed several of their number, while the military countered that this was not only false, but impossible because they had fired blanks.

There was smoke visible in parts of the city.  This was probably due to the burning tires set alight by the protesters before they were cleared from their roadblocks. 

Thaksin, who has urged on the protesters, now says that he cannot return yet, because "true democracy" is not yet in effect.  Obviously, he is not ready to personally make the sacrifices that he asks of his followers.  The kind way to describe this is leading from behind. 

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Red Shirt Protesters Cause Collapse of the ASEAN Summit

In a move that has to strike a blow to Thailand's pride and reputation, the red shirt protesters caused the premature end to the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) by storming the hotel where it was taking place.  The PM issued an Emergency Decree this afternoon, but lifted it in the evening. 

Apparently, they evacuated foreign guests from Pattaya.  I'm not sure if they forced the sailors from the U.S.S. Stennis to prematurely end their shore leave, but if so, there are some pretty ticked off American soldiers and poorer bar girls for it.

Seriously, though, this is just unacceptable.  In the past six months, the different factions have occupied the parliament building, shut down air travel, brought traffic to a stand still in Bangkok, and terrorized foreign leaders at the ASEAN summit.  Both sides claim to love Thailand, but truly they love only themselves.  Actually, a lot of the masses are just dupes, who are blindly following these "leaders".  This really isn't about the elite (yellow) versus the poor (red) as some would argue, its the battle between two powerful factions. 

Any sympathy that I had for the reds has now disappeared.  While I never really believed that they had the best interest of Thailand at heart, they hadn't had any destructive protests until this week.  I guess they feel like they embarrassed the government by disrupting the summit.  They indeed did, but they also embarrassed Thailand.  Thailand's authoritarian neighbors are no doubt pleased that they have eliminated any such protests (through force and intimidation) in their own countries, while the democratic members of ASEAN are no doubt appalled  at this "democratic" country. 

Part of me wants the reds to get what they asked for in the form of new elections.  I really believe that there will be a huge backlash against them.  I'm not sure how the ruling Democrats will fair, because they might be tied to the yellow shirt protesters who did so much damage last year, but I think the reds will lose a lot of seats in parliament. 

So far the police and military haven't done a whole lot to stop the red shirts.  The police and military really are partially to blame for this round of protests.  They didn't really do anything to break up the yellow shirt protesters when they occupied parliament and the airport.  When then PM Somchai ordered the police to take back the airport, they allowed the protesters to relieve them of their weapons and flatten their tires.  They just stood there and watched.

By not acting against the yellows, they invited the reds to misbehave.  Perhaps the reds thought that if the yellows aren't punished, then they won't be either.  So if the military or police really crack down, it might appear as if they are favoring the yellow.  If the military and police truly want to remain neutral, then they may have tied their own hands.

While I have no doubt that there are supporters of both the red and yellow in both the military and the police, I think the upper brass do in fact favor the yellow.  I wonder if they will continue to let the reds misbehave as long as the yellows did. 

Oh, and just when you thought you had the colors all set, we had a new entry.  Blue shirts came out today in Pattaya and clashed with the reds. 

U.S.S. John C Stennis

Jacob and I had a great time at the U.S.S. Stennis aircraft carrier today. We rode down with Deiter and his son Adam. Adam is in Jacob's den.

Today was the only day that they were giving tours, and I think there were only four or five tours. We were really lucky to be a part of it.

I think the highlight was getting up on the flight deck and seeing the planes. The deck is four and a half acres, and over three football fields in length.

A lot of the sailors were off of the ship already, as they were going to enjoy shore leave in Pattaya. The girls in Pattaya are going to be very busy for the next couple of nights. Tim said that she even heard something on the radio about how the people were looking forward to the sailors coming.

I took some pretty decent pictures. I only took one with Jacob and I together, and it actually turned out okay.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

National Holiday

PM Abhisit declared today a national holiday due the disruptive nature of the protests.  I'm sure that this is an attempt to keep people from driving to work.  Additionally, next Monday through Wednesday are national holidays, so some people might get an early start and leave the city.

Not everyone gets to celebrate an extra day off.  Some banks have stated that they have work and transfers that need to be performed, and they cannot honor the holiday.  Even closer to home is ISB, which sent out a text message saying that there will be school today.  When I woke up Jacob this morning, I told him that the good news was that today was a national holiday, but the bad news was that he still had to go to school.  He didn't find this particularly amusing.

 

Electricity Again

Tonight when I got back from the cub scout meeting, the electricity went out.  After about thirty or so minutes of waiting, I took the kids and Yaow to the mall.  I bought Aleena a pair of shoes, and then went up to the 7th floor to buy some popcorn.  As we sat down, Yaow's friend called her and let her know the electricity was back on. 

I was not the only one using Central as a refuge from the heat and bugs.  We saw a few of Jacob's friends over there. 

Of course, when we were returning home, I asked the kids if they had fun at the mall, Yaow corrected me with "Central".  I had forgotten that "The Mall" is a trademark here, and only those malls owned by "The Mall" are called malls.  

Protests Abound

The red shirts are taking their turn to protest and cause problems in Thailand. The new tactic is to block traffic. Taxi cab drivers are parking their cabs in the road and leaving them, adding to the congestion that already is Bangkok traffic.

ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) is meeting in Hua Hin this weekend, and the protesters are threatening to disrupt the proceedings. A few days ago, twenty protestors attacked PM Abhisit's vehicle. He escaped in a different vehicle, but not before a protesters smashed the back window with a motor cycle helmut.

The protesters have demanded new elections, but they should be careful what they wish for. I think the Thai people are just tired of all these protests. The protests and demonstrations have really disrupted people's lives. Whether your business is down because of the airport or street closures, or you sit in traffic for an extra hour because the streets are blocked, you feel the impact.

Its funny how both sides try to pressure the other by disrupting the economy and other people's lives. The problem with that tactic is that it only works if the other side really cares about the people. Neither side is going to give in to protesters, because they care much more about their own power than the welfare of Thailand or its people.

If the tale of the two women who brought the baby to King Solomon had been one red shirt and one yellow shirt, they would had him cut the baby in half, and then fight over which half they got.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Macro, Macro Man

I bought a new lens yesterday. I already have a nice compliment of lenses that cover most situations. My EFS 10-22 lens is excellent for wide angle shots. Its extremely wide, even on my smaller sensor camera. The Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lens is a very nice all purpose lens. The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Telephoto Zoom Lens is an excellent zoom.

There are a few things that my trio of lenses do not cover. I do not have a really long telephoto lens. The 70-200 is a great lens, but even with a 1.4 extender, its not ideal for nature photography. I don't do a lot of nature photography, though, and those lenses can be pretty pricey. I'm sure I'll get one some day, but not quite yet.

If one of my gaps was at the very long range of photography, the other missing piece was the very short range, i.e. macro photography. If you want to play with macro photography you need a macro lens.

I ended up buying the Canon EF 100 mm f/2.8 USM Macro Lens. The reviews I've ready highly recommend this lens. The L series macro lens may be a higher quality lens, but it is more than twice the price of my new lens.

I've been playing around a bit with the new lens. We have some flowers in the yard that became my subjects. If you notice, the backround of most of the photographs is black. I used a trick that I learned from a book. I used the timer to take the picture, and held a black shirt behind the flower. This eliminates any clutter in the background, and I think the black is a nice contract to the colorful flowers.