Friday, May 29, 2009


Today was the first of Nalin and Aleena's dance recital. The second show is tomorrow.

Aleena's group did a Hanna Montanna number, while Nalin wore a police officer uniform and danced to a Britney song.

Both did a great job. Its always fun to watch the little ones dance, as they are a little out of sync.

They do not allow flash photography, so the pictures aren't great. Just isn't a lot of light in there.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Koh Kret

Here are some pictures from my little trip to Koh Kret.

Weight & Weights

One of the things that I've struggled with over the past few months is that I'm not really losing any more weight.  The good news is that I'm not really gaining any weight.  My weight tends to fluctuate a bit over the course of a week, but overall its still where it was in March.

Part of the problem is my diet.  I have just not been controlling my caloric intake as much as I'd like.  Its not as bad as it was back in October or November, but its far from ideal.

One bright spot is that although I'm not getting lighter, I am feeling quite a bit stronger.  I haven't really tried to max anything out, but I really see the difference in things like dips and pull ups.  Honestly, I can't remember the last time that I was able to do a pull up prior to a few months ago.  A fat butt and gut mixed with weak arms does not a pull up machine make.  Now I can do five or so.  Still nothing to brag about, but much better than it was before.

Even when I lifted for a while in 2002, I could not do unassisted dips.  I would have to use a counter weight to help me.  Now I can do sets of ten as part of my circuit. 

One good thing is that I have not lost my desire to work out every day.  I do miss occasionally, like yesterday when I had to go to the doctor and take Tim to the airport.  Even on those days when I think that maybe I should skip, the notion quickly passes and I go.  Now I just have to keep doing it for the rest of my life.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

3rd Grade Market Place

Today, Jacob's class had their second market place day.  While the last market place day was for the fellow third graders, this one was for parents.  Yesterday, he and I made a giant batch of rice crispy treats to sell.  He had an inventory of sixty this time, as opposed to thirty-nine last time. 

When the parent arrived, the teachers give the parents a stack of "panther paws", which are the currency for the market.  I found out toward the end that you could go back and get more money. 

At first I went around and tried to patronize the shops of the kids that I knew.  I bought brownies, a painted rock, and a rice crispy treat (from Jacob).  I played a few games.  The first was a word search game by one of the boys in Jacob's Cub Scout den.  Next I gave at try at the game "Are you Smarter Than a Third Grader."  To win, the contestant had to answer a question each in math, plants, mollusks and crayfish.  Let me tell you, aside from math, I haven't exactly been studying these other subjects in quite a while.  I answered the plants, mollusks and math question without too much trouble.  Math was very simple (3x10), while the other two required a bit of thinking. 

So the final question on crayfish was "Do crayfish have ears?"  When I hear the question, one of two things come to mind.  Either they don't have ears, or they have ears in some unusual place (like the cricket that has ears on its knees).  Jacob was sitting at the booth next to me, and I know my son's nature.  I loudly muse "hmm, do crayfish have ears?".  Jacob turns to me, cubs his hand to his mouth and whispers "no."  A few seconds later, I'm sporting a "Smart" sticker on my shirt.   

About half way through the market time, I went and fetched Aleena from class and took her around the market.  She seemed to have fun, although she was ready to go after about fifteen minutes. 

Overall, we had fun.  Jacob did pretty well, selling almost all of his product.  I think he had four or five left.  His big improvement, however, was that he did not spend all his money this time as he did last time. 

Monday, May 25, 2009

Photo Trip

My plan was to drive about an hour to Ayutthaya, an ancient capital of Thailand to take some photographs.  Tim and I took the kids there last year, but I thought it would be nice to go on my own.  Unfortunately, by the time I was ready to go, it was almost 11:00 a.m.

I decided to instead go to Koh Kret, a small island about ten minutes away.  I took a cab to the pier, where a small boat ferries you across to Koh Kret for about seven cents.  Walking around today wasn't particularly pleasant due to the heat.  Perhaps I should have rented a bike, but instead I decided to walk around the island.  I certainly did not see the entire thing in the few hours that I was there.  I'm not sure if I was just too hot and tired, but I wasn't particularly inspired today.  Hopefully at least one of the shots looks okay after its date with Photoshop and Lightroom.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Water Bottle Rockets

What do you get when you take 2-liter bottles, water, air, and 80 psi of pressure? The Cub Scout Water Bottle Rocket outing of course.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Light Fingers Beware

Australian woman Annice Smoel found herself facing time in a Thai prison after she was charged with stealing a beer mat from a bar in Pattaya.  She spent two nights in jail,and then was released on bond, but was unable to leave the country as the court kept her passport.  Her trial date was months away, and if convicted she faced up to five years in prison. 

The case gained international attention, and the Australian and Thai governments worked on her behalf to work out a deal.  In exchange for pleading guilty and paying a $38 fine, she was released and allowed to return home.

Ms. Smoel was certainly aided by the fact that, as a mom, she was a sympathetic figure.  I'm not sure that a single guy over here partying in Thailand would have received the same treatment.  The fact that Thailand does not need any more negative news involving its tourism industry also probably worked in her favor.

I'm not how the case ended up as far as it did.  Unless she was making a complete ass of herself, I'm a bit surprised that the bar would want her arrested.  I would think they would be happy enough just to get the mat back and be done with it.  Perhaps an enterprising law enforcement officer was seeking to make up for lost revenue due to the lack of tourists.  I imagine that once she is safely back in Australia that we will hear Ms. Smoel's version of the story.

Of course there is a lesson here.  Come over here and have fun, but don't forget that this is still a third world country.  The Thai legal system is not an experience that those accustomed to Western style justice would enjoy, so behave yourself.  Sure there are some laws that the authorities overlook, but there are some that they punish severely.  While prostitution is illegal, the authorities unofficially "license" it, so there is almost no threat of prosecution for a john.  However, if you do illegal drugs or your sexual proclivities lead you to dilly with an underage individual, the Thai justice system will treat you very harshly.  Taking a beer mat might not have ended in jail time, but it no doubt scared the living hell out of one woman. 

Drip Drip

The condenser in the air conditioner in our bedroom is in need of cleaning, as it is dripping water after it runs for a while.  I'm sitting here "enjoying" the sound of dripping water as I type this entry.  I'm going to have to call the land lord again. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Tales of My Return Have Been Greatly Exagerated

Please be forewarned that I am channeling my inner geek for this post. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that I'm letting it run wild.

As some of you may know, I was a pretty avid World of Warcraft (Wow) player for over two years. I took some breaks along the way, but the game consumed a large portion of my leisure time. In October of 2007, I called it quits. The game was just consuming too much of my time, and there were other things that I wanted to do besides slaying digital dragons.

My decision was also heavily influenced by the fact that since I was no longer working, I had the luxury of free time. It would just be too easy to spend many more hours than I planned playing the game. There were so many times when "just five more minutes" turned into hours.

So I deleted my characters, uninstalled the game and canceled my account. I really didn't miss the game a whole lot. Sure, I did miss playing with my friends, some of whom I knew before I started playing, and others who I met along the way. Still, I never really thought much about playing until recently.

Over the last six or so weeks, I started playing the Facebook game Mafia Wars. As the name implies, its a crime family themed game, where you play the role of a mobster doing "jobs" for money and experience, and fight other mobsters. You also recruit other mobsters to be part of your family. The larger your family, the better. Its a pretty simple game, but was fun for a while. Its not really a game requiring a lot of skill. Actually, the most important thing is to recruit a lot of people in your Mafia. I created a second Facebook account for my Mafia Wars toon so I could recruit a bigger family.

Eventually, I got bored with Mafia Wars. I thought about playing Wow again. My thought was to play a few hours a day, three or four days a week. I would just play with some friends and have some fun. I didn't see any problem replacing the Mafia Wars time with Wow.

I had some of my old disks, so I began installing Wow. After I finished my disk installation, I had to downloaded many patches. I probably downloaded 5 gb or so of updated game content. I contacted Blizzard (makers of Wow), who reinstated my deleted characters. After renewing my monthly subscription, I upgraded my account so that I could play the latest content (Wrath of the Lich King).

I logged on in the evening here, and within five minutes ran into a few people that I used to raid with in the past. Both were rogues in group that I raided with for quite a while. Its a small virtual world after all.

After that quick jaunt down memory lane, I played my rogue Spurlock a bit. After about an hour or so, I had to quit because I was feeling a bit sick. I felt a bit nauseous.

This morning I played for about an hour and started to feel the same way. I think that in part it was straining my eyes. I laid down for a while and felt better. Later in the day, I made some adjustments to my monitor and tried to see if it happened again. It wasn't as bad, but only a little uncomfortable is not exactly a good reason to play the game.

Before I logged off, I wanted to do something quickly in the game. The problem was that I needed my character to go from one place to another, and to do so required me to literally wait for five minutes to start the journey (catch a zeplin). Then I had to wait for another five minutes (zeplin ride).

At that point I made up my mind that, as Sawyer (from Lost) aptly put, "what's done is done", and I was done playing Wow. So, I uninstalled and canceled again.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


We are firmly into the raining season here in Thailand.  This morning is the fourth one this week that it rained.  Today I even drove the kids to school because it was coming down fairly hard. 

One thing that I like about the rain is that it definitely cools things down for most of the day.  Its nice to have a window open instead of running the air conditioning all the time.  The rain also seems to cut down on the mosquitoes. 

For a while, I was dreading the rain because just about every time it rained, our electricity would go out.  This week has been a lot better, perhaps in part due to the tree trimming undertaken by Nichada over the last week.  Some of the power lines were intertwined with tree branches, and that probably caused some of the outages.  I say this because it seems like the power outages were isolated to Nichada.  On Sunday, the power outage was even isolated to a few compounds in Nichada.

ASEAN Summit Canceled

Thailand planned to continue the protest shortened ASEA summit in Phuket later this summer.  The rescheduled conference has been scrapped due to scheduling conflicts and security concerns of some of the participants.  

Monday, May 11, 2009

Pirated Goods

When it comes to copy right and intellectual property laws, Thailand is very lax in enforcement.  Whether you are looking for fake Rolex watches, knock off designer shirts, or pirated software or movies, they are easily available.  Although they are there for the finding in major malls and on the streets in the major tourist areas, it is actually against the law to sell them. 

As in the case with some other vices, law enforcement officials have an "incentive" to overlook these violations.  There is certainly logic to it.  The underpaid police officer is happy to supplement his below poverty level salary.  The merchant is happy because he can sell these items much cheaper than there normal price, and the tourist is happy because cheap movies, software, clothes and goods are, well, cheap.

Not everyone is happy however.  The United States has flagged Thailand on its watch list of countries that do not enforce intellectual property rights.  One of the big complaints that the U.S. has is that Thailand requires the mandatory licensing of some drugs.  Essentially this renders the patent worthless (or certainly diminished) and allows for the creation of cheap generics.  The Thai government argues that it is necessary to do this so that these potentially life saving drugs are available to its citizens, many of whom are extremely poor by Western standards, and do not have medical insurance to pay for high priced drugs.  Those opposing compulsory licensing would argue that but for the patent protection, these life saving drugs would not exist.  A company would not spend the millions of dollars necessary to develop a new drug if their competitors were able to copy their efforts. 

While Thailand has not budged on the compulsory licensing of drugs, the government announced that it would crack down on pirated goods.  Recently, the government raided the street stalls on Sukhumvit Road.  My understanding is that there was no warning given, and that the police arrived out of uniform and began stuffing the merchandise into garbage bags.  The vendors were furious, and there was a brief clash with police. 

The next day the government announced that it would end the crack down.  That was a good move, as the way it was done was not well thought out.  First, to do so out of uniform may have cause some vendors to think that these were thieves.  Secondly, they should have announced ahead of time that they were going to enforce the law.  These people selling the counterfeit goods are not wealthy shop owners making millions of dollars off of an other's intellectual property.  Many of them probably had a lot of their wealth tied up in the goods they were selling.  If they lost that, they would lose most everything.

If Thailand is serious about enforcing the intellectual property protection for counterfeit goods, they need to make sure that the vendors know that they are serious.  They should announce a date a month or so in the future on which they will begin enforcement.  That will give the merchants time to clear out any stock before the ban goes into effect. 

In truth, however, Thailand probably not serious about cracking down on this type of behavior.  Tourism is already down due to the world wide recession and the political instability, and eliminating cheap goods and movies will not help.  This type of crack down is exactly the kind of show that they like to put on here.  They can say "look at what we did", and in typical Thai fashion, they expect you to be polite enough not to point out that they really haven't changed at all. 

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Electricity, Electricity

The power was out for about seven hours yesterday starting at about 3:30 pm.  We ended up spending quite a bit of time at the mall; Tim shopping with the girls, while I took Jacob to see Star Trek.  He loved the movie, except for a brief kissing scene.  He held his hands over his eyes during that part. 

Tim took the kids over to her brother Top's place to sleep.  I waited it out, and at 10:30, the magic that we know as electricity returned. 

Tourist Deaths

Last week an American woman vacationing in Thailand with her fiance suddenly fell ill and died.  Jill St. Onge was enjoying the sights and sun on the island of Pi Pi.  Her fiance returned to their room, and found her vomiting and struggling to breath.  He took her to a hospital, but she died a dozen hours later. 

A Norwegian woman died during the same weekend while staying at the same resort.  The resort owner claimed that both women died from drinking to excess, but suspicions have been raised that the causes could have been food poisoning or something in the room.  Hopefully the owner is correct, although safety standards here are not always up to the same level as those in the West. 

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Father Daughter Dance

Last night was the 2009 Girl Guide's Father Daughter Dance. Nalin had an absolutely fabulous time, while I enjoyed the event somewhat less than did she. I didn't have a bad time, as the event was very well done, but it just wasn't as exciting for me.

Tim took Nalin to the hair dresser before the event. The one in Nichada was booked, so Yaow (nanny) had made an appointment at one just outside the gates. The cost was less than three dollars. Afterwards, Tim and Yaow put on Nalin's makeup and helped her get ready.

I took some pictures of Nalin. When I was getting ready, Tim took some pictures of Nalin outside. Here are some photos.

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's day to mom, my wife, and all the other mothers out there.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Dance Tonight

Tonight is the Girl Guide's father-daughter dance.  I'm picking the family up at the airport at 3:30 p.m., then we come home, get ready, and go to the dance which starts at 6:30 p.m.  Nalin is really looking forward to it

Enjoyed Star Trek

Yesterday I went and saw the new Star Trek movie. The cost including the ticket, soft drink and caramel popcorn was six dollars; not a bad deal at all.

The movie was very good. If you are a Star Trek fan, you will enjoy the meeting the original Star Trek crew in the early days. Even if you've never worn a Star Trek uniform or brandished a plastic phaser, you will find plenty of action and an entertaining plot. I definitely recommend seeing it.

Updated Layout

I added a gadget on the left side of the blog where I list my photography equipment.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Mall Trek

Since Tim and the kids were gone, I decided to go down to the Soi Cowboy, get drunk, and carouse the night away in the company of many women.  Okay, that is a complete lie.  As tempting as such a night of debauchery might be,  I opted to go to see the new Star Trek movie at the nearby mall. 

I arrived at the mall at 8:30, and the show wasn't scheduled to start until 8:50.  They have parking set aside at the mall for residents of Nichada, so I easily found a spot.  After making my way up to the seventh floor, I got in line to buy a ticket.  I was a little concerned because they didn't have the ropes to form a line up.  Let's just say that many Thais haven't mastered that kindergarten skill of waiting your turn.  If there is a momentary hesitation by the person in front of them, or a small gap, many Thais believe that is an invitation to rush forward.  It baffles me that a people so laid back and unconcerned about time are unable to wait their turn.  Fortunately, there were no such incidents tonight.  Unfortunately, the clerk told me that the 8:50 show was at the First Class theater, and that the price for one person was 600 baht (about $18).  I think its the same price for two people, as its a two person sofa, and the ticket price includes a couple of soft drinks and a bucket of popcorn.  I wasn't going to pay almost $20 to see the movie, so the representative told me the other show was at 10:30. 

There is no way I'm waiting for two hours at the mall.  Even though the shops are supposed to be open until at least 9:00 p.m., many of them start closing at 8:30.  I didn't really feel like buying a ticket, going home, and then coming back either, so I decided to come back tomorrow or another day.

As I was leaving, I decided to go against all my better instincts and stop at Auntie Annie's.  Not only do I not need the calories, but about three out of four experiences at the Auntie Annies in Thailand leave me frustrated.    Whether its serving me a "frozen" drink that is not in fact frozen, or after I wait in line for more than ten minutes informing me that the item I want will take another seven minutes, Auntie Annies puts the "cuss" in customer service.  This time, the line in short, but the woman in front of me orders the last two pretzels in the case.  I order a set item, and the girl smiles at me and says "mote laow". 

Mote laow means that there are no more left.  In this case, however, it meant that although there were twenty minutes left before they close, the people just didn't give a damn enough to make another pretzel.  Of course, part of me wants to call bullshit, but its just not worth it.  If I do, of course, I'll the the one in the wrong.  Pointing out that someone is not telling the truth or is incredibly incompetent at their job is not done here, so I saved myself the frustration.  I'll say this about Auntie Annie's, they are consistent. 

Having failed in two endeavors, I decided to stop at the grocery store in the bottom floor of the mall.  I only had about $12 in cash with me and about $20 worth of items.  The check out lines were pretty crowded, and I got into the express line.  The sign was in Thai and English, and it said 8 items or fewer.  I checked several times to make sure that it didn't say cash only.  I even saw someone in front of me holding what looked like a credit card, so I thought I was in good shape.  After a ten minute wait, its my turn.  As the clerk starts to ring up my items, I pull out my debit card.  She looks at me, smiles in that Thai way that lets you know that they are about to say something that is going to tick you off, and she tells me that the line doesn't accept credit cards.  At this point, I have a few options.  I could point out that the sign makes no mention that it is cash only.  Of course, I'll just see more of the infuriating smile.   I had enough money to buy some of the things that I wanted, but I really didn't want to give Tops any money at that moment.  So of course, I just smiled, said that I didn't want it and left.  Okay, maybe I didn't smile, I can't remember, but I did leave. 

I guess the upside was that I went to the mall and spent a grand total of about forty-five cents. 

Visakha Bucha Day

Tomorrow is Visakha Bucha Day, a national Holiday in Thailand.  Visakha Bucha is an important day in Buddhism, as it the day that Buddha was born, achieved enlightenment, and died.  While it was the same day, these events obviously occurred in different years.

Tim took the kids to Chiang Mai as part of a religious ceremony to observe Visakha Bucha.  She was going with her brother Top and a religious group to which he is a member.  Unfortunately, I could not go.  Saturday is the Girl Guides father-daughter dance, and I am taking Nalin.  I neglected to bring a suit with me, so I am having one tailored.  It won't be ready until Friday, so I need to be here to make sure it fits. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Powerful Neighbor

I found out recently that the head of the entire Thai military lives in Nichada. His house is actually very close to ours, probably about a three or four minute walk.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

New Suit

On our way home today, Tim and I had planned on stopping by Central so I could pick up a suit for the father-daughter dance on Saturday.  We stopped on Friday and done some shopping.  Even after I lost the weight, there wasn't a large selection available.  Still, I found something decent for about two hundred dollars.  We held off buying it because I wanted to search the house one more time to see if I had brought a suit over.  Unfortunately, my fifth search proved no more fruitful than the previous four.

We decided to drive by a few tailors on our way that had been closed on Friday.  One of the shops was closed when we arrived at 6:05, but the other was open until 7:00.  There were a bunch of suits already on the rack, but they were all too small for me.  The good news, however, was that they could tailor a suit for me by Saturday, and the cost was about eighty-five dollars.  Because I am so large, my suit was more expensive than normal.  I think the normal price for a tailored suit there was sixty-five or seventy dollars. 

I go in tomorrow for a quick jacket fitting.  The suit will be ready by Friday.  If I like their work, I might buy a tuxedo and a few suits.  If I'm not happy, well so long as it makes it through Saturday night I'll be okay.

No Touching

Yesterday, Tim took the kids to clean a temple.  They went with her brother Top's family, and some other people from their work.  Tim told me a funny story about what happened.

Nalin and Aleena were playing with a couple of girls who were part of the group.  One of the girls is Nalin's age, and the other a year younger than Aleena.  The girls mother is Thai, but their father is European.  So like my daughters, these girls are not as versed in Thai cultures and traditions as your typical Thai child. 

For some reason, one of the girls wanted to ask a monk a question.  The four of them approached the monk to ask their question.  In Thailand, it is not permitted for a female to touch a monk or for a monk to touch a female.  Not only can they not touch, but there is a certain respectable distance that should be maintained.  Apparently, the girls came too close to the monk, so he took a step back.  The girls took a step forward, the monk took a step back.  This happened a few more times before one of the girls put her hand on the monk's robe clad arm.  At that point, the monk managed to get Jacob's attention and had Jacob get between himself and the girls. 

It wasn't really a big deal, because the girls obviously meant no harm.  It was funny, however, that the monk kept trying to maintain the proper distance, while the girls obliviously came forward. 

The same rules that govern monks and women also apply to men and nuns.  It would not be proper for Jacob or I to touch or even get too close to a nun. 

Friday, May 1, 2009

Fixing the Economy

This excerpt is from an email that I received from Northwest Airlines ...

Dear Jacob Vogel,

Recently, we told you a great offer was on the way. As promised, here it is. And it's all yours when you get the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express - the official Card of the world's largest airline

You want to stimulate the economy, give my nine year old son a credit card, and he'll spend it all in no time at all. Maybe this is the answer to the economic downturn. Don't send stimulus checks to adults, send them to kids. Very few kids will be irresponsible and save or invest the money, rather they'll spend it.

Forgotten Dish

This evening, Tim and I went out to dinner at the Fishermen, a local Chinese restaurant. Something happened at dinner that is not an uncommon occurence here; one of the dishes that we ordered never showed up.

In the U.S., if a dish you order doesn't show up, its probably going to be pretty obvious. One reason is that in the U.S., all dishes of a certain type (appetizer, entre, desert, etc.)are served at the same time. Here, however, dishes come out when they are ready. Since dishes are often staggered here, its not obvious when a dish was forgetten. You think that its just coming out later.

The other reason that its not as obvious when part of an order is missed is that people share dishes. In the U.S., each person usually orders an individual meal. It is obvious to even the most obtuse waiter that something is missed if one person is sitting there with nothing while everyone else has their food.

Tonight it wasn't really a big deal. We shared the dishes that we had, and Tim wasn't very hungry anyway.

Little India Sign

I saw this sign in Little India as Tim and I were walking around. For some reason it stood out, so I took a photograph.

Singapore Zoo

The Singapore Zoo is renowned as one of the nicer zoos in Southeast Asia. During our recent trip, we spent an entire day at the zoo, including having breakfast with the orangutans and the night safari. One of Jacob's friends, Ben Scott, and his family were also in Singpore during the Songklan break, and we spent our day at the zoo together.

We started out the day with breakfast with the orangutans. This was probably the biggest disappointment of the entire day. The breakfast cost us about $100 U.S. for the six (family plus Yaow). It was a buffet style, and the food was nothing special. Of course, we didn't decide to try this for the food, rather for the interaction with the orangutans. Unfortunately, the interaction involved the zoo keepers bringing the orangutans to an area adjacent to the restaurant where you could take pictures with them. The orangutans were up on a stand, and you could pose in front of it for pictures. I would definitely recommend against the money for the breakfast.

Fortunately, the rest of the day was a lot better. Jacob had a great time at the zoo with Ben, and Ben's older sister Brianna got along fabulously with the girls. Ben's parents, Greg and Sara, are very nice, so meeting up at the zoo made the experience more fun for everyone.

The zoo has a decent exhibition of animals. I think that I have been a bit spoiled at the quality of zoos having grown up in Cincinnati, so the Singapore Zoo certainly didn't blow me away. They did have a water play area for the kids. Unfortunately, we left the swim suits back in the hotel.

There were some other play areas at the zoo that the kids really enjoyed. One of their favorites was a kind of zip line where the kids sat on a little seat and zoomed over the playground.

Overall the zoo experience was a lot of fun. The food was pretty expensive and not particularly great, and it would have been nice if I had a place where I could deposit my tripod for a while. By the time the Night Safari was over, we were pretty much spent.

The zoo is definitely worth a stop for families visiting Singapore.