Saturday, January 30, 2010
This year is the 50th year of the Bangkok Baseball Softball Association running a baseball league in Thailand. They kind of make a big deal about opening day here, and not just because this was the 50th year. They had a ceremony at 11:30 where they announce all the teams. The U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, Eric John, threw out the first pitch. In the past he's given speeches, but not this year. Then they had hot dogs, Gatorade and chips for the kids and coaches. It was nice.
Jacob's baseball game began at 1:00. Jacob got hits his first two times at bat. The first time I was a bit worried that he was going to strike out. He had four strikes (they get 5) when the coach adjusted the pitching machine because it was pitching too high. I had to cut out at 1:50 because the other thing that was going on was the Pinewood Derby.
I was the announcer for this year's Pinewood Derby. In addition to racing their derby cars, officers from the U.S. Army did uniform inspections for the scouts. It was really nice that they came dressed in their own dress uniforms to show the boys how it should be done. Jacob had one point deducted because he was missing the slider for his kerchief.
Jacob did well in the race itself. He finished first in his den. The winner from each of the dens (total of 8) raced in the finals. Jacob placed 4th I believe.
Not everyone was pleased that the finals were comprised of the winners from the dens. Someone approached me and asked if it would be the den winners or the people with the 8 fastest times. She didn't seem happy when I said that it was the den winners. She explained that her son placed second in the den, but his time was faster than any other winner besides the one from her den. I just smiled and said "that's how we do it." She certainly wasn't pleased. I saw her have the same conversation with at least 4 or 5 people, including the pack master. My guess is that she had that conversation with many people, and while she may not have used the term "unfair", it was certainly implied.
Would it be better to take the top 8 times? Maybe. I'm not sure why our pack does it the way we do; perhaps tradition, ease, or some limitations on the older software we use. Truthfully, I don't care; its not really a big deal.
Friday, January 29, 2010
I processed this shot in Lightroom, using some plugins, including Color Efex. I really liked this kind of washed out look.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
To get one senator's vote (Nelson from Nebraska), they agreed to exempt Nebraska from certain taxes or provisions under the bill. To gain labor's support, the tax on "Cadillac" plans would not apply to union members for several years after it applied to everyone else. There just wasn't even the attempt to hide it. They were playing really fast and loose with budget numbers in order to make it appear less costly. This is the kind of fast and loose that executives would face indictment if they tried when reporting earnings and expenses to stockholders. I got the impression that towards the end of the debate and before the Republicans got their 41st vote, that this was as much about getting a bill for some political victory as much as to really; that it was better politically to get something, even if it cost a lot of money and still left millions of people uninsured.
The Brown election may have saved the Democrats from themselves. If they had maintained their filibuster proof majority and went ahead with a bad bill, they might not have realized the extent of voter satisfaction until November, when many more seats are up for grabs. It also showed them, that while the President is a skilled politician and a prodigious fund raiser, having him come and campaign for you may not be enough to save your seat. I'm certainly not foolish enough to write him off and say that he can't help the Democrats, because in some places he undoubtedly can. But the President's support during the 2010 campaign might not be enough for a lot of Democrats if they vote for an unpopular health care bill.
I'm normally a bit of a skeptic, but I tend to believe them. There are definitely officers on both sides of the political fight here, but I think the ones in the highest office are much happier with the current government than they ever would be with one run by Thaksin's allies. This government knows that it owes its existence in part to the military, so I think it will give them a lot of deference. The military now has influence, without the "burden" of ruling and international pressure they would have if they staged a coup.
If the red shirts were in power, I would not be so confident. The army "stayed neutral" when the reds were in power and the yellow shirts seized the government buildings and the airports. The courts dissolution of successive "red" governments is probably what led some of the smaller parties to form a coalition with the Democrats. If the courts had not done that, I'm not sure what would have happened.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
I had the boy in my group who at least 5 people said "Oh you have him, ha ha ha" or "Good luck". In truth, he really wasn't that bad, although a few times I needed to make it very clear that he was not to touch my camera. I told him he didn't want me to break out my "loud voice".
The trip was fun. We walked around looking at the plants, flowers, and of course the butterflies. There were a few large ones.
Aleena wanted to sit with me on the bus ride back. She was tired. We both ended up falling asleep.
You can see my set of photos of the trip on Flickr here.
Monday, January 25, 2010
Tim wrote the name of the place in my little green book. My little green book has a list of places around the city in both Thai and English languages. That way I can open the book and point to a location when dealing with a cabbie. It usually works pretty well. Even though I can drive, I often take a cab into the city because it only costs $5 or $6 each way, and then I don't have to worry about getting lost or parking. So when the cabbie showed up, he didn't know where the place was. Neither did Yaow. I called Tim who consulted with some people at her work. They told me to go to a different temple that also had a similar setup. The cabbie was familiar with this one, and we were off.
We arrived at the temple near Silom, and I went into the temple. I had not even taken off my shoes yet, when I saw the sign that said "No Photo". I really hate those signs. I understand not setting up a tripod as a tripping hazard, but I can't really understand why they don't want photos taken. I immediately walked out of the temple. If there were no photos allowed, I really had no desire to see it.
I was kind of annoyed, so I fished through the many pockets of my shorts and photographer's vest for my phone. I can't find it. After 5 or so minutes, I've checked everywhere and I don't have it. I know I had it when I left because I talked to Tim right when I was getting into the cab. I must have dropped it in the cab, I realized. So I walked around a few minutes, and called Tim from a pay phone. I knew people had gotten in the cab after I had exited. Maybe she could get a hold of the cabbie and he could return it to the house; I'd gladly pay the taxi fare. Tim called my number; two hang ups then they turned the phone off.
So now I'm trying to decide if I want to get a Blackberry or just some generic phone. I like the idea of being able to surf the Internet wherever I am. I really like the idea. Its one of those things, if I was in the states, I would have a Blackberry or iPhone. Here, I'm not quite certain. I know I don't need it, but it would be nice to have. We'll see.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
The tournaments were round robin, each game consisting of two ten minute halves. The two teams with the best record in the tournament in each division would play each other for the championship. Since Tim went to work, I sent Yaow back home with Nalin, so I bounced between games.
I don't remember what Aleena's team's record was, but they made it to the finals. They played a good game, but came up a little short. Aleena and her teammates took it all in stride. They were happy with the second place medal and the soccer ball they received.
Truthfully, I didn't know what to expect with Jacob's team. They started off the season struggling to win. They seemed to be improving as the season went on. Their coach and his son left ISB at the end of last semester, so one of the fathers took over coaching duties last week, and due to his unavailability, another one this week. Jacob also struggled at goalie in the beginning of the year, and made a lot of progress as the season went on.
After the five round robin games, Jacob's team was a strong 3-1-1. They played really well in all the games. Their loss was somewhat mitigated by the fact that they had only 8 players, while the other team fielded a full 9. Jacob did a really solid job at goalie. After they finished their final game, there was one more game being played between the team they lost to and the team they tied. If the team they lost to won or lost by more than 5 goals, then Jacob's team would be in the finals. If not, those two teams would immediately rematch. Fortunately for us, the right team won, and Jacob's team was in the finals.
They played really tough in the championship game. Jacob played goalie for one half and striker for the other. He gave up a goal in the first half, but stopped many many more. In the second half, as striker he was so close to scoring, just missing. The final score was 2-1 in the other teams favor. The kids were a little disappointed, but they really did a fantastic job.
Friday, January 22, 2010
Apparently the red shirts are eying the airports as a protest location. You may remember that in December 2008, the yellow shirts shut down international air travel into and out of Thailand with their airport protests. The government has stated that it will use the anti-terrorism laws against any red shirt protesters that attempt to protest at the airport. I hope that the red shirts get the message and leave the airport alone. Thailand certainly doesn't need to do anything else to make it less attractive to tourists and businesses.
I'm going to try to do a 365 photo project. I want to post at least one photo each day. My initial goal is for them all to be black and white, but i don't know if I'll manage that.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
The Crown Prince actually presided over her oldest brother Top's wedding back more than ten years ago. Tim and I were in Thailand, but were not allowed into that part of the ceremony.
Top's wedding was spread out over almost six weeks. There wasn't something going on every day, but there were probably 3 or 4 events over that time span.
One day they went to the Wat Phra Kaew, the temple attached to the Royal Palace and perhaps Thailand's most famous temple, to give offerings to the monks there. Tim and I were in the back seat of car. Usually you have to walk into the temple, but they were making a large donation of food and items so they had gotten dispensation to drive into the temple.
As we started to enter the gate, one of the guards looked in and saw me, the only falang in the the car. He ordered me to get out of the car, and I was required to walk in through the main gate, paying my entry fee as well. I'm not sure if it was the fact that I needed to pay to get in that caused him heartburn, or that he just couldn't abide a damn foreigner getting to ride into the temple in a car.
On the way back out, I just ducked down so I wasn't easily visible and I managed to exit in a car. A small victory perhaps? Hopefully the statute of limitations on "Exiting Wat Phra Kawe in a Car While Falang" have already passed.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
In any case, I found a photo that I had forgotten about that I took from the back of a tuk tuk. I converted it to black and white. I found that I really liked it. So last night I took my camera out and hit Sukhumvit. I had a cab drop me off at Sukhumvit Soi 1, and walked up to Soi 30. A soi is the name for a side street.
My plan was for the photos to be black and white, and I didn't use any flash. That meant that I had to use a high iso (1600 and 3200), which makes for more noise in the photos. I didn't care because I wanted a bit of a gritty look.
i took about 130 photos. As I was riding home, I didn't have a great feeling about what I'd captured. I'm not always comfortable taking candids of people on the street, but I did do some of that.
When I loaded the shots onto my PC and converted them to black and white, I was really pleased. I found quite a few that captured the mood that I was looking for. The photo with this post was one of my favorite.
His handling of the economic crisis in the September of 2008 cemented his fate. He faltered and Obama shone. Of course, my belief going into the election was that McCain, indeed any Republican, would not only have to run a nearly flawless campaign, but they would need help in the form of a Democratic screw up. There was just too much Bush fatigue.
Senator Clinton's portrayal in the book was fascinating. The prohibited front runner for the Democratic nomination, and indeed the presidency, her campaign stumbled, squandering their lead and cash. While her campaign was certainly hurt by the Obama campaign's political skills and savy, many of her wounds were self-inflicted. She thought that she was going to win, and acted like it. While Obama called the Democratic super delegates himself to elicit their support, Clinton would have campaign surrogates make some of the calls. And of course, President Clinton was both an asset and a liability. The Clintons seemed to think that everyone was against them, including the media, who wouldn't give them a fair shake and drooled over Obama.
President Clinton was furious when a remark that he made was interpreted as injecting race into the debate. Its interesting to see someone on the Democrat side of the aisle be saddled with that attack.
Both the Edwards came across much worse than before. Not only did John apparently have an affair, but the 2000 presidential race had changed him from a "nice guy" into a megalomaniac. Of course, after reading about Elizabeth Edwards, I'm not sure I blame John for finding comfort in the arms of another woman. She was portrayed as nasty, petty and demeaning, not only to campaign staff, but to her husband as well.
Biden came across as Biden. I can certainly understand how angry Obama must have been when Biden told some reporters that he was more qualified to be President than Obama.
A host of Democratic Senators, including Harry Reid and Chuck Shuemer were instrumental in getting Obama to run in the first place. They were afraid that Hillary could not win the general election. Of course, they were also afraid of the Clintons, and would not support Obama until it became clear that he could win. Well, at least they were upfront about it.
Palin was certainly not spared in the book. She definitely had her issues, and it became clear that she was not ready to become president. While she certainly made public gaffs, things were worse behind the scenes where she nearly had a melt down. I do have some sympathy for her. She was instantly thrust in the spotlight; becoming one of the most recognizable people in the world in a very short time. Most people have years, even tens of years preparing for that moment. There were only a few days between when she was first contact about the VP nomination and being introduced to the world in Dayton, Ohio. In her personal life, she had a pregnant teenage daughter and a child with downs syndrome. I really do have disdain for the bloggers and people who made her family an issue, suggesting one one had that her husband was not the father, while others that her daughter was actually the mother. It was wrong.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Monday, January 18, 2010
Sunday, January 17, 2010
Saturday, January 16, 2010
We went ashore on the other side of the island, and it was a five or ten minute walk to see the "nail". Before we went, we had a picnic on the beach around the stop where I took this photograph.
You can see how the wind and water have eroded the rock to build this outcropping. I didn't have my widest angle lens on the camera at the time, so I didn't really know if the shot would turn out well, as the cliff continues up out of the frame of the photo. I didn't mount my camera on the a tripod, I just composed it and shot.
I think it turned out pretty nicely. I really like the color of the rock. Sometimes I want to take a shot without people in it, but I think that it actually helps give perspective.
Friday, January 15, 2010
I was surprised to see them hanging from the power lines. The local government has decided that the monkeys have become an attraction, so they let them pretty much run unobstructed around the place. It was the worst around one temple where the monkeys were brave enough to actually steal from people. One picked a water bottle out of Tim's back pocket.
I was actually careful with my camera, making sure not to put it on the ground when I was setting up my tripod. I don't know if one would grab it, but I don't know that one wouldn't either.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter was recently charged in a child-sex sting operation. Mr. Ritter allegedly masturbated on a web cam when speaking to a person who identified himself as a fifteen year old girl, but was in fact an undercover police officer. The charges included unlawful contact with a minor, criminal use of a communications facility, corruption of minors, indecent exposure, possessing instruments of crime, criminal attempt and criminal solicitation.
Okay, my take on this may not be the typical one, but I absolutely hate these sex chat stings. Before you start making assumptions, I do not go into sex chat rooms, and I don't have any interest in fifteen year old (or any minor) girls, boys, or barnyard animals. And if someone ever did anything to one of my kids, there is a part of me that would want to make sure that no trial was necessary as justice would be more immediate and personal.
One problem that I have with the stings is my belief that but for the stings, these guys will not be engaging in these type of conversations with fifteen year old girls. I don’t believe that very many fifteen year olds are looking for explicit chat or to meet some middle aged overweight man. These just don’t exist, or if they do, in extremely small numbers. So the men caught up in these stings would almost certainly never have actually interacted with a real fifteen year old girl.
In effect, the police are manufacturing a crime. This isn’t like a sting where they know there is drug use going on in a neighborhood so they set up a fake buyer to catch a dealer. In that case, there is crime going on and they are trying to catch people who are actively engaged in the crime. In most stings, you are probably catching people who have already committed this crime in the past. It is unlikely that you are the drug dealer’s first sale. Here, it is not likely that the suspect has actually ever met a minor for sex. They may not even have explicitly chatted with a real one before.
There was a small town in Ohio, I think Bethesda, where the police have been doing the sex stings for quite a while. They do the same drill; the cop is in the chat room posing as an underage girl. The man arranges to meet the “girl” and they bust him. The same kind of thing they had on the TV show “To Catch a Predator”. The issue that I have is that they aren’t catching people in their small down. They are luring bringing these “sex offenders” into their town. Some of these guys travel a good distance to meet these “girls”. Many may have gone their entire lives without ever visiting Bethesda Ohio but for these stings. Is the Bethesda Police department really making their town safer? Is it their job to lure people from Cincinnati to their town to bust them? I don’t think so.
Another real problem that I have is that it’s not clear at all that these guys are actually committing crimes. He is charged with unlawful contact with a minor and criminal attempt. I am not an expert in this area of law, or in the law of the jurisdiction in which he is charged. Here is the problem. He never had sexual contact with a minor. Additionally, in the legal sense, his actions did not rise to the level of attempted sexual contact.
Attempt, as I learned in law school, requires that you took an action, which if successful would be illegal. For example, I take a gun and attempt to shoot someone with it, but I miss. One of the charges against me might be attempted murder, because if I had been successful in what I was attempting, I would have murdered you.
Let’s change the scenario slightly. I have a gun and want to kill my neighbor. I sneak into his house and see him lying on the couch and I gleefully pull the trigger several times, riddling him with bullets. An autopsy reveals that my neighbor died of a heart attack hours before I even entered the house. I cannot be charged with attempted murder. I intended to kill him, and I took actions to carry out that. The problem is that it is legally impossible to murder someone who is already dead.
So if there was a fifteen year old girl on the other end of these sex sting operations, then the men could reasonably be charged with unlawful contact and other attempt related charged. They were actually having contact with the minor. If they arranged a meet, would have resulted in them actually meeting a minor. Instead, they were talking to an undercover cop. They didn’t have unlawful contact with anyone. Their actions, even if they met the person they were talking to, would not have resulted in them having any contact with any fifteen year old.
Perhaps they’ve amended some of these laws to overcome these obstacles; I’m not sure. Maybe I’m wrong and there are court cases out there that say I’m wrong. But if you apply the law as they taught us, it seems like many of these charges should not stick.
Look, I don’t feel any real sympathy for these guys. Even if they would never have had actually had the opportunity to really meet a minor girl (or boy), their actions are hardly admirable. It’s terrible to arrange a meeting with someone you think is underage for a sexual encounter. The problem that I don’t think they are catching people who are actually the ones harming young people. They are catching stupid horny guys who would never have hooked up with a minor girl. Are we really safer from having caught these guys?
I’m also not sympathetic to the guys because they are stupid. I know that sometimes we males think with the lower half of our body, but come on. Even if you thought that minor girls are desirable, do you really think they are going to be into an old fat guy? And if a girl from central Ohio wants you to come and meet her, um, dude, it’s a sting, one hundred percent guaranteed.
I’m also not sympathetic to the guys because they are stupid. I know that sometimes we males think with the lower half of our body, but come on. Even if you thought that minor girls are desirable, do you really think they are going to be into an old fat guy? And if a girl from central Ohio wants you to come and meet her, um, dude, it’s a sting, one hundred percent guaranteed.
Look, I know that it’s not always easy to protect our children from harm, and perhaps the police have good intentions. I just don’t think that we are any safer at all from these stings.
My Christmas present this year was a Canon MR14EX ring flash. The MR14 is a flash designed for macro lenses. Macro lenses are used to get very close to the subject. They can focus at a very short distance and fill up the frame with even a small subject. My macro lens is the Canon 100mm 2.8 macro lens.
Unlike most external flashes (ones not built into the camera) which are mounted on top of the camera (bad way to do it) or externally on a light stand, the MR14 is a ring flash. It actually mounts on the end of the lens. There is a flash on both sides to help to provide more uniform lighting on such small subjects.
Anyway, I took some photos of the snails. While I realize that they are not the most beautiful subject, they do have an interesting look and skin texture.
Anyway, I ga
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
It seems like the mosquitoes are out in full force, as Tim, Jacob and I seem to be bitten a bit at night. This morning Jacob complained about it when I woke him for school, and Tim said they kept waking her up. I get bit on the fingers and hand a fair bit, perhaps because most of me is covered with a blanket. For some reason, the mosquitoes avoid Nalin and Aleena's room.
I'm enjoying getting back into a new workout routine. In the three days the kids have been back to school, I've swam one kilometer each day, ran twice (albeit shorter runs) and lifted weights twice.
Today Tim went to ceremony for the opening of a new court house in the county where her business is located. She gave a donation and was invited to receive a pin from the Crown Prince. She also had her photo taken with him, although she won't get that for a little while. She had to be there a few hours before the Prince arrived, and there was some type of rehearsal as to how you are supposed to act and what you should do. They gave each person a number that signified the order they were to go up to receive the pin. Apparently, the inability to wait in a line is not limited to checking out at retail and fast food outlets. Tim said some older ladies were trying to cut in line, but someone firmly told them to wait their turn and they did. I really don't understand the hurry here. Its not like you get to leave when you get your pin. If you are first in line, you still have to wait for everyone else. Tim said she did not wear enough jewelery, as apparently a lot of the ladies were decked out in their finest.
Aleena also posed for the crab, but unfortunately, those shots did not come out well.
This cloth, however, was not of ancient origin. It looked pretty new and clean, which means it probably was manufactured fairly recently. I wonder if the Thai person using this to keep the sun off his head had any idea of what it symbolized and what people might think if they saw it. Actually, I'm certain he wasn't making a political statement, and if he knew what it meant, that he didn't think it would bother anyone.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
In 1989, a Thai janitor working at the royal palace in Saudi Arabia stole some jewelry. He shipped part of it back to Thailand and took the rest back with him when he returned to Thailand shortly thereafter. While the janitor knew that he was stealing valuable jewelry, he did not realize that he had stolen the 50 karat Blue Diamond, a family heirloom of the Saudi royal family.
When the Saudi's discovered the missing jewels and janitor, of course they petitioned the Thai government for help. Getting back the Blue Diamond was of prime importance. Of course the Thai government would be willing to help; over 200,000 Thai citizens worked in Saudi Arabia. These workers sent back money to help support their families, and in turn the Thai economy. The Saudi's were also a wealthy country who had investments in Thailand. So the complete and utter cooperation of the Thai government and police was assured, right? It appeared so at first, but quickly became apparent that not everyone was so willing to cooperate.
The jewel thief was found hiding in Thailand as were most of the jewels. He had sold some of the jewels, and had buried some of the others. One of the jewels not recovered was the Blue Diamond. To add insult to injury, shortly after receiving the returned jewels, the Saudis claimed that seventy percent of jewelry that was returned was faked. There were allegations that one of the missing pieces was seen on the arm of the wife of a high ranking Thai police officer at a party.
Obviously there was much speculation as to what happened to the jewelry. Anyone familiar at all with the Thai police force would hardly be shocked that many believed some of the jewelry may have been misappropriated a second time after it was recovered from the initial thief.
If the story ended there with the jewelry not recovered, it would be a decent mystery. What could anyone do with the Blue Diamond? I know its valuable, but I imagine it would be difficult to sell it without the Saudi's finding out about it. Its one thing for the Thai government or any other government for that matter to say "sorry we can't find it", while its quite another to know where it is and ignore Saudi Arabia's call for its return. I guess you could keep the diamond in your estate and maybe show it to only your most discrete and close friends. I'm not quite sure. For good or bad, the story doesn't end there.
In early 1990, four Saudis attached to the Saudi Embassy in Thailand were gunned down in an apparent assassination. A Saudi businessman related to the Saudi royal family also disappeared shortly after. The Saudi's believed that the murders and the disappearance were related to the jewelry theft. The Thai investigation of the jewelry theft and the murders went no where, despite pressure from Saudi Arabia. The Saudis closed their embassy in Thailand, and kicked out all of the Thai workers from its kingdom. They also refused to invest money in Thailand. The Saudis made it clear that normal relations depended on the Thais solving the murders and the recovery of the Blue Diamond.
Soon after the 1990 Saudi murders, the wife and son of a jeweler who had purchased some of the stolen jewelry when it first came to Thailand were found dead in an apparent car crash. An investigation soon revealed that they were in fact murdered and the car crash was staged. Several high ranking Thai police officers were charged with murdering the two. My understanding is that they had abducted the pair to use as leverage to force the jeweler to talk, and I think that they couldn't find him. Or instead, perhaps they were used to send a message to him to be quiet. I'm not sure. In any case, the police officers were convicted of murdering the two Thai citizens and sentenced to jail terms.
Here we are in 2010, and as of last week, there had been no arrests for the murder of the Saudis, the disappearance of the businessman or the jewelry theft. Apparently there were five high ranking police officers suspected, but they were never charged. Unlike most U.S. jurisdictions, which have not statute of limitations on murder charges, Thailand has a twenty year statute. On February 13, 2010, the statute will expire and after which no charges can be brought against anyone. The Saudis have sent an envoy to Thailand and are pushing to have an investigation completed in time to charge whomever is guilty. The Saudis said that they hoped that the investigation could be free from political pressure.
There was a break yesterday, as the five suspects were charged with the murders and later released on 500,000 baht bond. The Saudis were reportedly pleased with the charges, but indicated that full diplomatic ties would not be restored until progress had been made on the Blue Diamond and the missing businessman. Reportedly a new piece of evidence, a ring belonging to one of the slain embassy workers, was found. That is the explanation as to why they were able to proceed now and not before. One more skeptical than I might think that perhaps that explanation is a bit of a CYA to explain why nothing had been done for twenty years.
Its seems pretty clear that while these police wield some power and influence themselves, someone with more power had to be protecting them. This incident has cost Thailand an enormous amount of money. Today there are 10,000 Thai workers in Saudi Arabia, but that is only a fraction of the 200,000 that worked there in 1990. And while Saudi Arabia invests in Thailand's neighbors, Thailand is left out. At some point prior to these past few months, there had to have been pressure from inside the government to resolve this case. This isn't blowing off the murder of a vacationing expat and the theft of his $500 watch. This involves the murder of embassy personnel and the theft of a national heirloom.
It will be interesting to see what happens. While one defendant has already said that he will fight this in court, I would not be surprised if there were guilty pleas. Of course, it would be much more interesting if there were not.
Monday, January 11, 2010
The kids were pretty busy today. Jacob had soccer practice as well as practice for the Wizard of Oz play. Nalin started swimming lessons again, while Aleena had both soccer and swimming. I think they were a bit tired
It was also the end of Tim's vacation. She has only worked a few days that the kids were off. It was nice for her to get some "rest", and she has certainly earned some time away from work. Of course, its 9:00 p.m. tonight and she's still working, so she's already starting to make up for it.
I am glad that the kids are back so I can also settle back into my routine. Today I lifted for the first time in a few months. I also swam a kilometer and ran two miles. I wanted to run longer, but I did it during Aleena's soccer practice at the ISB track. I really don't like running on the track, even though it is a rubberized surface. There are just too many convenient places to stop. When I'm out running, if I stop, it might be a long walk home. My plan is to work out pretty hard for the next couple of months. Its not a New Year's resolution, more like a continuation of what I started about 14 months ago.
The weather has been really nice and cool here. By cool, I mean high in the upper 80's. The nice thing is that the humidity is not as high as normal, which makes it a lot more pleasant.
Saturday, January 9, 2010
One of the biggest changes for me in 2009 was that I continued my workout routine that I started late in 2008 and ended up losing 45 - 50 pounds. For a while I was working out five or six days a week, sometimes twice a day. I'd lift three days, and do some sort of cardio five or six days.
Early last year I added swimming to my routine. When I started, I could barely make one length of the Olympic length pool (50 meters). It had never really learned to swim freestyle properly, so when I was on the treadmill or stair master, I would watch the ISB swim team and their form. I am still pretty slow for a swimmer, but pretty quickly built my stamina up so that I could easily swim a kilometer. My swims would be longer except that I would sometimes get bored after a time. Still, its really nice to be able to swim year round here in Thailand.
Later in the year, my works outs haven't been as intense. I'm still generally working out 3 or 4 days a week, although now its a lot of running. I'm actually pretty happy to be running again. This is actually the first time in my life that I got into shape without running and I found that I missed it. I guess I felt that even though I had lost a lot of weight and built up some endurance, if I couldn't run 5k, then how good of shape was I really in? I'm not running particularly fast or very long. I'll usually run 5-7 kilometers and I'm pretty happy with that.
I haven't lifted since sometime in November and I've put on a few pounds. Monday school starts back up, so its a lot easier for me to get into my regular every day workout routine.
I would still like to lose quite a few pounds, but it is nice to buy clothes because the ones you have are too big, not because they are too small.
Also on the health front, I pretty much stopped drinking alcohol in 2009. Drinking was a double whammy when it comes to fitness. Not only do I have the calories from the alcohol, but if I drank too much, I'd be tired and not want to exercise the next day. After January 2nd, I think I drank twice during the year, and both times pretty small amounts. I'm not foresaking drinking forever, and in fact I very well might drink much more often this year.
This year I feel like I'm settling into being here. When I got here, I really underestimated how much of a change it would be to not only stop working but to move to a foreign country where I didn't speak the language. I don't speak Thai that much better than I did a year ago, although better than when I first got here. I know my way around better than I did last year at this time, although I'm certainly not an expert, even in the most loose and generous definition of the word. I just feel a lot more comfortable now.
One thing that has really helped is our maid/nanny Yaow. In the past, I haven't really felt comfortable around our domestic help. Part of it is that they didn't speak English very well, and part of it was that they really weren't experienced in Western households. Often when I was in the room with them, I just felt uncomfortable, which is not something you want in your own house. We hired Yaow when our previous nanny/maid, Boa left to return to Myanmar. I was actually a bit sad when Boa left because while she sometimes frustrated the heck out of me, she actually worked very hard and had been the best we'd had up to this point.
Yaow made me forget about Boa very quickly. Prior to working for us, Yaow had worked for another falang-Thai family in Nichada for about eight years. She speaks English pretty well, and is great with the kids. One of the issues with nannies is that they often give the kids whatever the kids want. They don't say no, in large part because they don't want the kids to complain to the parents about them. Yaow will tell them no. When she asks the girls to pick something up and they don't she will tell them that she's going to take it and keep it. They believe her, because they always hurry to comply. Yaow also helps a lot with the kids activities. I trust her to take Aleena to swimming lessons and she will call Aleena's friends to arrange play dates.
Tim and I are planning on going on a three day trip sometime in the spring to visit Angkor Wat. We feel very comfortable leaving the kids with Yaow for a few days. We are even going to try to bring her back to the U.S. when we visit this summer. That might be tough, but we'll see how it goes.
I was Jacob's cub scout den leader once again this year. I'm not really a big outdoor kind of guy, and frankly don't really like doing the scout leadership thing. Jacob likes me to be the den leader, and since he can be pretty excitable sometime, I figure its the best way for him to be a part of scouting. I think the kids are enjoying it. My Webelos I den has three kids who are very calm and easy to handle and three who are very energetic. I'm not sure that I could manage if all six were "energetic".
This year I also volunteered to be the assistant coach for Jacob's basketball team. Mark McDermitt was the coach; he did all the planning, ran the practices and coached the games. There is no doubt that he could have done it without me, but having me there helped with drills so he could split up the team. At first I really didn't want to volunteer, but I felt like I should. I often get that feeling, but usually suppress it, but this time I didn't. Actually, it wasn't too bad. There were a few times when we had a lot of practices and games in a week that I thought it was a bit too much, but for the most part it was a good experience.
Once again I worked a program for Tim to manage her customer data. This time we actually made some serious progress. I had loaded the data and one of her employees, Sine (who also models for me) was testing it. We were pretty close to rolling it out to the office when someone quit and Tim needed Sine to transition to that role temporarily. Hopefully we can get this thing into production this year. Every time I restart, I have to go back and try to remember what I did and why. Its tough when you don't code in a while you learn as you go.
I actually enjoyed going into the office this time though. I'd usually come in after I finished working out, maybe arriving at 10:30. Depending on the day, I might stay until 2:30 or as late as 5:00 p.m. I'd have lunch with Tim if she was available. If not, Sine and I would sometimes to to lunch. She and I became friends due to working together on the program and her modeling for me. Most people at my wife's office are respectful of me, but aren't comfortable because they don't speak English well (and my Thai is terrible) and I am married to the boss. Status is really important here. Part of the reason I liked to talk to Sine is that her English is pretty good, and she would joke around with me.
So it was nice to have something to do, but not have a hard deadline to get it done. It was also nice to get out of the house. I mean, I would leave the house every day, and often go outside Nichada, but this gave me a reason to go out.
I think one of Nalin's favorite activities in third grade is the "chunk check cheer". Each Monday, Ms. Cheesbro gives the students a letter chunk, and they have to come up with at least fifty words that have that chunk of letters. For example, if the chunk was "ed", they would come up with words like red, bed, mended, etc. The kids are allowed to consult sources such as books, the Internet and parents to help make the list. Nalin and a boy in her class have been pretty competitive at it. I think the minimum number of words were forty. Nalin asked me for help, and I think on the first or second time she had over one hundred. The next week Dirk had 150. After that they kept leap frogging each other. One week it was close, each had over 300 words and Ms. Cheesbro had to count the words. The last time Nalin took in over 400 words. What I usually did was make her get 50-75 on her own, and then I would help her. She knew what a lot of the words meant, but some I had to explain to her, which was important, because if Ms. Cheesbro asked you what the word meant, and you didn't know, it didn't count.
Ms. Cheesbro saw me on the track one day and gave me a joking "thanks a lot for helping Nalin." She teases the kids that it is a big burden to check the words, which may encourage them. Its funny when I work with Nalin. She will be all gun-ho one minute, and then want to stop another. The way I introduce a lot of words is to use them in a sentence. For example, if "art" was the chunk, I might say, "Oh Nalin, did you have art today? Did you have orange juice, was it tart?" Sometimes it takes her a little while, but then she picks up on it. She'll often give me a daddy, I don't want to do it now, but then hurry and write down the words. You can tell sometimes that she is torn. When she wants to give up, I'll say something like "I bet Dirk is already on 400 right now." She'll say something like, "daddy, I know what you are doing, you are trying to encourage me," in a tone as if encouraging your kids was indeed a terrible thing.
Nalin is a very strong speller. I always did very well in school, but spelling was not my strong suit. I rely heavily on spell checks. My guess is that if she keeps it up, Nalin will be a better speller than I in a few years.
Nalin continued with the Blue Birds this year. That is the Thai equivalent of the Girl Scouts/Brownies. She is in the same troop from last year. The highlight for her was probably the Father/Daughter dance, where she got to dress up and go to a dance with me. Of course, once we got there, she only danced with me when she was supposed to during the contest. The rest of the time she was much too busy with her friends.
That's the thing about Nalin. She is very anxious to grow up. Jacob is adventurous, but he seems to like to be around his parents even when his friends are around. He always walks with us from the bike rack at school to Aleena's classroom. As soon as we get to school, Nalin is off on her own in search of her friends. I'm not sure how much we embarrass her yet, but its coming soon.
Another activity that kept Nalin busy through most of 2009 was her jazz dance class. In the late spring she did a great job with her dance recital. I think it was to the Madonna song of Operator, or something like that. She will often practice her dance moves in the house.
This past semester, Nalin has rally started to practice playing her recorder and is getting much better. While I hate to tell her to stop playing because I dont' want to discourage her interest, I do tell her that 7:00 a.m. on Saturday morning is a bit too early. I think I told her that she had to wait until at least 8:30. I'm not sure how long her musical instrument interest will last, but she told us that she wants to take piano lessons this semester, and we plan to let her.
Together with Jacob, Nalin joined the elementary school choir this year. They had a recital before the Christmas break which was well performed.
After taking last season off, Nalin decided to play soccer again this year. She is doing a lot better than previously. Sometimes in the past she would just kind of watch the game, but now she is a lot more involved; going after the ball and being a bit more aggressive. Its nice to see her progress.
Nalin traveled with the family this year. She visited Singapore, Hong Kong (with Tim and her siblings), and a bunch of places in Thailand.
Nalin's best friend is still Caroline. They have been in class together since Caroline arrived late in the first half of first grade. Every year ISB shuffles the kids up and combined with the student turn over, there aren't a lot of kids that you are in the same classroom with for three straight years. Caroline may be here for one more year, I'm not sure, but it will be interesting if they end up in different classrooms. I imagine they will still remain good friends. Nalin is always asking for a play date with Caroline, which I am generally okay with, but also is always begging for sleep overs. The problem is that the day after the sleep over, Nalin is just a bear to deal with. She is an early riser, but when she doesn't go to bed early, she is just not a lot of fun to be around.
2010 will be an interesting year for Nalin. She is going to start swimming lessons again, as well as continue in the choir, dance and Blue Birds. She is looking forward to visiting the U.S. this summer and seeing her family and friends there. It should be fun.
I bought some Hannah Montana TV series DVDs a few months ago, and Nalin and Aleena both absolutely love the show. Jacob actually likes it as well. I'm sometimes in the room when its on, and its really not a bad show. Nalin and Aleena (and occassionally Jacob) will recite lines from the show, sometimes over and over.
The view was okay, but the walk/climb was not pleasant. I didn't have shoes, as I had stupidly put them in the bucket before getting on the boat so it was rough on the feet.
I managed a few decent photos up there. This was one that Jacob wanted to pose for, so I obliged him. He's actually really great about letting me take his photo, so I can't really complain when he asks me to take a shot or two of his choosing.
Friday, January 8, 2010
Aleena also thought that she spotted a very small deer on the beach before one of our trips. It turned out to be a dog.
Tim really had fun snorkeling with Aleena. At first Aleena refused to do it, she said that it wouldn't be fun. The last time we went snorkeling, she hadn't been as comfortable in the water so she had a bad memory. Now she is actually a pretty good swimmer, so we were a little surprised. The guide on the Similan trip, a girl named Way, offered to take Aleena with her, and Aleena agreed. She told Aleena she would be her "tuk tuk" (a Thai taxi with three wheels). Aleena finally agreed, and had a great time. She ended up snorkeling with Tim after that and really loved it. It was nice to see her overcome her fear and reluctance to try something again.
Recently I started using my flash when photographing people outdoors to provide "fill flash". I've know about the technique for a while, but only recently started doing it. It removes the shadows from faces, and I should have been doing it all along. Oh well, a step at a time.
We flew down on Monday. Because we couldn't get a rental car (they were all booked), Tim had an employee drive our car down for us. He then took a bus back to Bangkok. He returned today to get the car. Yeah, its nice to have inexpensive labor.
Monday was pretty relaxed; we hung out at the hotel pool and nearby beach. The Khaolak Orchid Beach Resort is a little way away from town, but it is a very nice place and the staff was very gracious.
On Tuesday we rented a boat and visited some of the islands around Phangna. We made four stops, including an island featured in a James Bond boat chase scene.
The island of Similan was our destination on Wednesday. You have to book a tour to visit these islands, as the government regulates the number of visitors. Well, maybe if you have your own yacht its possible visit on your own, I don't know.
We went with Medseye, a local tour group. Similan is an hour and a half speed boat ride from the mainland. The trip involved a couple of rounds of snorkeling and visiting some beaches.
Similan was nice. The speed boat trip back was not. The water was fairly calm, but I was sitting in the front of the boat and every wave we hit would lift me off my seat a little. On some of those I would slam back down and it hurt my back and neck. I was just wanting the trip over. Little did I know that I would have loved to have had a repeat performance the next day.
We also used Medseye on Thursday, this time to visit the island of Surin. Surin was supposed to have nicer snorkeling and coral reefs, while Similan's beaches were nicer. The Sarin boat left from a different pier, and we actually had a difficult time finding it. Tim stopped a few times to ask for directions. My GPS was only of limited help because we couldn't find the pier in it. That is a problem in Thailand; the lack of signs. Sometimes you'll actually have signs that tell the direction where you want to go, and then after you travel a few kilometers, there is a split with no sign to tell you where to go. Eventually we made it though.
We did our first snorkel at Surin without any issues. It was definitely a beautiful coral reef. Jacob and I saw a coral snake, and Jacob spotted a small shark when he was ten or so meters away, so I missed it.
After the first snorkel, we stopped as planned on the island for some photos and lunch. We were supposed to leave at 1:00 p.m., but at 1:30 the guide announced that winds had come in and the sea was rougher than expected. This was not obvious to us on the island, as the land protected the water.
Finally they decided to try to take us to an area to snorkel while we waited. Unfortunately, the water was a bit too rough, so we visited a village of the Moken, "sea gypsies".
After an hour or so they announced that we would try to go back to the mainland. The guide (her name was Chair), said that if it was too rough, we could vote on whether to go back to the island and spend the night or try to make it back to the mainland.
When she said this, I was shaking my head. I tried to explain to her that she and/or the captain of the boat were the ones responsible for making a decision on whether it was safe to continue. Neither me nor my fellow passengers had the experience. She kind of blew me off in the Thai way where they pretend to agree with you to get you to leave them alone. Tim was in the front of the boat at this point, and I in the back so I couldn't get her help.
The sea was fairly rough, but for me, the ride was a lot easier than the day before. I raised out of my seat a little, but didn't feel slammed down into it. After forty-five minutes the guide asked us if we wanted to go on or back. The captain told her it would take four hours to make it to the mainland. I still wanted to go on, but as soon as one or two people said to go back, she seized on it and said we'd turn around.
I was livid; not because we turned around, but because she called for a vote. If it was too dangerous to go, then she should announced that we were turning back, no matter how much we wanted to go on. If ten people had said to go on, how could she have said okay if she knew it was too dangerous. Was she going to put her life and everyone else's in the hands of people who really didn't understand how serious (or not) the situation was. I am willing to wager that few if any of the passengers had spent enough time on a speedboat to know if the sea was just a little rough, or if we were in real danger.
So we turned around to the island. Unfortunately, all the rooms were booked in advance, so we had to sleep in tents. We didn't have dry clothes with us (except Nalin and Aleena), as we didn't imagine that we would need them. According to the guide, she had never had to do this before, and had been doing the Surin tours for many years.
Tim had a little money, so she bought some tee-shirts and Thai style pants. The co-op restaurant that we had lunch at provided us dinner. There wasn't much to do, and to make matters worse, there was a light drizzle. We got into our tents around 7:00 p.m. and stayed there for the night.
I was in a really bad mood about the whole thing, and didn't sleep well at all. Perhaps I got three hours of sleep. I didn't like the decision initially, but I really didn't like how it was made. If they had just stood up and said "its not safe, we are turning back", I might not have liked going back, but I would have respected them. I had and have no respect for the guide. If I ever walk on a boat and see her in charge again, I will turn around and walk away. I don't care if I lose a deposit or even the entire fee (although I'd try to get it back), I have no confidence in her judgement at all.
The question the next morning was whether to go back to the mainland right away, or snorkel one more time first. That would take about an hour of additional time. Some people were insisting we snorkel, as they had already paid for this trip and felt like they weren't getting their moneys worth. Others wanted to skip it because they were trying to get on a boat to Similan that morning. Tim wanted to snorkel, but I wanted to go back as I didn't want to spend one more minute than necessary around the tour people.
I found out later that a few people were able to leave with a different tour the night before. One had a medical condition and the others had a flight they would miss. The other tour boat came out of a different pier, and apparently the trip back was rough, but not as bad as our attempt had been. I'm not sure why our boat didn't go to their pier and pick us up with buses, but by the time I found out it was moot.
The guide was explaining that we would vote so no one could complain about the decision. That is complete and utter nonsense. I can certainly complain that I want to go back, as I never signed up to spend the night and get back whenever the heck the rest of the people decided I could. I actually went up to the guide and told her how I thought how she handled it was very poor and explained why. Some other American tried to explain what I meant. Finally Tim told her.
The guide said she did it because their were kids on board. It was bullshit. She asked for a vote because people were pressuring her to go home and she didn't want to upset someone. Utterly unacceptable. She later said it was because of kids. I think she said that because she thought it would shield her from criticism. Do you get the impression how much I really despise Chair?
So fate intervened on my behalf and no vote was taken. One of the people who worked on the island overheard the snorkel debate and said if you go snorkeling, you'll spend the night here again. He was looking at the color of the sky and said there would only be an hour or so window open today, and if we missed it we'd have to wait again. At that point, Chair pulled her head out of her butt a few inches and decided we'd go straight back.
We arrived back at the pier at 9:30 or so. By the time we made it back to our hotel at 10:15, we figured we would miss the breakfast buffet which ended at 10:00. Tim explained what happened, and the staff kept it open another thirty minutes after we arrived. It was really nice.
We left a few hours later, making it to the airport only forty minutes before our flight. The flight was nice. We didn't have a block of seats right next to each other, but everyone was on the aisle in close proximity. It worked out well though. I'll post more photos here and there will be even more on flickr.