Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Nalin Rafting

This photo was from our trip to Chiang Mai a few weeks ago. We went rafting, and I took this with the water proof camera.

Monday, April 26, 2010


Aleena & Makayla
Originally uploaded by ebvImages
When we were walking along at the night market in Chiang Mai, Aleena saw a dress that she liked. She wanted to buy one not just for herself, but also a matching one for her friend Makayla.

Of course, they had to wear them when they were together. In fact, I think they may have done it twice already.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


So yesterday Tim rode her bike over to Central (the mall).  The have a bike rack there for locking up your bike.  She has a fairly nice bike, but I only recently bought a chain for it.  When I got it, it had the default 0000 combination.  I took a few minutes to figure out how to change the combination and glad I did.

After she was done shopping, she went to her bike.  She noticed that the seat was higher, and that the lock was set to 0000.  Tim knew that she hadn't set it to that when locking it.  What probably happened was someone saw it and decided to try to steal it.  They adjusted the seat and then probably found it was chained.  They probably weren't professionals that had tools to cut the lock, so they tried 0000, hoping the owner hadn't bothered to change the combination.  Next time Tim said she'll ride the maid's bike over to Central.  Its not as likely a target and if it gets stolen, its a lot cheaper to replace.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Got Lunch?

Got Lunch? [56 of 365]
Originally uploaded by ebvImages
The Chiang Mai zoo has an aquarium which includes not only fish and aquatic life, but also some reptile exhibits. Tim called me over to one where the handlers were feeding the lizard insects.

The aquarium was pretty dark, so I had to use a flash to get the image. The nice thing was that they opened the door to feed it, so I didn't have to shoot through the glass. Not only did that make for a cleaner image, but I didn't have to worry about my angle in relation to the glass to avoid having it bounce back.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Photos From the Zoo

Below are some more photos from our day at the Chiang Mai zoo.  Click here for the set of our Chiang Mai photos.   Feel free to check back on it, as I will be uploading more photos as I process them.

Chiang Mai Day 2

On our second day in Chiang Mai, we visited the zoo.  The Chiang Mai zoo is most famous for its baby panda, Lin Hui.  Lin Hui was born in Thailand, although at some point will have to be returned to China.

The zoo was not bad.  The animal show, featuring mostly birds, was entertaining, particularly for the kids.  A white macaw flew up to Jacob in the audience.  In order to get the bird to fly to you, you had to have twenty baht out for the bird to retrieve.  Its less than a dollar, so not a big deal.

Lin Hui and her father were on display in the new half million dollar habitat built.  They were actually kept separately.  The zoo was fairly busy for Songklon, and Lin Hui being the big attraction, they ended up limiting viewing to about five minutes.  We were pretty lucky in that the line was fairly short when we got there.  Since we had kids, they let us wait inside in the air conditioning.

They did not allow flash photography of the baby panda.  Apparently he can't blink.  For people with point and shoot cameras, they put black tape over the flash.  Its actually a pretty good idea, since some people probably don't know how to turn it off.  I started to put my detachable flash away, but Tim said the guy wasn't concerned so long as I turned it off.

The lack of flahs combined with the distance we were away from him and the poor lighting made getting a nice photo a bit of a challenge.  I had my 70-200 zoom lens, shooting wide open, and I still had to shoot at 1600 iso, which can leave the image a bit noisy.  To put it in perspective, if I can I shoot at 100 iso.  I'm pretty happy shooting at 200, and even 400 isn't too bad.  I really don't like getting to 800, 1600 and even the occassional 3200.  Unfortunately, my shots of the cub were all of the later three iso settings.

I didn't have my tripod with me, although I don't know if they would allow you to set one up.  My images came out okay.  At one point I was trying to use the rail to help steady the shot, but I still didn't try at a lower iso.

The father was actually much easier to shoot, as he was larger, closer to the guests, and in much better lighting.  And while they limited your time with the cub to about five minutes, they let guests watch the father for a much longer time.  I'm not sure where the mother was at the time.

We were lucky we went to see the pandas when we did.  They exhibit is only open three times a day.  Later in the afternoon there was a really long line to see them.  I really would not have wanted to wait.

Here are some photos:

Reds Have Surrendered Moral High Ground

In the beginning of this entire conflict, it could be reasonably argued that the red shirts held the moral high ground.  The man they helped elect Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, was deposed from power in a military coup.  After the restoration of democracy, the red shirts won the most seats in Parliament and were able to form a government.  The courts dissolved two consecutive red led governments, and neither the police nor military seemed inclined to deal with the yellow shirted protesters who occupied not only the government buldings, but shut down international travel.  To add insult to injury, Thaksin was sentence to two years in prison and over a billion dollars of his assets were forfeited to the government.

So I can understand why the red shirts neither like nor respect the current government.  I can see how it must have appeared that the military and the courts were going to keep striking down red shirt governments until eventually the medium and small sized political parties realized that it was in their interest to form a government with the democrats and their yellow shirt allies.

The red shirts have portrayed themselves as the peasants against the Bangkok elite.  Its a pretty sympathetic argument, and probably one that has some merit.

When the red shirts were peacefully protesting at Phan Fa bridge, they were exercising their right to express their disapproval of the government.  I thought that their call for snap elections to be an exercise in futility, but certainly something within the framework of democratic protest.  I didn't see why the government would bow to their wishes.  What did it have to gain?  So long as the coalition partners remained together with the apparent support of the military, I didn't see how the red shirts would accomplish their goals.

I clearly underestimated the extent that the red shirt movement will go to try to accomplish its goals. It expanded its protest to the Ratchaprasong intersection, and shut down a major retail shopping area in central Bangkok.  Gunmen, believed by many observers to be associated with the red shirts, opened fired on protesters and soldiers alike.  This left twenty-four dead with another seventeen in critical condition.  The bombing of a power plant serving northern Bangkok may also be related to the red shirt movement.

The red shirt protests have already had an impact on the economy.  While there have been many different reports, most agree its cost over a billion dollars. The finance ministry estimates that this could actually reduce economic growth by a percentage or two.  That is enormous.  A lot of it comes from its impact on tourism.  People simply aren't coming to Thailand.  One hundred chartered planes from China to bring tourists to celebrate Songklon in Thailand were canceled at the last minute.

While I'm not the biggest fan of the Abhisit government, they have appeared willing to compromise.  They have offered to have new elections within six months.  While this does not meet the goal of the red shirt's call for immediate new elections, it gives them what they asked for, just not when they want it.

So I have to wonder how many more people are going to die, and how much more damage to the economy will occur so that the elections can occur a few months earlier?  Why is that six months so important?  I think the reason is that this movement is not at all about the poor peasants against the elite.  This entire movement is for the benefit of one man; Thaksin Shinawatra.  For him, those five months are crucial, because the government is likely to continue to pursue civil and criminal charges against him until the next election.  If elections are held immediately, and the red shirts prevail, then all those additional charges will disappear.

Thaksin vacations in Europe, putting on weight while indulging on Russian caviar and Swedish pastries, while people here in Bangkok are dying and the economy is hurting.  While the red shirt leaders may whip up support of their followers by telling them that by bringing the economy down they will hurt the elite, it is the poor who will be hurt the most.  The wealthy will be hurt, that is certain.  When business close, however, the people that work for those businesses lose their jobs.  And believe me, Thailand doesn't have the same safety nets that unemployed workers in the U.S. and Europe enjoy.

Before the violence erupted last week, I think a reasonable compromise would have been to have elections in six months, and the current government agree to not file any additional civil or criminal charges against Thaksin.  They could investigate if they desired, but leave the decision to pursue those charges to the next government.  That could still work, but now I think someone needs to be held responsible for the deaths of the soldiers and protesters alike.

More Photos From Chiang Mai

Friday, April 16, 2010

Chiang Mai - Day 1

We flew to Chiang Mai on Air Asia out of Suvarnabhumi Airport.  Suvarnabhumi is the main airport in Bangkok.  Tim was actually hoping that we would fly out of Don Meung, the airport that Suvarnabhumi replaced as the main international hub, which now handles some domestic flights.  Don Meung is a lot closer to the house, but Air Asia flies out of Suvarnabhumi.

It was a pretty laid back day.  We went on a horse carriage tour of nine temple ruins in Chiang Mai.  The kids got a chance to try out the new waterproof camera that we picked up to take photos at Songklon and if we ever go diving again.  The camera was originally going to be Jacob's as a replacement for his broken one, but it was expensive enough that it became a family asset.  I didn't have a tripod with me, or my really wide lens, so while I took quite a few pictures that day and during the trip, I wasn't fully focused on photography.  In fact, I'll probably go back to Chiang Mai by myself sometime later to take more photos.

We ate Chinese for dinner at restaurant near the hotel.  The food was pretty good but the service was anything but great.  There was a Thai woman who cooked, took our order and brought out some of the food.  She was pretty pleasant.  When she was in the kitchen cooking, a Chinese man brought out some of the food.  He did not speak Thai or English, and apparently was allergic to smiling.

Protests Turning Very Ugly

Last Saturday, seventeen protesters and two soldiers were killed when gun fire broke out at the Ratchasong intersection protest site.  A Japanese news cameraman was also killed.  The gun fire was allegedly started by masked men wearing all black.  Incidentally, the red shirt security forces are all donned in all black, and many of them are masked.   There are reports of videos of the black attired gunmen firing at both the red shirts and the army.

Soon after, the red shirts paraded the bodies of two of the slain protesters around the city.  The Bangkok Post reported that the red shirts refused to return the body of one slain protester to his mother, who wanted to take his remains home for a religious ceremony.  The red shirts said that he was a martyr for the cause, and they would perform the ceremony.  I guess he gave his life and his body for the cause.

There have been three bomb explosions at at power plant in Ayutthaya that provides electricity for northern Bangkok.  The authorities have not ruled that it is connected to the red shirt protests, but if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and has a sign hanging around its neck identifying it as a get the idea.

Today the government tried to arrest some of the protest leadership in a hotel where they were hiding.  The raid failed, as the targets were alerted to the plan and made their escape.  There is a photo of one of the leaders being lowered down three stories from his room to escape the police.

Chiang Mai

The family just returned home from Chiang Mai today from our week long Songklon holiday.  I'll be posting some more updates and photos soon.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Off School

This is turning out to be a pretty easy couple of weeks for the kids.  They were off on Tuesday for coronation day, to celebrate the day the king took the throne.  We ended up going to see the movie How to Train Your Dragon.  The kids absolutely loved it.  As soon as it was over Aleena asked if we could buy the movie to have it at home.

The Prime Minister's declaration of a state of emergency led ISB to cancel school for tomorrow.  Assuming they go back on Friday as planned, this will only be a three day school week.

Next week the kids are off for the week for spring/songklon break.  They also had a four day weekend two weeks ago.  Seems like they are off more than they work these last few weeks.

State of Emergency

Today the Prime Minister declared a state of emergency due to some red shirt protesters invading parliament and disrupting the proceedings.  The MP's and cabinet ministers retreated for their safety.

The state of emergency of emergency gives the government broad powers to temporarily (hopefully) suspend some civil liberties.  It allows the army to detain suspects for up to thirty days without a trial, prohibit news coverage deemed to threaten the public interest, impose curfews and prohibit public gatherings.

In related news, the red shirts are refusing to retreat from either their original protest base of the Phan Fa Bridge, or their new one at the Ratchaprasong intersection.  The government has already issued criminal summons for ten of the red shirt leaders and promises legal action against those who break the law.  Meanwhile, the head of the army has declared that under the current circumstances, the army will not use force to remove the protesters.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Bangkok Motorshow

Yesterday I made my way to the Bangkok Motorshow, camera in hand.  Last year the family went, and Tim ended up buying a car.  She is still driving on the temporary tags on that one since we are waiting for her "lucky" number license plate.

This year I went alone.  I took a cab because it was on the other side of town, and I read that sometimes you can wait up to an hour to find a parking spot there.

Like a lot of the amateur photographers there, I was more interested in taking photos of the female models than the new car models.  Its not every day that you can photograph models.  I also noticed that there were a lot of photographers there with some nice glass.  Strangely, it seemed like there were a lot more Canons than Nikons.

Overall, I was somewhat happy with the photos.  The lighting there was top down and not very great.  I used a flash on low power, but sometimes it wasn't enough to get rid of the shadows from the overhead lighting.  While the light was plenty bright enough to see in, I had to shoot at a little slower shutter speed than I would have liked, and I used a higher iso.  I didn't have the sharp focus that I really would have liked.

I didn't take my 70-200 2.8 mm lens, which would have been a much better choice than the 24-105 mm.  The 2.8 aperture would have let me shoot at a higher shutter speed, and I would have had a shallower depth of focus, making the models stand out from the background more.    When I got home, I was actually going ot go back with my 70-200 lens.  I had Nalin tell the guard to call a taxi for me to arrive in 30 minutes.  An hour later I walked to the guard station.  He had forgotten.  At that point it wasn't worth going back.

One thing I noticed is that the Thai photographers would all stand around the models, sometimes three or more people deep.  Most of the photographers in the back couldn't be getting a lot of great photos, there were people in their way. I wasn't going to stand in the back and wait for ten minutes only to have the model leave.  I would just walk around to the front of all the photographers and shoot sitting down or kneeling.  Essentially I was in the front row.

Throughout the day, I only saw a handful of Thai photographers shoot from any position but standing.   I'm glad they didn't or I couldn't have gotten so close all the time. Since they were standing, I could work my way up to the front without blocking anyone's shot.  The models look at different cameras so you can take your shot, and since I was in the front, I never had any issue with them looking my way.

I definitely plan on going back next year.  In fact, I may end up going for a few days.

Here are a few photos of the models.  I'll add some more and some of cars (I did take a few) later.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Masage Parlor Bomb

A bomb went off last night in the parking of the Poseidon massage parlor, injuring one person.  For those not in the know, a massage parlor in Thailand is not the place you go when you really want to get a massage.  Its a place that gentlemen (well men anyway :D ) visit for a special kind of good time.  If you are looking for a "real" massage, you would want to visit either a spa or a traditional Thai massage shop.

The massage parlor is owned by the father of Commerce Minister Pornthiva Nakasai.  The inclusion of "porn" in the son's name ("porn" is not an uncommon name in Thailand) or the obvious double entendre of "blowing" aside, I just have to comment on this one.  Can you imagine if the father of U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke's owned a business promoting prostitution?  Is there any chance he would be nominated, much less confirmed?    

Sad Chapter

While the red shirt protests dominate the news, another sad, and perhaps the last, chapter was written into the death of Police Colonel Sompien, who was killed by terrorists in one of Thailand's southern provinces.  As I blogged a few weeks ago, Colonel Sompien was serving his last year with the Thai police force before his retirement.  Insurgents in the south had placed a bounty on his head, so he had requested a transfer during the annual police reshuffle.  Unfortunately, Colonel Sompien lacked the connections and money to make that happen, and he was killed by insurgents.

The investigation has already been concluded and determined that there was no wrong doing in the police reshuffle that caused the death of the Colonel.  I'm not sure how anyone could have expected anything different.  After all, what how can the value of the life of a relatively unimportant Colonel possibly be more important than the potential embarrassment to those who profit and thrive from the system.   Its just so sad.

If the red shirts really want a symbol of how the "elite" oppress the "peasants", Colonel Sompien is a much more compelling, if less wealthy, figure.  He spent his life serving Thailand; and in the end he gave his life.  There were powerful people who could have stopped that, who could have transferred him.

Try to imagine a similar situation in the U.S.  If a police officer requested a transfer because there was a bounty put on his head by people who are more than willing to shoot at law enforcement officers, do you believe that he would be simply denied?  His superiors very well might transfer him even if he requested to stay.  If somehow the request was denied resulting in the officer's death, there would be an enormous public outcry.  There wouldn't be a "quick and easy" investigation.

So why don't the red shirts use this against the government?   This all happened during the last police reshuffle which was overseen by the current government.  Why not take this opportunity to show the hypocrisy of the current government.  They might ask how can the current government pursue the former PM for corruption with such vengeance while turning a blind eye to what seem like enormous problems with the police reshuffle process.

Why not?  Well, their silence is telling.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Major Traffic Issues

The red shirts took their rally to the streets today, blocking the Ratchaprason intersection.  This caused major traffic problems, and forced the major down town stores and shopping centers to close down.  The costs of this to retailers may be in the tens of millions of dollars.

The UDD leadership promised members that this will result in the government caving into its demands for new elections in the next two weeks.  Former PM Thaksin praised the blocking of traffics, saying that the protesters are sacrificing themselves for democracy.  He called for more Thai people to join in.

Unfortunately for the red shirts, I don't think this latest move is going to endear their movement to anyone other than those already strongly predisposed to support them.  A lot of people are tired of red and yellow shirts.  In fact, their was a 4,000 person pink shirt rally sponsored in part by the tourism businesses whose purpose was to tell the reds to stop protesting.  Even so, so long as the the red shirts were peaceful and contained in an area that didn't impact too many other people, they probably wouldn't alienate too many people.  By disrupting the lives of more people, I think they are going to alienate them.

Parking Garage Tickets

There are a lot of things that baffle me about Thailand, and one of them has always been the parking garage tickets.  In the states, when you enter a garage or parking lot that charges you a fee, you'll often get a ticket. If you are paying by the hour or day, it will probably be time stamped so you can accurately calculate the fee.

Here in Thailand they do the same thing.  One difference though is that a lot of places give you a parking garage ticket even though they don't charge anything to park.  They will write your license number down on the parking slip and give it to you as you enter.  You are supposed to give it to the attendant when you exit.

I asked Tim about it.  The rational is that it is to deter theft.  You are supposed to take the slip with you and not leave it in the car.  So if someone tries to exit without the slip, then they have to show proof that they in fact own the car.  Personally, I believe it actually has to do with a bigger trend here in Thailand.  Sometimes I think people here copy "best practices" of some other company without necessarily understanding why the practice doesn't make sense in their particular situation.  All these other parking garages hand out slips, so I guess we should too.  

While labor is not terrible expensive here, it can add up.  A company can spend tens of thousands of dollars a year distributing and collecting parking slips that really don't serve any purpose.  Today at Central there was no-one to give me a ticket when I arrived.  When I exited, I told the guy in my poor excuse for Thai that no-one gave me one.  I was waived on my way.

In the last six months or so, a bunch of companies have been moving away from this practice.  The grocery stores have now installed cameras at the entrance and exit.  That way if a car is stolen, they can look back on the video to try to find out what happened.  My wife's company finally eliminated the practice.  When she proposed it, her managers argued with her that it was necessary to protect against theft.  She pointed out that they printed on the ticket that they weren't responsible for theft.  

Its good to see this change.  Its not a huge deal, but sometimes its a pain in the butt to dig through pockets trying to find that little slip of paper.   

The Champs

Jacob's team won their 'A' league tournament today, finishing out an impressive undefeated season.  They had a bye into the semi-finals which they played this morning at 8:30.  It was already hot when the game started, and I'm not sure if it was the heat, but they were a little bit flat. Still they pulled out a win.

The boys looked really impressive in the championship game.  The game ended after three and a half innings, as it became mathematically impossible for the other team to catch up due to the six run per inning rule.

It was really nice to see the boys have that taste of success.  They worked really hard this year, easily practicing more than any other team.  Coach Mark's philosophy involves rewarding people who get to practice early, so the boys responded.  This gave them a lot more time with the pitching machines to refine their skills.

Mark did a great job as coach.  Its clear that he is pretty passionate about baseball and teaching it to the kids.

One unfortunate thing today was one of the calls made.  There is not usually an umpire at the 'A' games, as it is an instructional league. The coach closest to the play makes the call.  When I've coached first base, I've had to make them.  Sometimes they are close and maybe we get one wrong.

There was supposed to be an umpire for the championship game, but he didn't show up, so we proceeded as normal.  The opposing team was batting and had a man on first.  The batter hit the ball to the pitcher or third baseman (we use a pitching machine, so the player pitcher actually plays between short stop and third base).  The fielder threw to second base.  I was taking photos, and it appeared that he was safe, as the ball arrived to the second baseman after the runner apparently stopped on second.

The opposing team was cheering, thinking they had a hit, but Mark, who was the closest coach (the coach is still on the field in 'A' ball here) called the runner out.  The opposing fans and I think coaches started complaining about the call.  I couldn't hear exactly what was said, but I think Mark did.  He told the other coach that the runner had stopped short of second, and that is why he was out.  Again I couldn't hear exactly what was said, but I got the impression that some people were implying that Mark was being less than honest in his call.

For me, it was easy.  If Mark said the kid stopped short, then I know that (a) Mark believes that, and (b) the kid probably stopped short.  Let me be really straight about this.  Mark is a very competitive guy and wants to win.  He might make a mistake or a bad call, but he will not cheat or take short cuts to win.  How do I know that?  Well, during the basketball tournament, we were scheduled to play the semi-final game at 10:30 a.m.  The coach from the other team came up and told us that he had half his team were at a swim meet and wouldn't be able to make it until 12:00.  Mark could have pressed for a forfeiture as the other team wasn't ready to play.  He didn't, and told the kids we don't want to win that way.  We ended up losing a heart breaking game on a last second shot.

I understood why the other fans had initially thought that the runner was safe, as I had thought the same thing. Of course, from my angle, I couldn't see exactly where the base was and where the runner stopped.  Neither could they, certainly not as clearly as Mark could, who was standing about 10 to 15 feet from the bag.   When he made the call, however, even if they thought it was wrong, they should have dropped it.  At one point later I heard someone say something about playing with two sets of rules.  That behavior was bullshit.

Not only was it bullshit, but they were wrong, and it appears Mark made the right call.  Like I said, I was taking photographs.  The third one below is the play in question.  Unfortunately, I didn't take another shot or two immediately after (sometimes I use bursts and sometimes single shots), but what I captured appears to support Mark's call.  While the ball is not yet in Riley's glove, the runner is not yet on the base.  If you look at the runner, however, its pretty clear he is slowing down or stopping from the position of his legs and body.  He didn't slide on the play .  That's exactly what Mark said happened.

The photo is certainly not conclusive, but even if one disagrees it shows the runner slowing down or stopping, it shows that it was a very close play.  Much too close for someone sitting on the side lines to imply someone was cheating.

The 'A' ball champs

Jacob loved playing catcher

The "controversial" call.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


While you are generally very safe physically as a tourist here in Thailand, you will occasionally run into people who try to scam you out of money.  One technique employed is the scammer will be at the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew (one of the must see places) and will approach a tourist.  They will explain that the Grand Palace is closed that day, but offer some tour that results in you at some shop being pressured to buy overpriced goods. 

I had never had anyone attempt to scam me until my last trip to the Grand Palace.  I've been there at least four or five times before so I'm certainly familiar with it.  There is a big wall around it, and there are multiple gates.  Tourists have to enter a certain gate.  There is another gate that Thais can enter and exit, and I think there are some other entrances for VIPs and people who work there.  The cab dropped me off and I started to walk towards what I thought was the tourist entrance.  I wasn't certain that it was the right entrance, as its been more than a year since my last visit.  I was about 25 yards away when a Thai man pointed in the other direction and told me that I buy tickets there.  I was immediately suspicious, but as I wasn't certain about which gate, I walked towards the other gate which was maybe 50 yards away.  As I got closer, I saw a Thai man talking to a falang woman.  As I approached the entrance, there was a guard blocking the way, and I could tell at that point that this wasn't the right gate.  I asked him in primitive Thai about buying a ticket, and he motioned towards the gate I had come from.

I turned around and walked back the way I came.  The guy who misdirected me must have seen me, because I saw him hurry across the street and sit in a chair almost out of site.  I took a few photos of him, but I didn't have my telephoto lens, and I only got the back of his head.  I thought about going over and taking a picture of him but decided I really didn't care that much.

I'm not sure of the scam, but I'm thinking that maybe one of his accomplices was supposed to approach me and either sell me a "ticket" or offer me some alternative tour.  Maybe he was counting on the guard turning me away, and that bolstering a story that the place was closed. 

Biggest Loser

So today someone told me that I should try out for the Thai version of the biggest loser.  She meant it in a nice way because I had lost a lot of weight.  If I were going to ever join something like that, I'd want to join before I lost the "easy" pounds.