Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Wat Sadet Field Trip

Aleena was very excited about school on Monday because the second graders went on a field trip to deliver the books that they had purchased for the Wat Sadet school.  Wat Sadet was impacted by the flood, with the first floor classrooms under about a meter of water.

ISB did a great job in organizing the second grade's fund raising for Wat Sadet.  The kids earned the money, purchased the books, and then completed the loop by delivering the books to the school.  It's great that in addition to making the effort to raise the money, that they got to see the people that they were helping.

First thing Monday morning the second graders boarded buses for the forty-five minute drive to Wat Sadet.  Each had a plastic bag containing the books that they had purchased with the money raised by their class.  Each class was accompanied by their teachers and two parent chaperons.  I think every class invited its homeroom mom, but they had different ways to select the other parent.  One class asked for volunteers and then drew a name out of a hat.  I was fortunate to get to go, the primary reason probably being my camera, although Ms. Wood's assistant is into photography and has some nice camera equipment and skills.

After arriving at the school, each class went to a separate pre-K classroom.  The classrooms were a stark contrast to those found at ISB.  There was no air conditioning, smart boards, computers, walls lined with books and supplies like you find in every second grade classroom at ISB.  There weren't even desks or tables for the students.

In each room, a teacher read the children a story from one of the books brought by Aleena and her fellow second graders.  After the story, each second grader was paired with a pre-K student from Wat Sadet.  The ISB students gave the books to their partner, and together they reviewed the books.  The second graders had made book marks for their partners and brought blank bookmarks so that their partners could write their name and draw the Thai flag on them as a memento for the ISB students.

I can't say enough about how well this was done and how lucky I was to be allowed to be there.  The kids really did a good thing and went above and beyond what was expected from them in raising money.  The books that they provided will make a difference to those children.  While I know that Aleena may not fully appreciate how lucky she is in life, I hope that this might at least sow the seed.


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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Job and Maria Charity Run

Friday afternoon the sixth annual Job and Maria Charity Fun Run took place at ISB.  Job and Maria were ISB first grade students who dies in the 2004 Tsunami.  The charity benefits those Thais who were impacted by the Tsunami.

The two hundred baht entry fee includes both a t-shirt and participation in the race. The runs were organized by age, the pre-K kids ran two-hundred meters, the adults and high school kids a mile, and others a distance in between. Aleena and Tim were both signed up to participate, but Tim ended up giving her shirt to someone who had left theirs at home.

The second graders had to run one lap around the track.  They had a false start, but only ten or so of the thirty kids running actually stopped.  The let the results from that run stand, and then they ran another heat later in the afternoon for those who had stopped or wanted to run a second time.  This left them six ribbons short (3 for the girls, 3 for the boys), so the winners in the adult races gave up their ribbons for the kids.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Sometimes I Wish They Would Just Deport Me

So we completed the application of my ninety day visa.  Sort of.  We hired someone to help us with the process.  Tim told me that she was told that the price was about $35 dollars, which we both thought was absurdly low.  It turns out she charged us over $300, which is absurdly high, about twice as much as the Thai monthly minimum wage.

In order for me to stay, I have to show that I have a minimum of 400,000 baht (~$13,000) in the bank for at least two (maybe three) months.  The idea is that I have the money to support myself while I stay here, even though I am certain that there is no scenario where I could receive government benefits intended for the impoverished.

In any case, they require an updated savings book and a letter from the bank confirming my account and the required balance.  I'm really not sure why they require both, as I think that if I were able to forge a bank book, that I could easily forge the letter.  The bank book shows all the transactions on the account, and it would be very easy to see if I had met the requirements.  In the Nonthaburi office, the bank letter is only good for seven days after which you need to get a new one.  When we submitted our application today, we included a letter from the bank date two days ago and the bank book that had been updated this morning.  Apparently that is not good enough for the Bangkok office.  They require a letter from the bank on the day of the application.

This is an absolutely ridiculous requirement.  The purpose of the letter and bank book is to show that I have the money at the time that I applied.  After I submit the application, I am free to go and empty out the bank account.  Are they concerned that I might have gotten the letter two days ago and then immediately emptied the account so that I never really had the money when I applied?  Do they really think that if I could let the money sit in the account for several months, I couldn't wait the two extra days to empty it?  Maybe, but my savings book was updated less than an hour before we submitted the application.  Can someone really believe that I went to the trouble of forging my bank book so that I could withdraw my money two days early?

I have a theory of why they require the letter dated the same day.  Every major Thai bank (many of them anyway) have a branch in the immigration and government building.  Tim is a premium customer (Wisdom) with K Bank and they never charge her for the letter.  This branch charged one hundred baht for the letter telling her that her Wisdom status did not entitle her to a free letter.  I'm guessing that most every person applying for a visa that requires a bank letter ends up getting them from the branches in the immigration building.  I'm guessing that this adds up to a lot of fees over the course of a year and I'm sure the banks are very grateful to whoever makes the decision to require a letter dated the same day.

We left after getting the updated bank letter, leaving the person we hired to stand in the queue for us.  Before we left, she took us before an immigration officer so that they could see that we were real. I would like to use the woman when we apply for the one year visa, but her fee is really excessive.

I am assuming that the application will be approved and I'll get my extension.  Although maybe I'll get lucky and they'll order me deported instead; send me out of the country for a six month cooling off period.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Starting Over

Today we are going to the Thai immigration office to apply for my ninety day visa.  If I get the ninety day visa, then I can apply for a one year visa based on my marriage.

We learned that a lot of the rules have changed recently because someone new has taken charge of the immigration department.  This is apparently a common pattern; a new person takes charge, makes new rules and decides to clamp down hard on immigration rules and requirements, then after four or five months, things relax again.

One good thing is that we have to go to the immigration offices on Chaengwattanna for the ninety day visa.  This office is only about ten or fifteen minutes from our house.  When applying for the one year visa, we have to drive forty five minutes to the office in Nonthaburi.

This time we hired someone to help us with the process.  Hopefully this means that things will go more smoothly.  I guess if things don't work out, and I can't get the ninety day visa, I can always take a week holiday every month so that I can re-enter and get another thirty day visa.  Yeah, I'm sure Tim would love that.

Giving Back

Today the ISB second grade classes purchased books to help a Thai school that had its library destroyed by the recent floods. This is another example of ISB's good work in trying to help the surrounding community which is much less fortunate.

 Over the past few weeks, the second graders have been raising money to buy books. They were encouraged to earn the money themselves. Some did household chores, some gave massages to their parents and still others had lemonade sales. Aleena did some extra work around the house and she also made some bead jewelry which she sold. Each of the six classes had a goal to raise 10,000 baht (~$667) for a total goal of 60,000 baht($2,000). The kids raised nearly 120,000 baht, nearly doubling their goal. Today the kids went to a book sale in order to pick out books for the kids. Each child had enough to buy four or five books.

 The classrooms divided their money evenly among their students, and the students could then pick out and buy books for the Thai school. Volunteer parents, of which I was one, acted as the sales clerks in collecting money from the kids. It was bedlam as the kids crowded around the tables looking for books.  They were all thrusting their money at us, eager to make their purchases.  In between collecting money and quizzing the second grades on how much change they should get, I managed to snap a few photos.

The kids all seemed to have a great time.  Not surprisingly, in the end, the kids had enough money to buy all of the books at the book sale.

On Monday, the second graders will visit the school to deliver the books.  It's great that they get to put faces with the work that they did.  I hope it something that will give Aleena and her classmates a sense of accomplishment and instill in them a sense of how lucky they are, and how they can make a real difference in the lives of other people.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Birthday

Yesterday was Tim's birthday.  Our plan had been to have lunch together at a hotel downtown, and have dinner with the kids at home.  We had to change plans at the last minute because some things came up that Tim had to handle for work.  Our family celebration is moved to Friday, and lunch to next week.

Normally we are pretty low key when it comes to presents, and this year was in line with that tradition.  Last year was a milestone, so I did quite a bit more, including buying her a nice TAG Heuer watch and taking her on a surprise trip to Sukhothai.  This year I bought some music on iTunes and put it on her iPhone.  She's been wanting new music for working out and now she has some.

After we dropped the kids off in the morning a few of her friends stopped by briefly before she went to work.  Joom, Joy and Michelle came over and dropped of a lovely bouquet of flowers.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

New Room

Tonight Aleena moves back into her own room for the first time in a quite a while.  When we first moved into this house in Nichada Villa, the girls had separate rooms.  They agreed to share a room and make Aleena's old bedroom a toy room for them to use.

Well, they are growing up and decided that they need their owns space.  Nalin was definitely the bigger proponent of this, but Aleena seems ready as well.  I anticipate that a little girl will wake us up more than once in the coming days because she is afraid.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Thinking Day

Saturday was the Girls Scout Thinking Day at ISB.  On Thinking Day, the Girl Scout troops got together to learn about other countries, and girls scouts in those countries.

It was a pretty busy day. In addition to the Girl Scout event, Nalin and Aleena both had softball games scheduled.  Nalin also had the cast party for the Jungle Book production.  We let the girls skip softball, and Nalin came to thinking day after she was done with the party.

Each troop researched one country and set up a table at the event where they displayed what they learned to the other scouts.  In addition to information about the country, they also served food from that country.  Aleena's troop selected Vietnam, and served some excellent spring rolls.  The night before, they helped make the spring rolls at Jack and Douan's house.  Apparently they ate so many of them that they had to make more the next morning.

Nalin's troop presented information on Qatar and served hummus.  For the first half of the event, there were only two troop members present, as the rest were at the cast party.


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Saturday, February 18, 2012

More Jungle Book

The ISB ES Friday Jungle Book Friday performance was even better than the first night.  The kids seemed much less nervous, and even did some improvising.  During the show, Nalin improvised at one point by shaking her butt, which drew laughter.

Friday I sat in the fourth row, much closer than the night before.  I was snapping away photos to share with the families and students (Flickr Jungle Book Set).  Because the lighting isn't great, I was usually taking three at a time, and my camera would make a clack-clack-clack sound when I did.  Tim told me that one or two people would turn around when I did, looking a bit irritated.  Some friends two rows in front of us also heard it.  Sam told me that his first thought was "who is that?", and then he turned around, saw it was me and  thought "oh, it's okay, it's Brian."

On Saturday morning the kids celebrated their successful effort with a cast party.  This meant for quite a busy morning for Nalin, as she also had the Girl Scout's Thinking Day and a couple of softball games at the same time.  She skipped softball, and joined girl scouts after the cast party.

She really enjoyed the experience, although I think she is probably happy to have a bit of a break from it, as they practiced quite a bit in the last week or two.  Nalin was also happy that her teacher, Ms. Melhorn, did not give any homework this weekend in recognition that many of her students were in the performance.

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A photo of the cake for the cast party on Saturday.

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Jacob On the Mound

Today Jacob had his first chance to pitch his first inning in a baseball game. He struck out one, walked a few more than that, gave up some runs, and overall did a pretty decent job. Like a lot of the boys new to pitching, he still has to work on his control. The good thing is that even with most of his walks, he was getting two strikes on the batter as well.

What really surprised me was one of the first plays when there was a ground ball towards first.  It went foul, but Jacob ran over to help cover the base.  That's one of those things that I would not have been surprised if he forgot about during his first pitching outing.

I almost didn't go to the game today.  In the morning I was taking photos of the Girl Scout's Thinking Day, the Jungle Book Cast party and a few other games.  I went home for a late lunch and thought about staying home.  Instead I went to the game, and I'm glad that I did.
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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Jungle Book Opening

Tonight was the opening night for the ISB ES production of the Jungle Book.  The effort that the kids and volunteers put into this was very evident by how well things went.  They all did a great job.

Nalin played the role of Coconut Tree number 3.  The coconut trees almost narrators for the story.  They were in every scene, had multiple speaking parts, and sang several songs together.  While we knew that she had a speaking part, she did not share the lines with us before the show, preferring to practice alone or with her friends.

Tim and I are very proud of Nalin's effort and performance.  I am sure that she and her cast mates will put on an equally good show for tomorrow night's final performance.  
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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Interesting Things in Bali

Some things I learned or experienced on my Bali trip:


  • When I arrived at the hotel, I requested a non-smoking room.  I asked the clerk if one was available.  She smiled and said "of course we have them available.  If you want a smoking room, we put in an ashtray.  If you want a non-smoking, we don't."
  • A woman offering sexual services approached me on the street as I was walking back to my hotel one night.  Instead of merely reciting some of the services that were available, she attempted to give me a preview and grabbed me by my crotch.  Although I was quite surprised, I was able to disengage myself and continue on my way.
  • I sat down at a restaurant for breakfast one morning and saw a black iPhone 4 in a black case on my table.  It looked nearly identical to my phone; the only real difference was the screen protector was in worse shape than mine.  I help it up for the waitress to see and she gave it to a couple who I think had been sitting at the table before me.  The owner was very lucky that I saw it right when I sat down.  If I had seen it a few minutes later, I might have mistaken it for mine which I had left in my hotel room.  I guess they are also lucky I just wasn't dishonest and decided to keep it.
  • The Bali people were pretty friendly.  I think just about every place I went they asked me what country that I was from. They seemed interested when I told them the USA, as they don't get as many Americans as they do Australians.  It makes sense as Australia is only about a four hour flight (parts of it anyway).
  • People in Bali drive very similar to people in Thailand.  There is no way that I would drive a car there.  I ended up hiring a driver through the hotel.
  • According to the people I spoke to, Indonesia does not have free public education.  You have to pay to go to school, even at the elementary and high school levels.  If your family cannot afford to pay, then you don't go to school.  
  • Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country, but Bali has a large Hindu population.
  • The people can be pretty aggressive in their sales pitch.  When I went and got a massage, other girls in the shop would come over and offer services such as manicure, peticure, exfoliation and others.  One even offered to wax my chest, but I think that she was joking. 
  • The restaurant chain Flapjacks surprisingly had pancakes that were not very good, but waffles that were just delicious.
  • A lot of guys on the street trying to sell "magic mushrooms".  While it is tempting to buy a mind altering mushroom from some guy on the street, I managed to resist the temptation.  Apparently it is not legal to sell the mushrooms, but like in many places, the authorities are often have an incentive to turn a blind eye.  
  • Beware the sidewalks are often in pretty bad repair.  I found myself looking down quite a bit so that I didn't trip or turn an ankle.  
  • It was very hot and humid during the day, but became much more pleasant at night.  I guess that is not surprising since it's so close to the equator.  

Temples

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Visiting a temple in Bali.The sarong is required to enter, at least if you are wearing shorts.

TV & Glee

I mentioned it on Facebook a while back, but when we arrived back in Thailand after our trip home to the U.S., I brought another XBox 360 with me.  While I wanted to play some games on it, the more compelling reason was to use it as a media center in my bedroom.

In addition to watching videos that I have on my computer, I also wanted to take advantage of the Neftflix and Hulu Plus apps.  The issue is that they are not licensed to show those videos outside the U.S.  In order to watch them, I had to set up a VPN for the XBox.  Despite the videos that showed how easy it is to setup, I had a few difficulties along the way.  It probably didn't help that I was doing it a day or two after I got back; when I hadn't slept well and was jet lagged.

The good thing is that I did get it to work, and that the family also loves it. Tim and the girls absolutely love Glee.  Some of it's a little above their heads (Nalin and Aleena, not Tim) and sometimes a bit racey, but they love the signing.

It's also easy for Tim to watch her favorite shows like Grey's Anatomy and Desperate Housewives, as they are available on Hulu Plus the day after they air in the U.S.  Of course, there is also plenty for me to watch as well, including the entire five seasons of the British comedy Shameless.

I showed Tim how to reconnect the PC to the VPN in case there was a problem when I was not home.  Of course when I was in Bali, a problem occurred that was not easily solved.  I tried to do some basic support over text messaging, but it just wasn't working.  I fixed it when I got home.  I'm not sure why, but for some reason something when wrong with the Internet Connection Sharing that I use to allow the XBox to use the VPN.

Aleena

Aleena is once again busy this semester with dance, gymnastics, girl scouts and baseball.  Tuesday and Thursdays are pretty long days for her, as she has several activities on those days.

Currently Nalin and Aleena share a bedroom.  We are going to move Aleena into her own bedroom soon in order to give Nalin her own space and to help Aleena become more independent.  She seems okay with the idea, but we'll see how she reacts when we implement the plan.

Last week she helped raise about $70 to rebuild a library for a Thai school that was impacted by the recent floods.  That definitely exceeded her stated goal of 80 baht (about $2).  They are going to deliver the money as part of a field trip next week.  With any lucky, I'll be able to tag along and take some photos.

All About the Boy

Jacob has really embraced the Boy Scouts.  He has been on almost every campout since he joined, and has managed to make the rank of Second Class.  I think that we are going to send him to some Boy Scout summer camp this year, but I'm not sure where.

Jacob went camping with the Boy Scouts in the first weekend of February.  He got back on Sunday afternoon, and then on Wednesday went on the ISB Middle School campout. He had a great time on both.  Tim said that she heard that some parents and kids were crying at the separation, but Jacob is definitely okay spending time away.

Baseball is also in full swing.  Generally he has two games a week; either one on Friday and one on Saturday, or a double header on Saturday.

Tim also signed Jacob up for two days a week of boot camp with our friend Jack.   Apparently there will be some competition in March and April between Jacob and Tim with a dinner at stake.

Nalin Update

Tomorrow and Friday night Nalin will play the part of coconut tree number three in the ISB ES production of the Jungle Book.  She and her fellow cast members have been working very hard rehearsing their roles. Nalin is very excited because the trees are a speaking part, and she has several lines.

In addition to her thespian endeavors, Nalin is playing softball this year.  She wasn't too thrilled about my signing her up, but I think that she is having fun.  Due to the smaller number of softball players, all the Elementary School girls play in same league, so each team is made up of girls from grade one through five.

Now one would think that this would be nice because Nalin and Aleena could be on the same team, thereby reducing the number of games that I attend each week.  That would be wishful thinking.  I spoke with Nalin about this, and she was adamant that she and Aleena not be on the same team, so I honored her wishes and asked them to be separated.  Just about every other pair of sisters play on the same team.  The one thing that bothers me more is that Nalin somehow ended up on a team with some of her friends and a bunch of Aleena's friends.  Aleena, meanwhile, ended up on a team where she is not close with anyone.  Karma was definitely not at work in this instance.


A Bird in Bali

Okay, some of the bird photos turned out decently.
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Bali

My eight days in Bali were pretty relaxing.  I did some snorkeling, went to the zoo, the bird park, some temples and some terraced rice fields.  I also spent a fair bit of time reading and sleeping in late.  It rained pretty hard when I was at the zoo; the raincoat that I had brought did me little good as it was sitting in my hotel room.  

I did not take the opportunity to eat much Indonesian food, instead I ate quite a bit of Italian.  Surprisingly enough, Bali actually has a Chi-Chi's restaurant.  I walked by it a few days before I finally decided to stop in.  When I was younger, Chi-Chi's was probably my favorite restaurant.  At the time I thought their hot salsa was very spicy and that sweet and sour chicken was genuine Chinese food.  I've learned a bit since then.

So the day before I left, I finally broke down and stopped at Chi-Chi's.  A bit of a disappointment.  They did not serve free chip's and salsa, the nachos consisted of 8 chips with chili and cheese on them, and the chimichanga was perhaps a third the size of the ones served in the U.S.

I took some photos in Bali, but I'm not sure that I like any of them enough to share.  I did enjoy taking photos at the bird park.  During the show I tried to take some photos of birds flying with mixed results.  The birds of prey were really not easy to capture in flight.  I guess I need to practice with my new lens. I also enjoyed taking photos at the temple of the sea (forget the actual name) although I am a bit disappointed in how they turned out. If I like any of them enough, perhaps I'll post them here or on Facebook.

On the way home, I decided to splurge and pay for an upgrade to business class.  It was actually nice to have the extra leg room.  The food was decidedly better than that served in coach (I had some dory and salmon), but I did not partake in the wine or champagne.  

Overall it was a nice trip.  I think I am going to try to take some shorter trips by myself more frequently to take photos.  I need to find someplace a little less hot and humid though.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Visa Run

Yesterday I got back from an eight day trip to Bali.  The trip was a case of making the best of a problem with my visa.

When I booked our trip to the U.S., I booked our return date one day after the expiration date of my visa.  Upon our return, I received a thirty day visa to enter the country.  My plan was to go and get my one year visa near the end of the thirty days.  

Tim and I went to the immigration office with about a week left on my visa.  The officer looked at our paperwork, and informed us of some new requirements.  One requirement was that we had to have a photo of Tim and I together in our house.  We already had photos of Tim and I, and photos of the house, but we had to go back home and take photos of the two of us in the house.

We hurried home, gathered all the required documents and made it back to the office before lunch.  The officer looked at the stamps in my passport and told Tim that we couldn't apply for the spousal visa at this time.  I would have to apply for a ninety day visa and only then could I get the one year visa.  The catch is that I couldn't apply for the ninety day visa because I needed at least fifteen days left on the thirty day visa to do so.  They said that they needed at least fifteen days left in order to process the ninety day application.   This meant that I had to leave the country and get another thirty days upon re-entry.  I would then have the required time to apply for a visa.

My first thought was to do a one day visa run to Laos.  There are companies that specialize in taking you to a nearby country so that you could leave Thailand and re-enter with a new thirty day visa.  Instead of spending the day in a van and visiting Laos, I decided to make the best of the situation and take a little holiday.  After considering a lot of places, including Hong Kong, Europe and Australia, I finally settled on eight days in Bali.

Long Absence

Yeah, so once again I have neglected my blog.