Life in Bangkok Gets Busy

Life in Bangkok gets busy very quickly.  The handyman actually showed up on Sunday and spent several hours installing pipe through the empty space above our ceiling, connecting the bathroom water supply with the balcony outside our bedroom.  He’s to return this morning and finish the job so (and I think I’ve written this before) with any luck we’ll have the ability to wash our own clothes by dinnertime.

Tawn left yesterday afternoon for an overnight business trip to Singapore.  One of his clients, HP, is holding a press conference announcing some new development in the world of technology, and he is chaperoning some Thai and Malaysian journalists to the event.  He asked if I wanted to go along, but it was such a short trip with no down time for him, so there wasn’t much of a point. 

 

Fortunately, I did have an opportunity to have dinner with Masakazu and his partner, Mitsu.  Mitsu is now pretty much fluent with Thai, Masa is learning, and I’m still a beginner.  An early beginner, at that!  We had dinner at a really nice Laotian/Issan (Northeast Thai) style reastaurant in the Silom area called Cafe du Laos.

The restaurant is in a lovely colonial-style 2-story house that is surrounded by skyscrapers.  Service was attentive and the food was really nice.  We had a version of somtum (green papaya salad) made with pomelo, a grapefruit-like fruit.  Mmm… tasty.  Also a beer-marirnated pork with spicy chili sauce.

Speaking of skyscrapers, there are many condominium developments occurring here in the City of Angels.  In the debate of whether or not to purchase a condo in the near future, I’m inclined to wait a bit because I see a lot more housing stock coming on the market in the next 2-3 years, which I would imagine should either drive down prices or at least hold them steady.  The above picture is for a development that is just two blocks down the street from us called Millennium Sukhumvit.  It will be about 500 feet from the Metro station, so the location is spectacular.

There’s another development happening adjacent to our building, but to the north.  The land has been graded and there are occasional bouts of activity, but true construction has yet to begin.  Maybe they’re waiting for more phone lines to be installed!

Well, only two days to go before Thai language classes start at Union Language School.  Mitsu tells me that he has friends who have gone there and that it is quite reputable, but they actually assign homework and give exams, unlike American University Alumni Association, which he attended and Masa currently attends. 

Productive Days in Bangkok

Second entry for the day.  Man, am I productive!  Must be that telecommuting thing.

So it was a beautiful sunrise this morning in Khrungthep.  The picture on the left captures it quite nicely.  I find that I’m waking up without the aid of an alarm by about 6:00, which lets me get an early start on the day.

I can shower, shave, get dressed, and prepare coffee and breakfast before Tawn wakes up.  Then, while he gets ready for work I can start working on the computer, take pictures of the sunrise, etc.

So it was a very productive morning, but since I don’t have DSL yet (and it may still be a long while before it happens – would you believe that they’ve run out of numbers in our area?) I had to go down to the local True Internet coffee shop, conveniently located in the “Metro Mall” – a small stretch of the Metro station that includes four places to get coffee, five snack places including a Dairy Queen (like I never left the Midwest) and a place to get your hair cut in 10 minutes for 100 baht.

Once again I made the mistake of leaving home without an umbrella.  After leaving Tawn at his office after lunch it was starting to rain.  So I went to Central Chit Lom department store to shop for some kitchen cabinet shelves.  They didn’t have any, so I took the Skytrain to Central Silom.  By the time I arrived, it was absolutely pouring.

The wind was also blowing fiercely so that most of the protected, covered areas of the station were still getting soaked.  As people exited the train, instead of heading for the stairs (which were getting dumped on) they huddled around the poles as this seemed to be the only dry area. 

After shopping at Central Silom, which is thankfully connected by a covered walkway to the Skytrain station, I walked to the Metro station which is connected by another covered walkway.  But it is narrom and doesn’t really provide much protection from the elements.  In fact, there’s one spot where it is running underneath the Skytrain tracks and a downspout dumps the all the rain from the tracks directly on the steps from the walkway to the street below.  Really not a genius engineering design.

The Metro station at Si Lom is about four stops away from my station at Sukhumvit and Asoke (Soi 21).  The straight-line distance is maybe two miles, if that.  When I emerged from the station at Sukhumvit, the ground was bone-dry.  Not a drop.  The clouds overhead didn’t even look that threatening.  So my walk home was dry, not the flooded street that often befalls Asoke when there is heavy rain.

Playing the Handyman

Well, the handyman flaked out yesterday afternoon.  Said that he went to the hardware store and they didn’t have the type of pipe he needed so he had to order it.  And he can be here next Thursday.  Tawn said that wasn’t okay, so the handyman said he could be here on Sunday.  Sounds a little suspicious.  Well, no home-washed clothes tonight.

In an intrepid attempt to be handy myself, I did some hardware installation today.  First up were some nice polished nickel hooks for the back of the bathroom doors.  I discovered that the doors are not as wide as the drill bit I was using to drill a pilot hole.  One of the doors now has both an entry and exit wound.  I’ll have to patch that up – or maybe we can hang a calendar there.  After all, it is the door that faces the kitchen and living area. 

Next up, I installed door stops.  We have several doors that just go slamming into walls or other doors.  Ah – but nobody in Thailand seems to sell those spring-type door stops that attach to the doors themselves.  So I purchased some in the United States and brought them over with me. 

The first one installed very easily.  Feeling quite satisfied with my handyman skills, I continued to what was behind door number two.  I don’t know what type of wood the second door is made of, petrified wood perhaps, but I could only get the pilot hole drilled about 1 cm (1/4 inch) into the door. 

Yes, I know what you’re thinking.  “Better than drilling the hole all the way through the bloody door!”  Yes, yes.  So I decided to start screwing the doorstop into the door.

It grew increasingly difficult and after getting about three-quarters of the screw into the door, the Phillips slot at the top of the screw was beginning to get stripped. 

Then, with one last effort, I tried to turn the screw and the top of it snapped off! 

So I moved on to door number three.  The lower corner of that door was quite solid, too, so I moved a little higher and a little further from the edge.  Finally, I found a softer spot and was able to install the door stop.  A second attempt on the previous door was successful, again because I was willing to think “outside the box” or, more correctly, “away from the edges.”  

Feeling truly like I was channelling Bob Vila, I proceeded to change drill bits.  Tightening the cement bit with the bit key (you may be in understandable awe of the masterful way I casually throw around these technical drilling terms) I decided to tackle the project of hanging a mirror in the entryway.  The entryway is also the kitchen.  And the entire living room. 

One of the interesting things about contemporary Thai construction is the thoroughly consistent use of cement in the walls.  Perhaps because of the humidity or the adobe-like insulating qualities of cement, but cement construction is de rigeur.  It makes the hanging of pictures somewhat challenging. 

Undaunted, I proceeded to drill a hole into the wall with deceptive ease.  It wasn’t until I hit something solid – really solid – that I started to get worried.  I tried several different things until it occurred to me to see whether the plastic sleeve (don’t know the technical term) for the screw would fit.  The hole was not wide enough for the sleeve, so the depth of the hole was not an issue.  Then I tried to put one of the screws in to see whether what I was running into was metallic or just really hard cement. 

Long story short, it took me about five minutes before I realized that, since the hold was deep enough for the entire screw to fit into it, it didn’t really matter whether the obstacle was metal, mineral, animal, imaginary, or anything else.  All I needed to do was widen the hole so the plastic sleeve would fit.  Which I proceeded to do.  There is now a lovely mirror hanging in our entryway, hanging on a very professionally mounted screw securely anchored to the wall by a plastic sleeve which, come to think of it, may be called a “wall anchor.” 

It is probably worth mentioning that in the process of figuring things out, I decided that I should drill a second hole, a little lower and a little to the left of the original one, figuring that I would probably not hit whatever obstacle I encountered in the first hole.  So if you come visit us you can take the mirror off the wall and gaze upon the second, superfluous hole, and comment upon my amazing do-it-myself talents which should probably be allowed to lie dormant.

Did I mention that also on my project list for this weekend is to hang a bamboo shade on the edge of my balcony, above the railing?

Yikes!

Yesterday evening Tawn and I went to the Emporium shopping center (actually, I think it is a department store, not the entire center) to watch Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride at the SFX Cinema.  It was presented on a Christie Digital Projector, which was the first time I had seen a movie on a Christie DP. 

The movie was a lot of fun.  The story line reminded me loosely of the love story from Les Miserables without the revolution or barricades.  The animation was lovely and Danny Elfman’s score was, as always, a perfectly blend of gothic darkness and beauty.

On my way to the theatre at dusk, I snapped a couple of photos of the Skytrain that I think turned out pretty well.  I’ve started carrying my digital camera, a Fujifilm FinePix E510, with my just about everywhere because there are many interesting things to see in this city.  Plus, I was given advice that too much text in a blog doesn’t appeal to the audience.  At least, it doesn’t appeal to the short attention span audience!

The days of rain, clouds and overcast were banished from the Kingdom at 5:30 this morning and sun – bright, pure, unadulterated and incredibly hot – bathe the streets of Khrungthep.


This is in stark contrast to Tuesday morning, when I went to Union Language School to get signed up for my Thai language classes which begin next Thursday – the day after my 35th birthday.  When I emerged from the Metro at Si Lom station (or “Silom”, if you prefer – lots of flexibility in the Anglicization of words here) the skies were dark and very threatening.  You could smell the rain hanging heavy in the air, about to fall. 


One of the many international primary schools was on a field trip to Suan Lumpini (Lumpini Park).  There were perhaps seventy or eighty students all around the age of six or seven, divided into regiments of a dozen students each and maching in uniform lines – each soldier holding hands with his or her buddy.  All were properly equipped with rain slickers, which are very lightweight here owing to the heat, and one teacher or monitor was in charge of each group, seemingly holding all of their hands at the same time, herding them away from the myriad hazards one finds at one of the busiest intersections in the city.


A few minutes later, as I sat in the registrar’s very 1960’s-era office on the 10th floor of the CCT building, I looked out the window to see that it had started to pour torrential buckets of rain (multiple metaphors).  Imagine the field trip: children either cowering under whatever minimal shelter they could find at the park or else running about splashing with joy in the puddles as their minders fretted and tried to regain control and move the herd to higher and drier ground.


After signing my life away in triplicate (literally three diferent, nearly identical forms – the Thais are a bueuracracy-loving people) and paying my 6200 baht (about US$155) I am official enrolled (no refund!) at this Southern Baptist-founded language school.  In their own words, “registered by the Royal Thai Department of Education as meeting the high standards of informal education.”


Last night Tawn arrived home very late from work, after 8:00.  As he was wrapping up at the office, his manager (the Director) asked if he was free to meet.  The meeting lasted two hours and the substance of the conversation was… me!


Tawn’s company, the USA-based public relations firm of Hill & Knowlton, is taking all of their Bangkok employees on an appreciation trip for four days to Seoul, South Korea in December.  As part of the deal, employees can bring their spouse (but no children, parents, or boy/girlfriends) if they would like to pay the added expense – about 28,000 baht all-inclusive.  Tawn’s friend Mon, who also works at H&K, had let slip the day before that Tawn was planning on bringing me along as his spouse.  Tawn’s boss was concerned about how to handle things, especially as Thai culture doesn’t really have the concept of “domestic partnership.” 


So Tawn’s boss had consulted the various oracles including the older, conservative, and very straight director of finance, and finally sat Tawn down to discuss the situation.  Fortunately, Tawn didn’t have to get Margaret Cho with her.  She decided that H&K should be a very progressive organization and that if Tawn said I was his spouse then she was looking forward to meeting me.  Secretly, I think that she is interested in the possibily of hiring me to do some English-language work for her.  But they wouldn’t sponsor a work visa nor pay me at US pay rates so that might not work!


Anyhow, it looks like I’ll be going to Seoul.  Unfortunately, it is about the same time that Aaron Wong will be in town. 


As promised, here are some photos of the Bangkok Pride festival this past weekend at Lumpini Park.  It really was a small affair, but they had badminton and volleyball competitions going on and the volleyball players were really good. 


We ran into a former United Airlines colleague of Tawn’s and he told us that the players (or one of the teams, perhaps?) were former national-level competitors.  Of course, the first thing to come to mind was the movie Iron Ladies based on the true story of a championship volleyball team composed of gay men, transgendered people, and one straight man. 


The second thing to come to mind was Alan Leung, Anita’s cousin in Toronto.  He is quite the volleyball player, but recently injured his ankle and is recuperating.  He’s a very accomplished interior designer / architect – check our his website.


This afternoon the handy man is supposed to arrive to… drumroll, please… hook up our clothes washing machine.  Remember that this is sitting out on our balcony and there is no water nor any power source nearby. 


The plan as I understand it to run water through the ceiling from the main line in the bathroom and have it exit on the balcony.  Sounds a bit crazy, right?  There is a conduit and closed box on the balcony so I think that there is either power in it or a line could be run to it relatively easily.  In either case, I’m hoping that by this evening I can wash clothes because there really are very few laundry services available.  There is one service that picks up at the condo office, but it took a week and cost 700 baht for 15 pair of socks, 15 undershirts, and 20 pieces of underwear.  I think that’s a bit outrageous as I can wash those perfectly well.


Stay tuned for more details. 


 

Tuesday morning my computer, for the second time since I was “downgraded” to a 5-year-old laptop for work (don’t want to risk me being out of the country with a computer still out on lease), wouldn’t power up.  I kept pressing the power button but to no avail.  Finally, after the eleventh attempt the motor actually kicked in and the computer came to life.  It is probably an issue with the power switch. 


Fortunately, I picked up a 120 gb Seagate external hard drive that includes software to conduct automatic backups.  I’m at the internet cafe right now because I’m backing up all of the My Documents and Program Files folders – about 11 gb of my 20 gb of internal memory.  Not taking ANY risks here.


Since my computer only has the old USB ports, about 1/50th the speed of the new USB 2.0 ports, most of my morning has been reserved to get the backup performed.  Fortunately in the future the backup will automatically determine what has been changed since the last backup and will only copy those files, saving a great deal of time.


So I’m off to find the Union Language School on Thanon Surawong, near Silmon and Rama IV – right near the infamous Patpong District (think ping pong balls) and, oddly, the Bangkok Christian Hospital.  This is where good Christian doctors remove ping pong balls lodged in unfortunate places.  Union Language School is a Christian-based organization that has a good reputation for structured Thai program, different than the approach of American University Alumni Association, which is total immersion and no structure. 


Supposedly AUA students take longer to learn but speak with a better, more authentic accent.  ULS students learn quicker but risk speaking forever like a farang.  Many people go to ULS to get a structured start and then make a transition to AUA after a few months.  Some people continue to do both at the same time.  Since ULS courses are 4 weeks in length, 5 days a week in the mornings, I’ll do one between now and Christmas and then evaluate whether to continue in January.


Also, I’m off to Central Department Store at Chit Lom to find a container to hold our silverware.  Also, some sort of racks to organize dishes would be useful.  Right now our cabinets are a bit of a mess.  


This is what constitutes the 10% of things left to be done, having already completed the critical 90%.


For those of you wondering, the weather is quite bearable.  Highs around 33 C which I think equates to about 86 F.  Light breezes throughout the day except right around sunset when the wind dies down.  We’ve been having some rain, usually light showers, in the mid-afternoon which helps to cool things down a bit.  They say it takes 6-12 weeks to acclimate fully.  One down.


Finally, received a call from Rick Yang, a UA flight attendant based in NRT who lived for a decade in Bangkok with his Thai partner.  He’s been a good source of perspective on the challenges of moving to Bangkok and not speaking the language.  The good year is that after a decade he is fluent in Thai so I figure that sometime before 2015 or so I’ll be at least conversant!

Sunday was totally exhausting – as was today – but Tawn and I got a ton of to-do items knocked off the list:



  • Application for DSL and phone service submitted

  • Laundry done (well, we found a place that would do it for us same-day)

  • Purchased a 17″ flat screen monitor for the computer, 120 gb external hard drive for back-up storage, and a USB port splitter.

  • Went grocery shopping

  • Purchased a few other outstanding items for the house

  • Located an inexpensive computer desk, only 1199 baht on sale at Big C

  • Went to Bang Po (furniture wholesale district) and found a desk chair done similar to the old-fashioned, swivel desk chairs from the 1930s, except with a seat cushion and no wheels.  Only 1600 baht for solid wood.

  • Started new phone service for my mobile phone.  Still need to get the international calling plan purchased.

  • Stopped by Lumpini Park to see the Pride festival.  Very small event and will post pictures of the volleyball competition later.

  • Went to Chatchuchak Weekend Market to return a pair of “custom made” sandals that didn’t fit.  I think they didn’t actually make them from the tracing of my foot.  A new pair will be ready next week.  Also picked up some supposedly hearty plants for the balcony.

Slowly, but surely, it is coming together.

An overcast afternoon in Khrungthep with a threat of rain that has hung over us for about six hours.  It continues to feel like the rain could begin falling at any moment and the denizens of this crowded metropolis reach nervously for the reassuring feel of their umbrella handles at the slightest hint of precipitation.


Today – yes, a Saturday – Tawn had to conduct two seperate interviews with opinion makers in the Thai-Chinese diaspora.  The first was with a lawyer and Thai Senator who plays a significant role in the ethnic Hokkien community (a specific Chinese immigrant group) and the second was with a specialist in Chinese language and culture who is also the president of the Rainbow Sky Association – very similar to the Asian Pacific Islander Wellness Center, where Tawn volunteered while in San Francisco.  The second interviewee is also a very outspoken and visible member of Khrungthep’s gay community.


Coincidently, tomorrow marks the start of Khrungthep’s annual GLBT Pride Week.  There is a festival in Lumpini Park – the Central Park of Bangkok – that lasts most of the day.  Then there are different events each day of the week, culminating in a parade along Thanon Silon (Silom Road) next Sunday.  We’ll try to stop by and see what there is to see.


The remainder of the afternoon has been spent in Tawn’s office, where I’m using the computer to… well, to update this blog, among other things.  We’ll run some errands this evening and we are still trying to find a laundromat to us as our washer has not been hooked up yet.



Update: My trip report for my JFK-BKK flight has been posted at airliners.net.  Read all about this 17+ hour journey over the North Pole on the brand-new THAI Airways International Airbus A340-500 airplane.


Roast chicken dinner.  Duck with noodles.  Ramen Cup-O-Noodles.  Finger sandwiches.  Read all about the culinary delights – plus the added adventure of my attempts to minimize traffic as people used the space in front of my seat to cross from one aisle to the other.  Fun!  Excitement!  Inspiration!