Friday morning I dropped Paul off at the airport.  He’s heading to Bangkok to visit his girlfriend, Aori, meaning I’ll have the place to myself for the next week.  (Party at Paul’s!)

Afterwards, I stopped by the AMC Metreon 15 theater, which used to be the Sony Leows Metreon until AMC bought the Sony Leows theatre chain.  The theatre is now run by several former colleagues and employees of mine and I particularly wanted to stop by and visit Joel, the union projectionist who taught me the craft of being a motion picture projectionist some 19 years ago when I first started working at a movie theatre.

IMG_6075 Yes, my first job was as a movie theatre user at the AMC Sunnyvale 6, a cinema long since gone.  In my 15 years with AMC I did everything including being an usher, a projectionist, a manager, and finally was the senior and general manager of several theatres including what was the nation’s busiest (and is still regularly in the top 20), the AMC Mercado 20 in Santa Clara, CA.  I was also the opening general manager for the AMC Festival Walk 11 in Hong Kong.  Exciting, huh?

To this day, I’m always very interested in movie theatres and how they run.  When there’s a film problem at one of the cinemas in Khrungthep, I can barely resist the urge to offer to help fix it.

After lunch, Joel took me on a tour of the projection booth for their IMAX theatre, left.  I’ve never been inside an IMAX booth and it is quite impressive. 

The film is 70mm wide, versus the usual 35mm film, but the frames are arranged horizontally on the film (sprockets are on the top and bottom of the frame instead of the sides) meaning that the image resolution is significantly higher than on 35mm film. 

In the picture, Joel is holding a small roll of 35mm film next to the much larger IMAX film.  This particular print is the Harry Potter movie, which is being shown in 3D.  Because of that, it actually has two films, one projecting the left eye image and the other projecting the right eye image.  That’s a lot of film!

Below is a picture of the projectionists threading the film throughg the “brain” of the platter: the front of the film is in the center, is fed out through the brain to the projector.  It is then projected and feeds back onto another platter around a removable metal frame.  When the film is finished showing, it has essentially re-built itself onto another platter, and the metal frame can be taken out and the film threaded for the next showing, ending up on the platter it was on for the first showing.  Back and forth all day long.


IMG_6081 The other thing amazing about the IMAX projector is the xenon bulb.  In a typical movie projector, the highly-fragile (and highly explosive) bulb is about 3500 watts.  The picture below shows a 7000w bulb used in some of the large auditoriums at Metreon along with a 15,000 watt bulb used in the IMAX projector.

That’s quite a bulb.

There’s a really good description about the entire platter and reel process used in movie projectors here.

This evening I have the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner for Ryan and Sabrina’s wedding.  There’s a lot of back and forth this weekend: rehearsal in San Francisco, dinner in Burlingame, prepare for wedding in South San Francisco, wedding in San Francisco, pictures in Golden Gate Park, reception and banquet in San Mateo, Sunday brunch in Berkeley, afternoon show in San Francisco, dinner in San Jose.

To make it extra fun, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge is closed for the entire weekend for a construction project!


Did I really leave my heart here?

IMG_6026 It is really nice to be back in San Francisco, yet this visit reconfirms the sentiment I’ve felt on previous visits: it is a nice place to visit, but it isn’t home.  I’ve been able to see a lot of friends over the first few days, have spent a fair amount of time driving (the way people drive here seems to be a good metaphor for American societal values as a whole – super agressive in a “race to the red light” sort of way, but really in their own little worlds and not paying attention at all), and have eaten moderate amounts of food that I miss.

Left: First stop on my arrival was Macy’s Union Sqare and a quick lunch at Boudin’s: clam chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl.  You can argue that there is better clam chowder elsewhere in the city, and maybe even better bread, but the two are a classic combination that really capture some of what’s great about San Francisco and Northern California’s culinary heritage.

IMG_6055-1 Yesterday I met up with Fiona, a university class mate whose wedding Tawn and I attended several years ago, but with whom I had lost touch. 

Thanks to LinkedIn, we were able to reconnect and made plans for lunch.  Fiona and her husband have an adorable son, Dominic, and just gave birth to a second son, Zachary. 

Dominic has the best of both his parents’ looks and has the longest, waviest eyelashes.  I think you can just see them in the picture to the right

Dominic was a little shy at first, but soon warmed up after he saw the box of Thai desserts I had brought him to try. 

Fiona and I had fun catching up; it is amazing how people’s lives progress.  Since graduation, Fiona has been working in Human Resources for a high-tech compnay that actually is a customer of my company’s.  Little did I know!  

I’m glad that there are an  increasing number of technologies available to help us stay in touch – and reconnect – with  friends. 

Below, Dominic, Zachary and I pose for a picture after lunch at Willow Street Pizza in San Jose.



Safe trip in but no window

IMG_5971 Well, I arrived in San Francisco in one piece.  The nine hours of layover in Seoul passed smoothly, spending much of it sleeping in the transit hotel.  I was going to take one of the transit tours to the nearby town of Incheon but the tour times didn’t coincide with when I was awake.  Oh, well.

Left: My plane out of Seoul.  The German-owned catering company did a passable job with the bii-bim-bap.

Sadly, I had a window seat on the Seoul-San Francisco flight that was the only row not to have a window!  So frustrating.  To top it off the man sitting on the aisle was mobility-impaired and so he indicated that I should just clamber over him to get out.  Not convenient at all.  I’ve changed my return flight to have an aisle seat in the center grouping of three seats (it is a 3x3x3 layout) so as to eliminate having to climb over anyone.

IMG_6025 Once I arrived in SF, boy was I pleasantly surprised at the weather.  Perfectly blue skies, light breeze and 26 C.  Just gorgeous weather and it looks like it should continue for the next few days.  I spent my afternoon running a few errands and hanging out with my friends at the SF Int’l Asian American Film Festival. 

So many things to get done.  Most of Thursday was spent in the East Bay where the pleasant weather was reaching Khrungthep-like levels of heat although with significantly less humidity.  I stopped by the villa in San Ramon that my family will rent in October when attending my cousin’s wedding.  There will be 15 of us there, which will make for a full house. 

The good news is, it has quite the kitchen: two full stoves, two full ovens, two refrigerators, two dishwashers, two sinks, and all the supplies you would need.  I can’t wait to cook in it.!

Lunch this afternoon with a former colleague, Matt, and a colleague from even further back whom I thought was still living in South Carolina.  My, how times change when you don’t stay up on all this.

Tonight, dinner with my aunt and uncle.  They suggested we go out for Thai food.  I hope they were joking.


In transit at Incheon

Greetings from the business center of the Incheon (Seoul) Airport transit hotel.  My flight from Khrungthep arrived this morning about 6:30 and my connecting flight to San Francisco isn’t until 4:30 this afternoon.  As I expected, sleeping on the 5-hour flight was not possible, especially since at check-in I discovered that the equipment had been downgraded to a less comfortable B767 from the usual B777.

After sleeping for two hours, I’m ready to get some food and then figure out if it is feasible for me to take the transit tour into the nearby city of Incheon.  We’ll see.  Anyone need me to pick up some kimchi on the way over?


Horizons extending before me

Sunday morning and it just sunk in that forty hours from now I’ll be boarding a plane to San Francisco, where I’m attending my friend Ryan’s wedding on Saturday.  There seems to be so much to do between now and then.


Friday was the final day volunteering as an English teacher at Bangkhonthiinai School.  Kobfa, Ken and I went down there joined by another friend who works with non-government organizations, Prawit.  Since Prawit served as our photographer, I don’t have a lot of photos to share yet and will post more of them as soon as he sends them to me.  Markus is still in Germany, so he was not able to make it.

IMG_5811 It was Valentine’s Day all over as the students had all brought flowers, mostly roses and about half of them real and the other half artificial, to present to their three teachers.  There was a ceremony in which the students presented the flowers, at which point I handed to each student an envelope containing pictures I had taken of them over the last year.

This was wildly popular with the students, as each received between two and ten prints of themselves and their friends.  Imagine that something like pictures, which you and I probably take for granted, being such a treat for them.

Included in the envelopes was my contact information, and I later explained that if they wanted to practice their English, or if they had questions or problems about the language, that they were welcome to call or write.

So they were looking through their pictures and laughing about themselves and each other.  Ajarn Yai started with the speeches, punctuated by long pauses in which she struggled to regain her composure.  This change, along with her impending move to a new position as a master evaluator within the education department, is really affecting her.  There were some tears, mostly from the girls but also from a few boys.  Plaques were presented as were gifts.  In turn, I made a brief speech to thank Ajarn Yai and the teachers for their support and the students for the opportunity to teach them. 

IMG_5807 After the ceremony we went to the classroom for a combined class.  Between games of bingo, I handed out cards to each of the students on which was written (in Thai), “If you would like to receive a postcard from the United States, fill out your name, family name, and address below.”  The information that I knew was consistent, such as postal code, province and amphoe, were pre-completed, but what a challenge it was for the youngest children to complete even their name and street address!

Tanawut wrote his name, working slowly but methodically through his last name, then stopped at the tii yuu (address) line.  He looked up at me with a pained expression on his face.  “What’s your address?” I asked him in Thai.  Kobfa walked over.  “Are you able to remember?”  He shook his head, no.  Jam mai dai.  Cannot remember.

Thankfully, one of the teachers was able to look up the information for the younger children and complete the cards, correcting mis-spelled surnames along the way.  Several students were able to remember their street names but not house numbers.  One helpfully wrote baan si daeng, the red house.

I also learned that Burmese don’t have last names.  One of my students, Somchai, is from Burma.  He holds the distinction of being the littlest of the students, with a big smile, round head and jug ears.  And he does not have a last name.  At first I asked whether he couldn’t remember it, but checking on the master student list I realized that he just doesn’t have a surname.  Sort of a Prince thing.  Somchai was also notable as being the only student who was able to remember the word “spoon” when I showed the group a picture of a spoon. 

IMG_5818 The big event of the morning was the raffle.  Over the months and weeks, especially over the last few weeks, I had built a treasure chest of tchotskies: free hand fans from the film festival, note pads and pens from different events and clients of Tawn’s, a model Cathay Pacific airplane that Brian had received when flying them.  All sorts of stuff.  Children wrote their name on a card and we selected prizes and then drew names to learn the winner.  There were enough prizes that we went through all the names almost twice before having one big final drawing for the grand prize: a hot pink “Amazing Thailand” tote bag filled with a variety of goodies and school supplies.

As you might imagine, the raffle went over very well.  It was like Christmas in August.

For some reason, maybe the large number of people in the classroom, the day did not end in the orderly way it usually does, with students wai’ing their teachers and filing out of the room, often shaking hands.  Instead, they just drifted away in small groups.  Kobfa commented later how there was no satisfying conclusion to the class, no real good-bye.  I agree that something was missing.  We’ll be back for Ajarn Yai’s farewell ceremony on September 14th, though, so maybe that’s when we can get some closure.

After class the teachers went to an ocean-front seafood restaurant in Samut Songkhram famous for being the birthplace of Chang and Eng Bunker, perhaps the most famous “Siamese” twins.  The food was good, although excessive in quantity as is always the case when these teachers order.


When I returned home from school, I found this very nice email from my mother, who along with my sister is a teacher.

Dear Chris:

I know how you feel.  It seems to me that each experience we have is a part of our whole being.  We
are shaped by that experience; we influence how others are shaped in the sharing of the experience.  At the
least, which probably isn’t so small in the long run, you had an opportunity to learn Thai language much
more quickly than might otherwise have been.  …
As for the children, you will never know the impact you have had on their lives.  At the least, and this
could be the most in the long run, they have had a chance to be in the company of a farang who cares
about them as people.  That only helps lead to better understanding between cultures.  They have had more of
an impact on you that you might realize…struggling with how to teach them your native language while
having very little skills in their native language. Of course, as you’ve learned their language (the
greater learning, I’d say), you’ve been better able to communicate with them as well as others.

There is always a bittersweet feeling when moving from one path of our journey to another.  Letting go is
usually difficult, but I sense that you are ready to move on – to walk other paths, using the knowledge and
understanding that you’ve gleaned from this teaching experience.

Another thought in this regard is the number of people you’ve taken on this journey with you.  We would never
had been exposed to this part of Thailand or the people in this province without your involvement at
the school.  How important to see these children, like most children in the world, struggling with their
learning or embracing it with eagerness and enthusiasm.  Many of your friends have accompanied you
on your teaching days, not because they had to, but because they wanted to.  Think of the long-reaching
influences there.

Just a few thoughts from your Mother.  As usual I’m proud of the work you do and the caring and compassion
you show for those around you.  That you were willing to dedicate so much of yourself to this part of your
journey says worlds about who you are as a person.


How nice is that?


So it has come to an end.  For now…  but the teachers who will remain did mention to Kobfa that after Ajarn Yai leaves they might be interested in us still having some sort of involvement at the school, maybe going down there once a month or something.  It depends on the new Ajarn Yai and whether he or she is friendly to the idea of undocumented farangs teaching at the school. 

Stay tuned.

More pictures when they become available.


Final day of teaching, part 1

It is just after 5:00 am and I’ve woken up early for the last time.  At least, the last time with the purpose of driving to Bangkhonthiinai to teach.  That’s right; after a year it ends today.

Ajarn Yai has called me several times this week to finalize details for today – I’m still not sure what she has planned – and each time expresses how sad she is, how sad the teachers are, how sad the nakrian are.  What remains to be seen is how sad I’ll be.  I spent two hours yesterday sorting through the 500+ prints I had made of photos I’ve taken of the children.  Each child has an envelope with his or her name and picture printed on the front.  Inside each envelope are copies of the various pictures I’ve taken of them, some sort of a souvenir of this past year.

My feelings at the moment are a bit ambivalent: all things change, all things that come will go.  But maybe that’s just stoicism.  We’ll know in a few hours.


Wedding Day in Germany

DSCF5004 Yesterday their postcard arrived: “Greetings from Bruxelles where we’re spending a few days before all the family arrives.  The weather is uncharacteristically sunny and warm.  Love, Markus and Tam.”

Of all the same-sex couples I know as friends, Markus and Tam are the first to actually get married.  By “married” I don’t mean having a private commitment ceremony, as Tawn and I did, but actually having a legal ceremony recognized by the government.  It is a very exciting moment and we’re disappointed that we couldn’t be there for the ceremony.  However, Markus and Tam will hold a reception here in Thailand, so we will have the opportunity to wish them well then.

Right: Tam and Markus, dozing on my couch in anticipation of New Year’s Eve.

Germany’s version of gay marriage still isn’t perfect: while same-sex couples have the inheritance, tenant, and immigration rights of opposite-sex couples, they still lack the tax and welfare benefits as well as the ability to adopt that opposite-sex couples enjoy.

Still, in a world of countries that are offering no rights at all to their citizens who are in same-sex relationships (and those where being gay is illegal), it is a huge step forward.

So today is their big day.  Congratulations to them!  If you hear the faint peal of bells while you’re going about the day, carried across the distance by the August breeze, just know that that is the sound of change.