Want your phone line wrapped in a newspaper?

DSCF7430 About six-thirty this evening I looked up from my computer screen, cross-eyed from about five consecutive hours of reformatting training materials, and noticed that while it is still light outside, it is heading towards dusk.  I know for those of you further north in the hemisphere that won’t be too surprising.  In fact, perhaps you’ve already started to notice that your summer sunlight is waning.  But here, closer to the equator, after several weeks of barely any change – just a few seconds less of daylight a day – the pace is picking up.

It is fascinating to me the way that the latitude of a city affects daylight:

  • In San Francisco, the longest day of 2007 will be 14 hours, 47 minutes.  The shortest days will be 9 hours, 33 minutes.
  • Here in Khrungthep, 30 degrees towards the equator, the longest day will be 12 hours, 56 minutes and the shortest will be 11 hours, 18 minutes.
  • Another 12.5 degrees towards the equator – located just one degree north of the equator – the residents of the Lion City of Singapore see their days vary by just 10 minutes – from 12 hours, 2 minutes to 12 hours, 12 minutes!


Even though it is rainy season here, we’ve been without rain for two days and after meeting Khruu Kitiya for Thai tutoring, I had to walk to the Skytrain station underneath a very strong sun.  Along the way I saw two employees from TOT – Telephone of Thailand (the folks who block my access to YouTube) – working on some underground wiring.  They said okay when I asked if I could take a picture.

Check out the way that the wiring is bundled – using newspaper and electrical tape.  Is it any wonder that phone service here can be sporadic?


Another (not so) promising sign of democracy

It has been reported in the local media that the government is forbidding taxi drivers from putting “Vote No” stickers on their taxis in advance of next Sunday’s constitutional referendum.  Taxi drivers, mostly from the Issan (northeast Thailand) region, are generally supporters of the former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was overthrown eleven months ago in a coup.

The taxis are privately owned and the taxi drivers are private citizens.  But they face a fine (1000 baht, if I recall correctly) if they display these stickers.

Add this to the recent news of prisoners being “encouraged” to write letters to their families, urging them to vote in favor of the new constitution, and one has to wonder how democracy is going to have a chance to take root.


And that remodel miracle is found

It isn’t often that I’d refer to my father-in-law as a savior, but in this case he has turned out to be one.  Yesterday Tawn spent the day with his family to celebrate Mother’s Day and he laid out the facts of our remodel case to his father: basically, that we wanted access to a bit more money to get this remodel finished the way we had planned instead of leaving many parts – including the kitchen – undone.

It seems that there were a few sources of funds that we had not tapped into including a stash of rainy day money that had been saved for Tawn in the event of just such a situation.  Well, maybe not a situation exactly like this, but close enough.

So the crisis has been canceled and the remodel appears back on track, including the kitchen.  Sorry for the flip-flop and drama on a daily basis.  Just trying to keep my readers as up-to-date as I am.


IMG_5734In other news, we had dinner last night – a whole group of us – to wish Markus and Tam a bon voyage as they head off to Germany tonight to get married.  That’s right, the first in our group to seek out legal recognition of their relationship.  They will return here after the wedding and will continue to live here for the next year or so.  Very exciting news.

Right: Tawn and Tam after dessert.

We ate at a local establishment, Thon Krueng, that has been at the corner of Thong Lo and Soi Thong Lo 13  for pretty much all of Tawn’s life.  When the place was suggested, Tawn blanched and said the food was no good.  He said that about two seconds after he said, “Oh, I haven’t eaten there in twenty years.”  So we agreed that if it had remained in business in the two decades since he formed the opinion about the food, that perhaps it had improved.

The dinner was very nice.  There were ten of us there and the food was tasty although, giving Tawn credit, not perfect.  A group of five Korean men were sitting at the table behind us and on the side cart there were seventeen one-liter bottles of Singha beer, all empty.  They were very, very loud and were playing drinking games.  At one point the entire restaurant ceased eating and speaking and was just staring at them.  And nobody said anything to quiet them down.  Thankfully, they left about halfway through dinner.

Afterwards we walked to a nearby gelato shop and had ice cream, a gang of gay men occupying the corner set of tables.


Bangkok Short Film Fest The 11th Thai Short Film and Video Festival begins on August 17th running through the 26th.  Then there is a second section September 6-9 called the Digital Forum, exhibiting feature-length digital films from Thai and international directors.

There are several highlights including a program on films by and about French women, two British shorts sections, a Spanish shorts section, and two competitive sets of international shorts.  Of course there are the Thai shorts as well, ten different programs!

More information is available in three places: an article from the Bangkok Post, the schedule in Thai and English at the ThaiIndie.com website, and some information in English on particular films that are sponsored by ThaiIndie.

Films are showing at the EGV Cinema in Siam Discovery Center. 


Estimate negotiations produce results but no miracles

IMG_5722 The remodel is consuming all of us: our money, our time, our synapses, everything.  Saturday morning we met Khun Guang, our contractor, discussed the progress of the work and went through his estimate for the entire project and negotiated lower prices on an item-by-item basis.

The tile arrived already and is being installed in the bathroom.  Now that I’m seeing it on the wall, albeit without the benefit of adequate light, I don’t feel very good about the choice.  Maybe as the rest of the bathroom is installed, it will look less like a pale shade of toothpaste.

Right: Tawn, Khun Guang and the primary laborer discuss the possibility of relocating the water heater into the ceiling.

I think we’re fast approaching the moment of stark realization: the dreams we hold for the condo are not within our reach.  Actually, I think I’ve been at that point for several weeks now.  But this is a team effort, right?

Below: Tawn negotiates with Khun Guang, cutting the estimate by about 20%.


Enough of the remodel.  I’m tired of it already.


Good news – we’ve received our first piece of (non bill) mail at the new condo.  Khap khun maak khrap to Nong Ryeroam, who sent a thank you card from his new house on the outskirts of Paris.

Saturday evening we drove up to Nonthanburi to attend a bon voyage party for Tawn’s friend, Prince.  Prince will be heading to the Gold Coast of Australia to get a graduate degree, likely gone for the next two years or so.  It seems like we know a lot of people heading to Australia.  Maybe it is the next big place to be?

Below: Tawn and his friends.  Prince is in the middle of the picture.



Today is the Queen’s birthday and, as such, Mother’s Day.  Tawn has relatives in town from Hong Kong and has headed over to his parents’ house for dim sum at Landmark Hotel. 

I need some coffee…


An opportunity comes to be unattached to material things

To conclude a busy week, Tawn and I met with a large group – Ken and Chai, Stuart and Piyawat, Todd, Vic, and Russ – at Pizza Pizza, a new Italian style pizza and pasta place on the seventh floor of Central World Plaza.  This place has taken off like wildfire while the neighboring restaurant, Triple-O Burgers by White Spot, sits empty.  It’s not that Triple-O isn’t good, but there seems to be a lot of burger competition in the mall with another place called The Garage and, of course, Japanese import MOS Burger.

Pizza Pizza (not related to the Dominos chain in the US) offers a very good thin crust pizza with high quality toppings.  Unlike some of the Italian restaurants in the Big Mango, Pizza Pizza gets a really crisp crust that doesn’t get soggy before you eat it.  The prices are reasonable, too.

Mid-way through dinner, Tawn took off to meet up with Eddy and get his opinion about our remodel estimate, which we received Friday from the contractor.  After dinner, the rest of the group decided to go out to a bar and sine I was heading back home, Vic asked if I’d take his big duffel bag with me.

On the way back, I stopped by the Starbucks on the ground floor of Central Chidlom, where I found Tawn and Eddy discussing the merits of different types of wood.  We stayed there for about twenty minutes but that location was closing up for the night so we drove to another nearby location that is open until eleven.

After finishing at the second Starbucks and heading back to the car, I realized that my small amenity kit bag containing my camera and my iPod was missing.  We searched the car, we returned to both Starbucks, but it wasn’t anywhere to be found.

I specifically remember holding the bag, which was a bit awkward to hold because I had the iPod in there, too – making it bulky – when I walked along the skyway from Central World Plaza to Central Chidlom.

Today, Saturday, I’ll stop by Pizza Pizza and see if they have my bag.  But I’m pretty sure it won’t be there.  I think that when we were rushed out of the first Starbucks, I left the bag on the table while worrying about grabbing Vic’s duffel bag.  That’s not quite fair to say, as it sounds a bit like I’m blaming Vic for the loss!  Uncharacteristically, I wasn’t paying close attention to my surroundings and probably walked away and left it there.  And I’m sure as there were other customers coming and going, including several tourists, it was picked up and carried out the door next to the table.

How do I feel about this?  Okay, actually.  I’m try to have a “I could live without this if I no longer had it” mindset when it comes to physical possessions, and perhaps to my relationships with people, too.  Try to cultivate an unattachment, if you will.

The iPod was an old model, 40gb that had seen better days.  The battery still works well and it has an awesome collection of songs including a couple of hundred I just downloaded from Kobfa, including Lisa Ono and Janet Seidel.  The camera, a trusty three-year old, had not been performing well in the exposure department ever since the main processor was replaced after I was shooting in the rain last July.  I had been considering a replacement.

Of course, with the remodel going on, this is not the right time to incur the expense of a new iPod and new camera.  The iPod can definitely wait: I don’t actually listen to it that often, only when I’m in the car.  The camera isn’t a huge rush as Tawn has one.

Curry passes through

Wednesday evening Tawn and I enjoyed a visit by fellow Xangan, Curry.  He’s on his way from Los Angeles to Hong Kong, making an apparently habitual stopover in the Big Mango.  One thing that is nice about blogging is that you have the opportunity to meet so many people from around he world with whom you might not otherwise ever cross paths.  We had a nice dinner at Cafe de Laos, although service was quite slow.  We’ll look forward to his return a week from now when maybe we can have drinks at the Hilton Millennium.


DSCF0175 On Sunday the 19th Thailand will have a national referendum on the draft constitution.  This charter has been created by a committee of academics, respected statesmen, and citizens that were appointed by the CNS (the coup leaders).  Thais will vote either in favor of the constitution or against it.  If they vote in favor of it, it will go to the King for cursory approval.  If they vote against it, the CNS can take any previous constitution and modify it as they see fit.  Most likely they would use the 1997 constitution as a base, the one that was in effect until the coup.

Right: A poster advertising that this is the first time Thailand has ever had an constitutional referendum.  Posters are being displayed everywhere to encourage people to vote. 

Because many people (especially workers in Khrungthep) are registered back in their home provinces, the day following the election (Monday the 20th) has been declared a national holiday to encourage people to return home to vote.  That way they’ll have time to return to work.

Hundreds of thousands of copies of the draft constitution have been sent to households across the Kingdom to ensure everyone has an opportunity to read and understand what they are voting on.  It is dense reading, though: Khruu Kitiya told me that after reading about eight pages she was exhausted and set it aside.

DSCF0176 In the “Is this Coercion?” category, the Nation reports that Thai prisoners, who are not eligible to vote, are being given copies of the new constitution to read and are being encouraged to write letters to their relatives, encouraging them to vote in favor of the constitution. 

“Dear Mom and Dad, please vote in favor of the constitution because that is what my jailers want you to do.  I am hoping to get a bunk of my own soon and not have to sleep on the floor anymore.  Hint, hint.”

Left: this poster makes the stark choice starker still: the box on the left says “Approve” and the box on the right “Don’t Approve”.  Interesting from a graphic layout perspective is the image of the Democracy Monument that is being the text and boxes.  The image you see right in the center is a book placed on a tray atop a pedestal.

The book is the constitution.  The tray is the type used to hand things to royalty or to monks, so that the people don’t directly touch them.  In this poster, the constitution graphically is positioned at a point of balance between the boxes. 

It is a very apt image as there has been a lot of discussion about what will happen if the constitution is not approved.  There has been a lot of talk that regardless of the outcome, political unrest in Thailand is not over and will likely worsen in the coming year.


Squirrely and whirly and school

The last few weeks of teaching English are passing by.  The students must be ready for a break because they have been unruly.  Even with Kobfa, Ken and I teaching we still couldn’t keep the noise levels down. 

At the same time, students here are much more respectful and disciplined than in some countries.  My sister listened wistfully as I described how, when I enter the room at the beginning of class the students stand up, wai me, and say “Good morning, teacher.”  At the conclusion of class, the do the same, saying instead, “Thank you, teacher.”


DSCF0142 Change is the only constant, so they say.  The small, rustic coffee shop (left) that we stop at each Wednesday morning for iced coffee and fried rice is being replaced by a modern indoors building. 

With three benches carved from solid pieces of wood surrounding the kitchen, it looks like nothing so much as an American diner done over Thai-style.  The busloads of Russian tourists on their way to the floating market pull up and they eat their box breakfasts at the surrounding tables while swamping the coffee shop employees with tea and coffee orders.

It looks like the old building will still remain as overflow seating, but the new glass and aluminium frame building just lacks the charm of the old building.

DSCF0230 While teaching the grades 4-6 group, there was a disruption that turned out to be two baby squirrels that some girls had adopted.  The squirrels, one of which hasn’t even opened its eyes yet, were being carried around in a purse.  Rabies, anyone?

So we stopped everything, took a break, and the students spent some time playing around with the squirrels.

At the end of the day as class was wrapping down, I pulled out a pair of whirly tubes that I use to help students listen to their pronunciation and correct it.  My mother, who is a music teacher, would use these with her students so they could learn to be more pitch perfect.  I know the tubes as “Japanese whistles” because (I’ve been told) they are used as toys in Japan.  Based on Bernoulli’s Principle, the tubes create a whistle as you whirl them, higher or lower pitch depending upon the speed with which they spin.

Little did I know that these would be such a hit.  The children formed two groups and had a “whirl-off” in which they competed to see who could spin the tubes faster.


Video of the exciting events at school, here:

DSCF0216 Every so often one of the boys will show up to school with a shaved head and no eyebrows, a sure sign that they went into the monkhood for a day or so, usually after the death of a family member.  By doing this, they make merit for the deceased relative.  This is different than the occasion, usually before age 25, when a young man will join the monkhood for a longer period of time, often more like a week or a month.  Right now, Kom and Bill’s friend Art is at Wat Phra Ram Gaew in a one-month stint as part of the Sangha.


What was that lyric again?

Hairspray 2 You know how sometimes you misunderstand the lyrics to a song?  I ran across an interesting mistake at ST Lyrics while reading the lyrics for “Hairspray”.  In the big closing number “You Can’t Stop the Beat”, Penny – a self-proclaimed “checkerboard chic” (a white girl who has fallen for a black boy) – tells her love interest, Seaweed, “And if they try to stop us Seaweed, I’ll call the NAACP…”

The incorrect lyric on ST Lyrics is “And if they try to stop us Seaweed, I’ll call the end of a lacy pea.”


Toilet shopping

Our Saturday morning checklist:

  • Toilet
  • Sink
  • Marble

Our objective, to get up early and get these items for the condo purchased so we can have a relaxing Saturday afternoon.  It all sounded so good, so doable.  And yet as we headed out at 10:00 little did we know that six hours later we’d still be out running these errands.

As we left home our first destination was Boonthavorn, a large Home Depot-like store that focuses on ceramics, kitchens and bathrooms.  They reportedly offer slightly better prices and service than some of the other chains like HomePro.  Their showroom is beautiful and offers perhaps fifty bathroom displays and fifteen kitchen displays, which allows you to see how the different materials could come together.

But on our way to Boonthavorn we received a call from the Cotto Tiles delivery truck: they were parked out in front of the new condo and had seven boxes of tiles to deliver and no one was there to receive them.  When we purchased the tiles on Thursday, they said it would be Tuesday or Wednesday of the coming week before the tiles could be delivered.  Instead, here they are this morning with no previous warning!

We quickly reshuffled our schedule and thankfully traffic was light so it only took us a few minutes to reach the condo.  After accepting the tiles and getting them moved upstairs, thanks to a security guard’s help, we reviewed the construction progress.

As I’ve mentioned before, our contractor is using the fire-aim-ready technique: his laborers are doing work before there is a completed plan and that is resulting in a number of frustrating situations.

In the bathroom, they have installed a bench in the shower area but we haven’t yet worked out the exact details of the size of the bench.  They also installed a wall between the sink area and the toilet area, which we hadn’t finalized yet.  Below left: The bathroom as it appeared Saturday, with Tawn testing out the too-narrow bench.  Below right: The bathroom as it appeared a month ago with the bathtub still in and no wall between the sink and toilet areas.

DSCF0110  DSCF9737

In the kitchen, the tiles have been removed.  Hang on a second!  We have made it clear that we are uncertain that we will do any remodel in the kitchen, due to cost concerns.  The tiles should not have been removed at all.


To top it off, the contractor has been pressuring us to give him the plans so he can keep his workers busy.  The good news it, now they have something to do with their time: put the tile back on the kitchen wall, below.


Needing some nourishment to deal with this, Tawn and I tried the vendors located right in front of the condo.  Sitting on the shady soi, the bowl of bami moo daeng (egg noodles with Chinese-style pork) and plate of som tam Thai (green papaya salad) were really tasty and with the breeze, the al fresco dining was a good way to relax and wind down from the construction discoveries.


After getting over the frustration of our contractor’s style of work, we continued to Boonthavorn.  We must have spent about two hours there, looking at all sorts of options and trying to decide on a sink and toilet.


Above: Tawn with one of the final toilet selections – the “Bold Look” of Kohler.  One thing I discovered when toilet shopping is that I kept feeling the urge to pee.

Below: This shows what I have in mind for the bench in the shower.  The glass will only be on the front side, not on the right, but I like the idea how the bench sticks out through the class.  This gives depth to the room.


Below: While there is no place for one in our condo, I love the claw-footed bathtubs.  Maybe one day I’ll have a place where I can have one.  Isn’t the tile beautiful?



From there we headed east towards the airport to select stone flooring.  We ended up selecting some sort of veneer marble, which is a layer of marble put on a ceramic backing.  It was recommended by our designer as a less expensive option compared with solid marble.  It has the benefit of also being water resistant which, for a bathroom floor sounds like a good idea.

Finally, going on 5:00, we returned home.  This remodel is exhausting!


The anti-consumerist dog?

Thursday afternoon, Vic (who is back after three weeks in San Francisco) and I were having lunch at Sunrise Tacos.  Discussing his observations while back in the States, Vic was commenting how materialistic and superficial he feels US society is becoming. 

I added that I felt that Thai society, at least that which we see in Khrungthep, was following the same path.  People choose their clothes, handbags, cars, etc. with an eye to how it will make them appear to others.

As if on cue, one of the stray dogs from the pack roaming the parking lot chose that moment to mark his territory.  He took a whiz on the license plate of a Volvo, the nicest of the cars in the lot.



Possible Obama-Amtrak connection?

Perusing Barak Obama’s campaign website, I noticed that there is a graphic motif that keeps appearing that features three curved lines, reminiscent of a waving flag or perhaps rolling fields.  The motif looked familiar to me.  I finally remembered where I had seen it before: the logo for Amtrak, the US’s national train service.

From Barak’s website:

ovr_banner_issues-1    ovr_banner_newsroom-1

From Amtrak:

Amtrak 2



Educational fair in Chonburi

DSCF0019 With only four weeks to go before the English program at Bangkhonthiinai School comes to an end, Ajarn Yai decided that this week Kobfa and I should join the teachers at an annual educational fair in Chonburi province.  Chonburi is located on the way to Pattaya, about an hour’s drive southeast of Khrungthep.

The educational fair brings together all of the provincial educational offices from central Thailand so they can show off the programs and projects they have undertaken. 

This year the fair was held outdoors at the Chonburi provincial offices and it was hot!  So much so that after about thirty minutes of walking around (even with umbrellas), Kobfa and I retired to a adjacent park and sat in some plastic chairs in the shade of a tree.  With the breeze, it wasn’t uncomfortable.

Right: The Chonburi provincial headquarters building, which is a very odd mix of styles.

Most of the displays were of vocational programs that are in place at the schools.  There were also various competitions in things like spelling and public speaking, as well as tables set up where students made sculptures and other crafts.


Above: Putting down my umbrella for a brief moment, I’m posing in front of the main stage which is decked out to celebrate His Majesty the King’s 80th birthday, which we’ll celebrate on December 5th.

Below: The crowds of educators and students in the sweltering sun, going from tent to tent, listening to information about the different educational programs.


DSCF0023 One of the most interesting things was a school district that was promoting its AIDS and STD education program.  This is very timely as there was an article about AIDS education in schools in Wednesday’s Bangkok Post. 

Left: Students get more information about AIDS education.

Asking Ajarn Yai about this, she explained that the education is done in the secondary school (equivalent to US grades 7-12) but that the content of the program and whether or not it is delivered is up to the individual schools.

The educational booth included some very direct banners that can be displayed to educate students.  They are much more explicit than I would have expected and am very glad to see that this type of education is being made available to at least some of the students.

DSCF0021  DSCF0022  DSCF0024

Left: General explanation that AIDS, TB, and other diseases can affect all of us.  Center: The symptoms of different STDs, listing in red the different types of symptoms and what diseases might cause them.  Right: A rather explicit explanation of how to use a condom.  Most interest at the bottom: a little cartoon tube of KY Jelly is slathering some lubricant on top of the little cartoon penis!  The caption is explaining that before putting the condom on, adding some lubricant will enhance the enjoyment of intercourse.

Some of the crafts activities, below.  Left: I’m not sure why this boy is making a huge carrot, but he was rather intently making little scallops along the outside of it.  Right: This being Thailand, it is no surprise that a favorite sculpture subject is elephants.

DSCF0029  DSCF0031


After about 90 minutes there, an hour of which was spent enjoying the breezy shade as Ajarn Yai and the teachers continued to wander about, we packed back into the van and continued to a nearby gulf-front restaurant for an early lunch of seafood.  On the top of each page of the menu was written “No Pork, No Beef, No Chicken” and they had more different types of fish than I have ever seen on a menu.

The restaurant was located on a small cove filled with many mussel farms.  The tide was out so the mussels were sitting out in the bright sun while fishing boats were left resting on the mud as their crews did repairs and worked on the underside of the boat.


After lunch we stopped at a Chinese temple of Quan Yin, the Buddhist Bodhisattva of Compassion.  It was a very colourful, gaudy temple with lots of monkeys running around and eating the fruit offerings left out at the altars.

DSCF0085 DSCF0098

Finally, about 2:30 we headed back home to Khrungthep.  It was a tiring day and while the lunch was good, I didn’t get much from the educational fair.  I’m looking forward to getting back to teaching next week for the final of three weeks of English.


Another interesting photo I snapped this weekend: a man sitting on the back of a motorbike was holding some aluminum beams vertically while riding along.  Tough to see in the picture, so I’ve circled and added an arrow.  Talk about dangerous: beware low overpasses!