This entry would have been written earlier today, or yesterday, or even the day before.  But I wanted to post some video that I shot and am having difficulties.  You see, the nifty new camera I bought – a Panasonic Lumix TZ3, which I really do think is terrific – outputs video in a .mov format.  This is an Apple-proprietary format that can’t be edited with the existing software I have on my Windows-based laptop computer.

I’ve been searching for a way to convert the files to something I can work with, but the freeware and shareware I’ve downloaded don’t seem to work correctly.  So I caved in and went to the Apple website to spend $30 buying the upgrade to QuickTime Pro.  My order is “being processed” and I don’t know how long that will take.  I’ll probably end up having problems because my billing address is in the US but I’m connecting to the internet in Thailand.

Out of patience and not wanting my readers to think I’ve forgotten about them, I’ll go ahead and do the post the traditional way, with still pictures.


 

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The big event recently was the dress rehearsal of the royal barge procession.  Last done in June 2006 in celebration of the King’s 60th anniversary on the throne, this rarely-seen most of monarch transportation is being rolled out again next week for the thrice annual changing of the Emerald Buddha’s robes, in Wat Phra Kaew in the Grand Palace.

Using the barge procession to go 3 km down the Chao Phraya River is a whole lot of effort, especially since His Majesty is still in the hospital recovering from something stroke-like.  The good news is, he is recovering nicely.  Still, I think some other member of the royal family will travel in his place.

I’m quite surprised that the barges aren’t being used instead for something related to his 80th birthday in early December.

P1010517 Nonetheless, I went with Roka, Ken and Francois to the River Mansion guest house, which sold tickets for seating on their poolside (and riverside) deck for viewing of the dress rehearsal.  The view was spectacular, the weather cool, overcast and breezy, and there were only twenty people there viewing the barges.

Right: Chris, Francois, Ken and Roka, poolside.

Quick introduction for those of you who try to follow the cast of characters in my blog: Francois is a friend of Stuart’s, most recently from San Francisco but raised in Kentucky, who has bought a condo here and will be splitting his time between the Bay Area and Khrungthep.

We had a really good view and drinks and a plate of appetizers was included in the admission price.  To give you an idea of the view and how close we were to the river:

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We spent a good ninety minutes waiting and then the barges went past in about thirty minutes, a little more rushed than normal but this was their first dress rehearsal.  They have two more before the big day on Tuesday.  It was still very spectacular to see and amazing that they take more than 2,000 sailors to man the 52 barges and are able to control them so smoothly and gracefully, rowing to the stentorian chants of the Brahman priests.

Expect to see more monarchy fever in the next two eight weeks as we approach the big 8-0 on December 5th.

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Above: An interesting mixture of cultures as seen on a small soi off Sathorn road: a vintage car drives past a business displaying the Thai flag and symbols of the Chakri dynasty, next to images from Hong Kong juxtaposing a seated Buddha and Minnie Mouse.

 

P1010424 Rainy season is coming to an end but the waters from further up country are heading our way.  Reports are of expected flooding in Khrungthep.  At the same time, the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority has a construction project underway to rebuild and raise the sidewalk curbs along Asoke Road.

The curbs are raised 3-4 inches (10 cm) in most areas, stretching around into driveways and making an already inhospitable sidewalk even more so for those with mobility impairments.  Of course, nowhere in this city is really hospitable for people in wheelchairs or who otherwise have challenges getting about readily.

Given how much flooding we had two Novembers ago, raised curbs will be just a bandage on a much larger problem as it was largely reported (somewhat sensationalistic) last week that Khrungthep is sinking.

 

P1010439 Over the weekend, we ran more errands related to the condo, including going to Emporium to buy a new refrigerator.  When we cleared the condo for remodeling, the current, older refrigerator was brought over to Tawn’s parents for storage. 

Tawn’s father appropriated it, paying us a few thousand baht for the trouble, and now we need a new one.  After much comparison shopping, we settled on a Mitsubishi model that will give us more space – 12.9 cubic feet – and lower energy consumption.  Plus it is a three-door model, with the vegetable compartment being its own pull-out door.

Unlike refrigerators in the United States, all models of which are engineered so that the handles and door hinges can be swapped so the doors can open either to the left or to the right, all models sold in Thailand are designed to open one way only: left to right.  That means that when open, the back of the refrigerator door will block the kitchen. 

A small detail, perhaps, but if I have to physically walk out of the kitchen, open the door, close it, then walk back into the kitchen, that will take much more time when repeated thousands of time a year rather than just being able to lean from the kitchen, open the refrigerator door, and reach in to get what I want.

What about you in other countries?  Can your door handles and hinges be swapped?

 

Exhausted from the refrigerator buying, we ate at the food court at Emporium.  Top to bottom: bami ped yang (roast duck over egg noodles), pad thai goong (fried rice noodles with shirmp), and buttered Texas toast with ultra-sweet pandan leaf flavored frosting.  That was for Tawn – too sweet for me.

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P1010480 Some additional errands were run including a stop by the condo. Left: Me in my new kitchen – still a few details to finish.  Bottom: Tawn poses with a secretary he likes at a furniture store.

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Ajarn Yai called and asked how the trip to the US was going.  Kobfa and I offered to drive down and have lunch with her in Samut Songkhram.  Ken, just back from his trip to Paris and Amsterdam with his partner Chai, joined us.  We ate at a restaurant with cute little sala – pavilions – right next to the river.  There was a good breeze and it rained on and off but we were well-sheltered.

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Above: Kobfa thinks about what to order while Ken dishes up ice.  Below: Me and Ajarn Yai.

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Above: gang som cha-om chupkai (“orange” soup – tamarind flavored, with shrimp and omelet).  Below: After some of the soup was served, the sterno started getting a bit out of control, shooting green flames out the top of the chimney and orange ones out the side.

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Above: sanghaiyaa maphraw – an egg custard dish sweetened with palm sugar with pieces of squash inside, served inside a coconut.  More commonly this dish is served inside the squash itself, and slices of squash and custard are served. 

After the rain, the many flowers were glistening.

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Starbucks offers free coffee to build health clinic

free_starbucks_coffee While it is easy to demonize multinational American corporations like Starbucks and McDonalds, it is important to give credit when they do good things for their communities.  Here is one such event:

In celebration of the opening of their 100th store, all Bangkok-area Starbucks will be serving free coffee on Friday, 26 October from 1:00-2:40 pm.  This includes all stores except the Suvarnabhumi Airport location.

They ask that instead of paying for your coffee, you donate an amount of your choosing to help construct a health clinic in the Huay Sompoi coffee community in Chiang Mai.

Sounds like a pretty good way to get your afternoon jolt of caffeine (or decaf, if you like) and do a good deed, too.

 

Sorry for not writing an entry since Friday as the second half of the weekend I was, as they say here, mai sabai – “not healthy”.  I’m going to attribute my illness to my niece, Ava.  She had an ear infection at the end of my stay in Kansas City and as I noticed the first signs of an oncoming ear infection as I was flying home.

I tend to just try to soldier on through illnesses, relying on plenty of rest and drinking lots of water to get me back to health.  Six days later, though, I was feeling much worse.  Sunday morning I caved in and went to Bangkok Hospital to see a doctor. 

After a thorough look at my ears, nose and throat (this was the ear, nose and throat clinic, after all) the doctor confirmed my suspicions: an infection of my left ear and the back of my sinuses.  He prescribed a week’s worth of antibiotics, decongestant, and anti-mucileage medicine.  The cost of the visit plus medicine: about US$80.  Even with the falling dollar, that’s still a deal.

As of Monday morning I am feeling a bit better.

 

Banlangmek 4 That doesn’t mean that the weekend was a total wash.  In addition to a lot of house-related errands (look at water filters, purchase a fan and additional ceiling lights), we went to watch the Thai musical Banlangmek on Friday evening.

Ratchadalai Theatre at the Esplanade has installed LCD screens on either side of the stage, allowing them to do sub-titles for shows.  This show had them in English, my only complaint being that they kept the letters so dim (presumably so as not to disturb the audience) that they were hard to read from the upper balcony.  And I have good eyesight!

The story comes from a popular novel following the life of one woman as she goes from wealth and privilege to destitution and back again, all the while acting selfishly, using others for what she maintains is the benefit of her children.  It isn’t until her old age, after the suicide of her youngest child whose love life she interfered with, that she finally comes to realize her actions as the selfishness they are and learns that true love comes in accepting others as they are.

There are a few catchy numbers in the show, although I’d be hard pressed to hum any of them right now.  The Thai musical industry is growing in popularity, which is good, but the challenges are two-fold:

The first is that musicals written from original stories don’t find an audience.  Instead, the theatre-going public wants familiar shows.  The result is that most musicals are based on popular novels, and novels have story lines that are too complex for the musical theatre format (Les Miserables aside).  Banlangmek was true to this fault and relied on a Greek chorus of singers to move the story line forward, even to the point of having to explain the conclusion of the story.

The second is that in order to get audiences (and perhaps because the ranks of musical theatre performers are so thin) the stars are often popular television and movie actors.  Sadly, their singing skills are not always up to the demands of the stage.  In this case, there was a direct correlation: the best-known performers were the least-talented singers.  This included the main character, who was only able to hit her notes correctly when performing duets and having someone else to follow.

With the genre becoming more popular (evidenced by the building of the Ratchadalai Theatre, which opened earlier this year as the second stage in Khrungthep able to handle full-scale touring musicals), I’m hopeful that we’ll see more original musicals that emphasize the skills of talented stage performers rather than just pretty faces.

On the way out of the show, walking down the stairs, a young boy walking with his family stepped on the back of my feet several times.  I looked back at him and then told Tawn what he was doing.  The child then said to his mother, in Thai, “I know what the farang said!  He said I was stepping on his feet!”

When we reached the base of the stairs, Tawn turned to the boy and said, in Thai, “Well, if you know what he said, why don’t you apologize to him?”  So the boy, wai’ed me and apologized sheepishly.

This is along the lines with what what Ajarn Yai kept emphasizing with her students: the young people need to learn to be equally polite and respectful to farang, even if they don’t speak their language.

 

 

Chilly winter coming to Thailand?

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Those of you in more moderate climates might have to stifle a giggle, but the Thai national weather bureau is predicting a “bone-chilling” cool season.  Taken from The Nation newspaper from October 18:

It’s going to be cold in Bangkok

Suparerk Tansriratana-wong, director-general of the Meteorological Department, said yesterday he expects winter to be cooler than last year, particularly from December to January, when the mercury was likely to dip to 16 degrees Celsius.  [61 degrees Fahrenheit]  Just how cold it gets depends on how deep and how long the high-pressure systems from China cover Thailand, he said.

Winter had already come to many part of the country, he said, adding that the average temperature this year would be 1-2 degrees lower than usual, and cold snaps would last longer – at least one week.

Anon Sanitwong na Ayutthaya, director of the Southeast Asia START Regional Centre at Chulalongkorn University, also warned that temperatures would drop below what was seen many years ago after winter sets in next month.  

“This is because the strongest La Nina index in 30 years will cause lower temperatures and a longer winter,” he said.

You may want to pack your bags and head over here.  Outside of the serious issue of people (especially in the more mountainous areas) not having sufficient clothing to protect from the cold temperatures, this should be a very nice winter to visit Thailand.

The picture at the top of the entry is from a Johnnie Walker Red Label television advertisement that played here in Thailand showing Khrungthep under a wintry layer of snow complete with people ice skating on the Chao Phraya River.  Needless to say, there’s not much of a risk of that happening.  The whole video is here:

 

Yesterday afternoon I took a quick break after lunch to have coffee with Brian.  As we were talking, we realized that our larger social group is missing many people this October-November due to travel abroad:

Tawn and I were gone in the US; Brian was in China, Spain and Taiwan (part of this with Sean); Russ is in Honduras (from what I hear); Todd returned to the US; Vic is back in the US to sell his San Francisco home; Chai and Ken are in Paris and Amsterdam; Markus is away for five weeks on business and Tam has joined him for a week in Sydney; and Kobfa will be off to Japan the second week of November.

No wonder there are no social activities to report.  Nobody’s here!

 

P1010416 Monday morning Tawn and I made a trip to the condo to see how the remodel is progressing. 

I had thought that the floor was going to be sanded and finished during our absence, but instead the focus of the work has been on woodwork and trimming. 

Things are really starting to come together and the contractor is confident that his primary work will be done in early November. 

P1010418 That will still leave quite a bit of furnishing – choosing some light fixtures and pieces of furniture – but we should be able to start moving some of our things over by then.

Right: Wainscoating has been added to the entry way, a very nice touch that will give the area a cosy feel. 

Left: The tiling in the kitchen has been completed, an interesting little pattern that is reminiscent of Moroccan lamps.  Well, I think they look Moroccan.  Tawn sees the design as more Thai in nature.

You can see in this picture that the trim at the bottom of the cabinet door has not been painted.  That’s a result of the doors and the cabinets themselves being shortened when it was discovered that the left side cabinets were built with about 8 cm (3 inches) less clearance between the cabinets and the countertop than the cabinets on the right side, unlike the plans which called for the clearance to be uniform throughout the kitchen.

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Above: The windows overlooking the pool have been papered over as the woodwork is being finished.  The sliding pocket doors, one of which you can see here, have been removed to be finished.  Woodwork details around all the door frames and on the ceilings have been completed.

Below: The wood framing on the bedroom wall has been completed.  This will all eventually be painted instead of being left as wood color.

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Wednesday afternoon I received a text message that a friend I haven’t seen in a decade – Anita’s former colleague Wai-Kin – was passing through town with his friend James.  We made arrangements to meet them at their hotel, the Siam City, and took them for a nice seafood dinner at T Restaurant on Thanon Ratchaprarop.  Below: Chris, Tawn, Wai-Kin and James.

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Breezing through LA on the way home

The night before I left Kansas City, I managed to get locked out of my computer when attempting to switch from my corporate domain name to a local workgroup, in order to upload photos to my brother-in-law’s computer.  This made for a little bit of a tense evening, hoping that I’d be able to get reconnected by my company’s IT department before I left the United States.

My morning flight to Los Angeles was smooth, although the agent at Midwest Airlines said she couldn’t check my bags all the way through to Bangkok because there were two different reservations and the EVA flights didn’t leave until the next day (1:20 am).  This was a minor inconvenience but proved to be no major problem as Curry picked me up in his big SUV and there was plenty of room to schlep around some suitcases.

Before boarding in Kansas City, I received a call from the director of IT support services and the west regional IT manager – a sure sign that my boss’ boss had made some calls and pushed around his influence a bit.  The director and manager confirmed the nature of my problem and assured me that there would be an IT tech waiting for me in the Los Angeles office when I arrived.

Curry, in all his generosity, was more than happy to drive us into downtown LA.  Thankfully, lunch hour was over so traffic was pretty light by Angelino standards.  Below: The drive into Los Angeles.  My company’s office is on the 21st floor of the second building from the left of the picture, the shorter red building.

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Sure enough, IT was waiting and in twenty minutes Curry and I were back out of the car park and on our way to Venice Beach for a late, light lunch at Jin Patisserie on Abbot Kinney Street.

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Singaporean Kristy Choo left behind her career as a flight attendant to attend the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco.  Jin Patisserie is the result of her considerable talent in creating not only exciting pastries but also tasty savories and a charming ambience.

Below: Zucchini and tomato quiche with green salad; assorted macaroons; chocolate mousse; scones with clotted cream and homemade marmalade.

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Curry proved to be the perfect host, waiting patiently as I took too many pictures.

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With some time to kill before dinner, Curry took me to an exclusive, behind-the-scenes visit to his Hollywoodland home high in the hills beneath the iconic Hollywood sign.  Here is the link to an interesting NPR story that provides some history into the original California property development.

The view from the roof top deck is fantastic, encompassing the western half of the Los Angeles basin.  Looking up the hill from the deck is the larger than life sign, ensuring you have no doubt where you are.

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And now, dear readers, I offer you something that has never been seen before on the internet: a brazen look into the very heart of Curry’s luxurious abode:

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Unfortunately, that’s all he’ll let me post!  Maybe if you are as lucky as I, you’ll have the opportunity to see it for yourself!

After being joined by Curry’s friend and budding young doctor, William, we drove down the freeway to Torrance to meet my newly wedded cousins Alex and Bill at their favorite restaurant, Lucille’s BBQ.  While I might be questioned for wanting barbeque as my final meal in the US – and in Los Angeles of all places – it seemed a good opportunity to try some beef tri tip in the correct, California setting.

Portions were too generous, as in so many American restaurants, but the food was tasty.  The tri tip was very tasty and tender although a bit more well-done than I like it, but that was the result of it having been smoked rather than grilled.

Below: The smoked tri tip with the tell-tale pink ring; braised beef spare ribs; and pulled beef brisket.

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Above from left: Curry, William, Chris, Bill and Alex at a busy Lucille’s on Friday evening.

Curry handed me off to Bill and Alex and I stopped by to see their Long Beach home and freshen up before being driven in light rain to Los Angeles International for my evening flight.  The trip back to Khrungthep was smooth, with EVA continuing to win my praises for good service and comfort for the money.

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Above: The dreary lobby of the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX.  Below: Sunrise two hours east of Taipei.

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Above: Elite Class (premium economy) on the Boeing 777-300ER.  Below: The Mekong River forms the border between Laos (to the left) and Thailand (to the right).

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Above: Approaching Khrungthep during rainy season, you get a clear picture of how much of the central plain of Thailand is composed of rice paddies.  Below: Less than twenty kilometers north of the airport, the metropolitan area’s expansion is impinging on the traditional agrarian way of life.

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My flight arrived just after 11:00 am and I was back at the airport Sunday evening to pick up Tawn when his flight landed just after 7:00.  It is good to be home.