The Air Conditioner Drama

It started innocently enough.  We called the air conditioning service company out to move a unit from one room to another and install a new unit.  A simple procedure that should have been unworthy of note.  And yet it managed to develop into an unfinished saga, a tale needing to be told in a blog entry.

Unlike homes in the United States, which have central heating and air conditioning, homes in Southeast Asia have a much more efficient and tidier solution: individual units in each room.  This way you are only cooling the space you occupy, instead of the entire house.

Our condo has three air con units: a large one in the living room, a medium-sized one in bedroom A (the master bedroom) and a smaller one in bedroom B (which is the area partitioned off from the living room by a pair of pocket doors).

About six months ago, the unit in bedroom A finally failed.  It was probably ten years old and despite many service calls, it was time to replace it.  The new Mitsubishi unit with the “smart eye” sensor was efficient at cooling, but Tawn felt like it made a little too much noise and was disturbing his sleep.

A few months later, the unit in bedroom B also stopped cooling.  Since that bedroom is at the corner of the building and gets a good cross breeze when the windows are open, I’ve been content to save money on electricity and just spend my days working with a fan and the breeze to cool me off.  As the weather has become hotter – a string of days in the mid 90’s with little breeze last week – I finally cried “uncle” and asked Tawn to call the air conditioning company.

We’ve used this company, based on a recommendation of a friend, for more than two years and other than the occasional lack of attention to detail – which seems typical of most manual workers here in Thailand – we’ve been pleased with their work.

Tawn arranged for them to come out and do three things: move the “new” unit from bedroom A into bedroom B (removing the broken unit in bedroom B and disposing of it), install a new, quieter Panasonic unit in bedroom A, and then clean the remaining unit.

The team of five workers and one supervisor showed up Wednesday afternoon with a new Panasonic air conditioner and compressor and set to work.  It was kind of a circus act, in all meanings of the word.


They were like contortionists, squeezing themselves into the space on top of my work armoire, which is quite heavy to move.  This is in bedroom B and contains my computer, printer, etc.  I have no idea if it is constructed solidly enough to have two people sitting on top of it.


They were like high wire artists, improvising a scaffolding between our balconies in order to get to, remove and reinstall the compressor.  What did they use?  An aluminum ladder.  Because of the position of the compressor, the ladder wouldn’t rest on both balconies, so they simply used a rope to tie one end to the balcony railing.


Yes, he sat out there, four stories above the car park, working on the unit.  When I exclaimed that it seemed rather dangerous, he assured me that he had done the same thing the other day on the tenth floor of a building.


Even more daring, this young man is sitting on the compressor support frame that is bolted to the concrete wall.  I would assume that it was installed when the building was completed ten years ago.  Now, he’s a pretty small guy – maybe 110-120 pounds – but even at that weight I still wouldn’t be sitting out there!


Continuing the circus motif, they were also a bit like the clowns that climb out of the impossibly small car.  They had more equipment spread around the condo, six of them stumbling over one another, dripping water everywhere and generally making a mess that didn’t get very effectively cleaned up until I did it.


All of this would be well and good if the story ended there with the new unit installed, the previous unit relocated, and the condo properly cooled.  Unfortunately, that isn’t how it turned out.

Wednesday night we turned the air con unit in bedroom A on and it ran cool and quieter than the Mitsubishi unit that had been in there before, but by the middle of the night it seemed like even though we had it set to 22 C (about 70 F) it wasn’t that cool.

Thursday, Tawn called the service company and they said they would come out on Saturday and take a look.  But Thursday night when we turned the unit on again, it wouldn’t cool at all.  You could hear the unit drawing power as if to turn the compressor on, but it didn’t cycle on.

We had to sleep with the bedroom door open and the units in the rest of the condo running full, with two floor fans directing the cool air into the bedroom and circulating it.  Not the most efficient way to cool things and I can’t wait to see how high our electricity bill is next month.

Friday morning Tawn called them again.  He told them that they needed to come out that afternoon.  The owner, whom Tawn had tried to track down, had just left for a week’s vacation in New Zealand, so he couldn’t get hold of anyone who would accept responsibility and authorize replacing the unit.

One thing Tawn wanted to avoid was them trying to repair the unit they had installed.  In his mind – and I agree – if it is already having problems on day one, then it is going to continue to have problems even if various parts are replaced or repaired.  Better to pull it out and demand a new unit.

Friday afternoon the team showed up, inspected the compressor, and pronounced that there had a fatal flaw.  Tawn insisted they take the unit out entirely and bring it back to their office until the owner returned from holiday.

So here it is Monday night.  Tonight will be our fifth night sleeping with the multiple air conditioning units and fans running to keep us cool. I’m thinking of dragging the mattress out to the living room, but then if guests come over that might be a bit awkward.  And we do have guests in town so the likelihood of that is high.

I wish there was some neat ending to this story.  Some, “and it all turned out wonderfully in the end” that I could add.  Unfortunately, there isn’t, yet.

Stay tuned, though…


Virtual Friends

Last month I did some pruning of my Facebook “friends” list.  There were several people on there whom I don’t really know and definitely don’t have any regular contact with.  Given the amount of information that Facebook provides me, a mostly uncontrollable flood, I finally asked myself, “Why am I getting updates about people I don’t really know, haven’t seen in more than a year, and don’t stay in touch with?”

Now, I’m the first to recognize that a virtual “friend” isn’t going to be the same thing as a real-life friend.  But there are “friends” on Facebook who, even if we haven’t spent much time hanging out together, we are still regularly in contact with one another.  We comment on each other’s updates and photos, etc.

Same thing here on Xanga.  There are many people in Xangaland with whom I feel I’ve developed a close rapport.  We share stories about our lives, comment on each other’s stories, have little dialogues.  I interact with some of these people more than I do with my family.  So I don’t want to suggest that virtual “friends” can’t have a lot of value. 

But it does seem like a point was reached where I had to make some decisions, at least with regards to those Facebook “friends”. 

I knew that doing so might come back to haunt me.  Sure enough, this week I received an email from one of these pruned “friends”:

We used to be facebook friends… OK, we haven’t hung out in a while, but I’m a little surprised that you deleted me. I’m pretty sure that I haven’t done anything to sprite you.

Anyhow, not broken up over it. It’s just kinda funny.


To which I thought, “You may not be broken up about it, but it must have bothered you enough to send this message.”

After a few days of figuring out the most diplomatic way to say, “I don’t really know you so I don’t feel the need to call you a friend,” I settled on the following:

Hi R,

Rest assured my deleting you doesn’t have anything to do with you having spited me. After the most recent facebook format was put into place, I’ve found it difficult to manage the amount of information I’m receiving. The flood of status updates, quizzes, photo album adds, etc. is making it difficult for me to stay up to date with those people whom I know well and stay in touch with regularly.

Because of that, I decided to start pruning my list of virtual friends. I feel that I don’t really need to be receiving updates on people I’ve only met a couple of times and haven’t had any contact with in a year or more.

I hope you’ll understand my decision to try and define virtual “friendships” less like acquaintances and more like friendships I have in real life.



Do you think I handled it diplomatically enough?  It is tough to tell someone that, but I didn’t want to wuss out and make a lame excuse like, “Oh, that must have been an accident.”  If I value honesty and directness from others, I guess I should be willing to be honest and direct – and hopefully tactful – myself.

Where are you on the virtual friends issue?


Gotta vent

Sanford Update below

Excuse me.  I hate to get political on you, but I just need to let off some steam.  On Wednesday, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford joined a long list of Republican big-wigs who – ooops! – cheated on their wives.  Newt Gingrich, John Ensign, Mark Foley, Larry Craig (well, kind of… does having a wide stance in a restroom stall count?), the list of Republican sexual indiscretions goes on and on.

Right: Sanford posing with his family.  Filed in the dictionary under “sanctimonious”.

Now, let’s be clear, the Republicans aren’t alone in the world of wayward moral compasses.  Democrats Elliot Spitzer, John Edwards and Jim McGreevey have done no better.

But here’s what really burns me up: In general, the Republicans are the ones who are anti-same sex marriage because – get this – they want to protect the sanctity of marriage.

Excuse me!?

There is a special place in hell for hypocrites like that.  Unlike many Americans who are hung up on issues that in other cultures would largely be seen as a personal matter between a wife and her philandering husband, I don’t see these affairs as any of my business.

But when the people having those affairs tell me at the same time that me getting the right to marry would somehow cheapen marriage for everyone else, that crosses the line of all decency.  It is an indefensible argument and leads me to believe that the Republican leaders have no moral standing whatsoever to lecture me about the sanctity of marriage.

Oh, and let’s add Rush Limbaugh to the list.  Sanctity of marriage, my ass!  He’s been married and divorced three time, the pill-popping windbag.



So after having the opportunity to blow off some steam and get a full night’s sleep, I’m over it.  Ready to move on and see the hilarity in the news of Sanford’s affair.  But there have been so many Republican sex scandals lately that I get confused about them all.

Thankfully, this web site has posted a handy flow chart to keep things clear:

sex-scandal-flow-chart (1)  

I hope you find it helpful.  It certainly got things sorted out for me!


Back in the Kitchen

It has been a while since I’ve done a food entry (yeah, maybe a whole week!) and there’s plenty that’s been cooking.  In fact, I’ve been preparing food at home more often lately, on account of a couple of factors. 

First, Tawn has been getting home from work late, so it feels too late to go out for food.  Second, I’ve been working more in the evenings recently because of a couple of big projects, so I don’t want to take so much time away from the office.  Finally, I prefer to cook our food, that way I have so much more control over what goes into it.

So, what’s been cooking?  Here’s a selection of recent items.


Grilled pork chops with a cumin-paprika-chili powder rub.  Side of mashed potatoes, homemade applesauce, and stir-fried asparagus with garlic.


Cook’s Illustrated had this recipe for “easy” chicken tikka masala.  The tomato and cilantro sauce was nice.  The chicken could have marinated a bit longer in the yogurt mixture.  Served with mixed rice and a spinach and ricotta cheese bake.


A recent loaf of bread came out kind of funny.  I think it looks like an alien!


Pizza pie is always a quick and easy meal.  There are usually a few servings of pizza dough wrapped and stored in my freezer.  This one had salami, roasted red bell peppers (easy when you use the broiler as the oven is pre-heating for the pizza), mushrooms and fresh basil.

P1170403 P1170406

A fun dessert: free-form apple tart using store-bought puff pastry dough and two types of apples.  Toss them in a little maple syrup and cinnamon, add some cornstarch, and then sprinkle some ground walnuts on top.


Finally, after the latest Martha Stewart Living had some pictures of various hamburger recipes, Tawn asked for some.  So I made a pork-chicken burger with Italian spices, with avocado and tomato.  Quite… er, vertical.

Angels without Nipples

The two-year old white elephant – I mean, international airport – here in Krungthep is filled with all sorts of artwork, most of which is kind of cheap, mass-market versions of traditional Thai temple murals.  There are some contemporary pieces in the arrivals hall by local artists, but most of the baggage claim walls – many stories high and hundreds of feet long – are filled with these faux temple murals.


They are pretty enough, in and of themselves. What you see here is a trio of angels, gracefully flying through the firmament.

What you don’t see here is their nipples.  I thought it odd at first, as in the traditional murals that you would actually see at the temple, the angels are anatomically correct.  Not so, the baggage claim murals.

I walked the length of the artwork and discovered that all of the celestial beings depicted in it were nipple-less.  Perhaps the tourism authority is worried about offending the sensibility of all the visiting European tourists who (with complete disregard for the local modesties) sunbathe topless at our beaches?


On the drive out to the airport two weeks ago, heading to Kuala Lumpur, there was this really frightening cloud cover.  The entire city was under a heavy downpour but as we reached the airport, which is to the east of the city, we could see the edge of the weather system.  Beyond it were bright, sunny skies.  This picture is taken on the road connecting the expressway to the airport.  The THAI Airways maintenance building and employee car park are visible to the left.


Your Guardian Angels

Continuing on the theme of Thai taxis, almost all taxis here in Krungthep (and pretty much everywhere else in the kingdom, I’d suppose) are given special protection for their drivers and occupants through a variety of means.

A monk will bless a new taxi, chanting, sprinkling it with holy water, and often marking the ceiling over the front windscreen with various designs and Sanskrit words that are meant to ward off evil, bad luck, and accidents. 

As an extra layer of protection, drivers will decorate dashboards with various good luck charms.  These are usually Buddha statues, statues of venerated monks, amulets, laminated prayer cards, jasmine garlands (plastic or real), etc. 

Occasionally, other things make their way onto the dashboard.


An example I saw on the way to the Ministry of Labor the other day was this trio of objects.  In addition to the prayer fan with a monk’s image on it (in the foreground), the driver has a naga, a cobra and a model of a THAI Airways Boeing 747.

The naga is a mythical 5-, 7- or 9-headed serpent.  In Buddhist lore, the naga raised its heads up over Prince Siddartha to shield him from the elements as he spent his forty days meditating in the forest until he reached enlightenment and became the Buddha.  One common depiction of the Buddha is with the naga rising up behind him. (example here) You see the back of one of these images in gold, to the right of the cobra.

The model of the plane is actually balanced on its stand and rocks back and forth as the car drives.  Video below.

I wonder what the correlation is between drivers who have more of these good luck charms and their accident rate?  Do drivers with more charms drive more dangerously, assuming they are protected from harm?  Or do they drive more cautiously, the charms being an indicator that they are risk-averse people?

It is worth mentioning that many private cars also have some of these good luck charms and markings, although rarely to the extent that you see in the taxis.  For example, our car just has a couple of Madonna cassette tapes to protect it.


No sex, no drugs, no wine, no women

Bangkok taxi drivers like to pimp out their cars.  Anywhere  the drivers gather, you are sure to find a sticker stall – a bicycle-driven shop that has thousands of different stickers and decals with which you can customize your car.  “We Love The King” is a popular one, of course, but sometimes you see some pretty odd ones.

The other day I hopped into this taxi and saw what looked like a very typical, professional sticker indicating what behavior/items were appropriate in the car.


From left to right (as viewed by someone getting into the car):

  • DVD Karaoke available
  • No smoking allowed
  • No drinks allowed
  • No knives or guns allowed
  • No sex allowed
  • No durian allowed
  • No dogs allowed
  • No water buffalos allowed

Please, if you have a water buffalo with you, hail another taxi.


Tawn’s Kitten Eaten By Snake

File this story under “Urban Jungle” as at first, in a city of six or seven million inhabitants, it sounds improbable.  Tawn’s mother sent a text message to him breaking the news that one of the cats they take care of was killed and eaten by a python.  Tawn called back and spoke to his father for the rest of the details.

Tawn’s parents have a bit of a menagerie with seven small dogs, three cats and several more strays that his mother puts food out for.  The cat in question was a copper-colored kitten that had shown up a few months ago and was actually given his own cage in the house.

Friday morning, as was its habit, the kitten was out playing and exploring the yard as the maid did chores in the area.  The maid left the yard for a few minutes and when she came back, she saw a two-meter long python wrapped around the kitten, suffocating it.

Alerted by the maid’s screams, Tawn’s father came out of the house to catch the snake with the kitten halfway in its mouth, trying to swallow it.  He grabbed a stick and hit the snake, which then spit the kitten out and slithered away through a gap beneath the wall.

Sadly, the rescue came too late as the kitten was already dead.  He was buried that afternoon in a corner of the property that has come to be their pet cemetery.

There’s an interesting back-story to this, though:

The neighborhood where Tawn’s parents live is fairly developed, but here in Thailand even developed areas have lush tropical foliage.  The jungle is never that far away.

In September 2000, when Tawn and I had been dating for a half-year or so, I came back to Krungthep to visit him for his 25th birthday.  Arriving late at night, I stayed at his parents’ house as they were out of town.  In those days, there was a vacant property behind his house, an empty, overgrown field that Tawn’s father has since purchased and annexed.

Shortly after I fell asleep at about 2:00 am, there was a commotion outside.  A large snake was found resting on the top of the wall between his parents’ house and the vacant land.  Tawn summoned the police, who stood around talking about what lucky lottery numbers the arrival of this snake might symbolize, unsure of what else to do.

Eventually, one of the Chinese mutual aid societies, rescue squads of young men who volunteer to attend to accidents and who monitor police radio frequencies so as to rush to collect the bodies of the dead and injured, showed up to help.  Two truckloads of young men, in fact.  Eventually, someone got the idea to prod the snake with a stick and it slithered away.  One young man helpfully suggested that if the snake returned, Tawn should call the zoo.

I slept through the whole ruckus but Tawn related the story to me the next morning, explaining that the arrival of the snake was seen as a good omen, because of the Thai belief that when smaller animals seek shelter at our home it is because we are seen as kind and generous to them.  I assume this does not apply for mice, rats and cockroaches.


Our Children Left Behind

What do children really need to get a good start in life?  If what I’ve read from many sources is correct, there are three key factors that set a child on a path of future success, both in terms of being employable as well as in terms of having a generally healthy life:

♦ Prenatal and early childhood healthcare.

♦ Proper nutrition, eating and exercise habits starting from infancy.

♦ High-quality early education, including preschool and primary school.

All three of these should be the case regardless of the neighborhood, city, state or country in which you live.  That’s an awful lot to bite off and chew, I know. 

Recently, though, I’ve been thinking about the education aspect of how we raise our children.  (While broadly applicable to all nations, part of my following comments are based on my perspective as an American.  My apologies and I hope the rest of the entry will be thought-provoking for non-American readers, too.)

American children are well behind their international counterparts in reading, writing, maths and science.  They go to school for fewer hours a day and fewer days a year than their peers in the academically leading countries.  The quality of schools and the availability of texts, equipment and teachers varies widely even within a single metropolitan region or state.

alphabet This leads me to wonder whether we are doing enough to prepare our children for future success, considering that future employment success relies increasingly in knowledge economies, a market which America no longer has cornered.  There are many definitions of success, but surely one of them is being equipped to earn a meaningful living.

At the same time, America has the highest incarceration rate in the world and states with tough but senseless sentencing mandates like California’s “Three Strikes” law see ever-increasing prison populations (and an ever-increasing average age of prisoners), adding unbearable costs to a bankrupt budget. 

Could it be that there is any correlation between these two?  Could our lack of a quality education, especially in demographic areas that are traditionally challenged in an socioeconomic sense, be the cause (or, at least, cause) of the crime?

This is one of those issues that, when I think about it, the answers seem really obvious.  The connection between the ills that we do not want plaguing our society and the things we do (or fail to do) that would help, stare me in the face.  Maybe I’m the only one who sees this and what I’m seeing is incorrect?

Doesn’t it make sense that we as members of society would benefit greatly if the quality and quantity of education received by our children was increased?  Here are some things, in no particular order, that might contribute to a solution.  Let me know your thoughts.

Year-round school.  Right now, American students get a summer break of about three months.  This was useful in agricultural times when the students were needed at their parents’ farm to help with the crops, but in this day and age, it seems unnecessary.  The average student loses about one month’s worth of learning during the long summer break.  Let’s follow the lead of many other nations (and even some school districts within the US) and move to a more year-round schedule.

More days in the school year.  American students spend about 180 days in school each year, about 15 less than the average in other developed countries.  Some countries, notably those in East Asia, have students in school more than 200 days a year.  Over the course of 12 years, that is the equivalent of an entire year’s worth of lost education.  (Data from an article in the Economist.)

Longer school hours.  American children spend less time in school than their peers and have less homework.  More hours doesn’t necessarily equal a better education, but considering that after school most students are going home and turning on the television or playing video games, I suspect we could do something more beneficial with that time.  Maybe that’s where the following idea comes in:

Restore arts, music and the social sciences (including civics) to the curriculum.  In the past decades, we’ve seen an increasing emphasis on “teaching to the test”.  Largely, though, this hasn’t resulted in improved performance of American students.  Instead, their knowledge is more and more lopsided, focusing only on the silos of information in which they will be tested.  Other subjects such as the arts and music tie into success in maths, sciences, reading and writing.  Social sciences also work to produce educated, engaged citizens.  Ones who know how many states there are and how laws are enacted, for example.

Guaranteed equality in resources.  Schools within a given state should all meet a certain minimum standard of resources, including teaching materials and teachers.  It doesn’t make sense that because of accident of birth, a child growing up in a wealthy suburban neighborhood will get a better public education than a child born in a poverty-stricken urban or rural area.  If we are going to tackle larger societal issues such as public health and crime reduction, those children growing up amidst poverty are the most in need of educational resource minimums.

More parent and community involvement.  Parents seem less involved in their children’s education than they used to be.  Teachers report a lack of discipline and reinforcement in the homes, making their teaching jobs more about policing behavior than about educating.  On the flip side, though, security and liability fears make it so difficult for adults (parents, let alone other members of the community) to get involved in their local schools.  Once-a-year safety classes, registration and background check requirements, etc. make it extraordinarily difficult for people such as retirees, who might have the time and inclination to volunteer, to get involved.

More compensation for teachers but also an expectation of higher performance.  A lot of these proposals will mean more work for teachers, a professional group who Americans pay little respect and little salary.  From my time spent in Asia, I’ve observed that teachers here are respected second only to parents and clergy.  If we want our teachers to work harder, we need to start compensating them for the important role they play: shaping the future of our citizenry.  At the same time, there are teachers out there who don’t love what they do and aren’t very good at it.  Just as with any other profession, there need to be performance standards that are rewarded and those who don’t achieve the standards should not be in the profession.

These are just some ideas and aren’t going to change the world, I know.  But it seems that these types of ongoing, intractable problems have some pretty pragmatic solutions.  Why is it so hard to put them into place?



Two years and three days ago, we purchased our condo.  It is 68 square meters (roughly 730 square feet) and “kind of” two bedrooms in that a portion of the main living space is partitioned off by a pair of pocket doors to create a separate salon in the fashion of the old San Francisco Victorian houses.  But even then we realized that 68 square meters isn’t a lot of space for two people, especially when one of them works from home.

While we were in the process of purchasing our condo, we engaged in some wishful thinking: wouldn’t it be nice if one of these days we had the opportunity to purchase the studio adjacent to our unit?  On some of the other floors in the building, owners had joined the corner and studio units to create very nice 100 square meter (1,076 square feet) proper two bedrooms with a larger living area.

In fact, just about three weeks ago we had once again said how nice it would be to have a little more space, after Tawn expressed his frustration upon getting home from a long day of work how we were tripping over each other as I continued with some calls to the US from my “office” – the small second bedroom that also serves as our TV room.  “I need space to just be,” he said.

It was an interesting coincidence, then, when a week later I was approached by the owner of the small convenience store downstairs who serves as rental manager for about 40 of the 200 or so units.  The tenant of the studio, a famous supermodel, had moved out and the owner was open to selling, provided it could be done quick and easy.

Yesterday, two weeks after the initial conversation with the rental manager, we were at the Land Department registering the sale.  We were able to agree to a price that was 10% lower than what we paid per square meter on our first condo, and I think the larger space will allow us to command a premium if we should choose to sell it in the future.

Home Expansion

The question, of course, is what to do with it.  After the horrendous six-month remodel we went through with the original space, I really don’t want to get into that again.  Tawn and I have agreed to a two-year moratorium on any significant changes to the new space.  We’ll freshen up the bathroom, where the vanity is badly water damaged, and put some new paint on the walls, but for now that is all.

We will also keep it as a separate unit for the time being, which will give us greater flexibility over the next few years until we have a clear sense that the timing is right to incorporate it into the original unit.  Then, we’ll install a wood floor to match, remodel the bathroom, build a door into the wall between the units and brick over the existing outside door of the new unit.

In the meantime, my office armoire, the TV and sofa are all moving into the new space.  It will truly become my office, leaving the original unit for living, cooking, sleeping and entertaining.

With this annexation, I hope the owner of the next unit over won’t get nervous.  Truly, no need to worry – this is enough!