Aloha from Kaua’i

Apologies as we interrupt the regularly scheduled blogging…

Aloha and greetings from Kaua’i, the Garden Isle.  We’re ending our last full day here and have had a lot of fun experiences over the last four days.  Many tales to tell and stories to share including a beautiful beach wedding, some tasty local grinds, and some gorgeous scenery.  Our return itinerary will include an overnight stay in Honolulu as well as two nights in Hong Kong.  Hopefully some additional good stories to share with you from those two stops.

Until then, please enjoy the remaining few days of pre-programmed blogs.  Mahalo!

 

Terminal 21 Nears Completion

In November 2009 I first wrote about the construction of a new mall at the northwest corner of Sukhumvit and Asoke roads called Terminal 21.  I visited the subject again in February of this year as part of an entry about the profusion of malls being built along Sukhumvit Road.  In the weeks since, I’ve stopped by the site, which is easily visible from the outbound platform of the Asoke BTS Skytrain station, to view the last steps of construction.

Since the mall is literally right next to both the Skytrain station (elevated) and the subway station, it should benefit from easy access.  But, in a city with strong sunlight, heavy rain showers, and lots of traffic, the more convenient and enclosed you can make that connection, the better.

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Because of that, one of the things I’ve been observing and thinking about is how the main entry area (shown above) will connect with the two rail stations.  You can see the long concrete deck that will be the main entry area, wrapped in green construction netting.  One entrance is on the left, outlined in red metal beams, and the other is at the right end where there is a bit of a canopy being constructed.

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On the west end of the deck, I can easily see how a bridge might be built to connect to the Skytrain station, which has blue-covered stairs seen on the left of the picture.  In this picture, taken a few weeks ago, I anticipated the potential bridge with orange lines.

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Sure enough, by last week they were pouring the concrete reinforcements for the bridge and I imagine in another week or so they will be laying the beams for the bridge.  This will lead directly to the entrance of the Skytrain station, which I fear is a bit small to deal with the amount of passengers that may be passing through the space.

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The more uncertain question is what they will do with the other entrance to the mall.  In the picture shown above, taken a few weeks ago, they were demolishing the sales office for the mall and I anticipated (in orange lines) that maybe a bridge would be built connecting to the escalators that descend to the subway.  The escalators are in the building with the bright blue roof that has one red segment.  While some re-jiggering of the wheelchair ramp in that area would be necessary, it seemed to be an easy way to get people directly to the subway, short of a tunnel leading into the station itself.

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After they demolished the former sales office and finished off the edge of the entry deck, it is no more clear what they will be doing.  Certainly it will be some sort of bridge, but how it connects to anything else remains a mystery.  Complicating matters further, there is a narrow alley you see in the photo above.  This space contains a small shrine that belongs to the Asoke fresh market, located in the building with the dingy white-washed wall.  Any bridge connecting to the escalators to the subway would have to cross over this alley.  I guess there is little to do but wait and see. 

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One other thing that caught my eye: there seems to be a “moat” built around the edge of the mall.  The other day there was quite a bit of water flowing down it.  Not sure if this is part of the drainage system and will be covered with grilles or what.

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The other night while waiting for the train after my Thai lesson, I noticed they had the interior lights on for the first time.  It may be a bit hard to tell, but the interior is largely finished.  They are laying the tiles on the main floor and most of the shop entrances are decorated already.  I think they will be open in the next few months.

Central Plaza Rama 9 March 2011

Not that far away from Terminal 21 – in fact, just two subway stops north along Asoke/Ratchadapisek Road – There is another mall being built.  This is Central Plaza Rama 9.  There is an additional development that is supposed to happen behind it – a large four-tower condo complex.  In fact, the developer was floating the idea of building a monorail that would go down Ratchadapisek Road (to the right in the picture above) and connect with the Airport Rail Link terminal at Makkasan. 

The view above is looking east from atop Fortune Town IT Mall, with the Thailand Cultural Center off to the left and Rama IX road following the bridge on the right.  Pardon the inexpert job done stitching three photos together to create this faux fisheye lens effect.

 

Around Singapore

In the overnight border run I made to Singapore, I had errands to run and friends to see.  There were some interesting sights along the way.  One stop was at an IT mall, to check out some computer and camera component.  There, I saw what appeared to be the largest gathering of Singapore’s next generation of geeks!

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Hundreds of students on their laptops, with power strips running every which way.  They were gathered for a competition of radio-controlled race cars.  The next generation will definitely be very wired.

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Also made a stop at About Books, an independent bookstore near Tiong Bahru.  Great store with an interesting range of titles as well as many other odds and ends for purchase.

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Among the interesting items for purchase were these old cameras.  Beautiful, eh?

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After dinner crowd: Nick, Chor Pharn, David, Otto, Edwin, Kelvin, and me.

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One thing I’ve noticed over the past few years is that the transit system is actively trying to train Singaporeans to queue up before boarding the trains, letting passengers exit before trying to board.  From what I’ve seen, there’s some success in these efforts.

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In one friend’s flat, located in a government housing tract, there were public service announcements on the elevator doors warning elderly residents from those claiming to be fortune tellers. 

“Beware strangers telling fortunes or chasing away bad luck.  Measures: Be careful if someone approaches you to tell your fortune.  Or to get rid of bad luck or evil spirits.  He’s just out to cheat you.  Ignore him and he’ll go away.  Tell your elderly family members not to fall for such tricks.”

 

Food in Singapore

The evening I was in Singapore a few weeks back, I met up with a group of friends to go to a Zhap Chai Peng place.  “Zhap Chai Peng” means “mixed dishes with rice”, referring to pre-made dishes.  It is colloquially known as “economy rice” because of its affordability.  The one we went to is in the Tiong Bahru neighborhood.

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The clean, well-lighted shop is open-air, with the attention focused on the row of more than two dozen prepared dishes.

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The selection runs the gamut from curries to stir-fries, to stews.  Meat dishes sit shoulder to shoulder with vegetarian ones.  And the influences of Singapore’s many different cultures can be seen.

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Bonus points if you can guess what this is.  Answer at the end of the post.

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Boiled peanuts with Chinese five spice

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Goose braised with soy sauce

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Stir-friend squash – very beautiful color

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Otak – a steamed fish mousse with spices.  The Thai counterpart to this is called hor mok and the mousse is steamed in little cups made of banana leaf and it is topped with some coconut cream. 

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Bitter gourd with garlic

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Salted cabbage with pork belly

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Scrambled eggs with tomatoes

As for the mystery dish?  That’s fried SPAM.  All in all, a tasty and inexpensive meal.  Very similar to khao gaeng shops in Bangkok, about which I’ll be writing soon.

 

Air Mail Stamps Part 2

In early February I shared 14 designs I had created for “air mail” stamps and stickers.  Since I’m a fan of letter writing, I thought it would be fun to have some diversity in terms of how I indicate that my letters and postcards should travel first class air mail.

You were all very generous in providing your feedback and after taking your feedback to heart, I selected two designs to turn into rubber stamps and four designs to turn into stickers.

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The marks of the rubber stamps (obviously)

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And the stickers.  The quality of the printing is pretty poor.  They just used adhesive paper run through a color laser printer.  But it is a good first batch and I’ll seek out a higher-quality printer in the future.  Considering that I now have something like 400 stickers, that won’t be anytime soon!

Now, as to the topic of letter writing, just a reminder that April is National Card and Letter Writing Month.  If you haven’t used this low tech way of staying in touch in a while, why not make it a point to sit down a write a few letters to friends and loved ones?

 

Rising Inequality – Why Don’t We Care?

There’s an interesting “Room for Debate” series in the NY Times titled “Rising Wealth Inequality – Should we Care?“.   The series was sparked by an intriguing survey by Michael Norton and Dan Ariely that found that Americans generally estimate that wealth distribution is far more equal than it actually is and, if given a choice, they would select an even more equitable distribution as being the ideal scenario.  The graph below shows the results of the survey.

Income Distribution 

Of course there will always be a uneven distribution of wealth, and that in and of itself is not a bad thing.  Systems such as communism and socialism have proven to be an ineffective way of raising standards of living, whereas capitalism has done a pretty good job on the whole.  But are the wealthiest 1% or 10% of our nation (or of any nation) actually contributing to their society in a manner proportionate with their wealth?  Are they wealthy because they’re reaping the rewards of their hard work, or is it a matter of inheritance, loopholes, and offshore accounts?

It seems that the economic theory known as “trickle-down economics” – in which you give the wealthy more of their money through a lowering of taxes in the belief that they will spend more, thus fueling economic growth – has largely been proven to be bogus.  The wealthy spend a proportionately smaller share of their income than do people further down the socioeconomic ladder.  The rest goes into investments.

What most confuses me is why so many people who are middle class or lower, are against raising taxes on the ultra-wealthy.  They seem to hold a belief that they may one day be in that top few percent and have to pay that “too high” a marginal tax rate, when in reality their only realistic chance of becoming a millionaire, let alone a billionaire, is to win the lottery.  Heck, even Warren Buffet, one of the nation’s wealthiest men, says he needs to be paying a higher tax rate.

The debate series in the NY Times lays out the different perspectives, but I’m curious to hear yours:

Why don’t people seem to care about rising inequality?  Is the rising inequality something we should be concerned about?  Is that lack of caring about it also something we should be concerned about?

 

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Tomorrow morning at 6:30, Tawn and I will depart Bangkok, en route to Kaua’i to attend my cousin’s wedding.  Our routing is quite interesting, via Hong Kong, Guam, and Honolulu.  More about that on my return. 

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Lest you worry about a break in the updates, I’m actually so far behind (too many things to write about and not enough days in the month) that I’ve queued up a week’s worth of entries.  And, yes, more food porn is on the way!

Meanwhile, I’ll be gathering more material in the 50th State and, hopefully, meeting a Xangan who has been MIA for nearly a year.

Meanwhile, I leave you with Peter, Paul, and Mary’s lovely rendition of “Leaving on a Jet Plane”.