Would you believe five years alreday?

After more than a year of planning, my move to Bangkok occurred the morning of Sunday, October 30, 2005.  I departed from New York, spending my final two nights in America there.  As with most of my trips, visiting friends and eating food were the main pastimes.  Saturday evening was a 5-course tasting menu at Blue Hill just off Washington Square.  The fantastic menu and wine pairings were a perfect goodbye gift from the land of my birth.

Thankfully, Daylight Saving Time ended at 2:00 Sunday morning, giving me an extra hour’s sleep before having to head out to the airport.  The friend with whom I was staying flagged a taxi while I pulled off a minor logistics miracle and got my three large/heavy suitcases, one heavy trolley bag, and fully-stuffed backpack down three flights of stairs and through the front entry doors.

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A few hours later, I was situated in seat 44D aboard a THAI Airways A340-500 as we rolled down the runway for a more than seventeen hour flight to the capital of Thailand.  Since the flight crossed the International Date Line, it arrived on October 31 at 4:20 pm.  Exactly five years and fifteen minutes ago.  My, how time flies when you’re having fun!

If you’re curious to read all the details of that flight, which has since been discontinued, check out my trip report here on airliners.net. An interesting bit of trivia, that picture above is of the actual flight I was on that day.  Through sheer coincidence, a member of airliners.net was taking pictures at JFK airport that morning and shot my flight.  After reading my trip report, he emailed the pictures to me.

 

How Tawn and I Met

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Above: Chilly and breezy morning here in Khrungthep, as Tawn huddles under a blanket on the sofa.

Some of you have heard this story, but many of you haven’t.

In December 1999, in a friend’s loft in Tribeca, I made the decision to quit my job.  Having accepted the position of Senior Manager at the still under construction AMC Empire 25 theatres near Times Square, I had traveled to New York from San Francisco to meet my team and to look for an apartment in advance of my move in January.

After an afternoon of meeting with the people who would be working under me on the adventure of opening the largest, most complex theatre AMC had ever opened, I realized that I was being set up for failure.  The team was rife with inexperience, several people having never working in the theatre exhibition industry at all.

That evening, in Michael’s Tribeca loft, I considered my options.  A few weeks prior I had interviewed with another company, IKON Office Solutions, just to be aware of what was out there.  The interview had unexpectedly resulted in a job offer, tendered by a former AMC colleague who was now a recruiter for IKON.

I called this recruiter friend and confirmed that the offer was still on the table.  Within minutes, he faxed over an offer letter which I signed and returned.  I then drafted my resignation letter and called my boss in California.  Not surprisingly, he spent most of the call talking about himself.  No attempt was made to empathize with me or to understand my concerns.  After almost thirteen years with the company, on the brink of opening the most prestigious theatre in the chain, he didn’t seem concerned that I was leaving.

Having worked nearly every holiday since 1987, as one does in the exhibition business, I chose December 30th as my final day.  I was not going to work New Year’s Eve again.

My roommates Colleen and Nina had spent several months the previous year backpacking through Southeast Asia and they had enjoyed it very much.  Intrigued, I decided the best way to spend my two weeks between jobs was to go explore the north of Thailand.  On December 31st, using family passes from my employee father, I boarded United Airlines’ San Francisco to Hong Kong flight, on my way to Thailand.

This being the last day of 1999 – remember the Y2K scare that computer systems worldwide would shut down because they hadn’t been programmed to recognize the new century – the flight was nearly empty.  The 747, with more than 300 seats, had only 35 passengers in the entire plane.  The number of crew members almost matched the number of passengers as we sat in the gate area.  Boarding took all of five minutes and we pushed back a half-hour early.

The flight was an interesting one.  Each flight attendant stopped by my seat to chat with me for a while, apparently lacking anything better to do.  When we crossed the International Date Line, the flight attendants went running down the aisles wishing everyone a Happy New Year and pouring champagne.  But of course at that point, it was already seven in the morning local time.  Because of the cruel nature of westbound transpacific travel, I never did get my “end of the century” New Year’s Eve.  The crew asked me to take a picture of them, posed in the cabin, a picture that the purser mailed me several weeks later.

After spending a few days in Hong Kong visiting friends from when I lived there in 1998-1999, I set out to continue my journey to Bangkok on the evening of January 3rd.  Standing in the employee check-in queue at Chek Lap Kok airport, there was this cute, skinny guy with a long face and beautiful eyes standing in front of me.  He turned around and we made eye contact.  He smiled.  I smiled back.  He was checking in with a group of other guys, who I assumed were his friends.  Later, I found out they were the boyfriends of his colleagues.

Looking at the round orange tag on his luggage, I could tell from the code (BKKFS) that he was a Bangkok-based flight attendant.

After checking in, he and his friends disappeared.  As I went to the gate and stopped for some dinner, I ran into my roommate Nina’s friend Perry and her mother, who were on their way to India!  We spent an hour or so visiting before I continued to the gate.

At the gate I saw the cute guy and his friends again.  The load for the flight was very light and when I boarded and took my seat in the downstairs part of business class, I observed that one of his friends asked the flight attendant if he could move to the upper deck.  Figuring that they would all end up sitting upstairs, I asked if I, too, could change seats.  The flight attendant said yes, so I went upstairs and selected a seat at the back of the cabin, calculating that it would be easier to see him because he’d be sitting in front of me.

Sure enough, the cute guy came upstairs and sat in the emergency exit row, three rows ahead of me and on the other side of the aisle.  Every so often he would turn around and look back at me.  The on-duty flight attendants stopped by to say hi to him and he went back to the galley once or twice during the flight.

Throughout the two-hour flight I noticed that there were a lot of flight attendants who came upstairs.  Of the fourteen flight attendants scheduled on the flight, it seems like all of them came up to offer me refills on my orange juice and nearly all of them tried to use my name.  “More orange juice, Mister… um… Schultz?”  Something was up.

Finally, shortly before descent, I worked up enough courage to say something.  I was at a major turning point in my life, leaving a long-held job for a new one, leaving one century for the next, traveling across the world before returning home.  Why let this opportunity pass me by?

I walked to the lavatory at the front of the cabin.  When returning to my seat, the cute guy was watching me over the top of the Thai newspaper he was “reading”.  The sports section, featuring Thai kickboxing, was on the front page.  Struggling for something to say, I stopped, said hello, and asked…

“So, are you a fan of kickboxing?”

I know, not the most suave and sophisticated of lines, but it was enough to jump start the conversation.  As it continued, I confirmed that he did indeed work for United, his name was Tawn, and he wasn’t that interested in kickboxing.

“Let me ask you,” I continued, pushing my luck, “this is only my second time here in Bangkok and I’m not sure of the best way to get to my hotel.”

“Where are you staying?” he asked.

“The Crowne Plaza on Thanon Silom,” I replied.

“Oh, that’s near my house.  I’d be happy to give you a ride there.”  I figured out many months later that it was about 15 km away from his house, nowhere “near” by any stretch of the imagination.

So upon landing we went through our separate immigration lines, I collected my backpack, and we met again outside customs where Tawn was waiting with almost all of his colleagues from the flight.  He drove me to the hotel, made sure I was checked in properly, and then offered to collect me the next morning and show me around town.

. . .

The next morning, I waited in the lobby as the appointed time came and went.  Not surprised, I figured he had come to his senses and in the light of day had decided against the folly of hanging out with some strange passenger he had met.  But about fifteen minutes after the prescribed time, Tawn pulled up in his grey Nissan, the same one we drive today.

Over the next three days we visited many sights and had a good time hanging out.  But on the fourth day he had to fly back to Hong Kong, overnight there, fly to Tokyo, overnight there, then come back through Hong Kong to Bangkok.  Since I had more family passes to use, I agreed to fly with him to Hong Kong with the plan of waiting for him then flying back to Bangkok.

On the flight from Bangkok, Tawn switched safety demo positions with a colleague so he wouldn’t have to look at me while doing the demo.  Because of a broken seat, I was reassigned to a seat in his section of business class.  He held the safety card in front of his face the whole time to avoid making eye contact.

During the flight, the passenger seated next to me seemed confused about the highly attentive service I was receiving, the recommendations on what breakfast dish was best, the endless refills of my coffee, etc.

In Hong Kong, we stayed on United’s bill at the Renaissance Harbour View in Wan Chai, and then when Tawn left for Tokyo I stayed with Stephanie.  The following evening I went to the airport and waited for Tawn outside customs.  He came walking out with the same group of colleagues as had been on the flight on which we met.  Amidst the twittering and whispers between the other flight attendants, Tawn told me the sad news that he had been rescheduled and would have to fly back to Tokyo the following morning.

No problem, I assured him, I would just use my passes to fly to Tokyo and then we’d head back to Bangkok together.  Tawn asked the captain if I could ride the crew bus back to the hotel and the captain, with a look that said there’s nothing he hasn’t seen before, said okay.

The following day Tawn went to the airport with his crew and I met him at the ticket counter later on with his purser, Jack – the one person who has known us since the day we met.  Because of the heavy loads on the flight, the agent couldn’t give me a boarding pass yet, but I assured Tawn I’d see him onboard.

He and Jack went to the flight and I stayed at the check-in counter, patiently waiting for my name to clear the list.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t get on the flight.  The Y2K fears had subsided and the flight was full.  I even checked with Japan Airlines, All Nippon, and Cathay Pacific, but last minute flights to Tokyo were just too expensive.

As Tawn relates the story, he kept scanning the manifest after the aircraft doors closed and walked up and down the aisles, searching for me.  Surely I was somewhere on that plane.  Sadly, I had not made it.

Deciding that the fates had sent me a message, I checked in for the next flight back to the United States, the nonstop to Los Angeles.  Before heading home, stuck in a middle seat in coach, I called the hotel in Japan where Tawn would be staying and left a message for him: “Sorry I couldn’t make the flight.  Will talk with you soon.”

While that could have been the end of the story, it wasn’t.  I started my new job on January 17th, and am still employed with IKON as I work remotely from Thailand.  Thankfully, with Tawn as a United employee, he was able to fly over and visit every four to six weeks.  That gave our relationship an opportunity to take root and survive until the end of 2000, when Tawn moved to the United States to study for his Master’s degree.

But it all started on that Hong Kong to Bangkok flight, January 3rd, 2000 – exactly eight years ago today.

Happy Anniversary, Tawn!

As a prologue, while I said that December 30th was my final day with AMC, I actually continued to work for them for two more years.  The person who followed me as General Manager of the Kabuki 8 and Van Ness 14 in San Francisco recognized my value and convinced me to work part-time on weekends helping their cash handling and accounting operations.  It wasn’t until February 2002 that I finally left AMC.

 

The child of a perfectionist

P1020837 I’m the child of a perfectionist.  As many children of perfectionists will tell you, we have to struggle throughout our adult lives to escape our own perfectionism, learning – and learning to believe – the mantra that there are many correct ways to do something. 

That said, I think I’ve come a long way to addressing my perfectionism and have become much more accepting others’ ways of doing things.

I live with someone – have committed to spending my life with that someone, in fact – who is still struggling with his perfectionism.  In his case (I’ll not reveal his name in order to protect his identity, so let’s just call him “B”), I playfully like to call it his obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Emphasis on the word “playfully”, if you’re reading this, B.

Our new condo has a shortage of storage at the moment, because there are two bookshelves and an office armoire that have yet to arrive.  We’d like to install a china cabinet, too, but that’s another matter.  In the meantime we have things stored in boxes and some extra kitchen items stored in a bedroom closet.

It is very important to B that these be organized, regardless of for how short a time they’ll be there.  Which is how we ended up with the organized cabinet that is pictured above.

What’s really neat about it – this is something I just love about B – is the little drawing and inventory he did.  Here it is in more detail:

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Isn’t it cute?

 

Bags Are Packed and I’m Heading to the Airport

While they didn’t contain everything I wanted to bring, my bags were finally packed.  A last load of laundry was in the dryer and I unloaded the dishwasher.  Ken arrived this morning at about 6:25 and started loading the three larger suitcases into his truck as I brushed my teeth, packed the toothpaste in the trolley bag, and did the last thing on my checklist (courtesy of my father): turn the thermostat down to 55 degrees.

Checking in at the airport, I learned that United has instituted a rather reasonable policy: they now charge $25 for bags that are between 50 and 70 pounds.  Over 70 pounds either has to go as freight or has a higher surcharge – I’m not sure which is the case.  All three of my bags were between 54 and 58 pounds, despite my best efforts to mix the dense items like compact discs and coffee with lighter items like clothes and bed sheets.

Thankfully, I get a stop in New York before I depart on Sunday morning.  Many thanks to Holly Stern for letting me stay on her hide-a-bed with her cat.  Her lovely Upper East Side apartment will be packed with my suitcases for two nights.

Here’s a picture of Holly and her adopted-eight-weeks-ago Lab/Hound mix, Ally.

Mental Challenges Before Moving

After three weeks (a bit more, actually) out of the office, I show up at 8:00 am to astounded looks from colleagues.  “Oh, you haven’t left for Thailand?” is the greeting of choice.

It is hard to get a lot of work done as I’m feeling swamped by things to-do.  About 2:00 pm I head home and work from there the rest of the day, finally hitting my productive peak after dinner.  Between jet lag and being preoccupied, I’m losing my mind.

My process for organizing around the house is this: make piles in the lviing room of things that I’d like to move to Bangkok.

Pile 1: Must be moved on this trip

Pile 2: Would be nice to move on this trip but could wait until December

Pile 3: Definitely wait until December

Pile 4: Wait until some unspecified date in the future to move it

I’m sure my parents will be overjoyed when they arrive later in the week to discover piles of things greeting them.  Well, it is a method to the madness.

Panic While Shopping for Furniture

Panic, or maybe just good old-fashioned anxiety, has set in.  At first it was caused by the cost of buying furniture.  Looking at the different furniture we’d like to get in our basically unfurnished apartment, it seems that it could cost between 40,000 and 80,000 Baht (US$1,000 – 2,000).

 

Part of the challenge: most of the faux furniture (laminated particleboard) costs nearly as much as it does if purchased in the United States.  This is possibly because most of it is imported from elsewhere.  For example, a dining room table and four chairs at Index Living Mall (similar to IKEA) is on sale for 9,100 Baht.  It will last a few years as the quality is only so-so.

 

If I go to the furniture district, Bang Po, I can pay about 20,000 Baht for a custom-finished teak hardwood table with hardwood chairs padded in my choice of fabrics.  Twice as expensive but it will literally last a lifetime.

 

Part of the equation is answer the question, “How much do we want to invest in furniture for an apartment we might stay in for just a year or two?”  No sense in making a huge investment in furniture that may not fit in whatever home we eventually end up in.  At the same time, I hate to spend a fair amount for temporary furniture when the “real thing” isn’t that much more expensive.

 

The anxiety is heightened when I start thinking about the costs of flying back to Kansas City for the holidays.  At first, Tawn and I had taken it as gospel that we would go back to KC and make a side trip to San Francisco over Christmas and New Year’s.  There are many, many reasons we should do this.

 

But as we’ve been researching air fares, even for flights that depart on Christmas Day, we’ve been shocked.  To include just a trip to Kansas City may run a minimum of 95,000 Baht and as much as 155,000 Baht (US$ 2800 – 3800) if we include a side trip to San Francisco.  That’s the equivalent of between five and eight months’ rent here in Bangkok.

 

It really puts the furniture issue into perspective, doesn’t it?

 

It is now 5:00 am and I’ve been awake for about two hours.  My stomach is a gnawing pit and I’m sitting in the hotel bathroom writing this journal entry.  Through the vent I can hear music coming from the room of some other sleepless visitor.

 

For the moment, I think consideration of the Kansas City trip needs to be set aside.  I can worry about it in another week or two.  In fact, I can work at more options once I am back in the US.  In the meantime, the focus needs to be on getting the apartment organized and furnished to at least a minimal level.

 

Maybe we can take up a collection for our trip back to KC and SF at Christmas: for $50 a person we’ll come visit you.  If was can get about 60 people to contribute, the trip will be paid for.

 

See what living overseas will do to you?  And I haven’t even moved here yet.

 

 

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

 

In the United States, it has become quite popular to express disdain for the so-called “big box” retailers.  Named for the large concrete shells they occupy in suburban strip malls across the country, Walmart, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond and others are seen as homogenizing the American landscape and undermining independent, family-owned businesses.

 

In fact, I’ve jumped on that bandwagon to some extent, especially in the case of Walmart, a company whose sheer size gives it incredible leverage in determining what products vendors manufacture.  Additionally, their workforce practices are very anti-worker, forcing the larger community to absorb the extra costs of healthcare for their tens of thousands of uninsured employees.

 

Nonetheless, it is the process of setting up a home overseas that cures me of some of that big box phobia.  Trying to answer questions as basic as, “Where do I buy plastic clothes hangars?” leave me wishing that there were a nearby Target to which I could drive.

 

Sure, some of this is just a matter of landscape unfamiliarity.  I’ll learn soon enough just where the Thai populace buys plastic hangars (surely they don’t use wire?) along with towels, clothes racks, futons, and paint brushes.

 

And I’m aware that even Thailand has its share of big box retailers, although they are noticeably European in nature.  So I may be heading to a Carrefour, Big C, or Testco-Lotus sooner rather than later.

 

But in the meantime I’m taking a deep breath and savoring this moment of sublime self-awareness, as I appreciate the contradictions that moving overseas brings to the surface.  Now if only I had some plastic hangars, I could unpack my suitcase.

 

Signing the Lease on the Bangkok Apartment

Bangkok, my new home.  I arrived on Monday evening after a very long 24-hour journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles to Tokyo to Bangkok.  The LAX-NRT leg was not upgraded so I was squeezed into Economy class.  Not so bad as it could have been but I was unable to sleep and arrived in Bangkok very tired.

On Tuesday Tawn and I went to our new apartment to sign the lease and pay the deposit plus the first month’s rent.  The apartment that was decided upon is at Asoke Place tower, about a 5-minute walk north of the Sukhumvit / Soi 21 (aka Asoke) intersection.  At the intersection is both a Skytrain station and an MRTA (Subway) station, so it is quite convenient to everywhere.  Also, traffic is not too bad along Asoke and we’re on the side of the road that heads into the city.

The apartment is quite large (about 700 square feet) and is a 1-bedroom with an additional small storage room.  Tawn was able to choose paint before the handyman repainted, so the walls are a light yellow in the living area and a light khaki in the bedroom.

We spent most of Tuesday shopping for furniture and have so far made absolutely no decisions.  The big question is, how much do we want to spend?  Furniture of decent quality is cheaper in Thailand than the US, but that doesn’t mean it is inexpensive.  At the same time, we don’t necessarily need to buy permanent stuff right now.  So we are going through the joint priority-setting process.

There’s also a few odds and ends that need to be ironed out.  Anyone with any expertise in these areas is welcome to provide advice:

  • The refrigerator (about 2/3s of full size) sits more than 10 feet away from the nearest power outlet, which it would share with the TV, stereo, etc.  I get the impression that there wasn’t a refrigerator there before and it was placed there as a selling point rather than a practical consideration.  Can you put all that equipment on one outlet without a problem?
  • Similarly, the plugs in the kitchen (which are all under the counter, no idea how you run a cord under the counter as there are no openings!) all feed into one circuit, if I’m not mistaken.  So that would be a 2-burner stove, microwave oven, rice maker, and coffee maker (or combination thereof) on one circuit.  Problem?
  • Our clothes washer was originally in the bathroom, but it takes up a lot of space and was on a wall that have no drain, no power, nor a water supply.  The next logical place is on the balcony (makes more sense that it might sound) but there is no water supply and the power is just a closed junction box.  Landlord seems to think it is an easy problem to overcome.  I’m curious to see how.
  • There’s no hot water heater in the bathroom.  Cold showers, anyone?  We’ll ask the landlord on Friday whether we can pay for installation of a water heater, which will run about 5,000 baht plus another 800 for installation.

Truly, none of these are challenges we cannot tackle, but they are interesting “oh, I hadn’t considered that” situations.

Another lesson I’ve learned.  If you want to pay your credit card at one bank with money in a bank account at another, the only way you can do this is to withdrawl the cash from the first bank and then take it to the other bank and deposit it.  So we went to the bank to withdrawl our deposit, first month’s rent, and money for paying some billes.  110,000 baht total.  It is worth noting that the 1,000 baht bill is the largest denomination available.  Yes, we were carrying 110 bills in a wad in my pocket.  That’s pretty crazy.

Well, the adventure is just starting, I’m sure.  I’m extending the hotel stay by a few days because we won’t have all of the necessary arrangements made by tomorrow morning.  Plus, other than a bed and an armoire, we have no furniture.