October 2002 Archives

Go Figure

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Of course now that I said that the email updates aren't working, I get one in my inbox. Oh well, at least they are being delivered every now and then.

Today was my (hopefully) last trip to immigration. I am now the proud owner of a *Multiple-Entry* Non-Immigrant Visa B. Today's trip was relatively painless. Just an hour wait and 1000 baht (US$25). So now when I go to Sydney next week everything will be in order. (I hope I didn't just jinx everything there.)

Another Interview

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Hmm... it looks like the email notification feature isn't working. At least *I* am not getting any updates. I'm not sure what to do about it, as I am using a service from Bloglet.com. As far as I can tell, I have set things up correctly (at least it was working before!)

I had an interesting afternoon yesterday. Around noon I got an email from someone I had sent my resume to a month ago. He wanted to meet me right away to talk about a new internet project that he is working on, so I met him for coffee at the Discovery Center mall. It turns out that the project is a really great one. It's very high profile in Thailand (even I have heard of it) and sounds like a lot of fun. We're going to talk more this week, but I am hopeful that I will be able to help out at least part-time.

After the informal interview-over-coffee, I went to Hua Mak for swimming. The bad thing about a 10 day trip to Laos is that I am now out of shape again. Ugh. I don't think I will swim very well at the Games in Sydney next week. Oh well, the trip will still be loads of fun I am sure.

(Wow... my flight to Sydney is just one week away! I have been looking forward to this trip for over a year now!)

Gay & Lesbian Film Festival

I feel guilty (!) when I don't have anything exiciting to say, but I have been fairly domestic the last few days. I've been making multiple runs to department stores and Tesco Lotus (Thailand's version of Wal-Mart) for home furnishings. It is easy to forget about all the things that one needs in a house: trash cans, laundry baskets, iron, ironing board, sheets, towels, detergent, silverware, mugs and glasses...

Ok, enough of that boring house talk! Last night I spiced up things a bit by going to watch movies that were part of the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. The annual Bangkok Pride celebrations are in two weeks and this festival is one of the activites leading up to the big event.

Last night's showings were short clips from Europe. The first set was Lesbian themed and the second set was Gay (male). I think most of the shorts were from the last 6 years or so, but luckily they were all new to me.

G&L Film Festivals are always hit or miss, as anyone who has been to one can tell you. Sometimes the movies are cute or funny or thought-provoking or entertaining or touching. On the other hand, they are sometimes disturbing or vile or too extreme or outrageous (in a bad way) or just plain bad acting, bad writing, and filmed with a home video cam.

All of these words are my opinion of course. Your milage may vary, as they say. The good things about these films (as with most independent, i.e. Non-Hollywood films) almost always push the boundaries of what is acceptable and "normal", both in filmmaking and in society in general. The movies last night were no exception. Although I have to admit I left the theatre with mixed emotions of being a little uncomfortable at some of what I saw yet touched deeply by other things, I can look back now and be very thankful for the opportunity to challenge my own views and ideals.

Boat Racing Festivals

I am back in Bangkok now after one of the best vacations I ever had. (I can call it a vacation now that I have a job, right?) Laos was a wonderful treat in every way. The lifestyle is even more relaxed and the food is even cheaper than Thailand (which is saying alot!). The countryside was beautiful and the people were all very friendly.

Looking back now, the last three days we were there was basically one big party. We were lucky enough to be in Laos for the end of the Buddhist Lent, which happens every year on the full moon of the 11th lunar cycle. The whole country was celebrating with boat races and festivals. Each of the last three days I went to a boat racing festival; each day in a different town: Luang Prabang, Xan Nguam, and Vientiane; each day filled with smiling laughing people, a little bit of lao lao (homemade Lao whisky) and plenty of great Lao food and Beer Lao.

The best example of this was in Luang Prabang. Rupert and I crossed the Mekong in a tiny boat along with two friends of ours (friends of friends from Bangkok). The minute we reached the other shore we heard calls from one of the nearby grass huts. A friend of one of our friends signalled for us to come over to join them, so we did. There were about 10 Lao guys and girls all sitting in a circle on the floor of the balcony of the grass hut. In the middle of the circle was about 10 bowls of food and soup and a few bottles of homemade lao lao. We were given shots of the lao lao and spoons for the soup. Of course it would have been rude to refuse, but luckily it all tasted very good. There was much chatting and smiling and laughing, especially when the white guys downed the shots and gave the rest of the crowd the thumbs up sign.

Now I am home in Bangkok and a new chapter in my life is starting. Tomorrow I start teaching at the university and I will soon see what real life in Bangkok is all about.

Luang Prabang

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The bass drums started pounding all over Luang Prabang at 4 AM this morning, waking up the town and telling it to prepare for the monk procession. By the time Rupert and I stumbled out of the guest house at 6 AM the townspeople had already set themselves up on the sidewalks, sitting on mats with bowls of sticky rice and chicken wrapped in leaves in front of them. Soon, the monks (mostly teenaged novices) appeared walking single-file down the street accepting the food that was given to them. It was quite impressive to see the long line of boys with shaved heads and long flowing orange robes solemnly collecting their food for the day.

We have spent the last couple of days in charming Luang Prabang, Laos. The small town is situated on the banks of the Mekong River 450 KM north of the Thai border. The entire town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site partly because of the many buddhist temples and partly because of the French colonial architecture that remains from the early 20th century. We have spent our time here visiting the temples, visiting with the locals, and enjoying the scenery. Unfortunately, though, we can't stay here forever; we fly back to Vientiane this afternoon.

At the same time we are excited to get back to Vientiane. The annual boat races on the Mekong take place tomorrow and the locals have promised a good time at the festival.

Sidetrack Bar

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We arrived in Luang Prabang today and spent most of our evening trying to find a place to stay. There are many charming and historic little guesthouses here, but they all seemed to be full. Finally we found a nice one on a quiet street, checked in, and headed out to walk around town.

My friend Steiner from the US suggested that we meet up with his friend Sone, who owns a bar in Luang Prabang called Sidetrack. We eventually found the bar and went inside to meet Sone and have a drink. Among the small crowd was the Mayor of Luang Prabang and his family. Much later, after the mayor had left, the bar filled up with Lao kids having a great time. Rupert and I had fun as well, drinking a Beer Lao and watching the scene and of course not understanding anything that was being said around us.

Vang Vieng

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Yesterday, Rupert and I took a 150 KM 3 hour bus ride to the small village of Vang Vieng, Laos. The bus ride went smoothly, even though the roads were often far from smooth. We stopped a few times at various villages for people to get on or off or to use the bathroom. One time we stopped at a roadside shrine and a young girl got off the bus to leave food and to burn some incense and to pray for a safe journey over the mountains.

I have no idea what this town looked liked 20 years ago when it was just a small fishing village on the banks of the Nam Song, but now it is a backpackers haven. About 80% of the buildings here have something to do with tourism: guesthouses, restaurants, lao massage saunas, tour agencies, laundries, internet cafes. Why the sudden boom? Somehow this little speck on the map has become quite popular. For one thing, it is half-way along the much travelled Vientiane - Luang Prabang route. For another, it is situated on a beautiful river with huge limestone cliffs towering above the grass huts, palm trees and rice fields. Just one more place to spend a wonderful evening drinking Beer Lao and watching the sunset.

There are also a lot of "adventure" tours to take here as well. Kyaking, intertubing, caving, and rock climbing are all available. Once we checked into our $5 a night guesthouse, we had lunch ($3 total for the two of us) and rented innertubes to float down the river. The day was beautiful - a blue sky with fluffy clouds shaped like dragons and buddhas kind of day. It was amazingly peaceful and serene to float under the huge cliffs, past waterbuffalos in the fields and men throwing their fishing nets into the river from long thin wooden boats. As I floated I thought about the people who have lived here in this valley for hundreds (if not thousands) of years. I wondered what it would be like for my whole world to be this river and these cliffs.

Along the way we stopped at a cave with a small stream flowing out of it. We were able to ride our innertubes into the cave and explore around a bit. Very cool.

As we were nearing the town, we started to hear shouting, drum beats and rhythmic whistle blasts. We rounded the last bend in the river to see 5 or 6 long boats with about 20 people in each rowing and racing down the river. When we were in Vietiane a few days ago, everyone was telling us about the annual boat races to be held there next week. So we assumed that we were witnessing Viang Vang's final preparations for that huge event.

We made it back to our hotel room and dried off, then headed out for Beer Lao and dinner by the river at sunset. A mellow end to a very mellow day.

Big Pile of Money

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At this moment my pocket is bulging with a huge stack of three different currencies of money. No, I am not rich (by American standards at least), it's just that Lao money (Kips) are exchanged at 10,000 kip per 1 US dollar. Similar to Siam Reap, Cambodia, both US dollars and Thai Baht are accepted everywhere. Unlike Cambodia, however, the local currency is also accepted.

After waiting in line in the hot sun again today, I am now the proud owner of a Non-Immigrant B Visa to Thailand. I noticed that it is still a single-entry visa, so to avoid the problems I had trying to leave the country last time, I will have to try to get a multiple-entry visa when I get back to Bangkok and before I leave for Sydney at the end of the month. I will also have to do the paper work needed to get my work visa. Then (and only then) will I be done. I think.

Mellow Vientiane

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So far our time in Vientiane has been very mellow. We walked along the Mekong River last night watching the sunset and sampling Thai/Lao food and drinking "Beer Lao". Later that night we met up with some friends of friends from Bangkok and they took us by motorbike to a bar/restaurant called "Smile Beer". It was a typical open-air establishment very similar to other places I have been such as the Riverview restaurant in Chiang Mai that I visited with Tu and Tee. This one was on the banks of the Mekong and was full of young Lao people (we were the only Caucasians there) eating and drinking beer and singing along to the loud American and Thai pop music.

Prices in Lao are even cheaper than in Thailand. We find it hard to spend more than $3 total for our two dinners, or more than 50 cents for a beer. Even having said that, I am sure the prices we are paying are outrageously expensive to the Lao people. Our friends who we hung out with last night (who both have college degrees) make about $25 a month, which according to our guide books, is an average salary here.

This morning I stood in line for an hour in a blazingly hot sun to get my Thai Visa, and this time they took my paperwork and money and promised to have my Visa ready by tomorrow. Perhaps this nightmarish red-tape fight will be over soon.

Laos Arrival

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Rupert and I have made it safely to Vientiane, Laos after an easy one-hour flight from Bangkok. So far today we have walked around town visiting a few temples and spending some time at the Thai consulate working on my visa application. We are heading to check out the Mekong River (the border with Thailand) tonight.

So far I really like what I am seeing here. In many ways it reminds me of Siam Reap, Cambodia. Just as in Cambodia, as we flew in to the Vientiane airport it looked like we were going to land in a rice field. Luckily a paved runway showed up underneath us just in time. The airport was small, but airconditioned, and the immigration and customs process was very smooth.

Life here definitely moves at a slower pace -- even slower than in Thailand. The traffic is not very heavy and consists of anything from old Russian cars to brand new Mercedes, as well as motorcycles and bicycles. The streets are dusty but not too trashy; the buildings along them are a mixture of Thai/Laotian style, Chinese shophouses, and French colonial. Most everyone we have dealt with speaks at least a little bit of English, and all have been very nice and helpful.

Our plans are to stay in Vientiane for a few days until I can get my visa, then head north to Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. By the time all of that is over, it will be time for me to head back to Bangkok and start my teaching job on the 23rd.

Terrorism in Asia

The big news here in Thailand (especially among foreigners like me) is the recent bombing of the nightclub in mostly Hindu (not Muslim) Bali. Ever since I started travelling to Asia last November, I have always said that I would not be going to Indonesia anytime soon. When I say this, people always reply, "But Bali is safe." I am guessing that they have changed their minds now. In other news, I resumed my attempts to get a non-immigrant visa today, but was told that I do indeed have to leave the country to get it. So tomorrow AM Rupert and I are heading to Vientiene, Laos. He is starting his Grand Asian Tour (Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia) and I will be joining him at least through Laos before my teaching job starts on October 24.

Apartment Pics

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I just uploaded some pictures of my new apartment, the views from it, and my first two house guests Mag and Rupert. They can all be found in the Pictures of Bangkok Photo Album.

Chatuchak Market

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My new home shopping binge continued yesterday at Chatuckak Market. Rupert and I spent 4 hours shopping through the thousands of stalls in the huge outdoor market. The place was packed (as usual), loud, and hot -- much like the rest of Bangkok but even more so here. We saw clothes, plants, silk flowers, food, birds, fish, ceramics, antiques, budda statues, wall hangings, electronics, kitchen supplies... I get the feeling, however, that we only saw a small percentage of what was available there.

Our load on the SkyTrain ride home consisted of: three plants, a pot, some planting soil, a sepak trakaw ball, candles, a wooden bowl, and two picture frames Damage: US$24 and two tired legs from walking around all afternoon.

My New Home

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Yesterday I was given the keys to my new apartment. The search certainly wasn't as painful as ones I have experienced other places (especially San Francisco) but it did have its moments.

For example, early last week, Mag, Kary (an American friend of ours) and I went apartment hunting in Mag's building. Kary and his partner were desparately looking for a new place to live because their current apartment had been broken into a few days prior. I figured that since there was two of them and one of me, we wouldn't want the same apartment. I was wrong.

We walked into a studio apartment on the 15th floor of Mag's buidling and both of us had big eyes and big smiles. The small room is on a corner of the building, so two of the walls are windows with an incredible view of Bangkok and the river. The room is complete with a very small kitchen, cool modern-looking black furniture, and a bathroom where the tub is next to another huge window. Unfortunately, though, we both wanted it badly.

I was the one who finally gave in and let Kary have it. I figured that since he was in more dire straights that I was, that he should get the room. He thanked me and took it. The more I thought about it though, the more I wanted the room. I was disapointed and afraid that I wouldn't find anything that I liked as much and I was mad at myself for being so nice. (Not that I am terribly proud of that last part.)

In any case, a few days later Kary called me and told me that he and his partner had found a two bedroom apartment for the same price and they wouldn't be taking the one that we all liked. I couldn't believe my luck and jumped at the opportunity. A few days later (yesterday) I moved in.

Rupert and I went shopping for house stuff last night. I bought sheets, two pillows and pillowcases, two bolsters and bolster cases, a comforter, a water heater, two towels, four drinking glasses, twenty clothes hangers, a bottle opener. Total cost: US$88.

So here I am after my first night of sleep in my new bed on the 15th floor, typing my journal, looking out of the window wall at skyskrapers and the river, admiring the view of Bangkok my new home.

Rupert Arrives

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Woo. I was a bit verbose the last two days, eh? Not sure what got into me there.

In any case, I am back in Bangkok safely. The rest of my time in Singapore was relaxing. I had lunch with my good friend Kelvin who I haven't seen since my last trip to Singapore. I also went swimming at one of the many public pools. As with everything else in Singapore, it was immaculate. Unfortuntely though I forgot to take my camera, so I don't have any new pictures to post.

After an uneventful flight to Bangkok I headed home for a few hours, then went back to the airport to pick up Rupert who was flying in from Hong Kong. We taxied to his hotel, dropped off his stuff, and had a few beers on Silom as we traded travel stories. He has been around the world this year, so it will be interesting to hear how Thailand ranks with all of the other places he has been. We'll see if he likes it as much as I do. Judging by what he said last night ("I see why no one says anything bad about this place.") I think he will.

Shifting Perspectives

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After the visa fiascos of the past two days, I decided that since I was in Singapore, I might as well enjoy it. The rest of the day yesterday I did exactly that. I met up with my good friend Gary (who I knew from San Francisco) and hung out with him and some of his friends for the rest of the day.

I've been to Singapore a few times now and every time I visit I have a different impression of the small city-nation. The first time I visited was the first time I had ever been to Asia. A combination of jet lag and being in a new location made me think that Singapore was the most exotic place I had ever been. I marveled at all of the languages I heard, the Hindu and Buddhist and Christian temples that I saw, the new food that I ate.

The second time I visited Singapore, I had just spent time in Bangkok. All of a sudden this place seemed boring, quiet, structured, overbearing, repressed. There was nothing exciting or exotic compared to the chaos that is Bangkok.

My third visit (this one) comes after living in Thailand for two months. Now I see Singapore as a very clean, very nice, very relaxing place: most people speak English, public transportation is efficient, prices aren't too high, internet connections are fast, food is tasty, all the buildings are air conditioned, the streets are clean, there aren't any homeless people begging for change or asking me to buy something.

In other words, I've made three trips here and walked away with three different impressions. My mind wanders and spins as I think about my inability to find "truth". I want to be able to say "Singapore is ___." It doesn't matter what goes in the blank as long as something does. But the blank stays empty because it is dependent on my perspective and my perspective is always changing. In a safer, more controlled, more static time in America I could say with certainty, "Life is ___."

But now I can't. New experiences change me and challenge my perspective. And that doesn't even take into account the fact that the world in which I live is transforming and developing even as I try to understand what I am seeing.

Visa Troubles

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So far my trip has been fairly smooth and hassle free, at least from a bureaucratic standpoint (food posioning not included). I have stayed even-keeled and balanced and my emotions have mostly all been of the positive kind. This all changed this past week, however. Now that I am making life-changing decisions on jobs and housing, the stress level has risen dramatically and more negative emotions have broken the surface a few times.

My first episode happened as I was looking for apartments with Mag and our American friend Kary. I'll leave that story for another day.

I am living through the second episode now. My 90-day tourist visa expires tomorrow, so I am in Singapore trying to get an extension. Actually, I am trying to get a Non-Immigrant Visa so that I can start working on the 24th. I came here armed with my offer letter from he university and false hopes of it being a smooth process.

The trouble started in the Bangkok airport. Unknown to me, my 90-day visa was only good for "single entry". In other words, when I went to Angkor Wat in Cambodia 3 days after I arrived in Thailand, I used up / nullified my visa and was granted the normal 30-day tourist visa when I returned. So when I tried to leave yesterday, I was informed that I had overstayed that visa by 30 days and I had to pay a 200 baht (US$5) fine for every day. Doing the math I now owed Thailand $150 because I didn't read the fine print somewhere.

Don't forget that 6000 baht is a heck of a lot of money (especially when dinners can be had for under 100). Needless to say I was furious. It was all I could do to not throw an American temper tantrum. But I keep my cool and fumed to myself most of the 2 hour flight to Singapore. I finally calmed myself down by telling myself that it will be worth it once I get my proper visa. Fine. Lesson learned.

So I get to the Thai Consulate today and present my offer letter. "Sorry," they say. "The letter must be addressed to the Consulate, not to you. You can have them fax it to us today and we can get the visa to you tomorrow." Well, that's fine except that the university is on break this week and no one is in the office. That means that I will return to Thailand tomorrow empty-handed and be granted another 30-day tourist visa that prohibits employment. Next week I will have to try to straighten things out from there.

If I step back and view these struggles from an intellectual standpoint, I am learning that there is a big difference between Thai and American culture with regards to handling difficulties. The Thai way seems to be to say "no problem." If its a really big difficulty (in my mind) they say "small problem". Several times this week Mag has told me that I am being too emotional. My friends in Singapore tell me that I am too impatient. This strikes me as ironic since most Americans would say that I am not emotional enough. (One good friend in particular would get angry with me because he said that I *NEVER* show emotion!)

So let's look on the bright side of things. While I'm here I hope to visit some friends who I haven't seen since I was here last November. I think I will also make a trip to IKEA to see if there is anything I can pick up for my new apartment in Bangkok. I will also continue to try to see my world in a more balanced, less stressful, more Asian way.

No Problem.

Flooding

The long-awaited floods finally came to Bangkok today, but so far they haven't been as bad as I expected. I left the apartment building today to find that Silom and the other roads around my building (Surasak and Soi 19) were full of water up to the curb.

I carefully made my way to the Surasak SkyTrain station armed with my camera, but from the elevated tracks I could see that the flooding was mostly confined to the area around my building. By afternoon it had stopped raining and most of the water had drained away. This time we were spared.

To see a few pictures of the traffic on the flooded streets, check out the Pictures of Bangkok Photo Album

Subscribe to sgtowns.com

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Now that I have my college transcripts and a recommendation letter (thanks James!) in my hands, I have been spending the past few days finalizing all of the paperwork for my new job at the university. I've also been looking around town at apartments. Tomorrow I will be visiting a few more and I hope to make a decision in the next few days. I also have to leave Thailand to renew my visa before Thursday. I think that I will go to Singapore to do that, but hopefully I will have an apartment picked out before I go.

I've also been nerding out on my website lately. In addition to little tweaks here and there (like the calendar on the right side menu bar) I also added a way you can subscribe to the site. If you fill in your email address in the form on the left menu on my site, you will automatically get an email letting you know every time I have updated the site. That way you don't have to check back until you know for sure something is new.

I also added a separate subscription list for the Photo Log. To be fully informed about what is going on in my life, sign up for both!

By the way, I am just testing this feature now, so it might not be perfect yet. If you do sign up and see something weird, please let me know. Thank you!



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Working Sooner

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Originally the deal with the university was to start teaching full-time in January. Then they called me back and asked me to pick up one class starting October 24. Now, they want me to start full-time October 24. In addition to teaching, they want to me to work on their website and help administer a travel software package for their Hotel and Tourism Department.

Needless to say I was shocked. My first reaction was to be disappointed that I wouldn't be able to travel around SE Asia as much this fall and winter as I had hoped. But then I came back to reality (with a not-so-gentle nudge from my good friend Mag) and realized I have been vacationing long enough. Not to mention I still have two weeks until October 24 plus vacation time at Christmas. Mag is right: it's time to re-join the working world.

Starting work will definitely be good for the newly opened bank account, but not so good for continuing an exciting online journal...

Employed Again

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It has been almost a full year since I had a permanent full-time job, but now it looks like I am back off the unemployment line. I still have some paperwork to do and I'm waiting on a few things from the US, but I am 95% there. Starting next January I will (more than likely) be a full-time instructor teaching computer classes at a nearby university.

Ever since my first interview at the university went well, I have been thinking to myself, "Do I REALLY want to do this? Do I really want to LIVE in a foreign country for an extended period of time, making less than 1/3 of what I made in the US? Do I really want to commit myself to learning the language and dealing with all the day to day troubles of the average expat?"

And now, I can say that I have decided to go for it. So far, this has been an amazing experience that I wouldn't trade, but I don't think I am finished with the challenge just yet. The analogy I thought of yeseterday is that my life for the next year or so will be like going back to grad school. I will always be struggling... struggling to learn my lessons (Thai language and culture), struggling to make ends meet (teachers don't make huge salaries). But with the struggle always comes the joy of growth and feelings of accomplishment.

So the decision is made. Now I just have to do those things to make the transition from a visitor to a resident: apply for the right type of visa (part of the paper work I mentioned above), open a bank account (which I did this morning), and start looking for an apartment (starting this afternoon).

*Deep breath and DIVE*

Webshots

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Wow. Is it October already?!

In any case, when I was working at NOVO (now Semaphore Partners) many of us used Webshots on our office PCs for cool backgrounds and screen savers. I still use it on my laptop here in Thailand. Better yet, I use my own pictures from my Asian travels instead of the ones that Webshots offers. I just uploaded a bunch of my pics to the Webshots servers, so if you like them and want to use them, feel free to go to webshots.com. Once there, do a PHOTO SEARCH for "stutowns".

If you don't use Webshots yet, you can click on the banner ad below and learn more about it. I really hate advertisements on webpages, but I think this is pretty cool software (especially now that I have personalized it for myself ;). You should give it a try!

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This page is an archive of entries from October 2002 listed from newest to oldest.

September 2002 is the previous archive.

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