January 2003 Archives

The Trouble with Cambodia

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Angkor.jpgIsrael/Palestine. India/Pakistan. Thailand/Cambodia? I have never had the experience of living in a country with a very tense political situation with its neighbor -- until now. I can't imagine Canada, for example, rioting and torching the American Embassy, which is what happened to the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia yesterday. Of course, the US and Canada have never been at war, which can not be said for these two countries.

And what was the Thai response? Grumblings from the Prime Minister. Official downgrade of relations. Looking down on Cambodia in a general sense with a lot of talk about how this will hurt Thai businesses. As the Bangkok Post reported: "Sataporn Jinachitra, president of the Export-Import Bank of Thailand, said most Thai investors had already factored political risks into their business decisions.

"The businessmen we deal with look at risk over the medium term. They understand Cambodia has only adopted democracy over the past 10 or 12 years,'' he said.

Last night about 1000 Thais protested at the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok. According to the Bangkok Post, "The protesters eventually began to disperse after Pol Gen Sant told them His Majesty the King had appealed for calm, and subsequently led them in singing the national and royal anthems."

Maybe George W should try that with anti-war protesters at home!

Massasge Anyone?

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In Thailand, there is nothing "odd" about elephants or massages. Yet these are the topics in two separate Reuter "Oddly Enough" stories this week. (By the way, the excellent yet cheap (US$5) traditional Thai massages are one of my favorite things about Thailand.)

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A massage a day keeps the Thai death toll at bay.

That's the message from Thailand's health ministry, which said Monday it planned to set up traditional massage services at gas stations to help motorists relieve stress and, hopefully, cut the road toll.

The ministry, in a statement, said it was working with a Thai fuel company to provide the services in 21 gas stations on major inter-city highways and around the capital Bangkok from next month.

"The more hours people continue to drive on roads, the less concentration motorists tend to have and the more accidents are likely to occur," Vichai Chokevivat, head of the ministry's department of Thai traditional medicine, said in the statement.

"A 15-minute pause for stretching or massage will help relieve their stress," Vichai said.

Birthday Weekend

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As threatened, I dragged a few friends with me to TawanDaeng again this weekend to celebrate my birthday. I was amazed that the band's set was completely different than it was a few days before. It (as well as the beer and the food) was still outstanding.

All in all it was a great weekend. First there was TawanDaeng on Friday. Then on Saturday, I took my first pasa thai (Thai Language) class at BU. I think it's going to be a good class -- I'm still hopeful that I will be able to carry on a simple conversation in Thai by the end of the year.

On Sunday, Steve (one of my friends from SF who is visiting Bangkok this weekend) did a tour of the Grand Palace and other Bangkok tourist spots while Francois (the other visiting friend) and I headed up the San Saep canal to the WaterPark on the roof of the Mall Bangkapi where we had a great time, as usual.

TawanDaeng Beer Garden

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I tried to keep track of the number of musicians and instruments and types of music that was being blasted from the stage last night, but I failed. I didn't fail to have a wonderful time, though.

My Thai friend Roen, a fellow teacher at BU, took me and four other farang (foreigner) teacher friends out to the TawanDaeng Beer Garden. He kept saying "Bangkok's #1", and after visiting, I beleive it. The place was huge yet it was packed on a weekday night.

The set up is much like the first big-Bangkok-Brewery I went to several months ago (Brew Pavillion on Ratchadapisek). There is a big stage in front of huge room and a 2nd floor balcony on three sides that looks over a "dance floor" full of more tables and chairs. The signature at this brewery is VERY tall 3 liter containers of beer. The first one went down very smooth. The second helped wash down the delicious Thai food.

The music though, was perhaps the highlight. At least 12 band members played at least 20 different instruments: trombone, trumpet, sax, flute, clarinet, piano, guitar, bass, and all kinds of other Thai and non-Thai percussion instruments. There were also 3 singers: a girl and a guy who sang Thai and English pop love songs (no duets though) and a guy who sang Thai "Songs for Life" (folk music that got it's start in the 1960s).

I had so much fun in fact, that I am dragging a group of friends there this weekend to help me celebrate my birthday.

Yikes... one year older soon!

Street Elephants

From Reuters "Oddly Enough" news section: "Police in [Bangkok] Thailand are rounding up elephants that roam the capital's traffic-clogged streets to try to reduce accidents and improve the welfare of the beasts that have become the country's national symbol.

"An estimated 150 of Thailand's 2,500 domesticated elephants are loose in Bangkok. Some break legs falling into drains or ditches and an average of 20 road accidents a month involve elephants."

Well, that part of the story is not at all odd to me, considering I pass elephants on the street every night I walk down Silom Road.

The article continues: "Many elephants and their handlers have been drawn to the city because environmental protection laws have reduced traditional logging work.

"A special government mahout team is helping police round-up elephants and send them to the countryside to work, mostly in the tourist industry, Soraida Salwala, founder of non-profit organization Friends of the Asian Elephant (FAE), told Reuters.

But the campaign has met resistance, often violent, from handlers, who make a living selling tourists fruit to feed the elephants. Police backed off from a tense one-hour confrontation with a group of mahouts with two young bulls over the weekend.

"The handlers held the elephants at knife-point, threatening to kill the chained animals rather than let us take them away. We let them go as the last thing we want is to see the elephants killed," Soraida said."

Ok, so maybe it was that last paragraph that was a bit odd. Seems that killing the elephants would be the same as the proverbial "Goose who lays the Golden Egg".

In any case, it is interesting that not only unemployed PEOPLE from the countryside come to Bangkok for work, but elephants do as well...

Soulmates

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Regardless of the title of this post, no, I have not found a soulmate in Asia. Instead, my life has slowed down a bit now that I am working, so from now on I might post things here that don't really have to do with my travels, but instead just little interesting (to me) tidbits that I run across.

So the "interesting tidbit" I found today was a quote from my favorite newspaper columnist, Mark Morford (SF Chronicle). In response to a reader's letter, he said in his classic rambling run-on sentence style:

"I do indeed believe in soul mates and do not believe there is only one in the entire world for you, however and but, I believe soul mates are not the fluffy aww-gosh dreamboats we so exaggerate them to be, but are rather souls who enter your life to help you and force you and urge you to deal with your shit, as it were, to peel back and dig down and rethink everything and it's painful and annoying and not necessarily something devoutly to be wished every second of every day despite how romantic you think you are or you think you want to be."

Interesting view of the whole "soulmate" issue, with which I think I have to agree. I immediately thought of those people who were (or are) a big part of my life who at the same time made my life extremely difficult because they forced me to question who I am, what I do, and why I do it.

So to all of those who routinely kick me in the butt (or beat me upside the head), thank you! :)

Another Hospital Visit

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I haven't written much in this space for the last week or so, partly because nothing interesting has been happening. Yesterday I finished my second full week of teaching classes. Finally (after two weeks) I am starting to get caught up and starting to get used to working a full 40 hour work-week again.

One of the requirements for getting a work permit (in addition to signing my name to about 10 documents) was to get a rigorous physical. So this afternoon I went to a nearby hospital and was subjected to several tests. I guess everything turned out ok, since they let me go after the test results came back. As was the case with my past visits, a trip to the hosptial is always interesting mainly because hardly anyone ever speaks very much English. I'm not sure why that is. I am also not sure why I have been to the doctor more times in the last six months than I have in the past several years. Oh well, at least its cheap and relatively hassle-free.

Ko Kret

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One of the best things about school is of course a field trip, and my first outing with students from the university where I teach was no exception. Today we took a 45-minute bus from the Bangkok campus to Ko Kret, a small island in the Chao Praya River just north of Bangkok.

Ko Kret was originally founded by the Mons, who were the dominant culture in Thailand between the 6th and 10th centuries. The decendants of this group who still live on Ko Kret are expert pottery makers and dessert bakers. So we spent a very enjoyable day visiting the old temples, shopping for outrageously cheap (but very nice) pottery, and eating all kinds of traditional Thai desserts.

More Guests

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The very next day after arriving back in Bangkok last week, two other friends from San Francisco arrived as well. Mark has finally moved to Bangkok for good and Yohannes was just visiting. Then on Sunday my friend from Vietnam arrived for a 4-day stay.

I never realized Thailand was such a popular holiday destination for people from the US. Or maybe it is just a recent trend. Before I moved to California I don't think I had ever met anyone who had visited here. In any case, I love hanging out with friends who are on vacation in the city where I live.

What Kind of Man?

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In an attempt to get to know me better, one of my fellow teachers at school asked me yesterday, "What kind of man are you?" I had no idea what he meant, but he quickly clarified for me. "Are you a sports man? Or are you into music? Or...?"

Oh, what is my passion? Surprisingly, I didn't have an immediate answer for him. Like I have mentioned here on these pages before, lately all I have been thinking about is day-to-day survival. I haven't had any hobbies or interests other than trying to figure out how to live in a foreign environment.

But even before I came to Thailand, I didn't really have one specific passion that would answer "What kind of man are you?" I like sports but I am not glued to ESPN Sports Center every night. I like music but I haven't really missed my CD collection that is back in California. I like movies but I don't see every new release. I like to travel but I don't try to cram in as many countries in a short time as I can.

Oh. Opps. I think I found the answer.

Email Notification

After not working for several weeks, it looks like the email notification feature is working again. So go ahead and enter your email address in the red box on the left side and you will get an email every time I add a new journal entry. Cool huh?

A New Chapter

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Here I sit at my desk on my first day of work. It feels a little strange to have a permanent full-time job again. Afterall, it's been over a year since I have had one.

Having a permanent job means that another short chapter of my life is over. The past 5 months I have been a nomad, visiting as many places as my body and wallet would allow. The final tally is: 5 months (Aug-Dec 2002), 8 countries (Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, China/Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, and the US) and about 40,000 frequent flyer miles (that is, if Lao Air and Gulf Air were partners with United or American).

Now, "real" life starts...

New Years

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They say that who ever is with you on New Year's Eve is who will be with you for the rest of the year. If that is the case, then my year will be filled with Charles the cat and a very loud party going on downstairs while I do laundry and pack for a big trip.

The first part of the day was fun, though. Kenley and I hung out in North Beach and had an amazingly good Italian dinner at North Beach Restaurant.

In any case, I am starting 2003 by getting on a plane in a few hours headed for Bangkok, ending my 3-week, 6-city world-tour. I think I am ready for a rest, to be honest. As much fun as it was to see my friends and family and to travel to all of these places, I think that a few good night's sleep in my own bed will be very much appreicated.

Happy New Year to everyone. May 2003 be everything you are dreaming of now.

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This page is an archive of entries from January 2003 listed from newest to oldest.

December 2002 is the previous archive.

February 2003 is the next archive.

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