February 2003 Archives

Decision Point


The last few days have been a little stressful for me as I try to decide what to do with my week-long holiday that starts tomorrow. On one hand, I thought about going to SF to clean out my storage space so that I don't have to pay every month for something I don't need. On the other hand, I wanted to travel through Issan (NE Thailand) because I have never been there before.

So what to do? I have been totally indecisive on this one... 50/50. I found a decent ticket to the US (only about US$550) but I dread actually going through all of my stuff to sell, give away, or throw away. Not to mention I was already planning on going to the US in August and again for Christmas. Do I really need (can I really afford?) 3 trips to the US in one year?

Ok, so maybe I should be happy that my biggest worry is where to go on vacation!

By the way, it's the last day of the month and I achieved my goal of posting every day. Woohoo.

Continuing Business Lesson


The small Asian business lesson continued last night over dinner with Sone. He started his business in Laos by renting a building with two floors -- the bottom floor for the business and the top floor to live. This is a common setup here; my friend AJ in Samui, who runs a language school, did the same thing.

When Rupert and I visited Luang Prabang last year, Sone's business was just a bar. But now he has added a kitchen and serves food (on the menu: Chicken Fried Rice for US$1). The next step is to build a beer garden in the area behind the building.

The other smart thing that Sone did was to make more rooms out of the upstairs area, and now his housekeeper/cook and his other staff live in the same building as well. They don't make much in salary, but room and board is included. Another good idea to keep costs low!

Other little tidbits of information I got:

* The prices at Sidetrack Bar are in Lao Kip (not dollar or baht). Otherwise the Lao customers will not come because they think the place is for foreigners only.

* The foreigners (more and more all the time) come early and leave early and the Lao customers come late and leave late.

* The foreigners like to complain that Sone's prices are too high. I guess that is because they expect that Laos will be cheap, but as I said before, you have to remember that everything (except for Beer Lao and Lao Whisky) has to be imported from Thailand. Perhaps they are just trying to bargain with him. In any case, when Rupert and I visited the place was packed with Lao people. When the prices are good for local people, they are good for me!


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One thing that I really like about living in Thailand is that there is a real entrepreneurial spirit here. Perhaps it is similar to San Francisco in the mid-90s when everyone was starting their own internet company, but it's certainly not that way in the US now. Most everyone seems satisfied to work for a big company instead of trying to become their own boss.

Here in Thailand, though, almost everyone I have met is either running their own business or thinking about starting one. I love that! I guess one reason it is so prevalent is because entry costs are relatively low. In any case, it has been a lot of fun for me to learn how people start and become successful by working for themselves.

For example, my friend Sone is visiting Bangkok this week from Luang Prabang, Laos. He is here to buy things for his bar/restaurant, saying that things are less expensive here than in Laos. I was a little surprised by this, but I guess it makes sense. Laos has no industries to speak of, so restaurant supplies would have to be shipped in from some other Asian country (China or Thailand). So by visiting Thailand himself, Sone can cut out the middleman. Not to mention he gets to vacation in a fun city. Smart man!

Long Wet Ride Home


The trip back to Bangkok threatened to destroy all the mellow, relaxing, feel-good effects of the weekend in Samui. First, the boat ride from the island back to Surat Thani was long and hot. The small boat was packed with over 300 people (with room for about 200) and had no shade except for an unventilated seating area in the bottom of the boat.

But as I was sweating on the deck and appling more sunscreen and trying to distract myself by looking for dolphins in the water (I saw one on the way over) I appeased myself by knowing that an air-con sleeper train was waiting to take me to Bangkok. When I arrived at the train, however, the AC was "broken" and I was placed in a sweltering fan car. To add insult to injury, the nearest fan didn't move, so I couldn't really feel any moving air. Needless to say, since I had paid extra money for an AC car, I just about lost it.

So there I was, sweating and trying very hard to have the laid-back take-it-as-it-comes Thai attitude, but it was next to impossible. But now, after a relatively good, albeit sweaty, sleep and a short taxi ride home to a hot shower, I can honestly say mai pen rai ("no problem").



I head back to Bangkok soon, but I am in no hurry to go. In fact, I am in no hurry to do anything. I haven't felt this relaxed since... maybe my trip to Laos with Rupert where the only "stress" was trying to figure out the best place to watch the sunset every night.

Speaking of sunsets, AJ and I watched the sun go down over the Gulf last night. We were joined by a Thai man and his wife and son, who were looking for crabs to use for bait to catch squid the next day. He showed us how to find the crabs that were hiding under the sand, and how to dig in and pull them out.

Oceans and Temples

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After just one full day, I think I have seen most of the sites on Ko Samui. When I first arrived to the island I took a rot daeng to the Tesco Lotus where my friend AJ picked me up on his motorbike. He then took me to a nice little bungalow resort on the beach where I will stay for the two nights I am on th island (no AC, no hot water, but just US$10).

Today AJ was kind enough to show me around on his motorbike. First we went to the Big Buddha -- a huge sitting Buddha statute overlooking the Gulf. Then we went to see Grandfather and Grandmother Rocks (more on this later) and to a temple to visit the mummified monk. Next was a trip to the beautifil MaeNam waterfall, and then back to the beach for some snorkling. All in all a very relaxing day on a beautiful island.

Ko Samui


As my horoscope said a few days ago, perhaps I need some "foreign" culture. So last night I jumped on a train in Bangkok and woke up this morning in Surat Thani in southern Thailand. From there I took a 30 minute bus ride to the Gulf of Thailand where I hopped on a ferry that took me to Ko Samui (Samui Island) after a 1.5 hour ride.

My first impressions are good ones. I had heard that Samui was over-developed, and so I pictured Miami Beach. But the island is mostly rural and no hotels are taller than 3 or 4 stories. I think they have done a great job of blending the new construction with the beautiful mountain / jungle / beach topography.

By the way, this post sets a record for number of posts in one month. Surprisingly, I have been able to write a post a day so far, and I think I should be able to continue for the rest of the month (at least). It has actually gotten easier now that I am in the habit of doing it.

Tomorrow: more sightseeing and exploring in Samui and hopefully some snorkling.

War on Drugs


The phrase "War on Drugs" has been around for a long time, but here in Thailand, "war" apparently means WAR.

Earlier this month, the Thai government declared WAR on drugs in Thailand. The Prime Minister promised that Thailand would be drug-free in three months. Laughable, right? Well, the police have gone on a rampage (I don't know what else to call it). After 19 days the results are: over 30,000 dealers and users have asked the goverment for rehab, 15,616 people have been arrested and 596 people have been KILLED. That's right, about 40 people have been killed in Thailand every day for the past two weeks. According to police reports, those involved in the drug trade are killing each other so that they won't be turned in to the police. There is also a big push to investigate over 700 goverment officials who are suspected to be involved in trafficking.

There are a lot of shocking numbers in that last paragraph. Perhaps not so shocking is what is happening to the price of drugs. Of course when the supply of a product is cut off, prices go up. The police are reporting that prices for methamphetamines have tripled or quadrupled all over the country.

Luckily, I haven't actually seen any of this -- just heard about it on the news and in the paper. It might as well be happening in a different country, but it's not.

More SF Friends

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After dinner with Mark last night, I wasn't quite ready to go home so I was wandering around the Silom area window shopping (except it was at open-air stands... no windows!) Unexpectedly, I run into ANOTHER friend of mine from San Francisco who is visiting. I had no idea that he was coming here, but there he was with another friend of his. Just two more to add to the list of people I know or who have met who have chosen Bangkok as a travel destination.

On that note, I have info on travel deals from the US to Bangkok. First of all, my friend Francios swears by EVA's Deluxe Cabin. He says that for an extra $200 round-trip you get to sit half-way between business and economy. The best part of it is that the seats recline to almost 100% flat. Sure helps to fight the jet lag monster.

The other deal arrived in my mailbox last week: Cathay Pacific's February/March Deal of the Month is a round-trip from SF or LA to Bangkok for $649, or NY-BKK for $699. This is good for travel by April 12, so take advantage and come visit! (For more info, see the Cathay Pacific site)

Training in Thai


On the way to training this morning, my fellow teacher Antti (from Finland) met me in the hallway and asked, "Have you heard the news?" Of course I hadn't and so he proceeded to tell me that the training we were scheduled for today was going to be COMPLETELY IN THAI.

Granted I am trying to learn the language, but the conversations I have learned (Hello. How are you? I am fine. Where are you going? I am going to the temple. Do you like it? Yes, it is very beautiful.) are not helping very much. Luckily the software is in English, so I can at least follow along a little bit.

Proctoring Mid-Terms


Today was the first day of mid-terms at the University. As a full-time instructor, I have to proctor one or two 3 hour exams every day. It was quite an experience made up of thirty minutes of confusion and 4.5 hours of boredom.

The confusion came from the plethora of rules to insure that there was no cheating on the exams: assigned seating, multiple copies of exams, checking IDs, no students allowed in after one hour, no students allowed out until one hour, turn in the multiple choice but leave the essay questions on the desk...

The rest of the time was utter boredom. I passed the time by studying Thai and drawing wireframes for how I want the next version of my website to look. (What a geek!)

The good news from all of this is that I actually don't have to proctor any more exams this week. Starting tomorrow I will be training on a Hotel Reservation software package that the school just bought. Chances are good that I will be teaching students how to use it this Fall.

Hong Kong Pictures Uploaded


hknight.jpgAlmost two months to the day, I have finally uploaded the pictures that I took on Todd's and my trip to Hong Kong last December. Unlike my last trip to Vietnam where I hardly took any pictures in Saigon, I snapped pics like crazy in Hong Kong. I've now uploaded the best 35 pictures of both Hong Kong and Macau.

Makha Bucha

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Today is one of the holiest Buddhist holidays. It is called Makha Bucha (litterally, "worship in the third month") and is celebrated on the 3rd lunar cycle. Thai Buddhists visit the temples to light candles and remember two separate events that happened on this day.

The first event occurred nine months after Buddha reached Enlightenment, when 1250 of his disciples showed up to hear him preach, unannounced and unplanned. His sermon gave the disciples the "Monk Way": give up evil, cultivate good, and cleanse one's mind.

The second event took place 44 years later, when Buddha announced that he would be entering Nirvana three months from that date. That holy day (three months from now) is called Visakha Bucha

Today's Horoscope

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I don't make it a habit to read my daily horoscope, but today I just happened to glance at the one from Yahoo. It said:

"A little foreign culture may be the thing you need right now to spice things up a bit, dear Aquarius. It could be that you aren't feeling a very strong connection with the environment around you and that you are anxious to spread your wings and explore your freedom. Start small but think big. Get out of your rut and do more exploration on your own. There is a sobering, disciplined feeling to the day today that may help you think realistically about your situation and where you want to go with it."

Hmm... I think that one speaks for itself...

No Launch for Jhai

A few days ago I mentioned the Jhai Foundation's work to build a computer to wirelessly access the Internet from the jungles of Laos. Unfortuately, their hoped-for launch this week didn't happen. They aren't giving up, however, and I am sure they will eventually succeed.

The SF Chronicle has an excellent article on the ups and downs of the project so far.

Valentines in Bangrak

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I don't know why I am surprised by this, but yes, Thai people celebrate Valentine's Day. As soon as the Chinese New Year decorations came down, the pink and red hearts and balloons went up.

Why should this be no surprise? First of all, as I have mentioned several times, Thai people love holidays. Secondly, it has been my experience in my friendships, in my classroom, and what I see on TV and hear on the radio, Thai people are very emotional -- inside and out. So it makes sense that a holiday dedicated to LOVE would be very popular.

Today is a special day where I live -- a part of Bangkok called Bangrak. There are many parts of Bangkok that start with Bang (meaning "area"): Bangrak, Bangna, Bangpo, Banglumphu, and Bangkapi, to name a few. But, as I found out last week, Bangrak translates to "Love Area". (To say "I love you" in Thai, say Pom rak khun). So today, many Thai couples will go to Bangrak to register their marriages on Valentine's Day in "Love Area".

Twelve Hour Days

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I hate exams and now I can feel the pain from the other side. I've been putting in 12 hour days this week and the work seems to keep piling up: creating two mid-terms, creating two study guides, helping students who haven't studied all semeseter, creating homeworks, writing lectures, helping students who are starting to panic at the last minute, grading homeworks, helping students who are just now starting to ask questions, help proofread grammar on other teachers' final exams, helping students...

The proofreading assignments have been interesting. For example I found out that we have a class called "Cyber Marketing" that I think would be fun to teach. I was having NOVO flashbacks as I read the exam. It is also interesting to see very obviously what the differences in languages are, as the non-native English speakers make the same mistakes over and over. For example, there are no articles (a, an, the) in Thai, nor do you have to worry about subject-verb agreement. I wonder what the common mistakes are for non-native Thai speakers.

Actually it has all been interesting. I am still enjoying the work even though the hours have been long. The days fly by, so I guess that is a good sign.

Is it Summer Already?!


For the past few months, the rising sun streaming into my window around 6 AM has helped me wake up and get out of bed. I have loved taking my morning shower and watching the pollution turn all shades of red and purple and yellow as the sun comes up. Then, I enjoy a nice walk to the SkyTrain, enjoying the breezy and (relatively) cool air.

But now, that all seems to be over. The last few days I can barely see the morning sun through the haze, and the walk to the train has been downright sweltering. Is Winter over already?! I don't know about anyone else, but I am not ready for that!

Making Amends

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coffee_beauty.jpg"Reconciliation is the Opposite of War"

Or so says the Jhai Foundation. I first heard of this group a few weeks ago from an article in the San Francisco Chronicle and I must say that what they are doing is incredibly cool. The group is led by a former Vietnam Vet and his desire and vision to help the people of Laos who he bombed 30 years ago.

The group has two main projects now: 1) helping the Lao farmers grow organic coffee and sell it online, and 2) giving small villages access to the Internet. The second project is the most interesting, I think (even though I did buy some coffee). They have built and are installing a "solid-state, low-wattage computer that can be powered by a foot-crank, a high-bandwidth wireless network, and support for village small businesses." Wow... somone who is actually using technology to improve people's lifes but is not looking to make a profit.

The Jhai Foundation website is a good read for now. We'll see how good the coffee is later.

Pictures of Saigon


ladynotredame.jpgAs I mentioned in my posts from Saigon last November, I really didn't take many pictures while I was there (relative to my usual shutter-happy self).

In any case, I found 19 decent pictures of Saigon and have finally posted them to the website. Enjoy!

Seafood Market


If I walk into a restaurant that is full of tourists, I know that I am about to be ripped-off. Unfortunately I didn't make this observation when I walked into the Seafood Market and Restaurant on Sukumvit Soi 24 in Bangkok. Otherwise, I would have at least known what I was in for.

Instead, when I entered the restaurant, I was overwhelmed by everything else OTHER than the tourists. The place was huge, with gigantic plastic fish hanging from the ceiling as if they were swimming in schools in the ocean. The back of the restaurant looked like a grocery store, with the idea being that you shop at the market for the seafood you want, and then they cook it to-order for you.

As we were picking out the food, I started to get used to the place and noticed that the place was packed with tourists: Japanese, Korean, Middle Eastern, European... Sure enough, when we paid for the bill for tuna sushi, crab meat, shrimp, and a grouper, the total was 1,500 baht. They charged us another 500 to cook it. So, that means the grand total was 2,000 baht (US$50) for 3 people. Compare that to the fact that I usually spend about 200 baht (US$5) just for myself for an ENTIRE DAY, and you can see what kind of markup we were dealing with.

Even though dinner wasn't worth 2,000 baht, it was still tasty. Oh well, it was an experience for sure. I just won't be returning.

Small World Research Project


smallworld.jpg I often comment about how this is a "Small World" (for example, meeting Mark in the middle of Cambodia). Well, now there is a research project from Columbia University to determine just how small the world is. The project uses the Internet to determine the average number of "Degrees of Separation" on a global scale.

I thought it was a pretty cool idea, so I signed up. They gave me the name of someone in Indonesia. My job was then (since I didn't know that person) was to send an email to someone I know who might know him. So my Indonesian friend Indra was my best guess.

Then I did it again. Twice. The computer science teacher from England went to Charles, a computer science professor in Italy, and the student from Croatia went to Mike, who I thought was nerdy enough to participate in the project (hehe).

So check it out for yourself and let me know how it goes: The Small World Research Project.

Minor Tweaks


Now that I am posting stuff every day, my website is on my mind all the time. It is quite addictive for me, once the habit starts.

Today there wasn't much news to share so I made a few tweaks to the site as I start to improve the information design. Changes included: streamlining the way visitors add comments, adding a relevant picture to each post (if I can find one), and added a header on the monthly archive page to show the month and number of posts.

There were a few other minor tweaks and I will probably continue to improve things over the next few weeks.

Web Site Statistics


usage.jpgI may have mentioned this before, but it has now been 6 months since I left San Francisco. That means that it has now been 6 months since I started this website.

One of the coolest things (I think) about having a website is seeing how many people visit it. Luckily my host keeps track of my visitors and there have been some interesting (to me) statistics gathered, among them:

* On an average day, about 100 visits are counted.

* People have visited from a total of 47 countries all over the world

* I have posted 120 journal entries and 204 photos (with more to come soon!), and have recieved or replied to comments 247 times.

* Most posts in one month: (22 journal entries in August 2002)

* The site is searchable on Google Web, Google Images, and Yahoo.

* The most common search terms for people being directed to my site: chinese temples.

* Runner-up searches include: roadside shrine, willy mays and grass hut.

* Most popular photo album is the Pictures of Angkor Wat, Cambodia Photo Album

* My personal favorite pictures so far: two monks, phusi sunset, me on the Nam Ruak, and Beer Lao.

Vistor #6

The university I attended was very small, so it is not often that I run into someone I know from there. It is even stranger to run into someone from there that I don't know. But that is what happened to me outside a club in San Francisco over the last Christmas holiday.

In any case, I got an email from that guy today saying that he was in Bangkok over night and wanted to meet up. So I said sure, I'm up for dinner and a night on the town with a fellow alum.

So now on the 36th day of the year, there have been 6 people that I know to visit Bangkok. That's a little over one a week. Wow.

Holes in the Floorboard

skytrain.jpgInstead of taking the Skytrain to and from work lately, I often take the bus. While the Skytrain is airconditioned and comfortable and modern (read: Boring!) the bus is a whole 'nother story.

I like taking the bus for several reasons: 1) in the "winter", its not too hot, 2) it only costs 5 baht (10 cents), 3) if there is no traffic, it takes me door-to-door faster than my walk-ride-walk Skytrain commute, 4) I can watch the often interesting street scene go by, and 5) I can sit and study my pasa Thai (Thai Language) flashcards.

Tonight I was studying my flashcards when I happened to look past them to the wooden floor. Right below my feet the floorboards had been punctured (ripped? rotted? broken?) and I could see through the 2X4s directly to the street racing immediately below my feet.

Ahh... I guess that's what you get for 5 baht!

P.S. My comments about the Skytrain are mostly in jest. When I first arrived in Bangkok I thought the Skytrain was the coolest ever. If only San Francisco's MUNI was half as efficient! But now, even though I ride it most days, I am used to it and so a ride on the bus makes life, shall we say, more interesting...

Peace and Quiet

congratlat.jpgI was very relieved to see that the campus was nice and peaceful when I arrived today. The past week has been graduation week, and the open spaces have been packed with students in graduation gowns having their picture taken.

It really was quite a scene. Different days would host different majors with different colored robes. So each person who was graduating would have one day to dress up, put on lots of makeup (boys and girls), bring the entire extended family and all their friends each of whom were toting a camera with a huge telephoto lens. I have been to some of the biggest tourist places in the world (Effiel Tower, Disney World, Angkor Wat) and I have never seen so many pictures being taken at one time with so many big cameras.

When I was younger and visited Disney World with friends, we would play a game to see how many tourists' pictures we could be in. If we saw someone taking a picture we would run to try to get in the background. This time, however, I was just trying to walk from the street to my building but I am sure after this week my face will be included in the backgrounds of graduation pictures all over Bangkok.

Space Shuttle Columbia

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After eating lunch on January 28, 1986, I was casually walking down the hall of my high school when a friend told me that the Space Shuttle had exploded immediately after take-off. I thought it was a joke (albeit a bad one) but I found the nearest TV in any case to see for myself. For the rest of the afternoon I sat with my fellow students motionless and speechless, ignoring the ringing school bells as we watched the horrific scene over and over and over again.

Today, the only American news media I have available to me is online. I've read through the reports of the latest NASA tragedy and of course I can not help but be reminded of the Challenger explosion 17 years ago, or of 747s flying into the World Trade Center 17 months ago.

I have always been a huge fan of NASA, or at least of the ideals, visions and dreams of the men and women who work hard to realize them. So now I sit here with a rock in my stomach as I think about who and what was lost in the name of science and of exploration and of adventure.

Chinese New Years


Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Today is the start of the Lunar year -- this one is the Year of the Ram (or if you choose: sheep or goat). From what I can tell, even though there are many Thai-Chinese in Bangkok, this is a fairly mellow holiday. The only thing I have personally witnessed is a lot of Chinese decorations going up in stores and shops (round red lanterns and red banners) for the past week or so, and today's Skytrain was full of ladies in red silk blouses with gold trim and embroidered Chinese characters.

I still, however, love the fact that Thai people celebrate New Year's three times: Western in January, Chinese in February, and Thai in April.

I know I am mixing metaphors (err, holidays) here, but I have a Chinese New Year's resolution: More posts to my website. Can I do a post a day for the month of February?

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

January 2003 is the previous archive.

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