March 2003 Archives

Founding Brothers

Every week I have "New Week Resolutions". Every week, I fail miserably. So what is on my list of "I really should be doing"? It's the usual stuff: exercise, read more, study the Thai language...

At least this weekend I started reading a bit. On the way over to Thailand after Christmas I picked up "Founding Brothers" at the bookstore at the SFO International Terminal. It has an interesting premise: The "Founding Fathers" of the United States (Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, etc) acted more like "brothers" than "fathers". They knew each other personally and socially, and all had a kind of sibling rivalry. Their strengths and faults, their own checks and balances, ended up being hard-coded into the framework of the American Government and through that into American society.

It is especially interesting for me to read it now. Thailand is a relatively young democracy and is therefore very dependent on the character of those who are in charge because the government structure has not been around long enough to be tested and solidified. Similar parallels can be drawn to the early days of America. Luckily for the US, those who were in charge were mostly virtuous and ethical, and corruption was kept to a minimum. The same can not be said of Thailand, so far.

The book is also interesting for me to read now because of the War in Iraq. I don't completely agree with the direction the US Government is taking now, but in order to understand WHY the direction has been taken, it is crucial to understand the history that brought us here. The past creates the present.

In any case, so far I have really enjoyed the book -- it's the best reading since I re-read Lord of the Rings the summer before the first movie came out. If the rest of "Founding Brothers" is as good as the first two chapters, I will be able to recommend it highly.

Monk Novices

A friend of mine and I were just chatting online about the pictures I have posted and he suggested that I create a photo category for all of the pictures of monk novices.

After all, seeing the monks in the streets and at the temples are one of my favorite things about this part of the world, and it's not just because they are photogenic. Most all Thai (and Lao) boys spend at least some time as a monk novice, and it seems to me that it teaches them a lot about being peaceful and kind and non-materialistic. I think it makes a big impact on the society as a whole.

The temples also serve another worthwhile purpose. In the rural areas, they function as schools for the poorer boys. A poor family will send their son to the temple to get an education and to be housed and fed.

In any case, the idea for a monk novice gallery is a good one, so here are the pictures of monk novices taken in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia.

No Good News

Every morning now I wake up to read the news about Iraq and the situation back in the States. I'm not sure why I do it as there is never any good news. Masochism perhaps?

No, I like to keep up with the news for two reasons: 1) to empathize with my many friends and family there and 2) to figure out when it's safe to go back. Right now, I think I will stay where I am.

For example, in today's SF Chronicle: "With the economy stuck in low-gear, local businesses are continuing to shed thousands of jobs, according to the latest layoff notices filed with the state Employment Development Department."


All Isaan Pics Posted

Although that took me a bit longer than I was hoping, all of the good pictures from my trip to Isaan are now posted to my website. The last group include several shots from Phanom Rung, a 1000 year old Khmer temple complex in Thailand's Buriram province. The pictures of Phanom Rung can be found in the Pictures of Buriram, Thailand Photo Album

Happy Friday everyone :)

I just got back to the campus after another fun field trip. Today we took the school's bus and traveled north to Ayuthaya, the former capital of Thailand. Several hundred years ago it was attacked and destroyed by the Burmese and now all that is left of its former glory are piles of brick rubble. But it is a facinating view, in any case.

On the way back we stopped at Bang Pa-In, the summer palace for the King and Queen of Thailand. We visited Wat Niwet Thamaprawat which is a Buddhist temple that looks like a gothic cathedral. Once inside, the stained glass windows and vaulted ceiling makes you think you are in Europe, until you see the small Buddha statues in front and realize that the person immortalized in the stained glass is Rama V.

I just uploaded a few pics from Vientiane, Laos from my trip earlier this month. Most of them were taken on my stroll around town and along the dry-season beach on the Mekong. Check them out (along with the ones I took last October) in the Vientiane, Laos Photo Album.

Second Isaan Pics


I have uploaded the second set of pictures from my trip to Isaan. This set contains a few pictures of a temple in Khon Kaen and a bunch of pics from Nong Khai province at the very northern part of Isaan on the Lao border.

You can view these pics (along with the one I uploaded a few days ago) in the Pictures of Nong Khai, Thailand Photo Album.

A friend of mine gave me a ride to work today and our trip just happened to take us past the American Embassy here in Bangkok. Sure enough, there were many protesters outside. Most appeared to be Muslim, judging by the veiled women and white knit skull caps on the men. (Sorry, I don't know what the proper term for the men's white hats is.)

Some waved an Iraqi flag as they marched up and down the street, but most were sitting very peacefully listening to speakers talk about (I am guessing) what a bad person George Bush is. In any case, it was a very calm peaceful scene. Very different than what I have heard is going on at the American Embassies in places like Egypt where protesters are battling riot-gear-clad policemen.

Big Day: New Visa and New Apartment

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It is no exaggeration to say that I signed my name twenty times today. First, I took a trip to immigration to get my Visa. Then I signed a lease on my new apartment.

The trip to immigration went very smoothly -- not due to the simple process, but instead due to the huge amount of help given to me by the University. The process was unbelievaby bureaucratic. I turned in a 15 page stack of papers (prepared by the school with most pages signed by me) and my passport to one person who did the following: read, stamp, add page, stamp, stamp, sign. Then I went upstairs and handed the stack to another person: stamp, sign, stamp, stamp, scribble. Moved to the next person: staple, stamp, sign, stamp, stamp, staple.

The signing of the apartment went a little smoother. Luckily my Thai friend Hoon was there to help, as the contract was completely in Thai. It makes me very uneasy to sign something I can not read, but I trust that Hoon did a good job of reading the basic contract (he actually caught a couple of mistakes). In any case, I had to sign every one of the 3 pages plus the two copies of my passport.

So after all of that, I now have a Visa and an apartment -- both for one year. Whew!

Add all of that to the new war in Iraq and it was a big day. I detest war and I think it is horrible that my country will be responsible for the deaths of thousands of people, but now that it has started, I hope it can be finished as quickly and as cleanly as possible. To show my support for America, though, I had a coffee at Starbucks and a pretzel at Autie Anne's. :)

The first of the photos from my trip have been uploaded. I was able to get through the ones from Nakorn Ratchasima (Khorat) including some good ones of the Khmer temples of Prasat Hin Panom Wan and Prasat Hin Phi Mai and the archeology sites that uncovered a pre-historic culture at Ban Prasat.

You can view the pictures in the Pictures of Khorat Photo Album.

Again, I have uploaded some good ones to a new folder on Webshots. There are a few new ones in there as well, so check 'em out.

Killer Bird Flu in Thailand

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I just wanted to say a quick thank you to everyone who has emailed me about the "Killer Flu in Asia". Yes, I know all about it and will be as careful as I can.

In reading news articles about the flu this morning, I found an interesting bit of trivia. Did you know that 500,000 around the world die from the flu every year? I had no idea. Puts a little prespective on this new flu. I guess it is similar to being afraid to fly the day after a plane crash. Gotta love our hardwired instinctive irrational fears.

In any case, I promise to be careful and I will be sure to go to the doctor if I have any symptoms. Thanks for the head's up and the caring notes.

Ko Samui Pics


I spent several hours yesterday in my favorite coffee shop on Silom editing and organizing my photos. Hopefully this week I can post all of the rest of the photos I have. Today, we will start off with photos I took a few weeks ago in Ko Samui -- they can be found in the Ko Samui Photo Album.

I also uploaded 20 Ko Samui and 2 Pattaya pictures to a new album at Webshots, so if you use Webshots as your desktop background/screensaver, feel free take some of my pics.

Housing Hunt #2

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As I mentioned in the last post, I am looking for a new place to live. Actually, I am not doing the looking -- a Thai friend of mine is also looking for a place and he said that he would look for me as well.

This is good for three reasons. Since he is Thai, he: 1) can find "Studio for Rent" signs written in Thai much better than I can, 2) will get a lower initial offer, and 3) can negotiate a better price.

This is my second apartment hunt in Bangkok. I have learned that farang (foreigners) get charged 20-50% more for most things automatically, including apartments. In addition, even though price is negotiable, since I am not Thai I have much less room to bargain. Even farang like me who are making baht and whose company is not paying for my housing don't get cut much slack when it comes to money.

Real Life

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Wow, looks like I actually skipped a day with no postings. Not really much (interesting) to talk about actually. I started teaching classes again yesterday after my mid-semester break and I'm now trying to get back into the swing of things. Vacations are great fun, but it is always a huge task to get back into Real Life.

In addition, I get to do my US Income Tax soon. Luckily these days you can do it online. Very convenient when you live on the other side of the world.

Let's see... what else? It looks like I will not have a full teaching load this summer, which means I should find a second job soon.

I have also started looking for a new place to live. My six month lease is up this month and now that I know my way around town a little better, I am hoping to find someplace a little more convenient and a little cheaper.

Well, those are the things on my mind this week. Not much fun compared to last week adventures, huh? Ahh. Real Life.

Home Again


The first thing I did when I got home last night was add four new stars to the map of SE Asia that my sister gave me for Christmas (Khorat, Phanom Rung, Khon Kaen, and Udon Thani). The next thing I did was to enjoy having hot water to bathe in!

My nine days in Isaan was wonderful. I visited archeological sites of 4,000 year old cultures and Khmer temples built 1,000 years ago, ate a lot of delicious Thai food (including a lot of stuff I had never had before), met and chatted with many Thai people (with varying degrees of success), and returned to one of my favorite cities: Vientiane. And the cost of my 9-day, 1200 KM trip? About 8,000 baht (US$180).

Although it was a great trip, it's good to be home. I have today off, then it's back to work at school tomorrow.

Phanom Rung

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After all of my complaining about sweaty bus and train rides in "Air Con" vehicles, I more than made up for it on the bus ride to Khorat last night. For some odd reason the weather was very cool today and tonight it was downright chilly. It is a very odd sensation to be cold in Thailand. It's almost like a warm Christmas in Florida -- it just doesn't seem right. In any case, I shivered under a blanket the whole trip.

Early this morning, I started my trip to the Khmer ruins of Phanom Rung. My plan was to take a bus to Buriram, then take another bus to Nong Rang where I would rent a motorbike to go to the ruins. On the way to the bus station, however, I noticed people on the street getting on buses that seemed to be going in that direction, so I jumped on too. At first I was bummed that it appeared to be a local bus (i.e., making stops every 2 blocks) but then I realized that it would take me directly to Nong Rang, making my trip much easier.

The ruins were impressive. Again, these ruins were Angkor-style and built in the same period as the ones I saw last week at Phi Mai (11th-13th Century). The difference here was that there were many sites in a small area. There were also a lot more Thai tourists here. In any case, I was reminded again of riding the motorbike taxi between the thousand year old piles of stones in Angkor. As I said last week, if you don't want to deal with the extra hassles of going to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat, then head to Southern Isaan.

Tonight, I finally head home to Bangkok after 9 days on the road. I am especially looking forward to a nice long hot shower.

Udon Thani


Luckily my motorbike was waiting for me at the Thai border when I arrived yesterday afternoon. Whew! I picked it up and rode the 2 KM back to Nong Khai, turned it in, walked to the bus station and rode south to Udon Thani.

In Udon, my friend Fa from Bangkok just happened to be there visiting his family, so I gave him a call. I should have known it, but even though his family was at home preparing dinner, they insisted on taking me out to eat. Fa's father did all of the ordering and definitely picked things I have never had (nor would ever order) -- small snails in curry sauce, fried fish intestines, and some kind of new soup. I have to admit though, it was all very tasty. I finished off dinner with a very un-Thai butterscotch sundae. Mmmm!

Fa's parents insisted that I stay at their house overnight, which I did. I also mentioned that I wanted to visit the museum at Ban Chiang, and so his mother drove me and him there today.

The museum at Ban Chiang was good, although the exhibits hadn't been updated in about 20 years. In any case, Ban Chiang is a site where a lot of archeological work was done to uncover a prehistoric culture from about 4,000 years ago. The pottery that was found in the burial sites has a very unique design -- and of course is now known as Ban Chiang style. The only souvenier I bought on my Isaan trip was a small piece of Ban Chiang pottery for my room.

Tonight, Fa and I will take the bus south together. He is going back to Bangkok and I will get off in Korat to visit the Khmer ruins at Phanom Rung tomorrow.

Mellow Vientiane 2

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I have been spending the morning walking the streets of Vietiane. It is quite a charming and quaint city and it is even quieter now than it was when Rupert and I visited last year. Last time, we just happened to catch the Boat Racing Festival at the end of the rainy season. The crowds were huge and so was the Mekong. But now just a few people stroll or sit along the river and the river itself has shrunk so that a broad sandy beach extends half-way to Thailand.

There are a lot more tourists here than what I have seen in Isaan (which is not saying much). Most of them tend to be couples: either backpackers or retired senior citizens. For some reason though, they don't seem to stick out as much here as in other places I've been. Maybe it is because of the colonial architecture here (Vietiane is one of the most European cities I have been to in Asia). Maybe as I eat a delicious chocolate croissant at the Scandiavian Bakery, I expect to see a lot of white faces. In any case, for some reason they blend in. Perhaps that it is because these people have opted for a little adventure, rather than a trip to Asia just to smoke and drink and party on Bangkok's Kao Sarn Road.

An Old Friend

No, I'm not referring to a person as my old friend, I'm referring to Vietianne, Laos. I just arrived here over the Friendship Bridge from Thailand. It was a little bit of a hassle with no clear direction on how to actually accomplish the border crossing, but I am here successfully in any case (just a little dirty and sweaty and tired from the experience).

First, I had hoped to ride my rented motorbike across the bridge. But no, that is not allowed. So I had to park it at the immigration station (I hope it's still there when I return!) and take a bus across the bridge instead. Luckily it was only 10 baht (US$0.25). Then, after buying an on-arrival visa in Laos, I wandered around the parking lot trying to figure out how to make the 20 KM trip to Vietiane without my motorbike and without paying an outrageous tuk-tuk charge. Eventually I found a local bus and arrived 30 minutes later and another 10 baht poorer. Not too bad.

This morning, before my border crossing adventure, I took my motorbike to Si Chiang Mai, a small village on the Mekong directly across from Vietiane. The reason I went to the villiage is because the Lonely Planet said that it was one of the world's leading producers of spring roll wrappers. Of course, typical of the lousy LP information on Isaan, in order to find the drying paper that was "all over town", I had to drive out to another village 5 KM away. But I saw them!

The raod trip to Si Chiang Mai was fairly interesting. On the way there, I drove along the Mekong and found out that the whole way from Nong Khai to Si Chiang Mai was planted in... not rice but tobacco (!) Laborers were out in the fields picking the tobacco by hand and setting it by the side of the road to dry. On the way back I took the highway, where every 500 yards or so there was a huge sculputured topiary: dolphins diving over the street, nagas poised to strike, children dancing, and of course a lot of elephants.

My suntan lotion failed me again though. My arms have gone from a nice brown to a slightly painful redish-brown again. I think I will set a personal record for darkest skin color after this trip. I am sure my students will have something to say about that when classes resume on Wednesday.

Bai Nong Khai

The "Khon Kaen Break" has continued. Yesterday I toured the university campus, visted the city museum, and walked around town. Around sunset I had a nice lesurely stroll around the huge lake in the middle of town called Bung Kaen Nakhon. Thousands of Khon Kaen'ers were enjoying the evening as well: jogging, playing soccer and sapak trakaw, doing aerobics, eating dinner, etc. It reminded me of the scene at the Hua Mak sports complex in Bangkok.

Today I get on a bus for the northernmost part of Isaan: Nong Khai -- a province separated from Laos by the Mekong River. In a few minutes I will be at the bus station to say bai nong khai ("I go to Nong Khai!")

Khon Kaen Break


Khon Kaen has been a nice break on this trip of Isaan, mostly because I have been visiting with a friend I met through the guy who helped me get a job at the University. He lives on the campus of Khon Kaen University where he is a professor. I wish my University had housing for its teachers! In any case, we had a very nice time eating Isaan food at a outdoor lakeside restaurant last night.

I spent most of this morning trying to find the Khon Kaen Museum. I must say that my Lonely Planet Thailand book has done me very well through Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and the beaches. But the section on Isaan has so far been miserable. The maps and descriptions (when there is one) are annoyingly inaccurate. I spent a good part of yesterday afternoon looking for the Lao Consulate because the address and map in the Lonley Planet was incorrect.

In any case, the Khon Kaen museum was nice. Not as good as the one in Phi Mai, however. I really liked that one. On a personal note, I finally found out what a "lingua" is. In Cambodia Mark and I visted the "River of One Thousand Linguas" and at the time, I thought that a lingua was just a stone carving. But linguas are actually a cylindrical carved stone that represents the Hindu diety Shiva.

I will stay in Khon Kaen one more night, then continue north toward Laos.

Final Korat Thoughts


My final thoughts on Korat? Big city pollution without the nightlife of Bangkok. History and a city moat without the charm of Chiang Mai. But, in its defense, I still had a great time.

For example, last night after another delicious dinner I was wandering around town looking for something fun to do. Eventually I gave up and sat down on the sidewalk to watch life go by. Five minutes later a teen-aged boy sat down next to me and started talking to me in Thai. Two minutes after that his friend came over and sat next to him. Ten minutes later I was surrounded by about 12 guys with apparently nothing to do other than hang out with a tourist who didn't speak their language.

It was an educational experience, to say the least. I learned a few new Thai words and I learned what the youth of Korat do on a Monday night (sit around and talk about the girls passing by on motorbikes). After an hour or so of this, I was offered a ride back to my hotel, which I gladly accepted.

This morning I took the bus to Khon Kaen. First impressions? Damn it's HOT here. According to the little weather sticker right now, its 95 F. Whew. Next stop after this: Udon Thani and Nong Khai on the Laotian border.

Southern Isaan is a poor man's Angkor. What I mean is, if you don't want to spend US$300 on a plane ride from Bangkok to Siam Reap, Cambodia, then spend US$5 and get on a bus to Nakorn Ratchasima!

Today I rented a motorcycle and drove up to see a few Angkor-style temples. In fact, the temples I saw today actually pre-date the Khmer temples I vistited last year in Cambodia. They were a bit smaller as well, but they were still very impressive. First, I stopped by Prasat Hin Pranum Wan and then went to Prasat Hin Phimai. Phimai is the bigger of the two, but both were great. I had a lot of fun climbing all over and exploring the re-built ruins.

I also stopped by an archological site called Ban Prasat. There, archeologists have uncovered Bronze Age burial sites. A few of the sites have been left uncovered so that modern-day travelers can look down into the pits to see the skeletons and pottery that was buried with them. One site in particular had about 10 human remains visible about 15 feet down. Very cool.

I finished off the day swimming a few laps at a neighborhood pool I found. Again, everyone was so very friendly I couldn't help but have a great time. The cool water was definitely welcome to my hot, sweaty, moderately sunburned body.

Nakhorn Ratchasima (Korat)


After a 3 hour bus ride in a weekly air-conditioned bus I arrived in Nakorn Ratchasima, also known as Korat. Surprisingly, it was a little bit of a culture shock for me, mostly because the people here have been so incredibly friendly and nice.

I think part of the reason is that I am one of the few white people in town. I saw about 5 other farang, but that was at a shopping mall. In the 6 hours I have been here, those are the only non-thai faces I have seen. Because of this everyone stares at me as I walk by.

Not a half-hour goes by without someone (young/old, male/female) trying to talk to me. One old man grabbed my hand as I walked by and said, "What is your name?" His friends looked on and smiled as he told me in some language that sounded a little bit like English that he lived in Los Angeles for two years (I think). Another time four young guys were walking down the street towards me and one turned to me with arms out saying, "Welcome to Nakorn Ratchasima!" Surprising, yet... for a lack of a better word, welcoming!

Despite traveling alone, how could I possibly be lonely here with everyone talking to me all day?

Isaan Bound

The decision has been made and I am heading to Isaan this weekend. I am not sure what to expect exactly, or exactly where I will go. What I hear is that Issan is Thailand's "heart" -- it's the countryside with small towns, agriculture, mountains, nice people, spicy but delicious food, and a laid-back way of life. I am also hoping for a little culture by visiting the Khmer-style temples along the Thai-Cambodian border.

By the way, I am not sure exactly how to spell "Isaan". I have seen it spelled in print as Isaan, Isan, Isaan, Isarn, Esan, E-San, E-Sarn, and even Ai-San. For some reason (not sure why) I prefer Isaan, and will try to spell it that way in daily posts all week.

So, in the next day or two I will hit the road again and start my next little week-long adventure...

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

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