July 2003 Archives

One Sad Day

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The past few weeks I have been doing a lot of reading on Thai history and culture. I am amazed at how much I have learned. Right now, though, I am still a newbie. I can only remember and understand general trends. I can't name any kings or give any details of their reigns, but I am slowly starting to understand the general course of Thai history (at least for the past few hundred years) and a little more realistic view on Thai society (as opposed to what the average tourist sees).

For example, one of the more unpleasant chapters in Thai history took place on October 6, 1976. On that day, students at Thammasat University in Bangkok were peacefully protesting the un-democratic government when a heavily armed mob surrounded the students trapping them and killed dozens by shooting, beating, burning, and hanging them from the trees.

I learned about some of the details of this horrific scene from an article called Noise at the Edge of Silence in the University of Wisconsin alumni website. It centered on Thongchai Winichakul, who was one of the student leaders at Thammasat at the time and is now a Thai Studies professor at UW-Madison. Since I deal with college-aged Thai students on a daily basis, it is hard for me to imagine what mental demons Dr. Thongchai has had to fight after being directly involved in an experience like this one. Needless to say, I was very touched by the article.

Nuclear Bomb

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Last night I received a very shocking email. Little did I know it would change my life, at least for the next few hours. It told me, in quite some detail for a short paragraph, that the Bush administration was involved in a huge conspiracy. At that very moment, one of those top-secret man-less drone planes was heading for the capital building with a small nuclear weapon. The plan, as diabolical as it was simple, was that the insuing "terrorist" act could be blamed on the "Axis of Evil" and the US could now go to war with anyone they chose.

Of course I was very fearful, not only for fate of mankind, but especially for myself, since I was at that moment just a few kilometers from the Capital Building in Washington, DC. As soon as I read the email and realized what it meant, I looked up at the sky, spotted the nuclear bomb carrying drone and in my fright started blindly running up a large hill.

All the way up this San Franciscan hill I would look back over my shoulder every now and then to see the drone circling the US Capitol Building. I ran faster. I noticed that the neighborhood I was running through was empty, with printouts of the same email littering the street. Apparently I was one of the last to know.

I finally arrived at the airport after a small adventure of crossing a small lake by sliding down an angled tightrope and rushed to the counter to buy a ticket to Chiang Mai. I hoped to myself that Chiang Mai would be far enough from Bangkok to escape the nuclear fallout.

But of course everything was sold out because everyone was fleeing to safety. I asked about bus tickets, and the response was that they were sold out as well, but if I took the bus to Sacramento, I could probably fly from there. I was still very nervous, but a bit releived. Sacramento it was, then.

And then I... I woke up.

Samut Prakan Pics

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In a speed record, I have uploaded a few pictures the day after taking them. I uploaded them to my TypePad Beta site. I haven't quite gotten the look and feel or the navigation of the site right, so apologies for that, but at least you can see the pictures.

I took advantage of my one-day weekend this week by crossing off a few more items on my "Things to See in Thailand" list. Piyawat and I drove to the adjoining province of Samut Prakan to visit Muang Boran (Ancient City) and the Erawan Museum. Both attractions are owned by the same extremely rich Thai-Chinese family and both try to serve as museums and shrines to Thai culture.

We visited Ancient City first. It is a 320 acre park that has several Thai landmarks built on a smaller scale. Included are buildings from Ayutthaya (both models of ruins as well as "this is what we think it looked like" reconstructions), the Grand Palace in Bangkok, various Khmer ruins, and random temples and chedis from around Thailand.

The second attraction that we visited was the Erawan Museum. The museum is a collection of (mostly) Chinese ceramics and is housed in the basement of a building topped with a huge three-headed elephant symbolizing the Hindu god Erawan. Vistors who buy a 150 baht (US$3.50) ticket are welcome to explore the museum and to climb the stairs to the top of the inside of the elephant. At one point you can look out from the 9th floor window in the underside of the elephant's belly.

The Ancient City website has more information about both attractions. My own photos will be posted here soon.

On the way back home, I did what I said I would never do: Drive a car in Bangkok. The car was Piyawat's, a small Honda City (smaller than a Civic and only sold in Asia, I think) that felt absolutely huge in the narrow driving lanes. Motorcycles on all sides, busses taking up half my lane, sitting at traffic lights for 5 minutes and sitting on the right side of the car all added to the fun of my first Bangkok drive.

Japanese Game Shows

One of my favorite things about living in San Francisco was eating at a particular noodle shop in Japan Town. It was only two blocks from our apartment, and so Kenley and I would go there quite often for cheap and tasty ramen soup and Kirin beer.

Whenever we would go, we would hope that the TV would be showing Japanese game shows. We never understood what was actaully happening on the show (since we don't speak Japanese) but it didn't matter. They were still hilariously funny at times.

This memory recall is courtesy of a Nippon TV website that I found today. Click on the "movie" links to watch some amazingly creative skits, especially the first three. For some reason, the 7th one with the three small girls made me laugh until I cried.

Bangkok Blizzard

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The wind was howling this morning as I laid in bed under my big yellow comforter having just turned off my vibrating mobile phone which was moonlighting as my morning alarm clock, not wanting to open my eyes but instead to just listening to the wind outside my window, imagining that it was winter and I was somewhere in the United States where it snows sometimes but not all the time like it does in Virginia which means that today I was snowed in because of the blizzard outside and I could not go to work so instead I would would have to lay here all day warm and cozy in my comfy bed except maybe to get up around noon for a cup of hot chocolate or perhaps even some sweet Russian Tea that my mother loves to make...

coolweather.jpg The reality of the situation was that I had to wake up and go to work. But at least when I stepped out of my door I realized that it actually was quiet cool, by Bangkok standards at least. As soon as I turned on my computer at work, I took a screen shot of the temperature banner on my site, just to prove that sometimes Bangkok is not all that hot and sticky.

Nick Gray's Blog

One of my new Internet friends (i.e., people I have met through this website) is an American college student named Nick Gray. He is currently doing a summer internship in Bangkok and just happens to work and live down the street from my school.

After being afraid to publish his thoughts on his time in Asia, he has finally started posting some interesting musings and some great pictures of Thailand and Laos to his website. The musings are found on his website blog and the pictures are in his photolog.

Even though I have taken thousands of pictures in Asia, I haven't taken a single panoramic shot, mainly because I wasn't sure how to post it to my website. Now that I have seen Nick's photolog, I see my mistake. If you only look at one picture, it should be the panoramic of Vang Vieng, Laos. Or maybe the panoramic of Koh Sam Roi Yot. Or maybe the...

Fall Schedule

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Looks like I am going to be very busy for the next few months. I just received my schedule for the fall semester and I will be teaching 15 one-and-a-half hour periods a week. The first three days (Monday-Wednesday) are the busiest, with about 20 hours of teaching total. Whew.

When the semester starts in a couple of weeks, I will be teaching three courses: Computer and Information Technology, Computer Reservation Systems, and another section of Prepratory Math. Wish me luck!

Opps

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Opps. I was just looking over my entries on this website and realized that I had a few that were "draft" status instead of "published". Well, now I have pushed the right buttons and published them.

So, for some previously unreleased postings from the past month or so, see these entries:

Parents in Alaska
Reading Comprehension
Article Finished
Good Food

Sorry about that! :p

Domestic Projects

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Yesterday was a domestic day for me. It started with a four hour shopping trip to the amazing Chutuchuk (or Jutujuk, or JJ) Market. There, with Piyawat's help, I bought a two lamps (one big one for the living room and one small one for my bedroom) a full-length mirror, plants and flowers, and a big candle and candle holder.

Once home, we put the lamps together, planted the flowers in the flowerbox on my balcony, and hung the mirror. I have always hated the florescent lights on the ceiling of my apartment, but at the same time I have resisted buying too many things due to the fact that I feel my time in Bangkok might be temporary. But, with the warm glow of the lamps last night, I felt like my apartment was more like a home than a hotel, and that the money I spent was well worth it.

Shock and Awe, Take Two

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Ok, I am shocked and awed AGAIN! I have been testing out TypePad's "moblogging" (mobile blogging) features and I am absolutely in love with this system. Now I have to buy a new phone!

The idea behind mo-blogging is that I can send email messages from a mobile phone and the messages will automatically appear as posts on my website. I can also take pictures with the phone, email them, and have them automatically appear seconds later in a photo album on the website.

See this post and this photo album to see what all the fuss is about and please excuse me while I go run around Bangkok taking pictures!

Weekend at Home

This is one of those rare weekends when I am actually in Bangkok. So far it has been very relaxing. I have been doing a lot of reading in the book I picked up last week "Studies in Thai History" and continued to find it very interesting. I am not sure why I have this sudden interest, but perhaps it is because the history is completely different and foreign to the western history I am so familiar with.

Now that I type that, it seems like an obvious statement. Of course it is a different history because it is a different culture. But it is still facinating to learn how Buddhism, China, India and even Persia each influenced Thai history and modern Thai culture.

As I have mentioned before I have been thinking about going back to school sometime in the next year or so. The first thing I have to do is find a field that I want to study. I certainly don't want to go back to grad school for Computer Science. Been there, done that. It's not something I want to devote my life to.

What else interests me? Thai history and culture and language is interesting to me, but I don't know if I want to devote my life to it either. I enjoy writing, but many fields use writing skills. Education is interesting, but I don't want to be "just" a teacher.

So here I sit in the middle of having interests in science/technology and culture/society and writing/education. For those who know me well, this comes as no surprise. It's the story of my life.

What if I could find a subject that combines everything? What if there is a multi-disciplanary, multi-cultural, multi-lingual field of study?

So far, this is the closest, most interesting thing I have found...

MSN Messenger Backgrounds

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I've been wasting time this morning making backgrounds for my MSN Messenger chat windows. You can sample my work in the MSN Backgrounds on this site.

Pics from Chiang Rai

I have uploaded a few of my pics from Chiang Rai, but I put them on the new website I am currently beta testing for TypePad.

I may put them on this site as well, but so far it has been much easier for me to do it on TypePad than on my current site. (Just another plug for how great the new TypePad tool is!)

Update: I have deleted my TypePad account, so the above URL does not work. I have moved the pics over to this site, and they can be seen in the Chiang Rai Photo Album, or better yet, in the July 2003 album.

Back from Chiang Rai

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I arrived back in Bangkok safely last night after a wonderful weekend in Chiang Rai. I think that Chiang Rai is my favorite province in Thailand. I love the mountains and the waterfalls and the rice fields. Very beautiful.

I didn't take many pictures, but I think a few of them turned out pretty well. I will try to post them here later this week.

My back and shoulders are a bit sore, thanks to our 200 kilometer motorcycle ride today. But boy, was it fun!

We started off by visiting Khon Korn Waterfall near the city of Chiang Rai. The clouds were threatening rain, but we luckily made it to the waterfall's parking lot without getting wet. But abut 300 meters into the 1 kilometer hike to the falls, it started to rain. I ran back to the motorcycle to drop off my camera, and it is a good thing that I did.

It rained lightly all the way to the falls but once we got there, the real soaking began. The falls are quite tall (claimed to be the tallest in Chiang Rai) and pour into a very narrow gorge, which means that in order to see the falls, you have to stand directly in the spray. By the time we made it down to the river in front of the falls we were quite wet and quite cold so when the skies opened up with a drenching rain, we didn't mind at all.

The walk back to the motorcycle was otherworldly. The sky was dark. Tall thin bright green bamboo stalks shot up on our right side. To our left, the rushing red clay colored river tumbled over black rocks. We could hear the rain hitting the top branches of the trees above our head and could hear it splashing in the puddles at our feet and feel it falling like icy cold barbs on our head and shoulders.

When the rain finally stopped, we hopped back on the motorcycle for a very cold ride to the town of Wiang Pa Pao to visit some friends of No. We met them at the local school where they were playing volleyball. We joined, making two sports in two days that I haven't played in years.

I can't believe how perfect this vacation has been so far. I slept 12 hours last night and woke up feeling better than I have in weeks.

After breakfast, No and I drove the motorcycle to a nearby village. From here we hiked along a very muddy trail (it has been raining a lot lately) up into the mountains where we visited a very tall waterfall and two separate Akha villages.

The scenery was breathtaking. I am amazed at all the different shades of green we saw. Along the way we saw fields with corn, orchards of lychee trees, lots of birds and chickens, bamboo forests, and of course the ever present rice fields, many of which were being planted as we passed.

On the way home we stopped by the village school to play basketball with the school kids who were there. Now I have never been any good at basketball and have therefore always avoided it. But I found out tonight that when the competition is 4-foot tall kids, I have a chance!

Happy Anniversary

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By the way, today is the one-year anniversary of my blog. That is amazing to me. It seems like time has gone by very quickly, but if I think back on all that has happened in the past year, it seems like a very long time.

Over the past 365 days, 282 entries, 445 comments, and 426 pictures have been posted. Let's see how I do this year.

Exploring Rice Fields

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Today has been as close to perfect as can be. "No" eventually picked me up at the bus stop and drove me 15 kilometers into the mountains to his Karen hilltribe village. His sister and her Swiss husband own a guesthouse here. It's a classic bungalow-style guesthouse with amazing views of the bamboo forest mountains and the narrow rice paddy valleys.

After eating (and discovering that No is a great cook), showering, sleeping and then eating again, No and I walked through his village of Ban Thung Phrao. The village is segregated into three separate areas -- one for each of the Karen, Akha, and Lahu tribes who live there. He pointed out each to me with hints of differences in the peoples' dress and in their homes.

It's planting season now, so as we walked through the terraced fields, we watched villagers in the ankle-deep water planting the young rice seedlings. The terraces run the spectrum now: from dry and unplowed, dry and plowed, full of water, and planted. I have seem many rice fields from the road, but to actually walk through the fields was a new experience for me. We walked single-file on the narrow edge of the terraces, looking into the standing water for bu na and kai gop (field crabs and frog eggs). I even petted a grazing water buffalo for the first time.

After our hike, we needed to get some food to cook for dinner, so we got back on the motorbike and headed through the village and onto the curvy, narrow but paved valley road. We passed through many hilltribe villages: Akha, Lahu, Lisu, and Karen. No would point them out to me as we passed. I tried to learn the subtle differences, but I think I will need more practice to develop that skill.

Now that we are back home, that only means one thing: more food! So I sit here in the open air restaurant of the guesthouse, looking out over the valley as the sun set behind me, drinking a Singha beer, listening to music by the "Buena Vista Social Club" (ok, so it's not Thai, but it fits in with the jungle atmosphere) and eagerly awaiting the dinner that I can smell cooking in the kitchen.

VIP Bus to Chiang Rai

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(Note: On my first trip to Asia two years ago, I took a hardback journal with me to jot down my thoughts. This time around, I have been writing my thoughts on the net, so there is no need for the journal. But this weekend I knew that I would be visiting someplace with no Internet access, so the journal was brought out again. I am transcribing the notes here, on Tuesday, July 15, 2003)

The more I travel in Thailand, the more I realize that no two trips will ever be the same. When you travel in America, you can at least be assured of some level of consistency. Not here.

Case in point: Last night I took the overnight VIP bus to Chiang Rai. I had such a good experience with the VIP bus on my last trip to Nong Khai that I decided to do it again. Last time, the seats were plush, a box dinner and box breakfast were served and I slept peacefully through the night.

This time, however, the seats were only moderately comfortable, I was given a donut in a box for dinner and I tried to find a comfortable sleeping position with an empty stomach.

At 1:00 AM, the lights and the Isaan music came on and we pulled into a rest area where we were fed a buffet dinner consisting of hard-boiled eggs, fried rice, rice porridge, vegetables in sweet sauce, vegetables in spicy sauce, chinese sausage and (I think) pork.

I actually slept OK after the midnight buffet until the sun rose around 5:30 AM. I had made an attempt to tell the bus hostess bai mae suay (I go to Mae Suay) in hopes that we would be passing through the town on the way and I could get out without going all the way to Chiang Rai city.

Around 6:30, the bus hostess tapped me on the shoulder and said "Mae Suay". I got out on the side of the highway, the bus left, and I realized I was in the middle of nowhere. Judging my the group of Thai people who were also there with their luggage, I figured out that they had dropped me off at the turn-off to Mae Suay, and I had to catch another bus from here.

An hour later the bus had still not come, so one of the Thai ladies who was also waiting made an animated phone call. Ten minutes later a truck pulled up, everyone piled in with their luggage, and to my surprise, the passenger seat in the cab was left empty for me.

Twenty kilometers later we were in the small town of Mae Suay, whose downtown consists of 3 blocks of shops on the main road. I was dropped off at the bus stop where I now sit and wait for my friend, "No". Who knows when he will arrive so in the meantime I will sit here and watch the scene around me.

Good Food

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I have been eating amazingly well the past two nights. First, Piyawat and I had Indian food at Himili Cha Cha on Sukumvit Soi 35. We sampled 3 different chicken dishes and each was unique and delicious. The garlic nan was awesome as well.

Then tonight, we joined Roen and a couple of his friends for pizza at Pizzeria Bella Napoli on Sukhumvit Soi 31. In my opinion, there isn't very much good Italian food in Bangkok, but this place had some great pizzas. Unfortunately, though, they were small, thin, and a bit expensive. The five of us ate 3 pizzas and an order of clam pasta and I still left hungry.

These two restaurants are just two blocks from each other (as evidenced by the Sukumvit Soi addresses) and are both recommended, if you don't mind spending a little extra money for delicious non-Thai food.

Article Finished

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I am finally done with the article I have been working on so diligently for the past week or so. Maybe now I can get a decent night of sleep!

The article is called "e-Networking in Social Entrepreneurship Initiatives in Developing Countries" and talks about two interesting groups -- one in Thailand and one in Laos.

The idea is that Social Entrepreneurs (entrepreneurs whose mission includes creating lasting social change) can and should use technology for networking. By networking, I mean both networking with people and networking with computers. The two groups that I cover are the Jhai Foundation in Vientiane, Laos and the Mirror Art Group in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

Perhaps I can post the paper on my website. I am not sure what the deal with the copyright is. It is not a published article, yet. Hmm...

Kanchanaburi Pics

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In other news, a few pictures from my two-day trip to Kanchanaburi province are up. This trip included a visit to the "Bridge over River Kwai", a small Mon village, spelunking in big cave, and sightseeing at a Khmer ruin.

The pictures can be found in the Pictures of Kanchanaburi Photo Album.

No Electricity

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After leaving work at 9 PM last night I headed directly to Coffee Society to continue working on my paper. I finally got home about 11:30 to find out my electricity had been turned off. There was a note that looked like a bill on my door, but since it was writen in Thai, I can only guess at its meaning. I think (judging by baht amounts and dates) that it is saying I didn't pay my electrical bill in March and April.

I didn't live in the apartment in March and I am sure I paid in April. Luckily I kept all of my bills and receipts so I will have to go back and try to figure out what is up.

Of course, though, it was dark last night so that activity will have to wait for now.

Shocked and Awed

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I have been Shocked and Awed.

This morning I received an email inviting me to be a Beta tester for the new Type Pad hosted web publishing system from Movable Type. I have played with it this morning and I have to say it is absolutely amazing.

I'll even take it a step further: This is the greatest web publishing tool ever. I have used the horrible tools from Yahoo Geocities -- even taught my computer students how to use it. But Geocities is not a good tool. TypePad is not only good, it is perhaps one of the best interactive websites ever created on the internet. Period. I can not say enough good things about it.

If Movable Type can make the price right (i.e., as low as possible) there is no doubt in my mind that thousands of personal websites will pop up over night.

I have spent less than 30 minutes setting everything up, writing one post, and posting 5 pictures from Bangkok. Check out the results at http://sgtowns.typepad.com/.

Congratulations, Movable Type!

Plans for Chiang Rai

Before I started working on my paper today, I started preparing for my 3-day weekend trip to Chiang Rai. First, I went to the Mo Chit bus station to buy my ticket. Even though the trip is several days away, I learned my lesson about travelling on holiday weekends on my last trip (everything sells out!) and bought early this time. Once back in downtown BKK, I made a stop at the bookstore at Siam Discovery to buy a Thailand road atlas. I will (hopefully) be going to an area with few tourists, so the Lonely Planet guide won't be of much help.

So, in a few days I will be visiting a Thai family that I met on the boat back from Ko Samet a couple of months ago. As I mentioned before, the family is from the Karen hilltribe. They graciously invited me to visit their village sometime and I am finally taking them up on their offer.

To prepare, I did a little bit of research on the Karen tribe today. They are the largest hilltribe in Thailand making almost half of the hilltribe population. (The other half is made up of tribes such as the Akha, the Hmong, the Lisu, tha Lahu, and the Yao.)

Originally from Myannmar, but mostly pushed out due to the long-running civil war, the Karen like to live in the lower elevations of the mountains, building small villages of about 25 bamboo houses on stilts. The space underneath the house is used to house their chickens, pigs, and buffalo. They also use tame elephants to help clear land. Like all hilltribes, they are good farmers. The men are also good hunters, using crossbows and spears and the women are very skilled in weaving.

Many of them (including the family I will visit) are Christian. In fact, it is the Christian Karen who have been waging the war against the corrupt Myannmar government for so long.

Needless to say, I am excited about the trip and will be sure to share my experiences here!

Paper Writing

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I have been very busy lately. First, I had a stack of mid-term exams to grade. And now my boss wants me to write a paper for the school magazine. She told me about this a long time ago and I had every intention of writing the paper, but just never got around to it. I even started 6 weeks ago on my trip to Samui but never finished.

But now the school is practically demanding that I do it, so I am working on it now. I am actually enjoying the process, now that I am into it. I have until Tuesday, so I should go back to it.

Also, I have started uploading pictures from last weekend's trip to Kanchanaburi. They are in the Pictures of Kanchanaburi Photo Album. I will try to post the rest this weekend.

Forth of July

Happy Fourth of July!

Interestingly enough, I didn't even think about the fact that today is US Independence Day (#227) until I heard the DJ say so on the radio this morning. Also, a few Thai friends have SMS'ed me with "Happy 4th" messages, but other than that, it's just a regular day in the office.

I know that all of my friends back in the US will be sleeping in today, or going on a little trip to Tahoe or Napa, or having barbeques in the back yard, or doing whatever they do to enjoy a 3-day weekend.

I suppose I shouldnt' be jealous though, considering my three-day weekend is next weekend -- for Buddhist Lent.

Reading Comprehension

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As a teacher in Bangkok, I am of course concerned about the state of education in Thailand. As with most things, improvements can certainly be made. An article in yesterday's Bangkok Post was especially telling:

"Few young Thais leaving school have adequate literacy skills to cope with the complexities of adult life, according to a report released yesterday by Unesco and a rich countries' club.

"Only 1% of Thais surveyed reached the level of reading proficiency that enables them to manage and understand complex texts, infer relevant information, and critically evaluate it by drawing on specialised knowledge."

Hm. That doesn't sound very good to me. Unfortunately I don't know much about the education system in Thailand, but as I learn more, hopefully I can do my part to improve the situation.

The entire article can be found on the Bangkok Post website.

Ko Samet Pics Posted

The next set of pictures I have that needed to be posted was from Mark's and my trip to Ko Samet, Thailand six weeks ago. I didn't take very many pictures, but you can see a few of the ones I did take of the beautiful island can be found in the Pictures of Ko Samet Photo Album.

Late Posts

I just entered two posts from Piyawat's and my weekend get-away to Kanchanaburi province. My excuse for doing it two days later is that there was no electricity where we stayed and so of course there was no internet! And, as is usual with Mondays, yesterday was full of classes for me.

So now that I have had a little fun posting my stories, it's time to get back to grading math papers. Later this week I will try to post some pictures from my trip.

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

June 2003 is the previous archive.

August 2003 is the next archive.

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