October 2003 Archives

More pics! The new batch are from the eastern coast of southern Thailand -- specifically temples that we visited in Chaiya and Nakorn Si Thammarat.

You should know the drill by now: Pictures of Southern Thailand Photo Album.

Oh, and by the way, Happy Halloween to everyone! Some friends and I are celebrating tonight by eating American food and going out on the town. Full report tomorrow...

Pictures from Ko Tao and Ko Ngan Yuan


Ngan Yuan
Today's pictures were taken at Ko Tao and include shots from our exploration of the island by motorcycle on October 12 and by boat on October 13 (with a a close-up of a school of dolphins!).

Again, they are viewable in the Pictures of Southern Thailand Photo Album.

Pictures: Petchaburi Palace


EmeraldWow... I have just been looking through the 300+ pictures I took on my 2-week trip through southern Thailand and Malaysia. It's going to take me forever to get them on the website, so I'll just try to do a few every day for a week or so.

So the first batch of pictures are from our first day (October 11, 2003) and were taken at the palace of Rama V in Petchaburi, Thailand (built in the 1800s). You can view them in the Pictures of Southern Thailand Photo Album.

Journal Caught Up

Since we didn't go to an Internet cafe since KL, I spent some time yesterday and this morning filling in all of the details of our 4 megameter round-trip from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur.

What an amazing trip it was. We saw everything from 1000 year old Thai Buddhist temples to brand new Muslim Mosques. We stayed in 250 baht (US$6) beach bungalows and 250 Malay Ringgit (US$55) 4-star hotels. We ate seafood and all kinds of curries and dim sum and filtered coffee and Thai beer and Guiness beer -- sometimes at food stands for 65 baht for two (US$1.50) to pricy American chains for 120 Ringgit (US$30)

And to do all of this we drove and drove and drove and drove some more -- four million meters in all. What a long, tiring, amazing, educational, horizon-expanding trip!

Back Home

Just a little note here to say that since we did the last 1500 KM in 3 days and therefore had no time for internet cafes, tomorrow I will have to go back and fill in the details from the last few days on the road. And, as always, some of the 300 pictures I took will be following (hopefully) soon!

3310-3914 (Bangkok)

Six hundred kilometers is a long way to go in one day. When the 600 KM is driven on a two-lane road cutting through the mountains and a nearby low pressure system is dumping rain on you as you go, it is even longer.

The day started off well enough. We spent more time in the Hot Spring Spa at the hotel before driving into the town for a breakfast consisting of kanom jin (which means "Chinese Snack" but it's really a Thai Meal). Basically it is long thin white noodles with your choice of curry sauce each in a different color and a different level of spiciness. We asked for mai pet (not spicy) but it still had a kick. We washed it down with gafe boran, (ancient coffee), which is served in the old-fashioned filtered style with heavy sweet condensed milk at the bottom. Both were delicious!

We had planned to break up the trip by stopping in the beach town of Hua Hin, but the rain (and the fact that we had driven almost 4000 km in the past two weeks) made us decide to continue on to Bangkok.

So now I am home safely... whew... what a trip!

2910-3310 (Ranong)

We spent the morning walking on the beach in front of our bungalow "resort". As the tide went out, sandbars between the small islands appeared. We hung out on the beach as long as possible before getting back into the car and on to the road again.

According to the Loneley Planet, Ranong is Thailand's least poplulated province, being made up mostly of mountains on the border with Myanmar. So that means that the road was very hilly and curvy. Unfortunately it was also raining most of the way from Krabi to Ranong.

But it was all ok, because we were staying at a hotel in Rayong that had a spa fed by a nearby hot spring. The spa was basically a huge 40-person jacuzzi with very hot water. It looked brand new, and was very well designed. Our room is not quite as nice, but that's ok, we'll go to sleep tonight looking forward to sitting in the spa again in the morning.

2560-2910 (Krabi)

Today we drove north along the western coast of Thailand, from Satun to Krabi. The scenery (when we could see it through the rain) was fantastic. This part of Thailand is covered in limestone karst formations. This means big rock cliffs randomly jutting out from the countryside every now and then.

We thought that we would stay at Ao Nang, but when we arrived, the small town was devoted 100% to tourists. We weren't really in the mood for being surrounded by sunburned Europeans and aggressive Thai vendors, so we drove on to the next beach, which is a national park. Using a small paragraph in the Lonely Planet and asking around, we found a great secluded beach bungalow.

The bungalow was so secluded, in fact, we had to take a long-tail boat to get there. When we arrived, we saw that we would have the beach to ourselves with great views of the karst islands. The beach itself was covered in big seashells, sand dollars, and starfish that had washed up the night before, with all sizes of bu talay (sea crabs) running around the sand. And all of this for the amazing price of 250 baht (US$6) a night.

1735-2560 (Satun)

The drive back to Thailand from Kuala Lumpur was uneventful. We decided to take the tollway back and I have to admit I didn't mind paying the tolls to drive on the best highway I have seen in Asia.

As soon as we crossed back over the border into Thailand we could see the difference right away. What little shoulders there were on the road were filled with food vendors, sleeping dogs, parked motorcyles, motorcyles going in our direction, motorcycles coming toward us. It was somewhat disapointing to dip back into the chaos that is Thailand, but somewhat comforting to be back.

For example, in one small town we had never seen before we easily found the Night Market and we knew exactly which food vendor to get the food we wanted. We knew how to order and we knew what to expect. So even the chaos has organization and patterns that were very comforting to road-weary travelers like ourselves.

KL Reflections

As I said yesterday, we decided to stay at a four-star hotel for our extra night in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Our joke was that our first hotel in KL was a four-star -- two stars the first night and two stars the second. This time, however, we were getting all four stars in one night.

After checking in to the Concorde Hotel in the middle of downtown KL, we headed down to the pool. The hotel is just a few blocks from the world-famous Petronas Towers. Until today, they were the world's tallest buildings, but now the new tower being built in Taipei has overtaken them. (And I will get to visit that building when I visit Taiwan in December.)

As I was sitting in my lounge chair and admiring the reflection of the towers in the hotel pool, I reflected a bit on my "New Life in Asia". Of course I had heard about the world's tallest buildings before, but they were in some small insignificant (to me) Asian country that I would never have the desire to or a reason to visit. Then, I moved to this side of the planet and even still I hesitated to visit them since they were in a Muslim country, and if you believe some people these days, Muslims and Americans just don't mix.

But here I was, soaking up the last few bits of sunlight that were shining on these two huge silver towers and soaking up as much of the Muslim culture and history as I could in my three days here. Needless to say, the world is a lot different looking at it from this side. For just a moment, I was acutely aware that I was very very happy to be here.

KL and Putrajaya


Forgetting our cameras last night in Putrajaya was unforgivable, so after touring around KL a bit (visiting the Petronas towers again and a walking tour of sites in downtown KL and Chinatown) we headed back to Putrajaya.

We arrived right at sunset and started snapping pictures like crazy as the sun went down. It truly is an amazing "city" -- the Prime Minister's offices, the mosque, the two very modern suspension bridges over the man-made lake, the huge convention center that looks like an alien spaceship. They all looked beautiful in the daylight and even more beautiful lit up at night.

One of the promadades on the lake next to the mosque has a food court and a small outlet mall. We ate dinner there, looking across the lake at a bridge called "Vision 2020" (as in "It is Malaysia's vision to be a developed country by the year 2020"). If the new capital is any indication, they will make it easily.

We have really enjoyed our time in KL. I have heard mixed reviews from friends who have visited. Some have liked it, some have hated it. Piyawat and I are both in the former category. It is clean, has great public transportation, has a lot of interesting (exotic to me) culture, good food, not too expensive, and very beautiful public spaces.

In fact, we have enjoyed it so much, we are staying one extra night. But to truely enjoy the stay, we are changing hotels and splurging on a four-star. I am looking forward to lounging by the pool tomorrow afternoon...

1360-1735 KM (Kuala Lumpur)

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We started the morning as usual: exploring whatever town we are in by foot. Today we strolled through the narrow winding streets of old Penang, Malaysia. We visited Fort Cornwallis and tried to go to the Penang Museum, but it is closed on Fridays (?!).

We also stopped by a few Chinese clan houses. The clan houses are part temple, part community center for an extended Chinese family. The bigger and richer the family, the bigger and more extravagant the clan house. One in particular, from the Koo clan, was expecially impressive.

Eventually we hit the road and headed south to Malaysia's capital of Kuala Lumpur. The highway into the city was very good, albeit hilly. Finally, we drove over one hill and the two towers of the Petronas Center suddenly appeared. It was a breathtaking view.

We were armed with a few different maps of the city, but we got lost almost immediately. We pulled into the nearest light-rail station and figured out where we were and where we were going at the information counter there. We also called Rastam, a friend of mine from my NC days who is from and now lives in KL.

We eventually made it to our hotel and met up with Rastam. The rest of the evening was spent with him, as he drove us around to see some of the KL sites at night. We visted the Petronas towers, where we had dinner, and then drove out to the administrative capital of Putrajaya.

Putrajaya is located about 30 KM outside of KL. It is a planned city that was just started a few years ago. It now houses many government offices, such as the Prime Ministers offices and the Ministry of Finance, with more buildings on the way. There is also a Shangrila Hotel and a huge mosque.

That, at least, is the boring description of what is there. Once we actually saw the new city, we were amazed. The buildings are absolutely huge and are built with a very interesting traditional yet modern architecture. We drove around for quite a while, marvelling at the new capital with our only regret being that we hadn't brought our cameras.

Catching Up

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The Internet connections at the last few stops has been atrocious, so I didn't have a chance to update this site. Here in Malaysia, however, the Internet is blazing fast, so Piyawat and I are enjoying every minute of it.

I just posted 3 days worth of travel fun. I keep trying to get Piyawat to updated his website with his version of the week's events, but so far he will have none of it.

1130 - 1360 KM (Penang)

Piyawat and I were both a little nervous and excited when we crossed the border into Malaysia. It's not that we were scared or worried, we just had no idea what to expect on the other side.

So far, our experience in Malaysia has been wonderful. First impressions: great highways, delicious food, women with covered heads, mosques everywhere, English letters that still mean nothing to me, and confusing yet charming cities.

We left Hat Yai, Thailand this morning and drove to Penang, Malaysia. Once we were safely over the border, we stopped in Alor Setar to visit a big mosque, exchange money, and get a snack. From Alor Setar, we took the backroads down the western coast to Penang. Once we got to GeorgeTown, we circled through crooked one-way streets for almost an hour until we finally found our hotel.

Luckily though, on the way to the hotel, we passed a Chinese restaurant that was full of customers (always a good sign). We parked, went in, and told them "table for 2 please". The looks of disbelief had nothing to do with a language barrier, but instead we quickly realized that every single table in the restaurant had 10-15 people eating huge plates of delicious-looking food.

Luckily, though, the menu listed all of the dishes in small, medium, and large sizes. We had the small version of sweet and sour pork and chicken in plum sauce. It was amazingly good. As we ate we marvelled at the gargantuan plates of food (big fish, small pigs, etc) coming out of the kitchen.

Tomorrow we will explore the island of Penang and then head to the southern-most part of our journey: Kuala Lumpur.

850 - 1130 KM (Hat Yai)

Tonight's resting spot is Hat Yai, in Songkla province. The drive down the eastern coast of Thailand from Nakorn Si Thammarat was very relaxing and uneventful.

Before we hit the road this morning, though, we visited a few temples in the old section of Nakorn Si Thammarat. One temple in particular (Wat Phra Mahathat) was first built in 555 AD. Wow. The current chedi that we saw when we visited today, was built in the 1200s. (Still pretty darn old.)

A couple of hours later we stopped for food in Songkla, where we ate seafood on the beach. Then it was on to nearby Hat Yai to spend the night. Tomorrow: Malaysia!

485 - 850 KM (Nakorn Si Thammarat)

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After arriving back on the Thai mainland in Chumphon, we ate lunch at a KFC (shame on us!) and jumped in the car to continue our southern journey. Today's leg took us to very old and historic Nakorn Si Thammarat.

On the way, we stopped in Chaiya, one of Thailand's oldest cities. We visited two temples here -- one very old and one very recent, but still well-known. The old one is called Wat Phra Boromathat and was built in the Srivijaya style (8th-10th century).

The newer temple is called Wat Suan Mokkhaphalaram. It was founded this century by a monk named Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, one of Thailand's most famous monks. He had interesting ideas of how Buddhism should be practiced -- with a blend of Zen, Taoist, and even Christian concepts. The main building at this temple has a facinating collection of wall paintings representing all of these different religions.

But now, we have made it to Nakorn Si Thammarat. We will explore the city tomorrow and then continue south to Hat Yai.

Around Ko Tao

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We spent most of the day today being wet. We woke up early, had breakfast, and boarded a boat at 8 AM. The boat took us all the way around the island, stopping at four different bays for snorkling and a stop at Ko Nang Yuan.

The snorkeling was awesome. I saw perhaps 20 different types of very colorful fish and many different types of coral. I wish that I was a marine biologist so I would know what I was looking at, but instead I just had to settle for "Oh, that thing is pretty, whatever it is!"

The last stop was at Ko Nang Yuan, which is actually three small islands connected by a sand bar. We climbed to the top of one of the islands for a great view of the surroundings, including nearby Ko Tao. This little excursion was only marred by the fact that I had to pay 100 baht (US$2.50) to go to the island. You might say that $2.50 is not a lot of money, but considering Piyawat only had to pay 30 baht (about 80 cents) since he is Thai, I was (as usual when this happens) annoyed. The view was great, but unfortunately my view was not three times better than his, even though my entry fee was.

Oh well. It was a wonderful day in any case. Even with the 100 baht island fee, the whole package of 8 hour tour, snorkle equipment, lunch, water, coffee and transportation between our bungalow and the pier cost us 650 baht (approx US$15). Not bad for a very fun all-day outing.

So far our vacation has been a lot of fun. The only truely bad thing about the trip so far was the fact that we were both eaten alive by mosquitoes last night. We changed bungalows for tonight, so hopefully we will actually get some sleep!

0 - 485 KM (Chumphon)

Our first stop on our two-week vacation is Chumphon, 485 KM from my apartment in Bangkok. We had a very relaxed drive down, leaving around 10 AM and arriving around 6 PM.

For the most part we drove straight through, but we did take a 2 hour break in Petchaburi to visit one of the palaces of King Rama V. The palace itself is a 2-story Chinese style building built on top of a tall, steep hill. The building was not impressive in itself, but the views were quite nice. In addition, the King had built a large chedi, a Khmer-Thai mix temple, and a replica of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok on the hill as well. So we had a good time exploring the interesting mix of architectures and enjoying the good views of the surrounding countryside.

Once we arrived in Chumphon, we checked into a hotel and had a delicious dinner of pad thai (fried noodles) hoy tod (fried oyster omlete) and beer sing kuat yai (a big bottle of Singha Beer) on the street. Tomorrow we will take the express boat 60+ KM to Ko Tao (Turtle Island) where we will stay for a few days.

One day down, thirteen to go. So far, so good!

APEC In, Stuart Out



And what a relief it is.

It's a good thing I am getting out of town this week, I think. George Bush and other big guns are coming to Bangkok for APEC. It has been very interesting to watch Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin prepare his country for the meeting. He has done everything he can in the past month to "clean up" Bangkok for the foreign visitors.

First, elepahants were banned from the streets. Then street vendors around important areas were told to move their carts. Next came a sweep of the thousands of stray dogs and homeless people. (And yes, this happened at the same time. Homeless activists from San Francisco would be outraged at the coincidence, I'm sure.) The Thai homeless people were sent with the dogs to a temple outside of Bangkok for "education" while the Cambodians (a large percentage of the homeless population) were airlifted back to the middle of Cambodia.

As I went to work every day the past few weeks I noticed street cleaners for the first time. I also saw a lot of work planting grass and trees in the medians of the big streets. These improvements are definitely good to see. I hope they will continue after APEC is over (but somehow I doubt it).

PM Thaksin has also asked the Thai people not to protest the meeting, or else face punishment (not a terribly democratic idea, is it?). The latest news is that many Thai NGOs are still planning to protest Bush and other "globalization" plans of the APEC summit.

In any case, all of this will be behind me starting tomorrow AM when Piyawat and I will get in his car and head south. First stop, Chumphon province, approximately 500 KM from Bangkok. After resting there, we will continue south and explore the area for the next two weeks. I will do my best to post daily updates from what I am sure will be a great adventure. Wish us luck!

Recent News (Bad and Good)


Wow. I was on quite a little roll with the weblog posts for a while when all of a sudden it went quiet. And what revives it? Just hearing the words "Governor Schwarzenegger".

I'm speechless. I have been following the California recall race closely for the past few weeks and I still have no idea what Governor Schwarzenegger stands for. Does anyone? Does any one have any earthly idea what he is going to do as Governor? Or how he expects to take charge of an economy that is bigger than the economy of many of the world's countries?

I am shocked and depressed because I just don't understand it. Perhaps leaving California wasn't such a bad idea afterall...

And then I think about what I planned on writing before I heard the election results. Looking at it from the other side, perhaps it is good that I took a break from Cali since things are going so well here. Piyawat and I have been doing a lot of reading to prepare for our upcoming trip to southern Thailand. (We leave on Saturday. Yippee!) From what I can tell, the beaches we will be visiting are some of the best in Thailand (and that is saying alot!) and the small towns and provinces are a very unique part of the country. We are both very exicited about it.

Exciting news story #2: I was talking with a computer science professor from the Thai program at my school and he suggested we write a book to use in the "Computers and Information Technology" class I have been teaching. Apparently my school has a publishing company and many teachers write their own books to use in their classrooms. In fact, so many do, that it's almost a requirement in order to get a promotion here. I've been looking for a chance to work on my writing, so here it is!

Exciting news story #3: I was just hired to teach some courses for an American on-line university. I think it will be a great opportunity for me to get experience teaching in a "distance-learning" environment. Not to mention having a little part-time job will certainly help out with the finances. A big thanks to Mark for helping me get this job!

So, one strange, confusing, mildly disheartening piece of news and three really great pieces of news. I guess that's not too bad of a ratio...

Sad is a bad word

By the way, as I write this journal, it is almost impossible for me to forget that this is a public journal and is indexed by Google. Because of this I chose my topics and my words carefully. This website is a view into my life and my thoughts, but of course I don't live in a vacuum. The people I write about (this week it has been cheating students, boys in skirts, Mrs. Regaspi and Jeff above) are real and perhaps aren't as interested in being portrayed in a public way. I guess that is the dilema for any autobiography.

In each of these cases, I would have described my emotions as "sad". I am sad that a boy is punished for living life as a girl. I am sad that a student felt that she had to cheat on an exam. I am sad that two very special people are no longer with us. (Although as I write it now, I realize that "sad" is not a very good word to describe the way I feel about these very different situations. But my working vocabulary is failing me now.)

In any case, I guess what I am trying to say is that I feel like I have to apologize a bit for writing my thoughts here, both because I am writing about real people and I am talking about negitive emotions. I certainly mean no harm by typing these words. But it is a part of my life and so now it is a part of my weblog.

Two Obituaries

As a matter of coincidence today, I had the experience of reading obituaries of two people I knew. The first was the mother of one of my very best friends in high school. Mrs. Regaspi was almost like a mother to me, especially when I would visit my friend Eric at his parent's Chinese restaurant in Cantonment. Although I haven't seen her for perhaps ten years, I can still very clearly hear her saying in a loud voice, "Stuuuu! Sweet and sour pork for youuu!" I quickly learned that if I was to visit the Oriental House Restaurant, I should always go hungry because a big plate of food would be served without a word from me.

The second obituary was from a close friend of my grad school advisor. Jeff Rickel was an AI researcher from USC (Southern Cal) and all of us in the Intellimedia group very much enjoyed seeing him and hearing his talks at various conferences around the world. I didn't even know that he had passed away until I vistited his homepage today as I was researching my future grad school plans. He was 40 when he died, so the news comes as a big shock to me.

My thoughts are with the two families now...

Been Caught Cheatin


My adventures in proctoring continued today. I was sitting in the back of the room watching the students take an exam. I noticed that one student in particular was nervously glancing around the room. It seemed a little suspicious, so I checked back on her now and then. At one point, it looked like she was just staring into her lap.

So far, no harm no foul. Students do wierd things when they are stressed out in an exam. (I wonder what I looked like during exam time.) But she kept glancing up and around and staring at her lap. Eventually I couldn't stand the suspense any longer so I went over to her and asked her to show me what she had been staring at. Unfortunately for her, it was a sheet of notes that she was using to cheat on the exam.

What surprised me more than the fact that a student was cheating was the way I reacted to it. It was almost as if I was the one who was caught. My heart was racing and my hands were shaking. I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach as if I had been busted.

Then I became a little bit angry at the student. Why did she have to cheat? Why would she put herself in such a risky situation? The penalty for cheating is "F" for the class, "W" for all of the other classes that semester, and a one year suspension. Hefty punishment, I'd say. It could even be a potential life-wrecker. Why did she feel that she should take the risk? It was only a mid-term. How can anyone be that desparate? Or is it a matter of being that lazy?

And that is the story of the first time I have caught someone cheating on an exam. Hopefully it will be the last, but somehow I doubt it.

Uniformed Uniform Enforcement


Is it really October already? I'm actually glad to see it because it means that I have a big semester break coming soon. It also means that I am one month closer to my trip to the States for Christmas. I can hardly wait!

But before all of that happens, I first have to finish exam week. I'm still amusing myself during the exams by counting the number of girls in computer classes (55% of the students in the COBOL exam were girls. That's right. COBOL) and being shocked when a "girl" has a student ID with a boy's picture on it (we have to check all student's ID's during the test).

Speaking of the boys in skirts, a troubling event occured in of my recent tests. Half-way through the exam I saw the teacher in charge of administering the test walk over to a boy who was dressed in a proper girl's uniform. She took his test and gave him a slip of paper. Having never seen this before, I asked her what she was doing. Apparently, the teacher decided that since the student was not in the proper uniform, the student would have to fill out a form and lose 15 minutes on the exam. I was shocked. I then became a little angry when I looked around and saw how many students had uniform infractions: wrong shoes, skirts that were too short, no university belt buckle, etc.

Now, this is not a discussion of whether or not students should be forced to wear uniforms to school. Nor is it a matter of whether or not to enforce the rules. Or even a matter of whether or not boys should be allowed to wear dresses to school. It is a matter of enforcing the rules fairly. If you are going to make one student miss 15 minutes of an exam for a uniform infraction, then you should punish all students who are breaking the rules.

In any case, I felt bad for the student who was called out. Luckily he (she) finished his (her) test early and the punishment didn't affect his (her) grade. But such is life in Thailand. On the surface, the society seems open and tolerant, but for those who live outside of the heterogenous norm, life is often full of obstacles.

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

September 2003 is the previous archive.

November 2003 is the next archive.

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