January 2004 Archives

Final Pics from Big Trip: Krabi and Ranong

Egg BoyI have been posting a lot of text this year, but haven't posted any pictures. I am changing that today, with the remaining pictures from our (Piyawat and my) trip to Kuala Lumphur.

The pictures posted today are ones from Krabi and Ranong provinces in Southern Thailand. You can see them in the Pictures of Southern Thailand photo album. Or, if you want to see all of the pictures from our trip through Thailand and Malaysia, see the October 2003 album.

Kenan Cocktail Party

Last night, I was lucky enough to attend a cocktail party thrown by the Kenan Institute Asia, a NGO working in Thailand but with roots back in North Carolina. In fact, the Kenan family have been a huge contributor to UNC Chapel Hill and even helped pay for my master's degree at NC State.

In any case, it was my first "business party" in Thailand. The invitation (to my boss, actually) said "Business Attire". I assumed that meant that my usual shirt-and-tie teaching uniform was enough, but for the first time ever in Thailand, I was underdressed. I've never seen so many men wearing jackets in sweltering Bangkok. Perhaps I should get my suit out of storage after all.

Anyway, I was afraid I would be a little bored, but it turned out to be a lot of fun. I find NGO-types to be an interesting group of people. The projects I heard about relating to much-needed educational reform in Thailand were facinating. The consensus was that Thai culture makes reform difficult (long story) but everyone I talked to was still optimistic about the challenges.

Stuart Was Here

The problem with linking to other people's websites is that they change the URLs without even telling you. This is what happened to my World Map I posted a few days ago. Shame on me for not saving a copy and posting it on my site instead of just linking. Shame on me for recommending that website (who will now remain unnamed) to other people too. How can they provide a service and then just change it at their whim?

Anyway, here is the world map of the countries I visited. Same disclaimers about China and Canada apply.


I did notice that the website now also has a map of the US states. Here is my US map of states I have visited.


What are the chances that they will create a map of the 76 provinces of Thailand? Probably not good. I've been to about 30 so far but I think I will have to make my own map if I want one.

(Click on the maps to get bigger versions.)

Who is the King of Blogging? Ok, maybe not the King of blogging by a King who blogs. Unfortunately, it is not the monarch of the fine country in which I now reside, but our next-door neighbor, His Majesty the King NORODOM SIHANOUK OF Cambodia has thrown his hat (crown?) into the blogging world.

Now, he might not use Movable Type or Blogger. And maybe he is posting non-searchable image files instead of text. And perhaps he writes everything in French. But he is a blogger all the same. He even has his own domain name norodomsihanouk.info.

Take a look at his entries for January, 2004. Today is the 28th, and he posted 51 letters that he has written and received. Amazing. For example, there is a New Year's Greeting from our very own His Majesty (M.R.) Bhumibol R., King of Thailand (in English, no less). Another fine example, written in his own handwriting is Mon texte pour le 26 Janvier 2004. The text says something about Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Too bad I don't remember any of my French from my school days...



Wow. My email notification system finally seems to be working again, after a long absence. I use a system called Bloglet. It tends to be pretty good, but lately it has been a bit flaky. Let's hope it is back for good now.

Anyway, if you want a short email notification for every day I update this site, then just fill in your email address in the red box in the left menu.

Old Picture of Victory Monument

Here is a great picture of Victory Monument taken 50 years ago. Click on the photo to get a bigger version.


Thai Teens and the Internet


Today's Bangkok Post has an article about how Thai Teenagers use the Internet. This topic is of course relevant to my life, since it's my job is to teach Thai Teenagers how to use the Internet (and other technologies). The article states that 21% of Thai students use the Internet. In my classes, 95% have used the Internet before my class. Why the difference? Well, there is still a huge lifestyle difference between people living inside and outside of Bangkok. Plus, most of my students come from families that are at least rich enough to send them to college. (Still an out-of-reach luxury for many Thai families.)

One outcome of this disparity is that when I ask my students: "What percentage of people in the world use the Internet?" their answers average around 80%. The correct answer, however, is around 10%. Just one of the many misconceptions of the world that we try to correct.

In any case, our one-hour lab yesterday was a lot of fun. I introduced the students to Yahoo Groups. We have a Group for our class, and we played with the Polls and Chat features yesterday. Some of their responses and some of the polls that they created themselves were very interesting.

* 70% think that students should wear uniforms.

* 78% "like" or "very like" (sic) their life

* The favorite Thai band is Silly Fools, with 24% of the vote. 12% think that "Thai music stinks!!"

* When asked what is most important in life, money, health, or family, 60% chose family. The most interesting part of this poll was that all 60% were asian. All 27% who voted for "heath" were westerners.

* The favorite city to visit is Tokyo (30%) while the favorite western country to visit is England (61%).

* Perhaps the most interesting poll was created by a student that basically asks, "If you found out that your boyfriend was lying to you and he had another girlfriend, what will you do?" I think this is an interesting question just because having multiple boyfriends/girlfriends seems to be a common theme in the culture. The results? 15% would forgive, 60% would "stop relationship" or "find a new one", and 17% would "kill him".

Platform for Creativity


Lately, I have been doing a lot of reading on the Internet about technology and culture and education. It started as a search for graduate schools in educational technology, but of course education and technology both have enormous effects on culture and society, and visa versa.

It seems like a good time to start reading about technology and culture again. For a while, after the dot-com bust, there was a lot of pessimism about technology and the it's influence on our lives. But now the economy seems to be turning around a bit, and the visionaries and dreamers and revolutionaries are starting to find their audience again.

The more I read about Open Source and Peer-to-Peer I get very excited about it's potential, especially for developing countries like Thailand. For example, I just read an interesting article on OpenP2P.com called Brewster Kahle on the Internet Archive and People's Technology. In it, Mr Kahle talks about his projects to archive the ever-changing Internet and to blanket San Francisco in a wireless network. Both are couched in his grand vision for "Universal Access to All Human Knowledge." Wow. Visions don't get much grander than that!

But my favorite quote in the article tells of his overarching vision of the future:

What I'd really like to see is a world where there's no limitations on getting your creative ideas out there. That people have a platform to find their natural audience. Whether their natural audience is one person, themselves, or a hundred people, or a thousand people. Try to make it so the technologies that we develop, and the institutions we develop, make it so that people have an opportunity to flower. To live a satisfying life by providing things to others that they appreciate.

Sounds kind of like this website. This website is my creative "platform that seeks its natural audience." If I am the only person who reads it, I am still satisfied. It fulfills its purpose; it allows me to practice my writing and practice taking and editing photographs. To know that others visit it every now and then (Hi Mom!) and even get some enjoyment out of it makes it even better.

I do see the world moving this way. Hopefully the powers-that-be won't stiffle this movement with copyright battles. But it's becoming increasingly easy to see a new creative future. Want to be a musician? Buy a Mac with GarageBand, create your own music and distribute it through the network. Want to make money? Then charge for your music. Want to just be an artist for your own purposes? Then give away the music for free.

If you are a consumer, there will be tools to find the artists that you like, instead of being force-fed "Top" 40 crap on every radio station on the planet. I hope that we can move to a world where we don't need monopolizing record companies (or publishing houses, for that matter) who control creativity and content and tell us what is good for us.

Can you imagine?

Saturday Morning


I am sitting outside of Au Bon Pain at Siam Discovery, having a very un-Thai breakfast of an egg and bacon bagel and a coffee. The air is surprisingly un-Thai as well; a nice cool clean breeze blows by. Two Thai ladies sit down next to me with their poodles. The dogs' thick, manicured coats strike a sharp contrast to the mangy stray dogs that roam the soi. It could almost be a spring morning in San Francisco, if you just move the skytrain down a few stories, color it Muni orange, and take away all of the motorcylcles screaming by.

Then, from out of nowhere, a large group of girls walk out across the Skytrain pedestrian bridge over by MBK. They are all dressed in bright red and yellow with face paint and spiky hair. Some of them are beating drums, others are just clapping and yelling and pointing at the cars on the road below. I have no idea what all the commotion is about, but it looks like a McDonalds commerial trying to be cool and hip but yet something has gone horribly wrong.

The girls leave the skybridge and I sit and I look around me at my neighborhood. (My apartment is just one block away from here.) It's a great location, truely in the heart of Bangkok. Just the other night I was riding Skytrain home from work and looked down at the theatre that is now across from me. It was opening night at the Bangkok International Film Festival, and Thai movie stars were wallking into the theatre on a red carpet and posing for pictures Oscar-style. At the very next stop, a dance troop was peforming the Chinese New Year dragon dance in front of a huge crowd. It just struck me as amazing that so much goes on right outside of my doorway.

Interrupting my musings, the red-and-yellow-attired, drum-beating, clapping and chanting kids walk by my cafe perch. I now see that even though they chose McDonald's colors, none of the uniforms actually say McDonald's. (What a relief!) I also see that the crowd is made up of not only girls but also boys. They all look college-aged and everyone is wearing exaggerated makeup and face paint with their hair all spiked and colored. I still have no idea what they are doing. Judging by the loooks on the faces of the Thai people walking by, they have no idea as well.

Ahhh... just another Saturday morning in Bangkok.

The world, and my world


A friend of mine posted a map to his weblog showing all of the countries he had visited. I have seen something similar on a website called Virtual Tourist, but this one was from World 66.

I'm posting this with some reservations, because it is so deceiving. I visited Hong Kong one time, so I get to count all of China. Doesn't seem right, does it? Same thing with Canada and Australia. I feel ok about coloring in all of the USA, because I have been to most of the 50 states.

In any case, here it is, with the following countries in red: United States, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Iceland, France, Italy, China, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, and Australia.

Click on the picture to go to World 66 and create your own map

While I was at the World 66 website, I saw a great picture of Bangkok, which I shamelessly stole and now post here for your viewing pleasure:


Click on the pic to to get a bigger version.

It's exactly what real Thailand looks like, full of buses, tuk-tuks and seven-elevens, away from all of the temples and beaches that show up on most Thai travel sites. I think that if/when I ever move away from here, a picture like this will make me miss Thailand very much.

Un-Traditional New Year


Today is Chinese New Years. For some reason, this year I didn't notice the difference as much as last year. Maybe I am just used to things a little more now. Of course there have still been red lanterns hung in the stores, incredibly loud strings of firecrackers going off (rat-a-tat-tat-a-rat-a-rat-a-tat-BOOM!) and lots of ladies wearing red shirts on a relatively uncrowded skytrain today.

Piyawat and I, on the other hand, had a very "untraditional" Chinese New Years Eve. After the gym, we had italian food at my favorite pizzaria -- Holy Pizza at Siam Square. Then we had the new Ice Cream Fondue dish at Swensen's at MBK. Then, already floating from the food, wine, and ice cream, we sat down for an hour long foot massage, at which time we fell fast asleep. I think the massage was good, but I am not sure. On the walk home, I felt like I wasn't even touching the ground. So, although the walk home was nice, I slept through 50 of the 60 minutes of the actual massage. Opps.

Grade Stress

Apparently the grades for my classes last semester finally showed up on my students' records. How do I know this? Because my office has been full of students asking about their grade and even asking about their friend's grades.

This semester it has been the usual comments and questions:

* Ajarn, why did I get a D? (Well, you got a D on the mid-term and a D on the Final and a D in lab. That averages out to a D.)

* You gave me a B+. I wanted an A. (This student actually giggled after she said it, so I'll just assume she was kidding.)

* I just wanted to say thank you for giving me an A. (I don't give grades, students earn grades. So no "thank yous" are needed.)

Actually, I felt a little bit bad about giving the D. The girl who got it was a nice girl who always came to class. But, luckily for me my grades are fairly objective. I am not grading essay papers so there is no room to argue for an A rather than a B+. Either you get the questions right or you don't.

But here was the new one this semester:

* Ajarn, your class is pulling our group apart!

Umm. Excuse me?! Eventually the student explained what he meant, and apparently there is a group of friends who are very upset about each other's grades. One of the friends never came to class but still got a B+ (I'm telling you, this class is not hard!) All the other friends came all the time and only got B's or B+. They were actually upset that the one friend had gotten a good grade seemingly without doing any work. That's the first time I've seen an attitude like that. Usually Thai students go out of their way to help their friends, even if it means that they don't get any credit.

Oh well, I hope they can work things out. Perhaps there is other drama going on, but hopefully friendships are not made and broken over "Computers and Information Technology"!

Graduation Pictures


It's graduation week at my school again. That means that I have to duck and dodge and weave any time I leave the building to avoid being in the background or foreground of a graduation picture. Even though I saw this scene last year, I am still amazed by it. Everyone is dolled up with extra makeup and flowers and stuffed animals. And then they take picture after picture after picture after...

I didn't realize it before, but the ceremony actually takes place a year after the end of classes. One of the guys in my office graduated last year, so it is his turn this week to march across the stage to get his diploma. He made me promise that today I would take pictures with him. Knowing how much Thai people love graduation pictures, I told him my limit was 10. Sure enough, by the end of the day, he had 10 pictures with him and me and various other people in various locations with various hand props, flowers, and stuffed animals. He told me that his little brother, who was nice enough to follow him around all day, had taken over 300 pictures.

Over 300 pictures?! What do you need with 300 pictures of yourself sweating in a black robe holding stuffed animals? Oh well, I guess that's the American in me talking again. I'll just stand here and smile and, oh! Can I hold the little black cat with the fairy wand this time?

Hiking to the End


Today has been more of the same on Ko Samet, with the only change being that I soaked myself in SPF 50 today. The six of us spent most of the day sitting under the umbrellas on the beach and enjoying the view of the blue water and enjoying digging our feet into the cool, white sand under our table.

Once the sun started nearing the horizon, I decided to hike around the island. I ended up walking all the way down the length of the island. (The island is much longer than it is wide.) I'll have to check the map when I get home to see how far I went, but I'd guess it was several kilometers.

It was a great hike. Samet, like most Thai islands, are made up of beach pockets. In other words, I would walk along a 100-yard long beach and when I reached the end of the beach I would have to to scramble over rocks or take a trail over the hill and through the woods to the next 100-yard beach. There were probably about 6 or 7 beaches that I crossed as I made my way down the length of the island.

By the time I reached the end, the sun was setting and I treated myself to a solitary rest on the rocks as I listened to the wind and the crashing waves and watched the sun sink over the gulf and the big crabs scamper over the rocks around me.

I took the "main road" (read: rutted dirt trail) back to my beach. Luckily, along the way two Thai guys on motorcycle came by and one of them offered a ride. I had already been hiking for over two hours at this point, and the dirt road was quiet hilly. Not to mention it was quickly getting dark. Needless to say, I accepted the offer.

The next 15 minutes or so was exhilarting as we rode up and down the hills. At the tops of the hills we could look out over the island and the beaches around it's edge. At one point I said, "Suay mak" (Very beautiful) and so of course the boy tried to chat with me a bit in Thai. Come to find out he was actually not kon thai but was instead kon khmer (Cambodian).

I finally made it back to the bungalow three hours after leaving. Then it was time for a hot shower (we were very surprised to have hot water in our room) and a very delicious barbeque dinner on the beach. Another great day on Samet has come and gone.

Sunburned Already on Ko Samet

Today I was up even earlier than usual, but this time I wasn't complaining because I was on my way to Ko Samet. I was waiting at the door of Dunkin Donuts when it opened at 6, bought a 6-pack (of donuts :) and a coffee, and headed to Ekkamai where I met Mark and Tom. A half-hour later we were on the 7:30 bus out of the city.

Although the bus didn't take the expressway, at least it didn't stop at every corner to pick up and drop off people. So we made it to Ban Pae in 3.5 hours. The boat ride to the island was fast too, less than 30 minutes I think. We were checked into our beach bungalow by noon -- about 7 hours door-to-door.

The day has actually turned out to be more fun than I was expecting. An hour after arriving, I saw a Thai friend who I, ironically enough, first met at the island last year. An hour later I saw another Thai friend from Bangkok with his Canadian friend. So very quickly our party of three became a party of six. We had a great time sitting under the umbrellas on the beach and eating Thai food and drinking Beer Sing. Fantastic.

My only complaint (and I guess it's my own fault) is that I am already sunburned! Arg! Not terribly burnt, just a little red. The sun was a bit stronger and my skin was a bit whiter than I thought. Oh well, tomorrow I will put on that SPF 50 that Mark was offering.

I Hate Kao Sarn


It's Friday already and I have to say that this past week was a good one. I finally am getting some traction in my life it seems.

Probably the biggest breakthrough was that I figured out a way to study Thai language. I always tried to squeeze it in during the day or after work, but it just never seemed to work. So now I just get up a little bit earlier and go to school and study for 45 minutes or so as I eat my breakfast. I was able to do it every day (except for today) and I can already see that it is really going to pay off.

The reason I didn't do it this morning was that I was at the airport until 1:30 AM picking up a friend of a friend. After taking her to her guesthouse on Kao Sarn Road, I finally got home and in bed around 3.

Let me just take this time to say how much I hate Kao Sarn Road. It is the trash pit of Thailand. There is only one place I have been in Asia to that I really really hated, and that was Kao Sarn road in Bangkok. It is all of the worse that Thailand has to offer: it's smelly and trashy and it's full rude Thai people and too many stupid, drunk farang. After I was there for 10 minutes I was sad and angry and felt like I needed a shower. Not good.

So, instead of thinking about that, I will think about my upcoming weekend: a nice little getaway to my favorite Thai island with Mark and Tom. We leave tomorrow and I can hardly wait!

$2 Airline Tickets


I often talk about how goods and services are so much cheaper in Thailand, compared to what I was used to in San Francisco. But I think the purchase I just made today is the all-time winner for great bargains.

Airline price wars have really been heating up in Asia lately, due to several low-cost carriers starting business. One of these is Air Asia, which is based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Air Asia just started flying to Bangkok, so to celebrate, they are selling 20,000 tickets from Bangkok for the unbelivable price of 99 baht. For those of you in the dollar world, that's a one-way airline ticket for US$2.50!

How can I turn down an offer like that? I can't. Therefore, I am now the proud owner of a ticket to Phuket in February. Sure enough, the Phuket-Bangkok ticket cost me 99 baht. The ticket on the the way down only cost 800. So, add them together and add in taxes and other fees, and I get a round-trip ticket to an island in southern Thailand for about 1300 baht -- or a little more than US$30. Amazing.

Rain Storm

I woke up this morning to bright and relatively cool and clear skies, and I took it as a good omen. The first two weeks of the year have been... well... I am not sure what the right word is. Challenging? Difficult? Not that 2004 has been bad, per se, but, I have to admit I have struggled a bit.

First I was fighting off jet-lag after a fun, but stressful 2-week vacation to the US. Then, the New Year started and I had to finish up grading final exams from last semester at the same time that the new semester was starting. Plus, I am preparing for my new gig as a teacher at an online university. On top of all of that, I have been a little sick lately. I'm not sure what it is, but I haven't really been feeling myself since I returned. Are these the reasons why, on January 13, I am posting my first website entry of the new year? Perhaps.

But last night, after running about 3 kilometers on the treadmill at the gym, I was soaking my tired legs in the hotel's outdoor jacuzzi when it started to rain. Luckily, there was a covering above my head that kept most of the cold rain off me. It rained harder and harder and harder while I just sat there and marvelled at the scene. Hot steam, glowing from the yellow underwater lamps, was rising to meet the cold rainy mist glowing from the white hotel spotlights. The hot steam and cold mist mixed and swirled around me as the wind blew. It was raining so hard at one point that the water pouring down the the side of the hotel turned the building into a 30-story-gold-and-silver-metal nam tok.

The rain continued through the night, washing away a layer or two of grime off the buildings and off my New Year. Here's a toast to the remaining 50 weeks of the year!

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This page is an archive of entries from January 2004 listed from newest to oldest.

December 2003 is the previous archive.

February 2004 is the next archive.

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