February 2004 Archives

2bangkok.com

A former student of mine reminded me of one of the best websites in Thailand: 2bangkok.com. I used to read this site quite a bit, but it seemed like it wasn't updated any more. Well, now it is updated regularly and seems to be the best English-language source of news about Bangkok, especially news concerning transportation and infrastructure

The front page has a plethora of interesting stories, such as a link to a Forbes article showing PM Thaksin as the 6th richest head of state in the world (worth 1.6 billion dollars), summaries of the 400 billion baht (US$10 billion) plan for mass transit extensions in Bangkok, and a story about the 11,000+ websites that are now blocked in Thailand. Good stuff!

Ta Wi Pop

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We celebrated the end of exams last night with my first Thai movie in a long time. I don't know why I don't go to many movies in Thailand. I don't see many American films, let alone seeing the Thai ones. But it seems like Thai cinema is starting to become recognized around the world, at least this article from the Hindustan Times seems to think so.

As the article mentions, there are two Thai movies that are out now that look good. One is called Overture and is about classical Thai music. The other, which I saw last night, is called Ta Wi Pop. (The English title is The Siam Renaissance.)

The movie follows the lead female character as she time-travels back and forth between present-day and turn-of-the-last-century Bangkok. Time-travel flicks are often quite cheesy and unbelievable, but this one was somewhat interesting. It was an interesting time in Thailand's history at least, as Kings Rama IV and V tried to protect Siam's independence from the aggressively colonizing England and France.

Of course the movie covered the issue of "If you can travel back in time, should you try to change history?" The lead character did at one point and the result was (of course) disasterous with England and France splitting Thailand right down the middle and France building the Eiffel Tower on the west bank of the Bangkok's Chao Praya River.

All in all, it was an "OK" movie. The time-travel concept has been done many times before, so that aspect wasn't all that interesting. But, as with most historical movies coming out of Thailand these days (for example, Suriyothai) the re-creation of Thailand's "golden ages" on the big screen was quite beautiful and inspiring.

Exams Are Over

Everyone was all smiles on the way back to my office after my last exam today. You could see it in everyone's face -- students and teachers alike -- the two weeks of exams are finally over.

For those in the Thai program, that means that the acedemic year is over. Some very happy students won't ever have to take another exam. Of course, such a momentous event has to be recorded, and so the cameras were out and being used to the fullest.

It's nice to see the smiles return. Hopefully everyone will have a good 10 day break. In a break from tradition, I will not be travelling this break, but instead will be working through a to-do list as long as my arm. Some of those things concern this website, so maybe there will be some changes and new additions here soon.

Another One Year Visa

It was time for another trip to Immigration today. My one-year work visa was set to expire in a couple of weeks, so I was escorted in a school van to the Immigration office to renew the visa. Now, I am free to stay in Thailand through the end of this year.

Luckily, every time I go to Immigration, the process is smoother and smoother. I probably shouldn't say that in case I jinx myself and have to spend hours in line next time. But this time was a piece of cake. (Or as I learned today, the saying in Thailand is: "As easy as peeling a banana")

All I have to do is go back to Immigration sometime this week to update my visa from a Single Entry to a Multiple Entry. Knowing me, I will definitely want to leave the country more than once. In fact, in March I will be going to Seattle, in April I will be going to Laos, and my boss just this week asked me if I will chaperone some students to Hong Kong in October. Too bad PM Thaksin doesn't appreciate the contributions we farang are making to the country and raised the price of the multiple entry stamp more than 100% to 3800 baht (almost US$100). Ouch!

Movies and Bowling

It's exam time, which means that the malls are (relatively) quiet. Piyawat and I went to MBK for a movie on Saturday night and were amazed that the usual chatting and laughing young crowds were not there. We both noticed it right away, but it took us a while to figure out what the case was.

We started Saturday evening by finally seeing Last Samurai. I thought it was ok... for a Hollywood movie. At least it has sparked some good conversations with Piyawat the last few days. For example, the Samurai's mountain village reminded both of us of the Thai Hill Tribes. There are some obvious comparisons that can be drawn between the three groups (American Indians, Samurai, and Thai Hilltribes). However, I don't know enough about the history of the Samurai to know how well the analogies work.

There were some minor annoyances in the movie (for me, at least). First of all, I'm no Tom Cruise fan. Also, Tom's character was way too modern. It wasn't very believable that he was an American soldier from the 1870's. It also was hard to believe that the "Last Samurai" spoke such good English or that Tom's character picked up Japanese so quickly. Or maybe he was just a lot smarter than I am, because learning an Asian language has been extremely difficult over the past year for me.

Also, we noticed that Hollywood movies with Japanese Emperors don't seem to stir up as much protests in Japan as movies with Thai Kings do in Thailand. (I'm referring specifically to The King and I and Anna and the King, which were both banned in Thailand.)

Of course, there were a lot of interesting topics that the movie didn't address. For example, why were the Samurai attacking the railroads? Why did the common people still show respect to the Samurai? And lots of historical questions: Was the power of the emperor really taken over by commercial interests? What really happened to the Samurai?

All in all I guess that it was a good movie. Any movie that actually makes me think critically or makes me hungry for more information is worth something.

After the movie, we were ready for some brainless fun, so we went bowling at the other end of MBK's seventh floor. Before that night, I didn't even know that there was a bowling alley there. Once inside, I was immediately reminded of the old (and now non-existent) Japan Town Bowl in San Francisco -- lots of young Asians, flashing black and neon lights, and hard-beat dance music blaring.

It looked like a lot of fun, so I convinced Piyawat to bowl a game with me. It ended up being two. I actually played relatively well: 105 on my first game (I'm happy if I break 100) and an incredible (for me) 133 on the second.

It was a fun evening and even though it seemed like we spent a lot of money, I felt much better when I thought about how much a movie at Kabuki (with popcorn and cokes) and two games (with rental shoes, a pitcher of Kamakazies and some spring rolls) at Japan Town Bowl across the street would have set us back. It's no contest.

Phuket Pictures

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Sunset BoatIt has been a pretty slow week, as far as storytelling goes. It's mid-term exam time, so I have been spending most of my time at work watching kids take tests.

So, for something new and exciting here, I posted some pictures of beautiful Phuket for your viewing pleasure. Check them out in the Pictures of Southern Thailand: Phuket Photo Album.

Old Friends

I got a bad bit of news in my email box yesterday. A good friend of mine from my college days severely injured his spinal cord in a skiing accident in Whistler last weekend. My thoughts are with him and his family now. May he have a speedy recovery.

But, distancing myself from the emotions for a moment, and it is an amazing thing to be instantly connected to friends I haven't seen in a decade through a touch of a button on my computer. As I look over the list of names in the CC list list, I try to imagine everyone as mid-30-somethings, rather than the 21 and 22 year olds that are in my memory.

So now I am imagining sitting around a table swapping stories with older, yet familar faces. We are all laughing and remembering a special period of our lives where we truely lived life to the fullest. Hopefully, the small kids running around and under and on the table aren't listening too closely, or are at least too young to be able to listen and learn about what Daddy was really like back then...

Last Day in Phuket

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Unfortunately, it's time to go home to Bangkok. Piyawat and I have thouroughly enjoyed our trip to Phuket this weekend.

Today was mostly a relaxing day. Piyawat sat at the pool for most of the day, while I hiked along the rocky coastline below our hotel. It was an amazing walk. I saw a lot of wildlife: three different 3-foot long rock lizards, millions of crabs, little fish which would cling to the rocks as the waves washed in and out, a foot-wide bright pink starfish. Unfortunately I didn't take my camera with me. Shame on me. But we did take a lot of other pictures over the course of the weekend, which I will try to post sometime this week.

We finished the day with a ride into Patong for dinner and one last walk around town. Then we returned the motorcycle in Karon and had a one-hour foot massage. Now it's time to head back to the airport.

Tomorrow: Proctoring Mid-term exams. Wheee!

Nui Beach and Promthep Cape

When I visited Phuket a few years ago, I found a tiny, secluded beach between Kata Beach and the famous sunset viewpoint at Promthep Cape. So today's main task was to find that beach again.

But, as it turned out, it wasn't too hard to find this time. We drove our motorcycle down a red dirt road for about a kilometer from the main road, parked it, and continued on foot for another kilometer down a steep, winding, deeply rutted trail.

Even though the hike back up the mountain to our motorcycle was a killer and the fact that each person is charged 250 baht to enter the beach, it was all worth it. The small beach (which I found out is called Nui Beach) was as beautiful and secluded as I remembered. Piyawat spent about 5 hours there, relaxing on plastic beach chairs under a big umbrella.

As the sun began to go down, we climbed back up to our motorcyle and headed to the Promthep Cape to watch the final 20 minutes of the sunset along with a huge crowd of tourists and Thai locals. We were exhausted from the motorcycle riding and the steep hike at Nui Beach, and so we very much enjoyed sitting on top of the cliffs and watching the sun slowly set, casting a long orange reflection over the water.

Beach, Language, and Phuket Fantasea

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As promised in our hotel's promotional material, the best thing about the hotel is the view. Each room is a private bungalow built on the side of a steep cliff covered in dense vegetation. We started the day with a breakfast buffet at one of the hotel restaurants overlooking a large bay with Karon Beach stretching into the distance.

We finished the free breakfast and walked down the trail and over the rocks to the beach. A short time later we were on a rented motorcycle and touring the western coast of the island. When we grew tired of that game, we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing by the pool, Piyawat with his Kaplan Grammar Power book and I with my Teach Yourself Thai.

The highlight of the day, however, was attending the Phuket Fantasea, Thailand's answer to Cirque du Soleil. We took the motorcycle north along the coast, through crazy Patong, to Kamala Beach. A big buffet dinner was included in the 1600 baht (US$40) admission fee and since we hadn't eaten since the buffet breakfast (see a pattern here?) we gorged on good Thai food.

I had low expectations for the Fantasea show, since I have yet to see good large-scale entertainment (theatre, concerts, etc) in Thailand. But it turned out to be pretty good. It did a good job of stuffing a lot of traditional Thai culture and mythology into an hour and a half. In other words, there were a lot of trained elephants, quite a bit of silliness, and song-and-dance odes to rice farming. All in all, though, it was a good show that I'd certainly recommend to anyone visiting Phuket.

Air Asia Flight to Phuket

This semester, Fridays are my worst days, as I have to teach for 5 hours. But today I didn't mind at all, since I knew that I was flying to Phuket tonight. Friday rushhours can be hell, but luckily traffic wasn't bad at all and we made it to the airport from school in only 30 minutes.

As I mentioned before, we had booked air tickets on Air Asia. I was curious to see what a "no-frills" Asian airline was like. It turned out to be not so bad at all. It's easy to see where they save money, though. There were no computers at the check-in counter. Instead, our names were checked off of a paper list. Ditto at the gate. The boarding passes are hand-written and seats are not assigned. Drinks and snacks are offered on the flight, but you have to pay for them.

But that's ok. My round trip ticket cost 1300 baht (less than US$40) so as long as they got me and my luggage to the Phuket airport in one piece, I am not going to complain.

There's nothing no-frills about our hotel, though. We figured that since we had saved so much money on the plane ticket, then we could splurge a little on the hotel. We were picked up at the airport by the hotel's private Mercedes taxi and taken to our final destination: Central Villas at Karon Bay. Of course, it was dark when we arrived, so we won't see the promised views of the beach until tomorrow.

Orkut

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The latest "social networking" site to get a lot of press lately is called Orkut. There is nothing new about these kind of websites (Friendster is another one), but I thought this one was interesting because it was sponsored by Google.

So I had high hopes since it was a Google product, even though most of the reviews I have read have been negative. But since you can only sign up if you are invited by a friend, I have sat here and waited for my invitation. Finally, today I received one from Jase.

Now, I am an official member. My thoughts? It's nothing special. In fact, they could use some help in the information design. I've also noticed a bug or two. A lot of the questions were, in my opinion, quite personal and invasive. Those, I left blank. In general, though, I still don't get the point of these services. Does anyone?

Also, I invited a few friends who I thought might be interested in taking a look at the service. If you did not get an invitation from me, and you want one, let me know.

Phuket

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There's just something magic about the words. "It's the Friday before a three-day weekend" Add that to, I bought a plane ticket to Phuket for 99 baht (US$2.50) and I can barely contain myself.

That's right, this weekend will be spent on the lovely island of Phuket. I haven't been there since my first trip to Thailand 2.5 years ago. Therefore, I have never posted any pics here from that first trip, so I will be sure to take a few this weekend.

My happiness is not shared by my students today, though, as I am giving both of my sections a test in the second half of class. After this weekend, midterm exams will start. Now that it is exam time, the students become very dilligent in their studies. It's a little odd (yet refreshing) to see Thai kids take something seriously. (Remember, this is a country where I think it is a bit of an insult to be called "serious".) I'm always happy when they show me that they are really interested in learning after all.

Fewer Smiles

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Thailand is called the "Land of Smiles" (for good reasons which I will not go into here) but there will definitely be fewer smiles next month if the Government goes through with their current plans.

But before I talk about the controversy, think for a moment of why people love Bangkok so much. People like Chiang Mai for the temples and the history. They like Southern Thailand for the beaches and the scuba diving. But what is so great about Bangkok? There is pretty much only one thing that people come to Bangkok for: Amazing nightlife.

But, starting March 1, most of that that will be changing, as all bars outside of special designated zones are closing at midnight. That's right. Midnight. As the Nation newspaper reports:

In Bangkok, the zones designated for entertainment venues cover the Patpong area, and New Phetchaburi and Ratchadaphisek roads. Inside the entertainment zones, nightclubs and bars can stay open until 2am, while pubs and discotheques must close at 1am.

What about bars that are not in one of those three zones? Believe it or not, they'll be closed at Midnight.

And this is not only for Bangkok, but for all of Thailand. Of course bar and nightclub owners all over the country, especially those in tourist areas, are crying foul. It will be interesting to see how this turns out. Will the government really be successful in enforcing these new rules? Is a new Thailand really emerging? Or will this just be another money-maker for local police?

Planning Songkran Already

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It's only February now, but I learned my lesson about April's Songkran holiday last year: Plan Ahead! So last week, we made flight reservations to go to Luang Prabang, Laos for the holiday.

I have raved about Laos many times on these pages, and I hear that Songkran in Luang Prabang is very special. I'm inviting all of my farang friends to go with me; hopefully a few can make it. All of my buddies in America are welcome to come as well. Our plans now are to take a whole week off and spend a few days in Sukothai, a few days in Luang Prabang, and a few days in Vientiane on the way back.

Need some encouragement to join us? Then just check out my pictures of Luang Prabang. Or maybe read about last year's touching Songkran experience in Buriram.

I can hardly wait. Wanna come?

Graduation Weekend

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I usually spend my weekends travelling or catching up on work but this time I had a full social calendar. On Friday night, Piyawat and I joined two others from my school at a dinner party. In addition to the 4 teachers, there was an orchid farmer from Mae Hong Son, a guy from Si Sisket provence near Cambodia, another one who is starting a heavy metal recording company, and an Austrailian man who is an ex-ambassador. It was a UN-kind of party: 2 Americans, 1 Australian, 1 Burmese, 1 Philipino, 1 Taiwanese, and the rest from Thailand. What an interesting, eclectic crowd it was!

Then, Saturday and Sunday we attended graduation festivities. At my school, each department throws a party for its seniors at a fancy hotel in town, so on Saturday night we went to the end-of-the-school-year party for the Economics department. On Sunday, we donned our big black robes and went to the graduation ceremony.

Luckily, graduation only lasted 3 hours, but it was actually kind of fun. All the other ajarn and I were sitting on the stage facing the students and sitting behind the President of the University, who gave the diploma to each student. To our left, 9 Buddhist monks in their orange robes chanted as the diplomas were given out. It was quite a ceremony!

Then, we gave a ride home to the ajarn who had graciously invited us to the dinner party on Friday. We arrived at his beautiful condo overlooking the Royal Sports horsetrack and golf course. He invited us up for a bit and we ended up staying for hours as his Taiwanese friend cooked us an incredible Chinese dinner. After dinner we went to the Four Seasons hotel next door for after-dinner drinks and desserts. The perfect end to a fun weekend...

John Stone

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As I posted 5 weeks ago, one of my New Year 2004 resolutions was (a very unique) plan to "Exercise Regularly". I've done an OK job (more or less) and have even seen a few improvements in my health and body but no real weight loss yet.

But what little improvements I have made, are nothing compared to John Stone. Go ahead and click on that link to see an absolutely unbelieveable transformation of one guy over the past year. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and check out the monthly photos. I have to admit it's a little bit freaky, but if this doesn't inspire you to get off the couch, I'm not sure what will.

Version 1.1

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Not much has been happening lately, other than the usual: work, studying Thai language, and going to the gym. At least I am not sick any more.

I have started a new project, however. I just installed Macromedia Dreamweaver and am starting to teach myself how it works. The best way to learn, I think, is to practice on this site. You might have noticed that this page looks a little bit different today. We'll call it Version 1.1.

Now, I won't be announcing every little change from now on, but you might see a few things that are a little different now and then. Hopefully, the changes are for the better, but please let me know if I do something that is offends your sense of decorum and taste, or if the page is unreadable in your browser. Thanks!

John Kerry Wins

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It's over. John Kerry won the Presidential nomination for the Democratic Party last week.

Well, at least if the most accurate pre-selection group picked it correctly. Every four years since 1908, students at my alma mater Washington and Lee University have met in a Mock Convention to chose the candidate who will gain the out-of-power party's nomination. Seventeen out of twenty-two tries (and every time but once since 1948) they have gotten it right.

We got it right my senior year, picking Bill Clinton to lead the charge against George Bush Sr. We missed on the VP choice though, thinking that Mario Cuomo would be a nice balance on the ticket. Oh well. This year, the students picked John Edwards.

Will this year's W&L students make it 8 in a row? We'll find out in a few months, but things are looking good so far.

Lopburi Pictures

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SunflowerI'm happy to report that two days after my visit to the hospital, I am mostly healed. At least it wasn't the bird flu. Or, if it was, I recovered :)

So, to celebrate my life, I've posted a few new pictures. They come from a little weekend get-away to Lopburi province. The point of the trip was to visit my friends Gey and Don and to visit the famous sunflower fields. You can read about my trip or just look at the pictures in the Pictures of Central Thailand: Lopburi photo album.

Bird Flu

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I spent much of the morning yesterday doing a little work. My school is adding a bunch of computer classes to the schedule next fall, and I am helping them figure out what classes to offer.

I felt a little bit tired the whole day. By the afternoon, I was feeling very lethargic. In fact, the more the day went on, the worse I felt. By nightfall, I was in serious pain: head ache, stomach ache, leg aches. The only thing that made me feel better was sitting in the jacuzzi or the steam room at the gym. So I did just that, for hours. But in the end, nothing helped and I staggered home.

So of course what is my first reaction? I'm dying of Bird Flu!

As I lay in bed, my mind played through the "you're dying of bird flu" scenario. What would happen? I sometimes wonder if I will ever be famous, and I realized this was my chance. If I died from Bird Flu, my name would be in papers around the world! Thai newspapers are infamous for putting a picture of at least one dead person on the front page every day, so I imagined what my picture would look like.

I wondered if I could update my website while I was dying. Now that would be interesting, wouldn't it? Probably get me a few more headlines. I don't think anyone has ever blogged from their deathbed, have they?

A couple of hours later, I was feeling so bad I decided to go to the hospital. But the doctor quickly ended my wild imaginings when he told me that I simply had a bacteria in my digestive system. Before I knew it, I was on my way home with 4 medicines in my hand and a 370 baht (US$10) hospital bill.

Luckily, the medicines have done the trick. I spent most of the day today in bed, but ventured out tonight to walk around a bit. I'm still tired, but hopefully by tomorrow I will be back to normal.

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

January 2004 is the previous archive.

March 2004 is the next archive.

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