July 2004 Archives

Holiday in Hua Hin

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Not that I need much of an excuse to leave Bangkok and visit other parts of Thailand, I decided to take a 3-day Buddhist Holiday weekend and go to Hua Hin, a supposedly sleepy little beach town / fishing village south of Bangkok.

So, Piyawat and I drove the 3 hours south from Bangkok to Hua Hin this morning. Apparently, Hua Hin isn't so sleepy on a holiday weekend. After arriving, we spent the next three hours looking for a hotel. We finally found one, and it turned out to be exactly what we were looking for: close to the middle of town and not too expensive (1200 baht). The bonus is that it has Internet access in the room (where I am typing right now).

Tonight we will visit the famous night market and see what a holiday weekend in Hua Hin has to offer.

Fortune Town IT Mall

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I was so excited this afternoon when I realized I had a good reason to take the new Subway. I had a meeting scheduled at the Fortune Town IT Plaza, which is conveniently located at the Pra Ram 9 station.

I'm not going to go into too many details about the meeting, but I'll just say that me and a couple of work collegues are looking into some business opportunites in Bangkok. Don't worry, it's nothing dodgy, but I'm not going to say too much unless things progress further.

In any case, I spent some time wandering around the IT plaza. It was very similar to Pantip in the types of things being sold (hardware, software, DVDs, etc) but the atmosphere was much more relaxed. It was actually a pleasant shopping experience. And no one asked me if I wanted to buy "sexy vcd"!

Khon Kaen Pics

After showing off Terry's photos of Khon Kaen for a few days, I finally have mine ready. You can find them in the Pictures of Thailand: Northeast: Khon Kaen Photo Album.

Not much has been going on this week. I did, however, go to dinner at the new American BBQ place near my house. I don't remember if I wrote about this place before, but I highly recommend it. It is the best American Barbeque I've had in Thailand. And no, I'm not talking about gai yang. I mean tender smoked meat slathered in rich barbeque sauce.

Not only is the food excellent, but the atmosphere is great as well. The seating is all on an outdoor patio. A huge tree hangs over the bar area and is lit up with long cylindrical white lights. Huge fans keep the area cool. The service is professional. I thought it was all very beautiful -- an American slice of Heaven on a somewhat run down soi. But a Thai friend made me take a second look.

"It looks like hell," he said.

"What do you mean? I think that it is very stylish. It reminds me of the floating lights at Loy Kratong"

"It looks like hell," he repeated, pointing ath the hanging lights in the tree. "It reminds me of Thai movies where the people die and their spirits go to Hell. In Hell their spirits get caught in the trees where they have to stay forever."

Wow. I hope that for the sake of this business my friend is just a strange kid and he doesn't reflect the views of Thai people in general!

Anyway, the food at the restaurant really is good, although I might have ruined the atmosphere with that story. The prices are (not surprisingly) on the high side. (I'd guess the average plate is around 200 baht or US$5). It is called the Great American Rib Company and is located on Sukumvit Soi 38 -- half-way between Sukumvit and Rama 4 Roads. Anyone want to join me for some heavenly ribs?

Finish Up & Back Up

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This morning was the final meeting of my summer math class. I am not sure who is happier that it is over, me or my students. Actually this summer worked out much better than last. I don't think it has much to do with the students, I think that I am a year older and wiser, at least with regards to teaching kids who are not all that interested in learning the subject at hand.

So, to celebrate I just made back-ups of all my pictures from the last two years and of all of my school work. Even though I said that I was going to back things up immediately after losing my hard drive a few months ago, I am just now getting to it. I also downloaded a text version of this website, which weighed in at over 1 MB in size. That's a big text file!

Not that the two events of finishing the summer course and backing up my files to CD actually have anything in common, other than it's a relief to get them both done.

Terry's Isaan Pictures

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I haven't had a chance to upload my pictures from the weekend in Khon Kaen yet, but I'll direct you to some of Terry's photos. He had some great shots, including:

The truck with the band

The Isaan folk music concert

The silk weaver at her loom

And the prize winning: Isaan boy in the rice fields

Unfortunately we had to leave Isaan and all the parties behind us and head back to Bangkok today. Before we left, though, we added to the list of cultural experiences by visiting the home of Long's friend Chu. His great aunt is a weaver and was working the huge loom when we stopped by.

Her technique was very different from what we saw in Laos. Instead of weaving several threads of different colors, she wove two threads: one was the background/border color and one was colored in stripes. She would run the thread through the loom and then line up the colors to make the pattern. It still turned out a beautiful pattern, but definitely wasn't as intricate as the Lao patterns.

Then, we went to meet Long's grandmother who was working in the rice fields. She was a friendly woman with a beechnut-blackened smile and a big floppy straw hat. We watched her and her three friends plant the rice seedlings in the mud for a few minutes before hitting the highway home.

On the way home, we stopped at the Khmer temple of Phi Mai, just north of Nakorn Ratchasima city. I have been there two times already, but it's a great sight so I was happy to take Jeremy and Terry there. Again, I didn't take many pictures, but if you want to see what it looked like on my last trip, you can take a look at the Khorat (Nakorn Ratchasima) Photo Album.

Seven hours later we were home. As usual, I was not too happy to be returning to Bangkok. When ever I leave the crazy, chaotic city, life becomes more relaxed than I ever thought possible. This trip was especially cutural as well. We saw a funeral at the temple, a history museum, a celebration for young guys becoming monk novices, an Isaan folk concert, silk weavers and rice planters, and vistited a 1000 year old Khmer temple. It was one of the best weekends yet.

Having a car did turn out to be a wonderful addition to the trip. Today we drove through Khon Kaen city and visited the beautiful 9-story temple called Wat Nong Wang Muang and stopped at the Khon Kaen branch of the National Museum. I had been to both places before so I didn't take many pictures this time. But if you are curious to see what the temple looks like (it's quite striking actually), you can look here.

The good thing about visiting the temple again (besides being there with friends this time instead of being alone like last time) was that I actually climbed all the way to the 9th Floor. Each floor had some type of museum, with everything from statang bills with Rama 8 on them (100 statang = 1 baht = 1/40 of US$1, making them virtually worthless, but still interesting to see) to ancient Buddhist carvings to huge conch shells to Buddhist scriptures written in Pali language on thin wooden slats to pottery to human skeletons. The top floor held the sacred bone of Buddha and had a great view of the lake and downtown Khon Kaen.

After the temple we went to the museum and then to the Ubolratana Dam (pronounced "Ubonrat", for reasons unknown) where we had a delicious Isaan lunch. On the way back to the main road we pulled up behind a big truck with a full band and a female singer belting out Isaan folk songs. The truck eventually stopped at a small village where there was a huge party going on. Of course the three farang couldn't resist this photo opportunity so we stopped to take a look.

Turns out that it was a party to celebrate two young boy's entry into the monkhood. Every Thai boy spends at least a little time as a monk novice to show respect towards Buddhism and towards their family. For the two boys, it was a serious occasion. For everyone else in the village, it was time to sing and dance and eat and drink lots of beer and homeade rice whisky. We didn't eat any food, but plenty of drinks were offered to us.

After having fun with the locals, we headed to our Thai friend's village, about an hour south of Khon Kaen city. We unpacked the car and showered, then headed out to another party. This time it was an Isaan music concert at a school. The stage was set up in a field behind the school and about 200 local people were in attendance, sitting on straw mats in front of the stage. Jeremy, Terry and I were the only white people there, so needless to say when we walked into the crowd, every single person turned to look at us. They all stared at us for about 5 minutes, smiling and laughing and talking about us the whole time. It was quite an odd experience.

Driving to Khon Kaen

The 450-Km, seven-hour drive northeast from Bangkok to Khon Kaen last night wasn't too bad. The three of us talked and laughed and snacked the whole way. Plus, we stopped at a random but very delicious Thai restaurant on the side of the road outside of Nakorn Ratchasima.

You might be saying to yourself, "But I thought the last post said that he was flying to Khon Kaen." And you would be right. Our Thai Airways tickets went unused last night as we missed the flight by just a few minutes. This was due mostly to the fact that we sat in our taxi for a full 10 minutes at the Mo Chit / Lad Prao intersection. Very annoying.

So after we got to the airport and after our begging and pleading to let us on the airplane fell on deaf ears, we rented a car from Avis for about 1600 baht (US$40) a day. We figured that was not too bad, split between three people. Of course losing out on the 2400 baht ($US60) air ticket wasn't good news, but by that point, we didn't have much choice.

Now that I think about it, however, I think that having a car will actually come in handy. It will give us a lot more freedom and we won't have to worry about flagging down taxis or trying to figure out where the songthaw (red truck taxis) go.

Flying to Khon Kaen

After not taking very many road trips lately, I am ready to fly to Isaan tonight with two other work collegues: Jeremy and Terry. We will be visiting a friend of Jeremy's in Khon Kaen. The plan is to stay tonight in the thriving metropolis that is "Downtown Khon Kaen" and then stay tomorrow night out in Long's village outside of the city. Should be fun!

Thai Language Update

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I'm ten days in to my new-found motivation for learning Thai language and I think I have made a lot of progress. It's amazing how much one can learn if they actually study.

I've made my way through my initial set of 125 one-syllable non-tone-marked words and can read and write with about 95% success. Now I have a new set of 45 one-syllable words with tone marks and 95 more no-tone-mark words. So, the goal is to have a reading/writing vocabulary of over 250 by the end of the month.

After that we move on to grammar and actually trying to say something useful...

Tomato Shake

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One thing we can all agree on, apparently, is that Thai food is wonderful.

In my food post a couple of days ago, I forgot to mention the real reason I wanted to write the post in the first place! Usually when I get ba mee heng (noodles, no soup) I also get nam som pan (orange juice shake). In fact, I usually have two of each.

But the other night I was sitting next to the shake-making lady and noticed her make a shake with small round red somethings. I asked Piyawat what they were and he said, "Potatoes." A potato shake? Too bad he meant tomatoes. But still, a tomato shake? I had to try one, and I have to report that it was pretty good. It's just tomatoes, ice, salt, and sugar in a blender. Quite good (and I am guessing somewhat good for you?)

Last night we were at Soi 38 again. The final tally for two people was 3 bowls of ba mee heng and one tomato shake and one carrot shake. Aroi!

New Bangkok Pictures

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I have posted the latest round of pictures to the photo log. They were all taken in Bangkok over the past week or so. First, there are pictures from Piyawat and my first ride on the Bangkok Subway (July 4, 2004). Then, there are pictures from the beautiful, yet somewhat ridiculous ABAC Bang Na university campus (July 8, 2004). Finally, there is one picture of the construction of the mall going up next to the Siam SkyTrain station (July 11, 2004).

They can all be seen in the Pictures of Bangkok Photo Album. Enjoy!

One of the simple pleasures of life in Bangkok is street food. Luckily, I live very close to one of the best areas for street food vendors: Sukumvit Soi 38. Apparently people drive from all over to eat a quick and cheap dinner here.

I have three favorites: one stand has delicious quay tiow rad na mu (flat noodles with pork and thick gravy) and kuay gai mai ao blaa muk (flat noodles with chicken and egg, hold the squid please). Another favorite is the noodle soup stand, although I have gotten in the habit of eating the noodles dry: ba mee hang (thin noodles, no soup) is what I order. The noodles come with mu daeng (red pork), shredded bu (crab), bitter greens, picked veggies, bits of fried pork skin, lots of garlic and various other herbs and spices. It is unbelieveably good for such a simple, cheap dish.

My third favorite is dessert. One stand has delicious ma muang kao neow (mango with sticky rice) but my real favorite is ... well, I don't know the name. Bascially the idea is that you put scoops of a lot of different fruits and jellies into a bowl and cover it with ice. I don't know the name because all I do it just point at the goodies and they serve it up. Some of the goodies include ma muang, sopparot, and luk chit (mango, pinapple, and a opaque, oblique hard gelatin chunks). I also like the little circular red geletin balls and various dried fruits of which I have no idea what they are called. Top it all off with a scoop of nam lum yai (longan juice) and I am a happy camper.

Mmm. I'm hungry.

Yesterday found me running all over Bangkok trying to make my four scheduled meetings / social engagements. First off was attending the APSSA conference that my school was helping to sponsor. The conference was held at ABAC's Bang Na campus, which is famous for its unbelievable straight-out-of-the-Vatican architecture.

But even though I was expecting grandeur, I wasn't expecting what I actually saw. Imagine going to college at a Four Seasons Hotel. Every building was huge and made of marble. Gold was everywhere, along with many statues and paintings of Mary and of Jesus and of course of the King and Queen of Thailand. On the one hand, it was beautiful architecture. On the other, it was so unbelievably and outrageously over the top that it was hard to stomach. Just wait until I post some pictures later this week and you will see what I mean.

In the evening, I had a dinner meeting with Jan and Kaya from Monash University. I had met Jan, a current PhD student in the IT department, a couple of weeks ago and tonight her advisor Kaya was joining us.

We ate at the Brazilian restaurant at the Asia Hotel. If you like exotic meat, this is the place to go. Throughout the meal, the waiters bring you plates of sausage, chicken wings, beef, lamb, pork, and even ostrich. It was delicious, albeit a bit expensive at 400 baht per person (US$10). But, then again (as usual) it was nothing compared to a similar restaurant on San Francisco's Market Street that I have enjoyed in the past.

The meal took four hours to finish. Not that the service was slow, but the three of us were talking non-stop. It was a nerdy academic conversation for sure, with topics such as: the Thai social hierarchy and foreigners' position in it, Western Logic Vs Thai Emotions, and the meaning of words like "respect" and "responsibility" and how they are different in western and Thai languages.

The good news is that I felt like we really made a connection. We talked about my vague plans to get a PhD and the possibilities of working with Kaya and getting a Monash degree but staying and doing the work in Thailand. In any case, I was very excited about my future by the time the dinner was over.

The last meeting of the day was joining Rupert for drinks on Silom. As usual, we talked a little bit about my life here and he gave me some really good practical advice about my next steps. It's always so good to have him around. Unfortuantely he leaves to go back to the US tomorrow, but maybe those seeds I have planted about his moving to Thailand someday will take root. (*evil laugh*)

Thai Language (Again)

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Over breakfast on Sunday, Rupert asked me, "You've been living here how long?"

It's a question I get all the time. "Almost two years," I answered without thinking.

"And you still can't speak Thai?!"

Ouch.

I don't think he meant it as an insult, but he had a point. I would have thought that I would be much more proficient at the local language after two years than I am now. I rationalize it as: "No one speaks Thai to me" or "It's too difficult to pick up", or "I don't need it to survive".

But when I think about it, it is kind of ridiculous that I don't know more than I do. Sunday afternoon I resolved (again) to try to do something about it. If I can spend an hour a day studying Thai language, surely by the end of the year I should at least be able to communicate at an elementary level.

So, I gathered all of my Thai language flash cards that I have made over the past two years, removed the duplicates, and organized them into two piles: 1) monosyllabic words with no tone marks and 2) everything else. I then took Pile #1 and organized them into the seven main tone rules:

  1. High class first letter + Live syllable = Rising Tone
  2. High class first letter + Dead syllable = Low Tone
  3. Mid class first letter + Live syllable = Mid Tone
  4. Mid class first letter + Dead syllable = Low Tone
  5. Low class first letter + Live syllable = Mid Tone
  6. Low class first letter + Dead syllable + Short vowel = High Tone
  7. Low class first letter + Dead syllable + Long vowel = Falling Tone

Whew! Did you get all that?

Now I have 125 cards each with a monosyllabic Thai word with no tone marks organized into 7 categories. The way I figure it, I have 5 main tasks in starting to learn Thai, listed below along with test results to see how much I have learned in the two years so far:


  1. Learn all 44 Thai Consonants: 86%
  2. Class of all 44 Consonants: 66%
  3. Meaning of 125 simple Thai words: 46%
  4. Spelling of 125 simple Thai words: 51%
  5. Tone of 125 simple Thai words: 0%

Then, it seems like the course of action should be:

  1. Tone rules associated with 3 tone marks
  2. Meaning of simple words with tone marks
  3. Spelling of simple words with tone marks
  4. Then on to complicated words and grammar!

Ok, enough with the list-making, I've got some language to learn!

Birthday Week

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Part of the reason for the big group dinner at Sphinx this past weekend was that 3 of my friends were celebrating their birthday. For some strange reason, it seems like I am overwhelmed with birthdays this week.

Today I actually did the math to see if it was truly an anomoly. Sure enough, I have about 80 birthdays recorded in my Yahoo Calendar, but this week holds 9 of them.

So even though there are 52 weeks in a year, over 10% of my friends have birthdays in the one week of July 3-10. Weird. Why were so many of my friend's parents having lots of sex the first week of November?

Some people have commented that I haven't been updating this site much lately. But the part of this site that I really have been ignoring is the Photo Section. It just hasn't been the same after my site got hacked.

So, this morning I took some time to reinstall the old page templates from Blogstyles.com. They look pretty good now (well, at least compared to how they looked an hour ago) but I defintely want to tweak them a bit. Let the fun begin!

I'm also updating the comments on the Taipei pictures, which I posted a long time ago but never publicized. Pictures of Taipei Photo Album

Fun Filled Weekend

As hoped for, it did turn out to be a fun-filled weekend. We started off on Friday night with dinner at Sphinx (one of my favorites). There were 8 of us, but I was the only one who knew everyone. I figured everyone would get along, though, and they did. The only downside to the night was that one person in our party ended up having a bit of a medical emergency involving alergic reactions, calls to the nearby Bangkok Christian Hospital and my first ride in a Bangkok ambulance! I won't name any names (to protect the innocent) but it was quite a scary, yet surreal experience to watch my friend get rolled down busy Silom Soi 4 on a Friday night on a hospital stretcher.

Luckily, after a night at the hospital and lots of medication, my friend recovered and was ready to go out and party again on Saturday night. So 7 of us met at MBK for dinner at Kanom Jin (another favorite), then watched Spiderman at the MBK VIP theatre (US$5 for big comfy lazy-boy chairs) and then it was back to Silom for some nightlife.

Sunday morning started early (well, relatively early for a Sunday morning) with the new breakfast menu at the now-open-24-hours-a-day Coffee Society. (Anyone else noticing I spend a lot of time on Silom when I have guests in town?)

Then, to finish off the excitement, Piyawat and I rode the brand new rot fai dtai din (underground train). We took it from Silom to Jutujuk Park. Since it was the first day (and a Sunday) the trains were jammed packed full of curious Thai people.

My thoughts on the new subway? It's quite impressive. It reminds me a bit of the MRT in Singapore. The stations are clean and roomy and the cars are exactly the same as the Skytrain. In fact, when you are inside the car, it looks and feels exactly like you are riding the Skytrain, except that there is nothing to look at outside the windows. For that reason alone, I like the Skytrain better. The subway (although it is clean and quiet and effeicient) is kind of boring because there is nothing to look at.

Not to mention the subway doesn't really go anywhere interesting that the Skytrain doesn't go, other than the Hualompong train station. Some friends have mentioned and recommended the IT Plaza on Ratchadapisek, so maybe I can check it out sometime.

Gmail Invitations

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It looks like the Gmail floodgates are about to open. I have four Gmail invitations to give out. Who wants one? If you know me (even if it's just electronically) and you want an invite, send an email message to sgtowns AT gmail DOT com.

New Cubicle (Boring Life?)

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In an email to my friend Rupert, I said that my life has been boring lately. Well, maybe not boring, but settled / regular / nothing special / non-exotic / whatever you want to call it. Case in point: this morning has seemed very exciting to me because after teaching for a year and a half at this school, I got to move to a new cubicle today! Woohoo! I spent the morning cleaning and moving all my books and computer and rearranging furniture. Amazing fun!

Actually this upcoming weekend should be fun. I have a few San Francisco friends visiting Bangkok this weekend: Mark, Troy and (the previously mentioned) Rupert. Guests always have a way of getting me out of the house and enjoying some of Bangkok's nightlife and tourist spots.

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About this Archive

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

June 2004 is the previous archive.

August 2004 is the next archive.

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