September 2004 Archives

As I have traveled around SE Asia, I have often marveled at the many mystical creatures that adorn the temple walls, without having any idea of who and what they are. But now, I have a little better idea after following a link from 2bangkok.com to a an interesting site on Thai Mythology called Himmapan. The name of the website refers to the forest that is found between heaven and earth and is home to many different kinds of mixed-animal creatures (like lion-fish and winged elephants).

After looking through all of the mixed-animal creatures, the only one I recognize is the Kinaree, or half-woman, half-swan. But maybe after a little reading, I will have a little better idea of what I am looking at next time I am in a Thai temple.

(By the way, am I wrong for saying "Thai Mythology"? What is the difference between Mythology and Religion? These creatures are on modern Thai temples. Does that make it religion? Or does the fact that most Thai people don't actually believe that these characters exist make it mythology?)

Bad News: U.S. Trip Cancelled

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Here is the email that I just sent to my friends and family who I had told that I was visiting the US in October:

I have some bad news. Looks like Piyawat and I will have to cancel our trip to the US. I made the mistake of not looking into the rental truck before making other plans. What I found out was that U-Haul has a very strict policy about the number of days you can rent and the number of miles you can drive. So, our plan of a leisurely tour of America has been squashed. Since renting a truck one-way is not a cheap option, we don't think that it is worth our time and money at this point.

I still want to move my stuff to North Carolina, so I think what I will do is to ship it in December when I come back to the US for Christmas. I found one company that will do this called ABF U-Pack. Basically you pack up a big crate and they ship it for you. Have you ever heard of this company or any like it? Sounds like a legitimate way to do it.

Needless to say, I am disappointed. Oh well. Guess I'll see most of you in December...

What a bummer. On the one hand, we will save a lot of money by not going. On the other, a cross-country drive sounded like a lot of fun...

Monday Stroll: Merlion, Suntec, and Bugis

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Today's Singaporean "adventure" involved walking around the city and helping Piyawat take hundreds of pictures. I brought my camara along as well, but after three photos, my card was full. Apparently I forgot to transfer all of the Europe photos to my laptop. Duh!

In any case, we had a marvellous time seeing the sites: the river walk, the Merlion (Singapore's city half lion-half-fish symbol), the bug-eyed (or durian) shaped Esplanade Theatres, the world's largest fountain at Suntec City, and the amazingly gentrified ex-red light district but now fashionable Bugis shopping center.

At Bugis we had coffee with Kelvin, another good Singaporian friend of mine. Again, it was great to catch up with him and hear all about the latest stories of life in clean, efficient, but (even he would admit it) somewhat boring Singapore.

And now, time to head back to the laid-back chaos of Bangkok. This was my third trip to Singapore and I think it was the most enjoyable. Having Piyawat along definitely helped. (I went alone the other times.) But I think part of it was that now that I have lived in Asia for a couple of years, I can see past the "exotic" and get a better feeling for the "reality" that is around me. At least that is my view today. Who knows what I will think and feel years from now...

Order Vs Chaos (Singapore vs Bangkok)

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As promised, today was a busy day for us on Orchard Road. I am now the proud owner of three new pairs of pants, three shirts, 6 pairs of socks and a belt. Piyawat added socks, a belt, a couple shirts and a light jacket to his collection. Whew.

After shopping we had coffee with Mark near the California Fitness on Orchard. It was good to catch up with him. I think he is one of the few people in the world who travels more than I do. He just returned from an impressive month-long trip to Myanmar (Burma). He said that the trip was a real adventure, including one not-so-pleasant experience of getting food poisoning while on an 18-hour bus ride through a country with very poor roads. The 18-hour bus ride is bad enough, but being sick on top of that is an experience I'd rather miss.

Piyawat and I have walked around Singapore quite a bit today. A recurring theme in our discussions is "Could Thailand ever look like this?" Singapore is perhaps the cleanest, most efficient, most orderly city I have ever been in. Bangkok, on the other hand, is probably one of the most chaotic.

Or, to look at it another way, Bangkok has so many things that Singapore doesn't have: mangy soi dogs sleeping in the street, beggars (many of them children), piles of trash waiting to be collected, black stinking canals, air pollution, street vendors taking up all the space on the sidewalk, uneven sidewalks that force you to watch where you are going or else face a twisted ankle or worse, loud motorcycles, horrible traffic, non-airconditioned busses that belch black smoke...

There is some reason to have hope for Bangkok. After all, Singapore was an average SE Asian city just 50 years ago. The improvements they have made in those 50 years are nothing short of amazing.

Could Bangkok become like Singapore? It could, if it was willing to make changes. Small things like flat, even sidewalks and a little landscaping could go a long way. Charging cars a toll to use the streets in the downtown area would be a great idea too. Requiring busses to meet minimum emissions standards would also help. Bangkok could also follow Singapore's lead in moving all of the street vendors off the sidewalks and into government-sponsored Hawker Food Courts.

You may be asking, "If Singapore is so wonderful and Bangkok is so terrible, then why don't you move to Singapore?" I think the answer can be found in my feeling that Singapore has gone too far in their drive to produce order and cleanliness. ChinaTown, although beautiful with it's freshly painted centuries-old shophouses, looks like Disney World to me. It is too perfect. Singapore has sacrificed its soul, its heart, its emotions in the rush to have order.

I'd say the perfect city lies somewhere between the two extremes of Bangkok and Singapore. Where is that city? I'd say San Francisco and Sydney come close, with San Franciso being on the chaotic/emotional side of the fence and Sydney being on the orderly/rational side. But both seem to be somewhere in the middle.

It has been a beautiful day in Singapore. How do I know this? Because I am there!

On a spur of the moment, Piyawat and I decided to use airline milage for a free flight to Singapore to take advantage of a three-day weekend. We had originally planned to do this trip back in January, but just now found the time to do it.

We arrived earlier this evening and had a chance to walk around town a bit. We walked from our hotel on Bencoolen Street (near the foot of Orchard Road) to Boat Quay on the River and then through ChinaTown, stopping at Temple Street for some delicious Chinese street food and a Tiger Beer.

Our plan for tomorrow is to shop on Orchard Road. I haven't bought many clothes lately, so maybe tomorrow will be a good chance to update my wardrobe!

Hurricane Ivan

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Another undercurrent of my past week has been preparing for my trip back to America in October. Now that Piyawat has his visa (a 10-year visa, amazingly enough) we are ready to go. I will be cashing in some United Miles for this trip, which will definitely help out because the rest of the trip will be very expensive.

The plan, as I mentioned before, is to drive from San Francisco to North Carolina in a big U-Haul truck. It's going to be a long, but fun 2 weeks, I hope.

ivan.jpgOne of the stops we are planning on making is in Florida to visit my sister. Right now as I type this, she (and the rest of that part of the country) is getting hit very hard by Hurricane Ivan. I talked to her a bit last night and she is in good spirits.

(Click here for a big picture of the current radar.)

In any case, it will be interesting to go to Pensacola and to visit the beach. Who knows what will be left of it, because at this very moment, it is under about 15 feet of swirling, churning sea water. When I lived through Hurricane Fredrick in 1979, I remember going out to the completely flat beach that had huge sand dunes to play on just the day before. It was a shocking sight.

WOW! Just as I am typing this, I got an email from my sister. She is taking refuge at her boyfriend's office, which is in an old department store. It should be very safe there. This is what she said:

The worst of it, before the eye of the storm, is hitting us right now. Roofs are starting to leak, however structuring on a whole, things are okay. Elevator is broken, security systems is down (which means that no telling how long we will be here). Cell phones still seem to be working, at least for the time being.

Once this has passed ... looking to get back to tropical storm force winds, probably by late tomorrow afternoon .... it's going to be, I'm afraid, devastating for many, many people from Mobile to Pensacola, then pretty gosh darn terrible to the west and east of us. We won't know until tomorrow, possibly Friday.


My thoughts and prayers go out to her and all the others who are laying low and waiting for Mother Nature to take her course.

Ten Bad Days: Exams and Food Poisoning

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Ten days have gone by with no posts from me. Unfortunately, there wasn't a lot of fun for me to have during those ten days. Most of my time was spent putting in 12-hour days at school preparing for the final classes before the midterm exams start next week as well as creating the actual exams.

And to top it all off, I got another nasty case of food poisoning last Tuesday night. Luckily (?) I have had it several times now, so I know the symptoms very well. I was woken up at midnight with... well... let's just leave it at "symptoms that involved frequent trips to the hong nam (it sounds so much better when I say it in Thai!). An hour later I was visiting the usual doctor, getting the usual five different kinds of medicine, paying the usual 500 baht (US$12) and heading home. The entire next day was spent in bed. Since I caught the illness early this time, I only lost one day, even though a week later I still feel a little tired.

But now things are looking up. I turned in one exam today and the second is waiting for my collegue's approval. Also tonight I was able to finish my posts from Vienna (here and here).

I have a three-day weekend this weekend and a two-week vacation in October. That means I have two (yes two!) trips coming up in the next few weeks. Looks like better days are ahead of me!

Well, last night turned out to be a fun evening on the town. After a quick disco-nap I headed out to sample the Vienna nightlife. It was fairly mellow, but friendly. I met a lot of people from all over the world: America, France, Slovenia, Switzerland, and a big group from the Phillipines who adopted me for the evening.

This morning, I got up as early as I could and ran back down to the Inner Stadt to take the pictures that I had missed the weekend before. Unfortunately, the crowds were already there when I arrived, so the pictures weren't as good as what I saw last weekend, but I still think they were ok. Maybe I can post them here this weekend.

I also had a chance to walk through the Naschmarkt ("Farmer's Market"). I wish I had time to explore it more, as well as a bigger stomach to hold more of the amazingly wide selection of delicious smelling International food that can be found there.

So now it's time to go back to Bangkok and face a big pile of work that I have been able to ignore this week. It's been a very educational trip and productive trip, both professionally and personally. Professionally, the conference in Finland helped me a lot on my future PhD plans. Personally, I feel lucky to have the chance to explore my Western Civ roots a little more. (I have to admit that I appreciate those roots a lot more now that I have lived in Bangkok for two years!)

It's been a wonderful weekend in Vienna. As opposed to the almost-surreal solitary Sunday morning walk last weekend, I have now seen the other "real life" side of the city.

When I was here last weekend, I stopped by the hotel reservation center at the airport. They offered me a room in the city center for 75 euros, which seemed outrageously expensive to me. (Remember, I'm used to paying about 15 euros in Thailand!) I told them that I didn't need to be downtown, so they could just give me something near the train. I meant the subway, but they found me a hotel near the Westbanhoff train station. In any case, it was only 35 euros and very close to the subway as well. Not too bad.

Since I was over on the west side of town, I woke up early, had breakfast at the hotel and walked over to Schloss Schonbrunn, the huge palace built in 1700 and renovated and extended by Maria Theresa in the 1740s. The palace and grounds were lavish, to say the least, and I enjoyed walking around and learning how 300 years of Austrian rulers lived.

In the afternoon I took the subway over to the opposite side of town to visit famous Ferris Wheel at the Prater and the huge United Nations headquarters on the other side of the river. (Someone told me that Vienna has the third largest UN presence in the world, behind New York and Geneva.) There really wasn't much to see near the UN, other than the scenic (but not very Blue) Danube River, so I went to a river beach for a quick swim.

So between my legs and the excellent subway, I have seen a wide section of Vienna. Needless to say, I'm exhausted. But, I want to see a little nightlife too, so I think I'll go out tonight...

I have been spending the last two days walking around Vienna and seeing the sights. Internet cafes are hard to come by, and a bit expensive, so I will not write much now. Not to mention every keyboard has the y and the z keys reversed and almost all of the punctuation keys in different places. Makes it verz difficult to tzpe quicklz and correctlz!

Tomorrow I head back to Bangkok, so I guess I better get back out on the street to see a few more things before the sun goes down. I'll fill in the details later...

"Thai" Perspectives on Finland

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The conference has occupied most of my time in Finland so far, but now I have a little break and can talk about my experiences here.

One of my first impressions of Finland was to wonder where all the people were. I realized that now my perspective is based on my life in Thailand, so I see Finland as being very quiet and very sparsely populated. When people-watching here, I can't help but compare the Finnish people to Thai people. In that comparison, Finns come across as being polite, but distant, perhaps to the point of being cold. I don't really know how to describe their body language, except to just throw out adjectives such as reserved, stotic, unemotional, determined, and resigned.

It seems that the people have personal philosophies of "rational pessimism". The expressions on their faces often look like they are saying. "Life is hard. Deal with it." I guess this is because of the long, dark winters. In any case, it doesn't look like they are a very happy people.

On the other hand, perhaps it seems this way because I am used to the mai bpen rai and smiling faces of the Thai people, who definitely look like they are loving every minute of their lives. And I don't mean to say that Finnish people are not nice. In fact, everyone has been very polite and hospitable. I just wouldn't ever use the word "chatty" to describe the people here.

As far as the food goes, it has been very good, but again I don't really know how to describe it. I am not really sure what "Finnish" food really is, but all of our meals have been somewhat the same: Salad with lettuce, carrots, bell peppers, and tomatoes. The main course is a starch (rice or potatoes), a meat and a thick cream sauce or gravy. Dessert is usually some kind of berry cake/pie/pastry/mouse. For some reason I have been incredibly hungry the last few days and I am eating like crazy. I hope I don't gain too much weight!

The first night of the conference, the town of Joensuu threw us a little party at their visitor's center / city museum, where they served us a buffet dinner. Last night we were driven a little bit outside of town for another buffet dinner. Last night's entertainment consisted of a group of men showing us what it was like to be a lumberjack in Finland's recent past. They demonstrated their skills in chopping wood and in log rolling. The last event was especially fun to watch the as the man and boys balanced on floating logs in the middle of the river. More often than not, they ended up in the cold water as we cheered.

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

August 2004 is the previous archive.

October 2004 is the next archive.

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