November 2004 Archives

Hidden Early Morning Life

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For some strange reason, I woke up at 3:30 AM this morning. Much to my chagrin, I was unable to go back to sleep. There's no sense in laying in bed when you can't sleep, so a few minutes later I was dressed and was walking out of my apartment building into the deserted street. The air was cool and quiet, which is quite a change from the usual. Above my head, the large full moon surrounded by a few wispy clouds added to the mystical ambiance.

Every now and then a taxi would drive by, slowing down to try to pick me up. Surely a farang wouldn't actually want to walk down the street alone. Surely that farang would want a ride somewhere, or so the taxi drivers would think. But they were wrong.

I continued my walk and was amazed at what was before my eyes: a whole new Bangkok that I never get the chance to see. Girls with rags drying off a long line of freshly washed taxis. Many restaurants still open, serving the drunks, the insomniacs, and those unlucky enough to just now be finishing their work. The surprisingly efficient trash collectors and street sweepers preparing the city for the morning commute.

On some quiet sois, the mangy soi dogs are my only company. During the day, they are very quiet and meek, but tonight they are on the hunt. Tonight they are looking for something to eat, looking for their soi dog friends, looking for random farang to bark at. At four AM, Bangkok is theirs.

Around 4:30 I grew tired of walking and hailed a taxi to Silom. There, the scene was just as lively. Large groups of bar boys and bar girls were eating dinner (breakfast?) and drinking beers after the bars closed. Thai pop music was blaring, even on the usually quiet Japanese Soi Thaniya, and there was much laughing and joking between friends.

By 5:00, it was still dark as I walked into Lumpinee Park. The park was full of people jogging or walking or doing Tai-Chi. Their dedication to good health impressed me. Every morning they are here but I am never here to see it.

As I walk through the park, I realize that what I see is nothing special. It's just a regular Friday morning. Granted, later today many of these people will be celebrating Loy Kratong but for now they are just going about their routine business. It happens every night, I just don't ever see it.

A sleezy tuk-tuk driver on Silom asks me, "What are you looking for?" Again, I guess it's a good assumption is that a single white male walking the streets of Bangkok at 4 AM is looking for something. But I am not. Or at least I am not consciously searching.

The question reminded me of similar comments I received from my friends and family back in the US when I told them I was moving to Thailand. Several told me, "I hope you find what you are looking for."

I never really thought of it that way. I am not here looking for God. I am not here looking to find myself. Tonight, I am not looking for a taxi ride or a bowl of noodles or sex or drugs or rock and roll.

As I flag down another taxi to take me back home to my regular life, I realize that there is actually something that I have been looking for in Asia all this time -- and that something is what I just found. For the past two years I have most enjoyed the times like tonight when I realize how other people live such completely different lives from mine.

I started my early morning walk full of stress, but on the way back home in the taxi I was happy and content because not only did I realize what I have been looking for, I actually found it. Tonight, under a full Loy Kratong moon, I was lucky enough to catch a few more glimpses of hidden life.

Romantic Thailand

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The few days since I last posted were at first very hectic and then very relaxed. The hectic part came at work. Unfortunately, neither of the two courses I am teaching this semester have textbooks, so I am often scrambling around trying to figure out what to cover. Freedom is good, but too much freedom means extra work for me!

The relaxing part came on a little weekend get-away to Jomtien. Pattaya/Jomtien has it's good points and bad points, of course, but I had a fairly good time just relaxing on the beach and hanging out with a couple of friends.

Speaking of beaches, I have been tasked with finding the ideal location in Thailand for a honeymoon of a friend of mine. It seems to me that a honeymoon at one of Thailand's beach resorts would be great, but I am at a loss to figure out which one to suggest.

So here are some choices:

  • Pattaya is definitely out, for the obvious reason that it is by far the least romantic location in Thailand.

  • Samet is my favorite island, but it isn't really romantic. There should be a lot of pampering going on, and I don't think Samet has that. Although I haven't been to Ko Chang, I'll put it in the same category.

  • There are some nice resorts on Phuket, but the fact that it would be difficult to avoid the Pattaya-ness of Patong makes it less desirable.

  • Samui is an option, but I don't know of any resorts there. Ko Tao and Pha Ngan are a little to backpacker-ish for my tastes (i.e., not romantic)

  • Someone else mentioned Ko Lanta, but I don't know much about that one.

  • Someone else mentioned going to Langkawi in Malaysia or even Penang.

So... Does anyone have any suggestions? What is the most romantic place in Thailand?

Firefox 1.0

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firefox1.0.jpgThe official 1.0 release of Firefox is finally out. I won't say much about it here since it's getting plenty of press. I'll just say that I have been using Firefox as my web browser for months now and I hope I never have to use Internet Explorer again.

Do yourself a favor and go download Firefox 1.0. You deserve it!

Change

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I've been trying to analyze last week's U.S. election and try to understand what happened and why it happened. So far, I haven't had much luck in this regard. So many things about it just don't make much sense to me.

One of the take-aways from the election is that America is still a very conservative country. It would seem that Americans don't like change very much. But I guess that is not a very big surprise. I was just spoiled by living in San Francisco for a few years. It is perhaps one of the very few true "melting pots" in America. One of the few places where diversity is celebrated.

But the realization that Americans are conservative is really not a big surprise to me. It's just usually not at the forefront of my mind. When curious Thai people want to know what life is is like in America, I almost always surprise them by saying that Americans are very conservative. Their view of America is shaped by movies and music. And certainly neither Hollywood nor the American music industry have ever been accused of being conservative!

But this is the take-away: America is conservative and resistant to change. But perhaps a more accurate assessment is that people are conservative. Perhaps it is human nature. Perhaps it is an innate disposition.

There are many examples that seem to prove this point. In the "IT Management" class I teach, we talk about how technology is revolutionizing the workplace, but people are usually reluctant to change their own work habits. I saw it happen many times with our clients at the Internet consulting firm in San Francisco. If you give people the choice between Method A that they have been following for years or Method B where they can do twice the work in half the time but requires them to learn a new technology, they will always prefer Method A, regardless of the efficiencies of Method B.

Same goes for education. Technology has the potential to revolutionize learning, but teachers and administrators are too afraid to embrace the changes. The system they have now works. It is a known quantity. It might not be the best, but making a change is too risky. Staring into the unknown is frightning.

I'm amazed that the vote in 2004 was almost exactly the same as 2000. America and the rest of the world has changed, but Americans themselves didn't. The US went from a record surplus to a record deficit. We woke up on September 12, 2001 united with the world with our sadness and outrage but now we are scorned by the world community and seen as an arrogant power-abuser. But neither of these things changed very many minds.

One analysis I read this week said that in order to make a change, two things are needed. First of all, you need for the current situation to be bad. But more importantly, you need to be convinced that the change will be for the better. It seems to be that perhaps in many people's mind, we had the former requirement, but not the latter.

election-slavery-maps.jpgSpeaking of change (or not changing) click on the interesting graphic I posted to get a bigger size. It compares a map of the vote distribution with a map showing where slavery was legal 150 years ago. You can draw your own conclusions. (Thanks to Doug for that pic.)

I have thought more about American politics in the last couple of weeks than I have in the 2 years of being in Thailand. I have a lot more I could say about all of this, but I will hold it for now.

Finally, last week I posted a link to an article that predicted a Kerry victory because the pollsters don't call cell phones. So, as an update, I'll link to this week's article about why it didn't turn out the way the author expected. It's called Bob Don't Know Diddy: Post-Election Reflections on Polls and Other Stuff

Updates

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I realized that I have left a few threads dangling without wrapping them up. Let's do a quick recap and update:

  • I'll start with the sad news first. My sister sent me an email about what happened to my friend J.J. who passed away last week. If you want to read the update, see the original post.

  • Back to my mundane life: I had headaches for 5 straight days, but it looks like I have now gotten over the coffee withdrawal. I was really craving one this morning when I was eating breakfast, though, but I was able to resist. The Original post recieved a lot of comments and it's an interesting read.

  • I am not moving to Singapore. A week after I sent in my resume, the company wrote to tell me that the position was already filled. I have to admit I was a little bummed, but my enthusiasm for getting the PhD was resumed. (Orignial Post)

  • Speaking of PhD research, today I am wrapping up the paper I wrote on the ICALT 2004 conference that I attended in Finland. I'll post the paper on my professional site with a pointer to it here.

  • Now, I just have to write the research propsosal for grad school applications. I will base it on some of the work that I did for the ICALT paper. Hopefully I can get it done this weekend.

  • Last night was the first get-together of Bangkok-based Bloggers. I was a little late and left a little early, but while I was there, Ben, Piyawat, Oui, the other (farang) Ben, Paul, "Baba" and "Him" were all in attendance. It was a fun, if loud (and I am not just talking about farang Ben) event. Maybe we should make it a monthly get-together.

That's all I can think of for now. Time to go finish up that ICALT paper!

Update 5:00 PM: The ICALT paper is finally finished. Yay!

J.J. Clay

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My sister, who recently moved back to our hometown in Florida, sent me a sad email just now. She said that she was looking through the local paper and saw the obituary of a friend of mine from middle school twenty years ago. It was hard to believe, so I looked up the obituary on the Internet to see if it was true. Sadly, it is true. I see also that she will be buried in the same cemetery that my friend Joey was buried back when we were both in high school.

J.J. Clay was one of the smartest and sweetest people I have ever known. I feel super-geeky to mention this, but she sticks out in my mind not only for her personality, but for the fact that she was the one who beat me out for Student Body President in 8th grade. Even though I hated to lose, I had to admit that there couldn't have been a better person to beat me.

Even though I had lost touch with her somewhere along the way, it still bums me out to hear the news. Her obituary in the Pensacola News Journal doesn't say what happened to her, but it does say that she had a 8-week old baby. I wonder if there were complications with the birth. In any case, 34 is way way way too young an age for a person to go.

My heart goes out to her family, to her husband and to the four young children who lost their mother.

UPDATE 6 Nov 2004: My sister wrote me back to tell me what happened to J.J. She said that, yes, she had recently had a baby. When she returned to Turkey with her family (her husband is in the miltary) she told her mother that she wasn't feeling well and that she was going to go rest. She fell asleep and never woke up, dying of a brain aneurysm. So amazingly sad.

COFFEE!

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Sunday night, I had to do a little extra work on my laptop, so after dinner I took it to Ban Rae Cafe at Ekkamai. Ban Rae Cafe is a nice coffee shop with traditional Thai architecture but the prices are outrageously expensive (by Thai standards, that is).

But, this night I learned that perhaps you get what you pay for. I felt the caffeine hit my brain on the first sip. Unfortunately, the caffeine lasted well into the night and I didn't get much sleep.

So, as I was buying my breakfast on Monday morning, I thought to myself, "Maybe I should stop drinking coffee altogether. Do I really need it? It doesn't seem very healthy." Eventually, I convinced myself to go without.

The question I have now is wondering if the story I have told so far affected the story I am about to tell.

Around noon I started getting a headache. All I could think about was COFFEE! I sat at my desk trying to work with little devils flying around my head yelling COFFEE COFFEE COFFEE! But I resisted.

By the end of the day I was a wreck. I was dizzy and exhausted. As soon as I got home around 5:30 I fell into bed and slept, waking only to eat some dinner around 8:00.

This morning I woke up dizzy with a headache. Teaching class for 2 hours this morning was a struggle. I have a feeling that my students wondered what my problem was.

So, are these events related? Am I that addicted to coffee that I can't even go a day without it? If that is the case, perhaps I shouldn't drink it again.

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

October 2004 is the previous archive.

December 2004 is the next archive.

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