December 2004 Archives

Tidal Waves in Thailand


A 10 foot wall of water racing over the beach is not a very pleasant Christmas present.

Having visted Phuket and Phi Phi a few times, I can only imagine the horror that the residents and tourists are going through now. has excellent coverage of the tsunamis in Southeast Asia yesterday. The earthquakes page is here.

Twinges of Homesickness


So what have I done to celebrate Christmas in the cold mountains of North Carolina? It's been a lot of the Three S': Sleeping, shopping, and stuffing my face with my mother's excellent cooking.

I have to admit that I am starting to feel twinges of homesickness now that I am here. The claustophobia in San Francisco that I mentioned a few days ago slowly melted away as I enjoyed meeting up with old friends and going to my favorite restaunts, coffee shops, and walking paths.

The homesickness continued in a grocery store in North Carolina, of all places. To shop in an American-style grocery with all of the name brands that I haven't seen in years: Pop Tarts, Tostitos, Arizona Ice Tea, Samuel Adams Ale...

I realized though, that to move back the the US would take as much time and effort as the move to Thailand in the first place. Can I afford it? What about all my stuff? Where would I work? Where would I live?

I may move back someday, but for now, I don't even want to start down that line of questioning.

Should I Leave the House?


Jet Lag is a bitch. Especially when you are having too much fun to actually get any rest.

I figured that it would be better for me to not take a nap on my first full day in San Francisco yesterday. So instead I ran errands: shopping at the Apple Store, buying a SIM card so that my phone will work, eating a big steak burrito at Zapata's taqueria...

Around dinner time I met about 15 ex-co-workers from my dot-com days at ThirstyBear, then I met up with Rupert, who took me to a new place on Market called Lime, and then to one of our favorite old watering holes on Polk Street.

Meeting my old friends at ThirstyBear was especially fun, yet very odd. We were all there, in the flesh, everyone looking the same and talking the same and acting the same. It was as if the last three years didn't happen, as if we were all still working together. I kept wanting to say, "Don't forget about that meeting on Monday with the BEA client" or something else "project managerish".

And today? I haven't been able to get out of bed, except to eat croissants that Rupert was kind enough to get for me, to take a nice long bath in his jaccuzzi tub, and to drag myself over to the computer to check email and to write this post.

It's 3:00 P.M. now. The weather looks beautiful, at least from the inside. Maybe I should actually leave the house at some point...

San Francisco: Familar and Beautiful


Two things strike me as I walk the streets of San Francisco. (Well, other than the fact that my head is in a fog from the flight from Bangkok last night. At least the San Francisco weather is clear today.)

The first thing I notice is that San Francisco is a beautiful city. There's no doubt about it. Sure there are plenty of grizzy panhandlers and I wouldn't eat anything off the sidewalk but the city itself is still beautiful. The view is full of coffee shops and convertables, victorian covered hills and pampered, leashed dogs of every persuasion, all painting the picture of a unique and beautiful city.

The second thing that strikes me is that all these things are so familiar to me. Everything is just as I left it. It almost makes me claustrophobic if I start picturing myself living here again. Claustrophobic is perhaps an unfair word, but everything is the same, and the sameness makes me feel trapped.

I wonder if I will ever feel this way about Bangkok...

Soon, an iPod


In a matter of hours I will be flying to America. The last week or so has been so crazy busy as I have been helping students get ready for final exams at work and running around shopping for gifts after work. But now I just have a few more errands left on my list and I am starting to get excited.

One of the things I am looking forward to in San Francisco (in addition to visiting my favorite city and some of my favorite people in the world, of course), is getting my hands on my new iPod. I ordered it back in October, thinking that I would pick it up then, but that trip was cancelled. Now, two months later, I will finally get it.

In the meantime, however, the iPod Photo has come out and now I want an upgrade! So, if I can sell my brand new one, I will get the iPod Photo (assuming the SF store has them in stock!)

So... does anyone want a brand new, unused 40 Gig 4th Generation iPod? They usually sell for US$399 + tax = US$430. I'll be happy to part with it for US$375. Any takers?

(Interestingly enough, iPods are very expensive in Thailand. This same model goes for over 20,000 baht. I'm selling mine for 15,000.)

Thai Super Rich


A colleague pointed out an interesting article on the Internet this morning, concerning a survey by the magazine of Money & Banking and Chulalongkorn University and it listed the richest people in Thailand.

Want to guess who is the richest person in Thailand? Some frugal old man who has worked all his life and saved his money? A financial genius? The founder of one of the world's biggest software makers?

Nope. The richest man in Thailand is a young man named Pinthongtha Shinawatra. He is worth 18.03 billion baht (about US$450 million). How did he get his money? He got it from his father, Thaksin Shinawatra who had to give it away before he could become the Prime Minister of Thailand.

Other Shinawatra's in the list included:

    #2 Thaksin's brother-in-law Bannapot Damapong -- 15.27 billion baht (US$381.75 million)

    #4 Thaksin's son Panthongtae Shinawatra -- 11.09 billion baht (US$277.25 million)

    #28 Thakin's youngest daughter (still in college, and if I'm not mistaken, has/had a part-time job at McDonalds) 1.42 billion baht (US$35.5 million).

    #65 Thaksin's younger sister

    #321 Thaksin's wife

Now, I don't mind people being rich. Someone has to do it. But I think that one paragraph stands out more than the rest:

Ten leading families with close ties to the government altogether controlled over 40 percent of the market capitalization of the Stock Exchange of Thailand, with over 10 percent held by the prime minister's family alone, [Suriyasai Katasila, secretary-general of the Campaign for Popular Democracy] was quoted by the Bangkok Post as saying.

Since I don't have any access to these 10 families, I don't think I will be investing in the Thai stock market any time soon.

(The whole article can be found at

Ahgat Yen (Cool Weather)

I'm about to say something that I almost never get to say. In fact, in the two years I have been here, I have maybe said this sentence once or twice:

The weather in Bangkok has been wonderful this week!

I even slept with the windows open last night. I knew it was much cooler than usual, but I didn't realize how cool it was. The screenshot on the right proves that I wasn't dreaming. (Don Muang is the location of the of Bangkok International Airport.)

San Francisco Earthquake

Even though today is a Monday, I don't have to work because it is final exam week and we shift to a Tuesday-Saturday schedule. So what am I doing with my day off? Eating American Breakfast at Bourbon St Restaurant (delicious, by the way), a little shopping at the Future World IT Plaza (bought a PHP book for my class next semester) and now sitting in Coffee Society surfing the net.

So, here is the amazing link of the day, in honor of my upcoming trip to my favorite city in the world: Aerial photographs of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. It's hard to imagine the horrific consequences of the 1906 earthquake that burned most of San Francisco to the ground. These pictures tell a little bit of the story. (The one at the very bottom, of the waterfront, is my favorite one.)

Smorgasbord Orgasbord

For some reason, the idea of putting garbage into big sturdy garbage containers hasn't caught on here in Bangkok. Instead, every night plastic trash bags are piled up on the side of the road where they wait to be picked up. This means that it's easy access for the people who make their living recycling cans and bottles, as well as for the soi dogs looking for dinner. And as I found out tonight, the rats of Bangkok enjoy the trash piles as well.

I was casually walking home from the gym tonight when I noticed another pile of trash bags. This pile of bags was moving, however, and soon a 6 inch rat with a tasty morsel in its mouth ran out of the pile. One of the recyclers was a few steps ahead of me, and as he started digging through the pile, two more rats ran out into the street gutter. And then, Rat #4 ran out across the sidewalk and through a chain link fence. And then Rat #5 ran out into the street. And then Rat #6 ran to the chain link fence and quickly scaled it and ran along the top. And then Rats #7 and 8 and 9 and...

Want to guess how many rats can hide in 4 trash bags of garbage? The answer for this particular pile was TWENTY-THREE. That's right, within 10 seconds, TWENTY-THREE big rats ran poured out of the garbage in all directions five feet in front of me. My interest soon turned into fear as I pictured them scaling me as easily as they climbed the fence. *shudder* It was the perfect setting for a Thai horror movie.

The TWENTY-THREE rats all had 6 - 8 inch long bodies and all of them were very fat. The life of a Bangkok rat must be a good one! All the rest of the way home, Templeton's song from Charlotte's Web was running through my head.

A fair is a veritable smorgasbord orgasbord orgasbord
After the crowds have ceased
Each night when the lights go out
It can be found on the ground all around
Oh, what a ratly feast!

Melon rines and bits of hotdogs
Cookie crumbs and rotton cotton candy
Melted ice cream, mustard dripplings
Moldy goodies everywhere!

Lots of popcorn, apple cores
Bananna peels and soggy sadwiches
And gobs of gorgeous gook to gobble at the fair

A fair is a veritable smorgasbord orgasbord orgasbord
After the gates are shut
Each night when the lights go out
It can be found on the ground all around
That's where a rat can glut, glut, glut, glut!

Almost two months ago, I realized that was making some progress by studying my Thai Language flashcards alone, but I was not really sure how to link all the words together into understandable sentences. Not to mention I could never be sure if I was pronouncing the words correctly. So I hired my friend Ekk to help me.

He has turned out to be a great teacher. He has been able to explain Thai grammar rules to me better than anyone else, and we have had a lot of sanook (fun) in the process. Unfortunately, though, tonight was the last night of lessons for a while. He has started a new job and is spending most of his time training. Plus, I leave for America next week. So, we are taking a break until the new year.

Tonight he told me a story (in Thai) about his trip to Tak province. I was very excited that I was able to understand about 80% of the story. I'm sure that he is speaking very slowly with very simple words and very simple grammar, but hey, it's a step in the right direction. I was amazed that I actually understood him when he said, nam-dtok ti-law-suu bpen nam-tok yai ti-sook ni pratet tai lae yai bpen ti hok kawng loke (The Ti Law Su waterfall is the tallest waterfall in Thailand and the sixth tallest in the world.)

Not only was I excited to be able to understand the story, I was excited to hear that Thailand has the 6th largest waterfall in the world. I had no idea. According to Ekk, getting to the waterfall is not very easy. From Bangkok you have to drive north to Tak province, and then take an amazingly curvy road several hours south through virgin bamboo forested mountains.

It sounds like nam-dtok ti-law-suu is a must-see adventure waiting for me.

Dr. Robert Akins


I have always tried to live my life without regret. I'm not saying that I always make the best decisions. Sometimes I do things that maybe I shouldn't have done. Instead, I just try to look at the mistakes as something to learn from, not something to regret and to wish I could do it over again. After all, it is both my past failures and my past successes that make me who I am today.

One part of my life where I didn't live up to my potential in some ways was when I was an undergraduate at Washington and Lee. My GPA my first semester was less than half of my high school GPA. That's right, do the math and you will see that I didn't have a very successful begining to my college career. In fact, my GPA was very close to those numbers that become smaller when you square them. (My apologies for that last sentence. I'll blame it on teaching fundamental math a few times a week.)

Academically, I never quite got into the groove at W&L. I graduated, but no honors were thrown my way. Even though I could have done better in the classroom, I don't regret the time and energy that I put into my athletics and into my friendships.

Now that I am a college teacher, I think about this now and then when I see so many of my students who are not reaching their potential. But this week, however, this topic has been given a special place in my mind. I was on the W&L website looking for instructions on how to get a transcript sent to Australia for my PhD applications, and I just happened to find this link:

W&L Community Mourns the Loss of Physics and Engineering Professor Robert E. Akins

Dr. Akins was not only my advisor but I had more classes with him than with any other professor. He was a very good teacher and mentor -- tough but fair. I, however, wasn't such a good student all the time. I have always wanted to go back and talk to him as an "adult" and to apologize a bit for not giving as much effort as he did, and to let him know that I turned out ok afterall. He was only 58, so I thought I had plenty of time.

But that conversation will never happen. Sometimes it's hard to live completely without regret.

I take my seat by the window overlooking the small courtyard between Siam Center and Siam Discovery. A craving for steak has brought me here. The fact that yesterday was payday made the 600 baht I was about to spend a little easier to swallow.

From my second floor seat, I look down into the courtyard and what do I see? An outdoor Beer Garden! When I was thinking of places to fill my stomach, I completely forgot that winter in Bangkok means open-air Beer Gardens at all the malls.

The band is setting up below as I order my dinner. Plugging his guitar into the amp, the guitarist looks up at me and the other farang in the second floor window. "I hope you are enjoying paying five times more than everyone down here," he seems to be saying.

My dinner -- chicken fried steak -- arrives as the Thai band launches into their first song: Rolling on the River. "Rollllin (whoooo...) rolllllin (wooooo...) rollin on the reeevaaaah!" I look down at my plate of fried American food covered in thick gravy with the American music playing outside the window, and I feel like I am back in North Carolina. I start to wonder how much weight I will gain on my trip to the US in November.

The band works through their set of mostly English songs, shaking and gyrating, and smiling all along. The crowd drinks beer, watches the band, talks and laughs with their friends. I finish my dinner and make a mental note: Next time, Beer Garden!

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

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