July 2005 Archives

Downward Trends


I know that I haven't been posting to this website very often lately, but last night, just for fun, I thought I would see if there were any trends to my posting over the last three years. (What a nerd!)

numberofposts.jpgI was very surprised at what I found. I was not only have I been lax lately, but there has been a steady declining trend for over a year now. The graph I made in Excel last night is to the right. And no, it is not a chart of my stock portfolio in 2001, but it's close. (You can click on the chart for a bigger version.)

I'm not sure what that chart says about my life. Getting busier and busier every month? Traveling less and less every month? Becoming more and more lazy? Oh well, I do enjoy writing to this site (this past week has been fun) so hopefully this will encourage me to write more!

Twice as Slow


Since I've come back from my last trip to Laos, I done a pretty good job on my exercising / thai language goals. Seven out of the last nine days I have either run or swum, and have studied my Thai flashcards. And even though it's only been a short time, I can tell that I am VERY slowly getting in better shape.

For example, when I started swimming, I could do about 800, but last night I did 1600. (I'm not sure if the pool is measured in yards or meters.) Similarly, I have been running about 3 kilometers through the back streets near my condo. Tonight though, I pushed it a little bit further. After I finished, I measured the distance on my motorcycle and found out that I was now up to 5 kilometers.

Wow. 5K, or just a hair over 3 miles. When I was in high school I was on the cross country team and every weekend in the fall we would run either 5K or 3 mile races. Just before my 18th birthday, I ran my fastest time ever for three miles: 15 minutes and 58 seconds.

Tonight, I covered that same distance in around 30 minutes. So now I see that I am twice as old and twice as slow. Ouch.

Balcony Before and After


Now... coming back to the present day...

While I was reminiscing/analyzing my past over the last few days, I have also started thinking about the future -- namely the renovations that I want to do to my condo. An interior designer friend came over to the condo a couple of nights ago and we talked about all the options.

And let me tell ya, there are a LOT of options. I want to change something in every single room. At the very least, the 10 year old stained and faded wallpaper has to go. But what will replace it? More wallpaper? Paint? But what color?

We have also been buying a lot of plants lately. Our first attempt at filling the balcony with plants was a complete failure. All of the twelve pots of bamboo died almost immediately. So now we are trying other options, including growing flowering vines over the dead bamboo stalks.

So far it's working out nicely. Or, you can judge for yourself with the before and after shots below. (You can click on each for a bigger version.)

I have a feeling this won't be the last before and after post I make this year.

balcony.JPG balcony_plants.jpg
Before After

This post was selected as one of the "Favorite Posts of 2005". To read more "Favorites", then visit Favorite Posts of 2005.

Continuing the theme in yesterday's post, today I have been thinking about what I was doing ten years ago. In some ways I wish I had a blog, or at least a journal or diary so that I would know for sure what I was doing. I guess I could go back and try to find old emails. But other than that, I really don't have a record of what I was doing. Of course all of that will change, for my memories starting in July 2002 are saved for posterity. (Or at least as long as someone keeps registering this domain!)

So, I am not exactly sure what I was doing Ten Years ago, but I think I can make a decent guess. So, without further ado:

10 Years Ago, July 1995: Quite simply, the last few years (1993-1994) have probably the most confusing points of my life. After a less-than-stellar undergraduate career (as far as GPA was concerned, at least) I had started and then quit graduate school for Mechanical Engineering at the University of Florida. I had been taking more undergrad courses at UF trying to figure out what to do with my life. First, it was Electrical Engineering, then Computer Engineering. Neither had quite sparked my fancy as much as I wanted, but it had brought me to want to give Computer Science a try.

In addition to going to school part-time, I was working two jobs. During the day I was a substitute teacher in public high schools. Talk about combat duty! I'm convinced that being a substitute teacher is one of the toughest jobs out there. At night I was a waiter at a Steak restaurant. I knew that I didn't want to be a teacher in American public schools, and I knew that I didn't want to be a waiter for the rest of my life. And as I said above, I knew I didn't want to be an engineer either.

So I realized that I needed to make a big move, a big change. I needed to shake up my life and get back on track. This summer of 1995, I was probably in the middle of transition, preparing for this move. The move took me to North Carolina, where I finally found my groove. Three years later I had a masters degree in Computer Science, my name on several academic papers, and a desire to move to San Francisco to ride the dot-com wave.

Ten years later, this little exercise of taking a look back over decades makes me want to look for patterns and for explanations as to what my life has been. (What a surprise for me to try to ANALYZE this!) I see ups and downs. Periods of amazing success as far as numbers and productivity are concerned. Then there are periods where I was focusing on my social connections and on pushing my boundaries and not worrying so much about productivity. And then there are periods of confusion and doubt where I was wrestling with personal demons and not really focusing on anything.

And perhaps the hardest part of all of it for me is to just accept the limits that being human has bestowed upon me.

I have never participated in blog memes, but I did run across one today that I thought was interesting, in light of my post yesterday about visa runs three years ago. The meme asks, "What were you doing 10 years, 5 years, 1 year, and 1 day ago?" Well, this might be fun, but I think I will start with 20 years ago.

20 Years Ago, July 1985: I just started competitive swimming a year ago. Spurred on my 8th grade Civics teacher, I joined the middle school swim team. I loved it so much, that I soon joined the city-wide team. And let me tell you, this team was hard-core! Three years from now, three of my fellow teammates will compete in the Seoul Olympics, and one of them (if memory serves) will bring home a silver medal. So, to make a long story short, I am spending most of my free summer time swimming with the city team.

Now that I think about it, was the Summer of 85 the year that I made a mission trip with my church group to Jamaica? I think it might have been. I was just thinking about that a couple of days ago when someone mentioned going to Jamaica. There were about 6 of us from my church that made the two-week trip. We spent most of the time in the mountainous jungle in the middle of the island.

It was my first major trip outside of the U.S. and my first experience with a completely different culture than what I was used to. In the small village where we stayed, we found ourselves in a sea of black faces, and for the first time in my life I realized what it was like to be a minority. I remember one little black girl ran up to me with her arms up. When I picked her up, she immediately reached out her little hand and touched my blonde, straight hair. Perhaps she had never seen something so strange and exotic before.

No Visa? Bo Bpen Yang!

I don't know if I have mentioned it here before, but I have changed my status at my school to "part-time" instructor for now. I still have high hopes of starting work on a PhD soon, so hopefully this will free up some of my time so I can start working on that.

The extra time is the good news. The bad news is that I don't have a work permit or the year-long work visa any more. So that means that I will have to make the infamous "Border Run" on a regular basis.

My 30-day tourist visa expired on the 15th, so last week I decided to head to my favorite border country: Laos. I wanted to apply for a 3-month Non-Immigrant B visa at the Thai Embassy. Supposedly all I needed was an invitation letter addressed to the Embassy in Vientiane from my school, a couple of photos, and a few baht.

However, my school told me that they couldn't address the letter to the embassy, and instead would just address it to me. Well, my previous experience was that the Thai embassy in Singapore wouldn't like that idea, but the one in Vientiane might be ok with it. However, it appears that the embassy in Vientiane is following the law a little bit more closely these days, and I even after the long trip to Laos, I was denied the 3-month visa.

Amazingly, though, on this entire trip I was very conscious of my very bo bpen yang ("no worries", in Lao language) attitude about the trip and about life. The train ride up was pleasant, even though we arrived 3 hours late and I had to wait until the next day to visit the Embassy. My dealings with the embassy were pleasant even as they told me no. The time spent in Vientiane was pleasant, even though my favorite guesthouse only had the small room facing the street available for me. My trip back over the border to Thailand was pleasant, even though I was questioned for 30 minutes by three different Immigration officers because of the complicated issues around my visas.

So it's interesting for me to look back at the links I posted above of a very similar experience three years ago. (I can't believe it has been so long.) Sure, it's frustrating sometimes when you don't get the service or the help that you need, but it's all about how you deal with the frustrations that is important. It's all about the bo bpen yang.

Hurricane Dennis.jpgBy the way, just a little small post here to say that my thoughts go out to my sister and her new husband in Florida as they are living through Hurricane Dennis right now. From the looks of the satilite photo to the right (click for a larger version), it looks like the weather is already pretty bad there, even though the eye won't hit for another 6 hours or so.

Today was one of those days that I can look back and say, "Now THAT was a real Thai experience".

It all started this morning when Piyawat and I drove a little bit past the Bangkok border to an area called Lat Krabang. We were meeting his family at a temple called Wat Lanboon to "give the bucket to the monks and feed the fish"... whatever that meant.

Wat Lanboon is located next to a wide (and apparently relatively clean) canal called Klong Prawet Buri Rom. As we drove over the top of the short but very steep bridge over the canal the first thing I noticed was that the temple was very brightly colored. I have a feeling that the temple is quite old, but it looks brand new due to the many bright colors that were used to paint every inch of it. The second thing I noticed was that the place was packed.

We eventually found both a parking spot as well as his family (mother, father, brother, sister, and aunt) and we all headed to the big open sala (pavilion) where a monk was chanting prayers over a loudspeaker. We sat down on the floor and put our hands in the wai position as the monk recited his blessing.

This time, I didn't feel too bad that I didn't know what the monk was saying, because I'm sure almost everyone was in the dark as I was. It wasn't because the monk was hard to understand, but it was because he was chanting in Pali language, not Thai. (Pali is to Thai as Latin is to English.)

In any case after some chanting, we were given a small golden bowl and a tiny pitcher full of water. Piyawat poured the water into the bowl while everyone placed their finger on the rim. When we were finished the monk took small object that looks kind of like a broom, dipped it in water, and with a few flicks of the wrist, sprinkled water over the heads of everyone sitting in front of him. The family then gave the monk a bright yellow bucket that was full of personal items that a monk might need.

So, not only did I not understand the Pali, I really don't understand the whole sprinkling water over our heads and pouring water into the bowl while everyone is touching the bowl. I am sure that there was a reason for all of it (and I am sure that it has something to do with "Good Luck"), but no one was able to really give me an explanation because they weren't sure what the right English words would be to describe it.

After the little ceremony (which took all of 10 minutes) we went outside, bought a stale loaf of bread for 10 baht (25 cents) and threw it to the fish in the klong. I've seen similar activities at other temples and parks in Thailand, but these fish were absolutely huge. Some of them must have been close to two feet in length. Very impressive!

After visiting the temple we all went to a suki restaurant, which entails boiling a big pot of water in the middle of the table into which you through cabbage, very thin noodles, and all kinds of marinated meat. Each person has their own small bowl of spicy suki sauce which you can flavor your own bowl of soup to your liking.

After eating, we partook in the other favorite Thai pastime: Shopping! I bought some desks and bookshelves for my office at Index furniture store and four huge plants for the balcony. (Hopefully, these plants will block the ugly building that is next door. I'm tired of looking at it!)

So that was my THAI Day: visit a temple and watch ceremonies that I don't understand, eat suki with family, and go shopping. Definitely a fun way to spend a Sunday!

Burrito Eater Dot Com


People often ask me what I miss about the US. My answer is usually "good, inexpensive red wine, and a big fat burrito at a San Francisco taqueria".

Now, I can dream about burritos as I surf the web, thanks to the new Burrito Eater website. As the web site states:

It was inevitable. Some nutcase would eventually create a comprehensive online directory of San Francisco taquerias.

It would feature a wealth of information on over 150 local (SF only) burrito shops and trucks.

Its listings would be sortable by name, neighborhood, how it had fared at the hands of a ruthless 12-category rating system, and the number of times it had undergone this terrible onslaught of scrutiny.

Each taqueria would have its own page on the site, complete with an original, subjective description. It would note any pertinent issues regarding its appearance and clientele (if any), whether it's take-out only, whether their menu features breakfast items, whether they're open late (or real late), whether there's a gumball machine on the premises, and whether there's some dude behind the counter making a racket with a meat cleaver on a giant cutting board.

These pages would also include a street address, telephone number, pricing information, and photograph for each taqueria, as well as links to both a Google map and the SF Department of Public Health's page for the burritoeatery in question.

Furthermore, these pages would include detailed reviews of burritos from each taqueria. Whether slaggard, superlative, or merely shoulder-shrugging, they would always be honest and engaging. They would also include the word "slab" a lot.

There would even be a regularly published newsletter, the Intestinal Apocalypse Monthly, complete with a section devoted solely to answering readers' questions.

Welcome to Burritoeater.com. It not only serves every one of these functions, it even employs a bushy mustache for a logo.

So there you have it. Those of you who live in San Francisco have no excuse for not eating more burritos. Go to Burritoeater and pick one of the many taquerias in your neighborhood and have a feast. I envy you!

On and off over the (almost) three years I have lived in Thailand, I have had a personal goal -- a Holy Grail you could say. All I have wanted to be able to do is to achieve a trumverate of daily activities: work, learn Thai, and exercise. I've been lucky enough to have had a good job all this time, but the learning Thai language and exercising comes and goes.

So now that my traveling stint is done for now, maybe I can focus on my Holy Grail again. Two weeks ago I sat down with my 400+ flash cards with Thai words on one side and the English translation on the other to see how many I knew. The answer was 137 words that I could read and write in Thai. Not bad, considering I hadn't really studied much over the past six months.

In the last two weeks, I have practiced about an hour on most days. I also have employed my friend Ekk to start spending an few hours with me a week to improve my speaking and listening skills. Tonight, I sat down with my 400+ cards again and found that I could read and write 279 of them -- an increase of 142 words.

So I wonder, how much can I possibly learn every week? And what is a "good" rate of learning? Based on the last two weeks, I can maybe learn 70 or so words per week. How many words does one have to know before they can hold a conversation, anyway? I wonder how big my English vocabulary is. Ten thousand words, perhaps?

As far as the exercise goes, well, maybe that's a post for another day. I did find a nearby pool that is big, clean, sparsely populated, open until 10 PM, and only costs 50 baht per swim (a little over US$1). Now, if I can just make myself go on a regular basis...

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This page is an archive of entries from July 2005 listed from newest to oldest.

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