August 2005 Archives

LAWASIA Cover

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310805.jpgEvery now and then I am contacted by people who want to use photos from my website. Of course I am more than happy to oblige, as long as they give me credit for the photo and send me a hard copy if they can.

Last week I received a copy of the LAWASIA Update for August 2005, with the cover shot a photo I took in Ho Chi Minh City a few years ago. Very cool.

So, I just wanted to thank Amanda at LAWASIA (Law Association for Asia and the Pacific) for 1) wanting to use my picture, 2) being willing to credit me instead of just stealing my pic, and 3) sending me a hard copy of the magazine.

(The original picture was taken on 25 November 2002 around 10 AM and is a part of the Pictures of Saigon Photo Album)

My Motorcycle

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300805.jpgGetting back to the non-tourist daily life photos, I have an answer to question about motorcycles I posted a few days ago. Yes, my bike was the white one with the big black box on the back. It's a small bike with a small motor, but a little bit bigger than your average Honda Dream.

Here's another pic of my bike with a regular, much more common Honda bike for comparision.

Day Trip Pics From Ayutthaya

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Today, the four of us continued in our tourist ways by taking a day trip to Ayuthaya. Of course I had been there a few times already, so it wasn't anything new for me. But I still enjoy visiting the sites. This time we visited old temples that are still being used (Wat Phana Choeng), old temples that are tourist attractions, but in good shape or recently restored (Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon and Wat Chai Wattanaram), and old temples that are not much more than piles of bricks, thanks to the Burmese invasion of 1767 (Wat Phra Mahathat and Wat Phra Si Sanphet).

At the ruins, Piyawat kept muttering under his breath how sad it was that the Burmese destroyed such a beautiful city. Although the ruins are fun to explore, I agree that it would have been facinating to see these temples as they once were.

And speaking of destruction, we also talked a lot about New Orleans and what was happening there today thanks to Hurricane Katrina. Pepe and Piyawat were friends at Tulane Law School and both spent a year in New Orleans, and so the fate of another facinating city was always in the backs of our minds as we walked around Ayuthaya.

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Pepe, Piyawat, and Jorge walk along the ruins at Wat Phra Si Sanphet Pepe strikes the bells with the wooden stick, playing music for the angels at Wat Phana Choeng
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The head of the giant, 19 meter tall Buddha image at Wat Phana Choeng Me, in front of the beautiful Wat Chai Wattanaram
(These were all taken by Piyawat on 29 August 2005, except for the one he is in, of course.)

Tourists at Erawan Shrine

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On the first "Daily Pic" a few days ago, I said that I wouldn't be posting any tourist pics. Well, that promise isn't even going to last a week. Why is that? Piyawat has two friends from Spain visiting this weekend, so they gave us an excuse to play tourist last night.

Before dinner, Piyawat, Pepe, Jorge and I walked around down town, as we showed off Bangkok's temples of consumerism: Emporium, Gaysorn, Erawan, Central World Plaza, and Siam Center. We also stopped at the Erawan shrine, for a tourist photo op.

At the shrine you can pay a donation for the Thai dancers (shown here on the left) and the traditional Thai musicians (not in the picture). The way I understand it, is that the music and dancing entertains the spirit of the shrine and the requests from the supplicants are therefore more likely to be heard.

The picture on the right is of Jorge, me, and Pepe (L to R) in front of the Erawan Shrine, which itself is in front of the new super-high-end Erawan Shopping Mall, which is connected to the Erawan Grand Hyatt.

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(Both pics taken by Piyawat on 27 Aug 2005 around 6:50 PM)

Bangkok Sports Club Swimming Pool

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As I have mentioned a few times on this site, I love swimming. I don't know what it is; perhaps it is some primal association with water, but I think I am addicted to being in the pool.

When I first moved to Thailand, I was spitting my time between the pools at Hua Mak stadium near Ramkhamheang Road and at National Stadium near MBK. However, Hua Mak was too far away, and the water at National Stadium was too green, so neither was a good option for me.

Then I found the Olympic Club at the Pathumwan Princess Hotel at MBK. The hotel pool was wonderful: clean and clear and beautifully landscaped. The only problem was that I had to share it with vacationing kids, and I had to pay 2000 baht (US$50) a month for the privilege.

260805.jpgBut now I have found a better alternative near my house: the Bangkok Sports Club in Phra Khanong. They have a very nice 25 meter pool. The water is clean, the crowds are small (or non-existent) and the fee is 50 baht (about US$1.25) per swim. Perfect.

So, the Pic of the Day is of my new favorite swimming pool. In the background are some nice tennis courts as well.

(Bangkok Sports Club swimming pool. Taken 23 August 2005 around 4:30 PM.)

Seeing the forest or the tree?

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grass_hoppin.jpgWhat do you see in the picture to the left? (Click to see a bigger version.)

Perhaps one of the most interesting things about living in Thailand for me has been my struggle to understand Thai culture. Not only is it opposite in many ways to what I have been taught in Western culture, but it is deep and complex and fascinating in its own right. Now that I am starting to understand Thai culture a little better and know it a little better, I now want to learn how to talk about it intelligently and without offending anyone -- and the trick to that is being able to hold two opposite ideas in my head at the same time and be able to espouse both. (Because, after all, they are both valid views.)

Another part of the struggle for me is to not only be familiar with the theory (for example, Asians are more collective, Westerners are more individualistic), but to also be able to see how the theory is applied in real life, and to know, in any given situation, an Asian might choose Action X while a Westerner might choose Action Y. (Because now, I still always expect everyone to pick Y.)

Along these lines, I read very interesting article on Yahoo news a couple of days ago titled Asians, Americans Show Perceptual Divide about the difference in perception between Chinese and Americans. As the article starts:

Asians and North Americans really do see the world differently. Shown a photograph, North American students of European background paid more attention to the object in the foreground of a scene, while students from China spent more time studying the background and taking in the whole scene, according to University of Michigan researchers.
Why would this be true? One researcher said, "The key thing in Chinese culture is harmony, Nisbett said, while in the West the key is finding ways to get things done, paying less attention to others." This definitely ties back into my "lack of advocacy" complaint from yesterday...

In another experiment, Japanese and American subjects were shown an underwater scene. When asked to describe the scene, "The Americans would go straight for the brightest or most rapidly moving object, he said, such as three trout swimming. The Japanese were more likely to say they saw a stream, the water was green, there were rocks on the bottom and then mention the fish."

The article goes on to give a historical reason for the difference -- stretching back to the days of Aristolte and ancient China. Perhaps the most interesting paragraph is:

Aristotle, for example, focused on objects. A rock sank in water because it had the property of gravity, wood floated because it had the property of floating. He would not have mentioned the water. The Chinese, though, considered all actions related to the medium in which they occurred, so they understood tides and magnetism long before the West did.
A fascinating read, to be sure. What did you see in the picture?

(Trout pic taken from this page.)

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

Motorcycles

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Many people in Thailand use motorcycles to get around. Most of the bikes are not very big -- only 100 or 125 cc machines. Every once in a while you'll see a big Harley-type bike, but it's rare.

At every shopping center or parking lot there is always a big space for motorbikes. Even my school parking lot has one. After class today, I was about to get on my motorcycle to ride home when I noticed two unusual bikes.

The one on the left is a BWM bike. I wonder if having the rollbars on top make it safer? It kinda looks silly and cool at the same time I think. In any case, I'm sure it's expensive!

The picture on the right is of two bikes. Can you guess whick one is mine? (And don't say, "The one with the basket in the background"!)

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Advocacy: Soi Dog Rescue

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In my computer class this week I was talking about the different kinds of web sites: Portal, Information (Government), Business/Marketing, News, Advocacy, and Personal. I think my students had the hardest time with the idea of an "Advocacy" website. Afterall, it seems that in Thailand, a place where everyone is happy and rarely challenges the status quo, that "advocacy" is not a popular theme.

Some of my farang students, however, understand the idea of advocay very well. Some of them have created an organization called "Soi Dog Rescue". As I have mentioned before on this site, Thailand is over run with stray dogs. They are mostly gentle, and even though many of them have horrible skin diseases of one type or another,they still reproduce like mad. The Soi Dog Rescue is one student group is looking to help change all that.

As the Soi Dog Rescue website states:

Soi Dog Rescue (SDR) is a non-profit organization set up by a group of international volunteers in Thailand, who intend to help improve the lives of Thailand’s street dogs and, in doing so, creating a happier, healthier environment for all beings. Through community based programs conducting sterilizations, education and adoption, the SDR staff believe this project will benefit both humans and canines. They believe the best and most effective way to solve the street dog problem is to first educate the public on ways to help the street dogs and prevent them from reproducing.
In any case, it's an excellent example of an advocacy website in Thailand. I just wish that my Thai students would also find a desire for advocacy.

So Long, Terry!

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For many farang in Thailand, their time here is only temporary. Most farang are tourists, and obviously they are only here for a short time. But even those who come to live here don't seem to stay long, unless of course they settle down with a Thai girl or boy.

My friend Terry is one of those who were just here for a short time (about two years). I suggested that he come work at my school, which he did for a year. Now, it's time for him to move on. I'm sorry to see him go, but at the same time I'm jealous -- next week he'll start a trip through China and Tibet. Very cool! I guess I will just have to live vicariously through his travel journal.

Part of the reason of this post is to wish Terry "Safe Travels". In his honor, I am going to try to steal one of his ideas. For a while, he was posting daily pictures of Bangkok to his website. I think I will try to do the same. So, if I can remember to take my camera with me every day, and if I can remember to find time to make posts, you should see some of the things that I see on a daily basis... and I don't mean the usual travel photos of temples and mountains, I mean just regular daily life.

So without further ado, here is the first installment. Actually, it's two pictures, which almost overlap. It is the view from the 4th floor of the AUA building on Ratchadamri where I am taking Thai Language lessons. On the pic to the right you can see the new skyskraper at World Trade Center, and in the middle of the pic, the Bayoke Tower, Thailand's tallest building.

In the picture to the right, you can make out various buildings, such as the super-swanky Conrad Hotel on Wireless / Witayu Road, near the American embassy.

Let's see how successful I am at this new venture...

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The view from the 4th floor of AUA on Ratchadamri looking north. Taken 23 Aug 2005 around 7 PM.

Pictures from Ubon and Pakse

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I can't believe that it has been 10 months since I posted any pictures to this website. That is pretty sad. Well, I have remedied the situation by posting a few from my last trip to Ubon and Pakse. They can be seen in the Ubon Photo Album.

Looking Back at Isaan

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So the trains in Thailand have a dining car afterall! Of course it's not air conditioned, but on my ride back to Bangkok from Ubon I am enjoying the (relatively) cool dry air coming in through the window as the rice fields, the wooden shacks, the water buffalo, and the kids riding motorbikes along dirt roads go by.

An hour or so ago I was sure I would miss this train. I was in Ubon, and had planned to take the #2 Songtaw to the train station, but it was slow going. So I jumped off with 20 minutes to go before departure time, found a tuk-tuk, and said bai satani rot fai reow reow -- which (I think) roughly translates to "Go to the train station, fast!"

Luckily though, I did make it in time, but with not enough time to eat before I boarded the train. So I walked the length of the train from my 2nd class air-con sleeping car through the fan-blown sleeping cars through the 3rd class fan seats to the dining car. I can't imagine riding 11 hours in one of these uncomfortable seats with no air-con, so I was even more afraid to see what was behind the diner!

Looking back over the last week or so, it has been a fantastic trip. Sure, at times it was uncomfortatble (sitting next to the buffalo-scented woman in a crowded songtaow) but other times it was exhilarating (boppin' to a rockin' live band). At times it was disorienting (arriving in Pakse with no sense of direction) but other times I felt right at home (visiting my favorite internet shop several days in a row). At times I was frustrated with my stupidity (forgetting my passport) but other times I was prouid of my progress (chatting with the street vendor for over two hours).

I can hardly wait to leave home again.

Pakse, Laos

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I've been spending the last couple of days in Pakse, Laos. I feel like I should say something about it, but I really don't know what to say. Pakse itself is fairly boring with nothing really to do. It's a very new city -- created by the French around the turn of last century.

Pakse is actually 45 KM from the Thai border. To reach it, I had to take a big songtaew, along with about 30 Lao people. Some of them, I have to admit, were less than clean. The woman sitting next to me, in particular, must have stepped in some buffalo pies as she walked through the rice fields that morning. The bus was crowded, it was hot, the lady next to me carried quite the stench, and I have to admit that my mai bpen rai was severely tested throughout the hour-plus ride.

When I finally arrived in Pakse, things did not improve. I was armed with my Lonely Planet Laos book, but I quickly realized that the map of Pakse was useless. We crossed a bridge over the Mekong into Pakse, but (as I finally figured out later), that bridge was not on the map. Neither was the huge market where we were dropped off.

So, I ended wandering around in the blazing hot sun with my backpack trying to figure out where I was; trying to get some sense of direction. I walked down the first street until it became a dead-end. I walked down the next street until it became a dead-end as well. I didn't see anything that looked like a hotel or what would even pass as a "city".

So finally, I looked at the hotel list in my Lonely Planet, flagged down a tuk-tuk and said bai rongraem pakse (Go to Pakse Hotel). Luckily that phrase works in both Thai and Lao language.

Next thing I know, I am taking a hot shower in the surprisingly nice Pakse Hotel. It is run by a French man and his Lao wife (I think) and I highly recommend it. At $10 a night, it was close to heaven. Later that night I washed the rest of my travel troubles away with an amazingly good pepper steak and a Lao Beer an Italian restaurant. Another very pleasant surprise.

But other than that, there really isn't much to "write home about". The more interesting sites lie 80 km to the south at the small town of Champassak, where there are some old Khmer temple ruins. Another 80 KM south of that are the Mekong Islands. But both of those places will have to wait for the next trip. I'm sure I'll be back someday, now that I know where I'm going.

Pibun Mangsahan

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Well, being the stuborn person I am, I decided that even though I forgot my passport, I was still going to go to Laos on this trip. So what did I do? I did the unthinkable: I went home to Bangkok to get it.

To accomplish this feat, I took the 11-hour overnight train from Ubon back to Bangkok, arriving at Hualompong at 5 AM. Then, that same afternoon, I flew for one hour on Air Asia back to Ubon. From there, I took a taxi to the bus station and boarded a bus to Pibun Mangsahan, a small town half-way to the border.

Unfortunately, Pibun was as far as I could go, because it was too late to make the connection for a songtaew to the border. So, after checking into the one and only hotel in town I did the usual wandering around and checking out life in the small-town.

At one point I struck up a conversation with a young street vendor selling luk chin (pork balls on a stick). For the next two hours or so, I sat there and chatted with him. And the most amazing thing was that since my Thai was better than his English, we talked mostly in Thai. I was so proud of myself. Not that we talked about the Policies of the Current Thaksin Administration or the Role of Buddhism in the Life of the Rural Thai, but it was still a conversation.

So, tomorrow, with my new found confidence in my communication skills, and my passport firmly in hand, I will be crossing the border into Laos.

Ubon Nightlife

And just when I thought that it couldn't get any better, I found an even CHEAPER internet cafe. The first hour is the regular 10 baht, but the second hour is FIVE BAHT. Amazing.

In any case, my quiet, solitary days in Ubon are now officially over. Last night I had an explosively good time out and about with the Ubon locals.

It all started as I was walking around town, exploring as I love to do. As I walk by each shop house I like to take a peek inside. Usually, they are completely open to the street since the air conditioning is not running, and so with each house I get a small voyeuristic glimpse into the life of the average Ubon resident.

Usually, the residents are quietly watching TV and/or eating dinner on the floor. Sometimes Isaan music is playing in the background. But the residents of one shop house in particular were having a big party. Being as friendly as most other Isaan people, and being in the party mood, they invited me in.

Well, to make a long story short, they took me to a fabulous restaurant for dinner where we feasted on delicious Isaan food (including an outrageously spicy tom yum goong soup that even the locals had trouble swallowing). The beers and the gentle Thai pop music coming from a single girl with a guitar on stage helped soothe the burning sensations.

The next stop was a small place called U-Bar. Even though it was a week night, the place was packed. On stage was a college-aged 6-member rock band. And rock they did. I felt like I was back at a fraternity party with a fun-loving cover band on stage. I of course didn't know any of the Thai songs, but it was incredible fun just to watch them bounce around and play their heart out in front of a very appreciative audience.

The next and final stop was the big "disco" in town. As usual in Thailand, "disco" means big warehouse with no dancefloor -- only tall tables with bar stools around which you and your friends sit and drink and maybe shake your body just a little bit while standing next to the table. In any case, it was still a lot of fun to sit and watch the crowd enjoy their night life.

Ubon Ratchathani

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I have been spending the last few days in Isaan (Northeast Thailand). My base has been the town (and province) of Ubon Ratchathani. Ubon (as it is called for short) is another small, quaint provincial capital, and is located in Eastern Thailand on the banks of the Mun River near the borders of Laos and Cambodia. The "downtown" area is quite small, so over the past few days (when it hasn't been raining) I have been able to explore it completely.

In general, there is not much here. There is a very nice, well-maintained park and a few old temples, but since Ubon is a relatively new city and "only" around two hundred years old (similar to Bangkok), there isn't much in the way of historical places to visit.

The people here more than make up for the lack of tourist attractions, however. As in most places in Isaan, the people have been incredibly friendly to me. Most of the people I see at least say "Hello" to me as they pass on the street (or on their motorbikes). Some try out the few phrases of English that they know. Others, however, give me full stories about how they learned to speak English when the American troops were here 30 years ago.

But perhaps the most exciting part of my trip was finding out that Ubon has perhaps the cheapest Internet cafes in Thailand. And the quality has been surprisingly good as well. The one I am at now costs 10 baht (US$0.25) per hour. Contrast that to the 120 baht (US$3) an hour that you might find in the tourist areas of Bangkok, and you know why I've been sitting at this terminal all day.

My trip has not gone without disappointment however. But it has not been Udon's or the people of Udon's fault; it is 100% my own. My original plan was to come to Udon for a few days and then cross the border into Laos and visit Pakse and Champasak. But guess what brilliant move Yours Truly made? What would be the one thing that I could not do without?

Yup... I forgot to bring my passport. D'oh! But again, luckily my mai bpen rai attitude is still going strong. Instead of Laos, I have been enjoying the quiet and peaceful life in this small Thai town on the Mun -- eating its food, chatting with its residents, and spending my time in its fabulously cheap Internet cafes.

Nam (Water)

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Back and forth I swim across the 25 meters of water held in this neighborhood pool. After about 30 minutes, I realize that the rain had started again. It has been falling off and on all day. Today's rain is not what one might think of when they hear the words "monsoon season". Instead, the rain has been barely noticable, except that it gave the surrounding air a refreshing, cool feeling. Even as I was swimming, I hadn't noticed that the falling water had started again, but I suppose that was because I was already as wet as could be.

A few minutes later, I am down the small narrow soi, waiting for my noodle soup to arrive as I listen to the water falling on the canvas tent above my head, and flowing down through a few holes onto the bare concrete floor. The puddles of water around my feet reflect the bright florescent tubes and bare naked light bulbs hanging randomly around the open-air dining area.

Behind me, to my right, a karaoke machine is blasting out Thai folk songs. Behind me, to my left, a dueling machine is belting out Thai power ballads. The falling water certainly hasn't dampened the spirits of those around me. Small red metallic tables with red plastic stools are full of Thai people who don't seem to mind being the dampness of their clothes or the humidity in the air.

And then my ba mee noodles arrive, sitting in delicious garlic and spice filled water. The hot flavorful water is like comfort food to me, even as it warms me up until beads of sweat drip off my forehead.

Ah, water. The source of life, indeed.

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

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

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