September 2005 Archives

Hall of Fame Dad

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One of my most prized possessions is a small, 30-year old notebook where I used to record my jogs through the neighborhood. The first entry is sometime in 1974. I was only four years old, but I made it on one half-mile loop around the block. I continued to use this book to record my runs (more or less) all through track seasons in middle school and track and cross country in high school. Not only does this one book hold my first run, it also holds my last and fastest high school run -- a 15:58 three-miler at the Florida State Championships.

But this post is not about me, it's about my Dad. This past weekend, he was inducted into the Forrest City High School Sports Hall of Fame. I think he was the most proud of the fact that he was the first runner inducted.

Since I wasn't around in 1958 to watch him run, this is what the local Forrest City Times-Herald had to say about his career earlier this week:

A 1957 graduate of Forrest City High School, Stuart Towns was one of the state's early pioneers in distance running, lettering with the Mustang track team for three years and also running cross country during his senior year.

Towns also played basketball for two seasons.

As a sophomore, he finished second in the District 880-yard run and was third in the state in the 880 event. He won the district 440 title during his junior year at FCHS and went on to finish third in the state meet.

As a senior, Towns finished second in the state cross country championship meet becoming the first Forrest City High School student to run cross country. Self-coached in cross country, Towns finished third at the University of Arkansas Invitational Cross Country Meet and third at the Little Rock Invitational Meet.

During his senior year, he won the District 440, 880 and mile finishing first in the state in the mile run and third in the state 440. He also anchored the mile relay team at the state meet.

Towns attended the University of Arkansas where he lettered in both track and cross country for three years. He was a member of the Arkansas cross country team that won the Southwest Conference title in 1959 and finished second in 1960.

After college, Towns competed with the U.S. Modern Pentathlon team and was a first alternate for the Pre-Olympic World Meet in Tokyo and other Olympic trials.

Towns helped establish the men's cross country and track programs at the University of West Florida in 1985 and coached the two teams until 2000.

His teams qualified for the NAIA National Cross Country Championship meet nine times. He was named NAIA District 27 Coach of the year several times.

Towns was a professor on staff at the University of West Florida and at Appalachian State.

Currently he is on staff at Southeast Missouri State University.


I am so proud!

Traumatic Experiences

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Whew, as I am sure it is obvious to anyone reading this page, this week has been a rough one for me. But now, 4 days after receiving the shocking news, I am doing much better. Being able to write about it here, and to read other people's comments and emails, and to talk to Ekk the other night, I am feeling back to normal, more or less.

Interestingly, a few days ago I recived an email from a collegue entittled, "21 Things You Can Do While You're Living Through a Traumatic Experience". It was referring mostly to the "traumatic experience" of Katrina (and now Rita, I guess). And whereas my traumatic experience last week wasn't any thing close to what people are going through on the Gulf Coast, it still resonated a litle bit with me.

Some of the 21 things that hit closest to home for me was:

4. Become aware of how the event is affecting you (i.e., your feelings, thoughts, actions--and your physical and spiritual reactions).

If anything, I was acutely aware of the way I felt. I guess that's because I always over-analyze everything all the time.

10. Tell your story. And, allow yourself to feel. It's okay--not to be okay during a traumatic experience.

This is such a big one for me. I often don't "allow myself to feel". I also don't like taking or writing about bad things. But I am really glad I did, this time.

11. You may experience a desire to withdraw and isolate, causing a strain on significant others. Resist the urge to shut down and retreat into your own world.

Yup, that's me. When things go wrong, I want to lock myself in the bathroom. (Which I did, for a while Tuesday night.) But that's not a good solution.

12. Traumatic stress may compromise your ability to think clearly. If you find it difficult to concentrate when someone is speaking to you, focus on the specific words they are saying--work to actively listen. Slow down the conversation and try repeating what you have just heard.

I noticed this was true. As I said in my original post, I have no idea about the details of the original conversation. I am hoping that I run into those guys again so that I can hear the story again. I think I can handle it... this time.

13. Don't make important decisions when you're feeling overwhelmed. Allow trusted family members or friends to assist you with necessary decision-making.

I almost did something really stupid the day after I heard the news. I'll spare you the details. It was unrelated to the news, but let's just say I wasn't thinking very clearly.

14. If stress is causing you to react physically, use controlled breathing techniques to stabilize yourself. Take a slow deep breath by inhaling through your nose, hold your breath for 5 seconds and then exhale through your mouth. Upon exhalation, think the words "relax," "let go," or "I'm handling this." Repeat this process several times.

After Ekk and I talked, I just kept repeating "Let it go, let it go, let it go..." It sounds silly to admit this now, but after about an hour of this, it actually did help.

15. Realize that repetitive thinking and sleep difficulties are normal reactions. Don't fight the sleep difficulty. Try the following: Eliminate caffeine for 4 hours prior to your bedtime, create the best sleep environment you can, consider taking a few moments before turning out the lights to write down your thoughts--thus emptying your mind.

That is exactly what I did the first night. I ran to my computer and typed like mad. It's amazing how writing helps me find closure.

18. Create a journal. Writing about your experience may help to expose yourself to painful thoughts and feelings and, ultimately, enable you to assimilate your experience.

This has obviously been successful for me :)

20. Try to maintain your schedule. Traumatic events will disrupt the sense of normalcy. We are all creatures of habit. By maintaining our routines, we can maintain a sense of control at a time when circumstances may lead us to feel a loss of control.

Unfortuately, my life doesn't have a schedule lately. This week has just added to the chaos. But hopefully I am getting back to a little bit more "normal" life.

So there we have it. The entire list of 21 Things You Can Do While You're Living Through a Traumatic Experience ia a good read; and something to always keep in mind. It's not a matter of if we will have traumatic experiences, it's unfortunately a matter of when.

The Destination is Meaningless

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One of my favorite sayings is, "The journey is more important than the destination." I always say this to remind myself to enjoy the present, even as I strive towards some future goal.

But tonight my Thai friend Ekk turned this sentence around and used it against me, showing me another layer of it that I had not considered before. Not only is the journey more important, he argued, but the destination is not important at all.

His claim was that Westerners (and hence, myself) get too caught up in the destination. Sure, they might enjoy the journey, but if they don't actually arrive at the destination they wanted, they feel as if it was all a waste. Say you are on a sports team that wants to win the championship. If you get second place, is your disappointment so great that your season was ruined? What about the last place team? Did they just waste their time or can they find some good in the journey they just took?

We are taught to be optimists. If you study hard, you will get an A. If you avoid fatty food, you won't have a heart attack. If you work hard, you will be successful. But there are examples all around us that disprove the point, whether it's the entrepreneur who puts all her energy into her business, only to go bankrupt, or perhaps the fine-tuned athlete who unexpectedly collapses on his treadmill.

We do have some control over the journey in our present actions but we really can't determine the destination until we are there. The destination just happens and is out of our control. And that drives us control-freak Westerners crazy sometimes. If we get to the end and it doesn't work out the way we wanted, we question the logic and try to make sense of it. Why didn't it work out the way we planned? I worked hard for this championship! It's not fair! It's not right! I deserved a different fate!

And those last three sentences were exactly my feelings over the past two days about Roen's death. But Ekk's point to me tonight was that you can't be upset with the destination. You can not worry about the ending, because it doesn't matter in comparison to the journey. Roen's and my friendship is over. The destination has been reached. It wasn't the ending I would have chosen, but it was the ending nonetheless. It was the ending that can not be changed.

Ekk had a point, and I knew that his logic was sound. As a Westerner, I always want to know "Why?". So it was very difficult for me to open my fist and give in and admit that sometimes there just is no logic in life; no fairness; no justice, at least not in the way that we expected or desired.

As soon as I can accept this to be true, I can re-assess my last few days. I can look back and be happy that I enjoyed the journey of my friendship with Roen. I can let go of the things I can not control. I can give up my desire to hold on to things that are not permanent.

And the same goes for my life as well. All my life I have thought about Death quite a bit. (I often wonder if everyone thinks about it as often as I do. I'm sure most do, but it's not a subject many people like to talk about.) And so what should I think about the enevitable final destination of my life? If I die tomorrow, was my life a waste? Surely not. Perhaps it's not the destination I would have chosen, but at least the journey was amazing.

And when I think of it in those terms, death doesn't seem to be quite so ominous...


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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.

Roen

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Last night I was sitting in a bar/restaurant on Silom eating dinner with a friend when a Thai guy and a farang guy walked up to our table. The Thai guy said to me, "I don't think you remember me. You were friends with Boy, right? ("Boy" is a common Thai nickname. And although I have met a few "Boy"s, I don't have any friends with this nickname.)

"No," I replied "I don't think I know anyone named Boy."

He insisted. "Boy was about this tall" holding his had out to about 5'6". "Whenever you would see each other, you would always talk for a while."

I figured it was just another case of mistaken identity. But then he showed me his camera phone and on it was the picture of my friend Roen, who was a 20-something year old friend of mine who was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year.

I know that it's not very common for someone under 30 to get cancer. But the last time I had seen Roen was on Silom Road a few months ago, the chemotherapy and radiation treatments had already caused a lot of weight loss that his already slim frame could ill afford to lose. He had always been upbeat and smiling, and this time was no different. I knew that he was having a rough time, but I figured that he would eventually be a survivor.

Since that time, I would chat with him online now and then. I was worried about him and wanted to check in on him, but I could never convince him to leave the house or to allow me to visit. His excuse was always that he didn't look good and was embarrassed to have company or to be seen in public.

In the last couple of weeks, I hadn't heard from him, and I started to worry even more. So when the guy in front of me asked me if I knew "Boy", I knew what he was going to say to me. But, thanks to Roen's optimistic smile, I hopefully but feebly asked, "Have you talked to him lately? How is he?"

And sure enough, the answer was the answer I knew was coming but I didn't want to hear. "He passed away on Saturday."

His farang friend want on to tell me the details of Roen's last days. Roen made his friends promise that they wouldn't tell anyone else that he was dying because he didn't want anyone to visit him in the hospital. My head started to spin and I didn't really hear what else the guy said. All I remember was the phrase, "but the cancer just ate him up."

It's not very becoming to cry in a bar. But I did anyway. And I cried in the taxi on the way to Major Ekkamai to retrieve my motorcycle. And I cried on my motorcycle on the short ride home. And I cried in my bathroom alone at home.

Now it's been almost 24 hours and I am still shaken by the news. In this case, I am not shaken because my life will change now that Roen is gone. I only saw him rarely, and it was usually a random encounter at the coffee shop or on the sidewalk or online. But the thing that just tears me up inside is the injustice of it all. He was young and vivacious and creative and always smiling. In the "Land of Smiles" his smile was one of the biggest. Over and over in my head I keep thinking "It's not fair.

"It's not right.

"He did not deserve this fate."

But no matter what I believe, this was the hand he was dealt. I know that what is done is done and there is nothing that anyone can do about it. I know this, but I still struggle with it. I sit here and wrestle with my own demons about life and death, justice and injustice, fairness and equality and karma and fate and God.

... and hope that one day I can remember his smile and be able to smile back at him.

I spent this weekend in Phuket in Southern Thailand with my American friends Mark (who lives in Bangkok) and Clayton (who lives in the US). We got a fantastic package deal: Round-trip airfare on Thai, two nights in the 4-star Amari Resort, airport shuttle and free breakfast buffet for only 5,000 baht (US$125).

One of the days we were there, was spent relaxing in our rooms or at the pool. I usually don't like to do that when I travel, but this hotel was so nice and the beds were so comfy, it was hard to get out of them. Not to mention we spent most of the night before and well into the morning dancing at the Tiger Disco and then Safari Disco.

The other day we were there, we took a boat trip to Phi Phi Island. Unfortunately, it rained the entire day and the seas were quite rough, so it was not a very pleasurable a trip. One cool thing that we did see, however, is a group of cliff-dwelling monkeys. I didn't know that monkeys could swim, but these monkeys were more than happy to jump into the salt-water ocean to retrieve bananas that we threw to them from our boat.

Not only were the low clouds hanging over the island of Phi Phi, an overwhelming sense of sadness and tragedy filled the air as well. Almost everything and everyone on Phi Phi was washed away during the tsunami last December. Nine months later, there are still huge piles of trash and rubble lying around, as well as buildings that had their bottom floors washed out. I didn't see a single smile the entire time I was there. Phi Phi must be the saddest place in Thailand.

But, other than the visit to Phi Phi, the trip was very relaxing and fun. Now it's time to get back to the huge pile of work that I have waiting for me. But maybe I can find some time to post a few of the pictures I have taken on the last two weekends.

Back from Northern Thailand

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The four of us (Clayton, April, Piyawat, and myself) just returned from a wonderful 4-day holiday in Lampang, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. In addition to showing everyone around, I've also been working quite a bit. So, as a result, this website has suffered (again).

But we did a lot of cool stuff and took some great pictures, so I'll try to post some updates soon.

Playing Tour Guide for Friends

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I haven't had much time to update this site lately, because I have been busy entertaining friends who are visiting from the U.S. They arrived in Thailand few days ago. After seeing the Bangkok sights, we are now in Chiang Mai taking advantage of what Northern Thailand has to offer.

More stories and pictures coming soon, I'm sure.

J Avenue, Thong Lo 15

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Now that I have an office at home, with real office furniture and a wireless DSL Internet connection, I have been doing a lot more work here. I like working at home -- I don't have to get dressed up, I can control the AC, I can play my own music, etc. The one problem is food. Unfortunately I don't have the school canteen downstairs like I do when I work on campus.

There really isn't much to eat around my home either. The area where I now live is 95% residential. There is a restaurant in my building, but it is quite expensive (by Thai standards) so it's not an option on a daily basis. If I walk about 10 minutes I can find some cheap Thai stir-fry and noodle shops. Or, I can ride my motorcycle about 2 KM to regular quick-eat chains like Burger King and Pizza Company on Thong Lo or Oishi, Black Canyon, McDonalds and Pizza Company (again) at Major Ekkamai.

Or, my new favorite: Au Bon Pain at J Avenue at Thong Lo 15. J Avenue is a fairly new, upscale (like most new things on Thong Lo these days) shopping center that caters mostly to Japanese expats (hence the name J Avenue, I assume). It contains the Villa Market (an expensive grocery store with lots of outrageously priced imported food from the US and Japan), lots of Japanese restaurants, spas, pet stores, travel agencies, one of the few Apple Stores in Thailand, the always hip Greyhound Cafe, and the afore mentioned Au Bon Pain.

Au Bon Pain is (relatively) expensive, but the all-glass walls looking out to Thong Lo, the Sinatra soundtrack that is often playing, the tasty snacks, and the friendly staff is enough for me to rationalize the prices.

On the left is the view from the shopping center looking back towards Thong Lo. I really like this fountain/tree combination. On the right is the view from Thong Lo. The Au Bon Pain is on the right, with the Villa Market in the back on the left.


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Photo Notifications

For most of the time that I've had this website, there has been a way to get an email every time the website was updated. I have been using Bloglet to accomplish this and it has worked out fairly well over the years.

(If you want to receive an email every time I update this front page, type in your email address on the right menu, under "Notify Me")

I have also tried to use Bloglet on my Photo Album, but it has never worked. Why? Bloglet only sends out emails if the date on the post is the same as today's date. I always post the pictures with the date that the picture was taken, not the date that it was posted. So even though many people have signed up for "automatic notifications", no one has actually ever received one.

So, with the new version of Movable Type that I installed this weekend, I have decided to use its built-in notification system for the Photo Album. There is a sign-up box on the Main Photo Page, but if you would like to sign up from here, just fill in your email address and click the "Sign up for Photo Updates" button below. The next time I add a group of photos to that page, you will receive a notification email telling you to come check 'em out.

Email:

Movable Type Upgrade to 3.2

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The last two days I have been feeling withdrawal symptoms from my website, mostly because the software that runs it was not working and I didn't know how to fix it.

Late on Friday night I tried to upgrade to Movable Type 3.2. Normally, the upgrades go very smoothly, but not this time. Everything looked like it was working, but none of the buttons in the application worked. So that meant that I couldn't make any changes or add any new posts to the site.

But, after reading the MT User Forums and tweaking this and that, it seems to finally be up and running smoothly. Let's hope it stays that way!

Update: The new version of Movable Type looks pretty sweet. From what it looks like, it should handle my great nemesis -- comment spam -- much better than old versions. The spam got so bad that I went through all 600+ entries and turned off the comments. But now, I've gone back to the oldest posts and re-opened them. If the spam is controllable, I'll open the rest.

Street Cooking on Thong Lo

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I was riding my motorcycle down Thong Lo on the way home last night when I saw a shirtless teen-aged boy stirring a huge skillet over a gas flame on the side of the road. I had never seen anything like it, so I just had to do a u-turn and find out what was going on.

Turns out that it was in front of a restaurant that sells mostly duck dishes. There were 3 young guys who were taking turns adding ingredients and stirring the mix with a long paddle.

The owner chatted me up a bit (in Thai, of course) and I found out that the were making a marinade for the duck meat, and that they do this once a month. He explained all of the ingredients to me: garlic, sugar, salt, and various dried spices that I wasn't familiar with. One of the spices smelled a bit like licorice, and another smelled like cinnamon. Needless to say, the entire mix smelled fantastic. Even though I am not a huge fan of duck, I will have to visit this shop for a sample. (By the way, it is just north of Thong Lo Soi 10.)

The owner was incredibly nice to me. He invited me in to the restaurant and made me try some suki (soup) with his family. He then took me outside and taught me how to stir the pot. Check out the proof, below.

It's times like these that I just LOVE this country!

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The shirtless guy was one of the stirrers while the two old guys were just there to watch and drink whisky. This looks like really hard work. Not to mention it's really hot over the gas flame
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First, the owner had to give me a quick lesson on how to stir the pot. Then, it's my turn to give it a try. Let's just say that I'm just glad I don't have to do this for a living!
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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.

Siam Paragon Construction

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I hate standing around doing nothing, especially if I am waiting for a bus or a train. I'd much rather walk than sit and wait.

But when I'm taking the skytrain, I can't walk once I'm inside the station. So at least at Siam Station for the last year or so, I have had a nice diversion to look at while I wait -- the building of the new Siam Paragon shopping center.

First, we got to watch the dismantling of the old Siam Intercontinental Hotel. It seemed like a nice place at one time, but I guess times change. And I have to say that what is replacing it looks like it will be quite fancy as well. (Although I think the outside looks ugly, other than the all-glass atrium entryway.) Not that this strip needs another mall, but we will see what it is like after it's finished and open early next year.

In any case, for fun every now and then I have taken a picture of the construction site from the Skytrain platform. Here are two of those pictures; a little before and after look at the new Siam Paragon, about 9 months apart.

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(The pic on the right was taken on 29 January 2005, while the pic on the right was taken 31 August 2005.)

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

August 2005 is the previous archive.

October 2005 is the next archive.

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