October 2005 Archives

Happy Halloween

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pumkins.gifHalloween has always been a favorite holiday of mine. It's too bad that we don't really celebrate it over here in Thailand. You do see a bit of face paint come out, but that's about it.

And Thai people are definitely into ghost stories. Almost every Thai movie that is made is either a silly comedy or a horror flick. Not only that, but I've heard several real-life ghost stories from a certain friend of mine. For example, when his grandmother died, he told me that several members of his family reported seeing her ghost.

But perhaps since Thai people believe so strongly in real ghosts, then dressing up as one is not as much fun.

Aside from the scary costumes, my other favorite part of Halloween is carving pumpkins. I saw my first creative Pumpkin Carving Contest at the NC State School of Design back around 1997, Jack O'Lanterns have been one of my favorite parts of Halloween. My friend Eric sent me the pic on the right and a link to more outrageous (and not particularly classy or tasteful) pumpkin carvings.

Wedding Photos

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I took a few pictures at the wedding I went to last week. Most of them didn't come out well at all. I guess I just haven't quite figured out how to take good indoor shots with my new camera. But maybe these pics will give you some idea of what the wedding looked like.


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Guests arrived with pink envelopes with money inside. Their first step was to sign the guest book at this table, and put their money envelope into the big pink heart on the table. (Piyawat's sister, Piyawadee, is the second from the right.)The guests then headed into the big banquet room where they were served a 10-course meal. There was a big stage set up in front (in the top left of this picture), with a back drop that listed the happy couples names and the date.
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Before dinner started, however, everyone had their picture taken with the happy couple. Here they are waiting for the next group of guests to arrive.Here's the 9-layer wedding cake flanked by two ice sculptures. Impressive, huh?
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After the banquet, the family stayed around for the tea ceremony. Here, the happy couple is giving tea to the bride's parents.After almost everyone had gone home, the happy couple had a chance to look through the guest book and read the messages that were left for them.

Life Changing?

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I usually use my email Inbox as a "to-do" list. Once I reply to an email, then it gets stored in another folder. But apparently I haven't been very good about keeping the Inbox cleared since I moved to Thailand, since I had about 450 emails from the last three years.

Every day this week I have slowly been cleaning out my Yahoo email inbox. It's been an interesting experience to read back through old emails from friends around the world. Sometimes when I think of a certain person, I think of an email they sent to me. I was shocked to see that often these emails are from years ago, even though it doesn't seem that long.

And it seems like a lot of my "to-dos" haven't really changed all that much over the past three years. Once I got accustomed to living in Bangkok, the topics that have been interesting to me as well as my view of my life here hasn't really changed all that much. I thought perhaps that moving to the other side of the world would transform my life, but I don't think I have changed that much at all.

Hm... I'll have to think about this some more. Is it really true?

Am I Crazy?

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This semester I have been working part-time at school two days a week and spending my free time working on other projects. But today, the school asked me to take over a Fundamental Math class for another teacher who is very sick and has to return to his home in Europe.

There are many bad things about this scenario for me. First of all, it is Fundamental Math, which is not the most fun class to teach (or to take, apparently). Secondly, if I take the offer, I will be teaching the same thing four times a week. That's usually not much fun either. Thirdly, my work load will quadruple.

However, a quadrupling work load also means means that my salary will quadruple, at least for the next two months. Am I crazy? You bet. Sign me up!

Chinese Wedding in Bangkok

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Tonight I had the opportunity to go to my first wedding in Thailand. Piyawat's younger brother, Piyapoj was marrying his girlfriend Varisa. Piyawat explained to me that it wasn't a "Thai" wedding, but instead it was a "Chinese" wedding. I think perhaps it was a "Wedding for Thai people who live in Bangkok and are of Chinese decent". But what do I know?

Whatever kind of wedding it was, it was basically a big reception at the Prince Palace Hotel with about 300 guests. The guests arrived with red envelopes containing money for the new couple. They signed the guestbook and dropped their money envelopes into a big heart-shaped box. Piyawat says that it's usually about 500-1000 baht, or US$12.50-$25.00 and the money goes to help pay for the party.

Then, the guests had their picture taken with the happy couple and then went into the large ballroom for the 10-course dinner. The menu was definitely Chinese, and according to the menu on the table, consisted of:

  1. Dim Sum
  2. Shark's Fin Soup with black mushrooms
  3. Barbequed Suckling Pig
  4. Deep Fried Prawns with Salad
  5. Braised Duck Stuffed with Chestnuts
  6. Steamed Seabass with Soy Sauce (my favorite)
  7. Double Boiled Bamboo Pith with Chinese Herbs
  8. Fried Egg Noodle "Hong Kong" Style
  9. Mashed Taro with Gingo Nuts
  10. Chilled Lychees in Syrup (another favorite)

During dinner, several people took the stage to make speeches and toasts, then the happy couple cut the 9-level skyscraper cake, and then went around to every table to take more pictures. While this was going on, some of the guests started singing Kareoke.

After dinner was over, most of the guests started to leave, but the family stayed behind for a tea ceremony. The family members would sit on a couch with the happy couple kneeling in front of them. The couple would then present tea to whoever was on the couch. The tea drinker in turn would give the couple another envelope with money inside, or a small piece of gold. To show their appreication, the couple would then give back a wrapped present. Wai's were given all around, flashbulbs popped, and the next family member would take the couch.

All in all, the party lasted about 4 hours. Even though it was all in Thai, and very few words of English were spoken to me all night, I still had a good time just watching the scene.

Last Twelve Days

Twelve days after I left Bangkok, I am now back. The trip didn't turn out at all as I was expecting, though. My original plans were to cross the border at Vientiane, spend a few days there, and then come back to Nong Khai for the Naga Fireball show. I was then going to travel around Isaan by bus, hitting as many provinces as I could.

I've been wanting to see the Naga Fireballs for years, but I guess that experience will have to wait, because instead of following my plan, I only stayed in Vientiane one night, and then continued on to Luang Prabang. Except for the 3-day trip to Muang Ngoi Neua, I spent the entire rest of the time in Luang Prabang.

Not that I didn't do my share of travelling. Over the past twelve days I have been in a plane, a mini-bus, several tuk-tuks, a songtaew truck, a few motorcycles, and a boat. And to top it all off, the 800 KM trip back to Bangkok was in a BMW SUV, compliments of a new German friend I met in Luang Prabang.

Not that I am complaining about any of this. It was a wonderful trip, and I got to see a lot of new things and have several new experiences. Hopefully I will be able to post some of the pictures I took soon...

A Lao Loy Kratong

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One of the best things about Luang Prabang is its festivals. They tend to be more beautiful, more traditional, and more reserved than the ones I've seen in Thailand. They also tend to be a lot of fun. Last night's Loy Kratong was no exception.

All week, people have been busy decorating their homes, shops, and temples with "Christmas" lights and 3-D hanging lanterns. The lanterns come in all shapes and sizes, but cylindrical and star-shaped ones seem to be the most popular. People have also been busy building small boats out of thin slices of bamboo and lit with candles. Hopefully I got some good pictures of all of the activity that I will be able to share when I return to Bangkok next week.

Also as the week has gone by, more and more firecrackers and fireworks have been going off around the streets of Luang Prabang. Even the monk novices seem to have gotten into the spirit. On a slow bike ride around the city a couple of nights ago, I noticed that more than a few BOOMS, BANGS and CRACKLES were coming from inside the centuries-old temple walls.

The culmination of a weeks worth of preparation culminated last night with a night-time parade down the main street of Luang Prabang. Villagers from all over the province paraded their lit boats and sang and danced and lit firecrackers and in general, made as much noise as possible as they made their way down the street.

At the end of the street, at the Sang Thong temple, the boats were launched in the Mekong along with hundreds of handmade, handheld baskets of flowers and candles. After witnessing all of this, we headed back to my guesthouse and watched the small lights float down the river.

All of the lights and all of the noise and all of the boats are in honor of the Naga who live in the river, and to the river itself. It is a celebration of the mae nam -- "river" in Thai and Lao languages -- but literally translated as "Mother Water". It's a good reason to celebrate, for without her, life would not be possible.

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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.

Muang Ngoi Neua

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As usual, I can not stay in the familiar for too long, so I jumped on a bus out of Luang Prabang and into the unknown as soon as possible. The bus took me three hours north, through the mountains to a small village called Nong Kiew. From there, I took a boat up the Ou River to an even smaller village called Muang Ngoi Nuea.

There are no cars in Muang Ngoi Neua, because there are no roads that go there. All transportation is done by river. It will stay this way for a long time, I�m sure, for very tall mountains enclose the village on all sides.

Due to the remoteness, you might imagine that accommodations would be primitive but cheap. You would be right. One night in a bamboo bungalow with an amazing view of the river and the mountains on the other side will set you back US$1 per night.

What do you get for $1? Not much. You get a mosquito net, a thin mattress and blanket, a shared toilet with a big basin of cold water to splash on yourself as a shower substitute, and electricity from a generator from 6-10 PM.

You also get a great view of the green mountains and the river, busy with boats going here and there. You also get roster wake-up calls intermittently starting from around 4 AM.

The village itself has one main dirt road that runs parallel to the river. There are a few restaurants and guesthouses sprinkled along this road, hoping to make a little money from the new found tourism. But, as with the guesthouses, you should expect your meals to be exquisite. Signs outside the restaurants say things like, �Today we have chicken and duck�. Or, even worse, �Today we have buffalo only�. (Not that buffalo is bad; it just limits your menu options.)

It looks like one restaurant taught all of the other restaurants how to cook food for tourists, because they all have exactly the same menu. And they cook the dishes the same way, sometimes in bizarre ways such as adding peanuts and thin noodles to larb gai. And all of them take about 45 minutes to serve your food. Needless to say, the whole dining experience in Muang Ngoi Nuea takes a little bit of getting used to.

But I spent a fabulous two nights there, doing a whole lot of nothing. I did hike about 30 minutes through the jungle to visit a cave, and swam in the Ou River a bit. But other than that, I just walked around and watched the villagers live their life. Or else I laid in my hammock on my bungalow balcony and watched the river go by.

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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.

Luang Prabang #4

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Nursing a Beer Lao on the banks of the Mekong in Luang Prabang, my mind is remarkably blank. This is my fifth time to my favorite little Lao town; my 3rd to stay at the Bougnasuk Guest House on the river.

I feel like I should have something profound to say, but I don't. Five trips in three years and this place almost seems like home. In fact, I have stayed in the same room at the guest house the last three times. Checking in and dropping off my bag felt so familar, it was almost like coming home.

In many ways, this trip is a mirror of my first visit to Luang Prabang. The first time, Rupert and I took the bus up from Vientiane. At the time, I am sure I swore I would never take that 9 hour roller-coaster ride through the mountains again. Three years later, I found myself back on the bus.

Luckily, I enjoyed most of it. The AC worked, the bus driver was quick but not reckless, and the scenery was breathtaking. There must have been 50 times that I thought to myself, "Now, that would have been a great picture." Kids chasing chickens in a dirt yard; a young guy strumming a guitar and singing to himself in his thatched hut doorway; bright red chilis, brown rice, orangish-yellow corn kernels all out by the street to dry; a group of school girls in a Lao silk skirts waving and giggling as we passed. Where as Luang Prabang seems very familiar to me now, the Lao countryside is still facinatingly exotic to me.

Not only does the bus ride remind me of my first trip to Luang Prabang, the time of the year does as well. I didn't realize it on the way up, but I am here on the exact same weekend that Rupert and I visited the first time. The moon will be full in a few days, which means its time for Boat Racing and much merrymaking. Last time though, we left early and headed back to Vientiane to see the festival there. This time I will stay for the Lao version of the Loy Kratong holiday in a few days.

Yaek Ekkamai Neua

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A few days ago, I was walking around the intersection of Ekkamai and Petchaburi roads, also known as Yaek Ekkamai Neua. There aren't many white faces in this part of town, as there aren't any tourist hotels or "interesting sights". But here are some of the things that I saw:

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I still think Ronald McDonald is very creepy, even when he is politely wai'ing to the Thai children. Looks like this McDonald's is also selling plastic Snoopy and Pokemon toys for 19 baht (about US$0.50).The Klong Saen Saep commuter boat leaves the Chan Issara Pier. It is about to pass under Ekkamai Road, on its way to Bangkapi.
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Lazy stray dogs lay around the sidewalk of Petchaburi Road while a lady buys some grilled meat on a stick from a street vendor.Even Thai people are surprised by this unique building, not knowing what it is. But it's just a temple called Wat Pasi. (Chan Issara building is in the background.)

My New Homestead Site

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It's 4:36 AM and I can't sleep. I've tried to lay down twice, to no avail. I don't know why this is happening to me, but perhaps it was something I ate at our fabulous dinner tonight at L'Opera (Sukumvit 39) -- great Italian food and a lot of it: an appetizer buffet with lots of delicious food like beef carpaccio, mozzarella caprese salad, stuffed mushrooms, etc, main courses with spinach and potatoes on the side, a carafe of red wine, and one sinful chocolate souffle with ice cream. A huge meal with a (relatively) huge price tag for two people: 2,300 baht (US$57). It was absolutely delicious, though, and worth every baht, but I digress..

So instead of spending my night sleeping like any normal person would, what have I been doing instead? Making a new website!

As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to try to do the same assignment that I gave my students and create a personal webpage on Homestead, but I couldn't since the site is MS Windows only. So tonight (this morning?) I snuck in and used someone else's PC to whip up a quick site.

I'm actually pretty impressed with Homestead. It's way better than Yahoo's Geocities, that's for sure. Hopefully it's a good assignment for my students. Some of them are a bit techno-phobic, and this seems to be a great way for them to be creative and easily build a professional looking website.

You can build your own website for free too: http://www.homestead.com

Why is it that some people dream a lot, and others don't seem to dream at all? I am in the former camp. Almost every morning I wake up with the emotions of my dreams from the night before fresh in my head. And my dreams are all over the map. Sometimes I wake up sad, sometimes scared, sometimes laughing. Is that strange?

For example this week I had a dream about the new Video iPod that is rumored to be released next week by Apple. I've been reading news articles about people guessing what Apple will actually release. I guess it made such an impression on me that it ended up in my dreams, and believe me, I was very excited to be the proud owner of such a cool new toy.

Not all dreams are that benign, however. A few nights before that, I dreamed that my bones and muscles in my right hand and in both legs had been replaced by machines. I don't know if it was more along the lines of Luke Skywalker's hand, or the Six Million Dollar Man. Or if I was just thinking about Ray Kurzweil's theory that man and machine will be converging soon.

In any case, it wasn't a very pleasant experience. At first I thought that being part-machine was kind of cool, but then I started freaking out when I realized that someone could remotely control my actions through my machine legs and hand. And then it got worse. Something started to malfunction and I started feeling a light, but continuous zapping shock in my hand. It started getting worse and worse. It was as if I was sticking my finger in a low-power electrical outlet.

I was ready for this little experiment to be over, and I demanded that the machine be taken out. Unfortuately though, I was told that it was too late. The nerves had already been cut and the change was now permenent. No solution to my electrical malfunction was given.

And then I woke up, still quite upset.

(Any dream interpreters out there? I'm sure you can have a field day with that one!)

Switching to Mac

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So now that my laptop is dead and I am officially 100% a Mac person, I have spent some time over the last couple of days updating the software on the Mac. So far I have only found three things that I can not do on the Mac that I can on Windows. The first one is the aforementioned audio-video chat on MSN and Yahoo Messenger.

The second is that I realized that I depended on my Windows machine to edit, store, and organize my photo collection. One of my few complaints about the Mac is that iPhoto is a HORRIBLE program. I won't go into the details, but let's just say I have spent hours trying to get it to do what I want. I hate it. So, I am now the proud owner of Photoshop Elements. We'll see how that goes.

The third is actually very inconsequential. In one of my classes, I have my students create webpages using Homestead, Tripod, or Geocities. The websites from Homestead turned out really well, so I wanted to give it a try. But for some reason, you can only build Homestead websites on a Windows machine. I guess I won't be having a free Homestead website any time soon.

So, that's three drawbacks so far: one big one, one solvable one, and one that doesn't really matter at all. Not too bad. At this rate, I may never click another Microsoft button again.

Hurricane Stuart

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Yesterday, Hurricane Stan hit the coast of Mexico. It's amazing that the Atlantic has had so many hurricanes this year that they are all the way through the letter "S". When I was a kid, I was always bummed that we never made it to "S". How does "Hurricane Stuart" sound?

But then again, the other night I was in the Witches' Tavern on Thong Lo, having a snack and a drink with Jeremy. A blonde Scottish girl at the table next to us was sitting alone, and almost as soon as we sat down, she struck up a conversation with us.

"Hi, I really recommend the burger!" (Now, that's a good pickup line, isn't it?)

Turns out her name is Katrina. I bit my tongue and didn't say anything, but she went ahead and let us know that everyone she meets makes a comment about the recent hurricane in New Orleans. Billions of dollars in damages and hundreds of people killed -- it's not the first thing you want people to think of when they hear your name.

Maybe it's a good thing that we haven't had a Hurricane Stuart after all...

Goodbye Sony Laptop #2

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I was using my Sony Vaio laptop today for most of the morning and it started getting slower and slower as the day went on. I didn't think much of it, until tonight a familiar click, click, click sound started coming from it.

Uh oh.

It was the same sounds that my first Sony Vaio made 2 years ago before the hard drive crashed once and for all. Sure enough, after about 30 minutes of clicking, I got the blue screen of death. I rebooted and it clicked for 10 minutes before the blue screen came back. I rebooted and got another 2 minutes of clicking. I rebooted and now all I get is click, click, click, "Operating System can not be found".

Sigh.

Luckily I have been much better about backing things up this time, using my handy portable hard drive also known as an iPod. And luckily I bought a Mac Mini the last time I was in the U.S., which has a back up of the iPod.

So now I am Window-less. It's really not that bad, since I've been using the Mac Mini almost exclusively for the last couple of months. In fact, the only thing that I haven't been able to do on the Mac is video chat on Yahoo or MSN Messenger. So I guess that video chat with Mom and Dad this morning will be the last one for a long while.

I have been meaning to mention that I've been loving my new Mac. It's a bit slow at times, but I knew I was buying a slow machine to start off with. The price was low enough for a little experiment. Luckily, the experiment worked out great. I'm not so sad to be "stuck" with only a Mac machine.

I am a little bit annoyed with the Sony Vaio though. I think a hard drive should last a little more than two years. In any case, I don't think I will be dropping another 100,000 baht (US$2,500) on a new Sony laptop any time soon.

Too Lazy to Shave

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The first part of the week always means that I have a lot of papers to grade. Yesterday I spent all day working at home and I can finally say that I am (again) officially caught up with all my work. Not that it's all that interesting to say that I am caught up, but you can tell that I have a little more free time with this post... and especially with this picture. (Too much free time, perhaps?)

I set my parents up with the new version of Yahoo Messenger, and along with the webcam I got them for Christmas last year we can now have free international video chats. In our chat this morning, they commented on the fact that I haven't shaved for a while because I am on break from teaching class so I thought I'd post a little pic here.

I feel like I am on the verge of a shift in my life... the end of one chapter and the start of another. I'm not going to say too much about it now, but if it happens, it will be obvious from here. I think the future is looking bright. We'll see...

Redesigning the Photo Album

After uploading the photos today, I was started browsing my online photo album and was horrified at what I saw. None of the categories or the monthly archives were working. And navigation, in general, was non-existent.

So I've spent most of the evening tinkering around (and relearning) CSS. I'm at a good stopping point now, but I see a lot of inconsistencies that I can hopefully smooth out tomorrow.

It's been nice to finally have some free time for some fun projects...

My life has been a little bit chaotic the last few weeks, with guests from around the world, trips to Northern Thailand and Southern Thailand, personal demons to wrestle, and of course work.

But now I can finally say that I think things are back to normal. I am caught up with my work and actually was able to spend my Saturday at home tackling my "Domestic To-Do" list.

One of the things on the list was to publish a few of my pictures from my trips to Northern and Southern Thailand. I only took a few shots of Ko Phi Phi when I was in the South, so most of the pics are from the northern provinces of Lampang, Chiang Mai, and Chaing Rai.

So, please go check them out. They can be found in the following photo albums:

Pictures of Phuket

Pictures of Chiang Mai

Pictures of Chiang Rai

Pictures of Lampang

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

September 2005 is the previous archive.

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