March 2006 Archives

Pictures of Ko Surin

I was finally able to post some pictures from our boat trip to Ko Surin in Phang Nga province last month. You can see the pictures in the Phang Nga Photo Album.

What a beautiful place that was! These pictures make me want to renew my scuba certification.

I was debating whether or not I should post this entry. If you are reading it, then I guess I clicked "Publish" and I should start it off with an apology to my parents. I apologize for making you worry, but I went to one of the government protests in Bangkok last night.

I wasn't planning on attending any of them. After all, Thailand is not my country and I figure that protests are for protesters, not spectators or tourists. Besides, the gatherings were very inconveniently located all the way across town near the Grand Palace and the Government House.

But yesterday's protest was held right underneath the main Skytrain station at Siam. It was just a quick 20 minute train ride away. Needless to say, I couldn't pass up the offer.

I was impressed with what I saw. It was a huge turnout. The 6-lane road between Siam Center and Siam Square was full of people all the way from Discovery to the Wat Padumavanaram. Most were sitting in the road on mats, waving flags, faning themselves, chatting with their friends, listening to the speeches, and giving an occasional "Thaksin Awk Bai!" (Thaksin, Get Out!)

It was the most peaceful protest I have ever seen. The people seemed determined, but not overly emotional. In typical Thai style, there was a lot of laughing and joking, and tens of thousands of smiles.

Here are a few pictures that I was able to take, to give you an idea of what the protest was like:


big_crowd.jpg
flags_waving.jpg
grandma.jpg
siam_crowd.jpg

To prove how unexciting my life has been this week, I am posting an update on my bathroom!

showertile.jpgsinktile.jpg
This will be the shower
A mirror will go here,
over the sink.

They told us the tile would be done in one week (5 days). It's now been 8 days. Hopefully they will be able to finish the floor tomorrow. Then it will be time to install all the fixtures.

I've been working at home, and amazingly enough, I have learned to tune out the amazingly loud, grating noise made by the tile cutter. I have even gotten used to mopping the floor in the entire apartment 3 or 4 times every night to remove the cut tile dust.

Needless to say, I will be glad when this "small" project is done.

(Even though the tiles are quite dusty now, you can compare the new tile to the old pink and white palette.)

Photo Subject Index

A while back I had created categories for all of the different pictures in my Photo Album, like "monks" and "waterfalls". But I decided to delete all of them and just use categories for locations.

Now I have gone back and added keywords to many of the photos and created a subject index. Some of the subjects are pretty cool, with some of my favorites being:

One of the coolest parts about this, is that at the bottom of each Subject Page, there is a list of "Related Photos" links. Say there's a picture of me on the Mekong. Then, on the Mekong page there is a link to Pictures of Stuart and on that page there is a link back to Pictures of Mekong. There are also subject keywords on each individual photo page. (For the ones I've done so far, that is.)

I haven't had time to go back and tag all of the pictures, but at least I've gotten a good start on it. Feel free to browse the subjects above, or check out the Subject Index. Right now there are about 65 subjects, but not all of them have many photos, yet. Enjoy.

A Mix of Cultures

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Not even five minutes afer I left the shopping center full of Muslim women in their headscarves when it started raining. I jumped over a few stray dogs and ducked into a trendy bar with all white decor called "Bed".

But I am not in Bangkok.

I ordered a Guiness Stout and sat down in front of the big screen TV to watch a Liverpool football game. But I am not in England. For lunch today, I had a delicious chicken curry, served by sari-clad women. But I am far from India. The soft chair and cold beer go a long way to healing my sore legs that carried me past countless Hokkien coffee shops and dried herbs and medicine shops. But China is still far from here.

So where in the world could I be? If you guessed Malaysia, you are right. Penang Island to be exact. (By the way, in Penang I also saw a lot of signs that said "Pinang". So I have no idea how to actually spell it!)

There's not much to do here other than soak in the culture -- make that cultures: Malay, Chinese, Indian, and yes, still a small touch of British. It's quite like Singapore, without the rampant and over-done gentrification.

But that's OK, I'm just here for one night. Perhaps the best thing about Penang is that I think it's the cheapest and easiest place to to for a monthly visa run. This wasn't my first time here (Piyawat and I stopped over on our drive to Kuala Lumpur a couple of years ago) and I have a feeling this won't be my last.

I made another trip to the Bangkok airport today -- this time to pick up my friend Augusta from San Francisco. She's spending the next three or four months in Southeast Asia and her first stop is Bangkok.

Stephen also returned this morning from Sri Lanka, where he has spent the last three weeks building houses for tsunami victims. So that's two friends who are here on multi-month vacations. Must be nice to be unemployed!

After picking up Augusta at the airport, I took her to a guest house on Thong Lo. This place is a hidden gem to be sure. It offers rooms with air conditioning that are steps away from the Thong Lo BTS station for the low, low price of only 400 baht (US$10). The guest house is called Buri Guest House, and I highly recommend it if you are looking for cheap, convenient lodging in Bangkok.

Surprisingly, Augusta then talked Stephen and I into joining her for a Muay Thai (Thai Kickboxing) match at Lumpinee Park. Now I have lived in Bangkok for almost three years, and I have never seen a real Muay Thai match. I'm not a big fan of boxing in general, and I've heard the tickets were very expensive for farang. Well, the tickets were indeed expensive (2000 baht, or US$50 for ringside seats) but I actually enjoyed the sport, for the most part.

With an event like this, part of the fun is watching the crowd. They were definitely into it, yelling "OH!" or "WOO!" with every kick. There also seemed to be a lot of betting going on. I wonder if that's legal in Thailand. If it is, maybe I should try. I picked the winner in 3 out of 4 matches that I tried. It was beginner's luck, perhaps. Or maybe "The guy that I don't want to meet in a dark alley" is a good choice!

But actually, I still don't understand the rules. It seems like the judging is very subjective. It's not just a matter of how many punches or kicks are landed, but things like how you respond to kicks, how well you protect yourself, and how well you use "legal moves", whatever that means.

But all in all it was pretty fun. I'd even go so far to say that it was almost worth the US$50 ticket.... once.

Erawan Shrine Destroyed

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One of the favorite spots in Bangkok for locals and tourists alike is the Hindu shrine at the Erawan Hotel at the Ratchaprasong intersection. I've even been known to take out-of-town visitors there. Every night the area around the shrine is packed with worshippers and tourists snapping photos. The air is heavy with smoke from the incense and from the smell of jasmine flowers. It is a very unique and special place.

The image was placed there about 50 years ago for "Good Luck" for the businesses on that corner. This is a common practice in Thailand, but for some reason, this particular shrine became one of the most popular one in the entire city. Interestingly enough, it was made of plaster, because they didn't have time to make a metal one before the "auspicious time" chosen to bless the statue in it's new home.

destroyed_shrine.jpgUnfortunately, the luck has run out for this Hindu image. Sometime last night a mentally-deranged man climbed the fence with a hammer and attacked the plaster image, destroying it completely. If only they had more time to build a metal one fifty years ago...

The Thai government has immediately promised to rebuild the shrine within two months, as it is so loved by the people of Bangkok.

(The picture of the destroyed shrine on the left was taken from the Thai Rath newspaper's website. The article, in Thai Language, is here.)

As of today, the bathroom renovations have started, and I for one am not sad to see the old one go. The workers said that it should take one week to do everything. Somehow I doubt that will be the case, but we shall see.

So, here are the results of the first day. I think it's already an improvement!

guest_bath_before.jpgguest_bath_day1.jpg
Does anyone disagree that this
bathroom is heinous?
The shower box, the toilet tank,
and half of the tiles are gone already
shower_before.jpgshower_day1.jpg
Old shower box No shower box

Speaking of pictures, tonight I also started going through old pictures that I never posted to my site. I found a few from a shopping trip to Chatuchak Market with my friend Richard and Michael (2003 I think), and from New Years 2004. I also posted some from last November's Loy Kratong, which I celebrated with Barry. (Richard, Michael, and Barry all friends from San Francisco who were visiting Bangkok, by the way.)

I also created two new Photo Albums:

Pictures from Bangkok Shopping Photo Album

and

Pictures from Bangkok Holidays Photo Album

There aren't many pictures in either for now, but hopefully I can find some more (or take some more) to post soon.

The Rights of Elderly Patients

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A very good Thai friend of mine has been giving me daily updates about his Grandfather here in Thailand, who had to go to the hospital recently for some kind of minor surgery.

The surgery went well, but during the operation, somehow the doctor found out that the old man has cancer. The outlook is not good; the man is very weak already, and the doctor doesn't think that he would be able to survive the major operation that would be needed to remove the cancer.

This happens all the time around the world, I would imagine. But where the story gets strange (to me) is that the doctor didn't tell the old man that he had cancer. He didn't tell the man's wife either. Instead, he told the man's children and asked them what he should do.

They conferred amongst themselves, and decided that they would not share the diagnosis with the old man or his wife. They reason that the news would be too much for him to take. The news might even do the fatal work faster than the cancer. Besides, there is nothing that can be done anyway.

All of this was told to me very matter-of-factly. But am I the only one who thinks it is odd to withhold a medical diagnosis from a patient, for the reason of being "too old to handle the news"?

I told my friend that if I had a fatal disease, no matter if it could be cured or not, and found out after I died, I would not be happy!

Bringing Harmony to Thailand

One of the most interesting things to me about the current political situation/stand-off in Thailand is that the opposition is focusing entirely on removing the Prime Minister from power. It is not about changing the constitution (although they want to) and it is not about removing the TRT party from power (although they also want to do that). But these protests have one goal and one goal only: select a new Prime Minister. At least that is the goal that the protesters are publically chasing.

And it's understandable, since Thaksin has been such an important (perhaps the only?) powerful figure in the Government for the past 5 years, it is easy to point all fingers at him.

But it is also interesting to me that the opposition is arguing that because of Thaksin, Thailand is now divided. Before, there were no arguments and no disagreement. But now, because of Thaksin, the Thai people are "fighting" among themselves about what should happen next. If Thaksin steps down, they argue, harmony will be restored. (Not that there is violence, but there is disagreement.)

This seems to me to be a very "Thai Way" of looking at things. Being in agreement (in public) and putting on a good face, a happy veneer, seems to be the most important thing. And it is very strange coming from my American perspective. The last two Presidential elections in the U.S. have been amazingly close. America for the past decade or so has been split politically right down the middle 50/50. Can you imagine Americans asking George W Bush to resign so that the 50/50 split will be closed and we can all get along again? What would we argue about then?

Thaksin's Record

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Today has seen another major anti-Taksin protest. This time, the demonstrators marched from Suan Luang near the Grand Palace to the Parliment House. They are still there, and are still demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister. A play-by-play report is being filed by the Nation newspaper.

But it's not like the whole city of Bangkok is up in arms. In fact, it doesn't seem like anything is out of the ordinary in most of the city. The protests are confined to one part of the city -- the historic center with many symbolic sites like the Democracy Monument and government offices like the Parliament House. The article Tale of two cities in protest-hit Bangkok does a nice job of explaining how it's business as usual in most of Bangkok (including the area that I live and work).

Of course every story has two sides. It seems to me that Thaksin's government have done a lot of good for Thailand over the past 5 years. But in other ways, perhaps the ends haven't justified the means. Another article I read had a very good breakdown of the pros and cons of Thaksin's populist policies. It goes a long way in explaining the situation that has led to the current problems. It says Thaksin's record on the following issues are:

Village development

  • For: cheap loans and healthcare have revitalised villages
  • Against: Has left the rural poor with a burden of debt and created dependency

Human rights

  • For: campaign against drug dealers wiped out a corrosive social problem; tough approach in south has shown an intolerance of terrorism

  • Against: drug war has been pretext for thousands of extrajudicial killings

The media

  • For: TV reflects his overwhelming popularity

  • Against: TV channels under control of Thaksin supporters have stifled critical coverage

The Government

  • For: practical "chief executive" style has brought much-needed decisiveness

  • Against: has appointed cronies and undermined independence of the State

(The above quote was from 100,000 descend on billionaire leader to seek his resignation.)

Site Back Up On New Host

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It only took three days, but my website is back up and running on a new host. There were many little steps along the way, but it actually went fairly smoothly. I am sure that there are still a few small things that I need to fix, but in general, it's working well. (Knock on wood.)

For example, I've changed the underlying site structure, so now I need to change all of the internal links so that they point to the right place. This also means that all of the links I get from Google will probably go to the wrong place. Oh well.

I also need to upload the photo album. That's the next task.

Not much going on other than that. We spent another afternoon at Home Pro yesterday finalizing the plans for the guest bathroom. I think it's going to look great. Hopefully they will start work sometime next week.

Problems with Logjamming Web Hosting

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Three years and eight months ago, in H Cafe on the corner of San Francisco's Sanchez and 17th, I created the first page of this website, lauding the fact that I had finally chosen a web host and that the site was up and running.

The host I picked, Logjamming, has been pretty good to me over the years. I also liked the fact that I was sharing server space with Wil Wheaton (yes, that Wil Wheaton of Star Trek "fame"). But a recent upgrade has caused a lot of problems with the administration of this site. And my recent emails to tech support have gone unanswered.

I really hate to do it, but sometime this weekend, I will be moving this site over to a new host. Wish me luck! I am hoping that I can transfer everything over with minimal hassle, but I just know that something is going to go wrong and it will be a huge headache. Oh well, I guess it's worth it.

(And if this site disappears for a few days, which I'm sure it will, don't worry, I'll be back!)

Continuing with the Home Improvement theme from yesterday, the bedroom set that I ordered from Index last week arrived today. I bought it from the brand-new Index branch near my house on Ekkamai.

I junked the old bed with a hideous fabric-cushion headboard, the sad old dresser and matching "entertainment" center. In its place is now super-cool dark wood furniture. I think it matches the butter-colored walls very nicely.

The best thing about buying furniture in Thailand is that you don't have to assemble it yourself. The bed, two dressers, two night stands, a small "makeup" table, and an entertainment center all arrived in boxes at my apartment yesterday, along with 6 able-bodied Thai boys. They were amazing: everything was put together in about 45 minutes. It would have taken me literally all day to put together 7 pieces of furniture. Not to mention I don't have any tools.

So now the furniture is looking better. Now I need to focus on renovating those bathrooms!

Piyawat and I spent the afternoon at Home Pro at Seri Center in Bang Na today, picking out fixtures for our two bathrooms. Luckily he is on school break now, so he has plenty of time to be my translator and negotiator. I definitely couldn't have done today's task without him.

The plan is to totally renovate the two bathrooms in my condo. I want to rip everything out: tile, shower box, toilet, tubs, sinks, counters and all the fixtures, and replace everything. It sounds drastic, but if you saw the way they look now, I think you'd understand.

We are using the Home Pro's "Design Service". The way it works is that you pay 2500 baht (about US$60) to have a contractor come out to your house to take measurements and pictures, then you pick out what you want at the store, and the design service will draw up floorplans and 3D views of what the renovation will look like. Then, if you buy the products at Home Pro and use their contractor, then you get the 2500 baht back in credit.

Unfortunately, 2500 is a small drop in the bucket compared to what I will be spending. All of the above for two bathrooms, except for the tile, will come out to about 60,000 baht (US$1500). I have never priced toilets, tubs and sinks in the US, but US$1500 for two new bathrooms doesn't seem too bad.

After all, I tried to keep prices low. My favorite toilet/sink set cost 30,000 baht alone. I did, however, splurge on the tub. I got the "American" model, which was the biggest one they had. (Interesting that they call it the "American" isn't it? No comment.) The tub I have now is small, so perhaps I went overboard on the new one. But, you know what? I don't care. I'm still excited to be getting the "American" tub!

So, now everything is picked out, and we just have to wait for the designs. Hopefully they can start work sometime next week.

This week, it is Piyawat's turn to have visitors to Thailand. Both of them were friends from college: Daniel is visiting from Germany and Alexandra is visiting from Spain.

Last night we took them to dinner at the Thai restaurant named something like Baan Mae (Mother's House). It is in the back of Siam Square, and has pretty good Thai dishes served in what feels like an old house in the Thai countryside. Then it was off to have a cocktail at the super-hip Bed Supper Club on Sukumvit 11.

Tonight we did the usual guest tour in the Sathorn-Silom area: drinks at Sunset at Vertigo on the top of the 60-something floor Banyan Tree Hotel, then dinner at Anna's Cafe on Sala Daeng, then walking around the street market on Silom, and finally relaxing a bit for at least one dance number at the Roxy show on Silom Soi 4.

Piyawat and I both agree that it's good to have friends visiting. Otherwise we'd be sitting at home in front of our computers all night, every night. And, as everyone knows, that's no good.

Free Wireless In Bangkok

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For the first two years of my life in Thailand, I didn't have Internet access at my home, so I spent a lot of time in Internet cafes and coffee shops that had free wireless Internet. My two favorites were Coffee Society and Bug and Bee. Both of these shops are near each other on Silom Road at the Sala Daeng BTS station.

Now that I have DSL, I do all my work at home. Working at home has it's advantages, but it can also be lonely and boring. I have always preferred studying and doing work in a somewhat busy atmosphere.

So I was just wondering where Bangkok's best places for free wireless access are located these days. A reader of this website sent me an email last year, recommending "Tamarind Cafe, fairly far down on Sukhumvit 20. Fancy vegetarian cafe, great food & great shakes, free wireless. Open till midnight."

I haven't been to Tamarind Cafe, but maybe I will give it a try soon. Does anyone else have any suggestions for free wireless Internet in Bangkok?

There was an interesting article in the NY Times two days ago lamenting the fact that the infamous Bangkok nightlife has been under attack from the government. The title of the article sums it up nicely: 'Social Order' Takes the Life Out of Night Life.

I haven't been going out on the town much lately, for various reasons. But I occasionally hear stories from my club-going friends that the police raids described in the article are common. As the article says

But nothing deflates a thriving club scene like repeated unheralded visits by a local constabulary intent on upholding "social order." And that is exactly what has been happening over the last four years. Sometimes the raiding police are accompanied by local TV crews. Exits are barred, music grinds to sudden silence, lights flash on. Confused and scared patrons who a moment before were partying down are suddenly confronted by brown-uniformed police officers who demand to see their ID's, frisk them or occasionally force them to urinate in a cup to test for drug use. The raids often last far beyond the 1 or 2 a.m. closing hours. They have rarely netted any violators.

I have mixed feelings about this. There are many things in Thailand that I wish a conservative government like the current one would clean up. The air and water would be a great place to start. Lack of mass transportation would be another good ill to cure. As far as the nightlife goes, though, I think that discos like DJ Station or a bar/lounges like Q Bar (both mentioned in the Times article) are much lower on the list of social ills than the many ping-pong shows on Patpong.

But even those shows are lower on the list than corruption and changing the country's laws to benefit you and your family...

Ashes and Snow

I just followed a link from another weblog to witness some of the most amazing photography I have ever seen in my life. As the website says:

Gregory Colbert has spent thirteen years filming and photographing elephants, whales, birds, and other animals in such places as India, Burma, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Namibia, Egypt, the island of Dominica, Tonga, and Antarctica. Ashes and Snow, Colbert's lifelong project, is a collaboration with animals in their natural habitat as they interact with human beings. His images attempt to remove the boundaries between humans and other species--to re-awaken in us an understanding of our shared animal nature.
Do yourself a favor and check out the unbelievable (but 100% real) photography of Gregory Colbert and his Ashes and Snow exhibition at the Santa Monica Pier.

Updated Posts from Recent Trips

My sickness is mostly gone now, which is definitely good. I spent most of the day trying to get caught up on my work, and also working a bit on this site. Most of the improvements I made here are not worth mentioning, but I did get a chance to write-up two recent trips I went on:

Boat Trip to Ko Surin and Similan Islands in Southern Thailand

and

Trekking Near Kroung Sri Waterfall in Luang Prabang, Laos

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This page is an archive of entries from March 2006 listed from newest to oldest.

February 2006 is the previous archive.

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