June 2006 Archives

This morning I was sitting in an Internet cafe on Ayutthaya's Naresuan Soi 1 (a.k.a. the soi with all the guesthouses) chatting online with a friend in Bangkok. When I told him where I was, he told me that I wasn't far from his home town in Ang Thong province. He said that there were three temples in that area that I should visit if I ever got the chance to go there.

I don't need much more of an excuse than that, so after finishing up my research I drove my rented motorcycle the 30 kilometers to Ang Thong. I didn't have a map (both the TAT office, the Internet, and the Lonely Planet book are useless, as far as this tiny province goes) so it took me quite a while to locate the three temples. But I finally succeeded in my quest.

The first temple I visited was Wat Muang. It is quite the tourist attraction, apparently. The parking lot was full of tour busses that were in turn full of Thai people. There are many things to see at Wat Muang including hundreds of statues on the grounds -- with representations such as Chinese gods, Hindu gods, Thai historical heros, characters from the Ramakien myth, and several battle scenes which I think were Siam Vs Burma, but I'm not sure about that. (There were no English explanations to help me.)

There were also very graphic depictions of hell and all the horrible things that will happen to you if you unlucky enough to be sent there when you die. People were being boiled alive, crushed, stabbed, eaten by dogs and birds, forced to climb huge spiky trees, etc etc...

The temple is also building an absolutely huge Buddha statue in the usual Subduing Mara position. It must be at least as tall as a 10-story building and it should be very impressive when it is finished.

My second stop was Wat Khun Intrapramum. This temple has the largest reclining Buddha statue in Thailand -- over 50 meters long. If you have ever seen the one at Wat Po in Bangkok, imagine one that is even bigger. It is also over 700 years old whereas the one at Wat Po was built "only" 180 or so years ago.

The final stop was Wat Tonson, which is a very active modern Thai temple on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. It houses a very large Buddha (again, in the Subduing Mara pose) that is considered one of the most beautiful in Thailand. The fact that it is about 20 years old doesn't diminish the experience of seeing it.

So those were my adventures in Ang Thong. On the way back to Ayutthaya I stopped for an excellent dinner at the Chao Phraya Hut guesthouse. Then, it was back to Guesthouse Row to collect my bag and then a one hour, 60 baht (US$1.50) minivan trip back to Bangkok. And so now here I am at home, very tired, a little sunburned, but very happy to have visited another place not listed in Lonely Planet!

Weekend in Ayutthaya

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Ayutthaya, just 80 km (or a one-hour drive) from Bangkok is a great place for a little get-away. I've been there a few times, but it was usually just a day-trip from Bangkok due to it's close proximity. Not to mention, there not really more than about a day's worth of stuff to do there.

Actually, that's not really true, you can spend several days visiting all of the ruins in and around the city. But the problem is that's pretty much all there is to see -- 200-700 year old piles of brinks in various shapes and sizes.

Of course there's something to be said for centuries-old piles of bricks, especially when there are so many of them spread over such a large area. Exploring the area and imagining the spendor of the capital of Siam before the Burmese destroyed it usually makes for a fun afternoon.

But this weekend I am spending two nights here doing some travel research. I rented a motorcycle today and visited some of the sites outside of town, including a huge white chedi that was originally built in the 1300s. I also visited one of my favorite temples in Thailand: the always crowded, Chinese-inspired Wat Phanan Choeng.

The pace of life is noticeably slower here. There isn't much traffic and there are a lot of great little Thai restaurants around, once you get away from the guesthouses. It's definitely a great break from the chaos and noise of Bangkok.

I have to say that my day-to-day life has changed a lot this week. So far this year has been full of travel and a strange twillight-zone feeling where every day is the same for me. Monday is not that much different from Wednesday or even Saturday. But now, on this Saturday, I am very glad for the break that the weekend provides.

What's the change? I started attending a Thai Language school which has classes from 8 AM to Noon every day Monday-Friday. I've also re-joined the gym I used to belong to, because it is near the school and now I have no excuse not to exercise every day after class. That leaves the afternoon for my "real" job and not much time for anything else!

But I think that with the 20 hours of Thai Lessons a week, I will finally start to make real progress on learning to understand and speak Thai. This is my 5th attempt to learn the language, and I think that this will be the one that sticks.

Here are the five methods I have tried and what happened with each:

  1. Learning by myself: This has worked out somewhat well. I can read and write about 300 words, but my listening and speaking skills are still very basic. Hopefully though, my small vocabulary will give me a good base to build on.

  2. One-on-one lessons with my friend Ekk: This worked out OK too. Ekk definitely gave me a good idea of what those first 300 words should be. But when you are starting out learning a language you have to have a lot of repetition of very basic, uninteresting sentences. Both Ekk's and my patience for saying sentences like pom chuu stuart. bpen kon american ("My name is Stuart. I am American") over and over again quickly wore thin.

  3. Thai classes at AUA. As I wrote on this site before, the learning method at AUA is to listen ONLY. No speaking is allowed. Students pay about 30 baht per hour to listen to two people speak Thai. The idea is that all humans learn language as babies by just listening first. Unfortunately my adult mind either was unable to learn this way, or perhaps I was just too impatient.

  4. Thai classes at Pro Language. This was an OK solution as well. In fact, I am still enrolled in a Beginning Level class. The class meets two nights a week for almost two hours each time. The approach of this class seems to be to teach as many vocab words as possible, but to be very lax on actual pronunciation. So, almost no time was spent on Thai sounds (some of which are very different from English) and no time on tones (which of course are notoriously difficult). But even though everyone in my class is learning a monotone version of the language, it's still a good place to start if you only have a few hours at night to spend.

    And so now that brings me to:

  5. Union Language School. I started at Union last Wednesday. We are spending the first four days (that's 16 hours) doing only sounds and tones. We haven't learned a single new word. Imagine spending four hours a day saying "wa we wu wo wai... wam wem wum wom waim... wang weng wung wong waing..." But I have a feeling that when we do start learning actual words next week, we will all be able to pronounce them correctly.

So, that's my new life: 24 hours of Thai language every week. Gym every afternoon. My actual job every evening. (I still have to make some money, you know.) Sleep like a baby every night.

And so far, I'm loving it.

"Final" Bathroom Renovation Photos


My friend Nick sent me an email last week reminding me that I never posted pictures of my new bathroom that I renovated a few months ago. Well, as I explained to him, I didn't post pictures of my finished bathroom because it was never finished!

One of the best parts of the new bathroom, in my opinion, was going to be the all-glass shower box. It was definitely the most expensive part of the new look. But two months after paying for everything, the shower box had not even been started. So I asked for my money back from Home Pro.

Home Pro told me that I could have a store credit. But I politely explained to them (actually, Piyawat did it for me, in Thai) that we had such a bad experience using their services that I would never buy anything in their store again and that I wanted my money back.

So, after working our way up through a few levels of management, I was finally refunded the money for the shower box. Hopefully I'll be able to complete the work someday, but for now, the bathroom doesn't look all that bad without it. What do you think? An improvement over the last one?

Does anyone disagree that
this bathroom is heinous?
The small dark door on the
wall doesn't look as bad now.
Old shower box,
ghastly pink toilet
No shower box,
stylish new toilet
Old cabinent and sink and mirrorNew fixtures. Same towel.

Internet Housecleaning

I spent some time today taking a break from work and from the Thai Tutor website by doing some Internet housecleaning. As I was going through my Inboxes, I found two emails from ex-collegues and friends of mine from my Internet Consulting firm days.

One of them was from Eleen. She was sending out an email saying that a friend of her family had been arrested on corruption charges and was being held illegally in Taiwan. A website has been set up to Support Dr. Ching Shieh and to fight for his release.

The other email was from Chuck, and was announcing his blog that is chronicling his attempt to start a Web 2.0 business from scratch. Chuck is a super-smart guy and a hard-worker, so I think he has a chance to make it. His blog is an interesting look into the world of starting a web 2.0 business

The other thing I did today was to move my notification system for this website from a service called Bloglet (which, doesn't work any more) to an MovableType plugin called MT-Notifier. So, if you were one of the people who got an email asking you to "change your notification" for this site, just click the link in the email and you'll be all set.

And, if you want to get an email every time I update this page, then just enter your email address in the box on the right side of the homepage.

Speaking of email, I now have 3 messages in my Inbox. Amazing. I wonder how long that will last...

Mai Mee Sua See Leuang


Up to today, a fact of my life has gone unnoticed by myself. But today, I became aware, painfully aware, that there is a huge hole in my wardrobe. I do not own any yellow clothes.

At Siam Paragon, one of my students stopped me to incredulously say, "'Wadeekap ajarn (hi teacher). Why you no wear yellow?"

"No have," was my answer.

Today is the official celebration of the King of Thailand's 60 years on the throne. Not only is he the world's longest currently reigning monarch, he's probably also the world's most popular. And in one small show of support, at least 75% of all Thai people I saw today were sporting bright yellow shirts with slogans like, "We love the King," "Long live the king", and even an interesting one that simply said, "Love Dad."

All I can hope is that I was forgiven for my un-yellowness today with my offical farang card.

And in other farang news, I turned down an offer to be an extra in a movie today. A modeling agency that my friend works for was looking for foreigners to be in a movie being filmed in Phuket next week.... about the Tsunami.

You wouldn't know it by looking at this website, but I have been productively busy the last two weeks. (Only 9 posts in May. How sad!) But instead of writing here, a different side project (in addition to my actual job) has taken up almost all of my free time. Not that I am complaining, because it has been fun.

As I mentioned in my last post, I have started taking Thai Language lessons. The class meets two times a week (Tuesday and Thursday), which I find to be not enough. From Tuesday to Thursday, I can hear my instructor's words and tones in my head. By Saturday, however, I can't.

So, I decided to go ahead and sign up for the intensive course that starts in two weeks. That class will be every day Monday-Friday for four hours a day. I am expecting it to be very challenging. Just getting up every day for an 8 AM class across town should be challenging enough on its own!

My side project that I mentioned earlier plays into all of this new Thai Language learning as well. I am working on a website that will help me to learn (for now) Thai vocabulary and (soon, I hope) grammar. I am doing the development in PHP and using mySQL on my Mac Mini. As soon as I can get to a workable "alpha" version, I will post it to a public website. Of course, I will leave the link here when I do.

I haven't programmed anything since I graduated in 1998, and I have never done much PHP or any mySQL but I have really enjoyed learning and solving problems again. For the last couple of years, in the back of my mind, I have been thinking about how this website would work, so it has been very rewarding to actually build it. My dream is to use some of the "intelligent tutoring" ideas we developed at NC State with some web technologies to make a "Thai Tutor" web application. I think I can create something very cool and very useful, and so far, things are going well.

But until I have more to share on that front, I think I will have some interesting stories to tell in the upcoming weeks. I will be doing some travel writing for an online travel site, and that means I'll have the opportunity to hit the road for some research. As soon as I get my assignments, I'll give a preview of upcoming attractions.

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

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