March 2008 Archives

As I have said many times, it's always good to get out of Bangkok to the peace and beauty of the countryside. But as I found out this morning, you don't even have to leave the city limits to find solitude, you just have to go out to the corners.

This morning Chris and I took off on another long bike ride. This time we didn't go with a group, but our friend Markus joined us. We loaded our three bikes on the back of Chris' car and headed out past the airport and Minburi to the northwest corner of Bangkok, to an area called Nong Chok. (At least that is how Google Maps transliterates the name. I think it's closer to Nong Jawk.)

We started at a temple on Klong Saen Sap, the same canal that parallels Petchaburi Road near my house and has the boat service that I've talked about before. I had no idea that this man-made canal continued this far out into the countryside.

nongjawk.jpgOur path was more or less a figure-eight as we followed Klong Sip-Sam (Canal 13) north and then Klong Sip-Song (Canal 12) on the way back. We actually did leave Bangkok for a little bit at the very north of our trip, and rested at a funky temple in Lam Lukka. The temple grounds include an Army helicopter on display, as well as an exhibit of Hell, complete with animatronics of all of the horrible things that go on there, in the basement of the temple. After visiting Hell, you can climb seven flights of very steep stairs to ascend to heaven, in the roof of the temple.

(On the map, the red star is where I live, the yellow star is where we started, and the blue star is the funky temple out in the rice fields. Click the picture to get a bigger version.)

Needless to say, the Hell exhibit inspired us to make lots of bad Hell jokes. A friend called me as I was going into Hell, and when I tried to call him, I realized that Hell doesn't have cell phone reception. When I exited the exhibit, I called my friend back and told him sorry that I missed his call, but I was in Hell.

All in all, it was a great ride, although by the end I was definitely hot and tired and a bit dehydrated. A stop at 7-11 for two bottles of Gatorade and an ice cream solved that problem. The total ride, according to my bike odometer, was exactly 3 hours of riding on 55 kilometers (34 miles).

So after another fantastic long bike ride (to Hell and back), I am very happy with my recent purchase and looking forward to our next trip.

In anticipation of another long bike ride tomorrow with Chris, I rented a bike from a bike tour company here in Bangkok called Spice Roads. From the looks of their website, they have a lot of interesting tours, from one-day bike tours through Bangkok, to 12 days from Hanoi, Vietnam to Luang Prabang, Laos. I would love to do something like that some day.

They also have bikes to rent, for 400 baht per day. That seemed a bit steep to me, but I I figured that it was cheaper than buying my own bike. I thought that maybe I should wait to see if I am really serious about this biking thing before I shell out a few hundred dollars.

So I reserved a bike at the Spice Roads website and went by to pick it up today. I rode it home (about 5 kilometers or so) and I have to say I was very disappointed in the bike. It was pretty beat up and the gears were not working very well.

I had plans later in the day to meet Chris at Pro Bike near Lumpinee Park to do a little window shopping -- just to see what they had available. Well, to make a long story short, due to the prospects of a long ride tomorrow on an old bike in bad shape, I am now the proud owner of a brand new Trek mountain bike.

I think it was a decent deal, from what I can tell. I got a bike, helmet, pump, water bottle, lock, gloves, bell, extra inner tube, and a digital odometer for 12,300 baht (US$390). Now I don't have any excuses for not getting out on the roads and exploring Bangkok on bike!

Dunkin Donuts and Chamchuri Square

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When I was in High School, I was on the local city swim team. Our team was pretty hard-core, and in addition to working out every day after school, we were in the pool practicing 2 or 3 times per week in the mornings before school started. After burning thousands of calories during morning practice, on the way to school, my friends and I would be starving. Our favorite breakfast stops were Hardee's for their awesome biscuits and cinnamon rolls, and Dunkin' Donuts.

One day my health-conscious father gave us a ride from the pool to school, and we convinced him to take us to Dunkin' Donuts. We told him they had nutritious things too, like croissant sandwiches. We ended up eating jelly donuts anyway and I remember him fussing at us a bit for having such a bad diet. Maybe we weren't such hard-core athletes after all.

I was thinking about this as I ate my breakfast this morning at Siam Square... at Dunkin' Donuts. They have whole wheat glazed donuts on the menu now. That's healthy, right? I am not sure about that, but I do know they are delicious. I also had an egg and ham croissant, which was amazingly good. It was much better than the egg and bacon croissants that I have been eating lately at Au Bon Pain.

As I sat at Dunkin' Donuts, reminiscing about high school and enjoying my healthy whole wheat donuts, I gazed across the street at the gleaming glass facades of the newly remodeled Siam Center and brand-new Siam Paragon shopping malls, with the waterfalls and fountains and huge screens playing pop videos and commercials. None of that was there when I moved to Thailand 5 years ago. Siam Center was there, but it was run-down and looking it's age (over 30 years old, by the way). Bangkok certainly has changed a lot since I've lived here, at least on the surface.

New malls and new high-rise condos office buildings are popping up everywhere. One in particular that I've been watching is the new Chamchuri Square shopping center/office building/apartment building combo that has been going up near my office at the Sam Yan subway station. It will be connected by an underground passage to the subway, which is definitely cool.

chamchuri.jpg

I am looking forward to a closer, air-conditioned place to eat lunch, instead of having to walk all the way over to Silom if I am not in the mood for the street vendors and outdoor markets in this area. (And yes, sometimes I want to be pampered in the AC!) And even more exciting, is that I have heard that the Chulalongkorn University bookstore will move here, creating Thailand's largest bookstore. I am looking forward to checking that out.

I hope they have a Dunkin' Donuts, too!

The Role of Siam Paragon in Global Warming

Thailand has never been very keen on environmental issues, but this is slowly starting to change. There is a lot of PR going on now in Bangkok with various "green" campaigns to fight global warming. I am glad to see it, as Thailand has a lot of beautiful natural resources that are being abused by the rampant greed of the tourism industry. And Bangkok itself is certainly not pollution-free. Any progress in these areas are welcomed by me.

But one of the things that always sticks out in my mind is when some famous Thai person (sports figure or pop star or government official) says something like, "Global Warming is real! Everyone can tell that it is a lot hotter in Thailand now than it was when we were kids!"

I don't doubt that it feels hotter now than it did before. But is it because of Global Warming? I don't think so. According to Chongkolnee Yusabye, director of the Meteorological Development Bureau, the average summer temperatures in Tak province had risen from 43.7 degrees Celsius in 1983 to 44 Celsius last April (2006). So, say you were a 10-year old kid in Tak in 1983, you would have been 33 in 2006. Do you really think that you would have noticed a 0.3 temperature rise over those 23 years? Probably not.

But, I don't mean to say that people are lying when they say it seems hotter these days. I bet they do feel hotter. Why is that? I place the blame squarely on Siam Paragon. And the SkyTrain. And the fact that you have to wear a sweater anytime you go to a movie in Thailand because the air conditioning is guaranteed to be set to "freeze".

When some many homes now have AC in the bedrooms (as opposed to the case in Tak in 1983, I would guess), and when most office buildings and shopping centers and transportation are air conditioned, it really does make it that much hotter when you finally do step outside.

So is it getting noticeably warmer in Thailand due to Global Warming? I don't think so.

Are we getting noticeably more pampered and wimpy? There's no doubt!

Note: The figures from K. Chongkolnee was from the Nation newspaper's website at http://www.nationmultimedia.com/2007/10/09/headlines/headlines_30051806.php

Blogging and Bangkok Beauty

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It's been a full week of daily posts here, and I have to say that this took me by surprise perhaps as much as it did you. As I have been working on my company getting our first release out the door, my output on this blog site has been steadily decreasing, and basically came to a complete stop. But I started to realize that my life was getting a little out of balance. And to me, this website is one hobby that I really enjoy investing a little time in, so I thought that maybe I could try to find that time.

Although I have to admit I felt a little strange with that last post, for whatever reason. Perhaps it was because it was about topics that I don't really talk much about on such a public forum. The "Why do you still live in Bangkok?" question is always circling around my head. And so some of the last week's posts have addressed those thoughts in two of the things that are important in life: health and finance.

Plus, the point of that last point is that I find the Zopa loan/CD model so interesting, I just wanted to share. I love learning about new business models that are popping up due to the efficiencies of the Internet. My expat lifestyle has been made so much easier due to the Internet and other technologies. It's hard to imagine living on the other side of the world away from my family and my culture without email, cnn.com, banking websites, etc.

(And I'll make one more sales pitch for my company and the Zopa website. Click here to learn more about Zopa or to get a great deal on a bank CD investment and help me with my business loan at the same time. :)

I thought that I didn't really have much to say today. Originally I was just going to post a picture that I took on my bike ride last week. This is a shot from Suan Rot Fai ("Train Park") which is next to the famous Chatujak Weekend Market.

I certainly don't consider Bangkok to be a beautiful city, but every now and then, I get a surprise peek. Just another small reason to stick around for a while...

suanrotfai.jpg

Continuing the theme from the last couple of days, I am in "thankful" mode for how good the past few years have been for me living as an expat in Thailand. Another area of my life that has been going well is my finances. Now I am by no means rich (by American standards... it's all relative isn't it?), but at least I am not getting any poorer. I have been able to make a livable salary and continue to pay off debts over the past few years. For example, my college loans will be completely paid off this year. (And that only took me TEN YEARS to get rid of! Yes!)

But let me stop here, because in all honesty, that last paragraph should have been written in past tense. Over, those last ten years since graduation, I have steadily worked myself into a better financial situation. However, that has come to an abrupt halt for me in 2008. One US dollar used to buy me 42 baht, whereas now I can barely get 30. (That means my cost of living has gone up a stunning 28% percent over the past year or so.) My stock portfolio has been getting pounded as well, of course. Likewise, my renewable CDs are getting 2+% interest when they used to get 5+%.

And when I read the news about the American economy, I can see that I am not the only one in this situation. Thankfully I don't have an expensive mortgage at the moment. I am guessing that most people reading this might be facing a similar scenario.

So... I want to offer everyone a novel way to invest your money. It will give you a decent guaranteed rate of return (relatively speaking, for these times), and the bonus is that it will help out me and my fledgling start-up a little bit. Let me explain:

Over the Christmas holidays, I took out a small loan online through a website called Zopa to give me a little cusion in financing my start-up company. Zopa is basically a loan broker that finds customers like me for Credit Bureaus like the one I eventually signed up with.

The cool, revolutionary thing about Zopa, though, is that other people (like you) can invest in a CD through their website. When you do this, you select a Zopa customer (like me) who then gets a reduction on the interest rate for their loan.

The best part about it for you is that Zopa is currently offering the highest interest rate in the U.S. for their CDs. The rate is currently 4.25% APY for a one-year CD. They say that it's not going to last thanks to the Fed's rate reduction this past week, so if you are looking for a good investment in this uncertain time, I recommend checking out Zopa ASAP.

If you are at all interested in this offer or interested to learn more about the interesting new business model at Zopa, please click the yellow button below. This should take you to my profile page (my nickname is "farang"). Once you are there, you can click on the "Help Now" button to help me and my company (and lock yourself in to a good interest rate too!)

New Features at ITS4Thai

I just sent out an email extolling the virtues of my favorite website dedicated to Learning Thai Language. I thought I'd repost it here for those who are not on the mailing list.

Hello!

In the month since we launched our introductory Thai Language Courses at http://www.ITS4Thai.com, over 2,500 visitors from 101 countries have come to learn Thai Language with us.

The Thai Language Courses that are available now have many improvements over the free lessons that we have released in the past. Among the new features are:

  • A total of 60 lessons teaching many basic words and sentences that you can use in your daily conversations.
  • The ability to choose your favorite sound effects to be played after a correct or incorrect answer. Or you can have no sound effects at all, if you want.
  • The ability to see Thai script or the English Phonetic spellings of the Thai words in every exercise. Even if you speak some Thai already, this is a great way to learn how to read the Thai script for the words you already know.
  • A free PDF version of each lesson is available for you to download.
  • You can log in to the website at any time, and access all of your lessons, all the time.
  • The website now remembers your scores on every exercise in each lesson, so that you can track your progress as you learn Thai.

Now is a great time to join our other members. All of our courses are very reasonably priced -- starting at only 199 baht (or US$5.99) for the 30-lesson vocabulary course.

The most expensive course, the Complete 60-lesson Course, is only 499 baht (US$14.99). That price will only buy you two hours with a Thai Language instructor in Bangkok. We guarantee you will learn a lot more from our 60 interactive lessons than you will from just two hours with a tutor!

Also, for the remainder of March, the listed prices include the 7% VAT normally charged in Thailand. Starting on April 1, we will start adding the VAT to all purchases. So, buy now and save even more money!

To see a list of the lessons that are provided in each of our four Thai Language Courses, please visit us at http://www.its4thai.com/course/compare.php

Thank you for your support. We hope to help you learn Thai at ITS4Thai soon!

- The ITS4Thai Team

For what I think are obvious reasons, the subject of health has been on my mind this week. From being proud of myself for completing an all-day bike ride through town and thinking that my body was in good shape, to being knocked down and assuming the fetal position the next night due to a stomach bug.

Now that I am feeling better, and after talking a few people who offered their sympathies by telling me how they had been sick lately, I started feeling very lucky. Getting hit by a stomach bug can happen to anyone, anywhere (right Beth?) and not just in Thailand.

But, I started to realize that in the past 5+ years I have lived here, I have been more or less healthy. I have certainly had fewer illnesses than when I used to live in the U.S. I don't get colds, haven't had an earache, or pneumonia, or bronchitis. I used to have vicious fights with my allergies, but I haven't had a single "episode" since I moved here to Thailand.

I wonder why that is. Of course we don't have Winter here, so that definitely helps. But perhaps the Thai versions of pollen and dust and mold and all of the other things that used to drive my sinuses crazy are different than what they are in the States. And even with the less-than-ideal air pollution in Bangkok, my lungs have stayed relatively clear.

Hopefully I am not inviting catastrophe by writing this post, but I have just been feeling very lucky that my few bouts of food poisoning are really the only major problem I have had. And that right there is reason enough to stick around a while longer.

The Efficient Thai Government

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I am about to do something I never thought I would do: praise the Thai Government for its efficiency. Ok, maybe the government as a whole is not the model of quick service. And no, I am not making a sarcastic comment about the PM's recent idea that he could get the new subway lines open in three years. (But while we're on the subject, let's open up the extension that is already completed first!)

But I digress. I am talking today about the amazing turn-around time I just witnessed on the money I overpaid on my income tax for last year. This year, I filed my return on-line, at the Revenue Department's website. That in itself is amazing enough. But to make it even more incredible, I filed my return last Friday and on Sunday I got an SMS saying that my rebate check had been sent. On Wednesday, the check arrived in the mail.

I am stunned. And sending me an SMS to notify me is brilliantly creative as well (even if was in Thai, I was able to figure out what it was about.)

But now I have the check, I am not even sure if I want to cash it. Is it really worth it to walk to the bank in the blazing sun, stand in line at the bank for who knows how long, and then walk back through the heat, for the 100 baht (US$3) that the check is written for?

My Annual Hospital Visit

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I woke up Monday morning feeling a lot better than I was expecting. I was just a little stiff after the 38 mile bike ride, but it wasn't too bad. Surprisingly, my shoulders and wrists were more tender than my legs.

So the bike ride wasn't able to slow me down today, but I found something else that did: my annual case of food poisoning. I don't know how I got it, as I only ate at my favorite food shops yesterday, but by 7 PM I was running to the hong nam every half hour, and by 9 PM I was getting a second look at my dinner.

It's always the ah-chian that makes me finally make up my mind to go to the hospital. (It sounds better when you say it in Thai, doesn't it?) And again, the only good thing about getting food poisoning in Thailand is that I spent 20 minutes at the hospital and US$20 and I was on the way home to rest.

On the way home, I was feeling pretty miserable, and was a bit angry at myself for complaining about such a "little thing" like a stomach bug. What if I was really sick? Something more than a 20 minute / $20 problem?

I guess it was just a good reminder that the human body is quite fragile, really. Lately, I have been getting caught up in my 6 handwritten pages of "things to do" at my company and forget how tenuous everything really is.

Bike Tour of Bangkok

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I have been looking for a good excuse to get out of the house (and especially out of the office) lately. My friend Chris gave me the perfect opportunity today: join the Thailand Cycling Club (TCC) on a 45 kilometer (28 mile) bike tour around Bangkok.

We started early by picking up a friend's bike on Sukumvit Soi 10 around 7:30 AM. We then made it down Sukumvit to meet the TCC at National Stadium. Amazingly, by the time we all left National Stadium and headed towards Hualomphong train station, there were about 150 people in the group. It was a diverse crowd, from 10-year old kids to grandmas, hard-core cyclists in latex to businessmen in jeans and polo shirts.

bkkbikeride.jpgWhen I agreed to the trip, I didn't realize that it really was a tour. That is, we would be making a lot of stops. Our first stop was at Hualomphong for a tour of the station. Next, we headed down Rama 4 to the Snake Farm. I had always figured the Snake Farm was a tourist trap, but it was actually one of the best museum exhibits I have ever seen in Thailand. I was very impressed and learned a great deal about snakes.

The next stop was in Lumpinee Park. And then we had another one at the park at the Queen Sirikit Convention center. At each stop, someone with a megaphone would talk in Thai about who knows what, and then we would take off again.

By this point, we had gone about 20 kilometers and it had taken about 4 hours. I appreciated the slow warm-up, but I was getting a bit bored. Luckily, the pace quickened rapidly as we went down Asoke to Rama 9, past the Thailand Cultural Center, and then had a lunch break along the way somewhere. We then tackled the Ekamai-Ramindra expressway to Lad Prao, and all the way down Lad Prao to Chatuchak Park.

After few circles around Suan Rot Fai (Railroad Park) we were off again on the final stretch down the train tracks back towards Hualomphong. We said our goodbyes to those who were still with the group at National Stadium and then it was back down Sukumvit to return the bike.

Before I started, I was a bit nervous about making it the whole 45 kilometers. But by the time we were finished, my borrowed bike's odometer read 62 kilometers (38.5 miles). Although I am sure I will be quite sore tomorrow, this wasn't a bad way to spend a Sunday! Chris goes biking every Sunday morning, so perhaps this will be a great new habit to start.

Update:Chris has a great write-up and some pictures of our bike ride over on his blog.

Walking through Chiang Mai

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I am spending an unusually relaxing Saturday morning catching up on my web surfing. Don't let the title of this post fool you though, I am at home in Bangkok with the aircon on full blast. But I just spent the last 30 minutes walking through the streets of Chiang Mai.

chiangmai.jpgThis is possible due to a site that I found (thanks to a link from Wired's Compiler) called MapJack. It's a new competitor to Google Maps with some amazing and easily navigable "street-level" photos that make you feel like you are actually walking through town.

Although the site is impressive, MapJack only has maps available in two cities. Luckily for me, they made two excellent choices: San Francisco and Chiang Mai (!) Click on the image to the right to see how the website shows "Jack's View" of one of my favorite small temples just down the street from the Thaphae Gate.

So, wherever in the world you are today, you too can take some time to walk the streets of two of the most beautiful and walkable cities in the world at MapJack.

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This page is an archive of entries from March 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

February 2008 is the previous archive.

May 2008 is the next archive.

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