Thursday, December 31, 2009

Trip to Nakhon Sawan a Bust!

Unfortunately my trip to Nakhon Sawan did not work out very well. I left CM on the 27th, taking the Nakhon Chai Air bus to Nakhon Sawan. The trip lasted six hours. It was very comfortable, only 24 seats on the bus, two on one side of the isle, one on the other. So the seats are wide, well padded, full electric position control, individual TV for every seat, in flight meal, (although the pork in the pad graphow was a bit stringy in my opinion) in addition you get water, juice, crackers, and they have a perky hostess to top it all off. If you go by bus in Thailand and they go to your destination, Nakhon Chai Air is the way to go. They provide point to point service and have their own terminals, so they don't stop along the way. I had to buy a ticket to BKK (806 baht). They dropped me off on the side of the highway, one block from the Nakhon Sawan city bus terminal. But it is worth doing it that way, because the ride is so much more comfortable and quicker.

After arriving in NS I wandered around for a while and found a very comfortable hotel, P. A. Place Hotel. It was good sized, clean, quiet, with AC, cable, a fridge, and complementary morning coffee for 390 baht. Much cheaper than CM rates. That I wandered around the city a little, ate dinner and retired for the night.

On the next day I wandered around the riverfront and spent the early afternoon birding at Sawan Park, a large park in the center on NS with a really big lake in the midlle. I saw quite a few birds, including three new species for me, including the White Throated Kingfisher pictured below.


(Photo Credit: J. M. Garg

After it got too hot to be outside I went to Big C for lunch and people watching. (People watching makes a nice change from bird watching). My plan was to go to Bueng Boraphet the next day. This was the reason for going to NS in the first place. I wanted to bird on and around this large lake. But it was not to be! About 4:00 in the morning I woke up with an urgent need to go to the toilet, a condition that continued to plague me for about 24 hours. Going out to a remote lake was out of the question. I spent most of the day in bed (When I wasn't in the bathroom that is).

The next day was the 30th, and I was feeling better, but I needed to get back to CM. I knew traveling at this time would be difficult, and it was. New Year's is a major holiday in Thailand, when everyone tries to go home to the province of their origin and spend a few days with family. I got to the bus station early, but was told "Bus full already, cannot go.!" I expected this, so I told them, I would wait, maybe another bus would come. Well, maybe there will be a seat on the second class bus. I was sold a ticket for 280 baht. When the bus arrived, about 20 people queued up for the half dozen open seats on board. (Well, queue probably isn't quite the right word, it was more like a rugby scrum outside the door of the bus.) I was lucky, they called for passengers traveling through to CM first, so I got a seat. People traveling shorter distances had to stand. After a few miles, people started getting off at the roadside to go to their little villages so more and more people got to sit. Of course the scene repeated itself at Kamphaeng Phet and at Tak. After Tak the crowds thinned out, and it was no longer standing room only. But traveling second class is still no picnic. The seats are hard and narrow, and the space between rows is small, so it becomes very uncomfortable very quickly. No in trip meal, no movies, no toilet, and no rest stops. the trip was almost 8 hours. So I sat for the entire period, only getting up once to allow the woman next to me to get out at Tak. Eight hours without a restroom break isn't easy, but I had prepared. No coffee that morning and only a couple of small bottles of water to get me through the day. Still, when I got to CM the first thing I did was head for the restroom.

I did have company for the first part of the trip, an older American who was traveling to Tak sat opposite me, (When he finally got a seat). He teaches English in BKK and we compared notes on our travels in Asia, and the experience of teaching in Asia.

Despite the difficulties, it was a good trip, and it definitely did me good to get out of CM. I will have to try and make a trip to Bueng Boraphet some other time.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


I am on vacation this week and next. I have been relaxing, reading, writing, visiting friends, and cleaning. I was going to go to Nakhon Sawan yesterday, but I wasn't feeling all that good. So I decided to postpone my trip till after Christmas. I will probably go on the 27th. I have enjoyed the last few days (mostly) although I know I will be thoroughly bored by the end of my vacation. (If I were rich I could find plenty of things to keep me from being bored, but I am not rich.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My two cents

I don't normally comment on world events, or politics, or business, but on this occasion I think I will indulge myself.

The Copenhagen Climate Change summit has ended. Depending on who you listen to it was the first step to solving climate change, a betrayal of the poor and powerless third world countries, a qualified success, or an unmitigated disaster.

First, a few words from our sponsor: CLIMATE CHANGE!

Climate change is real. It is having real observable effects on the physical world on which we live. It is largely (although probably not entirely) caused by human activity, primarily the burning of fossil fuels, and destruction of natural carbon sinks (i.e. forests). And it is going to get much worse during the next century.

I never did have hope for the Copenhagen conference. I did not predict that it would end in shambles the way it did, with the US and a few allies hijacking it and ramming through a non-binding resolution just to have something to point to back home. Of course, if the Chinese hadn't been so obstructionist the US wouldn't have had to circumvent the process and the poor countries in order to reach a "deal".

I thought they would reach a deal acceptable to the delegates and it would have been announced with great fanfare, and then everyone would have gone home and ignored it. Instead we got a non-binding deal put together behind closed doors by a few of the richest countries that has no targets or means of verification which everyone will go home and ignore.

The US goal of 18 percent reduction over 2005 emission levels is a joke to begin with. It isn't nearly enough. It would take a forty or fifty percent reduction over 1990 levels to significantly slow or halt climate change. And that kind of change just isn't in the cards. Business has no intention of spending the kind of money that would take. Consumers have no intentions of accepting restrictions on the kinds of transport they use, or the size of their houses, or the number of energy guzzling toys they want. Countries have no intention of giving up competitive advantage that cheap energy gives them.

The upshot of all of this is that climate change will continue to accelerate. Within many of our lifetimes we will see sea levels rise, coastlines swamped, hundreds of millions of refugees, fleeing the devastation, massive storms, dust bowls, floods, and water shortages. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will ride, Pestilence, War, Famine and Death. They will not be responding to a celestial trumpet, but to a man-made disaster. I don't predict how bad it will get before it ends, but I wouldn't want to be living on this earth by the end of this current century. It will probably only end with the collapse of modern high technology civilization, at which time the earth may be able to begin to heal itself.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Seasons Greetings

Tonight is the company holiday party. Unfortunately we are going to a lousy so-called Mexican restaurant. We had a vote on it and it ended up splitting by gender. All the men voted to go to the old standby with very good food, good service, and excellent desserts. The women mostly voted to go to the so-called Mexican restaurant. You know why? So they could drink margaritas. One of the strange ironies of working at this school is that almost all the male teachers are teetotalers, or if not, rarely drink at all. Most of the female teachers are lushes. They don't believe it is a party if you don't get soused! Rather odd if you ask me.

But enough of that. The term ends next Saturday, and then our Christmas-New Year break begins. It is a bit shorter this year, only two weeks, which means that if I am going to do any traveling I need to get right on it after classes end. I am still planning to go to Nakhon Sawan to visit Bueng Boraphet, the largest freshwater swamp in Thailand. Should get some good birding in. I might also do a motorbike ride up north, although it gets very cold up in the mountains this time of year. We will see.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everybody had a happy and thankful Thanksgiving. It was just another day here in Thailand, and I had to work. But I did give thanks for all the blessings of my life. I do wish I could have had some of my dad's roast turkey and my mom's cornbread dressing and pecan pie. Now that would have been something to give thanks for!

The Dallas Cowboys won, and even more importantly, the Texas Longhorns beat Texas A&M to reach a 12-0 season record. If they beat Nebraska in the Big12 Championship next week, the will be playing for the National Championship in January. Truly, Thanksgiving was a wonderful day!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Jumping through hoops

It is Saturday night and I am beat. I work Tuesday through Saturday (most weeks). Saturday we teach almost twice as long as the weeknights. So I am always totally knackered by the time I am finished at 4 PM on Saturdays. So I am just sitting at home resting my feet, and thinking about maybe after while heading out to find something to eat.

It was however a rather productive week. I went and got my Thai motorcycle license this week. It involved jumping through a rather large number of hoops to get it done. You may wonder why it has taken me so long to get one, since I have lived here for over four years. Well, the short answer is that it isn't strictly necessary, since they will accept a foreign license. Most foreigners here don't bother getting a Thai one. Plus it involves the a fore mentioned hoop jumping and cost me about 70 dollars. But my Texas license will expire soon, so I decided go go ahead and do it. It also makes it much easier to the the Thai price for things instead of the tourist price. That can save you a considerable amount of money at places like national parks.

The hoops involved included getting a medical clearance from a doctor stating that I am healthy enough to drive, a trip to the consulate to get an affidavit of residency ($30), taking an eye test (color blindness), a reflexes test, An hour video on computer about the driving and insurance laws in Thailand (narrated by a British fellow with a very proper accent), then taking the written test. The written test was thirty questions, multiple choice. You had to get 24 of 30 correct. It is done on computer, and you have one hour to complete it. It took me about 15 minutes, and that long only because some of the illustrations were so poorly drawn that I wasn't sure what they were trying to illustrate. After that I had to take a driving test, which involved negotiating a course, while trying to turn at the right places and stop at the right places, and weave around some cones. After that, it was back inside to have my picture taken, pay my 150 baht, and wait for three minutes until my card popped out of the machine. Altogether it took about 3 hours, not including the trips to the doctor and the consulate.

One more thing I can mark off my to do list.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I joined a new gym this week. I had been going to a gym near my house, but my membership was expiring, ans I had to decide to renew or go somewhere else. My old gym was certainly convenient, I could walk there in less than two minutes. And it had modern machines, well maintained, and friendly helpful staff. But there were some things I didn't like. They recently moved, after not being able to reach an agreement with their former landlord. The new place was in a strip mall, in a building that wasn't designed with a gym in mind. It meant that the gym was on two levels. The locker rooms and restrooms were on the second floor, so you had to go up and down the stairs just to change close, or use the toilet. While the new facility was larger, a lot more of the space was devoted to the snack area, a larger staff room and a nice big office for the manager. It meant there was less space for the equipment. This means that things are layed out in an awkward manner, and some areas are cramped. The stretching area is quite small for example, it fills crowded with any more than three people in it.

So I went to check out other gyms. Finally I ended up at California Wow. CW is in the biggest mall in CM, on the top floor. It's very, uhmmm, California. Bright colors, MTV on the TVs, beautiful and handsome sales and staff people. The manager is a little short Italian-American who looks like Danny Devito, and acts just as sincere as many of the characters Mr. Devito has played. On the upside they have tons and tons of the best and newest gym equipment I've seen in a gym. Gold's Gym, eat your heart out. And the place is massive. So the manager comes over and puts the squeeze on me. He starts showing me around asks me how long I've been in Thailand, etc. Then we sit down and he starts through his spiel. He asks me how I know about CW. I tell him I have a friend who is a member. Great, great, he says. While his assistant uses some gizmo to calculate my BMI, he goes and looks up my friend on the system. He comes back and wattage on his fake smile has gone down considerable. My friend has a lifetime membership, and he doesn't like that. Now he is going to have to offer me the same deal. Normally, they try to sign everyone up on a month to month basis, with prices ranging between 2000 baht to 4000 baht. (There are about 8 levels of membership, and the lowest level is Gold.) But a couple of years ago, when they first opened, they needed to sign up a lot of people, to get some bodies on the floor. They offered a lifetime membership for just 10,000 baht, and a renewal each year of 100 baht. That's right, a lifetime membership costs less than half a year at the month to month rate. Of course, they don't advertise the lifetime membership, and the only way to get it is to be referred by someone who already has it. He had a kind of sad look on his face when I put my money down, but he had to take it. A year at my old gym would have been about 9000 baht, but payable every year. So, I made the switch. Next year I will only have to pay 100 baht for a whole year. So as long as I stay in CM, and as long as CW stays, I will be working out for basically free.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Que Sera Sera

A couple of weeks ago one of students responded to a question by another student by saying, "Que sera, sera." The other student broke out into song, "Whatever will be, will be." I was a bit surprised to say the least. Had I stumbled upon an underground group of Doris Day lovers? Over the next week or so my students began to sing the lyrics to the song in class, often precipitating a spontaneous sing along. My curiosity was thoroughly piqued by this point. Not wanting to admit my ignorance, I did not ask them about it directly. But after asking around, I found a commercial on Thai The children in the commercial are from Srisangwan School, a school set up by the late Queen Mother for children with disabilities. I think you might find this quite moving, as I did.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Inthanon '09 Expedition

On Thursday the big day arrived and my friends and I set out for Doi Inthanon. We went by different ways. Lance and a friend of his rode their bikes from Hang Dong to the entrance to the national park. The friend turned back then. He wasn't ready to try scaling Inthanon and had come along to keep Lance company on the ride of about 70 kilometers. Ben and Ian drove Ian's 4x4 to just outside the national park and left the 4x4 there. I rode my motorbike from Chiang Mai proper. We met up at the park headquarters and prepared to go for the summit. It was about 44 kilometers to the top, with a rise of 2,200 meters. That is a rise of 1.32 miles! Most of the steep slopes come in the last 16 kilometers of the ride.

The guys riding up the mountain.

Lance gives a thumbs up.

It took about 4 hours to get to the top. The steepest sections had a rise of 13%. That doesn't sound steep, but it seems vertical when you are actually doing it.

We reached the top just after 1:00 PM. I got their maybe twenty minutes ahead of the other guys. Of course, I had a slight advantage. But even I wasn't sure I was going to be able to get up some of the long stretches. My bike was definitely overheating, and driving for extended periods in first gear really isn't the best way to treat your bike. But it was the only way to do it.

Ben and Ian at the top.

Lance had taken off before I could get his picture. He had to hurry back down in order to try and ride back to Hang Dong before it got dark. Riding a bicycle on the highways of Thailand at night is daring proposition.

At the lookout point.

YOu can't really tell, but we are actually several hundred meters above the clouds in the background. We had traveled in a cloud bank most of the trip, but we broke through it on the last stretch of road.

I was going to do some birding during the day, but it just didn't work out that well. I did spend some time birding around the summit, but I was too busy photographing and stopping to drink warm coffee to do much birding. (It was cold coming up through the clouds, but the summit was much warmer, warmed by the sun.) I did manage to get three new species for my life list, including this Chestnut Tailed Minia who agreed to pose for me.



The ride down the mountain took one hour, after the ride up took four. It was actually scary whizzing down those steep, long slopes. Over all, a good time was had by all.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Sometimes Surreal

You get used to somewhat surreal moments here in Thailand. There is always something happening that just seems in a novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. One of the sometimes jarring things you experience here is musical covers of Englsih language songs by bands who don't even speak English. Most commonly they cover The Eagles, Abba, The Beatles, and worst of all, The Carpenters. You get used to hearing certain songs like Desperado and Dancing Queen being butchered on a regular basis.

But sometimes it gets really strange. Tonight there is a small street fair down the road and, of course, the music is being played loud enough to raise the dead. Imagine my surprise when sitting here reading, I hear a woman break into Jambalaya (on the bayou). That particular Hank Williams song was not one I expected to hear in Thailand. Even an English speaking Thai would have no idea what jambalaya was, or a bayou, or a pirogue, or fillet gumbo. They do know what gay-oh is, but would that that a man who was gay-oh wouldn't be calling some woman "ma cher amio".

And then her partner launches into Rhinestone Cowboy. The mind boggles. It is always something new here.

Monday, November 2, 2009


I got out and did some hiking this morning. I didn't see any interesting birds, but I did get some fresh air and exercise. One of the places I visited is Huey Gaew Waterfall. It is on the outskirts of Chiang Mai City proper. It is a peaceful and tranquil place not too far from the hustle and bustle of city life. On the weekends it gets very crowded, but on Monday morning there weren't too many people there. I got a shot of the waterfall and some sunning schoolgirls who may have been playing hooky. Or maybe they were just taking an early lunch.

Huey Geaw Waterfall
Waterfall and Schoolgirls

Monday, October 26, 2009

Getting Out and About.

I went motorbiking and hiking near the summit of Doi Suthep and Doi Pui on Sunday. I was all set to take some lovely photos of the mountain. Unfortunately I had failed to put the memory card back in my camera. How stupid is that. So many a potentially Pulitzer winning photo that could have been slipped forever from my grasp. I had better luck birding. I didn't see much near the summit, but on my way back down, at about the 1000 meter level I stopped to take a look around a small park/garden. I got really lucky and saw three types of birds I had never identified before, the Great Tit, the Golden Throated Barbet, and the Short-Billed Minivet. All in all a pretty exciting afternoon of birding.

Next week we have a week off of work. On Thursday three of my friends are planning to ride their bicycles to the top of Doi Inthanon. Doi Inthanon is the tallest mountain in Thailand at 2565 meters. They will be riding from about the base, at 350 meters. So over 40 kilometers or so they will rise over 2200 meters. Relatively few people have done this climb. They are not certain they will be able to do it, but they want to try. I am going along, although I won't be riding a bike. I will be on my motorbike. I will be carrying spare gear and will be providing backup in case anything goes wrong. I will also be taking advantage of the trip to bird on Doi Inthanon, which has many unique species, due to its height. Should be a good trip, at least for me. They are going to be exhausted, whether they reach the summit or not.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

College Football

One of the things I have really missed from America is watching college football. It hever has been covered here in Thailand, unless you had an expensive satellite package, far beyond the reach of a poor but honest English teacher. But this year for the first time ESPN has started to include one or two college games each week in its lineup. That is really nice. I have seen some really good games too. One of the best was the Texas Tech - Houston game, a 28-29 game that was a nail biter all the way. Of course, not all of them were that good. I saw the Texas - UTEP game, a 64-7 shellacking. It was good to see The Longhorns, the team I have followed since I was a teenager. But I would have rather seen the Texas - Texas Tech game. Well, beggars can't be choosers, so I will take what I get. Many of the games ESPN has shown have been Big 12 Game of the Weeks, so I have seen many of the teams Texas will face this year. I just hope they carry the Texas - Oklahoma game.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

I would like to thank all the little people who made this possible

My sister Bethany has honored me by bestowing a Kreativ Blogger Award on me. I don't know if I truly deserve the honor, being as I have been such a lackadaisical blogger lately, but, "Thank you."

I guess as a recipient of this honor I am supposed to come up with a list of seven favorite solo activities. Well, all my favorite activities are done alone, so this shouldn't be hard.

1. Riding my motorbike through the countryside of Thailand, looking at the rice paddies and small villages.

2. Reading, always my favorite activity.

3. Photographing stuff. Could be anything, I just kind of lose myself in the moment while I am taking pictures.

4. Surfing the internet. Of course best done alone, nothing worse than having a backseat driver while you are trying to read your favorite sites.

5. Birdwatching. This can be done with other people, and that is enjoyable to. But often it is best to just walk around in the woods, or on the beach alone, looking for birds.

6. Uh oh, running out of ideas here. Hmmm, I know, eating khao soi. It is impossible to eat this noodle curry soup without getting it all over yourself, so I never order it when I am eating with other people.

7. Swimming at night. I used to love swimming in the lake alone at night. Just yourself and the soft slap of water against the shore. It was great to roll over on my back and look up at the stars. No one with you while you contemplate the cosmos, the infinity of the heavens and your place in it. I don't do that anymore, since I don't have a lake to swim in, but I would love to do it again.

So those are my seven things. Now I am supposed to nominate for more winners of the Kreativ Blogger Award, but I am going to have to pass. I don't really follow any other blogs, besides my family. I am really not a very good blogger, since I don't read many other people's blogs.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Well, I was right about my classes this term. I got two classes instead for three. I guess I will be eating nothing but rice and beans for the next six weeks. I guess I will have more time to work on other things. I'll just have to figure out what.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bits and Pieces

Well, I haven't fallen off the edge of the planet, it just seems like it sometimes. I haven't posted in quite a while, because I haven't been able to think of anything worth posting about. My life is pretty boring most of the time, despite living in a great place. I get caught up in the round of everyday living, going about my business and not really doing anything interesting.

I just finished a term at XYZ school. I had very nice classes and will miss them. I don't know what I will get next term, enrollment is very low, so I may only get two classes instead of three. While that would be enjoyable from a working point of view, it would be kind of hard on my wallet, so I hope that doesn't happen. I will let you know what happened later in the week.

I'm going to have a week of at the beginning of November. I am thinking of going down to Nakhon Sawan province and doing some bird watching. The largest fresh water swamp in Thailand is located there, Bung Boraphet, and it is one of the best places to see waterfowl and migratory species. I will have to see about that though.

Interesting Trivia Fact of the day: I have lived here in Thailand for four years, and have never had a microwave! Yes, life without a microwave is in fact possible! Wow, life in Thailand must really be rough. No, we have microwaves here, I just never have bought one, although I am thinking of doing so.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Quiet Days

I have a few days off right now, a short break between terms. I am not traveling anywhere this time. I have been on two major trips in the last year, and my bank account is pretty much entirely depleted. So I am just relaxing at home. I am also doing a few chores that I have been putting off. For example, getting new pages put into my passport. Yup, my passport is full up. It wouldn't be if border officials weren't so stamp crazy, and countries could issue smaller visas. But I am having problems with the US consulates webpage right now, so I haven't been able to confirm my appointment. I also looked at a new apartment, much bigger than my current place, but not so nicely appointed. I will keep looking. I want a bigger place, but I don't want to pay too much. I bought some books yesterday and rented some movies, so I should be all set in the entertainment arena. I have also been cooking more of my own food this week. A nice treat, but it does mean I have to clean up the dishes! I worked a little on my Thai studies, but not too much. Oh, that is another thing on my list, I want to visit a Thai language school and check out their program this week. They normally teach missionaries, but they are open to having anyone as a student. (I guess you probably shouldn't ask to learn any Thai swear words in the class though). If there is anyone who is serious about learning foreign languages it is missionaries, so hopefully they will have a good program. Anyway, I need to run out to the store right now so "Bye!"

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Red Shirt Problems

We have been having problems around town this week with the Red Shirts (or the UDD, United Democrats against Dictatorship). They are the group who support ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and who oppose the Yellow Shirts (or the PAD, People's Alliance for Democracy). Hmmm. . . we seem to be suffering from a surfeit of democrats, or democracy or something. A lot of these problems have been happening in my neighborhood. I ran into a Red Shirt rally on Thursday night, but they were just driving around the moat and up Huey Gaew Road. I parted company with them after about a mile when I came to my turn. But on Friday, there were police all over my area of town, and they closed off one end of my road to keep the Red Shirts away from the Chiang Mai University Auditorium. When I see the Red Shirts in large numbers, or confronting police, I just go the other way and have no problems. The following is from, giving a news account of the last couple of days. Despite the unrest, life largely goes on normally here. Oh, except for the fact that most of the large private schools in town have shut down because of the flu. No word on how long they will be closed. So many of my students had a holiday of Friday.

Water canon used against Chiang Mai redshirt’s - 14 police injured
By John Le Fevre

CHIANG MAI ( -- Police in the Northern Thailand city of Chiang Mai have used water canon to disperse red-shirt protesters after two days of violent clashes that saw 14 policemen injured.

The protesters, members of the United Front for Democracy (UDD), had gathered in opposition to Finance Minister Korn Chatikavenij’s attendance at a meeting with banks owned by the Finance Ministry at the Chiang Mai University auditorium.

The clashes began following the arrest on Thursday of a 45-year-old redshirt protester, Niyom Luangcharoen, who was detained by police as he allegedly tried to enter Chiang Mai airport with a gun and ammunition to join other protesters waiting on Korn’s arrival.

Following Niyom’s arrest about 200 protesters besieged the Puping Rachaniwet police station demanding his immediate, unconditional release.

When police refused to conform to their demands, the protesters attacked the police lines with stones, wooden sticks and catapults, damaging a number of police vehicles in the process.

Eight policemen were injured in the melee, with two of them currently receiving treatment in the ICU ward of a local hospital.

Protesters then blocked the main Huay Kaew Road and when ordered to disperse by police, retaliated by throwing firecrackers, injuring one bystander. Shots were also allegedly fired at police, but no injuries were reported.

Somkid Boonthanom, chief of Provincial Police Region 5, said the redshirt protesters had gathered again on Friday to rally against Korn meeting with local business owners and police reinforcements were drafted from neighbouring Lamphun and Lampang provinces to assist.

Following further clashes with police, the protesters withdrew to the Chiang Mai Grand Waroros Palace Hotel, home to the main redshirt community radio station.

Somkid said about 1,000 police had been required to disperse the protesters, with many of them being equipped with protective riot clothing, batons and shields.

The finance minister was in Chiang Mai to follow up on development projects worth Bt18.8 million (about $US 546,000), that he said should benefit the majority of the population.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Pandemonium in Thailand

A few weeks ago Thailand was in the grip of Panda Pandemonium. Now it is in the grip of pandemic pandemonium. The fear of swine flu has run rampant in the country. 25 people have died if the flu and there have been 4469 confirmed cases in the country. The death rate is actually pretty low, but people are absolutely panicked by this flu. About 20 percent of the people on the streets are wearing face masks, and the government is encouraging the wearing of masks. The city of Bangkok has closed all of its 435 schools, 200 nurseries and 13 occupational training centers for a week to stop the spread of the flu. That might work if all those people went home and stayed there. But the first thing most of them will do is head to the mall, or a park with friends. A lot of people will also make a quick trip out to the provinces to visit family. This will just spread the virus even more.

The government doesn't have a clue what to do and in typical fashion are just issuing random and contradictory orders. Last week they ordered all of the cram schools (in Bangkok) closed for two weeks, as well as all internet gaming shops. A committee of health professionals at Chulalongkorn University advised the government to shut the borders of the country to protect the people. The Prime Minister has ruled that out for now, but left it as a future possibility. It would be impossible to truly shut the borders with thousands of miles of unpatrolled river, forest, and sea border. Plus it would strand tens of thousands of people trying to fly into and out of the country.

My school hasn't been closed, but it could be in the future. I don't need an unscheduled holiday right now. But we will see what happens. Attendance has been down in my classes, I guess some people are staying away. The real worry is next term. We have enrollment coming up next week and we are quite worried that enrollment will be low, as people simply choose not to study at this time. That will mean fewer classes, maybe layoffs of teachers, fewer hours for everybody. I won't get layed off, I have three years of seniority, but I might have my hours cut. I hope that doesn't happen.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Rain, Rain, Go Away

It's raining right now. In fact, it has been raining nonstop for the last 36 hours. According to the extended forecast, it will continue to rain pretty much non-stop for the next week. Ah, the joys of living in Thailand in the rainy season. The weather here is usually quite pleasant, but when the rain settles in like this (as it does a few times a year) it gets old in a hurry. Everywhere you go you have to carry your umbrella or raincoat. Nothing will dry out. I dry my laundry by hanging it on the laundry rack and turning the fan on it for a few hours. My towels won't dry, and seem to mildew in about 3 minutes flat. I got tired of washing seven towels a week, so I have taken to walking around my apartment au natural after my shower until I drip dry! Well at least the rainy season will end soon, in only three more months!

In other news the CM panda cub has gone on display for the first time. For three days, ending today, people could get a brief glimpse of the panda in an enclosed exhibition area. Unfortunately the number of tickets available was quite limited, so most people didn't have a chance to see her.

Latest pictures


People viewing the panda cub


(All photos the property of someone else.)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Announcement of Birth

It is with great pleasure that I announce the birth in Chiang Mai to Chuang Chuang and Lin Hui of a daughter. The birth took place on May 27th. The daughter has not been named yet. She will be given a name on Aug 12th, which is Mother's Day here in Thailand.

The proud parents agreed to share a few baby photos.


Oh, didn't I mention that Chuang Chuang and Lin Hui were pandas? Well of course they are. They live here at Chiang Mai Zoo, as local celebrities. The only blot in their otherwise happy existence was the fact that after six years together, their union had not been blessed with offspring. In fact, Chuang Chuang quite neglected his matrimonial duties. But with some help from the veterinarians here in CM Lin Hui was successfully impregnated by artificial insemination. The silly vets thought the proceedure had been a failure, as Lin Hui cleverly hid her condition as a modest young bride will. They were certainly surprised when she gave birth!



As you can see in the latest picture, the young panda has begun to exhibit the coloration of a mature panda.


Anyway, congratulations to the happy family, and best wishes for the future. I would be handing out cigars at this juncture, but pandas really hate cigar smoke.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Attitudes toward Blindness in Thailand

The Interior Minister of Thailand claimed over the weekend that giving 2000 baht to a blind person could not be construed as vote buying because the blind are legally incompetent and not eligible to vote. (See story)
Now, the minister was quickly upbraided by the Thai Association of the Blind President. The blind are not legally incompetent and are allowed to vote. (The issue of vote buying I will leave to another time).

But to address a broader issue, the situation of the disabled in Thailand is distressing to say the least. They are discriminated against in employment, education, entertainment, and general society. The kind of ignorance that the Interior Minister exhibits is almost universal. Most businesses simply will not hire disabled persons. This leaves them dependent on family members, or on working as market or street venders, or begging. It is an unfortunate situation, that doesn't really seem to be changing.

Every year my language school holds a graduation ceremony for our students. The US Consulate always sends someone to speak. Last year the new General Consul came. He spoke on the value of learning foreign languages. That Stuffed Shirt somehow managed to leave the impression that because he spoke Russian, he and his buddy Ronald Reagan were able to topple the Soviet Union. That guy is really full of himself. This year we were luckier. We got an assistant consul. The interesting thing was that this guy was blind. He gave a good speech, articulate, funny, made appropriate Thai references that our students could relate to. He never mentioned his blindness. I was glad that our graduates and their families could see a blind person in a position of responsibility and authority. I hope his work with the Consulate will help change some people's attitudes regarding the blind and other persons with disabilities.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Bayon Temple

Another temple I visited at Angkor Wat was Bayon Temple. While approaching it appears to be a big jumble of stones rather than a temple. If the Flintstones built a temple, I imagine that this is what it would look like.


It is also the temple with 217 huge faces carved into it.


These are supposed to represent King Jayavarman VII, who built this temple. I guess the old guy was pretty full of himself.


This temple also has some of the best bas-relief friezes at Angkor Wat, but the lighting was poor and none of my pictures really do it justice.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is the largest temple in the temple complex that bears it's name. And it is huge. The grounds surrounded by the wall is almost a kilometer square, and the temple itself is 300 meters by 150 meters. The conventional way of viewing Angkor Wat is to go in the morning, and watch the sun rise behind it. Bad idea, I have decided. The sky was cloudy the morning I went, and I imagine that more often than not it is that way. Also the lighting was not good, so not many of my pictures turned out very good.

Central spire, from within the central courtyard.


A sight you do usually see in the tourist guides, cattle grazing the grounds of the temple.


A pair of Khmer girls in one of the libraries. They were asking people to take their picture, then asking for money. I couldn't resist. Begging and hawking is allowed outside of the temples, but not in them, so these girls hid every time they saw one of the security gaurds walking around.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Traveling in Cambodia

A few words about traveling around Cambodia: It is a hellish experience. Of course, you read countless tales on the internet that say that, but you also read that "Now that the highway from Sihaunukville to Phnom Penh to Siem Reap is finished, travel is fast, safe, and efficient." It is fast, but as for safe and efficient, don't believe it.

I took the bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, and it was one of the worst travel experiences of my life. The buses are Chinese made, uncomfortable, and noisy. They also have underpowered air conditioning. The AC they have might be adequate in Northern China, but it doesn't cut it Cambodia, one of the hottest countries in Asia. The bus is just a big glass and metal box that traps heat, so it actuallly gets hotter inside than the outside temperature. Traveling to SR I almost suffered heat stroke, I did suffer heat exhaustion. I got dehydrated after about four hours, and the last two hours were horrible. They only stop the bus once on the trip. I bought some water but it did not turn out to be enough. The khmer woman sitting next to got worried about me, she turned her air conditioning vent on me and even started fanning my. I must have looked a mess, all red and miserable looking. Well, we finally reached Siem Reap, I promptly bought a liter and a half bottle of water, which I consumed in about 15 minutes. After that I started to feel human again. I got a tuk tuk to take me to my guesthouse, and collapsed in the cool, cool air conditioning for a couple of hours before heading out to see the town.

Cambodian version of the tuk tuk, the easiest way to get around throughout Cambodia, a small carriage hitched to a motorcycle.


Friday, May 8, 2009

Elephant Takes

Last night they were shooting a movie with an elephant on my doorstep. Yes, right on the same doorstep where last year I saw 11200 monks! (My street is more interesting than your street--I've got "And to Think That I Saw That on Mulberry Street beat all to pieces). Actually it was a pretty small shoot, one elephant, one actor and a crew of less than a dozen. So I doubt that it is for a Hollywood blockbuster. The scene they were shooting involved the actor (his back to the camera) looking at the elephants leg and then putting a bandage on it while muttering to himself in Thai. The director and camaraman are to the right of the light. The blond guy pointing is just a flunky. They shoot the scene three or four times, then I got bored and wandered off. But still, another interesting day here on Nimman Street.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Been awhile since I posted, but I have been busy, and am just now able to relax and blog.

I was still finishing my tale about my recent trip to Cambodia. What were my overall impressions of the country?

Well, the Cambodian people were very friendly. They were even more friendly than Thais, and they are famous for being friendly. Everyone was happy to talk to you, anytime, anywhere. You could see their gregarious nature everywhere on the street, where people constantly stopped to speak with each other, and then would move on to speak to the next person they encountered. They also liked to play. Children played tag in the streets, adults played badminton and saiy (kind of like hackey-sack with a big shuttlecock) in the parks. Cambodians live much of their lives outside, on the streets. This is understandable, since apartments are small and have no air conditioning. So people congregate outside, sitting on plastic chairs or stools under awnings to avoid the incredible heat. (More about the heat later).

Phnom Penh has broad boulevards and adequately wide streets, a legacy of the French. Their are many old colonial French buildings throughout the city, some well maintained and beautiful.


Some neglected and falling down.


(Not my pictures)

Phnom Penh is a study in contrasts, beautiful mansions and fancy apartment buildings, only a street away from shanties and flimsy walk up tenements. Most people here are very poor, but the streets are filled with Lexus SUVs. (In case you miss the point that the person is driving a Lexus, they all have "Lexus" painted in big letters on the side.) The Lexi (is that the plural of Lexus?) come as a result of NGOs and foreign governments handing them out like candy to their staffers and local bigwigs.


(Not my picture)

There is an extreme imbalance in wealth and income in Cambodia, partially driven by local corruption, partially driven by the billions of squandered dollars of the international donors. That topic is big enough for a post (or twenty) of its own, so I won't even get into it now.

Cambodia is a fascinating place. But it is also very frustrating at times. Nothing is organized, everything takes twice as long and three times as many people as it should, the streets are covered with garbage, it is hot and sticky. But. . . . the people are wonderfully friendly, the atmosphere is fun and lively, and you will see things there you will never see anywhere else. I will definitely go back again.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Phnom Penh

Well, I have been working hard this week, very exhausting. But now it is the weekend, so I have been able to rest and relax, and get some cleaning done around the apartment. We only have one more week of summer terms, then it will be back to a more regular schedule. It has also been very hot here and oppressively humid. Last night it rained, and today it is cloudy, with occasional sprinkles, so we are getting a little weather relief as well.

Back to my trip to Cambodia. While I was in Phnom Penh I visited the usual tourist sites like the Royal Palace. These things are mildly interesting, but eventually you feel like, "Seen one palace, seen them all."

The royal throne hall, which not coincidentally looks a lot like a temple.


The Napoleon Pavilion, given by Napoleon III to Kong Norodam.


Part of the murals on the walls surrounding the Silver Pagoda. They very much resemble the murals at the Royal Palace in Bangkok, although they are a bit less formally composed, more free in their sense of movement.


The Silver Pagoda, which has 5000 tiles of silver covering the floor. Of course you aren't allowed to walk on the tiles, they have carpeted all the areas you are allowed to walk, but you can see some of the tiles. The Pagoda is filled with religious and artistic works that belong to the national antiquities department. So there are display cases filled with hundreds of gold and silver Buddha images with a sign that says, "Gold and silver Buddha images, Circa 3rd Century BC to 19th Century AD." It isn't very enlightening, to say the least. It is just a big jumble of artifacts haphazardly arranged, with no attempt to interpret the significance of the pieces. It gets boring pretty fast.


Next time I will share some of my thoughts about the city itself.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Toul Sleng

Well, I am back in Thailand, where I finally have easy access to internet and a photo editor. So I plan to do some blogs about my recent trip.

The first full day I was in Cambodia I went to visit Toul Sleng Genocide Museum. Toul Sleng was a former high school that was used by the Khmer Rouge for imprisonment, interrogation, and execution of prisoners from the Phnom Penh area. Many thousands of people were tortured and executed here.


The site now is quiet, the old classrooms are the where torture took place are empty now.


You walk from room to room and view the beds and shackles used by the torturers.


While most of the bodies of victims here were transported about 15 KM out of town to what is now known as The Killing Fields, some were buried on site. Some of the skulls and bones are displayed at the museum.


Like the Nazis, the Khmer Rouge were meticulous record keepers. They carefully recorded the names, vital statistics and reputed crimes of all their victims. They also took pictures of everyone, sometimes before and after torture. Many of these pictures have been posted on boards at Toul Sleng. It is these pictures that finally provides a point of connection for the visitor, a sense of beginning to understand the human cost of the Cambodian Genocide.


The sight is absolutely heartbreaking at times.


After touring Toul Sleng what do you come away with? You certianly don't come away with answers. I don't feel in any sense that I understand the Khmer Rouge better, or the causes of the genocide any better. If anything you understand it less well. Toul Sleng doesn't have A Meaning. There is no great wisdom to be gained here. And unfortunately, I don't even believe that the presence of places like this or Auschwitz, or sites of the Rwandan Genocide even prevent genocide from happening again. So is there any reason to visit a place like Toul Sleng? After having reflected on it I think, yes. When I come again, I will come not to learn anything, but to spend time with the spirits of the dead. I think that it is important that we remember the dead, that we sit with them, commune with them, and remind them that they have not been forgotten. That is what I learned at Toul Sleng, and what I will put in practice when I come again.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Back to Phnom Penh

I tried to blog yesterday, but blogger was down for maintenance so I couldn't. I got back to Phnom Penh yesterday from Siem Reap. Angkor Wat was spectacular, although climbing up and down temples wore me out pretty quickly. I was only able to go out for a few hours each morning before the heat and the exercise would wear me down and I would head back to my guesthouse for some well needed rest.

The town of Siem Reap has nothing to recommend itself, other than Angkor Wat itself. The city is ugly, dirty, hot, and overrun with hordes of tourists. I won't miss it at all.

So now I am just relaxing in PP, watching the river roll by and waiting for my flight back to Thailand tomorrow.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Happy Easter, Happy Songkran and Happy Birthday

This year my birthday coincided with Easter, which it does periodically. It also was New Years Eve in the Thai, Cambodian, Lao calender. Hope everyone had a good one. I spent Easter morning touring Toul Sleng Prison, the infamous Camp 21 in downtown Phnom Penh, where over twenty thousand people were interrogated and murdered by the Kmher Rouge. Quite a sombering place. I don't want to resort to trivial observations about the significance of the place, so I won't make any further comment.

I enjoyed Phnom Penh, it is a beautiful city filled with old French Colonial buildings. The people are friendly, even more friendly than Thai people are. They celebrated New Year's on Sunday and Monday. It was a much more restrained and interesting celebration than the Thai version, which has turned into a huge water fight every year.

Today I took the bus to Seim Reap. I almost died of heat stroke. OK, that is an exageration, but it was a very unpleasant six hours. Tomorrow I will head out to Angkor Wat. Although with the heat, I doubt if I can spend more than a few hours out there.

Can't post any pictures now, but I will when I get a chance.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Leaving Soon

I seem to have fallen off the end of the blogging world lately. Actually I have just been very busy inculcating young minds with the joys of English grammar. We are teaching Summer Terms now, which means I work long, long hours. Also my life has been boring lately so I haven't had anything to blog about. But that is about to change.

On Friday our Songkran break begins. And on Saturday I am off to Cambodia for a 8 day vacation. I will spend part of the time in Phnom Penh and part of the time in Siam Reap (Angkor Wat). I am really looking forward to it, although the weather will be as hot as blazes. I will try to post from Cambodia, maybe even post some pictures.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

World Economic Meltdown Reaches CM

Yesterday my girlfriend called me from work, which she doesn't usually do. It turned out she had some rather dire news. The jewelry factory where she works as an accountant is shutting down. The falling demand for jewelry in China and the US has caused the owner to pull out of northern Thailand. I was full of commiseration, trying to be understanding, etc. Then she told me, "Oh, it isn't so bad. If I am not working, maybe I will go back and get my master's degree." So it might not work out badly for her at all. Anyway, the plant will close in early May (Thailand has a 60 day plant closure notification law), but she will stay on to wrap up the accounts until July. So she has time to make a decision.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

This and That

It has been awhile since I posted. I can't say that I have been too busy to post, I just haven't had much to say. I guess I am in a quiet and reflective stage at the moment.

It is the dirty air season here in CM. This year doesn't seem to be as bad as the last couple, but it still is problematic. I wear a dust mask whenever I ride my motorcycle, or if I am going to be outside for an extended period of time. I also have the windows closed most of the time, which isn't something I like to do. I'm very much a "fresh air" kind of guy. The PM10 count reached 170 the other day. (Above 120 is considered unhealthy). But that is no where near as bad as the 350 we had two years ago. So the situation is tolerable, if not pleasant.

What else have I been doing lately? Well, there is a new pool hall right down the street. It is pretty nice. They actually bought good tables and good cue sticks. Many places in CM have pool tables, but they tend to be planerily challenged. It is kind of like 3 demensional pool. Some people say swaybacked tables, curved cue sticks, feltless surfaces, and none spherical balls adds a bit of welcome challenge to the game. I personally disagree. So some of my friends and I have gone over to while away an hour or two of an evening. Good fun.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

This weekend I went out to the annual Flower Festival. The North is the "flower basket" of Thailand, with its flowers shipped to Bangkok, other parts of Thailand, and as far afield as Singapore and Hong Kong. This isn't the most beautiful or moving festival in CM, but it is interesting and enjoyable. I got to see some of the exhibitions on Friday night, including an exhibition of wood carving that was quite interesting.

On Sunday evening I went to the main venue, along the southwest corner of the city moat.

I had missed the parade of the flower floats, but I saw the floats at the festival site.

All of the local flower and plant clubs had exhibitions and contests, including the orchid club, the bonsai club and the cactus club.

This being Thailand, the orchids were beautiful.

One of the cacti.

Right now I have finished working six days a week and am now only working five days. In addition I am only teaching two classes Tuesday through Friday, instead of three. Also both of my classes are Level 8. I haven't taught this level before, but I only have one lesson to plan each day, which makes my life much easier. So I am feeling pretty relaxed these days.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Next Trip

I am still working to much, although that will end after this week. On a more positive note I am getting excited about my next foray out of the country. In April we have a ten day break, coinciding with Songkran, or the traditional Thai New Year. I will be traveling to Cambodia for about 8 days. I am going to probably start in Phnom Penh, then go on Siem Reep, which is where Angkor Wat is. That should be exciting. I also hope to spend a day on Tonle Sap, the big lake near Siem Reep. There is supposed to be great birding there. I am really excited about the whole thing. I have just started the planning process, so I am doing a lot of reading (when I can). It is a lot of fun to get ready for a trip like this.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

This week

I have been working six days a week for the last several weeks. I will be doing that for another two weeks. It leaves me very little time to blog, and less inclination. I just go along from day to day trying to keep myself together. I am also physically exhausted. I will be glad when this term is over and I can go back to a five day a week schedule.

Well, more later.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


I am starting a new blog here at blogspot because my previous blog of five years crashed and burned. So here I am starting again. I don't have time to make a long entry now, but I will just say that I am a middle-aged American living in Northern Thailand and working as an English teacher. I have been here for three and a half years and I love it. I have some friends who also blog here and I am looking forward to having regular contact with them again.