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