Sunday, December 11, 2011

Happy Anniversary

I am having an anniversary this week. Last year on December 6th I bought my hybrid mountain bike, a Trek 4300. I took it out to ride for the first time on Dec. 7th. I have been riding ever since. (I did take a longish break during the hot season.) So I marked my one year anniversary as a biker this week. I also hit 1600 miles on the odometer this week. Admittedly that isn't all that much for a year, but I started off riding very short rides. I recently did a 42 mile ride, and I expect to do a 50 mile ride soon. I have to say, riding is the greatest form of exercise ever invented. A recent study rated cycling as the best form of exercise for building endurance. It is also good for weight loss or management, it is low impact, it helps build core strength and improve balance, and of course, you get to see lots of pretty countryside while you ride. I have also started to do more riding in the mountains recently. This is much more challenging, but it is a great way to increase fitness.

I love cycling, and I hope to keep riding for many, many years.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

50 Million Blue Whales

The flooding in Bangkok will probably reach a peak this weekend, due to cresting waters in the Chao Phraya River, and a high tide which will slow drainage to the sea. Western Bangkok is largely flooded, as are several districts of Northern Bangkok. But Central and Eastern Bangkok have largely been spared.

Meanwhile the flood of information, misinformation, and disinformation from various sources, both governmental and private continuous unabated. This certainly has not been the Thai Government's finest hour. (Although one would have to search very hard to an hour which would qualify as the government's finest.) The fighting between the Prime Minister's office and the office of the Governor of Bangkok has been comical at times, or would be if the situation were not so serious.

On a lighter note a local film producer and Thai PBS TV Station have teamed up to create a video to explain the causes and solutions to the current flooding. It calculates that the weight of the water trying to pass through Bangkok is equal to that of 50 million blue whales. It uses great graphics to show the whales' attempts to reach the sea. It is on YouTube, and I recommend it. It is quite amusing, as well as informative. (I think it downplays the role of the current government in creating the flood, but that is a topic for another post, perhaps after the flooding is over.)

I have four days off now and am headed out to Chiang Rai and Chiang Saen for a holiday. I might post some pictures when I get back. I have to be back by Friday for an annual in service training day. Although there is no absolute certainty it will come off, as the trainers are in Bangkok, and may not come.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Flooding Update

The government has largely given up the fight to save outer (Northern and Eastern) Bangkok from flooding. This is because the amount of water backing up outside the cities has reached an unmanageable level. The government has opened sluice gates into the cities canals to try and drain the water to the sea. This will cause flooding in many districts. The sandbag dykes that have been built are in danger of collapsing under the weight of the water. It is preferable to allow the water in in a controlled fashion, rather than have the barriers collapse, leading to a mini-tsunami as the flood waters rush in. Tens of thousands of people have had to leave their homes. Already the roads around the old city airport are flooded (Don Muang International Airport). The Rangsit campus of Thammasat University is also under water. Reportedly a prison with 2000 inmates is being evacuated as it is threatened by flood waters. Currently central Bangkok is still dry, but no one is saying that it will stay dry for long.

One affect of the flooding is that goods are disappearing from store shelves. Partially this is due to hoarding, but primarily it is because of supply chain disruptions because most of the main North South highways are underwater. I was shopping in in Tesco Lotus today and bare shelves were quite noticeable. Laundry detergent was almost entirely gone, the popular soft drinks shelves were empty, canned food was in short supply, and there was a shortage of bread. I am not sure if that is because of a shortage of bread, or a shortage of flour. A blogger in Bangkok has stated that all of the 7-11's look like they are going out of business because their shelves are totally bare. It isn't that bad here, but it may be in a few weeks.

I tried to include a Google map showing the extent of the flooding but it seems that Google's servers are being overwhelmed by the number of people trying to access the maps.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


The weather has taken a definite change of course this week. We had a cold front come through two days ago and it has been chilly ever since. The rain has stopped (mostly) so I think we can say that the monsoon is over for this year. With the change in weather has come my annual bout with allergies. I don't know what I am allergic to, but it strikes every year in the cool season and hot season. My Eustachian tubes swell shut, rendering me half deaf, my sinus plug, and I spend half the day clearing my throat of the drainage. The sound of me continually clearing my throat drives at least one of my coworkers half insane (he is a quarter insane to begin with). Fortunately, last year I discovered an antidote. A friend, who has much worse allergies than me, recommended Rhinocort (that is the brand name here in Thailand, I don't know how it is marketed in America). I snort it up each nostril once every morning and after a few days my symptoms mostly disappear. It is a great relief.

My sister asked me about the flooding situation here in Chiang Mai. Thailand is currently experiencing its worst flooding in fifty years. Chiang Mai did flood about 3 weeks ago, but only near the Ping River. It did not affect me, I am away from the river, although one teacher was trapped in her river front condo for about 4 days. The flood waters passed through Chiang Mai fairly rapidly. The problems now are in central Thailand and Bangkok. Huge areas of the central plains are inundated. Throughout the country over the last two months 315 people have died as a result of the floods. Thousands of farmers have lost their rice crops, and over a million chickens have drowned, as well as thousands of pigs and cows. Several hundred thousand homes have been flooded, with people forced to take shelter at schools, universities, and government facilities. About 4000 factories have flooded, which will lead to the loss of about 600,000 jobs, at least temporarily. Western Digital and Seagate Technologies (the two largest hard drive makers in the world) have suspended production. Honda and Toyota expect worldwide parts shortages, due to the shutdown of its plants in Thailand. So the situation is quite bad in those areas.

So far Bangkok has been spared major flooding. However, this has been accomplished by diverting water into already flooded provinces north and east of the capital. The government says it cannot afford to allow the capital to flood, but that fact is very convenient to the power elite of the country who live and own property in the capital. Northern Bangkok is not out of the woods yet. The army, and thousands of local volunteers are scrambling to reinforce sandbag dykes in the Rangsit and Sai Mai areas of the city. Fortunately, the bulk of the water will have passed out into the Gulf of Thailand by the end of the month, so recovery and rebuilding can begin.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Battle of the Bananas

Living in the tropics, I wage a never ending war against vegetation. My house is surrounded by plants and they grow at an absolutely astounding rate. I must constantly cut things back or I risk disappearing into what appears to be primordial jungle, with no evidence of human habitation.

One particular battle I am waging is against banana plants. I personally would never have planted bananas in the back yard anyway. They are not particularly attractive, they don't provide good shade, and they are always dropping fronds. But the owner planted them, so I am stuck with them. The problem is that bananas send up shoots. If you don't watch, one banana plant will soon turn into twenty, one hundred. Again, I foresee the entire house disappearing into a sea of fetid green vegetation.

So I have been waging The Battle of the Bananas. I constantly cut down new shoots, and they constantly spring back, like Medusa, with new shoots. They also grow very fast.

This shoot is only two days old. You can see the shoot I cut down before laying to the left.

This plant is only a week old. It is already 14 inches tall.

So I must remain ever vigilant in my lonely fight. And while the Battle of the Bananas, unlike the War of the Roses, will not devastate the nobility of a nation, nor weaken the feudal system and give impetus to towards a Renaissance, it is a crucial battle which must be fought. Must be fought, and must be won. It will be won, I pledge it, on my honor.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sexual Identity Disorder, or Sex in the Classroom

The field of teaching English as a second language is fraught with opportunities, opportunities for misunderstanding and confusion.

The other day I was teaching one of my Junior classes (7th and 8th graders). I wanted them to pick a superstar who would eventually become their husband or wife for the activity. I wrote on the board, "Write down the first name of your favorite movie star or superstar of the opposite sex." They were reading along as I wrote and when they got to the word sex there were several gasps from the room. I knew exactly what they were thinking, "Teacher Bob just wrote SEX!" I turned around to explain what I wanted, but one of them beat me to the punch. Little Som piped up, "Teacher, what is opposite sex?" I misunderstood the question, and being tired and not thinking straight, I answered truthfully, "Well kids, the opposite of sex is marriage." A great deal of consternation ensued as they fell to talking with their neighbors and trying to parse the meaning of my words. At this point I realized that I had wandered into a minefield of linguistic and cultural difficulties and I beat a hasty retreat. I explained that I wanted the girls to pick a boy's name, and the boys to pick a girl's name. We went on with the activity, but it reminded me of the first rule of teaching young teens, "Always think twice before you say anything."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

House Photos

I know that I promised house photos a long time ago, but I have been busy and have had technical difficulties with my camera. But at long last, here they are!


Front of House. I can't get a good angle due to the narrow street and other obstacles, but here is the front of the house.

From the Front Gate


The Front Yard


The Side of the yard.


The Rather Unimpressive Backyard

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

All Moved

Well, I am finally moved in. Moving was more stressful than I thought it would be. I am working six days a week and the next to last weekend I got food poisoning and lost 2 and a half days. But I finally got everything sorted, either thrown away or moved, got the apartment cleaned and got checked out. On the upside I got back 11,000 of my 13,000 baht deposit. An extra 270 dollars to play with! I still haven't taken any pictures of my new place, but I will. Now I have a head cold, and am taking it easy. I have to work tonight, so I need to do some lesson planning. I also have to attend a Teacher's Exchange Meeting this afternoon, so I better get on with it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


I will start moving into my new house this weekend. (Although I expect it will take me at least a week to move all my stuff, and clean my old apartment). I will post some pictures after I am actually in the house. But as a teaser, I will tell you that it has three bedrooms, two baths, a full kitchen, a large living area, a carport, a lawn, banana trees, a full wall with gate, and a fish pond. Sounds nice doesn't it?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Thai Ukulele Craze

The latest craze among Thai teens is playing the ukulele. I don't know why they became so popular in the last several months, but anywhere you go you might see a kid strumming one. Several of my students have brought them to class, and one even played for us.

My student Nine brought hers on Friday and agreed to pose with it for me.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


I see that I haven't posted in a while. I wish I could claim that I have been really busy, but the truth is I have been very lazy. Time just slides away and I find that I haven't done half the things I planned to do. Oh well.

It is rainy today, and a bit chilly. This is quite unusual for March. In fact, it has been raining for three days now, which is extremely unusual for March. This is supposed to be the beginning of the Hot Season. Last week was certainly hot enough. In fact, it had gotten hot enough that I broke down and went out and bought a motorbike. I had been riding my bike everywhere, but the heat finally got to be too much. I bought a used Yamaha Spark for 15,000 baht. Not a bad deal, if I do say so myself. I still intend to ride my bike, both for recreation and commuting, but not when the weather is inclement.

We started Summer Terms this week. That means the next seven weeks will be pretty crazy. I am teaching six hours a day five days a week. But I am teaching a level I have taught (too many) times already, so my prep time is almost zero. I still have to grade writings, and other exercises, but really I have it pretty easy this term. Next term may be a different story.

We have a week off during the Songkran Festival. Songkran is absolutely insane here in CM, so I will hie off to Bangkok for four days. Bangkok is pretty peaceful during Songkran, since a lot of people head off to the provinces for the Thai New Year (which is what Songkran is).

Well, I am off to work.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Bike Update

I have been using my bike (and my feet!) as my sole means of transport now for five weeks. I can say that it is quite feasible to do so. I can get to everywhere I need to, and in a reasonable amount of time. (Chiang Mai is not a large city, and I rarely have to travel more than ten miles). I actually get to work as quickly on a bike as I did on a motorbike. Although that is only 2.5 miles, so not that far.

On the other hand, it is less convenient going my bicycle. I don't get to the big Tesco Lotus supermarket very often simply because it is farther than I want to go, especially if I am tired, or it is the middle of the day. (The heat here can be brutal, even in the so-called cool season). I also cannot carry as much on a bike as I could on a motorbike. I have a pair of saddlebags, but they have limited capacity. I don't get out as much as I used to, and I always have to worry about where I will chain my bike. Will it be there when I get back? It makes a tempting target!

I also continue to ride recreationally. I did a 36 mile ride last week, and I am slowly working my way up Doi Suthep mountain. Although that is going to take a while yet! I have put over 700 miles on my bike in the two months that I have owned it.

This morning I was going to go go for a long ride, but when I got up, I just couldn't seem to get going. Oh well, two steps forward, one step back!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Bike Ride

I rode 51 kilometers this morning (31.5 miles). It was a nice long ride, about two and a half hours. A friend of mine challenged me to reach 50 K during our Year End break. I wasn't quite able to do that, but I reached it about 10 days later. I am a little sore in the hands and in the triceps but my legs feel great. Another good aspect is that my average and maximum heartrate continues to fall, even as my distance and speed increase.


I have been relying on my bike for basic transportation for almost two weeks now. I can say that it is completely feasible to do so, even if not always convenient. I can't simply go anywhere I want, at anytime. I have to think ahead and plan to combine trips if I can. I have been averaging about ten to fifteen miles in around town riding per day. I also walk around my neighborhood more than I used to. I walk to the bank now, rather than riding my motorbike. So overall, it has been a good thing.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Green Revolution

As I was setting goals for the new year I did not just think about myself. You know, the usual plans to lose weight, exercise more, take life less seriously, and spend more quality time with family. Those are all fine, but as I was pondering the next phase of my life I kept thinking of goals relating to social responsibility. How can I make this world a better place? What can I do to leave a better world for the next generation? Being a socially minded kind of guy, I have decided to give up my motorbike.

While I have had a pretty small carbon footprint for several years now, I decided it was time to take the next step and move toward a carbon neutral lifestyle. I don't use the air con, I always take a reusable bag to the grocery store, and I try to reduce, reuse, and recycle. But giving up my main means of transportation was a big step. Now remember, I am doing this for purely environmental reasons. I will be relying on foot and bicycle for most of my transportation needs, with public transport for longer trips. The fact that I will be saving a substantial amount of money had absolutely nothing to do with my decision! Please feel free to hold me up as a role model of responsible ecological stewardship to any young people you know. Let me repeat, shallow pecuniary issues did not influence me at all in this decision! Really!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Ringing in the New

Yesterday I blogged about last year, so what does the New Year hold for me? Well, I will still be in Chiang Mai, and still working at the same place. I am planning to visit the United States this year (a trip that was rudely postponed last year).

I haven't done New Year's Resolutions in probably fifteen years, and I am not about to start now. But I have made a series of goals for the new year, along with steps to try and reach them.

I also hope to travel to at least one country here in Southeast Asia, maybe Myanmar this time.

Best wishes to all, Happy New Year!