Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Hanging Steel

Click to englarge.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of watching three men and one lady construct the above steel roofing supports on the house across the street from me.

They did is in the rain, with plenty of lightning in the area. This didn’t slow them down a bit.

While they were working I did not observe any of the following:

The use of any hard hats.

Steel-toed boots. In fact they all wore flip-flops.

No safety harness in use as they walked from beam to beam.

No tape measure.

No level.

No square.

No welding goggles or eye shields of any sort.

At the end of the day they loaded their welding machine on their motorcycle and left. They area back on the job today finishing up.

Off to Bangkok for three days back on line May 4th.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Cost of Electricity

The Electric Bill Box

On of the reasons that I have decided to make my home in Thailand is the cost of living. Most things are much less expensive that back home; some are about the same and a few a much more.

But today I will write about the electricity bill, which arrived on Sunday. They have a neat system here. A guy drives up to your house on his motorcycle and never dismounts. Using some sort of hand held computer he enters the meter number, the current reading pushes enter and out pops the bill. This he places in a little plastic box, which is placed in the vicinity of the meter. Then off he drives. A much better system that taking the data back to some office, reentering in into some other system, printing and then mailing a bill. Especially with Thai mail, which sometime does not reach, it’s destination.

This month’s bill came to a total of 2007 baht or about $63.92 at the current exchange rate for 562 units. Which I assume are kilowatt-hours. That total also includes 518 baht ($16.50) of various taxes or fees.

I do try and conserve on energy use but I am far from a miser. There is usually a television and several fan going continually. As well as two refrigerators, an electric hob for cooking, hot water heater, lights and the big draw air conditioning. This I run for about three hours daily from 12:00-15:00 which is the hottest part of the day and nightly from 22:00 until 5:30 in the morning.

A funny things, after you live here awhile, things seem expensive when you think of the cost in baht, but not so expensive when you think in dollars.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Helmet Law

A sight seen daily.

In most places the government enacts traffic and vehicle laws for the sole purpose of protecting the traveling public. Not so here in forward thinking Thailand. Here, traffic laws are enacted for the sole purpose of extracting money from the traveling public. An example in the recently enacted motorcycle helmet law for Ban Phai.

I make this statement as all fines (if you are smart) are paid to the police office at the point of infraction. This fine does not go into the city coffers but rather the officer’s pocket. Though I am sure he has to share a portion with others in positions of authority to show his gratitude for allowing him to have such a fine job.

One month before the law went into effect the police were out and about reminding the good citizens of the necessity to purchasing a helmet and that the law would be stringently enforced on the given day. Who do you imagine has an investment in the store providing helmets? I don't know, just thinking.

Now please be reminded that only the operator of the motorcycle must be adorned with a helmet. No protective devices are required for any of the passengers. Consequent, it is not a rare sight to see a family of five on their 125cc Honda. Papa is in full compliance of the law with his $1.98 plastic helmet while an infant child hangs from mom’s hip, a toddler holds onto the handlebars with a death grip and the rest of the family ride behind in heavenly bliss.

The most comical sight that I have seen since the new law began has been an aged grandmother of well over 70 going to market on her motorcycle. Her helmet of choices was the popular German SS model with skull and cross bones, which appears to be right out of the toy section of Tesso Lotus.

I guess in the future we can look forward to child restraint devices in cars, no passengers in the back of trucks, or possibly something as simply as requiring vehicles to remain in their designated lane. Where there is a will there is a way to turn a buck without working.

Coming soon: Mr. Gordon

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Good Deal?

Shortly after we moved into our new home, I noted on a Monday morning a garbage truck picking up the trash in our neighborhood. Of course we rushed and put our garbage curbside and it was picked up. We continued to do this each Monday for several months. Suddenly, the truck stopped coming.

Inquires at the subdivision office by my wife revealed that the garbage service was provided by some government agency and that she needed to go to that office and pay the fees. In exchange for the payment we would be provided a container to place on the street and the resumption of service.

So off she goes and signs up for trash pick up at the whopping cost of 120 baht per year, or $3.82. That comes out to 10 baht per month. I questioned this, as it just didn't seem right but she provied a receipt indicating paid in full for one year.

Well since the first month we went and paid this fee, service is no longer as previously scheduled. You never know when they are going to show up. Sometimes on a Wednesday, sometimes Tuesday, this week not at all as of yet. And guess what, the receptacle was never provided and the trash we place out on the street was ravished by dogs so I’m out on the street picking up stinking wet trash. Not a pleasant task.

So, back to the government office Mee goes. Her first inquiry was regarding the covered trash receptacle they were going to provide. To this she is informed at they are not presently giving out any new ones, as the supervisor wants to first go out on the route and see just how many are now in service. What? The answer makes no sense, but hay this is Thailand and many things don’t. And of course Miss Mee will not question the answer because that would be unpleasant and make her and the clerk feel uncomfortable. Never mind that I feel uncomfortable with trash up to my elbows.

Then the second question is asked regarding what day is our garbage pickup. She then gets this long story as to how they once had two garbage trucks, but one is now broken so one trucks has to do the work of two thus there can be no longer be a schedule, yada, yada, yada. Basically the answer was they will get here when they get here.

So, what do you get for 10 baht per month? Apparently not much. Guess I can do like the people in the country do. Dump the wet garbage in a near by rice field and burn the rest.

Will keep you posted.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


For the past nine years I have lived in apartments and condominiums so there was been little requirement to accumulate stuff. This as been especially true in the tool department. My entire tool box until recently consisted to two screwdrivers and a cheap pair of pliers rapped up in an old dishcloth.

Fast forward: Light bulbs burn out, ceiling fans need cleaning, so order up one stepladder.

The garden needs tending: Order up a hoe, hedge clippers, trowels, a small shovel, a little weeding tools, a branch trimmer, garden hoses, various watering devices and other little yard implements.

Pictures need to be hung. So what do we need? An electric drill with bits to make holes in the concrete walls, wires and all the other little do-dads associated with this job.

The rack for drying laundry is no longer big enough. Thus a clothesline is in need. Line is purchased, eye hooks, turn buckles, hammer, nails and a tape measure.

There is also now talk in the wind for the need of outdoor tables and chairs under which I can enjoy my mint julep's or som-tam, what ever.

As you can see, it does take long to start accumulating stuff again as soon as you become a homeowner.

Now the problem arises as to where to put all this newly acquired stuff? There is no extra room in the house so I guess the next project may be in the direction of a storage shed. God forbid I’m getting back from just where I started.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Rick the Scotsman

Rick is the only person that I recall meeting that had something bad to say about almost everyone. Mr. Negativity could have been an appropriate nickname. Whether English, American, Filipino, Burmese, Thai, Australian, New Zealander, no matter who you may be, or where your were from, he had nothing good to say about you or your home country. If you were not from Scotland you were shit in his most humble opinion. He had a particular dislike for the English though and would go out of his way to make remarks that were extremely rude and uncalled for. He looked for controversy. In general he just had no tact in dealing with others.

Rick was in his early fifties, had previously served twelve years in the Royal Navy but was discharged as a Lieutenant and gave up that career. That seemed strange to me. That close to retirement benefits, then give that all up. I never asked why, as any reply would have included a conspiracy theory against the Scots in the Royal Navy or some such non sense.

He was married to a Thai and had a child about four years of age. He also had a former spouse and several older children back somewhere in the UK. He never spoke of them much. Rick often talked about his youngest son’s education and was concerned about that. He indicated often that he would take him back to Scotland as soon as the child reach school age. Rick was well read and had a wide interest range. He was also one of the few westerners that I have met that could not only speak Thai but could read and write as well to some ability.

As you would guess Rick had an opinion about most things, and expressed them on a regular basis. He loved to inform Asians and Filipinos in particular that they were all subservient to westerners, had no backbone and never stood up for themselves. The English were berated at every turn. A familiar theme was the differences between the UK and Scottish education systems. He was thoroughly convinced that all Scots were better educated that their southern neighbors thus smarter. He also loved to tell the story of Hadrian’s Wall which, was a Roman attempted to keep the Scots up north. You would have though he personally erected the wall.

Even though many teachers had complained to administration about his abrasive personality and how it was not good for morale within the teaching racks, they did nothing, as he was a white face that they could display and they needed that. Besides he had not confronted them.
His downfall finally came over our lunch meals.

Our director has in addition to his schools a farm on which he grows produce. At this particular time there was an abundance of kale. Consequent we were receiving a kale dish daily for what must have been several weeks. Kale soup, stir fried kale, kale with garlic, boiled kale you name it, it was present at each meal. No one was any longer eating the kale and we were all complaining among ourselves, but no one as loud as Rick. On this particular day he announced to the diners that kale was cattle food back in Scotland and not fit for human consumption.

That was the opening needed. Norlyn one of our Filipino teachers picked up the bowl of kale, marched to the office and asked The Directors wife who happened to be at school that day as to why they were feeding us cow fodder. Kale hit the fan so to speak. Rick was called in to explain himself and things went down hill from there. As he did with almost everyone, he had finally managed to raise the ire of the owners as well. From then on he could do nothing right and was soon asked to leave.

As a parting shot, he wrote a long letter to The Director pointing out the dangers of a microwave tower near the schools kindergarten. How this was dangerous to children and that he was going to report this fact to the local English Language newspaper and as many of the students parents as possible. This enraged The Director who wanted to cause bodily harm to Rick. In fact he suggested how easy it would be to get several of the schools van drivers together and call on Rick at his home.

Rick had a new jobs, within days and remained in Thailand for several more months. As soon as he completed the immigration paperwork for his wife and child he returned jobless to Scotland and moved in with his aged father.

Rick’s wife called one of our neighbors a little over a year ago and reported that Rick was sick and could not work and that she was supporting the family by performing Thai traditional dances at some sort of venue for tips. That was the last I heard of Rick.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Thai Postal Service

When I lived in Bangkok I had constant problems with the mail service. Almost every piece of mail, which I received, had a little piece of the envelope flap pealed back, just enough to have a peak inside. This was particularly true of mail, which appeared to be financial or business related. Stuff like bank statements, notices from my insurance company and correspondence from the issuer of my annuities. Personal mail from family and friends did not appear to be tampered with. Though many pieces of expected mail never arrived in my mailbox.

There were also continual problems with outgoing mail. Claims to my insurance company were never received; a car title I signed and mailed back to a former spouse never arrived. Again in general it was business related correspondence that went missing. For this reason I decided that I would use the Express Mail Service offered by the Thai Post Office because they had a tracking system. What could go wrong? Of course on my first attempt to use this service to mail two insurance checks to my bank the mail went missing. In fact it was never even entered into the tracking system at the Rat Burana Post Office where the transaction was initiated.

You want to talk about bureaucratic red tape, try getting the Thai Post Office to take a complaint and look into something. For days they would only tell me to contact the receiving post office, as it was their responsibility to find the missing letter. Apparently, they lost the letter, not us was their claim. They never heard the part of my complaint that stated they didn’t even log the tracking number into their system. I did get back my 600 baht postage fee after about six months and more phone calls that I care to remember. Not to mention all time spent to get the lost checks cancelled and new ones reissued.

So after this experience, I started using Federal Express for all my business correspondence. A little more expensive, but it worked. For several years all my mail was delivered as promised, though the stuff that I received via the Thai Post Office still appeared to have been tampered with as well as taking forever to reach my house when it finally did reach my house.

Fast forward to the present day: I now again regularly use the Thai Post Office as there is no Federal Express service offered in my little burg. Thai Express Mail is logged into their system before my wife even gets back from the Post Office. It leaves the same day to Khon Kaen and the next it is sitting in the Suvarnabhumi International Postal Facility. It usually reaches its destination two-three days later. Even the regular mail that I now send back to the States arrived in eight-nine days. Before this took weeks. I am also now getting my incoming mail in about the same amount of time.

My conclusion is that the Rat Burana Post Office on Pracha Utit Road is rotten to the core and the employees are raffling through the mail and that the Post Office in Ban Phai is run, as a post office should be providing good reliable service. Kudos to the Postal Workers in Ban Phai.

The Final Day

This is the final day of the Songkran accident tally which I have primarily reported for those readers who are not familiar with Thailand, Songkran and the devastation that a simply holiday can bring to a nation. At the end I had originally intended to do some sort of earth shattering analysis, but now that it’s over I have now decided to hell with that. It is what it is. Lousy drunk drivers.

So what did we end up with? 369 dead which beats the number from last year, but by no means is a record. Drive safe, no matter where you may live.

For uktodayhooray I'm sorry that I have bored you but thanks for checking in. I will move on to other topics which I hope will be of more interest to you.

Also during this period I have taken a little break myself as my site counter tells me that only an average of five per day have been logging on during the holiday period. Guess most have been to busy “playing water”, as a Thai would say.

Had some interesting hits yesterday though which I haven’t had before or at least I didn't notice before. There was one from Brooklyn, NY; Kent, Ashford, UK; London, UK; and Sweden. Thanks for looking and reading who ever you may be.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Songkran Road Toll Continues

The Songkran road toll has risen to 325 dead and 4,484 injured in 3,955 accidents.

The Wednesday count was 48 fatalities, 492 injuries from 418 accidents.

Six of the seven official days of the festival have now passed.

We now have 132 more accidents that last year, six more deaths and 195 more injuries.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Five Down, Two to Go

The above picture is from todays The Nation English Language Newspaper.

The caption read: A Bangkok convenience story stocks up with alcoholic

drinks for the final days of Songkran.

On Tuesday there were 677 road accidents, 47 killed and 677 injured. This brings the Friday through Tuesday totals to 3,357 road accidents, 276 dead and 3,992 injured.

Not only do Thai have a hard time avoiding road accidents they also have a hard time at railway crossings and with their bus system. The Bangkok Post yesterday reported that in 2007 there were 327 cars hit by trains, injuries and deaths were not reported. They also managed to hit 182 animals during this is period. They didn't say what animals. I would guess most were water buffalo and cows that wanderer onto the tracks.

Also, so far this year there have been 2,949 bus accidents resulting in 229 deaths, with 3,315 injured. That is in just a three and a half month period. That seems like a lot to me.
So much for the safety factor of public transportation.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Count Continues

The route of my morning walks.
(Click to Enlarge)

I finally ventured outside today and made my morning hour walk up to the local high school. Now that the major days of the Songkran festivities are behind us I felt it was safe. Though, I am sure there are many pocks or resistance throughout the country armed with water guns and other water flinging receptacles looking forward to giving the unsuspecting innocent ones a good dousing.

The death and injured toll continues to rise even though many of the nations inhabitants are expected back to work today. Monday’s highway deaths added 49 to the count, raising the total deaths to 229 breaking last years record for the same period of time. There were 711 road accidents. In addition to those dead, 801 were injured on Monday.

So from Friday through Monday, 2,949 road accidents, killing 229 and injuring 3,315 people. Three more days to go in the official count..

Songkran Comes Knocking

Me, my mother in law and her brohter.

Being the original Mr. Bah Humbug when it comes to Songkran activities I have of course been receiving large amounts of grief by Ms Mee for not visiting her village and participating in the activities. During these fun times I have elected to sit at home in the air conditioning and doing what ever my heart desires.

Well that came to a halt today when no less that nineteen people arrive at my home all transported here in one pickup truck. I guess if Mohammad won't go to the mountain, the mountain will go to Mohammad, or something like that.

After the normal eating and drinking I assumed the place of honor on the front porch as the oldest family member and they all had a go at pouring scented water on my hands and wishing me whatever it is they wished of me. For my part all I was required to do was sit still, let the water trickle through my fingers and tell them thank you.

I consider this a slight victory for me and Thai Culture. I refused to take part in the childish water playing and stuck to my guns for a traditional Songkran activity.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Is It Worth It

Total dead now stands at 180 after three days of festivities. Four more days of madness and counting. At least most of the water throwing will cease today. Not the drinking and wild driving however.

On Sunday along there were 1,018 road accidents. Of this number 76 were killed and 1,103 injured.

Total injuries for the 3 days are 2,514 out of 2,238 accidents.

Insane, insane, insane all in the name of "sanuk".

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Death Toll Rises to 104

Well, day two of the counting period has ended and we are up to 104 deaths.

On day two there were 743 road accidents, 59 people killed and 854 injured. 41.59 per cent of the accidents were caused by drunk driving.

So far there have been a total of 1,220 road accidents, 104 people killed and 1, 411 injured.

In a bit of Thai wisdom, Interior Minister Chalerm is keen on prohibiting booze sales on the first and last day of the annual celebration. I guess it's okay to drive and drink on all the days in the middle.

There are several little problems with his thinking in my humble opinion. Number one, does he really think that people won't think ahead and buy their alcohol early. Secondly, does he think that the shop owner in Nakoh Nowhere is going to abide by some edict and fore go a sale that puts money in their pocket. But, most immortally what about law enforcement? Heck, they don't enforce the laws they have now like speeding, running red lights, etc. and if someone is stopped they just pay the policeman a few hundred baht and proceed on their merry way.

Education is he answer to the problem and it should have started yesterday.

Songkran Death Tally

Day One: Forty-five people killed, 557 injured on the first day of the "seven most dangerous days" of the Songkran festival.

That was the count for what was mostly a travel day. Today should be greater as people are back in the villages now and the booze will start to flow. Always a good time to pile 20 people into the back of a truck and take to the roads.

In the mean time, I will stay holed up in my home and enjoy the festivities on television.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Songkran has Lost its Luster


As thousands head to the provinces on the eve of Songkran, spare a thought for the police, hospital workers and the many volunteers at aid stations who have given up their own holidays to keep others safe and able to enjoy the traditional Thai new year.

It is the time of year they dread most because the huge numbers of people leaving the cities all too often translate into carnage on the highways, and they know that many travelers will never reach their hometown or holiday destination. Instead, they will end their journeys as road accident statistics.

Others who have not been harmed during the journey home are quickly reminded that Songkran is not what it once was. All too often celebrants have had their enjoyment ruined by the selfish behaviour of hooligans who derive pleasure through persecuting others. But it does not have to be this way, and nor should it.

This year, let us honour the traditional spirit of Songkran. This happens when extended families get together and express their respects to elders and each other by pouring scented water into the hands or parents, grandparents, other kinfolk and friends near and far. It is a family affair and the most noble and public-spirited one in our calendar.

Tolerance has its limits and there should be nothing but contempt for the small and selfish minority in modern society which this gentle form of celebration and destroys the good name of this festival. To them, Songkran is a time for getting wildly drunk, partying, motorcycle racing, drug-taking, gambling their earlings away and getting into debt, taking water-throwing to dangerous and insane extremes with illegal high-pressure water guns and hoses directed at innocent passes-by.

There is nothing at all wrong with having fun and relieving built-up stress, but there is a line between shared enjoyment and selfish thoughtlessness. Too many have crossed that line in recent years. Regrettably,many will do so again in the coming days. Some have paid with their lives. Many have paid with other peoples lives-and this is what the authorities are trying to stop, with their pleas for reason, backed by threats of drastic punishment for drunken driving or acts of random violence and the warning that parents will be held responsible for the misdeeds of their children.

This year more people that ever are going overseas and will join those who plan to turn "Songkran Day" into "Songkran Week". Those who stay are welcome to enjoy the splashing of water in designated areas from dawn to dusk, but should not douse motorist or motorcyclists because this causes accidents. Youngsters must understand this, and some foreign tourists could also do with a helpful reminder. Adults, too, are not beyond reproach. The ones who commandeered a fire engine in Nakhon Ratchasima a while back and used high-pressure water hoses and almost drown their victims took irresponsibility to new heights.

Those who abuse Songkran spoil it for others and best kept off the roads and out of sight for their own safety, as well as their sanity, health and well-being for the rest of us.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


The construction workers in my neighborhood are dropped off for work at 8:00 A.M. each morning and knock off work promptly at 5:00 P.M. each afternoon. However, their transportation to take them home does not arrive until about 6:00 P.M. They spend this final hour talking loudly, drinking cheap Thai whiskey, smoking cigarettes and in general screwing around. When their ride arrived they then scrabble around for well over 5 minutes getting their personal effect together. They never do this before hand, always waiting until its time to go to get ready. Why?

Why to all the big box stores, Big C, Lotus, Carrefour in Thailand keep all denture cleaning products behind the pharmacy counter as if they were a guarded narcotic rather than on the shelf near the toothpaste? Why do they also have one large aisle dedicated just to cooking oils? Do they fry everything here?

Just how many officials in Thailand are serving in an inactive post? Do they get full pay and benefits and earn retirement time while serving in these posts?

Why is it that each time I go to any official Thai office to ask what are the requirements for a particular service, that I get a different answer each time? Example: I need a Thai Drivers License so we go and ask what is needed. We are informed that they need to see my USA licenses and a notarized statement from the U. S. Embassy with my address. We obtain these items and go back. Now we are informed that we also need. 1. A statement from a physician that I am in good health and have no communicable diseases. 2. A copy of each and every page of my passport (for Gods sake why?). 3. Two photographs with very precise dimensions. 4. The original of my drivers licenses and a copy which I must provide. I think the thing they are really looking for is an envelope with a 1000 baht note enclosed.

Other than the refrigerator, TV and computer why does my wife go around unplugging each appliance after its use. The fans, the microwave, toaster, stove. She unplugs each after every use. She also unplugs the TV and computer if we are going to be out of the house for more that a few hours. She doesn't say anything or demand that I do this, she just goes goes behind me and does it. Even if I walk out on the front porch for a few minutes, the fan is unplugged, the cord rolled up, and the fan restored to it's corner knowing full well I will be using the fan again within minutes. She also turns the air conditioner and the fan off in the truck each time she gets out. Why?

It is now the hot season, the hottest time of the year here in Thailand. We have security bars with screens on all windows, no getting in, or out. We also have no neighbors. No one in front, back or beside us. Each night, the wife closes and lock each each glass window and pulls the drapes shut, not just the ones in the bedroom. Results, in the morning the house is like a oven with no air circulating what so ever. Why?

When one gets older as I have managed to do, one doesn't make a big deal out of these things as they once would of have done in their youth. It's just not worth the aggravation. However, it does make one wonder at times just what goes though the Thai mind.

Next: Rick from Scotland.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Mike, Stella and Thomas

Who? I agree, most will not remember these names as they were not with us for very long, in fact Thomas did nothing but get hired, spend several days in orientation, then failed to report for work on the first day following October break. He was from England. Not sure but believe he was hired in September 2005.

Mike was with us the longest of the three and I don’t know much about him either. I didn’t know him well at all, don’t believe anyone did. I believe he was with us for one full school year May 2004 to February 2005. The reason his contract was not renewed was because he was a heavy smoker and reeked of cigarette smoke all the time. The children complained about his odor (or at least administration said they did) so he was sent packing but only when the school year was completed. Mike was from the U.S. and that’s about as much as I know about his personal life. Several times I asked him where in the U.S. and got different answers. He was short, balding, about fifty something and kept his wallet on a long silver chain, which hung from a belt loop and looped down to his knees. He performed his morning handshake duties, was always on time for work and classes and as far as I know caused no waves. Others will have to comment on this teaching abilities but I recall no complaints from administration.

Stella was from France or so I was told and I know even less about her. In fact the only reason I know that she was here was because when I returned from one of my trips back home, I found several worksheets that she had prepared for math in one of my desk drawers. I don’t know if she was an English teacher or a Math Teacher. The only reason I know she was from France is because that’s what a fellow teacher told me when I was asking for input to my former teacher list. Why she left, where she went, or exactly how long she was here I have no idea.

One of the many readers of my blog has contact me as asked that I indicate the periods in time when all these teachers that I am writing about were employed with us. I will try, but some of the dates will be stabs in the dark. Just recalling all the names took forever as there have been so many. Looking at my list, I still see the names of 19 native speakers which I have not addressed yet, a whole lot of Filipinos, plus all the currently employed teachers who will also get their day in the sun at some point.

Speaking of readership. I have a counter installed on my blog that let’s me know how many people read each day and other information about the readers as well. Where they come from, what sort of software in on their computer, who is their Internet provider, stuff like that. I have someone from the United Kingdom that reads my blog almost daily and several in parts of the U. S. where I have no ties like Missouri and Illinois. Most are from Bangkok though.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


In Thailand there is no shortage of holidays and festivals and if I have counted correctly I believe there are about 15 legal holidays per year. Sure beats the heck out of legal holidays back home.

For me though and most westerners the most dreaded of all the holidays is Songkran, which runs annually from 13-15 April with many employers giving their employees the full week off. It’s really a big deal to the Thai’s. They consider this their New Years though they also fully celebrate the western New Years of January 1 as well. They have the better of two worlds.
Three official days off for Songkran and two for New Years. They really enjoy their celebrations. Anything for a day off. I can’t fault them for that.

Originally Songkram was sort of a solemn Buddhist celebration where Buddha images are “bathed”. Also monks and elders at this holiday receive the respect of younger Thais by the sprinkling of water over their hands. It was really a family orientated holiday. It his now evolved into nothing more that a gigantic water fight that last for three or more days.

This year the holiday begins officially on Sunday, but Bangkok will start to clear out on Friday afternoon. By Sunday, Bangkok will resembles a deserted city as you would somewhat imagine after a nuclear holocaust. As I have said before over half of the residents of Bangkok are temporary workers from other parts of Thailand. They will all go back to their homes for this festive occasion. Bus, planes and trains will be jam packed along with every major highway in the country. Small pickup trucks with 10-12 people crammed in the back are not an uncommon sight.

Drinking during this period is also heavy and the highway death toll is tremendous , far exceeding what you would expect for a country with a mere 64 million inhabitants. For a nation of people who have a hard time driving in the first place, they sure don’t need to add alcohol to the mix. Many of the deaths will be motorcycle riders being run over by trucks. I will try and remember to post the daily dead count for any out of country readers so you will have an idea as to the seriousness of the problem.

In addition to the fact that you are taking your life in your hands by venturing outside, you will also surely become drenched with possibly contaminated canal water. At every corner, water throwers are set up to attack anything and anyone that crosses their paths. Trucks roam the streets looking for victims. Though mostly young people there are many adults involved as they also find it to be great fun. When you ask them what they are doing the reply is always the same. Play water.

I find it all to be rather boring so I just sort of hold up in my abode until the festivities subside. I’m sure Mee will travel to her village though and spend several days drenched to the bone. It’s oh such great fun you know.

For more information on Songkran see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thai_New_Year

Friday, April 4, 2008

Matthew the Computer Geek

Matthew hails from California and is a graduate of the University of California at Berkley with a Bachelors Degree in Computer Science. He is in his early twenties, thin, with crooked front teeth and baby face in appearance. The only thing missing was the plastic pocket protector that most nerds seem to acquire. Like so many others he ended up extending his stay in Thailand because he fell in love with a local damsel and sought employment as an English Teacher for children, which he was completely ill suited for.

In the classroom he was completely out of his element and each day was a struggle for him.

Because of his immaturity, a complete lack of common sense, no social skills, coupled with his inability to teach, and his general goofiness the children ate him alive. He had no control in the classroom what so ever. He was so bad that he failed to meet three separate, three-month periods of probation. He kept banging way though and the school kept him on the pay roll. Heck at least he didn’t talk back to the powers to be and after all he had that all required white face.
He even attempted to bribe the students into paying attention though a system of rewards of candy, which he devised. The students soon caught on to this ploy though and he spent a good deal of money keeping his candy jar filled with no tangible results. Even when he left his candy jar in the teacher’s lounge his fellow teachers helped themselves.

Matthew also did not like Thai food so he never ate lunch with the other foreign teachers. Each day at lunchtime, he would head off to 7-11 to purchase his lunch, which mainly consisted of potato chips, a snack cake and cola. In fact I believe all his meals consisted of nothing but junk food. There was a brief time when he did join us for lunch. On these few occasions his lunch consisted of mixing honey with white rice. That was it, honey and rice. Sweet.

Matthew was also continually complaining about the lack of money. He often make request from his Mother, but I remember him once complaining that she finally cut him off from any more "loans". Seems as if his better half placed great demands upon his check. If I recall correctly there were a good many medical expenses for the water buffalo up-country, the mother in law or some such non-sense. At one point he was renting DVD’s making copies on his laptop and selling the copies. I bought one of these once, and of course, it didn’t play correctly. Some of the other teachers that bought them had problems as well. I think he ended up giving most of the money back that he made from that venture.

Well, as often happens with so many of the teachers that are hired at this school, he was not awarded a new contract for the new school years, but he was able to find a job teaching computer classes or so he informed us. Hopefully, that was more in line with his skills. When he left on his last day, that was the last I heard of him. No idea as to how things turned out for him, though some of our Filipino lady teachers probably do as I think they sort of took pity upon the poor boy and kept track of him.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Brian D.

I have been around the world several times in my lifetime, met thousands upon thousands of people and as sure as I’m sitting here typing this, Brian D. is the strangest individual that I have ever met. Not just a little stranger, but far and away stranger. In fact, I was never able to carry on any resemblance for a conversation with him, in which I could, walked away knowing what had just been said.

However, I must be fair. His strangeness could have been because of his close encounters of a third kind and him living in a different plane that the rest of us. Also, apparently over the years he has made tremendous progress in his Buddhist studies and was far above us mere mortals. He was continually explaining this to anyone who would listen, but they all gave up listening within minutes as no one had any idea what he was talking about. But again that may have been our fault as we didn’t speak alien languages.

Sadly to say, he was another American, who was probably in his early to mid fifties. He was from the state of Alaska but never talked about his past and I only know this as I once saw a copy of his college diploma, which he left out on a desk. Was it real? I assume so, but no one ever knows. I have no idea what he did for a real job before he ran away to Thailand. Or did he ever have a real job. He had been in Thailand for quite some time and I believe he was one of those that went from school to school, year after year, his contract never being renewed.

He had a Thai wife and lived near the school. No children with the Thai wife though he had a house full of relatives almost all the time as I recall. There was also an adult Thai male that was often living with him and his wife. I often wondered to myself who this man really was. I once saw him riding a motorcycle with Brians wife as the passenger. She wasn’t holding on to him, as one would, a cousin.

At some point he finally got on the nerves of everyone at the main school but rather than fire him before the end of the school year, he was moved to one of our branch schools. There he was assigned to teach one of the lower grade levels, first or second. Even though we had a course book and a teacher’s book that helps you lay out your classes step by step he for some reason didn’t feel the need to follow such guidelines. He devised lessons that were for college level students rather than elementary school kids just starting out in English. No one had any idea as to what he was teaching or what he was even saying.

Every day, yes every day, for more that two months the head teacher informed him to stop with the lessons and follow the book, that no one could follow this lessons. He just didn’t get it, and continued on with what ever was going on in his mind. Day, after day, after day. It was like he had no short time memory and yesterdays never occurred.

During the last month of the school years, he was informed that his contract would terminated on the last day of the school year and that a new contract would not be forthcoming. Then for a full month, he would ask almost daily if his new contract was ready for signature. Again, day after day he was told that February 28 would be his last day and the reasons why.

February 28th rolls around and at the end of the workday what does he say? I’ll see you at the end of the two-week holiday. He still didn’t get it. He was then led to the office and after some discussion he left ranting and raving. This still didn’t end it. He went to the owner’s home still pleading ignorance of what had gone wrong. Even his wife got involved and many harsh words ended up being spoken. He even attempted to assassinate the school and head teacher in the ajarn.com forum. Some of what he wrote to them may have been true, but he also left a lot of the story untold. Anyway, he finally disappeared from the scene.

About a year ago one of our teachers was visiting their family in Burma. While there he ran into an old aquaintace who owns a school in Rangoon. During their discussions it was learned that Brian was then working in Burma. I guess he finally used up his welcome in Thailand.

That’s my Brian story and I’m sticking to it. Again I welcome comments of anyone in agreement or disagreement. Next issued: Matthew the Computer Geek.