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From the Phuket Gazette:

KARON: A giant leatherback turtle on December 25 laid a nest of 103 eggs on Karon Beach, where a sea turtle has not been sighted laying eggs for more than 10 years.

Karon Municipality officials had the task of recovering the eggs as local villagers had taken them all in hopes of selling them as a delicacy. All but two broken eggs were recovered and taken to incubate at the Phuket Marine Biology Center (PMBC).

Karon Deputy Mayor Ittipol Sangkaew explained that the eggs sell for about 60 baht each. “But after we explained to the villagers that we should let the eggs hatch so that the next generation can see real, live sea turtles – not just pictures of them – they agreed to give them back,” he said.

“I haven’t seen this kind of turtle for 10 years,” K. Ittipol said.

“The turtle will likely return within the next 10 days to lay another clutch of eggs.

“Female turtles lay 500 to 600 eggs at different times over the breeding season, so we have posted security guards along the beachfront to protect the eggs and the turtle, and to allow people to watch from a safe distance as she lays her eggs,” he added.

PMBC Biologist Kanjana Adulyanukosol said that the eggs should hatch in about 60 days.

“After the eggs hatch we will take care of the hatchlings for about a month before we release them back to sea, which should be at Karon Beach because it is near the open sea,” she said.

“I’m not sure if all of these eggs are healthy, however, because they were moved by people and may not hatch,” she added. K. Kanjana said that turtles are known to lay eggs at only three beaches in Phuket: Mai Khao Beach, Nai Harn Beach and Karon Beach.

By Sangkhae Leelanapaporn


From the Phuket Gazette:

Despite being a year marked with intense political turmoil and almost daily acts of violence in the Deep South, 2006 marked the resurgence of Phuket’s all-important tourism industry, with the number of tourist arrivals reaching pre-tsunami levels – about 4.7 million visitors were expected by year’s end.

By far the year’s top story was the bloodless military coup in Bangkok on September 19. Combined with the six coordinated bombings of tourist destinations in Haad Yai just three days earlier, this appeared to be a double-whammy for tourism in Phuket. With just six weeks to go before the start of the tourist high season, industry leaders were left thinking, “Oh no, here we go again!”

As it turned out, neither the coup, continuing violence in the Deep South nor travel alerts issued by some foreign governments seemed to have any impact on tourism here. In fact, there was little discernible difference to life in post-coup Phuket, apart from gas stations and shopping centers being allowed to stay open later.

While the words “military coup” might conjure up images of deserted streets after dark, that certainly wasn’t the case this time around, especially in Phuket. Police on the island actually seemed to lighten up on the early closing times imposed on bars during the previous government’s “better social order” campaign.

In fact, despite the official imposition of martial law in the province after the coup, the only place in Phuket with any discernible military presence was at the airport, where some soldiers were briefly stationed immediately after the coup.

But now at the airport, the only disturbance seems to be from the hordes of irritable foreign tourists, who on arrival are forced to queue up and suffer lengthy delays waiting to clear Immigration.

The near-complete recovery was due in part to successful efforts by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), Phuket Tourist Association (PTA) and Phuket Provincial Administration Organization in tapping new markets, most notably “green season” arrivals from the Middle East.

Tourists from that arid part of the world find nothing more exotic than a torrential downpour or pushing a stroller up Soi Bangla, dodging flamboyant ladyboys festooned in fake peacock feathers and high heels. And why not? You don’t get that in Dubai or Damascus.

Another important factor was that it became easier for tourists to get here as 2006 progressed. The year began with tourism industry representatives begging the TAT to do something about the lack of direct flights to Phuket, many of which were canceled due to lack of demand after the tsunami.

Also cut back during those dark days were the number of flights from Bangkok by national carrier Thai Airways International (THAI). But by the end of 2006, the number of carriers using Phuket Airport had increased to a new high of 39. These included newcomers such as Australia’s Jetstar as well as a resumption of direct flights from Hong Kong by DragonAir. With the arrival of high season, so many charter flights began to arrive that finding parking for them all became a problem.

To ensure this year’s high season got off with a bang, the PTA dumped some three million baht into this year’s Phuket Carnival, which was better than ever with a “bikini runway” featuring more than 100 slinky models traipsing along the beach road and great entertainment, including a concert by Modern Dog.

Other high-profile events in 2006 included jet-ski racing in Patong, an FIVB women’s beach volleyball tournament in Karon and the Rubson Raid Turquoise, as well as the usual big annual events, such as the King’s Cup Regatta and the Laguna Triathlon, which was unfortunately marred this year by the death of one competitor from a heart attack.

In Patong, a 195-million-baht project overseen by the TAT to redevelop the beachfront was finally finished, as was a similar project in Kamala, where a tsunami memorial sculpture was dedicated. In another tsunami-related development, the island’s system of warning towers was completed and the first tsunami detection buoy was deployed in the Indian Ocean, courtesy of the US government.

Entering 2007, the Patong beachfront looks better than it did before the tsunami, with lots of smart new establishments along the beach road north of Sawatdirak Rd.

But all of these shopping facilities put together are still dwarfed by Jungceylon, which finally opened in full on December 20, after lengthy delays and legal battles.

Jungceylon is expected to finally transform central Patong, between Rat-U-Thit 200 Pi Rd and Nanai Rd, into a family-friendly tourist attraction rather than the muddy, garbage strewn wasteland much of the project has replaced.

Other positive developments in Patong included the continued success of Soi Bangla’s nightly transformation into a pedestrian’s thoroughfare.

The idea started on a trial basis in 2005 out of concerns that Bangla might be a nice target for terrorists, especially when the US Navy is in town.

But the result has been that with a much wider walking space on Soi Bangla, all the annoying touts operating there are easier to avoid.

Unfortunately, 2006 marked yet another year of no discernible progress on ridding the island of foreign touts. While almost all the touts work illegally, their in-your-face antics somehow continue to go unnoticed by local police, immigration and the labor department – though not by annoyed tourists, who consistently name them as one of the main reasons they won’t be returning to Phuket.

However, 2006 was a miserable year for their low-income earning brethren: foreign laborers working in Phuket, registered and otherwise.

After a year full of news stories chronicling the fate of poor Burmese eking out a living here, a tell-tale report came out near year’s end; when the province announced its intention to impose an 8 pm curfew on their movements and restrict them from such activities as riding motorbikes and visiting shopping malls.

Another major development for Patong came in November, with the announcement that a one-way traffic system will go into effect on a three-month trial basis, starting January 15.

Proponents of the one-way system say it will bring some order to the traffic chaos that prevails in the area. Opponents say it will transform the town’s streets into impossible-to-cross drag strips, forcing all northbound traffic into an unenviable choice between Nanai Rd or the beach road.

Meanwhile, the new Phang Muang Rd, intended to serve as a new north-south artery, remains unfinished.

Unfortunately, there has also been no progress in cleaning up the huge, illegal dump site in the wasteland at the end of Patong’s Soi Nanai 2. In fact, 2006 marked the year when the Gazette began inviting readers to send in photos of illegal garbage dumping in a section of the paper known as “Trashing Phuket”.

While there has been no lack of contributions, not many of the sites have been cleaned up as a result of the exposure. Unfortunately, plans to add a second burner at the island’s only incinerator at Saphan Hin remain on hold, although a glimmer of hope emerged with the opening of a small factory in Tambon Thepkrasatti to transform organic waste into fertilizer.

Also on a positive environmental note, Patong saw the the opening in October of a new 13-million-baht “natural” wastewater treatment plant. Officials hope the facility, which relies on terrestrial plant life to absorb organic waste, will help keep Patong free of the seaweed that has plagued it the past few high seasons.

Buoyed by its resurgent tourism economy, fears that post-tsunami Phuket would fall off the global tourism map began to fade in 2006. As such, all the post-tsunami “lure-them-back-at-all-cost” promotions have faded into memory; it is back to business as usual, which in Phuket sometimes means price gouging.

No part of the Phuket economy is better at it than the transport sector. In late November, a Welshman ended up in the hospital after he refused to pay 200 baht for a ride in a tuk-tuk from Soi Bangla to a hotel on Nanai Rd, just a few kilometers distance. The tuk-tuk driver stabbed him before heading back to Soi Bangla to look for another fare.

Despite altercations between tuk-tuk drivers and passengers being common in Patong, the local municipality has continued to pass over the chance to introduce a public transport system of any kind in 2006, thus demonstrating its continued commitment to the needs of local taxi syndicates over those of visiting tourists.

Among many government officers departed in 2006 was former Phuket Governor Udomsak Uswarangkura, who must still be scratching his head about the fate of over 2 million baht in tsunami aid money stolen by persons unknown from Phuket Provincial Hall back in February 2005 – a matter over which he is still being held nominally responsible, at least by some accounts.

The investigation into that case joins the long list of murder investigations that seem to have been consigned to the “cold case files” in 2006.

The onset of the high season saw the cost of renting a plastic beach chair and umbrella at most island beaches double, from 50 baht to 100 baht. The government has also been jacking up prices, doubling entrance fees at national parks.

For Thais, this entails an increase from 20 baht to 40 baht, but for foreigners the jump is from 200 baht to 400 baht.

While the TAT still hopes to attract 20 million foreign tourists to Thailand by 2008, doubling the 2003 figure, foreigners already living here found 2006 to be yet another year of baffling changes to immigration policy, work permit application procedures and the overall business investment climate.

Resident expats who had been making monthly runs learned that as of October 1 Immigration would begin limiting to 90 days over any 180-day period the length of time foreigners could spend in the country on free “visas-on-arrival”.

After fears that families would be broken up and the Earth would stop spinning as a result of the new policy, it was later clarified that once one’s 180 days were up, all that was needed was to make a trip to a Thai consulate or embassy abroad to apply for a regular tourist visa, for which a fee is charged.

At about the same time, however, most Thai embassies and consulates in the region stopped issuing multiple-entry non-immigrant visas to most applicants.

This made life yet a bit more difficult for foreign residents who want to live here long-term, but can’t afford to become members of the Thailand Elite Card, which offers a five-year, multiple-entry visa and other privileges for bargain price of one million baht.

Also introduced in 2006 at some consulates were new requirements that non-immigrant visa applicants submit WP-3 forms from the Labor Department and letters from the Royal Thai Police confirming they are free of any Thai criminal charges.

Foreigners seeking a lucrative career in the teaching industry also faced increased obstacles in 2006 with the announcement by the Education Ministry that all foreign teachers would be required to hold a minimum bachelor’s degree and undergo strict background checks before they are allowed to enter the classroom.

2006 saw a dramatic decrease in the amount of forest cover in Phuket, much of it replaced with concrete. Work on two new “icons” is still underway. The first is the 45-meter-high Mingkongkol Buddha image atop the Nakkerd Hills in Karon, funded by charitable donations under the “Enhance your merit value in your mind” slogan.

Work on the second project, the OrBorJor’s controversial 46.7 million baht “Gateway,” at the island’s northern tip, is scheduled to open sometime in the first half of 2007.

Other fanciful projects, such as a massive sports complex and a monorail from Phuket City to the airport, remain in the theoretical realm, as does the Phuket Bay Development project and the decades-old plan to build a large international convention center somewhere on the island.

Going into 2007, the island continues to grapple with keeping infrastructure apace with development and the rising population, both of humans and cars.

A desalination plant is almost finished in Karon to turn seawater into potable water, but its operation will likely be delayed for lack of a permit to release the briny wastewater back into the sea.

Along with ever-rising demand for water and slow progress on building two new reservoirs in the province, this increases the likelihood of widespread water shortages in 2007.



Today was to have been Nadia's first day off since she returned from Kalasin over two weeks ago so Tim picked her up from work last night and she stayed here to get a jump on her holiday.  She's been working a brutal schedule usually on the clock up to 13 hours per day at no extra pay (her salary is a paultry 5000 baht — USD $139 — per month) and was looking forward to the break.  The three of us really miss spending time together and we had a lot planned for tonight (including a special trip to the new Jungceylon shopping center).  It wasn't meant to be as her boss called her early this morning asking her to come in at seven tonight.

We did make the most of the day, however, with a trip to the beach.  We chose Kata for a change; we used to come here late at night for picnics but never swam here.  It was nice but there were a fair number of people — mostly teenaged Scandinavians (a fair amount of the women were topless to the great amusement of Gaow).  Despite it being the middle of the day, it was rather cool and the water was downright cold once you swam beyond a certain point.  We left around three once the waves began getting too big.

Back home, Gaow and I played badminton in front of our home for an hour or so.  I'd bought the rackets and shuttle-cocks for Tim and myself back in May or June but we never ended up using them.  Gaow had a lot of fun seeing how far he could make me chase the birdy as he delighted in trying to hit it outside of our gate.

A package arrived today from my favorite return address in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, addressed to "Mrs. Saengwan Jochim".  My friends in Marillion had sent a Christmas present to Tim of two (very nice) shirts promoting their next album, Somewhere Else, due to be released on April 9th.  Thank you h, Steve, Mark, Pete, and Ian!  Here, Tim models one of the shirts on our side patio:

About the only way we can get Gaow to sit still is to put on a VCD or DVD.  His favorite is Ultraman — a really cheesy Japanese superhero program.  These VCD's run between 79 and 119 baht (USD $2.19-3.30) and each contain two 30-minute episodes.  They're worth their weight in gold for the quiet time they buy Tim and myself.  He's also been quiet during such movies as Toy Story (an excellent dubbing job with even the Randy Newman songs translated into Thai), Madagascar, and the excellent Thai animated film, Khan Kluay.

Gaow has completely fallen head over heels for his new "big sister", Nadia (as do virtually everyone who meet her truth be told).  It's hard to get him to actually pose for a photo, but he oblidged here since Nadia was involved:



Internet recovery continues slowly
CAT capacity restored to 50%

Millions of frustrated Internet users across Asia have slowly regained access to overseas websites, three days after an earthquake off the coast of Taiwan snapped several vital undersea cables.

Connections remained slow in Malaysia and Thailand, where communications authority CAT Telecom said capacity had only been restored to 50 per cent.

"Thailand is still lucky compared to other countries where Internet connections have totally collapsed," a CAT official said.

Telecoms operators across the region re-routed Internet links to circumvent the ruptured lines off the southern part of the island, as engineers donned diving suits to assess the damage and begin repairs.

"Everything is improving now," said a spokesman for PCCW, Hong Kong's largest fixed-line operator.

"All international call and roaming services have gone back to normal, including to Taiwan, although some websites are still congested," he said.

Hong Kong's telecommunications authority said five maintenance ships had been dispatched to repair six fiber-optic cables, which handle about 90 per cent of telecommunications capacity in the area.

"Overall there has been some improvement in access to the Internet today. However, most users will continue to experience slow access," it said in a statement.

It added some ships arrived at the scene Thursday, but the weather had obstructed survey and assessment work.

"Initial surveys indicated that damage to the submarine cables was substantial," it said.

The authority said it may take longer to repair the cables than the original estimate of five to seven days.

Taiwan's largest phone company, Chunghwa Telecom, has commissioned three more ships to assist the repair effort. The cables ruptured following Tuesday's 7.1-magnitude earthquake, which killed two people on the island.

An official from Chunghwa said voice traffic to the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia remained relatively weak, but was improving.

Internet users frustrated by their inability to log onto e-mail accounts, news websites and online banking services -- conveniences that have become part of modern life -- found access across the region Friday improved, but still patchy.

Southeast Asia's largest telecom operator, Singapore Telecommunications, said it had established a "command centre" to restore full service as quickly as possible.

"Internet access to all websites has been normalised for emailing, browsing and online transactions," it said in a statement. "Access to services such as gaming and video downloading, which require higher bandwidth, may experience some delays."

The company said SingTel BlackBerry service had been fully restored.

"As part of our cable traffic redirection effort, traffic to the US is being re-routed via Europe or Australia, as well as using other channels such as satellite links and landlines," it said.

In South Korea, Hong Seong-Yong, an official at the communications ministry, said: "Recovery work is moving ahead quickly, with nearly all financial institutions, including foreign banks, back to normal overnight."

The Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency characterised the week's web difficulties as "cyber-chaos", with a source at China Netcom saying progress on restoring service had been slow.

China Netcom said two boats had been sent out to start repairing the damaged lines and three others would soon depart, the China Daily reported.

Indonesia's telecoms authority said it could take up to a month to restore Internet capacity, which had fallen to just 17 per cent following Tuesday's quake.

"This incident is a major problem for us," director general of post and telecommunications Basuki Yusuf Iskandar was quoted as saying by The Jakarta Post.

Analysts said it was too early to estimate the total financial losses caused by the week's Internet mayhem. Taiwan's Chunghwa Telecom put preliminary losses at 150 million Taiwan dollars (4.6 million US).

"They are the hardest hit, I would say," noted Sachin Mittal with DBS Vickers Securities in Singapore. "Probably all the (other) telcos will be less than Chunghwa."

-- Agencies 2006-12-30
It seems okay here — still getting a few stalled pages but they usually load on the second or third try.  They're saying that service won't be fully restored for at least three weeks but we'll see...


Here we are at the brink of a New Year, a good time for reflecting back on the year that was.  While many of my favorite bloggers have been posting lengthy lists of their favorite music, books or movies of 2006, I've been thinking about how different my life is now...

A year ago, I was actually staying about a 45-minute drive from where I live now — at a small hotel just up the hill south of Kamala.  I don't remember exactly what I did on December 30th (probably went into Patong to watch beach volleyball) but on the 31st I spent most of the day driving around with my hotel's owner and his wife (Silvio and Lek).  That evening, I had planned to take a tuk tuk to watch fireworks on the beach.  But fate stepped in...

When I'd emerged from my room following an afternoon nap, Lek wanted to introduce me to two of her friends.  She'd been trying to set me up with various Thai women since I'd arrived (so I'd have someone to "speak English with" and who could show me around) and I'd been content to explore Phuket on my own (I enjoy solitary tourism) and was weary of the whole process.  I was first introduced to Puk because she spoke English while the other woman did not.  Puk didn't impress me and I was anxious to get on with my (solo) New Year's Eve; I thought I'd say "hello" to the second lady and be on my way.

That introduction turned out to be Tim (a nickname — all Thai people go by their nickname rather than their given name except on formal documents — meaning "ruby").  I had been told that she couldn't speak English and that she'd been at Patong when the tsunami struck.  I was interested to talk to someone about that and Tim actually spoke enough English where we could converse (albeit with a bit of difficulty).  I didn't think she was a great beauty but there was something about her that drew me in.  I often tell people that it was love at first sight; I definitely felt something whether it was sympathy for what she'd experienced a year before or affection for her strong but childlike demeanor.

At any rate, I cancelled my plans to go to the beach that night and instead sat in the hotel's open air restaurant getting to know my new-found friend.  There was a spark right from the start; I'd had a flight booked for Bangkok on January 2nd but on New Year's Day I went to a travel agent and pushed that back several days.  I knew I wanted to spend some more time with Tim.  We spent a couple of days getting to know each other and she introduced me to several of her friends (including Jum and La who, along with Puk, are still fixtures in our life).  On the third, we went on a sea kayak trip together in Phang Nga Bay visiting James Bong Island and Koh Panyee and paddling through a number of limestone caves in the area.

When I did get to Bangkok (as well as during my journey to Kanchanaburi and my return to the States), Tim and I remained in constant contact.  In fact, I called her every day from the time I left Phuket to the time I returned (except when I was stuck on various airplanes).  I think it was either mid-January or early February when I decided that I was definitely going back to see Tim — at first, I promised to return the following December, then it became "in six months," and finally I decided I wanted to be there in time for her birthday which happens to be on Songkran Day (April 13, the greatest of Thai holidays).  By March, I was already thinking perhaps this was the woman I would marry and I knew for certain when I saw her waiting for me outside of baggage claim at the Phuket Airport (a good thing since my brother-in-law had helped me pick out an engagement ring in Albuquerque about a week before).

Our initial home was a 400-baht-per-night (approx. USD $11) guesthouse (the International House Of Traveller in Kathu) but we soon set out to find a house to rent.  We both agreed the farther away from Patong the better and the prices were fairly reasonable in Chalong.  We moved into our two-bedroom semi-attached house in the Ananda Garden Hills Estate a couple of days before Tim's birthday; we pay 12,000 baht (approx. USD $332) rent per month plus utilities (electric, water, telephone come to less than $40 a month).

Songkran was quite the experience as was Tim's formal birthday party held a few days afterwards.  Our first trip together was about a month later when we flew to Bangkok (Tim's first trip on an airplane) in order to get her passport and do a bit of sightseeing, took a train to Bang Pa-In where I first met her daughter and son-in-law, and an overnight train to Chiang Mai in the northwest of the country.  We spent just a couple of days in that wonderful city (my favorite in Thailand thus far) before booking a hotel in Lamphun (about an hour from Chiang Mai) which we used as a jumping-off base for visiting her family who mostly live another 90 minutes or so farther southwest.  Much to my relief, they gave me their blessing (and, thankfully, no mention of the much-feared dowry).

Other significant events in the spring and summer include Tim's daughter giving birth to a beautiful baby girl (Noo-dang) in late June and my first visa run (to Kawthaung in Myanmar via Ranong) on the fourth of July.  In early August, we once again journeyed to Bangkok (on the overnight bus) where we got married in Bang Rak district (meaning "village of love", this is the most popular location in Thailand to register marriages) on the 2nd.  We also spent a couple of days in Ayutthaya exploring the ruins and spending time with Tim's daugher and granddaughter.  At the end of that month, I began my six-week TEFL-certification course with Text And Talk Academy in Patong.  Not only did I enjoy the grueling training schedule but I also made some really lasting friendships.

Following graduation, it was time for another Ranong visa run and — because of a severe change in Thai immigration laws, not to mention crackdowns because of the coup — a jouney to Singapore in order to obtain a proper Non-Immigrant Visa.  I am now legally seek employment, a slower-than-expected process because of the lack of employment opportunities at this time of the year not to mention a greater emphasis on the Ministry of Education background checks/screening process.  In the interim, Tim and I made yet another long bus trip to Bangkok in November (we plan another in January for more immigration-related tasks not to mention the much-anticipated Eric Clapton concert).

Shortly after I celebrated my own birthday in Thailand, Tim journeyed north to Lamphun in order to get her married name on her identification card and she returned with her young son, Gaow.  Little did I realize a year ago that I would be celebrating Christmas (and New Year) with such a fully-formed family!

The year 2006 (or, 2549, according to the Thai calendar) has been rewarding in so many ways.  Not only do I live in a country so far removed from my family and friends where I have to learn all new ways of doing even the simplest of things but I am doing so with the woman I love and have a brand new (large) family as well as valued new friends to share my experiences with.

Yes, for the past (almost) nine months that I've lived in Thailand virtually everything has been brand new to me:  new language, new money, new bureaucracy (that's a BIG one!), new culture and customs, new religion, new ways of paying bills or picking up packages, new weather patterns to deal with, and the list goes on.  In the midst of all of this newness, I do try to maintain a certain amount of "old" so I don't go completely insane.  Certain things from home bring great pleasure such as the packets of Kool-Aid my sister sent, the downloads of American television shows or the occasional tacos or chimichangas at Los Amigos in Nai Harn.

Of course my collection of books and music breed familiarity for me, particularly when I read something by a long-favored author (such as Lawrence Block or Clive Cussler) or listen to a CD by someone like Pink Floyd, Marillion or Bruce Springsteen.

There's been newness in my music.  I've discovered a bit of Thai music that I enjoy including Carabao and Boolong Sa Orn(spelling?).  I've found some great music by bands I'd never heard of through a local newstand which stocks the excellent UNCUT magazine (each issue contains a free CD with the best of the new American and UK bands).  In the past week or so, I've discovered an awful lot of new music via several audioblogs and their year-end "best of" lists.  New favorites include Midlake, Band Of Horses, and The Kooks.

As I wrap up this blog entry as well as this very active year, I just want to say that I'm very happy.  I'm also excited to see what new adventures 2007 (2550) will bring...



memorial on Patong Beach

lighting candles in memory of the victims and missing

Patong Beach:  candles and flowers were placed in shallow holes dug the length of the beach

we launched a floating lantern (paper hot air balloon) into the heavens above Patong and watched it drift out over the Andaman Sea as we said a prayer for all those affected by the 2004 tsunami

Gaow and I amidst the ceramic dolphins on Patong Beach

my lovely wife


As long as our Internet is working tonight (and I can't sleep anyway), I thought I'd post a few photos from our Christmas celebrations.  It was odd sweating as I opened gifts and the sun shone brightly despite the living room curtains being closed...

wrapping presents in the bedroom

it took Gaow a little while to understand the concept behind unwrapping presents, but once he figured it out he couldn't get enough — his usual method was to briefly glance at whatever was inside before moving to the next gift...

Tim, on the other hand, relished each gift and had to be coaxed to move on; here she displays a nice stainless steel bottle opener sent by my sister as a souvenir of Disneyland

Tim and Gaow proudly wear their Mickey Mouse ears from Disneyland

my second biggest gift to my wife was a microwave; we didn't break it in until tonight when I heated some Thai-style clam-and-mushroom chowder

Gaow really enjoyed his new Ultraman toys; wish I could say the same for our community cats who he terrorized with the noisy robots

Tim models a shirt from Lyn

my number one big gift to Tim was this gold bracelet

Tim also gave me jewelry; she bought a heavy-duty teardrop-shaped holder and chain for the Buddhist amulet she'd given me several months ago (replacing the black string that I'd previously used)

at Tim's insistence, we bought Gaow a bicycle; she talked me out of the small one and this one is almost too big for him — I worry about the new neighbors who treat our formerly quiet soi like it was a racetrack but Tim assures me that Gaow will watch out for them...

on Christmas Night, we attended a party/dinner hosted by the one of the few Christian churches on Phuket — I'd been assured that a Western-style turkey dinner was to be served with all the trimmings and it was really the only reason I attended but, alas, there was no Western food at all...

Tim did a great job trying to stay awake: much of the party consisted of ministers preaching that we needed Jesus Christ in our lives (in Thai) and very badly-organized "games" and skits

we stayed until the end simply to see if we'd be lucky in the raffle drawings (I won a couple of hand-towels); I was actually called on stage to read the last 10 or so numbers which I did in Thai to the amusement/amazement of the remaining guests (I think I was the only
farang to stick around so long...

And, that was what I did on my first Christmas living in Thailand.



Internet service has been extremely slow here the past couple of days; whenever I'd try to access any site I would get "cannot find server" and "timed out" errors.  I wasn't able to retrieve email or sign into Blogger.

Last night, I managed to get VSNL's bandwidth meter to work, recording a speed of 6.20kbps!  Strangely enough, my BitTorrent downloads in µTorrent were still coming down the pike at a total speed averaging 52kbps.  My main concern was not being able to log in to my online banking sites as I needed to transfer some funds because my debit card expires on New Year's Eve and I haven't yet received a replacement.

I even tried calling my service provider — Singapore Telecom — but failed to get anybody on the phone who could understand English.

Well, I just logged in a couple of minutes ago and it seems to be working a bit faster now.  I managed to transfer some money, access my blog, and download email.  The first one I read was a series of news reports (courtesy of which served to let me know that it's not just our connection that's affected:

Asia quakes damage cables; Internet, banks, stockmarkets affected

SINGAPORE: -- Telecommunications around Asia were severely disrupted on Wednesday after earthquakes off Taiwan damaged undersea cables, slowing Internet services and hindering financial transactions, particularly in the currency market.

Banks and businesses across the region reported problems with communications, with some telephone lines cut and Internet access slowing to a crawl.

South Korea's top fixed-line and broadband service provider, KT Corp (030200.KS: Quote, Profile, Research), said in a statement that six submarine cables were knocked out by Tuesday night's earthquakes.

"Twenty-seven of our customers were hit, including banks and churches," a KT spokesman said. "It is not known yet when we can fully restore the services."

Banks in Seoul said foreign exchange trading had been affected.

"Trading of the Korean won has mostly halted due to the communication problem," said a dealer at one domestic bank.

Some disruption was also reported in the important Tokyo currency market but the EBS system that handles much dollar/yen trading appeared to be working.

--Reuters 2006-12-28
This one...
Singapore Telecom, PCCW Say Internet Disrupted by Taiwan Quakes

SINGAPORE: -- Singapore Telecommunications Ltd. Southeast Asia's largest telephone company, and Hong Kong's PCCW Ltd. said Internet service in Asia slowed down after three earthquakes hit southern Taiwan yesterday.

``The Taiwan earthquake has affected several submarine cable systems in Asia, causing cable cuts near Taiwan late last night,'' Singapore Telecom spokesman Chia Boon Chong said by telephone today. ``Some customers might experience a slowdown in data or Internet access. Traffic diversion and restoration works are currently in progress.''

Taiwan was jolted by three earthquakes yesterday, killing two people and injuring 42 others, the island's National Fire Agency said. The tremors damaged undersea cables, causing a disruption to Internet traffic and some telephone calls in the region for customers including Singapore Telecom, PCCW, Chunghwa Telecom Co., Taiwan's biggest telephone operator, and KDDI Corp., Japan's second-largest telephone carrier.

PCCW, Hong Kong's largest phone company, said data capacity on its networks was reduced to 50 percent due to the quake.

``Data service to Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and the U.S. were affected,'' said Hans Leung, a spokesman in Hong Kong.

Two of Chunghwa Telecom's cables were damaged by the earthquake, resulting in ``near zero'' capacity for voice calls to Southeast Asia, apart from Vietnam, said Leng Tai-feng, the company's vice president of international business.

``The repairs could take two to three weeks,'' Leng said. ``We're doing our best to coordinate with other operators in the region to resolve the problem.''

The first earthquake, which was magnitude 6.7, occurred at 8:26 p.m. local time yesterday off Taiwan's south coast, the island's Central Weather Bureau said on its Web site. The second, magnitude 6.4, happened at 8:34 p.m. and the third, magnitude 5.2, occurred at 8:40 p.m. All three were centered in the same area, the bureau said.

On Dec. 26, 2004, a magnitude 9.1 earthquake off Sumatra unleashed waves that destroyed coastal villages on the Indian Ocean from Indonesia to Sri Lanka, killing more than 220,000 people. Some of the areas have yet to recover.

KDDI said its fiber-optic undersea cable in Taiwan was damaged, affecting fixed-line services to Southeast Asia. The company is re-routing phone calls to go through the U.S. and Europe and may take several weeks to two months to repair cables that are damaged, KDDI's Tokyo-based spokesman Haruhiko Maede said.

KT Corp., South Korea's largest provider of fixed-line phone and Internet access service, said the outages affected overseas connections of the foreign ministry and Reuters, which use leased lines, said Kim Cheol Kee, a spokesman for Seongnam-based KT.

KT is in discussions with foreign phone companies to redirect traffic elsewhere, Kim says.

--Bloomberg 2006-12-28
...and this one:
Taiwan earthquake cuts of communication links.

Communications cut off after powerful earthquake strikes southern Taiwan

TAIPEI, Taiwan: Taiwan's telephone communications with neighboring Asian countries were cut off Wednesday, hours after a powerful earthquake struck the southern part of the island, killing two and triggering a regional tsunami alert.

Chunghwa Telecom said an undersea cable off the southern coast had been damaged, interrupting communications with Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong.

Communications with China were also cut off, because calls to the mainland from Taiwan are routed through Hong Kong.

The quake, which hit late Tuesday just offshore from the Pingtung County township of Hengchun, came on the second anniversary of the devastating tsunami that took more than 200,000 lives in southern Asia.

A total of 42 people were injured in southern Taiwan, the fire agency said. Three houses collapsed, and 12 fires broke out.

The power supply to 3,000 homes was disrupted, but was later restored, according to the agency.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake, which hit at 8:26 p.m. (1226 GMT), registered magnitude 7.1, while Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau measured it at 6.7. It was followed eight minutes later by an aftershock registering 7.0, the USGS said.

Early Wednesday another aftershock, measuring 5.9, was registered in the area, the Central Weather Bureau said.

Japan's Meteorological Bureau said a one-meter (3.3-foot) tsunami might be headed toward the eastern coast of the Philippines, but later lifted the warning.

"The expected waves did not materialize ... the danger has passed," said Hiroshi Koide of the agency's earthquake section. "We predicted a tsunami based on the depth and magnitude of the earthquake. But ultimately, it appears no large tsunami was triggered."

Philippine police said coastal areas had been alerted.

The warning underscored the higher level of caution about tsunami waves in the region since a massive earthquake off Indonesia exactly two years earlier triggered a powerful tsunami in the Indian Ocean that killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries.

Tuesday's quake was felt throughout Taiwan. It swayed buildings and knocked objects off the shelves in the capital, Taipei, in the northern part of the island.

Several high-rise hotels swayed violently in the southern city of Kaohsiung, the CTI Cable News reported.

Liao Ching-ling, a manager at the city's Ambassador Hotel, said the quake was the strongest she had ever felt.

"The building swayed so badly that many guests panicked and ran out of their rooms and into the streets," she said.

The tremor was centered at sea about 23 kilometers (13 miles) southwest of Hengchun on Taiwan's southern tip, the bureau said. Hengchun is about 450 kilometers (260 miles) south of Taipei.

Quakes frequently shake Taiwan, which is part of the Pacific's "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanos and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin. Most are minor and cause little or no damage. However, a 7.6-magnitude earthquake in central Taiwan in September 1999 killed more than 2,300 people.
I had planned to upload/post photos from our Christmas and Tsunami Day activities yesterday and today, but I'll try to do that tomorrow (provided we still have any Internet speed at all).  There's also A LOT of catch-up blogs I have planned — interesting news articles, an update on Gaow, and even a few end-of-the-year lists.  Hopefully, tomorrow....



Heaven got a whole lot funkier Christmas morning with the passing of The Godfather of Soul after being hospitalized with pneumonia.  He was unparalleled, an absolute legend who contributed in massive ways to the sounds of soul, funk and rock.  James Brown (1933-2006) will be missed in a huge way.
Statue in Augusta, Georgia


Today marks the second anniversary of the tsunami which claimed over 240,000 lives.  There are many events which will serve to help us remember those victims and survivors of this tragic disaster.  We plan to participate in the Buddhist merit-making ceremony (conducted by 80 monks) at Patong Beach (from 10 until 11) and also the the "Ceremony of Light" (lighting a candle in a wreath or releasing a floating lantern into the night sky from 7 until 11pm).

I want to mention that we support the Tsunami Day Appeal which collects donations to help children, many of whom lost parents and siblings in the tsunami, so that they may better their lives through education.  Every baht goes to the children and the charity operated last year without any administration costs.  All the proceeds are given as grants to charitable organizations working to help those children left behind; this includes helping the kids stay in school by buying uniforms, books, and other school necessities.  This year's goal for the Appeal (which runs from December 10th through the 30th) is to raise three million baht to help 500 Phuket children for a full year.  Check out their website for more information (they will also post photos and video footage of this year's ceremonies).

Finally, I want to mention another success story:  just last week, the tireless work of the Thai Tsunami Victim Identification Center (just up the road from us a short distance) led to the identification of one more victim.  As a result, the family of a 21 year old Turkish tourist regained their daughter's body — and at least some measure of closure.  Relief efforts big and small continue to this day, some publicized but many go unrecognized except to very few, but all of those who have helped — and are still helping — deserve a hearty thank you.



This afternoon, Tim and I took Gaow down to the Chalong Tourist Pier (about three minutes from our house by motorbike).  He loved looking at the boats in the bay and searching the water for fish.  Here are a few photos, minus commentary as I have a lot of presents to wrap!