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The drought here in New Mexico is especially bad so far this year and we've already had a number of large grass and forest fires.  Just a week ago, there was a massive fire on the south side of the Isleta Reservation just outside of Albuquerque which jumped the Rio Grande.  It's so bad that statewide water restrictions go into effect tomorrow and we are under extreme fire prevention measures with campgrounds and hiking trails being closed.  Usually, you don't see these types of events until well into the summer months.  When they interview residents of the East Mountains and other areas on the evening news, it seems many are just plain scared of the dry conditions.  All it would take for a major disaster would be for someone to toss a cigarette out their car window.  Given how bad we had it here in Albuquerque last year, I think it's just a matter of time before a big fire gets out-of-control in the center of the city (the bosque fires a couple of years ago along the river through downtown proved how vulnerable that area is...).


I took a couple of big steps towards my impending move today.  First, I turned in my 30-day notice at my apartment complex's office and signed the necessary move-out paperwork.  Because I'm breaking my lease, I'll have to pay an "administrative fee" equal to one month's rent, plus a pro-rated amount which I assume is the March rent, for a total of $1559 (I'll call the main manager on Monday to make sure this includes March rent).  The office girl couldn't find any evidence of the $500 security deposit I should have on my account from when I first moved in, so I need to call to get that straightened out as well.

While I was out running a different errand, I decided I may as well go over to Storage USA and rent a unit.  I'd settled on them after doing some pricing research; they also happen to be the closest facility to my apartment.  I had been thinking about a 10x20-foot unit but the 10x30 was only $3 per month more.  When I took a look at the unit, I was impressed — the one he showed me had a 12-foot ceiling rather than the normal 8-foot ceilings they also had.  I doubt if I'll need to stack things that high, but it's nice to know I can if I want to.  It's no problem to store my car in there as well; I found out many facilities don't allow that because of the combustibles but Storage USA doesn't seem to mind (I asked if I had to drain the gas).  The first month was free on a long-term lease; if I pay 12 months at a time, the 13th month will also be free (I might go ahead and pay that next month, but I did sign up for automatic credit card debit).  The rent also includes an individual door alarm and 24-hour video surveillance.  I didn't opt for their insurance since my existing renter's insurance will cover anything I store in the unit, except for my car of course.  I did buy a nice lock; I'll buy some larger boxes from them at a later time (when I'm ready to pack such things as the television and computers).

I have access to the unit from 6am to 10pm each day (24-hour access was available for an extra $6 per month but I didn't feel it was that necessary).  I'll probably move my first loads tomorrow morning — I can probably fit six or seven banker's boxes in my car at a time if I don't stack them on top of each other, so it will take quite a few trips.  Yes, the ball is starting to roll and I'll feel better once I start getting some of this stuff out of the apartment.

As I move forward with this new stage of my life, I hope to record many of the mundane details.  Once I get to Thailand, these should become more interesting as I relate things often taken for granted.  I'm sure it will be much different doing tasks like opening a local bank account and paying monthly bills.  I've already done enough research to give me an indication of how some of these things are done in Thailand and I know that my experiences in dealing with them will make for interesting reading.  By writing about these as they happen, I can refer to them in the future to see what mistakes or minor victories I made.  And, perhaps, I can help others in some small way (I've already found I can answer some rather obscure questions on several expatriate forums that I've recently joined).



Counting today, I have just forty days before I begin heading for Thailand; thirty-three if I count to the day I actually depart Albuquerque for good.  Yes, I am going to spend a week with relatives and friends in Kansas City before I return to Asia.  I fly from there to Los Angeles the evening of April 4th, arriving around nine o'clock in the evening.  My China Airlines flight leaves a little after one a.m. the morning of April 5th, I have a couple of hours layover in Taipei the morning of April 6th, and arrive in Bangkok at 1:30 that afternoon.  After clearing Customs and Immigration (a very easy process at Don Muang Airport), I then make the long hike from the International Termial to the Domestic and check-in for my 4:45 flight to Phuket (taking the usually on-time Royal Thai Airways instead of it's budget carrier Nok Air).  That flight lasts about 80 minutes and by 6:30 I will have collected my luggage and found Tim waiting for me outside of the terminal (no inside pickups allowed) with a big smile on her lovely face.  Her friend Pok has offered to drive us for free but I will at least try to pay for the gasoline back to Kathu.

It seems like I have a million things to accomplish in the meantime and not near enough time to accomplish even a fraction.  As I write this, I sit in a living room filled with white cardboard bankers' boxes.  I've filled about 60 of those and I still have much to pack (books, CD's, and DVD's take up the most room it seems) but at least I've made a lot of progress.  I've decided to just throw away my two bed-frames and box-spring/mattress sets.  The little twin bed in my office has been with me ever since I moved out of my parents' house and before that it was used by my sister for many years.  The queen-sized bed in my guest room was actually a "dumpster dive" find by a former roommate — although in very good shape, it still has that stigma attached to it in my mind and I never use it (I almost always sleep on my sofa as it's very comfortable).  I'll probably also get rid of the dining room table (another item recovered by the same former roommate) as it just takes up too much space.  Thus, the only furntiture I'll need to store is my main computer desk (I'm finally tossing the huge secondary desk which I've had since renting a house in Kansas City, Kansas, in the mid-1990's), the matching sofa and loveseat, the entertainment center (which I'll dismantle), various end-tables and the coffee table, plus a myriad of bookcases (two very large oak ones and several smaller sets of shelves).  Oh, yes, the huge CD case as well (which weighs a ton empty).

I've decided it will be easiest to cancel MSN outright; my DSL service is bundled with the phone bill and if I switch to their dial-up just to keep the e-mail address it would cost more than I'm willing to pay.  Ever since getting the DSL a year-and-a-half ago, I've kept my AT&T dial-up as a backup (for $14.95 per month); it was useful if I had my main PC tied up with some intensive editng task because I could just connect on my second PC in order to check e-mail or surf online.  I also used the second PC to print out e-mails, etc. since my printer was so old I thought it wouldn't work with the newer one (I found out a couple of months that I could download a new set of drivers and it worked fine).  I've loaded the AT&T software onto my laptop now (and I use it while sitting on the sofa watching the Olympics); I don't know if they have any local access numbers in Thailand but at least I can keep that e-mail address and check my e-mail at an Internet cafe there (some actually allow you to connect your laptop into their DSL modems).  Tim's apartment doesn't have a telephone line so until we get a place that does, I'll either be using the Internet cafes (most of which charge only 1 baht per minute) or see if I can connect to the free wireless hotspots that are popping up in increasing numbers (the best in Patong is currently at the Starbuck's on the beach-front road).  I've been gradually switching my various online accounts back to the AT&T e-mail address and cancelling the e-mail newsletters that I never seem to have the time to read.  I'll probably send out change-of-address e-mails to my regular correspondents in the next couple of weeks.

All of my monthly bills (except rent, electricity, and phone) are automatic deductions so I need to remember to cancel all that I'll no longer need.  These include the car insurance (why do I need to pay insurance if my car will be in storage for an indeterminate amount of time?), renter's insurance (I can't remember the name of the firm and the bookmarks were lost in the January PC crash; the monthly debits simply say "insurance premium" without a firm name), my website-hosting fee (which I won't be cancelling), as well as Blockbuster and Netflix movie rental subscriptions.  I'll only be paying the rent and water bill one more time (March) so that eliminates $760 or so in bills each month right there.  I'm sure that I'll have one more electric/gas and phone/DSL bill after I move but I can pay those online.  It will be very nice to start with a completely clean slate.  In Thailand, I'll have a much lower monthly rent and utility bills (once we move into a new place), food is much more inexpensive, etc.

As for Tim, she's been working the past few days as a motorbike taxi driver (motosai in Thai).  She's very happy and is making very good money as there are a lot of tourists around right now.  She also assures me that she is "very good driver, always wear helmet" but still I worry a bit about the many other bad drivers that fly over some of those mountainous roads.  The more time you spend on those roads, the higher chance you have of getting into a bad accident.  At least she has a brand new motorbike that's in good repair.

This morning (evening in Thailand), Tim called me from Patong Beach.  She had been thinking about how much I liked seeing the sunsets over the ocean when I was there (and that we always seemed to be in a moving tuk-tuk during them so I could never get a clear photo).  She walked down to the beach to watch the sunset and to talk with me on the phone during it so we could share it together.  "I same same you, like watch sunset," she told me (it will be a challenge to teach her proper English grammar when I return because I find it so cute when she speaks in the Thaiglish form).  Tim said that when I returned to Thailand she would drive me to different places each night to watch the sunsets.  She also said that another reason she called me from the beach was so she could talk to me alone for a change.  (Most of this past week, whenever we'd talk, her various friends were hovering around so she couldn't speak as "sweet" as she would have liked.)

In fact, when I called yesterday, her friend Pok kept grabbing the phone from Tim so she could practice her English on me.  She had the mistaken idea that she spoke English better than Tim and so would translate for us.  However, I had great difficulty in understanding anything Pok said to me and was relieved whenever Tim took the phone back.  At one point, I think Pok offered me a job and a 4000-baht-per-month apartment but I merely said I would wait until I got to Thailand before making any committment on either.  I also think Pok said she would drive me and Tim up to Lamphun; this would be an extremely long drive (it's something like 30 hours by train if there are no delays).  Since I couldn't really understand what she was blathering about, I just would laugh and say that we'll talk about it when I am in Phuket.  It was kind of entertaining (and Tim and I joked about it this morning) but also frustrating as the call had passed the 6:00am mark and I was into daytime minutes (my calls to Thailand are free — included in my Night & Weekend minutes if I call between 9pm and 6am) so I was trying to end the call as quickly as I could while still making sure Tim had talked to me all she wanted to.

The language barrier is still the hardest part to deal with in learning more about Tim.  But a couple of times each week, she writes e-mails to me and has them translated at the Internet cafe (but the English translations often leave a great deal to be desired).  One this past week revealed much more about her life than I'd previously learned.  She is the fourth of seven children — all boys except for one oldest sister.  Her parents are indeed still alive (Lek had told me that they perished in the tsunami and I misunderstood Tim's cries that she was all alone), but she is estranged from them — she lost face because she left her husband and was heavily in debt so couldn't send them money.  Tim was married for ten years and had a daughter (who is currently 18 years old) and a son (who would have been seven).  She had borrowed money to open a tire shop for her husband and she had a food shop where she sold chicken rice (Kow Man Khao).  But, like the majority of Thai men, her husband began drinking heavily — he was drunk all the time and began abusing his family.  Then, he got into drugs, eventually trading their business to feed his habit.  Tim had had enough and she left, taking the children to Phuket five years ago because she had a cousin there.  However, her husband eventually came and took their son.  They were all there when the tsunami hit — Tim's e-mail says here "Father and son, they finish", which I take to mean that they perished in the disaster.  I asked her about this on the phone and she started crying so I didn't pursue it.

More than her failed marriage, Tim has more regrets over her daughter.  Because of the huge financial difficulties caused by her ex-husband's drinking and drug use, she didn't have enough money for her daughter's education.  She didn't finish secondary school but is now married and pregnant, living in Ayutthaya.  Tim hasn't seen her in quite some time and worries about her a great deal.  Since Ayutthaya isn't very far from Bangkok, I'm thinking about taking her to visit her daughter when we go to the capitol for her passport.

Because of the problems (which she didn't create and had no control over), she is estranged from her parents.  She is the only one of the seven children to live a great distance from them; her youngest brother takes care of them for her.  She sends some money home when she can (this is a BIG part of Thai culture, in addition to a groom paying the parents a huge dowry for marrying the daughter).  I have yet to discover the last time she has visited her family.  She is from Lamphun and talks about taking me there; I assume this is to meet the family (Thai women NEVER take their boyfriends to meet the parents unless it is to discuss marriage; I have no problem with this...)  I do want to learn more about her family aside from the fact that they are very poor.  Are they farmers?  Do they live the traditional northern Thailand village lifestyle?  So many more questions to ask...  (And I want to get her to open up more about the tsunami but this seems to be the one thing she is still reluctant to talk to me about.)

Tim is also very smart — unlike most Thai people you meet or read about, she is very interested in the outside world.  She likes to read in addition to watching American movies.  She is also aware of the Western concept of privacy (which rarely exists in Thailand).  Tim asked me a few days ago if I wanted her to look for "the house for us.  I am with many friends so I think that it is not comfortable for us to be alone."  I was touched that she was concerned that I would soon tire of Jum, La, and Pok hovering around us all the time and that it would be good to find a place of our own.  I'd always known that we would only stay at her place in Kathu for a matter of weeks before finding a different place to rent — the main reason for me was that her apartment is rather remote, at the end of a long gravel soi in the countryside, but she had become increasingly concerned about her lack of air-conditioning there (you know it's too hot when a Thai complains about the heat).  I had thought about finding a two- or three-bedroom house for rent (many available for between $300-700 per month, furnished, depending on location) so that Jum and La could move in as well.  But it would seem that Tim would prefer a place for just the two of us so maybe we can just find a nice apartment (there are some good ones in the town of Kathu running between $150 and $200 per month, fully furnished with ADSL and maid service included).  I told her it would be best to wait until I got to Phuket and we could look at places together, make the decision on where to live together.  She said, "very good idea.  You smart man."

Forty days and forty nights before the biggest changes in my life occur.  I am really looking forward to my new life, sharing it with my one true love.  Yes, whatever person first said that "life begins at 40" certainly knew what he or she was talking about...



Since I'm leaving Albuquerque in just over one month on my way to new adventures in Thailand, I've been thinking a lot about what to rename my blog.  I was never really happy with 'Burque Blog anyway ('Burque simply being local slang for my city) and I've never been very good at coming up with clever titles.

Of course, I want the new blog name to reflect my new location, the island of Phuket.  Most of the really good names incorporating "Phuket" seem to have been taken by other websites and blogs I've stumbled across; I thought about using "Patong" or "Kathu" or "Kamala" but I'm not yet certain which of these communities I'll end up in (or perhaps I'll find a place in Thalang or Rawai, or elsewhere).  Today, the term "Goodnight Phuket" popped into my head.  I thought, "well, that sounds kinda nice" as it sounds like good reporter's tagline (was it Walter Cronkite or Edward R. Morrow who signed off from his broadcasts with a similar phrase?).

In Thai, "goodnight" can be said as râat-dtree sà-wàt — this is what Tim taught me (although she pronounces it as laa-tee sa-vaht) — so I thought perhaps that should be what I call the blog.  However, that might be too obscure.  How about including Thai script instead of the transliteration, as well as the English title?  Well, it actually proved a little difficult to find the script for this phrase because most online dictionaries use the catch-all phrase sawaadee — this is similar to the Hawaiian aloha in that it is used to mean "hello," "goodbye," "good morning," "good night," etc.  But I finally succeeded.

Once I found the Thai script for my new blog title, I simply cut-and-pasted it into Microsoft Word and adjusted the font-size and color (I thought yellow would look nice on the blue background).  It wasn't too difficult to match the background with that of the existing blog.  I took a screenshot and then cropped it out in Microsoft PictureIt! Express 9 (I can't figure out more advanced photo editors like Adobe Arobat).  I quite like the end result.

Here's a preview of how the masthead will look (click on the image for a larger view):

Of course, I'll use a different subtitle once I make the changeover as I'll no longer be living in the Northeast Heights of Albuquerque.  Perhaps I'll use something along the lines of "The New Adventures of a Farang In Paradise" (farang is what the Thai people call all foreigners).  (I'm not really happy with that subtitle — it just came off the top of my head — so I'll need to spend some more thought on that...)



I was awoken early this morning (well, around eleven) by a knock on my door.  By the time I'd opened it, I found that FedEx had left a large envelope on my welcome mat.  It contained my passport (there's security for you) and I quickly flipped to the page marked by a large white paperclip.  There it was:  my double-entry tourist visa from the Royal Thai Consulate-General.  I had been worried that they wouldn't approve my application (many consulates and embassies no longer approve multiple-entry visas for Thailand) so it was a relief to look at the black and red rubber stamps in my passport.

With this visa, I'll be able to stay just under 120 days (until around August 6) with one visa run at around the 60-day point to activate the second entry.  If I can get both of the "allowed" 30-day extensions, then that pushes me to the beginning of October, still with the one visa run (just before the 90-day point).  I shouldn't have any problem receiving the extensions (the Patong Immigration Office is known to issue these in almost every instance), but it is up to the whim of the official looking at your request (has he had a bad day?  does he like the looks of you?).  And I have to be really careful not to pass any of the deadlines, applying for the extensions and doing the visa run a few days before would be best.  You don't want to do these too early because you would be cheating time off of your full stay but if you wait too late you risk an overstay on your visa.  In the past, this only incurred a small fine (unless you were over by a month or more).  But recently, they have really been cracking down:  about a week ago, a bus on a visa run to the Burmese border not far north from Phuket was stopped by police and 12 foreigners were taken to jail for overstaying their visas (they had all stayed over only one to six days); they were held in jail for five days before being deported.

Tim and Jum quit their jobs at L&S Friday.  It seems that Lek was back to her old tricks of making unreasonable demands.  She had previously told them that their room and food at the hotel was free; that was why she was only paying them 5000 baht ($120) per month.  Thursday morning, she presented them with a bill for the room (10,000 baht for two weeks — MORE than the guests are charged — and 2000 baht for food); she said she wouldn't pay their salary until this bill was paid.  Tim was very upset because she had thought Lek was her friend, particularly since she had introduced us.  Apparently, Lek was holding that over her head as well and recently she was trying to drive a wedge between us.  In an e-mail yesterday, Tim wrote, "She said that she can make both of us love so she can make both of us finish."  She also wrote, "Now I know well the reason there is nobody can be with Lek.  I accept that I can't follow her emotion, sometimes she is good, but sometimes she is too bad."

Last night when we talked, she was really worried about leaving.  She didn't want Lek to be angry at her but I knew how unhappy she had become (it had been wearing at her since at least last weekend but receiving the bill was really the straw that broke the camel's back).  I reminded her of the incident when Lek began trying to charge me things that were supposed to be included with the price of the hotel room.  We agreed that this is also the reason why her sister had gone back to Bangkok and Silvio was "escaping" to Italy soon (Lek is constantly screaming at Silvio — you can even hear a bit of this on some of the video I shot in December).  I let Tim know that I wouldn't be disappointed with her if she decided to quit; her happiness is more important.  She'd said that she could find an empty space to resume selling food and I told her that was a great idea.

So, this morning when she called me around 5:30 (7:30pm in Phuket) Tim's voice was happier than it had been all week.  She was positively giddy when she told me that she and Jum had left and were now back in Kathu.  I had her howling with laughter when I imitated Lek calling Silvio's name and we thought it funny that, given how Lek claims she can do everything by herself at the hotel, she will now have to run the place by herself (she's driven away the laundry girl as well).  Tim revealed that they had three rooms (out of ten) with guest this week but then Lek started an argument with one of the families and they checked-out in disgust.  I wondered aloud if this was just the way Malaysian women were because no Thai — man or woman — would ever do such things and risk losing face.  Tim giggled that Lek has no face left at all.

Tim was doubly happy because she'd finally gotten her driver's license renewed yesterday in Phuket Town.  It had expired so she couldn't drive her new motorbike very much (but she was working so much — usually 12-hour days, seven days per week — that she didn't have much opportunity to go anywhere anyway) and it had become almost a three-day process to get it renewed (Thai bureaucracy, you get used to it).  She's looking forward to driving me all over the place; I told her she could charge me 1000 baht to go from Kathu to Patong and she got a big kick out of that ("You joking".  "No," I replied, "phuuyt jing jing (I really mean it.")  I think she said she would pick me up at the airport on the motorbike so I need to clarify that I'll have too much luggage to balance on the back; we'll have to go back to our original plan of having a taxi bring her up and bring us back.  I'll suggest that she bring Jum to the airport as well — she's Tim's best friend, comrade-in-arms since the Lek "incident", and has promised me that she will take good care of Tim in my absence.

I think Tim might worry that I won't be comfortable staying — at least initially — at her apartment.  She asked me this morning "You like stay Kathu?  Very hot.  No have air, no have fridge."  (She's been neglecting her English lessons — I'll work with her on grammar when I return.)  I made certain she knew that I didn't care about such things; as long as we're together, everything will be fine with me.  There's a small store just outside her building that sells cold drinks so a refigerator in the apartment really isn't necessary.  And on my last visit I came to dread the arctic cold produced by Thai air conditioners and the fact that they really do dehydrate you.  If we get too hot, we can always buy a fan at Big-C (I think she already has at least one small fan).  I had previously mentioned to her that a couple of weeks, or a month, after I return we can look for a larger apartment to rent if she wants — a nice place (preferably with either a phone line or ADSL installed) where there would be room for us as well as La and Jum to stay.  Based on my Internet findings, it will be easy to find really nice and affordable apartments or small houses to rent for much less than in the States.



I have some of the worst damn luck with computers. I have an external hard drive with two partitions connected to my PC.  This is where I store the majority of my music and video downloads, where I save my edited video prior to authoring and burning to DVD, and where I save my backup files.  Well, that hard drive crashed tonight.  Up until that, I had been happily burning off some of the downloaded concerts that were filling up much of the space — in preparation to compiling my Thailand trip DVD (all four hours of that video — meticulously cut down from amost six hours — was also stored on this drive).  Of course, the partition that I can’t access is one with the video and important music files.  The computer reads the other partition (which contains CD artwork and MP3 downloads) just fine, but then it just seems to go around in circles trying to read the second partition.  In addition to the video and some very rare concert downloads (I was converting FLAC files for a 5-CD set of Billy Joel archival recordings dating from 1974-76 when the crash occurred), all of my backups are contained on that drive.  Perhaps the most frustrating is the fact that I’ve lost the last two weeks of entries into my massive CD inventory program (around 100 discs with artwork, track listings, reviews, recording source info, etc.).  I have no desire to try and duplicate all of THAT work.  I also lost my recent audio tape transfers of certain Rainmakers concerts I was preparing to upload for other fans. In the case of one 4-disc project, it was the THIRD time I’d done the work.  I have no desire to do it again.

I doubt if I can do anything with the files on the first partition, either, as when the computer starts trying to read the second partition it hangs up all the other applications until I completely power-down the external drive.

This is why I’m being very careful with my new laptop — making sure I backup often and that I don’t put too much intensive labor on it.  As for the PC, I think the crashes I’ve experienced may be because of something faulty with the CPU or the paging system.  When I purchased it, I had put together the components so it could handle labor-intensive activities such as editing audio and video.   Something along the way must have become corrupted (although troubleshooting turns up nothing).

I don’t know which I’m more frustrated about — having to restore the recent additions to my CD inventory (I’d wanted to complete much of it before returning to Thailand) or having to start over on the trip video editing.  I simply don’t have that much free time available as I want to have everything out of this apartment except the furniture when Keith arrives a mere 34 days from now.



For as long as I can remember, I've enjoyed watching the Summer and Winter Olympics, particularly the Opening and Closing Ceremonies.  Tonight, I settled down to watch the opening festivities from Torino, knowing that the Italians would put on quite a show.  I wasn't disappointed in the least.

The presentation included several interesting surprises, the first for me was a Ferrari race car doing donuts on a makeshift track.  I was certain the driver was laying down the Olympic rings with his skidmarks but the smoke didn't clear enough to find out before NBC went to a commercial break.  Then, I was surprised to see actresses Sophia Loren and Susan Sarandon helping to carry the official Olympic flag.  I also recognized South American author Isabelle Allendre (I've been intrigued by her since reading a few book reviews, although I have yet to buy one of her novels — there's an Albuquerque connection with her as well, but I can't remember what it is) plus Somaly Mam of Cambodia.  This last woman campaigns for women's rights in that country, particularly as it relates to child sex workers/slaves; I'd read an article about her just last night in Transitions Abroad magazine.

But the biggest highlight for me was Peter Gabriel singing "Imagine" by John Lennon (probably my favorite song by the former Beatle, who was murdered twenty-five years ago).  When I was in high school, my favorite band was Genesis, particularly the 1970-75 period with Gabriel as lead singer (Phil Collins was merely the drummer for most of that time).  I still love that music, but I've become an even bigger fan of Gabriel's solo work and own virtually all of his many DVD's (he puts on some of the most spectacular concerts of anybody else on the road).  So it was a huge surprise when the stage rose with him sitting at the piano with several of his long-time solo bandmates.  (Immediately before, Lennon's widow Yoko Ono had warbled through a short speech and quoted a bit of "Imagine".)  Peter Gabriel gave a very solid version of it; I really wish I'd recorded the Opening Ceremonies now but I'm sure the performance is probably already available for download from one of my favorite BitTorrent sites.

Somehow, I managed to miss the lighting of the torch (I was sitting on my sofa working on my laptop) but I perked up when Luciano Pavoratti sang to close the ceremonies.  I've admired him for a long time as well (I do enjoy quite a large variety of music as you no doubt can tell from reading my posts...).

All in all, a fine addition to the long tradition of spectacular Opening Ceremonies.  I think this one will stick in my mind as the grandest I've seen, if only for the Peter Gabriel performance.  (The only one I can remember being truly disappointed in was either an opener or closer at a Winter Games in France some years ago; I'll have to look it up to find out exactly which one that was.)



Tim's motorbike broke down for good some time ago so she's been without transportation since working at L&S.  This morning, the first thing I did was check my email and was happy to see one from her — complete with photos of her new motorbike.

It's a red Honda Dream; I called her just now and found out that Jum had taken her to Phuket Town today (Thailand is 14 hours ahead of New Mexico) so she could buy one ("I look, look, look, no have black so buy red motorbike — sexy like me," she told me with obvious delight in her voice).  In fact, it was the happiest I'd heard her sound in quite some time (she's been sick off-and-on for a while) and was just bubbling with excitement.  I told her I was very happy for her and that I really liked seeing the photos although she should have smiled ("Khun yin suai jang" ["you have a pretty smile"], I said — causing more squeals of laughter as she loves it when I speak Thai).

Tim is very happy working at L&S, even though she works very long hours and doesn't often get to leave.  Lek is paying her 5000 baht per month (about $128) which seems extremely low but is close to an average wage in Thailand.  She also gets a place to stay for free as well as complimentary meals and beverages in the restaurant (which she cooks and serves herself).  I'm a little unclear whether she will keep her apartment over the mountain ("you want stay Kathu, we stay Kathu; you want stay Kamala, we stay Kamala — up to you," she says) or whether I'd have to pay full-board at L&S should we stay there.  Tim understands that I'm not made of money ("you come back Thailand, I take care of you," she tells me) and that I would rather stay elsewhere.  Perhaps the next time I call, I'll ask to speak to Lek or Silvio and see if they can give me a good rate for a couple of weeks.  Once I get there, we can go out looking for a less expensive place (I found a few nice houses online that rent for under $400 per month) with good neighbors.

Another reason Tim was so happy (other than the fact she's happy anytime we talk on the phone) was that Lek had hired Jum to bartend at L&S.  So now her best friend ("sister") is working with her as well, and staying in her room with her, so she has someone else to talk to and doesn't feel lonely.  (She called me earlier this week at noon, which was 2a.m. Thailand time, just crying because she was so lonely and had nobody to talk to.  She was laughing and in a very good mood by the time we hung up.)  Tonight, when I called, her other good friend and roommate in Kathu — Laa — was at L&S with Tim and Jum; they were all having a party with Lek and Silvio, celebrating the new jobs and motorbike as well as the new car Lek and Silvio purchased today.  The little parking lot there must be getting full!

Silvio returns to Italy next week, without Lek.  Tim's happy about that — "I in charge of L&S with Lek," she said.  He wasn't certain when he'll return, so I might not see him at all this summer.  I had hoped to show him a copy of my last visit's DVD when I returned but I suppose I'll just mail him a copy instead (he was very interested in all of the filming, as well as my photos, I did when I was there).  In fact, finishing editing this DVD has held up souvenir packages I've been planning to send to some friends and family members.  I made some progress on this yesterday, but then my computer crashed (again) and I lost all that work.  Oh, well — mai pen rai.

My dad had made a suggestion a few weeks back to buy Tim some Southwestern jewelry for Valentine's Day.  At the time, I'd dismissed the idea under the assumption that this wasn't a holiday the Thai people knew about.  Further research revealed, however, that at least in areas like Bangkok and Phuket where many Westerners have Thai girlfriends it has become tradition to send flowers on this day.  I then discovered a number of Thailand-based online florists so yesterday I placed an order for a bouquet of roses and an "I Miss You" teddy bear.  They'll translate the note into Thai and deliver everything to Tim at L&S on Valentine's Day ("you work all day Tuesday?" I asked her this morning, to make sure she'd be there).  (There was one company that included a "free" emailed photo of the recipient receiving the flowers, but the same bouquet cost almost $100 more from them...)  I think Tim will be pleased and I won't have to worry about a package getting lost in the mail (the Thai postal service isn't very secure).

I still like the idea of giving her some Southwestern jewelry — silver with some turquoise — but I'd like to give her that in person.  Hopefully, I can get down to Old Town sometime in the next couple of months; perhaps I'll wait until Keith comes out here so he can help me pick out something nice.

Speaking of the Thai postal system, I have a box of "souvenirs" all ready to send to Tim — an Albuquerque Tricentennial t-shirt, several other New Mexico shirts, a couple of ball caps from the Isotopes and the Scorpions (she loves logo t-shirts and caps and can be a real tom-boy at times), as well as a lot of photos, etc.  The problem is that most packages coming from Western countries seem to be rifled for valuables during the long truck ride from Bangkok down to the southern provinces.  Registered mail sometimes gets through and many expats recommend using a service like FedEx or DHL.  I checked out FedEx last night and they wanted $104 for their "International Economy" service.  I think I'll stop by DHL today to see what rates they'll quote me.  If it's that expensive, either I'll take my chances with Registered (I'll insure the package) or just pack the items in my suitcase.  But I think Tim would really get a thrill out of receiving a package from me...

I had been preparing myself for the "sticker-shock" of a $500 or $1000 cellular bill this month, given how often Tim and I call each other.  But I was pleased today to find out I only have to pay Cingular $217, and that includes the $80-per-month Blackberry all-inclusive package.  To compare, last month's bill was $247 — I wasn't using the phone as much but I did make several calls from Thailand to the U.S.  I'll be interested when the paper bill arrives in the mail to check out the per-call charges.  (I also have a couple of Thai phone cards which cost me 2.8 cents per minute to call Tim's cellphone, but the connection is usually so poor that I don't like to use them...)  When I return to Thailand, I think I'll try buying a local SIM card for my calls back to the States (my phone is "unlocked" so I can use them); it will be a lot less expensive.



I've been reading many interesting things about Thailand in a variety of books lately.  I found the following explanation about Thai nicknames very interesting, from Philip Cornwel-Smith's wonderful Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture (Bangkok: River Books, 2005 pp.80-81):

"What's your name?" asks a Bangkok English teacher.  "Yes," the Thai student replies.  "No, what are you called?" rephrases the American teacher.  "Yes.  My name is Yes, Khun Yes," repeats the student, wondering why his English name wasn't understood.  Thai nicknames are often as startling as they are playful.  He could just as puzzlingly have replied "Oh," "Eh," "X," "Boy," "Not," "Joke" or, wait for it... "God."

In all but form-filling and formal situations, the Thai use cheu len — play names.  You can know someone for ages before learning their real first name and maybe never hear their family name.  Even rank bends to this cute, intimate habit, with generals often referred to as Big, hence newspapers call ex-prime minister General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh 'Big Jiew' (bit little).  While some cheu len sound fun — Eew, Oiu, Oei, Nooi, Dtik — most mean something.  Many are unisex (Nong is younger sibling), but several define gender (Chai is male or victory, Noom is lad, Ying is female) or stereotypes.  Boy's names may mean brave, strong or noble.  Girls usually get very delicate, pretty or charming names, often Thai words for flowers, gems, scents, or wistful things:  sky, star, moon.

Nicknames may describe the baby's size:  Lek (little), Noi (small), Yai (big), Uan (fat), Goi (little finger); or skin tone:  Daeng (red), Dum (black), Som (orange).  Non-human names apparently fools evil spirits from claiming kids.  Hence people answer to Moo (pig), Gob (frog), Poo (crab), Mod (ant), or Gai (chicken), and even to farmyard sounds:  Oud (oink), Guk (cluck), Jiab (chirp), Juum (splash).  But what's charming in children — Jim (pussy) or Juu (willy) — may embarrass adults.

Once expressive of rural culture, nicknames now reflect modernity and globalisation.  Old cheu len may reappear in English:  Fern, Ant, Rose, Ink, Oak, Bird, Baby.  Others use foreign words, often shortened from the end, like Bo (from Jumbo), Taem (from Je t'aime), Sin (from Cinderella) and Lo (from Marlboro).  Most of the English alphabet can be nicknames, some spelled with just one letter:  A, B, F, J, K, M, O, Q, X.

Among imports, few pick proper names like the singer James or model Cindy.  Most indicate trends or interests.  Wealth:  Gift, Bank, Mink, Oil, Pound.  Brands:  Benz, Ford, Sony, Nokia.  Hi-tech:  Neon, Beam, Intel, Com (from computer).  Food:  Cake, Mint, Candy.  Drink:  Pepsi, Milk, Fanta, Beer, Ice.  Adventure:  Map, Earth, Nato, Bomb.  Leisure:  Art, Balloon, Film, Guitar, Pencil.  Sport:  Golf, Game, Bad (from Badminton), Coat (from Coach), Man-U (from Manchester United).  Some mark events, like the Olympic medalist's baby Athens.

Nicknames like New and Win have a lucky cachet, something essential in real first names.  Since surnames were introduced only in 1926 to aid bureaucracy and communications — and to emulate Western tradition — first names remain the formal way to address anyone, whether doctor, parent, boss or minister.  This applies to foreigners too, thus Tony Blair becomes Mr. Tony.

Parents choose from naam mongkhon (auspicious names) suggested by a monk for lucky or astrological qualities.  For example, each birth day of the week is apportioned a chunk of the alphabet, from which the first letter could be chosen.  The nicer sounding the name the better.  To make it euphonious, some select one that alliterates with the family name, like Choopol Choompol or Kasem Kasemsan.  Others use the poetic device khlong jong to create rhyming chains of serial names, whether of city gates or siblings.  An example from a names column in Ploy Kaem Phet magazine cites these brothers in order of age:  Sariphong Worawit, Goradit Woragarn, Boriharn Woragit, Bandit Waragoon, Paitoon Ratsami.

Surnames must have a meaning, and get ever-longer, because they combine a finite supply of auspicious words.  While ethnic Thai names have one or two syllables, Sino-Thai monikers stretch to three, four, even seven syllables, like Ngoenprakairat (shining silver like a jewel).  Sino-Thai surnames may also incorporate the ancestral Chinese clan name like Lee or Lim, though its meaning might be translated into Pali or Sanskrit to look more Thai.  Thus in the Silpa-archa political dynasty, archa (horse) derived from the Beh (horse) clan.

Protocol demands the exclusivity of the many royally bestowed surnames and their English transliterations, which may differ from how they're said.  Thus Dr. Sumet Jumsai campaigned to get the celebrity Areeya Sirisopha to drop the surname Jumsai, which her family had adopted.  This was academic since everyone calls her Pop.

In fact, Thais often — and easily — change their name.  Some fall foul of chance:  Prateung (enhance) became slang for ladyboy after a song lyric, a rapist blighted the nickname Dtuii, and the film Bangrajan starred a buffalo called Boonlert (great merit).  Giving animals human names is taboo.  Others want a monk to suggest something luckier.  After Aphichet Kitikorncharoen of the boyband D2B fell into a coma, he was renamed Panrawat — Mr. Remain Alive.  Fans still call him Big.

Names remain quite fluid.  Since 2004, Thai women need no longer take on their husband's surname.  And double-barrelled ones may be imminent.  "It'll be great to have a kid with the last name Benedetti-Khemklad," says actor Somchai Khemklad, who married singer 'Nat' Myria Benedetti.  "Wouldn't that be cool?"

Since surnames never caught on except among major families, it's often only encountered on receiving a namecard.  This device is universal, not elite, with countless print shops offering elaborate designs and finishes.  Unlike the casual tossing of nicknames, namecards embody the giver's face, so their exchange involves care, especially among Sino-Thai.  Bowing slightly, you pass it with the right hand, or pinching the top corners so it faces the receiver, who handles it carefully.  Imagine the slur of writing on the front or the back, putting it away without a glance, especially into a back pocket.  With so much face at stake, no wonder Thais stick to nicknames.
Tim's full name is SangWan Saentham; I haven't yet discovered all the meanings behind it and her nickname (that will require learning more of each other's languages on both our parts; so many things left to learn...)


I haven't felt much like writing in this blog over the past week.  I've been busy, although it seems like I haven't accomplished a whole lot.  I'm somewhat overwhelmed at what I need to accomplish in less than two months — trying to pack up a lifetime of accumulations, collections, and detritus is daunting to say the least.  I have so many things of value, both monetary and sentimental, that I wonder if I'll ever fit the items I want to keep into just one storage space.  My dad's solution is to toss anything I haven't actually "used" in the past couple of years but it is just not that easy.  In many cases, it would be like throwing museum-quality relics into the trash.  I think I'll just rent the largest storage facility I can find and start filling it.  If I need to rent a second one to store my car, so be it; the cost will still be much less than maintaining an apartment I'm not living in.

I will be cutting many costs during the time I'm staying in Thailand; not only will I not be paying $730 per month in rent, but I will eliminate the trash, water, gas, and electric utilities along with land-line telephone, DSL and dialup Internet services (I need to find out how to keep my MSN account overseas because I don't want to have to change my e-mail address) as well as numerous other monthly living expenses.

I've just mailed off my visa application to the Royal Thai Consulate in Houston (said to be fairly "friendly").  Instead of going with the 30-day "visa on arrival" that U.S. citizens can receive upon landing in the Kingdom, I applied for a double-entry tourist visa.  This means that on the first entry, I can stay up to 60 days.  Close to the expiration of that visa, I will need to ask for a 30-day extension which are almost always approved (the Immigration office in Patong is known to give these more often than others).  Shortly before that extension expires, I will need to physically leave the country, even if only to cross the border for an hour.  Returning to Thailand activates the second entry and the 60-day stay plus 30-day extension begins again.  This means that, provided my application is approved and I receive both extensions, I could stay up to 180 days on this one visa (triple-entry visas are also available but they are granted less often than double-entries so I decided not to push my luck).  With the visa application, you do need to submit a copy of a airline ticket proving you will be leaving the country at some point.  I wasn't sure if I should bank on the extensions but ended up booking a return flight on August 1 and listing this date on the visa application.  I can always change the flight once I'm in Thailand.  If the double-entry tourist visa isn't approved, then I can always cross the border into Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, or Malaysia every 30 days (up to one-year is the current limit) to use the visas-on-arrival.

Of course, legally, foreigners aren't allowed to work in the Kingdom on either of these visas.  But the Non-Immigrant and other visas are very difficult to obtain, even if you have a job lined up.  It's a paperwork nightmare and then you are only allowed 90 days in Thailand before you need to start applying for extensions and making periodic visa runs.  In fact, the "visa run" to cross the border and return in a day is such a common thing that travel agencies all over the country offer these just as they offer any other tour or airfare booking.

My plan is that, again providing my initial application and extension are approved and based on how Tim and my relationship is going (no reason to think it won't still be wonderful) and how much I still like Thailand (I certainly don't think I'll get homesick for New Mexico), once I activate my second entry I will begin the TEFL course at one of the schools on Phuket providing this instruction.  Throughout the four-week course, they aggressively pursue a position for you and then assist your prospective employer with the paperwork involved with obtaining a work permit and Non-Immigrant visa for you.  It's certainly much easier to do it this way than on your own.

Much of my "free" time has been taken up with reading all I can about Thai customs and culture; I think I have a handle on who to wai during introductions and greetings, how to keep from using my left hand at all (I'm left-handed so this will be difficult to remember), and to keep from pointing my feet at anybody.  I'm also getting very good at speaking Thai, although many of the phrases I've learned to say to Tim are rather romantic causing her to playfully call me "pok wan" (sweet mouth) to which I respond "phuuyt jing jing" (I truly mean it).  My pronunciation, along with the dreaded tones, is coming along nicely but almost everyday I'll try to say something which causes Tim to shreik with laughter at some phrase I've mangled.

Tim herself has been rather busy as well.  First her motorbike broke down causing her to lose some work and to beg rides from her friend Jum.  She stayed home several days, and as a result she became very sick from the heat there.  Once she got better, Jum's motorbike broke down (Tim fixed it) and then Jum became sick so Tim took care of her.  All of this down-time caused her to start thinking about changing jobs and yesterday I received an email from her basically asking for my permission for her to go to work for Lek at L&S Kamala Bay Village as a housekeeper.  I was very surprised that she wanted my opinion on this; she even wrote, "If you don't agree with me, I will not work there."  Although I got a little annoyed with Lek for trying to charge extra towards the end of my stay at L&S, I think it would be wonderful for Tim to work there.  I am indebted to Lek for introducing us in the first place and she is someone who Tim enjoys talking to and practicing English with.  I called Tim back even before she left the Internet cafe to give her my blessing.

Last night (morning in Thailand), Tim called me from L&S just as happy as can be.  Not only will she be cleaning the rooms but she will also cook some meals in the restaurant as well.  Cooking truly seems to be one of her great passions in life and she's looking forward to cooking for me when I return.  She also wants me to teach her how to cook such things as hamburgers and steak the way I like them.  Our call became a "pass-the-phone-around" type so I also got to talk to Silvio (who's really looking forward to my return) and to Lek (who offered to help us with getting a visa for Tim to come back to America with me because she "knows people"; first, we need to get her a passport in Bangkok however).  Silvio might be returning to Italy for a few months this Spring, depending on business at L&S.  I wasn't too clear on if Lek was going with him (I'd thought she was returning in January) or if L&S would be open during his/their absence.  I think I'll call him again next week to ask.

So, a lot has indeed been keeping me busy.  But as I look around the stacks of boxes and the unsorted/unpacked stuff cluttering my large apartment, I feel as if very little work has been accomplished.  I really need to knuckle-down and start clearing out this home.  At least I'll have help with the furniture and other larger items at the end of March — my brother-in-law is flying down from Kansas to give me a hand.  That's fitting, as he helped me move to New Mexico almost twelve years ago (driving the rental truck and flying back after the weekend).  And I still want to find time to take some final photos around town (there are still places in Albuquerque I've always wanted to visit but never seemed to find the time...).  So much to little time.



At long last, I've completed uploading the majority of the photos I took in Thailand last month and early this month.  I've received some really good comments on many of the pictures from friends and family, and I've just sent about 70 prints off to Tim (she's been thrilled at the few I sent by email).  I'm about to purchase a new laptop to take with me on my next visit; I should be able to upload photos from there every few days or so instead of trying to post an entire trip upon returning home.  One of the best things I did in Thailand was post to the blog almost every day while the memories were still fresh in my mind; those blog entries will be useful when I start expanding the few captions I've already attached to the photos.



Here it is, the last day of January and the temperature gauge on my computer says it's 58° Fahrenheit outside.  I may even venture into the outdoors sans coat!  However, I still miss those 80° plus temperatures in Thailand and just haven't been able to adjust to the very chilly nights.  Everyday when I talk to Tim I ask her about the weahter and she says, "Ron mahk" (very hot) everytime.  (I can't remember if her apartment has an air-conditioner or not; I was only there twice very briefly but remember a fan in the corner of the "living room".)