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Last night we went to see former Rainmakers lead singer Bob Walkenhorst play at Kansas City's RecordBar on Westport Road.

A brief background:  the first time I ever saw Bob perform was in August 1984 at Kansas State University's Memorial Stadium; pre-Rainmakers band Steve, Bob & Rich headlined the "Welcome Back" concert for students and my roommate ("Cruiser") was a fan and introduced me to their independently-produced album Balls.  Bob played stand-up drums and sang back then, abandoning that for rhythm guitar with the trio added a new drummer and signed a recording contract in late 1985.  I was a fan all during the life of The Rainmakers; they broke up for the first time in 1990 (I went to their various local farewell shows) and Bob did some solo acoustic shows for several years before the band reuninted for albums in 1993 (playing only in Norway where they were very popular) and then in 1997 (followed by U.S. and Norwegian tours up until 1999).  Several years ago, Bob began playing with several local musicians in a Wednesday-night residency at Westport's Molloy Brothers Irish Pub with other former Rainmakers occasionally sitting in.  Last year, Molloy's changed their name to the RecordBar and Bob has continued playing there.  His sets are usually a mixture of his solo material (both pre- and post-Rainmakers), material from his various former bands, and a lot of fun covers.

Melissa (Bryan's bride) picked me up at Marilyn's and we went to the RecordBar early to secure good seating.  Bryan joined us an hour or so later.  I talked with Jay (who records all the shows), Sharon (who is another long-time fan and attends virtually every show), Jim K. (who is probably the best of the various gig photographers), and several others before the show began.  I also talked with Bob who was very excited about my plans and asked all sorts of questions about Thailand and Tim.  He also asked if there was something special I wanted to hear; I couldn't think of anything but he did dedicated the Rainmakers' song "The Other Side Of The World" (from their second album, released in 1987) to me during the show.  Bryan later passed a note requesting Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" (which Bob performed at his very first solo show when Bryan & I attended back in October 1990 but I don't think he's performed since).  I thought this was a great idea (Bob W. always does such a great job on Bob D. songs — you can actually understand the lyrics!); the band made a quick huddle, worked out the chords and played a wonderful version of the classic with Norm taking some of the lead vocals as well as Bob.  They also later performed a great version of Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone" and I called out requesting some Creedence Clearwater Revival to which they responded by singing "Proud Mary."

Other special guests at the show included Dave Johnson — one of Bob's bandmates from his very first bands The J-Walkers and Phantasia (he didn't get up to sing, however) — as well as noted K.C. musician John Northern, a good songwriter in his own right (Bob covers some of his songs on occasion as well as playing double-gigs every once in a while).  John provided backing vocals on several songs (including "I Shall Be Released" and The Rainmakers' "Dry Land") and sang lead on "I Carry No Cross But My Own."  After the show (which ended with a fun version of "Get Off Of My Cloud" by The Rolling Stones), Bob had Bryan take a photo of him, Jeff Porter (bass), Norm Dahlor (drums), and myself.

A very nice evening, indeed.



I was digging around looking for something to read this morning and decided on Kingdom Of Make-Believe: A Novel Of Thailand by Dean Barrett.  Opening it, I found a really nice quote by W. Somerset Maugham:

It seemed to me that by a long journey to some far distant country I might renew myself...I journeyed to the Far East.  I went looking for adventure and romance, and so I found them...but I found also something I had never expected.  I found a new self.
I think it fits very nicely with the adventure I am embarking on.


As I write this, I'm waiting at Marilyn's house for Dad to pick me up.  We're going on a drive out to Lake Perry today (which generally kills three hours or so).

My flight to Kansas City yesterday was fairly uneventful, although arrived somewhat late.  After our full flight had boarded, they decided to hold our plane for 25 transfers from an inbound from Phoenix — a basketball team on their way to the NCAA tournaments.  More delays were incurred as the flight attendants tried to find other passengers who would give up their seats for the team players.  When we finally arrived at MCI, it took time to dig out our suitcases from under those of the basketball team.  My large duffel bag was one of the first to emerge from the baggage claim carousel (it was exactly 70 pounds heavy and incurred a $25 overweight charge from Southwest).

Dad picked me up and we made a quick stop at McBride's Irish Pub (near the Kansas International Raceway) for a beer.  I told Dad about the engagement ring I'd bought Tim (with help from Keith) over the weekend.  I'd planned to keep it a secret from everybody until I popped the question on Tim's birthday (not wanting to jinx it) but later made the "big announcement" during desert at Dad & Lyn's home.  Dinner was a very good chile (made by Lyn) with cornbread and salad.  In total (including the one at McBride's), I drank about four glasses of Boulevard Pale Ale (a local KC brewpub) and half a glass of Riesling.  When we got to Marilyn & Keith's house, we watched the latest episode of "The Amazing Race" but I fell asleep before the end; I'll have to rewatch it tonight or tomorrow.

Once I went upstairs to my room, I called Tim and talked with her for 30 minutes or so before falling back asleep.  I called her again this morning for another 40-minute talk.  She's really getting excited with just one week until we're together again.  She also wrote me an e-mail yesterday (which I read this morning) saying how she wanted us to be alone on her birthday — she wants to go to the temple to make a donation in the morning and then to Bangla Road in Patong in the afternoon to "have party".  When I called her this morning, I told her I'd like to go to the beach to watch the sunset and give her a present on the beach (this is when I plan to propose).

Tonight, Bryan and Melissa are taking me to The RecordBar to see Bob Walkenhorst of The Rainmakers perform.  I'd rather just hang out with Bryan and get caught up but we'll do some of that on Saturday (perhaps tomorrow he can go with Dad, Lyn, and I to eat lunch at Arthur Bryant's BBQ).



Tonight is my last in Albuquerque, at least for quite some time.  The apartment is as clean as I can make it given the resources I have had and virtually everything I own sits in a large storage unit a couple of miles away from here.  Keith and I accomplished a great deal over the weekend (he left Sunday night) and I spent today running last minute errands and doing a few odds and ends around the apartment.

I awoke very early Friday morning — just a few minutes before my alarm was due to go off at 4:30.  I spent a little over an hour carting trash to the dumpster and then ran a load of boxes to the storage unit before waking Keith.  We went and picked up the rental truck and had it loaded and the majority of non-keeper items thrown into the dumpster before lunchtime.  There was one particular elderly lady who was very appreciative of the "quality" of things I was throwing out and she spent hours salvaging my trash.  Luckily, the trash man came before anything with my address or other personal information was dug up.  Keith and I unloaded the truck at the storage unit and made sure my car would still fit (it did) before dropping it off at uHaul (a major undertaking as the one employee there didn't know what she was doing and got very busy with the gas & convenience store portion of the business).

We ate lunch at the Owl Cafe, feasting on their famous green chile cheeseburgers; Keith had a beer while I had an excellent peanut butter milk shake.  We then drove down to Old Town where we took some photos of the new sculptures in front of the newly-renovated Albuquerque Museum (mainly a caravan of settlers to tie in with next month's 300th anniversary of this city's founding).  Our main goal of this journey, however, was for me to buy Tim a very special gift which I intend to give her on her birthday (April 13).  I'll provide more details on this at a later time....

Since it was still too early for dinner, we decided we wanted to have a couple of beers and tried to do so at La Hacienda.  We noticed a sign saying you couldn't drink alcohol on the outdoor patio so we went inside.  First of all, there didn't seem to be anybody working and a management-type person yelled at someone to seat us.  While the server was getting menus, we stated that we were just going to have a beer anyway.  The manager then very loudly told us we had to purchase food to order alcohol and then rudely said, "There's a bar down the street where you can get drunk."  Nice guy; needless to say, we left.  Anyway, we went back to a shop where I'd decided to buy Tim's gift; the cashier did a great job of wrapping it up for me (but I won't be able to show it to anybody until I give it to Tim).

We went back to my apartment where we watched some of my Thailand video before heading off to a late dinner at Garduno's on Montgomery for a very good New Mexican meal (I had a steak stir-fry and a Mariachi band performed for us).  We went to sleep soon after returning from dinner.

Saturday morning, Keith and I spent a couple of hours cleaning, vacuuming, scrubbing, and taking a few more things out to the trash.  We drove downtown and had lunch at Tucano's Brazilian Grill which had some of the best food I've had in Albuquerque.  Not only did they have a huge salad & appetizer bar (all-you-can-eat), but the best part of the meal was the huge screwers of meats they would cook over an open flame and then slice up for you at the table.  There were about 12 different kinds of meat on the various scewers — once they had finished the rotation, they would start again.  The meat was all-you-can-eat as well — the salad, appetizers, and meat was $10.95 per person at lunch, $17.95 for dinner and well worth it.

After lunch, we drove up to Casa Rondena Winery in the North Valley which is probably the most picturesque winery in New Mexico with all of the buildings designed in an Italian villa style reminiscent of Tuscany.  Keith and I both took a few photos but by the time we got inside the tasting room there was a huge crowd in front of us.  We decided to come back later so we drove up to the Juan Tabo trailhead area of the Sandia Mountains for some scenic shots and then spent some time playing the slot machines at the Sandia Casino and Resort.  (I started off with $20 and doubled it to a little over $40 playing dime and nickel slots.)  When we returned to Casa Rondena we both went through the full range of wine tasting (my favorite was the Tricentennial Serenade) and even had a glass sitting out by the duck pond.  For dinner, we got some sandwiches at Dion's and had a picnic in my virtually empty apartment while watching DVD's of "The Wedding Crashes" and "Bewitched."

Sunday was kind of a lazy day.  We ate lunch at Wing Basket and then went to see a movie ("Inside Man", starring Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster, Clive Owen, Willem Dafoe, and Christopher Plummer).  We checked out some of my Thailand photos on my computer before I took Keith down to the airport in the late afternoon.

This morning, I took the last of my stuff over to the storage unit, mailed some packages at the post office, paid a couple of bills, printed out my boarding pass at Kinko's, got my hair cut, and had lunch at Dion's.  I took a nap, made a few phone calls, and then went back to my storage unit to retrieve a blanket and comforter so I don't freeze tonight (it was nice and warm with plenty of sun the entire time Keith was here; today was windy and cold with overcast skies; rain is predicted for tomorrow).  I actually went to Wendy's drive-thru for the first time in many years for a cheap dinner which I ate sitting against my hearth watching an episode of "Weeds" on the laptop.  I think I'll call Tim in a little while and go to bed fairly early.

I plan to take my car over to the storage unit around 6:00 tomorrow morning and walk back up here.  I'll call a cab and then have the complex manager walk through the apartment with me so I can turn in my keys and sign-off on my home for the last six years.  Hopefully, the cab will arrive in time so I don't have to sit outside for very long with my luggage.  My flight isn't until 12:40 but I want to get to the airport very early to check my jumbo red duffel bag (it probably weighs around 80 pounds).

It feels odd to leave this place after so long; I've lived in the same apartment for almost six years, almost eight in the same complex, and just under eleven in Albuquerque itself.  I can't wait to begin my new adventures in South East Asia, however.

Goodbye, Albuquerque.  Hello, Phuket....



Keith arrived safely in Albuquerque last night.  I'd spent much of the day yesterday moving more boxes into storage and carting trash (there's a lot of it!) to the dumpster.  After picking him up at the airport, I was starving from not eating all day so we stopped for a late dinner at JB's.

I fell asleep around midnight (after calling Tim first — she's excited that there's only 12 days left before we're together) and woke up this morning at 4:30.  I've already hauled several loads to the dumpster and will continue to do so until I wake Keith.  We pick up our moving van (a U-Haul 14-footer) at 7:30 and will be busy most of the day packing it with my furniture and other large items to haul over to the storage unit.

It's going to be a very long day but I'll be glad to empty out this apartment.  If we get enough accomplished today, we can enjoy tomorrow and perhaps do some siteseeing in Old Town (and I really want to buy a nice ring for Tim while we're at it).



I always seem to have bad luck in picking times to move from one home to another.  When I moved into this apartment (into a two-bedroom from a one-bedroom in the same complex) just under six years ago, I managed to pick the week that they were resurfacing the parking lot.  We couldn't use a vehicle to move the furniture because of the hot tar on all of the road surfaces so we had to carry everything along the sidewalks and grassy areas.  Of course, it also decided to rain on the main moving day.

And now the weather is once again forcing delays in my moving and I'm getting farther and farhter behind.  First, we had a major storm over the weekend.  Although my car was covered in a layer of ice topped with two or so inches of snow a few days ago, I managed to chip away at the ice and get the car running enough to move several loads of boxes.  Today, just one day before Keith arrives to help me move furniture, we are being subjected to yet another winter storm.  It rained most of the night and now every surface is covered in ice — the sidewalks and roads are especially treacherous and I fell very hard a short time ago.  Now, the rain is turning to snow and they are calling for accumulations of around five inches at elevations lower than 7,500 feet by noon.  Above 7,500 feet will be even worse.  It's very dangerous to drive in this weather here; I still have some icy driving skills left over from years of living in Kansas but most other drivers here have no clue about how to drive even when it rains, much less when they have to deal with ice and snow.

I did manage to buy another 28 bankers boxes yesterday so I'll stay inside packing those up today and maybe drive several loads over to storage sometime tomorrow (the weather forecast calls for temperatures in the 50's tomorrow).  Still, looking around the apartment today I feel like I'm very far behind.  I'd wanted to have nothing but furniture left by the time Keith got here.  I'm not going to accomplish that — not even close....

I do feel like I accomplished something yesterday.  I took two loads to the storage unit early in the morning and then spent several hours on the phone cancelling my utilities and various billed accounts.  The cancellation of most of these was relatively easy (once I finished waiting on-hold — the record was just over 70 minutes waiting for the phone company CSR to come on the line); I did have to drive to my local insurance agent to sign an "intent to cancel" notification.

Why do Internet service providers make it so difficult to cancel?  When I was having problems with my DSL a months or so ago, I needed to get online to download the AT&T dialer onto my laptop and restore my account settings.  However, to do this, I needed to temporarily sign up for AOL so I could get online.  With AT&T installed on the laptop, I certainly didn't need AOL anymore (I'd used one of those 3-month free trial CD's that clog my mailbox),   I called them yesterday to cancel (two months "early") and told them I was leaving them because I was moving to Thailand.  The CSR tried to get me to keep AOL ("you can dial-in from Thailand"   yeah, there's NO local number anywhere in the country) and when I told him I wasn't even sure if we'd have a home phone line he said, "well, you can log-in to AOL from a cybercafe"). Why would I want to use a $20-per-month service at an Internet cafe where you can get online for free (plus the hourly charge of the cafe, which is very cheap in Thailand)?  Anyway, I finally got him to cancel the service (after getting a lecture about how much free time I had left on the trial...).

Apart from driving down to my local insurance agent's office (it had been so long since I'd been to the office — back when I first signed up — that I had to look up the address in the phone book and still had problems finding it), I also ran a few other errands.  The most important of these was going to AAA and getting my International Driver's Permit (plus having the two passport-type photos taken for it).  Now, if I feel the desire, I can legally drive in Thailand.

I put off getting a haircut until today which, in turn, I'll probably have to delay until tomorrow given the nasty weather.  I also need to buy some paint and spackle.  Looks like tomorrow will be a very busy day.  I've been falling asleep lately in the afternoon and waking up past midnight; I need to make sure I don't do that tomorrow night because I need to pick Keith up at the airport at 9:00pm.



One of the most anticipated tours of this Spring is that of David Gilmour, former guitarist/vocalist for Pink Floyd (former Pink Floyd founder/bassist/vocalist Roger Waters will also be touring soon).  As with all major tours nowadays, it's very easy to find recent shows available for BitTorrent download.

It's been especially fun collecting Gilmour's recent work; I started by downloading his new solo album, On An Island, several days before it's release (overall, I thought it was rather boring but there are some great guitar pastiches).  A few days after that brought two BBC radio broadcasts (an interview with a couple of acoustic songs performed live in the studio plus an hour-long concert), followed by three songs from the hour-long concert as a DVD since the show was filmed for a later webcast.  Now, there are audio recordings of two further full concerts (Hamburg and Paris, the latter already has FIVE different source recordings!) as well as a nice DVD of video clips from the Dortmund gig (a nice presentation that begins with a German TV news report).

What I like about these shows is that Gilmour has included a lot of Pink Floyd songs; the second set has been opening with "Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts 1-6)" and ending with my favorite Floyd song, the 20-minute "Echoes" from 1970's Meddle.  In Paris, the second song on the first set was a rare performance of "The Great Gig In The Sky" with special guest Sam Brown on guest vocals.  Really cool!  I've been enjoying downloading these recent shows much more than last year's U2 and Bruce Springsteen concerts (which I rapidly tired of).

I have been furiously downloading many shows in these past weeks before I leave town.  I know I won't be able to once I'm in Thailand and my speeds have been very fast recently (except for this weekend when my DSL has either been out completely or operating at very slow speeds — weather problems, perhaps).  Not only have I been bringing down David Gilmour shows but also added some "new" U2 (including recordings of their 1981 and 1983 Kansas City concerts as well as a DVD of their recent Sao Paulo TV broadcast), some great Van Morrison shows from the early 1970's, as well as a lot of Eric Clapton soundboards (mainly from the 1974 and 1975 tours — really my favorite period of his live performances because of the unpredicability of the setlists and the length/quality of his guitar solos).

It's so much fun to discover and listen to many of these rarities, the only problem being having enough time to burn them all to CD-R before I dismantle the PC later this week.  I pretty much decided to stop downloading on Friday so I could get caught up (after I burn each disc, I then add it to my inventory program so it doesn't go into THAT stack) and also upload several of my own Rainmakers remasters (not helped due to this weekend's DSL problems, however).

Downloading new music is one thing I'll really miss when I'm in Thailand.  When I'm looking for a new house, one of the things I'm really going to look for is the availability of a broadband connection (although, truth be told, even finding a home with a phone line will be difficult).



Now that I've figured out (and put on the calendar) all the deadlines I have to meet on my double-entry tourist visa (i.e., apply for first 30-day extension shortly before the 60-day point, physically leave the country and return near the 90-day point to activate the second entry, etc.), I'm looking ahead to the time that visa expires (which will either be at the beginning of August, September or October depending on whether or not I get one or both of the extensions).

I've determined that you cannot change a tourist visa to a Non-Immigrant visa from within Thailand.  (Apparently, that used to be allowed but now the only visa you can change to inside the Kingdom is the so-called "investment" visa for which you deposit some ungodly amount of baht in a non-interest account with the Thai government; that gives you one year after which you renew by depositing more money.)  Very few of the consulates and embassies in neighboring countries will issue a multiple-entry Non-Imm visa, but Penang and Kuala Lumpur are two major exceptions.  I could obtain the visas there which would be much less expensive than flying all the way back to the States in order to apply.

I would probably have to initially go for the Non-Immigrant "B" visa under which you can obtain a work permit.  You cannot obtain a work permit on a tourist visa and even if you perform unpaid volunteer work you need a work permit in Thailand.  (However, I'm pretty sure they didn't require this of all the aid workers in their country following the tsunami...)  There's a mountain of paperwork involved just in getting the work permit, not to mention the visa.  The company that wishes to hire you must provide detailed financial records of their own business including corporate organizational charts, bank and tax statements, proof of 2 million baht profits annually, etc.  There's a lot of leg-work involved and there are numerous companies in Thailand that specialize in obtaining the needed documents for the different kinds of visas.  I've found one law firm that offers to "sponsor" aliens who are interested in working in Thailand, obtaining a work permit for them on the basis of consultancy or research.  If I don't line up something solid beforehand (not every firm who wishes to hire foreigners can meet the government requirements), this may be the route I take (provided the lawyer fees aren't too high).

The second type of Non-Immigrant visa is the "O" category and seems a much easier one to obtain.  This is a visa designed for a foreigner married to a Thai national so he can stay in the country to take care of his family.  All you need for this visa is a copy of your marriage certificate, your passport and her Thai ID card, plus financial evidence that you can support your wife (a bank statement will do).

Both of these visas are good for 90 days after which you need to apply for an extension (sometimes a full year extension is given but usually it's just another 90 days).

But getting either of these Non-Immigrant visas seems a walk in the park compared to the hoops I'll have to jump through in order to bring Tim to America even for a short visit — married or not, it makes no difference.  Basically, the U.S. government wants to make sure she's not a terrorist or a threat to our national security (they've made it increasingly difficult for tourists and immigrants since 9/11) and the Thai government wants to make sure she's going to come back after her holiday (apparently, a lot of Thai women "jump ship" once abroad).  There are long lists of the required documents on the Thai Immigration sites and then even longer lists on the various expat forums (ThaiVisa being the best).  Even then, a lot of it is up to the various officials you'll be interviewing with at every step of the way.  It's a very long process, and most people with experience recommend starting at least six months in advance of the time you want the visa for.  As Americans, I think we've been spoilt by the 30-day visa-on-arrival that virtually every country grants us and can't understand why other countries can make it so difficult for their citizens to leave even for a trip to a neighboring country.

Anyway, the requirement I found most interesting is "proof of relationship."  This means that you need to assemble a file containing months of photographs of the two of you together, phone bill records (I've got a doozy to show them) and copies of e-mails or letters proving you keep in contact when you are apart, and also copies of lease agreements and photos of your home (you must live together, either married or unmarried), among other supporting documents (but NOT a joint banking account).  The only way a single Thai woman is allowed to visit another country otherwise is if they are going to work as a maid and their employer "sponsors" them with a hefty "investment" with the Thai government.  Even if she is married, it's the same difficult process with Thai Immigration.

And that's just the beginning.  Once the Thai national is granted permission to go abroad, that's when they need to apply for a visa with the destination country's embassy.  In the case of the United States, Tim will have to be approved by the Department of Homeland Security (who will refer her file to the FBI and CIA for scrutiny as well) and the Department of State.  They are especially hard on visitors from Southeast Asia because of the history of the opium trade in that region (more so in Laos than in Thailand but the stigma is still there — I think this was a big reason why I was hassled in Vancouver this past January).  I also have a sneaking suspicion that the U.S. government is still biased towards that region because of our past failures in Vietnam and Cambodia but that's just a guess.

I've been reading horror stories from other expats trying to bring their Thai girlfriends back to meet their families and being turned down at some point in the long process.  I've heard of couples who had been married for 10 years or more being denied to visit the alien's country of origin.  It's all a bit discouraging but we're going to give it our best shot.

What is out of the question is bringing her to America on the so-called Fiance Visa to be married in America.  I haven't read up on those requirements but I wouldn't want to do that to her.  Although she is interested in coming to the States for a visit, she would never want to be married or live here.  Nor would I.  The Thai culture is such that they need to live close to their families and Tim would be miserable staying so far away.  And I would definitely want a traditional Thai wedding at any rate.  Much of this topic is moot right now, however, as I haven't formally asked her to marry me (yet).  We've hinted at it very strongly and I have no doubt in my mind that she'll say "yes" (or, actually, "khap") when I do ask (notice I wrote "when").  She's asked me in so many words if I wanted to during several of our phone calls but I just say that we need to talk of such things only when we're together rather than on the telephone.

I didn't initially know it would be so difficult to wade through all these laws to find out what I need to do in order to stay in Thailand past my tourist visa or to bring Tim over here to see my country.  It's especially confusing since I'm doing the research on these laws at the same time as I'm trying to wrap up business here and pack.

Not only that, but we really wanted to go to Holland together next February for the 2007 Marillion Weekend.  Mike and I have had our four-person cottage reserved for some time and I really had high hopes that Tim would be going with me.  I've told Steve Rothery (guitars) and Steve Hogarth (lead vocals) about Tim and they are very anxious to meet her, as are some of the other friends I've made in the Marillion community.  But if the Thai immigration laws were difficult enough with the U.S. being right up there as well, it seems that Holland will be darn near impossible.  One reason is that a number of the European countries are now linked together and you have to apply for what is called a Schengen visa (kind of the immigration version of the Euro currency).  I was further discouraged by this answer I received when I posed the question on the ThaiVisa forums:

To apply individually (for her) is an almost impossible job (in your case, being American). The Visa-rules for Holland are one of the toughest in Europe and the Dutch Embassy in BKK is quite 'harsh' on giving out visa; most of the time, in case of doubts (guarantee of the girl returning to Thailand) they will ask advise from the so called IND* in Holland, the Immigration Department. And THEY are really sh_t to deal with...believe me, I know.
It is, by far, the most complained-about Government Institution in The Netherlands.

Also, it might take up to 3 months (in many cases much longer) before you get an answer; positive or genative...
I'm still going to try as Tim and I really want to go to this event in Holland (she keeps telling me "Marillion best music American I ever hear", despite my constant corrections that they are from England).  I was even given the name of the First Secretary in charge of Immigration at the Royal Dutch Embassy in Bangkok to address my queries to.  I think we might stop by when we're in the city to apply for Tim's passport so I can at least ask how long a process it might be and about our likelihood for success.  We do have until early November before I need to pay the balance of the booking (three days accommodation in a nice cottage with full facilities, admission to three nights of concerts with multiple opening acts, plus various daytime activities, and transportation to and from the airport in Amsterdam — for a grand total of $320 per person; Marillion really treat their fans right while keeping the costs down).

Maybe I can get a job in a Thai law firm after doing all of this research...



It seems like I'm always hearing horror stories from friends about how their cellular phone companies try to overcharge them, don't provide good customer service, etc.  I've only been with mine since last October and was fairly happy with my plan; when I traveled overseas in December and January, I added a temporary international roaming plan to my Blackberry so that calls within Thailand would be "local" and calls back to the States would be at a special rate.

When I returned home in mid-January, I made a special point to call my cellular company to make sure they took the international plan off the phone and put me back at my home plan.  My February bill seemed to reflect this change and all calls I made, even those to Tim in Thailand, were billed at the rate appropriate to the time of day I called.  When I checked my useage a few times last month on their website, it showed that my late night calls to Phuket were listed as "Night & Weekend" minutes and I wasn't being charged for them.  I thought I would phone customer service to see if this was a mistake; bad move on my part as not only did the March bill charge me for all those calls, it did so at the highest rate possible ($3.00 per minute) and did the same for all of my local and interstate calls as well.

You can imagine that this bill was astronomical and that it also was way past what I should have been charged.

I spent the better part of last Friday on the phone with customer service and each step truly felt like I was making progress towards some sort of resolution.  They admitted mistakes in billing, pulled up the specific contract that I agreed to on the date I signed up, checked into my payment history (always in full and before the due date), etc., etc.  The main result was that a significant chunk of my payment due was eliminated and I went ahead and paid the bill while I was on the phone with them.

I also asked if they had a less expensive plan for me that I could use while I was staying in Thailand for months at a time.  Their network doesn't cover Southeast Asia but they had a viable solution.  I would have to purchase a SIM card specifically for Thailand; this would be a pre-paid card with a local Thai mobile number and I could recharge it either by calling a customer service number or by purchasing a recharge card at any Thai 7-11.  My cellular provider has a branch specifically for this purpose and my call was forwarded to them.

The price of such a Thai SIM card was very reasonable but when I went to place an order I found out that these won't work with my Blackberry — something about triple- or quad-band and GMS versus GPRS.  It was basically Greek to me.  But then the CSR told me "no problem" — since I'd been such a good customer with their parent company (I suppose she had my case file on her computer and knew about the billing error) they would provide me with a new phone AT NO EXTRA CHARGE.

Of course, I thought that they'd send me some cheapo ugly phone they had in overstock or something.  How wrong I was...

The package just came from FedEx.  Inside was a large box holding a very small phone.  They send me one of the new Motorola V3 Black Razr's!!  Definitely a cool-looking phone and it seems to be loaded with features (the manual is the size of a paperback novel).  This is the phone that they "debuted" at the Oscars just last week.  I'm charging it right now and I'm looking forward to checking out what it can do (probably won't do e-mail as well as the Blackberry, however).

Not only was the new phone in the box but also two SIM cards — one is the Thailand-specific card with 600 baht initial credit and the other is a complimentary $30 SIM card for use in the U.S. prior to my trip (I can't activate the Thai number until I actually get to Thailand).  Plus, there's a Thai recharge card for another 500 baht.  Of course, the manual for the first SIM card is in Thai so I'll need to have Tim help me with that!

It's all very cool and way beyond the level of customer service I expected from my provider (I've been careful not to give their name away as I don't want to feel they "bought me off").  Of course, now I have two new phone numbers (one Thai, one for within U.S.) to give out.  And I'd just had new contact cards made to hand out to people... (guess I'll have to wait for one of the periodic "free business cards" promotions that land in my Inbox every once in a while).

Sometimes it does pay to call and point out mistakes....



Although I'm certainly not in good enough shape to even consider a 10K run, I do have some friends and family members who run long distances.  So, I thought of them when I read that the inaugural Phuket International Marathon will be held this coming June 18.

According to Phuket Gazette, "The marathon will be run entirely on a flat course, with bands along the way encouraging the runners with Thai music."  Should be a hot run as well since June is typically one of the hottest and driest months in Thailand.

Registration is now open and the "early bird" fee for the marathon is 2000 baht (USD $50) before May 1st.

I wonder if you can just buy the t-shirt without registering?  I really like the logo design...


You don't hear about a lot of violent crime on Phuket; in fact, it's virtually non-existent which makes those few incidents that do occur all the more shocking.  Now, there have been two in the past few days — Friday night a Thai bartender was gunned down in Soi Eric and just last night the popular Crocodile Disco was destroyed by fire.  The two events may very well be related.  At any rate, expats and locals seem understably worried that anything like this could be yet one more thing keeping tourists from visiting (and spending their money on) Phuket.

The murder and the fire come on the heels of a slight panic caused by the Thai press reporting Phuket was under a tsunami alert last week.  It seems that there was some unusual seismic activity in the Andaman Sea near Ranong; some 31 small earthquakes had occurred which might signal the creation of a new volcano that could affect coastal areas in the region.  But the way The Nation and other national newspapers reported it, Phuket was in imminent danger from a new tsunami.  Islanders are naturally sensitive to any possibility of danger from the sea.

A case in point:  I subscribe to the e-mail news service of the Phuket Gazette.  One recent news item mentioned that the government would be testing several of the island's new tsunami warning towers.  My first thought was, "I hope they inform everyone about this," knowing there would be many who would hear the sirens and try to flee the coastal areas thinking it was the real thing.  Sure enough, several days later there was a news item describing how many citizens heard the test and panicked.  Evidently, before the first test there was a brief announcement in English! that "this is only a test," but not between subsequent blasts of the sirens.  Luckily, there wasn't a whole-scale crowd of people rushing to higher ground but the fear was certainly there among those who hadn't heard the towers would be tested.

With all of this, it's important that the island government actively pursues increased amounts of tourism.  If there are incidents of violence, they need to be prepared to dilute any fears potential visitors might have.  Murder is so rare in Thai society, particularly against foreigners, that the few that do occur tend to be widely reported.  This past New Year's Eve, a British tourist on Koh Samui was murdered on the beach (she was grabbed while talking to her mother on her cellular phone).  The island and national governments got involved to such a degree that this was front-page news for weeks; the Prime Minister stated that this was such a detriment to future tourism that those involved in the murder would be hunted down and put to death.  (Two men have since been arrested — both are fishermen who admitted to getting very drunk and watching porno movies before swimming to shore and encountering the victim — and are awaiting trial.)

Not only is Phuket suffering from a lack of tourists, but so is the rest of Thailand.  In general, many Westerners — not just Americans — have been afraid to go abroad since the bombings of September 11th and the start of the war in Iraq.  SARS and Bird Flu have contributed as well.  And political turmoil has been bubbling in Thailand recently; new elections are scheduled for April and there have been some large demonstrations as well as a bombing in Bangkok last week.  Certainly, this doesn't compare with unrest in other parts of the world but it does tend to keep uninformed visitors away in droves.

I'm wholeheartedly in favor of promoting tourism and also believe that if you really want to visit a place you shouldn't let overblown reports of things that "might happen" keep you away.  When I told a friend last year that I was going to London he asked if I was afraid because of the Tube bombings.  I replied that if something bad were to happen wherever I was, going there wouldn't stop it.  I have greater odds of being killed simply driving to the grocery store or post office than I do of being killed by a terrorist bombing, stray gunfire, or a rogue wave.  I could walk outside my apartment and get struck by lightning.  I'm not going to live and travel in fear; you take some precautions but you don't go overboard and fear ever leaving the city in which you live.  Mind you, I'm not going to fly off to Baghdad to see the ruins but I think I can be pretty safe anywhere I want to go on this great planet of ours.

It turns out the primary suspect in the Soi Eric murder is a former officer of the Royal Thai Police Special Branch.  He was working as a security guard for Crazy Bar and was seen having an argument with his counterpart at Snack Bar a couple of days before the murder.  He's thought to be hiding out in Bangkok.  Two men thought to have been his accomplices have been caught and a Honda Wave motorbike, thought to have been the getaway vehicle, has been seized.  The fire at Crocodile Disco looks to have been a separate incident, afterall (there had been a lot of speculation about gang activity linking the two).



I will certainly be happy to get out of this state with its wild temperature fluctuations.  I'm tired of not knowing from one day to another how I should dress just to go outside.  A couple of days ago, it was sunny without a cloud in the sky and temperatures in the mid-70's.  Yesterday and last night I was absolutely freezing and when I opened the door to carry the first box of the day to my car this morning I was surprised to see around an inch or so of snow on the ground and more falling from the sky!

With it being warm one day and cold the next, I've developed a nasty cough and the dryness in the air is playing havoc with the soles of my feet (cold weather at this altitude makes them chapped and brittle).  The past couple of years have been especially bad with this type of strange weather.

Oh, how I long to be in Phuket where at least you know the temperature will be in the 80's on virtually every day of the year, even during the rainy season when it's considered "cooler".  I much prefer the heat to the cold.  Just 24 days more to go...



It seems like like I still have much to do but I am making progress.  Packing is moving along nicely and I'm about ready to purchase some larger boxes for artwork and electronic/computer equipment.  I'm moving some of my smaller bookcases over to the storage unit today.  I also plan to spend some time in there re-organizing — I need to search out my high school yearbook and I'd been worried about the bottom row of boxes sitting directly on the concrete so I'm going to combine the two tasks:  I have several dozen milkcrates so I think I'll set those as a base for the boxes and just rearrange them all while searching for the book.  I hadn't been labeling the boxes so I think I'll go ahead and do that as well (although many are rather mixed).

In other trip-preparation news:  I finally purchased my travel insurance yesterday.  I wanted a fairly comprehensive policy with travel delay and missed connection riders, lost luggage reimbursement, and good amounts for emergency medical/dental.  Many of the policies I looked at for six months or one year seemed extremely expensive.  Then, I realized that I should just get a policy for the first 60 days or so and then purchase a good health insurance plan when I get to Thailand.  There are many, many plans designed just for expatriates and the costs to purchase these in Thailand are much less expensive than in the United States.  Healthcare in Thailand is extremely good and treatment costs are very low compared with Western countries.

I now have all the supplies that I would like to take with me except for a good waterproof sunblock.  I'll probably buy this at the first pharmacy I see once I arrive on Phuket.  I also want to purchase a new pair of sandals.  The ones I had in December/January had velcro fastening straps across the tops and backs and tended to be too tight; I think they are the reason my left foot swelled up so badly as the swelling corresponded with where the straps were.  Also, they were difficult to take off outside of Thai homes, temples, etc.  I'd like a pair that I can just kick off with my feet rather than bending down to struggle with velcro straps.  No need for them to be stylish (or expensive), just comfortable and easy to remove (and waterproof, as well).  I'll check out Target or Wal-Mart this weekend (I can find very cheap ones on Phuket, but these tend to fall apart rather quickly).  Shoes and socks just don't work well there (I'd never worn sandles much at all before this past December), but I want to have a nice pair for immigration and employment interviews...

I also need to get an International Driver's Permit.  I don't really plan to do any driving in Thailand but just in case...  I'd been vaguely aware of these for years and noticed that the firm I used to get my tourist visa offered an international driver license for about a hundred dollars.  However, a little bit of research revealed that the numerous firms that offer such a thing online are offering what is essentially a worthless piece of paper — they are simply a translation of your existing license into several different languages.  The only organization in the United States authorized to issue an official International Driver's Permit is the American Automobile Association and you have to apply in person.  The fee is only $10 and you need a passport photo.  I think Tim wants to teach me to drive her motorbike (something I dread but if we find a remote place with no other traffic I might relent to), so I'll need the IDP to keep things legal.

As for Tim, her mother is in the hospital and might require an operation.  Something about a bone hitting her nerve is what I've managed to understand through the language barrier.  She really wanted to go up to Lamphun to see her family; it would take over two days by minibus and Tim didn't want to do that alone.  I suggested that she look into taking a plane to Chiang Mai and then a bus the rest of the (short) distance; I planned to send her the airfare although she never asked.  She's never been on an airplane before so that would have been quite the adventure as well.

However, she's now decided to wait until I return and then we can go to Lamphun together — she is anxious for me to meet her family.  This is a very important/major step; it's not like in America where you often take any person you are casually dating to meet your parents — in the Thai culture, a woman will only take a man to meet her parents when she is certain he's "the one."  Basically, the man is presented to the village sort of like a trophy — "this is the man I plan to spend the rest of my life with."  Often at this first meeting, they size you up and begin discussing how much of a dowry you must pay to continue seeing their daughter.  After that, you begin negotiating to bring down that amount (the family will always think the foreign man is super rich and quote an astronomical price at the beginning).  I know Tim and I both believe that we are meant for each other so it comes as no surprise that she wants me to meet her family.  I'm prepared for that as I really do want to spend my life with her.  What I'm not so sure about is whether I'll still be expected to pay a dowry since she's already been married.  Generally, you aren't expected to pay one if your girlfriend is divorced or already has children.  But since her family is very poor, they may still ask for one.  At this first meeting, it will be important to stress that I am not a rich man but that I love Tim and can take care of her if we are careful with our finances.

At any rate, I'm looking forward to the journey to northern Thailand.  It's a lot different from Bangkok or Phuket and the temperature is cooler as well (something that Tim looks forward to as she's really been suffering from the current heatwave in the south).  I'll get to experience some traditional village life while staying with her family.  I know she's anxious to get up there but I think she understands we should delay it until we've moved into our new home, perhaps we'll go in May or June (we'll be close to the Laos border so I can make a quick visa run when my first entry expires at the beginning of June — or, I can try to get my first 30-day extension at the Chiang Mai immigration office).  En route, we'll have to stop in Bangkok for a week so we can apply and wait for her passport.  During that stay, we can also go and visit her daughter in Ayutthaya.

Tim has also been getting out almost every afternoon to look at houses for us.  She told me today about a very nice one near the school in Kathu that has air-conditioning (really, the most important feature of any place we look at), three bedrooms and two baths with a telephone line (also very important as these are rare there; Tim said, "have phone so you teach me computer!") all for 8000 baht per month (USD $240.50).  She's going to try and take a photograph to e-mail me.

For several weeks last month, she was hanging out with her friends quite a bit but now it seems like she's alone most of the time again.  Her roommate La became sick and is now staying in her family's village hospital.  Jum (finally) found a boyfriend and has been spending most of her time with him in Kamala.  And Puk has been working two jobs a lot.  Every once-in-a-while, Puk, Jum (along with her boyfriend Jack from Belgium), and Tim get together to watch the sunset at Kamala Beach.  Tim assures me that she only drinks "little bit, one beer" at these gatherings.  Sometimes, the rest of them move on to Rock City in Patong but Tim always comes straight back to Kathu because she wants to talk to me on the phone (usually, we talk some while she's watching the sunset at the beach so she feels like I'm there with her and then we talk again when she gets back to her apartment).

During our calls, Tim likes to remind me how many days it is until I return to Phuket.  However, she's one day off (probably because of our time difference).  I've put a countdown counter on my desktop — it is now 25 days, 23 hours, and 56 minutes until I land at Phuket International Airport (if the airplane is on time — I'm flying on Royal Thai which has a better chance of being on time than Nok Air).  I now have less than two weeks until Keith arrives to help me with furniture; this coming week, I'll need to call and cancel the utilities and then call some maid services for cleaning estimates.  I also need to mail some things to Bryan (a bunch of DVD's he wants to watch — I'm sending the originals because I didn't want to burn a bunch more stuff — as well as some miscellaneous gifts), Dad (some Thailand souvenirs and a few DVD's, etc.), and Marilyn & Keith (again, some DVD's, plus some books I'll want with me eventually that they can ship when I get a secure address — these are books that I don't want to have to dig out of storage on a future visit).  Things really are coming down to the wire but I know that it will be easier for me to get them done since I can't procrastinate too much longer.


The other day I was talking to my sister and somehow the subject of our high school class reunions came up; I was bemoaning the fact that I never hear about mine until after the fact and that my class (1984) seemed to have difficulty communicating among the alumni.  She told me that her class (1985) was registered with a great website portal called that made it easy for class members to get information about upcoming events.  I checked it out and was impressed; once alumni are listed, they can update their profiles with news about their lives and contact information.  There's plenty of other features as well.

As expected, the class of '84 section was severely lacking.  By comparison, the class of '85 site for our high school has almost 500 class members on file and has had almost 27,000 hits since being set up three years ago.  There's also an active administrator who updates the site.  The class of '84 section only has 23 members listed (our graduating class was around 500 as well) with 887 hits since 2003.  There was no class administrator and it hadn't been updated in quite some time.  This just would not do.

Although I haven't exactly been active in alumni activities since graduation, I do still have a certain amount of pride for the school.  One of the highlights when I attended was that President Ronald Reagan came there to speak (I was in the U.S. Navy Reserve Officers Training Corps — NROTC — at the time and vividly remember that the Secret Service locked-down and guarded our store room during the speech, despite the fact that the drill rifles were non-firing).  I felt that someone should step up and work to update our class site; since I do like working on tedious computer tasks I decided to volunteer to act as the class administrator.  My application was accepted so now I have some work to do, the most labor-intensive of which at first will be to scan our graduation photos into my computer and upload them to the site.  For that, I'll need to dig my yearbook out of storage.  I'll at least get started on this before I go to Thailand.  We have three years until the 25th class reunion so that's my goal to getting our site to look at least as nice as 1985's.  It will also be a nice way to restore contact with those few friends I did have in high school; I finally have something interesting to share with these people!



With each load I take to my storage unit, I feel like I'm at last making some progress on the formidable task of emptying this apartment of my possessions.  I can easily fit twelve bankers' boxes in my car (well, thirteen; not that I'm particularly superstitious but why tempt fate?) and I've made one early morning trip each of the past several days.  Yesterday, I even drove my car inside of the unit just to check how much room I'd still have available (looks to be more than enough).  Most of my belongings fit very nicely into this size of box (approx. 9"x12"x16") including books, CD's & DVD's, clothes, etc.  Soon, however, I'll need to buy some larger boxes for computer and electronic equipment, my larger artwork and other odds and ends.

While I'm busy cleaning out my home in Albuquerque, Tim has been busy looking for our new home on Phuket.  She and Jum have spent the past two days looking at houses and apartments in and around the village of Kathu in the center of the island.  It sounds like they've found some likely prospects and were planning to send me an e-mail with photos and details of their favorites.  Of course, no decision will be made until I arrive and have a chance to check them out for myself.  Tim is very happy to be contributing in such a way.

Yesterday, I felt I had made sufficient progress so I took a break from sorting, packing, and cleaning to work on some other projects such as remixing some audio recordings, burning a few more of the hundred or so CD's my friend Bryan has requested before I leave, and adding some more entries to my massive CD inventory project (over 4300 discs so far and I'm only in the middle of the S's).  I may try to do some reading today; there are several books I'd like to finish before I leave (I plan to send some of those I'd like to read in the near future to my sister so she can ship them to me in Thailand once I have a mailing address — my luggage is already too full).  This morning I'm going to watch a DVD of Tim Burton's Corpse Bride before I take another load to the storage unit and buy more boxes.



This morning, I've made a few minor cosmetic changes to this blog.  I've switched to the new name (and masthead), as well as changing the URL address — please adjust your bookmarks...  I'm still not happy with the subtitle but that's easy to change when I think of something better.

I also found out that I can adjust the settings so that the dates I post entries can be written in Thai script (and the years will be according to the Thai calendar; this is the year 2549, by the way).  Perhaps I'll change that setting once I actually arrive on Phuket in just over one month.  I'll need to change the time zone anyway.

I had thought about changing the template as well, but that would involve a lot of pixel measurements and other trial-and-error changes that I really don't have the time to undertake right now.  Besides, I quite like the basic blue background and the font size is "just right" (at least on my computers).

I hope you enjoy the direction this blog is about to undertake.  I look forward to writing about my experiences adjusting to life in a new country and dealing with a culture so different from what I'm used to.  I got a little taste in my previous visit but actually living in Thailand will generate some unique situations.