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Tim and I managed to have a very full weekend, despite a slow start on Friday.  I'll write a quick update this morning (I need to jump in the shower and get ready for school) and then post a more detailed account (with photos) later today or tomorrow.

Our short "holiday" actually began Thursday afternoon.  After our class let out at four, several of us gathered at Pop Thai Restaurant for an early dinner before the evening class.  Michael bought Tim a couple of beers so she was a little tipsy before returning to the school!  Gary from Las Vegas was teaching the class; Adrian and I sat in and much hilarity ensued partly because of Tim's tipsiness and partly because of Gary's teaching "style."  Afterwards, Tim, Jiab, Nadee, Joe, and I spent several hours having a picnic of sorts in front of the school.  Tim was a little worse for the wear and she spent much of Friday sleeping and I was just generally lazy.  We missed quite a night-on-the-town with the other TEFL students as our laziness stretched into the evening.

We made up for it on Saturday, however, as we joined "the gang" in Patong and spent the afternoon going on an elephant trek (the second half of which I got to "drive" the elephant), playing with gibbons, having dinner at Los Amigos Cantina, and returning to Patong for a night partying on Bangla Road.  Following a middle-of-night breakfast at an open-air market, Tim and I returned home just after six a.m. and went right to bed.  Later that day (Sunday), Jiab called saying she was coming to pick us up — she had a second day on her car rental and wanted to take Adrian and us sightseeing.  We spent a nice afternoon driving down Laem Panwa and checking out the Kao-Khad View Tower (marvelous views overlooking much of southeastern Phuket).  We wrapped up the day with a dinner at a new prawn BBQ-style restaurant that recently opened between Big C and Central Festival.  It wasn't as great as other people made it out to be but it was okay.

I'll write a more detailed account of parts of our weekend later...



Of course, I'm assuming it was an honest mistake.  This morning we were on our way into Patong when Tim stopped at a pharmacy to buy some medicine.  She ran inside leaving me sitting in the sidecar.  However, she forgot to set the brake and I soon began rolling backwards down the hill!  As there was a very expensive-looking car a short distance behind (which I didn't exactly want to purchase if a crash occurred), I scrambled to jump out of the sidecar and bring it to a stop.  I managed to get a few scrapes and bruises in the process but at least that was the worst of the damages.  Well, except for my embarrassment since while this was all observed by a dozen or so patrons of an adjacent noodleshop (who were already staring at the odd sight of the farang riding on a motorbike sidecar seat — the Thais just sit on the frames).

We're laughing about it now but it wasn't so funny this morning!



There have been very few visible changes in Phuket as a result of last night's coup.  Schools, banks, and government offices were closed today and there was definitely an increased police presence as the day went on.  Between Patong and Central, Tim and I went through two police checkpoints (one was also staffed by naval troops) and another between Central and Chalong.  At Central Festival, they weren't allowing ANY motorbikes in the parking garage (they were all parked on the street outside creating a HUGE traffic jam) and we saw security officers checking car trunks (there were rumors all day about bombs in Bangla Road).  I also noticed that the loudspeakers that hang on most telephone poles throughout Phuket were broadcasting patriotic songs rather than Dharmmic chants.

Of course, the coup was all everyone was talking about and some of the businesses with satellite hookups managed to pick up BBC broadcasts.  The Thai baht has already fallen the farthest it has in over four years (good news for me as I'm getting ready to transfer money from the States into my Thai account).  Right now, all the foreign embassies in Bangkok are closed which directly affects one of my friends from school — he was planning to travel there next week to obtain the documentation needed for his legal marriage.  If this isn't squared away in the next couple of weeks, he'll have to leave the country for three months before he's allowed to return.  And I had decided last night that I would do a visa run in two weeks through the border at Ranong and save getting my Non-Immigrant (O) in Penang until next month; but one of the news updates I just received says that Burma has closed the Kawthung/Rawong border because of the coup.

Personally, I think it will all sort itself out in a couple of weeks at most.  Many people are extremely happy that the Thaskin government has been overthrown and his supporters in the government have already fled or been arrested.  The economy might be shaken up a bit and I'm sure the tourism industry will take some time to recover (it's still not fully recovered from the tsunami).  The uncertainty may cause a few difficulties in the next several days but I'm certain it will be "back to normal" fairly soon.


I taught my first evening class last night.  It was quite a change from the intermediate-level students I had been teaching.  I had been assigned to teach about "Simple Present Wh-Questions" and "Simple Present Statements" as the evening class was (supposedly) made up of advanced beginner students.  However, the majority who were there last night were complete newcomers who didn't know any English at all much less what even a verb is.

I persevered and tried my hardest; the comprehension level was very low and I made it through perhaps 50% of the planned activities.  Even the introductions took a considerable amount of time; it was my first time with Tim in one of my classes and she didn't seem to remember anything what I'd previously taught her.  I really struggled with this one but I made it out okay.  My assessor, Bob, gave me some helpful tips on things I could have done.  It will all come in time.

Next up, I teach three beginner level classes in a row.  My assigned lesson for Thursday is to teach how to tell time.  Should be a piece-of-cake after the grammar lessons...

I now present a trio of photos — myself ready for my first day teaching a real class, Tim sitting in front of our school, and the students in my intermediate level classes (left to right: Gip, Or, Jas, and Lek):


This morning, we awoke to the news (via e-mail) that there has been a military coup here in Thailand — tanks in the streets of Bangkok, the constitution has been revoked, martial law is being imposed, etc.  The television stations are all off the air, both domestic and international, the expat online forums are full of rumors and speculations (I don't exactly have time to wade through these now), and BBC's homepage has images of the tanks surrounding Government House, etc.  I called my sister and dad back in the States to find out what CNN, etc. were reporting; Dad seemed to feel it wouldn't have that big of effect on daily life and I tend to agree.

In fact, going into Patong to attend my classes the past two days we've seen several police/military checkpoints.  We thought these were just a beefing-up of security following the bombs that were set off at shopping centers in Hat Yai this weekend, killing five.  That still might be the case but it makes you wonder a little bit.  One of my classmates yesterday told me that Kamala, a largely Muslim community north of Patong, was completely blocked-off on Monday as well.

It will be interesting to see how all this plays out but I think, at some point, HM the King will step in and say, "Enough is enough," putting Thailand back on an even keel.

As for me, it's to school as normal today (only two more weeks to go!).  I look forward to finding out my classmates' opinions of these latest developments (several are planning to move to Bangkok after graduation; they might want to wait a little while and see what happens there).



We really have spent most of this weekend at home.  Thursday night saw the usual gathering of the TEFL students as we first met in Patong at Funky's and later moved to a different bar on Nanai Road (the name escapes me at the moment).  We decided we didn't want to give Funky's any more of our money (it had become somewhat of a regular hangout for several in our group) because the owner gave Mark a real hassle the other night.  The new place was nice, although rather small with only one pool table; an added bonus was a constant supply of free (but cold) pizza.

Tim and I slept in a bit Friday morning but we did ride over to Patong just before noon in order to open my bank account.  We followed that up with a nice lunch at Mr. Tu's across from the school (another regular hangout now).  It was a nice, if rather overcast day, but it began to rain soon after we returned home.

It rained much of the night Friday and into Saturday which delayed our plans for a shopping expedition to Central Festival.  We did get over there in the late afternoon.  My main goal was to buy a decent dictionary that I could use in my classes.  B2S on the top floor of Central has a HUGE selection of dictionaries and I spent a good hour trying to choose the "perfect" tome (I decided on the "International Students Edition" of the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary).  I also came away with a copy of Swan and Walter's How English Works (one of the better grammar texts I've seen) as well as McGraw-Hill's Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions (Bob, my TEFL instructor, has suggested doing some lessons on American slang).  We even ran into "Vegas" Gary and his girlfriend at the mall.

Much of yesterday evening was spent cleaning the kitchen and the spare bedroom (AKA, Tim's storeroom).  Her cousin was due to arrive in the evening and we wanted to spruce it up for his stay.  In the end, he didn't arrive until 5:30 this morning (the bus from Bangkok was significantly delayed).  He decided he wanted to move to Phuket and find work in a beauty salon; he's broke so (as family does) we're putting him (and buying him food, medicine, and a motorbike rental so far) until he finds a job and another place to live.  I've stressed to Tim that this charity has a time limit of a week at most.

Anyway, her cousin (I think his name is An) got here with a bad fever so he's slept much of the day.  Tim took a long nap after picking him up at the bus station and I've been trying to catch up on my studying and reading.  At least I feel like I've accomplished a lot even though we haven't been out of the house much the past couple of days.  Not that driving around would be easy to do — the sky's looking like rain again...



The first step towards obtaining a Non-Immigrant (O) visa is to open a Thai bank account.  I wanted a just a simple savings account so I could transfer the required 400,000 baht from my Stateside account.  Some banks require a work permit when opening these, others don't — often different branches of the same bank have different policies (and sometimes these vary from day-to-day at the same branch!).  Like everything else in Thailand, there's plenty of bureaucracy and it's difficult to find straight answers.

After reading plenty of online forum topics about opening Thai bank accounts, I finally decided that the branch of Siam Commercial Bank on Rat-U-Thit 200 Pee Road in Patong seemed to be the best bet.  Many other expats reported that they had had good experiences here.  "In and out in twenty minutes with new passbook and debit card," seemed to be the consensus.  I thought that if this bank wouldn't open an account for me, I'd just keep going until I found one that would (that section of Rat-U-Thit has several large banks).

The process was fairly straight forward, and I was glad Tim was with me since the application forms were written in Thai.  Also, it took about 30 or 40 minutes but part of that was the lady helping me was either new or had never opened an account for a farang before.  The only real document I needed was my passport; I had taken my rental lease and a couple of utility bills for proof-of-address but she just looked at my business card and used that.  She did ask Tim a few questions although I was just opening an individual account, not a joint one.  It turned out that Tim agreed for me to purchase some sort of accident insurance the bank was selling — kind of an unnecessary expense if you ask me but it worked out to around USD $40 total for one year so I guess I can't complain too much.  It also took a bit longer because I wanted Internet banking.

I did walk out of the bank with a savings passbook and a MasterCard/Electron debit card ("For Electronic Use Only").  They have separate cash machines for withdrawals (a "normal" ATM machine), for deposits (you don't put the money in an envelope — just feed it into a large enclosure and somehow it counts it up without the cash getting stuck), and one that you feed your passbook into and it prints the transaction and new balace right into the book.  It's kind of cool and all but eliminates having to go inside the bank.

Now, I have to set up some way to transfer my cash from my Stateside accounts into the Thai one.  My bank in New Mexico won't do SWIFT or wire transfers unless I sign the transaction form in person.  I've emailed Customer Service for both HSBC and EmigrantDirect but haven't yet received a response.  A few people on one of the better Thai expat forums suggested establishing an account with E*Trade as they handle overseas transfers all the time without any hassles.  I'm still waiting for approval on this one but it looks pretty good.


OVER 10,000 HITS

I just noticed that my little "family and friends" blog reached it's 10,000th hit today.  My first entry was made on 2 February 2005 and I've written 347 more since then.  Unfortunately, I've only been tracking referrals and ISP's since mid-April 2005 but in that time there have been hits on the blog from 84 different countries (the top five are: the United States with 67.60% or 4957 hits, Thailand with 11.11%/815, the United Kingdom with 3.25%/238, Canada with 2.25%/165, and Norway with 2.18% or 160 hits).  I could bore you with even more useless statistics but I won't do that.  I'm just amazed that so many people have come here at one point or another to read some of my ramblings.  And to think it's original (and still primary) intention was simply to keep my father, sister, and a few close friends updated on my activities and thoughts...


It has been a fairly stressful few days in the Land of Smiles.  There is a lot of confusion now on the visa situation and everyday seems to bring new reports of crackdowns.  The latest one is that effective October 1st, Thai Immigration is completely eliminating all of the investment visas (bank, condominium, and bonds based on a three million baht deposit into a Thai government account).

Here's a summary of what's known to date, courtesy of Sunbelt Asia, a Bangkok company specializing in Thai immigration and business law:

News from the new regulation:
This is coming from the Chief of Immigration.

1.Retirement Visa extension. If you have a foreign married spouse who is a dependent they will be able to get this dependent visa now. ( change of what has been happing the last couple weeks)

2.Retirement visa extension: If you have children under 20. They will no longer be able to get a dependent visa based on you having an extension of stay on retirement. They want these kids to get it based on education so they go to school.

3..Investment Visa extension: Will no longer be available after Oct 1st for new applicants on 3 million Baht.

4. Investment visa extension. For existing extension of stay holders of 3 million Baht, we are now being told this will now be grandfathered in and they will be able to get the extension forever as long as they renew. (Yes I know reversal from several hours ago but the government is aware that people bought condos before on this scheme and now will allow it.)

5.Now the news for frequent visitors: We have checked this upwards and backwards all day and it has been confirmed by a copy of the new regulation we have. If you have a visa on arrival more than three times in six months, you cannot come into Thailand without a visa from an Embassy/Consulate. When you enter Thailand, even if you are here just 1 hour, this counts as 30 days. If you come back 6 weeks later for 2 days, this again is 30 days. If you arrive a month later for 4 days, still counts as 30 days. When you leave, you cannot enter Thailand for 3.5 months without coming back with a visa. The reason is to force people who are supposed to have work permits to do so and pay tax.

Another example; you arrive for a week, this counts as 30 days, One month later 3 days and its 30 days, two months later and its for a two week period, still another 30 days. You can reenter Thailand in 6 weeks without having a visa.

6.On extension of stay based support of a Thai national (Marriage visa), before if you applied for this extension of stay, you would get a 30 day consideration stamp. Once you return in 30 days you would get the one year extension. Now it will be the same as an extension of stay based on business with the norm of three 30 day consideration stamps. Immigration will go out and check to see if it’s a real marriage or a sham before issuing the one year.

7.On an extension of stay based on being a Monk. No dependents will be allowed to get an extension of stay based on being a dependent.
All Immigration officials have been ordered to attend a special meeting about the new regulations on September 15 and hopefully the fog will begin to clear.

There has been a deluge of comments — many complaints and opinions and a few well-thought-out discussions — on the various expat online forums.  I've been perusing more than a few between research for my lesson plans this the past few days.  I've been printing some out and plan to sit down and really concentrate on them sometime this weekend.

Luckily, Tim hasn't seen any of the stress I've felt over all of this.  While I'm still trying to decide when and where (either Kuala Lumpur, Penang, or Singapore) to obtain my Non-Imm (O) visa, we found out that Tim will need to travel to Lumphun in the next three weeks in order to change her ID from "Miss" to "Mrs." (why they have to return to their birthplace rather than doing it where they live now is just one example of Thai bureaucracy).  So, it's another unexpected expense (we had previously been wrongly told that a copy of our lease and her name on the telephone bill were sufficient to change her ID here).  All I can do is grin and bear it on the outside while inside I'm trying to figure out solutions and logistics.

I often wonder how much Tim really knows about the turmoil going on right now.  She's aware of the flooding in the north and the many deaths up there.  She knows about the bombings in the south and the many deaths down there (but she doesn't understand why parts of Pattani and other southern areas are starting to resemble downtown Baghdad).  And she knows that someone tried to kill Prime Minister Thaksin with a car bomb a couple of weeks ago without understanding why so many people here don't like him.

As I type this, ironically enough, I have just received another email news alert:  the Thai government just confirmed that a military coup d'etat has been prevented.  The plan was to oust Thaskin while he was overseas on a business trip.  I'm really beginning to wonder if they've forgotten that Thailand is called the Land Of Smiles...



What a load off of my shoulders it was just to finish my first lesson in front of a real class!  This morning, I gave five intermediate-level Thai women a 55-minute course on the differences between Wh- direct questions and indirect questions using "Can/Could you tell me...?" and "Do you know...?"  It went amazingly well.

I spent quite a bit of time last night revising my lesson plan; I'd had a fairly good idea of the major points to cover after working on it Saturday night but I came up with some good ideas on how to improve it.  One thing that helped was being able to sit in on a couple of classes Monday morning.  I was able to see some things that worked (and some that didn't) for two of my fellow teachers.  In fact, I completely scrapped the dialogue and exercise questions as they were laid out in the student's book (we're teaching from New Interchange 2) and wrote my own, tailoring them specifically to Phuket.

I didn't really rehearse the lesson before presenting it.  I typed up a script of sorts, rather detailed and comprehensive and did a quick run-through with Tim as my rather reluctant student.  I practiced writing a few things on a small whiteboard I bought at Tesco-Lotus.  And, while in the shower this morning and during the ride into Patong, I thought of how I wanted so phrase certain parts of the lesson.  A surprise to me was that I didn't feel the least bit nervous once I arrived at the school.

I sat in on the other Mark's 9a.m. lesson with the intermediate class and, finally, it was my turn.  When the girls were taking a short break between lessons, I prepared the whiteboard with my planned warmer (an ice-breaker that comes before you get into the lesson itself).  It turned out that I was the only one of my classmates to use such a warmer on their first lesson (a fact that really impressed my assessor).  What I did was make a grid on the board, listing several words that said something about me:

New Mexico
retaurant manager
I left space to the left of this list and plenty of space to the right marked off into five additional columns (one for each of my students).  Once they entered the room after the break, I launched into my greeting trying to be the complete opposite of my usual reserved self by being very upbeat and animated:  "Hello!  How are you today?  I'm a brand-new teacher and I think you might have some questions to ask me.  I've written some answers on the board.  I'd like you to think of the questions."

I gave them the first one:  What is your name?  I had them repeat the question and then I asked each one the same question, filling in the grid to the right of my name as they answered.  I was then able to use their names in asking questions during the remainder of the class.  They were easily able to ask the remaining questions for my answers:
How old are you?
Where are you from? (at this point, I showed a map of the world, pointing out Thailand and the U.S.A.; then I showed a map of just the United States, pointing out New Mexico)
What is your city? (they had fun pronouncing that one!)
What is (was) your job?
After each correct question to my answers, I had them provide their answers to the questions.  It was a lot of fun (particularly as I stuggled on the spelling for a couple of Thai provinces and towns that I didn't know).  In a bit less than 10 minutes, we'd all gotten to know some important details about each other and had a few good laughs as well.

I then tied that into my lesson's introduction by pointing out that each of the questions they'd asked was an example of a direct question.  I defined direct and gave a funny example.  I then said that we were going to learn about another kind of question called an indirect question, explained what this was, gave my first example by changing "What is your name?" to "Could you tell me what your name is?", and continued on from there.

It all flowed very nicely and I gave the girls a lot of practice.  In fact, it went so smoothly that I went through almost three-quarters of the lesson in just the first thirty minutes.  I had included several practice activites in my lesson plan that took most of the girls a lot less time that I had thought it would.  I even used one of my fillers in an effort to stretch out that time; I was afraid I would finish too quickly and not be able to think of any more material.  However, the solution was to have them do the activity I'd planned for homework.  I had them work together (a group of two and a group of three) and alternated between them checking their work and giving some helpful nudges.

One of the girls (Ging) was either too shy to really participate or just didn't know enough English to fully understand.  She seemed too afraid to ask any questions and I asked her after the class if the lesson was too difficult for her.  She said that she only just began learning English.  I asked if she would rather be in the beginner class downstairs but she really wasn't sure.  She did thank me for my patience with her ("you jai dee (good heart)," she said which is a very good complement in Thailand).  Another girl (Lek — not Tim's friend) also seemed a bit slower than the rest but told me she wanted to stay in the intermediate class because I was good at explaining things and allowed them time to think of the correct answers.  The three other students (Jas, Gip, and Or) all seem very bright; Jas, in particular is a joy to teach and is very enthusiastic and funny.  At the end of the class, everyone gave me a wai and said, "Thank you very much, teacher."  You always hear about how highly respected teachers are in Thailand (John Mark Karr notwithstanding — he hasn't tarnished the image among the majority of the citizenry) but it certainly was nice to experience it firsthand.

After the lesson, my assessor gave me a debriefing.  He was full of praise for my lesson, told me how impressed he was with my warmer and the logical flow of the introduction and the body, and seemed surprised to learn that I was trying to stretch out the lesson for the last 25 minutes.  He told me that I won't have any problems with teaching and that he could tell I had prior experience (if you can call the years of restaurant management good practice for teaching!).  Really, the only criticism he had was that I failed to correct one slight grammar mistake made by one of the girls at the end (I didn't even notice it).  This mistake was repeated by another girl as well and again I didn't hear it.  I think this was due to my occasional difficulty in deciphering their accents. At one point, one of the girls asked me "Could you tell me where Text & Talk Academy (our school) is?" and I responded that I didn't know, producing some laughter but I simply hadn't understood that she'd said our school's name   I'd been listening only for the correct form of the indirect question rather than the subject being asked about.

At any rate, I was given a score of 8.5 (out of 10) which is excellent for the first time teaching in front of a classroom (for comparison, the other lessons given today received scores of 5, 6.5, and 8).  In fact, Paul said he would have given me a 9 if only I had corrected the grammar mistake.  I'm happy with that...

I'm relaxing some tonight, enjoying the satisfaction that I didn't completely choke in front of my first class.  But I can't take it easy for very long:  next up is a lesson about stress-timing in the English language.  Oh, joy...



I'm having a very restless night on the eve of my first real teaching session.  We were assigned our first lessons last week; somehow, I ended up with seemingly the most difficult subject — I need to teach an intermediate class on the differences between Wh- direct questions and indirect question forms.  I spent around six hours last night trying to put together a suitable lesson plan, covering the necessary points within the 55-minute time limit.  Trying to do this amidst numerous unexpected interruptions got me fairly stressed-out.  Adding to the stress is the fact that, for some unknown reason, the water doesn't work at all (water and electrical outages are somewhat common here, but the water's never been off for this long before).

A couple of hours ago, I checked my e-mail finding a news item stating that Thai Immigration is beginning their crackdown on visa rules.  Simply put, those who enter the Kingdom on tourist visas can now only stay a maximum of 90 days before they must leave the country for 90 days before re-entering.  This new rule goes into effect October 1st and, coupled with the now-enforced requirement that you must have a degree in order to get a work permit, will affect thousands of foreigners here in Thailand.  Judging from the responses I've just read on the Thai Visa Forum, many are confused and downright angry about these changes.  We can all thank John Mark Karr for the Thai government's knee-jerk response.  Although the scrutinizing of teachers is indeed a good thing, it's interesting to note that Karr would still have gotten in based on his qualifications alone (still no requirement for criminal background checks).

My particular tourist visa (which gave me almost six months of cover) actually expires on October 1st.  I had planned to convert it to a Non-Immigrant B (Business) Visa but that now isn't possible because of the degree requirement (although I attended college off-and-on for many years, I never graduated as I devoted more time to managing restaurants than to studying).  My only realistic option now is to obtain a Non-Immigrant O (Other) Visa For the Purpose of Supporting a Thai Spouse.  The main requirement (other than producing supporting documents such as my marriage certificate and proof of residency) is I need to show 400,000 baht in a Thai bank account.  Those funds need to come from overseas and the paperwork has to show an overseas transfer.  My bank in New Mexico wants me to sign the transfer form in person but I can't return to the States right now in order to do this.  I'll have to investigate other options to transfer funds (and moving more than USD $10,000 from a high-interest account into one that doesn't pay any interest at all is not a very attractive prospect, but it's something I will need to do).

All of these worries come early the morning I need to present myself to the school looking like a teacher.  In Thailand, this means nice slacks and shirt with tie, plus dress shoes.  If the water isn't turned on in the next several hours, I'll have to shave and wash my hair using bottled water.  I had planned to have Tim cut my hair last night but then I wouldn't have been able to wash it afterwards.  All we need now is a heavy downpour during the drive into Patong.

I suppose I was due for a heavy dose of stress as I've been living virtually stress-free for months.  I know (hope) it all will work out in the end but I'd rather concentrate on my studies and teaching practice without having to worry about how to legally stay in my adopted country.



We finally made a few minor "modifications" to our motorbike sidecar (sa-ling) this weekend.  We purchased a large plastic bin with lid for keeping things out of the rain.  This is bungee-corded in the rear portion of the sidecar.  Immediately in front of that (right over the axle for the wheel) is a small plastic chair for me to sit on.  This is also secured by a bungee cord so I don't slide around so much when we make turns or go up and down hills.  The front has a large blue piece of board to keep down the amount of water-spray soaking my legs (this needs to be more securely fastened as soon as we can find some wire or something).  Finally, I have a cup holder attached to the left side just above the wheel — perfect for holding any beverages I might need on those long journeys around Phuket.

Now that we have purchased a better grade of rain poncho (for the extremely high price of 79 baht, USD $2.11), I can remain remarkably dry even in the worst of downpours.  There's no need for the suggested parasol covering the rear of the sidecar.

A while back, my father requested some photos of me riding in the sidecar.  While driving through Karon and Rawai this afternoon, I finally remembered to try taking a few self-portraits, as well as a couple of my wife-chauffeur.



After leaving Pun Tuao Kong Shrine on Patong Hill (see previous entry), we decided to check out the wat in the northeast part of Patong.  Wat Suwankiriwong is located at the corner of Prabaramee Road (Highway 4029) and Pisit Koranee Road just as you enter town after descending the hill coming from Kathu.  It's a short ways east of Patong's easternmost 7-Eleven and a short distance north of Kwung Tung Cemetary and Anna's Language School.

The temple's location is all I can really tell you about it as I haven't found any English reference to it's history.  I can say that there's an ornate viharn with large golden Buddhas (one sitting, the other standing) at the east and west entrances.  The steps are flanked with multi-headed naga.  The tall bell tower is to the east of the main enclosure; the ladder leading upwards was a bit too rickety for me to try.  To the east of the viharn is a gallery containing statues of seven revered monks (sorry, I have no idea of their names); these are govered in gold leaf.  The main gate to the complex is particularly beautiful with gold-colored roses and vases.  As I explored the grounds, I had to take care not to step upon the many roaming chickens.  Exiting the walled enclosure behind the viharn, a number of Burmese tree-cutters saw me and mimicked taking photos.  I wasn't sure if they wanted me to take their photos so I turned the opposite direction.

As you can see from the photos, each of Phuket's temples has something different to recommend a visit.  I've decided I'm going to try and visit each of the wats at some point.  Five down, twenty-four to go...


This morning, Tim and I ventured out to make merit at Pun Tuao Kong — a Chinese shrine high on Patong Hill between Kathu and Patong.  It's location at a bend of Prambaramee Road (Highway 4029) causes it to be seen by any motorist who ventures east out of Patong; many don't stop but the Thais (and some expats) will give a few short beeps of their horn as they pass by.  Not only was it my first time praying at this small temple, it was Tim's first visit as well.

We began the morning by stopping at the Kathu market so we could purchase items to give as alms.  Our offerings included two whole chickens, bunches of longan and rambutan, as well as about a dozen strands of puang malai (flower garlands).

Each temple or shrine seems to have a slightly different routine to the order in which you do things.  At Pun Tuao Kong, we first presented our bags of meat and fruit.  The flower garlands were separated from this offering and we proceeded to several small shrines where we draped the fragrant stands over various Buddha images.  We were then given bundles of joss sticks, several candles, and a roll of Chinese "lucky money".  We lit the candles and placed them in holders at the rear of the main shrine.

The joss sticks were then lit and we went from one small shrine to another where we prayed and then stuck the sticks into the sand; I was lucky in that I didn't burn myself this time (not easy to do as you need to place the sticks firmly among many other white-hot sticks).  There's actually a specific order in which you need to visit the sub-shrines; I'm sure it was amusing to view as I tried to follow Tim's lead while she wasn't entirely certain of the order.  You also are supposed to place only three joss sticks at each shrine (somehow, I finished before I ran out of shrines).  Several of these shrines have space where you need to kneel and pray (using the wai) while several have barely enough room to stand.  All of this takes place amidst a haze of smoke and your eyes really do begin to water after a short while.

I forget the exact order of things but at one point, we stood in front of a large furnace-like altar where we placed the Chinese "lucky money" (one at a time) atop the flames.  Again, I succeeded in not getting burnt (a good sign).  We also had to take platefuls of the food we brought as offerings and set them on various parts of the main shrine (the plate with the two chickens was particularly heavy).

One of the last steps of the ceremony (or perhaps it was just a select few as Tim didn't do this) was to pick up a can of what looked like shaved bamboo chopsticks (I can't remember the name of these).  You kneel in front of the altar and shake the can rhythmically back and forth until one of the sticks works its way to the top and falls to the floor.  The shrine's attendant then read the number on the stick, approached a nearby wooden cabinet where he opened a drawer with the corresponding number, and handed me a slip of paper.  This paper apparently gives my fortune but Tim couldn't translate it for me ("it mean you have everything, everything," she told me); I'll see about getting it properly translated sometime.

I was then given a pair of red wooden blocks made from bamboo roots in the shape of a mango (actually, it looked more like two halves of a banana to me).  I was supposed to toss these up and have them land on the ground.  I had no idea what this was for but a bit of research at home has revealed that these are supposed to help me make decisions.  One poses a question requiring a "yes" or "no" answer and then watch how they land when they hit the floor.  If both land with the same side up, the answer is "no"; if they land one side up and the other down, then the answer is "yes."

In addition to the alms, we also gave a small donation for the upkeep of the shrine.

It was a very interesting experience.  We were even joined halfway through by our friends Lek and Jum.


Since Wat Chalong is only about 2km from our home, we tend to "forget" about it on our photo expeditions around Phuket.  It is actually the largest, most ornate, and most visited of the island's 29 Buddhist temples.  Passing it last evening (on our way back up to Tesco-Lotus), we made a quick stop.  It was a bit after six when we arrived, ominous-looking clouds were developing overhead, and the available light was fading fast.  Still, I came away with some rather decent pictures.

It's fairly easy to find information about Wat Chalong in English — something I can't say about many of Phuket's temples and shrines — so I'll give a bit of background:

Wat Chalong (วัดฉลอง, วัดไชยธาราราม) is associated with two revered monks, Luang Pho Chaem (หลวงพ่อแช่ม) and Luang Pho Chuang (หลวงพ่อช่วง), who were both famous for their work in herbal medicine.  During the tin miners' rebellion of 1876 they mobilized aid for the injured on both sides.  They also mediated in the rebellion, bringing the warring parties together to resolve their dispute.  Statues honoring them stand in the temple's viharn (sermon hall); many Thais come here to be blessed by the monks and receive a good luck charm in the form of a string tied around the wrist which they believe protects them from injury and illness.

There are numerous buildings in the Wat Chalong grounds including a tall chedi containing numerous Buddha images (a fragment of bone from Buddha is reputed to be stored at the top of the tower), the viharn containing waxworks of the revered monks, a crematorium, an ubosoth where the monks are ordained, a mondhop (library), an ornate bell-tower, and several sala.  Immediately inside the main entrance, on the right as you face the wat grounds, is a section of ancient wall; unfortunately, there is no indication of how ancient it is or what it contained.

One thing that amuses me about Wat Chalong is the fact that there's an ATM machine (for Siam Commercial Bank) at the center of the complex.  But that makes it more convenient for those who need extra cash to purchase alms for the monks.  I just think they could have placed the cash machine in a slightly less conspicuous spot.  During our visit, I finally started noticing the ornate doors on the various buildings (and took a few decent shots of them).

Tim is always a real trouper on these trips; she has a lot of patience and doesn't mind waiting as I wander around taking photos.  I would have spent more time at Wat Chalong last night if it hadn't have gotten so dark so quickly.  We'll have to return again during the daytime in order to climb to the top of the chedi (spectacular views up there) and enter some of the buildings (containing beautiful murals).  With this temple being so close, there's no excuse not to visit more often.



This year, Thailand's "Green Season" has been extremely severe.  Watching television reports of entire villages being swept away by raging flood waters or of train derailments caused by mudslides has become almost a nightly occurrance.  The northern provinces have been particularly hard hit with much loss of life in the areas south of Chiang Mai, surrounding Sukothai, and even as close as Chumphon in peninsular Thailand.  And, just in the past couple of weeks, the monsoons have been drenching Phuket with a vengeance.

The start of the full-day torrential downpours coincided with the start of my TEFL course.  That first week saw Tim and I caught in the rain on the motorbike numerous times.  The worst was actually the day I needed to visit the Immigration Office — despite wearing a windbreaker, rain poncho, and a garbage bag covering my pantlegs and nice shoes I still arrived in Patong soaked to the bone (giving the Immigration officials a good chuckle).

This past week, we were given a reprieve of sorts with several days of mostly sunny skies.  There was one day in particular, however, that the skies let loose just as we were in the homestretch to the language school; as we rode parallel to Karon Beach, I could see the squall out to sea and once the line of rain passed an offshore freighter I urged Tim to quicken our pace.  We managed to round the last bend into Patong and were approximately 50 yards from the school when it began pouring.  I considered myself lucky as I only got a "little bit" drenched; Mark from England was extremely soaked once he arrived.

Another lucky bit last week was that it was fairly bright and sunny during our days off; we did manage to waste most of last weekend lounging around the house (except for Saturday) but at least the sun was shining.  I didn't mind that at all.

But today was just plain frustrating.  I'd had planned to get many things done including opening a Thai bank account (can be a long process), getting my Thai driver's licence (can be a frustrating process), picking up a few packages at the post office, and shopping for teaching supplies and new clothes.  But all of those plans were put on hold by a long day of heavy rain.  We also experienced off-and-on electrical and phone outages so I couldn't even accomplish much on the computer.  Very frustrating...

By three o'clock, we were both going stir-crazy so we decided to venture out to the post office covered in our 20-baht rain ponchos (Tim's has developed several large holes in the sides).  It stopped raining just as we left our soi, although the surrounding mountains remained covered in ominous-looking clouds.  It was too late to make it out to the bank (most branches close down at three) but we managed to salvage our shopping expedition.  It really is a long trip up Chaofa West Road to the various hypermarts (our choice of the day was Tesco-Lotus), especially when the skies were as threatening as this afternoon.  The drive isn't made any more fun by the terrible mess the endless road-widening project has created (many potholes are so large they could swallow a tuk-tuk without any problem).  Because of all of the rain, the packed-earth road surface has become a washboard worse that the highway leading to New Mexico's Chaco Canyon (one of the worst national parkway roads in the southwest United States).  Today, there was something new: —a portion of the highway had a brand new "river" flowing across it, overflow from the nearby hills.

Generally, I love the rain.  I lived for the previous twelve years before moving to Thailand in a part of the States that usually had 350 days of sunshine per year.  Because of a long-term drought, very few rivers there had any water in them.  Before deciding to come to Phuket, I came very close to moving to Portland, Oregon — partly because of the amount of moisture that city receives.  But enough, already.  There is such a thing as too much.  Not only are we constantly trying to dry off but it's also been downright cold.  I don't really like to complain but, darnit, if I wanted to get completely wet I'd rather just swim in the ocean than drive underwater on the motorbike.

Sorry for the rant.  Goodnight, Phuket.



Well, I can't seem to fall asleep tonight so I'll bash out a quick summary of our weekend:

Following Ben's birthday celebrations on Thursday, Tim and I spent all day Friday lounging around the house.  I actually woke up around eight or so but Tim slept until noon.  We did get a bit of house-cleaning done and, since it was the first non-rainy day in a week, a few loads of laundry as well (we can only do laundry when it's not raining).  In fact, it was kind of ironic that the one day in a week where we could have gone somewhere without getting drenched was the one day we didn't go anywhere at all (it turns out very few of my fellow students did anything at all Friday either).  About the biggest thing I accomplished was getting a few chapters into The Pirates of Tarutao by Paul Adriex, a novel set in southern Thailand during the Second World War.

Saturday was another matter:  Tim and I spent most of the day (twelve hours in all) with several of our new friends from the TEFL course.  We all met at the school in Patong at noon and proceeded over to the massage parlor that Ben and his wife own.  We had a barbecue outside there (it's location in the OTOP shopping plaza made it more convenient than going to Ben's house in Rawai).  Tim made som tam — a less-spicy version of her usual recipe which everyone enjoyed (it was actually the first bowl of papaya salad that I've ever been able to finish) — while Ben's wife grilled sausages and kabobs.  We spent several hours just hanging out enjoying the good food and beer (and later, sampling some Lao-kao — a particularly potent firewater from northeast Thailand).  As the afternoon progressed, Ben felt sufficiently trustworthy to let Nottingham Mark (who had earlier had his dreadlocks cut off) and Shan try riding his Honda 750 racing motorbike (much larger than the 100's and 125's both were used to).

Late in the afternoon, we all piled into Ben's pickup truck and headed south along the coast.  He drove us through Karon, into Kata, past the turnoff to Kata Noi, and finally into Nai Harn Beach.  Since several of the guys hadn't yet been outside of Patong, this was a real treat for them to see different (less in-your-face touristy) parts of the island.  Tim and I enjoyed the camraderie (she told me that she considers everyone as brothers rather than mere friends) and we even got to see some parts of Phuket we hadn't previously ventured to (such as the far northern stretches of Nai Harn).  We didn't actually stop anywhere until we arrived at Ben's home, about halfway between Nai Harn and Rawai Beaches.  We spent a few minutes here playing with the dogs, checking out the hammock, etc. before climbing back into the pickup and driving up to Laem Promthep just in time to catch the last minutes of the sunset.

I'd been raving about Los Amigo's Cantina (see my previous entry) to Doug most of the week and he suggested we go there for a late dinner.  The food was just as wonderful as on my first visit (I tried the beef fajitas this time while my wife had the nachos grande).  Finally, we headed back up to Patong.  When Ben dropped us off at OTOP, several of us decided we'd head over to Fuzy's for a "quick beer".  While there, my wife and I played a game of pool (my first time since playing in Kamala last January; Tim won, but just barely).  We finally called it a night just past midnight.

Today (Sunday) saw me being very lazy — I spent some time reading while Tim drove into Patong to visit Jum.  Ben stopped by in the afternoon to ask me a few questions about our homework and upcoming test (I can't believe he actually found the place based on my over-the-phone directions).  Tim and I spent a little time visiting with Franz and Pen in the evening (discussing stamps and a possible trip to Hat Yai next weekend).

Here are some photos from Saturday:

Mark shows off his new haircut (compare with Thursday's dreds).  He now looks presentable enough to teach.

(Left to right:) Rowan, Shan, me, Mark, Doug, and Ben's legs; we're enjoying a few drinks in Patong's OTOP area.

Ben gives Mark some pointers before he roars off on his "big bike".

Mark offers me a drink of 100 Pipers Scotch while we race down one of the hills of western Phuket.  You certainly can't ride in the back of a pickup in the States, let alone drink in one!

Myself, Doug, Rowan, and Shan enjoying the sunset at Promthep Cape.

The view from the cape.

Ben and Mark in my favorite picture of the day.  All sorts of captions are going through my head right now...

And there you have the rundown of our first weekend since I returned to school.  Goodnight, Phuket...



I had planned to write a new blog entry tonight but had some problems logging into my BetaBlogger/Google account (one of the glitches since migrating my blog over to the new system).  I'm too tired now to do much computer work so I'll try to post something in the morning — we had a very active Saturday and I have some new photos to show off as well...


I'm a big fan of lists and books based on lists.  These include tomes such as Patricia Schultz' 1,000 Places To See Before You Die or Steve Walkins' Unforgettable Things To Do Before You Die.

I thought I was fairly well read until I came across Peter Boxall's 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.  The numbers of books on that list that I've actually read is fairly small; I haven't even heard of a fair number of the more recent works.  There are a number that I seem to remember having to read in school but whether or not I actually finished reading them is another matter.  As I had nothing else better to do early this morning, I compiled a list of those books from Bowell's list that I did complete from cover to cover.  I now present them here for your amusement or boredom:

Books I've Read
1)  Jack Maggs (Peter Carey)
2)  The World According To Garp (John Irving)
3)  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (John Le Carré)
4)  The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (John Le Carré)
5)  To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
6)  On The Road (Jack Kerouac)
7)  The Lord Of The Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien)
8)  Casino Royale (Ian Fleming)
9)  The Old Man And The Sea (Ernest Hemingway)
10)  Foundation (Isaac Asimov)
11)  I, Robot (Isaac Asimov)
12)  Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell)
13)  Animal Farm (George Orwell)
14)  Farewell My Lovely (Raymond Chandler)
15)  For Whom The Bell Tolls (Ernest Hemingway)
16)  The Grapes Of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
17)  The Big Sleep (Raymond Chandler)
18)  The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien)
19)  Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
20)  Tender Is The Night (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
21)  Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
22)  The Thin Man (Dashiell Hammett)
23)  The Maltese Falcon (Dashiell Hammett)
24)  A Farewell To Arms (Ernest Hemingway)
25)  All Quiet On The Western Front (Erich Maria Remarque)
26)  The Sound And The Fury (William Faulkner)
27)  Look Homeward, Angel (Thomas Wolfe)
28)  Lady Chatterly's Lover (D.H. Lawrence)
29)  The Sun Also Rises (Ernest Hemingway)
30)  The Plumed Serpent (D.H. Lawrence)
31)  The Murder Of Roger Akroyd (Agatha Christie)
32)  The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
33)  The Trial (Franz Kafka)
34)  A Passage To India (E.M. Forster)
35)  Ulysses (James Joyce)
36)  The Good Soldier (Ford Maddox Ford)
37)  The Thirty-Nine Steps (John Buchan)
38)  Tarzen Of The Apes (Edgar Rice Burroughs)
39)  Sons And Lovers (D.H. Lawrence)
40)  Howards End (E.M. Forster)
41)  A Room With A View (E.M. Forster)
42)  The Secret Agent (Joseph Conrad)
43)  The Jungle (Upton Sinclair)
44)  Nostromo (Joseph Conrad)
45)  Heart Of Darkness (Joseph Conrad)
46)  The Hound Of The Baskervilles (Arthur Conan Doyle)
47)  Kim (Rudyard Kipling)
48)  Lord Jim (Joseph Conrad)
49)  The Turn Of The Screw (Henry James)
50)  The War Of The Worlds (H.G. Wells)
51)  The Invisible Man (H.G. Wells)
52)  Dracula (Bram Stoker)
53)  The Time Machine (H.G. Wells)
54)  The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle)
55)  Tess Of The D'Ubervilles (Thomas Hardy)
56)  The Picture Of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde)
57)  Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson)
58)  Kidnapped (Robert Louis Stevenson)
59)  King Solomon's Mines (H. Rider Haggard)
60)  The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain)
61)  Treasure Island (Robert Louis Stevenson)
62)  The Portrait Of A Lady (Henry James)
63)  Ben-Hur (Lew Wallace)
64)  The Brothers Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoevsky)
65)  Anna Karenina (Lev Tolstoy)
66)  Far From The Madding Crowd (Thomas Hardy)
67)  Around The World In Eighty Days (Jules Verne)
68)  War And Peace (Lev Tolstoy)
69)  The Idiot (Fyodor Dostoevsky)
70)  The Moonstone (Wilkie Collins)
71)  Journey To The Centre Of The Earth (Jules Verne)
72)  Crime And Punishment (Fyodor Dostoevsky)
73)  Our Mutual Friend (Charles Dickens)
74)  Les Misérables (Victor Hugo)
75)  Fathers And Sons (Ivan Turgenev)
76)  Silas Marner (George Eliot)
77)  Great Expectations (Charles Dickens)
78)  The Woman In White (Wilkie Collins)
79)  A Tale Of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)
80)  Walden (Henry David Thoreau)
81)  Bleak House (Charles Dickens)
82)  Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe)
83)  The House Of The Seven Gables (Nathaniel Hawthorne)
84)  Moby-Dick (Herman Melville)
85)  The Scarlet Letter (Nathaniel Hawthorne)
86)  David Copperfield (Charles Dickens)
87)  Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë)
88)  The Count Of Monte-Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
89)  The Purloined Letter (Edgar Allen Poe)
90)  The Pit And The Pendulum (Edgar Allen Poe)
91)  A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens)
92)  Dead Souls (Nickolai Gogol)
93)  The Fall Of The House Of Usher (Edgar Allen Poe)
94)  Nicholas Nickelby (Charles Dickens)
95)  Oliver Twist (Charles Dickens)
96)  The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (Victor Hugo)
97)  Last Of The Mochicans (James Fenimore Cooper)
98)  Ivanhoe (Sir Walter Scott)
99)  Frankenstein (Mary Shelley)
100)  Pride And Prejudice (Jane Austen)
101)  Sense And Sensibility (Jane Austen)
102)  Gulliver's Travels (Jonathan Swift)
103)  Robinson Crusoe (Daniel Defoe)
104)  Don Quixote (Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra)
105)  Aesop’s Fables (Aesopus)
Like most such lists, the Bowell's 1001 has some glaring omissions (where's Tom Sawyer, for example?).  I was surprised when I got to one hundred when compiling those I've finished reading.  I had thought about also making a list of those I would like to read but that would be too long and time-consuming (I do have something of a life planned for this weekend).

Perhaps tomorrow morning (some free time exists when I wake up before my wife does), I'll go through the 1000 Places To See Before You Die list and figure out where I've been and where I haven't...



The end of our first week in school coincided with the birthday of one of our fellow students yesterday — Ben turned 32 (plus, his wife gave birth just one week ago).  After class, we all headed across the street to Mr. Tu's for a few drinks and an early dinner.  Here's the gang:

(left to right:) Dio from South Africa, Adrian from London, Tim and myself, birthday boy Ben from England, Rowan from Australia, our teacher Bob from Australia, Bob's wife, Lan, Paul — the school's director (he's married to Lan), Doug from New York, Chris from Northern Ireland, Michael from Glasgow, and Gary from Sheffield.  The other Mark (from Nottingham) took the photo.

In the early evening, we separated and promised to meet up later at Funky's (on Rat-U-Thit 200 Pee Road).  Surprisingly enough, almost everyone actually made it.  Tim and I arrived around 9:00 and stayed until after two in the morning.  We took Jum along and she seemed to hit it off with Shan, a Canadian who recently graduated from the TEFL course.  The night was really a great way to let off some steam at the end of a very intensive week.  My fellow students are a great group of guys and we plan to have a number of get-togethers throughout the course (next up:  a barbecue tomorrow afternoon).

Tim and I enjoying our evening at Funky's.  Ben's wife is in the background — she also does knitting and I think Tim and her are planning to bounce ideas off of each other.

(left to right:) Jum, Shan, Mark from Notthingham, my wife Tim

Tim showing off her dance moves with a couple of Australian women.  My wife really has a lot of fun at these types of gatherings and she makes sure everyone else enjoys themselves as well.