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We returned from our whirlwind trip up north early Tuesday morning.  Tim and I have both been suffering from colds since so I haven't felt much like writing.  I'll see how this entry goes...

Thanks to a connection of Opat's, we managed a significant discount on the bus tickets from Phuket to Bangkok.  The four of us (my wife and myself, Nadia, and Opat) took up the rear third of the bus and actually managed to get some sleep on the overnight journey (we left Thursday evening and arrived in the capital at six Friday morning).  Upon arrival at the Southern Bus Terminal (which is actually on Bangkok's west side), we took a taxi to Opat's wife's home in Minburi (way on the eastern edges of the city) where we were able to get cleaned up a bit and slept some more until it was time for Nadia, Tim and I to check into our hotel.

We actually stayed at a very nice youth hostel right at the entrance to Sukhumvit Soi 25, a short walk from the Asoke BTS (Sky Train) station.  It was brand-spanking new, having only opened this past June — our room was spotless — and featured a large enclosed courtyard with seating for an excellent Italian restaurant (Pizza Aroy) and a number of Thai food vendors.  Due to our last-minute booking, we ended up with a (very large) room containing three single beds but at least had an en suite bathroom with hot shower plus cable television, huge refrigerator, and ice-cold air conditioning.  I was very impressed and the 960-baht-per-night rate can't be beat for the location and facilities.  Ironically, the same company owns the Phuket Youth Hostel located about 1km from our home in Chalong.

Tim and I outside of the Bangkok Centre Sukhumvit 25 Hostel.

After a much-needed shower, we headed out again and met Opat for the first of our planned car-shopping excursions.  Friday afternoon saw us visiting several Thai (no English spoken here) used-car dealerships.  It was very frustrating for me as I couldn't understand any of the negotiations but Tim seemed very adept at talking to the salesmen.  By this time, she knew what I was looking for as well as my budgets for down and monthly payments.  We found several likely candidates including several Hondas (three-doors) and Toyotas (four-doors).  All of the dealers assured my wife that financing wouldn't be a problem even though we were looking in Bangkok while living in Phuket.  I wasn't so sure...

Tim wheeling-and-dealing at yet another Bangkok used car dealership.

We put in several rather exhausting hours checking out used cars (mostly in the Minburi and Bang Ka-Pi districts on Bangkok's east side) before retiring back to our hostel.  I managed to get (English) Mark (from the TEFL course) on the phone and he agreed to meet us on Sukhumvit.  The plan was to check out Soi Cowboy for a few drinks and see how it compares to Bangla Road.  Once Mark arrived however, somehow he talked everyone else into going to Khao San Road as his favorite watering holes are over there.  So, we took our fifth taxi of the day to my displeasure (one of the reasons I picked Sukhumvit was for the easy access to both the Sky Train and the subway lines as I wanted to save on transportation costs).  Anyway, we did have a good time on Khao San checking out the backpacker crowd and street performers.  Nadia did a bit of shopping and we all danced up a storm at a really nice Irish bar.  Mark disappeared after a while (one of his bad habits — he'll take us out somewhere and then meet a girl, forgetting all about the rest of us...).  We took a tuk tuk back to the hotel, Opat continued back to his home, and we turned in around one a.m.

Nadia and Opat enjoying a laugh on Khao San Road.

Tim had a good time trying on hats.

Some of Khao San's more colorful street performers.

Enjoying ourselves at the Irish bar.

A rather late start on Saturday decreased our car-shopping time as we planned to visit Adrian, Chris, and Michael in Sri Racha — a two-hour journey from Bangkok — that afternoon.  I had found a company on the Internet, Expatriate Motors, which specializes in selling cars to expats and are experts in helping them properly register and insure the cars.  We took a taxi (by this time, we had a regular driver who gave us honest rates for chauffeuring us around) over there (it's on Sukhumvit Soi 101).  I finally got some actual (based on fact rather than heresay) answers to my questions.  The bottom line is that although sellers will try to convince you otherwise, no bank will finance the purchase of a car to a foreigner who doesn't have a work permit and at least six months of proof-of-employment in Thailand.  In order to register the car in my wife's name, she would need six months of pay stubs (and most Thai employers, unless they are a large firm, simply don't put employees on the books at all).  So that brought our plans of financing a car to a screeching hault.  The only way I'll be able to purchase a car here will be to pay cash in full which will take a little longer to move money from my American accounts (I can only withdraw 10,000 baht per day from the ATM and can't do a SWIFT transfer without actually visiting a branch of my home bank).

Back to the hostel for lunch (we became big fans of the attached Italian restaurant — Nadia and I shared a HUGE pepperoni pizza one night) and showers before piling into our regular taxi for the long drive out to Sri Racha (located in Chonburi).  Michael met us at the Robinson's in the center of town and then took us on a walking tour of the very large Assumption College campus.  Chris and Adrian met up with us there and then showed us their apartments (provided by the school).  They really put on the hard sell trying to get me to come up and join them there; Assumption will be hiring more English teachers at the beginning of the next term (March) and my friends promise to put in recommendations for me.  Now would be the time to start the process with the Ministry of Education's current emphasis on background checks, etc.

The guys decided to take us to a late dinner in Pattaya so we piled into our taxi, plus a tuk-tuk, for the hour trip to that city.  We managed to get lost before we located the favored restaurant, an English pub called The Pig & Whistle on Soi 9.  I had an excellent ham sandwich on homemade bread with Bradford pickles (the first time I'd ever tried this wonderful English treat).  We then walked to The Pick Up Bar for a couple of hours of drinks and conversation (and a bit of dancing by Tim, Nadia, and Michael's girlfriend Oh).

Good friends Michael, Chris, and Adrian.

Opat and Nadia, and a Jenga game, at Pick Up Bar in Pattaya.

Leaving our friends in Pattaya around 12:30, we took the long drive back to Bangkok.  By now, our driver seemed like an old friend and the Thais in the car (everyone but myself) had a great time chatting up a storm while I was left out of the loop.  Sometimes I can feel really lonely despite being surround by people so it seemed like an even longer ride than usual.

Anyway, arriving back to our hotel in the wee hours of the morning my wife suddenly got her second wind.  First we ate at a street-side stall (including some very nice soy sauce-marinated beef strips for me — bringing back a flood of memories of the birthday dinners Mom used to prepare) before taking a tuk-tuk to Bobae, an all-night clothing market.  It was pretty amazing wandering among shirt and jeans stalls amidst huge crowds of Thais (I seemed to be the only farang around) at 4:30 in the morning.

Nadia and Tim at Bobae Night Market

Finally back to the hostel around six on Sunday morning, we spent much of the day in our beds.  We thought about taking the bus back to Phuket that afternoon but Tim decided she wanted to visit our granddaughter up in Bang Pa-In.  That area, along with Ayutthaya and many other places in Thailand have been hard hit by the floods this year.  In fact, the lower level of Miao and Ant's home has been under water until very recently.  We managed to get lost a few times on the drive up and didn't arrive until almost 10 in the evening.  We did spent a couple of nice hours with Ant's side of the family and I played with Noo-Dang most of that time.  Our departure was delayed a bit as the State Police and Royal Guard blocked off the road for the imminent arrival of one of the princesses to the nearby Bang Pa-In Palace.  When they finally drove by (one of the cars was a Mercedes SLK Kompressor just like my Dad used to own) they did so at very high speed and I was warned not to take photos.  Our taxi driver treated us to a late meal at a roadside stand somewhere in the middle of nowhere; he seemed genuinely sorry that he wouldn't see us again on this trip...

My wife, our taxi driver, granddaughter Noo-Dang, and your's truly.

Noo-Dang really seems to love her grandpapa.

Outside of Miao's home the water level is still very high.  Note the high-water mark towards the top of the fence.

Since we couldn't get on a bus back to Phuket until Monday afternoon, we spent much of the day just hanging out near the hostel.  We checked out and then had a nice lunch at Pizza Aroy before taking the Sky Train (finally!) over to Central World, a megamall in the heart of Bangkok's shopping district.  Our main goal there was to find an outlet of Thai Ticketmaster so I could pick up our Eric Clapton concert tickets (these are pretty cool — like plastic debit cards — and came with free EC greatest hits CD's and drink coupons) but we also did a bit of browsing in a few high-end stores.  Tim wanted some new shoes but was shocked at the prices; we had fun looking, however.  We did come across "Asia's Biggest Christmas Tree" and I was pleased to see plenty of holiday decorations.  We decided to venture over to the huge Big C across the street; in trying to get back to street level from the walkway beneath the Sky Train tracks we ducked inside of Grayson Department Store where we found yet another Christmas tree.

Nadia standing in front of the Central World Christmas tree (the photo of Tim didn't come out that great...).

Another try at photographing Tim in front of a Christmas tree, this time at Grayson's.

A few doors down from Big C, we explored a large marketplace full of Thai handicrafts (more of an OTOP style of shopping area) but didn't buy anything.  We then encountered a large grouping of streetside vendor stalls and Tim happily went around buying good things to eat.  We spent a while inside Big C; Tim purchased two pairs of walking shoes and we got a few munchies for the long bus ride home.  Finally, we took a tuk-tuk back to the hostel where we retrieved our bags (stored for free in their left luggage office) and got a taxi to take us to the Southern Bus Terminal (after some difficulty; no less than four drivers turned us down because they didn't "have time" to drive us that far!).  We arrived at the chaotic bus terminal (I truly hate it — there are no sidewalks and you have to squeeze between the numerous busses while trying to get to the ticket office and waiting area).  The earliest bus leaving was at 6:30 (just a two-hour wait from the time we arrived) but it was the most uncomfortable one I've yet ridden on in this country (we were packed in like sardines and the chairs definitely weren't made for Western-sized people!).

Tim at the street food market across from Central World mall.

Tim and Nadia waiting for our bus back to Phuket.

We got back home early Tuesday morning after a sleepless night.  My knee was badly bruised from being jammed under the seat in front of mine for 10 hours as the Thai man sitting in it refused to adjust it for the farang.  All I could think about for the last several hours on the bus was getting home and being able to take a shower before sleeping in my air-conditioned room all day.  However, upon arriving home we found that one of Tim's friends who had checked our mail had locked the master bedroom door.  There's no key (and I still haven't been given a reason why they should have opened that door in the first place) but luckily we managed to get our landlord on the phone at the early hour and he sent someone over to replace the door knob!  My "wonderful luck" continued when we discovered that there was little to no water pressure due to some work on the main pipes so I couldn't even take a shower.  Add insult to injury, I sat down at my desk chair to check email and the chair promptly broke sending me to the floor (the second one to do that in as many months, due more because of bad welding than because of my weight...).

Anyway, it is nice to be back home although we have had sore throats and the sniffles the past few days.  It's either from the pollution in Bangkok or the arctic temperatures of the taxis and busses compared with the roasting temperatures outside.  Although we didn't accomplish our goal of buying a car (nor was I able to get to the U.S. Embassy — it was closed for the Thanksgiving holiday) I'm still happy we made the trip.

For now, the focus seems to have shifted to plans for my birthday, coming up on Sunday.  I'd told Tim and Nadia I didn't want a big deal made of it, that we should have a combination party when Nadia's birthday comes up on the 19th, but the girls seem to be plotting some sort of shindig (with plenty of giggling going on lately!).  Stay tuned...



As I'm waiting for the completion of my Ministry of Education background check (more bureaucracy!) before a good school can hire me, we've settled into somewhat of a daily routine.  That routine consists largely of me preparing lesson plans for my upcoming private classes while Tim and Nadia alternate between eating, watching Thai karaoke VCD's, or doing the occasional housework (which I do pitch in on, in case you're wondering).  Around 5:30 or 6:00 we head over to Patong in order to get Nadia to work; sometimes we stay until she finishes up at midnight but usually Tim and I run a few errands (grocery shopping, example) or just come on home.  When I'm not peparing for future classroom work, I'm working on music or video stuff on the computer or trying to decide which book I want to read a chapter or two in (I currently have several I'm in the middle of).

This all makes our lives sound rather boring but nothing could be further from the truth.  It's just that day-in and day-out we've become content with our usual routine.  Included in that routine is my weekly Thai language class (Saturdays and Sundays from 10 until noon; with four down and six to go I'm beginning to understand more of what Tim and her friends talk about).  We also manage to go swimming once or twice each week, as well as the occasional get-together with various friends (both mine and Tim's).

Added to the routine recently has been the beginnings of a search for a car to buy (which is the reason we're preparing to leave tomorrow for Bangkok — more on this in a bit...).  Because of a Thai cultural stigma against buying anything used, there are many deals to be had as there are more cars than buyers.  We're looking for an economical compact car (preferably automatic) and I've set a maximum budget of 80,000 baht (roughly USD $2000).  Tim already has plans for a taxi service (it's amazingly easy to obtain a chauffeur's license here) and I'm working out a price list for her.  I've found several cars that I quite like here on Phuket but one of Tim's busybody friends has convinced her that every used car here must have been in the tsunami and that prices (and risk) would be much lower up in Bangkok.  I needed to go there anyway to have a bank letter notarized at the U.S. Embassy (plus, you now need a letter from your embassy certifying your Thai address before a foreigner can obtain a Thai driving license) so I agreed to the trip.  I doubt if cars will be much less expensive there (and after buying why would you want to drive it halfway across Thailand before you know of any limitations?) but I figure it will be a nice break in the routine.

Of course, planning this trip once again makes me long for the old days when I travelled alone.  There are so many other factors involved when travelling with another person.  And this time we're travelling in a larger group — Opat and Nadia are both going with us (they both have family in Bangkok so a hotel needed to be found central to their locations so we wouldn't spend all of our time coordinating meetings).  Anyway, we've been having A LOT of difficulty booking a hotel in advance.  I don't know what's going on in the capitol this weekend but everything seems to be booked solid (even the dodgy places around Sukhumvit Soi 4/Nana).  Tim assures me it's "not a problem" and that we'll be able to find something by just showing up at a hotel or guesthouse (I doubt she'll be comfortable at a Khao San Road type of establishment).  Somehow I have the feeling we'll all end up sleeping on the floor of Nadia's grandparents' home...but I'm just going with the flow and not letting it worry me (too much).

When we return, the routine will be broken up further with the start of my first private EFL classes.  I'll be teaching at least four days per week — the routine will be an hour of conversation, a break for lunch (included in the tuition fee, prepared by Tim), and then an hour of reading/writing.  We're starting at the very beginning; I'll be using New Interchange Intro for now, supplemented by a stockpile of the "Learning Post" sections from the Bangkok Post and other material I've accumulated.

I won't let my routine be interrupted by my birthday (the 3rd of December), however.  I've let everyone know I don't want a party (a big reason for this is that the birthday celebrant is the one who pays for all the food and drinks and our circle of friends has grown exponentially from the time of Tim's birthday).  I figure with Nadia's birthday (the 19th), Christmas, and New Year's all coming up that we can have one party combining all of the special days.  And I plan to limit that guestlist severely...

Well, I've just realized today (well, tomorrow in the States but it is just after one a.m. in Thailand as I write this) is Thanksgiving.  I had planned to celebrate it by seeking out a turkey dinner (I'm sure that HAS to be a restaurant somewhere on Phuket who can prepare one) and watching a DVD of a football game a friend sent me.  But we'll be boarding a bus for Bangkok tomorrow afternoon so that's enough of a break in the routine for me this week...

Happy Turkey Day!!



The night after we returned from Singapore, we drove into Patong to check out the last night of the High Season Carnival.  Highlights included plenty of great music, food vendors, and a bikini fashion show.  Here are a few photos from the night:

My lovely wife, Sangwan (Tim).

Nadia and Tim.

Tim with Thai dancers.

I always enjoy the traditional Thai dancing at the various carnivals.

Lighting a Lanna-style paper balloon on Patong Beach.

The next two nights, we attended Loy Kratong carnivals in Karon and on Bangla Road in Patong where I took the following pictures:

A rare photo of my wife wearing makeup...

Children's talent show at Karon.

Kratongs floating on the lake at Karon Park.

Nadia, Opat, and I danced until the wee hours on the stage at Karon.

Too much happy in the middle of the night.

Tim and Opat sold beer and softdrinks on Patong Beach for Loy Kratong.

Stage set up on the eastern end of Bangla Road for Loy Kratong.  Sunday night saw traditional beauty and Kratong-making competitions; Monday night this was the scene of the Miss Beer Bar contest making for quite a contrast!

Loy Kratong features beauty contests for women of all ages in traditional Thai garb.

The night before, Nadia and I had sent a balloon aloft just the two of us as Tim was busy with her beer stall.  I decided we should have her participate on the actual Loy Kratong night (Sunday) as it's better luck.  Jum, who had returned after a lengthy stay in Udon, also joined in.

After Nadia got off of work, we (including Jum and Lek) all met up at Deng's Bar in Bangla.


My brandnew broadband from Singapore was installed late last week but thus far it doesn't live up to expectations.  First of all, it took the IT techs two days to put in the line (a shared connection with the adjacent house) which is just a long cable running (exposed) from the far corner of my living room to the master bedroom (there's only one phone jack in the entire house.  They then had to set up my port at the local telephone exchange and gave me a temporary port and modem so I could access the Internet overnight.  That was awesome as I had a download speed of more than 300 Mbps (quite a shock when I was used to 45 kb/s); I happily downloaded all sorts of great new music that night and would have obtained more if my hard drive hadn't have filled up.  They returned the next day and gave me a different modem and ran an even longer cable around the floor; this didn't work at all — I told the techs as they were leaving for lunch that I had NO connectivity and they said they would return later.  They didn't and it took a couple of days for our landlord to get their office on the phone.  Different techs came out with a different modem and strung the cable along the curtain holders atop the front sliding glass doors.  I ran a broadband speed test and it was still fairly slow (270 kb/s download — definitely NOT what I'm going to pay for).  I also asked for a username so I could forward ports in the router's firewall for downloading via BitTorrent.  Not only did he not give me a username/password but he changed the default password so I couldn't get in at all.  Thus, my BT downloads are firewalled and the speeds aren't much faster than dialup.  I'll try calling the office again tomorrow to see if I can get someone on the phone who understands that this is the reason I need a fast connection and who will at the least open up a port for me even if they don't give me that type of access.  Afterall, why have such a service if you can't adjust settings yourself if something needs fixing?



Sorry about the slight delay in posting these.  I do have some good news, however:  Later this week, I'm having a broadband service installed which provides the fastest Internet speeds possible on Phuket (this side of 3G, anyway).  Once that's connected, I'll no longer have a real excuse for not (finally) getting caught up with uploading photos to Photobucket and Webshots.

Tim standing on Clarke Quay with the Hill Street Building in the background.  Standing on the site of Singapore's first jail and distinctive for it's Italian-influenced facade and multicolored windows, the building currently houses the Ministry of Information and Arts.  Constructed in 1934, it served as the police headquarters since 1980.

In March 1871, His Majesty Somdech Phra Paramindr Maha Chulalongkorn (Rama V) landed at Singapore marking the first foreign country ever visited by a Siamese monarch.  This monument commemorates that event, standing outside of the old Parliament House (which now contains an arts center and, ironically, a Thai restaurant).

This statue on North Boat Quay marks the spot where Sir Stamford Raffles first set foot at Singapore on 29 January 1819.

Tim poses amongst some more public art alongside the Singapore River.

You'res truly posing in front of the Merlion, symbol of Singapore, at the head of the river.  The neighboring Fullerton Hotel is the former General Post Office which replaced Fort Fullerton in 1925.

The Esplanade — Theatres On The Bay houses a large theatre and concert hall for all sorts of cultural events.  I think it looks like a giant durian.

Bugis Street, a covered night market on Victoria Street south of the Little India and Kampong Glam areas, reminded me somewhat of Bangkok's Chatuchak Weekend Market on a much smaller scale — plenty of clothing, watches, and food to be had for (relatively) low prices.  It was just a ten-minute or so walk from our hotel (once we got our sense of direction) from our hotel and close to an MRT (subway) station so we spent quite a bit of time here.

I made a special point of visiting the Singapore Philatelic Museum on the outskirts of Fort Canning Park.  I found it to be the best stamp museum I've ever seen (although I never did get to the Royal Philatelic Museum in London) with plenty of really nice displays; the Malay Postal History section is particularly strong.  I really had to contain myself from buying anything in the excellent gift shop (in retrospect I wish I had at least bought a postcard to send to myself, receiving the special SPM postmark) but I felt Tim was worried about how expensive the city was at that point.  Indeed, the entire trip I had to resist buying souvenirs which will come as a huge shock to my family as they know I tend to return from even the shortest of trips weighted down with new t-shirts, postcards, and other assorted knick-knacks.

We spent much of the first half of our last full day in Singapore walking around Fort Canning Park, center of the 14th century Malay kingdom of Temasek and site of Singapore's first Christian cemetery.  In the early 19th century, a fort was built on the summit of the hill here and an bombproof bunker serving as headquarters of the Malay Peninsular military command was constructed underneath in the late 1930's.  It was here that the British surrendered to the Japanese forces in February 1942.  The entire park is filled with historic sites including the above Fort Canning Centre, built in 1926 as British army barracks and now used as performance space for local arts companies and as a culinary school.  Tim is seen climbing to the roof of Fort Gate, part of the few remaining structures of the original fort constructed in 1861.

Our long day of sightseeing ended with a visit to the historic Raffles Hotel, originally opened in 1886.  I made a pilgrimage to the Writers Bar which had been frequented by such wordsmiths as Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham, and Noel Coward.  Unfortunately, the Long Bar — where the Singapore Sling was created in 1915 — was closed.  During our visit, it began to pour (the skies had been threatening rain since our arrival in Singapore) so we more or less were trapped inside the hotel for a couple of hours which allowed me to check out the very impressive museum on the third floor and purchase a few (rather expensive) items in the gift shop, including a nice polo shirt and a souvenir Singapore Sling glass (which comes with the recipe so we can make our own).  We actually thought about eating at the Raffles Grill, probably Southeast Asia's most prestigious, exquisite, and upmarket restaurants looking out on the Palm Court but in the end the rain stopped and we walked the final two blocks to our own little hotel.

We checked out of the Oxford at noon on Thursday.  Since Tim was a little tired from our previous two days of sightseeing we took a taxi (the fare in Singapore are VERY reasonable) back to Changi Airport and settled in for a long wait — our flight wasn't scheduled until 9:30 in the evening.  We spent most of the time in the impressive Terminal One, checking out some of the shops and eating way too much food (including desserts at Swenson's).  In the early evening, we took the free bus over to the barebones Budget Terminal and finally made our flight (although our boarding passes listed the wrong gate and we almost went to Krabi!).  Upon arriving back in Phuket we took a taxi to our home, having to pass all of the mafia limo guys at the airport in order to get to the metered taxi stand (a new addition to Phuket as they are trying to eliminate the price-gouging of tourists).  However, we had a problem when I paid the driver when he dropped us off.  He tried to charge me an extra 200 baht in addition to the 320 showing on the meter.  He kept insisting I pay his "service fee" and I kept insisting that I wasn't some dumb tourist who was willing to be fleeced.  It wasn't until I threated to call the Tourist Police — a special English-speaking unit who work at solving such "misunderstandings" — that the driver backed down.  It left a sour taste in my mouth; "Welcome to Thailand," indeed.

My next photo post will be of some of the pics I took at the various local festivals last week...