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Asarnha Puja 1There are two important Buddhist holidays on Sunday and Monday of this coming week -- Asarnha Puja Day (วันอาสาฬหบูชา) marks the Buddha's first sermon which he gave on the full moon day of the eighth lunar month; and Wan Khao Phansa (วันเข้าพรรษา), the beginning of the three-month Rains Retreat during which time monks aren't allowed to leave their temples or to defrock.

This year, Asarnha Puja falls on 29 July. The Lord Buddha's first sermon -- which the day honors -- is called Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta. During this discourse, the Buddha talked about "The Middle Way", which means that we should try hard enough but not too hard. If we wish to be successful in Spiritual life, we should avoid the two extremes:

  1. Trying too hard, such as not eating or not sleeping enough.

  2. Not trying hard enough, such as eating and sleeping too much.

He also spoke about the Noble Eightfold Path. This path tells us:

  1. To live in a way that does not harm ourselves or others.

  2. To help ourselves and others.

  3. To purify the mind.

He advised people to speak and act and earn their living in good ways. He also advised them to practice meditation to purify their minds. Then they can get deep wisdom.



Sony Cybershot DSC-W55My wife surprised me yesterday with an early anniversary gift (we were married on 2 August 2006 in the Bang Rak district of Bangkok). She gave me a "Caribbean blue" Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W55 camera, replacing my old DSC-W7 which was stolen back in mid-April. It's a bit of an upgrade in features and styling (being thinner and more colorful, for example) but the 7.2 megapixels is the same as the one I had before.

I'd been dreaming and saving up for the Cyber-shot T100 but at an average price of just under 18,000 baht in Phuket that proved to be unattainable. Tim's main reasoning for buying this particular camera (other than "it looks nice") was that she thought the lens was the same size as my old one and that my adapter and additional lenses/filters would fit (it's not and they don't; I think I'll put them up on eBay). Something I really like is the availability of a custom marine pack -- a waterproof casing that enables me to shoot underwater (up to a depth of ten feet), during inclement weather, or in particularly dusty conditions (my old camera lens had picked up some pits from beach sand). I'm thinking I can take some worry-free Songkran photos next year.

I can't wait to get out-and-about today and shoot some photos (had to spend seven hours charging the proprietary lithium ion battery yesterday). In the meantime, here are a couple of photos I've shot already including the very first picture taken with the new camera (in the IT "mall" in the basement of Big C while browsing camera accessories) and one of my laptop last night while planning an upcoming holiday trip.
Tim and Alex at Big C 2007-07-14
My desktop - Phuket Bus Schedules



We've just concluded a weekend-long celebration for Alex's seventh birthday, the bulk of which was auspiciously held on 07/07/07 (7 July 2007).

After returning home from work at mid-day on Saturday (yes, I do work six days a week at my school), I spent much of the afternoon hanging out with our son on the ground floor of our shophouse (something I don't often get to do).  We played some games and then watched a couple of DVD's (disc one of U2's ZooTV Live From Sydney and a new Bangkok concert video from Bird Tongchai which started with a lengthy medley of 1970s disco songs).  The little three-year-old girl from down the road came for a visit and we had to entertain her to make sure she didn't get into too much mischief; my nickname for her is "Grabby" as she wants to grab just about anything that's not nailed down.

Tim and La prepared various snacks for the party including some awesome onion rings and buffalo wings.  I ate my fill before many guests had arrived.  As each person came and gave Alex a present he'd immediately grab it and tear open the paper.  We've been trying to teach him that he needs to say "thank you" when accepting gifts but he continues to be rude in this manner.  (In fact, he exhibits a total lack of respect to virtually everyone — totally alien behavior in the Thai culture — and it has earned my wife and I much embarrassment, not to mention some admonishments from his school.  Nothing we do or say to him seems to help...)  I managed to get Tim over to watch him open a few presents but it wasn't easy.  However, when our Dutch neighbor Franz gave him a very cool car track set late in the evening Alex was all smiles and "thank yous" for a change.  Everytime our son opened a present "Grabby" immediately tried to wrench the gift from Alex's hands.  He soon learned to spirit the toys away before she could get her mits on them.

I thought the highlight of the presents would be when we presented Alex with his new (first) TV and DVD player.  He'd been asking for his own TV since we moved into our new house.  I finally caved and told my wife perhaps we could do this, it being his first birthday since moving in with us (and, I have since found out, his first-ever birthday party!).  I had in mind a 14-inch television and one of those mini DVD players to hook up to it.  A visit to Makro with their extremely low prices put an end to that plan and we ended up purchasing a 25-inch set (Katana brand) for a bit over 2000 baht (USD $60 or so).  I kind of regret that decision now because I still have to haul it up three flights of stairs to Alex's bedroom.  Anyway, he hardly glanced at the TV when La and I carried it in (we'd been hiding it at the restaurant two doors down) being more focused on a set of plastic dominoes someone had given him.

A very nice surprise was that many of the girls (and one boy) in my P.3 class at school had made birthday cards to give to Alex.  He seemed pleased to think that he has several potential little girlfriends over there...

Finally, it was time for cake and ice cream.  Tim had purchased a special Spider Man cake at the bakery just off of Chalong Circle (Spidey having supplanted Ultraman as Alex's favorite character).  It had kind of a spice cake flavor underneath the chocolate.  Tasty.  I dished out the vanilla ice cream (Thai ice cream tastes better than any other I've had before) while my wife sliced the cake.  Dtom arrived around this time and soon had the karaoke playing at ear-splitting volume (she's the biggest abuser of our hospitality and tends to argue with me when I ask her to turn something down, etc.; I was REALLY glad when she got a job at a massage parlor in Patong and began living at that shop so we hardly see her anymore).

I played with Alex on the floor for a while (putting together his new car track and showing how to play dominoes) before an upset stomach got the best of me and I retreated upstairs.  I have no idea how long the party continued after I left but I was very surprised this morning to see that the downstairs had been (more or less) cleaned.

Much of this morning was rainy (and with more of the terrible gusts of wind we've been experiencing lately) so our planned outing to the zoo had to be scrapped.  But in the afternoon we headed out to Central Festival in order to catch the "Transformers" movie (and getting soaked by a rain shower en route).  We don't get out to the movies very often (our last time was the first installment of "King Naresuan" back in January) so it's a real treat to go.  I always enjoy being able to pick our seats on the computer screen and they always give you a free gift with your tickets ("Transformers" magnets this time).  We had a bit of time to browse at the huge B2S book shop before the movie began and I fell in love with the lavishly-illustrated Thailand:  A Traveller's Companion but I felt it was a bit too pricey at 895 baht.  I did hint to my wife that it would make a lovely anniversary present (our first is coming up on August 2nd).

After the movie, I treated Alex and Tim to a dinner at Pizza Hut.  We really splurged (spending 800 baht); I had a Meat Supreme personal pan pizza, Tim had lasagna, and Alex ordered a medium-sized pizza with a cheese-sausage crust (it looks disgusting but apparently it's very popular here to have strange meats in your pizza crusts) and crab with pineapple toppings.  We shared an order of barbecue spare ribs (really, the best thing I've eaten all week) and drank some really nice apple shakes.

It was a really nice way to end a great birthday weekend.  I feel like I've gained a few pounds this weekend (desperately needed as I've lost all sorts of weight climbing four flights of stairs throughout the school days not to mention three flights every night and every morning at home).  After our anniversary on August second, the next gift-giving holiday is Mother's Day (coinciding with HM the Queen's birthday) which is actually a Friday through Monday affair.  And then I suppose it's Thanksgiving (we'll give a turkey with gravy dinner another try) and on to my birthday, HM the King's birthday (AKA Father's Day), and Christmas...



Independence Day 5

Independence Day 3Happy Independence Day from southern Thailand!

Last year, Independence Day found me on a large wooden boat crossing the strait between Ranong, Thailand, and Kawthung, Myanmar, on a visa run (the only one my then-fiance accompanied me on; we would be married in a bit less than a month).

Since I'm working this year I don't plan to participate in any celebration other than taking an American flag to school (which I'll hang in the classroom). There are a few small July 4th celebrations scheduled among the expat community (including one at Don's Mall in Rawai) and there was the large one at the U.S. Embassy Annex in Bangkok on Saturday. Perhaps I'll be able to watch some fireworks on CNN or Fox News tomorrow.

It's on holidays such as this that I really miss Kansas City barbecue ribs, my brother-in-law's charcoal-grilled hamburgers, and my sister's (via my mom's recipe) potato salad. Not to mention, a nice cold bottle of Boulevard Pale Ale...

Independence Day 4



July 1 is National Scout Day (วันคล้ายวันสถาปนาคณะลูกเสื) commemorating the founding of Thai Scouting by King Rama VI on this day in 1911.  Thailand was only the third country in the world to take up Scouting and remains the only nation to have ever had it's program directly founded by a monarch.  The king established the Wild Tiger Corps for adults and created a junior branch which continues today as the Scouts. King Rama VI is thus fondly remembered as the "Father of Thai Scouting."

The Thai Scouting program (which includes Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Girl Guides) is also probably one of the largest national programs as it's mandatory for every student in school to enroll.  In our school, Mondays (for lower Primary) and Wednesdays (for P. 4 through M. 1) are the weekly Scout days when the students wear their uniforms to school and participate in activities during the final periods of the day.  I'm the leader (along with one other teacher) of the P. 1 through P. 3 Scout Patrols in English and I enjoy it very much, having been in the U.S. Boy Scouts when I was much younger (I now regret not having kept my uniform when I moved out of my parents' home).

Most schools in Thailand stage parades and other activities to mark National Scout Day.  Since this year it fell on a Sunday, a brief ceremony was included in our school's regular morning assembly honoring the memory of King Rama VI.  The P. 4 through M. 1 Scouts, along with the school band, were to hold a more extravagent commemoration today.  I wasn't able to attend but I watched them drilling and rehearsing while at the school yesterday for my extra lesson.