tag:dogsrunfree.posthaven.com,2013:/posts Two Worlds in One 2014-06-03T07:16:44Z Ron Chester tag:dogsrunfree.posthaven.com,2013:Post/696968 2014-05-28T05:04:27Z 2014-06-03T07:16:44Z For Breaking News Right Now!

The May 2014 coup d'etat in Thailand has given me a completely different perspective on Twitter. In a situation of political chaos, Twitter may provide the best source of up to the minute news about what is going on. This could provide a great deal of peace of mind, as well as very useful, even life changing, information about what is happening.

Image: Reuters (Suthep with raised fist in front row, center)

We were in Ayutthaya on 21 January 2014 when the government of Yingluck Shinawatra declared a state of emergency in Bangkok and its surrounding districts, which made it easier to control the people, such as being easier to arrest people. Two days later we were staying in one of those districts at our favorite hotel, DPU Place, just north of Bangkok in Nonthaburi. Only ten days earlier (on 13 January 2014) the anti-government forces of Suthep Thaugsuban had begun their Bangkok Shutdown in an effort to force the Yingluck government to step down and the state of emergency was her response to that pressure. And now we were within a short driving distance of the events unfolding in Bangkok. That night a rally for the anti-government forces was held a block or so away on the campus of Dhurakij Pundit University, the university where we were staying. There was high energy in the air, an excitement about what changes might be coming.

When I had time, I got news about what was happening by reading Twitter, especially the tweets of an English teacher from the UK who had been working and living in Thailand for over 17 years and was a very active blogger in Thailand, Richard Barrow. It was the first time I saw Twitter as a source of the most recent information about a rapidly changing series of events. Four days later, when I went to the Bangkok airport for my planned flight back to the US, the Bangkok Shutdown was still going on, but I had never observed any of these events directly, nor felt even the slightest bit of danger around me. 

I was concerned about how this all might turn out, but I didn't have any concern at all for the safety of Paula, as I knew she would never go near the parts of Bangkok where these events were unfolding. For one thing, she hates the traffic jams in Bangkok. When I got back to Silicon Valley, I continued to follow the news in Thailand, mostly by following Richard Barrow and reading the articles that he pointed to in his tweets. 

General Prayuth Chan-ocha, Leader of the Coup D'etat

When I woke on Thursday morning, 22 May 2014, I saw that Paula had left me a message on Facebook, "Ron maybe we can't chat tonight." The coup d'etat had begun in Thailand four hours earlier. Normal television broadcasting had been shut down and a nationwide curfew was to go into effect in an hour and a half. When she left her message, she didn't know whether Facebook would still be working between Thailand and the US, hence her concern that we might not be able to chat.

Well Facebook was stlll working, so we were able to chat, in which she immediately reassured me about the coup, "Don't worry tee rak." When we finished, I went to read Richard Barrow's twitter stream and caught up on all the events that had happened while I was sleeping. Over the next few days, I followed Barrow closely and began to see that across most of Thailand the nightly curfew was the only change that was effecting most of the people of Thailand. Paula wasn't effected in any way by the coup, as the curfew began at 10:00 pm every night and she was in bed by then anyway.

And many in Thailand obviously did as I did, using their smartphones to get their news, in the absence of news from the usual media outlets, which had been disabled by the junta in power. A huge surge in modile data usage was recorded in the hours after the beginning of the coup d'etat. People were making effective adjustments to their changed circumstances.

I have been following events closely and learning a lot about Thailand in the process. And then yesterday I read a very sad story in the Bangkok Post. A reporter had gone to the Bangkok airport and found some tourists who had decided to abruptly end their holiday in Thailand and return home because of the coup. Wendy Berry had arrived in Thailand for her first holiday there just a few hours after martial law had been declared on 22 May 2014 and two days before it became a coup d'etat. Two days after that and she was at the airport, preparing to cut her holiday short and fly back to her home in the UK!

She had canceled her ten day trip to Krabi, one of Thailand's famous beach paradise vacation spots. She had not been able to send or receive messages with her family back home. “I can’t even monitor the situation here because I cannot access any sort of news. How am I supposed to know if things are going to get better or worse?” she asked. 

I read this and felt very sad for her. She obviously knew nothing about Twitter. Richard Barrow had been posting tweets for days showing people enjoying their holidays in the many Thailand beach communities, always reporting that there was no military presence and they were having a great time.

Ms. Berry's fears were completely unfounded, but she didn't know that because she apparently didn't know about Twitter and wasn't following Richard Barrow as I had been doing. If she had brought a smartphone with an Internet connection along with her, she could have been exchanging messages with her family via Twitter and she would have been reassured by all the news Richard Barrow had been posting on Twitter.

Suddenly Twitter no longer seemed like a nice convenience to have. I realized that it is an essential tool for travel, especially in areas of temporary chaos, where a lack of information and proper communication could cause people to make poor choices. Ms. Berry should have had her glorious ten day vacation in paradise. Instead she was very stressed and running in fear from imagined danger.

In Silicon Valley we have been taught for years how to be prepared for the Big One, the large earthquake that will inevitably happen in California. That doesn't mean everyone has taken the recommended measures to be prepared. But no one is in the dark about the advice that has been given.

The world has changed. Technology now makes it possible, even easy, for us all to stay informed about events around us, regardless of whether a coup d'etat or other events have rendered normal media silent. We no longer have to be in the dark, hoping to hear from the media elite who have told us about the world our whole lives. Now we can get much more immediate news directly from eyewitnesses to events that may matter to us a good deal. But we need to prepare a bit in advance to be able to do that. We must have a smartphone or laptop with an Internet connection, know how to use Twitter, and know who or what hashtag to follow.

In this case, Ms. Berry just needed to follow @RichardBarrow or #ThaiCoup to have a flood of news about the events going on around her. This would have changed her life for the better. Instead of fleeing in fear, she would have been able to enjoy her ten day vacation in paradise. She might have had a relaxing time at the beach, while reading about all the exciting events happening at the same time in Bangkok. What stories she would have had to tell her friends back home!

One day I will have a home in Thailand, an exciting place for friends to come visit. When I tell them what to pack for their trip to visit us, the first item on the list will be a smartphone or laptop with an Internet connection and I will make sure they know how to use Twitter and how to reach me on Twitter (@W6AZ).

I expect this to become standard advice for people traveling in our new modern world.

UPDATE one week after the junta first took control in the country. . .

Here's a link to a newspaper article that sums up the current situation . . . 

Best time to visit Thailand: Now

It is clear that the actual facts are that it is safer in Thailand now than when I was last there in January 2014. At that time tens of thousands of protestors had been protesting on the streets in Bangkok and sleeping there overnight for many months. Some people on both sides were armed with guns and around twenty people had died, with far more non-fatal injuries on top of that. (Many more than that had died in the protests of 2010.) The violence has now been ended by the soldiers, on orders from the junta. The worst consequence for me as an American is that the US State Department responded to the coup by issuing a travel warning, saying Americans should not travel to Thailand on any non-essential business. They had no such warning in place when it was actually more dangerous on the streets of Bangkok in January to May 2014. So this was just a political statement based upon the "theory" that a coup d'etat is a bad thing, as it curtails some freedoms of a democracy, not based upon any facts about the relative safety in the country. The consequence of their statement is that I might not be able to get travel insurance to travel to Thailand until they lift that warning. This does not make me very happy with my own country!    

Call It What It Really Is

It should not be called a travel warning, as there has actually been no increase in the risk of travel in Thailand, quite the opposite. It should just be called a political statement by some politicians in America about how they think the Thai people should run their country. A rude action at best. I would prefer for the American politicians to concentrate on running our own country and to keep their nose out of Thailand's business. I'm quite certain that the majority of the Thai people would agree with my suggestion!

A note about the history of Asia. Thailand is the ONLY country in Southest Asia that was never colonized by a European power. They've shown that they don't need outside advice or control. Leave them alone to sort things out on their own! 

Ao Nang Beach in Krabi, Thailand

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Ron Chester
tag:dogsrunfree.posthaven.com,2013:Post/690133 2014-05-21T03:50:48Z 2014-05-21T03:50:48Z I'm An Expert

As our plane approached the San Francisco Bay Area, our long flight from Tokyo was nearly over. I was still feeling the pain of another separation from Paula, who was still back in Thailand. Soon I would restart my familiar, mundane existence preparing income tax returns for others, fulfilling my obligation to my clients and saving them money and trouble.

For weeks I had been making up for lost time, experiencing a vivid life in a magical land so different from the one where I had been living all my life. I had been dreaming about seeing exotic corners of the world for over fifty years, ever since I first heard sounds from distant lands over shortwave radio and then communicated with people all over the world with amateur radio. But the practical demands of making a living and doing the tasks of various jobs had mostly kept me in the Midwest and then in California, for decades. Those things always came first. Finally I was breaking out from those safe routines, flying 8,000 miles and experiencing life in a culture very different from my own. It was a relief, exciting, magical.

The airline had started showing a video on all the video screens in the cabin. People were no longer able to watch their own selection of TV shows and movies. Everyone was gonna watch this one. It was not an emergency preparedness public service announcement, like at the beginning of the flight. It was a pitch for San Francisco as the most compelling travel destination in the world! It was showing all the things that everyone must be sure to see while they were there: The Golden Gate Bridge, the cable cars, Fisherman's Wharf, Chinatown, Coit Tower, the Transamerica building, Golden Gate Park, Haight-Ashbury, Lombard Street, the Painted Ladies, the beauty of Muir Woods and Marin County, and on and on. I looked around and realized most people on my flight were not arriving home like I was. They were about to arrive at their dream destination, one they had been planning for and looking forward to for a long time, maybe years.

I was suddenly enveloped in sonder. 

Sonder | The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows from John Koenig on Vimeo.

Maybe I had been living in Paradise after all. I had been to all those places in the video on the plane many times, they had become commonplace to me. I had not been flying to exciting destinations for decades, freeing myself from my mundane existence. But I had talked with people in nearly two hundred countries with my ham radio. And I had been living where countless people from all over the world wanted to visit. 

In fact, when I made my living as a street artist at Aquatic Park near the cable car turn-around and Fisherman's Wharf, I was even one of the tourist attractions! We were photographed often as we dyed and polished our hand tooled leather belts on the street. A tourist could select the leather strap and metal buckle they wanted and we would cut it to their size, add the buckle, punch the holes and send them on their way with a belt custom made just for them.  Back home they could tell their friends about the colorful guy in the straw hat and full beard who made their belt with a smile, just for them.

My life experience suddenly seemed more worthy and a reassessment of my life began.

It began to dawn on me that I had experienced many extraordinary things in my lifetime so far. As a little kid I had met Rafael Mendez and gotten his autograph. I had walked through the dugout of the St. Louis Cardinals before a game and gotten autographed oversize baseball cards from everyone on the team, including giants like Stan Musial and Red Schoendienst. While in college, I had seen Martin Luther King in person, just across the room from me! I had seen Igor Stravinsky conduct the Oberlin College Orchestra in his own music and the following year I saw Aaron Copeland do the same thing. Stravinsky and Copeland! In the same concert hall I sat no more than fifteen feet from both Arthur Rubinstein and Rudolf Serkin as they performed piano concertos for us, their flying fingers in full view of me the entire time.

I sat in an auditorium in my high school and listened to the live radio coverage of John Glenn orbiting the earth in his space capsule, riveted by the high drama and risk of the flight, which did not have a certain safe ending in our minds, the reputation and pride of our entire nation riding on its outcome.  

I saw Lee Harvey Oswald murdered, on a black and white TV, surrounded by my classmates, not on a news reel, days or years later, but live, right in the moment as it occurred, history in the making right before our eyes! I watched the live TV coverage of JFK's casket being brought to the Capital by a horse-drawn caisson and watched as we saw the heart breaking moment of JFK's very young son saluting the casket as it was taken from the cathedral for burial at Arlington National Cemetery. Yes, I saw all the pictures in Life Magazine and the memorial books, as school children probably do to this day, but I had already seen the events live on television, the coverage presided over by Walter Cronkite, just as he had narrated the events of John Glenn's space flight.    

I missed Woodstock, but I was there for the west coast version, Altamont, and saw Mick Jagger transform a very uptight claustraphobic sea of young people into a dancing throng of hopeful, exuberant folks by the end of the show, no small feat. And I went to a theater in San Francisco and saw a live performance of Hair, including the dramatic scene at the end of the first act, with the entire cast standing there before us in the nude.

From a very young age, I grew up under the fear of nuclear annihilation, always in the background of world politics, and then lived through the horrors of the JFK, MLK and RFK assassinations, as well as witnessing my generation being torn apart by the Vietnam War.  

When the age of the personal computer began, I was living in Hollywood rather than Silicon Valley, but I joined in with the purchase of an Apple II+ and learned whatever I could at the local computer store and from the many computer magazines of the time. We had no Internet, but the explosion of these small computers into our lives was very exciting. I used my Apple II+ to do the accounting for a multi-state sales company, with financial statements as sophisticated as those produced by QuickBooks today. 

Still living in Los Angeles in 1984, I attended many events at the Olympics, watching as Mary Decker collided with Ola Budd and fell to the side of the track in the 3,000 meter run, down below, but right in front of us. As we were walking toward the LA Coliseum for that final day of track and field events, we came upon Ron Brown, who was getting out of his car, to go run for the Americans in the 4X100 meter relay. Not surrounded by any entourage, he was very friendly and gracious, posing for photographs. The American team of Sam Graddy, Ron Brown, Calvin Smith and Carl Lewis was heavily favored to win. We wished Ron Brown well and encouraged him to break the world record. He said they were hoping to do just that. Running the second leg of the race, it was our friend, Ron Brown, who first put the American team into the lead, and with the 100 meter world record holder run of Calvin Smith in the third leg and the fast winning kick of Carl Lewis in the final leg, the team easily won and DID break the world record with a time of 37.83, the first team to ever break 38 seconds. It was the only world record set in track and field at the 1984 Olympics. Brown went on to a very successful career as a wide receiver in the NFL, though we lost touch with our friend.

The next day we returned to the Coliseum for the Closing Ceremonies, including a performance of Thus Spake Zarathustra, the dramatic appearance of a UFO in the sky, high above the stadium, the finale to the Firebird ballet, a laser light show, a short speech by an alien and a very long and loud fireworks display, the longest one I ever saw in my life! 


LA'84 Closing Ceremony - The UFO by Ikarus360

Now I Write!

Much older now, I can write about my experiences and publish them to anyone in the world who wants to know about them. Unfortunately back then I wasn't writing, keeping a diary, or even taking many pictures. I have no archive to refer to, only what I recorded in my own mind. Kids these days will be able to look back in fifty years and see tons of details about the evolution of their lives. 

But at least now I've started, gradually documenting some of the amazing things I've seen in Thailand, filtered through my own experience in a very different world. Not written to sell anything to the reader, but to show my perspective, something that might connect with another in this complex game of life we all share. And I started writing about Thailand from nearly the first day that I arrived.

I've wondered about how to get more followers on Twitter and for my blogs. One person advised me to "tweet about things on which I have some expertise." Malcolm Gladwell (and Simon and Chase before him) said that expertise comes only after 10,000 or more hours of study of a subject. So I should put in my hours before I write?  
But I don't claim to have expertise on the subject of Thailand, nor on some of the other subjects I write about. I write about what I see that interests me, in language that, I hope, is clear. The older I get, and the more experience I have, the more interested I get about all sorts of things. That's what I write about, what I find interesting! I don't write about me. I write about what interests me.

And then it came to me.

I'm an expert!

If there's anything you want to know about the life, interests and thoughts of Ron Chester, I'm the best one to ask! I've put in way more than 10,000 hours on that subject, more than ten times that amount. I know all about it like the back of my hand. I'm an expert, that's for sure.

And so are you! 

No one else knows about you, like you do. Maybe there's some overlap in your world and mine; some experience, interest, thought, feeling, or dream that we share. Something that for perhaps one brief moment (or longer!) will connect us, casually or profoundly, turning our two worlds into one. Of course I want to know about those things! I like talking with experts. So reach out and leave a comment below.
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Ron Chester
tag:dogsrunfree.posthaven.com,2013:Post/684770 2014-05-01T01:32:20Z 2014-05-10T01:57:09Z The (River Kwai) Bridge in Kanchanaburi

Kanchanaburi, Thailand is the location of the Bridge on the River Kwai, made famous by the 1957 film of the same name, widely considered to be one of the greatest films of all time, now preserved in the United States Library of Congress National Film Registry. I saw the movie when I was a kid and it made quite an impression upon me, feeling like I was actually there with the POW's. 

Although a fantastic film, it and the 1952 book by Pierre Boulle it was based upon, were works of fiction. There was a much bigger true story that happened in that area during World War II. Fortunately the real story is now mostly told there, without simply trading on the excellence and fame of the film. Paula had visited the bridge with the Gang, but had not seen nor heard of the film.

Notice that in the book, it was a bridge over a river; whereas in the film, it was a bridge on a river. That's a bit of trivia that might win you a small wager in a bar one day.

See the previous two articles in this series to read more about the wartime events in Kanchanaburi. I recommend reading them in the order we actually visited their sites: first the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery and then the Death Railway Museum.

When I began to write about the bridge, my first impulse was to pull up a Google map of the area, to get everything properly oriented in my mind. To my major surprise, none of these three important locations are properly labeled by Google on their map of the area!!! I kid you not!

Exploring a Map of the Area
So let me walk you through how to find them on the map. The following directions work for the Chrome browser. Some features may not appear in other browsers.

First go to Google maps and enter the search term "Death Railway" and Google will offer several choices. Click on the one that also says "Mueang Kanchanaburi District, Kanchanaburi, Thailand" and hit enter. You will be taken to a map with a red pin pointing to a small circle labeled "Death Railway." You have arrived in a parking lot for the bridge. Go to street view and you can see part of the bridge behind the parking lot. Go back to the map, so I can give you an overview of the area. 

Zoom in a couple of "+" clicks, and you will see a faint line that passes just to the right of the pin, crossing the river just to the south of the pin. That is the railway line and where it crosses the blue river it is on the famous bridge! You see, it is not labeled. But you'll notice there is a small white circle in the middle of the railway line in the middle of the river. It is labeled in Thai script. Click on it, so the red pin moves there and you'll see that street view is now showing bigger images of the bridge. Click on "Photo Tours" and you'll get a slick 16 second series of close-up images of the bridge. These are some of the best images of the bridge I've seen. [Sorry, this doesn't work in the Opera browser.] If you don't see the Photo Tours option, click on the Photos option, to the right of the Street View option. This will let you click through individual images of the bridge and surrounding area, 100 of them at the time of this writing (May 2014).

Now let me show you where the other two locations are that we visited. Go back to the map and zoom out a few "-" clicks, so you can see a larger area on the map. Look just to the north of the Death Railway label and you'll see a street called "Kwaiyai Rd." Follow it with your eye, zooming out as needed, and you'll see that it goes in a sweeping arc to the right, soon connecting with Sangchuro Rd, which is Highway 323, which runs from southeast to northwest on the map. Zoom out a bit and follow 323 down toward the southeast. Soon you will see a blue rectangle labeled as "Kanchanaburi Railway" and just past that you will see two large green rectangular areas. The lower of those two is the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. Zoom in there and you will see that it is not labeled. If you zoom in far enough, you will see the cross street on the northwest side is called "Chao Khun Nen Rd." The Death Railway Museum is in the middle of that block, facing out onto the cemetery. If you look further up toward Highway 323, you'll see a label for "Thailand-Burma Railway Centre," which is the official name of the Death Railway Museum. You could click there and follow a link to three reviews, but it's a wild goose chase, taking you to a useless description on Google+. So skip that, as that label is in the wrong place. It should be in the middle of that city block.

Instead, look for the red fork and knife in a small circle just above the C in Chao Khun Nen Rd. Click on that label, then on the street view it offers you. The white building to the far right is the museum. Two clicks in the middle of the road pointing to the right and you will be standing in the middle of the road in front of the museum! Rotate your view to the right and you will see the cemetery in front of you, the large white structure in the middle being the entrance archway.

Now go back to the map. You'll see that there are three white circles in the green area just below Chao Khun Nen Rd. If you click on any of those three, you will also be offered street view images of the cemetery. The far right one of the three also offers a look at the logo for the museum. So there you have it. You've been oriented to the location of these three important sites, none of which are labeled properly on the Google map!    

Exploring the Rivers Around Kanchanaburi
Now let's take a look at the rivers. Leave the red pin in the middle of one of those three labels on the edge of the cemetery and then zoom out. Leave the red pin there, so you won't get lost. Zoom out and move the map up and down to look at the rivers in the area. To the south, you'll see the blue rivers form a large inverted U shape. Down and to the right, you'll see that river becomes quite wide and is called the Mae Klong River. It runs south and eventually empties into the Gulf of Thailand. The river on the left side of the inverted U is labeled the Kwae Noi River, which means the "small branch," or "small tributary." You'll see that it heads west and is actually coming down from the north, parallel to, but west of the river that becomes the Mae Klong River. 

Now go back to the inverted U near the red pin and zoom in. You'll see that the river coming down from the north that flows into the Mae Klong is called the Khwae Yai River, which means the "big tributary." So we have a big and a small tributary, which are meeting to feed the much larger Mae Klong River. The only definition I have found for "Mae Klong" is that it is a river in Western Thailand. So the full name of the River Kwai passing through Kanchanaburi is the Khwae Yai River, or Mae Nam Kwae Yai, as Yahoo maps has it. Kwai, Khwae and Kwae seem to be interchangeable spellings. 

Now for a bit of history. During the war, our now famous bridge was crossing a river that was then called the Mae Klong River. It was NOT called the big tributary at that time! It was just the Mae Klong River, which would soon meet the little tributary as it headed south on its way to the Gulf of Thailand. So during the war it was The Bridge on the Mae Klong River, or just bridge 277 to the Allied bombers. 

Street Directions
Three years after the huge success of the Academy Award winning film, in 1960, the locals renamed the river under the bridge to be the big tributary, the Khwae Yai River. And as you drive up highway 323 from the cemetery toward the bridge, when you get to Kwaiyai Rd, where you need to turn left to go to the bridge, the highway sign points to "The Bridge Over the River Kwai," the book variation of the title. Maybe the local folks got tired of telling the tourists that it was really the bridge over the Mae Klong River.

Apparently Pierre Boulle, who wrote the book that eventually became the 1957 film, was confused about the names of all these rivers. For some reason he chose the name of the little tributary, the Kwae Noi River, as the one under the bridge, which he shortened and misspelled to be called the River Kwai. Some say he picked that one because the railway line follows that river after it crosses the famous bridge. Or maybe he made it all up and was writing about a fictional bridge on a fictional river! In any case, the tourists wanted a bridge to visit, so the Thai people seemed to have accomodated them.

Wrong Name, Wrong Spelling and Wrong Pronunciation!
Americans pronounce the River Kwai with an "i" sound on the end, as in k-w-eye. As we walked toward the bridge, Paula told me how to say the word, which is actually Khwae and it's not with an i sound on the end, but an "a" sound, as in bat. If you follow the IPA pronunciation guide in the Khwae Noi River Wikipedia page, you'll find she's right: "kʰ" as in Can, "w" as in Way, and then "ɛ" like in Bat.

To sum up, pretty much everything I "knew" about this bridge was wrong. At this point, I'm inclined to just call it The Bridge in Kanchanaburi!

Furthermore the bridge shown in the 1957 film is not the one in Kanchanaburi, as the movie was filmed near Kitulgala, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). I haven't seen the film in decades, but my recollection is that the bridge stood very high above the river in the film, much higher than the bridge in Thailand.

The building of the Burma-Siam 415 km long railway line did use forced labor by POW's, in part, on orders of the Japanese soldiers. It is now called the Death Railway because of the approximately 115,000 men who died during its construction. About 100,000 of those men were romusha from China, so-called civilian workers, not POW's, but actually slaves brought there by the Japanese soldiers.  

The railway line was a strategic route of supply and the bridge in Kanchanaburi, as well as many other bridges along the way, were important targets for Allied forces because of that. SPOILER ALERT. But the River Kwai bridge was not destroyed by the POW workers as shown in the film, but by aerial bombing by The 493rd Bomb Squadron on 13 February 1945 from modified B-24s, based at Pandaveswar Airfield, India, using 1,000 pound AZON bombs, the world's first smart bombs. Before the development of these bombs, there were many unsuccessful attempts to destroy this and other bridges along the railway line. See my article on the Death Railway Museum for a lot of details about that.

The steel and concrete bridge has oval shaped spans, which are the original spans the entire bridge had during the war. The two trapezoidal spans in the middle of the bridge were put there after the war by the Japanese as part of war reparations, replacing the center section of the bridge that was destroyed by Allied bombing. The bridge was in service for nearly two years during the war (April 1943 to February 1945), not destroyed during the first crossing by a train after it was built, as shown in the film.  


Here is a video that  shows the way the bridge is now, as a tourist destination in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. The narrator corrects the pronunciation from the usual wrong way it is pronounced in the US, but still gets it wrong (see above), changing the ending from the wrong I sound, to an equally wrong A sound, when it should be "ɛ" like in Bat.

Commentary
So much for the twists and turns of all the details. Now I want to tell you about my experience of the bridge. We arrived there on a hot sunny afternoon in June 2013. I don't think I'd seen pictures of the bridge before we arrived. I had only dim memories of the 1957 film, which was a different bridge anyway. When I looked at the bridge, it was dark and imposing. The dark color seemed appropriate, in line with most World War II movies I had seen as a kid, filmed in black and white, rather than color. 

We walked down some steps to the level of the river and walked under the bridge. Up close it looked massive and heavy, rather foreboding. My mind was still on the history of all the death that had come to so many in that area during the war, which we had learned about at the cemetery and museum. On the other side of the bridge we walked into a restaurant built out over the river, or perhaps even floating on the river. We had a lovely lunch on the river level, watching the tourist train carrying the people back and forth across the bridge, many with brightly colored parasols as protection from the sun.


We were in no hurry and soon my mood began to lighten. By the time we finishing eating, I was feeling quite good. I looked around and realized that everyone there seemed to be enjoying a special holiday mood. It began to feel like a happy Disney theme park! We took pictures of each other, smiling happily next to the AZON bomb that was planted at the front of the bridge. And then we walked around buying souvenirs at the various stalls; some hats, a bamboo flute, and beautiful silver rings with gemstones.


So an area of slavery, suffering, unspeakable horror, torture and death seventy years earlier has been transformed into a major tourist destination; a fun, happy place! In the parking lot, there were at least a dozen or more large tour buses, that had brought people there from all directions, people from all over the world. In The Railway Man, the current film in theaters about the wartime period in that area, there is a scene in England, in which the leading man tells the leading woman about a battle that had happened on that beautiful countryside hundreds of years earlier. He summarized the scene by saying that everywhere man has ever gone on Earth there have been wars. And as I saw in Thailand, people over time have a way of healing an area where war once occurred. I felt happy as we headed back to our hotel after our long day exploring the history of war in Kanchanaburi. Life was good.


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Ron Chester
tag:dogsrunfree.posthaven.com,2013:Post/682693 2014-04-28T07:11:06Z 2014-04-29T02:04:14Z The Death Railway Museum


We walked west along the side of the cemetery on Sangchuto Road and turned left at the corner onto Chao Khun Nen Road, walked half a block and found The Thailand-Burma Railway Centre, also known as The Death Railway Museum, looking out onto the cemetery we had just left. We went in the entrance door on the left side, which brought us into a gift shop, where one can buy books and souvenirs, but one cannot see any museum exhibits. There was an entrance fee to see those (110 Baht for Thai people, 120 Baht for foreigners),  a surprisingly low premium charged for foreigners over locals. Actually their website now shows the one price of 120 Baht (60 Baht for kids), so maybe Paula had managed to arrange a discount for herself. We had read nothing in advance about this two story museum, so we were a little bit concerned that we might be disappointed. But with our interest piqued from the cemetery, we decided to pay the fees and explore the museum. It ended up being money very well spent, with two floors full of detailed exhibits.

But the museum does not allow cameras to be used in the exhibit areas. If it had, I would have taken a lot of pictures! There are a few images on the museum website, but none where you can read any of the information provided. The information was detailed, with many pictures, as well as models and examples of artifacts from the war years. They had a mockup of one of the "rice wagon" railway boxcars used to transport prisoners from Singapore and Malaya to Thailand, so packed with prisoners (32 in each) that nearly everyone had to stand for the entire five day ride in the train, without ventilation. These were not boxcars as large as the ones I saw on trains growing up in Illinois. They were much smaller. The ride from Singapore would have been torture enough, but their nightmare was only just beginning with that ride.

On the first floor of the museum there is a small theater, where they were constantly showing a part of the film Kwai: The True Story (1992), a documentary which includes eyewitness accounts of life working on the Death Railway by some who had survived the ordeal. It was in English and it confirmed one aspect of the story as told in the hugely successful 1957 film, The Bridge on the River Kwai. As the prisoners marched to work, they sang a popular British song, "Colonel Bogey March," which the Japanese guards found endearing, while not realizing that the song lyrics were actually mocking them in defiance, a sort of unofficial British national anthem to rudeness. This was the only part of their stories that the eyewitnesses told with obvious pleasure in the film. 

Unfortunately I have not been able to locate a version of this film streaming on the Internet. WorldCat lists a number of libraries that have the film on VHS tape, but none are closer than 1,100 miles from my home. I would really like to obtain a tape of the complete film. The eyewitness accounts it contains should not be lost to history. The film was apparently also episode #48 of the "Time Machine With Jack Perkins" television series.

Near the movie theater the museum has re-created a room that shows the hospital facilities at a typical POW camp, complete with life size soldier and doctor mannequins. One can walk around the small room and see their activities up close.

Then a stairway leads to many more exhibits upstairs, with display cases holding many artifacts from the POW camps, including examples of the single small bandana size pieces of cloth that served as the only piece of clothing that many POWs wore in the extreme heat.  

There are also large maps that show where the camps were located and where burial sites were located that contained remains that were eventually transferred to the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. 

There is also a large display of the AZON bombs, which were the first smart bombs ever used in a war. SPOILER ALERT. The American USAAF 493rd Bomb Squadron, known as the AZON Squadron, flying B-24 aircraft from Pandaveswar, India used these bombs to destroy bridge after bridge along the Death Railway. Finally on 13 February 1945, after many failed attempts using conventional bombs, Frank Nelson, the bombardier in one B-24 piloted by Lt. Gene Morris, was able to take out one span (another account says two spans) of their primary target from a low level of 300 feet, the concrete and steel bridge known as bridge 277. Many planes had gone after that bridge and one life was lost in all of those planes. They later learned that bridge 277 was the famous "Bridge on the River Kwai." Be sure to read the first-hand account about that bombing campaign and its eventual success, as well as the second one. The bridge was NOT destroyed in the way it was shown in the 1957 film. A total of 459 AZON bombs destroyed  27 bridges along the Death Railway line. 

It should be noted that there are discrepancies in the reporting of these events found on the Internet. The second report linked to above makes no mention at all of the AZON bombs and it reports many dates by the day and month, but without the year. It only mentions a year once, referring to an event in March 1944 said to be AFTER the bridge was taken out. Surely that date should be March 1945. An even more egregious error is contained in the Wikipedia article on the Burma Railway that reports, "According to Hellfire Tours in Thailand, 'The two bridges were successfully bombed on 13 February 1945 by the Royal Air Force.' " Other sources universally attribute the lethal hit to an AZON bomb from the USAAF 493rd Bomb Squadron, not the RAF.    


These bombs are on display at the museum and there are also two installed at the head of the bridge, which we would visit later in that same day. A display at the museum gives slightly different numbers about the use of the AZON bombs along the Death Railway, as follows.

Number of bridges attacked by bombers: 36 with AZON bombs; 19 without AZON bombs.

Number of bombs dropped: 413 AZON bombs and 438 conventional bombs.

Number of bridges destroyed: 23 by AZON bombs and 3 by conventional bombs.

Number of bridges partially damaged: 3 by AZON bombs and zero by conventional bombs.

Clearly the AZON bombs made the difference in these bombing campaigns.

At the museum I also made notes of the number of deaths reported during three different time periods along the Death Railway, as follows.

Number of deaths, July 1942 - February 1943

   Americans - zero; Australians - 27; Dutch - 136; British - 255

Number of deaths, March 1943 - May 1943

   Americans - 4; Australians - 148; Dutch - 418; British - 430

Number of deaths, June 1943 - October 1943

   Americans - 88; Australians - 1,630; Dutch - 1,303; British - 4,283

A visit to this museum is both an educational and a sobering experience!


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Ron Chester
tag:dogsrunfree.posthaven.com,2013:Post/681968 2014-04-25T06:16:26Z 2014-04-29T00:49:07Z Kanchanaburi War Cemetery

I guess you could say we started our look at the World War II history of Kanchanaburi at the end, at the cemetery. This was not by design. It was just the location that was closest to our hotel, so we reached it first. Now I'm glad it worked that way, as it put everything into sharp focus immediately. We didn't go in the main gate in the center of the cemetery. There was a parking place on the curb at the corner of the cemetery on the main road that runs along the side of the cemetery (Sangchuto Road) when we first began driving past it, so we stopped there and ended up going in an entrance the gardeners use on the side of the cemetery. 

Once inside, the very first row of gravestones we saw had a powerful impact. Each one reported the age of the soldier whose ashes were interred there: 22, 24, 21, 23, 22, 20, 23 and on it went. None of them were over 25, just kids really, and here they were lined up far from their homes, their lives cut short, very short. And as we learned later, these were not kids who died suddenly from a bullet or explosion in war, with it all over in a moment. Instead they suffered terrible abuse and died slowly from disease caused by their mistreatment by the Japanese military forces.

This was no exciting story of adventure about a bridge. It was the story of thousands who died while being forced by the Japanese to build what is now called the Death Railway, a 415 km long rail line between Burma and Thailand, a vital supply line for the Japanese in their effort, largely successful at the time, to dominate Southeast Asia during the war.

This was not ancient history. Most of them died in the two years before my birth and many of them could have been still alive today, though old, if they had not found themselves as prisoners in this brutal tale. In their article on the railway, Wikipedia says,  "About 180,000 Asian civilian labourers (mainly romusha) and 60,000 Allied prisoners of war (POWs) worked on the railway." We were visiting the cemetery for the POW's who died.

As we looked about we were immediately struck by the meticulous care given to these gravestones. They were lined up with the precision of a color honor guard of soldiers in perfect formation. But there was more. There were small, live, flowering plants growing between a large percentage of the gravestones. While we were there, we saw two gardeners at work, keeping everything trimmed and in its place. A small sign asked that people not step on or over the gravestones. Everything about the scene spoke of great respect for these dead soldiers.

As we walked about, we discovered that the soldiers seemed to be interred alongside their countrymen and together with others from their units. The first young men had been Australian. Soon we came upon a large section of Dutch soldiers and many of them had been in their thirties in age, a few in their forties. And then there were the British. We didn't see any Americans, their remains having been removed to Arlington Cemetery, or other military gravesites in the US.

In the very center of the cemetery was a large, limestone monument in the form of a cross, but with no written inscription that we could find of any kind. On the face of the cross was a bronze broadsword, blade down. A small bouquet of flowers had been placed at the foot of the monument, likely just that morning. From what I observed, it is my guess that a fresh bouquet of flowers is always there. With no words, the monument spoke clearly, in a land that is 95% Buddhist, to the Christian background of the men who were buried in this cemetery.   

I kept marvelling at the fact that the Thai people were keeping this cemetery with such care and respect. As we went to leave, this time through the entrance archway, I discovered the key to this care. 

The site is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which cares for the graves of 1.69 million deceased Commonwealth military service members in 150 countries and 23 thousand burial sites around the world. I'm here to tell you, they're doing a great job in Kanchanaburi, Thailand! At their Wikipedia page we also learned that the cross we admired is called the Cross of Sacrifice and is often placed in cemeteries maintained by the Commission. 

We stepped back onto the sidewalk outside the cemetery and almost immediately bought a sixty page book about the history of the Death Railway and the Bridge on the River Kwai. We wanted to know more and a young Thai woman had positioned herself perfectly to provide us with additional information.

It had been a moving experience to explore this cemetery. Anyone visiting Kanchanaburi would be well advised to visit this site, and I would encourage them to see this before going to the famous bridge nearby. Read about the nearby museum for the next phase of our explorations into the WW II history of the Kanchanaburi area.

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Ron Chester
tag:dogsrunfree.posthaven.com,2013:Post/587168 2013-07-05T06:11:19Z 2014-06-02T00:41:58Z Fit For a King

If you travel around Thailand, you will see many small structures that are called Spirit Houses, or San Phra Phum.  http://www.thailandlife.com/thai-culture/spirit-houses-san-phra-phum.html

These will often have various offerings on them, such as garlands of flowers, burning incense, and various bottled drinks. In October 2012 a bottle of a red drink caught my eye on a lovely monument at the DPU Cultural Center on the campus of Dhurakij Pundit University in Bangkok. I had been walking and running on the track a short distance away on a hot day. I was very thirsty and I was sorely tempted to taste that red drink, but I managed to restrain myself, as it seemed to be there for a good reason, possibly as a devotional offering of some kind.

Just a few blocks away there was a business that had a small pond with a statue and the red drink was there as well.

This year when we stayed at the River Hotel in Nakhon Pathom, they had a pretty large spirit house and the red drink was there.

I walked around the block and found two small spirit houses. Each one had a bottle of this red drink.

Quite by accident, I may have stumbled upon the reason for the frequent appearance of this red drink. Something had led me to an amazing Wikipedia page that lists the various flavors of Fanta sold in different countries. I was quite surprised to find such a huge variety of flavors, over 90 worldwide.  

Fanta is a global brand of fruit-flavoured soft drink from the Coca-Cola Company. There are over 90 flavours worldwide; however, most of them are only available by region in some countries.

Note: As of September 2, 2012, Fanta is selling again in the country, After 10 years being unavailable in the Colombian market, with three new flavors Orange, Grape and Apple.

As is common in Southeast Asia, the sugar content of these flavours is much higher than those of the rest of the world, giving the drinks quite a different taste from that of similar flavours elsewhere in the world.

Of course as I scanned down the listing, I was drawn to the section on Thailand with five different flavors and nine retired flavors. Included in the active flavors is "Red Soda (sala) (This flavour is also not listed on the packaging, it is just called red soda or nam dang (น้ำแดง - literally means red water). The flavour is of the sala (fruit).)" I had already seen that these red drinks were in Fanta bottles, but I didn't know it was sala favored.

And here is the kicker, where it all fell into place. Wikipedia says, "Red Fanta has been officially endorsed by the King of Thailand as one of his preferred drinks. Consequently, glasses and open bottles of red Fanta are often seen as offerings on the small Buddhist altars displayed by every Thai home and shop."

If we can believe Wikipedia, this is the explanation of why the red drink shows up so often. It makes sense and I am inclined to believe this is the answer. There is only one small problem, which is the sweeping statement "the small Buddhist altars displayed by every Thai home and shop." This statement is false. I have driven all over parts of central and northern Thailand and I can assure you that every Thai home and shop does NOT have a spirit house. They are very common, but the sweeping generality of every is in error.

If we overlook this obvious error, I think the connection with the King of Thailand, Rama IX, is a very interesting one and seems very plausible.

When we spent a holiday weekend in Hua Hin, we enjoyed some sala fruit in another form, as a frozen dessert. The sala had been frozen in crushed ice and was served barely thawed at all. It was a hot day and that cold fruit and ice was very refreshing, but so cold that we were all having strong reactions as the coldness made its way up to our eyes and face. We were in discomfort from the cold, bordering upon pain, while laughing about it at the same time. My friends told me there are two different varieties of sala, one from the south and the other from the east in Thailand. We were probably eating the variety from the south. I have no information about which one is used in the Fanta red drink.

The frozen sala was not red in color. It had a light cream or yellow color, as I recall. Unfortunately I didn't take any pictures of that meal. 

UPDATE!!!

Eleven months after I originally posted this article, I had the great fortune of stumbling upon the real non-Thai expert on Thai Spirit Houses in Thailand, Marisa Cranfill. I first heard her in a fascinating interview in a Bangkok Podcast from 11 July 2011. It was clear immediately that she is an expert on this subject. Soon after, I found her website, which must be the definitive English language website on the subject of Spirit Houses.

In the podcast [at 25:00] she was asked about the red Fanta soda, upon which she said, "That's my favorite topic!" I then learned that the Wikipedia explanation above is off the mark. Here is what she said:

"Red Fanta is actually a symbol of blood. So this is where we get into blood sacrifice. They offer the pig's head and the chicken and the fish and everything else during the ritual when they actually put the spirit house in the ground. But you won't see these things offered unless it's a very special occasion. It's not a daily offering of a pig's head. But the Fanta is a miniature representation of blood or sacrifice. In the past, they actually probably did real sacrifice. This is a long, long time ago. But King Rama I banned animal sacrifice."

That sounds like the correct explanation, much more in depth than the Wikipedia explanation. There is always more and more that can be learned about the Thai culture!

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Ron Chester
tag:dogsrunfree.posthaven.com,2013:Post/587157 2013-07-05T03:35:44Z 2013-10-08T17:27:00Z I Saw My First Scorpion

Fortunately Paula's mother saw it first, early in the morning in the side yard, while I was still sleeping.

It was pretty large, as long as my mechanical pencil. She got a garden tool with a long handle and bonked it pretty hard. Which made it an ex-scorpion.

The next day, Paula's cousin and her husband came by to visit. We were all gathered around the large wooden table near the stairs to the upper floor of the house, which is close to where I had put the ex-scorpion to be photographed. So the subject came up, especially because Paula's cousin is an experienced emergency room nurse. She is the one who gets on the radio to tell the ambulance workers what to do before they transport people to the hospital. So she had seen a lot of people who had been stung by a scorpion.

I tell her about how I am allergic to bee stings and how my whole body got red and swollen when a number of bees stung me early one morning on my paper route. "So if a scorpion stings me, will I die?" "No, you won't die," she says and describes some things they do for scorpion stings. The only part I recognized was CPR. Now I'm getting worried, in spite of her reassurances. Her husband tries calming my nerves by saying, "No, you won't die, but you might need to sleep for seven years or so."

Then the ER nurse, the expert, gives me the important piece of information. You need to tell the medicos what happened. But the Thai language is not the same everywhere, there are different dialects in different areas. In Bangkok the word for scorpion is แมงป่อง, given by Google Translate as mængp̀xng, but pronounced as mang-pong. But in northern Thailand, like Lampang, an ambulance worker might not recognize mang-pong. There, you need to say mang-wow, if you want them to understand it was a scorpion.

"You mean, they might not know what to do, if I say mang-pong in Lampang?!" 

"That's right, say mang-wow in northern Thailand." So I practiced both sounds to make sure I was saying them right, prefaced with "I've been stung by a . . . " and ending with "CPR please, right away!" Laughs all around, but I'm thinking, "Will I really be able to remember?" Maybe I better keep that garden tool nearby.  http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/scorpion-stings/DS01113

Then again, being allergic to bee stings says nothing at all about possible reactions to scorpion stings, as they are completely different venoms. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7C22Fshhe-Q 

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Ron Chester
tag:dogsrunfree.posthaven.com,2013:Post/587132 2013-07-05T01:22:28Z 2013-10-08T17:26:59Z A Creature from Outer Space

We had driven to Lampang on a Friday afternoon, did some shopping and picked up Paula's niece after school. While still at the mall, Paula started talking to someone from her "team" on her cell phone, the single longest phone call I ever heard her have.

We left the mall and got in the truck, with her still talking on the phone. No laughing or chuckles, very unusual for her on the phone. She maneuvered the truck out of the parking lot and onto the busy streets of downtown Lampang, still talking in earnest on the phone.

My plan was to get some pictures of her niece and the school, which I had never seen before. As we started out of the mall, I had seen a lot of kids walking into the mall and then later into the parking lot. They were all wearing the same uniform her niece had been wearing at 6 am that morning. Suddenly they were everywhere on the street too. They were pouring out of the white walls around a substantial building. It must be her school letting out! Paula is still talking on the phone, focused and intent.

I look across the street where the kids are pouring out and see a fairly tall girl with a full pony tail walking briskly in the same direction we are going. Ohhhh, it is her niece! I point at her. Paula nods, but doesn't miss a beat on her phone call, as she pulls the truck over to the left. Her niece has already crossed the street in front of the truck and is coming toward my door. I open it even before the truck rolls to a stop, she opens the door behind mine and climbs inside. The truck begins to roll forward right away, as the phone call continues to roll along.

And then I remembered the photograph. I had not gotten the picture of the school! I look to our right as the forward edge of the school perimeter slides by. I take one desperate shot out the back and side window of the truck, hoping to catch the large school sign on the outer wall, but it's too late. 

Paula moves the truck down the street, as her phone call goes on. She continues to deliver what sounds like instructions, not reprimands, to a much less experienced team member on the other end. It had seemed like a chaotic jumble of motion, kids going in all directions, vehicles everywhere, all against the backdrop of that urgent call. Yet in the face of all that, her niece had appeared, crossed the street and joined us inside the truck, like a laser hitting its target.

I turned around to say to her, "Oh my, that was like a CIA operation, a precisely executed maneuver, you know, like Mission Impossible or something!" And she responded as Paula oftens does to my conclusions, "Mmm . . . mmm!"

And then "Ja, ja, ja" and the phone call is over.

Cheerful as ever, Paula says what she often says to me, "Are you hungry?" "Yes," which is her signal to turn left into a parking spot next to a row of motorcycles. She kills the engine and I say, "That is the longest phone call I've ever seen you have!" She nods, saying "My team, big problem, not do what supposed to do, must fix it." It is already in the distance for her and she doesn't need my advice or concern. So I play it up by saying they should do what she tells them. 

Suddenly she is practicing her English, while playing with me. "They don't and I am very angry, I am very upset!" She had learned those two lines a week or two ago from her English language instructional CD, in the section on "Terms of Disagreement." I told her to skip that section, thinking I don't need her learning how to say that stuff. Now she says it every chance she gets, but never with the real meaning behind it, always as a playful thing, like a parody of the screeching women on her favorite evening soap operas, the men always shrinking back.

We all climb out of the truck and follow her a short distance into a large restaurant with long wooden tables and wooden benches. We sit down and Paula is already giving the order to our waitress. I am seated across from the two of them, my attention drawn to a fish tank behind Paula's head. A garish and strange thing is moving around inside it. It has script in black written across its pink side. It is alien to me. It must be a radio controlled submarine, advertising this restaurant to its customers with that script. But it looks more like Japanese characters to me than Thai script. I ask,"Is this a Japanese restaurant?" "No, Thai food!" I stare at the thing, whatever it is.

The food has arrived. We each get a bowl with eight or so servings of thin white noodles, rolled up in little balls, a little larger than ping pong balls, called Khanom jeen. There is a plate of vegetables to go with it, to be covered with a peanut sauce, a green curry sauce, and a fish sauce. There are also delicious pot stickers with the same peanut sauce and some small balls of pork, also on sticks. Some of it is spicy, but I eat it all, it is so good. When it gets too hot, I drink some Coke, the perfect ice cold drink to go along with Thai food.

We all get very full, adding a third bottle of Coke near the end. The whole time I have one eye on that thing in the tank. Is it alive, or a robot, a creature from outer space?

When we are done, the waitress comes over with her hand held calculator and tallies it up. I am expecting five to six hundred Baht. The total is 300 Baht. . . 300 Baht, or $9.94 US for the three of us to get stuffed! The three ten ounce bottles of Coke were ten Baht, or 33 cents US, each. With meal deals like this, why would anyone eat at McDonald's or KFC? Paula confirms that at lunch time the place is jam packed.

Before we leave, I walk over to the tall fellow in a blue polo shirt who has been sitting by the cash register. I figure he is in charge and will be able to tell me about the thing in the tank of water. He says it has no name, "No name!" Somehow I get him to understand that I mean the generic name, not the specific nickname for this one. He tells me, but I have to ask him to spell it and I write it down in my Moleskin notebook as he does.

I explain that I want to be able to look it up on the Internet, which he understands right away, opening his iPad on the countertop and doing a Google search for "Flowerhorn fish." He points and says, "Wikipedia page," as several images also appear in the search results. One of them looks exactly like the thing in the tank. It really IS a fish, not a plastic robot, or creature from outer space!  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flowerhorn_cichlid

I leave with a full stomach and an exciting new discovery in my mind.

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Ron Chester
tag:dogsrunfree.posthaven.com,2013:Post/585637 2013-06-25T02:55:24Z 2013-10-08T17:26:43Z You Won't Find This One in Your Guide Book!

See my previous posting, How Green is Your Rice Field, for the lead in to this article.

Paula's timing was amazing in guiding us one kilometer down the narrow paved road to the wat shown in that article. No more than thirty minutes earlier I had been waxing philosophic about the Buddhist monks in Thailand. I was saying they lived simple lives without a lot of possessions, but maybe they had it pretty good really. After all, it seemed like in every town in Thailand, they had the best view in town. Drive through any town with a mountain or steep hillside, look up, and you're likely to see some gold glinting in the sun, from the local wat. "Best view in town." I said.

Within the hour, Paula had proved my point for me. We took a slight detour and visited this new wat that she knew about, even though she had never been there herself, called Wat Khao Nang Baut, which is on the summit of Nang Buat mountain. It didn't look like much as we drove into the parking lot. There was a giant billboard in Thai script, which told me nothing at all about it, and we could see some steps going up the hillside. There was also an even narrower road that looked like it might go up to the wat itself.

Paula parked so we could have a look at the steps. The dense forest on the hillside prevented us from seeing any of the wat above. Paula said she didn't want me having to climb the steps, but we go over to look at them. What a lovely stairway, and the first fifty steps or so were very shallow, very easy to go up each one, much easier than the pitch of a normal stairway. So next thing we know, we're walking up the steps, real easy. There was a sturdy metal railing, supported by freshly painted vertical supports. 

Before long we discovered they were still working on the staircase. Higher up we found the metal railing was wrapped in chicken wire and above that, cement was covering the chicken wire to make a much thicker railing, then textured to look like wood logs. Finally near the very top, the railing was painted dark brown to make it look even more like wood logs. 

The steps began to be steeper and we had to rest a few times to make it up all of the 284 cement steps. 

We peeked part way up, looking behind us to see some of the rice fields below, through the trees. We were also quite surprised to see lots of small cactus plants on the steep hillside next to the stairway. So we were pretty well entertained all the way up those stairs. The last twenty steps or so were the steepest, but we made it. 

We pulled ourselves up those last steps, looked to our left to see some workers resting on benches, and then to their left to see that a long railing ran in front of them, and beyond that railing a panoramic view of the farmland below, that immediately took our breath away.

"Best view in town!" I said, after catching my breath. The workers were all smiling at us, as I gave them a thumbs up. And then I started catching the view with my camera. "This is exactly what I was talking about, you know, best view in town!" The railing went for long stretches of unobstructed views on at least three of the four sides of the property. It seemed to be perched right on the hilltop, everything lower all around it.

Between shooting pictures and videos, I looked out and found myself wishing that I had one of my ham radios and a portable antenna with me. There were plenty of places to sit near the railing and I could easily imagine the sound of people calling me with Morse Code from distant locations in all directions. I was dreaming about spending an afternoon chatting in Morse Code with all those other hams.

Then I tore myself away from the railing and went toward the center of the property, getting pictures of the temples, Buddhas, bells, and religious symbols. 

On one side of the property, we found a large metal swing: metal benches on opposite sides and a metal table in the middle, all designed to swing together as a unit. We climbed aboard and started swinging, while taking pictures of each other as we flew through the air. Great fun!     

Finally near the end of our little tour, we found a large sign with a diagram of the  location of the various things on the property. 

It was all in Thai script, except for the last text in the bottom right corner, which gave the address for their website.  http://www.watkaonangbuach.org/

In reading their website, it looks like construction started on their temple in the Buddhist year 2551 and completed in March 2553, which would have been March 2010 by our western calendar. And they've likely been adding things ever since, just like the current work on the staircase.

We were right that the narrow road did lead to a small parking lot on the summit. While we were there a tourist van arrived and about eight people got out to explore the wat. But we saw none of the giant tourist buses that bring large crowds to the most well-known sites in Thailand. Very unlikely that this one is in any guide book, which is just fine with me. Google the name of the wat and you get no Wikipedia page, but a few hits from some tourism websites, mostly copying the same text from some single source, with a few pictures, but no pictures of the view and certainly no videos of the view, as we provide here. The wat's own website doesn't even turn up in the first ten pages of Google results, even though it is a very nice website. I suppose this is because they picked a domain name that is spelled slightly differently from the name of the wat. I never would have found it, if I hadn't found that sign on the summit with the website address.

At this time the wat's own website has 29 photo albums with a total of over 1,800 pictures, documenting their many activities at the wat, as well as the help they have provided to various communities with flood relief efforts. The album titled Atmosphere contains nine pictures of the surrounding fields and there is one other picture in all the other albums that shows a bit of the view in the background of the picture. I didn't find any videos on their website.

So for now, see videos of the magnificant view here and only here.

I will also point out that their Home page has a slide show that cycles through a number of nice images at the top of the page. Included in those is one that shows a very large Buddha at the foot of the mountain with a long line of monks walking towards it and the wat seen on the mountaintop above. This large Buddha does not yet exist. I suppose it is part of their future plans. 

If you click on the photo of the staircase on their website, you'll be taken to a page that documents their donation drive for the restoration of the steps, the project which we saw is now in progress. 

As I have contemplated this notion of the monks having the best view in town, I began to take what I originally thought of as a joke a little more seriously. Suphan Buri means City of Gold, and Paula told me it is an appropriate name, as she described it as a "rich people's town." One time we were there on a Wednesday afternoon around 2:00 pm and we stopped in for some shopping at a very upscale looking mall. I looked around and saw the lot was quite crowded, with many new cars and trucks, including some expensive brands, like Mercedes and BMW. I commented to Paula at the time that only a rich people's town would have so many people who could afford to go shopping in the early afternoon on a Wednesday.

I then thought about Nang Buat mountain, which is only 50 km or so from the heart of that city. I'm pretty sure it has one of the best views anywhere near that city. If this were America, my guess is that Nang Buat mountain would be owned by one of those rich people and you'd need to be a friend of that person to ever see that view. Instead, there is a wat there and from what I have seen, all wats in Thailand are always open to the public, with a small admission fee at a few, but most of them completely free. So the monks might have it pretty good, but they also freely share their wealth with the public. So anyone can see that view, which in my mind, is a whole lot more equitable utilization of such a scarce and valuable resource.

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Ron Chester
tag:dogsrunfree.posthaven.com,2013:Post/585519 2013-06-24T10:44:53Z 2013-10-08T17:26:41Z How Green is Your Field

Thailand grows a huge amount of rice and it exports more rice than any other country in the world. Drive around Thailand and you'll see rice fields everywhere, especially in Central Thailand.

I know next to nothing about rice farming. But one thing jumped out at me when I first began to see the rice fields in Thailand. There is one stage in the growing of rice when the fields take on the brightest, most uniform, green color I've ever seen in nature. Much better than any golf course I've ever seen. The fields are incredibly beautiful at that stage. 

I've just admired these green fields as we've sped by on the highways, our view obstructed by the trees that often separate the highways from the fields. But one day we turned off the main highway and drove down a narrow two lane paved road on the way to a nearby destination. Suddenly a huge green rice field appeared on our right, all at that stage of bright green. Paula stopped and took two pictures from the truck. I looked at them and decided to try taking a video of the field, from end to end. These follow.

Unfortunately my camera and/or my camera skills were not up to the task, as the green in these images is not true to the color we witnessed in real time. The actual color was much brighter green.

So I resorted to a Google Images search and found this picture that captures the brightness and uniformity of green better than any others. Wonderful, but still better witnessed in person. You'll notice the field is flooded with water at this stage, as it was in the field that we photographed.

Now take a look at the next image in my camera.

No, I wasn't taking a picture of the irrigation channel that served those rice fields. I was taking a picture of our destinaton, the reason we were on that narrow road. Look just above the trees, just to the right of center. It's a wat, a Buddhist temple, and one of those times when I wished I had a zoom lens to put on my camera. We were driving through Suphan Buri on our way to Kanchanaburi from Nakhon Sawan, when Paula pointed off to the left and asked if I wanted to visit a wat. "Sure, if you think we can afford the time." So she had turned left onto this narrow road, one kilometer to the wat, according to the sign. "It's a new one," she said.

The story about that wat, one you won't find in the guide books, is my next posting.

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Ron Chester
tag:dogsrunfree.posthaven.com,2013:Post/585362 2013-06-23T02:49:12Z 2014-02-14T05:15:14Z Khao No-Khao Kaeo

Nakhon Sawan, which means Heavenly City, is nearly 240 km due north from Bangkok. It is the capital of Nakhon Sawan Province. The provincial seal shows Wiman, a mythological castle located in heaven. Driving north from Bangkok, when you reach Nakhon Sawan you have just left Central Thailand and have entered Northern Thailand. This is an important demarcation line for me, as I prefer Northern Thailand. One obvious change you are likely to notice is the traffic begins to gets lighter as you continue north.

The entire drive from Bangkok, the terrain has been level, mostly covered with rice fields, often amazingly bright green rice fields. Suddenly about 45 km north of the city, you come upon an impressive sight to the east of Highway 1. A limestone mountain range, 282 meters high, rises above the plains, called Khao No-Khao Kaeo. It actually looks like two distinct mountains bursting up from the plains. Paula told me one is called Khao No and the other Khao Kaeo, and a local resident has now informed me that Khao No is on the left and Khao Kaeo is on the right, as you face them from the highway. 

After you pass it, the terrain becomes flat again for another 200 km or more, until after passing Tak and then you begin to climb into the impressive mountain range south of Lampang. So Khao No-Khao Kaeo is a very distinctive change in the terrain for quite a long drive. You won't get an unobstructed view, and you'll want one, because tall trees, especially teak, line both sides of the highway.

As we drove towards Bangkok one time, with the mountains to our left, Paula found a crossing road that turned left toward the mountains. I walked up that road a bit to get the unobstructed photographs above. For some reason the mountain looks farther away and not as high in the pictures as it seems in person.

I also took a video, which shows how they appear to be two distinct mountains. I have found no explanation of the geology of this unusual formation.  

There is more to this mountain than just looking cool. One can climb a stairway from the foot of the mountain to the peak, where there is a big cave that houses a large image of Buddha. The cave also has a large population of bats which can be seen flying out in a thick, long black line at dusk. We've never gone by at that time, so we haven't seen the bats. The mountain also has monkeys, which you will run into, if you climb the staircase. 

King Rama V spent a night on Khao Kaeo, so there's a memorial that commemorates that at the top. This video may be showing that memorial and it also has some views of the flat plains below.  

If you want to explore Thailand with some hiking, this mountain would be a good one to explore. This album shows some pictures of what you might see along the way.  http://www.p-lepetit.com/THAILAND/02-THAI%20PROVINCES/Nakhon%20Sawan/11-PHOTOS/Khao%20No-Khao%20Kaeo/index.html 

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Ron Chester
tag:dogsrunfree.posthaven.com,2013:Post/585028 2013-06-20T07:51:05Z 2013-10-08T17:26:36Z Pop, Areeya Chumsai

NOTE: This article will make more sense if you first read the one titled Right Execution Daily.

Having written about a case where Coke or its affiliates made a mistake, I decided to follow it up with another case where they got it right.

From the same Coke collection as the RED button, I found this poster to photograph. What a great smile, part of a great Coke advertisement! And no surprise it is a great smile, as this young lady won "Best Kodak Smile" in the Miss Universe contest in the Phillippines. That was after she was named "Miss Thailand" at the 1994 contest in Ayutthaya.

Born in 1971 in Michigan of Thai immigrants, Areeya Chumsai has made good use of the acclaim that her Miss Thailand victory brought her way. Her nickname is Pop, which is how she is known in her parents' homeland. She has modeled for fashion magazines, Coke and Hitachi, worked in Thailand as a teacher of English and writing at the university level, and served in the Thai military, which she described in her book "Bootcamp." She published three other books, as well.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Areeya_Chumsai

In 2005 she lived among the hill tribes people of Northern Thailand and co-directed an award winning documentary about the hill tribe children, proceeds of the film going for the benefit of the kids.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Innocence_(2005_film)

She's leading a good life!  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZD3h421KMwo

http://www.fourelephants.com/2000/10/01/beauty_and_brains__areeya__pop__chumsai/

http://bk.asia-city.com/movies/article/beauty-queen-pop-areeya-chumsai

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Ron Chester
tag:dogsrunfree.posthaven.com,2013:Post/585019 2013-06-20T06:02:33Z 2013-10-08T17:26:36Z Right Execution Daily

Coca Cola Ltd devised a sales campaign called RED, an acronym for Right Execution Daily. I didn't know anything about the details of the campaign, but it seemed brilliant to me on the face of it. Of course the world famous Coke logo is colored red, so building a campaign around both that color and the spelling of the color seemed quite inspired to me. And this article from India indicates that the campaign has been a winner for them.  http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/todays-paper/how-cokes-growth-got-a-red-boost/article983678.ece

The company that distributes Coke in Thailand has a lot of employees who have gathered impressive Coke collections. Coke has had a presence in Thailand since the mid 1950's and the Coke trademark is surely one of the most well known and valuable ones in the world. So if you want to collect something, Coke items makes a lot of sense.

I made a photo of a button from such a collection, one used in this RED campaign. I just wanted a record of what I considered a clever campaign.

It wasn't until days later when I looked at the photo on my camera (and did a double take), that I realized it was worthy of recognition as a fantastic and ironic mistake!

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Ron Chester
tag:dogsrunfree.posthaven.com,2013:Post/584688 2013-06-18T12:19:53Z 2013-10-08T17:26:32Z A Booming Economy

The Thai people seem to be prospering. The malls always seem to be full of people, who are buying things or eating at the many restaurants. The parking lots are full of nice cars and trucks, as well as tons of motor cycles and scooters. Many of these cars and trucks look very new, including luxury brands. Especially in the bigger cities, you see a lot of Mercedes and BMW, along with the Asian brands, and some Chevies and Fords. 

You don't see homeless people or panhandlers like you see in the big cities in America. Everyone seems to be going about their business and to an outsider, the Thai people seem to be hard working and productive.

One day a business reporter on Thai television reported on the unemployment rate in Thailand: 0.71%. You read it right, less than 1%. I was totally shocked when I heard this reported, with no big fanfare, just an ordinary bit of news. I later learned that it is the fourth lowest rate of unemployment in the world, after Cambodia, Monaco and Qatar. 

In general I believe that people who are working are being productive and are thus happy. Everywhere I look in Thailand, I see happy people. The Thai economy was expected to grow in the range of 4.2-5.2 percent in 2013, but in the first quarter of 2013 alone, the Thai economy grew by 5.3 percent. Thailand is the world's largest exporter of rice and yet its agricultural sector accounts for only 8.4% of its GDP. All of this is reported by Wikipedia, in its article on the Economy of Thailand.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Thailand

As we drove into Bangkok, Paula turned on the radio to a station that was giving the news in English, with the commercials mostly in Thai. In my mind, that's an ideal combination for a farang just learning about the country. I was only half listening as the business reporter was talking about the economic boom in Thailand in 2013. He reported on the number of new businesses that had been registered so far in the country that year, just over 30,000. I didn't get how many months in the year that included, but it couldn't have been more than five. Then he reported on the number of businesses that had closed during that same time period, which was 127.

This blog isn't about business or economics, but I found some of these numbers so amazing, that I decided to just write them up. 

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Ron Chester
tag:dogsrunfree.posthaven.com,2013:Post/584684 2013-06-18T11:02:49Z 2013-10-08T17:26:32Z Checkpoint Number Three

This was my favorite picture of the day. We were near the beginning of a nine hour drive from east of Lampang to Bangkok for Paula's monthly business meeting, when we came upon the third highway checkpoint that morning, an unusually high number. During the five weeks we drove around Thailand in the fall of 2012, we went through only three checkpoints and they were north of Chiang Mai near the Golden Triangle area, famous for its connection with illegal heroin imports from Myanmar and Laos. This time we had six in one day, three in the northern province of Lampang, two in the central province of Singburi and one other.

Paula said they were looking for heroin and it was the trucks that were being pulled over for a closer look. We never get much attention. One time an officer looked at her truck registration, which is on the bottom left corner of the windshield, to confirm it was current. One time she had to show her driver's license, which annoyed her. But this day she had to show neither.

Sometimes these checkpoints are unattended, two lanes narrowing to one with orange traffic cones and then a slow drive through the checkpoint, with a soldier saluting as you drive through. But the saluting soldier is a mannequin, which is a riot! I always try to salute back, if it's an unmanned checkpoint. 

This third checkpoint of the day came upon us rather quickly and I had put away the camera. But I could see that it wasn't unmanned and got a sudden urge to get a picture. So I grabbed the camera bag and got the camera ready to go as quickly as I could. The truck ahead of us moved forward, the scene came into view, and I got this one shot with the camera.

The mannequin might not have noticed, but the live policemen saw his picture being taken, which was not my intent. No need to annoy them, you know? Seconds after the picture is taken, our truck rolls to a stop next to the policeman, Paula rolling down her window, and speaking with a chuckle in her voice to Checkpoint Charlie. Probably something like, "My crazy farang (foreigner) friend here takes pictures of everything. Ha ha." He's got a white mask over his face, just like the mannequin, so you can't see any facial expression to detect how he's feeling about this digital moment. He peers in through the open window at the farang. . . and gives a thumbs up! I nod and laugh, speaking nearly my total Thai vocabularly all at once, "Sawatdee Khrab!" Probably smiling behind that mask, he repeats what I said and waves us through. And we're on our way again.

I have found that one phrase to be a very handy one. It means "Hello" and "Goodbye" at the other end and always seems to elicit a pleased response from the Thai natives. There is a perfectly acceptable variation which has a P sound on the end, rather than a B sound, but I never use it, as it just doesn't sound very friendly to me.

I once asked Paula whether the Thai people like the Thai soldiers and she said they like the Thai Army very much, "But we don't like the police." I told her it was pretty much the same way in America. "Do the police use radar?" She knew what that meant and said that they did. "Did you ever get a speeding ticket?" No, she never did, explaining she always drives at 100 Km per hour. The speed limit is 90, so apparently 10% over is no big deal.

It is raining as we drive into Bangkok on a toll road that cost us 55 Baht. We have practically no traffic, zipping along at about 90. I notice these square boxes on the left side of a bridge we're crossing with a red electronic 40 being displayed in large numbers. I ask Paula, "What is that 40?" "Speed limit . . . usually 80, but because of the rain . . ." she says. "Oh, I see, that makes sense," I say. "Ummm, I don't notice anyone doing 40." Paula starts laughing, "No, no one!" a good summing up of the Thai attitude toward traffic regulations.

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Ron Chester
tag:dogsrunfree.posthaven.com,2013:Post/584681 2013-06-18T08:16:27Z 2013-10-08T17:26:32Z Play the Game by the Rules

Expulsion of the Money-changers from the Temple by Giotto

If you travel the world, you will quickly learn that you need the services of money-changers. Jesus expelled the money-changers from the temple and in a land with many temples, you will find the money-changers in Thailand are strictly relegated to business locations.

There are ATM machines all over the place, especially in the malls and business districts of the major, and even not so major, cities and towns. If you have arranged to have an ATM card that can be accessed by these machines, it is a simple matter to insert one's card, enter the password, and request some currency in Thai Bahts, up to the daily limit of the card. 

With my ATM card, the receipt clearly discloses an "access fee" they have added to the transaction (150 Thai Baht, or about $5), as well as the amount of Thai Bahts delivered to the customer. I suppose the ATM network gets to keep the access fee and the machine requires you to acknowledge you know they are charging a fee before it will release the Thai currency to you. But the receipt gives no clue at all about the exchange rate used in the transaction. So you know how much you got in Thai Bahts (you will count them to confirm) but you don't know how much was removed in US Dollars from your bank account back home to deliver this Thai currency: an inconvenient omission.

On the other hand, if you take US currency with you to Thailand, you can walk into a Thai bank and exchange some or all of this currency for Thai Bahts. In my experience the receipt you get with this transaction always states the exchange rate clearly and there is no service charge, it being built into the exchange rate. So then you have an accurate basis on which to convert purchases you make with those Thai Bahts into their exact cost in US Dollars.

Though more accurate, this approach takes a lot more time and trouble. The easiest way to go about it is to go to one of the modern malls in a Thai city. Unlike in the US, the banks usually have small offices in these malls (ATM's too), with them all usually gathered together at one end of the mall. For example, the new Central Plaza shopping mall in Lampang has at least six or more banks, all lined up next door to each other. Take your pick and go in and get your spendable currency.

Here's how it worked for me. I went up to the teller at the bank I selected, handed her five US one hundred dollar bills and asked if she could change them into Thai Bahts. She asked for my passport, which she photocopied and had me sign at the bottom of the copy. This is always the first step. She then went to work on her computer, presumably to get the exchange rate, consulted with the lady next to her, and they then informed me they could not do the transaction! They showed me that their computer said OFFLINE, so I suppose they had no idea how much to give me in Thai Bahts. They were apologetic and suggested that perhaps another bank could help me.

Well okay, I gathered up my US currency, as well as the copy they had made of my passport (no charge) and went a few doors down to another bank. This time I had to wait several minutes while my number (103) came up. They were servicing number 98. When it did, I went up and repeated the routine from before. I was a little surprised that she seemed willing to use the copy of my passport which I provided from the first bank, rather than seeing my actual passport, or asking for a fresh signature.

But I soon learned that this was the extent of her flexibility. She marched off with the copy and my $500 to discuss the matter in the back room with her boss. She returned with one of the bills, pointing to some red ink that had somehow gotten onto the edge of the bill. This was unacceptable and she wouldn't be able to change that one.

No problem, I had others and replaced that bill with another that had no red ink on it. I had once read that the border guards when you enter Myanmar from Thailand will also refuse US currency with marks on it in payment of the entrance fee. It was suggested that they'd really just prefer to get Thai Bahts in payment, rather than US Dollars. So I wasn't too surprised by the teller's action.

She disappeared again with the four original bills, plus the newly exchanged one. This time she came back, having discovered two more bills that were not flawless, which she handed to me. One had some blotches of blue ink in one corner on the back. The other had pencil markings on the front that said, "D. D. 7/06/09." Each flaw can be seen here at the end of the white markers.

Well now I've gotten annoyed, mumbling to myself as I dig out two more perfectly unmarked bills to make five unspoiled bills that she might accept. And then she takes a magnifying glass out of a small box and begins carefully peering at each bill, with the intensity of a munitions expert about to defuse the bomb, her nose nearly touching the currency, as I wait for her verdict. I briefly consider terminating the examination, taking my currency back and going to their very own ATM machine to get my Thai Bahts. But I calm myself down and wait. Eventually convinced, she made two copies of the front of each bill. Not a copy of the front and another copy of the back of each bill. No, two copies of the front of each bill. She makes an X mark next to each of the ten copies and now I must sign my name in full next to each X. So much for her leniency in not insisting upon a new signature on my passport copy.

Finally I have surmounted all her hurdles. She fiddles on her computer and comes up with an amount: 15,080 Thai Bahts. I get the 80 in four twenty Baht bills and then she counts out the fifteen thousand Baht bills. I better confirm her count, so I start counting them, one to fifteen.

On the fourth one in, my life is suddenly transformed! Written in pencil on the face of the bill is the number 6. A light goes on, a very bright light, pointing directly at that 6! My annoyance over this process vanishes in an instant. Of course! We will play it out according to the rules of the game already demonstrated by the young lady! I pull out this bill and present it, where she can see it. I am suddenly jumping up and down inside, laughing at my sudden good fortune, "Yes, yes, yes!" while maintaining an all business look of just getting it right on my face. I place it on her side of the counter, she nods and reaches into her drawer to find a better one.

As I resumed my count, I found another and then another and then another!! Now four in all, and all rejected in a very matter of fact businesslike way, just following the lead of the bank teller. Of course, I cannot accept a thousand Baht bill with any flaws or defacements! And she accepts this unspoken requirement, the extension of her very own rules, by digging through her drawer for perfect bills, nearly giving me sixteen, instead of fifteen, in all, in the process. 

We finally conclude this matter, my spirits soaring over having restored some sense of a customer deserving and getting excellent service, in place of the previous humbling ignominy of having spoiled American currency. We exchange businesslike thank you's, I turn and walk out the door (merrily skip out the door on the inside) into the rest of the mall. 

I am bursting with excitement as Paula joins me and asks, "What happened?!!" So I give her all the details, but not until we have moved out of the view of the teller. We have a really good laugh and go on our way to start spending some of my perfect thousand Baht bills.

And the moral of this story is that if you plan to take US currency to Thailand to be exchanged there for Thai currency, go to your bank in the US before you leave and get only freshly minted hundred dollar bills. It might save you some time and trouble in Thailand. Ohhhhh, the downside? You won't have even a fraction of the fun I had!

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Ron Chester
tag:dogsrunfree.posthaven.com,2013:Post/583480 2013-06-10T12:40:52Z 2013-10-08T17:26:15Z Souvenirs of Thailand

Thailand has street vendors everywhere. A lot of them are selling food they cook right on the spot. Paula knows what is good and we eat a lot of it.

After food, there are probably more street vendors selling jewelry than anything else, just like when I was a street artist in San Francisco. We have spent very little time looking at their wares. But in Kanchanaburi we stopped to look, trying on a million rings and finally settling on one to buy. I was drawn to the rubies (my birthstone) but Paula liked the black onyx and that's what I ended up getting.

Later I found this guide to the ten best things to do in Kanchanaburi, which includes "09 Shop for fabulous jewelry.http://www.tat-la.com/destinations/kanchanaburi

It says: 

Kanchanaburi is famous for its gemstones. The small village of Bo Phloi is well known for its locally mined blue sapphires, and semi-precious stones such as the onyx. Visitors can visit the Jewelry Handicraft Center to see how these materials are honed and fashioned into spectacular jewelry sets. For souvenirs, River Kwai Park Market, right next to the bridge, is quite convenient.

The River Kwai Park Market is exactly where I bought my new ring: a sterling silver setting, a large many-faceted black onyx stone, and a very Thai-looking dragon on both sides. Surely made locally with onyx from the area for the princely sum of 450 Baht ($15.52.) How can you pass up a deal like that?!

It was Paula, not the written advice, who guided me to the spot and then pointed the way to the locally mined onyx. It's neat to have such a nice ring produced in a place in Thailand that I really liked a lot.

The day we left Kanchanaburi, we decided to swing by the jewelry market once again. When you're in a town that is famous for its fabulous jewelry, it's a good idea to take a good look, if you like that sort of thing. In a very small area there are dozens of vendors selling these wares, with likely hundreds of thousands of different rings being shown, along with bracelets, necklaces, ear rings and a lot more. I've not seen a bigger variety offered in one place before. We didn't have far to drive for Paula's next work assignment, so we could easily spare the morning with some shopping. 

We ended up spending a lot of time with another jewelry lady than the one that had my onyx ring. My eyes were immediately drawn to a fairly large selection of ruby rings in gold settings. I tried one on that fit, but Paula wasn't enthusiastic about it. She was chattering away with the lady about jewelry she had in another display case, including some nice bracelets and dramatic large rings. Paula would show me something, I'd look and then say, "I sure like those ruby rings." Paula and even the lady would give me a rather noncommittal "Mmmm."

And then they found the ring they both agreed I should get. They were very enthusiastic about it and it did fit two of my fingers. It struck me as quite dramatic and unusual, but I wasn't sure at first. They kept pointing to the large stone, a pink sapphire, and saying, "Original!" I'd look at it and then look at the ruby ring and they'd point to the sapphire again and say, "Original, original!" I was making no headway with the ruby, so I finally decided I better understand what this original was all about. 

I had learned along the way that sapphires are one of the gemstones, along with onyx, that are found locally in the Kanchanaburi area. So I confirmed that the sapphire they were showing me had been found in the area and the ring had definitely been made locally, just like my onyx ring. But that didn't seem to capture the full meaning of original. Perhaps they meant the stone was very unusual. Looking over the hundreds of rings she had, she only had two rings with the pink sapphire stones and none with blue sapphire stones. But she had a whole section of the ruby rings in gold settings, so they were much more common.

It seemed odd to me at first that they also kept pointing to the fact that the sapphire was set in silver, which they said as, "S i l v e r !" I'm thinking, yes, but gold is better, right? We talked it over and Paula liked that the silver setting would match the silver setting of my onyx ring. The lady had said the ruby ring was set in 18K gold. Ahhhh, but then I learned the 18K is really 18K gold plate. The silver setting is just silver, well not solid silver. Solid silver is too soft for making jewelry. It was stamped "925" on the inside, just like my onyx ring. 92.5% silver is the alloy that is sterling silver, the standard for silver settings. I begin to weaken about the ruby.

So then I have another go at the original aspect, asking whether the ruby was original or not. "Noooo." But the sapphire is original, right? "Yessss! Original!" Okay, then "is it really a fake ruby . . . fake ruby?" I look at the lady and see a tiny little nod, while hearing both her and Paula saying, "Mmmmmm." Okay, that did it. Original meant genuine, the real thing, not fake. That ruby ring was gorgeous, but it was not original. And I would know it as I wore it. The ruby ring went back into the display case.  http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/ConsumerNews/rubies-real-deal/story?id=8988951#.UcEdgH17P2F

Okay, final thing to check on the pink sapphire. I ask, "Is this a ring that is made more for a pretty boy to wear?" An immediate and emphatic response from them both, "NOOOO, this is ring for Thai man. . . Thai man!!" Okay, just checking. Paula adds, "Pretty boy only like diamonds!" And sure enough, in this video diamonds, or fake diamonds, are everywhere.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWKZjIVhsf8

Slight side track here . . .

The one who posted this video commented that, "Beautiful transvestites are respected and seen as celebrities in Thailand." From what I've seen, this is quite true and a very interesting aspect to Thailand's culture, which genuinely seems to respect all people. This even extends to the area of hiring, as Paula now has a co-worker who is a supervisor in the Isaan region of Thailand and is a pretty boy. They work for a large Thai corporation that sells a major US name brand of products in Thailand. Paula seemed surprised at first that a pretty boy had made it to such a position, but there was no animosity in her tone. We had dinner one night with other supervisors who had worked for the company for twelve to twenty-five years, as well as this new one, and they all seemed to accept the pretty boy and they all interacted together in a normal way. 

So here it is, positioned so you can see the sterling silver setting, as well as the ring of diamonds around the sapphire.

And here it is photographed outdoors in the sun, so you can see the star. Yes, it's a star sapphire, the aspect that finally clenched me on buying it. The stone is cut en cabochon, with the center of the star near the top of the dome, the way star sapphires are usually cut. The asterism is very clear, with the usual six rays, easily seen in the sun, or even under a light inside, and it doesn't have to be a really bright or focused light. Inside in normal lighting when the star is not evident, the stone looks more red than pink. Outside in the sun, the asterism is quite dramatic and quite beautiful. The sapphire is second only to the diamond in hardness, and if you look at the definition of sapphire at the top of this Wikipedia article, it says, "Chromium impurities in corundum yield a pink or red tint, the latter being called a ruby." I had bought a star ruby ring! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sapphire#Star_sapphire

There are fake star sapphires too, but I'm happy with this one and believe it to be genuine, or original. It passes the tests as natural, rather than synthetic, in this guide to fake star sapphires. It has no L stamped on it, the rays are not all uniform or perfectly straight, it definitely moves with the source of light, and the stone has some imperfections.  http://www.ebay.com/gds/HOW-TO-SPOT-A-FAKE-BLUE-STAR-SAPPHIRE/10000000006988238/g.html

After I bought the star ruby ring, we drove to Singburi. That day, and other days since then, Paula would look over at my hands, see the two Kanchanaburi rings on my fingers and smile broadly, sometimes even laughing with pleasure. I feel the same way about them and would join in with her laughter!

Very close to where I bought the rings, I bought a new hat. The fedora I bought last year got a bit crunched along the way, so I had been considering getting a new one. This new one is larger, 58 cm according to the label, which fits my head better. The other one was pretty tight and probably too small really. 

The hat was made in China, so it's not a product of Thailand. But you see them everywhere around Thailand, so it's still a good souvenir of Thailand. Here's the surprise from the label inside: 100% PAPER. That's right, it's a paper hat.

I'm always drawn to leather, because of my days making and selling leather belts in San Francisco. The first time I was in Thailand I bought two rings that were carved from buffalo horn. This time we came across these images carved from thin buffalo hide and then painted. 

The ones offered for sale included some of chang (elephants), a favorite of anyone who comes to Thailand. Two weeks to complete and only 390 Baht ($13.45), which seems more than fair! Here's the one I selected, black chang with gold trim.


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Ron Chester
tag:dogsrunfree.posthaven.com,2013:Post/583400 2013-06-10T01:42:10Z 2013-10-08T17:26:15Z Hot!

"Maybe you should give me a Thai nickname," I say to Paula. "Noooooo!" she says, "You already have Thai name." Hmmm, news to me. "I do? What is it?" She says, "Rrrrrrron!" rolling the R, thereby making it sound almost royal.

I could never learn to roll my R's. How in the world is that done anyway? I ask her and she does it again, but she can't explain how she's doing it. 

Okay, major side track here. I read what I just wrote and then thought, "What would a Google search turn up." So I searched "how to roll an R." Oh my, a lot of hits! The first one I pick is an eight minute long video in which a nice girl is verrrry specific about how to go about it. She gives some tricks to try. I try them and Oh My God, I roll an R!!!! Before the video is over, I'm saying "Rrrrrrron, Rrrrrrron, Rrrrrrron!" my R's rolling, until Paula looks up from her computer and over towards me, like I'm crazy. What an excellent instructional video!    

Wow, I didn't expect that! Anyway, back to business here. So Paula tells me she's known Thai people named Ron, and the word means "hot," as in hot weather, not as in being really fashionable and bleeding-edge cool. Okay, so I already have a Thai name and it's pretty appropriate for my adventures in Thailand: HOT!!

If you like hot weather, come to Thailand. 

But don't come to Thailand for hot showers. You might be disappointed. You can't always count on a hot shower in Thailand.

The last time we were in Singburi, we checked into our usual hotel there, a fairly large (80 rooms) modern hotel built pretty recently. We had stayed there several times and always had hot showers. But this time the shower was lukewarm at best. It was a surprise, so I went back down to the front desk. "We've got no hot water!" Someone will be up in five minutes. A young fellow appears at the door, goes into the bathroom and starts running the shower. Soon he and Paula are talking together in Thai. "He got it fixed and wants you to go in there and check it." So I go in the bathroom, he steps aside and I stick my hand in the stream of water. Lukewarm at best! I laugh out loud. "Not hot! That is lukewarm at best!" Paula tells him what I said. Ohhhh, he is sorry. He will get us another room.

We wait a while, but don't go to the trouble of gathering up our bags just yet. Then the house phone rings and Paula is talking with the front desk. "He checked some other available rooms. They're all the same. There's no point in our moving." So we had lukewarm showers, at best. Brrrrrrr.

The next day I went downstairs for their extensive all-you-can-eat cooked breakfast: Thai dishes, rice, soup, cooked eggs, cereal, toast, juice, milk, coffee, cocoa, the works. It only runs until 10:00 am and I didn't want to miss it. It's included in the 700 Baht per night ($24) room rate, tasty and very filling. With a full stomach I go back upstairs for my lukewarm shower.

I run the shower water while I shave, hoping to warm it up and dreading the lukewarm water. I get in the shower and it's hot! Nearly scalding hot, if I'm not careful. 

A couple of weeks later we go to Kanchanaburi for the weekend and get a room in an even newer hotel, decorated nicely with a pretty great looking shower (above.) We arrived before noon and I'm already looking forward to a loooong hot shower. At the end of the day, Paula goes in first and comes out with a frown, tightly wrapped in her towel. "No hot water!" she warns. Sure enough, another lukewarm shower. In fact, so cold that I don't even get my hair wet, both that night and the next morning. (Don't tell Paula. She expects a full cleaning.)

On Sunday, after our second lukewarm showers, we went off for a full day of sight seeing adventures. We get back about 4:00 pm, happy but hot and sweaty. Paula hits the shower immediately and comes out beaming, "Very hot!!" Sure enough, the water was extremely hot! The lukewarm showers came with the temperature controller all the way to the left, about 8:00 on a clock face. Now it can't be turned past about 4:00 without the water being much too hot. A day late, but I finally got my loooong hot shower, on my third try.

Hot!!!! Rrrrron!

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Ron Chester
tag:dogsrunfree.posthaven.com,2013:Post/582997 2013-06-07T07:22:35Z 2013-10-08T17:26:10Z Unstuck in Time

On a Friday morning in May, we headed north from U-Thong for Lampang Province and the family home. By lunch time we're heading north on Highway 340 between Suphanburi and Chainat. A bit south of Sam Chuk, Paula turns left into a parking lot and parks the truck. "Hungry!" she says. She's never been here before, but somehow she knows this is just the place for our lunch.

Of course she was right. The food was hot, delicious, cheap and mine was not too spicy. Hers was a lot more spicy, as usual. And they had Namthip, my favorite bottled water. You drink the water and then the plastic bottle easily crushes down to the size of a hocky puck. Screw the lid back on and it stays that way.

Like many (most?) restaurants in Thailand this place was completely open to the outside along its longest dimension. There's a roof overhead in case of rain, but in America we would say we're eating outside. But the Thai people don't have the same clear distinction between inside and outside that we have. In the traditional Thai pole house, the entire ground floor is completely open and much of everyday living is done there. 

As we eat, I look further inside to my left. And then I realize the restaurant may have been a recent after thought, a way to make some current income. Besides the two rows of restaurant tables closest to the parking lot, the rest of this place appears to be an old general store. Old, as in 1940's and 1950's. There are row after long row of teakwood cabinets with glass doors holding all manner of household goods for sale. 

After we finish eating, I get up and begin wandering these aisles. I begin to feel like Billy Pilgrim in Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, having come unstuck in time. Only not thrown back into my own past, like Billy, but somehow transported to much earlier times in Thailand. I begin to click picture after picture. We need to get on the road again, so there's no time to really take it all in. I decide to capture as much as I can with the camera, so that we can be on our way.

Paula is wandering the aisles too. And as we pass each other I say to her, "This place is an amaaaaazing museum!" She frowns and corrects me, "No . . .  store!" I acknowledge that she has it right, but it's also like a museum where everything is for sale. I'm pretty sure most of this stuff is no longer sold in stores throughout Thailand.

My thoughts go to Melrose Ave in Hollywood, near the Thai Consulate where I went to get my Thai visa. The antique stores/junk shops along there had signs in their windows encouraging set decorators for films to stop in and see their wares. I'm thinking they'll find a lot more stuff here, if they're working on a film set in the 1940's or 50's, especially one set in Asia.

We get back in the truck and begin to head toward the highway. As we back out of our parking spot, I see the two women in the cooking area watching us, as I go on about this amazing place to Paula. I give them a thumbs up and they break into big smiles and nod. Their pride in their business enterprise shines through.

Closest to the road is the most modern thing in this store. Their sign by the highway gives the URL for their website! Google translates the welcome on the home page as, "Welcome to the excavation." As with many translations from Thai to English by Translate, I'm not sure that's totally accurate. Ha ha.  

http://www.torantique.com/

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Ron Chester
tag:dogsrunfree.posthaven.com,2013:Post/582825 2013-06-06T06:15:00Z 2013-10-08T17:26:08Z Introducing Paula

I guess you could say that Thailand is the star of this blog so far, if there is one. And some may notice that I changed the name of the blog when it moved to the new host at posthaven.com; Two Worlds in One. In one sense the worlds are the US and Thailand. But in another sense, the two worlds are my world (largely in the US) and the world of my fiancée (largely in Thailand), but those two worlds are now becoming one world of our life together.

The plan is to make the blog bilingual eventually, with pictures of our travels together and my comments in English and her comments in Thai. Two sets of comments, not translations into two languages, although translations might be possible one day. For the time being I'm doing all the writing, as I'm on vacation from my work, while she is still working a full-time job. Like her, when I was working (in the US) I had verrrrry little time for writing in the blog. So it has been largely a holiday pastime for me so far.

Although I am doing the writing, none of this would ever have appeared without the huge contributions of my fiancée. She has been my guide all along. We travel Thailand according to the demands of her job and it is my good fortune to be able to tag along and see a lot of Thailand. It is she who answers my questions and explains to me what I am seeing. So I am seeing her country through both my eyes and her own; two worlds in one.

Though she doesn't have time to add her own comments right now, she will begin to be more visible in the pictures and in my comments. So I realized it is time to introduce her in this more formal way. An obvious place to start is with her name. In Thailand every person has a nickname, which they get at a very young age and end up using their entire lifetime. Most people are on a first name basis with each other, using their nicknames. Two of our best friends are thirty weeks pregnant with their first child, a daughter. The nickname of their daughter has already been selected and announced, but they have no idea yet what the child's full name will be.

My fiancée and I started exchanging messages in June 2012, maintaining daily written contact until my first trip to Thailand in October 2012. During that time I knew how to spell her nickname with English characters, but I did not know how to pronounce her name. It is the first thing I had her teach me when we finally met in person. I had trouble learning how to pronounce it correctly, as it does not sound like we would expect those letters to sound using our English phonetics.

A good translation of her nickname into English is "Paula." I discovered this by playing around with Google Translate and converting the name that it came up with from a male to female gender, as Translate is pretty clueless about gender. One of her best friends, who she went to University with decades ago, now lives in the UK and is fluent in English. I ran my translation of the nickname past her and she concurred that it was a very good Western version of her nickname. So I thought that when we are in the US, she might be Paula.

Since the readers of this blog are English readers, it occurred to me that I should introduce her on the blog as Paula. But I would only do such a thing with her agreement.

Early in this trip we traveled to Hua Hin with three of her very best friends, a married couple and another single woman who she has been traveling with and vacationing with for many many years. They refer to themselves as a group as "The Gang." When we go places together, the husband of her friend drives, with me riding up front with him. The three women sit in back, chatting and laughing in their happy way for hour after hour. I have never heard any cross word or even slight annoyance between any of them. They are truly "best friends forever!"

One morning in Hua Hin before we had joined the other three for the day, I told her about my idea of making her Western name Paula and announcing it on the blog. Her initial response was "Nooooooo!" So I told her that when I introduce her to people in California, no one will pronounce her name correctly. (She frowns.) Everyone will say "Bah" (which is wrong) and we'll have to say "No Bah!" all the time and say it correctly for them and they still won't get it right. (I can see she knows, I am right.) But if I say, "I want you to meet Paula," everyone will immediately say, "Pleased to meet you, Paula," no problem. She already knew how Google translates her nickname, so I told her the female version of that is Paula. Then I told her that her university friend already told me that Paula is a very good translation of her name into English. I told her she could be Paula in the blog and she could tell her friends it is she, while being basically anonymous to most of the world. She seemed to like that idea and gave a little nod. But was this final acceptance? I'm not sure.

A few minutes later we get in the car for our day's adventures, the husband driving and me in front with him, and the three ladies in back, as always. The women immediately started their chatting and laughing, as they do all day long in the back seat. Suddenly a sound emerged that I recognized among all the rest of the unrecognized sounds: "Paula." All three of them were saying it back and forth to each other and laughing in their happy way. I turned around and looked and the wife says to me in a pleased way, "Paul-laaaa!" "Yes," I said. "Paula!" And then we're all saying, "Paula, Paula, Paula" and everyone is laughing happily.

Having been so well accepted by her friends, I'm pretty sure Paula has accepted it as her Western nickname!

So Dear Reader, I present to you Paula, my best friend in Thailand, my indispensible guide and teacher, my loving and loved fiancée. 

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Ron Chester
tag:dogsrunfree.posthaven.com,2013:Post/582489 2013-06-04T08:36:09Z 2013-10-08T17:26:04Z Hot and Quick!

This is about food, nothing else!

When we arrived back in Northern Thailand (my favorite), I wanted to go to the Central Plaza Lampang, a new mall that opened just after I left Thailand the last time. In many ways, Thailand is very different from the US, which is one of the reasons it is so much fun to visit. The exception to this is the malls in Thailand, which carry many of the same brands as the malls in America. If you get homesick, you can always go to a mall in Thailand and soon you'll be feeling like you're at the Glendale Galleria, except it isn't just the young girls who are thin, but nearly everyone.

Well there is one notable difference. The malls in Thailand have many small bank stores, making it easy for people to get access to their spending money, or to change their currency into spending money.

So we went and did some shopping. When it got to be about 5:00 pm, we were getting hungry and we went looking for some food. This mall doesn't just have a food court. On the third floor there is a restaurant row, with restaurant after restaurant side by side, on both sides, offering many different choices of cuisine: Thai, Chinese, Japanese, and many more, even a steak house. Oh yes, and both McDonald's and KFC, but I think they were relegated to the second floor.

We were leaning toward Japanese, as a change of pace from our usual Thai meals, and there were two choices of those, MK Restaurant and Yayoi. It was only later that I learned that these are large chains of restaurants, both owned by the same company. I don't remember the tipping point, but we settled on Yayoi. We found this review online only many days later.

http://voices.yahoo.com/review-yayoi-japanese-restaurants-bangkok-thailand-7562432.html?cat=16

We sat down at our booth. I love booths in restaurants, but that wasn't the tipping point. We started looking at the large menu, full of color pictures of many choices, and we learned that Yayoi is all about Hot and Quick! It is stated and restated many times in their menu that they will be delivering these delicious meals Hot and Quick! It quickly got to be a bit of a joke among us. After all, most fast food is hot and quick, but is it any good?

Soon a waiter appeared to take our order. The ladies pointed to the green tea in tall pitchers and said we better get that, so we ordered that to a nod from the waiter. The rest took longer because there were so many choices. I knew I wanted an order of Tempura and a salmon roll, but I wasn't sure about my main dish. The ladies made their choices and made some suggestions for my main entree.

Suddenly a young fellow arrives with a tray carrying our tea pitchers and starts pouring our glasses. We're still ordering and the drinks have arrived, without the waiter budging from his spot at the end of the table. I settle on my main dish, the waiter leaves and we begin to drink our very green tea. 

Within one minute, probably more like half that time, a waiter is delivering our first meal to the table. And so it goes. Within a few minutes, we're all eating our Hot and Quick meals. And pretty darn good too. Fast food is not something you write home about, but here I am, writing home about it!

As my stomach got fuller, my mind began to consider this Hot and Quick tagline. How did they pull this off and still have the food be very tasty? My eyes wandered over to a nearby booth where a waiter was taking another order. And then the light went on. He wasn't holding an order pad and pencil. He was holding a small device, like a smart phone.

You know, just like when you go into the Apple Store and all the clerk/geeks in blue shirts have small devices around their necks, which they begin to type on, if someone starts to order or has a question. 

The waiters had a direct connection to the kitchen! They could start cooking the first order while we were still deciding about the second order. That's how the green tea could arrive even before our order was complete. Hot and Quick. Brilliant!

I don't get out much back home. Is this already going on all over America? I had never seen it anywhere else. The United States doesn't hold a monopoly on innovation, now does it? In any case, if it isn't already, this system of ordering will likely be sweeping across America soon.


ADDENDUM
Three nights later we end up having dinner at MK Restaurant, but at a mall in Chainat, instead of Lampang. Their waiters all had the same hand held electronic devices for taking orders. They carry them in a little pouch on their belt and they use a stylus for entering the data. I got a brief look at one. They also show the total cost of the meal at the end, so the waiter was able to collect the money. No need to stand in line at the cash register.

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Ron Chester
tag:dogsrunfree.posthaven.com,2013:Post/582470 2013-06-04T05:25:25Z 2013-10-08T17:26:04Z Thailand Rain Storms

Yesterday we drove from about twenty minutes east of Lampang to Chainat, a distance of about 450 kilometers. It was sunny in most directions with occasional dark clouds off in the distance.

But we drove through two strong rain storms, the windshield wipers barely keeping up with the rain pounding onto the truck. Maybe we should pull over and wait it out? No, we keep going, because the sky is still sunny in most directions. And then as quickly as the rain had come, it ended, the windshield quickly dry in the heat again.

On the second rain storm, I decided to pay more attention to the details, glancing at the clock as the drops began to hit the windshield. The truck drove through the deluge for more than two minutes, but was all dry again in much less than three minutes. That's right, we drove through the rain storm in two to three minutes, a time span that was similar to the first rain storm!

The truck was going about 100 km/hr or about 1-2/3 km/minute. So the storm was about 3.5 km, certainly less than 5 km, wide.

Wikipedia says "a cloudburst is an extreme amount of precipitation, sometimes with hail and thunder, which normally lasts no longer than a few minutes but is capable of creating flood conditions. Colloquially, the term cloudburst may be used to describe any sudden heavy, brief, and usually unforecast rainfall." 

It would have been even more fun, if we had had some thunder. It was as though the gods finished a wash and dumped the entire contents of the full wash basin right out onto our truck below.

 

ADDENDUM
Two days later, while driving from Suphan Buri (City of Gold) to U-Thong, we saw what Thailand really has to offer when it comes to rain storms. 

This time the rain came as no surprise, we saw it coming from far away. If these clouds had appeared in Oklahoma, the storm trackers would have been lined up, watching for funnel clouds, but Thailand does not get tornadoes (nor earthquakes nor volcanic eruptions). http://voices.yahoo.com/what-natural-disasters-could-experience-thailand-5470803.html?cat=16

Once the rain started, it pounded hard for over ten minutes, with lighter rain for five more. While we were inside the rain, the sky was no longer black, instead everything was white around us. We discovered that visibility in the strong rain was actually enhanced by putting on our sunglasses! Once through the rain, we could see black clouds in the distance again as we arrived in U-Thong. We were getting thunder, but no rain, as we quickly unloaded the truck and brought our stuff inside the hotel. Before long the rain arrived in full force at the hotel and lasted much of the evening.

                                              Giant Storm Clouds Over the Rice Fields in Suphan Buri Province

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Ron Chester
tag:dogsrunfree.posthaven.com,2013:Post/582463 2013-06-04T04:37:38Z 2013-10-08T17:26:04Z Banana Chips

Thailand has better banana chips than the ones I've had in the US. The ones in America are flat, rather thick, and rectangular in shape. Thai banana chips are much thinner and curled into loops. They have a thickness similar to American potato chips and they crunch like them as you eat them. They are far more satisfying to eat as a snack than the fatter American banana chips.  

Fat - American
Thin - Thai

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Ron Chester
tag:dogsrunfree.posthaven.com,2013:Post/581667 2013-05-29T10:02:01Z 2013-10-08T17:25:55Z A Sticker For the Old Guy

We're back in the Land of Smiles, the ever surprising and amazing Thailand, posting at a new address, as the previous hosting service cashed out and its buyer chose not to continue hosting its blogs. No matter, I know the new location and apparently you do too. The previous postings have been moved over here and you may notice that the new hosting service does not compress images, as done by the previous service, so suddenly my pictures are much bigger.

Earlier today, a friend of mine from second grade on in the Midwest of the US gave me the dates for our upcoming high school reunion. I added it to my Google Calendar and then got to thinking about who might attend and what it might be like. Would the others believe that I had recently spent months in Thailand? No matter, I would have the photos to prove it.

My mind wandered to the graduation speech I gave so many years ago as the Salutatorian at our graduation. The reunion would give me the chance to apologize to my classmates. The three student speeches were centered around Robert Frost as a theme. Each of us was given a Frost poem as the starting point for our speech. I don't recall which straw I pulled, but I got "The Road Not Taken."

http://www.davidpbrown.co.uk/poetry/robert-frost.html

So I wrote a speech and our faculty advisor "suggested" a few edits, turning it into an insufferable speech, dividing our class into two groups: those who were going off to college and all its wonderful opportunities and those who would not go off to college, very thinly veiled as the losers. I should have said, "Hell no, I'm not gonna read that out loud!" But I didn't. I had not yet learned much about personal integrity.

It is my hope that most of my classmates were not paying attention to my insufferable speech much at all. None of them expressed any outrage or hurt from my words, so I might be right.

As it turns out, I got three useful things out of my $12,000 education at Oberlin College. I discovered the amazing music of Gustav Mahler, thanks to my first ever girl friend, who left me heart broken for the first time in my life, in the process presenting me with an LP of the brilliant "Das Lied von der Erde," which I still have today.

The second useful thing was a deep admiration and fascination with the art of Bob Dylan, who came into my life just in time to show me that life could be far more complicated than I had ever imagined in my high school days and earlier. He didn't give me solutions for my broken heart, but just got me looking at all the possibilities in a lifetime. It was a Cleveland radio station that played "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" one night in the fall of 1966 that first got my attention, and it was Stefanie Gutieri (RIP) who told me who "that singer" was, a bit incredulous when I said, "Who's Bob Dylan."

The third useful thing was something I got my freshman year, the ability to write in a decent way. I never would have taken the course, but it was required of all freshman. And I didn't realize until decades later that the teacher had pounded some useful skills into my mind, and it was many years after that when I discovered that I really enjoy writing. I've been doing more and more of it ever since.

The older I got, the more I found myself wondering just what matters in life. For most of my adult life, I concentrated on working, the expected role for a man in America. But as the possibility of retirement began to come into view, some new opportunities came into view. There was a fork in the road and I decided to take it.

I don't take anything for granted. Many of my dearest friends are no longer living in this lifetime with me. Get used to it, there is no other way out. Or is there? Now I'm spending a lot of time in Thailand, which is 95% Buddhist, and these people don't subscribe to the American beer company tagline that "you only go around once in life." I don't either, but somewhere along the way, I did decide to "grab for all the gusto."

This time I flew on Japan Airlines to Tokyo and then on to Bangkok. I was taking it all in, making notes in my Moleskin pocket notebook, and taking pictures of the food once we were underway. Near the end of the second flight, one of the lovely Japanese stewardesses gave me a great honor. She came up to me and told me she had noticed me making notes in my notebook, "perhaps a diary or journal." Because of that she wanted to give me something as a present from the airline. 

http://www.airplane-pictures.net/photo/284667/ja772j-jal-japan-airlines-boeing-777-200/

It was a picture of the Boeing 777-200 airplane we were flying and she turned it over and explained to the old guy in 23G that it was a "sticker." Oh yes, it was a sticker! But not just any old sticker. The photo was of a Boeing 777-200 adorned with all the usual Japan Airlines logos, but MUCH more. This particular plane had the Disney characters all over its side and it was commemorating not only the plane and airline, but also the Tokyo Disney Resort in its 30th year, "The Happiness Year!"

Surely she had presented me with something that is given to youngsters on a flight most of the time. Perhaps in her mind, she saw that the old guy was totally engaged in the experience of our flight, alive and excited like a kid might be. I didn't see anyone else getting stickers on that flight. And yes, I was feeling quite alive and excited!!  

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Ron Chester
tag:dogsrunfree.posthaven.com,2013:Post/564272 2012-12-23T00:42:00Z 2013-10-08T17:22:20Z Chang Phuak Gate

This is the first picture I took on my trip to Thailand of a spot that would interest tourists. It simultaneously shows the old and the new, part of the old wall in Chiang Mai in the foreground, and my hotel rising up above it, with the top of the Ford dealership sign barely peaking above the wall. I was purposely getting a picture of both. The Buaraya Hotel was the only hotel on my trip that I booked myself. I selected it before I started on my journey and I chose it partly because of its location inside the boundaries of the ancient walled city. I have a lot to learn about the history of the Thai people and when I took this picture, I knew less than I know now. But somewhere before I came, I read that there were these ancient walls in Chiang Mai, so I wanted to be close to them. And I was. My hotel was right across the street from the moat which was orginally built to run alongside the ancient wall. 

It was built starting in 1296 (nearly two hundred years before Columbus landed in North America) to protect the Lanna Thai Empire from attack by their rivals to the north in Burma, centuries before Chiang Mai became part of the current Kingdom of Thailand. The brick wall formed a rectangle around the city which was 1.8 km wide by 2.0 km long. "Chiang" in the northern Thai dialect means "city," while "mai" means "new," hence Chiang Mai means New City. At that time it was probably called the new wall. More than seven hundred years later, it is the old wall around the old city and a tourist destination. 

Many cities in the US have an Old Town section, a good name for encouraging visits from tourists and those with money to spend. In the US, "old" can mean two hundred years or less. Not here. In Chiang Mai, "old" is more than seven hundred years, and in other parts of Thailand, it is centuries longer than that. When you look at it, it is quite obvious that it is old, really old. So we stopped the truck and got out, looking and taking pictures. Looking to the right we saw a fortified top to the wall at the end of the block.

On the other side of the wall at that corner was this gate, labeled with a bronze plaque, Chang Phauk Gate.
The plaque, written in Thai, English and ancient Lanna languages, offered an obvious photo opportunity.
I had no idea what Chang Phauk meant at the time. When I looked to find out, I found one misguided soul who thought Chang was a mis-spelling of Chiang. Well, no! As I found out less than an hour after these pictures were taken, Chang means elephant, animals of huge importance to the culture and people of Thailand. 
http://www.chiangmai-chiangrai.com/elephants_thai.html

Phauk means white, so this is the White Elephant Gate. In American English a white elephant is a unique, but not so useful, object not easily disposed of. At our annual holiday party, the CPA firm used to make a game of giving a white elephant gift (cost under ten dollars) to another staff member, with rules about how they could steal someone else's gift to avoid taking the one you had given them.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_elephant_gift_exchange

Wikipedia says the phrase derives from the Thai culture. "The term derives from the story that the kings of Siam (now Thailand) were accustomed to make a present of one of these animals to courtiers who had rendered themselves obnoxious, in order to ruin the recipient by the cost of its maintenance."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_elephant  

There actually are albino elephants that are very white, or pink. They are very rare and long associated with the royalty in Thailand. Even today, the royal family in Thailand owns white elephants. And of course, elephants in general are regarded with considerable favor in Thailand and for good reason, as important as they have been in the history of the country.

There is a legend that the Chang Phauk Gate was given that name (originally Hua Wiang Gate) because the north end of the city was the head of the city and the king would enter the city through this gate on state occasions, riding on a white elephant. An albino elephant monument was also built on the north side. So this is a name of great honor, not with the connotation we have given the phrase back home.

Looking back toward the hotel from our spot in front of the gate, we got a look at the moat which used to be crossed on bamboo bridges, which were removed at night for extra protection.
Without knowing it at the time, I had begun my adventure in Thailand by settling in the most important north end of the old city and then began my explorations right where the king would make his grand entrance into the city, through the most important of the four gates. I didn't know about these significances at the time. But I DID feel considerable excitement that I was embarking upon an important new direction in my life, an adventure worthy of my time and attention.
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Ron Chester
tag:dogsrunfree.posthaven.com,2013:Post/564275 2012-12-16T04:21:00Z 2013-10-08T17:22:20Z Feasting in an Eclectic Decor

Okay, I looked. Bob Dylan has never used the word "eclectic" in one of his songs. Too snooty, maybe. Well anyway, there are no song lyrics for this article.

I mentioned in the last article that we had a nice lunch after eating the boiled peanuts. Well we did, but I would make a lousy restaurant critic, because I can't tell you the name of the place, or even it's exact location. All I can say is that it was on the left side of the highway just a bit after we first came into Chiang Rai. They had nice outdoor seating, but we went inside the glass door on the right side, the door that Por had just exited in this photograph.

The place had a really nice Thai soup with pork, which Ach loaded up with tons of hot peppers. I didn't add pepper, but enjoyed the soup very much anyway. But the decor of the restaurant is the point of this article. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll know that I never knew what I'd find next in Thailand. Well this place is a good example. 

We sat down at a table in one corner near this Gorilla Rack shelving that had a TV that was on. No surprise there. You see TV's in Thai restaurants all the time. I think they had it on a news station. A lot of places you'd see a UK football game on. That means a soccer game from England for the American readers. Others might be running a Thai soap opera program, and you didn't need to know Thai to know that the guy was cheating on his wife with the younger woman and the shrieking woman throwing things was his wife.

But my eye went to the shelf below the TV which held the component stereo system, a cassette recorder and a reel-to-reel recorder. It's the reel-to-reel machine that really got me! And it had a tape on it, like they had just finished listening to something. Neat!

Next my eye was drawn to the lovely aquarium with the bubble machine blasting. From a distance that looks like it might be a big red betta fish, or a Siamese Fighting Fish, as we called them when I was a kid and I was big into tropical fish. After all, Siam is Thailand, and that's where those scary fish come from! But no, the red was a bright plant, or mock plant. On close examination we found that the tank had NO fish in it at all. Okay, maybe they had the day off.

Now our table was a normal table with normal legs and normal chairs. Unremarkable. But looking further to the left from the aquarium, the entire other corner of the room was taken up by this amazing collection of wood furniture, what we would call burlwood furniture back home. 
http://www.artisanburlwood.com/theshop.php

It was all very highly polished and it looked like a great place to have a business lunch and impress that new client from Chiang Rai. On the back of the enormous chair in the back corner was a sign which read, "For Sale 150,000." That's right, that corner of the decor of this place was for sale, for 150,000 Baht, which is about $5,000 US. And that's a price that isn't out of line with the prices at the place in Berkeley.

Finally I turned my head around to look at the wall directly behind us. And there was the head of an animal with a nice rack of antlers. But look a little more closely, as we did. There were a couple of polished gourds hanging from the antlers. But wait, what are those two other things hanging there in front?

After looking them over, we decided they were bird's nests, and then they looked very cool to us! Maybe someone will come along who can tell us what kind of birds might have made them.  
http://www.thebirdersreport.com/egg-and-nest-identification

But something tells me that a website that focuses on American birds is not going to help identify those nests in Thailand. We didn't wonder too much about it. When you're exploring a land that is so different from your own, where you don't speak the language, you find yourself looking at new discoveries and just enjoying how they look, without needing a complete explanation of what you're seeing.

 

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Ron Chester
tag:dogsrunfree.posthaven.com,2013:Post/564277 2012-12-15T06:02:00Z 2013-10-08T17:22:20Z Food Was Flying Everywhere

Bob Dylan's 115th Dream 

by Bob Dylan

I went into a restaurant
Lookin' for the cook
I told them I was the editor
Of a famous etiquette book
The waitress he was handsome
He wore a powder blue cape
I ordered some suzette, I said
"Could you please make that crepe"
Just then the whole kitchen exploded
From boilin' fat
Food was flyiing everywhere
And I left without my hat

Read more: http://www.bobdylan.com/us/songs/bob-dylans-115th-dream

One of my readers wrote, "Did you incur any bad effects from eating those exotic foods? I would worry about food poisoning."

Well, nice to have the question and I'm happy to give an answer. Before I went to Thailand, I was concerned about that too. When I got my shots for travel, they had a nurse whose specialty was travel medicine. So she gave me some advice about food, which I followed pretty closely. Here were the rules she gave me.

1.     Drink only bottled water.

2.     Don't have ice in your drinks, as they were likely made with the local water.

3.     Brush your teeth with bottled water.

4.     Only eat fresh fruit that you peel yourself.

5.     Don't eat food that would have been washed as it was prepared, such as lettuce.

6.     Don't eat eggs, unless the yolks are fully cooked.

7.     Any food that has just been cooked at a high temperature is safe to eat.

 8.     Because of that, rice, noodles and soups are always safe to eat.

All but the eggs rule were focused on things in the local water that my body might not tolerate. The eggs rule had to do with some bug that had been known to infect some poultry in Asia.

I stuck to those rules pretty well. When I first got there, I told Por what the doctor had said, since she was the one who would order and/or prepare most of the food we would eat. I quickly became known as the guy in our group who didn't want ice (though I really did, almost always), but I stuck with the program! And drinking bottled water was no problem, as it is available everywhere in Thailand, because of the heat, and after all, Por works for a company that sells bottled water. I was smart enough to always ask for Namthip (their brand), only accepting substitutes when it was not available.

Brushing my teeth with bottled water was just plain weird at first, but I soon got used to it and could do it with very little water after a while. I also had to learn not to open my mouth in the shower, something I found I was used to doing and missed be able to do. Let the shower water beat on your face, but keep those lips closed tight. Ugh!

The eggs rule was the hardest for me, as I was used to having two eggs sunny side up nearly every morning, with the yolks nice and runny, which I always felt was the best part. In fact they were the favorite part of my mornings. In Thailand I ate a lot of cooked yolks, scrambled eggs, eggs cooked in soup, and so on. Finally I began to weaken. When we went to Chiang Rai near the end of my fourth week, someone brought me a beautiful egg, sunny side up, at breakfast. We were at a very nice hotel. I looked both ways, crossed my fingers . . . and ate it. Oh, it was soooo good. Having sinned, I think I had one or two more after that. If you look at my article, Please Pass the Mums, you'll see that runny yolk.

Ice was a bit of a problem too. In the US, my favorite drink at a Thai restaurant is always Thai Iced Tea. There it is, right in the name of the drink! But I resolved to stick with the bottled water and mostly did, plus some hot tea, hot chocolate, milk, orange juice, bottled soft drinks, and bottled beer. With the beer I had to ask for no ice, as the Thais always have ice in their beer. And I would have too, if it weren't for that travel nurse.

But when we first started going on the road, I cheated inadvertently. Every morning we would drive for a while and then Por would stop at a gas station and go in to the Amazon coffee shop and get us both a nice cold drink. It was always one of those tall slushy drinks with green tea, never coffee, all whipped up nice and cold. I never saw them make it, as Por always got the drinks. But it was probably all blended with ice, right? The first time I had it, I thought that the tea would have been made with boiling water, so it would be okay. But no, dummy, once it's tea they had to dump it into a blender with ice to get that frosty slushy drink! Duh!

It was so good that I just kept having it, like nearly every morning that we were driving to a new town. I never had any bad effects from this violation of the rules, thank goodness.  So maybe I've created a new exception rule that says those drinks are okay.

So did it work, all my care in following the rules? Yes, at least for nearly all of the first four weeks. When we went to Pattaya for a weekend with three others, I chuckled to myself with some pride when I learned that two of the four Thais that weekend got diarrhea, and I didn't!

But my luck turned on 15 November 2012 when we made the all day drive from Bangkok back to the Lampang area. We stopped for lunch along the way and we had this food.

I loved the Hor Mok (on the blue plate and close-up), which is curried fish, steamed inside banana leaves. I had never had it and when I first started eating it, both Jackie and Por looked at me to see whether it would be too spicy for me. No problem, I loved it. It was my favorite part of the meal. There was a much spicier entree, but I passed on that one, as I always did with the super spicy stuff. This restaurant was also the first place we found that had Foy Thong for dessert, which we had been looking for ever since I had the Foy Thong in the home-made cream puff by the DPU campus in Bangkok. I was full of joy and confidence at the great lunch I was having!

We started on our way north again after lunch. I was full, happy, and carefree with my two friends as we headed off down the road. But fifteen minutes or so later, I realized it was time for a visit to a toilet. I told Jackie and he succeeded in finding facilities for me, just in time. What a relief that was. I thanked him profusely, totally thinking I was done with that little chore for the day.

Well I wasn't. When we finally reached Lampang many hours later, they told me we had stopped six times so I could use a toilet. And some of those times were just barely in time. Jackie was masterful in finding facilities on usually very short notice. Once we reached Lampang, Jackie and Por had a nice big dinner, a sort of celebration of the end of our long drive. I didn't dare put any more food into my body. The next day I mostly fasted, drank some Sprite and ate a little bit of yogurt. That evening we went to Por's family home, where she coaxed me to eat some soup, after telling me to lay off the milk products.

She also dumped a packet of orange colored salts into my bottled water, which she said would help with my dehydration from the diarrhea. AND her mother came to us with a tea cup that held six or seven plant leaves with instructions for me to eat them. Okay, I wasn't about to argue, so I chewed up the leaves and swallowed them, washing them down with the now orange colored water. The leaves tasted very bitter, but I got them down pretty fast and then they were just a memory. And then as Por was driving me back to my hotel in Lampang for the night, I realized I suddenly was feeling the best I had felt all day long! Before she returned to her family home for the night, I told her to tell her mother that the herbs she gave me had helped.

Okay,  well it could have been the orange salts in the water, I suppose. But wasn't it smarter to attribute it to the herbs? I think so!

The next morning we set off for Myanmar with a great couple from Lampang who are friends of Por (and now mine), also employees of Thainamthip. Along the way that morning, we stopped at a gas station and Por got her usual cold drink at the Amazon coffee shop. I was being cautious because we had quite a distance to drive and I didn't want any repeat performances from two days earlier, so I passed on the tea this time.

Por disappeared for a while as we were sitting outside the coffee place and talking. When she returned she had a bag of peanuts in the shell, which the others began to eat. Por encouraged me to try some. I'm thinking, "No! How easy are peanuts going to be to digest?!" But I watched them opening the shells and before long I took one that Por handed me. I opened it and looked down to see purple peanuts in the palm of my hand. What is this??? I popped them into my mouth and discovered they were soft, not crunchy, not salty, and tasted good, but more like potatoes than nuts!

proceeded to eat a lot more of them. They went down easy and it seemed like they would be easy to digest. I learned that they were boiled peanuts, not your usual salted ball park peanuts. I have now researched them some, discovering that they are fairly common in the South in the US. In fact, they were declared to be the snack food of South Carolina in 2006. I had never seen them in my life. I'm not sure they're quite the same as the boiled peanuts in the South, as discussions of those I found talk a lot about how spicy they get. These peanuts were not very spicy, if at all. I also don't know whether a street vendor had boiled them right there where she bought them or not.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boiled_peanuts

http://www.boiled-peanut-world.com/how-to-make-boiled-peanuts.html  

Once I ate those boiled peanuts, that was the end of my concerns about food. When we stopped for lunch a little later, I ate a nice big bowl of soup with pork and for the rest of my ten days in Thailand, I was back to normal with my eating.

So that one episode was my only difficulty with food in Thailand. So what did it? Was it the somewhat spicy Hor Mhok? I guess I'll never know. At the time my attention went more onto the Foy Thong. There seemed to be a lot of it and it was pretty rich. We took some as an order to go when we left, along with orders of the related desserts, Thong Yip and Thong Yod. I never ate any of those orders.

One final note about eating Thai food for five weeks. In the US, I weigh myself every morning when I get up. I like to be able to spot it right away if I start to put on some weight, before it gets out of hand. Well in Thailand I rarely saw a scale, so I wasn't able to follow this practice. But I figured I was eating very healthy foods, so I should be okay.

was right. In the week before I went to Thailand, I was weighing around 185-186 pounds. While in Thailand, I made no effort to diet or limit my intake of food. I ate as much as I wanted at every meal. I almost always had a large breakfast, often no lunch to speak of and usually a large dinner. In the over two weeks that I've been back, my weight has been a very stable 184-185 pounds.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0E7LZbQjg8

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Ron Chester
tag:dogsrunfree.posthaven.com,2013:Post/564283 2012-12-13T00:40:00Z 2013-10-08T17:22:20Z Things Go Better With Coke

I found there are advantages to traveling in Thailand in Thainamthip circles, the company that bottles and distributes Coke, Sprite, Fanta and other drinks in Thailand.

Most important, the employees I got to know from this company (over ten) were all friendly, welcoming, fun-loving people and the great camaraderie amongst them was evident and pleasing. Now, is there anything more American than Coca-Cola? Maybe not, but Coke has had a strong presence in Thailand since 1949.  This Life Magazine photograph from its earliest days in the country is one of my favorite images, with its pairing of the exotic Thailand and the legendary American label.

This image shows a lot of what I experienced in Thailand, a country that has developed and maintains its own distinctive culture over many centuries, but now accepts and enjoys many things from America and the West, including the great taste of Coke.

If you hang out with employees of Thainamthip, one day you're likely to enjoy receiving gifts of things sporting the classic Coca-Cola trademark, surely one of the most famous marks anywhere in the world.

A Coca-Cola collector, and I gather there are many of those, would do well to develop friendships with the folks from Thainamthip!

http://pinterest.com/fallenangel1217/always-coca-cola/

One day as I was riding to the very northernmost point in Thailand with three friends from Thainamthip, I suddenly got a chance to feel like one of the fold. Up ahead on the highway, I spotted a large Coca-Cola truck stopped on the side of the road, which I immediately pointed out  to the others with me.  What was neat was that Nop, who was driving our truck, pulled over when we reached the truck, as he recognized that the driver of the truck was a friend of his. He jumped out and walked over to have a chat with his friend and I jumped out and got a video of the truck, in fact two trucks from Thainamthip.

Later on after we had stopped at a gas station for some Thai tea and boiled peanuts, we passed the truck again, as it was lumbering north toward its destination in Chiang Rai. Nop honked the horn and we all waved to the driver, who now almost seemed like another one of the family to me.

As I reflect on this connection we made, it occurred to me that one might be able to estimate when a person was growing up by finding out what Coca-Cola slogan comes to mind for them. For me, it was Things Go Better With Coke, which was apparently first used in 1963.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coca-Cola_slogans

And what better pairing than that slogan with the great American singer, Roy Orbison?

 

 

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Ron Chester
tag:dogsrunfree.posthaven.com,2013:Post/564285 2012-12-10T00:09:00Z 2013-10-08T17:22:20Z This Wheel's on Fire

This Wheel's on Fire 

by Bob Dylan

You knew that we would meet again
If your mem’ry served you well
This wheel’s on fire
Rolling down the road
Best notify my next of kin
This wheel shall explode!

Read more: http://www.bobdylan.com/us/songs/wheels-fire

This is the first photograph I ever took in Thailand, one of nearly 1,600. It is a picture of  a songthaew, in Thai: สองแถว, meaning literally "two rows." The two rows are two long benches that run the length of the back of the converted pickup truck on which the passengers in this shared bus sit. This one was picking up people at the Chiang Mai airport, so it was also outfitted to carry luggage on the top to the hotels of the travelers in the back of the bus. These red buses were everywhere in Chiang Mai, a type of vehicle I had never seen in my life, but I never had a need, nor the pleasure, of riding in one. Next time I return to Thailand, I will make a point of going somewhere in a songthaew.

I got to my hotel just before midnight in this familiar looking taxi. The woman in the dark suit had collected my taxi fare, hailed the taxi for me and was about to open the door to let me inside. I told the driver the name of my hotel, which he recognized, and we were soon off to my first night's sleep in a new country. The fare was 120 Baht, about $4 US. 

The next afternoon, I saw the vehicle that I would ride all over Thailand, a six month old Isuzu D-Max pickup truck with a four door extended cab. The front had two comfortable and roomy seats, with a long bench seat running across the back. The truck had plenty of power, an air conditioning system that worked great in the hot weather and a stereo that sounded fine. The back seat held all of our luggage, easily accessible through its separate doors. These trucks are seen a lot in Thailand, perhaps because they are assembled in Rayong, Thailand. How fortunate I was to be able to see Thailand with such great transportation!

This was not a rental vehicle. It belongs to my friend, a supervisor of marketing and surveys, and a nineteen year veteran at Thainamthip [ http://www.thainamthip.co.th/index.php ], the company that bottles and distributes Coke, Sprite and other American soft drinks in Thailand. As part of her job, she travels all over her territory in Thailand, surveying the outlets that sell their product, supervising the others on her team, and regularly meeting with the supervisors of other territories at the company office in Krung Thep. I was going to have the pleasure of riding along with her as she went from town to town as part of her work duties. This was not going to be a tour of Thailand designed for thirty tourists to hit all the hot spots where they could buy souvenirs for all their friends back home. I was going to get a personalized close-up look at Thailand, many of the great tourist spots, but a lot of other places as well, that are more off the beaten path, but just as exciting, or more at times.

On the day I first saw the truck, I knew I was about to start an amazing adventure in a land very different from my native America. But I didn't yet grasp what an amazing opportunity this would be to discover Thailand, to get to know my friend better, and to get to know many other Thai people, most of them also affiliated with Thainamthip.

The truck was practically new, but we still stopped at the Isuzu dealer in Singburi to get a routine servicing. We never had any trouble of any kind with the truck, a very wise purchase by my friend. 

When we were in Bangkok (Thai people don't say that name, they use the Thai name, pronounced About this sound Krung Thep http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/48/Th-Krung_Thep.ogg ) four of us had a ride in this tuk-tuk, a three wheel vehicle with a small two-cycle engine that is very common in the congested urban areas of Thailand, as it can fit through tight spots where a regular taxi cannot pass. As we sped around a corner to the right, I was feeling like we were cartoon characters, chasing or being chased, with the tuk-tuk tipped up on two of its three wheels, the small engine screaming at the top of its power curve, as we all shouted, "Wheeeee, wheeeee!"

After reaching our destination, the driver was very willing to pose for pictures with the pleased American, who was feeling like he had just completed a roller coaster ride at the county fair. The three Thai women stood nearby and watched, pleased that their visitor seemed to be enjoying himself in their land.

Here is another Thai taxi, that can fit in even tighter spots than the tuk-tuk, a motorcyle taxi.
Take a good look at this image. A young Thai woman dressed impeccably in a skirt, sitting side saddle with no helmet, one foot on the cycle, the other dangling free, her hands holding her shopping bag, rather than gripping the bike itself. To a Californian this is an unusual sight, as in California a woman on the back of a cycle is more likely to be wearing jeans, a leather jacket and a helmet, holding on tight and certainly not sitting side saddle. In Thailand this is a very common sight. Near the DPU Place Hotel, I watched many young ladies arriving for classes at the university on motorcycle taxis, sliding off the back from their side saddle positions, handing the driver some money and off to campus on foot, no relief showing from surviving a harrowing experience, just an impassive look of routine and no worries.

As in California, helmets are required on motorcycles by law, but more than half the time I saw people on motorcycles with no helmets on their heads. Taxi drivers always wear an orange or red vest with their taxi number on the back.

Motorcycles are everywhere in Thailand. In this posting I'll just discuss their use as public transportation. No, I never hopped on a motorcycle taxi for a ride anywhere. The idea crossed my mind very briefly one day, but I quickly decided to just keep walking. No regrets!

When my visit was nearly over, I got to take a long ride in this horse and buggy in Lampang, the only town in Thailand that still offers this as a routine mode of transportation, though probably for tourists in most cases. It doesn't careen around any corners like the tuk-tuk, but it's a great way to see the business district of this lovely town in Northern Thailand, as you trot along at a comfortable speed very close to the fronts of all the shops and businesses. We negotiated a 200 Baht trip (under $7 US) in which the driver took us to visit a centuries old teak home/museum, parked and waited while we explored it at our leisure, and then drove us around the main business district of Lampang, about a forty-five minute ride. Our parked truck can be seen near the very end of this video. 
 

Finally, one will get the closest view of Thailand by walking. I did that about ten times, walking about twenty miles total. You never know what you might see when you're on the ground in this amazing, colorful country.

Pagoda in reflecting pool, campus of  Dhurakij Pundit University  
Statue in front of the DPU Cultural Center at Dhurakij Pundit University
Cell tower in a neighborhood in U-Thong, Thailand
Old pole house on a country road in Mae Moh, Thailand 
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Ron Chester
tag:dogsrunfree.posthaven.com,2013:Post/564289 2012-12-07T22:10:00Z 2013-10-08T17:22:20Z The Vandals Took the Handles

When I saw this antique water pump at The Grand Amezon Hotel and Resort in Lampang, Thailand the Dylan line from his ground breaking 1965 song immediately reverberated through my mind. 

Subterranean Homesick Blues 

by Bob Dylan

Better jump down a manhole
Light yourself a candle
Don’t wear sandals
Try to avoid the scandals
Don’t wanna be a bum
You better chew gum
The pump don’t work
’Cause the vandals took the handles

Read more: http://goo.gl/GxJPu

Fortunately they had located a handle for the other pump to the right of the first one.


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Ron Chester