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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

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

Fit For a King

If you travel around Thailand, you will see many small structures that are called Spirit Houses, or San Phra Phum.

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. 


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!

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.

Then again, being allergic to bee stings says nothing at all about possible reactions to scorpion stings, as they are completely different venoms. 

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!

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

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.

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.

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.