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. 

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.

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.

She's leading a good life!

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.

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!

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.

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. 

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.


"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!

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.

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; 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.