Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Trip Report: Laos Day 1, Stuffed

I was up at 4:30 a.m., and my driver was already waiting outside my house for me for a 5:00 a.m. pick-up. (I do have to plug this taxi service: On Soi Diana, closer to Soi Buakhao than Second Road, there is a Family Mart with a taxi stand in front of it. They are very reliable.)

I was out the door at 5:00, and pulled up to the airport at 6:30 for my 7:30 flight. I do have to say that for future reference, arriving one hour before a morning flight from Bangkok is a little too close to departure time... better make it 90 minutes instead. I didn't have to rush or anything, but a mistake or delay would have caused me to miss my plane. At security, I did have to sacrifice my never-used spray-on suntan lotion that I bought in New York to the new anti-liquid American aviation security measures. Pricks.

I arrived in Vientiane at 9:00 a.m. (Future reference: Get a seat as close to the front of the cabin as you can to be the first off the plane in Vientiane, and the first to the visa / immigration counter. You'll avoid up to an hour of standing in line that way.) I was in a cab on the way to the hotel by 9:30. I had a motorcycle rented by 9:45. I was standing in line at the Thai embassy to get my 60 + 30 day tourist visa by 10:00.

(If you are thinking of doing a visa run by taking the overnight train from Bangkok and getting to the Thai embassy in Vientiane before 11:00 in the morning, when they stop accepting applications, good luck. It's possible... but I'd only give about a 50/50 chance of making it on time.)

The process of standing in line to drop off your application and passport — and then standing in line to pay your 1,000 baht for your visa — takes about 2 hours... which really sucks. It's one of the reasons I like the visa run service to Penang: I never have to get within a mile of the Thai embassy, and never have to stand in line.

After finishing up at the embassy, it was back down to River Road where I stopped at the Mexican Restaurant for lunch. The place is right around the corner from the hotel I'm staying at, and I've walked by it 20 times before. Since I've scheduled a visit to just about every other restaurant in Vientiane during this visit, I figured I should stop in there as well.

I had a nice beef vegetable soup for $1.20, and was able to eat about half of the chicken enchiladas ($4.90) I ordered before I was stuffed. It wasn't really Mexican food... just food inspired by Mexico... but it still was a good meal, and I took a doggy-bag back to my hotel room.

Once back in the hotel room (the Duang Duane Hotel... ask for it by name), I read my book a little while and then fell asleep. I woke up at 5:00, ate the rest of my enchilada, and read my book and watched CNN.

At 7:00, I went out to a restaurant across the street from the hotel called Kao-Nieow, which was a nice place to eat. I had ham and brie on a baguette, and two pitchers of Lao punch (the Laotian equivalent of sangria, but using rum instead.) I do have to say that after a liter and a half of Lao punch, I'm much more buzzed than I would have been drinking a liter and a half of gin and tonics back in Pattaya. Oh... there was a very good chocolate mousse for desert... total price for the meal $10. (It is really all there is to do in Vientiane: Eat.)

Anyway, from the restaurant, it was across the street to an internet café, and now I'm going back to the hotel: The Lao punch has worked its way through me, and I need to take a wizz.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Daily Report: Fizzled and Sizzled

I didn't bother working too much today. This will be the only day I'm scheduled to work this week, and (as I said before) the first day of the week at my job is always the lowest paying. So, with the knowledge in mind that any work that I did today would not be followed by higher-paid work later on, the incentive was diminished.

Instead, I put in three hours of work, blogged a bit (as you can see below), and got ready for my trip to Laos tomorrow. (My plan now is to post as much as possible, but without photos... which will be added to the already-written posts once I get back to Pattaya.)

Pui spent the day in Bangkok meeting with some lady who is a wine distributor. Apparently the next thing on her list of "things to keep from being bored" is working with Riza at selling wine... and skin care products. Whatever... just as long as Pui gets out of the house a little bit each day and doesn't spend that time spending money or partying.

In the evening I took Pui, Pot, Maid Go, and Riza out for bar-be-que... 560 baht for 4½ people. After that, it was over to Rick's bar for a few beers with Rick and Mike. Then, home at 10:00... and I have to be awake at 4:30 a.m. for my driver to take me to the airport.

Next post will be from Vientiane, the capital of Laos.

Why Do They Hate Us?

Twenty-one years ago, I was sitting in a cantina in a small town in central Brazil eating spaghetti with a friend of mine.

An old, grizzled-looking fellow sitting at the next table over heard that I was from New York, and he went into this long, loud tirade about America.

It seemed that at some time previous to my walk into that cantina, America had slapped tariffs and duties on the international beef market, and driven this Brazilian fellow (and hundreds of other fellows just like him) out of business. Did I — a teenaged American kid — know the first thing about the international beef market and America's influence on it? Of course not. Did everyone else in the town I was in know about it? Oh, you betcha.

It was the singlemost valuable thing I learned during that visit to Brazil: Things that America does in the world — things that don't even make the deepest-set page of the New York Times — have a huge effect someplace; an effect that, were it to happen to your or me, would have us writing our Congressmen, calling the news channels, organizing protest marches, and — unlike these Brazilian townsfolk — when election day rolled around, making sure we got our revenge at the voting booth.

That day in Brazil, I just happened to be sitting in one of those someplaces America had effected, and found out first hand what a single stroke of a Washington bureaucrat's pen on the 615th page of some obscure trade agreement can do to some people's opinion of America.

As Mohsin Hamid writes here in this excellent piece of commentary about American influence:
"[T]here is another major reason for anti-Americanism: the accreted residue of many years of U.S. foreign policies. These policies are unknown to most Americans.

They form only minor footnotes in U.S. history. But they are the chapter titles of the histories of other countries, where they have had enormous consequences.

America's strength has made it a sort of Gulliver in world affairs: By wiggling its toes it can, often inadvertently, break the arm of a Lilliputian."
It's something to keep in mind: America meddles, plain and simple. It meddles with good intentions, or it meddles with selfish intentions, or it meddles because the meddling it did before has backfired. America meddles.

I'm not going to be so shortsighted as to say that America should quit meddling altogether... but while I still haven't learned a damn thing about the international beef market (and whether the tariffs America imposed back in 1985 were actually a life-saving Godsend, or the tool of satan himself) I can say for certain that there is a village full of Brazilians who haven't thought very highly of America ever since... and I'm quite sure that there are thousands of other someplaces all over the world where people feel the same way.

Monday Vinnie Blogging

Vinnie screams in delight as he plays with Uncle Bob's puppy.

Riff-Raffles Hotel Owner Has A Must-Read Book

Kevin Meacher, owner of "Riff-Raffles Hotel" has written a book about his experiences in opening a hotel in Pattaya. (See info on the book here. See book review in The Nation here. See the hotel blog here.)

I haven't read the book yet, but I intend to: It sounds like a wonderful guidebook to understanding the Thai work ethic... and dealing with it, as well as amusing (awful) anecdotes of tourist behavior, the joys of life in Pattaya, and even the occasional bit of relationship advice.

Head to the local bookstore and buy yourself a copy.

Idiots On Both Sides Cause Problems In Thailand

It seems that a peaceful march in Bangkok to protest the military-led interim government turned ugly last Saturday when police blocked the protesters from marching to their destination: The home of the advisor to the king.

The protesters threw rocks, and in return the police fired tear gas. The nine protest leaders were arrested.

The protesters are creating waves right when the military junta is saying, "OK, we're working on a new constitution and elections... hold on a minute." The military junta is just making things worse by not ignoring the protesters and doing a little free-speech quashing, instead of getting down to the business of restoring Democracy to Thailand.

It seems to me that now — with all signs pointing to progress away from military control of government — now is a time for all parties to exercise a little restraint and patience and tolerance of the situation... relax a little.

In related news, former Prime Minister Thaksin urges voters to vote against a referendum on the new constitution (a rejection of which would most likely mean a return of the prior 1997 constitution). However, the article doesn't have Thaksin giving any particularly specific reasons as to why the new constitution does not meet with his approval, other than the "fruit from the poisonous tree" argument.

Thailand Abusing Human Rights of Migrant Workers

Illegal migrant workers in Thailand have a tough time of things, but as you will see, migrant workers who are in Thailand legally have some problems of their own with working in Thailand as well.

It seems, in contravention to "Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that freedom of movement of the individual is a basic human right", Thailand has passed local laws restricting the rights of migrant workers, including...
"a ban on the use of mobile phones, motorcycles and cars, restricting assembly to less than 5 individuals, as in the case of Chiang Mai, and a curfew for migrant workers from 8 pm to 6 am, confining them to “barracks”, so to speak."
Thailand really should re-think these sorts of regulations. They are doing it because they think that migrant workers commit crime (and I'll admit: they do), but subjecting one group of people to a different set of laws and enforcement efforts based on their citizenship is definitely not a practice that should find traction in the modern world.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Daily Report: Vacation Day

I was up at the usual time, but just didn't feel like doing any work. Therefore (and since I had put in 3 solid weeks in a row without an entire day off work), I played hookey from work. (Actually, I'm not scheduled to work on Sundays... I just am an overachiever, and work 7 days a week, and then get all down on myself when I take a break. It works out more or less... my conscience and I have an understanding, you see.)

It rained pretty steadily for most of the early afternoon. Pui went out and picked up Nem Nuoang (sausage and peanut sauce in rice noodle wraps) for lunch. Her friend Rat, as well as Riza and Go came over to eat as well. (Pot has "spring break" from school this week, and has spent most of it at Kak and Willie's house, playing with Bird and Gong.)

I sat in front of the TV and watched the Yankees/Orioles game for the afternoon. Then, a Battlestar Galactica marathon came on and I spent the rest of the evening watching that.

Oh... Photo from running chores yesterday:

Pattaya Beach, Low Season

Wan Khao Phansaa Today

Today is a big holiday in Thailand, called วันเข้าพรรษา (wan khaò phân saá (audio)), which translates as "the day of entering the rainy season". Everything (except the temples) is closed. As the holiday falls on a Sunday, businesses will be closed on Monday as well.

This is the first day of the rainy season (by the Buddhist calandar... in the Thai calandar, rainy season starts in April) and is often called "Buddhist Lent". Traditionally, this day begins a 3-month period in which the monks go into their temples, and stay inside to study. (Tradition has it that monks should not go walking during the rainy season, as it could damage crops.)

Anyway, there are big parades, and it's an opportunity for Thai people to dedicate themselves to being more devout. People go to the temple and pay respect to the monks. Candles are the traditional gift from the laiety to the monks, although lots of other things, such as flowers, fruit, noodles, rice, are given to help make it through the 3-month hibernation as well.

In 3 months from now, the celebration "wan awk phân saá" will mark the end of Buddhist Lent, and boat races and celebrations traditionally mark that date... as well as the mysterious fireballs of the naga, on the Mekhong River.


"The Bush administration is constantly attacked for being the most secretive in history. ... But let me ask you something: if they are truly the most secretive administration in history, would they have told us over the weekend that the president handed over power to Dick Cheney for two hours while he went and got a camera stuck up his butt? ... The next time some pundit out there wants to call the president secretive, stick a camera up your butt, then tell your viewers about it. Not so easy, is it?"

Stephen Colbert

By Request: How To Leave Comments On Blogs

Somebody (anonymously, natch) asked me to show everyone how to put up comments without using the "anonymous" moniker.

So, for those of you who don't want to leave anonymous comments, but also don't want to take the time to create a blogger account (which would allow you to create your own profile, add a photo of yourself, put down general information like where you are from, et cetera, et cetera... just click on "View My Complete Profile" on the right column of this page to see my own), then follow these instructions:

In the comment section, click on "Other".

Type in the name you want to use. (The web page is optional.)

Type in your comment.

Click on "Publish your comment."

Thailand Driving Revisited

First of all, a little set-up for this picture: This is where Pattaya Central Road meets Sukhumvit Road. The part to note here is that Pattaya Central Road forms a "T" with Sukhumvit Road. Everybody stopped at this light is going to be turning right.

Look at how far out to the left the motorcycles are strewn, moving to the front. Notice how even then, they leave a clear lane for cars to make left-hand turns. (In Thailand, they drive on the left, so therefore instead of "right on red", it is "left on red.")
This is something you simply have to get used to on Thai Roads: If there is an available space of pavement, Thai people will fill it if they can. People will pull into the passing lane and pass you for no other reason than because there is a space that will accommodate their vehicle in front of you... regardless of the fact that you put that space there in order to maintain a safe following distance.

It isn't impatience to Thai people... it's just the way they see orderly behavior. If you think that Westerners don't apply some of the same logic to their own driving situations, try coming to a stop at a red light in America, and leave two car lengths between you and the car in front of you, and see what happens. Thai people have the same reaction when they are in motion... and most certainly when they are waiting at a traffic light.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Daily Report: Errands

I was up at a good time, and got to work on time, and finished 2,000 lines (a nice start) at around mid-afternoon.

I had leftover ribs from Great American Rib Company for lunch.

After that, it was out to run some errands: First, it was off to the train station where I bought Pui's and my train tickets for our trip to Laos next week. (We're going on a river trip with Rick and Da, Willie and Kak, three of Rick's students from school, and a couple of other people.)

After that, I went to Ko Chang Travel on Soi Post Office (the most reliable travel agent in Pattaya) and bought a plane ticket to Laos for myself: I have to go up to Vientiane a day early to visit the Thai embassy and apply for a tourist visa... and make sure I get it back before we head out for the river. (We are only spending one weekday in Vientienne... I need two in order to (1) drop off and (2) pick up a 60-day visa.)

After that, it was off to Tukcom technology mall, where I bought a new set of headphones. Then it was off to the liquor store where I bought a bottle of Casa Noble tequlia (as a present to myself).

I stopped at the 7-11 near my house as a final stop. They have a little freezer selling Ben & Jerry's ice cream now... 100 baht ($3) for a cup, and 300 baht ($9) for a pint. I'm happy with the concept of having Ben & Jerry's nearby, but at those prices... with a gallon of locally-made ice cream selling one aisle over for 100 baht... I'm afraid that Ben & Jerry's will be a short-lived treat.

After that, it was back home where I tried to get interested in doing some more work, but couldn't bring myself to do it. Bleh. Instead, I had some chicken and rice, and beer, and watched "Ocean's 13" on DVD. A fun movie, I suppose... nothing too great. Caper movies are always a good bet for entertainment.

Winning An Argument In Thailand

It seems this fellow had a son who was a bit of a dick, and was constantly arguing with his father. Apparently, after fighting about some land, the father had had enough. He went out and hung himself... committed suicide.

And that's the way to finish an argument in Thailand, and teach your kids a lesson that they'll never forget.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Great American Rib Company Restaurant Review

Excellent through and through.

Tonight, Stan and I, Mem and Pui went out to the Great American Rib Company, located on Tepprasit Road... about a mile out from Jomtien on the south side of the road.

The space for "GARC" is lovely, with an outside deck seeming to be most popular with the diners, and an indoor area that was empty. Jazz music played, and water features bubbled, and palm fronds swayed. Aside from the noise of traffic from Tepprasit Road just outside the garden-like dining area, it was as nice a tropical dining experience as you could hope for. (Complaints are that the outside deck is a little bit dark, making reading the menu difficult, and the picnic tables instead of proper chairs detract from the comfort and ambiance slightly.)

Stan declared the wine menu the best in Pattaya, with many bottles being sold for less than 800 baht (something he has never seen before). We settled on a Californian Kendall-Jackson red wine for 1,075 baht. I also had a margarita for 120 baht which was very good.

The food is simply outstanding. There was Caesar salad, which was the best Caesar salad I've had in Thailand. The chili was outstanding, with shredded steak and beans. We also had fried calamari, with a lovely sauce.

For entrees, Stan had the 10-ounce fillet mignon for 550 baht, which he declared to be excellent. Pui had an 18-ounce T-bone steak for 695 baht, which she absolutely loved... although at the size of a frisbee, she couldn't even eat half of it. Mem had pork chops for 295 baht. I of course had ribs.

The reason I wanted to come to GARC was to compare their ribs to Bob's (my best friend's) ribs. I had a half rack for 295 baht. I honestly do like Bob's ribs better: The meat comes off the bone more easily, and is more tender and better cooked. I also like Bob's bar-be-que sauce better.

However, at GARC, for the same price, you get ribs that are 50% larger than Bob's, with substantially more meat and fat on the bones. You may not be able to simply peel the meat off the bones with your fingers, but the meat isn't so tough as to be difficult (such as last week at Henry J. Bean's). The ribs were chewy but not gummy, and were overall very well-cooked.

So my conclusion regarding the ribs: I think that taste-wise, it comes down to personal preference; texture and tenderness go to Bob; the amount of meat you get goes to GARC.

Anyway, for dessert, I had a rare treat: A slice of pecan pie for 150 baht that was simply breath-taking. If you go to GARC, don't miss that.

The total was 4400 baht ($132), with tax and 10% tip already calculated into the bill.

So my impression? Excellent food... perfect. The staff was extremely capable, with English understood quite well. The ambiance was fabulous... although the picnic tables really should go and perhaps a higher wall should be built between the road and the restaurant, since the outdoor dining area seems to be the primary place to eat. The prices were reasonable for the amount of food you get. All in all: Highly recommended.

Friday Cat Blogging

My air conditioner drips, so I keep this bowl around to catch any water that might come out during the night. Pridi Kitty thought it looked like a good place for a nap.

Monks Arrested For Soliciting

It is unfortunate that this happens occasionally, but some monks from China were arrested for soliciting.

Most tourists don't realize this, but monks never solicit for donations. If a monk is ever seen begging or asking for money, he is most assuredly doing it without the knowledge of, or permission from, his temple. Most Thai people know this, but Westerners don't. To put it in perspective, it would be like an American soldier walking around in uniform, asking for donations so that the Army can buy a new tank.

Monks are only allowed to receive foodstuffs and possibly household goods as donations, and they only receive donations passively by walking the streets with silver bowls, or by invitation, and they pay for everything they receive with a blessing.

When temples do try to raise money, they do it through their parishoners, whom they send out with pamphlets explaining what the fundraiser is, and envelopes in which any money can be sealed.

(If you can add to what I have written above regarding donations and alms for temples and monks, please feel free to comment.)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Daily Report: Big Red Party

I overslept a little, and took my time getting to work. Early in the morning, my DSL internet connection went down, and — although I switched to dialup — my morning slowed down immensely as I spent half my time working, and half my time trying to figure out what had gone wrong with my connection.

Late in the afternoon, after a solid day of work (and after my DSL finally powered back up), I called it quits... short of my goal, but far beyond what would have been a sad-but-acceptable point just a few weeks ago.

Willie's new bungalow.
In the evening, it was off to visit Willie, who had spent the day moving out of his small, 5,000-baht-per-month bungalow, into a 7,000 baht-per-month ($210) bungalow. Two bedrooms, AC, hot water, and a big ol' kitchen out back... not a bad deal at all.

After that, it was off to Shooters where I met up with Bob, Stan, Navy Dave, Sam, Steve and Steve, and a fellow fresh from Iraq... Big Red. If you want to understand Big Red, imagine Slim Pickens plus red hair, and about 200 pounds heavier; piss-your-pants funny fellow, who was intent on inebriating the world, with him in it. He would pull the "shooter horn", while delivering the punch line, "My ass was clean, but the automatic tampon remover was a bitch!!!" (We rolled on the floor in laughter.)

At 8:30 p.m., I made the declaration that I was done drinking: As soon as my drink was empty, and there was not another drink on its way, I would walk out the door of the bar. At 10:15 p.m., after Big Red had floored most of the bar with shots (with the rest of the patrons making sure that there was always a vodka tonic in front of me), I begged my quarter, and dismissed myself from any further drinking.

I was home and climbing into bed shortly before midnight.

Thursday Babe Blogging

My girlfriend for the week is named "Jay". Unfortunately, Pui doesn't know anything in particular about her, so I'll just have to settle for name and face... which is more than enough, really.

Photo courtesy ofteenee.com.

The Dumbest American In Pattaya

An American was arrested in Pattaya for selling meth to feed his own drug habit.

If you are a drug addict, looking to enter in to the drug-dealing profession, then why — out of all the countries on the planet you could choose live in — why would you come to Thailand? Why not stay in America, where drug enforcement isn't as harsh? Why not go to Australia or England, where penalties aren't as stiff? Why not go to Europe, where addiction treatment options are more available? Why not at least go to Japan or Korea, where the prisons are better?

Thailand is not Malaysia or Indonesia, so this guy isn't facing the death penalty. Nonetheless, he's now looking at spending the next 10 years in one of the scariest places on earth: a Thai prison. Well, that will probably cure him of his addiction.

I know that drug addiction is a terrible thing that leaves a person with few choices in life; but to choose to pick up one's addiction and move to a country where the police dissappear the drug dealers and addicts they catch into a hellhole for periods of time measured in decades is the worst choice of all... almost a worse choice then getting addicted in the first place.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Daily Report #1795

I didn't oversleep today, but I spent most of the morning blogging, and so got to work late again. It's not a really bad thing though: Since getting back from America, every time I sit down to work, I go for 5 hours straight before taking a break... whereas it used to be half that beforehand.

I made egg drop soup for lunch. I still can't get it right... it's all about how you pour the eggs and the temperature of the broth. I'm going to have to go to a Chinese restaurant next time I'm back in America, and watch them do it before I figure it out.

In the evening, I watched "The Good Shepherd", which was alright.

Wednesday Pot Blogging

Pot at the beach this past Sunday.

Beware Fake and Criminal Police Volunteers

The new problem these days in Pattaya is with what I will call "sub-police" (i.e. Pattaya police volunteers, and other neighborhood watch type programs) and people who were formerly members of those groups using their position to either commit crimes, or to fight crime without official sanction.

Some criminals are merely claiming to be police volunteers in order to get their victims to cooperate to the point that it is too late. Some are actual members of the volunteer police force who decide to start carrying loaded firearms, which they are not allowed to do. Some police volunteers are causing accidents by chasing down criminals they are not even authorized to chase. And most naturally, some police volunteers are using the authority given to them to extort money from people here in Pattaya.

It goes without saying that a program like this is a bad idea. You can't create "law enforcement lite" out of ordinary civilians and expect them not to think of themselves as "sort of like police officers."

Fortunately, I have not read of an instance where a farang or tourist has had a run-in with one of these people... they seem to be creating problems only for Thai people so far. Still though, you should keep in mind that unless you are dealing with a fully-uniformed police officer, be wary of your situation. Also, let your Thai friends know this as well.

Anyway, City Hall is looking into the spate of crimes involving Pattaya Police Volunteers, and hopefully the program will be overhauled, or gotten rid of completely.

Beer Bar Owners Complain About Music Licenses

It happened to my friend Rick: While he was away from his bar one afternoon, the brother of one of the cashiers (the only fellow in the place at the time... no customers) was bored and decided to listen to some Thai music on the stereo.

In an instant, Thai police swooped in, and fined Rick's bar 50,000 baht for playing Thai music without a license. Non-Thai music? That's another license... and no matter what license you are trying to obtain, it's expensive.

Apparently Rick isn't the only one fed up with this licensing system. The Beer Bar Owners Association recently petitioned City Hall to make licensing easier and less expensive.

Classical Music Coming To Pattaya

There isn't too much Western-style classical music in Thailand... especially in Pattaya, and as I am a fan, any time such an event comes to town, I will mention it here. (This is the first time I've seen classical music in Pattaya, so...)

if you are interested, on August 12th at the Bai Hali pier, local high school bands will be performing some music. Turn up and give your support to the arts if you can.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Daily Report #1794

I forget to set my alarm before going to bed last night. Then, at about 2:00 a.m. I had one of my once-a-month itching fits. I don't know what causes it... I assume it is allergies of some kind, but my entire body — but especially my hands — itch like crazy for about an hour.

Therefore, when the morning rolled around, I didn't get out of bed until 10:00, and didn't get to work until 10:30. However, I put in a good 6 hours of typing before my first break at 4:30, when I had Bob's tacos for lunch.

Unfortunately, by the time to get back to work came around, I had lost all my momentum, and didn't feel like working anymore. Instead, I watched "Evan Almighty" on DVD... which is a sequel to "Bruce Almighty". Totally dumb movie.

Can't Help Myself: More Top Gear Videos

Fastest production car on the planet: Driving the $1.7 million, 1000 horsepower, 250 MPH Bugatti Veryon at it's top speed.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Daily Report #1793

I slept in today. Fact is, if there is no work for me on Sunday here in Thailand (that would be Saturday night into Sunday morning in America), then come Monday morning (Sunday night to Monday morning in America), then there really really is nothing to do.

I did get to work though at 11:00 a.m., and slogged through 7 hours of backwater hospital accounts that I am totally unfamiliar with. Most of them seemed to be in Texas. I can figure out the speech of Indian doctors, Chinese doctors, and even Russian and Greek doctors talking with their thick accents... but give me a Texas doctor dictating orthopedic operative reports with his drawl, while half is mind is focused on watching the midnight re-run of "COPS" (Bad boys! Whatcha gonna do?) and I'm just eff-ing tortured.

"The limb was exsanguinated and the tourniquet inflated..." Do you know why I pulled you over? "...incision was used with an extension proximally 2 cm and distally 2 cm to expose..." Is there anything in the car I should know about? "...well encapsulated with 3 to 4 mm capsule thickness..." OK... there's a warrant out for your arrest, did you know that? "...there was some hemosiderin-laden fluid contained..." Berry-25, we've got a runner. FREEZE! "...central and proximal portion resection ..." [siren] woo-woo-woo "...involved removal of some of the patellar tendon and retinaculum..."

Pui's brother is on his way back to Pattaya. I'm actually happy to have him back. He's generally not a problem so far, but Pui thinks he is... therefore, she assumes that I must think he is a problem too, and I'm just being polite by keeping that fact to myself, which in turn makes her all lovey-dovey, because I'm exhibiting the great behavior of "chai dee" and "chai yen" (the good heart, and the cool heart), and most importantly, the practice of "ao chai" (the caring heart) for her family.

It's all the benefits of a good deed, with none of the effort. Gotta love it.

Why The World Loves Top Gear

Very few people in America have heard of the BBC program "Top Gear", which has been test-driving cars and entertaining (mostly male) audiences for a very long time. The amusing running comentary of the hosts, along with their testing methods and testosterone-fueled antics is probably the reason why the show is easily the most popular program about cars on the planet.

So, notwithstanding the comment about American tanks in this video, here we have one of the guys from Top Gear test driving a Range Rover by going over hill and dale to avoid getting blown up by a tank. (There are many more Top Gear videos on YouTube if you are interested... just do a search.)

(You have to love a show where the host has enough presence of mind to talk about the "sports cruise suspension" with a 50-ton killing machine bearing down on him.)

Bonus track: Porsche roadster versus Mercedes roadster — avoiding army snipers.

Monday Vinnie Blogging

Vincent lazing about in the grass with his mom.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Daily Report: Beach Analysis

I woke up today, and all of my usual accounts at work were empty, and I was pretty much fine with that, as I had put in 7 very good days over the past week, and needed a break.

The first stop of the day was the beach with Mike and Riza, where I had my usual feast: 500 baht worth of crab (about 2½ pounds, I would guess), beer, and chips. The water was perfect today... nice and cool, and as clean as you can get on the Eastern Seaboard of Thailand.

The water and beach quality really has everything to do with beach location: Currents and wind push everything in this part of the Gulf of Thailand south and east. Therefore, all the sediment in the water gets pushed south. With most of the Eastern Seaboard scalloped into wide, rounded bays, all of the shit in the water ends up deposited at the south end of the bays. The bays get shallower at that end, and thus have less water volume, which is heated more by the sun. Thus, the worst places to go to the beach are the south part of Pattaya, and Bang Saray, south of Jomtien.

Conversely, the best places to go to the beach are on the promontories at the very beginning of the bays at the north ends of Pattaya and Jomtien... where you are further out into the ocean, more distant from the runoff, and — with the southeasterly flow of wind and water — at the starting point for sediment pickup and takeaway. The water gets more deep more quickly in these areas, and thus is cooler than other beaches in the area as well. (The bonus part is that these beaches are also not very popular, crowded, or frequented by vendors.)

After the beach, it was back home for a quick clean up, and then Pui (who got all dolled up) and I were out for the evening. Our first stop was actually going to be Oasis, on Soi Buakhao, but I decided to skip it. That turned out to be a near-miss, as Stan and Mark were in there also, unbeknownst to me. Instead, we went straight to Shooters to hang around with Bob and Sam. I had some of Bob's Poker Chip hamburgers (6 of them for 180 baht), and a John Smith's Ale.

After Shooters, I went over to TQ2, where I met up with Steve ("B2"), Eric, Stan, and Mark. Shooters was hosting the most recent Mermaids dive school post-graduation party, so the place was packed to the gills... although the music requests were grating.

Regarding Russ's and Wood's recent visit to the Soi 9 monkey house, the word is that it was a disgruntled ex-employee, angry at her recent loss of opportunities to steal out of the cash register. (Not, as Bob had surmised, due to TQ2's popularity; and most certainly not, as one reader at Pattaya Secrets had suggested, due to another bar owner's jealousy.) It's all been hashed out, and Russ is back to his old tricks, keeping the party going at TQ2.

Anyway, it was a regular blow-out at TQ2, and it wasn't long before Stan declared the place overpopulated, and we headed over to Champion for a drink. All bars go through cycles with their girls, attendance, and popularity. TQ2 is at the top of it's swing, with very good looking girls, huge crowds, and immense popularity. Sad to say, Champion is taking this low season off, and is just taking a break from being the place to see and be seen. Oh well. Hopefully in the next few months, the owner, Mr. Jew, will turn things around.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Daily Report: Out For Fun Without Jil

Saturday means the highest paying day of work for me: I'm on a graduated pay scale, so the end of the week pays twice as much as the beginning. In addition, there is my 20% "overnight" bonus, a 5% "weekend" bonus, plus overtime pay on top of all that.

Therefore, when Pui headed out to go swimming at Pattaya Park with Kak, Willi, Da, Pot, Sara, Bird, and Gong, I was left behind to work. That's the way it goes sometimes.

Anyway, while I was at home working, Pot and Sarah had a great time together, and Pui spent the day nattering with her friends. (After Pattaya Park, it was back to Kak's house to eat, and then over to Rick's Bar with Da to drink.)

I spent the morning and afternoon having a great day working. I had a calzone for lunch, and just some pumpkin seeds and a beer for dinner, while sitting in front of the TV watching "Battlestar Galactica."

Friday, July 20, 2007

Henry J. Bean's Restaurant Review

Not quiet enough, not American enough.

Henry J. Bean's, located at
the North end of Beach Road
at the Amari Resort Hotel
Henry J. Bean's is one of those restaurants that you go past, and instantly form several assumptions about the place. Nestled in the lap of the towering Amari resort hotel, sitting on a broad lawn at the respectable end of Beach Road, looking not at all unlike a Confederate plantation manor, you can guess the place is a pricey, fancy, themed, tourist-targeted restaurant.

Henry J Bean's is definitely a theme restaurant, but it sort of misses the mark: Gas-station chic is the look they were going for, with shiny new (but artificially distressed) Shell Oil and World-War-2 era Coke advertisements... a vision of 50's America that never really existed, and... admidst the fancy architecture and cabinetry... is a look that seems even more misplaced.

The clientele on the night I was there was primarily Thai people. (Tourists probably head for more "local" restaurants, and the expatriate crowd obviously have their reasons for not coming.) My guess is that this restaurant (with its Fillipino band) is the starting-off spot for well-to-do Thai people, before heading for the locals' nightspots on Third Road.

The band was good, and the music was
fine, but Stan and I, sitting next to each
other, had to talk in almost a shout in
order to hear ourselves talk.
The main restaurant is a big two-level ampitheater facing a stage. First law of Henry J. Bean's: If you are going there to eat, and you see the band on the stage, turn around and come back another time... if you feel like having a conversation. The music selection was fine (lots of oldies), and the band was talented, but the volume was far too loud for a restaurant. (However, knowing Thai people as I do... who seem to be the restaurant's primary patrons... I'm sure the volume was just right.) If you do come in and want to eat while the band is playing, head to the bar section, and around to the right: There is a seating section there, which is the only place in the restaurant that is not "right next to the speakers".

The prices were a little expensive, but I was prepared for higher. Most of the entrees are around 250-400 baht. However, drinks are pricey, with small (0.25L) draft beers being 100 baht, and mixed drinks 160 baht.

Stan had the extra-large steak (Stan always has steak) for 550 baht, which he said was fine... but still insists Cafe New Orleans has the best steak in Pattaya. I had pumpkin soup for an appetizer (180 baht) which was very good, and the "ribs & wings" platter for a price of (I think... sorry... lost my notes) 280 baht.

The ribs (with chicken wings hidden
underneath) were not as good as Bob's,
which are not rubbery or tough.
Unfortunately, I didn't like the ribs very much. The meat was rubbery, and had to be pried off the bone with straining teeth and both hands, and was soaked with a thick, solid layer of bar-be-que sauce hiding any other taste. (However, the ribs that they used sure were bigger, meatier, and altogether different than Bob's. I'll have to ask him about that.)

The girls ate from the Thai menu, and had pork bits and vegetables for 250 baht.

The bill in total (6 drinks, 1 appetizer, and 3 entrees) came to 2,185 baht, tax and tip added in beforehand. A little bit expensive (mostly because of the drinks) and definitely far from the best meal deal in town. Add to that the loud music; service that, while satisfactory, was not outstanding; the tacky decor; and the food that was pretty much average... and you have a restuarant that you can go ahead and leave to the rich Thai people, who don't know any better.

(After dinner, Stan and I headed back to his house, where we polished off the bottle of Bully Hill Foch red wine that I brought back from America. Now that was nice.)


"Last night, the Senate held an all-night session, and Senator Hillary Clinton gave a speech at four in the morning. Apparently, it was the first time Hillary gave a speech at four in the morning that didn't start with, 'Where the hell have you been?'"

Conan O'Brien

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Thursday Babe Blogging

Today's babe is Nampung... which is the Thai word for "honey". She's is an actress here in Thailand. Pui tells me that she's gained a little weight since these photos were taken. I think we can forgive her for that.

Photo courtesy of teenee.com.

Daily Report: A Vacationing Work Day

I was up nice and early, got to work nice and early, and had two-thirds of a work-day finished by 1:00 in the afternoon.

Willie came over for lunch, and we had "nem nuoung" takeout again from Vientiane Restaurant, along with some chicken and fried rice... along with beer. After that, we went down to the pool, and sat around soaking all afternoon, until we couldn't be soaked any more... along with beer. Then, we went back to the house, and watched some Discovery Channel and listened to music... along with beer.

At 7:00, we drove over to Shooters, and hung out with Bob and ate Mexican food... along with coke-cola. (I was way full with beer by that time.)

Home early, and in bed at a reasonable hour, as per usual.

TQ2 Visited By Boys In Brown

It seems that sometime around midnight last night, two undercover police officers paid a visit to TQ2. Shortly thereafter, the boys in brown came in and did their duty. However, with all the things in TQ2 that might pique the interest of the authorities, the only person the police seemed to be interested in was Farang manager Russ, for working in Thailand without a work permit, and Thai manager Wood, apparently for hiring Russ.

I'm inclined to agree with Bob: It sounds like somebody is jealous of the fact that TQ2 is the most popular joint in town now. Too bad.

It looks like it was an ex-employee angry about the loss of her ability to steal from the cash register who turned Russ in.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Daily Report: Tic-Tac Heaven

I woke Pui up so that she could get Pot ready for school at 7:00 this morning. She seemed her regular chipper self on the outside, though an occasional grimace let me know that she was a bit sore on the inside. She did wonder where the noodles left on the kitchen table came from.

Midway through the morning, Pui came up and closed my office door, apologizing in advance for cooking some really stinky food downstairs. That's right: If you are a Thai person and your head is throbbing from a hangover, what's the first thing you want to put in your stomach? Food that smells like a cross between dirty socks and vomit.

Work went okay today. Only got about three-quarters of the way through my morning goals, and about two-thirds of the way through my evening goals. Still though... about double what it takes for me to call it a "bad" day of work. I had my standard "I can't think of anything to eat for lunch" meal of spaghetti with chicken meat sauce.

In the evening, Pot and I went to 7-11, where I picked up some beer and nuts to wind down my evening. I forget how easy it is to spend time with your kids. I'm always planning great weekend adventures and activities, but Pot is as easy as any other kid: A 15-minute jaunt to the local convenience store to get a box of Tic-Tacs is as good as life gets for a 5-year-old.

Titty Delete

Today, the Thai government passed a law that gives the police broad new powers over computer crime. Most notably is the ability of the police — without a warrant — to enter any house if they have "reasonable suspicion" that there is pornography on the computers that are inside.

Reasonable suspicion? As far as I know, the only reasons computers exist is to store porn. I reasonably suspect that pretty much every computer in Pattaya has at least some porn on it... well... except my own computers, of course.

OK fellas... you've been warned: Delete the illegal titties you've been staring at on your computer, and go to the nearest GoGo bar and stare at the legal titties instead.

P.S. On the same day this law is passed, YouTube is unblocked in Thailand. I'll bet you that The Watchers — now with the power of this new law behind them — want to test out their new SpySoft 2.0 software.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Daily Report: Shots Galore

I was up at 9:00, and started working at 9:30, straight through to 3:00. I had Maid Go make chicken lo mein for lunch, which was good. After that, I went back to work from 4:30 to 6:30.

This evening, Pui and I went out. It had been raining, and the roads were wet. Pui refuses to ride on the back of my big Tiger scooter when the roads are wet because, as good as the bike is, it has the flaw of kicking up bits of mud from the wet road, and depositing them on the back of the rear passenger. Therefore I drove Pui's little Nouvo for the night.

Little bits of moisture still hung in the air as we pulled out of the house to drive in to Pattaya... and I didn't think much of it. However, by the time we reached Sukhumvit Road, a steady drizzle was falling. It wouldn't have been much of a problem, except that the rain parka that I keep in my motorcycle was still in my motorcycle back at home. By the time we got to Shooters, I was soaking wet. Fortunately, Pui, sitting behind me, didn't get very wet.

This picture of Franky sums
up the evening nicely.
At Shooters, Pui and I joined Bob, Ray, Franky, and a friend of his from Arizona in getting some partying done. I started off by buying a round of Alabama Slammers (Pui included), and then Bob bought a round of "Liquid Cocaine" shots (Pui included), and then came B-52s (Pui included)... well, they don't call it "Shooters" for nothing. You pull the big truck horn, and buy 6 shots for 500 baht. Bob also put out some free food... hot bar-be-que ham sandwiches on his home-made bread, along with some vegetables pickled in jalapeno brine.

TQ2 always puts up banners for its
regular customers returns or departures
from the Land of Smiles.
Unfortunately, the rain picked up in intensity and became a full-fledged downpour while we were at Shooters, so there was nothing left to do but stay and drink for a while longer. However, at about 9:30 or so, the rain let up, and Pui and I, Ray, and Franky and his friends went over to TQ2 for Stan's welcome-home party.

There was a big sign out, and Manager Russ had bought a big pile of food. Unfortunately, the steady rain kept the party a little smaller than it otherwise would have been... but there was still quite a crowd. Russ and Stan bought drinks for everybody (Pui included), and I bought a round of Kamikazes for the bar (Pui included).

Pui won't remember this picture
when she wakes up tomorrow.
I finally (after looking at the sad state of Pui) called it a night at about 10:30, and drove Pui home. She wanted to stop to buy some noodles to eat once she got home, but after arriving, put the noodles down on the kitchen table, and went straight upstairs to bed. Sorry honey: You've got the partying spirit, but only 90 pounds to carry it in.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Pirated Movie Vendors Busted

Pattaya is one of the world capitals of pirated movies. The opportunities to buy copied DVDs of even the most recent Hollywood hits for 100 baht are all around you, from movie-filled-backpack-laden folks who walk from bar stool to bar stool, to market vendors with thousands of titles, to street-side stalls in locations from the most distant Sois out past Sukhumvit Road to semi-permanent large operations with alphabetically-arranged catalogs right on Beach Road. The police drive by them and walk by them on a regular basis and — trust me on this — they don't do anything.

However, should a vendor have the audacity to put a pirated Thai film up for sale in his booth or stall... then you can be pretty sure that person has only minutes of freedom left before the police, the super-secret Property Rights Special Forces Team, and the governor of Chonburi himself, will swoop down and crush the evil pirateer before he can steal a red penny from a Thai film maker. (Air support via Apache attack helicopter may or may not be present for the takedown, depending on wind conditions.)

Daily Report #1792

I slept in this morning until 10:00. I was actually up at 5:00, but saw that there wasn't a whole lot of work to do, and what work was there could wait... so I put in another 5 hours. That came to about 11 hours total sleep last night: I guess I was tired. I'm about 99% over the bug that I had a few days ago.

It was an awful day, weather-wise in Pattaya today. Anyplace else, you would look out the window and see weather like we had today, with the muted grey burly clouds and the winds rustling the trees, and shiver with just the thought of the chill that must be out there. There was no rain... it just remained an ugly gray day, all day long.

I worked from 11:00 to 3:00, and then had Maid Go pick up some of Bob's Mexican for me: 4 El Pastor tacos plus rice and beans for 120 baht... not bad.

After that, I put in another 4 hours of work.

Pui and Maid Go are out at Rick's school tonight for the free English classes. Rick has a school that trains kids who are fresh out of college (or not-so-fresh) how to be English teachers. (He also guarantees them a job upon completion of his course.) Pui and Go show up to the school to be guinea pig English students for Rick's pupils to practice on.

Rumor About Car-For-Hire Ban at Suvarnabhumi

This one falls in the "I Can't Confirm It" category...

Stan just got back to Thailand today. Upon arriving Suvarnabhumi Airport, he tells me that the driver he had called to pick up him up was being hassled by the police... along with all of the other independent drivers arriving to pick up people at the airport.

Apparently, what was happening was the standard Thai situation: When big businesses (i.e. the taxi companies that charge 2,500 baht for a ride to Pattaya) start losing money to the little guys (i.e. the fellows who charge 1,500 baht or less for a ride to Pattaya), big businesses call the police to put the little guys out of business.

So: If you are going into Suvarnabhumi Airport, Stan wants me to pass along the fact that you and your driver should plan on finding a way to recognize each other in a fashion other than your driver holding up a sign with your name on it... because apparently that attracts the wrong kind of attention... and if asked by anyone if you already have a car, you should probably tell them that your friend is coming to pick you up. Regardless... if this is true, I'm sure that every driver going into and out of Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok will have figured out how to handle the situation, and will inform you appropriately.

Have To Disagree Here

Oscar Pistorius is an amazing person. He was born without fibulae in his legs. However, with modern technology, he was not only able to overcome an inability to walk... but has become a faster runner than nearly everybody on the planet. In fact, he recently ran the 400-meters in an attempt to qualify for the Beijing Olympics.

I would have to disgree with allowing a handicapped runner to compete against "normal" (and I use the word "normal" with no disrespect to Mr. Pistorius) runners when he requires special technology in order to run: Sports are primarily about the human body coupled with human skill. Any equipment used in sport is generally available to all participants alike... or otherwise is not directly related to participation in the sport itself.

If a runner wins a race primarily because he was born with huge, long, strong legs, that's simply (amazingly) a variant of the human body that gave him his success. If a runner wins a race because he was born without legs and the prosthetic legs that he uses can propel him faster than he might (I emphasize "might") have been able to run if born with legs, that is not a variant of the human body, but a variant of technology not available to other competitors.

The technology that has granted Oscar Pistorius such a wonderful ability has brought him within seconds of qualifying for the Olympics. That is a wonderful and incredible thing when you ponder it briefly. However, who is to say that improvements in this prosthetic technology in the future won't eventually allow him to win the Olympics? What will happen then... when the best way to win the 400-meters in the Olympics is by having prosthetic legs?

Therein lies the problem: It won't be "the best human body" winning at running, but "the best technology"... and when that technology is not available to all participants — short of voluntary amputation — it is an unfair advantage.

Lessons We Seem Doomed To Repeat

In war, it helps a soldier's conscience to think of the enemy as only "the enemy", and not as a person, or as a human. That is what soldiers did in Viet Nam, and that is what soldiers are doing in Iraq. Of course, "winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people" is kind of hard to do when you look at them as vermin.

Within weeks of allegedly being scolded, seven Marines and a Navy corpsman went out late one night to find and kill a suspected insurgent...

Unable to find him, the Marines and corpsman dragged another man from his house, fatally shot him, and then planted an AK-47 assault rifle near the body to make it appear he had been killed in a shootout, according to court testimony.

Four Marines and the corpsman, initially charged with murder in the April 2006 killing, have pleaded guilty to reduced charges and been given jail sentences. ...

Lopezromo, who was not part of the squad on its late-night mission, said he saw nothing wrong with what Thomas did.

"I don't see it as an execution, sir," he told the judge. "I see it as killing the enemy."

He said Marines consider all Iraqi men part of the insurgency. ...

Lopezromo said a procedure called "dead-checking" was routine. If Marines entered a house where a man was wounded, instead of checking to see whether he needed medical aid, they shot him to make sure he was dead, he testified.

"If somebody is worth shooting once, they're worth shooting twice," he said.

The lesson for today: In modern warfare, you can have a fighting force, or you can have a peace-keeping force... but you cannot have a force fighting for peace: If one fellow is trying to kill you, it is impossible to treat a similar fellow in a similar situation the next day with respect and compassion. It's simply too much to ask of any person... even a Marine.

Monday Vinnie Blogging

This was not a tumble. This was Vinnie at his baptism breakfast deciding that he wanted to take a nap. He sat down cross-legged on the floor, thought about it for a second, and then... thud... just tipped over frontwards.