Friday, September 08, 2006

Pictures (and global warming)

I hope that some of you have noticed that my BLOG has not been working perfectly for the past few weeks. Specifically, when you click on a picture, you are supposed to get a new browser window with a full size version of that pic in it. Without that feature, the Blog is pretty lame since you can't see what it is that caused me to say whatever I say in the text.

Well, I finally got the HTML code figured out and I've updated my most recent posting to let you see the full sized pics. Take a look and enjoy. If this ever happens again, you can always see my pics at my photo album which is linked in the right hand column.

Now to Global Warming.

On the flight back from Bangkok I got to watch Al Gore's movie, "An Inconvenient Truth." I'd never pay to see it, but since it was "free" on the flight, I figured I'd take a look.

I was surprised at the amount and quality of the facts Gore uses in drawing his conclusions. One fact in particular was that the US is the largest contributor to the CO2 levels measured in the upper atmosphere.

I was surprised, because in general, our pollution is much less severe than that of Bangkok, Mexico City and the most populace regions of China. But I am not ready to dispute the fact cited, what I wanted to discuss are the difference in life style that is apparent to me after visiting some of these other places.

Vehicle Emissions: The US EPA is apparently doing a pretty good job on vehicle emissions since we don't generally see billowing smoke coming out of vehicles here like you would in other places. Diesel engines abroad are particularly noticable, but even the 100cc motorcycles smoke more than we are used to seeing. So my question is that if our individual vehicle emissions are less noticable, why are we polluting more? Dunno.

Vehicle size: Ok, this is a real possiblility. There are no SUV's in Asia. Well, there are, but not many. Gas costs 27 Baht/Liter, about $3/gallon or twice what we pay. The result is the first of the lifestyle differences I noticed. All the cars are smaller, and there are fewer PER CAPITA than here. Notice I said fewer per capita. It is not uncommon for a family of four here in the US to have 2, 3, 4 or even more cars. Brenda and I have two cars and two motorcycles - FOR A FAMILY OF TWO. In Bangkok you have to make special arrangments with your landlord if you have more than two vehicles because they won't have anywhere to park them. In our building, it costs an extra 3,000 Baht/month if you have two cars instead of just one. So do we have more cars. I think maybe we do, and they are bigger and use more gas. There are tons of 100cc motorcycles in Bangkok because they go forever on a liter of gas. Are we prepared to sacrifice the convenience of each of us having our own car and it being a really big one? I don't know..... I drive a full size F-150 4WD.

Commuting distance: I think we drive further to work than our counterparts elswhere. Brenda's commute to work in Bangkok is less than 8 miles. Most other places we have lived, her commute was at least 15 miles, and usually further. The thing that surprised me was that most Thais that we talked to thought an 8 mile commute was way too long. Not a little too long, but WAY too long. Hmmmmm.

Air Conditioning: It is hot in Bangkok. Maybe hotter than Houston. It is about the same lattitude as Cancun so you be the judge. At any rate, A/C is pretty much a necessity, at least for me. But the Thais are different. They actually prefer non-air conditioned space a lot of the time. While waiting for a cab, I suggested to my Thai companion that we step inside the building where it was cooler.

She complied but laughed and said "it's too cold in there." So I started noticing that the Thais were not sweating as they walked on the streets. And none of the servants quarters in the apartments we looked at were air conditioned. Each place had a small maid's quarters that also housed the washing machine, and all were open to the outside air. Not openable... OPEN. So I conclude that the Thai's are accustomed to the heat, and they prefer it to the high electric bills that result from full time A/C. Even in the apartments designed for the tastes of ex-patriots, the A/C is never a central unit like we have here. Each room has its own A/C, similar to those you see in Hotels these days. And most of the Expats I talked to admitted that they do not run the AC during the day, only at night, and only in rooms being used for sleeping. Electricity costs about twice as much there as here also. Are we ready to sacrifice some A/C? Dunno.

Refrigerators: Need I go into this? They are small compared to ours. And in the grocrery stores, the eggs are not refrigerated. After all, they were just on the farm this morning. Lots of other stuff is subjected to the heat of the day instead of the fridge too. Are we ready.....?

So in my mind, it is possible that despite our vehicle emissions standards, the US may be the largest contributor to CO2 related pollution. I still prefer the lifestyle here. I think we could adjust some, maybe alot. But I sure do like having the ability to pick and choose where I adjust, and as long as I can pay the price, I think I'll continue making my own choices. Is that selfish? dunno. Is it more or less selfish than the third world countries that refuse to invest in cleaner vehicles like we have? Maybe it's just a case of "Pick your poison."


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A fine day for a walk

Today’s long walk resulted in the sighting of two elephants, an Erawan statue, and a Harley shop, along with a short ride on a 100 cc motorcycle. Not a bad day.

I left the hotel and paid 24 Baht (65 cents) to board the subway system and ride a few miles to the Thailand Cultural Center where I headed back up to the heat of the Bangkok streets. I’ve mentioned before that I prefer to walk when I can for a variety of reasons. This walk however tested that resolve. Adding to the heat of the equatorial latitude, the uncertainty of my destination and the difficulty of validating my progress began to wear on me after about an hour of trekking. The total trip was four hours including a one hour lunch.

A note about Bangkok maps…. There are so many streets in Bangkok, there is no way to make an accurate map that can be both carried, and read.

A note about Bangkok street signs…. Hmmmmm a picture is worth how much?

If you are lucky you’ll find a sign with English spelling for the street name. It might say something like Rachada Phisek, or Ratchadapisek. Either spelling is “same same” here because both are wrong so it doesn’t matter how wrong, really. But if you are looking for a two word sign, a one word sign may just slip past your radar as your overloaded senses scan for anything recognizable.

More often than not, you will find road signs like the ones shown here. Note that not only can you not read what is there, but the assumption is that you only need to know the cross street. Only an imbecile (or Farang) would not know the name of the street on which he is walking. I rarely knew.

No matter how you have decided to pronounce those street names in the comfort of your home, or the sweltering streets of Bangkok, you will not be understood, by a Thai. No less than three times, I stopped to check my progress and asked a Thai “Rhachada Pisek?” while pointing in what I thought to be the most probable direction. In each case the very friendly Thai would look puzzled and after a while he would say “Where you go?” I repeated “Rachada Pisek” and he again looked puzzled. After a while, he’d say “Rachada Pisek?” in as near as I could tell, exactly the same way that I said it. After confirmation, he happily pointed in the direction I expected while speaking to his friend in Thai. Invariably, an argument between the two Thais ensued while they debated what must have been the various ways to reach Rachada Pisek road. Finally after a couple of minutes they would pronounce together “You hire motorcycle.” Each time save one, I proceeded on foot, in my “best guess” direction.

The one time that I did not proceed is worth mentioning because I happened to approach three auto mechanics in their shop. The shop is most closely described as a stall, sort of like the stalls at the flea markets around Houston. But the guys were very anxious to help. They talked for minutes to try and determine where I wanted to go. They looked at all three of my maps and finally one of them went over to a 100cc motorcycle and cranked it up. He motioned for me to get on and we headed out… into oncoming traffic. Motorcycle cabs are all over Bankok and they are great (I’m told) for getting from one end of a lane to another, trips of a mile or two. But this wasn’t a cab, it was just the guy’s commuter vehicle and he was taking me where I wanted to go. Well, he would’ve if he had known where to go. It turns out that we were less than a quarter mile from my destination, but none of the mechanics knew where it was. It was a Harley shop, near an embassy. Hmmmm how low profile are the HD shops around here anyway? For that matter, how low profile are the embassies?

My new friend stopped and asked directions twice, made two u-turns (into oncoming traffic) and finally got me to Power Station Motor Sports (whew.) I was convinced that I was on a taxi at that time, so I hopped off and offered to pay the guy. He waved me off in true biker fashion and sped off (sort of) on his way back to work.

Is it hard to get around Bangkok? Only if you care where you go. Is it fun? Yup.

By the way, if you want something better than a hamburger, ask for prawn fried rice.

They will also bring you a cup of this sauce. Be VERY careful in trying the sauce.

This will be my last post from Bangkok for awhile. We head home tomorrow morning. But stay tuned, we’ll be back here no later than October and I’ll resume my struggles in Asia.


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A couple of pics

Walking around Thailand can be pretty intense. Thais hate to walk (a Thai told me that) so the vehicular traffic is heavy, and the roads are narrow once you get off the main drags which you don't want to walk on either. So, while walking, you spend quite a bit of time looking for the next car that might come very close to you. Thai's are excellent and confident drivers. They have no qualms about allowing their bumper to approach within a couple of inches of your knee. After all, it is a BUMPER.

Exhaust fumes can also be noticable. Maybe more than noticible. The police that have to stand in intersections to direct traffic usually wear masks over their nose to avoid breathing fumes. Still it's really not that bad as polluted cities go. In Mexico city a few years back, my eyes burned and my throat was sore from the pollution. Not so here. You'll notice the fumes from time to time, but it is not at that critical point where you want to go home.

But walking most anywhere has its rewards. You get the feel for the city, the lay of the land and sometimes you see some surprising sights. The picture above was taken along narrow road that we would call an alley in the US. Nothing much to see down that road except a hedge of these flowers. Nice.

Finally for today, the panorama above is the view from our hotel window. The Sofitel Central hotel is located at the northern extent of the city and our room faces East. It may be hard to make out, as I have never found that panoramic photos ever do the subject justice, but look closely and you will see an interesting mix of highrise office and apartment buildings, parks, lowrise condos and one to four story single family homes. There is no zoning in this city. First come, first serve.

Be sure to note the likeness of the king on some of the buildings. The king is well loved here. From the apparent age of the king in these images, you'd never guess that he is 73 years old. He has been on the throne for more than 60 years. They say that there is no place in Thailand that this king has not set foot. And everywhere he goes, he trys to make life better for Thais. A long list of Royal Projects, including hospitals, schools, water wells and diversion canals have earned this king undying loyalty.

Long live King Bhumibol Adulyadej.


Monday, September 04, 2006

Two posts in one day???

I just wanted everyone to see what "Sugar" (Ron R) would look like if he had been born in Thailand.

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oVo's a very very very fine house.

Our House…. it’s a very very very fine house………(the Beatles oops, I mean Crosby Stills Nash & Young)
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The primary purpose of our trip this time was to find a place to live, an apartment in downtown Bangkok. It looks like we finally got that done today, in a low-rise, ultra-modern place called Park Thonglor (ton-lor, the h and the g are silent).

The choices for rental property in downtown Bangkok are pretty open. We looked at everything from a 450 cubic meter townhouse to a 150 cubic meter apartment. There are bigger and smaller, high rise and single family. Most of these places though, required a pretty serious re-calibration of our expectations.

For instance, in the USA social events, family visiting and most everything else centers on the kitchen. US kitchens are correspondingly spacious and very well equipped. But in Bangkok a maid/cook is paid about $200 to $250 US per month to come in 5 days a week to keep the house clean and cook the meals. To make this an even more attractive option, the compensation packages provided to Ex-pats by US employers invariably provide an allowance toward the housekeeping expense. In other words, the maid/cook is free to us. In such an environment, the kitchen takes on much less importance because no matter how well equipped, it is the cook’s job to prepare the meals and clean up afterwards. So do you need a dishwasher? No. Do you need a 6 burner stovetop? No. And in fact, the more of that stuff you have, the more it costs you to have your meal because electricity to run appliances is very expensive. It’s cheaper to let the maid clean the dishes by hand. Same deal for a clothes dryer. It’s cheaper to have the maid Line dry the clothes in her quarters (all the apartments have maids quarters.)

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So with a bit of re-calibration, we settled on a place that is less than half the size of our home in Houston. Since it is such a long trip from the US to come visit us in Bangkok, we figured we needed only one spare bedroom (instead of 3.) And since the apartment has a fitness center, fully equipped with weights, treadmills, stair steppers, steam room sauna etc. we don’t need a room for that. We also have a garden with Coi ponds, gazebo’s, panoramic views, waterfalls and a pool, all without good old Mike having to pull a single weed. We did look at much larger places, but in the end, we decided that less in more in this case and we think we made a pretty decent choice. Time will tell.

So the primary purpose of our trip is complete, and after a little fussing with details like security deposits and rent (in advance) we’ll be ready to move in around November 1.
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Y’all come….


Sunday, September 03, 2006

Jatujak Market

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The largest open air market in the world is here in Bangkok. Jatujak Market (also spelled Chatuchak) is on the North end of the city and covers acres and acres of land with all sorts of booths of food, clothes, home decorating items, plants.... probably whatever you want. Our experience there today was enlightening. We have been told that there is a "Thai price" and a "Farang price" (farang = foreigner) for everything here. We certainly believe that to be the case at Jatujak. We didn't buy much (anything) but is was still alot of fun to walk around and see the people, and the stuff for sale. It was even fun to ask for a price and then offer less only to be rebuffed by an offended looking Thai. I know they weren't offended, but the game has to be played.


Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Land of Smiles

Thailand is loosely translated "The Land of Smiles." While it is not unusual for locals to treat visitors well while the visitors are in the tourist areas, we were pleased today to be treated exceptionally well by locals to whom we paid no money for goods or services. Just nice people on the street that stopped to answer our questions and pantomimes when we got lost or weren't sure what to do next. It was great.

We had no realtor or any other type of escort today. It was the first time since we've been here that we have been left completely on our own. We had a leisurely breakfast followed by a map session to figure out where to go and how to go there. We decided to make our way back to a couple of the top places that we are considering as our new home over here, just to see how they look without a realtor breathing down our necks.

We walked though a nearby shopping center called Central Market. After a bit of exploring there and a pizza, we headed to the street to find a cab that could take us to the sky train. We got turned around a bit and found ourselves in a paid parking lot with no way out. A security guard saw us and walked about 100 meters without being asked and pantomimed with us until he figured that we were looking for a cab. Within 30 seconds he had stopped a cab and asked where we wanted to go. I pointed at a map and he translated for the driver so we were off.

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Forty Baht later (about $1.25) we were near one of our aparments and on foot again. We walked around, got the feel for the neighborhood and decided to go check another place clear across town. To do that, we wanted to ride the skytrain (BTS). Unfortunately we didn't really know where it was so an hour and three helpful Thais later we got to the station. For 35 Baht ($1) we rode pretty much completely through town to our destination. Take a look at the pic to see how attractive a $1 ride across town is here. It's not just the Farangs (foreigners) that find this mode of transportation convenient. This was a six car train and every car looked just like this pic.

We got out at Sukhumvit 31 and walked around some more, making our way to 555 Soi Sukhuvit 55, the address of Park Thonglor Tower in the posh section of town preferred by Ex-patriots. It is nice along Sukhumvit, and expensive, but we think we will probably end up living in this section of town. We tried to make ourselves comfortable in a more Thai area of Bangkok, but I have to be honest; it is intimidating to be in a part of the world that not only does not speak or understand English, but that uses a completely different alphabet, based on Sanscrit. The Thai areas don't have any signs that I can read, and while it is exotic, after just a little bit of trying to buy lunch in such a place, panic finds its way into your mind and you begin to search for something, anything familiar. Sukhumvit has english language translations on road signs, stores and even on merchandise. There are even Starbucks.

So we'll probably take a less adventurous path to our lives in Bangkok, but it is still Bangkok and there will be adventure to spare, so I think it will continue to be fun.

Gotta go for now.

sa wat de krop