Friday, October 27, 2006


This is another of those posts directed at any potential ex-pats that are reading this blog.

Banking in Thailand is not difficult. It is not scary nor is it un-secure. We set up a checking account here with cash that we brought over on our first trip. It is a little difficult to set up initially because you have to have either a long term work permit (which takes a couple of months) or a letter from an employer that is trusted by the Thai government. Luckily, our employer is trusted.

Once it is set up, the Thai checking account works pretty much like the ones in the US, including on-line banking that is accurate and very fast. I can purchase groceries two blocks from our apartment and log in to our local bank website when I get back to the house and the debit will be there. Amazing. (There are a couple of things you need to know about checking here so e-mail me if you are coming this way.)

But the problem with banking over here is that US companies insist on paying salaries in US dollars and crediting them directly to accounts held at US banks. They are not at all happy or even willing to send some of the salary in Thai Baht to a Thailand bank. So what you have to do is set up a wire transfer from your US bank to the local Thai bank so you can pay your bills. No big deal, except that with the anti-terrorism legislation that has come about recently, US banks are under increasing pressure to report and prevent cash transfers from the US to "unknown places" around the world.

What I did was to go to my local bank branch in the US and set up a standing wire transfer that was to occur on the same day each month. It turns out that no one will do that though. They said “If you are kidnapped or killed overseas, the transfers would continue forever and the money would be going ‘who knows where’” To this I responded “KIDNAPPED OR KILLED?????????”

Anyway what I ended up with was a paper file at my US bank with all the necessary authorizations to allow the transfer to occur upon e-mail notification from me. Certain key words must appear in the email, and nothing regarding the source or destination accounts can be changed except in person so it’s really a pretty secure system. Even if someone forges my e-mail, they can’t send money anywhere except From me/To me.

The first transfer worked perfectly. It actually occurred within a few hours of the request at my US bank. I was able to verify it on line with my Thai bank. Cool. Now that it is time to do it again however, I hit this huge brick wall that is entirely understandable, and entirely human, but also entirely unacceptable.

As agreed in advance, I sent an e-mail to a half dozen employees at my local branch. That e-mail was to initiate a response from at least one of the bank employees to transfer money from my US bank to my Thai bank. So how did it work out? Poorly! I got a response from the bank to "call them on the phone."

WOW, I wasn't expecting that. Calling from Thailand is a little unpredictable and I was hoping to avoid this method of communications. I e-mailed my US bank to remind them that they have a file with instructions on this systematic transfer and I also fired up my overseas phone to try and get in touch with them during their normal working hours (my normal sleeping hours.)

It took six calls, most of which did not go through, and a very difficult conversation over a spotty connection to get my primary contact at the US bank to recall that we had set this all up over a month ago and that she has a file on it. Once she remembered the set-up, she pulled the file and agreed that the transfer was legitimate and she would carry it out as discussed. I can only imagine how difficult this would have been if I had sent the e-mail one or two days earlier. You see, my primary contact, the only one with any direct recollection of the conversations or the location of my file was on vacation until TODAY!

I understand everything about this event. I understand my contact's forgetfulness. She only deals with about 200 people a day and it has been 45 days since I talked with her. I understand the regulations on banks that prevent them from transferring money helter-skelter around the world. I even understand the US Company’s reluctance to "direct deposit" to our Thai bank. But man-o-man does it all add up to a major headache for us ex-pats.

Well, I think it will all work out soon. If not...... Mom......Please send cash.....


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Grocery stores

You can buy most anything on the street in Bangkok, especially when it comes to food. Fruit stands abound, along with vegetables, meats, flowers and breads. But it can be a hassle for a US ex-pat to meander around the various street markets and shops collecting grapes here, pineapple there (fruit shops often specialize), lettuce at a third shop... on and on until you end up at the bakery for bread and finally a small grocery for milk. Tiring is part of the issue, but just finding everything is the major difficulty.

So it would seem that a supermarket would be the answer to this day-long dilemma. Yes, it would seem so, but it is not. Thais simply don't like the same foods as we do. I love fried rice, so why can't they love a nice burger? Well, they don't. Fair is fair though, I've decided on a few Thai dishes that I will avoid as well.

Tesco LotusSo I went to the supermarket today. I chose the largest and deepest discount place I know, which is Tesco-Lotus. Tesco is the Walmart of Bangkok. Tesco has a large grocery department along with an interesting array of household appliances, TVs, tools, furniture, CDs, and I don’t know what else. It is a big store, and they have stores all around BKK. There are three within easy striking distance of our apartment. So with all this variety, imagine my surprise as I failed to find paper plates. PAPER PLATES for crying out loud! But then it struck me. What in the world would a Thai do with a paper plate? Most of their dishes are more suited to bowls, and not of the paper variety. Thais love noodles and noodles are a wet dish. So I left Tesco without even looking for Cheezits (Brenda's favorite snack) Thais don't like cheese either so searching for a cheese cracker seemed to be a waste of time after I realized they didn't have paper plates.

Right about now is when some lady reading this blog is saying to herself "Why doesn't he just ask someone where to find paper plates?" That is a second problem that permeates every errand here in The Land of Smiles. Do you know the Thai word for "Paper" or "Plate"? And if you do, do you know if the proper syntax is "Paper Plate" or "Plate, paper?" I happen to know that "Plate, paper would be the correct choice, now if I only know the correct words, and which of the five "tones" in which those words should be uttered. "Five tones" you say. Oh sure. There is the middle tone, low tone, falling tone, high tone and rising tone. Some people tell a joke that "Mai mai mai mai mai" is actually a sentence if you say each "mai" with the proper tone. I don't know about that but I don’t doubt it either.

How's this for an example I do know. Glai with a falling tone means "to be near." Glai with a middle tone means "to be far." Bothe rhyme with “Thai,” and in each, the "L" is more-or-less optional. Remember that Orientals have trouble with the letter "L" so some pronounce it and some don't. And some pronounce it as a sort of jumbled "r."

Ok lady, do you still think I should ask where to find Paper plates?

TopsI did leave Tesco with about half of my shopping list. Bread is easy to find, eggs, milk, even yogurt are most everywhere. But for paper plates, I headed to the next level of grocery store in BKK and that is Tops. Tops is not large, and it doesn't have everything a westerner will want, but it has a lot and it is relatively inexpensive.

For example, Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes were on my list and Tesco did not have them. Thais, you see don't eat breakfast cereal either. But Tops has it and they are called "Frosties." They also have "Cocoa Frosties" and a small variety of other breakfast cereals at a fair price.

Fruit is also cheaper at Tops. Cheaper even than some of the street vendors. I bought some grapes at a street side fruit stand a few days ago and paid 300 Baht per kilo after being assured that the grapes were seedless. Keep in mind that I know neither the Thai word for Grape nor the word for "seedless," but if I did, I would certainly ask for "grape,seedless". Not only were my grapes not seedless, but they were also not cheap as
Tops. At Tops, I found grapes of the same basic variety, clearly labeled in English "Seedless Grapes - 150 Baht per kilo." So I overpaid on the street, but again in fairness, the seeded grapes are sweet and excellent.

It also turns out that Tops has paper plates, but what Tops does not have, and never will have is Cheezits. For that you have to go to a store that caters to Farang. In fact, any cheese product is likely to be found at only one of two places in Bangkok. The first place is Villa supermarket. They, like Tesco and Tops are all over town. Unlike Tesco and Tops, I find them very expensive. Notice that this comment is in the form of an opinion rather than an outright statement of fact. You can interpret this any way you like. Just remember that I am from the US where Lawyers get elected to Congress so they can right the law so other lawyers can make millions of dollars presenting law suites all over the country.

The other place that carries cheese products is Carrefour. Carrefour is a French supermarket, so I assume that their cheese will be very good. There is not one near us, so I haven't been yet, but if Villa ever runs out of Cheezits I am certain that I'll have to go. Hmmm, I wonder if French supermarkets consider “Cheezits” Food?

There is one other supermarket that folks talk about and that is Big C. I can’t say much about them as I haven't been there yet but they are supposed to be like Tesco.

UFM is another small chain that cateres to Thai (not Farang) and Food Town is supposed to be cheap, but is it hard to find one, at least in my corner of BKK.

So if you are shopping in BKK, Try Tesco, then Tops, then Villa or Carrefour. And if you are looking for an apartment, you might want to see what sort of supermarkets are nearby. If all you have is a Villa, be prepared to overspend on groceries every time. But at least you'll find what you want.


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Adventure Cruise

Klong BoatA lot of the stuff that amazes me about bangkok would amaze me in any big city I suppose. The mass of tall buildings, the traffic, the crowds and the availability of almost anything you can imagine within the distance of a 15 minute sky train ride.

But today the trip I had been hoping to have an opportunity to make finally presented itself. I had to go somewhere that the sky train did not go, and neither did the subway. Busses go there, and so do taxies, motorcycle taxies and of course, our driver Fred. But I had wanted to take a Klong Boat and this was the perfect trip to do it.

A Klong, is a canal and Bangkok has plenty of them. Klong boats are probably 40 feet long, skinny and diesel powered behemoths that ply the waters of Bangkok delivering passengers all over the city.

Our apartment is about 1/4 mile from one that runs parallel to Petchuburi Road to the North, and Sukhumvit to the South. I walked to the canal and waited about 5 minutes for the boat. It was really an uneventful experience, except that I learned a few things that you have to know if you ride the boats.

Klong boat approachFirst, you have to know how far you are going before you get on. The fare is dependent on how far you ride, unlike the busses, and it's not that easy to figure out how far you are going. There is no map, at least not a good one that shows the boat stops. So you kind of have to guess at what to tell the guy that collects the fare. Oh, and collecting the fare happens after you get on the boat and it is underway again. I don't know what they do if you can't reach an understanding. Do you think they still have "Planks" to walk in Asia?

On this trip I called ahead to ask which stop I should use. That brought up the second problem. On my street (Thong Lor) there is a sign in English showing where you are. I used this single point of reference to deduce that all the stops have sign that I can read. Ooops. I didn't see another sign that I could read for the whole trip. Maybe there were there, but I looked and looked and didn't find them.

Luckily, I also knew what my destination looked like, and after a few stops I saw it. All excited, I hopped off the boat at the very next stop, right across the canal from where I wanted to go. Unfortunately I got off one stop too soon. That was the second problem. On my street (remember - my single source of information) there is a bridge over the Klong so you can cross over. Not so at my disembarkation. As I watched the boat pull away, I looked around for a way across the canal and realized I had probably made a mistake. It turned out to be a mistake that required a 45 minute walk to the South, then West, then back North to get to a main street that crossed the canal. Oh well, I told you it was an adventure cruise......

I walked my way out of difficulty, as I have done so many times before since arriving in BKK, and completed my business at my destination. I made my way back to the Klong, this time at a stop that let you cross the canal if necessary, and hopped aboard the next boat that came by in the right direction. Fun day. Total cost - 20 Baht round trip (54 cents)

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingYou can see from the pics that a lot of Thais use the boats. They are reliable, relatively cool and fast compared to busses. If you sit in front of the engine, they are reasonably quiet and smog free, and they are much faster than any method of over the road travel (taxis, busses, cars…) due to the lack of competing traffic. Most of the Thais were on the boat when I got on, and still on it when I got off. I surmise that these boats are generally used for long distance travel, and they do traverse the city from East to West along several lines of Latitudes. A few canals go North to South, but not nearly as many as the E/W paths.

I'll do it again, but it will take a lot more planning than I gave this trip. Now I have to figure out how to plan with no map….


Monday, October 23, 2006

The Grand Palace

Emerald BuddahWe took a trip across town to the Grand Palace today. We spent about an hour and a half walking the grounds and seeing many of the religeous areas, including the Emerald Buddah. Statues abound in this country and there is no shortage of folks to worship them, but the Emerald Buddah is one of the more famous ones here. The other big ones are the Gold Buddah and Reclining Buddah. We haven't seen those yet.

Photographs are not allowed inside the Wat (temple), but I managed to get this one after I left the building. Being 6 foot 5 inches tall has its advantages. I turned the flash off so I wouldn't disturb the folks inside and lifted my camera as high as I could to get the snap. The little green guy is the Buddah. He is about 40 feet in the air on a shrine and he looks very tiny from where we were. The statue is carved from a single piece of Jade, but I guess Jade Buddah doesn't sound as good as Emerald Buddah.

Take a look at my photo album here. We took about 30 pics today. Take your time and notice how ornate everything is. I tried to get shots of the buildings, but also some close shots that capture how much effort went into everything on this site. There are also some cool trees that have a black bark and are hard as a rock. They either grow slowly or they have been treated like Banzi trees. I don't know which.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingFinally as we left, Brenda saw some people selling bamboo and paper umbrellas on the street. She wanted one so I walked over and gave them my best "An Nii Thao Rai?" The little Thai woman sized me up pretty quickly and said "Ha Roi Baht."

"Ha Roi," I said. Then "Ha Roi" to myself as I tried to get the answer sorted out in my mind. And finally "HA Roi?????? No no no no. Mai Ha Roi" as I started to walk away. She wanted 500 Baht for this thing that I had figured at a humdred or so.

She quickly stopped me and said "How much you pay?' I said "Roi Baht, Neught Roi Baht" (100 baht - about $3) She said "OK" right before her daughter said "Roi Ha Sip" (150). I gave the lady a 100 Baht bill and she happily handed me the umbrella. Brenda loves it, and I'm enjoying being able to work out simple negotiations with these folks. It's fun.


Sunday, October 22, 2006

Phang Jangloey

Yes, it's 2:00 PM in Houston, which means that I am up at 2:00 AM Bangkok time. It's not really a problem because tomorrow is a Thai holiday (Oct 23 Chulalongkorn Memorial Day) so we don't have to keep to our normal schedule. As a result, I decided to stay up and watch NFL footbal LIVE instead of delayed by a day or so.

TreetrunkNormally, I get Sunday night football during my Monday morning workout, and Monday Night Football during my Tuesday morning workout. But since we can play it free and easy tomorrow (today) I am watching the Steelers and the Falcons in real time. It is not only a pretty good game (currently 21/24 PIT) but I end up with the raw feed here. No cuts to New York for the tedious commentary by NFL "has-beens" for me. While you are watching that, I am watching the uneditted cameras in the stadium searching for the "local color" shot that will make the next sequence memorable for the TV audience. I think the color commentators are aware that we all all watching here because the commentators are amazingly PC (politically correct) while you are watching commercials and what not.

Anyway, we took another trip to Chatuchak (Jatujak) market this weekend. It was pretty much like our trip last month (see the archives on this blog) but we found some amazing wood carvings. The pic here is an example, but take a good, close look at the pics in my photo album here for more. Don't rush. Look closely and slowly. You will be amazed as we were.

Other than that, it has been just another weekend in BKK.

Anni Thao Rai? Phang, Jangloui!!! Lot DaiMai? Mai Dai???? Mai Pen Rai.

(How much is this? Ohhhhhh so expensive!!! Can you discount? You can't????? No problem.)


Friday, October 20, 2006

Lot DaiMai

My education continues here in the land of smiles. This week, I found a still cheaper way to ride the sky train which normally costs between 15 and 45 Baht to go most places. But if you purchase a 30 dayx30 trip pass, each trip is only 20 baht no matter how far you go. The catch is that the pass expires after 30 days so any unused trips are not refunded.

The real lesson this week was "Lot DaiMai." "Lot" (rhymes with boat) is the Thai word for "discount." "DaiMai" (Dai and Mai rhyme with Thai) means "Can You" so Lot DaiMai means "Can you discount?" The merchant may respond "Mai Dai" meaning "I can not" but I have yet to hear that phrase. Even in a department store today (similar to Dillards in the US) right before I paid for my merchandise I uttered "Lot DaiMai?" and was rewared with a 20% discount.

On the streets it is even more important to know these simple words. I bought a little bundle of flowers that were priced at 300 Baht. After the magic words I walked away having paid 220 (27% discount).

So now I can eat lunch for less than a dollar a day, and I can buy flowers and other essentials at a discount. If I could only get the ongoing problems with our overpaid driver solved, life would be even better.


Thursday, October 19, 2006


Polluted sunIt's weird living in a heavily polluted city. Keep in mind that there are between 9 million and 13 million people living here and many get to work and home via electric sky train, subway, diesel busses, motorcycle taxis and other relativly efficient means of transporation. Never-the-less, Bangkok is a heavily polluted city.

After only two weeks here, we have stopped noticing most offensive smells like exhaust fumes and sewar gases unless they are very close. And we have quickly learned to appreciatte the smells wafting up from the food vendors on the street. All day every day smells like an exotic BBQ.

But the thing I have not adjusted to yet are the visible indicaions of pollution. Today (Oct 19) is a relativly clear day with a hot, bright sun. But unless you look almost directly upward, there is little evidence of a blue sky. Some white cummulus clouds can be seen, but they sort of merge into the bacground whiteness of the horizon rather than standing out from a field of blue. The pic of the sun shown here was taken at 4 PM with the smallest iris and fastest shutter speed my camera allows. Still, there is no obvious entity of he sun, but a mass of light hidden and diffused by the haze.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Back in the Saddle

It has been five days since I posted to this blog. You, my faithful readers have every right to say to yourself "What the heck is going on with Mike?" Notice, you should say that to yourself... not necessarily to me.

Drving RangeHere is the deal. We moved from the hotel into the apartment last Saturday. In the hotel, I had gotten into a groove. I knew the neighborhood and was comfortable with the means and methods of getting around and accomplishing the things I needed to accomplish. But when we moved, it was like I was once again in a whole new world. Even though we are only five minutes drive from the hotel (assuming reasonable traffic) there are very few people here who speak engish. Lots of people speak Japanese. It turns out that the Japanese International school is near here so there is a natural attaction for those folk in this section of town. There are also no shopping mallls and there is no meaningful public transportation. I had become so dependent on the sky train (BTS), now that I am a 25 minute walk from it, I felt crippled.

Great JobBut today, I got all that solved. Another ex-pat called and wanted to go to the driving range. I didn't know where to find one, but he did. It was a thirty minute walk to the BTS and then one measly BTS stop East to the range. But what I learned will set me free.

It turns out that my apartment complex is also the residence of the owner of the building. He lives two floors above us. And when he got ready for a new Mercedes, he retired his old one (maybe five years old) to service as a shuttle from the aparment building to the BTS, free of charge for all his tenants. My thirty minute walk is now a 5 - 10 minute drive so I got to the driving range in about 15 minutes. Pretty cool.

Bus picI also rode my first cross town bus today. I don't have a route map yet, but Bus route #25 goes East/West down Sukhumvit all day long. Miss the bus? Wait five minutes, there will be another #25 along pretty soon. As #25 appoaches the bus stop, hold out your hand to let the driver know you want to ride. He will stop....well, pause until he knows at least one of your feet is on the bus, and then he'll take off again. Don't start thinking that I am kidding here. My left foot was on the bus, and my right was barely off the curb when the bus took off today. And herky-jerky only begins to describe the driving style, but as you scramble for a handhold, a nice lady who never heard a word of english that made her mad (or that she understood) will hold our her hand and you will put eight Baht (22 cents) into it. She will then hand you a receipt and you are welcome to stay on the bus all day. The non-airconditioned bus.....The BTS is nicer, and maybe faster, but the bus is great for going places in between BTS stops.

So I got back around town today, and maybe now I'll work my way out of the dumps that accompanied having to learn a new neighborhood for the seoond time this month.

Personal ChefHey, ya wanna see our new personal chef? This guy cooks whatever you want on the corner of Thonglor and Soi 19 - I can almost shout my order down from our balcony.


Friday, October 13, 2006

Moving Pictures

We went to the movies tonight. More interesting than the movie we saw was the place in which we saw it.

The Siam Paragon is a 15 (or so) screen theater with five screens being something called "Ultra Screens." The regular movies in this place cost 180 Baht, but the movies in the Ultra theaters cost 600 Baht per person.. Less than $20 but still more than three times the regular price.

I really didn't notice much special about the screens. They are the old fashioned BIG screens, as opposed to the tiny screens you see in many of the multiplex cinemas in the US. But inside this normal size (big) theater is seating for just twenty couples. Each pair of seats is set ten or more feet from the nearest neighbor, and each seat is an electrically adjustable recliner. OH, and the seats are not the whole story.

When you arrive the ticket taker turns out to be your personal concierge. He seats you in a lounge and offers you a dizzying array of drinks that are (of course) included in your ticket price. In the lounge, you wait a minimum of 5 minutes, but really as long as you want to wait if you arrive early. One lady was getting a Thai massage. This is not an exageration, she was getting a massage in the movie lounge!

We arrived basically on time, so we got just the minimum lounge experience, but they seat you in the lounge even if you arrive a little late for the movie. You sit. Get a drink and some cookies and in a few minutes, they escort you to your recliner to enjoy the previews and eventually the movie.

Before you get too comfy, your concierge kneels at your feet and opens a sealed bag containing a pillow and a blanket. He hands you the pillow and covers you with the blanket before asking if you require anything else just now. Warm and comfy, you settle in to watch the flick.

It was really something. Too bad you missed the flick. What was that movie anyway???


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

IT City

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingI went on a mission today, to find and purchase a hair dryer for Brenda. Some fun huh; old, bald headed, white guy running around Bangkok not speaking the language, but trying to find a hair dryer. What do I do, point at my head and pretend to dry the non-existent hair? Lots-o-laughs.

Anyway, I decided to check out a place I had heard of called IT City. It is about ¼ city block with a five story building dedicated to computers, electronics and software. Strictly speaking, a hair dryer does not actually belong in such a place, but I was going on a hunch.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingEntering IT city is a hazard. A tall Farang (remember we are "rich and naïve ") is immediately set upon by hoards of hawkers especially if he is wearing a Harley-Davidson Tee shirt from Shepherds HD in Houma, LA.

"Software sir, you want software?" "DVD" said another and yet another "Sexy DVD sir, you want sexy DVD." Even if I did want "sexy DVD" the demeanor with which these guys approached me would have kept me away. Like a little Satan close enough to whisper in my ear one guy finally took a risk with his well being when he put his hands on me to make sure I knew he had "Sexy DVDs." Upon being touched, I turned and let the fellow find himself so close to me that all he could see was my shirt at about belly button level. After that, I had no trouble from him or anyone else. I had tried to handle these guys by maintaining my pace and avoiding eye contact. That would have worked in the states, but here they are more tenacious and more annoying. I finally learned to make eye contact as soon as possible and wave them off from afar. After that they kept their distance and my wandering became more enjoyable.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingAfter making it through the entrance and the welcoming committee, I slowly made my way around the place, taking it all in. Shop after shop offered everything from blank media (CDs, DVD, etc) to ink cartridges, or even just the ink. Components including mother boards, memory cards, processors, every imaginable PCMIA card and USB device, along with complete computers that, from the logo looked like Michael Dell had put them together himsdidn't only they didnÂ’t look like any DELL I had ever seen. The cases were smaller but thicker than the ones they use in Texas. Hmmmmm. Cameras, printers, you name it and it was there and at a variety of prices.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingGiven as I am to wandering off the beaten path, I found myself way in the back of IT city where the pic here was only one of the "re-packaging" operations I saw. Brand new computers were being systematically removed from their factory packagingcouldn'tomething (I couldn't figure out what) was being done to them and they were being put back in the boxes and sealed. What could it be that they were doing? Not sure, but all over IT city there are shops that specialize in crates of pieces-parts sitting on the floor in various stages of un-packing. I saw power supplies, disc drives, memory cards and the mundane things like cables and patch cords. Could these pieces come from the computers being "inspected" in the back? Lots of stuff got inspected at IT city but not just computers, but smaller things too. And much of the stuff I looked at on the shelves of the shops had suspiciously inferior looking cables and odd shaped power supplies in the "factory sealed" box. Hmmmmmm.Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Recall however, that I am on a mission. I gotta find that hair dryer. On my wanderings, I located three places that had dryers that I wanted to try to negotiate. The top price I saw was 1300 Baht and the cheapest was 580. The difference in price was primarily the wattage of the dryer ranging from 2200 watts on the high end to 1800 on the low. Here is how the purchase went.

Before going back to the stores to negotiate and while well away from any of the stores that I intended to visit, I put 400 Baht in my pocket all by itself. In each case I really didn't care if I got the dryer or not because there are always department stores if the negotiations didn't work out.

Store #1 had the most expensive unit and wanted 1200 Baht. I walked in and politely waited while the proprietor helped another customer. When she addressed me "Sa wa dee ka" I responded "Sa wa dee kup" with a smile on my face. I pointed at the 1200 Baht dryer and said "400?" She said "No, 1200" so I held out the 400 that I had separated prior to visiting the store. She said "No, can not." And offered a smaller dryer that had a price tag of 380 Baht on it. I thanked her and left, but slowly in case she wanted to call me back.

Store #2 had the exact same dryer as store #1 and was asking 950 Baht (which I knew from my earlier visit.) I again greeted the proprietor and offered 400 Baht for the dryer. She countered with 900 so I held out the money and offered again to which she said she could not. I thanked her and left.

Store #3 had a 1800 watt dryer that they wanted to sell for 600 Baht. We engaged in the same greetings and I offered 400 Baht. The owner said "No can not" but offered 550. I said "No 400." She said "OK 500." I said "No 400." So she said "450?" I said "No 400." And after a two second conference with her partner, they took the deal and my money. Now Brenda has a 1800 watt hair dryer for $10.80 including tax. Pretty fun!! Time will tell if it actually dries hair, but take a look at the box in the first pic of this post. It promises "Super silent. Cold. Warm. Hot wind and Fast Cold Four Shifts." Like I said, Time will tell.....

Each time I negotiate with a Thai the pattern is the same. They are initially “very happy to help” and as the negotiation proceeds, it either falls apart quickly as in the stores above that simply said "no." Or it begins to go back and forth with each successive pass leaving the Thai more crestfallen. By the time my price is reached the disappointment of not getting the payday that they envisioned when I walked up is obvious on their face. I know that they are making money on the transaction or else they would not take the deal. But it is fairly difficult to leave the transaction with such disappointment on their faces. Difficult, but doable. Now I wonder if I can get that Lamborghini for 400 Baht????

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThis last pic is interesting because it showed me where old Dell's go to die. Note that they are Pentium III's which are pretty old. The price is less than $100. Remember you can click on any pic to get a larger version of it.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Rainy Season

View EastI guess the rainy season is here at last. We have been told that it begins in August but that is has been dry this year with hardly any rain. When we were here a month ago, it rained only once in two weeks. This trip though, we have seen rain nearly every day at about this time, 4PM or so. It reminds me of summer in New Orleans where you can almost set your watch by the afternoon thunderstorms. Unlike New Orleans though, these Thai storms settle in pretty well and might go on until morning.

From our hotel room on the 39th floor, I can see clouds gathering from miles away, and when they arrive the puny electric lights in the room compete in vain with the lightning right outside my window. The worst of it is that the Hotel TV is on satellite so when the rain comes and there are few options for outside activities, that is the precise moment when the TV goes out as well. Glad I brought some books.Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Lunch today was high end. I paid 65 baht ($1.75) for the Pad Thai with Shrimp you see here.

JumboA few days back I snapped the pic of the shrimp while at a different restaurant. Jumbo shrimp does not do these guys justice. Two of them make more than a pound.


Monday, October 09, 2006

Sunday Driving Tour

Road signSunday we took a short driving tour of Bangkok. It is hard to give a meaningful description of the trip since we saw so much but didn’t get out of the car for pictures or even a closer look. It was a useful trip for us though, because it helped us get a feel for things we want to see, especially in the “royal” part of town where the houses of the kings have been built.
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We saw Chinatown, several Wat’s (temples) including the one with the Reclining Buddha, Marble Buddha, Emerald Buddha and the Golden Buddha. We saw “India town” where you can get all sorts of custom clothes made cheap. And we saw the largest flower market I have ever heard of.

We drove past the national museum, the Bangkok Zoo, the house that King Rama 1 through Rama 7 (except Rama V) lived in and then we saw Rama V’s house (pictured here).

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingWe also saw Rama IX’s house which Fred (our driver) calls “My King” in a very charming manner. It’s never “our King” or Thailand’s King. It is always “My King.” We asked Fred if he had ever seen the king and he said “Yes, when I was a boy I saw him at boy scout camp. It was a very long time ago.” Never the less, Rama IX is still Fred’s King.

There wasn't any talk or drives to locations for Kings prior to Rama I. Hmmmmm. I asked about the earlier kings and was told "Rama I coup"

This last pic captures a small bird being released outside the Grand Palace by a fellow seeking good favor from his god. Look closely to the right of the guy stooping down.
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You can see the rest of my pics from Sunday here.


Saturday, October 07, 2006


Petchuburi mapWe finally got out of Bangkok today for the first time. We took a day trip in the car about 160 KM South and West of the city to a town called Petchaburi (Pet-boo-ree.) Petchaburi is an ancient city with archeological finds dating to as far back as the 6th to 11th century, an era here known as the Dvaravati period.

The drive took us about two hours, but after one hour of driving, I was really pleased and surprised to see a small mountain range in the distance. Petchaburi is near the coast on the Gulf of Thailand, and I sort of expected a coastal plain, which I got. But near the coast, the mountains were pushed up by all those geological forces that I know nothing about, but which can apparently do some serious reconstructive surery to the landscape. These days, the mountains are heavily treed, and where the rocks peak through the brush, you can see that they are eroded by rainfall so they must be a soft rock like limestone. There are caves in the area too, accorcing to the literature.

Kings quartersOnce we reached Petchaburi, we got out of the car to climb Khao Wang (Palace Hill.) The hill is a sort of three peaked formation on which has been built a complex that includes one of the summer palaces of King Rama IV dating to the early 1900's (the current king is Rama IX.) It also includes defensive battlements as well as quarters for an army contingent, royal halls and temples. The tallest structure is a huge white pagoda that should have a budda in it, but the Budda was missing today. Now where did that statue get off to?

King Rama IV BedroomWe were a little surprised that the summer palace was not more oppulent. It was gives a pretty similar impression as an antebellum home in the South US, except of course for the distinctive Asian architecture. I think I was expecting larger fancier and more "over the top" sorts of design from a royal palace. But then again, this was just a summer home. Maybe like a beach house in Galveston? The photo here is the King's bedroom. Notice that it barely has room for the bed.

After wandering around the palace complex for an hour or so, we headed back down the not inconsequential hill top to find lunch at the nearby beachside resort town of Cha-Am.

Cha-am beachCha-am’s waters are much like the Gulf of Mexico being a light chocolate, or coffee with cream color. There were storms offshore today so the surf was churning, but that didn’t give pause to any of the beachgoers that we saw today.

The sand is brown and more like dirt than sand. It actually supports a nice grove of trees right on the beach which gives a welcome covering of shade for the hot days of summer. It is the cool season now so it was only 94 degress F today. You can also see the mountains rising in the not far away.

Petchaburi and Cha-Am will not make it to our favorite destinations lists, but it was a nice day and it was really good to get out of Bangkok and see some of the countryside.

I still have not seen anywhere worthy of a motorcycle ride since the roads are all basically like our interstates, except much bumpier, more crowded and with a speed limit of 80 KM/H (50 mph.)

We took more pics today than I can do justice to here. Monkeys on the Palace hill, Cha-am beach, lots of shots of the hill top palace complex and some surprising looks at the small and steep stairways that these folks built only a couple of hundred years ago, as well as fish strips drying in the sun at the "Center of Thailand Deserts and Thia Food." You can poke around in my photo album for today's pics.

fried fish buttsOh, one more thing. I can't leave you with no food pic. Petchaburi is pretty far off the normal farang path. We were advised to eat only deep fried food today so we would be sure to avoid getting ill. This shot is of Brenda's plate when she was finished with her fried fish. It tasted very good, but I told her that the dark places (fish skin I think) were "fried fish butts" and she declined to eat them. Bon appetite!


Friday, October 06, 2006


North FaceOne of the more interesting things I have done since we have been here was to visit the Erawan Statue located near the Erawan Hyatt Hotel on Sukhumvit at Ratchadamri. The sign at the entrance to the shrine says;

tourist signAt the end of the year in 1955, the Union of Thai Hotel and Tourism Company Ltd, the founder of the Erawan Hotel was told by rear Admiral Luang Suwichanphet, who specialized in astrology, that the original moment for laying the foundation stone of the Erawan Hotel was not really right auspicious moment. It must be corrected by building a shrine of the Thao Maha Brahma and a spirit house in the Area of the hotel. Then a shrine with the designed and sculpted by Mr. Chit Phimkowit, a sculptor of the fine arts department. It was brought to enshrine ther since the 9th November 1956 and a worship ceremony of the image has been held on the 9th November of every year.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingWith such an inception one could be forgiven for assuming that the statue would soon come to be a pigeon roost or worse. But such is not the case. Every day, supplicants from all over Bangkok and the world make their way to this spot to ask favors from the Brahma. They leave strings of flowers and burn incense. The Brahma as seen today has four faces. Interestingly Brahma originally had five faces, but in a fit of rage brought on by a disrespectful speech he gave Siva, another god with three eyes, opened his third eye and burned Brahma’s fifth face to cinders leaving only the four faces you see today. Hmmmmm.

The Brahma is said to grant favors to any who ask, and those to whom favors are granted, often leave gifts like the elephants you see here.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThis shrine is big business. Booths are set up for a couple of blocks to sell flower strings, elephant statues and other gifts to leave the Brahma. It is a heavily repeat business too as I happened to be present when the crew came out to remove the gifts left by the early visitors to make room for the later guests. Hmmmmmm.

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You can also pay the dancers to dance for any length of time you can afford to help your requests get heard even better. And if you are feeling particularly magnanimous, you might want to purchase one of these little birds which are captured specifically for the purpose of being released to give the worshiper a feeling of blessing. Hmmmmmmm.Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

supplicantThis is a really cool culture over here. Very different from my Judeo Christian upbringing. I felt sort of strange taking pics of these folks as they carried out their worship and made requests of the creator as they understand him. But I turned my flash off and no one seemed to mind. If you want to read more about the Erawan, take a jump to this website. There are also more pics at my photo album, under Thailand/Erawan at this link.

Can’t wait for my trip to the reclining Budda.


Thursday, October 05, 2006

A Cautionary Tale

DUHOne of the readers of this BLOG is a cultural advisor for large US companies. This reader has expressed an interest in our Bangkok comings and goings, in part to help her glean experience to assist her in her advisory sessions. I say that to set up the fact that this post is not going to be very similar to others lately. This one has to do with culture differences, and how those differences can sometimes lead one or the other parties to do things that they would not normally do. Are you warmed up and ready to read the dirt now? I hope so. Let’s get to it.

Most Ex-pats in Bangkok have Thai drivers that they pay to shuttle them hither and thither, to and fro, back and forth. Some companies even forbid their ex-patriot employees to drive in Bangkok. Our company is such a company. So we have a driver. He works for us full time, 24/7 for which we pay him monthly. Our Driver, whom we shall call "Fred" (not his real name) showed up for his first day of work Monday this week. He shuttled Brenda to work and came back to the hotel to help me run errands for about half a day. Prior to arriving in Bangkok (BKK) Brenda and I, both being somewhat managerial in background had discussed the appropriate levels of controls that we should install to help Fred do his job to our satisfaction and avoid the unpleasantness of unfulfilled expectations and potential firings.

ODOSo on the first day, I handed Fred a mileage book (Kilomerterage?) and explained how I wanted him to fill out the start and finish Odometer readings each day and deliver the book and our car keys to me at the end of the day. He is also to administer a small petty cash fund and provide receipts and details for any gas, tolls or parking that he pays for. Here is a description of how that went.

Monday - Drove the normal commute (36 KM round trip) plus ran errands with me (unknown mileage) No keys, no book delivered to us at the end of the day as requested. Keep in mind that Fred has to drop us off, then park the car and then get the keys to us in our room, past hotel security. No easy task, but we checked at the front desk and there were no keys, no book, no nothing for us that first night. Hmmmm wonder where the car is.

Tuesday - Drove the normal commute. No errands. At the end of the day, we said "Fred, give me the book." This comment was met with the most convincing "Me speaky no enrish" look you have ever seen in your life. That sort of ticked me off because I spoke with Fred for two weeks when we were here last month. He speaks pretty good Engrish.

But we persevered and got our book after watching Fred fill out two days worth of mileage, pretty much from memory, or worse. So with book in hand, I head to my computer to transcribe the data into the spreadsheet that I have prepared for that purpose. Results - Monday - drove 75 KM (remember - commute and errands)
Tuesday - Drove 85 KM Hmmmmmm. 85 KM on a 36 KM round trip. Something is fishy.

Wednesday, we filled out the mileage ourselves and had Fred sign the log. He also holds the book during the day so both Brenda and I have access to it anytime we need it. Fred spent a considerable time studying the book and considering why we were so focused on it, and why we started filling it out ourselves after only two days. What Fred may or may not have figured out was that he was one day from being fired after only two days on the job if he didn't straighten up. Well, he did straighten up. Thursday the book showed 35 KM for the normal commute so we think the problem is solved.

Gas GuageTo confirm our suspicions and actions, we asked around about Fred and found a few who knew him. Fred's previous employer had left the country for a month on vacation. While the employer was gone, Fred took the vehicle on a 4000KM personal trip at the owner’s expense. We have no idea why Fred's previous employer left out this bit of info when he recommended Fred to us, but he did. But know we now, and so do you.

Lesson: Trust but verify. (and when verification fails, step up the controls)

Here is another short story. I regularly ride a motorcycle taxi from the top of Soi 2 to the bottom where our church is. The first time I did it, I asked a taxi at the head of the street "How much?" and pointed to the other end of the 1 KM dead end street. He said "20" meaning 20 Baht, about 50 cents. I said "No, too much" and turned to walk the 1/2 mile myself. The driver stopped me and said "How much you pay?" I said "10" and he said "OK."

Now I know that the difference between 25 cents and 50 cents isn't going to break me, and it may make his day better. But here is the deal. Some people say that Thai's consider Farang "rich and naive." I take that to mean that they consider that they can take advantage of us with impunity. And while 25 - 50 cents is no big deal, it is a big deal if I find I pay double the value of something (anything) and it is a very big deal if I feel I am being taken advantage of, or worse, laughed at for being too stupid to know better.

Lesson: Ask for a price and walk away. Try again in 4 seconds when the next taxi (or driver, or maid, or ...etc) shows up. Do this over and over until you get a feel for what is negotiable and what is not. (Most things seem to be negotiable)

Final lesson: Don't let these unpleasant parts of being in BKK mess you up. Just call it an adventure and have fun with it. You won't win them all, but if you learn from the ones you win, you'll win more and more each day.


Biggest in SE Asia.....

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting“I just got back from Central and Siam,”

“Yea? Biggest in Southeast Asia” she replied in a distinctive Aussie accent. “We beat out Singapore.”

That was the crux of the conversation I had while helping a pretty 40 something with her Prada and Gucci shopping bags as I got back to the hotel today.

The “biggest” that we were talking about was shopping malls. Incredible, huge, fancy and busy, what else can be said?

Central Food Court (Hall)Central is eight floors that just puts your brain into consumer overload upon entry. Siam, is smaller though not much, and they take up adjacent city blocks rising 8 – 10 stories of merchandising heaven.

Siam is the fancier and includes a world class aquarium in the basement while Central merely has the fanciest bowling alley I have ever seen. Ok that may not be saying much given the state of US bowling alleys, but trust me this place is fancy.

Siam OCena WorldSiam Acean WorldSiam has an IMAX and an 18 screen movie theater with five of the screens being something called “Ultra Screens.” I have no idea what that is, but it costs 600 Baht to get in (about $18) so I guess it’s nice, I'll probably find out soon.

But Siam doesn’t stop with “Siam Ocean World” or IMAX, they also have an entire floor devoted to auto sales and that of the serious sort. Ferrari, Porsche, BMW, and Lamborghini to name the show stoppers. I guess it makes sense that these dealers or on the sixth floor. I wonder if delivery is included?
Cool car
You can' tell from this post, but today I actually went to see the most popular Erawan statue in town, but it started raining so I headed to the mall. You’ll have to wait until tomorrow for the Erawan story, but don’t you dare miss it. It is something special, at least it was to me, and I think you'll find it more than interesting. Stay tuned.

Oh, one more thing, take a look at today's "Fried Rice with Seafood" Ok, Maybe you shouldn't Take a look, but if you do, look for the tentacles. Bon Appetite.Just Close Your Eyes


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

It's like food......

Egg VendorIt seems like food is a dominant topic for me over here in Bangkok. I've never before been so preoccupied with food. When I was a kid, I recall telling my Mom that eating was a waste of time. Sleeping too. How things change eh? But here, the food is all so different and so "in your face" that it makes it interesting and worthwhile.

Deep FriedCornI had my first "street food" today. What do I mean by "Street Food?" Well take a look. These vendors are all within a two block section of Sukhumvit road near our hotel. Not a two block radius, two linear blocks. I walked up the street for one block, and back down it for another block... That's it. Oh, and I also bought my street food, a nice bowl of shrimp fried rice for 350 baht - 95 cents. Street food is cheap - and good.

Great 95 Cent Lunch I am only putting a few pics here on the BLOG. There are fifteen located at my photo album under Thailand - Food, so take a look there if you want to see more. Like I said, it's worthwhile.