Tuesday, July 7, 2009

"The Rounds", July 12, 2009

All-Thailand Yellow Pages

A quick note to pass long the URL for an all-Thailand online Yellow Pages I ran across; the link is to the English version, but Thais have the option of choosing the Thai version in the upper-right corner of the page. I don't know how exhaustive or up-to-date this directory is, but given the difficulties of obtaining phone numbers here -- calling Directory Assistance can be a maddening exercise in utter futility -- ANYTHING'S gotta help:


I found this at www.escapeartist.com, a site with which I was not previously familiar. The page where I got this Yellow Pages link has a lot of other telephone info from around the world, so let me give you that URL as well:


Again, I don't know how current the over 700 directories the site claims to access are, but there it is for your perusal. Hope it helps.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009, 4:17 P.M.

Flat-Rate Primary Medical Care: A Good Idea?

Just read an interesting story online headlined "Seattle doctors try flat-rate no-limit primary care" over at www.reuters.com that set me thinking, given the raging debate in the US -- and concerns about soaring medical costs in many countries. (I hope the story link works; I had to manually type in the URL in a dialogue box, since a serious shortcoming of this blogging service is I can't copy-and-paste stuff. If it doesn't work and you want to read the story, try going to Reuters homepage and searching for the article using the headline.)

Sounds interesting. Customers pay a flat US$99 to join, then pay a monthly preium varying from US$39 to US$119, depending on just two straightforward factors: age, and level of service. No one is turned down for pre-existing conditions.

At the most basic level, this isn't very different from the concept behind Thailand's 30-baht health scheme, introduced by former (and deposed) PM Thaksin Shinawatra; as I understand it, it provides much the same, and maybe a bit more (though that's murky to me, as my Thai friends who've used it have had differing experiences).

One big difference, however, is that 30-baht program is doomed to bleed government coffers; at current exchange rates, 30 baht is just US$.90 -- yep, 90 cents, nowhere near enough to break even, not even here -- while the Seattle outfit expects to make a profit. Given that the story saises they've lined up about $7.5 million in venture capital, clearly some other folks feel the good doctors are on to something, too.

I suppose one possibility that would contribute to the bottom line is that there are patients who don't use, in terms of money, as much as they've paid. For instance, if a person on the US$119/plan got, say, a simple, common injection and that's it for the entire year, the clinic would be out the cost of the injection, salaries for a few minutes, and those more esoteric things accountants worry about (depreciation, etc.). Presumably, those expenses would be way lower than the US$1,428 the patient paid in over the year.

Thai readers out there -- and I know some are -- you might think about that, even if you love the 30-baht scheme. After all, it's doomed to bankruptcy sooner or later, unless tax revenues go through the roof, and you know the middle- and upper-class would fight *that* tooth-and-nail (especially since if you can read this, in English, and have a computer, you're almost certainly in one of those classes yourself, so you just KNOW I'm right!) Maybe your representatives would consider some plan whereby you pay -- to pull a number out of the air -- 15,000 baht a year for the top plan. (Hey, don't wince -- think what you blew on your BMW, and how much you pay for half a dozen bottles of Johnny Walker and brandy at your club every weekend! ) *I* darned sure would pay it, were it to be available to foreigners. Heck, I'd even pay a (*reasonable*) "foreigner tax" -- maybe another 10,000-15,000 baht/year.

Are the Seattle doctors nuts? I don't know; the economics of health care just seem to get murkier and murkier the more I read, in an apparently vain effort to educate myself a bit about the subject. I suppose if they can pay the bills and take home a decent income -- "decent income" in light of the many years they spent in medical school and the wheelbarrow loads of bucks they spent for the privilege -- then maybe it'll work.

If it does work, and the model spreads, it would benefit the rest of us. We wouldn't have to pay for people who rush to the emergency room for a hang nail, as now happens way too often. It might mean our taxes wouldn't go up so rapidly. (I reckon they're never gonna go *down.*) Better use of medical resources. No government involvement. No insurance companies.

Ah . . . insurance companies. Predictably, those that have addressed this development oppose it (surprise, surprise). According to the Reuters story, anyway. Just as I imagine carriers here in Thailand would oppose a parallel plan here, especially the heavyweights (which include, for instance, the global BUPA Blue Cross-Blue Shield).

The downside? Well, if you're away somewhere and need even just primary attention, unless you carry some back-up insurance, you'll be stuck with the entire bill. I know you can buy accident insurance if you fly (for example), but I don't know about regular medical coverage; never thought about it. And if such coverage is available, I don't know if it's available to people who aren't traveling on a plane, cruise ship, etc.

But I bet if this model catches fire, insurance companies will be quick to figure out policies designed just for people who choose to use clinics like the one in Seattle.

Take a look at the Qliance -- that's the Seattle clinic -- website if you're interested in a bit more information. (By the way, don't ask *me* to explain the weird name; I don't have the slightest idea!) I just now looked, after writing all the preceding materials; the site itself says the monthly premium varies from US$49 to US$79; don't know why the discrepancy with the Reuters story, since Reuters is almost always a reliable news source.

Anyone in the Seattle area use these folks? If so, I'd love to know your experiences and opinions.

Tuesday, 4:12 P.M., July 7, 2009

Novel Transports for Marines -- and Needed Ones for [Some] Squaronians!

Just read my second story of the day about Marines training with some fine, um, "special forces."

Namely, donkeys and mules. Don't blink like that -- DONKEYS and MULES. You read right the first time.

"Huh?" you incisively ask? Well, just settle in, and I'll tell you. (And I'll get to the bit about Squaronians in a bit.)

A donkey (also called an "ass,") is a member of the horse family, whereas a mule is the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse. On rare occasion, a female donkey crosses with a male horse; the result is a "hinny." But I guess it's essentially a mule, anyway.

We can began to see some obvious connections to Squaronians already, as some of us can sometimes be real asses, just as some of us can sometimes be mule-headed! (Calm down, Squaronians; I won't name names, except to identify myself as a regular instance of both, so SMILE! And put down that damn beer bottle, willya? . . .) But moving along . . .

Why on earth are Marines training with donkeys and mules? Well, as the war in Iraq winds down, the focus is shifting to Afghanistan, where donkeys, particularly, are a favorite, centuries old method of transport, because of the rugged lay of the land: lots and lots of rugged, soaring mountains. And both donkeys and mules are very, very good at negotiating treacherous mountains, even where there aren't paths.

The Marines will probably favor donkeys once they're dispatched to the theater of operations, largely for the simple economic consideration: according to the story, a good donkey costs only US$5.00 in Afghanistan. (The story didn't say how much mules command, but I assume it's substantially higher, enough so as not to be such a good deal, even though donkeys, which max out at around 400 pounds (around 180 kilos) can't carry as much as a mule, while mules weigh in in the 1,000-pound (roughly a tad over 450-kilo) range, so can carry larger, heavier loads than a donkey can.

This isn't the first time these beasts of burden have served the Marine Corps. One of the most fabled Marines in the history of the Corps was Sergeant Major Daniel Daly, who enlisted at the end of the 19th century and served a full career, taking part in combat action from China (the Boxer Rebellion), during which he received the Medal of Honor. Some 15 years later, ambushed by Haitian bandits as he was leading pack animals -- my sources don't say whether donkeys, mules, or both -- Sgt. Maj. Daly; his conduct in the ensuing battle earned him his second Medal of Honor -- making him one of only 19 men in the history of the American armed forces, all branches included, to be a double-recipient of the nation's highest military honor. No slouch (obviously), he also had a few other medals, including the Navy Cross (which for nonmilitary types is aolmost as big a deal as the Medal of Honor), a slew of others -- and three from the French government during World War I.

Well, let's switch from history to current affairs, and from combat in far-flung China, Haiti, and Europe to the more immediate environs of Washington Square.

Since donkeys and mules as strong and reliable, just imagine: with a trained stable of the beasts, stabled in the Square, of course, any Squaronian who had become, um, "rather too festive" to try to make his way home, even in a taxi, he could take a "donkey-taxi" or "mule-taxi" home. (Since many Squaronians know maybe three words of Thai -- which includes me -- when they're stone cold sober, words which of course disappear into the ether when they've merrily imbibed at length, and words which are useless for giving directions anyway.)

I can just see it now. I'll use me as an example, since I live near, which meekps it simple. Besides, by using me, I won't get beat up. Let's say I feel I've had a modest overage after downing three beers, a Jack-and-water -- and 28 Underbergs. A couple of the bar maids sigh once they figure out I'm wanting to head down Soi 22 home, so they come around to help me to the stable. But I dig in and demand another beer. That's the mule part.

A sixpack later, I really, truly think I have to go home. Well, maybe not think, exactly, mind you, but pure instinct kicks in.

So, the ever-patient lasses give it another go, this time succeeding in getting me to the stable, where they run into a problem as they decide to use a donkey -- but then have to figure out just who the ass is!

That properly sorted, they help me slither up on Mr. Burro -- another name for a donkey, for Yankees and other foreigners who don't know < ;-) >, and Mr. Donkey, having been down this road, literally, before, strikes out for my apartment. I, meanwhile, croon love songs to the night air, thrilling everyone who's trying to sleep with my rendition of "La Cucaracha." (La cucaracha! - La cucaracha! - Ya no puede caminar!) Which is apartiucularly appropriate ditty, at least that line, as "ya no puede caminar!" translates as "I can't walk already!" Our Thai hosts almost certainly won't know that, but never mind.

And my triumphant arrival back in my compound even brightens the night for the guards who sit outside the night through, not exactly the most thrilling job on the planet. (Which I know from experience, having worked on construction sites, for example, as a guard all night, on 12-hour shifts that often stretched out longer, when my relief got hung up in traffic. But I didn't have some foreign jackass riding up on a burro singing "La Cucaracha" to break the dull monotony.

Anyway, if the guards are properly appreciative of my one-man jackass show, I might even treat them to my rendition of "La Bamba"!!!

Hey! I just had a flash! We could have a second stable, this one at the airport, so donkeys could bring us to the Square after our sojourns an Spring Airline's barstool-equipped plane! Hmm. Wonder if I can figure out a way to tie an ice chest onto a donkey behind me. . . .

Wednesday, July 8, 2009, 12:55 A.M.

Travel Advisory: UDD Protestors Planning Birthday Party for Thaksin

The private pro-Thaksin Shinawatra group UDD is planning to hold a birthday party for the former prime minister on his 60th birthday at the Sanam Luang, which is located in front of the Grand Palace on Ratanakosin Island in the Chao Phraya River (a.k.a. "The River of Kings") and is one of Thailand's top tourist destinations. The oval-shaped area has been called "the nation's front yard," as it is the scene of many celebrations, such as for the birthdays of His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Queen. Open to the public (normally), it is also a place where one can see activities such as traditional Thai kite flying.

The planned celebration is causing some disagreement, however, which could spell trouble. The government is saying the UDD can't celebrate there, as preparations for Her Majesty the Queen's birthday, which falls on August 12th (and which is also Mothers' Day here in Thailand, by the way), will be in full swing. The UDD is arguing this is discriminatory treatment and in fact is based on the government's dislike of the group, whose sole purpose for existing is to see Thaksin able to return to Thailand without having to serve any of the time to which he has been sentenced, in abstentia, or to face further charges arising from his tenure -- and, they hope, to return to public office.

Whatever the truth may be in that dispute, one fact is clear: preparations for the Queen's birthday indeed will be in full-bore mode (involving all of Sanam Luang). That leaves no room for other activities. (Thailand celebrates the Queen's and King's birthdays in truly grand style -- the celebrations are truly beautiful, and very nice.)

There is one consideration for would-be visitors: though it's not my purpose to assign blame, it's a matter of record that UDD gatherings over the past several months have sometimes been magnets for disorder and even some violence. Naturally, charges and counter-charges fly thick and fast, but that's of no concern to the holiday traveler (or business traveler looking for a spot of relaxation, "far from the madding crowd" [to steal from the book title penned by Thomas Hardy].

Chaos and the potential for violence are very much of concern, however. That's why I never go anywhere *near* such events, nor would I (I suspect) even were I Thai and very interested in such matters.

Thais on holiday in the capital on that date will have to make their own call on whether or not to steer clear of the venue should the UDD in fact go ahead with its planned birthday party for the deposed prime minister. This is their country, and they can darned well go if they wish, though if the party is on, I hope they don't have any trouble, whether they're politically interested or not.

As for foreigners, well, we don't really have a dog in this fight, except, to a degree, those foreigners doing business here, or living here, or who have some other long-term involvement with the Kingdom. But I feel that one and all, regardless of the nature of their connection with Thailand, steer way clear of not only Sanam Luang on the 26th, if the UDD bash goes ahead, but any such event. You're just asking for trouble. Look at the tens of thousands of travelers stuck at Suvarnabhumi Airport last year during demonstrations by the UDD (called the "Red Shirts," by the way, as that's the color shirt they wear, to distinguish themselves from another group opposing them that wears yellow shirts).

It's probable that a foreign onlooker doing no more than watching the scene unfold won't have any trouble beyond jostling in a crowd. But foreigners sticking their noses into the, um, "festivities" are bound to enrage *someone,* even if they're simply trying to keep, say, an armed demonstrator from attacking someone else. Want to carry a protest sign for one side or another? Ba-a-a-a-ad idea. A really bad idea. Again, that'll enrage someone or the other, bad enough as a generality (since an enraged person may bring harm your way). And hoisting a sign might displease the authorities, and given that we, as foreigners, have no rights except those the Thais choose to grant us, we can be in deep, deep dookey if we cause the police or military (or, worse still, both) to become unhappy.

SO -- if you're planning on being in Bangkok on the 26th and you want to visit the Grand Palace and environs, it would be an excellent idea to check to see if the UDD event is on or not first. If it is and you can switch to another day, that would be a most excellent course of action. If you're going to be in-and-out and have only that day to take the tour . . . well, I say "forget it." But if you insist on wading into the thick of things, you're well-advised to keep the lowest poosible profile and to keep very, very quiet. And remember: you go at your peril -- there have been a few deaths -- allegedly -- at past events. (No foreigners, not that I know of, but still . . .).

By the way, to emphasize the possibility of trouble, the Bangkok Post is running an informal survey from yeswterday through tomorrow asking if the UDD should throw the party; as of now, the results are split almost exactly 70% "No" and 30% "Yes"; that poll is reinforced by a more scientific one conducted by ABAC University that shows an 81% disapproval rate.

2:30 P.M., Same day: A few headlines have popped up, some reporting that Thaksin has told the UDD not to celebrate his birthday after all -- but he has reportedly asked them to avoid or stop something yet they gone ahead or continued, so, we'll see. Also, other reports say that some in government are criticizing (again) the UDD for seeking a Royal pardon for Thaksin. Anytime anyone mentions the royal Family or any member ofit, especially His Majesty the King, and anything remotely controversial in the same breath, eyebrows shoot up. His Majesty, much beloved of the people (including a lot of us foreigners), is regarded as the leading moral authority of the Kingdom by far, and as such, miles above any sordid political fray. The UDD is playing with fire on that, in my and about a gazillion other observers' collective opinion, even among some observers otherwise sympathetic to UDD goals.

Call the current situation a "Yellow Alert," to borrow from the US' Department of Homeland Security M&M alert system. If matters ratchet up -- let's switch to the US military lingo -- I'd say DEFCON 4, which is, essentially, "lock-and-load" status, or very high alert. That means you, anyone planning on being here then and wanting to frolic around the vicinity involved.

Thursday, July 9, 2009, 1:04 P.M.

Memorial Party for the Late George Pipas Thursday, July 23, 2009

Damn. It's hard to realize that we're almost at the one-year mark since George was so rude as to leave us.

But here we are, come just 11 more days.

Anyway, George's beloved Mary Ann wants to commemorate the occasion in the way George would appreciate, i.e., a bash in his honor and memory Thursday, July 23rd at the Texas Lone Staar.

Haven't spoken with Mary Ann directy myself, but Paul told me about it yesterday. He didn't know the exact kick-off time then, but if this goes as things usually do, I suppose it'll start midafternoon -- three-ish, say.

Mary Ann inexiplicably had the cape buffalo head that was mounted above George's seat taken down and stored in his bedroom at their house here in Bangkok, but we're going to try to convince Mary Ann to have the driver mount it again, preferably for good, but at least that day.

After all, the thing is forever a symbol of George himself!

Check back here if you either live here and want to come, or if you're planning on visiting around then and want to drop by and hoist one in memory of The Old Boy.

Burt will try to say a few words, though of course he'll get all choked up and be unable to continue. Various of us are trying to get in touch with Ken "Montana" Sevenski to do likewise, as he's quite articulate even when he's *also* completely awash. (With too much, um, "special tea" -- he drinks tea and vodka. Hey, don't look so aghast -- it's actually pretty darned good!) I'm sure Bear will offer a phrase or two, if he's around (and I imagine he'll make it a point to be here) -- he's got either a silver or forked tongue, depending on one's point of view.

George really is missed. Khun Oi, one of his oldest employees with approaching a quarter of a century of service, overhead us talking about the party, and she got all quietly teary-eyed. Whether you loved him or hated him, you damned sure won't forget him, will you???

And with that, I think I'll go live and call it a day. . . .

Sunday, July 12, 2009, 9:10 A.M.

1 comment:

tobin said...

Wish I could be there for Georges party! We all miss him.