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Saturday, August 8, 2009

"The Rounds," Saturday, August 8, 2009

Happy Birthday to Her Majesty the Queen

Her Majesty the Queen celebrates her birthday this coming week, on Wednesday, August 12th.

Queen Sirikit was born in 1932.

As is true of His Majesty the King, Queen Sirikit has devoted most of her life to helping improve the lives of the people of Thailand, and has heavily involved herself in efforts towards that end.

National Mother's Day is observed on Her Majesty's birthday, which is fitting, considering she's considered "the Mother of the Nation."

Happy Birthday, Your Majesty

Long Live the Queen!
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In Traffic Jams, Law-Breakers Actually Help the Rest of Us

Just read an interesting article about some research some scientist in Europe have done involving the movement of large groups of people or vehicles in confined spaces.

To their surprise, they found that when there are people who ignore the rules of, say, a pedestrian crossing or traffic laws, jams are broken up before they even start.

Further research showed why: lone wolves forcing their way through coincidentally keep crods from forming in the first place -- they literally force individuals apart, thus preventing crowd-formation.

"So," you ask, "what in hell's that got to do with Thailand?" Reasonable question.

Your Honors, I submit: do not the highways and byways of the Kingdom remained miserably clogged with traffic, sometimes virtually 24/7? Have any of us who've spent any appreciable amount of time here managed to escape even a single episode of being stuck, practically hopelessly, for hours on end, perhaps in a heavy downpour (which aggravates the situation, of course, but that's true anywhere), perhaps on a bright, sunny day?

I doubt so.

On the other hand, most of us have seen the local versions of Mad Max of the Roadway Warriors, who think going 160kph [about 100mph] in a school zone is perfectly normal, which it most assuredly is not, even if it is 2:00 A.M. on a Sunday morning.

Going back to the research and transferring it to Thailand, perhaps the police can break up traffic jams by clearing a space for some Mad Max to go barreling through, with other Mad Maxes in the wings, ready to spring into action as the traffic begins to become unglued (sort of like the other drivers already are anyway!).

Well . . . one can dream, can't he???

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Some Quick Questions

There's a new restaurant on Sukhumvit Road between the Sukhumvit Road entrance to Washington Square (almost opposite Sukhumvit Soi 33, for those of you not so familiar with the area) and Sukhumvit Soi 22, close to the Square.

Have any of you tried it? If so, what did you think? What kind of Mexican food do they offer? Real Mexican food (Vera Cruz cuisine, for example)? California-style? Tex-Mex? Some combination thereof? If you've been to the Mexican restaurant across the road (diagonally across, that is), how do you compare the two, in terms of taste?

Does the restaurant have *Mexican* beer, such as Corona? How about Mexican tequila? If they do have Tequila, what label(s)?

And were you satisfied with the service?

Were the prices okay?

Using 5 stars to rate the place (the name escapes me), how do you rate it on taste, range of foods available, service, and price? One star is the lowest rank.

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A Late Happy Birthday to Khun Taffy!

Taffy's birthday was August 1st, and it was very well-attended. I completely forgot about it until late afternoon then rushed right straight there to wish him a Happy Birthday, and the bar (New Square One Pub, for those who don't know or have forgotten) was absolutely packed. The *only* place I could sit was behind one of the two video-game machines, and it was so busy, that after a few minutes, I left. Birthday Boy did appear to be having a grand time of it. I did go back later in the evening, but everyone had cleared out by then.

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Washington Square Bits & Pieces

While the Square is still sort of quiet, a few Squaronians have shown up of late.

"California" Dennis is based here in Bangkok these days -- has been several months -- and he's dropped around several times lately.

"Cajun" Riley came back to town, but he was off again earlier this week with the Missus to Louisiana, where she undoubtedly will drag him out onto the bayous to fish, something to which she's apparently taking a real liking.

Have seen "Scottish" Bruce, a.k.a. "Bruce the Laird," a few times of late, and he's well.

"English" Paul is hanging in here, and is doing just fine.

Nigel has been knocking around, and is his usual self.

Ditto Burma Richard, who continues working on his latest statue with which to shock the known universe! ;-)

James P. makes it by fairly regularly, and is doing quite well, including at his job, I'm happy to report.

I expect I may hear from Burt Nestle today (Saturday, August 8, 2009), as there's a VFW monthly meeting and he always stops by the Square afterwards.

Bear and his lovely Missus, Mam, were down earlier this week from their haunts in the wild of Isaan; it was the first time we had caught up in several weeks. Bear and I joined Mam at Coyote Mexican Restaurant, practically directly opposite the Sukhumvit Road entrance to Washington Square, and had a great visit.

By the way, Coyote is excellent, and though a bit more expensive than some other choices to eat Mexican food, is good value for money. If you like margaritas, they make great ones -- and you get two-for-one on their happy hour. There is another outlet of ther place on Convent Road, which may be more convenient to visit than the Sukhumvit one for some. Visit their website -- it's well done: http://www.coyotebangkok.com/home.html

(There's also a Coyote down Phuket way.)

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H1N1 Flu Update

According to today's news, the H1N1 flu virus continues to have only limited impact in Thailand, where well under 100 deaths from the virus have been confirmed so far.

Some medical professionals are warning that infections are spreading upcountry and that there could be an uptick in infections in urban centers later in the year.

On the other hand, both the government and the private sector have been rushing to prepare millions of doses of vaccine. Just a few days ago I saw something about companies saying they'll be able to provide considerably more doses this year than they had originally thought -- good news.

Even so, on top of last December's closure of Suvarnabhumi Airport by demonstrators and the riots in April, the virus sure isn't helping tourism arrivals, especially, say news reports, in the lucrative exhibitions and conventions sector. Some tourism authorities are said to be cautioning that tourism could take up to three years to fully recover, depending on how quickly the local economy recovers.

On the other hand, the same officials are reported to be saying there might by some visible improvement in general tourism in as soon as three months and in the exhibitions and conventions sector in about six months.

It seems to me from the countless news stories I've read or seen on television that the demonstrators have reached the conclusion that their actions did far more harm than good to the Kingdom and have toned down their rhetoric and behavior considerably -- good news for tourists.

That the ASEAN summit concluded successfully is one indication of this calming down.

There are some deals to be had now. For instance, I just looked up a special at the Grand Hyatt Erawon -- never stayed there, since it's above my pay grade! -- and it runs 5,280 baht/night, with advance booking; the charge is not refundable, has to be made online, and so on. Also, that doesn't include the 7.7% VAT and 10% service charge, which together increase the rate to THB6214.56/night, or roughly US$183.00.

For that level hotel, that's not bad.

The offer's available on the Hyatt website at http://www.hyatt.com (Explore the site for various deals.)

*Much* cheaper are places such as the Regency Park Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 22, directly opposite the Soi 22 entrance to Washington Square. Just looked up a regular room for mid-September at http://www.agoda.com -- which I've never used, but have heard good things about -- and saw a single-occupany rate starting at just US$28.00, though the VAT and service charge still apply, so the actual out-of-pocket charge is about US$33.00. I have stayed in this hotel, and it's one of the best values I've ever found just about anywhere.

That rate is for an early bird special, so various conditions do apply. Still, you can hardly go wrong.

As for air fares, I understand from a pilot friend who flies between Australia and England there are some great deals from various points in Europe heading this way. And if you're a fan of Phuket, there are direct flights from Europe to there, too.

As for people coming from North America, let me make a suggestion: consider buying *two* tickets -- one domestic, the other trans-Pacific. I saw a fare between San Francisco and Austin (Texas) for well about US$180.00, and another fare from San Francisco to Bangkok for about US$675. That's not as good as some of the deals I've seen the past few weeks between North America and Europe, but, then, Thailand's a heck of a lot further! Plus, it's way cheaper on the ground here than just about anywhere in Europe.

If you have an international driver's license, and are comfortable driving on the left side of the road, you might consider renting a car while here; I've seen some great deals, especially for anyone renting a car at least a week.

Of course, you have to have nerves of steel to drive ANYwhere in Thailand -- or be nuts!!!

The usual tourist caveats apply. If that deal on a real, genuine, Burma ruby is just too good to be true -- you're right.

And be aware that some countries are cracking down on people trying to take back knock-off -- counterfeit -- goods, such as DVD's and "name-brand" clothes, both made in pirate facilities. I haven't talked to anyone who's been arrested, but I have talked to a few (a very few) who've had goods confiscated.

Some charges you won't be able to avoid, unless you just forego the activity entirely. For instance, many places that charge admission fees have two rates, one for Thais, another, much higher, one for foreigners. It's irksome, but there it is.

All in all, the low season is a good time for budget travelers to visit the Kingdom. Heck, for anyone, it's much cheaper now than during the high season, something even corporate types might want to consider in these financially-strapped days.

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Bangkok Airways Crash at Koh Samui

I suppose I should address this, since Koh Samui is one of Thailand's favorite tourist destinations, and since Bangkok Airways is a self-described "boutique airline." (Which means "budget airline.")

The plane skidded off the runway while the pilots were attempting to land in heavy rain in midafternoon. The aircraft was an ATR-72, a turboprop, that was configured to carry 70 passengers. I've flown on ATR-72's many times, and have always found them perfectly serviceable aircraft. Nothing luxurious, mind you -- but the luxury market isn't what they were designed for.

The report of the crash may catch the attention of travelers from North America in particular, as just yesterday I read a U.S. report that pilots at American Eagle, American Airline's regional subsidiary carrier, complained in a memo to management that the airline isn't addressing various safety issues -- ones involving pilots' flight schedule, not the aircraft they fly. However, given that the ATR-72 is in the American Eagle fleet, people may link the two stories.

As far as I know, Bangkok Airways has an excellent safety record; I don't recall hearing of one of their planes crashing before. They certainly have had excellent service the few times I've flown with them.

While I have no way to assess any aircraft, from what I've heard for years, the ATR-72 is just as safe as any comparable aircraft, if operated within its capabilities and properly maintained.

In the case of this crash, the pilot had a lots of experience, having flown for Bangkok Airways for some 19 years, the past 14 in ATR-72's. (Sadly, he apprently died in the crash, the sole fatality. The co-pilot and several others were injured, some very seriously.)

I have been aboard an ATR-72 landing in heavy weather, and my jaws did tense a bit. But they would have done so even had I been in an Airbus 380 or Boeing 747. But we always made it down safely, if a bit rattled.

As for the airport itself, well, I've never been to Koh Samui at all, so I don't know much about it. As I understand it, in an unusual arrangement, Bangkok Airways itself owns the airport there. If they take as good of care of it as they do their lounge -- yes! -- they have their own lounge! -- then I assume maintenance is good.

One point we need to keep in mind is the overall safety record of airlines generally, which provide just about the safest form of travel around. Sure, an airline crash makes big news, especially a major, spectacular one, such as the Air France flight that went down in the Atlantic earlier this year. And sure, certain airlines have had safety problems -- but those have nothing to do with *other* airlines.

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New Hours at U.K. Embassy from Monday, August 10, 2009

If something I saw on a forum at http://www.ThaiVisa.com is correct, the British embassy is altering its hours, though I just checked the embassy's website and see nothing there.

Here's what I read in the forum:

"With effect from 10 August, Consular public opening hours will be 8:00 - 11:00 hrs and 13:00 - 15:15 hrs on Monday to Thursday, on Friday 8:00 - 12:00 hrs."
For reference, here are the hours shown at the embassy's website:
Office hours (Local time):
Mon-Thurs: 08:00-12:00 / 12:45-16:30
Fri: 08:00-13:00
So, if the forum report is correct, the morning hours Monday-Thursday will decrease by an hour and the afternoon ones by 1-1/2 hours, while the Friday-only hours will increase by an hour.
Quite a cutback . . .

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Temporary Bail or Pay A Fine -- with a Credit Card!

Saw an article saying that after a nearly two-month trial run at a few courts around Bangkok, the government is set to expand a system through which defendants can post temporary bail or pay a fine simply by swiping their credit card through a machine in the court.

Under the old system, it was, as I understand it, a lengthy and complex matter to do either one using cash or surrendering, for instance, land deeds.

There's also talk of allowing people to pay a fine at a court other than the one that ordered it in the first place.

Apparently, anyone can post the bail or pay a fine for a defendant, not just the accused. (Try getting your girlfriend's platinum credit card that you gave her and pay for back from her. Good luck.)

Actually, there's nary a word in the story I read about foreigners, and my bet is that this system won't extend to us. Come to think of it, maybe we will be allowed to do so -- for a Thai national.

I wonder if jails will have credit card advertising signs after this system gets into full swing?
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Sale of Alcohol Near Schools and Universities To Be "Strictly Enforced from Next Firday, August 14, 2009

Or so says a story I saw in the online edition of The Nation.

A group of university lecturers have been pushing for stricter enforcement of the ban, which went into effect a good while back.

While I agree with the basic notion of keeping booze out of the hands of youngsters, or at least making it more difficult for, say, a 13-year-old to get a bottle of whatever, there are some problems with this law.

For one thing, if a university student is of legal drinking age and wants a beer with his noodles at lunch across the street from his university, he might well object to having to travel at least half a kilometer away (the no-sale zone) to get it.

For another thing, laws such as this have rarely been strictly enforced in the years I've been here, though there are periodic vows to do so.

Then there's the whole general attitude towards what some might considere relatively minor laws: some see them as mere suggestions, not actual laws. This is particularly evident in the case of traffic laws, which are widely ignored.

But getting back to alcohol laws, it seems to me another big problem with enforcement is the inconsistencies, sometimes actually built right into a particular law, such as those that exempt "entertainment zones" from certain restrictions. Others are widely ignored in back sois and sub-sois anyway, especially in places where the police have little reason to go.

I'll wish the lecturers well in their well-meaning efforts. 'Nuff said.

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Online Lotteries Ruled Legal

The Council of State has ruled that online lotteries are legal, paving the way for a long-delayed plan by Loxley, a local company, a Gtech, of the U.S., to implement such a scheme.

As I understand it, this will be a government lottery but implemented by private companies.

There has been much controversy over the years about gambling generally and the online lottery particularly.

However, as matters now stand, Thailand can only lose out to neighbors by restricting or barring gambling. Just about every country in this part of the world has some form of gambling. Even staid, communist Laos has casinos (some frequented by many Thais from nearby districts in Thailand, by the way).

It'll be interesting to see how this works out. . . .

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A Bit More Washington Square News

"Ba" Burt Nestle called me midafternoon, so I went to the Square to hook up with him at the Texas Lone Staar, which was about to serve its regular free Saturday midafternoon lunch.
I was rather surprised there weren't more people there -- not that there weren't some, but just not as many as I expected. After all, they do give a decent meal -- today, meat loaf, mixed vegetables, and mashed potatos with brown gravy (all of which I like a lot, but I had eaten shortly before leaving home, so I skipped it).

Besides me and Burt, let's see, Andy was there, and had been to see a mutual friend in hospital, another Squaronian, who has some medical difficulties. While Andy's report wasn't especially encouraging, neither was it especially discouraging. Because I don't have the ailing Squaronian's blessing to say anymore, I can't. (Been badly burned a few times over the years because of exactly that, so I've learned my lesson. This is simply far too public a venue to be advertising other people's business.)

A guy named Cian (sp? -- it's Irish, and we would probably spell it "Shaun" in English, but he chooses the ancestral spelling.) -- a former colleague of Kent C. Had a pleasant visit with him, though like me, he had no word about Kent, who recently relocated to the U.S. for his work.

"English" Desmond was there as well, and it's always a delight to see him. Didn't see him until he was leaving, so didn't visit with him, which I'll have to correct next time I see him.

"English" Tony and "American" Gene were also both there, though as was the case with Desmond, I didn't even see them until they were departing, so I didn't get a chance to visit with them either. But they both appeared to be fine, and traded waves with me on their way out.

"Aussie" York and "Don the Yank" were sitting outside blabbing away with some of the gals who were eating their own meal. Spoke to them in passing, and they seemed fine.

Then there were two or three guys I either didn't know, or know only by face.

From the Texxan, Burt and I made a brief foray up the way to Silver Dollar, where we visited a brief while before Burt decided he wanted to head out home. (No, Jan wasn't around; she's flown off somewhere in her job as an air hostess with THAI. I did catch her by phone the other day, and she said she's well.)

After Burt moved on out, I decided to stop by New Square One as my final courtesy call before coming on home. Taffy was there, and had a pot of rabbit stew. Can't remember the last time I had THAT -- but it sure was tasty, even though I wasn't hungry! Don't worry, kiddies -- it wasn't the Easter Bunny!

Big Tom was there, seated at the back bar, as is his wont. Had a chance to say hi to him, and he was okay, though he moved on out fairly quickly.

Taffy himself was there, seated opposite Bruce the Laird, and they both were well. In fact, the old Platters song "Only You" came on a CD, and Bruce sang along with it -- sang along with it surprisingly well. I hadn't know he has a rather nice voice.

Tutu, who used to work at Taffy's, is in town, though she wasn't there; she had fetched Josie, Taffy and Ray's daughter, yesterday, to take her with her to her (Tutu's) home. Taffy says she's well, as is her her American husband, Jim, though he's on assignment somewhere in Manila, not here. They're both really nice people, so I hope to get to see them, since Tutu plans to be around until sometime come October.

John Patteerson, who lives in the States but makes it out this way once in awhile, will have his birthday next Saturday. Meanwhile, he and his are off to the Dakota Territories on a holiday, according to a message I got from him.

Hm. More of a bit than I realized when I started. Well, now you know as well as I do!

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ENOUGH!!!

Mekhong Kurt

3 comments:

stockhound77 said...

The new Mexican Rest is called Tacos & Salsa. It is owned by our friend Jorge (Hor-hay). He used to be on Soi 18. Good food. Not in love with the new location however.
Authentic is the word to describe the food. Delicious too. Saturday night Buffett. Yes he has Corona beer.

stockhound77 said...

Never eaten at Coyotee's.

T&S is my favorite; I would give it 4 1/2 stars.
Love Bourbon Street Tues buffet & Charlie Browns in Soi 11. My wife makes the best guacamole.

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