Saturday, October 31, 2009

"The Rounds," Monday, November 2, 2009

Oops. It's Loy Krathong Festival Today

(November 2nd as I Write), and I Didn't Know It Was.


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"We shouldn't be looking for heroes, we should be looking for good ideas."

-- Noam Chomsky --

(Singer-Activist Bono wonderfully calls Chomsky

"a rebel without a pause" and "the Elvis of academia.")

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1. Jay Mart Mobile Phone Seller Offers Phone Insurance

2. Culture and Heredity Work Together in Evolution?

3. Odds & Ends

4. You Know You've Been in Thailand Too Long . . .

5. His Majesty Improving Well

6. The Nation Revamps Its Focus and Online Format

7. One Way to Help Your Local Thai Staff Make a Little Extra Money -- at No Cost to You

8. Washington Square News

Jay Mart Mobile Phone Seller Offers Phone Insurance

Just ran across an interesting story in "The Bangkok Post" headlined "Jay Mart launches mobile insurance" that reports, well, exactly that: now, if you buy a hand phone at Jay Mart, you can purchase separate insurance to cover the loss of the phone.

Since phones can be had for as little as about THB750/US$22.50, one might not think there is a market for this kind of insurance. However, the story reports that consumer interest is shifting towards mid- and high-end phones, and that in any case, the low-end market is pretty much saturated. And that's true; in a country with a population of around 65 million, there are an estimated 60 million hand phones out there.

The premiums seem reasonable enough, starting at 140 baht/year for phones costing 750-1,500 baht while at the other end of the price spectrum they'll be 2,250 baht/year for phones costing 15,000-50,000 baht.

This is the first such insurance in the Kingdom; the insurer will be a U.S. one.

Jay Mart has a total of 150 outlets, and will initially offer the insurance through a third of those, quickly increasinging the number of shops until the insurance is available at them all.

I've never bought a phone from Jay Mart, but that's purely coincidental. I have friends who have bought there phone from the company, and were satisfied. Or, if they were dissatisfied, they haven't told me.

One nice thing about Jay Mart is that some of its shops are on Skytrain platforms; I don't remember if they're also in the subway, but they may well be.

While on the subject of hand phones, let me point out that for a great many people coming here from abroad, it makes sense to buy a cheap hand phone here once you're here, at least if all you want is the ability to make and receive calls. Yes, if you have the correctly-configured phone from abroad, it will work here -- but you'll likely pay exorbitant roaming rates. If you buy a phone here, you also can buy a pre-paid service. Local rates are downright cheap -- I pay something like 3 baht/minute for the first three minutes then .50 baht/minute after, let's see, I think it's the first three minutes. Even international rates are quite reasonable; by using CAT's discount prefix "0081" to call North America, I pay only 5 baht/minute, or about US$.15/minute, based on the median exchange rate as of yesterday. Compare that to the 82.50 baht I paid when I first got here -- about US$3.30 at the time [because the exchange rate was 25:1; yesterday it was 33.4:1].

You might consider this option -- buying a phone locally, even if you opt not to buy the insurance or maybe even opt not to buy from Jay Mart at all. There are countless shops selling phones, and even more selling pre-paid phone cards.

Culture and Heredity Work Together in Evolution?

I wish I could point you to the story I read, but of course my computer crashed, and I can't remember where it was. However, it was interesting enough I thought it is worth writing about anyway.

So, why should anyone interested in Thailand care about this? Read on. . . .

The research is speculative (of course) at this point, but a team of researchers found that part of a particular gene shared by all people shows significant differences from group to group.

That is, they found that Europeans were only about half as likely to have a certain variation than Asians are. As I recall, that gene is associated with behavior. Anyway, the suggestion is that Asians are far more likely to merge with their group than Europeans are, which fits with the idea that Asian societies tend to focus on the best for the overall group, whereas European ones emphasize the individual more.

If this research is confirmed, it would go far in helping us understand each other's different mindset, differences that can be perplexing and frustrating to people on both sides.

The researchers took pains to be clear about two particular points of potential conflict: they are *not* suggesting anything in terms of relative worthiness, nor does their research claim culture causes physical changes, physical changes cause cultural ones, or the two work in tandem.

I'll add that nothing in the story that I read even faintly hinted that all Asians prefer group authoritarianism nor that all Europeans prefer rule by individuals. However, if the best way to survival for Person A is to strike out on his own -- the European model -- while the best way for Person B is to submerge himself into the group -- the Asian model -- then that's the way those people will likely choose. Not invariably choose, but likely choose.

In a way, this isn't new; after all, people have known for centuries we can't treat one group of people dientically to the way we treat another group of people. Consider, for instance, past conquests. When the Romans ruled what is present-day Israel, the wise governor deferred, in local matters anyway, to local preferences. That doesn't assure success, peace, and tranquility, of course, but brutality and impose foreign ideas can be a recipe for disaster for everyone. (Think the conquests of the Nazis, for instance.)

We see this even on the level of international business. Countless Western managers coming to Asia have been sternly instructed -- if their bosses had any sense -- not to treat, say, Thai employees the same they would American workers. (I developed and taught a couple cross-cultural courses in the faculty of business at the University of Macau, so have a bit of experience in this area, though of course I had no idea about the genetic differences at the time.)

Even if you're coming out this way just on holiday, if you're Western, it probably will help to remember things work differently here than they do back home. Maybe this research tells us a bit more why that is.

Odds & Ends

(1.) Did you know that between poop, burps, and, er, farts cows produce 20% of all the methane gases realised into the atmosphere? that's what scientists who study . . . well, cow poop, burps and farts tell us. More seriously, methane has a far greater effect on the atmosphere than does, say, carbon dioxide; the figures I've read for methane range from 17 to 22 times more potent than carbon dioxide, except just the other day a study revised that up to 33 times, with methane making up a newly-estimated 37% of all greenhouse gases. Not that carbon dioxide is harmless, of course, as witnessed by deaths over the years of people trapped in snowstorms in their vehicles who ran their heaters too much and suffocated from the carbon dioxide build-up in the passenger compartment.

Anyway, research is afoot in a number of areas, such altering the animals' food to reduce gas production and to utilize the remaining gas in some way, such as for fuel.

Meanwhile, all you farmers sternly instruct your cows to stop farting and burping so much!!!

Does anyone know if water buffalo "perform" similarly? (I mean the question seriously.)

(2.) I just ran across a story on headlined "The Benefits of Raised Crosswalks" that led me to laugh at the very headline. This is news? They've never heard of Bangkok, for instance, where elevated crosswalks -- let's call them "skywalks" -- abound. But my presumption that the article was about Bangkok-style elevated crosswalks was incorrect; the real story was even more ridiculous, at least in the context of a city such as Bangkok, in light of habits of driving courtesy in the Venice of the East. Watch the brief animated video that accompanies the story to see what I mean. It's as hilarious as it is, in my opinion, ridiculous.

(3.) Back in the 1970's, in the U.S. the per-capita energy use was roughly the same everywhere, regardless of which state we talked about. Today, one state uses roughly half the energy, per-capita, as the other 49 (who remain about equal to each other): California. Now think about the savings, and how much fun you could have laying on a beach in Thailand with that extra money! (Source: "One State Consumes Half the Energy Per Capita as the Other 49--Guess Who?")

(4.) Read in one of the local online versions of Bangkok papers that the average Thai consumes between six and seven liters of alcohol annually. (I assume that means spirits, not merely beer and or wine.) And the story made it sound like this is a nation of drunks.

But think about it: seven liters divided by 365 days works out to just under .02 liters per day. A standard mixed drink -- one -- has roughly 50% more than that. So, that means the average Thai drinks about two mixed drinks every three days -- hardly a candidate for Alcoholics Anonymous!

EXCEPT for one detail the paper omitted: did the reporter mean that number of liters per ADULT -- or all Thais? To think of your little Somchair or Noi hitting the bottle for a quick (if fairly weak) drink every day brings gray to the hair . . .

(5.) Some of the eagle-eyed among you may recall spotting a story out of Europe a year or two ago that someone sought to extend human rights to a primate (a gorilla in a zoo, I think), and effort that ultimately failed. Now I've just read that Ecuador extended constitutional protection to nature itself (!!!) in 2008. (The move isn't going unchallenged.) You can read more at this URL, though you'll have to scroll down -- look for the close-up photo of a crab: "Ecuador's Contitutional Rights of Nature"

(6.) Did you know if you do an Internet search you use about as much power as making a cup of tea? That's including everything -- most of that is at the other end from you.

You Know You've Been in Thailand Too Long . . .

It's a well-known possibility in any international organization that sending one of its managers from his home part of the world to an entirely different place carries with it the risk he may come to identify more with the locals than headquarters (to put it stuffily), otherwise called "going native."

Westerners relocating to Thailand are no exception. . . .

You know you've been in Thailand too long . . .

. . . because you ask for ice with your beer.

. . . when the barmaid asks you for a little money to buy some fried insects and you give it to her without another thought.

. . . then, when she gets back and offers you a couple, you take them and eat them without another thought.

. . . when you go back for a visit to your home country where everyone drives on the right but that's the direction you keep looking for traffic before crossing a road.

. . . when you go back for a visit to your home country where everyone drives on the left but you still instinctively make a mad dash of terror at the crosswalk -- even though there's not a vehicle in sight.

. . . when you have a chance to use a Western-style commode but automatically climb up on it so you can squat.

. . . when one of your favorite sweet snacks is an ice cream hot dog.

. . . when another of your favorite sweet snacks is an ice cream stick with green beans in it.

. . . when you come out of a convenience store then tear the wrapping off your candy bar and drop it on the ground directly beside the litter bin.

. . . when you search around the TV channels for your favorite Thai variety show.

. . . when your favorite song this week is the latest from the famous Isaan folk singer.

. . . when a lady with a C cup looks like Dolly Parton to you.

. . . when you are walking along a sidewalk and catch the sweet aroma of freshly-cut durian and rush to buy a slice. *

. . . when you tell the waitress to skip the coffee and fruit juice with your bacon and eggs but to bring you a beer and lao cao instead. **

. . . when your boss tells you to dress up tomorrow for a meeting with the company owner and the next morning you remember to put on a tropical fruit necktie with your golf shirt and to slip on your best flip-flops, and you know it's okay, because that's how the owner will be dressed, too..

. . . when you think any lady over 25 is too old even though you're 78.

. . . when you not only can correctly identify Asians' respective nationalities but can do the same with Thais from different parts of the country.

. . . when you finally decide to marry your Sweetheart and borrow 50,000 baht and a pound of gold from her impoverished parents to present them as a dowry at the traditional village ceremony so her parents get a lot of face.

. . . when you get on a long-distance bus in your home country, go to the restroom, and automatically call the conductor back because there's no bucket of water and dipper so you can flush.

. . . when the temperature would mean a fine spring or autumn day back in your home country but you're freezing and put on a heavy coat before venturing out.

. . . when you ask the barmaid for a plate of dried chilli peppers instead of peanuts to eat with your drink.

. . . when you don't even think about it when you go to an open-air market to buy fresh meat and brush the flies aside to make your choice.

. . . when you then go home and eat the meat without even thinking about it.

. . . when you wake up one morning only to see the strings around your wrist have finally worn through and broken, and you go into a panic. ***

. . . when you no longer like fried noodles without sugar on them.

. . . when you instinctively think of Thai currency when someone says "real money."

. . . when you go shopping in your home country and automatically convert the price to Thai baht to figure out if the price is a good deal or not.

. . . when someone says "lemon" and you automatically think of a lime.

. . . when you start referring to your fellow countrymen as if you weren't one of them.

. . . when you're pleasantly shocked that the vegetable and fruit vendor charges you exactly the same price as she did the local lady who just bought the same thing.

Yes, we do go through some changes. . . .

* Durian is an especially fragrant -- or stinking -- Asian fruit that is most definitely an acquired taste. To many (including me), the odor is so overpowering that if we catch a waft of it we'll literally cross the street to avoid the stomarch-churning smell as much as possible. Our Thai friends, however, are practically all born with two "I love durian" genes so rush to devour as much as possible.

** There's a locally well-known potent clear spirit called lao cao. I suspect it originated along the border between Laos and Thailand because it's especially popular in Isaan, Thailand's northeast, which abuts Laos. It's the kind of stuff that first makes you crazy then blind. Americans of a certain age may fondly remember white lightning; you've grasped the concept.

*** When you go to a temple, sometimes a monk will tie strings around one of your wrists as a kind of blessing, especially if you make a small donation directly in his presence. This is a genuine honor for a foreigner, and is not to be taken lightly. It certainly would be grossly rude to remove the strings anytime soon, even after leaving the temple, at least if you're with Thais. I finally got the opportunity to receive strings from a monk a couple years ago, and I was genuinely both delighted and honored.

His Majesty Is Improving Well

I'm pleased to report that I saw a news report on television yesterday afternoon about His Majesty the King's greatly improved, and continuing to improve even more, physical condition.

The reporter said that Her Royal Highness Princess Chulabhorn Valayalaksana says he's eating well and can stand on his own. She also reportedly said he's expected to leave hospital soon now.

This is a huge relief for all Thais, as the King is widely regarded as "The Father of the Nation." During his illness and hospital confinement, hundreds of thousands of Thais from all walks of life, every part of the Kingdom, and of every social class went to the hospital to sign the guest book.

His Majesty's 82nd birthday is December 5, 2009, an event to which the Thai people are looking forward to especially keenly this year, given the King's illness.

Some people may not know that the King is the world's longest-reigning monarch. A second son, he never expected to ascend the throne, but his older brother's unexpected death in mid-1946 thrust him into the fore as the next in line.

His Majesty was studying in Europe at the time -- he was just 18 -- and it was decided that he continue his studies, so his formal coronation was delayed.

Did you know His Majesty was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the U.S.? His Father was studying medicine and his Mother was working as a nurse at the time of his birth.

The Thai people are extraordinarily devoted to His Majesty, rightly so. He has devoted most of his reign to working to improve the lives of the people, especially the poor. For this, he's loved without reservation -- including by most Old Thai Hands who come from abroad.

It's difficult to explain the position His Majesty holds in Thai hearts. At the very least, he's much more than an icon, perhaps something along the lines of a demigod (which I mean in the best of senses).

Though I'm not Thai, it was with immense relief I heard the news report about the King's improving condition.

I wish His Majesty a speedy full recovery and return home, good health, and long life!

The Nation Revamps Its Focus and Online Format

Local newspapers are struggling the same as papers the world over are, and Bangkok's "other paper" is no exception.

Awhile back, the newspaper switched to a primary focus on business, but I guess that hasn't worked out as well as the owners hoped. I read a story in yesterday's Bangkok Post that The Nation would switch back to a general newspaper starting today (Sunday, November 1st).

I briefly looked at the online edition just now, and indeed much has changed. Personally, I much prefer the visual aspects of the new online layout to the old one.

In years past, I liked the Bangkok Post for its broad coverage and The Nation for its in-depth articles.

Is this a good time for a major shift, especially in an already-struggling industry? I don't know, but hope it is, as I, along with many other people I know, like the idea of having two different English-language newspapers to read, esepcially when they compliment each other as much as they compete.

If you're familiar with past iterations of The Nation, take a look and see what you think.

One Way to Help Your Local Thai Staff Make a Little Extra Money -- at No Cost to You

I read articles about a lot of things, including recycling, swapping, and so on. Just now I was in the midst of several about recycling when I had what I would like to call a "eureka!" moment, but I guess I have to call a "duh!" one.

A surprising number of people here do have household employees, something made possible by the low salaries those workers are able to get. The most common such employees are maids, gardners/handymen, drivers, and guards (in what order I don't know, though I would guess maids to be the most common).

Naturally, like most people, those folks would like to have some extra money above and beyond their salaries. As certain kinds of recycling are fairly common -- at least in Bangkok -- this is a way for you to help your household employees pick up a few extra baht. And you don't have to pay out a single baht.

In my own case, I wouldn't know where to go, nor can I speak Thai anyway. However, one of my neighbors asked me to keep the plastic bottles, certain glass containers, and aluminum cans. I've never asked her how much she gets for each such item, nor do I know where she takes them, but I suspect she peddles them to garbage scavengers, who abound. She certainly is delighted to drop around every two or three days to collect whatever I've saved back for her. On those occasions she goes out of town for a fairly lengthy period to visit her parents, she'll tell me just to place the full sacks outside my door and one of the building guards or the motorcycle drivers stationed here will take them, and I do. By the way, I think they're also able to turn over the plastic bags for recycling.

The lady who collects my recyclables (most of the time) isn't going to jet off with her husband to the Swiss Alps for a fortnight's holiday from the money she gets peddling the stuff, but she clearly finds it worth her while to collect it.

Yes, I could find a way to do this myself, but I would have to pay an interpreter and maybe a taxi, which would, no doubt, cost me far more than I could make. Unless I had an 18-wheeler load of it, in which case, forget a taxi, right?

There is a general caution, though I don't know how to steer you through the reefs, regarding any of you who have two or more such employees. That is, within your staff -- even if they number only two -- there is a clear, definite pecking order. (Clear and definite to them, anyway.) That means you can't, say, just give everyone equal shares, because at least one person will lose face. If you have a Thai spouse, let her (or, in very rare instances, him) handle it. If you don't have a Thai spouse, ask your employee you've had longest; even if she or he isn't, in fact, sernior within the staff members' eyes, she'll be able to steer you through the pitfalls. Why is this so important? Because you can lose a valued employee in a second if that person feels too great a loss of face.

You may think, "To heck with it! That's too much trouble!" No, it's not, not really; get it organized, and it will be self-running. Let's say you have a total of four employees. There almost certainly will be turnover, but as new employees join your household, your current staff will tell them how the system works. And remember, this doesn't cost you a single baht.

Besides, it also gives you bragging rights. Next time you're driving your monster truck with a nagging green buddy tagging along and he starts nagging you to get rid of your truck and get something like an electric Smart for 2 two-passenger car to help save the world, you can boast you're doing your part! ;-)

Washington Square News

I've not been to the Square much since writing last Friday, but I'll write the little bit of news, such as it is, that I have.

Saw Cajun Riley a couple nights ago, and he was fine. Better still, his wonderful Missus, Khun Lek, came to fetch (or snatch) him hom, so I got to see her, too. Both are doing well, happy to say.

Ran into Jolly Gene, the American who lives in the same compound as I do, and though we had little chance to chat, really -- he was mostly visiting with Ned, trying to help him with a computer problem (Gene helping Ned, that is) -- he said he's been fine.

Bumped into Taffy yesterday for the first time for a week or more, and he was well. I asked about his mother-in-law, who was under the weather, and while he didn't have an up-to-the-minute-update, he said she's improved a lot since I last had a chance to ask about her. Good news there.

Also bumped into both Aussie York and Indian Vic yesterday, who were together and riling each other unmercifully -- but having a grand time of it anyway. Both were well, especially Vic, who had a not-so-common day off.

Mentioned Ned of the Silver Dollar; other than his having some troubles with his computer system -- one of the speakers for the bar's music was on the blink, apparently a software problem, which is why Jolly Gene was helping him -- he was fine.

Saw English Paul last night, but he was wrapped up in conversation, so we didn't get a chance to say anything more than greetings, but he appeared to be doing well.

Also had a nice chat with Ross and Mike (both friends of Tom-Tom), and they're doing well. They're fascinating people; for instance, Ross used to be a serious commercial fisherman in Canada, the North Sea, etc.

Derek "The Mad German" remains at points unknown; no one knows if he's in Germany -- where he said he was going when he took off several weeks ago for "two weeks" -- the Philippines, or parts unknown. Presumably he's okay; friends in both the P.I. and Europe know he has friends here who would want to know should something happen to him.

And that's really about it!

Friday, October 30, 2009

The U.S. Space Program Marks Another Success with the ARES Launch


Watched NASA TV's live coverage of the ARES test launch -- watched it over the Internet at that, smooth as silk -- and was greatly pleased at the overall success of the mission.

I've been an avid fan of space exploration, both manned and robotic, ever since I saw the Sputnik booster soaring through the skies over Texas back in the 1950's. Heck, I even got excited by the Soviets' space program, even though we were in some of the darkest hours of the Cold War.

I'm old enough I likely won't live long enough to see a Moon colony. And forget me seeing one on Mars, or an asteroid, or a Martian moon (unless they put me in suspended animation!).

I love this stuff. . . .

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Just a little updating. . .

Three times in three days I got bad news.

First, a guy I knew in Beijing back in the 1980's passed away last Saturday morning. Though I hadn't had any contact with him in many years, especially since he was relatively young (about 60).

Next, found out a good friend I've tried to keep up with over the years through a mutual friend died a year or to ago in his adopted home U.S. state, Washington. He and his ex-wife and I and my ex-wife all went to the Foreigners' Marriage Bureau in Beijing in late 1987 to have a "joint" marriage, so to speak. So, there was some special history there. He, too, was about 60.

And just this morning, a long-time friend in Texas posted an online message that her university freshman daughter's best friend died unexpectedly Monday, at only 19, and that is a tragedy, though I didn't know her.

As for the Square, I had a nice visit with Burma Richard a couple days ago, and I always enjoy gabbing with him.

Not so serious, today hasn't been a red-letter one between me and gadgets. First, my computer kept crashing this morning. Then, this afternoon, I had to re-download and re-install Picasa 3.5, as it had gone on the blink. Also this morning, my mobile phone stopped working (though I finally tried cleaning the SIM card with window cleaner, and that worked). The strange part is that my SIM worked in a friend's phone, and hers worked in mine. Finally, about sundown I wanted to turn on the aircon in my lving room -- and two or -- three minutes later it apparently died!

At least my desk phone started working again -- for the first time in MONTHS!

On a much lighter note, if you take photos and/or make home videos using a webcam and/or videocam, you sure can do worse that to use Google's free images-management program, Picasa. The latest release is 3.5. When you record a video, in a menu along the left side one of the options is to upload the picture or video directly to YouTube, a nice feature.

Enough for now --

Thursday, October 15, 2009

"The Rounds," Friday, October 16, 2009

“The Rounds,” Friday, October 16, 2009

Note: The column is relatively short (about 2,750 words) this week because I started writing it just this morning, and partway through, I started getting kicked offline and, even when I managed to stay on awhile, the Internet was impossibly slow, even with my broadband line. So, hero that I am, I gave up!

Submissions: squaronians [at]

Here Are My Websites

1. Update: His Majesty Remains Hospitalized, But Is Improving

2. Widespread Flooding Plagues the Kingdom

3. Nine million Americans victims of identity theft in the U.S. in 2008

4. Internal Security Acted Invoked in Parts of Thailand

5. Save Money Transferring Money by Wire Using Thai Bank Branches Abroad

6. Washington Square News

7. Diesel Prices Increased at 0500, Thursday, October 15th

* * * * * * * * * *

Update: His Majesty Remains Hospitalized, But Is Improving

The King rhas been hospitalized awhile now (two or three weeks, as I recall), but is gradually regaining strength and generally getting better.

People not familiar with Thailand might be surprised by the reverence the people show His Majesty, who, by the way, is the world’s longest-reigning monarch. Often called “The Father of the Nation,” the King is accord a near-demigod status, a status he certainly has earned through his decades of selfless devotion to the ordinary Thai.

The devotion people feel was well demonstrated when the King first entered hospital, as something like 50,000 people streamed there to sign a guestbook hospital personnel had set up.

Even foreigners come to love the King if they stay here long enough. Every December 5th, His Majesty’s birthday -- he’ll be 82 this year -- in early evening people will flock outside to hold candles and sing for him. Since I can’t speak Thai, I can’t join in singing, but if I’m with even one Thai who wants to do so, I’ll go with him and her and stand there respectfully with my own candle.

I join everyone is wishing His Majesty good health and a speedy return home.

* * * * * * * * * *

Widespread Flooding Plagues the Kingdom

Many parts of Thailand continue to suffer flooding, in some cases quite severe -- with warnings of worse to come starting this weekend, especially from Sunday onward..

The area of Bangkok about which authorities are most concerned is the Srinakharin Road area.

Aggravating the situation is the fact there are high tides, and they force water up, including back up the river.

In the case of Bangkok, some areas still haven’t fully recovered from earlier flooding; water is still standing, some as much as 40 centimeters/nearly 16 inches deep. That may not sound like a lot, but just try walking any distance in it. I have, and I was plenty tired after just a block or two. I just saw on TV that a police station has put over a hundred license plates on display for owners to reclaim them -- plates torn off by floodwaters!

Of course, this is the monsoon season, and flooding is an annual event.

However, Thailand can count itself fortunate relative to some other parts of Southeast and South Asia. Though the Boxing Day tsunami nearly five years ago that caused thousands of deaths here, the earthquake that caused the tsunami did no damage here, as it did in Indonesia (where the vast majority of the 230,000 -- at least -- deaths occurred as a result of the earthquake and ensuing tsunami). The country hasn’t experienced a major earthquake in . . . well, I don’t know. Certainly not recently.

Further, while flooding is an annual plague here, the typhoons often associated with it usually have weakened by the time they get here that they aren’t nearly as destructive as they are to other parts of the region, especially Taiwan, the Philippines, southern China, and Vietnam, all of which have been repeatedly and heavily struck this year. Typhoons also form in the ocean west of Thailand, but I don’t recall any affecting Thailand directly, not during my years here, nor have I heard of any striking before I came. Even Typhoon Nargis, which cause tens of thousands of deaths in Burma awhile back, didn’t cause anything more than heavy rains in Thailand.

If you’re traveling to or within the Kingdom anytime soon, do please remember to check before setting off to make sure your destination isn’t experiencing flooding.

* * * * * * * * * *

9 Million Americans Victims of Identity Theft in the U.S. in 2008

This is a growing problem, one I’m certain I’ve experienced this year myself, though I’ve not been able to prove it [yet], so can’t do much about it. I have taken steps to change my bank account and ATM password, so that helps.

I read a story somewhere online recently that discussed the problem in America, which inspired the headline of this story. But the problem is hardly limited to the U.S., of course.

If you’re one of us who use an ATM often, there are some steps you can make to help protect yourself. First is to make your password (PIN number) downright nonsense, making it more difficult to guess or for someone spying on you to remember. And to avoid spying, shield your hand you’re using to punch the ATM keys with your other hand, a newspaper, anything that blocks someone from seeing you. That also prevents a spy camera from recording your keystrokes -- a growing problem here in Thailand, as are the magnetic strip readers that nogoodniks inset into ATM slots to steal the data from those strips.

If you don’t want to use a nonsensical password, at least make it difficult to guess. For instance, you might use some name -- not your own or anyone’s you know -- and some arbitrary date, but both easy for you to remember. Use mixed upper- and lowercase letters. Better still, do all that and insert some symbols. For instance, ferNaNdo_januArY_5_1861#*+

It’s also a good idea to change your passwords regularly -- at least once a year.

It also greatly improves your security if you use a different password for each of your accounts (including online ones such as for your e-mail). Further, should your computer get infected with a keystroke recorder, at least your stolen password for one account can’t be used to access your other accounts.

You can download any number of programs that generate complex passwords that are extremely difficult to crack. Type in “password generator” into the text box of a search engine and you should get many results. I just did this in Google and got back 254 hits. Additionally, see if you can find reviews of a program before using it so you can know how professional security experts and/or end users rate it.

Experts recommend you not write down your passwords anywhere, but I don’t think that’s easily possible. After all, in this wired age, many people have many instances requiring passwords, and if you have two or three dozen good passwords, it’s difficult to remember them at all, much less to remember which password is for which account.

If you do write them down, don’t keep the list anywhere obvious. Especially don’t leave it next to your computer, particularly at work!

Online security has additional considerations. For instance, when you register for a site, don’t use your real name, nor one someone might associate with you. The same is true with your age, birthday, street address, and phone number. Sometimes sites ask for such information, but my advice (and that of a great many professionals is to LIE shamelessly.

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Internal Security Acted Invoked in Parts of Thailand

This won’t present any problem for most people, especially tourists, but do be aware that in some parts of Bangkok and Phuket the ISA has been invoked. In Bangkok, there are ongoing demonstration by the so-called “red shirts” that concern the authorities, which has led to their invoking the act. As for Phuket, the concerns aren’t only about possible demonstrations by the red shirts during the upcoming ASEAN summit meeting there but also about any trouble during that meeting.

I suppose the main feature of the law is that when it’s in force, it allows military personnel to enforce laws, make civil arrests, et cetera. I don’t mean to expect some M-16-toting soldiers to come snatch your cigarette out of your hand and arrest you if they see you smiking someplace smoking is illegal. The act has to do with preventing violence or other disruptions of public order.

If your travels do take you somewhere there might be trouble, steer clear of crowds.

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Save Money Transferring Money by Wire Using Thai Bank Branches Abroad

Actually, come to think of it, I don’t know that this applies in all countries which have branches of banks headquartered here in Thailand, but I think it does.

Let me use myself as an example.

I have a bank account in the U.S. into which my monthly income is deposited. While I can access it with my ATM debit card, I do have a daily withdrawal limit, so if I need more at any one time, I have to have it transferred to my bank account here, which is in a nearby branch of K Bank (formerly Thai Farmers Bank).

If I have the money transferred directly to my account here, my U.S. bank charges me $45 -- which I feel is ridiculously expensive. However, there’s a branch of the bank in Los Angeles. One morning when I was visiting the U.S. last year, I needed to transfer some money to my Thai account, so I did so via the branch in Los Angeles -- which cost me only $12, which is still too high, in my opinion, considering how little work is involved for the bank employee, but it is much cheaper than transferring money directly.

Further, if that experience is typical, it’s also much faster. I made the tranfer in the morning, then a few hours later I went to an ATM, inserted my Thailand ATM card, and checked my balance. The money was already credited.

Compare that to the six weeks my very first such transfer took way back in 1994!

Banks here have improved over the years, but it still can take several days or a week to get the money actually credited to your account. To be fair, a different time during my early years, I had money transferred again -- and it took only under five hours, which was very impressive indeed!

Why can it take so long, even though in fact it takes seconds for the computer abroad and the computer here to exchange information? Well, that’s an easy question.

Money + greed. If the bank holds your money, it can earn interest, which of course isn’t shared with you. Of course not, it’s only your money and the bank just wants to “borrow” it, interest free, a few days. And never mind that you don’t want to lend it, and may be in desperate need of it.


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Washington Square News

Things should be looking up in the next few weeks. Taffy at New Square One Pub told me he already has room reservations for two of the Minnesota Mob, Charlie W. and Bubba. Herbie S. from Las Vegas hasn’t committed one way or the other, and I can’t predict. Herbie did tell me last year that last year might be the last time for him, since George Pipas died a few months before that visit. And coming to see George was Herbie’s chief reason for coming at all, so with George gone, Bangkok has much less appeal for Herb.

Have run into “Jolly” Gene twice in the last two weeks or so, and he’s fine. Though he lives upstairs in the same building as I do, I don’t think I’ve run into him here more than once, despite my having lived here for over three years and his having lived here well over ten years. Nice guy.

Also saw “Dandy” Dan a couple of weeks ago, for the first time in at least around two months. We had a pleasant and reasonably long visit and just chatted. He’s on the road -- or, more accurately, in the air -- a lot these days, as his works routinely takes him as far abroad as Japan, Korea, China, Australia, India, Indonesia, etc. But that means he’s making MONEY, so he’s happy enough with that!

Swedish Tony came to town two days ago, but I didn’t see him until yesterday. It was midday when I saw him, and he seemed fine, though it was hard to tell: he hadn’t been to bed yet, and had, um, imbibed rather copious quantities, including tequila. He certainly was in a festive mood, certainly!

“English” Nick is back in Bangkok after staying with his wife upcountry for quite awhile now. He’s fine, though we got to visit only briefly when I saw him yesterday.

Lone Staar Paul told me he thinks Derek “The Mad German” is in Germany now, but Paul doesn’t know when the “Teutonic Terror” will come back to Bangkok.

“Burma” Richard continues working on his latest crazy statue. He abandoned his original plan in some details, but that’s all I’m saying until he’s ready to unveil his latest artistic creation. He also has his new book with an agent in London, who’s looking for a publisher for him.

Christopher G. Moore, the well-known author of about 20 books, including the Calvino series (which I love), took off for the U.S. and his native Canada the other day on business, for some conference and for the U.S. release of one of his Calvino novels.

Visit to keep up with news about Chris and his writing. Besides his books, he writes a blog there, and he also puts out an e-mail newsletter to which you can subscribe on the homepage.

And me? I’m fine, especially in that my leg has finally healed, and my back isn’t stiff anymore, the latter a result of my limping around for weeks. It sure was a miserable two months, especially the first month, for most of which I was, for all intents and purposes, home-bound, on my back in bed or on my sofa.

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Diesel Prices Increase at 0500, Thursday, October 15th

This isn’t happy news for anyone driving a diesel-fuel vehicle, but since oil climbed above US$75.00 yesterday or the day before -- more than double what it was less than a year ago, the increase comes as no surprise.

The increase varies depending on the precise diesel you buy, but all the prices are around 25 baht per liter, or the equivalent of around US$2.82 per U.S. gallon. It would cost more than that if the government here didn’t subsidize oil products and sets the prices. Even so, in the context of local incomes, that’s very expensive -- the average monthly wage in Bangkok was around 8,000 baht (US$240.00) per month, last I knew. A tank of the stuff in an average-size vehicle takes well over 10% of that salary!

Of course, here in Bangkok with it’s notorious traffic jams, sometimes people wish all motor vehicle fuels were five or ten times more expensive than they are -- maybe then the traffic would thin somewhat!

But compare the relationship between incomes and fuel costs here with that found in places such as the U.S., Canada, and even Europe. Of course, fuel prices in the U.S. are less than they are in Canada and Europe; sometime last year I read that in one European country -- one of the Balkan states, as I recall -- gasoline went over the equivalents of US$11.00 per [U.S.] gallon, at a time it topped out at around US$4.00 in the U.S.

The relatively high price of fuel here is one reason there are so many two-stroke motorcycles here, and those contribute greatly to the air pollution, especially in towns and cities. Since such motorcycles are small, sidewalks here serve dual purposes: walking and driving motorcycles along. Between racing motorcycles, potholes in sidewalks, and even sidewalk slabs, you really are running a risk just to try to walk along a sidewalk here.

But don’t get me started. . . . J

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Enough for one go!

Mekhong Kurt

Friday, October 9, 2009

"The Rounds" for October 9, 2009 is posted at Facebook

Here's the URL:

The column is too long to publish in a single entry. Tried here after cutting it into half a dozen parts but STILL couldn't get it to publish, so I gave up. Had the same experience on every blog service I use. But Facebook let me publish it in just two parts, so I went with that. The title on each part is clickable so you can read the entire part. The headlines are at the top of the first part.

Mekhong Kurt