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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!

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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

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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.

* * * * * * * * * *

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.

* * * * * * * * * *

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.

(Sigh!)

* * * * * * * * * *

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 www.cgmoore.com 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.

* * * * * * * * * *

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

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