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.


* * * * * * * * * *

"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.")

* * * * * * * * * *

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!

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