Saturday, January 9, 2010

"The Rounds," Saturday, January 9, 2010

"The Rounds,"
Saturday, January 9, 2010

Note: If you look below each blog entry, there's a comments button. You can click that and add your own comment, if you like. It's not very obvious, so I thought I would mention it prominently here.


Restaurant Review: Green Garden Restaurant

Unusual Bangkok Weather for This Time of Year

His Majesty's Health

Expanded Mass Transit in Bangkok's Future?

ASEAN Free-Trade Area Started January 1, 2010

Confusing -- to Me Anyway! -- Changes in Alcohol Taxes

Washington Square News

Trouble in [Internet] Paradise

Odds and Ends

Some Great News about Telephone Service

Squaronians Blog News

Restaurant Review: Green Garden Restaurant
Last Friday night (New Year's Day) I went with a couple I know, Tukta and Bas to the Green Garden Restaurant on Sukhumvit Soi 20, a restaurant I had never tried despite it's close proximity to both my home and my hangouts. One of Tukta's friends, a lady with whom she used to work before she and Bas married then moved to his home country, Australia, joined us as well. (They live in the Perth area.)

The restaurant serves both Thai and international food, so caters to both Thais and foreigners. We each had a shrimp cocktail as an appetizer. Bas and I opted for Western entrees, he choosing a beef steak or cutlet (I think -- didn't take notes), while I chose the pork cutlet. The ladies had a Thai-style fish as their main dish.

The shrimp cocktails were good. The shrimp were ordinary size -- but there were seven or eight in each cocktail. The accompanying sauce was essentially Thousand Island dressing with some Thai red chilli peppers and fairly finely minced other vegetables which I couldn't really identify in the medley of tastes -- but the combination tasted quite good to all of us. I prefer the smaller shrimp, such as these were, to giant prawns, in a shrimp cocktail, as the smaller ones are easier to eat,

My pork cutlet -- cutlets, as it turned out, as the portions of everything were quite generous -- was very good at the time, and even better at home; I couldn't possibly eat all the food (especially since I wanted to eat some of the hot bread that came with our food, to which I'll return later). The cutlets were smothered with a very tasty mushroom sauce, a sauce that is right at the top of my list. There were side dishes of broccoli-green beans-carrots and mashed potatoes; the vegetable combo was quite tasty, with the vegetables firm, neither over- nor undercooked. For those who wonder why I say "but not undercooked," Thais generally prefer vegetables considerably firmer than Westerners often do, to the point that sometimes the vegetables are too crisp for some people's tastes, including mine. Those who dislike mushy vegetables, don't worry; I bet I haven't had such more than a handful of times in all my years in Asia, including in China and Macau -- Chinese' tastes in this regard for very firm vegetables are the same as Thais'.

All in all, the food was quite good.

The bread merits special mention. The waitress served us a generous basket of slices of brown bread and soft rolls, all nice and warm. Both were outstanding, whether with butter (which Bas and I used) or plain (the ladies' preference). When I asked the manager, Khun Wirat, to ask his staff to prepare my remaining food for take-away, unasked he had them bring me extra bread and a roll; I still have two slices of the bread I'm hoarding. I'm one of those people can can quite literally make a meal of just bread, especially warm bread with butter. I know, I know -- Cholesterol Time, but I salve my conscience by reminding myself that I rarely eat just bread and butter for a meal. In fact, I rarely ever eat butter, or even margerine. I do have to admit to eating too much bread; I'm not keen on cooking for one, so much of the time I eat sandwiches, hot dogs, burgers, and the like at home. But never mind; the bread was very, very good. I don't know if it's made in the kitchen or bought elsewhere, but with such good bread, who cares???

We had a bit of Chardonney (sp.?) with our meal, and water on the side. (We did stop at a nearby bar as we walked back towards Sukhumvit Road and each had a beer to wash down our meal.)

The restaurant itself is quite nice. We opted to sit outside on the patio, which is well-covered by a high roof, with plenty of fans to keep the edge off the heat -- almost a necessity for many people, especially Westerners generally and anyone from colder climes, particularly during the upcoming hot season. There also is an inside dining room. I didn't go into it, but there really was no need; the walls are largely glass, so I could see inside easily. It's quite lovely, and is air-conditioned, according to Tukta and Bas, who dine at the Green Garden regularly on their all-too-infrequent visits to the Kingdom, and they told me they have opted for inside dining a number of times previously.

Our waitress spoke perfectly serviceable English; Khun Wirat, the manager, speaks virtually flawless North American English, and is very personable as well. He certainly isn't too full of himself; he checked by a few times (made easier by the fact there were few diners) -- but not so many times as to make the waitress feel she was being monitored, or so I hope. He also brought my take-away food himself.

As I was Tukta's and Bas' guest, I tried not to pay attention to prices, but I did sneak a peek or two. While the food isn't dirt-cheap, it is reasonably priced. Excluding the wine, I guess the tab ran maybe 400-500 baht per person (~ US$12-15). I didn't even glance at the alcohol listings, so haven't the faintest idea how much the wine cost. I may be off either direction on the food tab, but I don't think by far.

Will I go back to the Green Garden? Absolutely; it made for a very, very pleasant change of scenery from my usual haunts. (Long-time readers know I'm a creature of habit -- or, as my less-than-kind Squaronian friends sometimes put it, "in a rut"!!! Huh! Sniff!) And I wouldn't hesitate to take a friend, whether Thai or foreign, to eat there.

The Green Garden is located maybe 150-160 meters inside Sukhumvit Soi 20, at most, going from Sukhumvit Road. (There are two other directions from which one can come, but unless a person is very intimately acquainted with the area, it's very difficult to explain those routes. And anyone who *is* intimately acquainted with the neighborhood already knows those routes, so there's no need for me to try to verbally trace them out.) The most obvious landmarks are the Hotel Windsor Suites and the Rembrandt Hotel on the right, before you reach the restaurant, which is on the opposite side of the soi, not far past Bei Otto Restaurant (great place!) and Basilico Italian Restaurant (another place I haven't tried -- yet).

It's easy to reach anyplace on Soi 20. You can go by private vehicle, taxi/motorcyle taxi/tuk-tuk/bus (bus stops on Sukhumvit are quite near, on both sides of the road), Skytrain (stations at the Sukhumvit-Asoke intersection and the Emporium, one stop east of the Sukhmvit-Asoke one), or subway (which has a station located at the Sukhimvit-Asoke intersection, same as the Skytrain). Here are the subway and Skytrain station names:


- Sukhumvit-Asoke intersection: Asoke Station

- The Emporium: Phrom Phong Station


- Sukhumvit-Asoke intersection: Sukhumvit Station

Further information:

19/1 Sukhumvit Soi 20 *
Khlong Toey, Bangkok 10110
Fax/Phone: 02-260-3843 (reservations accepted)

* Soi addresses are written as here (the way it is on the card) or as "19/1 Soi 20, Sukhumvit Road" -- just so you don't get confused.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Unusual Bangkok Weather for This Time of Year

The weather in the Bangkok area has been somewhat unusual since about mid-October, at least compared to what passes as the norm (I'll explain that in a bit).

First, the cool season came quite early, and was both cooler and longer than normal -- but also appears to have ended a bit earlier than is the norm, or the norm when there's any cool season at all; one or two years during my time here, we essentially didn't have a cool season, but just a handful of slightly cooler days compared to other days about the same time. On the other hand, a few days, the early-morning temperature dipped down to about 15C/60F, which is quite cool for Bangkok. I assume the reported temperature is out at the airport, so it may have been a little warmer closer in town; my digital thermometer got broken, and I haven't gotten around to replacing it, so I really don't know what the temps were here at home. In any case, it was a nice, long, pleasant cool season. I just wish it held year round!

As the cool season petered out in the days before Christmas, the mercury began coasting up at a fairly good clip, both the daytime highs and nightime lows. A few days of late the daytime highs have hit in the 33-35C/92-95F -- which is usually pretty much the high end for Bangkok anytime; it's quite rare for it to get as hot as 38C/100F -- though such days are considerably more common in the lower reaches of the north (between Bangkok and Chiang Mai) and, especially, in Isaan, the vast northeastern part of the Kingdom.

There's another unusual aspect of the weather the past two weeks or so: it has rained at least three times here where I live (and maybe more; I might have slept through a rain). That's unusual enough in itself, as we're still well before the normal start of the monsoon, or rainy, season, which typically starts sometime in May. Further, while none of those rains lasted all that long, each had periods of fairly heavy rainfall. (Well, one did last pretty much overnight, but except for about a half-hour or 45 minutes in the middle of the night, it was quite light. And I was awake through all of that night, sitting at my desk with my front door open, which my desk faces from about ten feet inside, so I have a good view the car park outside.)

Some of my friends here have asked what I make of the unusual weather the past three months or so, as they know I'm deeply interest in whether climate change is occurring, and whether it's purely natural or to some extent affected by anthropocentric -- human -- activities. The question itself demonstrates the great confusion some people have regarding climate as distinct from weather.

Though I'm not a climate scientist and therefore can't speak with any great knowledge about what the temperatures might mean, if anything, in terms of climate, clearly the weather has been somewhat unusual. I'm not talking 2012 movie stuff, in which the Earth is greatly altered in accordance with ancient Mayan predictions, and not just the weather and climate. (The supposed Mayan predictions are themselves highly controversial, and I don't want to get into them here.)

I can say that climate has to do with macro scales, such as the Great Ice Ages, and the long warmer periods in between. Scientists tell us there have been at least six or seven such cycles in Earth's history, spread over geological time scales. For instance, the average estimate for the end of the most recent Great Ice Age for the global climate to change to about what we experience today is around 4,000 years (though there's some flexibility both directions from that average).

On the other hand, weather is more of a micro phenomenon, if sometimes on continental -- but not global -- scales. Anyone living in the Great Plains in America is all-too-familiar with the dramatic changes that can occur in hours, even minutes. I remember one late fall day when I was a teenager living on the family ranch in northeast Texas and a strong cold front blew in, the kind of front we call a "blue norther'." Before the front hit, the temperature was in the upper 60's (F); within about half an hour, it had dropped to the upper 30's, and dipped down below freezing that night. How did that happen? A strong cold air mass rolled off the Arctic on a trajectory sending it coursing down over northeastern Canada and straight into the Upper Great Plains in the U.S. And the Rockies in the west and Appalachians in the east, which get closer together moving from north to south, act as a funnel, aiming the air mass straight towards the jugular of states within that "funnel." The family ranch is right smack dab in the middle of it, about equidistant from the two mountain ranges.

That's weather -- not climate. It did not signal the coming of the next Great Ice Age (obviously -- that was 40 years ago). Similarly, Australia's record-hot summer in 2009 -- the second-highest on record, with very high temperatures right across the country -- didn't signal the coming of a "Great Warm Age."

Further complicating matters are events such as the Medieval Warm Period and the following Little Ice Age, both shifts that each lasted a few hundred years. The former certainly had ended by no later than around 1200, and maybe considerably before then; its start hasn't been pinned down even as well as its end. Similarly, there are relatively widely-differing estimates of the onset of the Little Ice Age, but just about everyone agrees it had started by sometime in the first half of the 16th century (1500's). Easier to pin down is its end, about mid-19th century (1800's).

Why are these complicating? Because while there were instances of growing glaciers and the like during the Little Ice Age, the changes were not global. That is, while examples were found all over the planet, they didn't cover the planet, unlike during a true Ice Age, when ice sheets cover entire continents, or much of them, the southern reaches in the northern hemisphere and the northern reaches in the southern hemisphere reaching much closer to the equator than they are now.

That did not happen during the Little Ice Age.

So, what does Bangkok's unusual weather of late signify for the Earth's climate?

Not a damned thing, neither in terms of natural change or anthropocentric change. It's a local or regional phenomenon, just as the extraordinarily fierce northern winter that is occurring in many places around the northern hemisphere even as I type doesn't indicate global trends. Heck, China is having a cold winter all over the country, including in parts of Yunnan Province, which isn't all that far from the northern part of the Kingdom, i.e., that part of Thailand in the Golden Triangle -- but the "winter" in places such as Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai aren't much different than most years.

ANYWAY! I sure as heck did ENJOY this cool season -- MAK MAK!!! ("BIG-BIG!!!" or "MUCH-MUCH!!!").

Thursday, January 7, 2010

His Majesty's Health

As people who follow news of Thailand's beloved King know, he has been hospitalized the past few months, including, unfortunately, on his birthday December 5th and during the New Year holiday.

However, the news media are reporting that he has basically recovered from the complaints that led to his hospitalization, though last I knew, he remained in hospital, slowly regaining his strength while his medical team closely monitor his progress.

The nation was on edge, especially earlier on, when the outcome remained uncertain; after all, His Majesty is 82. But the crisis has passed, and everyone is eagerly awaiting the day he is released from hospital and is able to go home.

The King's illness did have some effects that the illness of an ordinary person would not. For instance, the ongoing political disputes between the "red shirts" and "yellow shirts" has been muted of late, as people on both sides united in their concern for their revered Monarch.

I don't know how tourism numbers worked out for 2009, but perhaps the relative peace brought about Thais' deep anxiety about the King gave those numbers a bump -- and if it did, I'm quite sure no one is more pleased than His Majesty, who has a deep and abiding love for his people, and an utter devotion to their well-being and happiness. He knows quite well that street demonstrations and clashes damage the country's image, which can damage the entire tourism sector, including domestic tourism.

He's truly extraordinary, both as a sovereign and as a man. Even we foreigners have deep respect and affection for him -- though none of us claim to have feelings identical to those of the Thais; theirs is practically beyond our imagination, ingrained as it is in their very hearts and bones.

And rightly so.

Your Majesty, good health and long life!

Long Live the King!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Expanded Mass Transit in Bangkok's Future?

Not long ago I read that the government has proposed expanding the Big Mango's current existing and planned bus, subway, Skytrain, and light-rail lines to cover well over 400 kilometers. (I don't recall the exact number, just that it is more than 400 and less than 500. Let's split the difference and say around 450.)

Were all those lines put into one straight line pointed at Vientiane, the capital of neighboring Laos, it would reach a point northeast of Udorn Thani and southwest of Nongkhai -- nearly to the border, which Vientiane abuts.

That's pretty ambitious, given the huge costs associated with any mass transit project.

Given the global economic crisis, these plans are only talk at the moment, with dates murky, at best, since when and how quickly the economic recovery might occur are both very much subject to debate, even amongst world-recognized professional economists.

The current concern among many, including some Thai economists, is that the recession will be a "W-shaped" one. I imagine just about everyone on the planet knows what that means, but to clarify for anyone who doesn't know, it means we've already gone through one downturn and that while current indicators give some cause for cautious optimism the worst may be behind us, some are warning we could face another downturn sometime in the next year or two before finally really moving back up to a prosperous global economy.

A roller coaster ride, first plunging, as happened 2008-2009, then some improvement, then another downward dive, with true recovery lying beyond that second dip. I have no idea what to think, given that professional analysts are constantly disagreeing about what remains in store for us. [Late note: it's now Saturday morning, and I just heard on the news that the job data for the U.S. released yesterday showed an unexpected -- and unwanted -- spike in job losses. Does that indicate a coming second dip? I don't have a clue.]

Thailand has a stimulus package, as have many countries, and when the economy does pick up, there will be the bill for that to confront. I guess that might slow building such an ambitious mass transit system; some projects that were supposed to have already begun construction have necessarily been rescheduled for later or put on indefinite hold.

Though ridership on the existing lines is below what rosy forecasts predicted, it's still above the gloomy ones, and, more importantly, the system is proving profitable for the various concessionaires, if not quite the gold mine for which they had hoped (as we all would hope, in their shoes). By the way, the mass transit system here isn't run by one monolithic company or agency. One company runs the subway and another the Skytrain, both in partnership with the government, which exercises oversight of both the construction and operation of the two components. The same hold for light rail. Municipal buses are operated by the government directly, though there are various private buses roaming the streets, such as the "green demons" noted for their dilapidated buses and dangerously careless drivers.

Anyway, the reasonably good financial performance is in spite of the fact that ticket prices -- except on public municipal buses -- remain beyond reach for a great many workaday Thais, who earn an average in Bangkok of around 8,000 baht (about US$235 at the current exchange rate of US$1.00 to about 34 baht).

To put this expansion in a perspective my fellow Americans can understand, since the metric system still is beyond their ken (!), 400-500 kilometers equals, very roughly, 250-315 miles. Those are impressive numbers, by any standard. (Our comparable numbers in the U.S. are as "impressively" dismal -- by any standard!)

As long-time readers know, I rarely even get to the nearest subway and Skytrain stations, or even bus stops. Of course, practically my entire life is along or just off Sukhumvit Soi 22, including my home; since there aren't any buses, subways, or Skytrains running along the soi, I have no occasion to use any -- though I would take a bus if any ran along the soi, instead of taxis.

I have ridden both the subway and the Skytrain a few times, and both of them are quite nice and convenient. My sole complaint is that there are not either escalators or elevators, or a mix of the two, for one to get down to the subway departure platforms or up to those for the Skytrain without negotiating at least some stairs. That's not a problem for many of us, but it would be nice to have such access all the way down or up without any stairs at all, even were portions reserved for the elderly, infirm, injured (such as someone with a broken leg) the disabled, and pregnant ladies. I know that elevators and escalators are expensive, but perhaps more can be phased in over time, spreading the outlay over a few years.

One really nice route is the one linking the inner city to Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok's international airport the past 3-plus years. That's set to open sometime this year, and indications are, that schedule likely will be met.

People are rapidly learning how to mix Skytrain/subway travel with traveling by taxi/buses or private cars when their departure point and/or destination aren't right next to a subway of Skytrain station. For instance, a couple I know who live in the far northeast recently flew on a domestic flight that landed at Don Muang, the old airport, which isn't reached by either the Skytrain or subway. Further, their final destination was way out in Samut Phrakan, well beyond the Soi Onnut terminus of the Skytrain and even beyond the Bangna-Trad intersection.

And they landed just in time for afternoon rush hour.

So, they took a taxi from the airport (which made surprisingly good time, actually) to the Monchit Skytrain station, which is the one closest to the airport. Then they switched to the Skytrain -- and in minutes were at Washington Square, where they stopped for a visit, after which they reboarded the Skytrain and continued to Soi Onnut. There, they took a taxi on home.

Total travel time? -- a bit over an hour. Had they traveled the entire distance by taxi, it likely would have been close to double that. And that's not to mention rather more expensive.

All in all, mass transit, especially in terms of the subway, Skytrain, and light rail, has developed by leaps and bounds over the past 10-12 years. Sure, that's hardly a short time, but it takes a lot of time to somplete such mega-projects.

And successive governments, as different as they have been from each other, have consistently stayed the course in this regard, for which they deserve a LOUD round of applause.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

ASEAN Free-Trade Area Started January 1, 2010

The long-awaited ASEAN Free-Trade Are (FTA) has finally begun being phased in after years of complex and sometimes contentious negotiations between the member nations.

First proposed early in the decade, between now and 2015, tariffs on some 7,000 goods and services are to be phased out or greatly reduced. If I understood correctly, some import duties were eliminated on January 1st.

This should stimulate regional trade, as has already happened between Thailand and China after those two countries implemented their own bilateral FTA a few years ago, since which time trade has reportedly increased dramatically. I even read recently that Chinese-made electric bicycles are beginning to catch on here in the Kingdom, if at a modest (or maybe slow) pace. After all, electric bicycles are considerably cheaper than even the least expensive new motorcycle, which runs well over half an average Bangkok wage earner's annual income. Compared to what Americans, say, sometimes pay for cars, that may not sound like such a bad hit on income. However, in the first place, most Americans buy cars, not motorcycles -- whereas cars remain but a fabulous dream for a great many Thais. Secondly, Thais, like many Asians, tend to pay cash (or relatively large down payments), unlike Westerners making little or no down payment and paying out over one to a few years. Third, when you consider how relatively large a slice Thais have to spend just for daily necessities compared to the slice many Westerners have to fork out, we can see that an electric bicycle might be a very attractive alternative to a motorcycle for some Thais.

When I say many Thais opt for motorcycles, I'm not talking about a road hog such as a Harley-Davidson or some such. I'm talk small motorcycles with engines in the 100-125 cubic-centimeter range, not all that much bigger than scooters. Think a Honda Dream or a Vespa.

Maybe a year ago I read that about 10,000,000 electric bicycles had been sold in China to that point, with sales curving upwards practically exponentially. Just recently, I read the sales figures has already crossed the 100,000,000 mark -- a ten-fold increase in a year or so, which is extraordinary, even in a country with China's huge 1.3 billion population. Those numbers show that such vehicles do have a substantial niche they can fill for many potential customers in this part of the world. Well, just about the whole world, I suppose.

I don't know about the safety factors. Since an electric bicycle is lighter than a regular motorcycle (if heavier than an ordinary muscle-powered bicycle), and since an electric one travels at lower speeds, I assume they might be safer than a motorcycle. On the other hand, bicycle) riders are exposed, far more so than someone in an enclosed vehicle is, something no amount of padding and the best helment can offset, so maybe they're more dangerous -- than an enclosed vehicle, anyway. especially if they tangle with a car or some such. Of course, that's true for motorcycle riders, too.

I wouldn't want to ride any two-wheeled vehicle on major streets anywhere in greater Bangkok and certainly not on highways, where the Mad Max-Road Warrior mentality reigns supreme among practically all drivers, local and foreign. After all, why go the speed limit when you can go several times that fast when the traffic's light, right? "What's wrong with going 220-230 kph though the speed limit is 80 kph???" is the operational principle. (Yanks, those numbers translate to about 140-145 mph and 50 mph, respecrtively.)

At the right price, I would consider one for running errands (though not if I thought I might end up wanting to have even just one drink; driving in Bangkok would still be risky as all get out even if alcohol literally disappeared completely right this second. (Which is not to downplay the greatly significant role alcohol plays in the road carnage here, as shown over the New Year's period.)

Anyway, the prices of many products, including a great many consumer ones, should be dropping, which is welcome news. Even before this agreement, one could find inexpensive products such as rice cookers (largely from China) and so on in many shops.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Confusing -- to Me Anyway! -- Changes in Alcohol Taxes

Read a brief story last week saying, if I read it correctly, that import taxes on beer and booze are being dropped, I think for products from outside Thailand but specifically from countries included in the new ASEAN FTA.

However, apparantly, domestic taxes will be going up -- a bunch.

I can't remember which category it was for sure, but I think the change in the domestic tax on spirtis is from a previous tax of 120% to 400%. I assume the changes will apply to all spirits, including local ones. There were also changes in taxation on wine and beer (both way up, of course), and I noticed just last night when I bought a can of Leo beer, a local brew, at the little shop across the drive from my apartment that it was 30 baht, up 2 baht from the day before, and up from 25 baht just a month or six weeks ago. Further, the first time I bought a can of Leo beer, about two years ago or a little less, it cost either 19 baht or 21 baht, I forget which.

Either way, retail beer has gone way up in a relatively short time. The increase has been about 50%, for Leo beer anyway.

Alcohol prices were already edging up in bars and restaurants, so I'm almost certain we'll see some further price hikes as existing stocks run out and the bar and restaurant owners order new supplies.

Thrill, thrill, huh???

Well, I suppose since other products are supposed to be cheaper under the FTA, prices will balance out, at least somewhat, over time.

We'll see. . . .

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Washington Square News

Well, we're getting well past the holidays proper, so things are not quite as hectic as they were (especially starting Christmas Eve then through New Year's Day), but that doesn't mean there's no late-breaking news. So, here we go --

Charlie W., the "Godfather" of the "Minnesota Mob" in the Minneapolis area, arrived for a three-week gig about a week or so ago, and he's just as needling as ever -- he loves to ride me for my slow, easy gait, referring to me on occasion as "The Shuffler." He also has an acerbic wit, but never an offensive one; in this, he rivals Bruce the Laird!

He brought stuff for several other people, including sausages and cheese. I asked him how he brought some of the meat, given that it wasn't in a vacuum-pack nor in a can, and I was surprised when he said the TSA folks opened his carry-on luggage, in which he had the stuff, but didn't search it. He added he had written a list of every single item and put the paper on top, which the officer did read, then just waved him on.

The reason that surprised me is that when I was returning to Bangkok from Texas in 2008, the TSA officer told me I could have the sausage I had in my carry-on -- but not the cheese, even though everything was in a vaccum-pack. (He did let me rush back to the check-in counter and out it in my checked suitcase.)

Charlie also brought, as he always does, his own supply of lemons to squeeze lemon juice into his vodka and beer. Seems he doesn't like lime, which threw him when he first started coming to Thailand, since the Thai word for "lime" is "le-MON." The only lemons -- fat, yellow ones -- here are imported, and very expensive. Charlie checked at Villa Market the other day; three lemons cost 150-160 baht/~US$4.40-4.70!!! Well over a DOLLAR per lemon! Thanks, but a big, fat NO THANKS!!! Or think of it in this context: the average salary in Bangkok works out to about 265 baht per day, so three lemons would cost in the 60% range of a worker's daily earnings. Again, no thanks . . .

Anyway, Charlie continues to do well; I have seen him several times, as recently as last night, and may see him later this evening.

His buddy Bubba got here earlier this week, and he'll be staying for about two weeks, then he and Charlie will be returning to Snow Country come the 19th (or maybe it's in the wee hours of the 20th; not sure). Though he's still very large, he is in good health. And as friendly as always. I've seen him a few times, too, including this morning when I was at the Texas Lone Staar and he came strolling in. Since he's not retired, unlike Charlie, he can't swing three weeks off (and probably wouldn't want to spend the even bigger bucket of money than he spends already -- his IS generous, both to fellow Squaronians and the ladies in the bars!). It'll be awhile before he'll be able to come for longer periods, I suppose (unless he's got a rich aunt who drops dead and leaves him a fortune, that is), considering he's a wee lad in his mere mid-forties.

As always, Charlie and Bubba were both warmly welcomed by one and all; they're two helluva nice guys.

(We wish Herb had come, too -- his visits always overlapped Charlie's and Bubba's -- but he may not come back out this way again. He told us when he came late in 2008 that that trip was likely his last, since George Pipas had died a few months earlier. And everyone can understand that; Herb and George went back decades, and George was Bangkok's chief attraction for Herb.)

Saw Jim S., the American geophysicist, the other night at the Lone Staar, the first time I had seen him since at least August. He lives in the Pratunam area of town, which really isn't all *that* far away, but he rarely gets down to the Square anymore, and hasn't been a daily regular for a number of years now. He looked well, and said he's doing just fine, but simply stays home or hangs very close to it when he does go out. Anyway, I really like Jim and was very glad to see him -- caught me by surprise.

Bear and Mam are still in town; they'll be returning to Surin tomorrow evening. Bear invited a group of us to meet him (and Mam? -- don't know) at a restaurant I've never been, the Roaadhouse Barbecue Restaurant on the corner of Rama 4 Road and Suriwong Road, near Patpong. The group was Taffy, Charlie W., Bubba, Mike N., Tom-Tom, and me. However, I woke up this morning with a cold settled in my left eye, and it drove me crazy, so I skipped going, opting, finally, to coming home, taking some medicine, and napping awhile. And now I feel much better; the itching and burning has gone from my eye, much to my relief, and giving me hope this little bout is over. I hope hope hope. I did call Bear about 45 minutes ago, and the group of them were in a bar in Patpong, but he said they'll be returning to the Square maybe 6:30-7:00, so if I decide to get back out this evening, perhaps I'll see them then (or some of them, anyway). Haven't seen Mam this trip and would love to do so, but if she's not with them tonight, then maybe I'll have to wait until next time they come.

[Update: It's late Saturday morning right now. I ended up going back to the Square last night and did run into the group at Taffy's place. They had a grand time of it, though Charlie and Taffy chose to try to get a taxi, despite the heavy traffic, on Silom at Patpong, while Bear and Bubba came via the subway to the station at Sukhumvit Road-Asoke intersection then the Skytrain one stop to the Emporium, just a short taxi ride from Washington Square. Poor Charlie and Taffy couldn't find a taxi, and ended up taking a tuk-tuk -- and stuck in traffic. It took them well over an hour to make it from Patpong to the Square, compared to the 25 minutes or so it took Bubba and Bear to go up to the Sala Daeng Skytrain station at Patpong, then deciding to go up to Rama 4 Road and taking the subway instead -- the Skytrain was packed -- and that included the 10 minutes or so it took them to get down from the Skytrain and stroll up to the subway. Mike N. had wandered off on his own and never did make it to the Square. Anyway, they all said they had a particularly grand time and greatly enjoyed the food. Wish I had felt like joining them, darn it all. By the way, Tom-Tom did make it, which pleased everyone, though he didn't go to Patpong with the guys so not the Square either, unless he stopped off much earlier than I arrived.]

Have talked to Garvin B. on the phone a few times over the holidays, most recently last week, at which time he admitted he was glad the holidays are over, as his Thai wife's family and friends were either at their place partying or dragging Garvin and Mrs. B. off to one of their homes for partying, all of which required generous amounts of beer and booze. And, this being Thailand, food to feed ten times as many people as were present on any given occasion! (Asians *do* both love and know how to eat!) Said he and his family had a really nice holiday. We hope to hook up one day quite soon, when he can make his way into town from the wilds of Minburi, where he lives and has his business.

Burt hasn't been back to the Square since Julae, his wife, and he were down, let's see, I think it was Thursday of last week. Haven't talked to him since, but since he's an officer in the V.F.W. and there's a meeting of the group at JUSMAG tomorrow morning, I expect him to stop off at the Square, maybe both on his way to JUSMAG and after the meeting's over. Burt and Julae's daughter, Jan, hasn't been around in awhile either, and there's no telling when she'll be back to see us. But she knows she's always welcome, that's for sure!

Saw Richard Diran earlier today at the Silver Dollar, and he reminded me he and his wife, Junko, are off for their semi-annual holiday in Japan to see Junko's 80-something-years-old Mom. The three of them will follow family tradition and go to a hot springs resort in the mountains some distance outside Kyoto; Junko's Mom lives in the Kyoto area. They really enjoy their winter holiday, though I don't know just how much *I'd* like running bare-butt naked through the snow to jump into the springs! By the way, that's *not* a joke. Naturally, Richard doesn't have any *pictures* to prove it (or denies having any, he claims), but I do know Japanese love doing that, so I've no reason to doubt him. Besides, Junko has also said in years past how much she, too, enjoys it, as does her Mom.

Richard's still working away on his latest statue; don't know when he'll finish it. It'll be big -- 20 inches tall and *heavy* -- I forget how many kilograms -- and he'll have it cast in bronze, as he did his last statue. He's also trying to angle getting his superb book about the hill tribes in Burma back into print, but that's turning out to be quite a challenge, because of the high costs for making photographic plates, and the book is chock full of Richard's fabulous photographs of the hill tribe people. Though I have a copy already, I hope he succeeds in getting it republished, so others can enjoy it, too.

Saw Cajun Riley yesterday, and was a little surprised when he mentioned having had to make a border visa run the day before. It's been *years* since he's been in-country over 28-30 days, and he has always flown in, so he got a 30-day visa-on-arrival every time. But now he's betwixt and between job contracts, and ran out of time on his visa, so had to exit the Kingdom. He mentioned he has a job offer in Saudi Arabia, but he's out for more money. (Riley works in the oil patch, and has for decades, so he can command a premium salary.) He's doing well, and passed along greetings from his lovely Lek to all of us.

Derek "The Mad German" is still around; he's an odd person, but a nice guy. He goes downstairs at the Lone Staar -- he has a room upstairs -- every morning to drink coffee and feed the birds, the latter a job he took over when George passed away. He was around more than usual during the holidays, but that's to be expected. Like I said, a nice guy.

Ted Secor was around this morning, though he was gone by the time I got to the Square. English Paul told me Ted had come with George Miller for early-morning coffee, and the three of them were joined by Art Crocker. Ted's back off to the Hua Hin area come Monday, though George won't be going anywhere --- he never gets off Soi 22, if he can help it. But I can't say anything about *that,* since I'm exactly the same! George lives even closer to the Square than I do; his apartment is in the Liberty Place Apartments, located about halfway between Sukhumvit Road and Rama 4 Road, sitting on the west side of Soi 22. Art's off to Pattaya, let's see, I think he said tomorrow -- I did see him later when he came back out -- but just for a few days before returning to Bangkok. They're all well. (I did see both Ted and George yesterday at the Lone Staar at lunch time, and probably will tomorrow for the bar's free Saturday grub.)

Tobin "Robot-y" and his wife, the lovely Jeab, will be coming into town sometime in the next few days. They'll be en route to Chiang Mai, where Jeab's family lives, but they do plan to spend a day or two in Bangkok both on their way in and back out to the San Francisco area, where they live. Tobin sent me an e-mail recently and said that while the economic downturn has affected his business, too, he's still doing okay. He also said that given as much traveling as he has to do (he's a consultant), including internationally, he is somewhat glad to have a less hectic pace -- though, of course, he hopes business gets back up soon, since he's paid by the job, not by a salary.

Haven't heard from Brad "The Lad" lately, so I'm assuming he's doing okay, if freezing his buns off at his home 20-30 miles south of Boston proper! When he left a few months back, he told me he might give up his annual 4-6 month treks out here, though he does expect to come on shorter holidays of maybe 2-3 weeks. But no indication so far when that might be. I do hope he does indeed come again -- he's very well-liked here.

Jay Adair drops a line occasionally from the Chicago metropolitan area, where his aging Mom lives and where Jay spends several months each year visiting her and taking care of various matters for her. I imagine *they're* freezing, too!

Don't see much of Nigel these days, but that's good -- he's looking after his health in the wake of a potentially really serious health scare. But I did see him a time or two over the holidays, and he was doing just fine.

Tom-Tom was down yesterday, this time with Apple, his lady. Hadn't seen her in quite awhile -- since before Tom-Tom found himself in hospital a few months ago. They were doing well but didn't stay all that long; Tom-Tom, like Nigel, is taking it easy as he get's back to full steam. He is still using a walker, but he said he is getting his strength back, if slowly. He still looks *far* better than he did in the days running up to his falling ill, that's for darned sure.

Have seen Dale and Bundy, both from Australia but long based here in Bangkok, in recent weeks; in fact, saw Dale just yesterday and Bundy a few days ago. They continue on, rocking right along, and said they had a nice holiday season.

Speaking of folks from Australia, I haven't run into Cal in awhile, let's see -- did I see him Christmas Eve? I think so. But not since. I do know he was around after that, as other Squaronians saw him, and they said he was doing fine.

This next isn't really Square news, per se, as the lady never goes there anymore, but she used to, so I'll mention her anyway.

Sweetie Pie, my dear friend and former neighbor, closed up her massage business here and moved out to the wilds of Samut Prakan, about 20 kilometers from here. (Some of you know to whom I refer; I don't use her name here because she explicitly asked me not to put any personally-identifying information, not even her nickname, on the Internet -- much less her apartment particulars, phone number, etc. etc. etc.; she's a very, very private person.) She went through a lengthy, but cheap, vocational program (about a year actually in school, over about 15 months) to learn how to shampoo, cut, and style both men's and women's hair, apply make-up, and give manicures and pedicures. Then she took an unpaid job in a unisex barber shop/beauty salon, the agreement being the barber-owner, who is highly successful and has many, many customers, would help her hone her skills, then actually put her on a modest salary. that lasted under two weeks, as the guy had her doing maid's work, period, and didn't even let her shampoo someone's hair. Soon thereafter, she went to a similar shop, but one where the barbers and hair stylists worked half the day, then broke for lunch, and during the second half of the day, actually gave the students (who paid quite a lot of money for the training) hands-on training. But eventually she left, judging the pace too slow and the training involving mostly stuff she had already learned at the vocational school, so she left there, too.

But now she's landed a job in another shop -- for a surprisingly high salary, in the range of the average monthly income for workers in Bangkok. So, if it's just "average," why do I say it's surprisingly high? Because it is -- for that part of the metropolitan area. And many things are considerably cheaper there, such as rents; she pays just 2,000 baht a month for a nice efficiency apartment with a lovely balcony on the 10th floor of a 10-storey apartment building, with a commanding view of the river directly from her apartment. Her salary is also surprising since she doesn't, after all, have any true work experience in the field.

Not that she's on Easy Street, mind you. As is normal here, she works from 8:00 A.M. to 9:00 P.M., with just two days off each month (also the norm here in that sort of employment). She does get a meal break, and, of course, she isn't busy all day; when I last talked to her a few days ago, right after she got home, she said she had had only three customers herself that day. Tips? Well, every baht helps, but she netted the princely sum of 28 baht in tips that day. Hardly a fortune-maker, huh?

Still, she's greatly pleased to be gainfully employed doing something she really likes. And she's got a natural talent for it. The first time she cut my hair, just three months or so after she started the vocational school, she gave me a perfectly good hair-cut. She practically sobbed with relief when she gave me a mirror to look at myself and I praised her work -- she had never cut a foreigner's hair, nor anyone's who hair is wavy or curly, as mine is.

She's also delighted, understandably so, to have her own, independent income, which while not grand, is enough for her to live a decently comfortable life-style by only her own efforts. She no longer will need to rely on her family -- especially her Mom, two Sisters, and Brother -- nor on spot loans from friends, and that comes a great relief for a proud -- but not at all haughty -- woman.

Over the past two or three years she has picked up a number of vocational certificates in various areas, such as massage, and make-up, a special course she took at a cosmetics manufacturer. With all her different areas, she hopes to open her own shop offering a range of services and products, and maybe in conjunction with a Thai restaurant. (She's a superb cook, too.)

It's nice when a Thai friend -- well, any friend, regardless of nationality -- plugs away at something, cinching up her belt and doing without to reach a goal, attains that goal. And Sweetie Pie has reached a major milestone in her long-term plan for her life. And that delights me no end.

There is, from a social perspective, a downside to this: with just two days a month off and working 13 hours a day -- plus commuting at least half an hour each way (sometimes an hour or a little more, when traffic's bad), we won't be able to get together much. Heck, I already had to put up without seeing her the three weeks or so she spent upcountry at her Mom's over the Christmas-New Year's holiday. She came back one day and stopped by on her way home, then began work the following morning. And she'll have to take care of her own business on her days off -- shopping, laundry, paying bills, and so on.

Oh, well -- I'd rather see a happy, successful friend just now and then rather than one adrift and glum every day!

I'm probably forgetting someone or the other, but that covers a number of the Squaronians. So don't yak-yak me!!! ;-)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Trouble in [Internet] Paradise

To my great irritation, my Internet connection went down Wednesday night. I called True, my ISP, and a really nice guy spent half an hour talking me through various stuff for me to try on my end while he tried some stuff on his end, but none of it worked.

A technician came the next afternoon. He couldn't get a connection established, either. He checked the modem as much as he could without being connected, and found nothing wrong with what he could check. Then he went to the phone box in the office and connected his techie's phone directly to the TOT line coming in from outside, bypassing my line between my apartment and the phone box entirely -- and the TOT line is operational.

He said he was virtually certain there's a break somewhere in my line. Turns out neither TOT nor True can service my line, but he had talked to the manager, and she said she could arrange a technician to come in sometime next week, leaving me practically living in a remote cave! In fact, being reduced to isolation, I decided to partly fill my time by writing this column! So, lucky you!

And it's not just my Internet connection that's out; so is my land-line phone. The technician told me voice is carried on one wire and data (such as an Internet connection) travels on a separate line, but the two are bundled together -- and he thinks *both* are physically broken.

Although I'll have to pay a hefty 1,000-1,500 baht service charge plus materials costs, it'll be well worth it to be connected to the universe again.

It wouldn't be so bad if I had good cable television service. But TrueVision, the main cable provider in Bangkok, isn't serving every neighborhood yet -- and my immediate area is, I was told, one such unserved area. I do have some off-brand cable, but it's not very good. There are two movie channels that sometimes run foreign-language films, including English, at night (primarily), though re-runs dominate on both channels. There are also channels for Channel News Asia from Singapore, CCTV News from Beijing, and NHK News from Tokyo, all in English. However, the audio track on both Channel News Asia and CCTV has been nonfunctional for around 18 months now, though I've reported that fact repeatedly. Until two or three weeks ago, I also had the Thai-ASEAN News Network (formerly ASTV, and before that, Thai Outlook Channel) that I liked, especially for local news. It bills itself as "Thailand's only all-English news," though in fact some of the shows are in Thai, with no subtitles. But the shows are mostly in English. However, one recent Friday morning, I turned on my TV and clicked over to that channel -- and it had been replaced with a perfectly inane Thai-language channel, the Party Channel, which largely offers broadcasts of people milling around on a stage, apparently pretending to be at a cocktail party! Fascinating stuff, huh -- even if I understood Thai perfectly or the broadcasts were in English!

So, unless I decide to go out, I'm pretty much dependent on reading, fooling around on my dumb and blind computer, or watching TV -- where even the news is repeated again and again and again, as are the nature, travel, cultural, and other shows (though I do have to admit the NHK does offer some really great shows in those categories; there's one about the Samuri tradition right now, for instance).

Well, there's nothing I can do about any of this stuff, so I'll just have to wait (if not very patiently, true) until I can get back on the Internet and, eventually, get TrueVision cable here (I hope). Sigh . . .

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Odds and Ends

Some people do really strange things.

For instance, there was the guy in the U.S. who strolled into some convenience store (or some such) just before the Christmas-New Year holiday season and shoplifted a couple small items -- then asked the clerk to call the police to arrest him. The clerk readily complied and the responding officers promptly did indeed handcuff the thief and hauled him to jail. When detectives asked him why on earth he had committed the crime, he calmly explained he detests his family, and getting himself arrested was the *only* way he could think of to be able to avoid spending the holidays with any of them!

Well -- it worked, didn't it???

Come to think of it -- what if the judge ordered him to spend time with his family, under police supervision, anyway? The idiot thief would probably find THAT a far worse "sentence" than being thrown into jail! (By the way, though there's been a drop in just how often American judges pass such "sentences," called "creative sentences," in recent years, some have been truly creative. But perhaps the most creative isn't any judge's, but an Arizona sheriff, famed for making county prisoners wear pink underwear, and sometimes (or so I've heard) pink work uniforms when he sends them out to do back-breaking labor, such as road construction -- in chain gangs. That sheriff is highly controversial, but he sure gets results. Just how legal all that is . . . well, that's hotly disputed.)

Then there was the young man, also in the States (I'm sorry to say!), who drove up to the drive-through window of some fast-food outlet, with a stocking pulled over his face as a mask, and demanded the window clerk give him the money from the cash drawer. She balked, and the manager noticed something going on, so she rushed up to the window herself.

Upon seeing the robber, she demanded, "Just what do you think you're doing???"

Talk about a really, really, really STUPID wannabe hold-up man: the manager of the restaurant is his Mother!!! (This guy is a strong future possible Darwin Award recipient! Jeez.)

Moving right along . . .

Wrapping our minds around just how far a light year away is from us is hard, as such a vast distance -- roughly 5.9 trillion miles (5,900,000,000,000) is beyond daily comprehension. But here are a couple other contexts that might make it more comprehensible. One light year is equal to about 236 million trips around the Earth at the equator. Still having trouble getting it? (Me, too.) Well, how about this: one light year equals about 32,065 round trips between the Earth and the Sun.

It gets worse. The nearest star (except the Sun) is about 4.5 light years away. The Magellianic Clouds, vast star clusters that are companions of our own Milky Way, are something like 17,000 and 20,000 light years away. (I may be off a bit on those distances, but they're in that range.) And astronomers refer to them and the Milky Way as "The Local Group" -- without even crack a smile! The Andromeda Galaxy, the nearest true galaxy to the Milky Way, is some 2,000,000 light years away -- it takes light 20,000 centuries to travel that gulf, so when we look at the Andromeda Galaxy, which is visible even to the naked eye as a faint smudge, we're seeing it as it was 2,000,000 years ago -- not as it appears today. For all we know, it flew apart since then but we won't even know about it until in the remote future (if we don't blow ourselves up first, that is).

Finally, the most distant anything we've ever observed is over 13 billion light years away -- meaning it takes light over 13 billion years to cover the distance -- and that length of time is close to three times the age of the Earth!

Stew on those numbers awhile, then do like I do: shake your head, snort, and forget about 'em! ;-)

On another science front, Japanese scientists have developed a translucent fish. This isn't a first; other researchers -- also Japanese? -- not sure -- developed a similar critter, a translucent frog, a year or two ago. So, why make a see-through creature? It allows researchers to directly examine its internal organs, etc., without having to dissect, and thus kill, the animal. And they get to examine, say, its heart in living action. I've seen videos of both the frogs and the fish, and it is wonderfully strange to see their hearts beating. With special dyes and equipment, scientists can even image the blood flowing. Pretty neat stuff. Imagine having a few in your home aquarium -- quite a conversation piece for you and any guests!

Unless you're like me, anyway. When my ex-wife and I moved to Beaumont, Texas in mid-1988, we soon bought a smallish aquarium and a few fish, along with some ornaments. The fish died within an hour or two, which the pet shop generously replaced for free. (Darned nice of them.) Those fish promptly died, too. I called the pet shop, and some guy gave me detailed instructions on how to give the aquarium an extra-thorough cleaning to be sure to kill any germs and so on that might be killing the fish. I followed his instructions, then went and bought two goldfish -- and THEY quickly died. Stumped, I called the guy back, and he asked me to bring the aquarium in. Though it cost more to have the tank specially cleaned in a lab than just to give me a new one, the shop owner split the cost with me, asking me to pay only 40% of it -- he wanted to know what in the world was killing fish in a fish tank model he sold routinely.

A week later, the owner called me and offered me a new aquarium, one made by a different manufacturer. Turned out the lab had put my aquarium through the works -- radiation, very high heat treatment, major league disinfecting with powders and liquids, and growing lab cultures looking for the culprit -- which turned up zilch. Then the lab folks filled the tank with absolutely pure water and put some fish in it, and they died. Despite the treatment (which the gravel and ornaments had undergone, too). Even scientists were left baffled. So was the orginal manufacturer.

So much for me and fish! (And I'm just as useless with plants, by the way; decades ago I got some air ferns as a gift, and air ferns are practically impossible to kill. But mine died. All of the several I bought died, for that matter. No "Mr. Farmer" in this guy!

Go figure. . . .

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Some Great News About Telephone Service

When I was on the phone whining, pissing, and moaning about my lack of Internet service to the guy at True the other night, I mentioned that my voice service was out, and, by the way, how in the heck I could get my voice service changed so I can make both domestic long-distance and international calls. The guy said that could be arranged, then asked if I knew about a special through the end of March True is having for anyone with a True land-line telephone. Turns out I can call the U.S. 24/7 for just 3 baht/minute -- 40% less than the already great discount rate of 5 baht a minute I've been getting going through the 008 prefix CAT (the Communications Authority of Thailand offers; CAT handles the gateway for international calls). Then he asked if I have another hand phone besides the one from which I had called him, the number of which he could see and he knew it's an AIS number, not a True one. I told him I don't and asked him why. He said if I have a True hand phone number, I can make calls to the States all the time 24/7, for just 1 baht per minute -- and not as a special, but a regular service!

Not wanting to switch numbers and go through all the aggravation that entails, I asked him if I could just buy a SIM card with a True number, or if I had to buy a particular make of phone specified by True. He told me I could buy just a True SIM card. And that's great. I can keep my existing number -- itself only a few months old but which I now have given almost all my friends and family -- then, if I want to call my Mom or Sister (or anyone else in the U.S. or Canada), I can switch out the SIM cards, make my call, then switch back. (Too bad I can't have two SIM cards in my Nokia handset!)

For those here in Thailand who don't have True service for your land-line, hand phone, or both, you can use the CAT's 008 prefix to call North America (except Mexico) for just 5 baht per minute, as I said above. That beats the dickens out of the normal rate of 17 baht, itself a huge discount from the 82.50 baht per minute I paid when I first got here in 1994 -- when the baht was considerably stronger than it is now against the U.S. dollar -- on daytime rates; even deep night rates were 32.50 baht. In U.S. dollars, back then I paid $3.30 during the day and $1.30 midnight-5:00 A.M. Today's normal rate of 17 baht (available 24/7) is just about $.50. The CAT's 5 baht rate = a little under $.14; 3 baht = a little under $.09; and True's 1 baht rate = just shy of $.03. (I used a 34-to-1 exchange rate to calculate those numbers).

In other words, in 1994, for a daytime call I paid 82.5 times more per minute than the 1 baht True rate, and 32.5 times as much even on the wee-hours rate. And today's rates are super bargains, in my book.

On a different subject, but still about phone service, I've just managed to confirm some unpleasant information regarding SMS spam. I've been getting a great many such messages every damned day, irritating in itself. But last night I put some money in my phone then checked my balance. A few minutes later, I received four spam messages, two each from two different numbers. Suspicious, I checked my balance again -- and each incoming spam knocked 4.50 baht off my remaining balance. Even if I don't open it -- some I can delete without opening, though others I do have to open them to be able to get to a delete option -- I get charged.

There is a way out of this, at least if you have an AIS number, as I do. And I imagine all the providers offer the same service. I was complaining to Canadian Ross about the irritating BEEP-BEEP that sounds every time I get an SMS -- fine, when it's from a friend, but irksome when it's spam. Ross has an AIS number, too, and he told me he had gone to an AIS office (not around here, apparently) and asked if they could stop the spam SMS's. They told him they could, but it might take a few days, so he said okay. I can't recall if he said it was free or if he paid a small service fee, but either way, I just want the miserable damned things stopped! In any case, in just two or three days the spam SMS's stopped going to Ross' hand phone (much to his relief). He didn't know he might have been charged for some of them -- not all do -- since he didn't mention that to me.

I don't have the faintest idea where the nearest AIS office is to my neighborhood, but you can bet your booties I'll find one this coming week and make the trek to ask them to block the SMS's. In fact, I hope I can have them block ALL spam ones, though not those from a person's number.

My Nokia has an option to divert data calls, but for some reason, I can't get that to activate, although I can divert *voice* calls and all calls, including data ones (just not only data calls) with no problem. (For now, at least, I can divert everything to my land-line phone, though I have no dial tone -- but if you call that number, you do get a ring on your end, and eventually reach voice mail, which I don't know how to access anyway!) So, what I've just this minute tried is to divert ALL calls after a 5-second delay (to give me time to answer a voice call or -- I hope -- to see who an SMS is from before it diverts. I also hope if the call is diverted it won't nail me the 4.50 baht. I'll see.)

I *have* received as many as 35-40 spam SMS's in a single day, almost all from the same two numbers, meaning I've been getting nabbed for as much as about 160-180 baht. For just ONE day. It doesn't take too many of those days for them to become downright lip-curling, displeasing! If I got 35 per day every single day, in 30 days, I'd be out 4,725 baht!!! Or almost US$140. And that sucks, big time. That equals just under 72 days' rent for Sweetie Pie's apartment -- hell, I'd rather pay HER rent than pay a damned SPAMMER!!!

Oh well . . .

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Squaronians Blog News

With great reluctance, I've decided to stop actively seeking stories, photos, audio files, or videos from readers. The most immediate reason is that when I last set up a dedicated mailbox *just* for that purpose, I began receiving personal messages that had nothing to do with sending me any material; I prefer to receive those messages at my private e-mail address -- but no submissions, which were the whole point of that e-mail address in the first place.

Besides, it's been a coon's age since I've had a single submission, so my efforts in that regard have gone largely nowhere.

So, I'm going to ask Google's Gmail folks to close out the submissions mailbox.

I'm not criticizing anyone, just saying that for the most part, my attempts to solicit materials have been at best non-productive, maybe even counterproductive, in a sense (e-mails going to an inappropriate address, mostly).

If you've been keeping up since the start of the New Year, you'll be aware I've been trying to crank out more material more frequently again; I uploaded postings January 1st then again on the 3rd. So this is my third column in a short period of time. I won't promise to keep up that pace, but I will try to remain reasonably current.

I do plan to re-establish my own website again, eventually; I still own the domain name While I don't have every single item archived that I had on the old website, I do have probably 98-99% of it, so once I do get a website up and running again, I'll upload all that archived material. No particular goal regarding a date, so I'll keep using this blog service for the time being.

I am planning to go on a lengthy holiday in the U.S. sometime mid-year, maybe late in June or early in July, a holiday of at least around two months, maybe somewhat longer, depending on how things go there. Being nearly 9,000 miles away from the Square makes it much harder for me to keep up with news, though some people are helpful and try to keep me posted on the latest news, gossip, and mutual defamations and slanders! So, I'll try to keep some of the more important stuff up to date as best I can, plus throw in some Tall Texas Tales! The trip's not confirmed yet, but barring some major, unforeseen roadblock, I do expect to make it.

Saturday, January 10, 2010


Mekhong Kurt

Saturday, January 2, 2010

"The Rounds," Sunday, January 3, 2010 -- Update

I want to add a bit more to the lengthy Washington Square report I posted here a couple of days ago.

First, Korea War ace Harold " Hal" Fischer, who visited the Square some years ago and regaled us with stories of his experiences as a fighter pilot, died April 30, 2009 from complications arising from back surgery. He was 83.

Hal started his career intending to become a naval aviator, but due to conflicting orders and the creation of the Air Force, he managed, through what one historian has called "creative paper shuffling and clever wrangling," managed to transfer to the Air Force.

In Korea, he had 11 confirmed kils, 1 probable, and 1 possible (but unprovable). He hit double-ace status -- 10 confirmed kills -- in just 47 missions, an extraordinary accomplishment.

Hal wasn't the only truly noteworthy aces of the war; the top ace, with triple status, was USAF Captain Joseph C. McConnell, who claimed (and widely credited with) 16 kills. But 11 confirmed is a recford not to be sneezed at.

Much more notably, Hal got into a sticky situation when he pursued some MIG's north of the Yalu River, which separates North Korea and China -- a huge no-no at the time. That's when, according to him, he got his probable and unconfirmed kills. But the third MIG managed to jump him and mortally damage his aircraft, forcing Hal to bail out.

He was, of course, taken POW, though he said he was relieved to be a prisoner of the Chinese rather than the North Koreans, as the Chinese treated POW's as well as they did their own troops -- not that the impoverished, newly-founded country could offer much even to the latter -- and his guards would turn a blind eye when local Chinese came up to the fence to offer a few kernels of rice, a strip of cloth to use as a bandage, etc. He was especially moved by the humanity of the ordinary -- and themselves  desperately poor -- Chinese. The North Koreans, in contrast, were unbelievably cruel.

What gives Hal special notoriety as a POW is that when the truce was signed, the Chinese held Hal and, as I recall, about three dozen other POW's as political prisoners for a year or so. Hal was eventually tried in Beijing, where he falsely confessed to having waged germ warfare, a confession he regretted the rest of his days. But he was eventually -- obviously -- freed.

Among numerous other awards, Hall received the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Distinguished Service Cross, America's highest military honors save the Congressional Medal of Honor itself; the latter two are just one step shy of the Medal of Honor.

We'll miss you, Hall. Rest in peace. . . .

Moving on . . .

Briefly, I want to report that Ted Secor has been in town; he divides his time between Bangkok and Hua Hin. He'll be heading back to Hua Hin in a few days. He's doing well, and is the same as when I first met him 15 years ago. Well, okay, older, too!

George Miller has been around a fair bit over the holidays, and he, too is doing well.

"English" Paul continues his serene drift along life's stream, as personable and involved as ever.

Now! -- I'm at the Silver Dollar, and Burma Richard just walked in, so I'm off!

Again -- Happy 2010 to one and all --

Mekhong Kurt.