Archive for the ‘Thailand’ Category

Graffitti Hospital

I’m climbing the rooftops, spray-painting anchor points–rectangular boxes with arrows in them. These points are programmed with Nanos to link to each other over distances of up to 500 meters. After I draw the second of a set, it stretches out a thin line to the first box and creates a barrier. No other artist can paint this wall now. The arrows communicate with a strange, sub-microscopic sentience. I stand back, proud. This rooftop is huge. It has layers of paint, over which the years have layered more and more paint, more and more untamed art. But now it’s mine.
Downstairs is a hospital. I take a peak inside and everyone is bustling. The sun is rising and I must go to work. The office is in there today. We are meeting in the cafeteria.
My boss, who seems to be alternating appearance of gender as frequently as David Bowie, is giving a slideshow demo. He sees me come in and begins pointing his questions toward me.
“Watch as I scroll down the code to the middle here. Everything looks fine until we get to this little blue cloud.”
The page scrolls down and reveals an intensely colored cloud, thinly stretched from the left margin to the right. below it is an arrow, pointing in the same direction.
“Yeah,” I say, “The problem is that the cloud is the end of the page in this instance.” Everyone turns to look at me. “We fill in the whole template, regardless of the situation, but we’ve got all this conditional logic to figure out if we should even show all the stuff we’ve already filled in. We really need a better templating system.”
“Ah, see that’s what we expect.” Bowie triumphantly declares.
“Ah, I see.” I agree.

Down the corridor of the hospital, I see an old woman getting a scowling look from one of her peers. She walks away and soon another nurse drills down on her with visual malice. She ducks into a room with glass walls and a glass door. I can see her sitting there, head slumped. Outside, her co-workers gather. All of them grimacing and shaking their heads. They bare down their brows and scrunch up their jaws pointedly. Nobody is saying anything, just looking very angry. The woman in the room closes her eyes and leans back in her chair. She has had enough. She will not give them whatever satisfaction they seek. She folds up her arms around her torso, leans back, and dies.
It’s only a matter of seconds before everyone realizes she will never come out alive again.

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Thai Lists

Times when a 100 Baht (US$3) watch will break:

1. When taking it off
2. When looking at the time
3. When wondering what time it is

Times a farang (westerner) will get a sunburn:

1. When going outside without sunscreen
2. When going outside with sunscreen
2. When going outside
3. When thinking about going outside
4. When being farang

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Hackable Internet Lounges

I’m in South Korea now, Incheon International Airport. It’s nice. There are a few internet lounges around and after searching for the best exchange rate (all the currency exchange windows throughout the airport give different exchange rates) I finally paid my 3,000 Won (or about US$3) for 1 hour of internet.
Of course, that 1 hour has now become as long as I like :)
Here’s the flaw in their logic:

First, the machine is running Windows XP Home Edition instead of any flavor of Linux or OSX.
The desktop always has the user logged in but it’s running an app on top that locks out keyboard access and takes over the whole screen. Basically a glorified screen saver.
Once logged in, the time tracker application minimizes to a little ticker app in the bottom right hand corner of the windows desktop. Windoes itself is set to disable access to ctrl+alt+del and to running proccesses like c:/windows/taskman.exe so people can’t just click away and kill the application that tracks your time. However, it did not protect the process itself beyond that. So, with the help of an alternative process killing application (I use taskill but there are literally hundreds). After a quick glance through the list of running processes, it didn’t take much to deduce that the time tracking application was called Client.exe.
Timer goes away, my purchased account number is booted out of the reduction queue and the windows login remains open with all my applications still running. Viola. Free internet. Now I can actually survive this 10 hour layover.

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Last day, Shopping

Well, here it is, 40 hours of travel ahead of us (with a 12 hour layover in Korea) and our last day to shop and hang in Thailand.

We discovered something very interesting yesterday. We decided not to go back to the backpacker area of Banglampoo and instead stay near the Skytrain so we could wake up early and go to Jatujak weekend market this morning. That was the plan.
Shortly after checking in in the Siam Center area, we walked around to refamiliarize ourselves with the area. Having the rest of the day ahead of us, we were in no hurry and we stopped to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix at the Scala Theater (Bangkok’s most classic theater–more beautiful and comfortable than any theater I’ve been to in the USA). The movie was nice because we spent many nights on Koh Samui island at a place called Will Wait Restaurant, watching pirated movies with our dinner. Most were ridiculously low quality theater recordings but it was funny to watch the bad subtitles that must have been generated by speech-to-text software in the TV. It was also nice because for the best seats in the house, it was about $3.50 US to see the movie. Aside from the 3 ushers with flashlights who kept guiding latecomers to their seats and shining random spots of distracting brightness all over the place, I’d say it was an excellent movie going experience.

Oh, but before the movie started, we went to Pantip Plaza, which was a little hard to find on foot but we asked directions from many street vendors (and at a 7-11 where we purchased some awesome movie snacks–yummy candied tamarind).
Pantip Plaza is the Tech Mall (I have pictures I will upload later). What you find when entering Pantip is that it’s 5-6 floors of pirated software, movies, music and games, electronic goods both new and refurbished and just about any other geeky thing you can imagine. Imagine a pirate mega-mall. It was cool. I was a little disappointed upon further investigation that the new items were the same price you would expect to pay in the USA (after doing the conversion)–some were even more expensive. When it comes to high-end technology, the equivalent value formula for cash consciousness goes crazy.

Anyway, after the movie, we decided to check out MBK, the shopping mall that we didn’t make it to last time we were in this area. We gave up early last time because Siam Center is a very expensive yuppy area. However, we were delighted to find that inside MBK, on the Skytrain entrance level (the 3rd floor, I think), was a huge area just like Jatujak market, in which the hawkers bargained just as low and sometimes lower than we experienced anywhere else including JJ Market. We were blown away. Last time we went to JJ weekend market, we almost died because it’s all outside in non-air-con huts and there are so many people, you almost get trampled trying to find your way around the maze. And here in Yuppyville MBK was the same set of cheap items at the same prices. So, of course, we went crazy and blew a couple thousand baht. Then we decided to ditch JJ market in the morning and simply go back to MBK. This decision was amplified after we realized that we had spent over 2 hours just in the 3rd floor market and that MBK is actually a MEGA-mega-mall holding at least 6 floors, each about 1 kilometer long. We had dinner at the food court–complete with 2 beers–for 170 Baht together (or about $5 US). Shockingly the mall food was as good as any other food we’ve found around the area.

Today, we went back to MBK and found that the market stalls weren’t open at the same time as the rest of the mall. Were they setup, the booths were closed off with garage door covers that were themselves covered in graffiti. I took as many pictures as I could and cursed not arriving before the dozen or so who had already opened, thereby concealing the amazing art on their closed doors. Oddly, the Siam Center area as classy and yuppy as it is is also the spot in Thailand with the most graffiti. I found another car park that was covered 360 degrees on the inside. I’ll have to go back there today.

Well, we are off again to explore the rest of MBK. I need to get a couple more awesome shirts and whatnots. There is also a music store, which had guitars for between 1K-4K Baht or about $30-120US. I’m tempted, even though Lena claims my accordion, harmonica, drums, and electric guitar don’t get played enough. But I’m thinking I should sell my electric guitar and get an accoustic :)

I know this is a little disjointed but I’ll be writing much much more when we get back and I can upload all the photos. We’ve seen so much and there is just too much to write about. I’ll need about 12 hours of solid computer time…maybe more.

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Thailand Walking

If there’s one thing I can say to someone visiting Thailand, it’s this: Walk. Walk as much as you can. We’ve been here almost 10 days and we have only taken 2 taxi rides, one from the airport on the first night and one back to Banglamphoo district from the train station–after walking from the former to the latter.
Walking around Bangkok, we’ve found more interesting things than we imagined. The hidden bangkok is really not far from the tourist streets but there are no tourists there. It would seem that all tourists take a taxi or a Tuk-Tuk to get anywhere. Just a couple blocks from the main roads, we found rows of market stalls and restaurants with more authentic foods, people and goods than the tourist traps held.
On the flip side, now that we are on Koh Samui, we’ve found walking on the beach a wonderful way to spend the day but trying to get anywhere is pretty tough on foot. But again, just a couple blocks inland from the tourist resorts we found flea markets and food centers and even a really awesome Thai style BBQ buffet for 89 Baht (US $2.62). It’s the best food we’ve had so far.

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Bangkok Lights on Khao San

The lights on Khao San Road make the trees look artificially deciduous. The streets are full of fish. Feral cats and dogs wander, searching for scraps left by the food vendors and lazy tourists.
I’m actually growing a taste for beer–or, at least, my physical aversion to it is waning and I now find some beer drinkable. Now it is Leo beer. All I know of it is that it’s light and the label is totally in Thai. While we drink, we watch American Dreamz on the restaurant television. It may or may not be pirated, but the odds are in favor of the former. Watching the people around us tends to be more interesting than the movie, which is a little on the silly side. Perfect choice though for the American tourist. An American movie that makes fun of the American way. It sort of feels like Khao San Road itself. Even the restaurant owners speak perfect English. It seems that English is the middle man language of tourists here. I heard a chinese woman saying something in English to the Thai pharmacists the other day. Germans, Greek, Russians, Ukrainian, Dutch, Norwegian, and French. They are all speaking English to the Thai natives. Aside from on Koh Samui, where many signs are in Thai, English and German, it seems English is everywhere and the only middle ground. It’s a convenient system for those who speak English natively, but I feel a little bad for all those who don’t. We’ve met several people from different countries and they always apologies for their English. I always reply with the same, “It’s better than my Czech”, or Dutch, or Norwegian or whatever it is the other person speaks.

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Happy House

It’s not even midnight but Lena has been asleep almost an hour. As the last two nights have shown, my affinity for the night has a faster acting recovery method than hers does. Of course, tonight, I too would be nearly napping without a bottle of Thai Red Bull spiking my mind with rapid thunder.
Our new nightly squat is closer to the busy action of tourist Bangkok, in the Banglampoo district–not on Khao San road but close. Cars screetch past frequently, bleepity-bleeping and randomly skidding to a halt as they avoid collision with pedestrians and feral animals roaming the night. Every attempt to cross a street in Bangkok is also an attempt on your life. Cars don’t have to avoid pedestrians but it might ruin their day, which is the only reason they avoid you.
The lobby of Happy House is packed from dawn to dusk with tired farang (what the Thais call western foriegners), all sipping beer or fruit smoothies while fix-eyed to one or more of the many television screens, which show the pirated movie of the moment.
Now, I too have moved downstairs but all the farang have left. The televisions are now playing Thai news and the street seems void of tourists. The Inn staff is all sitting around a table chatting away. One comes over to ask if I want anything and I order a bottle of Thai Lipton Ice Tea. The label is all in Thai and the bottle has been recycled many times. I pay the 15 Baht right now. It’s too easy to get street vendors to take your money but when it comes to paying for food, restaurant staff vanishes when it comes time to take your cash. The culture here is strangely trusting for one that is full of so many tourist scams. The fruit stalls and jewelry booths are frequently unattended. At night, you can walk down a busy street and, if you needed to, snatch up almost anything you can imagine without being noticed. I guess tourists thieving is just not common here.
I feel like I should be smoking, sitting here on the edge of the street, writing in my moleskin about the Bangkok night. The ciggarette smoke, foul as it is, would hide the pestulent stench of the Chao Praya river. The humid monsoon season weather makes the polution in the air stick to your face, stabbing at your eyes.
At the end of the street, I notice tourists popping in and out of a travel center, hoping perhaps to find paradise in a weekend tour. A cart wheels past with a large sign in English, “Mango Sticky Rice”. I’m momentarily tempted to stop the cart pusher and for 20 Baht (US$0.59) get my own 15 minutes of paradise.
I’m trying to absorb as much of the city as I can before we overnight bus our way to the tropical islands of the south–and certainly, with this humidity, I will be ocean-bathing Bangkok from my pores for weeks.
Turning to news, I’m curiously amused. In a country with a population of 62 million, with 80% being farmers, the television news is as sensational and crime-story driven as it is in the US. Now a bull has run loose and chases after a dozen people before being shot with a tranquilizer arrow and lassoed to safety. Now a girl has been attacked and raped in her own apartment and robed at knife point after that. A dramatic reinactment tells all as the victim gives her tale, the camera only showing the bottom half of her face for anonymity. Now Several People are having siezures in the street while 3-4 other people to each victim attempts to restrain and comfort the fallen. Now it looks like epilepsy but there are 3 victims, a man a woman and a child. Now it looks like heat stroke in the hot afternoon as one volunteer fans the shaking man. Now the victims are chanting and the fallen man stands up to dance and clap. Now it looks like a religious revival. Now another woman is being carried by four people while she kicks and screams in short, loud bursts.
Now a commercial, an anti-graffiti advertisement. The cafe across the way is blasting French lounge music with a female vocalist who often chooses to sing in English. Each passing motorbike sprays the air with soot.
The news distracts with its transition animation of a red orb that looks too much like the eye of the HAL 9000 super computer, all flashed up with mesmerizing flickers of rotating red around a glossy center, a rapid whoosh sound accompanying a sudden glow.
The tea and red bull are wearing off. If the air were more breathable, it wouldn’t be difficult to stay up all night, but my eyes are burning.
Time to retire, retreat, reboot.

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Day 3 or 4… it’s tomorrow

It’s still mind boggling to know that it’s yesterday in Seattle.
We went to the Grand Palace today, which was grand, yet extremely touristy. However, we walked there and on the way we found a series of streets with absolutely no white people or other foreigners. And even though there seemed to be only Thai nationals around us, the sidewalks were still filled with hawkers. This time selling rare coins, dentures, food, jewelry and precious statues–rather than t-shirts, tattoos, piercings, food, custom tailored suits and such.
Tucked away, deep within a side alley, we discovered a little thai restaurant and had the best green papaya salads we’ve ever tasted. The spice levels were as the thai enjoy and I nearly died but the lime juice in the sauce balanced the flavor enough for me to regain my composure, realizing that I suddenly felt much cooler (in temperature and style).

We checked out of the Bhiman Inn where we arranged our first 3 nights. It was terribly overpriced at 1400 THB* per night (about US$41). They had several luxuries including a swimming pool, a minibar and more, of which we never took advantage. Just a few blocks away, across from a fabulous thai massage spa (180 baht for 1 hour–roughly US$5.29), we checked into Happy House for 490 THB per night (US$14.41).
*For full sense of conversion, read my post on the value of the Thai baht (

I’d have to say the Thai massages are my favorite part so far (aside from the amazing food, which was our initial impetuous for choosing Thailand). We had one yesterday and one the day before. We will be getting another later today. My goal is to have a 1 hour massage every day we are here. The first one I had, they popped every bone in my spine and several in my neck and arms (not to mention my fingers and toes). I embarrassed Lena because I grunted and moaned through the second one. The Thais are very polite but also very conservative in dress and manners. Nobody else made a sound. I figured it was alright though because the person who was doing my massage kept smiling and laughing. They found tense muscles I didn’t even know I had. And certainly, if you get a thai massage, you don’t have any use for a chiropractor.

I did manage to find a couple of hand drums and I will be getting at least 2, one for me and 1 for david if he wants it. The initial price I got out of them was 950THB (about US$30). I got them down to 850 and pleading for me to give them a lower price when I said 600 and walked away. It was apparently too low because they let me go. I’ll see how much they are at the weekend market :)

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Thai Baht Value

So, I had an epiphany while walking through the streets of Bangkok last night. I found a grocery store and noticed a pattern in the prices relating to the value of the item here and in the US.
It appears that the Thai baht to the Thai is as the dime is to the US citizen. To illustrate, a bottle of water is 10 Baht. Any form of portable beverage is about 10-15 baht or $1-$1.50 in relative value. This realization has carried forward on everything I’ve purchased and considered purchasing. However, I also realized with this that the marvelous exchange rate of 34 Thai Baht to US$1 is not as great as it seems. You aren’t actually increasing the value of your dollar by 34/1, it’s actually 3.4/1 (still very nice but not nearly as marvelous).

This realization is also helpful when bartering items. If the asking price is 200 Baht, then you can think of it as $20 to the Thai. So if you would pay US$20 for the item normally, then the price makes sense. However, it the item is something you imagine paying US$10 to get in the states, then you shouldn’t buy it for anything more than 100 Baht.

Sadly, looking back, I’ve found that I’ve overpaid on a few items. It’s so easy to spend baht because of the exchange rate. It’s very important to realize that the value of a baht is not the same to the Thai people as the value of a dollar in the US.

I did much better today though. All I’ve spent is 25 baht (or the equivalent value of $2.50–with an exchange rate of less than US$1) for coconut jelly (a whole young coconut shaved out and filled with something like a chilled coconut jello with huge chunks of coconut (very tasty), and a green papaya salad appetizer with Phad Thai for lunch (at the University) for 60 baht (or $6 equivalent value–converted to less than US$2).

So to sum, if you are used to thinking of the value of things in terms of US dollars and you find yourself with a lot of Thai currency, just think of a 10 baht coin as a dollar, a 100 baht bill as a ten dollar bill and so on. You will find that the prices for everything are the same as in the US, only you multiplied the amount of money in your pocket.

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Bangkok: Day 1.5

We got in at 23:00, Monday July 18th. After realizing that the airport was more confusing than we thought it would be, we finally found a metered taxi. We were so tired, we just took the 400 Baht offer to the hotel. The cabbie was nice and it worked out. I was expecting to pay between 300-400 Baht for the cab anyway. I figure there are really two options, you can insist that they use the meter and possibly get scammed as they drive around to increase the fee, or you can bargain a flat rate, in which the cabbie tries to get you to your destination as quickly and efficiently as possible. Granted, you might end up with a good cabbie that uses the meter and takes the good roads, but it’s hard not to look like an asshole when you’ve been flying for 20 hours through 16 time zones.

So, this morning, we slept from about 2:45am-5:30am Bangkok time (that’s 12:45pm-3:30pm yesterday, Seattle time). The air is so humid, when I put the bug spray and sunblock on I didn’t feel any different. My skin was alreay supersaturated. The hotel breakfast was good. We had the western style since the Thai option was chicken and rice and it just didn’t sound too good right then.

Bank troubles
At the airport, we wanted to take out some cash from First Horizon. Of course, our cards didn’t work for some reason, the bank says it was due to an invalid pin entry but neither mine nor lena’s card worked. So, after using this internet cafe, which is a measly 30 Baht for 80 minutes (less than $1 US), we’ve got to find a bank and get a “cash advance”. Yay!

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