Archive for May, 2009

Sad News

May 30, 2009

Jet called this morning and let me know that her grandmother had just passed away.  This was not unexpected as her grandmother had been bedridden, couldn’t move and talk for the past two years after experiencing a severe stroke.  Over the past few months, there were times when Jet’s grandmother refused to eat and drink – likely to hasten her remaining time here.  Her grandmother’s condition over the past years is certainly something that has affected Jet and her family.  Jet has told me numerous times that she would never like to live like that, which is something that always pains me to hear. 

I am glad that Jet was in Thailand when her grandmother passed, which is something that her poor condition always concerned us when we were over in the US.  It was always difficult for me to see Jet’s grandmother these past few months as it always reminded me of my own grandmother’s final days.  I hardly had the chance to know Jet’s grandmother, after all, how much can you “know” someone that doesn’t speak the same language and lives halfway across the world.  The only time I really had to spend with Jet’s grandma before her stroke was six years ago when Jet and I got married.  In fact, my interaction with her provided me some of the moments I remember most about getting married in Thailand.  During the morning Thai “traditional” ceremony, there was a point when Jet and I were kneeling together while the Thai monks gave us blessings.  Everything was said in Thai and it became apparent to me during the ceremony that everyone in the packed audience who were kneeling all around us understood exactly what was going on, what to say, and when to bow to the monks.  Well, everyone except my Dad and I.  During this part of the ceremony, when I needed to bow, I always got a nudge on my back that really helped out, but it was only after I watched the video of our wedding that I found out that it was Jet’s grandma that did the nudging.  On a terribly hectic day, sorely jet-lagged (I arrived in Thailand for the first time only the day before) when I tried my best to remember things I needed to doand things I was not supposed to do, that bowing was likely the only part of the day that I probably got right.  Thanks grandma.  I will travel back to Phitsanulok after my class on Wednesday for the funeral.

I went for a walk around the area nearby my condo yesterday just to get out and about.  I needed to get my stitches out yesterday afternoon as well, so this gave me a reason to spend some extra time outside, which is something I have not done much of in the month I have been here.  It is actually pretty strange to me this year in Thailand compared to last year in Thailand.  Last year I really felt as if I was in another part of the world and I became very immersed in the culture.  This year, it almost feels like I haven’t left the US.  Talk about a strange feeling.  Sure, everyone speaks Thai and walking around for any amount of time is about as different as it can get from about anything in the US.  Perhaps I came to Thailand this time knowing what to expect that has made a difference.  Maybe it is because I have not been to Phitsanulok as much as I had been last year – all of those miles on buses add up.  Probably the biggest factor, though, is how pampered I have been this year compared to last year; my laundry is done for me instead of me walking to a coin-operated washer out in the middle of the street somewhere, I eat much more often in my room because I have a large grocery store next door to me (I don’t have to rely on just the street vendors), the room I have is 1000% nicer than the dorm room I had last year, and finally, I get tons of English-speaking TV channels that I can watch at night where I can keep up with all of the latest news happening in the US as if I never left home.  Speaking of TV, there is an “Australia Channel” that I get that plays Aussie Rules football games live on Friday and Saturday nights, which is just wonderful.  I have played Aussie Rules for almost eight years now and this is the first time that I have ever been able to watch a full AFL (Australian Football League) game in my life, other than in just some 2 or 3 minute highlight film.  Imagine playing American Football for eight years and never having watched a football game (NFL, college, etc.) before.  Ridiculous, right? 

So I did get my stitches taken out yesterday.  The dentist took literally 30 seconds to take them out, remarking when he was doing it that I had “eaten” half of the stitches that he put in last week.  How does that happen?  The one thing to note about brief visit to the hospital was that the dentist first asked me if I experienced much swelling, bleeding, or pain in the past week.  Well, not much at all I responded.  The dentist gave me a few pain pills to take with me last week which I never had to take – just some Tylenol here and there is all I needed.  After I told the dentist this, he seemed unusually surprised, almost shocked.  I suppose I was lucky.  It’s good to catch a break every now and then.

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Recovering

May 29, 2009

I just finished my last class for the week and I am feeling a little worn down.  I didn’t have any trouble with my wisdom tooth, although I still have to getthe stitches taken out tomorrow (Saturday), but I did catch a cold that I have been battling for most of the week.  Ben is the only person that I have been in contact with during that time that has also had a cold, so I am pretty sure that I caught it from him.  Jet flew into Bangkok late on Wednesday and stayed with her friends overnight, then arrived by me yesterday (Thursday) morning and we spent the day preparing for classes.  Jet will have her first class in just over a week, so she is really putting “pen to paper” to complete her final study plans.  We did not do much anything else as I was not feeling that well, but we did stop by “The Pizza Company” at the mall to eat pizza for dinner, which was a nice change of pace from our usual Thai food.  Jet spent this morning continuing working on her class while I was teaching and is now out shopping for another outfit or two to wear when she does teach.  Jet will leave back to Phitsanulok this evening to join back up with her mom and Ben – I will stay here in Bangkok because I need my stitches taken out of my mouth and have work to do.

I was invited to the “Freshman Orientation” welcome next weekend for all new MBA students, which will be held at the Royal Cliff beach resort in Pattaya.  I was invited to go last year as well, but since I taught an executive-MBA class on Saturdays then, I had to decline.  I have accepted this opportunity as it does look like it will be a good time, but hopefully Jet, her mom, and Ben will be able to accompany me.  This should be a good break as it will be at the end of my first class and just before the start of my second class that I will teach while here in Thailand.  Jet’s uncle called on Thursday and invited us to come see him up in Chiang Rai (northern Thailand, next to the Burmese border) before we return to the US, so we may be planning a trip there in another week or so.

Jet has been talking to her mom about how she has been able to handle Ben on her own.  Apparently, things have been going very well for her as Ben has rarely called for Jet and has been in a good mood.  The one funny story that Jet told me was how her mom has been able to put Ben down to sleep for a nap or for the night, which is something that before she could not accomplish.  Jet said that her mom will tell Ben that there is a big, scary cat downstairs that will get him, which freaks Ben out.  Ben will then hold on to Jet’s mom tight and fall asleep.  Jet said that this is a common tactic that parents use in Thailand.  Whatever works.

That Sucked

May 25, 2009

As I predicted in my last post, plans for the weekend changed, then changed again. As it turned out, Jet and the family left for Bangkok at around 2:00pm and was able to arrive by 6:00pm. Jet had been in contact with the dentist office and the oral surgeon agreed to stay until the office closed at 7:30pm in case I would be able to make it in time. Jet and I left at 6:30pm for the hospital (about 20 minutes) and after checking my blood pressure when I arrived, I was sitting in the dentist chair getting prepped for the surgery. I was not put under (as I had mistakenly thought) and was given several novocaine shots for my one, remaining wisdom tooth. I had the same dentist that removed my other wisdom tooth three weeks ago and he was just great as he explained what was happening throughout the procedure. Unfortunately, there was just no way that he could make the extraction 100% pain-free. The shots into and around the nerve did help, though. I guess some ear-plugs for the drill would have been nice too. The dentist had to get at the remaining wisdom tooth first (it was not surfaced), then he drilled off the crown into 4 different pieces, then he yanked out the root and stitched the area back up. I am sure there are many others out there that have gone through the same procedure before, but the first and only thing I could say to Jet after the dentist had finished was, “that sucked”. And it surely did. I return on Saturday to have the stitches taken out, but I am sure glad that I had the procedure done here in Thailand. Sure it was at an upscale, expensive hospital over here, but this last procedure only cost $200 without any insurance coverage. The same procedure would have costed over $1000 after insurance in Anniston, Alabama. Maybe I will have them look at my “clicking” jaw next and get some advice about that.

I spent the night with Jet and the family on Saturday and all day yesterday (Sunday), which was great. In fact, I was walking to their condo door just as they were pulling into the parking lot on Saturday. They stopped, unstrapped Ben who had been tied down for the 4 hour drive, and he just leaped into my arms and was so very excited to see me. It was a stark contrast to the fever he had last weekend and Ben was just as happy as he could be the entire time I was with him. For a good part of Sunday I watched and played with Ben at my condo (they have a children’s play area across from the workout room), which Jet and her family went shopping. I was grateful to have the time alone with him as he was just wonderful to be around. They all left at 9:00pm last night so that I could get some rest and prepare for my class today. Speaking to Jet this morning, Jet’s sister made it to the airport for her midnight flight without any problem and they were on their way back to Phitsanulok. Jet is planning to fly back to Bangkok on Wednesday to stay for a couple of days to prepare for her class and give her mom a little “sample” of what it will be like to be alone with Ben, that is, without Jet or me as a backup. It may also be a good trial for Jet to get ready to be without Ben for a few days. Ben had taken a better liking to Jet’s mom over the past week, which is a very good sign. Hopefully that trend will continue.

Well, I will end this post on a couple of stories. The first involves me, the other Ben. Since this is Memorial day weekend, I decided to buy some hotdogs, bread (they don’t have hotdog buns here), and ketchup to celebrate on Friday. I opened the package of hotdogs, put two in the microwave for 30 seconds, dumped ketchup on them and a slice of bread and went to town. The hotdogs tasted awful, so I had to put a bunch more ketchup on them to dull the taste. Since I still had most of the hotdogs left, I decided to give them one more try on Saturday, when I realized a huge mistake that I had made. The hotdogs in the package were also individually wrapped. The reason they tasted so bad was because they were wrapped in plastic when I ate them. What a fool I am. Book smart, street dumb. As for Ben, when I was watching him last night, he got hungry. He had just had rice and some snacks for dinner, so I didn’t expect him to be that hungry. He sure was. Ben ate the better part of two donuts that Jet had bought and three full slices of bread. I had never seen Ben eat one slice of bread before, and here he ate three. It reminded me of Jet always worrying about me in Thailand not “eating enough bread” and “missing food from home”. That was never the case for me, but I just wondered if Ben really did miss eating bread after almost a month of Thai food.

Postpone

May 20, 2009

I have just finished speaking with Jet this morning, and it appears that she will not come to visit this weekend because her sister would like to stay in their hometown of Phitsanulok until her flight back to Switzerland on Sunday evening.  As a result, Jet is working on postponing my wisdom tooth surgery to next weekend when she would be able to be there – I would rather not have the surgery without Jet around.  We’ll see what happens – who knows, maybe things will change again as quickly as they did this morning.

One thing that I did not mention last week was that there is another big change from the “cleaning” service from last year to this year.  You know that the lady comes three times a week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday when I am teaching) to clean the room instead of once a week as was the case last year.  In addition to this, the cleaning lady does all of my laundry and washes all of my dishes!  Talk about luxury service.  Jet said that I don’t have to pay the woman that does this, but that if I do see her, I could leave a 100 Baht ($3) tip for her.  How will I ever meet this person if she is working at the same time that I will be teaching?

Congratulations Sandy!  What great news to hear waking up in the morning.  I hope you got the voice-mail I left for you.  Jet was also very excited.  Speaking of Jet, she is still taking Ben to daycare everyday, which is only about $3/day.  Jet picks him up at noon everyday, though, because that is the time when the children eat, take a shower, and go down for a nap.  Jet says that Ben doesn’t eat there and can’t be put down for a nap, which cause problems for the daycare staff.  Is this common for kids just starting daycare?

Just a quick Ben story before I finish.  Jet told me yesterday that when Ben was sleeping on Tuesday night, he was talking to himself.  Is this normal for kids?  So what was Ben saying in his sleep? “No buckle!”, referring to not wanting to get buckled into his car seat (Jet guesses).  How funny.

Getting Back to Work

May 18, 2009

I took the weekend off to travel to Phitsanulok (Jet’s hometown – five hour bus drive north of Bangkok) to visit her and Ben.  I left for Mor Chit (the bus station in Bangkok) right after my class ended at 3:30pm on Friday and initially had a tough time catching a taxi to take me there.  It is not that there was a lack of available taxis (there are hundreds that pass by every minute), but the first few that stopped for me tried to take advantage of me because I was a “farang” or “foreigner”.  The first taxi stopped, I opened the door and stated “Mor Chit” – the taxi driver replied “200 [Baht]”.  I shook my head in disapproval and closed the door.  The taxis in Thailand work on a metered rate and this was a taxi driver that was trying to negotiate.  I fell victim to this the first time I took a taxi last year and was charged 300 or 350 Baht (about $8 – $10) for a taxi ride that only cost half that.  I had never taken a taxi ride from where my condo is located to Mor Chit before, so I actually had no idea what the going rate should be.  After I stepped away from the first taxi, I walked a few steps to the next available taxi (all traffic was stopped due to heavy congestion – rush hour) and this taxi driver asked me “how much?”, wanting to haggle for a price.  If I am not mistaken, it is actually illegal for taxi drivers that use meters to engage in this practice.  I shook my head again and walked a few more cars down the line to the next available taxi to which I again stated, “Mor Chit”, to which this taxi driver nodded his head in agreement.  Usually a taxi driver will either shake his head “no” if they don’t want to go there or nod “yes” if they will take you to where you want to go.  I guess I had “sucker” written on me somewhere that afternoon.  The taxi ride itself was quite eventful as all rides in taxi’s in Bangkok usually are.  9 of 10 taxi drivers that I have had in Thailand are overly aggressive, but the driver I had was by far an “alpha” driver.  He shot through traffic in all lanes just barely missing slowing traffic multiple times, which is not out of the ordinary for taxi drivers.  What was unusual was an instance when a pick-up truck cut him off just as he was about to accelerate past a bunch of slow cars, which I could tell upset him.  My taxi driver chased after this truck at very high speeds, and when the truck slowed down to get off of an exit on the left, my taxi driver sped up to pull up next to the truck in the exit lane and swerved the car at the truck as if he was going to crash into it.  Amazing.  The taxi driver got me to Mor Chit and it cost 93 Baht, but as I always find taking taxis in Bangkok, the cost of the ride doesn’t take into account the entertainment (or fright) you get that comes with it.  I arrived at Mor Chit at 3:50pm and the earliest bus to Phitsanulok was at 4:40pm, so I had a little time to rest and relax after the wild taxi ride.

The bus ride to Phitsanulok was not that enjoyable as it was an older bus and the air conditioning smelled like old, dirty socks.  It was not the worst bus ride I had to Phitsanulok (I have written about several of them last year in my blog), but was the first one I had taken this year.  I arrived at the Phitsanulok bus station at 9:30pm, where Jet and her father were waiting to pick me up.  It was already late, so when I arrived with Jet to her mother’s house, I just went to sleep right away.  The next day (Saturday) we stopped over at one of Jet’s mother’s friends restaurant to eat breakfast, which was absolutely delicious.  Curries and soups and fried chicken and rice – more than I could eat and all for about $2.  Jet took me to get a hair cut at the barber I went to several times before last summer just after breakfast.  His price had gone up from 50 Baht to 60 Baht (from about $1.25 to $1.50), but I would have gladly paid two or three times as much for his work.  In fact, last year I tried giving him a tip which he refused, which I suspect was on principle.  This barber gives a solid haircut (military-like, flat-top) along with nice, close shave.  I am not sure where I would go in Alabama to get a similar service – but I am sure that if I could find it in the US, it would likely cost at least $30.  I then went with Jet as she got a manicure (I got a pedicure) for about $1 on the other side of town.  After that busy morning, I went back to Jet’s house to play with Ben for a while and at around 1:00pm, put him down for a nap.  Jet took the time while Ben was sleeping to get pictures from our Phuket developed and put on CD’s so that I could bring them back to Bangkok on post them for you (see below). 

Ben had a little fever showing before going down for his nap, so we planned to take things easy.  We ended up going to a place where they have evening public aerobics that is next to a large playground after Ben woke up from his nap.  Jet and her mom did the aerobics while I kept an eye on Ben, who seemed to have a great time playing, climbing, and swinging.  While there, we met up with Jet’s cousin (P’ Anne) and her three little girls (maybe 6, 4, and 2 years old) who chased and followed Ben around where ever he went.  It was actually quite something as Ben was not that daring as all of the other kids and was a little slow to climb up ladders, dart across bridges, and come down slides.  Recognizing this and how the other Thai children would push Ben aside or bully him in Thai to “speed up” or “get down”, the two girls (6 and 4 years old) flanked the front and back of him everywhere he went, helping him along, up, and down, and shielding him from all of the other Thai kids.  These girls have only briefly met Ben before last year and the year before that, so I doubt that they remember him.  But their mother must have told them that they were related (I couldn’t understand what she told the children in Thai when she introduced Ben to them), but from that point on, those girls protected Ben as if he was their own little brother.  That was the most memorable part of my visit to Phitsanulok.  After an hour when the aerobics session had ended, we traveled to another one of Jet’s mom’s friend’s restaurant for steak and called it a day. 

Ben must surely have his two-year molars coming through as this is the third time in less than 30 days that he has had a high fever.  First it was a week before we left for Thailand, then it was a few days after we arrived in Thailand (when we were in Phuket), and now about two weeks after we have been in Thailand.  Jet recalled Ben having his re-occuring fever multiple times last year in Thailand that would only occur during the times that I visited them in Phitsanulok.  So for some fun, Jet blamed my visit as the cause of Ben’s fever this time.  I wonder if there is something to it.  The next day we were supposed to attend wedding for another one of Jet’s cousins, but with Ben in the condition he was in, we just stayed close to the house and I played with Ben for much of the day.  We did take an hour in the afternoon to visit Jet’s aunt’s house on the other side of town where one of Jet’s mom’s workers accompanied us, climbed up several trees in her aunt’s yard for us, and took down several coconuts and jackfruit.  And then just as quickly as the weekend came, it passed and I was on the 8:15pm bus back to Bangkok.  I was able to get some sleep on the bus, so when I arrived at Mor Chit at 1:00am and caught a taxi back to my condo, it was hard to get back to sleep.  I ended up just staying up, preparing for class that day and getting some work done.

So that is about where things are right now after a busy weekend.  Jet told me this morning (Tuesday) that Ben has gotten over is fever, which is about right as it lasts just under 3 days in length each time.  Jet will be coming to Bangkok this weekend with her sister who will be leaving back for home in Switzerland.  I also have my dental surgery planned to remove my remaining wisdom tooth – I just hope that it is as seamless as the first wisdom tooth they took out when I first arrived in Thailand almost three weeks ago.  The midterm exam for the first class I am teaching is on Friday, so I have that day off as the exam will be proctored by someone else at the Hua Mak campus.  Hopefully I will have the chance to get some more work done.

One thing that I have been trying to do is take more short video blogs to share with you about my time here in Thailand.  I took a few over the past few days, one of me at Mor Chit (Bangkok bus station), one of Jet’s mom’s house/business, one of the street market by my condo, and just one of Ben from the weekend with his new haircut – Ben really liked watching the one of him over and over.  One question I often get is how are McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, etc. different than in the US, so I think I will walk around the mall today and get some video of those fast food places so you can see for yourself.  If you have other things you would like for me to video and share, let me know and I will try to get it up in the coming days.

On The Road

May 14, 2009

I have a few minutes before class begins this morning (Friday) so I will get a quick post in.  After class today, I will rush over to the bus station and catch the first one to Phitsanulok to see Jet and Ben.  Since class ends at 3:30pm – I hope to arrive there by 9:00pm.  I won’t have that much time to spend there as I will have to return back on Sunday night for class on Monday morning, but it will give me a chance to see Jet and Ben again.  Jet was thinking of coming to see me in Bangkok for the weekend, but decided against it yesterday.  After she made that decision, she started “suggesting” that I come see them, saying things like “don’t you miss Ben?”  That got me thinking more and more about them to where it got to the point where I just had to go.  I actually don’t know how many times I will be able to visit Jet’s family in her hometown this summer as I am teaching three classes during the week, opposed to only one class a week for much of the time last year.  As a result, if I do want to visit there, it will be for short visits like the one I am planning this weekend.  Hope it goes well!

Wet Weather

May 13, 2009

Every day that I have been in Bangkok so far (almost a week) it has been raining out.  It has only been raining an hour or two during the day and also at night, but I guess this should be expected as it is the start of the monsoon or “rainy” season over here.  I am a bit surprised because last year (from what I can recall), it did not rain as much.  The thing that really makes the weather different this year is at night.  Almost every night here there has been a brief thunderstorm that has passed through (no longer than 1 hour).  Lightning strikes the several large condos and skyscrapers around me so I often wake up to very loud crashes that sound as if they struck just outside my window.  I guess that this is something that I will get used to.  I took a picture looking out the window of my condo this morning as well as one when it was raining out pretty hard, which I share below.

I met up with Sup, Sonny (professor from JSU visiting Bangkok this week), and Father Bipin (a friend I made last year) at the ABAC Hua Mak campus, which is the place where I taught last year.  We were meeting at 9:30am to head off to the Bang Na (undergraduate) campus to meet with the “Father of the Thai Internet” and also get a tour of the campus from Father Bipin.  I arrived at the campus at 8:30am, so I took the extra time I had to meet up with the administrators that have both allowed me to teach classes again this year and have arranged my accommodations.  Everyone was quite happy to see me and I was given the invitation (once again) that I was welcome to teach at ABAC in a similar arrangement (only teach for 1 semester during the summer) for as long as I wanted.  Even though this was not the first time I had been told this, they were very nice to make the same offer again.  I guess this offer will be something that we will have to assess on a year-by-year basis.  Walking around the Hua Mak campus, I also ran into the same friendly security guards that I saw on a daily basis last year – one was so excited to see me that she walked to me an excitedly spoke a bunch of Thai to me that I could not understand.  Once she realized that I had no idea what she was talking about, she simply asked me if I was doing well in Thai, to which I responded “yes”.  That was a great experience.

We all did meet up at 9:30am and caught a taxi to the Bang Na campus.  We arrived about 45 minutes early for our 11:00am meeting, so we walked around the campus a bit to which Sonny captured it best, “this is not a campus, it’s a palace!”  We took a few pictures before our meeting, which I also share below.  The meeting was short (only 30 minutes), but was productive.  We continued on with our tour, but it began to rain, so we cut parts of the tour out and had an extended lunch on the campus instead.  The rain was starting to let up by 1:00pm, but Sonny needed to get back to meet up with his family (who also traveled to Thailand with him) who were shopping at the MBK mall, which is just a half-mile from my condo.  I went by taxi to the MBK mall with Sonny and walked with him to meet up with his family.  As I was about to leave, I had asked what they were planning on doing today (Thursday) and they said that they will likely be shopping at the Central World mall, which is the mall just across the street from me where I teach at.  I encouraged them to give me a call so that I could join them – particularly Sonny and his son so that we could catch a movie while his wife and daughter shop.  That should be at around 10:00am.  Oh yeah, here is a short video of where I teach this year.

Jet still says that she has her hands full with Ben.  The last two nights when she put Ben to bed, he has been reluctant to go to bed without her, so Jet left Ben with her mom and told him that she would leave to get him a toy, to which Ben would say, “OK”.  Jet did not return with the toy, but Ben still was able to fall asleep.  Jet told me that she took Ben to daycare for the first time (in the US or in Thailand) yesterday.  Jet said that the cost was 1000 Baht ($28) each month, but she did not tell me what the daily rate was.  I guess Ben was fine until lunchtime when he just cried and cried for about 45 minutes.  Jet said that the daycare tried to call her and have her pick Ben up, but Jet never got the phone call.  Another thing that Jet said about Ben is that he insists on speaking in English instead of in Thai – even though he is now only surrounded by people that speak just Thai.  Just something that is interesting.

First Days of Class

May 12, 2009

I have just finished my second day of class here in Thailand this summer and things have been very busy, but are going well.  My experiences from last year are certainly helping me out this year as I teach.  For example, I knew to expect that class would not start on time.  Class was supposed to start at 10:30am, but no students were in class at that time and only 8 of the 17 students were there at 10:45am.  I started class at 10:50am and by 11:00am, all of the students had arrived.  Even though I knew to expect this delay, it was still tough on me because I really like to start “on time”.  The first thing I had the class do is agree to a “daily” class schedule.  The students and I agreed that I will start class at 10:45am (no exceptions) and we will break for lunch at 12:00pm – 1:00pm.  There will also be a 15 minute break at 2:15pm and class will end at 3:30pm, if not finished before then.  I have also worked on getting more students involved in class by calling more on them to give answers, and now that they have selected teams, I can just call on “team 1” (for example) to give a response.  One thing that is different is that last year I taught an executive MBA class and an evening class, so I was teaching to students that were working full-time.  Almost all of my 17 students this year have no previous work experience.  That is making things a little difficult because I cannot depend on them to give “real-world” examples from their work to discuss in class, but I think things will still be fine.  One problem that I am sure will be an issue is me speaking too quickly for them.  At the end of my first class yesterday (Monday), I had one student state that I did speak too quickly.  I try consciously to slow down, but sometimes it is hard to see when students are not able to follow me during class.

Sup met up with me after class downstairs in the shopping mall, where I briefly met his sister for the first time who is in college now.  Sup helped me out by walking with me to the place where I got my SIM card for my cell phone because I wasn’t able to make any phone calls.  I have only spoken a couple of times with Jet on the phone and for about 1 minute with Kristin on Mother’s day when I would keep getting messages that said (in Thai) that I had no credit left on my phone.  Jet had thought that she put about $20 on the card (enough for my two months in Thailand), but it turned out that only $1 was put on the card when it was set up.  That was fixed.  Sup and I then talked about our meeting that we have scheduled tomorrow at the undergraduate or “Bang Na” campus (with another person from JSU, Sonny, who is visiting his sister living in Bangkok this week), picked up some food on the street, and ate dinner at my condo.  Sup was very jealous of the accommodations I was given this year compared to last year.

I had cancelled my second class because of my meeting tomorrow (Wednesday) and had the “make-up” class today instead.  That was a very strange thing for me to do, to cancel a class and have a “make-up” class is something I have never done in the US – but this is a common thing to do in Thailand.  I thought that many students might not show up today, but almost all did.  I guess I should not have been surprised as almost all do not work.  With two classes so close together, and since there is only 1 month to teach the class, there has been a lot of preparation work involved.  When I arrived in my classroom today, one of the secretaries at the office desk here had told me that the condo I was staying at had requested that I let them know when they could “clean my room” during the week.  Last year at the “Hua Mak” campus, I had a cleaning person come during the morning once a week (I think it was on either Tuesday or Wednesday) and they changed the bed sheets, swept up the room, scrubbed the bathroom clean, and took out any garbage I had.  The secretary told me that the condo had preferred to clean my room each time I had class during the week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday).  Three times a week?  I just said, “sure”.  I guess they cleaned the room while I was in class today, so once I leave my classroom and return back to my room in a few minutes, I will see what changes have been made.

I will head back to my room today and use the workout facilities there.  On Sunday evening I stopped by there and used the treadmill that they had, which was the first time I had ever used a treadmill.  I am now a big fan.  Last year at the “Hua Mak” campus, across the street from the university (about a quarter mile away) was a soccer stadium that I could run around the outside of and not worry about the hectic traffic of Bangkok interferring.  I would have to run at 6:00am in the morning because if I went any later, I would be cooked by the sun.  Of course I could only run if it was not raining out too.  On Sunday, I had no worries at all.  I ran at a very good, consistent pace, which is something that I have a hard time doing when I normally run (either in Thailand or the US), had no traffic, no smog of traffic, no heat of the day (still able to work up a good sweat, though), and was very comfortable.  I had no idea what “speed” or “incline” to set the treadmill at (I did everything “manually” instead of using a set course), but I wanted to run for 1 hour as it was the first time that I had done any exercise since the Nashville Marathon about two weeks earlier.  I was able to keep up my pace at speed “9.0” and an incline that started out at “3.0”, but I dropped down to “1.5” for the last 15 minutes.  I was shocked that I was able to run 8.33 miles in the 1 hour time, which is a 7 minute, 12 second pace.  When I normally run outdoors, I usually run at a 9 minute pace.  Absolutely shocking that I was running that much quicker on the treadmill.  We’ll just see how that goes today.

Speaking with Jet, she has said that Ben has just been a handful.  She had him taken for a haircut yesterday – I expected that it would be cut real short, but Jet said that it was not.  Jet said that it was “much shorter” than before, but that the hair stylist said the short hair would not look good on him because of Ben’s hair type.  I don’t know what that means, but I suspect Jet just could not bring herself to have Ben with very short hair.  Hopefully Ben will be a bit more comfortable now with shorter hair – I can’t wait to see him again.

Back From Phuket

May 9, 2009

Things have been so very busy this past week traveling, so now that I am back in Bangkok, it is the best (and perhaps only) time to reflect upon it. On Monday we flew into Phuket to meet up with Jet’s sister Pookie who had arrived there a few days earlier. We flew on Bangkok Airways for the 11:55am flight, which was interesting because we were allowed to sit and relax in their VIP lounge (eat snacks, drink juice, etc.) before our flight and did not have to have a certain number of frequent flyer miles to enter. Jet booked the flights online before we left Alabama for about $100 and also booked our hotel (the Woraburi for $50) which was on Karen beach in the southern part of Phuket because it was close to the hotel that Jet’s sister was staying at. We were only going to stay there one night because Pookie’s friend was returning back home after that night and we would then have room to stay with her in her room. Ben was a terror on the short flight (just over 1 hour) and Jet had a hard time keeping him under control, so for the last few minutes of the flight Ben sat with me and he settled down as he enjoyed seeing all of the islands, water, beach, and other airplanes as we reached the ground. Pookie had already arranged for a car to be waiting for us to take us the 1 hour+ drive from the airport to our hotel (for about $17) so that is what we did. The hotel was fine for us as it was just across the two-lane road that flanked the beach, and to keep Ben satisfied, we walked over to Karen beach and let him play in the sand for a little bit before we grabbed a bite to eat for dinner. Jet and I were still a bit jet-lagged, so we stayed in for the evening, only to be awoken by a very loud party going on just outside of our room at the front of the hotel. It turned out that it was the night of the annual staff party, so there was a lot of screaming, a lot of karokee, and a tough night sleep for us.

I took Ben outside at about 6:00am in the morning to let Jet and her mom sleep in a bit and we walked along the beach and we enjoyed the sunrise and the handful of joggers passing by. At every hotel (it seemed) there is an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet that goes with your hotel reservation, so we started eating breakfast while Jet and her mom joined us a few minutes later. The buffet had a mix of Thai food (curry, pud see eew, fried rice, etc.) and Western food (French toast, omelets made-to-order, sausages, bacon, etc.) so there was plenty to eat no matter what your taste was. We walked over the beach once more after breakfast to relax before we checked out of the hotel and moved in with Pookie at 11:00am. Pookie was staying at the Katathani hotel just south of us on Kata beach and the difference between that hotel and our first hotel was night and day. Pookie’s hotel was right on the beach, had several private pools, massages given out on the grass underneath the palm trees next to the beach, and had its own long stretch of private beach that was in immaculate condition. We spent more time at the beach that day with Jet getting into the sea (and trying to get Ben to do the same), building sandcastles with Ben, Jet and Ben playing in the pool, and just enjoying the terrific weather (partly cloudy, 90’s). I called it an early night while Jet and her mom walked around outside before it got too dark out. Jet had mentioned that there were a few Japanese tourists that kept taking pictures of Ben like he was some type of celebrity, which sounded both a little funny and a little creepy. Jet’s sister returned back late (9:00pm) so I was asleep before she came back. Pookie had spent the entirety of her past few days training to be a “master” diver and taking in the sights underneath the water and would be doing the same the next couple of days (Wednesday and Thursday).

Ben had a rough night and developed his fever again, so that certainly concerned us and we decided to take the next day (Wednesday) pretty light. I woke up early again with Ben and he had a blast running along the shores of the beach as these little (ranging from the size of a quarter to the size of a cookie), clear crabs were scavenging for bugs. Ben had such a great time and showed no signs of the fever he had that night, as always is the case as it comes and goes for about a 3-day stretch. Jet, Pookie, and their mom greeted us at the beach and we all walked over to the breakfast buffet which was also night and day from the previous hotel we stayed at. There were about twice as many items to choose from and everything was nearly made-to-order fresh. I loaded up on the freshly made waffles with whipped cream and maple syrup – delicious. After breakfast, we walked back to the beach and spent the rest of the morning chasing the waves running in and out of the shore, and what Ben liked most was the occasional wave that made it up to him and got him all wet. It was just a lot of fun.

By 11:00am we were packing again to leave for another hotel, the Cetrana Kata, which was about 1 mile up the road. The rate for booking with this hotel online was about $180 per night, but we were able to get it for about $50 a night because Jet’s uncle and cousin from Phitsanulok (her hometown) were joining us and her uncle had a membership of some sorts that could be applied there. Unfortunately the hotel was not as nice as the Katathani and it was not within walking distance to the beach, but it was catered to families as there were a few places dedicated to children (a day-care type facility, a fenced in sand area with slide – that no one seemed to use, and kiddie pools and water slides) and there were lots of children running around. We ate a light lunch after we arrived and that evening we headed out to the “Phuket FantaSee”, which was the big Las Vegas-type show advertised everywhere in Phuket. Well, I had never been to a Las Vegas show, but I imagine it would be something like this. For about $45 per person (Jet had negotiated for the best price – others were charging at least $20 more), the package came with a ride in a van to and from the show (about a 45 minute drive), an all-you-can-eat dinner buffet, and the show.

The show was just north from where our hotel was and it was a winding road to get there. Even worse, the show only started at 9:00pm (dinner at 7:00pm) so we knew it would be rough on Ben – we just didn’t know how much. For the first few minutes of the ride, Ben sat with me and was complaining a bit. We could tell his fever was returning and he didn’t like the twisting ride up-and-down the hills. I passed him off to Jet in the row ahead of me and a few minutes later Ben threw up a couple of times. I think he did it more for the ride than for his fever, but that was just the start of Ben’s long night. The driver of the van mentioned the beaches that we were passing along the way up to the show were some of the hardest hit from the Tsunami, but only took 6 months to be back up and running as if nothing ever happened. Once we arrived at the show, there were lots of shops and some games to play (along with the cheesy theme song “Phu-ket Fan-ta-see” playing continuously) like any theme park. We took a few pictures here and there, but Ben just did not feel well and didn’t want to take part which made it hard for us to do much. The buffet was outstanding as there were lots of variety to choose from – not as much selection as a Las Vegas buffet (or a Sunday brunch at Classic on Noble in Anniston, Alabama), but it was good food none-the-less. Ben was just awful the entire time and I had to walk him around the very large ballroom where everyone was eating just to keep him from complaining. Poor little guy. Jet felt terrible as this was likely the first time that she had forgotten to bring her children’s Tylenol with her – she ended up taking Ben to the nurses station and they gave him some anti-dizziness medicine of some sort, which I suppose helped out some. After dinner we walked over to the show and sat down just in time for the start, and Ben was out sleeping in Jet’s arms. The show itself was great – lots of elephants, Thai dancing, singing and performances. Jet told me throughout the show (about 1 hour and 15 minutes in length) that much of what was being done were traditional Thai stories, which was very neat to know. There were fireworks going off here and there throughout the show, but Ben amazingly stayed sleeping for most of it. When Ben did have his eyes open briefly, he saw elephants dancing around, and it made me wonder if he thought that he was hallucinating. Jet’s mom had a great time throughout the show, clapping and saying “wow” many times, but perhaps the most excited she got was at the end of the show. All of the elephants performed together and some, er, took care of business on the stage. This just made Jet’s mom go hysterical as she was so excited to point these incidents out to us. What a fun time. Thankfully, Ben slept for the whole ride back to the hotel and it was (for the most part) a quiet night for us.

The breakfast buffet at the Centara Kata hotel was similar to the buffet from the first hotel we stayed at – not outstanding, but the food was still good. It was now Thursday and Jet had planned on spending the day snorkeling at some of the islands. This is something that I just had no interest to do, but with Ben not feeling well, I still encouraged Jet to go ahead with her uncle and cousin while I stayed behind with Jet’s mom to watch after him. Jet was gone from 8:00am – 5:00pm and much of the day I spent with Ben in the swimming pools. Ben had felt better (again, the fever comes and goes) and really had a great time in the water. It also felt great not packing as this was the first (and only) day that we did not switch hotels after one night. Jet returned that evening and said that she had a great time out on the water. By then Ben was starting to feel a little bad, so everyone went out for dinner and to do some night market shopping while I stayed behind with Ben and put him to sleep. After the busy day I had with Ben, some extra sleep is just what I needed. Putting Ben to sleep so early (7:00pm) did have its pitfalls as he awoke by 5:00am. Once again, I took Ben outside and walked around with him while everyone else slept. It was pretty humid out that morning and by the time the breakfast buffet had opened at 6:30am, Ben was asking for some toast to eat. Ben just loves eating toast with butter on it – many times, however, just to lick to butter off of the toast. Ben had a couple of bites of toast and some juice (Ben always insisted on having a little bit of every kind of juice in his glass the entire week – a mix of water, guava, pineapple, and orange juice) and then gave out a large belch, followed by throwing everything back up. I actually don’t think this was related to the fever as it was very warm and humid out in the morning and I just think Ben drank his “juice” down too quickly and was a bit unsettling for him. I walked Ben back up to our room and we both changed out of our clothes. By 7:00am, we were all back down eating breakfast together and Ben was just eating everything in sight showing no effects of what happened only minutes earlier. Ben insisted on playing in the water again, and that is what we did until we had to check-out at 10:30am so we had enough time to catch our 2:00pm flight back to Bangkok. One of the things that we have been able to get out of Ben lately are answers to the questions “are you having fun?” or “are you happy?” which have let us known how Ben is feeling. While floating around in a child’s airtube in the water, kicking his feet wildly away underneath the water, Ben said to me unprompted, “Daddy … Ben happy”. I think that will be the moment I remember most about our week in Phuket.

It was a smooth flight back to Bangkok with Ben sitting at my side – nothing like the flight to Phuket. Pookie’s friend had picked us up at the airport and after we unpacked at Jet’s condo, we put Ben down to sleep at around 5:00pm. Ben had barely any nap at all that day and was still feeling warm. This was likely not the fever any more, but the heat of the day outside that was getting to him. We have all come to the agreement that Ben’s hair will have to be cut short soon as it is just too uncomfortable for him to have long hair over here. Ben is always breaking out in a sweat and has broken out along his hairline as a result. No other kids have hair as long as his over here, so it is just something that we will have to do pretty soon. After Ben went to sleep, Pookie’s friend took Jet and I to see the condo that I will be staying at that Assumption University (ABAC) provided for me. When we arrived there (it is only a block or two from the shopping mall where I will be teaching at), we were both impressed. This was nothing like the dorm-room accommodations that I had last year but a high-rise condo with a great view, a TV with 40+ channels, a stove, a full refrigerator, a microwave, and most importantly – a washing machine! We took a taxi back to Jet’s condo at 7:00pm where Ben was still sleeping and could not be woken up. I decided to call it a night there and it was a good thing, because Ben was back awake at 3:00am, so I played with him until everyone else woke up at 6:30am. After some packing and a light breakfast, we headed out to do some shopping at the “MBK” mall, which is only a couple of blocks from the mall where I will be teaching at. In fact, with all of the shopping malls in so close of proximity, they consider it to be the biggest shopping area in all of Southeast Asia. Jet helped me buy a new wardrobe (two pairs of pants, three dress shirts, and three ties – all for $62) and then it was time for lunch and time for us to part ways. I was going back to my new condo to stay, while Jet and the family were off to the wedding of one of her cousin’s that was being held today (Sunday) about 5 hours away from Bangkok. I would have liked to have joined them, but since my first class teaching is tomorrow morning, that would have made it very difficult for me. It always is tough to say goodbye, but man it was really tough to leave Jet and Ben after a week of extended time together. I don’t know when I will see either of them again – maybe Jet this coming weekend, but we will see.

Update: Here is a video of the condo and area I am staying at in Bangkok this summer.  Here is the video from last year to compare with.

In Bangkok

May 3, 2009

I don’t have Internet access often right now, and when I do, it is pretty slow. I will try to update as often as I can about things happening over here. We had no problems getting through any of the airports on the way to Thailand. The flight from Atlanta to Seoul took only 13 hours, which was 2 hours quicker than was expected, so that gave us some extra time to walk around the Seoul airport. Ben did not want to sleep much on the flight and insisted that he sleep on Jet’s lap. You will see that this will become a problem. We had terrible seats for both flights – at the back of the plane (very bumpy there), next to the bathrooms (very smelly), and it was the first flights I had been on where I regretted wearing pants (very warm). That did not make managing Ben any easier. When we got off the flight in Seoul, everyone had to have their temperatures taken one-by-one and fill out a form on account of the swine flu craze. At the Bangkok airport, they just has something that looked like a scan gun at passengers walking by checking body temperatures randomly. At the Seoul airport, about 5-10% of everyone walking around had surgical masks on. There were nice play areas for Ben to play around at and there was a free wireless hotspot where I was able to check e-mail and post an update on facebook. The flight from Seoul to Bangkok took 5 hours, which Ben and Jet were able to sleep for about the first 3.5 hours. I was only able to sleep for about 1 hour for the whole day as I just was not tired enough or comfortable enough to sleep. I ended up watching 5 movies over the 2 flights (“Seven Pounds”, “The Curious Case of Benjaman Button”, “Defiance”, “Transporter 3”, “The Day the World Stood Still”), watched parts of “Bolt” and “Madagascar 2” with Ben, and played a lot of yatzhee on the online games. We arrived on-time (11:30pm) in Bangkok, but we had to wait over 30 minutes for a spot to get off the plane. That delay had us miss Sup at the airport as both of our flights were to have arrived at about the same time in Bangkok. That delay almost had us miss our ride was arranged by Assumption University (ABAC) to pick us up (he was about to leave)- unfortunately, only a car was there when we needed a van since we had 6 checked-in luggage bags! So we loaded up most of our luggage in the car and we caught a taxi with the rest of our luggage to Jet’s Mom’s condo. We arrived there at about 1:30am and fell asleep instantly. Jet woke up with Ben at 5:00am to return back to the airport to greet her sister who was arriving from Switzerland. Jet’s sister did not return back to the condo with her as she caught a flight right away to Phuket – we will be joining her in Phuket tomorrow (Monday) as our flight leaves at 11:50am.

We stopped by the ABAC city campus where I will be teaching in the next two months, which is only about a 30 minute walk from Jet’s condo. The campus is on the 14th floor of one of the fanciest malls in Bangkok. The facilities are modest (just a few classrooms) but the view from that high up is spectacular and the set-up is quite futuristic – it is pretty neat. I will not be able to check-in to the condo that I have been assigned yet by ABAC until I return from Phuket. I will try and get pictures and/or video of both the campus and condo I will be staying at in the next week or two. We stopped at the ABAC city campus again today (Sunday) so that I could check e-mail and do some clothes shopping, but Ben was not cooperating with us, was very crabby, and had to have Jet nearby at all times. We ended up just quickly checking e-mail, walking to a toy department to help me keep Ben occupied while Jet and her Mom did some shopping for Ben, then ate lunch and returned back to the condo. And when we put Ben down to sleep, he has to have Jet stay with him until he does fall to sleep.

Jet scheduled an appointment for me to see a dentist about my wisdom teeth at a very nice international hospital nearby her condo yesterday (Saturday) at 1:00pm. I had originally planned to have them taken out in Anniston, Alabama in December, but it would have costed over $1000 (after insurance) and they could not fit me into their schedule. At that point, Jet and I decided that we would have the procedure done in Thailand instead. I thought that the appointment yesterday was to just take x-rays, but after checking in and having my blood pressure taken (about 5 minutes time), I was conducted to a dentist chair where Jet gave an 2-year old x-ray of my teeth taken back in Alabama to the dentist. The dentist scanned it over for a few seconds, looked in my mouth for a few seconds, then brought out a needle. What?!? He was going to do the procedure right then and there?!? He gave me a shot of novacane (took about 1 minute) and immediately started to tug on my upper-left wisdom tooth that was exposed and yanked it out in only about 10-15 seconds. All done. In less than 10 minutes, I had one of my wisdom teeth out. Amazing. And it only cost $50! We scheduled my other wisdom tooth (lower-right) which is unexposed to be removed in two weeks. The dentist said he would have done it yesterday, but since we were traveling to Phuket, he wanted to wait because removing this tooth would require surgery. We’ll see how that goes.

Jet went out with her Mom and Ben last night for dinner while I stayed back at the condo and slept – catching up on the sleep I missed out on the flights over and resting up from having my wisdom tooth pulled. They returned at about 9:00pm and they all went to sleep. Ben woke up again at 11:30pm and would not go back to sleep, so I let Jet and her Mom sleep while I watched him for the next 3 hours until he was tired and wanted to get back to sleep. Hopefully that will not happen again tonight, but maybe Ben (and Jet and I) will get over the jet-lag soon. It was a labor day holiday yesterday and today, so there were no places to eat nearby just outside the condo in the morning (closed until later in the day), so we walked a few blocks through some slums to a market for some breakfast. I didn’t want anything spicy or harsh (on account of my tooth being pulled) so I just got “Ca’ Mun Gui” (chicken with rice), which is my favorite. I don’t know what was in that food, but I barely made it back the short 10 minute walk to the condo before I had to go to the bathroom. Maybe it was the water I drank, too. From what I can best recall, I never had that happen last year while I was over here – and that was for 4 months! And it happened to me in only the first day? Well, I just hope my body will get used to whatever that was I had. Maybe we will stop eating “off the beaten path” as well.

Jet’s friend (“Wow”) is letting us use her laptop with wireless access while she is out of the country for the next 2 weeks. It is a little slow, but hopefully I will be able to give updates while we are in Phuket over the next few days.