Sunday, October 08, 2006

 

Whats your name?

In Thailand people tend to have very long names. Most Thai’s shorten their names to cater to westerners. For example, my Thai language teacher’s first name is Angsana, which is not that long, but when pronounced in Thai, it sounds nothing like it’s spelled. So she simply goes by the name “A".

Thai’s also have trouble pronouncing western names. In the theme of making my name easy to pronounce for the Thais, I decided to shorten my name too. My Thai name is Sapin... pronounced “Saa Pin”. Thais have a difficult time pronouncing “sp” in Spencer, so I simply morphed it to Sapin. Even my new name causes confusion. Sometimes I have to relate it to a similar Thai word “sapan” which means bridge or overpass. This elicits many laughs.

Liz has a Thai name as well. You’d think that Liz, a derivative of Elizabeth, is already short and sweet. She will call a restaurant to make a reservation and say, "I’d like to make a reservation under the name Liz. That is spelled (speaking very slowly) LLLL, eye, ZZZZZZZZZ as in zebra, zed, ZZZZZZZZZ”. This exchange is quite humorous to listen to. Invariably, we arrive at the restaurant and we provide the hostess her real name and confusion ensues. We look down at the list to see her name written down as “Lic.” This has happened so many times that Liz has resigned to refer to herself Lic when making reservations. Her co-workers think its hilarious. So feel free to refer to her as Lic going forward.

We celebrated our 8th year wedding anniversary last night - early because Liz will away on business for the next few weeks. Liz made reservations for us at the New York Steak House at the JW Marriott Hotel. When we arrived at the hostess stand we experienced the typical name/reservation confusion. In spite of attempting to make the reservation under the name Lic, the hostess had written her down as “Oic”. We cracked up. We were then taken to our table to find they had a customized name card sitting on the table with “Oic” printed on the front. I wished we had our camera.

As I said above, names in Thailand very are long. Bangkok in Thai is referred to as "Krung Thep". But this is an abbreviation for the city's full name which is 168 characters long! The full name is: Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit. The name translates as: "The city of angels, the great city, the eternal jewel city, the impregnable city of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn." As you see, this is why we abbreviate our names in Thailand.

Sapin


Sunday, September 24, 2006

 

My tank is better than the will of the people

The Coup d'Etat in Thailand has turned into a spectator event. Over the weekend, people showed up in droves to see the military position in front of the Government House. Thousands of people queued up to take photos of the military in their tanks. Children were dressed in fatigues and carrying plastic machine guns. Vendors were hawking everything from food & drinks, photos of the event, flowers and balloons. The weekend paper even showed pictures of children sitting on tanks, people giving flowers to the military and masses of people converging on the event. Everyone I've talked to has been or plans to go. Why are Thais so accepting or indifferent to the recent military actions?

The ousted administration had scheduled an election for October and many Thais hoped to achieve change through the democratic process. But the recent maneuver by the military junta has changed the course of Thai history. The new military led government has promised to return the government to the people and to restore a constitutional democracy.

The few business people I’ve talked with have said that this event is good for the country and that Thaksin needed to go. I agree that change was needed but I’m not sure the Coup was the answer. I am perplexed as to why the people here accept the use of guns and military might over words and diplomacy as a solution to a problem.

I hope the military will honor it's words and indeed give the county back to the people.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

 

My First Coup d’Etat

Moving abroad from Dallas, Texas to Bangkok, Thailand has been quite an adventure... but this is one that I never anticipated. The following is a chronology of my day on September 20, 2006.

Over the previous few weeks I had been traveling abroad with Liz and I arrived home to Bangkok alone on Monday, September 18 at midnight. On Tuesday evening I was jetlagged and weary from my travels so I eased into bed at 10:30 p.m. All I wanted was a good night sleep so my internal clock would re-adjust to the local time. During the night, my phone rang multiple times. I was delirious and I ignored the calls believing it was a fax server attempting to spam me again. After the 3rd or 4th call I decided that it might be an emergency, so dragged myself out of bed at 4:55 a.m. to answer the phone. It was my mother and I presumed she had some bad news to deliver. She did… but the problem was with me. Thailand’s military had overthrown the government during the night and she wanted to know if Liz and I were safe and if we were aware of the situation. I was oblivious. In fact, Liz was currently en-route to Bangkok from LAX via Tokyo. I wondered what would happen when Liz arrived in Tokyo. Would they let her connect to Bangkok or would she be stuck in Japan?

I flipped on the TV to find that all channels had been blocked with the exception of Bloomberg. The new government had seized control of the airwaves in an attempt to control communications. I knew the internet was available as my Vonage (internet phone) was working.

I showered and then went down to the restaurant in our building by 6:30 a.m. The headline on front page of the Bangkok Post read “Coup d’Etat.” The Emporia restaurant was open for business and everything seemed like it was a normal day. I grabbed a table and stuffed my nose into the paper to catch up on the events of the evening. Commanders of the three armed forces had taken over the country while the Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was in NYC addressing the United Nations. The Commanders cited “unprecedented division in the country, widespread suspicion of abuse of power and activities bordering on lese majeste for taking power…” This action was temporary and they promised to return government control to the people. The day was a declared a public holiday and all banks were to be closed.

The political situation here had been a mess since our arrival in January. The PM was being asked to step down because of corruption and he has refused to do so.

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy. The system here is much like UK where there is a king but the national affairs are handled by a democratic government. The majority of the people in Thailand are Buddhist, so I speculated and hoped that this coup would be a peaceful event.

After breakfast, I returned to my room to respond to the various calls and emails from concerned friends in the night and to read more news about the “coup” on the internet. Afterward, I decided to focus on my work that was piling up from in my recent absence.

At 3 p.m. I decided it was time to experience the situation first hand. Work could wait until I return. I grabbed my camera and a map of Bangkok and set out on an adventure.

The Emporium shopping mall, adjacent my apartment, was full of people. Extra security had been placed around all entrances to the building. All the luxury goods stores (jewelry, Cartier, etc.) on the first floor were closed. I imagined the owners wanted to avoid being looted by rioters in the event chaos and panic emerged.

Sukhumvit, the street we live on, is normally a log-jam of traffic, yet the cars were moving freely down the street. The mandated holiday caused people to stay home and the roads were clear. I walked from Soi (street) 24 to Soi 26 to check out the scene. 10+ security guards were stationed in front the UOB Bank (protection from potential rioting) and soldiers with M-16 machine guns had taken up key positions on the street corners adjacent to the bank and less than a block from our apartment. The day otherwise seemed like any other day. Vendors were on the street selling food and wares to passersby. I snapped some photos of the scene then decided it was time to find the tanks that I had seen and read about in the paper.

Military stationed at Sukhumvit Soi 24 by our apartment.

Our building is adjacent to the sky train which was operating. So I hopped on at Phrom Phong and rode down Saphan Thaksin on the Chao Phraya river. From there I took the river taxi up to Tha Tien, near the Grand Palace and Wat Pho (visit both sites if you come to Bangkok). The the Ministry of Defense and other government buildings are nearby and I thought that I might find some action there. I was wrong. I called my friend Jak and got the scoop I needed. I walked approximately 3 miles to past Democracy Monument ( picutred below) to the Government House on Thanon Ratchadamnoen where I found what I was looking for.

More military at Democracy Monument

I will let the following pictures tell the rest of my story.

Thousands of people crowd around a tank positioned less than 1 km from the Goverment House.

Another tank on Ratchademnoen Rd.

Thousands of people checking out the scene. Some wear yellow shirts to show support for the King.

Many people brought flowers to the military.

Crowd gathering around a barricaded tank.

4 tanks positioned in front of the Government House (there were 8 tanks in total).

Self portrait in front of 4 tanks.


Liz arrived late that same evening in Bangkok with little fan-fare. She had seen the news the night before and responded to friends and family via email during her layover in Tokyo.

On Thursday the Bangkok Post headline was “King Endorses CDR” (Council for Democratic Reform). Thus, it appears we have had a peaceful outcome.

Today everything seems like it is back to normal. I will publish more if the wind blows or if events require.

Over and out!

Spencer


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

 

Golf in Bangkok

Howdy,

I don’t play golf regularly but am about to start… here’s why.

I played golf with one of Liz’s B-school classmates, Jak, last week who has a membership to a private course here in Bangkok. We pulled up to the main entrance and club staff unloaded our gear from the trunk. A valet then parked the car. We entered the building to check in and change in the locker room. We lathered up with sunscreen then walked outside to the first tee where our cart, clubs and our caddies were waiting and ready to go. This was the first time that I’ve played with a caddie. It was a divine golf experience!

Caddies, what a concept. They find your ball for you… even when you hit it into the trees, water (which I do often) or the road. They carry your clubs and help you pick out the appropriate club for your next shot. The club carrying feature is a big benefit for me as I’ve been known to leave a driver on the green after I lay it down to make a put. Then on the next hole, I realize that I’m missing a club and sprint back to fetch it while holding up play on the entire course. Hmm, maybe that’s why no one invites me to play golf these days – I just need a caddy. Caddies also clean the dirt off you golf balls and wipe down your club faces after you hit. Raking the sand pit after you’ve hit the ball out is not hard but it requires effort – caddies do this for you too. They are also skilled at fixing the scalps and divots you make on the course. I usually dig a ditch with my club when I drive the ball from the tee box… my caddy was quite busy repairing the mucked up turf in my wake. Thai caddies will even hold an umbrella over your head to shade you from the sun when you are putting. And if that is not enough, they fan you while you are waiting for your turn to put. All I’m required to do is hit the ball straight… which is problematic most of the time.

This was the best golf experience I’ve had. Mostly because the caddie handled the tedious details of the game and I was able to focus on just playing the game and having fun. I had 102 strokes (good amateur golfers hit in the high 70’s low 80’s). I thought my results were good considering that I hadn’t played in more than 2.5+ years.

As many of you may know, an experience like this in the states could easily cost in the hundreds of dollars… but here’s the math in Thailand:

  1. 18 holes of golf with a cart –$25.00
  2. Tip for personal caddie (4 hours in the hot sun) - $7.50
  3. Lunch for 2 including beers –$10.00
  4. 12ct. box of Dunlop balls made in US –$32.50
  5. Realizing that American made golf balls represent 40%+ of the cost of playing golf in Thailand. Priceless.

Jak told me that some guys on the weekends hire 3 caddies per person!!!! Thus you’d see 12 people on the green when there is a threesome! Crazy. Next time I may hire 2 caddies – one to do caddie stuff and the other to hold the umbrella and fan! I hope play again soon!

We are off to Hong Kong this weekend to meet up with Liz’s parents, so my next sound bite could be about buying knock offs.

Spencer


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

 

Elephants & Pizza

Here’s a little slice of life in Bangkok.

We live on a very busy street known as Sukhumvit. It’s a traffic jam… day or night. I took these pictures a few days ago of a very large bull elephant who can be seen wandering up and down our street most evenings. I’ve seen 4 elephants total… but this guy is the largest. The owner sells sugar cane to tourists who in turn feed the elephant. This picture was taken in front of our building. It’s a little scary the first time you are forced to give right of way to an elephant on the sidewalk!

We ordered pizza and salad from the “The Pizza Company” for dinner the other night.

Liz ordered a thick crust cheese pizza. It was a normal pizza for the most part. It had a very puffy crust (1.5” thick) with sauce and cheese going out to the edge. It was a little messy and you had to eat it with a fork from a plate or you hands would be covered in pizza goop. I had a piece and the crust was a very doughy consistency. The experience was somewhat biting into a soggy micro-waved beignet (without the sugar of course) with sauce and cheese.

I requested a Canadian bacon and pineapple thin crust pizza. I got what I ordered plus heaping toping of canned corn on my pizza. I like corn but not on my pizza. It was mixed in, under and on top of the cheese. These guys went all out. I couldn’t remove the corn due to the way it was prepared so I reluctantly ate it.

Each pizza came with condiments as well: crushed red pepper, oregano and catsup. Who the hell puts catsup on pizza? What ever happened to parmesan cheese? Liz confirmed that a girl in her office puts catsup on her pizza! That’s worse than the English putting mayo on their fries!

Our salad came with croutons, a bag imitation crab legs and “salad crème.” Not sure what salad crème is. But I don’t want any thank you. And imitation crab legs???

Things are different here but Liz and I are really enjoying the experience. I can’t believed its been 3 months already… February is right around the corner.

Hope all is well.

Sawatdii Khrap (Good Day),

Spencer


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