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This is page 14 of my diary archives. Other diary entries can be found here, Page 18, Page 17, Page 16, Page 15, Page 13, Page 12, Page 11, Page 10, Page 9, Page 8, Page 7, Page 6, Page 5, Page 4, Page 3, Page 2 and Page 1, (oldest entry).

Please feel free to comment: I can be contacted at daniel@danploy.com.

 

Bubbles

I have mentioned before that although I may read some expat websites, such as Stickman, I do so with a shake of the head and a loud tutting noise as I find their jaundiced view of Thailand to be wearing. If Thailand is so bad then bugger off somewhere else instead of just staying here and moaning about it all the time. Such websites, should anyone be trawling the Internet to find information for an intended trip, (and I understand the Stickman site has a high Google ranking), mislead and misinform and don't seem to represent the Thailand that I live in and experience every day.

My experiences in various countries show that expats tend to live in their own bubble and this is perhaps more so in Thailand because of the language barrier and also because of considerable cultural differences with the West. In Saraburi I rarely meet any other foreigners and have only ever spoken to one;.here I live in my own bubble. The only people that have visited us, until last Thursday that is, are Thais - friends of Ploy - so the opportunity to whine about the country and its weather and the Thais does not occur, (at least from the Western perspective - don't think Thai people don't moan about these things), and by and large I like it this way; I didn't move to Thailand to live in a little Britain and my necessary forthcoming trip to the UK will no doubt remind me exactly why it is I left the place.

Ploy and I have plans. Nothing is down on paper but we both have a common goal, not because we want to leave behind some legacy or monument for future generations to pay homage to, but because there is something within us that needs feeding, a feeling that we need to do the best we can of ourselves. Perhaps some of this, for me, is driven by my atheism - I only have one go at this so I might as well try my best at it - and for Ploy it may be her Buddhist beliefs mean that such altruism means that we will be together again in a future life, (although she has never asked me if I wanted that!). So if and when SingMai perhaps has a penny or two to its name we want to give something back. If we are successful in a small way that may just be some donations to a charity or buying some rice and food for a children's orphanage. If we make a more modest profit we would like to open our own school or college for engineers.

I mentioned that last week we had our first foreign visitor. This man came to talk to us about a possible collaboration. The return would be considerable and as I understood it it would also be an opportunity to form a new R&D company in Thailand, run by Thais and with the profits going to Thailand. It would be a real opportunity for SingMai to make enough money for that school of ours, but also leave something behind in the form of company that would challenge the notion that Thailand is all about rice farming. But it wasn't to be.

On the afore-mentioned expat forums and websites corruption is a word that is oft mentioned. It takes many forms from the high profile cases such as Thaksin down to the policemen who apparently stop every foreigner for breaking some rule of the road whilst Thais sail past breaking every rule. 200 baht usually puts the matter to rest apparently, 200 baht that doesn't appear in the official coffers. I have no personal experience of either Thaksin or being stopped by the police, (although we were stopped by the police once and fined 200 baht for not wearing our seatbelts because, well we weren't wearing our seatbelts).

Corruption - acting dishonestly for personal gain - is certainly not just isolated to Thailand. From politicians accepting quotations from certain companies that they would personally gain from, to the office worker taking home reams of printer paper to the businessman fiddling his expense claim: I have certainly seen some of that in action and come to think of it, I don't think the stapler I have was actually purchased from anywhere.

But as a result of this visit we went to see a Thai gentleman who would be overseeing this large contract. I went in to the meeting with dreams of founding this world beating R&D company and I left, my dream in tatters, as I realised that any contract given would only be given based on profit, even if it meant sourcing the product from a factory of 12 year child slaves in North Korea. And why, well because some of that profit would find its way into a certain person's personal bank account. It may not be illegal but the decision is certainly not based on what might be best for Thailand.

There was no dream for this man. It may be business-like to maximise profit but when the product is only for Thailand, for the benefit of Thais, (OK I would question that but I won't go into that here), then surely an opportunity to benefit Thailand and Thailand's technological base, to employ Thai people, to give Thai engineering graduates a real opportunity within their own country and not have them immediately leave for foreign shores after graduation should not be passed up. But passed up it will be. It is strange that the wish to give something of benefit to Thailand comes not from a Thai but from a foreigner with a Chinese Thai wife who thinks of herself as more Chinese than Thai most of the time.

This is only one experience of course but it has totally tainted my view of how certain people, and the people with power in this country, operate. Every attempt we have made to contribute something to this country has been thwarted. I never did get those tool boxes made despite four attempts and many more promises, I never did find that electronics assembly company, (most don't even return telephone calls), and now I have everything made in Singapore and now I can't find any company that wants to make some packing boxes for us. Thailand likes its status quo and having realised that we are going to have to work with it.

Luckily our customers are not in Thailand and it doesn't look like they ever will be. We will still buy that rice for those children and if we can we will start that engineering school and we will try and grow a high technology company that employs Thai people. But we will do all of this for ourselves, within our own little bubble, because I have this need to make the best of myself on my one opportunity to do so and because Ploy wants for us to be together again in the afterlife. I wonder if she would let me bring someone else along too?

 

Feeding the Hungry Ghosts

Today is going to be a long day. Principally today is meant to be a visit to a potential customer in Ayutthaya, our first Thai customer and potentially a very lucrative order indeed and the possible start of a long term relationship. Although Google Maps tells us the journey will take just over an hour we are allowing 2 hours as we don't want to be late, (I know it seems to be a Thai thing that appointment times are merely suggestions but I hate people who are unpunctual, such as our accountant who is always, and I mean always, 45 minutes late).

However Ploy also mentioned that today is Sar Cheen (สารทจีน - Cheen means Chinese but I have no idea what Sar means and neither does Ploy), but it appears to be the Chinese festival of the hungry ghosts.

Ploy spent yesterday afternoon at the market buying a whole duck, and enormous amount of fruit and gold coloured boxes and cards. At 4a.m. Ploy today woke to lay all the fruit and food out. The duck was placed in front of the photos of her mother and father, together with a bottle of whisky for her father, some fruit, some custard like Thai dessert wrapped in banana leaves and all the boxes and paper money. In front of our photo of King Rama V is another tray of fruit, a vase of flowers and a glass of brandy, (the bottle of which Ploy has had ever since I met her - it is only ever used for this purpose); on the table in the garden between the mango and the Dton Koon trees, (the latter produces bright yellow flowers that hang in trellises - at least on other trees of this type, ours has so far produced nothing), are glasses of water, vases of flowers and more fruit, (which are unlikely to remain there once Pinky sees them), and on Ploy's little Buddhist shrine in my workshop are more trays of fruit and vases of flowers.

Because we have to leave at eight, at seven Ploy then burns all the paper money and boxes as an offering to her parents, (feeding the ghosts). What Pinky made of all of this I am unsure but so far she seems not to have noticed the duck which is good news - luckily she is not a morning dog.

Despite the early start it inevitably means we will leave late which will set me on edge for the whole day, especially if we have trouble finding the place, but there was no way the ghosts were going to go hungry this year.

Microfiction Monday No. 45.

From Susan at Stony River.

Harvey understood that times had been difficult for the banks but he still thought the decision over his loan was taking rather a long time.

 

Don't You Love it When a Plan Comes Together

Today is the first day this week when SingMai has not had at least one new enquiry.

Tuesday saw the highest ever number of hits to the SingMai website.

The first of our new range of stand alone products, the first product to actually have our name it, has finished the printed circuit board layout and we are now getting quotations for its manufacture.

A development board that we helped design is likely to be sold by Arrow, one of, if not the, largest electronics distributor in the world. We will get a (small) percentage of each sale.

We are very close to completing the design of a security camera which will be sold across China by a Hong Kong/Taiwanese based company.

We are talking with a Thai electronics manufacturer about us being the design consultant for a new product that will have potential sales of more than 30 million units.

Ploy brought home some boat catalogues last night! I just need a darkened place to lie down.

 

Microfiction Monday No. 44.

From Susan at Stony River.

I’m afraid it’s the only one we have left Sir Lancelot, we had a bit of a run this week but I think the more feminine look rather suits you.

 

John Callahan

I am sorry to say I didn't know who John Callahan was and it has taken his death and that article to acquaint me with him. It is not a name I shall forget.

Patricia Neal

I read of Patricia Neal's death with that nagging doubt she had featured in some of my favourite movies but I couldn't recall which ones. I got my answer that very evening when I unknowingly decided to watch 'The Day the Earth Stood Still', my favourite sci-fi movie; (I mean I didn't remember Patricia Neal was in the movie, I didn't unknowingly watch the movie, that implies I don't have any control over my actions and although it sometimes feels like that I think I did actually make a conscious decision to watch that movie that particular time). Of course it was her playing Bobby's mother and the only one, probably because of her husband's futile death in a war and her subsequent plight as a single mother, that understood the estrangement Klaatu must be feeling and saw the over-reaction of the army and police for what it was.

Mother's Day

Today is mother's day and despite having a temperature and it being 5.a.m. Ploy has just had me loading up her car with bags of rice and other dried foods to take to the monks for tamboon (give merit) for her long dead mother. I was due to go and Ploy had already bought me a bright pink Thai style jacket to wear, (and I bought a nice blue one at the same time so I can wear it outside of Thailand without looking like I am taking part in a Gay Pride march), but this afternoon we having photos taken for the work permit application and I didn't feel that I could take a whole day out with being so busy at the moment, a point Ploy conceded.

So, to balance this meritorious and worthy side of Thai life I will now regale you with the epic story so far of obtaining my work permit, the other side of living in this country.

A foreigner cannot own a business in Thailand, (OK there are ways but not for a small start up like ours). So we go for the simple approach, Ploy owns the company, I 'own' 39% of it and some other people have some non voting shares in it I believe. To be honest, and I know I should care, I am not really sure who owns what and what my rights are, I am assuming I don't have any in which case anything I do have is a bonus. There is no point in fighting this and it doesn't really matter as I hadn't planned on making some business empire to hand on to an army of siblings or handing my billions out to the poor in some philanthropic gesture. However what this does mean is I am now relegated to a regular employee and therefore I need a work permit. Reading the various visa sites on the web I got the usual variety of non-information and as neither Ploy or our accountant had any experience of getting a work permit for a foreigner I started talking to SunBelt lawyers in Bangkok. No problem, they wrote in an e-mail, we just need these documents. Well those documents started growing, and some of them we didn't have and Ploy had to spend many hours in the tax office here in Saraburi trying to coerce the documents from their administrative claws. We knew we needed four Thai employees to be able to employ one foreigner and we already did this. Our accountant is one employee and the other three, (which cannot include Ploy as managing director), are various friends that have helped us along the way. We need to properly employ them which means paying them a salary and paying their social insurance and this we do, albeit the salary is little more than a retainer which is fair considering I never see them and the likelihood of them suddenly producing some new video decoder design which I can sell is somewhat remote.

We had a small hiccup with the procedure when we failed to find any local clinic that knew what was required for a foreigner's work permit; obviously not many farangs are dutifully employed up here. So we went to Bangkok and went to a clinic there and twenty minutes later we had the certificate. We returned to Saraburi and gathered all the documentation together with copies of everything and we trooped off again to Bangkok to see the lawyers where we signed every page, (and there were a lot of pages), and paid the 15,000 baht. We also had to call our accountant so he could fax across yet another document that we apparently 'should have' but which they failed to mention in our frequent e-mails; the pile already looked like the draft manuscript to Lord of the Rings. For this sum we also got some pleb to travel to Saraburi and present the application there as it has to be done at the local Labour Office. The day arrived and Ploy got a call from Khun Pleb as she wanted to go with him and see the procedure so we can do this alone in the future, (the work permit is only for one year). Before Ploy could call me I got an e-mail from the lawyers saying our application had been refused because our marriage certificate had not been translated into Thai, (we were married in the UK). What was needed was for the said certificate and my resume to be translated and certified at the Thai Foreign Affairs ministry before we could apply again. However Ploy told me there were a couple of other things, the medical certificate was also not accepted because it had to be done by a clinic in our province - presumably because the doctors in Bangkok are an unreliable sort - and the officer also did not believe we had 'real' staff because we paid them so little. The latter seemed a problem to me because the reason we paid them so little is because they aren't real staff.

It was at this point that my frustration started to boil over. Rather than sit on my arse all day in a bar I have chosen to start a company here in Thailand and help to contribute to their gross domestic product. The company is an electronics company, quite high tech really, and presumably desirable and at some point in the future, assuming we can find any, we may wish to employ some other Thai engineers and almost certainly some assembly workers. But first things first, we need to get the company established and to do that I need Ploy and our accountant. I don't need anyone else. But to make everything above board I decide to get a work permit so I employ some people who do occasionally help me but even if I could find them, I am not ready to pay out a full salary for some engineers at this time, and I am not sure I could keep them employed anyway.

Now this thing with the marriage certificate; why the fuck do they need it anyway! They need it because I am married to a Thai national, if I wasn't they don't need it. I got my visa to stay here based on marriage to a Thai but I could equally have got it based on my, (hopeful), employment with a Thai company in which case they don't need it. It gets worse. Before the Foreign Affairs ministry will authenticate the translation I have to go to the British embassy to get them to say the certificate is real in the first place. And I have to do this apparently to prove the person on the certificate is real, or some such guff. Another trip to Bangkok to my least favourite place and when I asked the lawyer how much and what the procedure was I got some fluffy reply that only said, 'we haven't a clue'. I am surely not the first person to do this! My last experience of the embassy was eight years ago queuing for Ploy's visitor visa application. We arrived at 5a.m. and were about number twenty in the queue already. I believe the visas are not handled by the embassy anymore so the queue would not be so bad but my passport and marriage certificate were with the lawyers, not with me, so we have to go there first and they don't open until 8.30a.m. before we can go across town to the embassy which opens at 8a.m.

Let's put some perspective on this. One other translation I needed to have done was my resume. This translation was accepted apparently. Note that it is my resume they are talking about, not education certificates. At no point in this application have they been needed. So employing a foreigner is more about employing some Thais and the legality of my presence in the country than it is about attracting foreign talent, as Singapore rather nicely puts it. It wouldn't matter if I had a couple of Nobel Prizes in Physics up my sleeve, oh no, we need you to employ four rice farmers in your state of the art bioengineering facility else you are outta here. No thought here of using my talent to hopefully grow a world beating company of the future, in fact the opposite. We will begrudgingly give you a work permit, but only if you reinforce the status quo. Now it is true that a lot of industry is transitory yet we will always need rice but surely, if the alternative is to have me sitting at a bar all day, it would be better to let me run my own little business.

One last small gem of information leaked out from the lawyers. It seems it is up to the discretion of the Labour Office officer whether my work permit is given for one year. He can choose instead to only give it until my current visa runs out which is in one month's time. After that we have to go through all this again!

Remind me again why we didn't start the business in Singapore!

The Cost of Living in Paradise

One of the things that Ploy always says when I am feeling down is, 'well at least this isn't Canada'. Thinking about what I wrote below about spending the last nine months here as a slave engineer of various companies instead of maximising our ideas by doing our own thing, it is clear that with the income we have been getting that we would be in serious shit in Canada. The job I am currently working on will pay $8000, or about 250,000 Thai baht. If we were careful in Canada that would last us about 2 months. Our mortgage was about $1000/month, the car repayments about the same, gas and electric were high in the winter, (11 months of the year), - about $500/month - there was the council tax, about $2400/year or $200/month; food and provisions were easily $150/week or $600/month, Ploy's bus ticket was $50/month; the Internet, cable TV and telephone, oh I forget now. All in all we would easily spend $4000/month and it is not easy to reduce this, the car was the only extravagance, not that you don't need one there. This order, assuming it went smoothly could easily take 3 months to complete and unless we received another 'standard' order would be our sole income for that time. And then there is the tax. As a limited company we had to pay tax on our salaries which meant we had to 'pay' ourselves about 30% more than we actually had to spend in our pocket. So this $8000 order sounds nice but in reality after a month we would be asking for more. If I had to travel anywhere then we would have a real problem. Similarly this order is all for design work so the profit is 100% but that is not the case for other products we sell.

Move to Thailand. The job is the same, the income the same save for some bank charges and a poorer exchange rate, (we are paid in dollars but the bank account is with a Thai bank and therefore in baht). The outgoings? Well the house and car are paid for so zippo, there is no house tax, water is 200 baht/month and electric about 4000 baht/month because I use the air conditioning in my workshop most days. Food, well we eat out a lot (which I didn't account for in Canada) but provisions are about 1000 baht/week or 4000 baht/month and eating out probably adds another 5000 baht/month to that. The Internet is 1200 baht/month. So like for like we are spending about 13000 baht/month. There are things on top of that of course, Ploy went into Bangkok yesterday for example and we have the bills for my work permit application but like for like with Canada that is about $420/month. Again we pay tax on our salary but here that is about 10% so lets say $500/month. Our $8000 income from that order could last us 16 months if nothing out of the ordinary happened. That is a very real difference and a great source of peace of mind. Our little forays to Singapore cost us about 60,000 baht or 80,000 baht for two. That is a nice hotel, Singapore air and nice meals at good Western restaurants; we could go for much less. My flights back to the UK in September cost me 45,000 baht, again on Singapore air so not the cheapest. But even with these expenses we still have some money in the bank. And if everything does go belly up with no orders forthcoming there is still room to tighten the belt, by not eating out for example, or eating at the cheaper eateries.

Then there are the 'incidentals'. Car insurance for my first year in Canada was $4000/year, I kid you not! Ploy pays 18000 baht/year for insurance here, about $570, still expensive and it will get higher still if I get that Honda CRV I have been promising myself. Ploy bought me two Thai style jackets the other day, 1900 baht for the two, don't even dream of doing that in Canada. In fact, sales aside, we bought most of clothes in Thailand in our visits here. There is not a single thing I can think of that is cheaper in Canada and some things are considerably more expensive. It leaves so little left in your bank account at the end of the month, no matter what you try and do. There is no money to pay off the mortgage early. The car obviously would be paid off eventually but the Canada winters take a high toll on cars there so who is to say you wouldn't need to get another one by that time.

In some ways having our company here is the best of both worlds. All our customers are abroad so we charge and get paid in US dollars at international prices, but we get to spend that money in Thailand at Thai cost of living rates. The only thing we don't have is that regular monthly income and that is a big difference. However we have two enquiries currently, both for 'standard' products and the new products coming on line very soon. As usual it takes Ploy's common sense to point out what should have been clear all along; our life here is good. With a little bit of care over the next year we should get ourselves into a position of financial security. Although our payments are at the vagaries of the exchange rates once the money arrives in our bank everything we have is in Thai baht. No pensions or rental incomes or bank charges to foreign banks, everything is paid for locally in local currency; no worried reading of the news to find what some government decision has done to my foreign investments.

Peace of mind indeed.

Taking a Step Back

Ploy has had to remind me this week, yet again, just how good our life here in Thailand is. The problem is I have not been allowing myself to enjoy it as every day has been Work, Work, Work, and worse than that, a very bad cold had struck me down which always brings melancholia to the fore, and I have been doing the jumps required of the Thai government to get a work permit which never helps your state of mind. My cold is now better although I still have a problem with my shoulder and I have been sorting out the work issues out slowly but surely; Ploy is off to Bangkok again today to get some translations done for my work permit application. But it means my life is spent on the worst aspects of living here, the bureaucracy, and not on the more pleasurable aspects of living here, and that has been getting me down.

Having our own business allowed us to make the decision to move here, giving us an independence and independent income that our savings alone would have made precarious. The decision was based on one potential order in particular, from a company in Shanghai. However, after 3 months of work, that order fell through and since then our work has been one 'special' after another. At the moment I have two more custom orders but that is then it; I am putting a stop to them. It is the custom orders that I don't enjoy, that always cause the problems and who stop me from from enjoying my life here. The onus on completing the orders is on me and only me and the nature of the work means if I get a problem I know no-one I can turn to for help, I am on my own.

So at this moment a printed circuit board is being laid out in Singapore for our first 'real' product, a video pattern generator. An audio test generator will follow soon after and there are many others in the pipeline. All of these products are designed by me but the PCB design, layout and manufacture is done in Singapore. We just have to test the boxes and send them out. Hopefully we will get some orders for them!

For me this makes my day much more interesting as the design encompasses all aspects of electronics, from power supplies to audio to our area of main expertise, video. It also means I don't have such strict deadlines looming over me all the time and it allows us to grow SingMai and replace our 4 pseudo Thai employees with 'real' employees and even look at getting a small factory unit. It allows us to take holidays without the knowledge that every day spent by the pool is one day later for the delivery of 'that' order. It allows me to take that afternoon off and just potter around the garden or sit on the porch and read or have a cold beer and watch the world go by without feeling that each minute is somehow misspent or prohibited. In fact Ploy admonishes me should I take time out to do something like clean the kitchen as these things are taking time away from what I should be doing.

Taking these custom orders is easy - companies throw money at you because so few companies will accept them, and for good reason. They tie you in leaving you no time to develop anything of your own. It is almost like you become a pet engineer of the company placing the orders. The situation is ideal for them but a noose around our necks. Yes, the money is nice, but it is limited by my ability to work long hours to accept as many of these orders as we can. In reality the ten months we have been in Thailand we have only sold two 'standard' products and the rest of the time has been one custom order after another.

As Ploy points out, we own our house here, we have a little money in the bank, we own our car, we have paid to have our house repaired and decorated, (we have a dog - this is Ploy's point only), and we have a nice garden. The problem is I haven't been able to enjoy these things. Every day, usually at 5a.m., I come downstairs, read my e-mails, make a coffee and from then until 5p.m. I look out of my window onto our garden but never actually take the time to go outside and prune a bush or sweep a leaf. I have become a prisoner in my workshop.

Designing these new products has brought home the reality of what my job has become. Looking through the boxes of boards and papers are all the plans we had before moving here, untouched in 10 months, still waiting to come to fruition. Well now those boxes are opened and the lid is remaining off; those ideas are about to become reality. Finally we may get to see a product on a shelf of a shop somewhere or maybe read something favourable in a magazine, the dream of most engineers, instead of it just helping the bottom line of some other company. It is time for SingMai to become selfish and keep all its ideas to itself.

So I have two more custom orders to complete but even while doing so work on our new projects is proceeding which is the point, (actually because today is National Day in Singapore work is not actually proceeding, but you get the idea). If I took the day off today work would still proceed, things would still go out the door, invoices would still be issued. The noose will have been removed from around my neck and we will finally be able to enjoy the country we have chosen to be our home.

Microfiction Monday No. 42.

From Susan at Stony River.

Jack, as he has done since his death years ago, sits in his musty armchair and silently watches the inquisitive visitors through his window.

Preparing to Die

Clearly, as the last three entries in my diary have been my weekly contributions to the Microfiction Mondays and nothing more, things have been a little hectic recently. Mostly work, as usual, but also a few days in Singapore for both of us which was more play than work and a welcome break.

Sitting having a coffee and hot chocolate outside of Coffee Bean on Orchard road, Ploy mentioned about us moving the company to Singapore. Frustrated with sourcing reliable suppliers in Thailand I have resigned myself to using Singapore companies for our suppliers and manufacturers and as expected everything works seamlessly and effortlessly. Ploy also has an increasing concern about what happens to me should she pop her clogs before me, an unlikely event in my opinion. I cannot own the house that we currently live in although there are probably ways I could continue to stay here. Ploy thought that maybe we should get an apartment in Singapore and return to Thailand for breaks. Initially that had a certain appeal and I am sure a couple of years ago I would have jumped at the chance; Singapore was my first choice when we considered moving back to the Far East. But then we go back to all the old arguments about not being able to afford a house there, (and even if we did it being little more than a rabbit hutch), and the work/play balance of life being completely weighted to the work side at a time of my life when I want it to be edging the other way. But it still has an appeal; I can't deny that after a little disenchantment with the country I am starting to renew my affection for Singapore after my recent trips there. But uncertainty drags you down and in September we will have been in Thailand for a year and most of the hurdles will have been jumped through by then. After living in four countries over a 8 year period I don't want to move yet again. This is the place I will see out my days and I think it is the place I want to see out my days. Singapore is great for that break from time to time but that is all it will be.

But Ploy's comments have got me thinking about planning for the future and it is increasingly looking like my plan for immortality is not going to happen. One advantage of being an atheist is I don't have to prepare anything before I die. There is no need to start being good or preparing my justification to a large bearded gentleman for going through the green door rather than the red one. No, dying is the end and if it should happen in the next few minutes, well it happens and that's that, (and I am not feeling so good today as it happens). However one thing that would be nice would be to leave some legacy although my increasing disenchantment with the whole human race actually means I am not so bothered about that either; they are not deserving of my efforts. So finding a cure for some disease like malaria is off the agenda and finding a cure for an easily preventable disease like AIDS is worthless. (OK, some people got it though blood transfusion or birth but mostly the whole epidemic could have been prevented by legalising homosexual marriage worldwide, thereby stopping in a blink of an eye all that free-for-all sexual activity. And don't give me all that nonsense about malaria being similarly preventable by not living in tropical countries: no-one should be forced to live in a country where your gonads get frozen together just to avoid mosquitoes). Becoming a serial killer has its appeal so if you start hearing about the mysterious and exotic deaths of recent MBA graduates you might not have to look too far for a suspect. Telling you this is not so much of a give away as you may think given that only two people read this to my knowledge and I don't think either would shop me to the police. Leaving Pinky's new hand crafted kennel as a monument to my life also does not present the required gravitas.

But there are three things I would like to complete for purely selfish reasons before I become compost. The first I have achieved and it is a little odd I guess, but marrying Ploy had given me a completeness that I didn't know was missing from my life until I met her. As an only child and a loner I never really thought I needed someone else in my life, (and there are times I don't), but Ploy has made me a better person and has pushed me to do things that by myself I wouldn't have done. So marrying Ploy was never an aim but having 'achieved' it it certainly has to be on the list of must dos. Undoubtedly the fact she is Thai and from a completely different culture also adds to the exotic appeal of this previously unknown achievement. If I had remained married to my first wife, there would have been a whole part of me that would have remained undiscovered.

The second thing is to achieve success in my business. Not on the scale that there is a legacy to be handed on to future generations, like if I created a new ICI or IBM, but to have a personal satisfaction in starting and growing a company that sells something that people want and are prepared to pay for. We have already achieved that to a small degree but I want to grow it more in terms of turnover and profit. I haven't got a figure in mind really but 50 million baht seems a good target. Enough money to take holidays whenever I want and to buy whatever I want, except possibly that Lear jet. That equates to being a dollar millionaire and at the moment even a pound millionaire. Maybe we can't quite get there or maybe we won't get close but it would be a nice achievement. And if Ploy has her way we would use some of that money to set up a school in our name; Ploy was thinking of engineering as a specialty whereas I was thinking of training a ninja style group of commandoes whose aim is to wipe from the face of the planet anyone who calls themselves a management consultant. Either way it would be a laudable achievement.

And the third legacy item is the least likely to happen; to have a book published. A lot of that appeal is to think of some future person coming across my dusty fossil on some library bookshelf somewhere and being totally entranced by the words within. The reality is libraries will be as much a fossil as the dinosaurs in a few years and there is high likelihood the increasingly cretinous generations of the future won't be able to digest a book unless the Apple I-crap device reads out sound bites to them. But these are personal legacy items that, should I actually be aware of my death such in those few seconds of free fall before I hit the pavement, I can think that I have left my own little mark on the world, literally in that case.

All of that said, wiping out some large company marketing department after forcing them to perform unspeakable sexual acts on each other does have its appeal too. I must make plans.

Microfiction Monday No. 41.

From Susan at Stony River.

Her ears still ringing from the explosion, Ursula savoured the results of her latest attempt to silence the noisy primary school children.

 

Another Microfiction Monday

From Susan at Stony River.

Having cunningly escaped the evil clutches of the Ginger Snap triad, Larry the Lobster was now confronted by the venomous triffid tea cup.

Microfiction Monday

The aim is to write a story inspired by a weekly picture in 140 characters or less. This weeks picture is shown below together with my response. Full details can be found here, Stony River.

Her lungs were filled with the fog of despair.

But a hot bath and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s should clear the air.

 

The Return of the Monster

'"I am going to see Pinky this afternoon", announced Ploy, "just to see if she is alright". I didn't need to pay 500 baht to a psychic monk to foresee the outcome of that little trip. The car returned four hours later, devoid of the starter I needed for my fluorescent lamp, absent of the bottle of white wine I had promised myself for the evening meal but with the addition of a certain canine member I thought I had seen the last of and also cleverly, with a friend so I couldn't openly scold Ploy for surprising me so. So I put on my best grimace face while Ploy breezily ran around whilst gaily chatting to her well primed friend about what a cute dog this was.

Ploy has been saying certain things for some time, about "did I miss Pinky", (no), or "do you think she is OK", (yes, she is fine), or whether "she is missing us", (not unless the dog is masochist, no). There was only one outcome if she actually saw Pinky, for while she may have lots more space to run and now have a male dog for companionship Ploy would not see those things but would only see that evidence which would justify her bringing her back. Like not having her collar anymore, (why would she need one), the grounds not having a secure gate, (why would she need one), or not having her toys, (why would she need one - she has a 35kg Rottweiler to play with).

So here she is, considerably more subdued than before, considerably heavier than before despite, ("there was no food for her at all, don't you think she looks skinny"), and to date, over the last 48 hours, yet to cause any major destruction. She is biding her time.

Once she gets her second wind I expect even the 30 foot mango tree in our garden to be at threat of extinction. But she isn't going back; in fact I think if I forced the issue it would be me repealing the amorous advances of a 35kg Rottweiler. I have work to do anyway so I am going to concentrate on that and today Ploy has taken her into town to reap havoc there, well aware that leaving her alone with me she might return to find some freshly made burgers slowly sauteing in a pan. "'When you go away I have a friend to keep me company", she states. But we are going to travel to Singapore together in a couple of weeks, what happens then. "My friend will take care of her". Ah, like the old Mission Impossible TV series, this whole plan was hatched and executed with exact precision but no evidence is now left as those very plans self destructed in five seconds.

I didn't stand a chance. Pinky was in on it too which I can tell from her snide grin. She might wag her tail when I approach her but I am not conned by that. She might role over and display her increasingly ample wares to the world if I get up from my chair but that is all part of Ploy's plan to get me to like her again. Again

Did I ever like her. "It is not like we bought her" Ploy implores, "we were there when she was born". I was, I correct her, you went to bed after the first one. Apparently being in the next room asleep counts equally to cleaning up blood and placenta.

But I will not win this one so I just have to store it away for a future day of vengeance in the best tradition of longer term marriages. Perhaps it is time to bring up having that 18 year old Vietnamese maid. Again. "But, look, she is a real help with the ironing Wan Jai", he implores. "And she says she doesn't need us to put air conditioning in her bedroom because she doesn't wear many clothes; how considerate is that!". "Can I keep her darling, can I, huh!".

Aharn Thai - 2

We went out to one of our newly found, and rapidly becoming favourite, restaurants on Sunday. This unpretentious restaurant offers all sorts of goodies including some dishes I, (or Ploy), have never seen elsewhere. The owner - who speaks very good English, (his brother works in the UK) - and his wife do the cooking but luckily he also finds time to come and talk to the customers where he recommended us trying some new things.

However we started with what is probably the most famous Thai dish of all, Pad Thai. I don't tend to eat Pad Thai much, it is available everywhere and I find it rather bland but this version is full of flavour. But don't take my word for it: Ploy took some friends to eat at this restaurant and by the end they had ordered five plates of it with a unanimous verdict that this was the best Pad Thai they had ever tasted. You can also order it with different types of noodles; I prefer the vermicelli noodle, woon sen.

A completely new dish to me, (and Ploy), is Mao Daeng which is a crispy concoction of mashed fish, breadcrumbs and various herbs and spices. The name apparently relates to the area where they first 'invented' it, an area of Northern Thailand inhabited by the Mao people. Daeng means 'red' in Thai and is curiously a reference to Thaksin who is from Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand and is apparently known as 'red' for his communist (Chinese?) connections. Maybe something was lost in translation but whatever the confused origins of the name the dish is unique and delicious. They also do a version with frog which he gave me a sample of but I preferred the flavour of the fish dish. I should add that for some reason, should you indulge yourself with this, it is wise to allow yourself plenty of time the following morning for ablution breaks.

Not quite so unique was our last dish which is a whole small fish, chopped into bits, deep fried, and covered with a spicy curry paste. It is a pain sometimes to have to sort through your plate for the bones which I prefer to do instead of the Ploy approach which is to shovel it down and sort it out in your mouth. But whether you prefer Ploy's more direct approach or my rather more delicate method, this is a really delicious plate. (The fish need not be made crispy but can also be steamed). This dish highlights one thing about Thai cooking, or its presentation anyway; there is no attempt in this dish to fillet the dish. The fish is small and some bones can be eaten anyway, although if you are the Queen Mother it would be wise to keep a helicopter on standby, but Thai restaurants do not fillet fish or trim the fat from the meat and with good reason, almost everything gets eaten. One of the simplest and most delicious meals is a plate of BBQ prawns which, to show how perfectly Ploy and I fit together, she 'eats' the head, (sucks out the meat from the head to say it more accurately) and I get the body. A good deal for me but she really does prefer it that way. As Rick Stein advocated, fish cheeks or prawn heads are a delicacy; well more for me then!

Only one restaurant in our area serves Archa beer, my preferred tipple, so a bottle or two of Chang beer was my accompaniment for this feast.

Aharn Thai - 1

Over nine months living in Thailand, numerous visits over a twenty five year period and almost nothing written about Thai food, so time to put that right. Without doubt Thai cuisine is one of the great cuisines of the world and it particularly suits my palate as I love strongly flavoured food. Rightly famous for its spicyness in fact the food examines all the extremities of taste, from salty to sweet to sour to spicy; Thai food is never bland. It is not surprising in a country that is self sufficient in its own produce that fresh food is plentiful and the morning markets are abundant and fragrant, (sometimes too fragrant!).

Last night Ploy was out chatting with friends and wasn't hungry so feeling lazy I ordered a takeaway from our local cafe. One of my favourites, I ordered a red curry with pork and Thai aubergines, (Gaeng deang Moo sai makheua), and instead of the usual plain steamed rice I ordered fried rice with Thai basil and prawns, (kow pat bai krapow goong). The curry is made by quickly frying some red curry paste, (home made, bought in the market or from a jar), in some oil. Turn down the heat and add the pork and the aubergines and fry until the pork is fully cooked. Add soy sauce, fish sauce and palm sugar, stir, and the add coconut milk or cream, (or a combination of both). Once the coconut is warm add bai horlapa (Thai basil), lime leaves and chilli and you are ready to go. If you want the restaurant look top with some fresh bai horlapa leaves.

There are two main types of Thai aubergine, makheua (มะเขือ), which is a golf ball sized green round thing and a more bitter pea sized makheua phuang. Both are great with this dish. Don't tell Ploy but if you don't like aubergines (and I like Thai aubergines but never really like the large purple aubergines of the west), you can use green beans; ('not same darling').

In total it came to 130 baht, expensive by their normal standards but the curries usually are. The dip is Prik nam Pla, made from fish sauce, chilli and is a ubiquitous salty condiment sprinkled on the rice but otherwise used wherever we use salt in the west.

An Archa beer with ice to wash it down makes for a perfect dinner.

 

A Blessing in Disguise

Yesterday Ploy started frantically running around the house tidying and dusting, an unusual event. The house has never looked so good now the workshop has been finished, (OK it needs painting but we couldn't stop work on SingMai any longer so we decided to do the whole house at the same time at some point in the future), and that move has forced us to reorganise cupboards and pack some stuff away which has had the affect of making it look roomier. Helped also I expect by the fact the whole ground floor, inside and out is now tiled with the same design of tile. So Ploy running around tidying the already tidy house was unusual but prompted by the imminent visit of 8 monks, (although only one appeared), to bless the house and give it good luck. This involved the said monk sticking pieces of gold leaf on our company sign, quietly chanting something or other whilst Ploy and I knelt with hands 'wai-ed' and then being splashed with water. Five hundred baht later and he was gone. I haven't noticed any immediate benefits but if it keeps Ploy's mystical side content, (which surfaces from time to time), it was money well spent.

I did ask Ploy why the eight monks as it is usually seven or nine in Thailand - lucky numbers - not that we saw eight anyway but they were 'down the road' so that was alright. Before she answered I added that eight is a lucky number in Chinese which she pounced on immediately; 'well I am Chinese, not Thai, so eight is good!'. What excuse the other houses had for the odd (even) number was not revealed.

When Ploy does something like this it is usually a sign she is content with life as it is, a sort of watershed moment. I was talking about my next visit to Singapore see my sub-contractor and visit the chiropractor again and I asked her to come. No, you go alone she said, too much money. However this morning when she asked when I was going she said, 'maybe I come too'. I had already told her that I was going to try and visit monthly, part enforced chiropractor visit but part get-away-from-it-all holiday so the months don't end up blending into each other as they have done to date; the major part of my new healthier regime. My foot is nearly back to its normal size and my tendinitis is much better although I don't have full movement of my arm yet, but the thumb and other peripheral injuries are well on the mend now.

The blind panic, 'I need you here NOW', demand from the US company seems to have been doused down, partly through a reasoned, I have everything here, if there is an issue surely this the place to fix it, not after a 38 hour, $7000, trip; (more if I took the direct Singapore air flight to New York). I recognise this style of manager. His project is running late - not I might add because of any problem with my part - but the pressure on proving my part is fully functional is there because other parts must have run late. So we get the typical project manager's response: 1] Blame avoidance by finding another more successful project to move to before the shit hits the fan, 2] Show he is doing something by bringing in anyone and everyone he can - hence the request I fly even though it would actually hamper my work on the simulation and 3] Hold daily conference calls with everyone so he can 'understand the problem' which apart from wasting everyone's time is a futile exercise on the lines of teaching quantum theory to a lost Amazon tribe. I have now seen this identical response in project managers across continents which is rather creepy and I am beginning to think it is a viral thing or perhaps something along the lines of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. Normal humans should start to devise some way of recognising our own kind so we don't get accidentally contaminated and start using Microsoft Project to organise our toilet breaks.

A Dose of Reality

It was a relief to find out what was wrong. The earliest I could see the chiropractor was Wednesday morning, having arrived Tuesday afternoon. The hotel was fine and although I looked out over one of the ubiquitous Singapore condominium developments and my room was right across from the elevators my stay actually proved very quiet and relaxing. Although tired on arrival I managed to find the energy to get my business cards organised, (having given up finding any Thai printer that has any idea of quality), bought a couple of music DVDs, had a nice dinner at the Mezza 9 at the Hyatt and went to bed at 8.p.m.

The next day, after reading my e-mails and having a bath, I found my way to the chiropractors. Invited to sit and fill in a simple form, (my details were still on file from 3 years before), I chose not to open the folder on 'having your child inoculated' which lay beside the magazines, not wanted to get disillusioned before we even met. However the chiropractor was straightforward and didn't give me any lecture about 'not having time for a complete holistic approach'. In fact the opposite, a few background questions and then to the shoulder, no messing around. He painfully prodded and squeezed and then did the strength tests. Ah, he reported. Well, you have two problems, one more serious than the other. Firstly you have a compressed nerve which is the more serious problem. Secondly you have tendinitis of the shoulder which is easily treated with rest and ice.

I asked what had brought about these injuries to such a finely honed athletic specimen. The answer was surprising; stress, and Wiki article confirms this. I returned to the chiropractor again on Friday morning for him the bend me and break me a little more before I flew home but in the meantime I took time to reflect on the past year in particular. Of course I knew I had been under stress, my intolerance of the dogs had showed that. But when I looked back; four countries, two jobs, money issues twice, the house sale and the extensive house renovation in Canada, both against the clock, visas, PR applications and starting a new company in just seven years; extend that to 8 and you can include one more job and marriage. Stress, what stress! But aside from the obvious and visible flare ups the source of all of this has never been remedied. We came to Thailand aware that our life balance was not good. Nine months later we still have not had a holiday and the work is piling up. This is a clear sign that some change to my, (and I am sure Ploy is suffering the same - her poor sleep is a first sign for her - especially for a girl that can sleep standing up usually), life is necessary, and now. It was that same few days in Singapore that I got an extremely urgent request from a US customer to come and do some on-site trouble shooting. They are based near New York, the other side of the world and on my return to Thailand I had already mapped out the work schedule which would have been completely disrupted. Within a day the trip was on hold as, panic over, they found they were using the wrong simulation files. It is still not completely remedied but I am sure we can fix it via e-mail. Stress, what stress.

When I got home the work on the workshop was not finished. With luck it will be finished Saturday which means Sunday is spent putting everything back and cleaning and this without Ploy who has one of her weekend getaways her college is so fond of. Today, also, my new CD development kit has arrived which is the second of our planned audio products. At the same time I am trying to get to grips with yet another language for the new (very) large order I have received from another US company, (not the one with the problems). And I still have the IP camera to finish and the trip to Hong Kong which is thankfully postponed until the end of July. How to balance all of this as well as try and fit in the necessary time to repair my body I have no idea. But at least the dogs are gone and I am sure they were a contributory factor.

What is clear is this is a wake up call. The shoulder is still painful although better than before and just knowing the problem helps a lot. But I not getting any younger and my plan to live forever will have to reviewed if that immortality is to be accompanied by pain.

All the King's Horses and all the King's Men...

...are going to have their work cut out over the next few days. To add to my very sore shoulder that has prevented me getting a good night's sleep for at least a couple of weeks, yesterday, getting into our car, I twisted my foot and sprained my thumb trying to support myself. Both are now a rather beautiful purple colour but unfortunately that is accompanied by yet more pain and the foot is severely hindering my walking. Today I have to clear out my workshop ready for the re-tiling which is not going to be a very comfortable job and tomorrow I travel to Singapore, thankfully business class using my air miles so maybe they will give me a wheelchair and a ride in one of nice electric cars they have.

Part business and part leisure I am now going to ensure the leisure portion consumes by far the greater proportion and see if that break will allow my body to mend. I have chosen a nice hotel and I think I am just going to lay by the pool for four days or I am not going to be of use to man nor beast. There are a lot of things to do on return, and I mean a lot, and excited though I am at the prospect in my present condition they would be shipping me out in a box if I attempted them. So four days of R&R, good food, good wine and relaxation.

The regular reader of this diary knows I bang on a lot about funding for science. I strongly believe that without aspiration mankind drifts and ends up making mischief like a bored child. Aspiration is what can bring us together as a world, if anything can that is. Science can give us a sense of wonder and give us sense of perspective instead of grandiose notions that we are the centre of everything. And perhaps most of all, science can give us a sense of our place in the whole scheme of things and a contentedness with our lives that could just replace our need to believe in something else, that need to believe there is something better than what we have waiting for us, whether it is sitting on a cloud or sitting on a bunch of virgins, and it is given to us on a plate so we don't have to try too hard now. If there is something better it is science that could provide it, by stopping poverty, by stopping pain, my replacing hate and doctrine with understanding. So have a look at this wonderful talk by Brian Cox, which I stole in turn from the excellent Bad Astronomy blog.

 

My foot was sprained just after we delivered Pinky to her new owners. Probably the final straw was the turd she left us in our living room. It was ginormous, bigger than her and I assume she dragged it there from some local elephant compound for which you can only admire her nous and invention. At the time neither Ploy or I were in the mood for admiration. She had only been in the house a couple of hours having already been out for three walks so there was no excuse for it. Ploy clearly loved Pinky so when she started talking about getting rid of her I left the decision to her, we had lots of offers, almost one a day, as she started to develop a playful and distinctive character and she is clearly an intelligent dog, just witness the turd incident. But out of blue, yesterday, Ploy bathed her and then said she was going to give her to friend, one of the first to ask if she could have her, who has a reasonable bit of land and already has a dog that is feeling a bit lonely. It will be good for Pinky to have some company and she immediately took to her new owner by fondly biting her ear off so we don't feel too guilty. Running SingMai doesn't give us the time we need to care for an exuberant puppy but I am also sad to see her go. But I also liked this morning when I came down and there was no pining noises or scraping at the door and where my first action is to make a coffee instead of make food for the dog whilst it bounces around me and then while she is diverted eating her breakfast replacing all the plants she had dug up overnight. Ploy is also still asleep at 8.20a.m., the latest she has slept in for ages so while she will miss Pinky the most I think she misses her sleep more. Having the dogs has been like most things with Ploy, a sort of accelerated, frantic lifecycle, like one of those time lapse films of a plant growing. Instead of buying a house trained puppy that we love and care for for twelve years, Ploy brings home a pregnant stray who has no manners at all and no motherly instinct. Two months after bringing her home we then have do mid wife duties and then we have to care for four extremely active and noisy pups in lieu of their virtually absent mother. Unbeknown to us the pups were pit bull crosses which probably explains why Holly, the Dalmatian, found them a little bit of a handful so for the next two months we had a full time job on our hands. Handing off three of pups helped a lot but it was only a temporary calm so we found a home for Holly but still found the sole remaining pup just too much. Ploy went to see Holly the other day and she seems very happy where she is, especially as she has now recovered from the spaying operation, our parting gift to her, (although she clearly remembered Ploy). The three pups are somewhere on a farm near Hua Hin and we are told are also doing very well and I am sure we have given Pinky a good start in life. But now it is just the two of us again as seems to be our destiny.

Ploy also mentioned last night as she went out to the local exercise class that has started up that she has been missing too many of these because of the demands of our pup and it is nice that she can stay and talk to the neighbours instead of have to get back to stop me making a noose and scaffold for the dog as she once again pees in my equipment or starts burying my shoes, (Pinky, not Ploy).

As Pinky matured it became clear that she was 90% her father's dog and only 10% her mother's, and it was clear the father dog was a Pit Bull. Realising this I did a bit of investigation on the Internet before she ate us in our sleep and found the dogs are actually extremely affectionate and people friendly, which was certainly born out by Pinky. In fact the inkling as to her parenthood came at the vet when we had her last injections done as a couple heaved in two enormous Pit Bulls; Pinky's face was a absolute miniature of one of the dogs. The male dog that Pinky is now sharing her home with is apparently a Rottweiler. Now that is going to be one house that isn't going to get burgled even though we know the main danger would be being licked to death.

I haven't been watching any of the World Cup, although whilst in Singapore I might try and find a bar to watch a match from; maybe. I have been following the results though and taking enormous delight in the performances of the England team. Even more so I love reading of the excuses that the team are making for their performances. The poor manager clearly had no idea what he was taking on. Previous World Cup campaigns have been criticised widely for the lack of discipline amongst the players so the steelier approach of Capello, the Italian incumbent, was seen as a good thing. However all of a sudden he is deemed too strict and the ''revelatory' performances in the qualifiers is now forgotten. Rooney, the hotheaded idiot that is more likely to be sent for an early bath than score a winning goal, ('but without his passion he wouldn't be the same player'), has apparently said the players are bored as between games and training 'there is only so much snooker, darts and pool you can play'. The ex-Captain John Terry has also said about the lack of things to do and Capello has particularly hit his hobby by not allowing the player's wives to be there. Poor souls. Servicemen, people in long distance relationships, oil rig workers - the list goes on and on - have to survive without their families for extended periods but this is a step to far for these footballers even though they are living the life of Riley in a five star hotel.

Now I must admit being stuck for weeks with people such as them and having to share every meal and event with them would also drive me to consider self-harming myself, but as I assume most of them are like non-minded I would of thought this wasn't an issue for them. Being morons does limit the things you can do of course although it has occurred to me that practicing more might be a good idea. But one thing has not been mentioned on all the forums or in any of the papers; just maybe these players are crap. Not completely crap of course because as is pointed out frequently, they are paid exorbitant sums to play for their clubs in the Premier league. But just because they are the best England has to offer doesn't automatically mean they are good. Essentially the same team has been picked for the last ten years, ten years which have seen managers come and gone but the 'elite' players stay. Capello said, when criticised over his 'unworkable' pairing of Lampard and Gerrard in midfield, that intelligent professionals can always work together. So when they didn't work together what conclusion could be drawn. Yes they qualified, but they qualified with no expectations on them given what happened before. Once any expectation is put onto these players they fade away and there were high expectations on them going into the World Cup. David Gower and Barry Richards had better test averages than first class averages, (that is cricket for those that don't know). They, and there are many others, raised their game when there was, as Richard's put it, more than two men and a dog watching. When they were pitted against the world's best they raised their game to meet the challenge. There are many footballers who do the same, there are none in this England team. Why that is I don't know but very few of any profession raise their game when under pressure, most wilt and hide under the covers so why should these people be any different. Of course when they beat Slovenia on Wednesday and go on to beat Argentina 8-0 in the final this is going to look rather silly. But that isn't going to happen is it.

Ba Jang Day

Less frequently now than before, a far neighbour of ours started playing Thai music at ungodly hours, like 4.30a.m. I was usually awake then anyway and it didn't wake Ploy as the bedroom windows were usually shut and the air conditioning was turned on, the hot season having just passed, so I ignored it. However after one particularly annoying bout of 130dB Morlam I drew Ploy's attention to it but who, for once, seemed to think it was acceptable behaviour - she is normally the first to complain about these things. A few weeks passed before Ploy apparently mentioned it in passing to the the corner shop owner who lives directly opposite the offending house and who I had expressed sympathy for as well as bewilderment that they hadn't set fire to the speakers. It seems they had considerable sympathy for the owner of the house, an older plump man who lives alone after his wife recently died of cancer. It seems he plays the music loudly to frighten away her ghost who he is convinced is haunting him. Ah, be sure your sins will find you out. So when I hear that music now I cannot help but smile as I imagine him cowering underneath the bedsheets.

Today the house is again full of the fog of incense and the sweet aroma of fresh fruit. It is apparently Ba Jang day, a Chinese festival which is celebrated with a special dish of some combination of minced pork, roasted chestnuts, peanuts, dried shrimp, salted egg yolk, Chinese jujubes (dates) and lotus seeds which are then wrapped in bamboo leaves to form pyramid-shaped packets and steamed. This is the origin of the festival:

The Ba-Jang Festival is an ancient Chinese tradition that celebrates a nobleman who was very honest and virtuous, but who was maligned unjustly and sent into exile by the emperor. In despair, he committed suicide by drowning himself in Yunnan province during the fifth Chinese month. The local people, who revered him, threw packets of sticky rice into the water at the same spot where he drowned himself so that the fish would eat it instead of the corpse of the nobleman. This practice evolved into the tradition of the Ba-Jang Festival, when the packets are made as an offering to the spirit of the nobleman.

So it is due to this nobleman who sounds a bit of delicate soul that my eyes are now running and the house smells like a Hare Krishna temple!

Next week I will be in Singapore, a trip that is part holiday, part business and part visa run. The trip was on-off-on for a while but another trip to see a customer in Hong Kong has been postponed, as was our break in Bangkok as Ploy was going to accompany me to Hong Kong so we could have a break together there instead. However the postponement meant I would be too late to renew my visa so I decided to go again to Singapore as I could also meet a few people there, including the people that will now be building all our hardware for SingMai. Then Ploy said why don't I make a break of it and spend an extra couple of days there, and as we have nearly shipped one order and have just received the deposit for another big order that will keep me very busy for the next three months, I thought that would make a nice watershed break, as it were. Then Ploy will still accompany me to Hong Kong so she then gets her break whilst I am working and visiting the charming township of Shenzhen. It is not ideal but I have enough air miles to fly to Singapore (business class luckily) and the customer is paying for both of us to fly to Hong Kong as well as our hotels and we are in frugal mode at the moment despite the recent monies received.

Whilst I am in Singapore we are also having my workshop tiled the same as the rest of the downstairs and having a little bit of roof extension built around it so we can put things like our gardening tools and ladders there protected from the ravages of the elements, (as well as a gate to protect them from the ravages of Pinky).

Also in Singapore I will visit a chiropractor that I frequented whilst living there to see if he can repair what is wrong with my shoulder. It causes me enough pain to be constantly woken by it in the night despite taking various remedies; I have a feeling I may have slightly dislocated it by throwing dogs around. I must admit I have noticed the increasing 'holistic' approach that chiropractors are now taking, where you go in with a bad back and get sold everything from special, (and exorbitantly expensive), shoes or dietary supplements as well as the increasing claims they can cure anything and everything. However I am hoping that as I am in Singapore for just 4 days that will focus their attention on the problem and not on selling me some nonsense soy bean extract that cures acne and syphilis.

An Internet Meme

E&L has been sent an Internet meme which he, in turn, has to propagate. As I don't have a blog and I doubt he reads this rubbish anyway he did not include me amongst his propagees but I thought it might be fun to answer the questions nonetheless.

1. Who was your 3rd grade teacher and were you in love with her? (Lesbian lust is OK, in fact even better.)

Aged 8 (Grade 3) I have absolutely no idea what school I was even at. The only teacher I remember from this era was a certain Mrs. Webber; I do remember Marion and Sally who used to drop their knickers for me whenever we were assigned washing up duties alone; that must have been around this time. As far as I remember the teachers didn't practice this, publicly at least. That happened less as I got older, the adorable habit stopping entirely by the time I realised what was happening.

2. Is yours an examined life? If yes, did you find anything interesting?

Minutes examined in minutiae but great swathes are lost in a fog of indifference. Interesting, yes, of significance, no.

3. How high is the tallest mountain you have climbed, skied down, or tripped over (question for Singaporeans)?

Snowdon in Wales which I marched up, and promptly marched straight down again. 1085m.

4. Speaking of storms, do you know, or DID you know, anyone who has been struck by lightning? Or indeed, by lighting?

No. Unless it counts to wire the testicles of the HR manager at Philips up to a Van der Graff generator.

5. What do you like most about your job/studies/unemployment cheques?

No managers. No HR departments. No teambuilding. No marketing departments.

6. Men: are you Miles or Jack? Women: are you Maya or Stephanie, Jack's fiancee or Miles' ex-wife? (You haven't seen Sideways? Why am I even talking to you?)

I have no idea what you are talking about but then you are not talking to me anyway, apparently.

7. Would you rather write best-selling pulp genre fiction, or an art-house novel that confirms your towering genius but that not even your most sympathetic friends would read, except MAYBE under threat of torture? Trick question, eh what?

If I had to choose, the latter, I do pretension rather well. One of each would be better so I could afford to the latter.

8. Have you ever been on a cruise? On a ship I mean, not wearing leather and trying to pick up Mr Goodbar. If yes, did you fall in love on it, the cruise?

No. Neither.

9. Other than "I think, therefore I am", can you quote a major philosopher NOW? Without having to look one up? (Descartes doesn't count, he was a mathematician.) Please share your quote, if you have one. (I'm thinking, this is a wasted question.)

Poverty wants much, but Avarice everything; I used just a couple of weeks ago. Who can forget Pubilius Syrus.

10. Do you pay for an online newspaper? If so, which one? (If you are about to say The Straits Times, please leave this blog immediately.)

No newspaper is worth paying for and a virtual one even less so, if that is possible.

 

A Day by the ...Reservoir

We took a day off yesterday having worked through the weekend yet again. Still unable to sleep properly, a cause and effect of my painful shoulder, I just couldn't face another day at the computer so I suggested going to Pasak Jolasid reservoir, just north of us. However our accountant came to see us in the morning and, on finding out our plans, suggested instead we go to Lam TaKlong reservoir further up the road to Korat. We have driven past this reservoir a couple of times before on our only trips to Korat, although I didn't realise it from the name. Our accountant recommended a particular restaurant which we singularly failed to find given that there are many bordering the reservoir. The one we chose, which did have lovely views served a rather indifferent BBQ fish and a singularly bland som tum. On the restaurant owners advice we turned left just a kilometre along the road and drove passed an indifferent security guard before finding ourselves alone by the shore of the reservoir.

And we spent the afternoon paddling with Pinky (who had been car sick yet again), chatting, getting a little sunburnt and doing nothing. Some workers appeared doing something by the sluice gates, I wandered off to look the other side of the dam, we watched the thunderstorms start to roll in, I took photos of the myriad of butterflies there were there and we played frisbee.

And then we drove home.

 

 

 

In a democracy the poor will have more power than the rich, because there are more of them, and the will of the majority is supreme.

Our neighbours are from Isaan, the traditional stronghold of the red-shirts, the poor farmers of Thailand who sweat through long hours, oppressive heat and appalling conditions to provide Thailand's elite with its food and its chief exports. These disenfranchised people were given a voice by Thaksin, the former Thai prime minister who was then ousted in a coup, who offered them hope through his 30 baht medical scheme and his loans to farmers. So when he was victimised by the wealthy elite, ostracised from his country of birth, these people found not just a voice, but the strength and will to protest, to fight against disproportionate odds, to make the world aware of their plight. Or so the story goes...

Certainly these people are poor, by most standards at least and certainly their work is hard; I wouldn't want to do it and I doubt I even could. Our neighbours, an older couple, have been bought a government town house by their children, some of whom work in Bangkok and some don't work in Bangkok. One of the daughters recently married an Australian, something I wrote about earlier. Two or three times a week Ploy sets off early to go to the market in town. She used to offer a lift to the old lady but doesn't do so anymore because the old lady, she felt, was taking advantage of her. The lift became expected so even if Ploy was going elsewhere, or perhaps not coming directly home, the old lady would always hurry into the house and return with basket in hand. Unfair of Ploy you may think, we have a pickup and they don't, but there are busses and tuk-tuks and, as Ploy points out, if they couldn't afford a car why did they buy a house so far out of town.

This is petty, I hear you say and we are just being selfish. Perhaps so, but here I am guided by Ploy and actually also by my mother who had a deep suspicion of people and their motives. Give an inch and they will take a mile. Because after the market trips they then started asking Ploy to take her other places, to the temple to give merit, to the hospital, (routine visit, not emergency), etc. etc. And each request came with its own implicit expectation. We were rich, we should do this because they are poor and they certainly don't need to give us anything back in return. (And strangely - one of reasons they moved here - across the road is more of their family who have both a pickup and a car but who they never ask for a lift although they do spend a lot of time in each other's company).

Although their life has perhaps been bettered they do not live the high life. The house is empty save for the obligatory TV and fan. In the hot season they slept outside on the porch. The old lady wakes at 5a.m. every day and immediately starts pounding her pestle and mortar as she make the spicy pastes that make the rest of dish edible. She walks across the road and ferrets through the bins before the rubbish collectors arrive before walking down the road to share a few glasses of Lao Kao, Thai whisky, with another old lady, whilst smoking some illegal concoction. During the day they sleep, or walk the neighbourhood to steal fruit and vegetables from the neighbours and local farm, seemingly unaware of the fact that it is another's property. Their water bill is more than three times ours because their cistern is leaking so instead of remedy it they turn the water on and off at the main stop cock, (and yes, I did volunteer to fix it for them but they declined my offer).

I mention this, not to slight our neighbours as such, but to illustrate what I believe is a flaw in the well-intentioned who wish to address the problems of the poor. Just giving poor people money is not a remedy in itself.

The demonstrations in Bangkok, and the subsequent riots, were driven by jealousy. It is a wide generalisation, but not all wealthy people are born wealthy. Increasingly in the West and in Asia you have the self-made-man, a man (or woman of course), who made a success of their life despite possible humble beginnings. What Thaksin offered the people of Isaan was opportunity but what they did was take the money and run. They still are, running that is. Typically, the story goes, their daughters work as prostitutes in the bars of Bangkok, Phuket and Pattaya to earn money to send home to their family. Not uncommonly that family includes the brothers who do not work. But what do the family do with that money? What did the families who took Thaksin's guaranteed loans do with that money. They did not invest it in education for their children which conceivably would bring a legitimate income in the longer term. No they bought brand new pickups, (as did our neighbour's family opposite), or mobile telephones or motorcycles which brought no monetary benefits to the family but did give them 'face', that inexplicably important facet of Thai society and probably the most difficult for a Westerner to understand. However without additional income those repayments could not be kept up, the pickup is repossessed and the family now has a debt which will never be repaid. Thaksin got to power and produced a heavily indebted region of followers that latterly rampaged through Bangkok because, as in Oliver, they wanted more. And who can blame them.

When the red shirt leaders get to power, as they surely will according to Aristotle and any opinion poll, what will they do to help their own people. Improve education, invest in improved farming technologies, help with the drought conditions; or perhaps nothing. Because they will have got what they wanted and what all the other people of Isaan wanted. Money. Power yes, but power only in as much as it gives them access to money. Lots of money. For all the idealism of this fight it is just so many words, freedom, democracy, justice, look them up in a thesaurus and one of the suggested synonyms will be greed. Actually it is not justice I want, I want money, I want to be like you and even better I want you to be like me. Do the poor really want a just society where we are all equal. Of course not, they just want society to be inverted.

Whilst I agree that everyone should be given the opportunity to make the most of their abilities, and certainly the poor of society have less opportunity, we also have to recognise that no matter how much money we pour onto the poor there will always be those that, to be frank, are there because they are lazy or stupid. When Thaksin gave these people some opportunity most did not take it. I am sure some used the loan to buy a new tractor or an extra field to improve their yield or maybe paid to send their daughter or son to university; many chose to buy the pickup. You just can't help some people.

This is not to say that the elite that govern us, that hoard most of the money, are not the same self seeking individuals; after all that is why they seek to maintain the status quo. Thaksin, as he was outside of this elite had to find another way. The motives are always the same, from the established elite, to the upstart politician who dared to challenge the way things are, to the poor rice farmer; greed. And that is why we are all speeding down shit gorge in a Gucci handbag.

We're Just Going on a Summer Holiday...

We have been promising ourselves a holiday for a long time, since our last one in fact and I can't remember exactly when that was. Our last two trips were for just two days and were both to Pattaya and neither was exactly relaxing; we returned feeling the same as when we went, possibly worse. We both recognise that we are mentally and physically exhausted and we need a change of scene to recharge our batteries. We always seem to find some reason not to go anywhere and the last one was actually legitimate, we didn't have any money.

But we now have a little in the bank again and more orders are on the way or already on the books so I started planning a real break away. It started with Pattaya again, or Jomtien, but we decided to go somewhere we hadn't been before. Phuket, Ploy suggested, and for a while that seemed a good idea, but we couldn't reach a decision whether to fly, which still means we'd have to drive or get a taxi to Bangkok airport, or drive, which given the 1000km or so distance would take up 4 days of our holiday. Hua Hin maybe, I suggested, preferring the idea of a beach resort. But there is not so much to do in Hua Hin - we have been there before - and the rainy season is upon us now; Ploy is not a book and beach person. Koh Phi Phi seemed attractive for a while but I felt guilty about it as there is even less for Ploy to do than in Hua Hin. Chiang Mai, we thought seemed a good compromise, a hotel with a pool but plenty to do when it rains and neither of us have ever been there either. So in the end we decided, Bangkok. Because it was easy. We can drive there in two hours, find a nice hotel, like this one we saw on the TV, which has a pool and a sauna, yet there a a million things to do if it rains, like hunt for a taxi. And we thought the hotels might be offering some incentive to book, given the rainy season and the recent problems. So in ten days we should be off for a short break, 4 nights to pamper ourselves, see a movie, eat at that prohibitively expensive - but very good - Italian restaurant somewhere on Sukhumvit and dance the night away at Spassos. And relax.

Finally it starts to feel like the balance between work and play is beginning to be found. Eight months here now and whole reason for moving here, on a personal level anyway, had been lost as everyday had become a drudge; work and no play makes Dan a dull boy. It also makes him throw dogs around and break glasses. On that point we have found a good home for Holly but have decided to keep Pinky the pig, but first we will get Holly spayed as a farewell present for her, don't say we are not generous. We got Pinky's injections yesterday (200 baht) and the same vet also offers boarding kennels for 150 baht a night so we can go on our trip without any worries. And we are slowly getting Pinky to become obedient, she sits reasonably reliably, stays for nearly five seconds or longer if we parcel tape her feet to a post, occasionally fetches although not necessarily what we had just thrown, responds to her name by running off in some direction other than towards us, and she has stopped biting anything and everything quite so frequently. She is work in progress. Ploy has given in trying to get them to eat the canned food of any make, even the 40 baht tins which actually look like real meat - and now zooms off to the market at 6a.m. to buy loads of fish/liver/beef bones or whatever for 20 baht a kilo which they wolf down. She seems happy doing it and she is certainly happy to keep Pinky so I have relented and lately its cuteness factor has probably risen a few percent.

Yesterday I stopped work at 10a.m., having been awake since 4a.m. anyway, went to sleep for two hours, took Pinky to the vet, had a haircut (60 baht) and bought an electric muscle warming thing for my left arm which has become really painful if I stretch it in a certain way, like taking off my sweaty shirt or trying to scratch that itchy place on my back. I have no idea what I have done but it is not getting better by itself. If I was in the UK or Singapore I might have visited a tame chiropractor to pull and push things around a bit, but in Canada they were into this whole holistic nonsense and here seems to be the same so rather than just fix my arm they would have me buying some poncy shoes or not eating Thai basil on Thursdays if it rained or drinking my own pee, and paying thousands of baht for the privilege. So I went for the non-alternative therapy and bought this muscle warming thing and got some muscle relaxant pills from the pharmacist that according to the ever reliable Internet, seem to be relatively harmless. I am guessing this is the beginning of the end where every day will now bring some fresh ache or pain which I will have to silently bear until the Grim Reaper visits. A couple of months more and I will start dribbling and bed wetting. I already have terminal flatulence but I have learnt to live with that and now we have a dog to blame for the smell.

Staying Put; Just

Nine days have passed since I last wrote on the website and a great deal has happened in the interim. I won't say much on the events in Bangkok, more than enough has already been written and said and will, no doubt, continue to be said and written over the coming months. I am just glad that things to some degree can be made normal again, I hope that the underground activities fizzle out and I sincerely hope that something is done openly to bring the two parties together so we don't have a recurrence. I think the actions of the demonstrators in burning buildings and looting shows them as they really are and some who were perhaps sympathetic to their cause will reassess their stance.

The demonstrators may claim they knew nothing of the extreme element in their midst, after all people with rifles and grenades strapped to their all black kit to tend to blend in to the background, but for me this doesn't wash; it was convenient for them to have these people there even if they hadn't expressly 'employed' them. And the almost instant reaction to the surrender across the country shows planning on someone's behalf. Sorry but you are guilty by implication. It is like the marketing director of a company promoting goods he knows are faulty or do not perform as advertised and that just doesn't happen. Oh!....

Thailand has a democracy now; fighting for their own flavour of democracy, (read we wanted to be in power), in the way they did has severely damaged this country, perhaps even irrevocably. OK so Abhisit, the current prime minister, wasn't voted for in free elections, but neither was Gordon Brown in the UK. And the current government is the same coalition of self interested parties that they now have in the UK. Britain accepted it, you didn't have the people of Yorkshire coming down to London and setting up camp in Oxford Street for seven weeks and then burning down the National Gallery and Toys R Us when the army moved in. Strangely Abhisit may actually be their best hope for improvements in their region of Thailand and they wanted to get rid of him.

Before the army moved in on Wednesday I was starting to get seriously depressed over the situation in this country. Not so much for our personal safety, not yet anyway, but for the business environment which is much worse now than when I had doubts in Canada before moving here. Perception is everything now and as most of my customers were in the West being fed a daily dose of misinformation from the correspondents here, and my e-mail in-box was lacking any new enquiries or any responses to sent quotations, I was beginning to worry that my customers or potential customers were thinking the situation could prevent me from delivering: which actually if it continued it might have. Why did we have to choose here I wondered, and it was just that time that Ploy called to say a bank transfer we were trying to make couldn't go through because the bank needed to see pro-forma invoice from the company I wanted to buy something from. This strange quirk of the financial institutions here stopped me paying a supplier although I didn't need the items urgently and as it turns out the banks were shut in Bangkok anyway, (and still are). But it added fuel to my thoughts and I was close to just packing my suitcase and leaving, for where I wasn't sure.

However, as usual, when I can actually get Ploy to sit down for more than a few minutes, ('I am listening' she says as she turns on the food mixer, the washing machine and the hair dryer whilst answering her phone), she takes a very laid back view. But our life here is good she argues, we have a nice house, everything is paid for, the cost of living is low. Yes, I know, but what we if we never get another order. Well why not open that virtual office thing you had whilst we were in Singapore, then it will look like we are in Singapore. Simple, not expensive and effective. Yes, perception is everything. We can even get our telephone and fax routed through a Singapore number if we have to. In fact we can make a feature of it, two offices, R&D in Thailand, sales in Singapore. I love you Ploy. And no sooner had we started on that than I got an e-mail from one of my outstanding quotations so it clearly works.

Now I just need to find a way to transfer the money when the banks are closed.

Poverty wants much, but Avarice everything

There wasn't much news to read this morning and I had finished my early morning trawl of my favourite websites long before my first coffee so I clicked on the BBC News Business page and immediately regretted it. Hidden in there, because it is only by reading the details does the full extent of the horror actually become clear, are details of the free fall the world is currently in.

I started by reading about the problems in Greece which I hadn't bothered to read about when they were headline news. Greece loses money every year; simply it doesn't sell as much as it buys. There is a simple enough remedy known to any shopkeeper; sell more or don't buy as much. Or, an option not usually open to the average shopkeeper, borrow 440 billion euros in unsecured loans from the European central bank, effectively money given by each country in the union. That should tide them over, until it is spent of course. Because as soon as the Greek government who got the country into that mess in the first place announced some austerity measures, (supposedly a condition of the loans from the EU but given the fact that the euro would be so damaged it would affect every country in the union, even the relatively wealthy ones, that doesn't mean much), the whole country went on the rampage. Why would they do that I wonder; surely they can see, assuming they can read a newspaper or the Internet or listen to what I assume the government is explaining, that their country is bankrupt and they have to pull in the purse strings somewhat. But no, and why should they. Because the EU have just handed them 440 billion euros unconditionally to bail them out and they will probably do that again. And again. And some of the countries contributing that money have borrowed their contribution. That doesn't sound good to a layman like me but what do I know.

Greece, apart from exporting taramosalata and the Olympics wouldn't seem to have the same industry as, say, Germany and therefore could not expect the same standard of living for its citizens. Or so you would think. But being part of the EU means all for one and one for all, or more a one way thing where the poorer nations should be funded by the wealthier ones because to not do so would be elitist and probably wouldn't look good on the EU resume for when they need to borrow money to fund the poorer countries.

It is like the credit card companies that continually up your credit limit encouraging you to spend. And by all accounts spend is what we do. The mist of greed descends and if you had sensible parents that may have trotted out the old idiom, 'never a borrower or lender be', well that is all forgotten because I NEED that 4 bedroom house for the two of us because, well I do, and I NEED that 50 inch LCD TV (in 3D no doubt) because Igor down the road has one. Spain and Portugal are in the same boat; Spain 'lost' 118 billion euros last year to use business parlance, or is that negative equity. They can have some of this money too assuming Greece hasn't spent it first on 11,306,183, 50 inch LCD TVs (3D ready).

So while we talk about buying houses we can't afford, another little snippet of news from across the Atlantic is that Fanny Mae has asked for more money from the US government, a small matter of 8.4 billion dollars. Let's spell that out, assuming it is the real billion and not the US one. 8,400,000,000 dollars! Why? Because in the first 3 months of 2010 they managed to lose $13.1B. 13,100,000,000 dollars! In 3 months. That is careless. Reassuringly they say there is 'no end in sight' to this requirement for government aid. My parents would have used another idiom like 'throwing good money after bad' . According to Wiki Fanny Mae was setup in the first place to help secure loans/mortgages to people who were very unlikely to every pay them back. As a business model this seems dodgy to me but what do I know. In fact it is amazing it took 70 years to realise this and the shit to hit the fan. If it is deemed a good idea that poorer people should own their houses rather than rent, (and I am not sure why that is good idea), then lending, (giving, donating), money they have little chance of paying back doesn't seem ethically correct to me, but what do I know. Either give these people access to affordable rented accommodation or raise their salaries or bring down the purchase price of houses. But none of the aforementioned will allow some greedy CEO and his cronies to buy their small island will it. No, it makes much more sense to control these people by making them indebted to you, for life preferably.

And then there is good old British Airways, my most hated airline and the airline of choice for cretins. Losing money hand over fist their cabin staff are yet again going on strike because they will not accept certain changes in their working conditions. The last strike cost BA 45 million pounds which I am guessing didn't help the situation. The most disappointing thing is that the union say 81% of those who answered the ballot wanted the strike. Isn't that extraordinary. Now how bad could their working conditions be that would prompt this near unanimous action given that that they apparently are among the best paid cabin staff of any airline in the world. No doubt they will cite the managers that are not suffering pay cuts as some sort of justification for their actions. One thing is for sure, their action will lose the airline more money and presumably future customers which, and I am guessing here, probably also could prove a problem in the future. I won't be sorry to see it go, I don't think I have ever flown with them without some problem, some small, some not so small, but they have unfailingly proved to be rude and discourteous in dealing with the problem which at least shows a consistency. But will they die or will institutions continue to lend them money because they make lots of money lending to companies, (and countries and people), that are the highest risk.

And that doesn't make any sense to me.

Dawg Gone (2)

We let the dogs back in the house yesterday afternoon as it was boiling outside and they didn't appreciate the the regular hosing downs we gave them. Within ten minutes they were back outside as all work came to a complete stop as I became initially diverted and then increasingly annoyed by their constant activity and noise. So they went outside again in the boiling heat and serve them right, they had their chance. I have given up analysing the situation anymore and if you wish to call me a puppy sadist or a male version of Cruella de Vil then so be it, you take care of them.

It is not just me, Ploy has also reached the end of her tether but this time it is over their eating habits. Now both dogs refuse to eat the food, even the expensive stuff, so we have decided to let them starve to death which has the down side of us not getting much money for them at the dog food factory, but so be it. All through my childhood I wanted a dog but because of the mess they make, (and they do - the Dalmatian sheds more hair each day than a ward of chemotherapy patients), my mother would not allow us one although she did allow me a budgie which was initially called, rather unimaginatively, Bobby, but very soon became known as Sausage as her exercise/eating regimen became unbalanced. So maybe it was because of this injunction that I have always wanted a dog. But like children, which I was always told I was 'good with', whatever that means, maybe my liking of dogs was tinged with the fact I always had to give them back to their worried owners after a few minutes of me getting them uncontrollably excited. And I don't think Ploy is any better. House proud in some ways, although not in the dusting and ironing way unfortunately, her annoyance stems from their lack of obedience and her lack of control over them. We give them a home and de-lice them and wash them and groom them and walk them and play with them and then they don't eat the food that Ploy prepares, and she does prepare it, she doesn't just lop it out of a can or packet, (although she does now), and she sees that as ungrateful. Ungrateful to Ploy is a worse crime than necrofilia or sodomy; if the Dalmatian had developed a penchant for bring home dead cats to shag that would have been OK with her.

Unlike me, (apart from letting them in from the boiling heat that is), Ploy keeps giving them another chance so last night she throws away the uneaten food she gave them in the morning and with which she inisted, like my mother again, there was to be no more until that was eaten first, and then served them fresh chicken which they gulped down because of course, they were very hungry. What was wrong with the other food which they had previously gulped down we will never know. As I don't believe in any god it would be perverse of me to believe in the devil so I am assuming that the Dalmatian was a plant, put there by a SingMai competitor to stop me fulfilling my orders and even to bring Ploy and I to divorce proceedings. These people presumably mutilated the Dalmatian's foot because they knew Ploy would not be able to resist the pitiful underdog. Well their plan has not worked, Ploy and I are too strong for that and in any case, we don't actually like dogs.

Turmoil

On Tuesday night I sat on our kitchen floor staring into my glass of beer. Ploy came in to see why I had just smashed her glass of water onto the patio tiles. If she wasn't bemused by this point she certainly was when, decision made, I got both the dogs and literally threw them out of the house, well, garden. I then retrieved my glass and returned to my spot in the kitchen. Ploy came in again, her bemusement now replaced by a look of shock on her face. It is the problem with people that keep things locked up inside. Instead of a little blow out every week or so stuff can lay there festering for years before it finally blows up making the Eyjafjallajökull volcano seem little more than an antacid tablet fizzing in a glass of water, at least to those in the vicinity.

It was the lack of sleep. Ever since we became owners of a certain pregnant Dalmatian I have not had a single night of uninterrupted sleep and usually the total sleep time is little more than 5-6 hours. So unable to sleep I work, but by working I mean staring at a computer screen because my brain is too fuddled to do anything other than automaton tasks. So I start getting behind with the orders and of course we don't get paid. And this is against the backdrop of those very customers sending 'is it ready yet' e-mails and the constant demands of the dogs who are singularly unable to transmit what it is 'they fucking want!'. So getting rid of the dogs seemed a good idea and what triggered this slightly sensationalist action was Ploy yet again putting dogs first and everything else second. Sitting on the patio trying to enjoy a balmy evening's drink with Ploy, (iced beer for me, iced water for Ploy), she yet again broke off our conversation and got up to tend to the dog's random demands, in this case their fussy eating as she had thought their request was for food when it fact it was one of the hundred other things on their list or they were just maliciously teasing us. But rather than just let them starve if that was their wish, Ploy starts hand feeding them, (which they eat of course). The bubble burst, Ploy's glass was shattered onto the floor and I became an instant wreck on the kitchen floor.

Ploy was wonderful. It would have been so easy for her to follow the dogs, (not quite so literally of course), and leave me in my self inflicted misery but instead she just sat with me and we talked and talked. 'Yes', she agreed, the dogs had to go, 'but can I bring them into the garden just for tonight'. I agreed on the condition that a simple whimper would be enough to consign them instantly to the dog meat factory. I went to bed and shortly Ploy joined me and we talked some more. I slept well but woke early but not because of any reason as far as I know. Unlike the night before it wasn't 3.30a.m. and I wasn't waking because the pup, (named Pinky because she looked like a pig when born), had managed to climb a few stairs, got frightened, pissed herself and then starting to bark. No, I woke to silence and went downstairs to read the 'is it ready yet' e-mails. I had a coffee, for the first time without some dog harassing me for whatever it was they wanted that instant. I felt rather ashamed at what I had done; rather childish for a 52 year old to be throwing dogs around and smashing glasses but I also felt rather unburdened. I made plans. First is to stop the 15 hour a day, 7 day a week regimen. Why not take a siesta in the afternoon when it is too hot to work anyway, (still no rain here - well real rain - despite lots of thunder and ominous clouds). Take a day off sometimes. The orders are late anyway, what does a couple more days matter. First get yourself in the right frame of mind to work. That day I worked 12 hours, but to a plan. E-mails were sent to customers, quotes for jobs I didn't really want but were quite lucrative were sent and I did some work on our own projects instead of just orders. I felt quite good and the dogs were invisible all day even though Ploy had to go out. That night I cooked some comfort food, a chicken hot pot, and Ploy brought home a nice Australian Shiraz.

The next day I also woke at 4a.m. but I felt good and again it was to silence. The dogs were now camped outside and, whether it was their flying episode or just they actually like it better outside, they were quiet although still not eating whatever food we gave them, but Ploy is in charge of the food anyway. At 11.a.m I looked at Ploy and suggested we go somewhere. I had had a very good morning at work and I decided enough was enough. We decided to do what we planned over a month ago but of course had never done and take the dogs to the Jet Sow Noi waterfall for their first swim. Taking the dogs may seem strange given two days before but the condition was if they didn't willingly get in the car then we went alone. Of course the pup had little say in it but Holly after a little prompting sat in the back seat without looking like she was about to have an epileptic fit. And she remained calm throughout the trip, allowed us to put her on a lead and for the entire afternoon was the perfect dog. The pup meanwhile slowly got more confident, helped by all the Thais that came to stroke her, and eventually got her first swim, aided by Ploy. She must have liked it because when she got home she promptly went and sat in her bowl of drinking water and this time, to me, that seemed cute rather than annoying.

So calm has returned to our household. Ploy has found someone who will take both the dogs but not quite yet. I think she wants to keep them, well Pinky at least, but she did admit that she was getting tired of their constant demands and in particular the mother's fussy eating, especially when Ploy goes to the trouble of cooking something that she previously munched her way through as if it was her first meal in months but this time she does that little passing sniff as if we had just served her up arsenic burgers, (and don't think we won't). So the dogs are on probation but we both agree that we really must get SingMai properly established first and if the dogs are preventing this then we just have to be selfish and get rid of them. Or maybe we just had to get them to realise one of their pack leaders will not pander to their every demand and will instead prove that pigs, (in Pinky's case at least), really can fly. I wonder if Cesar Milan would approve.

Meeting your Friendly Neighbourhood Alien

Stephen Hawking's has probably spent more time than most contemplating the universe and our place in it. As part of a new documentary series, he has issued a warning to not attempt to contact any intelligent neighbourhood aliens:

We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn't want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach.

He likens alien's encounter with earth to that of Columbus 'discovering' America which, he adds, 'didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans'. This is highly speculative of course and a long way from the first visit of the Vulcans as portrayed in the Star Trek movie, First Contact. This is so disappointing. Top of my list of 'must sees' by a mile is real evidence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe and ideally some form of contact. The idea that there is a universe of intelligent life waiting for us out there should we only 'break through' our technological ceiling by demonstrating faster than light travel is hugely appealing to me. It is, on closer analysis, my only beacon in what I increasingly see as a toilet of planet. Now that is also gone, for surely Hawking is correct. The Star Trek idyll of an altruistic society seems to get further away every day and living in Thailand at the moment gives this a heightened perspective. Thankfully Obama has somewhat toned down his vision for the future of NASA with a manned mission to Mars not planned until at least 2030 when I will be over seventy years old, assuming I have not popped my clogs before then. At least I should not have to witness the human race marauding around the universe like Brits on a Thirty Something holiday to Ibiza. Unfortunately nor should I have the delight of watching some similar alien vandals obliterate Chelmsford just for the hell of it.

Forty years since we landed on the moon and the idealism of that day is lost in the mists of time. In reality of course, this was not mankind finally realising a common goal and working for a common good as perhaps Kennedy envisaged, but just a needless reaction to Russia's apparent superiority in nuclear weapons. Now there is no enemy that warrants such an investment of time, money and people. So we meander on aimlessly with similar world wide goals such as global warming seemingly deemed not so important and certainly not warranting us putting aside our differences to sort the problem out. And to be fair, what focuses a nation better than a good war. It is the only thing that keeps us together and we haven't had a really good one since World War II. Lots of little petty things, more squabbles than real wars, so without that common point of focus society slowly, or perhaps not so slowly, unravels. So the choice appears to be to have a common effort behind which a nation forgets its differences and comes together but a few million have to die to achieve this, or we exist in a deteriorating society that slowly but inexorably strips the planet of its resources. A third option of a harmonised society of no poor, no racism, of everyone working towards a common good doesn't look like it is on the cards. Maybe we are all genetically prevented from achieving it, our history hardly shows us as peaceful world; most of our greatest achievements, artistically as well technologically, from Picasso's Guernica to the Atom Bomb, are as a result of war and atrocity. Is this the only way that society can develop. Is Hawking's correct that the only aliens who have not already destroyed themselves and their planet before they can escape it maintain their status quo by raping and pillaging any other planet, until such time as they themselves become food for a bigger beast. Why would this not be so? Indeed, what other scenario is possible?

Now We Really Mean Business

I spent the weekend reorganising my workshop for what I hope will be the final time, for a while at least. By exchanging some stuff between what we had in storage and what we had here I have been able to create a lot more space for myself whilst also giving myself two more desks to work at.

I had two enquiries, both of which were very large potential orders which I was not pursuing with any vigour because of the huge amount of work they would have entailed; work I couldn't usefully apply to any other jobs. But things have been tight recently with one customer paying very late and another job just creating a realm of problems, each more difficult to solve than the next - it looks like it may never end. So to put some money in the bank I have decided to actively pursue these orders and it looks like we have a very high likelihood of them actually happening, in which case you won't be hearing from me much over the coming weeks!

The potential order, indeed continuing partnership, with a Shanghai company was one of the reasons we decided to move here and the first three months, perhaps four, that we were here was all working on that project. But for one reason or another that fell through, we received no money from our work save for some expenses, and we have been playing catch-up ever since.

But having the workshop organised helps me to organise my thoughts better; a tidy office is a tidy mind, (and all of this probably comes from my mother's side, she of the straightening magazines on the table and the endless list making). But it works for me so I shouldn't knock it and heaven forbid that I was untidy as well as Ploy is not, how to put it politely, so house proud. No that is the wrong term as she spent most of Sunday sweeping leaves and planting new plants out in the garden and was immensely proud of her work and her cut thumb to prove her endeavours. Ploy also keeps saying how much better the workshop looks now whilst dropping the laundry basket in the middle of the room and leaving piles of sorted clothes, (colours and whites), there which Pinky, the Pup, then decides is a nice comfortable toilet area.

A friend who has a computer repair shop, as a result of Ploy giving her what turned out to be a lucky lottery number, has given us another computer which is now Ploy's to do with as she wishes, although it will also enable her to help me with SingMai stuff. It is also a backup should my computer ever go tits up, heaven forbid. It didn't take long to clear out all the usual Thai garbage from the hard disc and install Norton and clear out the viruses. It just needs a bit more memory and it will be quite a decent machine.

So the CD player is on, currently Joe Satriani with Jacques Loussier's Debussy waiting in line, the kitchen is stocked with those Western things, (ham, milk, cereal, cheese, bread, Pringles), that help keep the batteries charged during the day and also with the Archa beer as a reward for days work well done. Bring it on!

3D or not 3D

It is an inevitable consequence of our increasingly vacuous Western society that is so readily being embraced in the East too, that a constant stream of new fads are continually 'invented' by the big consumer companies, hyped mercilessly, and readily consumed by a gullible public. Having endured the enforced change to digital television broadcasts which struggle to produce the same quality as the first colour TV broadcasts of forty five years ago, the greed of the large consumer companies and pushed relentlessly by Hollywood, we are now having to stomach the move the '3D' cinema and '3D' television. Instead of producing some useful features like an integrated Tazer that automatically vaporises anyone who watches any reality TV program or any of Singapore's Channel 5 or Channel 8 for a longer time than that deemed to cause the onset of brain death, about thirteen seconds or less if the adverts aren't on, instead we now have something else foisted upon us that can actually cause health problems.

The heath problems are caused by two effects. The first is that, by introducing headaches and disorientation in the the viewer Hollywood no longer has any obligation to produce movies that engage the brain of the viewer - although it could be argued that already happened some years ago. Having had to go into psychiatric care having endured the Avatar script Hollywood are now raking out any old movie they think they can re-sell and re-issuing it in reduced quality but glorious '3D'. Consumer electronics manufacturers have immediately jumped on the bandwagon and TVs and Blu-ray players are now being sold as '3D ready', in same way they were being sold as ''HD ready' a couple of years ago, (and there is no standard for the transport of 3D material so what 3D ready means is rather unclear). So what is my problem with all of this; surely it is just harmless fun.

The problem is, it is not real 3D. In case you haven't noticed your TV or cinema screen is flat and should you wander around the back all you find is that important bill you forgot to pay or the cinema projectionist jerking himself off to a giant blue alien. In other words, the display is not truly 3D and therefore tricks have to been done to produce the illusion of 3D. Having had a few millennia of observing true 3D images in nature the brain doesn't take so kindly to this trickery with the resulting health problems. If you don't believe me click on the document on the left which is a straight copy of this Samsung warning about their 3D TVs.

We have been here before. Painters over the centuries tried valiantly to reproduce nature on their canvases but of course it was a futile endeavour. It was Manet and subsequent painters who actually embraced the fact that their medium was 2D and produced work that extolled that very uniqueness. Photography also has a similar problem identifying its uniqueness and championing it. Painting and photography are not real life and shouldn't try to emulate it either, they should laud what they are and not what they are not. Television and cinema is the same in that, although having the additional dimension of time, still have limitations compared with true life. But rather than continue to copy what we can get in its entirety just by going outside, it continues to try to be everything it is not.

Twenty five years ago I worked on 3D TV, but for an application where it has some real benefit, viewing a remote controlled robot arm used for the remote manipulation of dangerous chemicals. Here the addition depth perspective was of real benefit to the user but its use was limited even then to short periods of time and the better shuttered LCD glasses were used, unlike what you wear in the cinema.

Now I wouldn't normally care about this as only the brain dead would bother to continue to watch this content after perhaps all of us view one movie out of curiosity. However it is all part of the dumbing down process. Soon I will not be able to watch a movie without some idiot director throwing in some totally unnecessary '3D effects' to spice up the movie - I mean it is not as if I can choose to watch in 2D can I, (although some TVs may offer this feature). It is the falsity of it all. We are being sold something that is not better than the original, but is worse, we have to pay more for it, (digital cinema is usually more expensive than the old projectors and your TV certainly will be more expensive), and it can actually introduce health problems. The only ones to benefit from this are the consumer companies and their share holders with their insistent greed; Hollywood, who can now just simulate everything using computers instead of actually have to think and produce real movies and real scripts, (how is 3D Shrek going to be better than 2D Shrek), and the cretins who engorge themselves on any new technology because their lives are so empty and meaningless they are unable to just sit and contemplate the beauty of a sunrise over the sea unless some alien spacecraft comes down and starts a planetary war. And why I care is that it is these very people that are least likely to suffer the health effects because to do so presumes some grey matter actually exists. In twenty five years the world's population will be 50% cockroach managers producing Powerpoint after Powerpoint to a room full of cock sucker wannabe cockroach managers while the other 50% are strapped to their armchairs engulfed in the virtual paradise of continuous re-runs of I Love Lucy in glorious 3D.

Now don't get me started on the i-Pad...

Twin anniversaries

Seven months ago we arrived at Bangkok airport to begin a new life together and eight years ago Ploy and I got married at Southampton registry office.

Plans to take a day off today and celebrate in some suitably discrete way have been disrupted by Ploy having her Chinese lesson at midday and by me feeling distinctly under the weather with stomach cramps; I ended up spending all morning asleep. But if I can shake this off we had thought to take the dogs to the Jet Sow Noi waterfalls for their first trip out, (aside from when we tried to sell them at the meat market that is).

 

Dawg Gone and Dawg Come Back Again

I have no pictures of SongKran to share with you. I had work to catch up on and my only visit out was an enforced one to deliver one of our puppies to its new owner. That trip, as it was beside a river, took ten times as long as it should have as we crawled our way along the streets, windows wound tightly shut, and watched the drunken revelry. I came to the conclusion it is a young person's thing as I noticed almost no-one under twenty five and something that it certainly entails leaving your brain at home for. Thankfully near our own home there was nothing; indeed it was quieter than normal, especially as we were without our canine family.

Ploy had met someone who's family had a farm in the south and were willing to take all the pups and Holly. We were at our wits end having had little sleep for the best part of a month now. The pups seemed to be getting louder and even more demanding and Holly more distant and unhelpful. We drove to their house at 5.30a.m. armed with three pups and Holly, (the fourth pup had been promised to a friend of Ploy's). After a long wait for their pickup to arrive and take them all down south we finally left the pups, their toys, puppy food and milk in the back of their truck and left Holly tied up beside them. When we got home we then took the remaining pup to Ploy's friend. When we got home all was quiet. For thirty minutes. Ploy got a call from a neighbour of the farm people. They had not taken Holly and had locked her in an outside toilet and she was apparently whining the house down. Bugger! Bugger, bugger and golden buggers! Ploy tried to call the farm people but they didn't answer their phone. We drove round to their house and the neighbours let us in and showed us Holly who was in her epileptic fit like state. She had even bitten through her lead, a proper kosher lead, not just a rope and as we found later had broken two teeth doing so. In fact several bruises appeared later as she had been throwing herself at the door trying to get out. I guessed that she got herself into a lather and they decided she was too much to take but we wondered about the pups as they still occasionally took Holly's milk, when she let them that is, and they were now on their own. We felt guilty all of sudden and expected social services to come and lock us up for being irresponsible parents.

Holly calmed down after we took her home but didn't let us out of her sight. She didn't want to eat anything and just lay in the corner eyeing us suspiciously. She did have a quick look around the house for her pups but then lay down apparently relieved they weren't still here. I told her we barbequed them as they were so troublesome and she seemed to accept that. The next day everything seemed calm and we had both slept right through the night. And then that afternoon Ploy got a call, well several in fact, from the farm people. The pups have already settled in, were taking their food and the dogs on the farm were playing with them. All the family loved them apparently and they explained there was just no room to take Holly because they wanted to put her in the cab and not tie her outside in case she broke free and tried to jump off the pickup. Social services accepted this and we were released from prison with just a warning. But then the next day, as we were admiring Holly' enormous mammaries as she continued to make milk even with no customers we got a call from Ploy's friend to say can we take the pup back as it didn't stop crying and wouldn't feed. Ploy tried to tell her to give it time but they would have none of it so that afternoon Pinky (so called because of her resemblance to a pig) returned home. We didn't know what Holly's reaction would be but the two of them hit it off in a way they never did before with Holly even showing some signs of playing. And that night we also slept right through the night with neither Holly or Pinky making a noise. So we now have a family of two and as luck would have it this pup is the 'lucky' one as Ploy calls it as it has three colours and five toes on each paw. It is also Holly's favourite, probably because it is most like her. Although it still pees wherever it stands it does do its number twos outside so there are signs of some obedience.

So some sort of normality has returned to our household after two months of mayhem, we are slowly catching up on sleep and work and even getting things like the kitchen looking less like a bomb hit it; we even found time to bake a lemon and vanilla cake the other day and we are going to replace our broken icecream maker this afternoon so we can try and make some mango icecream. All is peace and tranquility, until Ploy starts executing her next plan that is.

The Thrill has Gone

I think it is fair to say that I fell in love with Singapore on my first visit there, a business trip of just two or three days. My visits to Singapore quite quickly became regular and on none of them did my affection for the city change. Whilst it did not offer the alien excitement that Thailand or especially Japan offered - Singapore is the comfortable slippers of the Far East - it may be that very comfortable feeling with just that dash of the exotic - the pink furry ball on the slipper - that made me so especially like the place. Living there only slightly diminished its appeal and it was only the excitement I thought was in store of a new life in California that meant I didn't leave with any more regret than I did.

I made two more short return trips over the next three years, again on business, and in both cases the country, or my attitude to it, seemed to have changed. I wandered around my old familiar haunts but never did I get that feeling I had before; in both instances I left without a backward glance. Last week I visited again, this time for three days and again I didn't get that original warm feeling for the place. Part of the reason has to be within me. Living in Thailand and being married to a Thai woman I now have all the exotic I need, and more. Singapore seems tame compared with Thailand and rather manufactured, which of course it is. Yet another shopping mall has appeared in Orchard Road, the Ion, totally bland, totally unnecessary and rather dominating the junction of Scotts Road and Orchard Road; (you can't even cross the road as before and have to take the underpass which doesn't immediately lead you back to street level but lets you get lost in the continuous circle of shiny shops). For me this is the centre of Singapore. On all my early business trips I stayed at the Royal Plaza on Scotts Road, my favourite lunchtime people watching spot is the Marriott hotel's cafe which now, aside from having the Ion looming over it, also has the continued work on the shopping mall next to it, and even worse, has changed the menu. And a tuna sandwich with two glasses of wine cost me $67! Surely it didn't cost that before, (but then the taxi fair has gone up from $2.40 to $3.20 in three years too). Apparently the new trend is to build condominiums above ground and shopping malls underneath them; nothing is guaranteed to spoil the look of the street more, but this is not about aesthetics is it, it is all about money, as the new university building on the previous park at Bras Basah road shows - the little green there is in Singapore is rapidly being eroded.

I watched a movie at the Shaw Centre, (the very funny Date Night, no special effects, no 3D, just two skilled actors who really gelled and made the very most of an OK script) and that was still $8 - how I miss having a Western movie house near us - and a reminder of how things used to be, (Ploy and I used to go to movies two or three times a week). I walked down to Clarke Quay and noticed the wine shop in Victoria Street where you used to be able to sample some different wines with some decent cheese seemed to have gone, or I had forgotten exactly where it used to be. I walked along the river and those plastic brightly covered piers each of the restaurants has now seemed gaudy and out of place. I had dinner at the Mexican Iguana Cafe - the menu there still the same - but it still being only 5.p.m. I was only the second customer. Just as well as all, and I mean all, the outside tables were reserved. I spoke with the waiter and he said it is now like this every night. Somehow the place lost something because of that, for me at least, it is not that there isn't anywhere else to eat if you happen in and it is full but the sponteneity is lost if you have to make a reservation, (although it may seem odd to mention spontaneity and Singapore in the same sentence).

And then there are the casinos. A source of continuous debate when I lived there one is now open and the other will open very soon. But I was told that Singaporeans have to pay $100 for admission but those second class peoples that are not the chosen children get in free. I always doubted that the casinos would work in Singapore, Las Vegas developers or not. Las Vegas may have been founded on gambling but the town is not just about that, the town still has that little sense of danger about it that Singapore will never have and will never let itself have. But again it is about money isn't it and the government just couldn't say no to those readies even though morally it clearly thought it wrong; why else the charge for its own citizens. If they really wanted to make the new resorts exciting why not move Orchard Towers down there and put on a Pattaya style lady boy show. I don't object to the nanny government but I do object to their two faced acceptance of something they clearly didn't want because someone waved some money at them. If I was to be benevolent I could mention that a country without natural resources perhaps has to make different decisions but I'm not feeling benevolent today.

So I am now back in Thailand reading of the deaths in Bangkok - a world away from the peace and tranquility of Singapore. Must it always be so polarised. Do we have to choose between the sterilized living of Singapore with its strict undemocratic government or the free for all, faintly democratic shooting spree that is Thailand. Personally the protests in Bangkok and elsewhere do not affect us. We do see the odd pickup festooned in red and the traffic on the Bangkok road is very heavy, but then it is SongKran, the Thai New Year - this week, so it is not unexpected. Business goes on as usual around here it seems and I haven't noticed any downturn in SingMai's enquiries. What I did notice whilst in Singapore was the very real concern Singaporeans had for what was going in Thailand. From friends to ex-colleagues to taxi drivers to waitresses, all were surprised about my indifference to what was going on - although that was before the shooting on Saturday. Singapore air had a travel advisory for Bangkok when I checked in on-line and 43 countries were advising travellers to reconsider visiting Thailand. There is an engineering conference in Bangkok next month that I wanted to attend and I am sure that will now be cancelled which would be a big shame as that would be a very opportunity for me to meet other Thai electronics companies. So I said these problems are not affecting us but that conference is perhaps the first real impact, albeit a relatively minor one. Did we choose the right country to move to?

I don't see any resolution to the current political problems, indeed it only seems possible for them to get worse. This see-saw merry go round circus that has been going on for decades will surely continue its pointless cycle, and that with the relative stability of a respected monarch which is sure to change soon. Negotiations between the two sides lasted a matter of hours and even within the two main opposing parties there are serious splits. Every politician is just out for what he individually can get, there appears to be no Thai word for altruism. This selfishness seems ingrained in the political structure here with each decision made only for individual gain. But wait, is this so different to the casino decision made in Singapore, or the decision to allow yet another department store to be built on the site of a small park and occasional open market. Thailand has very strict lese majeste laws to protect the monarchy from adverse criticism, Singapore has libel laws to protect its political masters from the same. The outcome is a stable but criticised government, (criticised by Western human rights organisations whilst I believe probably secretly envied by Western governments), but with a peaceful and profitable country, (who still have national conscription and are quite happy to sell arms to whoever pays the price). Thailand, by way of difference, has put such importance on the monarchy it has forgotten that for 70 years it is the government that should make the decisions. Even now the Thai people are asking the King to intervene; the red shirts have also asked the if the King is aware of what is going on. Almost certainly he is but nearing the end of his life he has probably decided that this time it for his people to take responsibility for their own actions, however painful that may be. Any intervention on his behalf will only delay the inevitable.

So did we choose the wrong country to move to. I don't believe so. The chaos in Thailand has to be put into perspective and Saraburi is a good place to do so. A friend has opened a somtam stall for the SongKran which we felt obliged to frequent yesterday. Opposite the road there was an increasing line of trucks and pickups with families out to sit by the stream. The only sounds were the inevitable loud Thai music and the children laughing as they jumped into the stream. The deaths in Bangkok were much more than the 140km kilometres away they actually were. I am sure it is the same over most of the country. This turmoil will certainly continue but history shows that some uncertain peace always occurs and why should it be different this time. There may be something in the Thai psyche that prevents stability, both in their own lives but also as a collective. Most Thais I speak to are critical of both sides asking why they cannot talk and why must they fight. Ploy asks why the government doesn't just arrest and imprison all the red shirt leaders but maybe she has been in the West too long. One of the traits of Thai people so often lauded is their sanuk (fun) attitude and mai phen rai (never mind) stoic. That may lend their country to being a great place to live but unfortunately it also allows corruption and ineptitude to flourish which leads to where we are now. Perhaps we cannot have one without the other. Singapore or Thailand?

Sleep - the most beautiful experience in life - except drink.

Tomorrow I fly to Singapore to see some old friends, to see a couple of suppliers and to try and get some sleep. The trip is actually my three monthly border run which I have to do in the first year of my Thai visa and which I haven't had to specifically do up to now because of frequent trips abroad but the fact I am having to do this means I haven't travelled abroad for three months which is surprising. Tempus fugit.

As the hot season is upon us I am finding it more difficult to work in the afternoon as the air conditioner in my workshop manfully struggles to keep the room below 30degC. It is partly the fault of the equipment I need to run which provides its own contribution to global warming but also our stinginess in not getting some insulation put in the roof so I get gently grilled from above. And according to this report things are only going to get warmer although you have to be wary of any weatherman that firmly predicts storms more than three weeks away. It is not just me, every Thai I meet, from restaurant waiters to the Fed Ex delivery man starts the conversation, Lorn Maak (very hot).

Sitting in one of our favourite restaurants (Baan Gluay) yesterday Ploy said to me, 'you know, your Thai is very good now'. She was flattering me as my recent studies have been non-existent with all the work and the lack of sleep but I happened upon this website which for some reason I seem to be in tune with. I have started at the beginning and as each lesson is just 7 minutes or so long I can do one lesson a day and at the end of the day, usually over dinner I recite the lesson to Ploy for her comments which helps cement it. Having already got some basics the lessons are easier as I know most of the vocabulary and I can concentrate on the sound instead. One thing that I think may have prompted Ploy's comment was the website introduces the prepositions like 'in' and 'for' which allow you to form coherent sentences in Thai and not sound like a village idiot. I have also bitten the bullet and attempted to pronounce the 'ng' sound that occurs at the beginning of some words - which the website does not mention by the way - so when it introduces its first verb, Tum Ngarn (to work) that Ngarn will not be understood by most Thais unless you pronounce it precisely. In English we only have this sound at the end of words, such as 'sing' or occasionally in the middle, such as 'angel'. Moving that sound to the front has proved very difficult for me so I avoid it using workarounds like saying 'ugly chicken' instead of 'turkey' (gai nguan). Whenever I ask Ploy to pronounce it she says it so quickly, probably as I do with a lot of English to her, that I don't see how she forms her mouth. But this time I sat her down and we did a lot of work with our tongues and at the end of the session I have a 70% hit rate. The trick is to keep the tongue low; I found pronouncing 'sing' I raise the tongue. The other trick is not to think about it too much, the sound comes much more naturally when I don't get in lather about it and just say it. I think worrying about the pronunciation automatically raises the tone when it should be a low tone. Well there is a long way to go but living here I do find I am absorbing it naturally so study is a lot easier than when we lived in other countries.

It is quite a culture shock for me to go to Bangkok now and see all the foreigners there as I hardly see any around these here parts. So it came as real surprise when our Isaan countrified neighbours announced one of their daughters had married an Australian. They married in Bangkok but last Saturday they had the Thai reception, for want of a better word. We went for a couple of hours in the evening but it was quite a low key affair compared with some we had witnessed and the party wound down somewhat when nine of her friends from Bangkok left, (in a single taxi!). Of course I continually get invited to talk to the foreigner as generally seems to happen even though we are from the other sides of the planet. She is a nice girl but how she will cope living in an Australian mining town is anyone's guess. Lots of Thais there, he told me, without understanding the class structure in Thailand or being aware where his wife will fit in with what are probably the lower class Thai labourers. Her English is far from fluent and he is naive about Thai culture and speaks no Thai at all so it is difficult to see much future for them.

One guilty pleasure of the trip to Singapore will be getting away from our puppies. The last couple of days they have all opened their eyes and started to walk although they were more than capable of crawling everywhere anyway. But reading all I could on the Internet we still couldn't work out why they were crying all the time. The Internet wisdom said that either they were hungry, wanted attention or were sick.

How could they be hungry, they didn't stop hungrily suckling day or night and we also kept a bottle of milk handy as a top up. But then in a blinding moment of inspiration we realised the reason was Holly, their mother. She is useless and we had forgotten that - again. Yes she lies down and lets them drink but she also lies so that only two can suckle. If all four are suckling then it is a free for all for the two available teats with larger male dog, (I know before I said we had four girls but being Thailand one has changed sex since that first examination), pushing the others aside. So we have tried to schedule their meals with one or two only feeding at one time and after feeding we supplement their meal with the bottle. This has helped. Another reason for the crying seems to be their adorable habit of peeing, sitting in their pee and then complaining they are wet. Obviously not the brightest dogs they haven't learnt the English way of quietly moving on after causing a small mishap. So when they cry we now immediately check if they are sitting in their own piss and keep the Kleenex at hand at all times.

Then we wondered if they were in fact sick. So we weighed them and they are all over 1kg with pink tongues and they passed all the healthy puppy tests I could find, (they are increasingly looking like St. Bernard's facially and also in bulk, except for the one that looks like a pig). But, I mentioned to Ploy, they have yet to poop, maybe they are stuck up and that is why they are so fat. But Ploy observed that Holly eats all their poop which is why I haven't seen it. How adorable, although I suppose it saves us cleaning, (thank heavens for the tiles, if this was carpet it would already need replacing). Ploy being Ploy she had to make sure and gave them all an enema with a skillfully fashioned stick of soap, something she said she learnt from her mother although she didn't elaborate; probably the memories are too painful.

But then we come to the third issue, attention, which is where Holly fails again. I have noticed that Holly, in common with a lot of Thai dogs, have no idea how to play - if you throw a stick or ball expect to go and fetch it yourself. She nurses the pups of a fashion but she doesn't lick their faces or show them any attention really. Indeed she sometimes walks off when they are suckling we have to pick her up and dump her back for them to finish their meals and the she tried to pick the male dog up by its head once. She seems, as she has since we got her, absolutely clueless about being a mother. So every two to three hours one of us has to get up in the night, remove them from their self inflicted piss baths, feed them a bottle, rescue the one that Holly is sitting on, play with them a bit, watch them go back to sleep and then go back to bed where I have even woken to their crying in my dreams. So two nights in Singapore, albeit Hotel 81 to save money, and not the Marriott so no swimming pool unfortunately and a lot of night time coming and going, but still no two hourly sojourns.

Next week is SongKran here, the Thai New Year which produces a marked peak in the number of drink related road deaths. In all my visits here I have never experienced the Thai New Year, although I did spend one year in Golden Mile, the Thai centre of Singapore getting sprayed with water and covered in chalk powder. We are not planning of going anywhere so maybe it will be a bit more civilised here away from the water cannons of Pattaya and Bangkok, we shall have to see, but it is certainly one of those 'experience it once in your life' events.

The Internet and I

I finally sent out another invoice today, over 2 months since the last one and a timely reminder of how useful the low cost of living is here to our piece of minds. It will be another month before I get paid but there should be three more invoices hot on the tail of that one and they should be paid promptly based on past experience. But although we have seen our bank account dwindle somewhat in the last three months we are far from being at the end of our tether. Our biggest bill is the electric which topped 5000 baht - over twice the previous maximum - last month, but then we have been using the large air conditioning in my workshop almost every day, and the air conditioner in the bedroom at night too, and then there is all my equipment which has been running most days. But the other bills are negligible, water about 200 baht a month, telephone about 1000 baht/month including the Internet.

Another piece of good news this week has been we have finally got some semblance of broadband as the first cable company finally arrived in our area. 3BB offered a 3Mb/1Mb Premier service, (supposedly guaranteed speed through the international routers), for 1200 baht/month on a 1 year contract including modem. At the moment all seems well and the speed is what they say on the box, give or take. They offer up to 8Mb on the premier service but 3Mb is already a luxury over using my mobile phone so I left it at that. I can upgrade the speed within the contract time should I feel the urge. I have kept my mobile phone service for another month, just in case; I shouldn't read so much of other's poor experiences with the broadband companies.

The week has been a tempestuous one for us regarding our new canine family. Holly has proved herself a mother of the same calibre as an East End London teenage single mum although after tuition is beginning to find her way. However we have not yet decided on the father of the pups as they are growing distinctly un-Dalmatian like in their appearance, tending towards a cross between a St. Bernard and a pig.

They are also sucking Holly dry and we are having to supplement her milk with some bottled stuff. That, however, has given us a chance to handle to pups which I must admit has been great fun. Going against all the Internet forum's advice on such matters and with Holly's permission they seem quite happy to let us handle them and they are starting to get accustomed to the bottle. Holly is beginning to feel her old self now and even starting to distance herself from the pups a little and allow herself longer walks instead of brief toilet breaks before returning to them. This week their eyes should open and they'll begin to walk, although they seem more than able to get around by crawling at the moment and as we haven't confined them we need to be wary coming downstairs first thing in the morning to avoid squelching one into oblivion.

We are only just beginning to get a full night's sleep in after constant interruptions from the pups crying to Holly wanted an unscheduled toilet break, which she announces to us by throwing herself against the mosquito guard on the front door until such time as either Ploy or I relent and let her out; Ploy seems to have perfected the art of acting deaf through these things. Being so tired during the day because of our night time activities, (and those are the only nighttime activities now as we are completely drained), I find it difficult to think properly so I took the opportunity to tidy and re-organise my workshop as well as treating myself to a new laser printer to replace the one I had in Canada but was 110V only. I bought a Samsung scanner/printer for 8990 baht (plus tax) which I thought was a good bargain, although as with all laser printers the toner replacements will require me selling Ploy into prostitution; we'll cross that bridge when it comes to it.

Despite all of this Ploy is beginning to moot the possibility of us keeping all of them. I am keeping stum over this at the moment. In the middle of last week both of us were a gnats cock away from marching Holly down to the market to sell as Larb Ma. When they start walking and chewing and peeing and farting and yapping every minute of every day and night Ploy may change her mind. I suspect Holly will stay, neither of us would feel comfortable about not keeping her as her reliance on us and trust of us is quite phenomenal, especially given all I have read on the ever unreliable Internet which informs me that no dog will let anyone near them either during birth or for four weeks after. Holly is the complete opposite and seems to welcome our support, which we are more than willing to give as, with all children that are not ours, we can give them back to her when they get too much, close the bedroom door, switch on the CD player and the air conditioner and sleep the sleep of the dead.

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