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This is page 16 of my diary archives. Other diary entries can be found here, Page 18, Page 17, Page 15, Page 14, 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).

 

Microfiction Monday No.72

From Susan at Stony River.

She had wished for a puppy but instead had been given a Hush Puppy. And worse still, despite feeding it Odor Eaters, it stank the house out.

This Facile Life

I have a friend. He now lives in Holland and once or twice a week we exchange e-mails. Newsy, argumentative, opinionated e-mails that, when I see one in my in-box, I go and get a mug of coffee to accompany me whilst I read it. And the reason I do that is it usually takes that long to read it, in the same way letters from my father were read again and again when he had been stationed abroad.

I had an ex-colleague who used to sign off his e-mails 'J'. Not John or James or Jeremy, but 'J'. Now I know who the e-mail came from so perhaps this was superfluous, but to me it showed that he didn't really care to write, was not bothered to put in a little effort to even spell out his own name.

I joined Facebook a while ago and have since 'resigned' twice, you may know it is not actually possible to leave Facebook, your record remains there indelibly for future generations. Facebook annoys me immensely so you may wonder why I bother with it. Well Ploy's daughter is on it and she cannot be bothered to write e-mails, (unless she wants something). Harsh I know, but that is the reality. Apart from occasional phone calls if we want to know what she is doing her regular updates on Facebook are the only way we know if everything is OK. And the other 67 'friends' I have on there also seem to be unable to express themselves in any way other than precised, abbreviated, misspelt, hurried communications that seem to have been given little or no thought. My friend in Holland is not on Facebook.

The Internet has no peer review system and this means that all information out there, including that on this site, is to be treated with a very liberal dose of salt. When we used to buy a book titled, 'The Fifty Best Movies of all Time' we knew that was a personal opinion. When we read the Wiki page about Neils Bohr has that page been reviewed. Who wrote it because that information also seems to be missing. Is the author an expert. Yes there are references there that can be followed up but how many do that. Quotations taken out of context, emphasis changed through prejudice - how am I to judge. But if I bought a book of Neil Bohr's biography that would have been peer reviewed and editors will have crawled over it page by page (hopefully) so every possible grammatical and factual item is checked and corrected if need be. On the Internet this is not so. Any Tom, Dick or Samantha can tag a PhD onto their name and plagiarise some article - who are we to know. When I read a movie review in the esteemed Independent newspaper on-line I hope I am getting a review based on experience - this man or woman has likely seen more movies than I will ever see in my lifetime - or want to - and as such his/her experience gives his/her opinion an authority to a still subjective opinion. But you have to be careful because on-line amateurs, i.e. you and me, are allowed to contribute reviews. It is difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff.

I got a phone call the other day, a cold call trying to sell me something to do with investments and retirement planning for ex-pats. He got my name from Linked-In, a sort of Facebook for professionals, except increasingly there are less and less professionals on there but instead, more and more people just trying to sell you something. Unlike Facebook, Linked-In still has some worth, especially amongst the groups, but I guess it is only a matter of time before some 'professional' version of Farmville appears on it. But I digress. The man cold calling me insisted that his was not a cold call because he got my name from Linked-In. But I don't know you or your company, I argued, and I did not ask you to call, so in what way is this not a cold call. Because I got your name on Linked-In, he counters before I put the phone down on him.

What I am trying to say is I find all of this facile. Why reply to some Internet forum via your i_whatever when your are driving/eating/shopping/having sex when a little more thought and consideration might actually mean your reply was worth reading. At what point in your life did you become aware that everyone knowing that the coffee you had for breakfast at your usual Coffee Bean was not up to the usual standard became something so important you you felt you had to message the world. At what point in your evolution did you think it essential that you reply to someone whose shared the news that their bacon butty was especially greasy that morning or that they missed their train to work. Or that they were unable to get a taxi because it was raining when, the world over, it is always impossible to get a taxi when it is raining.

When I have criticised Twitter in the past I have had comments back that say, without this modern homage to cretinism, we wouldn't know what was happening 'on the streets' in Egypt or Libya or Bangkok. And do these people know. Of course not and if by some rare chance the person Twittering happens to be a professor of Middle Eastern history I somehow feel 140 characters may not be enough for him to fully express his opinion. Perhaps we could wait until he got out of the firing line, composed his thoughts, maybe checked a couple of facts, and then thoughtfully composed an article. I agree it is not so instantaneous but spontaneity is not always a good thing.

Maybe I am looking at it from the wrong aspect. It is not the content but the act that has become so important. What is the point of owning a Mercedes Sports if you keep it in the garage. Maybe this is not about the content at all but being seen to clog up the ether with Internet diarrhoea is actually important in today's society. Is that why everyone wears their i-shit around their neck or holds it in their hand as if it is some new transistorised appendage. By itself it is not enough to just hold it, but by being seen to use it it somehow makes a statement - although to me it is not the statement I think, they think, they are making. We all want to be seen as apart from the homogenous soup of today's society and by Tweeting some infantile remark it marks us as out of the ordinary. Except that everyone is doing it.

The really out of the ordinary are actually a much rarer species. They write e-mails that warrant making a mug of coffee before they are read.

Missing Old Blighty

It was the 24th February 2004 that we left the UK for Singapore, almost exactly seven years ago.

Ploy mentioned to me the other day, not for the first time, that she didn't miss anything from Canada, not even our house that we lavished so much time and effort on, or our rather nice car and certainly not the weather or the taxes.

But do I miss anything from the UK after all this time? After nearly three years in Singapore and almost three years in Canada and now 16 months here in Thailand.

Today I read of the Brigadier dying. He was a reminder to me of the golden age of TV, of the Avengers, (the real one with Diana Rigg and Patrick Macnee), and of the Champions, (where a series run would be 30 hour long episodes). I remember watching all of the test matches in the summer, uninterrupted with intelligent commentary from the likes of Jim Laker and Richie Benaud. Or watching Wimbledon with my Mum after I got home from work. But those days are gone. With the increased diversity of channels the quality has inevitably dropped and the discrimination of the viewers has to be called into question when anyone thinks of Big Brother as entertainment. Television in Singapore was appalling, in Canada, aside from one or two home made programs is all ice hockey and re-runs of American series, and although some of these are good, CSI and House come to mind, they are like minute diamonds in a sea of excrement.

So, although television in Thailand rivals Singapore in its lack of quality, the UK is doing it best to slide underneath them.

And then there is radio which again, here and in Singapore, seems pitched at hyperactive teenagers with full frontal lobotomies. I used to try and time my lunch break with Radio 4's lunchtime hour of quiz and comedy programs. Re-runs of Round the Horne or a new series of I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue were precious memories that still invoke a chuckle. And you can find tapes of the programs and re-runs on the Internet, particularly on Radio 7, but so many of my favourite broadcasters have now retired. I remember listening to Terry Wogan in the car on the way to work and staying in the company car park for half an hour unable to pull myself away from his amusing banter. But now they have replaced him with Chris Evans, a leading contender in my involuntary euthanasia list which grows longer by the hour.

So if I was to say I miss TV and radio from the UK it would be true, but only those programs that have long since disappeared. Looking at the schedules today I could only be grateful for the ease with which one can now put your foot through the ubiquitous flat screen displays.

Mention of cricket brings about memories of watching Gordon Greenidge batting for Hampshire at Bournemouth, one of my favourite cricket grounds. My only cricket here is found by following text updates on CricInfo. But if I was in the UK now I would have to pay the exorbitant prices to watch test cricket in London or I would have to endure the travesty of cricket that is Twenty20, cricket for the same lobotomised teenagers that listen to the radio in Singapore. I don't think I could bring myself to do it. I was lucky enough to see Malcolm Marshall and Sunil Gavaskar and Clive Lloyd play. I don't think I could warm to the Twittering show ponies that purport to play the game these days.

Thailand has a wonderful cultural heritage that it does its best to hide and obliterate. Museums and art galleries are difficult to find, (although when you do happen upon them they are usually very well done). But I don't know of a Tate Modern or a Science Museum here. But then let me recall my last visit to the Science museum in London when what was a library like calm of genius just a couple of years before was now replaced with interactive exhibits that were to engage the 'minds' of the moronic attendees who seemed unable to grasp the wonder of the scientific achievements placed before us. If it didn't beep or have buttons to press it was clearly an inferior invention. And the result of this interactivity, noise, and lots of it. And that same approach is taken in the libraries, another item I would say I missed from the UK, but at a time before they turned them into loud Internet cafes for cretins who can't read. And the Tate Modern went downhill when it decided that the Rothko murals were better placed in a corridor rather than in the hushed room they previously graced, (and which I am sure means they now do not comply with Rothko's own conditions for their hanging).

Drinking a pint of Adnams Old at the Crown Inn whilst listening to the cry of the seagulls and the crash of the waves at Southwold. Drinking a pint of the Driftwood's own brew whilst listening to the cry of the seagulls and the crash of the waves at St. Agnes. Do these places even exist anymore? Walking along the beach at Portobello or the sea walls at Old Portsmouth. I know from my last trip the Portsmouth council are slowly obliterating the heritage at Old Portsmouth to build more apartments which they can expensively sell to people so they can see where the old heritage used to be (relegated to a plaque outside the apartment in all probability).

Then there were the concerts, at Portsmouth and in London. From opera to Barclay James Harvest. But next week I go to see Santana in Bangkok and today more and more artists are now coming here or Singapore. Last week we had the Eagles, the week before Eric Clapton. Maybe the UK has more of the younger generation of artists, but is there anyone out there under fifty who isn't an over-hyped talentless prick. I went with my Mum to the Royal Opera house in London to see Turandot and Il Travatore. This week at the Royal Opera is a new work on the subject of Anna Nicole Smith - no really. A work I am sure deserves to stand beside Verdi, Puccini and Bellini.

So do I miss anything from the UK? Well maybe two things, Daffodils and Bluebells. I don't know if they would grow here in Thailand but I rather doubt it. I used to live near a Bluebell wood, perhaps one of those the government were going to sell off recently, but aside from those two items the answer is a resounding no, because the best of the UK I have in my memories and there is no point in going back because those things I liked best are no longer there.

 

A Change in the Weather

We had our first proper rain the other morning after what must be over three months with ne'er a drop or spit. Yesterday we heard the sound of thunder although we had no rain. It is feeling distinctly more humid and warmer now and I had to put the air conditioning on in my workshop for the first time in weeks. The hot season is arriving. Given the extremes that each season seems to now produce - the worst floods for 50 years during the rainy season and no rain at all during the dry season - I wonder what the hot season will bring.

It has certainly brought our garden out. Even plants that we thought had died during the building work are starting to thrive. The newly planted Mango and Chompoo trees seem to be sprouting new leaves every day, the former is taller than I am already, (and I am not a circus midget), and our Jack fruit tree is producing the first signs of fruit again. Even the banana tree (I am told that what it is) after weeks of apparent hibernation has suddenly sprouted forth and one plant generously donated by friend that Pinky took a liking too has pluckily produced a solitary flower.

Talking of Pinky, after a short period of calm, she has suddenly taken to gnawing her way through our sofa. After a suitably telling off we left her outside instead of her preferred room on the veranda in which case she then saw fit to rip open the bags of soil we have for our potted plants and spread it liberally over the garden tiles. Do all dogs do this? Do we have another thirteen or so years of these random acts of violence against against our precious belongings? Just when we seem to have got her eating properly again (she had started being picky again, even turning her nose up, literally, at freshly cooked liver, she now starts a vendetta against our furniture. Yesterday I had to quickly run out from my workshop to save a young bird she mistook for a new chew toy: I arrived just in time although the trauma will probably stay with it and it will have nightmares for the rest of its life and have to spend a fortune in seed on some bird psychologist.

Yesterday I delivered the first version of the code to my US customer but within minutes of sending it and sitting back in my chair with huge sigh of relief I got an e-mail from a Taiwan customer saying he might have found a bug with something we sold him last year - bugger. So that is today's job, to try and emulate the conditions of their test and see if I can identify and fix the bug, assuming it is real of course.

Ploy has been busy making noodles. She has a friend who used to drive around the area selling fish balls and the like but borrowed money from Ploy so she could set up a semi-permanent stall. Ploy has decided to contribute her culinary skills and I have been able to contribute by getting her to write down exactly how much all the ingredients are costing and what her income is. At the moment she seems happy to have made a small nett 200 baht profit which is not bad considering she had some setup expenses like pots and pans. However it does not take Ploy long in these ventures before she starts to find fault with her partner, (she is just BBQing her chicken with no marinade or sauce - it tastes of nothing'), so it may not last much longer. Like me, Ploy is no team player.

We still have a load of furniture holed up in a building in Prabhat, just north of here. The owner has given us notice to move from there as she someone interested in clearing the whole area to make to a factory or something. After we were burgled we don't have any particular affection for the place anyway. The thing is we don't really have any need of the furniture but selling it would be akin to giving it away, a shame considering what it cost. So Ploy has asked me to consider, when we get paid, to buying a house almost opposite us. The house can be got very cheaply apparently because someone committed suicide there and Thais are a superstitious lot. In fact when I first started living in this house Ploy was most particular on the placing of the bed because she said she didn't want this persons ghost passing over her when she was asleep. But times change. However even at a discounted price it still seems like wasted money to me. I could knock the whole place out to make a bigger SingMai workshop but that is a little premature at this time I think. I was hoping when we got paid for these orders we could keep the money in the bank for a while.

Next Tuesday we have a Santana concert to go to and I have decided to visit Singapore soon after that to renew my visa and visit my sub-contractor. We should also get paid that week from my Canada customer who unilaterally imposed their own 45 day net payment terms; I am guessing they will not pay by bank transfer either so we will have to wait for a cheque to arrive in the post. Although the visit to Singapore is not essential it has been a draining month so I have decided to go the easy route to renew my visa for a further 3 months. In any case I have noticed I only have two full pages left in my passport even though it has six years left to run. I don't believe they will add pages to a passport so I will have to renew it and rather than carry two passports everywhere I will get my 12 month visa (assuming I do get it) put in my nice shiny passport instead - I will also make sure I get the one with more pages. Passports are no longer processed here in Bangkok as it is deemed far more efficient to centralise the process in Hong Kong so I need to make sure I have a few weeks without trips before I apply. I have just enough space for one more visa and one re-entry permit so I can go to the US too.

Those trips will have to be done without the benefit of my Singapore Air gold card which expires at the end of this month. Amazing that it has been a year since I qualified for it again but in that time have flown almost nowhere and those places I have flown have been paid for by using up my air miles. So no more bypassing the long check in queues or hiding in the business lounges, I am now just part of the general riff-raff again. That is no place for a company director to be!

Microfiction Monday No.71

From Susan at Stony River.

“The lunatics have escaped and the inspector’s coming!”

“Relax. Go to the Sarah Palin meeting and round up her supporters; he’ll never know.”

 

A day best forgotten and a year to look forward to

I am supposed to be in the US but I cancelled my trip at the last minute, asserting myself to my customer at the risk of losing the order. And the outcome, well I still have to go and visit but now it it will be on my terms and I can finish the order and invoice for it before I travel. A rather surprised customer called me and the conversation helped to clear the air and allow me to state (restate) the conditions of the order and what exactly we were delivering. To be fair the person I am speaking to now is not the person that placed the order and who I had all the initial conversations with so he was lacking the background. But sometimes it is good to assert yourself a little, especially if you feel you are being trodden on, and it is especially nice to be able to afford to do so without worrying about losing the money for the order. Before we have needed the income and have found ourselves polishing shoes and wiping arses for inconsiderate customers who treat us like some lackey but that is no longer.

I have the PCB designs back from my sub-contractor so our next product will be off for manufacture in the very near future.

My three month non-B visa is up for renewal again and I have to decide whether to fly to Singapore to renew it (3 months again), a painless process, or to try and get the renewal done here and get a 12 month visa. The latter is the obvious choice but I have become aware that Ploy - who does most of the ground work preparing the paperwork - worries about this to the extent she doesn't sleep properly. The issue is only getting sufficient social insurance and tax payments records for me and our company, otherwise it should be straightforward, but to let Ploy rest easier after the trauma of the US order I might go to Singapore one more time.

Ploy is busy in the kitchen making soup for noodles which she is going to sell at the entrance to our housing estate on the stall of a friend, (who cooks BBQ fish and chicken there). This friend asked Ploy if she could help her set the stall up - she previously used to run around the houses selling fish balls and such like - but wanted to set something more permanent up. So the 3000 baht that we lent to the person with no legs who wanted to set up his business selling fish balls to the markets and who had just paid us back after just a few weeks, (out of his profits), was immediately transferred to another business venture for which we will see no return, (although we do get free food whenever we want it which is not a bad return I suppose - that said Ploy always insists on paying her for it anyway). So today Ploy is hopefully off to earn a few baht selling noodles which, as she says, will pay the water bill or maybe even the electric bill - it all helps and also Ploy feels she is contributing. She is always saying now about how hard I work and in hours I suppose I do but the point is that I enjoy it, (mostly).

Especially as yesterday I managed to take a day off. We had planned to go to the local waterfalls but instead I could see in Ploy's eye she already wanted to start preparing for her noodle venture so why she did that I did nothing. Well, not exactly nothing, I cooked a chocolate cake, (a failure, I haven't baked in so long is my excuse), I spent a hour or so practicing my Thai consonants and I cooked myself chicken and chips (fries) for my indulgent dinner whilst watching Top Secret; again. In short, a lovely day.

Days off were an unwritten New Year resolution. The other resolutions are not doing so bad either; it is only mid February after all. I am finding time to set aside to learn Thai, I have been thinking about my novel and have a page of notes already for its re-write although haven't started doing so yet, SingMai has lots of new enquiries (but no new orders yet) and we are booked for that exhibition in June: and the art history book, well that will have to wait a little longer. But then that extra resolution of occasional days off has taken on an extra importance.

Microfiction Monday No.70

From Susan at Stony River.

Pete had enjoyed the Charles Dickens society Whist drive but was much more enthusiastic about joining the Jane Austen society’s annual orgy.

 

A week best forgotten and a week to dread

Next week I have to fly to Baltimore to assuage a customer. This is the last custom order we have on the books and it is the last one we will ever take. They always turn out like this with different expectations on each side, minor cracks in the specification that become chasms that we are expected to fill. Meeting the customer does usually help but when they are exactly the other side of the world it is difficult to justify the trip in my mind - but not in their's. So on Wednesday I fly to Los Angeles on Thai Air's executive economy which at least gives me a reasonable sized seat to try and get some sleep. After that it is a wing and prayer to get to Baltimore.

The problem is I don't have a credit card. We are yet to persuade any Thai bank to give either me or Ploy one although we do have VISA debit cards. So far this has not proved much of a hindrance. In the US it is a major obstacle. I need to stay one night at a hotel near LA airport before my flight the next day to Baltimore. However none of the hotels will accept a debit card. So I choose one that has its own restaurant (a rarity now it seems in the US - after a sixteen hour flight all I want to do is grab a bite to eat and try and get some sleep) and contact their booking people to ask if I can book and pay by cash. The answer promptly and very nicely. Yes they accept cash but need a credit card for a $50 deposit. BUT I DON"T HAVE A BLOODY CREDIT CARD! So after a sixteen hour flight I go out into the smog of LA in the hope of findinga hotel that will accept cash and only cash. That only after I travel from one end of the airport to another to book my flight to Baltimore the following morning because I can find no US airline that accepts debit cards and they won't even let me contact them by e-mail. No wonder the US is in the financial state it is, everything is on credit, they probably won't even know what a dollar note looks like. And the temperature in Baltimore, should I ever get there, is -5degC! One week and it will all be over and we can hopefully send the (large) invoice. Never again.

Because I only have a single entry visa still I had to go to Lop Buri to get an re-entry permit. I must be getting the hang of this. Twenty minutes from arriving to leaving with another passport page used up. And Ploy registered me as staying with her as all 'aliens' staying with Thais have to be registered. When I get back from this trip I will have to renew my visa again but we may take the easy option of doing it in Singapore one more time before doing the renewal here in Thailand - I should probably visit my sub-contractor there in any case.

Just as an aside, a note those in Egypt dying to bring about democracy: this is where it can lead you. And here too as the UK obediently follow the US, as always. We were supposed to have moved to California instead of Canada. Little mercies and all that.

The last couple of days have seen me under the weather and Ploy looked like she had gone down with a bad cold last night. The whole week has really been a write off as we have been running around trying to get this trip organised and complete as much work as possible before I fly. Ploy had to drive down to Bangkok to pay for the Thai flights which was strange because I am sure I paid by debit card last time but as I did pay on-line to renew my travel insurance the card seems to work OK. But we have had forty new enquiries from a couple of press releases the last two weeks and although nothing serious has come from them yet if we can just get this blasted order out of the way we can get look forward to brighter rest of the year.

3D or not 3D: that is the question

For film makers it is an opportunity to replace quality scripts and acting with cheap technical tricks and for the consumer electronics manufacturers it means they can tout some new products to an increasingly gullible and stupid buyer. Apart from the glasses 3D adds almost no cost to an existing TV set.

But as I have said before, it doesn't actually work. It is not 3D, moron. If it was the back of your TV would be Angelina Jolie's arse and not a piece of black plastic. So it is a trick which is fun for a while, like the hall of mirrors in a fairground, but after a while you sort of get it and in fact get very bored by it. At least anyone with a brain larger than a pea should think that way.

But I am just a cynic after all, as any regular reader here will attest, and actually think that most new technology is pointless and vacuous.

But maybe I am not alone.

Gong Xi Fa Cai

Today is the start of Chinese New Year and our house is already full with gold and red coloured boxes and Monopoly money to be burnt, plates of fruit and 10kg of sweet deserts which Ploy is handing out to friends and also to the people in the various government departments that helped us get my work permit; to ease the renewal process hopefully - money well spent. For Ploy the Chinese New Year seems to have more significance than the Western or Thai New Year. I remember the celebrations in Singapore when we lived there although there is nothing like around here: not a dragon to be seen, (other than the wife of our least favourite neighbour).

Ploy has been out buying plants for our garden including a rather curious thing that apparently snakes don't like. This was prompted by a neighbour shouting to us the other day that she had just seen a snake slither into our garden. Ploy hates snakes but not in that girly jump-on-a-chair-and-scream-way, but in a find-the-most-lethal-looking-thing-I-can-get-my-hands-on-and-chase-it way. I followed her out of curiosity because, in all my visits and time here, I had never yet seen a snake. But the farmer had been ploughing his fields near us so I guess he had disturbed the wildlife there. Well this snake was obviously not stupid and it had already decided to find another garden after realising it was taking on Ploy so I just got a glimpse of it - a grey and silver snake, about two feet long and as thick as Geoff Capes' thumb - as it slivered its way into the garden of our least favourite neighbour. Dilemma, to call him or not. But his latest annoying act had been to not let our painters into his garden so they could paint our back wall, (they hung down from the roof to do it but had to miss some patches), and as he doesn't have children (which might have created a moral quandary), and only keeps cats, (no quandary there), we decided to let fate play its hand.

So Ploy stopped at this plant market on the way to Lop Buri on a rare day off for me and bought various plants for the garden but also this thing which, as I found out and as Ploy warned me after I screamed out, has nasty spines sticking out from its main stem. Now I can quite see that a snake would not like those spines, they are almost invisible unless you look hard for them but they puncture the skin easily. However I can also see why no creature would like those spines, not me, not Pinky, not dolphins, (we don't get many dolphins in our garden - even during the floods - but the fact remains), and not snakes. I did ask what property of this plant made it especially anathematic to snakes to which Ploy said 'no idea', asked the plant vendor who said (in Thai) 'no idea' who asked someone else on their stand who shrugged, considered the question and then said (in Thai) 'no idea'. But we have this plant and we are drawing lots to see whose hands will be shredded putting it into a pot. Aside from the spines it looks innocent enough and doesn't seem to smell so I will wait to see if it works. Mind you, statistically, and not having seen a snake for over fifteen months of living here, it will be difficult to ascertain how effective it is in the short term unless we are suddenly plagued by snakes in which case we can guess it is having the opposite effect. The plant is also rather small and any snake would actually have to be unfortunate to happen upon it, especially if we put it in a pot which we probably have to do as we have tiled over most of the garden. Its second victim (after me) will almost certainly be Pinky's nose and not an IndoChinese Rat Snake.

I sent a press release out for a new product late last week and I have got twenty enquiries already, from the UK, US, Canada, Germany, China and India. Further evidence for how limiting the the 'eggs all in one basket' approach forced on us by the Hong Kong customer has been. If we can just convert a couple of those to orders that will be great and the product is finished so it is easy to sell. There are seven other products that similarly just need finishing off and hopefully we will get a similar reaction when we advertise them.

Captain Morgan

We were invited to a birthday party the other day; a man I don't remember seeing before but lives in the next street to us, retired army man, 76 years old but keeps himself healthy and is very fit looking. A bit of a butterfly, according to Ploy, he none-the-less has an adopted daughter that he he has taken care of since she was just seven weeks old and who he proudly watched performing Thai dancing (very well) at the party.

Why we were invited, not knowing him personally, we never knew but now we see him walk past our house on many occasions and we always say 'hi' and indulge in small talk. Yesterday evening he joined us in our garden as Ploy was potting some new purchases and he chatted for several hours. As my wine disappeared he became more animated but his gestures helped my understanding of what he was saying, also helped by Ploy's occasional translation. Unusually, for an army man, he supports the red shirts and he hinted that the army were considering (yet another) coup against Abhisit this time. That may be to do with the silly border dispute with Cambodia; armies always like fighting over land, even land that is little bigger than our garden.

But later he made an extraordinary justification for the red shirt actions. Thailand's land mass is often compared with the shape of an elephant's head, which given the importance of the elephant in Thai history seems appropriate. However it seems another interpretation is possible. He described this in some details whilst taking his best Captain Morgan rum pose. The right leg, he explained is the peninsular that runs down to Malaysia. The left leg is folded up and represents the eastern seaboard running down to Pattaya and beyond. We live in the stomach which is apparently OK. Isaan is the heart and Bangkok, well that is the wobbly bits. Yes, I can see where he is going with this.

I rushed inside to find the Thai for anthropomorphism but felt I was missing out on the action so returned to the conversation. Ploy and he waited for my comments, he still in his best pose. Well, having covered this subject as part of my masters dissertation, albeit for art history, I felt qualified to comment and in any case, talking bullshit is like a red shirt to a bull for me. I commented that man has always sought to find objects where there are none; the constellations being one obvious example. However I have never heard it used to justify killing your own people before. There could be a thousand objects that could be made to fit the shape of Thailand's land mass but none of them actually mean anything: the land mass is the shape it is, the changing shape it is, because of continental shift and to justify actions based on an assumed shape is as much nonsense as astrology justifying predictions based on the moving constellations.

In any case, where in your assumed shape is the head. That would appear to be in China. The idea that Thailand is headless is wholly appropriate in this instance. Also the idea of cutting off your genitalia (severing Bangkok) is disturbing to most men I would have thought. Your attempts to overthrow governments, I quietly explained, just because you don't like the face in charge in ridiculous. Governments don't run countries, the bureaucrats behind them do. That is why countries continue to run even in the face of chaos. Replacing the face is nonsense, like replacing a bad a advertising campaign - the product remains the same. Killing to replace a face is just plain silly but it seems a trendy thing to do at the moment.

It is worrying that such complete and utter nonsense can be used to justify who-knows-what actions. This supposedly educated man was completely serious, even after he drank my last glass of wine and left, probably never to return, at least not while that crazy farang is still there. But I might be a little more careful before paddling in the Chao Phraya river in the future.

Microfiction Monday No.68

From Susan at Stony River.

That’s nothing Isaiah, you should’ve seen the Palmolive that got away. My missus and I live on it; it’s how I keep my schoolgirl complexion.

 

Treading Water

This has been a strange week. Our customer in the US had promised to send some files which I need to test and complete his order. They have not yet arrived as I write this on Sunday morning. It meant that I ended up dithering and procrastinating for most of this week. I could start on some other job but then I would have to stop that as soon as the files arrived, (as we wish to deliver and be paid for that order as soon as possible). So I ended up doing naff all and feeling frustrated by it. Ploy tried to encourage me to just do nothing and relax but I didn't feel I could do this until the order was finished and we had the invoice sent. So a wasted week until Thursday when I thought one small job I could do was to update the SingMai website. We have lots of 80% completed projects that I really need to make the effort to finish off and sell.

So I spent the afternoon adding one new product, finishing the user manual and putting it on a website where we advertise our products. The following day I had four new enquiries. This morning, even though it is Sunday, I have one more. All save one are for the new product which has been finished for about three months but I haven't had the time to tidy it up and write the literature for it. Now geed up by that response I am trying to finish the other four or five products I have ''nearly' finished.

That brief respite from work has really highlighted the need for us to have a break. We keep saying it but do nothing about it. But by Wednesday I found myself taking siestas in the afternoon and sleeping solidly for three or four hours and still sleeping through the night, (although still waking at some ungodly hour in the morning). Koh Chang is the favourite destination and it should be before SongKran and all that nonsense descends upon us. If I can finish the US order, (which may involve a trip there too), and complete two or three of the unfinished products I think that will be a good time to get away. And Koh Chang means we can drive and take Pinky with us, (for better or worse). It may be a little boring for Ploy who is not a beach and book person but it is her that is encouraging me to get away and she says she will find things to do and it is my choice.

One of my New Year resolutions, none which I usually bother to adhere to anyway, is to try and get a better grasp of the language. Well I have tentatively started by trying to learn to read and write the alphabet. I haven't been as rigorous as I should have, promising myself to spend half an hour every day after work with a glass of wine as reward, studying. Whilst reading without understanding may seem pointless it is the way I believe I can get a grasp of this language and it was reinforced by this school which takes the same approach. They use pictorial analogies to remember the sound of the letter which I haven't found necessary. For me I have used some children's books that Ploy bought me ages ago where you trace out the character copying the direction arrows. I find this helps me to remember the symbol sufficiently. I then write the symbol freehand into a notebook, two pages for each letter together with words using that character. Remembering another arbitrary set of pictorial anagrams is too much when the Thais have already got their own. I have had to find my own ways of learning this, (or any language), and lists of vocabulary or just repeating phrases has never worked for me and my CSE Spanish grade confirms. In some ways Thai allows this pictorial approach to learning that German or Spanish, with its recognisable Roman character set, doesn't and to read the front page of Thai Rath, (without having a clue what it means), would be nice achievement, akin to a Sun newspaper reader in the UK reading James Joyce, (or anything other than the Beano); you can make the sounds but have no idea what it means. But for me this approach seems to enable the vocabulary to 'stick' which just reading the various transliterations doesn't. Ask me again in six months if this approach works.

Our local temple, just across the road from us, is having a new window installed and is looking for sponsors so expect to see SingMai's name up in lights sometime in the near-ish future. Maybe by then I will be able to read it for myself!

A Watershed

When we were living in Canada and had just started SingMai in the basement of our house a person that I had had previous business dealings with and had become the head of marketing for Asia for a a large FPGA manufacturer contacted me to say he had moved to Hong Kong to start his own business and perhaps we could work together on something. It was only a couple of weeks before he told me of a company in Shanghai that wanted to develop an IC using some of our designs. In part that was what instigated our move to Asia.

After a few months, including a week long trip to Shanghai it all fell through, almost certainly because the Shanghai company realised that everything they needed was with me and that my partner contributed nothing to the deal despite insisting that he was constantly involved, (the company offered me a job and even offered to invest in SingMai - I turned both down). Perhaps naively I felt some obligation to him because he provided the initial contact but the months of work and preparing demos of our designs meant that we neglected other work and we were certainly out of pocket at the end of the exercise.

A little time after this he again contacted me to ask if we could work together on the design of a security camera which he felt he could sell into the China market. Our return would be a percentage of all sales as he was planning to sell a complete manufacturing kit. After months of work which meant neglecting other enquiries I had to ask for some initial payments, just to keep the wolf from the door, which he did provide. Towards the end of the project I started getting forceful about the expected returns we could expect only to be told that he had planned on paying me $0.10 for every unit sold with an expected sales in the first year of 300,000: $30,000 for the best part of a year's work adn without which he would have nothing. In that time I had failed to follow up at least three enquiries, each of which was for a product that sells for more than $30,000. It is fair to say that the relationship became a little fraught at this time.

Yesterday I delivered the last of the designs I had promised. Yes, there is a little more to be done but the work is negligible: he has everything he needs to sell his security camera. If he does start to sell the design maybe we will get a little income - akin to getting royalties on a song or a book, which is nice but of course is

completely out of my hands.

Today I have one more order to complete, another custom design, which is also proving to be a real pain as the customer realises he didn't actually know what he wanted but still expects me to provide a solution. But one week's hard work should see that off and there is more money left on that order than two years of sales to my Hong Kong friend so more reason to complete it.

And then I will be free with the promise to not undertake anymore long term custom designs. My first company made the mistake of relying on these custom orders which consume a lot of time and very rarely pay for themselves; however they are relatively easy to get once you are known in the field as few companies will undertake them - for good reason. Increasingly companies outsource their design so they always on the lookout for design houses but the designs are usually so specialised that we cannot sell them to anyone else so it is time to be selfish; we have our own ideas.

We will have enough money in the bank to not have to take these orders and grateful as we are for the fact they have given us our freedom, financially, it is now time to concentrate on our own designs and to plough our own furrow.

 

Microfiction Monday No.67

From Susan at Stony River.

A fog of despondency rolled in with the tide. Two watchers and a muster of crows watched the dawn of the day that marked the end of mankind.

 

This is not that Toilet Seat thing again, is it?

Folklore has it that when you marry slowly you will have those little charming foibles that you have, but your partner finds irritating, knocked off, or perhaps slowly removed with an ultra-fine P1500 grade sandpaper. If I had an independent observer available to me they would no doubt say I am probably unrecognisable from the arrogant turd I was before I met Ploy, now being little more than pompous, (whilst still a turd).

I can also see changes in Ploy; mostly she is now very much jai yen whereas when I met her she had the habit of garroting people that had annoyed her; she hardly ever does that now. But one thing has remained unchanged - Ploy never puts the lid back on anything properly or closes anything. The rubbish bin is left open so the kitchen smells like a rubbish dump when I am first to come down in the morning for my coffee, tops on fish sauce bottles remain open, lids on plastic containers are never sealed and even the fridge door can remain open sometimes after a market shopping expedition has filled it to overflowing. And the toilet seat is never closed even when the bowl is not entirely empty, (Ploy does not always flush if she deems her latest bowel movement is not worthy of using the water - bet you are glad to know that). In fact it is me that is always putting down the toilet seat.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned we had found mice in the kitchen. Armed with one of our heaviest pestles wrapped in a plastic bag we sent three of the blighters to mouse heaven but we always suspected one had got away. (As an aside, the Thai for mortar is pronounced kock, it always seems to me that should be the pestle). Well so it proved. After all the work on the house we decided to have our air conditioning cleaned and when the covers were removed from the unit in my workshop, next to kitchen, a blighter made a run for it. Once the men had left Ploy and I made an attempt to catch it but with no luck despite several sightings - crafty buggers they are. Well all went quiet for a week or so until the other morning.

To save Ploy being woken by my flushing the toilet, (which I do without consideration of the water usage), I use the downstairs toilet for my early morning ablution. But Ploy was obviously the last one to use it because the door was open and the toilet seat was up and there, in the bowl, staring up at me was a drownedmouse in its very best drowned rat pose. I poked it with the toilet brush and it was still alive but obviously had fell in there and was unable to get out. I will spare you the details but rest assured he has joined his family on that treadmill in the sky. But how am I ever to complain to Ploy again about leaving the toilet seat up.

Instead of a photo of a dead mouse I decided I will put a photo of these two love birds that roost in our tree that overhangs the new veranda.

One final note: we have bitten the bullet and decided to exhibit at the Broadcast Asia exhibition is Singapore, in June. We have six months to get everything together and I have just shipped our order to Canada so we can afford it and Singapore is close enough to not be a problem to get to. I hope it will kick start SingMai onto greater and bigger things in the latter half of 2011.

Microfiction Monday No.66

From Susan at Stony River.

He was 12 year old Frank ‘Tubby’ Perkins by day but by night he became Samurai Franky Oda Miyake fighting evil doers with his kendo parasol.

or Ashley Miyake hated the martial arts school and he had little success in the battles using his pink parasol or his feather tickling stick.

 

Aharn Thai - 3

So much for the plans to write about Thai food; my last entries were months and months ago.

We have been eating in a lot more recently, partly because the house is finished and we like to sit on our new veranda and watch the sunset and rest of the world go by over dinner, (although last night there was a plaque of midges so ate inside - this happens occasionally and seems weather related); because Ploy seems to have become the target of the local mosquito population in the restaurants we like to frequent, (who cunningly love to have some small ponds and water features splattered over their premises); because I have had a bit more time of the evenings to make something and because we both like cooking anyway.

Ploy has even been reading her Thai cookery books for some ideas and also to find recipes for things we have eaten out and I have mentioned I especially like. So last night Ploy spent two hours trying to set the kitchen on fire and produced two wonderful dishes, both variants of things we have eaten locally.

The first of these is Pla Chon, a popular fish in these parts which was deep fried in sunflower oil until the skin is crispy. Over this a sauce is poured made from diced young ginger, lime leaves, lemon grass, cashew nuts, dried chillis, diced limes, green pepper corns, mint leaves and fish sauce and soy sauce. The lemon grass and lime leaves are cooked and deep fried respectively so that they are edible.

The second dish is a vegetable called Pak Boom of which you cut off just the very young shoots throwing 95% of the tougher part away. Ploy had six large bunches of this which produced only what you see here but then that only cost us 20 baht. After washing Ploy makes a tempura like batter and deep fries the vegetables. They are served with a sauce made from chopped prawns, coconut milk and garlic.

A dish of prawn crackers (deep fried of course!) was produced as a starter and a nice crisp Chilean Sauvignon Blanc to wash it all down.

I am not sure what my heart thought of the meal but my stomach loved it and we don't normally eat much fried stuff anyway unless I make some chips. Perhaps a tuna salad tonight to balance things a little though.

When a House Becomes a Home

At 5p.m. on Sunday the painters loaded their scaffolding onto their pickup and our builder loaded the unused construction materials onto his, (part of his 'tip'), and gave me back the tools he had borrowed from me - at least the ones he hadn't lost or broken. It would take a little time to clean everything, although the painters hadn't done a bad job themselves, but six weeks of major demolition and construction would take a time for the dust to completely settle.

On Monday it was like living in a stately home as visitor after visitor was invited in by Ploy for an escorted tour. Ploy lay in wait for anyone who loitered outside before pouncing on them asking what they thought of it. Suay (beautiful) was the obligatory answer. I have never seen Ploy so proud. Indeed I feel proud and sitting on the balcony Monday evening with our snack of potted shrimp, (well prawns, no brown shrimp to be found here), and toast we found ourselves just looking around and muttering 'amazing'. Just the garden fence and the gate to do but that is waiting until we receive more money as we don't want our savings to drop too low in case of emergency.

The work looked like it would never end. The painters found a few repairs in the roof that needed doing, another day gone; they suggested how we could build up our eaves so the pigeons didn't nest there so easily, another two days work for the builder. All good things done but the last week was really trying my patience. The problem is our builder is a chatterbox and even without someone to talk to he talks to himself - loudly and incessantly; I just couldn't shut it out. That and the dust everywhere being trod throughout the house and dropping onto all my equipment was driving me to distraction. But it was worth it and it also meant we were forced to go through every room in the house cleaning so the house is spotless. We haven't really done anything much to the house since we moved here, a bit of tiling here and there, otherwise we have really used it as a place to sleep and work from and all our energies were spent on the latter. In the background there was always that move to Chon Buri. But suddenly Ploy especially seemed to become content here and investment of time and money on the house didn't seem so wasted.

Over the new year I took a few days off to paint and reorganise my workshop which I am also chuffed with as it has left me with a lot more space for the same amount of equipment. Ploy wasn't keen on me doing the interior painting but having seen the transformation in the workshop I think she has changed her mind and we can slowly work our way around the house with the minimum of disruption. The dining room is next.

The house is now at a really nice state where all major work is completed and we just get to buy the nice trinkets and put our pictures up. We never got to this state in our houses before, or if we did, as in Canada, we then immediately moved. We never even cooked a single meal in our brand new kitchen there. There will be no immediate moving from here and as I write this Ploy and Pinky are sprawled out on the sofa on our balcony, Pinky contentedly chewing away at one of those artificial bones and Ploy contented without one. Actually the new peace around the house also seems to have calmed down Pinky and she seems very happy to sleep on the balcony where there is little she can do, damage wise. Maybe it is because it is right next to our bedroom but she seems much less destructive at the moment and we don't wake up and go downstairs with any feeling of dread anymore.

A surprise came in the post this week too as I got a social security card that I can use to get free treatment at the hospitals here: that is a really nice bonus.

I am still waiting for the new order from Canada, (it is one of those companies that need to approve all new vendors, even for one off orders, and where purchasing departments can delay projects for months through their bureaucracy), and I cannot do any more work on my US order until they send me some data so I have been able to relax a little and also work on my own projects for a bit. The US company have also told me they will order something extra which is an unexpected bonus.

So Ploy is off to have the oil changed in our car, to donate a load of old unwanted stuff from my workshop organisation to our television repair man and to buy some more white pebbles for our garden. I have some work to do for SingMai, I have promised myself to paint the dining room today - it is a small room - and Ploy got some new plants for the garden, including a banana tree, that need planting, a job that seems to have become mine. Our house just became our home.

Microfiction Monday No.65

From Susan at Stony River.

Think of Richard Gere, he’d written. Let’s meet by the Silver Bridge. Tall and dark maybe, but handsome? No more blind dates, thought Susan.

Microfiction Monday No.64

From Susan at Stony River.

“Need your shaft lubricating or your pole greased? We are the best in business, satisfaction assured. Visit us at the Castro District, SF.”

 

A Parting Gesture

2010 had one last surprise before the New Year happened upon us.

Yesterday morning I had planned to do some work on SingMai. Our builder was away seeing his family in Sing Buri for the New Year although he did say someone would come by and pick up his tools and the wood used for the scaffolding sometime during the day. In fact he and two of his family arrived early whilst Ploy was at the market. The previous night, because the garden was now finished, we had put Pinky out as she keeps tearing things up in the house whilst we are asleep. There is less and less for her to rip to shreds now but we thought we would make the gesture to her anyway. So with new flower beds and an uninterrupted night of carnage ahead of her she took to moving the contents of the flower beds onto the new laid tiles, and given time I am sure she would have moved the tiles to the flower beds. We did what all the books tell us to, rub her nose in where she has done damage and give her a good thrashing - at least that is our interpretation of the behaviour correction method. Unable to face tidying everything up I went back to my workshop but then almost immediately the man arrived. So, spurred on by his actions, I spent the next two hours tidying the garden and then the next two after Ploy arrived back from from the market tidying the garden. Unused to such physical work I was totally knackered by that point and went for a lie down.

Ploy, in the meantime, started making some sausages for the children's party that night; a party I think I was expected to attend. Our plans for the evening were vague but I knew included moving our existing psuedo-leather covered sofa (more water resistant) up to the newly completed veranda so we could enjoy the evening up there. Ploy came into the bedroom after her kitchen vigil and urged me to go the Prabhat with her. We needed more compost for the garden and more of those white pebbles to cover the flower beds and we also needed to get our Canada sofa (cloth covered) to replace the one that was to become upwardly mobile. Before we left however Ploy decided we should clean the veranda and I suggested moving the sofa up the stairs first whilst we had a tiny bit of energy left. So the two of us man-handled the sofa up the dog-leg stairs, carried it over the stair rail at the top, through the bedroom door and out onto the veranda. We then set off for Prabhat via ESBO.

Although Ploy pretends I said nothing I managed to get her to buy the paint for my workshop. I had promised myself that over the New Year I would re-organise my workshop and whilst doing that take the opportunity to paint it. Ploy has been unwilling to do this for some reason but this time we left ESBO with two pots of paint and some paintbrushes. Painting the interior of the house is our job as we can do it little by little without having to gut the place if we get someone else in is my argument. We picked up the fertiliser and arrived at our storage place in Prabhat.

What immediately seemed strange was a large bench had been pushed against the door. When we went to unlock the door we found it already open and moving inside we found all the boxes opened and our stuff strewn all over the place. We had been burgled before, when we were in the UK, and it leaves you with a strange sense of disorientation. Did we leave it like this? Perhaps an animal has got in here? An animal that hassystematically opened every plastic box and cardboard box and gone through their contents. It must say something about our taste that they didn't appear to have taken much. There was nothing valuable there, furniture, some paintings which they decided were too avant garde for their taste I guess, lots of kitchen utensils and clothes - the warm clothes from the UK and Canada. It wasn't easy to guess what they had taken. I hadn't been to Prabhat for a while and hadn't hankered after anything particular. I knew the furniture that was there but we had already opened the boxes and taken to Saraburi that which we wanted or was valuable. We got the sofa we wanted and loaded it onto the car. They had entered through the roof as far as we could tell and there was little we could do to prevent that again. Ploy will return today to put the clothes back in the boxes. We could find somewhere else to store the stuff but this is convenient and there is little to steal - certainly not anymore anyway.

We drove home, too late to pick up the stones as they had shut early for the New Year's Eve. Ploy told me she didn't feel like going to the party. Our neighbours had set up a mini karoake in the street outside their house with 'music' blaring out. I was hungry and I had promised to cook spaghetti with meatballs for Ploy but she took one look at me and said, let''s go to the party and we don't have to cook. I still wasn't willing so she said she would look and see what was on offer. First stop was our Isaan neighbours and their family from across the street. I had already ruled them out as I didn't think my ears or head could take getting any closer to whatever it was they were playing without insanity setting in. In any case, call me snobbish, but I find Isaan food difficult to take as they usually, out of necessity I guess, use the poorest cuts of meat, have a penchant for the bits of fish I usually throw away and drench their strange vegetables in chilli to hide the appalling taste. Ploy took some bottles of Leo (leaving me the Archa) out to them but returned just minutes later. I can't see what the food is, she said. It's dark and all the food is black. Never mind, I said, let's go to your friend's party down the road. Yes it is a children's party but that night, chosing between 130dB of Morlam or children, I chose the latter.

I quickly changed and we took the short walk down the road armed with Ploy's sausages and a cake she had bought. As soon as I arrived the woman's husband grabbed me and beckoned me to sit down at the Man's table, replete with dishes of food and the ubiquitous bottles of whisky. Mai Ow, mai chawp, I muttered as they started to pour me a whisky. Ah, he must be gay was the look I got back and they started to pour me Coke instead. Do you not have beer, I asked in my hesitant Thai. Beer! Yes, and the gay attribute was taken from me albeit I was the only one at the Man's table to drink it. Later an elderly gentleman joined us and he drank the luminous green fizzy stuff so the gay moniker was moved to him.

Ploy immediately grabbed me to introduce me to various people before I was told to go and sit down again. Obediently walking back to my chair I stumbled across the children, all of whom stared at me, and some tried out their English on me, which is usually limited to what's your name''. After that they are reliant on my Thai so we go through my usual conversation subjects, 'Where do you live', 'How old are you', 'Do you like beer' and 'Have you ever seen a grown man naked'. After that I returned to my seat. Karaoke started up but at at a more reasonable level and all the children danced to it.

The lady that organised the party, she of the spiritual elephant god possession, cooks food for a local children's school. This party she held was only as an act of 'jai dee' (good heart) for the local children. She had even bought presents for all of the children. I ate generously of the food at my table - very good it was too - and eventually Ploy emerged from the kitchen with Pinky, who we had sort of unwisely brought along. This headstrong dog, who ravages our house and garden, we somehow trusted to bring to party, off leash (she doesn't have one anyway) and she behaved herself impecably if somewhat excitedly. Capable of biting the heads off the children she lets them pat her and play with her whilst she forages for food, the chicken drumsticks proving a favourite despite my warnings about dogs and chicken bones; I didn't fancy having to give our dog the kiss of life but they seemed to be eaten whole so I guess it didn't matter.

Ploy broke all convention by joining me at the Man's table - the women were all sat in a row opposite us on plastic seats and knew their place and we watched the children excitedly play. How far removed from any visage of a place I thought I would find me enjoying myself at. But I was. The food was good, my Man friends were pleasant and always ensuring I had sufficient quantity of ice and beer, the children were great fun to watch and so was Pinky as she stalked the area for food.

We took the short walk home and spent the next hour sitting on our veranda, just the three of us, Ploy with her usual glass of iced water, Pinky with her bowl of non-iced water which she always steps in to drink for some reason, and me with nice glass of Chilean Chenin Blanc. It has been a good year hasn't it, said Ploy.

Ambition

It has been a long time since I have looked forward so much to a New Year. It is has been a long time since I felt so energised to do things in the coming year.

Things have just clicked into place during 2010 and I feel I am now free from the corporate nonsense that has dragged me down for so long, free from the requirement to conform to processes and structures that I think are idiotic and that stifle my limited creativity. I have found myself, slightly through accident and slightly through necessity, in a country I am growing to like a lot. I keep saying it, but the fact we have been able to purchase our house and with the cost of living so (relatively) low we have a peace of mind that we have never had before. Even if SingMai is not a success I will find something else to do here that puts some food on the table, but that is increasingly looking an unlikely turn of events. So here is the list of things I would like to achieve in 2011. Who knows if I will get there, who knows what surprises may yet be in store, but it will certainly be fun trying.

  • The novel is written but by the end of 2011 I want to shape it into something I feel I can present to others without fear of total humiliation. Of course, publication is the aim but maybe I will just put it up for free on the website.
  • And talking of writing, I want to finish that (barely started) book on analogue video processing.
  • And finally, on the subject of writing. 2010 saw this website get nearly 1 million hits and just under 17,000 unique visitors. It has been about the same for years now even though the only page regularly updated is the Diary page. So in 2011 I will try and make more of an effort to add content to the other pages, (particularly the Art History pages, the second most popular pages after the Diary). That will mean giving serious thought to the art history book and it is long overdue that I did, but three books in a year is too much (and there is the semi-auto-biographical one too, so four). But the ground work for the art history book could be researched on the website during 2011.
  • SingMai of course has to be the number one priority. We currently have one large order on our books and one, we are told, is in the pipeline. But 2011 is a year of self-indulgence. No more special orders will be accepted, it all about our first four stand alone products, one of which is sitting beside me as I write this, the second is with our Singapore sub-contractors waiting in the queue for PCB layout. 2011 is the year when SingMai goes it alone as it were and also is the year when I hope we can start to look for some land to build our own offices.
  • And lastly, 2011 is the year when I try to set aside some time to learn the Thai language on a serious basis. 30 minutes a day should do it but it needs a routine so it doesn't get quickly neglected. Please don't let me get to the end of 2011 knowing just a dozen more random phrases!

There are lots of little things too, of course, like painting the inside of the house and making time to get that proper holiday that we both deserve. There are also some initiatives to help technology start-ups in Thailand that I may be involved in, and that could be fun.

I have not written about Ploy's ambitions but I know she has some. As soon as I mentioned about buying some land she immediately started telling me about some area she thought had great growth potential and also that the shop premises at the front of our estate are available for 'just' a million baht and she think this area is a high growth area in the next few years. Always the plans, always the ambition. Maybe 2011 is the year we start to see some of those ideas come to fruition.

Happy New Year to all my readers!

Regrets, I've had a Few; Too Few to Mention

One of the Thai traits that I particularly like is they do not dwell too much on the past and don't waste time or emotion with regret or with 'if only'. (That could well be a reason we constantly see such political turmoil here as few politicians seem to learn from past events - mind you there are a quite a few countries for whom that could be said).

So it was a surprise last night over dinner, (chicken casserole), when Ploy, not for the first time, pondered what would have happened if we had stayed in Canada. Up shit creek, was my answer, although my attempt at the Thai version of this was not a success judging from Ploy's face. Certainly it is difficult to see how we could have stayed there and we almost certainly would have had to stop SingMai because the continuous outpourings of money just to put food on the table and keep a roof over our head would not have allowed us the time to get it established.

But just that morning I had been telling Ploy of my plans for SingMai for the coming year and the fact I wanted her to look for some land locally that we could build a factory on. Although there are factories available, and some bank repossessions at very low prices, they are more warehouses, usually very large empty shells, and my intention is only to have design and test here so we want more an office style environment. It will be fun too and we can pace ourselves according to the money available. 2011 will be a year of expansion for SingMai, income allowing as we will not borrow having worked so hard to free us from any debt, and we have just put up a job page advertising for engineers with that in mind.

Another outcome of this is that I think Ploy has finally come around to making Saraburi our home. I like Saraburi a lot, it is just the right mix of rural and town to be able to get most things you need without having the hassle of trying to get around a big city and with the countryside on our door step. I think what has also caused Ploy to have a change of heart, (her insistence on moving to Bangkok at some point), is the near completion of the work on the house and her satisfaction in how good it looks. She would still like us to buy an apartment in Bangkok for Tang Mo - her daughter - but no longer is she asking that we move there, (I suspect she thinks she can also stay there when she hankers for that bit of city excitement). Bangkok is relatively close, about a 2 hour drive to the centre, but for me the slight inconvenience of living here is the long drive to the airport although I don't have to travel so much anymore so that is not so bad. Land is affordable here and we have a tame builder to call upon for work. We do have one slightly annoying neighbour, but much less so than we first moved here and we have had annoying neighbours wherever we have lived. This one barely rates on the scale of annoyance and to counter that we also have lots of nice friendly neighbours.

And to evidence that, yesterday someone reported a cat had fallen into one of the storm drains. Ploy asked me to help, but not being a cat lover I was prepared to but it down to destiny. This was Buddha's wish I argued but I got pushed into some sort of action; momentarily only as our builder jerry rigged something to pull off the heavy concrete slabs covering the drain. That still left the problem of the cat, clinging to wall, head only above water, about seven feet down a sheer side. Again I came to fore with ideas. Why don't we lower a small child down there to get the cat, I suggested, but again I was overruled, and various attempts were made to make a platform for the cat to climb up, to no avail as the cat was not letting go of its tenuous grip on life. I chose a small chubby boy from the watching crowd which had grown to about fifteen people by now and started tying the rope around him when our builder improvised a lasso which he skillfully threw over the head of the cat, pulled it tight and then launched the cat out of the drain several feet into the air before the drowned animal skillfully landed on its feet. Lasso removed it ran off home.

On Sunday Ploy drove up to Korat to buy a plaster frieze for our garden. Our house is on the corner and, so Ploy tells me, it is bad feng shui to have just a fence there and we should build a wall so bad things cannot enter the house that way. I went with the flow after a brief comment that bad things might choose to use the gate like everyone else and maybe we should brick that up but settled on the condition it looked good and Ploy duly ran off to instruct our builder to build an arched wall; (although I am reasonably sure given the brevity of the instruction that I was last to know about this). The frieze is 2m x 1m apparently and will take two weeks to be made. She has also bought two lions as additional protection, nothing bad is getting in that way, that's for sure.

Today is yet another Wan Phra or Buddha day and the house is full of flowers and bananas this time; the longer Ploy stays here the more she is fitting back into a culture I feel she felt excluded from before. Now she can afford the few baht each week or so - something she couldn't before - for the flowers and fruit or the few baht for the paper shirts and money to burn in honour of her parents she can fully engage with these practices and however strange and illogical I find them there is no doubt she is a happier person for it.

Microfiction Monday No.63

From Susan at Stony River.

“I should have won that Oscar for Mrs. Miniver you know.”

“Yes Walter, you have been telling me that for 50 years, and it’s getting boring.”

 

Christmas Presents

It is Christmas Eve but work continues on our house as normal. The tiling of the garden is nearly complete and they (the man, his ex-wife and another woman) have done a fantastic job. We have had just about everyone in the neighbourhood stop by to poke their nose around the gate and say how beautiful it looks (and the inevitable other question - how much did it cost). The railings are installed on the veranda and now it is just a matter of plastering and cleaning and adding things like outside lights, more soil and the white pebbles to our flower beds, replacing one rotten window frame and some boarding to prevent the pigeons making our veranda their new love nest.

We have also booked someone to paint the exterior of the house. The cost is 10,000 baht (negotiated down from 12,000) plus the paint which we have to buy as usual. We are going for light blue for the main house, a sandstone colour for the garden walls and chocolate colour for the windows and doors. And then that will be it for while until we receive some more money when we will replace the garden fence and gate. The interior of the house we (I) will paint ourselves (myself) as we can do it with less disruption to my work, slowly, a room at a time.I had an enforced purchase, a new oscilloscope, a Christmas present to myself, as my old faithful Tektronix finally gave up the ghost. I bought it second hand in Singapore and it has travelled the world with me. I can get it repaired but it is probably cheaper to buy a 'new' second hand one. Tektronix no longer make analogue scopes which I much prefer for my work so you are forced to buy from a group of enthusiasts that think the same as me and keep these things alive. But for the time being, as I needed something immediately but not the special features of the analogue 'scope, I found this Chinese company that quickly shipped a really nice digital 'scope for $760 all in. It has some nice features which complement the Tektronix and gives me time to consider what to do about replacing it. I will probably look to buy a new analogue 'scope because, however much I love the Tektronix, they are getting a little long in the tooth and you only get a 3 month guarantee with them; a new 'scope has a 3 year guarantee.

We have received a solitary Christmas card from an aunt of mine in the UK, (the one I visited on my return there a couple of months back), which is our sole concession to Christmas this year. The veranda is finished too late to put up our plastic Christmas tree so it will have to wait until next year. With all the work on the house we haven't wanted to put effort in this year to putting anything up in the house, our time is spent just trying to keep the dust and dirt out of the house. It is a nice time to work - no Christmas shut down for us - as most of my customers are Europe and US based so they all go off on their holidays and leave me in peace. Our second standalone product design has gone off to the Singapore company for printed circuit board design and manufacture/assembly so hopefully we will have that to sell in the early part of next year. Our first product has been 95% tested with no issues so that should be able to go straight into production. Next year is a big year for SingMai as we look to introduce these new products and move away from our custom designs to a reliance on our own products. It is also a chance to break the seven day working week and allow more time for ourselves and time to edit that novel. Some move in that direction has already happened with me cooking dinner for us much more often, (last night was chicken with champ potatoes - mashed potatoes with spring onions - and stir fried vegetables. Tonight is tuna fish cakes with chips and salad).

Pinky, our dog, has been testing us recently. She has taken to tearing up pillows, paper or anything she can find when we go out together or even at night when we are asleep, (we close the bedroom door and both sleep like the dead). We have been unable to put her outside because there is usually cement drying or too many things for her to destroy outside at the moment. What has brought this behaviour about we have no idea as previously she was OK left alone, even for quite long periods. We have tried explaining to her her actions are not appreciated, tried not feeding her, leaving food out for her, surrounding her with chewable toys or even giving her a good old fashioned thrashing; nothing seems to work. She knows she is doing wrong as she goes into submissive mode when we return or I come down in the morning but it didn't stop her doing it. But then this morning everything was as it should be. Her mother was neurotic and her father was probably the Woody Allen of dogs so maybe it is something we have to learn to live with. I am not paying for therapy, euthanasia is cheaper and scientifically proven to work. At least if we put her outside she won't be able to do much damage in the garden now it is tiled and thank heaven we didn't give away her kennel.

Let it Snow

I take huge delight in reading about the demise of the UK and the last week has brought particular joy because it also involves Heathrow, my least favourite airport and British Airways, my least favourite airline.

The UK has had some snow - a light dusting from all accounts, save for the higher regions; as far as I remember Heathrow is not atop a mountain. Now it is certainly true that southern England does not often have any snow at all but the last couple of years that trend has changed. But inevitably this minor weather event has left 600,000 people stuck or in the wrong place, just as Christmas arrives. There is even a Salvatian army tent outside Terminal 3 by all accounts dishing out tea and coffee, something that BAA, who run the airport, couldn't afford from their 1 billion pound profit. The telling statistic I read from all of this is that Heathrow runs at a 99% capacity. I know of only two other businesses where that capacity is met, or even exceeded. The first is in silicon wafer fabs where that capacity allows us to get cheap memory and cheap microprocessors to feed our fetish for useless electronic gizmos. The second is dentists. In the first case you do not often have one of the dies on the wafer suddenly realise he has left his passport in Starbucks so generally speaking that capacity runs through without a hitch. In the second case it means you will actually see the dentist at 5.23p.m. even though your appointment was for 11a.m.

Heathrow is even worse than the dentist. One no-show passenger and you get that dreaded announcement by the captain that we have missed our slot and we will just have to wait until we get another allocation, probably in a couple of days but possibly longer. Arriving after a thirteen hour flight from from Singapore - extended to sixteen as you fly in circles around London - you will greeted by the captain's announcement that Heathrow are somewhat surprised to see us there and that we will have to wait in the outer reaches of the airport until the plane currently at our gate - there as it missed its slot because Mrs. Emily Carruthers had left her passport in Starbucks - is allowed to leave.

In short, 99% capacity doesn't seem a good idea for an airport. The tiniest hitch, a Mrs Carruthers or a light dusting of snow and we get to the point where there are security guards on the doors of the terminal stopping people entering unless their flight is guaranteed to leave in the next six minutes. Apparently some people have been at the airport for three days waiting for their flight. I am usually lucky enough to be able to hide in the Singapore air business lounge but even then 3hours is the maximum I can cope with without looking to buy some old fashioned razor blades and some aspirin. One of my early flights to Thailand, a long time ago now, was met by a closure of Heathrow. I was flying on SAS via Copenhagen or Amsterdam, I can't remember now, and I remember the terminal resembling a war evacuation zone. I also remember the looks on the pathetic souls flying BA as SAS coached us out into London for an overnight stay in a hotel, at their expense. Those would be passengers were still there in the morning as we were coached back after a rather nice breakfast. They may still be there for all I know.

Criticism of BAA is already being deflected with the same lame excuses used on the trains when I was young; namely the exceptional nature of the weather. After all this has only happened five times in the last two years so it certainly is a near unique event. So is a fire, probably more so. But they seem to deem it worthwhile having their own fire-station on site but for some reason require only one third the number of snow ploughs as they have at Gatwick, a much smaller airport run by another company with some semblance of what is required for customer service. It also seems that we have little to learn from countries like Sweden or Norway because they have snow six months of the year and what they do to prepare is not appropriate for Heathrow. It must be a completely different type of snow they get there. I must admit that my last trip back to UK did instill a tiny bit of nostalgia, probably because I spent it in Portmouth away from the train strikes that were happening in London at the time. But that momentary affection is immediately lost when I read of the cold stark reality of what the UK has become today.

 

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