This is page 18 of my diary archives. Older diary entries can be found here, Page 17, Page 16, 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).
Today, the 22nd, is Ploy's birthday, (her real one, the date in her passport is different), so in a feat of organisation we arranged for a supplier to visit us in the afternoon and for us to have a mostly day off in Bangkok the day before, the day of the equinox.
The day started, for Ploy at least, with a little surprise as she found herself accompanied on our balcony by a snake staring at her from out of our mango tree, (which has finally provided us with fruit for the first time in five years). Ploy detests snakes so she called (screamed) for me and whilst protecting Pinky shoved me out on to the balcony, armed with a short pole and the camera (take a photo first before it bites you and leaves you writing convulsively in pain and you can't hold it steady). It actually stayed in the tree until I wisely shook the branches sufficiently for it to drop somewhere out of sight, a worst circumstance than if we had left it where it was.
Yesterday we visited a microscope manufacturer just north of Bangkok to buy a inspection microscope that allows us to build our own surface mount component boards. It is a Japanese company but they build everything on site there. The factory itself was only just recovering from the floods, which, we were told, were 2 metres deep. They relocated to another factory to continue business and are still moving back so everything is still all over the place. They were very courteous, none-the-less, and we left armed with our new piece of equipment, 24,610 baht less wealthy, (after some negotiation by Ploy).
This investment is part of plan to start manufacturing our own products instead of sub-contracting to Singapore all the time. We are thinking we can grow that side of the business sufficiently to offer the prototyping and maybe PCB and mechanical design, to other small start-up companies, (or bigger companies come to that). We have been unable to find such a service here, which is why we use the Singapore company, and I presume we cannot be the only electronics company in Thailand that makes small quantities of things. All of this was initiated by some new designs we sent out for PCB manufacture last week, (and for which we did our own PCB design). Our visitors today are also part of this plan. Onward and upward is our motto as, although we have no new orders, we do have new interest, a busy website, a new on-line shop, and lots of plans.
Ploy also won the last lottery to the tune of 30,000 baht which she saw as sign of changing fortunes (and I saw as a sign to invest in a microscope).
On leaving the microscope factory we passed a line of shops, most still shuttered, which had a very visible water mark at least 1.5 metres high. The whole area still had clear signs of not having recovered yet from the floods and some premises looked like their owners had still not returned, if indeed they were going to.
After the visit to the microscope company we had planned to then go to Emporium in Bangkok to have a nice lunch. However first Ploy stopped off at the largest fruit and vegetable market I think I have ever seen. I didn't have my camera unfortunately, (note to self: always carry your camera in Thailand), but I will return. Off the main Bangkok road the market is just called Talart Thai or Thai market but it has football sized warehouses each dedicated to a particular fruit or vegetable. We stopped at the orange one as Ploy wants to feed me fresh orange juice everyday now and finding the perfect balance between sweet and sour is not always so easy, (locally they are just a little too small and sour).
We then joined the traffic towards the Emporium. Close by, but stalled for a few minutes, yet again, Ploy noticed a Japanese restaurant just across the road. Ploy loves Japanese food and especially Shabu Shabu but what caught her eye more was the unlimited buffet for 499 baht. I love sashimi but fancied something else but fortuitously spotted an Irish pub just opposite. So we postponed plans for the Emporium and parked nearby, Ploy to avail herself of the Japanese food and me to indulge myself in Irish stew and Guinness. By the time Ploy joined me I was on my third glass of wine as I watched the world go by, (having also had a starter of London Pride beer), and was feeling very content with the universe. My meal of pork sausages and champ potatoes was excellent. Ploy hadn't faired quite so well, the buffet didn't start until 2.p.m. so she had to order what she wanted and had decided against the Shabu Shabu because it was too expensive. That left me feeling guilty at my 1374 baht bill which is 8 times what we would have paid locally, but then they don't offer champ potatoes, (or London Pride come to that). But Ploy didn't complain and so we left for the journey home.
We were both so tired that as we entered the Saraburi district I asked Ploy to stop and get some coffee or something as she was almost asleep at the wheel. She stopped at a place called the Thai Garden, again just a large warehouse of food stalls which Ploy had taken me to before because of one shop in particular which sells cakes - traditional English style cakes in plain cardboard boxes which are bought by the hundreds, and justifiably so as they are delicious. They also do coffee so while we caffienated ourselves up for the few miles left to home I watched another 2-300 boxes of these cakes leave the shop in the 30 minutes we spent there. Coach load after coach load of Thais arrived, old and young, to buy all the food on offer here but we left whilst the coffee was still doing its work, armed with a coffee and a lemon cake.
So today we return to work but it is just those breaks from routine that make all the difference and once again we make a promise to ourselves to repeat it, and often.
Ploy is back to the hospital today.
Yesterday she went for some tests; she has been having bad headaches the last couple of months, (without telling me about them), and when she went with a friend to the hospital last week, (the friend's face had puffed up like a giant toad under attack), she mentioned it to the doctor at the same time who suggested she should come in for some tests. She will get those results today.
It could be one of two things. Ploy is 51 this month and it could be that time of change for her; there other signs too. And certainly not helping has been the stress she must have been feeling over the lack of orders, or more accurately the lack of money. That stress was relieved somewhat this week when we received payment from the Israel company, although strangely they have yet to send an order. But as soon as I mentioned that Ploy asked where the next order was coming from. Our active enquiries have now dropped down to just five, although any one would be quite lucrative if we got the order.
Because of that we have been considering advertising but that seems fraught with problems these days; it is so hit and miss. With my first company the Internet was in its infancy so we engineers read magazines. If you placed an advert in such a magazine you would be almost guaranteed that it would be seen and if the advert was eye catching, partially read. That is because most people, even if just skimming through, would open every page. Magazine editors interspersed articles with the adverts to ensure that happened. But not now; magazines are now mostly read on-line as you can see from the demise of so many publications. So the only page that is guaranteed to be read is the first page, you can now link directly to the article you are interested in and ignore the rest, including my costly advert. The front page advert is exorbitantly expensive and even then only stays for a few days - if you are unlucky during a major public holiday. New product announcements are now just a link instead of being a paragraph or two with a picture - the chances of getting noticed have diminished appreciably. Another down side of advertising is the incessant pestering of the magazine sales people; the last call I had was 7p.m. Singapore time on a Friday!
We have been asked to write an article for one electronics magazine which might get read more, but again it is likely to just get lost in the noise.
So we looked at attending an exhibition. A suitable one is next month in Santa Clara but we estimate it would cost 150,000 baht to attend. We can do a lot with 150,000 baht and if we spend that amount half of our last hard earned money is just gone. So we um'ed and ah'ed and decided to go, and then decided against it and then decided to go and then decided against it. It is too much of a risk.
Our air conditioning went kaput the other day and it is the onset of the hot season. So we called our our local air conditioning technicians who repaired it for naught. Yes nothing. Except we found out later they had not repaired it but bypassed something that left the compressor working full time. So we paid 850 baht for them to repair it properly which we will save that much on electricity in the first month probably. Still much better than paying for a new one which we had feared. But if we had to do that, we are told that would have been 40,000 baht, as it is for our largish workshop. If we go to that exhibition and then have something break like that, we are back to looking down the back of the sofa for coins.
So we will have to find another way to advertise our products better, ideally for free. It is probably just the weight of press release submissions that we need to increase; it is a job that I unfortunately push to one side most of the time. There is no sense in having all these lovely products if no-one will buy them.
But we have started to formulate an exit plan. Whilst neither of us doubts we can sell our products the reality is sales are very slow at the moment. Maybe being relatively sheltered from the economic downturn we don't get the reality of what it is like out there. I read of the problems with Sony or Kodak but I somehow don't equate their problems with ours. But we are in similar industries. If they can't sell it is likely my sales will be also be affected although at least we don't a have a few hundred thousand staff to pay the wages of every month. We just have to be patient. But should the sales remain stagnant having some other way of generating money has to be considered, and it should not be some new venture but some sort of salaried employment.
English teaching is the obvious fallback in Thailand. I could get a TEFL certificate in 4 weeks in Bangkok, I already have two degrees, (well, one equivalent), and a Masters. I have taught before, but only technically, but with luck I might be able to teach electronics or physics or art history instead of English. The other possibility I have considered is to return to the the UK and get some contract engineering work to put some money aside. In both scenarios the aim is short term whilst SingMai ''recovers'. From that point of view the latter is probably preferred as teaching should be a vocation, not a short term thing to be given up as soon as we get our next order. And, to be honest, I am very unsure I have the patience to teach a class of grubby, ill-disciplined, mentally retarded morons, and that is if I was lucky enough to get a university post.
So for the sake of students throughout Thailand, let's hope we get another order soon.
Yesterday Ploy went down to Bangkok to attend Tang Mo's (her daughter's) high school graduation ceremony. I have never seen Mo so happy. As I write this I have only seen the photos as Ploy was back very late and I was fast asleep.
Mo intends to go to university here, to study media studies unfortunately, (she is much brighter than that - I was hoping she would be a writer), but as long as she is happy and earns enough money to keep us in our old age I don't mind too much.
Things never stay down for long here. Life really is a roller coaster and just a few days after the air-conditioner fails we get further confirmation that the Israel company will order and further communication from the China company that increases the likelihood of them ordering too. Next Wednesday we meet a Thai company that may be interested in selling our products here and in April we have visitors from Hong Kong and Singapore to talk about investing in SingMai.
But as I was cooking dinner last night the gas bottle ran out and even more importantly that means no coffee this morning until the gas man commeth.
But I got a tax rebate, 800 baht, which was nice.
It is rare that I sleep eight hours uninterrupted. In Thailand I have got into the routine of going to bed early, (around 8p.m.), and waking early (around 5.a.m.), but that sleep is rarely continuous. As my workshop is attached to the house it is easy to slip downstairs and read some e-mails or do some work without interrupting anyone, (well Ploy anyway, Pinky looks up from the sofa and occasionally trots in to see what I am doing before returning the sofa having ascertained I am just mad). Often I can be found at my computer at 1.a.m. having woken for some reason and then not being able to return to sleep. I reason I have already had 5 hours sleep and working for myself I can always take a nap later. Sometimes I return to bed around 4-5a.m., sometimes I will doze in the afternoon.
This disruption to my 'eight hours' since living here might just be a throwback to the sleeping habits of the past, at least according to this report. And this year in particular we are taking measures to try and break away from the 9-5 routine of the West. Having our own company which mostly has customers in remote time zones and mostly communicates with them via e-mail anyway affords us this opportunity but so far we haven't taken it. I have tried to force myself into a routine when there is no need for that routine.
So, with the excuse that Pinky needs more exercise to both lose weight and strengthen her leg muscles to avoid her leg being dislocated, I stopped work at 1p.m. and we travelled all of 6 or so kilometres north of us to visit the Pukae Botanical Gardens.
I have passed the place many, many times but we have never stopped there for two reasons. Firstly Ploy has little interest in gardens other than our own and she shares the Thai traits of not being fond of walking and not liking being out in the sun, (despite the shade of the trees). However Pinky's exercise gave a reason to stop this time.
Secondly, the gardens are split either side of the road to Lop Buri. On one side there is a collection of broken children's toys by the side of the road such as rocking horses. Whenever Ploy passes here at night she sounds the car horn; I notice others do it also. It is apparently because there are ghosts there, a local story that I currently have no more information about. However with me and Pinky to accompany her and during daylight that did not appear to be an issue.
We only wandered a little, trying to get Pinky to swim in the small river there but without success, although in doing so I managed to slip on the algae covered stones and stub my toe which is now a lovely blue colour. We watched a couple bring their children into a natural pool to paddle and then wandered around; it is beautifully laid out and kept with regular information plaques (in Thai) about the various plants and trees. It was a lovely couple of hours with a nice late lunch on the way home (for all of 50 baht) and then I felt energised enough to return to work for a few hours.
It was a welcome disruption to my routine and one we will have to repeat, and often.
I returned from Singapore with my nice shiny new visa and a hassle free three months ahead of me; so I thought. Fears as to changes in the visa processing time were unfounded, (directed apparently at the group applications made by various travel agencies), and to boot I also had a very nice leisurely lunch at Flutes at the Fort restaurant which we used to frequent when living there; a nice gazpacho soup followed by yellow fin tuna spoiled only by the posturing of the business lunchers: 'pick something for me would you' gestured one at an underling as he talked loudly into his phone for a hour.
Whilst queuing for my visa in the rain I chatted to the security guard about the new building appearing behind the main embassy. It is apparently to be the new visa building because the various big wigs and ambassadors and VIPs obviously don't feel we should be soiling their 'home'. So by August this year we will be relegated to a side building away from the hoi polloi. The cost of this new building, S$70,000,000. I was also told the Singapore government had offered to buy the land the embassy is on as it right on the main shopping street and must be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, but the offer was refused. Never mind, they would only misuse the money some other way and the embassy is much easier to get to than the other countries, such as China, the US, UK or Japan. And maybe that S$70 million will include a shelter from the rain.
Valentine's Day was spent hiding in a bar that made no attempt to pander to the horny. As I sipped my Guinness I amused myself by watching the barbie doll girls go by with their obligatory accompaniment of a expensive posy of flowers and a uncomfortably attired toyboy with St. Vitus Dance. I didn't eat that evening, not willing to be accosted by overly expensive menus offering double entendre courses such as 'young beaver in a cream sauce' or 'coq au vin with two brussel sprouts topped with angel hair pasta'.
In the car on our return home Ploy told me that Pinky had hurt her leg again chasing a cat, a repeat of a previous episode. You would not know it by the welcome I got on my return but later that evening she suddenly cried out in pain so the next morning we were off to the vet. It appears she has dislocated one of her back legs. The vet suggested a) she lose some weight and b) we take her swimming which will help the joint slip back and strengthen her muscles. And if that doesn't work we will have to take her Bangkok to have an operation.
We hope it is not the latter. Still we have no orders and hence no income. The Israel company have not ordered despite saying they would do so, possibly not helped by the bombing targeted at their people that happened in Bangkok under the negligent watch of the Thai police, immigration and government. It was only a couple of weeks ago after the arrest of a terrorist suspect that some government spokesperson said Thailand, (specifically Thai people), had nothing to worry about from terrorism here. Then they found that house load of bomb making equipment. So they repeated the 'go about your business as normal advice'. Then the bombs. No advice forthcoming as of now from what I have read. They are probably still recovering from their surprise at the boldness of these attacks because Thailand is a benign country with only friends; apart from the south of course, and few other regions around it borders, but they had been pushed into the background so this must still have come as shock. To them, but not to the rest of international community. Usually the reaction of Thai governments is to refute such reports but in this case they have fallen back on the 'such-and-such a department have not done their job properly' excuse whilst forgetting they are, in fact, in charge of that department. Living in a slightly unstable and crackpot country has its appeal but when it means companies start to consider not ordering from us because of the government's incompetence then it starts to get irritating.
Whilst this was going on Yingluck, our quite pretty yet dim prime minister, was touring the flood hit areas to organise the prevention measures. This appears to consist of her, with her best CEO hat on, halving the time estimates for any work. This is a well known CEO/manager skill, to challenge the work force. Because the engineers who produced the initial estimate are of course incompetent and know little of their jobs and deliberately quoted much longer than was really necessary to do the job. It needs a manager to undermine them in front of the press to make them do their jobs properly. Nothing engenders that willingness to go the extra mile more. The fact that the project manager has already halved the estimates is neither here nor there because, come May when all will be 'finished', the only ones to be found will be the engineers so they can take the blame. If things do start to run late they can always throw more people at it. Another fallback management technique, tried and detested by staff everywhere because, overworked and under pressure as you are, nothing is more welcome than a few more cretins recruited from various unrelated departments and with the skill set of a retarded sloth who know nothing of the project buzzing around asking for something to do.
But at least the government here are open in their stupidity - too stupid to realise they are a few buttons short of tunic perhaps. But in Canada it seems they are taking lessons from the very best of dictators in only allowing good news to get out to the public. Canada is expert in appearing so benevolent and harmless but for years now its motives have been underhand. If it gets unfettered access to the polar regions who knows what disasters it will be able to inflict on the world. But then they appointed a Creationist a science minister, so what could we expect. The country is quite capable of inflicting far more harm on the world than China or Russia but does so by stealth, something the Thai government is incapable of. Although not a lover of stupidity I know which I prefer.
So without the Israel order I have had to alter my plans somewhat. 450 baht for the X-ray and examination of Pinky with another big bill to come if she doesn't recover by herself. It is little money but when money is only flowing outwards and we are now unsure of our next inward receipt it is time to start looking at the options available to us, just in case. One thing to complete is another demonstration unit to a Chinese customer. This will be their third as they ask for new features to evaluate. This will also be their last because even if they order, if they don't order soon, it will not matter to us. And so in motivating myself to do this extra modification I noticed the lights dim, usually a precursor to the power going off. But not this time, this time the sultry glow of my desk lamp was accompanied by a burning aroma from the air conditioning compressor.
Yes, just as the hot season approaches the compressor looks like it has given up the ghost. As it is for my workshop it is not the usual small 20,000 baht jobby so I will have to sweat for a while and hope my equipment doesn't pack in either. The comforting thing in all this is by not making any money we are not paying taxes which would be used to fund some schemes which result in the lining some bureaucrat's pocket. You have to look on the bright side.
I am not sure what exactly it was that has shaken me out of my saturnine melancholia and inward introspection, but this last week I have felt surprisingly optimistic about things. Now my regular reader may assume that may be because we finally have a new order, but unfortunately that is not the case. In fact the opposite and what I thought to be a 'dead cert' order has gone quiet and they didn't even answer my polite enquiry as to where the bloody hell was our order. Another possible has also gone quiet and they have one of our demo units although yet another still holds promise. But I can safely say the purchase of that boat will have to remain on hold a tad longer. So it can't be that.
That said I have been looking at the purchase of little run around car so I can potter around the local countryside by myself - assuming I can get my license sorted out of course. A Mazda 2 is the front runner at the moment, a green one. But that is waiting on those orders of course.
I have sent out a couple of new designs to our sub-contractor that I feel good about and an old lost friend from the UK, (who recently found me via Linked-In), is interested in his company being our agent in Europe which is also good news. So there is cause for cautious optimism on the business front. But, no, not that either.
Last night we had thunderstorms which could mean the hot season is starting. That is also good news for me as I don't like the dry season much as the weather is rather boring. Maybe it doesn't have to be quite as exciting as wondering if your house will be under a metre of dirty water, but it also doesn't have to be the same day in and day out. If we wanted that we would live in California's smoggy boredom, (barring the odd earthquake or bush fire of course). And we have the additional advantage living here of not bumping into Tom Cruise by accident and having to slap him unconscious for being part of that Scientology nonsense.
All three of us have been quite healthy recently, the spare bedroom has finally been tidied so the door almost fully opens and the garden has also been tidied and plants duly pruned - it looks quite the picture. But these are little things, barely enough to make me smile ordinarily.
Another fillip has been my virtual friend Michael, soon to be best selling author and regular guest of Geraldo, mentioned this site as a place he likes to read because of its humour. Which is nice. And such is my good mood at the moment I haven't the heart to tell him the humour is unintentional. Nor did I feel I had to mention that being British by birth he owes it to the world to spell humour properly.
No I think the change in my mood is that finally Armageddon is getting a move on. How disappointing would it be to die just a few weeks before the world destroyed itself. But after a period of relatively minor skirmishes we can now look forward to the big one. Let's just hope Iran can get those bombs made in time. And whilst America turns its war mongering towards China, (which Australia have generously offered to host), to make sure no part of the world gets missed out, the UK and Argentina continue their fight over a few sheep. We won't be left out here as Thailand has agreed to let the US use one of the airports here as a military base. Geography is obviously not a strong point of this government else they may have noticed that big pink land mass just above us; (at least it is pink on my map). That seems to be both bigger and closer than the light blue one. Maybe the Thai government don't like pink.
I mean, if you can't be cheerful about the imminent demise of mankind what can you be cheerful about. Here is a photo of our now tidied garden before the fallout cloud hits.
Inspired by this blog, What if you could only watch the same 10 films and TV shows forever?
Naked Gun2.5: An easy choice to start. As we only have unwatchable Thai TV at home, if I want to relax and watch something it is to the DVDs I go and I can't count how many times I have watched this. Funnier than the first one because the first one I find the ending drags (the baseball game). By 33.3 they were running out of ideas. This one is just about perfect as a comedy movie.
Hot Shots: Maybe not such an obvious choice but I like this movie and rarely tire of it. OK, I don't guffaw at it anymore but I do smile and I must have seen it fifty times. And Valeria Golino is rather cute. The reason I have chosen this movie is it is consistent. The elevator scene in Dark Star is one of the funniest scenes I have ever seen, I almost wet myself the first time I saw it, and I was younger then so that didn't happen so often as it does now. I thought long and hard about the Peter Sellar's Clouseau, especially the first one. Even Something about Mary made me laugh despite Cameron Diaz being in it, but over time those gross-out' movies don't remain funny. And I have an eternity to watch this movie.
The Day the Earth Stood Still: The best science fiction movie, ever, without argument. Micheal Rennie is just perfect, the film has a message as pertinent today as when the movie was made, the black and white just adds atmosphere to the movie, and Gord is an amazing invention, even if you can see the folds in his suit.
Up: The opening fifteen minutes of the film where we see the life of the old man and his wife Ellie and how he got to be where he is is possibly one the greatest pieces of cinema in all movies. Amazingly you don't even think of this film as a cartoon, but as characters you like, even the baddie, and even more so the movie has an annoying boy in it that isn't annoying at all - now that is incredible cinema.
Hero: I like martial arts movies. My first choice was going to be Enter the Dragon and I may yet find space for it. But Hero is more than just action with some quite remarkable sequences like the fight on water or the fight against the backdrop of the blind musician playing his harp. I don't think I could ever tire of watching those scenes. Hero is like a visual poem.
The Day after Tomorrow: I also love disaster movies. Now most disaster movies do little until the last thirty minutes when the earthquake/volcano/aliens destroys the planet. This one is different and it really moves on apace. Los Angeles and New York are obliterated by the middle of the movie. The special affects are incredible, the story ridiculous, and I like Dennis Quaid. The Towering Inferno ran this a close second but I haven't seen that for years now. The music is also great. The movie is not perfect, the cancer kid should have been left outside in the snow for example, but I can live with that.
Carousel: This is simple. Shirley Jones looks great, Gordon MacRae and her sing like angels, it is overly sentimental and I admit it always brings a tear to my eye when he dies, but I pick this for what is, quite simply, the greatest music of any musical, Ever. Period.
MASH: I am going to pick the TV series as it is (just) better than the movie. Any series will do, but perhaps the earlier ones with Sherman Potter and BJ. I don't have to justify this choice do I? Simply the greatest TV series ever in the history of the world.
Meet me in St. Louis: Just an incredible feel good movie with remarkable talents. It actually makes you feel the world is a decent place to live which is a remarkable achievement. MGM always made the greatest musicals and there is no better than this. It is just fun and I smile just thinking about it.
The Day the Earth Caught Fire: Just one left and I couldn't decide whether to add a serious, though provoking movie, like Bad Day at Black Rock, or an intelligent and funny movie like Amelie with the lovely Audrey Tautou. But I like this movie and I have a penchant for disaster movies as I have mentioned. And Janet Monro (who tragically died at only 38) is incredibly sexy in it.
I am already regretting not finding time for the Road Runner (beep beep) but I'll stay with what I have. Remember, these are the movies I can watch again and again, not necessarily the greatest movies ever. But then any movie you can watch again and again has to be, by definition, a great movie.
Ploy usually goes out during the day if I don't have any work for her. Partly to 'leave me to work in quiet' and also because she is not a stay at home and read a book kind of gal. Yesterday she didn't go out at all and slept on the couch with Pinky all afternoon. We went out for dinner as the water was off for some reason, (but came back overnight). Over a very good 'larb moo' Ploy asked me if we could have a little holiday. She wanted to go and see a monk in Khon Kaen; 'I have something inside me, I can't breathe properly'. I didn't argue although I suggest liversalts would be a cheaper solution to no avail; a few days away is what we both need and it needn't be expensive - we had promised ourselves more breaks away this year so we can't go back on that in the first month. So the date is set, we leave on the 29th of this month and we will take Pinky with us in the car.
I have also booked my visa trip to Singapore. I checked on the Thai embassy website in Singapore for public holidays only to find their instructions for renewing the visa have changed. Now they are asking for 5-10 working days to process the visa with a minimum of 2 days. Before I have got my visa the next day. It could be that there is no change but they may have had people asking for quick turnaround when they haven't provided all the correct information. Or maybe not, maybe they have halved their staffing levels. I have e-mailed them and not had a reply yet, but I guess they can only repeat the official advice anyway. So I have booked my flight anyway and I can change the return date without penalty.
I had thought my visa renewal was 22nd February for some reason but in fact it was the 14th. So I put in the new dates to my usual hotel and found they are charging S$100 more/night for those days. Bugger that. It is because of Valentines day of course, charging more as Singaporean couples grab a night away from their closeted HDB existence to hump the night away in peace. Their peace of course, not mine. So I found another hotel, also upping the prices but not by so much. It is also right next to an MRT station so I can take the train from the airport instead of a taxi. It all helps to save money. (I understand hotels charging more at Christmas or Chinese New Year because they have to pay their staff more, but Valentines is just a nonsense day and I feel ripped off paying more. The prices are hiked on the 13th too for those couples that want to make an early start).
We have crossed off four of the 13 enquiries we have as they seem to have gone cold, but as we did so two new enquiries from Taiwan came in worth more than the four together. We have just got to believe.
Two little'uns hatched in our own mango tree. Aaah!
Having a garden in Thailand is easy. Everything you plant and many things you didn't just grow, and grow fast, with almost no maintenance except maybe some watering in the dry season. However there are some problems to be negotiated.
- Neighbours and friend's advice. "If you want mangos on your tree this year you shouldn't water it". "If you want mangos on your tree this year you should give it lots of water". Sometimes it the same person giving this advice just hours apart.
- Well meaning tree pruners. Whilst it is good to trim the trees away from the electricity or telephone cables the people that volunteer are usually lacking in one or two necessities which they borrow from you, like a saw or a ladder, and they judiciously prune it with the same care your mother used when putting a bowl on your head to cut your hair.
- Knowing which are weeds and which are plants. The most unlikely specimens, such as those below, suddenly sprout the most amazing blooms.
- The abundance of garden centres with very cheap plants which means Ploy can come home with twenty new plants, about which she knows nothing ("how big will this grow?" "1 metre". "Do you really know that?" "No"). Nothing grows to just one metre here, if we had strawberries I bet they would be more than 1 metre high. There are no labels here saying if they like water or shade. Given a decent pot they usually grow though, which brings me to...
- Ploy's garden responsibilities only extend to an occasional sweeping up of the leaves, sporadic watering, and the purchase of new plants. They do not extend to potting plants, pruning, feeding, re-potting, less than sporadic watering or sweeping leaves on the other six days of the week.
- Anything that grows sufficiently large immediately becomes home to all sorts of creatures. The bees here are the size of small helicopters and the birds that frequent our garden immediately fly to my window, which has the darkened glass, and then spend a couple of hours knocking at their new found friend and chattering loudly WHILST I AM TRYING TO WORK.
- Thais have no concept of root structure. The nearer a tree is planted to the house, the better.
- Any fruit that the trees produce is almost certainly going to be found on the plates of friends and neighbours before I have a chance to even smell it. It seems to be a pride thing.
They say that boys are closer to their mother. In my case that is certainly true. My father was away with the army a lot when I was young and perhaps that was part of the distancing between us but it could also be just his nature; it is from him that I feel I get my loneliness and preference for my own company. My father was the engineer, but as I get older it is my mother's more artistic bent that seem to be the greater influence on me.
My mother died eleven and a half years ago, 17 months after my father; the loneliest 17 months of her life. She died of an aneurysm which was almost certainly brought on by her negligence in taking the blood thinning drugs she was prescribed for her congenital heart condition. Once my father died she didn't feel any need to continue living, especially as she was alone, although I did not live far away.Two years after she died I had divorced my first wife and met Ploy.
I wonder how things would have been if she had still been alive. Initially I don't think there would have been much difference; Ploy moved to the UK for the first two years of us being married and I don't think, from what her sister has said, she would have objected to the divorce. But would we have made that move to Singapore? I am sure she would have encouraged us to go but I am equally sure that Ploy might have discouraged me. Without doubt the two of them would have got on. My mother doted on me and she would have seen the difference Ploy made in me - they would have made a formidable team.
I mention this for two reasons. My parents have been featuring in my dreams recently; I do not know why and I have not told Ploy so the dream interpretation book has not been brought out. I am of the belief anyway, that dreams are like an overnight hard disc defragmentation for the brain's memory, so what we remember of them is largely irrelevant. But having been dead for so long it is strange that they are part of the re-ordering. The second reason is Chinese New Year is approaching and it is one of the times of the year that Ploy remembers her parents who have been dead even longer than mine. Cooked ducks and chickens and paper shirts and money and fruit and incense and the glass of brandy (for her father) will soon start to appear. It may be Ploy's mentioning of this has triggered thoughts and memories and regrets.
It may be the friends on forums and personally have triggered these thoughts because I now know of two who have or are considering returning to the UK to take care of their mothers. Maybe that has triggered the what-if scenarios.
Another possibility is that I have recently received two e-mails regarding my the pages on my website about Giovanni Martinelli - my and my mother's favourite operatic tenor. They have got me spending some more time updating those pages and I certainly miss the chance to share new found knowledge with her as well as some new video clips of him singing that we didn't have when she was alive.
Whatever the stimulus I don't think it does harm to look back once in a while, as long as it isn't wallowing in morbid regret. For me it is just a slight tinge of sadness that she couldn't see what I have become; what Ploy has made of me. The mere fact I am thinking this is a marked change from when she was alive, for whilst I did visit I don't think I did enough for her; I didn't give her the will to continue living.
I certainly have a greater appreciation of those that choose to put their life on hold to take care of their parents.
Over the years Ploy has bought little pieces of gold, bracelets, necklaces or amulets. Some of them were acquired before we met; the only major vanity purchase I have made for her was for one Christmas whilst we were in Singapore when I bought her a (genuine) Rolex watch - those days seem so far ago now.
This week Ploy went and pawned one of her necklaces. Money is a little tight at the moment, I have my visa renewal in Singapore next month, so flights and hotel to be paid for, and also an invoice from my sub-contractor to pay and I wanted to start a new project with them although that could have waited. But Ploy said I should start it now; "It doesn't matter, when we are millionaires we can buy some more gold", and so she went to a pawn shop in Saraburi. I don't feel comfortable about it but I guess that is what you have assets for and Ploy never wears it. Better than than borrowing money from some usurer. She is convinced the next order is just about to appear and I have to say I agree with her.
At the moment we have 13 active enquiries and all but one have been given the information or lent demonstrators and that one should get their demonstrator on Monday. We have enquiries from Hong Kong, China, Israel, the US, Korea and Thailand. Any one of those orders and we will be OK, if we got all of them we would be $225,000 richer which would be nice. And this week I was invited to write an article for a prestigious electronics magazine and the website is busier than it has ever been. And we are starting to send out, via snail mail, the photos we had done (below) with press releases for two new products. We thought the old fashioned approach might get more attention rather than it being lost in someone's e-mail in-box.
So we just have to be patient and keep believing. The Hong Kong ex-customer really derailed us but the recovery has been relatively quick, judging by that whiteboard, and as long as we keep paying the interest payments, we can get the necklace back.
There is a party today which Ploy is already at and I will join her later, a chance to unwind and relax, which we promised ourselves to do more of this year, a chance to have a few beers, and a chance to fill our pockets with food in case it is our last meal.
The first week of the New Year has been quiet. All the introspection of the weeks leading up to Christmas has been put aside and we have decided to just get on with work and not think too deeply about everything. Our choices are limited without money anyway so we are just working on the new products but not in the the all-encompassing way we were before; we are making sure have some time for breaks. We currently have 11 active enquries - another demo unit went out to Israel last week - so something has surely got to come from one of them. And we also are spending a greater proportion of our time on the sales and marketing i.e. more than 10 minutes a year.
With that in mind we recruited some local children for a photo session for a couple of new products. The first reduces video noise in images - the caption would read 'Reduce Noise with the SM03': get it!
The next photo is for a product which generates test patterns for testing video products.
So many thanks to: (left to right, back row: Auto, Nokia, Kanhun, Guy, and front row: Earn, Mamon and Up).
Their reward was a chance to play with Pinky (like it or not) and an icecream. And, of course, the joy of helping SingMai become a world leader in its field.
Today is election day for the Poo Yai Baan, the village head. What the relationship is between the Or Bor Tor (which Ploy put herself forward for) and this I have no idea. The two Or Bor Tors that were voted in have now gone into hiding for four years, counting their 7000 baht salary. Ploy is not putting herself forward for the Poo Yai Baan, and her friends have not been encouraging her this time.
As a result we are 1500 baht better off, 1000 baht from the incumbent, an attractive young girl who seems to have been responsible for the exercise park we have and who helped us achieve my yellow tabien baan, and 500 baht from the chap across the road who, with his bunch of mafia looking pals, have been skulking around the area looking like they'll beat the crap out of anyone who doesn't vote for them.
So this is Thai democracy in action once again. The winner is a foregone conclusion of course. Ploy will vote for the girl that helped us but takes the money from whoever will offer it. The winner is the one who offers the most money, although Ploy does tell me the mafia boss wouldn't win in any case - I am not so sure. The chap opposite has been asking Ploy to help him by 'doing the rounds' which she has refused. He didn't vote for Ploy at her elections but seems to think she is obliged to vote to him. I would have tried to get the price up. There are two other candidates but so far they have not offered anything - their idealism (or poverty) will cause them to fail.
Ploy tells me that if you are young - like in your twenties - and win the Poo Yai Baan for the second time, you get the job for life. I cannot believe that is true, but then maybe I can.
As is customary at this time of the year, everyone reflects back on 2011 and puts forward their wishes for 2012. Business leaders are asking for a quick plan to be brought forward for the flood prevention which you would expect; of those asked three mentioned tackling corruption. Given the amount of money required for these flood prevention plans you can only imagine how elaborately some nests are going to be feathered as a result of the contracts given out. Buying votes is endemic here and it is impossible to think it does not go higher up.
Will the drug user report himself to the rehab centre. Of course not. So who is to report him and bring and him there. As the ASEAN community becomes 'one nation' in 2015 Thailand could be forced to be more open in business practices - not that corruption is non-existent in neighbouring countries. More likely is that it will turn in on itself and resort to cheating its own people. But as long as the people accept the filthy lucre to the tune of 500 baht in a silly local election, what hope is there for the country. Yes there are a few who want change and openness but I doubt they are in control of the purse strings or will ever be allowed to be.
As you get older you get exposed to more of life's injustices. Your place in the scheme of things is more set, changing things can be more difficult. Even though Ploy and I have no children, (Ploy's daughter is rarely in contact), and having no other family to worry about, we had hoped that Thailand was our last resting place, as it were. That SingMai was the job that would allow us to stay here.
I guess one realisation you eventually come to is that control over your own destiny is limited. When you are younger you have dreams, to be an astronaut, to be a train driver, to own a brewery. Money doesn't often drive those dreams. They are things we want to do because, well why not. Money is an afterthought if it is thought about at all. But slowly we get weighed down with responsibilities and those dreams are not paying the bills. So the dreams get put onto a back burner while reality pushes us to do things we have to do, to put food on the table or to put our kids in a decent school.
When I was young I wanted to be an astronomer. But I didn't really like school very much and a friend, not my closest friend strangely, had shown me the benefits of having your own money to spend instead of relying on your parents for handouts. I was enticed and left school to take an apprenticeship. I did go back to college, but only part time, and then only to study what I had to for my job; astronomy was put on the back burner. That flame is now all but extinguished.
The strange thing is that, having made the decision to follow money and not dreams, I never actually got rich from it. Few engineers are rich, it is one of those jobs that they call a vocation. I have some natural ability at it but probably no more than I had for any other science, I could probably followed my heart to where Kim Parrott went and studied chemistry to the same degree of 'success'.
Later in my life I started to study art history. To begin with it was just for fun - a desire to learn a little more about paintings having had my eyes opened by following a group of children and their guide around a gallery. Those innocent children's questions opened my eyes to how to 'see' a painting and I decided I wanted to learn more. And so an interest became a degree and then a Masters, although the latter was hard work, not because of the level of study, but because I didn't agree with what I was being taught. That wasn't possible in science. What you are taught is fact, peer reviewed and substantiated, (although depending on your level you are often taught something that is 'wrong' to aid understanding which is then corrected at the next level). In art history it is much more subjective and although argued and peer reviewed, it is, when it comes down to it, an opinion. I found greater sympathy with theories of the 1960s than the present day ones but to pass I had to grit my teeth and tow the line.
So the art history became as the engineering, a job, except I wasn't even being paid for it. But what the art history did do is make me write, long dissertations of thousands of words a month flowed, or stuttered, out of my fingers. And it made me think because unlike with engineering where you have facts to 'know', art history is about opinions, (beyond the facts of when and where a painting is painted which you are not expected to know anyway). Even a design engineer is actually rearranging previously known facts - it is rare to invent something completely new. It is while studying for my art history that I started this website and from that I wrote my first novel. The art history study opened a sluice gate from which words have flowed ever since, maybe not anything sensible or worthy, but words none-the-less.
It may be that my dream has come to me late in life. Maybe astronomy was not my dream after all. As with engineering it is not about sitting in an observatory discovering new objects and wonders, it is sitting behind a computer all day while technicians have all the fun on the top of a mountain somewhere. Increasingly it is looking at figures and not at images. Increasingly, I suspect, it is about trying to get funding and filling in reports and following procedures. Having my own company has freed me from so many of the modern day strictures of work - it is fair to say that I do enjoy it. There is immense satisfaction in selling something to someone, especially if you get some nice comment back, which does occasionally happen, and of course it puts food on the table. But I have come realise it is not my dream. It what I do out of necessity.
Even without commitments we still have to pay some bills. I have some responsibility to Ploy to ensure we have some quality of life. But it is now clear what my dream is; to publish that book. Publishing, not because of the monetary gains, if any, but because what use is a book sat on a computer that no-one will ever read. Maybe no-one will read it after it is published but it is at least out there waiting for someone to discover it in generations to come. Or not. But dreams don't have to be rooted in reality, that is the point. But now the dream does not come with expectations; that what I do best or like to do most is something someone will pay me for.
So whilst we have plans for SingMai in 2012, I also have plans. I spent two days collating material for my first book, bringing it out from my thoughts and scribblings onto the written page. I now have a 435 page, 200,000 word tome to edit and next year I will do just that. Age means I have no expectation that this venture will put food on the table or replace SingMai - I am not even sure I want it to. But it has slowly dawned that this might be my calling, for want of better word. And I am of the age to follow it because if I had done so when I was young it would have led to Bohemian poverty. Now we can maybe have the best of both worlds, a decent enough job that I have some aptitude for that is also freed from processes and dress codes and team-building days, and my dream; to be an author. And an author that is free to write what he wants because it doesn't have to earn us money. I don't have the pressure of trying to get publishers to notice my work, of prostituting myself to their unfulfilled ideals, of getting corrupt reviewers to read it, because it is just a dream, not reality.
It has taken 54 years to get to the point where I can follow my dream; 54 years to realise what that dream is.
I know I am premature, an accusation I have to plead guilty to in all things except work. But it seems apt to talk about it now because Ploy and I were talking about this very thing yesterday. Or, more precisely, we were talking about how 2011 was not a very good year. But more positively we were looking at how we can make 2012 a better year. Let us look at last year's resolutions:
- 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!
How many were achieved? Zippo. Not even half of one. Let me deal with them in order:
- Not a single word extra has been written in an entire year. The only achievement was printing it out so I could edit it. I use it as scrap paper now. I did read about self-publishing this year and I would really like to give it a go, but first it needs some serious editing. Never a week goes by without me thinking about it. Always a week goes by without me doing anything about it.
- See the first paragraph.
- Well, a little progress. I have updated the Martinelli pages on the website, one week ago. But we will achieve 20,000 unique visitors this year and about 900,000 hits so at least it hasn't gone backwards.
- That product's sitting beside me. It is sitting beside me now as I try to finish it, one year after I started it. If there is one achievement we did manage this year, it was shedding the Hong Kong customer who completely monopolised our time and energy for the entire year. Our fault, I know. Now we have no special orders on the books (well none at all actually) but seven serious enquiries so things are recovering, slowly.
- And my Thai. If anything it has gone backwards. The books are still out - they always are - but my conversational skills and reading ability are probably worse than a year ago.
Spilt milk and all that. When talking yesterday it was clear that our entire year was spent with two customers, only one of which paid us anything like the reward for our efforts, with a disproportionate amount of time spent on fighting bureaucracy. Yes we had other orders but our own products are still not advertised and only this month have we started working on them again. We have also ended up using all our financial reserves by having lots of these new products without getting any sales for them. So for 2012:
- Self-publish that novel. Or maybe the fictional autobiography. Whichever comes first. Or both of them. While real books still exist.
- Forget the analogue video book. Nobody cares about it any more, except me of course.
- Update more pages, other than the diary. At least I have started doing this. I have only achieved 1,000,000 hits in a year once, in 2007. That would be a good target for 2012.
- Move to Singapore. That is actually a personal as well as business aim. A casual e-mail seems to have opened a door that I want to enter as soon as possible. We will keep the house here and return often but SingMai Singapore should be up and trading by the end of 2012 and hopefully I will be on my way to achieving permanent residency there again. We will also keep SingMai here as it owns our house here but also because I hope we will have our first Thai customers in the first quarter of 2012.
- Forget the Thai and take the pressure off myself. Put the book back on the shelf for now. If the above works out according to plan the requirement relaxes anyway. Maybe then I will pick it up better. The only formal Thai lessons I ever took were in Singapore, strangely enough.
No new ambitions, just more of the same. Don't put unrealistic expectations on myself. 2011 was a learning experience from the business and personal perspectives. Singapore will allow me to treat Thailand differently; as a place to relax and enjoy, a place to get away from work and write those books or work on my website. Freed from most of its bureaucracy I will be able to really enjoy the country again.
A Happy Christmas to all my readers and I hope 2012 brings you all you wish for; (unless, of course, it is to our detriment).