This is page 1 of my diary archives, (oldest entry). Other diary entries can be found here:
The Doomsday Clock
The fall of the Berlin Wall seemed to announce a new era of peace between the two countries most likely to bring about a nuclear holocaust, Russia and America. But since that day things seem to have just been getting worse, although notapparently on the major scale of these two countries. Lots of wars, in far flung countries, but nothing that seemed to be more than a historical blip. It is significant then that the scientists responsible for setting the time on the 'Doomsday clock', (http://www.thebulletin.org/), have decided to move us two minutes closer to Armageddon, (http://www.thebulletin.org/minutes-to-midnight/), although not necessarily because of an impending war between what is left of Russia and the US. But indirectly, these two countries have moved us closer to the end, through the vast, largely unprotected, nuclear arsenals of Russia which can find themselves in the hands of those that do wish to use them, to the political instability in the middle east and the rise of terrorism, and global warming, the latter two of which are certainly not helped by the US position. Having lived in Asia, Europe, and now Canada, it is interesting to see the respective positions each country held. In Singapore for example matters such as SARS and bird flu had, and are having, huge impacts on life, and there is continued worry over the rhetoric between Taiwan and China, (again fuelled by the US statements). It is difficult to see how things can get better. Politics today is all about short-termism: even wars seem to be fought for political gain; with such clamour from an ill-informed populace, and the vote-winning reactions of the politicians, who is there to solve these problems? Wars are fought in the name of democracy, but it is democracy that creates the problems in the first place. Democracy is selfish, very few individuals vote alturistically, no politician has a mandate, 'to make the world a better place', indeed that voting populace are usually trying to get the politicians to pull up the drawbridge. These problems will not be solved without a world-wide consensus, and a consensus based on science and philosophy with the best minds we have, not on the populist views of some has-been actor. In one of my favourite films, the 1951 science fiction film, The Day the Earth Stood Still, the alien, Klaatu, charged with informing the earth that it must live peacefully or be destroyed, quickly realised that by talking to politicians and world leaders his message would be lost, and instead he chose to talk to the leading academics of the day who would understand his message. We do know what to do, but how will it ever come about?
A Winter's Tale
Winter has finally arrived. The temperatures are consistently below zero - todays maximum is -8degC - and the snow is crisp and even. The bad weather strated with a night of freezing rain, which left my car looking like a giant ice cube, and ice that was impenetrable to my scraper. I still have not beeen able to clear two of the rear windows where the heater does not reach. Ploy has bought a new hat, and new furry boots: any sense of fashion has been given up to a sense of being warm. Yesterday the schoold were closed because of the ice, but today is her first full day at the English school.
I have made a formal request to my employer to stay in Canada and not move to California later this year. I am waiting to see the outcome.
I have published a new chapter of my novel, you can read it here, Chapter 4.
I have settled on a title for my Masters' art history dissertation, 'The Four Dimensions of Art Theory', although it is subject to approval by the tutor. I feel happy I have made a much better start to this year than last year, let's hope I can keep it up.
There is a wonderful article in the Independent today. Having worked for a large multi-national company I have been exposed to this sort of English usage for a while now, and it makes my teeth grate every time I hear it. It is particularly prevelent in the management and marketing departments, for exactly the reason Robert Fisk highlights, 'For we are not using words any more. We are utilising them, speaking for effect rather than meaning, for escape.' I suspect that this use of language stems from large corporations, but it has been readily adopted by politicians. Speaking for effect, because they are unable to utilise the language as it is, and because they have nothing of substance to say, why not invent a language that has no substance. On the subject of language, I love this book, which I refer to constantly. It has many real, humorous examples of the incorrect use of language.
Ploy has started her English lessons on Friday, six hours a day, five days a week. They are not cheap, $5/hour, but it will be good to fill in the gaps, and improve her reading and writing. I just hope they don't correct her use of 'Yes' and 'No'. I have got used to her answering my questions incorrectly, (because of the structure of the question in Thai, which makes a statement and then adds 'no?' to the end). Now I will not know what her answer is. Harbingers of Doom I see from this article that there is a comet visible again from the U.K.
The Celebrity and the Sportsman
I liked this article in the Independent newspaper..
Times, they are a'changing
Almost before the metaphorical ink had dried on my diary entry, things had changed. Ploy has managed, through the intervention of her accountant in
And today I found out it looks like I will be able to renounce our permanent residence status and get our CPF (pension) money back without having to return to
The Celebrity and the Scientist
This article from the BBC news website is worrying on a number of levels, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6227581.stm.
There is another side to this however. Science has made mistakes before, and some of those mistakes may be responsible for the skepticism with which it is now held, although personally I think it is down to lack of education. Joanna Lumley, rather unfairly, I feel, grouped in with the other non-entities mentioned in the article, has apparently said, “We cannot go on force-feeding animals chemicals and growth stimulants the way we are. Why do you think cancer is roaring ahead at the moment?” The problem with this statement is the unproven link to cancer so the statement was pedantically refuted. However, I think common-sense says, force feeding animals growth stimulants doesn’t feel right, and at the very least seems to make the food taste of nothing. Who is to say the next study would not suggest a link: the black and white statements, whilst correct based on current knowledge, could be tempered a little. I guess that would dilute the message that is being made, and would require intelligent interpretation, which is exactly what isn’t happening now.
The Shape of Things to Come
Back on line at last! The Internet access at the B&B was problematic to say the least, and now we have moved to our rented house in Waterloo I have had to wait over the busy New Year period for our Internet and cable TV to be connected. The house is nice enough, a two bedroom townhouse with a separate basement which I use as an office: it nice to have the independence and a kitchen again. Ploy is settling in here slowly: she got a cold almost immediately after arriving and I think I under-estimated the impact the change would have on her. It is her fault, she seems so indestructible most times.So 2007 has arrived and I wonder what this year will have in store for us? The predictions I made last year for 2006 would be accurate enough to qualify me as Bush's court astrologer, so this year I don't think I will be so bold. Some short term predictions maybe:
Although Ploy has only been here just under two weeks, we did manage to drive down to Niagara Falls last Saturday. Ploy thought they were more impressive than the Grand Canyon, and she also managed to lose some of our money at the casino there. In hindsight it may have been on that trip she picked her cold. She approves wholeheartedly with our car, she keeps mentioning people that are looking at it. It could be that they are either looking at her, or it is just that the car is new on the market: I will take the credit for its purchase though, it is not often I buy something that meets with such approval.
The spirit of Christmas past
This website seems to go from strength to strength: writing it is proving very satisfying: this year we will have had over 5,000 visitors and over half a million hits, from over 50 countries. I hope I can keep it interesting for 2007. Sawadee Pee Mai to all our readers.
I have known Ploy for over 5 years now. I have mentioned many times how, when we met, I was just drifting, and it seemed as if my life was pre-ordained to be ordinary. Ploy has changed all of that. Today I heard I had passed the second year of my Masters in Art History, (my project can be found here, Art History), and with some application and luck, by this time next year I will have an M.A. Art History after my name. Yesterday I signed the lease on a house here in Waterloo. We have a new car, and we have now paid off the car in Thailand, and our house there has a new garden and car port. The job is interesting and my prospects look promising, and in 8 days Ploy arrives. I have been posting chapters of my novel on the UK-Authors website, (under the pen name, Sanuk), and one of them has been flagged as a 'great read' which is very encouraging. All of this, and more, is down to Ploy's gentle persuasion, cajoling and belief in me. I now believe in myself. Almost anything is possible, and it is all because of my darling wife.
If I tell her this, she says I have changed everything for her too so I guess we have been good for each other. But when we met it is Ploy who had the ambition. It is her that encouraged me to get a new job, to buy a house, to move to Singapore. Without her, I would probably still be living in a drab rented apartment, with a drab job, with the drab UK weather, (not that Canadian weather is anything to write home about), dreaming of working and living in an exotic place. It is her that made me knuckle down to finish my university essays when I was ready to call it a day. And it is her that wants to me to write my novel, to get a doctorate, to buy a house. I don't know where she gets her drive from, but I am grateful for it.Tonight, I think, a small celebration is probably due, (probably better I do it alone as Ploy is now telling me to save money for the house). Thank-you wan jai.
Home thoughts from abroad
A friend pointed out a new Thai/Western website and forum that is refreshing in that it seems to have no agenda except to positively promote such relationships, Geoff and Amy. Good luck to them, the web needs a site like this compared to the testosterone filled sites that discuss Thai women as little more than maids or slaves. It has some female contributors as well, which is a good sign.
Pen and Ink
I have posted some more photographs of the Niagara Falls here, Travels.
With more time to relax, and also more quiet, I have been trying to write more on my novel. The synopsis has been firmed up, although I do change emphasis as the characters develope and I feel certain things would not be in character for them. Who knows if it will ever be finished, but it is fun to do, and it is revealing to explore my thoughts and commit them to paper. Matthew is an introspective young man whose best friend is Frank. The story opens with Matthew and Frank listening to their newer friend George expounding another one of his idealistic fantasies. His telling is interrupted by Hannah who Matthew falls in love with at first sight. However it is Frank's easy charm that wins over Hannah and the two of them start dating. Whilst we follow the progress of Frank and Hannah's affair, Matthew learns more about George. George tells Matthew of his ideas of a world without money, on ethics in business, on Mondrian’s and Kandinsky's vision of a better world. But George also has a darker side. Throughout the story we read of George's anger at his work, his strained relationship with his mother with whom he still lives, and his infatuation with the girl next door. We find that George had been married before but his wife had died of cancer. In the meantime Frank and Hannah's relationship has ended and united again, the three of them decide to go to Thailand for a holiday. George has been before and proceeds to show them the seedier side of life in Thailand. Matthew, wearing his heart on sleeve as he does, falls hook, line and sinker for a Thai girl, oblivious to the fact she is a prostitute that George has matched him with. Frank tells Matthew what he has learnt from George but Matthew doesn't want to know and the friends fall out. A year passes before the Matthew meets Hannah again by chance. Hannah is recovering from a brief and disastrous marriage whilst Matthew is also recovering from his own failed relationship. This time Matthew manages to talk to Hannah and they start dating. Matthew knows this is love. Matthew calls Frank and George and the friends start meeting again. Frank is happy Matthew has found someone new but George constantly tries to split the two of them up. We read of George's violent dreams (or are they dreams?) and his increasing obsession with the girl next door. In the final chapter the four of them are at a party. George, the last to arrive, watches Matthew and Hannah dancing. He grabs a knife and murders Hannah, the girl next door.
Have Wheels, will Travel
I had a bit of shock today. I got my first salary statement and for the first time since I left the
I have bought a new car, (Mazda CX7), which arrived yesterday, so we will be able to go out and look around a bit, even if the weather turns for the worst. Today, I drove the 150km to Niagara Falls. What a majestic sight! As you drive into Niagara, I turned left and straight ahead of me were the falls: it looked like the road was going to tip us directly into them. I don't think you could ever tire of looking at them, and as it was cold it was quite quiet there.Once Ploy arrives, now we have some transport, we can also start to look around for a house to buy. There are some very nice looking affordable bungalows here, and even if we do move to California in a year we either sell it or, as Waterloo is a university town, rent it out.
Meeting my Waterloo
I have had two weeks to aquaint myself with Waterloo, where I am now staying. I must say I rather like the town's rather faded old-worldly feel. As I am staying in a B&B, I am eating out most evenings and the quality of food has been very good. I had an excellent Italian meal at a place called Ennios, there is an excellent Indian restaurant just a few minutes from where I am staying, the Rude Native Bistro continues to produce eclectic and excellent food, and last night I treated myself to a steak, which was really beautifully cooked, at the rather strangely named Ali-Baba restaurant. Unlike a lot of steak restaurants it wasn't just about the steak either, the starter of a goats cheese, raspberries and orange salad and the vegetables and brandy and green peppercorn sauce that accompanied the steak were also very good. I also noticed the lack of many MacDonalds or Burger Kings, but it did not take long to realise that here they are merely replaced by the ubiqitous Tim Hortons. There must be 4000 of these outlets in Waterloo alone, and to know the quality of the food you only need to look at their TV advert for the breakfast sandwich, where they make a feature of the fact they use 'processed cheese'. I also have tracked down a Thai restaurant, although it unfortunately was closed on the Sunday: another day. Another discovery since I arrived here is Canadian wine. I had never heard of it before - apparently it is not exported - but it rivals anything else in the world. I have so far sampled some phenomenal Reisling and last night, and perhaps surprisingly given the weather, a really good Pinot Noir. The weather has so far not been too bad, today was a quite a pleasant 12degC. But the week ahead is slowly going to cool down with the possibility of snow over next weekend. Ploy may have to stay a little longer in Thailand as she has someone interested in buying our land: if she waits much longer she may be in for shock when she arrives. Today some flights to Vancouver are delayed because of snow!
Oh! so Quiet
It has been a week now. Everything has gone well, I feel reasonably settled at work, and I am keeping myself busy. I am still finding the cold a little difficult to cope with, especially as I have now given up my hire car: this morning I walked to work – just 30 minutes – but already we had a slight dusting of snow and I wonder how I will cope when it gets properly cold, as I am constantly and enthusiastically told it will. My three boxes of personal effects should arrive at work today, which should help the feeling of belonging. Last Saturday, as I had to drive to Toronto to give back my car, I spent the day wandering around. It seems a nice city, although it was a shame the art museum is being refurbished as most the galleries are closed. It certainly didn’t have the feel of a large city and I think Ploy will like it when she arrives here. Currently she is supervising some work on our house in Thailand, some routine repairs, the building of a car port, and having the garden landscaped, if that is the right term for our small patch of land. That should be finished in the next couple of days, and then it is a question of waiting for my first pay check so I can buy the tickets for her to come here. I hope we will also be able to afford the deposit on a new car as well, so we can go visiting places at the weekends. The one thing that is a marked change from Singapore is the quiet, both at work and in the town. I guess that is inevitable moving from a city of 4million to a town of 120,000. However the shops shut early, especially on Sunday, and I guess the cold discourages people from going out so often. But it is also lots of little things, like the Singaporean obsession with mobile phones - I have hardly seen one here.
The silence has encouraged me to read more: currently I am reading Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion. I am so grateful to my parents and particularly my mother. I am unsure why, but she did not have me christened and stopped me from going to Sunday school. By releasing me from the indoctrination of a church, I now read Dawkins’ book with a sense of relief and thanks. When you register for permanent residency in Singapore they ask your religion; when I replied atheist I noticed it was entered as ‘free-thinker’. That freedom of thought has given me strength throughout my life without me really knowing it. I know there is no other-worldly crutch waiting there for me should I fall. I know this life is all I will have and I should try to make all I can of it. However, the book has also left me feeling a little despondent. So many figures today seem to rely on the fictional crutch, (“I invaded Iraq because God told me to”), it seems any action can be justified without having to have any personal responsibility for it. I cannot understand how any well-educated person can justify belief in a God; the contrary evidence – or lack of it - is overwhelming. Education seems to be the key to this, but not the education that we see today.
In Singapore there is hardly a school that does not profess to be affiliated to some Christian dictate. Why, in a city that is 75% Chinese? Surely it would be expected that Buddhism would be the dominant ‘religion’. Why, in a city where science and engineering is held up to be the future, do the students that will become those engineers and scientists get indoctrinated to believe in everything that is contrary to their learning? How can the biology teacher in this school teach evolution and then send the children out to a lesson in religious studies? How can the physics teacher teach cosmology ‘knowing’ that everything he taught is bunkum because actually a big bearded man did it all? The problem is the children are not taught to think: they are taught by rote, and my experience of working in that culture is that questioning your teacher, or manager, is taboo. My school teachers encouraged discussion; allowed a lesson to sometimes veer off subject because it was interesting, because what they were doing was teaching us to think. Unfortunately, in so many establishments now, that is not the way to progress, and certainly not the way to get to be president of the United States. I don’t know how we can reverse the process: if Dawkins is right and over 50% of the U.S. population believes in God, how can anyone get elected who is a stated atheist. Dawkins’ book will only be read by that small percentage of the population that is open-minded enough to accept some of its arguments, or at least to pursue some of the references to form an opinion by themselves. For the majority of the banjo-playing numbskulls it will not change their opinion one iota.
A New Job
It was 13 hours from Singapore to London and then, after a four hour stop over, 8 hours to Toronto, and then a 1 hour drive to Waterloo, but I am finally here. It took a little while to recover from the journey, starting as it did at 11.20p.m. after a day of running around, and starting in 28degC of heat and humidity and finishing in 4degC of drizzle. I am staying in bed and breakfast place, nice, warm, cosy and quiet whilst things settle down (www.bbcanada.com/sugarbush). Yesterday I wandered around a little, well more than a little really. The main street, King Street, goes through Waterloo, as well as the nearby city of Kitchener and I walked its length and then back again. Lined with a mix of small shops, the odd mall or two, the intriguingly named building, the Transylvania club, restaurants and pubs it seems to offer interest, (it was Sunday so a lot of places were shut). But it was cold, 3 degC with a cold wind. Some people were ice skating on a small rink and the surface ice which lie in mound nearby was not melting at all! I am reassuringly told it will get much colder, with -20degC not unusual. Driving here were lots of radio adverts for winter tyres, something I have only met in the north of Sweden. There seems a good mix of food here, there are Japanese, Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants and supermarket; the corner shop that I bought a map from was run by Koreans. I had a nice lunch at a bistro called the Rude Bistro (you knew I wouldn't be able to resist that). Just some much needed warm soup (herb and broccolli) followed by a steak sandwich but very pleasant. I then walked home and fell asleep reading Richard Dawkin's The God Delusion, (no slight on his book which is interesting, just jet lag and the long walk kicking in). Today I started my new job and everything has gone smoothly. I was expected, (by everyone), and it is just a small group of 46 people which is nice: I am really looking forward to working here; I just wish it was warmer.
Bye, Bye, Singapore
The e-mail finally arrived. The visa and authorisation letter were ready for collection. On Wednesday afternoon we arrived back in Singapore after going the other way through Savarnabhumi airport for the first time, with my only comment being, why the dimpled steel flooring which makes pushing a trolley almost impossible and noisier than the jet engines roaring overhead? On Thursday morning we submitted Ploy's passport and today we have in our hand the due visa and authorisation letter. The rest of Thursday morning was spent trying to get flights organised, no easy task at the last minute as this was, but I finally managed to book flights for Ploy to go back to Thailand on Friday afternoon and for me to fly to Toronto via London, (a whole day's trip). It does mean that I will arrive in Waterloo on Saturday evening with some luck and have a day to relax and look around before starting work on Monday, 13th. The afternoon was spent trying to make my luggage more manageable, as Air Canada (from London to Toronto), are not so generous in their allowance as Singapore air are (from Singapore to London). Last night we had a meal at the Equinox restaurant on the 70th floor of the Swissotel which offers a fantastic final view over Singapore and great food: the electrical storm that accompanied it all made our leaving all the more poignant. Ploy is now back inn Thailand and in six hours I fly off to London. Bye, Bye, Singapore; I will miss you.
I now sit in the business lounge of Singapore airlines, Changi airport, accompanied by one final reminder of Singapore. It is 21:53, according to the digital clock, but an unceasing pneumatic drill is going hammer and tongs outside. It is probably recompense for my final gesture to Singapore. To aid the remaining residents I decided in my final evening to summarily execute all the so called street musicians that Singapore is increasingly plagued by. Without exception, they are appalling. I took particular pleasure in taking out the blind man that 'plays' in the subway underneath Orchard Road, from the MRT station. I thought being blind was supposed to accentuate your remaining senses; in that case he must be able to smell a roti prata from 100km. Of course he may not be blind and could just be taking the pee. Whatever, he will not bother us again. And so the drilling continues. Bye, Bye, Singapore, I will not miss you.
The Adventure begins 4
It wasn't really a great weekend. It started well enough with our furniture arriving on time and safely. By mid afternoon everything was either stored or, as with the electrical things we can't take to the US, unpacked, and put in their new place. But Ploy had already hinted that a group of friends and friends of friends and friends of friends of friends were off to visit yet another famous monk and we should go along.' Where is this monk?', I enquired, to be told it was at least an hour's drive away from Korat, which is 153km from where I currently sat, newly showered, feeling fresh, admiring our newly furnished abode, reading a book and listening to Jacques Loussier's version of La Cathedrale engloutie. I rather liked it where I was and I remembered our only foray to Korat before when we arrived so late the only hotel we found had an unwelcome additional guest in the room, a huge cockroach, and a toilet that didn't flush and clearly hadn't done so for some while. I gave in on the condition that we went now and found another hotel. The trip went well enough and we checked into the Sima Thani hotel at a whopping 2000 baht/night. The room was nice though and when we went down for dinner at the hotel, lo and behold, there were the group of friends who we were to meet tomorrow (incidentally we were charged twice for our dinner as our new friends paid for us and then we were charged again even though Ploy challenged it, (our friends had left by then). The next day we wandered around Korat in the morning and in the afternoon of Loy Kratong day, (when you float all your troubles away down the river in a little boat of flowers), we started towards the monks place, called Wang Nam Kio, or Green water palace. It took some finding and is a small place that the monk and a few other monks have built from scratch. I have done this sort of thing before and waited for the friends to arrive before we all sit before him, give him some gift, and he gives us a combination of philosophy and fortune telling. This was to be different. A line of men started to form, each with a gift of flowers that they bought for around 999 baht (lucky for the monk). In turn they have their back inscribed with a series of symbols which supposedly give some protection from evil spirits. "Did it hurt?' I asked, to be told through gritted teeth it did not, but as each of the nine or ten symbols was drawing blood I guessed it did and in the morning it would be intolerable, to say nothing of the opportunity to have HIV (not so lucky for the recipient). Save for a couple of breaks when the monk inscribed some symbols on a golden statue of the Buddha, (in response to a gift of course), this went on for four hours. I asked Ploy how long this would continue. Patience, she said. I pointed out that every man in Korat and the surrounding area must have been done by now and they must be coming back for seconds. He will see us soon, she said, just as another monk pushed us further to the side to make room for some newcomers. At midnight we would go to the water and he would give us good luck, Ploy continued. Midnight! That was six hours away and then we have a 200km drive along treacherous roads with only a large number of drunken Thais returning home from Loy Kratong celebrations for company. I won't bore you with the details but we left with just a final parting glimpse of more men being punctured. You can find photographs of this event here, Wang Nam Kio.
The Adventure begins 3
On the way back from Bang Saen Ploy said she wanted us to visit a monk she had been told about and to give tamboon (merit making). As we approached Ayuttaya we started to see evidence of the flooding that we knew had badly affected this area. As we left Ayuttaya and turned for Sena, where the temple was situated, we met with a closed road and a detour. However this road was lower than the flood level, which was held at bay only by mounds of mud and sandbags which was being breached in a few places. People lined the roadway with their few possessions they had salvaged from their submerged houses and were trying to feed both themselves and their livestock. Mile after mile we weaved our way through this scene of devastation, seeing little sign of help by the government save for the occasional tent and some water bottles. I eventually managed to get Ploy to turn back although it took some pleading. The detour was long and the progress slow and I did not want to have to navigate this route back in the dark. We made a promise to help these people in some way. I must admit I felt relieved to leave the area as I felt guilty that we had a house to return to. The floods had destroyed everything from old shacks to newly built houses and even some new houses under construction. The only houses that were not affected were some old style Thai houses on stilts: a lesson from the past not learnt. More photographs of the flooding can be found here, Floods. We stopped for a nice meal on the way back; although not far from Saraburi this restaurant was also affected by the floods but was still open although the effect of the flood was being felt already in the price of vegetables. We had a telephone call on the way home to tell us that our furniture will be delivered on Saturday.
The Adventure begins 2
Yesterday we had to go to Bangkok to clear the furniture through customs. I also had to get a new battery for my laptop. The first mission was a little disappointing as, although the furniture has arrived at the port, it will not be until next week it arrives at the house. If the visa arrives this week I don't know what we will decide.
The latter went well though. We went to Pantip Plaza and initially got the same answer as we got in Simlim Square, Singapore: go to Toshiba, we don't keep the battery. Toshiba, Singapore, had told us my laptop was too old (three years!) and they did not keep the battery anymore. Anyway the good news is we found a small stall on level 2 called Thai Computer, (firstname.lastname@example.org), that replaces parts of laptops. They dismantled the battery and replaced the cells for 2,200 baht, and all seems to be well (well at least I am typing this now over 30 minutes after disconnecting from the supply, ten times longer than was possible before). They also sell replacement keyboards for laptops with the Thai characters on for those that are interested. Lastly we visited a tailors that Ploy knows to bring some more material for some jackets she is having made for me (and one for her). She says I am an important engineer now and she wants me to dress appropriately.
We are now at Chon Buri.The last time Ploy came to Thailand she fell over at the entrance to a department store because she slipped with all the heavy rain and mud there was across the entrance. She broke her nose and had several cuts which required stitches. She has come back to have the stitches removed and have a check-up. We are staying at the Pakjai Resort, (email@example.com), which has clean, en-suite chalet style rooms for 550 baht a night. However we both had a bad nights sleep because our air conditioning seems only able to belt out sub-artic temperature air and we cannot turn it off. We only had a bed cover the size of a hanky but we were too tired to do anything about it last night.We stayed the night near Chon Buri, at Bang Saen, near the sea. We have treated ourselves by checking into the BangSaen Villa hotel, (Tel: 038-382088). It costs 1150 baht a night, (including breakfast), but the view from our balcony is fantastic. In the afternoon we had a little look around and found an incredible Chinese temple, the Nha Ja Sa Tai Jue shrine. We had a fantastic seafood dinner at the DtikDin restaurant (Tel: 081 7022025): the mussels in a Tom Yum style broth, the BBQ squid and fried rice with crab were exceptional. The location right by the water's edge was also tremendous. As you can see from the photograph the company was also very easy on the eye. More photographs of Bang Saen and the temple can be found here, Bang Saen. Today, as there is no news of the visa or work permit, we are returning to Saraburi.
The Adventure begins 1
Two days before we left Singapore we invited out our neighbours from Bishan for a meal; to say thankyou for all they have done for us over the past nearly two and half years. From taking our washing in when we were out and it started to rain, to bringing round dishes of noodles when either Ploy or myself were living alone for some reason, to lending all manner of things that we found ourselves without, to just being friendly and being there. We will miss them, but we will stay in contact via e-mail.I would say my last day at work was an anti-climax, but actually I didn't expect a big fanfare: just as well. I said good-bye to a few colleagues, waited behind my computer screen for the stream of good luck e-mails (that never arrived), and, bored, handed in my badge, asked if I was likely to ever get paid (it is over two months since my last pay check, something to do with declaring the tax I'm told), and I walked past the gatehouse for the last time and back to our hotel. We left Singapore at 1.05p.m. on Saturday 28th October 2006. Although we have to return to collect our visa and work permit for Canada, this feel like the new beginning. 90kg of luggage was checked in, (things for Thailand, and things for Ploy to bring to Canada later as we will now not be travelling out together): thank-you Singapore air for not even batting an eyelid when we produced one bag after another. Our neighbours drove all the way to Changi airport just to say goodbye and wave us off: I couldn't believe they wanted to do that.
It was my first trip back to Thailand for a while and it was also my first experience of the new Savarnabhumi, (pronounced Sawarnabhum), airport. Although I only saw the arrivals part it looks impressive, but is clearly not quite ready yet. Because it is so huge there is a long walk to baggage reclaim and very few trolleys were to be seen, and those that we saw were situated half-way along the long travelators. The bags also took quite a while to appear. The inside of the airport is very industrial, with exposed concrete and steel, and a number of softening murals were being worked on.
Travel to our house in Saraburi took about one and half hours using a pre-arranged taxi and cost 900 baht. Our house has been looked after by two kind neighbours, a retired army man and his wife: they even cut the grass for us. Our task now was to make room for the 127 boxes of our furniture that were to arrive.So Sunday was spent doing just that, clearing our rubbish and making room. We have one large room at the the back of the house that is just used for storing Ploy's old business equipment so that is the centre of our attention. We also have moved loads of stuff upstairs to the second bedroom so the living is room is now largely empty and gives Ploy a place to relax. She tells me when she is alone she often sleeps downstairs on a mattress in front of the TV. The garden has come on tremendously, almost too much. We want to get rid of the grass and just leave islands of our plants with a path to the back of the house and rest covered in pebbles. It is easier to keep up and looks good anyway. When we are away for months at a time the grass doesn't survive so well, especially in the dry season.We also had men in on the Sunday. We have a small infestation of white ants so had men spraying stuff in all our crevices on Sunday afternoon. By the time they had finished this stuff was oozing out of everywhere. They had gone into the ceiling cavities, levered apart door frames and drilled holes through the floor to spray underneath the house. They seemed to do a great job and it cost just 3,500 baht.So the house in nearly finished inside, everything is stored, space has been made and rooms like the bathrooms, main bedroom and living room and comfortable. Now we wait for the lorry to arrive.
With all of the moving I nearly forgot and that would have been a travesty. Last night the Jacques Loussier trio made their first visit to Singapore and what a fantastic evening it was. A evening of wit, charm and consummate musicianship. The trio played their interpretations of Satie, Vivaldi, Ravel and of course, Bach. Each musician was given plenty of opportunity to improvise some outstanding solos. Now 72 years old I am so glad that I took this chance to see him before he stops touring. I have had his Play Bach CD for about ten years or more and remember his Pulsion CDs and became fascinated by his merging of so many different musical styles. The only disappointing thing was the concert was not a sell out. Indeed if you took the over-represented non-Singaporeans out of the audience you would have had space to swing a blue whale, never mind a cat. This lack of appreciation of the great artists of our time is an indictment of Singapore. I know if instead of Jacques it had been some Korean soap opera star they would have been queuing out of the door. Compensation came in the form of the young (German) boy who sat next to us, echoing every finger movement of the bassist and the standing ovation they deservedly received at the end. An evening to remember.
The packing has started. Last night was our last night in our apartment. We now move to a hotel whilst our furniture is shipped to Thailand and I wait for last day with my current employer, on the 27th October. Neither of us slept well last night, but the reason for that helps us to move without looking back. The new job is looking to be increasingly interesting and I am already getting daily e-mailed questions which is nice: my joining seems to be keenly anticipated. In fact the whole future is exciting, continuing my Masters in the art history, the new job, I am consulting with two friends on resurrecting our company SingMai Electronics, and I have started to write a novel. However moving again, especially when it is temporary for just a year, and just after I thought we were going to put down some roots and buy an apartment in Singapore, could have been a wrench. However, 'luckily', recently it has been bedlam near us. We have simultaneously had work being done on the hospital opposite us (from 8.00a.m. to 8.00p.m.), roads being dug up, lifts installed at a nearby HDB apartment, grass cutting and our upstairs neighbours have decided to be even more annoying then normal, banging and crashing around at 1.00a.m. or 4.00a.m. All of this has made us glad to be moving and we are both looking forward to the move. I shall miss the family next door, but we would have moved away anyway and in any case my new company are asking me to do some customer visits, including Singapore, so I may be back. Ploy is talking of having Daeng Mo come and join us in the US to study at a university there, and we are both talking of buying a house in Monterey. I had a dream the other night, and unusually for me I remembered it. Ploy was dying. She was sat up in bed and it was just a matter of an hour or two. I was talking to someone, I don't know who, in an adjacent room. I realised I had been talking too long and went to see Ploy, but the bed was empty: she had already died and I had not been there for her. The feeling of regret and guilt I felt I think was sufficient to wake me up. I told Ploy about it and using one of her dream books she said that dreaming of someone dying is good luck for me. That seems strange but I will take it. On to the next episode.
I was revelling in the England football team's 2:0 loss to Croatia on Wednesday. It is not malice as I don't care that much for football, but I quite enjoy seeing some over-paid super-egos get punctured. This article in the Independent was analysing the reasons for England's continued failure. I quote a small extract,
This extract interested me because it is exactly the style of management I see in the company I currently work for (but only for two weeks more). The management layers continue to be added to, justified by increasingly tenuous arguments. Occasionally we see the super-managers make some spectacularly stupid decision, otherwise they are invisible. What we do see is the middle managers running from meeting to meeting, having meetings about whether we should have another meeting, whether we need a process to control a current process, complicating things, inhibiting free thinking, wasting air and resources and watching the city burn all around them without a hint of distress. Everything is managed for personal gain, to look good to their manager. Deadlines and milestones are met on paper even though by any real world defintion they are not met, as this is the criteria by which they are judged. But all this is in vain because their managers are doing the same to their managers. And at the top we have a Geoff Thompson who is blissfully unaware of all below. He has no manager to pander to, so he panders to himself and his bank account. Why should a company that makes $3,000,000,000 profit not allow its staff the use of hotel laundry facilities until after five days have passed? Or force them to travel on an airline with one of the worst safety records? Or pay them the minimum they can to maintain staff levels? Or under-resource development but then ask the staff to work increasing unpaid hours to make up for the under-resourcing. It is difficult to blame them, because this management model is increasingly prevalent today and must appear to be the only one that brings success. But it doesn't. It is a model that allows mediocrity to rise. Inaction brings promotion. Railing against it means being sidelined. And what is success? An increasing profit? If so why? What is the profit for if it is not used to invest in the company and its staff or the community it invades or the environment it damages? The answer is the blood-sucking shareholders. The new managers and the shareholders share a parasitic relationship that appears to damage neither party. Often the managers are shareholders themselves, which ensures their loyalty to the cyclical scheme. Alturism is dead. If restricted to a few companies and English football this model would be relatively harmless. But do we not see this model in politics? Is this not democracy? A supposedly elected Geoff Thompson, a closer circle of cronies all trying to get his job, a larger middle management of 'government' all trying to become a crony, and the staff, told they are listened to but in effect dumb and with no influence. And the shareholders in this allegory? They are the large corporations that enjoy a similar parasitic relationship to government as the 'ordinary' shareholders do to the companies. Time for a revolution I think.
Food for thought
I read somewhere that Singapore has more food outlets than any city in the world. Singapore makes a lot of this in its tourist advertising but like a lot of things quantity is not a substitute for quality.You may note that on the Singapore page, in the list of favourite restaurants, I make no mention of hawker stalls, which constitute a high percentage of those food outlets. They are everywhere in Singapore but I rarely use them, and this is not because I am snooty about them: if I want a cheap meal I will cook at home. In Thailand I don't think about eating in the Blue Elephant restaurant or the tourist hotels because there is so much delicious food to be found everywhere, but here it is all the same. There is a local Chinese stall that does some good fish dishes but we don't tend to eat there so much now because the menu never changes and after three years we are a little bored with it, and I have eaten some quite nice food in others, but nothing to get excited about. The problem is there is no surprise element: food in the Singapore hawker centres is the same: just look at the stalls, the chicken rice stall, the pig organ soup, the Muslim food, the noodle stall and increasingly a Korean food stall. And it is the same all over the island. A small hawker centre near where I work had a small Thai food stall but I am sure I was the only one who ate there. The people moved to near Golden Mile (the Thai village in Singapore) as they didn't get enough custom. I used to sit while eating my spicy Thai salad and watch the customers. They ate the same thing every day with just the occasional people ordering Tom Yum soup, the one Thai dish that Singaporeans know (but it doesn't bear any relationship to how it should be, or is, in Thailand). I once ate at the centre with a few people from work. I was the only one that ordered from the Thai stall and although there was considerable curiosity in what I was eating (Yum Wun Sen, a spicy salad of vermicelli noodles, pork and prawns), I guarantee next time they would be eating their chicken rice again. And what is this thing with chicken rice: talking of the surprise element this is one dish where it is totally absent. It does what it says on the packet. Some bland scrawny bits of chicken placed on boiled rice with some red sauce that purports to be chilli. There, I have given the secret away.
A few weeks ago the Thai government was overthrown in Thailand by a military coup and this move has been roundly condemned by the US (and the majority of other countries) because it was undemocratic. The coup leaders have now stepped aside and a new Prime Minister appointed: elections are expected to happen in about a years time. I think that this highlights a problem with democracy and it has started me wondering if democracy, as practiced in the west, is a good thing, especially as the US feels the need to run around the world imposing it on countries that do not have it. It is widely thought that the ousted Thai prime minister would still be elected if he was able to stand again and his removal is lamented in the poorer villages of Thailand, as this report indicates, BBC News Report. The reason he was ousted was the rife corruption that he and his party were allegedly involved with. But the farmers of the report and many people like them benefited from Thaksin's policies and were not affected by the alleged corruption. The opposition parties did all they could to damage Thaksin's credibility and remove him through democratic processes but were unable to do so. So the military stepped in and threw him out. It seems unlikely he will return to Thailand and a large number of his party have also resigned as the corruption is investigated. I think these actions indicate two problems with democracy and call into question its viability. The first is altruism. Why should a poor farmer who has been given little or no help from previous governments of all flavours, vote against a man (or party) that gives him cheap health care and subsidised loans? Basically people vote for the party that gives them the best personal advantage and it is only relatively rich people that have the luxury of voting 'for the greater good' (but still don't necessarily do so, think of tax exiles for example). I remember in the UK the liberal party going to an election promising to increase income tax by 1% which would be used exclusively for education. In the street I am sure everyone agreed it was a good thing, who wouldn't, but privately I expect a large number of those same people would prefer to have the money in their pockets. It is hard to be altruistic when you are poor, but people are also selfish in their voting, voting for what gives them and their family the most money. This weakens democracy significantly. The other problem with democracy is education. In Thailand this is a particular problem because a large proportion of the adult population have not had a full education. So how can they be expected to assess properly the best box in which to place their tick when voting. Without education you cannot vet and weigh the statistics given to you (which inevitably do not tell the full truth). If people vote based only on what they are told then the vote is worthless. They have to be able to read alternative sources and form their own opinions from this. This may appear to only be a problem with nations such as Thailand but I believe it is also prevalent in the west. I still joke that in the UK, Sun newspaper readers should be prevented from voting. This newspaper (it is not the only one of course, but probably the worst in this respect), does not present facts which allow the reader to form his/her own opinions. It presents its own opinions dressed up as fact and I am sure the average reader is unable to separate the fact from fiction. I am reasonably sure this reader does not get the 'other side of the story' from elsewhere, but nods blindly in agreement and votes accordingly. Whilst the political systems in the west may be democracy by definition (a political system in which the supreme power lies in a body of citizens who can elect people to represent them), it is not, I believe, democracy as it is intended or should be. I am not saying that this democracy is worse than an evil dictator, but democracy for the sake of it is not necessarily a good thing.
A Faulty Gene
I was reading the Dilbert (Scott Adams) Blog and this entry got me thinking. He amusingly asks what part of human society is starting to break off from the mainstream evolution suggesting perhaps a new super-intelligent Google based group. I'd like to suggest that already the process is happening in marketing. In my experience most of the people who populate marketing departments have the same faulty gene pool and they already selectively breed just within this pool. They segregate themselves away from other parts of the organisation, particularly production or engineering, and have developed certain very identifiable traits:
Biding my Time
Things have been quiet. I am waiting for the Canadian visa to come through which will take another 7 weeks or so. We have arranged to have all our stuff packed and sent to our house in Saraburi where we will store it for a year. All the packing starts on 18th October and from then until I leave work on 27th we will stay in a hotel. We then fly to Thailand for a few days to hopefully renew the aquaintence with our furniture and wait for the visa. We also hope to clean the house and finish the garden whilst we are there. Then sometime around the 6th November we fly via Singapore to Canada to start a new life. I am really looking forward to it. I have been spending more time with the engineers in my notice period at work and realised that all the last five years I have been PowerPoint Man and have hardly done any design at all: and I miss it. It will be great to do some real engineering again. My current company is one of those where, to get on, you can't remain an engineer but have to become a manager, or worse move to marketing. It sort of makes engineering the bottom of the pile like an apprenticeship. "Go and get a bag of holes from stores sonny!". This is about to change. Respect! By the way I did manage to send my last essay in for the art history. It was a close call this time and I am not happy with it, especially the feminism section. Oh well, any later and it would have been beyond the cut-off date. I just hope if I can scrape through this year and I can knuckle down to the dissertation.
I spotted these two reports on UK emigration from the BBC News website, Britain worse than twenty years ago and More Britons consider move abroad. As someone who has now lived in Singapore for nearly three years, and is now set to move first to Canada and then the US I empathise with the views expressed in these surveys, although I am surprised by them as only a quarter actually thought Britain had improved. Although the British are very self-critical, when push comes to shove they also very defensive of their own country to the point of arrogance. Of course this is just a survey and there is a big difference between telling someone over the telephone that they want to emigrate and actually doing it, but the reasons for leaving are interesting with 'Lack of Respect' topping the list with 47%. I am unsure what 'lack of respect' means: lack of respect for Britain as shown by other countries, or a lack of respect within the country. In my view it is both: I sometimes feel downright ashamed to be British. It is not so much the government policies (from either side) as I think most people understand that the populace of no country has the influence that big corporations has, but within the country I felt it pulling in many directions at the same time and there was no sense of purpose. This is a surefire recipe for allowing extremism to rise in-between the cracks. Time has not diminished my feelings for leaving the U.K. For those Singaporeans that visit the UK I find myself apologising for the transport system, the exorbitant prices, the rudeness, the graffiti and rubbish in the streets, the homeless, Heathrow airport, the food and the weather. It seems an increasing number of Brits are coming to the same conclusions.
Just a matter of time
I am waiting for the final contract to arrive. I will accept it in a flash, even if there is some clause requiring me to dress up as a duck every Friday. As I write this at work, listening to Stuart Hamm's Kings of Sleep, I look around with a warm, comforting feeling but also with a feeling of apprehension. The new job will be challenging to say the least and I haven't had to think for a while, I can do my current job on auto-pilot, but the nonsense level here climbs every day: just this morning I was asked to redo a demonstration I did 6 months ago because some marketing idiot thinks (or whatever they do in lieu of thinking) that we somehow faked the results. Today, with a new future in the offing, I was able to politely suggest the demo could be arranged directly by the said marketer: a month ago I would have poured acid over his genitalia in an altruistic gesture to future generations. We will work for one year in Waterloo, Canada, not far from Niagara Falls, whilst the US visa is sorted out and then move to San Jose in California. Just two months to pack everything up, to move the electrical stuff to our house in Thailand (it won't work in the US) and put the furniture in storage until we arrange a house in the US. So many things to do and an art history essay to complete. And rarely have I felt so excited.
A week is a long time
I am feeling fed up at the moment. My life seems to be on hold. After the excitement of the likely move to the US comes the visa reality, strange after having gone through the traumatic process for Ploy to get to the UK that it is now my US visa that is the problem. It seems the visa allocation for 2006 is used up which means that we could not move to the US until October 2007. Although it has not been stated explicitly I guess that makes a difference to the job situation (what employer would wait 14 months after all). There could be ways around it, for example to work at a different development centre in the UK for a year prior to moving to the US. However I am very reluctant to move back to the UK. It took me two years to convince the tax office that I actually did live in Singapore and I don't want to renew the relationship. There is also the danger of being stuck there and the move to the US not going ahead. Maybe there are other options, perhaps to work on a contract basis, maybe another type of visa, but certainly the wind has gone from my sails. These two job offers were the only two I had despite many applications and I know from friends that the job market is not so buoyant at the moment. I have been told that companies prefer to take less experienced engineers that are more likely to be molded into the company practices and can be paid less: the former is especially true in Asia I believe. Speaking your mind is not something I see much of here even though the company continues to follow the Dilbert model of company management. I am sure things will look up but even Ploy seemed a little down this weekend and I usually look to her to stir me when I feel fed up.
Do you know the way to San Jose?
We arrived back from the US just a few hours ago. After a long week of interviews I have had verbal offers for both of the positions on offer and there is no doubt we will accept one of them. So by the end of this year we will be moving to the US after just three years in Singapore. It will be the third (and for Ploy fourth) country we have lived in since we met five years ago. The week didn't start well, we waited on the runway at Los Angeles for an hour as our bay was occupied (not appreciated after a 15 hour flight), the shock of exorbitant tips hit us in the overnight stay at the hotel (or not paying them and finding a horse's head in our bed in the morning), we queued for an hour to pick up our hire car even though we had booked it over the Internet beforehand, the satellite navigation stopped working and we got lost finding the hotel in San Jose, and neither of us was sleeping well. The first day of interviews didn't seem to go well and there was a clear mismatch between what I thought the position was and what the company thought it was. I really wondered what I was doing here. But things changed on the Wednesday when I met the second company, and the following day they made a verbal offer (details still to be worked out). Ploy was enthusiastic (she came with me for all the interviews), and told me to go for it. By the end of the week the first company also made a verbal offer and by then I was definitely warming to the idea of moving. We travelled down to Monterey on the Saturday for a day away from it all. I have loved Monterey ever since I first visited on business and Ploy also likes it. It is one and a quarter hours drive from work, but I used to travel that distance in the UK on much worse roads. We can buy a house with a garden, something we cannot afford in Singapore, and we can be woken by the crying seagulls and the croak of the sealions (although Ploy pointed out a Chevy Chase film we had watched where he retired to the country to write a book: on the first day he sat at his typewriter contentedly listening to a bird chirping in a tree, by the fifth day he was trying to kill the thing!). We imagined ourselves walking our dog along the beach, adopting a sealion at the aquarium and sitting in our garden growing old together. San Francisco is 2 hours away, with the opera and the art museums. Monterey has a thriving art community, in fact it reminds me a lot of St. Ives in Cornwall in that respect, with the same crystal clear air. We can go whale watching, eat Mexican food and fly or drive to Los Angeles or Las Vegas. I could learn to dive and Ploy to canoe (don't ask, she has always wanted to do it). Today I have a day off and tomorrow is National day in Singapore so I have another day off so it is chance to gather our thoughts. Ploy is already planning what to do with the electrical products we cannot take with us (move them to Thailand seems an option). The US was possibly the last place I ever saw myself working, great for holidays, but work - no. And yet here we are, about to start the next stage in our life together in a new country.
On Friday we both fly to the US. Unhappy with my current job I have been looking around and by far the best offer looks to be coming from a company based near San Jose in California. I have mixed feelings about the move, not because of the job which sounds great, but about the upheaval, just when I thought I was putting some roots down. It was all planned out, buy an apartment here this year, apply for Singapore citizenship, work for a few a more years and then semi-retirement, writing books and articles, and with the occasional holiday in Thailand. But work was getting to the point where I was regularly considering increasingly exotic ways of killing my management and marketing colleagues and I decided this was not healthy (for me). With all the high-tech companies in Singapore I did not think I would be moving but it is the US that have delivered, a chance to get out from the role of invisible employee with no influence on anything to a small company growing fast where my opinion may actually be listened to. I think, more than any country in the world, the US recognises engineers; possibly more so than doctors. San Jose has an art museum and San Francisco is just up the road. But still I am not sure. The house prices and cost of living are very high although I guess my salary will take that into account. The problem is really leaving Singapore. I like Singapore. I like the Singapore weather. It hardly ever rains in San Jose apparently and they can even have snow. I like the Singapore thunderstorms and I don't like the cold. And as San Jose is a city born on the back of the growth of Silicon Valley, am I going to live in city of talking fridges and gentlemen's clubs akin to the Stepford Wives? Ploy will not be able to work under the terms of the visa, although she has expressed interest in studying for something instead. We would have to give up our Permanent Resident status in Singapore. Ploy is the more enthusiastic of the two of us at the moment so I am glad she is coming with me on this trip so we can make a collective decision. We shall know in two weeks time.
The East End Arms
Time for more nostalgia as I happened upon this site, East End Arms. This pub used to be my old watering hole when I lived in the New Forest, near Southampton in the UK. As the closest pub to where I lived it was the subject of a tentative investigation upon moving to a new rented house. I say tentative because the New Forest is one of those areas where, if you do not have a few generations of living in the neighbourhood behind you, you will always be regarded as an outsider, or grockle. But after a few visits the barriers began to come down and I started to find myself invited to some of the local 'events'. The pub at this time was the focus of the community. You could pop in and make yourself a coffee and read the newspaper early in the morning or borrow some milk or anything else you were missing but didn't want to do the trip into Lymington. The late night lock-ins were quite frequent and often on my way to work I would still see the lights on as a few hadn't yet made it home. Ad-hoc events were organised, from rounders, to fishing and the booze cruise across to Yarmouth (although the alcohol that came back was all in our stomachs). There was the regular flooding as the stream across the road flowed into the pub and you would see the locals still drinking there, perched on stools as the water lapped around their feet (luckily the pub didn't keep their beer in a cellar). There was a real spirit to the community, the two locals always having a Guinness at lunchtime with Les feeding snuff to a dog (the owner never knew why his dog always sneezed at the pub). There was Henry, who even at seventy odd years old would walk down to the pub at about 10.00p.m. just for a couple of pints, and did so until he died. There was the regular who bequeathed 250 pounds on his death for the regulars to have a drink on him. Jimmy's jokes (and friendliness, he always invited the regulars across to his house on Christmas day to have a drink with his family), Alan's art (don't ask), Alice, Julie, Roy and Tony, and Dave the owner. When my business failed and I was out of a job for a while he gave me job in his kitchen: I will always be grateful to him for that. Of course the good times couldn't last and Dave eventually left and new owners were brought in who changed the character of the pub. The locals still went, but it was never the same. I have not been back for some years now and I wonder what has happened to everyone. I miss them all.
A Question of Space
There is an interesting article on the independent newpaper webpage, Independent Article, on the question of whether we should send men into space or whether it is a waste of money. Certainly the sums involved are extraordinary, the space shuttle has cost $145bn in 30 years, as unimaginable a figure as the dimensions of space itself. Without doubt, should that money have been used to eradicate malaria or feed the world it would have had a huge impact (although I doubt that was ever an option). My own view is sending robot vehicles to explore outer space fulfills all but one, but a vital, criteria. I think man needs aspiration. I loved astronomy when I was young and saw that as my chosen career. I was actually less interested by planetary science, but my father did wake me up to watch the first moon landings and I avidly absorbed every word of Partick Moore and James Burke as they described the moon rover and the mission. To a young boy this was exciting and even as a middle aged man leaves other non-personal events such as World Cups, the Berlin Wall or Iraqi invasions in the shade. It is not that I don't care about such events, and their influence on my life is obviously more direct, but the moon landing is the event that has stayed with me most. I am tempted to use the word trivial for those earthbound events, although by so doing I am sure I am (possibly rightly) inviting a barrage of negative feedback. I am an atheist, but I none-the-less do believe that we need some purpose and aspiration to lead fulfilled and happy lives. For me that is a feeling that we are progressing and that some hugely important discovery is just around the corner. What if in my lifetime we could find evidence of intelligent life on another planet? Is that not a more awe-inspiring reason to be here, to give us a sense of where we are and who we are, than watching the posturings of a load of insignificant politicians? If we remain earthbound as a people, our aspirations will also remain earthbound. The voids created in our lives will be filled with trivia and we will turn inward: we will not develope as a people. It may seem idealistic to think that the world can unite behind a single purpose, that starving people in Africa can find solace in the fact we are spending astronomical sums on money on exploring other worlds. But I do believe that the unity of purpose that could result from common aims will benefit everyone. One world and one vision.
When did the Personnel department become the Human Resource department? How was this move coordinated across all organisations worldwide? Who decided the date and time at which this change occurred? One thing is clear, after that specific date and time, the Personnel department ceased to have anything to do with a company's personnel. Indeed the only time they seem to be visible is when they send around an e-mail asking for participants in the departmental cross-dressing badminton competition or sending a survey asking for feedback on their performance, thereby ensuring they never have to have any contact with live people. This survey is invariably multiple choice, and as it does not include a button to choose 'complete shite' as an option I usually abstain from participating. Oh, I nearly forgot, they also organise team building events, another modern invention that becomes necessary because HR departments abhor individuality. Thank God that human cloning is nearly here and all employees can in future be made within the sterile HR department without the need for recruitment fairs or interviews. Every employee can then be genetically altered to create that unambitious, easily manipulated, unthinking, hard working, hermaphroditic (no family life or children to worry about), bland specimen that HR seem to crave for and with which they populate their own departments.
Just call me Elvis
Ploy has changed her name. It took me a long time to learn her Thai name off by heart so it is disappointing from that point of view, and also because I so resisted it, but she chose to listen to a Thai monk instead of me. This monk, in one of her tamboon visits whilst in Thailand alone, told her last year she would have to have a big operation. And so when earlier this year she did, he immediately went up the scale of 'monks to be believed'. I think I have mentioned before that when they profer advice based on an impartial, experienced point of view I have no issue. But when they move into astrology mode I start to lose patience, especially as in return for this tea leaf reading we have to pay. So when this King of Monks told Ploy to change her name because by that we will be getting rid of the old 'diseased' person and she would be able to live her life with the new 'untainted' person she went and did it, and any admonishment on my behalf fell on deaf ears. It is not as if it is just calling yourself a new name, it has to be done properly and it seems the monk isn't going to help us. Passport, Thai and Singapore ID cards, credit cards, rent agreements, bank accounts, the list goes on. And Thailand apart, where this practice seems commonplace, everyone gives her that, 'so what misdemeanour did you do to make you change your name' look. In the West, unless you are changing your name to Kylie or Elvis because of a brain disorder, the reason to change your name is because the tax office or worse (if there is worse), are after you for money. However one thing that is clear from this. I have totally underestimated the effect the operation has had on Ploy. I guess we all think we will live forever despite some formidable evidence to the contrary, yet here was this fit, healthy, independent girl reduced to total dependency in the space of a couple of weeks. Whilst I had confidence in the outcome, I guess, especially in her drug induced state, it would be easy to think this is it, so when you come out of it, things could be different for you. So what if she changes her name or buys some new clothes or changes the way she cuts her hair. I just wish I could remember her new name. She told me it was a flower.....
The most popular sport in the world?
I used to enjoy watching football on TV. By used to, I am talking about the early 1970s, my earliest memory being the 1970 World Cup finals. I remember running downstairs to tell my parents about 'that save' by my hero, Gordon Banks, against Brazil (as my parents did not like watching the same things as I did, I had a small black and white TV in my bedroom).
I read the news today, Oh Boy!
I read on the BBC website that Freddie Garitty had died. I suppose you have to be a certain age to remember him or particularly fond of British sixties music: he was the lead singer of Freddie and the Dreamers. Just a few weeks ago Gene Pitney died. I went to see him sing at the less than auspicious surroundings of Brentwood Sports Hall, but I still remember his wit, his fantastic voice, and my photograph that I queued with, what seemed like hundreds of others, to have signed. These singers were my youth and I lament the current dish of untalented dross that replaces them on the TV these days. Even with all the hype and supposed advice they still disappear without trace having invaded our screens for week in, week out. I wonder why it is? Why is talent no longer a prequisite for success? I don't think that it is the audience, you only have to look at the ticket sales for the older artists like Tom Jones or the Rolling Stones. But what happens when they are gone, who replaces them? Does it matter if anyone does? Maybe society no longer wants individualism. At some point in their careers each of these artists have been trawled through the press (especially the UK press) for some misdemenour or other: maybe society has given up looking for that 'perfect' individual, and instead of accepting the 'imperfect' individual has decided to meld us all into one homegenous soup: anyone and everyone can become a 'star', albeit for only as long as they are hyped, for next week a new 'star' is needed. It is as if some hidden socialist agenda has reduced everyone to grey suited workers and the more talented are deliberately ignored. It would be elitist to single out one individual as more talented than another. In the early part of the twentieth century there was an art movement called Dadaism. They entered a urinal into an art gallery exhibition and it was accepted: they called it 'The Fountain'. What they did was to challenge the accepted measures by which art is judged 'good'. Once any object, devoid of any intellectual content or skill is accepted by museums and galleries, art itself is debased. Without rules as to what is 'good' art and 'bad' art where can art go; everything is art? I think the same is true of the singers: American Idol is that urinal, challenging us to cry out, 'the emporer has no clothes', but instead we watch on silently. And this movement starts pervading more areas of society, not just art and entertainment. The large multinational company I work for insists on regular teambuilding events. I am unsure as to their purpose, only that I am too old to play games with people, in other circumstances, I would cross the street to avoid. Of course a structure has to be in place to ensure the organisation operates efficiently, but at the end of the day, the organisation is a group of individuals, and it is by recognising those individuals that can make a difference and nurturing them that the organisation will progress, not by throwing frisbees at one another on a beach. And in nurturing those individuals they will accept the fact that not everyone is born the same. If we continue to supress individualism where will be be? Cricket is a team game we are told. But individuals can make a difference and do, just ask England as they were thrashed for 189 runs by Viv Richards in a one-day game. The rest of the team's batsmen had an off day, but one ultra-talented individual won the game for the team. Someone from the homogenous soup would not have been able to do that, to make that difference. But here we all are, drifting, with no direction, led by a series of people with the intellect of a gerbil and the vision of a mole. As it is Sunday, let me recommend you a book to read for the afternoon. Maybe it is not too late to stop the mumbo-jumbo conquering the world.
I decided to treat myself to dinner at the Marriott hotel last night. The have a nice cafe which opens out onto Scotts road and Orchard road and when you eat alone (Ploy is still in Thailand), it is a good people-watching spot to pass the time away. After I had finished my Californian Cobb salad and bowl of cajun fries, and was still enjoying a glass of Californian Chardonnay, an oldish white haired man and his young daughter sat at the table next to mine. I guess the girl was no more than four or five years old and she had that almost perfect blend of Western and Asian features that marked her out as a future beauty. The waiter brought her some join the dot pictures and crayons and she perched herself on the chair and starting filling the dots. Every time she completed a picture she let out a little cry of delight and a giggle as she recognised what it was. But the best bit was when her father lit a cigarette: she drew herself up to her full height whilst still kneeling on her chair, put her hands on her hips, stared at her father and then, finger wagging, scolded her father, "You told me you would not smoke any more cigarettes. You must stop as they will make your tummy bad". I couldn't stop smiling at this adorable child and would happily have taken her home if asked to do so. Ploy and I have not had any children despite my best efforts, but we have recently started talking about it more and when she comes to stay permanently in Singapore we will do something about it, even having IVF if necessary or maybe adoption. Ploy did get herself checked out whilst she was in Thailand last time and apart from her age counting against her everything was OK. I also had a sperm count done in the UK not long after I met Ploy to just check everything was OK as I hadn't had children during my first marriage and again, everything checked out OK (I was relieved to find they didn't send you into a room with a load of dirty magazines, but you could do what you had to do at home, or wherever you wanted to, maybe the public library, and bring the sample in: that was embarrassing enough).
I have now been away from the UK for more than two years, returning just two times, once for a week with Ploy and once for just four days to do an art history exam. My reasons for leaving remain and I have no regrets or intention to return, but there are still one or two things I miss about my birth country. After all, nowhere is perfect.
A New Chapter
Tomorrow, a new chapter opens in our life together. Ploy returns to Thailand for a month to dot the 'i's and cross the 't's on closing her business. There is still an outside chance of someone buying it, but we are not optimistic. The main point of the visit is to tell the tax man so we don't get any unwelcome demands. Ploy will also try to sell our land by the waterfall. We have a house in Thailand and we don't really see ourselves doing much with the land for a long time. The extra money will help our saving towards an apartment here in Singapore. And we will keep the car as well, a friend of Ploy's will keep it for us: it is so useful when we return to Thailand for a holiday. When Ploy returns she will start looking for a job here in Singapore. She also wants to learn more English and Mandarin and is even talking of studying for a degree. I have also managed to get my life in order somewhat. I was being pulled left and right in trying to balance my day job, my new company and still do justice to my art history studies. I decided that all three was not possible and one had to go. The art history was the first to stay, I have come so far, and writing is what I want to do in my 'retirement': so which of the others do we say goodbye to? The nice thing about my day job is the regular wage and being a prestigious company name it opens doors here in Singapore: it is the sort of job and company that Singapore encourage. The problem was I did not enjoy the job anymore. So I talked to my manager and I talked to Ploy and I now have a new role, much more enjoyable, but probably without the promotion prospects of my previous role. But never mind, I am happier going to work and it makes the decision easy, my own company will be put on hold. Already I am sleeping better (I was waking in the early hours turning things over and over in my mind), and I am ahead with my reading for my next art history essay. I have more time on my hands, to write on this website, to try to learn Thai and Mandarin, to read books outside the set books of my course, and to sit and have a beer by the river and watch the world go by. And in one month's time, I will see Ploy every day.
I was disillusioned with the the UK.
I love food! And cooking it as well as eating it. It was my first wife that engendered this in me, especially the cooking, although she also expanded my taste buds into new areas. We had bookshelves of cookery books of every persuasion and we used to fight for the kitchen, especially if we had guests. I even cooked briefly in a pub kitchen, and still remember two ladies asking for me so they could compliment me on my mackerel and orange pate, ("The best pate we have ever tasted, how did you make it?"), something I was so proud of as it was my own creation, and I also occassionally helped a friend out in her Thai restaurant. I thought it might be fun to share some of my favourite dishes, very informally, please play with the proportions and ingredients.
Champ potatoes Comfort food. Peel some good boiling potatoes (e.g. Maris Piper, if the skins are not too tough, leave them on). Boil with some salt until cooked (knife goes through easily). Drain the water and return the potatoes to the heat to boil off excess water. Mash the potatoes with some butter and leave to one side. Chop some spring onions and add to a little milk in a pan and simmer gently until the spring onions are soft. Add the milk and onions to the potatoes and stir.
Spanish Style Chicken: I guess it is the chorizo sausage that gives it its name. Any way this is real moorish comfort food. Heat a little oil in deep pan. Add chopped spanish onion, garlic and fresh chilli. Before the garlic starts 'burning' add chopped bacon and the chorizo sausage (use the whole sausage cut into pieces, not the thin stuff it doesn't taste the same). Cook until the bacon is getting crispy and add some chopped chicken breast (bite size pieces). Season with a little salt and quite a lot of black pepper. Cook until the chicken is nearly done and add a tin of tomatoes including the juice (I think tinned tomatoes taste better than most fresh ones). Add a little dollop of tomato puree. When it all starts bubbling taste the sauce and adjust to taste (maybe add a little sugar to bring out the tomato taste). Add one sliced bell pepper, yellow looks nice. Simmer gently until the pepper softens and serve. I like to serve this with 'fluffy' boiled potatoes but rice is also a good accompaniment.
Breakfast salad : This is a nice unusual starter or brunch meal. You will have to find some black pudding, which is a blood sausage that you can buy in the UK. In a dry pan fry some small slices of lean bacon until crispy and reserve on some tissue paper to get rid of the juices. Add a little oil to the pan and cook some croutons. Now cook the black pudding, cut into small cubes in some butter and oil and again reserve on some tissue paper. Prepare a saucepan with some hot but not bubbling water. Assemble on a small plate a salad of mixed leaves, whatever you like, I like rocket and watercress and some small plum tomatoes, halved. Now make a dressing, just a simple dressing of 3:1 oil to vinegar with some salt and pepper. Sprinkle the bacon, croutons and black pudding over the leaves. Crack a fresh egg into the hot water and wait for a minute or so until just cooked. Remove the egg with a slotted spoon and place on top of the salad. Pour the dressing over and serve.
Tomorrow I fly back to the UK for my art history exam. I am only staying two days, I arrive Monday afternoon and fly home Wednesday night. I could have tried to meet with lots of friends and my relatives, but decided instead to go out with a few ex-colleagues on Monday night, and after my exam on Tuesday morning to travel by train to see a friend in Wales. I will not have been back for a year and I wonder what will have changed: probably very little, it will still take 4 hours to travel the 100km from the airport to Southampton, the hotel will welcome me with the warmth they would give to a plague victim, everything will be exorbitantly expensive yet of little quality....and the weather will be cold and miserable. This is my last exam. The next two years of the masters course are projects and dissertations that can be submitted on-line. In fact this could be my last visit to the UK. Is this it, my final look at my old home? If it is I am not even returning to my home town: maybe I should have made more an effort to visit the remaining family. It is an odd feeling. Watching on TV news items or sports from the UK somehow 'means' more to me than watching them from another country. But I can't express what that feeling is: it is a sort of warmth of familiarity tinged with regret. A regret I will not feel at all as I wait on freezing cold platform for a decrepid 60 year train to come, watched by some surly youths who look to be itching to make trouble, and eyeing the closed, vandalized coffee shop. Old News (November 27th 2005) It was my birthday three weeks ago. I took the day off work as Ploy was in Singapore at that time. Ploy had already given me my present, a globe where the countries are all represented using semi-precious stones. We had seen one at a friend's house in the UK and have wanted to buy one since. Ploy found a shop in Bangkok that sold them and brought it with her on the plane to Singapore. In the evening Ploy cooked a meal of my favourite Thai dishes, Yum Moo Yaw (a spicy salad of pork sausage), Poo Pad Pong Galee (Crab in a curry sauce made with turmeric), and Larb Gai (Minced chicken mixed with dried chilli, onion, dried rice and mint leaves, eaten with chinese leaves and raw vegetables). That and a bottle of Guwurtztraminer wine to help it down. Mo and our friend Noi had also bought me a cake. A nice time was had by all.Birthdays are a time of reflection and also looking forward: since meeting Ploy I don't try to predict what the next year will bring (or the next month come to that), but it is fun trying to look into the crystal ball, given some momentous changes that happened already:
Old News (December 2005)
It has been a stressful month. Ploy came to stay for two weeks, the first time we have been together as a family for four months and a visit that coincided with Mo getting her exam results for entry to the Government schools. There was already friction between the two of them. Mo has only known Ploy since she was eleven as her father and step-mother prohibited Ploy access until this time and they have never stayed together, in fact I have stayed with Mo more than Ploy. The problem stems from the fact that Ploy wants a 'perfect' daughter, but without those early years of influence, that will take time. Mo appears to have been largely neglected by her father: I had noticed there is no physical contact between them at all, in fact a clear distancing, and the only person Mo seems to have been able to talk to (apart from school friends) is her step-mother. Moving her to Singapore we have removed those two contacts making her very much alone, so we have to do all we can to replace them and make her feel secure. In fact Mo's resilience is remarkable, she gets herself up for school everyday and I never have to worry if she is playing truant or misbehaving: it would have been so easy for her to rebel, being removed from her comfort zone to go to a demanding school and staying alone with a man she has never met. However she is a lazy girl, largely because she has had a maid to do things like cooking and washing and I have not enforced any regime, feeling that clothes washing aside, if I was alone in Singapore I would have to do all these chores for myself anyway. Overall Mo is far from a burden, and when I get home from work, to have her greet me with her beaming smile is a treat. As her English has improved we have started talking at length over all sort of things which I enjoy , about Harry Potter, about Julie Andrews, about Egypt and the pyramids, and about Ploy. Her curiosity is engaging.
I often read articles or websites where the author writes, "I was asked the other day what is the best place to eat....". I am never asked this but thought I would reply in any case (I assume the lack of questioning is shyness). Well, currently, I always enjoy the Sage Restaurant here in Singapore, great service, wine, and especially good food, and the menu is always changing which is nice if you are a frequent visitor. Try the fixed price lunch to get an inexpensive introduction to the place. I also imagine Flutes at the Fort is also doing good food, but as I never book a restaurant until the last minute, (usually an after-thought as I am already travelling towards it), I haven't eaten there for a while as it always seems to be full (at least that is what they tell me). I also like the Iguana Mexican restaurant at Clarke Quay, try their Tuna Enchillada or Green Chilli Pork washed down with a glass of their Iguana lager. It is a good people watching spot as well if you are on your own.
Two Years and counting
On the 24th of this month we will have been in Singapore for 2 years: the time has flown. We arrived at 7.00a.m. in the morning and I remember waiting in the restaurant of our hotel where we were to stay for a week, drinking coffee and waiting for our room to become available. We snoozed for a while and then at about midday we went out to explore our new country, for the first time as residents. A week later I had started work, we had an apartment, employment passes and a bank account. Singapore is a great place to live: first and foremost I love the weather, but there are so many other things, everything is so easy (from sending money abroad to ordering a replacement gas cylinder), everything works and works well, and it is really a beautiful city. Ok there are a few niggles, but I only have to read the BBC news website for the UK to get a quick reality check. We are now permanent residents here, and I have every intention of applying for Singapore citizenship as soon as it is allowed (in about 1 years time). Singapore does not allow dual nationality so this would ever my last major link with the UK.
For two nights Ploy has had very vivid dreams of some prescence being in the room: I say dreams but Ploy believes the prescence to be real although she is not unduly scared by it. She has been ill the last week and spent three days in hospital, she goes for more tests today, and my western rational explanation is her illness and the antibiotics she is taking have slightly altered her body chemistry making her`dreams more vivid and real. None-the-less, she mentioned it to a friend who yesterday sent her husband round to 'exorcise' the prescence, (we found out that one of the previous occupants of the apartment, an old man, had died here). He explained to me that sometimes, when we are ill, the head descends lower than it should allowing us to see things that we should not see. He had brought a number of things with him: some tea leaves which he told Ploy to make some small cups of hot tea with, some leaves which he could not tell me what they were (he put them in water), some rice, some paper money and some oranges. The oranges and tea were put on a plate and some joss sticks were lit. Ploy held the joss sticks and kneeled before the plate asking or the prescence to leave, and then took the joss sticks to every room of our apartment, leaving one behind every time. The rice was then scattered around all over the apartment; it has to stay here for two days apparently, some nice smelling candle was lit and wafted around the apartment, and finally some Buddhist chanting CD was played. We were told to open wide all the windows and let the wind blow through the apartment and then Ploy and this friend went to a temple (as she entered the temple Ploy tells me she felt her hair tingle and something left her). Last night she slept well, a small price to pay for having rice grains stuck between my toes all the time.As an update to this episode, a friend sent me the following link, Sleep Paralysis, which amazingly exactly describes Ploy's experience. Whilst it is comforting to know others have experienced the same thing, it is extraordinary that what seemed such a strange experience has been experienced by others all a round the world.
Yesterday we had another hospital appointment and Ploy has to have her operation on the 20th of this month.
In my experience there is a nudge-nudge, wink-wink element to being married to a Thai girl in the UK, something that is thankfully missing from Singapore. At the extreme, when telling a workman that my wife was Thai, he responded by asking how much I paid for her: but even family and friends, already brainwashed by the press and television, jump to conclusions about a country and people that actually applies (if it does at all), to only a very small percentage. However I do wonder if you become over-sensitised to these things. I recall one trip to a friend's house where this was certainly not the case.Ploy had met a Thai girl in Tesco's supermarket: she worked at Macdonalds' and Ploy said they lived within walking distance of our house in
Four Years of Bliss
Last Thursday it was our fourth wedding anniversary. I took the day off work and took Ploy to lunch at the Oriental Hotel. I thought we would go and see a movie in the afternoon, but Ploy wanted to take some food to a friend who was not feeling well. In the evening we went to a see a performance of West Side Story at the Esplanade Theatre. What fantastic music that show has, including possibly my favourite song of all time, Somewhere.So much has happened in those four years. We met in Singapore on a chance encounter, Ploy was in Singapore helping a friend with a business (she speaks Mandarin), I was on the return leg of a long business trip to the Far East. Ploy was renting an apartment near Sukhumvit Soi 71 in Bangkok, I had rented a room in a small house in Southampton in the UK. And now here we are living together in Singapore, growing closer every day and yet with so many more things to explore together. This year we must try to put down some roots, we have the house in Thailand, but little prospect of living there in the short term. We want to buy somewhere here and it must be a priority to save for that. Everything else must wait. For Ploy, having our own house (and mortgage) in the UK, was the best thing we did. Renting is convenient, but there is nothing like that feeling looking around a house or apartment and knowing it is yours. If we can sell our land in Thailand then we should be able to start looking for somewhere in July or August.
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