Anatomy of a Tribute

Well, I got a bit homesick walking by the local pizza parlor today. Not for food, mind you, but for my music and my stereo stuff, which is slowly making its way through customs in Bangkok. So I donned a pair of headphones and headed for the Tube.
Lo and behold, someone had uploaded new Tenacious D vids! The first two are pretty much universal must-sees:
Tribute

Making of Tribute

The other two are raunchy as hell and NSFW. I’ve nicknamed them “Kewpie,” and, “Heinz.” If you’re a D fan, you should definitely go check them out:
BJ (Kewpie)
LSD (Heinz)

Broom Man

We live in a gated community near Mahasarakham University (where Nam is heading up the Japanese Studies department). Every day a few vendors are let in to peddle their wares/offer their services. There’s the ice cream truck, which I have heard (the song is different from anything I have heard in other countries, but just as distinctive) but not seen. There’s apparently a knife man who comes by on a bicycle/whetstone contraption, which I have seen on old TV shows and read about in books, but never seen with my own eyes. And then there’s the Broom Man, who rides around on a reverse-tricycle motorized push cart:

The Broom Cart in its full pimpalicious splendor; our house in the background.
That’s my father in-law’s 40-year old Ford Capri behind it, which deserves a post of it’s own in the near future… It’s now a hybrid (as in mixed origin, not power system) American/Japanese/French/Thai supercar which I asked my brother in law to put racing stripes on (I’m sure it once had at least 25 horsepower).

Honda Power!
Nations rise, civilizations fall, but the Broom Cart will outlast us all.

I think I’ll write a blues jam about the Broom Man.
The coolest thing about the Broom Man? He’s content with his life. He showed me the workings of his cart and his full range of products, and it made me want to cry how much he was selling them for… But the Broom Man smiled, and all was well again.
I bought the bamboo rake for a dollar fifty, and he was on his way.

House Mods and Maintenance, Thai Prices

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I’m overseeing a 4-man crew of electricians today. They’ve come to add outlets to my bedroom, bathroom, and balcony, as well as enhance security around the house by adding two spotlights to the large side yard and one to the small side (we never know when the geckos might rise against us). Plus, like all the help that comes round the house, they serve the general function of being my in-law’s temporary biotches, which is funny as all hell. Nam’s mom and dad disagree about where to install something or what color it should be, and try to make the workmen take one side or the other… Then I go and raise hell by going back on everybody’s decisions and choosing what I want (hey, I’m paying for it, so it’s my decision, right?). The workmen then interject with practical limitations/suggestions (mounting this outlet too low in the bathroom might cause you to be electrocuted, etc.), and it’s back to making different decisions within the new parameters. There is a cow somewhere out in the woods behind the house mooing its ass off, and I am loving every minute of this.
Before you get any wrong ideas about my high roller lifestyle, check out today’s bill from the electricians:
Parts: 2500 baht (including spotlights)
Labor: 2000 baht (4 men, approx. 8 hours of work)
Total: 4500 baht = $121 or 14,436 yen
I love Thailand!
For once in my life, my room has enough electrical outlets (This is every man’s dream, ladies, remember that. Oh, that and floor drains – and I have those too.) and the house wiring is all properly grounded, too ( I hired a separate electrician to check the completed work).
I totally went out and bought them an awesome lunch, too, so they won’t come back and gank my house when there’s a flood or a riot or some such nonsense… Maybe that’s wishful thinking, but my father in law is supposedly giving me an old handmade rifle later tonight, so maybe I’m covered there anyway.
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Since I started writing about prices in the post, I thought I’d write about a few more:
A new housekeeper came to clean today: 150 baht/day (the old housekeeper was only 100 baht/day! ; the electrician’s go-fer boy is also getting paid 150 baht from his boss for today’s work – I asked when he bummed a smoke earlier.) = $4
The housekeeper’s husband came by to fix Nam’s motor scooter (a few minor parts, 2-stroke oil, and labor): 240 baht = $6.50
I also paid for our airline tickets from BKK to Khon Kaen this afternoon (two one-way tickets, distance/time is approximately LA to San Fran, or Osaka to Tokyo): 4,400 baht = $118.50
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I really shouldn’t even start writing about food yet (I’m getting the photos together), but a whole steamed chicken at the local marketplace is 40 baht ($1) and a nice 2.5 pound steamed tilapia was about the same.
In short, me likey.
Speaking of food, tonight Nam’s mom is taking us to the market where they sell live insects and scorpions and other yummies. Photos to follow.

The View from My Bedroom Window


Bring on the gazelles and gorillas and shit.
All I can say is, this is the first time I am living next to a forest, and I love it. I go to sleep to the sound of wind rustling through the trees, plus the assorted sounds of as-yet unidentified forest animals, birds, and insects. Every day I wake to a refreshing breeze blowing through the room (we leave the windows and the sliding glass doors open) and more clean air than you can shake your pecker at. We have been trying to get back behind our house to just scope it out (I actually want to buy some of it if possible, but it may belong to a temple so I might just ask if they can break off a small parcel for a fellow buddhahead), but we can’t find the right access road. Hell, I’ve only been here for a few days – we’ll try again soon.
Yesterday we went to go see some of the land that my wife’s family owns.

All I can say is, boy that Brahmin sure has big, red ____.
(This bull was trespassing. We dont own any cattle. Yet.)

The New Bangkok Airport (BKK) – Suvarnabhumi

One thought kept running through my mind as I paced the halls of the largest airport I have ever seen: “What a waste!”

Can anyone say “Asian Economic Bubble Architecture?”
From the slapdash finishing touches to the (very) poorly conceived traffic corridors, Suvarnabhumi Airport is the ultimate expression of arrogance topped with big budget incompetence. Don’t get me wrong – the airport might be seen as beautiful in certain contexts (for instance, to a blind, thirsty traveller having walked in from the wasteland surrounding it*), and it boasts a huge space inside, but unfortunately, it is completely wasted due to the ridiculous floor layout. There are more chokepoints for foot traffic than there were at the old airport (Don Muang), and the day I went, it wasn’t even crowded.

Concrete, glass, and steel construction worthy of KIX-level contempt.
Invariably, people end up comparing the new airport to the old one, and pretty much everyone I talked to agreed that not much has improved with the switch to Suvarnabhumi – the one point in its favor is quicker access (by car, since the train doesn’t yet connect). The decisive factor for me, however, is efficiency of operation, and here, the new airport failed miserably – our connecting domestic flight was delayed for over two hours.
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* This is a joke – nobody in Thailand who can afford to fly actually walks anywhere
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UPDATE: I forgot an especially irritating point. The baggage carousels at the new airport were seemingly designed with the sole purpose of destroying your check-in luggage. Seriously. We saw several suitcases and boxes break/break open falling off the conveyor belt onto the turnstile (which itself has obviously been repaired/modified since the airport opened, to no avail).

Call Me! – Futurephone

David Pogue explains how you can call from the US to overseas, from a regular phone, for free: Free Overseas Phone Calls
There’s an interesting back end to this story as well, which he covered in his e-mail newsletter this week:

From the Desk of David Pogue: The Final Word on Futurephone
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By now, you might be sick of hearing about Futurephone, the
company I recently profiled in my blog
http://pogue.blogs.nytimes.com/2006/10/09/09pogues-posts-4/
because it offers totally free international phone calls to
over 50 countries. No signup, no fees, no surrendering your
name or address.
Man, we’re a cynical bunch these days. Very few of you were
persuaded that Futurephone’s business plan is what its chief
executive says it is: “to build up the company’s brand-name
recognition. Our plan is to offer additional services in the
future.”
Last week, I attempted to shoot down some of the sillier
explanations of Futurephone’s real game — the ones where
readers speculated that the company is going to harvest its
customers’ phone numbers (why? — isn’t the phone book much
more convenient?) or listen in to the calls (wayyyy too
boring to be plausible).
This week, several of you suggested that Futurephone’s actual
business plan is far more complicated — and far more
plausible. If it’s true, it’s incredibly clever.
In his blog
http://saunderslog.com/2006/10/11/whats-with-the-712-area-code/
for example, Alec Saunders explains this game of telecom
arbitrage like this:
“Ever wonder why it is that FuturePhone, Radio Handi,
FreeConferenceCall, and PartyLine Connect all have access
numbers in the 712 area code? These services all provide
‘free’ services to you. There’s ‘no catch.’ You just have to
make a long distance call to get them.
“So how do these services get paid, and why are the access
numbers all in Iowa? The short answer is tax subsidies.”
He goes on to explain that our government gives the states
money to help them with maintenance and improvements to
local telephone plants. There’s also an invisible tariff
involved, amounting to three cents per minute collected by
the *terminating* phone company.
Alec speculates that Futurephone is performing a sort of
tariff arbitrage.
“Let’s take FuturePhone as an example…All you have to do is
call 712 858 8883 (a number provided by the tiny Superior
Telephone Coop in Estherville, Iowa), and then enter the
international call you want to make using the standard 011
prefix.
“So how do they make money? … Say that FuturePhone’s cost
to terminate the call is 1.25 cents. That leaves 1.75 cents
per minute to split with the folks at Superior Telephone
Coop. Give them half, which leaves you 0.875 cents per
minute, and you’ve got a pretty attractive proposition …
Everybody wins! The good citizens of Iowa win (they’ve now
got a fiber network joining up 150 of their independently
owned telcos), FuturePhone has a seemingly profitable
business model, and you win by getting cheap overseas calls.”
Now, Alec goes on to imply that this plan is sneaky and that
somehow you wind up shouldering the burden. Me, I don’t see
anything wrong with it. The Futurephone guy and his fellow
Iowans have stumbled upon a clever scheme, if they are indeed
using this arbitrage ploy. It’s perfectly legal, and does, in
fact, win us free overseas calls. (Alec ignores, for example,
the fact that many people have cellphones or home phones with
unlimited long distance for a fixed price. For us, these
international calls are really, truly free.)
So is that what Futurephone is doing? I asked Futurephone’s
Tom Doolin point-blank this week.
All he’ll say in response is that, “Our company is private
and we do not disclose proprietary or confidential
information.”
But he did note that the company is now “actively pursuing
potential advertising sponsors.” That’s a new bit of
information, which I found explained in more detail on an ABC
News Web article. “They’ll listen to a 10-second commercial
if they can make a free call,” Mr. Doolin told ABC News. “In
the middle of next year you might see something like that.”
(He also, by the way, stressed that, “In response to your
follow-up on personal privacy, let me assure you that
Futurephone.com does not record people’s telephone
conversations.”)
For now, I think a lot of the commenters and bloggers are
being too cynical. My own reaction is much more along the
lines of this reader’s comment:
“It WORKS! I just called a relative in a small town in Greece
from my cell phone and was connected immediately. (I have
never been able to call using my cell phone before.)
“To those who think that Big Brother is monitoring the calls:
if they are the least bit interested in my conversation — in
Greek — with an 86-year-old aunt, so be it; you just saved
me $50-$100 a month!”

Can somebody try this out? Give me a call!
Oh, wait – Nobody has my number! I don’t even have a cellphone yet! I’ll send my number out as soon as I get one… In the meantime, I’d really love to know if this Futurephone thing works or not!