I saw the sign

As I said in my last post, the cows in my backyard were a sign, and who the hell am I to ignore a sign?

Either God or the cows were telling me to have a barbecue.
So I fired up my brand new GhettoGrill and much meat was consumed, and all was good with the world: T-bones (from NZ, frozen), pork ribs, fresh (still wriggling) prawns, hulihuli chicken (at least as I remember it), and assorted extras, including pumpkin, which as you can see above, I cared little about.
By the way, it was one of the most pleasant evenings I’ve ever experienced here, with a cool (everyone else said “cold”) breeze.

Cows in my backyard update

There are more cows in my backyard!

The sound of bells means the cows have come for a visit.
I haven’t seen them since the last time I wrote about it, mostly because they usually stay on the far side of the irrigation ditch that separates our back wall from a dirt road running parallel to it, about 200 meters away. BTW, I love that old tree in the photo above as I have no idea what kind of tree it is, or even an inkling as to how old it is.
This time, there was a dog herding them around, butI couldn’t get a clear photo of it.

This one came to graze right under my balcony.
This must be a sign.

Thai New Years Food

Let me be honest with you: As much as I love Japanese food, I hate osechi ryori. It is – oh, how diplomatically can I put this – really boring and expensive (if you buy it rather than have it made for you by your grandmother/aunt/mother-in-law), which I’m sure you’ll agree is a horrible combination of traits for food. This is why I was so happy to wake up to what I found on our table this morning:

The makings for “khanom chin”
That’s a bowl of sliced pineapple in the middle (think of it as the center of a compass). To it’s West: Ground shrimp meal. NW: Limes. Further NW: Sauce for the steamed fish (shown in photos below). N/NE (at top of table): A fully prepared bowl of khanom chin. NE: The “soup” base, coconut milk with pork bits submerged and out of sight. E/NE: A ladle on a plate, yo. E: Sliced ginger. Further E: Rice noodles. S/SE: A bowl of sliced garlic and chilies soaked in nampla. SW: Another fully prepared bowl of khanom chin.
So how does the fusion of all those flavors taste? Do they work together, or move awkwardly in opposing directions?
Well, let me explain it like this:

Khanom chin: Like toshikoshi soba on steroids
It was sooooooooooooo good. It’s like sweet, savory fire sliding down your throat and warming your entire body from the inside out. Seriously. It’s so good, I thought up a new year’s resolution on the spot: More foodblogging. I’ve even started a new category in its honor: Food.
Oh, by the way, khanom chin is served room temperature, and it wouldn’t taste good any other way, I suspect. Chilling it would suppress the (delicious) funk, and warming it would overstate the spicy and sweet components.

Steamed Nile Tilapia
The other main dish on the menu today was steamed fish, simple and sweet.

All dressed up!
The sauce was sweet and peanut-based. The sweetness of the Chinese cabbage and lettuce brought out the meaty taste of the fish and was nicely accented with fresh mint and coriander leaves.

It tasted just as good as it looks.
I guess I was somewhat disappointed to find out that this isn’t typical new year’s fare, and that in fact there really is no such thing here. I guess I’m just going to have to insist on it being a tradition in this household!

Bangkok Bombings

Just a quick note: We came back from Bangkok a day early and are back safe in Isan, so were fortunate enough to avoid the bombings.
I got a touch of the stomach flu or something but am toughing it out and watching the news.
Be safe, everyone.
UPDATE:
More bombs exploded just after midnight. There were reports that a bomb either exploded or was found to be a false alarm at Buddy Bar on Khao Sarn Road (this area, and this bar, always full of foreigners, might have been the most politically significant target).
This map from the BBC site shows the confirmed explosion locations before midnight.
bkk-bombings-map.gif

Weather Revelation

I am shocked.
It’s COLD outside. I’m in Thailand, and it’s COLD outside. Granted, I was standing on my veranda in my boxers, but it’s genuinely cold! In Thailand!
I’m so happy, I could cry! But I think I’ll take a midnight shower and bask in the shivering COLDNESS instead (this weather will only last until February, apparently).
OK, this still doesn’t explain why some people on the street are wearing winter parkas (!), or why there are earmuffs and wool scarves (!!) on sale at the department stores (it’s cold enough for me to use a warm blanket at night – perhaps for the first time, here – but I’m pretty sure I’ll never need anything warmer than long sleeve shirts during the day).
//
Ha ha, I just took a shower and I’m freezing my ass off! In Thailand!
This is like the best day of my life.

Calling Overseas from Thailand

Until now, for calling overseas from my cellphone, I have been dialing with one of these two prefixes:
– A plus sign (+)
001
It had occurred to me that there might be cheaper options (with different prefixes), but I hadn’t tried to research them very hard until just now. A friend called today and said that dialing “008” as a prefix is the cheapest option, so I decided to find out for sure. I called Japan (00881) and found that it cost markedly less than the previous methods I had used, but that the line was a bit choppy at times (although totally useable)… It was time to get the low down on all these dialing prefixes:

“There are now two ‘official’ companies offering International Telephone Services here in Thailand.
CAT – offers ‘International’ connections via the prefix 001 & 009 (different prices), and is available for almost all phones (both fixed line & mobile).
ToT – offers ‘International’ connections via the prefix 007 & 008 (different prices), and is available for all phones.
001. The original International Access code for use FROM Thailand. All phones will connect if prefix 001 is used. The quality is excellent, BUT this is the most expensive method. In most cases it will NOT be necessary to use 001 – try these others first.
007. This is the new high quality service for ALL lines + mobiles (cheaper than 001). Recommended for fax use, and ‘1st class’ voice.
009. This is the new prefix number for all TT&T lines, AND mobile phones of these providers (AMPS, GSM, CDME, D-TAC, AIS, ORANGE). This prefix provides a good discount via Voip (reduced quality) (cheaper than 007).
008. This is the new reduced quality service for ALL lines + mobiles, perfectly adequate for voice (cheaper than 007).
Note – 007. Prices vary with destination, but, until further notice a promotion of no more than 9 baht/min will operate 24/7 to the following countries:
Note – 009. Prices vary with destination, and promotions come and go, but many ‘western’ countries are either 5 baht/min or 7 baht/min. see prices at: http://web1.cattelecom.co.th/ (currently the cheapest?? Aug 2006)
Note – 008. Prices vary with destination, but, until further notice a promotion of no more than 6 baht/min will operate 24/7 to the following countries:
Alaska, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guam, Hawaii, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Kuwait, Laos. Macau, Malaysia, Mexico, Norway, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Taiwan, U.K, USA.”

The above was quoted from this page, which has tons of useful Thai phone-related information and seems to be updated regularly.
To summarize, the 008 prefix seems to be the cheapest option for calling overseas from a mobile phone in Thailand, and the voice quality is adequate. If better line quality is desired, 001 or 007 is the way to go (although I’m still curious where the plus sign prefixed calls are routed through).

car shopping

So I’m looking for a car.
I’ve been to nearly all the dealers in town, and nothing inspires me – it’s all rather depressing, really. On top of the fact that everyone is turning out overpriced dreck in general, Thailand happens to be one of the most expensive markets for new and used cars I have seen. Some prices that have stuck out the past week for new (mainly 2006 year model) cars:
Honda Civic 2.0L sedan, decked out: $28,000
Honda Accord 2.4L V6, decked out: $41,000
Mazda 3 Hatchback 2.0L, decked out: $28,000
Chevy Optra 1.6L Airbag/ABS/Leather interior: $20,000
Nissan 350Z 5/6 speed MT: $140,000
… and you can buy pretty much any pickup truck you want for less than $25,000
I’ve noticed that the models offered in Thailand are fairly anemic with the small to mid-sized sedans/5 doors being capped at an even 2 liters. This is why I decided against a pimped out Mazdaspeed equivalent – because it isn’t. If I’m putting out close to 30k, I want the zoomzoom, ya know?
Another thing I noticed is that out here in the countryside, at least, even big dealerships only stock a few models of cars – understandable, I guess, but some were even reluctant to order models they didn’t have!
I actually came here wanting to buy a pickup, but decided pretty quickly that I don’t need one and it would be a bitch to drive one around everyday on errands.
SUVs are too damned expensive, plus are just too damned big for everyday use.
What I really want at this point is a full-sized sedan, but I’ll be damned before I shell out 40k for an Accord, or worse, a Camry.
That leaves the mid-sized sedans. The 1.8L Mazda 3 sedan goes for about $23,000. It’s better looking than many of its counterparts, but has a few design quirks of its own… I don’t really like the front console much at all, it’s like a gaudy stereo component system cobbled together with a readout reminiscent of NFSMW, which may work in the Mazdaspeed 3, but not the sedan.
I had to take my sister-in-law’s tiny Opel hatchback into the Chevy dealer for work (which is also the only authorized service center in the area for a few other GM brands). I was shocked! I have been checking the service areas of all the dealers, and Chevy’s was by far the cleanest and most tightly run… The staff was quick and polite, and knew what they were doing! I was so impressed, I started asking about the cars. Chevy is pushing a couple mid-sized sedans at the moment, and one of them, called the Optra, caught my eye. It looked EU-styled, handsome. It came in dark gunmetal, my favorite color. And it cost a lot less than its Japanese counterparts… Maybe, just maybe, this car was a possibility… Was it possible? Could it be true? Had it taken a lifetime of traveling and car-swapping for me to come full circle and FINALLY BUY AMERICAN?
Well, I had to think about that one. Let’s see:

  • I like the basic design, styling, and color… +1
  • GM is in the shithouse for the foreseeable future… -1
  • I can throw in my own stereo and upgrade tires/rims easily/cheaply… +1
  • A 1.6 liter engine is enough for a Japanese car this size, but an American one? Plus, the top model only upgrades the engine to a 1.8L (for an extra $5,000)… -1
  • On the other hand, more solid construction has benefits… +1
  • Resale value is horrible… -1

Hmm… pluses and minuses were an even tie just off the top of my head. Not very inspiring, but I still liked the car, so I came home to research it… Guess what?
I WAS FOOLED!
I wasn’t thinking about buying American at all! Turns out, I was contemplating buying Korean!
FUCK YOU, GENERAL MOTORS! ME NO WANT REBADGED DAEWOO!
It was bad enough when buying a Chevy was buying a Chevy…
The great car hunt of 2006 resumes tomorrow.

Papers

It took just over three weeks for my box of documents to get here from Japan via surface mail. Inside were my international and California driver’s licenses, where I had stupidly left them in the rush of last-minute packing.
I have papers again, and drove legally for the first time in Thailand today. Funny thing is, no one noticed.

Panasonic VS6


So I’ve been watching the price of things, all kinds of things, here in Thailand. One of the bargains I noticed early on was for Japanese-made mobile phones other than Sony-Ericsson. In Thailand, Nokia is the absolute king, which is probably responsible for this trend (Sony still has brand power here so this explains their exclusion above). In fact, LG and Samsung cellphones are also more popular and expensive than their Japanese brethren, which I feel is ridiculous when I compare the products, yet am more than willing to take advantage of.
I picked up the black Panasonic VS6 for a little over 5,000 Baht ($140) last week and liked it so much, I went back to get a matching red one for Nam’s birthday. There is not much to say about this phone except that it totally kicks the shit out of the equivalent Nokia in every aspect – functionality, quality of build, photo quality, features, ease of use – at half the price.
I may be biased, but every cell phone from a non-Japanese manufacturer I’ve ever used has had an overly complicated (or overly simplified) user interface, making simple tasks long, drawn-out affairs. I’ve worked with the cell testing groups at factories in Japan and know that at many companies, each phone’s UI is tested by an army of 500 temp workers maintained exclusively for usability trials. They may very well have similar testing in other countries as well, but I doubt it is on the same scale. Anyways, an added bonus of this phone is that if you are used to using a Japanese keitai interface, this phone will be very easy to operate.
To answer the questions in my previous post, this phone seems to be available in the states (random shop link), but being GSM will not be available for use in Japan (it can be purchased in Japan for usage overseas in GSM countries, though – google jp link)

New Job: Bring me apples, yo

So here’s the deal: I got the university job and started yesterday, I’ve taught three classes so far and will be teaching Tuesday through Friday, 18 hours a week. I was assigned an office (shared with four other teachers) and a desk yesterday; today I was greeted at the door by a large, dirty dog who tried to schnozz my crotch, but was blocked by my Sweeping Dragon knee-block (I have two younger sisters and a younger brother, this particular defense is the sole reason my powers of procreation lasted past age 12). Later, I tried to pet said dog on the head, and he snapped at my fingers… I think we understand each other now.
I
What was that thing about “sleeping dogs” again?
Well, I won’t blog about work so much because I haven’t signed a contract yet, and also this job is inherently different from what I was doing in Japan. I feel I have to watch what I say because there are so many eyes on me now… like, I shouldn’t fucking curse so much, you know?
Meh, it’s all or nothing for me, you know? Either say what I mean, or blog anonymously. So, no real plans to change the way I do things here; I’ll just be open about it and see what happens. At my previous job, I actually had a blogging clause written into the contract. I kind of decided to never mention my company’s name on the blog, and it worked out well I think. I mean, there was the whole pink shirt issue, which pretty much made my company look like a bunch of idiots, but hey – that’s what the people who made the decision were.
One thing I will say about the new workplace is that I like the outdoor amphitheatre-sans-roof right next door:

“I am an opera singer”