Into the Muk

The start of the new school term means that I am juggling full-time teaching, weekend studying, steady part-time work, and intermittent lecturing gigs all at the same time while parenting, so for the past couple months, I’ve been busier than a one-legged man in an ass kicking contest.

Today I’m off to Mukdahan, where I will teach a seminar at the Mukdahan Grand Hotel tomorrow morning. It’s about a three hour drive, and I’ve been trying to pin down a gearbox problem with Nam’s car on long drives, so we’ll see what happens.

English camp at Lampao Dam

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Taro came to visit, so I brought him along on an overnight English camp to the reservoir at Lampao Dam in Kalasin. Usually this point is so crowded with people going to the “beach,” I can’t wait to leave, but because off the cold weather it’s just our group here today. At sundown, even the souvenir vendors had already left… and getting here this morning in my Crown was one of the best drives I’ve had in a long time. She is queen of the road.

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Citroen AX and BX

This is what the view from the front of T's house looked like before the town ruined it.
This is what the view from the front of T’s house looked like before the town blocked it with a senior center/foot bath.

I’ve been meaning to write about these cars for a long time. I came across this photo, from around 1999, when going through old albums. I put it aside and it’s been collecting dust on my PC desk since then.

Anyway, about the cars: Yuko-sensei gave T the red Citroen AX and replaced it with a Renault Twingo (She probably still has a thing for French cars – being a doctor, she’s one of the few in Japan able to keep up with repair bills for them.). This was a good small car with manual transmission, and didn’t break down as often as the BX. I used to see a few of these around Mahasarakham, but not for the past couple years.

A teacher who T knew gave me the black Citroen BX with the strange condition that I service it at his friend’s garage. I honored that promise for a while, but got sick of the guy overcharging me for LHM used in the hydropneumatic suspension system. This car was used on several legendary road trips to Tsukuba, Tokyo, and all around Kansai.

Mosaic used to protect the mosaiced.
Mosaic used to protect the mosaiced.
View from the sunroof.
View from the sunroof.

I also traded it for one day with T’s cousin for a Mitsubishi Delica when we needed a party bus. Owning this car was a love/hate kind of thing.

There aren’t many people who get to own cars designed by Marcello Gandini (the designer of the Lamborghini Countach, the Lancer Stratos and the original BMW 5-series) with oléopneumatique suspension to adjust the ride of their car. This system served a couple purposes: It could be used to slam the car to the ground so it couldn’t be towed away when parked illegally on the street, and it was a fucking spectacle to behold the car slowly rising and falling in any given parking lot at any given drunken time.

Alas, the car was a sensitive and fragile little crybaby, and not suited to my violent driving style (although it was spared handbrake turns because the parking brake was attached to the front brakes!!). Indeed, I broke the gears when screwing around on the racing overpass in Tenri one hot evening, and barely made it back to our garage in Horyuji to get it looked at… Kataoka-san, our mechanic, mentor, and adviser for all things auto-related, checked it out and pronounced it dead on the spot.

I have to admit, thanks to the otherworldly suspension characteristics, the Citroen BX had the smoothest ride of any car I’ve ever known, especially in the back seats. And the home cabinet speakers I carried around in the trunk coupled with mad interior cabin acoustics made for awesome tunes. But due to something breaking or temporarily ceasing to function almost every week, along with assurances from Parisian friends that this was quite normal when owning Citroens, I would never feel the desire to own a French car ever again.

Morning Market, Vientiane

The morning market in Laos has been replaced by a multi-story shopping mall… Vientiane has been hugely developed in the seven years I’ve been travelling there. The best way to describe it is as a medium-size Thai city with more third-world bright color gaudiness and even more garbage on the streets.

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We stopped by a coffee shop where the waitresses wore silk skirts and platform shoes.

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We sat at a really cool coffee bean-filled table.
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Then we got photobombed by an angry old man.
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Thai Jaeger – The Golden Buddha Mech

Somewhere between the Chiang Yuen and Sam Sung districts on a two-lane highway lined with rice paddies and stands of vines and overgrowth, there is a secret Jaeger base under construction.

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When completed, this powerful addition to the Pacific Rim forces will boast three powerful weapons to fight the scourge of Kaijus: Tree Falling in Forest Kick, Cosmic Bodhisattva Blast, and Spinning Lotus Beam.

Babyblade CBR fun

My friend Ben just bought a used 2011 Honda CBR250R w/ABS in Pattaya and brought it back to Sarakham. I helped him out a little with the details of the transaction and choice of bike, so of course, I got to try it out. Perhaps today wasn’t the best day since it was drizzling and quite windy out on the highway, but that did not deter us.

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The bike was lighter and more refined than I expected – I would say it’s more tame than beast. The single-cylinder engine is very smooth and steady, and the bike is very quiet with the stock exhaust (even if it is wrapped with a faux carbon fiber sticker – which according to the internet, grants about 3 extra hp). In my mind, the CBR 150 is more fun at lower speeds, but the 250 is great for cruising on the highway (and probably even more fun when the wind isn’t kicking grit into your face at high speed).

Until this point, I had been riding the CBR around town and Ben was following on my scooter. When we stopped, Ben said he wanted he wanted to ride bitch to “see how girls felt,” so he got on the back and I pretended to be a twenty-something French guy on a glorious circuit around the Maha Sarakham bypass. Getting into the role of a racer-playboy, I recommended embedding a switch-activated vibrator in the rear seat cushion for increased high-speed thrills. For his part as a scared young Thai girl, Ben kept saying, “slow down, Ajarn, slow down!” (I was actually riding very slowly since I’m no longer invincibly young).

It was a lot of fun.

Line seems to be the best option for Burma telecommunications

Like it says in the title, Line.

My wife is in Myanmar/Burma for a week. I looked up the best options for calling to/from that country before she went, but the telecom market is in a state of constant flux and it seems they the government controls the sales of SIM cards. What sad state of affairs: Third world telecom service with first world bureaucracy!

As it turns out, most of the airports and hotels she’s been to have had barely decent wifi, which has left us experimenting with voice/video chat services. Here are the results for using chat apps on Android to/from Yangon, Mandalay, and maybe other places in Burma:

1st place: (Naver) Line
Excellent voice quality even on weak connections. If there was a major disaster, this is the app I would rely on (oh yeah, that’s why it was made in the first place).

2nd Place: Google Hangouts
Fairly stable, but laggy with both voice and video calls. Consistently laggy, though (about 1/2 second), so usable if you want to speak slowly and wait for responses.

3rd place: Skype
Skype changed my world, then abandoned it. I still have most of the money I put into Skype credit 7 or 8 years ago. TOTALLY UNUSABLE FOR ANYTHING UNLESS YOU LIVE IN KANSAS CITY AND GET FORCE-FED INTARWEBS FROM GOOGLE. Seriously, I’m going to uninstall Skype from all my devices. So fucking sad.