House Mods and Maintenance, Thai Prices

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.
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
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.
* This is a joke – nobody in Thailand who can afford to fly actually walks anywhere
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).

Thailand: Webcam Visa Extensions?

I’ve only got a couple minutes before I’m abducted by rogue water buffaloes so I’ll just throw fellow expats in Thailand an interesting link: Webcam extension of foreigners’ stays okayed
Before you get too excited, there is of course a catch:

“the bureau is only making its mobile services available on condition that the company involved must have at least 80 foreign workers lined up for renewal.”

And now, I hear the thundering of hooves…

Thailand Coup Redux

I took a break from posting about the coup because no real information came forth for some time. However, this column I read over at The Nation (whose offices are apparently being guarded by the military) is just too good not to point out: Sonthi outsmarted Thaksin at the eleventh hour
If it’s true that General Sonthi effectively prevented bloodshed by initiating this coup, it’s nothing short of heroic, in my mind.

“However, an intelligence report reached General Sonthi’s camp stating that there would be bloodshed on Wednesday. The People’s Alliance for Democracy had planned to hold a political rally that day at the Royal Plaza in order to force Thaksin out of politics. Had that rally taken place, there would have been clashes between the People’s Alliance for Democracy and Thaksin’s supporters and blood would have been spilt on Rajdamnoen Avenue. If only Thaksin had promised that he would take a break from politics and allow a period of political reforms to take place, the PAD and other branches of the anti-Thaksin movement would have declared victory. All political confrontations would have subsided. Thaksin could have run for office once the Constitution was amended, and he would have been returned to the premier’s post, probably in the latter part of next year.”

Of course, there’s that whole thing about winners being the ones that write history and all that, but there’s a lot that makes sense about this story, and it seems to be corroborated by other sources as well. It’s too early to link; I want to check into this further.
By all accounts, Bangkok and the rest of the country is chugging along as normal, perhaps with an increased military presence, but that’s about it. The economy doesn’t seem to be affected too badly, and most people seem to be of the opinion that staging the coup was the right thing to do.
Thailand will be my home for a while, and right now, I am hopeful.

Thailand Coup

The fucking phone lines are down.
I can’t call Nam.
UPDATE: I got through. Everything is cool but nobody knows what the hell is going on. Nam and her family are watching Fox and CNN because the local channels have all been taken over by the military and are airing looped messages calling for civil stability and respect for the king.
In other news, I feel slightly stupid for having bought my ticket to Bangkok less than four hours ago.
Thaksin Overthrown In Army Coup, Thai Constitution is revoked by military
As of this morning, Nam is saying that nobody has any idea what’s going on. Satellite TV channels have been blocked, Internet access is severely congested or blocked, and there is no news yet from her university (the occupying forces declared all schools closed, but didn’t specify if it was just in Bangkok or not – Nam’s uni is far, far away from the confusion there).
On top of this, all the money I sent to my Bangkok Bank account is now inaccessible. I’m gonna stay home from work all day and see how hard I get fucked when the currencies market opens. But that shit is secondary, of course. Why does this shit happen now? I was weeks away from seeing Nam again – I hope that’s still possible.
I will keep this thread updated throughout the day. I have no desire to do anything else today and by now have seen most of the relevant links. I offer the best of those below.
This is the thread to watch:
2Bangkok forum thread on coup
note: I made small spelling corrections to the following post by a well-informed Thai poster there

“Well durign the coup, Channel 11 of PR Dept was seized as usual …. in addition to Thai Com UBC and ITV
Now the cavalrymen are guarding Pap Prem at his house in Thewet
Durign the communication between Moh Liab (Prommin Loedsureedej) and Thaksin, Moh Phrommuin is asking Thaksin to go down to Manila at 1 AM of September 20, (Thailand time) instead of BKK
The coup is coming from the following units
1) The 1st Army -> 5 battalions from the 31rd Infantry Regiment (Royal Guard from Lopburi)
2) The 3rd Army -> at least 4 cavalry battalions from the 1st Cavalry Division
3) Special Warfare Unit (the 5th Army – Lopburi)
4) Some of Royal Thai Navy
5) The 2nd Cavalry Division (the 23rd Cavalry battalion and the 24th Cavalry battalion) from Sanam Pao (near channel 5)
They come to seize Government House and Donmuang Airforce Base at Midnight of Sept 20 through the disguise as the troop rotation to the South.
The 9th Infantry Division (Fort Surasi Kanchanaburi) has gotten the order to make internal control when violence broke out .. either by the insurgent of Ai Yognyut and the barbarians from Newin ..
The coup start from 9PM of Sept 19 … when 3 companies of Special Warfare going into Army HQ and Channel 5 Mobile Unit going out of Army HQ
Initially, the 9th Infantry Division and 2nd cavalry division (both belong to Class 10) seized the control …. but Armed Force Chief REFUSED to make cabinet meeting …. and the real coup has seized control …
At that time he rushed to go back to Thailand … about to reach BKK at 5:30 AM of Sept 21 (Thailand time)
and the mobs that cheer Thaksin hadnt gone against thaksin make skirmish in Both NY City and BKK …
Thaksin said he go against the coup by Gen. Sondhi ….

“Papa Prem Arriving the Coup by Gen Sondhi
TV Pool Made annoucement of the coup at 11 PM of Sept 19 … with official announcement by the Veteran Coup Speaker at 11:15 PM
Now, the fences are erected at Sri Ayutthaya road and Ratchadambnoen Nok avenue … even though many people have taken a photograph of the tanks at Equestrian Plaza
Army has seized the control at Shinnawatra Building, ITV and Chansong Lah palace.
More than 60 soldiers from the 6th Anti Aircraft Battalion in GMC trucks and AA tanks have seized Thai Com Sattelite Station at Kae Rai
Chidchai and Ruengroj are going to make counter coup … by seizing chaeng watthana road …
Now, 2 tanks, 6 HUMVEEs and 300 soldiers from the 1st Division (Royal Guard) are seizing Nang Loeng Intersection
10:10 PM 3 tanks from the 4th cavalry battalion (Royal guard) and 20 cavalrymen are guarding Papa prem house at Thewet”

Stickman reports that cameras were being confiscated last night… I’ve had a couple e-mails from people going to take photos, but my personal opinion is that getting photos ain’t worth your ass, yo.
Another good thread that ended last night, from reddit:

Thailand coup photos on flickr

Another set on flickr

More photos from last night

I’m getting a lot of hits to this entry from Bangkok and requests for updates via e-mail. I know this is partly because some of the bigger blogs and especially those in Thailand are being inundated with traffic. I understand your desire to be anonymous and will keep any correspondence confidential:
cosmicbuddha AT
D, the video you sent was corrupted and the replies I sent are bouncing.
Update at 2Bangkok:

“A coup in Thailand does not mean that everything comes to a stop for an extended period. During Thai coups and even outright paralysis of top Thai governments organs in past decades, the Thai bureaucracy remained in place providing all basic government services through days and weeks of crisis. During this present incident mobile phone and internet connections were never offline (except for when some sites were overwhelmed by heavy traffic). International broadcast media was cut–most likely for fears that the tenacious Thaksin would attempt a speech that would then find its way back to his rural supporters on television.
Patriotic images of the King were used in conjunction with announcements from the new regime to show that its activities were not being made at the expense of royalty. Even the junta’s name, “Committee for Democratic Reform under the Monarchy as Head of State,” emphasizes this. Using royal imagery and the prompt audience with the King at midnight Tuesday is intended to pacify die-hard rural Thaksin supporters who might otherwise oppose the new order…
…The nature of the junta’s plans should be known by midday Bangkok time as there is a meeting at 9:00am with university presidents, permanent secretaries of ministries, and other key government bureaucrats for an expected explanation of the military government’s plans.”

Go read the whole thing.
Watching the coverage of the news in Thailand between CNN International, BBC International, and Japanese news stations last night, I noticed the following:
BBC was the quickest with coverage. CNNi had Rachel fucking Ray preparing an organic tofu “stoop” or whatever while the BBC had live footage of tanks running. The Japanese news channels didn’t start airing anything for hours. This trend continues with the coverage today. The BBC breaks some news, CNN follows five or ten minutes later, with insipid commentary, then a great while later, the JP news bits recycle translated news feeds or something. I don’t particularly like the Beeb or anything, I’m just calling it like I see it. Quite honestly, the blogs and message boards are getting the info out accurately and a lot faster than the big media channels.
If you can read Japanese and have a Mixi account, the thread you want to see is here:

It’s always good to get the 15 year old Japanese schoolgirl side of things… Just kidding, thanks for sending the link.
Nam says that some of the local news channels in the northeast region have started broadcasting again.
On the broadcasts, they say that everyone is worried that Thaksin will come back to Thailand, which might set off a clash between his loyalists and anti-Thaksin factions. They also report that his wife is in Singapore, but the whereabouts of his son and two daughters is unknown.
Nam’s university is on mandatory holiday today, so the closure of banks, government offices, and schools does seem to be nationwide, although she was informed from word of mouth and not directly contacted by the university.
Perhaps the most informative article by big media do far is this article over at The Nation
This article, also over at The Nation, provides details about the Thai Rak Thai (Thaksin’s political party) officials who have been arrested: LINK
The Thai Baht is remaining amazingly stable so far.
Updated timeline of the coup at the Nation
There have been no major updates for a couple hours now. Maybe it will stay like this for a while. Word on the streets in Bangkok is that it’s quiet.
Out of everything I read about yesterday, the most disturbing bit of news was this:

“8:00PM 191 police receive M16 rifles to prepare for an antiriot assignment.”

A riot shield is anti-riot. A fire hose is anti-riot. Even a shotgun is anti-riot. An M16 is kinda Kent State, you know? And in the hands of Thai police? I don’t even want to think about that.
Over on this thread at the Paknam Web forums, the Managing Director, Richard, says:

“I have just come back from Bangkok. Traffic there was very light. Like early sunday morning. I managed to get right into the center of things to take pictures. Very relaxed atmosphere. People having their pictures taken in front of the tanks and with the soldiers. Elsewhere in Bangkok things are as normal. Shops are open and tourists are walking around. Seems very safe at the moment. I will be posting a report with pictures soon at
Thai tv is now back with normal programmes and new information is starting to come out…..”

Straight from The Nation’s timeline:

10:58 am The ARC issues its 11th announcement to appoint members of the council as following:
1 Supreme Commander Gen Ruangroj Mahasaranon becomes chief adviser of the ARC.
2 Army Commander-in-Chief Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin becomes chief of the ARC.
3 Navy Commander-in-Chief Adm Sathiraphan Keyanon becomes first deputy chief of ARC.
4 Air Force Commander-in-Chief ACM Chalit Pookpasuk becomes second deputy chief of ARC.
5 Police Commissioner-General Pol Lt Gen Kowit Wattana becomes third deputy chief of the ARC
6 National Security Council secretary-general Gen Winai Phatthiyakul becomes secretary-general of the ARC.

The ARC = Administrative Reform Council, the interim government until, presumably, elections can be held. It would appear the members are all in a position to keep each other in check.
New Photos up at 2Bangkok

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) “The army chief leading the coup in Thailand has said there will be a general election in October 2007”

Can it all end so happily? I hope so.
Best Photo set yet over at Stickman’s
Oh, man. It’s hard to believe that it’s a coup! That’s so… Thai, and so cool.

New Bangkok Airport Opening

Over at the Beeb website: Bangkok’s airport faces nervous start
I, for one, will miss the old airport because I don’t fancy the clusterfuck that seems to be taking shape regarding transportation from the new airport. Apparently, the regular taxi terminals are 3 kilometers from the arrival gate! I hope that gets worked out sometime soon.
Since I am leaving on October 20, I will probably be flying into Suvarnabhumi (airport code NBK has been assigned until until all international flights are transferred from Don Muang, the old airport, after which it will assume the code everyone is used to, BKK). The funny thing is, I really can’t remember a case of international airports changing when I liked the new one better. Itami to KIX, Kimpo to Incheon, Don Muang to Suvarnabhumi, the trend is basically to fill the new ones with a million expensive trinket and swill shops in order to make everyone forget that they are in the middle of nowhere, and at least an hour away from the city you were supposedly flying into!

Farming in Isan

I never would have guessed there are so many foreigners running farming operations in Thailand: Farming in Thailand Forum
The above sentence is worded awkwardly because it’s apparently illegal for foreigners to do actual work on farms! Actually, that makes a hell of a lot of sense visa-wise because it theoretically deprives a Thai national from performing the same work – it’s just that I never thought there were that many foreigners interested in agricultural there.

Thai “On-arrival” Visa Changes

In a bid to crack down on illegal workers, Thailand is limiting the number of consecutive “on-arrival” visas as of October 1, 2006. Details here and here.
This makes sense. I realize that a lot of people depended on these visas for work, but that’s kind of the point – Thailand wants them to work legally and pay taxes, or get out, and I can’t really fault this line of thinking. I also realize there are people who will suffer who were not working illegally and just don’t qualify for any alternative visas, and I feel for them. Overall, though, it only makes sense that the “on-arrival” visa loophole would be closed at some point.
It looks like the marriage visa I will be applying for will also be changed somehow, but I don’t understand the process enough yet to really comprehend the details.
I love travelling so much, but visa problems are pretty much universally a huge pain in the ass.

Teachers in Thailand under fire

The radical Islamicist problem in southern Thailand is so bad that the authorities are continuing to arm and train school teachers.

“More than 1,700 people have been killed across Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat — the only Muslim-majority provinces in this otherwise peaceful, tourist-friendly Buddhist country.
Among them was a teacher gunned down at his blackboard in July as his 4th graders watched in shock, and a Buddhist art teacher clubbed by a village mob in May until her skull shattered.
Teachers may be targets, officials say, because they are symbols of the central government’s authority, or be taken hostage to be traded for captured insurgents, or because the militants want to do away with secular schools, sending the message that only Islamic schools — which have been spared violence — are safe.”
“While some worry that a teacher’s gun could make him or her more of a target, or end up in a student’s hands, the crisis is so acute that there is little debate about arming teachers.
Shooting courses started in late 2004 but have taken on new urgency since the shocking murder of the 4th-grade teacher July 24 at the Ban Bue Reng primary school in a Narathiwat village.”

Read the full article here: Teachers in Thailand under fire — and learning to shoot back
What a shitty position to be in – crappy salary, low standard of living in an impoverished region, and surrounded by religious nutjobs who can mob together and tear you limb from limb at any given time. These teachers have my respect, big time. The irony of practicing Buddhists being armed with Austrian firepower is offset only by the seriousness of the situation.
Luckily, Nam and I will be living in the northeast of Thailand, far removed from the current problems – and, I might add, most probable targets for terrorist attacks. With things going the way they are now, it’s just a matter of time before something along the lines of the Bali nightclub bombing is repeated in either Phuket or Bangkok. Even so, Nam has friends both on the police force and the army, and we already have dates to start practice on the firing ranges set up – mostly just for fun, but also in case we are lucky enough to get a permit or unofficial waiver to own a firearm. I have a feeling that if things ever really go south over there, we’ll want one around.