Edward's Bangkok Blog

These articles are light-hearted views from 2011 to 2016, when Edward and his wife lived in Bangkok, Thailand.

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Article has image(s) Planning Makes Perfect
(by Edward 2011-08-23)

The Day Planner Generation

One of the basic rules of software engineering is to “design first, code after.” That is to say that you can no more write a piece of software without a plan than you can build a house without a blueprint. In fact, the principle of advance planning has been so broadly applied that you can buy tools to help plan your graduation party, plan your wedding, plan your job search, plan your children, plan your vacation, plan your life’s goals, and even plan for the unexpected. This is the generation of the Day Planner, Day Runner, and Task Manager. (Did anyone catch that pun?)

Day Planning Bangkok Style

Perhaps it’s just the software engineer in me, or maybe just something in my bloodline, but I have embraced the American belief that you need a plan, and I am learning how to apply that methodology to life in Bangkok. I doubt that even Steven Covey planned for life in Asia. Therefore, I would like to outline some of the planner tools I am learning to implement on a daily basis:

  • Grocery shopping. I don’t mean “what” to buy when grocery shopping, as in simply taking a grocery list. I’m talking about “how much” to buy as in, “how much of this can I fit in the backseat and trunk of the taxi.”
  • Mapping. There is no such thing as a right turn in Bangkok, unless it is a U-Turn. Therefore, you must plan how to get where you want to go entirely based upon left turns. And I have learned (quite painfully on one occassion) that you can’t trust a Bangkok taxi driver to know the way. (“Bpai Sun Sirikit MRT krap. Khun kao jai mai krap?” “Kap pom, kap pom, Chong Nonsi,” he says. “Mai! Mai Chong Nonsi,” I say, “Sun Sirikit MRT...subway...(I show him a picture)...Khun kao jai mai krap?” “Kap pom, kap pom,” and he proceeds to take us to Chong Nonsi anyway. [SIGH])
  • Cash on hand. Debit terminals at grocery stores are pretty common, but many places only accept cash. It is true that you can’t walk 50 feet down any street without seeing an ATM, but the fee to use the dang thing is 150 baht a whack (about $5.00)! And because taxi drivers can’t always make change, you not only have to have enough cash, but also the right denomination of cash. A lack of “cash planning,” and you might find yourself walking two miles home.
  • The “Sweat Factor.” Bangkok has one season: hot and humid. When I go to our church building in the mornings, I walk over half-a-mile to get on the bus, and then a third-mile after I get off. When we walk to the nearest mall, it is a half-mile. By the time you’ve done a couple half-mile walks, you might not notice the difference between your body odor and that of the Bangkok open sewers. Therefore, carefully planning for the sweat factor can prevent the “land of smiles” from frowning at you.


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Posted by: HeatherGDenver (2011-08-24)

OMGosh, I LOVE ur blog!!!  Socorro was right in comparing my blog (of India) with ya'lls experience (of Thailand)!!!  I love ur comments about the coffee hell, planning for groceries (I've had to use bus for that in past), taxi drivers not understanding you (had one take us to wrong place in India), and the sweat-factor!  It's so encouraging to hear all your family's experiences, between emails from Socorro and ur blog.  Praying for you all!!! :)

Article has image(s) A Train In A Bottle
(by Edward 2011-09-16)

That Ugly "Babel" Incident

First, I must say that Thai script is one of the most beautiful languages I have ever seen. In the picture above, you can see a sample of our church sign in Thai with its English equivalents. I think you'd agree that the Thai script just feels like art.
Ever since that ugly "Babel incident," language has created boundaries between people. But part of human nature--whether used for good or evil--is our compulsion to push the boundaries, to break rules, to cross the line. In the context of language, this is good. There are approximately 6.75 billion people in the world. If you speak English, you can communicate with more than one-fifth of them (22%). For sake of example, if you speak Mandarin Chinese, you can communicate with 15% of the world; Spanish, 7.5%; French 3%; Thai, 0.5%; and so on.

False Friends

When learning a second language, most programs try to take what you know of your first language and teach you to apply that to the second by the use of "cognates." Put simply, cognates are words that appear or sound similar in different languages. (The old joke for those learning Spanish is "just add an 'O' or an 'A' at the end, and it's Spanish." "You can drive a 'car-o,' etc.") Therefore, cognates are your "friends," because you can use what you already know in the new language. But there are many times when cognates fail, and these are called "false friends." For example, as I was going into a convenience store, I once asked a Spanish-speaker if they would like some "cola," and the results were disastrous.

You Can't Thai Your Shoes

After a few embarrassing moments (like the one above), I took a little time and learned conversational Spanish. I've also spent over a year learning three levels of spoken French. And in my young-adult years, I even learned some basic Vietnamese. Armed with knowledge of cognates, diphthongs, and tonality, I figured that I could take on Thai tout suite, and emerge the conquistador. But I had forgotten my studies of Vietnamese, especially the fact that there are no cognates. When learning Thai, you have no "friends," only "false friends." So you can't Thai your shoes.

Real Life Examples

Everyone in Thailand, from about age 14 and up, has a cell phone. Therefore, it is not uncommon to overhear conversations of other train-riders, passerby's, or taxi drivers.
A typical woman's conversation will consist of a dozen interjections of, "Ka ka, ka, ka ka ka, ka." In Spanish, this sounds awful. And a man's conversation similarly says, "krap, krap, krap, krap," which sounds equally awful in English. At first I thought this was a very crude language, but "ka" is how women say, "yeah, yes, yep," and "krap" is the man's equivalent.
I also hear people frequently say, "Die! Die! Die!" I thought, "For being so crude, they're very well cultured in English Literature, as everyone seems to be able to quote Shakespeare." I felt the need to answer, "No die, but an ace…for he is but one!" I was disappointed to find out that dii (pronounced "die") is the Thai word for "okay," not the suicidal cry of Pyramus. What a pity.
Finally, I saw a bottle of "Coke BTS." The "BTS" in Bangkok is the sky train, so I thought maybe "Coke BTS" had some sort of surprise. Thoughts of the old ship-in-a-bottle filled my fantasy as I imagined that maybe inside that delicious Coke there was a BTS train-in-a-bottle. "How cool!" I thought, unprepared for another disappointment. Though the letters look like "EAN BTS," they are actually the Thai-script for "Coke Zero." Thus my "Coke BTS" came up a big "Coke Zero." But what do you expect for 17 baht?

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Posted by: HeatherGDenver (2011-09-24)

Glad to see another post! This one reminds me of my own adventure in learning Hindi (despite my lax lately).  I even read a very interesting book titled "Dreaming In Hindi", which highlighted a lot of what happens when you are learning a new language.  There were some "questionable" parts in it that I had to skip, remininscent of my husband's uncle's statement "eat the meat and spit out the bones".  Look forward to more posts! :)

Article has image(s) Revelations and Thorns
(by Edward 2011-10-06)

A Heady Thing

Many people are familiar with the Biblical account of Jesus walking on the water. At that time, Jesus also invited Peter to come out of the boat and join Him. So Peter left the boat and also walked on water for a short time, until he took his eyes off Jesus. The stage play "Saint John In Exile" dramatizes how Peter's success affected him. John says, "Peter was never the same after the Lord let him walk on water. It's true. Walking on water is a heady thing, beloved. It would change you, too!"

In much of Asia, there is a glut of laborers. Therefore, whenever there is a service to be done, there are usually twice as many workers servicing that need as you would see in America. At restaurants, there are usually no less than three waiters/waitresses serving your table. And because there is so much competition, workers display a great eagerness to please…and this can be a heady thing when they're working to please you.

For example, I recently had to buy new eyeglasses, and my family happened to be with me when I went to the optical store. There were two girls working the store that night, and when we came in they went to work doing everything they could to make us feel special. They cheerfully greeted us with ear-to-ear smiles and the trademark "sa-wat-dee-ka" of Thailand. They quickly setup a vanity mirror, and like a Gatling gun, shot an endless supply of frames for me to try on…bam bam bam! If that wasn't enough, they even poured us each a glass of orange juice with a a small bendy-straw and a real orchid set on the rim. By the time we left, we all felt so special…it was a heady thing.

Our home here in Thailand is in a "serviced apartments" complex. This means that there is a service staff that takes care of literally everything: landscaping, interior and exterior pest control, changing lights, appliance repair/replacement, free shuttle to various stores, free shuttle to various bus/sky train stations, fetching taxis, and even a security staff that clicks their heels and salutes every time we walk by. I have to admit, it's a heady thing.

To Serve Man

I confess that "red carpet treatment," and being daily saluted could quite easily go to your head. But there are other "luxuries" that offer a little balance. For example, the fragrance of "eau de toilette" that permeates the humidity. I'm not speaking of Chanel No. 5, but rather the river of open sewer along Naradiwas road…"toilet water" in the most literal sense. There is also the flapping of wings of the exotic local fowl: of course I mean the cursed vampirous mosquitos, not the "lovely plumage of the Norwegian Blue." One Sunday's lunch in a local restaurant left our family covered with itching welts. We didn't eat lunch, we were lunch! For all of the hospitable service that we received, I flashed back to an old sketch: "To Serve Man" was not a book on being a servant, "it's a cookbook!" So whatever the intentions of those who offer special treatment, I am conscious of this fact: walking on water is a heady thing, but only One has ever done it right without sinking!

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Posted by: Mike C. (2011-10-12)

Hey, guys! I read about the flooding in the capital. I trust you are all safe and well. Let us know when you have a free minute. Cheers!

Posted by: Ed (2011-10-12)

Floods haven't hit us yet, but it is possible that they could in the next day or two. A torrential rainstorm today didn't help...especially since my wife and I were out in it, and came home looking like two bathed cats.

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