Thursday, November 06, 2014

Three Months in Bangkok

It has been three months since we landed in Bangkok.  This post may not be as mind-blowing as I had originally hoped, but perhaps there is something of value among the following observations.

The Malls
Considering the population density in most Asian urban centers, one might think that shopping mall designers in these areas would pull out all the stops to create paragons of efficiency for getting people in, helping them find what they're looking for, getting them around, and getting them out.

But instead, the malls here tend to be convoluted warrens that are neither intuitive nor efficient.  Paths through stores are complicated.  Restrooms are embedded at the backs of those stores or hidden away down winding corridors that require expedition-like preparedness and possibly a rescue party on standby in case you don't return in a reasonable amount of time.  Escalators are stacked in such a way that you can't just turn and take a few steps to the nearest escalator to continue your ascent/descent of multiple floors; you must walk the long way around on each level to the desired escalator.  Mostly I'm just curious what goes into the thinking for design decisions like that.

The Heat
I had heard long ago the claim that it is easier for people to acclimate to heat than to cold.  As a Minnesotan who found excessive heat more unbearable than excessive cold while growing up, I didn't believe it.
However, I think it may be true.  We've only been in Bangkok for three months, and already I feel somewhat less affected by the heat.  Oh, I still sweat, but instead of gushing and dripping it is now beading and trickling.  Perhaps in a few more months I won't even notice -- until I feel cold at anything below 60°F.  Then I will cry because I will have become one of the wimps I would have laughed at in days past.

The People
Thai people seem to be very polite when directly engaging them one on one.  But when it's an anonymous situation or indirect interaction they seem downright rude, almost seeming intentionally so.  It's probably a symptom of living in any densely-populated urban area that can affect anyone, so perhaps this is unnecessarily critical.

One particular instance, although pretty insignificant, really annoyed me.  As you may know or can imagine, Bangkok is rife with motor bikes.  And the sidewalks are as much their road as are the actual streets.  Anyway, while I was walking on said sidewalk-road one day, a particular motorcycle taxi came up behind me and beeped its pitiful horn.  Obligingly, I stepped aside to let it pass, then resumed walking -- only to have it stop just three paces ahead and unload its passenger, thus blocking *my* path.  Seriously -- they couldn't wait three seconds for me to clear that distance.

The Sidewalks
Some of the sidewalks seem meticulously crafted out of a material that becomes ridiculously slick when wet.  Not sure the purpose of this, but it really tests your balance (and the traction of your footwear).  Couple this with motor bikes using the sidewalks as well and it seems a miracle that collisions and wipeouts are rare.

If Left is Right, I don't want to be Wrong.  Or is that Right?
We've had our car for a few weeks now, and I think we're adapting fairly well to the right-hand drive on the left side of the road.  We even took a road trip out of town to Hua Hin for a long weekend.  It went well, but GPS navigation is more than handy.  Old habits die hard, though: still often approach the wrong side of the car no matter who is driving, and the turn signal vs. wiper control battle will wage until the end of time.  Thankfully, we have an automatic transmission, though I've done manual shifting with a right-hand drive car in the Seychelles and we lived to tell about it.

With my job here, I've already traveled to Frankfurt, Chiang Mai, and Phnom Penh, with a trip to Vientiane later this month.  Definitely keeping busy and seeing some new places along the way.

The next entry in the logical progression would happen at "Four Years in Bangkok."  I suspect that is unlikely to happen, as even if D-What extended, one generally leaves post a little short of the last full year to allow for Home Leave and training.  The four-year mark would be August 6, 2018, and we would probably end up leaving in June or July.  But if we added in the weeks and days we've spent in Thailand here and there for vacations in the past, we might be able to hit four years total.  Only time will tell.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Two Weeks in Bangkok

This evening (well, close to midnight) will mark two weeks since we landed in Bangkok.

Still living out of our suitcases, and will be for another month or so according to the people in the shipping section.  And that will just be the stuff going by air.  Our HHE (household effects) are traveling by boat (though they were supposed to go by air out of Ethiopia) and will take even longer to arrive.  Sounds like we'll get that stuff in November.

Not a whole lot to write about; D-What has already dived into her Regional Environment Officer role, and my (interim) clearance came through so I'll be starting on Monday.  Had kind of hoped to have a little more time to explore the neighborhood and greater Bangkok before starting work, but so it goes.

Ro-Ro and Tho-Tho have started school already, and seem to be having no problems adjusting.

Supplemental furniture was just delivered while I was drafting this, so now we can actually put our clothes away into dressers!  And I'm off to do just that.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

By the Numbers (or, Am I a Robot?)

I am beginning to understand how people are sometimes seen as numbers (rather than people) to employers, governments, etc.  What I am about to say probably seems horrible (of me), but I am feeling more emotion over selling our Honda CR-V than I am over saying goodbye to the household staff we employed in Addis Ababa.

It seems justifiable to me: the car served us longer and better.  It was much more reliable than our staff, and never disappointed or infuriated us.  The only times it underperformed were when it had a punctured tire, but those problems were easily addressed and set to proper operation.  The same cannot be said of our staff.  They underperformed regularly and never seemed to improve despite us attempting frequent "repairs."  Furthermore, they destroyed significantly more (of our things) than reasonable expectation would allow.  I suppose you could say the car destroyed fossil fuels and left its own carbon footprint, but it didn't outright leave us with less than we started with.

Finally, perhaps the most significant factor: cost.  The cost of using our CR-V for 4 years?  Zero.  (Well, fuel and maintenance had costs, but those are to be expected -- my point is we got all the money we paid for the car back when we sold it.)  The cost of employing our household staff for 22 months?  Close to the purchase price of the car.

As I've felt for a long time: you get what you pay for.

On a vaguely-related note, do you know what is the best thing I ever bought?  No, not my Waterford Crystal Death Star.  No, not the Spice Girls concert tickets.  Okay, maybe it's the third best thing: an uninterruptible power source (UPS) for the DSL modem and wireless router (and to a lesser extent, the TV and disc player).  Now that the UPS has been packed up to be shipped to Bangkok, it's really noticeable now when the power goes out.  The generator still kicks on, but that momentary switch-over is enough to shut down the TV/player and force the modem and router to reboot.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

I Really am Pro-Government, but Sometimes...

It seems the good old USG is going to even greater lengths to make certain aspects of the Foreign Service life more annoying.

A few months back, whoever is in charge of it decided to change the routing of our mail by adding a leg - in the wrong direction.  So now it takes an extra 2-3 weeks for stuff to get here (on top of the original ~4 weeks).

Well, we're leaving soon so we won't have to deal with that any more.  Excited for APO service in Bangkok!

What we do have to deal with is traveling on USG money.  For the first time in over a decade of traveling on Foreign Service assignments, we have been told that we have to fly into the rinky-dink airport in LaCrosse, Wisconsin.  Never before have they told us we had to fly there.  We've always flown into MSP airport.  Why LaCrosse?  It is geographically closer to our official Home Leave address (in Winona, MN) and - the real deciding factor - get this: somehow the USG fare is cheaper to LaCrosse than it is to MSP, even though the flight to LaCrosse connects through MSP.  That's mind boggling enough, and I still don't understand the why now after all this time part.

So now, instead of the four of us conveniently flying into a large airport with our 8 suitcases plus carry-ons plus car seats plus stroller into a city where we have access to a borrowed vehicle, we have to tack on an extra connection via a tiny plane that won't accommodate much for carry-ons into a tiny airport in the next town over from where people live that could come pick us up, AND where there is no vehicle available for us to borrow.  That's 140+ miles away, up near MSP airport.

Good times.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Saturday, April 26, 2014

This is for the Hustlas, now back to the (3)Gs

This is probably about 6 years late, but Google Maps Street View is amazing.  I've been using it to explore the streets of Bangkok, to try to get familiar with neighborhoods around the U.S. embassy, the boys' future school, and places we might be assigned to live.  (We *still* haven't gotten our housing assignment, which is vexing since we have to make decisions about what household effects will go to Bangkok and which will go to storage; not to mention that other people we know going to Bangkok received their assignment nearly two months ago.)

I guess what makes Street View so amazing to me now (nearly 7 years after its launch) is that I'm actually able to use it for our next assignment.  In 2008, we were headed to China.  No Street View there -- the Chinese would never allow such detailed information to be public.  Even satellite imagery of China is limited.  And in 2012, we came to Ethiopia. Could be any number of factors why Street View isn't here, but terrible roads, constant construction, and Ethiopia taking cues from China in terms of information control come to mind.

So when we arrive in Bangkok, jet-lagged and disoriented, and have less than a week to get the boys enrolled in school before the term starts, I'm already armed with the knowledge of exactly where the school is and two different routes to get there (depending on where we get assigned for housing).

I'm sure I will also get excited (again, belatedly) about WiFi and 3G/4G networks since I will be living in a place with such capabilities for the first time since owning a smart phone (once again, outdated -- sensing a theme? -- an iPhone3 that our Ethiopian driver asked us to order for him, then upon its arrival decided he didn't want, leaving us in the lurch.  He wouldn't pay for it, so I ended up with a mostly unwanted iPhone.  But I digress.).

So yeah, I'm running about 6-7 years behind schedule on this stuff, so I've got some time to make up.  Pretty soon I'll start using apps and maybe even figure out how hashtags came into use, why they aren't called pound signs, and most importantly why people think they are useful and not annoying.  Might take me a while to crack that one since I still haven't wrapped my brain around the appeal of Twitter.

Watch out mobile Internets, I'm coming.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Short Timers

I'm getting excited.  Look at that number on the right.  We're into double digits now, and it gets smaller every day.

About two and a half months to go.  We've got to sell our car, among other things (and buy a right-hand drive car when we get to Thailand).

We'll have to sort through everything to decide what will be sent to storage and what will go to Thailand: our apartment in Bangkok (not yet assigned) is sure to be a significant downsize from our current house in Addis.

Not terribly excited to pack up again so soon (didn't we just do this 20-some months ago?) but it's always exciting to move on to a new assignment.  Just hoping that the next one will be more engaging.  Can't imagine it won't be -- it's Thailand, after all.

Of course, I was optimistic -- excited, even -- for our Beijing assignment, and we all know how that went.

For those of you who are in Minnesota, we plan to be there for most of the month of July.  No need for so much shopping (I'm looking at you, consumables) so our schedule should be more open compared to last time.