Sunday, December 29, 2013

ICB Retreat

Earlier this month we spent a weekend out of Bangkok on a church retreat. Along with people from Jamaica, The Congo, Pakistan, Thailand, Philippines, Australia, England and other countries from around the world, we feel blessed to call International Church of Bangkok our home church in Thailand. Here's a video a member made of weekend highlights- we just happen to be the opening shot.  Enjoy!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Protest Season

Political protests in Thailand are nothing new, especially in the capitol city of Bangkok.  In recent decades there has been a pattern of major political protests every few years, often resulting in a change of government.  Some of you might recall that there were major protests in Bangkok in 2010 shortly before we moved to Thailand the first time.

Once again, there are major political protests going in Bangkok. Some of the recent political protests in Bangkok have escalated into violence and have started to make international news, so we thought we should at least acknowledge them here on our blog.  Thus far the direct impact to us has been minimal, but we are staying alert.

Here's how things have affected us thus far:
  • We've spent a lot more time on local news websites, particularly Twitter, to make sure we know any areas in the city to avoid.
  • Traffic.  At times a number of major roads have been blocked by protests.  The result is everyone thinks traffic in central Bangkok will be terrible.  The reality is many people avoid the city and traffic has been remarkably light.
  • Some of the half day pre-school kids at Mary's school had to be picked up late from school a few days due to lunch hour protests in the area.  Fortunately the protesters were business people that needed to head back to the office after lunch and things cleared up in the early afternoon.
I'm not a political analyst, so I won't even try to explain the complexity of Thai politics here.  If you're interested in that sort of thing, this link below provides a reasonably concise summary of the current political landscape in Thailand.

More major protests are planned for this week.  So far our neighborhood has not been directly impacted by any of the current protests, but we are paying close attention to what is going on.  During the 2010 protests and ensuing government crackdown our neighborhood was briefly turned into a battle zone as the protesters were driven out of the city center. The link below is to a photo-essay of the government crackdown on the 2010 protests.  Many of the pictures were taken in the street in front of our condo.

We don't expect a repeat of 2010, but it does serve as a reminder of why it's best to stay alert when protests are going on.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Super Typhoon Haiyan

While the headlines out of the Philippines may have dwindled, the damage of Typhoon Haiyan is still very real.  Six days after the storm hit, my school had the regional director of Childfund (non-profit that has helped over 408,000 children in the Philippines over the past 40 years) do a short presentation for our staff. His children attend my school. After hearing how three of our Filipino staff’s families were spared their lives and not much else; he wanted to educate us on what was happening on the ground. The facts I state in this post are from his presentation.

The logistics of getting help to the people who need it are a nightmare. The Philippines are made up of 7000 islands, 2000 of those inhabited. 36 provinces were devastated by the category 5 storm. It was possibly the worse storm ever recorded. They are not prepared with earth moving equipment to clear roads and getting the right equipment in is expensive, plus it takes time.  I hadn't thought of this before, but the water and wind damaged not only the infrastructure above ground- schools, homes, health faculties- it also ruined all infrastructure below ground fuel reservoirs, sewer pipes, water pipes, and  the electrical system

My school has many Filipinos on staff. Three related staff has been praying for their families ever since Haiyan, locally called Yolanda, hit their homes. My school immediately formed a committee to help raise funds to give them to send to their families. So far between donations, a bake sale, and causal for a cause Fridays we've raised over 100,000 Thai Baht, around $3,300 USD.

My co-worker Noren works in the classroom right next to me and has been willing to share with me how her family is doing.  All the photos on this post came from her sister in the past two weeks. They have been able to get money to the Philippines and it has been used to buy rice, propane for cooking, water, and other canned goods. Her family believes they have found a good resource for obtaining the basic necessities. However, they are concerned about a young baby in the family. At the time of storm, there were over 200,000 pregnant woman and 135,000 lactating women. Young children have a high risk of malnutrition during a time of crisis. The community in which my co-workers family lives have come together to live in structures still standing. Everyone is taking care of everyone.

My school’s committee leading the fundraising efforts is made up of parents and teachers. Their plan is to set up appeal efforts throughout the next two terms and into the next school year. Noren and her family plan on using the money to help rebuild their community and take care of themselves. As she told me, “They can only trust that God will provide.”

If you are out and about Christmas shopping and don’t quite know what to get someone, consider giving a gift towards helping Noren and her family in the Philippines.  If you’re interested, please send me an email, and I can give you the details. Otherwise, please continue to keep the Philippines and their people in your prayers. 

Monday, November 18, 2013


It's been a few weeks since we've managed to escape the city for a weekend, but we finally managed to get away on Saturday and Sunday to the mountains in the nearby province of Kanchanaburi (about a 3 hour drive)

Our resort was along the River Kwai Noi, not far from the boarder with Myanmar.  It was quite close to the Sai Yok Noi waterfall.  We've been to this waterfall before, about 3 years ago, but it was during the dry season and there wasn't any water.  Seeing it again after the recent rains was much better.  The Thai people in the pictures are our friends Nun and Yo who we were traveling with.  Nun is featured in the top middle picture below shortly before she took an unintended bath.

Just a typical Sunday riding elephants around the mountains:

On the way back to Bangkok we made a short side trip to the Sri Nakharin Dam.  We may need to make another weekend trip here sometime for kayaking and fishing.

We're back to the city for now; refreshed and looking forward to the next time we can get out and explore more of Thailand.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Lost in Translation

We are lucky to live in an SE Asia city that caters to the tourists and expats. When going to restaurants in downtown and in the Bangkok area, there is usually a menu in English. We can usually tell immediately if they just used Google translator or had a person/company help them accurately put the Thai into English.

When you happen upon a restaurant using a word-by-word translation method you can end up with some... let's say unique... menu items.

Here is a list of menu items all from one Thai restaurant that was located in the neighborhood we stayed when we first came back in July. Some of them you can figure out... some of them you just have no idea!

  • Prison Break Trailer
  • Topping
  • New Octopus Garden
  • I hope the Lemon
  • Plaza Forum
  • A Golden Needle Mushroom Butter
  • Stir in Spagetthi Drunk
  • Dip Fish Balls Roughly
  • Ancient Fish
  • New Items in the Chicken

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Slum Fires

One of the unfortunate realities of life in Bangkok is the threat of slum fires.  Bangkok's shanty town slums are tightly packed with makeshift houses allowing fires to spread rapidly.  The lack of streets through the shanty towns also makes it difficult for emergency vehicles to access these areas.  Recently there have been two different slum fires close to our condo.  Those affected by the fires are some of the poorest people in Bangkok to begin with, and many people lost their homes and all their belongings in the these fires. Fortunately nobody was killed.

The first set of pictures is from the Pai Sing Toh slum fire.  This is about a 15 minute walk from our condo.

The second fire was in the Rum Gao area of the Khlong Toey slums.  This was a much larger fire, but was also farther away from our condo.  The close up photos are from Coconuts Bangkok news site while the distant photos are taken from our condo.

Keep those affected by these devastating fires in your prayers.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Eid Al-Adha

One of the inquiry themes for the Year 1 students at AISB is Celebrations. Instead of taking 6-8 weeks to learn about different world/religion/family traditions in isolation, we take them as we come and make it an integrated part of our year.  At Meet the Teacher Night, I encouraged parents to let me know when their families would be celebrating different holidays or events. Today was the first day someone has taken me up on it.

Today was the Muslim Holy Day, Eid-Al-Adha. One of my Muslim student's mom thought it was important for her daughter to understand about the day in her own setting. The giving of gifts is very common as part of this celebration as well as a shared meal so, we had a special Eid-Al-Adha cake for lunch. It was a teachable moment for me for a few reasons: 1) I was able to explain that it was not a birthday cake, but a cake to celebrate an important day. 2) Celebrating Eid-Al-Adha fit right into our week's theme of studying Egypt, where today is a national holiday. 

 My student was quite proud to share about the day and I think her mom deserves credit for helping her celebrate at school. 
Our Cake
Eid Mubarak is the traditional greeting for today. It translates as, "Have a blessed Eid"

Here is a good article I found that helps explain how this day is celebrated and why. Link

However, the celebration did not stop there. At the end of the day I was brought a special treat of Beef Curry for Greg and I to have for dinner. She explained that this would be on the table for their big celebration tonight with friends. She also explained that in Muslim areas that there is no beef, camel meat is a good substitution. Can't say I've had Camel Curry before. I confirmed this was beef.

Greg and I served it on top of rice, along side string beans with bacon and street food sweet corn. It was amazing! I'm hoping that the mom bought it from a local restaurant (as opposed to making it homemade) because Greg and I would love to have it again.

To any Muslims reading this blog, Eid Mubarak. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Flood of 2013?

A number of concerned people have emailed me recently after hearing that Thailand is once again experiencing flooding.  I'm not a flood expert, but I have been paying close attention to flooding situation in Thailand and may be able to offer some useful insight.  First I'd like to say that I do not expect Hutchinson Technology's factory in Ayutthaya to experience any flooding in 2013.

Background:  It was almost exactly 2 years ago that we experienced a major flood in Thailand.  My factory was inundated for months with nearly 2 meters of water after waters breached the flood wall surrounding the industrial estate.  As a result Mary and I moved back to the US for a year and a half.  The pictures below are from 2011.

Thailand is experiencing flooding again, but not to the same extent as it did in 2011.  There has been a lot of rain lately filling local rivers and canals to the brim, and flooding many of the rice fields around Ayutthaya province.  I've even driven through standing water a few mornings on my way to work after heavy rains flooded local roads.   The pictures below were taken near the Rojana Industrial Estate during the last week.  The pictures look similar to early October 2011, but fortunately there is more to the story.

The big difference this year compared to 2011 is the water levels in the major dams north of Bangkok.  In 2011 two major dams maxed out capacity and had to release massive quantities of water into already flooding rivers.  Water levels in the Bhumibol and Sirikit dams are actually quite low in 2013 compared to recent years.

Water levels in the dams are under control this year.  The figures below come from the Thailand Irrigation Department.

Bhumibol Dam

Sirikit Dam

Less water in Ayutthaya province in 2013 is a very good thing, but even if there was as much water as 2011 the Rojana Industrial Estate is much better prepared.  In the last two years the flood wall surrounding the industrial park has been significantly upgraded..  Previously there was a 2 meter high simple earth berm around the industrial estate. The old earth berm was not high enough or strong enough for the floods in 2011.

The new flood barrier is built with steel reinforced concrete at its core.  The concrete barrier extends 2 meters into the ground, and 3 meters above the ground with a 2 meter high earth berm around it for additional support.  Even if another flood similar to 2011 were to come, this wall is designed to keep the water out (although you'd still have to take a boat to get to the industrial park).

There is still some concern about localized flash flooding due to heavy rains, but the monsoon season is quickly coming to an end.  There could also still be some impacts from Typhoons Nari and Wipha which are heading towards southeast Asia now, but I do not expect anything like the flooding we saw in 2011.

Parts of eastern Thailand are seeing significant flooding this year, but most of this water will not drain out through Ayutthaya or Bangkok.  The map below shows the areas that have been hardest hit by flooding from the monsoon rains in the last few weeks, and approximately where the water is headed.

In Summary:
  • Will Thailand flood in 2013? Yes, it floods every year.
  • Will the Rojana Industrial Estate flood in 2013? No

Monday, September 23, 2013

Koh Mak

Mary had a four day weekend from school this weekend, so I took some vacation and we decided to check out an island we hadn't been to before.  It's the rainy season in Thailand now, so not many tourists come to visit.  This means good prices and minimal crowds.  This was our first time to Koh Mak, in part because it's not easy to get to.  It's far from major population centers, and airport, so it is not a common tourist stop.  The trip was difficult, but well worth it.  Koh Mak is by far the most unspoiled island we've been to in Thailand.

Getting there:
We packed our bags into our car early on Friday morning and headed southeast out of Bangkok.  There is only one speed boat per day to Koh Mak from the mainland this time of year, so we didn't want to be late.  We allowed our selves some extra driving time, and we were glad we did.  Bangkok traffic, heavy rain, and even some road flooding turned what could have been a 4 hour drive into 5.5 hour drive.  The boat to the island was a large speedboat, and was packed full with over 50 people.  The same tropical depression that made driving a hassle in the morning, turned the boat trip into an hour long thrill ride with 3-5 meter high waves.  I enjoyed it, although I think Mary was rather glad when the trip was complete.

Yes, 50+ people fit on this boat.

We stayed at Ao Kao White Sand Beach Resort, one of a handful of resorts on the island that is open this time of year.  We stayed 3 nights, and the last night there were only 2 other guests at the entire resort.   We had a beach front bungalow and miles of beautiful beach almost entirely to ourselves.

On Sunday we rented a motorbike for the day to explore the island.  Although we have both taken motorbike taxis regularly in Bangkok, driving one was a new experience for me (Mary chose to ride along, and didn't drive).  Although the roads on the island are crude, there was very little other traffic to worry about.  We checked out some other beaches, explored winding roads through the jungle, and got a good look at the rubber, coconut, and pineapple plantations in the interior of the island.

We found this rather interesting statue while cruising around the island.  It seems out of place in the middle of the jungle.  Then again, it would probably seem out of place in most locations.

Like most places in Thailand, Koh Mak had plenty of dogs running around.  For the most part the dogs here were quite friendly and well taken care of compared to elsewhere in Thailand.  We even allowed a couple of them to come sit by us on our porch in the afternoon while we did some reading.  This curious pup was our favorite.

Sadly we couldn't stay forever.  Monday morning we were back on the speedboat at 8 AM.  The boat was less crowded and the sea was much calmer.  This made Mary quite happy.

Hopefully we can go back some time soon!

Friday, September 13, 2013


Highlights from my week at school: (Inquiry Theme: We are Unique; Week's Theme: Our National Anthems)

Throughout this week we have been listening to everyone's national anthems. With the help of YouTube, you can find videos playing the song with images from around the appropriate country rotating in the background. It was a great way to take a virtual field, hear the languages kids speak at home, and learn how to show respect when you hear these songs.

Here is Thailand's National Anthem. It's played everyday at 8am and 6pm in public train stations. Most schools play it before the day begins as well. Click Here!

Yesterday during show and tell one of my Japanese students made an origami whale. She did it with the whole class watching- it was amazing. Then with the paper she brought- everyone got their own try.

On Wednesday one of my Korean students brought in a Korean drum he made from Cup-of-Noodles containers, a shoe string, and chopsticks. This was after I suggested in a newsletter that they could email me a picture of a traditional instrument. His mom did email a link to a video of someone playing it.

In other news...

1) Our sea shipment has cleared customs and our things arrive on Saturday. No more sleeping on an air mattress!

2) Next weekend (long weekend with Friday and the next Monday off) we'll be headed to the beach, Koh Mak. Click here for images and to know why YOU should come visit us!

3) Missing the beginning of fall and Hawkeye Football Lots! Go Hawks!

Now off to school....TGIF!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Good Morning Bangkok

5:50am, 3rd September 2013, the city says good morning. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Where to find and air mattress in Bangkok

When we found out we were moving back to Bangkok we said we wanted to try something different.  We absolutely loved the place we lived in 2010 and 2011, but why not try something different?  Actually, it turns out there are a few reasons not to try something different.

1. The price
2. The view
3. The pool
4. The neighborhood
5. Proximity to the expressway and subway
6. All our things will fit perfectly (more on that later)

So, in absolute contradiction to our initial goal of trying something different, this last weekend we moved back into the same place we lived before.  Not just the same building, but the same unit, same landlord, same mailbox, parking space, etc.  It turns out the place has been vacant for the last 20 months, and the reasonable rent (for central BKK anyway) is now even more reasonable.  While settling in we've even had a few "oh that's where we left this" moments, with items we apparently left behind.

We really did look for another place.  In fact we looked at about 20 other properties.  But in the end we didn't see anything that we liked as much as our old "home".  So we're back at the Amanta Lumpini, and enjoying the view.

We have also leased a car so that I (Greg) can drive to work each day.  It also works for bringing us to the beach (pictured below).  It's the black 2005 Honda City.  Since many of the people reading this are in the U.S. and have never heard of the Honda City, it's like a Honda Civic, but smaller.  It's not sold in the states.

The beach we visited was Jomtien, about 2 hours from Bangkok.  The place we have normally stayed here was booked so we tried the "Jomtien Boathouse".  It offered a great view of the sunset from our balcony and the beach was right across the street.

Getting back to the title of this blog...

We are shipping our things over from the U.S. and have not received anything yet. We have an air shipment and a sea shipment, but even the air shipment hasn't cleared Thai customs yet.  There's a whole long story behind that, but in short things sometimes just take longer than expected in Thailand.  Since we are bringing household goods from the U.S. we have an unfurnished condo.  Our air shipment contains an air mattress, but delays resulted in us moving into our condo this weekend with little more than a suitcase each.  We know all of our things will fit perfectly here, since we bought many of them in Thailand, 3 years ago, for the exact same condo.  But for now, we are in a very empty place.

We needed something to sleep on.  I thought buying another air mattress would be a quick and easy solution.  Wrong.  I explained the air mattress concept to a number of Thai friends.  For the most part they all agree this is a great idea, and one they've never heard of before.  A google search on the topic led me to a blog post by another sleepless American who did eventually find an air mattress in Thailand.  They can be found in Thailand!  Apparently when the shipment arrived, the department store employees must have been confused as to what it was.  If you need an air mattress in Bangkok, look near the inflatable pool toys in the sporting goods section of the Paragon Department store.  I even found one that two people can float on.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Settling In

School has started. We've secured a lease on a car. We've signed our rental contract for our condo.... we feel like we are settling in, yet far from establishing a routine. Example: Blogging. We want to make it a part of our regular routine, but we just haven't done that yet. Give us 1 more month and we'll see...

A look inside my room. Minutes before they all arrived... so peaceful!

Life in the Echidna (eh-kid-na) Room at The Australian International School is going well. I have met 9 of my 10 students, the tenth returns from a holiday in Japan next week. As we begin to establish our routines, I have remembered how much I enjoy teaching in an international school setting. Two reasons that come right to mind are low class sizes and families from all over the world. Here are where the kids come from in my room:


 (Native English Speakers-1)

Another thing I am really enjoying about my classroom is the Mimio interactive whiteboard. My classroom is the only room at the school with one and I'm trying to make the most of it. Thank goodness for Pinterest and websites that teachers can share already made files! 

Greg should be home any minute and we'll need to grab some dinner before he has his Tuesday conference call. Next post: Our Anniversary Trip to the beach!

Friday, August 9, 2013

An American Dive Bar in Thailand

True or  False: The picture taken this week.  The answer is.... true! After reading about it on Coconuts Bangkok, we headed over to Fatty's Bar and Diner to check out their American food. It's only about a 5 minute walk from our hotel and in a direction we hadn't explored.

Turns out the owner is from Door County Wisconsin and has recreated an American dive bar here in Bangkok. We think he's done a pretty good job! We especially liked the Wisconsin State Flag hanging over the bar. With menu items like nachos with real Wisconsin cheddar, hot dogs, Wisconsin brats, and grilled burgers- we know we'll be back when we are really wanting a taste from home. The only thing missing was the craft beers on tap.

Hard to see, but some unique menu descriptions include the Italian Dog, "and a sprinkle of Elf Dust". and The Jack the Ripper Dog is "A bacon wrapped dog deep friend to crispy awesomeness." You can also substitute any hot dog for a brat! Where else in Bangkok can you do that?!?!?

Last time we arrived in Bangkok (2010) we went about a month before indulging in some "American" food. We weren't craving anything American the other night, it was just knowing that it was so close... we had to go.  We shared the poppers, Greg had a brat smothered in lots of good things and I had a burger. My pick for the best food item: Jalapeno poppers. Greg's pick: homemade oil & vinegar based coleslaw.

For the past two weeks we have definitely been enjoying the food this city has to offer. Lot of Thai of course (street food and restaurants), but we've also had sushi a few times, Chinese noodles, a Swiss breakfast (crepes), and of course Lebanese! We look forward to many scrumptious meals to come!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Sea to Sea

After a great weekend, this morning I'm headed to my first day of New Teacher Orientation at AISB. We are supposed to bring an artifact representing us and our home country to share with the other new staff. I'm bringing my Sea to Sea devotional book.
Image taken from Sea to Sea's official website,

Sea to Sea is a cross country bike tour across the United States. Riders raise money to go towards world relief efforts to end the cycle of poverty. The tour started on June 21st in Los Angles, CA and will end in 3 more weeks in New York. Many of the riders do the entire thing! Greg's dad is doing the last 3 weeks, Grand Rapids, MI to NYC.

Grand Rapids is the 7th city stop on the map. 

The devotional book I'm bringing to school today is set up to be used by supporters and riders alike. Each day there is a short devotional story, an elevation map of the daily route, and even a quote about biking in the bike short section. While Greg and I haven't read it every day, I except we will to see Doug's journey.

Doug out on a training ride.

We'll be checking his blog to see his updates, and checking Sea to Sea's site to see daily route changes. We hope you join us in praying for him, the other riders, and the purpose of this ride.