Monthly Archives: August 2004

American Man & His Thai Family

Can’t find the letter to Kevin’s teacher, I will be sure to do this today.

Today, we had a large dinner at my parent’s house, if only you could have seen their faces as i was eating my small bowl of ยำนื้อ . My wife minces it much finer than what we get in Thailand, it is nearly a paste when she finishes it. So they are watching me dip my rice into this red paste finally when they were almost done they asked what it was. When they were told beef, they asked why it was red though. Because it is not hot my wife replies, curious I finally told them the beef was raw that is why it is red. Funny funny reactions, but the ones who tried it liked it, while at the same time begging for glass after glass of water. I think it had about 4 peppers in that small bowl.

The children all stayed with them, they will be camping this week while they have a vacation from school, so the house will be very quiet this week My package I ordered from Thai Hypermarket – Book Store should be coming this week, hopefully while the children are gone. Then I can put some serious concentration into my new Thai Reference Grammar.

I can read most of what I see, at least enough to get a grasp on the main idea. Reading and writing is where I am having most of my problems in the language. There letters that still confuse me, and there are a few letters that I never even seen before yesterday. While reading quickly and not paying enough attention to the context I get severely thrown by ฟ พ ผ ฝ ฬ The other set I have the most problems with is ฎ ถ ภ ฤ ฏ ก

I am considering printing a large images with them all for the wall above my desk. The letters are all too similar in appearance for me to differentiate while reading fast and even while reading slow at times.

More to come ….

My new family

[b]Welcome back [/b]

Nothing special happened today, so instead of boring you, let me back up a little bit and write about last Sunday and yesterday.

Return of an old friend

Two days ago I went to Isaan (Northeastern region of Thailand) to be reunited with a long-time friend of mine: my keyboard! I missed it so much for the last couple of weeks! Now I brought it back to Samut Prakan, along with some other of my belongings I used during the month I spent in Isaan. You see, I am an amateur musician, learning songs by ear only. You should have seen the surprised faces of the locals when I played morlam to them the first time! Morlam is a kind of Thai folk music; you can hear its pleasant tunes everywhere in Thailand, but its center is in Isaan. It is quite unusual for most Farang (Caucasian foreigner) to listen to – let alone play! – morlam.

My new family

If you were in Thailand yesterday, you might have noticed the tiny temporary shrines that cropped up in front of houses all across the country, like mushrooms after the spring rain. You might also have observed gatherings around the spirithouses early in the morning. Welcome to วันสารทจีน (wan saad jiin), a ceremony of Chinese origin. Its main purpose is to pay respect to the family ancestors (not “ancestor worship”, as many Westerners mistakenly call it).This is also the time to express gratitude to machinesin offices and factories. This is an intriguing, new concept that I have come across only in Asia. Unlike in the West, the machines here are treated as ones with identities; not merely tools, but active participants in the business. From this point of view, it is only logical to express gratitude to them.

So how exactly is this done? Mom, Sis and I got up early in the morning (5AM) to prepare all the fruits, rice, whole chickens, kanom (Chinese sweets), water, tea, alcohol, and of course, incense sticks. We arranged them in a neat order on a table in front of the building and in the office. Then we lighted the incense sticks and said a brief prayer to the ancestors. This was very important for me, as it signified that I became part of the family.

Afterwards, we put the incense sticks on the items on the table. After all the incense sticks had burnt away, the food was ready to be eaten. Eating from this food brings good luck, according to local belief. So, I must have gathered much luck that day. Come to think of it, that’s actually true. I became part the most loveable family I had for the last five years.

Off again until next time. Be good and take care!

Story of an American Man & His Thai Family

Where to begin, well I don’t know how much is permitted, but I will begin I guess with a breif description of my family prior to daily postings.

My name is Joshua, I met my wife in the States at a wedding in Detroit, Michigan about 8 years ago. At that time we were both married to other people, but shortly after we were both divorced, and both due to mates cheating. We met again 6 years ago and began dating. I have one daughter, Tai(7). She has 3 children Kevin(14), Mary(11), and Daniel(10).

The girls bonded very quickly and act as blood sisters. Kevin the oldest is starting his first year of high school now. He barely understands his language, and NEVER speaks it. The other children all three undertsand and speak well on the otherhand. Their mother is teaching the girls how to read currently.

It is so cute to see the 7 year old white girl speaking in Thai. The first time she had done this was about three years ago we heard in the car and she immediately got to shy to show her face when she realized we noticed what she said. Manivanh comes back to the car from inside the post office and Tai says “Mae, kuhn yark gin kanom”…. Was very cute, it took her a few days after that to begin using it again.

The girls LOVE their karaoke CD’s and that is all they listen to. Their mother and myself are happy with this and buy them what they want, we prefer them watching that moreso than watching the sexually motivated dancing and attire of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilara.

Our oldest Kevin, spends alot of time at his computer. His grades at school for the last 7 years have been between 96-100%, and he has had perfect attendence at school since his education career began. So we allow him to use his computer as much as he wants, consider he is so responsible in the more important areas of his life. Tomorrow I will post a letter he wrote to his teacher a few weeks ago.

Thailand – a new life


Where did it all begin? I don’t know. This story has no beginning or end. I could start from the time I left my home to go across the globe and started studying at a university in America, five years ago. An even better starting point could be the summer of 2002, when my fascination with Thailand began through a brief acquaintance with Thai researchers from Chiang Mai University. Have you ever met Thai people? If you have, you know that unique feeling that I felt at that time. Their loving, caring nature, coupled with incredible humbleness and respectful conduct, along with their strong work ethic, all made a lasting impression in me.

After they went back home, I feverishly began my studies. The ideal was to know everything ever recorded about Thailand. Being in America, books, newspapers and the Internet all were easily available to me, and I used them extensively. I guess I wanted to confirm what I already knew in my heart – that Thailand is the place I was looking for since my childhood. The result? I am writing from the Land of Smiles now.

To be honest, there was another factor that played a major role in my decision: an increasing distaste towards the American way of life. It had to: who would give up such a life without good reason? I was on my way to a Ph.D. in the subject I love, with a generous salary, at a Northeast American public Ivy League university. Many people only dream about what I threw away just to come here, I know. But I also realize that no career, however bright it may be, is worth the unhappiness I was going through there.

You know, one can acquire money, fame and fortune at any stage of life, but once acquired, what good do they do? None of those things are able to get back the happiness lost on the way. Thus I chose the other path. A Ph.D. from a Thai university holds perhaps less international appeal than one from the US, but at least I can live the rest of my life with no regrets.

There is only one small obstacle in the way: mastering the Thai language, as microbiology on this level is taught only in Thai. It will take some time, but it is doable. I had to do the same thing with English a few years ago, because it is not my native language. Now I use this third language to learn a fourth one… sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

So this is me right now: a full-time student of Thai language, history, culture, and life. The classroom: Thailand. Having more than sixty million helpful instructors makes a nice learning environment, don’t you think?

I invite you to accompany me on this journey. Let my story open a window to the land of this wonderful people. Witness as my dream unfolds into reality. Laugh with me, learn from my mistakes, or just enjoy!

I hope that this story will inspire some, as others’ stories did inspire me.

Now it is getting late tonight, and the noise of the constant rainfall makes me sleepy. Goodnight, and see you next time!

Bangsaen Beach

On the spur of the moment, I decided to drive down to Bangsaen Beach this morning. I had been thinking about going there for a while ever since a friend of mine said he had enjoyed a couple of visits there recently. I kept putting it off, but then I noticed in the Bangkok Post on Friday that there was going to be a seafood festival at the weekend. Seemed like a good excuse to go. It didn’t really matter I don’t like seafood that much. Any good excuse for a road trip.

I had been to Bangsaen once before but that was really a long time ago. I think shortly after I first came to Thailand. I went with some friends. This time I drove down there alone by car. I wanted the freedom to be able to explore the area. I did contemplate taking my map book of Thailand, but the distance between Paknam and Chonburi was only a few inches on the page! Probably wouldn’t have been much help. That is a problem with driving in Thailand, no really good map books. Certainly none that have all of the roads.

Other than maps, driving in Thailand isn’t really much of a problem. We drive on the left here, the same as my home country England. Petrol stations are a lot easier. I don’t think I have ever seen a self-service station here. As you drive into the petrol station, a guy quickly stands up and waves you enthusiastically towards his pump. There are two types of petrol that cars use. “91” and “95”. I use the latter so I just say “gao haa, dtem dtank”. Which means “95” and “fill the tank”.

While one guy is doing that, another comes along and asks if I have any rubbish and then proceeds to clean the windshield. He even checks my tyres. Compared to England, petrol prices in Thailand are really cheap. But, the prices have been going up so much recently that it has caught everyone’s attention. To be honest, I never really paid much attention to the price of petrol before. A friend came over from America last week and he asked me how much was petrol. I had no idea. I just ask them to fill the tank and then I give them a thousand baht note. However, today a thousand baht note wasn’t quite enough. He wanted a 1040 baht! OK, now I am noticing the price. It is 21 baht a litre. Expensive.

Bangsaen is in Chon Buri Province which isn’t really that far from Paknam. I went there last year with Gor to watch the Buffalo Racing. Driving there was quite easy. I took Sukhumwit Road halfway into Bangkok. It was slow driving through the traffic at Samrong but then picked up after I turned right at the Bang Na-Trad intersection. This first part of the journey took about half an hour to cover 8 k.m. Not too bad for a Sunday morning. During rush hour it would take a lot longer. Maybe even an hour!

At Central City Bang Na, I went up onto the tollway above the main road. Thai people call this the “longest bridge in the world”. I am not sure whether I would call it a bridge but it is certainly long. This tollway goes all the way from Bang Na to Chonburi for a total of 50 kilometres. Compared to the road below there were hardly any cars so I could keep a constant 130 km/h all the way. About 20 minutes later I was in Chonburi! The price of using that road was 55 baht.

When driving in Thailand it is relatively easy to use the road signs. The pictorial warning signs are much the same as other countries. The direction signs are nearly always in Thai and Roman script. Certainly on the main highways anyway. When I see bilingual signs like these my eye automatically goes to the English version. However, it does help sometimes being able to read Thai because the English is sometimes a lot smaller! After driving through Chon Buri for a few minutes, I spotted a sign written only in Thai for Tambon Bangsaen. Not exactly what I was looking for but I wanted to explore the area. Tambon means district.

I drove down a narrow road for a while basically following my nose and a tour bus in front. When I first hit the sea I was a little disappointed. There was only mudflats like we have back in Samut Prakan. I knew people said the beaches at Bangsaen were dirty but I didn’t think they would be this bad. I kept on driving until I reached Laem Taen. This time there were more cars so I got out to take a look.

The air here was really good compared to the industrial city of Paknam. I wouldn’t call it fresh, but the wind was certainly cooler than what we usually have. The tide was in but I could see that this wasn’t a swimming beach. There were a lot of big rocks as well as mud. However, I could see patches of clean sand here and there! I was getting warmer! I kept on walking and then around the corner I could clearly see what must be Bangsaen Beach in the distance. Compared to where I was now, there were hundreds of people on the beach and in the water. I decided to head back to the car and drive down to Bangsaen Beach.

The first sign that I was nearly there were all of the cars parked along the road. These weren’t only double parked but triple parked in places! I had to drive several kilometres before I finally found somewhere to park. I do remember coming here before but I didn’t recognize anything. Everything has changed so much. Also, it is so different to other beach resorts like Pattaya and Cha-am. Along the beach road at these resorts are a lot of shops, restaurants and night clubs. Here in Bangsaen I couldn’t see any sign of beer bars or night-time entertainment.

At Bangsaen they had done a lot of landscaping. Between the main road and the beach is a wide granite walkway. On either side people were selling food like som tam (papaya salad), fried chicken and seafood. There were some souvenir stores as well as bicycle hire shops. There were quite a few children cycling up and down the granite walkway. I would say this was a really safe and family orientated beach resort.

At the top of the beach there are hundreds of palm trees, which give plenty of shelter from the sun. Then there is the forest of deck chairs and beach umbrellas, all huddled close to each other to block out any sunlight. It was an amazing 15 deckchairs deep. They say that Thai people don’t come to the beach for a swim. They come here to eat and chat with their friends under the beach umbrellas. Each group of deckchairs has a central table. When you sit down, someone will come up with a menu. You can order any food you like and they will bring it straight to you on the beach!

I walked through the beach umbrellas and out onto the beach proper. The sand at the top looked quite clean and dry. But further down towards the sea it looked wet and muddy-like. However, this didn’t seem to deter the Thai people from playing in the sand and jumping up and down in the sea. I say Thai people because I didn’t see any other foreigners for the whole time I was there. In fact, I think foreigners are a rarity as a couple of times little children pointed to me and shouted to their mothers “mae mae, farang”. Which basically translates as “Mother, mother, look at that white faced devil!” Well, sort of.

I also knew for certain that there were no Westerners in the sea because just about everyone was swimming with all their clothes on! This is Thai style. It doesn’t mean they cannot afford a swimming suit. Nor does it mean they are worried about skin cancer. (I was probably the only one wearing sun cream and a baseball hat.) The Thai people have a much higher level of decency compared to many Westerners. That is why so many Thai people are shocked when they see Westerners in their skimpy bathing suits or going topless.

Apart from eating, the other main activity on the beach is playing on banana boats. These are long blow-up plastic boats (in the shape of hot dogs) which are pulled along by jet skis. They are everywhere in Thailand and Bangsaen was no exception. There were also kids flying kites and playing in the sea on inner tubes.

After walking along the beach for about an hour I decided to head back to the car. I was getting hungry. Along the way, I came across the information centre and picked up a brochure for the area. Inside was a map. I could see that if I had kept on driving along Sukhumwit Road I would have come across a major road that goes straight to the beach. Probably well sign-posted too. Never mind, it was best going the back roads.

I decided not to eat at Bangsaen Beach. Way too many people. Instead, I drove back to Laem Taen. Here the deckchairs were only four deep and I could get some better service. Just about every food stall seemed to be selling som tam. As it is my favourite I decided to order this spicy salad together with some grilled chicken. After my meal, I laid back in my deckchair and soon started to dose off. There was a lovely breeze and I felt very comfortable.

I wouldn’t say Bangsaen Beach is a perfect beach resort. But, it is certainly a lot closer to Bangkok than Pattaya. It is also more family friendly which is important for people who don’t like the sleaziness of Pattaya. However, for better beaches, you have to head further south down the eastern seaboard. First to Sriricha and then Pattaya. Much further down is Rayong and the islands of Koh Samet and Koh Chang. These have beautiful white sandy beaches and crystal clear water. Unfortunately, you cannot really do any of those as a day trip. Bangsaen is so close to Paknam, that you could almost just come down here for lunch! I will certainly come here again, though next time I will probably come with some friends.