Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Migrated






As of April 28th, 2012 this blog has migrated to I-nomad.com

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Contemporary street food

Seen at a food stall near Wangcome hotel, Chiang Rai
Angry birds fishballs on a stick


Politician, a dangerous job in Thailand

Chiang Rai, 24-4-2012
This house has been empty for the last month.
Since it looked like a nice house on a fairly good location, I inquired whether it was up for rent.
It turns out to belong to a local politician who temporarely moved out to an undisclosed address in fear of getting threatened or hurt by members of other parties to force him to withdraw from the coming local elections. The politician is said to return to his home after the elections. I was told in Thailand this is common practice if one cannot affort adequate security.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Boiling Buddhists

Mea Salong, Chiang Rai, 19 Apr. 2012:
A Buddhist monk sits in a bowl of boiling water on a wood log fire for an extended period.
Somehow his body and skin remain unaffected.
Sorry for the quality, but I took this photo
from the display of someone's camera.

Here's a video of a similar event held last year:

Monday, 16 April 2012

CAG, Computer Aided Governance: Will future governments be replaced by a computer?

I have been mentioning this last week in a comment on Lani's ever-inspiring blog.
As far as I know the idea was first put forward by Martin Amstrong in 2011. Amstrong explicitely refers to expert systems, but fails to address how such a system will be implemented.
One of the oldest examples of an expert system is IBM's Deep Blue, a computer specifically made to play chess. In 1997 Deep Blue managed to beat world champion Kasparov.
More recently PC software has been able to beat grandmasters with low cost hardware. The first unmanned car is soon to get it's driver's licence.

Expert systems are at the moment still quite expensive, but are already able to manage to beat humans in broader skills, such as expertise knowlegde in specific subjects. See also the Watson beats human contestants in Jeopardy.
It is expected that experts systems will be taking over human tasks such as helpdesks within this decade, ie. they would be able to takeover human tasks right now, but the hardware is still too expensive to replace humans. An obvious advantage would be that the quality and availability of service would increase whereby the costs would decrease. (How many times have you been connected through for the same question, not to mention the waiting time.) In the further future it is expected that computers will aid and partly replace scientists.
In the future computer scientist will have the reverse meaning.

In analogy to the helpdesk systems it is easy to foresee that one day we run certain hardware and software which has more present knowledge than a politician and his assisitants.
This will certainly not be the beginning of big brother, but a choice of reliability, efficiency and costs.

Politicians gain peoples trust trough their ego, but their ego is often the cause of unsound judgement.
Democracy needs to set new standards for people who are getting better informed.
As a whole, politics is intransparent, and this is what makes people mistrust their government.
A lot of tax-money is spent on people talking, debating and stretching their ego.
In principle a government is a service product we put in place and pay for to make us feel more comfortable. Quite often people feel dissappointed, the service didn't turn out as it was advertised.
Especially in times of economic recession people will mistrust their government.
Economic recession comes forth from negative thoughts about the future and a mistrust in government(s) to repair the damage.
In the beginning expert systems would be a merely a tool of assistance for lawmakers and politicians.
An expert system would know all existing laws and legislation. It would also contain common human knowledge and case laws, to judge the human interpretatation of specific laws.
At a certain moment in time the systems will become open to party members and in a later stage to the public to show greater transparency.
As soon as it will have proven it's effectiveness, politicians will not need too many human assistants anymore. If proven sound, a big part of government's bureaucracy can be replaced by expert systems as well. Basically all middle-management would be replaceable, just the executive and top branches would remain.

The system of governance could still be democratic and based on human parties, with a party program, just like it is now. In monarchies (symbolic) heads of state would still symbolize the unity of certain countries, as much as presidents will try to represent this function in a republic.
Opposition parties are still able to question the government, but questions need to be asked to the ruling party's expert system first. Any flaws in law and party policy will be open for debate.
Parties can act on questions, flaws or suggestions put forward by voters.
Expert systems will not be holy, certain things need time and public acceptance in order to change.

Coalitions could still be formed to represent a majority if required.
This can take place either based on human negotiation, or in a later stage based on negotiation sofware.
Negotiation sofware takes in account the party policies, importance, and outcomes of earlier human debates.
An expert system could advise to hold a referendum on moral issues or key issues.
A human court of justice again aided by expert systems could oversee any flaws or wrongdoings of the computer aided government.
Provided the technology is transparent such a system would better serve it's voters, through sound judgements, costs and effectiveness of policy.
In a later stage governments could be purely based on input by citizens.

The first open source software used for crowdsourcing is already operational in Reykjavik and will be available soon for all citizens of Iceland, see:citizens.is.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Monday, 9 April 2012

To obey or not to obey, that's the question

Today I read a moving story titled In North Korea, a brutal coice.
It is about a woman called Han who escaped from the country with her two daughters to China and was finally permitted to live in the US.
Along the way she faced the cruel choice of leaving her 5 years old son behind or let all die of starvation.
Her Christian faith and structural undernutrition caused her to doubt the dictatorial regime, and in the end make a run for it.
Christian teachings tells followers their obedience is to the devine and above human authority.

Christianity has been and still is being suppressed by dictatorial regimes to prevent people to question authority.

Actually, Christianity became the religion of choice among slaves held by the Romans.
The Jewish people formerly enslaved by Egypt directly influenced the way how they treated their slaves,
provides certain human rights for slaves. This is shared by Christian teachings in the Old Testament.
Christianity made the Roman slaves aware of ill treatment by their Pagan masters. It also helped them to keep their dignity while doing their daily duties. Ultimately their faith was adopted by emperor Constantine and led them to freedom.
Had it not been for the these slaves, Christianity could very well have been vanished into obscurity.
There is no doubt that Christianity gives people excellent aid in escaping suppression either mentally such as with the Roman slaves or also physically such as in case of Han.

Currently, the (North)-Western hemisphere has been declared to have the highest civil and political freedom in the world. Notably in Europe however, churches are closing their doors one after the other.
It seems that the sense of high personal freedom and human development is less compatible with the dogmatic religion than a low one.

I will not claim this is for the good, but while people are trying to figure this out, I remind myself that I come from a more or less Agnostic family and that this dates back from at least three generations.
Religion, especially Christianity played the role of a past station, but for believers, it's a reality, and they deserve to be respected.
While growing up, the only thing I had to question was the validity of authority.

The Netherlands, famous for it's high freedom in civil and political rights, and (in)famous for it's soft-drugs policy, is becoming hopelessly overregulated. Italy and France seem to beat the Netherlands with an even more impenetrable jungle of laws and regulations.

To a certain extent the term "obediphobia", which has been used by several authors to explain the fear of needing to obey, applies to me.
This phobia manifests itself in a fear of large structures, systems, and rules. Or in a broader sense; authority and order.
Viceversa the term "obediphylia" has been used to express the opposite; the need for structure, systems, and rules or authority and order.
I do recognize the need for structure and rules, but there's a certain point that a nation becomes in my idea too patronising and intrusive in the name of a freedom which is not mine.

I have known crisis managers who excelled in restucturing chaotic business environments, but completely failed when everything was in order. Perhaps some people like chaos, but get bored when everything gets a routine. In the West these people are certainly being denied their rights to a healthy amount of chaos.

Perhaps obediphylia is also the reason that spree killers at a certain moment simply snap.
Well, that's not are not very good association for my word of the day anyway.
But talking about spree killers; for those interested to simply to let off some steam in a blunt way, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam facilitate military tourism, where amongst others one can shoot with (semi-automatic) weapons and even use rocket launchers. I do hope however that military tourism will not inspire new wannabe terrorists.

If you allow for a bit of chaos rather than too much order, everything feels much more exciting.
I've read and heard from quite a few expats in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam that they experience a similar sense of freedom in their new country of choice.
I guess an obediphobiac's first need for order will be confined to their own house or accommodation, in order to compensate for chaos outside.

Thailand, famous for its high tolerance towards a diversity of people is a so-called developing country, so it is somewhere half way on a roadmap to become a so-called developed nation.
As such it's the Asian country of choice for expats who seek both a bit of adventure as well as still feeling safe.
Life in in certain places in Cambodia (Phnom Penh) and Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City) still can be pretty rough.
Illegal drugs, organised crime, poverty and to some extent child/teenage prostitution are more visible here than in the Kingdom of Smiles. However there are enough places to go or live without this becoming a fact of live. I found Hanoi for example, extremely organised and in fact a bit boring, but perhaps I haven't met the right people or came at the wrong time. Siem Riep in Cambodia and Dalat in Vietnam would be my cities of choise.
As far as Thailand is concerned I really like Chiang Rai and at times some of the smaller Southern islands near Krabi and Phuket such as Coral Island / Koh Hae, (If you can stand that there's no nightlife whatsoever!).
Finally, for the more daring; Myanmar is opening up, go up there and see how Thailand was 20 years ago before it is too late..

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Why Myanmar's expected democracy will not be soon and not for everyone

Ahead of elections in Myanmar tomorrow, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is not optimistic about the way it will be conducted.
Speaking at the final news conference before the poll, the pro-democracy advocate highlighted voting irregularities discovered – such as thousands of names of dead people on the electoral roll – and intimidation that stopped her party holding rallies during the campaign.
“I don’t think we can consider it a genuinely free and fair election if we take into consideration what has been going on in the last couple of months, but still as we wish to work towards national reconciliation we will try to tolerate what has happened,” Suu Kyi told reporters.

Wa State militaries
As the world is watching and countries are eager to move onward lifting sanctions, seventeen parties will field candidates. The by-elections however will only fill vacancies of those elected in 2010 polls who became ministers and deputy ministers. This concerns 45 seats, 43 of 664 seats both in Lower House (440) and Upper House (224), or fewer than 5 percent in the bicameral national assembly, and 2 regional assembly seats.
Assuming the by-elections will be favourable for Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), to form a minority opposition, she and her party members will face hard times achieving any social reforms. Myanmar is the biggest country in S-E Asia, it is rich in natural resources such as petroleum, timber, tin, antimony, zinc, copper, tungsten, lead, coal, limestone, precious stones, natural gas and hydropower, yet the country has been left in an underdeveloped state since the military coup in 1962. It is currently the only country in the Asean which does not have ATM's.
Myanmar ranks as no. 5 lowest GDP per capita in Asia with 804 USD, just above the levels of Bangladesh, Timor-Leste, Nepal and Afghanistan.
Myanmar is also one of the most ethnically-diverse countries in the world with key non-Myanmar ethnic groups demanding equality and/or their own governance. Big corporations are eager to join Myanmar's efforts towards a market economy. Time will tell if an 'institutionalised' Suu Kyi will 'sell' better to legitimise tricky actions by the military in power, rather than that it will bring Myanmar a real step forward towards democracy. General elections are planned to be held in 2015, which will be the first opportunity for more radical reforms needed for a democratic roadmap.
Quite a few Myanmar people will not be able to vote tomorrow; this includes hundreds of thousand refugees living in surrounding countries and 2 million people working in Thailand, where they carry out unskilled or low skilled labour.
A less well known group which is much more remote from any democratic rights are the people  who live under the unquestioned authority of the so-called Wa State.
The Wa State has formed a de facto independent state in Myanmar, and is the most heavely armed of the 20 ethnic rebel groups.
The Wa Special Region 2 of Myanmar (the Wa State) is made up of two territories, or a total area of 17,000 square kilometers. Wa population estimates range from 400,000 to 700,000 people. The southern region borders Thailand. The Wa State leaders mostly belong to the Wa minority. The defacto capital is Pangkham.
After the Communist Party of Burma lost control of its bases in central Myanmar in the late 1960s, it re-established itself in the northeast including Wa State, with the support of China. The Wa, like other ethnic groups were fighting for autonomy from Myanmar, and supported the Communist party of Burma.

Here's a Wa State News broadcast after the commercial:


The Wa State politics, economics and culture are on a small scale very similar to those of China.
The Wa State's official language is Mandarin and the government is a Central Committee. They regard themselves as a semi-souvereign nation more or less modeled after old school China. Their relation with the Myanmar central government is that of a fragile cease-fire agreement where they recognize the central government’s rule over all of Myanmar, but that's only on paper. The United Wa State Army (UWSA) has  30,000 soldiers and is according to the US State Department the largest narcotics trafficking organization in Southeast Asia. The UWSA cultivates vast areas of land for the opium poppy which is later refined to heroin. It also controls some 80% of Burma's equally lucrative trade in methamphetamine pills, a cheap and highly addictive drug better known in Asia by its Thai name yaba, or crazy medicine. Together, these businesses earn the UWSA's Elite commanders and their associates up to $550 million a year, according to TIME magazine estimates made in 2002. Today the UWSA reportedly controls such companies as the Myanmar May Flower Group and, through it, a large private bank. Inevitably the Wa leaders grabbed a hefty piece of the action for themselves. The Myanmar May Flower Group used to own Yangon Airways, at that time one of the country's two domestic airlines. In 2010 all flights were suspended, since their commercial transport license had been withdrawn by the Myanmar government, motivated by earlier anti drug related sanction by the US.

The United Wa State Party slogan is: “Unity under the leadership of the Central Party under secretary comrade Bao Youxiang”. Little is known about Boa Youxiang who prefers to be called Chairman Bao. Few outsiders have met him..
In 2002 two journalist from Time magazine were permitted an interview, read the full story here.
As Chinasmack.com puts it: "From the currency, cell phones, Chinese network or China’s postal codes, in Wa state there isn’t a place without Chinese commodities". As such it's a perfect platform for Chinese involvement to get it's share in the anticipated economic growth.

In Myanmar and in Wa State in particular, there is little hope for democracy in the near future. There's still a long way to go, hopefully Aung San Suu Kyi (67) may live to see her aspirations come true.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Monday, 26 March 2012

Sportscar phone

Seen today in Chiang Rai, Thailand:
Being on the market for more than a year now, this is certainly not a novelty, but I thought it was cute enough to show. A phone shaped like a Ferrari F458 replica.
Most likely it is made by Shenzhen SUFF Industry co.,ltd. These ones were bought on the market in Myanmar, just across the border from Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province.
The fact that it is sold there, but not in Thailand almost certainly means there are some copyright issues with this product. For those interested, the purchase price is around $45.
Note the flashing head lights
Here's the phone part on the back
Available in several colours

Although it's not a smartphone, it has dual SIM and built-in TV.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Life is easy, Thai style



Jon Jandai is a farmer from North-Thailand. He founded the Pun Pun Center for Self-reliance, an organic farm outside Chiang Mai, with his wife Peggy Reents in 2003. Pun Pun doubles as a center for sustainable living and seed production, aiming to bring indigenous and rare seeds back into use. It regularly hosts training on simple techniques to live more sustainably. Outside of Pun Pun, Jon is a leader in bringing the natural building movement to Thailand, appearing as a spokesperson on dozens of publications and TV programs for the past 10 years. He continually strives to find easier ways for people to fulfill their basic needs. For more information see: punpunthailand.org

Sources: Visionair.nl, TEDx DoiSuthep  

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Friday, 16 March 2012

Hotel survival part III: Thai/Chinese hotpot

Hotpot is a beloved dish in Thailand, China and the rest of S-E Asia. Basically it's a bouillon brew in which one can cook almost anything.
Since we usually eat out, it is a real 'luxery' to cook indoors.
Hence our efforts to see if it would be possible to enjoy hotpot in the confort of our own room.
Traditional hotpots are made in a clay pot on a charcoal fire, so we we had to make some consessions without affecting taste. Below is our recipe for hotel hotpot 'du chambre' for two persons.

Needed:
- An immersion heater
- Microwave resistant (plastic) bowl
- 2 cups of any kind to eat from
- Chopsticks
- A knife and/or siccors.
- Spoon
Our ingredients:
- Drinking water
- 2 Bouillon cubes (beef)
- Glass noodles
- Cabbage
- Chinese sellery
- Kale
- Yanagi mushrooms
- 2 Eggs
- Fish balls
- Minced meat (pork)
- Small sausages
- Chilli sauce / paste
Instructions:
Fill the bowl for 2/3 with water.
Add the bouillon cubes.
Bring it to boiling point with the immersion heater.
The brew will boil locally more than the surroundings,
but it's no problem to get your veggies and meat well done, just wait a bit longer than usual.













Clean and cut part of the vegetables and add them to the brew.


Add one of the eggs.
Poach the egg or mix it with the brew, (Note: in the latter case you will need more time to clean the heater element.)
Add the glass noodles.
Make some meat balls with a spoon and add it to the brew.
Add whatever you have left..
Doesn't this look wonderful?
Dip in chilli paste or sauce and you're ready to enjoy.

Cleaning up:
As mentioned above; mixing eggs into the brew will need a bit more effort to clean the spiral shaped heating element.
(I put in some soap as well and brought it to boiling point, which was not a very bright idea, since it created a massive amount of foam and the soap smell was very hard to remove from the plastic cup.)

- Let the heater element soak in cold or warm water for half an hour or so.
- Apply a small brush such as your old toothbrush to clean.
- If it's still not clean, repeat from step 1.
- Cook any remaining stains out in tap water.
Final remark: Since the food was packed in quantities far too much for two people, we did have enough left to make two hotpots more, also we had to buy some additional kitchen gear like chopsticks (a pack of 50pcs!), a micro wave oven proof bowl, plastic spoons (25 pcs) and carton bowls (10 pcs).
This added up to ฿750 (€18.70 / $24.40). A similar dish at the food court in Chiang Rai's night bazaar would have cost us just ฿150 (€3.75 / $4.90). So in fact we paid five times more.
Mind you, this was our private dinner indoors, so we felt entitled to spend a bit more.
If we would have gone to the market, we could probably have bought most things in smaller quantities reducing costs.
We are planning to cook something unknown tomorrow from the leftovers in order to make our attempt look more worthwhile or actually... less silly.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Katoey in historical and social perspective


All katoey band Venus Flytrap
Tolerant and protective about human rights as people try to be, in a growing part of the world post- and/or pre-operative transgender people are now allowed to change their official identity from M to F or vice versa.
The Thai concept of katoey however is hardly understood in the West.
Commonly used terms such as ladyboy, shemale, transsexual are often not preferred by katoey or by insiders since they are often associated with sex, eventhough they perfectly describe the hybrid nature of the phet ti saam (third gender).
In moden psychology the term gender identity disorder is used, which sounds even more stigmatizing.

Wanting to stay half-way i.e. remaining pre-operative seems to be largely incompatible with the Christian moral on which Western society is based. In most cultures liminality or hybrid has traditionally been put in a negative context. One is expected to adapt to one gender role exclusively, which nowadays includes the possibility of a full gender change for those absolutely sure that they are born in a wrong body.
According to people of the katoey community a full gender change operation can lead to emotional and sanity problems in the long run.
People who choose to opt out on full surgery are easily referred to as human freaks or seen as sexually obsessed and form an exception in the rest world.

The idea that one could be able to like a woman who turns out to have male genitals seems to be a frightening idea for many men. Transphobia, similar to homophobia, is an uneducated attitude towards gender versus sexual identity, usually a fear of the unknown, incuding one's own identity.
There's little historical information about katoey, so there's very little solid evidence to explain the relitively high popularity and social acceptance of transgender people in Thailand.
Reseachers Peter Jackson and Rosalind C. Morris have extensively investigated the Thai katoey phenomenon; below I prefer to just give my view based on what I know rather than pretentiously trying to build a solid case.

Religion:
In contrast to Christian, Jewish and Muslim religions, Buddhist teachings clearly state that there is no objection to the third gender lifestyle, saying it's the result of a bad love life in a previous body, which means that for the last 2500 years or so, there is an awareness that someone is destined to adopt a certain gender role in life, regardless of their physical luggage.
Still, this doesn't explain why in Thailand the popularity of transgender and transvestite lifestyles is much more common and visible than in surrounding Buddhist countries.

Language:
In Thai language the only distinction to refer to someone as male or female is his or her use of the Thai male and female politeness form when ending sentences ie. using the male form 'Krap' or the female form 'Kha'.
As a courtesy males who are using the female politeness form 'Kha' are generally being referred to as 'she' and 'her' regardless of their appearance and gender. Reversely part of Thai lesbians, tom-boys and transgenders will use the male form 'Krap' and are often being referred to as 'he' and 'his'.

Culture:
Traditionally in Thaland the gender role gap for male has been small, Western writers and diplomats have been pointing this out centuries ago. It was against the moral of Western visitors and expatriates that there was so little taboo on Thai males behaving feminine.
This can perhaps best be compared with the tolerant Western attitude towards female who to behave masculin. Although it might perhaps upset conservative Muslim, few Westerners will be troubled to see a woman behave and dress like a man, this in sharp contrast to the opposite.

Economics:
In old Thailand and surrounding countries women were not allowed to act or to entertain in public, instead effeminate men dressed up and played the female role in theatres, even the royal palace had ladyboys for entertaiment. Young men joined travelling entertainment shows where they dressed up as women. A part of the income was brought back home. Especially in poorer families there was little hesitation to accept this lifestyle. In some families young boys were encouraged if they act like girls. It formed hope for the parents that their son would be able to support them when they were older. Less acceptance exists in families who are better off. Fathers can be hesitant to accept the fact that their son chooses to look like a woman. In general the higher in the the social ladder the more difficult it turns out to be for parents, the husband in partical, to accept their son's new lifstyle.
Due to the old custom together with the Buddhist concept of destiny there is less taboo, especially in the lower income group, on boys to behave feminine or desire to become a woman as opposed to the western concept of a gay lifestyle, keeping the same gender appearence, a thing which can be hidden more easy.
There's an increasing amount of men who choose a gay lifestyle more in accordance with the Western example, but this a recent development.
In Thailand the katoey tradition still continues, partly as a way out of poverty to perform either as a professional dancer or offering sexual services. These ladyboys can be found in tourist centers like in Bangkok, Pattaya, Patong and Koh Samui. The compettition is fierce, a small minority of katoey form gangs and engage in criminal activities. Their negative press works counterproductive towards an unbiased view of the third gender by outsiders.
A majority of katoey have regular jobs. This can be anything from store or factory employee to designer, dancer and media-personality. Convincing and/or higher educated katoey are more likely to be found in the higher salary job-segment. Foreigners will often not be aware, since many companies require a male dress code.
The attitude of the Thai government is somewhat ambivalent: Transgenders are prohibited from becoming civil servants nor are official identity change or same-sex marriages allowed.
There's a general awareness that the upper class or so-called hi-so people do see katoey as low class citizens, but hi-so account only for around 5% of Thai.
The katoey phenomenon seems to be not yet compatible with the self-image of a thriving Asian nation.

Perception:
For cultures with a monotheistic dogmatic background it's hard to understand that taboos about what once was regarded as averse role playing and sexual behaviour has hardly been a matter of ethics and concern in other societies. The old Greek, Romans and Japanese Samurai had little scruples towards intimate encounters of the same gender.
A more recent example can be found in isolated Bhutan where researchers found that bi and homosexuality have never been a real issue. In case someone is bi-sexual or gay, people in the area will probably be remotely aware, yet someone's sexual orientation is simply not a topic of concern. Drukpa (Buthan's official language) lacks a commonly accepted term for gay/bi oriented people. Although still forbidden by an old law inherited for British-India there's no record of people ever being charged.
Acceptance of 'two-spirit' people can also be found among certain native American tribes.

Survival:
In Thailand, awareness of any taboo has mainly been imposed by the Western world, but had little effect compared to formely colonised neighbouring countries where katoey and gay behaviour was suppressed by law.
In these countries the custom slowly dissapeared from the daylight, but in Thailand, for a big part in the poorest area Isan it still survived. In Isan I've seen young boys from age four who liked to behave feminine and regularely were encouraged by their mother and neighbours to do so. Reportedly some foreign-Thai couples living in Isan have a son who has become a katoey or is in the process of becoming one.

Community:
Thai boys in their teens who concider a change to katoey lifestyle are often encouraged by other katoey. There's a strong sense of a community spirit and katoey are likely to help eachother out in case of problems. The Transfemale Association of Thailand with 2000 members advocates equal rights for male to female transgenders.
In 2011 the group has won a courtcase whereby they were able to stop the army rejecting katoey with feminine features due to mental illness as opposed to unfit. Formely the stigma resulted in being rejected to apply in the higher job segment as well as failing to get reimbursed by insurance companies. Although I have not been able to check the severity of the last issue and whether it has been solved, the Thai army now rejects katoey for symbolic minor physical defects such as a large chest or having a problem with one of the little toes.

Identity:
Most katoey do not consider themselves gay, they desire to act and function like a woman throughout their life nor do they wish their partner to be sexually interested in the same sex. Katoey or pet ti saam is used as self reference.
A common misconception is that all katoey dress up. A large part of katoey hardly ever dress like a woman, either this was/is not tolerated by family and/or work or is not preferred by the person in question. These people will only distinguish themselves only by their male or female use of the Thai language.
A small percentage of male partners of katoey will consider themselves gay or had gay affairs, for the major part male friends are interested in women and katoey or katoey exclusively.
Apart from men, a small group of (western) lesbians seem keen on starting an affair with a katoey person.

Classes:
A class system in the katoey community exists to rate eachother, obviously part of Thai katoey oppose in making such a distinction:
Class A: Beautiful and no obvious difference from women.
Class B: Beautiful but noticeable difference from women.
Class C: Not beautiful, but no obvious difference from women.
Class D: Not beautiful, highly obvious differences from women.

Thai katoey will usually agree with the expression: "I may have been born in the wrong body – but at least I was born in the right country."

Note: The author happily lives with a katoey for over 2.5 years and as such has met many katoey people from around Thailand. Since my partner's length (1.80m) is not a usual sight amongst foreign/Thai couples, on the streets we are used to get curious looks mostly from tourists. I often hear the wannabe Thai experts wisper: "That's a ladyboy..". Our relationship helps us to meet nice people, since bigots usually stay away. One time a German expat who liked to see things in black and white, told me he considered my partner crazy. After I told him I loved her, he concluded that I had to be crazy too. Coming from him it seemed like such a big compliment.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Hotel survival part I+II: Boiled eggs and Pasta in cream spinach sauce + Muffins

To become more independent from hotel amenities, I recently bought one of those immersion heaters for travelers.
Mind you I had some space left in my suitcase, since I got rid of some books and a bulky external harddrive (I now use Google docs as cloud storage instead). Anyway I was pleased to see the weight of my suitcase go down from 15 kg to 13.6 kg.
I was under the impression that these devices used kiloWatt's of energy, but this handy tool for which I paid € 9.99 ($ 13) uses a mere 300 Watt, which is good enough to boil you a cup of water in about 90 secs.
Besides making hot drinks and cup noodle, you can use it for some other food too, enabling you to have lunch, breakfast or even dinner in you room.

Part I: Boiled eggs:
Needed:
- A water boiler or the immersion heater and large metal cup or a microwave resistant plastic cup, (Don't worry, it won't melt, since the water will keep it at 100 °C (212°F) max., however be sure to stick around.
- Tap water (fill 2/3 of the cup to prevent splashing).
- One or two eggs.
Instructions:
Let the water boil first. Preferably use a spoon to gently submerge the egg. I put the egg below the heating element, since eggs actually need to be soft cooked, not boiled which will make them tough and rubbery. This way the water on the bottom remains relatively still. Up to your preference wait about 6:30 min's for medium cooked yolk.
Ignore the bad product placement :)
To stop the boiling process and save your
fingers while peeling, take off residual heat
by cooling the egg down with tap water.
FYI: I don't know how you learned it, but this
method seems to be completely unknown in S-E Asia
and that's why I like to do it myself in the first place.
Your egg is now ready for consumption.
Bon appetit!






Part II: For some advanced hotel survival, see George Egg making tortellini in spinach cream sauce and muffins for desert:

Monday, 12 March 2012

Thai Buddhist relitainment


Seen at Sop Ruak, the Thai three countries point in the Golden Triangle.
Throw 5 or 10 Baht coins into the funnel, and down they roll into Buddha's belly.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Not everyone welcome in hotel on Thai island Koh Phi Phi

 
Photo thanks to Makka Pakka.

Funny Chiang Rai

Tourists learning about their future from a
local fortune teller
No problem to marry an alien in
Chiang Rai
Definitely the cheapest accommodation
in town
Rabbit hooked on 'tabacco'
leaves
Oh no.. Google translate can really mess things up..
The sign reads something like this:
Text on sign Meaning
1. The moustache is tiny squid roasts Grilled small squid tentacles
2. The demon moustache squid roasts Grilled giant squid tentacles
3. The banana squid/egg squid roasts Grilled splendid squid with or without eggs 
4. The ark shell scalds/burns Boiled or grilled clams 
5. The shrimp burns Grilled shrimps / scampi
6. The meatball fries, every the wood Grilled meatballs on a stick

Friday, 2 March 2012

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Lam wong dance and hired partners: Little known S-E Asian folklore

Lam wong is originally a Khmer and Laotion tradition where male and female or female couples dance around in circles.
In Thailand during luk thung style festivals, lam wong was once was a popular pastime.
People didn't have a suitable dance partner hired one.
Nowadays in Thailand this tradition is hard to find and has almost been forgotton.
In Chiang Rai however this practice is still being preserved.
At the food court at the night market every wednessday and saterday night lam wong enthousiasts can join in.
A dance partner for three songs will set you back between ฿100 and ฿200 ($3.30 - $6.60)
To remind people their dancing time has finished a whistle is blown.
The photo's below show the lam wong dance, the ladies with the pink shirts are professional lam wong dancers.


Thursday, 23 February 2012

Reviews reviewed: Booking a hotel in Thailand expertise

No, I'm not making any money out of this. In fact sharing my experience booking hotels in Thailand and surrounding countries, I risk to render some bargains obsolete.

What you have to know:
Realise that the hospitality industry are basically selling dreams you want to believe in.
Almost anything you can imagine to make you feel more comfortable is for sale.
For the industry it's not easy selling a product with the mystery of a dream element as tangible. Like a movie you first have to watch it before you can fully judge. All you get is a sneak preview, whereby you have to rely on ratings, comments and hearsay.

In Thailand and a part of S-E Asia Agoda is the biggest hotel booking agency followed by Booking.com.
For example in Bangkok Agoda lists about 850 hotels vs. Booking.com 660.
Reason for the higher market share is that Agoda was founded in Thailand in the late 1990's and became popular during a time when booking hotels in Thailand through internet was still underdeveloped.
Since hotels are obliged to provide the room you booked they will often allocate a number of their rooms with Agoda, another number with booking.com and quite often reserve a number of rooms for other booking agencies or last minutes. So when a hotel is listed as full at one agency, don't despair yet, it is quite possible that there are rooms available at another agency. A way to find out is to check Tripadvisor, which currently tracks four booking companies.


Fact 1: Scores don't show the whole picture
Forget about stars except when you want to impress your friend or partner and/or minimise risks at any cost. In this case you go for 4 or 5 stars. Personally, I try to ignore stars and target for mid-range hotel bargains, usually these accomodations will have about 2.5 till 3.5 stars.
By default Agoda and Booking.com will list hotels by recommendation score's and more often than not you will find the most expensive (five star) resorts on top. High scores often seem to say one can only be satisfied when paying lots of money.
Although this currently might increase the commission of booking agencies, it is far from being representative for the product on offer.
Ratings by booking agencies are not only misleading due to false assumptions and wrong calculation, other factors influence scores as well..
In guest reviews 'value for money' is usually taken as an individual score aside location, service, cleanliness etc. Better models should be adopted to quantify personal wishes and budget
My own rating theory is very different from how current scores by guest reviews work.

Fact 2: Cognitive dissonance syndrome
Especially in the high end sector, prestige matters, it's hard to admit one could have been better off.
Likewise in the low end sector, it's hard to admit: "I should have known".

Fact 3: Reviews assume that all rooms in the premises are like the one people booked.
Under normal circumstances one will only get to experience their own room. So there's little comparison to other rooms. Reviews do usually not mention room type and the special offer someone's got, so in fact you're simultaneously evaluating different products with different prices.
It looks like reading various car tests from the same brand without knowing price and model.


Fact 4: Part of reviews are manipulated.
Scores from hotels with a small number of reviews are unreliable and could have easily been organised by parties involved.
I know of mid-range and low range hotel owners who ask friends or give out free drinks to write positive reviews to compensate for bad ones, usually on independent sites like Tripadvisor, google maps reviews or zoover.com.


Fact 5: Reviews age.
When you're reading older critical comments, it could be that in the mean time the problem has been fixed (construction noise next door, bad or no wifi,  etc.). The opposite might also be true. When in doubt call.


Fact 6: Photo's are often deceptive and lead to dissappointment.
Often photo's are taken after the hotel was just built. Keep in mind the age of the hotel and/or when it last has been renovated, if you're able to find out.
If a hotel has been recently been renovated it will surely mentioned, be alert when it's not.
Personally I look wether the photo's are old by juding quality. Eg where they scanned from a brochure or what fashion guests wear. Photo's also often reveal the age of the furniture. Rooms with carpets are usually quite old.
A room will always look larger on a photo than in reality. Check the actual room size (in square meters).
Some photo's will show facilities which aren't there anymore, like a restaurant or a rooftop or pool bar.
Always search for state of the art comments from guest reviews.
Finally, almost all hotels wil have own websites. Google for it, judge the quality and when it was made.
Often hotels with little maintenance will lack to maintain their website too.
Sometimes the opposite is true and they will present a far too much glossy picture, often reflected in the room rates.


Fact 7: Look who's talking: People judge from their own perspective.
Be aware that travelers from Singapore or Japan might have completely different (usually higher) standards than you. Inexperienced travelers quite often seem to have stayed in the same place in a parallel dimension. All I can say is that the only way to judge wether a traveler is most likely experienced or not, you have to be prejudice.
If you are a single traveler you surely have completely different demands than honeymooners.
If you're not one of them, ignore comments from couples with babies. Nothing is worse than a protective mom. Even the smallest irregularity might harm the baby. Actually couples with babies should be only allowed in top-rating hotels.
Couples with children seem to live in another dimension too: Or so to say: children happy, parents happy.

Fact 8: Angry people are more likely to comment than the happy ones.
Often very negative comments are not really about what was wrong with the room rather than how guests feel scammed and or treated disrespectfully by the staff or even by outside parties.
The more mid-range a room gets, the harder it will be to interpret comments.
In the high range hotels should score an 8 or more, if not, you will likely to be wasting part of your money.
It's easy to judge comments and scores for lower budget hotels as well:
When among positive reviews one person writes a long horror story about a lower budget hotel, they are often out on a personal revenge mission. Inexperience and relational or personal problems may be annother cause. People who booked package tours will often not know the real price of the accomodation, so don't have any real idea what value for money they get.
The good thing is that often these people seeem to be able to locate (and exagurate) anything that is even slightly wrong with the premises.
Note: From 100's of bookings I made only once I ignored a comment which said the manager was rude to the staff when he was drunk. Since all other criterea were positive, I didn't have second thoughts to book a room. After a week I found out the comment was an understatement, when he for no apparent reason other than that he was drunk, got extremely rude at me.


Fact 9: Country specifics are being reflected in comments.
Taking the Thailand as an example it generally has low standards for English or other language skills, noise in general, bathrooms, creepy crawly animals and breakfast. Also the season/weather influences comments.
The less you are willing to pay the more you have to accept this. One can often find the above reflected in comments from less experienced travelers, since they tend to think the situation is specific for the hotel evaluated.
Below is an overview of common complaints:
1. For a minimal budget all staff is expected to speak fluent English. Thailand has never been a Western colony and people are proud of it. Thailand still puts little effort on international dealings.
The problem however mainly exists in less popular destinations.
2. Relaxed as they are, Thai people are able to handle a lot of noise and ignore it much better than Westerners do. In Thailand sounds of all sorts seem to be omnipresent, if you're sensitive to sounds, stay out of lower class city hotels.
3. Western tourists expect a seperated shower compartment or at least do not like going to the toilet on a wet floor. Be aware that even some 3.5 star hotels will just have a curtain without any other seperation from the shower part. Seperated showers are only to be found in higher class and newer mid-class hotels.
4. In the tropics tiny ant's, bed bugs and small lizards are hard to get rid off. Even in a five star hotel one might encounter ant's and lizards
5. Get used to the idea that in Thailand in low and mid-class hotels all Western people are assumed to eat toast, ham/bacon and fried eggs for breakfast. If you don't like this, book without breakfast or skip it and eat somewhere else.
6. Thailand has a rain season for half a year from June till October. During this time people will spend more time in their room. Comments about the number of English channels on TV are a typical example.

Fact 10: Hotel prices can be bargained with.
Based on last minute, no. rooms available and duration of stay, prices are negotiatable.
If you're skilled enough you can call the hotel directly and start negotiating based on the available information mentioned on internet or otherwise book for a few days first and later negotiate your extended stay in the lobby.
Usually you will need to talk with the manager. Mention the number of days you will extend and your price and see what happens. The longer you will stay and the lower the occupancy, the more interesting it gets.
As a rule of thumb bargaining is worthwile the effort in mid-range hotels only.
Except for longer stays, say seven days or more, high and low end hotels usually don't find personal discounts interesting.
Eg. if an accomodation is situated on an island with little compettition and little occupancy, room prices can easily be bargained with, especially when money is expected to be earned back through food and beverages.

How to find bargains:
1. A somewhat hidden link and little advertised link for bargains from Agoda is: agoda.com/specialoffers, which will, after you select a city bring up a page with hotels offering special deals in the area. All hotel classes are listed in random order, so one just have to go through all the deals.
A nightmare for online bookers has come true: Since last year Google has stepped into the business as well.
2. You can find bargain in a certain area on google maps. Search for 'hotels near [name] [country], ' and hover with your cursor over the red labels and dots to find suitable offers. (Touch screen devices are useless in this case.)
Instead of 'hotels' you can enter 'resort' to focus only on resorts.
Google gives you a good birds eye view on what hotels generally cost in a certain location, so you will be much more aware of any bargain deals in a specific area.
3. Try Kayak and Priceline.com for last minute offers.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Fix slow or no wifi in your appartment or hotel room with a range extender

For me having wifi in my room is a kind of must. In a public room it's hard to concentrate on my job.
When I move around, especially to a new accomodation, it's always a pleasant surprise to find out everything is in order, and I have a high speed connection. It can be a big hassle however when reception shows just one or two bars. Asking to move rooms is not always a possibility or doesn't improve a lot. When I was in the Netherlands for a 'yearly report', I decided to buy a so called wifi range extender and I must say that so far I'm very happy with it.
What a range-extender does is that it picks up a specific wifi channel and amplies it back and forth, so that maximal distance can be improved. The signal can also be guided to so-called dead spots. Overall, poor connection speed will improve.
My original choise was the Netgear WN3000NP (see below), since it looked like a compact plug and play device. The plug and play is however only partially true when using modern routers with a so called push-and-connect feature. Even if this feature should be available, a button on the router needs to be pushed and one might not always be granted access to routers in a hotel or apparment complexes, so usually the settings of the extender need to be done manually.
I don't know wether this is a valid reason, but since it has longer antennae and is still compact enough to carry along, I finally chose for the Sitecom DL-330 (see below).

Where to place the range extender:
Case 1: Little to no reception in your room.
Try to pursuede the manager to put the range extender in a secure place somewhere between the router and your room.
The Sitecom has a speed of 150 Mbs, whereas many routers are still using 54 Mbs.
So in other words the first one allows for higher speeds at same distance.
The opposite is also true; the maximum distance reached, where the same speed will be equal, will be higher for the first one.
In een open air situation, ie. without any obstructions, some people and suppliers recommend to put the extender in the middle. However, taking in account different bandwidths this doesn't apply.
After doing some math, I found that in order to bridge a maximum distance to your room, assuming your router has a speed of 54 Mbs, the150 Mbs extender can better be put roughly at one third (37.5%) of the distance from the router to your room.
Also in case you don't have to bridge maximal distance, stick to the one third rule to obtain maximal speed.
If you have the time and opportunity, try different places and compare the difference in signal quality in your room.
Note: Always connect first, since the estimated signal quality may vary from the real transmission quality.
Whenever possible, minimize radio frequent enemies such as reinforced concrete and metal.
Should I mention that windows and wood have little to no effect on the signal?

In case the distance is still too large, (and you like your beachfront apparment too much) one could still resort to create directional antennae from lowcost material like chicken wire and aluminium foil or even household sieves, I did this once, doubling range, but I guess that goes beyond the scope of this article.

Case 2: Medium reception in your room.
Simply put the range extender in your room. Since the extender has a better antenna than eg. in your laptop or smartphone, reception will improve. Also in here your device is safe and you don't need permission from the manager.

Netgear WN3000NP
Range Extender
Sitecom DL-330 Range Extender

To be able to judge whether such a solution is within your league, a rough set up guide for the Sitecom DL-330 follows:
- Find out what type of encryption is being used (WEP, WPA or WPA2) indicated in the wireless network overview.
- Connect the extender to your computer with the supplied LAN cable.
- Switch off your wifi to enforce LAN.
- Select in your communication settings a base addres to be able to connect to the extender (192.168.0.1)
- Login to the extender via your browser (at address http://192.168.0.234 with admin as name and pasword.
- Now select the right wireless network and in case of other wifi repeaters or routers in the complex, chose the one with the strongest signal.
Choose the original encryption-type used (WEP, WPA or WPA2).
Set the original password, this will be the same password used in your new computer connection.
- Choose a new SSID (These are the names you will see in your wireless network overview.)
Choose preferably an inconspicuous common name like eg. 'Netgear' to prevent others using your network with the hotel password or if you really don't care use a vanity name like eg. 'VIP guest @ hotel name' :-)
- Disconnect the LAN cable and turn on your wifi mode.
- Check if the new SSID appears in your wireless network overview and connect.

Note: Problems with bad internet speed from the incoming cable connection to the provider will not be solved.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Worshipping cats who seem to say: "Mao" hidden on Chinese banknote

This seems to be the latest buzz in China


Saturday, 14 January 2012

Friday, 13 January 2012

Friday, 6 January 2012

Siem Reap central market

Seen in Siem Reap from our balcony:
At night central market is a busy place with numerous food stalls, some open till 4:00 am
In the morning at 8:00 am everything is perfectly clean, since the square and the pink building on the right co-function as a kindergarten. In the afternoon when it's closed the circus starts again.


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