Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Umphang Entertainment

After dinner last night some of the students sang and danced. I tried out using the audio memo on a picture and I'm not sure it works as a video at Youtube. But the music was incredible.

Just checked. It didn't work. I'll have to figure this out. I did have a short video I can put up.

Umphang Day 2

Somprasong took us rafting, then to the highest waterfall in Thailand Thee Loh Su. Here are some pictures.

Happy Birthday Mom

[I tried posting this last night and something was wrong. Then the electricity went out. After it came back on the internet didn't work anymore. But I saved it all in word and it seems to work. And my mom did email that the card and email arrived on time. But the time zones are just too far apart. She wasn't home when I called, then we went rafting and had no satellite connection.]

Today's my Mom's birthday. She's 85 years old today and I'm thousands of miles away in Thailand. But she still is working in the same doctor's office (well, the original doctor is long departed, but his partner is still practicing) she's been working in since 1948! We visited before we left for Thailand and we'll stop by again on our way home. Happy Birthday Mom. Here are some pictures of our ride to Umphang.

Mook, who drove us to Maesod, gets a cold latte drink at a stand at the gas station.

Somprasong's wife trying on a Meo skirt in a shop on the way.

Some international volunteers. A Dutch woman, Somprasong, a man from London, and a Canadian we met while stopping for lunch.

Refugee camp, UN I believe. I was told there are 25,000 people here, refugess from Burma

This is the house of the Karen twins in the Umphang Dinner Post.

Somprasong's pickup on the road to Umphang.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Umphang Dinner

We came over to the dining hall as the sun was setting. All the students were there waiting for us.

We met Mark, an Irishman and his partner Noy. He was on vacation in Thailand when he fell into a teaching job in the south of Thailand. He is on vacation now visiting the student he is sponsoring here in Umphang.
Joan and I were also called on to come up and talk to the students. Because Joan had said there were Hmong students in Alaska, he asked the Hmong students to stay and meet us afterward.

This is a brother and sister. Next are twin Karen students (on the right) with their sister.


I'm at a school in Umphang, a small community on the Burmese border. The headmaster, Somprasong, was one of my Peace Corps students about 38 years ago. The picture is his office and above the office is a room with mats on the floor where we will sleep and downstairs is modern bathroom. The school has students that are mostly from Karen hill tribe families, but also Hmong. About 200 of the students live in dorms because their homes are too far away. I was in Umphang about 18 years ago, back when it the road wasn't all paved (it's about 150 km south of Maesod, in the mountains). Back then it was a very sleepy little village with no electricity. So I was very surprised by how beautiful the school grounds are. Probably the nicest public school I've seen in Thailand. When Somprasong took the exam to be a headmastger, he scored the highest and had his pick of school to work at. He picked this one to the surprise of most - including his boss who was at the dinner last night in Kamphaengphet. But this is a special school - and he seems to have a mission to help these hill tribe kids. I'll put up some more pics and then do a few more posts to catch up while I have good computer access here.

Here's Joan inside with some of the kids she was talking to in English.

Playing basketball, football in the background. And next they are playing takraw - like volley ball, but with a small rattan ball, and you can use your feet and head only. If you look close you can see the takraw in the air. Well, maybe not.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Yellow Polo Shirts

At Chinese New years in Korat, almost everyone had on a yellow polo type shirt with a royal emblem on the chest. I thought it had something to do with Chinese New Years, but when we went back to Bangkok, I saw the same shirts all over. So I finally asked. These shirts celebrate the King's 60th year on the throne (last year) and his 80 th Birthday (this year). They are everywhere. And I thought maybe I should get one. Just before we went into the restaurant for dinner tonight, I saw some for sale and mentioned it to Mook. When Sutin and his wife came, they had presents for us - two yellow tshirts. Of course this post should have picture, but I'm not on a machine I can download my pictures on. So that will have to wait.


Kamphaeng means wall. Phet means diamond. KPP was the southern town in the Sukhothai period. And I'm here, where I taught as a Peace Corps volunteer nearly 40 years ago. It was a long bus ride to Phitsanuloke (6.5 hours) then we were picked up there and brought to Mook's home, on the edge of the sugar cane fields. We had dinner at at Chinese restaurant in town, Mook invited some of my old students, a couple of old teacher friends, and some others. It is amazing seeing all these people again. I came back the first time about 20 years ago, then the following year, and then three years ago. What I've seen of the downtown is totally unrecognizable. This is just a quick post, got to get to bed, we leave tomorrow early for Maesod, where we get picked up by Somprasong and drive to Umphang.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Pictures later

Back in Korat. Finding time and decent computer links has been tight. I taught all day today and again tomorrow. We take the bus Monday to Phitsanulok where Mook will pick us up and takes us to Kamphaengphet. There will be a dinner at a Chinese restaurant with old students and friends invited. Tuesday morning we head for Maesod, on the Burmese border where Songprasong will pick us up and we head for Umpang. We'll stay there two nights, go back to Kamphaeng, and then Friday back to Korat for next weekend's class.

If you look in the upper right part of the map, you can see Khon Kaen and Ayuthaya. Korat is in between them, maybe the n in Thailand. Maesod is to the west, just above "Burma" on the map.

Goodbye Idiris

Mook – a former student – called to let us know that Idiris passed away on February 14, 2007. That was our first day in Bangkok. Idiris was one of the three young male faculty when I arrived in Kamphaengphet in 1967. But he was different. He was Muslim. He generally ate only fruit and obviously halal foods with other Thais; he bought meat from the Muslim butcher in town and usually cooked his own meals. He lived in a small room in the corner of the school, not far from the house I lived in on campus. We spent many evenings sitting and talking about the world. He taught French and English, but he was much better in French. Much later, after I had left Thailand, he was able to travel to France. I think he stayed six months or a year. He also read the Koran in Arabic. He was much more introspective and serious than most Thais. Idiris was one of the most decent, thoughtful, and caring people I have ever known. He was a good friend to me – both of us somewhat outsiders in this culture. And he had a smile as big as the sky. When we visited Thailand in 1988 with the kids, Monica slipped in with his three daughters so very easily. In summer 1989 he arranged for me to visit Umphang with one of his former students, a police captain. Umphang is a small village on the other side of nowhere. First you go to Maesod – a Thai town over the mountains on the Burmese border. Then on a small road, you go south about 3 hours. There was this sleepy little village. I stayed with the police captain. No electricity, no running water. Last time we saw Idiris was 2003. We stopped by for far too short a time. Even though he was having some health problems, we were talking as if we saw each other every day. We laughed a lot in the nicest sort of way. Mook was calling to arrange a time for us to visit on this trip. Idiris’ daughter told Mook the sad news. We’ll go by to visit Maliwan, Idiris’ wife, next week - on the way to Umphang, where Mook has arranged for us to visit with another former student – Songprasong – who, if I understood right, is the principal of a school there. Good bye Idiris. The world is a little dimmer because you are gone. My life is a lot dimmer knowing I will not see you again.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Doctoral Dissertations

We're back in Bangkok so I can sit in on doctoral dissertation defenses. Last night there was a really good one looking at perceptions of male and female 'leaders' in Thailand. The theoretical background of the dissertation was quite good. Then afterward we all went out for dinner.

Monday, February 19, 2007


Before we left Bangkok, we had dinner with Frank Gold who teaches at the same university here and is from Fairbanks - taught at UAF and has lived there since 1964. We'd met him briefly when I taught here three years ago.

Chinese New Years

This is where you can dress up in old Chinese costumes, have your face made up, and get your picture taken.

The video for Chinese New Years with the fireworks, lion dance, Chinese opera, and rock and roll show is below in an earlier post. Here's more about the evening.

Yellow and red were the colors of the evening. Dragon dancers, firecrackers, beauty queens. The largest bami noodle stir fry in Thailand (about 20 feet in diameter with seven or eight chefs stir cooking it. My internet options aren’t quite clear yet, so I’m not sure if and when I can get some of the pictures and videos up. Chuck and his wife introduced us to various people, including their parents (not sure if his or hers). People talked to us everywhere. In line for noodles, a lady gave us two coupons for the noodles. Other people gave us sealed cups of water. Wherever we went people smiled graciously. The tourist association of Thailand had scores of
people out giving surveys to foreigners about visiting Korat for Chinese New Years and we got red envelopes with 1 baht in them when we finished. And then there was the traditional Chinese opera in a stage built into a large truck trailer, similar to what I remember from Kamphaengphet almost 40 years ago.
In fact the whole evening felt very comfortable and familiar. Being in a large evening festival with stalls of different kinds of delicious foods. There was one though that was basically cooked insects – worms, beetles, and I’m not sure what else.
I did eat beetle once long ago, but I couldn’t finish it. Though when I had it as a paste it was really good. Just when you can see what you’re eating it’s a bit disconcerting. As much as I really like Chinese opera, it was really difficult because at the other end of the square there was a rock n roll stage with speakers at full blast. And a video screen showing the musicians for those sitting further back.

Everything was easy and comfortable. People had told us that it was safe to walk at night here and we felt very safe. I have class tomorrow so time to quit for now.


I have six students – three MBA students, three doctoral students. And then there were four more doctoral students who don’t need to take classes anymore, but wanted to sit in. We talked about the book mix up and I now have an array of power points I can choose from as the need arises. We went over my patterns of tension concept and did a lot on ways of knowing and models.

Students working in small groups.

The students were willing participants and no one fell asleep. The age ranges from late 20s or early 30s to about almost 50. About equal men and women. We already have offers to show us the nearby National Parks. And tonight Chuck (a nickname he picked up in Tennessee where that was a close to his last name as they could get) took us downtown by two of his gold shops (his great grandparents came to China over 100 years ago) to the town square where a thousands of people, mostly in yellow polo shirts were sitting in chairs listening to speeches in celebration of the beginning of the Chinese New Years. And he’s already invited us to a classical Thai music concert March 4 before class.

But by Sunday afternoon, there are signs that they were expecting a more traditional class covering 'current issues in management.' They want 'leadership' and 'organizational culture.' But I'm giving them material much further along than that. But since we are covering 'ways of knowing' I'm hoping I've set the foundations for them to see that their filters are looking for specific things, with specific names. But I'm covering material they have never heard of, not the labels they are looking for. We'll get there.

Thailand is not India

India really is unique. Sometimes in India I just wondered if I’d forgotten what it was like in Thailand. But the ride to Korat – about 2 ½ hours, sometimes at 140 km/hour – was on a beautiful road with yellow lines in the middle and well marked lanes – usually two plus a side line. There were no bicycles, ox carts, camel carts, or slow moving vehicles. No pedestrians.

And the people are …what can I say? Thais have always been among the friendliest and most hospitable I’ve ever met. And after India, those qualities are even more pronounced. That isn’t to say that Indians weren’t friendly and nice, they were incredibly so. But the Thai food stand owners just smile and offer you something and if you smile and nod your head no, they give you back a sincerely warm smile.
On the Rote Song Thaew (pick up truck (Rote) with two (song) benches (thaew)) tonight, first one young man got up for a woman, and then when another women got on, the other young man stood up and gave her his seat. There was no hesitation, just automatic. You don’t see that much anywhere in the world these days. And the first Rot Song Thaew wasn’t going to the hotel, but she said that we needed to be ‘waaaay’ over there and said get in and we’ll drop you off. No charge.

This is not a put down of India. Few places compare well to the friendliness of Thais. And here in a provincial capital – the third largest city in Thailand with about 200,000 people – is a totally different world from Bangkok. Korat was the site of the largest US air force base in Thailand during the Vietnam war, so they had a lot of Americans here then. And we see a number of Vietnam era looking white men with Thai women of about the same age. So I’m guessing they’ve come back, are visiting relatives, or have a second home here.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Chinese New Year in Korat

Thanks to an adept student, this video is ready to post. More later. This was at the Chinese New Years Festival in the center of Korat, Thailand last night. I must say it felt wonderfully normal to me - just like many festivals I attended in Kamphaengphet many years ago. Except for the Rock n Roll.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Bangkok Day 1

Day 1 in Thailand (Bangkok)

Breakfast buffet in the Ibis Hotel in Huamark (near Ramkhamhaeng University who I’ll be teaching for) had this great drink that tasted like ginger. And it was NamKing – Ginger juice. It’s the tea colored one in the middle. Not many pictures to show.. We got up, surprised at the blue, blue sky with big, but not threatening clouds and reasonably clear air, and wandered around getting our bearings. We’re not at all in the tourist section, but right in the middle of many Thai malls and the main street – Ramkhamhaeng – is lined with little shops and street stalls. There’s a khlong (canal) down the soi (side street) we are on and you take a boat taxi into downtown Bangkok. But we slowly wondered down to the University, less than a mile away. The humidity wasn’t bad at all, though in the sun it did get pretty hot. I was nicely taken care of, getting my reimbursement for the plane trip, hotel, taxi, and payment for teaching. Met some of the other faculty – mostly retired male faculty, including Frank Gold from Fairbanks. And got access to the internet and made arrangements for getting to Korat on Friday morning. Thawisak, who was the van driver when we were here in 2003 will be the driver. We like him a lot, so that was nice. I’ve been reviewing my Thai for three or four months now, listening to tapes, working on my reading, and it’s paid off. My available vocabulary is much better than it was when we came in 2003, but I do still have trouble catching everything that people are saying to me. My Thai is good enough that they assume I can understand more than I can. And when they use English words and I’m thinking they are speaking Thai, it is really tough. And Sommai’s few Lao lessons really impressed them. In the Northeast of Thailand they speak a dialect that is more similar to Lao. Sommai taught me how to say ‘hello’ ‘delicious’ and ‘don’t worry.’ Someone commented that my Thai was good, but I would need to Isaan (the dialect) in Korat. So I showed off my couple of phrases. We bought a myytyy (hand carry) phone. The lady was great and very patient with all my questions. When I was a Peace Corps volunteer some people would keep talking to me because they thought my accent was so funny. I think that might have been the case here.

We ended up napping when we got back and eating in a fast food looking Thai restaurant in the mall. Food was good. Called Mook (my former student in Kamphaengphet) again, this time with the cell and 1-2 card he’d suggested. But then I got a message saying I needed to recharge the card. I guess will go back by the phone shop and ask what’s going on. I only called him twice and we didn’t speak long, even though they said I’d be charged per call, not per minute. I must add, that phone shops are everywhere. If anyone is interested, the used Nokia was about $34 and the card was about $8. And the lady said I could sell her back the phone when we leave. She even gave us a little pink phone sock for Valentine’s Day.
These are three different islands of phones for sale in this small section of this mall. We bought the phone at another mall.


Fifteen hours on a plane is a looooong time. I watched “The Departed” one and a half times. (It took a while, on the tiny screen, to figure out who was who and at the end I wasn’t sure, so I watched the beginning again to help sort it out.) I watched Cinderella so I could see the Bibidibobidiboo song, and found the movie to have held up surprisingly well. One can see how so much animation has never really progressed much from the early conventions set by Disney. I studied Thai. The rules of the Thai alphabet finally made sense to me after all these years (and reading signs and menus is working out pretty well now.) I got up and walked around the very crowded Cathay Pacific 747. I had a three year old exchange with the guy in front of me who insisted on having his seat all the way back, pointing my movie screen floorward, and making writing, eating, and reaching things under the seat extremely difficult. I did a lot more banging and pushing against the seat than was necessary (I had asked him to move it up when I was eating and he did a little, but then moved way back again.) When he leaned forward for a second, my knees were up to keep him from pushing back. Of course I couldn’t use the table then anyway. Eventually I asked him to move it up – he didn’t speak English, so he pointed in frustration at the seat in front of him. But about fifteen minutes later, the seat moved forward and stayed there for the rest of the flight. The picture shows another confrontation that wasn’t resolved as easily.

We were too far away to hear what the ruckus was about, but she wasn’t happy. The flight attendants tried to politely get the lady to sit down. I thought maybe my camera up in the air would embarrass the lady to sit down. She didn’t notice. (Sometimes I probably should use a flash) But the flight attendant did and later came by, and with a smile said, “I hope you won’t publish this.” Actually the flight attendants did nothing to be embarrassed about, and you can’t really see her face anyway. But the ethics of public photos and blogging and Youtube arise over and over again. There was an article in the LA Times on students publishing videos of their teachers on Youtube. But blog ethics and travel photography ethics are another post. In any case, I was able to blur her face for the blog.

We eventually made it to Hong Kong where we walked around the airport and had noodles for three hours before sitting down to wait for our flight. And a mercifully short two and a half hours to Bangkok. So we essentially lost February 13, having left LA at 11:30am on Feb 12, flown back over Alaska, crossing the international dateline, and arriving in Bangkok at 11:50pm on February 13. But we were through customs, got our baggage, and taxied to the hotel (not too far from the airport) by 1am.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Disney Concert Hall

I've seen and photographed Frank Gehry"s incredible
building before. But this time, after the opera, we walked around the building in the dark. It was like walking through the narrow canyons of Utak. Things curve and wind, you climb up, there are deadends and surprising vistas. But you can walk all around - if you don't need a wheel chair. Here are a couple shots from wandering around about 10:30pm. Note: I prefer a little blur to using a flash.


We went to the LA Opera last night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion last night with Ginny to see a Bertolt Brecht-Kurt Weil opera - The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. (Pronounced Maha - Go - Knee, emphasis on the Go) In some imaginary language that means spider web. This was an 1930 opera about three scoundrels who start a town somewhere in the US. They're stranded in the desert somewhere, which made me think it was in the West, but then there is a hurricane (sometimes referred to as a typhoon) and they are near Pensacola.... It was an interesting evening. We heard a talk with the conductor James Conlon before hand. That was helpful. The set was very simple and effective sand colored. The intent of the town is to offer food, sex, drink, and fights to men who come back from hunting for gold. "It's easier to get gold from the men, than from the river." But the first four men were actually coming back from cutting lumber for "seven years in Alaska, seven freezing years" a line that was repeated over and over. And a key character was named Alaska Wolf Joe. Think about it. We're watching a play in LA written by German Jews between the WWs - and somehow there we are back to Alaska.

It was written, if I understood the preshow lecture right, as a Marxist critique of the social and political conditions as the Nazi's were coming into power. And it was Conlon felt it had relevance today as well. There was discussion about why it was being offered in English (so it is accessible to American audiences as it was to German audiences) and about staging and styling that would have the feel for contemporary audiences that it had for 1930 Germans. I wonder what Brecht and Weil would have thought about the lavish concert hall and ticket prices (from $35 to $250.)

I'm not an opera regular. I love the set and staging, but it seemed rather heavy handed to me. I had a good time, the whole experiance was interestig (I haven't been in the Dorothy Chandler for 30 years.)

You can enlarge the picture and you should be able to read the words. I'm still ruminating on the ethics of taking and posting pictures of public performances. I'll do a piece on that one day.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Anchorage ---- LA

We left Anchorage about 1am after being deiced - it was around 30 degrees Fahrenheit and we'd had snow and freezing rain.

Then off to Santa Monica beac with Ginny.