Monday, December 27, 2004

Streets of Bangkok

First of all I want to let everyone know that I'm alive and well. I was here in Bangkok when the quake/tsunamis occurred a few days ago so I avoided all of nature's fury much further to the south and in fact was completely oblivious to it all until late that day when passing a TV at a local shopping mall. Very sad occurrence.

Otherwise I'm doing very well. I spent most of the morning wandering the streets of Bangkok simply taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of a city, a way of life far different from my own. Most of the street vendors nearby have set up "shop" for the day and are peddling things from amulets and assorted trinkets to foods of all types. I was quite happy to discover a fantastic western-style coffee house just around the corner from where I'm now staying so my caffeine addiction is sated, at least for now. May wander back down that way sometime in the early afternoon to finish a few more postcards or just watch the river traffic while enjoying an early afternoon coffee. It was quite nice there this morning, seated on the riverside patio watching river traffic of all sorts move up, down, and across the river.

The number and variety of street vendors are one of the most remarkable observations of Thailand thus far, particularly those selling food. Most of my meals have come from such vendors and the quality of food is exceptional in terms of price and quality, as long as one overlooks some of the potentially less than sanitary elements. Given my public health background/educational training, I've been cautious when dining in such a manner, but not to the point where I deprive myself of what may be some of the best food I've ever tried. Seemingly the basic criteria for a good street vendor meal are few: a moblie cart, a heating source, and a few basic ingredients. So far I've suffered no ill effects that I'm aware of, but again, I am going about this will a little caution.

One little thing of note is that my love of hot, spicy food has served me well here. It seems that many Thais are not accustomed to a Westerner being able to tolerate the hot and spicy food preferred by natives. I've managed just fine and have outdone some of my Thai acquaintances in this respect. It's kind of amusing that they show such concern over this Farang (foreigner) encountering a dish that may do him in ("No..too spicy for you. Order something else."). But this has yet to happen and by now I doubt it will.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Chiang Mai

It's around 4:30pm on Tuesday, December 21. I am sitting in a small Internet cafe just across the street from the Royal Princess Hotel in Chiang Mai. We arrived here just a few hours ago having opted to fly (one hour) instead of drive (six hours) or take the train (12 hours) from Bangkok. As Fate would have it, there is a Starbucks RIGHT NEXT to the hotel so I am happy, particularly having suffered through a few cups of instant coffee over the last few days. But still, instant coffee is better than no coffee at all, right? And this is also the first opportunity I've had to go online since arrival.

The flights from Norfolk to Bangkok went well, though the haul between Chicago and Tokyo was wretchedly long and tedious. We arrived around 10:30pm on Sunday night and had a very full day yesterday including a return trip to the airport late to collect our baggage which somehow was lost in transit. So as for a brief summary of recent events: lots of temple touring yesterday as well as just getting familiarized with Bangkok in general. Very interesting place, very different from Norfolk. Today we flew up here to Chiang Mai where we will spend the next couple of days (going back to Bkk on Xmas Eve.)

At any rate...I just wanted to fire off a qick post to let everyone know that I arrived safely and am having a great time thus far. I will try to update again first thing in the morning if at all possible.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Hurry Up and Wait

Much to my surprise I finished packing with several hours to spare before I sally forth to a friend's house then on to the airport. Everything is packed, everything is in order (at least as good as it's going to get) so now it's a matter of wait, wait, wait. This is not necessarily a bad thing as it will give me ample time to metally review the list to see if there is anything I may have overlooked in all the rushing around today.

So if all goes well my next post will be from Bangkok either on Sunday or Monday. While I am excited about this trip I am also filled with the usual pre-travel anxiety which typically begins to fade once we're underway.

Anyway...thanks to everyone for reading and I'll be updating as time allows.


......Ahhhh.... damn fine coffee. Just taking a break from rushing around to enjoy a cup of much needed caffeine (the coffee itself is but of secondary interest). So far I've gotten A LOT done inculding a hair cut, purshasing three weeks worth of cat provisions, additional clothing, travel acessories, and assorted odds and ends. Even made an appearance at the office Xmas party. I still need to run by the bank, meet my graduate advosir at five, do laundry, pack, and do some last minute tidying up of the aparment before I roll out of here around three in the morning. Yep, 3AM. Ack! Doubt seriously I will sleep any as I want to be tired enough to catch a nap or three during the flight.

Off to relax.

The Race Is On

OK...finished up the semester on a positive note last night (or so I hope) and am leaving on my trip first thing in the morning. So this means that I have approximately 1.3 million thing to do today to get ready. Errands beyong number, laundry, packing, the office Xmas party this afternoon, and so forth. I'll quite enjoy the rushing around today as it's all so very different from the drudgery of academia that has occupied so much of my time the last few weeks.

Anyway...I'm off into the bitter cold to get some things knocked out.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The Story Behind a Great Christmas Tradition

This morning a friend forwared an email about how one of our most cherished Christmas traditions began.....

When four of Santa's elves got sick and the trainee elves did not produce the toys as fast as the regular ones, Santa was beginning to feel the pressure of being behind schedule. Then Mrs. Claus told Santa that her Mom was coming to visit. This stressed Santa even more.

When he went to harness the reindeer, he found that three of them were about to give birth and two had jumped the fence and were out, heaven knows where. More stress. Then when he began to load the sleigh one of the boards cracked, and the toy bag fell to the ground and scattered the toys.

So, frustrated, Santa went into the house for a cup of apple cider and a shot of rum. When he went to the cupboard he discovered that the elves had hidden the liquor and there was nothing to drink. In his frustration, he accidentally dropped the cider pot, and it broke into hundreds of little pieces all over the kitchen floor. He went to get the broom and found that mice had eaten the straw end of the broom.

Just then the doorbell rang, and irritable Santa trudged to the door. He opened the door and there was a little angel with a great big Christmas tree. The angel said very cheerfully, "Merry Christmas, Santa. Isn't it a lovely day? I have a beautiful tree for you. Where would you like me to stick it?"

And so began the tradition of the little angel on top of the Christmas tree.


Tonight I have the attention span of a baby. I sit down to study for finals and my mind wanders off to the trip. I review for my presentation and my mind wanders off to packing and other preparations. This is sooo not good as finals and the seminar are tomorrow.

Help me, Obi-wan Kenobi. You're my only hope.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Lost World

Who needs to travel to exotic places when you can have an anthropological adventure right in your own home? One of the projects accomplished this morning was tidying up the bedroom. Not all that difficult of a task save for under the bed where I discovered many things once lost, forgotten, stored, or any combination thereof. I felt a bit like Howard Carter probably did in 1922 when peering into the tomb of King Tutankhamen for the first time. Except for the fact that he probably encountered less dust.

Among the items discovered this morning were:
1. Two broken coat hangers
2. Several cat toys (They're not for me, I swear!)
3. Old pair of dress shoes.
4. A folded National Geographic map of the West Indies
5. One white sock (If I could only find it's match)
6. Autographed Howard Dean campaign pamphlet (which I got in December of 2003 when I saw him speak in Norfolk)
7. Jeep Gear catalog (2004 issue)
8. Blue Micron .20mm journaling pen (This was missing for several weeks)
9. 43 cents in loose change

Also discovered amid the mound of dust and debris were several books:
1. Population, Species, and Evolution by Ernst Mayr.
2. Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh.
3. Kim by Rudyard Kipling; and lastly:
4. Lillian Too's 168 Feng Shui Ways to Declutter Your Home (hmmm)

So what does all this say about me? First of all, it's obvious that I believe in the principle "out of sight, out of mind." It also says that I need to pay a little more attention to cleaning the hard to reach areas or hire a housekeeper. I also need to develop a better system of storage. But these are superficial things. On a deeper, more personal level what else can we infer from the evidence? I'm going to let you, my reader(s) take a stab at this one. So based on the above discoveries and what you may have inferred from reading this blog, try to make a few logical assumptions about me and/or my life in general.

I won't take off points for wrong answers, but I will hunt you down.


Very cold and windy here in Norfolk this morning. With the temperature dipping down into the mid 30s last night, this is undoubtedly the coldest weather we've had since last winter. All night the steam radiators in my apartment hissed and rattled away, an annoying thing when I first moved in, but now comforting on a certain level. It's somewhat akin to the patter of rain on the roof.

I slept well last night and am feeling somewhat better this morning, so evidently the antibiotics are working. This is a good sign. My energy level has increased as well, which means that I should be able to get done a few of the more pressing things on my list.

More than likely I'll go back to work tomorrow, but will take off on Friday to get some last minute errands knocked out (haircut, buying travel essentials, and paying rent). I'll nonetheless make a brief appearance at the office on Friday afternoon for the staff Christmas party.

Anyway...enough rambling. Off to get some things done.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Quack, quack, quack

Last night was rough. The sore throat intensified to a rather dire level which was only exacerbated by laying down. It was the strangest thing: while sitting up, the condition was bad, but bearable. Once I crawled into bed, things intensified to the point where I could not lay down without wincing and engaging in bouts of (Warning: obligatory geek reference ahead) raspy, Ringwraith-like shrieking. As such, I more or less wandered about in the dark of my apartment and from time to time attempted to sleep whilst sitting in a chair. Somehow I managed a few hours of broken sleep and sallied forth to the local witch doctor first thing this morning.

The visit to the doctor's office was a bit surreal. His diagnosis (which he delivered during breaks from his standup comedy act with his office staff audience) was a rather acute case of tonsilitis. No real surprise here (maybe he should stick with comedy and leave medicine to the professionals). He popped into the examination room only once or twice and didn't even give me the opportunity to ask questions before he was off elsewhere. He disappeared for the longest time (possibly talking to his Hollywood agent) and I thought they had forgotten about me until tired old Odessa shuffles into the room bearing prescriptions. (That may not have been her name, but she reminded me of an Odessa who lived across from me at an apartment complex long ago). So at my request she retrieved the doctor and I finally got a chance to ask my questions. (Whats the average annual rainfall of the Amazon basin? Did Abraham Lincoln ever own a dog, and if so, what was it's name? Why am I asking so many questions?) I was given prescriptions for antibiotics and these uber cool painkillers, so if all goes well I'll be feeling better as the week progresses. As an added bonus, I'm staying home from the office a couple of days to rest. This may or may not be a good thing, depending on the boredom level. But I have a lot to do so I shouldnt get to the point where I expire from ennui.

(As an aside, I wonder what's up with all of my asides (bracketed in parentheses) today. Maybe it's the medication).

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Expectations vs. Reality

OK....maybe my expectations were a little too ambitous this morning. While I got some studying for my final exam done, progress towards the other two goals failed to even get off the ground. Tis OK...still plenty of time and in the grand scheme of things the final exam is the most important of the three things I mentioned this morning.

But I was not idle today. I made considerable progress with tidying up the apartment. The kitchen and bathroom are spotless and the living room is more or less headed in that direction. The bedroom and study remain and they should be finished over the next few days. I also finalized my postcard list and got the camera issues sorted out. The camera thing took longer than expected due to stumbling across a box of old pictures while I was looking for my digital camera. Productivity ground to a halt as I had to take a trip down memory lane. Most of the pictures dated around the 1998-2000 time frame which is perhaps one of the most significant watershed periods of my life. It was also one of the rare periods during which I was actively pursing the "Kodak moment" thing; the photographic record of my life since is sparse. I need to pay a little more attention to this. After all, how will I ever be able write my autobiography without the necessary photographic documentation? *grin*

I'm not entirely kidding about the autobiography thing either (so stop chortling, Mildred in Utah! It's not very flattering for someone of your advanced years). This idea has long had a certain appeal and will be a back-burner project completed years from now. Everyone has a story to tell, irregardless of how famous or wealthy or otherwise noteworthy. As I'm none of these things, my story will probably attract very few readers, but it's still my story to one day tell. It's akin to the blog experience: you have to write for yourself; if anyone else happens to come along for the ride...well, that's fine too.

Busy, Busy, Busy

Though I did not get home from my sister's dinner party/social until around two in the morning, I was up before six to get moving on three academic projects that must be tackled today. As I experienced technicial difficulties (please stand by!) during my presentation on Thursday (the computer was unable to load my Powerpoint from the CD that I brought due to "corrupt or missing files") I will be giving it this coming Thursday. This is also the night of the final exam so let's just double the stress level for that night. Of course there is a bright side to this in that I now have time to do one more revision to my presentation which will be done today. To complicate matters this week, I received an email from my graduate advisor yesterday requesting a revised copy of my thesis prospectus by Friday (instead of early January) so she can read over it and make comments during the winter break. An additional burden, yes, but not insurmountable if I am diligent today.

The persistent nature of this sore throat is really beginning to vex me. If it has not abated by tomorrow, I will probably make a trip to local witch doctor for whatever antibiotics might be in order. Better to nip this thing in the bud now rather than letting nature take its course and running the risk of it lingering on through the start of vacation.

Ah to be productive.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Making a List and Checking it Twice

No, I'm not doing the Santa thing.

Since vacation starts in a week, it's about time to start thinking about the necessary trip preparations. As there are so many things I need to do between now and then, a list will be essential so I don't forget anything that might impact events (e.g., leaving my passport at home or remembering on January 1st when in some remote jungle that I forgot to pay rent).
Some of the most essential things that must be done this coming week:

1. Make copies of apartment keys and distribute. Several people are getting keys so they can check up on my cats My "children" are exceptionally fragile and sensitive, so having people check up on them from time to time will be essential for their mental well-being.

2. Stock up on cat provisions. I need to procure enough cat food and litter to last three weeks as it would be a rude thing to force those taking care of my cats to buy such essentials.

3. Finish post card list. Between friends, family, school, and the office, there are 23 people who will be receiving post cards during my holiday. Ack!

4. Tidy up the apartment. My humble abode is in a state of disorganization now due to school. Stacks of books and papers all over. The cats like this. I don't. It would be a good thing to come home in January and not face such clutter as the spring semester begins the day after I return.

5. Sorting clothes. For the most part I plan to pack rather lightly and will likely be buying additional clothing over there since such things are rumored to be relatively cheap. Besides, as it's winter here, it's difficult to find shorts and other warm weather clothing.

6. Have regularly scheduled bouts of anxiety. My previous international travel experience is limited to one foray to South America two years ago, so this is still an unfamiliar experience for me.

7. Buy film and find software for digital camera.

8. Get finances in order. As it's essential that I don't run out of money over there and be reduced to borrowing a monk's begging bowl just to get my meals, I need to get the money sources organized.

9. Pay rent. Rather important since I don't want to come home on January 9th to discover all of my possessions in a pile by the street.

10. Buy necessities. Toothpaste, travel-oriented medications, etc.

11. Visit foreign travel clinic at local health department. I wonder if I'll need any anti-malarials since I'll be spending time in rural areas?

12. Dust off passport.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Chicken Soup and a Warm Blanket

Achy, sore throat, and congestion. What perfect timing to get sick. The day of my semiar! Ah long as I can muster the fortitude this evening and deliver a half-way decent talk, I'll be fine. I finished the presentation last night and I've run through it a time or two, so I'm nearly ready. More than likely I'll go through it a few more times later on this afternoon.

Off to bundle up in a warm blanket and attempt to catch a nap.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Wednesday Evening

Yet again today I took off early from work to finish up putting together the seminar that I'll give tomorrow night. Other than maybe ONE more little section and the conclusion it's done. Finally! I had hoped to have it finished by Sunday which turned out not to be the case as I tend to be a bit of an academic perfectionist. And a procrastinator. Can't forget that part. No matter, really, as the seminar is pretty much complete and by this time tomorrow night it will be all over. At that point I'll shift my attention towards final exams and trip preparation.

Guess I'll wander off to put on a pot of coffee and get back to work. I'll tinker with the presentation until about eight-thirty, but after that it will be my time to do whatever. Making time for myself is one of the keys to successfully balancing full time employment along with a full course load. And to me those few hours to myself are among the most precious. (This time is mine. My own. My Precious. No one can steals it from us.) more viewings of LOTR until next summer. to the kitchen before it gets too geeky in here.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Manager's Memo

Home a little early from the office to finish up a project for class and get some laundry done. The weather here in Norfolk this affternoon is a distraction from both. 73 degrees and partly sunny. Almost like an early fall day and not one to be wasted indoors stuck at the computer.

Though it was a shorter day at work, I got a great deal accomplished and even had time to take my secretary out to lunch for her birthday. She's been working at the office for almost as long as I've been alive and is only two years from retirement. She's been such a wonderful resource, particularly during my first six months and was so important to the more or less smooth transition in management. Since the 1950s, my office has had only five managers and as it turned out, I happen to be the youngest by at least 15 years. I am also the third youngest of my staff of almost twenty, so I faced some unique challenges after taking over last January. It's a natural thing for people to be resistant to change. This was something of which I was keenly aware and incorporated early on into my management style.

It's somewhat difficult to define my style of management as it's always evolving and will vary depending upon the circumstance. So I guess the key here is that I'm flexible, but not to the point of being inconsistent. It's a balancing act. Overall I tend to be the type of manager who encourages employees, offers general guidance if needed, and lets them do their thing with little direct involvement on my part. And I always make it known that my door is always open if they have any problems. The follow are some other elements that make up my style, for better or for worse:

1. Listen, listen, listen. Always be open to new ideas from employees, the public, or administration. No matter how bad the suggestion is, give the person the opportunity to voice his or her opinion. This makes emplyees feel that their opinion counts (which it does) and helps build a team atmosphere which is critical to the accomplishment to the goals and mission of the organization.

2. It's the little things. Always make a point to say "good morning," "how was your weekend," or otherwise compliment each employee every day. Though a little tedious at first, the development of this habit will help build a cohesive working environment by letting employees know that you're not just the guy in the power tie sitting in the big office, you're human, you're approachable, you care. The working environment offers so many opportunities for those little things that can do so much, from buying a employee who's having a bad day a cup of coffee to simply saying "please" and complimenting them on a job well done.

3. Lead by example. Early in my undergraduate years I was a student of military history. Can't stand the stuff now, but if there's one lesson I learned was that the most successful generals throughout history were those who led from the front. The first ones in the trenches. Never have any reservations about rolling up the sleeves and being the first to wade into the thick of a project. Showing your employess that you would never ask of them something you would not do yourself is perhaps the best way I've found to inspire staff.

4. Power corrupts. One of the potentially most noxious thing about a management position is that it comes with a great deal of power and it's so important not to let this power go to ones head. Everyone has heard stories or has experiencedpower-hungry mangers who lord over their employees like some Central American dictator, but without the shirt full of metals and a firing squad on hand. I don't think I'll ever have this problem as I absolutely hate being in charge of anyone and don't have access to any weaponry. I accept leadership almost as a necessary evil, the result of the natural career progression.

5. I got your back. Never leave your employees high and dry no matter how badly they've screwed up. If everyone is calling for their head on a silver platter, defend them to the best of your ability given the circumstances. Even the worst of mistakes (as long as they're honest mistakes) can be turned into learning opportunities. Never tell them that they "really screwed up." Chances are that they already know it and pointing it out doesn't help matters. Work with them as a colleague in overcoming any challenges they have and its a safe bet they won't make the same mistake twice.

Certainly I still have a lot to learn about this whole management thing and will incorporate elements into my style as they prove to be effective or will eliminate things that do not work. Like everything else in life, it's an ongoing process.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Friday Evening

And so another busy workweek comes to an end and I must shift my productivity this weekend to wrapping up the semester. A major seminar project will occupy most of my time over the next two days. I've gotten most of the background research and reading done; all that remains is outlining the seminar and putting together a Powerpoint presentation which I will go over a million times between before the actual presentation on Thursday. Perhaps this isn't the most enjoyable way to spend a weekend, but it's necessary and will ultimately be a benefit realized when I can hang the masters degree diploma next to my autographed picture of Martha Stewart.

OK...just kidding about the Martha Stewart picture. I'll probably hang the masters next to the bachelors degree instead.

And speaking of hanging of my projects after the first of the year will be to reinvent my apartment. I can't paint my walls lest the leasing agent become cross and hit me with a stick, but there's still a lot I can do to make the place a little more welcoming and comfortable. Like getting a sofa. I've been using an ancient futon that I've had for about six or seven years and the time for its retirement is growing near. The one problem here may be my two cats who have a bad habit of sharpening their claws on anything that doesn't move, including me if I stand too long in one place. Declawing is cruel, so I'll probably just go with something less expensive (and NOT leather) and if they shred it over time, so be it. I'll probably also invest in some wall art (a sensible thing since most of my walls are bare) and proper lighting. Little things like this will probably go a long way towards making my place a little more liveable.

The one problem is going to be my singular lack of decorating ability which is a long running source of mirth among most of my friends. While I've had to endure years of their mockery, I'll nonetheless be able to tap their ability to assist with various decorating ideas. Let's hope the old saying that charity beings at home (MY home) will prove true.