Bits and Pieces

Friday, February 24, 2012

Shopping in Bangkok

It's shopping day today.  Here in Bangkok we have to plan our shopping carefully, though.  It's a military operation, you see.  Back in the UK a trip to the local Tesco would involve nothing more complicated than hopping in the car, driving a mile and deciding how many bananas I'm really going to eat before they go all mushy.

Here, though, it's a different story.  The Bangkok streets aren't well equipped for the average foreign grocery shopper.  7-11s can be found on every corner, with a wide enough range of food to keep a man going for a few days (though you get bored of ramen noodles and prepackaged sandwiches pretty quickly).  Fruit, veg and meat markets abound, but as a non-Thai I find it a challenge to negotiate prices, weights and exactly how many bananas we're talking about here (and are those really bananas?  They look more like plantains, and I'm not sure of the Thai word).

In any case, Tesco ad Big C are the only real options for a proper grocery shop.  The closest stores, though, are an hour away by two trains and two 15 minute walks between stations, so the logistics of carrying home a heavy load can be... difficult.

What makes it worse is that my girlfriend doesn't seem to understand the idea that we'll have to carry everything she throws in the cart.  Last time we went shopping she bought a set of car seat covers for girls and a Canada Goose Freestyle vest.  It's ridiculous.

So, I'm sitting here with a double whisky planning the shopping list.  I think I may need the help of the A-Team.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

How to Live in Spain

My partner and I have lived in Bangkok for the last several months.  Before that we lived in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, and before that Bangkok again.  Before that I lived pretty much everywhere, bumming around everywhere between China and Europe, stopping off for a spell in the strange 'Stans of Central Asia.  I'm no stranger to living outside my comfort zone, is what I'm saying.

Some people, though, are afraid of leaving the comfortable womb of their home country to experience the wider world, and many don't even bother to get a passport.  I have several friends who have never left their shores, and while I always say 'each to his own' I can't help but feel a little sorry for them.

I understand them, too, in a way.  It's rarely pleasant to find yourself in a situation as alien and unfathomable as, say, a government office in downtown Barcelona.  The last time I was in Spain I parked my beloved mid-90s BMW by a gym in Barceloneta, spent a weekend admiring the Gaudi architecture only to return to find every window of the car shattered.  I spent a day shuttling between police stations and local gov. offices to get the necessary paperwork to claim on my insurance.

That was bad enough, but imagine living in Spain and going through it every day (not the car damage, but the admin, of course).  It can be stressful, so it's nice that people have made guides about how to live in Spain.  These things are a Godsend for foreigners looking to spend their retirement in a warm climate filled with sangria and tapas.  They explain the ins and outs of dealing with visas, real estate agents and other troubling annoyances of an otherwise peaceful life.

How to Live in Spain takes all the hassle out of expatriating yourself to this beautiful, welcoming country.  It guides you through the process and helps you avoid the pitfalls of immigration.  We need more guides like this.  Bravo.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Leo Traits a Result of School Year Cutoff?

Those who know me will tell you that I don't believe in astronomy.  I don't believe the stars and planets have any effect on my personality or any impact on my actions.  Simple as that.

However, I do have a theory that the month of our birth has an effect on our outlook on life.  It's nothing to do with the stars, and everything to do with the way school years are organised.  You see, I was born on July 23rd, right on the cusp between Leo and Cancer, and in the UK that means I was one of the youngest kids in class.  The cutoff point for the school year is August 1st, so if I'd been born just a week or so later I would have grown up as one of the oldest kids in the year below.

Now think for a moment about how that would have affected the development of my personality.  I would have been among the biggest in class rather than the smallest, for a start.  As it happens I grew into a timid, retiring sort, surrounded by bigger boys and much more mature girls.  A difference of a week would have flipped that on its head.  Maybe I would have been better at sports, competing with smaller kids rather than those who had up to a year of development head start on me.  Who knows?

In any case, that's my theory.  When we talk about things like Leo traits - specifically, that Leos gravitate naturally towards leadership roles - I believe it's because the average Leo, especially in the UK (I'm unsure of the cutoff dates elsewhere), will have spent his or her formative years as one of the oldest in their class.  They naturally adopt the same sort of leadership role you can see in Ralph in Lord of the Flies: confident, assured and (occasionally) a little arrogant and cocksure.

Just a theory, of course, with as much chance of being false as true.  What do you think?

After Dinner Entertainment

There comes a certain point in a man's life at which the way he spends his evenings shifts dramatically.  In my twenties my nights would be spent in the local bar, shooting pool and drinking beers with friends who had no obligations more pressing than beating the hangover enough to work a production line.  Life was simple, and we lived from paycheck to paycheck without a care in the world (provided the pay stretched until Friday).

Today, though, things are different.  My social life rarely leads me back to the old bar with its bewitching aromas of stale beer and cheap perfume.  Instead I find myself planning my downtime weeks and months in advance.  My evenings are controlled by RSVPs, long weeks of phone calls and, for some reason, everything must go through my wife before I hear about it.

It's not that I miss the old days of carefree drinking, you understand.  Well, I do, but my life now is so much better than it used to be that I don't wish to return to it.  My evening entertainment right now is just different.  No better, no worse.

Occasionally lots of fun, though.  We tend to go to a lot of awards ceremonies, charity events and dinners in honour of this and that.  I'm a Rotarian and my wife works for a high-profile law firm, so there's no shortage of events to attend.  Every so often we'll find the organisers have arranged fantastic after dinner entertainment, and I think you'd be surprised as to how damned good it can be.  Back in my bar days I'd never dream that I'd enjoy an evening in a ballroom watching a ventriloquist, but today I find myself eagerly awaiting the announcement of who will provide the corporate entertainment at any upcoming event.

Hell, maybe I'm getting old.  As a young man I was satisfied with a cold beer and a pool table.  Today, in my early forties, I want a puppet show and a magician, damn it!

I'll still take a beer, though.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Jailbreaking the iPad 2

I've really been getting into hidden object games recently (for an example, check out Hidden Chronicles on Facebook).  They're a great time waster, and when you're stuck on a train for hours on end they're a great way to make it a little more tolerable.

I got a new iPad 2 the other week in Bangkok, and two days later I found myself on a train to Laos on a visa run.  The problem is that money's a little tight these days, and I just didn't have the money in the bank to pay for a whole new set of games for the new iPad.  For some reason I wasn't allowed to simply copy the games from my iPhone to may iPad, despite the fact that I'd already paid for them once.

So yeah, 12 hours before getting the train I was desperately looking for a way to jailbreak iPad 2 in order to download a few games to pass the time.  After a few hours of running around the Bangkok electronics markets to find someone to do the job for me I finally returned home and found a piece of software that allowed me to do it in 5 minutes (you can check the link for the site).  After hours of downloading games I managed to get enough to last the 20 hour train journey.  Score!

email soldiers to show your support

Over the last ten years or so there has been an ongoing groundswell of supports for our men and women in uniform.  Before the 9-11 attacks we didn't really spare a thought for our soldiers, engaged in small, low profile squabbles in little known countries around the world.  Iraq and Afghanistan, though, brought our soldiers once again to the fore, and every so often it's nice to offer a little appreciation.

These days you can email soldiers to offer your support, thank them for a job well done or simply to chat with and get to know one of our brave young men and women working to keep us safe and secure.  An international pen pal is a great thing to have... while you get the benefit of chatting to someone doing a difficult, dangerous job in a far flung land they get the opportunity to catch up on events back home, relax at the end of a long day and escape their difficult circumstances, if only for a little while.

We love the idea of emailing soldiers, and we think everyone should be doing it.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Hello Kitty Car Accessories

I've always hated Hello Kitty Car accessories, so when my girlfriend arrived with her brand new Toyota last week I was horrified to see that she'd decked out the interior of the car with seat covers, fuzzy dice, floor mats and all sorts of other things, all carrying the Hello Kitty brand.

Now I can't go near the car without seeing that blank, horrifying cat face staring back at me from every surface.  I love having the car, but I can't bring myself to drive it over to a friend's house for fear that I'll be rightfully called 'whipped'. 

Monday, February 06, 2012

Car Seat Covers for Girls

After two years without a car we finally picked up a beat up old Toyota yesterday.  We don't really have the money to pay for gas, insurance and everything else you need to get on the road, but we were so sick of riding the Bangkok BTS every day that we splashed out a little.  The BTS costs about 3 dollars a day, so driving around the city is sure to cost us much, much more.  Oh well. 

We did splash out on one thing, though.  My girlfriend is a huge fan of pink, girly things, and since I convinced her to cut back on her shopping in order to afford a car she backed me into a corner and got me to agree to buy a couple of car seat covers for girls.  I'm now the proud owner of a pair of Hello Kitty car seat covers.  Oh dear. 

Now, I'm no fan of Hello Kitty.  I spent a couple of months living in Tokyo in 2010, and that experience was enough to turn me off the sugary, oh so sweet and innocent phenomenon.  I'd just as soon not have Hello Kitty car seat covers in my Toyota, but I guess this is what happens when you stumble into a relationship.  It all starts great, then you start to compromise who you are for the sake of your girlfriend.  Before you know it you're driving around Bangkok in a beat up second hand car with Hello Kitty kissing your back. 

Well, it's better than getting the train.
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