I have CLA (Christmas Light Addiction) in Bangkok

Those of you who know me know about how I’m addicted. Some of you even endured my requests for help in raising the 35-foot Star Pole at the annual “Erection Party” each November on Kauai. Thank you… those were the days! Now that I live in Thailand, going about putting together an over-the-top Christmas Light Display has it’s challenges. I can’t just run to the nearest WalMart, Home Depot, Lowes, Costco, Ace Hardware, etc., because they don’t exist here. Tesco Lotus and Carrefour (two “Big Box” chains) and the larger department stores display some seasonal items in November, but if you’re looking for more than simple decorations, ornaments, or cheap mini-lights, forget it.

I so miss being able to run to Home Depot. Here, my favorite store is Home Pro. It could be compared to a small Sears… hardware, tools, bath and plumbing, electrical, appliances, home entertainment electronics, some MDF furniture, bedding and decor. Unfortunately the selection is very limited. And the electrical department – outside of a massive collection of CFL’s – is pitiful (as is most everything electrical in the Land of Smiles!) So what does a diehard do-it-yourself handyman/Christmas Light enthusiast in the Big Mango do short of ordering online and paying exorbitant shipping fees you ask? The answer: Go shopping!

Ban Mo Sign

Saturday I ventured out in search of a good soldering station. I will be building quite a few printed circuit board kits, the hardware to run my computerized Christmas Light Show – more on that later – but the little pencil-type soldering iron I have just won’t cut it.

Ban Mo (pronounced bahn MAW) is a subdistrict near Chinatown in the old part of Bangkok. Originally a village of Vietnamese immigrants who made earthenware and pottery, you can still see pottery designs on the gable ends of some of the old shophouses. (Click on the thumbnail pictures to see them big.) Ban Mo changed over the decades to a center for gold and jewelry shops. It’s famous today as the place to go for electronic parts, custom audio and DJ/theatrical lighting.

So off I went in a taxi, and got dropped off at the intersection opposite Old Siam shopping center. (Yes, we DO have lots of Mickey D’s in the Land of Smiles!) I walked left into a small soi or side street. This is a notorious place… you’ll want to keep your eyes open and your wallet secure. You can read more about it at Bangkok Adventurers.

I avoided the touts and headed past the street stalls to a popular electronics parts shop, but they carried only run-of the-mill solder irons and guns… not what I wanted. Back out on the soi I mentally flipped a coin and turned in a direction never before traveled, feeling adventurous. I came upon a dark alley – literally! – that had been converted into a warren of little shops. The entrepreneurial spirit of Thai people never ceases to amaze me. Everywhere you go in Bangkok there are places like this with tiny stalls, or street vendors, or push carts selling their wares.

I was tempted to stop at this cart for some ice cold watermelon, guava, or pineapple… but I was on a mission! On one side of the soi some neo-ROTC students had just come out of a shop that lured customers with it’s impressive LED display.

No doubt they had bought some kit or another for a school project. I have no clue though as to what Grandma – with her voluminous blue plastic shopping bag – was stooping over for. On the other side of the soi I walked into the “dark alley” shops, attracted by one vendor’s LED’s and the overhead fluorescents… this must be a good sign!

Down on the left I came across a guy who displayed more of the cheapo blister-pack soldering irons. It’s always a challenge for me to communicate because my Thai allows me to give directions to taxi drivers, order food and drinks, and bargain when out shopping… but not much more. So with a lot of hand signaling and a few common phrases, he eventually got the idea of what I was looking for, and pointed me in the direction of another shop at the back of the alley…. and I struck gold!

I had gotten many different recommendations about good soldering stations from the Forums at planetchristmas.com and researched websites… but when I got to the shipping charges it always killed my idea of ordering one from USA, Oz or EU. Same with ones I found on eBay. So when I walked into this shop (after removing my slippers of course) and found what looked like a Hakko 936A, my spirits soared. (Do you get the idea that I’m easily amused?

Well it turns out that this unit is a Chinese-made Hakko clone. Spendthrift that I am, however, I couldn’t resist the 850 Thai Baht price tag, bargained down to 800 THB because of my good looks. (Yeah, right!) At about US$24, it’s a far cry from a genuine Hakko at $100 + S&H anywhere else. And the good thing is it uses genuine replacement tips and ceramic heating element from Hakko, and operates on 220V 50Hz.

I loaded up with a pound of 60/40 solder, some paste, a solder sucker and few small tools, smiling, and said Khob Khun Krup (thanks!) to this young man for all his help. (He spoke not one word of English.) Well, I’m patting myself on the back about now for the good solder station find, but there are a few more things on my Ban Mo shopping list… so off we go for more exploring.

Never one to be satisfied going back the way I came, I headed out of the “dark alley” in a new direction, always trying to keep oriented by counting 90 degree turns so as not to get too lost! I’m looking through more small shops for ABS rainproof boxes for my yet-to-be-built boards; also some C9 light sockets for Curtain Strobes, more wire numbers… always on the lookout for good prices on 100-ct 5mm LED light strings too… and not having much luck. But I know I can get most of those items at another area called Klong Thom, and that story will be another post. My luck improved, though, just before I completed the circuitous journey back to where I started. I stuck my head in another electronics parts shop and was greeted with a cheerful “Hello!” Well, I’m a sucker for good customer service – in English! – and this was all I needed to step inside and browse.

Another thing I’ve been looking for is ferrite chokes for all the Cat5 cables I’ll be running to the boards in my “decentralized” controller network. I had seen how IXMUS recommended using them in one of his “How To” videos on YouTube. With more hand signing, some basic English and perseverance my friendly greeter found what I wanted in a box buried six deep in a dusty corner of this shop. Ferrite chokes… ten for 100 THB (about US$2.95!) Smiles all around… priceless! My second big score of the day!

An interesting observation here… in all of these shops I’ve visited the guys are the ones who work the floor and do all the salesmanship. It’s the gals who write the bills and collect the money. You’ll find this division of labor even in the big department stores.

Just before leaving I asked my new friend if he knew where I could find ABS project boxes… “Oh, you want pu-las-TIC bok!” Yes, yes… I can’t find the right size. Ok, I’m directed up the street to a shop the name of which I can’t understand, but it’s on the right. Off I go… and walk right past the “Supermarket of Electronics Electric and IT.” And then here comes my new friend running a hundred meters up the soi after me, gesturing me to follow him back to the entrance I had passed. Whereupon he waltzes me up the escalator, shows me the self-storage locker to stash my bags of goodies, points me to the “supermarket” entrance and says goodbye with a respectful wai. Only in Thailand!

Well, NPE Best Buy didn’t have the boxes I was looking for, but I did pick up more great stuff to set up my hobby workstation in the guest bedroom on the third floor of the townhouse. Happily I found my way back to the intersection at Old Siam and hailed a taxi for the 15-minute two dollar ride home. Not a bad cloudy afternoon at Ban Mo… not a bad haul for 2700 THB. It pays to get off the beaten path and go local, even for a farang (foreigner) in Bangkok afflicted with CLA.

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Happy Halloween!

It’s been a year since I started this blog. Wow… time waits for no one.

To see my Bluemountain eCard, click here.

Supplications

There are two matters weighing heavily on my mind today.

My dear mother June suffered a mild stroke at the end of August, and is not doing well. I feel so helpless because I am so far away. Even if I could be by her side right now I’m not sure I could make a difference. But if you could take a moment and think of her with love, send a positive thought, or say a prayer I would be most grateful.

The big headline on cnn.com/us right now is the Phil Spector mistrial. Photobucket - Video and Image HostingBut right next door to us here in Thailand, our neighbors in Myanmar – Burma as it’s known in the West – are experiencing a bloody crackdown on Democracy protesters and Buddhist monks by it’s repressive military junta. In 1988 they killed 3000. I hope and pray that these innocents will be freed of their oppressive regime, but fear that many many lives will be lost in the process. check http://www.cnn.com/intl for more if you don’t already know. This time, the whole world is watching…

Papillon Puppies Rule!

I haven’t posted anything here in almost a year. My bad! Guess I have some catching up to do. In the mean time, you can check out the two bundles of joy – Mac and iPod – who are 6 weeks and 2 days old today. They are really starting to act like dogs! Click the image below to open a new window and watch a three minute video. (No downloading required!)


I’m afflicted. Is it heredity? Or am I a product of my environment?

 

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My father is an Amateur Radio Operator, or “ham” for short. The basement in my childhood home is filled with electronic junk. At least it – or most of it – was still there the last time I visited. Continue reading ‘I’m afflicted. Is it heredity? Or am I a product of my environment?’

October 24, 2006

Dog Shows

Click the thumbnails to see the full-size pictures.

This past weekend was the Bangkok Grand Dog Show at The Mall in Bangkapi. It was sponsored by the Kennel Club of Thailand which I joined last year. I had been to two shows to observe earlier this year, but this was the first dog show I entered since moving to Thailand 18 months ago. The KCTh does not recognize any points won in AKC sanctioned events in America, so my dogs have to start all over again, although Gianni’s Am.CH status is recognized here. I want to earn my dogs their Thai Champion status.

The shows in Thailand operate the same as AKC shows, but the point system is totally different, and there are more classes. I don’t understand the requirements for becoming a CH just yet. The show president – a Police General – informed me that the summary printed in the Show Catalog will be translated into English by the next show. That will help a lot! His wife also helped me a lot with registration. They both speak excellent English.


There were three shows, two on Saturday – a Group 9 Specialty (Companion and Toy Dogs) and the 45th KCTh All Breed Championship Dog Show – and the FCI Int’l Championship Dog Show on Sunday. So we had three opportunities to earn “Challenge Certificates” and points. Since there are 4 FCI shows anually in Thailand, it’s also possible to earn an International Championship… cool!


To get my dogs registered with the KCTh I had to submit their AKC Registrations and Pedigrees, and pay a 100 Baht fee. Since Kolie wasn’t interested in helping me show, I asked our houseboy Thien if he would like to help. He takes such good care of the dogs anyway, bathing them and feeding them and giving them their vitamins. They follow him around the townhouse constantly and some even sleep with him occaisonally. So we worked together for about a month, practicing setting the dogs on the table, and walking them “down and back” in the soi in front of the townhouse. Thien really enjoyed the break from house chores and the dogs loved the extra attention.


We loaded the grooming table, supplies (Sandee French taught me the importance of making a checklist!) the 3 Papillons and the Chihuahua in their crates, show clothes, a small cooler of drinks and bait, and Kolie, Thien and me into a taxi Saturday morning. It took almost an hour to get to the shopping center in Bangkapi, a suburb northwest of Bangkok. We unloaded on the 4th floor outside the exhibition hall, found a spot near Ring 3 and set up shop. We were ready 1/2 hour before the scheduled start of the Group 9 Specialty, but unfortunately the Thai judge “had car trouble” and we waited more than two hours to go in the ring.


Takko was up first, after the Long Coat Chihuahuas. He is nine years old now, very stubborn, and uncooperative! He refuses to stand up straight on the table, and when on the floor insists on his nose to the mat and marking whenever he can. He did get a 1st ribbon against one other Smooth Coat, though, but against the other class winners he got 2nd Place. And then in the FCI Show Sunday he was written up by the Portuguese Judge for improper topline and bad gait. Later I vowed that these were his last shows!


The Papillons followed the Chis, the French Bulldogs, and the Maltese. Gianni, Doobee and Lele were the only Paps entered, which I had expected. The Thai judge told me Gianni was too “leggy” for his taste. Lele took Best of Breed in the Specialty. Doobee took BOB in the All-Breed. We didn’t make any Group placements. Sunday at the FCI Doobee took BOB again.


I had a great time. Kolie was bored… especially Saturday because the All-Breed Group didn’t happen until almost 7 pm. Thien was thrilled. Kolie had bought him a nice black suit to show – he looked great and was so happy – and we both had new Gold neckties – the color of the King. I wore the great black suit that Dad bought me last time I was in NJ. It was my first opportunity to wear it.



You know? People are the same all over the world. You live your life, you follow your interests privately and socially. You laugh, you love, you cry, you rejoice. The experience this weekend could have been the same anywhere. Maybe there were more smiles though. Maybe I’ve never been happier.

Kolie gets his Passport back

We were so excited that Kolie was granted his Visa to visit the United States a week ago today. What we didn’t know, however, was the term of the Visa. It could be for one, three or ten years, with one or multiple entries. And we wouldn’t know until he got his Passport back by courier. I thought for sure it would come
Wednesday but it didn’t. Then Thursday morning Kolie had a meeting across town from his home office. After lunch, a co-worker called to tell him the envelope from the U.S. Embassy had arrived. He rushed across town, opened it, and found a ten year Visa inside! His co-worker snapped this pic of him outside his office.

It being an incredibly beautiful day in Bangkok, Kolie walked over to Wat Phra Kaew, the famous temple complex near his office. Thank goodness he had his new digital camera with him.

Sunny skies, happy feelings, and beautiful lotus buds and blossoms.
Wat Phra Kaew is a huge tourist attraction. I spent hours there my first trip to Thailand in 1998.

Later, when he came home, I snapped this picture of us in the carpark garden in front
of our townhouse. It’s not every day that young “single” men from developing countries get permission to visit America. We are truly blessed that at least for the next ten years we’ll be able to travel together to the good ole USofA whenever we want. I still have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. I probably would not make the trip we planned for the Holidays if he were not able to come with me.

If you’re interested in reading about the process we went through to get his B1/B2 Non-Immigrant US Visa you can read what I posted on the ThaiVisa Forum here and here.


Swiss Hug April 2006

Mothers Day Weekend Aug2006 in NE Thailand

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