After the Storm

May 28, 2010

Finally the Red Shirt storm has passed for now and life is getting back to normal.  Symbolic of this is the big clean up going on in the streets of Bangkok.   Civilians have come out to wash down and sweep up the streets where all the protest were, covering up all the problems and putting the smile back onto the Thai face.  The streets have never been so clean.

I won’t go into the politics of the latest “color wars”.  I’ll let the journalists and historians deal with that.  My stance is that all my colored shirts are in my closet and I am wearing lots of grays lately, but I am still in support of a legitimately, and democratically elected form of government.  And I am hoping that happens as soon as possible.

What I wanted to do is answer some of the questions people who are interested in making Thailand a home have about personal safety during these strange times.  The best way to do this is to describe how the protests and the “state of emergency” have affected my life.

During the weeks of protests there were occasional Red Shirt rallies here in Chiang Mai.  I’d see the flags and the vans full of people.  What they were doing was getting ready to drive down to join their compatriots in Bangkok.  It was a jovial atmosphere, like people going on an outing.  Sorry to say that things didn’t stay that way.  How did the protest affect the Expat community here?  Unless you were watching TV, or reading the newspaper,  or maybe got behind one of those vans with the red flags taking off to Bangkok, you were not affected at all.

When the Bangkok Reds didn’t break up their gatherings in the face of military actions I knew there would be problems.  I had seen it all before.  Thailand has had dozens of coups and military takeovers and I have been here for a few of them.  What you do during those times is take “shelter from the storm”.  I am sad to say that a few Expats, journalists, and a few very very curious visitors, were caught up in the violence.  In an earlier post I said that it would be best to simply keep your head down and stay away.  Most of us did just that, and because of that, most Expats remained safe and sound and were never in any real danger.

What about the curfew?  There has been a curfew on in about a quarter of the country’s provinces for the last week or so.  To give an example of how it has affected me I can tell you that I really don’t know if there is still a curfew going on now or not.  The latest curfew went from 11pm to 4am.  I’ll give you one guess what I have been doing between those hours.  Curfew’s affect on me, nil.

I did have a friend who needed to go to the airport at 2am the other day to pick up his son visiting from the States.  He said that driving to the airport and back home again he didn’t see one road block or check point.  So much for the “state of emergency” here in Chiang Mai.

These have been harrowing times.  But during troubled times, if one keeps a low profile, you can stay safe as you let the storm pass.  There is an old Persian Sufi saying, but it could just as well have been a Buddhist saying, “This too shall pass.”  The storm is over for now.  I send compassion to the families of those on both sides who were caught up in the violence.

When I see the clouds darkening and wind whipping up again, It will be time to take shelter once more.  For now though, I am enjoying the beginning of the rainy season and praying for peace.

Benjawan Poomsan Becker, Chris Pirazzi, Paiboon Publishing and Word in the Hand, $24.95

The hard copy version

I know a little about dictionaries.  I have 7 Thai/English dictionaries at home and I use at least three online ones as well.  I write the column Thai Language/Thai Culture for the popular website , so I am pretty dependent on a good dictionary.  Since this new PC based “talking dictionary” has resided on my desktop I find it the most convenient of the group.  I love my “book” dictionaries of course and have them scattered in most of the rooms of my house.  But with a PC based dictionary I don’t have to leaf through thousands of dictionary pages, or be connected to the Internet.  For the serious student of the Thai language, especially up to the intermediate level, you couldn’t start with a better or more convenient tool to enhance your studies.

Ajarn Benjawan Poomsan Becker, well-known for her excellent Thai language study materials, Thai for Beginners, Speak Like a Thai, Improving Your Thai Pronunciation, etc., as well as Thai and Lao compact dictionaries, and lots more, is one of the forces behind this new PC based Thai language learning aid.  Two years in the making, this dictionary is full of the stuff that I have long had on my wish-list of features.  Ajarn Benjawan’s linguistic expertise, along with the computer genius of her collaborator, Chris Pirazzi, have created what I feel is a must have addition to my Thai studies library.


The current Three-Way Dictionary has 42,000 entries. And the same as in their other dictionaries, Paiboon includes Thai classifiers for nouns. But it is the special features packed into this software that make it really fun to use. Here are just a few:

It’s a talking dictionary

Each word is accompanied by a high-quality sound recording of Ajarn Benjawan, giving you its correct pronunciation.  Look up a word, clicked on the speaker icon and there will be Ajarn Benjawan saying the word to you in her perfect pronunciation.  It’s good to be in the 21st century.

Triple threat

The same system developed for the Three-Way Pocket Thai Dictionary is used here – English to Thai, Thai to English, Sound to Thai.  Besides entering an English word and getting the Thai returned, and vice-versa, you can also enter an approximation of a Thai word’s sound (Search-by-Sound™) and the dictionary will guess which word you might be looking for.  It usually gets it right.

Dictionary's search page

Multiple Pronunciation Systems

Although it is probably best to learn to read Thai, many beginning students will start using phonetic pronunciation and transliteration guides.  As there are dozens of systems available, deciding which one to use can be a dilemma.  The Three-Way Dictionary has a very good solution to this dilemma.  It uses all of them.  You can toggle between the transcription systems of,, Mary Hass, as well as Paiboon’s own pronunciation guide systems, and many more, and end up using the one you are most comfortable with.

Instant Search

This is a feature used by some of the latest search engines as well as Windows 7 which begins to search as you are typing.  In putting this dictionary through its paces I found that all I needed was to type a few letters, in either English or Thai, and the word I was looking for would already be displayed.  Here’s one example: I needed to look up the Thai word for “maid”, and by the time I got to the “i”, the dictionary had already found the Thai word I was looking for.  This is a big timesaver, especially when looking up Thai words.

Typing in Thai

Let’s say you want to look up a Thai word. If you found this word on the Internet, all you need to do is copy and paste it into the search box, and the translation will be returned to you.  But what if you need to type a Thai word instead?  Typing in Thai is probably the last thing you want to do.  The dictionary solves this problem by giving you a fairly easy to use typing tool.  All you need to do is click on the Thai letter and it will automatically appear in the search box.  Click a couple of more letters and the word will probably already have been returned.

Thai Keyboard


42,000 entries sounds like a lot but when you reach an advanced level of Thai you’ll probably find that this is a lot less than you will need for your studies.  If you are trying to decipher a Thai newspaper, then you most likely will be relying on a large paper dictionary, or some of the better online dictionaries.  Up to intermediate level, the dictionary will satisfy most needs.  Beyond that, and there will be problems.  The good thing is that there are plans to double the number of entries by the end of the year, and the updated version of the dictionary will be downloadable for free.


The Three-Way Dictionary is downloadable.  For a closer look go to , where you can download a trial version for free. Paiboon/Word in Hand plans to double the number of dictionary entries by the end of 2010. There will also be an iPhone version later this year.  Currently, all purchasers will be allowed free upgrades for life.

My advice? Play around with the trial version to see what you think of this new software dictionary. I believe that if you are a serious Thai learner, you will put this dictionary to good use. Especially if, like me, you are on the computer for a large part of the day.

What do you miss?

May 5, 2010

This is a typical question I am asked, especially by those who are thinking of making the move to a retired life far away from their home country.  I know how their minds are working.  If I move abroad what will my life be like?  Will I be able to make new friends?  What about my family?  What about food, and my favorite TV shows, and of course my football team?

These are real losses for an expat, and loss is always a difficult thing.  Here is how I have dealt with some of the things that I have missed.


Like so many people nowadays my family is pretty dispersed.  One son and his wife are living in Virginia, with our first grandchild on the way.  Another is out in the wilderness of the San Juan Islands near Canada.  Except for the fact that we won’t be there for the birth of the next generation of our family, I really don’t think we are missing much.  Both children have visited us this year, with promises of more visits to come, which in fact is more than we got to see them when we still lived in Seattle.  And with Skype video calls we definitely see them all more than we used to.  And we were just emailed a very cool 4D ultrasound picture of the little one.

Baby Leong

I recently talked to a friend who would very much like to retire abroad.  But he doesn’t feel he could leave three grandchildren back in Wichita.  So that is probably where he will die.

A BBC documentary I recently saw claimed that on average only one in four of our grandchildren will even remember our names.  I really would like to see and get to know the little one when he/she decides to make an appearance, so I guess a trip to Virginia is in our future.  I kind of like the idea of holding our next generation in my arms, and even more, the idea that when I get tired, or the baby poops, or cries, that the parents will be right there to hand the baby back to, and that there is always a plane waiting to fly use back to Chiang Mai before the stress of taking care of a little one sets in

My brother and sister-in-law came for a visit last year.  You get lots of visitors when you live in a place called a “tropical paradise”.  We spent a week together which was more time than we ever did.  Since we lived on opposite sides of the country we rarely get to see each other.

So, when it comes to family, yes, I miss them, but I have probably spent more time with them than I did before moving here.


It is hard to be living in Thailand and complaining about the food.  But there are some foods that I do miss.  My favorite ice cream back home is Breyers Ice Cream.  It is made with all natural flavors and has a fairly high milk fat content.  Check out their really cool website  I can’t get that here but if you want to spend the money you can get Hagan Daz or Ben & Jerrys.  The inexpensive ice creams here aren’t bad but you should give the local coconut ice cream (made with coconut milk instead of cow’s milk) a try.

My favorite ice cream

When I first arrived in Chiang Mai there were no ice cream shops and almost no real ice cream available.  So I got into coconut ice cream which you can buy from marketplaces and push carts.  Pour some condensed milk over it, sprinkle on some peanuts and that bowl of Breyers Butter Pecan Ice Cream will get gently push to the back recesses of your mind.

I do miss Taco Bell but Chiang Mai has some pretty good Mexican restaurants, as well as Italian, French, German, Vietnamese, Chinese, and even an Israeli restaurant.  There’s McDonalds and Burger King, and KFC for those who need a fast food fix.  And even though there are some decent Pizza joints here I still miss New York pizza.  But I missed that when I lived in Seattle too.  Maybe when I make that Virginia run I’ll have to pop up to the Big Apple for a “slice”.

So I do miss some foods but there is so much to replace it with here, including the great and inexpensive Thai food, that I rarely give the foods of my former life a second thought.


My Dad once told me that the one problem with getting old was that the older you got the more of your friends will have passed away.  I am slowly beginning to see what he means as I just found out from the Internet that my closest high school buddy, whom I had lost contact with after college, had recently passed away.  But luckily, although they are very far away, most are still amongst the living.

Our generation, unlike any that has gone before, has left the old towns and neighborhoods, and resettled, literally, all over the world.  So physically being back “home” just doesn’t bring me any closer to them.  Other than a Christmas card, with a folded up sheet of last year’s transitions and accomplishments, that is about all the contact I get from so many people I have met and become close to in this life.  That is, until Facebook came along.

Would you like to be my friend?

Have you seen the movie The Big Chill?  It’s about these really close friends from college who hadn’t been together since then.  We all seem to have had a crowd like that.  I know I did.  Well, recently I found one of the old crowd on Facebook.  Then she hooked me up with another one.  And now there are 4 or 5 of us back in contact.  And my buddy Mark and his wife Barbara, who we haven’t seen in a few decades, will be coming here for a visit.  We get visitors from back “home” probably at least once a month now.

So, as it is with family, it seems that I have become closer and spend more time with our friends than we did before leaving.

Football, et. al.

In keeping with the “F” theme, Football also includes baseball, and basketball, golf, and TV shows, and movies, and all the other kinds of entertainment that I used to surround myself with.  Now I use a combination of satellite TV, the Internet, DVDs (usually pirated I am sorry to say) and downloadable “torrents”, and voila, I have everything to keep my aged mind in a trance.  I can watch the latest Oscar winners, or the Yankees, or Manchester United, or the Daily Show, or the Simpsons, or American Idol, or 24, or Desperate Housewives, or Glee, or just about any “pop culture” entertainment I could wish for.

Fall (and spring)

But there is one thing I do miss, the seasons, especially the fall and spring.  I love the crocus pushing through the snow as spring just begins, leading to the cherries blossoming, and our Japanese peaches ripening.  The summer is no big loss as we have one hell of a summer here.  But fall, especially in the northeast where I grew up is something I really miss.  Without the colors of fall the world is more or less black and white, and green of course since this is Thailand.  And winter, I would be happy if I never saw another winter.

But one cool season in Chiang Mai balances out all the other season that I miss back home.  Chiang Mai in the cool season is what heaven must be like.  It almost makes me religious.

So taken as a whole, what do I miss?  Not much.  This life I have chosen makes the equation lean way to the side of Thailand.

But I do still occasionally dream of a nice hot slice of New York pizza.

New York Pizza

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