Monday, 28 September 2009

Back to Bangkok

Eight months, almost to the day, since leaving Thailand I landed here again yesterday. I flew by my usual airline - Emirates. Happy that they now allow 30 kgs. of baggage per passenger because I was carrying a lot of brochures and promotional material. I'm spending two weeks holiday with the family then a further week in the land of smiles promoting my school in York. I will be presenting the school to agents in Thailand and my wife will provide the Thai input for those agents with poorer English skills.
I have a few things lined up to do that I never got around to in my ten years here. A bicycle tour of the lesser known parts of Bangkok using the longtail boats as well as roads and paths. I'm looking forward to this a lot especially as the weather is not too hot at the moment.
I always wanted to eat a meal in the revolving restaurant in the Baiyoke Tower, Bangkok's highest building. This too is going to become a reality. I'm hoping for some good photos looking out over the city.
Photos as and when I see some interesting subjects.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

A 'to do' list with a difference

A 51 year old male - the impermanence of human life hurtling towards him, coupled with several weeks of peace and quiet to contemplate what he has and, more importantly, has not done in his life.
I have decided to make an abridged 101 things you must do before you die type of 'to do' list. I am being sensible and only adding items that I can afford to do, in terms of both time and money.
So here is the list, in no particular order:

1) Learn to fly a powered light aircraft 
2) Write a short story and have it published in a magazine

3) Present a paper at a truly international conference
4) Learn to ride a unicycle
5) Teach my daughters to use a map and compass
6) Make my own cider
7) Plant a small woodland
8) Sponsor a micro solar/hydro project in a developing country
9) Write an online course using Moodle 
10) Learn to fly a glider

11) Find a Victorian bicycle (boneshaker or penny-farthing) to restore which costs less than a small house. 
12) Climb all 217 mountains and fells on A.W. Wainwright's list 
13) Fly in a hot-air balloon 
14) Learn to paint with the set of acrylics my mother bought me 5 years ago
15) Find something of value with a metal detector 

As these things get 'ticked off' or added to, so the list will change. I'm hoping it will give my life some focus as I feel the last 10 years in Thailand flew by with indecent speed. A sign of increasing age I fear.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Flying to toyland - (again!)

I am flying to Thailand on Saturday 26th September. Why? As a person who has made no secret of his recent dislike of the place it seems a strange destination. Well, it has to do with more permanent roots in England. My wife is in Thailand as I write with our children. I work full time so could not look after the girls hence they are with their mum. Why is my wife in Thailand? One word answer - visa.
Having lived for the last few months in England on a  tourist visa and quite liking the UK experience she decided to make the move more permanent. With this in mind she has applied for a visa granting leave to remain in the UK. They have been back in Thailand since July. To quote a line from 'Casablanca' - they wait, and wait, and wait. An appropriate quote because the speaker is describing people who need visas for America in Casablanca during the war and the difficulty of obtaining them.
It seems incredibly difficult to get a settlement visa for the UK. let's look at the situation: married to a British citizen for almost 10 years, mother of two British citizens, registered at the consular section in Bangkok, as indeed was the marriage. Educational qualifications include a BSc and an MBA. Some of the interview questions included "Have you any evidence that this is a long term relationship?"
The cost of this visa? 800 pounds - yes!! EIGHT HUNDRED POUNDS. The waiting time? "for your benefit and convenience", about 16 weeks.
They wait, and wait, and wait...

Friday, 18 September 2009

Laws of Physics Revision

Take a look at the latest piece of kit I purchased for my trusty steed. Classic black, compact, multi-functional, reduced by 70% in the shop. I had to have it. A compass, coupled with a delightful sounding 'ding' bell; what's to dislike? The original price of 6.99 was knocked down to 2.49, it was mine!
Fitting took all of two minutes and off I pedalled; what's this, a rougue unit? The direction indicator slew wildly from North to South, at times inexplicably spinning - directionless - like a dog in a butcher's shop.
I should explain at this point that my trusty steed is a classic British roadster, a Humber Sovereign dating from 1951/1952. A distinguished looking upright bicycle, much more suited to York commuting than a day-glo mountain bike.
It differs from a mountain bike in so many ways. 25 fewer gears, classic black enamel, 1950s brakes. It has drawbacks I'll admit but the practicalities of it outweigh the shortfalls. I wouldn't swap it for the daily commute, perhaps at the weekend, but don't let her know.
Back to my problem, why does the compass refuse to settle down and direct me? One word will instantly strike chords with the more scientific of you: aluminium! Modern bikes are mostly constructed of aluminium, a non-magnetic material which does not attract magnetic things like compass needles. My bike is made of good sturdy British steel. Oh well, anyone like to buy a classic black, combination bell-compass?

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Industrial chic

10 years in Thailand seemed to fly by. A couple of jobs and a few rounds of golf. Two children born, but it all seems like yesterday. Meanwhile in England things moved at the speed of light. I remember Leeds as a run-down, frayed at the edges kind of city. I visited last month, a school trip to the Royal Armouries and was stunned. The canal basin area, which I remember as industrially depressing and bleak, is full of life. Where there were rusty supermarket trolleys and decaying lock gates there are flowers and restored industrial heritage; lovingly cared for, cast-iron makers plates painted black with white lettering fixed to green lock gates. The warehouses of broken windows now airy balconied student accomodation. The cycles are no longer discarded in the canals but being ridden along the towpaths; all carefully signposted for a whole new generation of cycle commuters. I feared for England when the oil runs out, but windmills and bicycles are not dead yet. And they're so much more pretty to look at than petrol stations.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Birds in the garden

I'm writing this on a Saturday morning while looking out into my garden. My garden is in a suburb of York, England. I'm watching a bird feeding station I recently set up for the education and pleasure of my children. I am amazed at the variety of species that feed here. So far I have seen the following birds:
Robin, blackbird, thrush, starling, blue tit, coal tit, great tit, house sparrow, hedge sparrow, lesser-spotted woodpecker, magpie, collared dove, wood pigeon, wren, greenfinch, wheatear.
17 species, not a bad result for a garden. However the eighteenth and latest species witnessed this morning at about 6.55 a.m. simply took my breath away. A sparrowhawk! She, for it was a female, struck silently and efficiently in the garden, over in seconds, but we now have one less house sparrow to visit us.
I've seen golden eagles close up in Scotland. I was walking up a Munro in Glen Lyon just approaching the ridge while a Golden Eagle was using the updraught on the opposite side of the mountain to ascend, we met, eye-to-eye at the sharp edge of the ridge with perfect timing. I don't know which creature was most surprised, the eagle dropped some superfluous weight, as indeed I nearly did, and looped back into the wind and away.
This morning's episode was even more shocking however, in part due to the brutality of the kill; a set of talons through the throat. The speed of the whole affair was, and I shall use a word which is beggining to lose its power but is the only word I can use for the scenario - awesome. Nature at its most brutal, life goes on and all that, but this kill left a deep impression on me. Efficient, mercifully quick, but so damn fast!
Isn't nature wonderful? - scary but wonderful.

New country, new job, new hobby

Blighty once more. It has taken me a little while to adjust to England again - reverse culture shock after all those years in S.E. Asia. However I have my feet firmly under the table now and life is good.
I'm still teaching English, for a lovely school in York, but only in the mornings; afternoons are for my new job: Resource Manager for the school. I am sourcing and writing IELTS questions, writing exercises for the school's guided e-learning site, training teachers on IWBs, the school has 4 shiny new Promethean interactive whiteboards. And a hundred other varied little tasks. Very refreshing after 10 years plus of teaching. Best of all, the job carried a payrise.
Now the new hobby, it's not really new but something I have returned to after far too many years; cycling. I cycle to work in the city consistently voted Britain's most cycle friendly place. There are traffic free cycle lanes into work, 20 minutes travel time along the river side, versus 30 plus minutes of stressful motoring followed by truly unbelievable car parking charges. Leisure time too is pleasant by bike, I have taken to the national cycle network around York for pleasure, the English countryside is so green. I had forgotten the myriad shades of green, the smells of nature - mushrooms not in a supermarket, squirrels, fish jumping.
England, a poor substitute for New Zealand, but way better than Thailand in so many ways.