Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Season's Greetings from Thailand

Life goes on here pretty much as usual (which ain't at all bad!!). The weather is beautiful this time of year in Jomtien Beach with cooler evenings and warm sunny breezy days.

Christmas Trees, decorations and holiday music are everywhere - it's hard to believe this country is 95% Buddhist, but Thais love to celebrate ANYTHING!!

It's also hard for me to believe I'm about to start my fourth year as an ex-pat in Thailand. I've already secured my visa for 2009 so it looks like this will continue to be my home for the forseeable future.

I'm very thankful for a wonderful 2008. My health is good, I'm devoid of debt and I'm still working .... these days thats as good as it gets!

I'm getting ready to fly to Christchurch N.Z. on Dec 25th to join the "Volendam" for four weeks sailing through Australia & New Zealand. After almost seven weeks off, it's definitely time to get back to work.

As an added bonus, I'll be in Sydney Harbour for the New Years Eve fireworks celebration. My cabin is on an upper deck so I'll have the best seat in the house to ring in 2009.

I'm scheduled back home (Thailand) on Jan 26th and I'm hopeful the current economic downturn doesn't completely disrupt the cruise industry for the coming year.

Here's wishing all of my friends & family a wonderful holiday season and a bright and prosperous 2009! And a big thank you to all of yopu who have taken the time to follow my blog!!!

Warmest Regards,

Jim Coston

PS: Due to my cruising schedule, I won't be able to do much blogging until I return home in late January. I look forward to resuming thisw blog in 2009!

Wild "Kingdom"

The Thailand Tourist Authority has used the phrase "Amazing Thailand" in it's promotional materials for several years - now scientists are proving how amazing it really is!

The wetlands and rainforest along the Mekong River in Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam and China is home to striped rabbits, bright pink millipedes laced with cyanide and a rat that was believed to have become extinct 11 million years ago.

A host of new species has been found in the area, which is so full of life that previously unknown animals and plants have been turning up at a rate of two a week for a decade.

At least 1,068 new species were identified in the Greater Mekong region from 1997 to 2007.

Among the strangest to be discovered was a hot-pink, spiny dragon millipede, Desmoxytes purpurosea. It has glands that produce cyanide to protect them from predators. They apparently smell like almonds.

A huntsman spider the size of a dinner plate, named Heteropoda maxima, was found in caves in Laos. It was described as the "most remarkable" of 88 new species of spider located in Laos, Thailand and the Yunnan province of China.

The discoveries documented in the WWF report First Contact in the Greater Mekong include 519 plants, 15 mammals, 89 frogs, 279 fish, 46 lizards, 22 snakes, 4 birds, 4 turtles and 2 salamanders.

Among the 15 mammals discovered in the region was the Laotian rock rat, Laonastes aenigmamus. It was found on sale in a food market in 2005 but had been assumed to be exinct for 11 million years.

Throw Me Somethin, Mister!!

Seems like Thailand is looking more and more like home to me these days...

The Pattaya International Mardi Gras is set to take place on January 23 2009.

This will be the first ever Mardi Gras Festival here in Pattaya and will be based on Mardi Gras celebrations around the world.

The highlight of the festival will be an Electric Parade which will take place in the evening. It will start at Pattaya City Hall and finish on Pattaya Beach close to the Central Pattaya Road intersection.

Local Schools and Private Companies will be taking part in the parade which will be colorful and full of energy according to the organizers who are Pattaya City Hall and the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

It is hoped it will grow and be an annual event. As I noted in the past, Thais love to celebrate and have embraced other counties traditions such as Christmas & Halloween.

One small quibble. Mardi Gras means "Fat Tuesday" and falls this year on Feb 2th yet January 23rd is a FRIDAY!!

Fly Free to Thailand!!

In an attempt to woo tourists back to Thailand after it's recent political turmoil, Southeast Asia’s leading budget airline said Tuesday it will give away 100,000 plane tickets as part of a regional marketing .

AirAsia is working with Thailand’s Tourism Authority to send the message it is now safe to travel back to the Land of Smiles.

The free tickets would be good for travel to the Thai capital of Bangkok from Vietnam, Cambodia, Myammar, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and China as well as for flights within Thailand.

Tickets can be obtained only through AirAsia’s Web site from Wednesday through Friday and will be good for travel between Jan. 6 and March 31. Passengers will have to pay airport taxes and an administration fee.

AirAsia operates more than 400 international weekly flights that connect Thailand to the rest of Southeast Asia and China. Within Thailand, its affiliate, Thai AirAsia, operates 378 flights weekly.

Air fare deals are now available and Thailand needs your support. Tourism is a major industry here and it has taken a big hit lately. Now is your chance to visit one of the worlds' most amazing destinations... for "free"!!!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Thai Blind Massage Institute

I've just returned home from a two hour traditional thai massage (that's the no sex kind, for those of you not sure) at the Thai Blind Massage Institute here in Jomtien Beach. It was my first time there and will be back again and again!

Thai massage is different from what we expect in the west. Thai massage is a type of massage that involves stretching and deep massage. It is known in Thailand as "nuat phaen boran", literally, the ancient-manner massage; or just "nuat phaen thai". Thai massage originated in India and is based on Ayurveda and Yoga. It was believed that the massage art was brought over to Thailand by Shivago Komarpaj over 2500 years ago.

The charity project, The Thai Blind Massage Institute, was opened in 1999 by Khun Sayan. He spent 4 years in the monkhood (from 13 to 17 years of age), which instilled within him kindness and social awareness. With this idea in mind, he approached his friend, Mr. Henri, to sponsor the institute, and within 2 months of hard work, 6 units in the Jomtien Complex Condotel were transformed into the institute.

The blind have all received thorough training in Chiang Mai and all have certificates showing they have successfully completed at least 300 hours of training. Many also have years of professional experience.

I requested a "strong" massage and it was exquisite torture! My masseur was middle aged and blind (obviously). He spoke enough english to communicate and was very pleasant. He was also very strong!! I've had my fair share massages and this certainly was among the best.

If your are in the Greater Pattaya area, check it out. You'll be helping out a worthwhile charity and get a great massage at a very reasonable price - 300 baht for 2 hours. That's less than 9 USD!!!

They are located in Jomtien Complex at 413/8-9, Moo 10, Thappraya Road, Jomtien Beach PH 038 303 418, 038 303 177. Ext 1008

Friday, December 12, 2008

It's Beginning to Look a lot like Krit Mat

Although Thailand is 95% Buddhist, there are Christmas decorations up all over the place. Thailand is very open and tolerant to other religions and their holidays.

Of course Thais will take any excuse for a celebration, even if it is not native to their culture. Even Halloween is popular here!

Wan Krit Mat (วันคริสต์มาส) or Christmas Day is primarily a commercial holiday in the land of smile. While some Christian ex-pats celebrate it as a religious event, shopping malls are adorned with Christmas Trees & tinsel along with the obligatory holiday songs played through the loudspeakers.

A walk through the Malls at night look every bit as festive as those in the United States.

I've spent Christmas in Singapore and found it rather unsettling to be in such a swelteringly hot climate with red suited department store Santas everywhere along Orchard Road. At least here in Thailand, the weather cools off enough (especially at night) to make the visuals seem right.

There will be, of course traditional Christmas Dinners (turkey & all the fixin's) served at restaurants & hotels around town for the ex-pats who are homesick.

For me, I'll be flying Christmas Day to Christchurch, NZ to join the Holland America cruise ship Volendam. I'll be sailing Australia & N.Z. until Jan 25. As an added treat, we will be docked at Sydney Harbour overnight on New Years Eve which will give me a front row seat to one of the world's best fireworks displays

Traditionally, Christmas Day is a quiet travel day in Europe & the Americas. I'm hopeful the same holds true here as well!

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Mickey Finn Show

One of the great things about social networking sites like Facebook is that you end up re-connecting with people from your past, sometimes quite unexpectedly.

I had the good fortune of hearing from Fred "Mickey" Finn the other day after almost 25 years! For those of you who don't know Fred, a little history.

Fred Finn is a rinky-tink pianist, band leader, TV producer, and composer who opened a very sucessful nightclub in San Diego in the early 1960's and after 3 million visitors through the doors, parlayed it into a summer replacement series on NBC in 1966.

He went on to present one of the most entertaining shows in Las Vegas for many many years ( I first saw him live in the late 1970's at the Union Plaza Hotel).

Fred is married to Cathy Reilly, the 1st woman inducted into the National Banjo Hall of Fame. She caught Finn's eye while winning the talent portion of the Miss America Pageant. As Miss Delaware, she was responsible for 100 million people being mesmerized by her banjoistics as one of the top ten finalists. After a Far East tour she was named "USO Entertainer of the Year". Cathy has performed all over the US convention headliner, casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

Together with Fred, they now perform on 5 Star Cruise ships, Disney World's Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Performing Arts Theaters and national TV specials.

While we have often passed in the night, due to some similiar elements to our shows, we never actually have been booked together.

I remember quite fondly the NBC TV show, it featured banjoist Don Van Palta and comedian Mickey Manners (both of whom I have worked with on ships through the years).

When I first met Fred in Las Vegas, I was impressed not only by the zany music & comedy but by Fred's willingness to be accessable after the show. We had a mutual friend in Orlando, FL - pianist extraordinaire Randy Morris and a few years later would all get together at Walt Disney World.

If you ever have the opportunity to see the Mickey Finn Show, do yourself a favor - a great evening is in store!!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Father's Day

Today, December 5th is a very special day in Thailand.

It is the King's Birthday and is considered to be "Fathers Day" as well.

Bhumibol Adulyadej is the current King and Head of the State of Thailand. He is also known as Rama IX. Having reigned since June 9, 1946, he is the world's longest-serving current head of state and the longest-serving monarch in the Thai history.

King Bhumibol was born in Cambridge, Mass. in 1927 and educated primarily in Switzerland. He can speak French, Italian, German and English. He is also an accomplished musician, artist, sailor and inventor.

He is an accomplished jazz musician and composer, particularly the alto saxophone. He was the first Asian composer awarded honorary membership of the Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts in Vienna at the age of 32.

In his travels, he has played with such jazz legends as Benny Goodman, Jack Teagarden, Lionel Hampton, Maynard Ferguson, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. His songs can often be heard at social gatherings and are performed in concerts.

He is the only Thai monarch and possibly the only monarch in the world to hold a patent. He obtained one in 1993 for a waste water aerator named "Chai Pattana" and several patents on rainmaking since 1955.

Living in Thailand, I can tell you there is no one more revered in the country. I have developed a great respect and admiration for the King and the royal family in my three years here.

So today is a very special day in Thailand.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Very Techy Christmas

Looking for a Christmas Present for that hard to please tech geek (that won't break the bank)?

For the price of a blank CD and a little download time, you can compile a collection of the best Freeware available on the web (for PC). Freeware is exactly that - FREE. No nag screens, ads , crippled features or time limits. They are free to distribute.

Best of all, you can make one CD and send a copy to all your friends

Here's my favorites list for 2008.

My Top 25 Freeware Downloads

AbiWord 2.6.5 – Just need a good basic word processor? AbiWord could do the job nicely. Lots of add-ons available too (Thesaurus, Language Translation etc.)

ACE FTP 3.0 – There are a number of good FTP clients available on the web. I try them all and keep coming back to this one.

Ad-Aware SE – Keep your system free from Spyware. Update files are provided regularly via the internet

Avant Browser – Based on the I.E. Kernel, this web browser is faster than almost any other browser out there. One of the first (and best) tabbed browsers.

Avast Anti Virus Home Edition 4.8 – Simply the best anti-virus program that money can’t buy. Period.

Audacity 1.2.6 – Truly the neatest audio utility I’ve ever seen. Cut, paste, change tempo, pitch, add echo, fade in, fade out .. it does it all (mp3 & wav)

Audio Grabber 1.83 – Need a simple, straightforward fast program to rip tracks from CD’s? This is the one!

Copernic Desktop 3.0 – Now where is that file and what did I name it? Sound familiar? Copernic Desktop indexes everything on you computer (not just the file name but the file content too) and allows you to search for any word string. It’s lightning fast – like using Google on the Web.

Essential PIM – Currently at version 2.81, this Personal Information Manager is evolving nicely. I won’t give up my registered copy of Time & Chaos 7.0 anytime soon, but this is a solid PIM for the price (free)

Faststone Capture 5.3 – Ever need to capture a map or picture from a webpage. With this little utility, you can save a jpg of anything visible on your screen.

Faststone Image Viewer 3.6 – A great image viewer similar to AC/DC. Simple built in editing tools and fast rendering of large galleries makes is a winner.

Freecalc – A Calculator with a running tape.

Foxit PDF Viewer 3.0 – Tired of waiting for Acrobat Reader to load? Try this lightweight PDF reader (it even works on a USB drive!)

Great News – a very good RSS Reader. Easy to use and update.

Irfanview 4.20 – My “go to” program to open almost any graphic file format . Nice basic editing tools and easy to use features keeps this on my desktop.

Open Office 2.3.1 – If you want the equivalent to MS Office without the price tag, here it is. You get a word processor, database, spreadsheet, PowerPoint equivalent and drawing program. The download is over 100 meg so have a high speed connection…and patience.

Photofiltre 6.32– Not all the bells and whistles of “Photo Shop” but far easier to learn. Great for touching up photos

Qlock 1.87 – Know the time anywhere in the world. This world time program allows you to place as many clocks for specific locations worldwide on your desktop as you want.

Skype 4.0 (Beta). – Talk free with other Skype users world wide or call any telephone in the world for just pennies. Requires a high speed connection.

Spider Player 2.3.9 - After years of using Winamp, I've switched to Spider Music Player. It's a leaner program that doesn't hog resources.

Stickies 6.7a– Virtual “Post It” notes for your desk top. Couldn’t live without them

Syncback SE 3.2.1 – Back up your important files or sync files between two drives / folders with this well thought out utility.

Trillian 3.1.12 – You have chat friends on Yahoo, MSN, AOL and ICQ? Don’t open four programs, use Trillian to handle all your major chat platforms.

Weather Pulse 2.17 – Weather forecasts (up to 10 days) for anywhere in the world. Satellite maps, Doppler radar, severe weather alerts included

You can always find the latest freeware at and

There you have it – the best of the best – and best of all, they are all free!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Living in A Dangerous World

With the political events swirling around here in Thailand, terrorist attacks in India and even flooding in Venice (yikes!!), one doesn't have to look far to see we live in a world where events can change in the blink of an eye.

Being prepared to deal with the unexpected is far more important now than ever.

My twin brother, Mike has helmed the Avian Flu Diary a blog covering Pandemic Influenza and other Emerging Infectious Diseases for several years now and is considered to be an expert in the field.

He is a strong advocate for personal preparedness.

"Pandemics" these days seem not only to be viral, but financial and political as well.

During the unrest in Thailand, I made provisions in the event the situation exacerbated. I stocked plenty on non-perishable food & bottled water, three months of prescription Meds (plus Antibiotics, etc), bought batteries for my SW Radio, Candles, withdrew enough cash from my bank account to tide me over if the banks close and I registered with the American Embassy in BKK.

And I also scanned all of my important documents (Passport, Insurance, Medical files, Bank Passbook etc.) encrypted them and uploaded them to my email account. That way, I can access copies of them anywhere in the world where I have an Internet connection.

Whether the threat is terrorism, weather related, political strife, disease or worldwide economic downturn, personal preparedness may be the difference between life or death.

Do you have a personal disaster plan? You should!

Thai Anxiety - Update!

There's (hopefully) good news in the land of smiles tonight!

The Thai Constitution Court on Tuesday ruled to disband three coalition parties, People Power, Chart Thai and Matchima Thipataya, and banned the three's party executives from electoral process for five years (for electoral fraud).

As a result of the decision, the PAD (People's Alliance for Democracy) which seized the Government House and two Bangkok airports announced an end to its protests as of 10:30am on December 3rd.

It will take a few days for the airports to become fully operational, but cargo planes are now flying out of Suvarnabhumi International Airport. Reports say there is very little damage to the airport facility due to the fact the protestors never went further than Passport Control.

There is, of course a backlog of over 300,000 tourists waiting to go home and thousands of Thai Nationals stranded around the world waiting to come home, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

It would be foolish to assume a court decision alone will heal the rift between the political factions. There are deep seated emotions on both sides. The King is expected to deliver a speech on Thursday, the eve of his Birthday - hopefully the healing can begin there.

A more beloved monarch probably doesn't exist on earth. I'm thankful this has been resolved (at least temporarily) so Thai's can celebrate their "Father's Day" and Thailand can once again become a functioning democracy.

Long Live The King.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thai Anxiety

If you've been following the news, you know there is turmoil in the "land of smiles".

Approximately 300,000 tourists have been left stranded by the airport closures. In addition, air cargo shipments and even postal service have been disrupted. The effect on the economy may be disasterous.

Right now the Yellow shirts (anti-government protestors) and the Red Shirts (pro-government protestors) are on the streets following the Constitutional Courts' ruling earlier today to ruled to disband three coalition parties, People Power, Chart Thai and Matchima Thipataya, and banned the three's party executives from electoral process for five years.

The Courts found that the three parties accountable for electoral fraud involving party executives.

The pro-government supporters do not support the Courts ruling and now no one knows where this will turn next.

The King's Birthday is in three days and there is hope he will speak to the Thai people and find a path away from this situation.

Here in Jomtien Beach, life goes on normally. People shop, go to the beach and restaurants & bars pretty much as normal. Outside of Bangkok, there is little evidence of the strife enveloping the capitol.

A recent poll shows that 75% of Thais are saddened and embarrassed by the actions of the few on either side who have led to this boiling point. One can only hope that cooler heads will prevail, otherwise the rampant rumours of a military coup may come to pass.

I understand the frustration of tourists who are desparately wanting to fly home. I see them on TV yelling at airline employees (who have no control over the situation) and vowing never to return to Thailand.

That's short sighted and sad. This will eventually pass and Thailand will need the support of tourism to rebuild it's economy.

Everyone here is trying to make the best of a bad situation. The Thai Government is picking up the Hotel tab of all the stranded tourists as well as providing free medical care. Airlines are moving flights to alternate airports and bussing passengers from Bangkok to the flights as they become available.

I'm scheduled to fly to Christchurch NZ on Dec 25th, that's three weeks away. I'm not sure if I'll make the flight but I have hope this will be resolved in time.

As unfortunate as all this is, Thailand is my home and I love being here. I have no intention of leaving it unless things get a whole lot worse.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Incredible India

As the tragic events continue to unfold in Mumbai, I took a minute to look through my own photos taken at and around Taj Hotel .

Built in 1903, the "Taj" is one of the most famous hotels in the world. The hotel is an architectural marvel and brings together Moorish, Oriental and Florentine styles.

One of my favorire restaurants is located on property - The Golden Dragon. It is the first authentic Sichuan restaurant in India.

On the right is my long time friend & comedian Tom Fletcher and me sharing a libation at the Harbour Bar located on the ground floor of the Taj Hotel.

It opened its doors in 1933, and was Mumbai's first licensed bar and has long been a city favourite.
Although I've visited the "Taj" many times, I only got to stay there once. It was a great experience.

Fortunately, the owners have vowed to rebuild this historic site even as the last embers are still smoldering....

A few short steps from the Taj is the Gateway of India.

The Gateway of India was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Bombay (now Mumbai) , prior to the Delhi Durbar, in December 1911.

Located on the waterfront in South Mumbai, the Gateway is a basalt arch 85 ft high. In earlier times, the Gateway was the monument that visitors arriving by boat would have first seen in the city of Bombay.

Just a short walk away from the luxurious Taj Hotel is the contrasting city streets & markets that most locals inhabit. Here is one, just a few blocks away....

Anyone who has visited Mumbai will tell you this is a "good" neighborhood compared to many shanty towns that populate the area.

Friday, November 21, 2008

When the Dow Breaks...

I've been waking up at 3:45am a lot lately. Here in Thailand, that is 15 minutes before the close of NYSE closes in New York.

Back in June 2008, I wrote a blog about the impending worldwide financial meltdown that was predicted to occur in the Sep - Nov timeframe. I got a lot of scoffing from friends who considered themselves to be "financial experts".

Quoting from the London Telegraph...

"A report by the bank's (RBS) research team warns that the S&P 500 index of Wall Street equities is likely to fall by more than 300 points to around 1050 by September as "all the chickens come home to roost" from the excesses of the global boom, with contagion spreading across Europe and emerging markets.

Such a slide on world bourses would amount to one of the worst bear markets over the last century."

One friend of mine in Nashville wrote me and said "Actually that kind of move in the market is a good thing in the long run as it finally give it a "bottom" and if you are correct this is the perfect time to buy contrarian stocks such as gold and other stocks that benefit from a downward market."

To be honest, his attitude irked me. Instead of being concerned with the global ramifications of such a tumultuous event, he only saw it as an opportunity to personally profit on the downturn.

When the Big 3 Automakers are on the verge of failure, stock markets from Tokyo to London are in freefall, oil closed at $48 a barrel and unemployment is at a 16 year high, there needs to be more than concerns of personal profit.

The Dow was at around 12,029 at that time and the S&P 500 was at 1337.

Today the Dow closed just above 7,500.

Gold was selling at $887.50 in June it's at $738.00. So much for Gold as a safe refuge.

My "financial expert" friends aren't so gleeful anymore. Most are in far worse financial shape than they were just six months ago. Just like those who lost their hirt in the IT Bust eight years ago, catching a falling knife ain't easy.

Of course the RBS Bank analysts were wrong too, as far as the S&P Prediction of 1050.... today it was down to 752!!

I can't repeat it too often, today CASH IS KING. Anyone who thinks they know when we've hit the bottom are living in a fool's paradise. Until proven otherwise, assume there are tougher times ahead.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Bargains Still Exist!

One of the great things about Thailand is the unbeleivably low cost of living compared to many other countries.

Several of my fellow cruise ship entertainers are seriously looking at relocating to the Land of Smiles. As a result, they've asked me to keep an eye out for Condo prices.

One website I've found has an interesting search engine that allows users to query based on price, sq. meters, # of rooms etc. I do not know the website personally, other than to browse it's listings so please don't take this as a "recomendation".

To check it out, point your browser to

Although prices aren't as low as they were a few years ago (I saw Condos starting at $12,000 U$D in 2006), there are still bargains to be had. A few examples...

Studio for Sale : Nirun Condo (26 Sq.m) on the 4th floor. Bedroom, bathroom, fridge, Air conditioned, Cable TV, hot shower, safety box, fully furnished and decorated, balcony, 24hr security, 2 communal swimming pools, central Pattaya. Priced at 550,000 Baht

That's about $15,715.00 USD at today's rate.

Studio for Sale : Nirun Condo (26 Sq.m) on the 3rd floor. Bedroom, bathroom, fridge, wooden floor, Air conditioned, fully furnished and decorated, sink on the balcony, Cable TV, DVD, communal swimming pool. Priced at 570,000 Baht

That's about $16,285.00 USD at today's rate.

Studio for Sale : Sombat Condo 1 (38 Sq.m) on the 5th floor. Bedroom, bathroom, small kitchen, tiled floor, fan, fully furnished and decorated, 24hr security, 500M from the beach.
Priced at 750,000 Baht

That's about $21,425.00 USD at today's rate.

You get the picture. Are these luxury Condo's with a breathtaking ocean view? Probably not, they tend to start around 1.2 million Baht (about $35,000.00 USD) and can climb to hundreds of thousands of dollars..if you want.

If you are on a budget, love warm & sunny weather year round, appreciate other cultures and foods, there are a LOT of worse places to be!

Friday, November 14, 2008


Living overseas is always complicated when you are paid in one currency ans spend in another. For those of us in Thailand, we've seen two years of a weakened dollar combined higher inflation.

When I first moved to the Land of Smile, I could buy 38 Thai Baht for 1 U$D. Earlier this year, rates were as low as 31 Baht to the Dollar - a loss of almost 20% in value.

Amid the current global crisis, we've seen a weakening of the Thai currency vs. the world. As the dollar crept up against the Euro & the UK Pound, the same has occured here as well.

For Ex-Pats who still have money in U$D Accounts, thats good news. For those who transfered their money out of the US currency, they've lost value.

Yesterday, the Baht crossed the 35 Baht/1 U$D mark.

There's no telling which way the currency markets will move next. I've hedged my bets and have kept the majority of my savings in a US Bank, keeping enough in Thailand to satisfy Immigration officials.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Farewell to A Queen

The QE2 finally retires this week after almost 40 years in service. It's probably the best known cruise ship in the world.

It is now on it's final voyage, after which it will become a luxury hotel in Dubai.

During it's illustrious career, it sailed 6 million nautical miles, 25 World Cruises , crossed the Atlantic 800 times and carried 2.5 million passengers.

I had the pleasure of performing on her last in March of 2007 on the Bangkok - Mumbai segment of the World Cruise.

By then, the grand old lady was showing her age. There were significant air conditioning issues (most unwelcome in that part of the world) and she had visible signs of wear & tear.

In spite of that, she remained a favorite of many passengers who were deeply saddened to see her "retired". The new QM2 (Queen Mary 2) is the fleets' flagship.

QE2's passengers have included most of the crowned heads of Europe, politicians such as Lady Thatcher and Nelson Mandela, and the astronaut Buzz Aldrin. British stars have included the singer Vera Lynn, most of the Beatles, individually, Mick Jagger and David Bowie. The Hollywood actors Elizabeth Taylor, Bob Hope and Paul Newman have also sailed on the QE2.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Loy Krathong

One of the most beautiful holidays of the year in Thailand is celebrated this time of the year - Loy Krathong.

It is held on the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar. In the western calendar this usually falls in November.

{From Wikipedia}

"Loi" means "to float". "Krathong" is a raft about a handspan in diameter traditionally made from a section of banana tree trunk (although modern-day versions use specially made bread 'flowers' and may use styrofoam), decorated with elaborately-folded banana leaves, flowers, candles, incense sticks etc.

During the night of the full moon, many people will release a small raft like this on a river. Governmental offices, corporations and other organizations also build much bigger and more elaborate rafts, and these are often judged in contests. In addition, fireworks and beauty contests take place during the festival.

The festival probably originated in India as a Hindu festival similar to Deepavali as thanksgiving to the deity of the Ganges with floating lanterns for giving life throughout the year.

Launched Khom FaiAccording to the writings of H.M. King Rama IV in 1863, the originally Brahmanical festival was adapted by Buddhists in Thailand as a ceremony to honour the original Buddha, Siddhartha Guatama. Apart from venerating the Buddha with light (the candle on the raft), the act of floating away the candle raft is symbolic of letting go of all one's grudges, anger and defilements, so that one can start life afresh on a better foot.

People will also cut their fingernails and hair and add them to the raft as a symbol of letting go of the bad parts of oneself. Many Thai believe that floating a krathong will create good luck, and they do it to honor and thank the Goddess of Water, Phra Mae Khongkha.

The Thai tradition of Loy Kratong started off in Sukhothai, but is now celebrated throughout Thailand, with the festivities in Chiang Mai and Ayutthaya being particularly well known.

A multitude of Lanna-style hot-air lanterns (khom fai) are also launched into the air where they resemble large flocks of giant fluorescent jellyfish gracefully floating by through the skies. These are believed to help rid the locals of troubles and are also taken to decorate houses and streets.
If you ever have the opportunity to experience this wonderful event, don't miss it!!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Dirty Little Secret...

A lot of people find my career transition from ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) Paramedic to Cabaret Headline Entertainer unusual.

I spent the better part of 12 years (starting at age 16) jumping in and out of ambulances from Florida to Arizona and South Carolina. In Charleston, I was Shift Supervisor on the highest run unit (approx. 20 emergency responses per 24 hour shift) in the County.

To then go to the Stage and play banjo & tell jokes seems quite a stretch. Actually, it's not.

There IS a common denominator.....


The dirty little secret most Police, Fire & EMS personel share is the fact the job delivers a rush!
After awhile, you find you need that on a day to day basis.

It's sad to see so many retired Emergency workers with police scanners in their cars showing up at emergencies trying to the capture the old Adrenal rush. Many never adjust to "civilian" life.

Had I ended up in a"normal" job, I too might have met the same fate. Instead, I chose a field that requires me to stand in front of 1000+ strangers a night and entertain them for close to an hour!

Now THAT'S an adrenal rush!!!!

It's been 24 years since my last energency call, and, to be honest I don't get the full rush on stage I got in the beginning of my career.

I've been able to slowly wean myself off "the drug".

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Farewell Steve Coenen

Seems this is happening far too often these days, another dear friend departs.

I first met Steve Coenen at the 1984 Worlds Fair. We were appearing on the same stage five times a day. I was doing my one man banjo show and Steve was part of the ensemble cast of "Bananas" - A Vaudeville review.

At the time, I was new to New Orleans and was living in temporary housing provided by the Fair. Steve owned a house on Burgundy Street just outside the French Quarter and had an apartment to rent there.

I rented the apartment in July 1984 and stayed until Hurricane Katrina in 2005! Steve was my landlord for 21 years - and he NEVER raised my rent.

A natural born performer, with a flamboyant style, Steve lit up every room he ever entered.

After Hurricane Katrina, Steve ended up in California and I moved to Thailand yet we still kept in touch, even through his illness.

From his Obituary...

Stephen Foster Coenen, originally from Rayville, Louisiana and later settling in New Orleans, Louisiana, passed from this life into the Hands of our Lord during the early morning hours of September 22, 2008, following a valiant battle with lymphoma cancer.

Following graduation from LSU, Steve worked for several years as a lead entertainer for Holland America Cruise Lines, honing his skills as a singer, dancer and musician. . He was a frequent performer at the Le Petit Theatre, the La Chat Noir Theatre, as well as the Tulane Summer Lyric Theatre and the Jefferson Parish Arts Society productions.

Steve literally put his life on the line on December 7, 2002 when he rescued an individual being victimized by an assault in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Steve was shot in his chest by one of the perpetrators, but through his efforts, the life of the victim was spared.

For this act of heroism, Steve was presented with the 2003 New Orleans Public Safety Citizen of the Year award, the 2003 Storer Boone Humanitarian award for outstanding contributions to society and community and in 2005 was one of 21 individuals in the United States to receive the Carnegie Medal for extraordinary heroism.

After becoming ill, Steve continued his painting career, becoming a prolific watercolor artist, often donating his works to those critically ill at M. D. Anderson Hospital and to the doctors and caregivers as well.

He also wrote, painted watercolor scenery, and recorded songs for a children's book entitled "Little Bird" which will be published posthumously.

Steve will be long remembered for his flamboyant suits of orange, blue, and purple, "matched" with shoes of red or green, worn to events such as a niece's wedding, where he entertained the crowd with his Fred Astaire-like dance style, always leaving the crowd both amazed and full of laughter. Those who knew Steve seemed to always smile, if not downright laugh out loud, when remembering his talents, wit and charm

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be sent to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, 5005 Mitchelldale, No. 115, Houston, TX, 77097 or to Hospice of Brenham, TX, Hospice Brazos Valley, 302 Horton Street, Brenham, Texas, 77833.

New Caledonea, What Makes Your Big Head So Hard?

I recently had the opportunity to overnight in Noumea, New Caledonea.

For those unfamiliar, it is a beautiful French Polynesia Island off the eastern coast of Australia.

It is also VERY Expensive!!!

With 24 hours to kill, I walked along the beach and vowed not to spend too much money.

Then I saw the Casino....

The top of my head was beginning to sunburn due to the intense sunshine, so I decided to duck inside for a little while.

I quickly changed out $250 USD to French Polynesean Francs ( 20,000 Francs) and set out for some mindless slot machine play.

I was up and I was down and finally I was upgain!! 30,0000 Francs to be exact.

THEN the frustration began. Although the Casinos were more than willing to BUY my US dollars, the were equally UNWILLING to buy back my Polynesean Francs!! I was advised that I would have to go to a bank to exchange the currency.

Problem is, my flight was at 8am the next morning - no bank would be open that early.My hotel was equally no no help. They would SELL me francs but not buy them back!!

Needless to say, my frustration was growing by the minute and the attitude of the "locals" was not helping.

For a while, it looked like I'd be stuck with almost $400 USD worth of very colorful "funny money". I had been given conflicting information on whether there was a Cambio (Currency Exchange) at the Airport. My Hotel said "yes" but the Casino said "No".

To my relief, the Hotel was right!

I was able to change out the currency just prior to my flight. So, thanks to my luck at the Casino, I was able to spend 24 hours in Noumea, eat, drink, gamble and walked out almost $100 USD ahead!!

Public Domain Treasure Trove

My Brother Mike is at it again.

After developing one of the worlds' foremost blogs on Avian Flu, he has turned his talents to a long neglected area of Pop Culture - Public Domain Radio, TV & Movies.

Master of My Public Domain is a fascinating look at these free to download gems. Not just a listing of PD Files, Mike provides background detail & context rarely found surrounding these programs.

If you have a nostalgic bone in your body, check out Master of My Public Domain today!

Remembering Robert Douglas Pt. 2

In an earlier post, I talked extensively about Actor - Director Robert Douglas. Robert & his wife Sue were friends of mine during the last 13 years of his life (he passed on in 1999).

During his career he acted in such films as The Adventures of Don Juan (with Errol Flynn), The Fountainhead (With Gary Cooper & Patricia Neal),Ivanhoe (With Elizebeth Taylor) & The Young Philadelphians (with Paul Newman).

As a Television Director in the 1960's & 70's he helmed such popular shows Maverick, Surfside 6, 77 Sunset Strip, 12 O'Clock High, The Invaders, The Fugitive, Barretta, Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Lost In Space, Adam-12, Mission Impossible, Dan August, Cannon, The FBI, Columbo & The Streets of San Franscisco ... to name a few!

I received a comment from a blog reader named Alison (UK) October 4, 2008 7:51 AM

"Guess what. I'm not Leonard Maltin, but yes I've heard of Robert Douglas !! I'm passionate about him, and have been a fan since I was a teenager (i'm now 46). How does that saying go, "'re never a prophet in your own land..."

Well, I can vouch for that. I live in the next door county in England to which Robert was born, and yes, I'm the only person who's heard of him in my circle of friends. It makes for a particularly lonely hero worship. I loved the intimate comments in your piece. I can't believe I've found someone who knew him so well. Thank You !!"

Thank you for the comment! You never know who is reading!!

Alison, I wanted to send you this personally, but I didn't have your return address so I'm publishing it here. I lost "most" of my papers in Hurricane Katrina, but this handwritten letter from Robert survived...

I know it's hard a little to read, but it's the best copy I have now.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Out of Sight ... Out of Mind

I'm pleased to say that for the better part of the next two months, I shall be performing on board cruise ships sailing outside of most satellite footprints! That means limited (or no ) TV reception.

Therefore, I won't be subjected to 24/7 news cycles on Cable News Channels until November 5th - the day after if the US Election!!

I won't obsess over the Dow, S&P & NASDAQ every time it moves up or down.

Pakistan, Iraq, Georgia, North Korea, Bolivia, Venezuela & Russia will only be geographical points of reference and not powderkegs.

I won't be able to track Cape Verde low pressure systems awaiting updates every four hours.

Britney can do whatever she's going to do without me knowing about it.

And best of all....

I'll have absolutely no idea if OJ is guilty!!

News stressing you out too? Take a cruise!!!!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

All Fall Down

Back on June 2oth, I posted a blog about the upcoming financial crisis that was looming.

Here's the article I referenced.

RBS issues global stock and credit crash alert
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, International Business Editor Last Updated: 2:50pm BST 18/06/2008

The Royal Bank of Scotland has advised clients to brace for a full-fledged crash in global stock and credit markets over the next three months as inflation paralyses the major central banks."

A very nasty period is soon to be upon us - be prepared," said Bob Janjuah, the bank's credit strategist.

At the time I said,

"If there ever was a time to seriously pay attention to the markets, that time is now.
For the time being, I'm keeping my money under the mattress!!"

Today financial analysts from Bloomberg to CNBC are all saying "Cash is King". I'm not a financial expert, but I have to believe they are right.

The Russian Stock Market abruptly suspended trade yesterday. AIG gets a multi Billion dollar Government bailout, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Dow dips below 11,000 get the idea.

Personally, I don't have any money in the market ... and for that I'm very thankful.

With global inflation, financial uncertainty, natural disasters (Ie: Hurricane Ivan) and the geo-political instability from North Korea to Georgia, things haven't looked this dire in a long, long time.

I've already paid all my major bills (Rent, Insurance, Wifi, Cable, Utilities etc.) through the end of 2009, stocked up on non-perishable food and eliminated all credit card debt.

In other words, I'm hoping for the best ... but preparing for the worst.

The answer was... Terry Tapes!!

It was 30 years ago, 1978, when I attended my first Banjo Convention.

Hosted by Horis Ward, the Southland Banjorama held at Stone Mountain, Ga, was an eye opening affair. I had recently bought a tenor banjo in a pawn shop for $35 and struggled mightily to teach myself the basics of the instrument.

In Charleston SC, where I lived, there were no banjo teachers and so everything I knew about the instrument came from Mel Bay Instruction books.

I was encouraged to attend by Pat Terry Jr. & Randy Morris, two of the best banjoists at Walt Disney World. The three day event was both inspiring and intimidating.

I never took my banjo out of it's case. I did, however listen & learn.

There were banjo players there of all ages and playing abilities. Some were brilliant soloists such as Tim Allen while others were retirees who happily chunked chords in banjo bands.

Despite the fact I only knew three chords, I was hooked. I knew I would eventually play banjo...and play it professionally!

What followed were years of agonizing practice (not for me but definitely for my neighbors!) and, thankfully the encouragement of banjo players such as Eddie Erickson, Pat Terry, Randy Morris etc.

Pat Terry had just released a series of cassette tapes that taught basic tenor banjo. They were called Terry Tapes. His idea was that people learn an instrument quicker if they can see & hear their progress from the beginning.

From the very first tape, you learned to play a "real" arrangement of a popular song. Most learning systems emphasized scales and obscure songs that you'd never play except as finger exercises. With Pat's system, you'd were playing "Yes Sir, That My Baby", from the very first day.

I won't kid you and say it was easy. It wasn't. The tapes did keep me interested and the fact I could "almost" recognize what I was attempting to play, gave me the motivation to keep trying.

Would I have still become a banjoist without Terry Tapes? We'll never know, but they were definitely a great help in my career.

Pat is still playing banjo at Disney World. He still sells "Terry Tapes" - although they now include CD's & Video Tapes.

You can learn more about Pat & his teaching method at

Friday, September 12, 2008

(Very) Low Season in Thailand

Thai Tourism Services reports that the recent political turmoil has already affected tourism both in the short - and medium-term, with the number of international arrivals having fallen by 70 per cent.

That is truly a shame.

While news reports play up the conflict, there is very little evidence on the street of any strife beyond the confines of Government House (Bangkok) where protesters have been having a sit-in for several weeks.

My friends in Bangkok say life goes on pretty much as normal and, for those of us living on the eastern seaboard there is little evidence (other than the lack of tourists) that anything is amiss.

I hope this avoidance of Thailand is short-lived. There are few places more enchanting than my adopted home.

When travelling, it is always prudent to be aware of your surroundings and pay heed local warnings. That being said, few places are safer for tourists than Thailand.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Another Year in Paradise

As an Ex-Pat living in Thailand, I am required to renew my Non Immigrant - O "Retirement" Visa every year before Dec 8th.

It's a relatively simple process, I go to my Bank and get a letter confirming my current account balance (it must be in excess of 800,000 Baht), bring two passport size photos, fill out a one page form, pay the processing fees and it's pretty much a "rubber stamp" process.

Thailand allows Visa holders to renew up to three months early, so I opted to renew on my first eligible day.

While many Ex-Pats will go stand in line at Immigration and "Do it Yourself", I recommend using a reputable Visa Service (I use Key Visa) to handle the whole process. I simply dropped by passport & paperwork off at their office at 11am and came back at 4pm to retrieve my documents.

So now I'm welcome in the Land of Smiles until Dec 2009!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Remembering Michael Fultz

Michael Roe Fultz
05/27/46 - 08/18/08
Mike Fultz was a long time friend, fellow Thailand Ex-Pat and Banjo Player. He passed away in August after a long battle with heart disease.

Making his home in Bangkok, Thailand for more than 20 years, his "Land of Smiles" as he always liked to say, and working for Airborn Freight, Mike left this world on Aug 18th after suffering a heart attack on Jan. 25th.

Mike loved Thailand. He spoke Thai fluently and loved sharing his adopted homeland with friends and family. When I first moved to Thailand, Mike was there with helpful advice and took the time to introduce me to other ex-pats in the area.

Mike knew he was living on borrowed time as he had previous bouts with heart disease. He spoke freely about his desire to be cremated at a local Wat (Temple) and have his ashes remain in Thailand.

Although he loved life, he was at peace with his fate. A very Thai virtue.

Many in the banjo world were not familiar with Mike due to the fact he left the United States two decades ago. He was a very skilled Plectrum Banjoist.

Farewell Mike, you will be missed.

Bangkok Dangerous

No, not a comment on current news reports.

Bangkok Dangerous is the new Nicolas Cage film released this weekend.

This action film about a hitman who's in Bangkok to pull off a series of jobs, falls for a local woman and bonds with his errand boy is actually a remake of a 1999 asian film by the same directors (the Pang Brothers).

I saw it Saturday night in Pattaya after reading less than stellar reviews in the newspapers. While certainly not a great film, Bangkok Dangerous is not awful. If I had paid $12 in NYC to see it instead of $2.50 in Thailand, I might not be so charitable.

The film is loud, violent ( I lost track of how many bodies) and relies on one of the oldest plots in the book - the Hit Man who finds love and wants to "quit after one more job".

I like seeing movies filmed in locations I know well ( Interview With the Vampire was fun for me mainly because of the New Orleans locations). The film uses both the typical "seedy" locales such as Patpong as well as some of the more beautiful places around Bangkok.

I wouldn't rush out to see it, no doubt it will be rushed to DVD fairly quickly.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Georgia On Their Mind?

Two weeks ago I was on board the cruise ship SUN PRINCESS sailing on a 75 day Pan Pacific cruise.

On of our stops was supposed to be Petropavlovsk, Russia.

We arrived on time ( 5am) but hours later, almost half of the ship's passenger's had not been processed by Immigration Officials.

As a result, many of our guests never saw Russia.

As this was during the height of the Russian - NATO tensions over Georgia, many of us thought this might be "retribution" by the authorities.

Upon returning home, I found this news article on the web...

[Sydney Morning Herald]

About 1600 Australian cruise ship passengers were forced to wait in a Russian port for five hours today, as local authorities took hours to make a series of passport inspections.

The Sun Princess, which left Sydney on July 14 carrying 2000 passengers - mostly Australians - was held in the port of Petropavlovsk on Russia's east coast as the Russian navy checked and re-checked every passport.

Fairfax Media understands the cruise ship was blocked from leaving the port by two naval frigates.

"We were meant to leave at 4.30pm, but they didn't let us go until 9.30," one passenger, Ellie Fitz-Gerald from Sydney said.

"It was very frustrating. They came on to collect the passports at 5.30am - all they had to do was stamp them. But they took forever to process them. Some people couldn't even get off the boat because the authorities wouldn't give their passports back. They were just stuck on the boat. Then they insisted on checking them all again. The captain was furious."

Local authorities did not explain why they had kept the boat so long.

However, the port of Petropavlovsk has played a role in the stoush between Russia and NATO over the decision of the former to send troops in Georgia.

News website reported on August 19 that Russia had refused to allow a US warship into Petropavlovsk as part of the NATO-led Open Spirit 2008 naval exercise, because of the body's support for Georgia.

Australia has close ties with NATO and has spoken against the invasion of Georgia.

Personally, I never saw any kind of "blockade" and never heard about it until I read the article.

Was this a slap in the face directed by the Kremlin or simply an overwhelmed bureaucracy in a port not accustomed to clearing 1600 passports in a timely manner, I cannot say.

I've seen Immigration Authorities derail cruise passenger plans in countries around the world without any explanation much to the dismay of the Ships' Captain & Staff without an international incident in the mix.

While very unfortunate (although from everyone I spoke with who got ashore, those stuck on board didn't miss much!), the fact is that whenever you enter ANY country you are there only with their permission - and it can de denied or withdrawn at any time.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Thailand Unrest???

As many people know from watching the news, there is a lot of politcal turmoil in Thailand these days.

I've received numerous emails from concerned friends regarding my safety. Rest assured, I'm fine.

While the politcal theater plays out on the streets of Bangkok, here in Jomtien Beach life goes on pretty much as normal.

There are no tanks in the street (nor were they here during the coup in 2006), restrictions, check points etc. All in all, pretty much a non -event.

Tourism will no doubt take a turn for the worse as news media fans the flames. That is indeed unfortunate. Thailand is one of the safest countries in the world - that's why when violence occurs it's big news, I guess.

As we've learned in the US, democracy ain't pretty and politics is worse.

Dollar Up Baht Down

For an ex-pat living abroad ( a redundent phrase, I know), watching the currency market is a daily exercise.

For the past two years, it's not been pleasant for Americans. When I first came to Thailand in 2006, one US Dollar bought 40 Baht. As recent as two months ago , one US Dollar bought ony 32 Baht.

That's a 20% decline in spending power.

Fortunately, the tide is turning. The US Dollar is rebounding and now buys 34.5 baht.

Will the days of 40 Baht = 1 US$ return? Hard to say, there are so many factors both internally & internationally at play.

With worldwide inflation at a decade high, I'll happily take what ever improvement comes along.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Remembering the lessons of Katrina

Three Years ago this weekend Hurricane Katrina tore a path of destruction through New Orleans and the Gulf Coastal Region.

As those of us who lived through that tragedy pause and reflect, another unwelcome visitor by the name of Gustav looms on the horizon.

I spent 21 years living in the French Quarter and although I lost "stuff" in the storm, I was among the lucky ones. I was in the middle of the Indian Ocean when the storm hit and my work in the Cruise Industry meant I still had a job.

I still have many friends in New Orleans and I hope & pray they have already heeded the warning to evacuate. This storm is not to be taken lightly no matter where it makes landfall.

The Levies have supposively been rebuild to withstand a Cat 3 storm but the erosion of the natural barrier islands in the last storm mean there is less protection than in 2005.

As a city built below sea level, there is only one course of action when a storm like this approaches - get out!!

Growing up in Florida & Louisiana, we commonly joked about "Hurricane Parties" and rode out the storms. Since Andrew wreaked havoc in South Florida in the early '90's that attitude has changed.

To follow the storm, check out

And remember, the peak of Hurricane season is still 9 days away...

Sunday, August 3, 2008

On the Road Again

Since the bills have got to be paid.....

I'm off for three weeks of trans-shipping between the Tahitian Princess and the Sun Princess from Aug 06 - Aug 30.

It will be my first appearence on the Tahitian (my 84th different cruise ship!) but it is identical to the "new" Pacific Princess which I have performed on numerous times.

Both ships initially are in Alaska and I'll switch to the Sun Princess in Juneau. Once I join the Sun, it begins a long trans-pacific cruise to Asia - I'll disembark in Osaka, Japan.

The flight from Bangkok to join the Tahitian in Vancouver takes a little over 24 hours (via Tokyo & Seattle) - fortunately, the return flight from Osaka is less than 5 hours.

When you have a great job like I am fortunate to have AND you live in a beautiful country like Thailand, coming and going is always a mental tug-of-war.

I get home and the last thing I want to do is pack another bag and leave again and yet once I'm actually "settled in" on board a ship, leaving that environment is equally as hard.

All in all , not a bad problem to have.

Posting will be sparse until I return in September. If you're new to my blog, take a few moments to read my posts from last year (think of it as summer reruns)!

Actually it's 6.6 Degrees of Separation...

Six Degrees of Separation a 1993 film starring Will Smith and Donald Sutherland popularised the notion that all people can be connected to each other by a small string of relationships.

The theory holds that you are one degree of separation from everyone you know, two degrees from everyone they know and so on.

It is a variation of a game called Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, which involves trying to trace the nearest path of acquaintanceship between the actors and the Hollywood star or another famous person.

Turns out it may be true.

Microsoft Researchers, monitored 30 billion instant messages (stripped of their contents) transmitted by 180 million people all over the world during a single month. It found that most of these people were separated from everyone else using the messaging system by an average of 6.6 relationships.

What does it all mean? Well, in this internet connected world of IM's, Emails, Blogs and Social Networking Websites, we are truly a global community.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Snake Snake Fish Fish

Part of the charm of any living in a different culture than your own are the phrases that are hard to explain, but are part of every day life.

One such phrase in Thai is "ngoo ngoo pla pla" or "snake snake fish fish"

While the origin of the phrase in hard to determine, it's use is common.

Basically it means you can't speak a language well. A Thai person might say "I speak English snake snake fish fish"

Or, as I would say in Thai "Poot passa Thai ngoo ngoo pla pla" (I speak thai snake snake fish fish).

Because it's such a uniquely Thai expression, it always elicits a smile from the locals!

I guess, because Thais love to practice their English whenever possible and I try to speak using my limited Thai, we manage to mangle each others language yet somehow understand each other!!

While Thai is a difficult language for Westerners, I find myself drawn to it and enjoy the daily discoveries that one finds while living in the Land of Smiles.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

An American in Bangkok

Other than a trip to the Dentist or an IRS Audit, few things in life conjure up as much dread as having to deal with a large Government Bureaucracy.

Recently, I found my self faced with fact I only had one empty page left in my passport! As a International travelling entertainer, that can put a crimp in my career. Many countries won't allow you entrance if you don't have several blank pages.

After putting of the inevitable, I decided to go into Bangkok and face the music at the American Embassy. Having dealt with several foreign Embassies in Thailand in the past, I was expecting the worst.

My first stop was the BKK Embassy website. There I found details on the process of adding passport pages, PDF forms needed to be filled out and the ability to make an online appointment.

After about 15 minutes I was good to go! Remarkably easy for a government site!

My Driver arrived on time and took me from Pattaya into Bangkok where I simply showed by paperwork at the Embassy security gate and was processed in less than five minutes.

Upon arrival into the waiting room, I took a number and waited about five minutes before being called to the window. The Embassy worker took my forms and passport and told me to have a seat.

To my amazement, in just 45 minutes my name was called and my passport was returned to me with 24 extra pages stitched in! And no charge!!!

As if I wasn't stunned enough, the Embassy Workers were friendly, helpful & smiling ( yeah, I know... I didn't think that was possible either!).

In by 1pm and out by 2pm. Amazing!

Monday, July 21, 2008

BKK Voted Worlds Best City

Bangkok was voted the world's best city for 2008 in an online poll by Travel & Leisure Magazine, trumping last year's winners Florence, Italy.

It was the first time that Bangkok, the vibrant capital of Thailand, topped that category, said Nancy Novogrod, editor-in-chief of Travel & Leisure.

Last year, Bangkok was ranked number 3 - the 2007 winners of best city, Florence fell to number 5.

The results were complied from votes by magazine subscribers in an Internet poll which went live between January and March. Travel & Leisure will honor winners on July 24 in New York City.

The complete "World's Best Awards" is available on Following are some

Best city: Bangkok, Thailand
Best island: Galapagos, Ecuador
Best cruise line (large ships): Crystal Cruises
Best cruise line (small ships): Silversea Cruises
Best international airline: Singapore Airlines
Best domestic airline: Virgin America

Breakfast at The Baronoff

If you are ever in Alaska from mid May to late September, take a walk up Franklin Street about 10am in the morning and take peek in the lobby of The Baronoff Hotel.

If it's quiet, turn left into the restaurant and scan the tables and booths.

Why you might ask?

On any given day you might see a well known (or not so well known) celebrity. The Baronoff Hotel is the usual layover for entertainers joining or leaving cruise ships in Alaska.

On a recent week day, I popped in to the restaurant and found Willie Tyler (sans Lester) sitting at the Counter. Willie was joining the Dawn Princess for two cruises.

If the name seems familiar but you can't quite place it, Willie Tyler & Lester was one of the Top Ventriloquist Acts in the 1970's having appeared in What's Happening Now!!, ABC Weekend Specials, The White Shadow and The Jeffersons. He also made multiple appearances on Rowan & Martin's Laugh In.

He also appeared in the 1978 movie, Coming Home. He appeared as himself in the 2004 BET Comedy Awards, Motown Returns to the Apollo, Lou Rawls Parade of Stars, American Bandstand, The Flip Wilson Show, and The Hollywood Palace.

On September 18, 2006, Tyler was the first ventriloquist to appear on the Late Show with David Letterman's Ventriloquist Week.

Now in his late 60's, Willie lives in Los Angeles and still works constantly.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

555 = LOL

You know one of the great pleasures of living in a foriegn country is that, with time, you come to understand the little things in that culture.

Some times make it no sense on the surface, but once you know - it all makes sense.

A friend of mine SMS'd me the other day and concluded the message with 555.

I scratched by head for an hour before I figured it out. The thai word for the number 5 is Ha.

So 555 means Ha Ha Ha!!!


Street Food in Thailand

I've been eating a lot of Street Food in Thailand lately. Partially because it's quick,convenient & delicious and partially because it's all part of the charm of living in the "land of smiles".

About a block from my Condo, there are six or seven food stalls set up in the dirt parking lot adjacent to the (ubiquitous) 7/11 Store. You see both Thai and local ex-pats eating there daily.

A lot of farang (westerners) are nervous about eating on the street. In two and one half years in Thailand, I've never had a "problem". In fact the only time I've ever had serious food poisoning in Thailand was from a frozen food item bought from a major western supermarket!

Street food is usually fresh (cooked while you watch), cheap and delicious.

Last night I bought several chicken skewers for 5 baht each (15 cents) - white meat brushed with butter, salt & pepper cooked over hot coals. Arroy! (Delicious!!).

You see a lot of chicken, fish, sausage and pork at these stalls - all cheap & delicious. You'll also see a lot of Som Tam- a spicy salad with shredded papaya and of course no meal is complete without rice!

For breakfast, you can get a rice porridge with pork or chicken called "Joke" for about 50 cents.

I usually buy two or three small things from separate stalls and, for about 2 dollars eat like a king!

Food Prices are rising everywhere (even in Thailand), but if you are willing to "go thai", you can eat very well for less than $5 a day .... just one more reason too love Thailand!!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

North To Alaska

Last month I had the opportunity to return to Alaska for the first time in almost 10 years.

I expected changes.

And there were a few. More ships, bigger ships, some new stores and even some new docking facilities, but all in all it still felt much like the Alaska I first witnessed on board the Costa Cruise ship "Daphne" in June of 1986.

The blue ice still amazes and the snow capped peaks still inspire.

What made the the experience whole was running into my old friend Steve Hites in Skagway. Steve is a Singer/Songwriter who has performed professionally across Alaska since 1973, and released three albums including "Yukon Legacy", recorded live at the Red Dog Saloon.

Steve's one man show (which he has performed each summer on board visiting cruise ships as long as I can remember) consists of songs and stories about "Soapy Smith & the Gold Rush Days of 98".

It a very entertaining show and if you are fortunate enoough to be aboard a cruise ship that calls on Skagway, be sure and check your daily program to see if Steve will be appearing.

It's definitely worth getting back to the ship early to catch his show!

Not content to just be a "singer of songs", Steve also owns The Skagway Streetcar Company. A great way to tour the town with colorfully dressed characters who share the stories of Skagway.

Thanks Steve for making Alaska still feel like Alaska!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Those Fwded Emails...

I get them everyday. I'm sure you do to. You know the ones. An email forwarded from a "friend of a friend of a friend" who absolutely must inform you of the latest computer virus or political chicanery.

Yesterday, I got one from an old friend in New Orleans. She dutifully forwarded an email about Rep. Nancy Pelosi proposing a horrible new tax on retirement income to everyone in her address book (pleading with them to forward it on too).

It's full of details about how the system would deprive seniors of their hard earned money, it's full of quotes from Speaker Pelosi....

It's full of Lies.

AS A GENERAL RULE these emails are NOT to be believed (and should never be forwarded on as "gospel" without checking the facts first).

It's easy enough to verify the truthfulness of these emails. Go to SNOPES.COM and you'll find a comprehensive listing.

By the way,if you really want the truth about the Nancy Pelosi email, click HERE.

Hard as it is to belivee...just because it's on the internet doesn't mean it's true.

Here are some of the latest and greatest email lies circulating through millions of virtual mailboxes.





After receiving the email from my friend, I replied to her and urged her to go to to check out the facts first.

I haven't heard back from her. In all likeihood she'll continue to forward useless bytes of data, hopefully I'm off her list.

There's enough real stuff out there to get outraged about without spreading hate and fear over the false stuff. It bogs down the internet with useless traffic and perpetuates the worst kind of myths and urban legends.

And anyways, Congress is about to put a 5 cent tax on every email you send any day now (false)

A Troubling Prediction

There has been a lot of distressing news on the world economic front lately, but this is the starkest one I've seen yet!

RBS issues global stock and credit crash alert
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, International Business Editor
Last Updated: 2:50pm BST 18/06/2008

The Royal Bank of Scotland has advised clients to brace for a full-fledged crash in global stock and credit markets over the next three months as inflation paralyses the major central banks.

"A very nasty period is soon to be upon us - be prepared," said Bob Janjuah, the bank's credit strategist.

Even here if Thailand, the cost of living is accelerating. Gas & Food prices (like everywhere) top the list.

If there ever was a time to seriously pay attention to the markets, that time is now.

For the time being, I'm keeping my money under the mattress!!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The First 100 is Always the Hardest!!!

An unverifiable quote attributed to Albert Einstein is "The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest"

Although there is considerable doubt as to whether he ever said that, it is certainly true when applied to social networking. Like the six degrees of Kevin Bacon, it's not just who you are connected to, it's who they are connected to as well.

Many years ago, when I first began my career in show business, I was given the advice to keep a "Little Black Book" with the names & addresses of everyone I ever met in the industry. Eventually, you'll wish you had.

Today, it's not about "little black books" anymore. It's social networking site on the Internet like Facebook & Myspace.

Unfortunately, these sites (with few exceptions) are all about "social tagging" - like a senior signing a yearbook and then immediately moving on to the next one - very little real networking goes on there, and because anyone can join, pages get cluttered with junk posted by pretenders, wannabees and casual friends.

Thats why we wanted to build The Green Room.

What we are building here (hopefully) will be different. We offer more than a billboard for people to post to. There are Industry Resources, Professional Groups, Message Boards and real Entertainment News (not Britney stories).... and real networking.

In a little under three weeks we are closing in on the 100 member mark. All are industry professionals - not necessarily "stars" (although a few are) but certainly working performers from all over the world.

If our 100 members can each invite ten people, who in turn invite ten people ..... Compound Interest.

And it doesn't take an Einstein to the see power of that.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Remembering Alexander

While surfing the internet this week I ran across an Entertainment Agency that showed them still booking Curtis"Alexander" Carroll.

No doubt Curtis would smile and enjoy the irony since he had passed away Nov. 20, 2006 after a long illness.

Truly, the idea of being "booked from beyond" would thrill any magician.

I decided to email the agency to let them know that Alexander was probably "no longer available".

I first worked with Curtis in 1988 on the Sagafjiord for Cunard Line sailing through the Panama Canal. As friends, we hit it off immediately and remained close for the next 18 years.

He was born in Skagway and grew up in Juneau and Ketchikan, and Edmonds, Wash. He was a comedy magician and hypnotist who went by the stage name "Alexander."

A performing member of the Hollywood Magic Castle, Curtis entertained in Las Vegas, on Princess Cruise Lines and other cruise lines and around the world, making people laugh in "The Magic and Comedy of Alexander" and as "America's Funniest Hypnotist."

Prior to his career in magic, he began his musical career as an award-winning trumpet player then transitioned to the soprano bugle with the Thunderbird Drum and Bugle Corps, in Seattle, helping to win a national championship and eventually playing horn with Doc Severinsen.

Curtis was only 58. And he is still missed by many.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Ed Goren - Inside Baseball

A few days a go, I wrote about cruising with Sportscaster Jim Nantz. The day after I posted it, Jim's good friend and mentor broadcasting legend, Jim Mckay passed away at age 86.

Jim spoke to me about his admiration and fondness of Mckay, in fact he moved to Westport CT near to where Mckay lived at the time(and played often played golf with him).

Along with Jim and his family, Ed Goren and his wife Patti were on that cruise (Crown Odyssey Mediterranean 1992).

Ed Goren is a 37-time Emmy Award winner and Executive Producer of FOX Sports since 1994, he was named President of FOX Sports in April 2000.

Goren had been Senior Producer at CBS Sports since 1991, where he worked on nearly every sport the network broadcast. During his tenure as Senior Producer, CBS Sports broadcast such major events as the World Series, the NCAA Basketball Tournament, The Masters® and Super Bowl XXVI.

Quite a resume. And to be honest a really nice guy!!!

But that was not my first impression of him (long before we actually met)

I'm a BIG baseball fan and, being from the south, a big ATLANTA BRAVES fan.

Back on 1991, the Braves and Dodgers were locked in a tight pennant battle and were to be the featured CBS Game of the Week. It had been heavily hyped on the network for over a week and I, like millions of rabid fans planned our day around the broadcast.

Of course nobody consulted with Mother Nature. The skies above Atlanta Fulton Co. Stadium opened up, a rain delay ensued and ( a rather meaningless) Toronto - Oakland game took center stage.

Pat O'Brien dutifully came on between each inning assuring the national audience that they would return to the featured game once play resumed.

After several more innings, O'Brien came back on the air and said that play had resumed in Atlanta but due to the lateness of the restart (and conflict with their Prime Time schedule), they would NOT pick up the rest of the game.

Within minutes telephone switchboards lit up at CBS affiliates around the country with angry viewers. I was in New Orleans (WWL-TV)and I was among them.

Getting no satisfaction from the local, I tried calling New York (foolish I know on a Saturday afternoon) but received nothing but busy signals ( I obviously wasn't alone).

Grabbing paper and pen, I proceeded to write a scathing letter (calling it the Heidi Football Game Equivalent).

The letter was angry, scathing ... and addressed to Ed Goren.

Now it's six months later and I'm sitting on deck late afternoon having a beer with him talking baseball (which he too loves).

Feeling very guilty over my tirade I asked him "Did you get a lot of "feedback" over the LA - Atlanta game last fall??

He rolled his eyes and said "Boy did I, I even got hate mail from my father ...and he's been dead six months"

Turns out the decision to ditch the game wasn't even made by Ed (and in fact he was quite sympathetic to the fans).

After that, I felt safe telling him that I was one of the many "fan(atics)" who had voiced my opinion at the time.

We had a laugh and another beer.

Goren's sports roots run deep, as his late father, Herb Goren, was a longtime baseball columnist for the New York Sun and public relations director for the New York Rangers hockey club.