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.