Monday, December 7, 2009

Som Tam - A Thai Taste Tradition

Som Tam is one of the most popular foods among Thai people for its fiercely spicy and sour flavors. Som Tam, which literally means "Sour Pounded", is a spicy salad made from a mix of fresh vegetables including shredded unripened papaya, yardlong beans and tomato, lime, peanuts & (in central Thailand) dried shrimp.

Som tam is derived from a traditional dish in Laos called tam mak hoong. The dish combines the four main tastes of Thai cuisine: sour lime, hot chile, salty fish sauce, and sweetness added by palm sugar.

Som Tam is unique that the spicy dressing and salad vegetables are pounded and mixed in the mortar using a pestle.

Here's a typical recipe for this unique Thai Dish.

About 2 cups shredded green papaya
2 tablespoon fish sauce
1 ½ tablespoon palm sugar, if not available can substitute it with regular sugar
3 tablespoon lime juice
½ cups tomato, wedged
⅓ cup dried shrimp
¼ cup peanuts
10 green chilli
5 cloves garlic

Use motar and prestle to crush the chilli and garlic, add shrimps, continue crushing, add sugar, continue beating with the prestle, add the papaya, (continue beating), add fish sauce, (continue beating), add lime juice, (continue beating), add tomato, (continue beating), add peanuts, (more beating),,... you may want to add either sugar, fish sauce, or lime.

The final taste on the balance between sweet, (pepper) hot, salty, and sour. Thais tend to eat a very spicy version of the dish (Ped) - you may want to use less chili's (Mai Ped)

Serve with vegetables (cabbage, sting bean, napa,..).

Som Tam is good for your health that it contains no fat, low calorie and high vitamins. Enjoy!!

Eating Out in Thailand

Sometimes it feels like eating is a National Pastime in Thailand. Food is everywhere.

You can eat at luxury restaurants or small "mom & pop" Thai kitchens and you will experience the wonderful flavors that define South East Asia.

I tend to eat like a local. On rare occasions, I'll opt for "farang (Western) food" but most days I prefer the taste, convienence and price of Thai food.

About one block from my Condo is a parking lot next to a 7/11 Store. Every day about 4pm about a dozen food vendors set up their stalls and cook their wares.

Three or four times a week I walk over and buy Som Tam (Spicy Papaya Salad), Pla (Fish), Kai (Chicken) and rice. Dinner usually runs between 20 - 50 Baht ( .60 cents to $1.80).

Think of it as an Open Air Thai Food Court.

Some westerners are wary about "eating on the street". Personally, in four years on eating like a local, I've never had any gastric difficulties.

If you come to Thailand, don't miss out on the wonderful food available here!!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Jim Carter - Daydreamer

Heard from my old friend Jim Carter recently.

We worked together in Orlando in the early 1980's at a Vaudeville / Melodrama Theater called Daisy's Basement and again teamed up at Rosie O'Gradys (Church Street Station) as a banjo/piano duo.

[Jim Carter at Daisy's Basement Circa 1981]

Jim was my first "Show Biz Partner" and I can honestly say, if it weren't for his great talent carrying the act, I probably never would have made it past my first gig!

Although our career paths have gone in different directions, we've kept in touch. Jim still lives and works in the greater Orlando area.

He has been doing a "Dueling Piano Act" at Universal Studios City Walk for many years and recently put together a one-man Tribute act to Fats Domino called "Fats"

Jim released a new album this summer and I'm pleased to have the opportunity to promote it here. It features a great selection of tracks

You've Lost That Lovin Feeling
Walkin' in Memphis
Drift Away
My Music Is My Lover Tonight
Sittin' On the Dock of the Bay
Colour My World
Sail On Sailor
Sixteen Tons

Jim's CD "Daydreamer" (Tree Records/Orchard Label release) is available on iTunes,Amazon, & CD Baby

Friday, November 20, 2009


One of the primary concerns an ex-pat faces is the availability of good quality Medical / Dental care in their adopted country. In the 3+ years I've spent in Thailand, I've not needed to worry about it … until now.

I've been very lucky in my adult life to have had pretty good teeth. I got my first cavity filled at age 35 and I've never had to deal with as much as a toothache.

But time marches on. At age 55, the cracks are beginning to appear (literally). Last week, a tooth that had been filled back in 1989, crumbled around the outside, leaving a jagged edge and and a problem with food lodging between the teeth.

Fortunately, no pain. Like most rational, intelligent, ex medical personnel, I did the standard treatment. I IGNORED IT AND HOPED IT WOULD GO AWAY.

Having failed my first treatment option, it became obvious that I needed to see a Dentist. I rank that right up there with being audited by the IRS as one of my least desirable appointments.

As luck would have it, another ex-pat friend of my from Ireland needed a Dentist earlier this week. He went to a Thai Dentist and reported back to me that he was very good.

In Thailand, you'll find a LOT of Dentists. Many have large clinics and specialize in treating foreigners with implants, dentures etc. They are much cheaper than you'd find in the States but very expensive for the average working Thai.

Others cater to “the locals” providing general dentistry services at amazingly low prices. The Dentist I chose was from this category.

So..... this morning I called the office. Spoke directly with the Dentist (whose English was very good) and confirmed a same day 3pm appointment.

I arrived a few minutes early and watched TV in the waiting room. At 3:05 the Dentist greeted me, appologized for the delay (5 minutes!) and took me into his office.

After a cursory exam, he proceeded to clean my teeth to obtain a better exam. He then removed the old filling, re-drill the tooth and the adjoining tooth and put in two fillings.

All of this with no anesthesia .... and NO PAIN!!!

45 minutes later, I'm done. He said my teeth and gums were in good condition and I didn't need any more work.

There was no paperwork to fill out (they only asked for my name)and I happily paid on my way out.

How much you ask?

1.) Cleaning
2.) Remove old Filling
3.) Two new Fillings

= 1700 Baht .... thyat's approximately $51.00 USD



Back in the 1970's, when I was a Paramedic for Charleston (SC) Emergency Medical Service, I took one of those testosterone induced dares that only a foolish 20-something would even contemplate.

One of these involved a 450 pound bear named Victor.

It all began while watching the local TV station one night. One of these newscasters stated that he would “wrestle” Victor the Bear at the Coastal Carolina Fair (it must have been SWEEPS WEEK). A group of us paramedics sat around and debated how crazy you'd have to be to do such a stupid thing.

Then, the testosterone took over. Someone asked if we were “afraid” to do it too?

Now, understand your dealing with a group of medics who routinely put themselves on the line day after day for little more than minimum wage.

A little chiding and goading and (not so ) good natured kidding and I managed to paint myself into a corner by “agreeing” to take on the bear

By the late 1970's, Victor The Wrestling Bear had had quite a show business career. With appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show (Toast Of The Town) in the 1950's and The Hollywood Palace (in 1965) , Victor managed to play hundreds of fairgrounds across the USA taking on all challengers.

He was quite a wrestler too, he defeated the likes of Gorgeous George and Wahoo McDaniel in their prime.

Basically, you paid $5 and signed a release form, climbed into a cage and try to last 60 seconds with this (thankfully) muzzled and de-clawed beast. True to my word, I took the challenge and entered the cage.

It was over very quickly, I'm afraid.

I was no match for Victor. I lasted the 60 seconds but that about the only positive thing I can say about my performance. I had black & blue marks across my chest & back and my muscles ached for days!

I'm not really sure what ever happened to Victor, years later I heard he had been poisoned with tainted meat but I've never had that confirmed. Anybody out there know?

While I don't have any pictures from my “Kodiak Moment”, there are several youtube videos that chronicle Victor's career including this one....

Fall is Here!!!

Yesterday was a very anticipated day by many people here in Thailand.

We awoke to that special day where you first notice that fall is in the air. After months of the typical heat and humidity one would expect in a country at our latitude, there suddenly was crispness in the air.

The night before, a tremendous storm blew through with high wind, thunder, lightning and copious amounts of rain.

Today, the humidity is low, temperatures are about 10 – 15 degrees less and a lovely breeze fills the air.

Heaven on Earth!!

Now, don't be fooled. It isn't exactly cold here. It rarely drops below 60 degrees here at night.

But compared to the last eight months.....

The windows are open, the A/C is off and my favorite time of the year has arrived.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Merry (Freeware) Christmas!!

(NOTE: This is an updated version of a blog I ran in December 2008)

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 2009.

My Top 20+ Freeware Downloads

AbiWord 2.8.1 – Just need a good basic word processor? AbiWord could do the job nicely. Lots of add-ons available too (Thesaurus, Language Translation etc.)

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 – Simply the best anti-virus program that money can’t buy. Period.

Audacity 1.3.9 – 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)

Copernic Desktop 3.2.1 – 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 3.1, 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. NOTE: The newest version of FSCapture is now SHAREWARE. The Freeware version is still available online here

Faststone Image Viewer 3.9 – A great image viewer similar to AC/DC. Simple built in editing tools and fast rendering of large galleries makes is a winner.

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

Fences – Clean up your desktop with this novel program that allows you to group your icons the way YOU want them! My favorite “new find' of 2009!!

Freecalc – A Calculator with a running tape.

Foxit PDF Viewer 3.1.3 – 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.

Open Office 3.10 – 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 1.88 – 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.

RadioSure 2.0.872 – Probably the best Internet Streaming Radio Program on the web. You can record too!! Over 12,000 Stations in it's search-able database.

Skype 4.1.0 – 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 - After years of using Winamp, I've switched to Spider Music Player. It's a leaner program that doesn't hog resources.

Stickies 7.1 – Virtual “Post It” notes for your desk top. Couldn’t live without them

Trillian 4.0 – 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 – 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!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Going Cold Turkey

Sometimes you get into a bad habit without realizing it.

In the past couple of years I have become "Diet Cola Dependant". I find myself drinking two liters a day and if I have a choice between drinking water or Diet Cola - the carbonated one always wins.

Water didn't seem to quench my thirst anymore.

Recently, there have been a number of studies done concerning the health risks of diet sodas and their effectiveness in controlling weight gain. While there is still debate as to what these studies actually proved, it is worth noting.

I also looked at a more immediate concern - cost.

I figured at two liters a day, I'm spending almost 20,000 baht a year ($600.00) for artificially sweetened caramel colored water! By comparison, bottled water costs me a total of 600 Baht ($18 USD) for the same amount.

20,000 Baht covers my entire Health Insurance policy for the year (including travel Insurance).

While I know I will miss it, I'm banning colas from the house. It's been almost a week now and although it's been hard, I've managed to stay the course.

Will I drink Diet Colas again? Sure. From time to time I might have a mixed drink (although I tend to order gin & tonics) or as a special treat with a meal in a restaurant.

But if you come over to the house, you'll have to "make do" with a glass of water.

It Was 20 years Ago Today...

I had just disembarked the cruise ship "Crown Odyssey" in Athens Greece. I had an overnight at a hotel in the resort area called Glyfada near to the International airport.

Knowing I had a very early flight to the States the next morning, I decided to eat early and go to bed about 7pm. I decided to walk about the area in search of a place to eat.

Not too far from the Hotel Emmatina, where I was staying, was a beautiful Chinese Restaurant. I decided that my last meal in Greece would be Chinese.

It almost was!

The food was delicious and cheap and the red & black velvet decor quite nice. I finished my meal and made my way back to my room fat & happy.

About midnight I was awakened with a wave of nausea & hyper salivation. I laid perfectly still hoping (& praying) it would pass. Eventually, I had to move and that was it! I dashed to the bathroom just in time.

I had the worst case of food poisoning I had ever experienced.

The next four hours found me on the bathroom floor making noises that sounded like they were from a slaughterhouse. I apologize to those in adjoining rooms as it was truly disturbing, I know. Eventually, my body had no more to give and I laid on the cold floor in total exhaustion.

I only had two Imodium tablets with me and I decided not to take them until the absolute last minute for fear of not keeping them down. Just before leaving the hotel, I took a chance and swallowed them.

As sick as I was, I was determined to make my flight. I was completely washed out and hardly able to walk. What little I remember during the check-in process evolved around me carrying my baggage 10-15 feet stopping due to exhaustion, waiting and moving another few yards.

Somehow I made it on the flight (Middle seat) and thankfully slept to my first layover.

I was still in a fog as I de-planed and had about four hours til my onward flight to NYC. I found my connecting gate and a large black leather chair to collapse in.

As sick as I was, I could see there was a buzz of excitement about the airport. People were huddled in bars watching TV (a soccer match, I assumed) and singing loudly.

Still, I was too sick to care and my only thought was "holding it together" until I boarded my flight to the USA as I didn't want to stay in a foreign hospital if I could avoid it.

Once I made it onto the NY bound flight, I fell to sleep again and remember little of my journey.

It was only when I made it home the next day that I discovered what the commotion at the airport was all about.

Turning on CNN, I found out why they were celebrating at the airport .... Frankfort Airport on November 9, 1989 .... and it wasn't a soccer game at all - THE BERLIN WALL HAD JUST COME DOWN!!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Loy Krathong in Pattaya

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.

This year, I spent it on the beach with about a dozen Thai friends. The music, fireworks, food & drink most enjoyable. I posted a blog last year about the history of the celebration... At the time I wrote...

{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.

According 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!!

We're Number 2!!!

Travel guide firm Lonely Planet said Tuesday that Thailand is the second best-value destination (Iceland, after it's economic woes is currently 1st).

According to Lonely Planet, the annual snapshot captures "the world's hottest travel trends, destinations, journeys and experiences for the year ahead,".

London, South Africa, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Bulgaria, Kenya and Las Vegas rounded out the top 10, said the British-based company in its "Best In Travel 2010" guide.

Thailand, at number two, remained "perennially good value", said the book.

"It's one of the cheapest long-haul holidays for European holidaymakers... visitors are always spoilt for choice regarding accommodation."

Hopefully, this will bode well for the future of Thai Tourism, which has taken quite a hit of late. After three years living in country, I can honestly say that Thailand is truly amazing.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Free Wifi At Suvarnabhumi Airport

Great news for travellers who use Suvarnabhumi Airport (Bangkok Int'l)!

Three years after the airport initially opened, FREE WIFI was inuagurated this week bringing it inline with services already available from regional competitors such as Singapore and Hong Kong.

To use the service, simply present your boarding pass at any airport information counter to get a username and password for the 1 Mbps service.

Suvarnabhumi Airport opened 126 kiosks earlier this year, providing free Internet access for people without laptops.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Martini In the Morning

Every once in awhile, you come across something special and want to share it with everyone you know.

For me, Martini In The Morning is one of those special things.

What is Martini In the Morning, you ask?

Just my favorite Internet Streaming Radio Station, that's all.

As I write this, I'm enjoying Louis Armstrong's "A Kiss To Build A Dream On". Moments ago they played Bette Midler & Linda Ronstadt's "Sisters".

24 hours a day they play the best of what they call "Lounge Music" Frank Sinatra, Harry Connick, Michael Bublé, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Bobby Darin, Rosemary Clooney and many more.

You'll hear original recordings along side of newer versions of classic songs by the likes of Rod Stewart, Barry Manilow, Natalie Cole, Diana Krall and Steve Tyrell.

If your musical taste runs toward Cole Porter, Harold Arlen and George Gershwin - this is where you'll want to listen everyday.

I first found MITM via my mp3 player that supports streaming Internet radio. If you don't use a media player (like Winamp, Spider, Real Player) you can listen via the Web at:

One of the first things you'll notice is the fact that they have very few commercials - maybe 2 or 3 minutes an hour. Most stations' these days run 15 minutes or more an hour.

{ As I'm writing Ella Fitzgerald's BEGIN THE BEGUINE fills the air}

The driving force behind MITM is Music Mixologist Brad "Martini" Chambers who has kept the music playing for the past three years despite the fact that many in the Radio Industry maintained it couldn't be done.

It hasn't been easy. This musical labor of love deserves a lot more listeners.

Brad hosts the morning show (Pacific Time) which actually is evening for me in Thailand. His personal conversational style augments the music nicely and doesn't detract from the main focus - the music.

So, do yourself (and Brad) a favor and give Martini In The Morning a listen.

Drop them a note and let them know you appreciate them keeping the great American Songbook alive.

{Micheal Bublé is now singing "Pennies From Heaven"....}

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Miton Supman - Dead at Age 83

Yes, it's true.

The iconic golden age of Television entertainer passed away today (Oct 22, 2009)in New York City.

A little history....

Milton was born in Franklinton NC in 1926 and after a stint in the Navy in the latter part of WW2, became a Disc Jockey. He parlayed that into local Television shows in Cleveland and Detroit before attracting national exposure in the late 50's and 60's.

I met Milton (very briefly) while standing in line behind him at Orlando International Airport back in the mid 80's. Although his hair had greyed, his rubber face and infectious smile remained.

He was always known for his having time for his fans and would sign autographs graciously.

In recent years, his health has been failing and he has been out of the spotlight.

Of course, his greatest success came from doing a children's show in NYC (actually watched by a lot of adults) but he was a familiar face on game shows.

Wild & zany, he sometimes got into trouble with his on air pranks. Once he encouraged children to go into their parent's wallet and send him pictures of US Presidents on green paper (They did!).

During the course of his career, over 20,000 creme pies were hurled....

He shared the stage with hundreds of stars including Ernest Borgnine, Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacClaine ........ and White Fang, Black Tooth and Pookie the Lion!!

By now, some of you know who Milton Supman became....

It was, of course Soupy Sales!!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Into Everyone's Life....

...A Little Rain must Fall.

And so it is in Thailand .... especially in October.

When you talk about seasonal changes here you really don't think hot or cold (except in North Thailand where in can get very cold!). Here (since it's always warm), we think in terms of wet or dry.

Right now were thinking wet.

Although "Monsoon Season" begins in June, September & October are traditionally the wettest months and this year is no exception. We've been treated to some spectacular lightning displays late at night (much more interesting to watch than most television these days)and the temps have moderated to the point that Air Con really isn't needed at all.

All this will begin to resolve itself in the next few weeks and make way for our glorious high season weather.

By mid November the humidity and temps will fall noticeably. It won't be "cold" but it will certainly feel cool & brisk compared to the summer months.

Although I love Thailand hot or cold, wet or dry - November to February are my favorite months!!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bad News For Willie Wonka

Sometimes a news report crosses the wire you just can't ignore..

From BBC News

Daily sweets 'linked to violence'

Children who eat sweets and chocolate every day are more likely to be violent as adults, according to UK researchers.

The Cardiff University study involving 17,500 people is the first into effects of childhood diet on adult violence.

It found 10-year-olds who ate sweets daily were significantly more likely to have a violence conviction by age 34.....

The study was reported in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

There is, of course debate as to whether it is actually the candy is to blame or whether giving children sweets and chocolate regularly may stop them learning how to wait to obtain something they want.

Personally,until more research is completed,I'm going to me more wary when I'm around overweight felons with rotten teeth and bad skin!

Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin on!

The last 72 hours have been unkind to the Asia Pacific region.

Typhoon Ketsana roared across the Philippines before setting it's sights on Vietnam and Cambodia. Latest death tolls from the storm are Philippines 277,Cambodia 11 and Vietnam 86.

As the storm moves inland, Thai authorities upcountry and in the capital are braced for a major blow from tropical storm the storm.

Authorities in the northern and northeastern regions have been ordered to be to be on alert for possible flash floods. The Interior Ministry had allocated Bt50 million from its emergency budget to each province to help flood victims.

American Samoa was devastated by a magnitude 8+ earthquake and resultant Tsunami. I was in Pango Pango just about a year ago and to see the devastation coming out of there now is disturbing.

The latest and possibly most destructive event occurred last night when a 7.6 magnitude quake struck just off the coast of Padang, Indonesia. Initially, a tsunami alert was posted including potential "arrival times" for Phuket, Thailand but was cancelled about an hour later.

First reports out of the region indicate hundreds of buildings including schools and hospitals have been destroyed and the death toll was at 200 and rising.

This temblor was followed today by a 7.0 aftershock. Immediate reports of injuries and damage are still pending.

Indonesia has long been a victim of devastating seismic activity being located on the Pacific "Ring of Fire".

26 Dec 2004
: Asian tsunami kills 170,000 in Indonesia alone. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), The 9.0 earthquake that generated the great Indian Ocean tsunami is estimated to have released the energy of 23,000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs.

28 March 2005: About 1,300 killed after a magnitude 8.7 quake hits the coast of Sumatra

27 May 2006: Quake hits ancient city of Yogyakarta, killing 5,000

17 July 2006: A tsunami after a 7.7 magnitude quake in West Java province kills 550 people.

News stories involving tragedies half way around the world are not uncommon. Please consider helping those less fortunate by donating to reputable charities such as the Red Cross.

Also remember that disasters don't always happen in "far away places with strange sounding names". They can happen to you (just ask the citizens of Hurricane ravaged New Orleans and Galveston). Have a survival and evacuation plan.Be prepared.

To that end, I recommend following written by my brother Mike. Although much of his writing deals with H1N1 and Avian Flu, he also covers pandemic (and emergency) preparedness in general.

As in most things in life, your best defense is knowledge and preparedness.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thailand Medical News

Two Medical Stories out of Thailand today...

First, from THE NATION

Prepare for new swine flu wave, ministry warns public

The Public Health Ministry Wednesday urged people to be vigilant in frequently washing their hands and wearing face masks when they are in public areas, in a bid to slow down the second wave of the type-A (H1N1) influenza virus expected to reemerge from next month until January.

The move comes after the ministry learned that people nationwide have been ignoring personal hygiene in flu prevention - such as eating well cooked food, not sharing spoons, frequently washing hands, and using face masks.

Full Story Here

And this from The Bangkok Post...

Vaccine cuts AIDS infection risk for first time

An experimental AIDS vaccine has for the first time cut the risk of infection, researchers said Thursday, hailing at a medical "breakthrough" in the quarter-century battle against the disease.

"This is a very important scientific advance and gives us hope that a globally effective vaccine may be possible in the future," Colonel Jerome Kim of the US military HIV research programme told a news conference in Bangkok.

"It is the first demonstration that a vaccine against HIV can protect against infection," he said via videolink....

"The vaccine has a 31.2 percent efficacy in reducing the risk of HIV infection."

Full Story Here

Monday, September 21, 2009

Back In The Saddle Again...

If you speak to most Cruise Ship Entertainers, 2009 has not been kind.

The Worldwide Recession, coupled with H1N1 Virus fears have left a lot of us either unemployed or at least under-employed through much of this year.

Fortunately, living in Thailand is a lot cheaper than living in the States and so the necessary "hunkering down" hasn't been too painful.

Whereas I'd have to work 24-28 weeks a year to "break even" in the USA, I can achieve the same thing here in only 6 to 8 weeks! In tough economic times, that fact has allowed me to sleep well (most) nights.

Today I awakened to find the first "light at the end of the tunnel" in my email box. I have been offered the World Cruise on the Pacific Princess sailing from Hong Kong to Singapore April 06 - 15, 2010.

OK, it's only 9 days...but its a very welcome start!!

Monday, September 14, 2009


Got an email yesterday from my good friend Randy Morris, who is currently in South Korea.

In many ways, I wouldn't be banjo player today if it weren't for Randy's support some 35 years ago. I wrote about him extensively back in 2007. At the time, I wrote...

I met Randy Morris at Disney World while he was playing ragtime piano at “Coke Corner” on Main Street.

Due to the popularity of the movie “The Sting”, Ragtime music had a bit of revival at the time. I had enjoyed recordings of people like Max Morath and Joanne Castle, but I had never seen it performed “up close”.

Randy’s stride piano stylings along with his corny jokes and personable nature had me hooked immediately. I waited around after each set and talked with him at length. He seemed to sense that I had a real interest in the music and remembered me every time I returned to the Theme Park.

After a few visits, while all my friends would be off on there 32nd ride on Space Mountain, I’d be contently sitting there watching Randy perform. Randy told me about a place he was performing at night in downtown Orlando Fl called “Rosie O’Grady’s”.

I went there and watched him perform not only Piano but Banjo as well with Bill Allred’s Band. If you’ve never been there, in it’s heyday (70’s & 80’s), “Rosie’s” was an unbelievable Dixieland Jazz club owned by entrepreneur Bob Snow. The band was the most high powered jazz band I’d ever heard.

I knew that I wanted to be on that stage playing this wonderful style of music. I had played a little guitar so I naturally gravitated toward stringed instruments. From the very beginning, Randy was supportive and accessible – he helped me find an out of print Harry Reser Banjo Lesson book and even gave me a few private lessons at his home.

We became friends and have remained so for over 35 years. Through his inspiration and his thoughtful guidance, I became a professional Banjo Cabaret Act and have enjoyed a career spanning 25 plus years.

There are so many worthwhile Randy Morris stories to share … and I promise to do so in future blogs.

Well, since I promised to write more about Randy, here goes...

Randy is now touring in a new two man show called PIANAFIDDLE along with the wonderful classically trained Violinist turned Fiddler Adam DeGraff.

Although I haven't had the pleasure of seeing the show, I have seen the videos on Youtube and they are spectacular.

Do yourself a favor, check out their website and performance schedule. If they are in your area, plan on quite an enjoyable evening of music.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sunny Skylar ...Updated

In 2007 I wrote a blog about my encounter with Songwriter Sunny Skylar some twenty years earlier.

At the Time, I wrote..

In 1989, While working on board the Golden Odyssey in SE Asia I met Sunny Skylar.

You are stunned, I can tell... Since you probably DON'T know who Sunny Skylar is, a brief history is in order...

Sunny Skylar was a songwriter who penned the lyrics such hits as "Amor",(1943),"Besame Mucho" (1944), "Gotta Be This or That (1945), "It Must Be Jelly (Cause Jam Don't Shake Like That)"(1942),"Just a Little Bit South Of North Carolina" (1941) and many others.

Sunny, who then lived in Las Vegas decided to take his wife on the cruise due to a sudden cash windfall when he received substantial royalties for the use of "Besame Mucho" in the 1988 movie "Moon over Parador" with Richard Dryfuss and Raul Julia.

To show you how profitable song writing can be, Sunny told me that "Besame Mucho" paid for his first house ... and put his kids through college. Of course those are 1940's prices, but still!

Although Sunny wrote with many American composers, he found his niche by taking Latin American songs and writing English lyrics for them such as "Amor", "Be Mine Tonight (Noche De Ronda)" and of course "Besame Mucho".

Skylar, who looked to be well into his 70's had a wife easily 30 years younger. He was (maybe) 5 foot tall and she towered over him - especially when they danced with his head firmly planted in her rather ample chest! Clearly, here was a man who enjoyed life!

Sunny Skylar, a great songwriter and vocalist with an infectious laugh and a great love of life was also a wonderful storyteller. Each night he'd regale us with fascinating stories of the Big Band singers and Orchestra Leaders.

Sunny was born in Brooklyn NY in 1913 and to this date, I can find no reference to his passing so I assume he is still with us, hopefully still dancing with his wife somewhere.

Next time you listen to the Big Bands of the 1940's, take a moment to fondly remember one of it's most prolific songwriters - Sunny Skylar

Recently I received a very nice email from Sunny's son Paul Skylar. He had found my blog and wanted to let me know that he enjoyed my memories of his dad.

Paul went on tell tell me that Sunny passed away earlier this year at the age of 95. Not bad.

I wrote back and thanked Paul and told him that we can all be thankful that everytime we hear Besame Mucho or Amor, a little bit of Sunny remains with us.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Today's date has cultural significance in many countries, including Thailand

From the Bangkok Post...

Nation marks 09/09/09 for King
Published: 9/09/2009 at 10:50 AM T

he government joined Thais nationwide in paying respect to His Majesty the King, the ninth monarch of the Chakri Dynasty, at 9.09am on the auspicious date of the ninth day of the ninth month of 2009.

At Government House, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva lit a candle in front of the portrait of His Majesty and spoke in honour of him. He then led his cabinet, civil servants and high-ranking military officers in singing the royal anthem to mark the auspicious time and day.

"We want to draw attention to the charisma of His Majesty the King, both domestically and internationally.

"During his 63-year reign, His Majesty has helped solving the country's problems for the people," Mr Abhisit said.

Civil servants and general public sing royal anthem to honour His Majesty the King and to mark 09/09/09 on Wednesday.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration held a religious ceremony at City Hall to mark the special occasion. Government officials and general public took part in offering food to 109 monks during morning alms at 9.09am.

In central Bangkok, a large crowd gathered at Lumpini park, where national flags and yellow flags representing the monarchy were shown. They sang the royal anthem at the auspicious time.

Read complete article Here

Another Year in Paradise!

It's that time again. Time to renew my Thai Retirement Visa.This (Non-Immigrant) Visa allows me to stay year round in the Kingdom without having to leave the country for "border runs".

About the only restrictions placed on me is a quarterly (90 day) address verification at the Immigration Office and I am not allowed to work in Thailand.

If you read the Ex-Pat Message Boards, it always looks like a daunting task to the first time applicant.

I'm happy to report that nothing could be further from the truth.

The Retirement Visa requirements are pretty basic.

1.) You must be over 50 years of age

2.) You must have a minimum of 800,000 baht (24,000 USD) in a Thai approved Bank account (or a verified annual income equal to that amount).

3.) You must not be of undesirable character ( I don't mention the banjo...)

To apply you need a passport photo, a letter from the bank confirming your bank balance and you fill out a basic one page (front & back) form.

I started at 11:30 am at the bank, received the letter, filled out the requisite forms and turned them into Pattaya Immigration at 1pm. By 2 pm I was in possession of a shiny new Visa valid until Dec 2010.

I applied and received at the same time, a multiple re-entry stamp that allows me to come & go out of the Kingdom as many times as I like throughout the validity of the Visa.

So it's another wonderful year in paradise!!!!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

How I Spent My Summer Vacation...

Yes, I know - I haven't written anything lately.

Living on the beach in Thailand (well... not on the beach, things haven't gotten that bad...yet!) tends to make one very lazy. It's been a very slow summer ( meaning no work) and thus I really haven't had much to write about.

That's not to say I haven't been productive. I've now acquired Backing Tracks for both of my shows and spent a great deal of time getting used to working with them. Unlike working with a live band, with tracks there is no opportunity for variance - you have to follow the track.

Additionally, I've used the summer to learn 40-50 new songs. I must spend, on average 2-3 hours a day practicing and can honestly say I'm a better Banjoist now than anytime in my career - I just can't prove it!

In many ways the cruise entertainment industry has taken quite a hit this year. Between the uncertain world economy and the H1N1 virus, a lot of entertainers (myself included) have found themselves working less and less this year.

But Labor Day is over, time to get back to work.

Cruise ships will begin their seasonal repositioning in the next two months and "hopefully" that will bode well for work. We'll see....

Two passings to note: Singer/Impressionist Fred Travelena who I worked with on the World Cruise on the Island Princess many years ago departed us on June 28, 2009.

His television credits began in the 1970s, as a regular performer on The ABC Comedy Hour and the Dean Martin Roasts. I first saw him in Las Vegas in the late 1970's and thoroughly enjoyed his show.

Twenty years later we sailed together to Israel and throughout the Mediterranean. A very talented, generous performer who will be missed.

And, of course the legendary Ed McMahon who left us June 23, 2009 at age 86. I had the pleasure of working with him in New Orleans at the Convention Center in 2002 and later that night attending a party with him at the Blue Room of the Fairmont Hotel.

While we spoke only briefly and had a picture together, he was very gracious man who hearty laughter still echoes in my mind. Truly one of TV's pioneers.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Blogging My Resume

{One of the advantages of having your own blog is that you can pretty much write about what ever you want. After almost 200 blog entries over the past three years, I've decided to use this forum to promote myself a little!}

With almost 30 years in show business primarily as a headline cabaret act on Cruise Ships and in Nightclubs, my shows are geared to a family audience. I can easily perform as the featured entertainment or as a specialty act slotted into a larger show.

With the recent addition of high quality backing tracks, my shows can be presented without the added expense of a backing band!

For full details, visit and you can view my promotional videos at


Tenor Banjoist

Few sounds are as distinctively American as Dixieland Jazz. From the smoke filled clubs of New Orleans' French Quarter and up the Mississippi River on the great stern wheelers, banjo players have spread a style of toe tapping good time music recognized the world over.

Today, there are but a handful of musicians to carry on that legacy. One of them, Jim Coston has been sharing his hard driving banjo solos and homespun sense of humor with audiences around the world for almost thirty years.

More than just a musician - Jim Coston is an entertainer. By combining traditional Dixieland Jazz with a selection of Broadway show tunes, popular standards, classical favorites, novelty tunes and just a touch of bluegrass, Jim Coston brings the banjo into the new millennium with and eclectic evening of music and comedy sure to please audiences everywhere.

Jim Coston has been a featured headline Cabaret Act on over 80 different cruise ships worldwide. Additionally, he has been featured at numerous Theaters, Fairs, Conventions, Corporate Events and Nightclubs across the USA as well as local and national Radio & Television appearances.

Currently, Jim has three shows of approximately 45 minutes in length.

Update! : Jim Coston now has two complete 45 minute shows available using high quality Backing (Click) Tracks!

These tracks can be used by themselves or can be used to augment a rhythm section or small combo to produce a full sounding show without the expense of a complete orchestra!

I am currently available for any medium to long term engagements (1 week or longer) worldwide for Cruise Ships, Nightclubs, Casinos, Fairs, Festivals, Theme Parks, Productions Shows, Touring Shows, Corporate Events, Radio & TV.

Due to my international travel & performance schedule, email is the fastest and most efficient way to contact me.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

It's Royal Ploughing Day!!

Today is a national holiday in Thailand called Royal Ploughing Day.

It's roots go back centuries and is usually in April or May (depending on lunar phases as most religious holidays are here).

From Wikipedia..

The Royal Ploughing Ceremony is an ancient royal rite held in Cambodia and Thailand to mark the traditional beginning of the rice-growing season. In the Khmer language, it is called "Pithi Chrat Preah Neangkol, and in the Thai language, it is called "Phraraj Pithi Jarod Phranangkal Reak Na Kwan."

In 2009, the ceremony was held on May 11 in Thailand and on May 12 in Cambodia. The date is usually in May, but varies as it is determined by Hora (astrology) (Thai: โหราศาสตร์ (ho-ra-sat).

In the ceremony, two sacred oxen are hitched to a wooden plough and they plough a furrow in some ceremonial ground, while rice seed is sown by court Brahmins. After the ploughing, the oxen are offered plates of food, including rice, corn, green beans, sesame, fresh-cut grass, water and rice whisky.

Depending on what the oxen eat, court soothsayers make a prediction on whether the coming growing season will be bountiful or not. The ceremony is rooted in Brahman belief, and is held to ensure a good harvest.

In Thailand, the rite dates back to the Sukhothai Kingdom (1238-1438). By the time of King Prajadhipok in the 1920s, the practice had been discontinued. It was revived in 1960 by King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

In both Cambodia and Thailand, the ceremony is typically presided over by the monarch, or an appointee. Sometimes the monarch himself has taken part in the ceremony and actually guided the plough behind the oxen.

In recent years in Thailand, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn has presided over the ceremony, which is held at Sanam Luang in Bangkok. Rice grown on the Chitralada Palace grounds, home of King Bhumibol Adulyadej is sown in the ceremony, and afterward, onlookers swarm the field to gather the seed, which is believed to be auspicious. Farmers will often mix the grains with their own rice stock, or the grains might be kept as a good luck charm.

The Bangkok Post reports this year's Royal Ploughing Ceremony has predicted that water and food in the country would be bountiful.

If it's Tuesday it must be....PINK!!

There are many types of superstitions in Thailand. Wearing the proper colors is considered to be Good Luck or "Chok Dee"

Many Thais believe that if they dress with the color synchronized with the day it will bring them good luck. I have listed below colors appropriate for each day:

Monday = Yellow

Tuesday = Pink

Wednesday = Green

Thursday = Orange

Friday = Blue

Saturday = Purple

Sunday = Red

Black is not a lucky color for for many older Thais as it is reserved for funerals. You do see many younger Thais wearing Black as it is considered to be trendy.

What's in a (Nick) Name

Names in Thailand are very interesting...and long!!

In my previous post regarding H1N1, I referenced the Public Health Permanent Secretary Prat Boonyawongwiroj - and that's one of the easier names!!

Thai's have first and last name but no middle name. Most Thai's cannot tell you their close friend's last name and quite possibly may not know their real first name either.

The last name is rarely used except in formal introductions and writing.

All Thai's have nicknames or "Chu Lin" which translates into english as "name for play".

Thais are usually given their nicknames at birth or as a young child by their parents.

Here is a short list of some of the more interesting nicknames

Ay: First letter of the western alphabet – name given to the first born of the family
Bee: Second letter of the western alphabet – name given to the second born of the family
Boo: Crab
Daow: Star in the sky
Daa: Eye
Dang: Red
Duan: Moon
Dumm: Black
Fah: Sky
Fon: Rain
Gai: Chicken
Ged: Raisin
Goong: Prawn or shrimp
Gop: Frog
La: An Isaan word meaning last born child
Lek: Small
Maow: Cat
Mee: Bear
Monn: Isaan word for ball
Moo: Pig.
Mud: Small black dog flea
Nah: Rice field
Nam: Water
Ngah: Tusk, elephant’s tusk, ivory
Neung: The number “1” Usually refers to first born child
Nid: Tiny, titch
Nid-noy: A little bit, a small amount
Nim: Soft
Nok: Bird,
Noot: Younger
Noy: Tiny
Nuan: White face powder
Oh: Derived from the western alphabet character “O”
Ong: Buddha image or monk,
Oo-un: Fat
Ot: Tadpole
Oy: Sugar cane
Pah: To take someone somewhere
Pair: Raft
Prair: Silk
Ped: Duck
Pee: Derived from the western alphabet character “P”
Pen: The night of a full moon
Perng: Bee
Pla: Fish
Roong: Contraction of "roong gin nam" which means rainbow
Shumpoo: Rose apple
Sie: Clear, transparent - implies purity
Som: Orange - the colour and the fruit
Tair: Contraction of Gratair which means a small breed of rabbit
Tarr: Name of a plant
Tee: Contraction of the Isaan word “Too-wee” which means buffalo
Took: Contraction of the Thai word “took-ah-tah” which means a child’s doll or cuddly toy
Too-wee: Isaan word for Buffalo
Waan: Sweet
Waan-jie: Sweetheart
Wee: Brush, comb
Yar: Medicine
Yaart: Rainwater
Yoo: Whirlwind

First Case of H1N1 in Thailand

The newspaper The Nation is reporting the first case of H1N1 (Swine Flu)in Thailand.

Details are sketchy ..

Public Health confirms suspect case of swine flu detected in Thailand

Public Health permanent secretary Prat Boonyawongwiroj confirmed Saturday that a suspect case of Influenza A(H1N1) has been detected in Thailand.

He said the person is under quarantine and has been healed from the illness.

The Public Health Ministry has request a test by the a US lab to confirm the finding, Prat said.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Friday H1N1 Roundup

So far, all quiet on the SE Asian Front.

From The Bangkok Post

GPO boosts antiviral drug production to combat flu
The Government Pharmaceutical Organisation has produced an extra million antiviral tablets to make sure there are enough supplies if the country is hit by an outbreak of swine flu.... Read the entire story here

* * * * * * * * *

ASEAN to discuss H1N1 flu next week

Published: 30/04/2009 at 02:34 PM Thailand will host a regional public health meeting next week to discuss ways of dealing with the threatened spread of Mexican flu, known as the A/H1N1 virus, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Thursday. Full Story Here

* * * * * * * * *

Following the recent disruption of the ASEAN Conference held in Pattaya last month, there are continuing security concerns...

Army ready to guard Asean ministers

Published: 1/05/2009 at 12:08 PM The army is ready to provide security for ASEAN health ministers when they gather for a regional meeting on how best to handle the Mexican swine-flu threat on May 7 and 8, army chief Gen Anupong Paojinda said on Friday. Details Here

Thai Govt To Distribute Masks in BKK

While Thailand (thankfully) remains in the clear, the government is encouraging the use of Face Masks in the capitol city...

Tourists, cabbies to get free masks
Published: 30/04/2009 at 01:42 PM Bangkok governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra will on Friday hand out 100,000 free face masks to taxi drivers and tourists in Bangkok in an effort to prevent swine flu from spreading to the Thai population, deputy governor Malinee Sukavejworakit said Thursday.

The gauze masks would be handed out to foreigners staying at guesthouses, she said.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) ws also encouraging taxi drivers to wear face masks while driving passengers.

General public could go and get free masks at the BMA on Friday.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tracking The H1N1 Outbreak

Thailand, thankfully remains quiet on the H1N1 watch. New suspected cases are being reported in New Zealand and South Korea meanwhile numbers of cases in North America and Europe continue to grow.

There is a fascinating Google Map App called "The Global Incident Map" (see graphic) that is contantly updated to show where suspected and confirmed cases of H1N1 are being reported.

It's well worth a look and a bookmark.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Thailand Swine Flu Roundup April 29

Thankfully, Thailand has yet to report a confirmed case of H1N1 (Swine Flu). With cases popping up all over the world, one doubts we will be able to avoid it entirely.

The special panel in charge of swine-flu prevention, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Sanan Kachornprasart will meet for the first time today.

Representatives from agencies involved in the task will join the meeting, to be held at the parliament, to discuss further measures to stop swine flu from spreading into the country.

* * * * * * * * *

Today I went to the pharmacy to obtain Purell Hand Sanitizer. I couldn't find the familiar brand but was able to purchase an equivalent. The price ( I think) was unusually high 210 baht ($6 USD) for a medium sized bottle - not sure if it's always that expensive here or if the price is jacked up due to demand.

* * * * * * * * *

Two articles of note from today's Bangkok Post

Travellers might need health clearance
Published: 29/04/2009 at 10:58 AM Thai Airways International (THAI) says passengers with flu symptoms should bring their medical records with them to the airport, or they might not be allowed to board the aircraft, because of the global swine flu alert.

The airline's Crisis Management Operation Centre director, Surapol Isarangkul Na Ayutthaya, said on Wednesday that Thai Airways had no plans to change its flight schedules and no passengers had cancelled because of the flu scare.

However, intending passengers might not be allowed to board if they showed flu-like symptoms and could not provide proof of good health.

The airline had informed its cabin crews of the severity of swine flu and ways to protect themselves from infection.....

* * * * * * * * *

Doctors: Woman free of swine flu
Published: 29/04/2009 at 11:46 AM Laboratory tests conducted on a 42-year-old Thai woman who was quarantined on Tuesday for possible swine-flu infection showed that she is free from the deadly virus, a hospital official said on Wednesday.

Two tests were made on samples from the woman. She was found to be suffering from ordinary human flu, Chulalongkorn Hospital virus speciaist Dr Yong Pooworawan said at a press conference.

The woman was admitted to Chulalongkorn hospital on Tuesday after having a fever since last Thursday, after arriving back from Singapore. Her trip had earlier taken her to Mexico and the USA between April 3 and 19.

* * * * * * * * *

Monday, April 27, 2009

Thai Arirport to Use Thermal Scanners

Although Thailand has no reported cases of Swine Flu, it is a major travel destination and receives visitors from around the world on a daily basis.

Today, I went to the pharmacy and stocked up on face masks and enquired about the availability of Tamiflu. Most prescription medications are available over the counter in Thailand, but alas TamiFlu is not.

In speaking with several Doctors and Pharmacists, I have been assured that all the hospitals have sufficient stock of Tamiflu on hand.

Today, from the Bangkok Post

Thermal scanning at Thai airports
Published: 27/04/2009 at 02:53 PM Air passengers arriving from the southern USA and Mexico will be screened by thermal detectors for signs of fever as Thailand begins precautions against the spread of an outbreak of swine flu which has claimed more than 100 lives in Mexico.

Public Health Minister Witthaya Kaewparadai said on Monday that quarantine officials at every international airport, including Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport, have been ordered to use thermal scanners to monitor people arriving from the infected zones.

Mr Witthaya said health cards detailing the outbreak of swine flu will be distributed to both departing and arriving passengers.

The World Health Organisation declared the outbreak of influenza in Mexico and the US a “public health emergency of international concern” on Sunday.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Local Newspapers (in Thai and English) are carrying this story as front page news as is CNN International, BBC World News etc.

I have taken the precaution of stocking up on non-perishable foods, extra bottled water, Radio Batteries, Candles and medications.

At this point, there is little more to do than avoid crowds, wash hands frequently and follow the news.

For great news coverage and analysis, check out

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Thai Government Reacts to Swine Flu

So far so good. But New Zealand is now reporting suspected cases of Swine Flu.

Government: No swine flu outbreak yet
Published: 26/04/2009 at 01:21 PM No swine flu cases have been reported in Thailand, but relevant units are prepared for potential swine flu outbreak, Public Health Minister Wittaya Kaewparadai said on Sunday.

The minister said he had assigned the Bureau of Epidemiology to closely monitor the situation and coordinate with the World Health Organisation and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to deal with this respiratory disease.

Permanent Secretary for Public Health Prat Boonyawongvirot said people can catch swine flu from close proximity to pigs, but they cannot catch it from eating pork.

Its symptoms are similar to the symptoms of human influenza, such as high fever, body aches, coughing, and runny nose.

The Public Health Ministry asked people with these symptoms to wear protective masks and avoid going to public areas.

The ministry also warned people, who may travel to Mexico or the states of California and Texas during this period, to follow the situation closely and be careful of the swine flu outbreaks.

* * * * * * * * *

Since Thailand is a popular travel destination for people around the world, we need to be on guard and prepared.

CDC experts note that while it is possible to contain an outbreak of disease that is in one limited area, once it is reported in widespread locations, the spread is impossible to control.

Follow the latest updates and analysis at

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Swine Flu Preparedness

My previous Post on Swine Flu Concerns in Asia outlines precautions being implemented throughout Asia following the recent Influenza outbreak in North America.

At the bottom of the post, I recommended you follow Avian Flu Diary blogged by my brother Mike Coston.

Since most people are not sure what Swine Flu is, I suggest you read his recent post A Pandemic Primer, it outlines the entire situation in language even I can understand.

But don't stop there, amongst the more technical posts, there are dozens of articles regarding individual, family and community preparedness for pandemics or any other kind of disaster.

Forewarned is Forearmed.

You may be a long way from Mexico and think this doesn't concern you... you'd be wrong.

In the 1918 Influenza outbreak killed over 50 million people in just 18 months.

That was before air travel, when going from London to Sydney could take weeks or even months and yet it still spread across the globe.

Today, you can be anywhere in the world in as little as 24 hours (unless, of course you are booked by my travel agent).

And so can the Flu.

Follow the News... have a preparedness plan ... and please... wash your hands!

Swine Flu Concerns in Asia

While most of the world's attention is focused on the events occuring in North America, Asia is stepping up it's monitoring for a potential Swine Flu outbreak.

From The Times of India April 25th..

Asia takes precautions after swine flu outbreak
25 Apr 2009, 1635 hrs IST, AP

TOKYO: Some Asian nations enforced checks Saturday on passengers and pork products from Mexico amid fears that its deadly outbreak of swine flu might spread to a continent that has battled hard to contain bird flu.

Japan's biggest international airport stepped up health surveillance, while the Philippines said it may quarantine passengers with fevers who have been to Mexico. Health authorities in Thailand and Hong Kong said they were closely monitoring the situation.

In Mexico, at least 62 people have died from severe pneumonia caused by a flu-like illness, the World Health Organization said. Some of those deaths have been confirmed as a type of swine flu — labeled A/H1N1 — not previously seen in pigs or humans.

At Tokyo's Narita airport — among the world's busiest with more than 96,000 people using it daily — officials installed a device at the arrival gate for flights from Mexico to measure the temperatures of passengers.

``We are increasing health surveillance following the outbreak of swine flu,'' said Akira Yukitoki, an official at the airport's quarantine station. He said more than 160 passengers arriving from Mexico on Saturday were screened by the thermographic machine. No one complained of fever or severe coughing.

The airport also plans to put up special signs for passengers going to Mexico, urging them to ``wear masks, wash hands and gargle,'' Yukitoki said.

In the Philippines, passengers with fevers who have been to Mexico may be quarantined in government hospitals, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said. The government was also tightening monitoring at all ports to prevent the entry of any hogs or pork from Mexico and the US

In Hong Kong, health officials said authorities were closely monitoring the swine flu investigation by their US and Mexican counterparts.

``What we have to do now is to see ... whether all cases in Mexico are epidemiologically linked,'' said Undersecretary for Food and Health Gabriel Leung. He refused to say whether Hong Kong would implement checks on people arriving from Mexico.

In Thailand, health officials met to discuss the outbreak but have not implemented checks at airports because ``at this moment, there is no advisory from WHO,'' said Kumnuan Ungchusak, the director of the Bureau of Epidemiology.

``Our people were alerted,'' Kumnuan said. ``We will monitor the situation day by day.'' ......

For more information on Swine Flu, Avian Flu and Pandemic Preparedness in general, I heartily refer you to a very comprehensive blog maintained by my brother, Mike Coston

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Room At the Inn

An interesting story from Todays Bangkok Post regarding the Tourism downturn in Thailand and the attemps to revive it..

BANGKOK: -- Tourism operators in Pattaya plan to offer free hotel rooms from May 1 to Oct 31 to attract local and international tourists during the low season.

Apart from hotels, restaurants and shopping malls will also join the campaign, offering discounts up to 50%. Final details will be decided tomorrow.

The seaside resort city is facing difficult times because of the global economic recession and local political problems, said Chatchawal Supachayanont, president of the Eastern Chapter of the Thai Hotels Association (THA).

"With this campaign, we hope tourists and meeting, incentive, convention and exhibition (Mice) activities will be lured back to Pattaya again and tourism sentiment will improve as well," he said.

Mr Chatchawal said Pattaya's hotels had about 20,000 rooms and that all operators would join the promotion.

"This is the first time we have had co-operation from all parties, aiming to restore Pattaya's tourism image," he said.

"Average occupancy was not so bad at around 30-40% after the Songkran festival. But we are very concerned about reservations from overseas, which are not coming yet."

Pattaya's image took a hit just before Songkran when red-shirted protesters forced the cancellation of the Asean Summit after they stormed the meeting site, the Royal Cliff Beach Hotel.

Operators in Pattaya hope that when Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva goes abroad he will be able to explain the problems in Thailand and how the government intends to solve them, in order to restore confidence among visitors.

As soon as details are finalized, I'll post them. Pattaya (as well as all of Thailand) is a wonderful place to visit and the Airlines are offering lower ticket prices as well.

If you are looking to visit, now is the time!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The State Of The State Of Emergency Part 2

Life in Bangkok slowly returns to normal.

Reports are that Malls around Siam area in Bangkok reopened on Tuesday afternoon after the red-shirted mob surrounding government house announced they were dissolving their protest.

During a national televised address this morning, Army Spokesman Col Sansern Kaewkamnerd explained that the Emergency decree is not meant to affect the general public and that they are welcome to enjoy the Songkran festivities if they wish to.

The Army spokesman also stated that the Emergency decree is meant to restrict the movements and actions of the red-shirt protesters and not the general public.

Since it is Thai New Years or SONGKRAN, I thought a little information about this celebration was in order..

Songkran - the Thai New Years celebration held every year in mid April is the Siamese equivalent to Mardi Gras - only they throw water instead of beads!

The throwing of water originally was a way to pay respect to people, by gently pouring a small amount of lustral water on other people’s hands or over a shoulder as a sign of respect.

Among young people the holiday evolved to include dousing strangers with water to relieve the heat, since April is the hottest month in Thailand .

This has further evolved into water fights and splashing water over people riding in vehicles.

And, like Mardi Gras, there is a lot of drinking..and unfortunately driving.

Every year, traffic deaths take a substantial toll in Thailand during this celebration. Most are alcohol related.

According to The Bangkok Post, there have been 220 deaths and 2,658 injuries from road accidents after four days into the “seven dangerous days” period of Songkran holidays travel, according to official figures.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Dust Settles... for now

With the dawn of a new day, cooler heads are beginning to prevail.

Crossing the wires this morning....

Military 'won't interfere' at Govt House

In a special announcement by a military spokesman broadcast on all TV and radio stations at 10am, a spokesman said the army would continue operations in downtown Bangkok.

"But our aim is only to clear the streets so that normal traffic can move," he said.

He said the protest of red shirts at Government House is legal and would not be harmed.

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Red-shirts accept free rides home

Some red-shirt protesters at Government House have have accepted the offer of free transport back to their home provinces, government spokeman Panitan Wattanayagorn said on Tuesday morning.

Several airconditioned buses were seen arriving near the protest site about midnight. Speakers using loud hailers offered protesters a free ride home. The offer was made in Lao dialect, the main language of the rural Northeast.

Mr Panitan said some protesters accepted the offer of government assistance.

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2 red-shirt leaders surrender

Two red-shirt core leaders Veera Musikhapong and Suporn Uttawong surrendered to police on Tuesday after they told protesters to disperse.
The two contacted with police and asked them to pick them up at Misakawan intersection near the Government House where the red-shirts gathered since the end of March.

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So it appears the protests have been suspended but NOT abandoned.

The toll of the past few days include over 100 injured, 2 confirmed deaths along with property damage and of course damage to Thailand's image and tourism industry.

I'll continue to blog as events warrent, but hopefully this is the end to a very ugly situation.

Black Songkran

Local newsers are referring to today's' events as Black Songkran.

Wire reports now say that two persons were killed during the clash between vendors of Nang Lerng Market and red-shirted people late Monday evening....

The Army maintains that they have brought the situation "under control"....

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva gave a live TV address this evening, saying the government's mission to restore law and order is about to complete soon.

The violence threatens to slash tourism revenue and could lead to the loss of 200,000 jobs in the industry that directly employs about 2 million people, said Kongkrit Hiranyakit, chairman of the Tourism Council of Thailand.

And, in a surreal turn of events, while all of this is going on, there are reports that despite the State of Emergency decree, Songkran festivities are in "full swing" in the tourist heavy Silom Road area....

Darkness Fall on Tense City

Continuing the timeline for this afternoon and early evening... (Culled from reports in The Nation and Thai Asean News Network)

15.30: Chairman of adhoc emergency committee vows to restore order. He's reiterated that the authorities will not use force against the protesters but reserve the rights to defend themselves without excessive force.

16.02: Military successfully remove LPG tanker from the front of Din Daeng flat

16:30: Army Spokesman Col Sansern Kaewkamnerd dismissed reports that soldiers who dispersed the red shrits in many areas used live bullets and have killed many protesters.

17.04: Homemade bomb thrown at Army headquarters, more riot units called forth

17.30: Fire broke out at the Education ministry near the Padung Krungkasem canel. Firetrucks were initially unable to approach the area as the red-shirt protesters were blocking access. The fire was later successfully put out.

1730: Audience in Khon Kaen and around 10 provinces in the upper Northeast are unable to watch news report on NBT channel as the red-shirted group demanded the station to cease broadcasting. After the rally in front of the station, the protesters are reportedly moving to block part of the Mitaparb Road and traffic has started to be congested.

18:30: Narenthorn Emergency Centre's director Chatree Charoenchivakul in his interview with Thai PBS denies the rumour of death caused by the crackdown. "We are doctors and we have medical ethics. We'll certainly report the death if there is any."

He says that the latest report shows 94 people injured of which 24 are in serious conditions. The injured people are both civilians and military officers and they are treated equally.

18.40: Former premier Thaksin Shinawatra gave an interview on CNN. He claims military is trying to cover up deaths of red-shirt protesters.

19.00: PM Abhisit Vejjajiva gave a telephone interview to deny claims by former premier Thaksin Shinawatra that his government is undemocratic.

19.40: Deputy PM Suthep Thaugsuban warns chaos could break out tonight. The deputy premier urges the public to be watchful of possible torchings and bombings.

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Here in Pattaya all is quiet. Songkran (Thai New Years) celebrations have begun with the traditional water throwing frenzy, however there appears to be fewer participant than in previous years....

Mid Afternoon Update

The chairman of a special adhoc committee set up to monitor the emergency situation held a national televised address at 3pm this afternoon to reassure the public that the committee is doing everything in its power to restore order.

Supreme Commander Gen Songkitti Jakkabatra also reiterated the government's promise not to use force against the protesters. However the general said the authorities reserve the rights to use weapons to defend themselves.

He also urged the public to constantly monitor the news and exercise their own judgment when they've received news or information about the unrest.

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Army spokesman Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd stated the military has been able to seize back control over the Victory monument, Chai intersection near Rajavithi Road, Makkasan intersection, area in front of Channel 5 TV station, Din Daeng intersection. Protesters were forced to retreat when military officers fired shots into the air.

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Thai TV continues to show scenes of smoke billowing from tires set aflame. It's unclear if the shots are live or repeated tape.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

This Morning's Timeline

Events are escalating quickly.From the Asean News Network..

04.17: Dispersal of red-shirt protesters at Din Daeng intersection began

08.30: Pheu Thai Payap Panket, former Sing Buri MP, called on red-shirt protesters to surround and possibly torch King Power duty free in Rangnam

08.39: Red-shirts closed traffic at Sri Ayutthaya intersection near Foreign Affairs ministry. Buses used to block entries. Tires were set on fire causing heavy fumes and lack of visibility in the area

9.15: Police requested members of the press to leave Democrats headquarters after red-shirt protesters have threatened to torch the compound

9.30: Red-shirts took back control of Din Daeng intersection, LPG tanker blocks entrance/exit

10.05: Police and military call for back-up, fearing red-shirts protesters may use LPG gas tanker to torch Democrats headquarters

10.11: Fire bomb allegedly thrown at and set fire to a traffic police booth near Transport Ministry on Ratchadamnern Nok Road

10.20: Red-shirts have once again occupied the Victory Monument

10.40: Democrats evacuated headquarters in response to threats by red-shirts to torch the compound with gas tankers

10.41: Pattaya police reveals red-shirt leader Arisman Pongruengrong is still under the custody of the Pattaya court

11.19: 50 red-shirt protesters gather in front of Rajavithee Hospital to demand the authorities release the bodies of protesters who have allegedly died during military dispersal of protesters

11.40: PM holds another national televised address to call for public to help cooperate with authorities to restore order and for protesters not to destroy public property with gas explosion

12.10: Red-shirt protesters set fire to an empty public bus near Din Daeng intersection. Military responded by shooting into the air to force protesters to retreat. Another group of red-shirts attempted run down military officers with another public bus

12.30: Govt spokesperson held national televised address to reveal security measures are in place at various ports, airports and infrastructures to ensure security of public

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Thai TV shows live pictures of major intersections being blocked by the Red Shirts using some 30 busses they have commandeered over the last two days. Heavy smoke from burning tires can be seen in some areas including Rama 6 road near the Ramatibodi Hospital, reducing visibility to almost zero.

Residents living on Din Daeng Road on Monday were told to flee the area as the red shirts seized two gas trucks each carrying eight tons of fuel to block the road by parking one of them near National Housing Authority flat.

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Everything seems fairly quiet here in Pattaya although there are now reports of several small IED's being dismantled here last night after a small explosion blew up a water pipe.

Off The air...

The only English Language News Station in Thailand is effectively off the air now. Their website continues to be updated, however.

The Screen shows the following message superimposed over taped programming . "DUE TO SECURITY THREATS WE HAVE BEEN FORCED TO EVACUATE OUR STUDIOS".....

Thai Language TV stations, for the most part are still on the air, however
there are reports that newsmen have withdrawn from the rally site after being told their safety cannot be guaranteed by the protesters.

The BKK Post is reporting Red shirt protesters have blocked up-country roads, railways and bridges to protest the Bangkok Emergency Decree and crackdown orders.

Currently, areas to avoid in BKK include the entire Rattanakosin island, Sri Ayutthaya intersection, Rama 6 road, Phoholyothin road, Victory monument, Din Daeng intersection, Suthisarn that crosses over to Vipavadi, Arjnarong expressway exit and Yomaraj expressway exit.

All trains heading to Bangkok stopped at the Bang Sue Intersection and train services at the Hua Lampong railway were cancelled Monday morning. The NATION

THE BKK POST : The Bangkok governor has cancelled all Songkran (Thai New Years) activities hosted by city hall after the Sunday declaration of emergency by the central government.

A Tense Standoff

The situation continues to simmer in Bangkok early Monday morning..

Govt, Army spokesmen insist soldiers use negotiation before force

The acting government spokesman and Army spokesman insisted during a press conference Monday morning that soldiers tried to talk protesters to stop blocking roads at the Din Daeng Intersection before forcefully dispersing them.

Red Shirts Run Amok Vow "Fight To the Death"
Military and police forces are on alert as the government issues orders for protesters to clear the streets or face harsher measures under a state of emergency.

68 people injured in crackdown: BMA Health Department

The Health Department of Bangkok Metropolitan Administration announced Monday that a total of 68 people were injured in the crackdown on protesters at the Din Daeng intersection.

Doctor Phetpong Kamchornkijakarn
, director of the department, said soldiers were also injured.

* * * * * * * * * * *

As of 8:30 am Monday, Protesters continued to block the Si Ayutthaya Intersection with buses. Burning tires were reported at three spots on the roads.

Reports of Westerners leaving their hotels and heading to the Airport for flights out. To my knowledge, there are no reports of westerners have been injured during this ongoing altercation.

Meanwhile, Pattaya remains quiet....