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how to cross the street without dying

And other tips and advice for getting around town when you come and visit me :).

You have 4 primary transportation options:

  1. taxi
  2. bus
  3. sidecar
  4. walking

BONUS: you can take a ferry (gondola-style) if you’re crossing the river.  But you’re not likely to do that often.  You could also take the train but you’re not likely to have time for that (and I’ve never done it so I can’t direct you :) ).

Taxis are the most expensive option but also sometimes more relaxing; as long as you’re sure your taxi driver understood you.  Taxis are taxis like everywhere else in the world but here none of them are metered; so negotiate your price beforehand.  It might also seem like taxis would be a cooler option than the rest- but you would be wrong; unless you decide to wait for a taxi willing to use air-conditioning, which might cost you more.

One more thing to note.  You would think, having been a British colony, that cars would drive on the left.  You would be partially right- they used to drive on the right but that changed a few years back.  However, cars come from all the neighboring countries, some drive on the left, some on the right.  So, sometimes the steering wheel is on the right and sometimes on the left.

Buses are the cheapest of the non-walking options.  At 5 cents, 10 cents, or 20 cents, you can’t really beat it.  There is much to know about buses, though.  First you need to know your numbers; as in non-Roman numbers.  Then you need to know which numbers go to which stop.  Unless it’s a 48; then you need to know if it turns left before downtown or not.

Alternatively, you can listen for the stop names being shouted by the bus ‘spare’ (the guy at the door).  If he yells your stop (or stops on your route), jump on.  Quite literally, jump on.  If you’re the last one getting on, expect the bus driver to start moving as the spare pulls you on the bus.  Also, hold onto anything in sight as soon as you set foot on the bus.  Ideally that would be a seat or a pole or hanging straps … but anything will do.

You will also ideally already have your money ready to hand to the money-collector but in the event that you don’t (and you don’t have a seat), strategically place your body so that you can lean against something for balance to retrieve your money.  Also, if you have a bag, go ahead and let someone sitting down hold it on their lap- they’d be appalled if you put it on the ground anyway.

As you ride, listen or watch for your stop.  If you’re going to a smaller stop, make sure and listen for the spare asking if anyone is getting off at your stop; otherwise it might get skipped.  When you arrive get off as quickly as possible.  If you can’t manage that, the spare will be there to help get you off fast.

Sidecars are for much shorter distances.  If you’re bus stop is a bit of a walk to your final destination it can be a nice alternative to walking; so long as there’s a sidecar gathering nearby.  You’ll also feel like you’ve had a very local, authentic kind of experience.

Walking is also for much shorter distances.  Although it isn’t very hot; the humidity makes physical exertion a very sweaty endeavor.  In any case, you’re bound to have to cross some streets.  If you’re like me, you don’t come from a pedestrian society and if you happened to be a pedestrian in your country you wouldn’t have a frame of reference for rules or guidelines for walking anyway.  First of all; any open space is fair game for pedestrians (and cars for that matter).  Street, sidewalk, doesn’t matter; if there’s no car or vendor or push cart or anything else blocking your way, you’re free to walk.

If you’re walking and you hear a bell ring, a sidecar is coming.  You should move out of the way.  If you hear someone making kissing sounds; you’re is someone’s way.  You should move.  If you hear a car honk, it could mean many different things.  It could mean you’re in the way.  It could also mean that a car is passing, so you shouldn’t move or you’ll get run over.  Or it could mean “Hey, I’m a taxi, do you need me to take you somewhere?”  Or it could mean (less commonly), “Go ahead, cross the street.”  It could also mean a string of curse words.

When you’re crossing the street you might have to cross lane by lane.  Ideally you can get at least to the center, where there may or may not be a median.  But sometimes you take it lane by lane.  And you do so carefully and trusting that cars won’t hit you.  So cross confidently.

Now you’re ready to navigate the streets!

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Just because I don’t think the general public thinks enough about language :).  Some good TED talks on language.

“When people meet me at parties and they find out that I’m an English professor who specializes in language, they generally have one of two reactions. One set of people look frightened.  They often say something like, “Oh, I’d better be careful what I say. I’m sure you’ll hear every mistake I make.” And then they stop talking.  And they wait for me to go away and talk to someone else. The other set of people, their eyes light up, and they say, “You are just the person I want to talk to.” And then they tell me about whatever it is they think is going wrong with the English language.”

…As a linguist, to those two categories I would add those who ask, “How many languages do you speak?!”  To which the answer is “No.”

(In case it doesn’t show up; go here:

But who controls articulation?

Because the English language is a multifaceted oration

Subject to indefinite transformation

Now you may think that it is ignorant to speak broken English

But I’m here to tell you that even “articulate” Americans sound foolish to the British

I know that I had to borrow your language because mines was stolen

But you can’t expect me to speak your history wholly while mines is broken

These words are spoken

By someone who is simply fed up with the Eurocentric ideals of this season

And the reason I speak a composite version of your language

Is because mines was raped away along with my history

I speak broken English so the profusing gashes can remind us

That our current state is not a mystery

As much as has been raped away from our people

How can you expect me to treat their imprint on your language

As anything less than equal

Let there be no confusion

Let there be no hesitation

This is not a promotion of ignorance

This is a linguistic celebration

That’s why I put “tri-lingual” on my last job application

(In case it doesn’t show up; go here:

This one has a bit of language, so be warned.  But I really enjoy this one.

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Filed under Linguistics, Video

thailand (with pictures!)

A few anecdotes and bits of advice for visiting Thailand (and specifically Chiang Mai); for your pleasure and amusement.  I debated if I should title this How to convince locals you’re an idiot or 5 ways to lower your self-esteem

And a summary for those of you who don’t have 10 (or 20) minutes to read this entire post:

  • How to refill a water bottle (in Thailand)
  • What to do in event of an earthquake
  • How to buy health and beauty products from Big C supermarket
  • What to expect at a Thai hospital (hope you’re not shy about your body weight!)
  • On riding a songthaew
  • How to cook Thai food

You’re not supposed to drink the water in Thailand; something about corrosive pipes.  Because of this they sell liter and a half-size water bottles.  All around the city you’ll find vending machine-like apparatuses where you can insert a coin and water will come out of a faucet-like opening, allowing you to refill your water bottle.  Very eco-friendly.  There are a few problems with this, though.  One, not all coins are accepted.  I think the biggest contributing factor for this is the fact that the new coins are made differently than the old ones.  The new ones are lighter than the old ones.  Thus, machines will reject new coins.  But that’s a side note.  Really the issue is that I do not know Thai.  All I know is that you put a coin in this machine and push a button.  So after I finished the water in my bottle, I went to use this machine.  I inserted a coin, placed my bottle under the hole, and push the button that seems most likely to achieve the desired result.  Hooray!  Water comes out and starts filling my empty bottle.  But then it doesn’t stop.  It’s not automatic?  How do you know what size container to use?  What if you have a smaller container?  As water is spewing (it’s pretty high-pressure), a sidecar driver sees what is happening and comes over and pushes the button again and the water stops.  Ooooh.  Now I get it.  Next time I went with many water bottles.  You get seven and a half bottles worth for 5 baht.  Now I know.

the water-dispensing machine

the water-dispensing machine


all Thai. Thai script, Thai language. I don’t know any Thai.

When there’s an earthquake, your best option is to exit the building.  There are several fault lines in Thailand as well as in neighboring countries, so sometimes there are earthquakes.  Contrary to what I thought I was taught about earthquakes (which wasn’t much growing up in Texas), you are not supposed to stand in a door frame.  Unless you’re in an adobe house.  There aren’t too many of those around here.  Anyway, yes, there was a 6.3 magnitude earthquake not far from Chiang Mai (where I have been staying).  I felt the 11-story building I was in sway quite a bit from the 8th floor.  When I stepped into the hallway I saw a frightened looking Thai woman who tried to say something to me.  I assumed she was telling me there was an earthquake.  Apparently she was also saying that we needed to go downstairs.

I am checking out at the supermarket and the cashier comes across my contact solution.  She begins point to the box and shake her head and point.  She hands me the box and I start walking towards where she is pointing; maybe she needs me to check the price… ?  (Although I’m not sure how I am supposed to communicate the price once I’ve found it).  Maybe I need to get a different one?  But why??  I get to the general vicinity where she is pointing and another cashier realizes what I need to do.  There is another sales counter in the health and beauty section.  You have to buy all your health and beauty products separately from the rest of your purchases.  Now I know.

I needed a typhoid booster.  I probably should have done this a while back but it’s cheaper in Thailand (one of the many ways I avoid immunizations).  I go to the hospital and I register as a new patient and am told to sit in the waiting room.  As I sit, directly in front of me is a scale, blood pressure equipment, a couple desks, and a couple of chairs.  Basically it was what you would find in a typical examination room.  Random people would also walk up to the scale, step on, and see how much they weigh.  That to say, you can’t be shy about your weight- the entire waiting room can know if they want to.  But, the bonus is you’ve got a free scale to use!  This was the first time I went, to find out if they had the oral typhoid vaccine- they didn’t.  After calling a couple other hospitals to see if they had the oral vaccine and being told ‘no’, I went back to this hospital a second time.  And what did I find in the waiting room but a man with mic and guitar.  So soothing for someone about to get a needle stuck in their arm.

And yes, he was taking tips.

For those of you who don’t know what a songthaew is, don’t get too excited.  It’s not an exotic animal.  It is the most common mode of transportation in Chiang Mai for anyone who does not have a car or motorbike.  It’s function is as a taxi and it’s form is a red covered pick-up truck.  They’re very convenient because they’re very prevalent and relatively inexpensive.  The bed of the truck is almost entirely closed to the outside world except for the back and small slats on the side for windows.  So, sometimes as a non-local I don’t know when I’m supposed to get off.  It’s difficult to see anything and if there are other passengers you might be going a different way than you expect or the driver might just decide to use an alternate route, you could be on the opposite side of the building, maybe you’ve never been to this place, etc.  So how do you know when to get off?  I have no solution for this.  When the driver stops for an unusually long period and there aren’t any cars in front of him, it might mean it’s time to get off.  In any case, though, the driver will get your attention and make sure you get out.  He will also let you know if you’re trying to get off too early.  But sometimes you really feel dumb.

Only bad thing, there's no A/C.

Only downside is there’s no A/C.

This might be the only paragraph you read.  What American (or human being) doesn’t like Thai food?  Unfortunately for you, I’m not actually going to tell you how to cook Thai food.  That would be far too much information.  I just wanted to tell you that I know how.  But you can go to Basil Cookery School (or one of the many other places in Chiang Mai) to learn for yourself.

Tom Kai Gai (chicken in coconut milk soup) and Som Tam (Papaya Salad)

Tom Kha Gai (chicken in coconut milk soup) and Som Tam (papaya salad)


Filed under Mainland Southeast Asia

voluntourism. or, when helping hurts

This is a good article to get you thinking about paternalism, our white-savior complex, the industry of volunteering, etc.

“Western nations are full of well-fed individuals plagued by less explicit hardships such as the disintegration of communities and the fraying of relationships against the possibilities of endless choices. The burdens of manic consumption and unabated careerism are not as easily pitied as crumbling shanties and begging babies. Against this landscape, volunteerism presents an escape, a rare encounter with an authenticity sorely missed, hardship palpably and physically felt — for a small price.”

Also, if you ever work with people in poverty, directly or indirectly, you need to read this book: When Helping Hurts, by Steve Corbett and Brian Frikkert.  Find it on Amazon here :)

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Protected: …getting closer

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