Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Dinner on the Street

Lois sitting in in our sidewalk "booth"
We had dinner on the street tonight.  Literally on the street.  Temporary tables with stackable plastic stools set up on the sidewalk.  The Kitchen was a portable cart.  It seemed like a husband and wife partnership.  The wife cooked and the husband served us our food and drink. Those lights you see in the background are headlights of the slowly moving traffic.  Gridlock traffic is normal in the evening. Yes they are coming at you on this side of the street. They drive on the opposite side of the street here.
I ordered Fanta Green pop - they did not have Fanta so we got Est brand pop that was green. Note the metal cup in Lois' hand. They serve the cup with Ice and a short straw.  You pour the pop or water from the bottle into you cup.  The Est was very close in flavor to the Fanta green - but not exactly the same. Fanta Green is made from various fruit juices thus the - Fruit flavor that I can best describe as Bubble gum flavor. 
We ordered  Phat Thai Noodles with Shrimp and also pork fried rice. Lois and I shared each other's plates.  Marvelous food for the grand total of $3.00. 


The aftermath
Note the garnishments on the table.  First you need to know that they provide a soon and fork to eat with.  You are expected to eat with the spoon and push your food onto your spoon with the fork.  The spoon is bigger than the standard spoon you are used to in the US. The basket with the spices: You can spoon on Thai Fish Sauce - salty, Ground dry peppers - very hot, or some sugar.  In the white bowl with the lid you will find small sliced very hot peppers floating in Thai fish sauce.
This is my favorite --- salty with just the right amount of hot.  I also enjoy squeezing the lime juice on my food. It provides a nice contrast.

Selfie taken after the satisfying Thai Food
After the meal I took some shots of the surrounding area.

View from pedestrian overpass - yes those are wires in front of you - lots of them.

Food cart that prepared our food is in the center of the picture

To the right of the green light behind three phone booths is where we sat on the sidewalk

Monday, February 24, 2014

Missionaries are now in Myanmar (Burma)

Every 9 weeks we get a fresh batch of new Missionaries and we send the most experienced ones home.  These new missionaries have spent 9 weeks in the Missionary Training Center learning how to be a missionary and attempting to master the Thai language.  This past week is what we call transfers.  We received 14 new missionaries, 13 young Men (Elders) and one young women (Sister).   
On Wednesday Morning President Senior hosts a meeting where missionaries are transferred.  They find out where they are moving to and who their new Companion will be.  They come to the meeting only knowing if they will move or not. 
Right near the end of the Transfer Meeting President Senior made the official announcement that he had sent young single Proselyting Missionaries to Myanmar (Burma).  The Missionaries let out quite a loud cheer.  I believe this is the first time young LDS missionaries have been sent to serve in Myanmar (Burma) since the 1850’s.  Elder Fronberg and Elder Steiner have been in Myanmar since December 21st 2013. 

We have not publically announced their presence as to not upset the Visa application process.  Apparently in the past social media has broadcast the missionaries presence in a specific sensitive country such that the government did not then allow a Visa for the missionaries to stay in the country. 

1st Young Missionaries in Myanmar since the 1850's

The Missionaries entered the country on a Tourist visa and did come back into Thailand in January to renew their Visa.  This last time they received a Non-Immigrant Visa that will allow them to stay until the end of their missions in Myanmar.  In the December transfer meeting President Senior simply said that he was opening up a new area west of Bangkok – Nakhorn Pathom.  That is where the software that I maintain stated that the two missionaries were located – a cover story. The two missionaries were actually in Myanmar. The missionaries parents were notified and told that they could tell no one where their sons were located at that time.  There are two Senior Couples serving with Deseret International Charities (DIC) in Myanmar.  The young missionaries are actually staying in a home that is part if the facility the church is renting in Yangoon.  The property also has a separate structure that we use for the chapel.

It was just a year ago (February of 2013) that the Church first sent 4 young missionaries to Lao. Now one year later we have sent Missionaries to Myanmar.  The Book of Mormon does not yet exist in the Burmese Language.  Very exciting times here in the mission field.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Old Heads Again

Monday evening Lois and I were invited to President and Sister Seniors Home to have dinner.  The purpose of the celebration was to honor Elder and Sister Hart and Elder and Sister Seangsuwan.
Elder and Sister Hart have completed their 23 month Mission serving in Thailand as Member Leadership Services Missionaries.  They were assigned to the town of Udorn in Northeastern Thailand not far from Laos.  He was a counselor in the Udorn District Presidency.  She taught Piano throughout the District.  Elder Hart previously served a mission in Thailand.  He is listed as the 30th missionary to serve in Thailand.  He came in the same group as Elder Sowards.  They arrived in Thailand in January 1970.

Elder Hart, Elder Sowards, Elder Seangsuwan, Elder Meeker

Back row: Sister and Elder Sowards, Elder Gibson, Elder Seangsawan, Elder Hart, Elder Marvel, Elder Manning, Elder Meeker, President Senior.
 Front row: Sister Senior, Sister Goodson, Sister Seangsawan, Sister Hart, Sister Marvel, Sister Manning, Sister Meeker.

Elder and Sister Seangsuwan are native Thais.  He was serving as a young single missionary when I arrived in Thailand 38 years ago.  He married his wife shortly after completing his mission and went to school at BYU Hawaii.  He raised his family in Utah and then they served a full time Senior mission here in Thailand. After he and his wife returned from their full time Senior mission they decided to return to Thailand.  They were called on a District Mission (equivalent to a Stake Missionary).  As of the end of February they will be released from their District Mission.  They will continue to live in Thailand.  Brother Seangsuwan will continue to serve as a Counselor to the Mission President - President Senior.

If you want to know more about Brother Seangsuwan, you can read about his book (or even purchase it).  It is entitled Monk to Missionary.  Link to website:
Publisher of Brother Seansuwan's Book

New Framed Art Work

Just before Christmas I took Lois to a shop called Bangkok Dolls. You can go to the December 14th Post entitled Christmas Season in Thailand to review the purchase of the art work.  Lois wanted to frame the art work.  She had been on a vegetable shopping trip with the Service Center custodian Sister Noi when she passed by a shop that made frames.  So last week we went to that same area.  I am not sure if we found the same shop, but we did find a shop that did mounting and framing.  Lois picked out the background and the wood for the frame.  It turned out very nice.  It is now displayed on the wall in the hallway outside our bedroom. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Trip to Watergate

Saturday Lois and I decided to go to Watergate.  It is a shopping area about 1-1/2 miles away.

The reason this area of Bangkok is called Watergate is that in Thai it is called "water door".  But on some of the English signs in the area it is translated as Watergate.  One of the local hotels is even called the Watergate.

To get there we decided to walk along the canal. We walked along the canal for about a mile or so.  So as not to mislead you this is not a tourist attraction type walk.  The walkway is there mostly to allow access to residents along the canal.  The walkway does not go the full length of the canal.  Sometimes it is on one side and sometimes on the other. There are very few places to cross the Saen Saep canal.

Path to get to the walkway along the canal

To enter the walk way we went down a very narrow path next to the bridge that crosses the canal on the street that we live on - called Asoke.
We saw many interesting things during our walk.  We saw magnificent 30 story tall Condominiums, vacant lots, slum shacks, homes on stilts above the side canals, lots of trash, some on the land and even some floating in the canal. We saw walls of concrete, many with barbed wire atop them.  We saw multiple sites where the residents had left food and drink for their ancestors.  They do that at the spirit houses that they set up on their property. Sometimes the food and flowers were simply at the base of a tree along the walkway. 

Wall built to incorporate the tree.
Note: the charcoal cookers in the background under the corrugated tin sheets
likely used in the evening to cook dinner or to cook and sell food along the canal 
Elder Meeker on the Walkway on Sean Seap Canal

Slums on the opposite side of the canal
Typical canal boat pier

Canal boat speeding up the canal

Looking back across the railroad bridge we crossed over the canal
Note: the sleeping dog - he didn't budge at all when we walked by
About a mile into the walk, the walkway ran out so we then had to cross over the canal on a railroad bridge then along the railroad tracks to the street to go the last 1/2 mile. 
As we ascended to the tracks I asked a resident if the train was about to come. She said it does come but it was not coming any time soon.  So I felt comfortable using the train tracks to cross the canal.  This is not the main north-south train line in Bangkok.  After we crossed the bridge we bought a cold pop from a little store (shack) on the railroad right of way.  We sat down on bench under a tree also on the right of way to drink it from a plastic bag filled with ice (two straws).  It was my favorite flavor, Fanta Green.  It is actually a mixture of different fruit flavors. When I was a missionary years ago I simply called it bubble gum flavor. Because that is the flavor that it reminded me of.
After we got to the main street again (Petchburi) we walked about 1/2 mile to the Watergate shopping area.  The area is famous for the clothes that are sold there.  Both wholesale and retail - hundreds of shops.  We did a lot of looking and we did buy a pretzel from Aunt Annies.  Almond flavor is my favorite.  We walked back to the canal.  There is a pier right at the Watergate intersection.  We took the canal boat back to the office. 
Canal boat stopped for loading/unloading
Note the plastic sides on the boat.  They are connected to ropes with pulleys so that hey can be raised and lowered easily.  Raised to keep the splashing waves off of you and lowered so you can step into or out of the boat.  This is necessary because there are piers on both sides of the canal.  The seating is laid out such that the front and the back of the boat are filled with benches.  No aisleways - you step over the benches to get in or out.  The center of the boat is standing room only. There are ropes from the top canopy strung side to side to hang onto as the boat stops and starts.

After we returned to the office, we worked for about an hour or so and then took the underground train (MRT) to find a shop to frame a piece of art that we bought at Christmas time.  It is a lace type picture of an elephant.  We found a place.  They will mat and frame it for about $22.   We then went to buy some Ice cream for next week (we are entertaining).  We went to buy some high quality Ice Cream.  We priced Baskin and Robbins - Came out to $60 per gallon for a hand packed 1/2 gallon container.  We decided to go to Swenson’s.  We became members for $6 per year. We get 10% off all purchases for the rest of the year.  We got that Ice cream for about $12 a gallon.  We bought 6 pints. We got 3 different kinds of chocolate, Macadamia nut and some Chocolate/Peanut butter stuff for Lois. 

Banking in Thailand

Dealing with money in Thailand is quite different than what I considered normal in the US.  First of all, they are very cash based society.  In the US we are rapidly going away from cash and moving to electronic transactions for almost every thing you pay for or buy. 

There are street vendors everywhere and of course they do not have electronic means for you to pay for things.  But in addition most stores do not have he capability to accept credit or debit cards. Don't get me wrong there are places that will accept your credit card.  Large establishments that are frequented by tourists etc. will gladly accept your Credit Card.  But if they do, they will likely want to charge you a fee to accept the credit Card.  They do not like the fact that the Credit Card company takes a cut of the price of the merchandise that you buy. 

One of the things that I do at the office is take care of all of the mission expenses.  One of my major responsibilities is to put cash (Thai Baht) on the Missionary MSF (Missionary Support Funds) debit card.  For missionaries serving in Thailand it is about $180 USD per month. These funds are intended for the missionary to use to support his personal needs such as food. 

So each month about the 25th I process the request in a computer system called IMOS (Internet Mission Operations Software).  I get the Mission President to approve and four business days later the money is in the bank so that missionaries can get to it.

I have had to teach the missionaries some rudimentary facts about international finance.  I put an amount of Thai Baht into their account (5800 Baht for Elders and 6000 Baht fro Sisters),  the Church and the Bank uses a Dollar to Baht rate to put the equivalent amount number of US Dollars into the account.  So if a missionary accesses his account he will see the value in US Dollars. When the missionary is ready to access his funds he goes to a ATM.  They will then draw out their funds in Thai Baht.  However they will draw the money out at a much different rate that I put it in at.  So they will loose money on the difference of the exchange rates.  In addition at all ATMs except AEON Bank ATMs they are charged a withdrawal fee of between 150 to 180 Baht (from $5 to $6 ).  Also the bank charges them an international transaction fee of about $2.25.  So I encourage them to take all of their money out once each month.

In addition to the MSF Funds each apartment of Elders or Sisters has a house fund.  The size of this fund ranges from 6,000 to 40,000 Baht (depends upon number of missionaries in the house and location of house).  These funds are used to pay for utilities, transportation, house furnishings, cleaning supplies, maintenance and repairs, and medical expenses etc.  A Missionary is assigned in each house to account for this money and pay the house expenses.  When they have gone thru a major portion of their  house funds they send me receipts which I reconcile and then put that amount of money back onto their MSF card which they cash out to use to pay the house expenses.  So I have lot's of fun training each new house leader.  It is good training for Missionaries who have not paid bills or handled financial records in the past.

When a missionary needs to pay the water bill or electric bill, they take the bill to 7/11 store (yes the same as the 7/11 you have in the states) and pay it there.  For a 10 Baht fee it is accepted - of course  it must be cash.  There are 7/11 stores everywhere in Thailand.  There are two of them across the street from us about 100 yards apart.

There are lot's of banks in Thailand.  What I find interesting is that each bank has essentially chosen a different color.  So many of the Thai's and missionaries refer to the bank by its color.  The yellow bank is the Krungsri bank.  The Orange bank is the Thanachart bank etc. the pictures below account for the major banks that I see regularly or do business with regularly.  There are 4 or 5 other banks in the mall that I did not take a picture of.

Light Blue Bank - I have many landlords that use this bank

Blue Bank

Purple Bank - I do some business here

Pink Bank

Islamic Bank - I have not done any business here

Orange Bank - Mission Checking account is here - I go here often

Green Bank or K Bank

The K bank advertisement - thinks that you can get rich as a customer

Aeon Bank is where I get cash  - limited to ~ $600 per Day

Aeon - has agreement with Bank of America and other American Banks - Missionaries and I can get cash here without a fee

Yellow Bank - Ayuthaya Bank - KrungSri is the first part of the name

Thai Military Bank
5th floor of Central  Plaza Mall - some of the banks
I am required to write checks from the Church account and pay bills - cash again.  So I write the check - sign it, and then get a second signature from the Mission President.  I then walk to the subway and go one stop north to the Central Plaza mall.  I take the escalator to the 5th floor. There I find a branch of every Bank in Thailand.  This makes it very convenient for me.  I can cash my check at the Orange Bank (Thanachart Bank) where the Church has the Mission Bank account. I then can go to any other bank to pay landlords or vendors by making a deposit into their account.

5th floor of the mall - more of the banks
Banks have fees for almost every thing.  I pay a check cashing fee at my own bank.  The fee is based on the value of the check.  The fee is 10 Baht for every 10,000 Baht.  So a 9,000 Baht check would be 10 Baht.  For a 45,000 Baht check it would be 50 Baht and so on.

In addition I pay deposit fees. So if I pay a landlord the bank will charge me a fee.  This depends on the bank somewhere between 10 and 30 Baht (between 30 cents and a dollar). 

I do sometimes write some large Checks (In Thai money anyway.) The largest bill that they use is a 1,000 Baht bill (equivalent to ~ 30 dollars).  So if I cash a check for 100,000 Baht ($3,000) I walk out of the Bank with 100 1,000 Baht bills. The bank teller will count the bills and then they will use a machine to count the bills to verify they gave me correct amount of bills. They show you the machine counter as it does it's thing.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Amelia Earhart of Thailand

Yesterday was our preparation day.  After cleaning the condo and doing laundry, Sister Meeker and I were able to visit a famous location here in Bangkok Thailand.  We went with the Mission President and his wife.  We visited the former home of Jim Thompson.  We got there by getting on the BTS (above ground train) for 4 stops transferring to a different BTS line and going to the end.  It was then a short walk of a couple hundred yards to the house/museum.

We toured the house which was actually 6 original Thai houses from around the country that were moved to the site and assembled into more of a western  style home.  Some of the features he added included indoor plumbing and an interior stairway etc.  The original homes are more than a hundred years old.  They are all made with Teak wood and very beautiful. Mr. Thompson was an architect by schooling (although he never got his degree - couldn't pass the Calculus class).

The Drawing (Living) Room - View for arriving guests by way of the canal

Jim Thompson was member of the OSS (precursor) to the CIA during World War II.  In August 1945, Thompson was about to be sent into Thailand, when the Surrender of Japan officially ended World War II. He arrived in Thailand shortly after Victory over Japan Day and organized the Bangkok OSS office.

Thompson left the army in 1946. After his divorce from Patricia Thraves, he returned to Thailand to devote himself to revitalizing a cottage industry of hand-woven silk.

 In 1948, he partnered with George Barrie to found the Thai Silk Company. It was capitalized at US$25,000. They each bought eighteen percent of the shares. The remaining sixty-four percent were sold to Thai and foreign investors.

The firm achieved a coup in 1951 when designer Irene Sharaff made use of Thai silk fabrics for the Rogers and Hammerstein musical, The King and I. From then on, the company prospered.

One of the things Mr. Thompson did was design and develop printing dies.  See the picture to the right to see an original wood carved design hanging on the wall behind the tour guide.  The pattern  was painted with dye and the design was transferred to the silk cloth by pressing it against the carved wood pattern. Note the pottery in the picture was also designed by Mr. Thompson.  It has the same themed pattern as the wood carved die.

Now to get to the reason for this Post's title.  The Amelia Earhart of Thailand.  In 1967, Jim Thompson disappeared  without a trace.  (If you want to know the details see this link). He has never been seen or heard from again.  He was visiting Malaysia in March of 1967.  He went for a walk and never returned.  Many days of searching and rewards for information brought forth no results.  Nothing has ever turned up.  He never had any children, so his nephew inherited the home.  The nephew donated the house to a foundation which has maintained the house as a Museum since 1976 (The guide shared the fact that the 92 year old nephew visited the home last year). The home tours provide an opportunity to see the many Asian artifacts that he collected during his life.  In addition they share the method of silk making and of course have a gift shop where you can buy silk products. 

After the tour We had lunch at the on property restaurant.  I had some great curry and Sister Meeker had some Thai Pomelo salad. Sounds kind of strange but it is actually very good.