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Bangkok Airport – tips

25-Dec-13

This October marked the 4th time that I had been at the Bangkok Airport in ~3 years.  Going through the motions between deplaning and arriving at my hotel, I realized that I now take a few things for granted, things that I had no clue about the first time I arrived at BKK, March 2010.  Thus, jotting them down here in case it may be helpful to the internet:

1.  Immigration

For the most part, immigration is straightforward.  Coming from the US, Europe, and most western countries, no visa is required.  30-days tourist stay is granted automatically.  What is very important to note is that the entry card you fill out when you land in Bangkok (assuming international flight) has a complementary departure card with matching numbers.  HOLD ON TO THIS departure card.  The immigration officer will take tear away the Arrival Card and stamp your passport before entry.  Then it is your responsibility to hold on to the corresponding Departure Card for departure customs, via Bangkok again or another city.  Sometimes, the entry immigration officer will staple the Departure Card to your passport, sometimes not… just find a way to hold on to that card.

2.  Money Exchange

Most everyone waits until after clearing immigration/customs to exchange money.  This creates quite a rush/line at the limited number of exchange kiosks – there are a couple next to baggage claim (past immigration) and a couple more in the main arrival lobby of the airport (past customs).  A better way is to exchange money before hitting immigration.  There is one THB exchange counter before you hit immigration where the lines are typically very short because everyone else is rushing to immigration.  The THG exchange counter is immediately past the entrance to the main immigration hall.  Everyone will be turning left for immigration, but there are plenty of booths there to keep the lines reasonable even after your money exchange detour.  So skip immigration at first, go past the main entrance to the hall, and immediately on your left with be a THB counter.  Simple, easy, avoids lines.  Oh, and THB buys foreign currency with no fees – added perk.

3.  Taxis

Sanctioned taxis are on the ground floor.  Once you exit customs, take the escalators/elevators to the very bottom level, exit the main doors, and you will see the taxi lines on the curb.  You queue up to talk to a teller, who asks you for your destination.  Drivers, meanwhile, park their cabs in a line and come stand next to a teller with a customer.  The teller will note the driver and cab number on an official sheet, then tell the driver where to take you (in Thai), and then dispatch you together to the parked cab.  You get a copy of the official paper, for your peace of mind.  For this service, you pay an extra 50 baht fare (USD 1.50) to the driver at the end of the ride, which I think is well worth it.  It also goes without saying that when you queue up, pick the line that has the most travelers traveling together.  The shortest line of 10 people all waiting for individual cabs (10 cabs total) will be much slower than the longer line of 12 who are actually traveling, say, in groups of 4 (only 3 cabs).

There is also a light rail that runs into the city from the airport and connects up with the subway system.  It is very easy and straightforward, so I won’t really go into details.  When I took it in August 2011, I believe the fare was 90bt (~$2.75), which is about half of what a cab will cost into the city center (or thereabouts).  If your destination is conveniently located close to a subway stop, then the light rail is a pretty good option.  If not, it may be worth shelling out the extra cash for a cab, especially if you have luggage to carry.

4.  Checking in

When you are back at BKK on your way out of Thailand (or to Phuket, Chiang Mai, any number of places), the arrival hall is huge.  Look up your flight on a few clusters of monitors in front of the rows of check-in counters.  On the monitors, next to your flight number, will be a letter.  That letter corresponds to your check-in counter row.  Each row of check-in counters is marked with the giant post with a letter up top.  There are enough rows to reach the end of the alphabet, so you really don’t want to just walk up and down all the rows looking for your airline.  Or maybe that was just silly me.

Happy traveling… As I ease my way back into posting.

Here we go again …

16-Aug-13

A few years older, questionably wiser, no clearer on a direction… But as I reminisce back to those glorious days of grad school, one of the things that I miss the most is writing.  The more I read beautifully-written pieces recently (like this story or this whole column), the more I am reminded of my own attempts (here, and maybe here) and wonder why I ever stopped.

One of the reasons, I think, is feeling that the topics swimming around my head were getting tired.  So much of what I put down in words relates to my identity, my memories from days gone by, or just my daily experiences.  Is that interesting?  And then, upon my umpteenth attempt to describe a mundane detail, is that still interesting?  Another reason was probably related to the worry and stress associated with finding the right balance of posting personally meaningful writing versus revealing too much in a very public forum.  And last but not least, there was the issue of time.

All of these are in all honesty excuses.  Excuses for the hidden fears of not writing well enough to keep my friends and strangers on the internet entertained enough.  Or the fear I won’t be able to keep up a posting regularity that, well, keeps friends and strangers on the internet entertained enough.  Or the fear that no one will visit and revisit, and I will be writing for an empty audience because … well, friends and strangers on the internet are not entertained enough.

See where that is going?

In this blog revival of sorts, there will undoubtedly be ebbs and flows in posting and in quality.  But here we go again.  Let’s raise a keyboard to those joys I remember of writing and rewriting and posting and reposting and at the end of the day, just plain ol’ telling a good story.

MIT Fast Light

16-May-11

Fast Light featured 20 or so art projects focusing on light last weekend, a part of the MIT 150 celebrations and also the finale of a series of art events focusing on art & science. Absolutely gorgeous! (Click any picture for full Flickr album)

Boston is beautiful (unrelated to Fast Light)
Boston at night with sailboat

The MIT float with a continuous projection of images
MIT fast light float

My favorite exhibit: colored orbs that changed depending on interactions from people on land
Floating orbs & citgo sign

The Big Picture

04-Feb-11

UPDATE (Feb 22, 2011) – There’s movement in China, though no traction (yet): Jasmine protests in China fall flat

I was struck looking through Boston Globe’s Big Picture coverage of the riots in Egypt by the Chinese comments left by readers. There aren’t many, just a handful or so (out of 176 total at current count), but the “standing with our oppressed brothers” battle cry was clear.

Take, for example, comment #80: 埃及人民加油!中国的问候、你们是我们的榜样 (Go, the people of Egypt! Greetings from China. You serve as our role models).

Or comment #93: 像男人一样去维护自由,兵马俑问候木乃伊 (Protect freedom like a man. The terra cotta warriors send greetings to the mummies).

The parallel I drew from the very beginning was between Tahrir Square 2011 and Tiananmen Square 1989. Both uprisings stem from discontent intellectual youth demanding governmental reform. The blogosphere, however, will have me believe that this particular comparison is futile, that the more important (and relevant) comparison is Tahrir Square of 2011 and a potential Tiananmen Square of 201x. These Big Picture reader comments would support that idea – the germs of a new Chinese revolution have been planted. Furthermore, the Great Firewall censorship of the terms “Egypt” and “Cairo” in Chinese demonstrates the CCP’s own paranoia for citizen uprisings.

I still, however, maintain my original parallel. Instead of waving around hypotheticals of a Tiananmen 201x Incident, we’ve actually had time to reflect and analyze the events leading up to June 4, 1989. I would argue that the momentum of liberalization and intellectualism that drove students to protest in 1989, and the thorough discontent with the governing body that led to Tahrir 2011, is largely absent in China today.

It’s difficult to pin down a particular “level of discontent” amongst a citizen population, but we can take a look at what the original student protesters in 1989 are doing today. They’re bankers, consultants, high-ranking business(wo)men. Essentially, the energy that the intellectuals of the 1980s invested into activism got transfered to capitalism and personal professional pursuits. On the whole, these students became jaded and more like intellectuals everywhere else in the developed world: secularizing intellectualism from politics. With the backing of the Chinese government, this generation of intellectuals drove the phenomenal economic growth in China for the last 20 years, and not governmental reform.

So are they now politically apathetic? That might be too cynical. Their intentions for reform in 1989 were real and have no doubt stayed a big part of their characters since then. My more cynical view is that in light of economic progress and governmental resistance, they’ve gravitated away from politics and into personal economic advancements, the latter being more of a meritocracy and less of banging their heads against walls.

That leaves protest organization to today’s generation of youth and new intellectuals, the post-80s and post-90s population: the generation of little emperors and empresses, the generation that grew up in the age of economic prosperity, the generation with questionable senses of responsibility. Cast in that light, Tiananmen 201x seems less and less likely.

So what about the individuals leaving comments on Western media sites cheering on their Egyptian compatriots? Who are they and would they spearhead something? It’s hard to say. There are 1.3 billion Chinese; a handful of stray commenters are unlikely to start a revolution.

Addendum: One big consideration is the large population of rural and relatively uneducated Chinese (up to 75% of the 1.3 billion, depending on sources). Living in squalid conditions and certainly aware of the enormous separation of wealth, an organized uprising by farmers and migrant workers would actually be rather ironic: the proletariats demand more equality and economic socialism in a supposedly Communist regime.

domain wars?

19-Oct-10

Looking to buy some antibodies today, I was reminded of something I noticed a couple of years ago.

One of my favorite antibody companies is Cell Signaling Technologies. They have quality products for equal or better pricing. Best of all, they are local and sometimes deliver same-day if the order is placed early enough. I’ve consistently gotten packages by the end of the day when I place online orders before noon with no special rush delivery option checked. (How they actually make that happen would be interesting in and of itself).

Today, starting my antibodies search, I typed “www.cellsignaling.com” into my browser. The URL redirected me to Millipore, a big company that makes a lot of bio- and chem- lab supplies, products, reagents, and assays. My first thought was, “oh wow! I don’t buy antibodies for a while, and Cell Signaling gets acquired by Millipore???”

But I quickly realized that Cell Signaling is still Cell Signaling (not Millipore), but their website is actually at cellsignals.com, not cellsignaling.com. This made me wonder which came first: Millipore with the domain name or Cell Signaling with the company name?

The latter would be a big company bullying a small biotech. The former still feels a bit like Millipore bullying the smaller players. I don’t automatically associate Millipore with cell signaling products–it’s a much more diversified company than that–and it feels a little shady and presumptuous that cellsignaling.com would redirect to Millipore as if Millipore were the king of signaling research supplies.

I wonder if Cell Signaling ever approached Millipore to buy the domain name, or if Millipore would even be willing to sell it, and for how much?

Or if this little domain name inconvenience affects Cell Signaling at all?

The Cell Signaling brand is strong enough that I know I am on the wrong website and want to find the real one. It’s definitely an annoyance because I forget almost every time that Cell Signaling’s domain name does not match its company name. But when I see the redirect to Millipore, I don’t start looking for antibodies on the Millipore website “just for kicks” (perhaps what Millipore is hoping for?). Instead, I google for the real Cell Signaling website and go there still.

Would most others who look for Cell Signaling by name, and domain name, be like me? Temporarily annoyed but quickly finds the right website? How many people look for antibody vendors by typing in “cellsignaling.com” and hope to get lucky?

I think most people are loyal like me, so the domain name is just a minor frustration moment. But I’m still curious to the history behind the URL.

stalemate

15-Oct-10

Some news links for background:
NYT article announcing the prize: http://nyti.ms/cveoxL
NYT article with more analysis: http://nyti.ms/d1W5sQ
A western expat’s analysis of NYT analysis: http://bit.ly/bYxC1o

I don’t usually follow Chinese politics (for better or for worse), opting instead for cultural and gossipy news aka ChinaSMACK. But the Nobel Peace Prize is big news, and it’s hard not to hear about it. When rumors ran high in the weeks leading up to the prize announcement, I had wondered if the prize committee would really stick one to China and give Liu Xiaobo the Peace Prize.

On the one hand, it seemed like both sides should know that it would result in a stalemate. The West has seen that China doesn’t like to have its arms twisted and prefers to do things at its own pace. China knows that it is walking on eggshells when it comes to issues of human rights and political reform but is unable to let go of its pride and lose face by giving any ground on its otherwise hardline view of “human rights is a domestic issue.”

On the other hand, I didn’t really think the Nobel committee would be able to swallow their pride and step aside on this issue and hand China a “get out of jail free” card. That would be allowing politics to dictate their actions, and that runs entirely counter to the whole spirit of the Peace Prize. But I would be lying if I said I wasn’t surprised that the committee actually went through with the decision.

A week later, we’ve still got a stalemate. China doesn’t want a precedent of international accolades interfering with “domestic” affairs, but they also can’t take any drastic measures either, so they’ve essentially done nothing. How long will this stalemate last? The two previous Nobel Peace Laureates imprisoned at the time of their prize announcements stayed imprisoned. Andrei Sakharo (1975) continued to be monitored by the Soviet Union well into the 80s, and Aung San Suu Kyi (1991) is still under house arrest in Burma.

This doesn’t bode well for Liu Xiaobo. But the counter argument is that the prize accomplished the purpose of highlighting Liu’s work and thrust China’s human rights issues into an even bigger spotlight.

tournament-ready knee

11-Sep-10

 

Knowing that I would need to play through some knee pain* at this weekend’s tournament, my awesome PT wrapped me up with Kinesio Tape this afternoon. Now, not only am I tournament-ready, I feel like an athletic superstar.
 

100910

*I generally just take some ibuprofen and leave my recurring left knee pain alone… that is, until the same injury/pain showed up in my right knee at a tournament last month (we did win the chumpionship, though). Wanting to fix the root of the problem, I went back to orthopedics, who confirmed that patellofemoral syndrome was now attacking my right knee in addition to my left. He ordered more physical therapy, and the PT diagnosed the cause of all my problems to be overly tight leg muscles that put excessive tension on my kneecaps. My prescribed regiment includes stretching, more stretching, and regular doses of yoga for lengthening, loosening, and strengthening.

The New England Aquarium

19-Aug-10

Luke came to Boston for a short weekend visit. While walking all around the city, we kept seeing huge posters of adorable baby penguins advertising the New England Aquarium. When baby penguins talk to you showcasing their personalities all over the city, how can you not go to the Aquarium?

Of course we loved the penguins, even saw them eat some fish, but also got to check out tons of other phenomenal animals like these fish and stingray. Click on the picture for more photos on Flickr of the Aquarium and even Fenway Park.

Park Street Church at night

12-Aug-10

 
 
 
 
 

Park Street Church at night

Maine is beautiful

08-Jul-10

Spent 4th of July weekend up near Lake Sebago in Maine with great friends. We swam, read books, played cards, and generally indulged. Maine is beautiful (full Flickr set).