Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Last Minute Christmas Gift Ideas

Special Gifts For The Baseball Fan
Major League Baseball has really gotten into the marketing business. Every club has its own stores selling local team paraphernalia. You can buy hats and glove, jerseys and T shirts, place mats and coffee mugs and baby toys and onesies, all sporting your favourite team logo. It is a million dollar side industry for the baseball clubs.
Recently, they have begun to hold auctions of a lot of bizarre items that the fanatical fans drool over. It you are looking for a special gift for the baseball nut in your family this Christmas, consider bidding on the following:
-A game used lineup card from the Toronto Blue Jay vs Cleveland Indians ALCS Game 2 - 10/15/16. This one of a kind item is selling for the currently high bid of $600! or

-A Corey Kluber game-worn jersey at the ALCS Game 5 against the Toronto Blue Jays. Kluber wore the jersey sitting of the bench in that game but didn’t play, so it is guaranteed not to be dirty. The current high bid is $1200. If that is too rich for your wallet how about:

-A bottle opener with the handle made from a bat used by Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs, that he broke hitting a single on 8/5/16 against Oakland. 
This gem of a gift is selling for $200.

-For the budget conscious buyer, for $200 you can buy a framed piece that includes a photo with a medallion and some actual dirt from the playing field from the 2016 ALCS and a piece of a baseball used in one of the games. Now that is going to get the heart of a baseball fan pumping. Three gifts in one!

-One of my favourite values is a bottle of dirt - yes I said a bottle of dirt - from the 2016 MLB All Star Game in San Diego for ONLY $24.99. I just keep wondering where they scraped up the dirt. Did they dig into the mound or just spoon it into the bottle from the baselines? I am sure home plate dirt would be more expensive than base path dirt, but what do I know!

-Finally, the ultimate auction item that I stumbled upon today in my gift shopping venture - a golf experience of a lifetime with MLB Hall of Famer, Reggie Jackson. This experience includes a threesome for 18 holes of golf at the world famous Pebble Beach Golf Course with Reggie Jackson. Additionally, the winning bidder will receive 2 Hotel Rooms for (1) nights stay at a nice nearby hotel. Oh, and before I forget, the current high bid for this wonderful gift is a mere $19,995.

I hope I have been helpful in providing you some unique Christmas gift ideas. Remember all 30 Major League teams have their own gift stores and auctions, so you can tailor make your gift for every fan in the family. Personally, I am wondering if I can just put some dirt from our flower bed into a bottle and design a cute little label and go into business? I may try!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Supernatural Dolls of Thailand

The Supernatural Dolls of Thailand

Just when you thought the world couldn’t get any more weird, along come the supernatural dolls of Thailand. These often child size dolls are selling as fast as cold beer at a Flame’s game.

These childlike dolls have been allowed their own seats on airplanes and their own portions of food in restaurants. They are something of a cultural phenomenon in Thailand. Not linked with any particular religion, the dolls are popular with superstitious members of the Thai population, who believe the dolls possess the spirit of a child, and, as such, are considered lucky.

The dolls have been around for several years now, but have gained popularity in recent months, as businesses cash in on their popularity by offering services for the dolls. It is reported that the dolls were thought up three years ago by 'Mama Ning', a woman from west Bangkok, who said she calls on a Hindu goddess to create a new soul for each Look Thep.

She also states that her first ever Look Thep, Petch, helped her tame the behaviour of her teenage son after she began treating Petch as her own child and taking him with her to temple.

But many owners of the 'child gods' or 'child angels', known  locally as Look Thep, are not content with merely keeping one of the dolls. Instead they believe that the better the dolls are treated, the luckier the owner becomes. This belief has led to owners splurging on designer clothes, meals and even plane tickets for the angels; in short, treating them as their own child.

Thai Smile Airways recently stated that child tickets could be bought for the dolls, to save them travelling as hand luggage or carry-on, on the understanding that they wore a seatbelt for take-off and landing, and didn't sit in an exit seat.

Meanwhile restaurant Neta Grill in Bangkok announced it would provide child-priced meals for Look Thep, provided all of the food was consumed, and therefore not wasted.

Ownership isn't cheap with dolls reportedly costing between $50 and $450 Canadian, before the expense of clothing, feeding and flying with them. But it's a trend that is showing no signs of slowing down.

I now have acquired the Canadian distribution rights to the supernatural dolls and am taking orders. They will be delivered upon our return to Canada in two weeks. And no, they will not be sitting next to me, they have their own charter plane!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Greatest Fears Of Living Overseas

The Greatest Fears Of Living Overseas

All of our experiences living abroad in Turkey, Poland, the Bahamas and now, for an extended time, in Thailand have all been memorable and 99% enjoyable. There is however, always a small nagging concern that something might go wrong and lead to an unsettling problem. During our travels I have developed a few minor fears. 

It may seem silly, but one of my biggest fears is that we will have a computer or Internet problem, thus disconnecting us from the technology that we have made such a vital part of our lives. In Turkey I severed my computer charging cord and in Thailand an iPad fell and the glass face shattered. In Canada, the simple solution would mean a five minute trip to the Apple Store for the quick fix.

In a foreign country, there are no quick technology fixes. First of all, if your own technology is unusable, your access to information whether the location of an Apple dealer or a computer shop is not easily available. This usually breaks me into a cold sweat and panic mode. Fortunately, with perseverance and fortitude I have always managed to find a dealer and solve the problems. But it is no easy task especially if you don’t speak the language. You can experience the same feeling by going to Chinatown in Calgary and entering an obvious Chinese herbal store and trying to ask for a remedy for hemerhoids from a merchant with limited English. It’s no small challenge!

In the same domain of anxiety, is an Internet problem. No email, no Google, no communication, no Skype, no fun! Usually Internet problems are local provider problems, but how do you know that? When the Internet goes down in a foreign country, the end of the world as we know it, is at hand. At least it is for me!

One of my biggest frights occurred in our first year living in Turkey when our bank in Canada froze my debit card. Since then however the banks have implemented security programs that can actually detect the validity of debit or credit card charges made overseas. As of this year, you don’t even have to inform your bank that you will be travelling overseas as you had to in the past. That is one fear that has now been eliminated. Not having access to your bank account can be very unsettling.

Sometimes we fear that we will be unable to obtain such things as proper medications, or emergency medical access. I have found that the pharmaceutical companies have recognized that there are customers for almost every product they manufacture everywhere in the world. Pharmacists in many countries are so well trained they are skilled at diagnosis and prescription for many ailments. 

Many travellers have concerns with potential natural disasters that might occur such as earthquakes or hurricanes, while some have become paranoid by the media coverage of local political issues and terrorist activities in some countries. While neither issue can be ignored, I have never been overly effected by these fears. Most of these dangers occur in a very short time frame, in a very specific location, and cannot be generalized to imply that an entire country is unsafe at all times. 

When I first went to Uganda I was asked why I would want to go there (the year after Idi Amin had been exiled) and my reply was that I had never been there. I am still motivated to visit any country or location if I have never been there. It is a force that continues to drive my travel plans today. When I first went to Turkey I was asked if I wasn’t afraid of the earthquakes (the previous year a major quake had killed over 17,000) and my reply was to ask if they had ever been to Disneyland and weren’t they afraid of earthquakes in California. 

So my travel fears are few. Perhaps strangely they do not include fear of terrorists, nor fear of natural disaster, nor fear of flying, but have been reduced to more simple things like access to technology. In my mind, the world is a pretty safe place if you take sensible precautions and do your pre travel homework. At least, that is my approach and I am going to stick with it.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Most Unique Restaurant South of The Equator

Most Unique Restaurant South of The Equator

“There are hundreds of restaurants in Bangkok that serve chicken. Why do you want to compete in that market?”
“I think there is still room one for one more, but were need a gimmick to make it different from all of the others.”
“I know, we can say that the chicken is cooked with 22 herbs and spice, that’s twice what the Colonel uses.”
“Not good enough! How about if we also make some yummy corn fritters to go with the chicken and fries?”
“Maybe, but still pretty mundane.”
“Some restaurants are using coupons that give you one free chicken dinner after you have purchased ten others.”
“It’s time to start thinking outside of the box. We need to get creative and do something radically different!”
“What are you suggesting?”
“How about if we throw a cooked chicken up in the air, catch it in a plate and then take it directly to the table that ordered it.”
“Instead of throwing it, why don’t we shoot it out of a cannon?”
“Too noisy, but how about using a catapult?”
“Now we are getting somewhere! Why not shoot the chicken out of a catapult and then catch in on a plate?”
“Great idea, but instead of just catching it on a plate, lets have the waiter catch it while riding a unicycle?”
“Whoee! Now we’re really cooking! I think we can really get people excited if the waiter caught the chicken on a spiked helmut while riding the unicycle up a ramp after it was launched from the catapult.”  

And that my dear readers is my speculation of how the famous Flying Chicken Restaurant in Bangkok was born. In our last night in Bangkok this was where we ate our family dinner and it was a hoot. It was like dining in a circus tent kitchen where anything goes. 

The food was average, but the kitsch was unique. If you order flying chicken on the menu, your chicken is shot into the air, caught on the spiked helmut of a unicycle riding waiter and delivered to your table in an upright posture with a flag stuck in its head. You won’t get served like that anywhere else in the world.

To add to the festivities the restaurant allows adults and children to “catch” a chicken just like the waiters if they choose. You can join in to sing karaoke to the patrons or you can reserve a family karaoke room for a private party. 

To say we dined in the most unique restaurant south of the equator cannot be challenged. Without a doubt, for uniqueness, it even transcends Bangkok’s Cabbages and Condoms Restaurant which we also visited, but that is another story. Once you have eaten flying chicken you will have a hard time settling for ordinary chicken in a box

Friday, February 26, 2016

Traveling in the Sky

Traveling in the Sky

Often during our stay in Bangkok I feel that I am some kind of underground animal who lives in the shadows. It seems that much of the time I walk the streets I am sheltered under a concrete umbrella. That cement parasol is actually a part of the Bangkok elevated Skytrain transportation system, usually called the BTS.

In the 1990s, the ground transportation in Bangkok became so congested and the air so polluted from all of the automobile traffic that the government knew that they had to solve the problem. When the average speed of cars in the downtown area during rush hour became less than seven mph, the demand for change led to building the BTS.

In 1999, the BTS was officially opened with a series of 23 elevated train stations zooming along about 60 feet in the air over top of many of the cities major roadways. This concrete railway in the sky is fantastic! Today there are an average of over 500,000 riders daily using 34 different stations and extending over 36 kms. The system is fast, clean, relatively inexpensive, reliable and safe. What more could you ask for?

Anytime that you are in a popular or business area, the Skytrain is visible whizzing over your head. Sometimes I am not in a BTS served part of Bangkok and there is still a concrete snake high over my head. It is one of the dozen elevated highways that have also been built in the air to allow ground traffic to flow more quickly. Adjacent to Berkley School, where the family teaches, there is an eight lane main highway with two, three lane service roads running parallel on both sides. Then, above this 14 lane speedway, there is another elevated highway with at least six more lanes. It has to be seen to be believed. And this is only one of many mega highway arteries within Bangkok.

In addition, Bangkok has an underground metro system that services other parts of this huge city. There is a special rail link from the airport to the downtown core and there are plans to add another dozen or more BTS stations to extend the two main lines further into the suburbs. Anyone who works near the Chao Phraya River, which divides the city of Bangkok, is served by a speed boat taxi and ferry service up, down and across the river.

On the actual ground there are endless cars, a bus system, thousands of taxis, motorbike taxis, and tuk tucks to move passengers along the surface. During morning and evening “rush” hours you can spend hours crawling along looking for an escape route, usually to no avail. 

Anyone who complains about traffic in Calgary just needs to spend an hour or two in a car in Bangkok to begin to understand the real meaning of “traffic congestion”. Each day when I leave our condo, I walk under the shadow of the BTS, climb 100 stairs to the departure platform and avoid the heavy traffic by travelling in the sky in a modern train to my next destination. It is a life saver! Thanks BTS!

Thursday, February 25, 2016



As I continue to explore the teachings of Buddhism, I came across this poem that I found quite interesting. I offer it to you as some final simple thoughts upon which to reflect:


If you realize that all things change,
there is nothing you will try to hold on to.
If you aren’t afraid of dying, 
there is nothing you can’t achieve.

If you want to shrink something, you must first allow it to expand.
If you want to get rid of something, you must first allow it to flourish.
If you want to take something, you must first allow it to be given.
This is called the subtle perception of the way things are.

The soft overcomes the hard.
The slow overcomes the fast.
Let your workings remain a mystery;
Just show people the results.

True words aren’t eloquent;
Eloquent words aren’t true.
Wise men don’t need to prove their point;
Men who need to prove their point aren’t wise.

If you look to others for fulfillment,
You will never truly be fulfilled. 
If your happiness depends on money,
You will never be happy with yourself.

Be content with what you have;
Rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking, 

The whole world belongs to you.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

This Little Piggy Went To Thailand

This Little Piggy Went To Thailand

I just finished a delicious lunch of some small pork ribs and fresh bread today in Bangkok. Mouth watering good! It got me to thinking how much pork has been a factor in some of our travel adventures. In fact, it is interesting how differently pork is viewed in various parts of the world.

When we lived in Turkey we were pork deprived. As a Muslim country, the consumption is forbidden in the Koran and as a result there were basically no pork products available when we were first there. When we would fly home to Canada, via Frankfurt, our breakfast in the Frankfurt airport was always bacon and eggs. It was like a drug injection for a junkie. On our return trips, we would always buy ham, bacon and pork chops in the airport stores and then ration it out slowly over the ensuing months in Turkey. 

One day, I met an expat who told me that there was now one butcher in Istanbul who sold pork. That news was like waving a treasure map in front of Jim Hawkins from Treasure Island. I was directed to find an unmarked store, beside a Shell service station in a destitute part of Istanbul, with no further information. My initial search was hopeless as there was no evidence of a butcher shop anywhere. My eyes finally noticed a collection of street cats patiently hanging out around a doorway. As I approached, the door opened and a man tossed out some meat scraps to the cats and I had found pork Nirvana. 

The owner of the shop was Greek and had opened a pork store to basically service the expat community. I have never felt more successful at anything than arriving home bearing a packet of sliced ham, bacon and other luncheon meats. For the next year or two, I made dozens of trips to the secret pork store, usually accompanied by another salivating foreigner who was suffering pork deprivation.

Fast forward fifteen years to our three month stay in Thailand. Obviously, the Buddhist faith does not have the hangups that other religions have about pork. Pork products are everywhere. 

The Thais love pork more than they love beef or chicken. Sidewalk vendors often sell pork on a stick or pork kebabs. Most restaurants serve ground pork, minced pork or stir fried pork in noodle, rice and soup dishes. If you want, you can eat bacon or ham, pork chops or pork ribs. As scarce as it was in Turkey, it flourishes in Thailand. Good quality beef is rare and is available on a more limited basis. 

One of the more unappetizing looking pork dishes is boiled pork hock. This unattractive offering was also very popular when we lived in Poland and was called Golonka. It is pretty difficult to make a large pork hock or knuckle, sitting in a broth of beer or juices, look tasty or appealing, yet they are often seen bobbing about in large pots of Thai soups in the street markets like floating mines waiting to detonate. 

We usually don’t make our travel plans based upon what kind of meat products are available in our destination country. Our experiences have shown that there are some pretty extreme alternatives in different countries, so you just have to be aware. Porky Pig would love Turkey and avoid Thailand at all costs.