Long weekend for Buddhist holiday

The rainy season has officially started, even though it has been raining regularly for over a month now. The Theravada Buddhist holiday that marks this change in season is called Khao Phansa and it is based on the Thai lunar calender (the fifteenth day of the waxing moon of the eighth lunar month). It is normally in July towards the end of the month.

Khao Phansa, also known as Buddhist Lent, signals the start of the period when Thai monks must remain in the monastery due to heavy rains. During this time monks are not permitted to sleep outside of their temple. On this day, Thai people buy big candles and offer them to the temple.

One day before Khao Phansa is another Buddhist public holiday called Asalabucha. This day commemorates teh first sermon of Buddha to his first five disciples. This day is sacred because it deals with Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. There are also candlelit processions. 

For people around Thailand this means a long awaited three or four day weekend. Most companies and government offices are closed on Monday, while some schools are closed on Tuesday as well. This means that many Thais will be going home if they work far from their hometown or they will be going on a short holiday with the family. For those people that stay in Bangkok, they will find the city practically deserted and traffic will be at a minial.

Happy Long Weekend!!

First Class Health Care in Bangkok

Bumrungrad Hospital is a private hospital located at Sukhumvit Soi 3 (Nana Nua), Wattana, Bangkok 10110. As one of Thailand’s leading hospitals, Bumrungrad offers a range of services and English speaking staff. There are many clinics including Endocrinology (Diabetes & Metabolism), Nephrology (Kidneys), Neurology (Nervous System) and Nutrition. There is also a special heart center which has the finest Thai and internationally trained cardiac specialists, as well as modern technology and word class facilities. There is also a plastic surgery center featuring reconstructive procedures, skin treatments, hair transplants and LASIK Laser Refraction Surgery (sight correction).

Most doctors at Bumrungrad Hospital are trained in the US, Canada, UK and Australia. Bumrungrad is known for its excellent service and the cost is significantly les than an American hospital. The cost of a private room is a mere $40 USD, which is much less than the cost of a semi-private room in the states. This medical facility definitely caters to expatriates and well-to-do Thais. It is not usual to see people of different ethnicities as Bumrungrad Hospital is known for its medical tourism and high quality of healthcare in Thailand’s capital. For procedures which are expensive in their own country or elective treatments which are not covered by insurance, traveling to a foreign county may be a viable option. At Bumrungrad Hospital, you don’t have to worry about sleazy doctors or procedures going bad. Your dollar (or other foreign currency) will buy you superb care and service at one of Thailand’s finest hospitals.

If you enter at the main entrance, you can use the hospitals valet service. Hospital staff are available to assist you immediately upon arrival if needed. Walking into the lobby of the hospital, you feel like you are walking into a four star hotel. The atmosphere is posh and feels a bit like a resort. The furniture was plush and comfortable and the decorations added to the soothing feeling in the lobby. Next to the entrance is a Starbucks and on the second floor there is an Au Bon Pain, McDonald’s and several other restaurants for the hospital patients and visitors.

Inside the private patient rooms, there is the hospital bed and various medical equipment. The hospital bed itself is newer looking than many that I have seen in the States. The room is a bit sparse, but it seems necessary for a room that needs to be sterilized regularly. There is a vinyl sofa for visitors to sit while coming to see patients at the hospital (or spend the night to keep them company). There are also several chairs around the room and a small table near the sofa. The hospital room even has a hot water maker, sink, wrap around privacy curtain and hand sanitizer, in addition to other typical room amenities.

As I have never been a patient at Bumrungrad Hospital, I cannot attest to the hospital’s services from first hand experience.  I did visit the father of a friend in the hospital and was impressed with the hospital’s infrastructure, cleanliness, attention to detail and the friendly staff. It appears to be a wonderful place to have a peaceful, stress-free recovery while have reduced medical expenses (compared to Western countries) and superb medical services. If you are looking into a medical vacation in Thailand, consider looking into Bumrungrad Hospital or one of the country’s other leading hospitals in Bangkok.

Lucky number 7 in Bangkok, Thailand

Thailand is a very supersititious country. It is common for Thais to extract wild meanings out of the most mundane events. Did you step on a gecko? Did a bird poop on you? These are considered lucky and often are translated in to numbers to be used in the Thai lottery. July has been the month for the number 7.  People around the country were expecting July 7, 2007 (7/7/07) to be an auspicious day.

In fact, it really was for one Bangkok taxi driver. This particular taxi driver was driving a taxi with the license plates number 7777 and early in his shift he picked up a pregnant woman and the young couple that was escorting her to the hospital.

The taxi ride became interesting when said pregnant woman gave birth to a baby boy before reaching the hospital. Mother and child were put in a room on the seventh floor of the hospital when they arrived. The taxi driver visited the baby that had caused such a commotion by being born in his taxi. He also went to the temple to make merit after the curious event.  

Yesterday, television network channel 7 visited the mother and baby and is sponsoring the child’s education. They will give the boy 7,000 baht each year for his tuition and books until he finishes college. What a lucky boy!

To top it all off, on July 16, 2007 the Thai lottery came out last 2 digits being 77. This number was very popular so the tickets cost almost 200 baht a pair. One unlucky vendor was stuck with a tray of lottery tickets ending in 77 twenty minutes for the numbers were announced. Just before the numbers came out, someone came and bought all the lottery tickets that she had. One the one hand she got her money back, but she missed out on 2,000 baht a pair if she hadn’t sold them at all. Poor girl!

Exotic Pets – Sugar Gliders from Chatuchak Market

I’ve known about these little creatures from Australia since I was in high school. My cousin in Arizona had one named Pewee. I was researching sugar gliders as soon as I got back to California. Unfortunately for me, it is prohibited to own sugar gliders in California. At the time, I was getting ready to go to college as well, so owning a sugar glider was out of the question.When I was walking through Chatuchak Market in Bangkok over a year ago and came across some sugar gliders in the pet section, I about flipped. I went to a couple of different shops asking the price and care requirements. I was a bit hesitant at first, but the following weekend, I went back to the shop that I felt the most comfortable with and bought a male joey for 2,300 baht.
I spent quite a bit of time bonding with the little sugar glider, which I named Clark Kent, and at first he was pretty scared of being handled. But after a few days, he was fairly eager to crawl around on me when I brought him out of his cage. During the next few weeks, I did more and more research on the Internet about sugar gliders and decided to by another joey to keep Clark Kent company.
Three weeks after buying my first joey, I went back to the same shop and bought a female joey, they only had females at the time, and introduced her to Clark Kent. At first they were crabbing at each other and the female joey, Lois Lane was quite scared of the larger male joey. He was only three weeks older than her, but he was quite a bit bigger. I had to keep them in separate bonding pouches at first and they kept to themselves when I put them in the same cage, but by the next day they were cuddling in the same sleeping nest. Clark and Lois Lane have been inseparable ever since.

Update: A recent visit to Chatuchak Market to sell Clark Kent and Lois Lane’s joey revealed that the price for sugar gliders has fallen. Males can easily be purchased for $1,600 baht although some stores sell females for a little more. The resale on baby gliders is quite low and you’ll get less than $1000 for a healthy joey. Females may bring a higher price than the males, of course.

Parking is hard to come by

After a vicious workout on Fridy night with a coworker, the two of us were starving and looking for a quick bite to eat. We were going to get a salad but thought “let’s get something fast” for dinner because it would be less effort. So we got in my car and decided to go get some rice dishes at a small restaurant nearby. We left the house at around 7:30pm.

Now, parking is always a bit of a problem on Pracautid Road because their are rules about parking on the sides of the street according to day and time of day. At night, you cannot park on the street legally until a certain hour. Typically it is easiest to park on a small side street instead in order to avoid the hassle of a parking ticket. We tried to park at the Park Plaza parking lot near the Lotus Express, but alas, there was no parking at all. Plenty of other people were circling as well, so we decided to go eat somewhere else.

Then we had the brilliant idea to go to the Esplanade. Stupid move! We were in the parking struture for at least 30 minutes. We went all the way up, searching for a stop, and then all the way down. We even went to the outdoor parking lot next to the Baryan Tree and Inch Clubs. No luck at all. We left the parking structure without getting any food at all. By this time it was 9:00pm and our stomachs were growling very loudly.

Two centers over was the Carrefour/Homepro complex. We thought that this might be the place where we could get a parking spot and a bite to eat quickly. We drove in past the Carrefour entrance and our hearts sank as we saw all the cars. Then, a wonderful thing happened! A truck pulled out of a parking spot right next to the entrance, right in time for us to park. Luck was finally on our side.

We walked into the Carrefour and went to the food court. We each bought a 100 baht card to use in the food court and went about grabbing the quickest meal we could before the food court closed. It was about 9:45pm by the time our stomachs were satisfied with Lad Na, Coke Zero and some fruits. It was a wonderful meal after all that searching for a parking spot and a quick, easy meal. I suppose that on a Friday night, everyone is looking to be out and about. The best place to be for a no-effort meal is really, HOME.

Detox Results – 3 months

I think I should update the results of the 1 week cleansing program that I did at Rasayana Retreat in April 2007. People continue to be shocked by the change in my appearance and I continually get compliments regarding the improvement in my overall “heatlhy look.” Besides looking slimmer and healthier, there are other statistics that indicated that the Rasayana Retreat’s detox program continues to work it’s wonders for me.

While working full-time and maintaining healthy eating and exercising habits is a difficult task for anyone, I have found it especially difficult lately. I’ve been swamped with work and the flu has been going around for the past few weeks. I’m constantly tired and achy as a result and have little energy left over to commit to my traditional exercise schedule of 2-3 times a week, 45 minute cardio sessions and one 1 hour bike ride on the weekend. However, I continue to keep my food portions small and limiting intake of fats, oils and sweets. I did have two hot milk teas today to soothe my sore throat, so there are exceptions to the rule.

All in all, the change in my eating habits remains. I never eat two servings of rice or an entire dessert by myself, smaller portions are satisfying and actually I get to have a little bit of several foods instead of consuming larger quantities of one food. It adds a nice variety to my diet as well. I went to a buffet at the JW Marriot in Bangkok three weeks ago and ate significantly less than I have at past visit. Did I eat what I wanted? Yes. Did I eat more than usual? Yes. Was it okay to get a buffet? Yes, by the next week I had lost another pound even!

Now to talk about the actual statistics regarding the changing 3 months post-cleanse. I keep track of my body measurements and weight on sparkpeople.com and every graph shows a downward slope starting from February to July. There is a significantly steeper slope for my waist measurements between April and July, which conicide with the post-detox period.

In the 3 months after the Rasayana Retreat’s cleanse program:

  • I lost 3.5 inches on my waist.
  • I lost 1.5 inches on my hips.
  • No inches were lost around my neck.
  • I lost 12 pounds (or around 6 kgs) of body weight.

As I said before, this weight loss is all occuring now without calorie counting or even consistent cardio workouts (I need to workout regularily, I know!). I can only imagine that if I stuck to my normal workout schedule, the results would be even more dramatic. For the time being, I am extremely satisfied with the detox results. Part of me is skeptical that the weight will stay off, but I am giving away my old size 12 clothes. If the weight does start to creep back, I won’t have anything big to fit into and will motivate me to maintain the weight loss.

I’ll continue to update the results of the detox as time goes on.

Problems with using ethanol blended fuels

Using motor fuels that are a blend of gasoline and ethanol is not knew. In fact, Brazil has been using ethanol since the 1970s. Nowadays, roughly 40% of cars in Brazil run on 100% ethanol. Brazil’s progressive actions were a result of a high gasoline prices due to the Middle East oil embargo in 1973. It took several decades to develop the ethanol production industry to the levels required to sustain such widespread use of gasohol. In 2004, Brazil was rated as the world’s largest producer of ethanol.

Thailand has been one of the countries attempting to follow in Brazil’s footsteps. Currently, Thailand’s production of ethanol would not even meet the needs of a small amount of Thai motorists buying cars capable of running on pure ethanol. This means that for now, an ethanol blend is the most logical fuel for the current car market and ethanol supply. As cars start coming on the market that are specifically designed to run on fuel that consists of a large percentage of ethanol or pure ethanol, the ethanol production and supply needs to build up to meet the demand. The Flexi-Fuel engine is suitable to both pure ethanol and belended gasohol and is ideal for transitioning to an ethanol-based motor fuel economy.

Problems associated with gasohol

After extolling the many benefits of gasohol, it is time took at some of the negative aspects of gasohol use.

  • Production In order to replace regular gasoline with gasohol completely, there must be a large investment of time and money to ensure that ethanol production increases rapidly enough to meet the motor fuel demand.
  • Reduced Fuel Economy For fuel injected cars, there is a 2% drop in fuel economy when using gasohol. That means that you get slightly fewer kilometers per liter compared to regular gasoline. However, if you consider the amount of money you save each time you fill up, it is still cheaper to use gasohol.
  • Not all cars can use gasohol It is unlikely that gasohol will damage your car engine, but that is the greatest fear of non-gasohol users. If your car is newer, check the car manual to see if it is capable of using gasohol or check with the manufacturer.

As a whole, Thailand’s use of gasohol is a step in the directly of finding alternative fuels that are derived from renewable resources. The global demand for oil has resulted in high fuel prices and has taken a huge toll of the Earth’s environment as well. The benefits of using gasohol outweigh the problems by in large. It really is a win-win situation where the motorist saves money on gasoline, the Earth benefits from fewer harmful emissions and the local Thai economy will grow economically and become more independent of imported oil.

Whether or not ethanol blended fuels will be the ultimate solution to the question of alternative motor fuels in Thailand is unknown. There are other alternative fuels such as NGV and LPG that are used primarily by taxis and vans. It is possible that these fuels will provide a better solution in the end, or even a new fuel solution that has not become mainstream yet. For the immediate future, however, gasohol and future Flexi-Fuel cars, which can run on ethanol and blended fuels, will provide lots of benefits to your pocket, your health and the world.

What is gasohol? Why use it?

No, it’s not something you drink on a Friday night. It’s actually a type of gas you put in your car. Gasohol is a motor fuel blend of gas and ethanol. Gasohol is sold in 91 octane and 95 octane varieties in Thailand. They are made up of 90% regular gasoline and 10% ethanol. This may also be written as E10.

Ethanol is the same as the alcohol that you drink as the main ingredient in beer, spirits and wine. It is made from rice, wheat, barley, sugar cane, potatoes, corn and other bio sources. Ethanol has a very high octane level, which is why the octane rating of gasohol is higher than regular gasoline. In Thailand, palm, coconut, sugar cane and other locally grown crops are used in ethanol production for use as motor fuel.

Gasohol has several benefits over regular gasoline because of its unique blend with ethanol.

  • It’s cheaper! You can save a few baht or so per liter using gasohol instead of regular gasoline.
  • It’s greener! Compare to regular gasoline, gasohol emits less carbon dioxide, benzene, butadiene and sulphur dioxide. A little better for the world and your health.
  • It’s cleaner! Aside from being cleaner for the environment, gasohol also helps to keep car engines cleaner by reducing build up of residue in the fuel system.
  • It’s higher performance! Since the ethanol in gasohol raises the octane level as mentioned above, gasohol has higher performance than regular gasoline at the same octane rating. It also reduces engine “knocking” and your car will run more smoothly.
  • It’s local! Gasohol is produced right here in Thailand and thus reduces Thailand’s need for oil. Also, ethanol production for the energy sector creates economic growth in the argicultural sector and related industries.
  • It doesn’t freeze! Not very useful in Thailand, but the ethanol in gasohol also prevents the fuel from freezing in the fuel system.

Most cars manufactured in the last 10 years are suitably equipped to run on E10 gasohol. Car manufactures today are designing cars that are able to run on E20. In Thailand, Ford released the Ford Focus with a 1.8 liter engine that can run on E20 fuel. Ford is leading the pack when it comes to ethanol engine technology and the use of gasohol as an efficient motor fuel. They have a different version of the Focus which is equipped with a Flexi-Fuel system that is able to run on E85. As Thailand expands its production for ethanol and Thai motorists increase use of gasohol, we can expect to see car companies and the Thai government offering more incentives and value to using environmentally friendly fuel options.