Thursday, October 27, 2005

Last chance for the BTS?

After my previous post regarding Bangkok's stalled long term transport plans I have been keeping an ever-more interested eye on the BTS extension debate- BTS is the city’s skytrain transport system. Recent developments in this story have been full of intriguing insights into Thai politics: on the side for the extension you have the democrats including BMA Governor Apirak Kosayodhin, on the other you have the ruling party Thai Rak Thai and the Prime Minister Taksin Shinawatra who are desperate for the Democrats not to make any political gain from the BTS.

(The end of the line at Chao Pyra bridge- Source:
Apirak once again restarted the extension proposal after it was cancelled by TRT when he announced that the city council could offer the 2bil baht required instead of the government. TRT then responded by saying that first the city council would have to vote in favor of the extension and then the request be submitted to an as yet unformed(!) authority the Mass Transit Board. Last week the first council meeting to decide the funding was postponed as 18 TRT officials failed to turn up to vote after a break for lunch! But now finally this 'political football' (as it has been named by the source for most of this material) looks like it has been kicked towards the goal of the BTS extension and the home supporters of Thonburi- as yesterday the city council managed to convene (presumably before midday!) and voted without exception to provide 1.9bil baht to Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) to complete the line.

Now the ball now lies back at the foot of PM Taksin and awaits approval by the MTB which he will lead, so unfortunately the final act of this particular phase of the BTS extension saga looks like it will be Taksin again kicking the ball out of touch. Alternatively, if Taksin and the MTB give into to public pressure and approve the extension the good news for Thonburi and the Democrats will undoubtedly cause a good deal of unrest in the TRT party ranks and may come back to haunt the PM during election time. I am going to continue to watch this, perhaps one day I will report that I have taken one of the first trains over the river and that finally old and new Bangkok have a mass transport link?

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The US Midway, San Diego.

After a spot of work and a change of hotels last weekend I drove further down the coast to San Diego on Sunday to hang out and have a look around. One of the first things I noticed when I arrived was the aircraft carrier Midway sitting close to the downtown area of the city. The carrier has been turned into a museum and you can get to see nearly all of the carrier that was built in the 40’s and was in active service until the 90’s and the first Iraq war. The ship has been reconfigured throughout its life and it is a awesome sight to see the size of the thing and walk around its vast main hanger and 1000ft long flight deck- For only $5 you get a free audio tour and it takes about 3 hours to do the full circuit which I think is a pretty good price.

If you are in the area I can definitely recommend this as a good day out especially if you have kids as you are pretty much free to mess and touch all the dials, knobs, lights, switches, bombs, guns (all difused I am sure!) and get up close to fighter planes and choppers. Just over the harbour from the Midway the huge and modern carrier Ronald Reagan was in berth, looking at these things makes you realise the awesome power and reach of the US military. A really interesting exhibit I saw was the account of the Midway’s time in Japan. The carrier was placed there against the rising threat of the USSR and to protect America's Asian friends in the 70’s. For me the best thing about this museum is that it gives you a sense of how it must have been to live aboard such a carrier and also the many different political climates that the Midway has been through. The photo alongside shows a Huey attack helicopter from the Vietnam war, in the background you can see the carrier's control tower and the downtown skyline.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Hollywood and The OC Riviera

After last weekend's failed attempt to watch the footy I woke up late on the Sunday and drove up the busy freeways into LA central. 'When in Rome do as the Romans' goes the phrase and I think the most stereotypical 'LA' thing to do is drive your oversized car absolutely everywhere and generally in a fairly rushed and hectic manner preferably whilst disregarding the notions of fast, slow and passing lanes. After leaving my trusty steed in a dubious car park I spent an hour or so wandering (yes really, I walked!) around Chinatown- which I found pretty much devoid of any Asian atmosphere aside from an excellent circus performer. I then drove onwards up to the Griffith Observatory that sits on the edge of Griffith park. The views overlooking the city from these hills was well worth the drive and I even did some more walking (shock, horror) along a trail to a view point looking towards the famous Hollywood sign. At this point I realised I had not really got into the tinsel town vibe and although I am sure for movie buffs this area is fascinating, I don’t think I will endeavor to return and cruise along Melrose and do the studio tours- I think my precious free time is better spent down by the Pacific:

This view is looking over a bay just near Laguna Beach along from Newport and Balboa. I went down there last Saturday to spend some quality time doing not a fat lot! The town is advertised as part French Riviera, part Sicily with a dash of Spain thrown in for good measure and the description is surprisingly accurate and I thought not really because of the architecture or location but more because of the vibe of the place. All these affluent coastal areas in South Orange County are obviously very expensive areas to live but I found everyone I met there very friendly, laid back and down to earth- much like everyone else I have met whilst here in South California.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

The west side

Since I have arrived I have had little time to look around LA or Orange County, but last sunday I spent the afternoon down at a couple of local beaches. I drove there without the aid of the 'neverlost' gps device in my car as it is always easy to find the beach in California- just head west until you run into it! This picture is from Huntington beach pier and in the foreground you might just make out surfers who from about halfway down the pier are catching the waves and surfing just a few yards out from the pier. It is really nice to have such a good aerial view of a sport that is usually watched from the shore and I also captured some video on my phone which I will upload at some point.

Working here on Pacific time is hard when you have friends and collegues to contact in Europe and Asia, we have been starting early to keep in touch with support in Germany and I am finishing late as Thailand wakes up just as I get back to the hotel. Like many people today the best way for me to keep in touch (even if they are in the office next door!) is via skype and I have been spreading the word whilst here in America. One thing that is not available on the net in the States is that you do not have access to (even it seems via the bbc website) the England world cup qualifying games.. I mean say you want to watch football to an American and you just cause confusion and then usually slight offence: "that's not football!". So now, armed with my trusty 'neverlost' I am going to hunt down a place showing the game- If i do manage to find a screen with the match then I will post the location for future stranded travellers.