6 Years of Non-Stop Reading

6 years Reading Streak

Today marks six years since I started a reading streak where I’ve read at least one page n a book each and every day.  That’s 2,193 consecutive days, in fact.  In that time, I’ve read 121,251 pages and finished 449 books.  I am slowing down as my total number of books finished last year was a dismal 41, compared to 119 in 2010.  I am reading much longer (and more difficult books) nowadays – more history and biography than  gripping mysteries.  I’ve only finished seventeen books thus far in 2016 so I really need to speed things up!  I would really like to have hit my 600th book by the time my tenth reading streak anniversary comes up…


Happy Bastille Day!

Bonne Fête Nationale Française!

I’ve long considered myself somewhat of a Francophile and French was the first language (besides English, of course) that I learnt, although three years of conjugating and learning to talk nasally in high school certainly didn’t make me fluent.  I’ve always been extremely enamored of the stamps of France and her colonies — the detailed engraving of so many of them (even to the present day) are beautiful works of art.

The last time I was on French soil was just over thirteen years ago — an unusual day which involved my travel companion and I illegally entering through the port of Calais (nobody was manning the immigration desk) during a garbage strike and being driven aboard the ferry back to Dover as it was already moving away from the dock!

Red Cross postcard, circa 1918 promoting American and French Independence Days

I always felt there were many bonds between the United States and France, although those were derailed a bit after 9/11 — freedom fries, indeed!   I’ve long celebrated the “twin” holidays of American Independence Day on the fourth of July and La fête nationale on July 14th, both accompanied by fireworks, parades and bunting of red, white and blue.  It’s interesting to note that the first Bastille Day Parade down the present-day route along the Champs-Élysées from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde occurred in 1918 and featured American troops joining the French troops.  The parade became a symbol of solidarity in a common cause even though at this point French and American generals were bitterly fighting with one another.

Bastille Day Parade, Paris 14th July 1918

Please check out my Bastille Day posts on A Stamp Today and Philatelic Pursuits where I illustrate a few appropriate items from my stamp and cover collections, and on “Please, Mr. Postman!” which includes images of a couple of vintage post cards on the subject.

French National Day, 14 July


10 Years Ago, Part 7: First Songkran

This is the sixth of a series of photographic blogs highlighting my last days in the U.S.A. and my first full year as an expat in southern Thailand.

My girlfriend-soon to be fiancé-later to be ex-wife at the time was from the north of Thailand and shared her birthday with one of the grandest of the nation’s holidays, that of the Thai New Year or Songkran

Rot Nam Dam Hua, a traditional way to celebrate with elders. Most Thai people go back to their hometowns to meet their elders.  Photo taken at Wat Khung Taphao Ban Khung Taphao, Khung Taphao subdistrict, Mueang Uttaradit, Uttaradit Province, Thailand.  Courtesy of WIKIPEDIA

Traditionally, this was a sprinkling of water over one’s wrists from a small bowl during the hottest time of the year as a sign of good luck.  In the past decade or so, it has become an all-out water fight fueled mainly by sweaty foreigners bringing their SuperSoaker water guns on holiday and fully embraced by Thais who love a bit of fun.  Now, it’s one outlet for Thai youths to peacefully take their revenge on foreigners (farang) by dunking them with water filled with ice cubes and smearing powder on their faces.  It can be a lot of fun but can also wear one’s patience to the bone, particularly in the north where it can go for as long as five days and more.  At least in Phuket, the water festivities are limited to a single day – 13 April – and many businesses are closed in order to keep out the damp.

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As Dtim’s birthday occurs on Songkran Day, we originally planned a birthday party but eventually pushed it back to a later date so we could celebrate the Thai New Year together in full-on water fight mode.  She felt for me to truly experience all that Songkran has to offer, Patong Beach was the only place worth going.  As with many things, the first time was the best. 

We set out on a tiny Honda 100cc motorbike fairly early in the day.  As we lived in Chalong, it was quite a long ride to Patong.  The narrow road west was soon clogged with motorbikes and pickup trucks.  The beds of the trucks invariably were packed with people and huge barrels of icy water.  My girlfriend delighted in slowing down whenever their were groups of kids alongside the road armed with buckets and water guns so they could get a good shot at the farang (me!).  I was soon drenched and shivering.  At least I had thought to wrap my camera in a plastic bag but the shots I made while it was inside left a lot to be desired.  Each year, I make the vow to buy a waterproof camera but I never seem to get around to it.  Once we finally arrived at Patong, we spent some time just walking up and down the beach road and the main bar street of Bangla Road just watching the water battles.  Even the local fire truck got into the act with it’s high-powered hoses!

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The following two years, we spent Songkran in Patong as Dtim set up drink stands and made a little money selling water and soda.  We separated in 2008 and I spent the next couple of Thai New Years with friends in Chalong rather than brave Patong.  Twice, I tried to escape the holiday by leaving Thailand altogether – first, I went to Laos where I found that Luang Prabang had a similar water fight and another year I traveled to Cambodia where they don’t throw water but I got stuck in the mayhem when I took the train back into Bangkok.  It was so bad that it was impossible to get a taxi to take me from the main train station to the Southern Bus Terminal.  Last year, I returned to Patong for my first Songkran there since 2008.  My bus broke down on the hill going into that coastal town and we had to talk a few kilometers, walking targets the entire way.

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I’m not sure how I’ll celebrate the Thai New Year this year.  I don’t want to stay home nor do I want to deal with the crowds in Patong.  The government is urging it’s citizens to practice traditional Songkran celebrations due to the dire water shortage but I’ve seen the giant water cannons on sale at numerous locations around town.  We’ll see…


10 Years Ago, Part 6: First Thai House

This is the sixth of a series of photographic blogs highlighting my last days in the U.S.A. and my first full year as an expat in southern Thailand.

Now that I was a full-time expat in the Land of Smiles, the time came to find a home to live in rather than the dingy but cheap Thai motel in the center of the island.  It was important that we have someplace by the Thai New Year (Songkran) holiday on 13 April as this also happened to be my girlfriend’s birthday and she was planning a huge party. 

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10 Years Ago, Part 5: USA To Thailand

This is the fifth of a series of photographic blogs highlighting my last days in the U.S.A. and my first full year as an expat in southern Thailand.

20060406-090505_10yagoTen years ago – on 5th April 2006 – I left U.S. soil for the last time to date.  However, I have very little recollection of the journey.  Seeing how I had been in Kansas City for a week prior to leaving, I assume I began my flights that day from there.  I really don’t remember, to tell the truth!  I have vague memories of having overweight charges levied against me at Los Angeles International Airport – I was carrying my computer backpack as well as a very large (person-sized) red duffle bag with roller wheels that broke before I’d left the States.  The first set of airport photos seem to be in the terminal and from my plane (China Airlines) in Taipei, Taiwan (the only clue to that location being the “R.O.C.” mentioned on the drug warning signage).

The time-stamp on the photos was read from the metadata, and is some 18 hours behind.  Thus, the first photo in Taiwan (stamped 16:32 5 April, was actually 07:32 6 April local time).

The leg from Taiwan to Thailand went via Hong Kong.  I do remember that we had to deplane on one level, make our way down a series of long hallways, go up a level and we eventually arrived at the gate to board the SAME airplane we’d arrived from Taipei on!  The weather in Hong Kong was much better than my previous 18-hour layover during which the city was being battled by a monster typhoon.  I arrived at Don Muang International Airport in Bangkok mid-afternoon on 6 April 2006, landing alongside a golf course between the runways.  That airport was downgraded to a domestic airport a few years later when Suvanabhumi International opened on the eastern fringes of Bangkok but I believe it is once again handling a few international flights.

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I probably flew on to Phuket later that same day and by the evening of the 7th, I was enjoying my first sunset on Patong Beach as an expat rather than as merely a tourist…