First off, to my American-based audience, which I suspect is the entirety of it: Happy Thanksgiving!
Obviously, there’s no Thanksgiving holiday in Thailand — that’s a uniquely American (and, OK, Canadian) tradition. Nevertheless, being an American in Thailand, and one who often cited Thanksgiving as one of his favorite occasions thanks to my love of turkey and mashed potatoes, the holiday is certainly on my mind. It was oddly surreal, an hour or so ago, as I watched the local CBS morning news broadcast on my Slingbox while I wrapped up the day’s work. There was all manner of talk about traveling weather, airport delays, how to avoid eating yourself into a coma, and so on. Even special turkey graphics on the five-day forecast.
Naturally, since there’s no Thanksgiving here, I figured I might as well work; it’s not like I have much else to do. Actually, I had originally planned to spend part of the day playing games on my new Xbox 360. That was always one of my private little Thanksgiving traditions, one that even my parents may not be aware of. I’d secretly relish getting up a little early in the morning on my day off from school, and indulge in playing my favorite computer games — Comanche, Wolfenstein 3-D, Doom or The Legacy: Realm of Terror — while my grandmother bustled busily about in the kitchen, and the delicious smells of roasting turkey and stuffing began to fill our home.
There’s not much roasting turkey around these parts; even Apple remarked thoughtfully that there’s no such thing as turkey in Thailand, as far as she knows. But there are plenty of family gatherings, smells of food cooking, and celebrations of other occasions. And there are also games, courtesy of my Xbox. As it turned out, though, I was unable to replicate that part of my personal Thanksgiving tradition, because this day got off to a particularly poor start and I spent most of the morning and afternoon trying to catch up.
It’s been an interesting couple of nights. I’ve been sleeping pretty well on this trip so far, thanks to the excellent accommodations here at the new house. Two nights ago, however, I had a particularly lousy sleep. I chalk it up to the wild and unsettling dreams, although from practically the instant I awoke in a cold sweat, I couldn’t remember anything about them. After that disjointed slumber, I hoped that the next (Wednesday night) would be an improvement, but it was even worse.
Last night, around 4:00 or 5:00 a.m., I awoke to the fundamentally disturbing sound of a near-indescribable humming, whining…thing. It’s hard to describe exactly what it sounded like, so about the best I can do is to say that it reminded me of a tornado siren running on two almost-depleted AA batteries. It mostly held its pitch, but occasionally modulated a half-note up or down like some kind of diseased…thing. Really, it was quite unsettling at four o’clock in the morning.
To be honest, I had an inkling of what it was, but didn’t think my suspicions could possibly be correct. Downstairs in the living room, there’s this big purple plastic dinosaur toy that my nephew sometimes rides on when he comes over here to play. It’s like a Power Wheels in that it can drive itself around, plus the dinosaur’s head has all these buttons that produce electronic music when you push them, accompanied by flashing lights and all that rot. It’s quite the barrage on the senses. Here; I took a picture of the bedeviled thing:
The reason I suspected the dinosaur of causing the inhuman warbling was because, the previous morning, I heard it producing a very strange sound during breakfast. At first I thought there was a diesel truck idling next door. (This will probably remind my family of my great uncle, whose unfortunate bout with dementia recently caused him to hear phantom trucks idling next to his bedroom.) Upon checking out the dinosaur, though, I found it was emitting a soft, guttural rasp, and its myriad flashing lights were all dimly lit, like the batteries were on their way out. At that point, I messed around with the silly thing and, after some poking and prodding, managed to make it shut up, albeit without realizing exactly how I accomplished this.
Now, the noise I was hearing at four o’clock in the morning was a far cry from that little diesel engine soundalike. So I dismissed the possibility of it being the dinosaur — until at 5:30 a.m., no longer able to stand the noise, Apple got out of bed and went downstairs.
What’s she doing down there? I wondered. It can’t really be that dinosaur, can it? But a minute later, sure enough, the humming/whining noise abruptly slurred to a stop. Blissful silence! (Well, if you don’t count the neighborhood’s crowing roosters, barking dogs and exotic singing birds, that is.) When Apple got back to the bedroom, I asked her if it was the dinosaur, and she blearily replied that it was. When questioned as to how she got it to stop whining, she said she just knocked it around a bit. Since that was exactly how I got the thing to stop earlier at breakfast, I figured we’d be dealing with it on a future occasion, but for now, as long as that occasion wasn’t anytime before I got up for the day, I was willing to let it slide.
Unfortunately, twenty or thirty minutes later, the damn whining was back. We were both still lying there awake, completely unable to go back to sleep after the insanity (and, truth be told, even when everything was quiet, I still thought I could hear that accursed whining in my head). Upon the return of the godawful sound, I decided to put a stop to it once and for all. I threw on a T-shirt and my glasses and headed downstairs.
The noise was horrendous. This house has high, vaulted ceilings, a deliberate design decision made to help enhance airflow and the home’s natural ability to stay cool. It works a treat, but it also creates some maddening acoustics. Every little sound you make downstairs is amplified about a hundredfold. So you can imagine the horrors this dinosaur was producing in there, at what was now six o’clock in the morning. I honestly wondered that if I looked outside, I might see the rest of the neighborhood clawing at our gates, trying to get in and set fire to whatever the hell was keeping them awake.
After some investigating, I found a molex power connector hidden behind an access panel on the back of the toy and gleefully disconnected it. Sadly, the noise continued unabated — it seemed the connector I’d chosen only powered the lights on the tail of the silly thing. I looked for a master “off” switch, but there was none. Then I found a concealed panel on the neck of the dinosaur, which was secured with a tiny screw.
Bounding back up to the bedroom, I grabbed my eyeglass screwdriver, hoping it would be the right size (as no other screwdriver would be forthcoming that morning). Fortunately, it was. The panel came away, and behind it, what should I see but a pair of AA batteries…that were leaking acid all over the place. Well, that explains a lot. I pried them out with the screwdriver, and the noise finally stopped.
I was so put out by this time that I went back to bed and completely ignored my alarm clock once, twice and then three times, eventually rolling out of bed at 10:00 only when Apple turned on the overhead lights. And now you finally know why I’ve been playing catch-up all day.
We’ve had plenty of good laughs about it, of course. Apple’s been telling her family members all day, much to everyone’s amusement. This evening, I even heard from Pond — the wife of my brother-in-law, who also spends nights here at the new house — that she went downstairs and kicked the dinosaur around herself! So it seems that three of us were involved with nocturnal dinosaur silencing activities last night. What a catastrophe. Fortunately, with the defective batteries finally gone, we’ll have no more such capering.
And that’s a good thing, because we’re gonna need our sleep tonight — we’ve got to get up at 6 a.m. to head out to the hospital. Apple’s undergoing a procedure there tomorrow, a normal part of the fertility treatments we’re doing. So far, everything’s been going well; she’s basically a textbook case, according to her doctor, although I don’t want to jinx anything by saying too much. But of the four women her doctor took on this month to help them with their fertility, Apple is the first to reach this stage, so that bodes well. Tomorrow morning I have my own part to play at the hospital: Providing a sperm sample for the lab techs to use when they bring everything together. All of this will probably be cake; in fact, the hardest part will probably be the early rising.
In other news: As you might have guessed, I’ve built myself quite a little “work den” here in Thailand. Last weekend we went to a computer shop called “Hardware House,” where I custom-ordered a desktop PC built to my specifications, as well as two widescreen monitors for my design work. The shop built the computer and tested it in just an hour, and didn’t even charge a build fee (although there’s probably some overhead in the price of the parts to compensate them for their work). I then spent all of Monday installing my legal volume license copy of Windows XP, which I got from my employer, as well as all my other software. It’s working beautifully.
Prior to that, I also picked up my Xbox 360, as you know by now. All of my early research paid off: The console was exactly what I expected, an Asian NTSC-J unit designed for sale in Singapore and Hong Kong, equipped with a 220V power brick and the new 60GB hard drive. I’ve got it connected to one of my monitors via the VGA HD cable I brought from the U.S. (they’re cheaper there), and for sound output, I have a little line output connector on my desk that I just plug my headphones into when I want to play. It’s all quite simple and easy. I even got online and downloaded the “New Xbox Experience” dashboard update, which fundamentally changes the look of the console’s user interface, and adds new functionality like the cartoonish avatars. I made an avatar that looks a lot like me — except for Apple’s opinion that he needs to have a bigger belly. 🙂
So, during the week, I’m mostly to be found in my combination bedroom / work room / game room, sitting at the master controls:
It’s quite comfy here, and in fact, sometimes it makes me feel like a kid again…having the prescribed “room” that I hang out in, in a house that technically belongs to someone else…carving out this space that I declare my own, and enjoying all my time spent in it. In some ways I’m quite insular, but what can I say, I like it — and I can no more change that than I can change color, to paraphrase Frank Gorshin.
Naturally, Apple and I have been mostly going about her business — she with her doctor’s visits, me with my work — so as to ignore the apparent chaos that the rest of the world seems to be falling into as we speak. What with the anti-government protesters completely shutting down all air traffic in and out of Bangkok (good thing we got here when we did, and not two weeks later), to today’s horrific terrorist atrocities in Mumbai, to the apparent death knell and ultimate collapse of the American domestic automobile industry by none other than the U.S. government’s hand…well, it’s all a bit depressing, to say the least, and I’ve been mostly keeping away from the news sites. The only current events I can stand to hear or read about are those in our hometown, so I watched the aforementioned local news broadcast on my Slingbox this evening before Apple arrived home for dinner. It was comforting, somehow, to see news of such little import being discussed. Not much ever really happens in southwest Florida, after all…even less now, with so many area businesses closing down in the wake of the financial meltdown.
This morning I woke to the news that GM is studying the discontinuation or sale of its Saab, Saturn and Pontiac brands in an effort to show the U.S. government that they’re really serious about this, and they really will do just about anything to win some bailout cash. And so, my friends, it looks like the storied history of Pontiac Motor Division is about to come to an end. Obviously right now it’s just a “study,” and GM hates to close down divisions because it costs them an absolute fortune due to the state contracts with dealer networks and what-have-you. But let’s face it: Pontiac, as the “Excitement Division,” has been dead for years, and what with Congress’ new CAFE restrictions and the Green-centric policies of the incoming Democrat supermajority, the only kind of “Excitement” you’re going to see from any American car company is a wild exterior color. I hope you can get used to it.
It’s hard for me to read any of this news, because it’s all so disgustingly hypocritical that it makes me want to barf. The U.S. Treasury has been tossing out money hand-over-fist to every bank and Wall Street institution that comes crying to the door. Ostensibly it’s to help un-freeze the credit markets so that loans can keep pouring into every other industry in America, but what’s happened since these banks were bailed out? The credit markets have stayed frozen solid. Someone with a 700 credit score can’t even get approved to finance a frickin’ television at Best Buy. But the government doesn’t seem at all concerned that the trillions of taxpayer dollars it gave to these banks isn’t being used for the single most important purpose for which it was intended.
Then the CEOs of the Detroit Three show up, and promptly have their asses handed to them by everyone from U.S. Senators to the very people who work for these automakers. I have a hard time understanding how some poor schlub who works on a line at Chrysler can sit there and say, “No bailout!” Well, Mac, I hope you’re ready to pay to go back to college and learn a different skill so you can keep putting food on your family’s table when the Big Three pack it in and go out of business! The unmitigated stupidity of such a staggering percentage of the American populace drives me out of my mind. Given the performance last week, it’s almost like all the folks in Congress have been chomping at the bit for years for an opportunity to bitchslap the Big Three. It was an epic beatdown, fueled by rhetoric from dummies like Dick Shelby of Alabama, a man who decries the idea of government subsidizing private industry — even though he personally awarded $650 million in tax breaks to Mercedes, Honda and Hyundai to lure them to set up manufacturing in his home state. Forgive me…but what’s the difference there, Dick?
And what happens this week? Shortly after the Big Three CEOs go home with their tails between their legs, Citigroup — a financial institution that already received a 25 billion dollar bailout package — comes crying back to Washington for another bailout. And without so much as a “hello,” Washington gives them 20 billion more — an then takes a step further, guaranteeing an astounding amount of Citi’s additional bad investments. Yeah, this is the part where blood shoots out of my eyes. And I have to stop writing about it now, actually, because otherwise I’ll blow a gasket.
In other news: From the “Epic Bad Timing” file, I suppose most of you by now know that our primary credit card was stolen the night before we flew to Thailand. I meant to write a whole post about it, and in fact, it’s already half-written here in “draft” mode. But I have to admit, our bank’s handling of the situation since we reported the theft has been quite good, so I decided to discontinue the rant. I’m still cheesed off that we have to go through all these hoops to have some paperwork sent to us in Thailand — my grandparents will have to retrieve it from our mail in Florida, then send it to my parents, who will forward it on to us — but what can you do?
I’m perhaps more annoyed that the credit card company did not notify us of the suspicious transactions, even when over $3,000 in fraudulent charges were accrued in a single day, from vendors all over the western hemisphere. And, of course, I’m annoyed because every single person in their call center is in Pakistan and can barely speak in an intelligible fashion, and one guy even had the unmitigated call to be snotty with me on the phone when I called back to get some more information. “My records show that we already took care of this for you, so can you explain why you are calling us again?” he snapped. Uh…so I can share with you my new recipe for butter toffee peanuts? I don’t know, dummy, what do you think? If for no other reason than that asshole’s attitude, I’m probably going to get cards from some other bank once we get back home. This company clearly doesn’t have the interests of its customers at the forefront.
Hmm. This is starting to turn into a Thanksgiving rant, and that’s not really the purpose I had intended for this post. But yeah, I did want to find an outlet for some of these gripes, and posting them on the live Intarwebs is so much more satisfying than squirreling them away on Private Oddball. 🙂
There’s lots more to say, but I’d better cut this short. This post is already quite long, and we’ve got to get up early. At least tomorrow’s Friday, and then there’s the weekend — joy! Since it’s just now Thanksgiving morning back at home, I’m going to make some calls and see if I can talk to some of my family before I head to bed. The time difference makes real-time conversation tricky, but it always works out eventually.
For my next post, I’m planning a big gaming shindig. There’s a really killer driving game I picked up that’s actually got — get this — a 1979 Trans Am in it. And since there’s a photo function wherein you can take pictures of your car and upload them to the Internet at large, I’m going to have to give it a try. If it works, there’ll be some eye candy to go along with my next entry. Of course, I’ll also have news of how everything’s progressing on the fertility front, although as I mentioned, neither Apple nor I wants to jinx anything. After the luck we’ve had so far, I think we both want to tread carefully with anything we might say.
That’s it for now. Catch you all later.