Speedboats and Helicam aerial photography

Happy Birthday to me! Last Thursday (4th March) was the big day. I tend not to celebrate the passing years, but this year enjoyed a great day out on the water playing with speedboats, cameras and a helicopter.... Background: I am manager at Sunrise Divers, based at Karon Beach in Phuket. The owner bought a very nice speedboat last year and we're going to offer the boat for private charters - not diving, but cruising, sightseeing, getting out to offshore islands, off the beaten track a bit. The boat is called Sky Water, it's a Sea Ray 26 foot sports boat, top class, very nice.. not your average Thai speedboat. It's available for charter for up to 4 people.. can squeeze in a couple more, but it's not a huge boat. The waters around Phuket are dotted with small islands. Some are very popular like Phi Phi or Koh Khai. Other islands are less well known. The Sky Water can take you wherever you want. Damn, I want one too!

Update 2014 - Sky Water (this boat on this page) was sold, sorry! No longer doing trips :(

On Thursday, we had arranged a day at Koh Rang Yai, a small and very nice island just off the east coast of Phuket. The Sky Water is based at the Ao Po Marina in the northeast of Phuket.. the photo below shows Gilbert (owner) and Sky Water at the marina...

Sky Water at Ao Po Marina

It was just 15 minutes cruise to reach Koh Rang Yai. The day was all about photos. We met the guys from Helicam at Ao Po. Helicam specialises in taking aerial photos amd videos. They do boats, hotels, private houses and much more and get some amazing photos - their website is www.helicam.asia. It happens that I know Phil, one of the owners, as our kids go to the same school. On Thursday Phil was joined by Khun Moo - Phil is the helicopter pilot (remote control) and Moo the photographer.

Enough talk! I took some pics on the day from the shore and from the boat. Firstly - Koh Rang Yai is a gorgeous little island...

Koh Rang Yai

We cruised in to the beach and unloaded the Helicam gear... helicopter, remote controls, batteries, and other fancy electronic gear that was beyond my ken. Phil got the copter ready on the beach. It can take off and land pretty much anywhere. Phil preferred to use the beach, but later we managed it from the back of the speedboat :)

Phil and the Helicam helicopter

The helicopter can't stay up for too long, about 15 minutes is the limit on a set of batteries. We planned 2 runs - the first getting aerial shots of the boat and the second with wakeboarding. I stayed on shore for the first run, as we didn't want too many people cluttering the boat. I have a 300mm zoom on the camera so got a few good pictures of Sky Water and the chase helicopter...

Sky Water boat and Helicam helicopter

Sky Water boat and Helicam helicopter

You might notice the hills and shoreline behind the boat... the East coast of Phuket is very different to the developed beaches on the West coast. You can get to Koh Rang Yai easily by longtail boat from Laem Hin.. or by chartering the Sky Water :) After the first run, Phil landed the helicopter at the beach - the hat in the foreground is Phil...

Helicam helicopter landing at Koh Rang Yai beach

For the second photo session, Gilbert wanted to try something new... photos of him wakeboarding taken from the helicopter. This was new for the Helicam team too! I'll post some of the final photos that they got in a couple of days... I was on the boat, Gilbert in the water and Phil somewhat apprehensively launching the helicopter from the back of the speedboat - not much room to manoeuvre...

Helicam helicopter on the back of the Sky Water speedboat

Let the wakeboarding begin!

The boat captain upped the revs, Phil piloted the helicopter behind Gilbert on his wakeboard and we flew past the beach a couple of times. Now, Gilbert's not a wakeboard champ, but enjoys a bit of a go - anyone chartering the Sky Water or a similar boat can also do some watersports - there's plenty of quiet water on the East coast of Phuket, ideal for a quick wakeboarding session. I took some photos from the boat... waiting for some pics from Helicam.. and (I have seen some previews) they are good. Great company they are, Helicam - if you want aerial photos, check their website: www.helicam.asia.

Wakeboarding and the Helicam helicopter

Wakeboarding and the Helicam helicopter

After the photo session we threw the anchor, swam ashore and had a couple (ahem, I had more than a couple) of beers and some food at the restaurant at Koh Rang Yai - food is tasty, also not cheap at all! Well, occasionally Paradise is worth it - you can stay at Koh Rang Yai in simple bungalows for 1000 Baht per night. After the drinks we carried the Helicam gear back to the boat and sped back to Ao Po in the afternoon sun. In this weather, a day on the water is always a pleasure. And yes I got a bit too much sun, but since I work in the office 6 days a week, too much sun is a luxury!

Here's a few of the great shots from the Helicam helicopter :

SkyWater speedboat in action, photo by Helicam Asia

Wakeboarding at Koh Rang Yai, photo by Helicam Asia

SkyWater cruising past Koh Rang Yai, Phuket - photo by Helicam Asia

Related Blog Posts

Koh Rang Yai Island
Speedboat Around Phuket
Things to do in Phuket

20/2/10 - Best zoo ever


Walked to Frankton, a small town two hours walk from Queenstown. Saw a sign saying Zoological Gardens so I followed it down a path to the gardens and they were brilliant. At first I thought it was a piss take calling it zoological gardens, I have seen more exotic animals in an average pet shop. What made the 'zoo' worth visiting was the owner of the house, a wonderful old man called Ivan.

Ivan obviously didn't get many visitors because when he saw me he assumed I was lost and pointed me back towards the walking track. I told him I'd like to look around the gardens and he said it would cost $15 then started driving away on his mobility scooter. I caught up with him and said that was fine and although he looked at me like I was simple for wanting to look at some pigeons and rabbits for $15 he began to take me on a tour. Ivan had a stroke last year and so was quite unsteady when out of his scooter but he still got in to each cage to show me the baby budgies, pigs and pheasants and told me the story of how he came to have each of them. He had worked for the SPCA and slowly collected animals that were stuck there in small cages or due to be put down. I spent a great hour with a great old man and gave him $20 for the privilege as I could see it all went to the animals.

Up a hill down a beer

Up at 8am and off for a walk around the lake then back to town to walk up the path beneath a gondola. Towards the top of the hill the path split in two so I chose the path that had some long walks and aimed for Ben Lomond (1700m) a three hour round trip. Or so I wrongly assumed, it was three hours to the top then the same path back down. The scenery and views over Lake Wakatipu (pronounced Wackaty-poo) were stunning as is pretty much everywhere in New Zealand so far.

The path was quite steep in places so I looked for a stick and found a suitable looking chap covered in mouldy bark. I peeled off the bark at the end I would be using as a handle and it revealed a lovely piece of sturdy pine. After a couple of hours of walking up hill I realised how good my stick was and I named him Herman, something I realised was probably the first mistake on the way to madness that Tom Hanks had made in Castaway.

I pretended I was Frodo Baggins and when I looked down at my trainers I saw big hairy hobbit feet instead. When there were no other walkers around I twirled Herman around and fought off the fighting Uruk-hai and orcs who were running down the hill to stop me.

There were quite a few moments along the walk that turned my legs to jelly with near vertical drops to the side of a tiny path but I persevered and was rewarded at the top by a cloudless 360 degree view over the lake and town to the west and the southern alps and remarkables mountain ranges to the east. At the top there were 4 people and I chatted to a lovely Australian couple. The woman complemented my stick and I thanked her. Herman looked smug. On the way back down when the path was wide enough I broke in to a run and it took half as long as going up. At the top of the gondola hill I stopped for a drink and was joined again by the Australian couple .
'Are you going to keep your stick?' the woman asked.
'I might do' I lied, I'd already told Herman we'd go on another adventure tomorrow.
'You should it's a good stick, you looked like Frodo baggins running don the hill with your hood up on your jacket'. Both Herman and I looked pleased.

Back in the town and through the hostel lobby I felt a little self conscious carrying a stick but I was high on my days achievement and ready for a celebratory beverage. In my dorm room a well spoken young lad named Will said with a sense of awe 'Did you find that stick?' Before I could answer another lad said 'What the fuck else did he do, grow it?'
'No it's just you can buy sticks like that they cost loads'
If Herman had a head it was getting a bit too big now so I brought him back down to earth 'Yeah I found it, there's hundreds like him lying in the forest quite easy really'. Everyone agreed that Herman was a good stick and I nearly got carried away stopping short of introducing him as Herman.

In the evening I went on a crap pub crawl that I left after a few crap free drinks and went in search of people I recognised and found Shauna, Pete and Tyler in World bar where they serve cocktails in teapots. I also got chatting to the German girl I had been round puzzling world with and ended up sat outside by the lake looking at the stars.
'It's incredible how many stars we can see' I said.
'I want to be up there' she replied
'What do you mean, you want to be an astronaut?'
'I want to be dead'
'Oh thanks, am I that bad company' I blurted out before the magnitude of what she'd just said had hit me. Thankfully she ignored my horrible comment and continued 'It would be so peaceful and perfect'. We chatted for a little longer and she explained that she suffered from depression which I found hard to comprehend especially in a place as beautiful as New Zealand but from the little I do understand it is an illness and it doesn't matter what anyone says or does it is only the sufferer who knows what it feels like. We chatted for a while longer until it got too cold to be outside in shorts and we said our goodnights.

It sounds strange but I was glad to know a bit more about the German girl as opposed to the generic where are you from and how long are you travelling for conversations that have made up the majority of my interactions while travelling. I hope she recovers but I guess I'll never know.

Puzzling World

Leaving Wanaka made me sad because I loved the place but I'd forgotten to change my bus booking so I left and made a promise with myself to go back to Wanaka before leaving the south island. Close by Wanaka the bus stopped at Puzzling World, which was heaven on a stick for geeks like me. The start of the attraction is a maze with 4 corners to find that I went round with a German girl who had studied English and was much better at it than I am. We found all 4 corners of the maze but after 45 minutes had to cheat to get out.

After the maze there are 4 illusion rooms which were so much fun. The first is a collection of 3-D holographic pictures that I kept trying to touch because they looked real. The second room is built on an angle so that the room looks like it is flat and this made everybody giggle and a middle aged woman fall over. Water appeared to flow up hill and pool balls rolled up the table. The third room was an optical illusion making people on one side of the room look tiny and the people on the other side looked like giants. When you exit the room you watch a time delayed video of the room and see yourself being the wrong size which made me and the dutch girl laugh.

It was nice in the evening to see people I recognised and so we had a few games of pool and my first Fergburger. It was a damn good burger.

'Fishing'

A quiet day enjoying a walk round the lake and not drinking was followed by fishing day. I Bought a box of wine in the morning and sat by Lake Wanaka all day with Pete and Shauna who had arrived the previous day. We failed to even see a fish and I am convinced that the fishing shop is only there as a joke to trick tourists because I'm positive the lake has no fish in it. I managed to lose three lures due to my poor knot tying ability and nearly lost a fourth by casting in to a buoy. I had to swim out to it whilst reeling in the rod which is impossible, it must have looked like I was drowning swimming for a bit then reeling and sinking. Pete managed to snap his rod and Shauna took half an hour of getting the line tangled before she could even make her first cast but we all had a great day and were glad we'd tried some fishing even if we failed miserably.

The evening was a quiet one and Shauna and Pete left after a few. I stayed on and talked to a group of people one of whom was a Dutch guy with a great Dutch accent. He talked about his recent visit to Bangkok and some shows he saw with great enthusiasm saying 'There are three pushies all firing ping pong ballsh and then they get a banana and put it in one pushy and the other girlsh eat it' He spoke with a moronic grin on his face and even though he was a moron he was an entertaining and happy moron so I had a few more beers before I was reminded that I was nackered by falling asleep at the bar.

The Continuing Saga of Finding Friendly Farangs ...

On again, off again plans...the ever changing world I live in.  I thought about going to this ‘thing’.  Then there was talk of going orchid hunting in the forest.  Then there was talk of going shopping in town together, but skipping the ‘thing’.  Then at the last minute the forest outing was back on and I found myself alone driving to town, to do the shopping.
 Orchid Hunting In The Forest


Approaching town I notice the timing was perfect for attending the ‘thing’, but should I or shouldn’t I?  We have clearly established, I think, that I am not a group person.  Neither sheep nor shepherd shall I be, marching steadfastly to the beat of my own little drummer.  At the same time I am nosy and inquisitive, eager to form my opinions through firsthand experience, not through the biased pontifications of others.  Sometimes, to avoid getting set in ones ways, it is good to step out of ones comfort zone and do something one would normally avoid.

Still uncommitted I drove into the parking lot of a hotel that has seen better days.  Spotting a familiar couple, I lowered the window to say hello.  It was at that point I guess I committed, as I seemed to have no excuse not to.  Inside I was confronted with some of what I expected.  There were the usual suspects, in the form of Hashers.  One of them, being in exceptionally fine form, immediately began outing me as the Village Farang, to all within earshot.

Now I am in no way ashamed of my alter-ego, but my wife’s Thai sensibilities are not comfortable with some of the nastiness that inhabits the online world.  With respect for her wishes, I have established a policy of don’t ask don’t tell.  Anyway, seeking a quick escape from that group I spotted a likely retreat in the far back corner.  The sole occupant of that table was unknown to me which seemed a good thing and could be easily remedied, if I wished.

A little friendly banter ensued about ours being the misfits table and us sporting identical name-tags and things were off and running.  Noticing his car keys resting on the table I quipped that he must own that big ugly black thing parked next to my big ugly black thing.  Only afterward did we discover that I was indeed correct.  Same make and model but with slightly different modifications.  So as the vehicles found each other in the parking lot, the owners found each other at the corner table.

True to form the movers and shakers of this newly evolving group, were local businessmen.  Farangs with an appetite and avidity for microphones, as well as drumming up more business through organizational membership.  Nothing at all wrong with that, just an observation.  Of course being the contrarian that I sometimes am, I might be less inclined to frequent their establishments.  That is just me, though.

The day’s speaker was topical and of some interest to me.  After all he lords over my passport and my wife’s visa for my home country, at least in this region of Thailand.  I passed on the coffee, even though I had paid for it.  I wasn’t going to waste my caffeine quota on the nasty stuff.  Better to wait until I could get to one of my favorite cappuccinos.  When I mentioned the hotel venue to my wife there was an audible groan, but I can see the logic for a new organization, trying to get by with as little investment as possible.

So all considered it was a good morning and I had met someone new who I thoroughly enjoyed talking with.  Wasn’t even bored by the guest speaker.  However, having avoided any mention of the internet at all in our conversation, I was a little disheartened when my excessively exuberant friend found it necessary to come over at the end to out me, once again as Village Farang, complete with a warning that my new friend might find himself on the pages of my blog.  As if that would be a bad thing.  Not sure what motivates people to do things like that but I try to take it in stride.

I wait with bated breath to see if I will be making a repeat visit...

An evening at Glastnost Cafe, Phuket Town

This blog rarely enters into the nightlife of Phuket. I am not much of a night owl, certainly don't like noisy places, do not like loud bars or discos, although Phuket has plenty on offer with (so I am told) famous DJ's coming to do their stuff or whatever they do. Not my cup of tea. I did once go to see Sek Loso in concert (he's a big Thai rock star), and have been known to shoot some pool in Patong, but these days my wife and I prefer quiet company. So I am happy to say there is an alternative kind of nightlife in Phuket. We got just a taste last Sunday and will be back for more soon...

We had met Khun Puchong in January at a restaurant, he is the owner of the Glastnost Bar / Cafe in Phuket Town.. he told us of Jazz / music jam sessions every 4th Sunday of the month. We missed the January session, but on February 28th we (a rare occasion!) left our kids with a friend and headed out on the town. The Glastnost Bar is on Soi Romanee in the old part of Phuket Town, it is a small street connecting Thalang Road with Dibuk road. This part of town has recently been renovated - all wires have been either put underground or have been stuck to the side of the buildings so there are no unsightly overhead wires. We saw this already in December at a street festival on Thalang Road.

Last Sunday was actually a very quiet day in town as it coincided with Makha Bucha Day, an important Buddhist holiday, so bars were mostly closed. Nevertheless we drove into the old town, parked on Thalang Road and walked to Soi Romanee. Thalang Road has some great old architecture and a lot of the buildings are well cared for, so we stopped for some photos...

Outside an old house on Thalang Road

There were just a few people at the Glastnost. The old town was quiet with bars closed due to the religious holiday. Soi Romanee was pretty empty - we were there not long after 8pm, so a bit early really. Puchong greeted us like old friends and insisted I joined him for some wine to celebrate his birthday which had been a couple of days earlier. No music was playing yet, so I had a look around inside. Glastnost is almost like a museum (with drums and a microphone) - lots of old photos and memorabilia around the room. My parents had found this place when they came last time and enjoyed talking with Puchong about jazz - he loves jazz and my parents when they were young boppers were regulars at their local jazz club. Thus you have photos on the wall of Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis and of course HM King Bhumibol and his saxophone.

Inside the Glastnost cafe

Inside Glastnost Cafe

A few people drifted down the street, some backpackers looking for a sign of nightlife, some friends of Puchong, my wife and I sat and chatted with Puchong and his friend Boonlert who owns an electric shop just down the street on Thalang Road. We did not know it was Puchongs birthday so I owe him a bottle of wine next time - he told us there will be a live music evening on the 19th of March with a jazz band from Chiang Mai - see you there!

Puchong is the owner of Glastnost

Khun Boonlert

Puchong is actually a lawyer, quite a big one, with lots of connections in Phuket and Bangkok. The Glastnost is his hobby, not a business exactly - in fact, he told us that he couldn't sell us a drink - but we could get one at a nearby guesthouse on Soi Romanee. It was quiet that night, but should be busier on the 19th. More people turned up as the evening progressed and a little live music started. The guitar man below is well known to us - we met him first in the Beach Bar - see here - this is also where we'd met Puchong in January. It's one of our favourite spots, and I can see that Soi Romanee might become a fave too!

Guitar man at Soi Romanee, Phuket Town

A view of the street shows that we had a little crowd going by 10pm. Puchong invited any passers-by to join. OK, this was a quiet evening, being a Buddhist holiday - the temple at the end of Soi Romanee, Wat Mongkhon Nimit, was much busier!

Soi Romanee outside Glastnost

Anyone walking past was welcome. Plenty of Puchong's friends showed up, and there was a birthday cake too. This is a Thai birthday party - if you happen to be sitting nearby you are given some birthday cake. Anyone who wants to moan about the "Land of Smiles" being just a name.. you better come to the real Thailand. Happy Birthday was played on the saxophone by a German friend of Puchong. Cake was eaten. Life is good.

Happy Birthday to You be dooby doo

Happy Birthay to Puchong

Phuket Town for me is a very interesting place. What we experienced last Sunday.. you cannot find this near the main beaches of Phuket. The old town has an almost magical feel. We will be back at Soi Romanee on the 19th for a quiet night of jazz.

UPDATE 2015 - The owner of Glastnost is a lawyer and working in Bangkok. He's not been around the last couple of years.

Positive versus Negative ...

There can be a lot of negative gossip in a village.  Endless recanting of who said or did what to whom.  The effect of simply being in earshot of all that negativity seems to affect me on an almost cellular level.  It is hard for me to imagine what effect it is having on my wife, but it worries me.

I was reminded of all this on a drive to town the other day.  The sister had asked to come along so she could do some shopping at BigC.  For nearly the entire trip to town my senses were bombarded by an endless torrent of radioactive emotional fallout from the sister.  Even though I refuse to speak Northern Thai my passive understanding of it is progressing, whether I like it or not.  As I noticed my own stress levels increasing and the beginning of a headache setting in, I told my wife that I was uncertain of my ability to withstand an entire day of this.

I noticed that she was subtly modifying her own tone of voice in her responses and acknowledgements of what her sister was saying.  It didn’t seem to have much of a calming effect, however.  There seemed to be little for it but to hope the rage would burn itself out with time.  We arrived in town before that happened and I headed immediately for the recuperative solace of my favorite cappuccino.  The rest of the day went well as there seemed to be plenty of activities to keep them busy and I managed to recuperate. 

Lest you think that I am indulging in the same kind of negativity, I’ll make an effort to get to the point.  We recently completed our fourth structure on our property, a Thai kitchen.  We have yet to start work on the inside of the actual kitchen area but my wife is enthusiastically at work beautifying the outside with potted and hanging plants.  We had begun to run out of shaded areas for orchids and the like.

As we have had more success with our own plants and our garden has matured, we now have adequate cuttings and new plantings to share with others.  It has turned into a very positive undertaking, with family and neighbors trading plants and even venturing off into the forest to gather new varieties.  Surely some will think this unwise, but given the rate at which the forests around here are being degrade and burned, it might not be a bad idea to gather some interesting plants before they no longer exist in this area.

The modern notion of exercise is still lost on the village populace but they will venture into the forest for food or monetary gain.  People get lots of exercise during the mushroom season, for example.  I am glad they have taken such an interest in their plants.  It is so nice, and I think important, to have fun and interesting activities that don’t include talk of money or malicious gossip. 

For your own edification, try watching yourself and others for a day.  How much of what is said is positive as opposed to negative?  I enjoyed this or really liked that, instead of I hate this person or that thing.  You might be surprised at the results.  Looking at the bright side really can brighten ones life.  Think about the people you like and admire the most.  What kind of attitude do they have?  I had best quit before I get too preachy.

Time for a walk

Up early and off around Lake Wanaka, I stopped at a beautiful lakeside resort that had a cafe and toilets with individual hand towels for the posh folk who could afford to stay there. I had a coffee then walked up to a track that said Roy's Peak. I hadn't planned to do a big hike but the track kept going so I followed it. The peak is 1600m high and I didn't know what that meant until after an hour of walking up I was told that I was around a third of the way there. I had already used my small bottle of water but luckily the man had spare and refilled my bottle from his bladder (squishy water bag. He didn't wee in my bottle). I walked for another hour in the sweltering heat with a towel wrapped around my head to keep the sun off and once I'd finished my water I decided it was time to admit defeat and turn around. I sat down and took in one hell of a view whilst eating some lembas bread (crackers dipped in peanut butter) then made my way down to the bottom and back round the lake to the cafe to rehydrate and clean myself in the swanky toilets.

Subway for dinner then a relaxing evening pint sat by the lake. I daydreamed that I might find an excuse to talk to the pretty girl sat on her own at another table as I flicked through my photos deleting pictures of views that all looked great but mostly looked like the same picture. Then, because I'm travelling and the sun is shining, the girl sat on her own came over and asked to join me. She was great fun, her name is Kayla and she's from Canada and because we were chatting away I forgot I was planning to do my laundry and we ended up going to 5 different bars, finishing at a Reggae gig being bought drinks by a former drug dealer. This was fine until the scary man pulled out a wad of notes and asked Kayla how much for a night with her! He was harmless and didn't push it so we stayed and danced and had a wicked random night with the entire Dreadlocked population of New Zealand.

Hiking on the Franz Josef Glacier then to Wanaka

I didn't enjoy the hike. Seeing the glacier and walking through ice caves and through crevasses was amazing, spending 8 hours with a group of 19 year olds with ADHD was not, I felt like I was at work. Every single second of the hike they were using their ice axes to smash bits of the ice and coat me in icy debris, I told them off a couple of times which made me feel even more irritated and more like I was in teacher mode.

After being irritated I needed a couple of drinks and the only people around that I recognised were a bit boring and one guy called Mike/Will (he answered to both) really got on my nerves by expressing his opinions as facts one of my favourites was 'if you actually want a beer then you ARE an alcoholic'. Tosser. I did want a beer and whether I'm alcoholic or not it wasn't going to be this guy that diagnosed me.

The next morning I was due to leave Franz Josef for Wanaka. I overslept by an hour and so went to reception to enquire about public buses assuming the Kiwi bus had left. Thankfully the driver had also overslept and the bus was sat waiting for me to get on. These happy coincidences seem to happen a lot to travellers.

I fell asleep on the bus and woke up a couple of hours later on an empty bus at a petrol station. The bus was locked and I was briefly concerned until I saw the driver who put two fingers up at me. I think she was telling me she'd be two minutes. Two minutes later she got back on and took us back to where the rest of the bus had been dropped and I had a $12 dollar sandwich that was worth $2.

Arriving in Wanaka I instantly fell in love with the place, it is beautiful and just the right size to have things to do without being crowded. I was booked in for 4 nights and when I went for a short walk around the lake I already wanted to stay longer.

I was surprised and pleased to find that in my dorm room were the three girls I sky dived with and didn't murder in the glow worm forest. I was even more pleased when I joined them at dinner and they offered me their left over vegetables and rice to bolster my dinner of peanut butter on toast with a peanut butter sandwich for pudding. Thank you girls.

SuperStar


"You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star." - Nietzsche

In our Star-crazed culture, many people want to become a star, but few people actually do.

There are many famous SuperStars such as Martin Luther King, Benjamin Franklin and Mother Theresa, but consider a street newspaper vendor in Seattle, named Willie Jones, who is an everyday SuperStar.

Willie sells copies of Real Change, a newspaper whose mission is to end poverty and homelessness. All of the paper vendors who sell the newspaper do so as a way to recover from homelessness, addiction and poverty. Paper vendors are located throughout the city on street corners and high-traffic areas, but Willie stands apart from all of them.

While some paper vendors focus on the sympathies of others to sell their papers, Willie approaches his job differently. Wanting to make a positive impact on others, Willie tosses papers in the air and catches them. He gives his infectious smile to everyone as he waves to people, tells jokes, laughs and has conversations with his regular customers. With his innovative approach, it’s no surprise that Willie far outsells papers over any other paper vendor. Willie is truly extraordinary.

What’s more, Willie is a positive catalyst to others.

One of Willie’s customers’ daughters said this about him, “Because of Willie, my mom has really been involved in the world today, and I’m super grateful. I’ve never met Willie, nor saw (him), nor did I even hear about Real Change, (the paper he sells) so I’m going in blind when I say, I fully support anything Willie is involved in just because of the lives he’s changed (Real Change, 2009).”

Willie's energizing spirit has impacted those he touches and rippled out to others.

Willie is a SuperStar because his own self-leadership; not because of any perk, benefit or training program he received from his company to engage and motivate him.

Instead, Willie has used the experiences of his life to give birth to his own dancing star.

The Changing of Seasons ...

Gone is that fresh crisp chill, and occasional fog, of the early morning hours.  Though still pleasant enough, things are warming up, noticeably.  Gone too are our views of the mountains.  They are hidden behind the perennial pall of smoke and haze that permeates the region at this time of year.  Soon, I think very soon, I will find myself reluctant to head out on the mountain bike or motorcycle. 

There will be days when the urge will not be thwarted by temperature nor brown featureless vistas.  Those days will be fewer, however.  Though this winter was pleasant and punctuated by some memorable events, I am at least a little disappointed with myself.  I somehow feel the list of things I did not do, ended up much longer than the other list.  Well, perhaps next winter.

It is yet to be seen how the change of season will affect this strangely gregarious and more convivial nature, that has overtaken me of late.  Perhaps a phase.  Perhaps a measure of time and how long we have been living up here in the field.  Whatever the cause, I have been on a quest or hunt of sorts.  Visiting and corresponding with people we know, but also reaching out to strangers.

My wife’s Thai sensibilities leave her reluctant to talk to strangers.  You know, the whole family, village, school chums, fellow members, and introductions, thing.  Knowing how she feels, I refrain for the most part when in her presence, which is most of the time.  Yesterday at BigC, she turned her back for a moment and I got naughty.  Left guarding the heavily laden shopping basket I spied yet another farang nearby, faithfully performing the same valuable function.  Temporarily unleashed, I sprung into action and a conversation quickly ensued. 

Fortunately the timing was spot on, with my wife returning only shortly before the other guy’s wife joined us.  Introductions were made and then the wives were allowed to sort themselves out, while we continued our manly repartee.  The girls hit it off instantly and exchange phone numbers before the guys did.  My wife’s sister was with us but remained outside the circle, waiting for us.  She had a hard time understanding how we could have such a friendly and animated conversation with people we didn’t know.

I suppose there are a lot of reasons why foreigners snub each other while walking through the shopping center.  Surely not everyone is busy and pressed for time, however.  For me quite honestly, I think appearance and first impressions have something to do with it.  I know it is superficial of me but ugly, dirty, disheveled, or a dower expression are things I find hard to overlook.  On this occasion the guy looked slightly older but with an athletic appearance and a relaxed confident gait.  The wives were very close in age, maybe three years, and equally attractive. 

One does seem to notice more foreigners around these days, but they are few enough, that certain couples standout.  My wife later acknowledged that she had noticed this girl upstairs in the supermarket.  Finding her attractive and somewhat atypical for a farang wife.  Strangely she had not noticed that she was pregnant, however.  Hopefully we will all get together again, sometime.

Just the day before I was off on a bike ride and found myself enjoying a cappuccino and reading the Sunday paper, at the Doi Chang coffee shop.  On this occasion I struck up a conversation with quite an attractive young French girl.  As she entered looking somewhat lost, I noticed another guy sitting outside, light up when he saw her.  Perhaps she sensed his eagerness, but for whatever reason they did not make a connection.

We, however, ended up having an expansive wide-ranging conversation until I felt it was time for me to leave.  There is just something about an attractive face and personality that makes conversation so very easy.  Perhaps being happily married, and not on the prowl, makes me less threatening.  Then again they could just find me too old and fatherly.  Strange that, having never had the desire to be a father.  Anyway I have always been better with women than with men and it was a pleasant conversation.

After a little errand for my wife, I headed home along the river route and met yet another farang on the side of the road working in his yard.  Later I found my thoughts drifting to my past and how I have interacted with people.  A few things came to mind.  For example, I like low maintenance relationships.  There was a time in Bangkok when I was on TV, and later working at a five star hotel, where basically everyone knew me and I needed to make little or no effort socially.  Squash served a similar function later on.

In the Rai, with our location being somewhat isolated, I have reexamined groups and organizations as a way to meet people and found them lacking, so have struck out on my own.  Slowly I am finding that when I am in town, I either bump into someone I know or am able to meet someone new.  I return home with a feeling of satisfaction.  Something akin to a successful hunt.  My circle of acquaintances is expanding as is my enjoyment of our trips to town.  This is a good thing since I am notoriously bad at planning and making appointments.  I still prefer a spontaneous encounter.

So are you the type who sticks with family and a close, closed circle of friends?  Or are you going through a phase, like me, where you are making that first move and meeting new people?  How do you respond when a stranger says hello?