White Water Rafting in Phang Nga

It's been a long time since I tried white water rafting. Back in my young, fit days I did it a few times. The first was in Zimbabwe on the Zambezi river (see photo) and that was pretty scary! I also did easier (but colder) rafting trips in Chile and Wales. And here in Thailand we've tended to shy away from tourist activities, preferring to find our own adventures, but sometimes we certainly do what the tourists do, I mean you have to visit Phi Phi and James Bond Island and see the Fantasea show and so on, there are some "must see" things around here! To the north of Phuket you have Phang Nga province, which we visit often. It's a huge area with a lot to see, and even this year we have done several trips exploring roads that were new to us, including the Klong Kian area and the Tone Pariwat Waterfall. Along the road to this waterfall, which followed a river, we saw many rafting companies and lots of elephants (for elephant trekking). So last week when our friends who run the Easy Day Thailand tour company asked us to join a fun "company trip" including rafting and a night in Khao Lak, we knew where to go and looked forward to another drive in that direction. very nice scenery around there. It's only about a 90 minute drive from where we live near Phuket Town - out of Phuket, over the bridge, to Phang Nga Town and then about another 15km after the town. And we got lucky with the low season weather which during July and early August had seen plenty of wind and rain. On Saturday August 15th the weather was beautiful. We reached the "Best Rafting 4U" headquarters about 9:30am and had time to get some coffee, take a little walk by the river and wait for the whole group to arrive in dribs and drabs.

Song Phraek River

(above) The river next to the rafting camp. Not very rough! You see .. further upstream is a dam, which is opened when all the rafts (from various companies) are ready to go, this increases the river flow and makes things more fun :) In extreme weather the river itself can overflow the dam, and rafting can't be done. It did seem pretty safe to me, nothing too scary if you have done it before. Quite scary for my 10 year old boy :) I have read over the years of at least one death on a rafting trip, but not sure if that was here or in Khao Sok national park. We all had to wear helmets and lifejackets on the rafts, and it was plenty of fun, but in our group there were kids as young as 5, so I think that is a measure of the danger factor. Actually I am not sure if they generally allow kids that young, but as we were a big "travel agent" group, I guess any such rule was waived.

Life jackets

(above) Get your lifejackets on!

So we were driven in trucks a few km up river to "the dam" where rafts were launched down a slide and we walked down stairs to the water, and then had to exit the raft again 20 meters later and clamber over rocks to get to the actual river. And then wait for the dam to be opened .... Before this, a briefing was given explaining how to sit in the raft, to listen to the guide on the raft and what to do should we fall out! Rafts could hold 4 - 5 people. So we took a raft for our family of 4.

Rafting family!

(above) Rafting family ready to go!

Launching the rafts

(above) Launching a raft into the calm water above the dam. Actually the hardest part of the trip for big, clumsy me was climbing over rocks to get back into the raft just below the dam. This dam is not huge, but holds the water about 5m higher than the river below, so once they open it, there is quite a rush! Our rafts waited until the water was high enough and then set off pretty darn fast!

Rafting in Phang Nga

They do recommend not taking phones or cameras. We took an older iPhone and had a dry bag. The photo above (my boy and me) was taken as we started moving. I think, in hindsight, I could have taken a nicer camera in the dry bag and snapped photos between rougher sections of river, but this is ideal GoPro camera territory, or any small waterproof camera. My helmet even had some kind of mount built in. A selfie stick with a GoPro - even better :) But I can't stand people who, instead of enjoying something, are constantly taking their own picture, so they can enjoy watching themselves later. Enjoy the NOW! And as the rafting company takes photos as you head down the river which they will frame and sell you later for 200 Baht, you will get a good action shot of yourself!

White water rafting in Phang Nga

(above) That's us! Photo taken by the rafting company. Looks quite rough actually .. I guess there were a few little sections that had me falling over backwards in the raft and nearly squashing my son! The whole rafting experience was over in about 30 minutes. I am sure they told us it was a 5km ride, but if I look on Google Earth, looks like about half of that. And at times as we rushed down rapids and into calmer areas, it did seem surprisingly crowded, especially as this is low season. There were rafts from several different operators at the same time. Although - when I say "low season", it's probably the best time for rafting. If you try this in a dry February, the river might have low water levels/ Now, after some rain, it was just about perfect.

River Rafting in Phang Nga

(above) On the river - photo by Paul Flaxman

Rafting in Phang Nga

(above) A busy low season day on the river!

We finished our rafting right next to the BestRafting4U camp, where they have some decent bathrooms, so we could change, dump wet clothes in our cars, and they provided a big buffet lunch. We were just here for rafting, as the weekend was to be combined with a relaxing stay in Khao Lak (about 50 km to the west). Most people would sign up for combination adventure tours with rafting, visiting the waterfall, maybe elephant riding, ATV rides, jungle zip-lining, there are several options - you can ask our friends at Easy Day Thailand about these trips. We just came for a bit of whitewater fun, and then headed off for some time by the pool in Khao Lak at The Leaf On The Sands Resort.

Now that we've done this trip, yes I do recommend it of you are of a sporty nature (and can swim). The hills and rivers in Phang Nga make a nice day out especially if you are staying at a busier beach area in Phuket. It's good to see more than just the beach here in Phuket, and a bit of rafting combined with other things is something to add to the Phuket "to do" list. And now we've done it :)

Book a Tour like this with Easy Day Thailand

Related Posts on Jamie's Phuket

Tone Pariwat Waterfall
Elephant Trekking in Phuket
Exploring Phang Nga Province
Phang Nga Bay

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #49 review

*This review is spoiler-free*

Since the very first issue, IDW's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has done an awesome job making this new take on the franchise feel fresh yet also enjoyably familiar. After several strong story arcs (and some excellent limited series, like Secret History of the Foot Clan), you can really tell a whole lot of love and planning went into crafting this new TMNT universe. And issue #49? Yeah, you can tell this one is building up anticipation for the ginormous issue #50 (it's 48 pages!), while also loosely teasing the big plans that'll step forward after the next issue (or even during it?). Oh, and the fact this chapter also manages to throw in plenty of character, exciting action, and great artwork doesn't hurt, either.
Cover by Mateus Santolouco
First and foremost, getting a look at Bludgeon and Koya during some downtime was an unexpected treat. Sure, the two mutants don't receive too much of the spotlight, but it's just enough to show even more why they're basically the polar opposite of Bebop and Rocksteady when it comes to their personalities. While Bebop and Rocksteady have this "goofy best bros" dynamic going on, Koya and Bludgeon seem to have more of a brother and sister relationship, and their personalities are far more fitting for the Foot Clan. The classic and dim-witted duo, Bebop and Rocksteady, have been given plenty of attention in this title (not that I'm complaining, of course), yet it feels like Koya and Bludgeon haven't received that much love, often only appearing in fight scenes or having small remarks here and there. So, while they may not have a standout scene, it is cool we received just a wee bit of insight into the two before we return to all of the action-packed craziness.

Since issue #50 is (presumably) all about the conflict between Shredder and Splinter, this issue wraps up Baxter Stockman's plot pretty swiftly. On one hand, it's a little disappointing his role is tossed aside so quickly - the fiend has a lot of potential, after all. But on the other hand, the conclusion does make sense for him, so it doesn't come off feeling forced or rushed. And, to be fair, the last issue did mostly revolve around the team fighting his swarm. I'd like to see more of him, but his departure here is logical.

To some, this franchise is all about cool mutants, amusing catchphrases, and ninja action. While those things did make me fall in love with the Ninja Turtles when I was younger - and they definitely help keep the stories entertaining - one element is equally important: family. Even though these stories are so surreal and sometimes even silly, this is a franchise that's really about a family who's simply trying to protect each other and the need to stand up against what's wrong. You may not know any mutated turtles who are also ninjas (or DO you?), but the sense of family and a desire to do what's right will always be relatable, and that allows this franchise to deliver some heavy doses of heart... you know, in between all of the fighting. In this issue, there's just enough of that right before a big battle begins, and it's a really satisfying moment. Splinter must be a tough character to write. In the wrong hands, Hamato Yoshi may come off too heavy-handed or corny. Luckily for us, Tom Waltz gets the character and there's a fine amount of emotion that takes place before mutants begin to flip around and dish out all sorts of violence. Without an emotional connection, action can feel meaningless because you just don't care about the combatants. (Well, unless the choreography is brilliant, like in The Raid.) Thankfully, the team behind the story - Waltz, franchise co-creator Kevin Eastman, and editor Bobby Curnow - understand these characters and have made them humanizing. Man, that was a whole lot of words just to say"there's a good family moment in here."
Cover by Kevin Eastman and Ronda Pattison
It may not be as compelling as what's going on with Splinter and his family, but it's great to see Waltz, Eastman, and Curnow decided to flesh out Karai's role even more. She's been a standout character in this series and something tells me her role is going to get even bigger after the next issue. We'll just have to wait and see if that really does happen, but one thing is clear: so far, IDW's done a good job with Karai. Let's hope she continues to capture our attention.

Sweet mother of Michelangelo, this issue has some really enjoyable fighting. Right when it feels like we've reached a cliffhanger moment and all of the popcorn entertainment will be saved for next month, we're thrown right into the madness. It's really tough to discuss this part without giving anything away, so I'll skip the details (just trust me, it's a fun scene) and instead jump to praising a very important reason why the action thrives: artist Cory Smith and colorist Ronda Pattison.

From Mateus Santolouco - who provided the attention-grabbing primary cover - to Sophie Campbell, IDW has been fortunate enough to work with several very, very, veeery talented artists. Their styles may be drastically different, but the decision to often have them work an entire arc prevented the changes in visuals from being jarring, and the distinct styles were often fitting for the story at hand. To top it off, Pattison's been around since the very first issue and doing an incredible job the whole time. Even when the anatomy, environments, and lines may be noticeably different, her attention to each and every panel has given us a feeling of consistency and brought so much more energy and emotion to these pages. Thankfully, she's still bringing it after dozens of issues and the end result is one mighty fine looking comic. The combination of Smith's strong character work, impressive handling of motion, and use of angles really pulls us into these moments, making them feel like they're actually playing out instead of being just static images. Throw in Pattison's impressively consistent coloring - I love how certain moments hit us with bright shades to sell the intensity - and it's safe to say issue #49's pages will leave most eyes feeling fulfilled. Man, I know I said I wouldn't give spoilers, but there's one double-page spread that's just begging to be turned into a poster. The "let's do it!" one also rules. Yes, I enjoyed it so much that I said it "rules." Whether it's a slow, character-driven scene or getting us pumped for action, the visual team delivers.
Cover by Jason Howard
There's one moment in here that made me really, really happy. Obviously, I won't give detail about its but I will say it was a totally unexpected surprise. I'm very excited to see how the team will utilize this new element in an already pretty crowded world - it was also a satisfying follow-up to a tease in a previous limited series. There's a lot going on right now and I'm anxious to see where the conflict with Shredder will go, but this new plot point has me thrilled. Brace yourselves, fan service is coming.

My only (relatively minor) criticism is the cliffhanger doesn't capitalize on all of the excitement nearly as much as it could have. With so many cheerworthy and interesting things going on, the final moments just isn't as gripping as what came before it. I wish I could elaborate here, but for the sake of remaining spoiler-free, let's just say the cliffhanger doesn't have me concerned or feeling like the stakes are truly high right now. But hey, it's a pretty small critique and thankfully everything before it makes up for it and then some. I also wish another dynamic was given more attention (considering something huge recently happened with the family), but maybe we'll see more of that in the next chapter - I certainly hope so.

If you've been following the series or simply love this franchise, this is a phenomenal issue. It's action-packed, has a (literally) huge surprise, and it continues to handle these characters extremely well. Based on the quality of this issue and the ones that came before it, I have a feeling the next issue - which is a whopping $7.99 - will be worth every penny. I won't conclude this review with a cheesy pun (I swear "cheesy" is an unintentional one), but I will end it on a very blunt note: it's clear IDW loves this franchise, and I absolutely love what they're doing with it. So yeah, consider this 30-year-old TMNT fan very happy. Bring on #50!

Baahubali: With great budget comes greater disappointment.

Look, the poster of the movie is a good way to predict how the movie is going to be, right? So when you see a six pack stud sauntering with a sixty ton shiva lingh, some of us would sigh and say, "oh! another shitty movie" and others would be mentally retarded single cell amoeba. But then we hear that the director has invested 2 years and 200 crores to make a movie, and we begin to think, maybe,  just MAYBE, that a fraction of it would have gone into coming up with... oh! what is it called, that thing which every Hollywood movie has... no! not special effects... yes! a STORY and a PLOT!

So we go to the movie, and it is payback time for the single cell amoeba. Our brain is assaulted with all the cliches of the 1960's once-upon-a-time-there-was-a-king movie; brothers (one evil, one virtuous) fight for throne, virtuous brother is betrayed and killed, his wife is chained in city square for two decades and of course the biggest cliche of them all, the virtuous brother's infant escapes and comes back... as spitting image of his father. You know what they say: good might get eclipsed for a while, but it will come back as double action.

To be fair to the movie, the cliches are rendered in spectacular visuals. The story takes place in a mythical country called mahishamathi which is home to a spectacular waterfall, a dense amazonian jungle, snow clad mountains and a wide desert where war can be choreographed. You wonder how this is possible, but the answer is not hard to find. The answer is that the kingdom is a blessed land, a land blessed with special effects.

So against a picture perfect backdrop of snowy mountains complete with icicles hanging from every leaf, the hero (clad in tropical cotton dress) stripteases heroin (who is already in what could be called as a revealing warrior costume) to reveal that beneath the warrior she is just a woman. The enlightened heroine falls for hero because, you see, in this mythical country there is no concept of feminism... or frostbite. Then the hero takes couple of steps, lands in a warm city and frees a woman who has been languishing in chains for twenty five years near a conveniently placed horse cart.

At this point the movie goes into flashback, to fill in the minor details like the chained woman is hero's mother and his father was the original king. Never mind that everybody in the theater knows these already at this point. There has to be a flashback, because, you guessed it right, the director wants a VFX heavy war scene. To be fair again, the war scenes were spectacular. But for all its greatness, special effects have indeed failed at couple of places, the notable being that the hero's expressions were always plastic.

Summary: Quantity poops on Quality. Again.

Breakfast for Lunch and Dinner at Golden Corral

The newest feature at Golden Corral is breakfast and lunch for dinner. We have tried this twice - at two different Golden Corrals and I have enjoyed it on both visits. We tried it at the new Lancaster, PA location and also the Whitehall, PA location.

Are you feeling a little down this Independence day?

Are you asking what is so great about Independence day. It is an understandable feeling, especially as Independence day falls on a saturday.

So watch our video and see why you should feel excited about our Independence day.

Phuket Wake Park

The Kathu area of Phuket is where I live. It's not far from Patong Beach (just over the hill on the way to Phuket town) and if you wish to get away from the most touristy beach in Thailand, get on a bike and ride over that hill past the temple on the hill, down to a quieter, largely residential area with a lot of history (Kathu was the center of the tin mining industry, and the famous Phuket Vegetarian Festival originated here). The daily Kathu market is worth a visit and you'll find temples in and around the village.

But there's more! If you turn left at the lights next to the Caltex gas station, you pass the market and are heading towards Loch Palm Golf Course and the old Kathu village when you will see a left turn to Kathu Waterfall (Nam Tok Kathu). There's actually a fair amount of new houses around this area - Kathu is getting quite popular! The road up to the waterfall winds along for several kilometers. It's all residential with houses old and new, and lots of small shops and restaurants. Along the way you pass the entrance to the Phuket Wake Park. It used to be called Phuket Cable Ski - but was rebranded with new owners (Russian, I believe) a couple of years ago. There's plenty of parking, and a wakeboard shop outside too.

Wake Park Entrance

Shop at Kathu Wake Park

I first blogged it back in 2007 (this is an updated post), we used to bring our little kids just to watch, but as our kids have got older it's become one of their favourite things to do. It's quite a big set up, with a 400 meter long artificial lake surrounded by hills and palm trees. There's a restaurant too and I can get a cold Chang beer while I watch our kids. You can try wakeboarding, water skiing or kneeboarding. Lessons are available, or (like our kids) you can just learn by trial and error! They are quite good now, but not doing any jumps yet :)

Phuket Wake Park - Cable Ski

(above) Phuket Wake Park in Kathu

Wakeboard Park in Phuket

Wakeboarding - Cable Ski

(above) My kids at the Wake Park

Pick up Service

(above) When people fall off, there's a pick up service - just swim to the side and wait :)

We tend to go at weekends, which are busier, lots of kids of varying levels of ability. The serious dudes tend to be there outside the busy hours, but every time I have been there, we've seen some more experienced folk too, doing flips, jumps and other fancy stuff. Never tried myself, not my cup of tea and I am a bit big these days ... though I have been rafting on the Zambezi and raced bicycles downhill at 80 kph in the Pyrenees... when I was younger! Quite happy to watch my kids now, they like to try all kinds of sporty stuff.

The prices are reasonable I guess - 650 Baht for 2 hours or 1150 Baht for a whole day (adult rates - kids are 350 Baht / 550 Baht). There are also long term rates. We normally let the kids do 2 hours and they are tired enough after that. There are some boards, helmets and life jackets for free rental, though I guess they are not the best ones! There is some better gear you can pay to rent. We won't be buying gear unless the kids get really serious!

• More information: Phuket Wake Park Website

Kathu Waterfall

Just up the road from the wake park is Kathu Waterfall, where you can take a little jungle walk or even a swim if there's enough water. Like many of the waterfalls in the Phuket area, it's nothing too amazing, but if you're exploring, have a look!

Kathu Waterfall - More Information

Phuket Cable Ski (Phuket Wake Park) - Location Map

View Phuket Wake Park in a larger map

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles "Tale of the Yokai" review

Last week, Season 3 of Nick's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles returned with an episode that introduced the classic time-traveling character Renet. The episode, appropriately titled "Turtles in Time", had plenty of fun and creative ways of utilizing time travel - especially when the villain, Savanti Romero, had control over it. With "Tale of the Yoaki", the show is going in a more dramatic direction as it travels more than a decade into the past - 16 years, to be exact - to flesh out the rivalry between Hamato Yoshi, a.k.a. the man who eventually becomes Splinter, and Oroku Saki, a.k.a. the man who transforms into Shredder.

"Turtles in Time" was a total blast, but this second time travel story - which is written by the show's EP/head writer Brandom Auman, and directed by Sebastian Montes - feels like the complete package. It's the kind of episode that hits you with jaw-dropping action, scatters in some legitimately hilarious moments, and has a strong overall story that's full of intrigue and, more importantly, emotion. Like Mikey even points out in the episode, this tale (briefly) shows you a different side of Shredder, and leaves us wondering quite a few things. For example, I'm left thinking about what could have happened in Tang Shen did choose Oroku. Sure, Donatello explains why that could spell doom for the future, but could Oroku have saved the planet? Would he become a hero, or would he still be destined to resurrect the Foot Clan and take a more villainous path? I'm guessing the latter is bound to happen, but with the solid handling of the story - complete with a Back to the Future nod, of course - it's fun to think about. Also, a less composed Splinter, one who occasionally shows arrogance and doesn't hold back quite as much, was definitely an interesting thing to witness.

There's plenty of great comedy in here. For me, the highlight comes from when the Ninja Turtles dish out some psychological warfare because their enemies believe they're mythical creatures called Yokai. It was a great way for the show to implement some of the horror elements its known for, while also delivering plenty of funny lines and cool visuals. Plus, baby Miwa Karai - and the way she tugs on Leo's mask - is absolutely adorable. There's just enough consistently strong humor and nods in here to balance out the dramatic and surprisingly emotional narrative between Saki and Yoshi.

Montes' handling of the action scenes is amazing. The excellent directing allowed us to appreciate the characters' swift movements and skill, as well as the overall intensity of the scenes. There's several cool bouts in here and they just get better and better. There's an especially immersive shot that's used right as Yoshi and Saki begin their final fight in the dojo. There's a lot of steady shots that allow us to enjoy the technique, but that one was especially clever. And speaking of shots, it's great and all kinds of fitting how an emotional debate between Yoshi and Shen takes place on a peaceful bridge with the bright, towering city in the background. Oh, and the slow motion block and vanish that happens in the woods? Terrific stuff.

Even though you know what's coming when Saki and Yoshi begin their heated (pun so not intentional) fight, watching it all unfold is still a surprisingly gripping and powerful experience, so that's saying a lot about just how strong the writing and direction is in this episode. IDW's comic series also brought the Ninja Turtles back to the beginning of Yoshi and Saki's conflict so it could drop a stunning twist. Thankfully, Nick offers one that's completely different yet equally mind-blowing.

Minor criticism: At the start of the episode, the team's running away from a group of ninjas, and they're pretty freaked out and intimidated by them. Yes, it's quickly revealed these ninjas are no joke, but that's something they didn't know just yet, so them fleeing like that is obviously a comedic beat. Considering all that the team has been through and the fact they just faced a ginormous, time manipulating villain who's all kinds of frightening, you'd think this challenge wouldn't send them running like that. Still, it did make me smile!

"Tale of the Yokai" is an awesome episode and it's yet another example of how this show can juggle action, laughs, and heart so well. We all know how the conflict between Shredder and Splinter began in the Nick TMNT universe, but knowing the basics of this story by no means takes away from just how exciting and compelling it is. Ninja Turtles fans, watch this episode.

Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai?

The internet seems to be in an endless love affair with top ten lists and declaring one thing better than another.  I never find it that easy to label something the best even when I asked to do so.  I am often asked to choose between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai and give my reasons but again there are just so many variables.  Just the other day a friend asked if I had a blank sheet, without all the things that tie me to Chiang Rai, which would I choose.

The answer of course depends on who is doing the answering and on who you are and what you want at this particular time in your life.  In my experience I have also found, just because you choose one place as your residence, it doesn’t preclude spending time in other places.  For example we have been visiting Chiang Mai more frequently of late.

In the past we went to Chiang Mai primarily to visit and stay with a very good friend and do some shopping.  We now have a couple of new reasons to go there.  Our car needs to be serviced in Chiang Mai since the dealership is there and I am having some dental work done, requiring a couple more visits.

I went to two hospitals in Chiang Rai and in both cases the dentist wanted to extract my tooth, something I was not prepared to do.  One dentist recommended a couple of places in Chiang Mai and I chose the best option for me.  We spent the night in a very nice hotel, walking distance from the clinic and turned it into a romantic weekend getaway.

Later this week we have to return to prepare for a crown, my tooth having been saved from extraction.  The service and followup from the clinic has been fantastic so I am expecting to be very satisfied with the end result.  They even tried to find someone in Chiang Rai who could do the crown but the woman they recommended is out on maternity leave and I don’t really want to wait.

For me the trip from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai, and back, usually ends up being more than 500 kilometers.  Believe it or not, I actually like driving in northern Thailand and I really like going on long drives with my wife, regardless of what one may read in the news about driving in Thailand.  We talk, eat and sometimes stop to do a little sightseeing along the way.  For me the trick is to forget about getting to the destination and focus on the sensation of driving and soak up the mood.  Of course the nicer your car and companion, the easier it is to do that.

Chiang Mai has much more to offer in the way of expat life, restaurants, coffeeshops, shopping and entertainment but you would be hard pressed to replicate the physical environment we have here at an affordable price and a reasonable distance from town, even with all the ring-roads in Chiang Mai.  As it is we are more than fifty kilometers from Chiang Rai but I love our drive to town, there is seldom any traffic to speak of and I have chosen environment over people.  The environment soothes my soul and nourishes me, which is more than I can say for most people.  I also like being able to get on my bike and choose from a variety of routes, all starting from my front door, like I did today.

Thirty years in Bangkok and I don’t remember any sunsets but here Cookie and I take our after dinner walk right around sunset, pretty much everyday.  Sometimes, like today, our walk is cut short by the weather and not every sunset is photo worthy but it is always my favorite time of day.

If you are trying to replicate the pace and feel of your previous life, Chiang Mai would come closer to filling that bill in my opinion.  On the other hand if you are looking to step out of your comfort zone and immerse yourself into a life altering adventure where nothing is familiar and everything you do takes effort and thought, then Chiang Rai might have fewer western offerings to distract you from your adventure.

Some people come to Chiang Rai and fit right in with the local expat community.  They seem to be of a similar age and demographic with shared struggles.  Chiang Rai is after all much smaller town and easier to negotiate than Chiang Mai or Bangkok.  One thing that has not changed after eight years up north is that I still find I have more in common with my Bangkok friends or our visitors from overseas, than with the major demographic represented here in Chiang Rai.

Sadly I have one less friend in Chiang Rai these days.  We were in Chiang Mai last week when I read on FaceBook that a friend had died that very morning.  (Without FaceBook I would find it very difficult to stay in touch with our friends spread around the world.)  We went to the cremation the other day and the praise and admiration expressed by the Thai community was moving to say the least.  He was praised for his deep understanding of the language, religion, culture, customs and history of Thailand.  He was given credit for having overseen the construction and repair of several structures at the temple where he was cremated.  He will be missed by many in both the Thai and expat communities.

We were very different in many ways but we were drawn to each other by our shared interests and our long histories in Thailand.  We understood what the other had experienced without the need to explain, which I find rare these days.  I moved here full-time at 23 and he at 33 so some of our experiences were similar and it was just nice to be able to talk with someone who went through some of the same things and knew what one was talking about.

I am guessing new arrivals might have a similar bond with those who are going through the same things they are but I don’t really know for sure.  It is one reason I sometimes suggest newcomers should search each other out and share the burden of adjusting to this new land, unless they are brave enough to do it on their own.  Choosing friends with a complimentary temperament might be a good idea as well.  There is a lot of negativity and many believers in conspiracy theories, so unless that is your cup of tea, you may be better served by searching out those who are more positive and don’t find Thailand such a struggle.

Fantastic Four movie review

By now, you've probably seen a bunch of reviews treating Fox's Fantastic Four reboot like it kicked a puppy. While I haven't read those reviews just yet - I've only glanced at the harsh headlines - I can see why some people are really, really disappointed by the cinematic return of Marvel's first family. That said, the movie does get a lot right... before taking a pretty big downward spiral, that is.

The first half hour or so of this movie is solid and includes what is by far the most interesting material. It mostly revolves around Reed Richard's (Miles Teller) as we see his passion for science and discovery, his close friendship with Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), and his amusingly awkward attempt to talk with Sue Storm (Kate Mara). This humanizing approach, along with the buildup to the Negative Zone Zero Earth is handled really well. It's feels like we're watching a solid sci-fi movie - not a comic book movie - that's inspired by the first volume of Ultimate Fantastic Four. Sure, there's some silly stuff, like how "it's clobbering time" is first used and Sue casually calling Victor Von Doom "Doctor Doom", but overall, this is where the movie really shines and pulls you into a more grounded and enjoyable story.
After the team develops their powers, this is where the movie seems to lose direction. There's a clear message here about the U.S. military and how it focuses on what it needs to do to remain a dominant force, even if it means making some people miserable and callous. I mean, when there's a shot of Dr. Allen (Tim Blake Nelson) - a guy who's clearly working with the military and treating the team like weapons - walking out of a vehicle and into a building, it has blatantly ominous music.

There's hints at character development when the powers are gained: Johnny finally feels like he's found a purpose in life, Sue doesn't want to be a weapon, Thing turned from a tough guy with a big heart into a freaking killing machine, and Reed's simply trying to find a way to fix his friends. However, none of it really goes anywhere; it kind of feels like this time is spent just to give them control over their powers instead of giving their personalities the amount of attention they should receive. I would have loved to see 20 minutes or so dedicated to some scenes that give each of them more insight; the Thing certainly could have used it. Then we're thrown into Doom's return, and unfortunately, that's when things become all kinds of predictable and silly.

Victor Von Doom is a missed opportunity, and that's a real shame because Toby Kebbell proved he's an excellent actor in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I'm fine with changes to the source material, but they have to bring something compelling to the table to justify the new direction. In this case, they attempt to make Victor more humanizing earlier on - he's still somewhat off-putting, but he's far friendlier than you'd expect him to be. Once he changes, the potential is there to have him loathe the Fantastic Four and want to rule Latveria the way he believes it should governed. Instead of that - something which would open the door to more interesting conflicts down the road and a better villain - Doom decides to unleash end of the world scenario #4,852. Look, some movies can get away with using stakes that ridiculously high, but in this movie, the sense of urgency and danger just isn't there and it all happens so quickly. Doom makes a heartless return, but the big battle plays out exactly how everyone thinks it would - and that's because we've seen stuff like this time and time again. It's just not nearly as exciting as it could be and it's very, very generic. When a movie has so much buildup, having this as the payoff is severely disappointing. (Oh, and I'm just going to assume Doom's green cloak is the U.S. flag that was left on the planet and it has been stained by the glowing resources.)
I enjoyed Teller as Richards; he captures the character's personality well and I can see him eventually becoming the team's leader and finally being able to have a strong relationship with Sue. I also liked Bell as Thing. His voice may not be as deep as you'd expect it to be but I think it worked. There was the potential for a really strong arc with him, but it doesn't get the attention it deserves. Michael B. Jordan's Johnny Storm is the last member of the team to be introduced, and while I think he does a fine job with the material he's given, the character isn't quite as uplifting and fun as he should be. He has a few moments of levity in there and the fact he's a thrill-seeker (he street races) means he'll love testing his powers, but when he does finally say "flame on", it's just a casual remark instead of embracing the fact that he can now, you know, fly! If the sequel does happen, hopefully they have his character bring more life to the movie. As for Kate Mara's Sue Storm, it feels like she's there to be a plot device instead of a complex character. There's plenty of time dedicated to her looking at computer screens or testing her powers, but it really does seem like she's there to help locate someone and then provide the team with a force field when they need it. There's a hint of character depth there - she doesn't want to be a tool for the military - but nothing really happens with it, unfortunately.

Fantastic Four begins as a legitimately interesting sci-fi, character-driven movie, but then it doesn't focus enough on what it wants to accomplish with each hero, and then things become unoriginal and disappointing when Doom is brought back into the picture. All in all, I agree with writer-producer Simon Kinberg that it's "not a disaster", but it's definitely not a good movie, either. It had the potential to be one, but then all of the movie's strongest qualities are tossed aside as it speeds towards the big boss battle with Doom. But hey, now that the team has finally bonded, maybe - just maybe - Fantastic Four 2 (if it even happens now) will be great. Until then, we can keep watching The Incredibles. That one's pretty... awesome. Bet you thought I'd say "fantastic", didn't you? Nope! You're welcome.


(There isn't a credits scene. Oh, and Thing dropping from the plane or slowly raising his fist to presumably unleash one hell of a strong punch? You know, the shots that are in many of the trailers? Those moments aren't in the movie.)

Refinishing a table and the Honey do List

Believe it or not I built this table with my own hands , it is from the wood that we took off of the front of the house when we started the remodel. It has been outside in the weather(under the back deck roof) for 12 years and the finish had wore of and it was looking bad , soooo it was on my list to do something with it . As you can see I've got all my stuff ready to jump right into the project.

I am wearing a mask to keep all the fine dust out of my nose and mouth, and a pair of safety googlies to keep dust out of my eyes too.

I started out with a course sandpaper and then a fine grit, and after I had removed all the old finish , I gave it a once over with a fine wet and dry paper and then fine steel wool for the finishing smoothness.

As you can see the weather had really dulled the old finish which if I remember I only put on one coat of urethane , this time I put on three coats with a steel wool rub between each .

I had slid on and off of this bench , having my morning coffee that all the finish had worn off it or cracked , because of being in the sun and weather for 6 years , so this time I gave it 3 coats too. It is so smooth that you can see the little Kapow bush reflecting in the finish.

Take a look at the finish on this table , here to you can see the tree reflecting in it's finish . It took a lot of elbow grease and a sore arm to get it smooth enough for this finish. I like using urethane instead of a normal wood finish or shellac as it will not leave a water or white ring on the table finish when you set something cold or hot on top of it and it cleans up real good with soap and water which you can't do with some finish products.

Come on over to Wang Pho and we'll sit here and enjoy a little chit ,chat and a good cup of coffee or even a good glass of wine if you come in time for lunch .

While I had all my stuff out and the weather was holding up ,I took this opportunity to put another coat (really two more ) of urethane on the back and front teak doors.

I even took a piece of the jack -fruit scraps and made a sign with our names and address , some I have been going to do for 6 years , Maybe I was spending a little to much time in the hammock ha ha .

Well, I know you've seen me mention Ciejay's Honey Do List in a few of my post and to be truthful , It's my to do list too. Yesterday and today for the most part the weather has been just right for getting a few of the List things done , I don't want to wait to long as the time to really enjoy this paradise called the LOS is coming up real fast , the rain will stop , the humidity will go away , and the travel bug will bite and I don't want to have to feel guilty that I didn't get a lot done when I could have .I got a couple things done that were on the list , By the way nothing on the list is earth shattering , if something is really important,( if I can't do it myself) I pay someone that knows how to do the job for me , I have found out that the best thing in owning a home and anything else , that maintenance is a very important thing the better you take care of something the longer it will last and give you years of enjoyment with just a little TLand C.
I took a few pictures of the couple of projects and will write a little description about each . Hope you enjoy the pictures and also I want to show you that I don't spend all my time in the Hammock

August 4, 2015

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Hello from Thailand!!  We are honestly trying to find time to write a weekly letter.  We are learning that time disappears very quickly.  We have passed our one month mark and it seems like only a few days.

The missionaries here are so happy.  It is a joy to serve with them.  We are getting to know each of them better through our visits to each district and interviews.  We have been to a different branch or ward each Sunday and sometimes more than one each week.   The members are the greatest!  They always meet after church and eat together.  They bring Thai food of course and I bring brownies.  I will attempt making Thai food when I have had a lesson or two but until then I think they like having dessert.

Visiting the missionaries for interviews in their districts has been wonderful.  It is amazing how small the world really is because of the church.  We have a Sister Remington here that knows John Healy (Kory’s friend).  We have other missionaries that have ties with people from our stake at home.  This is a funny story…I have a few of the sister missionaries that tell me I remind them of their mother.  One sister keeps trying to convince me that I actually look like her mother.  She showed me a picture Sunday and I was shocked that it was a picture of me with blonde hair.  We took pictures to send to her mom with her next email.  I hope she likes her red hair.

We had a great opportunity to visit the Roi Et ward where mom and dad Johnson served.  They were all so kind and actually helped me when I bore my testimony in Thai by saying outloud the words I
struggled with right during the sacrament meeting.  One sister was in tears and apologized.  We asked her what she could possibly need to apologize for.  She said when she heard a new mission president
named President Johnson was coming to Thailand she hoped it was Ray Johnson.  What a great
member.  She sure loved Grandma and Grandpa when they were here.  The only thing we didn’t like
about Roe Et was the pack of dogs that attacked us at night while we were walking back to our hotel.  Dad complains about the bag he carries around all the time because of how heavy it is, but we were
never more grateful for it than we were that night.  Dad swung his bag and held the dogs off long
enough for a shop worker to call them off.   I was putting on a shirt this morning and saw an enormous cockroach on it.  Truthfully I would rather face the dogs.

We went to Laos last week to meet the four Elders that serve there and the Senior couple, the Bushs.
What a great blessing they are to the people in Laos.  We actually have 2 branches there.  The branch
presidents are amazing men with so much faith.  The branch members are the perfect model for
member missionary work.  The Missionaries in Laos are not allowed to proselyte.  They are there on
Visas to teach English and do humanitarian work.  They can’t wear missionary name tags.   They are
allowed to teach anyone the members refer and bring to church.  Two branches there now thanks to the faithful members.   They have a two hour block in each branch.  The two branches meet after the first block and have lunch together before the second branch meets.  The second branch had a beautiful primary choir sing in sacrament meeting.  They sang “I will follow God’s plan for me”.  They sang 2 verses in Thai and 2 in English.  It was beautiful and so wonderful to see a branch with so many families, married couples, and children.   We were able to accompany Elder Gong (the Asia Area President) and his wife to Laos.  It was wonderful to learn from them.  Elder Gong is a very gracious man.  He shows respect and love for everyone.  He and his wife are both very good at endearing themselves to those they are with.  I could not believe how well the Elders spoke the language.  Elder Hartman was able to translate any conversation and was invaluable when we met with a government official to try and get the church recognized officially in Laos.  We are actually adding 2 new missionaries to serve in Laos this transfer.  We were able to meet after the second branch with the Elders before their interviews and they bore beautiful testimonies of the Savior and how the people in Laos have come to know him and desire to live faithfully.  The spirit was so strong in our meeting and we were all very emotional. The Church has invested heavily in humanitarian project in Laos. In fact, the Church has installed 219 water wells over the past 20 years. The Church also sends about 600 wheelchairs per year to Laos. What a blessing the Church has been to the Country of Laos.

We were able to go to Buriram in Eastern Thailand for a humanitarian project.  The Ure’s are our senior couple over Humanitarian work here.  We went to a small village for a water project.  There were only 8 members of the church living in the village.  We had Dad’s first counselor in the mission presidency, Elder Stoker and his wife come with us.  I think we posted some pictures earlier of the darling children there and the old village people that gave us cloths they weaved and tied around our waists.  They were so grateful.  The story is that this village shares a water source with a neighboring village.  The well is fed by a spring.  If they don’t have rain they run short on water so the village where the well resides turns the water to the neighboring village off for fear they won’t have enough for themselves. This well also provides water to the village school.  Because of this the children had to bring their own drinking water to school.   Elder Ure had teamed up with the local Rotary to circulate mosquito nets and to oversee the water project as it was being completed.  The rotary made a huge fuss at the the airport when we arrived and gave us a lei necklace and took dozens of pictures.  We were fine as long as the children got clean drinking water and the village had water to serve their needs.  I fell in love with all the cute children and had fun taking their pictures and then showing them themselves on the camera.  We went to the school the second day and some of the same children from that village were there and they kept coming up and hugging me.  I vowed then and there that I would not leave for anywhere without a purse full of candy for the cute children.

We participated in the Bangkok North Young Single Adult Conference in Shumphon, Southern Thailand.  It was a pretty beach area known for where the Thai people go instead of tourists.  It was fun to be with the young adults.  They had some fun activities and then we had a fireside where we spoke to them about our meeting, dating, and marriage.  Our assignment was to talk to them and get them to marry.  We had fun showing them our wedding pictures and family pictures and of course the grandkids and telling them our “love story”.  After the fireside we had a dance.  The Thai people do not show any public affection whatsoever.  We actually had them divide into partners and hold hands to dance.  By the end they were complaining for more time to dance.  After the fireside the young adults kept asking to have their picture taken with us.  They love posting on facebook.  I was helping some of the YSA sing and play the guitar.  I thought I recognized the song, “When You Say Nothing At All”.  I asked the sister singing it if that was the song I thought I recognized.  She told me it was but said I can’t seem to sing this one in English.  I sang it with her and a young man played the guitar.  She would get so excited that her English had a strong Thai accent.  I had a hard time keeping her on pitch but it was a lot of fun.  They would clap after every song.  So Cute!  We had to catch an early morning flight back to Bangkok.  The Stake President said that in their testimony meeting 5 of the YSA said they had feelings for a person in their group.  Kelly told them in his talk to be brave and tell a girl that they would like to get to know them and for the girls to let the guy know that they are interested.  Hooray for the 5 and hopefully the 5 that they like.

We are preparing for MLC tomorrow.  Our second one so hopefully it will get easier each time.  We
leave for Myanmar on Friday and return on Monday.  I am very excited to meet the missionaries there.  They are so isolated and alone there.  We are taking them a stash of Tim Tams.  Tim Tams are cookies that are really popular here in Thailand.  I am not sure what to expect there.  Kelly said Myanmar is like Thailand was 30 years ago.  I’ve made up my mind to love it and especially the small branch of members there.  We have one of their members serving here in Thailand as a missionary.  She is the Sister Missionary we met in the MTC that bore her testimony on behalf of her people in Burma.  Love her already.  She has a beautiful testimony and will be an added blessing to the mission.  She wants us to take a letter to her family when we go.

This novel is getting too long but it serves as my journal entry so forgive please.  I have two sister
missionaries here in Bangkok that I just love.  They call me to come have companion study with them and they call me to teach investigators with them.  I have loved it.  Today I went with Sister Alley to visit Susan.  She is from Uganda.  She is having a baby and is living in a catholic shelter for battered and abandoned women.  She has such a beautiful radiance.  We were teaching the 10 commandments and she remembered each one as we taught them.  She actually takes the lessons she learns from the
missionaries and then teaches them to the other mothers in the home.  She has had a complete life
change and is so hopeful and when she prays she is talking to her Heavenly Father.  She knows He is real and that He is listening and that He loves her.  It was all I could do to keep from crying as she prayed.  I cherish these opportunities to teach and bear testimony of a Loving Heavenly Father who loves all His children unconditionally.  It is amazing to see the light come into their eyes as they realize that they do not have to earn Heavenly Fathers love, He simply loves them regardless of what they have done right or wrong and that He wants to talk with them and He wants all of His children to come back and live with Him forever.

Dad is unbelieveable.  He doesn’t sleep much because he reads every missionary letter and responds to each one.  That is almost 200 letters every week.  He also spends a lot of time with each missionary in a personal interview.  They absolutely love that.  Several have told me that when they know President Johnson is coming to their district they prepare for their interview by studying so they know what questions they would like him to answer for them.  He plans and prepares for so many meetings, not only with the missionaries but with all the district leaders and branch presidencies, not to mention all the traveling we do.   We are so excited for Elder Holland to come.  Kelly has been preparing every missionary to be spiritually prepared for a visit from an Apostle of the Lord.  They are using the material he gave them in the companion study and personal study.  I pray that Elder Holland will be inspired to answer their “questions of the soul”.  I miss those talks we had on questions of the soul Jalynn, Jace, and Jaden.

Happy Birthday Momma (G-ma Halstead).  We love you and Dad (G-pa Halstead) so much.  Can’t wait to skype again.  Jami and Jeremy and our beautiful grandkids, we love you tons!!  Jenica and Devin and ETHAN and AALIYAH (so they can read their own names in this letter) and Corbin, we love you too.  Jalynn, it makes our day when you skype, love you so much, Jace you are wonderful, love you son!  Jaden and Jared we love you too!  G-ma and G-pa Johnson we love you!  Thanks for the love and support and prayers family and friends.  We are here to serve and we are so blessed.  Love you all!!

Mom and Dad

A parent's thoughts on Porn ban

"What does porn mean, Dad?" My kid asks.
I panic completely. I try desperately to think where he could have come across that word.  But nothing comes to my mind. Then it hits me!

"I have told you not to play with my computer," I say angrily.
He says,"No! I am trying to read newspaper, as you keep asking me to."
As proof, he shows me the newspaper in his hand. There is a headline about the Government banning porn websites.

I don't understand why the newspapers even mention words like porn in their paper. Don't they know that it could badly influence a big chunk of their audience - ten year olds who read paper due to pressure from their parents? I wish I could request the News Service Providers (NSP) to ban certain objectionable words from their reports. But I can't, because I am not a minister in BJP. So I suck up and explain the meaning of porn to my son.

"I don't know what porn means. Maybe it is a short form for pop corn." I shrug and say, "Go to sports page."
I know! My kid would be left thinking that the Government is this stupid thing which tries to ban popcorn. But I don't want to tell him the truth - Government is even stupider.

Look, when I heard about the ban on porn websites first, I reacted just like other old people.  I shrugged and said to myself, "Who cares? I don't go to Internet searching for porn. I already have downloaded everything I need."
We old timers know from experience that good times don't last forever. Like that ant in the ant and grasshopper story, I have already saved for "rainy day", if you know what I mean.

But then, I remembered the powerful poem about Hitler written by a person whom I am going to call Abhishek Bachchan because I do not know the original author. The poem goes something like this:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for PORN—but there was no one left to download PORN.

Okay, maybe I got the poem wrong. But the point is this: This Government seems to be deciding everything for us; we should not eat beef, we should do yoga and we should not watch porn. I mean, where will it all end? What if they say tomorrow that no parent should force their child to read newspaper?
Where will it leave my poor child?