By Graham K. Rogers
A recent trip to the area around Khaoyai in Nakhon Rachasima province was too good to miss, although things did not go not totally to plan. Here, I outline some of the final day of the retreat. Links to the first and second day reports are below. The writing was delayed for a few days as, almost as soon as we returned, the new semester began and it was a roller coaster week.
On our last day I headed straight for where the cornflakes were hidden and then grabbed some toast with the sugary strawberry jam. After a quick refresh in my room, I packed my bags ready for a swift get away. I made it to the meeting hall with a minute to spare only to see that it was empty.
I sat down and got out my notebook. A teacher, who was one of my students in days gone by, came up and whispered to me that the 0900 start had been put back to 1000. There was no explanation as to why, but I expect that many were feeling tired and emotional after the party the evening before. I went back to my room and downloaded the Safari update that was available.
At 1015 there was the beginning of some activity in the hall: an announcement was made and a satisfaction survey handed out. There were a couple of pep talks, while some of the remnants from the night before drifted in, in a not-untypical display of responsibility. While we were waiting the Dean put the finishing touches to comments he would be making.
Some of the management team, having finally arrived, began their own discussions of events in motivational speeches. These were interspersed with more raucous events and comments from staff, experiencing an unusual laxity in the usual chain of command that most comply with here. Some of the presenters and members of the audience were moved to a few more hugs and I saw a few more moist eyes.
The Dean spoke on official matters. As part of this he started with anonymous comments I had made, after asking my permission. It was obvious they were mine as they were the only ones written in English, and I made a comment when I had written them the day before that, even without my name, whoever read this would know it was me. I had used words like "integration" and "teamwork" but coming from an outsider -- even one who has been here for so long -- these do represent a different view; and it is useful if that view ties in with what the boss thinks. I think.
He also read a number of the comments from the other participants at the previous day's events. There were comments on some of the executive team (those that were there at least) with anecdotes, looking at the ways some of them had been working. I am not sure if these observations went deep enough.
After a quick lunch we loaded the bags onto the buses, although some of the party slipped away in the cars of a few who had come up the previous evening. After a drawn out checking process -- made slightly longer by the missing members -- we were on the road again.
We retraced some of the steps we took coming up on Friday and passed the Go-Kart track as we headed in the direction of the park. Traffic was heavier now that the weekend had started in earnest and some motorists were showing impatience. The nearer we got to the park, the more development there was.
We stopped at an open shopping center built like an Italian village. One of my Thai friends commented when he saw the photos, "I don't know why we have to copy everyone" and the thought had crossed my mind when walking through this photogenic scene. These comments on copying were mirrored by a friend in Bangkok as soon as he saw the photographs I had taken.
Nonetheless, there were several scenes worth recording with my camera. I was particularly pleased with one shot: I came round a corner where two teenagers were leaning against a wall. I took the photograph quickly.
In later editing I turned part of that image into a 20" x 30" poster which I then had printed. That is for sale as a signed one-off for a suitable price.
I only stayed for about 20 minutes and went back to the air-conditioned bus, but my seat was in direct sunlight, so I slowly began to cook. When the coach left, we did not turn to the park as I had hoped, but headed back to the highway.
I switched to the iPad for music as the iPhone charge icon was showing dangerously low. I had used it heavily already during the morning, and while the bus was stopped used it as a personal hotspot, drawing power all the more.
I dozed off as the bus moved along gently, but almost woke a couple of times as there were bumps in the road and a couple of sharp bends. I came back to life as we turned left onto a minor road market 2220 and a short way along entered a clean, white temple with several gold coloured statues and a white Buddha high on the hill above. Peacocks and chickens patrolled the grounds.
I tend to stay in the background at these locations. I am not Buddhist although living here for a number of years has given me an empathy with both Buddhism and Islam. While most of my colleagues and students are Buddhist and some events at the university are of a religious nature, many students and other people I know are Muslim and are some of the nicest people I know.
I bought a beverage and an ice cream. Seated near the entrance to the main part of the temple with the chickens, I watched my colleagues at their devotions until the ants persuaded me it was time to return to the bus.
After the temple it was back to the highway and I was able to load up some of the images I had taken into Aperture on my Mac. There was a hefty update for this and iPhoto that weekend. Aperture is in need of improvement and sometimes editing images is like working in molasses.
And then the stop near Muak Lek to buy all manner of edibles for the folks back home (and for myself of course). As well as crispy pork, local honey, biscuits, candies and much other produce, this is the home of the Muak Lek curry puff: a small pie that looks vaguely like a small Cornish pasty and contains a mild curry. There were several versions including pork, chicken, bean and strawberry (strawberry?). I took 2 boxes of mixed chicken and pork puffs. We were on the road for home just before 4pm and I noticed there were several more of these roadside markets within a short distance.
After leaving the area of Muak Lek, first there was the spectacular run down the hill from the Korat Plateau to the Central Plain. Although the road surface is a bit uneven, this is a wonderful bike ride (although I prefer the uphill side), but drivers or riders need to be alert and ready for problems. This downhill stretch has a high accident rate and the Highway Police checking trucks at the top may have reminded a few drivers of the need for caution.
To the left I could see spectacular hills in the distance as we made the descent, but close to the road there were too many abandoned commercial ventures. There was an accident near the bottom of the hill: a couple of vehicles had collided but there seemed to be no injuries. Another accident south of Saraburi slowed traffic down for a few minutes but the overturned truck was off the road and the fairly light traffic was soon clear.
With the iPhone 4S battery running seriously low, I took a chance and connected it to the MacBook Pro, itself already down to 50% charge, in the hope that the phone battery would be charged. I would not use the Mac any more until I arrived home, so as long as I left some juice for data protection, that should be OK. The process was slower than using the power socket of course, but the threatening red soon changed to a more welcome green. I let the Mac drop to 30%, by which time the iPhone was showing just over half full, which was enough for the rest of the day.
Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs.