of soaring & dreaming

September 8, 2008

Glad to be away

Filed under: Events,travel — carnationzky @ 8:38 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
Ubon city with the Mun River running alongside it.

Ubon city with the Mun River running alongside it.

I am just so glad that I was away almost the whole week last week. I needed the break from the rigors of working here which had quite become so stressful. Or maybe it was me stressing everyone? I had a very wonderful time in Ubon Ratchathani, northeast Thailand attending the Mekong Fisheries Symposium despite suffering from stomach problems. It was so nice to be with friends and professionals. I am not saying I do not have friends and there are no professionals here. It was just a different setting over there. I think the most common question we asked every time we saw a familiar face was: “Do you remember me?” Some people I haven’t seen for more than 15 years and now we had a chance to meet again, mostly AIT alumni and former UBU colleagues. I even met somebody from the Philippines who is now neighbors with my former boss. Nothing amazing in that except that since I left for graduate studies way back in 1989, I haven’t seen or heard from my boss. So now I know his whereabouts which is a good thing.

It was also good to go back to Ubon Ratchathani where we lived for three years in late 90s. We did go up to visit it when we left. The place has really developed but still it has maintained its old ways and native charm. There is still no public transport at night, people wake up early in the morning, shops close early in the evening, and food is still delicious. We got to visit the usual places where we used to eat (Ban Nam Jok, Indochine, Rim Mun Market, Nescafe) as well as the new joints (such as Sep Soi 9).

I like the silk and other kinds of cloths they produce.

I like the silk and other kinds of cloths they produce.

One of the things I would normally do in Ubon was to go shopping for some nice and native stuff which could not be found in Bangkok. Or, if available in Bangkok, they would be several times more expensive. Especially the nice woven cloths both silk and cotton, as well as the blouses and shirts.

It is always nice and rewarding to reconnect with people we once knew. That is why communication is so important, as well as networking. As we reconnect with old friends and acquaintances, we also get to meet new ones. And we hope that the connections and reconnections never end. Even as we age and change in some ways, there are still aspects of us that will never change.

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August 26, 2008

Field trip to Bangkok

Our first field trip during the recently concluded training on Sustainable Communities was to explore Bangkok using the different public transportation modes, especially the modern ones. First we went to the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA) Transportation Division, then later to the Metropolitan Rapid Transport Administration (MRTA) Office. In both offices we met AIT alumni both from the older (70s and 80s) and recent batches. We were shown what they are doing regarding mass public transport and their plans to better the situation in Bangkok and nearby areas, regarding transport system for the public. It was nice to listen to their dreams and they really are sincere in trying to make things better. It would be good to have a seamless transport system in Bangkok and we do not have to drive our cars but just hop on at the nearest train or bus station near our home. We were shown the plans of BMA for a Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) System and hope this will be successful. Also MRTA’s expansion plans which include going even to AIT/Thammasat. Wow that will be the day, when we do not have to drive, with the train station just next door and we can go all the way down to Bangkok. That will be good also to the environment, and our pockets.

Smile! We were all camera crazy inside the train!

Smile! We were all camera crazy inside the train!

After the meetings, we went to the nearest MRT station, at the Thai Cultural Center. All of us were excited, even me, as I do not use the subway really. The last time I used it was a long time ago. If I have a choice I would use the sky train. But actually I did not have any qualms using the same thing in London, Manila, Netherlands, Singapore, Tokyo and Toronto . Except here because of some safety issues. But maybe it is better now. We used the subway to go to Chatuchak Market/Mochit Station so we could transfer to the BTS/sky train. We were quite a big group and so it was quite a worry maybe for the guides in case some of us got lost! It was quite easy in the subway as there was not much crowd there. So we got to the Chatuchak Station and we went up to connect to the sky train. We noticed immediately that the two stations are not connected as one has to go out to the road to get up to the sky train station. It would have been better if a connection from the inside goes directly up to the sky train. With our big group joining the outside crowd, it was hard keeping up. Some of us were already up in the BTS station while the others were still walking on the road trying to catch up with the first group. Anyway we finally got together and my, what a crowd! We waited for the card tickets and some of us were given the coins to experience the use of the card machines. Nice. Some went to the mini-mart nearby to buy some cold drinks and gum. Another convenience. We were on a field trip so we had to observe these things that will make transport system in Bangkok more efficient and effective. Once everyone had the card, we went up to wait for the train.

)

Some of us had to stand. Some were shy to look at the camera 🙂

There was one waiting already but we did not take it. So we just moved to the side to wait for the next train. Unfortunately those in our group who came up last thought we were already in the train, and so they ran into the train. The train was about to leave and there we were, shouting, “come out! come out!” They had to hurry to come out or else they would not know where to go once they were on the train, and they would probably not know how to contact us. If that happened, probably they would just go shopping! Anyway, one of them said that the way we were screaming “come out! come out!” was so frightening!!

When the next train came, we got on. It was good to get seats and a relief as inside was so cool. Even cold. We got off at the Victory Monument, where we really felt lost in the crowd. We had to keep our eyes on our leader, Amorn, a PhD student. But after some time we lost him. But I knew we were going to look at the Victory Monument and the transportation dynamics there, so I just kept on. The others followed. After that we saw him again so we knew we were on the right track. We continued also to take photos. It was fun for me to be in Bangkok and not in the car for once. I get to see and experience some other different things. Anyway, time was up and our vans were waiting under.

Traffic was ok at this time but could get worse during rush hour and heavy rains.

Traffic was ok at this time but could get worse during rush hour and heavy rains.

Our next stop was the canal for the boat transport in Pratunam near the Central World. It was a short drive and surprisingly there was no traffic in Petchburi Road. We got off our vans and walked up to the bridge and observed the boats with passengers. At first we thought we would ride the boats but we just observed it. Even looked around as there were many other things to see, such as the sidewalk vendors and the pedestrians. It seems the water in the canal is cleaner than before and there was not much smell. Anyway, it is surely a cheaper and faster means of transport but people can get wet from the water spray.

We did not try the buses, taxis, motorcycles and tuktuks, but I bet that everyone had a chance somehow to experience them during other times, esp. when they went out to go shopping!

Didn't get on the boat this time.

Didn't get on the boat this time.

After the trip we went up to cross the flyover to go to Central World to have our dinner. However, for me and two friends from Kenya (Edith and Lillian), we crossed back again to go to Big C, where food and other stuff are cheaper. We had about 1.5 hours before we got back to AIT. We had dinner at the Food Center and they were quite impressed with the taste of the food and the price, which was quite cheap. They ordered Thai fried rice which cost 30 baht per plate. For me I ordered Pad Thai. Then we bought drinks and our dinner was less than 100 Baht per person. One of them said that food was cheap, and wondered why the previous night they paid more than 1,000 Baht for their dinner. Probably they had it in a posh hotel? We then moved around the hypermart and grocery section to buy some stuff.

View from the flyover between Big C & Central World

Then off to the meeting place in front of Arnoma Hotel. It was a long wait for the vans to arrive due to traffic (as usual). It was indeed a long day and we arrived back at AIT at around 9 pm.

View from the flyover between Big C & Central World

August 12, 2008

Training on Sustainable Communities

I enjoyed Singapore's public transport system.

I enjoyed Singapore's public transport system.

I am currently attending the International Continuing Education Course on Sustainable Communities: Bridging the Gap between Research and Action. The course is conducted at the Asian Institute of Technology Conference Center in Pathumthani, Thailand. It started on 11 August and will run until 22 August. The organizers of this training are AIT (Urban Environmental Management Program), Helsinki University of Technology, UN-HABITAT and UNEP. Major funding is provided by the Government of Finland. The Opening Ceremony was held yesterday, 11 Aug, and was attended by Mr. Lars Backstrom (Ambassador of Finland to Thailand), Mr. Toshi Noda (Director, Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, UN-HABITAT), Ms. Dechen Tsering (Deputy Regional Director, Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, UNEP) and AIT dignitaries such as Prof. V. Wuwongse (VP for External Relations) and Prof. S. Kumar (Dean, School of Environment, Resources and Development). Dr. Edsel E. Sajor, the Local Organizer, emceed the Ceremony.

There are 28 participants from Asia and Africa, coming from diverse backgrounds and experiences, but with a common goal in mind, to know more about how to make communities sustainable. Some of the issues and points mentioned by the speakers during the Opening Ceremony are highlighted below:

Prof. V. Wuwongse spoke on behalf of AIT, welcomed all the participants, guests and organizers, and informed the audience of AIT’s commitment to sustainable development. He also acknowledged the financial support from the Government of Finland.

Prof. S. Kumar spoke on behalf of SERD, saying that the topic is timely and necessary. He mentioned that it is a great challenge to bring research results into action. He also shared what AIT is doing to contribute to the global economy and development, and confirmed AIT’s commitment to contribute to sustainable communities through education, research, training, outreach, etc.

Ambassador Lars Backstrom said that he was glad to know that the topic on sustainability is being followed or pursued, which has a huge interest for the future of the planet. He said that his government is happy to finance this course to be able to reach a wider range of people so that they will know more about sustainable communities. He emphasized the need for closer cooperation between academe/research and practitioners. He cited Bangkok as a complex city and it would be good for the trainees to know more about it through the exposure from this training. He commented that Bangkok can do with a public transport system, and it has moved forward with providing such system but it has least space for streets compared to other cities in the world. He further added that there is a huge amount of cars but there is no space to accommodate them. Major issues faced by cities include pollution in Chiangmai and vulnerability in Bangkok, i.e. it is only 1.5 m above sea level so it will be affected by global warning. However, there are some who say that there is no proof of it. In Phnom Penh, the poor are being driven out of the city and their land is being taken away from them. Finland is helping them to have claim on their land, with about 6 million titles to be given out.

Mr. Toshi Noda thanked the organizers and the support and assistance given. He also welcomed the participants. He went on to talk about UN Habitat activities, on housing issues and their aim to promote socially and environmentally sustainable cities. He mentioned that cities are growing at rapid rates with both good and bad issues to tackle, and that by year 2050, 6 billion people will be living in cities. Urban areas generate wealth and opportunities but at the same time also crimes and other social problems, thus sustainable urban development is one of the greatest challenges. This is directly related to the MDGs to improve lives of city dwellers (esp. targets 7, 10). We can’t reach this goal without collaboration and cooperation with local communities who need to participate and take action by themselves.

Ms. Dechen Tsering noticed that participants come from different backgrounds and we need this diversity to network beyond our own. She asked a question: what do sustainable communities mean to us? Asia’s cities will increase but it is also home to a large % of poor. There are issues of climate change, housing settlement problems, green house emissions, impacts of increase in global temperature and food security, among others. There are many challenges, with cities as the major source of emissions. There are many issues affecting sustainable communities, including refugee situation and other conflicts, vulnerabilities of climate change and dramatic transformations. She said that political leadership and will to change are important factors. She mentioned that UN is implementing sustainable clean and green initiatives. It is important to have partnerships with other UN agencies, civil society organizations and other groups to expand networks. She also noticed that there are good practices but they are not upscaled or replicated in a manner that other cities can follow; we need to know what are the gaps and barriers to avoid and how technologies can be shared.

The speeches given by the guests were very useful and good starting points to get us started thinking re: how this training can be useful towards processing some of the issues affecting our own communities, work and studies. I will be writing in this blog about this training and my experiences whenever I find time.

More links:

http://global.tkk.fi/Continuingeducation.html

http://www.unhabitat.org/

So many urban related issues facing most cities ...
So many urban related issues facing most cities …

August 2, 2008

have time? will travel …

It was in June when my sister in Manila informed me that she and my niece, Kate, will be going to Singapore towards the end of July. My niece, who is a student at the Shirley Halili-Cruz Dance School in Quezon City, is joining the school group for some ballet competition (the 10th Asia-Pacific Dance Competition). I was so excited to hear about it and immediately I started to check my calendar. It would be nice to meet up in Singapore, it being nearer and easier to go to (from Bangkok, that is) than to the Philippines.

Fortunately, I had so many days of leave credits which I need to use up before my contract ends in August. As the case here at AIT, as a fixed term contract worker, we could not carry over our leave credits to the next contract period, even if it is within the same project. And it could not be converted to cash either. So if you do not use them, you lose. After all the hard work … hmmm… It was also a surprise that I accumulated that many leave credits because there was no official announcement from our HRO that the monthly leave credit was increased from 1 to 1.5 days. I dunno even when it started. Am just so happy to learn that but I wished I knew earlier so I did not have to take leave without pay a few months earlier (in April) when I went home to Philippines for my holiday. So now I am left with about 10 days leave with barely 2 months to go in my contract. And with a 2 week training program to participate in the following month (August), I have few remaining days to work and so how can I use them up?

So there, the opportunity came up to travel. And I can choose to go as long as I want but it’s not only my own sked to consider. My DH has to come, too, and we have to check his sked whether he could take leave. Fortunately again, that period in July is graduation time at the university where he is teaching. In Thailand, graduation ceremonies take days to complete, so there is basically no work to be done during that period. Which means he is free to take leave as well and travel. So schedule wise, we are ok.

Now the time to check for flights and accommodations. We know that flights to Singapore from Bangkok have a wide range of prices and choices of airlines. Sometimes they really have cheap promos but during this period, there was none. So we had to check the budget airlines and we were able to book one with Air Asia. That’s ok. Next comes the accommodation. So expensive in hotels, that’s out of the question. In the meantime we contacted our dear friend, Lailin and she offered to find one for us among her friends. So that was solved.

So everything was set, we just had to wait. In the meantime, excitement is building up. We do not normally travel just for a holiday. Except for the visit to home in the Philippines, the travels we often do are work-related (professional) and with the ministry. And in times of economic difficulties, work related travel is a good enough chance to travel as a tourist as well. So no need to plan for expensive holidays.

I will be writing blogs on varied topics related to our Singapore trip in the following days. So stay tuned!

June 30, 2008

Traffic and rain

Filed under: Life stuff — carnationzky @ 3:40 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

We were caught in heavy rain and traffic tonight on our way to the mall. We should not have gone out considering that clouds were gathering when we left. After eating our dinner by the Swan Lake, where we had somtam, fried pla tap tim, namtok mhu, and sticky rice, we drove to Future Park. It was nearly 7 pm. We wanted to frame some photos for the wall. We have just made the U-turn from AIT and passed Bangkhan when the drops started to fall. By the time we reached Pinehurst area on Pahonyothin Rd. the rain fell harder, and traffic seemed to stop. We turned on to FM100 to listen to the road news. This is a public service radio station wherein people can call in to ask for help. They also have volunteers to report on the traffic conditions in specific areas around Bangkok and suburbs. So we heard that on the Pahonyothin Highway a few km ahead of us, there was some accident. So that was why the traffic, though moving, was at a snail’s pace. And together with the heavy downpour, it made matters worst. We were in the outside road then we decided to go in. But things were the same. It was taking us a very long time that we decided not to go to FP anymore. We  passed the U-turn already to go back to AIT. So we went farther to go up the tollway and get off the next exit to get to the next U-turn. But it turned out that that area was also crowded so we went up again to the tollway. We ended up paying the 55 Baht for tollfee on that route. The rain was still heavy but at least the way was clear. There was no traffic here. But the opposite side was so crowded that traffic seemed to be at a standstill. And we had to go that way once we eventually made our U-turn. So we went on until we took the exit at  Central Ladprao, and made a U-turn to get on the tollway back to Don Muang. Another fee to pay at 35 Baht. So we were up again on the tollway to go back to AIT. After a few minutes, we got stuck again in the traffic. We had to be patient. At least the vehicles were moving. It was just made slower by the fact that there were so many cars exiting towards Lamlukka and Rangsit, and below those making the U-turn as well. That was why we had to go farther earlier because of the gridlock in that area. We did not have to go down here so we went ahead. We had to pay another fee, this time for 20 Baht. And it was good that after this bottleneck, the road was clear again. So we were on our way back without traffic now. But the rain was still heavy. When we came down from the tollway we looked at the opposite lane where we passed earlier. Traffic there was now at a standstill. Imagine if we did not make the decision and still insisted to keep going there, we would not yet be home at this time. We spent quite a lot just to use the tollway, and also used fuel for nothing. We should never have gone out in the first place. There’s no use feeling regret about it although it was quite a waste of time, energy, fuel and money. We just had to spend and move less this week to compensate for that. For me I kept praying for His protection every time a vehicle cut in front or overtook us.  We thank God for protecting us while on the road.

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