Friday, 13 May 2016

Wheat free diet from now on?

For years I have put up with heart burn and gastric reflux, generally either ignored or treated with antacids. This has made it uncomfortable to lie down after eating, which is why I don't like to eat late at night and some days I just get through by drinking lots of water and hoping to flush out whatever it is. Lots of water does help as does "going to the toilet".
I was diagnosed in my late teens as having a duodenal Ulcer and a weak sphincter muscles that stops food going back up the Esophagus after eating. After treating the ulcer, which in those days was not actually treatable, I was told to modify my diet and to "live with it."
When talking to Doctors about continuing heartburn in later years I was told to keep off booze, coffee and fatty foods. Never once was wheat, gluten or wheat products mentioned. I never really pushed for answers or solutions.
More recently I had a lunch with a long term friend and he mentioned that he also had regular heartburn. Like me he had been told to drink less, eat less rich foods and eat less. We commiserated with each other and moved onto other subjects. But this raised the priority in my subconsciousness.
Over the next few weeks I seemed to be bombarded with information and messages about gluten, proteins in wheat flour and people suffering from allergies. It began to make me wonder if I was mildly allergic to either gluten or the wheat proteins. So recently I took myself off food that I knew contained wheat or might contain wheat. No breads, no pasta, no cakes and no dry biscuits. No burgers, no Pizza, no sausage rolls, no toasties no battered anything.
At this stage I can say that after 2 weeks I have only had one instance of acidity, that was mild and could be attributed to a bite of Garlic Bread that I started to eat without thinking.One incidence of feeling bloated that could be attributed to too much food or too much fat.
My self diagnosis is not truly scientific in many ways, I have not kept a food diary, I have not noted details of symptoms, I have not had any blood tests or medical input. But I can say that my "movements" have been more solid, but that could be attributed to a course of antibiotics for a dental procedure also incidentally cleaning out my gut bacteria. I have not suffered heartburn. I have not suffered from discomfort when lying down.
The way to test this is to go and eat some bread. To be honest though it is so nice to be heartburn free that I am reluctant to take this step.
I enjoy eating fresh bread or Vegemite on toast, or a toasted sandwich as a quick snack. Missing out on eating cakes or biscuits is not a big deal to me, although I do like to bake those when I have a chance. Burgers are good too.
I am not sure where to go with this. A lifetime without bread seems a bit harsh, on the other hand a lifetime free of heartburn will be very nice. Maybe my diagnosis is wrong and other factors are causing the heartburn. Maybe there is a level of wheat that I can eat without triggering too much discomfort? Who knows.
The Bludger may be slightly intolerant to wheat proteins or gluten.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Getting a Tourist Visa for China from Thailand

You have reached this page because you a Foreigner in Thailand and want to work out how to get a Tourist Visa for China. Personally I found information hard to find and so I have written this post to help others.
The Chinese Embassy web site has some information. I found that it was not complete however.
All Visa Processing is actually done at the Visa Application Service Centre not at the Embassy.
This link leads you to a form where you can select which country you want to apply from and which city, or you can go straight to the Bangkok page.
I strongly recommend that you read their step by step process on that page.
For me it took 3 attempts to get things right. This was because at each stage my paperwork was insufficient, I learned a little bit more each time until I got it right.
Here is the official list of what is required, but  that is not quite complete either. Click on the image to see it larger.
As well as that list you may need a Declaration that you are not intending to work in China. I suggest that you prepare and print one along with the other Documents
  • You can apply for the visa up to 90 days in advance.

  • !!!!!You can only get a 30 day Tourist Visa in Bangkok!!!!

Preparing your Documents

All documents must be typed, not written in hand. In fact the Visa Application form says typed in Uppercase.

1. Passport

2. Visa application form.

You fill this out online it is a PDF document. Note that it says typed in uppercase.
You can get the form is several locations here is a link but I suggest that you check that it is valid before using it.
Note that before starting this form you need an itinerary, some hotel accomodation booked for at least the first night or an Invitation Letter. You need to put these details in the form.
If you have a laptop or tablet with Acrobat reader you can save the form, otherwise you need to print it out. If you make a mistake you may need to start all over again.

3. Photocopy of Passport ID page

4. Photocopy of Thailand Immigration Stamp

If you are not permanently living in Thailand this is your tourist visa.
If you are permanently living in Thailand this is your Non Imm B, retirement, marriage or whatever Visa you are on.
Your travel plans should show that you are leaving Thailand before this expires

5. Photocopy of Previous Chinese Visa

If you have been to China before, otherwise not needed.

6 . Letter of Certificate Yourself or 7. Work Permit - photocopy

If you have a Work Permit in Thailand you do not need this, show the work permit details instead.
This is a simple statement of who you are, where you live, what work you do and passport details. The following information is required. Remember this is typed and not hand written.
  • 1. Your name
    2. Country
    3. Passport Number
    4. What is your job?
    5. What do you do in Thailand?
    6. What is your purpose to go to China?
    7. You stay in China since.…until….
    8. You will pay for you trip
    9. Sign your name

8. Flight Ticket (go and back)

Booked and confirmed flights into and out of China. It says return I didn't want to return so they accepted an onward ticket. (To Hong Kong for me).
You are going to have to pay for these up front. So if you change plans make sure that flights can be altered or refunded.

9. Hotel reservation in China

Or alternately an Invitation Letter plus relevant details. (Look elsewhere for Invitation Letter requirements.)
This part was frustrating, eventually I obtained an Invitation Letter from someone I knew.
The Visa Processing Service Centre seems only to want to have the first night accommodation booked. It seems to be a tick in the box situation. No accom, no Visa.
However your travel itinerary, part of the Visa Application form, wants addresses of hotels in the places you visit. I wanted to freewheel my travel and not have a set itinerary. This did not sit well.
I offer no advice on how to meet both those needs.

10. Photocopy of Bank statement

Ultimately they did not ask me for this. I offered it but it was not required.

11. Wording of the declaration that you will not work.

Something like this will do. You will need to make it look pretty.


To whom it may concern.

My name is xxxxxxxx. My nationality is xxxxxxxxx, I hold passport no: xxxxxxxxxx

My  employer is xxxxxxxxx

I am normally employed as an xxxxxxxxx

While in China I will not work as an xxxxxxxxxxx. I will respect the laws and culture of China.

Date: xxxxxxxx

Signed xxxxxxxx

At the Visa Processing Service Center

You can look up the address. I normally went to Petchaburi MRT station and walked the rest of the way. Use Exit 2 and turn left along Phetchaburi Rd when you exit the station. About 7 minutes walk. There are motorcycle taxis if you are lazy or in a hurry.

I found the staff to be very friendly and very helpful. You go up the lift to Level 5 and the office is easy to find. A person at the front does the initial assessment. If your paperwork is in order you will get a ticket to be processed. If not they will tell you what you need to do.

The guard at the entrance can do minor photocopying e.g. ID page of Passport, but not big jobs. He also had glue to stick pictures to the application form.
On level 2 of the building is a general store with a couple of PCs and a photocopier. If you have overlooked something they can normally help out. But they do get busy and you are requested not to tie up the PCs for too long as others are waiting.

If you find this useful let me know.

the Bludger is all done.

Friday, 3 October 2014

USA - Here I come

Getting there.

My last working school day of the semester. I was very busy as I was trying to get things organised for second semester and ensuring that I could have a holiday and come back to school ready to go. I was pressed because when I booked my holiday in the USA, the school was unable to give me the dates for second semester and so I guessed the return date. As it happened the second semester started early and I did not actually return in time to start it.

Friday night there were some drinks with Expats but overall a quiet night. Cat, my girlfriend, joined me from Ayutthaya at about 10:30pm. We had a quiet night.

Saturday was my day for getting organised. Cat was both a help and a distraction. By mid afternoon bags were packed, clothes had been washed and dried and we both headed off to Ayutthaya. On a good day if the connections are working and traffic is light this trip takes about 4 hours door to door. This trip was a little longer, as we had to wait for a long time to get the minivan. It was late when we got to Ayutthaya.

Sunday was spent with Cat and is already a blur of temples, drinks, meals and a little relaxation.

Monday Cat went to work and I made my way to Bangkok. I had an early flight on Tuesday and a hotel booked near the airport. The hotel offered a shuttle bus service and I was booked for the 3am shuttle. Cat joined me in the evening after leaving work. Rather than do the sensible thing and have a quiet night we went out for a meal and stayed up till late watching "sing a song". We left about midnight, maybe we should have stayed longer and gone straight to the airport.

Tuesday was an early start, and a long day spent in aircraft. I departed Bangkok at 6am on a 10 hour flight to Tokyo, my connection was delayed an hour and then a further 7 hours to Seattle. With time zone changes it was only 9am Tuesday morning. "Three" hours after I left BKK.

At Seattle Airport I met Susan and we then headed to New Orleans with a change of aircraft in Salt Lake City. We arrived at our hotel in New Orleans about 10pm.
By this stage I had managed maybe 5 hours sleep and neither of us was certain how I would be feeling. As it was I was wide awake and feeling good. Well I was after a long hot shower. New Orleans time is exactly 12 hours different to BKK, so for my body clock it was 10am.
So naturally Susan and I headed off to Bourbon Street. We were in search of food and music. We put our head into a few places just to check things out. We eventually settled in a bar with a Jazz band, no food and an extensive drinks list. We stayed until 2am when the bar shut down. The music was good, but somehow not inspiring, 3 musicians on stage who left you with the impression that they had been doing the same routine for far too long and were bored to death with their gig. Only the drummer who was quite younger than the other two seemed to show any signs of animation.
Bourbon Street itself was pretty quiet that night, we walked back along it to our hotel, decided not to try any other venue, had a late night hot dog and went to bed.
That was the first and last time that the Bludger spent any time in Bourbon Street! We avoided "hand grenades" and "hurricanes".

Thursday, 3 July 2014

A small(ish) winge

The last few weeks have been difficult for me.
An already busy job became even busier when one of the teachers fell sick, left work, and ultimately decided not to come back. I started picking up some of his classes from the first morning that he didn't show up.
After a couple of weeks I realised that this was going to be a long term option and put some effort into managing some of his classes on a permanent basis. I chose classes that I could fit into my schedule and that I had already been covering. A few days later the school administration came to the same conclusion and ultimately classes were re-arranged and distributed amongst all the teachers.
Unfortunately for me all my extra work was for nothing as I was assigned different classes. I was able to hand over some material, grades and assessments to other teachers, but no one was organised enough to return the favour. That rankled a little bit. These were teachers that claim to be highly experienced and on top of everything, but ultimately, to my eye did a poor job of covering the necessary work beyond turning up to a classroom prepared to keep the class engaged for the required time.
This extra workload came on top of an already busy schedule. I have not completed a full year at the school yet. In my first Semester I was working 70 or more hours per week, just to keep my head above water. This, my second semester, I am more on top of things. However I am still writing training and study guides for work that must be done in the following week. Most weeks I put in between 50 and 60 hours. That seems a bit of a joke when officially I have 18 teaching hours, 20 with the current overload.
For most lessons it takes the equivalent of 1 or 2 lessons to prepare the material and then further time afterwards to do marking, assessment and grading of the students work. Once again it galls me when I see my fellow teachers arriving at or just after the official start time, leaving the second that the clock reaches 4pm and never seem to do any marking or planning. In fact those around me seem to have plenty of time to sit and chat and take life easy.
It makes me wonder about the quality of their teaching and the experience that the students are getting.
To be fair, there are teachers that appear to be very diligent in their work. It is not just me doing long hours.
I just became a machine and just plowed through my work, socialising just about zero, not going away on weekends and trying to avoid any distractions. I thought that I was just keeping on top of things but as I now start to prepare for submitting mid semester grades I can see that I have failed to assess a number of classes adequately.
To top it off we then had 2 Teachers go off Sick at the same time. One was off for a week, the other for 2 days. I could see the grey hairs growing on the course Director's head. I wasn't feeling too good myself while this happened as I had caught a heavy cold and had root canal therapy on a tooth. No way could I take time off, so I just battled on and felt like crap for 3 days.
But I am almost at the end of it now. My cold has abated, the pain from my tooth has abated the two sick teachers are back at work and a replacement teacher starts next week. On top of that we are in mid term exams. I have to do assessments and grading and supervise exams but at least I do not have to prepare and deliver lessons for a week.
On the positive side, I am having some good times with my students. Recently I bumped into one at a counter of a coffee shop. She stepped in close to me and laid her head on my shoulder. That was heart warming.
The Bludger has just stopped whining.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Customer Service - Thai Style

One of the things about Thailand that constantly surprises me is the high level of Customer Service that I encounter.
The patchy nature of English literacy and language skills can make any commercial transaction a somewhat daunting experience. I know that I, and no doubt many foreigners, do not go into some restaurants and cafes and shops and businesses because it can be daunting. Many foreigners take their Thai wives or girlfriends or a friend to help deal with the challenges.
I do not have that luxury so I have to boldly go where others fear to tread. Food is often easy if you can point at what you want. Most food stalls in markets, food halls and on the street sell a narrow range of products which limits the choices. But even a street vendor can have many variations of what they provide. Below is a photo from the menu of one of my local vendors. For a small cart it is a bewildering choice. I, and no doubt many others, eat just a small range of what is available based on food that I have learned the words for. As a side note, it is my current goal to learn to read such menus and learn how to ask for what I want, not just what I see.

But the presence of English is often surprising, the person in the market who I bought Coconut milk from ended up having very good English skills. There is a lady in a restaurant nearby who speaks fluently, I get surprised at times when I buy something and get told the price in English.
What triggered these thoughts however was a recent experience to buy a new mobile phone and put it on to a plan.
On arriving in Thailand I purchased a Thai SIM that connected me to a prepaid service. It is pretty easy to top this up at 7/11's and a range of other businesses. Earlier this week however my mobile phone died unexpectedly and it was time to buy a new one. Pretty easy to do in Thailand as there are phone shops everywhere. However I also considered it time to get on to a post paid plan which included Internet and retain my current number. While that is a pretty common and relatively simple task, even in Australia that would take a bit of time and effort, filling out forms, proving my identity etcetera. So the same process done in Thailand was a little bit daunting.
I spent some time wandering around shops looking for phones and settled on a make and model with the features that I wanted at a price that I was interested in.
I then checked with my current provider to see if it was available through them. What I discovered was that it was available and that they had a special deal where I could get onto a phone/data plan at a huge discount for 12 months if I transferred in from another phone service or I had a particular exisiting service. Which by chance I had.
So last night I fronted up at my local Phone provider office and took a number to wait for service. The wait was about an hour. I had come prepared with a printout of the phone and plan that I wanted, plus my passport, plus my Work Permit, plus my address written down in English and Thai plus some cold hard cash.
I was served by a young girl who spoke no English. The two of us battled on with pointing and the occasional help of a cashier who did speak a little English. I bought the phone which involved the cash transaction plus a check of my Work Permit.
We then proceeded to setting up the plan. There was a small hitch when I could not understand that she wanted me to confirm that I wanted to switch from prepaid to post paid. But we got there. All the while she smiled and worked diligently and showed great patience. At one stage she thrust a form at me to fill out in Thai. I just looked at it, then at her with a helpless look. She got the message, smiled and we both had a bit of a laugh. She pointed out where I needed to sign and then completed the form herself.
She had to make some changes on her computer on their systems. She then assembled the phone for me and burnt me a new SIM. I thought that she copied my old numbers across, but I either had none on the old SIM or I was mistaken. In any case I lost all my phone numbers as I cannot read the old SIM (different size) in the new phone and my old phone is completely dead.
I was then done and finished.
All that time I had been treated with courtesy and respect and patience. No sign of annoyance and no problem too difficult to overcome. Not a word of English spoken by the customer service person other than common borrow words like "passport". I guess that I helped by bringing all the information that I might need. But overall great Service from my local Telewiz (AIS) Office and a daunting experience became an enjoyable one.
I also have a similar experience whenever I go into my Bank. I always feel that I am well treated and people go out of their way to help. It would be easy for the staff to "not understand" but they are always helpful and friendly.
The Bludger likes good Customer Service.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Teaching EFL in Thailand - Part 1

A day in the life of an ESL Teacher in Thailand.
Disclaimer: Every day is different and this is a composition of several days and weeks of teaching to give a flavour of how it works.
6:00 am I awake and check the time. It is just getting light outside. I have slept well but been aware of noise throughout the night. I am literally 100 metres from the train station. Periodically trains come and depart on their way to or from Bangkok. I hear their whistles and the station announcements over the public address system from the privacy of my bedroom. Also Roosters have been crowing most of the night. I thought that the Cock only crowed at dawn, but this lot seem to have lost all sense of time. It is not a burden however, I actually quite like what I hear.
I should mention that I live about 200Km from Bangkok in a semi rural area.
My bed does not have a mosquito net over it but the doorway and windows are protected by netting and I am rarely troubled by insects. Some nights however I wake up and feel tiny bites on my body. I have never seen what does it, but I believe that it is minute ants. Ants are every where in my house. Drop the smallest crumb and in a short space of time there is a trail of ants taking it away.

My Bedroom
I live in Thai style accommodation. I have a downstairs living area, a small bathroom and have made a kitchen outside. The ground level is a concrete floor that has been tiled and concrete pillars and walls supporting the upper story. Doors and windows are mostly protected with insect screens. The house has settled since it was built and there are large cracks at corners, and where the floor meets the walls. There is no way to keep the insects out. My bathroom has a regular supply of slugs and millipedes, it is a daily chore to collect them and throw them outside. Or just let them be.
House from the front

Back of the house showing the kitchen. The flooding was temporary.
By western standards this is not great but by Thai standards I am in luxury.
I have no hot water and I have to pay Electricity and Water bills and fill up the gas bottle when it is empty. Water for 1 person having 2 showers a day plus flushing toilet etcetera costs about 85 Baht per month. Electricity is costing about 450 Baht per month. Mainly air conditioning and lighting as I have no hot water system. Yes I shower and wash in cold water. If I want hot water I heat it in a saucepan. I did buy a small electric jug for making Tea and Coffee.
I have a gas bottle connected to a single gas burner. That was in a shocking state when I got here but after a thorough clean it is working considerably better. Cooking facilities are all outside. There is a small external sink and I have scrounged tables and bought some pots and pans and cooking implements to make a rudimentary kitchen. Ants, birds, slugs, millipedes, squirrels, mosquitoes and various insects rule outside. It would not pass any health inspection in Australia but is sufficient for basic cooking needs. On the plus side the ants clean up any food stuff that is dropped.
The upstairs section of the house is all wooden construction "Queenslander" style for any Australians and has 2 bedrooms, both with air conditioning. It is pretty cool at the moment with night time temperatures in the mid 20's so I am not using the air conditioner.
I get up, shower, shave, have a drink and get ready for work. I try to check Facebook and email but most of the time the internet is down. This is a specific problem with a shared internet connection that I am using, not a general problem with internet in Thailand.
I live on the school grounds in provided accommodation. This has benefits with cost as it is free and ease of access to work, but some down sides with lack of privacy and anonymity. The school grounds are large and quite lovely. I walk by a fishpond with lovely shaded seating on my way in and past a soccer field and basketball court. Some of the children that I pass call out to me and say good morning. The general greeting is "Teacher" but the last syllable is drawn out and it sounds more like "Teachuuuurrreee". be continued

Teaching EFL in Thailand - Part 2

I am normally in the office before 7:30am. I set up my laptop, turn it on, then go to the main entrance and sign in. If I fail to sign in I get no pay for the day.
On one day of the week I am rostered for "gate duty". I need to be there by 7:20am and I watch the students walk in through the gate. There is one other English teacher also rostered on and 3 Thai's. I think that they are administrative staff rather than teachers. We get on fine. The Thai staff have a bit of gentle fun with the students, calling out to favourites and sharing a joke, sometimes they enforce the boys to pull their socks up (nothing has changed since my school days) or the wearing of identity badges.
The students give a Wai as they walk past. They have it a bit tough as they Wai to the 5 of us in turn and a religious object behind us. Some do each one in turn, some do a sort of continuous Wai some avert their eyes and hope to get away without doing it. Now that I am known and familiar a number of students call out "good morning teacher" to me as they pass.
Two days a week all of the English teachers also have to attend assembly. This starts at 8am and we stand to attention during the playing of the national anthem, flag raising, prayers and then the school song. This is all run by the students plus one Thai Teacher who lead the singing and prayers and raise the flag. I am constantly impressed at the self confidence that the students display when in front of over 2000 fellow students. After the formal part of the ceremonies we English teachers are allowed to leave.
The students stay and are talked to by the principal or various others. There seems to be an inordinately large number of announcements. Sometimes this is finished by 8:30 when first lesson starts, sometimes first lesson is considerably shorter than it should be.
Raising of the Flag during the National Anthem
There are 10 Foreign teachers in our School's English Program. Actually one is a French Teacher. But we like him anyway. Our School is a High School, Matiom, and has a formal English Program that is a little different from many schools. The parents pay extra to get their children onto the English Program. We teach Science, Maths and Computing in English plus various English classes such as Grammar, Fundamentals and Conversation. I have 19 Classes each week, 8 of which are Computing for Matiom 3 and 4 the rest are all English Conversation for Matioms 1 - 4.
Assembly from the far back.
I have no idea what other subjects the students get but I do know that there are Thai teachers who teach English and Computing in Thai. It would be wonderful if we could coordinate our efforts, but there is no scope or desire to do so. Even amongst the English teachers we rarely coordinate. I know that some of my students are also getting English Grammar lessons and it seems obvious to me that I should be structuring Conversation classes to complement their grammar lessons. It is not to be. Given time maybe I can make a change in that respect, but the English Program Administration do not seem to see that as a priority, even if they recognise the problem.

I have a busy schedule. Monday I have 4 lessons, Wednesday and Thursday 5 each, which makes Tuesday and Friday relatively easy days. All that spare time is spent on lesson planning, preparation, marking and some administrative chores. I generally work until 5pm then take work home and spend time on weekends doing catch up.
Lesson planning takes a long time. It will get easier as I build up a body of work that I can draw upon. I am easily doing 60 - 70 hours a week at the moment. I started in October and have not had a weekend off yet, but it is getting easier.
My class sizes vary. The smallest is 20 the largest is 45. Some students I only see for 1 class per week. I question how much I can teach in one 50 minute lesson with 40+ students in it. Besides it is never 50 minutes as some students arrive up to 10 minutes late. I put these students on the spot, in a gentle way, and make them recite the Alphabet or something like that before sitting down. Even at Matiom 4, (about 15 years old) many have trouble reciting the alphabet. They can sing it as a song but have little understanding of the letter order.
I have a number of double lessons. These are good. It does mean a lot of preparation to keep people engaged for 2 lessons, but overall it is easier than doing planning for 2 shorter lessons.
Lessons are often disrupted. Already this Semester we have spent 2 weeks on "special time". During this period each class is 5 minutes shorter so that there is extra time at the end of the day for the Thai Teachers and Administration to do "stuff". The first time was for teacher meetings. At the moment it is to schedule retesting for students who failed subjects in the first semester. I did not see one of my classes for 3 weeks for a number of reasons.
The classrooms I would rate as good. The English Program has air conditioned classrooms. It is part of our contract that we teach in air conditioning. The Thai students often find them too cold and wear jumpers, while I am still sweating. Each room has a PC connected to an overhead projector and a sound system. I prepare a lot of my lessons in PowerPoint and take them into the class on a memory stick. I can play videos and music, display Tutorials and information and use those resources to enhance learning. We also have white boards and a clever device that has a camera and will project things like hand written notes or book pages onto the overhead.
In the computing labs each student has a computer with a wide selection of software on it. The computers are ancient and regularly break down but there is some nifty stuff. Whenever the PC shuts down it reverts to an inbuilt image. This is virus free and wipes out anything that the student did. You cannot save work between lessons but you always know the configuration of the PC to start with. The Teacher's PC has some clever control software. You can control every computer in the room either individually or on mass. You can blank screens, prevent internet access, send files to the students and even interact 1 on 1.
The PCs always boot up in Thai and I have had to learn where the controls are that I need. I still cannot read Thai.
I should also mention that each classroom has a microphone attached to the Audio system. It prevents shouting and is a great attention getter. be continued........