As we move into the Year of Perfect Vision, allow me to take a look at both the Year That Was and the Decade of the Teens.
Before I begin, I want to mention that a recent post I saw on Facebook had the user criticizing people thinking the current decade as ending at midnight tomorrow night. She stated that the “decade does not end until January 1, 2021.” The article she linked to was quite interesting. However, my understanding is the definition of the word “decade” refers simply to ten years of time. I could arbitrarily refer to the decade beginning on any date (say, 5 December 1965 and ending on 5 December 1975). On the latter date, the person would be ten years older.
Yes, there was no “year zero” but there certainly have been years ending in zeros. Do we not count the year 2000? It seems ridiculous to call it as being part of the 1990’s rather than part of the “Oughts” as I have referred to it. Similarly, I look at 1980 as the start of the eighties, etc. I like round numbers. Nobody living between AD (or CE, if you prefer) 1 and 9 or 10 called this the first decade. The years were just passing by.
The convention of “naming decades” didn’t really begin until the twentieth century anyway so I, for one, will call 2019 the end of the 2010’s (1 January 2010 until 31 December 2019 — one day doesn’t really matter) and 1 January 2020 as the start of the 2020’s.
Of course, what matters is my own consistency and I don’t need any self-proclaimed Facebook police to tell me otherwise. The Thais have a lovely phrase: alai ge-dai means “up to you”. My life, my choices. It doesn’t bother me if you disagree on such a trivial matter.
Anyway, let’s look back on 2009 now…
TEN YEARS TEACHING
The period ranging from December 2009 until December 2019 (please click on the various photo album links to see highlights from this decade-long period — the vast majority are images featuring me) was dominated by teaching English in southern Thailand.
As 2009 drew to a close, I had already spent more than three-and-a-half years working for Phuket’s best known private international school (as opposed to those run by local forms of the Thai government) — Kajonkietsuksa School, specifically at what was then its main branch located in Villa 5 smack-dab in the center of the island. I would depart on Christmas Eve 2010 during the myriad of construction on the new campus approximately 10 kilometers north in Kathu. For most of my tenure at Kajonkietsuksa, I was a reading teacher for lower Primary (Prathom) levels 2, 3 and 4 but had a Prathom 4 homeroom during my final year there.
Just before the 4th of July 2011, I began working for the largest teaching agency in southern Thailand (I think the North too) which is known as ECC Language Institute. The offices and in-house classrooms for the Phuket Town branch had recently moved from downtown to the Central Festival shopping mall. I was first assigned to teach at one of their many local-contracted government schools, Piboonsawadee. I was the only foreign teacher there and taught all Prathom levels from P1 to P6 during the two years that I remained. The following year, I taught my first in-house course in the shopping mall classrooms to four lovely teenagers and young adults. They had originally signed up for 30 hours but kept adding onto the course as they enjoyed it so much! Eventually, they completed 120 hours with me and one of the students later went on to work for us at ECC (and she currently holds a job in HR at the Kathu campus of Kajonkietsuksa).
For Christmas 2012, I was the ECC Santa Claus for the first time — something I have done for the agency every year since except for one. In November 2013, I created materials for and attended my first English camp at the very posh resort of Borsaen in Phang Nga Province. The following July, I taught my first of the annual English for Banking Staff courses for employees of Krungsri Bank, another task I have done ever since. That initial business course has led to many more over the years and I now produce my own course books and other materials for clients such as H&M (clothing stores), Yamaha (music teachers), Zara (clothing stores), Primary Education Department (administrative staff), ArtHouse (estate agents), and even the Royal Thai Navy (command staff).
Due to my organizational skills, flexibility — I can teach almost any English topic and skill level from beginner phonics and kindergarten through all the Primary and Secondary levels, test-prep courses (I am certified for IELTS, TOEFL, and TOEIC and have done a few others as well), adult conversation and all types of business subjects — as well as the commitment I put into materials creation and planning for our many English camps and other activities throughout each year, in late 2014 I became the Phuket branch’s Deputy Head Teacher for ECC. This is a position I hold to this day (I have no desire to be promoted to Head Teacher as I love everything I do in my job and have succeeded in making my work life completely stress-free).
In addition to in-house private and small-group lessons as well as the business courses and preparing/participating in a number of camps and outside activities each year (including Santa!), I have also done last-minute fill-ins (substitute teaching) at almost every school on the southern portion of Phuket. It has been a wild decade and looking through photos over the past few days in preparation for this wrap-up has reminded me of many enjoyable (and a few rather frightful experiences). I have always taken photos of my students but you can see that I now prefer my own special style (i.e., VERY BAD) of in-class selfies. I always try to take at least one photo in each classroom each day, especially when filling-in as it’s sometimes the only proof that I was there (Thai teachers famously stay away so there are no witnesses!). My teaching life really hasn’t changed significantly for the past five years or so.
I didn’t travel much during the past ten years. I went north to Luang Prabang for about ten days in April 2010 with my Kajonkiet buddy and fellow American, Timmy. We spent time in Vang Vien, Luang Prabanag (my favorite) and the capital, Vientiane. Returning to Thailand by train to Bangkok, we encountered stations full of protesters who attempted to block the railways due to the nationwide unrest during that time. Around this time, most of Bangkok was under curfew and martial law while soldiers and citizens battled in the streets and burned buses and even at least one major shopping mall.
The following year, I traveled south to Penang in Malaysia a number of times as I needed to maintain my visa status following my departure from Kajokietsuksa. Late in the year, after I’d already started working for ECC, I had to make bi-weekly trips across the border as there were delays in my work permit and visa status due to extensive and lengthy flooding in Bangkok bringing the Thai bureaucracy to a complete standstill. For nearly three months, I would hop onto a third-class bus bound for Hat Yai every other Friday afternoon after finishing work and would journey for eight hours. I would then wait several hours for a local bus to arrive which would take me to Penang Basar right on the border with Malaysia. I walked over the border, getting my passport stamped in that country and would immediately turn around, cross back into Thailand and would usually be back on a bus north to Phuket by three or four Saturday afternoon. A couple of times, the floods caused delays on this route as well and once the bus was nearly washed into a river when the bus driver tried to cross a inundated bridge. The water reached to the passenger windows on the bus and entered the doors.
My only other major holiday trip (not counting quick forays to Bangkok to pay my respects to the late King and Singapore for a concert) was a week in April 2013 when I ventured east to Siem Reap in Cambodia. I enjoyed exploring the ruins of Angkor Wat and became a regular at the best Mexican restaurant in Southeast Asia, loading up on their dollar tacos.
I love living in Phuket Town as this is ground-zero for most of the island’s really interesting festivals and cultural celebrations. My favorite is the Phuket Old Town festival each year coinciding with the end of the Chinese New Year festivities. While the photos here don’t show much of that, or other interesting local events such as the annual Mass Baba Wedding or the weekly Lard Yai (Old Town Walking Street), there are several selfies showing the best-known of them all — the Phuket Vegetarian Festival which is ten days of loud processions with entranced and heavily-pierced spirit mediums parading through town as spectators throw multitudes of loud fireworks at them. The grand finale when all of the Chinese shrines make processions during the same time which results in an all-night fire-fight that can be seen (and heard) from many kilometers away is an event that I rarely miss.
My relationships (and lack thereof) have not been publicized for quite a long time. When I began working at Kajonkietsuksa, I was still married (a Thai woman from Lamphun in the northwest part of the Kingdom). That marriage ended in July 2008 but she returned to Phuket long enough (in October 2012) for the divorce to be officially registered (both parties need to be present and the filing fee, including the certificate cost just 50 baht!).
Not long afterward, I became involved with a woman named Joy who ended up getting pregnant from her half-brother. That relationship was doomed from the start but it lingered on until 2011 or so. She eventually went to prison on drug-dealing charges and is probably still there. The Provincial Prison is only four or five minutes from my home but I only suffered through a visit one time.
There haven’t been too many women in my life since then; Thai women are complicated creatures to say the least. I had three first-dates in a row all ask me to buy them an expensive mobile phone before we’d even had dinner! My longest-term girlfriend during the past decade was financially stable (she actually bought ME things!) but decided she liked other women (it is amazing the number of Thai women who are gay).
I am not sure if I even want to try again as each failed experience adds a few more items on my checklist of “qualities”.
My principal hobbies and free-time activities have been detailed on this, and my other blogs, since the very beginning of time. At this moment, I am more involved in the stamp collecting community than ever before with my ambitious plans to cover as many stamp releases as possible throughout the coming year. My efforts have gotten some notice with one blog naming Philatelic Pursuits as one of the “Top 5 Online Sources for Stamp Collectors.” My original stamp blog was launched in 2015 and I have recently made the leap to a hosted-site with its own dot com address. This year’s Stamps of 2020 project is, in many ways, much grander than the A Stamp Day blog that I maintained for 1001 uninterrupted days for almost half of the decade. Other interests remain postcard collecting (especially trading with others in far-off lands) and photography.
There are few activities that I have tracked as diligently as my daily reading stats. Although I recorded books finished prior to 2010, on 1 January of that year, I began a spreadsheet on which I entered not only the book I read each day but also the number of pages (which isn’t really very accurate for eBooks as that varies depending which reading app I happen to be using). On that first day, I read the first 90 pages of Judge & Jury by James Patterson.
Ten years later, I have separate sheets for each year’s worth of reading as well as a Stats page on which the monthly and annual totals accumulate. I can tell at a glance that 2019 has been my best year of the decade as far as total pages (36,742 with a day-and-a-half of reading left in the year and counting; the “worst” year was 2017 with 14,460 pages read) but I have only finished 40 books. Compare that with 2010 when I finished reading 119 books but also consider that I was still a reading teacher back then and was counting the ubiquitous 32-page graded readers that I was dishing out to my students. Obviously, I am reading much lengthier tomes now.
During the decade, I read more than 223,000 pages and finished some 572 books. My goal for 2020 is to complete 50 books; the last time I hit this number was 2014 when the end-of-year total was 61.
Over the years, I have used a variety of reading apps — both on my laptop and various Android-based mobile devices. I do not recall when I first started using the calibre eBook management program but it has been at least ten years. While I still use it for its cataloging functions and obtaining meta-data for my books, the new eBook reader introduced with version 4.0 at the beginning of this past October led me to search out alternatives as I found it quite buggy and most of my long-used customizations no longer worked. Currently, I am using the Bibliovore app on my laptop and ReadEra on my phone.
Two or three months ago, I stumbled across an Android app called Read More which is quite a robust reading tracker with some really nice features. I thought it was yet another app to record the amount of time spent reading but discovered that it is much, much more. I’d used several of these timing apps in the past and felt they were all lacking in some area or another.
Read More has different folders (i.e., Currently Reading, To Be Read and Finished Reading) in which to sort one’s books as well as sections to record quotes and comments from those books. However, I most like how the Log is set up as it lists which books have been read on which days and the user can toggle between minutes spent reading each book and the pages read in each particular book (pretty much the same information as in my ten-year spreadsheet but in a more attractive format).
The app can also function as a personal book catalog (although you can’t edit the downloaded descriptions of the books; the only thing really missing is a built-in reader so one app is all you need. I love this app and had been thinking about writing a review of it for a while now. I guess I just did….
While calibre can give me a total number of eBooks “owned”, I have long been trying to do the same thing with my vast music library (most of which is now in digital formats). A few years ago, I switched from my old stalwart player of iTunes to something I love much more, Music Bee. In fact, the only thing I miss about iTunes is its ability to print out a customized listing of songs and albums added to the library.
While Music Bee can give me totals, I have been working on a spreadsheet listing all of my albums for quite some time now. This is a daunting process as I have more than 150,000 songs included in nearly 9,000 albums (I have always been more of a full-album kind of collector than an accumulator of individual songs). This only included those added to Music Bee, however. I probably have at least another thousand albums that have yet to be added (I name my albums and tag my meta-data in a rather unique way and that takes a lot of time to do). While there are automated programs that can save me time on data entry (for the officially-released material at any rate), I prefer the spreadsheet format. It’s the huge amount of live recordings and other bootleg-type material in my collection that bogs things down.
I believe that 2019 may have been my heaviest blogging year yet. It certainly was the first that I tracked a number of stats using a simple spreadsheet that lists the dates I published articles along with their titles and word-counts. I also note the hit-count since the previous article on that particular blog was published. The numbers are quite interesting.
Asian Meanderings (https://jochim.wordpress.com)
My flagship blog, the one I use to write about everything and have done so for a very long time. It grew out of a website I started sometime before May 1999 and in blog form starting around 2004 or 2005 on the Blogger platform. It has had several name changes over the years but has existed in his present form hosted by WordPress.com since June 2011. Asian Meanderings had long been a hodgepodge of stuff about my life, my family, and whatever interests me that I have the time or inclination to write about. It featured stamps and books for a long time. Again, I hope to start the 2020’s by posting a bit more regularly (but none of that weekly update stuff I tried early in 2019 and NO MORE videos until I can get some proper equipment and/or talent).
2019 blog entries published: 16 (359 total)
2019 words written: 23,578
2019 page views: 2,706 (36,919 hits total)
Postcards to Phuket (https://markspostcards.wordpress.com)
For a period of time, I was more involved in swapping postcards through Postcrossing.com than in collecting stamps. Thus, my first hobbyist blog dealt with describing the various postcards I received in the mail as well as a few I bought during my travels and, most recently, vintage card purchases. Started in October 2014 and undergoing several name-changes (I actually got a cease-and-desist letter when it was known as “Please, Mr. Postman!”), I don’t add very many entries nowadays as they tend to be quite lengthy and I would rather focus on stamps. I would like to post regularly in 2020 and plan to use it as a means to obtain copies of some of the new stamps that will be released in the upcoming year.
2019 blog entries published: 11 (231 total)
2019 words written: 11,750
2019 page views: 1,817 (8,477 hits total)
Philatelic Pursuits (https://philatelicpursuits.com)
My original stamp collecting blog (started in May 2015) suffered for a long time as I often had difficulty choosing which aspect of the hobby that I wanted to write about. I attempted to track new stamp issues in early 2019 but I quickly became overwhelmed as there were just too many and I got off to a rather late start. This past October, I thought about how I could do things differently for 2020 and got organized rather early. I was ready when the first announcements for upcoming stamps began to be reported. I have worked very hard over the past two months in order to make the blog (and now a full website) as user-friendly as possible including such items as a Google Calendar tracking the stamp release dates and starting a dedicated Facebook group and Instagram account. This past week, the site was recognized as one of the “Top 5 Online Resources for Stamp Collectors“.
2019 blog entries published: 190 (321 total)
2019 words written: 79,590
2019 page views: 8,059 (26,840 hits total)
A Stamp A Day (https://stampaday.wordpress.com)
This was my second stamp-related blog, started on 1 July 2016 and running without a single day’s break until 25 March 2019. That counts as 1,001 non-stop articles. I put the blog on hold this year as the daily demand on my time grew too great. Now, I only add to the site when I find a stamp with a particularly interesting story I want to share (and I have the time to do the research and writing). There have been eight sporadic articles added since the daily format was abandoned.
2019 blog entries published: 91 (1,009 total)
2019 words written: 319,028
2019 page views: 47,689 (121,925 hits total)
I would say the only major changes in my life over the past decade has been the change in hair color (gray is the new black) and complexion (sweat produces acne on the cheeks that I can never seem to defeat). I believe I am thinner and am currently losing weight once again but I am nowhere near what I would like to be. Oh, and my apartment is much more cluttered than it was when I moved into it some nine years ago (about a month after I last changed jobs). I have never spent so long in the same home (not even growing up) and with the same employer as I have up to now. I do not foresee any upcoming changes in either regard.
WHAT ABOUT 2020…AND BEYOND?
Healthwise, I feel good despite an increasing amount of minor aches and pains. I usually twist my back and suffer a hunchbacked existence for a couple of weeks each year. I must remember to ask for help when moving boxes full of school books! My eyesight seems to be diminishing and I really feel a need to get them checked out in the near future. Stamp collecting and spending hours on end staring at various digital screens is not doing my eyes a lot of good. So, I will probably return to some sort of corrective lenses sometime early in the new decade (ironic given the number of the year).
.My recent surgery for gallbladder removal forced me to rethink about my lack of medical (or any) insurance. Thai plans are notoriously bad but when my contract came up for renewal this month, I asked my boss to sign me up. He said I couldn’t get it because I would turn 55 next December and they would cancel the policy at that time. He said it made no sense to get the insurance for just one year. My only other option seems to be that I can enroll for Social Security and I have begun looking into that.
I would also like to travel more in the upcoming decade than I did in the last. I arrived in Thailand 15 years ago last week and my journeys have all but ceased. There are places nearby that I really want to visit sometime soon. Vietnam is at the top of that list and I would love to see a bit more of Myanmar, Laos and Malaysia. I do not have any real desire to see Indonesia but the Philippines is finally on my radar mainly due to meeting (and working with) so many wonderful people from that country. There are also a number of places in Thailand that I have yet to see and others that I long to return to. The greatest barrier to travel is finding the time off from work.
I have long given up making annual New Years’ resolutions (often forgotten by the second week of January). Over the years, I have managed to eliminate (or at least severely reduce) my few remaining vices and bad habits. Any hints of negativity that I may feel are almost exclusively incident-based and quickly forgotten. While I may “discuss” these bad feelings with one or two close friends, these are merely brief venting mechanisms and I generally attempt to put a positive spin on them.
At this point in my life, I am more content, relaxed and accepting than at any time in my past. While I do have some minor worries about my future as I become older, I try not to let them concern my day-to-day activities. Thus, I cannot easily think of something to resolve to “fix” in my life. Resolutions such as going on a diet or eating healthier food never seem to stick with me. I love to eat good food and find it difficult to find alternatives to those I can easily find and enjoy. I would not mind being a bit skinnier but, overall, I am quite healthy albeit with more aches and pains than in my youth. Maybe I could resolve to exercise a bit more than my usual walking 2 or 3 kilometers per day. Perhaps I can start jogging from time to time. I wouldn’t mind that, even in this heat.
I have long been frugal with my money but I never seem to save much. I really need to start socking away some cash (especially given my lack of insurance). If I can save around 8330 baht of my income each month over the entire decade, that would be a total of over one million baht by the end of 2029. Can I do that? I’m not sure but I can start trying now….
And, so we come to the end of my 10-year wrap-up. I hope the next decade is as interesting and as much fun as the one just ended. I will do everything I can to top the ‘Teens and make the Twenties the best portion of my life. Well, until the Thirties….
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!
One thought on “Looking Back on the “Teens”… and Forward to the “Twenties””
Great blog Mark as always. I look forward to reading your story each month. Take care and happy 2020.