Bangkok: Tortoise v Hare

December 21, 2018

I can’t imagine living in Bangkok. Traffic density varies from congested to ridiculous – at least in the places I’ve been. Until yesterday, never had a chance to compare a taxi to the combination of walking and metro between the same start and end point.

While talking with 2 men in line at the US Embassy, one heard me say I was getting a ‘Certified True Copy of my Passport’. He asked why. I said after this I’m going to the Thai Dept. of Consular Affairs (DCA), where I’ll need it to get my Thai Police background check authenticated. He’s going to the DCA. Do I wanna share a taxi? Sure. However, he wants to leave directly from the Embassy. I couldn’t do that. Wished him luck as we left the Embassy at the same time. Taxis cruise that road, so he was quickly picked up.

Route for taxi guy from US Embassy:
Taxi to Thai Dept. of Consular Affairs (DCA) – 26 km (16.1 miles). Twenty six kilometers isn’t much distance, but it’s a lot of time at 8:30 am on a weekday in the part of town he was starting from.

My route:
Walk to Hotel – 700 m(eters)
Room stuff, get my backpack, check out, ask for comment on my proposed route to DCA. ~10 min.
Walk to Phloen Chit BTS station – 850 meters. ~15 min because carrying backpack, slow pace so as to not break a sweat, and climbing stairs.
Train to Asok station – 9 min.
Walk to Sukhumbit MRT station – 350 m
Tenth in line for 2 ticket machines – ~8 min because some tourists couldn’t read the instructions available only in Thai or English.
Wait for train – 5 min
Train to Lat Phrao station – 24 min
Walk to street – 250 m
Wait for taxi – < 1 min
Taxi to DCA – 16 km. ~15 min.

Two lines at DCA. Express for same day pickup, non-express for 1 day pickup or sent by mail. I opted for mail. Was #3 in line when taxi guy walks up to the express window. He was doing what I would soon have to, that is, fill out the correct form (like me, he’d brought the one on their website), then bring it straight to the window. Knowing from our conversation at the Embassy how important doing all this quickly was to him, I asked if he choose the express option. Yes.

While waiting for my number to be called to the cashier, I noticed him leaving one of the cashier windows. Also noticed the time. I walked away from the window 10 minutes later. If both of had picked the same initial line, our journey times would have been the same.

Once the authenticated Thai Police background check arrives, I’ll have the last of the Portugal visa requirements that I can’t do on my own. I know how to do the remaining few. After Christmas I’ll request an appointment at the Portugal Embassy.




The Path to a Portugal Residence Visa Part 2: The Lease

October 28, 2018

In February I wrote my plan was to “Go without a visa, stay up to 90 days. Visit a few (currently 4 possible) towns that look good on paper. Look at apartments. Form an impression.” and “Lease something in the most promising town.”

That happened, but it took 2 trips. In the spring I checked out 6 towns. The one visited last was Caldas da Rainha. I liked it the most. Couldn’t find an apartment in the remaining 2 weeks. Returned in mid Sept, found a place 4 weeks later. It’s 50 EUR more than I’d hoped to pay, but it’s much better in many ways than I expected to find .

I fly home in 3 days. Can’t request a visa until I get new versions of 2 government documents, one from the US and one from Thailand. I got both before the spring trip. However, both must be less than 90 days old when requesting a visa. So it goes.

The Path to a Portugal Residence Visa

February 21, 2018

The story til now, but first a rant.

Gathering info about a Portuguese residence visa has had me frustrated several times an hour. Ever try to find info beyond the official offering for a visa and other essentials of a non-English speaking country? One where there are different rules for EU and non-EU citizens? One where few English speaking non-EU citizens have figured it out and left detailed notes? Where people post ‘answers’ based on how things were when they did it years ago and don’t have a clue laws have changed? Or they post ‘answers’ based entirely what they remember from other posts? I verify the important stuff because almost nobody links to authoritative sources. For what I consider critical, about half the time the conventional wisdom is wrong, at least in part.

But What About Thailand?

Been here, done that. Bored because there is nothing new. Can handle the heat but would have a better quality of life with not so hot. I can afford better or at least different. The jet lag returning from travel in Europe seemingly gets worse every time.

Why Portugal?

Friendly people. The climate of their central coast is similar to the central coast of California. Considerable cultural, geographical, climate, etc differences in a small country. Good base for exploring Europe. Less expensive then most other European countries. Seafood, Black Pork and Arabica blends of coffee beans from Brazil and former Portuguese African colonies that are to. die. for.

Bad Timing

I became aware of Portugal at the wrong time. I knew it was one of the warmer, poorer European countries. Knew I’d get around to visiting. Then the travel and expat press began promoting it as the Next Great Place. The latter no doubt was aided no doubt by an earlier decision by the Portuguese government to entice both high value workers and pensioners with no income taxes for their first 10 years.

More expats increased demand for rental housing in the Lisbon area and others to a lesser degree. The immigration service and consulates grew backlogs. Someone decided this couldn’t go on – or something like that.

Now we have to do what?!

When I began looking into getting a visa, the application required hotel reservations or an Airbnb for a month or so. Now you need a 6 month lease. That’s a tad difficult as you must apply for the visa in your country of residence. On you own, you’d have to arrange a lease using email and Skype in a language you don’t speak. For a country where most rental properties are not listed because of the high cost. For an apartment you’ve never seen. Paid for by wiring a deposit to a person you’ve never met – who might not be a landlord. No. Hell, no.

One solution is to hire an English speaking property agent who farms out part of the work to a lawyer. Or hire a law firm with English speakers who farms out part of the work to a property agent. Add money. Lots of money. Thousands of Euros. You end up with a lease, a NIF (financial number required to do just about anything involving money changing hands that isn’t at retail), probably a bank account in your name, and some other stuff that don’t matter here. Such firms seem to exist only where expats congregate: Lisbon and the Algarve region. Two of the areas where I don’t want to live. And you still haven’t seen the property or it’s surroundings.

Plan B – The TL;DR version

Go without a visa, stay up to 90 days. Visit a few (currently 4 possible) towns that look good on paper. Look at apartments. Form an impression.

Usually takes about a year to get a residence permit after entering on a residence visa. Can’t imagine buying a car before that. Compare each town’s walk-ability to my walking ability, verify the relatively flat terrain seen on maps and photos, try the tiny bus systems, and decide if riding a bicycle would be advantageous, necessary or suicidal

Business is personal in Portugal, so in each town introduce myself to property agents and whomever a law firm decides is appropriate. Lease something in the most promising town. Before my return flight make an appointment by email with the Portuguese embassy in Bangkok. Start today with something I should have started in December: learning survival level Portuguese.

Moving Slow (pun intended)

This plan means I’d still have my apartment when given the visa. Then I’d have to decide whether to keep the Hua Hin apartment for a while.  My apartment costs ~$155 a month. I wouldn’t be the only tenant who pays all year while only occupying during high season. Right now I’m thinking I’d keep it for a while. On reason is it would be nice to leave Portugal during the wettest and coldest 2 months of the first winter. Also, if living in Portugal soon turns out not to be for me, returning to Hua Hin would be my Plan B.



My Cost of Living in Thailand – 2017

January 4, 2018

The tl;dr version: 1) Cost living of depends on how one lives (duh), so explanation below*, 2) Many costs are steady across the last 5 years, except 3) Spikes are explained, 4) I’m living within my means, 5) Making this public motivates me to do it right. Glad I did. This year I realized I hadn’t recorded half of the health insurance payments for 2016, and 6) I like playing with spreadsheets.

*Actually, here is the long explanation from 2015. How spending has differed since then is described below the table.

Spending 2013-2017 v3 - 120Pct


Travel increased both in duration and cost per day in ’16 and ’17 because I wanted to, I could, and I’m not getting any younger.

US income taxes dropped because I didn’t follow the same Roth IRA conversion strategy used in ’15 and ’16. Wanted to see what could happen to income taxes in ’18. That paid off. In ’17 converted half the previous years amount so the taxes wouldn’t matter much.

I changed format from previous cost of living posts, separating medical care and medical insurance costs for the last five years. Medical care costs jumped in 2016. Six months of post heart attack meds and follow-up testing will do that. 2017 added a Cardiac MRI, 2 pairs eyeglass lenses, removal of a broad, deep, black, benign mole, and treatment of a grade II sprained ankle.

Eating out spending dropped for the same reason eating at home increased: to cut down on the palm oil and coconut milk in my diet.

My concept of ‘cost of living’ changed while doing this usual year end financial review. I’ve lived off my taxable (non-IRA) account through ’16. Spending was cost of living.

Since retiring, the only withdrawals from my IRA were conversions from Traditional IRA to Roth IRA in ’15, ’16 and ’17. That’s not spending.

Next year IRA withdrawals will be to fund the accounts from which I spend. Going forward, managing how much is left in the IRA will be the most important part of my finances. I think I’ll call the withdrawals Cost of Retirement. Spending minus Social Security will be my Cost of Living.




1 Down, 1 on Tow, 1 Soaring

November 19, 2017

Glider Tracks - 19 Nov 2017

Haven’t been this excited about relearning to soar since I booked the class. When I left the sport hand held GPS trackers made such maps possible. The price:fun ratio was too high so I never used one. Now in Australia all aircraft fly with transmitters and can be tracked on the web. Maybe I’ll be tempted to email or post (tweet? what’s that?) the registration numbers before an afternoon flight, so those who like watching paint dry can follow along.

Back when I was flying a hang glider and learning more about GPS, I found a site where people posted 2D tracks of their hikes, bike rides, boat trips, etc., like the one above. Such ground tracks were done with the only decent freeware program. A fellow hang glider pilot was also a rocket scientist at JPL. Using MATLAB (very expensive software) he posted 3D perspective views of his flight tracks on the club’s website. With his permission, I posted 2 on the GPS users site. “HOW CAN WE DO THIS?!” they asked.

The next day the creator of the freeware program posted a new version that did it. Only took changing a value from Zero to 1. Originally, he hadn’t implemented it because of the additional processing power needed. He changed it because he was a former hang glider pilot.





Adventures in Smartphone Shopping

October 12, 2017

My electronic retail experiences in Thailand have usually had some combination of random weirdness, salespeople lying blatantly, after carefully checking the features of a display model being told there is no more stock except the display model, etc. I wasn’t looking forward to buying a new phone.

On day 2 in Portugal, I managed to step on the earbud cord while moving self and phone from chair to bed. Earbuds survived, the headphone jack hasn’t worked since. Knew the phone I wanted was current version of my mute 2 year old phone. Knew I wanted a warranty valid in Thailand, so waited until jet lag wore off before buying one in Hua Hin.

Samsung made it difficult (with tongue in cheek). Where once there was one model, now there are four variations: Core, Prime, Pro, Plus (say that fast 3 times). Samsung’s website price for the Pro was 10,900 THB (~330 USD), but a promotion for the month of October dropped it to 9,900 (~300 USD). All the stores I checked had the 10,900 price, except 1 of the 2 official Samsung stores. I was wary because the 9,900 price was on a sign at the shop entrance, while the display model was the only one that didn’t have a price tag. First thing I did was ask. Answer was 8,900 (~270 USD). I didn’t understand. Didn’t have to because I’ve long since learned the meaning of the common expat one size fits all explanatory phrase: ‘This is Thailand’.

Fit to Travel?

September 18, 2017

Some expressed concern about my traveling so soon after getting off crutches. I’ve had zero problems with or limitations from my ankle.

As expected, there has been more fatigue than usual because I couldn’t do my usual pre-trip hill walking. So, also as expected, I’m doing less than usual each day. An unexpected benefit of the fatigue is I can’t remember the last time I had this many nights in a row of long, deep, satisfying sleep.

A word to you java junkies. Don’t think I’ve lessened my intake because of excellent sleep. Can’t pass up the wonderful blends of Brazilian and African coffee here. Can’t pass up one of the world’s best morning food combination, a Pastel de Nata (a egg tart pastry) and Uma Bica (an espresso) because, in the words of Elvis Costello:

Pump it up
until you can feel it
Pump it up
when you don’t really need it