We've had another "normal" year. A second full year in the same country, same city, same house, same school, same job(s) and same cars as the year before that's absolutely astounding.
Usa's real estate business RUNR Realtor has had a quiet year. We commented last year that the market for existing home sales in Bangkok is small; this year it was tiny. It started in January with Thai banks clamping down on credit criteria for loans and it hasn't recovered. In the first quarter Usa "lost" several home sales because loan applications were denied; this didn't happen once in 2003. It's been a challenging year for RUNR.
Neil is with IBM in Thailand, same as before. The year was marked with a lot of travel to Singapore in the first 6 months and a lot of time in Thailand in last 6 months. The lack of travel has allowed Neil to help Roger and Rex with their school homework, which has been a nice change.
Roger is now midway through Grade 5. He was blessed with great teachers in Grades 3 & 4 and happily Grade 5 looks good on that front, too. Roger continues to be a bright student who takes a few months to embrace the higher demands of each new grade, but when he gets there he is comfortable. He is bright, but the past year or so has been marked by a lack of enthusiasm for school, a love of holidays, weekends, "being lazy" (his words) and time dedicated to gameboys and Internet games. He reads well at school but doesn't want to read at home. In the past year or so his best school grades have been in extra curricula activities. He received great grades for his computer club work and more recently in entomology (study of bugs). In the coming semester Roger has asked to be in the ornithology club (bird watching) or the comedy club. He has a wide range of interests.
Rex is now midway through Grade 2. Nothing has changed from last year. He is consistently rated as one of the most popular in his class. The teachers love him because he pays attention to what they say and concentrates hard; and being so cute does him no harm. Rex has loads of personality and is open & inquisitive. He is challenged by reading he's been in special ed for the past two years - he is improving but remains behind his grade school peers. And he still wants to be a magician. When asked if he can do any magic tricks he answers "No. You can't do magic until you're a grown up"!
Rex may have trouble reading, but not with comprehension. In the middle of the year Rex said he wanted to have the Harry Potter books read to him. So Neil read Harry Potter 4 to him through the school holidays and into the start of the school year. It takes 3 minutes to read a page (it's a lot easier to read to yourself!); with around 640 pages you can do the math as to how long it took to read the book chapter by chapter, day by day. Now we have started on Harry Potter 5 which is 870 pages (yikes). So far we are up to about page 300. Progress with this latest Harry Potter book has been slower because Neil is busy with office work and tends to come home later these days, something that will probably continue until mid-December; so in the past few months reading has been restricted to weekends.
By the way, last year Rex gave us a wonderful Christmas gift. We referred to it in the 2003 letter, but you would have missed it if you read the letter before the end of the year. Rex made a Star Wars book; if you haven't seen it, please do check it out.
... unrelated to anything on this page, if you want a bit of fun, try this link (opens a new browser window, but still within this domain name) ...
Last year we mentioned that Rex had been in two TV ads. The ads dried up this year because he lost his two front teeth - apparently Thai ads don't feature kids without front teeth. And now that his adult teeth have grown they are the traditional "big" Gamble teeth; it looks a bit out of place to have two large front teeth on a guy who is not a giant himself. Neil probably looked similar when he was growing up, too.
An update on our pets. The chickens and hamsters are still with us. This year we added a puppy. Bella, a Jack Russell terrier, joined our family at the end of June when she was 2 months old. She is good natured, doesn't bark much and doesn't bite at all but she is a bit challenged in the housetraining department; she's better now than before, but she tends to get too excited when she sees people and sometimes sprays the floor with 'just enough' to be noticeable. Good thing we have marble floors ...
In April we had our big trip for the year, a Gamble mini-family reunion; "mini" because not everyone could make it, but some background will help explain. Neil's Mum (who we call Marmie) tries to visit regularly; it's tough because 2 of the 3 siblings move a lot. You know Neil's history of moving around the globe; his sister Sky also moves a lot, having lived in Australia's Gold Coast, Perth, England, Europe and Canada with regular extended visits to friends in the US over the years. At the moment Sky is in Canada with plans to move to San Francisco early in 2005. The other sibling of the original Gamble Family is Barbara who has lived in Adelaide for 25 30 years. It is because of Barbara's stability that Marmie moved to Adelaide from Sydney last year. And then there's Dad (Jim Gamble) who is kept busy these days caring for his wife Mildred who is affected by Alzheimer's. Our last family reunion was in July 2000. The one before that was (we think) sometime in 1990.
Anyway, back to April 2004. Marmie was planning to make a trip to Canada and return to Australia via Bangkok, thus seeing her two itinerant offspring. That changed sometime before the event with a thought that it might be better if we met somewhere in the middle of Bangkok, Edmonton and Adelaide. Hmmmm, where could that be? Tahiti? Too few flights. Fiji? Too far from Canada. Penang? Too close to Thailand. Hawaii? Just right!
With the fortunate coincidence of Thailand's New Year (Songkran) and Easter in consecutive weeks, Roger and Rex had two weeks of school holidays so we all arranged time off just before Easter to meet in Honolulu. We all spent a week together in Honolulu staying in condo-style accommodation arranged by Marmie. The various family groups have different interests, so the idea was for each family to do what they wanted during the day and spend as much time as possible together at the beginning and end of the days. Marmie joined Neil or Sky on alternate days and it all worked wonderfully.
For our part we rented a minivan and re-discovered Wal*Mart which is cleverly located far away from the Waikiki tourist area. With planning and foresight we used Mapquest to print out driving directions before we left Bangkok. Now, we won't tell you if we shopped a lot but we understand that market analysts are puzzled by an unseasonable leap in year-on-year spending at Wal*Mart's Hawaiian outlets ...
Here are our photos from Honolulu none taken in Wal*Mart.
To get to Hawaii from Bangkok was a surprising challenge. There are no direct flights and none from Singapore either. It turned out that we flew JAL via Tokyo, which gave Roger and Rex the chance to say that they have been in Japan. Our only regret was that we made our arrangements late and didnt plan to spend a day or two in Tokyo on the way home. Both Roger and Rex are fascinated with Japan and would have enjoyed some time there. Their fascination, by the way, originates with Nintendo and Sony and that the games they enjoy mostly come from Japan. Perhaps they expect to meet Pikachu in downtown Ginza.
As usual this letter is written just before the end of the year, so just a quick word about the year's closing. We had a slightly disappointing time at Thanksgiving, not because there was any problem, but because we "missed" it this year. Neil was busy with a lot of work and was in the office, not at home he couldn't even make it home for a family dinner. So after being away from the US for 3 years we've had a less intense Thanksgiving celebration each year. Next year we either do better or lose touch with the holiday completely.
At the end of the year we plan to spend a few days in Phuket with some family friends. We were hoping to go to Krabi but it was booked out. Instead we found a smaller hotel in Phuket and got plane reservations for the days we want to travel. So Christmas Day will be spent in Phuket, not in Bangkok, leaving the unanswered question of whether Santa Claus will find us there
One last thing Neil encourages all friends and family to look for Plato's allegory The Cave; it's easily available on the Internet. What do you think when you read it?
We send you our best wishes for the New Year.
Neil, Usa, Roger and Rex The Gamble Family in Bangkok