By Graham K. Rogers
One of the things I liked immediately about the iPhone 6 when I bought it late last year was the improved battery life. The iPhone 5 I had was almost drained by late afternoon on a good day, but if I used it for extra online connections - especially video access - it was dead long before.
Like the trip to dams in Kanchanaburi last year (when I used the iPhone 5) I noticed on the way up that the battery had drained far quicker than usual, but then I was doing much more: accessing Maps; downloading photos from the Nikon I use, with its Eye-Fi SD card to the iPhone; then editing pictures and loading them up to Facebook.
The battery was to drain even quicker the second day and would have been dead before 3 pm, but the Mac helped out and I was also able to use the Personal Hotspot to ensure internet access even when we were on the road. As a rough guide, in the three days since I returned to Bangkok, the full day has left me with 49%, 71% and 32%.
I left the room just after 0645 heading for breakfast. A colleague had told me that the restaurant was "over there", indicating where we had left the buses the night before; and I vaguely remembered a large meeting hall behind in the darkness.
That was deserted, despite the start time of 0630 for the restaurant. I walked a little way along the road, remembering this as the way we had come in, but after what seemed like several hundred metres, between the trees and at the side of the lake, I went back to the room.
A second attempt later found me the restaurant: I had just needed to go further along; although a walk of over a kilometer for breakfast seemed a little excessive. I made mental plans for cornflakes and milk the next day, although we were so far out in the wilds that we saw no stores.
I was told there were Hornbills at the lake, but although others managed to see these and I heard their calls, they remained out of sight for me. I had seen several when I went to Langkawi last June and I would have loved to have seen more. I was not to be lucky. But luck is dished out in different ways.
Skies were clear blue this early in the morning, but that would change later. After breakfast we were to meet officials of the electricity board who would lecture the students. The night before, I was told this was at 0800, moved forward from the original time. At 0800, I was told this was now to be 0900, but eventually, we filed into the lecture hall next to the restaurant at around 0920 and, with a break, came out just in time for lunch.
The main point of these trips is to visit the dam and let the students examine the behind the scene workings. At a little after 1330, following a sinuous drive along narrow lanes, the buses parked at the entrance to the dam. While water levels had looked slightly low near the accommodation and the restaurant, the full impact of just how low they were became evident as we came out of the buses.
The dam wall was almost entirely dry, while the spillway, built to protect the dam from pressure when the water levels are too high, was high and dry. Water was disastrously low.
At dams like those in Kanchanaburi or Tak, we ride down to the control rooms in the bus. Here we were asked to walk across the dam, then down a hill: quite a distance.
As we reached the far side of the dam, just before the downhill stretch (I reminded myself that this would be uphill on the way back), the students spotted three local lads clambering up the dam. Needless to say, a number of our students decided this would be preferable. It was clear a short time later that they regretted the attempt.
Unlike Tak and Kanchanaburi, the control room was quite small and there was not enough room for all the students and staff to enter. As I had visited dams on several occasions before, I found a spot in the shade and waited along with some of our staff and another teacher.
I had a chance to look around and saw that no water was coming out of the turbines. The dam was not operating because of the lack of water and the pools just below the dam were quite still. At other dams these are dangerously turbulent and anyone falling in would probably drown in the huge volumes of water coming out.
When the technical visit was done, we took the standard group photographs and headed back up the hill. I certainly began to feel the strain as I approached the top and it took a while for respiration and heart rate to subside. I hate to admit that I am not as young as I was.
We returned to the cool insides of the buses, heading back in the general direction of the accommodation, but on the way stopped at the Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary. For some comments about this, see the article by Bruce Kekule, whose excellent articles and photographs used to appear in the Bangkok Post. A search using Google will reveal other information about this project.
I had noticed this when we arrived late on Friday night and was pleased that we were now making a stop here. Some of the cages seemed rather small to me, while some animals were in quite large pens. After seeing some deer and other quadrupeds, I headed for some bird cages which contained pairs of peacocks (and peahens). Nearby were monkeys.
It has to be noted that this is not a zoo, although visitors are welcome. The center has a dual function: to breed rare animals and ensure species survival; and to care for injured animals. Some of these are returned to the wild after treatment, but others are not as they are unsuitable for release.
I found some large pits for bears a little disturbing as the animals did not look confortable where they were: one in particular walking up and down a short section of the wall, turning at the ends, back and forth in what seemed to be a stressed state. Other animals were clearly not stressed, with one of the bears looking totally content with the mess it was making.
Not far away from the bears were cages with tigers. A male and female were in the outer enclosure, with another tiger secured (but looking out) in a cage behind. The two tigers paced around, with the female occasionally tapping the male on the head with her massive paws in a playful tease. Then they would separate for a few minutes and walk around some more.
I watched for longer than some of the others: students and staff. When they had all gone, I waited, standing just back from the fence separating tigers and me. Most of the time, the pair walked close to the fence; but finally, the female switched to the back of the cage and I was able to take several shots.
With the distance I was from the fence, and the distance from the fence back to the tiger, the camera focussed on the female and the fence was made almost invisible in the shot. I cropped one of the photographs, editing exposure and contrast, and I am printing this out poster-sized. A good day's work there and an example of how the luck is shared.
As we had arrived at the sanctuary, I noticed that the skies were beginning to grey and it was not long before the rain started, although initially it was fairly light. By the time we left at 1630, it was much heavier.
As always, there had been a change of plan. Although we had intended to use the restaurant in the evening for the final meal with the students, there was a golf tournament and the restaurant was hosting a meal for them. We were shuffled off to the meeting room, closer to our rooms. Tables were set up for us and the food was to be delivered for an early evening start. When more food was needed, one of our secretaries phoned the restaurant and it was delivered by motorcycle.
The students decided that the meeting hall was too vast for the later get-together, so everything was set up in one of their bungalows and some of the teachers arrived there just after 2000. I had already donated a bottle of something suitable, but was shocked to find that by the time I arrived it had not yet been opened. We soon fixed that. I had also bought my own glass from Bangkok - carefully covered in bubble-wrap - as in previous years the plastic cups had failed to do justice to the contents of the bottle.
Each year is a little different and this time we started with the teachers making comments on the students. As my teaching is of non-technical subjects - albeit as important in the long run - I have a different attitude to the students and the ways they work. As in the last couple of years, I expressed my overall satisfaction with them and explained how their output measured up against others: really quite good for students who do not have a good exposure to English.
The students then had their turn and are allowed to make any comments. There is no retribution. I find these sessions useful as I can adjust my teaching if needed. Other teachers, particularly those who are responsible for critical subjects, may not have the same flexibility.
They also come in for some negative comment from the students who do not pass their courses. As I find with a few students, many may not realise the higher levels of study that certain subjects require and try to coast, or leave things too late. Some comments on teachers - present as well as those not there - may well have been justified. Adjustments here can be made.
After a couple of hours I decided it was time for bed. The room was not quite spinning, but it would not take much more. At the room I organised some things for the morning and slept soundly. We were to be at the buses by 1000, although the students were told 0900. This was to cause me a problem in the morning as the time was changed, but I was not informed.
When I woke, the rain had stopped and it was quite cool. I made my way to the restaurant, meeting some students on the way. One told me he had not yet slept. I had breakfast, loaded some images up to the internet, then returned to the room. I had plenty of time to pack and shower. However, just as I was putting clothes on, a student came to the door and said that the buses were about to leave. It was 0930.
One bus was already at the restaurant, while Bus 2 was waiting (I was not the only one). My case was loaded and the bus staff later put this on Bus 1. At the restaurant, students were still arriving for breakfast. In the end we did leave at 1000.
The trip back to Bangkok was punctuated only by a few quick stops: fuel in the morning, lunch, and a stop for shopping in the late afternoon. With the iPhone battery draining, I connected it to the Mac and also had quite good internet access with the 3G (sometimes 4G) connections. This meant that once we had come down from the hills, I was online the whole way back to Bangkok.
As we approached Bangkok, a couple of students were dropped off and we arrived back at the campus some time after 2000. We were late, tired, but the weekend had generally been successful.
Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life.