Last week in Thailand

This week I’ve been tweeting as @shefunilife on Twitter to over 3000 followers. The account is taken over by different members of the Sheffield University community each week. It’s been great fun trying to tell the world about my life as a PhD student, my work, and of course my time in Thailand, but it’s hard to know if anyone is really listening. Anyway, I hope I’ve inspired a few people to learn more about astronomy, or maybe take up cycling, or become more aware of climate change. If nothing else, I enjoyed it, so that will do for me.

On Sunday I took Nu’s bike out again with the aim of climbing higher and further into the Doi Suthep mountains. I was clearly still exhausted from the night shifts earlier in the week, because I was definitely slower and struggled even to reach the temple again. But I pushed on, realising only near the top that I’d managed to disconnect a spring on the read brake pad, meaning I’d climbed 1300m and rode nearly 20km with the back brake locked on. Yes, I am an idiot, but it only made the accomplishment more rewarding. I reached the King’s “Phuphing Palace” after almost 2 hours.

A little sweaty after climbing 1300m

A little sweaty after climbing 1300m.

View over the city from about halfway up.

View over the city from about halfway up.

Having lost my Friday and Saturday to work at the telescope, I felt justified taking Monday morning to go for another ride. This time I fancied something a little flatter, so I headed north along the highway to Huay Tung Tao lake. I managed to sweet-talk the checkpoint guard to let me in without paying the 20 Baht fee (who carries money with them on a bike ride?), and enjoyed a beautiful loop around the serene lake. Very peaceful, with a great view of Doi Suthep in the morning sunshine.

Huay Tung Tao lake.

Huay Tung Tao lake.

This week also saw my last two nights at the observatory, for this trip at least. We were trying to observe a number of under-studied eclipsing binary systems, hoping to accurately measure the times of minima. The timings would help long term studies of the systems, with the ultimate goal of searching for additional bodies by their effect on the times of eclipse. Sadly, the weather, as usual, would not cooperate. This time the humidity wasn’t so bad, but high cloud meant we could rarely see any stars at all, let alone collect accurate eclipse data.

We did however manage to use ULTRASPEC on sky enough to cover most aspects of the training. I finished the two nights feeling quite relieved to see at least one of the local astronomers being at ease with the instrument. With only 4 days left before my flight home, it really was the last chance to directly pass on my knowledge, and I’m very glad we managed it. I’m under no false impressions though – I know we’ll still be flooded with questions and queries over the next few weeks, but at least they should be minor and easy to answer, rather than “Err… how do we turn it on again?”. It definitely helps when the observer is familiar with the Linux command line. I’ve been trying to encourage everyone here to start using it, but as usual with people who are used to Windows, people are hesitant. I was exactly the same before being forced to work with it at ING, so I know how they feel. All I can do is give them a few good tutorials (one, two) to get going, and hope they see the potential before they get fed up with it. [EDIT: Actually I’ve already had two night time queries from the observers with fairly minor problems. Let’s hope it settles down quickly after I leave!]

On Friday I gave a presentation to NARIT astronomers and technical staff about ULTRASPEC. Originally I’d felt the need to try harder to transfer as much knowledge as possible, since we’d struggled to get on-sky and complete the training. The closer it got to the day, the more I realised that this talk wouldn’t really be of much use. Anyone who had never used ULTRASPEC before would not learn enough to be able to use it, and anyone who had used it already wouldn’t learn anything new. Still, I hope it might have helped cement some concepts into people’s heads, and supplement the training sessions we’d already given. For the first time I used the online presentation software, Prezi. It’s actually really easy to use, and very stylish. I’ll be doing all my presentations this way from now on I think, I can definitely recommend it.

On Saturday I went for a final bike ride. I went further and faster up the mountain, past the temple, past the palace, and up to what I think was the summit of Doi Pui. I reach the Doi Pui viewpoint at least, where I found a terrible view and two bright green exotic birds chained to posts. I kept going, up the single-lane track through dense jungle and fog. There was no sign of an official summit or peak, so I simply turned around when the road started going definitely down again.

View into the fog at Doi Pui viewpoint.

View into the fog at Doi Pui viewpoint.

Chained up birds. Put money in the box and feed it seemed to be the idea. Quite sad actually.

Chained up birds. Put money in the box and feed it seemed to be the idea. Quite sad actually.

This seemed to be the top...

This seemed to be the top…

Today I have to return Nu’s bike and pack up all my stuff, somehow squeezing it all into my backpack. I’m not sure what I will do when it doesn’t all fit in. Last thing will be to check out of the apartment and take a “red bus” to the airport. I definitely have mixed feelings about leaving. There will be many things I will miss (the weather, the fresh fruit smoothies, the cheap food, the swimming pool) and it’s been a really important and fruitful experience for me, both personally and academically. But at the same time I can’t wait to get back to friends and family at home, my own bike, guitar and bed, pasta bolognese etc. It might sound strange, but I’m also looking forward to catching up on work and making some more progress with my thesis. It feels like it’s been put on hold whilst I’ve been out here, and there’s lots of work to be done when I’m back in the office.

Before I leave I thought I’d try to estimate and share the kind of things I’ve eaten since arriving in Thailand, just for fun. Numbers are very approximate.

  • 15 x bowls of cereal
  • (only) 7 x instant noodles
  • 15 x chicken fried rice
  • 5 x french fries
  • 5 x mixed fruit dish
  • 10 x fresh fruit smoothie
  • 10 x stir-fried chicken and cashews with rice
  • 3 x indescribably disgusting meals
  • 5 x vegetable tempura
  • 5 x Japanese salted roast chicken with rice
  • 5 x home-made veg (and tofu) stir fry with noodles
  • 3 x pasta and pesto
  • 10 x Chocolate Brownie Magnum ice creams
  • 15 x missed meals

I’m excited/nervous to get home and find out if I’ve managed to not lose any weight… Anyway, time to sign off from Thailand for the final time. Sheffield, here I come!

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