by Jeffrey R. Charles.
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Sponsored by: Versacorp
Copyright © 1995, 1998 Jeffrey R. Charles.
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I really wanted to go to another total solar eclipse, and this time, my reasons went far beyond experiencing the mere thrill of the event. Going to another eclipse would allow me to recover the financial and emotional investment I had made in the 1994 eclipse. I had invested thousands of dollars and well over a hundred hours in equipment and planning for the 1994 eclipse, but many aspects of the expedition had been a disaster because of a few influential Bolivian people who objected to my speaking at a certain school and wanted to use me as a commodity to presumably enhance their social and political standing. This had adversely affected my health, resulted in poor performance at the eclipse, and dashed my hopes of completing the final phase of my umbral prediction experiments and publishing papers and a book on the subject by early 1995. It also prevented me from getting the location footage I needed for very unique kind of eclipse video I had planned to produce.
The next eclipse had to be different, and it had to be soon if I was to effectively recover my financial and emotional investment. Fortunately, the sun and moon would grace the earth with another total solar eclipse less than a year after the one in Bolivia. On October 24, 1995, the moon's shadow would visit the earth again, following a path from the middle east through southeast Asia and into the islands of Indonesia. It would be a short eclipse, but it was to occur over a few areas which had good infrastructure, making it relatively easy to get to.
From most terrestrial sites, the total phase of the 1995 eclipse would last less than half as long as the Bolivian eclipse, so accomplishing the same goals I had set for the 1994 eclipse would be a challenge. I had obtained excellent corona photos in 1994, but even a trained monkey can take good corona photos, given the right equipment. Corona photos were but a small part of what I wanted achieve, so in spite of its short duration, I looked forward to the upcoming eclipse.
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Selecting the Eclipse Site: Nakhon Sawan, Thailand
No one wants to be clouded out at an eclipse, and most material about the 1995 eclipse touted India as the best place to go in regard to weather prospects. In exploring my own expedition options, I could not help but notice that most of the commercial expeditions were to India, and that they were expensive. Some were as much as $3,500.00, and with the eclipse having a very short duration in India, I could not help but notice that this came out to about $100 per second of totality!
The eclipse will occur near sunrise in India. Unfortunately, this would result in a combination of factors working against a long duration for totality: During the eclipse, India will be farther from the moon than sites farther east. This increased distance reduces the angular size of the moon, and would make it appear less than one percent larger than the sun at this eclipse. In addition, the rotation of the earth carries the observer predominantly toward the moon, meaning that rotation of the earth will not significantly lower the ground speed of the umbra. These factors combine to reduce the duration of totality to well under a minute in western India. I had seen morning eclipses before, and had noticed that the psychological impact was not as wowie zowie as it was at eclipses occurring at a later local time. Due to all of these factors, I decided to trade the best weather prospects for a longer duration of totality and a chance at a better light show.
While the weather was predicted to be best in India, things were not expected to be all that bad farther east. In Thailand, totality lasts about twice as long as in India. Even better, the eclipse will occur at a later local time in Thailand, so sun will have a high elevation angle. This will allow full daylight to be present before the partial phases even begin, which in turn should increase the psychological impact of the event. Still farther east, the weather prospects were less favorable. Totality would last a little longer in Vietnam, but I was not too crazy about the thought of supporting a communist regime with my tourist dollars. Therefore, I decided to look into going to Thailand.
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An Inexpensive Way to Get Into the Shadow
Unfortunately, I had been laid off from JPL on June 23, 1995. I had saved a few kilo bucks, but I knew I would have to be careful with my funds because it was not unusual for an engineer in southern California to go nearly a year between jobs. At that point, I figured I would not be able to see the 1995 eclipse. I had decided not to go on unemployment right after being laid off because I wanted to hold out for some of the jobs I really wanted without having to apply at other firms merely out of obligation. In the years before I worked at JPL, I had invented and developed a lot of optical product designs for my business, and I did not want to risk compromising my intellectual property rights by working at a company that wanted me to give away the store by requiring one sided patent agreements and the like. At JPL, a condition of my contract employment had been that I did not have to sign any intellectual property or patent agreement.
In addition to being selective about where I applied for work, I was weighing the possibility of reemphasizing my Versacorp telescope accessory business and getting into wide angle imaging by introducing my patented (and patents pending; additional patents filed in 1997) Cassegrain axial strut wide angle reflector. This was a curious looking system I had originally developed and prototyped in 1977 which instantly captures 360 degree panoramic images in annular form. I had also developed a darkroom technique that was capable of converting 360 degree annular images into rectangular panoramas and vice versa, but it was time consuming. Digital image processing was beginning to come of age, and after seeing some data on Quick Time VR at Siggraph 95, both myself and my brother anticipated that VR, surveillance, and other markets may soon be ripe for my invention and panoramic conversion software based on my darkroom process (patent pending).
Another consideration relating to unemployment was that the increased prolapse problem I had experienced in Bolivia, and more recently, on a constant basis after being stressed out the previous spring from having to twice switch contracting companies when unofficial small disadvantaged business quotas phased my former company out. This caused a discontinuity in my medical insurance, which delayed my getting referrals for surgery to correct the problem. During this time, the medical condition had worsened to the point where it had a considerable influence on continence, so it limited my options in regard to what kind of jobs I could effectively perform. The worsening condition also made me a bit apprehensive about going to an eclipse in a relatively remote area, but I decided to go for it if I could find inexpensive transportation.
In August of 1995, I joined AAA, mostly so I could deal with the registration of a newer car without having to spend all day waiting in line at the DMV. A 1972 Plymouth Fury III had been my transportation since 1986, and it was beginning to cause problems. It had recently broken down twice, and each time it had been while I was on my way to a job interview. I liked the 1972 Plymouth, but reliability was important when one is job hinting. Fortunately, there were a few newer cars I liked.
One newer car I liked was the late 1980's to early 1990's vintage Plymouth Acclaim LE and LX. I had driven my dad's 1991 Acclaim LE from Phoenix to Pasadena on one occasion and had been amazed at how easy the drive was when compared to my car. In addition, his Acclaim had given him virtually no trouble. I also weighed the possibility of getting a van, but later decided to look only for an Acclaim LE or LX. I looked at a few of them in the LA area, but these had high mileage or looked beat. After a few weeks, my dad found a blue 1989 Acclaim LX with only 31,000 miles on it in the Phoenix area, so I flew to Phoenix and bought it.
While I was at the Pasadena AAA office to get the new car registration in order, I looked at a few of their travel brochures. Prior to that day, I had not even known that AAA offered travel agency services. I read that they offered a trip to Bangkok, Thailand in early December, and wondered if they could offer the trip at the time of the eclipse. To check it out, I made an appointment with one of the travel agents. When I later met with the travel agent, she checked into the matter, and the answer was yes! They could set up a trip that would depart on October 21 and return on October 27 -- and it cost less than $1,200 double occupancy ($1,350 single) including hotel accommodations! This was almost three times less than many eclipse expeditions! At that price, one could charter their own van and driver to get to the eclipse path and still have a relatively inexpensive expedition. Even better, the trip included a tour of the grand palace area.
The tour offered a choice of hotels in various parts of Bangkok. I asked about the restroom situation at the hotels. Having seen various accommodations in Bolivia the year before, I at least wanted to see if each hotel room had its own restroom. This was not an absolute requirement for me, but I wanted to be prepared for whatever the situation was due to my medical condition. The travel agent told me that the hotels were nice, and that each room merely having its own restroom was an understatement, adding that even the restrooms were quite nice at some of them. I opted for the Siam City hotel.
I excitedly told a few people I knew about my find, but few seemed to be interested. Most had given up hope of seeing the eclipse after seeing the high prices of the advertised eclipse tours. Pierre-y Schwaar of Phoenix, Arizona was interested and opted to go, and he was as amazed by the low tour price as I was. I had known Pierre since the mid 1980's and was glad he was also going on this trip. He had the same agenda I did; namely, the eclipse was the primary objective and all other activities (such as tours and the like) were optional. Pierre also understood that it is desirable to set aside plenty of time for rest in order to better get over jet lag and be alert at the eclipse. We opted for a site near Nakhon Sawan, since my map showed that roads to the area were good.
Our entire expedition to Thailand would be be a short one; five days in all. Totality would occur less than 35 hours after our flight is scheduled to arrive in Bangkok, and about 33 hours after we expected to arrive at our hotel and crash. We both decided to travel light, bringing only enough to fit in carry on bags. This way, we would not have the potential problem of a checked bag missing a connecting flight along the way. Late baggage would be disastrous owing to the short time between arrival and totality.
I eagerly booked our tour. I was really excited. Here I was unemployed, yet I had an opportunity to encounter the moon's shadow once again. Lord willing, seeing another eclipse would be a reality. This was great!
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Automating Instrumentation for a Short Eclipse
From our anticipated site near Nakhon Sawan Thailand, the total phase of the eclipse is predicted to last only about 106 seconds, which is just over half as long as the duration of totality at my last eclipse in Bolivia. I wanted to accomplish a great deal, including taking several 360 degree panoramas with my indexing rotary camera platform which could be used in the umbral experiments I described near the beginning of my 1994 journal.
The panoramas would be a bit more complicated at this eclipse because I wanted to cover a vertical angle high enough to include the sun at its predicted 57 degree elevation angle above the horizon. This meant that I had to use my camera vertically in order to have enough vertical coverage while still keeping the horizon in the center of the photos I would take with my 16 mm fisheye lens. (I did not have digital image processing capability at the time, so I needed original images that were compatible with manual photographic panoramic assembly techniques.) Using the camera in a vertical orientation meant that it would take six pictures to make up each panorama if there was to be good overlap. Panoramas with the camera horizontal only required four pictures. If I only used one roll of film, the vertical orientation would limit me to six panoramas instead of my usual nine.
To solve the film length problem, I decided to use two cameras instead of trying to change film near the time of totality, even though this meant that one or more of the cameras would have to be offset, which would not allow the nodal point (or more correctly, the correct zone in the distorted entrance pupil) of the lens to be over the center of rotation as it had been for my previous panoramas. (Lack of funds due to being laid off were why I could not consider using a camera with a 500 exposure back.)
Borrowing from panoramic camera designs I conceived in the 1970's, I designed and fabricated a dual camera bracket for the indexing rotary camera platform. The bracket was positionable to allow the use of one camera with the nodal point of the lens over the center of rotation; or the use of two cameras with the nodal point of one over the center of rotation; or the use of two cameras with the nodal points of each offset an equal distance, with the latter arrangement facilitating stereo panoramic imaging.
The next consideration was the short duration of totality. I wanted to operate five still cameras and two video cameras. This was quite a lot of shooting for such a short eclipse, particularly since only three of my still cameras had motor drives. I came up with some viable procedures, set up my equipment, and went through a few trial runs, but it turned out that there was no spare time and no margin for error, which meant that there would be no time to LOOK at the eclipse! This was unacceptable, since I would not know how to PRINT and evaluate my images if I did not get a good LOOK at the umbra and the corona, etc.
The solution to this problem would be labor intensive prior to the expedition, but it would make things much easier during the eclipse. This solution was automation of at least the 360 degree panoramic platform and one camera used with it. Automation was the only way to fly, so I started to work on the project.
My indexing rotary camera platform was built in 1991, and it is designed to alternately take a picture and rotate the camera to the next position. At previous eclipses, this was accomplished by alternately pushing two buttons. This may sound simple, but my condition had been so bad in at the 1994 eclipse Bolivia that I was not even able to push the buttons in the correct alternating order. Just in case I was not in good shape at the upcoming eclipse, I wanted the panoramic process to be foolproof, so I opted for automating both the shutter release and the platform rotation.
While it took some time to implement, automation was easily accomplished by using an adjustable timing circuit, followed by digital dividers, followed by a dual flip flop. The flip flop synchronized the platform and camera by firing the camera in one state and rotating the platform in the other. This prevented firing of the camera while the platform was in motion. Each flip flop output is followed by a monostable multi vibrator (a "one shot") which controls the duration of the pulse. The output pulse in turn controls the gate of a MOSFET, which in turn controls a relay. The relay is used in order to isolate voltage in the rotary platform or a camera from the MOSFET, since this allows switching connections to be established without regard to polarity for connections to the controlled devices. The one shot controlling the camera is adjustable in order to allow control of the shutter speed when the camera is set on "B".
The adjustable timing circuit allows the time between pictures to be adjusted between three seconds and a few minutes. Since the circuit was built into my existing remote control unit, the control box also includes manual rotation and shutter release buttons. I also added a switch which can disable rotation of the platform. This allows the control box to be used as a conventional interval timer.
The rotary platform is typically used in the center column of my Gitzo 326 tripod. The other cameras are positioned on the same tripod with the use of an adapted Bogen cross bar attachment. Below the cross bar, a tripod apron holds various items. After seeing this tall arrangement, Pierre dubbed it my "Christmas tree setup". During trial runs, I realized the rotary platform caused quite a bit of vibration as it rotated, so I decided to incorporate a second camera control into the automation circuit. This second control ensured that the controlled camera would not fire while the motorized platform was rotating. I expected to use the second control for the camera which photographed the corona.
I did not want to bring any checked bags on this expedition, so miniaturization was another consideration. The year before, both of my checked bags arrived late in Bolivia. One was 24 hours late and the other was about 35 hours late. This would not be acceptable at the 1995 eclipse, since totality would occur less than 35 hours after our arrival in Thailand! Therefore, I decided that all my equipment would have to fit into two standard size carry on bags, since two is the maximum allowed on most airlines. This way, I would not risk relying on equipment in a checked bag that could arrive late. Having only carry on bags would also simplify things when we arrived at the airport in Thailand.
Traveling this light (with only about 40 percent of the volume I had brought to Bolivia) meant that I could not bring my Vernonscope 94 mm refractor telescope or its equatorial mount. Therefore, I had to find another way to photograph the corona. I still wanted to be able to observe and photograph the eclipse through a single optical system, so I decided to look into the possibility of adapting my patented Versacorp DiaGuider to the back of my 300 mm f/4.5 ED Nikkor lens. In order to increase the effective focal length of the lens an acceptable degree and and increase the back focal distance enough to compensate for the depth of the DiaGuider, I mounted a Dakin Barlow lens in a cell which projects a modest distance into the deep recess in the back of the Nikkor lens.
The result is a very compact 70 mm refractor which is less than 30 cm long! The Barlow lens works at just over 2.1x, so the effective focal length is 640 mm. The lens is sharp wide open, but the axial image is not diffraction limited until the lens is stopped down to about 50 mm. This means that the lens is not as sharp as my Vernonscope 94 mm refractor, but it is still as sharper than what the grain structure most color films will record at that image scale. The edge sharpness was not as good, but this was not a problem since the part of the corona having the finest detail is within about one and a half solar diameters of the limb. I started using this telescope a lot. Some people who saw it in later years wanted something like it, so I started selling the DiaGuider along with the Barlow lens adapter, which is marketed as the "VersaScope adapter" by my company, Versacorp.
Once the 300 mm lens and DiaGuider assembly was completed, I again set up the equipment and began to document and practice my eclipse procedures. At this eclipse, everything except my corona video camera with its home made 3x converter was to be mounted on the same tripod. The video camera had to be separate so its image would not bounce when the still cameras were operated. Another video camera was mounted on the main tripod with the Bogen cross bar and used with two stacked wide angle converters. This facilitated a vertical coverage of more than 80 degrees which would allow the eclipse and the horizon to be captured together.
The still cameras included one with a 16 mm fisheye lens which was mounted in a vertical orientation on the indexing rotary panoramic platform for taking 130 degree by 360 degree panoramas; another camera on the platform which would be removed prior to totality and used with a 7.5 mm fisheye lens for all sky shots; a camera in a horizontal orientation with a 14 mm rectilinear lens for photos of the umbra and the eclipse over the horizon; a camera on the 300 mm ED Nikkor lens with the Versacorp DiaGuider and VersaScope adapter for corona shots; and a Canon Photura 135 on a quick release mount for miscellaneous pictures. This equipment worked well during my trial runs and my procedure seemed to go smoothly, even though the eclipse was to be short and I was using almost as many cameras as I had used in Bolivia.
In addition to my planned shots, I wanted to take some four second exposures of the outer corona. Unfortunately, time probably would not allow for this, so shots longer than one second were considered optional in my documentation. I brought along a light meter for collecting data for an incident light curve. I also brought a fisheye door peeper for looking at the expected diffuse umbral projection on the atmosphere. At this eclipse, I also wanted to see how long before or after totality the corona could be seen. This was something I had planned to do in Bolivia, but local circumstances had prevented it.
A final consideration was looking at the eclipse. I planned to look at partial phases through my 300 mm lens and the DiaGuider, but totality was so short that I did not want to tie up the lens for visual use, so I decided to get some compact binoculars. After shopping around, I got 10 x 25 Nikon binoculars. This proved to be a good idea, because I subsequently started using them instead of my larger 10 x 50 binoculars for almost everything except deep sky observing.
As eclipse day approached, I heard news reports about unusually high amounts of rain in Thailand. Some of the more dramatic reports indicated that flood waters had caused crocodiles to leave their usual habitats and roam the countryside, terrorizing local residents as they went. I tended to doubt such melodramatics, but the part about the rain did seem to be true. I just hoped the weather would be better by eclipse day.
The night before departure, I set up my equipment in order to pack it as I disassembled it. This way, I would not have to bother with the equipment again until I actually arrived at the eclipse site a few hours before totality. While my equipment was set up, I went through one more trial run. I was a bit tired from the day's activities, and I noticed that I was slower than usual in the process of switching the fisheye lens between cameras on my rotary platform, removing the lensless camera, and attaching a 7.5 mm fisheye lens to it. This activity was scheduled for two minutes before totality, and I was not able to catch up with the other procedures during these two minutes. Therefore, I decided to schedule the lens change at four minutes before totality, and change my printed documentation accordingly. This kept me up a bit later than I had planned, but I was able to get everything packed and crash by a little after eleven.
Everything for the trip fit into two carry on bags and a couple of pockets in a photo vest I had recently purchased. The bags were packed to the gills, but I was bringing along a tripod bag which would allow me to transfer the tripod from the carry on bags after arrival. This would make it easier to access equipment remaining in the bags. Most of my cameras and lenses were in plastic sandwich containers. This made them easy to pack and offered good protection since the padding for each one was in its container. Even so, the protection would not be adequate for a checked bag, so it was imperative that I carry both of my standard size wheeled carry on bags onto the plane. In order to save time at airport security check points, I was not going to load any of my film until we reached Thailand. During transit, it was all in a single X-ray bag which was in its own plastic sandwich container.
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The Expedition Begins
I woke up at about eight the next morning, got ready to go and called a taxi. The taxi took me to the Pasadena Hilton where I caught the airport shuttle bus to LAX. I arrived a couple of hours before my flight departed. Pierre's flight had already arrived from Phoenix, so he met me at the check in area for our Cathay Pacific to Bangkok Thailand via Hong Kong. We both traveled light enough that we did not have to check bags. Having all of my equipment and supplies in only two rolling carry on bags simplified the procedure of negotiating the airport.
We later boarded our flight and were able to relax before departure. While we waited, the flight attendants passed out damp rags we could use to wipe our faces. It was more refreshing than I had realized it could be. A person seated in front of us offered to take a video of us on the plane, so I let him go for it. In the afternoon, our 747 took off about on time and headed out over the vast Pacific ocean. It was my first flight in a 747. Every few minutes, the TV monitors displayed our progress and then indicated our altitude, air speed, and ground speed. It appeared that we were taking a southerly route which would take us within a few hundred kilometers of Hawaii.
There were a few things I wanted to attend to in the bag I had placed under the seat in front of me. There was not a lot of room to negotiate, so my activity occasionally jiggled the seat in front of me. The occupant of the seat noticed this notified me of this in a humorous way by asking if I was raising gerbils back there. This became a favorite saying of Pierre and myself during the rest of the trip. Whenever we had to fidget with a piece of optical equipment, we just said we were raising gerbils.
A few hours into the flight, the movie "Speed" was shown on the monitors. This movie was highly touted because it starred Sandra Bullock, but when I saw it, I did not see what all the rave about her was. Of course, playing a modern day character who is in a stressful situation, drives a bus full of explosives, and later has bombs strapped to herself is not the most glamorous part in the world. I seldom watch movies in theaters, but I later saw some of her other movies on television. From these, it was easy to see why she was so highly promoted. When not playing a part that suppresses her normal self, she definitely seems to be the cream of the crop in the movie biz these days; particularly in regard to facial appearance. When "Speed" was shown on the plane, they wanted something like four bucks extra for headphone rental, so I just watched it like a silent movie, occasionally imagining pipe organ music playing in the background. It was not hard to follow the story without sound, and such visual continuity is a good attribute for a movie to have; however, I thought the characters working the problem in the movie fell short of my expectations in proposing effective solutions regarding the bus.
As we continued westward, Pierre and I looked out my port side window and thought we were able to see part of the island of Hawaii projecting above the clouds. According to the progress map on the monitor, Hawaii was some 600 kilometers to our south, so I was not sure if we were really seeing it. I am not usually able to sleep on an aircraft, but I think I got to snooze something like half an hour on this flight. Later on the flight, they showed a movie about the hijacking of a train outside of Denver, but I did not catch the name. During this movie, a nearby passenger had his headphones turned up enough that I could hear some of the sound. My medical condition had not been too much of a problem thus far, probably due to the comparatively low stress level of the expedition.
After some time, we flew near the Mariana Islands. These are near the Mariana trench, the deepest known part of the ocean. Not long after this, the sun was getting low and the clouds below us took on a yellow orange hue and cast long shadows. A while after this, we started our descent into Hong Kong, arriving there at night and about 10 minutes behind schedule. The downtown area included a well lit building that seemed to have been inspired by the Empire State building.
At the Hong Kong airport, most aircraft park on the tarmac and a bus shuttles people between the plane and the terminal, then to their connecting flight. Our connecting flight departed in only 45 minutes, and there was a long distance to be traveled in the airport, so we ran part of the way. I was certainly glad that my carry on bags had wheels! When airport personnel saw the X-ray of my bag having the indexing rotary camera platform in it, they made me unpack the entire bag and show them the platform. I was glad I had brought photos showing whet the platform was for and packed in a modular way by using plastic sandwich and bread containers! We made our flight just in the nick of time, but we were not the last ones on board. Our departure was going to be a bit later than scheduled, presumably so more harried passengers could catch it. I hoped this was not the normal fare for connections in Hong Kong, and wondered if negotiating the airport would be worse when the commies took over in 1997.
After our first nail biting experience of the expedition, our air bus aircraft took off for Bangkok. There were a few things about the air bus that I did not like as well as the 747. The fight to Bangkok was uneventful. We landed, left the plane, went through customs, and started looking for our tour guide. Pierre looked as though he was invigorated by being back in Thailand. He had been in Bangkok many years before, while serving in the Vietnam war. I could tell that the changes in Bangkok seemed pronounced to him.
As we looked and asked around for our tour guide, we met an older man and an attractive younger gal who were working a booth at the airport. Pierre mentioned that he had been in Bangkok years before, and I could tell that some onlookers took at least a casual and favorable interest in learning that he had served in the Vietnam war. While no Vietnam veteran including Pierre ever said this to me, I was able to realize something from observing various cues in the local culture: Thailand as we now know it probably would not exist if the United States had not set up shop there and intervened in Vietnam, and many in Bangkok seemed to know this in a matter of fact way. If the communist expansion had not been challenged, the richness of Thai culture, and perhaps millions of Thai lives probably would have been lost forever; trodden underfoot by tyrannical dictators who were indifferent to the value of any culture. The threat to Thailand at the time was copious. China, Vietnam, or Pol Pot's murderous army would have been in a position to invade at one time or another if there had been no intervention in the region.
I also gained some insight into why the South Vietnamese may have initially lacked the zeal to fight that was characteristic of their northern nemesis: The religion of that area tended to promote relative nonviolence, and related beliefs including the concept of karma could tend to promote a passive attitude about some things. On the other side of the fence, the hard line communists are known for attacking religion and only allowing the promotion and survival of those who enthusiastically espouse communist doctrine.
By seeking to destroy all semblance of public religious expression in order to replace it with communist doctrine, the result is an army motivated by ignorance and hatred, lacking any of the compassion and moral fiber that the region's former religion would have engendered. All who oppose such a communist regime even in terms of ideology get blamed for the world's problems, not too unlike the tactics used by a certain German leader in the 1930's and 1940's. (History is full of leaders who precipitate or orchestrate atrocities by using these tactics. One would think that the world would wise up.)
Such an army is motivated to fight and commit brutal acts because they have bought into the lie that communism (or whatever else their leader espouses) is the solution to the world's problems. It is their new religion, and they believe in what they are doing, even though their belief is false and only serves to make a dictator and his cronies rich - a dictator who seldom abides by the rules he wants his subjects to believe in. Those have had their spirits broken and caved in to following communist leaders have already lost the battle for their own lives on the day they caved in, regardless of what side they take in the conflict. One cannot help but wonder if soldiers in such an army would be jealous of those who stood by their moral convictions and refused to sell out to a ruthless dictator.
I had very few perceptions one way or the other about the Vietnam war until I visited Thailand. I was 17 when the Vietnam war ended for the U.S., so I was too young to be canon fodder for the conflict. I would not have wanted to go and fight, but I would have gone if I had been drafted. Some now say that the Vietnam war was a mistake, but after seeing what I saw in Thailand, I would have to say that the war was no mistake at all. In fact, I get rather steamed when our President says the war was a mistake. How was he to know, having dodged the draft. There were mistakes made in the rules of engagement and other aspects of how the war was fought: Hanoi harbor was mined about 10 years too late; our airmen were not allowed to fire on SAM positions just across the Laotian border; but the war itself was no mistake. It was no mistake to Thailand or for anyone who is grateful that Thailand has survived as a nation. That part of the world is a better place because a stand was taken by countless thousands of brave men.
After some searching in the airport, we found our tour guide. It turned out that Pierre and I were the only people on the tour. This would be great! We got into the tour van and headed off for our hotel. On the way to the hotel, I was surprised to see that we were on a freeway, and that there were new elevated freeways under construction.
Our tour guide introduced herself and her driver and informed us of our options for the trip. We mentioned our eclipse plans and added that we probably would not want to do a great deal in the way of local tours other than to see the grand palace. We asked if we could charter our driver and the tour van for the eclipse, and the answer was yes! The price was relatively high - $200 U.S. (about 4,800 baht) for the day, but it was worth it just to have that part of our travel plans taken care of early on. This was much better than driving ourselves, since the traffic in Bangkok seemed to be almost as wild as it was in Bolivia. We had tentatively arranged to rent a car, so we left a message to cancel the rental as soon as possible.
We arrived at the Siam City hotel after midnight. Our AAA travel agent was right about the hotel; it was really nice! In fact, it was fanciest hotel I had ever been to. Our room was number 1070, on the tenth floor. It was furnished with a nicely finished wood table and other furniture, and the floors and walls in the rest room were genuine marble. There was even a telephone in the rest room! I took my tripod out of my carry on bag, assembled it, and set it over in a corner of the room. I brought along a soft case for it which would lessen the crowding of the equipment in my other bags. After brushing my teeth, I crashed.
I awoke when the phone rang at about 9:00 the next morning. Pierre was not around and the rental car place apparently had not gotten a cancellation message, so I informed them that we would not be needing the rental car. With the eclipse coming up, they should have no trouble finding another customer for it. I crashed again and woke up at 1:30 in the afternoon. This time, I decided to get up, grab something to eat, and take a look around the place.
Pierre was over by the window checking the alignment of his telescope. I wondered how he had been able to set up without waking me, since I had been a light sleeper for the last year or so. Our window overlooked a vast area of Bangkok. It was a city of contrasts. In the distance toward the right was a run down high density housing unit in which people dried their clothes on the balcony railing. To the left was a building under construction. It was very tall; I counted about 84 floors. The sky was mostly clear, with just a few puffy clouds here and there. Totality was only about 21 hours away. I was not trembling with excitement about it , but I was definitely beginning to feel some anticipation. We were in Thailand, the eclipse was just hours away, and the sky was mostly clear!
After getting some lunch, I loaded film in my cameras and went down to take a few shots of the hotel. I did not have to set up and test my eclipse equipment because I had planned the trip in a way that allowed me to pack the equipment before I left home, then not have to deal with it further (other than loading film) until we got to the eclipse site. After a brief look around the area, Pierre and I went down for dinner. The restaurant was quite fancy. I wished I had brought better clothes with me than my brown pants and white tee shirt, because I was definitely the least well dressed person there. My eclipse equipment had not allowed room in my baggage for much in the way of a wardrobe. At about 6:00 p.m., I crashed again. I was still tired, and very glad to have the opportunity to rest, and rest, and rest.
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Getting to the Eclipse Site
I awoke at 1:45 a.m. on the morning of October 24. The eclipse was a mere nine hours away, but we were not far from the path of totality and our travel was all arranged. Pierre had hardly slept at all due to being excited about the eclipse. This lack of sleep did not seem to affect him as profoundly as it would have affected me with my migraine condition. I had slept almost the entire previous day and I had been able to sleep almost a solid seven and a half hours since the previous evening. This helped me get over jet lag and my relative lack of sleep on the flight across the Pacific. This was an extreme contrast to my 1994 experience in Bolivia, where I had been subjected to several consecutive days of imposed activity while getting virtually no sleep at all.
I was very thankful for my present venue, which had allowed me time to rest. I had kept a low profile on this trip, not even mentioning our eclipse plans to other guests we would meet in our hotel. I had not planned any presentations in local schools; however, it may not have been a problem if I had, since Thailand did not seem to have obvious ethnic divisions like those I had seen in Latin America. Here in Thailand, there also seemed to be a great deal of sophistication in how the public was being educated about the eclipse. The staff at our hotel had seemed to have a good understanding of the eclipse and knew that it would not be total in Bangkok.
I went into our fancy marble rest room and took a refreshing shower. In spite of the sleep I had had, I still was not totally awake and chipper, but I was definitely better off than I had been just prior to any previous eclipse. Our chartered van was to arrive around 3:30 a.m.
I wanted to grab a few more winks on the four hour drive to our eclipse site, so I thought about borrowing the blanket from my hotel bed to use in the van. I decided to ask the hotel staff for permission to take a blanket along on the trip, and determined that I could save a trip on he elevator if I just took the blanket down to the lobby with me and asked the people at the front desk if I could borrow it as I was on the way out. In addition, having the blanket with me would make it easier to explain my request to an employee who may not know English very well. If they declined to let me borrow the blanket, I could just leave it with them and give them my room number. They could then put the blanket to my room, or I could retrieve it upon my return.
A little before 3:00, Pierre went down to the lobby with his equipment, and I followed a while later. We had both traveled so light that we could get all of our equipment to the lobby in one trip, but Pierre made an extra trip for the bottled water we were bringing. I asked about borrowing my blanket as I went past the hotel desk, but the people there would not allow me to borrow it. They were willing to hang on to it for me and said they could take it back up to my room, so I left it with them. This did not turn out to be a good idea, because it set the stage for an amusing little caper surrounding the blanket that would not be resolved for days.
Our van arrived on time and we were off to the eclipse by a little after 3:30. There was not too much traffic at that time, but it still took us well over an hour to reach the edge of town. Once out of town, the divided highway continued, allowing us to make good time. Before morning twilight, I had to find a rest room, and in the rural areas outside Bangkok, such facilities were about as luxurious as those in rural Bolivia. This one had low porcelain tub structure which was flanked by two raised areas having tread which was obviously made for one's shoes. A vat of water and a tin can provided means for "flushing" the unit. The facility was also mosquito infested, and the mosquitoes were dark and had their hind legs raised at a curious angle. They looked like anopheles mosquitoes (the type associated with malaria) but I was not sure if that is what they really were. This gave be a bit more motivation to fight them off, but I did get at least one bite that I know of, on my left arm.
We resumed our trek toward the center line and encountered an area where the road had been washed out from recent heavy rains. At this area, traffic from both directions was being routed onto the same side of the divided highway. At about 6:00 a.m., the sun appeared for what would be the first of two times that day. I had not been able to sleep, but I was more rested from laying down. A blanket would have been nice, but I managed by laying a couple of tee shirts on the vinyl seat and using my light rain jacket for a cover.
At about seven, we went through the outer part of Nakhon Sawan. I could see what appeared to be a small temple on top of a hill in town. Since we wanted to get closer to the center line, we went about 30 kilometers northwest of town and turned northeast onto the road to Banphot Phisai.
Pierre had a good feel for the local terrain, so I left the local site selection to him. I needed an area with a low northwestern and southeastern horizon in order to get good umbral data. We went back and forth on the road and looked around for several minutes. The only open area we initially found was near a huge two meter tall manure pile. I was not crazy about the prospect of the smell, but I figured it would be an acceptable site. Pierre knew we could do better and wanted to keep looking. He said that we were bound to find really good site if we kept looking. He was right.
Five Kilometers up the road, we turned southeast onto a winding road that went through some treed areas and out into a bucolic field of rice patties. One kilometer from the intersection, we found a perfect site with good visibility in all directions for observing and photographing the umbra. According to my map, our position was 15 degrees, 51.5 minutes north latitude; 99 degrees, zero minutes east longitude.
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We were at a "T" intersection of two gravel roads which were elevated above the surrounding rice fields. The fields to the east were flooded out to a great distance from our site. It looked more like a lake than a rice field. An elevated area to the north had cane planted on it.
Now that we were at our eclipse site, we started unloading the van and setting up our equipment. It was well before nine in the morning, but the temperature was already quite warm. The sky was almost completely clear, but one never knows what the weather may have in store. Pierre had been careful to avoid areas near hills which could be subject to cloud build up. There was quite a bit of local haze, but it appeared to be confined to within a few hundred meters of the ground.
Pierre had his equipment set up in no time because he had previously assembled it at the hotel. It took me about an hour to set mine up at a leisurely pace. We had both configured our equipment to break down quickly in case we had to make a last minute dash to dodge clouds. Having to make such a dash was a distinct possibility. I only had to recall the fact that my group had been clouded out at the 1991 eclipse in Mazatlan, Mexico. It had been locally clear at first contact, yet we were solidly clouded out by totality. It had even rained lightly a few minutes later. Pierre had also been clouded out in 1991, since his site was relatively close to mine.
I set up my tripod in the shade of the van, intending to carry it the short distance to my observing site. In order to avoid obstruction of the retreating umbra by a local tree, I had to decide between two sites. One was only a meter or so from a spirit house, and the other was on the side of one of the narrow elevated roads. I opted for the one by the road since I was not sure how much distance locals wanted between a visitor and a spirit house.
Pierre started shooting video of me pouring over my equipment and check lists, while sweat poured off our brows in the increasing heat. On rare occasions, a motorcycle would pass by, but few people stayed in our area for long. It was getting hot enough to be downright uncomfortable, and the only shade on dry ground was under a nearby structure consisting of a tin roof supported by posts. At least we knew we would get to be "in the shade" for nearly two minutes when the eclipse became total!
By a little after nine, all of my cameras were set up on the tripod and cross bar attachment. I gently moved it over to the site on the side of the elevated road and oriented it so the cameras were pointed in the planned directions. First contact was only a few minutes away, but I was ready. Just as I was about to turn on my video camera, a military jet made a low, high speed pass a hundred meters or so in front of me. It was better than anything I had seen at an air show, but unfortunately, it happened so fast that I did not get it on video.
From his nearby observing site, I hear Pierre yell "first contact!"! The eclipse has begun, right on time at 9:19 a.m. local time. Totality is expected to begin a few seconds after 10:46. I watch as the edge of the lunar disc eases straight over the sun. Even at this early stage, I can tell the eclipse is going to be a central eclipse just by observation. I am set up near the water, and Pierre has loaned me a dowel I can use to discourage any adventurous snakes from venturing my way.
A few local people soon start hanging around our positions, with most of them near Pierre. As the moon covers more of the sun, more and more local people gather. By the time the eclipse reaches 50 percent, there are about a dozen people in our immediate area, but none of them seem to speak English. A few are school children, accompanied by their teacher.
All of the people are very friendly and none of them disturb our equipment. We only had to lay some poles on the ground around our equipment and everyone just seemed to know not to disturb anything inside the marked area. This is a pleasant contrast to some people I had encountered at my last eclipse!
By about 10:25, the temperature has dropped enough to notice. Not long afterward, a gentle but sustained breeze begins to blow from the southwest. A few minutes later, the wind dies down and some dragon flies appear. They are soon out in droves over the water just northeast of my position. A rooster crows soon thereafter.
By 10:37, the area begins to take on an eerie gray pall. Totality is less than 10 minutes away, but there is no trace of the lunar umbra. In perfectly clear skies, some subtle sign of the umbra should have been detectable as early as 10:35. To try and capture the illusive umbra, I take a 360 degree panorama, managing to kick the tripod as I do so. The sunlight gradually continues to dim and the time of totality draws near, but there still is no sign of the umbra. The umbra should not look particularly large at this eclipse, but it seemed unusual not to see any trace of it so near totality. I assumed that local haze may have obscured it.
I am just able to detect constant dimming of the ambient light on a moment by moment basis at 10:44. Totality is only about two minutes away, and the sun is just a sliver of light. I take a panorama at 1/15 second shutter speed, then set the exposure to 1/4 second and initiate the automated panoramic sequence which takes one photo every few seconds. The camera on my 300 mm lens and DiaGuider is also controlled by this circuit.
At that time, I remove the solar filter from the 300 mm lens and DiaGuider and set the attached camera to 1/125 second in order to see how far before totality I can capture the corona. For the next shots, I set the speed to 1/1000 second. Even the first shot shows the corona, and it was taken nearly two minutes before totality! I am not yet looking for the corona visually, so at the time, I do not notice it.
The umbra finally becomes detectable on clouds in the west, but I still cannot see it in the blue sky. I take more pictures toward the west with the 14 mm lens, grasp the camera having a fisheye lens and proceed to take a hand held all-sky shot. It is then that I see the umbra. Its boundary is far more diffuse than what I had seen at other eclipses, making it difficult to see without a visual magnification of less than unity. In the camera viewfinder, an image produced by my fisheye lens reduces the visual image scale by a factor of about nine, providing a very clear view of even this diffuse subject. It is 13 seconds after 10:45, and the umbra is almost here. With a minute and a quarter left before totality, I can actually see the umbra move toward the sun's position in the viewfinder. Things are starting to happen fast! It is exciting, and I can tell that the adrenalin express has left the station!
At 10:45:42, I remove the solar filter from my JVC video camera and 3x converter lens, then turn off the camera clock display. Since the converter lens only has a 26 mm aperture, the image is dim enough to be safe for the video camera. The ambient light is soon falling fast enough to perceive in real time, and it feels as though the hair is standing up on the back of my neck. This is the first time in more than a decade that I have been able to witness the transition to totality while alert, and since I know what to look for, I see the things that are happening all around me!
Even though this is is just an eclipse, something inside gives me a feeling that "This isn't supposed to be happening!" My voice begins to quiver as I see the sky darken overhead. Mercury and Venus appear on opposite sides of the sun. I make a note of it for the video, but my quivering voice mistakenly identifies Mercury as Jupiter. I'm now shaking like a leaf with nervous excitement. It's all just to much!
I glance toward the sun and see the entire outline of the moon against the darkening blue sky. The appearance is like the early stages of the diamond ring, but the solar crescent is still relatively long and there is a lot of glare around it. I cannot see much dimming in the glare, which leads me to believe that the eclipse will not be total for several more seconds. I haltingly say "It's not quite diamond ring yet", and just as I finish speaking, the glare in the sky quickly dims. In an instant, totality begins, and it's fantastic!
I quickly take a chromosphere picture and set the panoramic platform camera shutter speed to one second. There are not a lot of people in the immediate area, and totality began quietly, without all the whooping and hollering that is associated with some eclipse tour members. The corona almost looks familiar this time. At first glance, it looks harsh and of moderate extent, but a longer look again reveals its true visible extent and the soft quality of its light. I look in the camera taking the corona images to check centering and discover that the eclipse is significantly off center. As I begin to position it, I can see that the lower equatorial streamer extends clear out the corner of the viewfinder, meaning that it is at least three solar diameters long! The moon looks a bit mottled, but I am not able to make out enough features to verify I am seeing earthshine.
I pan my wide angle camcorder toward the eclipse and take take a manual sequence of images with the 14 mm lens between the west and southeast, taking three shots of totality over the horizon. As I do so, I can see yellowish orange color on distant clouds toward the south. The light on the clouds is dimmer than I had expected. The sky near the zenith and the eclipse is a dark grayish blue.
A Glorious 20 Seconds
Once the video cameras were positioned and the manual photos taken, I have the treat of looking at the eclipse through my 10 x 25 binoculars. As I look, the image jumps all over the place; I am shaking so much that I can't hold the binoculars still! I soon realize that the diopter adjustment is not quite set right, but it proves hard to adjust because the the warm rubber eye cup just spins over the adjustment collar. This proves to be a blessing in disguise because it distracts be from the excitement of eclipse enough to allow my shaking to subside. After a few seconds, I get the adjustment right and the view in both sides appear to be in focus at the same time. I now am able to look at a sharp and relatively stable image.
The corona is breathtaking. There is a prominence on the top (west) side of the eclipse. It is faint, appearing to be about the same brightness as the surrounding corona. The polar streamers have a softer look to them than those at the last eclipse. These look almost tubular, while those seen from Bolivia looked flat and sharply defined. The polar streamers are also remarkably symmetrical, extending out about one solar diameter and making the corona look almost perfectly round except for the protruding equatorial streamers.
Including the equatorial streamers, the visible corona occupies about 2/3 of the 5 degree field in my binoculars. The lower (eastern) equatorial streamer is a single tapered one about three solar diameters long. The upper side has at least five prominent streamers, two of which extend out to about 2.5 solar diameters and nearly merge at their extremes. The entire array of streamers are about a solar diameter wide, and the light between then is substantially brighter than the polar streamers. Overall, this brighter area is larger tan the solar disk in both width and height. The equatorial streamers also look tubular rather than flat, and some remind me of the appearance of a fluorescent light tube. The sky has the same grayish blue color as in my naked eye view, with the moon appearing the same color as the sky surrounding the corona.
As I continue looking, a short bright pink arc of chromosphere appears on the upper right side of the moon and rapidly lengthens. Totality is almost over, so I adjust automated sequence rate to shoot pictures more often. A small part of the photosphere suddenly appears in the center of the chromosphere arc and rapidly lengthens into bright white arc. Less than two seconds after third contact, the umbra vanishes into the light haze and the sky quickly brightens around the sun.
I look at the eclipse with the binoculars while positioning the photosphere outside the field of view, and I can still see the inner corona! A minute later, I look again and I can still see it. Two minutes and twenty two seconds after the end of totality, I do it again, and I can still see it! I do it again three minutes after totality, but can no longer see the corona.
The temperature seems to hit its minimum about 10 minutes after totality, then it begins to get warmer again. It has gone from being uncomfortable before the eclipse to downright comfortable now. The drop was probably between five and eight degrees centigrade. By 11:15, the ambient light looks almost normal even though more than half of the sun is still eclipsed.
We start packing our equipment before 11:30, but I keep some items out so I can observe fourth contact. Meanwhile, Pierre finishes packing his equipment and sits under the tin roofed structure with some local people. One of the local people is carrying a large crab having a very large pincer on one side. Some of the time, the crab grasps a stick with its pincer as it is being carried around. The man eventually sets the crab down on the ground and other people watch it. I asked it how it liked the eclipse, and told it to gurgle twice if it liked it. I don't think it understood me, since it just kept up its random gurgling sounds. Later on, the man picked up the crab and carried it off, probably to have it for lunch.
At 12:25, we have fourth contact and I soon finish loading the last of my equipment. My timing of fourth contact was not to the second because I observed at a low magnification while hand holding my telescope. As we left the area, I checked the odometer readings at each turn to verify our position.
The solar eclipse eclipse was over for us, and it had been a success! After reviewing my procedures, I realized that I had correctly performed virtually every task on my agenda that was not purely discretionary. It looked like I had the images, observations, and data I had wanted to get at the previous eclipse, plus I'd been able to see this eclipse after having a decent amount of sleep! This allowed me to remember it with remarkably better clarity. I had invested a lot in the 1994 Bolivian eclipse and had planned on using images, video, and data from it for a substantial portion of my hobby activities, and maybe even enhance my livelihood through publication. In some ways, what had happened in Bolivia was worse than being clouded out, since the imposed sleep deprivation caused so much of the experience to just slip past my dulled senses. October 14, 1995 was the first day since the big let down in Bolivia that I actually began to feel upbeat about my projects again. I now had material for all of my planned projects except the video production.
On the way back to Bangkok, we passed a truck carrying a golden statue of a dragon with the sun its mouth. I wondered what festivity it may have been used for. Later on, we stopped at a gas station to get gas and more drinking water. The station was memorable because it was near a tall tower. Pierre somehow got separated from his Swiss army knife at about this time, and realized it about half an hour later, but he did not want to go back to the station and look for it. We looked around the inside of the van for the knife, but could not find it.
We ran into heavy traffic a good 80 kilometers outside Bangkok. A few kilometers later, we were in stop and go traffic. It was obvious that the eclipse had a lot to do with the traffic situation. People had left town over the last day or so, but once the eclipse was over, almost everyone came back to town at once. There were occasional breaks in the traffic, but it slowed our progress enough that we did not get back to the hotel until evening.
When we arrived back in our hotel room, I noticed the beds had been made, but that the blanket was still missing from mine. I figured that I would just use the bead spread as a cover and inquire about the matter the next day. As Pierre unpacked, I switched on the news to see if there was any eclipse coverage. There was quite a lot of it. Most of the anchors were female, and most of these were striking in their appearance. They totally blew away even the most glamourous of U.S. media people.
I noticed that the anchors began the newscast by bowing in the same way as employees at the hotel would wai when greeting someone. I tended to like this form of greeting over shaking hands, and wondered how something as inane as the hand shake ever became a standard form of greeting. Hand shaking is known to spread colds during the fall season, but many people in the U.S. get all bent out of shape if one resists shaking their hand because one person or the other has a cold. The Thai wai of greeting seemed far more pleasant and practical.
The TV eclipse coverage proved to be extensive. I tried to tape some of it by pointing my video camera at the TV screen, but it strobed in the viewfinder because of the 50 Hz scan rate of the local video format. By setting my camera on slow shutter, I was able to minimize the strobing. One segment of the broadcast included a time lapse video of the entire eclipse. Later in the broadcast, people's efforts to observe the partial eclipse in Bangkok were covered. Some had looked at a reflection of the sun from the surface of water. This was dangerous because water reflects about three percent of the solar intensity, and this is at least 100 times brighter than what is safe. Overall, the news coverage was quite good, and it lasted well over an hour - an eclipse chaser's dream!
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The Culture, the Temples, and Neat People
At 8:30 the morning of October 24, the van arrived to pick us up for a tour of the Grand Palace. In addition to our driver, a pleasant and attractive young gal having long black hair greeted us. She was our tour guide. It looked as though Pierre and I would have a tour to ourselves, which could allow us to take more pictures without having to keep up with some big group. Unfortunately, our luck was about to change. After a few minutes, our van stopped at another hotel and several people started to get on. After a few seconds, our tour guide asked everyone to get out of the van, then she asked Pierre and I to get in the back. Since she knew this was the least desirable place, she began to apologize to us for having us get in the back, adding that she was moving us because some of the new people were too fat to negotiate their way to the back.
Once the van was loaded, we resumed our trek toward the grand palace. It was not long until we entered parts of town in which the streets were still flooded from previous rains. Some streets were flooded along most of the way to our destination. From the back seat, it was hard to hear the tour guide over muttering and questions from the new members of the tour. This made it virtually impossible to obtain a video record of the tour with intelligible narration.
When we got to the grand palace area, we got out of the van and proceeded to enter the palace grounds. The flooding was so severe that some pavement around the palace area was still under water. It was sunny, but when we got to the entrance, our tour guide opened her umbrella and held it over her head most of the time. Some said that the sun apparently darkens Thai people's skin, and some in the city use umbrellas when they are outside to try to prevent the effect, though I don't know why they go to the bother. I noticed that people in rural areas had darker pigmentation, so it seemed that sunlight may really have this effect on them.
Once on the grand palace grounds, I realized that we were going to get to see much more than just the grand palace. There were also ornate temples, the most notable being the temple of the Emerald Buddha, which houses a solid jade image about 40 cm tall that is known to be more than 600 years old. They allow visitors into this temple, but only if one takes off their shoes. Photography and video is not allowed from inside the temple, but a great deal of its interior is visible through large openings. The temple has large teak doors and many ornate fixtures. Near the temple, many low lying areas were still under a lot of water from the recent flooding. The grounds are also host many ornate wall paintings and statues. It definitely fit the description of a national treasure.
It grew hot while we were in the area and there was still a lot to see. The new members of the group were relatively tall and tended to crowd around the tour guide, which made it difficult for Pierre and I to follow what was going on or ask any of our own questions. Pierre eventually gave up on trying to hear the tour guide and lagged behind the group so he could take pictures. On one occasion, the tour guide asked me to go and catch him up to the group, and one of the heavy set new tour members started muttering about the inconvenience they thought he was causing. In reality, I thought Pierre had a good idea, particularly considering how frustrating it was to hear the tour guide over these tour members. I later started lagging behind myself, but we stayed within sight of the group. This at least allowed me to get some well composed pictures.
After the tour, we waited around the parking lot a few minutes. Our tour guide started feeding some pigeons in the area and seemed to be having a good time as she did so. Soon, we were in the van and on the way back to our hotel. The tour guide pointed out several notable buildings and other sights as we went along. She also answered questions about the average salary and minimum wage in the area. Local wages seemed to be quite low. Soon, we crossed a bridge which had an unusual three dimensional image of a dog on it. Some in the van wondered what it might be for, then one of the more personable of our new tour members related a rather unpleasant story about acquaintances of hers who had visited a nearby country with their dog. Apparently, they had left their dog unattended outside their hotel for several minutes, and when they returned, the dog was gone. She said that after much searching, they found the dog tags and some fur in a trash can behind a cheap restaurant. Ironically, the dog's name was Beefsteak.
After a few minutes, we stopped at a silk store where we could purchase silk scarves, glasses cases, or other souvenirs. From here, Pierre, myself, and just one other tour member rode back to the hotel with our tour guide. The other tour member was a pleasant middle aged fellow from India. It was much more relaxed than earlier, with our tour guide having a chance to grab a sandwich she had brought along. The new found space in the van allowed us to have relatively good seats and to ask a few questions of our own. One of my questions related to whether or not foreigners could buy land in Thailand. I was glad to hear that they usually could not.
In my opinion, one of the greatest mistakes of the United States was its allowing foreigners (or more particularly, nonresidents) to purchase land and other national resources. This may provide money in the short term, but the long term effects could be very undesirable. Many want to head toward a world economy, and the importance of security on a national scale has been lost on some. I told story I heard that the Arabs wanted to by California, but the Japanese would not sell. (As a matter of information for any self appointed political correctness thought police out there, countries in the joke are selected at random.) Most in the van laughed, with the local people undoubtedly having some realization of the shortsighted nature of selling national assets.
When we arrived back at the hotel, we stowed our cameras in our hotel room and went down to the hotel's Patummat restaurant to get some lunch. I only ordered an omelet, but thought about going for the buffet at a later time, even though it was expensive at about $14.00.
This was the first time I really got to be acquainted with the hotel staff who worked the restaurant. They were all very pleasant and soft spoken people, and they seemed to take an interest in the fact that we had gone to the eclipse. They then related their impression that relatively few of the hotel guests had traveled out of town to see the eclipse. After lunch, we decided to get some of our pictures processed at a local one hour photo lab. I looked at some of their previous processing and it looked all right, but the technician ended up fingerprinting a few of my shots. Fortunately, I did not have them process any of my corona images.
In the evening, Pierre and I had dinner at the restaurant. In the evening, live musicians provided background music. Part of the time, a piano and violin duet played. At other times, a petite gal named Parichart played the khim without any accompaniment. She was very good at plying, and the music was very soothing. I made it a point to have dinner the next day at a time she would be playing, and I stayed in the area long enough to hear her entire two hour shift.
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The Great Thai Blanket Caper
The afternoon we had returned from our tour of the grand palace, the room was made up again, but the blanket for my bed was still missing. I took some pictures of the room before we messed it up with our camera equipment. Inquiring at the desk about it when we went down for lunch seemed to be in order, but we got a knock on our door before we left the room. An hotel employee informed us that a blanket was missing, and wanted to know if we knew what had happened to it. I explained that I had brought the blanket downstairs with me a couple of nights before to ask about borrowing it, that they had declined to let me borrow it, and that I had left it with them so they could return it to our room. The employee guessed that someone may have just put the blanket in the store room and seemed satisfied, so I thought that was that.
The next day, Pierre had nothing to do but rest and get more of our pictures processed. We decided to surprise the employees we met in the restaurant and give them their pick of prints of our eclipse photos. Pierre had quite a few of his corona and partial phase shots on hand, but the only photos I had processed at the time were wide angle shots of the eclipse over the horizon. I mailed them some of my corona shots after I got back to the U.S. Surprisingly, most of the employees wanted pictures of the partial phases rather than those of totality. For lunch, I sprang for the buffet, but I had some sort of mental block about some of the selections. I had never had lobster in my life, and it was part of the buffet, but for some reason, when I came to the lobster, I thought to myself "I can't afford that", and passed it up! I just totally zoned out on the fact that it was part of the buffet.
After lunch, we went to a gift shop in the hotel to get some post cards and other souvenirs, then returned to our room. The beds had again been made up, and now, Pierre's bed was missing a blanket. This was getting interesting. As we were packing, I determined that I would send my tripod in its case as a checked bag so there would be room to adequately pack my souvenirs, one of which was a small ebony wood elephant covered with mirrors which I had purchased to use as a prop in title footage of my video.
At about this time, a person from the hotel came to the door and Pierre let her in. She was the assistant manager of the hotel, and had come to inquire about our missing blanket. Apparently, our last interface with hotel personnel had not settled the matter. It looked like we still had a genuine blanket caper on our hands! We both related what happened, and the gal also came up with the theory that the blanket had been put in a store room by people at the desk rather than its being returned to our room. The matter finally appeared to be settled. The great Thai blanket caper was over at last.
During our conversation, the gal from the hotel became aware that we had been to the total eclipse, and she seemed interested. She was excited to see our pictures, and Pierre gave her a couple of his prints. That evening, Pierre and I went to the restaurant to relax and I took some video of Parichart playing the khim.
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Riding the Jet Stream Back Home
Early on the morning of October 27, our driver picked us up in the tour van. The sky was heavy with clouds and it was raining. We were glad the eclipse was not on that day. When we reached the airport, we checked my tripod and checked in for our flight. For some reason, they only gave us boarding passes for the Bangkok to Hong Kong leg of our flight. This seemed unusual because they had given us boarding passes in LA for both legs of the flight out. I remembered the rush we'd had in the Hong Kong airport, so I asked if we could get boarding passes for both legs of the flight. They said no. Our connection time in Hong Kong was less than an hour, so I informed Pierre that we would be in for a real nail biter when we got there.
The first leg of our flight was on an Airbus aircraft, and the flight was uneventful until we began the descent into Hong Kong. A little less than half an hour before our scheduled arrival, I became aware of a cabin pressure change due to a feeling in my ears. At first, it seemed like the pressure change that occurs in other aircraft, but the pressure kept changing for a long time. In a few seconds, I was feeling some discomfort. I tried yawning and anything else I could think of to get my ears to pop, but the pressure change was always one step ahead of my efforts. In less than a minute, I was in extreme pain, particularly in my left ear. It was literally enough to make a grown man cry.
The ear problem left me disoriented for the rest of the trip and the pain lasted for three weeks. My doctor told me that both of my ear drums had been injured from the pressure change and an infection in my left ear had soon followed. I had a similar painful experience on an Airbus six months later, while flying from Kansas City to Phoenix. As a result, I have not flown on another Airbus to this day. Boeing planes don't seem have this variable pressurization problem. The Airbus people need to get their act together with their hardware or recommend better operating procedures. If they exhibit the complacency of most other manufacturers and do nothing, it will probably take something like a class action lawsuit to wake them up.
As we approached Hong Kong, I could see a suspension bridge under construction, with roadway only occupying about the central 1/3 of its span. I was amazed at how close we flew to hills and buildings on our final approach. Once on the ground, the rush at the Hong Kong airport was just as bad as I thought it would be, and the condition of my ear did not help things. Pierre was rather upset at the disorganization in the airport and marveled at how I had been able to keep my cool. Of course, a person with an injured ear drum does not feel much like displaying frustration in a visible way.
We flew a 747 back to the states. This time, the plane took a northerly route that took us over Osaka Japan and relatively near the Aleutian islands. I assumed that our route was intended to take advantage of the jet stream, since we definitely seemed to be in it. At one point, our ground speed even exceeded the speed of sound! I let Pierre grab my port window seat part of the time so he could look for the aurora, but he was not able to see it. They later showed the latest Batman movie, but I paid little attention to it. It was dark and too unrealistic.
It was daylight again before we reached the U.S. coast, and it looked like we would fly near San Francisco. As we approached the coast, I tried to find a vantage point that would allow a good view of the golden gate bridge or the bay bridge. It was then that I realized how difficult it is to get from one side of a 747 to the other. I never saw either bridge, so I figured we had flown directly over them.
By the time we landed in LA, I was feeling very disoriented from my ear injury and my eyes were more damp than usual. U.S. Customs officials did not respond well to this. Some of them were downright rude, but I presume this may have been because customs personnel usually associate disorientation and watery eyes with things far more unsavory than an ear problem. My khaki photo vest may not have helped either.
Once we were through customs, Pierre went to catch his flight back to Phoenix and I took a shuttle bus home. Other than the ear problem, it had been a good trip.
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Reflections on a Nearly Perfect Expedition
I visited my folks in Sun City Arizona (near Phoenix) a couple of months after the eclipse, and they let me have Pierre and a few other friends over to their place so we could look at each other's eclipse photos. Pierre related that of the seven eclipse expeditions he had been on, the October 1995 trip had been his best one. In terms of resulting images and enjoyment of the eclipse, thought it had been my best expedition as well, with my first eclipse in 1979 being almost a tie in terms of the experience. One thing I liked about the 1995 eclipse was how well I had been able to remember the corona as I'd seen it in my binoculars. I had only looked at the corona for about 20 seconds, but it was a 20 seconds to remember.
The next January, I had surgery to repair the prolapse problem that had become a severe problem during my 1994 expedition to Bolivia. In this procedure, about 18 cm of my sigmoid colon was removed, partly to anchor things where they belonged and partly to compensate for stretching and migration my colon had undergone due to the prolapse condition. The surgery did not fix everything, but it eliminated the extreme daily pain I had endured over the previous couple of years.
After the surgery, I wondered it there had been some glitch in the anesthetic because my clarity of memory was reduced for many past events. The effect was most pronounced for events immediately preceding the surgery, but it had some effect on my memory of the eclipse as well. I also forgot how to do a few isolated tasks. My primary care doctor said that this was not too unusual, and that most or all of the affected memory should eventually return. In a sense, it was just as though all of the events I remembered had been moved back about six months. I had a similar experience after the stress of my 1994 eclipse expedition. After that, I remembered things I'd done at work before the eclipse and within the last couple of months as though they had occurred between six months and a year earlier. It was weird.
On the 1995 eclipse expedition, most things had gone right, and I was able to use the results of my umbral experiments to refine my umbral predictions, with the goal being to forecast what the umbra will look like at any future eclipse. Effects of the umbra on local surroundings is part of what makes each eclipse unique, and I looked forward to the next unique eclipse.
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The Next Eclipse
The sun is covered for a few brief moments and then it returns. Such is the nature of a total solar eclipse; a brief and exhilarating respite from daylight. When the eclipse is over, the sun is the same as it has always been, but somehow, you don't consider the sun in the same way you used to. It is now much more than that bright ball of light that gets in your eyes during the morning commute. The sun is now an object of genuine wonder and fascination. You now know it has features you had never seen before, including prominences and an indescribably beautiful pearly white corona. The sun is still the same, but after seeing it disappear while right in the middle of the sky, you are not the same.
Many other things seem different. A shadow from a distant round object is no longer a just shadow, for it reminds you of the time you were in the shadow of the moon. The moon is now more than a mere ball in the sky that faithfully goes through its repeated phases. A mere shadow had moved over you, but somehow, the eclipse may have made an such a deep impression that it seemed almost as though it were alive. There is nothing about the moon's shadow that influences a person in and of itself, but to some, the experience of seeing it may be so moving that one will seek to attribute more significance to it than the mere passing of a large shadow. The experience itself is moving, giving it great significance to the one who saw it.
Remembering a total solar eclipse may even make some want to study the sun. Some will get hydrogen-alpha filters and look at prominences in the absence of an eclipse. Some will chase the shadows of spherical water towers. Some (like me) will go to great lengths to develop means of simulating the wraparound nature of the total solar eclipse experience indoors. Some will dream of going up in the space shuttle and creating artificial eclipses. Some will wish that a large celestial body would crash into the moon in such a way that the radius of its orbit will be reduced and it will be nudged into a lower inclination that will result in a total solar eclipse every lunar cycle. Still others will do the best thing possible and seek another encounter with the great shadow of the moon, even if though this means that they must wait for the next eclipse, or at least the next eclipse they can afford.
There is no substitute for the real thing, so we wait for the real thing. We wait for the next total solar eclipse, and if we have money, we spend it like a drunken sailor to get to the shadow any way we can. If we lack the funds to go to each eclipse at will, we wait until the relative positions of the earth, sun, and moon bless us with an eclipse path that is within an affordable distance. Whatever our economic standing in life, we all have to wait for the next alignment of the earth, moon, and sun - and when they do align, we have to be ready for them, because they won't wait for us. The next eclipse will occur right on time whether we are ready or not.
An eclipse is one of the few events in nature where you can go to a site and simply let the event come to you. So go, eclipse chaser. Go and experience that wondrous encounter with the shadow of the moon. The corona beckons. The prominences beckon. The next eclipse can be your eclipse! The next eclipse can be as though it is all happening just for you, and your pulse races with anticipation as you consider the wondrous thrill it will be! Will you be there? Will you be at the next eclipse?
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Recommended Reading: More Eclipse Stuff.
Images of the 24 October, 1995 Total Solar Eclipse: Diamond ring, chromosphere, corona, earthshine on moon; totality and horizon with 14 mm lens; series of six 360 degree panoramas of the umbra before, during, and after totality; images of Thailand. This URL also links to my images of the 1979, 1991, and 1994 eclipses.
Light curve of 1995 eclipse
For more journals of other eclipse expeditions, go to the Eclipse Chaser's Journal at EclipseChaser Home Page
EclipseMovie Home Page. Includes a fictional account of an 1869 eclipse.
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Need information about eclipses for your planetarium, motion picture, or other project? Jeffrey R. Charles performs science consulting in regard to eclipse phenomena and instrumentation. Please direct inquiries to Jeffrey R. Charles email@example.com or click here for more information about total solar eclipse related science and engineering consulting.
Go to EclipseChaser Home Page
Go to Versacorp Home Page
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Copyright © 1995, 1998 by Jeffrey R. Charles. All Rights Reserved.
Document Created: 11 March, 1998
Text Last Modified: 30 April, 1998
Links Last Modified: 20 March, 1998