This has NOT been an easy month and 2021 is, generally, a much worse year than 2020 thus far.
In Thailand, COVID-19 cases continue to surge and we are now averaging around 22,000 new cases per day. Frontline workers are so overwhelmed that people have been dying in the streets and left there as nobody is available to remove them. Crematoriums in the Buddhist temples are working overtime. There has been an escalation of violent protests in Bangkok in recent weeks. The Delta variant has a hold on this nation that has no sign of ending anytime soon.
With just five days remaining until the start of the Twenties, I find myself inundated with non-philatelic pursuits. I live in a country that is over 90 percent Buddhist with most of the remaining population being Muslim or Hindu. Christians make up an extremely small portion of the residents. And yet, Christmas is extremely popular. While the majority of schools throughout the Kingdom remain open on Christmas Day, most of these host parties where all students and teachers are decked-out in red felt shirts, skirts and/or hats and sing very bad renditions of “Jingle Bells” and “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”. Of course, Santa Claus (and his sexy sidekick, Santy) must make an appearance to lead the throngs of children in games until the unrelenting tropical sun.
I am happy to announce the creation of a Facebook group as an extension of the New Issue posts on pages here on the Philatelic Pursuits blog. Not only do I plan to share the information from this blog to the group, but I also hope that members who join can also share New Issue information that they come across. Eventually, I would like to see members actively trading for stamps with other collectors within the group and perhaps some limited selling as well. Please take a moment and join The Stamps of 2020 group and let’s make the New Year one to remember….
Less than a week ago, I decided the primary focus of Philatelic Pursuits for the upcoming year of 2020 would be new stamp issues. I attempted something similar last year but began much too late to ever get caught up and I made a few early bad decisions. I soon became overwhelmed and had all but given up just a few months into 2019.
Part of the problem with my previous approach was trying to update via pages dedicated to each month. The page for January became difficult to edit due to the time it took images to load. One had to scroll quite a ways to find new content. I felt that that solution was to post blog entries for each new stamp encountered, much in the same way as other New Issue blogs. In addition, there will be a page dedicated to each entity issuing stamps during the year. These pages will serve as indices to the stamps themselves, linking to the individual entries. I believe that I will be able to post updates much more quickly this way. Menus in the header and on the sidebar of the blog allow for easy navigation.
In the last five days, I have added 51 entries to the blog — one for each stamp issue that I have either an image or a date of issue for. These are from 14 separate stamp issuers:
Currently, I am caught up on these. I will start creating pages for other countries/entities as I await further programme and individual issue announcements. Each time I add a country, the initial page takes a bit of time as I have decided to include images of flags, postal administration logos with links to their philatelic bureaus, and coats of arms. Once that’s done, the individual entries are relatively easy (and quick) as they retain that formatting.
I have also created a Google Calendar to help keep track of the issues throughout the year. My only real gripe is that it doesn’t offer enough different colors for events and categories. I have also added those stamp issues scheduled for the remainder of 2019 (November and December). Check it out below and in the sidebar.
I hope that you like the new focus for Philatelic Pursuits. Along the way, there will be occasional articles marking various holidays (I just realized that I managed to miss Día de los Muertos — one of my favorite holidays — but there’s always next year). Please feel free to contact me with any information and images that I can include on this blog. The dedicated email address is PhilatelicPursuits -at- gmail dot com.
For now, I am caught up and feel I deserve a bit of a rest. It feels good….
With new stamp issues for 2020 starting to be announced coinciding with the imminent end of my months’ long busy period, I am now thinking about a return to (semi-) regular blogging. I plan to concentrate on the New Issues of 2020 as much as I am able to. My approach will be similar to that on the Gulfmann News blog giving illustrations of the stamps as they are announced or the Virtual Stamp Club by adding to the original blog entry once further information becomes available. The pages, then, will serve as chronological indices to the blog entries about the stamps. Hopefully, this method will be a bit easier for me to maintain.
I am pleased that my prolonged period of intense work is coming to an end. Or, at least, a lightening. I have been itching to get back to my stamps and other postal activities (such as Postcrossing). In fact, the first postcard I have received in months happened to be my first from North Korea, something I blogged about on my postcard blog when it arrived.
Despite the heavy workload of the past several months, I have been able to go to the local post office several times each month to obtain new Thai stamps (many of these on the first days of issue adding the local postmark on my covers). This is the first year since I moved to Phuket in which I have purchased every stamp issued thus far; I am only missing the first day cover of King Vajiralongkorn’s Coronation Day stamp which quickly sold out.
In recent weeks, I have also been actively purchasing various items on eBay. These are mostly first day covers from the U.S. that I missed the first time around (such as the various Transportations Coils and Celebrate the Century stamps) and non-U.S. covers of some of my favorite themes (including Apollo 11, caves and caverns and Americana). There have been a few random postcard purchases as well, principally 1930’s and 1940’s cards from places I once lived (Texas, Tennessee, Kansas, and New Mexico).
Some of these new purchases may make their way into future articles for A Stamp A Day (although it will never again be a daily endeavor) or here on Philatelic Pursuits.
At any rate, it is nice to be able to pursue philatelic endeavors once again…
My work has not only intruded upon my various hobbies including philately and maintaing my blogs but has completely taken over my life to an unprecedented degree. I believe the last time I was this busy may have been back in my university days during which I also worked in restaurant management.
While I am quite exhausted, the majority of this work is stress-free. I do enjoy all that I do. However, once I return home at the end of each long day, I am almost always too tired to do anything except watch a bit of TV and read a chapter or two before my eyes shut involuntarily.
What has occupied my time, you ask? Much of my “free time” at work last month involved preparing and then conducting a three-day English camp for 55 young students at a beach resort in northern Phuket. Our clients, once they sign the contracts, determine the camp’s main theme and then it is up to me to break that down into manageable , teachable parts around which we can still have a great deal of fun games and other activities. In this case, the client was an administrative sub-district which operates several schools in the eastern portion of the island. Their chosen topics were Global Warming and the 3 R’s (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle). Try teaching that material to 10-year-olds with extremely limited English skills!
I prepared numerous flash cards, worksheets, as well as props and backdrops plus I created around 15 different games for this camp which was held Wednesday, Thursday and Friday last week. Thankfully, the usual rainy season wet weather did not make much of an appearance (five minutes during the second morning) and the camp was a great success. The most difficult part was during the second afternoon when the children needed to use what they learnt the previous day about their assigned topics and put together 15-minute skits. They were given approximately two hours time to write scripts (in English!), learn their lines (each child had to say at least one sentence), and create visual materials out of a rather limited amount of paper, future board and tape/glue. Only one or two students completely froze but nobody gave up (or cried!).
I created a video using photos and video taken by myself and some of the other teachers and students at the camp:
The camp and its preparation were in addition to three 2-hours per day, five days per week private lessons. The earliest student (9-11) is preparing to take the entrance examination for one of the most exclusive international schools in Phuket; my 11-1 student will enter university next month and is strengthening his grammar skills while the 1-3 course is helping a TOIEC (Test of English for International Communication) candidate. All three enrolled for 30-hour courses. The early morning student has renewed twice (the most recent was yesterday) so she will learn for a total of 90 hours. The 11-1 student has renewed once and the 1-3 is at the mid-course point. Tomorrow, I will add a fourth class to this already grueling schedule, 3-5 preparing a student for the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) exam. The latter, in my mind, is the most difficult of these types of tests (I am also certified to teach preparation courses for TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) which I rate as the most enjoyable to teach.
I am also scheduled to begin my annual courses for staff members of Thailand’s fifth largest bank, Krungsri Bank of Ayudhya, in about two weeks’ time. I spent several days last month conducting placement exams and interviews for this year’s crop of eager tellers and exchange booth personnel. All of these courses involve a great deal of preparation (and study in some cases) in addition to the actual classroom lessons.Oh, and there are two more English camps scheduled to begin about three weeks from now. The theme for each of these (different grade levels from the same school) is English for Tourism with the students becoming “Junior Guides”. The younger students will conduct surveys of tourists on one of our beaches during the last day of camp while the high school students will act as tourist guides in one of the resort communities. I certainly hope their English skills are better than those at the last camp! For this, I need to create a “manual” for our Questioning Kids and Junior Guides including sections on Local Transportation, Attractions, Culture and Food.
As I mentioned at the start of this article, June was probably my busiest month ever. As far as billable hours are concerned (a significant portion of my work is not billable), I ended up with nearly 30 hours in overtime pay (I have a base number of teaching hours as salaried management). If there are no additions or subtractions (students occasionally need to cancel due to illness or inclement weather), my schedule for this month will put me at around 75 hours of overtime (nearly double my required teaching hours).
Normally, I would try to do a lot of work at home (designing flashcards and other camp materials, creating the books, etc.) but by the time I arrive at my apartment following a 90-minute local (open-air) bus ride, I can barely keep my eyes open long enough to eat dinner. I have still maintained my reading streak, although some evenings may see only 10 pages read, and there are one or two television programs I watch each week. I am far behind reading blogs, not to mention writing my own entries.The only philatelic activity that I have managed since mid-May has been the occasional purchase of Thai stamps from the nearby Phuket Philatelic Museum. However, one first day cover (for His Majesty the King’s Coronation) sold out before I got there and Bangkok failed to send two stamp issues (no stamps or first day covers) to Phuket at all. They do that from time to time; I think they feel that there isn’t as much interest in non-Buddhist or non-Royal issues so they simply do not distribute them to very many post offices outside of the capital. It is frustrating to say the least. Every year, I end up buying half of that particular year’s stamp issues from an online dealer (I cannot order stamps from Thailand Post itself for some unknown reason).
I think that, realisticly, I won’t be able to return to even occasional blog entries for quite some time. I hope my workload will lessen by mid-August but at this rate, who knows? All I know for certain that the our teaching agency/ language school is set to move to a location in Old Phuket Town at some point in the near future (possibly in August or September). That will involve an emtirely different kind of hard work! Perhaps I will be able to return to a high degree of philatelic pursuits, Postcrossing, blogging, and the rest of my hobbies before the start of 2020. I certainly hope so!
I am currently reading the latest thriller by Steve Berry, The Malta Exchange, and just came across a passage mentioning stamps. The main character, Cotton Malone, is in Italy where he had a violent encounter with somebody he has discovered is a member of the Knights of Justice. In the passage, Malone is thinking about what he has learned about the organization:
“One hundred and four countries maintained formal diplomatic relations, including an exchange of embassies. It possessed its own constitution and actively operated within fifty-four nations, having the ability to transport medicine and supplies around the world without customs inspections or political interference. It even possessed observer status in the United Nations, issuing its own passports, license plates, stamps, and coins. Not a country, as there were no citizens or borders to defend, more a sovereign entity, all of its efforts focused on helping the sick and protecting its name and heritage, which members defended zealously.”
Upon reading that, my first thought was, “I have never heard of ‘Knights of Justice’ stamps” but then I realized that Malone is referring to the Knights Hospitaller (founded in 1050 in Jerusalem) which are now officially called the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta and better known as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM). It is a Roman Catholic order based in Rome. A postal administration called the Poste Magistrali was set up for the order under a Decree of the Grand Master on May 20, 1966, with first stamps issued on November15 of that year. I have seen these referred to once or twice but always thought they meant the stamps of Malta, either as a British colony or independent republic.
Of course, now that I know about this issuing entity, I need to seek out some of their stamps. Unfortunately, postal agreements have been established with only 50 or so territories which allow mail sent, provided it is posted at the Magistral Post Office at Via Bocca di Leone 68, Rome. The United States doesn’t have such an agreement with the Sovereign Military Order of Malta nor is the order a member of the Universal Postal Union. As a result, many catalogues view these as Cinderellas or local post stamps and simply do not list them. In fact, the only two major catalogues for which I have found SMOM listings are the Italian-language Unificato and French-language Yvert et Tellier catalogues.
May 24 marks the 200th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birth and a number of entities are planning stamp issues as well as commemorative coins. In searching for new stamps in this topical, I came across a number of coins that I would love to obtain as well. I found the designs from the Perth Mint in Australia particularly beautiful. Oddly, I cannot find an announcement picturing the designs for Great Britain’s upcoming stamp set other than the one that accompanied press releases last December that described this year’s stamp programme. However, there are several online dealers advertising their first day cover cachet designs picturing the stamps. One example is shown below:
The set from Jersey is another of my early favorites. This is an island I began collecting about the same time I started my childhood collections of Pitcairn Islands and Tristan da Cunha (sometime around late 1978 or early 1979). My other great interest at this time was North Atlantic ocean liners and I had just started a correspondence with Noel R.P. Bonsor, an author who had a series of books that profiled virtually every passenger ship that had steamed across the Atlantic since the early days of Samuel Cunard’s beginnings. Bonsor divided his time between a residence on Jersey and a villa in Alicante, Spain, and we traded letters back and forth for many years. Eventually, he began sending me stamp issues (mostly in presentation packs) from Jersey. I stopped actively collecting the bailiwick’s releases sometime in the 1990’s when they began releasing far too many stamps to keep up with (or afford). However, I will try to add the Queen Victoria set. The souvenir sheet is particularly striking:
Here in Thailand, everybody is getting reading for this weekend’s Coronation of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, usually referred to in the West as King Rama X. There have already been a plethora of ceremonies and events associated with the event and the King himself got married Wednesday afternoon to the head of his Royal bodyguard detail (his father, the much revered King Bhumiphol Adulyadej, similarly married Queen Sirikit just prior to his own coronation back in 1950). The actual coronation ceremony occurs tomorrow (May 4) but the grand procession through the streets of Bangkok is scheduled for Sunday afternoon and Monday is a special holiday for the Kingdom. All government employees (myself included) are to wear the Royal color of yellow every day for the entire month of May. Thailand Post’s stamp for the Coronation will be released tomorrow; while there are special postmarks available from many of the post offices in Bangkok, I doubt any of the post offices here in Phuket will be open. I have to work all day anyway and it won’t be until next week that I will be able to buy any of the new stamps (and there are several due for release next Friday so I may just wait until then).
I have a fair amount of stamps that make me hungry looking at them, particularly those from Thailand, Malaysia, and New Zealand that portray the wonderful fruit we have in this part of the world. I now have the opportunity to add a few picturing sweets thanks to delectable sets released by Canada and Singapore, coincidentally (?) both on April 17. The Sweet Canada set has received some controversy as confectionary “experts” claim the proportions of chocolate, custard and crumb crust are pictured incorrectly on the design featuring the famed Nanaimo bar. It still looks tasty to me! The stamps in Singapore’s Traditional Confections set are just as mouth-watering.
I haven’t spent much time on the stamp blogs lately but I did read an excellent article by John M. Hotchner on the Virtual Stamp Blog about “Collecting On A Tight Budget“, something I totally relate to. I also came across an essay that was originally broadcast on CBC Radio discussing “The Lost Art of Writing Letters“.
Sunday is, of course, the 5th of May — a date which is celebrated in Mexico and the American Southwest as Cinco de Mayo. The date is observed to commemorate the Mexican Army’s victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla, on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza. The victory of the smaller Mexican force against a larger French force was a boost to morale for the Mexicans. Oddly, the holiday has taken on a greater significance in the U.S. than in Mexico, and has become associated with the celebration of Mexican-American culture. These celebrations began in California, where they have been observed annually since 1863. The day gained nationwide popularity in the 1980s thanks especially to advertising campaigns by beer and wine companies. Today, Cinco de Mayo generates beer sales on par with the Super Bowl. I plan to celebrate in my own way with a nice meal of Mexican food, a real hit-or-miss affair in Phuket, Thailand. Luckily, one of the island’s best restaurants serving Mexican food in located not far from my home.
I am also thinking about putting together a Cinco de Mayo article for the long-hibernating A Stamp A Day blog as I have several stamps that commemorate the Battle of Puebla. Over the past several months, I have added quite a few Mexican stamps to my collection, many are modern stamps commemorating various holidays and other annual celebrations, something I think they do consistently well (much better than some of the other entities I collect). There are a number of other Mexican holidays in May for which I have stamps including the birthday of Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla — the initiator of the Mexican Independence War — on the 8th, Día de las Madres (Mother’s Day) on the 10th, and Día del Maestro (Teachers’ Day) on the 15th.
There were quite a few new stamp issues announced over the past week as I fall farther and farther behind on my listings of the year’s stamps. In fact, I have not done anything to these pages in perhaps two weeks and am trying to push myself to get back on-track. Part of the “problem” has been the extreme heat wave that we have been trying to endure here in Thailand. There has been very little rain since December in Phuket and the reservoirs that hold our daily-use water are all but dry. We had a brief respite for Thai New Year (Songkran) which has become a nationwide all-out water fight when nobody cares about conserving what little water there actually is. I often wake up around four or five in the morning to find the temperature already hovering at 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) and it only goes up from there. Luckily, I do have air-conditioning at my office (my home has two powerful fans but they just move the hot air back and forth). The heat saps your energy and it is a struggle to do anything at all.
However, I did find a burst of motivation mid-week as I began “formally” preparing for my participation at SINGPEX 2019. The 36th Asian International Stamp Exhibition will occur from July 31 through August 4 at the SUNTEC Convention Centre in the Lion City and will be my first big stamp show since Pacific 97 in San Francisco twenty-two years ago. This is also my first trip outside of Thailand since I journeyed to Cambodia (Angkor Wat!) in April 2013. I booked my accommodation early in the week; Singapore is EXTREMELY EXPENSIVE and I ended up with a room in a capsule hotel which, I suppose, is one step up from a dorm bed in a hostel. I am watching my budget closely on this trip as I plan to stay in Singapore for six days and want to have enough cash for plenty of stamps and supplies (my main goal is to find some decent albums and update a few catalogues). I am really looking forward to the show.
As I didn’t have any classes on Thursday, I began the day working on company-logoed polo shirt designs for my teachers’ agency. This naturally led to my designing a few shirts to print for my Singapore trip, playing around with back print designs with various Thailand stamps that have been issued promoting Phuket (there are not very many of these, unfortunately). This, in turn, led to my designing a commemorative postmark which became a design to use for cancelling my local post stamps while attending the exhibition as an addition to any covers and postcards I may send while there. I briefly thought about designing special REPUBLICA PHUKETIA stamps for SINGPEX as well but I still have quite a few remaining definitives and commemoratives from last year’s print run with yourstamps of Germany. I suppose I could create a rubber stamp overprint should I feel I need to add anything.
I am disappointed to discover that the Singapore Philatelic Museum closed in March for renovations that are planned to last until the end of 2020. I had been looking forward to a return visit to this, perhaps the best stamp museum in Southeast Asia, during my upcoming trip. My last visit was back in October 2006 while I was in Singapore obtaining my first long-stay Thai visa but I was not able to fully explore the museum due to time constraints. While there will be plenty to see and do (and buy) at SINGPEX, I was hoping to obtain some dual first day cancellations there as well as purchase a few souvenirs.
Two of the topicals that I have been avidly following in 2019 are those stamps released to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing and this year’s EUROPA stamps which all relate to “National Birds”. While perusing newly-released stamps of the latter topic was a set from a stamp-issuing entity that I initially didn’t recognize, the Republic of Artsakh (Արցախի Հանրապետություն — Artsakhi Hanrapetut’yun in Armenian). A quick view of the Wikipedia page told me this is the place I already knew under the name of Nagorno-Karabakh, internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but is closely linked in every way to Armenia and accessible only through Armenia. Having released stamps under the latter name since 1993, the “republic” has been recognized only by three other self-proclaimed and unrecognized states, Transnistria, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia. Although Armenia supports Nagorno-Karabakh economically and militarily, they have not recognized the region’s independence.
“The stamps issued by the Republic of Artsakh aren’t recognized on an international level, not by the UPU nor by PostEurop. Those stamps are listed in most stamps catalogues (Gibbons, Yvert & Tellier, Michel) and most Europa stamps collectors collect those stamps even if they aren’t official stamp issues.”
The change in name to Artsakh came about in 2017 and the stamp designs are reminiscent of those of Armenia (the same designers and printers?) . I have recently become interested in Armenian stamps which are fairly easy to find on eBay. There are also at least two websites selling them, Armenian Stamps.com (which lists Karabakh stamps up to 2017) and Stamps of Armenia (which does not seem to list any of the issues by the various break-away states). The region seems like an interesting one to visit; although the city of Stepanakert does have an airport, flights are not allowed to land or take off due to Azerbaijan’s threats of shooting them down. Access is easy by road from Armenia; if you plan to visit Azerbaijan, you should go BEFORE entering Armenia or Artsakh as visas from those places will either see you turned away at the border or arrested. The people in Artsakh are said to be quite friendly and hitch-hiking is a recommended form of exploring the area.
Other recently-issued and forthcoming National Birds/EUROPA stamps that have caught my eye have been those from Ireland (April 11), Faroe Islands (April 29), Monaco (May 6), and Åland (May 9). These, and more, are included in the slideshow below:
The only recent addition to the United States Postal Service program for 2019 was the announcement and design revelation for the expected stamp to honor former U.S. President George Herbert Walker Bush,, who passed away December 1, 2018, at the age of 94. He was born June 12, 1924, and U.S. custom is that former presidents are honored with a stamp on their first birthday after their death. The design of the nondenominated (55¢) commemorative Forever stamp was revealed Saturday, April 6 and will be sold in panes of 20 starting with the first day of issue ceremony on June 12 at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas.
I have long collected the stamps of France, particularly less-than-recent issues which were extremely beautiful in their designs the majority of which continued utilizing intaglio engraving long after other stamp issuers ceased doing so. My affinity for Paris, in particular, has been strong since my high school days learning the French language in the U.S. Midwest. As a result, I have amassed a nice collection of stamps portraying such iconic sites of Paris as the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triumph, and Notre-Dame Cathedral. The first news that reached me of the latter’s burning last Monday came via a philatelic page on Facebook and I became increasingly saddened as a scrolled further along the page finding additional details and mourning over the tragedy from all quarters — childhood and school friends in Texas and Kansas, news sites from around the world (including Thailand) as well as numerous Facebook groups (in additional to many in the stamp world, I am also a member of various Francophile, history and archaeology groups all of which had something to offer about Notre-Dame in the fire’s wake). Here is my small tribute to Notre-Dame with some of the stamps and postcards coming from my own collection, others found on eBay: