Long Beach is to L.A. There are some huge furniture, fixtures and home improvement stores there plus one pretty large mall. Also, there is a branch of Thammasat, which some consider Thailand's best university.
Speaking of universities, an interesting one is Ramkamhaeng. Established may 30 years ago (I think), it is an open university. If you're thai, the only requires to get in are to show up. No required number of classes per semester, no mandatory attendance, no mandatory homework. The final exam is 100% of your grade. While that is a clear invitation to chaos for most of us, I read that those who do manage to graduate turn out to be people w great self-discipline, focus, and drive. Students at other schools are used to being told what to do. That's not conducive to independent thinking, something which is a bit in short supply here. It seems the pre-(?)University levels here are still more oriented to rote learning, and the hierarchical nature of relationships here is not conducive to arguing w your teachers. I've heard foreign teachers express frustration at this. It's not that thai students aren't smart or don't have opinions, as it could appear. But they feel constrained to keep opinions to themselves depending on their audience.
Actually (here's one for rote learning), people in shops or big stores are incredibly full of knowledge about their area of responsibility. In HomePro (like Home Depot, but without the warehouse-jeans & t-shirt feel), the young guy helping us look at kitchen counters was both a fount of knowledge and a creative thinker. It's tends to be easy to get service in stores because they are much more heavily staffed than we usually see in the U.S. I admit that is probably due to very low salaries. But that's another thing: no one here let's his/her salary level interfere w the level of service provided.
I tell you, it is LOUD in the "outback". The tiniest bird and even the damn jingjok (tiny salamanders who provide organic insect control) have stentorian voices. I cannot here the sound of a single motor or any kind now. Later there will be plenty, as some houses here are still under construction, but for now the sounds are probably the same as they were, say, 500 years ago.