But not arriving yet…

Received a call from a 310 area code about 4:00 pm Bangkok time and it turned out to be my parents.  Their flight out of Kansas City was delayed first because of a late arriving crew the night before (that’s happened several times to me, I think the last crew arriving at night shouldn’t be the first crew scheduled out in the morning – it causes too many delays) and then because of weather.  By the time they arrived in Chicago they had missed their two flights to Tokyo.

After checking with THAI Airways, they were told that the nonstop out of Los Angeles looked good if they could get to LAX.  So they got on a flight out of Chicago bound for LAX and then sat on the tarmac after leaving the gate for a few hours.  So they missed the THAI flight and will spend the night near the LAX airport.

The flight from LAX to Tokyo tomorrow looks full but the San Francisco flights look better.  So they will fly up to SFO first thing in the morning and then try to make the connections to arrive in Bangkok by Friday evening.  The joys of flying stand-by – if there’s room you travel virtually for free even in First Class.  If there are delays, there are no protections for you.  C’est la vie.

Hopefully they will get on the flight out of SFO and get First Class seats so they can relax.

I haven’t heard from my Uncle Ken so I’m assuming he’s en route from Tokyo to Bangkok.  According to the NWA.com website the flight departed Narita five minutes early and is scheduled to arrive on time at 11:51 pm.

Quick scramble to change reservations, cancelling the stay Friday night in Cha-am, a beach town south of Khrungthep, and adding a night to the reservations at the hotel here in the city. 

  

More Visitors are Coming

Sometime about three hours ago, my parents and my uncle Ken departed from Kansas City on their longer than day-long journey to Khrungthep.  Ken is flying Northwest through Minneapolis, Portland, and Tokyo Narita.  My parents will fly United through Chicago and Tokyo Narita.  Both routes are scheduled to get them to Khrungthep within twenty minutes of each other, just before midnight Thursday night.

Almost all the plans are made… a few things are left such as renting a van for our Wednesday trip to teach at Bangkhonthiinai (more about that in a second) and arranging for a tour guide for some trips while they are in town.

Also, I’d like to make dinner reservations at a restaurant on the river for the evening of the King’s birthday, December 5th, but every attempt to call the restaurant results in no answer to the phone.

Ajarn Yai, the principal at the school where I teach, spent the better part of yesterday afternoon pestering me not to forget about the plans to bring my family and visiting friends to the school next Wednesday.  It seems the locals have some major things planned for us and if I forgot to show up it would be bad.

 

Tawn reports that I woke with a scream sometime last night.  No further details.  I have no memory of that.

 

DSCF3451 My flight back into Bangkok was smooth, a friendly morning service aboard THAI Airways International.  Mid-morning is both a good and a bad time to arrive at the new airport.  Good because it is not very busy so there is no wait for immigration.  Bad because since there was just a trickle of people passing through customs, it appeared to me (the bearer of five bottles of wine, a bit more than the 1000 ml allowed) that the agents were putting all bags through an x-ray machine.

(Right: a pair of demons guards the entrance to immigration at the new airport.)

Having never seen that before, I quickly assessed my options and decided it was better to jump on my sword than to have it thrust into me.  I went to the “red” lane, where you are to declare any dutiable items you have.  A half-dozen customs officers were standing around, eating some khanom (snacks) that one of them had brought to work.  Playing the ignorant tourist, I said in English that I had some extra bottles of wine and knew that I had to pay some sort of a duty on them.

There was a look of panic as their morning snack session threatened to be interrupted by work.

“How many bottles?” one asked.

“Five,” I replied, “They cost about 80 Australian dollars total.”

“How much is that in baht?”

“Mmm…” I replied, trying to do a conversion for which I didn’t have any clear idea, “about 2000 baht.”

“Would you open up your suitcase, please?”

I opened the suitcase.  The bottles were all well-wrapped and three were in a styrofoam carrying case.  I didn’t unwrap them but just pointed, “There’s three in there and another two here.”

“I know I’m supposed to pay a duty on this,” I reinforced, since one of the agents seemed to think that maybe I wasn’t supposed to bring anything in over the allowance, period.

After a moment of thought, the agent responded with a question rather than a statement – maybe everything can be bargained in Thailand:

“They cost 2000 baht total?  Okay, the duty is 1000 baht, okay?” he asked.

“Oh, sure.” I replied.

“You need a receipt?”  Code for: Do I have to report this to my superiors?

“Yes, please.”

(Note to my upcoming visitors: intercontinental flights arrive at busier times and I’ll reports I’ve heard from other travelers at the new airport is that spot inspections do not happen regularly, so continue to pack a few bottles of wine with you.)

So even with the extra 1,000 baht duty, these bottles of wine were still about 60% of the price they would be in the United States and significantly less than they would retail for here in the Kingdom.

Tawn was waiting outside and we wandered out to the car and headed home.


Tod’s friends from San Francisco, Darrin, Orlando, and Marc were in town.  We watched the new James Bond movie with them and then ate dinner at Taling Ping on Soi Wat Khaek near Silom.  On the way home, our taxi was racing along Rama IV and we overtake Tod, Darrin and Orlando in their taxi.  Picture below:

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Changi Airport Gets Deserted at 4am!

It is now 6:36 am Singapore time and I’m sitting at Pacific Coffee in Terminal 1, waiting for the THAI Airways check-in system to come back online so I can get a seat assignment for the 7:40 am flight up to Bangkok.

I spent the night at the transit hotel located inside the terminal.  The budget room is S$40 for six hours and is a little like a nice YMCA room: two meters by three with a small TV, small bed, and small desk… and almost no floor space.  The bathrooms are down the hall and the shower facilities are in the gym, also down the hall.

Four hours of sleep was about all I could manage in one block, with maybe another sixty minutes or so of half-asleep/half-awake time.  But it was better than nothing and I’m sure I’ll make it through the day well enough.

I’m ready to be back home, though.  Loved being in Melbourne but miss Tawn.  I’ll be glad to be on a THAI Airways flight, where I can read the THAI articles (correction, I can practice reading them!) and speak in Thai, a langugae that hopefully hasn’t completely evaporated in a week.

My report for this trip was largely completed last night on the Austrian Airways flight up from Melbourne, so I should have it posted before Mom, Dad and Uncle Ken arrive on Thursday evening.

Giving Thanks

DSCF2708 Right: Stephanie and I enjoying a homemade dinner of Greek chicken salad this week:

By mid-day Friday I had accomplished just as much work as I possibly could working from Stephanie’s suburban Melbourne living room.  The final things I needed to accomplish required answers to my questions, answers that could only come from people back in the United States.  People who would not be back at work until Monday morning.

So I finally stepped outside and went for a trip into Melbourne, to see more of the city.

True, most evenings Stephanie and I had eaten dinner in various districts around the city, but that is different than actually walking around and seeing the city in broad daylight.

Interesting fact: Melbourne and San Francisco are almost exactly the same distance from the equator, just in opposite directions.  Melbourne is at 37 degrees, 48 minutes, 50 seconds south latitude; San Francisco is at 37 degrees, 46 minutes north.  The difference, if I understand correctly, is less than 4 km.

Taking the number three tram (others might call these trolleys or streetcars) from Caulfied North, I rode down St. Kilda’s road, a main arterial that cuts across Melbourne’s grid of streets much in the same way Market or Columbus Streets do in San Francisco, only much more beautifully.  Wide medians, trees, and many parks along the way, St. Kilda’s is very pleasant. 

Disembarking shortly before the Yarra River, my first stop was the National Gallery of Victoria.  After a four-and-a-half year rennovation and reorganization this civic institution retains all of its admired features – a water wall at the entrance and the world’s largest stained glass ceiling in the great all – as well as adding a number of world-class gallery spaces. 

The special exhibition right now (through the end of January 2007) is “Tezuka: The Marvel of Manga” about the seminal Japanese manga cartoonist Tezuka Osamu.  Here’s a synopsis from the NGV website:

Manga TEZUKA Osamu is heralded as an icon of the Japanese manga movement; acknowledged in Japan as an artistic master, and revered as the figurehead of the manga and anime industries. Creating over 700 manga titles during his lifetime, he is best known in the West for his cartoons of Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion, which were serialized for television in the 1960s.

Tezuka’s work is acclaimed for its complexity and originality and his drawings showcase an extraordinary calligraphic dynamism. His prolific manga work contains two main streams: manga ‘comic pictures’ for a youth audience, including Astro Boy, Kimba and Princess Knight; and gekiga ‘drama pictures’ – more seriously-toned, adult oriented narratives such as Song of Apollo and Ludwig B, that stress realistic effect and emotional impact.  This exhibition features both aspects of his work, introducing Western audiences to the complexities and extraordinary range of the manga form.

This show was extremely well-curated and of special interest to me because my friend Otto is a young, upcoming cartoonist out of Singapore.  I know that manga has been influential on him and so thought he might appreciate this show.

Ikat There was also a very nice exhibition of ikat, Asian resist dyed textiles (right).  Running through mid-March 2007, this is a lovely collection showing the range of styles of this particular technique of textile embellishment that is employed  from Central Asia to Indonesia, including mainland Southeast Asia, India and Japan.  In the ikat technique the threads of a fabric are resist dyed before they are woven, so that as the cloth is woven a pattern appears.

 

 

DSCF2718 After spending about ninety minutes at the museum, I continued down the road and crossed the Princes Bridge into the city center.  The lovely Flinders Train Station faces opposite Federation Square, two incredible contrasts of style.  The station is a century-old neoclassical depot, the square is a modernist plaza with abstract, metal sheet-lined buildings including the Australian Centre for the Moving Image and a new building for the National Gallery of Victoria focusing on Australian art.  The cobblestone-lined square is reminiscent of the paolo in Siena, Italy, but in a very 21st-century way.

While in Melbourne this week, I was able to try four very nice restaurants including two on Friday.  For your reference:

Cicciolina – modern Mediterranean with friendly service, fat Tasmanian oysters, and Italian specialties right along Acland Street in hippie-esque St. Kilda. 

DSCF2723 Fenix – an abstractly contemporary place where conservative diners get a fright.  The aumse bouche was a nitrogen “cooked” green tea merenque, chilled in a silver bowl with liquid nitrogen and then placed on your tongue and allowed to disolve.  My 36-hour spring lamb (cooked at 56 degrees C) with carrot blocks topped with tempura celery leaves, sweetbreads, poached pear, molasses and a line of date paste, and Stephanie’s apple- and teak-smoked mulloway (whitefish) with indian cress flower, schezwan scallops and cider air (foam) were both wonderfully prepared.  The service was super-attentive and relaxed, exceptional in Australia where waiters are paid a living wage and do not normally receive tips.

Oyster Little Bourke – this faintly retro, Italianish space adjacent to Chinatown offers professional if distracted service and one of the best pistachio-crusted veal chops I’ve ever eaten.  The peach melba (pictured above) was a thing of beauty.

DSCF2737 Tutto Bene – we concluded our week dining with Stephanie’s colleague Peter and his daughter Haley (left), as this “risotteria.”  With eighteen types of risotto on the menu, how could it be anything but?  Located on the south bank of the Yarra river, we enjoyed nice views of the city, solid service, and tasty risotto.  Service started out rushed but relaxed as the evening moved on.  Peter’s duck risotto (paparadelle) was very nice, as was Stephanie’s blue crab risotto.  Haley’s choice with scallops and saffron seemed a bit of a mish-mash of flavors.  We had a really nice trio of desserts, including a cold zabaglione over hazlenut gelato and a panna cotta over poached apricots.

Afterwards we walked along the south bank of the river and I took some pictures, including this one of us being artistic.

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It is now Saturday morning.  I baked biscuits for Stephanie and we’re sitting around trying to get her iPod to work on her computer.  I’m going to pack soon and will head out for the airport mid-afternoon after a bite to each at a beach-side restaurant in St. Kilda’s.  It has been a fun week but I’m ready to get home to Tawn.

 

A Warmer Version of Toronto?

Ah, Melbourne.  Where you can experience four seasons in a single day.  Today we had three of them.

My flight down to Melbourne was quite good.  While I didn’t get any pictures, I really enjoyed meeting up with Bruce during my Singapore layover, having a chance to meet his friend, and having the opportunity to visit with Otto, too.  The flight out of Singapore was shorter – 6 hours, 45 minutes – than I thought it would be, allowing barely four hours to sleep once dinner service concluded.  I slept very well; sometimes on the Singapore Airlines Raffles Class seats I can’t get comfortable.  Other times sleep comes easily.  This was one of those time, thankfully.

DSCF2541 Slept all the way through the continental breakfast, in fact and woke up once we began descent into Melbourne.  The area looks very much like Denver only a bit hillier; very dry because of the drought.  As we neared the ocean, a thick marine layer of clouds was settled over the land much like San Francisco.  The area by the airport, further inland, was clear.

Right: Downtown Melbourne looking east, with the Yarra River and Port Phillip Bay on the right.

Immigration was a minor hassle; not much wait but I was questioned extensively and then a second gentleman stopped me and asked the same questions again.  A bit groggy, I started to get nervous, even while I didn’t have anything to be nervous about.  Many of the questions surrounded how I knew Stephanie, with whom I’m staying.  I’m quite curious how I must have come across: an American who has been spending a lot of time in Thailand, coming to Australia to stay with a friend and to apply for a Thai visa.  But they let me through.

A word of note to anyone traveling here: all baggage is x-rayed by customs for fruits, veggies, other foodstuffs and prohibited items.  This is not a country to try sneaking anything into!

DSCF2574 As it was early Sunday morning, there was no traffic as Stephanie tooled the rental car back to her house on the south side of the city.  I had about a half-hour to freshen up and then we went for walk to the nearby shopping district for coffee and a light bite of brekkie.  That’s Australian for “breakfast,” mate. 

The corner cafe was fantastic, with all of these older couples stopping to chat with one-another.  I took a picture of a cute beagle and his owner insisted on standing him up to pose:

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The neighborhoods are fantastic here – all of them remind me of Toronto!

DSCF2692 All of the neighborhoods, at least the older ones, have these little “downtown” shopping districts, sometimes just a few blocks long and sometimes more extensive.  There is a good tram/trolley network and they run down the middle of the streets.  While malls and mega-stores have begun to make an appearance in the newer suburbs, there are a lot of older suburbs that simply haven’t the space, so mom-and-pop shops thrive.  For San Franciscans, think West Portal or Union Street with a lot fewer chain stores, and that is the idea.  But these cover a much larger area than SF.


DSCF2667 Right: Something interesting in this neighborhood: a Smiles per Hour Zone.  Click here to learn more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The weather was perfect for a trip to the Yarra Valley, one of the major wine-producing regions.  We met up with Peter, one of Stephanie’s colleagues, and his just-graduated-from-law-school daughter.  It was a fun trip and we not only made it to a few wineries including Yering Station, but also to a wildlife preserve that features all of Australia’s major animals: koalas, tasmanian devils, kangaroos, wallabies, etc.

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DSCF2630 Left: A koala lazing about in his eucalyptus trees, mirroring about how I felt by mid-afternoon.

 

 

 

DSCF2666 That evening, Stephanie and I had dinner in St. Kilda’s Beach at Cicciolina, an Italian restaurant that was recommended by the cashier of a bookstore.  It was crowded, noisy, and really nice.  The waitress was super friendly and was well-rewarded as I didn’t understand that tipping is not a common practice in Australia.  And I left her what would amount to a generous tip by US standards.  No doubt I’ll be welcomed back!

DSCF2669 Monday morning I set off with my transit pass to find the Thai Consulate General, which was about a 15-minute tram ride away.  Set on the third floor office of a low-rise office building (left), the consulate was tastefully appointed and had only the shortest of lines before a young Thai-Aussie man helped me.  Reviewing the documents he handed back the copy of my passport (“Don’t need that”) even though I had gone out of my way to get a copy earlier in the morning per the online visa instructions, and then handed back all of the incorporation papers from the law firm that sponsored me (“Already familiar with them”) telling me to come back to get the visa on Tuesday.

So, not to count my chickens before the eggs have hatched, but it sounds like the visa will be approved.

DSCF2676 On my way back, I stopped at a green grocers for some… peaches!  Sorry that Tawn isn’t here to enjoy but stone fruit season is just starting here and that is one of the biggest things I miss while in Thailand. 

So this evening Stephanie and I enjoyed some homemade peach cobbler (left). 

Her colleague gave us a dozen lemons, too, so I’ll try a lemon souffle later in the week.  And I have my eye on the cherries… yum.

 

  • Of note: Stephanie lives in the Jewish area of town, so I asked some people for recommendations and they all said that the best bagels were at Glick’s.  Two plain bagels later, I’d have to say that they’re really nice, although less chewy than the ones in New York.
  • Bicyclists are everywhere.  Well-marked bicycle lanes.  Lots of joggers, walkers and runners, too.  Seems to be a very active population.  And yet, Australian men have these horrendously large bellies.  The cause, says Stephanie, is the beer consumption.  “They just don’t believe you can have a good time without getting drunk.”
  • More coffee shops than you can shake a stick at.  Finally, at the end of my second day here, I spotted a Starbucks and it had closed at 6:00 on a Monday evening.
  • To top it all off, I was able to get hooked up on Stephanie’s wi-fi network and have accomplished a great deal today.  What a productive Monday.