To the Top of the Falls!

Pat and I took a two-night trip up to Kanchanaburi province, about 160 kilometers northwest of Khrungthep.  This is the same province I visited with my cousins Brad and Silvia in July.  This time, however, I didn’t get to the Tiger Temple or the Monkey School.

Instead, Pat and I made it all the way to the top tier of the seven-tiered Erawan Waterfall.  This was quite an accomplishment because with the recent heavy rains, the path between the fifth, sixth, and seventh tiers was missing in parts or under water in others. 

Here are some views:

DSCF1966 Right: This is at the second tier of the waterfall, which offers a very large pool in which to swim.  It was much busier than July in part because the weather was much more pleasant, and also due to this being a weekend. 

This picture is very telling: notice that in the sunny portion (to the back of the photo) nearly everyone is farang and skimply dressed.  In the shady portion, nearly everyone in Thai and well covered.

 

 

Below: Taking photos is a very popular activity – not taking photos of the scenery but instead taking photos of each other!

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DSCF2021 As we made it up to the fifth level – there’s quite a distance between the fourth and fifth waterfalls – we stopped to rest a while and to get some pictures of this absolutely gorgeous spot. 

Best of all, most people didn’t make the effort to get past the second or third level, so it was very quiet up here.  I had Pat pose for some photos, which turned out very nice:

 

 

 

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Finally, we climbed all the way to the top.  It was pretty hairy at a couple of points, having to use some large vines as support as we worked our way around a flooded-out portion of the trail.  I didn’t know that Pat would be so adventureous, but she was right there every step of the way.  Way to go!


DSCF2060 There were only a half-dozen other people at the seventh fall, including three young monks who had climbed up wearing flip-flops.  Two of them decided to go for a swim, fashioning their robes into bathing trunks, while the third stayed on dry land. 

I asked if I could take some pictures and was able to snap a few good shots that caught some interesting contrasts between colour and shadow.

 

 

DSCF2065 The two monks in the pool were rough-housing around in what didn’t seem to be very characteristic, monk-like behavior.  But then I guess that’s a difficult thing to judge and it was all in good fun.

Afterwards, they climbed out and refashioned their robes, heading back down the mountain dripping wet.

Is it me, or do I see monks at this waterfall every time I’m here?


 

Pat and I drove back to Khrungthep on Monday afternoon, arriving back at the hotel about 4:30.  That evening we met up for dinner and went to Face, a stylish Thai restaurant (there’s a bar and Indian restaurant, too) built into four restored northern-style Thai houses on Sukhumvit Soi 38.  Here are some pictures:

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Above: Interior of the Thai restaurant at Face.  Below: Pat and Tawn sitting in front of a very large spirit house.  

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 Below: Birthday dessert tray arrives, followed by the other three desserts we ordered!

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This morning (Tuesday) Pat is on a tour of the major temples including Wat Phra Gaew (the Grand Palace), Wat Pho (the Reclining Buddha) and Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn).  It is giving me an opportunity to post this entry as well as to get some work done.  This afternoon we’ll go for the first fitting of the clothes she’s having made.

 

Back to the Old Town

We’ve been having such a wonderful time with Pat in town.  It is always so nice to have friends and family around.

On Friday Pat and I drove up to Ayutthaya, the capital of the Kingdom of Siam from 1350 to 1767 until it moved down river to Khrungthep.  Actually it was temporarily located in Thonburi, across the river from Khrungthep, so Khrungthep is the fourth capital. 

DSCF1785 We had lunch with our friends Ron and Kari, who after serving as Missionaries here in Thailand for a year are just a few months away from moving to Kenya of all places.  Kari has previously served in Africa and really loves the country.  The restaurant we ate at was beside the Chao Phraya River and we actually ate on a boat moored to the restaurant.  Flooding in Thailand has been bad this year, one of the worst on record, and there are a lot of signs of that flooding still present in Ayutthaya.

One example is the boat we were dining on, below.  In this picture you can see a railing, which was the edge of the riverside dining terrace.  That point was originally about 3 meters – 10 feet – above the normal water line.

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DSCF1737 We also visited Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon, a temple on the southwest side of town that contains the largest chedi or pagoda in Ayutthaya.  It is one of the more beautiful ruins because the temple is very well maintained and has beautiful gardens. 

It is Tawn’s favourite and more historically significant because this is where Tawn took me on my visit to Khrungthep when we met.  Somewhere – I’ll have to look – there is a picture of a boyish-looking Tawn standing on the chedi at this wat.

Right: Pat atop the chedi at Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon.

DSCF1821 Our visit included a ride on the elephants, a hopelessly touristy but fun thing to do.  Our 24-year old elephant seemed pretty tired – halfway through the 20-minute ride we stopped so she could flap her ears and cool down a bit.

When we arrived back at the loading/unloading platform there was a group of four young Japanese women waiting to board and I think a few of them didn’t realize what they were getting themselves into.  So there was a minute or two of shuffling and talking amongst themselves as they figured out who would ride with whom.  One of the Thai ladies working on the platform kept repeating “dozo, dozo” in Japanese – “please, please.”  The other lady on the platform was losing her patience.  So much so that when Pat and I de-boarded and I headed the wrong way, she shouted (literally – you never hear Thais do this) “exit the other way!”  I turned around, smiled and said in very polite Thai, khaw thood khrap – “I’m so sorry.”  Caught by surprise, she responded with mai pen rai, “no problem.”  And then I added, mai suphaap leuy – “not polite at all.”


Below Left: Pat learns how to make merit at the temple by applying gold leaf to statues.   Below Right: The risks of too much application of gold leaf at the temples!

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DSCF1938 Back in Khrungthep in the evening, we joined Tawn for a light dinner and bottle of sparkling wine a The Deck, one of our favourite restaurants as it sits right on the rive and offers this spectacular view of Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn.

Right: We do a seance-like pose with an artificial-looking but very real Temple of Dawn glowing behind us.

 

This afternoon, Pat and I will head to the west to Kanchanaburi and explore some of the more mountainous provinces.  This is the same area where I went with my cousins Brad and Silvia in July, so don’t expect a lot of new trails to be blazed.  It will be nice and relaxing and maybe a whole five degrees cooler.

The First of a Dozen

Tawn and I are really quite lucky this year: even though we will not be heading back to the US for the holidays, we’ll have the opportunity to see a dozen friends and family members over the next six weeks as we enjoy an almost unending stream of visitors.

Our first arrival, late late late Tuesday night, was Patricia from KC.  Pat was introduced to me through Albert in San Jose – they knew each other professionally.  So when Albert joined me for my sister’s wedding in 1999 (this was before I had met Tawn) in Kansas City, we stayed with Pat since my family’s houses were all full with guests.  Pat is just such a wonderful, considerate person that we quickly became friends.

After having visited with her many times when in Kansas City and spending time with her while living there, she decided that to come visit us in Thailand.

Pat’s flight arrived 90 minutes late Tuesday evening, so nearly 1:00 Wednesday morning, which was not a problem at all.  She was able to sleep in on Wednesday and did a largely self-directed day.  Then Thursday we were able to spend some time together.  We did a short walking tour from the MBK Centre to Chidlom BTS Station, passing the Siam Paragon, Wat Phathum Wanaram (which sits in the shadow of Siam Paragon and Central World Plaza, and the Erawan Shrine. 

Afterwards we picked up Tawn’s mother and went to a women’s dressmaker’s shop to have some outfits custom-tailored for Pat, with Tawn’s mother as 3/4’s translator (I was the other quarter) and bargainer.  Finally, we got Pat checked into her second hotel, had dinner at a casual corner place, and then introduced Pat to the world of foot massages.

This weekend we’ll take a trip up to Kanchanaburi, where I brought Brad and Silvia during their July visit.  Should be a lot of fun.

Here are some pictures from yesterday:

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Left: The path we followed, going from left to right along Rama I road.  Notice how many shrines are indicated on this Bangkok Metropolitan Authority map, all highlighted in yellow.  Right: Wat Phathum Wanaram literally sits in the shadows of the year-old Siam Paragon mall, with the Central World Plaza office complex and shopping center right on the other side.

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Above: Pat visits the Erawan Shrine (often mistakenly called the “Four-Faced Buddha” as it is a Hindu, not Buddhist, image) in front of the Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel.  This is a very popular place for people to come and pray for good fortune and it is customary to offer incense, candles, and garlands.

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Left: Sketches pulled together by the shop’s designer based on samples and ideas – two jackets, a skirt, two shells and a black silk shift – all interchangeable and all custom-made.  Total price – a steal!  Right: Tawn’s mother watches as the designer takes measurements of a coat whose length Pat likes.

 


In Memory of Ed Bradley

EdBradley Longtime 60 Minutes journalist Ed Bradley died on Thursday of leukemia.  His reporting and interviewing style was one I always admired and when I had the opportunity to see him in person – on a US Airways shuttle flight from New York to Washington one Friday afternoon – I was so impressed with the way he carried himself and acted with kindness and sincerity to all who stopped him to say hello or offer a comment.  As his former boss, producer Don Hewitt said, “a great gentleman and a great reporter.”

 

Warning: political-leaning entry below.

Author Ann Lamott writes a column for salon.com.  Of particular interest to me was a column from April 2005 in which she responds to the question she frequently is asked, “how do you reconcile your Christian faith with that of the radical right?”  She responds, “I don’t even try.”

One paragraph that caught my attention was her analysis of the fundamentalist “appropriation” of God:

“What the right has “appropriated” has nothing to do with God as most of us believers experience God. Their pronouncements about God are based on the great palace lie that this is a Christian country, that they were chosen by God to be his ethical consultants, and that therefore they alone know God’s will for us. The opposite of faith is not doubt: It is certainty. It is madness. You can tell you have created God in your own image when it turns out that he or she hates all the same people you do.”

What a true statement.


It is about 7:00 am Tuesday morning, local time, and our friend Patricia is about 10 hours into her journey from Kansas City to Khrungthep.  She’ll arrive this evening just before midnight, probably completely exhausted.  Sadly, I received an email from her sister this morning that Pat’s son’s car was stolen and when it was recovered by the police they stored it in impound.  Since the car is in her name, they need a copy of her identification so that it can be released.  So as soon as Pat arrives, I’ll have to break that news to her.  Fun start to a vacation.  Well, she’ll get ten days after that to relax.

Pat is the first of about a dozen friends and family members who will be making their way to Khrungthep between now and the middle of December.  Should be an exciting five weeks.

 

Unintended Extra Security

A Third Chain

Sometimes it almost seems like my life occurs as a string of blog-worthy events.  Saturday morning Markus came over at 8:00 so we could go on a bike ride, which we had not done for two or three weeks.  Strapping the bicycle rack to the back of the Nissan, we drove down to the visitor parking area to the bicycle parking.

As I undid my two cable locks, Markus said, “Oh, I didn’t realize you were using a third lock now.”  Which was when I discovered that someone had added a third cable lock, connecting the frames of our bikes.  Not sure who the (un)helpful person was – this type of prank-playing isn’t very typically Thai, but who knows?  I asked the security guards if they had a bolt cutter.  Unfortunately, the building engineer was not yet in, so they didn’t have access to the room where such a tool would be stored. 

Markus and I were able to load the bikes onto the rack and decided to head out and look for a bolt cutter.  The guard kindly wrote the name of the tool on a notepad for me and I drew a picture, and then we were off.  Thankfully we found a small hardware shop on Sukhumvit near soi 37.  I parked around the corner and went to the shop to see if they had a bolt cutter.  There were two choices: a smaller bolt cutter that might be insufficient for cutting the cable, or a larger one that was obviously well-used.  The owner wanted 650 baht (about US $18) for the used cutter.  Using my Thai, I asked if I could just rent it for ten minutes.  So we settled on a price – 300 baht – and I walked back to the car and cut the cable.

Returning to the shop with the now-cut cable, I tried the smaller bolt cutter and discovered that it was sufficient for the task.  Its price was only 250 baht, so I bought that one instead and the owner, happy to sell something so early in the morning, didn’t charge me for my rental.  So if anyone in Khrungthep has a bolt or cable that needs cutting, let me know as I have a bolt cutter I can loan you!

DSCF1691 Delayed by about forty-five minutes, Markus and I headed out to Min Buri, a community east of the city and north of the new airport.  It is a largely Muslim community and one of its features is a very large 1.5-km stretch of road that was part of a larger project that has yet to be built.  So there is little traffic on this wide, 3-lane road as the only thing it connects to the desolate frontage road along the Rama IX expressway.  The only traffic we encountered on our 22-km ride was about three dozen other cyclists – all the serious road cyclists glad in spandex and aerodynamic helmets. 

The challenge was in figuring out how to get to this stretch of road as it is closed to regular traffic.  Using my map, there appeared to be a construction road but the large earth-movers on that stretch were imposing, as was the construction person waving a red “don’t go down this path” flag at us.  So we did find a nice stretch of concrete footpath running alongside a khlong, which is always a little iffy as sections are sometimes missing, branches hang low, and dogs at some of the houses along the way don’t care for strangers.  But the people were nice, saying hello to us – mothers lifting their children up so they could see the farang passing by.


Almost Loi Khrathong

DSCF1678 Looking back to last November 18 and 16 (use the posting calendar in the lower left-hand corner of my Xanga webpage), there are two entries on Loi Khrathong, the annual festival expressing thanks to the water spirits and cleansing away wrongdoing and ill-fortune from the past year.  It is a beautiful event, thanks to the brightly coloured and candle lit floats, of khrathong, that are launched by the thousands into khlongs, rivers, and lakes across the Kingdom.

The festival coincides with the full moon of the eleventh lunar month and that falls on today.  So tonight after having dinner with a fellow Santa Clara University alumnae who has moved here recently, Tawn and I will go down to Chulalongkorn University to participate in the Loi Khrathong celebrations.

But the festival really gets an early start with a weekend full of events.  Friday afternoon on the concourse outside the National Stadium Skytrain station there was a pageant and competition with a display of beautiful, environmentally friendly khrathong.  Here are some photos.  Notice, especially, the ones made from carved wood.  They’re beautiful!

 

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Extra mileage?

I received an email from US Airways Dividend Miles – their frequent flier program – informing me that I was at risk of losing my miles as there had been no activity on the account for such-and-such a period of time.  This is because once US Airways joined the Star Alliance, I simply used my United Airlines Mileage Plus account number instead.

Anyhow, I had just over 10,000 miles in my account.  Not enough for a free ticket but I didn’t want them to go to waste.  It turns out that US Airways as well as most other carriers, offers a free service whereby you can donate miles (in 1,000-mile increments in US Airways’ case) to various charities.  In this case, I selected Angel Flight, a non-profit whose volunteers arrange free air travel for needy patients and health care organizations.

This was good news because I, like lots of people, have several frequent flier accounts that I do not use very often so the likelihood of accumulating enough miles for a free trip is low.  These miles can be good for something, though.  Time to start investigating what other airline frequent flier accounts I can Robin Hood.

 

Winter is Here

DSCF1632 Those of you in the Northern Hemisphere will kindly overlook the relativism I’m employing when I say that winter (ruduu now – “cold season” in Thai) has arrived in the Kingdom.  Our generally southerly winds have shifted and cooler winds from the north are blowing in. 

While the daytime high hit 31 C / 89 F and last night’s low was 24 C / 76 F – “summery” by many people’s standards – the breezes help keep the heat index more bearable, especially if you can stay out of the direct sunlight.

Interestingly for those of you planning on visiting over the next month (that would be about a dozen people that I know of so far) today’s high and low temperatures are a mirror of the historical averages for November.

The arrival of winter coincides with the end of the mid-term school holiday, so after a month of no teaching I drove down to Bang khon thii nai Wednesday morning to resume my English teaching.  Tod was unable to join me, but it looks like Ken – a new arrival from Chicago – is interested in coming along next week so maybe I can get a whole carload of teachers soon. 

During the break, which was a working holiday for the teachers, the ajarn yai (principal) had done some sprucing up of the classroom in which I teach, trying to make it a more dedicated “foreign language learning space.”  Included in this were several new graphics and signs touting familiar English expressions:

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DSCF1644 Upper left: “In Rome, do as Romans do” (Thai version: “When you enter a city where the people have one eye half-closed, you must half-close one eye, too.”  The word, “leuw” doesn’t necessarily mean to wink, it can also mean an eye being half-closed because of a physical reason.) 

Upper right: “Cloudy mornings tern [sic] to clear evenings.”  (Thai version: “Mornings with clouds and fog always turn to be afternoons that are bright and shining.”)

 Left: “Love at first sight.” (Thai version: “Love (when) first meeting.”)

The drive down was a nice one.  As I was driving along Thanon Rama IV toward the sunrise, I caught a great view of the sun, big and orange against the horizon, silhouetting a building.  It was a fantastic visual and I was going to go back this morning and shoot it with my camera but discovered at 5:30 this morning that the piece of my tripod that attached my camera to the tripod is still attached to my 35mm camera – which is back in Kansas City! 

However, as I was crossing the Chao Phraya River on Rama IV bridge, I did get a nice picture of the sun filtered through the ever-present, partially-polution, partially-humidity haze.  Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to stop on this bridge for taking pictures or anything else.

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DSCF1595 At the school in Bang khon thii nai, the students were busily helping out with chores.  As I’ve mentioned before, an important part of what the school teaches is the sense of community and the students all contribute to the upkeep of the school.

The grass had grown long during the holiday and had been cut just a day before school resumed, so the boys were collecting the cut grasses along with fallen palm fronds and were burning them in a very wet and smokey bonfire. 

The girls were decidedly disinterested and instead tended to the flowers and other chores.

DSCF1601 The boys thought that the fire was great fun, standing in the midst of lung-darkening plumes of smoke, being covered in ash.  Ajarn Yai was not overly impressed and finally told them to stop adding to the burning pile.

As I watched and took photos of the boys gathering around the fire, eagerly feeding it and watching it grow, their excitement growing in direct proportion to the smoke, the thought occurred to me that this was on the verge of becoming a Thai primary school version of Lord of the Flies.

After the chores, the students played the National Anthem (not done correctly so Ajarn Yai scolded them and had them do it a second time) and then we began our day.  As I feared, there was insignificant retention of English vocabulary.  Actually, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be.  But we spent the day reviewing vocabulary and practicing basic sentences.  One nice thing is that the confidence level is much higher when the students speak.  They now go around the room and can introduce themselves and share their favourite things (no, we don’t sing “Raindrops on Roses”) with only a little bit of hesitation.