It is 7:30 in the evening and I’m sitting in the Singapore Airlines Silver Kris Lounge at Singapore Changi International Airport.  It has been an exhausting but very rewarding day.  Last night I only slept for about one hour between the late birthday dinner at Tam and Markus’ house and then the early flights for both Pat and me.

Despite being tired, I’m so glad I made the effort to change my flight to Singapore to an earlier one instead of my original evening flight.  This way, I had about five hours to spend visiting not only with Otto (who will be in Thailand next week anyhow) but also with Bruce, who is in town on business from the Bay Area.  We had lunch together, I met one of his friends, and we had the opportunity to visit for several hours.  Very worthwhile.

Thankfully, the lounge has showers and I had packed a change of clothes.  So now I’m clean, refreshed, and sufficiently sleepy that I should have no problem getting a full night’s sleep on the 8+ hour flight to Melbourne.

All that said, let’s look at the final two days of Pat’s visit in Khrungthep:

First of all, the results of Pat’s dressmaking experience – two very chic outfits that will be classic and stylish for years to come.

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DSCF2171 Friday afternoon we took the Skytrain to Saphan Taksin (Taksin Bridge) Station and took a river taxi up to Wat Po (Temple of the Reclining Buddha) and Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn).  I didn’t accurately describe how much walking we’d be doing and Pat was wearing heels that gave her fits.  But she toughed it out marvelously and hopefully had a good time. 

Left: Pat as we head up-river past one of many temples that line the banks.  This one is not of any particular tourist significance but is quite beautiful.  There are also a number of beautiful churches, mosques and Chinese temples, too.

DSCF2195 We travelled like locals, taking river taxis and ferries to cross the river. Three baht to cross one-way.  That’s a bargain.  Pat was especially daring with the river taxi, which doesn’t really come to much of a complete stop at the pier.  You have to move quickly and be nimble, something I could never do in heels!

 

DSCF2185 Wat Po is home to the largest reclining Buddha statue in Thailand – an amazing structure that barely fits in the sanctuary built around it.  The temple also has the “original” school for teaching Thai massage, although I think their rates are a little pricey.  But I guess if you’re getting “templed out” halfway through the day, 350 baht for a 45-minute Thai massage is worth it.  It will restore your energy.

 

DSCF2228Our journey continued to Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn.  This Khmer-style complex is quite beutiful although it has not been well-maintained over the years.  Its name is deceiving as it is most beautiful at sunset when the sun is behind it.

 

 

 

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Above: Pat  at Wat Arun.  Below: Children playing in the Chao Praya River.

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One last photo of Pat, heading down the escalator to her gate this morning:

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This morning Pat and I headed to the airport – she back to Kansas City and I on to Melbourne with a stop in Singapore.  It has been such a fun visit having her here and I hope her trip back is safe.  Unfortunately, it looked like her upgrades may not clear so it could be a long flight home.

The final pictures from Pat’s visit will be uploaded once I reach Oz.

My flight to Singapore was fine; nothing to report. 

Last night had a co-birthday dinner with Tam, whose actual birthday was on Friday.  Had a number of friends over at his place and ordered Thai food.  Pune made a fantastic salad!  Hopefully will have some pictures to share from Markus soon.

Speaking of pictures, found out today that the technicians at Seagate say they cannot recover any of the data on my 1-year-old external hard drive that crashed three weeks ago.  Here’s the rub: it contains the only files for all of the pictures I’ve taken since before I moved to Bangkok – about 15 months worth of pictures.  I hadn’t made a backup yet because I figured the likelihood of the drive going bad so quickly was low.

Does anyone know any company that does data recovery?  I’ll gladly ship overseas but really would like the pics back.

At the same time, I guess it underscores the impermanence of all things, doesn’t it?  Kind of like making the sand mandala and then wiping it away.  Maybe I should stop taking pictures altogether.

The Final Days

Whirlwind.  That seems to be the only word that accurately captures what’s going on in my life right now.  And not in a bad way, mind you.  Just a busy way.

Pat has been completing her final few days in Thailand and we’ve been very busy.  Against that backdrop has been my other activities getting some projects with work finished up while also preparing for my trip to Melbourne on Saturday to go apply for a new one-year visa.

On Tuesday I went to the law firm that does my visa application paperwork and they completed the necessary sponsorship papers.  Now I need to complete the actual application and go to the consulate in Melbourne to submit everything.  Why Melbourne?  Because the US is too far away and too expensive this time of year.  Plus, my parents, aunt, and uncles will be visiting in another ten days or so – silly to fly there to see them then have them turn around and fly here to see me.

More about Melbourne next week.  Meanwhile, here’s what Pat’s been up to:

Tuesday afternoon we went back to the dress-makers for a fitting on the dresses and other pieces Pat is having made.  They are looking wonderful and after about twenty minutes of adjustments and the adding and subtracting of straight pins, the tailor will be able to finish his work by Thursday afternoon.  Below: Tawn’s mother supervises the fitting.

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Wednesday was an early day for us.  We picked up Ken, who has recently moved here from Chicago, and went to teach English at the school in Bangkhonthiinai.  I wasn’t sure if Pat and Ken would enjoy a full day of this activity, but they both performed wonderfully with plenty of stamina – which you need when dealing with these children!

DSCF2109 We started by having the grade 4-6 group go around and introduce themselves: name, favourite fruit, color, animal and body part, then walk up and shake hands saying, “nice to meet you.” 

Afterwards we did a vocabulary review and then did many activities where the children broke into groups of about seven students, and working individually with Ken, Pat or myself.

DSCF2125 Ajarn Yai (the principal) had invited the school board to have lunch with us, so there were a group of five local residents who dined with us on what could well be described as a Thai food feast.  They almost had to roll us back into the classroom.  In the afternoon, Ajarn Yai also presented us with generous gifts including pomelos (taken from the trees of some of the student’s families) and palm sugar, produced locally.

In the afternoon we had the grade 1-3 group.  Attention spans waning as they usually do this time of day, we played a direction game where students practices using the vocabulary “turn,” “right,” “left,” “stop,” “stand,” and “sit” with a blindfolded classmate to get them safely from one chair in the room to another.  Lots of fun.

At the end of the day, all the students and teachers posed on the steps of the school for a picture with Pat and Ken.  It was a really fun day.

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DSCF2139 After dropping Ken off at his home, we were stuck in some really nasty traffic down on Sathorn Road.  So we called Tawn and asked him to meet us at the Vertigo restaurant and bar on the rooftop of the nearby Banyan Tree Hotel.  There we enjoyed a bottle of dry Australian sparkling wine and a 61st story view of the city.

After tiring of the hip, plush surroundings – we can only do hi-so for so long before it becomes so fashionably blase (or maybe before we realize how out-of-place we are!) – we traded in all in for the comfort food of pad thai from the world-famous Thip Sa Mai pad thai vendor located in the old city.  

Right: Pat enjoys a Thai dessert khanom bueang, sometimes called a Thai taco.

 

 

 

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.