Endings and New Connections

SawadaMomentSpace

On my drive out to school Wednesday, I witnessed a spectacular sunrise in my rear-view mirror.  As the large orange sun rose above the hazy blue horizon, I was reminded of the prints that were popular in the late 80s by artist Tetsuro Sawada, such as the one above.

DSCF6228 The school year has come to an end here in Thailand.  Or, at least, it will in the next few weeks.  But as for English instruction at Bangkhonthiinai, the year has ended.  Next Wednesday is a teacher in-service day and the following week – truly, the last week of instruction – I’ll be in the United States.  So this week was the end.  I was teaching by myself as Tod was in India and Markus and Ken both had guests in town.  There wasn’t any formal farewell for the sixth graders, and I felt a little sad that I likely won’t be seeing them again.

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Tuesday evening I baked twelve dozen cookies to bring to school: oatmeal raisin chocolate chip.  After lunch, each student received one cookie.  They proceeded to nibble at them very carefully and slowly, making a single cookie last for fifteen minutes.  I need to learn to appreciate my food so carefully!

Next week I will head out to the school to pick up a dozen polo shirts that Ajarn Yai has ordered for my family members who visited in December.  While there, I’ll get the addresses for the sixth graders and will send each a post card from the United States.  Who knows how often – if ever – they’ve received a postcard.

So until the end of May I have a break from teaching, although have plenty to fill the time: creating a complete curriculum for next year that integrates the activities that I do with the ones done by the Thai teachers during the rest of the week.

DSCF6248 After school, Ajarn Yai, the other teachers and I went to a seafood restaurant for a bite to eat.  One of the dishes – gaang som baatsa (a whole deep fried fish served in a tamarind sauce soup with pak grachaet, a type of fern-like green that grows alongside khlongs, pictured left) – was very good and I mentioned that Tawn is a big fan of the dish.  Ajarn Yai asked whether Tawn would like some, gesturing to the nearly-finished dish.  Thinking she was suggesting that I bring the left-overs home for Tawn, I agreed.

What I didn’t realize is that she meant that she was going to place another order just for Tawn.  So I drove home with a large bag containing a whole deep fried fish, another bag with the soup, and a third with the vegetables.  As you can imagine, the car had quite the smell of tamarind and fried fish for the next few days.

This is what the Thais call grangjai – a type of obligation you have when someone else has done something for you.  So now I’m “grangjai’d” to Ajarn Yai, as is Tawn.  Which in turn was a result of Ajarn Yai’s perception that she is “grangjai’d” to me for the work I’ve done at the school.  It is a never-ending circle that binds us together.


 

Wednesday evening, Markus invited me to join him for dinner with a friend of his who was visiting from San Francisco.  It ended up being a group of about ten people, a whole interesting group of people who are all interconnected.  Some of them included:

  • Vic, an expat San Franciscan who just moved to Khrungthep four months ago and lives… guess where?  About ten stories above Tawn and I, in the same building!
  • Stuart, another expat who moved here about four years ago.  He and his partner live over on Ekkamai, in the neighborhood Tawn and I are considering.
  • Brian, a Taiwanese expat who lives here with his Thai-Chinese partner, and lives over in the Lang Suan area.
  • Todd, another expat from the US who is actually someone Tod, my co-teacher at Bangkhonthiinai, has met a few times and had mentioned to me.

So it seems that Markus has discovered yet another hidden pocket of expats.  The circle is ever-expanding!


 

Christine Emery, the sister of my primary internal customer, Eric, was in town on business later in the week and Eric had put us in touch.  Reading her bio, I was a little intimidated to meet her for dinner.  After all, she’s a PhD, the Vice President of Investment Policy for the US Government’s Overseas Private Investment Corporation, an agency that promoted US private investment in developing countries.  Nonetheless, we met at her hotel on Thursday evening and went to the Banyan Tree Hotel for drinks at their rooftop bar.

SawadaTwilight We arrived right as the sun was setting, hovering over the horizon just above the surrounding buildings, reminiscent of yet another Sawada print.

After drinks, Christine suggested we just eat dinner at the adjacent restaurant.  I’ve never eaten at Vertigo before, but it is certainly a nice place to eat, both in terms of the view as well as the attentive service.  The food was good although it didn’t have much of a presence of Thai ingredients let along Thai food.  Among the main dishes, the king prawns were really the only local item. 

Tawn and I will be meeting Christine today to take her to the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and the Temple of Dawn.  This should prove to be a very pleasant afternoon.

 

There has been a long list of errands in preparation for our trip to the United States on the 16th.  Pretty much accomplished, the tasks have evaporated and there is really just one thing left to do: pack.  Thank goodness we still have ten days left to do that!

 

Buying a house (or in this case, a condominium) is such a fascinating experience when you are a couple.  It really creates these incredible opportunities in which you confront any mis-communications.  It is as though you’re driving along, certain you’re both on the same page and heading in the same direction, when all of the sudden there’s a checkpoint staffed with armed guerillas.  These guerrillas may be anything from a conversation about the condo’s location, to the availability of assigned versus open parking, to the finding of a condo that meets 85% of your criteria in a sea of ones that meet only 10%.

The guerrillas demand: “Where are you going?”

And your partner and you speak simultaneously, giving two different answers!

“Wait a minute,” you say, incredulously, “I thought we were going there…” 

The guerrillas drag you out of the car, beat you up a bit, and send you through interrogation.  It is painful, but afterwards you think, with greater certainty, that you both are now on the same page and are looking for the same things.  Until the next checkpoint…

 

All melodramatics aside, the process has really helped me better understand Tawn’s values and priorities, as well as my own, because we find ourselves in situations where we’re working with the assumption that the other person knows what we’re thinking, instead of verbalizing it, and then have to talk through it.  And not just about superficial things like window treatments and whether we need a second bathroom in a two-bedroom condo.  We’re gaining a much better understanding – and an increasingly shared one, checkpoint-by-checkpoint, on things such as financial values; our individual vision of how the next five, ten, and twenty years will play out; and what hopes and fears we have.  

Where does that leave us?

We’ve searched the two major areas of the city in which we’re interested in living: the mid- to outer-Sukhumvit area, from Nana BTS station to On-Nut; and the Pahonyoltin area, from Saphan Kwai BTS station to Ratchatewi.  There is still some question about whether there are any good options along the subway line – so far it looks like most of those complexes are either quite old and shabby, or being sold on paper for a construction completion date that is one to three years hence.

Of that, we’ve found three places that in general meet our qualifications.  One is higher than the rest – the 85% place I referenced – and would probably be a good choice in the long term.  The problem is, the agent informs us that the seller has refused to negotiate with two other people who have made offers: she wants her asking price.  It is a fair price, but not an incredible one.  To top it off, we’re leaving to the US in ten days and I don’t want to start the process of negotiating, getting a loan, etc. and then be out of the country for the better part of two weeks while in the midst of the process.

So after the last checkpoint we agreed – well, I think we agreed – that we’ll wait until we return from the US and if that property is still on the market we will go ahead and take another look at it, bringing in someone with construction knowledge who can evaluate the property (they don’t do full disclosure here) and talk with us about ideas we have for remodeling.  If it all looks good – and if the property hasn’t been sold – we’ll make and offer.

If the property is gone, then we weren’t meant to have it and we’ll resume our searching.

Is that another checkpoint I see up ahead?

 

Tawn and I have two weddings in the United States this autumn.  My friend from high school, Ryan, is marrying his wonderful girlfriend Sabrina on the first of September.  Then on October 6th, my cousin Alexandra and her you-two-have-been-together-for-so-long-and-are-such-a-nice-couple-when-are-you-finally-going-to-get-married boyfriend Bill.  Two trips to the US in just over one month.  Yikes!  Nothing left for a down-payment.

DSCF6218 I’ve been watching fares to the US for the Labor Day weekend and they have been pretty high – the best I had found on any airline in any routing was about 43,000 baht – US$1230 – with most of them up near 55,000 baht.  Then, while playing around with a combination of dates, I found a high season excursion fare on Asiana Airlines that on one particular combination of days was only 34,000 baht.  The day before or day after, the fare jumped back up.  So Saturday morning Tawn and I headed down to the Asiana office on Ploenchit Road and purchased the ticket.  The staff at the office is friendly and very helpful.  Here’s a picture of Asiana’s somewhat innovative seat assignment selection system: you have a large model airplane and just point at the part of the plane where you want to sit.

Just kidding of course.  But when doing seat assignments, she turned the monitor towards me so I could see the available seats map.  I selected a seat about a third back on the plane and she asked whether I wouldn’t prefer a seat in the front row of Economy?  That’s kind of surprising considering I had purchased a discount fare.  On many airlines, they would have only put me at the far back of the plane or in a middle seat.  So bonus points to Asiana for good service.