Community says farewell and thanks to Ajarn Yai in big bash

Sorry for the delay in writing this entry.  There was a lot to post, including editing a video, so I wanted to complete it all before writing the entry.

It may seem like the events surrounding my teaching at Bangkhonthiinai School never quite come to an end, but a step was taken in that direction Friday with the farewell party for Ajarn Yai.  As she leaves her job as director of the school to become an educational evaluator for the Ministry of Education, she leaves behind a nine-year legacy of building this small country school (sixty students, five teachers) into the number one rated primary school in Samut Songkhram province and a model for rural school throughout the Kingdom.

Kobfa, Ken and I were not certain what to expect when we headed down to school on Friday, although we knew it would be a long day.  To be sure, the party was much larger in scope than I had imagined and if ever Ajarn Yai was feeling unappreciated, the day’s events surely set her mind at ease on that count.

The main teacher’s room had been emptied of all its furniture and was decorated with colorful bunting and photos from Ajarn Yai’s career and education.  Students were dressed up and running around, helping with preparations. 

Below: Chris and Ajarn Yai pose with a collage of pictures from her school years.  This is the first time I’ve seen her in anything other than a yellow “I love the King” shirt!

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Above left: Collage of photos related to my teaching at Bangkhonthiinai School; right: Ajarn Yai as class president in secondary school.

The students all had flowers for Ajarn Yai and a few of them had brought flowers for Kobfa, Ken and I, too.  Beginning with some parents who had stopped by, we each presented flowers to Ajarn Yai (in this case, jasmine garlands that Kobfa had purchased), wai’ed, and then poured a small amount of water on her hands as a blessing, below. 

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We had some time afterwards so as everyone was waiting around, we took some pictures with students and settled down for several rounds of bingo.

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We had our artistic moments, too.  Below, one of the children came charging at me while I took his picture, demonstrating his kung fu moves.  Interesting very tight area of focus right around his face and fist.  I wish I had shot from about a foot lower, though.

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There was also an interesting picture of wet footprints on the wooden decking outside the classrooms.  It had been raining earlier in the morning and the children would run around barefoot, leaving their impressions on the floor.  As the children were lining up to present flowers to Ajarn Yai, I grabbed on of them and pulled his foot into the frame of my picture to compose this shot, below.

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Pied Piper of Amphawa

In the afternoon after lunch we had a few hours to kill; the students had headed home to ap naam (shower) and rest before getting ready for the evening events.  Ajarn Yai was talking with her boss, who had stopped by.  So Kobfa, Ken and I set out to go into town, searching for some iced coffee.

I’ve become quite familiar with Samut Songkhram province, having driven there every week for a year and having bicycled through it three times.  So I conducted a little tour for Kobfa and Ken, stopping by some of the more prominent temples, the King Rama II birthplace park, and the town of Amphawa which is known for its nighttime floating market.

When we arrived at the King Rama II park, there were four busloads of primary school children (b. 5-6, I think) offloading in the parking lot.  They entered ahead of us with a few commenting about the farang and saying hi.  A bit later, as we were walking through the nicely-manicured grounds of the park, we began to gather a small following of students.

At first it was just a half-dozen or so boys who were following us, mimicking my Thai accent as I spoke to them, and being typical pre-teen boys.  But the crowd grew and soon there were a dozen or more following.  When we sat down in a shaded area with benches, they sat down near us and as their bravery grew, so did their numbers.  “This reminds me of that scene in Jurassic Park II where the little bird-like dinosaurs surround the girl,” I mentioned to Kobfa and Ken.

Within a minute, we were surrounded by about thirty students, some of whom tried practicing their limited English.  Some were game while others would shyly duck behind a friend when I asked them their name, what their favorite sport was, or where they were from.

It turns out they are from Samut Sakhon, the province in between Khrungthep and Samut Songkhram.  And, speaking briefly with their teacher, English is given even shorter shrift there than at Bangkhonthiinai.

After about twenty minutes they headed off back to the bus, but one boy wandered back to ask my name again.  When I answered, an older girl yelled out, “bpen khatooey” as if to warn me that she thinks the boy is gay or transvestite.  “Mai suphap leuy!” I scolded her – not polite at all.

The students waved to us as their busses pulled away, and we walked back over to the floating market area to drink some iced coffee at a breezy outdoor table alongside the khlong.

 

Transforming from students to angels and flamenco dancers

IMG_6625 When we returned to the school about four in the afternoon, we found a dozen of the students in the midst of makeup application and hair dressing, as they prepared for their performance later that evening. 

The girls had been made up into little angels with over-teased hair and too much makeup.  In fact, I couldn’t recognize a few of them and had to confer with Kobfa to figure out who was who.

Right, Kobfa with the angels-to-be.

The boys had also been made up, their hair spiked with gel and glitter, their faces powdered and lips painted.  It wasn’t until later when they changed into their costumes that I figured out what they were supposed to be.

Some of the boys seemed pretty comfortable with their new looks while a few of them – one in particular – really was unhappy with being dolled up.  Funnily, I took pictures of him being made up both Friday and then at Children’s Day last spring that show him with the same pouty expression.

IMG_6632 Thai culture seems to have a love affair with beauty pageants and, by extension, dressing their children up in the most fantastic costumes.

Left: The boys (again, with the exception of Jaturong – guess which one he is) were pretty insistent that we take lots of pictures of them, wanting to pose with Kobfa, then Ken, then me.

As the sun began to set, guests began to arrive at the neighboring temple where the festivities were being held.  Public schools in Thailand are usually located next door to temples as when public education was first mandated by King Rama V, this was the plan he set up.  At that time, the monks were usually the teachers.  Nowadays there is a civilian team of teachers and the monks teach only religious subjects.

IMG_6639 Some of our former students, last year’s sixth graders, stopped by to say hello, right.  I can’t believe how grown-up they are starting to look. 

Reviewing these pictures afterwards, I felt very wistful, curious what path their lives will take and hopeful that they will be happy.  It is feelings like these that make me want to just quit my job and go to teach in the public schools full-time, although I know that would open up the door to all sorts of burn-out and frustration.  It just seems like an important way to contribute to society and help the next generation.

After we headed across the foot bridge to the temple, I checked in on the students who were getting ready to perform.  The transition was taking shape and their costumes finally matched the elaborateness of their make up!

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Above: practicing my Raam Thai – classical Thai dancing; Below: the boys in their flamenco outfits dig into dinner under the watchful gaze of the student body president, who was charged with making sure they didn’t dirty their costumes.

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I don’t know how many people I thought would show up; I hadn’t given it much thought.  But I was surprised to se the series of tents filling the temple grounds, under which were ninety-six banquet tables, each seating ten guests.  The tables were full so we had nearly one thousand people there to wish Ajarn Yai well.  This must have been the social event of the season for this small community as the event was attended by the chief of education for the province, the governor, and several other phuu yai – big people.

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In addition to performance by semi-professional singers and dancers who must perform on the temple fair circuit, as well as classical Khon style dancing, the students played the angaloon (a traditional Thai instrument), did classical Thai dancing, and then performed to several more contemporary Thai songs.  There were speeches by all the phuu yai and gifts were presented to honor Ajarn Yai as a slide show of her accomplishments and pictures from her career played on the back of the stage.

Kobfa, Ken and I were privileged to be seated at the VIP table, front and center of the stage with Ajarn Yai, her boss and his boss.  Other previous students stopped by to pay their respects to both Ajarn Yai and us, and Ajarn Yai had a nearly endless stream of guests.  She said that she was disappointed that Tawn, Pat, Dick and Sandy and other people who have previously visited her school, were unable to make it.

Below, the students performing for the crowd.

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As the evening concluded about nine o’clock – twelve hours after we had arrived! – Ajarn Yai thanked us again for everything we had done and assured us she would let us know next time she would be in Khrungthep so we could meet for lunch or dinner.  She also told us, in all seriousness, that she would like to visit the United States with us sometime in the next year.  So all you readers who have come to know her, let me know if you’d like to have Ajarn Yai stop by and be your guest!

I told Tawn afterwards, I know I have no choice but to accompany her on that trip.  It seems to be some kind of karma that I met her in the first place, had the opportunity to teach at Bangkhonthiinai, and have had these great experiences.  So I have to pay that karmic price and make sure she has the opportunity to go to the United States, something she was never able to do even though she had been accepted to study at the University of Michigan.

Heading for the parking lot as the crowd started thinning, we took the opportunity to conclude one final piece of business that Kobfa and I had been considering for several weeks.  One of our students is clearly different from the rest in his own special way, and regularly gets picked on by some of the others, especially a cousin of his who calls him the very impolite word dtoot, which I won’t translate for you.

Seeing him as we were leaving, we pulled him aside and said goodbye to him.  Using a tag-team combination of English and Thai, Kobfa and I told him that if there are times that he feels different from the other children and picked on because of it, that he needs to know that it’s alright to be different.

Hopefully at the right time in his life, that message will resonate with him.  I know that if someone had said that to me back in late elementary school or early junior high, it would have made a world’s worth of difference.

Below, a four-minute video compilation of sights and sounds from the day.

 

A certain sort of jet lag

Most people I’ve spoken to about the subject tell me that they experience jet lag more acutely when flying from Asia back to North America.  For me, that direction is a piece of cake.  It is the westerly travel that throws me off.

For my first three nights back in Khrungthep I avoided afternoon caffeine and naps, and used 25 mg doses of diphenhydramine to facilitate a full night’s sleep.  And each night at around 2:30, I wake up.  The back of my eyeballs ache slightly but the lids are not heavy; I’m awake.  For a half-hour I lie still, willing myself back to sleep.

airplane-departing Finally, I get up and read a book for a while.  I’m reading The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneger, which Roka loaned me.  The story of a woman whose husband has the uncanny knack of jumping around in time, unexpectedly, only leads to my further sense of detachment from my sleep deprived body.

Still not sleepy.  I turn on the computer and log into my employer’s virtual private network.  Check some emails, send some responses, impress the boss and colleagues that I’m working at this late/early hour.

After a pair of hours, I go back to bed.  Lay there for thirty, forty minutes.  Tawn turns over, props himself up on his elbows as if he were awake, rubs his eyes with his fist and then rolls over, still asleep.  Usually I’m the one who sleeps most soundly.

I get up again.

With any luck, I’ll get over my jet lag in about ten days or so.  They say it takes one day for each time zone you cross.  Depending on which way you are counting, I crossed 14 or 10.  That will be just in time for my return trip to the United States on the 28th.

 

Last night I spoke with Otto on Skype.  He sounds like he’s doing well.  He explained that it was his decision to pull down the open letter and he was not pressured by the Ministry of Education.  I detect a note in his voice that I interpret as him not wanting to appear as having backed down, combined with a note of surprise, a “shoot, I didn’t realize that this was going to balloon into such a big thing” as he explains that by the time he had pulled it down the open letter had received several thousand hits from around the world.  He is still receiving emails from people he doesn’t know from places he hasn’t been, offering their support.

I assure him that pulling the letter down isn’t the same as taking a step back.  “You addressed the letter to your friends and colleagues and wanted to come out to them.”  I said.  “You’ve succeeded; they all know now.”

 

S’pore Ministry of Education demands teacher’s open letter be closed

As reported yesterday, Singaporean teacher Otto Fong this weekend issued an open letter to his friends and colleagues, coming out of the closet as a gay man.  This act of pride and bravery put him at risk of dismissal in this authoritarian state where thanks to the legacy of British colonialism, homosexual acts between consenting adults are still illegal.

As the weekend progressed, there were reports that members of the school’s administration were in communication and that there was certain to be a confrontation on Monday.

Sure enough, by Monday afternoon the blog entry and its more than 120 comments of support had been removed, apparently at the prompting of the Ministry of Education.  While it appears that Otto’s job is not at risk and he has achieved his purpose of coming out to his colleagues, the Ministry said in a statement that it “does not condone any open espousal of homosexual values by teachers in any form, in or out of the classroom” as “teachers are in a unique position of authority and are often seen as role models by their students.”

The open letter and its comments have been independently posted at another site here, and there are additional reports on the matter from Singapore both here and here.

Again, I am very proud of Otto’s bravery and am glad it hasn’t landed him unemployed.  I am disappointed with the Ministry of Education’s not-very-surprising response, but this has sent a very clear and positive message to hundreds if not thousands of other Singaporeans.

It appears that there has been extensive coverage of this in the Singapore blogosphere: here, here, here, here, from a self-confessed homophobe who supports Otto nonetheless here, and from one of his former students here.

 

Teacher at prestigious S’pore academy causes a stir by coming out

“Should gay people be allowed to teach children?” is a contentious question in jurisdictions around the world, inflaming the passions of people on all sides of the debate.  Now that question has come to roost in the notably authoritarian city-state of Singapore, where homosexual acts are still penalized by Section 377A of the criminal code.

otto05l On Saturday, Otto Fong, a long-time friend of mine and a science teacher at the venerable Raffles Institution, posted an open letter to his colleagues outing himself as a gay man.  In this letter, he writes that, “in order to reach my fullest potential as a useful human being, I must first fully accept myself, and face the world honestly.  I have lived long enough to know that what I am is not a disease, an aberration or a mental illness.”

The Raffles Institution is a 187-year old independent boy’s secondary school whose alumnae include Lee Kwan Yew, the founding Prime Minister of Singapore who to this day is carefully listened to as the father of the country. 

Otto’s letter quickly caused a stir.  The website received hundreds of hits in the first 48 hours and despite his only sending the link to the letter to his colleagues, it quickly made its way to his students who have been posting messages of support and encouragement.

By publicly coming out, Otto risks his professional career and reputation, and could find himself shortly unemployed.  The executive board of Raffles Institution is reportedly meeting Monday morning to discuss what actions they should take.

In the last decade, the Singaporean government has made some strides in loosening restrictions on gays and lesbians living there.  But laws prohibiting homosexuality are still on the books, threatening any gains that these citizens may feel they’ve achieved.  The former Prime Minister made headlines in April when he called into question the validity of criminalizing homosexuality if being gay is indeed a matter of nature and not of choice.

In December 2005, Otto and his partner of seven years visited me and Tawn in Khrungthep.  After toasting the holidays and their happiness, I posted a picture of them, arms interlinked, on my blog.  A few days later, Otto asked if I would remove the picture as they were concerned about the professional damage it could do to them.  A year and a half later, I’m very proud to see that Otto is now ready for the world to see him for who he is.

 

How can you help?

Despite its staunch independence, history has shown that Singapore likes to protect its international image and reputation.  That is one reason that despite the anti-gay laws, Singapore has been actively making the island a more gay-friendly place.

None other than Lee Kwan Yew spoke about the influence of the rest of the world when commenting about why the eventual repeal of Section 377A was necessary, when he told Reuters on 24 April 2007: “I would say if this is the way the world is going and Singapore is part of that interconnected world – and I think it is – then I see no option for Singapore but to be part of it.”

You can help by reading Otto’s open letter and leaving your comments of support.  The more support he receives, from both local and international sources, the more difficult it will be for his employers to take Draconian measures to punish him.

 

Update as of Monday, 2:26 pm Singapore Time

It looks like Otto has removed the open letter from his blog site, for reasons that are unexplained.  It will be interesting to learn more about what has transpired.  In the meantime, thank you to all of you who shared your support.

 

Update as of Monday, 3:31 pm Singapore Time

A third party with inside knowledge at Raffles Institution reports to me that the school is on Otto’s side and his job is apparently not threatened.  The open letter was removed at the request of the Ministry of Education.  If true, this would seem to be a victory.

 

Back into the grove in Khrungthep

IMG_6500 The connecting flight from Seoul Incheon to Khrungthep was delayed two hours because of “aircraft connection”, whatever that may mean.  I think it means that the aircraft arrived late.  Thus, my arrival in the Big Mango was at 1:55 am Saturday morning. 

Right: Our delayed plane finally pulls up to gate 49 at Incheon airport.

Our aircraft was an Airbus A330, which was maybe at 40% capacity.  Everyone spread out, with many taking a row of four seats to themselves and having a bed.  I had a pair of the seats on the side of the plane, so had some room to spread out and recline. 

The bright side of my early (late?) arrival is that immigration and the baggage claim are not very crowded at that late hour.  After sleeping for several hours, Tawn very kindly woke up and drove out to the airport to pick me up.

 

Getting back into the groove wasn’t too difficult.  We were up by 9:00 and out running errands by 11:00.  The first stop, since we had no milk in the refrigerator, was breakfast at Au Bon Pain.  The location at the J Avenue shopping center (a three-story strip mall on Soi Thong Lor) is right around the corner from our new condo and it is turning into quite the social hub for us.

On our last visit there we ran into Fluck, Tawn’s university friend to whom he has lost contact, and Bobby, his Singaporean boyfriend.  Then Saturday we ran into Pim, Tawn’s high school friend who lives in our new neighborhood, who was traveling with her three-year old daughter, Tara.

Tara always plays a little shy at first but warms up quickly, so we had breakfast with her and her mom.  Below: Uncle Tawn and Tara play patty-cake.  You can’t see this in the picture, but Tara has her fingernails painted pink.  She told us that her toenails were pink, too.

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The next stop was the new condo: electrical work is being done now, so the most noticeable difference is the many holes in the ceiling and walls where new lines are being drawn.  Given that the walls are concrete rather than built with studs and drywall, it is strange to see some of the trenches that are dug into the concrete to hide new conduit.  Below: new wiring is installed along the exterior wall overlooking the pool.

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IMG_6554 The wood floor is almost completely installed except for parts of the bathroom and the kitchen.  The marble bench, shelf and floor has been installed in the bathroom and plumbing is complete.

Left: Tawn in the new bathroom.  The tiles are completed.  Behind Tawn will be a vanity and marble countertop. 

Above that will be a framed mirror on the wall with a sconce on either side.  To the right of Tawn will be the toilet area, with a wood cabinet hung on the wall above the tile.  This will be for toiletry storage. 

You can just see the marble bench in the shower, on the right side of the picture.  The plan is to have a floating glass wall separating the shower from the rest of the room, to minimize the visual barriers.

The floor is covered with protective paper, but the marble floor tiles have already been installed.  Just behind Tawn’s legs you can see where the herringbone wood floor will continue in from the bedroom, forming a “dry area” just a step above the rest of the bathroom floor.

IMG_6544 Right: In the kitchen, the cabinets have been removed and new cabinets have already been completed at Khun Guang’s factory. 

After visiting the condo, we went to an electrical fixtures store on Soi Thong Lor to look at ceiling lights.  The distance between the concrete ceiling and the framed dry wall is only 6 cm, so we need a very shallow fixture.  We’ve purchased one sample, a recessed “eyeball” fixture that uses a halogen bulb.  Unfortunately, none of the florescent fixtures will work in this narrow ceiling.

We also went to Emporium and purchased our kitchen appliances: SMEG induction stove top, hood, and oven.  We have continued to reevaluate whether an induction stove top is necessary, but have concluded with the amount of cooking and entertaining we like to do (especially given how much our current kitchen has constrained us on both accounts), we want to be well-equiped rather than regret having inadequate appliances.

A refrigerator will have to be purchased, too, but we’re still debating what size to get.  There is a three-drawer Mitsubishi model that looks like a good use of the space.

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So as to not let the socializing wait too long, Tawn and I met up with some friends for dinner at Thon Krueng on Soi Thong Lor.  The food is quite good and the prices reasonable there, plus there is a fun gelato shop just a few doors down, making for a pleasant dessert option.  Above: Roka, Todd, Tawn, Justin, Vic and me.  Ken is taking the picture.

And what to do on Sunday?  Well, Paul is in town as is Bill, so there are visitors to see today.  It is good to be home.

 

Hello from Incheon

I’m sitting in Seoul Incheon airport after a pleasant enough 11-hour flight from San Francisco.  Asiana Airlines is a pretty decent way to travel, if you’re going to travel economy.  I was in a trio of seats in the middle section of the plane (a 3-3-3 layout) and the seat between me and the lady on the other aisle was unoccupied.  To top it off, the lady sitting in the seat in front of me didn’t recline her seat at all during the flight.  (Which is a little strange, considering how vertical Asiana’s seats are in the fully upright position.)  So I was actually able to cross my legs!

Unfortunately, my connecting flight is delayed by at least two hours, so I’m going to have some time to kill here.  On top of the 8+ hours I spent here ten days ago!

 

New picture

How do you like the new profile picture to the left?  (For those of you subscribing to an email update from my blog, you’ll need to visit the blog here in order to see the picture.)  Ryan and Sabrina’s friends Gordon and Rita served as unofficial photographers for their wedding, giving them a second pair of people shooting the event and providing them with much better coverage than having just one or two photographers.  Given that they and many of their friends are avid photography buffs, it isn’t too surprising!

Anyhow, this picture makes me look really thin.  But also the dark suit makes me look like a funeral director!  Gordon and Rita took some really nice pictures and you can view their Flickr pages here and here.

 

Packing confessions

In addition to being the type of house guest who cleans my friend’s apartment before leaving, I’m also the sort of person who washes all my dirty laundry before packing it for the trip home.  How crazy is that?

IMG_6275 The last items on my to-do list were done: buy some See’s candy as gifts (inspired by Curry) and eat at Cha Cha Cha, the amazing Cuban restaurant in San Francisco.  Actually, this wasn’t my entire to-do list, but as much of it as will be accomplished on this trip.  Put the rest of it on the list for next month.

Monty and Dave were kind enough to accompany me from their place (the Tiki Pad) to the Mission District to hunt wildly for parking and eat at Cha Cha Cha.

The food was amazing, as always.  Ceviche, friend plantanos with black beans, bbq pork quesadilla, sauteed mushrooms, and a tri-tip steak.  A large pitcher of sangria made the entire evening mellow (which was why Ty was probably wondering whether I was half-comotose) and the best news is, they now sell Cha Cha Cha t-shirts.  This is truly something unique to wear in Khrungthep. 

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Afterwards, I met Ty at Sweet Inspirations for some tea.  Finally, another Xangan who crosses over from virtual acquaintence to real one.  He’s a tremendously bright young man and a pleasure to talk with.  Here’s to hoping he has the opportunity to blog more frequently as I think he has a lot to say and a lot worth saying.

Since March, Ty has been holding onto a copy of Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace for me.  Ty’s partner, Paul Ocampo, assisted Maxine Hong Kingston in editing this anthology of “creative, redemptive storytelling – nonfiction, fiction and poetry – spanning five wards and written by those most profoundly affected by it.”  In addition to editing, Paul wrote one of the pieces, adding his perspective as a veteran of conflict.

This anthology grew out of the work of the Veteran Writers Group, which started as a one-day workshop in 1993 focused on Vietnam War veterans and eventually expanded to become this anthology.  Along the way, the definition of “veteran” expanded to include all those profoundly affected by war, from soldier to civilian, resister to refugee.

As a student, Maxine Hong Kongston’s writing was very influential for me.  Her 1989 novel Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book was a piece that as a communication major at Santa Clara University, I brazenly wanted to make into a student film project.  I told her as much when I had the opportunity to meet her after a reading at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco.  Despite her encouragement, I eventually realized the scope of my ambition exceeded my capacity.

Nonetheless, I am quite happy to have a copy of Veterans of War and look forward to some stimulating and thought-provoking reading. 

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So tomorrow afternoon I hop on an Asiana Airlines jet bound for Seoul and, by Friday night, Khrungthep.  I may not have another entry until Saturday so kindly be patient.

 

Cleaning confessions

Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m the type of person who, when I’m a visitor at someone else’s house, feels mighty tempted to clean up.  Chalk it up to the “leave an area in better shape than you found it” mantra my Brownie troop leader mother instilled in me, but I just have to tidy.

So in between editing a script for a new training video, having my weekly one-on-one call with my boss, and washing my laundry, I did some spring cleaning at Paul’s apartment.  Everything was dusted and thoroughly vacuumed, including behind furniture and underneath it.  Windows were washed and levelor blinds dusted.  Even the down comforter spent two hours draped over the ironing board, freshening up in the late morning sun.

 

IMG_6274 Starting Tuesday I was back to work.  Paul’s place is quiet enough that I can get a lot done.  But I miss my larger screen and ergonomic keyboard.  This afternoon I need to pack before heading downtown for lunch with Monty and Dave.  Ty’s back from Hawai’i, too, so maybe we’ll meet for a drink afterwards.

This afternoon I stopped by Captain Submarine on Sacramento at Fillmore.  Samantha’s family owns the shop, so she and I ate lunch together and visited.  We both agree: San Francisco is a nice place to visit, but maybe not such a great place to live.  Just my opinion, though.  You’re entitled to yours.

Walking back from the Fillmore district along Bush Street, I was reminded how much I like the architecture in this city.  The Victorian and Edwardian houses are just gorgeous.  They look like gingerbread houses and come is so many colours (left). 

Speaking with Tawn this morning on Skype, we’re both ready to be back together in Khrunthep.  My flight leaves tomorrow early afternoon.  I’ll be back in the Big Mango by Friday night.

 

The visiting continues

The beautiful weather of the first half of my visit came to an end by Sunday evening, with temperatures becoming more autumnal and the winds gusting as the fog rolled in.  More typically San Francisco, the days started out gorgeous but devolved as the day progressed.

Sunday morning I headed to Berkeley to visit Wat Monkholratanaram, the Thai Buddhist temple located on Russell at Martin Luther King, Jr. Way.  One of three Thai temples in the Bay Area, this one seems to be the most active and each Sunday has a talaat naat – a weekly market – where members of the temple prepare Thai food in vast quantities and then it is available to purchase for a donation to the temple.

Over the years, the operation has expanded in scale as well as in organization: the counters and plexiglass sneeze barriers look more permanent and are up to code, the number of tables has expanded, and the crowds have grown proportionately. 

I was hoping, vainly, that upon my return to the temple I would so impress the Thai aunties that serve the food when I broke out in some Thai.  No such luck: they are jaded with farang speaking Thai to them.  Maybe some of them weren’t Thai and didn’t understand me.  Others definitely understood me and responded in Thai, but there was no “Oh, you speak Thai!”  Instead, I received the standard concluding phrase used at this busy operation, “Next?”

My purpose in visiting the wat was to meet with Sandy, my high school ex-girlfriend.  (Shock!)  Yes, of the three girls I dated in high school and the one I dated in university, Sandy is the only one with whom I’m still in touch.  At her wedding, she introduced me to her husband as the boyfriend she turned gay.  Sandy and her husband are both doctors at Kaiser Permanente now, live in Sacramento (“just far enough away from my parents,” she explains), and have two children, a four-year-old girl and a six-month-old boy.

It was wonderful catching up with Sandy – and kind of funny to see how we simultaneously mellow as we age while still remaining ourselves!  Sadly, we were so busy chatting that I forgot to get my camera out to take a picture of us. 

IMG_6207 For those of you who are familiar with the temple, it looks like they have done some expanding and have plans for further expansion. 

The area to the left of the food stalls, where the people selling desserts were located, has been extended back to Oregon Street.  It appears they’ve purchased one of the lots behind the temple, tearing down the fence and creating a garden.

Additionally, there are architectural plans (right) posted for a Buddha pavilion that looks like it will be built partially on another adjacent property.

Some of the notes explain that the temple has been doing these Sunday morning markets for almost thirty years as a fund-raiser and they seem to have raised enough money to make this expansion.  The pavilion will be constructed in Thailand and shipped to Berkeley in pieces and assembled there.  I’m planning on visiting the temple again in October with my family, so we’ll see if there is any progress by then.


 

Sunday afternoon Lilian took me to see Avenue Q, the Tony Award-winning musical that was concluding its run in San Francisco.  Quoting Wikipedia:

Avenue Q is a Tony award-winning musical that was conceived by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, who wrote the music and lyrics. The book is by Jeff Whitty. The show is largely inspired by (and is in the style of) Sesame Street: Most of the characters in the show are puppets (operated by actors onstage), the set depicts several tenements on a rundown street in an “outer borough” of New York City, both the live characters and puppet characters sing, and short animated video clips are played as part of the story.

IMG_6208 Also, several characters are recognizably parodies of classic Muppet characters: for example, the roommates Rod and Nicky are versions of Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie, and Trekkie Monster is based on Cookie Monster. However, the characters are in their twenties and thirties and face adult problems instead of those faced by pre-schoolers. The characters use profanity, and the songs concern adult themes. A recurring theme is the central character’s search for a “purpose”.

It was really funny, with clever songs and a strong anti-political correctness themes, illustrated by the song, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”.

In the evening, Lilian and I drove down to San Jose to meet our group of friends for dinner.  Anita had driven down from San Francisco, too, and we were joined by Brad and Donna and their children, Eric, Albert, and Maggie.  Samantha and Jimmy were not able to make it.

Right: Chris with Brad, Donna, Evan and Cara.

We had a fun time catching up, although it would have been nice to have more time.  These visits are always so rushed.  Evan and Cara are getting to be big children now, second and first grades, respectively.

Below: Lily and Chris with Anita and Eric.  Somehow the picture of me with Albert and Maggie didn’t turn out.  Maybe Lily will email me her version?

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Monday concluded my official vacation, although I’ll still be in the US three additional days.  A holiday here, traffic was light and everyone was out and about enjoying the final day of a three-day weekend.

IMG_6213 At 10:30 I was over at Jordan and Wilford’s (left) place south of Market – a bright airy space that they’ve done a nice job with – and we headed out to Ella’s on Presidio and California Streets.  So nice to enjoy brunch in San Francisco again, especially their chicken hash!  There was a bit of a wait, but that gave us more time to catch up.  Wilford has a blog that features only photos taken with his iPhone, hence the name “iphone iblog“.  Clever, huh?

We continued after lunch to the Ferry building to do some browsing at Sur la table, stop for a coffee at Peet’s, and sit on the waterfront enjoying the great view and warm sun.  Lots of catching up to do and it was nice to connect with a younger couple – it provides some perspective on the journey that Tawn and I have taken over the past 7+ years.


 

After a brief stop at a small backyard barbecue that Anita was throwing, I headed to San Mateo for a final meal with Ryan and Sabrina.  Sabrina’s sister Nathalie (her maid of honor) and Ryan’s cousin Peter joined us for Vietnamese pho at a restaurant near their house and near an office building I used to work at.

After dinner, we visited until eleven o’clock, finding some interesting connections between two of their guests and me, all tying back to the SF Int’l Asian American Film Festival.  It is a small, small world.  Below, Chris, Nathalie, Sabrina, Ryan and Peter with steaming hot bowls of pho.

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So now it is Tuesday morning.  Time to return the rental car, get a few loads of laundry done, start tidying up Paul’s apartment, and time to get back to doing some work.