America first, is it?

This week saw the nineteenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States. A friend re-posted a meme that caught my attention: “The best way to honor 9-11 is to be who we were on 9-12.” The implication being that on September 12, 2001, people rallied together as Americans. Lamar Alexander said it well, “[September 11] unified us as a country and showed our charitable instincts and reminded us of what we stood for and stand for.”

The September 11th memorial in New York City, NY

Responding to the friend’s post, I commented that I am not so sure that, were another event like September 11 to happen again, Americans would come together in the same way. I say that because we are in the midst of just such an event: a pandemic that has already killed more than 60 times as many Americans as the September 11 terrorist attacks and has had several individual days with death counts nearly as high as that fateful one in 2001. And I do not see a country united or rallying together.

There are undoubtedly many reasons for the increased partisan divide and the seeming inability to move from defining ourselves by what divides us, rather than embracing what we have in common. Twenty-four hour cable TV in which “news” is more “infotainment” than anything else. Social media which disconnects us, feeds our biases and makes it all too easy to demonize people in a way we would never do face-to-face. And there are many people in positions of power who benefit from creating chaos and stirring the pot, rather than calming the tensions and bringing people together.

The responsibility lies in many places: people in government, the media, and religious and civic organizations all need to demonstrate leadership and lower the temperature of our discourse. The accountability, though, lies with each of us to stop fanning the flames and to stop taking the bait. Instead, let’s work constructively to truly put America first by asking what we can do to help our neighbors, our community, and our country.

One of the biggest examples of this, when viewed from my perspective sitting outside the country, is the fight over mask-wearing and social distancing. People carry on as if they were being locked up and the key was being thrown away, when being asked to wear a lightweight mask and to remain a few extra feet apart. These are by any objective measure, small sacrifices to make to protect the health of the nation and enable the United States’ economy to reopen and recover as quickly as possible.

There is another quote that comes out of September 11 that captures this. It comes from Sandy Dahl, the wife of the captain of United Flight 93, Jason Dahl, which crashed in Pennsylvania when passengers attempted to overpower the hijackers. She said, “If we learn nothing else from this tragedy, we learn that life is short and there is no time for hate.”

These days, it seems that hatred and venom are our go-to responses. Perhaps we could truly honor the heroes and victims of the September 11 attacks by practicing patience, empathy, love, and compassion a bit more. And being willing to make small individual sacrifices for the greater good.

Getaway in Pattaya

While Thailand has done very well in terms of keeping COVID-19 infections under control, the price of that has been a near-total shutdown of the Kingdom’s borders since earlier since year. Whereas I used to travel on a regular basis, this situation has left me itching for a change of scenery, so a few weekends ago, we took a long weekend trip to Pattaya.

Pattaya is a beach town in Chonburi province, about a two to three-hour drive southeast of Bangkok. Located on the eastern side of the Gulf of Thailand, Pattaya Pattaya became a sizable city during the United States’ war in Vietnam, when it became a popular destination for soldiers to take rest and relaxation breaks.

The city’s reputation has not always been so reputable: polluted water, underage sex available for purchase on the beach, and all sorts of sin on the famous “walking street” after the sun sets. That reputation was, of course, never the full story of Pattaya and the city has cleaned up much of its image in recent years. This was only the second time I have visited the city for any length of time and it was a chance to see a bit more of it.

We chose to stay at the Renaissance Resort & Spa, located about a 20-minute drive south of the city on a much quieter stretch of beach. The resort is fairly new and features a ten-story tower with ocean views and two three-story buildings that overlook the pools. One of those buildings has ground-floor rooms where you can plunge directly from your deck into the water.

The hotel is in fine shape and the staff is attentive and friendly, reminding me how much Thai culture is well-suited for the hospitality industry. It was also a reminder of how appreciative these employees were to have guests back in their hotel, as as much as seven percent of Thailand’s economy depends on tourism. Only recently has domestic tourism started to pick up and the borders are still closed to foreign tourists.

Sights to see

There are many things to see and do in and around Pattaya but many of them are quite touristy: the Pattaya Dolphinarium, the Cartoon Network Amazone water park, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, etc. We spent most of our time at the hotel, relaxing.

One thing we did enjoy was a visit to the Sanctuary of Truth. This privately-owned site is both a museum to wood-working skills and an artistic expression of the philosophy of love and goodness. Started as a passion project by a wealthy Thai businessman and his wife, it continues into perpetuity as the nature of this all-wood project is that it will forever need to be rebuilt.

From the outside, the structure looks like a Thai Buddhist temple. As you go on the guided tour, you begin to realize that it is a fanciful mish-mash of styles and symbolism from all the world’s religions and philosophies. An army of craftspeople, nearly all Burmese as few Thais still practice these wood-carving skills, chisel, carve and cut away at three types of wood, rebuilding the structure and refining the intricate details. It really is quite exquisite if a bit overwhelming!

What to eat

Sitting on the Gulf of Thailand and with a sizable local fishing fleet, seafood is a great option and Pattaya has opened many tasty and Instagram-friendly places to eat, see and be seen.

On the drive down, we stopped Chonburi town, to the north of Pattaya, and had lunch at Charin Nongmon. This family-run, open-air seafood restaurant has been around more than 40 years and continues to produce excellent food at reasonable prices.

They are best known for two crab-based treats: buu jaa and hoy jor. The buu jaa (shown to the left) is a crab cake – crab and pork combined with seasonings, placed in a crab shell and deep fried. The hoy jor, which the restaurant lays claim to originating, is a crab meat dumpling wrapped in delicate tofu skin and deep fried. All the dishes are excellent and these two are outstanding.

We had a sunset dinner at the Glass House. There are two locations and we chose the one on the south side of the city, close to our hotel. This highly-Instagrammable location offers an extensive menu of Thai food, heavy on the seafood, and some “international” items, too. The food is good and while not memorable, the location on the beach very much is.

Book ahead to get a table on the beach. If you arrive early, you will be quite exposed to the sun, but in the last half-hour before sunset, the weather is pleasant and you are just a few meters from the gentle waves lapping on the sand. As the strings of lights are illuminated and the sky turns all shades of pink and baby blue, you really will be charmed and feel very relaxed.

A few other places worth considering:

Rimpa Lapin is a more foreigner-friendly restaurant, terraced along a cliff with a commanding view of the sunset. Book ahead for a nice table. They also have a decent wine list.

For a more local flavor, visit Preecha Seafood or Jai Sang Ma not too far away in Sattahip.

Is it worth a visit?

A lot of tour groups visiting Thailand, include a stop in Pattaya. I presume it is because the city is close to Bangkok, offers a pretty beach and many tourist-accessible amenities. While I am not the biggest beach person, I feel like there are better options if you are visiting Thailand. If you are a Bangkok local and looking for a quick and easy gettaway, Pattaya is a convenient choice, especially if all you want to do it hole up in your hotel, relax and unwind.