The Clevelands Arrive

My childhood friend Brad and his wife Donna arrived Wednesday with their two children, E and C. 


We’ve been running around the city and surrounding area, seeing as many sights as we can while keeping in mind that jet lag can be especially disorienting for children.  The first evening we were out at dinner and E and C both fell asleep at the table.  It was all we could do to wake them up so we could take them back to the hotel.

As I mentioned in my last entry, I prepared a series of activities for E and C designed around a top secret agent/spy theme.  When they checked in at the hotel, the clerk gave them a folder with their names on it with “Top Secret” stamped on it.  They opened it to discover a mission overview and their Day 1 assignment.

Agents E and C:

You have been selected for an elite mission.This mission is strictly top secret, although you can use your parental units to support your mission objectives, if needed.

Your goal is to gather intelligence about the language, culture, transportation, and markets in the Kingdom of Thailand and send it to the headquarters of the United States National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, or USNGIA for short.

It turns out that the USNGIA is real but I went ahead and used them since their cool looking logo is readily available on Google.  Agents E and C were assigned Thai cover names: Pi Chai (Big Brother) and Nong Saao (Little Sister), respectively.

Agents Pi Chai and Nong Saao had an initial assignment that involved looking at a map, located their hotel, and answering a few questions about the surrounding area: Where is the nearest park?  What is the name of the street their hotel is on?  Etc.

Their assignment for day 1 was to learn a few words of Thai, which Agent Nong Saao had already done as part of a school report she did on Thailand last year.  “Yes”, “No”, “Hello”, and “Thank You” were enough to prepare them for their visit… er, secret mission.

Day 2 dawned after a good night’s sleep with nobody waking up too early.  The top secret agents had another envelope and another assignment waiting for them:

Your assignment is to gather intelligence about the culture of Thailand and to report it back to headquarters.Complete the following information and include it in your report.

Your destination Thursday is the most important cultural and religious site in Thailand.It is a complex of buildings on the eastern bank of the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok. It served as the official residence of the Kings of Thailand from the 18th century onwards.It is also where the Temple of the Emerald Buddha is housed, the most holy Buddha statue in Thailand.

There was a word-scramble (er… “code to break”) that listed the name of the destination: The Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.


As part of the assignment, they used pictures to identify some of the mythical creatures represented on the grounds of the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.  By asking questions of their guide and listening carefully, they would learn what all these creatures were and what they represent.

The creatures include the ones holding this golden chedi, or stupa, above, as well as the towering giants like the one below, that protect the entrances to the temple.



Another two mythical creatures they needed to learn about were the garuda – the bird-man holding snakes in the center of the above photo, and the multi-headed snake called a naga, which line the edges of the roofs of temples and palatial buildings.


We saw these mythical creatures represented again and again, such as in these temple murals.


We also saw an artist attending to the fine details of the temple, keeping the paint fresh and bright.


The Clevelands posting with a royal guard at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.


Does the cloud in this picture look like a chicken?  Tail on the left, head on the right, with two claws on the bottom.  I think it does and even though I didn’t tag the photo as a chicken, when I uploaded it to Xanga, the Google ad at the top of the screen was for a company that will help you grow your own chickens in the backyard.  It’s a sign, I tell you!


We saw the changing of the guards, who must be very hot in those outfits!


As the secret agents and their parents started to wilt under the strong sun and high heat, we wrapped up our Day 2 assignment, headed out for some lunch at a nearby air conditioned restaurant, and then took the boat back down the river to the hotel for some swimming… and to await Day 3’s assignment!

This entry would have been written earlier today, or yesterday, or even the day before.  But I wanted to post some video that I shot and am having difficulties.  You see, the nifty new camera I bought – a Panasonic Lumix TZ3, which I really do think is terrific – outputs video in a .mov format.  This is an Apple-proprietary format that can’t be edited with the existing software I have on my Windows-based laptop computer.

I’ve been searching for a way to convert the files to something I can work with, but the freeware and shareware I’ve downloaded don’t seem to work correctly.  So I caved in and went to the Apple website to spend $30 buying the upgrade to QuickTime Pro.  My order is “being processed” and I don’t know how long that will take.  I’ll probably end up having problems because my billing address is in the US but I’m connecting to the internet in Thailand.

Out of patience and not wanting my readers to think I’ve forgotten about them, I’ll go ahead and do the post the traditional way, with still pictures.



The big event recently was the dress rehearsal of the royal barge procession.  Last done in June 2006 in celebration of the King’s 60th anniversary on the throne, this rarely-seen most of monarch transportation is being rolled out again next week for the thrice annual changing of the Emerald Buddha’s robes, in Wat Phra Kaew in the Grand Palace.

Using the barge procession to go 3 km down the Chao Phraya River is a whole lot of effort, especially since His Majesty is still in the hospital recovering from something stroke-like.  The good news is, he is recovering nicely.  Still, I think some other member of the royal family will travel in his place.

I’m quite surprised that the barges aren’t being used instead for something related to his 80th birthday in early December.

P1010517 Nonetheless, I went with Roka, Ken and Francois to the River Mansion guest house, which sold tickets for seating on their poolside (and riverside) deck for viewing of the dress rehearsal.  The view was spectacular, the weather cool, overcast and breezy, and there were only twenty people there viewing the barges.

Right: Chris, Francois, Ken and Roka, poolside.

Quick introduction for those of you who try to follow the cast of characters in my blog: Francois is a friend of Stuart’s, most recently from San Francisco but raised in Kentucky, who has bought a condo here and will be splitting his time between the Bay Area and Khrungthep.

We had a really good view and drinks and a plate of appetizers was included in the admission price.  To give you an idea of the view and how close we were to the river:


We spent a good ninety minutes waiting and then the barges went past in about thirty minutes, a little more rushed than normal but this was their first dress rehearsal.  They have two more before the big day on Tuesday.  It was still very spectacular to see and amazing that they take more than 2,000 sailors to man the 52 barges and are able to control them so smoothly and gracefully, rowing to the stentorian chants of the Brahman priests.

Expect to see more monarchy fever in the next two eight weeks as we approach the big 8-0 on December 5th.