Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Last Thing She Ever Did

It has been a struggle to get myself back to writing since returning home.  I've started and stopped this post several times.  But it has also been hanging over me as a bit of unfinished business.  So...

Sept. 2017

After the kids left, we began our litany of "lasts."  My last mass at St. Nikolaus revealed the newly completed renovation.  Everything was shiny and new - the wood had been refinished, broken pieces had been replaced, and the accents had received a fresh coat of gold paint.  The crucifix was now accentuated by a beautiful, shiny copper background and new accent lighting.  White flowers adorned the altar in anticipation of the feast day celebration.  Booklets were shared that told the history of the church and its patron saint.

I quietly celebrated my last birthday in Thailand.  Tim got me a huge bouquet of flowers, and K. Mick and K. June gave me a beautiful elephant set, something I will treasure as a reminder of these lovely people who came to be like family to us.

my last birthday with this lovely backdrop
Mika and I had our last lunch out together at A' La Campagne restaurant on south Sukhumvit Rd.  We tried a couple of different times to go there, but something always came up.  It's a charming place with extensive grounds and several amenities, like a tea shop, souvenir shop and bakery.  We had a lovely lunch, and tried not to think about this being the "last."  Mika had become a very dear friend, and was a big part of the reason my time in Thailand was so precious to me.

in the courtyard
I had my last lesson with my Thai teacher, K. Ded.  I wanted to buy him lunch for our last day, so we met at Wooden Box restaurant.  Not the best choice in hindsight - it was noisy, and he didn't order anything to eat.  It was hard to say goodbye to this lovely, gentle soul, who was patient and kind and always ready to share a laugh.  I hope many more people are as lucky as I was, to be able to study with this fine teacher.  Kawp Koon Mak Mak!

We stopped into our tailor/friends' shop to say goodbye to them.  K. Noi and K. Muu were also gentle and kind souls.  They were always so patient with me when I tried to speak Thai with them.  And they always did such fine work, making shirts and capris, and a dress that I wore to my nephew's wedding.  They were so sweet to give us a little going-away gift - a tie for Tim and a handmade scarf for me.  I wish them much success in their business.

We visited our favorite tea shop friends, K. Lita and K. Vee.  Their shop, Tea Village, was always a stop when we had visitors in town, a charming, surprising oasis of solitude in a busy city.  Vee had just returned from his long visit home to Russia.  We were happy we were able to see him again before we left.  We ordered some tea and teacups to be sent home for gifts.

We hosted one more dinner with friends at the Royal Thai Garden resort, the western-style buffet restaurant with the roving mariachi band from the Philippines!  We were graced with the presence of K. Lita, K. Vee, Mika, Maki and Momo, K. Mick and K. June, and a family who had recently arrived in Pattaya from Vietnam: Minh, Anh and Dora.  We had a very nice time, and I couldn't help getting weepy when the mariachi band came over to play for us.   Promises to stay in touch were made, and we parted ways.

K. Mick and K. June

K. Vee and K. Lita

the Muramatsu family

Anh, Minh and Dora

Me and the lovely ladies
On our last weekend, we made our usual visit down to the beautifully-landscaped poolside at our condo.  A bunch of bananas hung under the shade of the massive banana leaves. A perfect lotus at one side caught my attention.  It was the most perfect example of the iconic flower I had seen since we arrived.  It felt like a final blessing being bestowed upon us before our departure.

The packers arrived and quickly and efficiently packed up all our belongings that would be coming back to the states with us.  They were done in just a few hours.  We had cartloads of stuff we were leaving with K. Mick and K. June.  They had already taken our plants, and I knew they were going to be better cared for than when they were with us.  We also had some stuff to donate to the Hand to Hand Foundation in Pattaya, a Christian organization that cares for children and the poor in many different ways.

Once all of our things were gone, we did some final cleanup, then K. Mick drove us over to the Holiday Inn, where we would spend our final night in Pattaya.  It was lovely to see some the nice people who took care of us when we first arrived in Pattaya there.  Some even remembered us from three years before!

The next morning we had our final walk-through in our condo - it was quick and painless, and we said goodbye to K. Jek, the condo manager who was always so kind to us.  We said our good-bye to K. Somchai, the ever-present security guard who was stingy his smiles.  It was quite uncharacteristic of Thais not to smile, but it made the few smiles we did get, like the one today, all that more precious.

Mika came by the Holiday Inn to squeeze in one more visit - we had drinks and chatted in the lobby, then had the dreaded last, tearful goodbye.

Late that night, K. Mick and K. June drove us to the airport for the last time.  Instead of dropping us at the door as usual, they parked the car and walked in with us.  It was a lovely gesture.  They stood with us as we waited to check in, then walked us to immigration, where we said a very difficult good-bye to these two dear people who cared for us like we were one of their own.

We passed by the giants standing guard over the airport, and the now familiar sculpture that depicts a great tug-of-war by demons and gods, using the massive, three-headed serpent, to churn "the ocean of milk," and uncover the nectar of immortality.  Vishnu balances atop a lotus at the center.  Such startling beauty in a country of startling beauty, the final taste of Thai culture to end a startlingly-quick three-year adventure.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Return to Paradise - Hok. Sed Laow.

September 5-6, 2017

Nobody gets out of here without playing Chinese checkers
Ted, Hiustyn, Tim and I packed our bags and bid farewell to Pattaya as we headed to Bangkok.  The crew in Chiang Mai would be returning to Bangkok in the evening, and we wanted to spend our last night together.  On the way to Bangkok, we stopped at Suvarnabhumi Airport to see if Ted and Hiustyn could get seat assignments for their flight, as they were unable to do so online.  We hustled in to the customer service counter, but no one was able to help.  We hurried back out to the car, and K. Mick dropped us at the Best Western Premier Amaranth hotel, which would serve as our rendezvous point.  It was fairly close to the airport, and provided free airport shuttle service for our travelers' early morning flights.

Had to leave our durians outside 😜
Our hotel room looked down onto the roofs of an outdoor market
 We took a taxi into the city.  Our destination was Wat Arun, a beautiful temple complex on the west side of the Chaopraya River; it was one of the few attractions in Bangkok we hadn't yet visited.  I'd intended for the taxi driver to take us directly to the temple; but showing off my Thai language "skills" cost us some time and money, as the driver dropped us at a boat dock on the east side of the river.  At first, he dropped us at the wrong pier.  Luckily, it took him some time to turn his taxi  around, so we were able to catch him before he left and get a lift around to the correct pier.  No matter, it was a quick, inexpensive trip across, and we disembarked right at the foot of the temple.

One of the many displays honoring the royal family

With a central spire of nearly 230 feet, Wat Arun is difficult to miss, towering over four corner spires at a bend on the muddy Chaopraya River.  The ornate facade is breathtaking, with delicate patterns of colored glass and Chinese porcelain.  We picked up our fifty-baht tickets (about $1.50 USD), and passed through the small opening leading into the temple grounds.  We made sure we were properly dressed, and that we didn't "dangle any dolls." (?)

Every inch of the magnificent structure was adorned, a true feast for the eyes.  This temple, also known as the Temple of Dawn, or Wat Chaeng, is a remnant of the Chakri dynasty.  It was built before the capital was relocated to the east side of the river, and was added to by Ramas II and III.  The ashes of Rama II are interred here.

Steep steps up the side of the main structure allow visitors to climb onto the upper level for a lovely view of the complex and the river.  We took our time strolling around the spire, then walked through the adjoining garden that was dotted with whimsical stone statues.  In this garden, a second, more traditional temple was flanked by two massive guardian giants, or yags, common characters in Thai mythology. 

The roof of Wat Pho is visible across the river

 These stone statues were originally imported as ballast on ships trading with China.

Where did he come from?
Many people think this is Buddha - it is actually Budai,
(known as Hotei or Pu-Tai in other Asian cultures), a Chinese monk associated with good luck

Afterward, we visited the little outdoor riverside market stalls.  We bought some beautiful colored wall hangings made of water buffalo skin, and some jade-green statues.

Some monks near the market

Tourists can try on the traditional Thai dress - for a fee

The waiting area for the ferry to cross back over was a bit chaotic.  It seemed people had two or three different kinds of tickets, with indeterminately-marked lines for the different ferries.  We were sent to wait in a side courtyard, and were entertained by watching people try to figure out where to go, and by the growing trickle of water at our feet as the river's level slowly rose.

Back on the east side of the river, we looked for a place to get lunch.  Chosen for it's air-conditioning, the Tha Tian store sufficed for a simple meal.  We walked the streets outside the Grand Palace and Wat Pho, then wound back toward the river, passing a colorful row of waiting tuk-tuks.  We took a couple of wrong turns and wound up behind a warehouse - no ferry, but a lovely view of Wat Arun across the water.  We crossed an old wooden walkway to the pier where we boarded a ferry for a leisurely trip down the Chaopraya.


We arrived at the modern entertainment venue, Asiatique, just as the sun was setting and the lights were coming on.  We spent an hour or so visiting the shops, then went in search of the air-conditioned gelato shop we'd visited the last time Ted was here.  Amazingly, he remembered where it was after nearly two years.  We enjoyed some gelato (almost as good as Iorio's,) then walked a bit more before queueing up for a taxi to take us back to the hotel.

The Chiang Mai crew arrived at the hotel on schedule.  Here are a few pictures from their day at the Elephant Nature Center.

They all got caught in a huge downpour

We enjoyed our final evening together in the Red Brown lounge, where Michael hijacked the singer's microphone for some karaoke.  We enjoyed his singing, as did one young lady on staff who decided to try to dance with him as he was singing.  At one point, husband Tim and Mike sang a duet of - what else - Sinatra.

We bade goodbye to Ted and Hiustyn, Mike and Jenna, and Evan and Katie, as they would be leaving for the airport very early the next morning.  It was not so difficult, as we knew we would be seeing them soon on the flip side of the globe.

Our last day in Bangkok was spent with Tim and Chloe, and we all enjoyed a low-key day.  We had a lovely breakfast in the Bua Chompoo restaurant in our hotel, then walked around the surprisingly extensive grounds.  Tim and Chloe wanted to do some last-minute shopping, so we took a taxi into the city to MBK, the multistory indoor discount mall of street vendors.  It took a lot longer than we expected; should have known the traffic would be a big factor.

We were fortunate to choose this day for indoor activities, as a mighty downpour drenched the afternoon.  Chloe found some Thai pants for her sisters, and Tim bought me a wind chime as an early birthday present.  We contemplated seeing a movie, but nothing good was showing.

Another long taxi ride took us back to the hotel, where we ordered pizza from Pizza Company, and watched a movie.  We squeezed in a last game of Chinese checkers, and called it an early night.  Tim and Chloe were catching the same early-morning flight as the others had the day before.

Koon Mick was home in south Thailand, so we had our frequent substitute driver, Koon Tawit, pick us up early the next morning.  We dropped Tim at work, then returned to Pattaya.  Long morning.

Wonderful memories.

Our last night together
PS - Thanks to everyone in the group for sharing their amazing photos for this blog.  Hugs!