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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Longtail Boat Ride

Long-tail Boat
A great way to get around Bangkok is on a taxi or long-tail boat ride.  I had already done short stints on a taxi so this morning a few of us decided to hire a long-tail boat just for the experience and view.  I was surprised at the speed the boat picked up with a breeze keeping us cool in the sweltering heat.  Long-tail boats are long and narrow with a long motor sticking out the back.  Painted in bright colors, the sacred bow is adorned with flowers.

I was constantly started at the contrast in one glimpse.  Poverty, high rises and glided temples.

A woman selling trinkets from her boat approached us.

We stopped at a snake farm which turned out to be the saddest zoo I have ever seen.  Animals were kept in small, cement cages with only a bowl of food and water.  It was hot and humid with no comfort for the animals.  I did hold a python.  Snakes are not my favorite thing so it took a bit of gumption on my part.  I did fine until I suddenly imagined that it was choking me then I had to wrestle myself to safety!  They had a cobra show.  You couldn't pay me enough to take that job.  At the end of the show they milked the venom from the cobras.  I was surprised at how much liquid was in the cup from just one extraction.  

With over 400 temples in Bangkok alone we were continually passing them along the river.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Quiet Morning at the Jim Thompson House

Today I took a little time to wander by myself over to the Jim Thompson house.  I’m enjoying how easy it is to get around this city by the elevated train.  Jim Thompson was an American who served in Asia in WWII.  He fell in love with Thailand and returned there after the war.  He founded a cottage industry silk company.  He mysteriously disappeared in 1967. 
His home is amazing.  He used parts of country homes and assembled them in Bangkok.  He desired to keep an authentic feel to the space, yet mix in surfaces and structures in a western manner.  The moment I stepped foot on the estate a sense of peace surrounded me.  I’m sure when he built his home there was not a high rise building butted up next to it or speed boats flying down the canal in the back, but the gardens and well planned space blocked all that out.
I wandered back to the hotel in time to catch a group of spouses headed out for a massage.  Thai massages can be a bit rough so I stuck with the foot massage.  Very relaxing and at only $10 for an hour!  A man a few chairs over was so relaxed he began snoring.  I got a bit of a giggle out of that!

- Kris

Silk Cocoons

Friday, March 29, 2013

More Temples and Idols

Today I joined a group of spouses to explore the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. Although the king no longer lives here, he does still use the formal throne rooms.  Dripping in gold and hand painted in precise detail, it's amazing.  Wat Phar Kaew is the name for the compound which also holds the temple with the much revered emerald Buddha. The small idol is perched high up on a gold pedestal. It is dressed in royal robes appropriate for the season.  To see people bowing before an idol and laying gifts of flowers in front of it was a new experience for me.  
Room after room contained rows of Buddhas. Kneeling, standing, gold, black, dressed and not dressed.  It was all quiet overwhelming. 
We continued onto Wat Pho, the temple with the reclining Buddha. He is large and he is laying down.  We started at his head and made our way to his toes.  Covered in gold leaf he sparkles and shines.  The constant tinkling of people tossing their money in metal bowls is heard even outside the temple.
What I loved about both these places was the amazing architecture.  Halls painted in ornate designs by hand.  Tall, impressive buildings in primary colors with gold accents. It was a completely new style to me and I saw a beauty in the design that was stunning.

- Kris
Grand Palace

Reclining Buddha

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Biking Bangkok

Alters to Buddha everywhere

Traditional architecture

Flowers for offerings

Another alter in the flower market

What Arun

I love to explore a city seated on a bicycle.  I have found this to be one of the best types of city tours to take when acquainting myself with a new place.  Bikes can go places that  tour busses can't, they are faster than walking so more area can be covered and the guides tend to be laid back people happy to spend a little extra time here or there answering multiple questions.  
I chose the "ancient city tour" and was pleased within the first few minutes to know that we were ridding right through the typical neighborhoods winding through alleys between houses.  Bangkok is a city filled with modern skyscrapers, humble shacks, and bright temples. There is a distinct contrast between each, yet at any one moment you can see all three in one glimpse crowding together, fighting for control.  
China plates make-up the mosaics
Our ride led us over canals, through daily markets, along the river and past brightly gilded temples.  Alters dripping with offerings of flowers stood in the corners of even the poorest homes.  We stopped in the flower market where ropes of marigolds are strung together to be sold at stalls in front of every temple.  
Chad enjoying street squid
I guess Buddha was hot too
We bordered water ferries to get us across the river.  Long-tail boats flew past with ribbons and flowers streaming from their bows.  We stopped and wandered around the What Arun temple (Temple of Dawn). The temple complex is large, a town filled with spires with the main tower, or prang, reaching  82 meters into the sky.  I climbed the steep stairs to enjoy a magnificent view of the palace across the river.  What intregued me most about this temple was the construction in mosaics out of broken, colorful china plates.  Flowers were created from one dinner plate and cemented to the spire in three dimension.  This particular temple did not have an inside.  Rather it was a land of towering spires to wander around.  Several young monks, wrapped in the traditional orange cloth were busy sweeping.  Or guide told us there was a two week school holiday so many families sent their boys to "monk camp". I had to mull over this one a bit, knowing the boys had to go out in the morning and collect their alms of food to live off for the day.  The remainder of the day is spent in study and meditate.  In fact our guide told us that many men in their early twenties do a stint as a monk to help focus them for the remainder of their lives.  He had done six months as a monk not too long ago.
Worship in corners before fight
We dangled our feet in the fish spa after our ride at the bike shop.  Even the men were a bit squeamish at the buzzing nibbles of the fish on our legs and feet.
Pre-fight ritual dance
After Chad finished his lectures we went to the Lumpinee Boxing Stadium to watch the fights.  I didn't know what to expect  I am not into any type of fighting or martial arts, but found the night interesting.  It started with the lowest division, slowly working up to more skilled fighters.  Thai boxing incorporates punches, elbows, knees and feet.  The opponents were bright boxer shorts and come into the ring draped in flowers.  They move around the ring before the fight begins bowing in each corner and doing a ritual dance before the flowers are removed and the boxing begins.  Every fight seemed a bit gentlemanly with the rules being strictly adhered to.  A interesting as the fight was the audience and ringside music.  The band of ancient instruments produced a bit of a snake charm sound.  The crowd was orderly while being enthusiastic.  Small groups came forward to their players corner to watch up close the fight they had bet on.  They moved as one unit, imitating the ounces thrown.  They yelled instructions and popped the air with their fists as if they were the one in the ring.  
Traditional fight

- Kris
Mid evening two men dressed in traditional fight garb came to the ring.  Their hands and arms were rapped decoratively in rope and they wore fabric braided around their heads.  We soon realized this fight was a bit staged to show us the traditional art of Tahi Boxing.  They twirled with a kick and ducked at just the right moment.  A very impressive display of technique was shown.  
Our heads were bobbing and we couldn't keep our eyes open a moment longer. We headed home.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Shopping in Bangkok

Organization!  Nice streets and so colorful too! 

Rather than try to tour the city my first full day in Bangkok, I decided to hit the mall scene.  My first delight was a public transportation system that was efficient, safe, reliable and orderly. Throughout the week I was continually amazed at the ease of getting around and the lack of underlying stress associated with it.  
At the elevated train station I was surprised to find arrows on the ground directing the que.  People actually paid attention to these marks and stood in single file lines waiting for the train to arrive.  As the doors opened they waited politely while people exited then entered the train.  They were very polite giving up their seats for pregnant women and children.  I was shocked that a society could act in such a respectful manner.  I realize how jaded Bogota has made me.
The malls are amazing. There are zillions of them lined up one after another. Crosswalks line the sky making moving between malls a snap.  Signs are in Thai and English.  In fact, another restful element of this trip was that everyone speaks some degree of English.
I had heard that prices were fantastic in Thailand on goods.  I did not find this to be true.  On Western products, clothing and electronics, prices were the same or possibly a bit more than in the US. I started at the Siam Malls.  I have never experienced shopping quiet like this before.  A bit neurotic in order and set up, wide aisles were lined with brand name mini stores.  There were no walls separating stores, rather racks of clothing, creative - high end backdrops and displays created visual boundaries.  Music played softly overhead giving a relaxed feel to the shopping experience.
Ridding in a Tuk-Tuk
Eventually I wandered several malls down to the --------- Mall.  Completely different in feel I felt as though I had stepped into an Asian mall on TV.  Loud, bright, crowded, flashy and cheap.  Here the fake jewelry and boot legged DVDs lined the aisle. Cool cheap clothes and mass produced Thai trinkets filled every stall.  Essentially an indoor market, bargaining was expected.  I left with a bag of clothes, a camera bag, nuts and dried fruit to snack on.
Somehow having a wild frenzy of energy after being awake for a kazillion hours, Chad and I decided to check out the outdoor night markets. The first one was a complete flop so  bargained for a ride in a tuk tuk, the three wheel flashy motorcycles with a seat in the back.  A bit crazy, but not close to the "thrill" of riding in a cab in Bogota.  Again, traffic is orderly and polite with rules that are known and followed.  Also the streets are pothole free. I could have knelt and kissed one of these beautifully paved roads as they brought tears of joy to my eyes.  
Night Market
Success at the next market.  Brimming with people, loads of goods and bartering going on all around.  I found the little finger nail trimmer sets that I had searched for all over Miami and Bogota at Christmas. We quickly found that we needed to stay in the center aisle as the two outer aisles were lined with pole dancing bars.  I really didn't want to know what a "ping pong" show was but sadly heard stories about it throughout the week.  
Another tuk tuk ride back and a few hours of sleep before we were wide-eyed at the wrong time of the day!
Street Food

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Traveling to Thailand

View of the Grand Palace

Chad has his yearly conference in Bangkok and I get to tag along.  It's a hard life!  The kids are suddenly old enough to stay home alone. I swear yesterday I was pushing them in a stroller!  But this separation has caused me some anxiety.  It's not the minor accident because I know they can handle that and I left them with a contact list a mile long.   Call this person if you cut a finger off and this person if you can't figure out how to cook something and this person will help with school problems and if the city blows up call this number. They are covered.
Rather it's the major disaster that has me worried. What if Bogota is flattened by an earthquake or what if Thailand washes away in a tsunami or our plane falls out of the sky?  What would we do without each other in this life?
I was tense the whole way to the airport but as soon as I stepped out of the van my worries vanished. I realized the most dangerous part of the trip - driving through Bogota- was over and we were safe.  Now onto the most grueling part, two night flights.  Ugh. 

We arrived at our hotel and promptly fell asleep. Fortunately we awoke in time for the opening reception. For Chad this is a great reconnect with colleagues previously met, personal meeting with colleagues with whom he has had correspondence with and of course meeting new people scattered across the world.  For both of us this was a great opportunity to begin talking with people who had been posted in Moscow.  It was also a great time for me to begin connecting with spouses. 

- Kris