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  • Thai Blessings and a New Year

    I don’t know what day of the week it is. And I don’t really care. I have to think real hard just to count how many days I’ve been here. Somehow it’s all a blur of smells, colors, laughter, awe, exhaustion, and even a bit of soul searching. That last bit is likely encouraged by that illusory line of the new year, crossed with a handful of young, ambitious people in a stimulatingly bizarre locale.

    It began with dinner. Lada and I joined the group after a relaxed day of mall strolling and people watching. Then sitting in the hotel bar waiting for everyone to meet up and out walked Mark Zuckerberg from the hotel elevator. He and his girlfriend strolled up to us and introduced themselves. I’d just finished reading the article in Time about this “man of the year” so shaking his hand was surreal to say the least. He’s like what they say, smart, friendly enough, but easily bored with others, or distracted by his own thoughts. He seems to listen to all the conversations around him, and joins the ones that peak his interest. Days later we would have fun trying to dunk our ball sacs, and only our ball sacs, in the hotel pool.

    At dinner I met Mary Beth and Dan, caught up. Mary Beth does remind me of mom in some subtle ways, like her keen interest in me, which makes me smile and miss home. After packing our bellies with about a dozen different varieties of thai food, we headed to a bar for drinks. Most everyone was whooped from the trip to Bangkok, so it was an early night.

    The next day was the engagement ceremony. Chris’s best buddy, Drew, and I were asked to carry baby banana and sugar cane trees in the procession behind Daniel, Chris, Mary Beth, and Dan. They told us to dance, so we got our goof on as Daniel helped Chris negotiate the numerous gates, where family ask questions and demanded dowries to ensure Chris was worthy. He succeeded… barely.

    The rest of the engagement ceremony was interesting. Representatives from both sides talked about why Chris was a worthy mate, as he sat on the floor at their feet. After the matriarch pronounced him acceptable, beautiful Visra strolled out and sat with him. Chris pulled out the ring and made it official. This all took place in Visra’s family home, which is now a museum to her grandfather who was a famous cultural icon of Thailand. He wrote numerous books, and was something like Thailand’s first foreign minister. Pretty cool.

    Sushi dinner and bowling followed. The beer was flowing, and the music was bumping. We had a great time getting to know Chris’s friends as Daniel threw strikes under his legs.

    The next day was the blessings ceremony which Lada had to miss because of some major award she won, called, according to her, “good dissertation,” or the third best in all of Thailand. She spent the morning standing by her poster answering questions as the rest of us watched a beautiful couple get blessings poured on them in the form of water and words. Visra’s dedicated makeup person was busy wiping the tears off her face throughout the ceremony. I, representing the Bralley family, did the best blessing I could think of which was just to say that we love them and that they’re beautiful.

    After all the blessings were bestowed, and the couple’s hands were thoroughly soaked, we ate like kings, watched traditional Thai dancing, and took photos. The paparazzi were waiting out front, hoping to grab a photo of the Zuckerberg. He snuck out the back, and the rest of us experienced a moment of fame as they thought for an instant that one of us other farangs might be him. Fame would get old really fast.

    That night was the big party. We drank lots of Johnny Walker and danced like maniacs. Chris had a dance-off with some random Thai to Billy Jean. Mary Beth and Dan even dropped in for a few, but I couldn’t get either on the dance floor. Hopefully in July!

    Erawan falls awaited us the next day. A few hour drive outside the city took us to a resort where we crashed and recharged. The entire next day starting at 6am we hiked up gorgeous limestone waterfalls, cruised up the river Kwai, rode elephants, checked out caves, and slap wore ourselves out. It was awesome!

    I managed to get a 30 minute nap in before the ride to the disco raft, and the all-out danceathon. Others weren’t so lucky. But good-ole Johnny came to the rescue of all.

    Hard to describe the disco raft. It was really two massive house-like boats attached and pulled by a small long-tail boat. We had fireworks. One of which blew out the wrong end and exploded all over us. In a bit of a shock, I blasted my roman candle straight into someone’s dock. Thank god nobody was over there.

    Then Mark Slee, Chris’s friend, coworker, and our DJ thoroughly rocked our faces off. Lada can hardly walk now because she danced so hard. The new year began with Lada and me letting go a floating lantern, wishing, and kissing on the river Kwai. It was special.

    Sometime in the early morning, the music stopped and we crawled into our mosquito nets on the other boat, covered ourselves as best we could and passed out. It’s amazing how soundly one can sleep on a hard surface if exhausted enough. At least until the morning when neighboring party boats blast terrible thai pop music and miniature barges rev their engines to the max in an effort to move things around. Fitting counter to our night of wonder and joy… God reminding us of the balance of things.

    With some goodbyes and well wishes, and lots of riding in vans and cars, that about brings us to now. Lada and I are having dinner with her parents tonight, then heading south at the butt-crack tomorrow morning. We’ll be sleeping on a lake, then on the ocean for three days. Scuba diving!

    I love this country.

    Swadi Krap for now!!

    Road tripping and monkeys

    Augie feels right at home.

    Augie feels right at home.

    Northern Thailand is lush, verdant, and completely ours. We took Lada’s car, equipped with a brand new overpriced gps, and made our way north to Lopburi where the monkeys are sacred. An ancient temple encircled by traffic, dingy buildings, and street vendors is home to hundreds of red-assed monkeys. The people here take good care of the little buggers, which is evident in their mostly relaxed behavior when presented with a peanut-toting farang.

    It’s easy to get nervous around monkeys. They walk towards you at unpredictable speeds: sometimes slowly, then a few quick hops and their right under you. And they stare… they stare you down. Looking back you wonder if the same thoughts are going through their head: “are you gonna be nice?”

    Turns out they were. They had gotten used to humans. Unlike the monkeys around Angkor Wat, these monkeys had survived because, not in spite, of humans. Lada tells me that every so often the townspeople get together and set up a huge buffet… just for the monkeys. Not a bad life, probably. But then again, the transition from a wooded to a concrete forest must have been a tough one.

    I snapped plenty of pics and vids. Lada scrunching her face in fear while the monkeys snatch the food out of her hand is a priceless moment. And there’s the video of a baby monkey climbing my shorts to get at, and steal, the bag of peanuts in my hand, just before another steals the very stick I was supposed to use to keep them at a distance. Sneaky little turds. I’d want one if they weren’t so damn… human-like.

    An hour later we had our fill of monkeys, and they our food, so we got in the car and headed on to the next town. After a pretty uneventful night in what must have been a ghost-hotel, we drove to Lampang to check out the elephant conservatory.

    Sawadi Krap

    Pootie on a boat tour around Bangkok

    Pootie on a boat tour around Bangkok

    This entire country smells of sticky rice. There’s a sweetness to it, mixed with the dense warmth of the tropics, that enveloped me as I walked off the plane. Ah… Thailand. Familiar thoughts and feelings swept through me. Some spectacular, some awful. All unique.

    We drove directly to Lada’s apartment last night from the airport. They drive on the wrong side of the road around here, which, mixed with the inherent discomfort I associate with being Lada’s passenger, made for an alert and memorable ride. 25 hours of mostly sleepless traveling won’t take from you a healthy fear for your life.

    Through 40 minutes of highway cruising, 4 toll stops, and a number of last second lane changes we made it to the research/industrial/educational complex that houses Lada’s apartment and work. This is a rather exceptional facility, rivaling those of any other developed nation. Tall, white buildings crowned in marble and stainless steel line well-manicured streets. And cafes, barbers, and grocery stores provide the essentials of a complete living package.

    Strange though, that just across the main road from here are shanty-town-like clusters of shops and shelter of the less fortunate. Perhaps nowhere in Bangkok is there such an obvious and wide disparity between the haves and the have-nots, the developed and the under-developed. It’s an odd little borderland town between the opulence of the city, and the poor ruggedness of the country.

    I met Lada’s friends today. I saw where she eats, works, relaxes, and eats. I’m the only farang (gringo) around. Keep getting those sheltered glances, and giggles when I say ‘sawadi krap’ in my farang accent with a hands together bow. I think they’re generally amused. Laughter makes things easier, even if they’re laughing at you.

    Lada’s off to work. She has a meeting at 11:00. I’m in the coffee shop with an expresso and internet… so I’m happy. Her friends are going to take me to lunch today. Everyone here speaks English, but most are a bit too shy to give it a concerted effort. They’ll loosen up when they get used to me, and I to them. I’ve been studying Thai a little, so I can ask for some things and make a number of other basic comments. But mostly people around here pick up pretty quickly that I’m a clueless farang, and say things in English.

    Tonight we’re going downtown to party. That is, if I’m not stupid tired. I slept reasonably well last night, which was kind of a shock. I half expected the jet lag to mess with me good. But so far I feel pretty normal. Fingers crossed.

    This time around I brought with me an arsenal of anti-parasitic/bacterial supplements. Maybe I can stave-off a gut-busting vomiting spree. Again, fingers crossed.

    Dave kills NovelJourney; I get ready for Thailand

    My heart was throbbing intensely, standing over Dave at his terminal, as error message after error message flashed across the screen…

    Dave had deleted the entire NovelJourney database, in an attempt to move it to another, but certainly not the last, new server. He does this server-swap thing every so often, for often mysterious reasons… Boredom? Job security?

    I suspect it has something to do with reliability, redundancy, security, network segregation, capacity, performance, or any of the other IT blanket words used to confuse and distract the unwary few who venture a question or two about it.

    After all, the IT blackhole must be preserved, and at the same time, fed more and more money…

    Oh, I kid. ;) Dave did manage to recover the erased DB. So he still holds the high distinction of not having permanently deleted anything of value. Good job, Dave. I’ll dust off my IT chalice, and raise it in toast to you.

    On another note, I just purchased a ticket to Thailand. I’ll be there for three weeks, galavanting around with the pootie. Ahh… it’ll be spectacular.

    I might even blog a bit about it. We’ll see.

    Theme: Esquire by Matthew Buchanan.