you are seeing something that many of you have never seen: i'm wearing shoes :-) the reason i came home at this particular time was to be present at Toey's ceremony to receive her nurses cap. a rather formal affair, and my wife suggested i wear shoes instead of my normal sandals. arrgh. i was in walmart talking with her on the phone, i txted her photos of shoes to find some that were acceptable. 9.99$ walmart specials. i'll probably never wear them again.
there was a certain amount of nervous tension in the air. all those years of school, all the quizzes and tests and study. all the mistakes, the waiting to see of you passed- it's not over until this event is over, and everyone wanted to to be done in good form. we were finally ushered into the auditorium and seated with the rest of the proud parents and friends. the nurses-to-be sat in the front. there were lots of speeches and presentations. of course, i understood none of it directly, but i'm sure it was the usual ceremonial wordings. finally, all the students filed out to the back of the auditorium and up the outsides, in carefully choreographed lines, to have their name called out to receive their awards.
look at this photo:
we stayed at teri's room at the "K Mansion" she slept on the floor, tok and i had the bed. the Saturday of the ceremonies, we all dressed up sharp and went over to the nearby university campus. Toey has been in university nursing school program at Rangsit University in Bangkok for the last four years. so all my savings - what would be my travel money - has been going to pay our share of university and living costs for her. that's why i haven't been home in four years. it's been a struggle. most of you know i lead a pretty spartan life, foregoing what most people consider normal living conditions. it was tense at times, but we got there. she's been a solid C+ student, passed all her exams and was ready to officially become a nurse.
there were hundreds of people at the meeting hall. seemed like a couple of hundred graduates and their families. lots of milling around the hallways, taking hundreds of photos, laughing, smiling. all the nurses looking so sharp and pretty in their white uniforms and show make-up. when teri was growing up, my nickname for her was "noo noi" or "little mouse" she's not looking like a little mouse anymore. i've had to change it to "noo Hyi" - "big mouse".
Toey is second from left
it was quite impressive.
the line-file-ordering caused me to remember my high school graduation. i was a bit of a miss-fit my last year of high school. the principal graduated me to get rid of me. since my last name put me at the head of the line, i was leading the order of march out of the chairs to the stage and back. it had to be done exactly, else people would be coming out the same row that the returnees would be entering, where there would be a traffic jam and people would have to step around each other.. very clumsy. so principal pleaded with me to get it right the night of the ceremony. i assured him i had it down. when the time came, i looked the principal directly in his anxious eyes, and went left, instead of right, creating the traffic jam and jostling he was so afraid of. i was just as glad to be rid of him as he was me. there were no such rebels in this procession.
graduating nurses receive a black band of fabric that they pin along the top of their nurses caps. at the end, all the fresh nurses got up on the stages in rows for the adoration of all, and lots and lots of picture taking. they look so smart and orderly, smiling, proud, and humble at the same time. very moving.
all the new nurses picked up small garlands of flowers to bring to their parents and supporters. Toey came back to our row, knelt down in front of me, handed me the flowers. she looked up at me with her beautiful brown eyes and said "Thank you Papa!"
The three of us burst into tears.
we drove east from lomsak, up into the mountains, and down the other side. the country turned flat, dry brown, and bright. our pickup has nice aircon, so it was pleasant in the cabin, but when we stopped at a seven (eleven) and i opened the door... it was like opening the door to the oven. a blast of hot air gobsmacks you. man, it was hot out there. even for me. my weather app said 103 degrees F, and rising! it was hot. so hot, the only way to eat a candy bar would be to tear off the end of the wrapper, and squeeze the contents out like sweet toothpaste*. i like it though. wouldn't want to be digging ditches, but it beats being cold, and you don't have to go through the "jacket on, jacket off, jacket on" ballet. t-shirt 24/7 time.
tok booked us a hotel in Kon Kaen that she found by "asking her friend Google" nice place, 1050 baht (29$) per night for the three of us - they even had three beds in the room. aircon, hot water shower, mini-bar fridge, complementary buffet breakfast in the morning. a bit fancy for my taste, but with songkran holiday in progress, getting a room anywhere is a stroke of fortune.
The 13th is songkran day. we went and visited a beautiful temple in the morning:
went back to hotel for a little nap time, then we walked a number of blocks from our hotel to the entrance of "sticky rice road" as far as you could see down this street, there were people, and water spraying into the air, music blasting, smoke from food vendors.
i was a little daunted, but in we went. you will get wet. very wet. splashed from buckets, assaulted with water guns, sprayed by hoses, plastered with chalky paste. it's great fun. water proof pouches for your mobile phone were pretty popular vendor items this year. stages along the street with dancers or bands, sponsored by mobile and soft drink companies. at the head of the street, there's a kind of town square, where the main stage is, and off to one side, a stage for the "past time" music and dancing.
we don't have anything like Songkran in the states. the weather in most of the US keeps us all indoors. forth of july is pretty big for us, but the celebrations are localized. songkran is national, it's everywhere. many people wear colorful flowered songkran shirts, even the tiniest village will have a bunch of kids beside the road ready to throw water at your car as you pass. every town has a 'water street' the people are all ages, all classes. it's generally a lot of fun, and celebration. yeah, there are a few fights, and they tally the number of road deaths each year - but those are almost all alcohol related. drinking and craziness is fairly isolated, you don't see people walking around with beer, and they don't have those beer zoo's like we do. police are present, but you'd have to really look for them. i just followed tok and teri around, got sprayed a lot and marveled at the spectacle and grandeur of the event. i feel so fortunate to experience something like this. the only thing i can think of that is this energetically charged is when people get all wound up cause their sports team is doing good. people have a common cause, a reason to unite, a purpose for excitement and display. but songkran doesn't have that giant sound of all the air getting let out of the balloon when your team loses the big contest. and i'm not into sports. festivals like songkran (and Holi in india) are all inclusive. they celebrate joy, life and living, for all people. aside from the street water basting, songkran is also a time to honor the old people and do some house cleaning. washing of the Buddha statues is observed as a ritual.
there was even a washing the Buddha setup at the mall we went to the first night.
later in the evening, they did this human wave thing that was a blast. with a lot of instructions (in thai of course) over the LOUDspeakers, everybody along the whole sticky rice road squatted down. then on countdown cue, people quickly stood up, hands in the air and squatted back down, making a wave like they do at sports events. the wave would travel back in the distance, then reflect back towards the stage. took almost 45 seconds for the reflected wave to come back to the front. it was pretty cool. there were drones in the air, following the crest, and projected on the giant LED screens on the back of the stage, i didn't want to get my phone soaked, but here's a video:
we finally walked back to our hotel. what a day. it was teeth! (the thai word for teeth is "fun", so every time i say "That was fun!" they hear: "that was teeth" and smile)
we drove back to our village the next day - with a couple stops along the way, one of them was on my "gotta do this" list for this visit home. woo hoo!
the days just fill up. places to go, stuff to do, chilling in between. every day, i am gifted with another beautiful day in thailand. Tok thinks it's 'normal' of course, and she doesn't like it so hot. but coming from seattle, i am quite pleased.
but it does rain. every day in rainy season (june - sept) and occasionally in the summer season:
the week prior to leaving for home in thailand is always hectic. things to buy, stuff to gather, details to arrange. when you take a two week vacation and forget something, no big deal, it will wait. when you're gone for two months to the other side of the world, it's a bigger deal. but i always forget things, or run out of time. oh well. i usually don't sleep at all the whole night before i leave, pack my bags and organize stuff. so when i get in my seat, i'm asleep well before cruising altitude and sleep my way across the pacific, mostly. waking to eat, and walk the stagnate blood out of my legs - 12 hour flight over.
i fly exclusively Korean Air. tried all the other guys, some are okay, some suck, i like korean air the best. especially because if i choose the right flights, i get a 23 hour layover in Seoul on the way over, and a 12 hour layover on the way back. a free day in korea! go through immigration, get on the airport bus or subway and i'm in the city in two hours.
for the overnights, i've stayed at jimjillbangs - korean bath houses++ there's not a lot of willing english speakers in Seoul, and my iPhone won't work unless i find free wifi, so i pre-search as much as i can. i read about a place called "Riverside SPAland that sounded good. i screensnapped maps, subway stop and satellite pix of the neighborhood. 2 hours out of the airport via the subway trains i arrive in the vicinity, and tried to match the aerials with the buildings i could see. after a few turn-arounds a saw a signboard:
Right at the top "Riverside SPAland" okay. but where now. i thought the arrow at the bottom was pointing to the golf thing, maybe? maybe not? but to the left i noticed a sign over a doorway that had the same logo - steam coming off a circle.
so i figured, that must be it
there are men laying around on the floor on on platforms wearing the little t-shirt/shorts they give you. put my shoes in the shoe locker, give that key to the desk guy, who gives you a locker key and a clean blue t-shirt/shorts. tried to stuff my bag in the little locker and a guy comes over and waves "no no" and points to a gang of luggage. oh, big bags go over there. take off all my cloths and put in locker and head over to the spa. it's small, has only three hot tubs, a cold tub and maybe 20 sit-down showers and a few standing showers. i sat down, showered and scrubbed with the scrubber the man gave me, rinsed off. sat in the tub for a while. none of the three or four guys in the spa room even looked at me. i did go in the steam room for a while, but there was a man laying in there, sound asleep and snoring loudly. when i came out, a non-korean man saw me from over the wall and said "hello!" after i'd dried off and put on my shorts and t-shirt i was sitting on the platform wondering where the hell i was. where was the jimjillbang part? the floors and floors of special rooms, juice bars, computer room, sleeping rooms, mats everywhere, tv room? i couldn't see a door that seemed to go up. nobody understood my questions. i was beginning to think i was in the wrong place. started to have that little anxiety you get when traveling that maybe you've blundered in the a less-than-desirable spot, you don't know where you are, don't know what to do, and you don't understand what's going on here. why did i get mis-directed to this little place?
the answer emerged from the spa, put on his outfit and came to talk with me. meet my new friend, Prince William:
(photo take the next morning)
he's from Pakistan, lives in Seoul now. gets odd jobs in restaurant kitchens and the like. with very fractured accented english, we exchanged who we are, where we are from's. and he told me that "this is it. this is all there is here." the fancy place is down the street, but "very expensive" (yeah, like 15$ USD) he showed me the 'sleeping room' a room maybe 5 meters square, with mats on the floor, and ladders to upper bunks. each had a thin pad, a blanket and "pillow" filled with gravel. (actually beans or something organic) i was tired, i was were i was, i paid already, had a shower and a hot soak. so i climbed into an empty bunk, got arranged and tried to just relax. the rock pillow wasn't doing it for me, so i got my air pillow from my bag and got back in. sleeping on hard surfaces i can do. it's painful, but i'm used to it. sorta. what i'm not used to is 10 snoring men in the room. okay, this is the adventure, calm down, relax, get into the daime space. aaaaahhhhh.
in the morning, shower, soak, dry and dress. Prince William wanted to take me for breakfast. when we got outside, in the daylight, i could see the signs better. the jimjillbang Riverside SPAland was where the arrow was pointing:
(another icon, and arrow pointing to the doorway behind the person in read coat)
next time... we went for coffee at appropriately named "Coffee Land". Prince William then took me to a breakfast shop, for a egg sandwich - egg, ham and cheese between grilled bread. nice. about 2$. he insisted on paying. he got a call about a job for the day, so we parted. here i thought i was in the wrong place, but then i met Prince William, i know where a very cheap overnight place is, i had showers and sauna, and have visited one more tiny area in Seoul. you are where you need to be it seems. i took the subway to a stop where he told me there was some interesting shops. i had just time enough to walk a few streets, had another egg sandwich and went back down the tubes.
Koreans favor black cloths i noticed, and 9 out of 10 people are on their phones. all the time.
not just the young people either.
2 hours on the trains, back at the airport. FaceTimed with my sister in shoreline. (free wifi in the airport, everywhere) she was amazed that we were video calling across the ocean. then on to another flight, 6 hours to Bangkok.
and the next phase of the adventure begins. the one i have been waiting for for years now. getting to see my lovely wife and daughter, and basking in the warm glow that is Thailand!
i've been home in thailand for a few weeks now. unless you're on the FaceBook, twitter, instagram, tumblr, you havn't heard much of a peep from me. I have two iPads, and an iPhone. so much easier to post from there. except for typing, which is a pain on a touch-pad. as you might imagine, i've not been slacking, i've had some wonderful events and adventures in even this short time. but it wasn't until today that i decided to fire up the computer at our house... and it crashed, and crashed, and crashed, and blue-screen-of-death. finally got it working long enough to make an email ( i hope) we're going to go to the computer shop tomorrow and see about a new motherboard and OS install for the thing. it's like 5 years old already. ancient machine.
being home again, after pretty much a four year absence is nearly overwhelming. i've been away sooooo long. but it didn't take much time at all to remember why this is my home. seeing my wife and daughter, the heat, the food, the people, the craziness, the haphazard way things are sometimes put together, the incomprehensible language, un-readable signs... love it. i was in the taxi to the bus station the second day home, and i thought "if somebody walked up to me and said 'hey man, we got this gig for you, starting tomorrow, we'll pay you enough so you can live here full-time, take care of your family and have an adequate future, but you gotta start tomorrow' - i'd take it. there was nothing in the states that i would HAVE to go back and take care of. somebody could have all my stuff - i can get more stuff. the only thing i would miss would be my dear friends, especially my friends in SD. but nobody has made such an offer, so i'll be back.
meanwhile, my dear wife has me busy on the honey-doo list. relentless. we did witness and share in Teri's (my wife's daughter/my daughter) graduation from nursing school, spent time at our "White House" down in Ban Chang (south east Thailand) and had a little holiday to Ko Chang (an island off the coast towards Cambodia) - but i'll fill in those stories in later posts as soon as i get this computer up-dated.
since every bodies gone mobile, there aren't really any internet shops anymore. we couldn't find one in Ban Chang, but there are a lot more espresso coffee shops- a lot more. many of the PTT gas stations have "Amazon Coffee Experience" shops. there's a new station half a kilometer from our house now, with a 7-11! we haven't been in to the town even yet, and we've been in the village a week. i have repaired the termite damage to the ladder that goes to our bedroom house, and hung some tarps, and cut some wood, and fixed the gate lites, and primered the pots my wife wants to paint and...
more will be revealed. Onward!
Getting to Thailand is always an adventure in itself. Being here is sublime. I won't have access to a keyboard where I can type proper, and there's been too much to finger type. Please stand by.
Meanwhile, I've been posting to the FACEBook (search Karl Christopher ) and been using messaging apps: LINE and TELEGRAM AND VIBER ( all under ' Thaikarl '). I have a Thai SIM card, but I can't send SMS to android phones, only iMessage to iPhones works - a mystery to solve. Also posting photos to Instagram and Twitter again, all as Thaikarl
We're in bangkok for two days, and i have short access to daughters computer. try to get some posts out. we go back to Rayong day after tommorow, then drive to home in Lomsak, where i'll have computer and internet at home.