It’s hard to believe that last Monday, Bill and I woke up at 4:00 am in Bangkok, Thailand, arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport at 6:30, checked our SIX bags of luggage at 7:30, departed at 10:00, and a mere 25 hours later arrived at midnight (also on Monday) at Raleigh-Durham Airport in the USA. A full week later, we are still acclimating to this side of the world while missing that part of the world. Don’t misunderstand, we are happy to be home and are eager to see all of our friends. It’s just that we became accustomed to certain aspects of our daily life in Bangkok over the past six months and need a little time to adjust…
Our last week there was a whirlwind of personal good-byes and farewell dinners. It’s amazing how many relationships can be formed over such a relatively short period of time. So many people reached out to ensure we were comfortable in our home away from home. I will not attempt to list each and every person that enriched our lives during our stay, for the list is way too long, but here is a collage of some of those special folks.
Speaking of home away from home, we could not have had this experience if it weren’t for our wonderful friends and neighbors who kept a watchful eye on our house, even during the wicked wet winter, with weekly walk throughs and monthly mail ministrations. Bill and I had peace of mind knowing that our house was in better hands than our own. We are truly lucky to have such amazing friends.
Thanks also to the blog readers and followers for their encouraging words. It has been quite some time since I have written anything at all, other than an occasional Christmas poem, so blogging was quite the new venture for me. I ran into some technical (or possibly operator) issues along the way, as I was writing on and gathering photos from an iPad, two iPhones, and an OPPO phone! I apologize for misplaced captions and photos gone wild! All in all, I enjoyed sharing the ride with you and hope that it wasn’t too bumpy.
Some of the things that didn’t make it into my blogs were the daily happenings and observances made throughout our six-month Thai time. I would actually jot down fun facts on occasion; unfortunately, the jots were in my Notes App on my unrecovered phone. To the best of my memory, here are my top ten (I’m afraid I don’t have pics that go along with facts, but I have sprinkled in some miscellaneous ones):
1. When Thais park their cars, they leave them in neutral. Then, if someone parks behind them, they can just push the vehicle out of the way! Genius! From my balcony, I enjoyed watching two garage attendants in an apartment building move cars around (without ever getting in them) so that residents could drive easily out of the lot.
2. Our apartment had no hot water in the kitchen; only in the bathroom.
3. After making a selection, street food is placed or poured into plastic bags and then a rubber band is wrapped around and around it, filling the bag with air so that it can stand upright while I hunted for Baht in my wallet. I am determined to learn this method of rubber banding, but if I haven’t succeeded after 6 months…
4. Restaurants rarely provide diners with knives, which are not really necessary when eating Thai food. Actually, I may eliminate knives as well and opt for the Korean style of using scissors at the table instead. Napkins are also hard to find, making me realize just how sloppy Bill and I are at the table.
5. At our complex, a Juristic Office was responsible for fixing everything from electricity to plumbing, pretty much 24/7. Although we only had to call on them a few times, communication of the problem was made via photos and pantomimes. I’m pretty sure the friendly staff had a chuckle or two when they left our apartment.
6. It is common for homes, businesses, and restaurants to ask for a monk’s blessing on special days of the year. We returned from a weekend trip to find a white string of yarn encircling our entire apartment complex, including the parking lot, about 15 feet above the ground. Similar to the white string that a monk blesses and ties around a temple visitor’s wrist, the white yarn (also blessed) provides good health and protection to those within the building. Our 4-month-old yarn was still there when we left Bangkok, and Bill and I feel great! We are believers!
7. Umbrellas are more prevalent than dark glasses on sunny days, and most were right at my eye level!
8. Instead of asking “How are you today?,” the question is “Where are you going today?,” which is really a much better start to a conversation, in my opinion. At first, I thought it sounded kind of nosy but then I realized that a person was really interested in my destination and often offered helpful information as to the best way to get there or additional places to see in the same area.
9. Mobile phones are more likely to be used for preening and taking selfies than for making calls. (And I never think to use my phone as a mirror, even though it’s almost always within reach.) The favored communication app is LINE (I have 20 or so LINE friends!), which has adorable stickers/emojis!
10. My favorite observation is that it is very common to see two or three Thais, regardless of age or gender, holding hands, leaning on each other, or comfortably invading each other’s space. In most cases, it carries no meaning other than an honest display of friendly affection. When our guide in Myanmar linked arms with me as we walked around some temples, I was delighted. Of course, she may have been making sure I wasn’t going to fall down or something, but I believed it was just a natural reaction to walking with a friend. And Annie and her friends would often place a hand on my shoulder or just stand close to me while chatting. It is a nice feeling that warms the heart, that’s all I can say. So, be aware, my good friends, I may try to start something on this side of the world!
And a tidbit from Vietnam: On a rainy morning in Hanoi, we watched poncho-clad motorcyclists park, take off their brightly colored ponchos to cover their bikes, and then run in the rain to their destination!
I’m sure I’ll think of some more as time goes by…
After just one week and a bit of jet lag, there are a few things (other than friends and acquaintances) that I’m already missing, primarily (and I say this without hesitation) the food! Duh! Fortunately, there are some wonderful restaurants here (I mean, the winner of the James Beard Award for outstanding chef in the U.S. lives in Raleigh, for Pete’s sake), but I yearn for some papaya salad from Shambala’s, morning glory from Baan Pueng Chom, lemongrass-stuffed salted fish from Lao Lao, Isan sausage from Lay Lao, and spicy deep-fried catfish from the lady on the corner. I’m sure there will be some experimenting in our kitchen real soon, but I doubt it will compare to our daily fare there (no offense, Bill).
The Skytrain was such a great way to travel from one end of Bangkok to the other in lickety-split time. I never understood why some people would actually choose to drive in the crazy traffic rather than hop on the Skytrain or Metro. I miss having a Skytrain that can take me to downtown Raleigh!
The Skytrain would also take me to The Loom, my happy place where I learned to weave surrounded by colorful skeins of silk yarns. Right outside the shop, the cutest kids ran around sock footed in a play area. Their occasional high-pitched squeals and constant giggles were a pleasant distraction to my attempts at intense concentration. I miss my kind instructors, but hope to continue my lessons locally.
I love returning to our house surrounded by lots of beautiful green trees and visiting hummingbirds, but I do miss having scones, dinner, ice cream, craft beers, and of course bananas, all within 100 yards of our apartment in Ari, not to mention being saluted by the friendly guards each and every morning!
Finally, I miss the ease of traveling from Bangkok to so many other countries. Two hours to Myanmar and Vietnam, six hours to South Korea and Japan, or even 12 hours to Paris! The United States seems so far away from everywhere else! (Yes, I realize it’s only 8 hours to Paris from North Carolina, but you get my point, I hope). I can join Bill in crossing South Korea and Vietnam off my to-go list and we both can add Myanmar to places we’ve been. Japan was, and still is, on my bucket list, because flying in and out of the Narita Airport doesn’t count.
On the other hand, I am thrilled to be driving, I look forward to playing tennis, and I get tickled every time I see a friend that I haven’t seen since 2018! I should also mention how excited we were to have dinner with our son on our very first night back. He moved to Washington, DC, while we were away, but was attending a meeting near Raleigh last week. We were able to grab a hug from him for the first time since he turned 26!
Bill is having a harder time adjusting than me, most likely because he has to return to work this week. It’s hard enough to go back to a desk after a one- or two-week vacation, but six months??!! He enjoyed interacting with his Thai colleagues, just as he does with his colleagues at NIEHS. What he will really miss is engaging with the Thai students; he fulfilled the Fulbright mission by mentoring, providing guidance, and connecting them with potential resources and experienced researchers. I must say that he is in his element when surrounded by a group of students. He gets so excited while encouraging young scientists to pursue their interests. If he could do that once a week back here in the States, it would be a win-win. I hope he can maintain his current level of enthusiasm as he transitions back to work.
And of course he misses the relaxing massages, but here’s a funny little secret – Bill is also missing the crispy pork skins that he gorged on in Bangkok, believe it or not. We’re talking about the man who will not eat them in the pork-inundated state of North Carolina! Go ‘pigure’! (Now that’s a sign that I should probably stop blogging!)
Anyway, thanks for your interest in my blog. It has been fun documenting some of the highlights of our extraordinary and unexpected opportunity at this stage in our lives. Happily, I can report that Bill and I survived the six months in two rooms! Woohoo!
Sawasdee-Ka, a formal Thai good-bye!