Friday, November 30, 2007

Thailand travel notes part 1

Random, discombobulated travel notes

Early morning flight from Pittsburgh to LaGuardia Airport. First major task, getting from LaGuardia to JFK (where internationa flights originate). This was actually real easy, because I was pointed to a door, outside of which was a dispatch agent for the buses, who sold me a ticket for the bus that just pulled up. The bus driver was pretty new (I think). But the real highlight, I had a whole coach bus drive me to JFK all to myself. Personnal door-to-door service.

At JFK, while waiting for check-in, there was a guy with two women in front of me. The guy had run past me on the way in the terminal. It turned out that he was a pastor who was helping a member of his congregation and her mother. Her mother was heading back home to Thailand. But she does not speak english. So he asked "she can ask you if she needs help, right." At this point people who are aware of my command of Thai are laughing. Let's see, getting through security was fun. But the real fun thing was the survey that the New York Airport Authority was conducting. So here I am, trying to walk her through an 8-page survey. Which goes well beyond my Thai vocabulary. We actually got through 2/3 of the survey. At this point, we get the attention of a student from Mahidol university who was visiting the states. Between the three of us, we got it.

It was a very long flight, direct from New York to Bangkok. Something that probably was not even possible not all that many years ago (prior to the Boeing 777 and Airbus 340). The flight was to Suvarnabhumi, the new airport. The place is huge. The basic form is like an open tent over hallways and rooms. Think the new Denver airport, but about four of them put together. High ceilings (which probably helps a lot with the temperature control.) with lots of soft light (from the white, slightly translucent ceilings.

I saw my new friends while getting our luggage.

"Who is waiting for you?"
"My mom"
"How long are you going to be here?"
"I hope you meet a nice Thai girl."
"Thank you, but I already have a girlfriend."

Birds so far:

Barn Swallow
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Common Myna
Rock Pidgeon
White Stork
Little Egret
Oriental Magpie Robin
Coppersmith Barbet

One of the pleasures of the trip was visiting college friends. I met with N and her son S at Emporium Mall by Phrom Phong station. And we used the easiest of landmarks, Starbucks. We went to a children's play area while N and I talked about all sorts of things of life. And we shared pictures. We met with her sister for lunch at the mall food court. At the time N and S went to the bathroom. So eventually this lady coming through just stops near the entrance (where I was) and starts looking around. After staring at each other for a few minutes we introduced ourselves. N was impressed that we figured out who each other was by ourselves. We had lunch (ba mii moo daeng). Afterwards I went to Siam Discovery/Center/Paragon/MBK to do some shopping and went home.

I met with my grad school classmate J Thursday lunch at Siam Paragon. We had dim sum at a plce that was to nice for dim sum. But it was good. In addition to the normal things, and some things that you hope for but are not always on the menu, there a durian pastry, that I had to get once I saw it. Very enjoyable catching up, talking about our socioligical observations of how Thailand has changed in the past six years, various aspects of marriage/divorce/relationships, lots of talking about advice we've gotten. And lists of things to do here. All the things that make us act as if we are human beings :-)

My sister and her fiancee + family came in that day. Today, while my sister went for photo studio pictures (it would take someone from Taiwan or Korea to properly appreciate what this means) I took J (his brother) and his parents to Lumpini Park. Bangkok in general is a loud and dirty place, but Lumpini Park is the city park, occupying the same relationship to the city as Central Park. So, in the middle of Bangkok, we went via BTS to a nice stroll in the park around a nice little lake. We also got lunch. So, not knowing where to get food we asked. In Thai. And the first person we asked was a foreigner who did not speak thai, and did not know anything about the area. At the same time, J struck a conversation with another expat couple out for a walk, and they also did not know anything about the area. Third time the charm, I spoke with a guy who ended up pointing us to a gate were there were hawkers (I think his daughter really wanted to jump into the conversation to practice her english) and so we went. There were a number of food stands. We used two of them. One was pretty easy, one of the people working the stand spoke english. The other was a little harder, especially since the one cook was busy. With two people working and a couple of young office ladies who were there helping us we figured out how to make an order. We brought the food to the park to have a nice lunch. Some of the people who we had asked for help walked by and we rejoiced in our success.
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