The first thing I noticed when I got off the airplane from Tokyo to Bangkok besides how different I looked to everyone, was the flowers. Flowers everywhere. Some real and some fake but ubiquitous. On each side of the gate kiosks in the airport, high above your head, towers of colorful pink and purple hydrangeas loomed. Large multiple miniature petaled flowers listing away from their urns, welcoming you to Thailand. In the walkways of the airport, shrines of living plants grouped by the hundreds were found in 6-8” pots. Bunched together so that instead of appearing insignificant and small, they yielded something large, almost filling the circumference of your dining room or a baby pool. That’s just how it felt too, looking at those amazing clumps of green after flying for 11 hours from San Francisco to Tokyo and another 7.5 hours from there to Bangkok. Ha! Certainly, I needed refreshing in a baby pool. It was hot and humid in Bangkok. Mid-winter and 85-90 degrees every day. It’s not like I really wanted to jump into those pots of flowers. I really didn’t even think of that until later. All I was thinking about of course was finding her. It was quiet in that airport too. Really quiet. Even by the luggage carousel, immigration and customs, a hush surrounded us all. I thought about just calling out her name really loud and looking to see who answered but the silence encompassing us forbade it.
So the first thing I noticed before I found her, just where she texted she’d be, 3rd exit, 2nd floor, and yes she was right, that airport was HUGE, was the flowers. The second was the calm, the courtesy, the lack of frenetic bustling. The third thing was her. “Mooooooommmmmm!” And our Thailand adventure started.
January 13, 2013 10:49am
I broke the traveling writer’s primary promise. I didn’t keep a journal. Each night before crashing into the bed, I would quickly jot down the list of the day’s activities. And each night the list was probably longer than my typical journal entry. Wow! Ten days chasing three 20 year olds around Thailand wore out my middle age body and soul. Both. Both together. I was tired but very happy. More than once I thought, “This must be how my husband felt when I dragged him around the rain forest of Costa Rica.” Ha again.
We did everything. We saw all. December fifth was the King’s Birthday and we were invited guests along with two or three hundred thousand others to sing to him and light a lantern in his honor, or ours. Truly I don’t think it mattered. He has been living in the hospital, he and his wife have a couple of floors there. It was his first public appearance in several years. Imagine the frenzy. Music and street vendors with toys and food and tuk-tuks and and and.
The first day we toured the Grand Palace with a guide. “Rumor has it that Miss Anna is buried here in a crypt in the King’s chapel,” he murmured quietly. “Ah, yes, The King and I, weren’t Anna and the King lovers?” of course I’m the one who breaks into the taboo topics. And down went our guide’s head, not at all lifted proudly as when telling of his King’s intelligence, bravery and the modernization brought to SIam. “Oh, we do not speak of such things. That movie is banned in Thailand (Siam). I have not seen it.” And all throughout our travels, we never met a soul who had seen that movie, The King and I. Never mind if they had lived in America for years or graduated from Harvard or Carolina. No one had seen that movie because it was banned. Allegiance to the King and his dictates are strong.
After the Grand Palace we toured Wat Pho. Lots of tourists from many countries mingling in these famous temples, therefore multiple languages filled the air like perfume. “Lady, lady, pull pant down,” I was instructed by the ticket taker of foreign visitor. After viewing the sleeping Buddha, Thai massage at Wat Pho was an excellent way to ease the kinks left from the flight. The King had decreed that the temple train students in Thai massage because there was the threat of extinction of this art. Trust me it is an art not to extinguish! Lovely. That night we went to what Lonely Planet described as the best restaurant in Bangkok, called Eat Me. Now I ask you, what am I doing in a restaurant called Eat Me in a city called Bangkok? There are no mistakes in this lovely country which unfortunately is number one in the world for sex trafficking and lady boys. My years of work with traumatized children made me curious to see the red light district. However, our schedule did not allow. Truthfully, I was glad because as you know, I have seen and heard enough of child sexual molestation to last many lifetimes. We did see lots of lady boys. “There’s one Mom. Look. There’s one.” “Are you sure?” was my constant refrain. “My goodness, she’s gorgeous.” And stunningly beautiful “she” was too. Far more beautiful than I ever saw myself on the streets of Thailand, I can assure you. Far more ladylike if you will. “Yes, I’m the champ of spotting the lady boys,” she exclaimed proudly. “No one can pick them out faster than me.” Now that’s something to be proud of I think? Wondering not for the first time what my immersion into the world of child sexual abuse has done to my children. Oh well. The lady boys are ubiquitous also, and very proud. And we were watching.
I think it would be boring for me to give you a blow by blow of our days. Suffice to say if it was offered, we did it. We toured her school, apartment and the street vendors market where she ate every day. We zip lined in the rain forest of Chang Mei after chanting with the monks at Wat Passing. We went to cooking school and ate and ate and then ate some more-spicy food too! Did you know that big peppers are flavorful but little peppers can make your nose run and your eyes water they are so hot? We spent a day in the park feeding, riding and bathing elephants. That was a treat for sure. We stayed in hostels for $10/night and in resorts on the Southern beaches for quite a bit more. We watched Oh Brother Where Art Thou? and sang all the words to each song in a bar in Railay that served Indian food. We talked about the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre with three good looking men from Ireland, Scotland and England who were traveling together. They couldn’t get their jet lag straight because they were sleeping during the day, awakening at 6 pm and partying all night. I thought that was hilarious. But anyway our schedules overlapped by the pool between 6pm and 8pm and we talked. They were far more interested in my reaction to the massacre than I was. But let me tell you, they think we are ridiculous. “The world is laughing at you,” they suggested, after of course they were properly grief stricken. “Have you heard of the latest American tragedy?” they asked. “Do you have the same violent movies and video games we have in America?” I wanted to know. “Of course,” they assured me. “But we have gun control. We don’t have semi-automatic weapons manufactured to kill children and other humans.” “Interesting,” I countered. They were sure they were right and that this problem is primarily ours. I was sure that they were amazed at our brutality so I mumbled something about being a country founded in the wilderness with cowboys and Indians and our fierce need to bare arms being linked to our fight with the British in the Revolutionary War but I don’t think anyone was convinced. Including me. Another really funny thing about this trio is that the man from England was wearing a pink Justin Beiber teeshirt. True and totally noteworthy for sure. In fact that’s how we got to know them, Wilton started talking to him about his Justin Beiber shirt. Surely this was their pick up tool? They were super friendly and interesting but it is strange to be traveling in a foreign country and have so many nationalities look at you with pity. Very strange.
Oh well, I think the best way for you to explore my time in Thailand with Wilton, the Thais and those travelers from other countries whom we met and shared life with is to show you some pictures. I hope you enjoy them. I know I enjoyed creating each and every snap.