Content-type: text/html Ray Manning

Monday, November 29, 2010 10:00 PM

Middle of Vacation

On Friday I go over to the AirportFest in Long Beach with Mr Chen. We get a chance to look at old military aircraft, personal helicopters, experimental aircraft, and business planes. The highlight of the event is when a B29 starts up, taxis to the end of the runway, and then roars away to take flight!

Monday starts near 5 am as I get out the door to catch a bus, two trains, and a company-shuttle bus to get to work (with all of the luggage for the trip). I have a pretty productive day at work considering it is the last day before a long vacation. And then I catch a ride to the airport from a co worker.

After 18 hours on the plane I arrive at 6:30 am on Wednesday morning in Bangkok, Thailand. I pass without incident through immigaration and customs and go to the basement of the airport to catch the new city link train. (Like Los Angeles International airport, the new airport in Bangkok was not linked up with their efficient skytrain system, until now.) The city link train just opened in September and it is deserted when I get on the train. But at the first stop a million (more or less) school kids(probably high school) get on and crowd the train. The new city link train stays entirely packed until the end of the run linking up to the BTS skytrain at the Phaya Thai station. I get off the train and switch to the real skytrain and stop off a few blocks from my hotel. On this skytrain ride there is the prettiest girl I can imagine (or is it just that I don't really know what time it is or what time zone I'm in or that I even care) and I smile at her a time or two until it is time for me to leave and she smiles back. And I just get off the train and wave. Now why didn't I get back on the train and introduce myself (in Thai)? Nonetheless my Thai languages skills are coming back to me as I ask people questions and try to decipher the answer.

I spend a majority of Wednesday walking around, then resting, then walking some more. I only get a few pictures of note. But would you trust the electricity system and billing system where the infrastructure looks like this?

Late in the day my friend, Tree, comes to visit and we have dinner and catch up on things. He is working and going to school to learn how to cut hair. Tonight he's on call for helping out some cheerleaders get ready for a competition. (I don't even ask.) So near 10 pm he's heading back for his work. And I'm ready for sleep. So Tree walks me back to my hotel (not that I needed walking but he feels "responsible for me when I'm in Thailand and Cambodia") and drop off to sleep very quickly.

Thursday starts at 7:30 am after a good night of sleep. Though I did wake up at 3 am and wonder, for a few minutes, if I will be able to return to sleep. But I do. At breakfast a tour guide, Niranya, shares a table with me and she and I have a nice conversation. She lives west of the Chao Praya river and we talk about places to go for the upcoming Loy Krathong festival as well as the Bangkok planetarium.

On Thursday afternoon I rev up the rusty old exercise machines in the hotel and get in a "best effort" workout. The machines are old and don't have enough weight, but I do the best that I can to work out the upper body parts. (Certainly the legs have received enough exercise from all of the walking.) Late on Thursday Mr Tree comes to visit and we just hang out before we both drop off to sleep. (The hotel gave me a hard time and wanted me to pay extra for an extra guest until I pointed out that the original booking was for two people and that they should refund some of my money for Wednesday night when it was just me.) Mr Tree gets up at 4 am to go to work and then off to school.

As I'm leaving the hotel on Friday the taxi driver in the bue taxi, who is always lying in wait for me, catches me. Though I tell him I don't need the taxi (again) today but maybe tomorrow, he tells me to go change my shirt from yellow. It turns out there is a red shirt protest in the city and counter-protestors will be wearing yellow. So unless I want to choose sides and be ready to accept the circumestances, I better change my shirt. So I walk back to the hotel and change into a green shirt. This turns out to be a safe choice.

I take the skytrain and do a lot of walking. When I get too hot I try to find an air conditioned mall to stroll through and/or grab something to drink. I do notice that there are many, many people lined up for Krispy Kreme donuts. (I don't remember the Krispy Kreme being here at the Siam Paragon, so maybe it is new.)

As I approach my hotel I see the same two girls from yesterday hawking hotels. Seeing that I want to try a new hotel, I go with them to tour the hotel. On the taxi ride to the hotel we exchange English and Thai words for various things and numbers and colors. The taxi driver is lost in the conversation, but the three remaining occupants learn a few new words. It turns out they are selling timeshares. So I chat with a guy for 20 minutes and turn down the 40 minute discussion on costs and benefits of membership. We continue chit-chatting and the guy offers me two free nights at this hotel to see that they are being honest. So I book four nights at the hotel on the spot (two free) and they don't even request a credit card. Maybe they are legitimate, but I wills till refuse the time share speech.

It seems like Friday will be a good day to go enjoy the Bangkok nightlife, so I relax in the hotel in the late afternoon.

On Friday night I grab the skytrain and head to a sit-down club that faces a walking alleyway. On the skytrain is a cute young man in Thai-pop fashion but with his hair tied up in the traditional fashion and I ask him to join me but he has other plans. I've been to this club a time or two before and they usually play good music and you can watch people as they walk by. Tonight's music is very good and, except for the smoke of other patrons, I enjoy the evening as I consume two Sprites. Before 11:30pm I head back to the skytrain to get home (because the skytrain quits running near midnight).

Saturday starts slowly since most places do not open until 10 am. I allow my taxi driver/friend to take me to his favorite travel agency to get more tickets. The prices are higher than I expected probably because they are last minute tickets. Afterwards I get droped off at Lumpini Park and walk through the park seeing many people riding bicycles, runnng, walking, and working out on the workout stations and parcourse stations. It is hard for me to conceive of working out when it is 95 degrees F out, but I guess that's what I get when I lft weights in the hotel's fitness facility since it is not air conditioned. I also note the nice elephant stampede topiary in Lumpini Park.

On Saturday my taxi driver/friend takes me out to a travel agency for me to finally buy more airline tickets. The lady who helps me at the agency, who speaks good English and helps me with my Thai, insists on being called Madame Tong Tong. She gets the tickets done and then we chat while the tickets are relayed and printed. She's describing how everyone at the small shop is single (including me) except for her. I don't know is she's trying to set me up with one of the agency women, but I just go along and describe how I am enjoying my single life. And finally the tickets arrive and we're done.

But not so fast. My taxi driver wants me to stop in at a clothing shop because if he brings a potential sale to the shop then he gets a coupon for 300 Baht (about $10) worth of gasoline. So I play along and look at the tailor-made clothes and the shop and see some nice stuff and actually get a price quote (without measurements being made). The prices are reasonable but nothing to get excited about and buy something and go through the hassle of shipping them home. And then, when my tace driver/friend wants me to go to another shop so he can get another voucher of some sort, I insist firmly that he drop me off right here at Lumpini Park. I get a nice walk through Lumpini Park and then head back to the hotel to relax.

After walking through Lumpini Park I head for a nearby mall to watch the Saturday shoppers. I have a conversation with a university student from the Isaan province and then I head for my hotel to relax and cool down.

For the record, a lot of these conversations start with me talking in Thai and the other person talking in English. And we keep asking and answering simple questions in neither of our first language until one of us run out of vocabulary. At which point either I ask "How did you learn to speak English so well?" or the other man or woman ask "How did you learn to speak Thai so well?" I have to continually answer that I do not have a Thai girlfriend or a Thai boyfriend.

Late in the afternoon Tree comes to visit and we go have dinner. He wants to pick up food for tomorrow at work so he gets two hamburgers at Burger King and then we go to Pizza Hut for dinner (His choice). Mr Tree orders enough food for more than one person and the is confused when he is full yet more than half of the food is still there. I guess they have the same saying in Thai about a person's eyes being bigger than his stomach because he tries to describe that to me in English and I let him struggle through the description a few times before I tell him that we have the same expression.

Sunday starts slowly as I just run a few errands that need to get done before I leave Bangkok. Near 8 pm Tree comes over and we take a skytrain, a tuk-tuk, and a do a lot walking to get near the bridges for the Loy Krathong festival. There are many people sending up kites, floating krathongs in the river, wandering around, and having fun. At one point we get a boat tour from one bridge to the other and back as we join the festivities. Fortunately I've brought my earplugs since I knew there would be many authorized and unauthrized fireworks going off all over the place. There are! For quite a while the entire area is jam-packed with people and to move all's we can do is say "excuse me", "good day", or "happy loy krathong day" in Tahi, of course, to all of the people that we bump into. Everyone smiles when I speak Thai and Tree makes fun of my Thai. But I've noticed that everyone understands what I say - very rarely do I have to repeat myself. Eventually we decide to call it an evening and it takes a taxi ride to get back to the hotel for sleep starting near 1 am.

Monday starts at 5 am as I need to get to the old Bangkok airport (Don Muang airport) to catch a flight to Chiang Mai. Tree takes the same skytrain as I do to get to his home and visit his family for a short time before he goes off to school and work. It takes waiting for the skytrain to open, a skytrain ride, and a taxi ride to get to the airport. The flight is smooth and then I catch a taxi ride to my hotel in Chiang Mai. I take a short walk around Chiang Mai to se how many things have changed in the last year and then I go back to the hotel to relax a bit.

On Monday afternoon and into early evening I get out walking in Chiang Mai again. And find that their Loy Krathong is extending another day. There's another parade ane more kites and more krathongs. When I went walking I didn't bring my camera, so I have no pictures of this parade. But the floats are very similar to past years.

On Monday night I go to the bars where my friends typically hang out. Somtai is in and out and he doesn't see me and I'm not able to catch him, but we'll catch up anothr time. I ask one of the bartendes/owners who always remembers me and he tells me that Yu has gone back to his home to help his Mother out with her business and Tun is around but hasn't been seen for a few days. But I hang out and see new faces and relax with my two Sprites for the evening.

On Tuesday I go walking again around Chiang Mai. I note the many festive decorations and floats remaining on display from Loy Krathong.

On Tuesday night I go to the stand-up bars and finally find my friend Tun. He tells me that he had to choose last month between making his rent or keeping his mobile phone activated. And the rent won out. Thus I was not able to contact him via phone but at least we met. I like Tun because he is silly and energetic. But today, in between bouts of silliness, he tells me that the economy is really bad and a lot of people are struggling. Though it was the flooding of his Mother's home that took Yu away for now, he was also struggling along (according to Tun).

During tonight's visit I make three new friends, Prayong, Ko, and Tom. Tom is from the USA but has been living and working in Chiang Mai for 5 years. He works on "the last mile" of getting Internet and phone service to people's houses. So I ask him if his company is hiring. Tonight there are many people, men and women, who say to me "you work out a lot" and then want to feel my arms and shoulders. Maybe it's the shirt because they are the same arms that I had yesterday. But I just smile at everyone and let them touch or squeeze my arms and then watch them start giggling. Tonight I stay until 1:20am and then head for home.

After breakfast I go walking for more than two hours. I pick a direction and start walking. I go past the flower and fruit/vegetable market and past the superhighway out into the sticks. There are people that are surprised to see a foreigner out here, but I smile and greet them (in Thai) and they smile back and everything is okay. During the walk home I get into some back alley markets where, again, I am the only foreigner. I also manage to find the one block long Chinatown part of Chiang Mai during my walk.

On Wednesday afternoon I go to turn on the air conditioner and there is a pop from the controller and the air conditioning does not work. I call the front desk and in a few minutes a repairman comes. I explain to him the pop but he insists on going out on the balcony and doing stuff with the refirigerant. Soon he comes back in, tries the air conditioning again, and sees that it still doesn't work. So he tells me that I will have to change rooms. This is already the second room that I've had (because the telephone didn't work in the first room), so this will make three rooms in three days at the same hotel. I've had rooms 1010, 1005, and now I'll be in 1006. I guess all of the non-smoking rooms are on the tenth floor.

On Wednesday night I go back to the stand-up bars and hang out with Tun and Prayong. There are not many customers tonight. So Prayong and I go walking for a while and soon it is late. So he stays in my hotel room. We end up talking and watching television until very late.

When both of us wake up on Thursday morning we resume our talking and watching telelvision until we've had breakfast at the hotel and into the afternoon. Prayong has the day off but has things to do, so he leaves. I spend a slow day near the hotel without a long walk or any formal activities.

On Thursday night I go hang out with Tun and Prayong again. Prayong is busy with another friend and they go running off to a dance club. I just hang out with Tun for a bit until I say goodbye for another time period. I'm turning out the lights for sleep well before 1:00 am on Friday night.

Friday is a travel day back to Bangkok. I stay near the Chiang Mai hotel for a while, pick up my laundry, and check out. Near 2 pm I go over to meet up with Prayong to hang out and have lunch. Prayong eats western food today and I eat Thai food. What is wrong with this picture? But we go back to Prayong's apartment and I meet his roommates and we just hang out. Prayong shows me nice pictures of his family including his father who is a rice farmer and his grandparents who were rice farmers. They are dressed in traditional northern Thai farming attire in the pictures. We pull out the Thai-English dictionary and each try to learn some new words. I think the only word I picked up was the Thai word for satellite (dow-tiam) because most of the time I need to see it written down before it sticks in my mind. But we have a fun visit and Prayong insists on escorting me back to my hotel and getting a tuk-tuk to the airport (because now he feels responsible for me while I am visiting in Chiang Mai).

The flight to Bangkok is smooth as well as the taxi ride to the skytrain and the skytrain ride to a location near my hotel. The walk (with luggage) from the skytrain stop to the hotel is eventfull since there are many "cart bars" and regular bars along the way with women and men hawking their goods and their services. But I make it to the hotel without any side trips and get down for sleep near midnight.

On Saturday I stay in my hotel room for most of the morning. I'm just refreshing myself out of the sun and I do a few things with the reliable WiFi that this hotel has.

After two phone calls I rush via skytrain to the Ekkamai skytrain station to meet up with Mr Tree, his younger brother, and his younger sister. Since they are stuck in traffic, they are only 55 minutes late. And it turns out that Mr Tree's baby younger brother is a bit sick and does not make the trip. Nonetheless the four of us walk over to the Bangkok planetarium and play on all of the educational demos and gizmos. We also go through the aquatic life exhibit and the science exhibit. During the visit to the planetarium there are scale models of satellites. So I finally am able to properly describe to Mr Tree and his family that type of work that I do (including the Thai word for satellite which I just learned). Mr Tree asks, "This is the work that you do in Colorado?" I've told him that I travel to Colorado a lot for work and he has a Colorado shirt to recall that. And I point out that one of the satellites is a Ball Aerospace satellite which is where I sometimes go to work. And finally there is a Renault Formula One car in the planetarium and as I'm walking over to check it out I hear Mr Tree say "Formula One" because he remembers how excited and enthused I was last year when I was watching the Formula One races in the hotel and how he had to remain wordless during the event (so that I did not miss any of the action).

After the visit to the planetarium we take the skytrain to the Siam stop to see the Christmas decorations at the Siam Paragon mall and the MBK center. Finally Mr Tree and his family catch a bus for home as I catch a skytrain for home.

Mr Tree calls me on Sunday morning and tells me to meet him at the Mo Chit skytrain station. Thus I rush on over so that Mr Tree, his younger brother, and his younger sister can catch a mini-van shuttle and another bus to Dream World. Dream World is like an amusement park. So we spend the entire day riding rollercoasters, walking through haunted mansions, viewing a wild 3D movie, riding high-g boats, getting wet on boat rides, riding bumper cars, and other fun things. Though it has been a long time since I've been on any high-g rides, I only shy away from one ride. I ride all of the other rollercoasters and wild rides and enjoy them. The space mountain ride was fun because it was like a rollercoaster in pitch black - you couldn't see a thing and be prepared for the next turn or uphill or downhill. That ride had Mr Tree grabbing my arm for support. And I enjoyed the haunted mansion because I kept sneaking up on Mr Tree and his brother and adding to the scary experiences.

Monday is a quiet day. I get out and do some walking and visiting sites without a camera today.

After relaxing a bit I go to the hotel's workout center. I want to start with a bench press and this hotel keeps an attendant present to help people out with the logistics and equipment. I load on a 25 pound plate on my side so the attendant loads a 25 pound plate on his side as we load the barbell up. Then I grab a 50 pound plate and put it on my side and the attendant struggles to pick up the 50 pound plate and get it on his side of the bar. And then I grab another 25 pound plate and the attendant is looking at me like I don't know what I'm doing, but he ays something that I miss in Thai and adds the 25 pound to his side. I get down and pump out 12 repetitions and say, "warm up", and then start adding more plates. The attendant says something like "You strong. We never have this weight". But I just get down on the bench and pump out a number of repetitions and decide to stick with this weight for my work sets. The attendant spots me but he really didn't need to because this is a bit less weight than I would normally use. After the bench press I use other machines and weights that don't need as much help - since with the bench press you're lifting all of that weight right over your head and neck. But I make small talk with the attendant as I go through my workout. He asks me if I'm a professional and I start laughing - this is the second time on this trip that I've been asked if I'm a professional weightlifter. (I don't know why, but whatever.) Finally I'm done and get the attendants name and other facts (in Thai) and then I head for a shower in my room. I hope that the attendant learned something from today's routine.

I have a quiet evening in the hotel room as I clean up a few things to head on over to Cambodia on Tuesday.