2546 A Year at the Rajabhat Institute of Udon Thani
01JAN03-16FEB03 Back to work after the holiday. I'm teaching two new groups of students for another eight hours a week. They are math majors and the course is basic English conversation. I enjoy this course and the students seem to be making good progress.
On the home front, Clem continues to cook tasty calorie laden western style food and I continue to eat it with great gusto. I've stopped smoking again and food tastes wonderful. I started smoking about one year ago. Since then I've made multiple attempts from two days to two months to stop smoking. I got a prescription for nicotine patches and I think this time I will prevail over the evil weed. Not even one!
Nee's father is in the hospital and she has gone to help her family. She was gone two weeks, came back for a weekend then had to leave for another week. Now she's back and her family is back from the hospital to their village and her father is doing better.
I went to the TESOL conference in Bangkok. Like most conferences it was both interesting and dull. A couple of good speakers, some interesting exhibits from the vendors of teaching material and some Burger King burgers and Tony Roma ribs, and the English version of Lord of the Rings Two filled up four days in Bangkok and made me eager to return to my dull existence.
I reconfigured my email. Hotmail has become soo, slooow. Each message requires multiple connections with their server and with the ads and the banners it can take 10 minutes to read one email. I did discover that Outlook Express can log onto hotmail. This allowed me to download all the messages stored there onto my computer. Then I was able to transfer the messages and the addresses to Outlook. Now I can make an archive copy of everything and transfer it to a CD. Then I can stop paying Hotmail for extra space and just use it as a backup email account that I check only occasionally.
In the process, I managed to shut down email@example.com for a few weeks. I miss the regular emails. Now I've got everything working right. I can use Outlook to check my digitalnomad account and Outlook Express to check the Hotmail account. I can connect at home and at the office. It has taken a while but I think I've got the computer set up the way I want it.
Nee continues to go to class to learn how to read and write Thai. This is much harder than I would have thought. There are 44 symbols for consonants, 20 symbols for vowels, and some more symbols for tones. Written Thai does not separate words. Spaces are introduced at connector phrases. She goes to class three days each week and spends two or three hours each day on homework. She is making great progress. I continue to learn a little Thai and Nee's English vocabulary continues to expand.
Last week we celebrated Nee's birthday (2/10) and Valentine's day. We had a party with a birthday cake. Clem cooked her favorite dish, cheesburgers and french fries and we sang happy birthday. Ang gave her some stylish clothes and I gave her some earrings. Valentine's Day is catching on in Thailand ands there were cards and candy at the Language Center.
The school term is coming to an end and final exams start next week. March, April and May are the hottest months and no regular classes are held. There are special classes and seminars but basically a light schedule. During April I qualify for two weeks of vacation and so I think I'll visit Ko Chang and island in the Gulf of Thailand near the border with Cambodia.
After eighteen months packed with all the new sights, sounds, and sensations of travel life seems very calm. I think that by the end of the year I'll be ready, even anxious to shoulder my backpack again.
16FEB-31MAR03 Life is calm and routine. The schedule between semesters is filled with some office days and some teaching days. I had 16 straight days of teaching that ended on March 23. Now I have weekend classes until April 6. After that, the Songkhran Holiday. I'm told that I should plan to get wet as everybody celebrates by throwing water on everyone else.
Clem and Ahng gave Nee a jigsaw puzzle. She said, "first time for me", and spent 2 days working on it. Then we bought a frame and some glue and began the search for a special hanger that you can hammer into masonry walls.
Looking for a "no hap"
Searching for a particular item in Thailand is a great adventure. I knew the item existed because there were several on the wall in the house. First we tried to remove one and put up the picture but it was a one shot deal. So, Nee put it in her purse and we started searching. We tried hardware shops, lumber yards, mega department stores but everywhere the story was the same. After a long description, we would hear the fatal words, "no hap". Finally we gave up and bought a masonry nail. Oh, well, the search was fun.
Now, I'm thinking about a two week trip to Southern China. I'd like Nee to go with me so we're trying to figure out passports and visas. We have plenty of time since I don't qualify for vacation until after May 1.
Until then, my schedule is pretty light so there is too much time to watch CNN and the bad news from Iraq.01-16APR03 They don't celebrate April Fool's Day in Thailand, but when I found out that I had to file income tax I though they were kidding. Because I only worked for 3 months last year, I'll probably get a refund but, here's the catch: I haven't received my "W2" yet and I'm already past the deadline. Oh well, the fine is only $5 and I'll get a $27 refund.
School's out for the summer. I finished my last class and now I go in and sign the book, pat my desk, gossip a little then head out. Working hard...No, hardly working. But, I got a preview of next term and I have a full schedule. I'm going to enjoy my leisure while I can.
Songkran...Wet 'n Wild
I can't remember when I've had so much fun. Songkran is a festival that celebrates the Thai new year. There's a cool legend that goes with it involving beheadings and birds that give the answers to riddles and seven faithful daughters that parade the head to all the villages on a different animal every year. This year it was a tiger.
I don't know how throwing water came into the picture but the amount of water in the air must raise the humidity nationwide by 20%. And, they take water throwing very seriously. Everyone who owns a pick-up truck (about half of the 4 wheel vehicles) loads the back with huge barrels of water and picks a crew of water throwers and shooters (mega waterguns sell like hotcakes). When two of these dreadnoughts pass each other in the slow traffic it's like broadsides from ships of the line. Lines of skirmishers block the road and try to soak the truck while the water pours down on them. But, everyone is smiling, especially the kids. Another part of the fun is putting white powder (everything from flour to sweet smelling talc) on your face. This is done gently and with a smile. The only shock is when someone throws ice water. I think some Thais may have learned a few new farang words from me. And, pity the motorcycle rider. It's like a jet ski versus a battleship. Nee and I took a few pretty good hits.
The first day of Songkran, we went to the parade and festival. The epicenter of action in Udon Thani is Nong Pra Chak, a large lake surrounded by walkways and roads. Pick-ups, motorbikes, and well-oiled pedestrians line the roads. We took the short walk from our house over to the far side of the lake to sample the wares from the food festival. It turned out we were just in time for the festival parade.
What a trip. There were samlors (3 wheel motorbikes with a passenger compartment) decorated with garlands of flowers, marching units with women from 6-80 years old dancing down the street to the beat of malaam (imagine reggae with steel guitar and a little Thai hot sauce added), floats with pretty women dressed up in their suitthais, and a few novelty floats. Some of the beautiful women were kratoeys (men dressed as women). Without Nee's help I would have had a hard time sorting things out. My favorite was an anti-war float Thai style. A ten foot long red phallic symbol with the words "stop the war" was mounted on a jeep driven by two men dressed as Arabs. On day 22 of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I could have told Central Command where the weapons of mass distraction were located. And, one of the drivers looked familiar. No...it couldn't be Hussein. There was also a man "pretending" to be drunk being rolled around on a cart with people shooting him with toy guns while he fondled a large wooden cylinder with one end painted red. I'm not sure what it meant but it was topped by a "man" dressed in a wet tee shirt with "slightly overdone" make-up and his own oversize wmd's.
On Sunday, Nee and I headed for her home village near Thak Kan Tho. Along the way we took a few serious hits including one well aimed splash to my bicep at 70 kph (ouch). Nee didn't get too wet because of the splash guard (me) in front. We were warmly greeted by her extended family. Nee proudly showed off the improvements to her house. Some new furniture and This time water was gently poured down our backs and powder was put on our faces. Everyone piled into a farm truck (nicely decorated with a visible diesel engine in front) and we were off to the village Wat (Buddhist temple). We waited our turn and went into a room with the head monk. We chanted responsively and had a remembrance service for Nee's aunt who died a few months ago, washed the monk's hands ceremonially and all had a piece of string tied around our wrists by the monk.
Afterwards, the family had their own ceremony centered around the ashes of the aunt and poured water over images of Buddha and other wise men. I took a picture of Nee under a table full of statues. The family poured water and the water flowed through the table and onto her. Then back to the village.
Then we had another ceremony. This time it was for Nee. A compartmented tray made by her grandmother filled with all kinds of food, herbs, flowers, hand rolled cigarettes, etc, topped with sticks with small flags was the centerpiece. An old man lit five small candles and two big candles then wrapped the flags with string. There was a little chanting and then he burned the string between each flag and then tied string on everyone's hands. The priest was quite nice and very good humored. He could tell that I was clueless and smiled at me several times. I tried to figure out what was going on but Nee didn't have enough English to explain the ins and outs of the ceremony. She said," for me, for me. Good luck. Guarantee. New Year." When I got back to Udon, I called Ajarn Supatra (my very nice mentor who is very knowledgeable about Isan customs). She told me I had witnessed a Saborkrau. This is a ceremony with Hindu roots performed by a Brahmin to dispel bad luck or to ensure good luck in the future. The religion in this part of Thailand, Isan, is a mixture of Buddhism, Hinduism, and animism. And in one day I think I saw it all.
After that, we gathered with the family to honor Nee's grandmother. We all put cash gifts in a basket and everyone joined in to give her a bath. I mean a serious bath. Fully clothed she was shampooed and scrubbed from head to foot. Nee, who I think is her favorite and vice versa, washed her feet and head and I gave her clothes including an "old lady" sweater which took Nee several stops in the biggest clothes market in Udon to find. Throughout the whole thing she had her usual sweet toothless smile on full strength. And, to make a good time even more special, she gave me a gift, too. She gave me a pakamah (like a loin cloth) that she had weaved herself. Nee showed me how to wrap it so I didn't expose myself.
What can top all this, I thought. I was in full travel euphoria, a state where the brain goes into a special state of "wow, what a world". Then Nee said, "wake up" (I was taking a siesta) and I heard malaam music in the distance. I got dressed and we walked toward the sound. There must have been 100 people dancing in the street in the typical Thai half-walk, half-dance with graceful arm movements. We joined in. The sound came from a pick-up with a huge pile of speakers. Malaam has a good bass line and the whole village shook in time to the beat. Nee tells me that when we joined the throng, the DJ said I was young, handsome, and a good dancer. I guess they don't see a lot of farangs for comparison purposes.
After dark and some good home style cooking, we turned in for the night. Nee fired up the fan and the mosquito smoker and we dozed off until two dogs had either a big fight or an assignation directly under the window. After the yelps subsided we went back to sleep.
The next morning Gai showed up with a water battleship outfitted for battle. Nee and Gai used to herd water buffalos together when they were young and (I'm guessing) broke hearts throughout the district. We loaded up with several really cute teenaged girls and one lucky guy and headed out to get some water. In Udon, there are pumps that siphon the water from the lake into barrels at a prodigious rate. In Thak Kan Tho things were not so high tech. We stopped at the village well and filled our barrels one bucket at a time. We formed a line. Two people dropped buckets down into the well on a line. Then they filled other buckets which were passed up the line to the truck where I poured them into the two 55 gallon drums.
With our magazines topped off we set off looking for victims (people to bless). When we stopped for a quick tire change, a truck load (maybe 20 people) pulled up beside us. We exchanged salvos. I whipped out my digital camera and proudly used my miniscule Thai vocabulary yelling, "mai nam" which means "no water". Nee said, "No, Por, No. Then...zap...a load of water hits me and the camera which goes "bizzzit" and takes its last picture.
Traveler's Language Tip
Thai is not spoken throughout Thailand. In Isan, a dialect mixing Thai, Laotian, and Chinese is spoken. The people in the truck understood the nam part but not the mai part. Result: They drenched me and my camera. Watch out what you ask for in Thailand, you might get your wish. So, it might be a while before all of the great photos from Songkran are posted on my site.
We headed down the road. After several pitched battles I was completely soaked and smiling from ear to ear. But, I was also getting a little sunburned so I retired from the gundeck to the bridge where aircon and rolled up windows allowed me to monitor the excitement from a protected environment. We cruised from village to village. A popular truck, every time we came to a group of teenaged boys you could be sure that the cuties in the back got special attention. But, people of every age joined in. Kids from about age 3 to old folks all tossed water and were barraged by our team.
After several pitched engagements we went down a pot holed highway to a beach on a big lake. I felt like Marco Polo. They don't get many farangs in those parts I guess, so I got lots of hallo, where you froms and and almost equal number of beard powderings. A few people wanted to feel my blond, hairy forearms. I added my considerable weight to an effort to submerge an inner tube. I treated the truckload to a picnic lunch including barbecue fish and papaya salad for about $5. That bought enough food for 15 people to stuff themselves.
We headed back to Thak Kan Tho to the accompaniment of loud Thai music and some louder singing from the water sprites in the truck bed. A fierce afternoon thunderstorm with wind and rain broke just as we arrived. We put off our trip back to Udon for a few hours and took a nap and listened to the rain. The power went off and after the storm subsided we hopped on the faithful motorbike and headed home.
All in all, Songkran was the most fun I've had in a long time. Traveler's heaven. Yes, I really miss my friends and family at home, but the chance to experience this kind of adventure doesn't come to those who sit at home and watch TV.
16APR-31MAY03 After Songkran life became calm. I taught a couple of English conversation courses to Computer Science Majors and some weekend courses to the general public. All in all only about 12 hours a week. So, I had plenty of time to relax and to plan my holiday.
Originally, I had thought about visiting Southern China. But, with the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak I decided that Southern China could wait. Then I considered traveling by ground transport to the great beach resort at Doc Let, Vietnam. But, I thought about the visa hassle of getting across Laos, not to mention some safety problems with bus travel in Laos and decided to take the easy way out. I decided to "see Thailand first".
I decided to visit Krabi and Koh Phi Phi and spend some quality beach time. In transit to the southern part of Thailand, Nee and I could spend a couple of days in Bangkok and then continue south.
In Bangkok I planned to meet Devin. I talked to Devin several times a week for the ten years I owned the Computer Exchange and I consider it ironic that the first time I meet him face to face will be half way around the world. Devin volunteered to bring something from America as long as it was "smaller than a breadbox". I took this opportunity to track down a new digital camera, a Canon Powershot A300 and had it shipped to Devin. I also ordered a Creative Nomad Jukebox 3 (20GB) and Devin agreed to load it up with music.
We had a party for our associate teachers at the Rajabhat and Clem used the occasion to announce his engagement to Ahng. Clem finally decided to see a different doctor about the pain in his hip. The new doctor looked at the x-ray and asked if he had suffered an injury. Clem told him that his motorbike accident is what started the problem. The new doctor recommended a hip replacement. After confirming that Rajabhat's medical insurance would cover the operation, Clem was scheduled for an operation. At the last minute, the hospital said that the operation should be done at the university hospital in Khon Kaen and Clem had to go for additional tests. He was finally scheduled for surgery two days after our return from holiday.
I was suffering from a health problem, too. Once in Indonesia, once in Bangkok, and a couple of times in Udon, I had serious abdominal pain. The first few times I thought it was related to what I ate. Finally, I detected a pattern. After eating too much or food with too much fat, the pain would start. After a little research on the internet, I was able to match the symptoms to gall stone problems. Allopathic medicine recommends surgery, so I began looking for a naturopathic alternative. As luck would have it, we live directly across the street from one of the most popular herbal medicine practitioners in Udon. With help from Nee and Ahng my problem was explained and I was given the choice of two herbal treatments. One was good tasting lemon grass based tea but the stronger treatment involved a bitter herbal concoction. I opted for the bitter medicine and after three weeks of treatment stopped having problems. It's been three weeks since I finished the stuff and everything seems to be okay. I even passed the holiday test; eating too much.
Nee and I took the night sleeper train to Bangkok and arrived at the A-One Inn around 10AM Saturday morning. They put us on the fourth floor again, but the room was smaller and not as nice although price was higher than our long term stay last September. I think I'll find a different place next time. We tracked down Devin at the church sponsored school where he plans to teach and I picked up my new techno goodies. Devin was schedule to start teaching a language course so we visited a bookstore and I helped him select a textbook.
Nee and I saw "Johnny English" and "Anger Management" at the SF Cinema complex in Bangkok. The theater in Udon doesn't have English language movies, so for the big screen experience, Bangkok is the place. And, I tracked down a really good Mexican food restaurant named Senor Pico and located in the Rembrandt Hotel. The food tasted like the real thing and there was a live band from Havana for entertainment. Three drinks and two meals cost 1500 baht ($37usd) and was worth it.
On Sunday, we went to the Dive Expo at Queen Sirikit Convention Center. I visited lots of booths and chatted with Steve, a fellow teacher at Rajabhat who is part owner of a dive shop in Pattaya. Several of the booths promoted dives that I have taken so far on my trip. I've been to some cool places.
On Monday morning, I took Devin to Plantip Plaza, four floors of computer software and hardware. Devin picked up some DVDs and I looked for a spare battery for my Nomad. After many strange looks, I decided that I was searching for a rare battery. We said goodbye to Devin and prepared for our trip south.
Unfortunately, the night sleeper train was booked so we had to take a bus. The only good news was we snagged seats at the front and so I had room to stretch out my legs. The bus went to the same ferry dock that I had been to three times before in transit to Koh Samui. Arriving at dawn, we waited three hours for the two hour bus ride to Krabi. There after only 22 hours in transit we checked into the Fritto Misto Resort. Our room was nice and there were so few tourists that Nee and I had one swimming pool each.
We spent some quality time wandering down the beachat Ao Nang. I ate some truly pitiful nachos. Nee had a massage while I read my book of the day on the beach. The limestone cliffs and the islands were beautiful to look at and the sunsets were spectacular. I played with my new camera. Then I checked out the dive shops which were all promoting dives near Koh Phi Phi. I decided to wait until we were there to dive.
We booked an all-day kayak trip to an area about 60km from Krabi. There we kayaked through mangrove swamps and limestone caves. The moon was almost full so the tides were very high. In one cave we had to flatten ourselves in the kayak and pull our way through the cave to enter the hidden lagoon. We visited a cave with 4000 year old cave drawings. The view of mangrove swamps and limestone islands was like something from the lost world.
After a good lunch we visited a pathetic zoo. The animals were in small cages. The crocodiles were in such small tanks that they couldn't turn around. After that we went to a spring located in a rubber plantation. The bus took us down a trail so narrow that the rubber trees almost touched both sides. We walked the final 500 meters down a slippery clay path to a beautiful, clear, COLD spring. Nee and most of the other kayakers found the courage to dive in. I just dangled my legs. Tiny fish nibbled my toes. We somehow found enough energy to swim after returning to the resort.
Our trip to Koh Phi Phi (pee pee) was uneventful except that I forgot my Thermarest air matress on the bus. It was tracked down after we left and the shop where we waited for the ferry called Nee to say that they had it. We planned to pick it up on the return trip from Koh Phi Phi.
I booked a hotel before we left Krabi and so we were met at the ferry by a bellman with a cart. I thought the hotel must be close. After walking about 2km, I started to worry. Our hotel was the last resort. But, it had a pool and the room was okay. One thing we liked about Phi Phi was the lack of motorized traffic. The only thing pedestrians have to dodge is bicycles.
The pool was nice and right next to the beach. We saw a katui review (men? dressed as cabaret style showgirls) at the Apache Bar. The crowd really got into the show.
The next day we went diving with PPK Divers. Just before we got to the shop, I realized that I had forgotten my mask. I had searched long and hard for a mask that didn't leak around my mustache so I had to have it. Everyone was heading for the boat so they loaned me a bicycle for a quick trip back to the hotel. It was both quick and exciting because the first time I applied the brakes, I discovered that they didn't work. No pedestrians were injured and I got to the boat just as they were ready to cast off.
The diving was good. Andy, the divemaster, was my buddy and a pleasure to dive with. We had two leisurely dives that were the longest yet (59 and 67 minutes). I saw a 2M leopard shark and swam through a cave. The light at the mouth of the cave after swimming through a dark tunnel was breathtaking. Nee enjoyed snorkeling around on the surface while I dived. There was a videographer taping on the surface and below the water. We viewed the tape and I decided to buy a VCD of the trip.
On the way back through Krabi, the shop where my mattress was supposed to be waiting was closed. I left my address and hope they'll mail it to me at the Rajabhat.
After two days of travel by sleeper train we returned to Udon. Happy to be home.
The day after we arrived Clem checked into the hospital for his operation. I went back to work and spent a few days chatting with my associates, went to a couple of meetings, and played with my new Nomad MP3 player. I transferred about 500 more songs to it and then---zap--it stopped working. Now I'm trying to get some help from the folks at Creative Labs. Four days and counting while I wait for a response. I'm not looking forward to sending the unit back to the US, but that's probably what will happen.
My schedule for the next term looks good. I have three classes of integrated skills (reading, writing, listening and speaking), Introduction to English literature, and a listening and speaking class for first year students. Fourteen classroom hours a week and nothing scheduled on Thursday. Life is good. Classes start Monday. Clem is recovering well and should be home early next week.
1Jun-8Aug03 Clem is back home and after only one week of recovery started teaching again. The operation was a success.
It seems that whoever assigns classrooms thinks I need exercise. All but one of my classes are on the top floors. Three, four and five flights up and I arrive bathed in sweat. The temperature is in the high eighties in the morning and in the low nineties in the afternoon with a relative humidity near 100%.
The students are good and mostly motivated. Two of my classes are mandatory for all students at the Institute and some of the students will probably not use English when they graduate so their interest is limited. After the results were in for the mid-term exam it was clear that their reading and writing skills were far better than their listening and speaking skills. Since then I've been emphasizing listening and speaking---hard work.
Ahng, Clem, Nee and I went to Ubon from June 12-14. It is about a six hour drive including a stop for a Big Mac in Khan Kaen. There is a candle festival all around Thailand but Ubon's is the most famous. Because of the festival prices were up and hotel rooms were hard to get. We stayed one night in one hotel, moved to another hotel, then returned to the first hotel for the third night.
The night before the parade there is a display of the floats. The floats are sculpted from candle wax into fantastic shapes with extraordinary detail. Getting used to my new camera, I struggled to get the exposures I wanted. Nee and I went to take a picture of the giant concrete candle monument and saw that preparations were underway for a show. We sat down and waited...and waited...and waited. Finally, an hour and a half later, the historical pageant began. Wow, what a show. The history of Thailand from the dawn of the universe with 300 actors, fireworks, battles, etc. It was all in Thai but I could follow the plot.
We met Ahng's family and had dinner at her house. Nice people.
After we returned to Udon, I discovered that I had left some clothes in a closet at one of the hotels. Ahng's parents recovered them and mailed them to Udon.
After the festival holiday life settled down into a routine.
Right after the Queen's Birthday on August 12, Laure and Emanuel visited me in Udon. I met Laure the day I jumped out of an airplane in Rotorua, NZ. We have been keeping in touch by email ever since. She wanted to see a less touristy part of Thailand so I invited her to Udon.
They arrived at the Udon Airport last Thursday night. They had flown from Paris to Bangkok then directly to Udon. Ahng drove Nee and I to the airport and the plane came in only a few minutes late. I had scouted out three possible hotels at three different price ranges. When we arrived at their first choice and they had a business meeting which filled up all the rooms in the main building. Fortunately there was a room available in the other building-unfortunately the room cost 200 baht more and was not as nice as the one I saw during my scouting trip. Oh well, off we went for a tour of hotels in Udon. We found one with a swimming pool but it was closed. Another one was full. Finally, we went to the Napoli hotel. This is the hotel where we go when we want to swim. Nice room, breakfast, good pool-800 baht. We went to the night market and chatted for a while until the jet-lagged pair started nodding.
I taught a class the next morning while they caught up on their sleep. Emanuel decided to go for a walking tour and Laure went with me to drop off my computer at the house. She wanted to find a shop with raw silk (soi sauvage). Ahng volunteered to drive us to Nakaa a village famous for its textiles. Ahng is a clothing junkie and has closets full of clothes in three cities. Any chance for a shopping tour. We searched fruitlessly for Emanuel then drove 18 km to Nakaa. After a few shops Laure zeroed in on the silk and went into a trance. Three full bags later with a look of contentment, we returned to Udon.
We stopped by the hotel to pick up Emanuel and on the way to my house we visited a take out restaurant that specializes in Vietnames cuisine. After dinner we laid around and watched a movie. Then we made plans for Saturday.
We decided to visit Nee's village near Tak An Tho. Laure rode on the back of my motorbike and Emanuel on the back of Nee's. On the way Laure got what I call a "Rarotonga tatoo"---a burn on the leg from a hot muffler. Almost everyone who is not accustomed to riding a motorbike forgets how hot the muffler is and gets burned. We stopped by a clinic in Kumpawapi where she was treated. Then we visited the monkeys. Laure is a professional photographer so she whipped out her camera and started stalking the monkeys. We continued our trip to Tak An Tho and just as we got to town Nee's motorbike had a flat. We decided to eat lunch in the restaurant next door.
Then we went to visit Nee's grandmother. At 87 years old, Nee's grandmother walks the 5 km between Tak An Tho and the village frequently to visit members of her family. We found her in Tak An Tho and visited for a while. She gave Emanuel some cloth that she had woven and took us to see the water buffalos. Laure wanted to get some pix of water buffalos. We decided to visit Nee's house and then to come back to see the buffalos swim across a shallow lake on the way back to their home.
We rested in Nee's house and talked to her mother. Then we headed back for "the swimming of the buffalo". Most of them were already heading home but a friend of Nee herded some back into the water for a photo op. The buffalo would pose perfectly until you raised a camera then they would panic. It made photography a challenge.
As dusk approached we hopped on the bikes and headed back to Udon. Five hours on a motorbike makes for a sore butt. We all limped and moaned for a while and made plans for the next day. Originally we planned to go to a nearby historical park by motorbike but our butts said no. Then Ahng said she would drive us and we sighed with relief.
Before we left Udon we needed to book their bus trip to Chiang Mai. Udon has five bus stations so we searched for a while and finally found the right one. The fare was 319 baht ($8) for a twelve hour ride. They wanted to travel during the day so they took the local bus. The night express bus only takes eleven hours but you can't see the scenery.
We went to the Phu Pra Bhat Historical park about 65 km from Udon. The park is located on a mesa about 200 meters above the surrounding plain. There are rock formations with bizaare shapes and it is honeycombed with shrines. One of them involves the legend of Usa and Boras and sounds amazingly like "a tale of star-crossed lovers" named Romeo and Juliet. Nee and Emanuel tossed coins into a hole. Later we found out that that hole was the center of the universe and was good luck. On the way out of the park we stopped at a stupa which had a footprint of Budda. Laure and Emanuel bought souvenirs from the stands at the shrine.
That evening we rode motorbikes through the rain for a meal at my favorite street restaurant--alas, the elephants that usually come by were too smart to be out in the rain. We bid farewell at the hotel. Laure and Emanuel will visit Chiang Mai and then take a very long train trip to Southern Thailand to go diving. Guests are a lot of work but they are a lot of fun
"That's enough out of you" said the surgeon as he sewed me up. I spent three "fun filled" days in the Thai Military Hospital to have my inflamed gall bladder removed. Most of the cost was paid for by my health insurance but I paid 7,300 baht ($225) for laproscopic (a tv camera is used) surgery and a private room. The hospital room was air conditioned and had HBO and Cinemax and the hardest ####!!% bed in the world. In the recovery room it was a toss-up whether my stomach or my butt hurt more. There was a couch for Nee and she was the best nurse I've ever had. The staff was very nice. It's a teaching hospital and I think they sold tickets to "see the farang". One group of 20 people came through. I asked them if it was a parade.
The food was surprisingly good. The night before the operation supper was delicious. Unfortunately, after the operation I could have no food or water by mouth for 24 hours. When I could finally eat they served me some great soup.
Dr. Narongsak made 4 incisions. Three healed up in a week but one got infected. I suspect that I got some local tap water on the bandage. It's cleared up now and I can sleep on my stomach again. Yipee! I am not a good patient. I hate hospitals and post-op pain. I'm glad it's over. At least I don't have to worry about gall bladder problems when I travel in some remote area.
The operation was scheduled during the final exam weeks of the term. I missed the fun of proctoring. I've finished grading all my students and had a surprising number of A's. Am I too easy or am I just good? It is pleasing to see the students do well. I don't think that I had any student who attended regularly and did their homework that failed.
I recovered in time to go to English Camp. 200 freshman students loaded onto 6 busses and we headed for Inter Resort about 40km from Udon. The teachers set up 8 stations and the students spent an active day. I was assigned the "Listening" station with Ajarns Rattana, Bandit, and Panitee. I read instructions. Groups of five students were tied together and had to eat bananas, find coins, and make words from alphabet cookies. There were swampy areas to add to the fun. I told American jokes which the students couldn't understand because of cultural context. "What's black and white and read all over?" I had a good time.
In the evening the students put on skits in English some of which I understood (cultural context, again). They did folk dances and then turned on the disco music and the mirror ball. I danced one dance and escaped for dinner.
At 6 AM the next morning we boarded the buses. Breakfast on the bus was fried rice and sausage. We sang songs (Old MacDonald, Small World, This Old Man, etc.). Our first stop was Erawan Cave. We climbed 600 steps to a cave with a huge Buddha image. Then we rushed back to the bus. We traveled through Loei and the mountainous area north of it. The road was lined with nurseries growing flowers. Several hours later we arrived for lunch at the Runyen Resort. Lunch was delicious and the gardens were lovely.
We hopped back on the buses and visited the Chateau Loei vineyard. I sampled a little wine. Then we headed home. We arrived around 7:30 PM. I was tired but not the students. They watched videos and listened to music and danced almost the whole way. When the bus stopped at a traffic light it was bouncing like a low rider.
My father and sister will be here in a couple of weeks and I'm really looking forward to their visit.
4Oct-15Nov03 Clem's brother Steve and Steve's wife, Lize visited Udon for a week. They came bearing gifts (mainly food). Clem and Ahng showed them the sights of Udon. Clem couldn't find anywhere in town with Thai dancing so he recruited Ahn and Nee to dress in authentic costumes and put on a show at Steve's birthday party. After an intensive afternoon of practice and a couple of hours of hair and makeup preparation we went to the Complex Beer Garden for the show. They were great.
I visited Nee's school, The Udon Thani Skills Development Center. I watched the flag raising, morning exercise and then visited her class. Her teacher gave me a demonstration haircut and Nee shampooed my hair. I looked in on the sewing class, the cooking class, and classes for mechanics. She really likes her new school.
The English Department put on a costume party for the graduating students and the teachers were invited. It was lots of fun.
My father and my sister arrived on October 29 for a two-week visit. They stayed in a plush suite at the Charoensi Grand Royal Hotel and my father rented a car. We had a fiesta of food. I invited two of my favorite people from Rajabhat to dinner at a "Korean" style restaurant. All you can eat for a dollar. There is a grill on each table and you cook your own veggies and meat. Supatra and Bancoab showed them how to cook and my visitors enjoyed the evening.
The visitors came to one of my classes. I'm impressed with my dad's ability to connect with and communicate with my students. We visited Nee's school and had a feast at a roadside noodle restaurant.
We took them to Thak Khan Tho, Nee's village. On the way we stopped in Kumpawapi to take pictures of the monkeys. We looked around the village and saw the many ways that they grew food from frogs to mushrooms. Nee's mother gave my Dad a pakomah (a traditional cloth wrap worn by Thai villagers). Nee spent some time with her son Top.
We went to another relatives house and met Nee's grandmother. She gave Gaynel a hand-woven pakomah. There was a celebration going on in the village with music and the visitors took pictures and joined in the dancing. We said hello to the water buffalos and headed back to Udon.
Bancoab arranged for a Rajabhat van to take us to Phu Pra Bhat Historical Park. Three third year students (Ton, Duan and her twin sister) went along to guide us. On the way back to Udon we stopped at Na Kaa, a village that specializes in fabric and clothing sales. We purchased Christmas and birthday gifts and looked for a "clerical looking" Thai shirt for Father Bob (Dad's parish priest).
Then Clem cooked up a feast of shrimp and veggies for the guests. We drank wine and gorged ourselves.
The next day my Dad woke up with "plumbing problems" that were to stay with him for the rest of the visit. A trip to the local hospital gave him some relief so we continued to tour around but on a more relaxed schedule.
I was lucky. Due to graduation practice, classes were suspended for six days so I had lots of time for my guests.
On Friday night we had another feast (stuffed bell peppers) and a "Survivor Party". I've become a fan of the show and tune in every Friday night.
I took my sister to see the Udon Sunshine Orchid Garden where they have fragrant orchids and orchids that dance (move with sound).
We searched in vain for elephants. Usually there are elephants everywhere in the evening near the restaurants. For 20 baht you can feed them some sugar cane. But during the visit no elephants appeared.
My sister brought me my tent and some CDs to copy into my mp3 player. Colter's Texas style barbecue sauce, a pile of corn tortillas, some jalapeno peppers, hamburger dills, and six boxes of freeze-dried frijoles (courtesy of Joy) rounded out my CARE package. I sent some excess travel stuff back with Gaynel.
The visit was over too fast. We had plenty of time to catch up on family news but the time seemed to whiz by. I saw them off and watched their plane disappear over the horizon. I should see them again in about a year when I travel through America.
After they left I went to a meeting at the Language Center. The native speakers are scheduled for a massive teaching project for the Faculty of Management Science. My weekly hours have more than doubled. The extra pay will come in handy for travel expenses.
16Nov-31Dec03 December in Udon is lots of fun. There are several parades and festivals and a 15 day fair. Students from several classes participate in the events. I teach a class of dance majors who perform in several events and one of my classes was in the big historical pageant sponsored by Rajabhat.
I went to their rehearsal and chatted with them. I watched the parade that kicked-off the fair and saw some of my dance students. I've learned to find where the VIPs sit and get as close as possible. That's the place where all the bands play and all the dancers dance.
Clem and Ahng came with Nee and me to see the pageant. We managed to get in free with our Rajabhat ID but found out that all the tables were reserved. As we were wandering around trying to find a place to see the pageant, an official from the Udon Thani provincial development office invited us to join him at his table. It was a very generous offer and the seats were near the stage.
Willilak and Sujitra, two English teachers at the Rajabhat summarized the action between scenes. I couldn't hear very well but the pageant was about the founding of Udon. It had something to do with Naga, a dragon-god, his beautiful daughter who fell in love with a mortal and a big flood which wiped out the Khmer empire. There was lots of action, music, dancing, fireworks, and colorful costumes and I enjoyed the show.
We get a holiday on the King's Birthday (father's day in Thailand) and on Constitution Day. It's hard to believe but it's already time for mid-term exams.
Nee is spending weekdays in Thak Khan Tho where she has opened a beauty shop. As the final exam of her beauty school, her teacher will pay unannounced visits to check her shop. The testing period should be over by my birthday. I'll be glad when she can spend more time in Udon.
I've ordered my airline tickets for the first leg of my journey and I hope to receive them by early January. The tickets will take me as far as Beijing with stops in Hong Kong, Japan and Korea. At $1,400 they were $400 cheaper online than from a local travel agent.
My birthday party was nice. About 20 fellow teachers and friends showed up to celebrate Christmas and my birthday. Clem cooked up a nice selection of finger foods. I opened gifts, blew out the candles on my birthday cake (57, I think), and we played charades. My favorite was when Noriko (a Japanese teacher) acted out "Beauty and the Beast".
Nee and I went out for New Year's Eve at the Complex Beer Garden. At the stroke of midnight, they played a Thai New Year's song (sawadee be mai).
I can't wait to start traveling again.