Joop-joop (kiss-kiss) from Sumo to you

Word around the water cooler is all about Thailand's current government and whether or not its alleged corruption will lead to another military coup (and whether or not such a coup would be sufficient grounds for a day off work). In more personal news, my friend Allan told me he’s moving back to Canada, putting me in a gloomy mood last week. It seems lately as soon as I get to know someone, he or she is moving away. I’ll miss having him around, just as I miss the others I’ve befriended and waved off in the short time I’ve been here. I suppose that comes with the territory of living in a foreign country. You’re more likely to meet transient people—and at some point in the next year, I'll be the one leaving. The good news is you’ve got great places to visit (Philippines, Australia, China. I’m dreaming now.) Also on the upside, as often as someone leaves, you meet someone new with another set of interesting experiences and viewpoints. I went out Thursday night with a new friend from Colombia and got a kick out of her stories from the six months she lived in the States, her shopping nirvana. She loved all the designer clothes you can get for relatively cheap (“You know Ross, dress for less.”) The sound she associates with America is the clack-clack-clack of shoppers methodically working their way through racks of clothes, moving hangers quickly to one side until something appeals. We laughed at the Bath and Body Works mentality. You go in for one bottle of soap but leave with five because of the get-one-free promotion. You'll never use all five, but you buy them anyway because it’s a “deal”. (I’ve never seen a shopping culture like this one, though. When I ask my students what they did over the weekend, I’m guaranteed shop, sleep, watch TV, in that order with rare exceptions. Thailand has its own version of the B&BW promotion: go to the popular Pratunam wholesale district, and the more you buy, the cheaper the items.)

I spend more time with other “farang” than with native Thais, say around 60-40, partly because we’re in the same situation and most Thais are already settled into their own lives with family and friends. I feel really lucky, though, to have somewhat of a surrogate Thai family. P'Tom, as you may recall, owns the coffee stand I frequent and says the things my mom would want someone over here saying to me: Be careful walking home; Don’t stay out too late; Go exercise (all advice I heed, of course…Mom). I stop by there many afternoons on my way home from work to order a fruit shake and hang out with him and his wife and any other regulars who may be there. It’s on the sidewalk in front of a restaurant that serves heaping plates of Thai food for $1. The restaurant’s owner has three kids and there's usually a couple more hanging around. Unlike most other Thai children I’ve seen, these are all over the place—climbing on top of the table, playing with things on the ground, trying to push each other down. It can be a circus, but always hugely entertaining. The youngest one, Sumo, is a lovable chunk; he has the cutest cheeks and Michelin Man legs. If you say "joop joop", he'll kiss your cheek. So there I was last night sitting at P'Tom’s little wooden table, eating my dollar dinner, watching all the people go by, and contemplating how lucky I am that this all came together so nicely. Lucky to have parents who supported my move, great friends back home to skype with, Sarah who introduced me to P'Tom, among other great people and places in Bangkok. The only downside is missing you all, and of course my new nephew Ben, who isn't included in "you all" because he can't read yet. But look, he's working on it. There he is below with his best friend Lucy. Laura says he starts laughing every time Lucy comes in the room. So, yeah, pretty big downside indeed.

And here's Sumo:

This one's blurry, but too cute not to share:


New look in progress

Well, I just had to get rid of that boring ol' header. This isn't perfect I realize, but it's gotta be better, right? It's actually my first photoshop graphic attempt and the last picture's probably too busy, and the colors look much better before I post it to the web, and there's this weird grainy effect around the text, and yada yada yada. But hey, it'll do for now. I gotta get outside and play.

To make up for my photoshop laziness, I'll give you a good laugh. I have a student named F (yes, English letters also make for popular Thai nicknames here.) The class was up and getting into groups and I hear one student yell across the room: "F you too!"

He has asked me if he should change his nickname before going to the States for university. I told him it'd probably be a good idea.


What a beautiful wreck you are

Ayutthaya, a river-encircled city about an hour outside of Bangkok, was the majestic capital of Thailand for four centuries until 1767 when the Burmese conquered and left it in ruins. People like to say there's nothing there now but elephants and temples, and that's about right. But the elephants and temples make it well worth a trip. I went there last week to visit a couple I got to know in Chiang Mai and had a wonderful time with them as my tour guides. On my first night there, Yada demonstrated the awesome potential of a rice cooker and hot plate—I'd go back just for more of her almond fried chicken. We also managed to break from our South Park/Chris Rock-era Saturday Night Live marathon enough to do some nice sight-seeing, including a sunset boat ride with views like the one I took above.

Reade and Yada at one of the temple grounds.

The Burmese destroyed what they could of the city, going so far as to decapitate sacred Buddha figures. The ruins are so beautiful, though, and brought to mind the Shawn Mullins song from which I ripped off my title.

Only one temple was not destroyed by the Burmese. The king of Burma used Wat Na Phrameru Rachikaram as a military base and fired canons from it. Injured from firing a canon himself, he died on his way back to Burma for treatment.

We stopped by the Elephant Kraal, where elephants live and are trained for ceremonies and battle reenactments. The handsome fellow below is just ten days old. He was trying to run before he could walk—so cute to watch. I was sitting on a bench taking pictures when a six-month-old elephant named Santa came over and hugged me—or so I thought—with his trunk. Turns out it's his bench and he wanted it back. Good thing I wasn't in the mother's seat.

An enormous fence of red teak posts (seen below behind Yada and the elephants) enclosed the area. One of the kraal owners told us the posts were handcarved by twelve women in their 70s. I couldn't find more information on that, but will look into it next time I'm there.

PS: Can't you just hear the smaller elephant saying "Me, me, don't forget me!"?