Kid in a candy store

That was me on my day off when I met up with Ange, a fellow teacher at the branch here, and she took me to a boatyard just a half hour's walk from where I live. The kaleidoscopic setting is a photographer's playground, and we played til the sun went down. I owe her many thanks for showing it to me. Check out more photos from that day on my flickr site.

Here's Ange with a fisherman who wanted to be in the picture. That kind of playfulness and openness to strangers is one of the things I love about Thai people.

The sunlight was gorgeous. The weather now couldn't get any better: warm, sunny and slightly breezy during the day and cool enough in the early mornings and evenings to trigger tiny goosebumps.

We saw this cutie patootie playing his little heart out in the ocean.

They stood and watched who I assume is their father leaving for work until he was out of sight and then resumed the fun.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Life in Bangsaen rolls on at a lackadaisical pace and I have no complaints. It's really the best of both worlds here because Bangkok and all her magnificent excesses are just an hour down the road. I went there on Tuesday to take care of some things and see Min and Jason, friends from the States bound for her sister's wedding in Phuket. Luckily, I had the day off thanks to university graduation and didn't need to teach again until Wednesday night. It was great to catch up with them over shopping at Suan Lum Night Bazaar and riverside cocktails at their hotel, Navalai. (As an aside, I'd recommend this hotel to anyone visiting Bangkok. It's on one of my favorite streets, Phra Athit, known for its galleries and arty boutiques and restaurants. It's convenient to Khao San Road and the Grand Palace area, but not a skytrain stop, the only downside.) Our group of seven split into two vehicles on the way to the night bazaar so I snapped a fuzzy picture of Min and Jason (on either side of their future relative) on their first tuk-tuk ride.

Before meeting up with all of them, I stopped by Sanam Luang, the royal grounds in front of the Grand Palace and funeral site of Princess Galyani Vadhana. She died in January but they just held the funeral earlier this month, following Thai royal tradition to wait for an auspicious date. The gilded crematorium pyre and other temporary funeral buildings will remain in place through November. Masses flock here every day and night to pay their respects and perhaps forget about all the political conflicts for a while.

Here, people take photos of a painting of the late princess.

Lines are long for an inside view.

The crematorium pyre, modeled on Mount Meru, a mythical Buddhist site.

More details of the lavish structures.

But alas, the political conflicts continue and Min called me first thing the next morning with the news that protestors had taken over the airport. So instead of a flight to Phuket, the group piled into a minivan for an overnight ride to Phuket. I hope they made it okay and I'm praying this whole mess is settled before my cousin Andrea and her husband Jason get here in just three short weeks. I know we'll have a wonderful time drama or not, but I'm still hoping like mad for not.


Beach living

Today was my day off (as in Bangkok, I work six short days), and I took full advantage of living a stone's throw from the beach by starting my morning and ending my day there.

The weather has been perfect the past week. I think rainy season is officially over and "winter" is about here. Bangsaen is cooler than Bangkok anyway with its ocean breeze.

Banana boats are very popular here. They dot the shoreline in the mornings, anchored and waiting for the afternoon action.

Once the sun loses its strength, the umbrellas come down and give loungers a better view.

I plopped in a deck chair myself and ordered one of my favorite dishes, yaam pla dook phu, a salad of minced fried catfish, shredded mango, peanuts, herbs and spices. It goes perfectly with sticky rice - you break off a chunk, ball it up and dip it into the juice. It also goes perfectly with watching a cotton candy sunset.


Vaca flashback

During my time off the week before moving to Bangsaen, I essentially had two very different mini-vacations. First, Koh Samet with Demelza and Isabella. It rained for much of the 48 hours we were there, but we still had a grand time eating and talking, eating and talking. It cleared up at night so we could hang out by the ocean at the beach bars with their mats and low tables and fire shows and hookah pipes. If you visit Bangkok and don't have time to get down south to the top-ranked beaches and islands - Krabi, Phuket, Samui, Phi Phi, etc, etc - Koh Samet is a great alternative. It's not as breath-taking as the others (based on a little personal experience and a little hearsay) and has been over-developed despite its national park status, but still sports white sand and clear water. Because of its proximity to Bangkok - three to four hours on a bus, plus a 30-minute ferry ride - it can get crowded, especially on weekends. There's a lively nightlife scene with barbecues, bars and dance clubs, and a good mix of Thais, expats and travelers.

When Isabella and Demelza left to get back for Saturday classes, I stayed on for a couple of days in Ban Phe, the jumping off port town for Koh Samet. More specifically, I went about ten or so kilometers down the beach road to Laem Mae Phim, which feels like a hidden paradise. I don't think many foreigners have seen this part of Thailand as I saw three in the two days I spent there. If it's peaceful getaway you want, stop here rather than taking the ferry over to Samet. I met the woman in the picture above almost immediately. She was so good to me, even inviting me to stay in her home, though I declined, and her son (not the one pictured) drove me all the way to the bus station in Rayong. Very kind family.

A serene Buddhist temple sits atop a hill at the very end of Laem Mae Phim Beach.

The view from the temple.

A woman praying at the temple.

Children running out of the ocean at the end of the day. The beach was mostly deserted during the day, but in the late afternoon, large groups of Thais gathered to play sports on the sand or ride banana boats in the water. I happened upon one group of maybe 50 people, most of them wearing face paint and about half in orange shirts. I think they had just played some sort of game and I caught them picking up the course - five long, narrow lines created with dozens of scrunched up shirts, umbrellas, and other skinny objects. I sort of regret not lifting my camera because it was fascinating, but in the moment, I felt intrusive and was just too shy to start snapping away. Maybe next time.

Proud to be an American in Bangsaen

So far so good in Bangsaen. Since my arrival on Sunday, I've gradually slipped into easygoing beach living mode. Even work seems more relaxed when you can gaze out at the ocean from the 6th floor window during breaks. Today, Friday, is my day off and I just returned from what's become my routine morning walk down the palm-shaded path you see in the picture above, only minutes from my apartment. It's so peaceful there in the mornings with a smattering of people lounging in the deck chairs and vendors just opening up their shops and restaurants on the other side of the path (seen in the picture below). The rows of chairs and umbrellas continue farther than I've yet walked and apparently fill up on weekends when Thai tourists arrive by the bus and carloads. Truth be told, the narrow strip of beach isn't much and the people I've talked to are wary of the water, revising my previous mental images of sunset dips and strolls sans shoes. But I'll just take a page from the Thais. They mostly come to the beach to recline under the umbrellas, order food and chill out with friends. Not a bad plan at all. And I'm already relishing the cooler and fresher air. It's so nice to eat seafood outside and not feel tightness in the chest from exhaust (Sorry for the cheap shot, Bangkok. You know I still love you. We just need some time apart.)

The town itself is small, almost entirely Thai (I've seen just a few foreigners walking around) and centered around the university. The language school I teach for is actually in the engineering building on campus so most of my students are college students. I'm down here with another teacher from Bangkok, Dave, who's coincidentally also North Carolina born and bred. Both of us got the feeling we had stepped into the Thai version of Myrtle Beach, at least the Strand area (is it even called that anymore? I'm having great memories from high school now). More hi-so Thais weekend at Hua Hin, while this place attracts pickup trucks and souped-up cars. I've seen a couple of such cars sneaking (by this, I mean right in front of the police officers) in a practice round before the annual speed race, which takes place this weekend along the main street that runs parallel to the beach.

Of course Wednesday around noon my time, I was nowhere near the beach, but glued to the TV watching Obama make history. I will never forget sitting on the bed and sobbing over his words and the reactions of people in the crowd, particularly the older generation who must have thought they'd never see such progress in their lifetime. I managed to get it together and apply sunscreen to meet Dave for lunch. We were both in a state of elation and could hardly stop talking about the significance of it all. Even during unrelated topics of conversation, one of us would say "Obama" and we'd break into smiles. Then we each received texts from non-American friends who were just as excited and it really hit home how much this election meant to everyone and how most people from other countries really do want America to succeed. It's been a while since I've felt this proud to be an American, and it's not only because of the way in which Obama won, but also the way in which McCain lost - with grace and even the promise of support. I like to hold classroom debates, particularly in the advanced classes with students who will soon study abroad. Some have asked me with real wonder if it's true that Americans get into heated debates and then laugh about it or shake hands afterward. I laughed the first time I heard the question because I hadn't thought of it that way before, but answered yes, that sounds about right. Most of my students really enjoy debating once they get into it, but I have to choose the subject matter carefully. Thailand's current political strife is off-limits for sure. It's a great thing to be able to air differences and still stand in the same room when the dust settles. There's obviously a lot wrong in America today, but this far-away perspective has given me a new appreciation for what's right.

Go Obama!!