Sunday, February 26, 2012

Lost in Translation

This blog began with my being laid off last June and, not finding work at home, I decided I would move to Thailand, my wife's country.  Thailand has strict rules as to how I can earn a living here, one of which is to teach English.  I have a degree in environmental planning, basically a biology degree, however I spent most of my working life as an auditor.  It was good work as it let me use my curiousity in a productive manner as I investigated how various business functions worked.  In a way, I used my scientific training to perform my job methodically, always asking questions.  Another benefit of the job is that it taught me to write.

All those skills may or may not come into play as a teacher.  At this point, I could get a job without any sort of credential but all I have read has said that I would be ahead of many by getting something called a TEFL, Teaching English as a Foreign Language, or TESL, Teaching English as a Second Language.  Both are internationally recognized and I have yet to find any difference between the two.  The credential can be obtained on line or any TEFL/TESL school around the world, including the US.  In fact, I could have gotten the credential in Seattle over a period of three weekends.  If I had been a teacher in my career already, I would have done just that.  However taking it in a foreign country often includes actual classroom experience.  My program will have me teaching a class of English learners.

This week brought a few challenges that opened my eyes as to what I am up against.  The first was that of applying to a school.  A good friend here is well-connected in town and happened to know an administrator at one of the local private schools in the middle of town.  They were looking for both an English language teacher and a biology teacher.  My friend was excited that I had a biology degree but I wasn't.  I have never used it and haven't kept up with it so teaching a class would be a big uphill battle.  I could just jump into it however I felt I would be doing a diservice to the children, if I did.  Still, I want a job so I wandered over to the school. 

I got off the songtauw and found myself amidst a beautiful school filled with children of all ages from early to high school, dressed smartly in their uniforms, boys in dark pants and white shirts and girls in skirts and blouses.  If I was in the US, I would have thought I was at a Catholic school.  The kids were all very well behaved, no fighting or yelling, all chatting among themselves and completely ignoring me.  All the signs were in Thai and, from the looks of the kids, I had the feeling few were going to admit they spoke English.  I was told to come to the office in front of the blue dome so I wandered around the school, no eyes looking my way for this poor lost soul.  I saw a blue canopy but no dome.  I was beginning to wonder if maybe I was taking "dome" too literally.  Apparently I was as I finally saw the one and only English sign on one of the doors, "Personnel" directly across from the canopy.

I entered and told them I who I was looking for.  I was asked to sit at a desk and there I sat for some time without anyone speaking to me until she arrived.  She gave me a paper application and asked me to complete it.  I noticed a few words were misspelled, such as "application" but completed it anyway.  She knew very little English and my Thai is even worse.  She pointed to the application saying she needed my business card.  I didn't have one so I left to return another day.  She asked if I could teach biology and I asked the age.  She had to confer with a few of the ladies in the office until she came back with 16.  That would be high school level and I would prefer to not offer myself for that.  From my understanding, the teacher would also have to be bilingual.  The English job was also open but I got the feeling she was really looking for biology.  We thanked each other and I was back into the heat of the day.

The next day in my TEFL class I discovered how little I know of my own language.  Pop quiz.  Name the twelve perfect tenses for a sentence.  The only person who knew was our one student from Russia.  We were reminded about past, present and future tense and then simple, progressive or continuous, and so on.  A few of the students argued that knowing such things was of little value.  Then I thought back of my directions to the market.  Bpai or go and talart or market.  Thais just have to say go market and it can mean anything from you are going to I am going to we are going.  It is a contextual language whereas English is far more specific.  Both say the same thing, but teaching someone about past and present tense who has no point of reference toward such will be difficult.  I sense tougher days ahead.

Nee and I had business cards made the next day and we both went to the school.  She would have gone with me the first time but she was ill.  I was glad she was feeling better today as when we arrived, the lady met us and immediately informed Nee that what she really wanted was my photo.  When I spoke with her the day before, I somehow missed that request.  Nee also told me that there is a separate department that speaks only English and the biology teacher would be in that program.  I found out that class size is 60, the English-only department is very small, and other details I would never have gotten on my own.  I imagined just how difficult this would have been had I not had Nee as my translator the second time around. 

My TEFL teacher told me earlier that day that few payroll departments in Thailand speak English and if I want to get paid, I better learn a few sentences.  This weekend, I broke out my Thai book and am adding to my vocabulary.  A photo is paap taai or taai roop.  I won't forget that.  Next I will work on my English grammar.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

On a Mission

I gave a presentation today on how to survive in Chiang Mai.  I talked about how to catch a songtaew, pay the right price and get to where I wanted to go.  The assignment was to talk for 15 to 20 minutes but most of us, including myself, went over that.  Still, we managed to get out on time.  Yesterday, we voted for class to begin at 9 and end at 2.  We will stick to that schedule until we have to visit a classroom.  Then it is a matter of the school schedule.

All through class my mind was on something far more important.  Something that was in my thoughts again and again.  I checked my notes several times to be sure I was going to perform correctly.  I was thinking, of course, about how I was going to order lunch.

A few days ago, Nee and I went out for dinner at one of the roadside food stands.  Several types of food were available including pad thai, fried chicken and steamed chicken.  The one dish that caught my eye was a lovely piece of meat boiling away in a steel tub.  It was a pork leg and I wanted to try it.  The meal came with rice, some pickled vegetable and some slices of pork.  I loved it and ate it slowly to enjoy each bite.  Eating slowly is not something I normally do so I was truly enjoying it. 

Last night, I told Nee that I wanted to take a chance and order some of the same for lunch, as it is a fairly common dish served around Thailand.  To order it, I have to understand Thai grammar.  I start with the rice, kaaw, followed by the adjective for the meat, the bone, or kaa.  The meat is pork, muu with rising inflection on the on the last U sounding a bit like a question.  In addition, there is also a hard-boiled egg, kai.  And finally, I want one plate, nung jaan.  Thus Nee taught me to say:

Kaaw kaa muu gap kai nung jaan. 

She wrote it down for me but I had promise to not pin it on my shirt.  All through class I kept repeating kaaw kaa muu gap kai nung jaan.  I muttered it to myself to the restroom, back to the class and sometimes when a speaker or two lost my attention.  Finally class was over and I was on my way.  Yesterday I joined the class for lunch but with two vegans and another vegetarian, I was starved from that.  I wanted to head out on my own. 

As I walked out I mentioned to the teacher my plans to see if he might know of a good place.  He said there was a place down the street called "The Bamboo" that catered to foreigners, farang, and if I told them I was from class, they would take care of me.  I said I would consider it.  Walking past it, I decided I wanted no Farang food today.  I wanted to be a native.  I walked down the block, turned the corner and went from shop to shop looking for pork leg.  I saw fried chicken, fried bananas, noodles, and a few more Farang places, but none seemed to have my goal.  Besides, I didn't know how to order anything else.

I walked to the end of that block and then turned right for the moat.  The shops I saw sold tires, fans, furniture, keys, bikes, pharmacy, and any number of things I was not looking for.  I wanted my damned pork leg.  I finally made it to the moat.  There was another Mike's Hamburgers as well as a few coffee places, dessert places and such.  Still no pork leg.  I crossed the first street then the next, dodging motorcycles, trucks and cars, arriving at the inside of the moated portion of town.  Inside the moat, Farangville gets even heavier. 

My journey continued past boiled chicken, vegetarian, fruit, more tires, another drug store and a fresh market.  I toured down into the market and back again.  Back to the main street, I finally walked into a likely subject.  "Kaa muu?" I asked.
"Mai," she said and pointed me next door. 
"Kaa muu?"  Nope.  No kaa muu. 

At this time, it was 2:30 and I was hungry.  There was plenty of food around and, though it looked good, I was on a mission.  I must use my Thai.  I walked and walked and finally came to a Thai shop with two ladies sitting at wooden tables and a pot of something boiling away.  I looked at the menu and saw no pictures of my desired meal.  She called to me and said, "Noodle soup."  Damn.  OK.  I will have noodle soup. 

I walked in and she was starting my order when there, before me, in all its glory, floating in a wonderful broth, was a pork leg.  "Kaa muu?" I asked.

She looked suprised at my question and pointed to the rice cooker.  "Kaaw kaa muu," she replied, pointing to the rice. 

"Nung jaan," I replied.  I sat down and then remembered.  "Gap kai?"  She nodded and smiled.  She seemed quite pleased that I could speak to her and I almost started tap dancing.  The food was wonderful.  I ordered some cold water, naam yen, and sat quietly in my joyous celebration of success.  As I left, she gave me the price, 50 baht, about a dollar and a half, and I paid.  The other lady started complimenting my Thai but I had to say that Ionly knew a little, nit noi, Thai.  They both laughed pleasantly and I caught my songtaew home. 

Mission completed.  Tomorrow, noodle soup with large noodles, sen yai.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

If You Want Something, Learn How To Ask For It

We have been here a week now in Chiang Mai, getting to know the place better.  I have been noticing there are three basic types of foreigners here.  Tourists, of course, seem to outnumber all the others as there are such cheap and fast flights here from Bangkok.  They are the ones out arguing with songtauw drivers over the rates, skittering across the streets to avoid becoming roadkill and saying things like, "Wow! It is so strange to be someplace where they speak a different language."  To some degree, I am still in that boat, though I am gradually becoming more comfortable here.  Arguing with a songtauw driver is a bit like arguing with your mom.  Forget it.  You aren't going to win.  Tourists also jump at the chance to rent motorcycles even if they have never sat on one at home.  My advice is to leave the motorcycle riding to the professionals.

I see entire Thai families tucked on their bikes, with little ones leaning on the handle bar, another on mom's lap in the back, and groceries somehow magically attached somewhere.  They never hesitate in traffic, aren't afraid to ride on the sidewalk or fresh markets or any place else that happens to be relatively flat.  Locals find every square centimeter to fill with their bikes.  The tourists are the ones constantly looking back and sideways, running at half the speed of traffic, and hesitating when they should be going.  Locals never look, never slow down and never stop.  Frankly, if I ever do get hit by a motorcycle, it will most likely be from a tourist.

The second group are the ones who read all the articles in the WSJ and Yahoo saying Chiang Mai is the cheapest place in the world to retire.  They live in compounds with multiple guards, hire drivers, cooks and any other help they can afford, and stay among fellow expats.  They avoid public transportation because they can't speak the language, get impatient with clerks and waiters who can't speak English, and generally act like this is their home country.  Some can get quite ugly, treating locals like some sort of vermin.  Perhaps they are having a great stay here, however I would prefer to become part of the last group.

These are the ones the British used to refer to as those who have "gone native."  They have learned the language, may have married a local, perhaps even had children whom they send to Thai schools, eat the food and know how to ride a motorcycle.  They never shop in the "farang" stores and usually  order food from roadside shops.  Nee is helping me go native. 

My school is relatively close to me, however, taking transportation is preferred.  We practiced a few ways until we decided the route.  Songtaews in Bangkok were charging me 8 baht for a 40 minute ride to the skytrain. Songtaews here charge 20 for a ten minute ride. I like to keep things cheap. She also asked a lady she met at a fresh market how to be sure to only pay the 20 baht standard fee.  Then yesterday, we did it and it worked!  After a bit of wandering around, we realized that my class is near one of the large markets here, Warorot.  The direction I was given previously was that I should just get on a songtaew and, if he turns one way get off, and the other way stay on.  If I get off, take another songtaew and so on.  Actually, learning just a bit of Thai works along with some songtaew psychology.  If you tell them where you want to go, they have a right to charge a higher rate.  However, if you ask them if they are going to a particular place, and, if so is the charge still 20 baht, hop on and you are on your way. 

To get to a bus going in the right direction, I first have to run across the street like a jackrabbit.  I flag down an oncoming bus and lean in and say, "bpai talart Warorot mai?" or are you going to Warorot?  If he says, "Mai bpai" or I am not going there, just say "mai pen rai" and move on. Mine shook his head to say, Yes, so then I said, "sow baht na?"  or is the price 20 baht?  He nodded and I hopped on.  I think I surprised him when I spoke Thai.  A small victory for me. 

Going to the market I realized why, for now, I will avoid getting a motorcycle, though.  While sitting in the back, we were stopped and I heard a tire squeal and suddenly a helmeted head of a motorcycle driver was wedged into the lower left corner of the truck.  The fellow picked himself up, restarted his bike and went on his way.  If he had skipped the helmet, I would have probably seen him crack his head open.  The driver didn't speak to him and he didn't speak to the driver.  This is definitely a different world.

If the weather is good, I may just walk occasionally, too.

Class begins next week.  I can't wait.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Calm Remembrances

Boom!  The silence of the pleasant lunch we were having in our new friends' backyard is disturbed by the sound of an explosion.  Then another and another. 

Our friend, Na, from Washington, connected us with friends of her's here in Chiang Mai.  They pick us up at the Marorot Market next to the Ping River, surrounded by songtauews of various colors, motorcycles and other endless traffic.  We are transported from that to their home; a place on 2/3s of an acre, or two rai, of land adjacent to a rice field.  We spend the day sitting in their backyard.
Pi Yi took us away from the tumult of the city to her lovely home in the country.  This is my fifth trip to Thailand and never have I had the peace and quiet and beauty that I have seen today.  There are two homes here, actually, as two families share the land.  We were welcomed into both homes with a pair of sandals to wander the property and a lovely lunch of noodles and vegetables.  They are vegetarian so our meat was made of mushrooms and quite delicious.

We tour the two houses and then the yard.  Back there we see coconuts, betelnuts, mulberry, orchids, euphorbias, and a variety of plants only seen in the tropics or the inside of a greenhouse.  Behind this is a two story platform with a metal staircase, leading us up and above the fields behind them.  We are in the area north of Chiang Mai, where the temperatures are cooler and the breeze is calming.  The platform overlooks several acres of young rice plants sitting in their water.  Beyond, about a mile away, are Wats, Buddhist temples. 

Boom!  Boom!  I hear what sounds like cannons going off.  Pi Yi says these are fireworks being set off at the temple.  Fireworks in the middle of the day!  I get excited only to be told the purpose is part of the funeral taking place at the temple.  Fireworks are used at both weddings and funerals, apparently.  Suddenly several series of fireworks went off and then a sudden burst of black smoke.  This, I was told, is the cremation. 

I sat the rest of the afternoon, watching the rice field, listening to the birds and the slight breeze, thinking what a peaceful way to be.  I thought of my mother, who passed away this day five years ago.  She was always open to new experiences.  She had never left the US until her boyfriend retired and decided to take her on cruises around the world.  In her 70s they were wandering the tombs of Egypt, the ruins of Turkey and walking the Great Wall of China.  She always had a sense of wonder, even as she reached her end from cancer.  I wondered.  Would she want fireworks?  I know I would.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Getting Around and Getting Away in Chiang Mai

We settled into our apartment finally. Housing in Thailand is a bit different from the US. What I consider to be normally included is more of an option here. Our place comes with a kitchen which consists of a counter and sink, refrigerator and microwave but no stove, no utensils, pots, pans, bowls, sheets for the bed, garbage can, and so on. Basically, the room was empty and we spent our first few days filling it up to some minimum level. We hadn't found the street markets yet, so we were dependent on the local department store which is a bit like Macy's and Target combined.  I got to get a frequent buyer card to give us the posted discount.  Nee couldn't get it because she is Thai.  I had to show my passport to get the discount.  When was the last time you had to show your passport at Target?  Never, most likely and can you imagine the fuss if Walmart only gave discounts to foreign tourists?

As we are staying in one place for a couple of months, we both dreaded the idea of eating out three meals a day. I prefer to make my own breakfast and Nee likes to make dinner. If you don't mind eating out every meal, food is certainly available. Eating at the Thai street carts, a meal of noodles, pork and vegetables might run you 40 baht, a little over a dollar. My hamburger the other day was 165 baht, or over three times the cost. Keeping it local keeps the cost down.

Shopping for groceries is the same way. The local grocer is part of a chain here that caters to the foreigners. I can find things there I can't find anywhere else, if I am willing to pay the price. A dozen eggs costs 60 to 80 baht there. 30 baht equals a dollar, so do the math. On the other hand, we walked to something Nee refers to as a fresh market, similar to a farmers market, and bought the same eggs for 30 baht. If I wasn't on a budget, I probably wouldn't care. On the other hand, I do always like a bargain and the markets are a wonderful picture of the Thai diet and culture in microcosm. Along with the various greens and roots, there were oranges, dragon fruit, apples, pineapples, and things of various colors I have no idea what they were. There were ladies chopping up pork that was probably oinking only minutes before, all parts of chickens, fish flapping in trays and various critters in shells. We are inland so seafood is scarcer so you just go for whatever else can be raised. Nee also pointed out some ant eggs, but I chose to ignore them.

If I am lonely for American voices, I go to the grocery. But if I want to live like a Thai, I need to go to the fresh market. Arriving there this morning, I saw that it was behind the street vendors we had dinner from a couple of nights ago. Nee pointed out a sign I couldn't read telling me there was a market inside. I couldn't see it from the street. When I entered, I quickly realized that I was the only non-Thai there. As I wandered around, I also felt pleasantly at home as my mother used to take me to the farmers markets in Santa Clara back when it was the fruit basket of America rather than Silicon Valley. Nee did most of the buying but I wanted to try on my own. I know how to ask, "How much?" Unfortunately I don't always understand the answer.
"Tao rai?" I asked holding up a bottle of hot sauce.
He said something very fast and I looked blankly. He gave me the same look, said it again and then looked over at his lady partner. She said it again and finally I said, "Poo chacha" speak more slowly.
First he said, slowly, "Sao song." I knew song is two but didn't know sao.
The lady said, slowly, "Sip song," or 12. She also showed me in baht. I felt silly and laughed at my misunderstanding. The fellow patted me on the tummy, took my cash and handed me my sauce. Try getting that kind of service at Safeway. Apparently the northern dialect uses a few different words for their numbers.

We have also been figuring out how to get around Chiang Mai. The city is really more of a small state, with multiple districts, or Mueangs. I guess it is like the boroughs of New York City.  We are in the central district, Amphur Mueang, with the oldest parts of the city. Back with the Burmese were attacking, the king built a moat around the city in a square. The moat is still here and is a great landmark when you can't figure out where the songtauw has taken you. There is no bus system and very few taxis. If you don't own a motorcycle or car or truck, you have to take the songtauws, called Red buses, though some are white and others yellow, and tuk tuks. The buses have a general direction they run for 20 baht. If you have a specific place you want to go that isn't on their line, they will take you, however the price is negotiable. Fortunately the mornings are cool so walking is also quite pleasant, provided you keep your eyes open for any vehicles coming at you from all directions.  Tuk tuks are even more negotiable and always more expensive.  Again, if you are not a budget, you don’t care.  For the moment, I do care.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

In Search of the Ordinary or the Bangkok Honey Bagel

We spent the weekend with friends and family, eating out with some, spending the day at other's homes, and even driving down to the coast.  Each was pleasurable and exciting, in their own way.  I got to know my grand neice better, spend time with Nee's brothers and family, and even walked in the water in the Gulf of Thailand.  All this and then packing and running off to our short flight to Chiang Mai.  However through it all, I realized I missed one thing.  I missed my ordinary life back home.

Saturday, we spent the day with her brother, Sewitt, where we had a wonderful lunch of fried rice and other things fixed by his wife.  We also ate some blueberry cheesecake he had made.  Part of the day was also spent by me making bagels.  I learned to appreciate the Iron Chefs.  I was working with an unfamiliar kitchen, tools and ingredients.  Traditional bagels are sweetened with barley malt which I have a jar currently sitting on one of my boxes on a ship halfway between Thailand and Los Angeles.  Sewitt had honey.  This honey was not your average honey but a black stick sweet mass that smelled and tasted wonderful.  He said it was a special honey from up north.  I added that to the bagel mix and ran it through his mixer.  I usually let the bagels rise overnight in the fridge, but we were in a hurry, so we just let them do their thing in the laundry room for an hour or so.  They rose beautifully, but I had added a bit too much water so they stuck to the pan they were rising on.  I pulled them off as gently as possible and gave each a quick bath in boiling water with soda, another tradition.  We baked them and, to my great pleasure, they came out beautifully. 

They were a hit with the family.  I call these Bangkok Honey bagels.  The honey gave them this rich dark color.  I think with a slower rise, they would be even better.

The next day, her girlfriends took us over to the coast for a day at the beach.  The town, Pattaya, is very congested and busy and I was wondering where we would go.  Her friend knew a restaurant by the water that has wonderful seafood.  I was expecting something like Fisherman's Wharf with hight prices and poor quality but it was anything but that.  We drove to the end of a narrow street, dodging motorcycles and such and ended up at a lovely restaurant built right over the water.  Despite the heat, we were able to enjoy a meal of several different seafood including crabs and a fish freshly caught from the waters we were sitting above.  If you want to make me happy, cook me fresh crab and fish.

Over the weekend, Nee's neice also rescued us from the heat by letting us move into her place which has airconditioning in the bedroom.  She moved out of the bedroom and let us stay their for a couple of nights.  Finally getting rest and relief, I realized that I was missing something.  I could say I was homesick, yet I was happy here, despite the challenges of heat and traffic.  Everyone treated me so very kindly and I knew I would miss them all once I left for Chiang Mai.  Still, I was missing something.  I was missing the ordinary.

My life in America was usually focused on work and family.  With just Nee, we would spend evenings shopping or watching something we had recorded on the DVR, eating popcorn.  Life was quiet, but simple.  I wondered if I would ever have anything even resembling that life.

Two days ago, we flew to Chiang Mai.  The flight was over before I knew it, and within minutes, I was in a sleepy little town without traffic and a balmy temperature.  The weather was cool and comfortable and for the first time, my clothes didn't stick to my skin.  We spent two nights at a bed and breakfast owned by the girlfriend of a friend of mine in Washington.  In fact, he had been visiting there all the previous week and that night would be his last for a while.  We all went out for Mexican food, of all things, and enjoyed the quiet night. 

The next day we spent time looking for a place to stay.  We found a place with two bedrooms and a kitchen and, after much thought, decided that was the way to go.  Today we moved in and immediately had to go to the store for food and utensils.  Chiang Mai has more foreigners than any place I have seen in Thailand and the nearby mall caters to them.  In the past I would have probably turned my nose up at such a place, but today I was drawn to it like a magnet.  We went in search of lunch and found a mix of Thai, Japanese and American food.  The place I was unable to leave was Mike's Original Hamburger, Converting Vegetarians since 1979.  I ordered my hamburger with mushrooms and relished every bite.

Sometimes when I seek the exotic, I realize I am still a simple person at heart, happy to eat my hamburger and French fries 8,000 miles from my birthplace.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Round, Round, I Get Around

We wanted to go downtown yesterday. If we had a car, we would have just driven, at least to a point where we could catch the Skytrain. Bangkok has many different means of transportation, the best of which is the Skytrain, an elevated, air conditioned train which runs every few minutes. To get there from our house we could take a taxi, a bus, air-conditioned or not, a tuk tuk, a motorcycle taxi or hop on what I refer to as the pick-up bus but is actually called a Songtaew.   Song is 2 and taew is row, thus two rows of seats.  Their seem to be countless numbers of these, unscheduled, and not bad on a cool morning. You sit inside a metal framework with a steel roof, handholds for those who have to stand and slightly padded bench for the rest of us. 


Morning in Samut Prakan
All around us was the constant flow of trucks, cars, motorcycles and various modifications of vehicles.  Samut Prakan, where we are this week, is a suburb of Bangkok, a few miles southeast of the city.  To get into town, we needed to first take the songtaew to the Skytrain station, about a half-hour ride in traffic like I show here.

The skytrain extended itself down closer to our house last year which is great.  Before, it took a cab ride of almost an hour, depending on the time of day.  The country has plans to have a network of skytrains going out to all the suburbs one day, but I think I may never see that day.  Such developments are quite expensive.

Once in town, we headed to find some moo yang, or grilled pork, a breakfast favorite.  Alas, we could find no moo yang.  We asked around and apparently we missed them by a few minutes.  Next we wanted some fried bananas, gluey kak, as best as I can spell out the word.  Again, none was to be found.  We stopped at a temple to pay our respects and I took a few photos.

We burned incense, lit a candle, paid our respects and off we went.

We had a disappointing lunch at one of the malls there and then ran to catch another bus, this one air conditioned, and went to Chinatown.  Her friend told her that we could find the food we wanted and we also wanted to see the Golden Buddha.  Another 20 minutes in traffic and we were there.  We considered a taxi but buses are much bigger and, in my opinion, safer, not to mention cheaper. 

We found the Golden Buddha, lit some incense and a candle, paid our respects and took a few photos.

Golden Buddha

Chinatown from the Golden Buddha Pavilion

The Golden Buddha has a great story.  Thailand and Burma were at war with each other and Burma was getting the upper hand.  This was a few centuries ago.  The Burmese were looking for gold and the King wanted to protect this particular Buddha.  He had it covered in concrete and made to look like a much simpler Buddha.  The Burmese didn't figure it out and the Buddha remained in concrete for years.  Later, after the Burmese were booted out, a crew was moving the statue when it slipped and fell.  Off cracked the concrete and out came the Buddha.  It is now a very highly respected representation.  Nee had never seen it and I had my first trip here as she sent me on a tour one day while she was at work.

In Chinatown, we managed to find some excellent pork satay (did I mention that I love Thai food?) and then wanted to head over to the train station to find out the cost of going north to Chiang Mai.  To get there we had to walk through construction and avoid getting killed crossing one of the busiest streets in town.  I saw the subway station and remembered we could get there via their tunnel as we had visited the station years ago.

We got to the station and asked about the trains north.  As we stood there, we began to have our doubts about wanting to spend 12 hours in one of the cars, even if it was airconditioned.  We needed to use the bathroom, so we went to find the facility.  When I got there, I found out I needed to pay 2 baht, about six cents, to use it.  Two ladies sat at a table directly behind where the men stood at the wall...well you get the picture.  Privacy in public restrooms is sometimes lacking, not to mention cleanliness.  When we re-emerged, we decided that maybe an hour flight for a few dollars more was well worth the price.  We made our plane reservations that night.

To get back home, we took the subway, connected to the Skytrain and then down to ground level for another songtaew.  By then, though, the heat was killing me, so we took a cab.  Still cheap, but more than a songtaew.  I got home dehydrated and quite hot.

Bangkok is a hube, crowded and confusing town.  I was so glad to have Nee with me as my company and interpreter.  Next week, we fly to Chiang Mai.  Before that I will make bagels with my brother-in-law and take a drive out the to Sea of Thailand.