(Mis)Adventures with Brad

Today Brad decided he wanted to take a water taxi down a khlong (translation: canal, although mine would be “sewage river”). As is typical of Brad, he didn’t have a concrete plan. His plan-on-the-run was to walk down to the khlong and simply catch a water taxi. He had researched that there were different express taxis for tourists with different colored flags. He proceeded to expound this information to a young couple from India whose plan only surpassed Brad’s in that they knew they wanted to see the temples. (Later research revealed that these express taxis only operate on the Chao Praya River by the hotels and temples, not on the canal we were on. Oops.)

Since there was no planned destination, any direction would do. The first taxi that came by, heading in the direction of the temples and the Grand Palace, was crammed with people, sitting, standing, leaning. The taxi pauses for a moment, you grab hold of a rope, and hop on, trying to find any possible available space. We let that taxi pass. A few minutes later a taxi with available seats and no standers arrived, going in the opposite direction. We hopped on that one. The ticket lady simply stands on a beam on the outside of the boat. Since her hands were busy counting money and giving tickets, one can assume she wasn’t holding on to anything. Now, it was obvious to me at the time that if we wanted to go back to where we came from, we were going to have to get on one of those crammed taxis. But that was a problem for later.

We enjoyed our ride for a little while, admiring the baskets of flowers that were purposefully planted along the khlong. IMG_0996The enjoyment lasted only a moment as the smell of raw sewage was so overwhelming that after several glasses of wine last night, my stomach was rebelling. As we were headed in the opposite direction of the temples, it soon became apparent that we weren’t going to find anything in this direction, so we hopped off at the next pier. Now…that problem I mentioned earlier. Being just a little bit claustrophobic, I was already stressing. As predicted, the next boat IMG_0989that arrived was crammed with people, but I was ready to hop on. As I approached the boat, Brad said, “I’m not standing”, and then our adventure truly began.

We left the pier and began to walk down a long, narrow alleyway strewn with litter, broken glass, and bits of building and roof tiles. I don’t know if there are dangerous areas in Bangkok, but I was not feeling safe. (I didn’t take any pictures, as I walked with purpose – to get out of there.) When we finally reached the end of the alleyway, it appeared we had reached a dead end, but a quick glance to the right revealed a typical, market-lined street which led to a busy road.

Having no idea where we were, we Googled it. Bad news. We were 1 hour, 20 minutes from home on foot, 40 minutes by cab. We thought we’d walk for awhile. My good friend, The Weather Channel, told me it was 91F, “feels like 100”, full-on sun and humidity. Many people in Thailand simply perspire, looking all glisten-y. It’s safe to say I sweat, looking more like a drowned rat. (I often hear, “you’ll get used to the heat”. I don’t think so.)

We finally found a train station which would eventually lead to the BTS (skytrain). We waited 20 minutes for a train. Upon arrival at the BTS , I said, “toward Bearing?” Brad, “Nope, Mo Chit is toward downtown.” Even though Brad has been here longer than me, I have ridden the BTS more often, but whatever. We get on the train. “Oops, we’re going in the wrong direction.” %$^&

Three hours after we left the apartment, we arrived back home. Lesson learned. I don’t think water taxis are going to be my mode of transportation anytime soon.

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To Market, To Market…

Brad loves markets, and as a result, we have been to many. We headed out to Chatuchak Market, perhaps the most ambitious of all, on my first weekend in Thailand. (This would be Brad’s third visit to Chatuchak – and we would visit once again within the month!) We have been to Pak Klong Talat, the biggest wholesale and retail fresh flower market in Bangkok, and to the Klong Toey fresh market. And last night, we headed to the night market at On Nut. You were supposed to be able to see the market from the train platform. We could not, and it was then that Brad decided to Google Map the market. “Permanently Closed”!  Like I said, the man loves markets.

I, too, love the markets. I love the colors and the energy. I love how you share the space with the vendors, their carts and trucks, always on your guard not to get in the way of their destination and purpose, lest you be run over. My apologies, but I’m going to inundate you with photos once again.

Chatuchak Market – where you can find anything and everything

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And of course a monk on his cellphone.

Pak Klong Talat Flower Market

Klong Toey Fresh Market

Thursday Market on Soi 23

Today I ventured on my own. Up to this point I’d only meandered in our neighborhood, exploring only as far as Villa Market and the Asok BTS station. But today I ventured. Okay, I had a map, but the important thing is I felt adventurous.

My destination was the Thursday Market on Soi 23 at Srinakharinwirot University. As I walked to the market, my first thought was, “It smells like Bangkok!” as incense wafted from the numerous spas and massage parlors I passed. Once I reached the university, I simply followed the stream of people, arms loaded with their treasures.

The first thing you come upon are stalls and stalls of clothes – dresses, “Bike for Dad” t-shirts, (a cycling event to mark HM the King’s 85th birthday), several stalls of bras and shapewear, bags, scarves, umbrellas, and winter jackets. (What’s up with that? Who could possibly need a winter jacket here?) Deeper in the maze is a children’s paradise – cars, trucks, yellow ducks, puzzles.

 

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While this sushi looks wonderful, I’m not sure I’d want to eat it as it’s been sitting out in the Thailand heat.

On the outer rim were the food stalls. Lots of fried deliciousness, fresh papaya, sushi, popcorn, mango and sticky rice, and foods I’m still discovering. You could eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner here.

 

 

 

And finally the fruit and vegetable stall. There was only one, and it was mobbed. I patiently waited to the side but soon realized it was going to be a long wait, so I pushed my way in. My mission: bok choy. “Is this bok choy?” “No, no. China. China cabbage.” Yep, that’ll do.

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I left with my treasures – the bok choy, summer rolls for lunch, miang kham for an appetizer, and mango and sticky rice for dessert. (Cautionary tale: The first time I ate miang kham I had no idea what I was doing. I generously spread the palm syrup on the betel leaf, dumped on a scoopful of everything, including the chilies, and popped it in my mouth. I literally couldn’t speak for the next five minutes.)

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Lunch!

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Miang kham to go

I think this may be my new Thursday morning routine.

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My Summer in the Hallway

I liken my summer to standing in the hallway – a long hallway with doors to Chicago, Madison, St. Paul, New Hampshire. Doors that were always open but inevitably returned to that hallway, where I had closed the door on one life but hadn’t yet opened the door on the other.

Today I open the door. I leave behind the friends, colleagues, familiarity, the safety net that is Tokyo, and enter the world of Bangkok. I’m apprehensive. I’m not adventurous by nature. I have a friend traveling the world – London, Paris, Italy, Dubai, Jordan, Greece – alone! That’s not me. So I’m keeping this blog, more for myself, not only to chronicle the journey, but also to force me to get out and take the journey.

I open the door, not jumping in with both feet, but one determined step at a time.

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Chicago skyline from Navy Pier

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All-Star Game in Cincinnati

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The Bean!

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Como Observatory in St. Paul

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Cape Neddick, Maine

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Sayonara Tokyo! Sawasdee Kha Bangkok!

We rode the train like children, full of curiosity and wonder, looking at the city with new eyes – no longer as tourists, but as future residents. Comparisons to Tokyo are inevitable, and in most cases, Tokyo’s going to win. No azure sky, sometimes so impossibly blue you can’t believe it’s real. It’s not even fair to compare the train system as I don’t believe there’s anywhere as efficient, to-the-minute, as Tokyo. The traffic! I’d heard about the traffic, but oh my! The good news is Brad isn’t allowed to drive in Thailand so he’ll (we’ll!) have a driver. I should get a lot of reading done. The heat and humidity reminded me of Tokyo (I made it to 11:00 before I had to pull my hair up. I’m thinking keratin and a short, choppy bob.), but in Tokyo you get a reprieve – October through May. Here it’s just going to get hot, hotter, and wetter. (I’m thinking cute little sundresses, cute little rain boots, and cute little umbrellas.)

Tokyo is vibrant and bustling but in an organized and polished fashion. Bangkok’s vibrance is chaotic, noisy, colorful. Street vendors at every turn beckon you with their wondrous aromas – noodles, curries, sausages, exotic fruits, incense. It’s a toss-up as to whether we’ll lose weight due to all the sweating or gain weight due to all the deliciousness.

We did the usual “Brad’s Walking Tour of (fill in the blank)”, trying to get a feel for the neighborhoods. We found the US Embassy, important in the event of an emergency, and the Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, important for my well-being. It’s a Thai-styled church, big and white, with a giant golden Jesus at the altar. People were spilling out on all sides, seated in white, plastic chairs. It felt like home. The words and music were the same. Brad said the Catholic church is the same everywhere. (I beg to differ. See Vietnam post, December, 2010.)

Holy Redeemer Catholic Church

Holy Redeemer Catholic Church

We met Daryl, a former ASIJ colleague, for dinner at Face. I predict Face will become a regular haunt. A rustic, old Thai wooden house with many levels and cozy nooks. You can choose from 3 restaurants – Thai, Japanese, or Indian – but who wouldn’t choose Thai? It was on the pricier side, but nowhere near as expensive as Tokyo. (1 point to Bangkok) We (I) peppered Daryl with questions. We already have a friend in Bangkok!  (if I didn’t scare him away)

A new adventure awaits!

Cassia Fistula, the Golden Shower Tree, the National Flower of Thailand

    Cassia Fistula, the Golden Shower Tree, the National Flower of Thailand

Smiles Jazz in Bangkok! Just like home!

Smiles Jazz in Bangkok! Just like home!

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Prambanan and Ratu Boko – The temple we almost missed

Last Spring Break we visited Sri Lanka for a quick three days and then lounged on the beaches of the Noonu Atoll in the Maldives. It was beyond lovely and relaxing, but this year I was yearning for a bit more culture. Yogyakarta is all about culture.

Prambanan Temple is the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia. The architecture reminds me of Angkor Wat. The highlight of our tour was our unexpected student guides, Riana and Pungki. Absolutely delightful, often giggling in between their explanation of the ruins. At the end they jumped up and down screaming and laughing. We weren’t sure if that was because of the tip we gave them or the enthusiastic praise I gave on their comment card.

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From sunrise to sunset there’s a temple to see. A “snack” came with our tickets to Ratu Boko, the sunset temple. We went through the doors and found a comfy seat overlooking the valley. It was a nice view, but the temple seemed so far off. Not quite what we remembered from the pictures, but oh well. Since it was cloudy, we decided to go get our snack, which turned out to be the best Nasi Goreng and Mie Goreng (Indonesian fried rice and fried noodles) we had ever tasted. While happily enjoying our food, Brad began to doubt the temple off in the distance and asked our waiter, “where is the temple?” “Up the hill. Closes in 15 minutes.” Oops. We inhaled the Mie Goreng – which was unfortunate because it was So. Good. Ran up the path, up the steps, snapped some quick pictures of the temple and cloudy-supposed-to-be-sunset. There were only two other people at the temple. The guards just looked at us like we were the crazy Americans we were.

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Ratu Boko at sunset

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We almost missed the temple!

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Yogyakarta (Jogja) – A pleasant surprise

I could describe Yogyakarta as vibrant and bustling, but to be honest, initially I found it overwhelming. There were hundreds of motorbikes neatly parked along the sidewalks with really cool, shiny helmets resting on each one. (We were impressed that they all wore helmets – except the babies.) The parked bikes, along with those riding along the sidewalk searching for a parking spot, made it difficult to walk – that, and the attention we seemed to attract since we were among the few foreigners there. We weaved our way among the food stalls and handicraft vendors lining the sidewalks, just trying to take it all in.

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But it wasn’t long before we saw the true spirit of the Indonesian people. Brad accidentally cut in front of a young man and apologized. He then talked to us at great length, giving us tips on the do’s and don’ts of Jogja. He left us, asking nothing in return except a suggestion that we visit the art institute where he taught.

We encountered this again and again. As we were walking up and down Malioboro Street with Google maps open on our phone in search of this restaurant located in backpackers’ alley, a man approached and walked with us until he was sure we wouldn’t get lost. Again, he only suggested we stop by his exhibit on our way back. (And I thought this only happened in Japan.)

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Finally ~ crossing the streets of Yogyakarta is a bit like Vietnam – dashing between cars and motorbikes with no particular strategy, you just go. Brad is good at this. Me, not so much. As a result, he was on one side of the street, and I was still waiting. A group of school girls asked if he needed help. He silently pointed at me (laughing a little inside). Before they had a chance to rescue me, a gentleman stepped into the street, stopped traffic, and let me cross. Indonesia now ranks as one of my favorite places to visit.

 

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Borobudur

All the blogs and reviews suggest that you should see Borobudur Temple at sunrise. I was quite certain that it would look just as beautiful at any time of the day, but you know Brad. We left the hotel at 4 a.m.!

When you arrive they give you a sarong (respect) and a flashlight (so you don’t trip). A guide led us down a path and then pointed “this way”. We met a lovely couple from the US, Vanessa and Steve, and wandered with them in virtual darkness (they were little flashlights) until the temple loomed before us. We proceeded up the temple steps chatting away, loudly, about our children. At the top of the steps, around 50 people were waiting, silently. Oops.

We found ourselves a comfortable spot along a stone wall and settled in waiting for the sunrise. (Well, I settled in. Brad was up and about snapping 2 million pre and post-sunrise pictures.) From all around us in the valley below, the roosters announced the new day.

Just a little tip ~ waking at 3:30 was totally worth it. Simply beautiful.

Borobudur at sunrise

Borobudur at sunrise

 

Stupas

Stupas

Mt. Merapi

   Mt. Merapi

Borobudur Temple

Borobudur Temple

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