So here I am. The flight was uneventful and long, but surprisingly went by faster than I thought it would— 16 hours and 45 minutes! The food and service on Thai Airways, even for us “economy classless” folks, were typically gracious. Thai hospitality at its best! We went over the “polar route”— Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Russia, Pakistan, India and then on to Bangkok.
I had to prepare myself for the changes I was sure to find, but nothing could have prepared me for this! It has been 25 years since I have been here. So many new roads and buildings! When I was last here, the tallest building was 15-stories tall. No longer! My eyes had to literally adjust to the dramatically changed city profile.
In many ways I feel like Rip Van Winkle waking up from my long nap to see a new world. I took a walk, within an hour of arriving at the hotel, along Sukhumvit Road, a road I had traveled many times in the past. I could not gain a reference point until I had walked 15 blocks and encountered the old railroad tracks. It was one of the weirdest experiences!
I was up early this morning, not wanting to miss a thing. As I walked further down the road, I noticed that although some of the edifices of the buildings had changed, many of the shops and stores I had known were still there. You really can’t walk around Thailand without automatically getting drawn into shopping! I ended up at a tailor shop I used to frequent, and found my old tailor’s son now running the business. Walking trough the central part of the city you are constantly assaulted by people trying to sell you something. I quickly found myself in the old neighborhood that I lived in years ago. Alas, the Peace Corps office is gone. I decided to visit the old Opera hotel that was Peace Corps Central back then. It was like walking into a “Twilight Zone” episode! NOTHING had changed there! The hotel, lobby, and pool area were as I remembered them. I went to the hotel’s coffee shop where we would spend endless hours…. many breakfasts turned into lunches, and lunches to dinners as one person would come in after another. As I sat there having a drink, many old voices came back to me. Hopes, fears, frustrations and joys.. they were all there again. I talked to the hotel manager and his desk staff. We all had some good laughs. I had an old business card for the hotel when it was $5.00 per night! They wouldn’t honor it for some reason!
Next, I went to see if my old apartment building was still there. Sure enough it was, and also not much changed, although it has gotten a little run down with leaves in the pool, but the garden still wonderful. When the manager came out to ask me what I was doing walking around, I told her I used to live there. She told me my old apartment was vacant, so I got the chance to see it again… not much changed there, either. With all the building going on around it, I suspect that it won’t be long before this prime piece of property will become a new shopping center. As for now, a little oasis of the old in the new.
That night some former students of a friend of mine whom I had taught at a summer camp, came by to take me to dinner. It was so good to see them. As I told my friend, they have changed physically and are now successful people, but their core personalities are still the same. We talked about the present and the future…. just as it should be. For all you teachers out there, believe me, you have a bigger impact than you think you do! It is those little things that they recall. A thoughtful gesture, a brief reassuring conversation. It gets you to thinking. One of my favorite quotes is “The seed does not always see the flower.” Carry on! Because of the three-day religious holiday, I won’t get the chance to get out to see my old Peace Corps site until I return in early August.
Took a bus and boat trip up to see the old capital ruins at Ayuthaya. It was great seeing them again. Many changes along the river, too, but life goes on. The Mon people, who have populated this area for so long, still fish from their boats, ply the river with their wares, swim, play and work along the river much as they have for centuries. This was enough for me. After that, I was able to accept the many changes I did see. What a joy cruising along the Chao Phya River on the sunset return to Bangkok.
Happy to say that I haven’t experienced much on the way of jet lag. I did have a slight bout of “walking stomach” but that is to be expected, especially for a guy who loves Thai vendor foods and night markets. I’ll bet it was the small coconut cakes (knome kroak) that I ate yesterday!
I went ot the famous weekend market that has been moved from the center of the city at Sanam Luang to an area in the northern part of the city called “Jatuchak.” Taking the Sky Train (monorail) and subway in Thailand was a trip! Very odd to see Thais on a subway for me! The market was packed with people from all over. You can really get some great bargains there, but you have to bargain— it’s expected! The quoted prices are always higher than you should consider paying. You can get food, spices, cloth, trinkets, and crafts of all kinds, Buddha images and “antiques.” Be careful there! Every stall has a 1,000-year-old Buddha to sell— or should I say, “rent”— “selling” a Buddha image is considered rather distasteful.
This Internet is great! When I was here before, I didn’t even have a telephone in my area. Now everyone is connected. Sometimes our journeys are more about the mind than the body, aren’t they?
Tonight the train for Chiang Mai, a wonderul city in northern Thailand. Will meet up with Silvia Dunner and her husband coming in from Singapore (for those of you who know them).