2005/ Entry 4: Bangkok and Bang Boh, Samut Prakarn, my old Peace Corps site

  1. Monday, August 1, 2005
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Wat Pra Keo

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Reclining Buddha Wat Po

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frescoes at Wat Pra Keo

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Back to Bangkok for a few days. Silvia, Uli and I did a little wat (temple) visiting today. We first went to Wat Pra Keo. As we were on our way there, we were stopped by a few taxi drivers and a “government worker” who informed us that, alas, the temples were closed due to a holiday. Well, most holidays in Thailand are religious ones, so I doubted that right away! This was even more apparent when they offered to take us to another temple for a small price! The scamming is too much! If you can only visit one temple in Thailand, Wat Pra Keo is the one. It is a beautiful complex showing a number of traditional Thai styles. I love the frescoes on the walls of the inner court that depict scenes from the Ramakien. The detailed work on the chedis and temples are not to be missed! It’s too bad that it rained a good part of the day, but that did not dampen our resolve! As the time was flying, we bypassed a lot of the old palace to get to Wat Po, which is nearby. It was interesting to see the Buddhist Lent ceremonies at the temples. People with flowers and incense walk around the main temple building three times. Also many people just hanging out– temples are very social places in Thailand. Wat Po with its 150-foot long reclining Buddha was a treat, especially the mother-of-pearl work on the feet.

After a few more little adventures, we had dinner at a local Thai restaurant topped off with a night cap at Sylvia and Uli’s hotel. Then it was sad farewells. I really enjoyed our travels here in Thailand together. Tomorrow they are off to visit Uli’s brother in Singapore, and I am off to my old Peace Corps site in Bang Boh, about 40 kilometers from here.

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

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My old house in Peace Corps with my old housemates!

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The Welcoming Committee at Bang Boh!

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Lunch with the old crew!

MR. DONUT???????? There is a Mr. Donut not two kilometers from Bang Boh! The changes I saw today from the old days were far more than I ever expected! Got on the bus at the Eastern Bus Station (Ekkamai) and was Bang Boh bound. Now, that was an air-conditioned “rapid” bus, and the promised one-hour trip went on for two and a half hours in order to pick up passengers along the way to fill up the bus! But that was OK. I was too excited looking at the changes that had happened over the years! I was in a state of shock all the way and had to actually request the bus conductor to let me know when we got to Bang Boh as there were none of the familiar markers remaining after so long a time, and the bus at this point was too crowded for me to see clearly out the window to find a sign anyway! There is now an elevated superhighway that runs above the eight-lane highway below. In the past this was a two-lane highway. Once you make the turn-off at Bang Na, it is one continuous line of houses, shops, buildings and factories all the way down and beyond. There is no real discernible way to tell where one town starts and another begins. For those of you who had the pleasure of visiting Bang Boh when I was there will appreciate this more. In those days it was a very quiet farming village with support businesses and schools. The whole way down the highway at that time (in the 1970’s) there were a few small villages with rice fields and snaking, interwoven canals. The new international airport will be opening just north of here very soon, and I suspect that this area will be barely recognizable when that happens!

When I got off the bus, I climbed the stairs of the overpass. I had to stop and absorb it all from this elevated hight. The town runs as far as the eye can see. It must be 10 times the size it was in the old days! The long road approaching the main part of town from the highway is lined with shops, apartment buildings, and a few hotels. As I was already running late, I took a taxi to the school. There is now a paved road that goes from the town to school. In the past, it was a narrow dirt road that I would take on my bike, often having to negotiate my way through a few water buffalo who took up most of the road. You always gave them a wide berth. As gentle as they were, an unexpected flick of their head could send a horn right into your side! No more, and as I said before, most of the water buffaloes had been served up on the nation’s dinner plates years ago!

We passed the temple which has been totally rebuilt and more structures added, a testament to Bang Boh’s new-found prosperity. The school itself was barely recognizable at first glance, but there was my old house, looking quite run-down, sad to say. As soon as the taxi arrived, Aroon and Kasem came out to meet me. What a joy to see them again! I recognized them immediately. We were soon joined by by several others and a few teachers I used to know back then. (Most of the teachers who were there when I was are either retired or moved on to another school.) The principal asked me if I were interested in returning to teach! Yikes! I could see that some day, just not now! As I hadn’t had lunch we went to a rather higher-end restaurant in the area. We proceeded to talk and catch up over the next six hours. Maliam, the town’s “information central” was working her cell phone and before too long, we had over 20 people at the restaurant with us! I had to get a kick out of them all. Some brought their kids who are now about the same age they were back then when I taught them. Not much English was spoken as most of them haven’t really used it in many years. However, it did help them get through some good universities (most of them), so that is what counts. We talked about a lot of things, mostly people we all knew, and I had the opportunity to talk to many more over the phone as the afternoon progressed.

Too many wonderful stories of the day to share here, but I had to get a real kick out of Ladda. Once a very quiet girl who sat in the back of the room, she is now well-traveled working as a fashion consultant and very talkative. It was so strange seeing her that way. Then there was Pichai. Such a smart boy and now very tech savvy!

We decided to meet again on August 14 when I return from the south. There will be more people around. It would be a hoot to go out to the school for a day and teach!

I got a lift back to Bangkok after many farewells! I was spared the three-hour return trip on the bus! I took more note on the return of the international school, German restaurant, MacDonalds, a mall, hospital (which has  been long-promised for that area w hen I was there), and food stores galore within miles of the old place.  When I had my “second-thoughts,” I was glad that all that wasn’t around back then. It would have subtracted something from the experience! What a great day! One of my favorite sayings is “The seed does not always see the flower.” I was glad that today, at least, I had the chance to see a lot of my former students who did pretty well in life in one form or another. It was nice to feel that I had a small part to play in all of that.

Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Kind of a catch-up day today. Went out to the Northern Bus Station to  get tickets for the trip to Sukhotai, the ancient capital in the north when I return from points south. Now, I can understand making return plans at the bus station at the destination, but they couldn’t even tell me what the times were! I should know and accept that this is Thailand! As the Thais say, “Mai ben rai” (Never mind. No big deal!)

Ended today having drinks with Jeff, a friend from Long Island that I just happened to run into at the night market!!!! We lost touch over the years as he has been on the move. He is now in Bangkok awaiting the approval to go to Saudi Arabia to teach.

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Maejarim Refugee Camp, Sobtuang, Nan, Thailand about 1978

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Transportation in the good old days! Nan, Thailand

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Me with some of my students from Bang Boh, Thailand about 1975

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Me in Lampang, Thailand during training for Peace Corps in 1974

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Some of the staff at the school in Bang Boh. That’s me on the far right! circa 1975

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