Have been having a very busy time of it the past 10 days. I cannot believe that I have only a few more weeks left here!
The Peace Corps 50th Anniversary in Thailand celebration has now come and gone. On Friday, we had a busy day getting up very early to get to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a Peace Corps reception by the Thai government. There were speeches by a number of people and then Princess Srindhorn spoke. She gave a very nice speech on the importance of the Peace Corps. After that, about 20 of us as representatives of the rest, got a group picture with the princess. All very formal, but judging by her amusement, she would have been just as happy if one of us fell over to lighten up the event! The Thai government provided an array of tasty finger foods when all was done.
After that, we went to the Peace Corps office for an open house that proved to be, thankfully, a bit less formal. i was asked to give a speech on “anything you want.” That much latitude is always dangerous for me! There were about 8 of us who spoke and after hearing the others, I was glad I went first! I spent a lot of time preparing the speech, but when it came down to it, I tossed it and just spoke to the new volunteers from my 30 years out perspective that you really DO have an impact. Even though, at the time, it doesn’t always seem to be so.
That, of course, was confirmed the next day when I went out to my old Peace Corps site and met with about 25 of my former students. We hung out the whole afternoon talking, eating great Thai food and reminiscing about the good old days! It just goes to show you: they remember and think fondly of what you did or said or a crazy song you taught them… more than any lesson or test, that’s for sure! Not that tests and lessons weren’t important things, but the real impact is, as always, on their lives. One of my favorite sayings is, “The seed does not always see the flower.” I am so glad I have these opportunities to actually see the flowers in full bloom, so to speak. And to know that in some way I had an impact on their lives, much as they had on mine! As the day progressed, I spoke to several others on the phone and have since seen or talked to about 10 more in various parts of the country. More places to visit next time!
The rest of the 50 years celebration time was pretty light to give everyone a chance to actually enjoy their stay in the country! There were side trips to temples and Chinatown in search of traditional coconut candy—- proving the journey can be as interesting as the destination! I will fondly recall the dinners at various places, including the rice barge on the Chao Phaya River. And thank you Nancie McDermott for finding a place for me to enjoy once again one of my favorite Thai foods: “khai luuk ceuy!” The dinner at Judy’s with food prepared by her very talented cook and talking about Thai and American politics. I will also recall the old adage, with a twist. “When life serves you lemons, make a Marguerita,” or so it goes something like that! The rainy night I couldn’t find a taxi to take me back to the hotel from Victory Monument, so I made the 1 1/2 hour walk back and continued to find so many little places I never REALLY saw before and realized that places familiar in the light of day can be mysterious and magical in the night. A whole new painting on the same canvas.
Geoffrey Longfellow, as if the trip to the Vinmamek Palace was not enough, scored big and got us a tour of some of the parts of the Grand Palace that tourists never see, like the throne room of Rama V, ceremonial halls, private rooms and the terraces in the back of the palace that are so fantastic that you think you are anywhere but Bangkok! We also began the day meeting the king’s personal secretary at the privy council offices. We were surprised that he and the other officials granted us so much time to just talk and mingle.The tour was followed by a great buffet lunch at the Polo Grounds again. After that great buffet, we had to get back in time for the closing dinner! Did I say we ate a lot at this gathering? We ended the dinner just passing the mic around and it seemed like everyone had something to say about the week and how Thailand continues to touch our lives. I think one of the highlights of the whole week was one former volunteer who returned after many years and could not manage to meet up with any of her old students and teachers. Only to find out that one of them was there as the wife of one of the other former volunteers! It was so great to hear the Thai woman honor the volunteer with an impromptu speech on how much she inspired her to go overseas to study. This has been a very different trip this year, and so very worth it.
Finally, it was goodbye time again. As much as I hated leaving old friends– we didn’t even get the chance to hang out at the Opera Hotel coffee shop!— it was time to move on and get ready to enjoy the next part of the trip heading to Chiang Mai in the north.