Have become familiar enough with Asia that the usual things you notice on the surface aren’t so eye-catching now. Am learning to adapt to surface cultural differences with less frustration. But adapting for a traveler briefly passing through is one thing. Another thing for someone spending significant time here. Much more difficult if you are having to learn how to navigate the unspoken expectations and assumptions. “You eat like a monk,” she says. What do you mean, I ask, as I put my strawberries on the same plate where I have just eaten my fish. Monks are not supposed to enjoy earthly pleasures, like the taste and sight of food, she says. People earn merit by dropping bits of food into their begging bowls..food that gets mixed up together. So, not wanting to bother her for a fresh dish, I had put my strawberries on the same plate where I had eaten the fish. I had grossed her out. Caught again…unawares. I was shocked by the comment. And so it goes…teaching tolerance.
Other than that, have been spending time with mundane activites…dental appointments (teeth have really gone to pot recently) and great medical care at Bumrungrad Hospital…all details no one would be really interested in except me.
News in the Bangkok Post: Backpackers are furious for being blamed for a bed bug invasion. An entymologist at a local university says that Americans don’t like to take baths which has helped create the problem. Good grief! We are foreigners. We are dirty. Don’t we do the same thing to “strangers” at home…?
I spent five days visiting a Thai friend in her newly built home. She is a Professor of Fisheries at Kasetsart University and is encouraging me to accompany her to visit a field project in a small stream near the coast of the Gulf of Thailand…which I would love to do if we can coordinate our schedules. In exchange I am editing some research papers she is writing in English. Catching up on local politics, I mentioned that the Malay man sitting next to me on the plane to Bangkok had reminded me that the Prime Minister, unseated by the military coup last year because of corruption, did help the rural farmers. “Yes,” she said. “A piece of meat between the teeth!” This comment has added impact if you know that Thais take meticulous care of themselves…many using toothpicks after they eat…carefully covering their mouths with a hand so not to offend anyone. She and her university colleagues make no bones about their opinions of Thaksin and they feel that he will still be pulling the strings from the sidelines now that he is back in the country.
Son Doug and his Thai wife, Luk, flew up to Bangkok from Koh Samui to get off the island for a few days. We took a bus last Saturday to leafy Kanchanaburi…a couple hours northwest of Bangkok. Very hot and humid! The peaceful town on the Mae Nam Khwae River (River Kwai) belies it’s role in WWII as a Japanese-run POW camp where soldiers were worked to death building the “Death Railway.” You may remember the movie “Bridge On The River Kwai” telling the story of the brutal plan to carve a rail bed out of the 415km stretch of rugged terrain through the Three Pagodas Pass to the Thai/Burma border that was intended to be a supply route from Bangkok to Rangoon. Close to 100,000 forced laborers, captured Allied soldiers and Burmese and Malay prisoners, completed the railway in 16 months…only to have the Allied forces bomb the bridge across the river after just 20 months. The relatively small nondescript bridge has been reconstructed but you can imagine the planes careening down along the river…taking out the middle iron arcs. Tourists clog the bridge that is now just used by a short excursion train and pedestrians. Yes, it’s a bridge, says Doug when we visited it on a rented motorcycle.
I will take the one-hour flight to Samui on April 8 to spend a month there…after which Doug, Luk and I will fly to Kuala Lumpur for our “visa run.” This will be my first visit to Malaysia. Maybe there I can get away from the depressing news about the banking crisis at home…strange days…dangerous days…reverberating all through Asia.