Tuesday, April 21, 2015

My Quick History of Laos

I didn't even know I was looking for it but I found the San Miguel, the Holy Grail of SE Asia.  And it is Luang Prabang, Laos.  As much as I loved Thailand I adored Laos even more.  Maybe it was the combination of things we did, the food we ate, the sites we saw, or the history lessons we learned.  All in a really small-town setting where we rode bikes everywhere, and where Sam and I could sit on the banks of the Mekong with a cold beer while the kids swam in its muddy waters below. 

For me hearing the word Mekong makes me think of palm trees and jungles and the whir of a helicopter blade in Vietnam.  This image is indelible from movies like Apocalypse Now and Good Morning Vietnam (RIP Robin Williams who died today).  But these are all set in Vietnam; until this trip I knew nothing about Laos; I didn't even know it was on the Mekong.  I didn't know it was involved in the Vietnam War.  I didn't know there is a large population of Laotians in Modesto, California, all refugees from 35 years ago when the U.S. bombed the bejeezus out of northern Laos while routing out Northern Vietnamese who were using the Ho Chi Minh trail to move supplies and to hide out.  Visiting these countries and learning about the war in situ--through museums and more often from locals was a tragic and often awkward (and worse) experience.  We were most definitely on the wrong side of that war.  We had no business being there.  There was little we were going to solve and even less to be gained fighting a war in which we were utterly mismatched through terrain, geography and skills.  Our politicians lied and so many lives were lost needlessly.  Not just those on the wall in Washington but all over the harmless and innocent villages of this beautiful region.  It was one of the saddest lessons I learned all trip.

Thanks to my literate friend and follower, Janet Grady, I read the book The Spirit Moves You and You Fall Down just before hitting Laos.  So I had a helpful dose of background going in.  Its story is one of a Hmong family living in California who confronts the American medical system while trying to heal their severely epileptic young daughter.  A fascinating study in the clash of cultures between these rural Laotians with centuries of animistic and other beliefs transplanted, without much choice or desire, in the U.S. after the war.

Luang Prabang, just a couple hundred kilometres from the center of the war, was not as affected by its neighbors.  So its French colonial architecture was mostly unscathed by the bombing. Yet it's smack dab in the center of northern Laos and there's no avoiding remnants of the damage inflicted on the area by the U.S.  Like Cambodia. there are many people missing limbs or blind or otherwise disabled by the landmines and unexploded ordinance (UXOs) that still infect the region.  Per capita, Laos has the grim distinction of being the most heavily bombed place on the planet; more bombs landed here than in all of Europe during WW2.  Six hundred pounds of bombs were dropped for everyone man, woman and child in Laos.  There was bombing campaign every six minutes for four years.  Just try to imagine that noise.

I loved that country.  I loved the landscape, the limestone cliffs, the caves and lagoons and the river flowing through the entire country; the life on the river, the tiny kids paddling boats with a bamboo pole up and down that river, the women washing their clothes and brushing their teeth on the banks, my own children playing it that river for hours, being kids, just like me growing up.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Chiang Mai: Boob Massages and Fish Baths

Chiang Mai, a place I was worried about after my buddy Jenny Hensley hated it, was such a little delight.  After the kind of frenetic pace of Bangkok--not us, who don't move very quickly ever--but the traffic and the transportation by BTS trains over the city moving below us and the escalators through air conditioned malls and the scooters darting in and out of lanes of traffic--Chiang Mai was a small-town surprise.  We loved our hotel, Rimping Village, set in a little section of Chiang Mai that reminded me of Martha's Vineyard, or some small American town.  Little spas, a gourmet grocery store, a pizza/burger place called Duke's that the kids naturally loved, were all in walking distance.  But so was the market with the frogs and the snakes and live eels and khao soi in a bag (curried noodles with a thousand condiments thrown on top) that we hardly felt like we weren't in Thailand.  Oh, and my first boob massage.  Now I'm not in Kansas anymore.  I tried explaining it to Laura, my friend back in Baltimore.
While Redding and I were getting some strange massages,
the others got a very pedestrian foot rub

Ok. First I'm just going to say that I'm going to nag you from here until eternity to get your ass in gear and bring Alex on the road with us one time. We are in Chiang Mai, Thailand right now getting ready to put our fat butts on some big elephants and ride them through the rice paddies to a river where we get off and bathe them with a huge scrub brush. Ok. Maybe that last part will not entice you. But...we've had four massages each including one for Redd who had to strip down completely and had his butt cheeks rubbed. Which at first he said was weird. But then he liked it. She put a small piece of cloth over his wiener and then proceeded to do his inner thighs. But getting your boobs massaged vigorously by someone whom you can't identify as make or female?  That's unforgettable and life altering. (That's what was happening to me as Redding was getting his soup stirred. Sam and the other two were safely getting their feet massaged in the safety of the front room.)  I did not see the boob massage part coming.  Frankly, I had my eyes squeezed shut the whole time out of humiliation so I didn't see anything.  Including my masseuse.  Until the last minute.  And then I think it might have been a man.  Or maybe a woman.  Either way, they saw my boobs.

Bo's highlight in Chiang Mai was convincing the family to join him at the fish baths.  This is where you sit on a bench dangling above an aquarium while hundreds of small sea creatures eat the dead skin off your extremities.  Once the squeamishness is over it's actually kind of nice.  You get out of the tank feeling very exfoliated and soft. Kind of like a baby's bottom.  Mason and I headed upstairs for another massage while Redding prowled the mean streets of Chiang Mai looking for a pair of knock-off LeBron James sneakers.

Getting Back to the Blog After a Summer on the Move

It's been seven weeks since we left behind Bangkok--the noodle shops, the meat on a stick, the cheap massages and the world's most beautiful pool.  We headed to Chiang Mai and I swore I'd keep up with the blog--my journal for the family--but we landed there, were handed cold towels and cool water bottles and taken to a small hotel in a village called Rimping with free bikes and a make-your-own cappuccino machine at the breakfast buffet.  Two blocks away was a local market that sold, among other things, live frogs and snakes in large plastic tubs covered with nylon nets so they couldn't jump or slither out.  The exotic surprises and the small unexpected distractions started in earnest. 

Sitting at my computer, which isn't actually a computer but the awful little screen of my iPhone with its miniscule keyboard and obnoxious autocorrects (summer, due to some combination of keystrokes, always gets changed to smear).  So I left it all behind and just enjoyed the moment.  Which for me is hard to do.  So here we are--seven weeks later having moved through Thailand, Laos and Cambodia--in Bali on the vacation's last week, in a villa more gorgeous than I could ever imagine.  No one is leaving.  There's nothing we need to do anymore but relax and look back on this life-changing adventure we've had since June 13.  Now it's catch up time.  Why not do it here overlooking the Bali Sea?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Bo: Prosthetic Center in Vietiane, Laos

The COPE center where we went yesterday was both interesting, instructional, and terrifying. The center is based around helping those injured by unexploded ordinance or UXO. It is also supposed to enlighten people to the struggles that the injured face and the tragedy that brought them there. There were two movies that we watched. One was about a man who was blinded and scarred for life after accidentally exploding a bomb while lighting a bonfire. The other was about an organization, one among many, called MAG. They went into the fields that farmers would work in and comb the area for bombs using metal detectors and remote detonators. After going through the museum, I feel as though now I am much more informed about the Vietnam War than I was before. One little paper impacted me the most.

Four children were killed and 3 were injured by some UXO that a 3 year old was playing with. The children bear the worst of the brunt of the explosives. As they are payed 2,000 kip (25 US cents) for each kilogram of scrap metal they bring in by the scrap shops, many kids are practically forced to pick up as much metal as they can to add a bit more to their family's income.

Sent from my iPad

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Mason on Asia

Before our trip I had always assumed that Asia was a vast land with houses with pointy roofs and little straw hats. But when I came to Laos I was not disappointed. There were beautiful forests that looked like something from a nature film, along with tall mountains  with clouds covering the top that gave it a mystical look.  I don't think I'd ever seen any thing so beautiful in my life.  Through a flurry of crowded markets, busy streets, and beautiful temples one time we ended up in a little make-your-own barbecue place called Han Sin Dad (kind of like hansom dad). This was by far the best restaurant.  There they would give you a bucket of hot coals and pan for you to cook meat and soup. Along with that they gave us a bucket of veggies, and a kettle of broth. Bo and I would season our meat in a sauce we called "devil's vacation" and then garnish with some mint for looks and taste. My only regret is not eating there more.

Reddy: My Experiences in Asia

About 5 months ago when my mom told me we were going to Asia I was really excited about it. I didn't think about it too much throughout these five months until the trip was so close I couldn't not think about it. I was going to a new continent where I knew nothing about the culture, I didn't know the language, and I could hardly picture what it was going to be like. 
When I used to think about Asia, China would always come to my mind. I knew that Asia was huge and that there were so many countries in it but I could never picture them. I thought Asia was going to be full of big cities with neon lights and cars everywhere. I thought that the people weren't going to be very nice and that tourists were not welcome. Since I've been here everything has been almost completely opposite of my expectations. 
The scenery is beautiful, most of the people are welcoming. The language is hard but the few words I know get me by. It is so different here yet our family has found a way to blend in and have lots of fun. We have been to temples, we have tasted local food, we have made friends, and been to markets. Everything that we have done has broadened my horizons to so many things. 
So many people here have looked at us like we are so different, because the traditions here are so different from what to me is normal. One of the most different things about here is the religion. Almost every country I have been to the main religion is Christian, but here it's not and I like that. You don't see any pictures of Jesus or the cross. Instead you see Buddha and temples. I love it here and can't wait to see more of it.

Bo: How Asia Surprised Me

I have always thought of Asia as the land of plastic, cheap, disposable toys, but this trip, I have seen the light.  Instead of being the crowded, homogenous cities that I expected, there are a lot of rural areas.  The cities that I've been in have been massive, both in size and in variety.  Variety in food, in buildings, in transportation, but most importantly, in people. There are short people, tall people, people with light skin, and people with dark skin.   
The personalities here are diverse, although most are nice and welcoming to foreigners such as us.  They are even more appreciative once we give them a "Sawadee" or a "kop kun" or "kop jai." Hello and thank you are the only two words I know in Thai and Laotian, but they're enough to get by.  The neon lights of South Korea and the stereotypical traffic and sameness of China are not apparent in anyway in Southeast Asia.  It might as well be its own continent, for all the differences between it and Asia itself.

Giving Alms in Luang Prabang

We wake the kids at 5:15am, hop on our bikes on a misty, humid morning, and ride into the old town to see what is reputedly the most holy and sacred activity in Luang Prabang: the giving of alms to the local Buddhist monks. Every single morning they come out from the temples between 5:45 and 6:00am and the Lao people donate rice, bananas and other food stuffs to them.  The monks eat one meal a day and never after 12pm. Sadly it's become a bit of a circus with tourists kneeling down on mats giving alms, taking selfies, Buddhists or not.  The spirituality that no doubt should be there is no more, at least not in this town which now thrives on tourism. All I could think was "trick or treat" as the costumed monks filed silently down the sidewalk holding out their orange alms buckets. 

Mason it seems was not moved either.  "I was thinking what if there were a little dog monk and he walked by in a monk suit and just got table scraps?"  July 7

A Few Funnies Along the Way

"This may be the most high class restaurant I've ever been to, at least than I can recall." MDH on Eat Me in Bangkok
"This is shaping up into a real party," Bo says as Mason stumbles out into the living room at 2am while Bo and I are hanging out in the kitchen rapping, unable to sleep in the middle of the night in Bangkok.

"We'll I haven't had too many massages but I found that one really nice."-- Mason, 6/22/14

"I'm going to take that microphone and do something befitting of my age. I'm going to turn it on and say "Penis. That is all."  Bo Hillers, 6/22/14 on the public ferry crossing the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok
"Happy to you Minnie Mouse." Stitched on a polo shirt in the CNX local market. I now like to day this at oddly funny times.
 "You know a lot of pub tricks and you're really good at them. Does that mean you spent a lot of time in pubs?" MDH at The Red Lion Chiang Mai. June 29 2014

"I don't get why she puts the name of her tour guide but not the name of her kids." Mason, on Cheryl Strayed's article on traveling with her family to Laos.

Bo on BBQ, Luang Prabang Style

Laos: Last night, or a couple nights ago, we went to a BBQ place called Han Sindad.  (We called it Handsome Dad.) We cooked our own food on a metal piece over a very unstable brazier filled with hot coals.  The metal piece was a circle, which then dipped down into a bowl.  It then rose up to meet from all sides in a protrusion with little slits to let heat through.  

They gave us a variety of veggies, along with a small dish of kimchi and a pot of hot sauce we lovingly named "The Devil's Vacation."  That was a nod to an even hotter sauce we had consumed at a Belgian restaurant called "The Devil's Work."  

Our first plate was a mix of pork, chicken, beef, and a piece of pork fat to lubricate the grill.  We would then place our meat on the little heat slits.  After a bit, we started to get a little more creative with the forms of cooking our meat.  I would use the sauce to lubricate my meat and cook it, caramelizing and spicing up the meat in the process.  We would serve the meat to Mom and Dad and they would judge it.  We then went home and slept like a rock.

My Low Moment as a Mom

I've wondered if I'd know with certainty that I had done something really bad as a mother.  And now I know.

Over and over I have told Mason, who has a hard time listening (ask any of his teachers) watch where you're going, look both ways before you cross the street, stay to the right when you're biking (except in Chiang Mai, where cars drive on the left which I admit could be confusing).  To try to scare him into compliance I have told him how hurt he could get, how horrible it would be if he got hit by a car and died, how much it would change our family if he weren't with us.

So one evening around 5pm in rural Laos he gets hit.  Because he runs in front of a line of motorbikes roaring to the Old Brige in Luang Prabang.  He wants to walk on the OTHER side of the bridge this time, so darts across to the left side without checking to see what's coming.  A young girl on a motorcycle hits him, falls off her bike, loses her side view mirror and her shoes, and cuts her hand.  She's shaken up and rubbing her wrists, trying not to cry. A crowed gathers around us.  Mason is mute and kind of shell shocked; he's been knocked to the ground too.  But I'm just angry at him for not listening to me.

The girl pulls out her cell phone and starts to dial someone and I have visions of Mexico where the moment you have a run in with an American you call the traffic police and try to extort your Yankee compensation. Probably she was just calling her dad.  Or her boyfriend.  But I start digging in my purse for any few kip I have.  We were actually heading to the bank, then dinner, and I was down to nearly nothing.  A guy who speaks a little English says, "She says you can give her whatever you like."  Or something like that.  There weren't that many words.  I shove about $10 of wadded-up tissue-paper bills into her palm and say sorry for the 20th time and walk away with looking back.

We head down the right side of the bridge--this third-world structure of red steel and rotting wood. high above the Nam Khan River. The interior has two lanes of wood planks for bikes or motorcycles (no cars or tuk tuks allowed) and this shaky, frightening pedestrian walkway on the outside where you can see the river rushing through the wood slats about 400 meters below.  All I can do is yell at Mason.  I am so angry at him for not listening and for nearly killing himself and hurting someone else that I cannot stop to see if he's OK.  Which it turns out he's not.  When we get to the other side of this incredibly long bridge I turn around and leave him with Redding and Sam, telling them carry on without me. I am going back.  I can't be civil and I can't make myself care about Mason.

Bo is still at the hotel where we left him because he was being churlish.  (The night was already tense and sad before Mason got hit.).  I debate whether or not I will find him and make up with him and suggest we have dinner together.  When I get back and walk into the foggy garden with the pool below it surrounded by palm and banana trees, shrouded in the perpetual mist that comes with the humidity of Laos, I see Bo in the open air dining room, eating alone with a book.  He has a glass of lemon juice with a lot of ice and a single place serviing with a linen napkin and a charger under his plate.  Jump to the future: he could be a 30-year-old guy eating by himself after leaving work, his trusty book at his right, his head down.  I am slightly amazed that he left his room and got himself a dinner reservation for one at the restaurant of  My Dream Hotel in the middle of Laos and order himself a juice and a plate of chicken fried rice.  I am still sad from Mason and slightly sad from the earlier mess we made that left Bo in the hotel alone in the first place. 

So I go to him and sit down and he's clearly pleased that I am there with him. I start to tell him what  happened and express my shame that I could not have had more heart to look after Mason and ask about his bloody ankles (both of them I find out later are scrapped and bleeding, along with his wrists--he must have been cut by the bike when it hit him and when it fell on top of him).  Bo gets up and comes to my side of the table:  "Don't blame yourself, Mom.  You're the best mom.  You did whatever you could," he says.  "You look like you could use this," and he bends downs, hugs me, and then returns to his place o wait for his food.

Living land Rice Farm by Mason

 The living land
We arrived at the living land a place were it shows how the farmers get rice and cook it. There were 13 steps. here are a few. ENJOY!.            ⛲️

Step 1: Finding the good rice. They had a bowl of water and then our guide, a 19 year old man, put a ton of salt in the bowl and dumped in some rice.  Most of the rice sunk to the bottom but some floated.  The floating rice would end up to be the stuff they planted.

On this step we harvested the rice. We used a little curved knife and we cut long stalks with little pieces of rice on top. We used two of the the rice leafs to tie it all together. then we left the bundle on its roots.

The Buffalo: Apart from planting the rice, harvesting it, and eating it we also plowed the fields with a buffalo. The buffalo's name was something like Suzuki.  We would jump knee deep in mud (which hurt me since I had a cut from an accident the day before).  Then the buffalo would start moving. It was hard to catch up with it since we were barefoot and trudging through mud. I didn't really know what this was doing, but it was probably supposed to be plowing but to me it just looked like a mess.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Bo: Parachuting into the Mekong

Today we biked around for a bit, but the best part was swimming in the Nam Kam.  We played Parachute.  In that, two of us would line up, and one person would be off to the side.  That person would be the general and he would yell,, "Go, go, go!"  As everybody else jumped in, he would slap them on the back, and jump in after them. Then we would get swept down the river to one of 2 or 3 landing points. It was a lot of fun, and we came up with a lot of fun games after that. 

Mason: Today on the Mekong

Today in the Mekong River, we made up a game. It was about parachuting out of a plane but we are just doing it in the river.  One person was the general. Everyone else were soldiers. The general would scream, "GO GO GO!" And when he slapped you you would jump into the river and the current would take you to a landing point. Every round we would switch on being the general and which landing point we would to. 

Redding: Swimming in the Mekong

The Mekong river is the twelfth longest river in the world. The Mekong runs through multiple countries in and Southeast Asia. The Mekong to Laos is like the Nile to Egypt. Bo, Mason, and I, hot and sweaty from a day of bike riding, decided to go for dip. Not in a pool and not in our home continent but in the Mekong river, in Luang Prabang, Laos. In the river my brothers and I frolicked about fighting the current and playing games. We had a lot of fun. After swimming we rode our bikes to a little cafe where we had cold smoothies and chocolate pies.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Bo on elephant riding

Chang Mai: a few days ago my family and I had a great adventure. We went riding on elephants. Although it was not the experience I had expected it was great fun and I thoroughly enjoyed it. First, we took a taxi up to the country driven by our good friend Saran, or Swing as he likes to be called. When we got up there the first thing we had to do was change out of the clothes that we were wearing into some professional looking denim pants and a denim jacket. 

When we got out of the restaurant there was a Mahout waiting for us to take us down to the elephants. We were given a coconut and many pounds of bananas with which to feed the elephants. The amount these huge beasts could eat was incredible and it was amazing how strong their jaws were. They used their trunks to grab food items and put it in their mouths whole. The coconut made this extremely crunching sound as the elephant chewed it, maybe once or twice, and swallowed it. 

We learned how to get on the elephant and we took off down the mountainside.  The ride was bumpy and the elephant's head was hairy, but it was all worth it for what happened next.  We got to bathe the elephants.  We played in the water and one mahout did awesome spinny flips off of the elephant.  We rode back up the hill and went home.

Thailand Highlights Before Leaving for Laos

A four-story cage of baby squirrels dressed up in costumes in a market in Bangkok. The ones that had been just born didn't have to put on a suit.

An old lady bathing herself in the Bangkok canals while a six-foot monitor lizard slid through the water

The Thai boy band singing You Ain't Nothing But a Hound Dog at a city fair before the skies burst and rain closed them down.

Riding an elephant through a local village outside of Chiang Mai. Cing around a bend into an enormous open field with ladies in the rice paddies.

Piles of different cooked bugs for sale at the Bangkok market: scarab beetles, worms, scorpions, spiders and four-inch cockroaches, all doused in chili....buckets of sea creatures in Chiang Mai, including a five-gallon container of frogs covered with fishing net (one was staring right at me; I almost bought him), turtles, eels and snakes.

Going out for noodles every morning in Bangkok and watching the kids dig into the condiment bar and manage their chopsticks.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Mason on Bangkok: Chatuchak Market


It's started out as a mellow day. We woke up at a normal time around six or seven and had an average breakfast with eggs bacon and cereal. We went out for drinks my parents got coffee and I got hot chocolate, the store didn't have any hot chocolate so I got pink lemonade and Redd got a blue Hawaii flavored drink. After that we went home and got ready for the day. I got my bag which had my sunglasses, my camera, and I use it to hold other stuff. We went to the train station, got our tickets and then got on the train after about 15 minutes we got to our first stop, from there we took another train to the market. The second we stepped off of the train was a swirl of all kinds of stands flower stands, vegetable stands, arts and crafts stands, and many more. Oh, I forgot to tell you, this is the biggest market in the world has over 15,000 stands. The stand that really caught my eye was this one stand that had a lot of weapons that shot rubber bands. My parents said we could get one on the way back.

After couple hours of walking around looking at stands eating a bit of food we stopped at one place and got a massage. This was the second massage that I've ever had and it felt really good. After that we started walking home. it had all the same stuff including ribbon shops, small toy stores, leather bags, iPhone cases, iPad cases and much much more. Once we got to the place for the little wooden gun. the stand wasn't there anymore so that's kind of disappointing. After that we took the trains back to the docks and waited for a boat right then it started raining very hard luckily we had a roof over the dock we were very lucky that we hadn't stayed at the market any longer at the market we would've been there in the pouring rain. After that we went home and my dad and I built a model tank and went to bed.

Mason on bangkok: Canal Tours and Tilted Bathrooms


Today we went on a tour in Bangkok.  We woke up early and took a boat to the other side of the River, from there from there we went to the train station and took a train down to a different place I don't really know where. We waited at the train station for a while for our tour guide to come, by the way we were going on a boat tour across the murky canals, they're pretty dirty but there are lots of fish catfish to be specific. Well back to the topic, we are here waiting there for a while but the tour guide never came so we went back up to the train station and when we were up there or tour guide (well at  the time I didn't really know she was the tour guide) said that our bout was at a different place. We took a little jog over to the docks were the boat was and then hopped on. Our first stop was the market.

Our tour guide said were going to get a lot of food and then bring it to restaurant to eat it (that turned out to not really be true) but anyway we got we got some fruit and Nuts and my brother Reddy started itching a lot. He said he had got it the itching before we got on the boat but right now it really started. So we went to a nearby pharmacy and got him some pills. once we were all done getting water and giving him the pills we went back to the boat months we were there we went to the second stop the temples.

This was probably my favorite stop of them all.  we walked in the door and they were beautiful gold pillars holding up the ceilings, which were all red with golden pictures of our I don't really know what they were, just really beautiful.  everywhere there were ancient artifacts and things from the monks that had lived here before. the second floor had everything that had belonged to the monks before kept in glass boxes.

The third floor had sculptures of some really important monk, one of them was made out of solid gold.

The fourth floor was by far my favorite it had huge pyramid thing made made out of tinted green glass in the very top there was a little golden Buddha on the ceiling there were paintings that showed the stars and sun well kind of. 

At the third stop we ate we had some traditional Thai noodles which were really good.  My brothers and I love them. For dessert we had delicious ice cream which was almost as good as the noodles. After this we went to another temple which is called the Forest Temple and it was pretty easy to tell why it was called so, all the walls were made out of wood and the chairs looked kind of like trees in one of the wall there it was a glass screen in behind that there was a golden Buddha and some monk sitting on the wooden tree chair. Our tour guide told us about some of their religion and told us how to to pray and which way you should sit.

After that it was our last stop the orchid farm all the flowers were very beautiful but once we were halfway through the farm I had to go to the bathroom so my mom and I went back and I went to the bathroom.  sadly there wasn't any toilet paper so we had to use some wet wipe things, the whole bathroom was tilted to one side so it was kind of awkward.  we went back out to meet the group but by then it it was almost over so we went for a bit longer and then got back on the boat we stopped at the docks and she showed us the puppet place were there normally show but there wasn't today.  she said we could feed the fish after we went and got some drinks so my brothers and I got ice tea while my parents got iced coffee, then we went to feed the fish but my mom stopped and bought a traditional Thai lunch box. finally we got to feeding the fish.  when we threw the first spoonful of food they went crazy they swarmed up and started eating it like mad men. they splashed a lot made a time of noise until eventually we had given them all all the fish food we had to go home we hopped on a pickup truck which took us down to the city were from there we took a taxi back to our hotel and took a long refreshing swim.

Bo on Bangkok: Day 2, Chatuchak Market

Day two of my journal:

Today I woke up a little early because of some ice coffee that I had drunk yesterday. Unfortunately I didn't have to because today we went on a trip that would begin a little later. Today we went to the largest market in Asia. It has over 15,000 stalls and is open each weekend in Bangkok.This Sunday we're lucky we started early because by the time we left, around 4 o'clock, the crowds were just starting to pour in. As you walk in you are assaulted by variety of smells. The smell of noodle soup with chicken, the site of the Clocktower, that was much bigger on the skytrain right then than in real life, and the the observation that no matter how much of it you see there's always more to this grand, grand market. After a bit, it blended together into a hodgepodge stew that barraged the senses. I got a massage that was wonderful, except maybe for the shoulder and neck part.  That hurt a bit, but that just made it feel better in the end. After that we went to a restaurant called chicken soup with noodles. I don't know if that was the name or what it served, because I don't speak Thai. I ordered chicken soup with rice. Attempted before we went to the restaurant it started raining. We had to walk over a street while it was raining raining with cars buzzing past to get that chicken soup with noodles, but boy was it good. Then walked around for a while, the sun came out although it was not as bright as it had seemed it would be in the morning, and ergonomist country to the home. Sometime during the long metro ride home it started to rain. It was the most primped subway/train ride I've ever been on in my life. We got to the hotel safe and sound.

Bo on Bangkok: Day 3, Chinatown and Wat Pho

Day 3: Today we started out sleeping late. We left on the boat which took us over to the other side of the river, but before that we had breakfast at our usual spot. Noodles, rice with garlic pork, and a spicy veggie dish were all things that were consumed that morning. After taking the boat across the river, we waited at Sathorn Pier for the tourist boat to come around. We bought an all day ticket and got on the boat. Our first stop was at Yaowarat, or Chinatown. We walked through an exquisite array of plastic beads, cheap stickers, and necklaces. We found a Dim Sum place called Shangri-La. The food was mediocre, but we got to go in an air conditioned room for a while, so it all balanced out. We left Chinatown on an express boat which, luckily for us, stopped at Pier 8. I visited Wat Pho and we got a great massage. Next we went to a cocoon museum which had some guys playing old American songs. I won a sketchbook in an Angry Birds toss and a rode a bull for 10 seconds. It rained and we escaped on a boat.

Bo on Bangkok: Day 1, Canal Tour

Today I took a tour of Bangkok. It was very fun and I saw many interesting things along the way. First, we took a taxi to the Bangkok travel system, a skytrain monorail. On the skytrain we traveled to a new stop where we were supposed to meet our guide.  However, there was a mixup as to where we were supposed to meet and we waited for a while as the problem was resolved.  Then we met the guide and and quickly got on the boat from which we traveled down the canals of Bangkok.  

Our first stop, out of six, was at a traditional market where we were supposed to get ingredients that would be prepared at the restaurant, our fourth stop.  However things changed a bit as Redd developed an itching sensation and it turned out that many of the dishes that we had wanted to eat were either too common or too rare.  So in the end we got some fruit, a bag of boiled peanuts, and a pack of pills instead of the fish, vegetables, and crab that we were supposed to eat. We then got back on the boat.  

Redd took one of the pills, we ate some noodles off of a boat, a "once in a lifetime experience" accordingly to our guide though really we've eaten a lot of noodles already, and we traveled to our second stop, a grand temple. There were multiple floors on the temple; however it was the fourth floor that really amazed me.  The first floor had columns of red paint with gold designs on them and an altar with a gold Bhudda.  The second floor had the relics of the previous monks, either dead or some who had merely stopped their education. The third floor had solid gold statues of the greatest meditators that had came to this temple, including one that weighed one hundred thousand kilograms. He was the idol of most of the people who aspire to be great meditators and many people came each day to meditate in front of him hoping that his wisdom would help them in their quest for internal peace. The fourth floor, the greatest, had a star ceiling engraved with over 50,000 gemstones that had come from Austria.  It had extremely intricate paintings of the Buddha and he was always sitting on a lotus flower. I love these paintings or engravings were not even the grandest part of the room. 

In the center of the room, surrounded by waist high glass walls, was a 3 to 4 m high green glass pyramid. At the top was a small, maybe 6 inches tall, golden Buddha. He was not sitting, as he normally is depicted as, but he was standing with his hands facing outward as if to stop the flood. After gazing at this magnificence, and taking many pictures, we got back on the boat and drove down the canals. The third thing we did was go to a smaller temple called the Forest Temple. There we learned about two things, one being the etiquette especially using the feet and where to point out. Putting your feet in the direction of someone is considered unclean as the feet are, in Buddhism,  the most unkempt part of the body. Sticking your feet toward someone is disrespectful and frowned upon, but it is okay so long as you're not looking or talking to them. 

The second thing we learned about was the different positions that the Buddha is depicted in in the statues. About 70% of them are depicted with him sitting cross-legged, his right foot foot over left foot, right hand on his right knee. This signifies his resistance to give into temptation to quit his meditation and thus, quit his path to enlightenment. About 10% have Buddha depicted sitting with his legs in the same position, but with his hands folded in his lap, right hand over left. One more 10% have Buddha depicted as reclining as this is the position he died in. The last 10% are depicted in other positions such as standing up and breaking the flood. 

The fourth place we went to was a canal restaurant where we had a couple different noodle dishes, such as dry noodles, noodle soup, and a Thai Omlette. We also had a choice for dessert of many different tubs of ice cream, such as blueberry, vanilla, chocolate, and passion fruit. 

The fifth place we went to on our canal journey was an orchid farm where, by far the most pictures were taken. There were orchids of many different colors. There were red, white, and yellow orchids. There also some more kinds, especially the yellow ones, that either had something sort of like flower freckles, or they were just plain old plants. The sixth, and final place that we went to on today's journey was an artist's home. It had puppet shows would play occasionally for free, but today was not one of those days. However we still had a lot of fun there, as we drink our iced lemon tea and fed the ravenous catfish. We went home and I started to write this journal entry.

Biking in Chiang Mai

After a week in Bangkok just prowling the streets, walking through temples, visiting the malls that SE Asians find aspirational and fascinating (and which we appreciated for the air conditioning) we hit the road for Chiang Mai in the northwest part of Thailand, close to the Burma border.  Which Mason will correct you and tell you is now Myanmar.  Noted.

Stayed here for a week in a fantastic little hotel called Rimping Village, in the little quaint town square not far from the historic center.  The place has bikes for guests to use so we took those out for a few days. I haven't ridden a bike since we live on the Charles River in Boston's Back Bay, so that would be 15 years ago.  But like horses, it comes back to you. It was a bit nerve wracking at first watching the kids attempt to stay on the left side (didn't realize that Asia drives on the left until we pulled out of the Bangkok airport--I've now cancelled the car we were going to rent in Bali.  Who needs that aggravation??)  Also no one cares much about pedestrians here, which is so different from San Miguel where people cross with impunity anywhere they care to.  No on ewill hit them and everyone stops.  Here it's every songthoew, tuk tuk, cab and scooter for himself.  I finally had to ride in front of Redding as I couldn't bear to watch him hot dogging it, zig zagging in his lane about 2 inches from parked cars and 2 inches from moving ones.  But what a great way to get around once you get used to it.

We covered a lot of terrain through the old walled city, driving along the old moat which surrounded the city and is now a square of smelly canals defining the space.

Mason and I got foot massages one morning while the others did some school work.  He was not fond of the stick which was pushed rather hard into each of his toe pressure points.  He's becoming a bit of an expert after five massages in 10 days!  

Letters to Laura

An email to my friend, Laura in Baltimore, who purports to want to travel with her son Alex but never gets her act together to come with us because organized sports have taken over her life.  So, now I give her more encouragement:  "First I'm just going to say that I'm going to nag you from here until eternity to get your ass in gear and bring Alex on the road with us one time. We are in Chiang Mai, Thailand right now getting ready to put our fat butts on some big elephants and ride them through the rice paddies to a river where we get off and bathe them with a huge scrub brush. Ok. Maybe that last part will not entice you. But...we've had four massages each including one for Redd where he had to strip down completely and get his butt cheeks rubbed. Which at first he said was weird. But then he liked it. She put a small piece of cloth over his wiener and then proceeded to do his inner thighs. Noodle soup with pork and curry for breakfast every morning (while we were in Bangkok). Have 7 more weeks to go in Laos, Cambodia and Bali, Indonesia. There's still time to join us.  Asia is the bomb and Sam is ready to move here. Mostly because the food is so damn good and cheap. We cannot find street food for more than $2 per person per absolutely delicious meal!"

To which she replied, "LMAO....the transition from "she put a towel over his wiener" to noodle soup was a bit abrupt. Thought you were going somewhere else with that. Lol!!!  Sounds amazing. Alex and I are game for an adventure. Taylor's brother used to summer in Thailand!!!  They loved it. Real life schedule is the problem. BUT.... Never say never. I would come alone but I just can't leave Alex behind he would kill me. The big scrub brush would be amazing!!! My back itches!!! Riding elephants would be a dream come true and I really want to pet a giraffe. Ok. Maybe that's Africa... We have to plan but I think it's a must. Alex can't be all about school and football. I'm sorry to have missed Thailand.  Send me the rest of your agenda!!!  Xoxoxo. As always your writings have enthralled and amused...especially the wiener noodle part!!!

To which I replied: "Now I'm the one laughing my ass off. Ah, no one saw the noodle soup segue coming....You are correct. Time to leave behind the football and school, at least for a couple of weeks. That's stuff you will never miss when you shuffle off this mortal coil. But getting your boobs massaged vigorously by someone whom you can't identify as make or female?  That's unforgettable and life altering. (That's what was happening to me as Redding was getting his soup stirred. Sam and the other two were safely getting their feet massaged in the safety of the front room.). And FYI don't forget we have Professor Hillers on board for in-house tutoring. He's next door right now overseeing math and reading lessons. He and I are going out to find two temples and the zipline office (Flying with Gibbons it's called) while the boys stay here doing their lessons by the pool under the shade if a frangipani tree...

And no, you cannot leave Alex behind. He would have such a ball navigating these crazy markets, eating meat off a stick (that has no relation to Redd's wiener), and otherwise exploring some crazy shit with my guys (like a four-story cage of baby squirrels dressed up in costumes in a market in Bangkok. The ones that had been just born didn't have to put on a suit.)"

The Power of the Cheap Massage--and Where Redding Got His Biscuits Buffed

Everyone says get as many massages as you can while you travel.  When they're $5 each for an hour it makes the advice kind of easy to follow. Our first one was at the end of Khao San Road where we were searching for a "gorgeous teak house" that a friend in San Miguel recommended.  Searched high and low but finally settled for a kind of dirty, rickety plaster house but after a few hours of walking from temple to temple, fending off taxi drivers, we set uncle and sat down.  What you learn quickly is that almost doesn't matter where you go. Someone is going to put you down on a mat, wash your feet with water, and then start to bend, twist and rub you into oblivion.  Then give you a cold cloth and a cup of hot tea and ask for a fiver.  It just can't ever be bad.

The second massage we got at the famous Wat Phrao temple school ,perhaps one of our least favorites and most expensive, but still you have to have one.  It's a huge hall with rows and rows of beds.  Each bed has some sweaty prostrate tourist flopped down with a Thai man or woman crawling over them.  The staff gives you a pair of cotton pants to put on (you never get Thai massaged in the buff), you flop down on a mat with a colorful piece of fabric and a hard pillow, and you get prodded and bent for an hour.  Mason must have really enjoyed his.  As he said when we gathered in the courtyard of this rather fantastic wat, surrounded by gold stupas and multicolored carved dragons, "I haven't had too many massages in my life but that one seemed really good."

The kids got  a third massage in Bangkok's famous Saturday Chatuchak Market, while Sam and I had a huge bowl of tom yong goong soup and a massive plate of pad thai.  Foot massage as babysitter?  Alright.

Two more in Chiang Mai, one at Fah Lanna, the best smelling shop we visited with strong wafts of mentholyptus in the air, and where Redd and I opted for an oil massage. I just wanted someone to rub me, not bend me. So this was the first place we actually took our clothes off, which I guess you do only when you're getting oil applied.  Redd was a bit shocked at first when asked to strip down everything, including his underwear.  He told me, She rubbed my butt cheeks which at first I thought was really weird but then it felt OK.  When she turned me over she came me a little piece of cloth to cover my wiener."  Glad she didn't massage that. 

My masseuse was of some indeterminate sex.  Because he/she/it was vigorously rubbing my bare boobs with oil (another first) I just kept my eyes shut and pretended to like it.