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.

Bangkok's Back Alleys

A favorite of the whole family was a nifty little canal tour we took through the back alleys of Bangkok.  Once known as the Venice of the East, Bangkok, until about 50 years ago, was navigated nearly strictly by boats through narrow canals.  These now are mostly covered by skyscrapers and highways but on the edges of town, accessed by the skytrain which became our preferred mode of transportation,.  We spent a day on the canals in a long-tail boat with an overbearing and rigid guide named Nui.  Redding got some strange case of itching so we had to stop at a water market for some potion to make it bearable for him.  His whole body itched and he was uncomfortable for the whole morning.  Nui had no sympathy.  In spite of her telling us what we could eat, when we could eat it, what we had to look at, how close we had to stand to her, etc. we loved this day.

The motor on the boat is about as long as the boat itself and looks like some prehistoric animal with a skinny metal tail cutting through the lotus flowers and aquatic plants that have to be cleared from the canals daily. We zipped from temple to temple and from market to riverside restaurant in one of these cool, canvas covered boats.  The highlight: Seeing an old woman bathing in the (rather filthy) water with a white paper cap on, while a six-foot foot monitor lizard swam by.  Nui assured me these were not crocodiles and we're not man eating but still I had no desire to take a dip myself.  We stopped for cold coffee drinks at a wooden house where the boys fed dog food pellets to a massive pile of writhing catfish below in the river.  They loved that Steven Tyler from Aerosmith had been there too, and took a picture of a picture of him with one of the coffee bar hostesses.  Who knew they knew Steven Tyler??

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Temples and Tuk Tuks

Though we vow to take it easy in Bangkok and spend the days recovering from the travel that proves impossible to do when you look at a map and see just what's out there.  Redding wants to find a basketball court in Lumpini Park (he's become an NBA nut).  Sam wants his fill of temples.  Bo and Mason want to hang by the pool and "chillax" but there's no time for that.  So they'll take ice cream instead. I want to go to Chatuchak Market and find these stainless steel drinking cups that another street vendor served his ice water in.  But we all decide to have a massage to get us in the mix.

First stop: some nutty massage parlor on the street that is advertising just feet, or head and shoulders, or Thai massage with out oil.  We opt for that.  We've been walking for a while and this seems like the perfect time to take a break.  I'm probably the only person in this family who's ever had a masasge.  Well, I'm certain the kids haven't.  We are each taken to a mat on the floor and told to put on maroon cotton shorts.  We are lined up, each with a masseuse squatting over us.  The treatment begins.  It's kind of weird, frankly, and a bit more exercise than I would have liked.  I am the only one with a male.  The others all get ladies whom I'm guessing aren't as strong. Mine twists, turns and otherwise manipulates my arms and legs, putting them into positions that make me wince.  In the end I'm not sure if I feel better or worse, but it was an hour and a half off my feet and in an air-conditioned room.  Bo said he wanted to laugh the whole time but the others loved it and Redding declared his aching soles healed. Everyone wants another.  

Breakfast in Bangkok

We cannot go to sleep.  We have to plow through. At 6:30am we leave our condo and start searching for food.  It doesn't take more than a block and we're in this very local alley behind our place where street vendors are already setting up their stalls for the day.  One cart has all the ingredients of Thai cooking carefully bagged in little plastic sacks hanging from a pole to sell to cooks or housewives: cilantro, ginger (peeled and sliced), scallions, dried shrimp, multiple kinds of greens, pandan leaves, kaffir leaves, limes, stalks of lemongrass, tomatoes.  Burners and grills with woks of hot oil are frying up whole fish, chicken, or steaming vats of broth to pour over noodles.  The kids have never been to place like Asia before, and this set up is wholly foreign to them, but they're enthusiastic and ready to sit down on the little plastic stools that front a couple of wooden tables at each of these stands.  We decide on a noodle place and just point to what other people are eating.  We end up with bowls of hot rice noodles with slices of fried pork, onions and some kind of spinach, probably bok choy, and are handed a caddy of four condiments.  There's sugar, dried chili, fish sauce and wet chili oil.  The man motions for us to put a little of each of these on the soup.  So we do.  Chopsticks and square spoons come out of a metal box.  Five plastic red mugs are put on the table filled with ice and a straw.  A pitcher of water appears on the table.  We dig in.  The food is so divine we eat there almost every morning, breaking our routine only a little to sample a whole fish (whose head is stuffed with sticks of lemongrass and bay leaves), meat on a stick covered with vinegar and chiles, deepfried drumsticks and dough balls dipped in honey, and tom yung goong for me (shrimp and red curry soup).   Breakfast is our favorite meal and we are up and on the streets every morning early, loving the routine.

One Week in Bangkok

Touch down: Bangkok.  3am, humid, sweaty, loud, overcast and full of tall buildings.  As well as a kind taxi driver named Peter who was waiting with our name on a sign to whisk us into the city to the River condominiums, a place I booked off VRBO on the west bank of the Chao Phraya river next door to the Peninsula Hotel.  He pulled into the driveway and we piled out ino the gleaming lobby of this grand highrise with fountains and bamboo and marble floors, and attendants who even at 4am came running, sliding on their socks, to open the door, greet us and take our bags to the elevator.  I'm liking it already.

Up we go to the 21st floor and into our pad for the week.  We pull open the curtains, get the AC running, and see all of Bangkok below us, lit up and brights.  The river flows and small boats are going up and down its center even in the middle of the morning.  The kids want to know about jet lag.  Do we have it yet?  Are we going to get it?  Should we sleep, should we stay up?  We opt for staying up.  By now it's after four and it seems silly to sleep.  Would throw us off our game entirely.  So we unpack, explore our rooms, hop on rock-hard beds (a staple in Asia we will find), marvel at the faucets in the sleek bathrooms, and decide to find the swimming pool.

The kids and I head back down the elevator.  It's dusky, still warm and weirdly still, and we creep out on floor five to take a swim.  What we find is unbelieveable.  We're so excited we can hardly stand it. There is a series of 4 pools, all rectangular and tiled with iridescent grey and silver tiles, stretching about 400 feet from where we stand through these gardens with papaya, banana and palm trees.  The fruit is hanging on them for the picking.  We crawl quietly into the first one, knowing that probably we shouldn't be swimming at 5. Above us loom these enormous towers of metallic, mirrored blue.  We're in this oasis of water surrounded by highrises.  The water is the perfect temperature, just right for the morning.  We decide to keep walking through the gardens--Reddy finds a badminton court where he can bounce the basketball he's been carrying with him since LA.  Then the gym, and then another pool that absolutely floors us.

It's a single pool that is surrounded by wooden decks that look like swimming platforms on a lake. It stretches from one end of the complex to the other, where there's nothing but an edge dropping off into the lake.  Or so it seems from where we stand 500 feet away.  We get in and crawl through the water as the sky is starting to lighten and there's a bit more activity on the river.  We swim to the end, and there's a glass wall separating the pool from the river below.  I lie on my back, feel jet lag start to wash over me, but have such a feeling of utter bliss lying in a body of water in Bangkok with my happy kids and the sky lightening above me, inviting us to come out and explore her city.

Fish Floss and Other Oddities

Mason was the most excited of all by the long flight.  He had great memories of our summer last year flying to Johannesburg--two flights of 8 hours each separated by an hour or two trapped on board while the crew cleaned the plane and checked for contraband in our seatback pockets.  He loved it.  Movies all night long on his personal TV screen, a chance to change into pajamas in a tiny bathroom, unlimited sodas from kind flight attendants, and the socks they give you in a plastic bag with a tiny toothbrush and tube of paste.  He loved every minute of it.  So he was dying to get the same experience on the way to Asia.  Score. Except for the socks and toothpaste.  And the edible in-flight meals.

But oh that little TV on the seat back in front of him.  Kept the kids happy for 14 straight hours.  I was seated a couple of places away.  I literally almost never spoke to them (I was too busy trying to find a comfortable spot in my skinny little chair.  I had Sam on one side of me and some girl on the other.)  But the highlight of the trip, for me, was the fish floss.

The stewardness came by with breakfast: eggs or porridge?  So all the kids opt for porridge.  What they didn't know is that it was, psych, congee!  Japanese breakfast staple of a thick rice gruel served with seaweed, pork and...fish floss.  A small packet of condiments atop the porridge with the name Fish Floss. Sam opened his, sniffed it, and pronounced it the exact same thing as what you fed the goldfish you won at the fair when you were little.  Fish food!  (Who knew fish were cannibals.)  Flakes of dried fish to sprinkle atop your gruel.  The kids went hungry.  But still they loved the flight and even got a little shut eye. We woke up in Taiwan where we caught another plane (31/2 hours never felt so easy) to Bangkok.

Same Kids, Different Countries--Summer in SE Asia

Our last week in San Miguel was a bit of a madcap dash towards a constantly moving finish line.  In one week we moved the last of our earthly belongings out of our house of five years, sold said house, stayed with friends after being displaced by the new owners, had a last-day-of-school picnic at the hot springs and one hour later went to Leon Airport to spend the night before a 6am flight to Tijuana.  Flew to Tijuana, crossed the border into the US in San Diego, made our way to LA, and caught a flight to Bangkok.  With the proceeds of our house sale we decided to spend nine weeks in SE Asia, beginning in Thailand and ending up Bali.  Nine weeks on the road with one roll aboard each, divvied up between Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia.  But first we had to get through a  14-hour flight to Taiwan.....

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Masonism #11

"There's not anyone I personally know who can drink water in bed without spilling."

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ladies Who Lunch....Oddly

Jenny Hensley's in town for two weeks so we've been eating, drinking, driving, shopping, and laughing. How is it that three grown women can be seen like this in town?  It's San Miguel, I guess.  

Here we are after a comida with the families at Don Tomas, followed by a madcap ride on scooters to see the new Macdonald/Asfour compound on Prolongacion La Quinta. Tom showed up with a stack of plastic cups, a six-pack and a bottle of tequila.  We walked the obra gris of their new house, then headed to the Hensleys' rental to watch the final game of the NCAA tournament.

Tom and Janan
What exactly is Jenny doing?!

What exactly am I doing?  I don't need a cab. Jenny has her moto, though with her at the wheel it's always Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.
The two-shoe trivet.  Hey, it's a rental house.  Don't mess up their furniture or your deposit is gone.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Boys Night Out--And Wedding-Ring Tattoos

Sam plays pool on Wednesday with an interesting group of guys.  There's a new guy who just joined them. He's got a lot of tattoos.  He starts a story to explain one of his tats with, "I was living in Vegas and married this stripper."  Sam says, "Hold on.  There aren't many stories that start like that."  So he carries on with how he and his stripper wife got each other's names inked across their wedding ring fingers. It was all great until the divorce.  When the girlfriends weren't crazy about the ex-wife's name still on the finger.  So he got it scrapped off.  It took three months of weekly sessions and hurt a hell of a lot more than the original tattoo.

Sam and I don't have as good a story.  But we did get wedding band tattoos.  One Christmas in Guatemala when the world was supposed to end on December 21, 2012.  Turns out the Mayans knew all along it wasn't ending, but a new bak'tun was beginning--the 13th bak'tun, or long count, or period of 5200 years.  To make our own story even better we just happened to be married 13 years and had been looking for a symbol of the two of us and the three boys.  Here it is, the Mayan numeral 13.

The Sunday Tuesday Market

Redding, our friend Will Hensley, and Mason with their bags
of agua de limon and jamaica, plus steamed garbanzo beans with
lime and chile
Sunday mornings are a big day for our family.  Up early, out to Landeta, the open fields around an often dried up dam with the dogs, then breakfast at the Tuesday Market, a local mercado that is now open on Sundays as well.  It's the breakfast of champions: pizza with hot dogs and a plastic cup of orange soda; waffles with chocolate syrup and condensed milk; or barbacoa and consomme--lamb steamed in banana leaves served in tacos with hot sauce, cilantro and onions.
The DoriLoco cart with condiments

On a special morning it might be DoriLocos: a bag of nacho-cheese Doritos cut open at the topped with toppings poured into the bag: cucumber, Chinese noodles, garbanzo beans, salsa, onions, shaved carrots.

Then we rummage through piles of dead people's clothes, or cast offs from road races and other charity events in the states.  Sometimes you'll find J.Jill, Gap, Ann Taylor, Old Navy, Burberry, and Merrell shoes.  Yesterday I got two lovely summer shirts for $1.52 in total. I'm wearing one now.  They're washed, ironed and always smell like really good laundry soap.  What's not to love.

We also pick up several bootleg movies which invariably disappointment because although they say they're in English they almost never are.  Then there's a bird seller who walks around with a multi-story tower of wooden bird cages filled with parakeets and small wrens.  The fighting cock guy with his dozens of birds in cardboard lettuce boxes pocked by knife holes to give them air.  The pit pull puppy guy, always with a big mamma dog in tow sporting a leather harness and huge steel chain.

Redd always wants a new wallet (which is interesting because he never has any money) or a sleeveless athletic shirt.  Bo is content with nothing with is his way, and Mason angles fo ra baby turtle, a chihuahua, or some other animal that's not coming home with us.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Face of an Illegal Alien

Last week I traveled to Sayulita, on the west coast of Mexico in the state of Nayarit, north of Puerto Vallarta.  After several days in the sun with friends from Los Angeles, drinking way too much tequila but eating just the right amount of mahi mahi and shrimp ceviche, I came home from the Mexico City airport with a driver named Pedro Rios.  Incredibly handsome, 30-ish, fit, dressed in Polo jeans, a light blue and green checked long-sleeved shirt and polished loafers, he took my bag, escorted me to the parking garage, and we left for the three-hour drive back to San Miguel. He spoke no English. I was a bit exhausted from the week but Pedro drives this route six days a week, back and forth, eight hours at a time. He was in the mood to talk.  When I'm tired it's hard for me to speak Spanish well. But Pedro started asking questions and I figured I could find my way to answer.  Off and on for three hours we talked about things, the most fascinating topic being his trip over the border to find work in the States.

He's been a driver for a shuttle company for about four years.  Before that he was a professional soccer player in San Luis Potosi and still plays on Sundays for a team which pays him to play here in San Miguel.  He drives every other day that he's not playing soccer.  But for two and a half years he worked on the railroads in Texas and Iowa, laying rails and maintaining old track, after crossing at Laredo, Texas, not through the river but over a barbed wire fence.  He looks nothing like the immigrants that people are so scared of.  

He told me about the business of getting to the US.  "I went with a coyote from San Miguel.  There were 40 of us. This coyote is muy inteligente, he knew exactly what we should do when the helicopters flew over us. He told us to crouch down, keep your head down, don't look up or the radar will pick up the light from your eyes.  He told us how to run if the trucks came, how to lose ourselves in the desert when the migra came.  He knew the hours when the migra patrolled and told us exactly when we could walk without being seen."

Some facts I learned from Pedro:
  • It costs about $3000US to get from San Miguel to Texas.
  • The coyote receives about $2000 of that per person.
  • The Zeta cartel controls the border.  After you cross they arrive in pick up trucks with AK47s and take a fee from each person.  When Pedro crossed it was 1800 pesos ($120).  Today it is 7500 (about $600). 
  • Forty people left with him in his group but two people didn't make it.  I asked him if they died. He told me he thought no, that they went back to Mexico. But I think he was just saying that. He told me the woman was old and with her male cousin, who could no longer drink or take water.  They left them in the desert and kept walking.
  • The coyote asked Pedro to be his driver, ferrying illegal immigrants from the desert to a second point where they would be met by another truck.  The fee: $300 a person for the 90-minute ride.  The eight-person Suburban, like the one I was driving in, would be filled with 20 people.  That would be $6000 a day, three days a week.  Pedro turned him down.
  • Sometimes, when the American boss on the railroad wasn't around, the Mexican boss would write that the crew worked for 10 hours even though they only worked five.  But they worked so hard they got the hours in to justify the fraud.  Pedro said it was grueling work but that he was very strong back then.

I asked him why he came back.  He said, my family of course.  I missed them.  He is now trying to get a legitimate visa so that he can go back to work.  He won't stay forever but he can still make more than driving me to and from Mexico City.

Questions from a Nightmare

Redding and Bo, uncharacteristically, spat and Bo, who has been sharing a bed, not just a room, with Redding for about the last ten years, wishes he had a room of his own so that he could get away from Reddy for the night. I suggest he go to the casita, an independent house at the back of our garden, outside and away from everyone.  Also uncharacteristically, Bo agrees and goes downstairs, outside, past the pool in the dark, and into the casita. I can see the light on in there from my room.  (Once Bo is upstairs he doesn't like going back down.  He is afraid of the dark and things unknown).  But tonight he  is frustrated enough with his brother to leave. 

I go to bed myself and am surprised when I see the casita lights are off and realize that Bo truly is staying there for the night.  About 30 minutes later I hear some awful sounds from Reddy's room.  I go in, and he is sleeping sideways in the bed, wrapped like a mummy in damp sheets.  Bo is next to him sound asleep, lightly snoring. The room is so hot--it's only early April but San Miguel is already warm and no one here has air conditioning.  There's a breeze in the hallway but Reddy has his windows shut and shuttered so that our dog, Jozi, can't see outside and bark at the night watchman who makes laps around the neighborhood, often standing in front of our house I'm convinced to make the dogs go crazy.  So Redd is warm to the touch and sweaty and crying.  Bo doesn't stir.

He wakes up immediately and starts shaking and telling me about his nightmare: "I had a dream that men came into our house with guns and took you away."  What could be more horrible for a child to imagine?  Of course I try to soothe him with the normal lines but he is inconsolable and opens up about all of his fears of dying and losing our family and not understanding his place in the world.  Almost like he's still asleep or feverish or in some weird state of not being quite conscience he rambles on for nearly 40 minutes: "I can't stand to think about losing you or dad or Bo or Mason.  That's why I had to go to the casita and get Bo.  I couldn't think about him being alone in there or scared or having something happen to him. I needed to have him back with me.  I don't know what I'd do if something happened to anyone of you. I think about it all the time. I think about it when I go to bed. I can't sleep because I think about dying and what happens when you die, what happens when your brain stops.  How does a brain stop?   How does it just stop?  What happens to your body?  Where does it go?  I have so many questions.  There are so many things I don't understand. I know about the universe and I know that the sky spreads out to infinity and that there's no end but I can't grasp that, I can't understand what is after infinity...."  I tell him that the world has been around for so long that the thought of it ending in our short life time just seems so remote. I say, "The whole solar system and all of our life has been around for billions of years..." He interrupts me and says, "4.6."  4.6 billion years he knows from his science classes with Polly at school.  So I try to tell him that even if something happened to the alignment of the planets we'd all die at one time, instantaneously, that we'd all be together in this great big world, snuffed out at the same second.  Somehow this seems mildly soothing to him.  But he continues on about death and fears and the unknown and I just don't know how to help him.  I try to tell him that one day he will have his own family and that I won't be as important to him.  That the world without me will not seem quite so scary.  But he can't believe that day can ever come. He's filled with too much love for me and his dad and his two brothers that the idea that we won't be there with him forever is too much to bear.  We talk until about 11 o'clock, I rub his head which he likes and run my fingers through his hair and finally he calms down and falls asleep.  In the morning we never discuss it and I don't know if he remembers it or not.

What I know is that I must be more careful in this life.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

From the "Only in Mexico" Field Trip Files

Redd has a school photography class on Fridays.  His class was taken to the local cemetery to film some of the uniquely colorful Mexican graves.

Because this was not your typical field trip, he came home very excited about certain aspects of the day.  "It was really cool.  While we were there these men were digging up bones from some of the graves. In Mexico if you don't pay your rent they dig you up and bury you somewhere else.  So we got to see these guys take bones out of a grave and put them in a bag."  This led to a short discussion of the difference in the States where you outright buy your plot rather than rent it.  Which led to a discussion of economics and the value of money and how certain societies live more day to day than with long-term plans.  Which also led to a discussion about cremation which I was surprised to learn my children know I desire.  I asked them to take little bags with me wherever they travel and just scatter me all over their journeys. 

Mariachis singing at gravesites

Then, Mason chimes in, "Tell her about the coffin you found."  So, oh yes, Reddy mentions that there was an old, rusty coffin sitting inside the courtyard.  They lifted the lid but the odor was so bad they just let it fall down. He told me he knew there was a body inside but it smelled too bad to see what it was.  There's just no end to what you mind see or find or do on an average day in San Miguel.