Thailand, Spring 2006
What follows it an uneven account of my trip to Thailand in May, 2006. It's uneven because I tend to write more when I have time rather than when I have had more experiences. Alas, when I'm out having adventures, I'm not writing about them.
I guess I didn’t really need to be at the airport before 4am but for some reason, I had it in my head that my flight left at 6am and the ever-present "they" tell you to be at the airport at least two hours before departure. I admit that I am a bit anal-retentive when it comes to air travel (Hi, my name's Peter and I'm anal-retentive. Hi Peter). I can’t relax if I am rushing to get everywhere just in the nick of time. Though if I had actually read my itinerary, I probably would have noticed that the plane doesn’t depart until 6:55. Oh well, at least I wasn’t off in the other direction. As it was, I had time to sit and leisurely to enjoy a cup of tea and a bagel while musing about… Well it would be romantic to say I was musing about the travel adventure that was awaiting me, and indeed I did some of that. But to tell the truth, I was mostly thinking about some clever schemes for writing a new software product that I am developing. That’s me; a romantic to the core.
I’m now sitting in a Portland airport "Service Center" with my laptop, writing these words and checking email. Praise to the gods of wireless internet. Maybe I’ll even write a few lines of code.
The flight from Portland to San Francisco (that's right, we're not in Portland any more Dorothy, keep up!) was wonderfully uneventful, something I always want in air travel. Which makes me think of the fellow who said, "I want to die quietly, in my sleep, like my grandfather; not screaming in terror like the passengers in his car." I'm a white knuckle flier. "Normal" turbulence inspires in me an abnormal fear.
Probably the reason I prefer flights where nothing memorable happens is that I have had more than my share of frightening experiences while flying.
To wit, Once I was in a typhoon while flying from Hong Kong to Taipei. We were being tossed all over the place and had to land at an unfinished airport. We disembarked to a large waiting area where we were under the watchful eyes of guys with machine guns who had to accompany anyone who wanted to go to the restroom.
Another time, flying into Ontario, California we were trying to land in cross winds that were gusting at 60 mile per hour. "Trying" is the operant word; it took three passes before the plane's wheels actually contacted pavement. The other times it was almost our wobbling wing tips that made the contact. When we did finally land, everyone on the plane cheered.
A few years ago, while returning from a gymnastics championships somewhere on the east coast, I was en route from Charleston, South Carolina to Chicago. We were having some pretty vigorous buffeting and I, at least, was securely belted in. Suddenly the floor dropped out of us. Anything not tied down started floating; this included my stomach which was anything but tied down at the time. It lasted a month, I swear. Yeah, I know I'm a wimp when it comes to flying but I'm really not exaggerating the above events. Ok, maybe it wasn't a month, maybe only a few seconds but time seemed to stop.
The last time was when I was returning from Thailand in 2004. We were at Narita airport, taxiing to the runway when the pilot informed us that all the weird things happening with the cabin lights was cause by an electrical problem and we would have to return to the terminal. No big deal. They'd fix it and we would be on our way. But a couple hours later, we were told that a different plane was to be used instead. This time, we made it to the runway and were under power with the wheels just about to leave the pavement when the left side wing engine exploded with a loud bang.
So when I say that I've had my share of problems when flying, I'm not kidding. On the other hand, I've walked away from each instance so maybe I shouldn't get nervous. Yeah, and I'll look forward with eagerness to having teeth pulled too!
Hmm, that was a detour that just seemed to take on a life of its own. Back to the present though leaves me having arrived at San Francisco International. This is an odd journey flight-wise. The first leg from Portland to San Fran was on Alaska. The next two are on Korean Airlines. When I come home, it will all be on Northwest. They're "partners" you see. Anyway, my one giant suitcase was checked all the way from PDX hrough to BKK. But when I got off the plane at SFO (yeah, I'm way cool because I can remember the airport abbreviations) I had no idea where I was going. I found the first bank of video screens with departing flight information but my flight wasn't listed. To make matters worse, there were no signs indicating where I should go. I made my way to the ticketing area for Korean Airlines after doing the very un-guy thing of asking for directions. This was at about 8:30am and the Korean ticketing and check-in wasn't due to open until 11:00. A small sign indicated that I could call on the tiny Radio Shack intercom and wait for the phone behind the counter to ring then, of course, answer it. The woman I spoke to told me to come back at 11 and all my problems would be solved. I did, they were, I'm happy. Because I had time, I even went to an airport restaurant (a real one, not a food court) and had a truly wonderful breakfast. They even managed to my change my seats for the San Francisco to Seoul and Seoul to Bangkok flights. Now instead of the back row with no reclining seat, I have aisle seats in an emergency exit row. Hooray! Leg room! I must be living right. I'm now at the gate with an hour and a quarter until we begin boarding and I've got nothing more to say.
The flight from SFO to Seoul's Incheon airport was pleasant, if exhaustingly long. I got perhaps four to five hours of sleep over the 12 hour and 40 minute flight. We were about a half hour late taking off and were unable to make it up due to strong head winds so I had to rush to catch the Seoul to Bangkok final leg of this series of flights. It's now about half way through this 5 hour flight and we just had dinner. I chose the fish which was very spicy and quite good. It was served with seasoned rice and a salad forgettable except for the excellent lightly smoked salmon. The dinner I had on the earlier, longer flight was better though. I had chicken with mushrooms again over rice. It's odd to say again when speaking of events in reverse chronological order.
I've been reading one of Elizabeth George's Thomas Linley mysteries. I started it in Portland, and usually have been reading until I start nodding off or am interrupted by something important like food. I've got to say that Korean Airlines has the most attractive female flight attendants of any airline I've ever flown. I can't speak to the studliness of the men but the ladies are a delight to the eye.
I arrived in Bangkok somewhere around midnight on Wednesday, having lost a day to the International Date Line. On arriving here, the first thing a foreign visitor must do is pass through Immigration. I did as I have done in the past and waited in the appropriate line for foreign passports only to be told by the passport control person that I was in the wrong line because I came in on Korean Airlines whereas previously I had flown United and Northwest. Note that there is no sign or message indicating this difference, I guess its their little way of sticking it to exhausted visitors. Or maybe I'm just feeling annoyed.
Once past the formalities, my suitcase was already circling the carousel. I ran the gauntlet of over-priced taxi services and made my way to the second floor where the "unofficial" taxis are dropping off folks departing the Land of Smiles, the aptly named official Thai slogan often abbreviated LOS. I easily got a ride in a blessedly air conditioned cab who took me directly to my friends apartment, a 20 minute or so ride which is not for the timid. It's a good thing they don't add another layer of paint to these vehicles or they would rub against each other. This ride cost the princely sum of about $5.
The next day, Thursday, I had two appointments scheduled for dental consultations. I am in need of full upper dental implants and I had not decided which clinic would do the work. As it turned out, my top choice was also my first appointment and I quickly made the decision to have the work done there on the following day. The staff assisted by cancelling the remainder of my appointments for me. I know it was perhaps bad form to cancel so soon but I rationalized that it would be better than using up their time for a free consultation knowing that I would not be using their services.
After my appointment, I went to a huge shopping mall, seven floors and an overwhelming number of shops. My visit there had a twofold purpose: one was to purchase a cell phone and the other was to pay a visit to the mother of my friend Madee who is a foreign student at Oregon State University. The mother's name is Duranee and she is the owner of a furniture manufacturer and retailer. She has a large store on the fifth floor at MBK. She is a delightful woman with a small understanding of English, much more than my understanding of Thai. Another really nice fellow, Krisda, did most of the translating.
Both tasks accomplished, I repaired to the sixth floor food court. This place bares little similarity to its counterparts in malls in the U.S. I estimate that there are 50 shops selling foods of extensive variety for an extremely small price. I feasted.
Friday, the big day, I showed up at the dental clinic about 20 minutes before my 10:00am appointment. The surgeon arrived shortly after and I was soon directed to the operating room on the fifth floor. I was first given some oral antibiotics and pain relievers. Then the surgeon very slowly and soothingly administered the anesthetic injections. Once that was done, he began by inserting a plastic device to hold my lips back as he opened my gums, sawed holes in my skull and added artificial bone to both raise the level of my sinuses and increase the depth of bone to eventually hold the implants. I was not crazy about being awake for this but it turned out to not be nearly as bad as I had feared. The whole thing took about an hour and forty-five minutes, much less than the four to six hours I was told was possible. The surgeon was very happy with the way everything went. If he was happy, I was happy, or perhaps it was the drugs.
Feeling stir-crazy that evening, my friend Barry and I decided to go out. I was walking down the main street, Sukhumvit (the V is pronounced like a W) and a pickpocket stole my new phone. I, of course, didn't realize it until later when I checked for it in my handy little belt pouch that came with the phone. Bummer, I was more than annoyed and entertained fantasies in my dreams that night of what I would have done had I caught the thief. Serious violence was involved.
When I awoke the next morning, I looked like a chipmunk with a black eye. The predicted swelling at arrived so I iced it with little fast-food condiment sized packets of blue ice. At least there was no appreciable pain. The real pain, albeit only figuratively, is that I can eat only soft foods and liquids for he next two weeks. This will most definitely get in the way of eating most of the wonderful array of food available. Well, maybe I'll lose some weight. So far I've found I can eat rice, soups with nothing chewy hiding below the surface, eggs, and fish. Ice cream is ok too but I find I don't have much desire for any. A local market has Hagen Das and Ben and Jerry's. Cherry Garcia, my favorite, costs $2.50 to $3.50 in the U.S. but is about $8.00 here.
Later, I went back to MBK to purchase yet another cell phone ably assisted by a friend of a friend. She's an accountant recently out of work and looking. In the mean time, she took the day to be my translator. Most of the people at MBK speak at least a little English but it was nice to have the help of someone more fluent. This time, I won't be wearing the phone on a belt pouch.
The next day, Barry and I went to the Sheraton around the corner for breakfast and met his friend, Rudy. Rudy is a 34 year old German designer of compute chips and makes a great living selling his designs to large companies such as Intel and Raytheon. After our meal, we went to the basement of Robinson's department store. There, we all got foot massages. Frankly, as much as I enjoy body massage, foot massage is too painful to enjoy and only the camaraderie of my fellow westerners made it fun. The place has about a dozen reclining chairs and a woman (for some reason, all massages are given by women). First you take off your shoes and socks and roll the pant legs up above the knee. She starts by washing your feet then subjecting your feet and legs to alternating torture with just enough pleasure to give you hope. She uses a variety if lotions to soothe the skin, giving the establishment the scent of a eucalyptus forest. In addition to her hands, she also uses a variety of implements of torture. I have to admit that I seemed to be the only one in so much agony or perhaps I'm just a wimp here too.
Later, I had to again visit the dentist, this time with the prosthodontist/implantologist to take impressions and finalize the treatment plan for the remainder of my work. Dr.Sonthi was trained in Boston and is extremely knowledgeable. With his guidance, I selected the type of implant that would be used. I'd researched it online before leaving and had a pretty good idea of what I wanted. Dr Sonthi is, of course, is an expert and he suggested some possibilities I had not considered. In the end, I think we came up with a really good plan. It will entail two more visits spaced about six months apart. This is what I expected.
The following day started late, rising about noon after staying up late the night before. I'm never this decadent at home and I feel a bit guilty sleeping so late even on vacation. After eating, we went to Parntip Plaza, a unique shopping mall devoted almost entirely to matters digital. You can find all manner of computers, software, music, DVD movies, and a plethora of related items in quantities hard to imagine. I took a photo showing the inside central section with escalators going up and up and up. The place also goes out and out and out, in little corridors that one can get lost in. While there, we purchase a power cord adapter and a long Ethernet cable so that I could sit at the dining room table and have internet access. Alas, there is a baby pigeon in a nest adjacent to the air conditioning unit on the balcony so we don't turn it on and roast instead. It's now 7pm here and must be nearly 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity.
Now with complete internet access, I stayed up late again, this time was working on my computer and catching up with my correspondence. In the morning however, I awoke about 9:30 and did a little more work before showering and joining Barry, Rudy, John, and a new acquaintance, Estephan (I hope I got the spelling correct) for lunch at the Sheraton. I again got fried rice with crab, just about the only thing on the menu I can eat at this point. John had to leave early after getting a call from his office but the four of us went across the street again for foot massages. I had to be coerced.
Tonight I will sample the local Argentine Tango scene and I'll report on it in my next installment. I'll end this chapter here and pick it up whenever I get around to it.