Thailand, Summer 2007
Sunday, July 8, 2007
Monday, July 9, 2007
I am writing this, or at least starting it, from my seat on a Nippon Air Boeing 777 about half way from Bangkok to Tokyo. It is a flight of almost six hours and thus far has been smooth. I was fortunate to once again score an emergency exit row and so I have about seven feet of leg room, long enough even for my legs to stretch out and still have room for people to stand while waiting for a free restroom. Actually, that hasn't happened yet but I'm sure it will before the flight is over.
I want to jump back in time to last Thursday. I arrived at my hotel, once again the Dynasty Grande, at about 4:30 in the afternoon which gave me time to unpack before setting off for the big day, tooth-wise anyway. It has been about two and a half years since beginning the process designed to replace what few upper teeth I still had after childhood accidents (i.e. a dumb move by a 12 year old boy who though he could slide on a soapy concrete porch), the lack of many adult teeth (thanks to poor genetics for this one), and, yes I admit it, some decay. Today was the day I would actually get my new teeth and I was excited.
I was followed into the exam room by a photographer who was there to take a lot of photos of my mouth and, ultimately, my new beautiful smile. First, the dentist, Dr. Sonthi, unscrewed what are called healing abutments. These are metal studs that screw into the implant bases and only slightly protrude above the gum line. They were put in place last November along with the implants and allowed the gum tissue to heal to the shape of the ultimate abutment studs that attach to the new teeth. This is a big improvement over older systems that let the gums heal over the implants requiring cutting them open again to attach the teeth. Anyway, the healing abutments were removed and replaced with the anchors, with the trademarked name of "Locators." This system, too is an improvement over most others in several ways by providing stable attachment points while not needing to overly open the bite. As it is, my new teeth connect a few millimeters sooner when I bite down than they did before.
Most of the time in this appointment was taken up with photos and showing another dentist in the office what had been done. The photos will be used by Dr. Sonthi in his lectures on implants at the dental school where he teaches.
A few words about the teeth themselves, or rather the entire unit holding the teeth. It is quite similar to a normal denture in many respects. It looks like a denture except for not covering the roof of the mouth and having the small clips to attach to the abutments. It is also different than other dentures I have seen in that there is a metal framework supporting it within the gum colored plastic. Many people I have told about what I was having done thought I was getting a single implant for each tooth. Such a system is impractical if not impossible because there would not be enough bone surrounding the implants to hold that many. Another way would be to use the abutments to anchor a fixed bridge. This has several problems, both cosmetic and practical. Cosmetically, fixed bridges never look completely natural because the gums pull away leaving a small unattractive gap. The practical problem is when, not if, something breaks. Fixed bridgework is not repaired, it is replaced at enormous cost. If something breaks on mine, it can be repaired, often at a minimal cost.
So that's it. I have new teeth and am getting used to my new bite and the different shape of things in my mouth. I can still whistle but sibilants are trickier to pronounce, something I'm going to have to work on.
Downstairs at the dental office I was surprised to find my friend Meow, one of my Thai student friends who studied at Oregon State this year. We had arranged for a group of us to get together for dinner but I didn't know she was meeting me. We waited outside for Best, another of student friend, who was having a hard time finding the place. From there we took a taxi to where we met the others at a restaurant specializing in Thai salads. Afterwards, I was driven back to my hotel by Pan whose girlfriend, Mon, lives only a few blocks from there. I didn't get to meet her because she was in Malaysia at a debate competition. I was eager to meet her because she was in my friend Barry's class in Bangkok while I was getting together with the Thai students in Oregon. Barry heard from Mon, who heard from Pan what we were doing and news passed the other way as well. Small world.
The next day, Friday, I did a little more shopping then met Pan at an computer and electronics shopping mall. This one was different than Parntip Plaza I described before. This one, Fortune IT Center, is almost completely consumer oriented while Parntip has a strong geek-techie ambiance. After failing to find what I was looking for, we went to an Italian restaurant and were met by one of Pan's friends, Kevin, who's has roots in Belize, Taiwan, Thailand, and who knows where else. He also speaks virtually unaccented American English and is the president of their debate club. Pan is the VP. It was a good meal and very pleasant company.
Saturday I was on my own. After a short checkup with the dentist to make sure everything was all right (it was), I went to he aforementioned Parntip Plaza to try to find the software I had been unable to locate at Fortune. I had also tried a similar place in Pattaya with no luck and I didn't have any better luck at Parntip though I couldn't resist buying a few techie toys. Hey, not everything was for me, some will be used as gifts.
Sunday was another outing with my student friends. We were originally scheduled to go to Bangkok's famous floating market which would have necessitated a very early start because it only happens in the morning. However, Peggy had some family obligation in the morning so we changed our plans and went to another, similar, market. Our group consisted of Pan, Mon (just returned from Malaysia), Meow, Jip, Peggy, Dit (Peggy's boyfriend), and me.
At the market, we had feast of a lunch on a floating restaurant permanently docked along a river with the market and Buddhist temple along the bank. My favorite dishes were the roast duck (a local specialty), the chicken Satay (skewered, grilled chicken served with a peanut chili sauce), and a soup that was like a tomato and hot chili consume with shrimp and pieces of omelet made with a spinach-like vegetable. It was the soup broth that made it wonderful; rich, tart, and very spicy. Even the shrimp, usually the highlight of any dish, was only a side note.
The market was like the one I visited in Chiang Mai as part of my cooking class but this one was much bigger. It was also very much a tourist place but not foreign tourists, almost completely Thais out for a Sunday market much as we would go to a weekend farmer's market. I bought some Jackfruit, my firs try with this delicious and completely surprising fruit. Jackfruit are related to durian (more about durian later) and are very large, up to about 60 pounds and covered with quarter inch spikes. They grow on trees and I have a photo of one growing. Inside, the fruit is segmented into what look like yellow tulip flowers and about the same size with smaller segmented "petals." They are sweet, flavorful, and vaguely grape-like in texture.
I also bought some mango leather for snacking on the trip home and some palm sugar I will use in cooking. Pan bought me some durian (wrapped in plastic) to eat later with the provision that I not open it in the car because of the smell. Many Thais like durian but nobody likes the smell. Because of the smell, they won't allow durian to be brought into many public buildings and hotels.
From the market, we drove about twenty minutes to a large Buddhist temple which Pan described as a pagoda. It sure didn't resemble Japanese or Chinese pagodas I have seen but it certainly was big; supposedly the largest in the world. It started to rain just as we arrived and became a downpour that, fortunately, lasted only about ten minutes. Umbrellas in hand, we ventured out of the cars (we were in two), and walked around the enormous edifice stopping at several interesting things along the way. I took a bunch of photos.
The following week there was to be a big party for the graduating seniors and the girls wanted to get new dresses for the event. We tried to meet at a big new shopping center but at about 6:00pm, the traffic was just too much. I needed to have dinner and finish my packing anyway so Pan dropped off Mon then me. I said my goodbyes to Pan and Jip. The others were in the other car, possibly at the intended shopping center, so I didn't get to say a proper farewell. I'll just have to do it via email but it won't be the same.
My final dinner in Thailand was at Suda, perfect. I had spring rolls plus chicken and cashews in a rich and spicy, deep red chili sauce. The spring rolls were hardly worth mentioning but the chicken and cashews was as good as I remember from previous visits. This is a dish I have tried to duplicate with some success. My version was really good but different from what I got at Suda. I used a mix of mild and hot dried Mexican chilies which I soaked in warm water before scraping the thin layer of paste from the inside of the chilies. I don't know what Suda uses, perhaps a prepared chili paste or chili powder. More experimenting remains.
Today started far too early as so many of my international flights seem to do. I was up at 4:15, completed my morning ablutions and final packing and was checked out and in a taxi to the airport by 5:00am. Because of the hour and the fact that we seldom dropped below 100 mph (I'm not kidding), we made it to Suvarnabumi in twenty minutes. I had to insist that the taxi driver turn on the meter because he wanted to overcharge me and have an unregistered fare at the same time. That's standard practice in Bangkok and some drivers won't take you if you insist but most will if you start to call another cab. There is always another one or another dozen right behind.
Check-in was trouble free and I was pleased to find that the departure tax that one used to have to pay after checking in is now included in the ticket price so there was one less line to stand in and, for some at least, no problems because you spent all your Thai money and didn't have the 500 Baht (now 700 Baht at the new airport).
I'm now in the gate area of Tokyo's Narita airport. At each of the gates are they provide a few computer desks and I'm sitting at one now. Wireless Internet is available for purchase but I don't need it at the moment. I can upload this final chapter from the office tomorrow.
On leaving the flight from Bangkok, I followed the signs to international connecting flights and ended up at a desk where I could check in to the next two connecting flights. I couldn't do it in Bangkok because they are on Air Canada and the first one was on Nippon Air. They are allied and my luggage was supposedly checked all the way to Portland. However, the delightful lady who checked me in (and got me another aisle seat in an emergency exit row) told me that I had to claim my baggage in Vancouver because that's where I will go through U.S. customs. Weird, U.S. customs in Canada.
The almost nine hour flight from Tokyo to Vancouver went surprisingly quickly, aided by drugs to help me sleep and adjust my biological clock back to Oregon time. I actually got about five hours of restful sleep and woke up just in time for the breakfast service. With about an hour remaining in the flight there was plenty of time to wash my face and brush my teeth which went a long way toward making me feel more refreshed. U.S. customs in Vancouver was straightforward and I gathered my luggage and moved it from the incoming belt to the outgoing belt with nothing being checked. I wonder why they bother with the additional handling.
I just deleted a long, angry diatribe against the abuses of the officious TSA and airport security. They are legion but this isn't the forum for that. Perhaps I'll write another outraged article about it. Instead, I'll close with some last thoughts about the trip now quickly coming to a close.
In the U.S. and in Thailand, several of my friends have asked if I would be moving permanently to Thailand. It is highly unlikely that I will ever do so in large part because of the weather. I hate hot weather and don't like the choice of suffering in the heat or mostly staying in costly air conditioned spaces. Another factor keeping me in Oregon is my business. I really like what I do and while I could do it from almost anywhere, for practical reasons that anywhere has to be in the U.S. In theory, I could move the entire company (meaning me and my stuff with completely new employees) to another country but that presents another set of challenges, not least of which is finding people who are so fluent in American English that customers in America wouldn't know we were ten thousand miles away. It is also theoretical that I could run my Oregon company from abroad. I could stay in touch with staff in the States using all of the modern telecommunication marvels. However, I don't think it is possible to be an effective manager without day to day contact with the people who work for you. And then there is my personal attachments to the U.S., to Oregon, to my community, and to my friends and family. These are ties I don't want to sever or deal with from a really long distance. I may consider moving to Thailand, despite all of the negatives, when I eventually retire because the dollar goes much farther there.
Before leaving Thailand, I was asked many times by many people when I would be returning. Unless language difficulties made my explanation impossible, I indicated that I had no plans. Will I return to the Land of Smiles? I guess time will tell.