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Posts Tagged ‘Loi Krathong’

I arrived in Bangkok at about 2AM. I do not recall having traveled through the City at this time in the morning before. Not that I haven’t. I may have. It’s just that I do not remember. The bars were mostly closed but the “street vendor” bars were in full riot. Nana Plaza was eerily lightless, but the ladies and ladyboys of the night mingled with their patrons in a black seething mass that slopped out into the street.

I slept most of the next day. The few times I was awake the Little Masseuse would tell me stories. One was about an older man who lives in the country.

The Old Man’s Story:

Every day the old man spends the daylight hours rummaging through garbage cans for food and other necessities. He especially searches for bits of electrical wire. In the evenings, through well past midnight, he melts down the bits of  the wire he found that day, burning off any coating. Every month, he produces about a one-kilogram lump of copper that he sells for about $20. He uses this money to augment whatever he finds in his dumpster diving. In this way, he works hard every day and survives. In this way, he is reasonably content with this meager lifestyle. When asked about this he says: “I have no worries. People always throw away more than even I can ever use, so I get to choose only  the best.”

I try to swim every day at the pool in the Health Club located in the Ambassador Hotel on Soi 11. The health club now includes a Muay Thai training facility to go with the pool, gym, racquetball courts, yoga rooms, Karate lessons and Chinese fan dancing instruction.
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Some parrots in the Ambassador Hotel’s extensive aviaries.

After swimming, I usually have a massage at my friend Gary’s spa (The Silk Spa) on Sukhumvit Soi 13. If you are in Bangkok give it a try. Especially experience the new two-person sauna that Gary built himself. Gary is Canadian, plays in an Ice Hockey League in Thailand and is often followed around by a precocious four-year-old named GJ.
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On Wednesdays, the Little Masseuse and I go to Terminal 21 to see a movie (Wednesday tickets are only $3 each.) Each floor of Terminal 21 is dedicated to a different city. The photograph below is part of the San Francisco display.

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After a week in Bangkok, we took a van to Jomtien Beach to spend a few days by the seashore. The ride was longer than usual. We seemed to go a different way than we normally do. We passed an attractive small lake and through the town of Sri Racha, neither of which had I seen before.

The small hotel we usually stay at was full so we found an even less expensive one for $17 per night.
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In the evenings, we walked along the beach.
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We also ambled along the seashore in the early mornings.
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On our walks along the beach, we were often accompanied by a small pack of beach dwelling Soi Dogs.
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Soi Dogs are the indigenous feral dogs of Thailand. They rarely bark or growl and skitter away if you come too close to them. The King of Thailand claims they are the country’s native dog and seeks AKC recognition for them.

One morning we came across a group of ladyboys overacting on the beach and frolicking topless in the surf.
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The Good/Bad David joined us for lunch one day at a pretty good Mexican restaurant in the gay quarter of Jomtien Beach.
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David on the right and me with my hat and walking stick.

The gay quarter is located in a lovely complex just off the main road to the beach. While the gay community still lived in shadow and in Thailand was the object of ridicule, the complex deteriorated. But now, acceptance of their lifestyle has rejuvenated the area. At night, it is quite joyful, if a bit startling when as you walk by, the rent boys call out and comment on your physical endowments. (I assume this is not so surprising for most women, since the rent boys are like men everywhere, except that their entreaties are directed at a different sex)
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For about three hours over margaritas, we exchanged stories. David kept us enthralled with tales about his life as a safety expert in the jungles of Borneo and Nigeria and on the sands of Arabia in the employ of the plunderers of world’s billion-year solar energy reserve of hydrocarbons — stories about armed men and boats equipped with 50 cal machine guns — of sudden deadly explosions — of giant crocodiles and poisonous snakes — of days and nights living, under a sentence of death in a fortified encampment. When not engaged in derring-do, he lives in Thailand where he relaxes in his own special way. If there were a Nobel Prize for hedonism, David would be a repeat winner.

Along with his other stories, David related the recent travails of Tina, a friend of us both and of whom we are very fond.

Tina’s story:

Tina is a sex worker struggling to raise two children alone. Her daughter is now nine-years-old and her son twelve. In the past, she usually worked during the day, rushing home in the late afternoons to greet them when they returned from school and to spend the evenings with them whenever she could. She now has reached that age where her appeal as a sex worker has diminished. At first, she toiled as a manager of a cocktail lounge called Heaven, when that did not work out, she opened a small bar of her own that failed. Now she walks the streets of Pattaya, her son watching over his younger sister in their small apartment until she comes home.
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Tina in Heaven.

 

After leaving David we passed an interesting place that contained an artist’s studio and gallery, bar, night club, restaurant and foot massage facility all in one large room open to the street.
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We decided to enjoy a foot massage. The Masseur told us his story
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The Masseur’s Story:

It seems that a few years ago he found his dream job working as a Massage Therapist and rent boy at the Happy Massage Parlor across the street. He enjoyed working there and was popular with the customers. Alas, over the years he put on weight and soon the customers no longer sought his services. So, he now has been relegated to working the sidewalk foot massage station across the street. He is very distressed by his current situation. Nevertheless, he gives a great foot massage.

One evening, we went for dinner at an Italian Restaurant we like in the gay quarter. Da Nicola is owned by a father and son from a town (Licata) in Sicily quite near that of my mother’s town (Canicatti). The father considers the wines from Canicatti the best in Sicily. He should know, the house wine in the restaurant, although from Australia, is excellent even though served a little too chilled. The food there is as good Italian food and pizza as you will find in the Pattaya area.
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David laughing at something while the Little Masseuse ignores him and the restaurant owner photo-bombs in the background.

 
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The Owner of the Restaurant, LM with the pizza oven behind.

 

A few days after returning from Jomtien Beach, my favorite Thai holiday, Loi Krathong, the Festival of the Lights with which the Thais welcome in the new year, was celebrated. Tiny boats made of flowers and festooned with lit candles are set afloat on the nearby waterways.
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We went to a lake near my apartment where thousands had gathered, bought our Krathongs and found a place by the lake to launch them.
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We tried to light the candles but a strong wind suddenly struck making that impossible. The wind was quickly followed by a torrential downpour causing a panic among the thousands since most had not brought umbrellas. Everyone fled and tried to squeeze into the various inadequate public transportation options (No one in their right mind would try to drive in Bangkok to something like this). All in all, the Festival of the Lights came to a dismal end.
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A very wet Pookie.

A few days later, on Thanksgiving, I dined on a plate of pork fried rice garnished with cucumbers and onion shoots.

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My favorite Thai holiday is Loi Krathung. It falls on the night of the full moon of the 12th month of the year. On that night Thais launch, into the nearest suitable body of water, tiny boats adorned with candles, flowers incense and sometimes nail clippings an bits of hair for good luck. It is also the same day as the Lanna (the old Thai kingdom centered at Chiang Mai) Yi Peng festival when thousands of sky lanterns are launched into the air. LM and I went to the lake beside the Emporium shopping center on Sukhumvit Road to launch our boats and plead with the gods and goddesses for good luck. As with most holidays, it was much more pleasant in the anticipation than in the actual experience.

A few days later we went to the movies to see The Impossible, a film about an european family’s experiences while vacationing in Thailand during the 2004 tsunami. The scenes showing the fury of the water and the devastation caused by the inundation were riveting. Even more so were the images of its aftermath – the makeshift hospitals, the body bags, the injured, frightened, lost people and the frenzy of those searching for their missing loved ones. The movie brought back to me some long forgotten memories.

One evening, about four years after the tsunami, a friend and his wife invited me to join them at a reception in a home in Mill Valley, California. The homeowner’s family and another family, like the family in the movie, were vacationing in Thailand when the tsunami struck. The purpose of the reception was to raise funds for the ongoing tsunami relief efforts that the two families were heavily involved in.

English: Longtail Boats on Phi Phi 6 months af...

English: Longtail Boats on Phi Phi 6 months after the tsunami (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The host’s family had been vacationing in Phi-Phi Island in the heart of the Andaman Sea. They had their two children with them, both girls; one about six or seven years old and the other perhaps eleven. They had just walked from their hotel to one of the two main beaches on the island that were situated about 200 yards apart on opposite sides of its wasp-waisted middle. They arrived at the beach just as the water suddenly rushed away exposing the sea floor almost to the horizon. Many people were standing around dumbfounded, staring at the curious phenomena. When the wife wondered aloud “What do you suppose that is all about,” an older Thai woman standing next to her responded, “I do not know, but if I were you I would take your child and run.” And so they did, as soon did almost everyone else when they noticed a ten meter high wall of water surging across the uncovered sea bed toward the shore. They all turned and ran toward the beach on the opposite side of the island where they thought they would be safe.

For some reason the oldest child yelled “no not there, up here,” pointing to the nearest of the two high hills sitting at each end of the tiny island. And so they ran up the mountain with the water literally lapping at their heels. Up they ran until, near the peak, they found a grove of trees in which they took refuge and there they remained along with a number of other survivors for the two or so days it took to be rescued.

Those that ran to the opposite beach all died as the second of the two tsunami waves struck that beach from the opposite direction.

The beach at Khao Lak before the tsunami of 2004

The beach at Khao Lak before the tsunami of 2004 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The other family was not so lucky. They had been vacationing at Khao Lak (the site depicted in the movie, where over 4500 people died). In addition to the husband and wife, the family included a daughter, 14, and a son about 12 years old. They were all avid scuba divers and had spent much of their vacation happily diving off the dive boats that took them out to the reefs and the nearby islands where the water was clearer for diving than it was closer to the mainland. It was the final day of their vacation and the father wanted to spend one last morning diving before they left. The children did not. They preferred to spend their last day relaxing near the hotel. So early in the morning, the parents took the dive boat with a few other committed divers to a favored spot over a reef out of sight of land.

While diving, they felt a slight but powerful up thrust of the water. When they rose to the surface and looked about, they discovered that they were hundreds of yards from the boat. The other divers, who had been close by, now had been dispersed as much as a mile away from each other. After they were all picked up by the boat, they decided to head back to the mainland. As they came in sight of the land, they saw the ocean in front of them thickly covered with debris extending several miles out from shore.

As they slowed and got closer to the debris they noticed what appeared to be hundreds of dead dogs floating amongst the refuse. Closer still they realized that these “dead dogs” were in fact many types of dead animals including dogs and to their horror humans as well. A few were still alive and the boat trolled around a bit picking up those that they could locate.

When they arrived at the shore, they found much of the hotel destroyed and the casitas, in one of which the family had been staying, utterly demolished. The parents desperately spent the next few days searching for their children. The boy was eventually located alive, lying in a field about two miles inland from the hotel with a piece of fencing driven through one of his thighs.

The boy told his parents that he and his sister had been lying on separate beds in their room, he reading and she napping, when they heard a noise like hundreds of freight trains roaring together down the tracks. Water suddenly burst through the walls, picked him up and carried him out the open door at the back of the casita. For some reason, he was borne on the top of the leading edge of the wave as it roared inland through the village and then out into the countryside. He was unable to move until the flood spent its fury and gently deposited him in the field where he was discovered.

The daughter was not found. The father, in much the same way as the father in the film, spent the next month in a lonely search for his daughter through the hospitals and the refugee camps. And, one by one he went through the thousands of body bags opening each one to see if his daughter was inside. They never found her body.

The family that invited me to the reception also experienced the tsunami but in a slightly different way. They too were vacationing in Thailand at the time but decided to fly off to Sri Lanka to spend some time at a recently opened resort on that islands southeastern shore owned by an acquaintance. After they landed, they learned that the Tsunami had just hit. Not knowing the extent of the destruction, they decided to rent a car and drive to the hotel. As they drove along the coastal roads, they were perhaps the first outsiders to view the devastation (33,000 Sri Lankans died). When they realized the full extent of the damage the wife and children returned to the airport and left to go back to the US. He remained behind for several weeks helping to co-ordinate the relief efforts.

I had forgotten about all this until the image on the screen of the desperate father wandering through the ruins in search of his family jogged my memory.

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