Saturday, June 23, 2012

Thailand Tales 10

“Thai people are not accustomed to black people,” we were warned.  “They might be standoffish or rude to Steven.”

So we were watchful but not paranoid.


He may have been stared at a bit more than the rest of us, which wasn't much, but otherwise all was well.  And this we now know for sure:  older Thai women have no problem with a young African-American man.

No they do not.


Steven and I went to Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle’s for the last time on Saturday.  I tried to explain on Friday, when we dropped off the clothes, that this was our last visit and we would be leaving for America. When I stuck out my arms and pretended to be an airplane, she understood.

So when we went to pick up the clothes they were all neatly folded and in bags instead of on hangers.  I paid her the last 100 Baht we owed, then she grabbed my hand and patted it, then prayed a prayer of blessing over me in Thai, then gave me a hug.

Steven stood there a bit awkwardly during this exchange.  I wondered if she would say anything to Steven and sure enough, she did the same—grabbed his hand, held it for a prayer, and gave him a hug, smiling happily.

Steven was very gracious about this.
I should add that Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle is a Christian, one of the .5%.

Yesterday we went to “The 10-Baht Place,” also known as “The Hole in the Wall” with Lee the campus pastor, who had been telling us for three weeks that we need to go there and get the kao put guy, which when people say it too fast sounds like “cow pie,” one of about 25 Thai words that are the same as unwholesome English words, such as the Porn-ping Tower that we ate at one evening and it’s actually a tall fancy hotel rather than the sleazy video stand you might assume.

Yes, well.

So we (our family, Lee and Joyce, and an independent young man named Mike who is good at speaking Thai) drove the back way out of the “mooban” or subdivision and around the corner, and there was a little pole building down a little dirt driveway.

An older couple stood behind the little counter and chattered excitedly with Lee and Mike.  We ordered our lunches, all at 10 baht per plate.  I had kao put guy, which is like fried rice with chicken and bits of egg.  Others had pad thai, which is a noodly semi-sweet food with bits of tofu.

[I'm always curious, in other countries, what the work/money/food ratio is, and I calculated that with what Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle charges for washing and drying and ironing just one pair of pants, she could come to this little place and buy an adequate lunch.

So then I didn’t feel so guilty for how little we paid her to do our laundry.]

We sat at a little round table and ate while guys in white Toyota coveralls wandered in and got their food and flipped through a grocery-store flyer.  Meanwhile we asked Mike Thai-culture questions. 

As we got up to leave I started taking a few pictures.  Thankfully Thai people love to take pictures and have them taken, so you don’t feel like you’re being rude.


Mrs. 10 Baht saw me.  In seconds she was right there, grinning and laughing and chattering away.  About something that meant a lot to her.  What in the world?

Suddenly she stood beside Steven.  With a mischievous grin she grabbed his right hand andslung it around her neck.  Then she reached over and snatched his other hand and held tight.  And then with her free hand she gestured at me that she wanted her picture taken.

I was happy to oblige despite the fact that this was slightly disturbing to watch.

She giggled like the girls at the ACE conventions when Steven is around.

If Jenny would try such a stunt Steven would roll his eyes and shake her off with a disgusted, “Gaaah!  Jenny!  Seriously?”

Amazingly, Steven calmly grinned through this cozy encounter.

Mrs. 10 Bhat giggled some more.

We didn’t ask what her patient old husband thought of it, looking on.

Mrs. 10 Baht chattered at Mike.  She wanted a copy of the picture to hang above the counter.  You know, the way places like “Mo’s” display pictures of Johnny Cash eating there in 1976.

We left with promises of a copy of the picture, and with Mrs. Ten Baht still giggling nervously.

I have had plenty of worries in years past about Steven the poor orphan child adjusting to normal life.

I have a feeling I have been worrying about all the wrong things with Steven and there are some other things that I really should be worrying about.

Wow, that guy.  He is something.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Thailand Tales 9

Random bits and pieces:

It's 47 steps from street level to the top floor where Steven and Jenny stay.  And if that's not high enough for you, then you can climb a welded-pipe ladder that's bolted to the wall and goes up another 12 feet to a little balcony area up by the roof.  I haven't yet figured out the purpose of this.  I had thought I might go up there sometimes to just get some fresh air, since there's no good place to just go and sit outside and breathe in private.  The trouble is, it's just sort of bare concrete, and the guys' workout/weightlifting area is also up there, just across the rail, so I don't feel too comfortable.

Speaking of ladders, that ladder always makes me think of "the trembling ladder, steep and tall, to the highest window in the wall." Last Saturday night there was a talent night here for entertainment, and Jenny recited Paul Revere's Ride.  We were also treated to singing, skits, expressive readings, and such.  Six guys acting out the Cinderella story?  That was priceless.

Jenny was sure those bites on her legs were from bedbugs.  So we Googled "bed bugs" and crawled all around her bed with a little flashlight, lifting up the sheet and inspecting.  If either of us found the smallest crumb or specimen, we conferred over it like frowning delegates at a NATO conference.  At least once, what we thought was a little black bug was a needle hole.  No bedbugs, we finally decided.  But it was a great mother-daughter bonding time.

You really need to go read Emily's Fathers Day tribute to Paul here.

We enjoy getting to know people.
Jenny says she TALKS with people and I VISIT with people.
This is Talking:
Hi Allison!
Oh hi Jenny!
How are you?
Great!  How are you?
Fine.  See ya.

This is Visiting:
Hi Allison!
Oh hi Dorcas!
So how are you doing?
[Leaning forward, earnest look on face] How are your classes going?  I hope Paul isn't giving you too much homework.

 Steven actually had a few elephant pictures on his camera that I didn't know were there.  Here:

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Thailand Tales 8

I have dozens of stories I'd like to tell and a hundred pictures I'd love to post but sadly my hands are giving me fits with that tendinitis/carpal tunnel stuff that flares up every so often.  So I'm saving them for the writing in the class I'm taking and also for redoing my email address list so people [you know who you are] can finally get the last three Letters from Harrisburg.

I'd appreciate your specific prayers for my hands.

Other than my hands we're doing great and have only 4 days left in Thailand!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Thailand Tales 7

A Visit to Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle
Mrs. Tiggy-winkle checking irons

It is hot here--you've heard me say that before, I think. And very humid.

So we change our clothes a lot.  Which makes lots of laundry, even if there are only four of us.

We have a little washer in our apartment that does its best, but we have to dry everything inside on stair rails and metal racks, which leaves everything stiff and wrinkled. But we also have an iron, so I was ironing outfits for each of us every day.

And then I found out about Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle.

Of course that's not her real name.  Her name is Mae Wan and her shop is just down the street a couple hundred feet.

But among our family we call her Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle because she is just as charming a laundress as the original, in the wonderful Beatrix Potter book where Lucie goes exploring and comes across a little hedgehog in a cap and apron and petticoats, with her skirts tucked up, and she's ironing in her low-ceilinged room, and she says, "Oh, yes, if you please'm; my name is Mrs. Tiggy-winkle; oh, yes if you please'm, I'm an excellent clear-starcher!"

Meeting Mrs. Tiggy-winkle

You can read it here for free.

So now I wash our underthings here, since it's bad manners to take them to a laundry lady, and the rest of our clothes, along with sheets and towels, I stack into baskets and then I recruit a certain reluctant teenager and we haul them down the street.

 But first we haul them down two flights of stairs.  (The black plastic bag has hangers that I'm returning.)

Then it's out the door and left and down the street.

At Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle's shop, we take off our sandals and leave them outside.

She smiles a welcome and I put my hands together and say "Swaa-di-kaaa" and she does the same.  She pours our things into her baskets.

 And in her notebook, on the page with a tab for me, she figures out how much I need to pay.  I paid 500 baht to start with, then when that got used up, I gave her more, and so on.

Her shop is full of fresh, ironed shirts and dresses.  She really is an excellent clearstarcher.


Then she says, "God bless you," in English, and we smile and bow a bit, and take our baskets, and put our sandals back on, and go back to our apartment.

Steven stops to admire the bird-bath lily-pond.


The next morning we head back to Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle's.  We take off our sandals and step inside and smile and say Swaa-di-Kaaa.

Our clothes are hanging there, clean and pressed like they've never been pressed in their lives.

The dresses and shirts are on hangers.  The athletic pants [also pressed!] and towels and jeans are in bags. 


Mae takes out the notebook and we settle our accounts.  For this astonishing service she charges only 10 baht, or 33 cents, per piece.

 We thank her profusely and she says, "God bless you."  We fill our arms with fresh-smelling laundry and slip on our sandals and leave.

In another 3 or 4 days we'll gather up our dirty and sweaty and bedraggled things and take another trip to Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle's .

  A red handkersniff

 Maybe someday we can even sit down and have tea.

 Time for tea

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Letter from Harrisburg

We interrupt our Thailand programming to take you back to our front yard in Oregon via today's Letter from Harrisburg.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Thailand Tales 6

After a busy week we decided to take a touristy expedition as a family on Saturday and go see The Elephants.

Paul has been really busy with teaching, even though it's only an hour a day, since he left most of the preparation to do here.  I'm taking one class and trying to do the homework, plus keeping Steven and Jenny busy, tidying up the four floors of our apartment, doing laundry, and running up or down a flight of stairs if I want a drink of water.

Paul borrowed a car from the campus pastor for the day.  I was nervous about this, as they drive on the left side, but all his Kenyan driving skills seemed to come back to him.  It helps that Thai people are just about the politest drivers in the world, and there are very few pedestrians or pedal bikes to dodge.

We drove through the city and then out into the countryside and up into the mountains, on well-maintained paved roads all the way.

The MaeSa Elephant Camp was like that one children's story book I used to read to the children, kind of a "Where's Waldo?" where the more you examined the pictures, the more elephants you saw peeping out from behind trees and buildings.

You can probably see some here if you look close enough.

These are Asian elephants, of course, which are smaller and much more teachable than African elephants.  They didn't exactly roam free, but they didn't seem very tied up either.  And everywhere you looked, you'd soon see an elephant back behind the tree or building.

Each elephant has a mahout, a limber young man who climbs up and down the elephant and sits on his head like he grew there and directs the elephant with subtle gestures.

First off, we took a ride, Steven and Jenny on one beast and Paul and I on another.  It felt like we were up very high, and at times, going up or down these muddy mountain slopes, it felt pretty perilous.  But just a fun, amazing experience, lurching along, step by slow ponderous elephant step.
The next picture might show you why it felt kind of dangerous going up that steep slippery slope.

Steven and Jenny had the cameras with them, so the only shot of them we can offer you is this one of their feet on that leathery back.

Toward the end of the half-hour ride, someone fed our elephant a big bundle of grass, and it seemed he wanted to stop and eat instead of climb up that last steep slope, and the mahout urged him on by nudging his knees into the back of his ears, step by step.

I had a sudden flashback to our old horse, Fern, trying to pull the buggy up Bears' Hill in Ohio.

 The elephant finally made it up, unlike Fern, without all of us piling out of the buggy.

We got to get up close and cozy with several elephants who hugged and kissed us.  And set a hat on each of our heads and took it off again.

I was less thrilled about that elephant kiss than some of the others.  It was like a huge, rubbery, sandy vacuum cleaner hose up against your face, with the vacuum very much "on."

They took all the elephants down to the river for a bath.  A few of them used the river as a latrine, and a woman who did not at all look grossed out by her job stood downstream with two baskets and scooped up the elephant poo as it floated downriver.  I was told it is then rinsed off and the undigested plant material is made into paper.  Which you can buy in the gift shop, made into nice picture frames and bookmarks.

 Then we watched an elephant show.  It was unbelievable, the level of discipline and training.

 They even painted pictures.

Elephant art, which sells for $70-$100 each.


See the harmonica in his trunk?  They all played harmonicas and danced.

 An elephant can kick an oversized soccer ball a lot farther than you can.

And we also fed bananas and sugar cane to the elephants, and saw some of the babies.

Steven says, "The elephant looks better than me in this picture."

And then we went home, and Steven and Jenny had a big argument about which would be the better pet--a monkey or an elephant.
"An elephant eats a lot but a monkey, you just feed them two bananas and you're good!"
"A monkey can get me stuff."
"So can my elephant!"
"It looks better to have a monkey on your shoulder than an elephant."
"An elephant has a noble brow!"
"Whatever.  It also gives loud kisses."
"Mom, that should be the title of your next book: In the Backyard the Elephants are Roaming."

Paul the Practical told them they can't have either one.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Thailand Tales 5

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

"You have to go fabric shopping," said Shelley the niece-in-law, who was here the first term the school was open.  She told Paul, not in quite so many words, that he'll have to put a leash on me if I follow her suggestion.

Dorcas Nissley, who was here last year and now lives in Oregon, said it too.  And I heard it from different ladies after I got here.

The director's elegant wife, Renita, offered to take some of us.  I accepted even though the RealFeel prediction on Accuweather was something like 113.  That fabric was calling my name.

There were six of us.  Renita and her daughter, Theresa and her daughter and the family's nanny, Charity, and me.  My dear daughter didn't want to come along.

We drove to the old part of town, a huge square in the center of the city still surrounded by a moat and remnants of an ancient brick wall.  That part of town had much more of the flavor I was expecting from visits to other countries--busy, crowded, overpowering in sight and sound and smell, little shops on the sidewalks and on every corner, beggars, people of every description, tarps tied up to make a bit of shade, open-air food carts, and much more.

But first Renita parked in a parking garage and then we took an elevator down to the depths of the earth, it felt like, and wove our way through the back alleys and pathways of dozens of little open-air shops down underneath that parking garage.

The floor was concrete and covered with a dank smelly liquid sheen, and we stepped over grates that apparently covered the sewers, as the smell was so terrible I would gag if I breathed through my nose.  We passed the back passages of a fish market, and went by a place with cuts of meat on open tables, with flies feasting.  How Renita knew her way through that dismal maze I don't know, but she marched along confidently.  The rest of us followed, stepping gingerly and stretching shirts up over our noses.

And just when things were really disturbing with that raw meat piled on a table to our right, we glanced to our left and there were two pots of live snakes, a mass of moving slithers.

I don't think we screamed, but strangled gasps, yes, and horrified exclamations, and shudders.

It was horrible.

Finally we emerged into the bright sunlight on the other side and headed down the street.

Then we saw these bags in the back of a truck and Charity said, "Look, Dorcas, there they are, all fried up."


[I don't know if they were actually fried snakes.  They just looked a lot like it and it was too much, too soon.]

We were further down the street and regaining our composure when we got to thinking.  Shiny and slick.  And in water.  Maybe they were eels instead of snakes.

But still, for all practical phobia purposes, they were snakes.

Renita marched on and we followed, through the blazing heat, past cycles and shops and people, to the first fabric store.

Folks, you have never seen a fabric store like this in your life.

Picture a room the size of the Dollar Store in Junction City.  In it are untold hundreds of bolts of fabric on cardboard rolls, set on end, almost as tall as you, clustered in groups of maybe a hundred, with only the narrowest passages winding between these clusters.

And here and there the fabric is lying flat, piled high.

There were florals and stripes and solids and wild prints, satins and cottons and upholstery material and suiting and laces, darks and pastels and brights and whites and everything you can imagine.

It was like walking into a dream.  I couldn't stop touching, feeling, looking as I wove my way through and around, trying not to knock the bolts over as I stepped carefully between and over and around.

Somewhere toward the middle of the store I realized, "This place is so beastly hot I might die."

If the RealFeel outside was 110, I'm guessing back inside it was something like 125.  I don't know if I've ever been so hot in my entire life.  The infinite piles of fabric seemed to trap the heat and keep the air from moving.  I felt like my face was radiating heat like a rice bag out of the microwave, and I could feel little rivers of sweat running down inside my clothes.

It was bizarre, this combination of extreme misery and great bliss.

I was never sure how much I would be willing to sacrifice for the sake of my fabric addiction, but now I know.

I kept shopping, and somehow kept breathing.

Many of the fabrics were only 68 Baht, or a little over $2, per meter.  Some were lower-quality cottons, but many were really nice, with a tight weave and a nice drape.

Finally I decided on some fabrics for myself, including a lovely old-fashioned floral.  There were no cutting tables, so an employee with a meter stick came over to each fabric that I wanted, pulled the bolt out, and somehow unrolled, measured, snipped, and then tore the right length in that tight, hot, little space.

I also got a cute black and white elephant print for skirts for my girls, and a zebra print for Jenny.  And maybe a few more.

Then we headed out to the blessed comparative coolness of the street, and went to two or three more stores.

These were organized a little more like American stores, with bolts on racks, and kind of organized by color and type, but they still had that sense of overwhelming the senses with color and texture and sheer variety.

Here's Renita debating about a black/white/red print, with RaVonne at the front waiting for her to make up her mind and Theresa grinning at the back.

Note the lady in the lower right corner, just for perspective.

Finally we wove our way back through the dank market place, past the snakes and the smells and the backside of the flower shop, and found the car, and settled happily back into the air conditioning, and came back here to IGo.

Jenny said, "That's all you got??  Mom, that is amazing!!  I am so proud of you!"