Sunday, July 06, 2008

The View from Lumpini Place

Yesterday, at the end of our first week in Lumpini Place, we took the elevator up to the 22nd floor and walked up a flight of stairs to the roof. This was what we saw, looking to the southeast, past the Chao Phraya River (you can seen the golden spire of the Rama VIII bridge) and across to the skyline of Bangkok.

This is the view to the northwest from the top of Lumpini. It's also what we see from our bedroom and balcony windows. Across the expressway over Borommaratchachonnani (I can almost say it now -- it's also spelled "Boromarajajonani") Road and on the other side, you can see, first, the new Tesco Lotus (mostly the parking garage), and beyond it the round spire of Central Pinklao, the megamall consumer's paradise (where half the stores sell mobile phones) that anchors this neighborhood. On the other side of the street is another, smaller mall with a McDonald's and KFC on the ground floor and a bowling alley, karaoke rooms and cineplex on the top. There is also a Sizzler's where I ate an expensive steak Friday night. To the southeast, across the busy Charan Sanitwong Road intersection, is yet another mall, Pata, with cheaper stuff. Yesterday we shopped there, and at the Tesco Lotus supermarket in the basement, and after eating lunch in the food court we walked across the overpass above the traffic-jammed street to buy a small bookcase and a cabinet for shoes at a furniture shop. Two men carried our purchases back to Lumpini on their backs for 100 baht.

The views on the other sides are not particularly inspiring. The horizon is flat in all directions, broken by tall office skyscrapers, apartment buildings or condos like this one. I spotted the peaked roofs and red and gold colors of Buddhist temples, about a half dozen of them within easy walking distance. To the west I could just make out the tall gold statue of a prominent monk that sits of the property of Wat Sri Sudaram, across Khlong Bangkoknoi, where I teach. It's not far by bus, so my commute on Thursdays to the MCU undergraduate campus there is quick and easy. That is, if I don't get killed getting on or off a bus. I missed one the other day because it stopped a half block away (I should have run for it), and they frequently require you to board and disembark while the vehicle is still moving. Sometimes they refuse to stop if no one is getting off. Then there are the taxis that monopolize curb space, which means you have to dodge cars as well as motorbikes to reach the bus doors half way across the street. Still, it's a big improvement over the commute from Sukhumvit, although today I'm going back by bus to attend the World Buddhist University monthly forum.

After five weeks of teaching, I began to wonder about my paycheck. I learned that I must have a bank account first, since, unlike the many firms (Pim's Post Office for example) that pay with cash, MCU wants to deliver my salary by bank transfer. The first bank I tried, Siam Commercial, wanted me to have a work permit (Roger the landlord had thought that a non-immigration visa was sufficient). So I walked a few doors away to the Khrong Thai Bank (KTB) and, with Pim's help, managed to open an account with 1000 baht. Now I'm almost legit. Friday I learned that Dr. Subodh from India, who teaches in the psychology department, was well along in the process to apply for a work permit. Since his visa expires in two weeks, Dr. Subodh's many trips to the Labour Department have a sense of urgency. His experience and copies of application forms are a godsend for me. I will simply follow his lead, and I have nearly two months.

We are delighting in our new mini-kitchen. On our first night here, Pim made me sukiyaki (more of a Thai stew than the Japanese version) from prepared ingredients. Last night she put together a sumptuous meal of kung som tum (shrimp soup), broccoli and other veggies stir-fried in oyster sauce, fried mu (pork) and brown rice made in her cooker. I was under the impression she didn't know how to cook, but was happily surprised. She wouldn't even let me clean up (my liberated stance is slipping away). We listened to Thai pop songs on her radio while we organize the space and put everything in its proper place. She told me she'd never had a stuffed animal as a child, and so I bought her a stuffed Doremon, the popular Japanese cartoon character, for our bed. She spent much of her day off yesterday washing clothes which hung to dry on the balcony. Down below the tour buses parked in a large lot, making it difficult for the soccer boys, who usually gather, to play. Early one morning I saw a man down below doing tai chi. Last night we snuggled on the couch eating ice cream and watched "Academy Fantasia 5."

Although there have been a few bumps on the domestic road, all is bliss now. After the emotional moving day, detailed in the previous blog, Pim one night invited over two of her colleagues at the PO, her best friend Boy and their friend Na who had recently learned about me. We had a lovely time. I learned that her sister Song has decided to finish her college year in Bangkok and it's possible we may have her for a guest soon. Yesterday we bought a curtain for the bedroom doorway, although I've agreed to sleep on the couch were her sister or mother to come for a visit. And I've promised to wear a shirt when I'm at home.

As usual, the biggest aggravation has been caused by our electronic toys. After almost a week of constant use from the internet wireless router, I got that message that TOT had blocked our access because of an incorrect account name and password. After much assistance from my computer guru, Pandit Bhikku, I learned how to give the router our new TOT password and now all is fine Accept that for some mysterious reason, all YouTube videos, including the ones I've put up, are inaccessible and give me the same message: "We're sorry, this video is no longer available." The authorities have blocked YouTube before when someone has put up something insulting to His Majesty the King, but I can find no information about that. Another problem is the True TV cable service. Everything is fine except for the four English news channels. For several days the image from each was scrambled. Now I just get the message "no signal." Duh. A reporter from the BBC has been accused of lese majesté for insulting the King, but why should that trouble CNN. (As I was writing this, CNN suddenly returned for the first time since the cable was connected. Why am I always so impatient? A day later the channels were out again.)

In class last Thursday I had my students interview each other about the objects in their rooms. All the monk students live at different Buddhist temples around Bangkok, some fairly far out. The theme of the class was "Place," and the object of the lesson was to use "there is/are" and "some/any" in their descriptions of a room. After much chattering, each described their partner's room to the class. All but a couple of the 50 students had computers (some had two), television sets and DVD players. A few admitted to posters of sports stars on their walls. And of course they had numerous Buddha icons and religious books. Many are from poor families and I wonder where they get the money for computers and TV. The temples possess vast wealth, but in some cases the students, particularly if they were from outside Thailand, had to beg their way in. The only way they can earn money is take take part in chanting for a ceremony, and the temple's long-term monks usually snap up these jobs. As the term continues, I am learning more and more about my students and their lives, like the Cambodian who wrote how he grew up with the sound of gunfire and saw his friends lose limbs in landmine explosions. They are very serious about learning English but most of my lessons are absorbed in a spirit of sanuk, fun.

The other night as I walked down the lane from the school toward my bus home, I marveled at my good fortune. Rather than sitting at home in the US in a rocking chair reflecting on past mistakes, here I am in a strange and fascinating foreign land, embarking on a new experiment in love and domesticity, with a job that is challenging and rewarding. Could there be anyone more fortunate!?!

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