Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Kids Are Alright

If you're familiar with The Who anthem, you know it's about a father who feels he's "gotta get away," leaving his children behind with their mother. The title is both his hope and his excuse. I did that, got away twice, with two different sets of kids, to my eternal regret. This past week I've found that despite my misdeeds and absences, Molly and Nicky are really alright (with a major exception mentioned below). For those compassionate readers concerned about my mental health after the gloomy post last week, this was the perfect cure.

Nicky took a week off from selling status to customers of Marc Jacobs in San Francisco, bought a cheap round-trip ticket on a China Airlines flight via Taiwan, and endured a 20-hour journey to arrive in Bangkok last Wednesday. I took him to my apartment to cope with jet lag and returned to Suvarnabhumi to meet Molly. She has been in Bali recording a CD with the two other members of The Sirens from Santa Cruz. I was a bit late due to the usual traffic jam, but managed to greet her in the cavernous airport lobby with a gift of sliced mango and sticky rice, as I had Nicky. Both of them looked great, a little older perhaps since my departure from the U.S. a year and a half ago, but definitely more fit than their dad who has grown soft and fat in exile. We reunited in my tiny apartment at Lumpini Place. I got Molly a room at the nearby Pinklao Place so she could continue her morning practice of yoga and meditation. It's remarkable to spend time with two charming adults whose diapers you'd once changed. I couldn't stop pinching myself to see if they might disappear.

Because their visit was so short, and I wanted to share with them my love of Bangkok and Thailand, I scheduled the six days very carefully and packed the optimum amount of fun and new experiences into the time between arrival and departure. Thursday, however, I had intended to be a rest day so they might recuperate from their travels. But they were awake, ready and willing, and so we set out to see the city, getting around by bus, Sky Train, khlong taxi, tuk tuk and river ferry. I took them to the shopping palaces of Siam, where Nicky got to admire the Marc Jacobs outlet cateering to wealthy Arab sheikhs and the like. We had lunch in the busy Siam Paragon food court and browsed the HiSo market where strange Asian fruit is displayed alongside edible insects. After shopping at the more low scale MBK, we rode on the smelly khlong to the Golden Mount and climbed to the top of the huge stupa for a superb view of Bangkok. From there, the Khao San Road is a short tuk tuk ride away, and we strolled through this hippie backpacker's heaven to a cozy cafe for late afternoon espresso. Then we walked to the Phra Arthit pier and took a ferry across to the dock underneath the Pinklao bridge where we ate at a large riverside barbecue restaurant. A waitress (who later seemed offended at my insufficient tip) helped us set up the brazier on our table and we gathered raw meat and veggies to roast over the charcoal fire. The place was packed with Thais and there was live music on the other side of the roomy hall. Home was a short bus ride away.

On Friday, Nicky and I took a package tour to the ancient temple city of Ayuthaya, riding on an early morning boat taxi to River City where we boarded a bus that took us first to the royal summer palace compound at Bang Pa-In with its strange collection of Eastern and Western-influenced architecture. Molly opted that day to visit a low-cost dentist at Bumrungrad Hospital, the popular destination of medical tourists, most of them, it seems, from Muslim countries. In Ayuthaya we walked around the impressive ruins remaining after the Burmese destruction of the city in the late 18th century. The conquerors, even though fellow Buddhists, lopped off the heads of thousands of statues of the Buddha. The trip home down the Chao Phraya River was aboard a large tourist boat and featured a sumptuous buffet. We met Molly in the evening and I took them to Cabbages & Condoms for dinner, the restaurant founded by Thailand's major condom manufacturer with proceeds going to family planning and HIV prevention projects. Afterward, we strolled through the colorful farang-dominated Sukhumvit district, including a quick circumambulation of the Nana Entertainment Complex where they declined a visit to one of the many bars where poor girls from upcountry dance in skimpy costumes for mostly male tourists.

Since I'd shown them so much of Bangkok on Thursday, our tour on Saturday was shortened to allow more time for shopping at Chatuchak Market, one of the world's largest outdoor emporiums. We began with Wat Pho, the number one tourist destination in Bangkok with its large gold reclining Buddha and a complex filled with gorgeous examples of temple architecture, halls and chedi. It was early but the crush of tourists was already overwhelming. The overcast skies threatened rain so heat was not a problem. We rode down the river to the Saphan Taksin Sky Train terminus and our next stop was Lumpini Park, Bangkok's answer to Central and Golden Gate parks. The weather had kept the crowds away, so after a brief taste of greenery and fresh air, we walked up the street to the Erawan shrine where large crowds of Thais pay homage 24/7 to a Hindu image of Brahma, the four-headed god of creation, and register their gratitude for wishes granted by hiring the resident dancers and orchestra to perform. From there we caught the Sky Train to Chatuchak, which has to be experienced to be believed. Most of the thousands of shops are covered because of the possibility of tropical rain, and everything is on sale. It's easy to get lost in the tiny aisles surrounded by aggressive shoppers (Thais rarely push except for here). Buskers abound, include two Thai bluegrass musicians. Nicky and I wore out early, but Molly decide to stay. We left her with a group of Muslim salesgirls in a shop selling antique jewelry.

Early the next morning we took a taxi across Bangkok to Ekamai where we boarded a half-empty bus for the two-and-a-half hour trip to Ban Phe and the island of Ko Samet. After a short ferry ride, we got into a pickup bus which took us over a bumpy dirt road to Pudsa Beach where I rented two new A-frame rooms at Tubtim Bungalows Resort. This is the lovely cove where I'd stayed with Pim over a year ago, and it's the closest island beach to Bangkok. We swam in the clear blue water, sipped refreshing drinks and ate delicious food at Tubtim and at Jep's up a beach which is lined with hotels, guest houses and restaurants. And we each got a massage. There was time to talk about the past and the present and to draw closer together. We played with a batch of puppies, discovered a huge starfish half-buried in the sand, steered clear of the occasional dog fight, and marveled at the skinny yet muscular lady with the leathery tan who constantly walked briskly up and down the beach and performed her incredible morning yoga routine topless (Pim and I had watched her last year). And, since Nicky brought his laptop and wireless was available, we kept up with our email and Facebook accounts. It was a little like Paradise might be in the 21st century.

But worldly paradises rarely last. There were a few tense moments during our brief but fun-filled holiday, but we were able to find the love the underlay our differences. The last day on Ko Samet challenged us all. Exercise is Molly's religion; it keeps her sane, she told us. Early on Tuesday she went out for a run over the rocks south of Pudsa and returned limping. She was in considerable pain. In order to spend more time at the beach, I had tossed our return ferry and bus tickets, and had purchased seats on a speedboat direct from Pudsa to the mainland where we would be met by a taxi to take us to the airport. Nicky's flight left at 6 pm. Molly's injury made our departure difficult. At the airport she left in the taxi for Bumrungrad to have her foot examined and I bid Nicky adieu. At the hospital she learned she had indeed broken a small bone, and she was fitted for a removable cast and crutches. She was told that healing would take three months. On the way home she used my phone to inform her friends on Bali and after we got out of the taxi at my apartment building, she discovered that the phone, a book she was reading, and a bottle of water, had been left behind. The taxi never returned and calls to the missing phone remained unanswered. Despite my mellow resolve, I went ballistic; the phone was my lifeline to friends, as well as the ladies I have been courting. I was appalled at how dependent I had become on it. I did my best to curb my upset, but was not very successful. Molly was distraught at the havoc she had caused.

By dawn I had cooled. While Molly had not slept much, she was resolved to deal with her disability. Her friends were waiting in Bali and they were to open a concert there by Michael Franti of Spearhead next weekend. A publicity photo shoot was scheduled for that afternoon. We took a taxi to the airport where I got a wheelchair from Thai Airlines and a porter to guide her to the plane. We hugged and kissed at the same gate where Nicky had passed through the evening before. My kids had come and were gone, but they were alright. And so, I realized, am I.

P.S. I'd been looking at new phones even before this week but had decided I wasn't yet ready for the new 3G iPhone (since the 3G network was not yet up in Thailand and the phone is outrageously expensive). So yesterday I bought an inexpensive new Nokia 3110 phone and I've been busily figuring out its bells and whistles. It was easy to recreate my names and numbers and most of my friends would not have known I was off the mobile grid had I not told them. So much for dependency.

Two cheeseburgers in Paradise that I love:


Janet Brown said...

Your honesty in this post is truly inspirational--I too have a somewhat fraught relationship with a very adult child and have never confronted it as frankly and insightfully as you have in this piece. Thanks for giving me a flashlight for some of my dark corners!

Roxanne said...


What handsome children you have. Your daughter is just lovely. I hope her leg is on the mend. How burdensome for her.

I am glad that you got to visit with your son and daughter. What a gift. I hope that it is not too quiet for you now that they are gone.