Friday, August 31, 2007

Molly is Thirty Today

Can it really be thirty years?

Images of you at every age are etched in my brain. I've already posted in this blog the newborn photo of you when you were hours old. Here I think you are two, because it was taken before our move to Connecticut. Maybe it was taken by my dear departed friend Peter. I believe it was from one of the many gatherings of friends and children that we had during the 1970s in Santa Cruz.

My images of you begin with your birth in the big brass bed in our private room at Community Hospital's birth center. I cut your umbilical cord and moments later I gave you a bath in warm water. We slept together with you that night and took you home to the little gray house in Harvey West Park the next day. Our special place was the hammock outside where I would swing you to sleep. Another sure-fire technique (you never wanted to go to bed) was dancing, and I know you got your love for music during our dances when you were an infant in my arms.

Three weeks ago we flew out of San Francisco on our separate journeys, me west to Bangkok and you east to Vienna. Since then we've only connected once by email. I know you are dancing with Frey and singing with Jan, and that you are traveling throughout eastern Europe. I think you also inherited your love of distant places from me, although your growing-up years were relatively stable. Now you are a citizen of the world, with two trips to Brazil, several in Mexico, and two previous sojourns to Europe, in Budapest and in Marseilles, behind you. It would be wonderful if you could keep going east. When you were fifteen you came to Chiang Mai for six weeks as an exchange student. But I think you were still too young to appreciate the wonders of this place. Come again, visit me, see Thailand anew. I think the music and the dancing would inspire you, my wonderful, adventurous, creative daughter.

Happy Thirtieth Birthday, Molly, wherever you are!

Here in Bangkok the southwest monsoon is doing its business, with dark thunderclouds blown into town by winds from over the Indian Ocean. Depending on who you read, the word "monsoon" either comes from a Hindi word mausam meaning weather, or from an Arabic word mawsin meaning season. There are both dry monsoons and wet ones, according to the direction of the winds. Thailand's wet season is from June to October. And the dry season, when the northeast monsoon winds come from central Asia, is from November to February. In the popular mind, however, "monsoon" means rain, and lots of it. Last night, when I went out to eat, the clouds opened up and the rain poured down. My umbrella was ineffectual, my clothes and especially my shoes got soaked from splashing through puddles too big to be leapt over. The vendors on Sukhumvit covered their wares with plastic sheets. People huddled in doorways. The tuk tuks with open sides were especially vulnerable and woe to the tourists who rode in them. I learned of a new use for the ever-present plastic bags which quickly became hats to keep heads dry. Finally I dashed to Foodland and dried off over a plate of pad Thai.

Thais also love plastic straws. No drink is complete without one. If you buy a bottle of water at the 7-11, they always stick a straw in the plastic carrying bag. Maybe lips on bottles or glasses are considered unsanitary. I will investigate this and report back. Besides straws and toothpicks (which are almost always present on restaurant tables), I have become most appreciative of escalators. They are everywhere, and ease the work of walking considerably. Especially at BTS stations. Jerry taught me to always walk a bit further to the stairway leading up to the Skytrain platform if by doing so you find one with an escalator. Shopping in the high-rise malls would be drudgery without escalators. And I've seen uniformed employees whose only job appears to be wiping off the rubber escalator hand rails.

Yesterday I went to Pratunam Market in search of clothes. In a huge covered area at the intersection of Phetchaburi and Ratchadamri roads, not far from the fashionable malls of Siam Square, I found a bewildering maze of aisles leading past hundreds of stalls selling all kinds of clothes. Fashions for women dominated, but I didn't let that deter me from finding some new shirts and a pair of pants. I saw numerous shrines to various gods and spirits, invoking their help in making sales, and many of the shops were selling the yellow shirts you see worn by Thais to express their respect for the King, and his upcoming (Dec. 5th) 80th birthday. Business was a little slow in the morning but it picked up around noon. A man of Middle Eastern extraction stopped me in an aisle and proceeded to tell my fortune which was exceptional; I thanked him and moved on. Many of the customers were obviously tourists. Everything I bought was under $10. The shirt I bought for 250 baht on Sukhumvit the other night sells for 150 baht at Pratuunam, and might be even cheaper at Chatuchak, the mammoth weekend market in north Bangkok. A girl I met recently told me about another market near On Nut BTS station in southeast Bangkok where I could buy shirts for 50 baht. Clearly this is a shopper's paradise and a buyer's market.

On the way to Patunam, I stopped at the Erawan Shrine next to the hotel of the same name. I continue to be amazed at the way Thais incorporate gods and goddesses from the Hindu pantheon into their blend of Buddhism and populist spirit religion. The builders of the original hotel (named Airvata, after Indra's three-headed elephant mount) first erected a typical Thai spirit house to ward off bad luck. But after several accidents which delayed construction, they put up the more elaborate shrine with its centerpiece icon of the four-headed Brahma (Phra Phrom), the Hindu god of creation. When believers discovered the shrine was particularly effective in granting wishes, they flocked to the site and now it's crowded at most hours of the day. An orchestra and dancers can be hired to perform as an expression of thankfulness.

Across the busy intersection and in front of the huge recently re-modeled and up-scaled (mall competition is fierce) Central World Plaza are two shrines, the larger of which containing an icon of Ganesha, the elephant-headed god. He is particularly favored as the remover of all obstacles, and as such is one of my favorite saints. The Thais love him as well. I observed a number of women placing bouquets of roses at the second, smaller shrine which contained dozens of elephants, large and small. There were also a couple of large elephant figures at the Erawan shrine that people were covering with little squares of gold leaf. Add to this the hundreds of other tiny offerings of food and drink to the spirits on small trays and altars in front of shops big and small and you can only conclude that the Thais live in a world in which the supernatural is not excluded as it is in the west.

I have a maid. I know, it's shameful. I'll have to turn in my Socialist Party membership card. Full-maid and laundry service was offered to me when I rented this apartment (for what I thought was an excessive 3000 baht a month) and I turned it down, thinking I was a clean person and could handle it myself. But I noticed that my floor was getting a bit grudgy, and so when the cute little Thai maid offered her services, I accepted. By dint of negotiation and translation help from Lek in the manager's office, we settled on 250 baht per cleaning, once a week. In anticipation of her visit on Tuesday, I straightened and cleaned and put things away. So when I returned after her visit, not much was different. I detected little signs of her activity: the toothpaste had been moved. But I couldn't tell if the room was cleaner. A friend advises that 250 baht (perhaps $8) is way too much for my little room. She is schedule to return next Wednesday, but perhaps more negotiation is in order.

Siam Court has a new tuk tuk. It takes residents up the soi to Sukhumvit and the Nana Skytrain station. I rode in it yesterday. It's brain new and painted white, with a plug for rentals in our residence. An advertising ploy, but one that might help my feet. The 10-minute walk up and down the soi is slowly taking its toll on my pinkies.

I don't know what to say about this final item. As I returned to my building after dinner last night I saw a man near the wall doing something furtive. It looked like he was trying to catch something. He turned around and walked toward the elevator where I was standing, and something that looked remarkably like a mouse jumped out of his coat. He grabbed it, put it back in his pocket, and walked past me up the stairs. Now the DDT (or something similar) that was sprayed in our rooms last week to kill off the wildlife might also not be healthy for mice. Was this man collecting food for his snake? Something to think about.

Oh, one more item. A new Thai movie is coming to town that advertises itself as a comedy. But it is about a man who gets his head chopped off. The movie is about efforts to get the head sewn back onto his headless body. I know this because I've seen the previews twice. Another Thai movie previewed featured a a young woman in a house filled with ghosts and rivers of blood. The preview, if not the movie, was dominated by blood. Bloody handprints on the wall, bloody faces. I was terrified by the preview, but Thais around me in the theater chuckled.


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