Thursday, January 12, 2012

Back to Bangkok; a blue Christmas.

The day I left Siem Reap I got up and went to check out of the hotel. I thought I’d check my email while I was waiting for the car to go to the airport. There was a three day old email from my brother-in-law telling me my husband’s mother had died on December 17th . I was so grateful I had been able to talk with her on Skype the week before, and evidently after we spoke she started slipping away. It wasn’t a shock, but being so far away and getting the news three days after really made it difficult. There I was checking out of the hotel, crying. The people were so nice and understanding, and I had the same driver to the airport that I’d had for my trips to Ankor Wat. He didn’t speak very much English, but he was very kind helping me organize myself as best I could and I made it to the airport. When you are flying from one country to another, you really can’t be having an emotional crises. I had a few crying fits in the bathroom at the airport, but mostly was able to put myself together and make it through to Bangkok.
It was comforting that I was returning to the same hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 11. They welcomed me back, and I didn’t have to adjust to a new place when I was feeling kind of fragile. There was a beautiful Christmas tree in the lobby which really made me sad thinking of Helen and all the wonderful Christmas times we had spent together as a family in Hanalei. I was finally able to reach my brother-in-law on Skype and that helped me feel a bit better, although still very sad. It was a strange return to Thailand, but somehow the fact that I was at Ankor Wat when she passed was very meaningful to me. I had so many thoughts about my husband and the strange nature of our lives that only lead to one eternal place, a place of which we have very little understanding.

The next few days I spent in Bangkok reconnecting with friends, sharing my loss, being gentle with myself, talking with family. I also did some business. I went to the local hospital, which I picked because it was the one the King was staying at, so I figured it had to be pretty good. It was so easy to set up an appointment with a GP online, and they even had a shuttle bus that picked me up at Soi 11. I was able to see the doctor, have tests run, get results, and get my prescriptions all on one floor in about three hours. It was not as cheap as Turkey, but the service was excellent and everything was very efficient. Once again, a far cry from the experiences my husband and I had in the hospitals in Hawaii. I do want to add that the doctor I saw did not speak very fluent English, and several times I wondered if he had any idea what I was asking, but in the end he took all the right tests and I got the medicines I needed refilled.

I also went to the Embassy in the hopes of having them help me get a new password for my social security account online. For some reason, I no longer had access and was concerned about my benefits since I’ve been unable to get any mail forwarded since Holland. I had called the day before and they had said someone would call me back. Then I called back and they said to come in person. It was a strange experience. The security was no surprise, and the agents were all very friendly. The Social Security specialist could not help me, and said I would have to contact the Embassy in Manila. I advised her I was not going to Manila, but in the end it was clear to me that they could not help me. What was so interesting about this experience was the fact that there were at least ten men in that room of various ages who were all there to take care of visa situations in relations to having just married Thai wives. And several agents were spending at least 20-30 minutes taking care of each of these men’s concerns. Of course, it made me think again of this whole compliance position between Thailand and America with regards to what is, in reality, legalized sexual slavery. How did this become the norm, for Thailand to sell its women to aging (and not so aging) foreigners? And when did America become an active supporter of this system. It was so odd to be in that embassy and realize that their main purpose, their expertise as it were, was to assist this room filled with men who had found their Shangra-la. Meanwhile I, a lone retired white woman, would have a harder time getting assistance from my government in Thailand than if I’d landed on Mars.

Around this time, Christmas was approaching. I've spent the last few holidays since Kent died surrounded by friends and family, which has been a blessing. This year I had fully expected to ignore the whole holiday event. I did not expect that Thailand would be a Christmas holiday fiasco, which is really amusing because most of the people don't even celebrate Christmas. The whole Christmas deal is done purely for sales and marketing; to sell stuff to foreigners. It was really funny, in a sad weird way, which was best expressed by the ad my friend found of a picture with Santa nailed to a cross. I had some friends from Hawaii in Bangkok so I was invited to spend time with them. We spent a wonderful day traveling around Bangkok,catching up and ended up at a massage place that was actually floating on the river. The barge of massage beds was out in the open with a roof painted with scenes from Asian mythology, vivid colored gods and flowers. We had a very thorough massage, as only a Thai massage can be, with deep knuckles in muscles and cracked bending of joints. This is not the easy, soothing, expensive, nice, massage you get at your local Ritz-Carlton. This is a medical realignment of your whole body, with a total price of 100 baht or $3.00 for a full hour rubdown. Nothing fancy, just lying on the river listening to the boats, and someone’s child talking on and on, and hands slapping on bodies, and my mind drifting away into a world of  memories, tears sliding down my cheek and overall in the feel of my back on the soft mat, the soft low throb of life on the river rubbing itself into my skin.

I spent Christmas at a wonderful dinner party with an old friend, some new friends, and lots of strangers. The food was an incredible mix of American holiday fare with turkey, potatoes, and cranberry sauce; along with a full table of Thai food that was all so delicious. We were in an apartment over the river with a view straight from the pages of Conde Nast. It was one of those times when I truly felt like one of the beautiful people with Bangkok spread beneath us in a cool blue evening dress just waiting for the fireworks.
Most of the rest of my second visit I spent walking around Bangkok. I went to the movies at the new mall, ate great food, and met new friends. I had decided I would go up to Chiang Mai for New Year’s. I didn’t want to spent New Year’s in Bangkok or Phuket…just too much crazy partying for me; so Chiang Mai seemed like a good choice at the time….and I'd finally had my fill of the Bangkok buffet.

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