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Battye Family’s Travel Diary

Thursday, 21 Dec 2006

Location: Bangkok, Thailand

MapWe now have a thai cell phone so for anyone wishing to reach us you may call 011-089-965-2761.

We didn't really get the flavor of being in Thailand until our cab arrived in the residential neighborhood where our hotel is located. The driver pulled into a gas station and pointed to a cement wall with a small phone attached to it. We all looked at each other in puzzlement and then squinted to read the sign, "Call here for transport to Charlie House." Before we could process this unusual development, the gas station attendant, one of five sitting on stools waiting for customers, ran over and started talking to us in Thai and gesturing to the phone. Within moments of our phone call, a small cart appeared driven by a man with a huge and welcoming smile and our bags and those who could fit were whisked off towards the hotel. The cart veered off down an alley past banana trees and street vendors with whole chickens piled high in hammered metal bowls and delicate little rows of whole fried fish. People traveled on foot, motorcycles passed us with centimeters to spare, a shopkeeper rubbed Timmy's skin to see if the white color would come off, another gently touched the ends of Jennifer's hair. Always the looks were friendly and curious. We, most assuredly, were not in Portsmouth anymore.

Those of us left at the phone took turns flashing big smiles at the gas station people and tried not to feel like the newest exhibit at the zoo. This was not a tourist part of town. Chris quipped, "Well, the Battye kids are finally getting the attention we deserve!" referring to the attention they had all been getting since we'd arrived. The friendly man who helped us with the phone approached, "Khun mak jak tee nai?" I tilted my head to the side (the universal sign for "I have no idea what you're saying but I sure wish I did.") He repeated himself, this time louder. I said, "United States, near Boston," taking a stab in the dark. He looked back at me totally blankly. I wished I'd spent less time checking guide books and more time with my phrase book. Just then Chris stepped up to my side and said, "Uh, I think I can help you out here Mom, just a second." He scratched his chin, cleared his throat and said, "Pom mah jak America krap." The gas station man grinned broadly and nodded up and down, "Ah! America!" He proceeded to trumpet the news of our origins to all of the other people sitting on stools at the station.

This is why we took our kids out of school, shook our life upside down, and headed halfway around the world.

Yesterday dawned as our first full day in Bangkok. We hired a guide, Woody, for the day and he brought along two guides in training, Noot and Aow. Jennifer gravitated to them instantly and made a beeline to the back seat of the van with a smile and a cheery, "Chan Cheu Jennifer Ka. What's your most favorite color?" Emily joined the group and the foursome were inseparable after that. We visited Wat Pho with the famous reclining Buddha, created to show that even when lying down, the buddha towers over us as mere mortals. Woody taught us about Buddhism and revealed what it was like the two times he has been a Buddhist monk in his life. Many, many men in Thailand choose to enter the temple as a monk, typically for a period of months, at some point in their lives. You can spot them all over the country with their shaved heads and eyebrows and saffron colored robes. Their routine is typically to wake at 4 am to bathe and pray. Once the sun rises, they go out into the community with their alms bowls to collect offerings of food from the community. It is not begging-it is a great honor to give food to a monk and one which I hope we have the chance to do during our trip. By spending time as a monk, a man can ensure his parents' place in heaven.

We visited the golden buddha where the kids lit joss sticks and said a prayer at the temple shrine. The kids bought souvenirs (we said no to the ninja star and the double edged sabre.) We headed to nearby Lumphini Park for some R & R and spotted a giant igunana in the parking lot. Children played on the playground, joggers ran by (a local kickboxer ran pulling a huge tire behind him) and men played the local version of volleyball in which you may not use your hands. All of the actions stopped when the loudspeakers played the thai national anthem. These are people proud of their country and their beliefs and a country that adores its king. We ended the day with a short visit to the night market where the kids could practice their bargaining skills until jet lag took each one of them out, one by one. We welcome messages on this site-the kids love to hear news from home!