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Battye Family’s Travel Diary

Wednesday, 21 Feb 2007

Location: Thailand

MapWe have come to the end of our time at Sompoi School and our home stay with Nam. It was so sad to say goodbye to people we’ve so quickly come to care about and a lifestyle that has so much of what we’re looking for-community, pace of life, markets, warm weather, a respectful culture, safety and adventure. Maybe it seems strange to have connected here in such a short time…maybe it is because the Thai people are so friendly and have treated us like they’ve known us always…maybe it is because we are a family and the kids have brought new, and deeper, connections. At the opening school ceremony on our last day, Wah Wah stood in front of all 600 students and delivered a speech to say thank you and goodbye. He had written it himself and practiced it so that he could deliver it in English. I absolutely could not look at him for fear of crying. John looked at him and did. Wah Wah lives with his grandmother as his mother married a foreigner and lives far away in Belgium. I am having a very hard time leaving him behind and I told him that I have room in my family for three sons and he can consider himself part of our family. I made the same statement to Marissa, who we helped coach for the singing competition and who has been a great friend to our family. Her mother has died, her father moved away, and she lives with her aunt and cousins. I am indeed not the only one who will have trouble leaving the company of friends. Jennifer and Bai were inconsolable at the thought of having to say goodbye to each other. We all leave behind friends and, in Chris’ case, a lovely girlfriend.
By Chris Battye

Based on my observations, questions, and experiences in rural Thailand, Thai relationships can be grouped into three categories: boyfriends/girlfriends, marriage, and family. All seem very different than in places such as America or Great Britain.
In Thailand, the age where people start to accept the idea of boyfriend/girlfriend relationships is around 12 (the age a Thai child goes to high school). A way for a girl to signal to a boy she likes him (or vice versa) is translated to saying, “I love you” even though in America that implies a far deeper feeling than what the Thais mean. Although the age of dating is young, differences in age are not generally accepted. For example if two thirteen year olds are dating, that would be accepted, whereas a fifteen year old and a seventeen year old would be frowned upon. A dating relationship in Thailand is actually like being best friends in America or Britain in that the couple is always hanging out with each other and talking. They are always chaperoned and are not allowed to be alone together. Touching is also kept to a minimum. Holding hands is O.K. while hugging and kissing is outright not tolerated. It is also important for the couple’s parents to approve of the match and for the teenagers to show respect to each other’s parents and grandparents. Social standing and wealth also play a part in the relationship in some circles.
Marriage is a big commitment in Thailand. For a man even to propose to a woman, he has to get the full approval of the woman’s parents. The marriage ceremony is very long and traditional. All the adults invited are required to sit respectfully through the ceremony while the children are allowed to run and play outside as long as they do not disturb the ceremony. Once married, couples do what they please in private but public displays of affection (like kissing) are disapproved of. If a married couple decides to divorce, sometimes that means “divorcing the kids.” There are many situations where the kids live with neither Mom nor Dad and are sent away to live with another relative, such as the grandparents.
Family relationships are very strong in Thailand. Three generations of family often live within a mile of each other, often in the same house! They help each other a lot. The youngest daughter in a family inherits the family home and in return she takes care of her parents. Sometimes when a married couple cannot have children, they ask a relative to give one of their children (like a newborn baby) to live with them for awhile. This is said to cause the spirit of the unborn baby to be jealous and want to be born and subsequently the woman may get pregnant. The relative has the choice to say yes or no to this request but it would always be taken seriously, particularly when asked by an elder.
People are people all over the world, but the ways they relate to each other and the things that are acceptable and not acceptable can be so different as you travel from culture to culture.

Between classes, we sat in the sun along the banks of the Moon River. As we watched, a dozen men threw a large blue net into the river and lay it in a circle. They slowly drag it in, tighter and tighter. They work together, laughing and yelling, “Pull, Pull!” in Thai. They wear shirts over their faces and wide brimmed straw hats on their heads. We’ve noticed that the people in this part of Thailand do not like to have their faces or arms in the sun because they say it makes them, “not so beautiful.” Lighter skin is valued and thought more lovely (remember the baby powder?) The circle gets smaller and closer to shore. With a great heave, the men bring it up on the sand with silvery fish (hundreds of them) shining and flapping their tails in the sun.
By John

Amazing… is all that I can say about our final days in Sompoi School. I am currently riding in a minibus to Kao Yai National Park with Nam’s family. We are stopping at a gas station along the highway. For many of us at home, that would mean refreshing ourselves with some less than spectacular coffee and maybe a packaged donut or two. Outside Thai gas stations, there is quite a bit more on offer. At this one I see three vendors-one selling fruit freshly sliced as you wait, another the omnipresent noodle soup, and the third has a beautiful display with five large baskets. What could they be? I approach, as with all Thai things, with curiosity and a desire to learn. Ah yes, different kinds of insects. Each basket has its own- crickets, grasshoppers, silkworm larvae, maingah, and maingrah chohn. At the urging of the kids I purchase three bags and we happily munch away on a bag of crickets and taste the silkworms. My, how we’ve changed!
As I write this I see many strings tied around my wrists- a welcome reminder of two fantastic days of farewell that are a blur now, but were part of a joyous celebration the likes of which I have never before experienced.
Our teaching ended in a way that I will always treasure. We taught our last class, which went very well, and sat down to collect our thoughts. Three minutes later Piggy came in asking if we would teach yet another class. Of course! About 20 students came in and sat down. As we began to teach, more and more students trickled in. Before we knew it, Piggy asked if we wouldn’t mind teaching two classes together as we had missed teaching this second one earlier in the week and they wanted their last turn with us.
Who could refuse that!
Suddenly we had the biggest class I have ever taught, 54 students in all. Mai pen rai (no problem!) The class was a mixture of 15 and 17 year olds-ninth graders and eleventh graders. After pronunciation and conversation, we decided to play Jeopardy. I only had to tell them once to learn here (pointing to my head with a big smile) and not there (pointing to my hand with a frown). Many Thai students unabashedly write answers on their hands, sneak looks in their textbooks, or simply tell their friends answers to questions. Jeopardy penalizes teams where all the team members don’t know the answers, so the kids work very hard to teach other… an excellent activity! Fifty-four students were working very hard to help their team win. After the last question our favorite situation occurred, a tie. Thai kids have their own version of rock, paper, scissors, which always elicits intense excitement from the class. It was a great finish to our month as Sompoi teachers.
Susan and I got busy with the many things we had to do. Chris headed to the market with his new Thai girlfriend, and Timmy, Jennifer, and Emily headed to Piggy’s for play and refreshment.
Around 5:00 p.m. Nam called us to come down for the special celebration in our honor. As we arrived, there were woven mats spread out on the floor of an open pavilion and seated in the middle was an elderly man, dressed in white. A decorated urn was in front of him. Our family was invited to sit down in a circle close to him and around the urn. All the rest of the teachers from the school, and some of the students, sat surrounding us. It was hard for all of us not to fidget as sitting Thai-style seems to require years of practice (or proficiency in yoga.)
As the ceremony which is called “Buy Sri Su Khuan” began, the man lit a candle in the center of the urn and began chanting as we listened with bowed heads. I noticed that the urn contained a number of eggs, dry rice, flowers, green leaves, and little bundles of string. The chanting went on for some time. His melodious voice was very meditative and since it was in the Thai language, sounded hypnotic and pleasant. We were instructed to reach into the urn and take out an egg and hold it in one hand as we maintained contact with the urn. My mind searched for the symbolic meaning... the egg surely represented a new beginning, away from the Sompoi community that we have been a part of. The candle was symbolizing warmth, light, and hope and the rice the symbol of hearth and health, the food that sustains us. Suddenly we were flooded with emotion-the feeling of how much we would miss these wonderful people, the joy and gratitude for having been a part of their community, and the excitement for what might come next. The chanting continued while Nam brought a piece of paper to the man in white. Soon the chant changed its rhythm and included the name John woven into it, and then Susan, and then each of the kids as we all received a personal blessing. Nam explained to us that he was praying for only good things to happen to us and that we would be healthy and safe in our travels.
He reached into the urn and splashed water on each of us. Then, on some cue that we missed, the community of friends that had encircled us during the ceremony came forward and took the strings that were dangling on the urn. One of the teachers picked up my hand and began tying a string around my wrist. She said in broken English, “John, wish you… happiness and health… thank you, Sompoi.” She made eye contact throughout the spoken part and then gave a wai (or bow) to me. A student picked up my other hand and repeated the well wishes in her own words… It happened over and over again until I had dozens of strings tied to each wrist. I looked around at my family who were surrounded by the people who we had come to know and love. Friendly face after friendly face came by-the soccer players whose team I joined, the director of the school, Nam and her husband Pom (who had come just to be a part of the ceremony,) the teachers of the English Department, familiar faces, students we’d taught, even little Bai. All of my family had expressions of wonder and joy at the outpouring of love and well-wishes on our behalf. We wanted to tie strings on other people but Nam said, “No, this is just for you. “ Please, take the gift.
Jennifer and Emily arrived in the middle of the ceremony, dressed and made up as Thai princesses. Piggy, a fantastic English teacher and a great friend to our family, had taken them to her home and dressed them up for the occasion in her daughter’s clothes. She told me then that the teachers thought our coming was very, very special and as a group decided that this special Issan ceremony was an appropriate way to thank us.
We basked in the incredible feelings as food was brought in and the festivities started. Some of our favorite students at Sompoi came ready to perform beautiful Thai songs, just for us. They were dressed in gorgeous traditional costumes and performed remarkably. Our good friend Wah Wah led a group of students in singing… “Battye Family I love you” to the tune of “Pretty Boy.”
Next came a speech from the director of the school who complimented our family on working so hard and one by Piggy that had us all crying. We were invited to take the mike and I was proud that each of us faced our friends, spoke from the heart and thanked everyone for all of their kindnesses.
Susan said, “When we get home to America, people will ask us questions about our travels. They will ask what Thailand looks like. We’ll think of the Moon River and the lotus flowers blooming behind the school and we will say how very, very beautiful it is. When people ask us what the people are like in Thailand, we’ll think of all of the people at Sompoi and say that Thais are the friendliest people on earth. When people ask us about our favorite part of our travels in Thailand we will say that without questions it was being a part of life in this village.”
It really was an important closure for us… right up there with Susan’s Edgewood farewell!
After the ceremony was over I asked Nam about it. “How many times have you had this done for you in your life?” I asked.
“Only once,” she said, “when I got married.”
“Wow!” I said… “Wow…”
It is now many days after the ceremony and I still have these precious reminders dangling from my wrists. They are meant to stay on for at least 3 days or until they fall off. Like my memories of this amazing month in Thailand, I want them with me forever.


Khao Yai, our next destination, is five hours west of Rasi Salai and is Thailand’s first National Park. Mountainous and thick with jungle, the park is home to a wide array of wildlife, including tigers.

By Chris Battye

At Khao Yai National Park in Thailand, the visitor’s center is where you arrange all the hikes. Khao Yai is said to be one of the most beautiful parks in the world, so the visitor’s center is very nice. We planned to go on a 3-mile hike, so Dad had to arrange it with the receptionist. I wandered to the side where I saw two tiger skins with signs next to them.
The first talked about a girl who dropped her pencil through the cracks in her home at Khao Yai. She went under the house to pick up her pencil but found a tiger, which attacked her. She died of her injuries and rangers scared the tiger away. When a tiger attacks, it always comes back to the same place to finish the job. Rangers were stationed around the area, and the girl’s father was in the house. A ranger blew a whistle to signal that the tiger had arrived, so the father stuck his head out the window. The window was 2 meters above the ground, yet the tiger still leaped up and mauled him. He later died from his injuries. The tiger was shot 3 days later.
The second sign said that two rangers were washing clothes outside their home and were attacked by a tiger. They let off a gunshot to scare it away but they were still both severely injured. When a tiger is scared away it will come back, so it returned late at night. It tried to enter a ranger’s house by scratching on the iron door. The ranger awoke and fired warning shots into the air. The tiger then tried to ram the door down, so the ranger fired through the door, killing the tiger.
The next day on a hike, we asked our ranger/guide about tigers in the park. He said there were three left. Dad asked if he was afraid to sleep in the forest in Khao Yai and he pulled back his sleeve to reveal a heavily scarred arm. We then learned our guide was one of the men attacked by the tiger while washing clothes. It was really interesting to learn about how dangerous tigers can be and then meet someone who encountered one up close.


We stayed in one of the park bungalows. After all, what better way to view the reticulated python than from the comfort of your own bed? A pair of hornbills ate fruit in the trees outside and, once dusk fell, barking deer and porcupines came within only a few feet of our front door.

By Tim Battye

Khao Yai is the oldest and most visited national park in all of Thailand and is a great vacation spot because of its beauty, sights, and views. We arranged a guided trek at the visitor’s center that started in the early morning when the animals are the most active. We made sure to walk quietly and ask our guide before doing anything so we didn’t do something dumb like eat a poisonous fruit or wander off the path into tiger country. There are many different animals and birds to see along the trail such as jungle chickens, monkeys and giant squirrels. We saw some trees that had the claw marks of sun bears on them and dirt with holes where the elephants had pushed their tusks into the soil to clean them. We also saw lots and lots of elephant dung. Poachers sometimes sneak into the park to hunt animals and cut down trees. We saw some trees that had been cut into by poachers (and were going to die because of it) and trees that were being strangled by vines. The trees at Khao Yai grow to massive size and we spent some time trying to climb up the roots of one huge tree.
We also went out for a night safari at Khao Yai. We wrapped up in blankets and off we went into the dark. The vehicle we rode in looked like a pick-up truck with benches in the back and bars on the sides. The guide was up front with a spotlight, looking for animals. She could see them because their eyes shine like pearls. On the safari we saw porcupines, deer, some kind of thing like a bobcat (but the guide called it a sero cat,) fox, and an owl. It was exciting on both the day and night safari to look for the animals, especially since we saw some things we don’t have at home in New Hampshire.


By Jennifer Battye

We were walking in the jungle and we heard a hooting noise in the trees and that’s when Nam said, “Let me tell you a story…” There was a happy couple but another lady is jealous and wants to marry the husband and so this is what she did: she put a nasty spell on the husband so that he would love her (and not his wife) and she turned a nasty spell on the wife and now the wife is a gibbon. You can hear her in the trees, calling out, “Poh-ah!” (that means husband in Thai)

After two fun days at Khao Yai, we exchanged tearful goodbyes with Nam and her family and headed to Bangkok to catch an overnight train north to Thailand’s second city, Chiang Mai.

By Timmy Battye

After some veggies and rice in the train station, we headed onto the platform to find our train car. A muscle man helped us get our bags up and inside. The train car was full of seats that folded down and became bunk beds. Chris and I were at one end of the car and everyone else in our family was at the other. We bought some of the last tickets, so our seats were spread all over. Chris and I bought some snacks to last until morning but ate them in the first twenty minutes. We read for almost an hour and then Dad invited us up near him to hear a Sherlock Holmes story. On the way, we passed lots of drunk Australians. We talked and played cards and tried to ignore the people having a party near us. To turn the seat into a bed, the train worker pulls a cushion out from under each seat so that it can fold into a bed. Then he opens a hatch from the wall so that the top bunk can fold down and turn into a bed. A little curtain pulls around you when you want to sleep so it is like a cave. Mom and Emily slept together so Emily wouldn’t get scared in the night or fall off the bunk or something.
In the morning, we walked three cars down to find the breakfast car. Tons of people were smoking in there and when I got back, Mom said my hair smelled like an ashtray. The whole rest of the train ride I wrote in my journal and did homework and played with Emily. The train really had to chug up the mountains and got into the station two hours late. Some people we met said that sometimes the train can’t make it and all the passengers have to get out and push! When we got off the train, our friend was there to meet us and we watched the workers clean the train by mopping the windows and washing them off. It was a great experience and I even miss the super skinny beds.

We went to Chiang Mai specifically to see the Cullett Family who are relatives of our friend Carol from Portsmouth Christian Academy. Dan, his lovely wife Beth, and their 6 (six!) children have moved to Thailand to be missionaries. They plan to live with a remote tribal group and be there for the next 15 or 20 years. We felt they would be a great family for us to meet, and having seen only a handful of foreigners for weeks, we thought our kids might love the chance to speak fluently again. We enjoyed two wonderful western style meals (as Jennifer calls them) and couldn’t believe how many foreigners we saw. We went to a remote Hmong village reachable via a winding cliffside road complete with steep drop-offs, hairpin turns, and deep and persistent ruts. Most of the villagers were at work in the fields but we were able to visit with couple of elderly women who were showing off their weaving and some kids at recess. A special thanks to Dan and his family for their gracious hospitality.

It was during our time in Chiang Mai that I learned that my grandfather had died. An energetic, brilliant man, I will always remember the twinkle in his eye. Well-traveled himself, he was excited for us to be doing this trip and eager to hear about our adventures. He was particularly interested in our impressions of New Zealand as he’d found the country to be a fantastic place. I think about him a lot and picture how much he would appreciate the natural beauty in this part of Thailand. By now, we have traveled south to the beaches and, as he loved the water, it is as if he’s right beside me as I look out at the islands of Phang Nga or pick up a piece of coral on the beach. We spent some time talking with the kids, letting them know who he was and that in spirit he travels on with us. John talked about how he was an inventor and could envision and create things that had never even existed before. Chris remembered learning that it was Grumpa, the computer scientist, who had given the go-ahead to one of his employees to work on a special project-the project that became the very first video game in the world. I told Timmy how he loved to fish and what fun it was, as a child, to go out in the boat with him on the ocean and fish with big, scary-looking sea worms. At the end, Jennifer said, with a sniffle, “I bet not many people have a great-grandfather like that!”

So it was that from Chiang Mai we traveled to Phuket for a week of exploring the beaches and islands of southern Thailand. In true by-the-seat-of-our-pants style, we boarded the plane with no idea of where we would stay or even where on the coast we most wanted to be. After an hour of hastily thumbing my Lonely Planet guide, I found what I was looking for-Ko Yao Noi, an island in the Andaman Sea well off the beaten path. We were taking a bit of a chance, traveling all the way out there with the expectation that there would be a seaside bungalow just waiting for us. When we saw the ferry terminal, the doubts really started to surface. It was a square concrete block, set amidst the mangroves, and although the Phuket area is very heavily touristed, there were no families toting beach toys and inflatable dolphins anywhere in sight. This was when John started saying, “Are you sure this is a good idea?” I told him of course I wasn’t sure, that was the point. Inside, I was worried that I’d just signed my whole family up for a four hour pointless detour but I was determined not to end up on the beaches of Phuket surrounded by white people and McDonald’s restaurants. The ferry, a rustic long tail boat, was loaded with passengers from the island village, flats of eggs, and bags of dead fish under the seats (Ice? Ha! John shot me a “don’t even say a thing” look as visions of food borne illness causing bacteria danced in my head.) No bikini clad passengers here-Ko Yao Noi is a predominately Muslim island and the women who shared our ferry wore the traditional head covering and conservative dress.

Once on Ko Yao, we chose a small guesthouse with 10 thatch and bamboo bungalows. Our bungalow sat on a small rocky outcropping under the casuarina trees with views of the outlying islands. I could stand on the porch and be close enough to toss guava seeds into the sea. It was wonderfully cheap and simple with mosquito nets over the beds, the sound of the waves from the comfort of a hammock and a cool shower outdoors on a pebble floor. Best of all, the place was run by an Italian woman so there was freshly made yogurt, bread, and pasta in the small outdoor restaurant. I cannot express how ecstatic our kids were at the prospect of spaghetti Bolognese. The décor ran along the lines of driftwood, shells, and (oddly enough) phallic symbols carved into every imaginable banister and pole-end. We lounged there for almost a week, writing, playing cards, and exploring.

Ko Yao Noi sits between Phuket and Krabi and is part of Ao Phang-Nga National Park. The island supports coconut, cashew and rubber tree plantations as well as fishermen and the odd clam harvester. Electricity only arrived in 1997 and in the sea around the island are over forty small, uninhabited islands, created when earthquakes pushed massive limestone blocks up out of the sea. We spent three days exploring the islands in a long tail boat crafted of teak-the same type used by the local fishermen. We stopped at white sand beaches and swam in blue lagoons, some almost completely walled in by huge limestone cliffs.

The islands harbor many caves for exploring-some with colonies of sleeping bats and others the nesting ground for the swiftlets whose saliva nests become the bird nest soup so prized in Asian markets. Local men climb rickety bamboo ladders hundreds of feet up into the tops of the caves to harvest the nests and sell them for a premium price. Perhaps our favorite cave was only accessible at low tide. We waded in from the beach, bending low to enter. We walked through knee-deep water in the dark, the weak light of our Petzls just showing the path. I tried not to think about what sorts of creatures might be lurking under the surface and resisted the urge to yell, “Pit Viper!” and start a stampede. A light pointed at the ceiling revealed brown bats and strange translucent crickets. Far ahead, light spilled in from a mangrove lagoon completely walled in by towering cliffs of limestone. As we emerged, squinting in the sunlight, it felt like we had entered the land that time forgot. In the muck around the roots of the mangroves, crabs scuttled and odd creatures, half salamander and half fish, slithered under the mud. If a brontosaurus had ambled by, it would have seemed perfectly appropriate.

We spent the next three days motoring from lagoon to reef, enjoying the sun and the views of the surrounding islands. Another family checked into our guesthouse and we were thrilled to spend time with Justin from England, Aasne from Norway, and their daughter Ruby. We spent a couple of great days together, learning about the beauty of the Norwegian way of life and watching all three girls (Ruby was six) splash and play together. Jennifer, who up until then had been boycotting anything remotely resembling snorkeling (“There aren’t fish in the water, are there? Do piranhas live in Thailand?”) decided that since Ruby was snorkeling, she would too. For hours she kept on the mask and had to be forcibly removed from the lagoon.
By Jennifer Battye

In the morning I said, “I’m not going to snorcle” but at the end of the day I had been in the sun snorcleing for 3 hours. By the end of the day I saw many things such as: spiky sea urchins, squichy corel, slimy seaweed, tiny minos with eyes that glow, the drop off, and the leopard fish. There were little fish who live in a little hole in the sand and when you go by they duck down in their holes, tail first! Do you remember the movie about Nemo? He lives in a corel reef just like the one I saw and his had a place where it dropped off and got really deep just like mine.

We met Lisa and Marc from Canada who have been traveling around the world on their boat for the past five years. They stopped for a year in New Zealand, where their daughter Emily was born. Just talking to them and hearing about their adventures (south from Canada through the Caribbean, learning Spanish in Central America, traveling through the Panama Canal, crossing the Pacific, spending time in Australia, New Zealand and the islands of Indonesia, and then meeting up on the beaches of Thailand.) We spent quite a lot of time talking with them, hearing about their life-pearl diving and spear fishing and raising their child on the shores of distant lands. Marc and Lisa also talked about families they’ve met who are teaching at international schools all over the world. We are reminded that there are a great many ways to live life outside of the box. As we parted ways, we wondered if it was possible to join the family cruising circuit despite a complete lack of knowledge about boating and an inability to repair a ship that might malfunction in, say, the middle of the Pacific Ocean. For now, we’re keeping our options open.

We spent a wonderfully pleasant last day at the beach-John and the boys searched the reef for puffer fish who had been spotted nearby while we played in the water and watched the people who strolled past. One man in particular caught my eye. He was ancient, wearing Billabong swim shorts, and had his long white beard braided down the front of his chest. John, who as you all know, loves to have fun for every possible minute, arranged to have the long tail bring us to the beach and then back to the bungalow for a quick shower and then on to the mainland to catch an overnight bus to Bangkok. In this way he could eek out the fun until the very last second.

Reminding you of my earlier comments on the boon of staff in Thailand, our bus to Bangkok had three employees on it-one man who was the driver, one man whose job it seemed to be to walk through the aisle and sneeze on the passengers, and a stewardess. Her job was to keep the plastic packaging industry thriving by passing out all manner of boxed snacks-little buns filled with spun pork (“I’ll have the pig-flavored cotton candy treat, please!”) nuts wrapped in giant pillows of foil, and something called cereal juice (I’m unclear how exactly that gets extracted.) As a testament to their ability to take care of themselves quite well by this point in our journey, the kids slept through the night. John and I, unfortunately, were all too aware of the situation with the heavy-set man seated next to us, whose raspy snores reached well up into the higher decibel range. John and I had an interesting discussion about why our earplugs were nowhere nearby when we really needed them. In the end, we did get some sleep and were deposited, rumpled and blinking, onto the platform in Bangkok. Our cab driver, as a testament to the astoundingly resourcefulness of the Thai people, managed to fit the six of us and a mountain of luggage into a Toyota Corolla with only the aid of a bungy cord.

The new Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok is a beautiful space-open and (surprise!) well staffed. We bid a reluctant goodbye to Thailand, a place we had come to love far beyond our expectations. We got a phone call from Nam just before boarding the plane reminding us that we have a home there, with people who bring Thailand’s reputation as the land of smiles to life. As we descended through the dense clouds that hung over Hong Kong, we realized we’d seen only sun, and not a drop of rain, for the previous two solid months-a nice symbol of the warm welcome we’d encountered on the first overseas leg of our trip.