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Sawasdee ka from Bangkok

December, 2008
That is the phonetic spelling for hello (the feminine version) from Bangkok, Thailand. Everyone here is so respectful.  We are greeted in this way incessantly, with coordinating hand movements, palms together under the chin (this is called the wai). 

The Thai language has 44 consonants, 23 vowels, and 5 tonations... so if any of our readers thought we would master it in 5 days, they were sorely mistaken. 
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It is now Friday afternoon.  We arrived at the hotel on Thursday morning about 1:30 local time and, as you might expect, have pretty much been on the move since then. Our body clocks are so confused we have no clue what time or day this is... much more striking than in prior trips. The temperature is averaging around 75 with little humidity (for Bangkok).  Needless to say, we are loving the weather.

So, starting at the top.  We had not even left O'Hare when we heard our esteemed governor had really lowered the bar on political corruption.  Would you believe that story was front and center in the International Herald Tribune on Thursday morning?  It certainly put the political issues in Bangkok in perspective. 

The King just celebrated his 81st birthday and his picture is ubiquitous.  By the way, there is absolutely no evidence here of political unrest.  Everything is back to normal except that hotel and service personnel are especially grateful to see visitors.  Many people did cancel their plans and the hotels and restaurants, so far, have only been too happy to greet us and take our money (our bahts, that is).

General reactions. Ten million people in Bangkok out of 60 million in the country.  It's more frenetic and chaotic than Tokyo... and feels non-Westernized, more exotic than any other place we've visited. There are big highways (high as in "elevated") and many big beautiful boulevards (they also have a Champs Elysees), and then there are the extremely narrow side roads that are chock-a-block with stalls and pushcarts.  The traffic is amazing!  It is non-stop from dawn to night. They drive on the "wrong" side of the road so of course that is disorienting. And there are HUNDREDS of motor scooters and motorcycles (and the "passenger" often rides side-saddle and doesn't even hold on!!). The cars appear to move in a helter skelter fashion, but it is really more like a plague of locusts. Cars dart in and out, motorcycles go between cars and in FRONT of cars, all within inches of each other, but there are no horns blaring and no screeching of brakes...it is as if everyone is able to read the minds of everyone else and avoid collisions (sort of like the BORG Collective of traffic).  When there is a red light, it is often for several minutes at a time. How do we know? There is a clock next to the stop light which counts down the time remaining! So while it is red, all of the motorcycles weave their way to the front of the pack, so when the light changes, it is like the start of a motcross rally.  These guys make drivers in Italy look positively tame.  We have not even tried to walk anywhere.  The guidebooks recommend you take the river taxis or the elevated train (SkyTrain) and avoid regular taxis at all costs.

So Thursday, we had a wonderful breakfast outside by the river. Bangkok used to be "The Venice of the Orient"...many rivers and smaller canals and life was certainly water-oriented. But many of the smaller canals have been filled in over the years.  Speaking of being filled in, we are filled up (and have only been here two days).  Our breakfast buffet has everything imaginable! It rivals some of our other favorites like in Melbourne and Bobadilla, Spain. Lots of local fruit:  we had Rose Apple (which is like a trianglular apple, tastes like an apple except not sweet...just apple-y) and rambutan (which is a big red hairy thing -  "rambu" means "hair in Thai - that is sweet and not like anything we ever tasted. Also had guava and the sweetest, most juicy pineapple ever (even beats Hawaii). Then we took a tour (with Looi--our other local guide is Yewie, all we need is Dewie and we're all set... quack, quack) around the city (just 6 of us....the official  tour does not actually start until Friday night, so only a few came early like us)....but mostly we stopped and walked through an amazing wholesale flower market. Then the fruit market..so many wonderful things.

We got back around noon and went to CURRY QUEEN for lunch!!!!  No blizzards here, but really wonderful food.  Everything is cheap in Bangkok.  Right now, 100 baht is about $3.  We had a scampi dish and a fried rice dish and a 24 oz bottle of Singha (local beer) for under $9.

Then we went back to our room and crashed for a few hours. Then, it was time to eat again.   We had a reservation at a very good restaurant. It is only 3 miles from our hotel, but the cab ride took 45 minutes!!!  Traffic!!  But there is no way we could have walked there even if we wanted to...the streets are like a maze.  Some signs have both Thai and English, but if you get lost, you'd be doomed. We had a nice dinner and the cab ride back took 10 minutes!! Not so much traffic in that direction.

Today, the focus was on food again.   We had an early breakfast because our main activity was a Thai cooking class!  Alas, we should have skipped breakfast (and all meals for the month of November!)  We got picked up at 9 and were delivered to the "school" by about 9:20. We have no idea where it is in relation to our hotel.  It was us and a newlywed couple from Leeds, England and a businessman from Zurich (this was his 4th class!!!!). It was an awesone experience. 

We made 4 different dishes. First the teacher (a really cute Thai woman who kind of spoke English) would demonstrate how to make the dish (and they gave each of us a packet with all of the recipes). Then she would pass it around so we could taste it. Then we each went to our cooking station (where all of the ingredients in the right proportions were magically waiting for us), and made the dish again ourselves (all were stir fried). Then, we took what we made and went to a table and ate that!  First we made stri fry vegetables (corn, peas, carrots, garlic (they are BIG on garlic) and ground pork, with seasonings. We put that aside and each made 5 little stir fry "baskets" from a flour and lime juice batter with a special basket mold. Then we filled the baskets with the pork-veggie mixture and ate it. Next we made a stir fry glass noodle and muchroom and shrimp dish.  Same routine. So good.  This is where Wayne hit the wall--fatigue and appetite satiation-wise!  Next up was stir-fried beef with veggies. Wonderful!  Then we made yellow curry chicken.  We have gained 10 pounds in two days--not a good trendline.  (if you are really curious about this, check out http://www.baipai.com/.)

Tomorrow we begin our temple and palace tour with 28 other smiling Americans and 2 Canadians.

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