Bangkok: No Day But Today
September 5, 2005
My Dear Family and Friends,
For dinner, a bowl mushroom-barley soup with onion challah rolls. Hot Romanian pastrami on seeded light rye, creamy cole slaw and spicy mustard. Couple a half-sour dill pickles. Poppy seed hummantaschen. Chocolate malted. Am I dreaming?
Tomorrow morning at 06:00 I leave Thailand. My route of flight on Northwest Airlines is Don Muang Airport, Bangkok to Narita Airport, Tokyo to Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport, to Memphis International Airport, to Miami International Airport, Miami, Florida, USA.
I am flying half-way around the world through twelve time zones, so if my itinerary is not exactly ideal, so be it. My only concern is on which flight I should try to sleep.
I am looking forward to my return. I miss my father, Otto, now almost 90 and in good health, knock wood, and my father misses me. I miss my nephew Jason and his wife Carrie and their young daughter Chloe and infant Maxwell whom I have never met.
I miss my cousins Roberta and Stanley, their children Donna and Jeffrey, and their children. (During my long absence, Donna helped me with my mail and other matters. Thank you, Donna.)
I also expect to meet for the first time, my second cousin Jason, who is the grandson of "Uncle Ike," the brother of my own maternal grandfather, Papa Harry.
I miss all my good friends, especially those who corresponded with me regularly and who have been part of my life even 10,000 miles away.
I look forward to my own shower and my own bed. Long sleeve shirts. Real shoes. Real socks. Real Scotch. Cantaloupe.
And for brunch, a bowl borscht with sour cream and boiled potato. Toasted sesame seed bagel "Combo Platter" with Nova and cream cheese, capers and chopped egg, sliced onion, olives, lettuce and tomato with a dab honey-mustard dressing. Warm apple strudel. And a chocolate malted. (I'm only kidding...about the malteds.)
What am I to make of my life between November 3, 2004 and September 6, 2005?
An escape from reality? A ten-month adventurous vacation? An early retirement? The trip of a lifetime?
Perhaps you are thinking, "One or two or all of the above?" Respectfully, I disagree.
Escape from reality? I posted my federal tax returns and paid all my bills on time. Don't ask me about the interest charges. I mailed an absentee ballot. A lot of good that did.
Vacation? Twenty-five hours in the air; five-hour bus rides; two-hour motorbike rides; overnight train rides. Climbing hundreds of stairs in the tropics and wandering in the desert with hordes of flies buzzing about. No power, sometimes; no hot water. You think that's a vacation?
Early Retirement? Right! I fought a two-week cold with nothing more than orange juice and chicken soup; took three stitches in my toe; suffered one stuffed up ear; sat in the chair for one three-tooth crown, one emergency filling, and three cleanings; one new pair of spectacles with high-index, progressive, photo-chromic lenses.
I battled one bout of constipation which I cleared out with a bottle of that pre-colonoscopy stuff; another bout of constipation and a high fever (I nearly passed out in the waiting room) which required an overnight in the hospital, an IV drip and lots of yucky brown sludge to drink.
Just recently, sun poisoning around my neck and upper chest from long brisk morning walks. Yes I was wearing a shirt which the UV rays didn't notice. The Doc prescribed Betamethazone cream, a Loratadine tablet in the AM, Hydroxyzine tablet in the PM. She also said, "Avoid the sun." In Thailand?!
Retirement? I think I'll go back to work.
The Trip of a Lifetime? Trips, really. The trip to the beaches of Thailand could be a trip of a lifetime. River cruises and temples in Myanmar, the trip of a lifetime. The Outback and Wine Country in Western Australia.... Volcanoes, and mountains and more volcanoes in Indonesia....
I am using the word "trips" but I no longer think of my travels as trips. Since I have the freedom, the resources and the energy, to put it simply, this is the way I live my life right now.
We have many options and combinations of options. All are equally worthy, commendable and satisfying:
Some folks decide to go fishing; some play tennis or golf or bridge; some grow roses or raise orchids or redecorate; others continue to work full-time or part-time and tend to their family and play with their grandchildren; some attend life-long learning classes, or take up yoga or meditation or the guitar; some continue their research, or go to ball games, or manage their investments, or command a condominium association or deliver meals on wheels. I decided to travel. We all do it differently, after all.
I can recall my feelings of apprehension and insecurity five years ago as I planned my first three-week drive as an independent traveler. After just two weeks on the road in Central Europe, I realized that three weeks was not long enough.
The next summer I mapped out a four-week trip through The Balkans. I extended the trip to five.
For each of the following two summers I traveled for eight weeks in Southeast Asia.
Now I have learned that I can travel independently, and happily for an indefinite period of time.
For those of you who are oriented, as I am, towards being "productive, " here's my short list for the last ten months:
- I read serious novels including "Atonement" by Ian McEwan. A great story. I cried at the end.
- Read works of non-fiction including "Reading Lolita in Tehran" by Azar Nafisi. Ruined lives and soaring literature in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
- Read books of essays and short stories about Thai culture and language including "Inside Thai Society" and "Thai for Lovers - The Romantic Culture of Thailand."
- Learned a little Thai. Private lessons and out-and-about. Just enough to ask about a bus schedule, to order a meal, and to speak sweetly and politely to a Thai lady who knows only a little English.
- Attended Chinese Opera, Indonesian Ballet, Thai Traditional Dance and Classical Western musical performances. In Bangkok, a piano recital of unusual pieces given by a talented and articulate Korean woman who will begin her teaching career in Illinois.
- As for my own playing, it never happened. I brought along my Chopin Preludes and Grieg Lyric Pieces. I bought a Chopin Waltzes and a Bach. I tried to rent a piano for the summer, but it didn't work out. So I gave the Bach to my friend Keaw. I will leave the Waltzes behind - to play when I return to Nang Rong for a "long stay."
- I "played" in the kitchen. I learned to cook Phad Thai, Pomelo Salad with crisp shredded coconut, Thai-Style Omelet with minced chicken, and Tofu Saute with spring onion, cabbage, carrot and other vegetables - "up to you." It's all in the sauces.
- Wrote about fifty Travel Letters.
- And in my "pre-digital" mode, I shot sixty-two rolls of 36 exposure 35mm Kodak Gold 200 color film. I affixed several hundred shots into eight albums that I will carry in my luggage to Miami. I hope I won't be overweight.
- Speaking of overweight, I vowed months ago to give myself a proper birthday present on September 18, the big "six five." No, not a digital camera. No, not a pair of Bose noise-elimination headphones. No, not 100 shares of Google. Although any of these would be a nice present, indeed. Is anybody listening?
- I vowed to reduce my waistline to a legitimate 38 inches. And I have succeeded. I have shed 9 kilos, about 20 pounds. All my trousers and shorts fit with room to spare and my belts need adjustment. No! No chocolate malteds over here.
- And speaking of "digital," as a full-time summer project, I set up my website. I will launch it on my birthday. All the letters and many photographs since last November.
I expect I will see you there, on the Internet. Or in Miami, or somewhere on the road, sometime soon?
At the moment, Monday, 2:30pm, I looking forward to my adventure tomorrow morning and that Boeing 747 across The Pacific Ocean. I am also feeling sad that I am leaving this wonderful country. I cried a little on my last night in Nang Rong.
To cheer myself up, I ambled down Sukhumvit this morning to Robinson's Department Store, Second Floor, Men's Department. Can you guess what I bought?
The Thai attitude and culture says, "No day, but today." Yet as we pray for a few more tomorrows, I hope that this Epilogue is not a dot but a semicolon, a pause before another Prologue to more travels, letters, photos and good days ahead for us all.
PS Just two weeks ago, a young man asked me one of my own favorite questions to other travelers: "What was the highlight of your trip?" I was stumped and speechless. I'm still thinking about the answer.
Frankly my dear friends, I've done enough talking. I would much rather hear about your own recent highlights. Please write or call or visit.
PPS Maybe just one chocolate malted at the Rascal House?
Join me. I'm buying.