Saturday, April 7, 2012

Bangkok, Thailand March 2012 (part 4)

On Friday morning when I got up I found out that my Grandma was in the hospital, one of my favorite teachers died, and another good friend working in Africa was having serious complications from surgery. Then at the conference the keynote was talking about our Balcony People- the people in life who cheer us on.  Those three people were/are three of my Balcony People. Well, I was already sad and that made it worse, so afterwards I was not in the mood to go right away to learn. I sat in the room for a bit but that didn't make anything any better, so I decided to go see the Grand Palace. I had been told the afternoon before when we were turned away that it was going to be open all of that day, but closed on Saturday for a function.

Lots of these guys on guard

When I arrived this guy told me I could not go in because I had short pants on (capris) but I had a sarong to put over them. Then he told me that it was closed right then, but would be open at 1:30p.m. and to go see these other places and come back. I told him I had been told that it was going to be open all day and that I couldn't come back as I was on a business trip and had to go back to a meeting. He could tell I was upset, so he told me he would sneak me in. Later I realized he is like the others I have run into that are trying to get you to go to whatever place employes them so they can get money if you go to that place and buy something or spend money with them. They did have clothes that people could put over their clothes if they were not modest enough. One guy was upset because they girls had blow the knee skirts that were the same length as his capris. He was arguing with the lady and said he was a lady boy, so she told him that they had some skirts if he wanted to put one on. He threw a big fit. I saw him later with pants on. I don't know if they were ones he brought or ones he borrowed.
The Emerald Buddha
 It is a huge complex with many temples. Some of the temples were actually closed to the tourists as they had people participating in services and chanting. There was also a temple that has the famed Emerald Buddha, which is made out of a single piece of solid Jade. The temple is very elaborately decorated. No pictures were allowed inside but there is a window where people can take pictures of the Buddha through it. It was really hot that day. I hadn't put on sunscreen since I hadn't been planning to do this, but luckily I had a small umbrella to shade my face. I enjoyed my time. Even though many people were there I was not really interacting with them, just taking it all in and taking pictures to capture the memories. Even though it was busy it was also a calming place, a way to escape my thoughts and sadness for awhile. After I got done I went back to the conference and did the afternoon session. Part of me wished I could have seen this one other place that I really wanted to, but I knew that my main reason was to be at the conference and it was important that I go back. Plus, the session was really good and I was ready to learn again.

The Grand Palace
That night after we got done for the day we went back down to the different shops close to us as my co-worker wanted to pick out some things for her family. After that we went back and I got room service as I was very tired but kind of hungry. On Saturday night was the Gala Dinner. I worked on writing post cards after we got done with the conference. It was lightning so my co-worker could not go down the street and get her Mom more cashews. We went down to the Gala for awhile. It was close to the Earth Hour, so they turned off most of the lights. I wasn't hungry as they hadn't fed us lunch that day and I had a late lunch after I got done with the conference. Most of the people I knew weren't there. Again it was noisy, lots of people and dark. They did have a great band made up of some of the teachers that played good music so I listened to that.  My co-worker wanted to me to come with her to get more cashews after that. It was still raining but no lightning. It was 9p.m. by this time so almost all the shops were closed and the lady with the cashews was gone, so we turned around and went back to the hotel to pack for the next day.

Bangkok, Thailand March 2012 (Part 3)

On Thursday night the conference had a cultural/welcome night. My co-worker and I had decided that we were going to take a boat ride though before that started. By the time we got done with the conference for the day though it was windy and the water was rough.  So, I suggested we go to the Grand Palace again to see if we could get in. We got a taxi there but when we approached a guy said it was close. He told us we should do a boat ride that would go on this back canal through old Bangkok and stop at a couple places like a temple and the floating market. Since it was not windy where we were I forgot about not wanting to go on a boat, and said sure. The guy got us a tuk tuk and directed the guy were to go. When we go there though my co-worker remembered that she had signed up to sell raffle tickets as she was the teacher rep for our school and had to be back before the boat trip would end. So, I ended up going by myself. I did not want to miss out on doing something, so she headed back and I got in the boat. The guy offered to take me all the way back to the Shangri-La hotel instead of coming back to where we were for a few extra baht so I said sure. We got started and the first thing the guy had to do was go up the rive a ways and get more gas and then we turned around and headed into the canal. It was about 6 in the evening so the sun was going down. The guy would go a decent speed sometimes and other times he would go pretty fast. We past a few other small boats and they all had groups of people. I saw lots and lots of temples along the way.

War Arun or Temple of Dawn located along the Chao Phraya River

Down the canal it was not very wide so it was not windy and no choppy water. We went by some very nice houses and some the people were obviously very poor. I wondered how many of these houses had been affected by the flood in November. Some now longer had sides to their houses but just ragged cloth covering them. We didn't stop any place so I didn't even see the floating market, but I still enjoyed all I did see. I didn't really get any good pictures since I didn't really have time to stop and get them focused. Some turned out ok, but the times where he was going pretty fast those are all a blur.

Down the canal. The sunset
 When we got back out to the river it was dark by then. It was about 7 at night. The river is much wider and open so it was windy and the water was choppy. There were lots of boats of larger sizes and even some huge, long barges. At one point we were going between some larger boats and barges and our boat was really going up and down because he had been going fast. I thought that we were going to take in water and sink. I thought to myself I can swim, but I have no life jacket and the water may be very cold. It is dark so no one would be able to see my and I would lose my bag as I figured it would be too heavy to hang on to if filled with water plus my stuff. I thought maybe this boat ride down to my hotel was not the smartest decision especially in the dark. At that point I turned around and shouted at the guy,"Do you really think this is a good idea?" Either he couldn't hear me over the motor and/or he didn't understand me and he kept going.

On the river in the dark

 The hotel seemed so far away and every time we would go between large ships and barges and really bob up and down I would think ok this time it is going to sink. But we made it. He actually went past the place as he could not find the landing area. He had to back up and he finally turned on his light. There was a small dinner cruise ship that was loading up with people to go out. I thought, great I am going to have to sit here until it loads and pulls away and I was ready to be off it. He flashed his light at them and they opened the gate on the side and two guys came over and assisted me up on that boat. I went in through the area where all the people were entering smiling as I went, glad to be off the boat and the adventure it turned out to be. All the people were looking confused at me. I got off the other side and walked up the ramp to the hotel. After that I went up to the ballroom area as there was a local craft show for that day only. They had lots of beautiful items they were selling. It was pretty small but very nice. They had jewelry, woven items, shadow puppets, art, lotions & soaps, Christmas ornaments, food jewelry & magnets. I rant into my co-worker there as that was the room she discovered she was assigned to for the raffle tickets, but she wasn't really sure what she was supposed to do. After she finished her hour we went down to the pool area for the cultural/welcome night. I didn't stay long. I wasn't super hungry. There was lots of people but it was dark and noisy so it was really hard to pick out the people I knew. They did have some traditional Thai dancing that I watched.

At the Cultural Night

 There was also lots of people drinking and since neither my co-worker or Director of Studies drink because of their religion I felt awkward. In the presence of others of different cultures and religions I am respectful and if necessary stick to halal food and not drinking, so even though no one else there needed to do that I just felt awkward.  After being there for a bit I left my co-worker with a new friend she had made and went over to the deck by the restaurant where they served tapas as I love tapas and wanted to try theirs. There was a guy who played guitar and sang great classic rock songs that I grew up to. I had the lamb kabobs and bruschetta. The food tasted ok, but definitely not what I considered tapas and very plain.  The waiter accidentally dropped my dried bread that went with my lamb kabobs and had to go get more. After I was there for a while just enjoying the evening then I went inside to the Chocolate Boutique they have. They have marvelous chocolate sculptures. I got myself a little chocolate cake and ate it there. There was a dark skinned woman singing American jazz while a guy accompanied her on piano. I also like jazz, so it was nice to listen to that for awhile before going upstairs for the night.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Bangkok, Thailand March 2012 (Part 2)

The second night  (Tuesday) after I got done I looked in a jewelry store that they had in the hotel. They had beautiful pieces of corundum, but much more than I could afford.  After that I went back to the room and when my co-worker was ready we walked around down by our hotel and looked in lots of different shops. We looked in silk shops where they make clothes. Nice, but more than I can afford right now. We also looked in a variety of jewelry shops.  They had all sorts of bead jewelry and strands of gemstone beads. It made me wish I had my tools so I could make up something new, but they are packed away back home. There were all sort of street vendors selling faux watches and other expensive looking apparel. They also had lots of food vendors but I was a little leery about trying it and worried about getting food poisoning. My co-worked did buy a huge quantity of plain cashew nuts as her Mom asked her to bring some back. I wasn't sure as to the reasoning since they can easily be obtained in Malaysia. I am sure they taste the same and even though they are cheap in Bangkok I am sure it is not any less than Malaysia. Eventually it was getting to be about 8:30p.m. and shops were closing. We turned ended up at this huge department store and wandered around it. We saw a McDonald's outside there but since we can get that in Malaysia we decided to pass. After that we walked back to the hotel and went to Angelini's again for dinner. Another great dinner.

The third night (Wednesday) my co-worker had to attend a meeting for the Teacher Reps. I decided that I wanted to go to this Wat Mahathat temple where they teach Vipassana meditation as I thought that would be something interesting to learn, but I knew my colleague did not want to go. On my way down to the concierge desk I ran into my Director of Studies who was getting a map because he wanted to go for a walk before dinner. He had arrived earlier that day. I told him that our colleague was at a meeting but I wasn't sure how long it would take. We decided to go for a walk down the street while we waited. We walked in the direction of the department store and kept going. I saw this woman selling her wares on the street like many others and she was nursing and not being discreet about it. It made me think of all the hubbub about breast feeding in public in America where the women are discreet and how they want them to do it in the bathrooms (which are sometimes disgusting). Anyway we stumbled across another temple. The first part of it was several new buildings but at the back was the original one that was very old and they had built a roof over it to protect it some.
Really old temple with roof over to protect

Behind that we walked to the edge of the river. There was a group of people standing by the railing feeding the fish. I had never seen so many fish so tightly packed together fighting for food. There was also lots of trash. On the way back we noticed a building that had been abandoned and never completed being built. It reminded me of the movie Ghost Busters. I love that movie.  After we got back I send a text to my co-worker forgetting that we had new sim cards and that she did not get my message. After sitting downstairs for a bit I finally went up to see where she was. We then all met up downstairs at this tapas restaurant on the deck next to the Next2 restaurant where we had been eating breakfast and lunch as it was included with the conference. The Director of Studies and my co-worker have dietary restrictions related to their religion, so I let them chose the place. After checking out the tapas place we went in and looked at the buffet at Next2 which suited their needs. I went along and had the buffet. When we go the bill though I was really shocked at the price. It was much more expensive than I realized and I was paying for it on my own. It was my fault I did not ask for the price beforehand as I could have ordered off the A`la Carte menu instead. After that we called it a day. The next day was the beginning of the conference and we had to be ready even earlier than the pre-conference.

Bangkok, Thailand March 2012 (part 1)

I went the last week of March 2012, the 26th-April 1st to Bangkok, Thailand for the EARCOS Teacher's Conference. It was fantastic. I went with a colleague and then our Director of Studies joined us later in the week as the Administrators one back in November was cancelled due to flooding.
We left Monday morning. I had purchased and booked my own tickets as I don't meet the length requirements for a foreign teacher being sent to the conference but that is fine with me. The Owner's wife though had asked for my ticket information so she could book the two of us together. That was fine with me. On that Monday my coworker got to the airport ahead of me and checked in. Her tickets were not the same numbers as the ones on her paper. She went back and told them she was going on a business trip and that she was supposed to sit next to her colleague. They were able to switch one of her tickets but not the other. The first flight was uneventful. The second one leaving from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok was not. The first thing is that we went when it showed it was open but not really close to boarding time yet. I walked down first and it showed that it was last call already. My co-worker was stuck at the top as they switched her seat number again. I got on the plane and she was now seated in the same row as me. When she got there though that seat was taken so she had to go back to her other seat, which was ok. There was some major turbulence so I didn't eat anything for my meal. When we landed and got off I stopped and got new sim cards. After that my co-worker mentioned about renting a car and would they be holding her name up. I told her I didn't think there was any reason to rent a car and I didn't think the teacher's conference would have all of us renting a car. So, we hailed a taxi to the hotel. We stayed at the Shangri-La Hotel. Even though I had to pay for everything else I was allowed to share a room with my colleague, so that was nice as I don't think I could have afforded to stay there. I think it is the nicest hotel I have ever been in.  When we went to check in then my co-worker pulled out the paper with the check in information for confirmation. On the page was the information stating that we were to be picked up by a limo at the airport. The hotel staff was upset because their person had waited for two hours. I apologized as she had only just showed me the information. We were told we still had to pay and I said we understood. After that was straightened out then they showed us up to our room. It was really nice. Two comfortable beds, a window seat with a nice view, a desk, and really nice bathroom.

Looking out hotel window-Assumption Cathedral

After we got checked in I looked up on the Internet some of the places I thought I would like to see. Many of them closed between 3:30 and 4:40 and it was about that time. I found one called the Golden Mount 'Phu Khao Thong' in the Wat Saket compound that said it was open until 9:00p.m. and people could walk all the way up the stairs on the outside and look out all over Bangkok. We went to the concierge to ask about it. They said that they thought the place was closed but the write up also in their map said it was open until 9:00p.m. They called but couldn't get an answer, so we decided to get a cab and go down there anyway.
'Phu Khao Thong' Golden Mount
It turns out that the concierge was right and they were closed. We were able to walk up half the steps to the bottom of the temple but then there was a huge door that was closed and blocking the rest of the stairs. We came back down the stairs and starting walking past the other temples in the compound that we also closed or closing.  As we were walking a tuk tuk pulled up and asked if we wanted a ride. I said no and kept walking. He did a U turn and asked us again. I was like No, we are ok. I told my co-worker I wanted to get a cab but not a tuk tuk. When we got all the way to the exit he was there waiting for us. He asked us where we wanted to go. We said we didn't know. He told us there was a tall Buddha statue about a 30 minute walk from where we were but he would take us for 40 baht. I was like what the heck, let's go and hopped in. So, he took us to Wat Intharahiwan Buddha  and it is 32 meters tall.
Wat Intharahiwan Buddha

The guy told us when we got there that today was a special day and all the places were free of charge. He told us there was a Thailand Silk place and that he would take us there afterwards just to look and that we didn't have to buy anything. If he took us there they would pay for his gas and then he would take us around everywhere we wanted to go for the evening for only 40 baht. I thought that sounded like a good deal. So we went and looked at the huge Buddha and the other small statues and altars that they had set up. Then we hopped back in the tuk tuk and away we went. We stopped at this silk pace and looked around. They had lots of fabric and designs but it was a little too much for us. They did show us a room with ready made items so we got a few small items for gifts. Then we hopped back in the tuk tuk and went to the large Marble Temple Wat Benchamabophit. It was very beautiful. Of course, by then it was dark out and so it was closed but we could still take photos outside and they turned out great.  
Wat Benchamabophit
 After that he said he could take us to the Grand Palace even though it was closed to take pictures outside. On the way he stopped at some other complex with many temples and beautiful buildings. There was a black cat outside of one of the buildings that rubbed up against me. There was another cat as we were leaving stalking the black cat, that had flopped down on a bench next to this one monument, walking along a small ledge on the side of one of the temples. After that the tuk tuk dropped us off by the Grand Palace but there is a huge stone wall and only the tops of the temples and buildings can be seen. So we walked across the street to this other complex that had a temple in the middle and several pavilions around the outside that they were either newly building or also remodeling. It was about 10p.m. and I hadn't eaten all day, so we decided to call it a night and go back to the hotel. We ate at Angelini Italian restaurant in the hotel. It was very good food and then we went to bed as we had to get up early for the first day of the pre-conference.