Archive for July, 2009

One Week Left

July 30, 2009

Just one week left before we leave Alabama, and each of us are fighting some sort of ailment.  I came to school early on Tuesday morning and unexpectedly felt ill – having to make several trips to the bathroom and throwing-up numerous times before class began.  This was likely caused by some bad Wal-Mart fried chicken I had at lodge on Monday night.  Those of you that know me well, throwing-up is an unusual occurrence for me since in the past 20+ years, the only other time that I threw-up was right after I had gotten married in Thailand.  No, it wasn’t because of Jet.  Dad, Jet, her  sister, Jet’s mother, and I were sightseeing in Chiang Mai (July 2003) and had visited the famous temple there on top of a mountain.  To reach the very top, you could take a tram or the 1,000+ steps.  I presented a bet that I could not beat Jet’s sister running to the top of stairs (by Jet’s mom, I think), so foolishly I accepted.  Just a little background, this was only a few days into my first trip to Thailand and I did not think of the heat and humidity when I took the wager.  This was also when I weighed in roughly at a robust 210 lbs or so (give or take), compared to the 175 lbs I am now, that is a mountain of extra weight to carry.  One final detail, we had just stuffed ourselves with Pizza Hut pizza only minutes before we arrived at the temple.  I did win the challenge, but moments later when we entered the temple, I had to rush over to the side wall and throw-up on the mountain down below.  I am just about recovered now, but I have been getting tons of sleep these past two days.  Ben has also had a sore throat and cough/congestion for the past two days.  This was likely caused by him taking a big gulp of pool water on Tuesday and hopefully should clear up soon.  Finally, the worst of us three is Jet.  Since we have gotten back from Thailand, Jet’s allergies have gone through the roof.  They have been so bad that she has had hives break out on her legs and the itching has simply been painful for her.  She has seen doctors, tried all sorts of medicines and creams, but the current steroid cream that she is on seems to be doing some good.  Hopefully the allergies will ease up once we are back in Wisconsin.

Several of the neighbors are planning dinner together at “Top o’ The River” tonight, the best seafood in town.  I haven’t been eating much since Monday and I think my appetite has come back, so it should be a good time.  I was still hesitant to eat much of anything yesterday, so Linda surprised me by stopping by last night with a couple of baked potatoes, muffins, and baked apples – all things that wouldn’t give my stomach problems.  We will surely miss our neighbors, none more so than Donald and Linda.  Also looking ahead, tomorrow is an all-you-can-eat pasta dinner before the Woodstock 5K that I will be running on Saturday morning.  The way I have been feeling lately, let’s just hope that I can finish standing up!  Then later on Saturday, the neighbors will be having a pot-luck homemade ice-cream party, where everyone shows off their homemade ice-cream and samples on everyone else’s.  Delicious.

Other news that has happened is that Amber (Jet’s friend) had her baby girl “Addison” yesterday (6 pounds, 2 ounces, I believe).  I have also booked a place to store our stuff in Wisconsin until we can sell our house in Alabama.  The place we have chosen is in Mukwonago, called AB U storage, which hopefully will be something short-term.  We had a young couple (30’s) with a 1-year old look at our house on Monday, but no other developments or leads in selling our house since we have returned from Thailand.  Keep your fingers crossed!  Please!


July 26, 2009

Not too much happening around here the past few days.  I traveled on Friday to look at hotels for the SAIS conference next year and there was one that we looked at that seemed like a winner – it will just come down to the numbers.  Some good news is that the weekend that we are planning on having the conference is the same week as our spring break.  The plan right now will be to spend the entire week down here for the conference next year (and likely the year after that), which is something to look forward to.

We have spent a good part of the weekend over at the German family’s house eating dinner and having breakfast today.  Jet also likes to go walking with them in the evening and I joined in with them last night.  They made dinner for us on Friday, Jet made dinner for them last night (Saturday), and I made waffles for them this morning.  While over there, Elke introduced us to a kitchen appliance that she uses almost every day to prepare meals or do anything around the kitchen.  It is from Germany and is called the Vorwek Thermomix.  Jet and I were impressed and we make look into buying one at some point in the future.  While at their house, they shared sunflower bread that they made with some homemade strawberry-peach marmalade, which was absolutely delicious.  Elke used the Thermomix to whip up some whipped cream for the waffles that I brought over for breakfast which she made using some special German vanilla sugar.  The taste of the whipped cream brought back so many memories of state fair cream puffs – which we will get to enjoy right when we get back to Wisconsin!  The German family also had a pool installed on Friday (Dan and Julie, our Wisconsin neighbors, had a similar pool installed earlier in the week) and now the kids are all out swimming in it for the first time this morning.  Ben has become good friends with the German children, Emma and Valentine.  Valentine will fuss and complain a lot (he is a few months younger than Ben), especially when Ben will take toys from him.  Emma (a year or two older than Ben) just has a lot of fun running around playing with Ben, so much so that she slept over for the night in Ben’s room with him on Friday night.  The first sleepover that Ben had was with a girl.  They had a good time together, though, and both slept well through the night.  We will surely miss the German family when we return to Wisconsin, but perhaps they make visit us in Milwaukee at some point in the future – after we have a house, of course.

Losing A Day In Alabama

July 24, 2009

What would you expect, there has been a change of plans for our arrival back in Wisconsin.  Dan, our Wisconsin neighbor that will be driving the moving truck to Wisconsin for us, called me yesterday and needed to change our plans for the move.  In sum, instead of leaving on Friday night/Saturday morning, we will be leaving on Thursday afternoon (around 4:00pm – 5:00pm).  That should put us only fighting rush hour traffic in Birmingham and having us arrive in Chicago on Friday morning at 4:00am – hopefully avoiding any problems there.

So what’s the big deal about leaving a day early?  For some reason, losing that day seems like a very big deal.  The benefit of arriving in Wisconsin 1 day earlier appears greatly outweighed by the cost of losing 1 more day with our friends in Alabama.  After all, what would our family and friends care about 1 extra day since we will be with them permanently after the move?  Perhaps losing that day in Alabama has finally started the final emotional good-bye to a place and people I have easily loved.  I cannot say that I have “grown” to love it here because I immediately felt at home when I arrived almost 3 years ago to the day.  If I were to guess, Jet only really began loving it down here as soon as she realized what we we gave up back in March.  It’s funny how things work like that.

Jet has spent a lot of quality time with Ben lately, including finally going out picking blueberries yesterday.  I guess it is past their season down here as Jet had a hard time picking a gallon of the berries.  The bond between Jet was very apparent yesterday as we left for our first dinner out since returning from Thailand, which is noteworthy since we ate out for every meal in Thailand.  Jet’s arms were full walking out the door (purse and other items) when Ben insisted that she carry him out (“umm”, which is Thai for “uppies”).  I ended up carrying Ben out, which really was not what he wanted.  For the entire car ride to Logan’s (about 5 minutes), Ben refused to look at me and just stared outside the car window with a sharp look of contempt in his face.  This is the first time that Ben has ever directed this kind of behavior towards me.  When we got out of the car, Ben began to calm as he allowed me to hold his hand while walking towards the door of the restaurant.  When we got inside, when Ben was greeted by a big jukebox, all you can eat peanuts and sweet bread (one of those things that we will miss back in Wisconsin), all appeared to be well again.

I will be heading out to Atlanta this morning to look at hotels and get their quotes for the SAIS conference next spring.  Other than that, the job search for my replacement has been heating up this past week, which is promising as there have been several good candidates that we have been looking at.  We lowered the price of our house to $187,900 in hopes that this will move the house much sooner.  We are taking a hit on the sale, but that is what we have to do in the current market and we really need to sell the house.  Things are not too hectic here, but I just got a feeling that we are about to hit a tipping point where everything will just be crazy for the next month.  Hopefully I am wrong.

Numbers Game

July 22, 2009

I had to fill up my car with gas today for the first time since returning from Thailand.  When we left in April, the price was $1.85/gallon while today it was $2.22/gallon.  This is compared to the first time I had to fill up after returning last year when I paid $4.09/gallon.  The price for gas also went up in Thailand while we were there.  When we arrived in May, the cheapest gas was about 20 Baht/liter (about $2.17/gallon) while when we left in July it was about 28 Baht/liter (about $3.03).  Though the price is just a little bit more per gallon in Thailand, since the cost of living is so much lower, the price increase is actually pretty significant.

The temperatures here are expected to reach the 90’s again after several enjoyable days of highs in the lower to mid 80’s.  The temperature while I was driving to JSU early morning on Friday was 57 degrees, which may have been close to a record low for that date.  I don’t know if the temperature got any lower, or what the record actually was, just that there was a buzz as the weathermen gave the forecast for the coming days, saying that several records could be broken.  I imagine in just a few weeks I will be dreaming of low temperatures only reaching the 50’s.

Jet has been hanging out at Elke’s house (German family) the last few days since their children have been feeling better.  Jet commented to me that Elke said that she was sad that her “best friend” was going to be leaving her soon.  That got me to thinking, how many “best friends” does Jet have down here in Alabama?  I would qualify Jet as having three.  And this does not include her best friend(s) in Thailand or in Milwaukee.  I thought someone could only have one best friend?  Maybe I am just a little jealous because I don’t think I have ever had a “best friend” in my life.  I guess the closest thing I have to a best friend that I have is Donald, which is not a bad one to have.

Speaking of best friends, Jet is hosting a baby shower for Amber today, who is due to have her second girl (“Addison”) next week.  I always thought (back in Milwaukee) that you only had a baby shower for the first baby.  Down here, you have a baby shower for every baby you have.  I wouldn’t be surprised if I were wrong as this is not an area of expertise of mine.

Finally, to finish up the numbers game, we met with our real estate agent yesterday afternoon to discuss the “progress” of selling our house.  Pretty grim news.  The numbers she gave us were that comparable houses to ours that sold were sitting on the market for 300 days (ours is just over 100 now, ouch!), and that of our competition, our listing price is the highest (double ouch!).  In the 100+ days that our house has been on the market with her, our house has only been shown 7 times (triple ouch!), but there is just a little hope, as there was one person that asked to see our house twice (and has still yet to buy a house) and there will be someone from the military moving here next month that also might be interested.  We were also told by our agent that this has been the best market for leasing/renting homes in quite some time.  We don’t have an interest in doing this, but this may offer us some possibilities as (we hope) our agent might be willing to work out a deal where they buy our house and lease it out.  Whatever it takes to get our house sold.  Our agent will also follow-up with the person that visited our house and ask that he put an offer on it.  If that and the sell/lease house options fall through, our next option will be to lower the price of the house, which will mean that we start taking a loss on the sale.  Keep all of your fingers and toes crossed.


July 19, 2009

We took off all day yesterday (Saturday) to go enjoy ourselves in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  The original plan was to drive up there with our German neighbors (Hans, Elke, Emma, Valentine), but for the past few days leading up to the weekend, the children have been sick.  Just as we were about to scrap our plans, perhaps to postpone them for a later weekend, Jet’s Thai friend (Pa’ Jill) informed us that she was heading to Chattanooga yesterday for her company outing.  The company outing was at Lake Winnepesaukah (“Lake Winnie”), which was a mid-size amusement park – similar in size to the park we visited in Bangkok.  The company provided free admission, an all-day pass on the rides, and tickets for free lunch with ice cream.  We arrived at 11:30am (Eastern time) and went from ride to ride to ride.  There were lots of rides that were age-appropriate for Ben, and he had a great time at all of them.  Well, Ben had a great time on all of the rides except for the last one where we asked the ride operator to let him off early because he was scared.  We also couldn’t get Ben to go on the big slide (similar to the one at the Wisconsin state fair) because he was too scared.  Here is a short video of Ben on some of the rides.  It was just a wonderful day outside as temperatures were in the low 80’s and it was partly cloudy.  I guess we have everyone in Milwaukee to thank for sharing their cooler weather with us.  Since it was such a great day out, the park was just packed with people.  Before we ate lunch (1:00pm Eastern time), we had our pick of ride for Ben to enjoy with little to no wait.  After we finished lunch, that was a completely different story.  To give one example, before lunch there was no wait to get on the train ride that circled the perimeter of the park.  After lunch, we (actually, it was “I”) had to wait for 4 trains to pass (about 45 minutes) to get on the train.  Needless to say, the day was more enjoyable before lunch than after lunch.  We left at about 4:30pm (Eastern time) and Ben immediately fell asleep in the car for most of the ride home.

The drive to Chattanooga took about 2.5 hours, which seemed like nothing after all of the 5 hour drives from Bangkok to Phitsanulok in Thailand.  We left at 7:45am (Central time), and on the way to Chattanooga, we passed by Noccalulu falls, but we didn’t see any water going over the falls when we drove by, so we decided not to stop.  We also passed through Fort Payne, Alabama, which was nearby Little Canyon Creek Park (the “Canyon”) and a place that we had never stopped to see before.  When we reached Fort Payne, we exited and visited the tourist information center there to find out more about the park, namely whether the water at the falls was as dried up as at Noccalulu falls.  The woman working there was a bit ambiguous on details, so we decided to continue onto the Canyon, which was about a 30 minute drive.  A little over a mile away, we passsed the Alabama fan club and Museum, so we decided to stop in and check it out.  The woman working at the gift shop there was just so nice to us and gave us all of the details about the Canyon that we wanted with directions.  She then pulled out a photo-copied, hand drawn map of the area and gave me directions to each of the Alabama band members homes if we wanted to stop by and see them on the way.  She was such a great person that she then let me take pictures and some short video clips of the gift shop and museum.   I wonder if Scott would be jealous of our visit there.  After enjoying our stop there, we decided to press on to Chattanooga since we decided that the Canyon might not be that much different than our previous visits to Noccolulu falls.  That extra time we saved was well worth it, as I described earlier from our visit to Lake Winnie.  When we arrived at Chattanooga, we stopped by the historic “Chattanooga Choo Choo” hotel to visit the trains, which Ben just loved.  We stayed for about 45 minutes before heading on to Lake Winnie.  Our only other planned stop for the day was to Lookout Mountain, Ruby Falls, and Rock City, but since we were exhausted after a full day at the park, we simply decided to head back home.

All in all, it was a wonderful day yesterday on the way to and in Chattanooga.  There is not much planned for our last few weeks in Alabama.  We may travel to Atlanta this coming weekend, but we do that all of the time.  The following weekend is the Woodstock 5K, so we’ll see how things shape up.  The weather will be perfect again today(thanks, Milwaukee!) so our plans are to have breakfast with Donald and Linda at the Cracker Barrel followed by a visit to Oxford lake.  Jet had wanted to pick blueberries today, but was told by a friend that recently did this in Anniston that there were a lot of bugs there that bit them.  I guess we’ll just have to wait to see what happens.  Here are some overdue pictures from the past few weeks, including pictures from the trip to Chattanooga yesterday.

Coming Up

July 16, 2009

It has been a busy week at school while fighting jet-lag.  With the few weeks remaining here in Alabama, we made some tentative plans with our German neighbors (Hans and Allegra with their small children Emma and Valentine) to go to Chattanooga with them this weekend.  The plans are still very early, but might include stopping by Noccalulu Falls and perhaps Little River Canyon State Park along the way.  We’ll see where this goes.

I registered for the national 5K championship last night to give me a little more incentive to get outside running.  This has been difficult to do this week as I have been at school way too early (1:00am – 2:00am) to be out running, and by the time I get home in the afternoon (3:00pm – 4:00pm), it has been way too hot to run (mid 90’s).  I am sure that I will be able to figure something out and get into a new daily routine.

One last thing to note is that we reserved our U-Haul for our move back to Wisconsin.  I got a 26′ truck and a tow for my car, which should be way more space than I could use.  I actually think that I could get by with a 17′ truck, but to be sure, I wanted to get something bigger.  Although there was an option for a 24′ truck, the lady at the sales desk said that the 26′ trucks are much better for driving long distances, so that is what I reserved.  I may have been conned, but I’d rather error on the side of caution.  We will pick up the truck sometime on Thursday, August 6 and should finish loading up the truck at some point the following day (Friday).  Depending how that goes, we will likely head up for Wisconsin late Friday night (August 7) or very early Saturday morning.  That should put us arriving in Wisconsin either in the afternoon or evening on Saturday, August 7.  That’s just 23 days away.  Where did all the time go?

Whacking Day

July 13, 2009

It is the first day for the last class that I will be teaching this summer, which is also the last class that I will be teaching at JSU.  I am a bit excited because I am looking forward to experiencing the cultural shock of teaching to US students again after only teaching to Thai students for the past few months.  The one big difference that I enjoyed when I returned to teach at JSU from Thailand last year was the roll-call for attendance.  In Thailand, everyone’s name is very long and very hard to pronounce, for example, Jet’s name is Jittima Siriwuttikarn, relatively easy to say compared to the names of some of the students I had.  I always dreaded the first day roll-call in Thailand because that is likely the only time that I sound like a child just learning to read.  Lucky for me, Thai students are quite forgiving, no matter how bad I screw their names up.  What a contrast it is to then read “American” names.

We have been back from Thailand for nearly 3 days now, and there has been lots of evidence to support how great our neighbors and friends are here in Alabama.  Dan (our Wisconsin neighbor) picked us up from the airport in Atlanta (a 1.5 hour drive each way) only to drop us off and leave directly with his family to Destin, Florida on the gulf coast (a 6 hour drive).  Our German neighbors invited us over for BBQ on Saturday for dinner, and Jet’s friend Amber and her family came over for lunch at our house, with a pan of lasagna in hand.  We invited our German neighbors over for lunch on Sunday for BBQ and were invited over to Amber’s as well as Donald and Linda’s house for dinner.  Since it was raining out at dinner time, we took up Donald and Linda’s offer.  All of this hospitality included about a dozen of our neighbors from around the subdivision that stopped by our house just to say “hi” once they heard that we were back home.  What a wonderful welcome!  And the Alabama weather had a nice welcome for us as well as it has been mostly sunny and in the mid 90’s since our return.  In addition, as I was preparing to leave for school this morning, the severe weather sirens blared out at 1:30am to warn about an approaching thunderstorm.  Welcome back indeed.

We are slowly but surely getting back to a “regular” sleeping pattern.  Ben had a rough night the other day as he fell asleep on our bed on Saturday night, and then I transferred him into his own bed.  It has been a few months since Ben has slept alone, so when he woke up at 12:30am Sunday morning, it must have been quite a shock for him.  Ben cried for about 15-20 minutes and we just could not calm him down.  I finally picked him up and walked him over to the guest bedroom to calm him down.  I then explained to him that because there was “no sunshine” outside, that he couldn’t go out and play and that all of his friends were sleeping.  I then told him that when the sunshine did appear, that we would be able to play.  Somehow reasoning with Ben worked, and he fell asleep for the rest of the night.  Of course I could not get back to sleep, so as soon as it started to get light outside (around 5:00am), I took a nice 5 mile run outside, my first since being back home.  What a difference it was running in Alabama then on the treadmill at the condo I stayed at in Bangkok.  The run was a struggle at times because I was hit hard by the “triple H”, that is, heat (it was already 75 degrees out), humidity (you felt wet and damp just standing outside), and hills (no hills on a flat treadmill).  The running is becoming more important to me now since I lost 10 pounds during my trip to Thailand last year while I gained 5 pounds during my trip this year.  Maybe I will do the National 5K championship in a couple of weeks.  We’ll see.

The last thing to comment over the weekend is that yesterday morning when I opened up our garage door, I noticed the long, green extension cord that I had stored away just to the left of me, which was placed on one of the white plastic “college dorm” crate shelves that we use as shelving.  The reason why I noticed the extension cord was because it appeared to be moving!  I wasn’t hallucinating, so I knew that there was a snake hiding out there.  About an hour later, after Jet, Ben, and I got our morning walk in, I had Donald come over to help me “remove” the snake.  I shook all of the shelves to flush the snake out, but saw nothing and almost figured that he left on his own.  Donald removed a small box on the bottom shelf to reveal the small (1.5 foot), black snake that was hiding from us.  After a couple of minutes of spraying wasp removal spray on him (which the snake didn’t like too much and made several lunges at Donald), Donald was able to toss him out of the garage with one amazing swoop of a long stick.  The snake sat there in our driveway and we couldn’t get him away, so while Donald got the snake’s attention, I slapped our shovel at the snake and felled him in that very first blow.  While I was about to take that swing, I had the “Whacking Day” song from the Simpson’s in my head, in particular, “we’ll break their backs, gouge out their eyes, their evil hearts, we’ll pulverise”.  Upon inspection, Donald could not tell what kind of a snake it was, but supposed it to be a “rat killer” of sorts.  Just your average weekend in Alabama.

Last Videos In Thailand

July 11, 2009

Here is another quick post of the last batch of videos I took while in Thailand that I didn’t have the time (or opportunity) to post while over there.  While uploading these videos this morning, I was very shocked by how quickly it took.  A two-minute video took about 15-20 seconds to upload at JSU while over at ABAC (when I was able to successfully upload a video), a two-minute video would take about 15-20 minutes to upload.

The first video is one taken of a Thai fire station in Phitsanulok, Thailand.  I have taken pictures of this firehouse before in past visits to Thailand ( in fact, Dad likely has some pictures too from our visit back in 2003), but I thought a video could show a bit more than those still photos.  I had no idea what would be interesting to see from Kristin’s, Sandy’s, or Matt’s point-of-view, so I just tried to get a sense of what it was like to walk around the place without being too intrusive.  I don’t try to say too much in this video for fear of embarrassing myself (any further) with my lack of knowledge of the firefighting profession.  Jet said that these firefighters work a 24 on, 24 off work schedule and that the pay is not very good for this type of job in Thailand.

The next clips are of the places where you pick up groceries in Thailand, either at the supermarket or at an open market.  The first clip was taken at on open street market and I tried to give a sense of how busy they are.  The second clip was taken at a typical Thai grocery store, which I tried to show some of the things that you could buy there that would be different than in the US.  Grocery stores in Thailand are not that much different than those in the US, with the exception of some of the types of foods that you can buy.  In particular, you will see fresh foods (e.g., vegetables, fruits, meats, seafood, etc.) that are comparable in variety to what you can buy in an open street market.  Another difference is with the types (and quantities) of sauces, noodles, and rice available to buy.  There is nearly an entire wall for both vegetable oil and ramen noodles, which are obviously used quite often in meals in Thailand.

The next few clips show what I believe to be one of the more fascinating things I see when I visit Thailand.  At 8:00am every morning and 6:00pm every evening, the Thai National anthem is played on all TV and radio stations.  This first clip was taken during my walk through the open street market in Phitsanulok.  It was such an amazing contrast from how busy the market is to how quiet and still it become when the national anthem was broad-casted over the speakers at 8:00am.  My favorite part of this clip is how Ben tries to sing along with the anthem in the background.  The second clip of what some Thai TV stations show was taken on the last morning of our visit to Thailand.  I apologize if the sound is not too loud as I was flipping through some of the Thai TV stations during the anthem, but I didn’t want to wake Jet, her Mom, and Ben who were still asleep in the room next door.  Here is a great website that translates (both phonetically and in English) the Thai national anthem and also has an audio clip of the anthem.  The lyrics (translated in English) are actually quite interesting:

Thailand is the unity of Thai blood and body.
The whole country belongs to the Thai people, maintaining thus far for the Thai.
All Thais intend to unite together.
Thais love peace but do not fear to fight.
They will never let anyone threaten their independence.
They will sacrifice every drop of their blood to contribute to the nation, will serve their country with pride and prestige full of victory.
CHAI YO. [Cheers]

 The last batch of videos are some taken of Ben in our last week in Thailand.  The first video was also taken at the open street market and shows Ben donating food to some Thai monks, who in turn give Ben a blessing.   The next video shows Ben doing some sweeping (with a Thai broom) outside Jet’s Mom’s warehouse in Phitsanulok.  An airplane passes by overhead during this clip which Ben calls out for (“krueng bin” is “airplane” in Thai) and Ben also chases one of the dogs that stays at Jet’s Mom’s house.  The next video shows Ben riding on a motorcycle with Jet.  As I mentioned in previous posts, this was one of his favorite things to do in Thailand.  As I have also mentioned before, it is very common for children of all ages (some as young as newborns) to ride with parents and siblings (without helmets) on motorcycles in Thailand.  Just some of those instances where the differences between cultures in Thailand and America couldn’t be any further apart.  The last video is of Ben getting a haircut in Thailand last week.  It’s funny to watch Ben get his hair cut as he sits as still as a statue, but you can tell that he enjoys the experience.

Back Safe And Sound

July 10, 2009

Just want to post a quick update – we are back in the US and are doing well.  The flight from Bangkok to Seoul seemed to be half-full, so there was plenty of room to relax and enjoy the 5 hour flight that left a little after midnight on Friday (in Thailand time).  Jet and Ben slept for most of the flight while I stayed up and watched the movie “17 again”, which to my surprise, I enjoyed.  We arrived on time in Seoul so we had a couple of hours to stretch out, or run around in Ben’s case, before the last long 13.5 hour flight home.  The flight from Seoul to Atlanta was mostly uneventful.  I watched several movies, my favorite being the Liam Neelson film “Taken”, which I found myself thinking many times, “Wow – that was so cool” to some line said or some scene.  There was a little more turbulence on this second flight than what I usually experienced on these flights, and there was a minute while passing over Iowa that was just dreadful as there were a series of rises and falls which gave you the sensation of weightlessness, but got lots of screams and shouts out from everyone.  That was not so pleasant.  Jet and Ben were able to sleep for the majority of the flight, and once again, Ben has proved to be a trooper when it comes to flying.  To my surprise, Ben only fell out of his chair onto the floor while sleeping once (he moves quite a bit when he sleeps and he did not like wearing the seat belt).  Ben actually enjoyed sleeping on the floor better than on the chair, but every time this happened, a flight attendant would tell us that this was not allowed and had to move Ben back to his chair.  I was able to get perhaps 1 hour total sleep on the whole trip home  that came from 3 short cat-naps.  In fact, since I awoke on Thursday at 4:00am (Thailand time) to start packing for our flight that night, that one hour of sleep has been the only sleep I have gotten.  That’s 48 hours awake to only 1 hour of sleep.  Sure I feel a bit tired, but am doing just fine and I am forcing myself to stay awake now so that I can recover from the jet-lag a little bit quicker.  Jet and Ben are both taking a nap right now, which is fine as those long flights can be quite exhausting.  The only other hick-up from the return home was in our arrival at the passport control in Atlanta.  We were some of the first from our flight to arrive there, and thus were at the beginning of the line.  After only the first handful of US citizen passengers were processed, there was a long wait until some potentially devastating news came out.  Apparently all of the computers were down and no one could be processed and sent on their way.  The immigration officers that were walking around relaying the news to us, commented that this problem had recently happened and people had to wait for over 3 hours to be sent on their way, and started handing out bottles of water.  Certainly not the news you wanted to hear after a long flight and being very anxious to get back home.  Fortunately for us, after about 30 minutes, they began to process only the US citizens waiting in line, and we were on our way.  Dan (our Wisconsin neighbor) was great once again in picking us up from the airport in Atlanta and bringing us back home, where we were greeted by Donald and Linda and a few other neighbors.  Our trip to Thailand was another great experience, perhaps one that we will enjoy again next year, but it does feel good to be back home.

I’m Touch

July 8, 2009

Only a few hours left in Bangkok before our flight home, so I’m taking some time while everyone is sleeping to write one last post for this trip.  The last week has been great spending the whole time with Ben and Jet’s Mom in Phitsanulok and now Bangkok.  We haven’t gone anywhere new these past days, just saying final good-byes to family and friends before our return to the US.  With every good-bye, you can just sense Jet’s Mom getting more and more attached to Ben (and vice versa), so I imagine saying good-bye to Jet’s Mom will be pretty difficult tonight as she sends us off at the airport.  As a result, I have been constantly asked by Jet’s Mom for her to keep Ben (for 1 extra month, for a few extra weeks, for anything) and then she personally bring Ben back to the US.  She even asks Ben whether he wants to stay in Thailand or go back to America, to which his answer always changes, which usually gives us all a brief laugh.  As attractive as this option might seem to be with how busy Jet and I will be once we return to the US, my only response has been an outright “no”.  And it is not just Jet’s Mom that is putting the pressure on for Ben to stay.  Other family and friends make it seem as it is the best thing for Ben to stay here in Thailand because he will continue to learn to speak Thai and Thai customs – much better than if he stayed in the US.  They also bring up that it is quite normal in Asian culture for parents to leave their children behind with family.  Although I can appreciate their arguments, the answer is still an unwavering “no”.  I just think of how much I have already missed with Ben this past month after only seeing him on weekends and I can’t imagine how much more I will miss out on if he stays behind for any length of time.

Spending all of this additional time with Ben this past week really did illustrate how much Ben has changed from the first month in Thailand to the second month.  When we arrived, Ben rarely spoke Thai and insisted on speaking English even when being taught to say something in Thai.  There are still a few words that Ben will only say in English, but I have learned more Thai playing with and watching Ben these past few days than I have in the past few years.  Ben is able to speak many new words in Thai, most of which I don’t know, so I end up having him explain to me what he is trying to say.  These are usually pretty frustrating experiences for both of us, but Ben has been the best Thai teacher I have ever had.

Another big change is the way I am able to “get through” to Ben.  It seems for the past year, maybe even longer, that the only way to get Ben to do something was by command (e.g., eat, sleep, put something away, etc.).  There were several times over the past few days where my commands were simply ignored and even a time where I could not get Ben to go to sleep for his afternoon nap.  This was an incident that did not go unnoticed by Jet’s Mom as she tried despirately to leverage it against me, such as by saing “How could I take care of Ben if I can’t even get him to sleep …” or trying to make a bet that if I can’t get Ben to sleep (at some future time), that he stays in Thailand.  I never fell into those traps, but it didn’t even matter.  While Jet and her mother were out shopping yesterday, I was able to get Ben to sleep by explaining to him that he needed a rest, that he would feel better after sleeping, and that we could play again when he woke up.  For some crazy reason (at least to me), this strategy has been working.  Ben will just shake his head in agreement as if he completely understands me, and usually does not take much more coaxing after that.  Amazing.  Jet’s Mom has used a completely different approach to get Ben to sleep – saying that “Mau Mauw” (a big scary cat in Thai) will come get him if he doesn’t sleep.  Whatever is effective and gets the job done, I guess.

This also shows to me another big change in Ben – how much of an influence I am on him.  There were times before we arrived in Thailand when I commented on how Ben would “copy” me (e.g., the way I would lay down to sleep, things I would say, etc.), but now Ben is picking up all of my bad habits!  Chewing on finger nails, dancing fingers, getting on Jet’s last nerve, Ben seems to do it all.  My influence really shows when I explain to Ben “Daddy said …” (e.g., “Daddy said no hitting, right?”, “Daddy said be careful, right?”, “Daddy said pick up the toys, right?”) and Ben agrees to do (or stop doing) anyg I ask him to.  Amazing.

Yet another big change is how much more independent Ben has become.  Ben will constantly say “Ben time” (at least that is what it sounds like), which means in Thai that Ben wants to do something himself.  This might be putting his shoes on, walking up or down stairs, picking out his clothes to wear, or putting those clothes on.  Ben is so ready for potty training.  Ben still likes to “get away from it all” when he “drops a deuce” (e.g., hide under a table, go off to a corner), but when Ben has done this lately, he tells us that he is “working”.  Hmmmm … that is not the type of “working” I have been doing when I have had to leave him each week.  Something else that has been pretty funny has been Ben’s fascination of touching things or wanting to touch things – “I’m touch”.  Anytime we pass a water fountain, a statue of some sort (to an elephant, a fish, or some other animal – real or not), a “baby dinosaur” (what he calls the small, harmless lizards that can be found climbing the outside walls of buidlings all over Thailand) or anything different really, “I’m touch”.  We all just break out laughing in the car anytime we pass something (e.g., a train, a truck, a crane, bird) because we just wait to hear “I’m touch”.  Ben usually doesn’t disappoint us.

But I am very sure that Jet’s Mom will really miss Ben.  For the first month, Ben didn’t want anything to do with “Yai” (Grandma in Thai), now when you ask Ben “Ruk Kai” (who do you love the most?), he will usually say “Ruk Yai” (love Grandma).  It really is true that Ben has learned a lot more Thai and Thai customs being around her.  They sing songs together in Thai, Ben loves eating Thai fruits and vegetables, and Ben has become so much better at giving a “wai” or bowing down to others and to monks.  Of course this comes with the bad habits in Thailand as well, one of the primary ones is Ben’s number one favorite thing to do, take a ride on a motorcycle or “buckle” as he calls it (I think he means bicycle).  In fact, perhaps the most emotional good-bye that we have had so far was when Ben said good-bye to one of the workers (“Won”) at Jet’s Mom’s business in Phitsanulok.  We had finished packing and were in the car ready to leave when Ben threw a fit – he just had to have one last ride on the “buckle” with Won.  So that is just what he did and you were never sure of excitement than you were watching Ben riding around for those last few minutes in Phitsanulok.  Although this was a joy to watch Ben having so much fun, I can’t bear to think of how often this must have happened when I was away in Bangkok.  Perhaps it is best not knowing.

Well, that is all from Thailand.  This has been another wonderful experience for us all and I look forward to the next time that we will be back, whenever that will be.  Right now, however, we are looking forward to being back in the US.  I have another handful of videos to post on YouTube from this past week in Thailand, but those might have to wait until I am back at JSU over the weekend before I can share them with you.  Let’s hope we have an enjoyable (and uneventful) flight back home.