As our week drew on, Rebecca and I got more comfortable venturing out on train, subway and bus. We met Big when he was free to see places wth us, and explored on our own when he had to go to a meeting or just wanted to meet with his buddies somewhere and have a much-needed break from us.
We met Big at our train stop–Ratchadamuri–and took the train to the Grand Palace. We walked first to a place Big knew for breakfast, up a narrow flight of stairs called the Blue Whale. I had a cool drink called a butterfly pea iced milk–an incredible color.
After breakfast we walked to the Grand Palace–a huge complex surrounded by a tall white wall. They wouldn’t let Woody in because he was wearing shorts. He could have bought some long pants nearby at the stalls outside, but he wasn’t interested. So he said he’d take my postcards to the post office nearby mail them, and then stay somewhere until we returned.
Inside the compound there are lovely colonial style government buildings, but Big says they are all unused now. This whole place is just for show. In fact, the Thai King and his wife live in Germany full time and only come here for important ceremonies.
My favorite pieces of art were the wall paintings along the eastern wall–showing scenes of the Ramayana–called the Ramakin in Thai.
There were “chedi (towers) covered in gold paint, giant orgres called Yakshas that guarded gates, incredible tile work, a golden kinaree–swan/woman gracefully guarding entrances, and the famous emerald Buddha just over two feet tall and made of solid emerald.
From there we picked up Woody and then walked to Wat Pho which has the largest reclining Buddha–150 feet long. Wat Pho is not as glittery as Wat Phra, but has lovely tile work and intricate painting. Once we’d had enough of gold and Buddhas we walked to a place for an iced tea. It was hot and muggy and we needed a pick-me-up. Then we decided to take a ferry boat across the river. We found a place overlooking the river for lunch and watched the ferryboats, barges, and water taxis motor through the dirty water. We could see one building that we recognized that was over near our place. As we ate, the clouds came in and after one clap of thunder and lightnig, the water poured down. We knew we couldn’t take the ferry back sp we waited out the storm inside the tiny restaurant.
When the worst was over, we wended our way to the BTS, but it was a new one that hadn’t been finished so we walked along under the skyway to keep dry. Eventually we came to an end and there was no station. — Big was perplexed and embarrassed. we found a taxi that took us to the nearest station and headed back home, too tired to do much.
We had made a tentative date to meet our Airbnb host for lunch. It turned out that the only free day that worked out for all of us was just a couple of days before our departure for Viet Nam.
Kay suggested a nice French style restaurant near one of the BTS station we frequented. Even though she suggested we must make reservations, when we arrived there, we were the only party in the establishment. It was an elegant outdoor place with cloth table cloths and an extensive wine list. Kay suggested I choose, and I found a nice 2016 Cabernet from from Argentina, under 1000 bhat. (This was living high for us, but we wanted to splurge to thank our host for allowing us to show up extra early and for the little nicities she had left us in the apartment.)
We went to lunch about 1pm, we were meeting our Airbnb host there. It was a French restaurant called Indigo. Kay is Chinese from Hong Kong and has travelled extensively. I assume she is pretty rich and she is a bit take-charge–ordering the wait staff around. Lunch was good, I had a caprese salad and pumpkin soup and a creme brulee for dessert.
Kay discussed how Thailand has become much more inviting to investors and real estate developers. She used to do training for hotel staff, but since the pandemic has not done as much; most hotels have cut back staff and training quite a bit. Her husband, an investment banker, and has stayed quite busy.
Later that day, Big was planning to meet us for dinner, but Rebecca was not feeling very well, so I went alone to meet him at a restaurant that turned out to be just a couple blocks from the Indigo restaurant where we had met Kay. Both Big and I did not have much of an appetite. I was still full from the big meal at the French restaurant, and Big had plans to meet some friends afterwards from work. He and I had a couple of drinks at a poolside bar, and talked about his future plans. We talked like a couple of old buds about golf and careers. He thinks he wants to start his own branding company when he gets a little more experience. He sees the path of helping businesses go from small to bigger as a process. He told me about how he has learned how to take the visions that the owners have, and use them to create a brand that will inspire both the workers and customers. He also told me that he has tried his hand at golf. Just hitting balls at a range with some business buddies. One of them got ahold of some tickets to a tournament this weekend.
On our last day for now, I felt much better. We ate leftover croissants from the place we had eaten breakfast yesterday.
Woody got ready to meet Big. They had free tickets to see the LIV golf tournament. The Saudis have started another golf association and are paying lots of $ to players if they quit the PGA and join them. They have a tournament here this weekend.
I wasn’t interested in going, and besides, after being sick, wanted to stick closer to home. So I stayed in for some of the morning and caught up on my writing and I started packing.
About 10:30 I went out and walked to the Siam Center–the Rtzy shopping mall that has a book store with books in English. I bought a book in Thai for a friend’s litlle boy and a book by Stephen Frye I thought looked good. I sat in a cafe with iced tea and toast and read for a bit. Then I wandered down to the fancy grocery store–Trader Joe’s on steroids–just to look around.
I walked back home and finished packing up and picking up the apartment.
On our final day before leaving to Vietnam, Rebecca wanted to go to the huge Siam Mall, one stop up on the BTS. Big had obtained a couple free tickets to the LIV Tournament playing at a new golf venue called Stone Hill about 40 minutes north of the city. I met Big at his apartment and he drove us north to the tournament.
Just like most professional golf tournaments, fans spend as much time driving to the venue, finding parking, waiting in line to go through security, riding shuttles, and then walking out onto the course. as they do actually watching the players play. The fact that these tickets were free was an indication that LIV Golf is struggling to create an image and establish a fan base here in Thailand. I had seen large billboards throughout the Bangkok Skytrain system, advertising the event, but apparently it’s not a sport that has really caught on here in Thailand yet, at least not to the point that people are willing to pay the equivalent of $20 to see the world’s top players compete.
Interesting to see Phil in shorts, looking a bit more relaxed.
We saw Phil Mickleson, Bryson De Chambois and others, as we sat near holes 14 and 15 for a little more than an hour. We went into the nearest snack lounge set up around the course. Big ordered a rice and meat dish, I had a Tiger beer and had a couple spoonfuls of his rice dish. We watched the tournament on one of the monitors set up on the wall of the air-conditioned temporary snack pavilion, and enjoyed the play and commentary about the tournament.
If you’re not familiar, LIV Golf has driven a wedge into the golf world. It has paid players an obscene amounts of money to abandon the PGA and sign onto the LIV tour. Sponsored by the Saudi government, it has also injected some politics into an otherwise non-political sport. Frankly, I felt somewhat guilty for supporting the tournament, but with free tickets, I thought I’d at least see what is like, especially seeing it in a foreign country.
It was good for first time winner Eugenio Lopez/Cacharra to have his moment in the sun for his first professional win. But still, I felt disloyal to be seeing a tournament that is pitted against the PGA.
LIV has also added an element of team play to golf competition. While all the golfers are compensated quite well to just show up for the event, the players are divided up into teams of four, usually with one “captian” player, a big name player that most fans would recongize. At the time, Bryson DeChambois’s “Crushers” were poised to take the team title for the event. But Surgio Garcia’s “Fireballs,” led on by the winning play of Lopez/Cacharra, ended up taking the team play event as well, to the tune of and extra $3M split up among the team. the
Then there are points for overall individual play and team play for the season, which is coming to a close. Although we did not see Dustin Johnson, he is set to win the LIV golfer of the year. I like him and I’m glad for him, even if his defection into the controversial league means a deeper split in the golfing world.
I tried to explain all this to Big, but after about an hour, I realized that both he and I were losing interest. Watching golf this way on a big screen when we were only a hundred meters from the real action made me realize that the heat, the distance from the ropes to the actual players, and the crowds just didn’t seem worth the effort to go to the event. When it’s easier to see the action and be more comfortable it watching on TV, what’s the point? We made our way back to the car and back to his place where I took the BTS back to the apartment where I packed to leave early the next morning.
That night we headed out to meet Big and Shen for dinner and it started to pour. We got to the BTS (Skytrain) and walked through water a couple inches deep to get to the restaurant. Big was already there. We waited for his sister who had difficulty getting there because of flooding in another part of the city. The restaurant was in an older colonial style building and was Vietnamese.
Shen finally arrived after we had ordered. We had lots of food and had good talks. We talked about when both of them would come to see us in California. During dinner it had rained so hard that there was a lake outside the door. They brought rubber boots for us to cross the pond, but only two pairs. I opted to walk in my sandals–they are water shoes, but I wasn’t thrilled about the dirty water. Shen also had waterproof shoes, but Woody and Big used the rubber boots. We made it to the BTS and said goodbye. We walked home and finished last minute cleaning and packing. We need to get up at 4am!
Our stay there was punctuated by the final dinner we had with Big and his sister who spends every weekend in Bangkok for classes. We met at a very nice restaurant one stop away from our apartment. It had begun to rain just after we left the golf tournament, and I thought it would subside, as it had all week, within an hour or so. But this storm persisted and became gully-washer. By he time we had made it to the restaurant, the walkway back to the dining area was flooded to about six inches deep. We all arrived dripping wet and with soaked shoes.
We enjoyed a final conversation with Shen and made plans with Big for when we returned from Vietnam and Cambodia. We plan to spend three days up in Chaing Mai when we return. But throughout the meal, I was preoccupied with the logistics of how I would get back to the apartment with wet shoes, dry them off enough to travel the next day, and then be ready by 4:50 the next morning. When we were ready to leave the restaurant, the night watchman loaned us some rubber boots that fit, amazingly. He walked with us to the sidewalk well outside the restaurant where he was sure we were on dry ground, then took the boots from us. We said or goodbyes to Big and Shen on the Skytrain as we approached our stop. I worried that I would be thrown into Shen as the train started to slow down, but with a bit of a wobble, we hugged and then managed to make it out the door before it closed.
4:30 next morning, Big was waiting outside our apartment building, and he got us to the airport earlier than I thought it possible. I am familiar with the emotions stirred up by leaving a place and all the stress associated with preparing for an international flight. There are so many little mental lists and to-do’s to keep in mind that it usually makes the otherwise exciting time of embarking on a new adventure seem instead rather tense. Arriving at the airport, thinking we had plenty of time, caught up in a very long line, and then just barely making it to the gate in time, those stresses were familiar to us. then, as we were waiting to get on the flight from Bangkok to H Chi Minh City, the pall that I had anticipated hit me. We got a call from our son that he had had a seizure and had to be taken to the hospital. He fell at work and had over a dozen facial stitches. He told us he was feeling fine and not to worry, but on the entire flight to Vietnam we had a mixture of gratitude and dread. What would we learn about this country? What would we learn about our family? Should we even be here?