Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Fast Work in Thailand (Carolann's Thoughts)

Carolann's thoughts on the Thailand tour

It's our last night in Thailand and we're having dinner poolside at the restaurant of the lovely Tamarind Village Hotel. It's a starry night above and a twinkling one below with dozens of candles running the length of the pool. And drifting high above, we see five rice paper lanterns (in a week or so, I'll post pictures on the blog). These delightful fire hazards have been launched somewhere in the old city and will last, airborne, for perhaps thirty minutes. You can buy them in the market, large stiff and crackly bags made of white rice paper with an internal bamboo frame holding two paraffin coils. You hold the bag open-side down, light the coils, and wait until the air heats up and puffs out the bag. In a few minutes, the air will be hot enough that when you let go, the entire cylindrical white bag will rise on its own, skyward. The giant candle effect in the sky is magical. I expect they are banned back home; in a wind, flaming paraffin would spill downwards. A few years ago, Chiang Mai lost a brand new library building to such a candle that got stuck on its roof. 

But it's delightful to see in any case. We're lucky this year that we can enjoy a clear night sky. Eight years ago, we had spent two weeks in these northern parts under a smoky haze created by uncontrolled burnings.

As the evening wears on, the waitress offers us tea, dessert, and mosquito repellent. Dengue fever is a real concern in the tropics, especially in populated areas. It's a blood infection in humans transmitted through certain mosquitoes. Because it's a human virus, the more populous the area, the more opportunity it has for transmission.

But here at the Tamarind I'm not thinking about dengue fever.

I am thinking, however, about another fear that's on everyone's mind. Fear of civil strife. The elderly King of Thailand is unwell and people are holding their breath.

All the Thais we meet have good things to say about the King. Of course it's against the law to say bad things, but the respect seems authentic enough.

A few days ago we were departing from our hotel in Rayong. The soft spoken Thai woman asked Dan the usual check-out questions.

"Did you use the mini-bar, Mr Cooper?"


"Will you be paying with cash or credit card Mr. Cooper?"


"Thank you Mr. Cooper. I love my king."

Not knowing how to respond to a non-sequitor, Dan thanked her in Thai and turned away to join me. I saw her put her hands together in the classic Thai wai, her lips moving inaudibly, "I love my king."

There's a kind of cohesiveness here because of the King. I picked up a piece in the Bangkok Post's annual review which was written by Michael Ignatieff, syndicated through the New York Times. He spoke about the politics of shame when two factions are persuaded to get along if shamed by a stronger third party. The story in Thailand goes something like that. The King by his very presence has been able to keep peace in this country, notwithstanding news-making bloody flare-ups from time to time.

People are worried about the transition. It's good for us to leave now.

Today, we're on our way to Singapore. It's been a busy week in Thailand, first down south in what's called the eastern economic zone and then in Chiang Mai near the Burmese border. We had not originally planned to come to Thailand this time but Dan secured us an all-expense paid sponsorship from the Thai Tourism Board. The Board asked us to cover, among other attractions, half a dozen gardens, Dan's specialty. I tag along, writing about the touring aspect from the lens of a mature traveler for my blog. We come as a package for a tourism board. It's work. We're on a schedule. There's elephants that need washing, plantings to be admired, Lanna specialty dishes that must be consumed.

So it's been busy and the last stop along the itinerary yesterday was the Oasis Spa. We were each given a two-hour Thai massage, specifically, The King's Oil Massage, characterized by a 90-pound waif applying a hot oil compress to the body and kneading it in like the King's own puff pastry chef.

As I said, this is work.

Carolann's travel stories can be viewed at www.maturetraveler.blogspot.com

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