Wednesday, December 29, 2004

pouring in

since i last posted, on sunday, we have received more and more news of the devastation here in thailand, and in the rest of this pocket of the world.

i know that i am feeling the way many of you are feeling- the death count keeps going up, and more and more bodies are found. cnn international is on right now, and the announcer is standing only meters away from about 40 bodies that have yet to be claimed- i think this is the case in many cities in asia right now.

to all of you who have emailed me, worried about taher and i, i thank you and assure you we are fine. we feel loved; we feel lucky in many ways.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

the house that rama built

this weekend, taher and i took a trip to the coast. we returned yesterday only to hear of the devastation that was caused by the earthquake in indonesia; we were in Hua Hin, which is not very far south from bangkok. other coastal cities that are a bit farther south were ravaged. we are very, very thankful that we were not affected at all by the tragedy.

this monday morning, we are all a bit sobered by the death counts and the pictures in the newspaper.

however i choose here to talk about our weekend in Hua Hin instead.

Hua Hin is in the province of Prachuap Khiri Khan, on the coast about 200 km south of bangkok. it is a sleepy little coastal town; our guesthouse was walking distance from every restaurant, every other hotel, and of course, the beach. it is safe to say that just about everything was walking distance from everything else. quite a nice change from bangkok's urban enormity...

we were only there for two days, but the pace of life was so slow there that we felt we had been there much longer. the weekend consisted of taking walks; we sauntered to dinner (the taj mahal restaurant; i was craving butter chicken), we strolled to the beach, we wandered to the tourist office...

the highlight of the weekend, i think, was our visit to the Sam Roi Yot National Park. sam roi means three hundred; this is the Three Hundred Peaks National Park by one translation. once there, we got on a boat and crossed a lot of very, very blue water, racing around huge mountainous structures looming up here and there, until we reached Phraya Nakhon Cave. this boat ride, skimming along the gulf of thailand, was scenic, to say the least; it was not the first time i have felt, in this country, that i am cruising through a postcard.

i was anxious to go spleunking but didn't take into account the arduous trail we had to take to get to the cave. it was about 500 meters straight up a rocky, steep trail strewn with slippery, smooth black rocks. i was tired and gasping for breath after 20 minutes. in all it took us about an hour to climb up to the cave- this trail was all business. and looking up, all we could see was more trail. it was impossible to tell how much longer we had to go- looking down, all we could see was trail as well, and far off behind the trees, the blue gulf.

finally, a long, sweaty hour later, we reached the cave- it was enormous and cavernous and all of the things a proper cave should be. and once there, we had to travel further into it, over still more rocky surfaces, to get to... the temple. in the middle of this massive cave at the top of a mountain, it seems that Rama V, the great-great grandfather of thailand's present king, Rama IX, built a pavilion. it is a mystery to me as to how people carried huge pieces of wood and carvings and statues and whatnot up this crazy mountain, but they did. and in the heart of the cave they constructed a lovely temple.

and we climbed for an hour to collapse in front of it :)

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

5 pm

this weekend, taher and i began working out again after a one-month hiatus. however, this time, i am doing things a little differently. we both used to jog, but i hated jogging so much that, well, i let a month go by without doing it once. so now, i power-walk instead while taher runs laps around me :) i walk three miles, which is 12 times around the track. with the ipod and my visor pulled down low over my eyes, i am able to lose myself in the music and the three miles fly by.

it comes as no surprise that my music of choice is tracey chapman- sure, i listen to other stuff as well- i'll listen to a playlist for a while, or another album- but i return, by the 3rd or 4th lap, to tracey.

we get on the track by 5 so that we can be finished by maghrib, and therefore, by the time we begin our workout, the sun has let up and everything has a pink tinge. the evening breeze has begun blowing and people are coming outside onto campus for their evening walks. a small troupe of teachers' kids, five of them under the age of six, come outside and play in the grass. mothers walk babies along the paths. the hostel kids linger as they walk from school back to their rooms. teachers play tennis on the court. people begin to fill up the campus but are spread out enough so that i hear their voices faintly above my music.

i don't know what it is, but this 5 pm scene, every evening, has become, for me, a way to relax. i am working out but enjoying myself. it is quiet outside, peaceful- birds are chirping, the sky is turning colors... it is as though, here on campus, it is eternally springtime. maybe it's the endorphins from working out- maybe it's the fact that listening to tracey chapman always inspires me ( i can listen to "unsung psalm" or "at this point in my life" on repeat a hundred times!)- but whatever it is, being out there, i just look around and feel content. i see the good in everyone, i smile to myself, i lose count on purpose so i can do an extra lap and be out there for a few extra minutes.

when my parents visited, my dad spent a lot of time out on our front balcony- overlooking the campus, it's actually a very nice view. and except for student arrival and student departure, the campus is very peaceful and quiet- lately i am kind of seeing the campus the way my dad must have seen it- as i do my laps, i'm soaking it in the way he did from the balcony.

Friday, December 10, 2004


my parents left this morning, for chicago. as usual, a very fun week went by far too quickly. they experienced a lot of bangkok in one week, though- a dinner cruise, lots of thai food, the grand palace, the ancient city, the river ferry, even the masjid. and of course authentic thai foot massages!

it's been fun, these last two weeks, having all four parents around. we've missed them a lot and it was nice to have them living with us for a while. to eat together, to wake up in the mornings and have breakfast. to just spend the entire day together- no different schedules, no agendas, no parting. it was luxurious.

having both sets of parents stay with us in succession like this, i got to spend a lot of time with each of the four people. and i have to say, i feel lucky. our four parents are all very good, very strong people. of course, they are four very different people, but the messages they have always been giving taher and i, and continue to give us, are very similar. i know we all have our frustrations with each other, but i can actually talk to my parents. i can ask for their advice and know it'll be good. i can trust them to do the right thing and then follow by example. it's comforting to have parents like this- good people. and i look at taher's parents and see the very same thing.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

playing favorites

i have one student who gets away with far too much.

because i let her.

i can't help it, though.

her name is shrutika and she looks, behaves, even talks exactly like my cousin sakina. i look at her and see sakina. i am reminded of her constantly- painfully so at times. other times, i just stare at her and drink in the resemblance.

what to do? i can't bottle shrutika up and take her home with me. but part of me wants to.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

a little trek up north

this weekend taher's parents came to visit, and we all went to chiang mai for the long weekend. four wonderful days away from school and away from the heat! it was actually chilly in chiang mai. chilly. honestly, it's been so long since i've felt cold while i'm outdoors. usually, i say, "taher, this air conditioning is freezing. let's go outside and warm up!" this was not the case in chiang mai.

but enough about the weather.

chiang mai is so lush. it's very irish, the way all of the greenery is so plump and abundant. there are mountains in the background, in every direction you turn. there are no taxis; only tuk-tuks and bikes. it's urban but quietly so, with lots of peaceful little corners and a long lazy river running through its center. people sitting on benches, gazing at the mountains. shopkeepers opening their doors late. dozens of backpackers wearing their sneakers, consulting their guidebooks, chatting in cafes. chiang mai is lush in so many ways. i liked its tone a lot. a huge, sprawling, sleepy little town. quite a change from bangkok, which asserts its urbanity in a noisy, bustling, colorful, whizzing, exciting way. chiang mai just sits there calmly and lets you come to it.

the first day there, it drizzled, so the four of us scrambled into a thai massage parlor and spent the next hour getting a variety of massages; taher's dad opted for the traditional thai massage, which tenderizes your muscles. taher's mom had an herbal oil massage. and taher and i went for our favorite, the good old hour-long foot massage. we were in heaven, sitting inside, being pampered, listening to the rain falling outside, dozing, waking up, dozing again. what a way to start a holiday.

of course, we did more active things as well- we shopped like maniacs, acquiring all sorts of foreign and exotic objects. nothing like a foreign bazaar to bring out the curious child in all of us; i find myself gazing at things, touching everything, picking things up, putting them down, shaking them, smelling them, buying them. haggling about every price because it's just so fun. shopping with taher's mom was fun because she was interesting in everything i called her attention to. we were easily mesmerized and, that being the exact reason we went to the bazaar, we had a blast.

the second night we were there was the Loy Krathong Festival of Lights. the highlight of this festival was the launching of hundreds, maybe thousands, of mini-hot air balloons. people all over the city were putting these small balloons into the air, and once they floated high enough, they looked like small pinpoints of light. there were so many hundreds of these launched that the stars stood no chance of being seen. the balloons, in fact, replaced the stars that night. i felt like i was far, far away from a city, where on a clear night every star in the sky can be seen; there are so many stars that they seem to blanket the sky. this night was that way. it was beautiful.

we saw many of these launchings up close and just stood and stared skyward as the balloons slowly grew smaller. i have never seen anything like this in chicago; fireworks are a fun way of celebrating, but these tiny lights filling up the sky, lasting for hours and hours, were far more wondrous.

this was my favorite part of the weekend- that, and the fact that the four of us had nothing but time together, and we filled it by talking nonstop. in chicago, in daily life, everyone is busy, including taher's parents, and there is no time to just linger over dinner and forget everything and just stand around bargaining for silk scarves and watching small lights dance through the air.

the other highlight of the weekend was a trek through the jungle on elephant. taher and i were on one elephant and taher's parents were on another, and we just spent an hour being led through the jungle, calling out to one another and shrieking with delight when the elephant's steep turns made our perches unstable. this trek was through the very green, very wet, very lush mountains of chiang mai and it was nice to experience it in this way...

all in all, a wonderful four days of elephants and lights and painted umbrellas and pandas and orchids and green, green, green.