Trip to Thailand, January 2013

Robert and I both love traveling, especially together­--working together as a team, experiencing new places, rolling with the cultural differences, talking to people and unexpectedly learning new things, and seeing the everyday lives of people somewhere else, so similar but also sometimes so unrecognizable compared to anything we are used to. That's how we felt on the shuttle bus back and forth to the mall this morning--the fire trucks passing us were squatter and boxier than we were used to but still said "Narita FD" on them in Roman letters. The houses were a mix of traditional Japanese houses and boxy things that looked straight out of post-war Russia. The gardens--even small farms, at times--and the small intentional fires in the fields--all of this just twenty minutes on winding, hilly streets from the airport, all caught our gaze. Meanwhile, Marcus was struck by the cars driving on the left side of the road; when sitting on the bus (we happened to be on the right side near the back of the bus) we couldn't see the driver in what is to us normally the driver's seat. "No one's driving the bus!" he said excitedly. "In Japan, do buses drive themselves?"

Even more than just traveling for its own sake, though, I think Robert and I both love traveling with our kids. Kids are constantly changing, obviously, and Robert loves to reflect that they'll never be this age--whatever it is--again. Of course--life is fleeting and full of uncertainty, but we try to enjoy the moments we have now with them, whatever stage they're in. When we take a trip, the act of travel helps to freeze the childhood stage for a bit--we experienced Rome through Marcus, just a few weeks into confident crawling at nine months old, and Udaipur through him a year later, then twenty-one months old, learning the names of different animals for the first time. Travel changes us and our children and our relationship to them. It's amazing to look back at the pictures and webpages and photo books of the past--to see how vivid it all is, yet, measured against the changes in the kids, how long ago it all was. We were glad to be en route to Thailand together, then, as a family of four, even if we weren't sure how long we'd all be able to stay.

At the airport, waiting for our flight, we had hopes of more adventures along the lines of our trip through the mall that morning, but Marcus just kept on sleeping. Eventually Robert put him back on his back and we boarded the plane, and we transferred him to the seat, buckled him in, and tucked pillows and the quilted business-class blankets around him. Let's review, then: he fell asleep on my lap on the bus; transfer number 1 was to Robert's back; transfer 2 to a bench in the airport; transfer 3 to Robert's back again; transfer 4 to a seat on the plane. By that point, Samantha too had fallen asleep, exhausted by her long excursion around the airport, and she was sleeping contentedly in a wrap on me on the plane. Our kids are good sleepers, indeed. When Marcus awoke, two hours into the flight, he had no idea where he was or how he'd gotten onto the plane. Samantha slept for all but the final fifteen minutes of this flight, nonstop, no eyes open, though there were a few times she stirred and I nursed her in her sleep; Marcus, once awake, played video games and watched movies on the personal screens with Robert; we all enjoyed the extra legroom and service of business class.

Back in the Narita Airport.

On the plane to Bangkok.

The flight attendants were very friendly, and my seatmate, the climatologist from Detroit, working on a climate change research project in Bangkok for the last two years, was reserved but also friendly, especially for someone who just found out he was sitting next to a baby recently upgraded from coach. (Non-frequent-flier as I am, I had to ask Robert to help me adjust the angle of my seat and get my footrest out.) When not sleeping or eating, I casually grilled my seatmate on various aspects of Thai culture and Bangkok life: "Do you actually take motorcycle taxis? Do you really wai people?"

We ate dinner, then the light pre-arrival meal, including sushi and sashimi on the cold dinner plate option, and we all arrived in Bangkok well-rested and content. We went through immigration, which was speedy, and got our bags and passed quickly through to the other side of the airport, where George and Pat (now engaged officially for about two months) were waiting for us.

After a quick stop at the bathroom (functional, but we were obviously no longer in Japan) and a jaunt up the ramp escalator and into the parking garage turned bright purple by colored spotlights, we were off in our Honda Stepwgn SUV, rented by George on his old Wisconsin driver's license for the duration of our stay.

George is as much fun as ever, and about as good a driver as ever--which is to say, great, but distractible. Also as he said, "I can read Thai, but slower than I drive," and that proved to be a handicap when navigating street signs in unfamiliar places. We let Pat sit up front with him to help with signs and navigation. Normally they take the motorcycle taxis I had been asking about earlier when they go to work, as a way to weave through Bangkok traffic, but George seemed excited by the chance (excuse) to rent a car and drive around a bit, so we just went with the flow.

The car came with a baby seat for Samantha, a perfectly clean, functional, forward-facing carseat like our Cosco Scenera, and also stocked with bottled water and tissues, both branded with the name of the rental agency and its logo. Marcus wanted to know why the box of tissues "looks like you're driving," and indeed it was a very beautiful glossy tissue box, printed with a photo of the very dashboard we had in front of George. It was an odd effect, one of those mirror-within-a-mirror moments.

George and Pat drove us to our hotel, the Bangkok King Pullman Power Hotel ("Is that really its name?" said Robert. "I feel like I don't know what any of those words mean.") downtown near Victory Monument, and waited with us in the lobby while we checked in. Check-in was taking a long time, and it was now nearly 2:00 in the morning, so Robert asked something like, "Just checking, is this a king-sized bed?" during the long process. I'd already reserved one (on, as with all our hotels) and my booking print-out even listed that, but suddenly the hotel staff sprang into action and announced they were upgrading us to a king-sized bed in a room on a higher floor, with free breakfast and access to the concierge lounge. The next day an apology letter would be slipped under our door, formally "regretting that there were incidents occurred during check-in." In any case, it was a nice hotel--tall and shiny, with a classy lobby, and we were just tired, anyway. We were all in bed by 2:15 that night/morning.

Saturday 12/29, Day 4

We woke up at 6:00 a.m. and admired the view of the downtown high-rises and the Sky Train, and the infinity-edged hotel pool, from our 17th floor room.

Breakfast was great--a huge buffet, a very helpful staff, and lots of people smiling at Samantha and Marcus. Marcus ate some noodles, some fried rice, a baby banana or two, and four halves of grilled cheese and ham sandwiches, plus two steamed bao with custard from the dim sum side of the buffet. Samantha, who'd started the trip from Boston not feeling well and being a little off her food, was completely recovered by now and ate some fried rice, some congee, some boa, and two small pale breakfast sausages. We would see these sausages everywhere in Thailand, in varying lengths and diameters; they were always uniform in color, the shade of very pale, turkey hot dogs, and they looked mild and uncooked even when they were indeed cooked through. Everyone kept insisting they were not hot dogs, but Marcus was pretty sure they were. Meanwhile, I ate sushi and fried rice and saimin-style noodles in soup. Robert ate everything.

After breakfast we checked out the pool and the executive lounge, and then George and Pat met us at our hotel and George tried to show Marcus how to pet one of the many koi swimming around the fish pond in the hotel courtyard. Marcus was unsuccessful at this attempt, but had great fun trying. We used the ATM in the hotel lobby to get some Thai baht (at approximately 30 baht to the dollar or so).

First morning in Thailand--snuggles in bed, and the view from our window.

Breakfast in the hotel.

Fun with hotel fish.

Our first stop was at Funarium, an indoor playground probably not at the top of the list of most people's Bangkok sightseeing tours, but a good stop as it was inside, air-conditioned, and out of the sun, and also a little bit of a respite from the city crowds. It was great for Marcus to run around and spend some energy, and the mix of Thais and expats there gave us lots of interesting people to chat with while the kids played. The soccer area, bike and scooter area, crawling-baby area, and large ball pit with pneumatic tubes to suck the balls up and then drop them down on the delighted kids made Marcus and Samantha very happy. There was also a snack shop we sadly never got a chance to check out in detail, and a general lack of concern with typical US safety and health standards. I mention that last part not at all judgmentally—I’m just observing, and we actually appreciated the relaxed atmosphere.

Fun at Funarium.



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Created: 1/15/13. Last Modified: 1/15/13.