Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Weekend at Old Ayuthaya

Lois and I spent this past weekend at a the Ancient Capital of Thailand,

Sister Meeker waiting for the train at HuaLamphong Station
The city is located 1-1/2 hour train ride north of Bangkok in the valley of the Chao Phraya River. The city was founded in 1350 by King U Thong, who went there to escape a smallpox outbreak in Lop Buri and proclaimed it the capital of his kingdom, often referred to as the Ayutthaya kingdom or Siam. Ayutthaya became the second Siamese capital after Sukhothai. Its remains, characterized by the prang (reliquary towers) and gigantic monasteries, which give an idea of its past splendour. It is estimated that Ayutthaya by the year 1600 AD had a population of about 300,000, with the population perhaps reaching 1,000,000 around 1700 AD, making it one of the world's largest cities at that time. In 1767, the city was destroyed by the Burmese army, resulting in the collapse of the kingdom. The Ayutthaya historical park occupies the ruins of the former capital of the Kingdom of Siam. The city is located at the junction of the Chao Phraya, Lopburi and Pa Sak rivers. The old city is on an island formed by a bend of the Chao Phraya on the west and south sides, the Pa Sak on the east side and the Klong Muang canal on the northern side.

We were hosted there by Elder and Sister Sowards.  They are Senior Missionaries (Member Leader Services) serving in Ayuthaya.  They have rented a 3 bedroom house not far from the rented building that serves as the church in the city. 

On the Train to Ayuthaya
We left the Mission office and took the Subway to the Train Station.  We got on the 6:20 PM Commuter train for Ayuthaya.  Commuter Train means "the slow train" because it stops at ever station between Bangkok and Ayuthaya.  We were in Third class accommodations - only level of service available for that train.  The total cost for this 1 hour and 50 minute ride ....... 20 Baht each (abut 70 cents).

We arrived in Ayuthaya and the Sowards picked us up with their car.  They are the only missionaries in Thailand that have a car assigned to them full time. Their home is about 10 minutes away from the train station. It is a 3 bedroom home in a development that is several years old.  The house was built just prior to the large floods of 2011.  The house was flooded and was not lived in until the Sowards rented it in August of this year. 

On Saturday morning we found a Museum of a different variety than what you would expect for a city with so much history.  It is called the Million Toy Museum.  We had a good time browsing thru hundreds of displays of many kinds of toys from various countries and from different eras.  Lois and I had visited Ayuthaya two years ago before the flood.  We had seen most of the historical ruins, so the Sowards were looking to take us to new places that they had also not been to yet.
Lois with some of the Million Toys

Sister Meeker Joining with Super heroes

Even though Elder Meeker is Married to "Lois"[Lane] he doesn't quite measure up to Superman

Later we went to the Ayuthaya (water market in Thai) Floating Market (in English).  All of the actual boats are attached to the dock these days.  There are also shops on the land side of the dock surrounding the pond. It is quite a nice tourist area surrounding a very large pond . It features all kinds of souvenirs and food.  There are elephants to ride and goats and fish to feed. You can even dangle your feet and legs into a tank full of fish and have them eat off the dead skin (about 3 dollars for 15 minutes).

Elder Meeker enjoying the Floating Market (no his feet are not dangling in the fish tank)

Sister Sowards and Sister Meeker

We also got to spend a little time at some of the ruins which are abundant in Ayuthaya.  This National Park literally covers most of the Island because there are areas and acres of ruins - former great buildings of Ayuthaya.  Some of them are very huge . Note the size of the column Elder Meeker is standing beside.
 Our Host Elder Sowards is currently serving as the Branch President of the Ayuthaya Branch.  Elder Sowards previously served a Mission to Thailand like I did.  He is the 35th Missionary ( I was the 283rd) to serve in Thailand.  He arrived in Thailand in January 1970.  He and five other missionaries opened up Chiang Mai for the teaching of the gospel. 
Elder Sowards and Elder Meeker
Giant Reclining Budda with a saffron colored robe

 On Saturday evening we were invited to a Christmas party at the home of a member.  They run a private school out of there home.  So the party was on the driveway outside of there home. Their home/house is actually a commercial building three stories tall that has other businesses beside them.
The party was quite fun. There was some singing and entertaining by some of the children and then we ate - Thai food and some spaghetti ( Which I did not eat).  I am in Thailand to eat and enjoy Thai food.   They had music and played three rounds of musical chairs. They even got Lois and I out there. Lois lasted longer than I did. 

Earlier on Saturday the Sowards introduced us to a new treat.  They call them Ayuthaya Rodees.  I would best describe them as Crepes and Cotton Candy.  I really liked them.  The Crepes are small... thicker than usual crepes.  The sweet filling is spun sugar ... but much coarser than cotton candy, almost to the consistency of straw bit definitely better tasting.  You put some of the spun sugar into the crepe wrap it up and waa...laa... you have a very tasty treat. I am definitely going to have that again.

On Sunday we had Church from 9 AM till Noon.  Afterwards there was a Baptism for two young ladies.  They were baptized by the branch clerk in a very small above ground baptismal font in a back room just off of the chapel. After the baptismal service the branch had a Potluck lunch.  More Thai food .... yum.  After Church the Sowards took us to the Train Station and we caught the 4 PM express train into Bangkok .  The express train skipped a few stops and got to Bangkok 1-1/2 hours later.  We then hopped the subway and were home very quickly.  A great weekend.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Sunrises from the Balcony

Our 22nd floor condominium balcony faces to the east.  So each morning, I have the opportunity to see the sun rise as we return from exercising.  The exercise room is on the 27th floor. It is still dark when we start exercising at 6 AM.  We get to see the sunrise as we eat breakfast and get ready for the start of the day,

Thailand is known for many things but one of the many things I enjoy is the Sunshine.  It has been below average temperatures for the last several weeks.  Very comfortable by my standards but unseasonably cold by Thai standards. It is mid 80's during the Day and down into the 60's at night. 
Enjoy the pictures. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Christmas Season in Thailand

Bangkok Dolls
It is the Christmas Season even here in Thailand. Yesterday was preparation day and Lois and I went out to look at a Nativity Set made with Thai themed dolls.  We traveled on the Airport Link (above ground train) just one stop away.  We then wound our way down some back streets to a Thai home that has been the location for "Bangkok dolls for almost 60 years.  The original proprietor was there to greet us.  She has about 20 artisans that work for her making dolls etc.
 I have included a link to her website if you are interested in browsing. http://www.bangkokdolls.com/

We did not come home with a nativity set. We want to see what else is out there first. But I predict that we will have this one or one something like it in the near future.  Lois really liked the little wooden boats with the Thai Woman doll in them selling fruit - think floating market. 

We did come home with two things.  We bought an embroidery like thing of elephants and a ceramic feature of two little kids with great smiles. Se the attached pictures. I believe the elephants will get enhanced by Lois via mounting, background and framing.

There are Christmas decorations out at every store.  There is a large Christmas tree in our condominium lobby with wrapped presents placed beneath it.  At the department stores there is Christmas music playing " infinite loop of Santa Claus is Coming to Town".  We drove past an indoor mall yesterday evening in a taxi and there were large displays outside.  Life size snow man in a plastic container with fake snow around him.  Christmas tree lights etc.  At the Church Office the palm trees are lighted - not quite as exquisitely as Salt Lake City Temple Square but very nice.

We have had plenty of opportunities for Christmas parties.  Last weekend we went to the Ward Christmas party (see pervious post).  On Monday  we were invited by President and Sister Senior to attend a local performance of Handels's Messiah.  President and Sister Senior hosted us at Dinner prior to the show at the “coffee bean” restaurant (no we did not order coffee).  The food was very good and we ate family style.  There was 7 Senior Missionaries and 6 young elders (AP’s, Office elders and Media elders) along with President and Sister Senior.  We traveled in one van and the Presidents SUV. After dinner we traveled in the vehicles for a short distance to Handel’s Messiah performed by the Bangkok Combined Choir.  It was performed at a Christian Church that on the outside looked a lot like a Buddhist Wat (temple).  This group and its predecessors have performed Messiah in Bangkok since the late 1950’s.  I have never been to listen to Handel's Messiah live before. I was impressed.  It was very well done.  We lasted thru 2-1/2 of the three sections. We arrived about 6:30 but the performance which was supposed to start at 7PM did start until about 7:25PM. We left after the Hallelujah chorus at about 9:45 PM.  It was getting late and we needed to get the young missionaries home. 

Friday evening we went to the Bangkok Stake Christmas party.  It was held at the building close to our home.  Food was served outdoors. Thai food and lot's of it. There was some musical numbers singing of carols outside (sit down seating and amplified musical accompaniment) and then the audience was ushered into the chapel and cultural hall. We went to the second showing of the evening which was in Thai (first showing was done in English).  They did a reading with dramatic acting and songs.  The dramatic acting was enhanced by the awesome costumes created by Bishop Arun, Bishop of the Thonburi Ward.  They depicted the Prophets of old especially Nephi from the time of the Saviors Birth in the Book of Mormon. A Choir serenaded between scenes enacted of the Christmas story told from the perspective of the Book of Mormon.  Actors portrayed Mary, Joseph , Wise Men, Shepherds and then Nephi.  It was very well done.  There was background scenery projected on the wall behind the actors and spotlights.  A well put together theatrical show. The show was also presented three times on Saturday ( two Thai and one English)

On Saturday after returning from the Bangkok doll shopping trip we took the Airport link to the Airport to pick up a Thai Sister Missionary returning from serving in Australia.  We transported her by taxi with her luggage to the Bangkok North District Center (Future Stake Center) Building. There she met with President Senior and was released as a missionary. We went to the Bangkok North District Center because President and Sister Senior were there to attend the Bangkok North District Christmas party.  The District event was done very well.  There was plenty of food,  2 tables of Thai Food, 1 of American food and 1 table for deserts.  The decorations were marvelous.  There was a tall Christmas tree of light in the Cultural hall with a 7 foot tall paper cutout of the Christus statue. After the great food there was sweets available.  They even had self-serve ice cream cones.  The line was moving so slowly….each dipping their own cones ..... that I stepped in. I dipped cones for over a half hour in order to speed up the line.  It was very good coconut ice cream.  After dinner the program started in the chapel and people extended thru the overflow and one third the way back into the Cultural hall. Each branch did a number or two and the Missionaries helped out on several numbers.  The Ayuthaya branch did such a marvelous job that the audience broke into applause when they finished – nobody else got applause.  The had costumes and Thai instruments that they used set to a song that Elder Sowards (Former Thai missionary before my time now a Senior Missionary with his wife)  translated from Englsh into Thai. Song was written by his wife.   They had some young primary age boys that sang some solos that was very cute (awesome). 
We are not done with Christmas parties.  One Monday at the Office and one on December 23rd with young missionaries from the Bangkok area.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Ward Christmas Party

On Saturday evening December 6th, we were able to attend the Asoke Ward Christmas party. It was very well done. There were over a hundred or so people in attendance.  They did a marvelous job of decorating. 
It all starts with the impressive scene that greets you when you wind your way from the small street that the Church is located on through the gate in the wall which surrounds the Church property.  You are greeted by lights placed on and hanging from the Palm trees and this very large Merry Christmas Sign made from Styrofoam and painted red. The Sign must have been 20 feet long and 2-1/2 feet tall.
They had lined the entire hallway of church from the foyer all the way to the back of the building with painted cloth attached to the walls.  The painting depicted Jerusalem type architecture and was meant to portray Israel at the time of Christ.  It was replete with curved arched entrances.  The play was a reenactment of the Christmas story with a family reading scriptures and actors on the stage portraying each individual scene.  There was a Choir which sang several songs.  The interesting part of the singing was that many of these Christmas songs are not in the Thai hymn book and have not been translated into Thai ...... so the choir sang in English.  Even the main character a young women member of the “family” sang her solos in English.  The actors did a marvelous job with their lines and the emotions they displayed.  Lois was particularly impressed with the actor who portrayed Herod when the wise men came to visit him.  He was exquisitely dressed with his wife standing beside him fanning him. When the three Wise men came in he was boisterous and the three wise men bowed to him - similar to what they do when they visit their King here in Thailand.   The Bishopric played the part of the shepherds.  They had four little children dressed in White with lambs head hats that were particularly cute. After the Angels appeared to the shepherds, they wanted to go and see the Christ Child they asked themselves --- what do we do with the sheep?  One said let’s take them with us.  So the four little kids tried to crawl across the floor on all fours while their long white costumes hindering their ability. The audience laughed at that scene. I was impressed with the actor who portrayed Gabriel when he visited Mary and then visited Joseph in a dream.  He spoke with such emotion and it touched me.  Even though I have head the words many times in English,  I was very touched at hearing it in Thai that night.  There were over 40 people involved in the production counting the choir, family and the actors in the vignettes. 

For Dinner we were invited to the parking lot where they served McDonalds Pork and Beef Deluxe burgers.  They also served small oranges, Punch and sheet cake.  Plenty of food. I had never been to a ward party where they served McDonalds food before. Only In Thailand I guess. 
It is deep into winter now as many of you in the United States are experiencing.  We are also in the Northern Hemisphere - so it is also the cold season here.  It has getting down to 70 degrees or so at night so it is very pleasant and was so Saturday night outside eating dinner. 

The evening finished with many of the guests picking numbers from a container that matched a number attached to a wrapped gift that had ben prepared ahead of time. I think there were 80 or so numbered gifts to handout. It was fun to see the joy on their faces.  We done. Well done.

I am attaching 3 YouTube videos made by a member of the Ward (Brother Chamrat Charoenkhet) that will give you some first hand visibility of what we saw last evening.
Wise Men Visit Herod

Wise Men arrive at the Manger

No Room at the Inn


Monday, December 2, 2013

Protests in Thailand

 You may have noticed that Bangkok Thailand is in the news.  There has been some civil disobedience and protesting at several government buildings.

These demonstrations are very localized in the Bangkok area. Lois and I, as missionaries do not reside or work anywhere near these affected locations.  We along with all other missionaries, have been reminded to not go near any of these locations and to stay away from any large gatherings.

We are safe. We will continue to monitor the situation.

Constuction uniqueness

We find that the construction standards are quite different here in Thailand. Even for our building which is supposed to be built to western standards. Attached is a view from our 22nd floor balcony,  Ther are 30 stories in our building.  We have a lovely view overlooking he Srinakharinwirot University Campus.

Lois was walking down the internal hallway outside our door and noticed a door slighty ajar. Lois opened the door to look, in preparation of closing it, thinking it was the access for the Electrical panel.  She was surprised with what she saw.
 The doors were not locked. There was no latches on them and they exposed a brick vertical passage way that contained pipes that  dropped the entire height of the building.  Some were drain pipes others were water pipes.  There were two separate locations like this in our hallway.

So we took note of other access doors and even looked in the garbage room.  Each floor has a small room with a garbage bin and a recycle bin.  These garbage bins are wheeled to the ground floor via the elevator.  There isn't a trash slot to drop things to the basement.

The pictures to the left and below are of three pipes that are in the garbage room.  Note that the pipes pass thru the floor ( thus the ceiling of the floor below) all the way to the ground floor.  I can just imagine if I was a 10 year old boy...... I would have to experiment with dropping things down just to see what would happen.  Could I get something all the way to the ground from the 30th floor?

Then we actually looked closer in side our own apartment. We actually found another door that was able to be opened without a lock or latch right in the kitchen wall.  I had assumed it was the electrical panel.  See Picture above of my shot looking down the length of the three pipes.

The windows on the building are single plane glass.  Many windows in the hallways open outward. Some are even knee high - again a hazard for little ones to simply fall out.  Our balcony sliding glass door has no lock or latch on it. The is a railing on the deck. It would be interesting and scary to live here with a little one.

I remember my first visit to Thailand 38 years ago taking a picture in Bangkok of scaffolding made entirely of bamboo. It was surrounding a 25 story building all the way to the top.  Things have changed in construction methods in 38 years, but in Thailand things still are quite different.