Sunday, December 28, 2014

White Elephant Gift - the orgins and explanation

Many of us have participated in a White Elephant exchange.  We do so without even thinking.... where does the term white elephant come from? Why is the word used this way? Is a white elephant really a useless gift as the name implies when we use it at a gift exchange?

A white elephant is a possession which its owner cannot dispose of and whose cost, particularly that of maintenance, is out of proportion to its usefulness. The term derives from the story that the kings of Siam, now Thailand, were accustomed to make a present of one of these animals to courtiers who had rendered themselves obnoxious in order to ruin the recipient by the cost of its maintenance. In modern usage, it is an object, scheme, business venture, facility, etc., considered without use or value.

The term derives from the sacred white elephants kept by Southeast Asian monarchs in Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. To possess a white elephant was regarded (and is still regarded in Thailand and Burma) as a sign that the monarch reigned with justice and power, and that the kingdom was blessed with peace and prosperity. The opulence expected of anyone that owned a beast of such stature was great.

White elephants are actually Albino elephants that do exist in nature, usually being reddish-brown or pink - not really white-white.  Because the animals were considered sacred and laws protected them from labor, receiving a gift of a white elephant from a monarch was simultaneously a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because the animal was sacred and a sign of the monarch's favor, and a curse because the recipient now had an expensive-to-maintain animal he could not give away and could not put to much practical use.

In the West, the term "white elephant" relating to an expensive burden that fails to meet expectations, was popularized following P. T. Barnum's experience with an elephant named Toung Taloung that he billed as the "Sacred White Elephant of Burma". After much effort and great expense, Barnum finally acquired the animal from the King of Siam only to discover that his "white elephant" was actually dirty grey in color with a few pink spots. 

Actual White Elephant recently captured in the wilds of Myanmar

A war was fought in the 16th century between Thailand and Myanmar, then Siam and Burma respectively, over disputed ownership of four white elephants.

The expressions "white elephant" and "gift of a white elephant" came into common use in the middle of the nineteenth century.The phrase was attached to "white elephant swaps" and "white elephant sales" in the early twentieth century. Many church bazaars held “white elephant sales” where donors could unload unwanted bric-a-brac, generating profit from the phenomenon that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Many organizational and church fairs still use the term today. In general use a “white elephant” usually refers to an item that’s not useful (decorative) but may be expensive and odd.

Image of a ceramic White Elephants - similar to what was opened at our
Senior Couple White Elephant gift exchange.

Probably what you thought of in your minds eye when the concept of a White elephant was mentioned

Now you no the full story behind - the White Elephant gifts and how Thailand fits into this story.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

December ---- Holiday Month in Thailand

There are a lot of Holidays in December that are celebrated and or recognized in Thailand.
And the Meekers got involved in most of them.

The beginning of the Month has Fathers Day.  It is celebrated on December 5th.  This Holiday is an official holiday that businesses are closed and people get the corresponding time off work.  The story behind this is December 5th is also the Kings Birthday.  The King of Thailand is currently the longest reigning monarch in the world 68 and 1/2 years.  The major businesses all put up a large display visible from the Street - generally on the sidewalk entrance.  Major players are banks and such. The display is surrounded by flowers and other decorations. Below you will see displays I photographed on the Queens Birthday (Mothers Day) actually celebrated in August.  However other than the Picture being the Queen the displays are essentially identical. 

Picture of the Queen from Aug
Same setting now has he picture of the King in it

Flowers all in pots for later removal
December 10th is constitution Day in Thailand. Another holiday where every one gets off of work and the banks and government offices are closed.  The interesting thing about this holiday of course is that is that the current Thailand constitution has been suspended due to martial law as of 22nd of May 2014.  Since the coup of 1932, Thailand has had 17 constitutions and charters, with a series of intervening military coups. Historical Link

Christmas Caroling outside Erawan Hotel
Just prior to December Zone Conference Meal
Next comes Christmas.  Christmas is not an official holiday in Thailand as 95% of the country calls themselves Buddhist.  Only about 1% of  the country is Christian.  They have all of the trappings of Christmas visible - but do not really celebrate the Birth of our Savior.  There are Christmas trees, lights, packages and other Christmas type decorations.  They tend to focus on the final Holiday of the month,  New Years.  Giving gift baskets is a vey big deal.  Go to any store and you will see dozens of different sized Gift baskets filled with fruit, cookies, crackers, energy drinks and other delectable items for sale.

Sister Meeker after finishing Zone Conference Meal

We were blessed to be able to participate in the Combined Bangkok, West, East an North Missionary Zone Conference activity early in December.  We met at the Erawan hotel for some caroling in public.  After about 30 minutes of  singing or so we got down to business for an all you can eat buffet lunch at he Hotel. 

After lunch we all traveled back to the Asoke Chapel (oldest Church building in Thailand - it was actually here when I was here as a young missionary).

Sister Meeker participating in the Zone Conference
Devotional Chime Musical number Led by President Senior
We had talks, singing, more musical numbers and we listened to the Missionaries who will go home before the next Quarterly Zone Conference bear their testimonies.  It was a great meeting. After that meeting was over we had delicious gingerbread cake with Carmel sauce and Italian sodas. 

Then on the 18th of December we had the  Service Center Christmas Party. This is for the Church employees in Thailand and the Missionaries that serve out of that office.  The Mission Office shares the building with the Church Service Center Staff ( Distribution Center, Translation, Finance, Facilities Management etc.)

Sister Marina Peterson, Buechter and Peck getting ready for the Church Service Center Christmas lunch
Then we got to attend the Asoke Branch Christmas party on Saturday Dec 20th.  My, was that done well.  We had over 200 people in attendance ( For comparison sake we get about 135 out to Sacrament Meeting).
Stage all set up prior to the party beginning
Mary and Joseph cutouts were replaced with live actors during the presentation.
Each of he Organizations had a part in the program.  There was video from the Bible Video series depicting gthe Birht of the Savir.  Then we read from the Book of Luke and then we sang some songs.  The Branch Presidency (and 2 of the wives) began the program and we sang Hark the Heralds Angels Sing in Thai.

President Chamrat reading from the Book of Luke just after a Video segment from the Bible Videos
and just prior to us singing.

Brother Army and Sister Green depicting Joseph and Mary
Yong Single Adults are singing
Brother Army is a recent convert to the Church - preparing to go on a mission  Sister Green (Amarita) has received a mission Call to serve on SLC Temple Square Mission next spring.

The Primary Presidency with the 3 Primary children dressed as sheep and shepherds.
After the Gift Exchange before the Cleanup
Also included for the evening was an excellent meal.  Sister Meeker was in charge of making Pumpkin Cake.  She and he helpers made 6 large sheet cakes and decorated them ( about 200 pieces).

On Sunday was our goal date to get 5000 Saints to church in Thailand all on the same date.  Below you will see the picture of our Asoke branch just after Sacrament Meeting on Sunday 21st of December 214.  I understand we fell somewhat short of our goal. There were more than 3800 Saints at Church on Sunday in Thailand. I was blessed to be conducting the Sacrament meeting on Sunday the 21st so we were able to sing lots of Christmas songs.  It was a great Sunday.

Asoke Branch after Sacrament Meeting December 21st 2014
Celebrations are not over yet. On Christmas morning the 5 Senior Missionary couples are getting together for a Christmas Brunch.  In the evening Sister Meeker and I are serving the 7 young missionaries serving in this district ..... Christmas Dinner.  We will have pork roast, mashed potatoes, gravy etc.  Sister Meeker has also made Apple and Chocolate Pie ----- Yum.

May your Christmas season be full of the remembrance of the Birth of our Savoir Jesus Christ.
May the season be as merry as ours.
Love the Meekers
Merry Christmas and Happy New year.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Loy Krathong in Thailand

Loy Krathong is a festival celebrated each year in Thailand.  I have fond memories of my first Loy Krathong festival in November of 1975, just after I arrived in Thailand for the first time.

The name "Loy Krathong" can be translated as "to float a basket", and comes from the tradition of making krathong or a buoyant, decorated basket, which is then floated on a river.

Loy Krathong takes place on the evening of the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar. In the Western calendar this usually falls in November. The traditional krathong are made from a slice of the trunk of a banana tree or a spider lily plant. Modern krathongs are more often made of bread or Styrofoam. A bread krathong will disintegrate after a few days and can be eaten by fish. Banana stalk krathong are also biodegradable, but Styrofoam krathongs are sometimes banned, as they pollute the rivers and may take years to decompose. A krathong is decorated with elaborately-folded banana leaves, incense sticks, and a candle. A small coin is sometimes included as an offering to the river spirits.

On the night of the full moon, Thais launch their krathong on a river, canal or a pond, making a wish as they do so. The festival may originate from an ancient ritual paying respect to the water spirits.

I shot a video ( about 2 minutes) of the celebration at the University next to our Condo. You have to go to Facebook to see it. It is too large for my Blog.

Also I found a 13 minute You tube Video if you want to know more about Loy Krathong Festival


Western Food in Thailand

In case you think that all Sister Meeker and I eat is Thai food (rice and curry). I wanted to share a few things.

They have opened up a Carl's Junior Restaurant across he the street from our Condo and down about 100 yards.  Elder and Sister Stoker who were in town for the weekend West District Conference. They took Lois and I to lunch there on Saturday. Yes I had a Hamburger and Sister Meeker had a Chicken Sandwich.  Not the best hamburger in my life - but it was OK. They did not have Root Beer but I had a Red Fanta (Strawberry) drink.

On Friday night we went with the Stokers and President and Sister Senior out to Tony Roma's for Dinner.  We got on the underground train (MRT) for one stop and got off at the Terminal 21 Mall.  I shared a Rib and BBQ dinner with Lois.  Very authentic Western food.  Great BBQ sauce.  I also ordered a thick chocolate Shake.  Not as good as the ones I used to make at home - but it was passable. 

On Thursday evening Jeff Rock invited Lois and I to dinner at his favorite German Restaurant not far from the office.  It was on Soi 20 off of Sukumvit Road.  Jeff and I came to Thailand as Missionaries in the same group (As Jeff says: The finest group of missionaries ever called to serve in Thailand) arriving in Thailand in November of 1975.

Back Row - Elder Meeker 3rd from the right, Elder Rock 2nd from the right
Jeff is retired form the State Department.  He has worked in Thailand, China and the middle east. He had chicken Cordon Blue, I had some small steaks and Lois had Sauerkraut and sausage.

This evening Lois made Chicken Enchiladas - we invited Elder and Sister Seppi to share the meal with us.  Elder Seppi was called as a counselor in the Bangkok West District Presidency during the District conference meeting today.

Several weeks ago we invited the Seppi's to share a night out with us.  We took them to Firehouse Restaurant.  Take a look at the size of the Burger I ordered.
This was hard to get my mouth around

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Cabbage Garden Palace Museum Visit

Sister Meeker and I along with two other Senior Missionary Couples took the opportunity on a recent Preparation Day to visit the Cabbage Palace Museum (วังสวนผักกาดพิพิธภัณฑ์) here in Bangkok. 
The Suan Pakkad Palace is the first museum in Thailand where the owner, their Royal Highnesses Prince (Cousin to the Current King) and Princess Chumbhot of Nagara Svarga, decided to convert their private residence into a Museum.  The Museum home built in the traditional Thai style opened in 1952 , is located only two airport link stops away from our Condo.  It contains their Royal Highnesses Prince and Princess Chumbhot of Nagara Svarga's collection of antiquities, which has been passed down through successive generations. The Suan Pakkad Palace is a combination of fine arts and ancient artifacts from the era of H.R.H. Prince Paribatra Sukhumbandhu, son of His Majesty King Chulalongkorn, Rama V and Her Majesty Queen Sukhumala Marasri.
      There are groups of 4 traditional Thai houses with the covered hallway between them. Houses 5 to 8 are located along the west side of the property. The Lacquer Pavilion stands in the main garden to the south of the compound. The Ban-Chiang Museum [Thai Heritage] and Marsi Gallery are in the Chumbhot-Pantip Centre of Arts
It was a fun experience to see the traditional Thai houses and share them with my Wife and the the other two couple missionaries who do not know much about Thailand.  Many of the things there were very beautiful and others were very old.  They did not allow photography inside any of the structures, so the lack any inside pictures must be to entice you to come see for yourself.
Note they asked us to take our shoes off for most of the tour

A very large hornet's nest in the tree about eye level a few feet from the walkway

Sister Meeker wanted to make sure Chelli saw this collection of arrow heads or stone tools
Elder and Sister Seppi with the portable complimentary Air conditioning from the Museum (hand fans)

Sister and Elder Meeker in front of one of the former royal barges

Still looking pretty good

The Beautiful Sister Meeker

Sister and Elder Meeker, Sister and Elder Seppi, and Sister and Elder Smith
For this final picture - note the contrast - the old original Thai homes with the modern 85-story, 304 m (997 ft) skyscraper in the background. It is the tallest building in Bangkok, and comprises the Baiyoke Sky Hotel, the tallest hotel in Southeast Asia and the seventh-tallest all-hotel structure in the world.  There is a restaurant near the top where the completing Missionaries like to go to for their next to last dinner in Thailand.  It is all you can eat buffet.

Papaya Salad - Lunch on the street - One of my favorite meals

This is our Cook in her outdoor kitchen
Note the usage of the tree to store things
Sometimes we bring lunch from the condo or other times I go to the street to buy lunch and bring it back to the office to eat in our Air conditioned Office.  Last week the Air Conditioner in our office were being cleaned at lunch time.  So we decided to eat on the street at lunch time.

This is Papaya Salad with Sticky Rice
The street vendor where we purchased this and ate is about 50 yards down he street from the church offices.  We call her the Isaan lady because she cooks food from the Isaan.  Isaan is the word for the Northeastern part of Thailand.  Many parts of Thailand have here own types or specialties with respect to food. 

Papaya salad is made by chopping up green papaya and adding tomatoes, dried shrimp and spices to give a unique flavor. The cook mashes it all together in a large mortar and pestle (see picture above).   It can be very spicy.  For Sister Meeker's benefit we ask for mild.  Still plenty hot for Sister Meeker and it is just fine for me - still got some kick in it but not hot enough to make your eyes water or your nose run.  Note the Fanta Green and Fanta Orange Pops.  I walked another 100 Feet beyond the sidewalk restaurant to buy the pop at 7/11. The Green pop is best described as Bubble gum flavor - but actually the can describes it as fruit flavor. 

Cost of the Meal ... 14 Baht for each pop and 60 Baht for the Rice and Salad.  That works out to be less than 3 dollars. It was a awesome lunch and the street side venue was not too hot on this particular day. 

Senior Missionary Couple Departs for Home

Elder and Sister Sowards a senior missionary couple from Arizona departed Thailand after completing their 18 month Mission on October 1st.  Sister Meeker and I really enjoyed being with them. They were assigned to a small town Ayuthaya, a little over a hour north of Bangkok, so we did not get to spend a lot of time with them.  Elder Sowards was truly one of the pioneer missionaries that served in Thailand.  He is listed as the 35th Missionary to serve here.  He and his companions opened up the City of Chiang Mai for the preaching of the Gospel.  Chiang Mai is a large city in northern Thailand and there are currently two branches of the Church that meet there. The Sowards served as MLS (Member Leader Support) Missionaries. They were maintaining a blog about there service in Thailand. Link attached.  Sister Sowards is a published author and as such their Blog posts are really well written and fun to read and see.
The post on their Blog from Sunday, September 28, 2014 talks about our visit. 

Sister and Elder Sowards with Sister Meeker
Before we start on Desert
As part of my responsibilities as the Financial Secretary for the Mission I am responsible to rent and provide furnishings for all of the Missionary residences including the housing for Senior Missionaries.  We had rented a home in Ayuthaya for them.  With the Sowards departure we needed to close the house.  There were several items of church owned furnishings that we need to collect.  So Sister Meeker and I drove the Cargo Van to Ayuthaya to pick up those items.  On a prior visit to Ayuthaya, Elder and Sister Sowards introduced us to their favorite restaurant.  It just so happens to be at the same exact hotel that Sister Meeker and I stayed at almost 4 years ago when we toured Thailand.  I was truly impressed with the American Burger and the deserts (as mentioned in the Sowards Blog). So instead of going up early Saturday morning and returning with the furnishings, we decided to go up on Friday evening in order to be able to have dinner one more time with the Sowards at the Krungsri River Hotel Restaurant.
Sister Meeker with her delectable Chocolate Mousse

My Chocolate Mousse - Almost to pretty to eat ..... NOT!
We stayed overnight in the Hotel and this brought back memories of our visit back in Early 2011.  Looking back at the Pictures from our prior Visit ---- I think we stayed in the same exact room.
Sister Meeker Getting ready for the Day in Ayuthaya

Selfie of two Senior Missionaries

River Barge Traffic on the River in Ayuthaya

View from Hotel looking South East towards the Church and the Sowards former home
Tall Chedi (or Stupa) in the distance to the Left is Wat Yai (Big Temple)
Sometimes Thai names are very descriptive and simple - other times not so

Sister Meeker was enthralled by this chandelier above the Hotel stairway

She also liked the drapes on the Hotel Curved Stairway

Model in Hotel lobby of river Barge that was common when I was here 39 years ago
 We brought our Mexican Train Dominos game and had a go of it with the Sowards in our room after dinner. Now you know what we as Senior Missionaries can actually play games.

On Saturday morning we loaded up the Van with two desks, Wash machine, clothes drying racks (hardly anyone in thailand owns a dryer), Dining room table and chairs, etc.  On Saturday afternoon we were privileged to attend the Branch activity to honor the Sowards.  There was Thai food of course, a Video tribute with music and some play acting and performances.  It was fun to see.  the Thai Members in Ayuthaya truly love the Sowards.  He served as the Branch President for the past year or so and Sister Sowards taught Piano lessons to many students and helped with youth activities every Saturday afternoon.  The youth had a big part of the performance ... they did a "Singing in the Rain" performance complete with colorful plastic rain coats and umbrellas.  They did a mini Virginia Reel dancing routine that Elder and Sisters Sowards had taught to them back on Pioneer Day in July. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Bridge over the River Kwai (Kwae)

Many people are somewhat  familiar with a tragic true story that occurred in Thailand during World War II.
Actual bridge behind us...... note the two spans with flat trusses - these are new spans replaced after the War - allied bombs took out the original rounded truss spans

The story is immortalized due to the Book The Bridge over the River Kwai (Le Pont de la Rivière Kwai) is a novel by Pierre Boulle, published in French in 1952 and English translation by Xan Fielding in 1954. The story is fictional but uses the construction of the Burma Railway, in 1942–43, as its historical setting. The novel deals with the plight of World War II British prisoners of war forced by the Imperial Japanese Army to build a bridge for the "Death Railway", so named because of the large number of prisoners and conscripts who died during its construction.

The furthering of the knowledge was enhanced by the Movie The Bridge on the River Kwai which is a 1957 Second World War film directed by David Lean, based on the the novel. It stars William Holden, Jack Hawkins, Alec Guinness and Sessue Hayakawa. The movie was filmed in Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka). The bridge in the film was located near Kitulgala. The film was widely praised, winning seven Academy Awards (including Best Picture) at the 30th Academy Awards; in 1997 this film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". It is widely considered to be one of the greatest films of all time.

On a recent on Saturday we hired a driver to take us to this historical site about two hours West of Bangkok in Kanchanaburi province.

During World War II, the Japanese were fighting the British in the Burmese & Indian theater.  After the Japenese defeats in the Pacific Ocean at Midway and Wake Island the tide began to turn in the South Pacific and they were unable to get all of their supplies to that theater of the War by boat with absolute safety.  The Japanese decided they needed a rail route from Thailand to Burma.  There was a 415 Kilometer gap to fill between the rail lines in Burma and Thailand.  With the surrender of Singapore, the Japanese had a large force of allied Prisoners of War to use as free labor. So they laid a plan to use the POWs and other local laborers to build the railroad in one year.  It took them 15 months.  The POWs and other laborers suffered drastically.  About 13,000 of the 60,000 POWs died.  Another 100,000 civilian also died building he railway.  The Railway operated for about 2 years before it was destroyed by the allied Air Forces.

The bridge described in the book didn't actually cross the River Kwai. The author had never been to the bridge. He knew that the 'death railway' ran parallel to the River Kwae for many miles, and he therefore assumed that it was the Kwae which it crossed just North of Kanchanaburi. This was an incorrect assumption; the bridge actually crossed the Mae Klong river.

When David Lean's film The Bridge on the River Kwai was released, the Thais faced a problem. Thousands of tourists came to see the bridge over the River Kwai, but no such bridge existed. However, there did exist a bridge over the Mae Klong. So, to resolve the problem, they renamed the river. The Mae Klong is now called the Kwae Yai ('Big Kwae') for several miles north of the confluence with the Kwae Noi ('Little Kwae'), including the bit under the bridge.

Please note the correct local pronunciation is Kwae not Kwai. 

Brother Mac - Our driver
The driver we hired for the day, happens to be Brother Mac (Chanawat Ratmate) the 1st Counselor in the Asoke Branch Presidency where I am serving as the 2nd counselor.  His Father was a young man during World War II.  After the War was over the people of Thailand were encouraged by the government to have large families (more than one wife if required) to replenish the population that was decimated by the Japanese atrocities. Brother Mac's Father had 19 children (four separate wives).  Brother Mac is one of the younger children/  Brother Mac was not aware of the details of the amazingly cruel things that the Japanese did during the War.  As the Day wore on and we saw Cemeteries and museums and War sites he got more and more upset at the Japanese. 

It was a very emotional and educational day and we enjoyed sharing the Day with Elder and Sister Seppi and Brother Mac. 
Cemetery in Kanchanaburi town - about 6400 Graves of Allied solders - many were relocated to this spot

There are three major cemeteries .... the one pictured above (the largest), another across the river and the third in Burma at the other end of the railroad. Remains of all of the American POWs were relocated back to the US - only about 60 or so. 

Note: bottom line - added by Family after Remains moved to this site

Another Unique family added quote

Train approaching the bridge - lot's of tourists

Other side of the bridge - just before the train came - You can tell Brother Mac is a fun loving guy.

View from the Bridge with Buddhist Temple across the river

Good View looking across the bridge - This section is one of the replaced sections

After leaving the Bridge site we traveled another hour or so North-northwest to the Australian Government maintained Hellfire Pass Museum.  It is located on a section of the Death Railway where many workers perished.
In the middle of the deep cut of Hellfire pass
The railway construction was primarily done by hand. Very little mechanical equipment was available. The name Hellfire pass comes from the fact that the Japanese had the POWs working 18 hours a day. After dark the lanterns and fires lighting the work area illuminated the thin workers and reminded the POWs of what Hell must be like. 

There is a self guided walk you can take along the abandoned railway.  Some of the scenery was breathtaking. The recording has specific numbered stops where they give you some additional information on the history of the death railway.
Beautiful lush forests - Burma (Myanamar) in the distance

Elder Meeker soaking in the surroundings while listening to some real history
When we saw this we decided it was time to turn back - Got back to the Parking Lot just as the rain arrived

On the way back to Bangkok Brother Mac wanted to stop at one more location.  It is called the Krasae Cave - which is right along he Railroad.  The word for Cave is Tham.  The Restaurant was closed - we arrived late in the day. 
Sister Seppi and Siser Meeker choose not to wander out on the trestle along the river.  We men did enjoy the adventure and we made it back in one piece.


Telling the wives - yes we are going to walk out on the tracks

Brother Mac pointing out - It is a long way down --- duh!
Yes that is us way in the distance on the track above the river

Entrance to the Cave

Buddha in side the cave

At the end we entered the cave along the Railroad which the locals have turned into a Buddhist shrine by installing a Buddha statue inside.