Sunday, July 17, 2011

Don't Let the Door Hit You on Your Way Out

I'm sitting in an nearly empty house, contemplating our final hours in Thailand.  My wife and children are snuggled in their beds upstairs, but I can't sleep.  The vans come to take us to the airport in about two hours.  I'm anxious about our flight in less than five hours.  I'm anxious about getting all of our bags checked in, and getting everyone through airport security and customs.  And I'm anxious about the United States women's soccer team playing Japan in the title game for the World Cup.  Seriously, right about now I'm an emotional mess, and I hate it.

I like being the one who cracks jokes, who makes the mood lighter, the person who helps other people feel like no matter what happens, it's all going to be okay.  And right now I don't feel like it's all going to be okay.  I feel like we're going to miss something, we'll leave something behind, or we'll end up running through the airport to make our flight.  I'm on edge and I know it, and my kids know it (I snapped at one of my daughters and made her cry, and I feel awful about it).

I thought about compiling a list of things that I will miss and things that I won't miss about Thailand.  Doing that, however, would require me to admit how much I'm going to miss this place.  As I've gone through the past week, full of "lasts"--last haircut, last time going through the tollbooth, last time walking down the spiral staircase in the Embassy, last time cursing at the insane motorcyclists -- I held up remarkably well.  Part of that was because I was so busy with getting things done at work that I didn't have time to be anxious.  My boss left Bangkok two weeks before I did, and with my supervisor away on leave for a month, all of a sudden I was the office expert on Thailand.  It was pretty cool and extremely frightening, all at the same time.  Add to that trying to pass as much information as possible to my successor, and you have a recipe for being very busy with no time to contemplate any other issues.

If I'm honest with myself, I think that high level of business kept me sane.  Well, I survived the week, at least.  And besides, my oldest daughter earlier today compiled her own list of things she will/won't miss about Thailand.  I'll let her be a guest contributor to this blog and add her thoughts about the whole thing.

All that said, I am going to miss Thailand.  A lot.  We have made wonderful friends wherever we have gone, and Thailand is no exception.  The people I have worked with, the people we have lived around, and so many of those who we sincerely call friends, have made these past two years wonderful.  With the miracles of electronic communication we know that we will be able to keep in touch with so many of these people, that leaving here does not feel like good-bye--at least not yet.

But leave we must, and soon enough we'll be on our way.  I hope that by the time we settle into our seats on the plane my anxiety will have lessened.  I hope that we'll be able to enjoy our time with family back in the United States before we make our way back to Virginia.  And I hope that we will always be able to look back on our time here and smile because of the good times and good friends.

And I hope the US Women beat Japan for the World Cup.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

What's Scarier Than Barrelling Down a Rural Thai Highway at Ludicrous Speed?

How about barrelling down a rural Thai highway at Ludicrous Speed at night.  In the rain.

On July 3, the majority of Thais exercised their mandatory right to cast a ballot in national parliamentary elections.  It was my privilege and duty to venture to Nakhon Ratchasima (colloquially called Korat, the gateway of Thailand's northeastern region known throughout Thailand as Isaan - อีสาน) and Buriram provinces to observe the election on behalf of the US Embassy.  Totally cool experience, not the least because I was interviewed by five Thai television stations about the United States' position on democracy and elections in Thailand.  In Thai.

That said, the drive back to Bangkok that evening was probably the most harrowing experience of my time here in Thailand.  I do not say this lightly, my friends.  Part of my duties have required me to make multiple trips to Thailand's southernmost provinces, the site of a very active separtist insurgency.  Somebody gets shot or blown up down there every day.  Add to that near-daily excursions through the red-shirt protest site last year, and you'll know that I've had some interesting experiences here.

But those do not even come close to comparing with the level of white-knuckle anxiety I experienced coming home Sunday night.  Thank goodness that our driver decided to take his foot off the accelerator a bit after we passed the third accident.  Didn't stop him from driving like the rest of the Thais on the highway, though, constantly changing lanes, even driving on the shoulder of the road to pass other cars.  It was bad enough, but when the rain started it just raised the pucker-factor.  It also didn't help that literally thousands of Thais were doing the exact same thing we were, that is trying to get back to Bangkok after spending the weekend upcountry.

I did have the common sense to not kiss the ground until I was safely inside my house and the front door was closed.