Sunday, October 28, 2012

Random Thoughts While Sitting in Incheon Airport Waiting to Board My Flight Home

  • A lot of Koreans, mostly of middle-age, appear to consider air travel an experience somewhat akin to a summit attempt on Mt. Kilimanjaro.  I haven't seen so many people wearing expedition-style pants and Gore-Tex jackets since the last time I was at an REI attic sale. 
  • This airport could really use a McDonalds.  I'm hungry.
  • What if all those people actually are going on a Kilimanjaro summit expedition?  Boy, would I feel foolish. 
  • No McDonalds, but guess what I did find--Burger King!
  • Of course I'm going to try it.  Did you really need to ask?
  • I anticipate that at any moment a flash mob will break out with Gangnam Style.
  • There is no shame in eating a Whopper for breakfast.
  • No sign of Mr. Running Shorts.  Yet.
  • It is cooler here in Korea than Thailand, so maybe he found some expedition trousers to keep his legs from getting chilly.
  • Kudos to Burger King--one of the reasons I like BK is the global consistency of the Whopper.
  • The K-Pop being played on the TVs in the food court is pretty catchy.
  • Is it just me, or is there a lot of English used in K-Pop?
  • Still waiting for that Gangnam Style flash mob.
  • Where are the trash cans in this place?  I can't find one to save my life.
  • No matter which side of the moving walkway I'm supposed to stand on so others can walk and pass me, regardless of the country or airport, I'm apparently doing it wrong.
  • I'm considering filing a complaint with the airport and tourism authorities.  The lack of anyone doing Gangnam Style has me questioning Korea's cultural pride.
  • Before anyone gets annoyed when their flight is delayed for aircraft maintenance, they should probably consider the possibilities of flying in an unmaintained aircraft.

Random Thoughts While Sitting in Suvannaphoum Airport Waiting to Board My Flight to Korea

  • Running shorts--seriously, dude?  I mean, I understand that you want to be comfortable, especially on a long flight.  But for the sake of all that is good and decent in the world, to say nothing of thinking about the kids, this probably isn't the right time and place to be cruising around in your racing trunks.
  • On the flip side, to the lady in front of me at the security checkpoint who needed five minutes to remove all the jewelry and then looked shocked when you were also told you needed to remove your six-inch wedge-heeled shoes: it's an international flight, not a fashion show.  It's totally cool to dress down just a touch.
  • I broke my streak of eating at the Burger King in this airport for something like 163 consecutive trips (I would get a Whopper before every flight from this airport, including in-country trips).  But the streak ended mostly because I hadn't had any Pizza Company pizza on this trip, and it's right there, next to the Burger King.  Besides, they had a sweet upgrade deal that included a monster-size Pepsi.
  • Now watch, that same lady I mentioned earlier is going to be sitting next to me on the flight.  And she will be the most delightful  conversationalist.  Because karma has a wicked sense of humor like that.
  • Since when did Suvannaphoum start requiring you to remove your shoes during screening?  I've never had to do that before, and we' e already established that I have transited this airport at least 163 times before today.
  • Just discovered that Pizza Company's Hawaiian pizza has not just ham, but bacon as well.  I knew there was a reason it was so good!
  • Fake crying by little kids trying to make their parents feel guilty in Slavic languages sounds remarkably similar to little kids fake crying trying to make their parents feel guilty in English.  And Thai, too.
  • To the older gentleman sleeping sprawled across a few chairs, shirt unbuttoned all the way and wide open: are you by chance related to the dude wearing the track shorts?
  • I want it on the record that I don't actually have anything against women wearing jewelry and/or high heels. Except when it disrupts my attempts to pass through airport security quickly and efficiently.
  • Why do I have the sinking feeling that we won't actually board the plane directly, but rather will get on one of those people movers and drive halfway around the airport first? And this is a BIG airport.
  • At what point during the flight will I regret guzzling that monster-size Pepsi?
  • By the way, if you're going to load passengers on the shuttles and then drive them to the plane, there's really no point in calling for people with small children or special boarding needs to board first.
  • I will refrain from commenting on the boarding process, except to tell the (literally) pushy Korean lady behind me that when I've stopped moving, it's because I can't move because there are people in front of me blocking the aisle.  Please stop pushing my backpack.  Yes, I can feel you pushing me. Just. Stop.
  • Well, what do you know--we did board the plane directly.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Pesky Varmints

I like to think that I've always enjoyed nature, and after living most of my life in the more arid western part of the United States, I have been absolutely delighted with the abundant vegetation found here in northern Virginia.  The colors in spring and autumn are so vibrant, so lush, it's simply amazing and I have loved it.

The downside of said flora, however, is the accompanying fauna.  And I'm not talking about the typical stuff we've dealt with everywhere we've lived--ants, spiders and geckos, and house mice.  We even had a rat get into our home in California.  That stuff's normal.

What I'm talking about critters that I never saw in the wilds of suburban Salt Lake Valley.  Apparently Virginia is the squirrel equivalent of Florida, because they are everywhere.  Our first year here we had a very persistent raccoon that took undue pleasure in tipping our trash can over and spreading rubbish over the back yard.  Every night.  EVERY NIGHT.  One Saturday afternoon I was taking out the trash and there it was, ready to demonstrate it's well-honed trash-can-tipping technique.

Then there were the two separate occasions when chipmunks got into our house.  We were able to chase one of them out, we never did find the other one.  My kids tell me a snake lives under the neighbor's concrete stoop--oddly enough, he says he doesn't appear to have any problems with chipmunks...

So anyway, this past spring after I got back from my trip to Thailand, I noticed there was a big hole on the backside of my garbage can.

Those holes are special-order.
I thought maybe someone had cut it with a saw (yes, I suspected my children), but then I looked at the ground near the garbage can and saw a lot of shavings, which leads me to believe that some stinkin' varmint chewed a hole in garbage can!  As if the one hole wasn't enough, I noticed while taking the garbage out today that there's another hole, as seen in the picture above.  And I know this one's new, because it wasn't there on Friday when I took the trash out.

Messing with my rubbish bin apparently wasn't enough, though.  Mali hosted a party last night, and I got the barbeque grill out so that they could cook some meat.  I noticed a small hole in the grill cover.

Yup, that's a varmint-chewed hole!
My initial thought was that the cover itself was of lesser quality and and somehow torn when I moved the barbeque.  But then I opened up the grill and pulled out the trap under the burners--you know the spot where all the grease and the occasional burger patty fall.  The grease trap itself was clean.  I mean clean as in completely dry, not a drop of grease to be found.  The larger trap itself was also clean, as were the shields that cover the burners themselves.  My initial thought was that I had gone out one night in my sleep and cleaned my grill.

Except for a few telltale droppings I probably would never have figured it out.  So, whatever varmint was responsible, I'd like to first of all say thank you for cleaning off my grill.  But next time, please don't chew a hole in the cover, just ask and I'll let you have a go.

Lest I go all Yosemite Sam on your furry little carcass.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Playing in the Mud (or "I Promise I *Am* an Adult...I Think")

Because I haven't done enough crazy things in the year since we returned from Bangkok (see here, here...oh, and here), this past weekend I participated in my first Tough Mudder event.  For those of you who haven't yet heard of the Tough Mudder, I will refrain from asking what cave you've been hiding in, because these things have become incredibly popular and you are probably sick and tired of hearing your friends talk about their "Mudder experience" and how cool they think they are because they finished it.  So for those of my intrepid readers who aren't familiar with Tough Mudder, I offer from their own website the following blurb:

TOUGH MUDDER: Probably the Toughest Event on the Planet
Tough Mudder events are hardcore 10-12 mile obstacle courses designed by British Special Forces to test your all around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie.

And you know, with obstacle names like Arctic Enema, Dirty Ballerina, Kiss of Mud, Trench Warfare, Berlin Walls, Boa Constrictor, Mud Mile, Everest, and Electroshock Therapy, you have the nagging suspicion that these events are fact designed to really test you.  And if the names aren't sufficiently foreboding, you have to sign a death waiver before you can participate.

So of course it was a totally enjoyable experience.  It was physically demanding--you can't complete the course without some physical preparation and mental fortitude--but it was also an awful lot of fun.
That ground was dry when we started.  And we were clean.
A huge factor in making the event so much fun to do was attacking the course with a great bunch of guys (Alan, Clark, and Dan, you guys rock--and Roger, you were there with us in spirit, brother).  It is a simple truth that many of the obstacles are impossible to complete by yourself, and there is a tremendous amount of camaraderie between all the participants; the assistance from complete strangers, coated in as much mud as you are, is invaluable.  Where it totally helped to be there with great friends was while running between obstacles, when we could encourage each other, talk about anything and everything, all while getting ready to take on some new challenge guaranteed to get you wet, muddy, sore, and maybe a little chagrined.

Not to brag--which should be a total telltale sign that I'm going to--but we have a tougher Tough Mudder event than the organizers may have intended.  While the morning weather was fabulous, overcast and warm with tolerable humidity, the afternoon was another story altogether.  We could see the storm clouds heading our way, and as they marshaled our group to the starting line, the heavens opened and it rained.  Like Southeast Asian monsoon kind of rain, like the Vietnam scenes in Forrest Gump.  And it rained for at least an hour, with varying intensity, but with the end result being that pretty much every step of our 12-mile course was in mud.  I didn't see any participant letting the rain get them, and for our team, we agreed that it set a tone from the start that we were in for an experience.

By the way, it was incredibly inspiring to join with about 500 other people and enthusiastically sing "The Star Spangled Banner" in a torrential downpour.  Gave me the chills, the good kind.

It was tough.  A day later I'm a little sore, but not debilitatingly so.  And sure, you have to be mentally strong to get over being wet and muddy--although the kid in me openly reveled in getting completely covered in mud.  The trail was slick the entire time, and parts of the course got flooded.  In the end it was so bad that the organizers had to cancel the Sunday event, in large part because emergency vehicles would be unable to access parts of the course in the event an emergency evacuation became necessary.

But with all due respect and apologies to the Tough Mudder folks, this was not the most difficult thing I've done.  The trail marathon I ran in June was much more challenging, both physically and mentally, for me.  I attribute the relative ease of completing this course, again, to the fact that for the entirety of the Mudder, I was with friends, I was never alone.  There's a Sunday School lesson or ABC Afternoon Special in there, I'm sure of it.

In the end, of course, it was awesome.  Naturally I will be finding leftover mud in places I didn't realize were humanly capable of getting muddy.  So of course I'm already looking forward to doing it again next year.
Oh yeah, I'm totally a serious Mudder

Monday, June 4, 2012

Don't call me Mali, call me Madame.

(I found this while cleaning out my blog.  Somehow I never clicked "Publish" when I first composed this back in 2009...still, it's a funny story, so I have to share.)

One of the luxuries we have here in Thailand is a housekeeper. She did not come with the house, we did have to do a lot of grueling work to find her. And by "grueling work" I mean that we found her on the embassy shuttle our first full day in Bangkok. She was with her (now former) employer, who was leaving for the United States the next day. We set up an interview for two days later, and we hired her.

On Nam Pheung's first day of work--Nam Pheung is our housekeeper--she kept using a phrase that made Mali think that, despite Nam Pheung's limited English skills, she at least knew at least one curse word. You know, the one that rhymes with "ham." Mali thought that perhaps we had hired an angry Thai who resented working for Americans. She wondered if perhaps she should teach Nam Pheung that it would be more kid-friendly to say "my dang" to everything.

And then it dawned on Mali that Nam Pheung was addressing her as "madame."

My First Marathon

That’s right, I signed up for a marathon.  And not just any marathon, mind you, but The North Face Endurance Challenge; in other words, a trail race.  I registered to participate in this event back in 2008, but that year there was a tropical storm the weekend of the race, and so the emergency personnel who man the aid stations were not available to check on runners as they passed through the checkpoints, so they cancelled the race.  I’ve been training for this event, getting in lots of long runs, but I was still nervous about it.  Knowing that trail races are generally slower than road races, I was mentally prepared to be out there for about five hours, but if anyone asked, my goal was simply to finish on both feet.

So early in the morning I drove up to Sterling where I parked my car and rode the shuttle to Algonkian State Park, where the race began.  The course started at the soccer fields in the park, then skirted the golf course before heading into the woods along the Potomac Heritage Trail.  From there it followed the Potomac River (hence the name of the trail…) down to Great Falls Park, and then turned around and went back up to Algonkian.  The sky was clear and blue, the temperature was in the low 60s; it was an absolutely gorgeous day to be out running the woods.

Oh, but there was a wicked little twist.  See, all afternoon and into the evening on Friday we had some amazing thunderstorms.  I'm talking heavy, heavy rain.  Like Thailand monsoon heavy at times.  Yeah, and those bad boys ensured that this race would be memorable for all involved.  “Muddy” almost seems insufficient to describe the condition of significant portions of the course.  Any hopes of keeping relatively dry feet went out the window within the first 400 meters of the race—the grass of the soccer field was absolutely saturated, and that was before we even got close to the trails.  And the sound of the mud sucking at runners’ shoes will probably haunt my dreams for years.  Between the mud and the already narrow trails, there were long sections where even if I had been inclined to pass the pack of runners I had linked up with, it would have been impossible.  As we were slogging through the muck, somewhere in the first five miles, someone said, “This isn’t about winning, this is about survival.”  I was having ‘Nam flashbacks—well, if I had actually been in ‘Nam I would totally have been having ‘Nam flashbacks.

All that said, I actually did pretty well through the first half of the race.  The turnaround point at Great Falls Park came at the 12.4 mile point of the race, and I reached that point in 2:34, with an average minutes-per-mile pace of 12:21—pretty good, considering it was a trail race and the conditions were really difficult.  At that point I figured my pace would get me to the finish line in about five-and-a-half hours, which I considered pretty respectable.

Oh, how wrong I was.

The second half of the race was physically and mentally the single most difficult thing I’ve done.  While I felt pretty good about that first half, the price I paid was heavy legs, laden with copious amounts of viscous Virginia mud, which made the latter half very, very difficult.  There was a lot of walking involved in that second half—I take some solace knowing that I was not the only one who was suffering in like manner.  Everyone I could see would invariably walk the uphill sections, some of which were steep enough that even without the weariness from slogging through mire, probably would have necessitated walking at that point.  Well, except for the amazingly fit people who were passing me going the opposite direction before I even hit the turnaround—that included people not just from the marathon, but the 50K and 50 mile events, too.  Those folks probably at least jogged up the hills—I did that for the first half, but these were people on the back end of their runs.  I aspire to such amazing endurance and ability.

Part of what made the second half so mentally daunting was knowing the condition of the trail on the return leg.  The worst parts of the trail were in the first 5-7 miles, which meant they were also in the last 19-20 miles.  I did a lot of walking for a couple of minutes, then jogging a couple of minutes, doing what I could just to finish the race.  And finish it, I did.  Six hours and fifteen minutes after starting, I made it across the finish line.  I was muddy, sore, and positively determined that I would never run another marathon.  Ever.  The suffering was too great, it wasn’t worth it, and I wasn’t having very much fun.

Somewhere during that second half of the race, when I was contemplating my own mortality, my ‘Nam flashbacks returned as the song “Camouflage” by Stan Ridgeway started running through my brain.  It was probably a semi-conscious nod to my friend Blake who had early on Saturday posted to Facebook the famous poem by the Native American chief Tecumsah:

Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the Great Divide…When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death Song and die like a Hero going Home.

I really didn’t feel like a hero going home, but I was pretty sure I was dying, and I found it slightly sad that the last song going through my mind was Stan Ridgeway.  I mean seriously, why couldn’t I get something poignant like “Blaze of Glory” (the version by The Alarm, not Bon Jovi), or something more rockin’ like “Where The Streets Have No Name” by U2?  At least it wasn’t something sappy like One Direction or Justin Bieber.

Anyway, I pushed through the mental and physical anguish, and much to my delight Mali was waiting for me at the finish line.  After I crossed the finish line and the nice young man had given me my finisher’s medal, I stood there with my hands on my knees, and I felt like crying.  I’m not sure if it was because of the dull, throbbing pain throughout my lower body, or if I was just relieved it was over.  Sarah, Benjamin, and Jane had also come, but they didn’t see me finish because they were at the face-painting booth getting artwork done.  I took some time to stretch my sore muscles, we got some water and some other stuff to eat, took some pictures, and then got in line to catch the bus back to the parking area.  I was honestly a little worried that my legs might cramp while I was driving home, or that I might actually pass out from exhaustion.  Fortunately, neither happened.

After I got all cleaned up, we loaded up the family van and headed to Five Guys for dinner.  Even though I had been trying to drink water to rehydrate (I lost 10 pounds during the race, and that’s even with drinking about five liters of water during the event and another two liters in the first hour or so after), when we walked into Five Guys I felt like I might fall over at any minute.  The obvious sign that I was running on fumes was that I asked Mali to drive there—I rarely ask her to drive, but I was feeling pretty beat up and thought it would be safer for the whole Soderborg clan if she took the wheel.  After a delicious Five Guys burger and fries, however, I was feeling much, much better and everything was right in the world, which meant I drove home.

Last night I slept like a teenager.  I’m not sure why anyone after they’ve had a good night’s sleep would say they “slept like a baby.”  Babies wake up every couple of hours because they’re hungry or they pooped in their pants.  Teenagers, on the other hand, teenagers sleep like rocks.  Or maybe hibernating bears, depending on how much noise they make.  But you get the point—I slept very soundly.  When I woke up I was hesitant to move, worried about the impending pain.  To my pleasant surprise, after a quick systems check while lying on my back, I threw my legs over the edge of the bed and I was only marginally more sore than the morning after any other long run I’ve done, which probably means I didn’t push myself hard enough during the race…I knew I was a slacker!

Out on the trail, when I was going through my moments of self-examination, those times when I was promising myself I would never again volunteer to do this to myself, there was a nagging little thought in the back of my mind.  It came from being with Mali in the delivery room, where she would occasionally curse me for what I had done to her, promising that I would never again touch her, and that this was absolutely the last child we would have together.  And yet, miraculously, less than an hour after giving birth, she would say, “I can’t wait to have another baby!” or something like that.  I was worried I would have a similar experience.

So of course something like that did happen to me.  By this afternoon I was convincing myself that it wasn’t actually that bad of an experience and that I might like to do it again.  If fact, I told myself, with a better training program and preparation, I might even sign up for the 50 kilometer event next year…yeah, that pretty much proves that I’m insane.  But just in case there was any doubt, there’s this picture to remind me:

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Yeah, I Have Issues...

First and foremost, let me say that I love my wife and admire her patience with me.  Especially when it comes to that one issue with which I seem to have a never-ending fascination and continual struggle: my hair.

Now folks who knew me back in high school might remember that at that time I sported a decent mop of hair--but that was the late 80s/early 90s, and big hair was the norm.  I can honestly and with so small amount of pride say that I never rocked a mullet, however, as a recent review of my senior yearbook revealed was far more popular at my high school than I remember.  In fact, my hair has never been over my shirt collar, and I've never liked it if my hair touched my ears...although I have long wondered what it would be like to have really long hair, like the drummer from Hootie and the Blowfish.

Since about 1995 and the first time I took a razor to my scalp, I have tended to keep my hair more on the short side, and in recent years really short.  Here's where I admit I'm probably bi-polar.  It's not that I don't want hair--in fact, right after I cut it all off, quite often I wish I hadn't gone quite so short.  On the other hand, I really don't like combing my hair, especially since I have to get up really early.  And then there's my life-long aversion to using "product" to style my hair, but my wispy hair refuses to do anything other than stick out at my cowlicks or hang straight down.  And I won't get into my issues about paying for haircuts that look like crap, except to say why would I pay for a horrible haircut when I can do it myself for free?  Oh, and it doesn't help that a co-worker recently pointed out that I have a few gray hairs.

Now Mali, bless her heart, has told me before that she likes how I look with hair that might actually require combing, but of late has resigned herself to the fact that 90 percent of my self-inflicted haircuts end with me being very close to bald.  I recently decided that maybe it was time to try growing it out again, but that still requires occasional maintenance around the back and ears, and tonight was one of those touch-up sessions.

After I finished cutting my hair and showered and cleaned up the bathroom, I asked Mali what she thought.  Her reply: "What, are you trying to have a hairstyle or something?"


She did follow it up with some comments along the lines of, "You'll just end up cutting it all of anyway." and "I stopped trying to get you to grow it out years ago."

I think the reality is that Mali is trying to use reverse psychology to get me to grow my hair out again.  But I think I'm on to her wily methods...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Hero for Our Time

Yesterday my family and I returned from our first trip to Boston.  We went there to see some friends--some who we've known for decades, and others we've known for a little less than that--and I came away even more inspired than I already knew I would be.  I came back to Virginia with more than just photographs and great memories.  I came home with a personal hero.

You see that smiling lady in the floppy hat?  That's Rebecca, a friend who lived in our neck of the woods in Thailand.  Last summer Rebecca qualified for the Boston Marathon, an amazing accomplishment by any reckoning.  And then in October, just as she was deciding whether or not she would make the trip from Thailand to run the race, she was diagnosed with invasive lobular carcinoma--breast cancer.

If you were in Rebecca's shoes, what would you do?  I think my first instinct would be to curl into the fetal position at the bottom of my bed and cry.  At some point I'd probably ask, "Why me, Lord?" and probably foolishly shake my fist at the heavens.

But not Rebecca.  There were no tears.  Her first question to the doctor was, "Can I still run?"  As the doctor gave her the standard spiel about conserving your strength to fight the cancer, Rebecca's heart and indomitable spirit told her she needed to run in order to beat this cancer.  Training for a marathon takes time, dedication, and persistence.  It requires endurance and for many people, not a little suffering.  In the best of circumstances it's a challenge.  In simple terms, it's tough.  Add cancer treatment to the equation, and you're talking about serious commitment.  Wimps don't run marathons.

Fast forward to this past weekend, when we met Rebecca, along with her husband and oldest daughter at the Boston Temple on a gorgeous Sunday morning.  Only five weeks removed from her last chemotherapy treatment, Rebecca's hair has yet to grow back.  She had a radiation treatment just three days before the marathon.  And yet, as you see in the picture, she was smiling and happy, and ready to get out there and show the world that cancer would not--could not--keep her down.

This year was one of the hottest Boston Marathons on record, with temperatures reaching the upper 80s.  News reports indicated that about 10 percent of all participants received some kind of medical treatment during or after the race.  Conditions were brutal for all the participants.  And among those 22,000 participants, crossing the finish line and proving to herself and all of us that she deserves to be called a true hero, was Rebecca.

We live in a day and age where we place a lot of people, usually so-called "celebrities," up to an intense amount of scrutiny.  Movie stars, entertainers, athletes, and politicians are examined under the glaring spotlight of public attention, their every move analyzed, debated, and dissected for meaning.  And all too often, these people are the role models for our society, and some people deign to call such public figures "heroes."

Call me old-fashioned, but to me a hero is supposed to be someone who inspires others to go above and beyond, to become better people, and to overcome odds that seem to be stacked against them.  True heroes very rarely make headline news, end up on the cover of People magazine, or get interviewed by Oprah.  True heroes make us believe that we can become so much more than what we are, that we ordinary mortals can do extraordinary things, and quite often without much fanfare or notice.

Rebecca, you are a true hero.  We are honored and humbled to call you "friend."  Thank you, and God bless you and your wonderful family.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Mornings in Lumpini

If I had realized how much interesting stuff happened in Lumpini Park in the mornings, I could have had an entire series of blog posts.  Of course that would require I log in more often and actually write, but my laziness is another story altogether.

So, of the crazy/weird/cool things I've witnessed while running in Lumpini Park in the morning, here are some of the highlights:
  • Hundreds of people doing tai chi.  I mean literally hundreds.  Groups all over the park, doing their best to keep it serene.  I have no doubt most of them could easily kick my trash.
  • Hands down the gnarliest tai chi folks out there are the group of ladies who use the folding fans.  Wicked awesome to hear them snap those fans open and shut.  They move so gracefully, it's truly amazing to watch.
  • Not to be outdone, the dozens of folks doing high-energy aerobics near the Rama VI statue at the southwest corner of the park.  I've actually seen these groups in many cities around Thailand, and I always find them interesting.  You've got the Energizer Bunny leading the exercise, and maybe half a dozen people who can match their pace.  And you've got a few others barely moving at all.  And of course there are the guys there trying to pick up chicks, but don't want to sweat while doing it.
  • Various political rallies--People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD, also known as "yellow-shirt") were out this morning.  Last Friday night (channeling Katy Perry, anyone?) another group was talking against constitutional amendments.  Lots of railing against the current government, while the vendors hawk their wares--including some of my favorite street foods (grilled pork, fried chicken, and sticky rice)--but no hints of violence or taking over major intersections and paralyzing parts of the city.
  • Guys practicing their golf swings by hitting ice cubes into the lake.  Literally the coolest thing I've seen at Lumpini.  Get it?  Coolest...
  • Drum lines and marching band practice.  Well, I think they were a marching band, but truth be told, the weren't marching.  They were just kind of...sitting and playing.
  • Ninjas on bicycles.  I get why people cover themselves from head to toe with spandex, I understand that Thais don't want to get dark skin.  But why on earth would you wear all black while riding a bicycle at 10:30 in the morning?  It's HOT, people!

Of course the wildest thing has been this crazy American who runs around the park with no shoes on...

This Is a LIttle Overdue--Hello, Bangkok. Didja Miss Me?

So, a few folks have realized that I've been back in Bangkok for a few weeks.  I suppose I should explain why, so that the three people who read my blog know.

As most people who know us already know, our family spent two years in Thailand while I was working at the US Embassy in Bangkok.  Last July we returned to the United States, and we're happily settled back into life in America with it's wicked good potable tap water, variable seasons, and Five Guys hamburgers.

Now a series of events beginning in November conspired to pull me back to Thailand for a temporary assignment.  Unfortunately, the woman who took my place at the Embassy required medical attention in the United States, and as the doctors helped her get better, it took longer than they had expected.  It led to the Embassy asking if my office could spare me for 6-10 weeks to cover my old position while my colleague got all squared away.

I suppose at some point I should question the security of my position back home if they were willing to let me come here for over a month...

Anywho, before my office and the Embassy squared everything away I made sure I had Mali's permission to come out, and bada-bing-bada-boom!  Here I am.  I've been here now for five weeks, and this is actually my final week in Bangkok.  My replacement is back in country, all healed up and actually ready to jump right back into the thick of it and do the job she was brought here to do.

It's been good being here.  Since I was asked to do my old job, I was able to step right in and contribute immediately.  Two days after getting here I went back to Thailand's southernmost provinces to talk with folks about the long-running insurgency there, just like I used to.  I've been to two political rallies, just like I used to do.  And I've had plenty of meetings with lots of folks to gather information for the Ambassador and other Department folks back in Washington.  It's also been fun to get people's reactions when they see me--a lot of, "Hey, I thought you left!" comments from both Americans and Thais at the Embassy.  Good times.

The best part is that I've lost weight (about 15 pounds so far) and I feel more fit than when I left America.  Part of that has been due to the CrossFit program the Embassy Marines are running on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons--there's a lot to be said for sharing the (temporary) misery of pushing your physical limits with a bunch of other folks.  I've also been getting some miles of running in, including a wonderful seven-mile run in Vientiane, Laos.  I've also been able to catch up on movies and explore downtown Bangkok a little more than I was able when we lived here--we lived about 17 miles north of the Embassy, so I didn't hang out downtown very much.

All that said, I'm ready to go home and hug my kids and kiss my wife again.  I've missed them terribly.  And under extreme duress, I might even confess that I've missed my seminary students.  But don't tell them that.  Besides, it's ridiculously hot here, still.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

My Wife Would Say I'm Crazy, I'd Say I Just Accepted a Challenge

This evening I wandered up to our old neighborhood to look for some stuff for Mali and to play some soccer.  Successful on the first agenda item, not so much on the second.  I should have known better--today was a Buddhist holiday, so the school was closed, and past experience is that when the school is closed, the guys don't show up to play soccer.

Oh, I forgot to mention--I'm back in Bangkok on a temporary assignment, so Mali and the kids are back in Virginia without me.  I should blog about why I'm here and what I've done.  Later.

But back to my immediate situation.  No soccer.  I was totally bummed, because I loves to play me some soccer.  But there I was, all dressed up with nobody there to play.  What to do, what to do.  I had to get home, but I also wanted to get some exercise (I'm supposed to be running the Rock N Roll Half Marathon in Washington DC next week).  My options were:

A) Hail a taxi and have it take me to the train station.  That's the sensible solution, that's the thing that Mali would prefer I do.
B) Run to the train station.  It's only about 10 miles.

Naturally, I went with Option B.  Ten miles, with a backpack that weighed roughly eight pounds.  In Thailand.  It was awesome.

And for the record, Mali did say I was crazy when I told her what I did.  She also asked me to not tell her when I do things like that.  Man, I love that woman!