- Attended my first Thai wedding.
- Ate amazing food.
- Looked awkward in photos and video at said wedding.
- Driven home from the wedding by the University President.
- Saw Khao Sarn Road for the first time. Declined pushy tuk tuk drivers.
- Went to MBK/Siam Square etc. mall complex.
- Have a functioning phone after our trip to the fourth floor of MBK and their tech gurus.
- Rode one of the river buses home.
- Attended a Chao Phraya River boat tour and dinner with my boss, a student and her parents.
So, all of the English teachers dressed up a bit more for school on Friday, and we left straight from school to go to the wedding. One of the Thai English teachers got married on Friday. The actual Buddhist ceremony was in the morning, this was basically the reception. The bride looked gorgeous. After signing the guest book, we took a photo with the bride and groom and went inside the huge banquet hall. We stood around together gawking at the ice sculptures and more than a dozen tables of food. After waiting for more guests to arrive, it appeared alright to partake of the food. There were two sushi chefs and an assistant, I had two helpings of sushi. Took a little more wasabi than I probably should have - good for the sinuses. There were multiple tables offering hot foods: chicken wings, fried pork and crab balls, chicken satay, mini pizzas (skipped those), etc. Fresh fruit kabobs, tuna pitas, fruit custard tarts, dessert rice balls with peanut filling, fruit cakes, ice cream (also skipped), two different offerings of soup, chicken or pork with rice, ham and rolls, and I'm certainly not mentioning everything. It was quite opulent. After awhile of this, my boss came up to me and said, in effect, "you've eaten enough, come sit down." She directed me to a frontward table and motioned to the chair next to the University President. This is actually my second meeting with the University President. He is fairly laid back and speaks English well. Though I was a bit caught off guard when he asked me why I needed a Chinese Visa. So he has reviewed the pages of my passport. I kept my cool and explained the trip, he seemed pleased with the sister school story and he mentioned his next trip to China. I think he was just making conversation. As such in this position, I ended up being front and center during several key wedding videos and photos. The bride and groom "cut the cake" (it was a fake cake for show) with a large sword. Afterward they brought pieces of real cake to their honored guests: family and so forth. However, they started with presenting cake to the University President. So here I am, random new farang in the middle of their wedding photos - trying to look happy and cute and so forth instead of just totally bewildered. After all this excitement, the President offered to drive me and the other female English teacher home. This was a nice gesture because a) she and I live in the same building and b) going back with the rest of the group was going to take quite a bit longer. However, it is still rather daunting. The male teachers were certainly enjoying teasing us about the whole situation, as somehow female farang teachers are of greater fascination than male teachers - or at least in our current circumstance. As such us ladies are often a tourist attraction simply by our presence, and requested (or told) of various engagements we have been invited to. Besides just the cultural aspects of this, I think this is also related to our boss' adopted daughter mindset towards us. So the President drove us home, talked about politics quite frankly and openly and bid us goodnight once we were at our soi.
At this point Gen and I were able to unwind a bit from that part of the evening. We swapped our dresses for jeans and shorts and headed over to Khao Sarn Road to introduce me to all its chaos. Explaining the sheer bombardment of neon lights, roasting street food, pushy tuk tuk drivers, creepy old farang men, cover songs of Western origin in Thai accents (Took my Chevy to the revy but the revy was dry), carts selling Hello Kitty everything, purses, sunglasses, fake documents to the nth degree (fake diploma, student card, pilot's license, press pass, TEFL certification....shudder...vision of creepy guy on Khao Sarn getting fake TEFL certificate and a classroom....), tie-dye, travel shops, backpack and luggage shops, Irish pub, disabled men begging, mothers with children draped across their laps begging. The juxtaposition of obnoxious westerner and poor Thai beggar was hard to take. Soi cats and soi dogs just hanging around as per normal here in Bangkok. I think it will take another few trips before I can really truly describe this place. Even this description is just a caricature, though maybe that is all Khao Sarn is any way. We stopped by a place that was supposed to be holding a rave - I do enjoy my laser light shows and obnoxious techno. But it was relatively deserted and I was getting quite tired, as was Gen - so we headed home.
Attempted to sleep in but was aroused to the sounds of some sort of parade right here in our little soi. Still not sure what that was about, but there were really loud fireworks, a sort of marching band, and Gen tells me a monk giving blessings at the front of it. I got a picture of the very tail end of it marching away - not a very clear photo. Poor Ming was half way up my staircase, terrified and hiding from the fireworks blasts. I came back and dozed again, I hope I'm not coming down with a cold but I think I've been fighting it off for several days now. Got back up to trek to MBK and sort out the phone with Gen. Just as I was fully ready and locking my apartment up, I turned around with a start. The light was off farther down the staircase. And who do I nearly run into but my boss, coming up the stairs to see me. "Do you have plans this evening?" Um...actually yes, I've mentioned that before... "Parents have made reservation for dinner on boat for you tonight! They made reservation already, told me yesterday, I forgot to tell you." Um, ok, I guess these are my plans now. "Ok! I pick you up at seven." Alright then.
After this slightly surprising encounter, we went ahead with our plans to get my phone sorted out. MBK is an 8 story shopping complex. It is connected by sky walking bridge to the sky train, Siam Square (also a shopping complex) and Siam Paragon (also a shopping complex, the most high end of the trio). It is right next to a Cultural Arts Center (have to check that out another day), and a place called Discovery. I forget what goes on in that building - sports? Language teaching? I will find out later. The fourth floor of MBK is cell phone mecca. Unlike the United States where you almost have to go with one cell phone provider, and choose your options within that carrier's rules, in Thailand you pick all your own hardware and then just buy a carrier's sim card. If you want to change carriers? Buy a different sim card and stick it into your phone for about three dollars. All carriers use a pay as you go format where you buy minutes on a scratch off card in any 7/11 convenience store. I like this so much better than the U.S. monopolies! Not only that, but there is not the "oh one thing is wrong with your phone. You have to get a new one now," attitude that you will find in U.S. cell phone provider outlets. One thing is wrong with your phone? Go to MBK. The numbers are worn off your faceplate? Get a new one for 150 baht, choose the color you want! Your battery is fried? We will sell you a new one for 300 baht. You have a Canadian phone that is Sim locked for Thai sim cards? Find a good tech guy, he'll have it cracked in 40 minutes for 10 dollars. You want to buy a nice phone but don't want to pay too much? We have second hand phones all around, including blackberries and iPhones. Want to jail break your iPhone? We can do that. You inherited this phone from someone that locked it? We can crack that too, 20 minutes. Lost your charger? We've got it. Need an obscene amount of rhinestones on your phone? Take a look. We have some cell phone adornments two inches thick with rhinestones. We even have Hello Kitty Phones! The actual phone, not just decoration. Forget the U.S. throw away (recycle, if you look hard enough) mentality - this place is a cell phone junk yard/parts shop over 100 stands strong. Let someone else use it when you want to upgrade. Fix that one thing that is broken. You can make the digital/intellectual property argument on "hacking" phones, but to some extent - there is no reason one phone should work in one country or on one network but not another. It's just another way to make profit, and it's unnecessary to have that much waste as to have to get a new phone each time you hop a border or change carriers. If you ever come visit and are close to needing a cell phone upgrade - pick your new phone up at MBK.
After this, Gen took me to an express boat bus stop and we rode the boat back from Siam. 9 baht. Much less traffic that way. Then I got ready for my second boat ride of the day. My boss/host picked me up and we drove to the dock for the dinner and boat ride. It was very nice, and I think my student was in the same mindset I was about the matter. She was nervous that she was having to practice her English in front of her parents and the head of the English program, I was nervous to be doing so in front of my boss and a student's parents. My student served me rice, fish, and fish soup. I also served her some, because I couldn't justify just sitting there. She also presented me with a metal embossed bookmark and a pair of earrings from Chiang Mai. After dinner (or rather, finish that bite and you're done you need to go up top), she and I went up to the boat's deck to take in the sights. It was a lot more peaceful just she and I. I told her not to be nervous to practice her English with me. And I practiced counting in Thai with her. We took photos of various Bangkok landmarks - beautifully lit up at night. She enjoys taking photos and would like to be a fashion designer someday. She also filled me in on what the boat guide was saying, since he was speaking in Thai, so I got some mini history lessons. After the boat turned around we returned inside to partake of desserts (I have a photo!) and listen to the band playing. She and I were both somewhat annoyed when we were instructed to go dance. I taught her the English words "pushy" and "scheming" in relation to this portion of the evening. We got half way to the dance floor and agreed to sit back down. I was enjoying just sitting and taking the whole of the situation in, I think she was as well. Of course my boss came to literally push us closer to the dance floor. We got nearly there and sat down again. Peace lasted only about one minute before she returned and pretty much dragged us onto the floor. She explained later she is happy when she is dancing. I wonder if she realizes people have different tastes. I think my student is perceptive enough to realize what was going on. We were finally granted some more peace and were able to go back up top to just take in the sights silently. Overall it was a very pleasant evening with a very sweet student. I finally got home and collapsed after two mostly pre-planned weekend nights. I experienced so many things about Thailand these last two days, it's been somewhat overwhelming. Between the sights and the hospitality accompanied by sitting, looking pretty, speaking English and being politically correct- I'm mentally exhausted.
Other tidbits: being asked by a University student here if I could pull strings to get them into grad school at Indiana University. Learning that it is impolite to put your fork in your mouth in Thailand, you use the fork to scoot food onto your spoon and eat with your spoon. Even since learning this piece of etiquette I've unconsciously broken this rule, probably more times than I'm even aware. According to my host, waving to someone you don't know is flirting, she freaked out when I waved to someone on the street that was smiling at me.
Apparently I can't escape it, Friday one of my students asked me if I was pregnant. Then apologized profusely, "sorry for asking." The guys consoled me by reminding me half the school, including some teachers, believe they are a gay couple; and the kids frequently ask the married teacher why he doesn't have kids. During the wedding, I talked with the very cute school secretary - she and I talked about wanting to lose weight but liking food too much, and made jokes patting our bellies and our "food babies," in a kind of who cares manner. I preferred this to my boss patting my belly and explaining I should do crunches everyday to be slender. Whatever. I'll put on makeup and be a cute little farang girl, I'm not going out of my way to do crunches any more than I want to myself.
Also found things at MBK to get once I get my first paycheck here - night stand, electric induction stove plate, microwave, electric metal tea kettle, a nicer chair, and probably another table - either for my desk or to set up 'kitchen.' In the meantime, I don't really have cooking apparatus, and I'm hungry. I'm off to scavenge for a late lunch.