Saturday, May 29, 2010


Today I visited the venerable local monk, whose name is Boonyarith. When I say local I mean it - he lives about 100 yds. or so from the condo building. He looks pretty old - I've heard 94 but don't actually think he's that old. He has been practicing meditation for 64 years. He leads two sessions every day, the first from 3 PM to 6 PM and the other from 8 PM to 11 PM.  It is not required to stay for the entire session. There are always at least a few cars parked outside the place.

I went today at 3 and it was packed with people, all Thais as best I could tell (meaning no farangs, which is the word for a foreigner in Thai - at least no Westerners that I noticed). Some spoke English to me and made me feel right at home, helped me find a place to sit and gave me a cushion to sit on. The monk Boonyarith speaks some English as does his two assistants, one of whom is a Westerner. The place itself, relatively small, so packed in this case means about 30 or 40 people. It seemed to be the living room but was set up to receive the meditators, rather than like a typical living room. There was a small kitchen off to one side and a sun room open to the main room where I found a seat. It was pleasantly air-conditioned.

The session consisted of a taped lecture that was played through a Samsung flat screen TV located on one side of the room. No image other than a menu. Of course since it was in Thai I have no idea what it was about. But I sat in meditation while it went on. I practice a sitting meditation every day for usually 20 minutes that involves watching my breath (or trying to) and trying to still the mind, just be present in the moment. I can't pretend to be successful at it but it does fell good. So I was happy to sit and attempt to do that  - until my back started aching about 30 minutes or so into the session. Slowly but inevitably that became my sole focus: this tight band stretching across the area of my thoracic spine just below my shoulder blades. My mind stayed pretty busy with that for he longest time while I tried to relax my muscles and just let my bones support me. Then I began to shift and gently move my arms and back and seat, trying to find a comfortable position. Nothing, just screaming mind. I was thinking "what a wasted opportunity", I was expecting to find calm and ease - usually I'm good for at least 40-45 minutes. Then, without a reason, my back stopped bothering me. But my knees - in a gentle half lotus - and butt started to ache a little so I shifted them around - and after a few minutes would shift again. Still no peace of mind just physical discomfort. Then at one point I just opened my eyes (literally) and was in the room. I moved my legs to get comfortable and my mind became comfortable and quiet, just like that. I sat there in comfort and quiet for a short while and when the lecture tape ended, or seemed to  I quietly left the room - I'd been there almost two hours. The cool thing was that the quiet mind went with me as I walked back to the condo. I stayed quiet, although not without thought, for a brief time before the busyness returned as it always does. Watched a nice sunset too.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sunset view

View from my balcony the other evening. That's a barge on the Chayo Phraya river, which runs though downtown Bangkok too. There is constant barge traffic on the river as well as other craft, mostly a lot smaller. Fishermen in small boats too.  It's a working river as one of my co-workers said today and to me very calming and peaceful, even with the occasional loud motorboat.

3 Day Weekend In Thailand

Thursday evening and the start of the three day weekend here for me and most of the country. Tomorrow we commemorate  Visakha Bucha (or Puja) Day, the anniversary of the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha. The three events occurred on the full moon of the sixth lunar month, enlightenment at the age of 35 and death or paranirvana at the age of 80.

Today on the Thai English radio station, during the news hour, they talked about how we should use this time to practice mindfulness.

Monday, May 24, 2010

A weekend of firsts

OK, traffic is really, really bad here and I'm understating the situation. I went out this weekend on my own and if you've ever experienced crosstown New York City traffic you have some idea of what I mean. But you have to add dozens of motorbikes, scooters and other assorted vehicles that zip in, out and through the narrow spaces on packed streets between the cars, trucks and buses. Every so often (but not often enough) it opens up for a few blocks then backs up again. On the other hand it's interesting to observe (and participate in) how people use turn signals (a lost practice at least in Chattanooga) and other drivers let them through, how there's a system of cooperation on some level that lets people get where they need to be without accidents every block.

On the other hand, or hands, I went for my first traditional Thai massage on Sunday and it was terrific. I went late morning and actually experienced less traffic. Thai massage has been described as having yoga done to you - the masseuse twists and turns your body to release blocked energy. It also involves pressure points and tissue work. You can look it up on wikipedia if you want a more extensive explanation, but the most important thing is that it feels really good during and afterwards. Most of you are familiar with it, I'm sure.  Anyway I went to a place called Health Land (thanks for the heads-up, Dao) which was very modern and Asian and impeccably clean. I had an awesome 2 hour massage for...$20, which included a generous tip.

So there in a nutshell was the yang and the yin of my weekend which included also studying Thai on my own (Rosetta Stone and a Thai language website), waking up to watch the Champions League Final on TV (roughly 1:30 AM to 3:30 AM Sunday Thai time), yoga, grocery shopping, getting gasoline for the first time (hey - how many times have YOU bought gas in Thailand?), talking to my parents on Skype and watching the sunset from my balcony.

I also ate at the restaurant next to my condo for the first time. It is a beautiful spot and the food was excellent. I had a choice of eating outside which would have been like eating in a tropical garden but it was a little too hot so I opted for the air conditioned dinning room. The menu was in Thai and English and one of the waiters spoke English so that simplified the process. I tried to order the house specialty curry but the waiter asked if I liked spicy food - I told him yes but not too hot and he very diplomatically suggested another curry. Nice touch. I ended up ordering grouper in black pepper sauce and, as a starter, something called miang kuoy tiew, described as bite sized wraps of lettuce and rice noodle sheets filled with bits of street noodle ingredients. Don't ask, it was just a hunch - it turned out be quite spicy and absolutely delicious. Shape and size of a sushi roll but no rice, rolled in a noodle and soft and crunchy in the mouth. The grouper was excellent too. I followed it up with a very un-Thai chocolate ice cream. At least I don't associate it with Thai food, maybe I'm mistaken.

I also realized, not for the first time, that I am very far away. I am doing fine but I miss you all.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

End of week one

Well, just completed my first week in Thailand and to commemorate the Thai government has instituted a curfew from 8 PM to 6 AM. I won't elaborate on the reasons for it here because I'm sure you can see it on the news but the main thing is I still feel pretty safe and am not worried.

I did see some smoke off in the direction of Bangkok from my balcony but don't know whether it was related or not (probably was). Our factory where I have my office closed about 40 minutes early today so people could avoid any major traffic tie-ups due to the dispersion of the protesters from the downtown area.  Our downtown office closed early on Friday and has stayed closed all this week even though it is outside the area occupied by the protesters out of concern for the safety of the employees coming and going to work.

I took advantage of coming home a little early and spent my extra time exploring the grounds around my apartment building. It is a beautiful tropical garden, well designed and kept without being too tailored. The grounds spill over into a restaurant next door which is also beautifully landscaped and has a good reputation for food. I haven't tried it yet. The condo property and the restaurant are on the Chayo Phraya river that also runs through Bangkok and I walked down to the condo dock and just sat and watched the water flow. And the people fishing from a couple of boats (one was net fishing) and the river traffic. It was very peaceful despite the occasional motorboat.

Sunday I explored yoga clases in the area with the guidance of my friend from work, Dao, who's been a huge help getting me settled in. While that is part of her job, she has really gone out of her way to make the transition easier than I expected. As for yoga classes, there were some interesting options but of the three studios, two were part of a gym and all three wanted a long term commitment for joining.  I'd like to take a few classes to make sure I like the teachers and that it fits my schedule before doing that. I've been practicing at home, where I set a room side just for yoga. It's quite a luxury to have the space and the view is nice too.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Thursday May 13

13/5 – Nearby temple folks are early risers. Bell at 5 AM then music and some type of preaching (I guess). River boat traffic starts pretty early too.

Driving on the left hand side of the road for the first time is an exercise in mindfulness.

Trying to meet and greet in a foreign land on 3 hours of sleep is not fun. Jet lag, a strange bed and the excitement of being in a new country took their toll.

Learned that my building is named after a 94 year old Buddhist monk who still lives in a house on the property.

Watched the sunset with the river in foreground. Outstanding peacefulness.

Khun Malee cooked an awesome dinner: clear noodles, veggies, egg, chicken and shrimp stir-fry. Good Thai home cooking. With papaya, mangosteens and some other strange but delicious fruit I don’t know for desert.

5/14 –Life is better after a good night’s rest. And I must have slept a long time: the year here is 2553.
Slept through any early morning noise from temple or river if there was any.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Safe and sound

For those of you who are aware of the major political disturbances going on in Bangkok, know that I am safe and sound in a quiet, albeit busy suburb north of the downtown area. I chose to live closer to the factory, about a 25 minute drive, rather than fight the Bangkok traffic everyday. That choice is looking particularly good right now since certain areas of downtown are basically closed down.

I have personally not seen any of the trouble.

Catching UP

Catching up now that I have internet at the apartment:

11/5 – Leaving CDG airport for Bangkok, I feel a moment of euphoria as the plane takes off.  Could it be the new horizons that await or the one glass of champagne I just had?

12/5 – Long uneventful ride from the airport. I see with different eyes knowing I’m there to stay for a while. Not good, not bad, just different. Still carrying some trepidation.

 The apartment is bigger than I remember. Why do I need all this space? Oh, right, the view of the river from the balcony/deck…

Met my housekeeper Khun Malee (khun is a term of respect used when addressing men and women). She is an older woman (in my age bracket, except I’m not old) and has the place spotless. I could tell she was a little nervous – needlessly of course. She calls the person, Dao, who has been helping me with the Thai portion of the move to serve as interpreter. A little later she washes all my dirty clothes. I unpack suitcases and a couple of boxes mailed earlier.

 Renting a place (other than for vacation) with other people’s furnishings is a little strange.

 Dao shows up close to 5 PM and has a list that she and Malee have put together of things for the house – mainly to keep the place and my clothes clean and tidy. We go shopping for the list and some groceries. Among other places we go to an organic grocery store. Not Greenlife but has a nice selection of goods. And some very interesting fruit.

Back to the apt. and crash time.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


All my troubles... no wait, wrong song.

Yesterday I worked in Paris for the first time in my life. Not really heavy duty, mostly meet and greet the folks at the Paris office. My new boss who works out of England came over for the meeting and it was good to have some face time with him.

After dinner with some folks from work I got to hear my nephew's band The Twins play in a small club. They sounded great despite the poor acoustics, playing with a lot of energy and attitude. They play Rock and have several of their own songs which they will be launching on an EP soon.


Flying to Thailand this evening.

I've stepped off the high dive platform and am headed into new waters.

Can I find the stillness in the movement?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Paris, day 3

Nina (my sister) and I went to the Louvre this morning and saw the new Cy Twombly painted ceiling in the gallery of the greek bronzes. I am a huge Cy Twombly fan but the ceiling was not my favorite work I've seen from him. But the bronzes were amazing and we saw literally acres of paintings although were necessarily selective in where we stopped.

After a great lunch courtesy of Nina (duck confit and vegetables, after a artichoke and goat cheese appetizer), I spent some time at the house mainly talking and listening to music with Pascal, my nephew. Then Nina and I went out again to see a Willy Ronis photography exhibit at The Musee de la Monnaie. I was not familiar with his work and enjoyed getting to know it.

Tomorrow I actually go to work in Paris: I have a meeting late morning at the Tai Ping Paris office. I am looking forward to it.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


Today was a mild and sunny day and I enjoyed some shopping with my sister Nina and my brother in law Bernard. Bernard needed a new tie for a wedding next weekend and we went to the high end department store Bon Marché. It was indeed very nicely appointed and I ended up buying a tie too even though I don't wear them very often and certainly don't need more stuff.

What I did need was some English reading material since the movers packed and shipped to Thailand the books and magazines I had set aside for the trip. Nina took me to two English bookstores near the Tuilleries and I ended up with three books:

"An Artist of the Floating World" by Kazuo Ishiguro that was recommended by my sister, a novel that deals with the transition between pre-WWII and post WWII Japanese society (or so I think);

"Guns, Germs and Steel" by Jared Diamond, a self-described "short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years" and a book that had been on my radar for a while;

"Bangkok Eight" a crime/mystery novel by John Burdett that was also recommended by friend, particularly because the action takes place in, obviously, Bangkok.

Which one will I read first?

I also picked up some of my favorite chocolate bars (1848, 76% dark).

I also spent time with my niece Alison and nephew,Pascal. Yeah and I ate well. Nina's a fabulous cook.

It was a very relaxing and enjoyable day.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Ah, Paris. Even though overcast and unseasonably cold, it feels good to be here. I did see some sunshine in the early evening (it gets dark later here this time of year).

Enjoyed a great dinner with the Mercat family: excellent food and lively bilingual conversation. The Mercat family consists of my sister Nina, her husband Bernard and their children Audrey, Pascal and Alison. I will miss seeing Audrey and her husband Marc this visit because they are in England for a wedding.

And listened to some original music from Pascal;s band The Twins. They rock!

Thursday, May 6, 2010


Just arrived in Chicago from Chattanooga. It's about noon here and  my flight to Paris doesn't leave until 5:30 PM.

Despite so many trips over the last 16 years in Chattanooga, it felt really different leaving  this morning, knowing I'll be gone for a long time. And not sure when I'll be back.

Trepedation and loss, excitement and anticipation mixed in my heart.

Glad to be heading to Paris first, a nice transition before Asia. I will be staying with my sister, Nina, and her family and I'm excited to be seeing them again. I was last there in March 2009 for my niece Audrey's wedding. That was a fun blast, this will be fun too but calmer.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Empty house

The house is empty of stuff and me and I'm enjoying the comfort and warmth of my friends Stan and Kelly who are graciously keeping me until I leave for Paris on Thursday.

I briefly considered writing this in haiku form but I'm too tired.

In an ideal world it would be nice to be able to empty your house periodically (even if not moving) to rethink the space what you might or might not need. It would help to have movers doing the heavy lifting.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Leaving Town

Monday, May 3 and it's finally happening. The movers are here packing the items that will be shipped to Thailand.

Even though I have purged many things I still think I'm taking to much. I just have too much stuff. Why do I need all this?

Of course I'll be living without it for the next 6 to 8 weeks so it will be interesting to see what I really miss.

I'm not taking any furniture yet. Have to be sure I'm happy with my location before I make that commitment. I will be moving into a furnished apartment in the city of Nonthaburi, about 38 mile north of downtown Bangkok.

Tomorrow they pack the items and furniture that's staying in storage until I need it (or want it - will I ever need it?).

Leaving Chattanooga and my home here is bittersweet. I'm excited about the new job and exploring Thailand but I've had a nice life here and will especially miss my many friends.

My Chattanooga home