Departure Days

The next morning a slightly subdued group drank coffee and spoke of departure plans – some to the airport and back to the States, others on south to Krabi and the beach. Lady Baby and her staff headed back to Bangkok for a final day and half.

We had accomplished our mission – a Traditional Thai wedding with the farang family all in attendance, and we enjoyed our last days – talking about the wedding, about coming back – about the beach, about Chiang Mai.

I loved watching Lady Baby on this trip and sharing new experiences with her – she’s on the cusp of so many new things. She learned to clap that week, first just one hand against the other and then both, and she practiced climbing up and down on any available stairs.

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And who knows what she thought as she rode in her backpack through airports and passport control lines, on the sidewalks of Bangkok past vendors with hot food, fresh fruit, and vegetables, a watch repairman working in a tiny glassed-in space right on the sidewalk and, one after another, small stalls chockfull of whatever you want. From her backpack, after watching us grab straps or poles in the Skytrain, she wrapped her little hand around a pole like a pro.

On the flight home, I watched the little airplane icon on the seat map as it moved from Bangkok to Honking, flying near Viet Nam, Da Nang, Haikou, over the Gulf of Tonkin. Not my usual flight.

The return flight to Vancouver only took ten hours – easy peasy – what a trip!

Party Night of Wedding Day

An evening reception follows Thai traditional weddings, and that afternoon Lady Baby and I wandered back and forth, between the frigidity of our room and the outside enveloping heat, to watch the party preparations. Workers cloaked tables with pink cloths, strung flowers and placed flower arrangements, and we watched a man insert hundreds of real orchids into the display where photos would be taken.

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Guests looked so fine at this party. So many Thai women, including the bride’s mother have beautiful silk dresses, and she was lovely in a dark lavender long skirt and embroidered top. The bride looked the perfect picture of a modern bride in a strapless long, frothy-bottomed dress with silver belt, and her bridesmaids wore hot pink dresses in different styles. Farang men sported great new suits – products of an afternoon spent with a tailor in Bangkok (delivered overnight). The groom wore a tuxedo from the same tailor.

Maggie translated after-dinner wedding toasts from Thai to English or English to Thai. The bride’s father welcomed us in English and gave his blessing to the couple. The groom’s father, who had been practicing Thai for weeks beforehand, wished the couple long life and happiness and, in Thai, thanked the bride’s parents for “giving our son a chance.”

Friends of both bride and groom spoke of their deep affection for them – the groom’s friends good-naturedly jostling for title of “best friend.” The groom thanked everyone for coming so far, and told of beginning to worry on the plane about how this trip would be. He said he knew traveling with family could have some tricky  moments, but it always worked out – he wasn’t sure about this group. But then, as he watched his friends pile out of the van, he realized they were family – and it would be fine!

The bride tearfully thanked her parents, and all the guests. The band played, the young couple danced. Then, to our surprise and delight, the bride suddenly appeared on the stage in a short pink dress with a microphone and, backed up by her attendants, belted out “Loving You Is Easy”!

More dancing – an Alaska rap song, and the elders retired.

A Traditional Thai Wedding – With Farang

A traditional Thai wedding begins early and lasts long, a Thai-like combination of utter formality, ritual, and relaxed tolerance (specially regarding farang missteps).

The setting was a two-story, open-air pavilion on the river at Bann Thai Resort. We entered through an archway of flowers, past posts made from lacquered trees with stumps of branches, and took off our shoes. We climbed the stairs into a large, roofed space with shiny wood floors, sides open to the outdoors, festive with pink and green bunting and huge arrangements full of pink flowers.

Sometimes guests sat, but others milled around – multiple cameras clicking, positions changing, even talking. In the middle of the room, on a broad platform raised about a foot, nine saffron-robed monks sat cross-legged facing the couple in ornate chairs.

The monks began to chant. It must be mind-altering to sit in those chairs and be the focus of the chanting – receiving blessings directed at you and your life. It certainly transfixed Lady Baby.

The chanting ended, and guided by important elders from the bride’s side – the governor of the wedding and his wife – the parents and the Thai and farang elders began to dish out rice, and set up a meal for the monks. The monks sat cross-legged in two circles on orange mats and tucked into trays and plates of food.

Meanwhile, the bride and her groom moved behind tung rod nam tables, the traditional water pouring tables. The chairman and his wife placed intricately woven, u-shaped necklaces of flowers, ending in red rosebuds around the couple’s necks, and the bride’s attendants crowned the couple with mong kol, ceremonial headdresses. Both headdresses (already blessed by the monks) come from the same piece of cotton, so a piece loops between them to signify the joining of the couple.

Finally the water pouring – the moment after which the couple becomes husband and wife. They placed their palms together on the table, and a series of elders gently poured water from thumbs to fingers while offering blessings. Vases of pink roses captured the run-off water. My favorite chanting came next – individual monks holding beautifully decorated fans.

Then a break for a snack downstairs! Lady Baby took this moment to collapse against Mr. Carson and sleep in her Ergo. The rest of us left the building, walked down a nearby road, along a path to a pier, and embarked on a journey – both symbolic and real.

All the farang – the bridegroom’s party – boarded a flat-bottomed boat with benches round the edge. In the middle a wooden table stood laden with large plates of dessert-like food. Rock music blasted and Maggie, a young Eurasian young woman with a microphone, explained what had just happened and what was next.

The boat chugged away, then turned back toward the pavilion, passing homes on stilts and fishermen poling small boats. In spite of the music, or because of the familiarity of it, it was a relaxing few minutes cruising the river back to the resort, preparing ourselves for the khan makk procession.

Carrying the dishes of sweets and fruit from the boat as ceremonial gifts (offerings that represent the important things of life like health, fertility, and longevity), our entourage disembarked in a cheerful parade.

Wedding procession

A doorway downstairs in the pavilion stood in for the door of the bride’s family’s house, and the groom was stopped there for joking and teasing by the bride’s family.

Back upstairs the bride’s family was ready to receive the dowry placed on the khan makk tray. Baht spread out in a circle, gold coins, the wedding rings –proof of the groom’s financial ability to care for his wife. More baht and a roll of dollars from a friend filled a gap in the circle. Much laughing ensued, with good spirits all around.

The dowry accepted, rings were exchanged, and the newlyweds received blessings from everyone. We parents sprinkled the offered mixture of flower petals, sesame seeds, and nuts – symbols of love, longevity, and happiness – on top of the dowry. The elders of both families tied cotton strings to the bridegroom and the bride’s wrists. In return, the couple offered gifts to parents and elders.

This wedding was so joyfully accomplished – the couple well and truly married with all possible support – many smiles all day.

We celebrated with lunch under a roof on a floating dock, and then retreated to Ruen Pair to wait for evening.

Transition Day – on to Suphanburi

Suphanburi, the bride’s hometown, lies some two hours north of Bangkok along a corridor of commerce. Air conditioning in our vans cut the heat a little, and Lady Baby soon snoozed. We arrived at our destination – Ruen Pair Resort, a small place with bungalow flavored buildings set amongst a jungle of palm and fern – and retreated to air-conditioned rooms.

And that afternoon we, the groom’s family, met the bride’s parents for the first time, at their house in the countryside, surrounded by green rice paddies and fields.

Intimidated by photos we’d seen of the bride’s father – a former helicopter pilot in the Thai Air Force who was usually pictured unsmiling in aviator shades, we were a little nervous.

But at his house he revealed a great grin and smiled a lot! The bride’s mother is beautiful and gracious – and welcomed us. We met the sweet bride’s aunts and cousin, saw her childhood room (and photos of her as smiling six-year old and saucy teen), and stumbled through impossible communication. The bride (she must have been exhausted) forever translated and smoothed the way for all of us.

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That evening we were happy to see the bridegroom’s aunt and cousin, newly arrived from afar to the wedding party. Hosted by the bride’s parents, we dined on the river, drinking much Singha, and feasting on huge plates of lovely food.

The bride’s mother wore clothes of striking color and elegance – and clothes were much on the guests’ minds. In the lead up to the wedding, through emailing of measurements and selecting of colors, the bride arranged for traditional Thai outfits for all of us (everyone, Lady Baby, the two little boys, the “elders” and young people), and that afternoon we’d received our outfits.

It seemed like being costumed for a play, for assuming a role, making us part of this event. The usually flip-flop and t-shirt clad crew would be transformed for the wedding day!

Another Bangkok Day and Night

Bangkok was hot and humid in a sticky two showers a day, change your clothes kind of hot. Maybe that weather felt more foreign than anything – especially since the wedding party included so many Alaskans.

Nonetheless, we saw sights. Lady Baby toured the Grand Palace complex – acres of palace buildings and temples glistening gold, bright with glass mosaic and hand-painted tiles, planters and topiary – and packed with visitors. Eye level with tourists from her position in a backpack, Lady Baby became nearly as photographed as various elephant, monkey, and goddess statues. Japanese tourists asked to have their pictures taken with her, and Thai people wanted to hold her.

Lady Baby and Mrs

Lady Baby figured out her own ways with her public. When curious she has a distinctive gaze, focused and steady. But in these days, when dozens of strangers came toward her, she developed her own form of wei – head dipping in shy-baby pose, then sneaking looks, and reacting depending on the approaching person. The staff at the hotel won her over quickly. They greeted her with huge smiles and her name, and she flashed her nose-crinkling grin.

But hot, it was hot at the Grand Palace, and our group disintegrated as the tour went on. Ornate, elaborate, so beautiful and meaningful – statues of sacred white elephants and mythological creatures, and the Emerald Buddha dressed according to season by the Thai king – you wanted to absorb much more than was possible.

Lady Baby and her parents discovered a place serving ice cream, but I followed our younger son through a nearby street market – my one sample of what should be a huge focus in Bangkok. This market had narrow aisles and lowdown tables piled high with fruit and vegetables and wares. Women sat and sewed purses for tourists, and one of the young visitors bought three pairs of the most swell harem pants – one pair a burnt orange, tight at the ankle and flowing. A series of flat and colorful parasols bridged the gaps between the stalls, trying to shut out the sun and heat.

A man walked by carrying panniers hanging from a pole across his back – one kettle with rice, the other soup? We bought cashews and peanuts (always my mainstay on a trip – and the cashews the best I have ever had, roasted but not salty), and cold drinks. True to everything you always hear, when we stopped at a stand for lunch – pointing to pots and then accepting a seat offered in the shade – we had nearly the best meal of the trip.

Luckily afternoons were always free – naps, swims, regrouping in time for pre-dinner cocktails on the top of the hotel at the Moon Roof Bar. The sun a red ball, followed quickly by darkness, the twinkling and enormous city spread below. Truly perfect.

Bankok Day and Night

Planning a wedding is a huge job. Add travel, cultural, and language differences, and it takes heroic effort – in our case graciously performed (to the gratitude of all) by the wedding principals.

They arranged for vans, lined out sights to see, and planned festive dinners. It was a show-up-in-the-lobby-ready-to-go sort of tour – except you knew and liked, and were delighted to see, everybody in the group.

The group included our son’s friends (a tight, long-lasting bunch, spread out geographically but coming together for important events), their wives and two boys three and nine, and our six stalwart friends who’d made this long journey from London and Washington. We numbered some 30 farang. (Farang being the Thai word for foreigner, maybe from the French word for foreigner, but maybe also from the Thai word for a white-fleshed guava.)

There we all were the first morning – amazed to be in Thailand in a hotel lobby fragrant with the scent of lemongrass, a kind staff greeting us with wai (head dipped, touching hands held flat together next to the chin), and sawadeeka (hello said by a woman) or sawadeeclap (said by a man).

We were ready to hit the decks (literally, the deck, the seats of traditional long-tail boats) for a ride on the Chao Phraya River, the watery artery of Bangkok. A river the size of the Thames, but oh so different the sights, with tall skyscrapers and elaborate hotels beside glittering temples. Other long-tail boats sped by decorated with colorful pompoms and flags, engines roaring, water churning. We sat low in the water, two people to each bench seat, a curved and striped-with-color canopy protected us from the sun.

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Back in the boats, we entered a lock and waited with a bobbing and jostling flotilla of boats as we lifted up into a klong a Bangkok canal – like a side street to the river’s main street. Houses on pilings with corrugated tin roofs, in cobbled together shapes and sizes, lined the shore. Steps led down into the river, and laundry hung from porches, racks of colorful t-shirts and quilts.

Vendors in small boats found us, customers for their carved elephants, sun hats (one that turned from hat to fan), beer, water, and bread to feed (and cause a frenzy of) river fish.

Back at the dock, the sweet bride pointed the way to the Skytrain – Bangkok’s modern transportation artery. Elevated, cool, fast, the Skytrain whisks tourists and locals above the constant traffic gridlock.

That first night – while the others took taxis to a dinner spot on the river, Lady Baby (who’d spent the day with her parents recovering and swimming in the hotel outdoor pool on the 21st floor) and I stayed in.

It’s embarrassing to admit the pleasure of that evening. Lady Baby investigated the basket of fruit left to welcome us (dragon fruit, rose apples, mangosteen), listened to her three familiar bedtime books, and lasted barely a verse of one of our songs and a few back and forth paces before falling sound asleep.

Room service, a Singha, my book, and sleeping Lady Baby – a perfect Bangkok evening!