I posted this here a year ago and it still haunts me. Please give it 5 minutes of your time.
My long long wait at the consulate this morning ( more of which to come) was by anyone’s standards awful, sitting around for 2 and a half hours to hand in some papers and another hour and a bit to pay for the privilege made me a little grumpy.
But boy did I give myself a lesson in perspective this afternoon.
Without a small one in tow I was able to visit a place that I wanted to see last time round but was unable to due to point blank refusal and tiredness of said small person.
COPE visitors centre is located within the grounds of the Vientiane rehabilitation centre. COPE is a non profit organisation that, amongst other things, provides prosthetic limbs and support for victims of unexploded ordinance (UXO) in Laos. The fact that this organisation is so desperately needed is a shame on the western world.
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Here I am sitting in departures (again) on my way back from a trip to Bangkok.
Something that even a few short months ago would have filled me with wonder and excitement. I mean its Bangkok. Capital of Thailand, a wondrous sprawling urban mass that is begging to be explored and discovered. A thriving city that has everything a person could wish for, as long as you know where to look. And yet I sit here without feelings of wonder and instead mull over the mundane details of my afternoon and evening with the slight annoyance that I used to view a trip into central London.
Get on a plane, go to the UK consulate, pick up new passport, get back to the airport, get on a plane, come home.
Today was strictly business.
And a tiny bit of shopping. Well it would be rude not to.
It wasn’t meant to be like that but the flu epidemic decimating the schools in Chiang Mai, causing their closure and a week long programme of sterilisation of the school buildings, means that instead of being at school with a weekend sleepover at her best friends house, small one is at home with daddy as her friend fights off a bout of illness.
And Daddy, instead being next to me enjoying a grown up weekend in the capital with his wife, is sitting at home ( with a thankfully fully fit small person) playing Mario party on the Wii.
Flights were abandoned, then rebooked, plans rearranged and I’m alone at the airport heading to back home.
However instead of a grown up weekend a hastily arranged family overnight trip has been arranged for tomorrow, with the dog still booked into the kennels it seemed a shame to waste the opportunity.
I’m very much looking forward to our little ‘staycation’, I can’t tell you where it is exactly because I can’t actually remember, I did say it was hastily arranged, but I know its in a national park about an hour from home and that the hotel has a spa so that’s good enough for me.
Not quite the intended plan, but a good plan given the circumstances.
Jer gan mai
As a footnote it’s extremely strange to have a completely empty passport. It will only be like that till next week after another visit to Chiang Mai immigration to get the visas transferred, but it’s still wierd.
Funny old places airports.
If you want to see the full spectrum of human emotion I can heartily suggest hanging around an airport for a few hours.
Which is exactly what I’m doing today.
I’m ‘hanging around’ because I’m not really going anywhere, well I am, but not ‘really’.
I have come to from Chiang Mai to Bangkok to meet my folks who are coming over for Christmas (squeeee). And in a few hours time I will be going back to Chiang Mai. I’m sure that if needs be they could easily have made the transition form place to place without my presence, but the opportunity to see them even just a few hours earlier than could have was just to good to miss. It’s only hours flight each way and the less cost is than I’ve done some similarly timed rail journeys in Europe so I thought, why not?
So here I am in Suvarnanbhumi airport or BKK as I prefer, for obvious reasons, to call it. ( The locals affectionately call it ‘swampy’ as it was built on reclaimed swamp land, but for the sake of clarity I’ll just call it BKK ).
I arrived here stupidly early. I blame my husband, I was always the kind of person who used to screech up at the last minute, usually sweating and swearing, but his traveling habits have finally rubbed off it seems and I have allowed plenty of time for unexpected delays and mishaps. Today so far there have been none.
The upshot is that I’m in no particular hurry, and with no particular destination or deadline I’ve spent the last hour ambling around the airport. And what a fine airport it is. As a passenger I have always appreciated the layout of the airport as it is easy to navigate, well signposted and well provisioned with coffee. I have spent many, many, (many), hours here before when transiting between flights or waiting for connections, but it’s always been with an invariably tired and grouchy small person in tow who wants to do nothing more than find a chair then complain to me how bored she is for how ever many hours we need to sit there.
This time I found myself just mooching about and I discovered the observation deck which I have never noticed before tucked away above international departures. What a find. It’s not that there is anything all that amazing to observe as it doesn’t even look out onto the runway, but it has something which, to me, is airport gold.
It has very few people in it. There was no real noise, there were benches, there was a wide open space. THIS is where I will be bringing small person the next time we have to do any waiting here, this is like an airport paradise. I mean sure it has no coffee, but I can supply that without too much of an issue, so this is where we will be.
The only interruption to my near solitude was a large group of sunburned drunken Russians who had taken the wrong escalator and were frantically searching for international departures. I pointed them in the right direction and once again it was just me and a few airport staff enjoying a quiet lunch.
As I have said the view you are intended to observe is on the mediocre side, but it’s the unintended view that captured my interest more. From high in the roof of BKK you can look down on the entire departures floor and the order it makes from the chaos of bodies that are filling it. From way up here you can’t hear the bustle but watching the snaking lines of passengers overburdened with luggage desperate to be first in like when check in opens, or sitting disconsolately behind a mass of suitcases waiting for news of the flight that cancelled, is a fascinating distraction.
The need for caffeine drew me down from the sky into the madness of departures. Mad, but still beautiful. BKK have done a great job of interior decorating with plenty to keep the eye entertained while you wait. From the impressively large statues that stand guard over the hall to the enshrined relics of lord Buddha with its gloriously scented orchid garden ( with its very own pond don’t you know) it is one of the more interesting airports to wait in. Even the exterior is ordained with 10 metre high portraits of His Majesty the King for you to gaze upon (if you happen to be sneaking out for a crafty cigarette ).
And what better way is there to while a way the time than to watch the whole world ticking by on the departures board in front of your eyes , and dream and scheme of adventures yet to come. But it’s almost time to go to my favourite place. Arrivals.
I find the arrivals hall of any airport to be a joyous place. Not the bored couriers holding up name tags for unknown business men, but the palpable sense of expectation and excitement anticipation as you see people’s eyes constantly flickering to the flight status displays, waiting for the moment of reunion. And when the people begin to trickle through the doors laden with baggage freshly whisked from the conveyer belt, those moments of bleary, sometimes teary eyed reconciliation, of homecoming, of excitement for the unknown, those are moments to treasure.
And speaking of which, it’s my own eyes that are flickering now. In a few short minutes my parents flight will land and we will be having our own magical moment.
Jer Gan Mai
*pictures will be added when I get home and have non stupid internet!!
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month many millions of people around the world stop whatever they are doing.
Stop to take a moment from their hectic lives to pay their respects to the fallen. To those who paid the ultimate price to ensure that our busy lives can continue day by day with hardly a beat missed.
The 11th November 1918 saw the signing of the armistice treaty that officially brought an end to World War 1.
One year later in the grounds of Buckingham palace King George V hosted the first service of remembrance to commemorate the signing of the treaty and this became a national tradition. Two minutes silence is observed, the first minute is a time for reflection and give thanks for those who sacrificed so much, and the second is a time to draw your thoughts back to the living, to those who were left behind, the families who lost so much.
In 1939 the traditional armistice day services were moved to the closest Sunday to the 11th in order that production for the next Great War would not be interrupted. This continues to this day, although in recent years the focus has once again shifted back to the day itself.
Inspired by the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ written in 1915 by Major John McCrae, the poppy has become a symbolic item worn by many as a mark of respect for those who perished and those who still serve. In the United Kingdom, remembrance poppies are sold by The Royal British Legion (RBL). This is a charity providing financial, social, political and emotional support to those who have served or who are currently serving in the British Armed Forces, and their dependents.
This year is the 100 year anniversary of the commencement of world war 1 and there have been many events organised in commemoration of this. By far the most striking is an instillation at the Tower of London titled ‘‘, designed and created by Tom Piper and ceramic artistPaul Cummins There are 888,246 ceramic poppies that cover the lawns of the tower, one for each of the British and commonwealth lives that were lost in the conflict. The last of which was placed there today by a 13 year old army cadet.
The many people that I know that have seen it have all been moved in different ways by the piece, I have only seen it in photographs, but have been similarly moved. The sheer scale of the piece brings into sharp focus just how many lives were lost.
There has been much controversy in recent years about the political nature of wearing a poppy, but for me it is not a political statement, but a personal one. It gives a focus to my thoughts and I have a deep and emotional attachment to it.
During my life as an ex-pat it has become quite a mission to secure my remembrance day poppy. Although the poppy is a recognised symbol in mainland Europe, actually finding one was nigh impossible.
When we lived in France it was a simple matter of asking my mother to pop some in the post, but the mail delivery here in Thailand has proved to be somewhat hit and miss. And last years were hastily cobbled together from craft paper and pins. This year I was a little more organised and made crochet poppies to wear.
This morning I made sure that my hustle and bustle was completed in time for me to head to a local park where I could spend a contemplative few minutes in the tranquility of the flower garden alone with my thoughts. But it turns out I was not alone. There was an elderly gentleman who approached me as i meandered along to the coffee shop. He stopped me and in very broken English told me I looked sad and asked if I was ok. In VERY broken thai I told him I was fine and we sat and had a conversation only made difficult by the language barrier. My thai lessons are going well but I’m not yet up to discussing the geo-political nature of global conflict, so I did the best I could to explain why I was here and what my wooly poppy was for. It took a while, but the understanding in his eyes spoke more than words. When we parted he took my hand and said; “War is bad, you remember- is very good”
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
Jer Gan Mai
*I am a huge fan of this exceptionaly talented urban photographer. Please take a moment to look at the work of Michael P Mulcahy at Innercitylifelondon.
November the 6th was the full moon day of the twelfth month in the Buddhist calendar. It is a very special day, particularly in the Lanna kingdoms in the North of Thailand. It is the festival day of Loi Krathong. Now as with any good Thai festival (particularly one that falls near a weekend) it has extended itself from one day ( the day of the full moon) , to 3 days of parades, contests, sky lanterns and, much to my dogs dismay, extremely loud fireworks.
The origins of loi Krathong are to be found in the ancient Hindi religious texts some of which have been wholeheartedly embraced by the wonderful mish-mash that is thai Buddhism. The basic idea is that you give an offering to the river goddess to thank her for life sustaining water and apologise for any harm you may have caused to the water.
The name itself is a literal instruction for the event. Loi meaning ‘to float’ and Krathong which is ‘a basket that floats’. So during loi Krathong you should float a basket that floats.
The simple krathongs are made from banana tree stems wrapped in banana leaves and decorated with flowers, incense and a candle. It is also traditional to put something of yourself in the basket so the goddess knows who exactly the offering is from. Locks of hair and fingernail clippings are the preferred items of choice. The baskets are made and filled, then taken to the riverbank, lit and launched and your offering of appeasement to the river goddess is carried downstream. ( Quite how launching hundreds of thousands of floral tributes, that will soon become nothing more than litter, into an already polluted waterway is seen as an appropriate apology for polluting the river is up for debate, but not right here or right now).
The process of making a krathong has developed into a true artform. I am rather proud of the one I laboured over today in my Thai culture class, but as pretty as it is, it pales into insignificance when put beside just about any other one you can buy from the numerous vendors throughout the city. To watch the nimble fingers manipulating the banana leaves into such delicate, intricate and beautiful sculptures is a joy to behold. And that’s even before they start getting fancy with the flowers. But a Krathong can also be as simple as a banana leaf ‘boat’ with a single flower inside. There are also now some made from a dough like substance filled with fish food that breaks down in the water and feed the fish as they go, which I think is a rather splendid idea.
Over the years the festivities have of course grown and have become a major tourist draw. Despite Thailand’s many problems, over the last year in particular, which has seen a vast drop in tourist numbers it has been estimated that an additional 200,000 people will be in this city alone for the festivities.
Of course Chiang Mai has an additional draw besides the Krathong.
In the northern or Lanna kingdoms of Thailand we have the YI Peng festival as well. Ye Peng ( directly translated from the Lanna language it means ‘second full moon day’ ), is a festival of light. The origins are rather hazy but most scholars agree that this was again taken from an a incident Hindu ceremony which was incorporated into Buddhism many centuries ago. As Chiang Mai was the ancient capital of the Lanna kingdoms it is a focal point for the celebration.
During Ye Peng people will decorate their homes and businesses with khom fai and khom thew which are small decorative paper lanterns and lanterns on sticks illuminated by small candles. This is a time for making merit at the temples and offering your hopes and prayers to Buddha for the coming months.
But the main attraction are the khom loi, hundreds of thousands of paper lanterns released into the night sky. The main spiritual purpose of the lantern release is one of cleansing. It is said that you speak all your troubles and woes as the lantern slowly inflates and as it takes off into the sky, so does your burden. Whether your troubles really do float off into the distance is I suppose a matter of opinion, but for one night at least it is a soothing thought.
It is a sight that I will never tire of seeing and one that I find both mesmerizing and deeply moving. I once again feel blessed to have been a small part of it.
Jer Gan Mai.
A rundown on my visa run to Laos.
This is what 8.am on a Monday morning at the Thai consulate in Vientiane looks like.
Technically it’s outside the consulate as the gates haven’t opened yet. There are probably already about 200 people here. It’s going to be a long morning…… Thankfully I booked myself into the hotel just across the road from the consulate so I had a bellyful of breakfast to keep me contented in the queue. Although even if you don’t get to eat before you arrive there are a multitude of enterprising street stalls to meet your needs for a modest fee. ( you can also pick up application forms, photocopies and photographs on the street outside should you wish to.)
And a side note here- it’s rainy season people, if it’s not actually raining, it will be- bring an umbrella.
We are all here waiting for our magic number. When the gates open we will all patiently file through and wait to be given a queue number, then we will all patiently wait until our number is called so we can shuffle to the numbered windows and submit our visa application. Then we will all go, clutching our magic numbers, to another building where we will all patiently wait until our number is called again and we will pay.
Then we get to leave, but not with our passports, we will all have to patiently wait till tomorrow afternoon to get into another queue to see if our visa requests have been granted and then we can pick up our passports and run to the border. But that’s tomorrow …..
Well the magic number for today is 204 and this is what will determine just how long I have to sit here. At least 2 hours I’d say.
It is always wise to bring something to entertain yourself with. Thankfully this is something I already know so I have my ipad, my crochet and a book, just in case.
We are still only at numbers 91-100….
It always amazes me how unprepared some people are when they turn up to get a visa. It’s really not that difficult to find out what you will need before you get here and yet droves of people turn up without the first clue.
You need a filled out visa form, supporting paperwork depending on what type of visa you require, 2 passport photographs ( with a white background ), a photocopy of your passport pages and all relevant entry and exit stamps and most importantly the correct fee in the correct currency ( Thai Baht in this case ). I know that you can get the forms and the photos at the consulate but It’s really not that difficult. And as I mentioned above, even if you have none of these things before you arrive the street vendors can supply you with everything before you come rough the gates. And yet in front of me in the queue was a young chap with nothing other than a hangover and a can of beer……
He had decided that he needed a 1 year education visa but had failed to realise that you have to actually register and pay for the course before you apply for your visa. He quickly decided to try for a 60 day tourist visa instead.
191-200 have just been called, I’m almost there…..
My crochet has been garnering a lot of interest and I have just taught a young Filipino lady how to crochet a miniature top hat. As you do.
My number was called at just after 11am. I submitted my application
and went through my supporting documents with the rather stern looking Thai official. He seemed, if not happy, at least content that all was in order and I took my ticket through to the payment hall. I’m still here. This is usually the quick bit. Today it is not. Monday is always the busiest day here and if you have the choice and flexibility on days then I would recommend mid week. This time round I did not and today was really the only choice. Bummer.
Mr unprepared is now touting around the waiting room asking if anyone can change his KIP to BAHT as he thought you could pay the fee in local currency……. He really didn’t think this through.
4 and a half hours later and I have my receipt in hand ready to take back tomorrow afternoon and retrieve my passport. That was a long long wait. Last time with small one we were done by 11, but tighter restrictions on the issuing of Thailand visas has clearly added a little time to each application.
I hate being without my passport, it really unsettles me. Particularly when I’m waiting for something as important as this.
My manicure in town took a little longer than I expected it to ( I know…first world problems, but there really isn’t much else to do in downtown Vientiane in the morning as I discovered when I arrived in an almost deserted city centre after breakfast ), so I hopped out the back of a tuk-tuk and in through the consulate gates long past the time for getting a decent queue number.
Mr underprepared from yesterday morning has just rocked up at the counter and is trying to explain that he has lost his receipt and is extremely cross that he will have to wait till the crowd has thinned out till he gets dealt with.
There really is no hope for some people.
The young Filipino lady I met yesterday has just showed me a selection of multi-coloured miniature top hats that she made this morning.🙂 I have no idea why she would need so many but she seems very happy with them anyway……
137 came up at 2.24pm – woohoo!! There was a slightly nervy moment when it turned out that my passport was not in amongst the general assortment on the desk and I must admit that a little bit of wee nearly came out as I watched the lady go across to a smaller pile all with notes attached to the front. She read the note and scrutinised both my photo and my face. She crumpled the noted and shook her head and advised me that there was no problem just that one of her colleagues yesterday had flagged up that that I didn’t look anything like the picture. She complimented my new haircut, handed me back my passport and wished me a pleasant day. While I was a little intrigued to see how mr unprepared made out it was not enough to keep me from skipping out the gates and across the road to my hotel to pick up my bag.
I am writing this in the back of a rickety tuk tuk on the way to the Laos – Thailand border. I’m holding on VERY tightly as it seems our journey has turned into a race with another tuk heading the same way.
I can’t tell you what speed we are going as the vehicle has no speedo, nor any other working instrumentation, but I do know that while we may not have the horse power to beat his friend on the flat when it comes to any incline, however slight, we have him nailed as he has 3 strapping young Aussie lads in the back of his and I am, once again, flying solo.
Jer Gan Mài