Author Archives: Eliot Hale

Bringing My Thai Girlfriend To America

Do you realize how incredibly hard is such a task is this? America, post 9-11, is unbelievably stringent on many things. It is the typical way of the United States. We are always a bit behind in our endevours, but what we lack in response, we make up for with fervor and spirit!

Anyways, I’m not writing to make a knock on my country. I am just writing to talk about what I went through to bring my Thai girlfriend (now wife) from Bangkok to the home of the best NFL team in known history…Seattle, Washington. (yes..I am referring to the very best SEATTLE SEAHAWKS!!!!!). Okay, I admit I am already off base; but hell… I am very proud of my team!!

So…I was in Thailand in November of 2003. This was my third trip to Thailand and the second such trip on my own. I had decided that I was going to forget all about Bangkok, Pattaya, Koh Samet, Koh Phi Phi, and Phuket. No……nay….I was headed for Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai..and then Laos…so…I…thought..

Long story short..I ended up meeting Pon on my second day in Thailand (at the airport headed for Chiang Rai) and I was immediately under her spell. We spent the rest of the month together and then I flew back to the US; with a promise that I would return for her. Upon arriving in the US; I did all of the necessary paperwork, and then I flew back to Thailand to go to Pon’s embassy appointment five months later (pretty important for you potential American suitors of Thai ladies).

Okay, so the meeting went well and Pon was granted the visa. I had already bought her one-way plane ticket from BKK to SEA (I was confident); and we passed through customs with no problems. Once we arrived in the US, we have had to go back to the DHS (dept. of homeland of security) on two occasions (once for fingerprinting), but that went by pretty quick.

Anyways..things went very very smoothly. She got her green card within three weeks of her last appointment, and then we got her a Social Security Number so she can work. If anyone needs a hand with with this process, I would be more than glad to lend a hand free of charge.

More of “Then & Now”

It’s been far too long (for me) since my last blog. You see, American football season has started, and I am a rabid fan of the game. The time of the week that is usually set aside for blogging (Sunday) is now reserved for watching football. I get up at seven a.m. and drink my coffee and read the newspaper. That brings me to nine a.m. and the football pre-game show on t.v. An hour of that and it’s kickoff for half of the day’s games. Those finish at one p.m., just in time for the day’s other half of games. Those usually wrap up at about half past four. Still time to write, you say? But wait! There’s more! There is the Sunday night game, which starts at 5:30 p.m., and then there is the Monday night game, which starts at six p.m. Anyways, on Sunday I’m on the couch in front of the t.v. from sunrise to sunset. Poor Pon is the perfect definition of a football widow. Hopefully I will make it up to her when I take her to Disneyworld in Florida in three weeks. Maybe her experience there will give birth to some blogging material. We shall see.

Okay, so that is my excuse for slacking off. Now here comes my blog. Oh, and by the way, I handwrote the rough draft of this entry in front of the t.v. while watching Monday night football. The Carolina Panthers are throttling the Green Bay Packers, just in case anyone was wondering.

As I wrote in my previous blog, old photos, and history for that matter, fascinate the heck outta me. If a certain captured scene interests me more than usual, I will study it for long moments. I wish myself into the scene so that I can experience it myself. Why do I do this? Do other people do it? I think it may be compelling evidence for reincarnation. A strong desire to re-experience or re-visit the past. Who knows? I’m not saying that I believe in that…but, what if?.

My apologies for not having a scanner. It helps to look at these photos in a darkened room.

Okay, so here’s an interesting comparison of then and now. I’m sure y’all recognize it. This is an old watchtower call Pom Mahakan (or Pan Fah) on Rajdamnern Road. This watchtower was named for Phra Kan, the Hindu God of Death, which was a warning to any outsider who even thought of trying to breech the outer walls that were once connected to this watchtower.

Once upon a time, there were 14 of these watchtowers spaced 400 meters apart. High walls connected these towers, forming protection around the old city (some of the wall to the right of the tower still remains). As late as 1890 the towers and wall remained intact. They were all (save for two) eventually demolished in the name of progress; namely street widening. Only Pom Mahakan and Pom Phrasumane remain. The latter, according to the book, is located where Khlong Banglamphu meets the river on Phra Athit Road. I don’t know where this is, and I’ve never seen it. Here is the info though, for anyone compelled to see it.

These pictures hold a signifigance to me because I have actually been to Pom Mahakan. I’ve climbed the steps and I have gone inside. It’s unmanned and unlocked. It’s littered with rubbish inside, so no telling what goes on inside of it late at night. If any of you readers out there have been there too, you know it is situated at an intersection that is as busy as any other in Bangkok. This is in stark contrast to the sleepy little black and white photo taken over one hundred years ago.
The caption above the photo states that once beyond the watchtower, gate, and the Golden Mount, one would find themselves in the countryside. Hard to believe, isn’t it?

It’s easier to envision the aforementioned countryside when viewing these two “then & now” photos of the Siam Society. The “then” photo was taken in 1933 when it sat in a large open field.

Bangkok: Then & Now

I am fascinated by historical photos. I can stare at an old black & white photo from turn-of-the-century anywhere for minutes on end. I look at the people or places depicted and try to put myself there. I look at the faces, the clothing..what was the weather like? Are those people miserably hot in their stiff century-old garb? What did they do after the photo was taken? What did they say?

Especially fascinating to me are the series of photos called “then & now”. These pictures will show some area, landmark, or building from long ago. Next to it will be a photo showing how that area or building looks today. Usually the “now” photo is in color. My local newspaper does this every Sunday and it is the first page I turn to every weekend.

This brings me to the topic of my blog. As I was leaving Thailand back in 2001, I ran across a book in the airport duty-free shop. It was called “Bangkok: Then and Now” by Steve Van Beek (ISBN #:974-87616-0-6).
This book has loads of photos taken from 1900-1901 in and around Bangkok. Next to those photos are their modern siblings depicted in a modern myriad of colors. Some of the photos are depicting well-known areas or structures. Many are often more obscure (such as a sidestreet or narrow little klong).

Without further ado, here are some of my favorite photos from the book. Enjoy! P.S. My apologies; I couldn’t fit these photos side by side. I don’t think too much was lost by stacking them like this. The quality might have suffered a bit as well, as I took the photos with my camera from the open book.

Looking north from the top of the Golden Mount ca.1880 and today

Ti Thong Road ca.1900 and today

The intersection of New Road and Worachak Road then and now. I don’t know where this is, but I thought it was cool.

A Jagged Pearl In Northern Thailand

I’m sure that everybody has some type of ‘life list’ of one sort or another. It is usually a list of certain things that a person wishes to accomplish before a certain point in their life. A young entrepeneur wants to make his first million by age 30; or a sports fanatic wishes to see a game in every ballpark in the league. Less lofty goals, but important to that person nonetheless, could be such things as meeting all of their most beloved movie stars, or reading every book written by their favorite author.

Many people share the same goal of visiting certain parts of the world. Some people are even more specific, and they wish to view a certain site within a particular city or country. These happen to be the contents of one of my ‘life lists’.

My list is not long, nor is it my only list. The first sites on my list that I got to cross off were The Pyramids of Egypt and The Sphinx. I visited those wonders of the world in 1989 and actually, while crawling inside one of the pyramids, I came down with an infection in my elbow that nearly did me in. It stemmed from a scrape I suffered in one of the narrow passageways. It’s an interesting story, but one more aptly told on (is there such a site?)

Cross one off!
One down….

Anyways, I digress. My short list of must-see attractions, in no particular order are 1) Machu Pichu in Peru; 2) Angkor Wat in Cambodia; and 3) The Taj Mahal in Agra, India. That last site, The Taj Mahal, is almost haunting to me. I hear that one who views this wonder of the world by the full moon is never quite the same. I truly reckon that a visit to any part of India will leave a person changed forever. The same can surely be said of our beloved Thailand..and that brings me to the subject of my blog.

Dear readers, if you have a list similar to mine, I’d like you to add a site to it. I had not known of it prior to my visit, but if I had, such a majestic, beautiful place would be a “must see”. I can’t say that I stumbled upon this place by accident, but I did not know that I was going to see it. I think having it sprung upon me like a serendipitous jack-in-the-box was a better way to introduce me to this place.

The place that I am writing about is Wat Rongkhun in Chiang Rai. This temple is no ordinary venue (why does Murray Head come to mind?). It was not finished when I visited it in April of 2004. It was still being plastered together by the artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat. When I went there, I sat on the steps and actually watched him molding a portion of the wat out of white mortar.

At The Wat
I’m dwarfed by beauty.

Pon and I rode into Chiang Rai that hot April day on a trip that I thought was based on my need for a decent coffee fix. The packet of Nescafe in a cup of hot water, the fare offered at the only market in Bahn Bong Chang, was not cutting it (I’m sure some of you have heard of us Seattleites and our coffee habits). Halfway to town Pon took over the helm of the motorbike and steered us into the parking lot of Wat Rongkhun. When I first saw it, and not to sound trite, I was awe-struck. This pure white temple, glittering with the millions of tiny mirrors imbedded in the albino mortar, rising out of the parched ground was nothing that I was prepared for. The first thought in my mind was..”Taj Mahal!!”.

First Sight
My first view from the parking lot.

The Taj Mahal is an entirely different structure in the most basic architectural sense, but the feelings it invoked in me on first sight were what I believed I would feel upon seeing the Taj Mahal. This wat is only a couple of years old (since first started), but I know that it will be on many peoples’ ‘must see’ lists for many centuries to come.


Tweety Birds on a Chiang Rai Hillside

A caveat to any amateur (or pro) ornithologist reading this blog. This is neither an entry about my search for a new species of aviary mystique in the jungles of Northeast Thailand, nor is it an essay about Warner Brothers’ influence on Thai culture. No, the tweety birds to which I am referring were the ones I saw above my melon after being knocked flat on my butt at Wat Phra That Doi Tung. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In April of 2004, I spent two weeks in and around Chiang Rai. I would either drive Pon’s father’s motorbike (a risky endeavor, I admit), take the bus, or ride with her uncle in his rickety Toyota pickup (he was the only person in the very entended family who had a car).

On one of my last days in Chiang Rai, Pon and I, along with about eight of her relatives (I kid you not) loaded up into this old pickup for a ride into the surrounding hills. One does not need to be a member of Mensa to realize that five or six people would be riding in the bed of said truck. I happened to be one of those windblown unfortunates. Suffice to say, at the end of that day, my milky-white skin ended up a beautiful BBQ’d red, not unlike moo daang! This in spite of using sunscreen. April in Thailand? Are you kidding?

Chiang Rai Countryside
The view from Wat Phra That Doi Tung

After a long ride, we ended up at Doi Thung Mae Fah Luang Flower Garden. These beatifully manicured grounds sit around the “chalet” that was home to the King’s mother in her later years. She had it built to look exactly like a Swiss chalet, to remind her of the years she spent in Switzerland when her children attended school in that country. The gardens were beautiful, and I took several photos. Pictures were not allowed during a tour of the interior of the chalet, so I am sorry that I cannot show how it looked. It was very beautiful. I don’t think anyone lives in the residence now. Most of the rooms are roped off and left as they were when the King’s mother passed away in 1995.

Doi Thung Mae Fah Luang Flower Garden
Some of the garden park

Not far from this chalet and garden park, sits Wat Phra That Doi Tung. One of the more interesting aspects of this wat is that it has Buddha’s left collar bone enshrined in a chedi that is draped with a saffron-colored cloth.

Buddha's Collarbone
Here’s the chedi housing Buddha’s collarbone

Another interesting aspect of this wat, is the walking path leading up to it from one of the lower parking lots. This steep ascent is lined on both sides by large bells. Hundreds of them going all the way to the summit. People going in both directions will retrieve sticks from the thick foliage, and bang each bell as they pass. The walk is anything but a time for introspective meditation in aesthetically-pleasing surroundings.

Upon reaching the summit, the climber is afforded gorgeous views of the countryside. So…I was walking around these grounds taking in everything. I spotted a beautiful vantage point from which to take of picture of the distant haze-covered hills. I knelt down by a bench to steady my view. “click” I took a couple of snapshots. Then I stood up..”BONG!!” right into a bell that was hanging next to the bench!

I don’t think that I was knocked out, but it took a moment to get my wits gathered back into my ringing noggin’. My sunglasses were sitting sideways on my sunburnt face. Embarrassment turning my already red face an even darker hue of scarlet. I was flat on my back, my legs splayed akimbo. A nice purple knot appeared almost immediately above one eye.

I sat up amidst the flashing stars and looked around; my eyewear still draped precariously off of one ear and part of my nose. Such a sight I must’ve been. Bystanders’ concerns for my well-being were quickly dispelled as I sat up. This concern was replaced by the urge to chuckle at the clumsy pink-faced Farang sitting on the flagstones, blinking slowly and surveying his surroundings. I had to laugh myself as I stood up and brushed pine needles off my keister. A truly memorable day for me this the Wat of the Tweety Bird.

He looks like how I feel
Oh, my aching head!