Monday, October 28, 2013
Sunday, January 2, 2011
Do you know how to say “doorknob” in Thai? (I don’t.) Just finished reading Peter Hessler’s article in the current New Yorker, The Peace Corps’s brightest hope, and his blog from March where he responds to Nicholas Kristof's question about doorknobs and the mission of the Peace Corps. Interesting reading for us aging former PCVs.
In our personal news of the year department, the highlight was surely our 16-day trip to Turkey for Harris & Seher's wedding celebration. To clarify: they were married in 2009 in a civil ceremony in New Haven, but this August Seher's parents gave them a fantastic party on the banks of the Bosphorus.
Before and after the celebration we took advantage of our chance to tour around western Turkey. (Too) many pictures if you are interested. It was sure interesting traveling around the country knowing only a few phrases of Turkish. Mostly we were able to find people who understood English, but nearly everybody we met was helpful.
One example, we will never forget. After we got off the ferry on our way from Istanbul to Bursa, we knew we had to get on a bus for the rest of the trip. There were a number of buses with different signs, so we showed somebody the address of our hotel, and they directed us onto a bus. The bus took us to a train station on the outskirts of Bursa (a fairly large city with a population of 1.8 million). Again we were confused which platform to go to and which train to take. A guard indicated to go up the stairs to a platform, and we started looking for somebody to ask which train. The first young lady we asked obviously didn't speak English and just looked away. That was probably the only time we got that kind of reaction. Next we asked a young couple sitting on a bench. They clearly understood our question, but the only verbal response we got from the guy was, "No English." But he took our printout with the hotel information, conferred with his wife or girlfriend, made a call on his cell phone, and then indicated for us to follow them onto a certain train. There was a route map on the wall of the train, and he indicated we would get off at the 5th stop. Very good. We understood that, and were happy that he got us on the right train. More talking with his partner in Turkish, another phone call, and shortly we were at the 5th stop. He kissed his partner, and got up with us. I tried to indicate that it was all right, we could take it from here, but he seemed to be insisting he would get off with us. Hard to convince him it was unnecessary when we couldn't speak the same language. So, he lead us to a bus stop and started asking people questions, apparently asking which bus we should take. After a while a bus stopped, and he spoke with the driver. Then he lead us across the intersection to another bus stop. After a while another bus came. He stepped up on the bus, spoke with the driver, and did something with a card at the front of the bus. Then he got off and indicated for us to get on the bus. In my best Turkish, I said, "Thank you very, very, very much." I wished I had something to give him, but didn't think money would be appropriate and didn't have anything else at the ready. Eventually I realized he had even paid for us with a magnetic card because we saw others entering the bus only used their cards, no cash. After about 15 minutes, the driver left us off right in front of the hotel.
What was the guy's name? Where did he live? What did he do? Why was he so helpful? I wish I knew. One thing I do know is we will always remember his kindness. In our xenophobic age where people protest against building an Islamic Center two blocks away from the World Trade Center site (in a former Burlington Coat Factory!), when "Christian ministers" threaten to burn Korans, when the word Islam is mostly tied to the word terrorist, we will remember the warmth and generosity we received in a 99% Muslim country. (And, we will also remember all the people who unsuccessfully tried with wonderful creativity to sell us Turkish carpets :-)
Back to the present, we are happily finishing up our 7th year in Tennessee. The mountains and lakes are as enchanting as ever. We've had a lot of snow this December. I've taken the opportunity 3 times in the last 3 weeks to drive to nearby Roan Mt. (elev. 6300') for cross-country skiing. Still doing a little computer work here and there for companies in NY and volunteer web design for a few organizations. That leaves us plenty of time for meditation, reading and being outdoors in the mountains.
And, finally, one more link from the past that I discovered browsing around the Friends of Thailand web site. This has been up for a while, so you may have already seen it. Can you recognize the guy in this photo?
Click to read the rest of the story.
Best wishes for 2011,
Peter & Parichart
PS Doorknob = ลูกบิด but we had to look it up. Parichart couldn't remember either
Monday, February 22, 2010
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Up ahead in the distance I saw a shimmering light…
My reference point of early Peace Corps experience is ‘Hotel California’. In March of 1977, that was a #1 hit song which along with various other themes considered destiny; and in its faded status amongst
What I received via Peace Corps can’t be quantified, it’s so vast; and what I gave back is so small that it’s equally immeasurable. Much richness came from the members of Group 58. I believe our common sharing in time and space on the Peace Corps path forged an eternal bond with each other as well as with the country in which we served. There was a healthy dissonance in our Group that yielded harmony: I didn’t observe this in other Groups at the time. I think we are special…when we meet we are kin and the country is home. How nice it would be today to see you in passing and find out how you’ve been. [By the way, I discovered why I’m so quirky and that’s because I was born in the year of the Monkey: it’s my nature to find almost everything a source of fun. Sorry.] So today we would no doubt find ourselves laughing over some Peace Corps moment that we alone would understand.
What stellar good fortune allowed me to make the acquaintance of
Coming home in 2001, I found all of life rather difficult and I thought what if I had NOT joined Peace Corps and worked overseas: a mainstream career, a home purchased when prices were affordable, a community of close knit friends… And then recently, I read that a book entitled, A Round-Heeled Woman* was re-written as a stage play, a working production in San Francisco was en route to New York City, etc. I got it into my head that I had to read this hilarious, happy-go-lucky autobiography by an independent, avant-garde female adventurer of my same age. Merging with the author’s point of view, I found that I was reading about my own home town, my neighborhood, my circumstances, my affinities, my reactions to society… As I completed my self-imposed reading assignment, I realized that the author was an incarnation of who I might have been had I not joined the Peace Corps. Not a reader’s reverie…a nightmare.
It is easy to remember Peace Corps days. Apparently that’s true for others—people say, thus and so happened and it reminded me of Peace Corps—which signals whatever the risk the unknown implies, it’s going to be OK. When we landed in
Peace Corps is like The Hotel California:
You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave
KH, February 14th 2010
*[Please, this is not a recommended book…the content came as a revelation to me, but would be an unlikely fit with any member of our Group: A 66 year old woman placed an ad in the New York Times Review of Books personals column expressing her desire for liaisons with men and offered her capacity to discuss Anthony Trollope should the subject be of mutual interest. A thin but popular book was the result of her experiences. And, my advice, don’t see the play either.]
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Hello Family & Friends,
We're happy and healthy, and hope you are, too. We have come to realize that a big part of our health is the exercise we get. Yao is a regular on her treadmill and bicycle (weather permitting). Larry bikes to stay in shape for skiing, and skis to stay in shape for biking. Marie bikes, runs, plays tennis, and we all do yoga to varying degrees.
Marie is now in her second year at Arizona State. She changed her major this semester from Biology to Biochemistry. Most of you know that Marie's career goal is to become a pediatrician. In addition to school, she has been preparing herself for a career in medicine in several different ways. She's volunteering at a clinic for low-income patients in Phoenix, and made a trip to Honduras at the end of the Spring semester with Global Medical Brigades. That was an eye-opener. Though she had seen poverty in Thailand, she was astonished to see the conditions in Honduras, one of the poorest countries in the Americas. Most of the patients, fortunately, presented only minor illnesses.
Larry had a pretty good year on his bikes, hanging them up in November with over 1,600 miles on the odometer for the year. A big part of that was training with a co-worker for a 100-mile day, which we completed the first Saturday in September. The daily 14-mile round-trip to work adds up, too.
As usual, Thailand was a big part of our life again this year. Yao and Marie (with academic schedules) were there for eight weeks, and Larry joined them for the last four. We had fun in Pai, a resort town in the rural north. We hiked in the forested hills, rode elephants and played with them in a river, and went zip-lining through the treetops. Also made a trip to Phuket to connect with some friends who live there, and got in some beach time on a return visit to Khao Lak, the area that was hit hard by the tsunami in December 2004.
We had a shock our last day in Thailand as we prepared to return to the States: Yao's mother was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, already metastasized. That left Yao wondering whether to come home with us, or to stay and tend to her mom's needs. She decided to get on the plane with us, but returned to Thailand ten days later, after arranging a family medical leave with Madison Schools. Yao was able to spend the last six weeks of her mother's life with her, helping to make her comfortable. She passed away on October 9th at the age of 81. Larry went to the funeral in Yao's home town, Phayao, and, along with sons and grandsons, wore the robes of a Buddhist monk for the burial. Yao and Marie are going again on December 21st to attend the 100-day memorial, which is traditional in Thai-Chinese culture.
We're looking forward to some life-changing events in 2010. Yao plans to (semi-)retire. That is, she's retiring from Madison Schools, but that means she's looking for work in Thailand to occupy herself while Larry works another six months and prepares the house for sale. Marie is planning a spring break trip to the Dominican Republic on another medical mission, and Larry is going to dabble in cyclocross, a form of bike racing on trails and roads. There might be an Alaska cruise in our future, with Larry's brother Jim who fills in as an occasional ship's doctor with Holland America.
Our biggest news in 2009 was Harris marrying Seher Erdogan. Seher is originally from Turkey, and has been in the US since attending Yale as an undergrad. She completed her M.Arc. this year, just before the wedding ceremony on May 29. Harris and Seher are both working (luckily!) in New Haven now. Seher's parents are planning a real wedding party in Turkey in August. We are sure looking forward to that and touring Turkey and Greece in the summer. (Although Seher's maiden name is the same as the Turkish Prime Minister's, they are not related.)
Way back last February, Parichart and I had a great trip to Thailand. After a couple of days in Bangkok and visiting with her brothers' families, we flew to Chiang Mai for a visit with her sister. Then we took off on a really fun tour of Northern Thailand: Chiang Rai, Phayao, Nan, Doi Phuka National Park, and Phitsanulok. We had never been to any of these towns before except for a brief stopover in P'lok, and really enjoyed our time in all of these places. Being afraid of global warming, Northern Thailand has more appeal as a possible retirement location for me. I wonder how many of the islands will be left in 50 years, but don’t get me started on that…. If you haven't yet seen all of our pictures from the trip, there are a bunch of albums here: picasaweb.google.com/PeterFordPhotos.
Actually there's no really good reason for us to retire in Thailand. Pari is happy enough in her retirement right here in the beautiful mountains of northeast Tennessee. I continue to do some database programming and web design in my comfortable office downstairs. Right now I've got a beautiful view of snow covered evergreens. And with the trails and lake right out the door, I'm generally content to stay right here on the mountain. (But I do like traveling once in a while.)
Maybe there's a trip to Thailand in our future in about another year. Hope to see some of you in country during our next visit! Bill (Preston), we should try to meet in Thailand instead of New Jersey!
Best Wishes for 2010!
Peter & Parichart
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Some of what you've written lately:
My daughter's graduation from high school is today in Chiang Mai (Friday 22 May) and my son (25) has finished his Masters 2 years ago and is working in Sydney. My daughter will be going to the U of Hawaii to study Marine Biology. Following retirement from the Asian Development Bank a few years ago, I got bored and started working for the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center in Bangkok heading their Public Health in Emergencies team.
I want to pass this along: just this morning I finished reading a novel that is an absolutely outstanding literary achievement (it's going to appeal to an AG volunteer who may not recognize echoes of classics, too). It is "Go With Me" by Castle Freeman Jr., published by Harpers. Down to the smallest detail (e.g. paper, type face, etc.) it is a miracle.
Jason has decided on University of Pittsburgh. It's a bit far away, but I think it's a good choice. We visited there in April and liked the city and university area. It's a fairly big school, but seems manageable, has some very nice architecture. And Pittsburgh is a nice, smaller city that seems very pleasant, relaxed, easy to get around.
I learned as we prepared for the reunion in 2002 that Bob Anderson had died before that. That hit me hard, as he was one of the youngsters, like me. We had shared a room during training in Maha Sarakham. We went to Singapore together in 1978, and I ran into him when he was in grad school in Missouri in the 80s. I regret not keeping in touch, and the PC official who told me about his death had no details.
I’m still plugging away in Bangkok as a corporate language trainer in the Oil and Gas industry, currently working for the exploration and production division of PTT. We’re, of course, called PTTEP. I have more or less stayed in EFL since my volunteer days, primarily in Thailand—Thammasat University, the Stock Exchange of Thailand, Unocal (now Chevron), and now PTTEP. I also did two, 2-year EFL gigs in Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. But, Thailand is still home base. Will probably retire here when I get around to it.
I’m still quite single, and am no doubt too stuck in my ways to get out of this rut, but I am most grateful that I have remained relatively healthy, happy, and financially secure for so long. –Count your blessings...
Peter & Parichart
If you would like to see pictures from our son Harris' recent wedding: picasaweb.google.com/PeterFordPhotos/Wedding#