Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Year 2011

Happy New Year Everybody,

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