As I travel across America during my annual summer visit, I will share snapshots of various cities or states, taken from a more intimate perspective than those one might see on a postcard. First up: St. Louis, Missouri.
Perhaps Monet was inspired by looking through a rainy window.
Laclede's Landing near the Mississippi River
The massive Gateway Arch (a small portion)
The Broadway Oyster Bar.
A typical midwest downpour under the metro rail near Busch Stadium
A classic drive-in
A humorous juxtaposition in this multi-cultural city
In most government buildings one finds only, well, government offices.But Thailand is not like anywhere else. While waiting for my visa to be updated at Immigration in the sleek new glass and steel Government Complex, I wandered into the vast central hall which was filled with stall after stall of food, clothing, leather goods and jewelry. Although patterned after the bustling outdoor markets, this Singaporean-style indoor air conditioned market was sparkling clean, surreally subdued and caught in the echoes bouncing off interior walls. Vendors were similarly subdued, lacking the energy and smiles found at all outdoor markets. If this is the future of Thai markets, it is a sad foreshadowing. It's much too sterile to be authentic; Much too American "mall-ish." Photo courtesy of Carlos Anendegui.
The prize for world's worst shopping mall designs must go to Thailand hands down.Malls in this kingdom for some reason draw hordes of Thais; more people jam into the shopping high-rises than in any other place I've seen, and certainly far more than in the U.S. In the capital, Bangkok, there are hundreds of them to cater to the city's ten million residents. One would think that with so many potential customers, mall architects would carefully lay out a plan to fully and easily direct the teeming throngs, but no.
Imagine if you will a six story shopping plaza, complete with the requisite multi-cinema complex and amusement park on the top floor. Now imagine walking into the huge structure, which has several wings off a central foyer with shops ringing each floor. If one wanted to find one's way to the cinema, it would be a daunting task for three reasons: 1. There are no signs directing one to the actual cinema; 2. There is no floor plan anywhere in the complex; and 3. Asking for directions is fruitless, as no one seems to know exactly where it is, or if they do, how exactly to get there. After trying hopelessly to find the sixth floor (the escalators stop at the fourth floor), a shop owner graciously led us through the maze of hallways and shops to another set of escalators on the other side of the mall that led to the cinema.
As an experiment, I asked for a shop that I knew was not in the complex, and four people directed me in different directions and to different levels in search of the non-existent store.
If trying to find a particular shop isn't frustrating enough, adding to the claustrophobic experience is a curious personality trait of the collective Thai culture: A mall must not be tranquil: the more noise that can be generated, the better. Throughout the complex, what can only be described as "midway fair barkers" send amplified messages into the chaos, often competing next to one another.
If you visit Thailand and wish to experience the indoor multi-level version of the massive Bangkok weekend market, go to "The Mall." An iPod with earbuds is highly suggested if you dare enter the "malls from hell." Oh, yes, and it is best if you do not have a specific store in mind to locate.
Every day the banana man's smile greets us as we pass by. All day he sits by his stand, listening to the radio and greeting customers with a wave. Once a week we stop to buy a bunch for 20 baht (60 cents). Saphan Sung, Bangkok.
This is the time of the school year I dread. As the last week winds down, the rooms are cleaned, piles of papers accumulated over the last ten months find their way into files or recycling bins, and people become restless as they prepare to fly to various places on the globe. For the past three days, we have had several parties with good food and drink, all to celebrate another year's success. In reality, they are to say goodbye to colleagues who have decided to move on. I dislike these social events but attend just the same.
Bidding farewell to colleagues is not unique to this school, but international schools are different than others. Teachers and administrators come and go everywhere, but in an international school, one knows that there is a good chance that it is the last time these friends will share a good story or beer with you. They don't just move to the next town, or even the next state. They head to all corners of the globe. Once in a while we get lucky, and our meandering path brings us back in touch with a former colleague, whether years down the road at another international school, or by chance we discover to our amazement that our summers will find us within mere miles of one another. The worst feeling is hearing "Come visit us" when we know it will never happen, as distance and circumstances will conspire to prevent it.
Colleagues I have come to call friends are leaving for such places as Canada, Wales, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Singapore, China, Vietnam, Japan, Nepal and various U.S. states. Although my heart is heavy as I say goodbye, I realize how fortunate I am to have known them, even if for a short while. Such is the nature of teaching internationally. Amazing people with remarkable talents assemble in a spot somewhere in the world, work together educating children and learning about each other's cultures, a process that gradually creates global citizens. Despite the regret at seeing friends come and go, I will be ready to do it all again in two months, greeting new colleagues, preparing for a new page in our overseas adventure and finding ways--at least for a while--to stay connected with friends who have left.