DS playing the guitar:

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Nine Buddhist monks, eighteen holes and 007

‘9 monks’

This past week I had the pleasure to attend the opening of the new office for Origin Thailand. Origin is a large IT software & services company which operates throughout the world. Origin is also one of the prime subcontractors for the project with I am working on. This is no real surprise as Origin is an 80% owned subsidiary of the Philips Corporation.

Origin decided to open an office in Thailand once they received an outsourcing contract from Philips Semiconductor’s Thailand for all computer operations related activities for the factory. A new office opening in Thailand, as well as much of Southeast Asia, is as much a religious event as it is a business event. The purpose of the religious ceremony is to insure that the spirits which are already located in or that will enter the new premises are only good spirits.

Upon entering the new office facility the first thing I noticed was the podium where nine padded backrests stood adorned with Thai writings and bordered with gold leaf. The number nine is significant as good fortune come in sets of three with nine being the most fortuitous. It is for this reason that arrangements are made for nine monks to preside over the opening ceremony in place of a lesser number. This is true of most religious ceremonies in Thailand, such as weddings, new homes, a new child, etcetera. However, for some of the poorer families there may by only three of six monks, depending on the wealth of the family.

I must admit that some compromises were made for this particular ceremony due to the number of Westerners, (farangs) that were attending. The most noticeable was the fact that we were allowed to sit in chairs instead of kneeling on the floor. I had heard from others that this was quite uncomfortable after the first five or ten minutes.

The ceremony was to begin at 10:30 in the morning. We were all seated as the nine saffron robed monks entered the room and walked up onto the podium. Once seated the ceremony began. With shoes removed the senior staff member from Origin Asia made his way forward to the small shrine on the left-hand side of the stage. Whereupon he kneeled, clasped his hands and bowed three times. Moving on his knees towards his left, he lit three candles and the joss sticks (incense). He then carefully arose and returned to his seat. During this process my Thai colleague sitting next to me instructed me to press my hands together and holds them close to my chest.

The head monk began to chant as he unrolled a ball of white silk thread and passed in on to the monk to his left. This continued down the row of monks until the thread reached the last monk. The thread symbolizes a barrier, which is to prevent evil spirits from entering the premises. With the thread held between the thumbs and forefingers the monk droned several chants. This lasted around 30 minutes. Towards the end of the chanting, the monk on the right began to roll up the ball of thread and pass it onto his right. This concluded the first phase of the ceremony.

It was now time for the monks to eat. The monks always eat first and are served symbolically by those for whom they are performing the service. In this case, once the food had been placed in front of each of the monks, the new management staff went forward – again barefoot and on their knees – to present the food to each of the monks. The audience sat patiently understanding that we were entitled to the ‘leftovers’ once the ceremony was completed. It is interesting that Buddhist monks are only allowed to eat up until noon; Where after they are only allowed water, as this shows that they do not need to give into the temptations or desires of the body.

Having completed their meals the monks were presented with two gifts. The first being a basket of household, everyday goods (detergent, soap, some food, etc.), the second being an envelope containing money. The money is also considered to be a gift to their temple.

This is followed again by a round of prayer where the new management of Origin sat on their haunches in front of the rest of the group. Of course there was another round of chanting which signaled that the ceremony was towards its end. Then the head monk rose and blessed the audience by sprinkling prolific amounts of water around (of which I was sure that I received more than my fair share). I hope that this means that I will be blessed in the future with lots of good fortune, which our project presently needs.

The final piece of the ceremony was the blessing of the entrance to the office. Once again, the head monk performed this, while the other monks and the audience watched. Above the entrance the monk wrote several stylized Thai characters which were intended to allow only the beneficial spirits onto the premises. It is bad luck to remove the writings, which are always left to wear off on their own. The ceremony concluded with a brief prayer and the departure of the monks. Last we were allowed to eat lunch – which there was more than enough despite this being the monks leftovers. The ceremony itself lasted around one and a half hours.

’18 holes’

Thailand is a country where golf can be considered the national sport. There are numerous courses and for the most part fees are inexpensive. It is also one of the key company events within Philips Semiconductor which occur roughly on a monthly basis. Although not having my own clubs yet, (our container is scheduled to be unpacked on April 30th), I had been yearning to play. Initially, I looked into buying a new set of clubs in Bangkok. However, after some investigation I have found that prices in Bangkok for clubs are about 25% higher than in the US. And since I’ll be visiting there soon enough it seems wiser to make my purchases there instead of here. In the mean time, my secretary Renu was able to loan me an old small set of her husband’s clubs. Initially I planned only a few trips to the driving range in the evening.

The driving range that I visited was also a new experience for me. The ‘Hole in One’ has a lower and an upper deck. So, while you’re practicing on the lower level you see balls flying in the same direction but coming from above. The driving range was also nice as there was also table service for drinks – or a complete meal if you liked – while you are hitting balls. I may try this with Nancy for an evening out once she’s her. On the more extreme side were those practicing with a ball boy. The young Thai was crouched down placing balls on the tee one after another while his employer stood above him swinging away.

In any event, my secretary asked if I would like to join her for a round of 18 holes last Saturday. Even though she waited until the last possible moment to ask, Saturday morning around 10am for a 1:30 tee time, I decided to go ahead and join her. She had planned to play at Muang Ake golf course. This was indeed a good opportunity as this course was one of two, which are in close to our future residence.

Upon arrival my small sack of clubs was immediately whisked away by one of the attentive female caddies. I located the group I would be playing with. There would be two groups in all, a group of four Thai gentlemen, followed by Renu, her friend and myself. The start time had been changed to 2:30, as this reduced the green fees to half price. The green fees were then 750 baht or around 20 USD.

The course itself was well laid out with plenty of water and sand hazards. Palm trees, providing only minimal shade in the strong afternoon sun, sparsely covered the course. My caddy was a diminutive Thai woman. I may have been provided with the smallest caddy, due to the small size of the golf bag that she had to carry. Most of the players had full sized ‘pro’ bags which are quite large and heavy. The other caddies seemed to have no difficulty with this, despite the sun and the heat.

Playing was pleasant enough, even though my performance was far from my expectations. One pleasant surprise was the white circle, which provided a 2 feet perimeter for the home. Once inside you are allowed take a gi’me, which assumes that even the worst of players could make the short put. This was done to help speed play. Strategically placed about every fourth hole was a shaded snack stand that provided cool drinks as well as some food including of all things, fried chicken legs.

The caddies were quite skilled. Mine not only provided valuable course information, ‘left ok, right water’, and ‘wait, too close’ or ‘green go left’, she also provided valuable support such as, ‘ball go in water’ and ‘shot OK’. At the end of the round of 18 the caddy fully deserved the 200 baht fee or about $5. I still always find it a nice touch when the Thai’s wai to you after receiving their payment. The wai is a gesture of thanks, which is performed by pressing the hands together and bowing the head. Returning the wai is not done and a simple smile is more than expected.

‘007

Another event which is of note, although more brief that the previous two encounter, is that of going to the movies. Movies are very popular in Thailand, which are most of the Hollywood production type. Similar to Europe, the introduction of new films to the marketplace lags the US premiers by 3 to six months. I do think that films tend to however show-up in Thailand somewhat earlier than in Europe. On this occasion I decided on breaking up my routine by going to see the latest James Bond. I chose the MGM theaters at the Emporium shopping complex that is one of the better I have seen. Inside the theatre it is quite modern and large (in any event larger than many in the Netherlands), with comfortable seat with full backrests. The price of a first run film is about 100 baht or USD 2.5. There are also several fast food restaurants in the mall, it is not unusual to have persons eat a meal inside the theater. This seems to be tolerated by the theatre staff. After the previews and commercials, the audience is required to stand during the national anthem while they pay homage to the ruling monarch, Bhumiphol. This may by one of the last democratic monarchies where the sovereign still commands the respect and reverence of the entire population. -Allan


Fountain Gladness

Logistics with my husband are never simple. So after the fiasco of trying to take the train to meet him two years ago, we flew.

DS had school in the morning so I agreed that the neighbor would drive me to the train station immediately after school. Except that she had been delayed at the hairdresser and wasn’t home yet when I returned. Shortly thereafter she appeared and the adventure began.

I managed to check myself in at the automated kiosk. The last time I had tried this it didn’t work so I was directed to a real live person behind a counter. As I was walking towards the first check point a KLM employee said, ‘hello.’ I said hello back and continued on. Well it wasn’t a rhetorical American hello but a European I-want-your-attention-so-I-can-talk-to-you hello. She just wanted to know if I needed any help. What is it with these people? If you need help they’re angry and if you don’t need help they’re angry.

Please note, Troll beads will indeed set off the airport metal detector. And the security guards did not like at all the brick size converter I had in my carry on for DS’s Nintendo DS.

Al was there to meet us at the Munich airport (still in his ski pants by the way) and we climbed in the car for the two hour drive to Neukirchen. DS was puzzled how our own car was there to meet us so we tried to explain that daddy had driven it there a week ago. DS was still skeptical.

Before the trip I’d had an IPOD adapter installed in my car. It was more that worth the outrageous price. We met the others who’d been skiing at a restaurant in town. There was a little dog there named ‘Tin Tin.’ Malous magically transformed a sheet of paper out of my purse into a frog- that really jumped! I enjoyed some venison stew before going to sleep in my lumpy potato sack of a bed. I had weird dreams about a borrowing a Lincoln Continental and falling into a whirling vortex because the brakes failed.

Saturday February 23, 2008 – Sledding is for lugers
In the morning we enjoyed a hearty breakfast including fresh Kaiser rolls, mystery fruit juice and my very own private jug of coffee. There was a dog named Tin Tin. Hmm, are all the dogs in these here parts named that? I apportioned my belongings among the five (!) pockets on my skiing jacket, which is to say they all were as good as lost. Then we were off to go sledding. It was wet. DH and I almost but not quite fit on one sled. The bumps were murder. It was a lot of giggly and roar out loud fun although I questioned the wisdom of starting a one week skiing holiday by getting drenched to the bone soaking wet. This was when DS came up with the travel log’s name.

The whole group had lunch at the Dorfstube. I realized that the dog named Tin Tin belonged to one of our party. Duh. After a prolonged discussion and debate we decided that the mystery juice at the mornings breakfast was maybe surely…pear? Afterwards we said good bye to the group that was returning to Holland while we explored further. The first stop was the mineral store of family Steiner. Andy found a lump of smoky quartz that spoke to him. And after asking about stone discs the lady brought out several trays of them! I confined myself to only 7 – one for each day of the week – with much difficulty. And then we made our way to the Grand Hotel in Zillertal for tea. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon. It was going to be a warm week.

The ski rental was very crowded! We’d left it until too late and had to compete with all the others. I sprung for premium skis and we got twin tips for DS.

I unpacked and put the room in order. DS would have the potato sack bed. DH and I would have our own adjoining room with a much more comfortable bed.

That night we walked in the dark along an icy rushing river to a restaurant in the woods. As we approached the inviting lights cut through the trees and beckoned us welcome. The entire inside of Siggen restaurant is clad in wood (as are most eating establishments in that area) and the warmth radiated from same is incredibly cozy. DH and I shared the mixed grill- which was MORE than enough for two. I couldn’t resist a piece of the Mozart chocolate cake.

Sunday February 23rd
I decided to water down my pear juice to a) increase my hydration and b) because I’m such a good little dieter. DH eschewed the bottle of water I’d brought down from the room and so I slurped down some from a pitcher by the pear juice. Then I poured myself just a glass of ‘water’. It was sweet. Very sweet. Turned out it was sweetened elderflower water.

DH had decided that’s we’d go high and remote for this first day of skiing. His choice, Weissee is on the North side of a mountain so the sun shouldn’t make it too slushy and a bit difficult to access by a road full of winding hairpin turns. It was a wonderful decision. While the area is tiny it is exquisite. It wasn’t terribly crowded. On the first gondola ride up we saw people training dogs to find people in avalanches. I really liked my skis. DS liked his twin tips. Twin tips are turned up a bit in the back so that they are very easy to ski backwards with. After a typical lunch at the top of the mountain I took one more run and I was done.

Back in Neukirchen I enjoyed a cappuccino while sitting in the sunshine. Again that night we walked to dinner- but to a different restaurant- Kerkplatz. The stars were amazingly clear and sparkly. I slept like the dead.

Monday, February 25th
Today we chose to ski Gerlos Platte. DH was worried that it would be too warm but I was secretly pleased that I would be able to wear my white furry gloves. Normally it’s way too cold for these so I wear mittens. If Gerlos Platte didn’t suit us we could just go over to the adjacent resort and ski there.

In the morning we enjoyed virgin groomed slopes. There’d been no new snow but it had been cold enough the night before to keep the slopes from being slushy. Some people might not like the crunchy, icy flat runs but I love them. I learned to ski on an artificial slope so these were perfect conditions for me. After a mid-morning stop for a huge soft Bavarian pretzel the trails had softened slightly. DS enjoyed the bumps. His skiing nickname is ‘Mogul Midget’. He loves the challenge of a mogul field.

We ended up somewhere that we had to take a T-bar. DH went with the little guy. I was alone behind them. It seemed to go on forever and I was thinking it must be terribly painful for DH to have that bar behind his knees. He had to do it that way so that the bar would hit our 8 year old at the top of his thighs. We agreed not to do that again.

It was so sunny that the umbrella bar at the bottom by the parking lot was sans umbrella! On the drive down the mountain we stopped and marveled at a waterfall.

Back in the room DH & DS puzzled over some Sudukos. I listened to Elvis Costello’s ‘Beyond Belief’ over and over again on the IPOD- because I could.

We went down to the common room so we would have a table big enough to play Mexican Train Dominoes. Simon and Laura (grandchildren of the owner) joined in. That night we drove up a scary road to Stockenbaum. We passed masses of teenagers walking up on the way.

Tuesday February 26th
When I woke up it feels like someone has taken a blow torch to my face. I *thought* my facial moisturizer had a sunscreen in it. Alas.

I asked DH if breakfast at the farm was like breastfeeding. You know if the baby sucks and sucks, the next day there is more milk. And if the baby doesn’t take it all there is less the next day. It appears that our breakfast is growing exponentially every day. Is there anything better than a hostess with an inferiority complex? We were staying on a working farm. Complete with small children and the smells of wonderful food being preserved and distilled. After breakfast we’d take our dirty dishes to the kitchen where there was this magnificent huge cast iron stove with uncountable burners and ovens. I still covet that stove.

If it’s Tuesday it must be Kitzbuhel. Half the time it seems I could get into this marvelous rhythm and the other half of the time I couldn’t. It was tiring. Somehow we managed to get way too much food for lunch; half a chicken with French fries, another generous order of French fries and both custard and apple streudel. Oh and soup. I think we could simply point our skis downhill and gravity would pull our oversized girths to the bottom. For some unexplained reason Kitzbuhel made a very bad impression on me. It was crowded with people who didn’t know how to ski. Many, many of them were taking lessons in these enormous groups. At the slushy bottom by a lift a very sweet teenage boy and I slid into each other. It was probably a combination of the too warm snow and the aggressive crowds at the lifts that put me off. I tried to get into a skiing rhythm by singing, ‘Hot! Hot! Hot!’ and fell immediately. I don’t know why but ‘Jeremiah was a Bullfrog’ worked much better. Why is it that some songs like; ‘Iko, Iko’ and ‘Follow the Leader’ work so well? We dined at a non-descript restaurant with very good silverware. The food wasn’t bad but after dinner the other patrols all lit up cigarettes. We skipped dessert.

Wednesday, February 27th
Today we’d go to Zillertal Arena Konigsleiten. I felt like my skis were worth their weight in gold. I could not imagine the agony these slopes would be on highly flexible beginner’s skis. I was so tired I just looked at the tips of my skis and told them to get me home. They obliged.

At one point, at a crossroads I lost DH & DS. Then I remembered that both my cell phone and DH’s Blackberry had been left in the car that day. I took off my skis and went into the nearest Alm. I took out my map and asked (where the heck!) I was. The waiter pointed and I thought, ‘now what?’ I had a vague idea that DH would come back to get me. But we were in the middle of a very long run. I decided to head to the very bottom where I was pretty sure where we’d agreed to go. Did I say it was a very long run? I took some rests and took my time. I stopped at an umbrella bar halfway but eventually the smoke drove me out. As I was approaching the bottom lift DH & DS hollered at me from the lift going up to ‘wait!’ So I did.

We stopped at the far edge of the resort at the Fussalm for lunch. The weather kept getting warmer and warmer. I felt like I was trying to glide through quick setting concrete.

After skiing we browsed the wool store where DH bought his felt hat on an earlier trip. We also stopped at the ham store. Surprisingly they didn’t sell any local jam. The previous week DH had ordered a swinehaxen for the both of us. The road up to the Sahnalm is so treacherous that they pick you up in a van at the town church and drive you up. It was a darling inn. The pork was out of this world. I so didn’t need to order a side salad. As far as I could tell the sauce for the meat consisted of an emulsion of butter, lard and cream. The three of us split a chocolate sundae for dessert.

Thursday, February 28th
Although the chances of it being too warm were high we still wanted to try the local ski area-Wildkogel where we’d sledded on Saturday.

Wildkogel is a very sweet small area. It would have been amazing if there had only been good snow.

DH had it all planned out but missed the turnoff for lunch. Which meant was had to ski all the way down to the bottom and ride the lift back up again. It took awhile to make our way down the sno-cone consistency run. My skis began to talk to me. “Trust me. Put some more weight on my tips.” Honestly the skis really did ALL of the work. I couldn’t because I was too tired. I started singing (to the tune of ‘Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes’) ‘Keep the weight on the tips of your skis’. Before that I was singing ‘Yellow Submarine’ but I guess I just needed something stronger.So we didn’t get to the Berghut with the best kaiserschmarren in the area until 1:30 or so. I was beat. It truly was delicious kaiserschmarren but I’d had enough of skating over the slush and simply went to the middle station and rode down.

That night we had dinner back at the Dorfstube. Our frog folding skills had improved so much that we started to be an attraction for the other tables. DH had reverse engineered the frog from Malous had folded Saturday at lunch. We were in business.

Friday, February 29th
Today we’d ski Gerlos. It was very cold at the top in the morning. What a refreshing change after the warm week! But I had left DH’s gloves outside on the balcony to air out overnight and they hadn’t dried. At the first restroom I alternated blowing hot air into them from the hand dryer and waving them over the radiator. We had every kind of weather. Wet. Windy, Sunny, Gray. The wait-just-5-minutes-and-it-will-change kind of weather. I hadn’t really dressed for it. And after the warm week we didn’t even have mittens or an extra layer in DH’s backpack.

I wavered between being irritated at DH for the very traits for which I love him. His adventurousness. His spontaneity. We stopped early which was a good thing. As we were loading the car it began to rain in earnest. During our drive to the Norhtwest side of Munich it was pretty nasty. We took a detour into the center of Munich for dinner at the Rathskeller and then continued on to our hotel. In 1985 we’d stayed a week at a pension in Obermenzing. We’d passed it several times while driving back and forth and this year DH had noted the name. I had Googled the telephone number and then DH had one of his German speaking friends make a reservation there at Pension Hartl.

We didn’t get there until much later than we had intended. DS was already asleep. I waited in the car thinking, ‘what in the car do I have for a weapon if necessary?’ And, ‘what is the emergency number in Germany?’ I had decided on a ski pole when DH came back to the car with the room key. I plopped the GPS, IPOD and DS’s Nintendo in my purse. DH took the SLR and his laptop in.

It was the best night’s rest I had the whole vacation. We were tucked up the three of us cozy in one little pristine room.

We got an early start after loading up on pastries at the bakery below the hotel. It took us a very long time to get home with all the wind, icy sleet and road works. Thank goodness we had our IPOD’s to entertain us. DH had filled his with ‘Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me’ Podcasts which just made the time fly.

We stopped at Thomas’ return the skis he insist that DH borrow. DH’s own skis are floppy beginner’s ski. I guess it’s time to go shopping.

He was a good cat.

After a long- 18+ years- and full life Vincent van de Ashram drew his last sweet breath yesterday afternoon.


He was a sweetheart. It’s going to be very quiet (&clean) around here.