Friday, July 20, 2007

Team D&K return

It's late Friday night in Connecticut. Kirsten and I've just returned home, full of memories but exhausted. The strange thing about traveling halfway around the world is we don't even know how long we've been traveling, as days start to lose definition. The international dateline is a very curious thing. The Nagoya to San Francisco leg of our trip departed at 3:30 PM on July 20th and arrived at 8:30 AM, July 20th.

Our two days in Bangkok were fun, but a little sad too as we knew we'd be leaving soon. We arrived via the first-class sleeping compartment of the "Super Rapid Express" train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok. We thought this would be an experience akin to the Orient Express, but it was closer to sleeping on a bunk bed in a walk-in closet.

In Bangkok, our Thai friend Monic treated us to a fancy deep tissue massage, by far the best of our vacation--just the right level of tough, our masseuses hit all the right spots and none of the wrong ones. (Kop khun khrap, Monic!)

We heightened the experience by following it with dinner at a fancy Thai fusion restaurant. The food in Thailand had been great, but a little repetitive, so we were happy to see what new inventions chefs were making with the old techniques. I ordered duck spring rolls then roasted duck couscous. Duck-a-licious!

The next day...our last in Thailand...we visited a sleepy island outside of town called Koh Kret. It's a Mon community, the Mon being one of the oldest of the Thai ethnic groups, and prodigious potters for over a thousand years. The island is all footpaths, no cars, and filled with lots of old kilns. We wandered, a little aimlessly, stumbling across an ornate building we assumed was a temple. Walking inside, we discovered it was actually a house, but luckily the proprietor was very friendly. We turned down her offer of dinner, but accepted the invitation to tour her house, which was decorated with wood carvings and giant Chinese vases.

One red-eye flight to Japan later, we were back in Nagoya, with several hours before our San Francisco flight. We took a train into town then de-stink-ified at a Japanese bath house. The bath house experience oozes tradition in Japan. As an outsider, the real question is not if we're violating cultural taboos but which ones and how badly. I think my biggest mistake was to spit my toothpaste into one of the bathing bowls. Luckily the Japanese seem to prefer silent judgment to open criticism. I prefer this too.

Washed and refreshed, we wandered past Nagoya's semi-famous pagoda-style castle, then grabbed lunch at a very cool, very Japanese restaurant. We ordered by pointing randomly at the menu and hoping for the best, and it worked out well.

In the afternoon our 777 left the ground and our Asian odyssey came to an end. About 20 hours of bad airplane movies later, we're home.

Looking back on four weeks of memories, a few sensations stand out. I remember the peacefulness of Buddhist monks meditating, motionless, seeking mental calm through physical calm. I remember the energy intrinsic in an active lifestyle with a deluge of new experiences. I remember the happiness that came from experiencing these things together with Kirsten.

There are lessons here for how to live a good life after returning home. I see the Honeymoon not so much as an event, but as a beginning.

I leave you with a video of the coolest travel girl I know reading a sign in Japanese during our hike up Mount Hiei...

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