Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Another visit from my younger self

July 17, 1980

Dear Grandma,

We are now staying in a very nice hotel in the middle of Bangkok. We've been very fortunate (or unfortunate, as my dad thinks) that we know the manager and his family. Right now we are staying in a suite you wouldn't believe, Pia went and counted all of the roses and she said there were thirty-five in Mom's and Dad's room alone! The only problem is who is paying for all of this but I think we'll get it free because we only reserved regular rooms and they took it upon themselves to put us up here so obviously they are going to pay for it.

It is coming close to the time I go to England and I have been training hard even while on vacation. Only this afternoon I ran twice around a race track (horse's) because there was nowhere else to go!

I didn't realize fully how much I had missed Malaysia until I got there. We got in the airport at 8:30 and it was dark already. None the less my sisters and I had our noses plastered to the windows on our way to the hotel recognizing the various sites and smells of Kuala Lumpur. The weather there was hot but not oppressingly so, it was actually hotter in Hong Kong but only because the humidity in H.K. is so outrageous. After three days of renewing acquaintances and eating the monotonous but good Malay food, we traveled to the coast by way of rented car with my 3 sisters and I squashed into a two seating backseat for two hours. We stopped at a place called Kuantan which is in the state of Pahang and for two days we literally roasted ourselves while dad and I traveled to one of the neighboring hotels posing as residents in order to use the tennis courts. The weather was refreshingly clear -- the sky forever blue, a startling contrast to the muggy, smoggy atmosphere of H.K.

The East coast of Malaysia is made up of one continuous beach stretching as far as the eye can see and farther (I think dad said 120 miles but don't quote me). We drove the whole way stopping once at Rantau Abang in Trenggannu to see a museum about the great turtles. We were going to try to stay overnight in order to watch some lay their eggs but it was too expensive and the museum was filled with information, pictures and life-size replicas so it really wasn't necessary to stay up all night on the beach straining our eyes to see a turtle. We continued up the coast to the state of Kelantan to the capital Kota Bharu. This place wasn't nearly as nice as Kuantan but the food was good, only afterwards dad and I both got bad cases of diarrhea -- dad's was more chronic, so I don't know. Then we drove to the border of Malaysia and Thailand. This was the most exciting part of our vacation because guess how we crossed the border... we ran!

Well we got to the border at about 6:30am having driven an hour and arrived at the Goluck River. The weather was nice but we were all terribly rushed because supposedly we were to catch a train at the other side by 7:00am. The first problem which met us though was a slow walking man in a uniform walked up to us and dad told him were in a rush to cross the border because we had to catch a train at seven so could he please show him where we could get our passports checked. Instead of showing us anything he said heavily, "Train at seven. No go," and turned to look at something over his left shoulder. Dad said, "What time train go?"

"Train go nine thirty," he said.

"Where can get passport checked?"

The lazy man pointed to a building which looked like a factory. Dad went in and returned with our passports saying, "I can't believe this. The guy in there said the train leaves at 10:45." We decided to take no chances though and we ran full speed across the river on the Golock bridge with motorcycles and buses tooting. When we got to the other side we decided to take a samur (a three wheeled buggy attached to a bicycle) or three to the train station. We were frantic wondering what time the train really did leave. Finally after a lot of frantic gesturing, the station master declared that the train left at 9:45. We went to one of the neighboring restaurants and had the most delicious fried rice, went back to the train station, got our third class seats (hard wood no cushions, "Look at it this way -- it's good for your back") and took a five hour train journey to Haadyai that started at nine A.M. Oh well. When we got to our hotel it was nice enough with a beach and tennis courts and on those tennis courts I played tennis with a very nice Thai girl. In fact the Thai people are the nicest I think I've ever met. You've never seen a whole race of people so ready to give a smile so ready to buy a drink for a stranger just because he plays tennis with you and is courteous even if he does speak lousy Thai (don't tell dad about the remark about his Thai). I love the Thai people who smile and have meticulous manners.

Thai food is also scrumptious and we had the good fortune to stay in a place five minute's walk from the most spectacular little restaurant you have ever seen. It served Western and Thai food all cooked wonderfully. If you were to order three pieces of toast, two eggs, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber and ham with orange juice and coffee it would amount to U.S. $2.00. Compare that to the hotel we are staying in now: U.S. $4.50. It's really hard to believe. The weather there was fine also with clear blue skies and lazy days and we were sorry to leave.

Just yesterday we took a 1st class train trip from Haadyai to Bangkok which lasted 20 hours and just got us here this morning. The train trip was interesting not unlike the 5 hour one but more comfortable. There are miles and miles of rice padis with young people bending over picking stalk by stalk by hand. It is backbreaking labor but they always smile. It's really wonderful. There are cows and goats and water buffalo all slogging around in the mud to escape the heat and really they seem more comfortable than us in our cushioned air conditioned train compartment. There are numerous small towns to pass through which only amount to about four or five houses on stilts to ward off the flood waters and snakes. Towards the end of the ride our conductor liked us so much he came into our compartment and sang us a song. There is an idea about how nice and generous the Thai people are.

Well, I've used up all the hotel paper but one sheet which I'll leave for someone to scribble on. I love you very much, Grandma and I promise to write you about how I find England and an account of Bangkok of which I'm still not sure of, later. Until then I'll miss you a lot.

Love, Suzy

P.S. I hope you like my long letter because mom said you'd be thrilled to get one so long and so I risked getting writer's cramp.

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Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."