You know you really love a place when…

…you return repeatedly despite clashes with policemen, broken noses, hives, tsunami, multiple trips to the hospital, and the list goes on.

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1st trip to Thailand:
It was my first visit to Thailand. My husband had been there many times and wanted to show me, our two young sons and my mom this wondrous place. We flew to Thailand from Moscow, heading first to Bangkok. My mom traveled about 30 hours from the US to meet us there.

For some reason, we didn’t think it was a bad idea to abandon my recently-arrived, completely jet lagged mom in the hotel room with two sleeping kids on Christmas Eve, and so we headed out to explore the city.

(First mistake.)

We arrived by taxi to the seedy, but must-see area of Patpong. I opened my door to exit the taxi at the precise moment a local policeman drove his motorcycle smack into my opened door.

(Second mistake.)

(I maintain that this was not my fault. First of all, what taxi driver would let his passengers out in the middle of traffic? Second of all, how was I supposed to know that someone would consider the 13-inch-wide area next to the taxi an actual traffic lane?)

So, instead of touring Patpong, we toured the inside of a hospital, which was luckily within walking distance from the site of the incident. What was initially a bit blood pressure-raising incident turned out quite well.

(After all, it’s a little intimidating when you are a foreigner in a country, can’t speak the language, have harmed a local – a policeman to boot – and are instantly surrounded by a crowd of 50 people and no idea of what legal or other consequences await you.)

The tourist police who accompanied us to the hospital, along with the policeman I had clobbered with my door, explained later that in Buddhism, it was perceived that I had saved the local policeman from a worse fate.

(Which explains why the poor guy seemed so darned pleased with his sprained wrist. Although maybe it was the few days’ respite from work. In any case, after he had been x-rayed and bandaged, he thanked me vigorously for ramming my door into his face and went on his merry way.)

(As for the very pleasant tourist police, apparently he is there to help mediate in such matters. Although I sincerely hope that the demand for ignorant foreigners bashing local policemen with their car doors is not in great demand.)

Of course, when we finally returned to our hotel, my mom was a having a bit of a “break”…

(My Swedish husband’s abbreviation for “breakdown.”)

…brought on by a bit of homesickness, jet lag, and some alarm as to why she was receiving calls from the American Embassy asking about her daughter who had been involved in an accident.

(Third mistake. Keep communication lines open.)

Luckily, my mom is nothing if not resilient, and she bounced back with aplomb.

(And, for the record, it was not a “break;” some people have a tad tendency to exaggerate, although I won’t mention names. Ahem.)

We made it up to her the next day by taking her on a river boat cruise of Bangkok and then a trip to see local wildlife.

(Ok, the bloated pig floating down the river Chao Phraya and the visit to the snake and crocodile farm didn’t exactly light her up, although the boys were pretty impressed.)

(A massage in a luxury spa, snorkeling trip and shopping excursion did, however.)

The rest of the trip was completed without anymore entanglements with police, dead pigs or snakes.

(Although, the boys did insist upon having Grammy hoisted 14 feet up into the air to perch on a wobbly wooden bench roped onto an exceedingly fragrant elephant so they could have the pleasure of her company as they rode around the jungle.)

(Hmmm…I wonder why she hasn’t jumped at the chance to join us again on a trip to Thailand?…)

2nd trip: Tsunami 
Our second trip we were again headed to Bangkok first with plans to later move to Phuket for some beach R&R.

(You would think we would have wanted to avoid the place, but, no, we wanted to see more of Bangkok.)

Then the tsunami hit.  In those early days, we knew little of the extent of damage and devastation the tsunami would end up wreaking. Due to the tsunami, instead of going to Phuket after Bangkok, our hotel chain routed us to its location in Hua Hin on the gulf. However, our stay was brief.  Due to the hit-and-miss nature of the tsunami’s destruction, our hotel in Phuket was left virtually undamaged. It was asking people to keep their reservations to help support the local economy.

(The tourism industry is a material driver of the Thai economy, and the tsunami would add financial insult to the already physically and emotionally injured people.)

We did go, thinking, at the minimum, we can offer indirect support by being there, and also maybe give some direct support. At the hotel was a team of rescuers who were working on recovery. They left early in the morning and returned late at night, no doubt worn out physically and emotionally from their work.

The tsunami was never far from our minds. It was difficult not to greet every Thai person with the thought “What loss did he/she suffer?” The atmosphere was subdued. Walks along the beach were emotional, especially seeing the debris that littered the water’s edge, no doubt a result of the tsunami. A single shoe was greeted with the fervent hope that the owner was one of the lucky ones to escape the wave’s grasp.

However, as much as the tragedy of the tsunami imprinted itself on us, even greater was the mark of these people, their resilience, and strength of peace and character in the face of such despair.

3rd trip: Broken nose
It is amazing how humans can overcome tragedy and destruction, clean up and rebuild even when nature has left in its wake a catastrophic mess. However, clean up and rebuild they did, with new hotels replacing old, in addition to museums and monuments to touchingly commemorate the victims of the tsunami.

One of the testaments to the destruction was in the Phuket Hospital which I had the opportunity to see when I landed there with a broken nose.

Here is what happened: The four of us had a nice dinner at a local restaurant and, once back in the hotel room, someone had the great idea to take a nighttime dip, So, we put on our suits and went to the pool.

Someone then had brilliant idea to play tag in the pool. Of course, being a semi-competitive person, I put all my strength into my breaststroke to avoid the person chasing me from behind…

(Actually, it wasn’t because I was feeling competitive. Rather, there is something about someone chasing you and the threat of “capture” that causes some kind of perverse panic, even in a silly game.)

…and breaststroked right into the underground, cement bench.

(The pool was lined with black tiles and dimly lit. I maintain that the wine at dinner had nothing to do with me missing that camouflaged bench.)

Needless to say, that put a stop to our game of tag. After I had recovered my senses from the collision, I went upstairs to find that I had gouged out a big chunk of skin from the bridge of my nose. Amazingly, my nose wasn’t bleeding internally, and nothing else seemed amiss. I put a homemade bandage on the gash and went to bed.

In the morning, I had the nurse stop by with antiseptic and bandages. My intent was to nurse myself, however, she took one look at me and said “Not beautiful. Go to hospital.”

At the hospital, the ER called in a plastic surgeon. He told me that the gash needed stitches. He then peered at my nose quizzically and asked me if I thought I had broken my nose because it looked crooked.

Now, folks, you think when you look in the mirror every morning to brush your teeth, put on makeup, and do your hair that you would notice (a) if your nose is normally straight or crooked and (b) if your nose has become crooked (or more crooked than it was previously).

You would also think that your spouse, who also looks at your face practically every day, would also notice if your nose is straight, crooked, or more crooked than normal.

My husband and I had not a clue.

The surgeon was quite an investigator and, after peering at many photos of me, he stated that my nose was a bit crooked before the accident, but that it seemed to him that it was even more so now. While he couldn’t be 100% sure, he said that if they went in to fix it and it wasn’t broken, there was no harm done. However, if they didn’t fix it now and it turned out it was broken and needed fixed later on, the nose would have to be re-broken and then set.

In other words, better safe than sorry.

(I blame the initial crookedness of my nose on a swing set accident when I was very young. Apparently, my parents didn’t notice when my nose tilted a bit more to the right than the previous version.)

It turned out that it was broken. The doctor fixed it. I spent a night in the hospital. The next day and $1500 later, I was back on the beach.

($1500: what a bargain! Can you imagine how much a stay in the ER, stitches by plastic surgeon, then surgery by plastic surgeon including anesthesiologist and meds, overnight stay, food, IV, etc. would have cost in a U.S. hospital?)

Smoothest and cheapest broken nose I have ever had.

(Not that I have had one since.)

(And, by the way, contrary to what I had thought previously, just because you have a broken nose, it doesn’t mean they can give you a nose job. Apparently these are two different procedures. And, yes, I did ask.)

On the same trip, we visited the hospital again when we rushed our son to the hospital with what we feared was appendicitis. Luckily, it was not.

And so on…

I would like to say that it’s been smooth sailing since. Not totally smooth. But smoother.  There have been hives, allergic reactions, and other things I won’t mention here, ahem.

On the other hand, it would take more to deter us from returning. Of all the things that have happened, in the balance is a very special quality that Thailand has. It is more than the amazing food (a delicious combination of spicy and sweet); beautiful beaches; and warm, welcoming, and beautiful environment and people. There is a special quality that permeates Thailand, its culture. It carries with it a feeling of acceptance, a welcome without expectations, a sense of coming home.

And so we have come home again, to our home away from home, this year.

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Warm wishes from Thailand for a very Merry Christmas wherever you are…may your Christmas be blessed with good health, happiness, loved ones and the spirit of the day!

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