Kanchanaburi: The Bridge on the River Kwai and flesh nibbling fish

We spent this past weekend in Kanchanaburi, a charming town a few hours north west of Bangkok. Ever since I found out that it contained The Bridge on the River Kwai of WWII infamy, I’ve been itchin’ to visit. Mere itching is rarely enough to get me off of the couch, though – lately, I need a more compelling kick in the pants reason to travel. Fortunately, one arrived in the form of T-bone’s ongoing hobby: dragging himself out of bed at unprintable hours to run long distances in heinous humidity. T-bone has run a few races since we moved to Bangkok, but the Mizuno River Kwai race was his first half marathon. His friend Eli persuaded him that this was a necessary milestone before they both become fathers in the next few months. Childbirth can be a real body wrecker, so the boys needed to take advantage of their still-agile joints and lithe bodies.

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Todd preparing his face for labour, while Eli is still blissfully naive.

Before race morning on Sunday, we spent some time exploring the town and surrounding jungle. First, though, it was necessary to spend several hours drinking bad Nescafe (is Nescafe ever good?) and contemplating the river.

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Todd enjoys The Swimming Pool on the River Kwai while doing modified prego yoga in a lounge chair

Unfortunately, our contemplations left us with minimal time to actually check out the famous bridge and nearby museums. So we used my favourite tourism technique: wander aimlessly around, snap a few photos, and absorb the aura of the place. Actually, I recommend “aura absorbing” for any time in your life when you are pressed for time/have zero intellectual energy/are fighting the third deadly sin otherwise known as sloth. It is highly effective.

Flippant remarks aside, the bridge has a brutal but fascinating history – I recommend watching the 1957 movie about it if you haven’t already [Edit: Uhhh… I did some further research, and it seems that the movie is riddled with inaccuracies. Please continue to use this site for all your historical research needs.]

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The Bridge

We were in a rush because we wanted to visit Erawan Falls (a famous series of waterfalls) located in a nearby national park. On our way to the park, however, we were waylaid by a friendly, pregnant goat. She was relaxing by a gas pump when our song taew pulled up, and despite the best efforts of an employee to shoo her away (by throwing ice cubes at her) she showed no interest in leaving. I feel a deep sense of kinship with pregnant creatures large and small, so it was necessary to engage in an extended photoshoot with her.

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Like ice cubes off a goat’s back…

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Instabond

While I could have discussed labour strategies with her for hours, not everyone in our group felt the same, and we soon piled back in the song taew for the trip to the falls. Erawan Falls have seven or eight different levels, most of which are swimmable. In spite of the rain, I was all set for a dip, until I realized that they were full of flesh nibbling fish. Apparently, these friendly fellas like to gently nibble dead skin from your appendages. This sounded horrific to me, but it was Todd’s dream come true – he flung himself with abandon into the middle of a school of fish, and started feeding them some hunks of somethin’ that some dude gave him. How’s that for a description…

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Todd’s (inexplicable) idea of paradise

When we got to the second set of falls, I finally convinced myself to jump in. I spent my entire time in the water frantically twitching to try to keep the fish from latching on.

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If you look closely, you can just see Todd and Josh under the falls

By the time we finished at the waterfalls, it was time to head to our Guesthouse on the River Kwai in preparation for a horrifically early race-day morning.

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Adorable newlyweds Josh and Jaime enjoy the view. Hard to tell from the photo, but the guesthouse is actually a Houseboat on the River Kwai.

After a rough start (transportation that didn’t show up), all the runners made it to the starting line on time, and had a great race. Since my speed is more of a waddle these days, I like to live vicariously through Todd, and I was pretty impressed with “our” finishing time of 1:54. One flesh, right?

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So fast that neither I nor my crappy camera could capture the moment.

The race breakfast was a dubious mix of mediocre Thai food, more Nescafe, and deep fried stuff. Ahhh. Great combo for those sensitive, post-race guts.

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Part of our group. Vera is looking extremely excited about a second helping

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Todd bravely forcing himself to eat for two.

All in all, it was a great race day weekend, and now Todd and Eli can allow their bodies to succumb to the ravages of pregnancy.

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With Eli’s posture being the first casualty.

Speaking of the ravages of pregnancy, to finish off, I have to share my pregnancy quote of the week. A six-year old student felt my belly button and asked “Ms. Ruth, is that the baby’s hand?” Time to embrace my outie…

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Let’s shake hands on a deal, Bannock: you remove your feet from my ribs, and I’ll let you continue to occupy my torso rent free. (at ~31 weeks)

North Face Khao Yai Trail Race

I hafta tell you all, I was a pretty decent wife to begin with, but my sacrifice this past weekend basically assured my position in the stratosphere of wifely superstardom. For the second time this year, I hauled myself out of bed in the wee hours to cheer at one of T-bone’s races. Neither the fact that this race involved spending a weekend with 15 of our friends in a gorgeous national park nor the fact that I still owe Todd approximately 10hrs of cheering time should detract from the enormity of this sacrifice.

Anything for you, dear.

The race took place in Khao Yai (literally: “big mountain”) national park, an area 2.5 hrs north of Bangkok. The race was put on by North Face, and the main focus of the event was a 100km trail race. North Face also, however, kindly provided a few events for mere mortals: 10, 25, and 50km distances. All the runners from our group signed up for the 10km event, except Cheerleader Michelle, who chose to race the 25km. Cheerleader Michelle has so much energy, though, that 25km to her is like 5km to the average person. Here is a quick visual of her unparalleled perkiness as she heaves our friend Sean into the air:

“So basically you just get your spirit fingers going…”

“and BAM! You start to fly. So easy.”

I wasn’t quite a good enough wife to show up for the start of the race, but I did roll in before the finish. My fellow Super-(almost)Wife Jaime joined me on the sidelines, and we took it upon ourselves to make up for the cheering deficit that seems to be a feature of races in Thailand.

So excited that I’m unexpectedly giving birth.

The start that later became the finish.

Things got pretty exciting pretty quick: would the organizers manage to find the finish line tape before the first runner blasted through? Would the van cruising down the race course realize its mistake before blocking the finish line? Would the children’s dance troupe safely cross the course without getting trampled? And how much swag could spectators safely snag?

And would Todd (with Josh) be able to hide from his wife’s camera behind a bit of safety tape? Negatory.

These were the important questions that we pondered as we waited for the runners. It didn’t take long – first up was Todd’s little running buddy and student, Alex, who showed the adults how its done by coming in 12th in a field of 500. The teachers pushed their aging joints to the max, and while they didn’t quite catch Alex, they posted some very respectable times.

Eli finishing strong. You know that when both the object AND the background are blurry, you have achieved photographic mastery.

Lisa hammers it home. This gal actually takes decent photos, and she was not giving my point’n’click ANY eye contact.

First up after the race was a little breakfast – Pad Thai and fried rice. I don’t know about you, but immediately after I race, fat and spice are two of the last things I feel like eating. Mind over bladder matter, I guess…

Fish sauce and sugar sound pretty awesome, on the other hand.

Meagan, Ali, Therese, and Kim wait for the sweat to dry.

Two fun perks of races in Thailand are the Thai massages offered after the race.

And the inevitable elephants.

All in all, a good morning spent eating Pad Thai and screaming at runners. Such a good wife. Here’s hoping that next year my ankles will work and I, too, can dodge banana-mongers, vans, and child dancers on a gorgeous course.

Did Aung San Suu Kyi Ever Go Outside?

(I wasn’t sure whether to post this on my regular blogroll, or under “Ruminations” – it runs the emotional gamut. I guess I’ll just file it under both.)

Last night, I went to an event at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT). My jet-setting friends/gurus Eli and Therese have tried to persuade me to accompany them to club events several times, and I finally caved. My post-thesis world news hiatus needs to end, and this seemed like as good a place as any to start. The event was a screening of the film “Aung San Suu Kyi: The Choice” a BBC documentary about the confinement of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese political hero, followed by a question period with the filmmakers.

The room was full of hardened reporters.

Yaarrr. These peeps know The News.

We tried to fit in by looking suitably profound.

The Gurus doing a pretty good job of it.

Southern Belle Jacqueline and I struggled.

The film was a moving portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi. While I was aware of the basic details of her imprisonment (20 years of house arrest in Burma), I wasn’t aware that she had a family in the UK, or that the Myanmar junta would have allowed her to go to the UK (but not return to Burma afterwards). The film, while subtle, explored the choice that she made: to remain in Burma while in the UK, her sons were growing up and her husband was dying of cancer. It raised many more questions than it answered. I’m not sure that there’s any point in speculating as to whether she made the “right” choice or not, but the story did give a fuller picture of the sacrifices that she made, both for herself and on behalf of her family. While it was sad to learn that her husband died of cancer while she chose to remain in prison, it was a choice that they made together. It was far sadder to watch the intimate portrait of her sons, and to see how damaged they were by their parents’ choices. It is interesting to draw a parallel between Suu Kyi’s story and that of Benazir Bhutto. There are many similarities, but Bhutto eventually chose exile rather than house arrest. I wonder what would have happened in Burma if Suu Kyi had made a similar choice.

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After the film, there was a question period with the filmmakers.

Filmmaker Marc Eberle in the foreground.

It brought me back to the halcyon days of academic conferences, where the questioners always seemed more eager to display their immense knowledge of a topic rather than to ask genuine questions. In this case, however, it was less “let me show you how smart I am,” and more “let me show you how intimately acquainted I am with this particular political prisoner.” The question period went something like this:

Filmmaker: “Interestingly enough, during her house arrest, Suu Kyi rarely went outside. She would only go into the garden for photo shoots.”

Questioner: “Well, I remember when I visited her in 1988, she loved to feed the rooks in the garden using a small handful of bread, blahblahblah, so you see, she DID like to go outside.”

It was a bit disappointing, particularly after the film offered so much real food for thought. After 30 minutes or so of this, we attempted to discreetly sneak out, but you can only be so discreet when you’re sitting in the front row. Oops.

Even though I could have done without the question-period posturing, I did appreciate the film, and it gave me some real food for thought. I’m slowly emerging from world news hibernation.