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I arose fairly early this Christmas morning and, after another cooked-to-order breakfast at L&S Kamala Bay Village, I took a 40-baht motorbike taxi ride to Kamala Beach. I found a nice lounger about halfway down the beach (I was early enough that I had my choice of spots) which cost 30 baht for the day, complete with umbrella and plastic endtable. I was to spend the next six hours there.

The day started put overcast with a threat of rain (the rainy season has lingered too long already in this part of Thailand but stopped the day before I arrived; terrible flooding is going on right now south of here - all the way to Malaysia - however). I forgot to slather on my sunscreen until much later in the day, a mistake I'm paying for now. It was nice to just relax for most of the day without running all over the place. I just lay there catching up on some reading and watching the boats and bikini-clad women go by.

At one point, I looked up and saw a couple of television news crews filming on the beach. I figured they were probably filming B-roll for a piece on the post-tsunami return of tourists. I suppose they must have thought I was some sort of big white beached whale because on of the crews began filming me! A cute Thai girl who didn't look to be a year older than 16 then approached me with a microphone.

"Mister," she said to me. "Can I ask you question?".

"Okay," I nodded, already anticipating the usual "where you from," "first time Phuket," and "how long you stay" trio of questions. I indeed got those and then a new one:

"What you like most about Thailand?"

I didn't have to think about it at all:

"Beautiful people and beautiful beaches," I told her, thinking it was too corny for them to actually use as a soundbite in their story.

A short while later, I noticed everyone on the beach had turned around and were looking past me. I turned and saw a whole lot of Thai police (who's uniforms look very military to me: earlier, there had been several military helicopters buzzing the beach and then hovering over it but I'd assumed it was just part of some sort of exercise) and almost as many Japanese-looking men in dark business suits. It soon became apparent that some sort of memorial was about to occur.

Ever the curious person, I grabbed my camcorder and digital still camerand theaded my way through the crowd. It turns out that a memorial stone was being dedicated, a gift from the people of Japan. The Japanese ambassador and numerous other dignitaries were in attendance, alll who gave long speeches in Thai, Japanese, and one other language I couldn't identify. The monument itself was a large polished marble stone with an inscription in gold, ringed with brass rails, all topped with a copper Japanese bell. The best part of the ceremony was at the end when everyone filed up to the stone to lay flowers at its base, accompanied by monks chanting the Dharma.

The remainder of my day was taken up with more sunbathing. At six or so, I caught a tuk-tuk back to the hotel. Since Silvio and his wife, Lek, were in Phuket Town all day shopping they had arranged for Lek's friend, Tip, to come and cook me dinner. We had been introduced the night before because Lek felt I should have someone to talk to who spoke English better than the rest of them.

Tip is a chef at an Italian restaurant in Patong and she arrived directly from work. She asked if I'd like to see her home as she got ready for the evening. Her apartment building, along with an adjacent monestary and school, had been newly-built with money provided by the American Red Cross so I got a first-hand glimpse of where some of my donation went to. Her small apartment - a living room, kitchen, bath room, and bedroom - was sparsely-furnished but very homey. I sat on a pillow (there was no furniture) and played with her three-year-old daughter while she took a shower and changed. Tip also has a son who is studying to be a veternarian in Bangkok. I then learned that her husband had been killed in the tsunami, along with other family members. In fact, the entire area around there (the southern portion of Kamala) had been destroyed ("sea come in, wash everything away," Tip told me).

We rode back to the hotel with her daughter on the front of Tip's motorbike (you see entire families precariously balanced on these little 100cc bikes around here) and me on the back. At the steep driveway at the entrance to the hotel, I noticed Tip was driving one-handed while talking on a cellphone! We hit a rock and the bike began to fall over. I put my leg down to stop it, burning my leg on the exhaust pipe in the process. Not a good thing on top of an already severe sunburn but I was more worried about Tip's daughter falling than myself. Luckily, she stayed upright with ease.

Dinner was a stirfry with pork and various vegetables with sticky rice. I had asked for it to not be too spicy. Tip added "only one" chile pepper and it was still fiery hot. Very tasty.

Tip left soon after to drop her daughter off at her grandmother's and I spent a couple of hour playing pool with Lek's nephew. He beat me six straight games, but I think I'm getting better.

At 10:00pm (9:00 Christmas morning in Kansas), I made my phonecall to Marilyn's home where everyone was gathered to open their gifts. They passed the phone around and I got to talk to everybody. Even Jonathan (Lyn's son) was there from Colorado. When I told Dad about my motorcycle burn, he told me I should go immediately and get something on it.

After hanging up, I went down to the hotel and tried to ask the one helper still there if the pharmacies would still be open that late. She didn't understand but she called Lek and handed the phone to me. Lek then had me talk to Silvio who said they would be returning in an hour and he would take me to a pharmacy in Patong. We rode down to the town on his big Harley Davidson. There's nothing quite like roaring over twisting mountain roads in the middle of the night on a Harley, sometimes in the path of oncoming traffic as you pass slow-moving vehicles.

At the pharmacy, I asked the girl for something to put on a bad sunburn. She pointed me to an entire wall of creams and medicines. I made my purchase and Silvio and I roared back over the mountain to the hotel. We hung put in the restaurant for a while with Lek and Silvio's brother, Mateo, visiting from Italy. We had a toast with some blueberry vodka from Russia and then retired. Another very long day, but fairly relaxing.

Today, I plan to go into Patong and watch some of the tsunami memorials. It might actually be less-crowded than Kamala because the king will be there. I also want to spend some time at an Internet cafe cleaning up some of the typos in my blog entries and seeing if I can upload some of my photos. Tomorrow, I've been invited to join Silvio and his entire family on a cruise to Koh Phi-Phi. We're going to invite the other guests as well

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