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Counting today, I have just forty days before I begin heading for Thailand; thirty-three if I count to the day I actually depart Albuquerque for good.  Yes, I am going to spend a week with relatives and friends in Kansas City before I return to Asia.  I fly from there to Los Angeles the evening of April 4th, arriving around nine o'clock in the evening.  My China Airlines flight leaves a little after one a.m. the morning of April 5th, I have a couple of hours layover in Taipei the morning of April 6th, and arrive in Bangkok at 1:30 that afternoon.  After clearing Customs and Immigration (a very easy process at Don Muang Airport), I then make the long hike from the International Termial to the Domestic and check-in for my 4:45 flight to Phuket (taking the usually on-time Royal Thai Airways instead of it's budget carrier Nok Air).  That flight lasts about 80 minutes and by 6:30 I will have collected my luggage and found Tim waiting for me outside of the terminal (no inside pickups allowed) with a big smile on her lovely face.  Her friend Pok has offered to drive us for free but I will at least try to pay for the gasoline back to Kathu.

It seems like I have a million things to accomplish in the meantime and not near enough time to accomplish even a fraction.  As I write this, I sit in a living room filled with white cardboard bankers' boxes.  I've filled about 60 of those and I still have much to pack (books, CD's, and DVD's take up the most room it seems) but at least I've made a lot of progress.  I've decided to just throw away my two bed-frames and box-spring/mattress sets.  The little twin bed in my office has been with me ever since I moved out of my parents' house and before that it was used by my sister for many years.  The queen-sized bed in my guest room was actually a "dumpster dive" find by a former roommate — although in very good shape, it still has that stigma attached to it in my mind and I never use it (I almost always sleep on my sofa as it's very comfortable).  I'll probably also get rid of the dining room table (another item recovered by the same former roommate) as it just takes up too much space.  Thus, the only furntiture I'll need to store is my main computer desk (I'm finally tossing the huge secondary desk which I've had since renting a house in Kansas City, Kansas, in the mid-1990's), the matching sofa and loveseat, the entertainment center (which I'll dismantle), various end-tables and the coffee table, plus a myriad of bookcases (two very large oak ones and several smaller sets of shelves).  Oh, yes, the huge CD case as well (which weighs a ton empty).

I've decided it will be easiest to cancel MSN outright; my DSL service is bundled with the phone bill and if I switch to their dial-up just to keep the e-mail address it would cost more than I'm willing to pay.  Ever since getting the DSL a year-and-a-half ago, I've kept my AT&T dial-up as a backup (for $14.95 per month); it was useful if I had my main PC tied up with some intensive editng task because I could just connect on my second PC in order to check e-mail or surf online.  I also used the second PC to print out e-mails, etc. since my printer was so old I thought it wouldn't work with the newer one (I found out a couple of months that I could download a new set of drivers and it worked fine).  I've loaded the AT&T software onto my laptop now (and I use it while sitting on the sofa watching the Olympics); I don't know if they have any local access numbers in Thailand but at least I can keep that e-mail address and check my e-mail at an Internet cafe there (some actually allow you to connect your laptop into their DSL modems).  Tim's apartment doesn't have a telephone line so until we get a place that does, I'll either be using the Internet cafes (most of which charge only 1 baht per minute) or see if I can connect to the free wireless hotspots that are popping up in increasing numbers (the best in Patong is currently at the Starbuck's on the beach-front road).  I've been gradually switching my various online accounts back to the AT&T e-mail address and cancelling the e-mail newsletters that I never seem to have the time to read.  I'll probably send out change-of-address e-mails to my regular correspondents in the next couple of weeks.

All of my monthly bills (except rent, electricity, and phone) are automatic deductions so I need to remember to cancel all that I'll no longer need.  These include the car insurance (why do I need to pay insurance if my car will be in storage for an indeterminate amount of time?), renter's insurance (I can't remember the name of the firm and the bookmarks were lost in the January PC crash; the monthly debits simply say "insurance premium" without a firm name), my website-hosting fee (which I won't be cancelling), as well as Blockbuster and Netflix movie rental subscriptions.  I'll only be paying the rent and water bill one more time (March) so that eliminates $760 or so in bills each month right there.  I'm sure that I'll have one more electric/gas and phone/DSL bill after I move but I can pay those online.  It will be very nice to start with a completely clean slate.  In Thailand, I'll have a much lower monthly rent and utility bills (once we move into a new place), food is much more inexpensive, etc.

As for Tim, she's been working the past few days as a motorbike taxi driver (motosai in Thai).  She's very happy and is making very good money as there are a lot of tourists around right now.  She also assures me that she is "very good driver, always wear helmet" but still I worry a bit about the many other bad drivers that fly over some of those mountainous roads.  The more time you spend on those roads, the higher chance you have of getting into a bad accident.  At least she has a brand new motorbike that's in good repair.

This morning (evening in Thailand), Tim called me from Patong Beach.  She had been thinking about how much I liked seeing the sunsets over the ocean when I was there (and that we always seemed to be in a moving tuk-tuk during them so I could never get a clear photo).  She walked down to the beach to watch the sunset and to talk with me on the phone during it so we could share it together.  "I same same you, like watch sunset," she told me (it will be a challenge to teach her proper English grammar when I return because I find it so cute when she speaks in the Thaiglish form).  Tim said that when I returned to Thailand she would drive me to different places each night to watch the sunsets.  She also said that another reason she called me from the beach was so she could talk to me alone for a change.  (Most of this past week, whenever we'd talk, her various friends were hovering around so she couldn't speak as "sweet" as she would have liked.)

In fact, when I called yesterday, her friend Pok kept grabbing the phone from Tim so she could practice her English on me.  She had the mistaken idea that she spoke English better than Tim and so would translate for us.  However, I had great difficulty in understanding anything Pok said to me and was relieved whenever Tim took the phone back.  At one point, I think Pok offered me a job and a 4000-baht-per-month apartment but I merely said I would wait until I got to Thailand before making any committment on either.  I also think Pok said she would drive me and Tim up to Lamphun; this would be an extremely long drive (it's something like 30 hours by train if there are no delays).  Since I couldn't really understand what she was blathering about, I just would laugh and say that we'll talk about it when I am in Phuket.  It was kind of entertaining (and Tim and I joked about it this morning) but also frustrating as the call had passed the 6:00am mark and I was into daytime minutes (my calls to Thailand are free — included in my Night & Weekend minutes if I call between 9pm and 6am) so I was trying to end the call as quickly as I could while still making sure Tim had talked to me all she wanted to.

The language barrier is still the hardest part to deal with in learning more about Tim.  But a couple of times each week, she writes e-mails to me and has them translated at the Internet cafe (but the English translations often leave a great deal to be desired).  One this past week revealed much more about her life than I'd previously learned.  She is the fourth of seven children — all boys except for one oldest sister.  Her parents are indeed still alive (Lek had told me that they perished in the tsunami and I misunderstood Tim's cries that she was all alone), but she is estranged from them — she lost face because she left her husband and was heavily in debt so couldn't send them money.  Tim was married for ten years and had a daughter (who is currently 18 years old) and a son (who would have been seven).  She had borrowed money to open a tire shop for her husband and she had a food shop where she sold chicken rice (Kow Man Khao).  But, like the majority of Thai men, her husband began drinking heavily — he was drunk all the time and began abusing his family.  Then, he got into drugs, eventually trading their business to feed his habit.  Tim had had enough and she left, taking the children to Phuket five years ago because she had a cousin there.  However, her husband eventually came and took their son.  They were all there when the tsunami hit — Tim's e-mail says here "Father and son, they finish", which I take to mean that they perished in the disaster.  I asked her about this on the phone and she started crying so I didn't pursue it.

More than her failed marriage, Tim has more regrets over her daughter.  Because of the huge financial difficulties caused by her ex-husband's drinking and drug use, she didn't have enough money for her daughter's education.  She didn't finish secondary school but is now married and pregnant, living in Ayutthaya.  Tim hasn't seen her in quite some time and worries about her a great deal.  Since Ayutthaya isn't very far from Bangkok, I'm thinking about taking her to visit her daughter when we go to the capitol for her passport.

Because of the problems (which she didn't create and had no control over), she is estranged from her parents.  She is the only one of the seven children to live a great distance from them; her youngest brother takes care of them for her.  She sends some money home when she can (this is a BIG part of Thai culture, in addition to a groom paying the parents a huge dowry for marrying the daughter).  I have yet to discover the last time she has visited her family.  She is from Lamphun and talks about taking me there; I assume this is to meet the family (Thai women NEVER take their boyfriends to meet the parents unless it is to discuss marriage; I have no problem with this...)  I do want to learn more about her family aside from the fact that they are very poor.  Are they farmers?  Do they live the traditional northern Thailand village lifestyle?  So many more questions to ask...  (And I want to get her to open up more about the tsunami but this seems to be the one thing she is still reluctant to talk to me about.)

Tim is also very smart — unlike most Thai people you meet or read about, she is very interested in the outside world.  She likes to read in addition to watching American movies.  She is also aware of the Western concept of privacy (which rarely exists in Thailand).  Tim asked me a few days ago if I wanted her to look for "the house for us.  I am with many friends so I think that it is not comfortable for us to be alone."  I was touched that she was concerned that I would soon tire of Jum, La, and Pok hovering around us all the time and that it would be good to find a place of our own.  I'd always known that we would only stay at her place in Kathu for a matter of weeks before finding a different place to rent — the main reason for me was that her apartment is rather remote, at the end of a long gravel soi in the countryside, but she had become increasingly concerned about her lack of air-conditioning there (you know it's too hot when a Thai complains about the heat).  I had thought about finding a two- or three-bedroom house for rent (many available for between $300-700 per month, furnished, depending on location) so that Jum and La could move in as well.  But it would seem that Tim would prefer a place for just the two of us so maybe we can just find a nice apartment (there are some good ones in the town of Kathu running between $150 and $200 per month, fully furnished with ADSL and maid service included).  I told her it would be best to wait until I got to Phuket and we could look at places together, make the decision on where to live together.  She said, "very good idea.  You smart man."

Forty days and forty nights before the biggest changes in my life occur.  I am really looking forward to my new life, sharing it with my one true love.  Yes, whatever person first said that "life begins at 40" certainly knew what he or she was talking about...