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It seems like like I still have much to do but I am making progress.  Packing is moving along nicely and I'm about ready to purchase some larger boxes for artwork and electronic/computer equipment.  I'm moving some of my smaller bookcases over to the storage unit today.  I also plan to spend some time in there re-organizing — I need to search out my high school yearbook and I'd been worried about the bottom row of boxes sitting directly on the concrete so I'm going to combine the two tasks:  I have several dozen milkcrates so I think I'll set those as a base for the boxes and just rearrange them all while searching for the book.  I hadn't been labeling the boxes so I think I'll go ahead and do that as well (although many are rather mixed).

In other trip-preparation news:  I finally purchased my travel insurance yesterday.  I wanted a fairly comprehensive policy with travel delay and missed connection riders, lost luggage reimbursement, and good amounts for emergency medical/dental.  Many of the policies I looked at for six months or one year seemed extremely expensive.  Then, I realized that I should just get a policy for the first 60 days or so and then purchase a good health insurance plan when I get to Thailand.  There are many, many plans designed just for expatriates and the costs to purchase these in Thailand are much less expensive than in the United States.  Healthcare in Thailand is extremely good and treatment costs are very low compared with Western countries.

I now have all the supplies that I would like to take with me except for a good waterproof sunblock.  I'll probably buy this at the first pharmacy I see once I arrive on Phuket.  I also want to purchase a new pair of sandals.  The ones I had in December/January had velcro fastening straps across the tops and backs and tended to be too tight; I think they are the reason my left foot swelled up so badly as the swelling corresponded with where the straps were.  Also, they were difficult to take off outside of Thai homes, temples, etc.  I'd like a pair that I can just kick off with my feet rather than bending down to struggle with velcro straps.  No need for them to be stylish (or expensive), just comfortable and easy to remove (and waterproof, as well).  I'll check out Target or Wal-Mart this weekend (I can find very cheap ones on Phuket, but these tend to fall apart rather quickly).  Shoes and socks just don't work well there (I'd never worn sandles much at all before this past December), but I want to have a nice pair for immigration and employment interviews...

I also need to get an International Driver's Permit.  I don't really plan to do any driving in Thailand but just in case...  I'd been vaguely aware of these for years and noticed that the firm I used to get my tourist visa offered an international driver license for about a hundred dollars.  However, a little bit of research revealed that the numerous firms that offer such a thing online are offering what is essentially a worthless piece of paper — they are simply a translation of your existing license into several different languages.  The only organization in the United States authorized to issue an official International Driver's Permit is the American Automobile Association and you have to apply in person.  The fee is only $10 and you need a passport photo.  I think Tim wants to teach me to drive her motorbike (something I dread but if we find a remote place with no other traffic I might relent to), so I'll need the IDP to keep things legal.

As for Tim, her mother is in the hospital and might require an operation.  Something about a bone hitting her nerve is what I've managed to understand through the language barrier.  She really wanted to go up to Lamphun to see her family; it would take over two days by minibus and Tim didn't want to do that alone.  I suggested that she look into taking a plane to Chiang Mai and then a bus the rest of the (short) distance; I planned to send her the airfare although she never asked.  She's never been on an airplane before so that would have been quite the adventure as well.

However, she's now decided to wait until I return and then we can go to Lamphun together — she is anxious for me to meet her family.  This is a very important/major step; it's not like in America where you often take any person you are casually dating to meet your parents — in the Thai culture, a woman will only take a man to meet her parents when she is certain he's "the one."  Basically, the man is presented to the village sort of like a trophy — "this is the man I plan to spend the rest of my life with."  Often at this first meeting, they size you up and begin discussing how much of a dowry you must pay to continue seeing their daughter.  After that, you begin negotiating to bring down that amount (the family will always think the foreign man is super rich and quote an astronomical price at the beginning).  I know Tim and I both believe that we are meant for each other so it comes as no surprise that she wants me to meet her family.  I'm prepared for that as I really do want to spend my life with her.  What I'm not so sure about is whether I'll still be expected to pay a dowry since she's already been married.  Generally, you aren't expected to pay one if your girlfriend is divorced or already has children.  But since her family is very poor, they may still ask for one.  At this first meeting, it will be important to stress that I am not a rich man but that I love Tim and can take care of her if we are careful with our finances.

At any rate, I'm looking forward to the journey to northern Thailand.  It's a lot different from Bangkok or Phuket and the temperature is cooler as well (something that Tim looks forward to as she's really been suffering from the current heatwave in the south).  I'll get to experience some traditional village life while staying with her family.  I know she's anxious to get up there but I think she understands we should delay it until we've moved into our new home, perhaps we'll go in May or June (we'll be close to the Laos border so I can make a quick visa run when my first entry expires at the beginning of June — or, I can try to get my first 30-day extension at the Chiang Mai immigration office).  En route, we'll have to stop in Bangkok for a week so we can apply and wait for her passport.  During that stay, we can also go and visit her daughter in Ayutthaya.

Tim has also been getting out almost every afternoon to look at houses for us.  She told me today about a very nice one near the school in Kathu that has air-conditioning (really, the most important feature of any place we look at), three bedrooms and two baths with a telephone line (also very important as these are rare there; Tim said, "have phone so you teach me computer!") all for 8000 baht per month (USD $240.50).  She's going to try and take a photograph to e-mail me.

For several weeks last month, she was hanging out with her friends quite a bit but now it seems like she's alone most of the time again.  Her roommate La became sick and is now staying in her family's village hospital.  Jum (finally) found a boyfriend and has been spending most of her time with him in Kamala.  And Puk has been working two jobs a lot.  Every once-in-a-while, Puk, Jum (along with her boyfriend Jack from Belgium), and Tim get together to watch the sunset at Kamala Beach.  Tim assures me that she only drinks "little bit, one beer" at these gatherings.  Sometimes, the rest of them move on to Rock City in Patong but Tim always comes straight back to Kathu because she wants to talk to me on the phone (usually, we talk some while she's watching the sunset at the beach so she feels like I'm there with her and then we talk again when she gets back to her apartment).

During our calls, Tim likes to remind me how many days it is until I return to Phuket.  However, she's one day off (probably because of our time difference).  I've put a countdown counter on my desktop — it is now 25 days, 23 hours, and 56 minutes until I land at Phuket International Airport (if the airplane is on time — I'm flying on Royal Thai which has a better chance of being on time than Nok Air).  I now have less than two weeks until Keith arrives to help me with furniture; this coming week, I'll need to call and cancel the utilities and then call some maid services for cleaning estimates.  I also need to mail some things to Bryan (a bunch of DVD's he wants to watch — I'm sending the originals because I didn't want to burn a bunch more stuff — as well as some miscellaneous gifts), Dad (some Thailand souvenirs and a few DVD's, etc.), and Marilyn & Keith (again, some DVD's, plus some books I'll want with me eventually that they can ship when I get a secure address — these are books that I don't want to have to dig out of storage on a future visit).  Things really are coming down to the wire but I know that it will be easier for me to get them done since I can't procrastinate too much longer.