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Shortly after 6:00 last night — April 13, Tim's 36th birthday and Thai New Year (Songkran) — I asked her to marry me, reading from a script written in Thai (I hadn't had enough time to memorize it).  Tim's response was a big smile followed by a hug and kiss and a very enthusiastic "yes."  Although I'd planned to propose in a more romantic setting (sunset at Promthep Cape) rather than at the house, the important part was me asking the question and Tim accepting.  The mood was broken somewhat by the arrival of several of Tim's friends with little bags of Thai food less than 5 minutes after the proposal.  So much for just the two of us being alone to share in the moment and it was yet another frustration in an afternoon full of them.  Yet, today is another day and soon all we will remember about yesterday are the good things with the engagement being way at the top of the list.

A lot has happened since the last time I wrote a blog entry; I probably won't record as many details as I'd like as it's already after 11:00 Friday morning and I'm sure both of us would like to get out-and-about.  On Wednesday, we made another trip to Big C for more shopping.  Once again, it was a bit frustrating as the shopping cart filled up long before we'd made it halfway through the list.  And despite Big C having virtually everything one needs, certain items are proving elusive.  For example, apparently Big C doesn't stock nails although they have a large selection of hammers.  I have been surprised as some of the Western brand names of groceries I've seen — Heinz ketchup, Campbell's Chunky soup, SPAM, A1 steak sauce, etc.  One of the most frustrating things about shopping here, however, is that the Thai people maneuver the aisles in much the same way as they drive, meaning there's no rhyme nor reason.  And at the checkout line on this visit, I was working hard at putting the items from the cart onto the conveyer belt when several customers behind me pushed around me and the cart to stick their one or two items into the cashier's face despite her already ringing up my items.  I'm not sure but I think I may have been charged for their purchases too.  I hastily called Tim back to the cart (she had gone to the other side of the cashier to help bag up the items) so she could guard against further encroachments on our check-out process.

Although I'd previously read about it (as well as seen some video footage), nothing truly prepared me for Thai New Year/Songkran Festival AKA "waterfight to end all waterfights".  We set out from home on Tim's motorbike and we were both soaked to the bone within a couple of minutes of getting on the road.  Groups of people — ranging in age from toddler to ancient — line the roads with huge barrels filled with water and armed with anything they can hurl this water with.  Many have the largest Super-Suker water guns I've ever seen, others have buckets or plastic water bottles.  Garden hoses are also used (and on Bangla Road in Patong the fire department was using their big water cannons which hurt more than anything else).  While most people are trying to soak everything in sight, others have some sort of white powder which they spread on the face of anyone who gets too close.  Often this powder becomes a paste as it comes into contact with all the water.  If a vehicle gets too close and doesn't roll down their windows to be dowsed with water, then the paste is smeared on the windows.  In addition to all of the people on foot along the roadways, the streets are filled with people on motorbikes, crammed into the beds of pickup trucks (which also have huge water barrels), in open-sided tuk-tuks and busses, etc.  Most of this people are also armed with water projectile units.  The traffic moved very slowly and it was difficult even for the motorbikes to weave through the larger vehicles.  Some of the water was very cold as ice was added to the buckets.  In the rare moments where you weren't being bombarded by water, you'd warm and dry up very quickly under the sun before once again being doused.

It took almost an hour to get to Patong (normally about a 30-minute drive) during which we were constantly under "attack".  Tim occasionally had difficulty driving as the water got in her eyes or she recoiled from the shock of an ice-cold deluge.  If the roads through the countryside and mountains was difficult to navigate, the scene in Patong itself was absolute mayhem.  It truly was like being in a war-zone — imagine downtown Baghdad but with water pistols rather than bullets.  We parked the motorbike near the beach and walked/swam down to Bangla Road.  This was ground zero as many groups of friends had formed themselves into troops invading and claiming territory.  Many had watertanks strapped to their backs to refill their SuperSoakers quickly.  The multi-story buildings had water-snipers perched on their balconies, aimed at unsuspecting targets below.  Thankfully, there aren't too many buildings along Bangla Road that have more than a ground floor.  The Westerners were particularly ruthless; I had my camera encased in a waterproof clear bag and when I stopped to take photos, the Thais would respect that and not shoot me but the Westerners never showed any such courtesy leading to some moments of frustration as many shots were ruined because of this.  Still, I was laughing and having fun throughout although I did give some of these farangs some really evil looks.

After walking the length of Bangla Road up and down once (with a pit stop for a couple of beers), Tim and I came across several of her friends manning a "fort" on the Beachfront road  We had a couple more beers (which means not only did we buy a bottle for each of us but also had to buy a bottle for each of her friends, this occurs all the time and I sometimes wish someone would buy a beer for me once in a while — at least the bottles are very cheap. about USD $1.25 for a large Singha).  Tim was provided a small water pistol and I was given a large water bottle to fill and refill to my heart's content.  Finally armed, we took up defensive positons to attack the passing pedestrians and vehicles.  We spent three or four hours doing battle and having a wonderful time.  I got increasingly brave with my camera, deciding I'd get better photos if I took it out of the protective plastic.  I would shoot photos with it raised high above my head and most of the time it didn't receive direct hits.  But just moments after Tim and I decided to begin heading back to her motorbike, I received a bucketfull of water poured over my head and the camera while I was putting it back into the plastic.  This deluge was a "gift" from a very large Westerner and a very wrong thing to do as the only thing taboo is to pour water on top of one's head (this is a part of Buddhist culture as the head is "sacred").  The camera's display faded to black and I couldn't get it to turn back on.  Tim and her friends noticed all this and I think they told off the farang in spades (lots of angry-sounding jabbering in Thai) but I just shrugged my shoulders and said, "Mei pen rai," earning me some points as time told me I was a very good man for not becoming angry (inwardly, I was seething however).

The trip back to Chalong took a very long time as well — maybe 45 minutes total as there were less people and traffic on the roads now (it was almost 5:00 in the afternoon).  We did, however, see many motorbike with pickup accidents along the route (Thai New Year sees many drunk driving accidents, very similar to holiday weekends in the States).  Within just a couple of kilometers from our home, we had our own minor accident as the read tire blew out on the motorbike.  Tim managed to keep it under control after the initial violent jerking.  We almost went over onto our side but Tim's excellent driving skills kept us upright in the end.  Luckily, this occurred just around the bend from a tire shop and they quickly replaced the innertube and tire for the astounding price of 30 baht (about USD $1.50).

I think Tim was more shaken up than I was and when we arrived home, her tears began flowing.  She thought I'd be angry over the accident and was worried I wouldn't love her anymore.  She also thought she'd spoiled my plan for the evening as I'd told her I wanted to go to Promthep Cape at sunset to give her her last birthday gift ("very special present", I'd been saying all week).  I tried to calm her down, wiping away her tears, and reassuring her that I loved her very much.  I then got my script out of my wallet — the ink had run somewhat despite the wallet having been in a plastic baggie most of the day.  We sat on the bed while I struggled to read the five or six sentences I'd chosen after searching through my three Thai/English phrase books.  It was quite a thrill watching Tim unwrap the bow on the jewelry bag and then the shiny silver and red wrapping on the box itself.  Her eyes became huge brown saucers as she found the ring inside.  The gold band caught the light brightly and the diamonds and opal sparkled profusely.  "I love you forever, darling," she kept saying over and over.

I would have liked to have been alone for the rest of the evening, perhaps having a bit of dinner and a bottle or two of Singha (I have yet to introduce Tim to wine), but the mood was broken by the sudden sound of motorbikes honking outside with several voices calling Tim's name.  Nit (the police officer who moonlights as a chauffeur — he'd been our driver when I arrived at the airport and when we'd moved), Lek (a ladyboy — NOT Silvio's Lek), and Mem had come to see our home and celebrate New Year.  I think Puk had told them where our house is because Tim was as surprised as I was.  But I couldn't just kick them out because Tim would have lost considerable face at my "rudeness."  So, while they trooped through the house — opening cabinets, peering into the wardrobe, checking out the contents of the refrigerator, etc. &8212; I ran around trying to rustle up things for them to sit on (we only have two chairs for the table in the dining room and I didn't want them sitting on the clean sofa and chairs in the living room since they were prepared to eat).  We ended up sitting on the ground on the side patio and they poured the baggies of Thai soup, noodles, rice, meat-like unidentified objects, etc. into our bowls and plates (which we luckily bought on Wednesday).  I'd already taught Tim that there was to be no smoking inside the house and she managed to confiscate Mem's lit cigarette everytime she started to wander back inside.  She wasn't so successful from preventing Mem flicking the ashes into the rocks just off the patio, however, but was quick to tell her not to throw the bones from the pieces of duck she was eating into the rocks.  I hurriedly handed her a bag to put her ashes and other trash in (many Thai people seem to think nothing about throwing garbage on the ground in other people's homes).  Tim has become as clean-conscious as I am and she fussed about spilled soup and dropped rice (as soon as her friends departed, we were both out on the patio armed with broom and mop to clean up).  They chattered along in rapid-fire Thai most of the time; occasionally, Tim would tell me something that had been said but most of the time I was in the dark.  I had expected some amazement or congratulations regarding our engagement but her friends didn't pay much, if any, attention to me at all.  I asked Tim if she had told them we were getting married and she assurred me she had.  Instead of them fawning over her ring, they just showed me theirs (Thai people really love to buy gold) and their only interest seemed to be in me telling them how much the ring cost — I didn't tell them as I don't consider it polite to tell the price of such personal things.  Tim's best friend Jum did call during the little get-together (she speaks English better than any of her friends that I've met so far) and she was very excited about the engagement news.  She returns in a few days and then we'll have a proper birthday party for Tim (which I'm now worried about as all of the groceries in our fridge disappeared last night — we'd stocked it full of milk, orange juice, beer, and fruit but Tim's friends seemed to feel no guilt at helping themselves; Tim told me "is Thai way" but I think she now understands that I don't like this).

Tim's friends left right at 9:00 so at least we were spared too long of a visit.  Hopefully, this sort of thing won't happen very often.  Perhaps I'll buy a small refrigerator to hide in the bedroom so I'm not constantly buying groceries that I can't eat...  I then called Dad to tell him that Tim had said "yes".  Tim spoke with him briefly — she was very proud to tell him, "Good evening.  How are you, papa?" (having practiced this for several minutes before I dialed the phone).  The call started to fade out after several minutes and I had a difficult time hearing so I cut it shorter than I would have liked.

This morning we had planned to make our donations at Wat Chalong (having overslept yesterday; we each bought a "monk bucket" at Big C which contains food staples, toothpaste, deoderant, etc.) but again slept late.  Tim's now watching "Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life" on our second TV in the master bedroom (I spent several hours yesterday morning putting together the TV stand which proved harder than I thought it would with the Thai instructions and trying to figure it out from the drawings along).  As soon as I finish writing this entry, I'll take a shower so we can be ready to go when the movie finishes.  I think we'll do some shopping and we'll go to Rock City in Patong tonight for a concert (a Metallica tribute band is playing — not my favorite kind of music but Tim is anxious to see some live music and she thinks it's funny that this place has a "King Kong Burger").  Oh, I'd also like to spend some time at an Internet cafe so I can begin uploading photos to Webshots (however, the ones I took yesterday are still locked inside my waterlogged and non-operational camera — hopefully, I'll be able to get those off of the memory stick when I buy a card reader for the laptop).