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I arrived safely in Phuket on Thursday evening very tired from the previous 36 hours or so of airplanes and airports.  Tim was waiting for me when I exited the baggage claim area; she had been standing off to the right side with her friend Puk and just as I saw her she broke away from the crowd and ran to me with open arms and a huge smile.  She had grown her hair out some since I'd seen her last and had nice makeup and a beautiful white dress on.  After we hugged and kissed, I gave her the first of several stuffed monkeys I'd bought her in Kansas (her nickname, Ling Noi, means "little monkey").  After the "not shy" greeting, we loaded my luggage into a pickup truck arranged by Tim and Puk and drove down to the bungalow Tim had booked.

Now, the morning after one full day in paradise, the preceding flights are a distant blur in my memory.  I'd departed Kansas City Wednesday evening on a Southwest Airlines flight to LAX.  That was to be the only one of the flights to leave or arrive on time.  When we landed in Los Angeles, it was raining very hard.  This was only the second time I'd been to this airport and it was just as confusing as the first time (I'd landed here in 2003 on my return from China).  After retrieving my checked luggage from baggage claim, there was no one available to ask which terminal I had to go to; I just knew that it was a different one.  I carted my bags outside and asked the first shuttle bus driver where I had to go to check-in for China Airlines — he told me to take the "A" bus to Terminal 2.  I did this but this was wrong so I ended up walking another two terminals along the loop to the Thomas A. Bradley International Terminal which proved to be an unorganized sea of chaos.  There were huge crowds of confused passengers looking for the correct place to go and an almost equal number of unhelpful and rude airport employees.  Finally, I had my bags x-rayed and found the check-in counter (a process which diminished my original four-hour layover to a 45-minute dash to the gate once I finally got my boarding pass; I'm glad I didn't dawdle).

That cross-Pacific flight ended up boarding very late — the time kept getting pushed back for unknown reasons and we finally departed almost an hour late.  I sat in the middle seat on the left side of the full 747-400.  The person in the window seat was the postmaster of a small South Dakota town on his way to the Philippines to pick up his finacee and move her back to the States.  I told him the purpose of my flight to Thailand and he gave me a lot of good advice and cleared up some of my questions about the visa process.  He stressed the importance of following all the steps and getting all the paperwork filled out correctly.  He also said that the quicker I begin the process the better as it's a very lengthy one.  The woman who sat in the aisle seat wasn't assigned to the seat but she didn't like her original seat and moved to that one before I had a chance to.  She was a very nice older Chinese lady who was very talkative.  It was nice to have such a long flight with seatmates who were interesting to talk to.

I didn't sleep very well on that flight.  I probably dozed off for a total of two or three restless hours of sleep during the very long flight (I think it was in the neighborhood of 14 hours but I got confused with the time changes — we left at 2:00 in the morning on Wednesday L.A. time and arrived at Taipei at 7:30 in the morning on Thursday, Taiwan time).  I did watch a lot of movies on the seatback video screen — "Memoires Of A Geisha", "Fun With Dick And Jane", something with Jennifer Anniston and Kevin Costner which I can't remember the name of, and a very sweet Chinese movie called "P.S. I Luv You", along with a number of Chinese game shows which were fun to watch but I couldn't understand what they were saying).  We arrived in the Republic Of China almost 45 minutes late but it was easy to navigate the Chaing Kai Shek International Airport terminal and there were plenty of helpful people to point us in the correct direction.   The waiting area for my next flight was spartan but adequate with nearby restrooms and vending machines (neither of which I used).

The next flight left about 50 minutes late (the late departures and arrivals all seemed to equal out so I still had time to transit between the various flights).  This was also on China Airlines; I thought it was supposed to be a direct flight to Bangkok but we landed in Hong Kong about 90 minutes after takeoff.  Unlike my previous visit to this very scenic place, I was ready with my camera and took some nice photos out of the plane's window.  We weren't allowed to stay on the plane and had to take our carry-on bags with us.  The boarding time for the second leg of this flight was to be a 15 minutes after I exited the plane.  After leaving the jetway, several helpful China Airlines employees gave each of the continuing passengers a transit pass and put a sticker on our shirts with our flight number on it.  We then had to walk the entire length of that particular terminal pier to an escalator which would take us upstairs to the departure level.  A quick pass through security and we had to talk the entire length back to our gate.  A long hike but I made it in time to get to the front of the boarding queue (past experience with lines in China taught me that the Chinese don't pay attention to such niceties as boarding in order and will push past you to get on any mode of transportation).  It was funny when I reboarded the plane and the flight crew said, "Nice to see you again, sir, you may take the same seat you had before."  The flight to Bangkok lasted about two-and-a-half hours and, although we'd left about 45 minutes late, we arrived almost on-time.

As usual, the immigration process at Don Muang International Airport was a model of efficiency (it helps to be familiar with an airport and know exactly where to go).  After getting my passport stamped, I proceeded to baggage claim where my huge (70-pound-plus) duffel bag was one of the first off of the conveyer.  I then breezed through the "Nothing To Declare" line and made a bee-line towards the long corridor that would lead me from the International Terminal to the Domestic Terminal (about 500 meters from one end to the other).  I did, however, make one mistake — when I arrived in the Domestic Terminal, I took the elevator down to the first floor as this was where I'd checked-in for my Nok Air flight on my last visit.  After running the duffel bag through the x-ray, I realized that the Thai Air counters were up on the second floor; by this time, I'd gotten rid of my baggage cart so I lugged everything back to the elevator and went back upstairs.  Luckily, there was no line at the Thai counter and I quickly got checked in.  I then went through security and entered the gate pier.  This was a second mistake as I'd forgotten there are no ATM's or currency exchange offices past security.  I decided I'd just change my U.S. dollars to Thai baht in Phuket and luckily, I had enough baht left over from the last trip to buy a large soda at Burger King.

Sitting in the passenger lounge, I constantly checked my watch as the time to depart got closer and closer.  I was getting very excited as the time to see Tim once again was rapidly approaching.  I did call her briefly while waiting — the new SIM card to make my mobile into a Thai-based number worked perfectly but my battery was almost expired.  She was very excited as well.  This last flight took off about 30 minutes late and was rather unevenful.  They did have a "special meal" waiting for me (I didn't remember ordering it when I booked the flight but it was a nice selection of fruit and a cup of juice); it always amazes me at how much the various Asian airlines tend to feed you, even on the very short flights.  Sixty-five minutes after taking off from Bangkok, we landed on Phuket about 20 minutes late.  However, although the scheduled arrival time had been 6:05pm, I'd told Time 6:30 to give me time to retrieve my luggage.  The baggage claim seemed to take forever but finally the big red duffel scooted into site.

Tim was even more beautiful than I'd remembered; apart from the very nice dress and makeup, a friend had redone her eyebrows giving her an even more exotic/Asian appearance which I highly approve of.

The setting of our bungalow is very nice.  It's on the southern part of the island, very close to the Phuket Country Club and a number of golf courses.  There's a "garden" just outside of our room which looks more like a jungle to me (I've only seen it in the dark so far), as well as a swimming pool (perhaps we'll buy a swimming suit for Tim today so I can begin teaching her how to swim in the pool).

Our first night, we stayed up very late talking and I kept giving her small gifts out of my bags — several more stuffed monkeys, some of the many t-shirts various members of my family and I bought her, and also the necklaces and earrings that Lyn had made (these last items were a very big "hit" and Tim was thrilled to know that my family is so supportive and welcoming).  I was exhausted from the many sleepless hours spent journeying so far to see my Ling Noi so we ended up sleeping most of yesterday; there was a heavy thunderstorm most of the night and morning.  We woke up around two in the afternoon but by the time we got outside it was almost 5:00.  We were both hungry so Tim drove me on her motorbike to Patong (she's a very safety-concious driver and we moved very slowly over the mountain).  It was very nice and cool out, a wonderful breeze and lack of humidity made it the best weather I'd yet experienced in Thailand — I enjoyed it immensely, knowing that it will become very hot very soon.

We had dinner at a nice open-air restaurant on Rat U-Thit 200 Pee Road, eating from a series of bowls of Thom Kah Gai (chicken soup) and Papeeo-Wan (strips of beef and pineapple in a sweet sauce) with rice, etc.  I was brave and had Tim spoon a couple of chilies on top of the pile I made on my plate of rice.  It was very good and also the first Thai meal I actually completely finished (I invariably left half of my food during meals on my previous stay).  Following dinner, I walked next door to a currency exchange booth to change the lion's share of twenty dollar bills I'd brought along (getting a very good rate, but still not as good as I'd have received from an ATM).  We then drove down to the beach and for a while it seemed like a grand reunion as we visited various friend of Tim's (all food vendors) as we walked along.  We even ran into the young nephew of Silvio and Lek with whom we'd both played pool at L&S back in January.  We had some juice at one vendor (Tim drank ice coffee and I had something that was the same pink color as Pepto Bismol but was some sort of fruit mixed with milk that I thoroughly enjoyed).  After visiting with some more friends, we bought some coconut juice and then drove to the northern end of Patong Beach (just past Joe's Place) and sat on a rock to watch the remarkable sunset (I finally was able to take decent photos of a Phuket sunset since we weren't in a moving tuk-tuk at the time!).

Returning to our bungalow after dark, we spent some time watching the video I'd shot in Thailand over the Christmas/New Year's holidays.  I also gave her some more of the gifts I'd brought as we snacked on some trail mix (mostly dried fruit) I'd bought in Kansas — Tim like this very much.  Around 11:00, Tim decided she was hungry for some noodle soup so we drove down the road a bit to a local outdoor eatery.  We had a very good late-night snack (although Tim had to ask to get a fork for me as only chopsticks had been provided — the first time this had happened to me in Thailand).  She added several spoonfuls of condiments into my soup (including several of sugar which made it very tasty); she told me the round beefy objects in the soup were "cow balls" after I'd already eaten them — I still thought they were good, despite this!  The tea served with our meal was extremely hot but very good.  After returning to the hotel, we talked until late in the night (I'm finding there to be no end to what we can talk about and the language barrier no longer seems to be much of a problem) and also watched some television (including part of an episode of the American program "Cheaters" which was interesting to explain the concept to Tim) before going to sleep.

It's now about eight or nine in the morning.  Tim is fast asleep as I write this; soon, I'll wake her up, we'll have some coffee and then get ready to go out for the day.  Her friend Puk is meeting us this morning and the three of us will go together to look at houses.  I think we'll try to call the relator who has the Phuket house rentals website on Monday if we don't find anything suitable before then.  I'll also stop into an Internet Cafe so I can post this blog entry (which am writing on the laptop in the hotel room but there is no phone line or wireless connection for me get on the Internet here) and perhaps upload a couple of photos to send in e-mails (I probably won't be able to post them into Webshots for a little while longer).

All in all, I am very happy to be back in Phuket.  While riding on the back of Tim's motorbike last night, I kept looking around at all of my surroundings and kept thinking, "Wow, this is my home now!"  I feel so alive and have a lovely lady by my side to share in my happiness...