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The past couple of days have been extremely exhausting and I haven't felt much like writing in the evenings when we return to the hotel.  Also, I haven't had time yet to make it to an Internet cafe and the computers in the hotel's business center do not have USB ports available for me to plug in my memory stick.  Hopefully, I'll get to a cafe later today (Wednesday, the 17th) in order to post the two entries I've written while "on the road."

By the time Tim woke up Sunday morning it was raining as Bangkok felt the effects of the huge typhoon in the South China Sea.  We spent half the day in the room watching television and having a picnic on the floor.  The previous day when we returned to the hotel, the main market soi was somewhat flooded but by the time we ventured out it wasn't bad at all.  We eventually arrived at Pantip Plaza, the huge computer mall, where we bought a Thai language computer keyboard that I can plug into the laptop so Tim can learn how to use the computer.  I also looked at prices for iPod's and was happy to see they cost a bit less in Thailand than in the States.  The prices for a 60GB iPod Video (new) start at 11,900 baht (a bit more than USD $300).  I'm seriously thinking about buying one but fear that Tim would "appropriate it" as soon as I got it all set up and I'd never get to use it!

While at Pantip, I also introduced Tim to root beer floats at A&W.  She didn't seem too excited by it but I certainly enjoyed it.  On our return trip through the wholesale clothes market, we spent about USD $60 on clothes — buying five shirts for me, a shirt and several pairs of shorts for Tim, and various other small items.  We had another picnic of street vendor food in our room and watched "Blade Trinity" on HBO (which I knew I wouldn't like but Tim is happy to watch any movie, good or bad).

Monday was our big trip to the Department of Consular Affairs in order for Tim to apply for her passport.  We decided to go to the main office which is very near the Don Muang airport.  We had gathered together all of our paperwork that the official Thai government sites and various other websites had said we needed.  This included multiple copies of Tim's Thai ID card, two photos, and various other paperwork.

However, the new main office had recently streamlined the process and it couldn't be easier.  You go to the second floor of the building where an official scans your ID into the computer and it prints out a number.  You are also given a slip of paper where you write down your first and last name in Roman characters, your birth city, phone number, and a reference (close relative) name and phone number.  When your number is flashed on the big screen (we were number 504 — it was at number 280 when we arrived but we only had to wait a bit over an hour), you go to the cubicle number which is flashed alongside your waiting number.

The attendant at Tim's cubicle (number 53) indicated that I couldn't sit with her so I went back to the main hallway to wait.  (I did observe a number of other farangs in the cubicles with their Thai partners so I don't know what the problem was with Tim's attendant.  Anyway, I wanted to watch the full process so I could report back in some detail but have to rely on Tim's account; she tells me that first they checked her ID in the computer and then took her fingerprints electronically.  She filled out an application (we'd downloaded a form from the Internet but they've changed forms as well) and found out the English transliteration for her name was "wrong" (there really is no "correct" way as there are many different ways to convert the Thai characters to English but now we have to use the "official" spelling so now I have to change that on our lease and other documents).  They then put that information on the computer and took her photo (they didn't want to use any "outside" photos).  Tim then came out of the cubicle from where I followed her to the cashier; she gave the print-out to the cashier and I paid 1,000 baht (which is less than all of the websites reported).  We have to return in three days to collect the completed passport (today, in fact).

We were all finished by 11:00 (we'd arrived at the passport office a little before nine) and took a taxi back to Baiyoke (metered, it cost 140 baht).  We changed out of the "monkey clothes" into our swimsuits and then went down to the swimming pool so I could begin teaching Tim how to swim.  She proved to be a "natural", picking up the basics very quickly.  We had a great time splashing around in the pool but paid the price later with sunburned shoulders.  We also had a lunch of street food by the pool before going back to the room.  Later, we walked down to Central World Festival (a huge shopping mall) but remodeling inside made it not much fun as most of the stores were closed.  We did, however, spend some time shopping at the Platinum Fashion Mall where Tim bought a couple of pairs of shorts and we continued our elusive search for "real" Levi's (we finally found some non-copies at a mall in the Big C building but they didn't have Tim's size).  For dinner, we tried Steak Hunter in the Big C building; Tim had the "German special" which had three different kinds of sausages along with mashed potatoes and spicy pork salad while I had a pepper steak with teriyaki sauce which came on a bed of spaghetti (odd, but good).  We took another tuk-tuk back to the hotel after purchasing a few more "supplies" at Big C.

Wednesday (yesterday) was to be our visit to Tim's daughter.  All this time, Tim had been telling me that her daughter (Miao — which means "kitty cat", surprising considering that Tim doesn't like cats) lives in Ayutthaya so I'd researched the easiest way to get to that city and planned to check out some of the tourist attractions there.  I knew that the third class train to Ayutthaya cost 35 baht and they left every hour.  We took a taxi to the main train station for Bangkok (Hualamphong) and then Tim asked for the tickets at the counter.  The price came up as 650 baht; I said, "No, that's not right," and the ticket booth person said that the VIP train to Ayutthaya was finished and we needed to take the special coach to Bang Pa-In (which I'd never heard of).  I said, "No, we want the third class train to Ayutthaya" but Tim said there was no other way to get from there to Bang Pa-In.  I scooted her off to the side so we could be alone and asked her where this second town was she kept mentioning and why were we trying to get a ticket there?  It turned out that Miao doesn't live in Ayutthaya at all but in Bang Pa-In which is a considerable distance away but closer to Bangkok and that there were no VIP trains there.  I told her that she could have explained this to me before so I could have known we weren't going to Ayutthaya (she kept saying "same same" but, no, it wasn't as far as transportation and geography goes) and also I didn't want a VIP train for 650 baht or any price.  Anyway, in the end, we bought two 2-baht tickets for Bang Sue Junction and changed there for Bang Pa-In (which cost an additional 11 baht per ticket).

We arrived at Bang Pa-In shortly after eleven (after starting out from Bangkok about 9:30) and were greeted at the station by Miao (who gave me a big hug and called me "papa") and her husband Ant.  It appeared we were in the middle of nowhere, in a farming area that reminded me a lot of Kansas (complete with corn stalks but no sunflowers).  We took a samlor (basically, a pickup truck with covered seats in the back) to the center of town passing a large Royal palace along the way.  The main goal of the day (aside from visiting) was to go to the local amphur so that Ant and Miao could get legally married (they have a common-law marriage but wanted the certificate since Miao is pregnant).  Tim was there to give the guarantee that Miao was free to marry.  However, the amphur wouldn't let them marry because Miao was only 18 and needed to be 20 before they could make it official.  Mai pen rai.

Anyway, we walked back down the street to the palace and spent several hours walking the grounds (an example of two-tiered pricing:  I paid 100 baht for admission while Tim, Ant, and Miao each paid the 30-baht Thai price).  Bang Pa-In Palace dates back to the 17th century but was used mainly by King Rama V (1868-1910) and most of the buildings standing today were contructed between 1872 and 1889.  It was an enjoyable way to spend the day and I was happy to get the tourist bug tickled.  We then spent a couple of hours at the house shared by Miao, Ant, and his relatives.  It was a traditional Thai house made of teak wood and raised on stilts.  I enjoyed the visit although mostly I sat in the background while everyone else chatted away.  We took another samlor to the center of town, shopped in a small market, and then Tim and I boarded a provincial bus back to Bangkok (60 baht).  This bus took about two-and-a-half hours as it made many local stops but it was a nice change of pace (and a bit more comfortable than the train).  We got back into the city a little after six, took a taxi from the Northern Bus Terminal back to Baiyoke, had another room picnic, and turned in fairly early (I was asleep before nine).

This morning, we return to the passport office and then plan to do some sightseeing and more shopping (we'll need to mail our purchases back home).  I hope our feet can hold up to one more day of strenuous duties!