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It's been a crazy week and I've barely had time to sit down and catch my breath, let alone try and bring this blog up-to-date.  Now that I do have a bit of time, I'm not really in the mood to write a lot.  I'll write more about our trip when I post some select photos later in the week; but I'll try to write a bit more extensively tonight about this weekend in Phuket (before I forget).

Tim and I spent last Monday through Thursday in Singapore.  My impression of the city is as one large park with trees and flowers everywhere.  It's also the cleanest place I've ever visited.  Some people describe it as "sterile" but I found it quite refreshing to be in a "civilized" place once again after the garbage one encounters in Thailand.  Our hotel was located in a very nice area of Queen Street, a short walk south of Bugis Market and a bit north of Fort Canning Park.  I'll go into more detail when I post some photos but we did manage to do A LOT of touristy things during our brief stay.

Oh, yes.  I received my Non-Immigrant (O) Visa without any real problems at all.  It was a two-day process — submit the application (with fee) before noon on the first day and retrieve the passport (with nice full-page visa) after two the next.  I now can legally stay and work in Thailand at least until the expiration date of October 30, 2007 (longer with the month-long extensions granted after every three months).

I must mention that Tim hated Singapore.  I think that had as much to do with the lack of Thai restaurants in the areas we visited as to the general expensiveness of the city as a whole.  It's a shame, really, as I'm ready to return already (and who can resist Tiger Airways' 30-baht one-way fares?) and she has no desire ever to go back...

We did sleep in a bit Friday morning after our late-night return to Phuket (in the rain, of course) but we headed out to Patong in the late afternoon for the Carnival marking the beginning of the tourist High Season.  A large section of the beach road was blocked-off with stages erected at both ends sandwiching numerous food/souvenir/beer booths.  Our live-in "daughter" Nadia met us soon after our arrival (she moved in with us a few weeks ago but stayed with a friend during our trip) and it was wonderful to see her (I'd missed her massages) before heading off to work at one of the temporary restaurants set up in front of the beach.  One of the highlights of the night was a "Super Model Bikini Fashion Show" (unfortunately, my camera failed me).

Saturday and Sunday nights we attended Loy Krathong (ลอยกระทง) festivals in Karon and Patong.  This is held around the full moon of the twelfth lunar month and the main goal is to launch a small boat made of banana leaves with flowers, candles, and incense sticks out onto the water.  The candle is lit, a wish made, and the boat is pushed away from the shore.  The tradition is that you keep watching the boat until it drifts out-of-sight with the belief being that the longer the candle remains lit the better your luck will be in the coming year.  Many Thai ladies are dressed in traditional costumes, competing for the title of Nang Nopamar (นางนพมาศ), bringing out their true beauty more than anything else.  Also, illuminated Lanna-style hot air balloons are launched into the evening sky giving the entire area a truly magical feel.

I felt Saturday was the most fun as it wasn't the actual Loy Krathong night and thus somewhat less crowded.  Tim and I spent a little while shopping in the markets surrounding Karon's festival site and then returned after picking up Nadia from work.  We were later joined by Opat and spent a very late night dancing on the big stage.  In Thai carnival tradition, you had to buy a ticket for 10 baht a dance and then choose one of the ladies onstage (or take your own) as a partner.  Tim purchased a big wad of tickets and gave them to Nadia and I, opting to sit out all but one of the dances.  I'm usually not much of a dancer so I was very reluctant to be one of the only farangs up on the stage (there were perhaps only one or two others at the entire festival as it really is a Thai event rather than a tourist one).  Anyway, spurred on by several bottles of a fairly decent Japanese beer (Asahi, on sale with a buy-two-get-one-free promotion) and Nadia's insistence that I dance with her I ended up dancing for a couple of hours.  In fact, since I was dancing with Nadia they never collected any of her tickets so we ended up giving some away at the end.  They only played Thai songs but it seemed like I knew every one of them because of Tim's karaoke VCD's!

One of the best things about Thai festivals and carnivals is that there is no curfew and when we left around 4a.m. it was still going strong!

Sunday, Tim was to sell beer and soft drinks for the Patong Loy Kratong Festival.  She and Nadia drove in early and Doug was supposed to pick me up later.  However, he never made it and Opat ended up driving all the way from Patong.  After checking on the status of Tim's sales, I took a walk down to Bangla Road which was filled with carnival booths as well as a large stage on the eastern end.  Kratong boats and flower arrangements were for sale everywhere.  I even ran into teacher Bob, American Bob, and Ging while walking around (we'd had a few drinks with teacher Bob on Friday as well when we spotted him at the High Season Carnival).  Back to Tim's spot on the beach and I ran into Ben and Nid.  Shortly after that, it began to rain so Ben and I retreated to a nearby Italian restaurant where we enjoyed an excellent pizza (the best I've had in Thailand thus far).  The light shower soon became a torrent and Tim refused to budge from her spot despite a severe lack of customers.  Nadia returned after her work (she works 5-12 at Coconut Resort); it stopped raining as soon as she hopped off of Lek's motorbike.  She walked with me down to the beach where we launched a hot air balloon (a bit of trial-and-error as the balloon didn't want to go skyward at first).

Around 1a.m., we packed up the coolers and decided to find a better spot closer to the intersection with Bangla to catch the after-bars crowd.  However, the police were directing everyone away when we got there so we decided to head for home.  We'd barely started driving when all the lights went out; Patong went completely dark due to some major power failure so it was another omen that we should leave.  As we climbed the hill towards Karon, I happened to look back and was struck by the image of hundreds of paper hot air balloons ascending into the sky.

As we came into Karon, we noticed the carnival there was still in full swing so we decided to stop off for a bit.  Tim set up shop at the entrance to the beach-front park and suggested Nadia and I go and float our Loy Krathong boats (we'd forgotten earlier).  You normally set your boat adrift with your significant other but as Nadia has truly become part of the family, they didn't see any problem with it (I didn't know this detail until I read up on the festival today).  Because of the rain earlier, the candles and incense on our boats refused to light so I don't know how lucky we'll be.  After our boats drifted off into the darkness we checked out the end of a concert in the new amphitheatre before returning to Tim.  She hadn't sold any beer or soft drinks at all in the previous hour but wasn't willing to give up just yet.  We spent some time walking around (the Thai dancing wasn't that tempting tonight).  We finally left around 3:30, all of us in a rather subdued mood.

Today was another sleep-in day.  Nadia gave Tim a massage while I began unpacking from our Singapore trip (finally!).  The three of us went over to Central Festival for lunch and some serious shopping since we didn't buy very many souvenirs in Singapore.  We then met Jum who has just returned from a long stay in Udon; she's going to be staying with us as well until Jacki returns from Belgium in a couple of weeks.

Well, that brings this blog more-or-less caught up.  I'll write more extensively about our sightseeing in Singapore when I post a few photos later in the week.  I still have A LOT of other things to clear off of my desk but I promise I won't wait too long!