Nam and I went on a nice trip to pick up Mina in WA and for Nam to see Max after four years of COVID lockdown/US visa processing. The last long leg of our trip saw us dropped this bus stop in between the two sides of Maha Sarakham city at dawn.
As it turns out, we aren’t moving back to the states just now.
Mina has come back to Thailand; she missed her friends here.
On October 5th, at around 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon, I wrote about how the whole country was flooding from heavy rains of the past week and how our neighborhood usually floods, but that this time the drainage systems in our area were working really well.
Later that evening, Nam and I gathered shovels and twine and started helping people from the neighborhood fill sandbags just down our street in an effort to block off rising waters from the rear of our estate, where there’s marshland on an open property. Our entire housing estate (which has expanded greatly since we built our house 13 years ago), was originally all rice fields and open land. Nam’s mom warned us that it was a low area that was prone to flooding, but the worst it ever flooded was just enough to wet our driveway and barely reach the house. </foreshadowing>
After an hour of filling sandbags and lifting them onto trucks, we were beat, and it was getting obvious that this flooding might get bad. Still, it didn’t seem too bad, but we decided to take Nam’s car to her mom’s dormitory on higher ground, about ten minutes away. On the way there, Nam asked if I wanted to turn around and get my car out of there as well, but it didn’t seem like it would flood so badly, so I said no, wondering if I was making the right decision. When we got to my mother in law’s place, Nam’s younger sister gave us a ride back home. The street in front of our house was slightly flooded, but no big deal. A couple hours later, it looked like this, which is the highest it had ever been.
Throughout the course of flooding, which was extremely bad but shorter than anticipated – in our neighborhood (they predicted our hood would be flooded for a month or two, but it was pretty much dry in less than a week – we never lost power, so I have chat logs all through out our time spent inside the house, even though we were completely surrounded by water. In fact the last message I sent out to the family on the night of the 5th was, “there’s no rain or wind, we have internet and aircon, but the water is silently rising. Weird.”
In the photo above, the water is only a couple inches high in our driveway, which is sloped towards the street. However, that means that the water is more than a foot deep in the street, which is high enough to bog down my car. It was too late to drive out of there without risking the Crown’s engine and blocking the road for trucks and lifted vehicles, so I pulled the battery cables, chocked the wheels, and pulled everything I could out of it… I didn’t have time to pull the amps or any of the audio system.
After I took that photo around 11:20 PM, the water started rising very fast. Unbeknownst to us, officials in Khon Kaen had decided to open flood gates to relieve pressure on the over capacity Ubolrat Dam, which in turn caused earthen holding walls to break at the nearby reservoir at Gang Lern Jaan. This caused a rush of water from streams and creeks that had never caused flooding in the recent past. The resulting flood was, in fact, the worst in 45 years. When the flood rose about another foot higher than shown in the photo, we decided it was time to bug out. We hurriedly gathered the most important stuff together, put Mina’s cat, Pickle, in a pet carrier, turned off the main house breaker, and ventured out into the dark waters in the driveway, where we waited for a truck to pass by (normal cars and motorcycles had completely stopped coming down the street hours before).
A black Vigo came by a couple minutes later, and the guy was happy to give us a ride out of there. We jumped in the open bed and stopped again just down the street when a couple of uni kids waded out in the street asking for a ride. As we drove down the street just down from our house, a couple yelled at us to slow down from the open window of their brightly-lit house, but it was too late. The wake created by our truck passing by in the flooded street crashed through their open front door (which was only a couple inches above the water line) and rushed into the living room, bouncing off the far wall and rippling back again. The woman sat on the couch and got splashed a bit and the guy went to close the door, much too late to accomplish anything. They both cursed as we passed by, a surreal memory burned in my mind, as adrenaline coursed through my veins. That pattern of adrenaline rush and subsequent dump would stay with me though the next few weeks.
UPDATE Dec. 1: It’s now been a couple weeks since I started writing this post. My words are all jammed up and I’m just… busy. Or maybe tired, as I never really spun down from the mad times that resulted from the flood. I have decided to write about it in installments, for fear of never publishing anything on this blog again… I’m hoping that publishing one post clears the logjam in my mind, so here goes…
VIDEO UPDATE: I’m adding this short video just to show the level of the water on the first night on our front stairs, which were the standard for gauging the severity of flooding throughout the following week.
On our trip to the states last month, I had my first ever birthday on an airplane. It might have been my longest birthday ever because of the time difference (UTC +7 to UTC -7), although I didn’t even really think about it until a couple of flight attendants came up and started asking about my birthday – one in English, and one in Japanese. I was really surprised at first, but it ended up being very dope. Apparently, Nam had asked ANA to do something after Mina and I had checked in and went through the first security checkpoint at Suvarnabhumi. Mina knew about it since Nam had messaged her and she thought it was hilarious.
The dessert plate they brought me “from Business Class”:
I didn’t post here for the entire trip and actually didn’t do a lot of things I normally do… Some of them I just may never do again. We have new priorities and our lives are in a state of flux – preparing for a big move back home, etc. – and we are living each day with the immediate goal of joining our family together again. Standing in our way is a long list of big things like selling our house, getting Nam’s green card, finding new jobs, and transitioning to new cultures and lifestyles again… Adventure awaits!
Max went to study for a few months in Washington state in spring of 2019. Nam took him there and came back. It was hard to watch him go and be away from him because we were such a close family – we ate almost every meal together since the kids were born (and they were almost all great meals). Well, three months turned into four and then six, and then pretty soon he wanted to be there for a whole year. We agreed to the extensions every time since he seemed to be having such a great time. And then the pandemic came.
We watched in horror as one of the first infection zones was discovered at an elderly care facility in Seattle, just a couple hours from where Max was, at my sister’s house. I knew I had a short period to go and pick him up and get him out of there before borders started closing. But. He was graduating elementary school the week I chose to get him, so I decided to let him attend that and not deprive him of saying goodbye to friends he had made over the past year. And so, the borders closed everywhere, and the window to get Max back was closed, for years.
Meanwhile, we endured living life without our boy here. It was lonely and we got used to that, and getting used to it also sucked. But guess what? Max got used to living in the states, and we had to deal with that. It turns out he got into a very progressive Project Based Learning middle school, was earning high school credits, and was even on track to receive a scholarship for college! Mina became interested in Max’s school. And so, we started making plans to apply for Nam’s green card and try living in the states for a while. Our plan was to get the green card sometime next year (there are no time guarantees and the various government agencies are all backlogged) and move over there in some fashion – a huge move, but it still gave us some time to prepare for everything.
So of course, everything got moved up. We found out that Mina had a chance to get into Max’s school that wouldn’t last very long, so we jumped at it.
Mina is unsure about going.
Mina wants to go.
Mina is going.
I will take Mina there and come back. Mina and Max will be together in the states until Nam gets her green card, and then we will follow after settling accounts here in Thailand.
The last three years have been hard without one child here.
The next year will be even harder without both here.
It takes me so long to put things up on this blog these days. There’s posts I’ve been wanting to publish for more than a decade lol. Anyways, since another trip to Khon Kaen is coming up either tomorrow or this weekend, I wanted to put up some more photos of another back in August.
Apparently he just walked off when the boat docked.
That’s the Ebisubashi bridge (Nampabashi/Hikkakebashi) under the famous Glico neon sign, where I spent approximately 0.004% of my total time in Japan. If I remember correctly, that was just enough time for me or my friends to throw someone else off that bridge… Was it me? I was pretty OK at drunk judo… Was it Dave? Was it on TV? For the life of me, I can’t even remember the name of the guy we threw off… I remember he was a real ass, though.
Max is going to stay with my sis in Washington for a couple months. He’ll be there until the end of the last term of 2nd grade there to see what it’s like. We’ll see what happens from there, but anything is possible. We can uproot and move within a couple years, if that feels like the right thing to do.
We aren’t really keen on splitting up the family in different places while the kids are so young. But Max wants to go, and hasn’t wavered at all, even while playing with Mina for the last time in a while earlier tonight.
Meanwhile, my days are filled with keeping young kids happy and learning English for our summer project. Nam has been rushing to finish classes early (her uni’s term is different from mine or the kids’ school; we are on summer break) in order to take Max over and scope out Washington state. It’s been stressful.
Money is also tight, and we decided to gamble on a newer Chinese airline that has a modern fleet and is still unknown and variably rated online: Xiamen Air. Everything seemed to be going well, but the tickets were cheap and maybe there’s a reason for that.
First, it seems that Xiamen Airport (as opposed to other international airports in China) may require Thai nationals to get a transit visa even for a transit of less than 24 hours (staying inside the airport). However, the information on this is conflicting, and I had only read reports that it was actually no problem when bought the tickets. Now, on the eve of departure, we have read more reports stating the opposite… Nam will have to go all the way to BKK with Max tomorrow and ask the counter staff, since their website is useless, as is their service hotline.
Actually, the website is so useless, we can’t even check in online:
So, they are leaving our house from tomorrow morning on a great adventure! Mina and I will be guarding the home front and missing them. Nam will be gone for a few weeks, and Max for at least a couple months. We miss you already, boy!
UPDATE: Xiamen Air and inconsistent Chinese visa rules for Thai nationals completely screwed us. While most info on the internet, even from some official-ish sites, claim that Thais can get through Xiamen Airport on transit without a visa, according to the Chinese embassy in Thailand as well as Xiamen Air head office in China said that Nam would not be allowed on the flight at Suvarnabhumi without a ~$140 transit visa or tourist visa (which cost the same, with the transit visa offering no benefits whatsoever, so you might as well get a tourist visa).
While I should have looked this up more thoroughly before buying the tickets, we were just too busy. It’s hard to believe that the travel agency (SmartFares) or the airline itself (Xiamen Airlines) collect your passport information yet allow many Thai nationals fall into this trap (again, applicable to only some of the airports in China) every month, according to the helpful girl on their help line. It was not nice finding this out on their eve of departure, but it was better than them getting turned back at the airline counter at BKK I suppose. There are some reports that paying bribes can help you get out of this ridiculous visa conundrum, sometimes facilitated by the airline staff in China but usually taking several hours and entailing lengthy questioning and missing your original transit flight. We ended up having to book new flights (not through SmartFares ever again, just on principle), this time through Hong Kong Air, which was completely fine because according to Nam, both their airplanes and HK airport are very nice, and because Thais DON’T NEED A VISA FOR SHORT TRANSIT THROUGH HONG KONG AIRPORT, UNLIKE XIAMEN AIRPORT AND OTHERS.
The moral of this story is: BEWARE OF XIAMEN AIR (it rhymes!), BEWARE OF SMARTFARES, BEWARE OF STUPID CHINESE VISA RULES. They are acting in concert to squeeze you for every last dollar.