The Royal Cremation, Bangkok

We arrived from Hanoi and realized we had enough time to visit the Royal Cremation site before departing to our work site. Also fortunate: we had our all-black teacher clothes. The streets of Bangkok were freakishly silent and the trains were open with no fee. We waited in line on darkened Bangkok streets for about three hours and Thai people around us were very kind: making sure we had water and hand fans to cool ourselves. After showing our teacher ID cards (everyone else showed their microchipped National ID card) we entered the cremation area. We queued in neat, heavily-monitored (a guard instructed me to tuck in my shirt) lines, then under the spotlight we each selected a small sandalwood flower from a golden tray, bowed deeply to an image of the King with our hands held at our sides. Sandalwood is used because its fragrance when burned is believed to help the soul make its way to heaven. We laid the flower in a bowl and processed to the area where massive floral displays honored the King. The cremation fire was lit at 10pm. It’s morning now, and the monks are locating relics in the ashes.

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Trip to the Huong Tich mountains

The Perfume Pagoda is a series of shrines located in caves in the Huong Tich mountains. It’s about a three-hour drive south of Hanoi on mostly crazily-congested roads followed by an hour’s rowing along a flooded river … then a long hike up the mountain (or a cable car!) The Perfume Pagoda is the real goal … a magic valley with huge stone stairs descending to the cave.

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Electrical current speaks a universal language

Voltage. It’s just as happy to zap you in Hanoi as in Hinkley. In the many houses we’ve rebuilt in the US, we’ve learned that high-voltage electrical service entrances are treated as life-or-death projects. They have separate permits and special inspections. If ever it were possible for someone to touch an insulated service entrance wire, the electrical inspector would have a stroke. Here’s a glimpse at US code requirements for an overhead entrance; underground entrances are just as fussy.

Here in Hanoi, there’s obviously been a strong push to relocate electrical lines underground. This creates a much better-looking street scene than in Bangkok (or, to a lesser extent, Minneapolis) where unsightly wires dangle everywhere. But high-voltage service entrances casually emerge from under the sidewalk and are easily touched by any damp-fingered toddler who happens along. This mystifies me.

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