Weeks 18 & 19: A Tale of Two Cities

It would be far too dramatic to apply Dickens' famous introduction to the events of the past two weeks, but a bit of ambivalence in the discussion is well warranted: there were good times, to be sure, but they were tempered with a few bad times as well.

The first of the two locales in our tale: Phuket. No, it is not a profane interjection, no matter how cathartic that might be for all of us. It is the enchanting city in Thailand where we spent the boys' spring break (and where Leonardo DiCaprio's movie The Beach was filmed), a city on the coast of the Andaman Sea, whose phonetically misleading name is actually pronounced poo-kette.

We began our first vacation in the Far East on the evening after Greg's mom and step-dad, Katherine and Jim, arrived in Singapore for their first visit. Perhaps it was partially due to their jet-lag-induced fatigue, perhaps it was the new and exciting environment of the fancy hotel, perhaps it was just because we were in a country that was foreign to us all - regardless of the reason, our inaugural trip outside the deceptively comforting boundaries of Singapore began with the misappropriation of one of Katherine's bags. As bad luck would have it, it was the bag that contained both her laptop, which she and Jim needed to finish up a work project, and her vast collection of jewelry, a mass of fashion accessories that it took her 30 years of life's experiences and relationships to accumulate. The silver lining - because there always is one, you just have to look really, really hard, with a microscope maybe, to find it sometimes - is that the brand new laptop she ordered a few weeks ago did not arrive before they left Texas, else it would have been the one in the bag, rather than the old, barely functioning system that was well on its way to becoming a glorified doorstop.

Lengthy interviews with hotel employees on duty the night of the crime and numerous visits to the Thailand police department - which is teeming with all manner of interesting insect life as I understand it - indicate that the rogue who drove us from the airport to the hotel was responsible for the luggage loss, a feat he accomplished simply by not unloading the shockingly heavy bag from his van before he drove off like a madman with his pilfered prize. The suspect's name, place of business, and contact numbers are all known; yet despite this knowledge, and despite the presence of a video surveillance system at the hotel, there is no concrete evidence that he is the responsible party, and so the bag remains missing, with little hope of recovery. Katherine has agreed to return to Thailand - and insists that she will - when and if the case goes to court. It was not the best way to start a vacation.

We quickly overcame the haze of theft cast upon the spirits of our motley crew, though, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time in Phuket. Our hotel, the J.W. Marriott Resort and Spa, was beautiful, and, amazingly, shows no signs of the devastating tsunami that hit Thailand in December of 2004. The kiddie pool was, bar none, the best I have ever seen; and with two five-year-olds, I have seen plenty, I can assure you. It was deep enough for the kids to actually swim - a feat that just can't be accomplished in the 18 inches of water offered by most kiddie pools - but still shallow enough to allow them to stand and breathe at the same time. Right in the middle of this little natatorial paradise was a parade of cement fountains, all in the shape of turtles big enough to climb on, that spouted water all day long into the path of a giant water slide (not so giant that it was scary, though). We spent a lot of time at the pool. Not to worry, there was another area for kid-free adults to swim, cleverly located near the bar.

In addition to the pools, the resort also boasts a fabulous spa - where Greg and I both enjoyed relaxing massages - and a kid's pavilion where you can leave your offspring in the capable hands of the hotel's kid-friendly staff for a few hours of supervised fun - including craft projects and allegedly age-appropriate movies. And the food, at all three of the restaurants where we dined, was amazing. The breakfast buffet, my personal favorite, offered hungry patrons a vast selection of tempting treats, including made-to-order omelets, pancakes, and waffles, fresh fruit, steaming breads and pastries, and for those yearning for something sweet to top it all off, the freshest honey money can buy, dripping straight off of a tilted honeycomb.

Believe it or not, we actually did leave the resort property, for one morning only, to embark on an elephant trek. Although it was an interesting vacation activity, and was quite educational to boot, I must warn you that the conditions of the camp where we partook in our trek were a bit unsettling. Such a tour is not for the soft at heart who launch themselves into an animal rights frenzy at the sight of a circus tent. Because these beautiful animals spend each and every day plodding around with up to four people on their backs, up and down and around again over the same worn paths of the all but barren land that functions as their jungle, with only an occasional moment of solace here and there to grasp at a few tiny weeds shooting up through the ground. As an animal lover myself, this was upsetting to see. But we learned that without these adventure tours, and their paying tourists, the elephants in Thailand would be unemployed, and therefore unnecessary; and that is a path down which none of us wants them to trod. Undoubtedly, they are victims of free enterprise; but because it is no longer legal to employ them in the logging trade for which a staggering number of them were domesticated, and because they are animals with rather long life spans (up to 60 years), the businesses that profit by exploiting these elephants also protect them. In fact, the shirts you can buy in the little gift shop at the trek station claim "We save elephant." They're not grammatically astute, but they're benevolent in their own way, I believe.

And now, for the second city in our little Dickens scenario: Singapore itself. A country through which the shy black spitting cobra roams freely but is rarely seen. A country that claims a "relatively crime-free society by international standards," with "relatively" being the key word. Because although this is the country that warms my heart with its health and safety tenets, it also is the country where, two weeks ago, my wallet was stolen right out of my purse as I walked with Katherine and the boys to a taxi stand at one of the local malls. I know who did it. I looked right at the culprit when he was riding the escalator behind us. I even asked Alec to move out of his way so he could pass us, because people in Singapore are so often in a hurry, and we so often block the paths of those around us. He passed up on the opportunity, and elected instead to continue riding right behind us. I looked back at him again right after he bumped into me, using enough force to propel me into the man standing in front of me, who was curiously immobile despite the pressing crowd trying to force itself toward the taxi stand and escape. His accomplice, I am sure. I know I was the perfect target, and the Singapore police, who were all very friendly by the way, confirmed it: a woman with a child hanging from either hand, scores of bags inhibiting range of movement, a big open purse without a zipper slung over the shoulder, and a beautiful wallet - a Christmas present from a loving husband - full of credit cards, but virtually no cash, and, thankfully, no passport, poking invitingly out of the purse's unobstructed opening. I can see my neighbors across the street in Round Rock, both of whom faithfully serve on the Austin police force, shaking their heads in disbelief and disappointment at my stupidity.

Two cities, two crimes, two possessions lost. Although in Katherine's case, I guess it was about 50 possessions lost. But we had a good time anyway. In Phuket and in Singapore. After spring break we went to the zoo and the night safari, both family favorites. I am proud to say that my little animal loving children have spent enough time at each of these attractions that they can now mimic the sounds of both a gibbon and a peacock with such accuracy that the subjects themselves stop what they are doing and listen. No matter how many times we go, we always see something new and different.

And I still see Singapore as the wonderful city that it claims to be. Safe does not mean crime free, as I have been told repeatedly. I now have a much smaller wallet that I keep safely secured inside a purse or backpack at all times. It was a very disappointing experience that cost me both a treasured gift and a significant amount of free time - spent calling credit card companies to cancel accounts - but, most importantly, no one was hurt, or even scared, and I learned a valuable lesson or two.

If and when Katherine does have to return to complete the prosecution of her crime, we all will go with her to Phuket, and we will enjoy another vacation, probably at the same resort. And this time it may be just as stressful, with the pesky inclusion of a trial, but I know it also will be just as fun.

Take care,
Shannon et al.


Speak no evil...

Cameron & cassowary communicating

Alec & Cameron, with a great-horned owl

towel elephant at hotel in Phuket

baby orangutan

Bepaw & Alec in Phuket


Phuket, Thailand

Tiger teeth

Mommy orangutan

Greg's birthday dinner in Phuket

Bepaw and boys on the way home from school

orangutan daddy



Alec & Saki monkeys



Alec & Greg on the elephant trek



"reflecting pond" at the Marriott in Phuket

baby elephant (it was very close)

a child's reaction... :)

Cameron & Alec looking at some really big fish


a mother's love...


Cameron in Phuket

zebra (Cameron's favorite animal)



Marriott kids' pool

baby elephant

cat fight at the zoo



the apology...

Cameron & Saki monkeys




at the end of a day at the zoo 

friendly lions

"elephants" at the night safari

Cameron, ready to go home...

Alec & Daddy learning how rice used to be farmed



Memaw getting an "elephant massage"


Memaw & Cameron

Baby elephant playing the harmonica :)


the Phuket Marriott at night