dad from day one: Jack’s First White Christmas

Week 6.

During my first summer teaching English in Thailand, I took a week-long vacation to the magical island of Koh Samui, as referenced in the movie Meet the Parents (“Jack speak-a Thai?”).  While there, I went to a highly promoted (via hand-painted street banners) Muay Thai boxing tournament.  Inside the dimly lit warehouse-style building on the outskirts of legitimate commerce, I felt like I was part of the movie Bloodsport staring Jean Claude Van Damme.  Afterwards, as a souvenir, I cut down one of the street banners advertising the event and hung it up in my college dorm at Liberty University the next Fall.  Everyone who saw it laughed at the poor English translation: “Super and Real Fight”.  I mean, it was a real fight, and I would say it was super as well, but for the fight to be super and real in the same adjective phrase just sounds funny.  And that is why I couldn’t title this entry as “Jack’s First and White Christmas”.

In preparing our move from Nashville, TN to Fort Payne, AL (which is located between Birmingham, Chattanooga, and Atlanta), my wife (who is from Sacramento, CA) had asked me if it ever snowed in Alabama.  Though the words “snow” and “Alabama” seem like they don’t go together at all, though do. Just like a lot of people don’t realize that Alabama actually borders the Gulf of Mexico and has several beaches, like Gulf Shores.  I told my wife to expect it to snow a few inches, up to three times a year.  And sure enough, as we woke up around 6 AM Christmas morning to feed and change Jack, we looked out the window to see large snowflakes falling steadily.

A couple of hours later, we drove 0.7 miles to my parents’ house to spend the day with them and my sister and her husband.  Turns out, the snow didn’t stop falling and the temperature remained low.  So the seven of us ending up staying the weekend together, being that the roads were iced over.  One of the gifts my parents bought for Jack was a really cool wagon; ideally for when he gets older. However, when we started getting ready for bed on Christmas night and we were deciding where Jack should sleep, since we hadn’t packed his travel crib, I said, “Well, what about his wagon?” Not many people can say that their first Christmas was a white Christmas and that on top of that, that they slept in a wagon.  But I guess it’s not all that strange, being that we were celebrating a holiday where a baby boy slept in a manger.  We didn’t have a manger for Jack, but we did have a wagon.

Jack is swinging Christmas morning before we left for my parents' house.

We got snowed in.

Jack's presents from his parents.

Jack's presents from the family.

The Four Generations of Shells: Baby Jack is the only Shell boy to carry on the family name.

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Adventures in Thailand: Monk Footprints and Bed Bugs

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.  The Thai version.

After recently revisiting some memories from the summer of 2004 in Thailand, I must have tapped in to some sort of parallel between my life now and my life at age 24, because there is some therapeutic and natural about replaying those stories out loud (or by typing them out and reading them).

It all started a few days ago when my friend and former  college roommate Josh Taylor sent me a text message asking what the best phone number to reach me was.  A few texts later, I was jogging his memory (and mine) with a reference to “monk footprints”…

During our week long vacation from teaching at Bangkok’s Global English School (all schools had a mandatory closing for a week due to the International AIDS Conference being held in Bangkok that year), Josh and I decided to take an excursion to Chiang Mai and Koh Samui by overnight train, motorcycle, and plain.

In our overnight train ride to Chiang Mai (Thailand’s 2nd largest city) up in the North, our seats converted into beds for the night.  Right across isle from us on the train was a middle-aged Buddhist monk, dressed in his drab orange robe, marked with animal tattoos all over his head (to fend off evil spirits).   Despite the loud bangs and rumbles off the tracks throughout the 12 hour ride, the monk’s constant religious chants were a bit distracting (and kinda creepy).

But when in Thailand, you learn just to go with it.

As nighttime approached, the train attendants came through the isles to transform our seats into beds.  The monk headed to the restroom.  When he returned, he used Josh’s bunk bed (which was on the bottom) as a stepping stone to get up on his top bunk.  He wore no shoes.  His bare feet, which were caked with dirt, left “monk footprints” on Josh’s white bed sheets.  Moist, mud-infused footprints.

Therefore, the phrase “monk footprints” will always be a legendary term between Josh and I.

When we arrived in Chiang Mai early the next morning, we rented “motorcycles” (a loose term in Thailand, as it basically often means a glorified moped) by paying $4 a day and handing over our American driver’s licenses as a security deposit (which does seem a bit risky; turns out, a few weeks later I spent two weeks in South Korea with my sister and my passport was stolen).  After a day of exploring (and getting a little lost) the city, getting curious about what the Chiang Dao Cave was as well as what the “live monkey shows” were all about.

Because the school in Bangkok we were teaching at is a Christian school, we were able to have it arranged that we could sleep in a church in Chiang Mai for free.  Can’t argue with a free shower and bed for a few nights.  Of course, the shower water was ice cold (which isn’t a horrible thing in a country with a climate similar to Miami).  And as for the sleeping arrangements: two plastic sleeping bags on a cold, slick cement floor on the second floor in a building with no air conditioning and a garage door as the main entrance.

The best part though, was the fact it was impossible to stay asleep for more than twenty minutes at a time.  Not because of the heat alone, but because of the tiny little biting ants from whom we evidently were invading their space.

And yet I count all of these as fond memories.  Backpacking through Thailand for me was a rite of passage.  An adventure that will always be part of me.  Maybe one day when I become a rich, successful author with a book on the New York Times Best Seller List, I can manage to find the money and time off to go back.

Until then, Thailand remains a magical, mysterious place that sometimes I think of as a dream world in a parallel universe that only exists in my mind.

A billboard we saw at a bus stop there- a Thai clothing company switched the "A" and "E" of Abercrombie to make their "own brand" of clothing.

Josh having a random Thai meal on the train before his seat was converted into his bed.

Josh having a random Thai meal on the train before his seat was converted into his bed.

Me playing a song at the Thai church we camped out at.