Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Wachinee visits the USA

UPDATE: Wachinee visits the USA

As readers of this blog will know, Wachinee (Platong Khotsombat) was a very important part of our "midlife adventure" in Thailand in 2012-2013. Through Volunteers for Thailand, we taught at the Baan Nong Phue School, where Wachinee taught English.  Her warmth and very good English-speaking ability were the major factors in our decision to go to that school as volunteer English teachers.  She found us our apartments in Khemmarat (with air conditioning and western -- not squat -- toilets!). She lived in Khemmarat and picked us up each day and drove us to Baan Nong Phue. Her parents helped us get around our province of Ubon Ratchathani, and her mother prepared that ant egg omelet that we included in our blog.

Before we left Thailand in 2013, we told Wachinee that we hoped she would visit us. We repeated that invitation in e-mails many times over the following years. She finally agreed to come in April 2016, during the school break for the hottest month in Thailand. 

She and George both posted many pictures of her visit on Facebook in April, but we thought it would be nice to include a post about her trip in our blog. For us, it is a thank you to Wachinee and her family (and the teachers, students, and friends we met in Thailand) who were so kind to us, and an indication of our continuing connection to Isaan and the friends we made there.

On April 8, 2016, Wachinee flew from Bangkok through Seoul to Los Angeles (a very long trip!) and spent about a week with our daughter Riley, our son-in-law Joel, and our grandsons Theo (4 years old) and Gus (1).

Wachinee with Theo

At The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles, with Gus

On the LA Metro           
With "Tommy Trojan" on the campus of                                          
the University of Southern California

At the Walt Disney Concert Hall (designed by Frank Gehry) in downtown LA

And at Disneyland:

Mary and I thank Riley, Joel, Theo, and Gus for showing Wachinee such a great time in Los Angeles!

Then, on April 14, Wachinee flew to Washington, DC.  

Mary and I actually live across the Potomac River from Washington in Arlington, Virginia.  We live next to a very nice Water Park with lovely flowers and a waterfall.  That was one of our first stops with Wachinee.

An early stop in our travels was a visit to our former next door neighbors and very dear friends, Connie McCabe and Karin Fangman.  Bud and George met Connie and Karin at a dog park in Alexandria in 1997 when we took our new Yellow Lab puppy Abby there for some exercise.  Abby became lifelong friends with Fritzi, Connie and Karin's German Shepherd, and Mary and I and Bud and Riley became lifelong friends with Connie and Karin.  They gave us a farewell party before we left for Thailand, and, when they heard Wachinee was visiting, invited us to bring her to their home in Alexandria, Virginia.  We especially enjoyed their lovely backyard.

After that visit, we took Wachinee to see the Alexandria waterfront -- that's the Potomac River flowing by.

Our first trip into DC was to visit the National Mall and its Smithsonian museums.  The first stop was the Sackler Gallery of Asian Art, where we saw a Seated Buddha from 14th century Tibet.

Next we went to the Smithsonian's Hirschhorn Museum Sculpture Garden.  We posed for pictures at a piece made of glass and two-way mirrors.  Wachinee and Mary are inside; I'm outside taking the picture but reflected in the mirror and seeming much wider than I really am ; )

We stopped at the National Gallery of Art's Sculpture Garden, where Wachinee and Mary enjoyed some ice cream treats.  That's the National Archives Building in the background, where the US Declaration of Independence and Constitution are on public view.

Then we went into the National Gallery of Art, which is one of the great art museums of the world.  We admired the only work of art by Leonardo da Vinci in the US -- "Ginevra de' Benci," painted between 1474 and 1478.  It is a double-sided wooden panel; on the back, a wreath of laurel and palm branches is depicted.  Entwined around the plants is a scroll with a Latin inscription meaning "Beauty Adorns Virtue."  The laurel and palm are common symbols for intellectual and moral virtue.

Here is Wachinee coming down the south steps of the National Gallery towards the center of the Mall.  That's a view of the Capitol (where the US Senate and House of Representatives meet), which has been undergoing a restoration project on the dome.  The scaffolding is necessary for the restoration work.  There was a demonstration going on in front of the Capitol and then we saw Wachinee holding up the Capitol with one hand!

Next up was a visit to Mount Vernon, the home of the first American President, George Washington. Mt Vernon is just a short drive south from Alexandria.  When he voluntarily gave up his office at the end of his second 4-year term (thereby setting an important precedent that American presidents don't stay in office for life), he retired to this home on the Potomac River.

This is the view from the porch on the river side of the house.  We decided to sit there for a short while and enjoy that view.

On April 19, we took a bus to New York City -- specifically, Manhattan.  It was a beautiful spring day there.  After we got settled in our hotel, we took a walk up Fifth Avenue and saw 30 Rock (Rockefeller Plaza) with its Art Deco buildings and beautiful artwork on the buildings.

We saw the spectacular St. Patrick's Cathedral.

We are certainly not Trump fans, but we passed the Trump Tower on 5th Avenue a few hours before the close of the New York State presidential primary and saw the press contingent and curious gathered to wait for Trump's appearance after the results came in.

Then we walked through the lower part of Central Park, a 778-acre city-owned park in the middle of Manhattan.  It provides a welcome respite from the skyscrapers, traffic, and noise of Manhattan.

 In the photo below, the famous Plaza Hotel is on the far side of the little lake.

A young couple was playing sweet music in the Park.

After that peaceful break, we headed down busy Broadway to Times Square.

In the center of the photo below is the Empire State Building bathed in the colors of the American flag.

The tower in the photo below is where the crystal ball is lowered on New Year's Eve to celebrate the New Year.  Huge crowds fill Times Square to observe the ritual.

Here's Wachinee in the middle of Times Square with a figure from the film, Frozen:

For the next few days in NYC, we used the subway system to get around.  The nearest station to our hotel was at Grand Central Station, one of NYC's two great train stations and a beautiful building.

Wachinee had one request while we were in New York City -- to see the Statue of Liberty.  So we signed up for a river tour.  We went down the Hudson River on the west side of Manhattan.  It was a little cool with the breeze blowing on the river.

We watched the skyline of Manhattan on our left, including the Empire State Building.

And saw a sailboat in the river.

And then saw Freedom Tower (also known as One World Trade Center), the building erected to replace the Twin Towers destroyed on 9/11.

On the right side of the boat, we saw the skyline of Jersey City, across the river in the State of New Jersey.

We saw Ellis Island, the gateway for over 12 million immigrants to the United States as the nation's busiest immigrant inspection station from 1892 until 1954.

But the highlight of the trip was Lady Liberty.

As we turned to head back up the river, we got a terrific view of the river and NY (on the right) and NJ (on the left) skylines looking north.

View of lower Manhattan:

Another view of Freedom Tower:

This is a photo taken by the boat crew before we boarded, doctored to make it look like Lady Liberty is behind us:

That afternoon we returned to Times Square to see The Lion King, a terrific Broadway show with music by Elton John and lyrics by Time Rice and winner of six Tony Awards including Best Musical.

After we got back to DC, on April 22, we took a tour of the White House.  As we entered, we saw the Obama's dogs -- Bo and Sunny -- being taken out for a walk.  They are very cute dogs.

This is the view of the south face of the White House from the visitor entrance.

To George's surprise, as we walked through the entrance corridor, we saw the President's Chief of Staff Denis McDonough leading his own little tour group.

In the East Room, Wachinee stood on the spot where the President delivers addresses to the country.  As he enters for the speech, the President walks down the corridor behind Wachinee.

This is the State Dining Room, with a portrait of Abraham Lincoln over the fireplace

The view from the Blue Room -- of the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial.

Wachinee standing below the Presidential Seal

Wachinee and Mary standing at the north entrance to the White House.  The President and First Lady stand here to welcome their guests.

Wachinee standing outside the fence in front of the north entrance to the White House, after the tour.

Wachinee standing outside the south entrance to the White House where the White House holds events like the Easter Egg Roll and large state dinners in tents erected for the occasions.  In fact, the equipment seen in the background of the photo below in front of the White House was in the process of setting up a tent for such a dinner.  The President's helicopter takes off and lands on this lawn when it is taking the President and the First Family to Andrews AFB for flights on Air Force One.

After visiting the White House, we walked across Pennsylvania Avenue to see the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery, which had a special exhibit of amazing, room-size art projects.

This is Wachinee in the middle of a work by a New York artist, Tara Donovan.  She used such everyday materials as toothpicks, straws, Styrofoam cups, scotch tape, and index cards (many index cards) to create a mysterious landscape.

Mexican Artist Gabriel Dawe created "Plexus A1" using 60 miles of thread to make an indoor rainbow.

Oklahoma-born artist Patrick Dougherty (known as the "Stickman") created "Shindig," a group of "nests" made by weaving willing saplings together that fill up a large room.  Here's Wachinee in one of them.

And this is just one section of a wall in Jennifer Angus's room called "In the Midnight Garden."  The walls are covered with large (real but dead) insects collected from Malaysia, Thailand, and Papua New Guinea.

That evening we visited the Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) and the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) Memorials.  

FDR was President of the United States from 1933 until his death in 1945, the only president to serve more than two 4-year terms.  He led the US out of the Great Depression and then through World War II. 

Martin Luther King was an American Baptist minister and activist who was a leader in the African-American civil rights movement.  He helped to organize the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech and established his reputation as one of the greatest orators in American history.  In 1964, King received the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolent resistance.  He was assassinated in 1968.

Both the FDR and MLK memorials are located near the Tidal Basin, which is in front of the Jefferson Memorial and near the Washington Monument, so we got great views of those monuments as well.

Jefferson Memorial and the Tidal Basin

Washington Monument

On Saturday, April 23, our son Bud visited and we all went to the U. S. National Arboretum, a 446-acre site about 2 miles north of the U.S. Capitol that serves as a major center of botanical research.  It has many beautiful gardens and visitors are welcome.  It was azalea and dogwood blooming time while we were there.

Our son Bud with Wachinee

The Arboretum also houses the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum.  The collection of bonsai trees is truly amazing!

Our last stop in the Arboretum was to see the National Capitol Columns, which originally supported the old East Portico of the US Capitol. The columns were removed during expansion of the Capitol in 1958.

That evening, we were invited to the home of our dear friend Sandra Jorgenson in Alexandria for a traditional American dinner.  

First wine and spanakopita on the deck.  Mary is wearing a beautiful jacket that Wachinee brought from Thailand for her.

 Then to the dining room, and first a toast

Applesauce, mashed potatoes, green beans, and pork and gravy -- "Oh, so good!" said Wachinee

Homemade Lemon meringue pie for dessert

Thank you, Sandra!

Sunday was a day of rest and catching up, but Wachinee made us a delicious dinner.

Mary needed an extra day of rest after a pretty strenuous ten days of traveling and sightseeing, but Wachinee wanted to see as much as she could, so she and George headed again to the National Mall in Washington, DC.

First stop, the National Air and Space Museum and the 1903 Wright Brothers Flyer, the world's first successful airplane:

After lunch at the National Museum of the American Indian and a quick walk through part of the US Botanic Garden to see some beautiful orchids, we went to the offices of Congressman Don Beyer, whose district includes Arlington, VA, and were led on a tour of the US Capitol by one of his staffers.

We entered through the underground Capitol Visitors Center, on the east side of the Capitol, and looked up though the skylight to see the Capitol dome.

After meeting in Philadelphia from 1791 to 1801, the Supreme Court moved to windowless chambers in the Capitol.

We went through the Capitol Rotunda, which wasn't very pretty on this visit because of the scaffolding and cloth coverings put in place to support the restoration work on the dome. But up at the top of the dome (180 feet above our heads) is a painting we could see, entitled "The Apotheosis of Washington."

We were permitted to sit in the gallery of the US House of Representatives.  Even though the House was not in session, we were not permitted to take pictures.  Then we headed across the street to the US Supreme Court Building.

The building has a magnificent spiral staircase.  We were hoping to see the chamber where the justices actually meet and normally we would have been permitted to do that since the Court was not in session, but one of the justices was using the room for some other purpose and we didn't get to see it.

Then we went next door to the Library of Congress.  I believe -- and Wachinee agreed -- that its interior is one of the most beautiful in Washington.

As we headed toward Metro and Crystal City, we walked past the Capitol and saw some beautiful trees.

The weather had been absolutely beautiful for all of Wachinee's visit up to the last full day; then it began to rain lightly.  We decided to drive to the Great Falls National Park.  The centerpiece of the park is the waterfall in the Potomac River between Virginia and Maryland.


We had a quiet evening at home (watching returns from some presidential primaries in states along the East Coast of the US).  Mary is holding a cloth journal given to her in Thailand by Wachinee's parents.

On April 27, we took Wachinee to Dulles Airport for her long trip through Seoul back to Bangkok.  We all shed some tears at the airport.

It was quite a visit, one we'll hope Wachinee remembers all her life.  We know we will.