One of the fun things about getting ready to return to Thailand is filling the shopping lists of my friends over there. Because I need big bags for my return trip - I always manage to fill them up that direction - I offer to bring things that folks there may want or need from here. And it gives me the opportunity to go shopping with someone else's money! That's a whole lot more fun than the regular kind of shopping.

Over the years I have had a whole range of requests on the shopping lists. It used to be mostly things like a certain brand of toothpaste and shampoo, because back then those particular things were not yet available there. Over-the-counter vitamins and medications continue to be a standard request. Two friends have a favorite label of cosmetics, and while those can now be found there, the price is a lot less here. Usually the salesperson at the cosmetic counter will add a whole bunch of samples to send along, an added treat.

The SAS brand of shoes is very popular over there, but not available. So often I would go to the SAS store in the Twin Cities with my long list of shoe requests, again for specific models, sizes, and colors. I became known there as the Bangkok Imelda connection. And sometimes when Thai friends would visit me, we would make one of our must-do's a stop at the SAS shoe store so the sales people there could meet some of their Thai customers.

Some of the requests have been a lot more unusual. Once it was for a king-size down comforter of a certain type; fortunately the requestor went online and ordered it, and had it delivered to our place. But when it came, the size of the box was a bit of a challenge. We decided to just leave it in the box and check it as is. While it was a bit out-sized, the airlines were not as strict back then, and because it was so lightweight for its size, it didn't cost me any additional fees.

Much more awkward than that was the huge barbecue grill a friend asked me to bring. She wanted one of those humongous things with burners on the side and the whole works. And I had to go pick that one out because it was before the days of online ordering. We toted it home and the box that it came in almost filled my whole kitchen. Of course it wasn't going to be accepted as checked baggage if I left it that way, so we unpacked it and repacked it into separate packages. I was picking up the international portion of my ticket in Los Angeles so I could only check it that far, and had to reclaim it. Then I had to recheck it when I got the international portion of my ticket. And I had to do this all on crutches, because I had recently broken my ankle in three places. Fortunately, because of that broken ankle I was taking a colleague along to help. Good thing!

In retrospect, maybe the request for the grill was the result of a message I had sent to the people I was working with over there: I said I had bad news and good news. The bad news was that I had broken my ankle. The good news was that now I would have to pack only one shoe of each pair so I had more room in my suitcase.

Another memorable time that I brought things for other people was when I was in graduate school the last time. I was doing a class project by working as an advisor for a refugee organization, and met a lot of people there who still had families in the refugee camps in Thailand. Somehow in our interactions it came up that I would soon be going to Thailand on one of my fairly regular business trips, and I could take something along for their left-behind families. We arranged for a date when I would pick up what they wanted me to take.

On the appointed day, I stopped at the group's building, and what a surprise I had waiting for me. There were seven cardboard boxes, each addressed to someone in a Thai camp. I was a little overwhelmed, but decided I could do it; fortunately that time I did not have a broken ankle. Because I was traveling for my client - an airline - I did not have to pay any excess baggage, so it was fairly straightforward on this end.

It wasn't quite that simple, however, when I arrived at Bangkok. The friends meeting me had no way to transport seven boxes plus my own bags. Fortunately they scrambled, and through connections found an official with ties to the camps, who then took charge of the boxes. My one regret was that because it was so difficult to arrange access, I did not get to deliver the stuff to the families myself.

So far for this upcoming trip to attend a very special wedding, I have requests for "colorful" printed paper napkins for a friend's decoupage hobby, aged balsamic vinegar and over-the-counter osteoarthritis medication. I have standing requests for fresh cauliflower, jalapeno cream cheese and colorful gift bags and tissue paper. And the groom has ordered on-line personalized paper napkins for the wedding reception, two dresses for the bride, and some other things. The two dresses have already arrived, and I've done some of the other requested shopping too. So I am sure the bags will again be full - both directions.