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Strollin’

9 Jun

Since the tiny gentleman joined us, I’ve tried to make it a habit to take evening stroller walks around our neighborhood. The munchkin gets some fresh air and sometimes a relaxing snooze, and I get to stretch my legs. I have taken to ambling up one side street (yaek) of our ‘hood and down another, often making a bit of a loop. Occasionally I run errands while out and about, but normally I wander without a set plan. Prior to these walks, the majority of my moving throughout the neighborhood had been via motorbike; it has been highly enjoyable taking in the scenery at a significantly slower speed. Many of the yaeks were uncharted territory, and I’ve discovered all manner of intriguing sights over the past few months.

One of my favorite things has been admiring and photographing the abundant greenery. A large portion of Thailand is lush and green and fabulous, and our neighborhood is no exception. Every nook and cranny has something growing in it. Crack in the sidewalk? There’s a plant sprouting. Empty beer can? Makes a great repurposed planter. Leave your bike laying around a little too long? There’s a vine climbing all over it. The typical Thai home has dozens of pots and containers outside, some artistically arranged, some strewn about, and all have various plant life growing. Even in downtown Bangkok, one can find potted plants in parking lots, and vines contentedly flowering around corners. It is safe to say that the flora of Southeast Asia is doing quite well. Since I began my walks I’ve seen zillions of gorgeous flowers, and all manner of fruits and vegetables, including pomegranates, limes, chillies, and jackfruit (photo on the right). Recently I found and photographed the tiniest pineapple I have ever seen. I am fairly certain the Thais think I’m crazy when I pause and crouch to snap pictures of oranges and flowers, but that hasn’t stopped me.

Along with the amazing plant life comes some grade A people watching. As the sun begins to set and the temperature cools down, the Thais emerge like clockwork. Only the farang are silly enough to run around in the heat of the day; the Thais wait until sunset to enjoy some fresh air. In our neighborhood, people hang out on benches, take walks, and let the kids run about. Our neighbors across the street loves to play a net-free version of badminton in the middle of the road with their pint-sized daughter. Kids race their bikes up and down the yaeks while the grownups chit chat in front of their homes. I have certain streets that I’ve taken a liking to for one reason or another, so I frequently see the same people engaged in their evening activities. One of my favorite walking loops has a trio of cute little kids who ride their bikes near the stroller so they can coo and giggle at Oliver. Another street has a gentleman who can often be found squatting near a small grill, cooking up dinner. Although I have taken many a plant-themed photo, I have mostly avoided taking pictures of our neighbors. It seems far more polite to simply smile and nod as we stroll past them. With that in mind, please enjoy this exceedingly floral photo collage (and also a random millipede – it was just huge).

 

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Knocked Up Abroad

25 Apr

Get it? Hehe… Yes, I had entirely too much fun thinking of that title. Enjoy. 😉

Many people have asked me what it was like being pregnant and having a little munchkin while living overseas. I have been debating for months now whether or not to write a post about this topic, partly because I didn’t want to overshare, and partly because I’m not sure how to answer the question. Since I’ve never had a child while not living abroad, I have nothing to compare the experience to. That being said, I’ve had quite some time during my maternity leave to reflect on the past year. Without further ado, here is a brief overview of my experience being pregnant in Thailand. This is by no means representative of what having a child here would be like for anyone else, so please forgive any generalizations (blame it on my semi-tired new mama brain).

The Thais love babies. LOVE babies. The moment my belly started showing in a way that was clearly maternal and not overweight farang, I became very popular. Everyone, and I mean everyone, felt the need to touch my stomach. My preggo belly was fair game for all, from the gentleman who works at my favorite massage place, to the students’ grandmothers. For the most part, this did not distress me since my stomach felt like it belonged to someone else entirely and was no longer part of my own body. The only times this became alarming were the surprise attacks; I would be walking down the hall at school and a student’s mom would pop up and reach for my belly, nearly tripping me. I didn’t mind the belly rubs, but I really didn’t want to fall on my stomach and squash the little one.

Along with the belly rubs came a wide variety of comments and questions. The combination of cultural differences and the language barrier resulted in some fascinating conversations about my preggo state of being. “One or two?” was a popular question, especially as I reached 30+ weeks and became decidedly large. Nothing makes a woman in her third trimester feel more awesome than being reminded of her size. The size remarks extended to my swollen feet from the ladies at the massage spa: “Feet so big!!”, and, awkwardly, my growing breasts. Our maid commented, “Oh, big you! Milk a lot, a lot!” Suddenly, conversation topics that were previously off-limits in polite society became fair game, and not just with the Thais. I found myself earnestly discussing nipple cream with a male coworker, being asked by a parent if I was peeing often, and casually chatting about placentas with near-strangers. Does this happen in the US?

My favorite pregnancy-related comments came from my students. Being preggo while teaching small people is awesome. They were endlessly fascinated and curious about my increasing state, and the variety of background knowledge each kid had about pregnancy ran the gamut from fully informed to adorably clueless. Questions included: When will it hatch? Is your belly big because there’s an egg in there? Is your belly getting bigger every time the baby gets bigger? Is he sleeping now? Can he watch TV? One of my little munchkins took to measuring how far her arms could go around my growing belly, and kissing it hello every morning. Another slyly suggested his own name for the baby. Several third grade girls, former students, brainstormed male names for me. Among their suggestions were Andrew, Robby, Michael (off the table for obvious reasons), and Liam. Their top choice was Leonardo, and they had thoroughly thought through their suggestion: “Leonardo after the painter and Leonardo DiCaprio, and you can call him Leo for short.” The picture on the left is the kindergarteners trying to listen to the baby and find out if he’s talking.

Finally, there was the hospital experience abroad. Bangkok has some world-class hospitals, and people come from all over to have surgery here for a fraction of the cost. I don’t know what my experience would have been in the US, but here in Thailand the prices of the birth were reasonable, and the care was excellent. I loved our doctor. She was tiny and Thai, flawlessly dressed, and perfectly coiffed with a random butterfly tattoo on her neck. I suspect she is over fifty, but some subtle tweaks have made her appear rather ageless. I kept calling her the Thai Dr.Ruth; she was both very proper and completely frank about everything. Even in the midst of my super painful, drug-induced contractions, a part of my mind was observing the classy, black lace dress she was sporting under her lab coat, and thinking how wildly unsuited for a baby delivery her ensemble was. Her complete calm and reassuring vibe made the whole process as fuss-free as possible.

And now… we have a munchkin! Mr.Oliver is officially eight weeks as I hit publish on this post. Tales of parenting in Thailand will be sure to follow. 🙂

 

 

Market Mania

24 Jun

One of the things I really enjoy about Thailand is the wide variety of outdoor markets one can find all around the country. Every market has a different vibe; some are huge and packed with tourists, some are tiny and filled with Thais buying food and produce, and some are of the floating variety, meaning they are on or near a body of water. Here are three of my favorite markets in Bangkok:

Chatuchak Market a.k.a. JJ Market

Orestes and I ended up in Chatuchak somewhat inadvertently during our first seventy-two hours in Thailand four years ago. In an effort to shake off the jet lag, we asked the concierge of the hotel what he recommended as a Sunday afternoon activity. He popped us into a taxi headed for Asia’s largest open-air market. Let’s just say we were rather unprepared. After an hour or so of wandering, we found ourselves lost in the pet section, sweating bullets, and dazed and confused. We must have passed the sign for farang (foreign, i.e. imported) fish and aquariums ten times. Strategic iced-coffees saved us from madness, but the experience was a tad overwhelming. Looking back, this memory is now hilarious.

IMG_2305These days, I hit up Chatuchak once a semester or so. The market is enormous; upon exiting the closest BTS station, one gets a bird’s-eye view of the sprawling metal roofs and stalls. It covers blocks, and extends almost as far as the eye can see. Despite our initial impression, there is a semi-logical system of organization to the place. Alleys have a letter and number designation, and the stalls tend to be in the same spots. The market is a great place to grab cheap clothing and accessories, as well as some more eclectic items. Knock-off Ray Bans? Got ’em. Giant gilded fire hydrants? Check. An ottoman shaped like a rhinoceros? Clearly. The merchandise runs the gamut from classy teak furniture to silkscreened glitter cat t-shirts with decorative fringe. There are also some great food stalls, and good spots to grab an ice-cold beer, which are very refreshing after several hours of wandering and shopping.

 

Train Market Srinakarin

The Train Market is a night market that used to sprawl along the abandoned train tracks behind Chatuchak ~ the Thai name, Talad Rot Fai, comes from the Thai for market (talad), and train (rot fai – rot is pronounced more like ‘loat’). Our second year in Thailand, the market was forced to move; these days, it occupies a huge space off Srinakarin Rd. I love the train market because it’s totally Thai hipster, IMG_2553and almost completely void of tourists. Srinakarin is a bit off the beaten path, so the only farang about are usually expats. It is the polar opposite of Chatuchak in that respect. More importantly, the market is filled with super eclectic merchandise and amazing street food. One can buy anything here: vintage Coca-Cola memorabilia, used car parts, leather jackets, antique furniture, and snazzy ballet flats woven in a northern hill tribe pattern (which I may or may not be wearing as I type this). When I decided, after much debate and careful research, to get a tattoo inspired by our time in Thailand, the train market was the venue I chose. The artist I selected came highly recommended, spoke excellent English, and was super hipster. In addition to the zillions of merchandise stalls, the train market is filled with food stands and bars with live music. It is a great place to grab a beer and people watch on a Friday night.

 

Kwan Riam Floating Market

The Kwan Riam market is great because it is near our house out in Minburi, directly across Ramkhamhaeng IMG_2223(the main road). An easy ten-minute walk brings you across a pedestrian bridge, through a decorative archway, and around a bend to the market. Most of us call Kwan Riam the 166 market because of its location opposite Ramkhamhaeng 166. The market qualifies as a floating market because it occupies space in and around Khlong San Saeb, the canal near us. There are barges with restaurants floating in the khlong, and wooden stalls set up on either side, as well as a snazzy bridge spanning the two banks. Being out in the suburbs, Kwan Riam doesn’t see many foreigners; it’s a very Thai market, and we are frequently stared at when we visit. The market has a Facebook page and a roving photographer ~ I’ve lost track of how many times he’s taken my picture.

Like many markets in Thailand, Kwan Riam offers an eccentric mix of products. Discount clothing, wallets, home decor items, and knick knacks are readily available. The market also has some good offerings when it comes to food. One stand that sells iced coffee is a particular favorite of mine as the coffee comes with a performance: IMG_5381a gentleman mixes the milk and coffee by pouring them dramatically back and forth between two silver frothing pitchers, twirling and flourishing as he does so. Aside from the shopping options, the market boasts several pens of animals: flamingoes, wallabies, and groundhogs are on display (none of these are native to Thailand). Children can take a ride on a miniature horse (although I’ve heard they bite), and adults can purchase turtles, fish, or birds to release to make merit (which are then promptly caught again to be sold to the next customer). My favorite animal is the large tortoise that roams the market with a folded shirt on its back; people slip baht into the shirt to donate to charity, and a market employee is paid to follow the tortoise around, ensuring he is safe and does not leave any *ahem* items behind. Overall, it’s good to know what when I’m craving tasty soup, cheap leather goods, and an interaction with a wallaby, all of these things can be found with minimal effort.

 

 

Elephant Polo

7 May

Elephant polo? Yes, you read that correctly. Elephant polo, as in the game of polo played on elephant-back. Back in March, one of the fancier hotels here in Bangkok, the Anantara, hosted the King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament. The tournament is meant to be a fundraiser for the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation. We had mixed feelings about attending the polo matches; it seems odd to exploit elephants for tourists to raise money to rescue elephants from being exploited for tourists. On the other hand, any sort of elephant conservation is a good thing, and the tournament promised the polo-playing pachyderms were well treated, so off we went.

Kristi, Jen, and I made the long trek down to the Anantara Riverside via taxi, and then a much shorter journey to the polo fields via complimentary tuk tuk. Our tuk tuk driver had a grand old time with us, IMG_1720taking our picture and making vroom vroom noises as he drove. We were pleasantly surprised to find the polo grounds uncrowded. Tents were set up with food and beverage vendors, and the elephants had lovely shady spots reserved for them away from the field. The actual polo field wasn’t that large. Normal polo has four players a team, but since elephants are more sizable than ponies, they played three on three. The field was roped off, but one could stand directly next to the field and be up close to the action.

Elephant polo was highly entertaining to watch! Each elephant had a mahout (the elephant’s trainer and guide), and a farang polo player mounted on top. The mahouts were barefoot; they ride the elephants with their feet tucked behind the giant ears, using foot nudges and verbal commands to steer the elephants. The western polo players were completely strapped down and wearing traditional polo gear – they must have been broiling in the hot sun! It was obvious that the polo players were accustomed to horseback; the lumbering pace of the elephants clearly frustrated a few of them. There was one elephant however, who seemed to be IMG_6372truly enjoying the game. He/she ran laps around the other elephants, moving at a spritely pace for an animal so large. As a result, D2’s player scored the vast majority of the goals. I don’t want to naively put human emotions on to an animal, but either D2’s mahout was exceptionally organized, or the elephant was actually enjoying him/herself. The polo elephants are normally working elephants, so perhaps a weekend spent playing polo was a welcome change of pace. I heard later that they used to use soccer balls instead of real polo balls for the matches, but the elephants found it amusing to pop the balls and kept stepping on them on purpose. 🙂 Here is a little montage of the elephants in action!

Aside from watching the matches, we had a lovely time socializing and wandering about. An additional fundraiser involving artistic elephant statues (a.k.a. the Elephant Parade) was in progress, and some of the elephants were quite colorful and/or wacky. For a couple million baht we could have purchased our own Chang beer themed elephant statue! Jen found one that was color coordinated with IMG_4528her dress, and I found one painted with American landmarks. Attending a polo match calls for sundresses, fancy hats, and classy beverages, and many members of the crowd were quite dressed up. Unfortunately, none of us had fancy hats, so we made up for it with the beverages!

The final event of the day was a feast for the elephants. As the matches came to an end, a full fruit and veggie buffet was laid out on tablecloths for the elephants. With their mahouts aboard, the elephants lined up at the table and gobbled mangoes, string beans, corn, lettuce, and other tasty items. The spectators were allowed to stand on the other side of the table and hand nibbles to the elephants. I was tickled pink that I got to feed them! I found one that was partial to papaya and fed him/her about a zillion. I offered a red cabbage at one point; the elephant popped it into its mouth, then reached back in with its trunk and unceremoniously tossed it aside. Cabbage rejected ~ bring on more papaya! I still have mixed feelings about the treatment of the elephants, and the event overall, but I have to say I left the venue feeling fairly positive. Would elephants naturally be playing polo? Clearly not. Were they miserable? No, I don’t think they were. If the event raised funds to actually help some elephants, then I think it was a day well-spent.

Bang Krachao

7 Apr

I’ve been all about the biking adventures lately ~ here is part one of some semi-recent outings around Bangkok via bicycle.

Bang Krachao, aka Bangkok’s Green Lung

Back in January, several ladies and I had a Sunday expedition to an area known as the Green Lung. Bang Krachao is a large island in an S-curve of the Chao Praya river, the main river running through Bangkok. For a small fee, one can rent bikes and spend the afternoon cycling about and exploring. The entire day ended up being a fabulously Thai adventure.

We set out in the early morning via taxi to the boat pier, which is tucked behind a temple (this seems to be a common theme). The taxi Shorna and I shared arrived a bit before the others, so we wandered onto the temple grounds. A helpful (?) gentleman immediately caught our attention, and asked if we were there to see the Buddha. He led us around the main wat to a smaller side building that contained…. a mummy. A real one. Not the kind in bandages, but an actual mummified monk, all leathery and whatnot. Shorna was completely unamused. The man offered to take our photo, and wanted us to get closer, but we politely backed away, right out of the temple! We found Bridget, Emily, and Jessica just arriving from their taxi ride, and hurried on towards the pier. Further online research tells me that the mummy may or may not be Luang Phor Huad, a former abbot who possibly had some powers related to reptiles.

From the Khlong Toei pier, a short long-tail ride gets you to Bang Krachao, IMG_4067where an enterprising family rents bikes from a small wooden house. Transportation acquired, we set off down the narrow roads and paths that crisscross the island. The Green Lung had a pleasantly rural feel, complete with mangrove trees, jungle vines, and wildlife. It was interesting to be so close to the hustle and bustle of downtown Bangkok, and yet feel so far removed. We cycled around for most of the day, stopping whenever something caught our attention.

The first stop was for the Siam Fighting Fish. Once we saw this sign, we had to visit. It turned out to be part aquarium, part campground, part coffee shop. We saw the Fancy Fighting Fish, and Jessica had an encounter with a particularly aggressive fishy fellow. Emily took Shorna on a faux pedicab ride, and we located a neon pink dinosaur. Further cycling brought us to the Bangnamphung Floating Market. It’s always entertaining to be one of the only farang around, and this was definitely the case at the floating market. We enjoyed a light lunch, the kind where we are forced to order whatever we can successfully point at or say in our extremely limited Thai. We also discovered people using Carnation condensed milk cans as target practice for slingshots, and some truly terrible yet potent coffee. Post-lunch, we pedaled around Sri Nakhon Khuen Khan Park for a bit, climbed a bird watching tower, and admired some flowers before heading back to the boat pier. All in all, a solid day trip!

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Chinese New Year 2016

6 Apr

* Disclaimer: I’m a little behind on the blog posts ~ the spring semester has been a busy one and blogging has not been my top priority. For those who wonder if I actually work, the answer is yes! I’ve been devoting my energy to teaching small creatures rather than sorting photos. However, I do believe in better late than never, so with that in mind…

February 8th marked the beginning of the Year of the Monkey. Many Thais have a bit of Chinese ancestry, so Chinese New Year is enthusiastically celebrated. On the Friday beforehand, we had a rowdy assembly at school, complete with drummers and dragon dancers, followed by a long weekend off. Emily and I went down to Chinatown to see the annual parade and festivities.

The entirety of the neighborhood, from the beginning of Yarowat Road, was a sea of red: red shirts, red banners, red lanterns, red food. Thais and tourists alike were dressed in any and every red item they could find, from the classy, to the traditional, to the ridiculous. We saw red wigs, red face paint, red t-shirts, and red shoes. There were dogs dressed in red ensembles, red paper dragons, and red and gold stuffed toy monkeys. Despite my love of dress-up, I failed in the wearing o’ the red, and was sporting a light blue shirt. The upside was that my shirt color made me easy to spot in a crowd, so Emily didn’t lose me.

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We spent several hours wandering around Chinatown, people watching, and enjoying the street performers who played music and danced in various costumes. There is apparently a huge evening parade, but 9 pm is entirely too late for teachers with early bedtimes, and Chinatown is over an hour away from our ‘hood. As we wound our way out of Chinatown, heading towards the nearest MRT (underground) stop, hoards of police personnel appeared. They parted the crowd and ushered everyone back towards the sidewalks. A hush fell. It was amazing and vaguely eerie how quiet that huge crowd managed to become. We waited… and waited… and waited… People snapped selfies.  Eventually, Emily and I ducked out a side street, thinking to find a shortcut. We emerged into an even larger crowd, and were forced to wait some more. And then… the princess appeared! One of the three royal princesses to be exact. She presided over the celebrations and was on her way to the special stage that had been erected. Alas, although she was quite close, photos were forbidden. Still, that was my second princess sighting in less than a month (the other being at the race in Khon Kaen). Maybe next year I’ll stick around for the parade!

Khon Kaen Mini-Marathon 2016

27 Mar

Many of the races I have run since moving to Thailand have happened for one of two reasons. First, they were a great excuse to travel to a new location and enjoy a weekend away, or second, Bridget talked me into it. In the case of the Khon Kaen race, both reasons apply. After the half marathon in December, I was feeling a little burnt out from being on a training plan, but Bridget is a persuasive lady. She talked me into registering for a “mini-marathon” a few weeks after winter break. The mini-marathon distance clocked in at 11.55 km (7.17 miles), a random distance if ever there was one. I figured that no matter how lazy I’d been over winter break, I could rally for that, so off we went with Bridget’s husband, Vince, and another runner, Dan, along for the ride.

Khon Kaen is one of the four main cities in Isaan, the enormous northeast corner of Thailand. I was super curious about Khon Kaen simply because I knew nothing about it. Isaan in general doesn’t see a lot of tourists, and we’d yet to explore in that direction. Our first impression of the city was confusion; upon arrival, we checked into a hotel shaped like an ice cube, and headed out to enjoy a Friday night beverage. Dan, Bridget, and I wandered about and discovered a brightly lit Chinese temple, neon dinosaur statues, and dozens of restaurants and bars. The bars all had a trendy appearance, but were all nearly empty of customers. Puzzling.

On Saturday, we picked up our races packets, then set out to explore. IMG_4108We found a few shiny temples scattered around, but nothing much of interest. A lake that looked enticing on the map turned out to be less than spectacular. We struggled to find an open restaurant for lunch, and ended up at a complete hole in the wall kind of joint. We were skeptical at first, until the soup (which may have been the only menu item) appeared – it was delicious! After lunch, we attempted to find a foot massage, but couldn’t locate a single spa that didn’t emit an unsavory vibe. The day of random concluded with yet another wander through unoccupied restaurants, and a trip to the local market that yielded some entertaining photos. Alas, Bridget did not purchase the shirt!

Sunday morning arrived in a cloudy and COLD manner. January is still cool season in Thailand, and Khon Kaen’s northern location had the starting temp at a brisk 57 F, freezing for us Bangkok peeps! Bridget and I bundled into long sleeves as we headed to the starting line. Bridget was signed up for the half, so her race began earlier than mine. As I waited for my turn to line up, a giant herd of policemen appeared and ordered us all to remove our hats and kneel. Turns out one of the royal princesses was also running the half! She paraded by us with a full posse of athletic bodyguards and purple-attired companions (purple is the princesses’ color) before she received a special starting gun and headed off into the dawn. Only then we were allowed to stand and line up ourselves.

IMG_4113When my race began, I set off steadily. I wasn’t particularly interested in my time; I was in it for the adventure after all. First mile… second mile… giant hill… long-sleeve off… At the third mile, my running app announced my time. I was so surprised, I thought the app was malfunctioning. I was zooming! A few more miles, and my times only got faster from there. I don’t remember the last time running felt so effortless. I truly felt like I was flying. I finished the race at a full sprint, cruising under the finish line and feeling fabulous. Turns out, all that training in stifling, hot weather had prepared my body to deal with torture. In the absence of the heat and humidity, I flew. My last mile was my fastest (negative splits are an amazing thing for a runner to achieve). I was bummed I hadn’t signed up for the half – I was still energetic and ready to go! Later I learned that heat training, like high altitude training, is actually an official thing athletes do – who knew?!

As I waited for Bridget to finish, I quickly realized the downside to the cool All done!weather; covered in sweat and standing still, I was freezing! Fortunately, she also made amazing time, and we regrouped to enjoy hot beverages and wait for Dan to finish his marathon. We got so cold while waiting that we purchased fleece jackets. Eventually, we took the coldest tuk tuk ride ever back to our hotel. The rest of the day was spent in the Khon Kaen mall, trying to avoid the cold rain that began falling, before heading to the airport and back to BKK. In the end, we never did figure out who the intended clientele of all those empty hotels, bars, and restaurants were. Ah, mysteries…