Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bangkok on New Year's Eve Day

Bangkok is infamous (that's IN-famous--you know, more than famous) for its traffic, something I blogged about in November.  With that knowledge as a baseline, this morning's commute was bizarre.

I caught the late shuttle this morning, which past experience has shown requires anywhere from 40 to 90 minutes to make the run to the Embassy.  Just for comparison, the two earlier shuttles, which leave 15 and 30 minutes earlier, need only about 30 minutes.  This morning the late shuttle got to the Embassy in 25 minutes.  TWENTY FIVE minutes.  I barely even had time for my customary morning nap.

The 7-Eleven in the building next to the Embassy was closed, so I had to walk an entire block down the street to find the next 7-Eleven so I could get milk for my cereal.  Fortunately that one was open, because I wasn't sure I'd make it another block or so if that one was closed.  For those of you not catching the sarcasm here, 7-Elevens are ubiquitous (that's UB-iquitous--you know, more that iquitous).  The streets were so deserted that I just walked right across the street to the 7-Eleven.  Got my milk and walked right back across.  Most days trying to cross the street near the Embassy is, quite literally, risking your life.  I generally prefer the pedestrian bridges, they are much safer.  And a lot of them have poinsettas on them for the holidays, so they look pretty this time of year.

How deserted was it?  Let's just say that at any minute I expected to turn around and see Tuco, Angel Eyes, and Blondie in their classic Mexican standoff while a tumbleweed rolled across the street and the theme song from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly sounded in the distance.  Ooey-ooey-oooooh.  Wah-wah-waaaaaah.

Tonight is going to be a diiferent story, however.  An estimated one hundred thousand people are expected to show up at Central World Plaza in downtown Bangkok.  I ain't gonna be one of them.  Ooey-ooey-oooooh.  Wah-wah-waaaaaah.

Random Christmas Musings

Christmas morning I went outside, took a deep breath and inhaled the wonderful smell of wood fires.  I would say it reminded me of Christmas as a child, but that wouldn't be true since we did not have a fireplace or wood-burning stove growing up.  The fires here were not in celebration of Christmas, it was just the local residents trying to keep warm because the temperature had dipped into the lower 70s.  Positively frigid.  Now that I think about it, if the temperatures ever do get below, say 60 degrees Fahrenheit, we might be in serious trouble, because have no way to heat our house--our house only has A/C.

One major key to making life work here is adaptability.  Santa Claus, being the wise old elf that he is, knows this:

Reindeer?  In Thailand?  Don't be ridiculous!  Here Santa rides a cool green scooter.  And you can't see it in this picture, but his pants only go to the knees, allowing for better air circulation.  I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Ol' Saint Nick's tropical outfit has several little fans strategically placed to keep him from overheating.

Our kids loved Christmas this year.  Mali totally scored a deal when she found these awesome Christmas stockings and had them embroidered with our names.

My only question: why did Sarah get the red stocking?

Mali, looking as lovely as ever in the beautiful scarf/wrap/thingie that I "bought" for her.  In other words, she found it, she bought it, she wrapped it up, and she labeled it as from me.  Aren't I a great husband?

We aren't really big on hard, fast, tried-and-true Christmas traditions in our family, but one that Mali and I have tried to carry over comes my family growing up, and that is eating what we call "Sodermuffins."  Yes, sounds like a blatant rip-off of McMuffins.  It is.  And the similarities don't end there.  This little piece of Christmas morning delight consists of an egg, cheese, and ham or sausage, all on a toasted English muffin.  Sound familiar, because it should.  Delicious.  We did break one small convention for our Christmas morning meal, in that we did not eat the traditional Soderborg breakfast cake (my mother's awesome recipe).  We made a bold departure and had it for dinner.

This picture is proof of another long-standing Christmas tradition; the mid-morning daddy nap.  Jane, undoubtedly with some prompting from her mother and encouragement from her older siblings, decided to interrupt my peaceful slumber with the ever-effective nose-poke.

So to make up for it she tried to give me a kiss, but it looks like she's ready to gnaw off my cheek.  Such a sweet little girl!  This actually has nothing to do with Christmas whatsoever, it's just really cute.

Closing thought: would you trade a white Christmas for being able to play tennis with your wife in the morning and then take your kids swimming OUTSIDE on Christmas day?  Because that's what we did on Christmas day.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tennis, Anyone?

Last week Mali and I had the opportunity to play in the US Embassy versus the Royal Bangkok Sports Club Tennis Classic.  Okay, that wasn't really the name, but it sounds a lot better than the "Royal Bangkok Sports Club Beats the Snot Out of the US Embassy.  Again."  The last time we had this head-to-head competition the RBSC won 14 matches and the US Embassy won three.

For those of you who don't know, back in high school I played a lot of tennis.  This fact might surprise people who know about my passion for soccer and may incorrectly assume that soccer has always been my first love.  Anyway, back in the day I really enjoyed tennis and I was actually a serviceable player.  Since college, however, I haven't played as much as I probably ought; I can still knock the ball around a bit, and I still like playing.

Since we moved to Thailand Mali has been playing a lot of tennis.  She's always had a good forehand, but now that she's playing a couple of times a week it's positively wicked.  And her backhand has improved by leaps and bounds.  So when I got an e-mail a few weeks ago asking for players to compete against the RBSC, I let it be known that we would be available if they needed more bodies.  The coordinator was a fellow who was in Mali's tennis class, so he signed us right up.

The matches were all doubles, and they weren't really matches.  Each "match" was actually only one set.  Mali and I were not paired together, which was probably for the best as I am easily distracted by how cute she looks in her tennis outfits.  She was part of the only mixed doubles team, and they did the US Embassy proud by winning their first match in the tie-break.  Mali and her partner went to the tie-break in their second match, too, and unfortunately they lost.  But Mali was still the hottest-looking player out there, hands down.

At this point I think I should mention that the matches were played on grass.  I had never played on grass before, and despite the ambassador's proclamation that it's "just like playing on hard courts, only grassier," there are some key differences.  First, the ball skids off the surface a little more, so you have to get lower to hit it back.  Second, the ball doesn't always bounce where you think it will because of inconsistencies in the surface.  Still, it's easy on the knees, and the RBSC's grass courts are absolutely world-class.

My own first match was very frustrating for me (which is the first clue that we lost) because of my own inconsistency.  The guys we played didn't really beat us, they let us beat ourselves.  My partner, Ted, and I both agreed that with a bit more consistency we could have easily won our match.  By our second match I got into my groove and we won quite handily.

All told we still lost, but we didn't get quite the beating we took last time--we won eight matches and lost 13 this time around.  I'd like to say that Mali and I were the key difference, but that would be neither true nor humble.  A wonderful end to a fun day was the barbecue at the Ambassador's residence.  Now lest you have the impression that the Ambassador himself was out there manning the grill, it was a catered barbecue.  But it was still delicious, and quite fun to chat with the people who just finished handing our butts to us.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Obligatory Thanksgiving Post

I could--and probably should--go for the easy I'm-thankful-for-my-family-and-all-my-blessings kind of post-Thanksgiving diatribe, but I would hate to disappoint both of my faithful readers who have come to expect far more from me.  And by "far more" I really mean they know that I'll go for something a bit more...what's the word...ah, yes; offbeat.  Because that's just how I roll.  Yo.

So without further ado, I present some of the features of our first Thanksgiving in Thailand, with their associated pros and cons.

FEATURE #1: As an official US Government holiday, I had the day off.  As students at an international school, the kids had to go to class.
  • Pro: Mali and I were able to spend a good portion of the day together, something we rarely get to do.
  • Con: We didn't have the kids around to wait on us hand and foot, to cater to our every whim.
  • Con: Because school was in, there was no Turkey Bowl amongst the Americans in our area.  It's not like we could just go over and use the playing fields at the school, what with the kids out there for their P.E. classes and all.  Sheesh.
  • Con: In addition to no Turkey Bowl, there wasn't a 10K race for me to run--for the last few years I've done those races because they give me the built-in excuse to eat as much as I want, because, hey!  I ran a 10K!
FEATURE #2: Our neighbors hosted a potluck Thanksgiving dinner for several families in our neighborhood.  They cooked the turkey and everyone else brought side dishes.
  • Pro: We didn't have to cook a turkey ourselves.  Turkeys aren't native to Thailand, so they can be a bit pricey.  We bought one, but we're saving it for Christmas.  I think.
  • Pro: Minimal cleanup, because it wasn't at our house and we only prepared a couple of dishes.
  • Pro: We had a great time with a lot of wonderful friends here in Thailand.
  • Con: I wasn't able to pick at the turkey carcass like I usually do, ensuring that I get my fill of dark meat.
  • Con: Because we weren't slaving in the kitchen, Mali and I went to eat at Que Pasa, the local Tex-Mex restaurant, to prime the pump.  Four months in Thailand and I have had no stomach issues.  None, zero, zilch, nada.  But Thanksgiving day, seriously?  Thanksgiving day, of all days, that's the day I have to fall victim to a stomach bug?!  Fortunately it was over and done with by day's end.  After consultation with other folks around here I've come upon the real moral of this story: do NOT order the cheesesteak sandwich at Que Pasa.  Ever.
FEATURE #3: It was 75 degrees when we woke up (compared to 27 degrees in Utah at that same time, 50 degrees in Virginia, and 45 degrees in California where we used to live).
  • Pro: Mali and I were able to play tennis, and I worked up a decent sweat doing so.  Mali has always had a good forehand, but since she's been taking some lessons here, her forehand has become positively wicked.  She had me running all over the court!
  • Pro: I am able to play soccer, at night, even this late in the year.  I know that has nothing to do with Thanksgiving specifically, I just think it's sweet.
  • Con: I'm still adjusting to the idea that it's the holiday season; a 90-degree afternoon, beautiful blooming orchids and other features of a tropical climate are not helping, regardless of how much turkey and pumpkin pie we consumed.  On the other hand, I'm still playing soccer regularly (see the pro listed immediately above).
[By the way, I should mentioned that the locally produced pumpkin pies are green.  They are a deep, army brownish-green that looks like it really wants to be the orangish-brown (or is it brownish-orange?) of the pumpkin pies we are used to.  That is neither pro nor con, it just is what it is.  It definitely screams for whipped cream, though.]

FEATURE #4: Because Thailand doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving like America does (shocking, I know), the Christmas decorations went up right after Halloween.
  • Pro: The Thais really go all out for Christmas--trees up at all the malls, lots of garlands and ornaments and lights and stuff.
  • Pro: There is a Christmas store near our neighborhood that has amazing deals on Christmas decorations.  Mali has been there at least once a week for the last five weeks.  We now have even more super awesome Christmas decorations, and Mali seems really happy with it.
  • Con: Mali's repeated trips to the Christmas store, in addition to the ever-present holiday decorations, got into the Christmas spirit about two weeks too early.  It took the threat of me shaving my head to keep her from putting the decorations up before Thanksgiving.  She almost caved--or maybe it was me that almost caved--but a thoughtful friend threatened to hold the Thanksgiving turkey hostage and we both backed down (thanks, Jen!).  I do appreciate Mali's forbearance in waiting until Thursday night to start putting stuff up (even if I did tempt her by bringing out all the boxes and setting them out in plain view--aren't I terrible?).
Lest anyone think that I am ungrateful, I will say that I have so much for which to express my thanks.  First and foremost, I have the best family on the planet.  Period.  This is not perfunctory or superficial, this is the honest, unvarnished truth.  Mali is my everything (but I already blogged about that).  I have five wonderful, beautiful, amazing children.  We are having the experience of a lifetime together here in Thailand, and that's just awesome.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Fourteen Fantastic Years...Thanks, Babe

Today marks fourteen years since Mail and I were joined forever as husband and wife.  It would be foolish and untruthful to say that they have been fourteen years of pure bliss.  Of course there have been ups and downs; there must needs be an opposition in all things.  How do we know the sweet if we have not experienced the bitter? By my accounting, though, we've been blessed to experience much more of the sweet.

There is no other person on this planet that I would rather have by my side, however, throughout these past fourteen years than Mali and she is the one I want with me throughout eternity.  Her patience with me is endless and unconditional.  Mali has given me five beautiful children and made me a better man in more ways than she may ever know.


We were just kids, but doesn't she look fantastic?


Fourteen years later and she's even more beautiful than the day I married her.

Mali, I love you.  I truly am the luckiest man alive.  Here's looking forward to the next forty years.

Prom for Grown-ups

Last week the missus and I had the opportunity to participate in our very first embassy Marine Ball.  For those of you who don't know November 10 is the birthday of the United States Marine Corps, and on that date the Marines celebrate the founding of the Corps.  In an embassy environment such as ours, where we have a Marine detachment, there is usually a Marine Ball on a weekend close to that date, and it's a big deal for a lot of folks.  As referenced in the post title, it's like prom for grown-ups.  Actually, some of the Marines in attendance are only a year or two removed from their own high school proms, and, well, let's just say that their dates looked somewhat less...refined than most others in attendance.  Now let me say that I mean in no way to soil the good name of the Marines--they do invaluable work in protecting the United States of America and they have my undying gratitude for their service and professionalism.  But those boys know how to party.

So, Mali and I joined in the fun along with the other folks in our neighborhood from the Embassy.  One definite of advantage of being in Bangkok is that you can easily get custom-made clothing.  Like most of the women around here, Mali went and got herself a custom ball-gown, and it was beautiful.  I offer the following photographic evidence:

Oh, and for those of you keeping track at home, yes, I am wearing a tuxedo.  Not only am I wearing a tuxedo, I am wearing my very own tuxedo, custom-made just for me.  And as good as I look, Mali looks even better.  She had her hair done professionally and a friend did her make-up, and she looked simply radiant.  Too bad she had to go to the ball with a dopey schmuck like me, but at least I cleaned up nice.

Now, from the pictures above you could be forgiven if you thought that were in any old place in the United States, so as proof that we did in fact attend the Marine Ball for Embassy Bangkok...

My sources tell me that the Asian Elvis is not Thai, but actually Filipino.  To bad we didn't get pictures of the Asian Johnny Cash and the Asian Tina Turner that were all there, all Filipinos, all singing their hearts out, and they were actually pretty good.  It wasn't necessarily the best music to dance to, but they were excellent performers.

Aside from the fact that we were sitting in Bangkok traffic for THREE HOURS waiting to get to the ball (thank goodness we were in the car with good friends and we actually had a lot of fun, despite sitting and not moving for long periods of times), and the fact that our food was not only an hour late getting to our table but I didn't get what I ordered (at least we ate before 1:30 AM), we had quite a fun evening talking and dancing.

Last weekend we weren't sure if we would go next year, but the further removed we are from the horrendous traffic and the late dinner and the long speeches, the more attractive it becomes to do it again.  Mali will get another stunning dress, and I'll use my tuxedo again.  And if we don't go, I can wear the tux for five weddings--provided I keep myself slim enough to fit into it over the next twenty years or so.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Not-So-Tiny Bubbles

Our kids have always loved to blow bubbles.  I don't know how many discarded bubble bottles and bubble wands were strewn about the environs of our various homes.

Well, in the last week or so Ben has decided that he likes to blow bubbles.  I mean he really likes to blow bubbles.  He can spend literally hours out in our yard blowing bubbles.

You will notice that Ben is not using a bubble wand.  You can't tell from the picture, but he's not using commercial bubble soap, either.  Mali cooks up some of her super-special bubble juice using water and dish soap, which accounts for the industrial-strength bubbles he produces (he likes to catch the bubbles and play with them for a bit before they finally pop).  It also accounts for his very clean hands.

 Sarah gets into the action, too.

 Jane's not quite able to really blow bubbles; in fact, she ingests most of the bubble soap she gets on her hands.  But it doesn't stop her from enjoying being out there with her siblings.

Ben offers up his latest masterpiece...
(Actually, I include this one because I think Mali took a fantastic photo!)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Halloween Like We've Never Experienced It

What kid doesn't just love Halloween?  Well, you can count me as one of those who has never really gotten into this holiday--and it has nothing to do with religious beliefs or the danger of accepting candy from complete strangers.  It's simply because I tend to be entirely too self-conscious about dressing up.  I know, it's silly.

But I don't let my own proclivities interfere with the enjoyment my spawn get from Halloween, especially since one of said offspring happens to have a birthday on that day.  The whole thing for us this year actually started on Friday--I took the day off from work because I had volunteered to be the Mystery Reader for Sarah's first-grade class (and naturally we read Halloween books).  As soon as the kids got back from school all of us except for Anne, who went to a middle school shin-dig of some sort (chaperoned, I'm sure), went downtown to the Embassy for their shin-dig of some sort (chaperoned, of course).  And just to set the tone, right as we pulled into the Embassy parking lot, Jane woke up and vomited all over herself.  Mali, being the prepared mother that she is, had a second costume for Jane, and we moved on as if nothing had happened.

The Embassy had games, some trick-or-treat alleys, and other stuff, as depicted in the pictures below.

Here's the gang, lining up to beg for candy!

For anyone who has ever wanted to make a mummy by wrapping themselves (or someone else) in toilet paper, this is what it looks like.

Jane really liked coloring more than anything else.

And what is Halloween without giant spiders?

But thank heaven for the fearless gecko (gratuitous reference to a previous post)!

No, Jane is NOT picking her least not this time.

Okay, so this is the 13th Halloween that Mali and I have experienced together.  Never once in those 13 Halloweens have we ever even come close to running out of candy.  As a matter of fact, I believe our record number of visitors is somewhere between 20 and 30 kids, the Halloween we were in our house in Martinez.

To give you a flavor for what we experienced this past weekend here in Thailand:

This was taken from right in front of our house (we live at the end of the street).  Now, imagine seven other streets, just like this, but some of them with even more people.  Now, imagine those streets looking like this, or worse, over the course of three hours.  That was Halloween night in our neighborhood.  Oh, and I have no idea who any of the people in this picture are, let alone the girl in the middle.

I know this photo isn't clear, but this is the main street outside of our neighborhood.  It is usually calm, serene, with very little traffic.  Some of our neighbors reported hearing that it took people over an hour to get from the expressway to our neighborhood (on a "bad" traffic day it can take fifteen, twenty minutes, tops).  People were coming from all over the greater Bangkok area to score goodies from our neighborhood.  I have no idea how many people actually came through our neighborhood, but it wouldn't surprise me one bit to learn that we had over a thousand.  We ran out of candy in about an hour, so I had the three older kids dump their bags into Mali's bowl so we could continue giving stuff to trick-or-treaters.  I'm so proud of the girls for doing that--they didn't like it, but they did it, and in the end they all ended up with a pretty good stash of candy.

And of course all Ben really wanted to do was play with the glow-stick.  I love that kid!  Happy Birthday, Moe!

One last note: for Halloweens past Mali and I were concerned that our kids would be warm enough in their costumes, even when we lived in California (we lived in northern California's East Bay, near Berkeley, and after living there for awhile your idea of what is "hot" and what is "cold" weather gets completely skewed).  Here in Thailand, however, we have exactly the opposite problem--we have to find costumes that are cool enough that the kids don't get drenched in their own perspiration.  All of the kids ended up shedding part or all of their costumes before they were done trick-or-treating because they were sweating like mad!

My Karma Just Ran Over My Dogma

Do you believe in karma?  Normally I would say that I do not, but it seems that I might need to adjust my thinking, in light of events after my brilliant post yesterday extolling the virtues of Bangkok traffic, wherein I virtually praised the city's vehicular movement, and I quote:
I find the way traffic here moves to be almost beautiful, when it's moving. (emphasis added)
That's right, today traffic was most definitely NOT moving.  I left work later than usual and had to catch a cab home.  After about fifteen minutes in the cab I dozed off.  When I came to, about ten minutes later, we were still on the same back street.  Normally it takes between five and ten minutes to get from the embassy to the expressway.  Today it took almost FORTY minutes.  It took two hours to get home, and that included the cab drivers deft maneuvering to get us out of the jam and onto an alternate route.  I tipped him generously, though; it could have easily been three hours.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

And You Thought California Traffic was Bad

Quick, what are the first things that come into your mind when you think about driving in Bangkok?  What did you come up with?  Pollution?  Never-ending traffic jams?  Car horns blaring incessantly?  Well, I'm here to tell you to toss out all of your preconceived notions of what it's like to guide a motor vehicle through the highways and byways of Thailand.  Our experience has been a little bit different.

Okay, driving here is not all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows, but it's not as bad as many people might think.  A proper disclaimer is probably warranted here.  We lived in California for six years, during which time I spent an inordinate amount of time driving on the Bay Area highways which schooled me in the fine art of changing lanes and allowing others to merge in heavy traffic.  I refused to allow four years of driving on the Washington, DC area Capital Beltway to undo all of those lessons.  What I'm saying is that my concept of what constitutes "bad traffic" might be distinctly different than yours, which no doubt colors my perception of driving outside of the United States.  With that caveat in place...

There are a lot of vehicles on the road here.  Metropolitan Bangkok has about 15 million residents, so of course there are a lot of people on the road.  Traffic on the surface streets can get very congested, especially after it rains and some places flood, but from what I've been told it's much better than it was even ten years ago.  Bangkok has an above ground commuter train--called the SkyTrain, oddly enough--that has helped ease congestion, and a system of elevated expressways has also moved a lot of traffic off the surface roads.

That said, I find the way traffic here moves to be almost beautiful, when it's moving.  What appears to be chaos is something more akin to flowing water.  I know my parents can appreciate it, as can many others who have lived and driven outside in Asia.  Traffic just seems to flow, like water.  All available space is open for driving.  Sure, there are three lanes marked, but why bother when you can get five cars abreast in that spot?  As one of our neighbors so eloquently noted, on her last visit to the United States she said, "we'd all get there a lot faster if you'd just let me drive in the emergency lane!"  If you need to merge into another lane, you put on your turn signal (usually) and you start moving over.  Most often, as long as you do it with the same flow/speed of the surrounding traffic, you'll make it in without so much as a scratch, bump, or...wait for it...wait for it...a horn honk.

Bangkok's conspicuous lack of car horns blaring was almost immediately noticeable to me.  I've been in traffic that appears similar in Phnom Penh (Cambodia) and Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam), but in those places they use the car horn like government agencies use their budgets (use it or lose it).  Not so in Thailand.  Horns in Thailand are used almost exclusively when someone pulls an extremely rude or dangerous maneuver, otherwise upsetting the unspoken order.  It's amazing.  Amazingly quiet.

Driving on the left-hand side of the road isn't really as difficult as you might imagine.  It's definitely much easier when everyone else is doing it, though.  I've also found that it's a bit easier when the steering wheel is on the right-hand side of the car.  It's also much easier to pay the nice toll-booth people when you are sitting on the right-hand side.  The biggest challenge so far has been getting a feel for how much clearance I have on the passenger (left-hand) side of the car.  It was interesting a couple of weeks ago while I was traveling in the northeast provinces that it suddenly dawned on me that it felt perfectly normal to be on the left side of the road.  Weird, yet cool.

One big challenge that you cannot escape are the motorcycles.  They are everywhere, and they buzz in and out and around the cars, not unlike gnats at a family picnic.  When traffic comes to a stop for one of Bangkok's uber-long red lights, the motorcycles all weave their way up to the front of the queue.  That doesn't bother me, really, but when I'm looking to change lanes or make a turn and I've got one (or more!) motorcycles right next to me, it makes me nervous.  Nervous for them, of course, because the laws of physics dictate that when a motorcycle tangles with a car, even my mini minivan, the motorcycle loses every time.

Ninety-nine percent of the cabs here are Toyota Corollas.  And they are very easy to spot, because they are very brightly colored.  Pink, orange, blue, yellow, green, and some combination of those colors.  Some years ago the government mandated that all cabs and buses convert to natural gas--this has helped reduce the amount of pollution, but with 15 million people, the air quality in Bangkok can still get pretty nasty.  Now, as if a Toyota Corolla didn't already have limited trunk-space, most of their trunk is already occupied by the gas cylinder that makes the car go.  Usually this is not a problem, since most people using a cab in and around Bangkok aren't carrying a ton of stuff, but let's just say the Soderborgs won't be taking a cab to the airport for their next vacation.  Although, before we got our mini minivan, we did load all seven of us into a cab on two occasions, because we quite simply had to be somewhere.  Never again, at least not if I can help it.  Have I mentioned that they aren't so big on the seatbelt/child seat thing here?

The other day on the way home a police car came up from behind, lights flashing and siren blaring.  Following immediately in the wake of the police cruiser (another Toyota Corolla, by the way) was a big, black Mercedes, which was obviously carrying someone important because all the windows were tinted so nobody could see inside the car.  Now that in and of itself isn't all that funny--the funny part was that they both had to stop and pay the toll to use the expressway.  The only people who never have to pay the tolls are members of the royal family--and when they are traveling, the entire road gets shut down until they pass through.  Terribly inconvenient, sometimes.

One last note.  I just want to say how proud I am that Mali did not hesitate to join in the fun.  Within days of getting our car from Japan she was out and about driving around because she refused to let the prospect of driving on the "wrong" side of the road deter her from getting done what needed to be done.  Way to go, honey!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Jungle Juice ROCKS

Let's be very clear from the very start--I am not referring to the kind of "jungle juice" that appears as the first ten results when you Google the term.  I am referring to REI's Jungle Juice insect repellent.  This stuff, quite simply, is the best.  "Why is it so good?" you might ask.  "Because it's 98 percent DEET," I would respond without hesitation.  Ninety-eight percent.  I have no idea why it's not 100 percent DEET, and quite frankly, I don't care why, because it works.  And I've discovered, much to my delight, that it stays on even after heavy perspiration, which is a key factor for me while I'm in Southeast Asia, especially during/after exercise.

Now, for all those bleeding-heart-whatever-you-might-be that oppose the use of DEET to repel insects, spare me the sob stories.  My family and I live in a place that has mosquitoes which carry, among other things, malaria, dengue fever, and Japanese encephalitis.  We do not want to experience any of those diseases.  Ever.  My wife and children also have an affliction wherein they cannot help but scratch a mosquito bite until it bleeds.  Somehow that provides them the relief they so wantonly crave (Isn't it silly that I just described the reflex to scratch a mosquito bite as "wanton"?  Someday I'm going to be arrested for misappropriation of the English language--but not in Thailand!).

Back on topic--I have used the REI Jungle Juice in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and now Thailand, and never once while using it have I even had a bug land on me.  I'm pretty sure I've seen a couple of mosquitoes hover too close and then pass out, crashing to the earth only to wake up a few moments later shaking their heads, wondering what hit them and who stole their wallets.  On the other hand, last Saturday I went out to play soccer and didn't use any of REI's magic elixir, and sure enough, I found about fifteen bites on my arms and legs on Sunday morning.  I learned my lesson, and tonight before going out to play again I made sure I protected myself.  Ah, the sweet smell of Jungle Juice...

Much to my dismay, however, I discovered that REI currently does not sell this amazing product online.  I suppose I can go ahead and try some of the repellent that Mali purchased, but I'm afraid I'm just setting myself up for a big disappointment--to say nothing of getting mauled by myriad biting insects!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

All Funned Out

The kids had all of this past week off from school. I had Friday off for a Thai national holiday (Chulalongkorn Day, celebrating the death in 1910 of the fifth king in the current dynasty who is considered by many as Thailand's greatest monarch) I'm not sure exactly why the kids got the whole week off, but they did.  So we took advantage of the day off to go have some fun.  Serious fun.

And where exactly does one go for fun in Bangkok? Why, the Funarium, of course! And what exactly is the Funarium? Why, it's basically a giant indoor playground, and the kids had a great time.

They have a giant slide, which Jane enjoyed with her big sister.

Maggie liked the ball-swing-thingie.

Sarah liked sitting on the air-thingie... did Benjamin.

WARNING: Ben's speed may cause blurred vision!

Mali and Jane had a good time, too!

Not content with only one day of super-exhaustive entertainment, today (Saturday) we went to Siam Park City . Comparing it to Disneyland--huge colorful castle and other clear Disney references aside--would be generous. But, as Mali said on the way home, it's pretty good for Thailand. Anyway, it's got rides and a waterpark, all of which the kids thoroughly enjoyed at multiple levels.

This castle almost looks fake...oh, wait, it is fake.

Jane is helping Mali, that's why she's winning.

Look Mom, no hands!

Mali and Jane loved the waterfall.

As did the rest of the kids!

In Thailand it's never too early to have a giant, creepy Santa.

Mali's favorite part of the place was that we were able to get some delicious ຕຳໝາກຮຸ້ງ--tam mahk hoong--(in Thai สมตำ--som-tam--green papaya salad) for cheap.  Only 40 baht for a good-size helping, and they'll make it to your exacting specifications (I asked for extra spicy).

Not sure if you can tell here, but sticky rice (ข้าวเหนียว) is only 10 baht a serving, and barbecue pork on a stick is 15 baht.  Sure, you can bring your own food, but you don't have to starve if you didn't!


We were at the place for almost seven hours, and we didn't do everything there is to do there or see everything there is to see.  No worries, we bought one-year passes, so we will be going back.  But not this week, or even next week.  I'm exhausted!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Going Back Ain't So Easy

On Saturday I learned a valuable lesson about purchasing stuff in Thailand, even at the stores that appear to be quite Western. Last week I went to Home Pro and bought a small home theater system to use with the new television we bought--Mali wants to watch DVDs on the new big screen, and I do, too, but I also wanted some bigger sound. Anyway, the system I bought was horrible--just a warning, I’d stay away from the AJ brand if I were you and you were living in Thailand. The picture quality from the DVD player was terrible and the sound was, well, I didn’t really notice any sound, it was just that bad. And, even though I had told the salesperson that I needed a system that would run on 110 as well as 220 volts, she had swapped the type that was on the floor sample with a newer model that ran on 220 only. Mali had tried to return the system while I was up in the Isaan, but they told her that they would only exchange it, not give her a refund, so she wanted me to go back and deal with it. So on Saturday evening Maggie and I went back over to Home Pro to exchange the system. I had talked to my Thai co-workers and was resigned to the fact that I was not going to get a refund, but the store credit would be useful.

Of course it couldn’t be that easy. The person in The Power (which is apparently some kind of subsidiary of Home Pro--uses their cashiers but not their return/exchange system) told me that I couldn’t return it unless the system was completely non-functioning. I showed them my receipt, and read to them--in Thai--the conditions for return as printed on the back of the receipt--in Thai--and told them that the condition they were claiming was not printed on the receipt, so would they kindly give me a store credit so that I could go to Home Pro and get some other stuff that we could use around the house.

The lady I was working with had to call her manager, who I’m sure got some story about the crazy farang who was very upset and too-bad-for-us was also quite capable of reading the conditions in our own language and gosh-darn-it he’s got a point and...


They finally came back and said they couldn’t give me Home Pro store credit because they weren’t exactly part of Home Pro, but they might be able to give me credit to use in The Power, which by this time was fine by me. Maggie, to her everlasting credit, was as patient as I’ve ever seen her, especially given the fact that she was missing a movie back home that she wanted to watch with her sisters.

Long story short (too late!), I ended up spending an additional 6,000 baht to get a very nice, high-quality system from a manufacturer that I trust (Philips), and for much less than I would have paid in the States. This system is most definitely a multi-system set-up that will work back in the United States. The picture and sound quality are so much better that I was giddy after I set it up and played parts of different DVDs to make sure it worked.

Now, lest you think that was all just for pure, heathen entertainment purposes, let me reassure you, the purchase of this system added spiritual value. As I mentioned in my previous post, this past weekend was also General Conference weekend—at least it was for us here in Thailand. Because we have high-speed internet access we didn’t have to go down to the church to watch conference. We hooked our laptop computer up to our big TV and, thanks to the new sound system, Mali and I could clearly hear the proceedings over the noise that our children were making. Funny thing, though--I didn’t realize until last night that we actually watched the Saturday morning rather than the Sunday morning session...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

"I'm bored..."

I have warned my children several times that there is no excuse for being bored and that if they tell me they are bored that I will put them to work.  Sarah made the mistake yesterday of saying there wasn't anything to do.

We solved that problem.

We'll see if she says that to me again.

Beautiful Fall Colors

I have always loved fall.  The distinct shift from the (sometimes) oppressive heat of summer, getting settled into school (which I, for some obtuse reason, have always enjoyed), wearing sweatshirts, anticipating the cold of winter, and of course the colors.  It has been my privilege to live in several places with distinct autumn experiences.  Growing up in Utah I loved how the Wasatch Mountains took on an orange tint as the scrub oak leaves changed.  Illinois and Virginia have blown my mind with the vivid colors of the abundant foliage--fantastic yellows, oranges, and reds.  Even in California I looked forward to that little bit of crispness that fall brought to the air, and even though the leaves didn't change like in the other places we've lived, colors seemed to be a bit more vibrant (probably the grass finally turning green again, after being brown and scorched all summer long).

The other day I looked out our kitchen window and noted some leaves changing color!

The next morning it was about 26 degrees when I left the house.  Twenty-six degrees...Celsius.  (Now honestly, if you didn't see that one coming from a mile away, I'm going to have to say that I'm just shocked.  That was a gimme, really.)  To spare any of you from looking it up yourself, 26 degrees Celsius is 78 degrees Fahrenheit.  Such has been our experience here so far that 78 degrees is actually pretty cool and feels downright pleasant.

In the spirit of sharing the beautiful colors of fall, I offer the following pictures.  I took these today in between sessions of General Conference when I went for a walk around our community with my beautiful children.  I know, I know, for most of the LDS world General Conference was last week, but because Thailand is 13 hours ahead of Utah watching it live is disruptive to sleep patterns, so here we watch it a week later.  And because we have some pretty rambunctious kids, we thought it best if we watched it at home over the Internet and spared everyone else in our ward the experience of our kids playing, whining, screaming, and whatever else it is their devious little minds could conjure up to disrupt the proceedings.

Without further ado, I present the following colors of fall, Thai-style.





This is one door down from our house.


This is a really cool-looking flower!




Maggie enjoyed taking pictures, too.  Ben just rode.


Love the contrasting red and green.  This is in our next-door-neighbors yard.

This is our side-yard.

Also in our side-yard.

Of course these flowers bloom all year long, regardless of the weather, location, or traffic conditions!

One last shout-out to my daughter Maggie, who actually took the first four pictures in this collage!