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.