Monday, January 25, 2010

My Latest Quest

As we were preparing to move to Thailand I had an exchange with the man I was replacing here at the Embassy in which I asked him if there was anything he would like me to bring him from the United States that was hard to find in Bangkok.  His response was, "If you can't find it in Bangkok, you're not looking hard enough."

I did not intend to try and prove him wrong, but up until just today, I thought I had.  The item?


Specifically, shoelaces for the brown dress shoes that I wear to work almost every day.  I noticed a few weeks ago that the laces were getting a little frayed, so I began looking at the various stores we frequent, trying to find replacement laces.  I looked at MBK, this gargantuan mall in downtown Bangkok that has shops galore, but no luck finding shoelaces.  Probably because that places is like many "malls" around here--basically outdoor Asian markets with ADD and A/C--they seem to sell everything.  There is just too much to take it all in.  I'm surprised more people don't end up twitching on the floor with seizures from stimulus overload while walking through MBK.  At least it has A/C.  And a McDonalds.

My next attempt was Carrefour, which I think can probably best be described as a French version of Target, but done Thai-style.  Those of you who've been to Carrefour know what I'm talking about.  Those of you who haven't, try and catch the 9 a.m. or 5 p.m. employee dance.  Good times.

Anyway,  Carrefour had brown shoelaces, but they were those big flat ones that you use for athletic shoes.  Not exactly the best option for today's junior diplomat.

I was starting to get desperate, mostly because one of my shoelaces finally broke.  That left me with just my black dress shoes or my brown Doc Martens to wear to work.  The Docs are okay on dress-down Fridays when I swap my usual wool trousers for khakis, but they just look horrible with a suit.  So, the hunt continued...

...and today for my lunch break I meandered down to Central Chitlom.  I went to the men's shoe department where, lo and behold!  Shoelaces!  For dress shoes!  See, my predecessor was right, you just have to look hard enough.

Oh, and you know that saying about how you always find things in the last place you look?  Yeah, well I'm totally going back to MBK to see if I can find shoelaces.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Beach January!

This past week we took our first family road trip in Thailand.  We piled into the mini-minivan and drove about three hours south of Bangkok to a place past Hua Hin, near Sam Roi Yot National Park, on the Gulf of Thailand.  We stayed at a lovely little resort called Dolphin Bay.  Very family friendly.  Very close to the beach.  Very sandy.

I decided that I would let the kids have their say about this vacation on the blog.  I am typing for them because I would like the blog post to be somewhat timely and they just don't type that fast, but these are their words.  More or less.

Anne: I finally learned what those hoses that they put in bathrooms next to the toilet are [EDITOR'S NOTE: these are very common in Thailand, especially with squat toilets--I couldn't resist another reference--since many Thais prefer to spray their bums rather than use toilet paper].  The only bad thing about beaches is that everything gets covered in sand.  I changed in the bathroom and still had sand everywhere, so I used the hose to get it off.  The sprayer was perfect, except that the water was about two degrees.  It was really cold.

Maggie: Um, I got stung by a jellyfish.  On my bum.  It looked like Sarah did, too.  On her bum, too.  I had a lot of fun bodysurfing.  Sarah and Ben lost their goggles, but they got snorkels [EDITOR'S NOTE: when we returned home there were two sets of kid's snorkeling gear, left by the friends who watched our house for us while we were gone.]  I got blue fins!  Okay, that's it.

Sarah: That wasn't jellyfish, they were mosquito bites.  I tried to wash the sand out of my swimming suit, but it didn't work.  So if you're ever wondering why my swimming suit pants are all bushy on one side, it's because the sand got stuck there.  I'm sad that the waves totally stole my goggles, but I'm pretty happy that I got a new mask and snorkel.  And that's all...

Benjamin: Uh, um, when we played at the beach...jump!  Jump in the pool!  Daddy, um, I'm going to do something...this looks like a telescope, Daddy, this looks like a telescope!  [EDITOR'S NOTE:  what do you expect, he's four!  Asking him to put together a coherent thought about something that happened any longer than ten seconds ago is like asking me to do calculus--I'll tell you something, but it probably won't be remotely related to the question posed.]

Jane: Bath?  Take a bath?  Okay!

Mali politely declined to be interviewed for this blog post, but did mention in passing that she really enjoyed the few days where she didn't have to prepare any food or clean up after any meals.  And I have to say, it was pretty awesome to be lounging on the beach in January.  So awesome, in fact, that I will refrain from complaining even a teeny-tiny bit about the fact that we all got a little sunburned.  That would just be mean to those readers who live in somewhat cooler climes.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

New Year, More Tennis!

Mali and I this weekend went to Hua Hin to watch us some professional tennis.  We went with some of Mali's tennis buddies, so I suppose we could actually count this as an educational trip.  More about that later. 
Hua Hin, where the Thai king has his summer palace is a couple of hours drive from Bangkok, and being close to the ocean it is noticeably cooler there than Bangkok.  Yes, it's January, but it's still in the mid-upper 80s during the day here in Bangkok, so the ocean breeze was very pleasant.  Folks from Bangkok head there for a break all the time, but this was the first time that Mali and I have gone there.

So as part of Hua Hin's centennial celebration they invited two former Number One female tennis players, Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova to come play an exhibition match.  And after they played their guts out, they would team with Paradorn Srichaphan and Danai Udomchoke, Thailand's top male players for a single set of mixed doubles.  Pretty cool, isn't it?  Yes, indeed, it was.  I mean it's not every day that you get to see top-ranked players in what I would consider a pretty intimate setting--the venue only had about 4,000 seats.  We were on the second row from the top, but there was not a bad seat in the house.

I'm including pictures here for two reasons.  First is to make Mali's brother, John, jealous.  He's a huge tennis fan, and the fact that we got to see this match was pretty cool.  I uploaded a bunch more pictures to Facebook.  I love the new camera I bought Mali for Mother's Day last year, and the 200x zoom lens that came with it!

The second reason is to show the form the players use.  At dinner after the match I asked the ladies what they learned from watching the tennis, and they said, "The importance of following through on your swing."  Now, not to blow my own horn, but this is something I've told Mali several times.  But kudos to them for finally understanding what I meant when I've said that.  All three of them are determined to practice a little bit harder and improve their form, especially their serves.

And what did I learn?  It wasn't anything I actually learned, but more of a reaffirmation.  I realized the same thing that I've learned at every professional sporting event I've ever attended--professional athletes are professional athletes and I am not for a very good reason.  Sitting and watching sports on TV, in my opinion, does not do justice to the skill, speed, and grace at which the pros ply their trade, and it's sheer foolishness for the majority of us to sit on our couches and say, "ah, if Coach So-and-So back in high school had given me the chance, that would be me out there."  Uh, probably not.  I remember the first professional soccer match I saw live, and I was blown away with the speed of execution, because often it just doesn't look that fast on TV.  Same reaction I had with the first hockey game I attended, but extra props to those guys for doing their thing on skates, especially while someone else is whacking at them with a stick.  These ladies were smacking the ball with considerable pace and excellent placement.

Anyway, without further ado, here is a small sample of the pictures I took.  Enjoy!

Maria Sharapova

Venus Williams

 Paradorn Srichaphan and Venus Williams

Danai Udomchoke and Maria Sharapova

These two guys were sitting about five rows in front of us, and they were hilarious.  During changeovers the guy on the right would yell, "วีนัส ใจเย็นๆ"  Don't understand?  Neither did Venus, if she even heard it (by the way, it means, "Venus, stay calm.").  The crowd really responded to these guys, as did the Thai players when they came out and were warming up.  They also led the crowd in the wave between the singles and doubles match.  Pretty fun stuff.

The only downside of the entire day was that traffic getting back from Hua Hin was horrible--instead of the anticipated two hours, it took us four hours to get home.  Mali and I have to give a huge thanks to Andy for driving, and to Andy, Katie, and Michelle for such a fun, entertaining day.