Thursday, August 8, 2019

On Home Leave


We're currently on home leave. It's been an extended home leave for the three of us who are unemployed, and a regular home leave for our benefactor. He's going to HQ this weekend for a month of training and "consultations," which refers to meetings with higher-ups, and time used to do all the crap you have to do before they export you again. We both have to renew our driver licenses in person, which is what I've been most looking forward to on this home leave. What's more American than the DMV?

We've been up to all sorts of things since we've been here, to the point that I've spent no time on the blog, and in fact forgot to renew the domain name in time. Big thanks to my sister, Kate, who let me know that it had expired. And thanks to everyone else who didn't attempt to purchase it. I'm sure it was a close call.

I have been sporadically instagramming some of our adventures from my new phone. It's a Samsung, so the photos are slightly better quality than the off-brand phone I was using before. Solid content, really. 

Here's a cultural thing I'd sort of forgotten--the sheer volume of sugar cereal options. Also, Oreo flavors. Yikes, man.














We miss all of our friends in Thailand. We are happy to be with our friends here. We're grieving the loss of Thai mangoes. We're enjoying the U.S. nectarines. We're glad to be away from the constant noise and traffic of Bangkok. We're not thrilled to be in a nation that gets off on widespread gun ownership. There are tradeoffs in the foreign service lifestyle. They're often on stark display during home leave. We're mostly enjoying the ride, and looking forward to our upcoming experiences. For now, more Oreos.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Bangkok Graffiti

When I was a kid, I couldn't decide on a favorite color. When people asked, I'd say, "Rainbow." Part of that is probably a deep-seated issue with commitment, but I also just really love color. When we'd drive around, one of my favorite things to do was look at colorful graffiti. The majority of it was crappy little tags, and misspelled profanities. Who knew four letter words could be so difficult? Every once in a while, there'd be a really great graffiti piece to make all the rest worthwhile.

I don't pretend to have any actual knowledge of graffiti, because I'm too busy pretending to know about street art. I have a completely uninformed interest in both, primarily based on the fact that they are often colorful, and I really love color (see above). I know there is a difference between graffiti and street art, but if you asked me to explain it, I'd be lost. I also don't know the terminology, or the writers/artists. I am a fraud.

Nonetheless, it turns out that I can still pick out the good stuff. Bella and I went for a walk along the canal today to see if there was any new paint. Boy, howdy. A famous (infamous?) graffiti writer/artist from Brooklyn is currently showing some of his works in a gallery exhibition in Bangkok. I guess he and his also-famous buds had some time and paint, because they left an awesome back to back piece along the canal wall. I wasn't able to capture the full effect, and I also missed an entire panel on one end, but here it is!

"Got the Urge," by UFO907, CHIP7, and the MAYHEM crew:



 






I couldn't have written this post without the guys' clear signature tags that my ignorant enthusiast eyeballs were able to decipher; Google, for telling me how big of a deal they are; Bangkok's big, ugly walls that are ripe for painting; and the graffiti writers/artists who turn ugly into rainbow. Thanks, everybody!

Monday, March 18, 2019

Return to Khao Lak

Well, it's been a bit, hasn't it? I'm still sitting here with a backlog of Thailand posts, and our time in the country is evaporating. I'm going to try to bang these out quickly. "Please excuse typos," is one of my least favorite email signature lines, but please excuse typos. I want to get this done. 

In January, Auntie Kate came to visit, and we all flew to Khao Lak. We were in Khao Lak last May, but wanted to return to go scuba diving at one of the top dive sites in the world. As luck would have it, I did some undetermined bad thing to my ear, maybe while diving in Hawaii, and still have unresolved issues with it. I was not able to dive. Phil was still able to go, and assured me that it was only in his Top 2 favorite dives, with piles of coral, and cascading "fish waterfalls," so I probably didn't miss much. He didn't take any underwater photos, and obviously neither did I, but if you want to see what he saw, you can google "Richelieu Rock," and think condolingly of me. 

We all really enjoyed the beach this time around, and we all, minus the child, were stung by bluebottles at least once. Those two things don't seem compatible, but a good beach can compensate for a lot. 


We stayed at the Centara resort. It's family-friendly, and the breakfast buffet is great. They had a little waffle bar for kids. I made one for my kid for me. Centara also has a nice spa. Kate wanted to do a sister spa day, so she booked an appointment for us. It was supposed to be the "New Year, New You" package. It turned out to be a couples massage. It was interesting.

Here are three photos of the Khao Lak light beacon in front of the resort. You don't need three photos, but you're getting them.




On our last full day in Khao Lak, we went to the Sea Turtle Conservation Center. The center is run by the Royal Thai Navy, with assistance from volunteers and donations. It was founded in the '90s, though the original turtle conservation program was created by Queen Sirikit in the late 1970s. The goal is to increase sea turtle populations in Thailand. They do this by providing a protected environment for hatchlings, and by rehabilitating injured turtles. They have lots of pools with turtles, most of which will be released into the wild.

This is not a real turtle.

These are real turtles.

These are older, real turtles.

These are volunteers cleaning a turtle. 

Like most coastal areas in Phang Nga province, the base was inundated during the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. There is a boat memorial at the entrance to the turtle conservation center.


The names of the tsunami victims are written on the plaque.

The naval base was fairly easy to access. It was a short, pretty drive from the checkpoint to the turtle conservation center. The center itself is not too large, but has plenty of turtles to see. My favorite were the really old, rehab turtles. When they came up for air in the pools, they made a really loud "shhhppppoooooooosh" sound, similar to the "whoosh" noises that horses make on land, except underwater. It was so cool.

We spent our last night on the beach, enjoying low tide, and sunset lighting. Kate and I played in the waves, until it started to get a little too dark, and a little too creepy-seaweed-touching-my-foot-y. We had a great time.




Our first trip to Khao Lak was in the off season. A lot of shops were closed. I was worried that the crowds would be unbearable when we returned during the high season, but it was surprisingly not too bad. I think Khao Lak still hasn't hit the big radar yet, or not in the same way that Phuket has. I'm worried it will soon. They just filmed The Bachelor there. So help me, if The Bachelor is what ruins Khao Lak...



Christmas Card Challenge 2018

Welcome to the fifth annual Jane and Phil Christmas Card Challenge: Christmas Card Challenge 2018! Woooooh!

"Again, with this?" says Bella.

While it may appear that we are delayed in starting this year's contest, we're really only delayed in telling you about it. It began two months ago, and the majority of these fine participants are now massive losers. There are six cards remaining. One looks like it could fall at any time. The others will have to go before June. I am not doing another "double duel." I will have a winner before summer.

To relive the glory days of years past, here are the 2015 winners, the 2016 winners, and the 2017 winners. To understand what the f--k is happening here, THIS is the origin post.

Let the games begin. Or continue. Or end. Let them end.

Christmas Card Challenge 2017 Winner!!!

It is with great belated fanfare that we finally announce the winners of the 2017 Christmas Card Challenge, The G family of the Commonwealth of Virginia. They have minimal-to-no presence on social media, and probably no idea that this blog exists. It's going to be a real big surprise when the prize shows up at their door. I'm imagining a lot of confusion. Isn't that what the holidays are about?


The runners-up fell off the wall sometime before Christmas, which was both thoughtful and convenient. We were able to clear the playing field for a while. A much needed respite for all. If you'd like a retrospective of the 2017 Challenge, look HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Curtains and Valentines

We have really great curtains in our apartment. Once, during our early Bangkok days, I woke up thinking it was 7am, and opened the curtains to the full sun of 11:30. My pupils collapsed.

I can appreciate a good set of curtains, but sometimes their effectiveness is a problem. When I shut off the lights at night, our apartment sinks into absolute darkness. When it's that dark, it doesn't matter that I just saw the room in full light. I lose all sense of perspective and start to get panicky. If I can stick it out, my eyes usually adjust after a minute or two. It's still terrifyingly dark, but at least I can make it from the kitchen to the bedroom without running into a wall.

Actual view of what I see when I shut off all the lights.

Somedays, depending on hormones and how much junk I've read online, I'm too scared to wait for my eyes to adjust, and I have to find another light source to get me across the room. It doesn't take much. I can only see what's immediately in front of me, but it's enough to keep moving.

It's probably inevitable that we'll all experience a time when it feels like someone shut off the lights. We might lose our sense of perspective, or be unable to see a way forward. When it happens, it's not easy to be rational, and it can get scary very quickly. I've written about this a few times in the past, HERE and HERE and HERE, but it boils down to this:

If you're having a hard time, I want you to know that things are not always going to be as dark as they seem right now. You can adapt, and move forward. If you need help, please find it.

If you're doing all right, try to check in with the people around you. Just a little bit of light can make a big difference.

Before I go to bed tonight, I wanted to reach out to you in my own way, to thank you for the many ways you've helped me, and to offer something in return. Valentine's Day is coming soon. There's a real shortage of mandatory paper valentines with regrettable puns in adulthood. I'd like to change that. If you're in need of a little love, send me a message, and I'll send you a valentine. It will be cheesy, and you will love it. That last part isn't a promise, it's a command.

I peaked with this Valentine. Don't expect this. This is a serious valentine.

Take care of yourself.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Loy-giving

Happy Thanksgiving--for you. We've already moved on. Today, we're dealing with the aftermath of a double holiday. In addition to Thanksgiving, yesterday was the Thai holiday, Loy Krathong. Loy Krathong is the annual full moon/water/lantern festival. In Bangkok, it's celebrated by floating a little raft (krathong) on a body of water, usually a river, canal, or lake. The krathong hold offerings for the river spirits, like money or food. Last year, we caught some enterprising folks fishing the krathong out of the canal to "collect" the monetary offerings. Thais believe in karma. You have to wonder what happened to those dudes.

We didn't float a krathong this year. The majority of our day went toward Thanksgiving dinner. We hosted this year, and we had a lot of food. As all good hosts do, we pawned off most of the leftovers on our guests. I've been saving takeout containers all year for this. Dinner was a rousing success, thanks to a Norbest turkey from the Embassy emporium; really great guests; and Khun Noi, who cleaned the whole house yesterday. It was a great day, and we were glad we were able to celebrate. 

An unedited version of our Instagram Thanksgiving post.

While we're in a grateful mood, we might as well take this opportunity to force you to read our list of thanksgiving. In homage to Grandma Dot, and the personalized Thanksgiving verses she used to write for each family member, we'll do it in rhyme. 

It's 2018, and it's Thanksgiving time. We're thankful for lots, and we'll tell them in rhyme.We're grateful for family, we miss them every day. We're thankful for e-hangouts when we're feeling far away.We are thankful for our safety, for our home, and for our health. We recognize our privilege, and we count it all as wealth.This expat life is very weird, and often really fraught, but we've gotten so much out of it, and give thanks for all it's brought.We are grateful for the people who help fill up our lives. Here's a non-exhaustive list of them for our personal archives:Khun Noi cleans our house, and takes care of our pet. She does it all well, without breaking a sweat.The ladies downstairs take care of odds and ends. They are wonderful people, and wonderful friends.Speaking of friends, we give thanks for all we know. They're good and kind, and they're always on the go.The congregation at our church is generous and cool. They seem to practice kindness as a universal rule.The people of Thailand are so kind to our kid, that sometimes we stay home just to get off the grid.We've run out of steam, though there's much more to say. We hope you've had a wonderful Thanksgiving day.


p.s. Here are outtakes from our 2018 Thanksgiving e-card. Not pictured: me yelling at the kid to stop ripping the paper feathers out of Bella's harness.






Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Lately

I want to apologize for every condescending and naive thing I've ever thought about stay-at-home parents. It's not always easy to find time for things like laundry, and vanity blogging. A friend with teenagers assured me that it doesn't get easier.

Unstaged.

Lately, we've had visitors. Some of Phil's family was here in mid-July. They fed us, entertained us, and took us to see elephants at a rad wildlife sanctuary. We're great hosts for letting them do all those things for us. We'll let you do the same if you come.

I will tell you more about Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand in a separate post, sometime.

At the end of July, our pediatrician friends came to see us after they attended a wedding in Japan. We loved spending time with them. They also fed us, and attempted to physically prevent me from paying for my own food on their last night in town. It was violent.

This was the night in question. They physically restrained me in front of my child.


In August, Phil went to Jakarta for two weeks. He ran into a lot of his global colleagues, and was able to catch up with them. He heard some wild stories. This is a weird lifestyle. The Kid and I stayed behind in Bangkok, and went on a few local adventures. We also watched a lot of Netflix.

One of our adventures was to a temple in Ayutthaya province to feed the stray cats and dogs.
Our Thai friend arranged it, and we went with her. Kid loved it.


This month, September, my mom came to visit. She's actually still here, though this is the final week of her stay. She's been taking care of everything. I can feel the dread of her departure creeping into my soul. Who's going to do the potty training?

I DON'T HAVE A PHOTO FOR THIS, BECAUSE IT'S STILL HAPPENING.

In the past few months, we've been able to visit some new places. One was a lovely, manufactured garden resort about an hour outside of Bangkok. Another was the Marriott resort on the beach in Rayong. Last week, we went to Koh Samui. We've also been to some great grocery stores.

The infinity pool at Marriott's Rayong resort was massive, I think. Can't tell you for sure, because it was my first time ever in an infinity pool...and I loved it.


Yesterday, we received the official list of open positions for Phil's next assignment. We could land in Africa, Asia, North America, Europe, South America, or Australia before the end of 2019. The final placement decision is out of our hands, but we do get to submit a bid list, with a rank order of which positions we'd prefer. This year, we're jumping through an extra hoop, thanks to a Class 2 medical clearance. Our next post has to be able to support my delicate constitution. "You have no compassion for my poor nerves." (Mrs. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice). Before we can bid, we have to get an extra approval, explicitly okaying which positions are open for us.

When we're finally able to bid, we ought to have a little contest regarding the outcome. Maybe a wager about where we'll move. Let's all think some more about this, and circle back soon with a plan.



I'm sorry to report that nap time has ended, and despite the two other available adults sitting less than 3m away from me and my computer, I have still been marked as the chosen one, so I've gotta wrap this sh*t up.

~I have so `much more I want to say, but my key1ho1board is no longer mine.aaaaaaaaaaaa




Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Khao Lak

For my birthday earlier this year, we went to Khao Lak. Only those in our innermost circle will be able to date that, which is by intention. I always want you to be under the impression that we're on top of this blog, sporadic updates aside.

I have a theory that if you want to find a good beach, you have to follow a German. Khao Lak is a beautiful, coastal area, very popular among German, and other European tourists. It's just north of Phuket, and is much less crowded and noisy. The beaches are lovely. Khao Lak is a well-known jumping off point for diving, with several nearby national parks, nice and plentiful accommodations, and close enough proximity to Phuket that you can pop over for a day tour. I don't know why I'm trying to sell you on this place, because a large part of Khao Lak's appeal is that most tourists don't know about it. Stay away.

Khao Lak lighthouse from the beach in front of our resort.

We spent most of our trip hanging out on Khao Lak's beaches, but we did a slight bit of touring, including in the city of Phuket. It was interesting, and fun, and sad, and astonishing, and really, really beautiful. I've broken our photographs down into four sections. The majority are pics of the beach, but there are some other things I want you to see, and know.

The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami

I want to get this out of the way at the outset, because it's hard to read about, and hard to write about. On December 26, 2004, an earthquake struck off the coast of Indonesia, triggering several massive tsunamis in the Indian Ocean. The waves slammed into southwest Thailand around 10am. Thousands of people died, but the hardest hit area was Phang Nga Province, which includes Khao Lak. The run-up was large, and the waves reached 2km inland. Entire fishing villages were devastated. I had a classmate who died in Khao Lak that day, which is one of many reasons I've wanted to visit the area. 

A sign on our resort's property. 


It's hard to understand the degree of devastation that occurred in Khao Lak, particularly when you're not familiar with the history, but there are several obvious reminders of what happened. Some of the vegetation near the shore has big gouges and deep scarring. Several small, locally-run museums have popped up, with photographs and videos from the disaster. There's a tsunami warning system, and new infrastructure to prevent a similar disaster. And there are tsunami memorials.


Police Boat 813 was patrolling offshore while the late king's grandson rode a jet ski. When the tsunami hit Khao Lak, the boat was dragged 2km inland. The king's grandson did not survive the tsunami. The boat was left in place as a memorial. 

This tsunami memorial in Khao Lak is on the same site as Police Boat 813.


We drove from the beach to the memorial. 2 km didn't sound like that far of a distance, until we actually experienced it. To see the vegetation, the roads, and the structures between the shore and the police boat was jarring.



Ban Nam Khem is a fishing village to the north of Khao Lak. Per capita, it suffered the greatest tsunami losses in Thailand. The village was decimated. There's a tsunami memorial on the shore, where plaques with victims' names and photographs hang along a tiled wall. The opposing concrete wall is shaped in a wave, with a cutout near the end closest to the water. That opening shows a recovered fishing boat, which has been incorporated into the memorial. Walking through it felt similar to the feeling you get when you walk though the Vietnam War memorial in Washington D.C. It was overwhelming.

I have read a lot about the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. I have watched a lot about it, and I have thought a lot about it. I am thankful we were able to visit Khao Lak, and see some of the recovery that has taken place, though it is still hard to understand. 

Phuket's Big Buddha

Now that you're educated, and sad, let me show you something from the party that is Phuket. We only spent half a day on/in Phuket, and the most photogenic thing we saw there was the Big Buddha. It's exactly what its name implies...a very big Buddha. The statue sits on top of a hill, with panoramic views of Phuket from the top. It was built as a community effort through donations, and is only about 10-15 years old, with construction ongoing. It's a pretty place, and a site of worship for some, but it's also super touristy.  







Here's a little bit of view, and a little bit of religion. Supplicants can purchase one of these gold leaves, and write a prayer of blessing or gratitude on it. The funds go toward construction and upkeep of the statue/temple.

The Big Buddha in Phuket draws a weird mix of supplicants and sightseers, but that seems to be par for the course when it comes to the well-known temples in Thailand. We liked it. We were glad we went.

Ao Phang Nga Bay and Rubber Trees

On the way back to Khao Lak from Phuket, we stopped at an overlook of the Phang Nga Bay. This place has been featured in a few movies, including one of the James Bond shows. I don't know which. Google says The Man with the Golden Gun. Sure. A lot of people (most people?) take a boat tour of the bay, but we had limited time and a toddler. We found an overlook. It was an outstanding view.

Now you see me...



...now you don't.

As an unrelated, but cool, aside, this area of Thailand boasts a significant rubber production industry. There were rubber trees everywhere. This is notable, because The Kid kept yelling, "Wuhbba Kwees," while we drove, and it was adorable.

Rubber trees in Phang Nga province.

Khao Lak's Beaches

The beaches. Oh, the beaches. What can I say about the beaches? Why don't we let the beaches speak for themselves. This is convenient, because I am tired of writing. Enjoy Khao Lak.







A quick written interjection--this is all coral. This entire beach was coral. CORAL!