Saturday, December 28, 2019

Season's Greetings From...


A view of the Parliament building in downtown Pest.

Hopefully you're already aware that we've moved, and are living in Budapest. In case you are not aware, we've moved from Bangkok and are living in Budapest. We're working our way through the alphabet, post-wise: Athens, Bangkok, Budapest. We have a long way to go, although Phil is responsible for the office in Zagreb, so he’s already going from A to Z. 

Budapest is a city in the north of central Hungary that straddles the Danube River. It used to be two separate cities, Buda and Pest, but over time, they crawled into each other’s territory, so now it’s one big conglomerate. The correct pronunciation of the city is “Booduh Peshht,” with a “shhh” sound on the “pest” instead of a “pesstt” sound, like the sound of the word for what I’m being right now as I’m correcting your incorrect pronunciation. 

To be honest, I’m not sure the locals really care about your pronunciation. Or your presence. Or your existence, at all. Neither unfriendly, nor overly-eager, most people here just seem to want to politely mind their own business. It’s a relatively quiet city, especially for those of us in the Buda ‘burbs. There are a plethora of super nice playgrounds, and plenty of greenspace for the adult crowd, too. We’re still working our way around the main sites. We’re helped in that by the fact that the US Embassy is smack in the middle of a heavily-touristed square. The Embassy building itself features as part of the tour, but only from the outside. Sorry, normals. 

We’re finally starting to really settle into our living space. It took a while to sort out our furniture situation with the folks at housing. There’s actually still a giant unassembled wardrobe in the hallway. It’s starting to come together. Not the wardrobe. 

We have a massive backlog of photos and stories from the past...well, two years, if we’re being honest. There are still a few things I want to document from our final few months in Bangkok--our trips outside of Bangkok being the primary subjects. I also need to catch up on the things we’ve been doing since we landed here in September, including all of my baking. I can bake again. I'm back in the oven, baby! Baking was impossible in Bangkok. I know a few people who were able to do it, but I don’t understand how, unless it was through magic. I could see that. 

Until our next marathon catch up session, wishing you a lovely holiday season.

St. Stephen's Basilica, with Christmas market, in downtown Pest.

Wednesday, August 7, 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.