Kanchanaburi: The Bridge on the River Kwai and flesh nibbling fish

We spent this past weekend in Kanchanaburi, a charming town a few hours north west of Bangkok. Ever since I found out that it contained The Bridge on the River Kwai of WWII infamy, I’ve been itchin’ to visit. Mere itching is rarely enough to get me off of the couch, though – lately, I need a more compelling kick in the pants reason to travel. Fortunately, one arrived in the form of T-bone’s ongoing hobby: dragging himself out of bed at unprintable hours to run long distances in heinous humidity. T-bone has run a few races since we moved to Bangkok, but the Mizuno River Kwai race was his first half marathon. His friend Eli persuaded him that this was a necessary milestone before they both become fathers in the next few months. Childbirth can be a real body wrecker, so the boys needed to take advantage of their still-agile joints and lithe bodies.

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Todd preparing his face for labour, while Eli is still blissfully naive.

Before race morning on Sunday, we spent some time exploring the town and surrounding jungle. First, though, it was necessary to spend several hours drinking bad Nescafe (is Nescafe ever good?) and contemplating the river.

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Todd enjoys The Swimming Pool on the River Kwai while doing modified prego yoga in a lounge chair

Unfortunately, our contemplations left us with minimal time to actually check out the famous bridge and nearby museums. So we used my favourite tourism technique: wander aimlessly around, snap a few photos, and absorb the aura of the place. Actually, I recommend “aura absorbing” for any time in your life when you are pressed for time/have zero intellectual energy/are fighting the third deadly sin otherwise known as sloth. It is highly effective.

Flippant remarks aside, the bridge has a brutal but fascinating history – I recommend watching the 1957 movie about it if you haven’t already [Edit: Uhhh… I did some further research, and it seems that the movie is riddled with inaccuracies. Please continue to use this site for all your historical research needs.]

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The Bridge

We were in a rush because we wanted to visit Erawan Falls (a famous series of waterfalls) located in a nearby national park. On our way to the park, however, we were waylaid by a friendly, pregnant goat. She was relaxing by a gas pump when our song taew pulled up, and despite the best efforts of an employee to shoo her away (by throwing ice cubes at her) she showed no interest in leaving. I feel a deep sense of kinship with pregnant creatures large and small, so it was necessary to engage in an extended photoshoot with her.

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Like ice cubes off a goat’s back…

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Instabond

While I could have discussed labour strategies with her for hours, not everyone in our group felt the same, and we soon piled back in the song taew for the trip to the falls. Erawan Falls have seven or eight different levels, most of which are swimmable. In spite of the rain, I was all set for a dip, until I realized that they were full of flesh nibbling fish. Apparently, these friendly fellas like to gently nibble dead skin from your appendages. This sounded horrific to me, but it was Todd’s dream come true – he flung himself with abandon into the middle of a school of fish, and started feeding them some hunks of somethin’ that some dude gave him. How’s that for a description…

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Todd’s (inexplicable) idea of paradise

When we got to the second set of falls, I finally convinced myself to jump in. I spent my entire time in the water frantically twitching to try to keep the fish from latching on.

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If you look closely, you can just see Todd and Josh under the falls

By the time we finished at the waterfalls, it was time to head to our Guesthouse on the River Kwai in preparation for a horrifically early race-day morning.

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Adorable newlyweds Josh and Jaime enjoy the view. Hard to tell from the photo, but the guesthouse is actually a Houseboat on the River Kwai.

After a rough start (transportation that didn’t show up), all the runners made it to the starting line on time, and had a great race. Since my speed is more of a waddle these days, I like to live vicariously through Todd, and I was pretty impressed with “our” finishing time of 1:54. One flesh, right?

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So fast that neither I nor my crappy camera could capture the moment.

The race breakfast was a dubious mix of mediocre Thai food, more Nescafe, and deep fried stuff. Ahhh. Great combo for those sensitive, post-race guts.

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Part of our group. Vera is looking extremely excited about a second helping

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Todd bravely forcing himself to eat for two.

All in all, it was a great race day weekend, and now Todd and Eli can allow their bodies to succumb to the ravages of pregnancy.

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With Eli’s posture being the first casualty.

Speaking of the ravages of pregnancy, to finish off, I have to share my pregnancy quote of the week. A six-year old student felt my belly button and asked “Ms. Ruth, is that the baby’s hand?” Time to embrace my outie…

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Let’s shake hands on a deal, Bannock: you remove your feet from my ribs, and I’ll let you continue to occupy my torso rent free. (at ~31 weeks)

Snapshots from my first month back in BKK

Uh… whoops. Another delayed post – sorry. And even though half my posts recently have begun with an excuse, I still feel compelled to offer yet another. So let’s just say that there’s a creature in my gut who’s been sucking all my brain power/memory/sense of time lately. Some days I’m amazed that I even manage to dress myself. Good thing no-one’s life is depending on me right now. Oh wait…

Coming back to Bangkok after a month in Canada has been just a real slice o’ life. On one hand, Bannock and I were both pretty pleased to be reunited with her father (she signalled her joy by slamming all her limbs into my ribs). It has also been great to move into our new apartment, see my Bangkok friends again, and trigger severe acid reflux by eating massive quantities of pineapple. On the other hand, I’ve had to undergo some not-so-fun medical tests, watched my ankles fluctuate between “bony” and “tree trunk-esque” on a regular basis, and felt a little bereft after leaving my families, friends, and Percy the Miniature Horse behind.

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On the other hand, I got to meet this doll when I subbed for the two-year-olds. It appears to be a creepy cloth version of Todd as a baby. Bannock, please don’t look like this.

On that merry note, here are a few snapshots from my first month back in Bangkok: apologies if they are a little heavy (ha!) on the pregnancy end of the spectrum. Somehow, the knowledge that I will have to basically shove a watermelon through a straw in 2 months has completely hijacked my brain.

1. Thai Culture Class

If you have been reading my blog for awhile, and either have a good memory or are my mother, you may recall that I had to spend a significant chunk of time in Thai Culture Class around this time last year. It is a mandatory course for all teachers at international schools in Thailand, and I took it along with all the new teachers at the school. I have vague memories of making a lot of random crafts out of a lot of random materials, dancing around in Thai loincloths, and sitting through loooong discussions of Thailand’s kingly succession. It had some good moments, but I think we were all pleased when we “graduated.” Imagine my delight when I discovered that I had to take the course again this year. Apparently, because I entered Thailand last year without a teaching visa, the course didn’t count, and I would have to retake it if I wanted to continue subbing. After much weeping and gnashing of teeth, I succumbed to my fate, and found myself spending three days with a bunch of Swiss and British teachers at one of Bangkok’s swankier international schools. Surprisingly, Thai history hadn’t changed much in the course of a year. The food at the Culture Class, however, had. No offence to T-bone’s school, but whatever they served us last year paled in comparison to the spread at Patana school. Whenever the classes got dull, I would distract myself by dreaming of the lunch buffet. That, and watching my ankles swell before my eyes.

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Last year. When I still had ankles and a waist.

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And this year. I think I need to invest in some new facial expressions.

2.  Last *sniff* bike ride

After it took us a solid year to actually buy bikes in Bangkok, I was a little depressed when I realized that it was probably time to sell mine – I’m getting bulky’n’awkward, and we need to make space for more baby schtuff in our apartment. And as much as I like to picture the three of us going on family bike rides after Bannock is born, I have come to terms with the fact that that just ain’t gonna happen. So Todd and I took our bikes out for one last adventure in the “Green Lung” of Bangkok, a community/park that is almost an island in the Chao Phraya river.

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Bannock was well protected

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You should always wear head protection on a ferry.

“Leisurely” would be one way to describe our speed. When we finally got home, Todd started putting together an advertisement to sell the bike.

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Which one of you idiots wants to buy my bike? Huh!?!

Before he even posted the ad, one of our teacher friends offered to buy the bike. All I can say is, Wes, you had better actually take it off our hands, because Todd made me spend an entire evening posing on that durned thing.

3. Fun tests/parental guilt

There’s nothing the medical community seems to enjoy more than springing random tests on pregnant women. I have peed in so many cups over the last few months that I’ve lost count. And my technique still hasn’t improved (if anyone has any hot tips, please share). A particularly enjoyable test that I got to indulge in was the blood glucose test. Basically, you swig a cup full of pure sugar, and then have your blood taken an hour later – this helps determine if you’re at risk for gestational diabetes. I did it one better – I drank a litre of orange juice for lunch, and then I swigged the sugar mixture. Looking back, this may not have been the wisest choice, as, lo and behold, my test results came back showing elevated sugar levels, and my doctor told me I had to do the extended version of the test. Most humans would merely be annoyed at the inconvenience, but I am feeling a little “special” these days: I spent the evening weeping, convinced that my over-consumption of Magnum bars during my first trimester was going to lead to my poor child being a 13lb colossus. Welcome to the world of parental guilt. After fasting overnight, I hauled myself back to the hospital to chug the Kool-aid again. I don’t know how this is possible, but it contained twice the sugar that the previous test did. I then experienced the rare privilege of having my blood drawn FOUR times over the next three hours, as I continued to fast/tried not to pass out. I hate needles, but once I remembered that I was going to have to actually give birth to a human in a few months, I stopped feeling sorry for my current self, and started feeling sorry for my future self.

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Note how my forearm is arranged so artistically next to the word “Laboratory”

4. Stuff students say

This post is already way too long, but I have to share a few of my favourite lines from students that I have subbed for regarding my burgeoning figure:

“Is that fat or a baby?”  13-year-old boy

“Is Mr. Todd the father?” 16-year-old boy

“You and Ms. Therese are both pregnant, but you are waaay bigger” 17-year-old girl (said with a look of utter confusion. Apparently, Ms. Therese is the prototype for pregnancy, and anyone else is a deviation from the standard. I had to explain the concept of “different due dates” to her).

And finally, the look of utter glee and shock on the faces of two twelve-year-old boys when I informed them that, yes, I am indeed pregnant. They looked as though I had just told them the best, dirtiest joke. I still can’t figure it out.

I’m starting to wonder if these students have ever taken a health class, or interacted with a pregnant woman before. Just doin’ my bit for humanity.

And let’s finish off with one last picture, because it is too good not to use. Our friend Jessica turned 18.* I think the world would be a better place if we all just publicly embraced our birthdays.

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Leaving no doubt as to who the birthday girl is.

*Give or take a decade