Ode to my dearly departed 7/11

This wasn’t the post I planned to write today, but I find that the grief in my heart begs to be expressed publicly. The 7/11 across the street from our apartment building suddenly shut down this weekend. It was unexpected, and it has left a gaping hole in my life. I didn’t know how much I needed it until it was gone.

 

Dear 7/11

You were always there when I needed you. Your brightly lit sign was like a beacon of hope on those nights when I realized that I really, really needed a Magnum bar. You sold me dietary staples such as eggs, bread, and fish sauce at prices that did not exceed what major grocery chains charged. Your beer was always cold, although you would not sell it to me between the hours of 2pm and 5pm. Sometimes I secretly thought that your chocolate bars had melted and re-solidified several times before I bought them, but you always had them in stock, which is the important thing. The air inside your walls usually smelled of the fishballs and fluorescent hot dogs that were so inexplicably popular with your Thai customers – how I miss those aromas. Your staff sometimes had a hard time counting change, and they loved to grab handfuls of my baby’s numerous thighs, but they were familiar faces in a cold, cruel world. I still have at least 100 of the plastic spoons that you snuck into my bag every time I bought yogurt – I use them to catch my tears. Truly, our neighbourhood has lost its most important landmark. Now I have to walk 5 extra minutes in the opposite direction to get to your inferior sister store. Please, please come back.

I’ll be waiting. So will the disgusting fleabag carpet dog that used to lie in your air-conditioned doorway. Don’t do this to us.

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Bangkok: A parenting paradise

It hit me recently that the first few months of my li’l Pork Chop’s life are a bit different than what they would have been if she was born in Canada. Bangkok just offers that uniquely potent combination of fumes/crowds/swamps’n’drama that is guaranteed to simultaneously give parents a heart attack, and make babies’ mouths water. I’m just relieved that Pork Chop is still relatively immobile, or she would probably cram this whole city into her gaping, expectant maw. Here are a few bits of the excitement that give our day-to-day life that extra bit of oomph.

1. Protests

Hmmmm. Not even really sure where to begin with this one. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I like to provide an up-to-the-minute cogent analysis of world events for my readers, but motherhood has seriously killed off most of the ol’ gray matter. So I will do my best to summarize the protests that have rocked the city over the past few months: some people “strongly dislike” Yingluck Shinawatra, the current prime minister of Thailand, and would prefer that she no longer run this country. This is for a variety of reasons, including 1) her government has attempted to pardon her brother – the former prime minister of Thailand – of the corruption charges against him, which would allow him to return to Thailand from his self-imposed exile, and 2) Yingluck’s government has bought rice from Thailand’s farmers at above market prices in an attempt to win votes and manipulate world rice prices (unfortunately Thailand is not the only rice producing nation in the world, so this attempt at a rice monopoly failed). Also, 3) as world leaders go, Yingluck is seriously hot, so jealously may also be a factor.

Anywayzzzz, this has led to a bunch of protests, which have gotten violent at times. The protesters like to congest already congested areas, so we sometimes found ourselves in situations like this when we were out and about with Pork Chop:

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But this being Thailand, there is usually live music, lots of food, and “protest fashion” to be found.

Currently, there are protests against the protests happening. It’s anyone’s guess how it will all turn out.* In the meantime, Yingluck continues to look extremely attractive as she faces the anti-corruption committee.

2. Garbage fires:

A few weeks ago, Todd unexpectedly got to work from home for a few days. When you’re a teacher, these opportunities don’t come up that often (apparently “consistency” is good for kids), so this was a real treat. Unfortunately, the unexpected home time resulted from a huge fire at a garbage dump in Samut Prakan, the district that Todd’s school is in. I never knew that “managing a dump” could be such a great avenue for criminal activity, but apparently these dump managers finagled it – there were tons/loads/heaps/mounds (insert your favourite garbage-related word here) of illegal toxic waste buried in all that innocent trash, which created clouds of billowing fumes. The immediate area was evacuated, and many schools within the district went on hiatus.

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In the immediate vicinity of the fire

We fortunately do not live in Samut Prakan, but the air near our apartment was still rather “aromatic.” We spent several days inside, allowing Pork Chop to breathe the pure air of our ailing A/C units (that sometimes mysteriously smell of urine).

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But Daddy is home, so it’s all good.

When Todd’s school administration could no longer physically see chunks in the air, the party was over.

3.Sidewalks

This is less of an event, and more of an everyday occurrence. Basically, the only way that Pork Chop leaves the house is in her Ergo carrier.

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Leaving the hospital. This was my best attempt at good posture.

This is not because we are crunchy parents obsessed with baby-wearing: it is because there is no other (reasonable) way to take her anywhere.** We have a stroller, but we mainly use it for pushing Pork Chop to the 7/11 next to our apartment to stock up on fish sauce and chocolate soy milk. We can’t push it anywhere useful, because the sidewalks near our apartment look like this:

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Yes, that is a car parked on the sidewalk. What the photo doesn’t show is the motorcycles that routinely speed by ON THE SIDEWALK.

So, when we take the stroller to the train station, we end up doing a lot of this:

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So easy! Just huck Pork Chop inside, fold it up, and Bob’s yer uncle!

Which gets a little tiresome after awhile. Also, sometimes there is wildlife on the sidewalk:

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Fortunately, those two girls in the background stopped us before we walked by it. So we avoided the snake by walking on the busy road.

So poor Pork Chop ends up angrily baking on my chest in the 35 C weather and breaking my back in the process. We take taxis when it’s really necessary, but that isn’t a great solution, because there is no way to strap in a car seat. So she is once again in her Ergo.

If anyone has a brilliant solution to this problem, I am all ears!

4. Old Farang Men

Oh wow. I could dedicate a year’s worth of blog posts to the strange, strange world of Old Farang Men in Thailand. Of course, there are many who are just sweet old dudes. But there are many, many, who are not, and who probably perma-moved to Thailand to escape the constraints of polite behaviour imposed on them by their home countries. I thought having a baby on my chest would spare me the awkward interactions, but I think they have actually increased. Witness the following conversation:

Setting: Inside an elevator at my friend’s apartment building. I am with my friends Therese and Kelley, and we all have squirming babies on our chests. An older farang gentleman gets on. He and Therese proceed to have the following conversation:

Therese (apologetically) “You got on the lucky elevator.”

Old Farang Man: “Haha. Yeah. Did you guys have a foursome?”

Therese: “Uh… haha. Uh…”

Old Farang Dude: “That would make a good movie plot, wouldn’t it?”

Therese: “Ha. Ha. Ha.”

I wanted to take a shower with bleach to wash that little interaction away. You can’t make this stuff up.

I don’t have an appropriate photo to share, but google “Old Farang Men,” and you will get an eyeful. Here is one of Pork Chop and her friend Anya instead:

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And those are just a few of the highlights of parenting in Bangkok. As I contemplate moving back to Canada, I am relieved that Pork Chop will have cleaner air to breathe, and won’t have to angrily writhe on my chest in the heat. But I can’t lie, I’m going to miss some of the drama of parenting in Bangkok. Minus the Old Farang Men.

 

*Anyone who is actually educated about the situation wouldn’t have to guess.

** I guess we could throw her on the back of a motorbike like some of the locals do, but I think her grandparents would object.

Random Photo bomb

Anyone who reads this blog immediately notices the delicate artistry and precision of my photographs – I’m sure it’s obvious that photography is a real passion of mine.

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Just kidding. I can’t even type that with a straight face. In truth, I despise taking photographs. The very act of hauling out my camera (uh…phone) to capture a moment almost ruins the moment for me. However, I also think that photos, even low quality ones, make a blog much more interesting, and so I soldier on. Which is why it pains me so deeply when I flip through old photos, and notice how many I have forgotten to post. Which is a long-winded way of saying that today you’re getting a random photo bomb of pics that I can’t bear to waste. Here goes!

1. Pregnancy Dreams

Hormones have triggered some particularly vivid dreams for me lately, and the photo below represents one of the best: I dreamt that I was chewing a marshmallow. It was extremely chewy, and I think I almost dislocated my jaw in an effort to fully masticate it. When I eventually woke up, I found the following item next to my pillow:

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Nope, not a baby carrot.

One of my ear plugs, looking like a chipmunk had mauled it. It was also much cleaner than it had been before the marshmallow dream. Oops.

Todd has also had some fun dreams during pregnancy, although he can’t use the hormone excuse. Recently, in the middle of the night, he turned on all the lights and started trying to roll his pregnant wife off the bed. He was convinced that a giant lizard was about to eat me, and shoving me off the bed would save my life. I was in such a stupor that I simply stumbled to the washroom with the vague idea that Todd was trying to tell me to wash the drool off my face. I really couldn’t blame him.

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Todd and his friends Theo and Zach forgetting that their wives are the ones carrying the spawn…

2. Carnival

We had the rare privilege of having a traveling carnival park itself at the night market near our house for a few weeks. Todd stopped by on his way home one day, and won this gem (which is now making our bedroom look even more stylish/coordinated than before):

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He was extremely taken with his new friend, and started trying to convince me to visit the carnival with him. After many, many evenings of listening to the discombobulated voice of a huckster yelling “binGOOOOOOOOO!” as we were trying to fall asleep (hence the earplugs), I finally caved in.

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The carnival was sparsely attended, which was strange when you consider how many opportunities there were to win bottles of liquor/household cleaning supplies/high-quality stuffed toys simply by popping balloons or winning a game of binGOOOOOOO.

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Only a math teacher can keep track of FIVE bingo boards at once

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Stakes this high require a handshake.

 Even though he loves playing carnival games, Todd generously urged me to spend the majority of our spare change. Or at least I thought he was being generous, until I realized that the entertainment value of watching my wildly aimed shots was giving Todd far more delight than any cheap prize could.

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The number of balloons that I popped is classified information.

We finished the night with Todd urging me to try the “ferris wheel” with him. Normally, I would be the one instigating such a boneheaded move, but this time, the prego hormones were creating images of my baby daddy burning up in a fiery cataclysm of “ferris wheel” parts, and I begged him to abstain. Instead, we indulged in another round of beer cap bingo.

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But it’s sooooo safe!

3. Ten Ten Day

Many of the students at our school are Taiwanese, so 10/10 (October 10th – Taiwan’s birthday) is a big deal. This year, the ambassador from Taiwan visited our school to commemorate the celebration. I was subbing for high schoolers that day, and the students treated the morning away from class with all the maturity and respect that one would anticipate from this age group.

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The only thing this photo doesn’t capture is how much their mouths were moving.

I just love a good dose of patriotism – the country doesn’t really matter – and I made sure that I got my hands on a high-quality plastic flag. The lyrics of K’naan’s “Wavin’ Flag” were running through my head, and I had to fight the urge to stage a moving interpretive dance.

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4. Classical music

I love classical music, and I haven’t been to any concerts since we moved to Thailand. One of my goals before Bannock arrives was to finally attend a concert, so when another participant in my Thai Culture Course invited me to her singing recital, I was all over it. The concert took place in a venue called Sala Sudasiri Sobha, and all the proceeds went to fund the charity that the venue runs. The music was wonderful, but I think Todd was most excited by the fact that there were Pringles at the reception, and he got to transfer them to his plate using silver tongs. Comfort AND style.

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Todd’s dream come true.

5. Thai wildlife

What would Thailand be without a few random dogs’n’bugs?

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I love how graphic this sign is. Just in case anyone was confused about what dog poop looks like…

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Every time I visit Koh Samet, this fella is encased in sand. I think it’s like swaddling a baby – he seems to find it very comforting.

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This landed on my neck when I was waiting for a bus. For some reason, I thought Todd had thrown a snowball at me, until I remembered that we live in Thailand.

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I don’t know where this was taken (thanks, Kim, for sending it), but a stuffed crocodile “wai-ing” is pretty great.

Ahh. That was profoundly cathartic. I am feeling a deep sense of peace now that I know that these high quality photos have not been wasted. I hope viewing them enriched your life as much as hauling my phone out of my bag and taking them enriched mine.

Summer School’n’Reality TV

Sorry once again for the gap between posts, folks. And sorry for another rambling update – the last few weeks have been a little manic. While the school year officially ended at the beginning of June, life actually sped up after the school hallways were emptied of precious little cherubs. Here is a synopsis of our life during the latter half of June.

Summer School

We really felt that the regular school year just didn’t give us enough time at the school, and if there’s one thing better than being at school when it’s fully functional, it’s being at school when it’s undergoing substantial renovations and there are numerous migrant workers catching naps under the rickety scaffolding (when they’re not using jackhammers). So we signed up to teach summer school. It’s a three-week, mornings-only program, plus you are given a (dubious looking/tasting) lunch – a good deal all around. Todd taught grade four, and I taught grade one. If there is one lesson that I learned, it is that I should be extremely grateful that I am not expecting dectuplets. After spending each morning with ten small people screeching “Ms. Ruth! Ms. Ruth! I drew a line with my pencil! Can I go to the toilet?! Pancake was mean to me on the playground! What are we doing next, Ms.Ruth?!” I had to spend the afternoon sleeping it off. They were extremely cute, but even extreme cuteness won’t repair my eardrums.

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Jacqueline – the other grade one teacher/my personal hero – shows our students how to make Oobleck

Todd’s students were a little less screechy, but a little more weird. Every time he would read aloud to his class, he would find three or four students stroking his arms. They weren’t trying to be funny – they were obsessed with his arm hair. Not sure if these kids have been deprived of pets, but they seemed to think that Mr. Todd was their own personal ferret.

Reality TV stars

My blog has brought me some really interesting opportunities. Case in point would be the never-ending stream of offers I get from UK-based plumbers hoping to contribute guest posts to my blog (I would be grateful if someone could explain this to me). One of the best though, has been our stint on reality TV. Back in February, I got an email from the US TV show ‘House Hunters International’ asking if Todd and I would like to be on their show. Essentially, it is a show that films expats looking for new homes in new countries. As soon as they told me that participation in the show would land me a free ticket to Canada, I was in. Many interviews/questionnaires/audition videos later, T-bone and I found ourselves taking part in a three-day shoot in Bangkok. It was a great experiences, although we discovered that reality TV is not quite as “real” as one might think – we had to pretend that we had just moved to Bangkok. The crew captured hours and hours of inane conversations between us that went something like this “Oh wow, Todd. What a pretty flower. Can you believe how crowded it is here? It is sooooo different from Calgary.” “I know, Ruth. And it is sooo hot. Oh look. It’s a fresh coconut. Can you believe that you can actually buy that here? Oh wow.” I no longer wanted to hear my own voice after the experience. Here are a few photos that the director took during the shoot (sorry for the low resolution):

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Meeting our real estate agent: “And we would really like space for our seven favourite cats”

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“Oh my goodness. It’s a fresh coconut.” “I know. And it’s, like, so crowded here. Crazy.”

Changing Houses

Ironically, no sooner had we ‘chosen’ a house for the TV show (sorry to ruin the magic, but on the show, you always “choose” the house/apartment that you already live in) then we decided to give our apartment by the school the ol’ heave ho, and moved into the city. Because the show had to the depict our apartment as un-lived in, they hired movers to pack up our stuff, which helped a bit with the moving process. However, it was still a bit of an ordeal to move apartments, and between filming, teaching, medical appointments, and preparing to fly home, we only had two afternoons to finish the job. Fortunately, Todd went and found us a dude with a pick-up truck who was willing to cram all of our stuff into his vehicle and haul it to our new place for around $25. You know it’s a good business deal when both parties can’t believe their good luck.

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Feelin’ lucky

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We never were able to shut the back of the truck – good thing Todd found some twine.

Canada ho!

Four days after filming House Hunters in Bangkok, we headed to the airport to fly home to Canada. While there were many good parts of our first year in Thailand, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t counting down the minutes before we could get on that plane. I’ve never been so homesick, and it was such a gift to be given a flight home. 25 hours after leaving Bangkok, we arrived in Calgary, and it has been a non-stop filming/visiting/eating bender since then. I decided in advance that I would gain all my pregnancy weight while we’re in Canada, and I’m proud of the work that I’ve done so far. But more on our Canada trip to come in a future post…

A Tale of Two Cities

Ok, so the title of this post is a little grandiose. T-bone and I are contemplating leaving the pristine swamps and rural flavuh of Samut Prakan (a municipal district located next to Bangkok) for the bright lights of Bangkok. Sometimes, we like to delude ourselves and pretend that we currently live in Bangkok, but any one of our visitors would tell you that this is a bald-faced lie. Let’s face it: we live in the stix (for a glimpse of our apartment, check out this post). The school year and our apartment lease will be wrapping up in a few months, and it’s time for us to decide where we want to live next year. We could stay put, or we could embrace change/seize the day/follow our destiny/fill-in-the-blank-new-age-crap and move. Let’s look at the pros and cons of both options:

1. Stay in our Samut Prakan apartment

Pros:

– located only one block away from school

– rent is cheaper than in the city

– waking up to the sound of birds and monks chanting behind our house

– spacious (2 beds 2 baths) apartment

– local “flavour”

Cons:

– located only one block away from school (you can never get away)

– our building management cannot for the life of them figure out how to correctly calculate our utility bills

– having students stroll by (some of them live in the building) while you’re by the pool (ie: in your bathing suit) is overrated

– getting into the city/anywhere interesting is a s-l-o-g

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An example of local flavour

2. Move into the city (Udom Suk area)

Pros:

– all our friends are doin’ it

– on the BTS (sky train) line = easy access to Bangkok

– decreased likelyhood of being creeped on by students while swimming

– a chance to actually experience Bangkok

– an easier base for visitors to explore from (and easier for us to ship them off on their own adventures)

Cons:

– rent is higher

– we would inevitably live in a smaller apartment (fine for day-to-day, but lame for visitors)

– the commute to school is much longer – not ridiculous, but definitely longer than 5 minutes

– less wildlife/calm surroundings

– apartment management is an unknown – our current management botches our bills, but they do respond to our concerns

We’re fairly certain what our decision will be, but I thought I’d throw it out to blog readers – what would you do if you were in our shoes? Stay put in charming-but-dull-but-cheap Samut Prakan? Or hitch your wagon to a star and move into The Big B?