The Antique Cafe

If you had told me a few months ago that my new home away from home would be a cute’n’sleepy cafe located near Phrom Pong BTS and staffed almost entirely by lady boys, I would probably have believed you. I mean, I needed something to fill the void left by Samitivej Hospital – now that Zoe is four months old, even my friend the cardiologist couldn’t manufacture a reason for me to visit on a weekly basis any more. Plus, it turns out that my caffeine needs have increased significantly since giving birth, AND the cafe hosts my favourite estrogen-scented group. So really, there was no chance that I wouldn’t end up at Antique Cafe.

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One of the “top heavy” groups that meets at the Antique Cafe is a club called “The Breastfeeding Cafe.” You cannot accuse them of false advertising: it really is a heaping pile of mewling, suckling infants, and their female herders parents. Every Tuesday morning, the (Breastfeeding) Cafe meets at the (Antique) Cafe, which graciously allows us to cover every square inch of the space with baby paraphernalia. Before I joined the group, I was nervous that I wouldn’t be allowed to enjoy a coffee before I pledged to publicly expose myself at every opportunity, but fortunately, the group’s founders are more relaxed than that. Basically, it is just a group of haggard, haggard women drinking coffee and quizzing each other about how much they slept last night. Sleep is a drug to this group: “Where did you get yours? Oh yeah? What did it cost? Where can I get some? What?! You grow your own?!?!” If you haven’t spawned, this probably sounds hideous, but to new mothers, it is the Balm of Gilead.

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My friends Kelley and Rina getting (em)Balm(ed).

 

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Poorly photographed heap of breastfeeders.

My friend Laura is the group’s current lactation consultant, and she is a great person to talk to if you are a) a breastfeeding mother with questions, or b) a dairy farmer looking to increase your cows’ milk yield.

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Or if you just want to hang out with her extremely cute munchkin

The cafe also serves awesome cupcakes. After visiting the cafe 5 or 6 times, it hit me that maybe I didn’t need to order a cupcake every single time I was there. But I quickly banished that thought from my mind as soon as I saw my favourite chai tea cupcake in the display case, and fortunately, it hasn’t resurfaced since.

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Sluuuuuurp.

The cafe gets its beans from Yindee Coffee – a Rayong-based ministry that buys directly from Thai coffee farmers. It also supports a variety of other good causes and ministries.

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Like Second Chance Bangkok, the organization that produced these adorable items.

If you have bags under your eyes and estrogen in your veins, you should definitely come check out the Antique Cafe on Tuesday mornings, and enjoy the feeding frenzy. If you have the bags but not the estrogen, you should visit the Cafe any time other than Tuesday morning.

No, wait! I should be attempting to normalize public nursing! COME ONE, COME ALL!!!!!

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Like these two unsuspecting gents who are doing their best to look “normal”

But seriously, if you enjoy a great coffee at half the price of what Starbucks charges, check out the Antique Cafe. It is open Monday-Friday from 8:30am – 5:30pm, and it’s a great place to hang out even if you’re not lactating. It is located on the first subsoi off Sukhumvit Soi 31.

Although there are days when I miss being poked and prodded at the hospital, or receiving a good EKG, I am quite happy to have a new hangout. When lactators refuel with fair trade coffee’n’calories served by elegant lady boys, there are no losers.

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.

Visitors!

It has been a social coupla weeks around here! Not that I’m complaining – I was on the verge of becoming a hermit. If you are wondering how it is possible to be a hermit when you share your days with an adorable lump of baby, let me assure you, it is possible. As much as I nag her, Zoe absolutely refuses to engage in meaningful conversations, or ask ME how I’M doing. Sometimes I feel like she doesn’t even know that I exist. Or that she exists. Or what “existence” even is.

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Why won’t that woman stop yapping already?!

But all that changed when Zoe’s subjects grandparents came to pay homage to her visit us. Granny and Grandpa were a very welcome addition to our daily routine, and it didn’t take them long to acquire that grandparent-ly touch. They soon became pros at doing things for Zoe that even her ever-loving parents would never attempt, such as reading the same story thirty times in a row while simultaneously bouncing her on a fitness ball followed by ninety-nine ten million verses of “99 bottles of beer on the wall” (but with ‘milk’ substituted for ‘beer’ to make it age/interest appropriate).

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More bounces, Grandpa! MORE, I SAY!

They also ran errands, made sure we were fed, and babysat. And sometimes they babysat so we could feed ourselves. In retrospect, I’m not sure this was the best idea, because Todd and I clearly have no boundaries when it comes to calorie consumption. I’m pretty sure I gained a Zoe-worth of weight while they were here.

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As long as you look guilty, the calories don’t count, right?

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And these calories don’t count either, because it was a birthday present.

And for dessert, they provided medical care for my feet. I’m not the sharpest tack in the box, and while I’ve managed to avoid cutting Zoe’s toenails too short, I haven’t extended the same courtesy to my own poor li’l nubbins = ingrown toenail. Since I’m a hypochondriac, I was on the verge of going back to my OB/GYN and letting him refer me to an orthopaedic surgeon, but then Todd suggested that I let his mom – a nurse – help me out. At first, I thought this was too big a favour to ask of anyone, but then I remembered that she used to work for an organization that provided healthcare and more importantly, footcare, to Calgary’s downtown homeless population. Some of her patients literally wore the same pair of socks and shoes ALL WINTER (I say this from experience – I worked there, too). So I asked her to take a stab at my poor, weary, but fairly clean toe.

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Uh…ouch. Ha. Aha. Ouch. 

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Ahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha (hyperventilation, not laughter. Ps: white socks in bottom right corner courtesy of Gramps the Champ)

She fixed the problem, but only after I almost passed out from the trauma of it all.

Partway through Granny and Grandpa’s visit, my Aunt Jeanette and Uncle Jack swooped in for a visit during their gallivant around SE Asia. It was a treat to see them, and my uncle was extremely pleased that he got to hold Zoe before her grandfather (his brother) did. Unfortunately, he was too busy cackling with glee to pose for a photo, so here is one of Zoe cackling instead.

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She thinks escaping her swaddle is the height of wit.

And today, all the visitors are gone, and it’s back to the g-r-i-n-d for us. Not sure how we’ll manage now that we have to look after our own meals and our own toes. Not to mention that Zoe’s expectations for entertainment have been raised exponentially. Maybe if I discuss “existence” using 99 bottles of beer as a metaphor, both of our needs will be met.

 

Snapshots

Oh dear. A month between posts has to be a new low for me. I feel like I’ve been stuck in a bit of a trance – not enough sleep combined with the unpredictable schedule of my tyrannical new boss has led to a lack of motivation for doing anything other than eating sugar and trying to manipulate my computer’s VPN address so that I can watch the Winter Olympics. Nothing like watching the world’s best athletes compete while you try to complete the extremely physical task of remembering where you left your baby.

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“You left me in this pile of Canadiana”

Here are a few snapshots of our life over the past month:

1. Good news! I’m not having a heart attack

I have been experiencing pain in my sternum since Zoe’s birth. I kinda suspected that it is due to my bad posture (hauling 15 lbs of baby fat* around tends to drag the ol’ shoulders forward), but since my ribs did take a bit of a pummelling during my c-section, I thought I’d get it checked out. I made an appointment with my OB/GYN, and when I arrived, he seemed quite pleased to see me. Imagine a small, old, uncle-y Thai man who wears suspenders so his pants don’t fall down when he’s rushing to a delivery, and who talks in a sing-song voice when he’s in a good mood.

“Ahh. Ruth! Here for your last check-up! Please, please, let me poke and prod you in the most painful and awkward of places so that I can assure you that you are capable of going through this whole miraculous experience again!! Tralala.”

“Uhh… Actually, I’m here because of my rib pain. Andthethoughtofproducinganotherchildatthismomentishorrifying.”

“Rib pain? Haha! Beyond my jurisdiction! I will refer you to my colleague. Now, please, please, allow me to examine you!”

After he ascertained that I am (physically if not mentally) still capable of bearing children, I ended up in a cardiologist’s office. Before I knew what was happening, a nurse was strapping these weird suction things to my chest and administering an EKG. When I saw the doctor, he had a confused look on his face.

“Uh… Miss Ruth. Your heart is fine. You are only 29, you know. Still so young. You are not having a heart attack.”

What a relief. My rib pain and I will just mosey on home, secure in the knowledge that at least my heart is still ticking.

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So relieved.

2. First-time parenting neuroses

Todd and I both experienced some pretty strange dreams during pregnancy (well, I was pregnant. Not sure what Todd’s excuse was). A real fun surprise during these last few months is that these middle-of-the-night episodes have continued into parenthood. They’ve now slowed down somewhat, but during the first month, Todd and I would have this conversation in the middle of the night, EVERY SINGLE NIGHT.

Ruth “Where’s the baby?!”

Todd “I’ve got her right here!” (as he squeezes one of the pillows on our bed hard enough to decapitate it – just one of the reasons we don’t co-sleep).

Variation:

Todd “Where’s the baby?!”

Ruth “I’m just nursing her” (as I fumble through the sheets, unable to find the baby)

In both these scenarios, Zoe was happily grunting like a goat in her own crib while her parents lost their minds.

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Glad you find this so humorous, bobblehead.

3. Travelling with a baby

Todd had a week off for Chinese New Year, and we made the brilliant** decision to pack up our 2-month-old, and head for the closest island. We’ve been to Koh Samet many times, and have always considered it an easy jaunt from Bangkok. Doing it with a baby would be simple, right? We packed Zoe up (ie: tried to shove her into her carrier, which she hated, because her boneheaded parents couldn’t figure out how to use it properly), and headed for the bus terminal, where we encountered the first glitch in our plans – the bus was leaving an hour later than anticipated. So we picked Zoe up (no packing this time) and went across the street for a coffee.

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“I wonder if I could ask for my latte to be made with human milk…”

We finally boarded the bus, and tried to ignore the people glaring at our baby. I can understand why people aren’t fans of travelling in the same confined space as babies, but I have to say that Zoe behaved like a champ. She hardly made a sound. This, however, was because I was so afraid of disturbing people that I would neurotically nurse her as soon as she gave any indication that she was even alive.

“Gah!! She opened her eyes! Slap her on, quick!”

This made for a gruelling 4 hours, especially as the bus never stopped for its requisite noodle break. In Thailand, it is widely understood that humans cannot go more than an hour or two without a break for food, so we planned accordingly: we would eat lunch and change Zoe when the bus stopped. As the trip dragged on, it became increasingly obvious that we would not be stopping. It also became increasingly obvious that Zoe’s diaper was not going to last. All I can say is that it is amazing what you can accomplish in a moving vehicle. And I am very grateful that Zoe is no longer operating like a SuperSoaker filled with poop.

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At one week old. That pack of wipes was a write off.

When the bus finally arrived at the pier, I was famished and feeling pretty done with the whole trip. But we still had a speed boat ride to look forward to. Todd and Zoe camped out on the dock while I bought us some nasty pad Thai, which we ate on the pleasantly diesel-scented dock.

We finally boarded the boat for our destination, and I was overwhelmed with the knowledge that we were the worst parents on the planet. How could we subject Li’l Ham Hocks to the turbulence and danger of a speed boat ride?! How selfish could we possibly be?! Nothing like a heapin’ helpin’ of parental guilt to help you relax and enjoy your vacation.

When we finally arrived, we realized that we didn’t really have a place to set Zoe outside of our hotel room. At mealtimes, one of us would hold her while the other ate (when she was happy) or one of us would sit with her in the room while the other ate (when she was not happy). We also got to enjoy taking turns on the beach (“would you rather stay in the room with Zoe first, or hang out with too many acres of aging European flesh on the beach?”).

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Zoe’s only trip to the beach: carefully timed to be after the sun went down, but before the bugs came out

Zoe seemed to realize that she was in a different place at night, and grunted extra-loud and woke up extra-often in response. We didn’t have our usual white noise with us, so this translated into her parents waking up extra-often.

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But don’t worry – we’ll still keep you.

After two nights of this, I was “relaxed” out of my mind. Fortunately, I had a long bus ride home on which to plan our next “relaxing” trip.

Maybe I should book another appointment with my OB/GYN to discuss my sanity. I wonder which specialist he would refer me to…

 

*When I say “baby fat” I actually mean “fat baby”

** Boneheaded

Holidaze

Happy (belated) Hohohoholidays! We’ve been pretty busy partying it up in Bangkok: The Portly Princess particularly enjoys rockin’ out at 4am (and 12am and 2:30am and 6am). It’s a good thing she’s cute…

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Are you criticizing my sleeping habits again?!

This was our first Christmas in Bangkok (we spent Christmas last year picking fights in India). It was sad to be so far from our families, but fortunately, we have a bunch of great friends in Bangkok. We thought it would be fun to give our new child-centric social life a test drive, so our dinner guests included another newborn, a one-year-old, and an extremely pregnant lady.

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Some prolific procreation goin’ on here, folks

We weren’t ambitious enough to tackle a turkey dinner. Instead, we had a potluck with “food” as the theme. While it was sad to miss the usual butchered clucker, the assortment of substitutes were pretty great.

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Part of the spread

I didn’t realize it during my pregnancy, but December is the best month to give birth – already having a wonky post-baby body PLUS the insane calorie requirements of nursing means feasting with no guilt! At least that’s what I told myself…

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My first plate. Is it bad that I went for thirds… (not including dessert)

The combination of two newborns and a one-year-old meant that someone was always soothing a floppy bobblehead or prying The Anglican Book of Common Prayer out of little clutching fingers, but a good time was had by all.

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Whoops! I think Rina and I mixed our babies up…

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Soon-to-be-father Zach practices his infant feeding technique

New Years Eve was simultaneously less and more eventful than Christmas. Less eventful, because we were lame and stayed home on New Years Eve, but more eventful because a visitor arrived unexpectedly…

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She does a lot of unexpected things

My sister Sarah’s flight was supposed to arrive on New Years Eve just before midnight. Turns out that itineraries are not always accurate. As I was rocking Zoe at 5am on the morning of New Years Eve, I heard a knock on the door. Even in my sleep-deprived stupor, the timing seemed a little weird, and when I looked out of our peephole, I was surprised to see our apartment’s maintenance man. He’s a very helpful guy, so I figured he was there for a non-nefarious purpose, and opened the door. In his extremely limited English, he informed me that my sister had been sleeping in the lobby of our apartment building since 2 am. Oops. Turns out her itinerary was off by almost 24 hours. Fortunately, Sarah is nothing if not competent in strange situations, and she managed to find her way from the airport to our apartment building. She phoned us and knocked on our door several times, but her sister and brother-in-law are apparently a couple of narcoleptics, and didn’t hear either. She awoke to an anxious sister hovering over her prone form. Fortunately, the visit has improved since then…

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“Soothing” her niece with the recorder

Todd went back to school today after 2 weeks of holidays – Zoe is already missing her favourite napping buddy.

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Now that the weird holiday schedule is over, it’s time to enact one of my New Years resolutions: getting my Portly Princess to stop sounding like a geriatric goat when she sleeps and keeping us all awake. The number of blog posts you see in the near future may depend on my success…