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

Guest Post: How to be a tourist

My sister Sarah just left after spending 2.5 weeks with us. She decided that it was extremely important for her to influence the development of Zoe’s personality as much as possible in these early, impressionable days, so she ditched the first weeks of her university semester for some time in the tropics. I’m not sure that Zoe even realizes that she has a “personality” just yet, but Sarah was determined to try.

Whispering instructions to Zoe while she sleeps...

Whispering instructions to Zoe while she sleeps…

Sarah also got to satisfy her lifelong wish of being my twin. “Apparently,” when we younger, I refused to wear matching clothes, but as a parting gift, I agreed to be twinners for one evening.

Nursing mothers should generally avoid owl/hooter paraphernalia...

Nursing mothers should generally avoid owl/hooter paraphernalia…

And finally, she achieved her greatest ambition by writing a guest post for this blog. All I can say is that I hope that some of her guidelines are facetious, because otherwise they are the worst advice I’ve ever read.

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Guest Post:

 

I came to Thailand for 2.5 weeks to visit Ruth, Todd and Zoe. Because my stay was short, I wanted it to be sweet so I decided in my time off from being an influential auntie, I would be a tourist. There is no better place to be a tourist than Thailand and I thrust myself into the lifestyle with abandon.P1030869 In the past two weeks I have really learned how to be a perfect tourist, so let me share the tricks of the trade with you

  1. Learn as little of the local language as possible. Hello, thank you. That’s all you need.
  2. ALWAYS have a camera with you. If you are travelling alone and suck at selfies, just make a friend for a day. Stop every time you see something unusual and pose in front of it. Remember, if you don’t have a photo, you weren’t there
    PROTON. never seen that before. gotta get a pic!

    PROTON. never seen that before. gotta get a pic!

     

  3. You can wear whatever you want because you don’t understand the customs. If you want to be a bit respectful, there are several ethnic groups who will not only push the limits, they will stomp naked on those limits then pose for pictures. Use these groups to help determine what isn’t appropriate.
  4. If something bothers you or you get cheated, feel free to yell about it. The seller won’t see you again, so no harm right?
  5. Try any weird food you can. If it tastes terrible, comfort yourself with the knowledge that you tried something cultural.

    who am I kidding, these prawns are the reason I would move to Thailand

    who am I kidding, these prawns are the reason I would move to Thailand

  6. Spend exorbitant amounts on purses. They are real leather after all.

    I can't believe it's not leather!

    I can’t believe it’s not leather!

  7. Make friends with other tourists. You can swap stories about all the things you have done and comfort yourself with the knowledge that they know as little about the culture as you do.we wore these hats to fit in...

If you follow these 7 easy steps, you will be a successful tourist. Just a reminder, if you are caught doing something rude or disrespectful, please lie about the country you are from. Since your main goal is to have a blast without having to get with the culture, you shouldn’t be worried about setting a good example, so make sure the tags on your bags don’t reveal your true identity.

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Babymoon in Pattaya: A psychologically jarring experience

Two weeks ago, T-bone and I decided to grab our last chance at a babymoon, and headed to Pattaya, a city 2 hours from Bangkok. We figured that if labour started, we’d have plenty of time to get back to Bangkok before the actual birth. And if not, Thailand’s police force is trained in the art of baby-birthing, so a perfectly pleasant taxi birth would be on the menu – basically just an all-around win-win situation. Proximity to Bangkok is the reason we chose Pattaya – this is also one of the two reasons that it is so popular with the expat crowd. Unfortunately, the other reason that Pattaya is a hotspot is because it is among the sex tourism capitals of the world.

The weekend ended up being pretty psychologically jarring. On one hand, we got to stay at a beautiful resort at the edge of town (I was reviewing it for a magazine article). Sugar Hut Resort is a series of traditional-style huts arranged around a pool in the middle of a huge garden. I couldn’t believe that such a serene place existed so close to the craziness of Pattaya. The bed was soft (unlike our bag-of-nails-covered-by-a-sheet in Bangkok), the coffee was decent, and the cold pool water was almost enough to compensate for the hot water bottle that I am carrying around in my belly. Plus, we got to watch peacocks and bats duking it out in the trees at night. We were happy campers.

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The glassed-in area by the pool is a sauna. For those days when 40+ degrees C just won’t cut it.

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A little tipple and a little marking – a math teacher’s version of paradise.

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The only time in the past month that my feet/ankles have been a normal size…

On the other hand, when we did venture into the city, it was impossible to ignore the sex industry, which raised many of the questions and debates that I have begun tuning out rather successfully after a year-and-a-half in Thailand. Before we moved here, I assumed that I would regularly write about Thailand’s sex industry, but when I look at my blog archives, I can’t find a single post on the topic. This isn’t because I don’t care about the issue – I think it’s because it’s so overwhelming that I’m not quite sure where to start, and so I fall into complacency. I think this attitude is fairly typical among expats. There is a tendency to accept it as a part of life in Thailand, and to sort of roll your eyes about it, or think it’s gross and try to ignore it, or even to crack jokes about it. And this is assuming that you’re not one of the expats who is actively enjoying it.

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A side street in Pattaya

In Bangkok, I generally tune out the sex trade – while it’s impossible to entirely avoid it, the bulk of it is concentrated in specific sections of the city (such as Patpong, Nana, and Soi Cowboy). In Pattaya, this wasn’t possible – it is literally everywhere. We walked by many go-go bars trying to find a restaurant for dinner, and when we strolled along the sidewalk by the beach after dinner, it was full of sex workers waiting for clients. While Pattaya sees a wide variety of foreigners (both tourists and expats), including many women and families, there is a distinctly male flavour to the place, and it is clear that many men are there to experience the city’s seamier side – “Good guys go to heaven, bad guys go to Pattaya” is a popular t-shirt. Things don’t always end well for these men(as evidenced by this article about expat homelessness in Pattaya), although I find it challenging to summon up much sympathy for them.

I’m not totally sure where I’m going with this post (maybe that’s obvious…) – maybe just feeling guilty about being complacent. When we first moved to Bangkok, I tried to get involved with an organization that helped sex workers leave the trade, but for a variety of reasons, it didn’t work out. And I don’t think that new-motherhood is the best time to be looking for new volunteer opportunities. However, I know that I want to lose the complacency. Sometimes it seems that everything about life in Thailand encourages a sort of inertia – the climate, the general “sabai sabai” (“take it easy”) attitude towards life, the expat bubble – and I want to start moving again. I am still trying to figure out what that might look like.

Our weekend in Pattaya felt like a bit of a metaphor for life in Bangkok – it can be easy to live in a cozy cocoon, but that doesn’t change the reality of what is going on outside the resort.

Hua Hin: Old folks love it and us

Todd’s school is currently on October break (a tremendously civilized practice that all educational institutions should follow), so we decided to head to Hua Hin, a town several hours south of Bangkok. Hua Hin is a popular destination for golfers, the royal family, and elderly people of all shapes and sizes: clearly, it was meant for us. I’m getting to the point where my heftiness is outweighing my adventurousness, and a few days on a beach chair sounded just about right.

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For some reason, this photo makes me really happy:  “Ruth’s Body Shop: For all your limb rental needs”

We stayed at the Jaidee Resort, which both I and TripAdvisor would recommend. It is a little out of the way, but it makes up for it with its sheer adorableness quotient. It is built in the traditional Thai style, and has a restaurant with a small lake beside it. Let me assure you: if you are having a hard time waking up in the morning, there is nothing quite like sipping a cuppa while watching a trio of copulating geese. Guaranteed to open the ol’ peepers.

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It works for Todd.

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We eventually made our way into town, and planted ourselves on the beach. I can’t say that Hua Hin is the most pristine beach destination I’ve ever visited, but it compensates for this by being full of horses and elderly people who are dying to converse with you.

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Just waiting to pounce.

Let me be clear: there are many elderly people that I really dig, and I am looking forward to being one someday. HOWEVER, certain members of this generation have many, many things that they are longing to share with you, and Todd and I seem to be the perfect targets. This was true of a few kind-hearted but verbose guests at the resort, and it was especially true on the beach. A brief smile was enough to set off the British gentleman next to us.

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Todd during a lull with our new friend. “Maybe if I close my eyes, he won’t see me.”

After asking if we were Russian and/or Latvian, he assured me that I was a small pregnant woman, unlike some women who just pack it on and get really, really massive. When he found out that we are Canadians, he felt that it was appropriate to share some of his favourite thoughts about Americans. A few of his more profound musings:

“My son says that when you cross the border from America to Canada, people get way more intelligent. Americans just aren’t very bright.”

“I’ve always thought that Americans were like British gone wrong.”

I’ll be sure to share these insightful remarks with all my American friends.

We also spent a large portion of our holiday eating. Hua Hin has numerous seafood restaurants along the beach, and we didn’t waste any time digging into some “fruits de mer.”

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Todd trying to restrain his hands while waiting for me to finish taking yet another photo.

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Todd got to drink wine like a normal adult, while I had to join 5-year-olds everywhere, and stick with a Shirley Temple. The things I do for you, little Bannock.

On our last day in Hua Hin, Todd came to the conclusion that he needs to start coaching me through activities that will mentally prepare me for the rigours of labour. This sounded like a grand idea, until we found a fish foot massage place. Fish massages are Todd’s idea of bliss, but there are very few things that sound so horrific to me. Clearly, the mental fortitude necessary for me to leave my feet in the water for ten minutes would be good preparation for D-Day. I cannot even imagine what the young guy running the massage place thought as he witnessed me cringing and squeezing Todd’s hand as Todd said “Focus! You can do this. Breathe through the contractions!”

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Trying to find my happy place….

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…this isn’t it.

I expect labour to be exponentially more painful, but exponentially less creepy than fish massage.

We finished our trip with a three-hour mini bus ride back to Bangkok, and dinner at a noodle joint, where between us we managed to consume seven (small!) bowls. Listening to old people and simulating labour is hungry work.

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And somebody needs a haircut.

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)