Rock Domain: Bangkok’s indoor climbing paradise

This past Saturday, we went climbing at Rock Domain, a newish climbing gym in the Bangna area of Bangkok (a lot of words start with a Bang here).

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I used to climb quite often while I was in university, but I haven’t gone once since we moved to Bangkok. This soon became painfully obvious. Nothing like heaving yourself up a wall over and over again to A) remind you that there were too many Magnum bars and not enough weightlifting during your now long past pregnancy, and B) make you ponder the futility of human existence a la the book of Ecclesiastes. Oh wow. That is way deeper than I wanted to go. Let’s go back to the frivolity.

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Get out of my brain King Solomon, and get out of my face, Todd-with-his-camera

We met up with our friends Michele and Leah at the gym. Michele and her muscles appeared on my blog a long time ago. Hmmm… this seems like the perfect chance to reuse one of my all-time favourite photo series: Michele teaching our friend Sean how to do a cheerleading lift. I was going to add captions, but really, the photos say it for me.

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She still likes to throw people around, but her guns have gotten even gunnier since those days.

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If you gave me some muscles’n’posture, I could almost be her twin!

After a few climbs, I gave up all pretence of keeping up with her. Fortunately, her CrossFit buddy Ben soon joined us. They alternated between climbing some of the most difficult routes in the place, and doing 2-fingered pull-ups during their breaks.

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Lucky for me, Leah is new to climbing, so she and I took a more relaxed approach. During one of her breaks, she somehow managed to put my child to sleep in her arms, a feat that I have not yet accomplished. I am still awestruck.

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Not sure what is going on in this photo, but I think Leah might be gloating.

Todd was a daddy extraordinaire, and looked after Zoe while I climbed. He managed to find a few moments to do a little bouldering, and to introduce Zoe to the wall. It’s never too young to start good habits, right?

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Zoe free soloing her first climb.

I was pretty impressed by the set-up at Rock Domain: there are loads of top-roped routes at varying levels of difficulty, lots of lead-climbing routes, and a big bouldering area. You can rent any equipment you might need, and the staff can teach you how to belay. It would make for a great day out – we noticed groups of friends, what looked like some awkward dates, and a few daddy-daughter combos (they are not paying me to say this – I was just really, really happy to find such a great climbing centre in Bangkok).

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Part of the bouldering area. It’s not just my crappy photography skills – it’s actually on a slope.

Oh, and the cute cafe next door, intriguingly named My Secret Place. Because you never know when you might secretly need some coffee and a weird tuna pastry to fuel those climbs. And no one should know about your tuna pastry habit unless you want to tell them.

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AND it secretly contains a Christmas tree. Motto: “Bangkok: where it’s always Christmas, but never winter”

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AND we secretly feed our child chocolate banana frappes.

Here is the link to Rock Domain. It is almost invisible from Bangna Trat, so be sure to check out the map, and get your taxi driver to talk to the staff at the gym if you get confused.

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

Mmmmmountains

If there is one thing that T-bone and I were looking forward to when we planned our trip home – after seeing family/friends and eating Vietnamese subs, of course – it was heading to the mountains.

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Ahhh. Eating a Vietnamese sub. What would this blog be without my flattering self-portraits?

Hiking, skiing, and eating the equivalent of our body weight in trail mix (“I have DEFINITELY burned enough calories to necessitate the consumption of 10 lbs of chocolate covered coffee beans”) are among our favourite activities in the Calgary area, and we were eager to head fer the hills ASAP once we recovered from our jet lag. As luck/planning would have it, two of our favourite siblings were visiting from California at the same time, so we got to roll a whole bunch of favourite things into one big favourite day.

Todd is displaying all of his favourite teeth at the thought

I was a little nervous when I heard that Todd’s brother Dean “The Machine” and his Cute’n’Perky wife Jane were planning the hike. These two eat mountains for breakfast, and I wasn’t sure that my beluga-esque body would be able to keep up.

They look innocent, but they are beasts

Fortunately, Machine and Cute’n’Perky had a plan: we would all hike to Sentinel Pass together, at which point they would split off and climb this Mothah:

The bony finger of the Grand Sentinel points in the direction that you need to climb (up)

It worked out great. Machine and C’n’P dealt with cold, wind, and severe exposure, while I hung out at the pass and psychoanalyzed our friend Tanis; tried (not very hard) to resist feeding the chipmunks; and mocked our friends Justin and Cory as they attempted to “skateboard” down the side of a mountain riding a slab of rock. It was a pretty good division of labour.

Dean and Jane prepare to climb…

Not exposed at all.

More my style: watching Cory trying to feed a chipmunk with his teeth

When Machine and C’n’P returned from their climbing adventure, it was time to head back to the valley. T-bone’s day was complete when he realized that he could squeeze in a little skiing along with the hiking and trail mix eating:

The view from Sentinel Pass. In the words of that wise sage, Taylor Swift: “I don’t know if it gets better than this.”

It was such a good day that we felt the need to head out to the mountains again the following week. This time, it was just me, T-bone, and Bannock.

Bannock and I scope out the valley (on the Stanley Glacier trail)

We ended up following the same pattern as our first trip, though. We climbed to the highest clump of trees we could find, where Bannock and I hunkered down to read a few chapters of Game of Thrones. Early literacy is extremely important, particularly when it involves raping and pillaging. Meanwhile, Bannock’s father decided that he needed to touch the toe of the glacier looming above us.

Have fun, T-bone 

On our way down, we discovered several fresh springs. A nice change from Bangkok’s bottled water. For any of you Old Testament buffs, these photos remind me of the story in Judges where God tells Gideon not to choose any men who bend down and drink like dogs for his army.

Good biblical technique

And dog technique

It worked out in the Old Testament, but in this case, poor Gideon would have ended up with the prego.

Leaving Todd free to continue his favourite habit of smirking next to mountain lakes

We actually made it out to the mountains a third time, but I’m saving that story for an upcoming post on bobbleheads….

Brides, Bikes, and Bannock: totally unrelated alliterative rambling

Bannock

Well first of all, let me thank you all for the congratulations. It truly warmed the cockles of my heart. Nothing, however, can quite top the reaction of the 5 year olds I subbed for the other day: when they found out that I was with child, one of the students dove headfirst at my belly and kissed it. Several other students settled for a good belly grope, and then spent the rest of the class pointing at my midsection and exclaiming “Look! It’s a little baby! It’s soooo cute!” Not sure how they would react if they could see what my 15 week fetus actually looks like – even as its mother, I can’t honestly say it has reached the ‘cute’ phase just yet.

(This sounds like a tangent but it’s not) Thais love nicknames, and pretty much everyone has one – I’m guessing that this is to simultaneously circumvent their incredibly long names (ie: Nasigorengporn) as well as to channel qualities that they particularly admire: for example, Champion, Win, Best, Bakery. In order to make our child culturally acceptable, we have already chosen a nickname for it: Bannock. The name reflects our Canadian roots (for the uninitiated, bannock is a First Nations quickbread), channels Todd’s obsession with voyageurs, and falls within the acceptable 2-syllable standard for Thai nicknames. Certain members of our family are nervous that the child will be called Bannock for the rest of its life, but we see that as a bonus more than anything.

Brides

Ok. Enough about bread, quick or otherwise. On with the brides! On Saturday, we were lucky enough to attend the wedding of Te and View (note the Thai nicknames), two of our friends from church. Here’s a sample of the conversation I had with View (the bride) one week ago:

View: “Congratulations on your pregnancy!”

Me: “Thank-you!”

View: “I have some good news, too: I’m getting married!”

Me: “That’s wonderful! When?”

View: “Next weekend!”

I have never met anyone who pulled a wedding together in one week, but it magically came together. It was a small gathering, with an evening ceremony in the garden of a hotel. The bride and groom were adorable, and alternated laughing and crying throughout the service. As usual, my photography skills were in fine form, and this is the best photo I have of the ceremony:

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A wedding ceremony seems like an appropriate time to check your phone…

After the ceremony, there were plenty of photo opportunities. Sometimes I forget how massive I appear in this culture, but every now and then, I get a friendly reminder. Wearing a dress that hits the prego-ness in all the wrong places doesn’t help my cause.

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What every wedding needs: a couple of large farangs to make the bride look even more cute and delicate.

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The beautiful/indestructible cake arrangement

 Bikes

The following day, we had another cause for celebration: we finally bought bicycles. We have been talking about buying bikes since we set foot in Thailand, and it took us merely a year to figure it out. We kept tossing around different ideas: “Let’s get folding bikes! Let’s get mountain bikes! Let’s get village bikes! Let’s buy pieces-of-junk-from-the-grocery-store bikes!” In the meantime, our biking souls shrivelled. Todd finally decided that enough was enough, and started checking Craigslist religiously. For a long time, he found nothing but uber expensive top-of-the-line bikes and pieces-of-junk-from-the-grocery-store. When he finally found an ad for decently priced Trek touring bikes, he jumped on it. A couple who had cycled around SE Asia wanted to unload their bikes before they flew home. The only catch was that they wanted to sell them as a pair. Due to my *ahem* knocked-up condition, I wasn’t planning on buying a bike. However, the deal was too good to pass up, so I’m going to putz around on my sweet new bike until the belly makes me too top (gut?) heavy, and then we’ll re-sell it.

Once we handed over the cash, we realized that we were faced with another dilemma: how to get our new joyrides home. We were halfway across the city, and there is no way that we were going to bike all the way home through Bangkok’s insanity. We thought of taking them on the Skytrain, but that still wouldn’t get us close to home. Our only real hope was a jumbo-sized taxi, a rarity in Bangkok. We tried phoning for a big taxi, but were informed that it would have to come all the way from the airport, and would take 1.5 hours to arrive. Todd started hailing random taxis, and asking the drivers if they had friends who drove big taxis, but came up with nothing. Finally, we stood on the side of the road, and begged every taxi that came by to take just one person and one bike, but no one was interested. After 5 or 6 taxis, we were giving up hope, when an angel arrived on the scene. When we asked him to take one bike, he looked at us like we were crazy, and told us that he would take both.

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“Just need to remove the engine, and there will be plenty of space.”

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Look away, Math Teacher. This isn’t the time for an analysis of spatial dimensions.

He heaved all the tires into his back seat, and stacked the frames in his trunk. Half of both frames were hanging out of the trunk, but this didn’t seem to bother him – he crunched the trunk over the frames and bridged the two-foot gap with the aid of a suspension cord. He informed us that we’d have to avoid the highways, or the bikes would fly out. Not a problem. An hour later, we pulled up in front of our apartment. Taxi drivers often get a bad rap in Bangkok, but this one was a jewel.

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Want a suspension cord?

The bikes have already been fantastic, and we are kicking ourselves for waiting so long. I’m getting depressed about giving up biking, but then again, there seem to be zero safety standards in this country – once Bannock is born, I can probably just balance him/her on my lap while I cruise through traffic.