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

DSC01095

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?

Contest Winners!!

I have to admit that I never thought this day would come. The contest that I announced 2 weeks ago has reached a definitive conclusion. A quick recap for those who may have missed the contest post: it posed the following question: “Which will happen first: Will I start substitute teaching? Will our apartment’s pool finally be ‘swimmable,’ or will Christmas come?” I wouldn’t generally call myself a pessimist, but life in Thailand thus far has made me lean towards the Christmas option. In the end, though, to mix a metaphor, my empty-glass was half-filled when this happened:

Note the pleasant concrete structures that the apartment owners built around the neighbours that refused to sell their property.

That’s right. The pool is finally drained and filled!!

Ahhh. We’ve come so far.

I think the school/apartment management finally clued in to the simmering rage that was threatening to blow the top off this apartment building. Turns out that residents don’t particularly appreciate being forced to sign leases for overpriced units that don’t contain the amenities they were promised. In order to placate us, fixing the pool was a smart move. Enough ranting, though. The pool is fixed, and we are rejoicing.

Rejoicing with Jacqueline and Keeley, two of my favourite southern belles.

In terms of contest winners, the situation is a little more interesting. While I do appreciate all the supportive thoughts about my job prospects, these votes did not win you the amazing prize package of chocolate/Chang/cheese/undying respect. In fact, only 2 people picked the right answer, and both attached modifications to those answers. One of the winners is blog reader/admiral in training seahorne, who managed to simultaneously guess correctly and insult Todd in the process. The second winner is none other than my soul/room-mate T-bone, who also predicted that the pool would break again before either Christmas or subbing occurred. There is still time for your dreams/predictions to come true, Todd.

We salute the winners.

Seahorne, you have my undying blog-world respect. Well done. Todd, you may buy yourself a Chang on your way home. Just make sure that you use your own allowance.

Congratulations, and thanks to everyone who voted!!

Cooking for 20

The older I get, the more I realize that I am deeply impulsive. This affects many areas of my life, with mixed results: “Yes, I will eat that doughnut. Yes, I will learn to motorbike on an Indian highway. Yes, I will give a ride to the little old man that I found in the University parking lot. Yes, I will (attempt to) eat nothing but rice and daal for the entirety of Lent.” My most recent impulsive decision was to invite our entire apartment building over for supper on Monday night.* Todd gave me his best wizened math teacher look – “are you sure you understand what you’re doing?”, but he knows better than to get between me and my impulses.

These eyes have seen things

I have hosted large-ish groups of people before, but 20 was a little more ambitious than usual. No problem, I thought. We’ll just do bread/chicken/salad. Nothing could be simpler. I started off with the shopping. First stop, the deli, where I found already cooked, whole chickens. “You want it cut?” asked the lady behind the counter. Except she didn’t speak English, so our conversation went something like this:

“Khaaaa khaaa na-kaa sawadeee-kaaaahhhh??”

“Give ‘er.”

“Khaa. Na-kha. Ok-kha. Khaaaaaaaaa.”

She proceeded to cut the chicken in a way that is unique and special to Thailand. Take a cleaver and just start whacking that chicken. Don’t worry about things like “carving” or “slicing.” Just hack it until your arm gets tired, then huck the pieces onto a Styrofoam tray.

Sorta like swinging a golf club

I dumped the chicken into a cart, and headed for the bread and veggies. Hmmm. 8 heads of lettuce should be enough…

I finally finished shopping,  heaved everything into a taxi, prayed that the driver didn’t take off with my groceries, and hopped in. Hard part is done, I thought.

Until I remembered that I had to wash and prepare veggies in a kitchen built for an elf. The counter space is smaller than that of a child’s Fisher Price play house, and it was completely taken up with the dish rack. So I improvised.

This is the entire counter

Yes, I did sterilize the sink before I filled it with food

After all the vegetables were clean, I realized that I had a second problem – my elfin refrigerator. It is just about big enough to hold a carton of milk and a few ice cubes. There was no way that it was going to hold multiple salad bowls.

Bursting with plastic-wrapped goodness

So I improvised again:

HomePro offers the best all-purpose bags

And then I headed off to Thai class. Todd and I assembled the salads and other food when we got home. I was getting nervous that there wouldn’t be enough food, that people wouldn’t fit into our apartment, that… But everyone squished in, and there were even enough random chicken parts left over for supper the next day.

A blurry shot of the bread. Served on our desk

An even blurrier shot of the salad table. My arm needs a tripod

The lovely Americans (with a smattering of Taiwanese) that share our apartment building

The night ended with birthday cake. With 20+ people in the building, the birthday celebrations are never-ending.

Sometimes, adjusting to life here is challenging, and I miss people at home. At dinner, though, I was reminded that we live in an apartment building full of truly nice people – I am grateful to be experiencing life in Thailand with them. Inviting everyone over for dinner was one of my better impulsive decisions.

* Dear Teacher Friends – I promise that I did not invite you over for dinner just so that I could blog about it!

Our House. In the Middle of our Soi.

Well, dang. I was planning on giving you all a photo tour of our new ‘hood, but the skies just opened up (rain in Thailand is the equivalent of having a bucket tipped over your head). I wanted to prove that my life doesn’t revolve around breathing in the sweet scent of our septic system all day, every day, but who I am kidding? I’ll just have to save the outdoor tour for another day. Instead, you get to have a tour of our new pied-à-terre.

My flood of disappointment at the rain was staunched by a $1 mojito from the convenience store across the street. Remember, self-portraits are always acceptable as long as they’re unflattering.

In spite of all my complaints, this is a pretty nice apartment. I’ll eventually publish a post about all its “endearing” quirks, but this one will give you the gist of its layout. T and I debated about whether it was a good idea to post a picture of the outside, and in the end, we decided it was probably better not to (Die Stalkers! You’ll never find me!). Let’s just say that the building rises like a phoenix from the ashes of the trees that it levelled.

Our hallway. Contain your excitement!

There is no entry-way in our apartment – you walk in, and Boom! You’re in the kitchen/living room/dining room. There’s a big open space in the centre of the floor plan, and a bedroom/bathroom on either end.

Our living/dining/everything room

If you have a keen memory for useless minutiae, you may notice that we have a different New Style Trend couch than we did previously. It’s difficult for me to talk about, because I fell in love with our old couch. The new red/blue combo just doesn’t do it for me. The old one was the perfect colour for catching coffee spills.

Our living room.

This is still part of our main area. For the first time in my life, I don’t have enough stuff to fill our shelves. Todd likes to have a little privacy when he studies Thai.

Living room/study area

Our study area. Notice the “internet failed to connect” screen on my computer. I won’t even get started on the WiFi in this joint…

Our kitchen

Thai kitchens are pretty minimalist, at least by Canadian standards. Apparently, most people eat out most of the time, so full kitchens aren’t a necessity. In terms of appliances, we have a fridge, microwave, and hot plate. That’s it. I already managed to melt part of the control panel on the hot plate (dang! No more congee setting for us!), so we are operating at 2.5 out of 3.

Dining “room”

The most important features of the dining area are our map of Bangkok’n’area, and Todd’s special bird place mats.

Master bathroom

The bathroom. It’s nice except for the drainage issues.

Master bedroom

This feels strangely intimate, but there you have it. Bed? Check. Flat screen TV? Check. We never watch it, which makes us feel pious (just don’t ask me how much garbage I watch on my computer).

Entertaining myself

Here we have a magic closet that connects our bedroom to our bathroom. It would be a dream if only the drawers could be pulled out on both sides. It also provides a nifty nook for playing hide-and-seek with myself.

The other bed and bath are pretty similar, so I won’t bore you with photos of them.

View from our back deck

And to finish it off, the view from our back deck. Tour of our hood coming soon, I promise.

My Life Is SUPER-FANTASTIC!!!

I think that social media often presents a one-dimensional view of a person’s life, making it seem more perfect than it actually is. One of my friends jokes that most of the images on Facebook are actually posed shots that people have taken of themselves: “Look at me! I’m soooo happy!! And my life is super-fantastic!!”

An example. Generally, this style of photography is more successful if you
a) photoshop the camera out of the picture, and
b) avoid taking photos that are obviously in your bathroom

Sometimes, however, life really is one-dimensionally super-fantastic. This past weekend, we left our sewage-scented apartment and headed to an island off the coast of Pattaya with a group of other teachers. Koh Larn has numerous stray dogs and cats, beautiful beaches, and accommodations that don’t wreak of raw sewage: a recipe for success!

Look how much I love puppies, Todd!! So much!! Why won’t you buy me a puppy, Todd??

Interestingly, the entire island was populated with a combination of Thai locals and Russian tourists. An ice cream vendor asked Todd if he was a Russian model. Maybe if the teaching thing doesn’t pan out… We spent most of our time swimming in the giant bathtub that is the Gulf of Thailand. Not to make generalizations about the apparel choices of other nationalities, but the speedos and thongs were out in force. We were also treated to several lengthy photo shoots involving ample curves amply exposed.

The beach, including a fully dressed Thai man, but minus the naked Russians.

On our second day on the island, we rented scooters and took a tour of the island. I realize that the legal system may not impinge on fun in Thailand as much as it does in Canada, but even so, I was surprised at the scooter rental process: Todd signed his name to a contract that the shop handed to us, and they gave us four scooters. No identification or deposit or credit card number required. I guess the fact that we were on an island limited our escape routes, but still…

This was a photo op: Todd had his own MANLY scooter (complete with MANLY helmet and MANLY murse).

It was great to get out of the city, and a super-fantastic time was had by all.