Tie-Dye Birthday: Partying like we’re 8 years old

The teachers that T-bone and I live with are great. They are just a happy, happy crew of (mostly) Americans. The unrelenting niceness really expresses itself on birthdays – everyone’s birthday gets celebrated (unless the birthday person firmly and decisively opts out). Because there have been so many birthdays in our building, the celebrations get progressively more unique (see, for example, my crocodile birthday). When Kinder-Thai* Teacher Ellen’s birthday rolled around this week, we knew we were in for an interesting time: Kindergarten teachers are unique folks + the person planning the party has a penchant for turning herself into a human paintbrush. And that’s how we ended up with a Thai-dye tie-dye party.

The Kinder-Thai Teacher cannot believe her luck – being born + a tie-dye party is a powerful combo

We all brought white clothing to Kim’s school art studio. Our items for dyeing ranged from basic white t-shirts to mouldy cargo pants; sweat-stained wife-beaters; and worse-for-wear sports bras. Such was our hope in the power of paint. I hadn’t originally planned on dyeing anything (because I had to leave early), but as soon as I saw the vibrant pots of dye, my 8 year old self returned – I just had to get my hands stained. Plus, dye was pretty much the only thing that would revive my favourite North Face t-shirt after spending 8 months in Sweat Central.

We started off by soaking our clothing in water:

Southern Belle Jacqueline demonstrates both good technique and good levels of creepiness

Then, we tied rubber bands around sections of the fabric in either a uniform or completely haphazard manner (depending on the artiste).

Most uniform thing I’ve ever done in my life.

This is a look of COMPLETE concentration. It takes all my abilities to do ANYTHING in a uniform manner

Next, we put on rubber gloves. If I were on my own, I probably wouldn’t have thought of wearing these, but I’m certainly grateful that Kim did.

And fortunately we have a Canadian around to demonstrate proper glove-wearing technique

Next, we ladled dye onto our balled up clothing using creepy hand-shaped scoops.

Nothing like a helping hand when you’re dyeing moist clothing

And wrung the dye out of our lumps/posed for photos.

Katherine’s shirt reads: ‘Sorry I’m Isolated.’ Well, I’m sorry, but I’m going to make you literally give me the shirt off your back, because it is amazing.

Someone is telling me that my photo-taking is getting out of hand.

And finally, putting those beauties out to dry.

The mostly-still-white shirt has dye on the armpits only. Someone had a profound artistic vision.

The finished product! Woohoo! I can wear my shirt again.


The North Face should take some design tips from me

Kim’s hands agree that the tie-dye party was pretty rad. Word.

Now that I’ve experienced the joy of tie-dye, I’m kicking myself for not bringing more items. Like, all the towels in my house. It would have been awesomely psychedelic.

*She teaches Thai kindergartners

Happy Birthday to Me!

Sunday, January 20th marked the 28th anniversary of the best day of my parents’ lives: the day their favourite child arrived on this terrestrial sphere. Sadly, they were not in Bangkok to personally thank me for being born, but T-bone stepped up to the plate quite nicely. He planned a celebration that included two of my favourite things: food and crocodiles. I’m not sure why I like crocodiles so much, but something about their snaggle-toothed grins just does it for me. A group of our friends from school were kind enough to humour me on my birthday, and joined us for an afternoon at The Samut Prakan Crocodile Farm and Zoo. It claims to be the biggest crocodile farm in the world, and after a day of traipsing around its lagoons, I believe it.

I am the Crocodile Whisperer.

We spent a lot of time staring at the baby crocodiles, simply because we didn’t yet realize that the zoo had other exhibits. Besides, it took awhile to fully take in this reptilian goodness.

They just love a good cuddle.

The exhibits were quite strange – the various enclosures clearly contained different varieties of crocodiles, but there were no interpretive signs except this:

It also looked like the crocodile pits were located next to the employee housing. I’d have a hard time sleeping if I lived next to these fellows.

Nothing like Saturday morning coffee on the patio with 5000 of your favourite reptilian friends.

After awhile, we made our way to the crocodile wrestling show. It was pretty lame and mildly depressing. The crocodile wrestlers dragged bored looking crocodiles out of the water, and made them open their mouths and snap them shut.

Come on, crocodiles! Show them who’s boss.

We left part way through the show, and boarded a toy train that looped around the park.

We l-o-v-e riding kiddie trains in creepy animal parks!

We soon realized that the park is huge, and contains a variety of large animals. Some of the enclosures seemed fairly well designed, but others were cramped and dirty. It was sad to the see the conditions that some of the animals had to live in, and particularly sad to see chimpanzees dressed up and chained to tables so that tourists could take pictures with them.

One of the craziest parts of the experience was how close you could get to the animals. There was only a chain-link fence separating us from full-grown tigers and lions, and you could feed and touch (if you’re insane) adult hippos. Actually, you could feed pretty much any animal you chose. I had a small heart attack watching unaccompanied small children near open cages.

Why? We’re so friendly! (Did anyone else play Hungry Hippos during their childhood?!)

I couldn’t resist this little fella

I hardly saw any zoo employees in the whole place, which felt pretty sketchy, especially when we discovered the adult crocodile lagoons.* A wooden bridge wound its way over multiple lagoons filled with hundreds of MASSIVE crocodiles. At several points, we were only a few feet above the crocs, and the bridge was not what you’d call “sturdy.” If you so desired, you could also drop raw chickens in the water for the crocodiles to eat.

This crocodile tried to delicately conceal himself behind a small pink flower.

Perhaps the strangest part of the zoo, though, was the – and I quote – ‘Handicapped Crocodile Exhibit.’ This was a series of small cages that contained crocodiles who were ‘damaged goods’ in one way or another. One had a wonky mouth, another had a forked tail, another was albino. The craziest part was that you could easily reach over the bit of fence and stroke the crocodiles should you desire to do so. I couldn’t bring myself to photograph the exhibit.

Instead, a photo of a stuffed baby crocodile wearing a shirt. Gotta maintain his modesty.

I finally had my fill of crocodiles, and we left the zoo for dinner at a Lebanese restaurant. Awkwardly, I managed to get a photo of the food, but not the friends. Oops! Thanks for coming!


And one last birthday moment: Cute Patriotic Texas Beth made this adorable tea towel for me. I feel that crocodiles will be the next trend in home decor.

He is wearing an apron that my mother made for me. I feel that the universe is conspiring to domesticate me.

* Speaking of sketchy, during the monsoon floods in Bangkok last year, a bunch of crocodiles escaped from the farm. There are photos on the internet of people checking on their submerged cars. They glance behind them, and BAM! Massive carnivores out for a playful paddle…

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!

My Little Bird Learns to Fly! (aka: Todd gets older)

Well, it’s just been a week full of birthdays around here! First the Queen, then Todd, and then the Queen again, because her birthday celebrations last for a week. I told Todd that we should head over to the palace and combine celebrations, but he insisted on having his own special day. He was certainly well feted, because half the contractors in the apartment building showed up to air hammer our doorframes at the same time that 15 of our teacher-buddies showed up to celebrate. There was probably one person for every year of his life present (I won’t mention the precise number of years, but let’s just say that it rhymes with “dirty-tree”).

Todd and his favourite Siamese twin, David, try to extinguish a trick candle

Now, birthdays around here mean one thing, and one thing only: birding time! Nothing brings joy to Todd’s heart like the twitters’n’chirps of his fine feathered friends. The birding began with a special cupcake from Michelle and Lisa.

These teachers know what a birder needs

I showed my support for Todd’s birding habit by eating the beak off his bird cupcake.

Always happy to help

I also planned a surprise Birding/Birthday trip to a national park three hours south of Bangkok. This necessitated staying at an adorable beach resort* in Prachuap Kiri Khan province. The things we do for our little cluckers….

It wasn’t too shabby

We spent Saturday swimming in the creepily warm water (“there are no sharks in Thailand, right Todd?”), where I got stung by a jellyfish. This was a new and not entirely enchanting experience. Coming from Calgary, I’m used to dealing with threats that are either minuscule (mosquitoes) or monstrous (grizzlies)**, with pretty much nothing in between. Getting stung by something that you can’t see felt unfair. They should at least have given me a sporting chance.

Life hurts

The only thing to do was to drown my sorrows in a vat of ghee, presented in the form of Indian food. I may be Canadian, and I may be living in Thailand, but my gut is loyal to one country, and one country only. Don’t worry, Mother India. No amount of pad thai will ever come between us.

I can’t even begin to convey my joy

The feather action began the next morning. Because this trip was planned by me, not Todd, we only had the roughest idea of where we were going. The helpful owner of our hotel drew a map for us: “drive up a random dirt road, turn left at the shrine, pass the ruined shrimp farm, hurtle down the steep hill, and stop at the ranger’s station. Someone should be able to take you out into the marshes on a boat.” Say no more. We rented scooters, and headed off early the next morning.

Hand-drawn map? Check. Birding shirt? Check.

When we arrived at the rangers’ station, we wondered if we were in the wrong place, because no one was around. We hiked through the forest to try to get a better view (“there are no spiders in Thailand, right Todd?”), and wandered around a bit. After some time, a ranger showed up. When we asked if he would take us out on a boat, he started laughing, and gestured that there was no water in the marshes. Funny how we missed that detail…

A good birder doesn’t sweat details like water

Todd still had a good time checking out storks’n’who-knows-what-else, while I sat and contemplated life, got into an altercation with a pack of dogs, and tried to converse with a local rooster, who didn’t seem to be feeling it.

Humans are depressing

That afternoon, we decided to take out our hotel’s tandem sea kayak (I don’t mind doing the conjoined thing if it means that Todd does all the paddling) and explored one of the islands in the bay. I initially regretted not bringing my camera, but in retrospect, perhaps it’s for the best. The island was covered in monkeys, and the acts in which they were engaging scarred my eyeballs and would not be appropriate for a PG blog. Here’s another picture of the bay instead.

So pensive

All in all, Todd had a great birthday weekend, even if it was a little light on the birds and heavy on the jellyfish and copulating monkeys. Once again, as we drove home, the Queen beamed benevolently at us from numerous highway shrines, because it is still her birthday.

*No, this is not a paid endorsement – just wanted to put in a good word for a friendly place.

**Grizzlies’ motto: “We may maul you, but at least you’ll see us coming”