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!

yummmmmmmmm

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…

Trailing Spouses Do Cambodia Part 1.

I have been called many things in my life, including Wench, Granola Girl, Redneck, and Condom Hander-Outer, but Todd’s school still managed to surprise me with their name for people in my position: Trailing Spouse. I come from a land of oil production, and so this automatically makes me think of Tailing Ponds. In the school’s eyes, however, the term simply means that I followed my spouse to Thailand. It also means that I get to jump through some fun hoops before I can work at the school. The biggest of these hoops was a visa run that I embarked on this past week with the other members of the Trailing Spouses club.

CTP Beth and Kevdeep, plus the random Tailing Pond in the middle

The whole operation got off to a bad start – we were originally planning to simply catch a bus to the Cambodian border. After an extensive series of miscommunication that I will not describe here because it makes me weep even to recall it, it became clear that we needed to actually go to Phnom Penh, the capital. We were told by someone* at the school that getting a visa in Phnom Penh would be a painless, 2 day process. Submit your documents on the morning of the first day, pick up your visa on the afternoon of the second day. We booked our flights accordingly. The fun times started off at Bangkok’s newly reopened secondary airport.

Because nothing says “reopening” like Power Ranger cheerleading teams

The flight itself was straightforward, as was the process of obtaining our Cambodian tourist visas. When we were met at the Phnom Penh airport by the happiest Tuk-Tuk driver in Asia, we started to wonder if the whole trip was too smooth to be true.

Yim was BEYOND happy to hang out with our sad crew of Trailing Spouses

He proceeded, between grins and guffaws, to drive us to the cutest, most feel-good guest house in Phnom Penh. You Khin House is beautifully decorated and is filled with the paintings of the owner’s deceased husband. All the proceeds from the guest house are used to support the NGO Montessori school for children located next door.

I almost died from cuteness

The whole thing seemed like a beautiful dream. It wasn’t until the next morning at the Thai embassy that we woke up. Rather than the 2-day processing time we had been promised, the clerk informed me that it would take a minimum of 4 days. This meant that we would miss our flights home, and that Kevdeep would potentially miss his flight to Vietnam on the following weekend. So we made a decision that I can’t say I’m proud of, but that I would probably make again. We gave our money and our passports to the Corrupt Clown sitting outside the embassy who promised us a quicker turnaround.

So happy to help us!

And then we waited. While you could do worse than getting stuck in Phnom Penh for a few days, it wasn’t the most enjoyable experience. We had no idea when our visas would actually be ready, so we didn’t want to plan anything big, in case we had to rush to the airport to catch our flight. Fortunately, Yim, our uber-happy Tuk-Tuk driver became our new favourite friend, and showed us the city.

We dig Yim.

He also took us out to eat at legitimate Cambodian places. I can’t say that my gut was 100% happy about this, but it warmed the cockles of my heart.

Ahh. Just looking at this picture rewarms the cockles.

Something on this table hated me, but I’m not sure what it was.

In the midst of this, we had many, many conversations with our Corrupt Clown at the embassy. “You can have it to us when? That’s too late! Can you make it any earlier? What!? You’re going to charge us MORE?!” We were all in a state of perma-meltdown.

In the meantime, we decided to visit the Killing Fields. It was a deeply moving, deeply depressing trip. I’ll go into it in more detail in a Ruminations post, but to sum it up, it simultaneously put our petty visa problems into perspective, and gave us a heavy dose of depression to go along with our stress.

The memorial tower at the Killing Fields site (Cheong Eok). The tower is full of skulls and bones.

As we sat at our guesthouse, trying to process our trip to the Killings Fields, our Corrupt Clown phoned: our visas were ready, and he would personally deliver them to us. He arrived exactly 30 minutes too late for us to catch our flight, and seemed surprised when our thanks was less than effusive as we handed him his outrageous payment.

The next day, we weren’t in the mood for taking chances, so we arrived at the airport 4 hours early for our new flight.

Stress and a DQ sugar bomb somehow led me to cradle my bag like a small child.

We finally arrived in Bangkok, much poorer, and hopefully wiser when it comes to dealing with Asian bureaucracy. One more step completed in our journey from Tailing Pond to Teacher.

* In the timeless words of Beyonce, “I’m not gonna diss you on the internet. Cuz my mama taught me bettah than that.”

Stranded in Cambodia

Well, my blog-world friends, today my post is short’n’sweet, because I am typing it with my phone. I am stranded in Phnom Penh on a visa run gone wrong. Let’s just say I received some misinformation about the amount of time it would take to secure a work visa. After paying a crook more money than I should have, I have my visa, but I missed my flight back to Bangkok. Fortunately, I have these two fine friends by my side:

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(Cute Texas Patriotic (CTP) Beth and Kevdeep. AKA, the other members of the “Trailing Spouses” Club)

Together, we are swimming in a torrid sea of frustration (bad information re: visa planning), depression ( field trip to the killing fields), guilt’n’disgust (paying a crook to work a corrupt system), and disbelief (is there anything else that could possibly go wrong with this process?). Stay tuned, because you’re gonna get an eyeful when I get back to my computer.

The Wives Club hits the mall

I’ve found myself visiting a lot of malls lately. No, this is not because I’m some kind of fashion plate. Even my best friends would acknowledge that my style tends to be more “discount day at the thrift store” than haute couture. In fact, I noticed today that my outfit was eerily similar to what the (male) construction workers at my apartment complex were wearing. It made me feel like I’ve missed my life’s calling.

I didn’t notice the toothpaste stain on my shorts until I saw this picture…

No, I find myself visiting malls lately because they’re an air conditioned refuge from my (still, sometimes) sewage-scented apartment. My life is going to get busier – it looks like I’ll be subbing at Todd’s school – but until the rest of my documents come in, I’m as free as one of Todd’s feathered friends (hence the apartment/mall time). The “open” schedule was cool at first – there are tons of tourist-y things to do in Bangkok – but now it’s crossing the line into lame-o territory. As I wait for work to start, I am strangely drawn to shopping malls – perhaps something about the utter vapidity of the experience dulls the stress of transition.

Today, mall-time was less vapid than usual, because I had the other members of The Wives Club with me. First, I met up with Cute Texas Beth. We are basically the same person: She’s a wife, I’m a wife. She’s waiting to sub, I’m waiting to sub. She looks like Audrey Hepburn, I look like Au… a Thai construction worker. But you get the point. We’re twins except that she says “Y’all” and I say “eh.”

Beth likes to show her love for her country by wearing patriotic clothing

On our way out, we picked up the Lovely Lip. She is also a wife, but she can’t be our twin because she actually has a job.

Lucky for me she’s willing to be seen with a construction-worker-wannabe

And we headed to a mall. Saying that Bangkok has shopping options is like saying that Todd digs numbers and birds: it’s a total understatement. Bangkok is essentially one big mall with some palaces and temples sprinkled in for variety. There are indoor options, outdoor options, and indoor’n’outdoor options. If I was a better planner, I would have included photos of a variety of malls, but who am I kidding? Planning is my kryptonite. Therefore, you get to see one mall, and one mall only.

But what a mall. Mega Bangna rises like a beacon of hope from a mire of crazy highways and intense humidity. Plus, its name is really fun to say.

Mega-Bangna-173925

It has a skating rink, a bowling alley, a cineplex, an Ikea, playgrounds, and a million donut shops.

So whether you’re simply a conspicuous consumer…

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And who doesn’t want to consume an Angry Bird?

A general binge eater…

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For some reason, I decided to eat porridge here

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Or an Ikea connoisseur…

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45 Baht = $1.50 cdn

Mega’s got you covered. Lip’s taste in restaurants runs more towards “cute bistro” than “Ikea feeding trough,” and so we ended up at Cafe Marmalade for lunch.

I can’t make fun of this picture. They’re too cute.

Ahhh. Yellow curry with deep-fried bread. Just what the doctor ordered

I ended up having a way better, way less vacuous time than I usually do at Mega Bangna (try saying it with a hearty emphasis on the BANG). I’m really grateful for the other members of The Wives Club – they are a bright spot in this time of transition.

And just because I can’t bring myself to end on a serious note, here is one more photo. This alien-lady-thing lives outside of the mall.

Her body is covered in inane quotes about fashion, but the quote on her leg is one that I personally live by: “You don’t learn style watching people on a runway. Fashion happens every morning when you wake up.”

Yeah baby. Construction chic is happening now.