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)

Off to the Races!

This weekend, a group of teachers and students from Todd’s school participated in a road race at one of Bangkok’s many unique, extremely fertile parks. Sadly, I am still gimped, so I didn’t get to run, but I decided to go along as a cheerleader: I have hauled Todd out of bed on many early mornings to cheer at my races (“Come on, Toddy! You get to wake up extra early and stand in the cold and the rain for multiple hours! Doesn’t that sound like fun?!”), so I owed him one.

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Gurrrl, this doesn’t even begin to cover what you owe me.

The race was put on by the Bangkok British international school, and I didn’t know what to expect – probably a few awkward clusters of high schoolers running around. Instead, it turned out to be a full-fledged, well organized road race, complete with sponsors and prizes. The distances were a little interesting – gotta love that classic 9.4 km distance – but other than that, it was a standard race.

Except for the bag drop in a railway (??) car

In total, there were almost 800 runners. I think every farang in Bangkok made an appearance.

Because apparently digging pain is the farang way

This being Asia, however, there were a few additional treats, such as the spunky lady leading warm-up exercises. In other races that I have attended, most runners are super serious, lost in their own worlds doing things like “stretches” and “strides,” but in Bangkok, people do group warm-ups, and they do it Gangnam Style.

Ahh. Nothing like some group exercises to get the blood moving!

After a quick trip to the ol’ hong nam (bathroom), and a quick scan of the swag tables that several sponsors were setting up, T-bone and his buddies were ready to race.

These broads are FIERCE

I wandered around the sewage scented parking lot for a bit (I’ve never been to a race that smelled so…aromatic), then decided to wait out on the course to cheer and snap photos. I can say from experience that no photos are more flattering than those that are taken as you hurtle your aching, gasping body towards the finish line. I was hoping that Bangkok’s heat and humidity would make the photos that much more attractive – I’m not one to disappoint a good teacher.

First up in the 5km was Li’l Buddy David, who was trying to maul the small children beating him to the finish line

Next up in the 5km was Lisa, who confirmed that running in a humid, sewage-scented park was a different ballgame than the treadmill at the gym

And in the 9.4 km, it’s our very own T-bone, who is looking waaay too perky. If you’re smiling, it means you’re not working!

And it’s Michelle and her muscles in the 9.4km. Lookin’ like the killer gym teacher that she is.

And right behind Michelle, we have Kim. She is looking confused, because David went in to high-5 her, but I shoved him out of the way because he was blocking my shot. Nothing gets in the way of my photographic dedication.

There didn’t seem to be any other spectators out on the course, so I was a one-woman freakshow cheering for everyone who passed by me. Some people seemed to appreciate this, but a few small child racers burrowed their faces into their parents shorts with fright. Those Brits organized a good race, but clearly they needed a dose of North American-style loud, obnoxious cheerleading to soften those stiff upper lips. Always happy to help.

After the race, all the runners mowed down on the interesting sandwich combos provided by the race organizers, and helped themselves to “face refresher spray” provided by one of the sponsors.

I love this photo. You can just hear the lady saying “What do you think this is?!?! A build-your-own sandwich joint?! Get out of my face, chicken legs!!”

All in all, it was a great day at the races, and a good chance for me to tick off 1 of the ten billion early morning support crew moments that I owe Todd.

Running rockstars

King Rama IX’s Paradise Park

This week, I went on a much better, less insulting trip than my excursion to the orthodontist. I can’t say that it totally erased the experience (Moms? My face isn’t that crooked, right?), but it came close. Todd took me to the mystical land of the King Rama IX park.

Is it just me or does this look like it belongs in the Capitol in “The Hunger Games?”

The Thai people love their King. I mean, the word “love” doesn’t even begin to describe what they feel for him. Sometimes this is touching – I’ve seen several people tear up when they talk about him – and sometimes it is slightly bizarre – the King’s song is played in all movie theatres before the movie begins, and everyone stands at attention. T and I have found that all this devotion has started to wear off on us, and when we discovered the King’s park, it blossomed into love.

(here is a link to the King’s song that is played before every movie in the cinema) (UPDATE: looks like this link has been censored – not sure if this is disturbing or cool…)

Bangkok is short on green space, to put it mildly. We live on the outskirts of the city, and so we get to see a bit of green, but it is generally filled with dogs and rotting vegetation. We were extremely excited to find the King’s park, which actually contained grass (or at least a pretty good imitation of grass), plus a swimming pool, tennis courts, numerous gardens and epic/free fitness equipment. Some of this equipment is fairly standard, if a little rusty:

T-Bone works it out Thai Style

and some of it is a little more “intriguing.”

A back-to-basics Nordic Track – it’s got everything but the traction

There are also loads of mirrors, in case you forget what you look like.

Nice form, t-BONE

There are also aerobics classes for elderly women available for purchase. Getting fit enough to join keeps me committed to my fitness plan.

We went for a run in the park and and were excited to discover that there were Thai runners there too – probably the first time since our arrival in Thailand that we have seen locals move at a pace that is faster than “meander.” And for the first time, no one (openly) laughed at us, which was an unexpected treat.

In my effort to avoid malls but still get out of my apartment (fortunately, a good dose of turpentine is currently masking the eau de sewage),*  I have spent extended time in this park. This has been lovely, because it enables me to engage in my favourite activity: wandering around in a coma-like state. I can successfully achieve this with no aids, but throw in a balmy day at a perfect park, mute 2 of my 5 senses with sunglasses and earphones, and I am lost to the world. I wandered blissfully around, soaking in the essence of the place.

The Chinese garden

Listening to Debussy on my iPod completed the dream. His pentatonic creations were composed for days in the King Rama IX park.

A section of the English garden

And the dreaming turned to hallucinating when I saw these friendly fellows in the Japanese garden

The only problem with wandering around in a trance is that I tend to notice the concrete reality of my surroundings even less than usual – this is great for the artiste in me, but it can be a little more dangerous for the part of me that lives in the material world. This is especially the case in Thailand, where I am not well acquainted with the flora and fauna. A few wasps who looked like they had ingested steroids interrupted my reveries,  but it was meeting this sucker that really woke me up:

A monitor lizard – he missed the memo that dinosaurs are extinct (not my photo, but we saw one almost this size)

Apparently they aren’t interested in eating people. Apparently.

The only other real menace in the park are the cyclists wearing spandex and doing laps. For some reason, whenever they passed me, they politely yelled “Hello.” Flirting upper-class Thai style. Every time this happened, I stumbled out of my reverie and into the gutter.

I got ready to re-enter crazy Bangkok with a few more stretches on my favourite traction-less Nordic Track.

Gotta get limber before I join the aerobics class

*still waiting for my official documents from my alma mater to arrive. Aaargh.