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

Endings…

The school year officially ended on Friday last week. What a beautiful, beautiful day. Overall, I’ve enjoyed subbing this year, but it was time for it to end. The general feeling hanging in the air at school was sort of like a tasty dinner that turns into revolting leftovers when forgotten in the back of the fridge for a week – something good that is way past its prime. Or that relationship that you know you should end, but you just can’t quite find the courage to do it. Or that moment before you finally cut the baby curls off your not-so-little boy. A line from Handel’s Messiah kept running through my head: ‘”Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoi-oi-oi-oi-oice greatly!”

Before the year was officially over, though, I got to enjoy the delights of a student/teacher talent show. The whole school, including the three-year-olds, crowded into the school gym to enjoy a little light entertainment for no fewer than two hours. In the grand scheme of things, two hours is pretty short, but when you are watching angsty teenagers perform Thai love songs, it can feel like an eternity. Fortunately, there were a few dance acts that spiced up the show. Unfortunately, several of these involved ten-year-old girls shaking their booty to songs about “gettin’ it down on the floor.” In yet another sign (other than the exploding expanding torso) that motherhood is imminent, my immediate response was to mutter ‘overmydeadbodywillanychildofmineEVERdancelikethat.” At least the three-year-olds were entertained.

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I love this photo. Everything from the “Done” sign, to the dancing three-year-olds, to the awkward rapping.

The end of the year wasn’t all good, though. There are a bunch of teachers who won’t be coming back next year, and it was sad to see them go (you will be missed!). There was a big staff dinner during the last week of school, and it included a tribute to those who were leaving. The tribute was a karaoke rap song about people dying by Puff Daddy (or whatever his name is now), and included a rewritten verse for every single one of the EIGHTEEN teachers who were leaving. I got to rewrite a verse for one of the teachers, and let me just say that I have a new respect for rappers and the sheer volume of words they manage to spew. My verse was bad enough, but when compounded by a factor of eighteen, it was sheer carnage. One real highlight of the evening for me was the opportunity to wear maternity pants (read: elastic waistband) while hitting the buffet. I don’t care if you’re pregnant or not, or even if you’re a woman or not: you need to wear a pair of these next time you go to a buffet. I promise you won’t regret it.

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This picture contains less than half the people who were *attempting* to rap.

Todd and I decided to celebrate again on the weekend by doing one of our favourite things – namely, binge eating Indian food. We hauled across town to a restaurant in the swanky Chit Lom area, and dove into a few old standbys – Chicken Tikka, Aloo Gobhi, and Saag Paneer. It was beautiful. Todd says that as soon as the chai touched his lips, he could feel the stress of the year melting away. Never underestimate the healing effects of fat and spice.

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I couldn’t even hold still for a photo.

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Notice the ghee glistening on every dish…

And that’s it. Hard to believe that our first (school) year in Thailand is already over. Definitely a time for reflection, pontification, and remembrance. But mostly rejoi-oi-oi-oi-oi-oicing!

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.

Subbing up a Storm

*Apologies for the lack of visuals. I figured it was probably better not to post photos of students on the internet*

Substitute teaching is a strange and wonderful thing. If my career goal was to be a teacher, I’m not sure that I would find it very satisfying, but considering that I have no such ambitions, it is the bomb.com. I get to hang out with kids all day without the pressure of meeting curriculum standards, worrying about “best practices” and pedagogy, or dealing with major discipline issues. It’s kinda like being a grandparent – hang out with your grandchildren, then pass them back to their parents when they need their diapers changed. I thought I’d share a few anecdotes from my first two weeks on the job.

I usually take attendance somewhat informally – I either ask the kids if anyone is missing, or pass around a piece of paper and get them to sign their names. This is helpful for two reasons. The first is that many teachers don’t have an attendance list on their desk. The second is that I don’t think I could call out all the names without cracking up. Almost all the kids in the school are either Thai or Chinese (or both), and they have long and/or tonal names. Instead of using these at school, they choose English nicknames. To say that there are some real gems would be an understatement. If I were ever to do a proper roll call, it would go something like this (to protect privacy, I didn’t use the actual names, but trust me, these are the equivalent): “Earth, Wind, Fire, Soymilk, T-Rex, Consistency, Fluid, Lamborghini, Z, Ping-Ping, Pong-Pong, Dorcas, Better, Potato.” Truly, rare jewels.

Spirit Week enveloped the school last week – as the name suggests, it’s a time to pump up school spirit. I never encountered this custom in Canada, but apparently it is common in the US. However, I think the Thai version of Spirit Week was just as foreign to the American teachers as it was to me. I arrived a bit early for subbing on Monday morning, and was greeted by a spectacle I won’t soon forget. All the high school students were in the field, arranged into 5 or 6 different, bizarre montages. The theme was Disney, and every group was acting out a different movie. This involved choreographed dancing, papier mache props, exploding confetti, face paint, costumes, and singing. A group of teachers including T-bone were walking around the field judging the whole event. It took my high school Phys. Ed. class almost 30 minutes to change out of their costumes and makeup. Events like this are considered cool and/or normal. And took place EVERY SINGLE DAY. The week culminated with a swim competition on Friday afternoon. Each grade was represented by 6 students and 2 teachers, and I somehow got roped into competing. Every competitor had to swim a length of the pool wearing a full uniform, and then pass the uniform off to their teammate. My team of freshmen made the rookie mistake of using a non-regulation pair of pants with no elastic waistband, and spent the entire competition trying to stop the pants from floating away. We didn’t win.

I haven’t had to mete out much discipline so far, but it is funny to see the different issues that each grade confronts me with. The biggest problem so far in the high school is their obsession with electronics. No, small children, you cannot use youtube instead of your textbook to answer your assignment questions. The middle school students are a funny mix of energy and hormones. It’s mainly the boys that struggle with both. I had to take a grade 7 class to get their school photos taken, and the reaction from each gender was classic. The girls were horrified when they found out it was photo day, and frantically tried to fix their hair. They then lined up quietly, and posed for overly-precious group shots with their best friends and teddy bears. The boys had a hard time sitting still, and alternated between running to the washroom, popping in and out of the photographers room, teasing their “girlfriends” and generally making a nuisance of themselves. I’m glad I was never a 12-year-old boy. The lower school, though, has some of the funniest discipline opportunities.  My grade 2 class yesterday was deeply distressed: “Ms. Ruth! Ms. Ruth! Giovanni spoke in THAI!” “What did he say?” “He said PEE-PEE!!! He has to move his clip DOWN on the behaviour chart!!” A crisis of epic proportions. Cue attempt to look stern.

It’s a living.

Contest!

The Facetious Farang is hosting its (my?) first contest!

The Background:

Overall, life in Bangkok is good, but there are a few things that have been gettin’ me down a bit lately. The main downer is that I  have not yet begun subbing, and it looks like I am still at least a few weeks away from officially walking the hallowed halls of T-bone’s school. I won’t go into details, but the process/communication has been painful in the extreme for The Trailing Spouses Club. The secondary downer is that a few key features of our apartment building are not yet functional. Perhaps the most visible of these is our non-functional pool. So, I figured I’d cheer myself up by running an on-line bet. Here it is:

Which do you think will happen first?

A) I will begin substitute teaching

Gettin’ paperwork in Cambodia

B) Our pool will be swimmable

(Ok, this photo is old, but too good not to use. The pool is looking better, but it still ain’t swimmable).

or

C) Christmas will come!

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Woohoo!

 

Rules:

Since neither my mother nor the government of Thailand approve of gambling, I will not give monetary odds. However, if you live in Bangkok and you guess correctly, I will reward you with chocolate/cheese/Chang (your choice). If you live farther afield, you will have to content yourself with my undying online r-e-s-p-e-c-t.

In order to vote, please leave a comment below.

Results will be announced as soon as they come in! Please vote!