Ice Skating Thai Style

While I can’t say that I ever fully appreciated my Canadian hometown’s tendency to get blanketed in snow in May (or alternately, June/July/August/September), I have been missing winter. I would love to be able to go skiing, or actually need a sweater, or to feel a chill that doesn’t come from the over-enthusiastic use of AC. Some of my friends have apparently been feeling the same way, because last Friday, they insisted that we needed to check out the indoor skating rink at Mega Bangna, our local mall.

The rink charges by the hour, and it is not cheap. I guess admission needs to be sufficient to cover the matching winter coats that all the cashiers wear. We decided that one hour would probably be adequate, and went to pick up our snazzy skates. Imagine ancient roller blades updated with tasteful colour combinations.

The epitome of taste

The rink was pretty small and pretty melt-y, and pretty full of small children and not-so-small children who didn’t know how to skate. Their parents were either desperately clinging to the boards while trying not to wipe out, or watching from the sidelines.

Or attempting to catch their children who are already faster than them

The fun really got started when we realized that half the kids at the rink were students from the school. Nothing like hanging out with students on a Friday night. Fortunately, they were still young enough to think that their teachers are cool because they can skate fast, not lame because they are spending Friday night at a skating rink with small children.

We can also skate while holding hands!

A tiny corner of the skating rink was devoted to ice hockey. It warmed the cockles of my heart to see kids practicing my country’s national sport on a minute piece of ice. It seemed like the perfect scenario for a seriously cheesy movie: “Young Thai hockey players spend hours practicing on a tiny strip of ice, surrounded by heinously bright orange skates, frightening hanging penguins, and teenage romances. They overcome the odds and win sponsorship from a Thai doughnut chain and go on to win the Olympic games even though the other teams didn’t have to share their ice time and were sponsored by bigger doughnut chains…” or something like that.

Hang in there! Someday, Mister Donut will discover you.

The chill in the air was satisfying, but not quite cold enough to prevent the hanging penguins from spitting/dripping condensation on my head every time I skated under them.

The perfect temperature.

All in all, it was fun to get a small taste of winter. But one hour was sufficient.

Terror in Paradise

*Warning! Warning! If your first name starts with Ja- and your last name ends in –ert, and you happen to be Todd’s mother, cease and desist reading! You will not enjoy this!

We’ve had quite the weekend. On Friday night, we headed to Koh Samed with a bunch of teachers from Toddy’s school. It sounded like just another average weekend in paradise with beautiful beaches, clear water, fun friends, banana pancakes drowning in nutella, etc. Blahblahblah. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Little did I know that the weekend would give me a new appreciation for Canada’s obsession with over-the-top safety regulations. While I generally appreciate Thailand’s environment of anything-can-happen, a few occurrences this weekend made me experience emotions that I haven’t felt since riding rotting Soviet Era carnival rides in Azerbaijan. Let’s break it down into three li’l vignettes.

Water

1. We left the school campus after school ended on Friday, and pulled up to the mainland pier a few hours later. The teachers, full of joie de vivre, hurtled over multiple slimy guardrail-less gangplanks to the waiting speed boats. In a moment that will forever remain emblazoned on my brain,* I witnessed one of the teachers falling off the gangplank and fully submerging herself in the disgusting oil-laced water surrounding the dock. While this would have been adequate excitement for one evening, the best was yet to come. Once all 30+ teachers were inescapably ensconced, the speedboat’s very own Captain Ahab decided to see exactly how many horses were actually powering his engine. He gunned it over/through/against the heaving waves, which felt more like concrete than water. The darkness and wetness combined with the eerie glow of squidding boats to create the impression that we were headed for soggy doom. All around me, people were moaning with terror, which only seemed to excite Ahab. He looked disappointed when we finally pulled into the dock.

Todd regained his equanimity when he realized that his fellow math teacher Greg was actually his long-lost, slightly larger twin brother.

 

Earth

2. Our second adventure with good ol’ safety happened when we decided to rent scooters on Saturday. We snickered when we saw the hefty tires on the scooters.

The Spunky Sarah models Hefty Tire Chic.

It soon became apparent why we needed them. The roads on Koh Samed look like they’ve spent their lives hanging out on a major fault line. And that is the paved roads. The dirt roads are infinitely worse. Imagine scrambling a peak in the Rockies on a scooter. A few of us may have gotten some serious air time.

Biker Scootcher gang.

 

Fire

3. On our last night, we went to a fire show. I had no idea what this would entail, but fire always sounds like fun to me. There were several hundred people on the beach waiting for the show to start, and many of them were, to put it politely, a little sauced. The show began with Thai dancers tossing flaming balls/bottles/ropes in the air in time to pulsating music. The also regularly unleashed balls of flames into the air which lent a comforting scent of kerosene to the event.

Testosterone and flames never seem to end well.

I enjoyed this until they let off a few blasts of fire next to my head. The show continued with fireworks, more balls of flames, more sloshes of kerosene, etc. Ahh. This was a nice experience, I thought. Time to go home.

And that’s when the opportunities for audience participation began. These included: limbo-ing under a stick engulfed in billowing flames, skipping with a flaming rope that tended to wrap itself around peoples’ legs, and my personal favourite, heaving uncoordinated bodies through a flaming hoop.

There’s no combination quite like billowing hair and billowing flames

Look ma! No brains!

The wind and sloshes of kerosene were unpredictable, as was the (still sauced) audience. The night ended with multiple audience members chasing one another up and down the beach with roman candles. A night to remember.

And just in case you needed to lighten up a bit…You really can’t argue with their logic

I still think that Canada goes overboard with safety regulations, but I’m starting to see the point. .

*Forgive me, Therese.

Happy Mother’s Day!

It was The Queen’s Birthday this past weekend, which meant that Thailand had a stat holiday on Monday. In Thailand, not only is The Queen’s Birthday a holiday, it serves as Mother’s Day for the entire country. Now that is royalty with real power! In case anyone forgot that it was The Queen’s Birthday, there were displays along all the major roads, and, more importantly, in all the malls to remind them.

The birthday shrine outside Todd’s school’s gates

Most of the new teachers decided to celebrate the three-day weekend by travelling to Ayutthaya, the site of Thailand’s historic royal city. 16 of us crammed into a mini-van with seating that will forever after make economy class feel spacious to me. Every time we clambered out of the mini-van, I could hear most of the teachers counting us off – they just can’t help it. Herding adults is infinitely worse than herding students – you can at least threaten students with detention, and I’d bet money that they have better impulse control when confronted with food carts.

At our first stop in Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya was an intriguing place to visit. We learned about it in Thai Culture Class, and it was great to see it in the flesh. At our first stop, Wat Phra Mahathat, Todd and I decided to enhance our historical experience by renting an audio tour that came with two headsets. This lasted for about 5 minutes, after which I gave up on the history and meandered off by myself. I prefer to absorb information via osmosis. This tends to leave me with fewer facts but fonder memories.

I don’t care if I’m in the land of Siamese twins – I just can’t handle the conjoined thing.

We wandered around the first site for a while, and admired the ruins. If I remember correctly, the Burmese invaded Ayutthaya in the 1700s, and sacked the joint. Check Wikipedia if you want more facts.

Oops! Buddha is missing his head

Found it!

After lunch we visited Viharn Phra Mongkol Bopit, a temple that houses a massive bronze Buddha.

Nearby were the partially restored ruins of another temple complex called Wat Phra Si Sanphet. In my wanderings, I somehow missed the ruins, and found myself in the opposite corner of the large complex. I was confused, as there didn’t seem to be anything of archaeological interest going on, although the bathrooms were extremely clean. While I was gone Todd found himself a much nicer friend than me, and spent the rest of the tour congenially conjoined.

David is a very friendly soul, and told me that I can include anything I want about him on my blog. This is naturally extremely exciting to me.

Our final stop of the day was the reclining Buddha. The government of Thailand allegedly draped him in a saffron robe to represent wisdom, thus creating a national mystery about what exactly is hidden under his robe. I tried to convince Todd to crawl under his robe and reveal said mystery, but he refused.

Aww. You look tired. Why don’t you just curl up in his robe, Todd?

After visiting three sites, the educators couldn’t handle any more education, and we crawled back into the bus. This time, my seat was without both legroom and headroom, so I pulled out my best not-so-secret talent, and scrunched myself into a pretzel in the back row. The Queen beamed benevolently at us from multiple highway shrines as the bus crawled back to the Big B.

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.