Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Whoever You Are

March 2 - 7, 2017

(It has been a while since my last post, due to "technical difficulties" - hopefully the issue has been resolved!)

We have lived in Thailand for nearly two-and-a-half years, yet I had never been inside Tim's workplace.  This week I was there twice!

A couple of weeks earlier, Tim and I had an appointment with the American Consulate in Bangkok to apply for new passports, as our old ones were about to expire.  We were excited to see the inside of the embassy for the first time.  We kind of expected a nice welcome and special treatment from "our own," but other than being able to bypass the lines of non-Americans waiting to apply for visas, it was a bit of a letdown.  We got "American" badges to wear for about thirty seconds while we waited outside to pass through security.  Then our badges were confiscated, along with our cell phones and bags before we went through the metal detector and got "wanded."   We were pointed in the direction of the "American Citizens" office, and entered a tiny waiting room with four or five rows of chairs and a flat-screen TV showing an American news channel.

We took a number and waited maybe five or ten minutes before being called up to the window.  It was a nice change to have someone who spoke American English on the other side of the counter.   We turned in our paperwork, then went to the cashier and paid.  That was it!  We were on the road back to Rayong by ten thirty, where we dropped Tim at work then drove back to Pattaya - over six hours in the car - ugh.

We were finally notified that our new passports were ready, so I went back to the embassy to pick them up.  I had to stifle a giggle while waiting in line: the guy ahead of me was picking up a new passport for his daughter.  The clerk asked how old the daughter was, and the man said she was one month old.  The clerk's response?  "So, is this her first passport?"

While waiting in the chairs for my number to be called, CNN was airing a show called "Believer," In this particular episode, a religious scholar by the name of Reza Aslan was interviewing a nomadic tribe of cannibals in India.  The Aghori he was interviewing gave him a piece of human brain to eat, and smeared the ashes of a cremated body all over him.  Then the Aghori proceeded to poop into his own hands and eat it, flinging it at the interviewer.  It took several moments of disbelief before it registered with me what was going on. That's right - all on the TV in the lobby of the American Consulate.  That is what I will remember of my time there - nauseating.  So glad when my number was called.

Back to Tim's workplace we drove.  Tim met me in the lobby to take our passports to HR, as we would need to quickly get our Thai visas transferred and updated.  He gave me a quick look around the grounds - quite a nice, big place.  Didn't make it back to his office, which is some distance from the main entrance.  Then it was back to Pattaya again - another six hours of driving.

The next day Tim's workplace had a special event, so I rode in to work with him in the morning.  I got a little taste of what he sees everyday (but no elephants working in the fields today).

Always someone selling fresh Buddhist flowers
to hang on the car mirror

Too much traffic?  Just make a new lane...

People in the back of pickups - everywhere

Motorbikes swarm around the cars and trucks

It was Diversity Day, and this year FTM invited some of the wives to present food from their particular countries.  Most of the women in my group were from Australia, with a couple of Americans.  Our table was mostly western-style desserts (is Australia really considered western?)  I baked a hundred brownies, and spent a couple of hours wrapping them all individually the night before.  So funny to think of brownies as a "diversity" food.

They had a meeting room set aside for us to set up

The Aussies brought some interesting treats, including Honey Joys, Fairy Bread, Anzac biscuits, and scones with jam and cream. Honey Joys are basically corn flakes and honey - reminded me of Rice Krispies Treats.  Anzac (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) biscuits, quite similar to oatmeal cookies, were devised during WWI to be sweet treats that would be easily shipped to husbands and sons fighting in the war.  The scones, I believe, were of British origin.  The most surprising and confounding treat was the fairy bread - simply buttered sandwich bread with tons of sprinkles.  Sounded like something a child would invent.  At least there wasn't any Vegemite!  Many of the tastes on our table were foreign to the locals, and they sampled with great caution and uncertainty.  Thais definitely have a sweet tooth, but they are not used to things like chocolate or oatmeal.  Many of their sweets are bean, coconut or jelly-based.

Fairy Bread

Honey Joys
Ready for our guests

Cautious taste-testers
The Filipino wives had their own table - I didn't realize Tim had so many co-workers from the Philippines.  They really went all out, with lots of fancy dishes, including duck blood stew, and some of the women dressed in traditional Philippine clothing.

The Philippines flag

Groups were on hand from the Pattaya Children's Home and the School for the Deaf.  Students from the Children's Home sang some traditional Thai songs.  The music sounds a bit foreign to our western ears.  I learned from my Thai teacher that Thai words do not lose their tones when they are sung, so the melody seems, to our ear, to go up or down in unexpected places.  I find this pretty amazing - you can't just write a melody you like, then put words to it.  You have to consider the tone of each word.

I made a point to stop and talk to the young ladies from the Deaf school, and discovered how very different Thai sign language is from American.  One young lady had spent some time at a school in Australia - her lip-reading was amazing, especially when you realize she is not lip-reading in her native Thai language.  They were all very sweet, and gave out booklets with some simple Thai signs and the signed Thai alphabet.  I learned to say "Korb Koon Ka" (thank-you) in sign - basically, you put both hands facing in toward the center of your chest, and open them like saloon doors.  Now you try!

Some of the managers, Tim not included, dressed up like superheroes for the event.  The idea was that co-workers would make a donation to have their picture taken with their favorite superhero - Batman, Spider Man, Thor, Captain America, Superman, Iron Man or Maleficent - then the superhero with the most donations won bragging rights.  The money went to local charities.  Everyone got a big kick out of seeing another side of their bosses.  I felt sorry for these guys dressed in such hot costumes in the Thailand heat.

The staff kindly brought out box lunches for us from the cafeteria - some pretty tasty cashew chicken with rice and the ubiquitous fried egg on top.  We gobbled down bites of food as the employees picked up the last of our goodies.  I enjoyed getting to meet some of Tim's staff, including a couple I recognized from the choir at St. Nikolaus Church.  Lots of lovely people.

A few of the women had their kids come for an afternoon tour of the facilities.  I said my goodbyes and headed back to the blissfully cool air of our car and the drive home.  I am thankful to Ford for letting us be a part of this uplifting event, and to my fellow Ford wives for their enthusiastic participation.

The Aussies made me do it!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Fabric of Life

Feb. 11-16, 2017

First time seeing a mango tree with mangoes on it
(not related to the blog - just wanted to share)
Tim's boss was spending his last week in Thailand, before permanently repatriating to the states.  He wanted to squeeze in one last round of winter golf, so Tim and a couple of other colleagues joined him for a Saturday afternoon game.  It was a Thai holiday weekend, so many of their regular courses were booked.  They found an opening at Crystal Bay Golf Club in Si Racha district, just north of Pattaya.  The city of Chonburi is in the same direction, so I decided to ride along to the course, then continue on for some fabric shopping.  Pattaya fabric shops are pretty limited and more expensive, whereas Chonburi has a big textiles market with several shops together in one spot, and the prices are quite good.

We had a substitute driver, which complicated matters a bit, because I didn't have good directions to the market.  I finally caved and activated a mobile data plan on my phone (I normally go without) so I could use Google maps, and managed to get where I wanted to go.  My heart sank a bit when I saw several shops closed up along the way - I was afraid they might all be closed for the holiday.  But I wandered down some back streets and found the fabric stores open as usual - whew.

Chonburi is a very Thai area, with very few farangs (westerners), and few English-speakers.  It was fun getting by with just my Thai skills - luckily everyone seemed to understand me okay.  The first shop I went to had a couple of fabrics I really liked, but I wanted to shop around some more first, and hoped I could find my way back to the same place.  I happened to be wearing a shirt I'd had made from some fabric I bought in Chonburi before, and the shop where I bought it recognized their pattern right away, and seemed really happy to see the finished product.

When I felt like I'd seen enough, I wound up back at the original shop.  I was disappointed to see that the fabric I liked the most actually had a flaw in it all the way through, and the woman wouldn't even lower the price on it.  So I passed on that one, but picked up a nice purple fabric I hope to use to make a dress for an upcoming wedding, along with some fabric to make a pair of black capris.  I can't generally find clothes in my size here, so having them made is the way to go.  The tailors here are very skilled and very reasonable.

I then went in search of a place to grab some lunch, and while plenty of street food was available, I really wanted to find some air-conditioning out of the steamy heat of the day.  It is always hotter away from the gulf, and it was an unpleasant 96°F here - and this is supposed to be the cool season.  I walked for blocks and blocks in one direction, then back in the other direction, and never found anyplace.  Luckily, I spotted the driver, and sought refuge in the air-conditioned car instead.  I remembered driving through the bigger city of Bang Saen on the way, so I stopped at the Tesco-Lotus there, settling for a stringy chicken burger from KFC.  At least I could sit in comfort while I ate.  Back at the golf course we found a shady spot to wait for the guys to finish.  I didn't mind the hour-and-a-half wait too much, because I had brought my crocheting with me, and made some good progress.  (Although I ultimately took it all apart to start over when I realized each row was somehow getting progressively shorter - my first real attempt at crocheting.)

Tim was off to India the week after that - his travel has been picking up lately.  Though I miss him dearly when he is gone, it does free up the use of the car for longer stretches of time during the day.  (I try to be a "glass half-full" kind of person.)  My friend, Mika, and I took advantage of the opportunity to spend some time in Bangkok.  Our driver, Mick, was thrilled with the idea - not!  He's got an aversion to Bangkok traffic.  I just heard a report that Thailand has the worst traffic in the world, according to INRIX, a global traffic scorecard.  The report says Thai drivers spend an average of sixty-one hours a year in traffic.  That's country vs. country; by cities, Los Angeles is rated the worst in the world with 104.5 hours a year.  Sorry, Khun Mick!

We picked Mika up around eight-thirty in the morning - her daughter had already left for school.  Traffic was not too bad, and we arrived by ten-thirty.  We parked near the Asok BTS (Bangkok Transit System) station, and walked to Hieng Yoo Huat, a fabric shop just below the stop.  Lots of nice, colorful fabrics at a good price.  I limited myself to just one fabric to make a shirt.  Mika went back up to the BTS to deliver a package to her friend who was meeting her there, and I joined her soon after.

for you, Connie
We took a look inside Terminal 21, a modern, multistory mall where each floor has a different world city theme.  The featured cities were London, Istanbul and San Francisco to name a few.  Saw the Golden Gate bridge - a mini-version - and a trolley car coffee shop on the San Francisco floor.  They are currently building a Terminal 21 on the north side of Pattaya.  I don't think it's due to open until sometime next year.

We rode the BTS one stop over to the Phrom Phong station, to an area that has many Japanese shops.  The stop I was most looking forward to was Sun Books - a shop that sells used Japanese and English books - heaven!  It is possible to find English language books in stores in Pattaya, but the mark up is pretty high.  At Sun Books, I was able to buy four used paperbacks for just over two dollars a piece.  I brought a pretty big supply of used books with me when we moved to Thailand, but the supply is dwindling.  I know, I know, e-books are a thing, and I've done my share of reading those.  Just doesn't substitute for holding that book in my hand.

We walked to lunch at a place called  the "Royal Oak" - felt like a good choice!  Got me to wondering about where the name came from.  From Wikipedia:

 Eight ships of the Royal Navy have been named HMS Royal Oak, after the Royal Oak in which Charles II hid himself during his flight from the country in the English Civil War.  

The Royal Oak website said this place is located on the site of the oldest pub in Thailand.   Here I tasted my first Japanese beer, Asahi.  Very nice and refreshing on a hot day.  Mika ordered fish and chips, and I ordered a chicken burger.  She got peas, which she doesn't like, so we swapped her peas for my lettuce and tomato.  Felt like Jack Sprat and his wife!

Peas?  Yes, please!

chok dee ka!
this guy kept us company, dying a slow death on the ground beside our table,
 until Mika asked the staff to remove it
We visited a lovely little shop supporting the Good Shepherd Sisters ministries, called the Fatima Shop.  They sell lots of cute textile creations, like purses, dolls, cloth books for babies, etc., made by local women and girls from nearby slums or government housing.  They learn to make these crafts, and their creations are sold at the shop.  The quality of the items is excellent and the prices are reasonable.  I picked up a pot holder for my kitchen.

We visited a Japanese grocery and a Japanese bakery, where the sights and smells were irresistible.  Stopped at one more bookstore, then we rode the BTS back to the Asoke station, where Mick was waiting nearby.  As we were leaving the parking structure, I realized I no longer had my bag of books.  I said we should just go, but Mika insisted we had time, so Mick found his way back to the bakery, where I remembered having them last.  Must have been dazzled by all the sweet treats... Mika kindly ran in and got the bag, and we were on our way back to Pattaya.  We got Mika home with time to spare before her little one returned.  We fit quite a lot into our busy day!  A big thank-you to my personal tour guide, Mika!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Year of the Fire Rooster

January 28, 2017

Thailand is so happy to celebrate the new year, that they do it three times!  The first is the first of January, and the last is Thai New Year, Songkran, in April.  In between those two is Chinese New Year, this year on January 28th.  Many Thais have Chinese roots, nearly fourteen percent of the population, and are known as Thai Chinese.  The influences of Chinese culture is evident in many areas in Thailand.

I did my part to help celebrate by decorating our door with the Chinese lanterns given to us by our tour guide in Xi'an last year.

Tim finally returned from China a few days ago, and he and I took a walk in the morning, venturing into the Royal Cliff Group complex not far from our place.  This complex includes the Pattaya Exhibition And Convention Hall (PEACH), and some upscale hotels nestled along the gulf's edge.  I can't imagine they ever fill so many hotel rooms; it's never busy with people when we go by.  It does make for a nice walk, however, with lots of beautiful views.

You can see our condo complex at top right

In the afternoon, we visited Central mall to do some banking and pick up some more yarn for a crochet project I started while Tim was in China last week.   The mall is always decorated for some event or another, and today Chinese lanterns and roosters adorned the open spaces in celebration of the Year of the Rooster - although this looked more like a cute little hen to me.

They even hung red Chinese lanterns on the altar at church!

We had dinner at Sunrise Sunset in the Siam Bayshore hotel, where we were presented with traditional red envelopes, Hongbao.  They included a nice little description of the ritual.  Our friend, Steve, who lived in Hong Kong, told us about how they presented red envelopes of money to their employees for Chinese New Year.  These red envelopes are given not only for New Year, but also for weddings, etc.

always lovely presentation here (this is Nasi Goreng, and Indonesian dish)

It says:  "Giving Hongbao in red packets during Chinese new year is one of traditions.  A Red packet is simply a red envelope with money in it, which symbolizes luck and wealth and typically handed out to younger generation by their parents, grandparents, relatives, even closes (sic) neighbors and friends."  The coins are worth 0.5 baht each
(a little more than a US penny)
After dinner, we walked over to Bali Hai Pier to see the Chinese New Year celebration taking place on a stage that had been erected in a big empty lot.  Children were singing and a dragon dance was just beginning as we walked away.  Took a short stroll through walking street, where many were dressed in traditional Chinese garments.

 Some were unimpressed by all the excitement.