31 January 2008

Beginning of the End

Oh my gosh...it is finally the last day of January 2008! Hallelujah and praise the sweet Lord because quite frankly, it seemed like it would never come! Between facial surgeries, bug infestations, teaching the crazy little ones and all the other hurdles of the month, I definitely had my doubts! However, Saimai will not break me...unless the bug infestations continue because that really does totally gross me out!

I came to the stark realization that my time in Thailand really is starting to dwindle down. With only one month of teaching remaining, a couple weeks of wrap-up work at school followed by a couple weeks of traveling my little heart out around Southeast Asia (proposed itinerary: Cambodia & Vietnam), I will be home in just over two months! I even booked my flight home today! I leave April 1st from Bangkok to San Francisco, where I am going to spend a couple days exploring sunny San Fran with one of my best friends Ashley (who just moved there)! Then on April 5th, yours truly is landing back in the Midwest and heading to the nearest restaurant selling nothing but greasy, mouth-watering American food!

Until then, expect some more good shenanigans! I am taking a Thai cooking class this weekend (good thing I know how to say "a little spicy" in Thai - pet nit noy!), might join the Lumphini Park aerobics class, am looking at some good weekend trips (i.e. Kanchanburi - Bridge on the River Kwai anyone?) and then Cambodia and Vietnam here I come! Stay warm everyone and can't wait to see you all sooner rather than later!

P.S. I might even have a real, real world job when I get back stateside - can you believe it?!?!

26 January 2008

Saturday Shenanigans

After one loooong week in Saimai, Saturday was definitely the time to cut loose and head on into the sprawling metropolis that is Bangkok! Now, there is another thing I need to admit...Bangkok is probably the ugliest city I have ever traveled to. I mean, Europe's historical charms are pretty hard to beat (my heart continues to patter daily for the chic sophistication of London), but even in my travels around Thailand, Bangkok still takes the cake when it comes to the award for "Least Attractive," (that could be an understatement). However, with its killer shopping and plethora of King murals, Bangkok retains a uniqueness all its own!

Thomas and I jaunted our way into Bangkok Saturday morning and started the day at Chitlada Palace in the northern part of Central Bangkok. The current residence of Big K (which Lauren and I have deemed the King when we need to talk about him out in a public setting), you cannot actually enter onto the palace grounds, but it was a lovely stroll around the perimeter gate, where you could sneak peeks of inside the lavish residence. Watch out for the guards though - they wield huge guns, and I am pretty sure they are not afraid to use them!

Next, Thomas thought up the grand idea of having a lovely lunch in Lumphini Park - Bangkok's equivalent of NYC's Central Park or Hyde Park in London. Although not nearly as pretty or pristine, we totally had fun bumming the afternoon away in the park, which is a total hip hang-out for all the Thais. The park almost made us feel like we weren't in Bangkok, which is nice after living in a foreign city for a number of months.

First, we stopped at the Gourmet Market in Siam Paragon mall to pick up our picnic essentials: snack-sized veggies, good nutty olive oil, a perfectly crusty French baguette, dried fruit, fresh fruit, yummy cheese, mixed nuts and most importantly, some serious 71% dark chocolate! No lie, this was definitely one of the better meals my stomach has had the pleasure of enjoying while in Bangkok!

One of the best parts of Lumphini Park has to be the daily aerobics classes! We had the utmost hilarity of watching hoards of Thai people get their heart rates up in the middle of the park. Men, women and children of all ages were joining the classes and bebopping to some funny music. We decided that there is no other option but to join in the fun...so next week, watch out for us at Lumphini Park aerobics!

Now it is Sunday, and I am totally jonesing to get out of Saimai again for the day. Even if its a trip to the grocery store, I will gladly take every opportunity to get out and about! Maybe a massage, maybe a grocery run, maybe a trip back into Bangkok...we will see where the day takes me! Until then, I hope this finds everybody happy and healthy, but most importantly, warm!

24 January 2008

Essence of Pattaya

I lie to you not people...this IS the essence of Pattaya! This seaside tourist destination is all about old men sporting the infamous banana hammock who come here to woo the young Thai women (and men in some cases)! Welcome to Pattaya! Not only is playful Pattaya the sex capitol of the world, but it does have some nice little beaches to lounge on. Less than 2 hours from Bangkok, it makes a perfect weekend getaway, which was just what Lauren, Thomas and I needed!

We arrived in Pattaya around lunchtime after easily hopping on the bus in Bangkok. The bus system in Thailand is pretty good - you can get anywhere you want at a moment's notice. There is no need to pre-book tickets here. All you have to do it show up, hop on and head to wherever your heart desires (it is Thailand after all). After arriving in Pattaya, our hearts took us to the a world-famous transvestite attraction!

The Tiffany Show is Southeast Asia's first transvestite cabaret show! Open for over 28 years, the show has literally put Pattaya on Thailand's tourist map. The show originally featured just a few ladyboys belting out all the famous hits of Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer. However, now the Tiffany Show is a full-blown theatre experience, complete with colorful, gaudy costumes and an array of musical numbers. My favorite? It definitely had to be the manly-looking moop belting out our sister Tina Turner's "Proud Mary." Exquisite!

After taking in the glitz and glamour of Miss Tiffany's, we spent the rest of the weekend relaxing and soaking in the blue skies of Pattaya! Laying on the beach provided endless opportunities to count creepy old men who venture to Pattaya for reasons none of us really want to know about! I also got to quell my craving for more Indian food at Pattaya's numerous Indian curry houses and do a bit of shopping at the lovely street markets. All in all, definitely a good weekend (super cultural, may I add)!

Unfortunately, the week back to school has been dragging on FOR-EV-ER! It's finally Friday tomorrow and just one week until payday, hallelujah! Also unfortunately, I don't think I am going to run the marathon/half-marathon, which would have been this weekend. With all the shenanigans of the month, I was totally unable to fully prepare for the race. However, Thomas and I have decided to try and enter the NYC Marathon in November, so watch out for me then!

Breaking awesome news! There is a new 7-11 convenience store opening up right around the corner outside Lauren and I's mooban! Let's just say, we couldn't be more excited! It saves us at least a 5 minute walk (10 minutes there and back), which means we can totally make late-night 7-11 runs for yogurt, weird Thai snacks, water, Cornetto ice cream cones and of course, stock up on phone cards. I think this 7-11 has to be like number 8,000 or something in Thailand, seriously. Well, take care all and the weekend is upon us, so get excited!

18 January 2008

Thai Dance Fever

This week, it was a certain Mr. Thomas's birthday as well as a free day off of school just for teachers! That's right! Teacher's Day (a holiday for all teachers in Thailand) was Wednesday, which meant a much enjoyed break in the work week and a fun night out to celebrate Thomas's big 2-3! Now, I am a bit embarrassed to admit that our Tuesday night out was actually my first time out dancing in Bangkok! We headed out to Oesco Bar along Sukhumvit Road (one of Bangkok's notorious night spots) and enjoyed soaking up the Thai dancing culture (which is an important part of Get Cultural Month, of course!).

I totally had sooo much fun dancing the night away with a bunch of work friends - including Ronald, who is not only fabulously gay but also a fabulous ballroom dancer! He's been giving me lessons, and needless to say, we definitely busted a move on the dance floor. The Thai "going out" scene was definitely interesting. First, the Thais are very into appearance so to get into the clubs, there is a strict dress code, including no flip-flop sandals! We thought since it was a Tuesday, not many people would be out, but we were wrong! There were loads of people out and about - including the Sarasas Witaed Saimai School crew!

Going out on Tuesday was a welcome break from the school week, which seems to get crazier and crazier! My 1st graders love to hear themselves talk more and more each day, I swear! Miss Chartnapa (my Thai teacher) and I exchange helpless glances and laughter all the time because we don't know what to do anymore, haha! A funny anecdote from today - the kiddies and I were practicing the months of the year. I asked them if anybody knew the very important American holiday in July (aka 4th of July). Thanawat yelled out (very seriously, may I add), "Is it Miss Holly Day?" When they say cute things like that, I just can't get mad at them!

Earlier this week, yours truly experienced a lovely infestation of bugs or ants (I still have no idea which one) in her bed at home of all places, waking up Wednesday morning with over 30 bites on my back. Now, this whole living in Thailand for 7 months may seem really cool and all, but let me tell you this...after having Thai bugs invade your bed, then going out for a short 30-minute run and returning with about 30 mosquito bites, the novelty of the whole situation wears off real quick. Yikes!

(I warn you ahead of time...it's pretty gross!)

January definitely hasn't been my month, but the good news is that it's almost over! Unfortunately, with my face surgery (in which I am still suffering from a bit of minor facial paralysis) and all the conundrums of the month, I wasn't able to finish training for the marathon in Khon Kaen, which I actually trained pretty hard for and ran up to 16 miles. It's been a crazy couple weeks, but I am hoping to maybe run the half-marathon instead...so hopefully all works out according to plan!

This weekend Lauren, Thomas and I are lookin' to escape Saimai, and it appears as though good ol' Pattaya might be in our future! If you are going to the sex capitol of the world for the weekend, you are bound to come back with good stories so stay tuned for all the fun!

12 January 2008

Definitely Going Craaazy

After living in this faraway place called Thailand for five months...it was bound to happen. It started with uncontrollable fits of giggles, progressed into full out belly laughter and now it's official, we are going crazy in Saimai! It's been another couple of weeks of realizing that we in fact live in Thailand, and that we are no longer the backpack travelers of yore.

Yesterday, after realizing we needed to do something (anything to get out of Saimai and fend off the giggles!), we headed into central Bangkok to go to Siam's Ocean World. Yes, it was listed in Lonely Planet's "Things to Do with Children" section, but we were feeling about five years old yesterday. So really, it all worked out in the end. Here we are at Siam's 4D X-Venture Movie about underwater predators from the prehistoric era and sporting ultra-cool 4D glasses of course!

Where does all this craziness come from? after realizing I have been to the hospital everyday in 2008 (today is the first day of the year I haven't had to see a doctor!), I think that could be the cause of it all. Otherwise, it could be the lack of real food options here. I am almost positive I have eaten peanut butter toast just about everyday since I arrived in Thailand (no joke!). The crazies could also do with fact that my little 1st graders are crazies! Except Chakriya (nickname: Conan). Not only does he say "Goood morneeng Mizz Holly" every morning without fail, but the way he waddles around the classroom with his Ringo Starr haircut - well, it makes me smile! And you know I have a thing for chubby kids!

Another thing contributing to the craziness? Thailand itself of course! I don't think I have ever loathed anything or become more frustrated by anything in my life than Bangkok traffic. No doubt...Bangkok traffic is no-no-notorious! Don't get me wrong - taxi rides can be fun! This is the second taxi I have cruised in which sports this hilarious sticker. I think there needs no cross-cultural explanation for this one - whatever country you are in, you know not to pass a little gas in this taxi!

The laughter and craziness is bound to continue in the lives of us Saimaites (which I have termed us) which means good stories for all of you! Between more hospital visits, schooltime fun with the grade 1's, finding new things to do in Bangkok (on the cheap of course!) and surviving these last couple months in the boondocks of Saimai - there are loads of good blog posts coming your way! Hope you enjoy!

09 January 2008

Get Cultural Month Begins...

...with major surgery! Unfortunately, the "fetus" (as some have termed it) growing by my right ear turned out to be pretty serious, so I had to go under the Thai knife on Tuesday! After a week of antibiotics and dressing changes, the infection still wasn't going away so I headed to Bangkok Hospital - one of the city's finest - to get their opinion. The next day I was under general anesthesia for surgery! The infection at the surface was actually masking a sebaceous cyst, which Dr. Prasert (my adorable little Thai doctor) drained and removed.

So, really there is no better start to Get Cultural Month than to spend the first nine days of 2008 observing, engaging in and seeing how Thailand's medical system works firsthand! Dr. Prasert said the surgery went well, and hopefully, I should be on the road to recovery. The best part? Under general anesthesia, I didn't even say anything incriminating (as opposed to last time when I commented the surgeon who took my wisdom teeth out was hot. Oops!)

All those hospital visits didn't deter me from my vow to get cultural (and suspend my nasty shopping habit) for the month of January. Lauren and I headed into Bangkok on Sunday to do just that! We headed over to Khao San Road - a notorious tourist trap but one of those things you just have to see at least once. Filled with sidewalk vendors, restaurants, shops and mini-markets, it was a cute little place. We decided to grab some sushi for lunch at a Japanese place just off the main road. Traveling abroad, I have really acquired a taste for world cuisine! A few months ago I detested fish, and now I am eating it raw! (***Note the attractive gauze pad on my right ear, referred to by most as my "earmuff").

After lunch, we ventured into the back streets of Bangkok to find a very exclusive neighborhood which is famous for making monk bowls! Let me back up and explain...Buddhist monks are very revered in Thailand. Every male in Thailand is actually expected to serve as a monk for at least three months in his life, or their family faces societal shame. Without an income, these brightly colored figures subsist on the food donations of Thai people, who give them offerings after prayer.

There are only a handful of families left in the whole of Thailand who still make baats, or monk bowls (the bowls with which they receive those food donations), the traditional way - pounding out the steel and painting these beautifully ornate bowls by hand. Most monk bowls are now mass-produced in China (no surprise there). Lauren and I wanted an authentic monk bowl so we hunted through Soi Bon Baat to find one such family. Although extremely poor, these families have passed on the ancient art of making baats and are extremely proud of what they do. Exquisite!

After getting pretty cultural exploring the art of making monk bowls, Lauren and I headed over to the Grand Palace to see one of the most important sites in all of Bangkok. Yes, we admit we are embarrassed it took us four months to do so. On the way, we had the most hilarious tuk-tuk driver! As we were cruising to the Grand Palace, he was trying to make the point that he, "I Buddhist," and Lauren and I, "You Christian." To clarify his point, he proceeded to put his hands out in the shape of the cross and act out Jesus' crucifixion! Please don't get religiously defensive about this little anecdote, because it was sooo funny!

We arrived at the Grand Palace only to find that in order to get in, you had to be wearing black and white. Let me back up again...the King's sister passed away last week, which means the country is in 15 days of official mourning where citizens are expected to wear black and white. Since Loporn and I forgot about this, we were not allowed into the Grand Palace. However, we were still allowed into Wat Phra Kaew - the temple on the Grand Palace's grounds. Housing the famous "Emerald Buddha," it is the only temple in which the King himself personally changes the Buddha's clothes four times a year!

Our Grand Palace trip hit another snag! To enter Buddhist temples in Thailand, it is mandatory to wear full-length pants or skirts. Since I was wearing capri pants, I had to rent this trendy turquoise gecko-printed skirt to enter the temple for 50 baht (about $1.50). I felt totally fashion-forward sporting this ankle-length beauty around the temple grounds all the while sporting one large white earmuff. Don't I look fab?

All joking aside, this temple was by far my favorite! Meaning "Temple of the Emerald Buddha," Wat Phra Kaew sprawls with monuments, temples and other shrines, which all gleam and glitter in the sun! The golds, reds, greens and other bright colors used in the temple are absolutely gorgeous! The main building is the central ubosoth, which houses the actual Emerald Buddha. Around the temple is a large white wall which is painted with scenes of the Thai Ramayana myth and inside even features a mini replica of Cambodia's famous Angkor Wat temple! Here is the wondrous skyline of Wat Phra Kaew!

All in all, I would have the say for the first week of January, we definitely got cultural! Now, I have to admit I am pretty exhausted from surgery (I slept most of the day yesterday and a bit today too!). Tomorrow I have another check-up appointment and then back to teaching the kiddies at school! The good news? Bangkok Hospital has a Starbucks which means for every hospital visit to the doctor, a latte for me! Hope you are all faring a bit better in 2008 than I, and take care everyone!

04 January 2008

One Loooong Week

Nothing like a good ol' Thai medical mystery to start off 2008! For the past couple weeks, I had some swollen lymphnodes, which I went to the doctor for. They suped me up on medication (they give you medicine for EVERY symptom you have!), and I thought all was good to go. Unfortunately, the swollen lymphnodes became infected, and I underwent a bit of minor surgery twice this week! Ahhhh!

The bright side of it all? Consultation, medicine, two minor surgeries, more medicine and a bandage change - only about 150$! So, currently I am drugged up on about three different medicines, but the infection seems to be getting better so cross your fingers for no more Thai hospital visits! Lauren and I have also appointed January as "Get Cultural Month," so I guess there is no other way to get cultured than with some authentic Thai hospital experience!

After a fabulous vacation, Lauren (Thai name: Loporn) and I have been busy getting back into the groove with teaching and planning our cultural ventures for the month. Unfortunately, that means no shopping...except for Chatuchak Market, because that is a definite cultural experience with all the Thai vendors around and such. Back to the hospital later today to change my dressing then I believe a massage is in order - we haven't had our ritual weekend massage in awhile! Hope you are all having a healthier start to 2008 than I! Take care everyone!

02 January 2008

A Bangkok New Year's

Let me just say, for the record, there is no better way to ring in a new year than from the 27th floor of a swanky hotel in downtown Bangkok like the Millennium Hilton Hotel Bangkok! For a special New Year's surprise, Eric arranged for us to stay at the hotel and enjoy all the luxuries of the high life. A girl can seriously get used to treatment like this! As soon as we arrived, we were whisked away to the 31st floor for a private check-in at the Executive Lounge, where an array of free drinks, biscuits, cakes, nuts, crackers and chocolate were right at our disposal!

Then we received a total VIP invitation back to the Executive Lounge for a New Year's Eve cocktail hour, featuring free drinks and more free hor'deurves! Well, two glasses of red wine and a million little hor'deurves later (salmon crackers, spiced cranberry juice, chocolate mousse, fruit tarts, rice crackers & peanut sauce, lamb with cucumber mint sauce...well, you get the picture), Eric and I were stuffed! The best part? We still had dinner reservations several hours later!

After cocktail hour, which I totally j'adored, we took in the view of central Bangkok from the 31st floor. With lights sparkling, twinkling and blinking everywhere, it was absolutely magical! There was a definite buzz in the Bangkok air, even from tippity top of the Millennium Hilton! Check out my first ever video on my blog, and let me know how it goes!

We still had a couple of hours to burn so we thought we would walk around the hotel and enjoy all the ambience of the New Year's Eve. Sounds like a plan, right? The only thing is... we found the comfort of our super-cushioned, pillow-filled hotel bed first and fell asleep at 8:30pm! Yes, I think us 20-somethings are officially more like 70-somethings! By the littlest stroke of luck, we awoke at 9:25pm, exactly 5 minutes before our dinner reservations at the hotel's Chinese restaurant Yuan. Stuck in the midst of a foggy haze, we raced out of bed and down 22 flights (by elevator of course!), arriving literally just on time!

Unfortunately, dinner wasn't that tasty (all the good restaurants were booked!), but I think Eric and I should have known better when we ordered Prawns & Bananas in Chili Sauce, something was clearly up! But we did get free party hats and toys...all is well that ends well with party favors! At midnight, from the stellar panoramic view of our room, we watched fireworks going off all around the city! Near and far, fireworks lit up the sky across the horizon. It was one of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen! I hope you all had a wonderful New Year's wherever you were and enjoyed yourself (these years are passing so fast!). Happy 2008 and here's to health, happiness and a whole lot of fun in 2008!