First Week of School

So last week was our children’s first week of ACTUAL school.  While in the states, our children stayed with a wonderful woman who loved them as her own and ensured they were fed, changed, entertained, etc.  The only thing missing at the previous daycare was a structured educational environment.  This is exactly what our children are enjoying here in Thailand.  Before moving here, if you asked my daughter what she was most excited about she would say “I’m excited to go to school!”  Her excitement and anticipation has come to fruition in a beautiful way.

Our children are both attending an International School.  The school’s main focus is on the child’s self-discovery and engagement to form a love of learning.  In the nursery (age 2) our son has been playing with clay, doing P.E. activities, swim lessons, arts/crafts, and simply loves his teacher who is amazing.  When I come to pick him up he most times does not want to leave.  He loves it!  He’s been a reserved kid often in crowds but has been adapting nicely.  He’s been coming out of his shell!  My daughter (age 4) has been learning to count in Thai, draw, tell stories, interact and socialize with children of all nationalities, and brings home a book every night assigned by her teacher that we read and discuss so she may share her thoughts the following day.  The change I have seen in these two is immense and it’s only been a week!  One thing I love most about the structure of this school is that they have a progress book carried in their book bag each day that informs us of the activities the children have done, complete with pictures from that day!  So awesome.

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Bike Rides & Rugby

As a kid I grew up playing baseball and basketball.  I would like to say I was actually pretty good at baseball for a while.  I am left handed which tended to be an advantage as a pitcher and I often played center field or first base.  However, once I hit my early teens I abandoned athletics to become a rocker (Ha).  Basically once I discovered grunge music, learned a few chords on guitar, and learned the pleasure of recreational pot (sorry Mom), I had no desire for sports.  Well, in the past few days I have found myself engaging in physical sport more than I have in many years.  With my new friendships here I try my best to get involved in any manner possible in order to make friends and get to know everyone.

Last night one of my new neighbors invited me out for a “bike ride” which I thought would be a leisurely stroll around the golf course we live on.  I was wrong.  This bike ride took me up mountainous dirt roads, through stray-dog laden woods, down those same mountainous roads with gusto, and all around my new neighborhood.  The views and experience were amazing and I know my body will thank me later but, DAMN, it was strenuous.  I honestly am out of shape and not accustomed to the ride so I’m sure it will get easier with time.  I plan to make this a routine.  At the end of our ride I was invited to play “touch rugby” the following day (today).  I obliged.  Keep in mind I rarely play American football and if you know anything about rugby you’ll know it’s a very intense sport.  I planned to give it a go.  Well, after playing today I left the field with some bloody knees, sweat-soaked clothing, and I ultimately had great time.  Actual rugby seems to often be a  brutal sport but touch rugby is actually a great workout and wonderful team building game.  Upon entering the field I joined about 15 other guys and girls.  Everyone was patient with it being my first time and my general lack of knowledge about the rules.  I can see this being a sport to bring back with me to the states to play with friends.

Power is OUT

So tonight we are experiencing our very first power outage in Thailand. A few nights ago it flickered a few times but then all power came back on. Tonight the winds came in, the rain and lightning began, and next thing you know we are sitting in darkness. We luckily have tea-light candles and a few flashlights. I’m not sure if the electrical systems here are just very sensitive and this is a regular occurrence or if tonight is a particularly heavy storm. The worst part is that our A/C units won’t work so we are basically in the heat until electricity returns. Homes here all have windows and window screens so the winds blowing through do help. Water does not work either do to the fact that it is ran by an electric pump.  Well, I guess I’ll sit here with a beer and see what happens!

CULTURE SHOCK

With doing this blog I promised myself I would be as brutally honest about the experiences I document. So, it’s worth touching on the little frustrations or, adjustments rather, we have encountered since being here. Everything is Thailand is different for the most part.  Below are a list of our things that have been different.

*There is no hot water in the sink to wash dishes, only cold, and no dishwasher (use LOTS of soap!)

*We have no oven, only a two burner stove and a microwave.

*You cannot run the A/C window units full time or you will be hit with a massive electric bill so you have to live with the heat or circular fans.

*We have no clothes drier, so you hang your clothes on the drying rack out back.

*There are countless little lizards/geckos that run up and down your walls all day. (See below)

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*Snakes are plentiful here.

*You only drink bottled water and the water from the tap can we a little murky at times.

*All flooring is tile so don’t walk too fast with wet feet on you’ll end up on the floor.

*Most food items, including junk foods, are flavored with shellfish, fish sauce, or seaweed.

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*Most people pay their utility bills at an ATM within a 7-11.

*Lanes are optional when driving in Thailand.

*Everyone measures temperature in celsius and distance in kilometers.

*Mattresses here are about 3/4 inches thick.

*Water heating for showers is ran by a separate electric box you control with a dial (very different).

*Beef is almost nowhere to be found but chicken, pork, and seafood is everywhere.

*Rice is an accompaniment for every meal.

*Your electric bill gets placed in a small plastic box attached to the meter outside your home.

*Wild dogs are EVERYWHERE roaming the streets (however not aggressive).

*The common greeting here is the “wai” where you place your hands in prayer position and lower your your forehead to touch the tips of your fingers.  It’s a sign of respect.

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*Most homes or public buildings have little mini/ornate temples at the edge of their property called “spirit houses”.  It is a shrine to the protective spirit of the land.  It’s purpose is to provide shelter for spirits that could cause problems for the people if not appeased.  You will often see offerings placed on the shrine of drink, food, candles, and incense.

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*Thai stores provide plastic bags and straws for almost everything!

*I can never seem to locate a trash can when I’m out in public.

*Fish sauce with bird chilis’ is the condiment of choice with most dishes.

*People don’t go to a G.P. when sick but instead go to a small clinic or most times the hospital.

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As I think of more that I discover I’ll be sure to add them…..

 

Drivin’ N Tryin’

So within the last two days we were able to finally get a car.  It’s nothing fancy.  We got a Mitsubishi Lancer (not sure the year).  Our friend who had offered to help us find a car delivered on her promise and had the car sitting and waiting at my wife’s school to drive away the day following her offer. I’ll tell you, driving in Thailand versus the way you’ve always driven in the states is a challenge at first.  The driver’s seat is on the right side of the car instead of the left.  The blinker’s and windshield wipers are also switched.  Your gear shift (our’s is automatic) is still between the two front seats but you are manipulating it with your left hand.  The BIGGEST challenge is that you are driving on the left side of the road and you must also navigate the many motorbikes, bicycles, tuktuks’, and motorbike taxis.  I’ll say that my first few minutes of simply driving from the school to my house were a bit challenging but now I feel pretty good about it for the most part.

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That evening we met up with many of our new neighbors as they invited us to join them for a neighborhood get-together.  The neighbor hosting it was only two streets over.  Again these people were very welcoming.  We were greeted with a beer and some snacks.  A diverse group, we were a mix of people from America, Ireland, India, London, and  New Zealand.  They were all very impressed at our move to Thailand but also tickled with our “international virginity” or naivety to the change and knew we were most likely in severe culture shock, which we are.  Our children played with their children and we discussed life in Thailand, our lives before the move, and simply had a good time together.  There was something reassuring about seeing other people who have successfully navigated some form of normalcy with a move to a foreign country.  They’ve developed routines, they get around where they need to go, they’ve conquered the initial fear that you have upon arrival… and that fear is the fact that you really have no idea where anything is and don’t speak the language.

That night my wife fell very ill, vomiting through the evening, perhaps from some food that didn’t sit well.  She was sick from about 1AM to nearly 10PM the following evening.  It’s difficult being sick here when you are new to the area because you can’t find your plain chicken noodle soup or saltine crackers or just many of your comfort items from the west.  Everything has a seaweed flavor, or soy, or shrimp, etc. Luckily I could find some good old sprite and toasted some white bread.  She began to feel a little better towards the afternoon but really not 100% until the next day.

Since we finally had a ride, and my wife was feeling a little better, our family went out to a market called “Big C” in Rayong, Thailand to get some home goods and essentials.  The “Big C” felt like a combination of a mall, flea market, and a Walmart all in one.  There you can buy nearly any kid of cellular phone you could imagine, grab a DQ Blizzard, have some fried chicken feet, get a pedicure, and get maybe even get a new home stereo.  It’s a one stop shop.  For me, it’s still difficult at the moment to convert the USD cost in my head from Thai Baht, Thailand’s currency.  We are learning.  Luckily we got most of the goods needed.  We even picked up some KFC on our way out. It was a nice touch of familiarity from home.

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Beautiful People

The last two days have been such a dichotomy of scary and welcoming feelings.  We left our hotel which we had been staying in for 10 days.  We had finally secured our home and took the vans provided by the school to our new home.  We were excited to leave the single room at the hotel and stretch our legs in a home where we all could have a bit of space we had been craving.  Upon arrival, we brought all 15 bags into the home and began sorting and placing items throughout to get some sense of “home”.  Once most things/items were in order we sat down and realized how alone we were at the moment.  We had no car to get around, no way of finding a bite to eat, no internet… We went from being in a location with options and no space to plenty of space with no options.  The kids were hungry and so were we so we sucked it up and reached out to our landlord about our vulnerability.  Within about two hours our landlord and her husband arrived with croissants, tea, apples, and milk.  They reassured us that there was no need to worry and they would take care of us.  Her husband took me to a local market to buy the essentials… bread, milk, drinks, toiletries, diapers, etc.  He translated my requests to the people working in the market when we could not find an item.  By the time we left together I had a stocked fridge!  During our journey back to our home I mentioned to him that we needed to sort out internet connection and basic utilities for the home.  He said he could help.  The next morning, around 10am he arrived and helped me to get an internet connection.  I also mentioned issues with water pressure/heating and he promised me that he could help.  He left and an hour later his wife (our landlord) called me to inform me a plumber was in route to fix any issues.  A plumber arrived and took care of everything within minutes of the call!  Even later, the landlord arrived with a new microwave for us to cook with!  I have never witnessed such a compassion to people who were as lost as us!  A compassion that does not expect reciprocation.  I will be sure to reciprocate, I assure you that.

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Later in the afternoon today, after my wife returned from her first day at school meeting new and experienced teachers, she brought home an expat teacher (from the UK) of two years for me to meet.  This teacher invited us into her home for drinks, to socialize with her husband and two children, and to allow our children to play.  After about 30 minutes we decided we were all hungry and she took us to a local pizza/thai food restaurant for dinner.  Over a few beers we were able to get to know each other better and get the inside scoop of being an expat in Thailand.  She heard it was my wife’s birthday so she left and returned with homemade cookies as a nice gesture.  We are used to paying with credit cards/debit cards and thought this would be an option for payment at dinner.  Unfortunately, most smaller Thai establishments only take payment in baht which we did not have enough of at the moment.  They kindly offered to cover our meals which was unnecessary but received with such appreciation.  They also offered to help us with finding a car for rent or “car for hire” as they say here as well as assistance with finding basic utilities here.  I’ve never witnessed such love, or at least not in a while.  These people are amazing and I will make it my goal to repay them in some form.  With every struggle we have encountered it has been met with an equal or surpassing act of kindness.

 

 

 

Lost in Translation

Today we encountered how difficult language barriers can be.  We simply wanted to go to a coffee shop near the hotel.  My wife found one online that seemed very close to us.  I tried to find it on the Grabtaxi app (similar to Uber in Thailand) but with no luck.  However, I found a different coffee shop on the app that seemed comparable.  We requested a driver and he arrived to take us to D-Cup Coffee, haha.  Once we arrived at the GPS coordinates pinpointed by the app we did not see the coffee shop.  I tried to ask, “Is D-Cup here?” and he looked at me with confusion.  Again, “Ka-fe?” meaning “coffee?”… still he said “I take you where you need to go.”  We did not want to get out at that spot as it was not the coffee shop and seemed to have nothing in the area similar.  We googled the coffee shop and showed him our phone however the phone was in english and he had no use for it.  I have the Waze app from the US so I plotted the other coffee shop “Coffee War” and showed him that.  He followed the directions to that destination and we arrived at an area we thought could be the coffee shop.  NOPE.  It was an area near a canal with no coffee and really just locals.  We walked into what we thought could be the place only to be approached with dinner menus.  We asked, “Is this Coffee War?” and they looked confused.  We showed our phones and about 3 Thai people gathered to try and decipher our phone to tell us where we should be.  They tried to tell us directions but we had no idea how to decipher.  We walked up a street dotted with food vendors and countless stray dogs to the main highway to flag a taxi back to the hotel.  Needless to say we spent about 1 1/2 hours and 400 baht without any coffee.  HAHA.  Still the experience, even as stressful as it was, was impressionable and unforgettable. We ended up having dinner at the hotel and retiring to our beds.  Again,  I need to brush up on my Thai language.

First Time in Bangkok

We have just returned to our hotel in Pattaya after about three days and two nights in Bangkok.  I must say I am exhausted but found myself very intrigued with the city.  Upon entering Bangkok I first saw it as most any other city I know, say Atlanta for example.  It was a little industrial with plenty of shopping and buildings galore.  However as we got deeper and deeper in the city its true colors emerged.  You see, Bangkok is a wonderful mashup of lush tropical plants and gardens mixed with worn, seedy looking architecture.  The city is a labyrinth of streets and alleyways with people, motorbikes, tuk-tuks, taxis, etc. whizzing back and forth throughout in a dizzying manner.  On ever corner you will find street vendors with every food or product available for purchase.  A familiar 7-11 minimart is seen dotted down each street almost every mile.  The city is whirling with energy.  I honestly don’t believe I could ever really drive in Bangkok if I lived there and would feel more comfortable taking public transit.  The roads are just insane!  Once we checked into our hotel were able to relax and settle in a little in preparation of the days activities to follow the next morning.

After a good night’s rest we gathered our things and set out for a “Klong Tour” of the waterways of Bangkok.  We got into the longboat right next to a giant temple called Wat Arun or, “Temple of the Dawn”.  All of us hopped in and journeyed our way through the weaving and winding waterways of this city.  This boat ride provided a wonderful vantage point of daily life for many locals.  They could be seen doing the days laundry or even swimming and playing in the canal.  There were large lizards, bearded dragons I believe, sun bathing on the sides of the waterways.  Our boat driver stopped off at one point to allow us to toss bread into the water which brought hundreds of large fish to the surface.  Once this tour returned back to Wat Arun, we walked around taking in the sights.  Lush beautiful gardens surround this huge ornate temple.  We walked around a smaller temple next to Wat Arun which was surrounded with golden buddhas.  Dazzling colors and ornate crafting of this temple was impressive.  The smells of incense and sounds of traditional music could be heard.  We did not completely enter the temple as we were not dressed appropriately.  Women and men must cover their knees and elbows when entering and we arrived with shorts and t-shirts.  I must say this experience was amazing and I look forward to the many more we will see soon!

 

Nongnooch Tropical Botanical Gardens

After a quick breakfast we decided to venture out and experience the local attraction, Nongnooch Botanical Garden.  We caught a “taxi” which was new to us… a converted pickup truck with seating in the bed.  We traveled there and negotiated our entry fee.  Upon arrival it was amazing!  Ornate and intricate sculptures, manicured gardens, live elephants roaming the streets, street vendors selling clothing and souvenirs, food stalls with skewers of everything imaginable.  I purchased a fresh coconut to drink from while my wife and kids had a mixed fruit smoothie.  We got lost in this labyrinth of intrigue amongst a sea of other people.  There were live shows demonstrating Thai culture and explaining many of the traditions.  Afterwards, we all relocated for an amazing elephant show where we watched these creatures bowl, play basketball, play soccer, ride bicycles, etc.  Impressive!

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First Day

After a long night of traveling here (arrived at almost 5am) we felt it best to try to stay up the entire day to sync our circadian rhythms to the 12 hour difference.  We arrived at the hotel just in time for breakfast.  We walked in and asked if we sit first and order or just walk through the buffet and sit.  The waitress looked at us confused.  We asked again as simply as possible with hand gestures and she still simply nodded and back away with shyness.  This was a realization of the language barrier and our need to learn more Thai.  We followed everyone else’s lead and made plates.  The food was AMAZING and different!  Lychee juice, dragonfruit, bacon, eggs, breakfast curries, steamed rice, grilled meatloaf, needless to say an array of familiar and unfamiliar buffet items.  We roamed the side streets, the beach, and tried a few restaurants for lunch and dinner.  Our children are little celebrity here.  Both men and women are constantly waving and smiling to them, patting their heads, or taking their photos.  It’s a different experience.  Everyone is so very kind.