Virtual Coffee

Happy Tuesday everyone! While you’re sipping your collective coffees, I’m going to be bouncing between airports BECAUSE…today my parents arrive in Thailand! And I’m flying down to Bangkok to be there when they arrive.

SO EXCITED.

A few days ago, my sister and her husband held a Bon Voyage/Happy Retirement party for my parents at their restaurant and I totally crashed the party via Skype. And you could tell my dad was uber happy and excited because he carried around his iPad so I could wave at everyone at the party. They could all see me and I could see…well, mostly I saw the ceiling because he was carrying the thing horizontally. But whatevs. It was totally cute to see him that excited.

Let’s see how many times I can use the word excited, shall we? {Backslash…must use my thesaurus.}


Also big news: I finished the first draft of my novel, The Yellow Suitcase! \o/ I bust the finale out this weekend and it’s DONE. Except not done, because I gotta’ do that whole “revision” thing. But the heart of it is down on paper. Now I just need to find guinea pigs to test-read it for me…. mwhahahaha


Anyway, that’s what’s going on here. I probably won’t be online much this week because I’ll be with my parents as they take care of some bureaucratic stuff and shop in Bangkok. (Mostly shop. And eat.) But we’ll be coming back up to Chiang Mai this weekend so I PROMISE – double pinky swear – I’ll stop by to say hi at some point in the near future.

P.S. If you get a chance, stop by here on Wednesday, because I have something fun to announce!

Join in the fun at Amy’s and Communal Global!
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Faces {Remembered}

I almost never repost posts I’ve written, but at Hyacynth’s suggestion, I felt compelled to see what I wrote this time last year. I knew I was getting prepared to make our big move to Thailand, but oh, the bigger memory is of a couple of the faces I really miss seeing around.

I suppose I should have something witty, insightful or charming to say, but I’ve been playing the Bureaucracy Game going back and forth with the embassy (driving two hours each way) and now I’m pooped. But instead of words, I’ll show you sweet and charming faces. And hopefully they’ll make you smile like they make me smile, and you and me both can call it a day.

My brother and his baby girl

And baby girl be like: “Whatchoo takin’ pictures for?” Just like that. Gangsta style and all. You can see it in her face.

Ok maybe not. Maybe I’m just making sh*t up and really she was like “Wow cool! Is that A D300? I read about those in Wired.” Cuz she’s six and can text faster than I can.

Bet she learned it from her uncle. {EDIT: Who, by the way, has lost over 25 pounds since we moved to Thailand through no particular effort on his part.}

You think that’s a book in his hands. Nope. It’s an iPad. With wings. erm…I mean, leather-bound cover.

And this is me, preparing my “Don’t you mess with me, Mr. Bureaucrat” face.

Which I realize comes across more like “Um…excuse me? Is this the right room? Oh the next one over. Okay….”

What can I say? I’m working on it.

What were you up to this time last year? Join in the conversation at Hyacynth’s!

Pathangoh


When I saw the deep fried strips of dough, I just knew I had to have them. Pathangoh is kind of the Thai version of doughnuts (though they have regular donuts here too) that they sell in street-side food stalls and serve with steaming hot soymilk and various jellied or oat goodies in the milk. You can rip up the dough and dunk it in the milk for a tasty breakfast or dessert.

They remind me of my grandmother, who used to eat them every day, dunked in sweetened condensed milk. I went for the soymilk instead because, well, I choose life.

As far as the taste goes, I find them all right – nothing to write home about. But I love them for the memories of my grandmother, her soft, wrinkled skin, and her laugh.

Do you ever do that? Love something simply for reminding you of someone special?

BKK & Back Again

Traveling to Bangkok reminds me just how provincial my own city, Chiang Mai, really is. I still love it to live in: it’s a comfortable size, there’s still access to great international food, and the mountain scenery keeps me grounded. But Bangkok is a hell of a lot of fun to visit – if you enjoy shopping and/or eating. Which I do.

If you need proof, just ask my friend, Lynette.

We met up for dinner at an Indian restaurant (after an afternoon spent shopping), sat together eating and talking for a couple of hours, decided to go walk and wander…made it as far as the next street corner, whereupon I said, “Ooh! Dessert!” and promptly sat down to dessert and tea for another couple of hours.

(Oh, but it was amazing Indian desserts: flan custard, and rice pudding with cardamom, nutmeg, and raisins….)

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Mostly, I just spent the time admiring the Thai women walking the Sukhumvit and catching the Skytrain. Even when they dress casual, they dress elegant. They’re fashion forward with a Euro-Korean tendency, whether they tend towards classic lines and nautical stripes or floral dresses that, on the rack, you’d think would be more appropriate for an 8-year-old girl, yet somehow Asian women pull off as simply feminine. I’ve tried this look before. It doesn’t end well. Mostly, it just makes me look like a somewhat disgruntled, overgrown kewpie doll.

We met up with a cousin of mine, one with whom I kind of grew up like sisters. She lives in Australia now with her husband, but we managed to connect for an evening over Japanese food in this fantastic restaurant that is known for looking like an authentic Japanese house. Each table is in its own private wooden room, vintage posters line the walls, you doff your shoes at the door and sit down on the floor to eat.

 

I did tell you I went to Bangkok for the food, right?

She plied me with sashimi, gyoza, and yakitori, with a side of advice on precisely how one gets pregnant. Because that’s what family is for.

We also caught an evening with a friend who works in Afghanistan. She was visiting from Kabul, by way of Bogota (which is in Colombia – pretty much on the opposite side of the globe) on her way to a wedding in Udon Thani. Because that’s how she rolls.

But she’s another foodie, so we swapped tales over curried crab, garlic freshwater shrimp, deep-fried calamari, and steamed fish served over a live flame.

So you might say we ate some. But in between the shopping and eating, we thrived on the luscious beat of big city energy, all the way back to our overnight train.

And here is my husband at the train station, where, while we waited to board the train, a bird overhead decided to dive-bomb Toby’s bag with poo. Twice. Did I mention we were indoors? No manner of luck at all.

We did also catch some more touristy sights during our week there. Come back later this week, and I’ll share over coffee pictures of our river taxi ride, and after that, return to hear tell of my foray into the seedier side of Bangkok!

I missed you all this week and have been scrambling to catch up. There were 689 unread posts in my feed reader, people. 689. If I missed something you’d like me to see or comment on, please link it up in the comments below!

P.S. There may or may not also have been tiramisu cheesecake.

Writing Me: Where I’m From

I am from freshly wrapped spring rolls, from Target’s pastel dresses, from 7-11 slurpees, and Friday night dinners at Sizzler on the corner of Little Saigon and Beach Blvd.

I am from the sunshine yellow house, bright bird-of-paradise plumes, stalks of lemongrass and sprigs of mint, a wrap-around garden, a haven, at the deep end of a cul-de-sac, from hopscotch and swing sets at Post Elementary.

I am from daisy chains and dandelion tufts, suburban pines stretching toward a cornflower blue sky.

I am from shoes doffed in a pile at the front door, from effortless love expressed in gifts of food and laughter shared over the thunk-thunk-scrape of a mortar and pestle, from Chaitasana, from Dahle, from Gjestland.

I am from noodle soup, curry, and rice laden tables, from antelope skin and Zulu spear bearing walls, and from a Scandinavian doilie lined piano.

I am from the New Testement and the Pali Canon, from hymns sung by deep African voices, and incense burned on ornate shrines.

I’m from Mississippi, from Oslo, from Suphanburi, from KwaZulu Natal; gjetost and tyttebaer, somthum and gaeng garee, from farmland, from apartheid, from the Vietnam War.

From the missionary who saved the son of a Zulu chief, from a Bangkok Corleone, the man who did the laundry on a ship and the woman who hopped a Greyhound to make their way to the land of the free.

I am from a rosewood cupboard, an amethyst and diamond necklace tucked in a satin lined box, and mismatched secondhand chairs – a stalwart reminder of idealism and new beginnings, kept because “it’s still good.”

Virtual Coffee

If we had had coffee on Sunday, you would have been like, “Dude. What happened to you?” But thankfully, we’re having coffee today, so I’m (mostly) back to normal.

Songkran was. a. blast.

(For pictures and tales, click here.)

If we were meeting for coffee today, I’d tell you just how wonderful it was to have my family here for a visit. We had so much fun with my cousins and aunt! They came into town late Wednesday, so we basically just had enough time and energy to go into town and get some dinner. The whole city was packed for the holiday and getting a table was quite the feat. but we managed to wrangle one with only a half hour wait.

Then Thursday, the party really got started. We took the truck up the mountain to the temple at the top of Doi Suthep, water fights and stopped traffic the whole way up. Paused for a brief moment of spiritual reflection, lunch and a pit stop.

Then resumed water fights and traffic all the way back down the mountain. By this time, it was about 2 in the afternoon, so we decided it was time for a beer. So we hit the Nimman (which is kind of like the Rodeo-Drive-cum-Manhattan-Lower-East-Side of Chiang Mai), found a bar, got some drinks and continued the water fights. We got invites to party at that bar later that night, so we all went home, took a nap, got dressed and headed back out to the party where we demolished a whole bottle of vodka between the four of us.

(I never drink like that.)

Then Friday, I took my cousins around for the usual tourist sight-seeing stuff…which wasn’t the best of ideas because all the shops were closed and all the streets were filled with people still dumping water on each other. So it took ages to get anywhere only to find nothing there. But it was still hilarious to watch! Friday night we were zonked and all crashed early.

Saturday, my family was scheduled to head back down to Bangkok but everyone was moping about not wanting to leave Chiang Mai and I didn’t want them to leave either, so I said, “So don’t leave. Stay!” And they did. Which turned out to be an AWESOME idea because we all went and got massages. We all did an hour and a half (which by the way, cost about $8-10 each), went and had some lunch, and then one of my cousins went back for more. He did a total of 5(!) hours of massage in one day.

And then we went back out to a bar and demolished a whole bottle of Chivas between the four of us.

(I never drink like that.)

And when we got home, Toby realized he didn’t bring the house key. And I realized my key wasn’t in my bag. We rang the doorbell, called the cell phone, provoked the dog into barking…and my aunt slept through it all. (To be fair, it WAS about 2 a.m.). So we ended up wheeling our scooter to the back of the house, underneath an open window halfway up the stairs, where my husband managed to hoist my cousin Duke (who might be the only Asian taller than my husband) up through the window to let us all in.

I never drink like that and it was the best time ever. And not because of the booze. It was because of the family. I spoke more Thai than I ever have for four days straight and by the end of it my brain was numb. But my cousins connected with us in ways we couldn’t before because of the language barrier and it was awesome. I don’t know that I sat for two minutes together without cracking up over something.

They teased me over taking in a stray dog, called Dot a “temple dog” – one of those people don’t like so go and leave at the temples, and said she looked like a hyena. But then every few minutes I’d see them sneaking her some food or trying to play with her. And if she disappeared for more than 5 minutes, they’d wonder where she went off to. By the time they left, they were saying, “She’s kind of cute, isn’t she?” Uh-huh.

Only family. But man, do I love them. To me, that’s one of the best parts about family: they’ll always tell you straight. (Even if it’s none of their beeswax.)

If we were having coffee together today, I’d say it’s kind of nice to have a quiet house again (though the memories from last week are still loud in my head and I find myself still laughing about it at odd moments). But really, I also can’t wait for the next batch of family to arrive!

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Virtual Coffee

If we were meeting for coffee today, I would be dancing.

Because Songkran starts tomorrow! It’s the Thai New Year and the water fights are already beginning. In celebration of the coming of the rainy season, it’s tradition for people to throw, shoot, dump, or otherwise drench everyone else in water. (Note to self: wear crappy clothes and bring towels in plastic bags.) I’m totally looking forward to seeing it all. Kind of not looking forward to having random people throw buckets at me while I’m trying to ride the scooter. At least it’s super hot (like 95 degree weather with 50% humidity) so the water is welcome. I promise to take loads of pictures too! We’ll take the Nikon out in a dry bag so we can document the craziness. I’m kind of feeling like this will be a rather wetter version of Burning Man – Thai people are definitely getting ready to party!

I’m also uber excited because my cousins and an aunt are coming up to visit and I really can’t wait to see them. It’ll be good times full of fun story-swapping, communal food munching, and a good chance for me to practice my Thai. (Of course, they’ll all laugh at me, but whatevs.)

If we were meeting for coffee in real life, I’d also be very, very happy because…well, I’m missing my IRL friends a lot right now. I wish so very much I could have a whole week and spend hours upon hours with each one individually, where I could hear about everything going on with them, big and small…the things we tell when we first see our friends, and the things we say when we have more time and someone is really listening. And then I’d want to have a big dinner party at the end where we all came together and had lots of yummy food and fabulous cocktails. (Can you tell my values in life revolve around food, friends and family?)

Somehow I feel like even though, day to day, not a whole lot is happening outside me, there is a whole lot going on underneath the surface. Things I probably can’t quite get a hold on unless I put words to them or allow more time to process. If I were meeting you for coffee IRL, I think I would tell you more about what’s going on underneath the surface: the changes I see on the horizon. But we’re doing this virtually, and somehow all of that just doesn’t fit in a blog post, so I’ll leave it at that. (Because I can’t imagine you all would really want to sift through a whole long slog of hems and haws – but don’t worry! None of it is bad news!)

What about you? If you had the time and someone was really listening, and you got past the surface, what’s something going on underneath that you would share?

Join in the Virtual Coffee fun at Amy’s!

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P.S. My blog is celebrating its 2nd anniversary tomorrow! Yay!

Monday Motivational

Happy Monday everyone!

What’s your week ahead looking like? I can tell you there’s just one word on my mind this week:

Family!

Two of my cousins and an aunt are coming to visit for the Songkran Festival and I can not wait. I’m counting down the days (and hours and minutes) until they arrive.

And I intend to enjoy the hell out of every minute they are here.

What are your intentions for this week?

Celebrating the King

And no, I don’t mean Elvis.

This past weekend, three of my cousins drove up from Bangkok to visit us. Thais love any holiday to bai tieo (which kind of means: to go around having fun), and a three-day weekend to celebrate the King’s birthday is just such an occasion.

Now, in the U.S., for a three-day weekend, my friends and I would be expected to take off right after work (if you couldn’t sneak off work early) and maximize the three days. We’d jam pack it full of things to do and see, barely taking a break, and then return home at the last possible minute. Because we’re a maximizing culture. Even if we spend the weekend relaxing, we would maximize every minute of relaxation.

The Lonely Planet warns that Thai holidays are a little bit different: to expect more time spent eating than visiting the intended destination, making lots of pit stops along the way, picking up friends and running unrelated errands. “But the waiting and detours are part of the excursion and go unnoticed by chatting friends.”

Even having read this, I still found myself surprised at how the weekend turned out. Instead of coming up Friday night, they left Bangkok at noon on Saturday. Driving from Bangkok to Chiang Mai takes about 8 hours: roughly like driving from LA to San Francisco. So they arrived on our doorstep around 8 p.m. We went to dinner, had a lovely long, chat-filled dinner…then instead of going out to bars or the night markets, we all went to bed.

Sunday was the King’s birthday and Thais do love their King. The plan was to go to the foothills of one of our nearby mountains, Doi Suthep, to a small shrine dedicated to an old monk who helped build the city. We would go there to pray and give offerings. Then by noon on Sunday (rather than hanging around until Monday) they wanted to head back to Bangkok.

We awoke around 7 a.m. and had breakfast together, then we took them to see our new house, which still didn’t have much in the way of dishes and other household items. Toby and I were planning to wrangle a taxi to help carry our goods. But since we wanted to head up to Doi Suthep and I knew they needed to leave by noon, I expected that they would want to get on the road quickly. But they looked at our home and remarked on its beauty and how they plan to visit much more, now that they know we don’t live in a shack…and then they got worried. “Don’t you need stuff for the house?” We explained we would get it ourselves, that they didn’t need to worry. Then began the slow, inexorable brow-beating by kindness until we capitulated and we all went shopping at the Thai equivalent of a Wal-mart and Home Depot. Two hours later, we hit the road straight from the stores to get up to the mountain.

Traffic was thick for the holiday, so it took some time to get there. I think we were there for about 20 minutes – at most – before everyone declared they were hungry. Done praying, we went back down the mountain and spent the next hour or so eating lunch. Then picked up more snacks, just in time for them to drop us off, wave good-bye and commence the drive back down to Bangkok.

I would have felt so guilty wasting their time shopping for our stuff instead of exploring Chiang Mai, except that they seemed thoroughly at ease with spending their time that way. Supplied with good food and fun half-English, half-Thai conversation, they seemed quite satisfied with their trip. So instead, I just felt supremely grateful that moving in was made far easier by loving cousins.

Toby and I spent the rest of the day maximizing the holiday. We put away everything and settled into our home, like two little spring birds making a nest. When evening came, we trundled back into town and wandered around the Sunday market, watching all the festivities for the King’s birthday.

They shot off fireworks, straight above our heads, scattering bats with every boom.

Save for Burning Man, this is the closest I’ve been to fireworks since the U.S. tends to frown upon explosions occurring directly above head. (Sometimes, we remark on how surprisingly similar some things are between Thailand and Burning Man.) I was traumatized at first because I saw the bats scatter and then little greyish-brown things flopping down to earth. I thought the fireworks had hit and killed the bats! But upon closer inspection, we saw the things falling from the sky were not bats, but shells from the fireworks. Whew!

We found some street food. I had pad see ew (a fried noodle dish). Toby even got sushi! I was rather skeptical of raw fish sold on the street, but he said it tasted good and he didn’t get sick. Thus it appeared to meet my two criteria for judging food here: 1) it tastes good, and 2) it doesn’t make you sick. Then we both enjoyed a fresh squeezed orange and passion fruit juice ($1 each). Total for both our meals: $5.

Mostly we wonder why we didn’t move here sooner.

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