Sawad-tee Kah from Bangkok!
A quick update for our readers. We left Melbourne, AU on January 31st for Bangkok, Thailand. The trip went well and we have spent the last ten or so days getting settled and catching up with our long time friends the Hresko-Hurd's. We've learned to negotiate a big part of BKK's public transportation system, with its network of elevated train and subway lines and river taxis. We've learned enough Thai to instruct the taxi or see lawh driver how to take us to our apartment. We can say "hello" and "goodbye", "no" and "thank you" and are working on other phrases such as "mai pen rai" (no worries). Thanks to the incredible hospitality of our friends and the Thai people, we are having a great time exploring this (to us) most foreign of environments.
We have set up shop in a really nice apartment on "Thong Lor Sip Sam", the 13th street up Thong Lor, a big side street off of Sukhumvit, one of Bangkok's major arterials to the east of the Chao Praya River. Our place has two floors, with two spacious bedrooms, an office, sitting room, kitchen and living/dining area. It also sports a very nice roof top patio outfitted with trellises, a large number of potted plants and a spectacular view. Being up on the seventh and eighth floors also has its advantages in that we get a really nice breeze in the evenings.
Perhaps the best amenity offered in our apartment building is the roof top pool. It is small and shallow but remains cool and inviting at all hours of the day and night. There is an attached lawn area with a shower and shade covered chaise lounges for parents. It is a perfect respite from the heat and humidity, traffic and noise that slaps us on every outing. What's more, very few people seem to use it so more often than not we have it to ourselves.
We are in a neighborhood populated by many Japanese expats so Japanese restaurants, bakeries and childrens' stores abound. We have many neighbors but, as often is the case living in the Big City, we have very few interactions with them. It is a far cry from Siga Siga Sands, where folks dropped by pretty much everyday.
Most of these folks are here for a while and bring their own personal items to use and the apartment furnishings reflect that. There are beds and linens, a dining table and couches, televisions and wifi but little else that says "home" like art, rugs or other decorations. In the kitchen, we found dishes, glassware and some silverware but not much else. Thankfully, our friends were able to lend us necessaries like cooking pots and utensils, some fans and -- to spruce up the sparse and bland decor -- a table cloth and some candles. These are of tremendous help but there is still a bit of an echo as the Drury family roams the halls of what is the largest living space we've shared since leaving Bainbridge.
Traveling with our friend Eve Hurd by see lawh taxi.
Since moving in, unpacking and filling the fridge and pantry from the local market, we've worked on resuming the homeschool routine and exploring the many sights, sounds and, inadvertently, the smells of Bangkok. In the coming days, we hope to have some kid blog entries detailing visits to various markets and temples across the city. We've been dragging them around to all sorts of places and for the most part they've been real troopers. The promise of a swim at the end of the day helps!
One of thousands of Mom & Pop market stalls around Bangkok,
this one on Thong Lor in our neighborhood.
In many ways the picture of Ronald McDonald represents very accurately my first impressions of Bangkok. It is commercialized and western to the max but with a heavy dose of Thai hospitality and culture added in. The retail ranges from thousands of Mom and Pop stalls and small stores to tens of mega-malls, each seemingly supporting store fronts of high end designers such as Dior, Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana and the like. We know there are a lot of rich folks in this town, many of them Thais, but we wonder how these shops stay afloat.
Eating here (if you are not Ian) has been lots of fun. If you do it right, you can feed a family of four much more cheaply by going out. We eat in most of the time but it has been great tasting the old Thai food favorites like Phad Thai and Panang curry as well as trying new items such as green papaya/seafood salad.
The Thai people, with their ubiquitous smiles and wai's (bows with hands put together) are welcoming and evident in so many practices and places. I have been particularly touched so far by the idea of "Jai yen" (cool heart), the practice of keeping one's cool. It is a central tenet of Buddhist culture to avoid extremes that the Thai people have embraced wholeheartedly. Keeping my cool and being patient is something I've always needed to work on and it is a real lesson for me to witness a whole culture of folks who seem to manage, even where they are crammed together with 10 million of their neighbors.
Of course, it is not all champagne and roses. The traffic is horrendous and the pollution, while we hear it has improved significantly, are hard to take, particularly combined with the heat and humidity. (And we are in the middle of winter!) There are "touts" at most monuments, folks who try to lure you away to places where you can spend money. Ben also almost got pickpocketed on the Skytrain one crowded afternoon. Thanks to our tour guides, books and maps and yes, a little luck, we've managed to avoid or get around many of these problems. All agree though that we miss the laid back, wonderful life in Fiji. The shopping and selection is nice. So is the food. We'd sometimes just rather head out the reef though, to visit our fish friends and enjoy some peace and quiet.
We will spend the month here in BKK and then do a little traveling to Northern Thailand with our friends Jack & Ellen and their kids, Luke (10) and Eve (8). Road trip! Jack is a seasonsed ex pat and speaks fluent Thai so we are going to be able to go and explore places where your typical non-Thai speaking farangs (foreigners) like us might not venture. We'll explore some Khmer temples, some National Parks, stay along the Mekong River and ride some elephants. Somehow we'll do this in a fashion that will allow adults and kids to relax and spend some quality time together before we go our separate ways. We'll see how that goes but are very much looking forward to it.
Laquer Pavillion. Suan Pakkard Palace.
In early March, we'll head down to Singapore to visit cousin Brigitte and Gilles and explore the town that is vying with Hong Kong for the title of the business capital of Asia. We'll then stop off for a stay in the Gulf of Thailand -- we are thinking Ko Pha Ngan -- so the kids can get their long awaited Scuba certifications. We learned before we left Fiji that Australia won't provide kids with junior certifications until the age of twelve. While there may be good reasons for this, we are determined to satisfy the wishes of our well-seasoned Fiji snorkelers and bubblemakers. The fact that we might get to dive too and live in a cool beach side bungalow on one of Thailand's famous beaches? -- Well, that would be an added bonus.
Stay tuned to our Facebook pages and blog for continuing updates and pictures.
Sawat-dee Kah from Thonglo Sip Sam.