Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ohhh big legs, very big big legs you have!

So I haven’t posted in a while.  So many things happen daily and I often think – I should put that in my blog and then a week or more will go by and I sit staring at my blog trying to remember all the things I was going to post in here!  And by the way, John if you are reading this – I haven’t gotten the info on Siem Reap yet – the lady wasn’t there last week when I went by the Embassy so I’ll try again sometime this week! 

Last week I took the plunge and started taking Thai language instruction at the Berlitz center.  There are various locations in which you can take Thai here – you can even get someone to come to your home for instruction.  Berlitz is quite pricey but I have heard great things about it.  I really like my teacher – her name is Rueng – which is short for her actual name that I swear must have 30 letters in it.  Her last name is even longer.  She is a great instructor and we work well together.  She is patient with me as I learn.  Her English is outstanding too and I learned she is married to an American from – get this – of all places – Baltimore, MD.  She has been there and LOVES crab cakes!  She is very easy to understand and writes everything out phonetically for me.  I must be learning something because I can now recognize some words when I hear locals speaking to each other.  The Berlitz center is walking distance – it’s about a mile or so away and takes me about 10 minutes to walk there.  I go on Monday and Wednesday from 915 a.m. until 1125 a.m. and on Thursday from 10a.m. until 1210p.m.  While the lessons are fun and I am thoroughly enjoying them, I am mentally drained afterwards and now have worked an afternoon nap into my routine on school days.

One day last week on my way home from Thai I had this weird experience.  So to get home I walk down Silom which is a major road through the city and then I turn off of Silom onto a little road which is probably the equivalent to an alley way for us back home and that takes me directly to my building.  Anyhow, on the corner of the alley way and Silom was a man dressed in some sort of robe thing – looked like he was wearing a huge blanket and he was obviously blind.  He had his hand on the shoulder of a woman (presumably his wife maybe) and she was sitting in a wheel chair and was also blind.  He had a little box with a wire to a microphone and he was singing some traditional music.  The streets were particularly crowded at this time due to the lunch hour and there was a sea of people ahead of me sort of flowing in a wave-like manner through the streets.  As I looked ahead and saw this man and all these people, along with all the markets and street vendors, it was almost like a de-ja-vu experience – sort of like I was watching a movie and what was in front of me was a scene in a movie.  This feeling continued as I walked down the alleyway to my building.  I was truly the only “round eye,” as Joe calls us OR “farang” as the locals call us, in the crowd and all eyes were, no doubt, on me.  I never felt in danger – just felt as though I was being sized up! 

I went to get a foot massage in the spa in our building last Sunday with my friend Jackie who was visiting from Tokyo.  The lady giving the foot massage patted my legs in the beginning and said, “Ohhhh big leg, very big big leg” as she laughed hysterically.  I am not sure at what point the Asians are taught that it is acceptable to point out to another human being how big they are – but someone seriously needs to look into changing that when educating these people.  Now I had been warned ahead of time that they think all “farangs” are HUGE and well duh compared to them, this is a very accurate statement and I was warned that they aren’t shy about publicly acknowledging this either.  So it did not shock me any.  It was one thing for her to make the comment but to continue to laugh for quite a while the way she did was just not necessary.  However, I have heard worse, much worse.  We know of a lady who got into a taxi and the driver laughed at her and dished out insults about her size. She eventually asked him to pull over and she got out – I don’t blame her.  I’d have done the same thing.  Unbelievable.  I told my instructor, Rueng, about my story and the other ladies story and she taught me how to say back to them in Thai, “Excuse Me!  It is not funny!”  She told me not to hesitate to use it and she bets they shut right up and get quite embarrassed when I say that to them. 

We got our shipment of household effects in from the US and that was one happy day in the Ollei household.  It is so nice to have our own stuff.  It took us a while to get everything set up but we have managed for the most part.  Though we aren’t completely there – the computer desks we were furnished with do not have any drawers or cabinets so we have nowhere to store office supplies – extra inks, paper etc.  So we are looking into ordering from either our landlord or from the embassy some sort of cabinet fixture that we can store these items in.  We also still need to hang our pictures which is not as easy as one would think.  So the walls over here are made of concrete so you need a special tool to drill through it.  But we can call the maintenance man to come up and drill the holes once we mark the walls.  We still need to mark the walls though – all in due time. 

On Friday we received our car here – yes we shipped our Toyota 4Runner to Thailand.  I doubt we’ll drive it much here.  Joe had to drive it home from his work and that was an experience.  So when we picked it up there was NO gas left in it at all.  So we had to drive to the old embassy compound to get gas there, which was about two miles away from where we got the car.  Keep in mind they drive on the other side too – so you drive on the left side of the road but the drivers side is on the left – a little odd.  Anyhow, it is a right turn into the compound and you cannot make a right turn there so you have to go past the compound and then make a u-turn.  Joe did this at the height of rush hour on a Friday here in the city.  I’m amazed we are still alive to be honest.  The traffic here is insane and the people on motorcycles/mopeds are like ants swarming in and out of between the cars and on the sidewalks and anywhere they will really fit.  You have to be extra careful so you do not hit anyone.  In the end we managed to get home in one piece.  We drove the car again on Sunday night trying to get to Carrefour which is sort of like a Wal-mart back home I suppose or maybe a little nicer?  We had never been there before but were told roughly where it was – never found it and got completely lost twice as a result of looking for it.  Getting un-lost took us a good 30 minutes each time.  We managed to buy some of what we were looking for at a place called Power Buy.  But I do sense another shopping trip in our future.  Joe got to drive yet again today, as he had to take the car back to the embassy for its inspection, which it passed.  We both now have a Thai Driver’s License – though I have not gotten brave enough to drive just yet and am not sure I ever will to be honest.  We have NO tags on the car but were given a piece of paper – Thai on one side and English translation on the other – that basically says we are Diplomats and leave us alone even though we are driving with no tags!  Apparently it takes about 60 days, give or take, to get your tags. 

Joe informed the apartment management that our direct line is not working.  We have two phone lines in our apartment – the house line is for calls within the building and the direct line is for local Thailand calls outside of the building.  Well, I kind of cringed when he did this.  Anytime the technician starts messing around with our phone and/or Internet, NOTHING works after he leaves.  So of course, the day after Joe tells them this, Joe gets on a plane for a business trip outside of the country and I am left to deal with it on my own.  Well they come up here and as usual screw it all up.  The guy insisted our Internet was not working, and I swore it was working just fine.  He kept arguing with me so I said well, I will show you.  So I pull out my laptop and click on www.cnn.com and up comes CNN on the screen.  The technician and the lady from the management office I swear had eyes as large as tennis balls at this moment.  Neither of them could believe it and kept asking how my computer and my Internet could be working when it was not hooked up or plugged into anything.  I told them it is wireless and I got blank stares and realized they have no idea what wireless is – my confidence in their ability to fix any electrical problem in our apartment further declined at this moment.  It was a long stressful day with them, as they wanted to look at our Vonage phone too insisting that also did not work.  I tried to explain to them not to touch it and told them it was nothing to do with the local phone line – they did not understand.  I explained that the Vonage was an American line for calls back to America.  Again tennis ball size eyeballs.  I managed to fix our Internet and our Vonage phone, which they screwed up.  Then after much patience, I was able to communicate with the lady from the management office who translated to the technician what the problem was and in so many words, FORBID them anywhere near my office, Internet, Vonage or computers.  In the end after his second visit he got the two phones working but on his way out the door he was yapping about needing to fix the Internet too.  I was so mentally exhausted and drained that I took an afternoon nap for three hours afterwards. 

OK last funny story.  So last Saturday night we went out to Lebua State Towers to their skybar with some neighbor friends.  This is a high-rise building – probably the largest – in Bangkok.  On the top floor they have this outdoors sky-bar that boasts amazing views of Bangkok and has a really nice cool breeze.  So, on our way there our neighbor told us about taking pictures – apparently you can only take pictures of the view and of yourselves.  You are not allowed to take pictures that will have other customers in them.  The reason being is this is where a lot of Western men whom are having affairs with Thai locals will go with their Thai mistress.  They were very strict about the pictures.  Joe had a video camera trying to get video of the city but they told him no video allowed.  So he just took some still shots.  However, I cannot say that I saw that many Western men with Thai women there.  Though it would not surprise me if there were.  On that note, I am posting this and heading to bed.  More to come later in the week I hope!  

Monday, July 13, 2009

Chatuchak Market

Cabbages & Condoms Part 2

Allen insisted on taking a picture of this without our faces in it - he wants to super impose some other people's faces in it and send it to them!  

"This" was hanging from the ceiling and is made of condoms.  If you look closely you'll figure out what "this" is.....

This sign and box of condoms is there as you exit the restaurant.  

This poster was on display in numerous locations throughout the restaurant.  

Captain Condom and his Honey - both are all decked out in condom attire!

This is the view walking into the restaurant - the gift shop is on your left and there are vendors and advertisements on your right - straight ahead is the restaurant.  

Another view of the shops/vendors walking into the restaurant.

These lights were hanging from the ceilings and covered with condoms.  

This is the sign outside the establishment for Cabbages and Condoms.

Cabbages & Condoms Part 1

Please note - I am having difficulty loading the rest of my pics - so stand by, there are more to come!  

Allen posing with the condoms they gave us with our check - he got blue and I got pink.  

The Captain Condom Bar sign.

This was a display case in the outside seating area of the restaurant.  If you look closely you'll see condoms and various condom items that can be purchased at their gift shop.

Allen posing with Captain Condom.  His entire outfit is made of condoms - Captain Condoms outfit that is - not Allen's ;-)

Allen insisted I get my picture taken with Santa Condom.  My apologies for the half goofy grin.  Allen was having difficulties with the camera and I was explaining what to do so he ended up catching me mid smile!  We probably should have retaken the pic but didn't so this is what we get!  

Sunday, July 12, 2009

My Week Without Joe

Okay so it's been a whole week and I am not sure where to start. Joe left a week ago today for an 8-day trip - he returns really late Monday night. I'll be glad when he returns! I tried to stay busy while he was gone. I don't even remember what I did the first few days other than probably run errands and clean the house. I connected up with another spouse that lives in my building and she does not work so we finally got together on Wednesday. We met at 10am and I don't think I got home until 10pm. We walked all but about 3 hours of that 12-hour day. I slept so good that night - which reminds me - when Joe left I told him I was going to try out his side of the bed while he was away - for some reason it feels softer to me and I sleep like a baby on it. So we are hoping he is able to sleep on the hard side when he returns.

Anyhow, on Wednesday my new friend showed me all over the place - she showed me where lots of good restaurants are located, Schwing (hair salon), an alterations place, a five and dime place, the local Catholic Church, where to go for facials and waxings etc, and gave me my first experience at riding a "Baht Bike" in Bangkok. So Baht Bikes are these little motorbikes here - must be thousands of them on the streets. Basically it is a Motorcycle Taxi. We paid 20 Baht (58 cents) for a ride from Joe's offices' compound to the embassy compound - a couple miles in distance. I was quite scared. You do not wear a helmet. They don't go too fast on that route, as it is mostly side streets. But still I could not believe I did it. Many here refuse to ever try it out and I was one of them until I finally gave in to the pressure from my new friend who insisted it would be fine! Thursday we did not meet until 1pm, as we were both quite tired from the day before and having a rough morning. On Thursday she took me to the Thai's version of Costco. I wish I had my camera with me as in the frozen food section they had an entire COW TONGUE frozen and packed ready to be purchased. It was kind of gross looking. In the meat section they had chicken carcasses hanging from this structure to be sold to make chicken soup. They weren't packaged or anything - they were hanging there in the open. On the way back from there we saw a vendor selling hard boiled eggs on a stick - shell and all. Very odd!

Friday I spent in Joe's office as I had some things to check on there since he was gone. His best friend from home who now lives in Japan was in town on a work trip so I caught up with him. Joe told me Allen would be coming thru and he was putting me in charge of entertaining him for the weekend. Friday night Allen and I went to dinner at a restaurant called, "Cabbages and Condoms." This restaurant promotes safe sex and all throughout the restaurant there is literature on safe sex and there are condoms EVERYWHERE. They even have mannequins decorated in them. It was quite interesting and after living here for 7 weeks and witnessing the sex industry (Pat Pong is one block away and is their infamous red light district), I'd say they need more of these restaurants around!

Saturday I had a work event to attend with Joe's office and after that I met up with Allen to go to the movies. Going to the movies in Thailand is an experience if you do it right. Now I don't think I posted this but last weekend Joe and I went to see Transformers at Central World Movie Theater. We paid 800 Baht ($20) per person and we received free all you can eat appetizers for one hour before the movie. Then an usher escorts you to the theater and to your seat. You get to PRESELECT your seats and you can select a "pod" of 2 seats or 4 seats depending on the size of your party. We had very soft plush red recliners that with the touch of a button recline completely flat and you are given a very nice blanket. While eating appetizers they ask you what you want during the movie. You get all you can eat popcorn and drinks (to include alcohol). When you arrive to your seats your order is there waiting for you on a nice table top that also has a little red button. If at any point during the movie you need a refill you just push the button and the attendant comes to you to take your order. Quite an experience! So Allen and I decided to try another theater that supposedly had the same treatment - though like everyone says in Thailand it was Same-Same but Different. So you had the nice seats (these were leather) and a blanket and your own pod. You got one complimentary drink before the show and a small plate of little cookies/pastries to share. You had to pay for all popcorn and any drinks beyond the one drink you get originally. There is no one to wait on you during the movie. Allen and I saw Ice Age 3. Remind me to never do a movie at Siam Paragon again - at least not the VIP seating. We paid 600 Baht ($17) for that one.

Sunday Allen wanted to go to Chatuchak Market, which is an open-air street market in Bangkok - it's all outside and it is enormous. The street vendors go for miles and there are row after row of vendors selling anything you could imagine (to include animals apparently). You can negotiate the price too and usually can get pretty good deals on stuff there. Honestly anything you ever wanted - can be found here. Pick Pocketing is rampant there so I wore cargo shorts and put my money in a zippered pocket in my shorts. It is extremely hot there and we were all sopping wet within the first 30 minutes. There is no A/C or even air blowing through these places. You walk on the streets and there will be an opening in the line of vendors under the roof - you walk in and there is a sea of more vendors - it's like a huge maze. I did not buy anything there but definitely got some ideas for Christmas gifts and will likely go back in the near future! I also saw some must haves for myself! If you like to shop this is one dangerous place! Allen had a friend from Tokyo with him, Jackie, who will be here for 3 weeks. She was in heaven with all the shopping and is probably going to go back before she leaves to pick up a tea and dessert set of china. The patterns were just gorgeous. Jackie took down my number and is going to call me to go shopping and on some tours while she is in town. She was really nice and we had a lot of fun shopping together today. I came home with one item today - a new Sudoku book. I do Sudoku puzzles at night before bed and sometimes while laying out at the pool and I am almost finished with my current book of puzzles. Jackie was intrigued so she made me explain it to her and then she had to buy a book too. I saw a new purse that I want/need but it was $150 at a mall here. I know I can get it online at Amazon or somewhere for much cheaper. It's not a fancy purse - I need one that is lightweight, that I don't mind getting wet, is large enough to hold my umbrella and all my crap and has an across body strap. An across body strap is very important here as the Baht Bikes are famous for purse snatching. They will come up behind you and you won't even hear them - they turn off their engines and just glide until they are ready to snatch your purse. One lady from the embassy had hers taken this way and she was dragged along the sidewalk/streets of Bangkok fighting it and was pretty badly injured as a result. So they are urging everyone to use across body straps. I have one now that is across body but it is leather and nice. I'm always nervous about it getting rained on and it can be kind of heavy since it's leather. Anyhow this purse I found met all the criteria but I'm not paying $150 for it. Cripes I paid $200 for my really nice patchwork coach handbag. No way I am paying that much for this purse!

All in all it's been a fun week. It was very nice to see a familiar face from home (even though he is now living in Japan). Allen is a great friend of ours from home and I had a great time catching up with him. He and Joe used to be roommates and he was one of our groomsmen in our wedding for those of you that were there and remember. It would have been more fun with Joe here but there will definitely be other opportunities for us all to hang out again. I'm also glad that I was able to connect with someone here that is home all day. I had done some exploring on my own up until then but it's always nice to have company while you explore! I am starting to meet and connect with more spouses and our social calendar is quickly filling up these days.

Pictures of "Cabbages and Condoms" and of Chatuchak Market will be in the next posting!

Friday, July 3, 2009

A Hard Bed, Toilet Paper and to the LEFT!!!

I’ve had a really rough week on our bed – tossing and turning until nearly 3am every night. So last night I decided to go with a medicated sleep and popped two benadryl at 8pm – I was out like a light by 920pm. I think next time I decide to do that I’ll take them a little later – I woke up wide awake at 4am. I was awake until 8am and then napped until 10am. And my back hurts – a LOT!!! UGH! We have two mattress toppers and they don’t do a thing for me. They aren’t the memory foam type so I decided to try out a memory foam one – went to order it online and they cannot ship it here as there is a 50 lb weight limit on it. So we are sunk. I suspect there is a new mattress going into our second shipment. Though we probably won’t do that until the fall sometime so for now I am going to have to adjust to this horrible mattress.

So some more things to share with you about Thailand that are a little off or as they say, Same-same, but different! Most public bathrooms do not have toilet paper in the stalls. The toilet paper is out by the sink and you take what you think you’ll need only and then go into the stall. You also cannot put toilet paper into the toilets – there is a trashcan in each stall for you to place your toilet paper in – slightly disgusting. Their paper towels are more like Kleenex, which is annoying – wet your hands one day and try drying them with a Kleenex.

Everything here is to the left. So back home when walking in the mall or out on the street etc – you always stay to the right. Here it is to the left. They drive on the left too, which is a little weird as well.

The embassy had a 4th of July celebration earlier this week but Joe forgot to tell me about it so we missed out! Correction – he just told me that he didn’t know about it until afterwards! However there is a huge 4th of July celebration in Bangkok every year for all Americans living here. We bought tickets to it yesterday and will go to it tomorrow. It is put on by the Department of Commerce and is at the American School of Bangkok. Should be fun, but it won’t be as much fun as having steamed crabs, hamburgers and hot dogs down on the family farm! Instead we'll have hamburgers and hotdogs. And yes I call me Un - American but I hate hot dogs. I do love a good burger though. Unfortunately from what we have learned is that the beef here is a lot different - to me it is chewy and has an odd flavor that is not at all appetizing - this is due to the lack of FAT in their beef. So that is what we have to look forward to tomorrow. I am really hoping they'll have some BBQ Chicken - that is one thing they got right here - anything that includes Chicken!

I think tonight we are going to go see a movie. They have American movies with Thai subtitles. I am dying to see “The Hangover,” as that is all I hear about from everyone back home – we checked and it does not appear that the Hangover will be coming to Bangkok anytime soon. So instead we are going to go see “Fireflies in the Garden.” Apparently going to the movies here is quite an experience. You can get your own private suite equipped with a group of Thai’s to wait on you hand and foot. Fully reclining chairs and a large menu of all you can eat food and drinks (even alcoholic).

Sunday Joe leaves for a one-week trip outside of Thailand. I will be staying put while he is on this trip. I am hoping to keep busy with the American Women’s Club while he is gone – I think they have some events that week. Otherwise I’ll enjoy lots of pool time by myself all week!