Saturday, October 17, 2009

Koh Tao

Our 6 year wedding anniversary is on Monday, 19 October. We have never gone away on our anniversary and really have not done much celebrating due to work travel and unpacking as our first anniversary our movers showed up in San Diego with our boxes. So this year, we decided we were going away for it. So far this year we have gone to two beach resorts filled with tourists so we decided to go someplace local without tourists - Koh Tao.

You would not believe how we got here. We took a one hour plane ride to Suratthani and then met our driver - who had a beat up older car. He drove us to the ferry which was two hours away. Actually it is probably 3 hours away but he got us there in two hours. The speed limit was 80 km per hour and he was averaging about 135 km per hour. It was the bumpiest ride ever and I swear he almost got us killed several times. My eyes were shut the entire ride and Joe says that is a good thing. But we made it to the ferry departure by the skin of our teeth. He told us he was nervous about us making it and said that if he doesn't get his customers there on time then he doesn't charge them anything for the ride - well we had already paid for our ride because it was part of a package. Anyhow, then he mentions that the 1pm ferry ride is the last ferry ride of the day. So if we miss it we have to stay over night and I can assure you - that would have been one rustic overnight stay. I think we basically would have been camping.

We arrive and there is this unbelievably long pier out to the boat and it was very rickety. I think it could barely hold me as my first step I could feel the boards bending so I was walking in the middle where the beams were - only they weren't really beams they were more like tree limbs! We had to wheel our luggage all the way out too which sucked. I was completely disoriented by the time we were dropped off at the pier - I felt so sick from the car ride and my head was in a fog. When I was walking on the pier I saw the pier in three dimensional which was not good. I managed to get to the boat - then we learn it's a two hour ride but the boat was really big and nice - luckily I did not get sea sick but it took me a LONG time to recover from that car ride. We stopped at one really really small island - really looked like a little hill in the middle of the sea -- it was called Nangyuan Island and was just GORGEOUS - if you are into diving that is their speciality and I highly recommend googling it just to see the pictures. I wanted to get some but they would not have come out well as the windows on the ferry were dirty. After that stop, we were at Koh Tao in about 15 minutes.

Our driver was there waiting for us and took us to his pick up truck - I'm not kidding. He had a luggage rack that was over the drivers area and then the back of the truck is where we all sat - it brought back memories from my childhood of driving in the pickup truck only this was a very bumpy ride as there were no paved roads. The ride lasted approximately 15 minutes and then we were at Koh Tao Resort. The pictures on the internet really make it out to be very nice. It is nice but it is more rustic than what we are used to and you cannot tell that by the internet pics.

We are in a very small room with a double bed and a single bed. The double bed is the largest they have to offer as we already asked about changing rooms. We have mosquitos in our room and also a mosquito catcher but it doesn't seem to be working. Our bathroom is quite interesting but it at least has a western toilet - only you cannot flush the toilet paper down it - which is normal anywhere you go in Thailand. But this place takes it a step further - if you have a messy wipe then they have sanitary bags for you to put your toilet paper in before putting it in the trash can. There is no tub and the shower is part of the bathroom in that there is nothing separating it from the toilet and sink. Anyhow, like I said, it is a little rustic here! The pool is much smaller than it looks on the internet too. We do not have a phone in our room but are able to get internet. We have one outlet that is getting a lot of use - camera, laptops, cell phones, and an electric toothbrush all need recharging and I also use it for my hair dryer. We have A/C but it activates with your room key and they like you to turn it off during the day - we don't but when they clean your room they turn it off - so we go back in and turn it back on as we do not want to come back to a HOT room. It takes quite a while for it to get cool once you turn the A/C back on.

But the beach area is gorgeous and the water is like bath water and is completely clear. They have a restaurant here with a large selection of food - Thai, American and Italian - it is all quite good. We were hoping to take a fishing trip tomorrow but found out you need at least 4 people in your party so we cannot go. I was really bummed. We met a German group tonight that went today - caught two LARGE jack fish and a bunch of smaller fish. Apparently whatever you catch you can bring back to the resort and they'll prepare it for your dinner. They only prepared ONE Jack Fish tonight and they'll do the next tomorrow night. The one fish took up two large platters and was piled high. They cut it in half and one half was grilled and the other half was prepared Thai Style. Both were full of flavor and very very good. I am still disappointed we cannot go fishing tomorrow! Enjoy the pics!

This is the ferry we rode in on......

This is taken from the ferry - if you see that small island/hill in the background - that is Nangyuan Resort - again google it - it is gorgeous!

A nice sunset picture taken yesterday.

Only crap in the crapper. Toilet paper goes in the sanitary bags and then the trash can!

Notice there is no separation between the shower and the rest of the bathroom. When you shower, the entire floor of the bathroom is wet, along with the toilet and the sink area. There is a drain in the floor just behind the toilet so it all eventually drains in there. There is barely any water pressure and it took forever to rinse my hair as a result.

A panoramic view taken by Joe of the beach area in front of the resort where we stayed.

Another panoramic taken by Joe on the beach looking at the resort.

This is taken from the beach in front of the resort - as you can tell the beach was deserted and we basically had it to ourselves.

This is the pool with a view of the beach.

Another beach shot - see how clear the water is - it is like bath water!

Another shot of the beach with the lounge chairs where we lay each day!

And the other end of the beach...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Squat Toilets

OK I completely forgot to mention the squat toilets in my posting about the Talad Rong Klue Market.  So on our ride out to this market our driver stopped at a gas station for a potty break.  The minute we got out of the van I thought to myself oh my goodness we have left the city and are in the countryside - I bet they don't have westerner toilets.  Sure enough we go into the bathrooms and they are all SQUAT TOILETS.  Basically it is a white toilet bowl but what would normally be the seat of the toilet is level to the ground - so the toilet is in the ground.  You basically squat - very carefully I might add - and go.  It's a little tricky to say the least.  There is no toilet paper either so you just drip dry and hopefully you just gotta pee!  When you are done, there is a bin of water with a larger scooper and you scoop water into the toilet bowl to flush it.  Other than getting the squatting technique right and having no toilet paper - it wasn't that bad of an experience.  The toilets/bathrooms were unbelievably clean and did not smell at all.  It was shocking.  I'd rather go in a squat toilet than an outhouse or a porta-potty/john any day!  I used it a second time on our way home that day as we stopped for another potty break. The ones at the location on the way home were slightly different.  Same concept but there was a step up to the toilet bowl and you had to stand with your legs on each side of the bowl as there was no room in front.  Again, an interesting experience!

How can I be so busy when I am NOT working?

So aside from taking lots of great pictures, I have been keeping busy with things and thought I would do a picture-less blog to update you on things.  So Thai language is going well.  As a matter of fact I had to speak in Thai only for 45 minutes on a video camera.  I was amazed I was able to do it.  I have had approximately 100 lessons and am about to buy another set of 50 lessons.  I really enjoy my language class and love my teacher.  I was able to experience another teacher one day when mine was out and I now appreciate my teacher even more! 

Approximately 3 weeks ago I decided to get a gym membership.  We do have a gym in our building but it is quite small and for some reason I just cannot get myself motivated to go to it.  I finally decided to get the membership and to look into hiring a personal trainer as I heard they were MUCH cheaper here.  I have been wanting to get myself into better shape and figure when else am I going to have this opportunity to do so – I am not working, have plenty of time for the gym and can actually afford a personal trainer.  So along with my gym membership I got a 100-session package with a personal trainer.  My friend also goes to this same gym and recommended her trainer, Khun Mike, to me.  I really enjoy my sessions with Khun Mike, as he talks to me during my sessions and it distracts me from the monotony of working out!  Khun Mike has many questions about America and really wants to live there one day, along with Australia and England – just one year in each location and then he wants to come home to Bangkok.  He is a 24-year old kid, has a college degree in fitness education and is certified to teach in any sport in Thailand.  He is very knowledgeable and his English is very good.  I sometimes practice my Thai with him too.  Most of the other trainers in the gym do not speak English but they are very curious about the American girl and always want to talk to me so Khun Mike translates if I don’t understand.  Some I can understand if they speak slowly and are just asking basic questions that any beginner Thai student would understand.  If I respond to them in Thai they smile so big and laugh so hard.  I am not sure if they are just happy I am trying to learn their language or if they are laughing because I am completely butchering it.  I don’t think I am butchering it because they can at least understand me!  My work out with Khun Mike lasts approximately 2.5 hours and I go three days a week.  I also bought 100 sessions of Thai boxing so one hour of that is dedicated to Thai boxing.  I never thought I’d do boxing of any sort but I must say it is tons of fun.  Apparently I have a really strong hook as I managed to badly bruise one of the other trainers one day.  Khun Mike had to step out of the ring for a few minutes and so his colleague took over and the next day he showed me his bruises – I couldn’t believe I did it and thought he was pulling my leg at first and then finally I was apologetic and he laughed and said Mai bpen rai!  This means It’s okay!  I do my gym workout the same day as my language so three days a week for me are completely shot as I am booked from about 9am until about 6pm.  I keep Tuesdays and Fridays open and sometimes go on tours with the American Women’s Club. 

One week after joining the gym, I got to experience my first appointment at our med unit here at the embassy.  The first words out of the doctor’s mouth were that I was obese.  She later asked how tall I was and then she decided I didn’t need to lose as much weight as she thought and it wasn’t so bad after all.  I told her I had joined the gym and was working with a personal trainer – she said that I should drop 30 lbs in no time if I keep up with this routine and a 30 lb weight loss would make her happy.  I do hope she is right, as losing 30 lbs would be nice.  Khun Mike says my numbers will fluctuate the first month or so.  He is right so far.  I do feel as though I am losing inches and I can feel my abdomen getting tighter/firmer.  My weight has not changed too much though.  It went up the first week but he said that was muscle and then it finally went down this past week.  He has not weighed me this week – he said it will probably go up again. 

I also got to experience my first mammogram here with a Thai doctor at a Thai hospital.  It was not so bad though I am glad I had some knowledge going into it of what to look for on the ultrasound screen.  Most of you know I had breast surgery last spring to remove a fibrocystic lump (non cancerous) that was the size of a baked potato.  So once you get one, you are prone to getting more.  Several weeks ago I received a notice from the hospital where I had the surgery that I am required to do a 6-month post surgery follow up mammogram.  So I scheduled it here and low and behold they found 5 more cysts.  I asked the lady, are they benign and she said nothing.  Normally this would send me into a fit of panic, but I realized maybe she doesn’t understand the word benign.  So then I asked, are they cancerous?  She responds no, I think no cancer, I think clear.  I think is not something you want to hear when discussing the possibility of cancer but you have to remember the language issue and take it all in stride.  Meanwhile I am watching the ultrasound screen like a hawk and can see for myself that the cysts appear on the screen black with NO other color.  I learned in going through this before that if they are black then they are non-cancerous and just fluid filled sacs and if they have color then you have a problem!  So luckily, they were all black.  Yay!  They don’t hurt this time around so they won’t do anything with them.  The doctor at the med unit called me the next day about them and said that if they start hurting then to come back in and they would aspirate them.  She also told me, “You know if you get pregnant they will likely go away.”  Hmmmmm, was that a hint?  The doctor at the med unit did a full physical on me and all checked out well except my cholesterol – no surprise there – thanks Mom and Dad – love having that high cholesterol gene!  Back in January when I went through my medical to come here my cholesterol was 268 but they did not want to put me on medicine as they thought I was too young to do the meds and said to try to diet and exercise.  So that is what I have been trying to do.  My diet has changed drastically since coming here and I am getting more exercise every day with all the walking around I do.  So this go round my cholesterol was 234.  Both times I was told my good cholesterol was really high which is really good.  So I am happy to hear I got that down and I hope with time it continues to go down – especially now that I am doing the gym 3 days a week! 

So the week after all the medical stuff, I got an email from the embassy saying they had a part-time slot open and they wanted me to interview for it.  I went into the embassy and got the details on the job.  It is a basic admin job and after asking a lot of questions I found out that all the spousal part-time jobs are admin related.  So this is as good as it’s going to get.  The job is nearly full time though – 32 hours/4 days a week.  I was hoping for a job 3 days per week.  So I decided to interview for it because you never know how long it will be before another opportunity arises like this.  So I interviewed and low and behold I got the job.  They interviewed 6 other spouses, which I heard was a lot.  I am very lucky to have gotten this job so quickly as most spouses are on the wait list for work for a year or more.  I have mixed feelings about this though.  While I am very overjoyed at the opportunity to double our income and save more as well as the retirement bennies (the best part really), I am also sad to be seeing all my free time go by the wayside.  I was really getting used to not working.  Even more so, I was enjoying the opportunity to learn the language and get my butt back into shape.  So I decided to work Monday thru Thursday and then have every Friday off.  My Thai language I will now only do one day a week – Friday mornings.  My work out sessions I am not willing to give up though and am going to do my best to keep up with them in the evenings.  So two nights a week I will go to the gym after work and then I’ll also go on Friday afternoons.  It seems like everything always happens at once and I never really have good timing.  At the same time as all this was happening I was asked to volunteer to be on the activities committee with the American Women’s Club – and specifically to plan events in the evenings and on the weekends for the working women in Bangkok.  Right now the club only caters to those not working as all their activities are during the day Monday thru Friday.  This is something that I really wish I could assist on as I know there are many working women in Bangkok that are disappointed the club is not inclusive of them.  Now that I am going to be one of those working women, this issue impacts me as well.  But with work, the gym and Thai now, there is no way I would ever have time to be in charge of this.  I am hoping they find someone else to take on this responsibility! 

So I start work on October 13th, which is a Tuesday as Monday is an American Holiday.  I’m looking forward to my new role here though.  Before accepting the job I cleared all my travel plans with them.  I told them Joe and I would be going out of town to Ko Tao for our Anniversary October 16 to 20 and that a friend is visiting from America the first two weeks of November and I would go with him to Siem Reap, Cambodia to see Angkor Wat for a long weekend.  They were okay with both trips.  I then dropped the bomb that I would be going back to Maryland for one month in January to attend my best friend, Katrina’s, wedding.  I’m sure this was not the ideal situation for them but they agreed to it up front.  If they had not, I probably would have passed on the job and waited for the next one to come open AFTER my trip home.  I’m sad that during our friend John’s visit here I will not get to act as his official tour guide but am hoping to maybe adjust my hours some during his stay if they let me so I can get off work earlier and maybe spend some time with him visiting the sights.  The sad news is that Joe is going to totally miss out on his friend John’s visit as he is scheduled to travel during that time.  He’ll probably be here the last few days John is here and that is it. 

Anywho, that is all that is new and exciting in my life right now.  Hope all is well with everyone else!  

Cambodian border Talad Rong Klue Market

This past weekend we went with a group of friends from the Embassy to Talad Rong Klue (TRK) Market. This is the market where the bulk of Bangkok's market vendors pull from - be it for shoes, clothes, home decor and seemingly everything else under the sun that you could imagine.  The prices here are considerably lower and then get marked up once things hit BKK.  TRK is open daily, seven days a week.  The place is jam packed on the weekends.  The market is huge and spans both the Thai side as well as the Cambodian side.  The Thai side is bigger and offers more than most farang (westerners) can handle, and so there's no real need to venture over to the Cambodian side.  Thai citizens don't require visa's to cross over into Cambodia but Amcits do!  The market is too large to cover on foot and no matter how good of shape you are in - would opt to either rent a bicycle, scooter or even a golf cart - all of which are available there.  It's primarily the heat that'll do you in as it so often does everywhere else in Thailand!  

The driving time took us a little under 3 hours though we were expecting 4.5 hours.  We hired a driver for the day and he was great.  Once we arrived, two from our group decided to walk and the other 6 wanted to ride in a golf cart so we took off on a golf cart that seats 6 total!  We had a blast and I got a little Christmas shopping done!  

Sylvia, Tizzie and Christine checking out the Halloween wigs at one vendor!  Tizzie got an orange one as she is hoping to go as a pumpkin for Hallowee.  

Danielle and I checking out the goods at one store - gorgeous stuff!  

Handbags galore - they all said coach or luis vuitton or gucci - and all were about $20 each if that - my guess is knock offs.  You could barely tell though.  I almost got a coach bag but did not like that the gold plated label on the front was noticeably crooked.  I also saw another coach bag that said COOCH instead!  My friend Danielle managed to find 2 that you could hardly tell were fake.  My friend Cat managed to get 7 purses total - 3 for herself and 4 for gifts.  

Christine and Tizzie after Tizzie's purchase of an orange wig!  

Motorcycle SUV - can fit a family of 5 comfortably!  

My crab - it is quite heavy and is gorgeous.  The top of Mrs. Crabby's shell opens up an there is a dish inside.  Just a little something for the apartment to remind me of home!  

Danielle and I checking out the goods!  

Wat Pho, Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace

One Sunday we decided to finally go see the Grand Palace and a few nearby Temples.  My pictures are a little out of order and I apologize for this but I combined some of Joe's pics with mine and now they are all jumbled up!  It was blazing hot - especially at the Grand Palace.  We got haggled a few times by the tuk tuk's and taxi's trying to tell us that the Grand Palace was closed but we successfully ignored them.  I am not sure how others fall for this trap - especially those that live here and know better as they were NOT THAT convincing.  We had a great time. My favorite of all was the reclining buddha at Wat Pho.  The emerald buddha at Wat Phra Kaew was nice but so small and you were not allowed to take pictures of it inside so it was very difficult to get a good picture.  Enjoy!

The Emerald Buddha at Wat Phra Kaew - we were outside taking this picture through a window.

The Grand Palace - not too shabby.  The woman to the left started jumping around trying to mess up Joe's picture - we thought he had taken it without her in it but no such luck.  Why do people gotta be like that?  

I really like these little guys and their expressions as they are holding up the structures.  I think I make a similar face when lifting weights during my workout with Khun Mike!!!  And my face is usually either a beet red or purple color rather than blue or white!  

Golden guards...

There my little people are again holding up the structure!

They had one of these guys with a monk bowl for each day of the week.  Some days were repeated which was odd.  I think these guys have been in the sun too long - they are starting to peel!  

A green guard - don't mess with anyone who is green!  

A close up of one of the peeling statues and the monk bowl for Saturday.  

I thought the colors on this were really pretty!

This is inside the reclining buddha at Wat Pho.  Here people make merit in each of the monk bowls.

Merit in the monk bowls.....

Thai soldiers....

The reclining buddha at Wat Pho.

The reclining buddha has well manicured toes!

Another reclining buddha shot....

Another angle of the reclining buddha.

A peak through the pillars to capture the face of the reclining buddha!

I think buddha is smiling in this picture!

Me at the reclining buddha!

The river taxi ride - this house is for rent if anyone is interested!

Another shot along the river.