Monday, December 3, 2018

Which version did you visit?

I spent Thanksgiving in Phuket at at JW Marriott overlooking the Andaman Sea. It was pure luxury with gourmet restaurants, fancy cocktails, three pools, breathtaking sunsets, and a fabulous spa. It  was right out of the pages of a travel magazine.

Two weeks before that I took the third class train to Ayutthaya for the equivalent of 45 cents, cruised around the sights in a tuck tuck, ate delicious Thai food on the street and slept to the sounds of the river at an AirBnB.

As I was lounging by the pool in Phuket watching people around me I contemplated that for some a trip to the resorts in Phuket, amazing though they may be, might be their only experience of Thailand.     This isn’t judgment but it did make me sad for them.

There are so many ways to travel, and I feel blessed to be able to experience both but popping into a place and only lounging at pristine beaches and dining on the expensive versions of food you buy for less than a few dollars that might be just as delicious if not better means you may experience some of the beauty but you miss the soul of a place.

I’d like to challenge you. Next time you travel. Make sure you step off the path. Take a risk and try the locals way.

If you’re in your home country. Go eat where the locals eat and not a national chain. Get off the highway and try a different route. Stretch beyond your comfort zone.

If you try both I think you’ll be amazed. And you’ll enjoy a few sunsets too!

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

What I’m thankful for

I’ll be spending Thanksgiving alone this year because I’m married to a good man.
Somewhere in the world there are some people in pain and crisis and his job is to be there for them. To help them work through this difficult time.

It wouldn’t have been too hard for him to make the excuse of the holiday. But that’s not who he is.
The Foreign Service has taken a bad rap over the last few years. It’s hard to see what soft power and diplomacy does for our country. And so many families can claim a member of the military at least somewhere in the family tree. It makes it easy to understand their sacrifices.

But Foreign Service families give up so much too and when the crisis hits in a strange land away from the familiar and extended family we turn to each other and men and women like the one I am married to.

He doesn’t believe his own press but I am so proud of him. And I’m going to grumble about being on my own this Thanksgiving but I’m thankful that he can be there for those who need him.
And for his service to our country and it’s citizens who sadly need him more than I do today.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone

Monday, November 12, 2018

Please, have my seat

It’s pretty common to believe that however the hints are done in your home country must be the best and most perfect way to to something.

However as Mark Twain said in Innocents Abroad 

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” 

It’s easy to believe that the way it’s done in your little corner of the world is best if that’s the only way you see things done.

We’re living in our fifth country as a couple and T also spent time living in Greece in college and I can safely say that we’ve seen many things done in ways we will never understand and I don’t think you could ever convince me is the right way but we’ve also seen so many things done better.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts our regular use of public transportation in Bangkok.  Posted throughout the trains and announced regularly is the message to give up your set for elderly, pregnant women, and children. I can’t imagine this working on any public transportation system outside of Asia, correct me if I’m wrong, but I regularly see people offer their seats to other travelers in those categories. 

It really impresses me. Especially since they also tell travelers to move in away from the door and yet they all still seem to clot in the areas right by the door, even when there is plenty of space farther in.

If your ever feeling smug about where you live remember in Thailand they are still willing to give up their seat for others who might need it more. I just hope I’m not mistaken old lady any time soon. 

If you’re interested you could check out Em’s  thoughts on Japan here
Felix on voting here or Secret Asian Man’s musings here.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018


Two weeks ago we received our House Hold Effects. Now we’re faced with fitting all our things into our new space. Despite what T says it will all fit.

One troubling situation however is a lack of storage, specifically in the dining room. We’ve become accustomed over the last two tours with the state department provided china cabinet and buffet. Admittedly, the Drexel designer isn’t my first choice but it is functional and free.

Our landlord has provided a table but no buffet or china cabinet, so off to Ikea we went.

We spent a a quality afternoon wandering through the aisles and stocking our pallets with glorious flat pack and our evening assembling shelves and cabinets.

While T was on the road though I tackled an extra project and my very own IKEA Hack!
Like many IKEA products the bar carts come in white or white so first things first I was off to Home Pro for spray paint. I’m a novice at this so this step of course took three trips and now we have a shiny black frame.

My next step involved my stash of fabric and  Javanese batik. Three coats of Deco Podge later and we have we have beautiful shelves.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Speaking in Tongues

We’re living in our fourth country and on our third language, if you don’t count Kiwi English as a different language which may or may not be the case, and once again I’m tackling the memorization of a new vocabulary.
If you count my high school French I’m up to four languages. Some of which I speak better than others. I took Japanese in college but at least at the time, it was beyond my abilities.

In Indonesia I never got beyond common courtesy phrases and what I called taxi cab Indonesian. Though one of my favorite words will always  be ”bagus” , Indonesian for “excellent”. Said with gusto it rolls off the tongue with fervor.

I tackled Arabic with more effort and brought myself up to the level of a three year old. This meant I could order food or say I was looking for yellow lemons at the market but not really have a conversation of any kinds. Of course I also generally butchered the whole issue of masculine and feminine conjugation.

Now as I sit in class practicing telling the taxi driver to “stop at the pedestrian bridge” or ask “where is the bathroom” all of my old languages come back to haunt me.  I’ve heard that when you are learning a new language and your brain can’t immediately come up with the new word it happily plucks one that is not your native language out of your brain files. So as my teacher was asking for the words for “go straight” of course I could only come up with “dogrii” in Arabic. For hospital my brain locked on to ”ruma sakit” in Indonesian. And it’s happy to throw in French for beautiful or red.

I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t have to press me too hard to make an entire sentence out of all four languages.

Maybe I’ll even throw in some Kiwi as well.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The one where the fish freak me out

We’re two  months in and starting to feel settled.
This weekend we joined a group of outdoor lovers from InterNations, an international social club, and headed south along the Myanmar boarder to Kaeng Krachan National Park to hike the Pala-U waterfalls.

My hopes were high for elephant spotting and getting out of the city for some serious green space. Our group was a fun mix of ages and nationalities and we met early, 6:15, for the three hour drive down the coast.

I kept my eyes peeled for elephants as we entered the park but sadly the only evidence were the signs saying not to feed them and their poo in the road.

The park itself is lovely, lush and green and we saw sooo many butterflies in amazing varieties. And fortunately there had been less rain recently so the way up the waterfalls was open. We planned to try to make it up to level 5 out of 15, which turns out was a reasonable choice. The air was thick and sticky, it’s still 90-100* here every day, and once we passed level 2 the pathway ranged between tricky to a bit treacherous, though mostly it’s a matter of trying not to fall into the river.

There are lovely cool pools at the base of each of the falls, just beckoning you to com in and cool off. So of course that is what most of us did! The water was fresh. However it also contained lots and lots of fish.

The river is full of Soro Brook Carp and I’m pretty sure that they are the same fish they use for the fish pedicure tanks only the ones in the tanks are a lot smaller. They swarmed around us, nudging and  bumping and occasionally giving a little fish kiss.

Then one woman yelped. Some of these fish are as big as my fore arm and their kisses weren’t so gentle.

Then a leaf fell into the water and they swarmed furiously around to find the food.

All I can say was this was the moment I freaked out. I screamed like a little girl and made my best effort to shoo the with my hands.

Then my loving husband tossed a bit of pineapple into the mix.

I almost walked on water.

I know. I’m sure I was safe. I’m sure I was in no real danger.

I’m also sure I wasn’t getting back into that water.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Headed North

Taking advantage of the long weekend, T and I headed to Chiang Mai for our first big exploration outside of Bangkok.
You’re probably most familiar with Chiang Mai if you’ve see those cute videos of the lady who gets sat on by a baby elephant playing in the mud. We promised our children we wouldn’t go to the elephant preserve without them though so we saved it for the next visit at Christmas.
Instead we set off to see some of the multitude of Wats and shop till we literally dropped.
There are over 300 wats, or temples, dotting the area so we only managed to see four on the first day.

We grabbed a bright red songthaew, taxi/bus, negotiated a round trip for about $18 and headed up the long steep hill to the west of the city. The view was amazing and we passed lots of tropical forest, waterfalls and much more serious pilgrims making their way on foot or bicycle.
Once you reach the parking area at the top you will be greater by the requisite food and souvenir vendors many selling clothing and jewelry of the traditional hill tribes of the area.
If you visit, this is a great place to stop for coffee grown in the region.
The Doi Suthep is beautiful as it glistens gold in the sun and bells chime on the breeze sending their prayers up to the heavens.
For more details check out T’s history of the wat here.

Once back in Chiang Mai we headed through the gates of the old city. Here we visited Wat Phra Singh with beautiful temples grounds , Wat Chedi Luang where the emerald Buddha was once housed (its in Bangkok now) and my favorite of all of them Wat Phan Tao a beautiful teak temple with shining dark wood, golden statues and fluttering white prayer flags.

Our evenings were filled with night markets. If you know me you know I love to shop but even I was forced to call uncle at some point. The weekend markets are studded with vendor after vendor lining the streets and just when you think you’ve seen everything someone manages to offer something you haven’t seen before. I managed to find some treasures, including a new bedspread for our guest room handmade by one of the local tribes and and I shocking red elephant painting for over our bed.

Sunday we were invited to join some of T’s coworkers for a nice hike in the hills along some waterfalls. It was beautiful and great to see some of the countryside. It was not great to see some of the spiders, at least one of which was the size of my fist. Fortunately I managed not to swear in front of the children we were hiking with when I spotted the first one.

Our final morning we indulged in some leisurely cafe time at one of Chiang Mai’s awesome coffee shops and let some little old ladies with very strong hands at the spa work out the muscles that were aching from all that walking.

It was a lovely weekend and we can’t wait to go back!

Monday, October 1, 2018


I’m going to break from my standard format for a bit, bloggers prerogative, and make a product recommend.

You should know that we arrived in Bangkok during rainy season. That means it rains anywhere from a little to a monsoon/thunderstorm every day. This means we get

I knew this was coming since living in Jakarta was experienced very similar weather. Fortunately here we haven’t had flooding.

In preparation for our transition I purchased three pairs of what I call Birkencrocks. They’re made from EVA and are super comfortable as well as water comparable which is great for when you’re slogging through the rainy streets.
I’ve always been a Birkenstock girl and was very sad to retire my original pair, they were older than my son, a few years back due to mold. (The aforementioned humidity in Jakarta had something to do with that.) so these fit my personal style and as well as my my new lifestyle.

They’re available in lots of fun colors but I stuck with white, silver and black and they all seem to get equal use. I will say I long for a hot pink or orange pair still. Maybe another day.

They’re just as comfortable, in fact maybe more comfortable, than my originals with their cushy sole.
And really pretty affordable at $40 a pair. Less than half a standard pair of Birks.
Definitely worth considering if you’re planning a trip to a rainy climate, and soooo much more comfortable than a pair of flip flops.*

I’ve hiked all over the city in them and my feet are still happy. Not that has stopped me from getting a foot massage. But that my friends is a different story all together.

*note I’m not benefiting in any way from this endorsement.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Making up stories in my head

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, T and I are trying for a car free existence while we are in Bangkok. There are many ways get around the city. We mostly walk, use taxis or one of the two train systems the MRT or the BTS. They’re pretty easy to use, get us to most places we want to go and there are two stops within a short walk from our house.

This is the first time I have lived in a city that has decent public transport, sorry COTA, and I enjoy being part of the crowd and that felling of smugness that comes from knowing my way around. It makes me feel like I fit in...yes I know I stick out like a sore thumb with my blond hair but at least a feel like a resident and not a tourist.

The trains and the stations  all have tv screens in them and they run a continuous loop of commercials all with subtitles since there’s no sound. The subtitles are of course in Thai so I can’t even try to sound them out let alone read them. I suspect it will be a long time before I can read anything in Thai.

Because of this I really have no idea what some of the commercials are talking about..the hot dog one  I get...but some are a complete mystery. I like to make up stories in my head.

The young woman who’s sunscreen gives her super powers.
The family who makes it rich with a new banking scheme.
Or the man who wins the woman’s heart with special whitening’s Asia and that’s definitely a thing.

I may never knew w what some of these ads are for but it sure makes my trip just a little more interesting.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Speed Walking

Apparently I walk fast.

I wouldn’t think so. I’m not really tall, 5’ 4”, with average length legs. I’m also from the Midwest so I don’t think it came from an East Coast need for speed.

I have come to realize it must just be an American thing. I move with intent rarely strolling because I have things to do. Even when I’m not in a hurry.

I noticed this occasionally when I was in Jordan. Mostly in the mall or when I was giving a tour only to see my group lag behind me.

Clearly I had forgotten the very leisurely pace people move at in South East Asia. I’m not blaming them it was 90+ today and felt like over 100 with the humidity. And this is one of the cooler times of the year. Of course people don’t want to move quickly. You will sweat! A lot!

I think it’s likely more noticeable because I use the train. I can’t help myself and walk briskly to the station dodging strolling Thais.
Does it benefit me to get there faster? Would I been any less sweaty if I could slow it down. I think the answers are yes and no. Moving faster gets me back into the AC quickly and I think I will sweat no matter what.

We’ll see if that answers changes over the next three years. If it does, please don’t run me over on the sidewalk.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Mr McFeely?

With a population of a little over 8.2 million, Bangkok is not the largest city we have lived in. That honor falls to Jakarta at officially 9.5 million or so but I have seen numbers as high as 20 million when you take in the greater metropolitan area. I’m sure Bangkok has similar discrepancies too.
The official numbers make it around the same size as New York City for the Americans trying to visualize.

I bring this up because like most mega cities traffic can be a challenge. The good news for us, and lots of locals, is that there is a pretty decent sky train and subway system. Because of this we have made the decision to go carless for the next three years. We figure that we can get around to most places we want to either by train or taxi or some combination of the two. If we neeed to, we can always rent a car for the weekend to get a out of town.

This is all a great idea until we made our first few trips to he grocery store. Even with two of us to carry the weight can add up quickly....10lbs of rice anyone? Or a case of soda water that comes in glass bottles.

You can only imagine my joy when I discovered that my local grocery store will bag up my groceries and DELIVER them! By the time I walk home the groceries are not far behind. Of course I can also order them on line with the local delivery service Honest Bee. I may do this too once I figure out what my local options are.

Honest Bee will also deliver lots of other items from various specialty stores and restaurants. Specialty dog food? Portuguese cheese? Crepes?
Delivery service isn’t just for pizza anymore.

We’ve also discovered that not only are there vets that make house calls, like Amman and Jakarta, but  some of them offer a pet taxi service too.

Going carless not only became a dream but a very possible one thanks to the speedy delivery man.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Gift with purchase

I am a sucker for a gift with purchase. I think it stems from the days when we used to get cool prizes in the cereal boxes.
I will also dutifully collect points so I can get a free coffee, sandwich or shoes. Though now it’s bubble tea. When I was a little girl I remember the green books of stamps my grandmother collected and I’m sure she was rewarded with a toaster, pots and pans or maybe new glasses.

It seems in the US we now have the rewards cards designed to keep us loyal to a particular coffee shop, grocery store or movie theater.

 The rest of the world is on that bandwagon but they are also on board with the free gift righ now, as I hunt the grocery aisles there is no better way to get me to pick your brand over a competitor than to give me a free item attached to the package. If the item is cool enough I might even buy it for the item alone. I have some awesome Arabic coffee cups that come out at Ramadan. The cups are great but I hated the coffee.
I’ve got tea spoons from tea boxes and baking pans from my pasta. All at no extra charge, trust me I checked.

I’ve hit the gold mine in Thailand. Already I’ve found chopsticks attached to potato chips, a spoon with vinegar,  and a cute little spreader with my butter tub.

If you have to buy groceries you might as well have fun finding the best prizes too.

Monday, August 27, 2018

I’ll pay you to rub my feet

Street Food Vendors 
Massage Shops

My neighbor is full of the above in uncountable quantities! Especially, Massage Shops.
In fact all of Bangkok, and maybe Thailand, can say the same. And like many things the massage shops come with a lot of diversity. 

At the end of my Soi (street) there are three in a row most likely catering to the tourists in the area. All three have seemingly happy women sitting out front waiting for customers to stop by. The average price for a 60 minute foot massage at these shops is 250bht.

There are also several posh looking places that promote herbal benefits with mood lighting and smelling vaguely of ginger and lemongrass. Your foot massage is now stretching into the  600bht range. 

We have not confirmed this ourselves, but several streets also house shops that offer different benefits besides soothing your achey feet. I am sorry but I cannot tell you the prices.

I am sure the 600bht massage is amazing but after a day of exploring Bangkok on foot T and I went cheap and wandered into on of the three at the end of the soi.
For one hour the two women worked the aches of the day from our legs and feet then tackled our upper backs and shoulders for good measure. We left feeling renewed and with tip walked out for $9 each. 

This could become a dangerous new habit.

Not us, but it could have been.


Monday, August 20, 2018

Searching for Dr. Oetkers

One of my favorite things to do when I visit a new country is to explore a grocery store. I love to wander the aisles and ponder the items on display. What does one do with agar-agar or dried baby shrimp? Why are there so many types of tinned fish in Lisbon or for that matter why do Jordanians need so many types of canned corn or canned mushrooms? What exactly is Tasty Cheese?
I will marvel at delicious looking cheeses and fruits that never seems to grace America’s grocery aisles.
One of our family’s favorite things to find in new countries is a new flavor of potato chip....Spicy Lobser  anyone?
My daughter has even gotten the bug and will lead the detour to a food market just to check things out with me.

However, it is with deep dread that I contemplate restocking my pantry in a new country. Each time we land in a new home we are faced with bare cupboard and only the handful of items that our sponsor has left to tide us over, tea and coffee, some apples, yogurt and bread.
If it was only about making a massive trip to the local supermarket it would be painful enough, but not awful. The problem is not the inability to find what you shopped for in America, it the inability to find what was at the last Post. Daily food sourcing becomes a guessing game. Can I find parmesan cheese? Are there any canned tomatoes? Will we like this cereal? What flavor do you think this yogurt is?
Living somewhere for even a few months let alone years means you have established your favorites of things like ice cream and frozen pizza, now we have to discover it all again.

And we need to feed ourselves in the meantime. Cooking is another adventure because of course you forgot the one ingredient that is necessary for a dish when you wandered the aisles of the store and who knows how easy it will be to find when you venture back out there.

So while there have been some happy surprises, Spicy Lobster Chips and readily available Vegimite, (don’t judge) I am left longing for fresh pita and dates. Not to mention Dr. Oetkers frozen pizza.