Monday, August 29, 2011

Stalking Our Stuff

I hope all of my  mid-Atlantic and NorthEastern friends and relatives are drying out after Irene and that no one suffered too much wind or water damage.

I am officially a stalker.  Our HHE (household effects) left the Port of Baltimore on July 20th (the same day we left for Bangkok).  Even though we packed out on June 13th, the Government has regulations about not sending HHE until the employee is actually en route to the assignment.  So, our stuff just sat somewhere waiting for us to leave the country.  Prior to our departure, our shipping agent was kind enough to give me the name of the ship (the President Adams) and its estimated date in Bangkok (September 2nd).  In retrospect, I am sure Kevin would say this was both a blessing and a curse. 

Thanks to the miracle that is the internet, I have been able to track (and obsess over) the ship's daily journey online.  The ship first traveled across the Atlantic Ocean, through the Mediterranean Sea and into a port in Greece.  Then, it went on to Port Said at the top of the Suez Canal, through the Suez Canal into the Red Sea, through the Gulf of Aden to the Arabian Sea and into a port in Oman.  After a few days, it continued on to Karachi, Pakistan and arrived in Singapore on August 24th.  Tracking the ship was pretty neat except for the few times I was a bit frantic when it was "lost" (for three days after entering the Suez Canal) or when the tracker was telling me it was an "unknown vessel" (for 4 days near Pakistan). There is nothing that will get your stomach in a knot faster than the suggestion that all of your worldly possessions have gone missing.  Yikes! 

Anyway, once the ship was in Singapore, we began to get a bit excited.  It looked like we would definitely get our stuff on time, and maybe even a bit earlier, as Singapore is just a short sail away.  However, to our dismay, the ship turned around and is now in Columbo, Sri Lanka! Ack!  I don't know if it is coming back this way or if our items were offloaded in Singapore and will arrive in Bangkok by another vessel.  We will just have to be patient (something I am not very good at!) and see what happens.  When we moved to Australia, our HHE were shipped to South Africa and took an additional 4 weeks to arrive to us.  Hopefully, this  time, it will all work out and our stuff will arrive as scheduled.  Fingers crossed. 

Here is a photo of the President Adams.  Maybe one of those containers holds our stuff?!?
I probably shouldn't even tell you this but I am also tracking the shipment of the car we bought from a dealer in Japan... Clearly, I need to find something to do to occupy my time! 

Lest you all think otherwise, I do cook.  Mostly Saturday and Sunday nights.  I love to cook (and think that I am pretty good at it) but without the proper pots and pans, it is a struggle.  I tend to stick with basic meals that don't get me frustrated about our lack of HHE and the fact that I can't find all of the ingredients I need. 

Saturday night, Kevin and I went to a party, Caitlynne had a babysitting job (and Christopher preferred to go with her rather than us) so I was off the hook and didn't have to cook.  Yesterday, I found some "perfectly" ripe avocados and tomatoes at the market so I made one of Kevin's favorites, fresh guacamole.  Avocados, tomatoes, onion, garlic and lime juice.  A sprinkle of salt and pepper.  So delicious! 

I realize some people might not consider that "cooking" but, oh well.  Kevin found some of the Tostitos "scoops" tortilla chips at the Embassy grocery store last week and was quite happy to have those with the guacamole for dinner on Sunday. 

Today, PeePorn made one of my favorite Thai dishes (a very close runner up to Pad Thai).  It is called Som tam (or som tum) and is a shredded green papaya salad.  The "green" just means that it is unripe.  All of the street vendors and restaurants around here sell Som Tam.  The green papaya is shredded and tossed with fresh lime juice, fish sauce, palm sugar, chilies (you specify how many chilies you want if ordering from a street vendor or in a restaurant), uncooked green beans, a few chopped tomatoes, and some crushed peanuts. If you are really lucky, some dried shrimp will be added.  I cannot tell you how amazing this salad is.  I could eat it night and day.  After we were in Bangkok in January, my friend Gayle, told me about a very authentic Thai restaurant in Miami (for my Miami readers - Asian Fusion on US 1 between 168th and 184th Avenues) and we quickly became regulars there.  If green papaya was available, we would order that salad and it was JUST like we had in Bangkok.  So good. 

We also have some Asian BBQ chicken.
 and chicken fried rice.
I know that I still have to post about Caitlynne's trip to the Rose Garden but I am waiting for her to email me some photos. 

I had to add these photos of the dogs as they were just too cute today!
Sonder has a guilty look and I think he was up to something!
I hope everyone has a great Monday!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Lots of Photos

As long as I remember to take my camera with me, I shall have photos to post!  These are just some random photos taken today.  Most are from Christopher's basketball game this afternoon (another win!) and the others are from when we were out and about.

This photo is for my women's running group... there was a long discussion yesterday about how much we love dill pickles, especially after a run.  Coincidentally, I had just purchased 2 bags of homemade dill pickles.  Look at that garlic and fresh dill!  Yum!  My dad might also like this photo as he makes the best homemade pickles EVER.  You cannot kiss anyone for, like, three days after you have one of his pickles!
Christopher before his game.
Christopher with yours truly!  I really did not intend to accessorize my jewelry with his shirt. 
Tip Off.
Shooting a free throw.
His free throw follow through.
My favorite coach.
 On his way down the court to score 17 of our 23 points;
There was a drastic improvement in our defense from the game last night.  The boys were really going after the ball for steals and grabbing rebounds.  Obviously, we need to get another player (or two or three) who can shoot but, hopefully, that will come with time.  Today, the boys were at least taking the shots - they just didn't score.

The photo below shows the emblem of ISB , the Hanuman.  In Hindu mythology, Hanuman is the divine monkey chief.  He is the conqueror of demons and hostile spirits, he is the god of strength and wisdom and he is an unselfish and faithful friend.  Hanuman is held in high esteem in Thai culture and is the official ISB seal.  Kevin and I find this explanation interesting as Thailand is a primarily a Buddhist country and the Hindu population in Thailand is really not all that significant.  P.S.   Hanuman was also the name of one of our favorite restaurants in Australia. 
This sight just made me chuckle.
This scene always makes me think of Miami, where the rule of thumb is that if it isn't nailed down, it is free for the taking.
Everyone parks their bikes in this huge bike parking lot.  No locks. No chains.  I often wonder, if this were in Miami, how long it would take for all of those bikes to be stolen?

This is a photo of new construction behind our home.  Note the bamboo poles lashed together for the paint scaffolding.  Tomorrow, the painters will stand on those poles in their bare feet and paint. The workers doing the actual construction wear either flip flops or crocs.  Clearly a Thai version of OSHA does not exist. 
Well, that is all for today!  I am sure I will have a post tomorrow to report Caitlynne's adventures at the Rose Garden.  I saw she uploaded a photo to Facebook of her riding an elephant so there will be stories to tell.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Basketball, The Rose Garden and More...

Christopher and his basketball team ended the week with a one point win this evening!  It was a very low scoring game but that is normal at the beginning of the season.  It was a great effort and the boys played really well together, especially for having no playing time together (other than a fifteen minute pre-game warmup).   

ISB is hosting a retreat for the new Middle School students tomorrow at this place...  It is about 1 hour from Bangkok so everyone is meeting at the school and will ride the bus there, spend the day and return about 5.00 pm.  The differences in my children:  Christopher opted to play in his basketball game tomorrow afternoon ("I can't let my team down, Mom") while Caitlynne and a group of her friends have been talking non-stop about this for the last few days.  I guess it is a major social event for the girls!  In addition to touring the gardens and the cultural village, they will have an opportunity to ride an elephant and ride paddle boats on the lake.  Caitlynne also has a babysitting job tomorrow tonight for the family next door.  They have three little ones - 2nd grade boy, Pre-K girl and a 3 1/2 year old boy - who absolutely adore Caitlynne. She has wanted to babysit for a long time and I was always hesitant for her to in Miami.  Here, she should have a steady stream of income because there are little kids everywhere - she just needs to get her name out there.

Our dinner this evening...

Red Chicken Curry.
Steamed veggies in oyster sauce...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

It Has Been A Quiet Week

I know I should be grateful that it has been quiet for us this week but, even for a "quiet" week, there was still enough going on that we were on the move a lot.  One reason I think it is so quiet (even though we are busy) is that I am not running back and forth all over the neighborhood to pick up and drop off the kids at their different activities.  Since the school is so close, the kids walk back and forth.  If they stay after school for sports or for an activity, they can just walk home.  Ditto with going to a friend's home or the pool.  In Miami, some days it felt like I drove 100 miles all within our zip code!  It was much warmer this afternoon (93 degrees, felt like 104) so I was a good mom and picked up the kids and a friend of Caitlynne's and drove them home in the golf cart.

School is going well and I continue to be impressed at the services, resources and options that the kids have available to them.  However, the amount of homework assigned has been quite a surprise.  Christopher is getting very little while Caitlynne is loaded down every night.  It has been a struggle for us to get it all done without someone (usually me!) crying.  I am still trying to figure out how to make it all work smoothly.  She is so hot and exhausted when she gets home from school and I want her to be able to relax and cool down a bit before starting in on homework.  However, she goes to bed so early (and gets cranky even earlier) that if we don't start homework straight away, we are pushing it until after dinner and huge meltdowns result.  I guess it will all work itself out in the end but she is just not used to this daily volume and, in addition to the early start time, the new school, etc., it is really hard to adjust to. 

Christopher (and Kevin, as his coach) has his first and second basketball games this weekend and it will be interesting to see how that goes.  72 boys signed up and the league was able to put 10 teams together.  Caitlynne did not make the swim team so that was a bit of a bummer for her.  While she was the fastest and strongest swimmer, her technique was not the best so the coach said for her to polish up and try out again in January.  Since Kevin wants to do a triathlon while we are here, he and Caitlynne are going to take lessons at the pool together.

I invited a group of women over yesterday for coffee and about 10 came for the morning.  It felt a little odd asking everyone had to bring their own coffee cup (our Welcome Kit only contained 5) but we all had a nice time and plan to get together once a week and rotate who hosts. 

All of our friends in Miami went back to school on Monday and the kids were a bit sad after reading emails and facebook postings.  I just keep reminding them how lucky they are to have all of this technology available to keep in touch with their friends and family that are far away.

PeePorn prepared another interesting dinner for us this evening...

At first glance, this appears to be a noodle dish with chicken, shrimp, and peanuts, very similar to Pad Thai (one of our favorites!). 
 However, look at little closer...
And closer still...
Those are not noodles but rather the fruit of a "Pomelo"! 

A Pomelo is a citrus fruit, very similar to grapefruit, that is indigenous to Southeast Asia.  Pomelos can grow to be 25 cm in diameter and weigh up to 2 kilograms.  They are very large!  The Pomelo, in addition to looking like a grapefruit, also tastes like one... just much milder and sweeter.  We have had Pomelos before but just as "fruit" and usually for breakfast or a snack.  I am not sure of its "official" name, but Caitlynne and I did a taste test on this dish and it was delicious! 

This is a photo of a Pomelo growing on a tree.
 A Pomelo with the rind cut, ready to be peeled.
And, finally, the Pomelo, peeled and ready to be eaten:
File:Pummelo flesh.jpg

PS - these photos are courtesy of Kguirnela. 

PeePorn also made a lovely lasagna but I left in the oven a bit too long and am embarrassed to post a photo as it is VERY "golden"!

We are thinking of all of our friends and family on the mid-Atlantic/East Coast and hoping Irene takes a sharp turn out to sea!  I sure do miss watching Jim Cantore on the Weather Channel! 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

One Month In Bangkok

It is hard to believe that today, August 21st, is our one month anniversary of arriving in Bangkok!  I am somewhat amazed when I think back over what we have learned and been exposed to in that very short time.  It has been a good month though and I am very happy at how well we all seem to have settled in.  This weekend was busy... swim team tryouts for Caitlynne Saturday morning, basketball practice for Christopher Saturday afternoon and then a neighborhood picnic Saturday evening.  Sunday was a bit slower with Christopher just having baseball practice but we kept busy with getting homework finished, packing up for school and organizing for the week. 

Late this afternoon, Kevin, Caitlynne and I walked over to the pool and this gorgeous blossom caught my eye...
After looking a bit closer, I discovered it was a banana tree. 

During our three years in Miami, I had seen many banana trees.  One year, Christopher, my mom and I went down to the Fruit and Spice Park in the Redlands where they had several varieties on display - we even got to taste a few different types during our tour.  Last summer, we went to vacation on Sanibel Island (West Coast of Florida) and saw many banana trees on the resort property.  In addition, several of our friends in Miami have banana trees in their backyards.  In fact, if I remember correctly, I think one house that we looked at during our house hunting trip had a banana tree in the backyard that was LOADED with bananas.  However, I have never seen bananas in this state of growth... it was so interesting to see the actual bananas growing out of the flower blossom.  Truly a work of art. 

Okay, enough with the bananas and onto REAL food. 

I have totally been craving pizza for the last few weeks.  However, not having my breadmaker to make our usual whole wheat pizza dough and being VERY  unwilling to try the Thai version of pizza, we have gone without.  It has been a struggle.  Fortunately, last week, I found two whole wheat Boboli pizza crusts at the Embassy's American grocery store so I will leave you with photos of our dinner this evening.

Cheese pizza for my fussy eater (Caitlynne)...
Veggie pizza (before the cheese) for Kevin and I (Christopher always has a bit of both)...
A big shout out to Kevin for cutting up all of those veggies for me!

The veggie pizza with the cheese...
The all important bottle of Australian Shiraz (twist cap of course!)...
Out of the oven and ready to eat!

While it certainly was not NY pizza (or even close), I think it satisfied the craving.  At least for a few weeks.

Just for fun I tried some of Caitlynne's nail polish this afternoon.  While I totally love the "bling", it really is too much for me. 

Have a great night everyone!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Wrapping Up The Week

Well, the first week of school was uneventful (in a good way). The kids did not have much homework so we could slowly get back into a routine. Poor Caitlynne is really struggling with the long days. She is up at about 5:30 am, leaves the house at 6.40 and, with after school activities and the walk home, she is getting home about 3.30 pm. She told me last night that she could not wait for it to be the weekend so she could sleep in. I will believe it when I see it but at least she recognizes that she needs a bit more sleep. Christopher has also been playing in the schools' intramural basketball league so he is getting home even later than she is. He must have some Energizer Bunny genes in him because he just goes and goes. Kevin and I went to bed at 8.38 last night so I think we are all feeling the toll of the early mornings.

PeePorn finished making dinner just as I returned from picking the kids up from school...

A Thai Dipping Sauce.
For what, you might ask?  The fish!  
Other than being cooked, it is still in pretty much the same form as when we purchased it on Wednesday.  I am actually looking forward to trying it and will be sure to report back as to how it was. Caitlynne pronounced it "totally gross" and I don't expect her to give it a go but I am sure Christopher will have a taste as he is the more adventurous eater of the two.   

PeePorn also made sweet and sour chicken and veggie stir fry for our main dish. 
The rice cooker is amazing! Perfect rice with no fuss. According to the kids, Aunt Jan makes the best rice but what we had the other night came in a very close second. 

No big plans for the weekend. Saturday morning will be basketball practice for Christopher and swim team tryouts for Caitlynne. We have a picnic to go to in the late afternoon but I expect it to be an early night. On Sunday, sports practices permitting, we will go downtown to church and then have lunch out. We have heard the Hard Rock Cafe has excellent hamburgers. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Yummy Dinner

Let me start you out with some tempting photos of our dinner for this evening...

Red chicken curry.
Shrimp & vegetable salad.
Yum!  PeePorn and I went to the market this morning and she picked out a lot of food to put together for dinners this week.  Among other things, she selected a whole fish (eyes and all!) and I am very interested to see what that is made into.  Hopefully, something completely unrecognizable.  I would add a photo of the fish but it is really gross.  We also bought a rice cooker so we shall see how that works out.  I cannot wait until Kevin and Caitlynne finish at the gym and come home for dinner!  She helped me figure out why my green chicken curry from the other night was so spicy.  If I had read the directions on the packet (which I might have, had they been in English), I would have only added 1 tablespoon of curry and not the entire packet (4 tablespoons).  Now I know. 

I went out for an early run this morning and, on my way back to the house, I passed Caitlynne and Christopher with their gaggle of friends walking to school.  Big deal, right?  Well, it really was and I am so proud of them.  I woke Caitlynne and Christopher up at  5.30 am, right before I left to run.  Kevin left for work about 20 minutes later.  So, that meant the kids got showered, dressed, ate breakfast and did all of the other miscellaneous "stuff" to get themselves out the door at 6.40 am all by themselves.  The only "hiccup" was Christopher forgetting his id card but I had a gut feeling and asked him as I ran by if he had it.  He didn't (how does a mother know these things?!?) so I quickly ran home, got it and caught back up with them to hand it off. 

Tomorrow, I am going to the Embassy for a medical appointment, lunch with Kevin, a stop at the US Post Office and to do some shopping at the American grocery store on the Embassy grounds.  Whew.  I just hope it does not rain.  Speaking of rain, this has been our radar for the last 5 days...

Bangkok is somewhere under all of that purple.  Fortunately, the rain stops just in time for the kids to walk to school, begins again about 4.30 pm and continues through the night. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

My First Official Embassy Function

This is just a quick post about attending my first official (and unexpectedly interesting) Embassy function in Bangkok. 

Kevin had a Very, Very VIP visiting today who was accompanied by his wife.  While the VIP was attending to business, the Embassy arranged for a small group of spouses to meet with his wife this morning for coffee.  Kevin heard the venue where the coffee was to be held was spectacular and told me to attend, if only to see it for myself.  Curious, I googled to see what was in store for me and just had to share this with you (from the Four Seasons website)...
Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok > Rajadamri Suite > Located on the ninth floor, the Rajadamri Suite is the Hotel'
The Rajadamri Suite at the Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok
Located on the ninth floor, the Rajadamri Suite is the Hotel's premier accommodation, eminently suitable for those requiring the highest degree of comfort and luxury.The luxuriously appointed living space accommodates up to 18 guests, and includes an elegant private dining room that seats 12, a large living room, two guest powder rooms and a library with a bar. The suite also features three dual-line telephones with multi-language voice mail, cable TV, a built-in safe, a dedicated telephone number, a dedicated fax number and high-speed Internet access. The master bedroom, overlooking the swimming pool and rich landscaped gardens, offers a separate dressing room, a marble bathroom with deep soaking tub and glass-enclosed shower, a whirlpool and an adjoining massage treatment room with private entrance. For additional space and comfort, a second bedroom can be added.

This is the same hotel where Kevin and I stayed in January and our room was nice but certainly not this nice! I will admit that I brought my camera this morning and hoped I could sneak a photo or two but not a chance.  It was an experience.

Now, for why I was surprised that this turned out to be an interesting event...
In my opinion, these "meet and greet" spousal functions are too brief and superficial to be of any significance. If I were accompanying Kevin to Bangkok on his official business, do you think I would want to meet with 20 women (or, in this case, 19 women and 1 man) that I have never met before (and will likely never see again) to "chat" about their Bangkok experience over coffee? Really?!? o anyone who knows me, do I even have to ask this question?  I would rather be shopping, exploring the city, buying sapphires and rubies... you get my point. Anyway, I put on my "Washington DC clothes" and went along. I had door to door service courtesy of the Embassy which made it a very easy trip and, thanks to air conditioning, I arrived looking somewhat fresh. The suite was as described and very impressive. The VIP's spouse was older than I thought she would be and very friendly and down to earth. At one point, she was even making coffees for us out of a very fancy cappuccino machine! 

We mingled for a while and then she spoke to us about some initiatives that she is developing specifically for spouses in the diplomatic community. She has been meeting with spouses at different Embassies to get a feel for what issues and concerns spouses face while living abroad. Based on that feedback, she sees communication as being a big issue and is very interested in connecting the spouses into the "system". This connection (most likely via a webpage) would allow us to receive the same U.S. Government and Embassy emails, notifications & bulletins (as appropriate) that the employee receives. We would also have access to available resources to resolve issues we face (the challenges of moving, child/ren's education, spousal employment, medical concerns, etc.). Currently, all communications to/from the Embassy or the US Government must be channeled through the employee.  If the employee is on travel, out of the office, or just too busy, nothing can be done because the spouse's access to that line of communication is non-existent. Being in a foreign country and having to depend on someone else's access to information and resources can be very problematic and distressing. 

While this is a great idea, I am not sure how successful she will be with establishing this connection as funding will probably be very limited for its implementation. However, it was heartening to hear that she had been listening and identified an issue important to the spouses and was working to try and resolve it. 

Oh, in other big news, our Vonage telephone arrived last night!  Woo hoo... we can finally call back to the U.S.!

They Survived the First Day of School...

I am happy to report that the first day of school was fantastic for both Caitlynne and Christopher.  They were both eager to go back today so I guess that means something. 

In addition to meeting many other boys, Christopher has a friend from basketball in four of his classes so he was very happy. His favorite class is an elective called "Math, Science and Technology Enrichment". There were some very interesting electives offered to the 6th graders so he opted not to learn a language (1 credit) and, instead take four electives (.25 credit each) - one each quarter - the Math, Science & Tech class, Public Speaking, Current Events and Science Expo. In addition to his core and elective classes, he will also take PE, drama, art and choir. 7th graders have 2 credits allocated for electives so Caitlynne chose to take French as well as art, public speaking and current events. She liked all of her teachers but thought they were all very young. She was disappointed to find that she does not have a single class with any of the 7th grade girls that she met over the last few weeks. They all met for lunch though and she will walk to and from school with them so there will be plenty of time for socializing. The classes are quite small (anywhere from 10 to 20 students) and Caitlynne seemed to think there were a lot more boys than girls in all her classes. The schedule of class days/ times is incredibly confusing (I thought it was a Bingo card when I first saw it) but the kids seem to have figured it all out and that is what matters. 

Each middle school student is given a MacBook Pro on the first day and it is "theirs" for the rest of the year. Last night the kids spent some time getting the computer set up and I have to attend a class Wednesday to learn how to set parental controls, etc.  Not fun but necessary. The school has an intranet and each student has access to his/her class webpages to view assignments, review class notes, complete and submit their homework, etc. The kids like this because, if they forget to write an assignment down or can't remember when a test is, they can check online immediately and not have to call 5 friends to get an answer (which answer, as experience has taught us, may or may not be correct). Having the kids complete and submit their homework online will be a new and interesting experience for us.  I am not so thrilled about this aspect as I believe paper and pencils (and dictionaries, not spellcheck) remain an important part of learning. But, hey, it might just be me as I still read actual books and have not moved over to a Kindle or a Nook!

Monday, August 15, 2011

First Day of School!

Finally! The first day of school! I think we were all very happy that school started today. While we have had fun meeting people and getting to know Nichada and this area, it has been hard not having any structure or schedule to our days for almost three weeks now. 

Last year in Miami, Christopher began school at 8.30 am and Caitlynne at 9.10 so, being early risers, we had enough time in the morning and never had to rush around. Here, the first bell rings at 7.20 am and the kids will need to leave the house about 6.45 to arrive at school and have time to organize for their day at their lockers. We met up with some friends this morning and went in a golf cart caravan to ISB. The group of girls went off to the 7th grade classroom block and Caitlynne did not even look back.  I walked Christopher to the cafeteria where he had arranged to meet a friend from the basketball team. No dramas and no tears. It almost seemed too easy!

I sat in the cafeteria for a while and had coffee with some friends. I am pretty sure the cafeteria is going to be the highlight of Christopher's years in Bangkok. They serve a nice selection of Thai food and Western food, there is a sandwich bar, a pasta bar, a salad bar and a dessert bar. From what we have heard, the food is delicious and, as is typical here, very inexpensive.  In fact, one of my friends told me that a lot of the moms will meet there and have lunch together (rather than go to a restaurant) because it is that good! The school also has a little coffee shop/cafe so the kids can buys snacks and drinks during the day and after school when the cafeteria is closed. While I was sitting there with my friends, Christopher came in with a group of boys during their break. He seemed happy and looked to be fitting in with a nice group of boys. 

I am going to post this before school is dismissed so tune in tomorrow to get the full report!