Friday, September 30, 2011

It Feels Just Like Christmas!

This must be Santa's sleigh...

 And these are the presents!
And the elves waiting to help deliver!
Our HHE arrived!  Yay! Kevin received a call yesterday at 4.30 pm asking if the movers could deliver everything at 10.30 this morning.  He had a VIP visitor and wouldn't be able to help but I knew PeePorn was going to be here so I said, "bring it on!" 
2 trucks, 7 crates, 8 helpers and one crazy farang (the Thai word for foreigners) taking photos, this was our home four hours later...
The movers helped me unpack everything but the bedrooms before they left.   Whew.  It was a long day but every box on our inventory arrived and we only had a few things broken.  Everything is spread out everywhere and I know we have a busy weekend ahead of us!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Spirit Houses

In my opinion, one of the more interesting aspects of Thai culture is how superstitious the Thai people are.  Although most Thais are Buddhist, there is a very strong influence of Hinduism and Animism on Thai spiritual life.  Animism (according to Wikipedia) is the belief that non-human entities are spiritual beings and that souls and spirits exist, not only in humans, but also in animals.  These influences, coupled with the Buddhist belief of the cycle of death & re-birth to attain fulfillment and enlightenment, make for some very interesting experiences in Thailand. 

A friend here in Nichada had a horrible problem with ants coming into her home.  She found two very large ant hills in her front yard and called maintenance to have them destroyed.  However, the maintenance men, rather than spraying the ant hills or putting ant poison in & around her home, insisted on "relocating" the ants.  Yes, you read right.  Relocating.  Apparently, there is a lot of relocating that goes on here... snakes, rats, stray cats, soi dogs, etc.  The Thais are very reluctant to harm or kill any animal because of a connection to its soul.  As a friend recently told me, the rat that was in my garbage can last week could have very well been someone's mother who did not do too well in a previous life and is still in the Buddhist cycle of death & rebirth.  It is impossible to find a vet here who will put a pet to sleep, regardless of how sick and in pain the animal might be.  I guess that is one reason there are so many disease-ridden soi dogs running around on their last legs (literally). 

Another interesting, and much more pleasant, sight are the spirit houses that can be found all over Thailand.  I know, "spirit houses" sounds like bad grammar; however, even plural, they are never "spirit homes".  Spirit houses are found all over Thailand and you will see at least one  (usually many more) on every street in Bangkok.  The Thai people believe that when a new home, business or hotel is built, the spirits that previously occupied that space are left homeless.  If the spirits are left homeless for too long, they will become very angry and bring their wrath upon the new occupants of the property who will suffer bad luck, accidents and other troubles.  The Thai solution to this is to pacify the spirits by offering them a new place, a spirit house, to call home.  The spirit house is built to house and honor the former spirits so they look favorably upon the new inhabitants and bring them health, prosperity and happiness during their time on the property.

A spirit house is essentially a shrine.  It is a small building (looks very much like a dollhouse) that is built on columns or on an altar in a  corner of the property.  A spirit house is typically built after much consultation with and the blessing of a Brahman priest or a Buddhist monk.  Some of the spirit houses I have seen are large and ornate, others are very small and plain.  The Thais honor the spirits with the traditional wai greeting and leave daily gifts at the house.

From what I have read about spirit houses, the hardest part is trying to keep the spirits happy!  The spirits prefer their houses to be as big and as eye-catching as possible.  The daily offerings to the spirits typically include food, drinks, garlands of flowers, figurines, candles, and incenses.  Vendors sell all of these items right on the street so there is never an excuse not to make an offering!  The figurines placed might be men/women to be company for the spirits or there might be figurines of  horses/elephants which the spirits will use as transport.  Some of the more progressive spirit houses have toy cars and plastic jet planes offered.  Some owners decorate their spirit houses with Christmas lights which are to help guide the spirits home after a night on the town.  The larger and more elaborate spirit houses are really a sight to see! 

In fact, what gave me the idea to write about this topic was this spirit house (photo below) that we saw downtown on Sunday.  This is, by far, the largest and most elaborate spirit house I have seen.  Some spirit houses downtown or around Nichada are fancier (scroll down for more photos) but this one was so big and had so many offerings placed on it that a table had to be set up for the overflow.
Below are some more spirit houses from around Bangkok. 
Some offerings to the spirits...
Caitlynne and I once saw a whole (cooked) chicken propped up on the spirit house with burning incense sticks stuck in it.  It was a very unusual sight! 

Finally, while reading up for this post, I found that it is very unwise to remove or destroy a spirit house.  If, at all possible, the old spirit house should be left "as is" and the new owners should build a new one along side of it and then "care" for both of them.  Apparently, it is not uncommon to see a property that has been demolished and all that stands is the spirit house (like the one below). 

If there is no other option and the spirit house must be removed, a process similar to its installation (with a priest or monk in attendance) must be followed for the removal.   The Thais believe that if the spirit doesn't rest in peace when in death, the landowner will never find peace in life so removal should be done VERY carefully.

A quick "edit" to add that Burma, Cambodia, and Laos are other countries in southeast Asia that honor spirits with spirit houses.  It is not just a Thai belief.
And with that, I bid you, "good night!"

Dinner and Basketball

I wanted to post these photos but did not want to include them in my "interesting" post (which will follow shortly!). 

For dinner last night, PeePorn made some kind of a curry soup with cabbage, water chestnuts, chicken and coconut milk that we served over rice.  It did have a little bit of a bite to it but not too bad. 
Last week, I told PeePorn about a dish that we used to have at Hanuman, our favorite restaurant in Australia.  It was on their menu as "red snapper with sweet chili sauce" and she did a great job of recreating it for us. 
Below are some photos from one of Christopher's community league basketball games.  It is kind of funny because I was getting on him yesterday about not playing with intensity but clearly, these photos prove otherwise.
He has another game this afternoon and then a practice tonight so he will probably be all basketball-ed out for today!  He did decide this weekend that he is not going to play on the baseball team traveling to Singapore at Thanksgiving.  He feels like he has enough going on with games and practices for the two basketball teams, schoolwork and his social life.  He will play in the community baseball league in January but wanted a break for now. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Lots of Photos, Lots of Catch Up!

Whew! Major catch up today! I was doing so well posting last week and then the weekend arrived and things got so crazy with the kids' sports and my schoolwork that I barely had time to sit and have a cup of coffee (or a glass of wine).

Thursday was the first BISAC game for both Caitlynne and Christopher.  It was an away game at a school south of Bangkok so they left at 2 pm and returned about 7 pm.  Their teams each won by comfortable margins and they had a great time on the bus to the game. 
Please note that Christopher will be getting his hair cut this weekend.  We knew it was long but didn't realize how long until we were downtown yesterday and a shopkeeper made the "scissors cutting" motion around his head.   Most of the boys here wear their hair very short so I don't know why he insists on letting it grow. 

Remember my beautiful water "lily" (which I have since learned - thanks to Diane K.- was really a lotus)?  Well, the flower was gone as quickly as it came!  I don't think it lasted more than three days before all of the "petals" blew off in a big storm.  I am interested to see what happens with this "thing" that was left.  There is some new growth popping out of the water so maybe a new blossom will appear.
A friend of mine had an open house last week for a preview of rugs, fabrics and linens for the home that are made in and imported from Afghanistan, India and Pakistan.  I bought this table runner which is from India and is actually pieced together using fabric from wedding saris.  I tried to take a few photos so you could see the beading and embroidery detail. 
I also bought this bed cover which is 100% wool (very lightweight) and handwoven in Afghanistan.  It has some shades of purple in it and I think it will coordinate well with our quilt so I will probably use it and the table runner in our bedroom.   
Below is a photo of Christopher's team in the Northern Bangkok Basketball League.  They had a very rough game on Saturday (lost by almost 20 points) and it was a tough loss.  Kevin and his assistant coach will be away for the next two games so yours truly is in charge!  Ha!  I don't think the team knows what it is in for. 

Caitlynne's team had an incredible game on Saturday.  They played the team that they lost to by 40 points last week and this week was quite an improvement.  They were ahead the entire game until the last four minutes and ended up losing by two points in the final seconds.  It was such a nail biter!  I am always amazed at how aggressive the girls are on the basketball court and am very glad that Caitlynne is able to hold her own out there. 

After several weeks of discussion, we finally made it downtown yesterday to have lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe and to do some shopping in an area known as "Siam Square".
There are tons of these tuk tuk taxis (photo below) on the streets of Bangkok.  While the Embassy strongly discourages us from riding in them as they are very dangerous, it always looks like it would be a fun experience.  Some of the tuk tuk taxies are very colourful and fancy and I have even seen a few here in Nichada being used instead of golf carts. 
We are expecting our HHE to be delivered any day now.  Yippee!  There was some email traffic this morning and I saw that we are to be given the next available delivery date.  I am so excited but know that it could be a few more days before anything happens.  I spent some time today getting the house organized and sent two beds and five large area rugs back to the Embassy warehouse so we have room for our stuff.  I am also working on getting my school assignments finished for the next week or so.  I do not want to worry about homework when I would much rather be unpacking and organizing.  I cannot wait for the day when I can post that we have received our delivery! 

I have a very interesting topic to write about and hope that I can fit it in tomorrow for you.  I am going to a "Welcome Wai" tea for new ISB families in the morning and I also have my first essay due for class.  The essay is finished and I just need to submit it to my professor so, if that goes well and I can drink my tea quickly, there will be an interesting post.  If not, then look for it on Wednesday. 

Have a great Monday!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Updates and Maps

As you probably noticed, I did some things to "upgrade" the appearance of my blog.  My friend, Desiree, has an interior design and fashion blog that I read every day ( so, using her blog and another webpage that I enjoy ( for inspiration and ideas, I made some changes to make my page a little more colorful and exciting.  I did add a background photo of a globe (bet you never would have guessed what it was!) since I thought that was very appropriate (and colorful) and changed the colors and layout a bit.  I am still working through all of the different settings and tools so please be patient. 

I probably should have done this much earlier but I found a few good maps to give you a better idea of where we (in Nichada) are in relation to Bangkok (downtown), Thailand and the rest of the world.  If you click on the maps, they will enlarge but I am not sure what the quality will be.

These countries are considered to be located in Southeast Asia.
Here is a country map of Thailand and you can see Chiang Rai (near the Golden Triangle) at the very top and Bangkok almost directly below at the bottom of the country.
I modified the map below a bit so you could see where Nichada is relative to Bangkok City proper.  The dotted grey lines are expressways that have now been completely built. 
The first Nichada map below shows some of the stores & services that are outside our gates.  Please note that these maps are not at all current.  Right next to the Volvo dealer on Chaengwattana Road there now stands "Central World Plaza", a very large 7 story shopping center.  I can get to Central World quite easily on the golf cart (going out the Seechaitong gate) but I think that I have never been there nor returned home the same way twice!  That neighborhood is a maze of tiny streets and alleys and always confuses me!  The "front" gate that I have written about opens onto Soi Samakee (southern side of Nichada).   The Seechaitong (or side) gate is not shown on here but opens out of Nichada somewhere behind the Shell Station.  Our home is on the very eastern edge of Nichada near the "back" gate (not on these maps) which opens onto a "members only" access road for the expressway.  Being a "member" allows you to exit the expressway, make a few very confusing U-turns and enter Nichada.  If you aren't a member, you exit the expressway and work your way around to the front gate (as the arrows on the first map show) to enter Nichada.  Being a member and coming in the back gate takes at least 20 minutes off your trip so it is well worth the 500 baht a year to join.
The map below includes the lake that Nichada is built around.
I hope I haven't confused you too much but at least you can get an idea of our little world!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Golden Triangle

As I wrote yesterday, the kids have a week off from school at the end of October.  Since Kevin is not traveling nor does he have any visitors at that time, this seemed like a perfect opportunity for us to make our first journey out of the Bangkok metropolitan area. 

We are thinking about going to Chiang Saen, a town in an area of Thailand known as "The Golden Triangle".  If you are looking at a map, find Chiang Rai (in the northwestern tip of Thailand) and Chiang Saen is just to the northeast.  Chiang Saen was founded in 1328 and is one of the oldest towns in Thailand.  It was built high in the hills in the northernmost part of Thailand and overlooks the joining of the Ruak and Mekhong rivers.  These rivers converge and then form not only an actual triangle but also the borders of three countries:  Thailand, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) and Laos. The Mekhong river is about 2,600 miles long and is the longest river in southeast Asia and the 8th longest in the world.  Chiang Saen is about a 13 hour drive from Bangkok but only a 2 1/2 hour flight.  I found roundtrip airfare at $140 for each of us and, with the resort (4 star!) at about $50 per night, this would end up being a relatively inexpensive trip. 

This region (northern Thailand, eastern Burma and western Laos) has, unfortunately, long held a reputation for growing large amounts of opium.  Opium production was made illegal in Thailand in 1959 and program of crop substitution managed by the King has largely eliminated its production in Thailand.  However, across the borders in Myanmar and Laos, the revolutionary groups are believed to fund their activities through the production and sale of opium and heroin.  Although trafficking of the opium across the borders and into Thailand does happen, it is definitely safe for Americans to visit and travel in this area.

At first glance, this might seem like an odd destination for our trip.  However, after reading through my guidebooks, I found Chiang Saen to be a little off the beaten path and there are some really interesting activities that will keep us occupied for a few days.  This area is referred to as the foothills of the Himalayas and the views of the Myanmar/Laos/Thailand borders from the mountains are supposed to be just spectacular.  There are numerous trekking trips offered into the jungle and the mountains.  We will also have opportunity to take a boat trip and see the homes and daily activities of the Burmese and Laotian families that live along the Mekhong river.  In addition, there are two hill-tribes (the Mien and the Akha) who still live in villages in this area and produce quality crafts and jewelry.  There are temples and elephant camps that we can tour.  So, while we won't be laying on a beach (we are saving that for Christmas!), I think this will be a fantastic opportunity for us to experience a very unique part of Thailand.  Plus, I will be able to take some great photos to post here!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Sunday and yesterday were beautiful days in Bangkok, weather wise.  The sun shone brightly and there were just a few white puffy clouds in the sky.  Of course, it was still quite warm but it was nice not to be under cloud cover for a couple of days.  This morning, we are back to the usual gray skies.
An update on basketball games from the weekend... Caitlynne's team played both Friday night and Saturday afternoon.  Friday's game ended in a close loss and Saturday's game ended in a crushing loss.  However, the great news is that Caitlynne scored 4 points and she had some great offensive and defensive plays.

Christopher had a game Saturday afternoon and his team had an impressive win.  The other boys are really developing as players and everyone gets along quite well.  Yesterday afternoon Christopher had his first BISAC game at school and they won 42-11.  Christopher did not think he would get to play because he was a 6th grader but he ended up playing about half of the game and had some great moves and scored a lot.  The difference between the 7th grade and 6th grade boys in size and athletic ability is amazing.  It is hard to believe that one year can make such a big difference.  Both of the kids each have BISAC games on Thursday at a school on the southern side of Bangkok.  Caitlynne has forbidden me to ride with them on the team bus, so I won't be going along to watch and cheer.

My water lily had its first flower bloom yesterday.  This plant has surprised me with how quickly it grows.  New leaves seem to pop up out of the water overnight.  The flower looks very similar to a peony but doesn't seem to have a scent.  After the flower petals die and fall off, the green center remains on the stem. 
Our dinner last night...Pad Thai, heavy on the tofu!  Please excuse the empty space in the lower left hand corner.  I was SO hungry!   
I have loved Pad Thai ever since a former neighbor in Fairfax, VA (Lorne, are you out there?) first made it for Kevin and I MANY years ago.  He followed a recipe from the Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, NY ( and it was amazing!  He made me a copy of the recipe and that is what I use whenever I make Pad Thai (not all that much).  Having now tasted many plates of authentic Pad Thai, this recipe, in my opinion, truly is just like the real thing.  So, from the Moosewood Restaurant Cooks At Home cookbook, here it is...

Moosewood Pad Thai (vegetarian)
Yields: 4 servings
2qt water
¾lb Mung bean sprouts
6oz Rice noodles (¼-inch wide)
3T Fresh lime juice
3T Catsup
1T Brown sugar
¼c Soy sauce
3T Peanut oil or vegetable oil
3 to 4cloves garlic; minced or pressed
1T Fresh chile; minced OR
t Crushed red pepper flakes
2c Carrots; grated
4lg Eggs; lightly beaten with a pinch of salt
c Peanuts; chopped
6 to 8scallions; chopped (about 1 cup)
In a covered pot, bring the water to a rolling boil. Blanch the mung bean sprouts by placing them in a strainer or small colander and dipping it into the boiling water for 30 seconds. Set aside to drain well. When the water returns to a boil, stir in the rice noodles and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until tender but firm. Drain the cooked noodles, rinse them under cool water, and set them aside to drain.

Prepare the remaining ingredients and have them near at hand before you begin to stir-fry. Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet. Add the garlic and chile, swirl them in the oil for a moment, and stir in the grated carrots. Stir-fry for 1 minute. Push the carrots to the sides to make a hollow in the center. Pour the beaten eggs into the center and quickly scramble them. When the eggs have just set, pour in the sauce mixture and stir everything together. Add the drained rice noodles and mung sprouts, and toss to distribute evenly. Stir in the peanuts and scallions, and serve at once. 

So very delicious!  In Thailand, tofu, dried shrimp, cooked shrimp and cooked/shredded chicken are also tossed in at the very end. 

Below is a photo of a dipping sauce PeePorn usually makes to serve with noodle dishes.  I think it is some kind of vinegar with chili peppers.  It looks so pretty but packs a bit of a punch!  She also leaves a little bowl of dry spices to sprinkle on our dishes if we want more heat.  Needless to say, that doesn't get used much. 
Pee Porn also made the Som Tum again so we had my two favorite Thai dishes for dinner!  And lots of leftovers!
As a fundraiser for the school, the ISB PTA offers a variety of continuing education classes for parents, including Pilates, Yoga, Tennis, Thai Language, Thai Culture, Cooking, and many more.  I signed up for "Interior Design 101" which is taught by an interior designer who lives in Nichada.  The class is made up of seminars and field trips (to furniture manufacturers, fabric shops, etc.) so I hope to get some good ideas for our house.  I also signed up for the "Thai Popular Dishes Bootcamp" and will attend five classes (4 hours each) and learn to make noodle dishes, curries, stir frys and salads.  It should be fun.  I try to watch PeePorn when she cooks but she doesn't use recipes nor does she measure or weigh any of the ingredients (and most of the time I don't know what the ingredients are) so I really haven't learned much from her. 

I am beginning to plan for our first trip out of Bangkok.  The kids have a week off from school near the end of October so we are thinking about going to an area in Northern Thailand known as the "Golden Triangle".  I will have more to post on that tomorrow!