Ode to my dearly departed 7/11

This wasn’t the post I planned to write today, but I find that the grief in my heart begs to be expressed publicly. The 7/11 across the street from our apartment building suddenly shut down this weekend. It was unexpected, and it has left a gaping hole in my life. I didn’t know how much I needed it until it was gone.

 

Dear 7/11

You were always there when I needed you. Your brightly lit sign was like a beacon of hope on those nights when I realized that I really, really needed a Magnum bar. You sold me dietary staples such as eggs, bread, and fish sauce at prices that did not exceed what major grocery chains charged. Your beer was always cold, although you would not sell it to me between the hours of 2pm and 5pm. Sometimes I secretly thought that your chocolate bars had melted and re-solidified several times before I bought them, but you always had them in stock, which is the important thing. The air inside your walls usually smelled of the fishballs and fluorescent hot dogs that were so inexplicably popular with your Thai customers – how I miss those aromas. Your staff sometimes had a hard time counting change, and they loved to grab handfuls of my baby’s numerous thighs, but they were familiar faces in a cold, cruel world. I still have at least 100 of the plastic spoons that you snuck into my bag every time I bought yogurt – I use them to catch my tears. Truly, our neighbourhood has lost its most important landmark. Now I have to walk 5 extra minutes in the opposite direction to get to your inferior sister store. Please, please come back.

I’ll be waiting. So will the disgusting fleabag carpet dog that used to lie in your air-conditioned doorway. Don’t do this to us.

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Bangkok: A parenting paradise

It hit me recently that the first few months of my li’l Pork Chop’s life are a bit different than what they would have been if she was born in Canada. Bangkok just offers that uniquely potent combination of fumes/crowds/swamps’n’drama that is guaranteed to simultaneously give parents a heart attack, and make babies’ mouths water. I’m just relieved that Pork Chop is still relatively immobile, or she would probably cram this whole city into her gaping, expectant maw. Here are a few bits of the excitement that give our day-to-day life that extra bit of oomph.

1. Protests

Hmmmm. Not even really sure where to begin with this one. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I like to provide an up-to-the-minute cogent analysis of world events for my readers, but motherhood has seriously killed off most of the ol’ gray matter. So I will do my best to summarize the protests that have rocked the city over the past few months: some people “strongly dislike” Yingluck Shinawatra, the current prime minister of Thailand, and would prefer that she no longer run this country. This is for a variety of reasons, including 1) her government has attempted to pardon her brother – the former prime minister of Thailand – of the corruption charges against him, which would allow him to return to Thailand from his self-imposed exile, and 2) Yingluck’s government has bought rice from Thailand’s farmers at above market prices in an attempt to win votes and manipulate world rice prices (unfortunately Thailand is not the only rice producing nation in the world, so this attempt at a rice monopoly failed). Also, 3) as world leaders go, Yingluck is seriously hot, so jealously may also be a factor.

Anywayzzzz, this has led to a bunch of protests, which have gotten violent at times. The protesters like to congest already congested areas, so we sometimes found ourselves in situations like this when we were out and about with Pork Chop:

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But this being Thailand, there is usually live music, lots of food, and “protest fashion” to be found.

Currently, there are protests against the protests happening. It’s anyone’s guess how it will all turn out.* In the meantime, Yingluck continues to look extremely attractive as she faces the anti-corruption committee.

2. Garbage fires:

A few weeks ago, Todd unexpectedly got to work from home for a few days. When you’re a teacher, these opportunities don’t come up that often (apparently “consistency” is good for kids), so this was a real treat. Unfortunately, the unexpected home time resulted from a huge fire at a garbage dump in Samut Prakan, the district that Todd’s school is in. I never knew that “managing a dump” could be such a great avenue for criminal activity, but apparently these dump managers finagled it – there were tons/loads/heaps/mounds (insert your favourite garbage-related word here) of illegal toxic waste buried in all that innocent trash, which created clouds of billowing fumes. The immediate area was evacuated, and many schools within the district went on hiatus.

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In the immediate vicinity of the fire

We fortunately do not live in Samut Prakan, but the air near our apartment was still rather “aromatic.” We spent several days inside, allowing Pork Chop to breathe the pure air of our ailing A/C units (that sometimes mysteriously smell of urine).

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But Daddy is home, so it’s all good.

When Todd’s school administration could no longer physically see chunks in the air, the party was over.

3.Sidewalks

This is less of an event, and more of an everyday occurrence. Basically, the only way that Pork Chop leaves the house is in her Ergo carrier.

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Leaving the hospital. This was my best attempt at good posture.

This is not because we are crunchy parents obsessed with baby-wearing: it is because there is no other (reasonable) way to take her anywhere.** We have a stroller, but we mainly use it for pushing Pork Chop to the 7/11 next to our apartment to stock up on fish sauce and chocolate soy milk. We can’t push it anywhere useful, because the sidewalks near our apartment look like this:

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Yes, that is a car parked on the sidewalk. What the photo doesn’t show is the motorcycles that routinely speed by ON THE SIDEWALK.

So, when we take the stroller to the train station, we end up doing a lot of this:

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So easy! Just huck Pork Chop inside, fold it up, and Bob’s yer uncle!

Which gets a little tiresome after awhile. Also, sometimes there is wildlife on the sidewalk:

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Fortunately, those two girls in the background stopped us before we walked by it. So we avoided the snake by walking on the busy road.

So poor Pork Chop ends up angrily baking on my chest in the 35 C weather and breaking my back in the process. We take taxis when it’s really necessary, but that isn’t a great solution, because there is no way to strap in a car seat. So she is once again in her Ergo.

If anyone has a brilliant solution to this problem, I am all ears!

4. Old Farang Men

Oh wow. I could dedicate a year’s worth of blog posts to the strange, strange world of Old Farang Men in Thailand. Of course, there are many who are just sweet old dudes. But there are many, many, who are not, and who probably perma-moved to Thailand to escape the constraints of polite behaviour imposed on them by their home countries. I thought having a baby on my chest would spare me the awkward interactions, but I think they have actually increased. Witness the following conversation:

Setting: Inside an elevator at my friend’s apartment building. I am with my friends Therese and Kelley, and we all have squirming babies on our chests. An older farang gentleman gets on. He and Therese proceed to have the following conversation:

Therese (apologetically) “You got on the lucky elevator.”

Old Farang Man: “Haha. Yeah. Did you guys have a foursome?”

Therese: “Uh… haha. Uh…”

Old Farang Dude: “That would make a good movie plot, wouldn’t it?”

Therese: “Ha. Ha. Ha.”

I wanted to take a shower with bleach to wash that little interaction away. You can’t make this stuff up.

I don’t have an appropriate photo to share, but google “Old Farang Men,” and you will get an eyeful. Here is one of Pork Chop and her friend Anya instead:

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And those are just a few of the highlights of parenting in Bangkok. As I contemplate moving back to Canada, I am relieved that Pork Chop will have cleaner air to breathe, and won’t have to angrily writhe on my chest in the heat. But I can’t lie, I’m going to miss some of the drama of parenting in Bangkok. Minus the Old Farang Men.

 

*Anyone who is actually educated about the situation wouldn’t have to guess.

** I guess we could throw her on the back of a motorbike like some of the locals do, but I think her grandparents would object.

Rock Domain: Bangkok’s indoor climbing paradise

This past Saturday, we went climbing at Rock Domain, a newish climbing gym in the Bangna area of Bangkok (a lot of words start with a Bang here).

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I used to climb quite often while I was in university, but I haven’t gone once since we moved to Bangkok. This soon became painfully obvious. Nothing like heaving yourself up a wall over and over again to A) remind you that there were too many Magnum bars and not enough weightlifting during your now long past pregnancy, and B) make you ponder the futility of human existence a la the book of Ecclesiastes. Oh wow. That is way deeper than I wanted to go. Let’s go back to the frivolity.

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Get out of my brain King Solomon, and get out of my face, Todd-with-his-camera

We met up with our friends Michele and Leah at the gym. Michele and her muscles appeared on my blog a long time ago. Hmmm… this seems like the perfect chance to reuse one of my all-time favourite photo series: Michele teaching our friend Sean how to do a cheerleading lift. I was going to add captions, but really, the photos say it for me.

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She still likes to throw people around, but her guns have gotten even gunnier since those days.

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If you gave me some muscles’n’posture, I could almost be her twin!

After a few climbs, I gave up all pretence of keeping up with her. Fortunately, her CrossFit buddy Ben soon joined us. They alternated between climbing some of the most difficult routes in the place, and doing 2-fingered pull-ups during their breaks.

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Lucky for me, Leah is new to climbing, so she and I took a more relaxed approach. During one of her breaks, she somehow managed to put my child to sleep in her arms, a feat that I have not yet accomplished. I am still awestruck.

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Not sure what is going on in this photo, but I think Leah might be gloating.

Todd was a daddy extraordinaire, and looked after Zoe while I climbed. He managed to find a few moments to do a little bouldering, and to introduce Zoe to the wall. It’s never too young to start good habits, right?

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Zoe free soloing her first climb.

I was pretty impressed by the set-up at Rock Domain: there are loads of top-roped routes at varying levels of difficulty, lots of lead-climbing routes, and a big bouldering area. You can rent any equipment you might need, and the staff can teach you how to belay. It would make for a great day out – we noticed groups of friends, what looked like some awkward dates, and a few daddy-daughter combos (they are not paying me to say this – I was just really, really happy to find such a great climbing centre in Bangkok).

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Part of the bouldering area. It’s not just my crappy photography skills – it’s actually on a slope.

Oh, and the cute cafe next door, intriguingly named My Secret Place. Because you never know when you might secretly need some coffee and a weird tuna pastry to fuel those climbs. And no one should know about your tuna pastry habit unless you want to tell them.

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AND it secretly contains a Christmas tree. Motto: “Bangkok: where it’s always Christmas, but never winter”

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AND we secretly feed our child chocolate banana frappes.

Here is the link to Rock Domain. It is almost invisible from Bangna Trat, so be sure to check out the map, and get your taxi driver to talk to the staff at the gym if you get confused.

Foodie Friday: Rotee!

Not even going to pretend that it’s Friday.

One of my favourite parts of Bangkok’s food scene is its variety. You can find a meal at almost any price point – from a dollar for a bowl of soup on the street to obscene amounts for an al fresco dining experience at a rooftop restaurant. The Thais just know how to do calories. This even extends to the usually revolting mess that is the mall food court.* While Thai malls offer yer average bland, calorie-bomb chains (ie: KFC, McDonalds, etc.), some also contain real gems. This is the case with Paradise Mall, one of the approximately fifty thousand shopping destinations located in our corner of southern Bangkok. While it should be noted that “Paradise” is not actually “Paradise” in the literal sense, the distinction gets a little blurry after you experience the joys of Rotee.

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I get excited every time I see this sign

Rotee is an amazing little stall that serves curry and Thai (not Indian) roti. This is an important distinction: Indian roti is a plain, unleavened, whole wheat bread. It tastes fine, but it’s pretty pedestrian. Thai roti, on the other hand, is a yummy lump of white flour-and-egg-dough fried in a good slather of grease.

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So shiny. So perfect.

At Rotee, after frying the roti, the staff then wrap the bread in a cloth and beat it within an inch of its life. I’ve never seen this done anywhere else, but it yields an an amazing pile of dough that is simultaneously fluffy and greasy.

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Couldn’t get close enough for a photo of this process, but you can see the results.

The curry is also excellent. Lately, I have a thing for Massaman curry, a mixture of chicken, potatoes, and peanuts in a spicy sweet sauce, and Rotee does a good one. They add enough sugar that it tastes like dessert and a guilt trip mixed together.

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The food is what keeps me coming back – it isn’t the staff. The ladies behind the counter are not your stereotypical smiling Thais. I’m convinced they think I’m a complete idiot no matter which language I use. Usually when I feel this way, I tell myself that I’m being neurotic, but in this case, I think I’m actually correct.

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A random photo of a nearby stall that was too good not to use. Something about the artwork makes me feel extremely exposed.

Paradise Mall is located near King Rama IX park, which means that after a stroll through the gardens, we can replenish the massive number of calories that we burned.

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Sneaking photos of a group fitness class. At least my eyes were getting a workout.

Also, it means that usually Zoe is asleep when we’re eating dinner, leading to many situations like this one:

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I once saw a post on BuzzFeed, or some other mindless time-wasting site, that included a bunch of photos of “bad parents.” One of the photos was a dad eating dinner while wearing his child on his chest. Either we’re so far gone as parents that we don’t even realize how bad we are, or whoever wrote the post isn’t a parent, because unless you want to ruin a nap or never eat again, there are many, many times when this scenario is necessary. I may have had to pick an olive out of one of Zoe’s neck folds once, and a certain unnamed family member** may have left a small smear of mayonnaise on her eyebrow on another occasion, but other than that, she is pretty much intact.

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Although she thinks her hand will provide nourishment if she sucks hard enough, so maybe I’m wrong.

If you live in Bangkok, do yourself a favour, and make a trip to Paradise. If the cashiers at Rotee make you nervous, remind yourself that your mother probably thinks you’re great, and place your order. All the intangible parts of you will be in paradise while all the tangible parts of you are simultaneously also in Paradise.

* Not that I’m dissing revolting messes. I enjoy burying my head in the food court feeding trough now and again.

** Not Todd, but someone related to him