Free dinner Withlocals

Just a quick post for my Bangkok readers: Withlocals, the company that I reviewed on the blog a few weeks ago, is giving away FREE dinners in Asia as part of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Day. The offer is only good until the end of May 16th (Whoops! Yes, I am a leeeetle behind in posting this link). Definitely worth checking if they have any free meals left – it was a great experience! Here’s the link:

 http://www.withlocals.com/food-revolution-day/

Slurrrrp! A delicious lunch WithLocals

This past Saturday, T-bone and I had a very unique experience. We stuffed Hunca Munca into her sausage casing carrier, went for a ride on the BTS, and ate an obscene amount of food. None of that is unique – it pretty much describes every single weekend of our Thailand existence. The unique part is that we got to eat the obscene amount of food in the home of a lovely Thai family.

I was recently contacted by WithLocals, a company that connects travellers and locals through the power of chow. Basically, locals with a passion for Thai cooking invite travellers to come to their homes for a meal. WithLocals vets the host families, and then posts their profiles on-line so that travellers can choose a dining/cultural experience from a variety of options and price points. I thought this was a brilliant idea, and when the company invited me to enjoy a meal with one of their host families, I was pumped. It doesn’t get much better than a mound of tasty calories cooked by friendly people who don’t mind if Hunca Munca tags along.

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Or more accurately, they didn’t mind that we tagged along with Hunca Munca

On Saturday morning we made our way to the conglomeration of shopping malls next to the Siam BTS. Depending on how much you like to shop, this neighbourhood is either utter paradise, or pure, unmitigated horror. Fortunately, we weren’t there to shop. A friend of our host family met us at Siam Center, and drove us across the river to the lovely home of Meaw and Eiad.

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The two friendly faces in the back row other than Todd (I wouldn’t call my face friendly in this photo)

Our hosts were extremely welcoming, and they had prepared a MOTHERLOAD of Thai food for us to try. I had to use my full powers of introversion to contain my excitement when I saw the delicious spread on the table.

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Mmmmmmm…… Where to start……

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Two friendly fellas just begging to be eaten

 

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Som Tam (green papaya salad)

 

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Spicy beef salad. They grilled the beef over charcoal, and it was deeeeelicious.

 

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I didn’t get close-ups, but the feast also included pad Thai, pork omelette, rice, french fries, and spring rolls

 

While we ate, Hunca Munca alternated between sitting on our laps, taking selfies with the helpers in the kitchen, growling with our hosts’ friend,

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and writhing around on the floor. Todd’s pretty good at eating with Zoe on his lap, but I’m a terrible multi-tasker, so when it’s my turn to hold’n’eat, I usually set up a little “play center” on the floor. Oops. Did I just admit that publicly…

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Just chillin’ with her multi-coloured cow/giraffe thingey

As we ate, we got acquainted with our hosts. It was neat to learn about their backgrounds, and they were interested to hear about our experiences in Thailand.

By the time dessert rolled around, the “play center’s” entertainment value had worn off, and Hunca Munca was asleep on my chest. I didn’t think I could hold any more food, but you will be relieved to know that I girded my loins and gave it my best shot. It’s a good thing that I am so determined, because there were at least 4 desserts to sample.

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Mango sticky rice and some interesting rice flour flowers

 

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After dessert, our hosts showed us a display case with photos of all the travellers they had hosted in their home, and told us that they would add our photo to the shelf. I’m not sure that our sweaty mugs will improve the look of their home, but we were touched by the sentiment.

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Before we left, Meaw presented us with scarves made out of traditional fabric, and invited us to visit again. We were really overwhelmed by their generosity, and I do hope we’ll have a chance to take them up on their offer.

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I would definitely recommend this experience, especially to travellers. It can be difficult to meet “real” locals when you’re a tourist, and WithLocals provides a great opportunity. If you want to enjoy a meal with cute Meaw and Eiad, select “Dine in a homely setting.” Your heart and your stomach will both be full when you leave :)

The Antique Cafe

If you had told me a few months ago that my new home away from home would be a cute’n’sleepy cafe located near Phrom Pong BTS and staffed almost entirely by lady boys, I would probably have believed you. I mean, I needed something to fill the void left by Samitivej Hospital – now that Zoe is four months old, even my friend the cardiologist couldn’t manufacture a reason for me to visit on a weekly basis any more. Plus, it turns out that my caffeine needs have increased significantly since giving birth, AND the cafe hosts my favourite estrogen-scented group. So really, there was no chance that I wouldn’t end up at Antique Cafe.

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One of the “top heavy” groups that meets at the Antique Cafe is a club called “The Breastfeeding Cafe.” You cannot accuse them of false advertising: it really is a heaping pile of mewling, suckling infants, and their female herders parents. Every Tuesday morning, the (Breastfeeding) Cafe meets at the (Antique) Cafe, which graciously allows us to cover every square inch of the space with baby paraphernalia. Before I joined the group, I was nervous that I wouldn’t be allowed to enjoy a coffee before I pledged to publicly expose myself at every opportunity, but fortunately, the group’s founders are more relaxed than that. Basically, it is just a group of haggard, haggard women drinking coffee and quizzing each other about how much they slept last night. Sleep is a drug to this group: “Where did you get yours? Oh yeah? What did it cost? Where can I get some? What?! You grow your own?!?!” If you haven’t spawned, this probably sounds hideous, but to new mothers, it is the Balm of Gilead.

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My friends Kelley and Rina getting (em)Balm(ed).

 

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Poorly photographed heap of breastfeeders.

My friend Laura is the group’s current lactation consultant, and she is a great person to talk to if you are a) a breastfeeding mother with questions, or b) a dairy farmer looking to increase your cows’ milk yield.

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Or if you just want to hang out with her extremely cute munchkin

The cafe also serves awesome cupcakes. After visiting the cafe 5 or 6 times, it hit me that maybe I didn’t need to order a cupcake every single time I was there. But I quickly banished that thought from my mind as soon as I saw my favourite chai tea cupcake in the display case, and fortunately, it hasn’t resurfaced since.

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Sluuuuuurp.

The cafe gets its beans from Yindee Coffee – a Rayong-based ministry that buys directly from Thai coffee farmers. It also supports a variety of other good causes and ministries.

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Like Second Chance Bangkok, the organization that produced these adorable items.

If you have bags under your eyes and estrogen in your veins, you should definitely come check out the Antique Cafe on Tuesday mornings, and enjoy the feeding frenzy. If you have the bags but not the estrogen, you should visit the Cafe any time other than Tuesday morning.

No, wait! I should be attempting to normalize public nursing! COME ONE, COME ALL!!!!!

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Like these two unsuspecting gents who are doing their best to look “normal”

But seriously, if you enjoy a great coffee at half the price of what Starbucks charges, check out the Antique Cafe. It is open Monday-Friday from 8:30am – 5:30pm, and it’s a great place to hang out even if you’re not lactating. It is located on the first subsoi off Sukhumvit Soi 31.

Although there are days when I miss being poked and prodded at the hospital, or receiving a good EKG, I am quite happy to have a new hangout. When lactators refuel with fair trade coffee’n’calories served by elegant lady boys, there are no losers.

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.