30 December 2006

A Merry Christmas indeed...

It has been fun to hear from several friends and family this week and hear that everyone had a wonderful Christmas! The story is the same here in Thailand. It has been a wonderful week together celebrating the birth of our Savior and making memories together. We have taken a LOT of pictures this week, mostly because my kids just elevated to another level of cuteness. I always think they've hit the top, then they do it all over again! Isn't that amazing? Janie is signing and talking even more lately and turning heads everywhere we go. Jack is wow-ing everyone in town with his Thai numbers and a few phrases. I love hearing him and Jeff tell their "together stories" because Jeff laughs just as hard as Jack. He has quite the gift for creative story telling. Our "Curious Jack" is more active than ever, and so inquisitive, it is tiring, but I love it! He tells people regularly, "I can get into anything", and he's right. He can get into, out of, or tie up anything. The funniest part is that Jane is starting to find it fun to do these kinds of things to. She will sit and put the straw in and out of the juice box, the lid on and off the water bottle, or crackers through the slit in the chair. We love watching her learn this way. Well, here are just some of the highlights of our week.

We did a mini version of the Nativity on Christmas Eve (in very homemade costumes. There are countless fabric stores here, but my sewing machine is still on the boat, and who knows if that would have even made a difference!) The kids loved dressing up to listen to the Christmas story. They mostly used the nativity pieces to act out the story. It was a fun way to review the events we were celebrating.

We were so happy that Dave would come and join us for Christmas Eve. Jane hadn't seen him for a while, but really warmed up to him and sat with him through all of our Christmas stories. This reminded me of when I was a very little girl and used to sit with my "boyfriends" when we would go to my Dad's singles ward. I think Jane and Dave both loved the extra attention!

Showing off their new Christmas PJ's. It was quite the challenge to find short sleeved pajamas in the WINTER. Vendors looked at me like I was nuts when I would ask for them. Jack's are also pretty big, but when you shop on the streets, you don't have a ton of selection!

Jeff teaching Jack how to use his new Bow and Arrow. Jack didn't put it down all day, so he quickly became very good at getting his arrows to stick to the television. He was better than I was after about 20 minutes. I think it took him at least 30 minutes before he passed up Jeff. I thought kids weren't supposed to be better at things than their parents for at least another few years. Not the case in our home!

Janie loved her rocking elephant Santa brought for her! She is still figuring out how to get on herself, but she certainly loves to rock and rock and rock... it makes it worth all the stairs climbed, miles walked, and train and taxi rides it took to haul it from the shop on that very busy Saturday. (If this doesn't make sense, check out my post on 25 Nov 2006).

Everyone showing off their new goggles at the pool on Christmas day. It was a pretty cool day and the water was freezing (they don't heat the pools here, because 10 months out of the year it would be unnecessary!), so we didn't get in much. Jane was the one that really wanted to get in, the cold didn't seem to phase her. She surprised us all!

We thought this scooter would be a big surprise for Jack, but when he saw it, he said "My scooter!" Maybe he was just pretending the whole time to believe the whole "glasses" bit. He loves riding his scooter, and we love that we can load it on the stroller and take it to the park with us! Luckily, there will also be room for him to ride it when we move to our new place on Monday! Yay!

We got to see Santa at the ward Christmas party last Saturday, but didn't have the camera. Luckily, he visits the city too! We saw this sweet Santa in the Paragon on Christmas night. He was surrounded by young girls in angel costumes who were handing things out to the children. We were surprised he wasn't with all the "sexy Santa's helpers" we've seen here. There are lots of women in random places (restuarants, departments stores, hospitals, etc.) who are in these "sexy Santa's helper" outifts and I think it's hilarious. They're not trying to be suggestive or anything, in fact they are all very sweet and innocent looking girls, they just wear these little outfits to be festive. I tried to get Jeff to get a picture with a bunch we saw, but he didn't think it was as funny as I did.

Christmas night in the heart of the shopping district. Lots of people out shopping, all the music and lights going full blast. It was a fun night out to dinner with Dave and another of our many favorite walks along the skywalk.

We spent the day after Christmas with our friends, the Strate family, at Safari World. Kaddi and Shane moved here from Wisconsin so he could finish up his research for his Doctorate in South East Asian History. Wow, I hope I got that right. Their kids, Jake and Megan, are as sweet as can be and our kids adore them! Jane would hardly let Jake let go of her hand, and I know Jack loved having other kids to be with.

We saw some really fun animals and shows, but by far, the highlight was this "Safari Terrace" where we could feed the giraffes. We fed them these leaves and lots and lots of bananas. Their tongues are SO long, they would just reach out and get the bananas right out of your hands. Jack was a little hesitant with the bananas, but he warmed up to them after a while. These animals roamed freely in their Safari park with other animals like zebras, rhinos, ostriches, and lots more. It was a really fun day, and the weather was cool enough that we could really enjoy it.

We visited Ocean World several times this week and loved every minute of it! Some of the workers are starting to remember the kids because we come so often. There is so much to see, we could never get bored. Plus, we can always go to the playland! Janie is quite the climber these days!

Thursday morning, we got to visit the Pakkret Baby home. It's an orphanage just outside the city for young children. I didn't quite know what to expect, but knew that I wanted to visit and see if there was anything we could contribute. It was a very positive experience for Jeff and I as well as the kids. Jack mostly just played with the kids around his age. This boy made Jack wrap his arms around his waist so he didn't fall off. I thought that was so sweet!

There was a separate room for the children Janie's age, so I took her in to play for a while. These kids were all very sweet. They played around me and the workers, mostly very quietly. They had balls, blocks, simple rattle toys, and lots of things to climb in and out of. They have plenty to play with, but lack interaction with adults. It was sad to see, but fun to have a chance to play with them. There is one in the back that you can kind of see in the mirror, she is deaf and has obvious physical disabilities, and she was my favorite. She had a spark that I couldn't find as easily in the other kids. She would clap as she knocked down my towers and we would laugh. I loved this.

I found a room where these girls from a University were working with a couple of kids. The boy with his legs crossed has Down syndrome and was learning how to string these plastic blooms onto wire. This little boy was so sweet and clever, he also took his work very seriously. Jane started to come over to him to grab his "blooms" one time, so the next time, he anticipated her interest and quickly turned his back so he could shield his project. These flowers on loops are something you can buy on any street all over Bangkok, but with real blooms of course. People hang them on ancient trees, take them to temples, shrines, etc. or just hang them on their rear-view mirrors for good luck. I assume they are teaching him this skill so he can use it to earn money eventually. Jack loved learning this too, and thought it was so cool to do what we watched a lady do just a few days ago on the street.

We started out all playing with this one little boy, Pon. He will be adopted this next week by a family in London. They wanted us to be with him so he could get used to being with "people like us". After I took Jack and Jane to explore the rest of the place, he melted into Jeff's arms. I wondered if he had ever slept in anyone's arms before. Jeff was so great to play with this sweet boy and give him some much needed loving touch.

This experience at the orphanage was very eye opening for me. I was impressed by the routine that they had, and the very nice University students who are there with them every day. One of the volunteers told me that the children call the workers "mother" and when they go inside from playtime, they call it "going home". It was nice to know that they have someone to call mother, and they can really call their place home. I think I was expecting the worst, so I was pleasantly surprised. From what I could see, they have most of what they need, but lack the physical attention that every child needs to develop properly. I admire the volunteers that go there regularly, and wish I was in a position to do so. I do, however, look forward to going with Jack and Jane when we can get out there (it's about 40 min. out of the city), and hopefully we can all do some good in our own small way. I will be getting a list of things that the Orphanage is in need of, so if anyone is interested, please let me know.

I couldn't resist sharing this picture because I think it is foreshadowing of Janie's teenage years. I can just hear her saying "Oh, Mom", with this look on her face. Ohhh, what an adventure those years will be, I look forward to them, but can definitely wait.

Overall, this week has been wonderful, especially having Jeff home! We are now packing to move to our new place and we are SO grateful to be done with the moves for at least a couple of years! We also receive our sea shipment on Wednesday. It will be like Christmas all over again!
Hope your Christmas was merry and have a Happy New Year!

Sawat dii pii may!

20 December 2006

The mind of my 3 year old...

I couldn't resist sharing how fun it is to have such a sneaky 3 year old in our home! He definitely keeps me on my toes, especially this time of year! He actually found his Christmas gift from Santa in what we thought was a genius hiding place, so Jeff had to explain to him that inside the box wasn't really what was on the box. The box has a really cool looking scooter on it, but inside are just some glasses of Moms (why he picked glasses, I have no idea!) . He asked me about it again yesterday when he found it again (I know, it seems like we are the worst at hiding things, but really, this is just a small apartment, and Jack gets very bored during his quiet time sometimes!). I explained to him that we'd better put it back because I didn't want my glasses to get broken. He started to put it back in the closet and asked "why are these glasses SO heavy?" What 3 year old notices things like this?

Jack has been REALLY excited for Christmas since we wrapped his presents for Jane and Jeff the other day. He says "I really want it to be Christmas so I can give Jane her present!" He has been asking every day, "Is it Christmas today?". He occasionally will bring me over a gift he knows is for me and tell me, "Happy Birthday, Mom! Open your present!", thinking this will trick me into opening it early. Last night I wrapped Janie's present for Jack and put it near the Christmas tree because it is too big and long to go under our little tree. He spotted it this morning and asked what it was. I told him it was a gift to him from Jane (he didn't really know that any of the gifts under the tree were his, so this was especially exciting). He asked me what it was and I explained to him, like I do everyday, that it is more fun to wait for Christmas and find out then. He told me that he really wanted to know what it was, and didn't want to wait for Christmas. I said "okay. I'll tell you. It's socks". He looked at the long package and said, "are they really long socks?". I stuck to my "socks" story trying to ease the excitement some. He then picked up the present for me that he is always so curious about and said, "you told me what my present was, so I'm going to tell you what yours is". I told him to go ahead, knowing that Jeff would never tell Jack a secret like this because we learned on Father's Day that Jack gets too excited to keep a secret! He looked at me like he was going to tell me exactly what it was, so much that I almost worried that he did know, and then said, "So, what did Daddy tell you it was?". Our boy is pretty clever. He ended our gift conversation by asking, "Why did Janie get me socks instead of a present?" Hopefully, he won't be too disappointed when he opens up that present to discover it is not socks!

Jeff showed Jack how to use the self-timer on the camera. Occasionally, I will look at the pictures on the camera and there are several that are obviously taken by Jack. He thinks it's great that the camera can do it all by itself! This is one that the "camera" took at dinner one night. I know, he is just so handsome. Boy, do I love this kid!

17 December 2006

Scarves in Thailand?

I couldn't resist just falling in love with all the sweet caroling groups we have heard this week. It is fun to hear the traditional Christmas carols with Asian accents. They are scattered throughout the malls, and hearing them just makes me smile! I think it is hilarious that they have scarves, hats and gloves on. I am pretty sure this is the only time in many of their lives that they have ever worn such items. My friend at church today, Mendy, actually talked about this weather being cold. I assumed she was talking about the Relief Society room because the A/C was blasting, but no, she was talking about outside! She is from the Philippines, so to her, this really is cold. I told her she needed to come and stay with us when we move back to Utah and really experience the cold. How can people be wearing sweaters (really, sweaters!), and the rest of us come home with sweaty shirts?

I said last week that I would show some pictures from my experience buying my Nativity Set. I found a place called "Bangkok Dolls" that is a tiny doll museum with a store and workshop right in the same building. Getting there alone was a challenge, I think the taxi driver stopped a few times to ask for directions and on the way there I saw "homes" I didn't know people could survive in. It was interesting that a museum was in this kind of neighborhood, but I was happy for the reminder to be grateful for how good we really have it. And we really do.

I loved this shop. I wanted to buy this Nativity because of how unique it was and the clothing is very Thai, which I love. It is not something I would ever have taken a second look at had I not come to Bangkok and visited this shop myself. Everything in the shop is handmade, and not the "handmade" like a lot of the things at the touristy markets. I wouldn't have believed it, except that I asked to go back in the workshop to meet the makers. They were so sweet to me and the kids. They happily showed us what part they were working on and how they did it. One man was sewing on the clothing, another lady was making the hats.

This lady made hands. This is what she does all day long, make hands. She showed us how she puts in all the wires swabbed in cotton, sews them, turns them inside out, etc. I know I didn't get it all, but it was incredible. They were all so sweet, I wanted to hug them. But, a Wai is all that is appropriate here. I was very touched at how humble these people were. Now when I look at my handmade Nativity Set, I think of these sweet people and how hard they worked on each outfit they are wearing, the position of their feet, or the woman that makes all the hands. I think I will always love that Nativity because of that brief, yet very touching experience.

I think I mentioned last week that I got to perform in a concert last Monday evening. The concert was to promote my friend's new album. She is a vocalist and her husband is a conductor. They have been working to produce this "Thai Pop" album with another one of Thailand's Pop stars. He's so popular, I can't remember his name right now, but he really did have a great voice and was a very nice guy. Anyway, they invited me to come and play with them and it was a lot of fun. It was interesting to throw together a concert in two short rehearsals, especially when I couldn't even understand the conductor. And, they slipped us a new piece right before sound check that was more challenging than anything we had practiced. It was not the best orchestra, but we pulled it off! It was a lot bigger of a deal than I was anticipating. This set-up is outside of the Paragon, the gigantic mall I've seen written as "The Pride of Bangkok". The whole thing was pretty glamorous with the huge tree, lights, jumbo screens, and lots of press. On the big screens is my friend and her husband with the Thai pop star and the composer. You can see the orchestra down at the base of the tree. Sorry this picture is so small! Jeff couldn't get anywhere near the concert sight, so this picture was taken from the train station up above. I thought he did a pretty good job considering everything! Anyway, it was a great experience to be with other musicians, even if couldn't understand much of what anyone said. This kind of thing really opened my eyes to what it's like being a minority, especially when you don't speak the language!
I took this picture the other day to remind me why we are glad we don't drive in this city. These are not cars that are moving, they are at a standstill! This happens SO often, and getting caught in the middle of it with two restless kids is awful. Many times, I have gotten out of a taxi in the middle of the street with the kids because walking would be faster! We walk everywhere we can, or take the train. If absolutely necessary, we take a taxi. I am learning that we need to be within train riding distance by about 3pm or we'll be in trouble!
Saturday, we went to the Chatuchak market together, and it was a big mistake! We really didn't find anything because it was just too hard with the kids and a husband who doesn't like shopping. NOT a place for either of those, I don't know what we were thinking. Next time, I think I will go solo or with a friend like last time. But, Janie and Jack did like taking turns in the backpack, and they always enjoy the train. This is us waiting for one at the BTS station. Who was Jeff talking to here? Who knows?

As part of our Christmas, we decided to buy annual passes to "Ocean World". It's a huge aquarium in the basement of the Paragon (the place where my concert was by). We heard it was great, but were more than impressed when it just kept going and going and going... it exceeded our expectations. The kids were more than excited about all the fish, crabs, sharks, and of course the very clean playground near the end. I'm sure we will get our money's worth with this one!

Jack has been extra hilarious this week. Every so often when I help him in the bathroom, I notice that he has not one pair of underpants on, but two! I set out his clothes in the morning and he goes in and gets dressed. When he's in a big hurry, he forgets to take off the previous day's pair. We are often heard giggling in public restrooms when it surprises us both! He has also become very particular about what he wears. He doesn't care about much, except that whatever he is wearing, it needs to match his Daddy. You will notice in the picture at the train station that my boys are both wearing red shirts. Jack had to change out of yellow into red when he saw what Jeff had put on. I think this is so cute. Jack also is loving his Dad's stories about Jack the tuk-tuk driver, or Mommy's surprising hit of Larry the Lawnmower. He has been extra creative in the stories that he participates in. The other day, he was describing his magic powers. It went something like this, "I can freeze stuff with my eyes. I can laser stuff with my eyes. I can make chocolate milk with my... eyes. My ears can make beds without using any hands. And I can fly".

His favorite treat is the fresh squeezed orange juice from the stand that we pass several times a day. He likes to tell the vendor "one" and "Thank you" in Thai when he hands him the money. He has made friends with many of the vendors we pass on the streets several times a day. He loves to wave and smile, and has recently started to salute the guards when we leave our home. He thinks this is great!

Janie's newest talent this week is getting off the bed and going down stairs on her own. Yay! Today at church, I was outside letting her go up and down a set of stairs. A bunch of members from the Cambodian branch were watching. I was trying to let her practice, but I'm sure they thought I was just a lazy mom. Every time she tried to go down, they would take her hand and walk her down , or just carry her down to me. She didn't have any room to practice because they just wanted to help so much! I finally pointed out that she could do it herself, but they still wanted to hold her and help her. They were so sweet, but now I know she will never get a chance to practice anything hard at church. Luckily, she is getting doing really well, so I won't have to worry about it too much!

Janie loves to swim! If she can see her swimsuit, she has to hold it. One day I heard her all of a sudden start screaming in my room and I went in to see what the disaster was, but it was only that she couldn't get her swimsuit off the doorknob! She took her nap with it the other day. She loves the water and is jumping in, blowing bubbles, and going under just like her brother! It is one of our favorite family activities! She started to say "Thank You" in Thai this week. We love that our children are so young and hope they will pick up on many of the words while we are here! Here's the link to a cute video of her we took last night. The lighting is bad, but she is still super cute!

10 December 2006

Just a few adjustments...

So, this week was very busy, but great. Jeff's highlights were getting Tuesday off for Jesse's birthday! Okay, maybe it was also the King's birthday, which is also Father's Day here. We spent the day together playing and even celebrated that night by taking Jeff to Outback Steakhouse. Jeff worked very hard all week to prepare for 9-5 training meetings this coming week. He's pretty much amazing. My highlight was getting to rehearse with an orchestra to prepare for a concert on Monday. It felt so good to get my fiddle out again! I couldn't understand the conductor much, but I fit right in when the music begun. Music is amazing that way. I also was successful in finding a Thai nativity scene which was an amazing experience in and of itself. I'll post pictures later. Jack is coming up with new dance moves regularly. He busts a nickel every time we hit the BTS stations or anywhere there is music playing with a good bass. He pretty much draws a crowd wherever we go. Janie is hilarious. This week, she discovered that diving into pillows on the bed is her favorite. Jeff said she was running around in circles and giggling to herself while I was gone one day. I was sad I missed it.

Looking back at my blogs, I realize that I have left out a few of the things that have been adjustments for us since we've arrived in Thailand. Of course, I have focused on all the wonderful, exciting, and adventurous things about our new life because there are so many! We absolutely love it here, but yes, there are a few things that have required some adjustments for us "born and raised" Americans. Just in case you were thinking that everything here is convenient and cheap, think again.

Sidewalks are terrible. They pick up the stones when they need to work under them, and plop them back down however they will fit. Very smart, but it makes the sidewalks the ultimate challenge for walking (unless you are looking down constantly), not to mention strollers. If our stroller lasts us through next year we will both be VERY impressed!

Crossing these busy streets, you either go up stairs and cross and back down the stairs (a challenge with 2 kids and a stroller by myself), or brave the crosswalks where those cars aren't stopping for anything (particularly, the motorcycles). My friend refuses to ever cross streets with her kids.

SO hard to find garbages. So, people just litter without really thinking twice about it. This makes it a challenge to teach Jack that we don't throw our garbage anywhere but in a trashcan, even if it takes us 20 min. to find one.

We are so obviously "farangs" (foreigners), so we always get higher prices on everything. Tuk-tuk drivers won't bargain as low, shops always start higher, and no matter how low you get them, you always walk away saying "was that all an act?". It's just the game. I went to the zoo with my friend who was born in Laos. They charged her 50 Baht to get in, I had to pay 100 Baht. I even told them I lived in Bangkok, she said, "oh...100 Baht", all while smiling at my kids.

Shopping here is on both ends of the spectrum. You can get shirts for less than $2 on the street, or you can shop at one of the Burberry stores in the nicest malls I've ever seen. If you don't buy on the street, you buy in the departments stores where half price is still $40. I'm way too cheap! I met with a tailor and am hoping that will be a good alternative for getting clothes that are tall enough, but it's not as cheap as I had heard. And, some fabrics are really hard to find. Finding a size 10 shoe is an absolute joke!

I chose to take a taxi home the other night with the kids instead of the train and it took me 2 hours longer than it would have. I'm learning that rush hour is every hour except about 10:30-3pm.

Let's talk groceries: bag of chocolate chips- $4, peanut butter- $4.50, pancake syrup-$12, we can't even afford decent cheese. Anything from Teddy Grahams to tampons is hard to find and expensive. We can visit the international market, which is now very close, but it's a lot more expensive. And, we really just want to shop like the Thais do. We are trying to buy things that are made in Thailand, make some things ourselves, and we just aren't buying some things. We are still just getting started on this one, but for now doing most of our normal cooking isn't possible. Not to mention how HOT it makes everything.

Speaking of food, Jeff's been sick this week due to something he ate. We like to try to eat the cheap (and delicious) Thai foods that are available, but are still very cautious about where and what. But, something got to Jeff last Sunday and it's been with him off and on all week. Hard to put our finger on it, but he's even more cautious now.

You have to pay to use the bathrooms in many places.

Getting to a play date takes at least 30 minutes, and these are my friends that live "close".

Janie messed on the floor twice this week. Okay, this doesn't have anything to do with living in Thailand, more to do with a little too much "airing out" time by Mommy. Oops.

Front yard? How about an elevator.

Majority of Jeff's coworkers are single which changes the dynamics just a bit. They have wonderful company parties, but families are not invited. This doesn't affect most of the people there, but for us, this is very different.

Any training we did before we got here for races, general fitness, etc. is obsolete. We feel like we are starting from scratch. You would think being at sea level would be awesome, but the heat dominates. Neither of us has had a long run since we got here. Jeff was running a minimum of 10 km each time during the week, and longer runs on Saturdays. He's just getting to the point where he can run 6km at a time. 6km is the furthest I've run too, and that wasn't even outside. Our bodies just won't go far in this heat. We are doing our best to adjust, but it's sure taking some time.

SO much pollution. Tuk-tuk drivers, motorcycle taxi drivers, and street vendors often wear masks.

Kids start school around 2 here, so during the day, there are very few children at the parks, stores, etc. If kids aren't in school, they are probably home with their nannies.

Jack and Jane are dirty all the time because we are always out and about. It's hard to control sanitation issues when you use so much public transportation. I think I could keep this Japanese wipe business running all by myself. Some things I've had to train myself just not to think about.

Every time we leave home, we sweat. We get where we are going, and cool down. We leave, we sweat. All four of us sweat like never before. This is everyday.

This sweet boy I bought water from (yes, only bottled water here folks. We BUY our water. Count your blessings), was so sweet and said "hello, how are you today?" very well as he handed me the water. I answered back "I'm great, how are you?". He seemed so pleased with himself for using his English which was very good. Then, he said something else and I couldn't understand him. He got so flustered he just said thank you and turned to the next customer. I felt awful. He felt dumb because I couldn't understand his English, when HE was the one that was actually making the effort to speak another language. The language barrier is there, but will hopefully get better as we start lessons this week!

Well, there you have it. Thailand is amazing, beautiful, exciting, lively, and a wonderful place to live. We love it, and wouldn't trade our experiences here for anything. But, you move anywhere, and there are adjustments to be made. We think all the time about what Thais would think if they moved to America. They would have quite the adjustment as well.

One last thing, and don't take this the wrong way. I love journaling our adventure here in Bangkok. I would do this if it was online or not. We thought starting a blog would be a great way to keep in touch with family and friends. I've been surprised by some of the people I've heard from that are checking in every once in a while and I love it! But, we'd sure love to hear from more of you! The daily things in your lives are very different than the daily things in our lives. We love to hear about them! You can always leave a comment or even better, send us an email (BIG bonus if you send pictures)! If you are reading this, then just take an extra minute and drop us a line. We love you and miss our family and friends! Have a great week! mindy.hillman@gmail.com

03 December 2006

'Tis the Season

It is finally starting to feel like the holiday season for us! Unlike Thanksgiving, everyone here celebrates Christmas! It is a little different feel than we are used to, instead of coming in and drinking hot chocolate, we are taking a dip in the cool swimming pool. Instead of loading on the warm gear, we are putting on as few clothes as possible! It is very hot for the cool season. Nonetheless, we have the biggest tree in South East Asia just 10 minutes away, and beautiful sparkling lights out our window at the big department store down the street. There are a lot of ads for buying Christmas gifts, but they just do things differently here. I get the feeling it is more of a friend holiday than family. They give gifts to coworkers and hired help, but maybe not parents and siblings. I don't know if this is how it is everywhere, but this is what we gather so far. There are lots of gift baskets everywhere, especially with liquor. I think this is a common type of gift.

We moved this week to a new temporary housing apartment (I know, we are nuts). It's just a different branch of where we were before. The location is closer to the train station and shopping, and the place has a few little extras. Mostly, we just felt we needed a change. Being in this little apartment is a bit of a challenge. We are just getting anxious for our place to be done (we move in Jan. 1st), and for our sea shipment to arrive. We did get our air shipment this week, which felt like Christmas! We have "new" toys and books, our language materials, Jeff's instruments, and more! We are happy to be in a different place, but I have to admit, I cried the whole taxi ride here. I was so sad to leave our other home. The friends and staff members we met there made our first experiences in Bangkok unforgettable!

Here are a few of our favorite people. The man on our left was Janie's favorite. She would spontaneously reach for him when we saw him. He, of course, loved this and took every opportunity to hold her. She pressed her face and hands against the window as we drove away on Wednesday until we couldn't see him anymore. (They all came out and waved goodbye as we drove off.) In the middle is Jack's "girlfriend". She chased after him for a kiss everyday, gave him chocolates, and played "superman" with him. The man on the right was the door man that always boxed with Jack while we were waiting for our taxis. He was a very good sport! Unfortunately, many of our favorites were not working Wednesday morning when we moved out. We are anxious for Mom, Dad, and Sam Hillman to stay there when they come next month so we can go and say hello.

The highlight of our week was something called "Journey to Bethlehem" put on by our stake. It was an amazing production put on in the church where you go from room to room and hear from the angels, shepherds, wisemen, innkeeper, and Mary and Joseph. It was extremely well done, and very touching. It was such a wonderful way to start out the season and remind us why this is such a special time of year.
The members went through the "journey" on Wednesday night, and Friday and Saturday was mostly for investigators and friends. The missionaries were all there and very busy, they had activities for the children, entertainment in the parking lot, and food you could buy with your "money" (rocks you got at the door).
These are some of the booths you could choose from to buy dinner, drinks, ice cream, cookies and fresh fruit. I couldn't do much to help, but I did get to make 12 dozen cookies to contribute. Usually 12 dozen cookies wouldn't be that big of a deal with my mixer, pans, utinsels, etc., but I don't have any of that! It was quite a challenge. It took me a long time (the oven only holds 9 at a time), and the cookies were not exactly like they usually are, but it worked! I was glad to play a very small part in such a wonderful thing that hopefully helped push the work along in Thailand! I found myself wishing that you could all experience what we did. It was wonderful.

Jack loved his Shepherd hat that they provided for the kids. He was so proud to look like Joseph, so we went back several times to make sure Joseph knew that Jack had a shepherd hat too. He wore it the entire way home (a long walk, train ride, and another walk). If he didn't already call enough attention to himself.... This actually got more looks than when he goes out wearing his superman cape!

In addition to the live nativity they had inside the building, they had a nativity outside where people were getting their pictures taken with Mary and Joseph (a little different), but they would also participate in the musical presentations taking place close by. Jack stood by this stable for I don't know how long.

I thought this picture of Janie was so cute with this beautiful flower that the gardener gave her. The tropical flowers here are just amazing. I thought this looked like it should be on a cake or something, just too perfect. He told (or motioned) for us to smell it, and it was like heaven! What a sweet man to share that with Jane.

This is at one of our favorite places, Carrefour, they have the only Toys R Us in Bangkok. We go and play before we get our groceries. This day, Jane found a shopping cart and loved pushing that thing all over the store. The employees are so sweet to let the kids play and they are patient with any accidents that occur. But, that would never happen with my kids!

Another cute one of Jane. She was so proud of herself for eating her yogurt all by herself. She's learning so many things so fast! She walks all over now, way more than crawling. She loves to be with the big kids, and does a pretty good job at keeping up! She is the queen of hugs, kisses, cuddles, and big "Janie Specials" (zubbers on our cheeks or anywhere else she can get).

My kids have a blast playing together. This is just one of them playing on our bed in our old place. Janie constantly surprises us with how tough she is. She can stand up for herself when Jack gets too rough, but she also takes a beating pretty well when they are just playing around.

Hope everyone is having a wonderful start to the holiday season. It is such a magical time of year. As much as we love the glitter, gifts and excitement of the holidays, more than ever we feel so blessed to know the real reason we celebrate Christmas. Merry Christmas!

25 November 2006

Hospitals, Motorcycles, Visas, and Thanksgiving!

We have had some new adventures this week, and we've learned a lot! We have had 2 trips to the hospital, one death defying motorcycle ride, a day at the biggest market in the world, a small miracle, and a wonderful holiday!

So, let's start with the hospital visits! We have heard wonderful things about the hospitals in Bangkok, and everything we have heard about has been true so far, and better! I went in to see a doctor about the lump I've had in my breast for almost a year. I needed to wait until I was done nursing before getting it taken out, and Jane is now done. (She went at her own pace, but it was a piece of cake!) Anyway, so I just called a hospital and made an appointment and told them why. The first doctor I saw was a breast surgeon. That was awesome. It was so nice to not have to go through several doctors and referrals to get to the doctor I already knew I needed to see. Anyway, to make a long story short (and especially for those of you who didn't know I had a lump), he concluded,like everyone else, that it was non-threatening and just wants to watch it. He was great. The service there was very professional and like everyone here, they went the extra mile in helping me understand my new insurance, scheduling my next appointments (showing me exactly where to go), and even seeing me to a taxi. I made my next appointment for Thursday morning (yes, Thanksgiving) because I knew Jeff would be home. I needed to get my TSH levels checked for my Thyroid issue because my medication hasn't been adjusted since the initial diagnosis. I know, I sound like I am 80 years old with medications and lumps. It's really kind of ridiculous.

Well, to make a long story short, Thursday morning was also supposed to be when we did our work visa stuff and we HAD to do it at this exact time. It was very intricatly planned for Jeff and I to meet up at this place to get the paperwork done. But, I forgot the map to get to a very new and remote location. Thanks to an amazing staff at the hospital, me knowing Jeff's email account info., and a very patient taxi driver, Jack and I made it in time to meet up with Jeff and Jane. It was a very stressful and emotional morning, but I was on the verge of tears for the rest of the day just thinking about how grateful I was to be in a country like Thailand. I can't imagine anywhere else that would spring into action like that customer service desk did for me when I came in crying (and completely stressed out) because I couldn't reach Jeff and I was going to miss this VERY improtant meeting! I was SO touched by their sincere concern and willingness to help me solve it. Amazing!

Thursday night was spent at a home of the first conselor in our bishopric. Our branch got changed to a ward last Sunday, which was very exciting news for everybody! There were several missionaries, some couples from the ward, a couple they had met on the bus(?), and our little family (including Dave). It was so nice to have a very traditional Thanksgiving meal and spend time with some of our ward family. This family lives only a few sois over from where our home will be after the new year. We are excited to have members so close, especially people we already love!

This picture is of Jack getting stuck in the chair at the Anderson's. Brother Anderson had to get out his screwdriver to get him out. We thought it was pretty hilarious. Luckily, so did Jack. His favorite part was that Bro. Anderson let him use his screwdriver to put it back together. Jack was loving his new friend.

Jack's first day of "school" with his friends Cyrus and Narissa. He had a GREAT time making a turkey out of his handprints, and making macaroni necklaces. He's been singing "Where is Thumb man?" ever since. He loves having little friends to play with regularly again. And I love their moms, so it all works out! I love the way Jane is looking at him in the second one. Aren't they cute?

We found the local library here and it is darling! You have to pay for a membership, but it will be completely worth it! They had great puzzles and games in the children's area. Jack was in heaven with all the new books! We will start making this a weekly trip! We are excited to take Jeff!

We stopped to get ice cream cones at KFC on the way home the other night. We got Jane her very own cone and actually had them put a little ice cream in it and she was in heaven! This is actually her "posing" for the picture. She did this as soon as I pointed the camera her way! Janie is learning more and more words and signs everyday, and I love it. Learning to talk (and sign) is my favorite developmental stage. She is discovering how much she is really capable of! She even said her first Thai word this week: "gai" (with a downward tone). It means chicken, one of her and Jack's favorites. Our favorite meal for the kids is "kaaw meng gai" (spelling, I have no idea). It is a rice, chicken, and soup dish. We can get enough for the entire family for about 50 baht (just over a dollar). Jack and Jane can't get enough of it.

We spent Friday at the zoo again. It is so big, we still didn't see much. Especially because it rained for a long time! We were stuck in the reptile caves with about 200 school kids! We were looking at the cool snakes, lizards, etc. when I noticed that all the kids around Jack weren't looking at the Anaconda behind the glass, they were looking at Jack! They all played with him and Jane for about 30 min. until it let up enough for us to go out again. It was a little overwhelming at times, but Jack loved the attenion, and the kids loved practicing their english on us. They were so sweet.

Friday night was Jeff's work party, and yes, a party in every sense of the word! Lots of games, a ferris wheel, live bands, costumes, balloons, and lots and lots of beer. They actually said over the speaker "we want you to all have a great time and get very, very drunk!" We knew it wasn't geared for kids, so we had a great time and left at bedtime! I loved finally being able to meet the people I've heard so much about. He is very blessed to be working with such great people. I look forward to getting to know them better.

Speaking of Jeff's work, he wore his "geek" shirt the other day. (If you look in the picture of Jane with the ice cream, you can see it.) One of his coworkers asked him if it said "jeek". He said "no, geek". Everyone laughed, and one of them explained that "geek" is a Thai word for a man who has a girlfriend, but also has many... not girlfriends. Opposites? Maybe a little. Jeff did his best to describe what a "geek" is in our culture, but it doesn't really translate. Jeff is proud to be a geek (in english), even if that might have been a negative thing to be in the past. Being part of the IT field was never a negative thing here. It is considered a "very, very good job" (people we meet on the streets say this to us all the time), and it is!

Saturday, I went with my friend, Som, to the Chatuchak weekend market (sorry, I forgot my camera!). Jeff was awesome, as always, and took the kids to the park, a marathon expo, and got lunch and put them down for naps. What a guy! Jeff and the kids were much happier doing this than being with me! Som and I spent about 3 1/2 hours wandering through the market (and saw maybe 1/8 of it) and got some great Christmas shopping done! Som says she's not a shopper, but we sure had a GREAT time trying to haggle with the salesman and get some good deals! I'm sure we paid more for some things than others, but we got some great deals, had a good time, and learned a LOT! I think we'll get better at it as we go. After the market, we went to one other store and I found the perfect gift that "santa" has really been wanting to bring Jane this year. It was big and very heavy, but I thought "no problem, we're just going to catch a taxi as soon as we get out of here". Nope. After walking a ways, then over several walkways, and getting turned down by 3-4 taxis (because the traffic was bad by my home), we decided to just take the train again. It was another long walk, lots of stairs, and another taxi, but I made it! I was very happy to be home, and also happy to have Jeff tell me that it really was heavy, I'm not just a wimp!

So, what part does a motorcycle ride play in all of this? (Don't strain your eyes trying to find me in this picture, I didn't get a picture of it. This is one from the internet.) Well, getting places in this city is either very convenient or ridiculous. Tuesday night, on the way to the hospital, it was ridiculous. After sitting in a cab for over 30 minutes (and only going 2km), I decided I needed to just hop on one of these motorcycle taxis that had been whizzing by me! I hopped out of the taxi in the middle of the street and caught at motorcycle. They are all over and wear orange vests to identify themselves. He gave me a price and I hopped on. Think of everything you've seen in the movies of motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic, going on the wrong side of the road, maybe even on sidewalks. Well, that is what these guys do. They get you where you want to go, fast! That's what I wanted, so I put on the helmet and went for it. I decided not to try side saddle like I've seen some women do, maybe next time. He got me there VERY fast and almost on time. Several times I looked over at the others using this same mode of transportation but they had an infant or toddler in thier arms. I can't believe they do it, but they do. As much as I love motorcycles, I was very grateful that this driver was more cautions than some I've seen. Wrong side of the road, almost bumping my knees on cars, and fitting into lanes next to busses, yes, but I never felt afraid. That's a skillful driver, right?

Well, what have we learned this week? Don't forget maps, always carry an umbrella, don't buy heavy things on Saturdays, and if you are in a hurry, take a motorcycle taxi! And more lessons to come, I'm sure.

19 November 2006

Samutprakarn Crocodile Farm

Visiting the Crocodile Farm was INCREDIBLE! Jeff and I kept looking at each other and saying "this is awesome". I won't give all the details, in hopes that you will just think "we just have to go visit and see it for ourselves", because that is completely true! But, if you have questions about anything that I tell you about, please ask. I could go on for hours about everything we saw! As you are looking at the pictures, see if you can notice how HOT we were! We were sweating before we even got into the park! It was by far the hottest day we have experienced! I'm pretty sure I will shave Jack's head in hopes to keep him a little cooler.

We saw the elephant show almost very first. The elephants were very well trained and looked really happy. Maybe that's just how elephants look? We started loving elephants immediately after we moved here, but after seeing this, we are now their biggest fans! This elephant actually ate the crackers right out of Jane and Jack's hands! They were so gentle and graceful. Just a beautiful animal! They let people walk under the elephants after the show was over, and we got our picture taken with this one.
Then, we walked over and found that we could RIDE a elephant for just 50 Baht (just over $1) a piece for Jeff and I. We were in heaven! Here's Jeff feeding duck to the crocodiles. There were so many, and it was awesome to watch how they can/can't maneuver their mouths to get the food.

This place erased anything Jack learned from Curious George about "don't feed the animals", we fed everything! For about 10 baht (25 cents), we could buy food to feed the turtles, crocodiles, goats, elephants, and the hungry, hungry hippos. We loved the hippos.
The crocodile show was really something else. These two guys just kept pulling the crocodiles up by their tails onto the "stage" and you could hear the crocodile's jaws snap shut. It was pretty cool, but I think animal rights activists would go crazy. But, these guys put on a good show, and people were just throwing money at them throughout. Jack got pretty tense when they were sticking their hands and faces in their jaws, so we left a little early.

On our way out, we stopped at this monkey that was just swinging on a wire tied between some trees. If you don't know, Jeff is a BIG fan of monkeys. I think this is hilarious.
We thought this sign was pretty funny. It was my fault that we didn't get a very good shot of Jeff "looking for his glasses". What a nut. This monkey particularly liked Jeff's crackers. He was very friendly, a little too friendly for Jack.

All in all, it was an amazing day! We saw so many new things, which I always love. This place isn't the newest, cleanest, or best smelling place, but it certainly made for an adventurous day! Come and visit, and we will take you for your first elephant ride!