This is the Norin Family. I met them at church last week, and after visiting with both Mattias and Camilla individually, I decided we just had to have them over for dinner! Everyone I meet here has a story to tell, but I loved what this family was doing and wanted to hear more. They are from Sweden, but decided this was their chance to travel while Mattias was on parental leave from his job. They sold their home and are traveling around the world for 6 months with their 4 children. I love that they are able to enjoy this time together while their children are so young, although it is also quite a challenge I am sure. Jack loved playing with the boys, Oliver and Alvin, and Benjamin is just younger than Jane. Aleena, their oldest, was so sweet. I loved to watch how she was with Benjamin. Definitely an exceptional older sister. She reminds me of my friend, Tara, who was a “second mom” to her 7 younger siblings. I always watched her knowing that she will be the best mom. So, Tara, keep me posted! Camilla and Mattias spoke amazing English (it was hard to believe it was their second language!). Their children are still just learning, but it really didn't make much difference, especially for the boys. We could hear them laughing and giggling in the play room all evening! We all fell in love with the whole family and enjoyed hearing about their adventures and traveling tips, as well as looking at their pictures of beautiful islands they visited down south. And, it was nice to learn that Swedish Fish really do exist in Sweden, contrary to what one of Jeff's associates from Sweden once told us. Wow, there's a lot we need to do in just 2 short years! Jeff and I are inspired by this sweet family and are currently exploring new travel goals for our little family in the future. I got an email from Camilla recently and they arrived safely in Malaysia the next day, and it sounds like a very nice, clean, and family friendly place. We look forward to them returning to Bangkok for an additional week and having them over at least once more!
Another friend from church is Sherri. She is a professional tour guide and one of the sweetest women ever. I spoke to her last Sunday just to ask for a few tips of how to get places and what to see, and she insisted on being our guide at the Grand Palace as well as a day outside of Bangkok on her days off. Can you believe her? She wouldn't accept any pay, but at least let us buy her lunch both days.
Monday, after a very slow start and LOTS of rain (and you can see that when it rains here, wow!), we enjoyed a fun afternoon learning about the Grand Palace and seeing the famous emerald Buddha.
Sherri's profession is extremely useful, she answered so many of our questions and told us things we would never even know to ask! She also planned our entire day on Thursday, where we hired a van and driver to take us 2 hours out of the city to see the River Kwai. We got a late start once again, but Sherri guaranteed us that we would still see everything, and we did.
We started off at the cemetery where the prisoners of WWII were buried that died while building the Bridge (I hope I'm getting this right). The conditions were so poor and the Japanese soldiers treated them so harshly that the death rate was extremely high. It was heart-breaking to see the headstones and learn about the situation in the museum later.
On the positive side, the cemetery was absolutely beautiful and a worthy monument to respect those who lost their lives during the war, particularly in such a cruel way. I went into this cemetery and museum knowing next to nothing (just what Mom had told me about the movie, Bridge over the River Kwai) and left feeling like I had a basic understanding of what had occurred. Yet, I'm sure I am not doing history justice with my brief description. To put it simply, I was very touched, and my respect for those serving our country has grown to an even higher level.
We ate lunch at a place in the middle of nowhere. Even when the van pulled up, I was thinking “where does she think we are eating?” She led us back to a little outdoor restaurant that had a nice variety of Thai food and very few people. She knew exactly where we were going. We then proceeded to a place where we could go for either a raft ride of an elephant ride. Even though we had already ridden elephants, we chose this route because elephants can't be beat. It was nice scenery and a lot longer ride then at the Crocodile farm, and we went in the river for part of it. Sam and I laughed that we looked like a nice little family of 3 riding together. My only complaint for this part was that there were so many Farangs (foreigners) at this place. Usually, that is a sign that we should go somewhere else. Travel tip: If you aren't the minority, you are paying too much. Despite this, it was an awesome ride, and we got to feed the elephants more afterward, as well as watch them drink milk from a bottle, play a harmonica, and give someone a massage. I love elephants.
We finished off the day with a trip to the actual bridge. It has been bombed and rebuilt so many times, and finally built with steel, but it was neat to see the location. We were quick at this one because we left my sleeping Jane in the car with the Boonmii, the driver. He was awesome. It was a LONG day, but very fun, all except all the driving! I haven't been a car for 2 hours straight for over 3 months!
Thank goodness for Grandmas.
We visited the Children's Museum this week which was very fun. Janie was so cute in this little market.
It was a nice down day for the kids, as well as Me, Mom and Sam. They added a whole new section on Robots that was really fun (and Air Conditioned!). That night, Mom and Dad watched the kids and let Jeff, Sam and I go out together. We enjoyed our favorite Pizza, a boat ride to China town, a tuk-tuk, train, and subway ride, the best ice cream ever, and some shopping. Mostly, we just loved being together. Sam is a riot. We loved that time with him.
Here are a few more friends we haven't mentioned yet. This is Anutra and her husband, Bird. The young gal is Faa (her name means Sky, isn't that beautiful?). Anutra is our Thai teacher who comes and teaches us 1-2 times a week depending on schedules. She is SO much fun and knows more about her own culture and History than anyone I've ever met. She answers all our questions about Buddhism, which we are very interested in learning about because it is so intertwined with the culture in Thailand. We fell in love with Anutra the first night we met her, and were so happy when she offered to spend the day with us at the Ancient City. The Ancient City is a small replica (320 acres) of the entire country of Thailand, highlighting over 100 monuments, temples and traditional homes. She arranged for the van and driver, and we were so excited she brought her sweet husband along as well as Faa, one of her previous English students, to help with the children (a nice surprise).
Everyone feeding the fish. We laughed and laughed at how Janie occasionally couldn't figure out how to let go of the food.
Anutra used to be a tour guide (she knows everything!), so she'd been here many times and knew what highlights were the best. Faa and Bird had also been here many times, so they also answered our questions, and helped us learn some new Thai words. We had heard a lot about Bird, and immediately could see why Anutra is still so smitten with him after 13 years of marriage. She told me last Tuesday during our lesson that each day feels like they were just married. They don't have children, but they are both naturals when it came to playing with ours.
Faa was also extremely helpful, particularly because Jack would not let her out of his sight. He was quite taken with her and constantly wanted to hold her hand, hug, and kiss her. We have never seen him be this way so quickly with anyone. I think Faa was enjoying this attention as much as Jack. If not, she certainly hid it well! We all wanted to just take her home with us! Jack blushed today when we were looking at these pictures of her. We are hoping she might be a good option for watching the children if we ever decide to have a date while we live in Thailand. Hasn't happened yet, but we keep hoping!
The day was a lot of fun, but a little overwhelming because although we didn't really travel all of Thailand, we learned about dozens of different parts of Thailand in just one day. And with Anutra, you really learn a LOT. A common phrase in our home, "Anutra will know!". Definitely a place everyone should visit that comes here. It was easy to see that this is a special place for the Thai people. Jeff told me tonight that when we arrived, Bird told him “I am happy when I am here”. We love the pride that Thais have in their country and heritage. I loved all that I learned and seeing the beautiful buildings, but most of all just loved being with family and our wonderful Thai friends. What a day!
Jack showing off his rocket. He never sits long enough to draw or color much, so this was fun to see him have fun drawing this day. His new favorite game is the "letter game". I give him a word (e.g. ball, zoom, box) and he tells me what letter it starts and ends with. He keeps saying "I read, I read!". I love this.
It was sad to say goodbye to Mom and Sam on Saturday. I miss them already, but realize they need to return to real life! I'm sure they were ready to go home. At least we still have Dad here for another 10 days. We'll take what we can get!
It's been a pure joy to have my in-laws here. No one has better in-laws than me. I can't believe I am lucky enough to have the world's best parents and in-laws. It's been fun to get a fresh perspective on our life in Thailand. We realize how we are just getting used to things here, like seeing a family of 4 riding on a motorcycle, or someone riding a bike attached to a broom or ice cream stand, or how about a cleaning woman mopping in between occupied urinals (just heard about that one). Yes, it happens. It was hilarious to hear Sam describe his first experience with this to Mom the first day they were here. I believe her words were “Oh, there was not!” Yes, there was. We are so used to things like this, so it's fun to have someone else experience this and remind us that this is a very unique experience! We are still loving it, no question. We are so grateful to be here, even with all it's challenges.