28 January 2007

Friends and Family

Let me introduce some new friends...

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.

While we sat underneath an overhang, Jane and Jack both jumped out in the rain, playing mostly underneath the heaviest flow of rain running off the roof. I'm sure my sister, Vanessa, was a lot like this when she was a baby. She was always the water fight queen at our house.

Mom and Jack in front of one of the buildings near the temple.

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.

21 January 2007

Tourists for a week

This week has been so fun-filled, it's hard to know where to begin. Well, for starters, let me just say how much we have loved having Mom, Dad, and Sam here. It is so fun to be able to share this fun adventure with family! They have been so willing to try new things, and they are amazingly independent in a very short amount of time. I am particularly impressed with (1) Sam's yearning for adventure and shopping stamina (and impressive patience when we have our down time), (2)Dad's excitement for the people he works with and the city life (it was a little overwhelming to him at first, but he is now appreciating the charm of crowded sidewalks and people cutting his pineapple with no gloves on!), and (3)Mom's talent with a map and amazing bargaining power (she walked away from a stand last night with a wallet originally priced at 650 Baht, for only 200 Baht. That's what I'm talkin' about.) I have loved every minute with my in-laws. It really has been some of our funnest times together. It's amazing what fun memories you make when you are together on the other side of the globe.

Each day was pretty packed with new things, some touristy, some not. Unfortunately, Dad and Jeff had to work. Bummer. But, I think we'll just be grateful for "work" because that is why they are able to come here. Yay! I think the most effective way to share is with pictures, and I've got plenty. Enjoy!

Mom, Sam, and I wanted to try taking a water Taxi to get to Wat Pho, a famous Temple (Wat is the word for Temple, FYI). We went to the dock and stood at the information desk like a bunch of dummies and waited for someone to help us. And help us they did. We had a guy hire us a private water taxi for what I was thinking was way too much, but it sure got us there fast. I was feeling a little huffy about the price (silly, because Mom paid!), especially because when we got there, we had to pay a "docking fee" that I was sure was a hoax. I am a little too suspicious of getting taken advantage of. Too many stories of dumb tourists and deceiving natives, I guess. (Which, I might add, is not the norm for the natives. It is this very reason that makes me prefer the "living" aspect over the "touring" aspect of Thailand. I can't say enough about how wonderful Thais are.) It was a beautiful ride, so we decided to focus on that. (Mom later found out that this price was very normal, as well as the docking fees. I need to relax, I know.)

The scenery was beautiful along the river. We are trying it again tomorrow, but decided to try the shuttle instead of the private taxi this time. We're trying to do it like non-tourists this time, or at least like "less"-tourists.

It was nice to finally see one of the Wats that I've read and heard so much about. This Wat is famous for the giant "reclining Buddha" inside. And it is GIANT. It is 46 meters long and 15 meters tall (this is lying down, remember it's reclining). The feet have very intricate mother of pearl inlay on them, very pretty. It was interesting to walk the grounds, but we really were pretty clueless on all the details of rituals, architecture, etc. We are going to study up better next time. We did, however, fill out surveys for two different school groups, and I think Sam could have filled up the rest of his trip with dates with these cute girls. They thought he was the coolest... and he is.

This day was very hot, and getting home in such a touristy place was a challenge. None of the taxis would use their meter because they are used to dumb tourists who will pay whatever they ask for. I like to think I am at least a little more experienced then the average tourist, so after not agreeing with the first two drivers I talked with, we went a different route. We found a reasonable tuk-tuk driver to take us to the train station. The kids love taking tuk-tuks, and this was Mom and Sam's first, so it was fun. Notice the stroller the driver just tied up to the back. Pretty impressive.

This is a very old tree that Dad walks past everyday on his way to and from work. I don't know much about it, but people put flowers, clothing, food, and a lot of red Fanta bottles as offerings. No one ever removes it, so it just keeps adding up. It's pretty interesting to walk by and see what people have left.

We took everyone to one of our favorite restaurants, the Sylvanian, at a big shopping mall. It's a toy store and a restaurant, but it has these great toys the kids can also play with while we eat. It's a nice, quiet, place where we don't have to worry about the kids and can still have good food. The service is some of the best, and we love Gop, the woman that works there and always plays with the kids. Sam was excited to jump in the balls, only to discover that they weren't quite as deep as he was expecting. Jack thought this was hilarious (I wish you could see his face)!

Mom and Sam were shopping fanatics this week, which unfortunately I didn't take many pictures of. But, we spent two evenings at the Night Bazaar, and I think they saw as many discount clothing markets in one week then I've seen in almost 3 months! As much as we loved the shopping, I have to say, the highlight of the week was Saturday at the Crocodile Farm.

It was so fun to have Jeff and Dad with us during the day! We couldn't all fit in one taxi, so we split up and I got to go with Dad and Jack. We got a very nice driver, besides him wanting to charge us 800 Baht for a ride that should cost around 200. After he realized we weren't going to continue unless he turned the meter on, he took a new approach. He tried the whole way to get us to hire him for the day, so he would wait for us and take us back in the city. It was all very light-hearted, but I have never met a driver that was so persistent! After explaining to him 7-8 times (really, no exaggeration) that we only wanted a one-way trip, he told us all about his little boy named Cartoon, and taxi driving. Once we got to the Farm, he went straight for Mom, trying to talk her into hiring him again. We thought this was hilarious, but we stuck to our guns.

The Crocodile Farm was SO fun, even with it being our second time! We were happy that it was as cool as we remembered it. The animals were awesome, and the kids were amazingly happy the whole day!

We bought a couple buckets of the Crocodile food, it was duck. Sam was hungry so we promised him we would get lunch afterward if he could just hold off another minute.

This was where you actually feed the crocodiles. If you can't read the sign, it says "Please don't put any part of your body or things into Crocodile pool. It is very dangerous." Luckily, banjo players only need 3 fingers. The crocodiles were even more aggressive this time than last. You could really hear their jaws snap and they would always finish their snack with a growl. It was pretty cool.

The Elephant show was again, one of the highlights. I'm fascinated by them. We fed them lots of bananas during the show and went for a ride afterward. We also fed the goats, monkeys, and hippos.

After the farm, Dad bought us all ice cream. Jane saw that she got one all to herself and took it and ran. Do you think she was a little excited? I could barely keep up with her.

I chose not to post more pictures of the animals because I posted so many on my post specifically about the Crocodile Farm. If you want to see more pictures of this fun (but stinky) place, go to my post from December.

Well, there you have it. A few highlights of our week together. Today was very low-key, and that was very welcome! We had a great church meeting this morning, and a fun visit around dinner tonight. Tomorrow, we start all over again. I love that I have one more whole week with Mom and Sam. We've got a lot planned!

16 January 2007

Hillmans are here!

I am late posting my usual Sunday blog because we have had quite the weekend! Jeff's parents and brother arrived very early Saturday morning and we have been sight-seeing and visiting every minute since! We LOVE being able to share Bangkok with them and are so happy that they came with open minds and stomachs of steel. We actually haven't tried anything too crazy yet, but Dad did eat some kind of bamboo something today at work, and they all ate my Thai dish I cooked for them tonight. I think the biggest breakthrough for Sam was when he announced he was going to "take a vacation from my problems" and try some of our favorite pineapple. He hates fruit, so this was a big step and we are all very proud.

We spent Saturday walking around the city and our favorite park. We quickly realized this wasn't going to satisfy Sam's itch for adventure, so I decided he might be up for the weekend market. I love going to the market and thought I would never meet my match, but Sam is an animal. He's got many things on his list, and I'm impressed with how much he has found and the prices he has gotten!

Dad had to start into work on Monday (after only one full day without travel, ouch!), and seems to be doing great on only a few hours of sleep each night. We are hoping that will change very soon. While Dad has been at work, Mom and Sam have explored the city and are now comfortable taking taxis and the skytrain to our place and beyond. Pretty impressive.

We are LOVING having them here and are excited for the days to come when we can do some real sightseeing. We talked with our Thai teacher tonight and she and her husband are going to take us to see the "ancient city" next weekend, so now we've just got to plan this weekend. In the meantime, Sam and I are working on finding a good place for a massage.

Jack and Jane were loving the tub this morning, so I thought I would get some of those classic naked pictures we all have.

Grandpa with Jane tonight. Dad was SO tired from a full day of work, and he'd been up since 1:30am, I think. Sounds like torture, doesn't it? But, that's what happens when you move ahead 14 hours! He even washed all the dinner dishes for us tonight. I was just surprised he was still standing. What a guy!

I had to wake Janie up from her nap to hurry off to meet everyone at the Night Bazaar last night for dinner and shopping and I thought she would be a wreck, but she was being a total ham. I had to capture it. She wouldn't let this doll go. We carried it in the stroller and the taxi before she got sick of it. Notice Jack's "King shirt" he wears every Monday and also the Batman cape he got for Christmas from Grandma, Grandpa, and even Sam helped too!

Sorry no pictures of us in the city yet. We are so exited to have them here, we have forgotten our camera every time! We'll post some good ones next week.

07 January 2007

Home, Sweet Home

Well, the highlight of the week was moving into our new place! We finally feel like we are really living here now, instead of just on an extended vacation. That is nice.

This is Janie on the porch of our old place. Whenever we would be waiting for a taxi, she would sit on this step until it arrived. She loves that she can do it all by herself now, and I love that we don't have to worry about her as much!

We moved on Monday, but didn't get our sea shipment until Wednesday morning, so for 2 days and nights we were making due with paper products and very cheap blankets! But, we managed, and when that shipment arrived, it was like Christmas all over again, but way bigger!

We heard the doorbell ring and answered it to find all these boxes out in the hallway. Jack immediately made friends with all the movers and asked each one of them if his bike was here until he found the one that spoke English. His face was BETTER than Christmas when the guy said, "Yes!". He and Janie loved unwrapping all the "presents" (couches, plates, books, forks, etc.). It's amazing what seems exciting when you haven't seen it for 2 months and it's wrapped up!

These guys unpacked everything and placed it on every surface in the house. They were like an extremely organized Elders quorum. It was a big help, but it made it impossible to try and unpack one box at a time! So, all week we have been working every spare minute to put things away and make our apartment feel like a home. I think we overdid it because on Saturday, Jeff was getting sick and I was SO drained. We barely made it to bedtime!

I thought this was cute of Jeff reading Janie's favorite book for the hundredth time this week with the kids in the rocking chair, one of the few pieces of furniture we brought from home.

We are LOVING so many things about our new place, it's hard to pick out our favorite. We also love the location. It is on a very busy soi (street off of the main street), which can be good and bad. There are numerous restaurants, karaoke clubs (huge here), clothing shops, massage parlors, spas, a vendor with pineapple right outside the building (very nice after a run), and TWO pomelo stands (my new favorite fruit). Jeff and I have been doing our runs at the park that's about 1 km away (also a great park for the kids), right beside a very large shopping mall with a grocery store on the top level. This is also right by the skytrain, which is very convenient! Needless to say, we walk this soi several times a day and the vendors are all getting to know the kids pretty well. I guess the bad part of a busy soi is that it's busy! It is quite noisy and a little hard to navigate our stroller on, but we chose to live in the city and this is all part of it! So, we're figuring it out!

Yesterday, I got to take Jack to his first Primary activity day. It was great. I was very impressed by the turnout and Jack had a blast. He was right in with all the other kids for the treasure hunt, coloring, popping balloons, and painting! He definitely isn't a timid sunbeam! I got to be in Primary with him today too because I was a substitute for one of the older classes. I had 6 very energetic girls, but it was very fun! And I especially liked to see Jack in his new environment.

Jeff went back to work on Thursday and we had our usual meltdowns when he goes back to work after a 2 week break! But, we made it through! Hopefully, we'll do better this week with being on our own and getting back to real life!

I think our biggest adventure, or frustration, since the move would be the ants in our apartment! I guess it's normal for ants to take over apartments that no one has been living in, but dang, it's ridiculous. We had them come up and spray, but it isn't getting any better. I can't even count how many times I've gotten out my vacuum in the last few days to vacuum up trails of ants. This week I take things into my own hands. I'll keep you posted.

This week was significant in that I felt the first hints of homesickness since we got here. Jeff got the mail yesterday and there was a package in it from my Ottley family. It contained a book of Christmas memories compiled by my sweet Aunt Gaye. I looked at that book and the cd with a picture of Grandma and Grandpa Ottley and realized it has been a long time since I have seen any of my family. I devoured the book of Christmas memories, which were awesome, and we watched the slideshow of Ottley family Christmas parties several times. I think up until that point I really hadn't thought about it, but now I realize it has been a long time and I do miss family and friends. So, I decided everyone needs to come and visit. I don't want to come back to Utah yet, I want everyone to come here! Just let me know when to make up the beds! Okay, if that doesn't work, we'll settle for some pictures through email, how's that? I miss you and love you all!

02 January 2007

New Year, New Home

We are finally in our new place! Just in case you are in the neighborhood, we thought we should post our new address. (Or, if you ever want to see how long it takes to mail things here). We mostly have communicated with Skype which has been wonderful. If you ever want to chat, give us a call over Skype to username jeff.hillman and it's all free. But remember, we are 14 hours ahead of MST so we won't answer at 3am!


Bangkok, Thailand :)