30 June 2008

Khao Yai

If you read my blog regularly, you probably know how much I LOVE living in the city. Ever since my first visit to San Francisco at the age of 13, I have dreamed of living in a big city. Visiting Boston, Berlin, Vienna, and of course, New York, only made me want it even more. I'm such a dreamer. Unbelievably, this is one dream that I'm actually living right now, which sometimes I still can't get over. I love being right in the middle of it all. I love traveling by public transportation, walking all over, and seeing the daily hustle and bustle of life that reflects the country I live in, and I absolutely love opening our draperies in the morning to the sunlight and a gorgeous 15th story view. You couldn't pay me to live anywhere else in Bangkok. I will admit though, it does have it's challenges. I often get "mom guilt" when I think of some of the things my children are missing out on by not living in the Utah suburbs like I did. They never get to just ride their bikes out on the sidewalks with all their little friends. They don't have a sandbox or nice, soft grass like I grew up with. (I won't get into the things they do get here, because I'm talking about my "mom guilt" items.) So, as I was really feeling the guilt this last week, I realized we needed a break from city life and got on planning a couple days of fresh air, clean dirt, and good family fun.

Jeff and Jack went for a Father and Son's outing to Khao Yai National Park last year and had a great time. I'd been wanting to go somewhere in the mountains, and since this was only two hours away, I thought it was the perfect getaway. So we booked a hotel, hired a van, and off we went!

We left early Friday morning and unfortunately hit some famous Bangkok traffic, but it didn't delay us too long. It was fun to be in a too-big van for just the four of us, where we could stretch out, wander around, tell stories, read books, and even watch a movie. I loved watching the scenery slowly change from the big city, industrial areas, industrial, industrial, and finally a little nature! Khao Yai literally means "big mountain", which I guess in Thailand, really is considered BIG. The size wasn't what I loved about it because it pales in comparison to the Wasatch mountains; I loved how GREEN everything was. You don't really even see the mountain, you just see mounds of trees that completely cover the mountain. Just green, green, green.

We stayed at the Sak Phu Duen resort, just outside of the park. Businesses here use the word "resort" a little more liberally than we Americans do, so I wasn't sure what we were in for as we started passing some of these "resorts" on the way in. I was starting to get a bit nervous. But, as we pulled up, I was put at ease as it all looked really nice, clean, and not the least bit busy! These are the driveways to the cottages. The landscaping was gorgeous.

I wished I had my camera out when we pulled up the first time. It was picturesque. The driver drove us up to the front steps and (security must have called them) the bell hop and a very beautiful Thai girl were waiting there for us. They each hopped to their duty, the bell hop got what little luggage we had, and the girl stood there with a wai looking picture perfect and directing us inside. Thailand is awesome.

We always like to explore the grounds before we go about our activities. They had a fun (but extremely worn) playground the kids loved.

By this playground was a HUGE area with at least 100 rabbits. There was also a big cage for several peacocks. Jack thought they were fascinating.

You'll have to excuse all the pictures, but I love remembering the places we stay because they are all so unique! The room was a very simple little cottage with a balcony that was the same size as the actual room! This was the view from the balcony to the other cottages and garden area. Occasionally, gardeners would walk by and see us inside and wave. I don't think that would go over too well in the states, but here it seemed totally normal.

We loved the windows in the bathroom and the closet area. They just open right up! It's no wonder how our not-so-little cockroach friends got inside (sad, but true). I was reminded that night that it's been a LONG time since I had a shower with no hot water! I'm NOT good at that at all, and honestly, how cold can water really get in this climate? Not very. I was feeling like I've been pretty pampered most of my life!

I loved the scenery from the pool. I just couldn't get over all the green! There really is green even in the city, but it's just different to have it really dominate, and I was loving it. We loved this pool the next morning (even with the audience of breakfast eaters), but it was NOT the best pool. It was kind of dirty and run down, but from this picture it really does look beautiful!

We drove into the park and paid the foreigner entrance fee (10x more than the fee for Thais, ouch!), and really had no idea what we were going to see or do. Luckily, Khun Wuth (the driver) took us to the visitors center where we could get some literature on what our options were. This was Jane's favorite thing. Dead snakes. I don't know what it is about my kids and snakes. They love 'em!

Shortly after this, we met a nice couple from Colorado. They were backpacking through and we actually ended up spending the rest of the day with them. We went on a short little nature hike that turned out to be a little more adventurous than I was imagining. I just wanted something simple that would be a good first exposure to hiking for the kids. Well, this did it! Here was bridge #1 that we crossed. Having just watched the old Indiana Jones movies (and knowing the level of upkeep on a lot of things here), I was feeling actually a bit nervous about my family on it!

Jack found a GIANT pill bug, potato bug, roley poley bug, or whatever you want to call it. That was cool.

We also found many, many, many little leeches. They were everywhere and they are creepy! I picked at least 6-7 off of my feet and legs. Maybe my Chacos weren't such a good idea. Luckily, my kids didn't have any problems with leeches or any bugs. They were loving every bit of it. Jane loved her "seat", and Jack didn't complain once about the walking. It helped to have Mitch and Kate there to visit with, and Kate knew all kinds of interesting facts about bugs and animals that Jack was just eating up!

Jeff informed me after crossing this bridge that if he were to fall in, he would probably not even try to get out. He'd just need to let himself go after being engulfed in this swamp. (It was pretty gross, but no more than some of the canals in the city that he feels the same way about.) The surroundings here were stunning. It felt like someone could come through swinging on a vine at any second.

There are just SO many safety hazards here we just try to overlook and make the best of. This bridge was so incredible. I know, that's a lot of bridges to show in one post, but they were really amazing!

As we got to the waterfall at the end of this hike, Jeff was standing around waiting for the rest of us, and this monkey walked right past him. We've heard of aggresive monkeys in Thailand many times, so it's a little nerve racking, but he just wandered by. We got this shot a little later as he walked off. We also saw monkeys wandering through closed food pavilions which didn't make us especially want to eat there later.

We drove up the mountain to another really famous waterfall. It was featured in the movie "The Beach", but I've never seen it. Anyone seen that one? At first, we could only get to the top of the waterfall. Beautiful, but not what we were hoping for.

We walked down these super steep stairs. (Amazingly, on the way back, Janie did them all by herself as we told her the story of the Little Engine that Could. I love that story)

We thought this waterfall really was gorgeous. Jane loved watching the rainbow inside of the falling water, and Jack was totally excited about all the huge rocks to climb on. There was a movie being filmed there as we approached, so we watched for a while as they filmed a Swedish guy jumping in from a tall tree. It was 360 degrees of beauty, which unfortunately, I couldn't capture with my little point and shoot.

We climbed rocks for a while, then Jack wanted to take his shoes off. This was my first mistake. My second mistake came when I offered to roll up his pants for him so he could put his feet in. My third mistake was turning around. All of a sudden my fully dressed boy was in the water up to his chest. Oops. He panicked for a bit, and then realized he wasn't in trouble and asked if he could just get all the way in. (Why didn't I see this one coming? My sisters and I were the BEST at this little lure of letting us get in the water. At least we always thought we were, I'm sure my parents knew exactly what they were getting into.) This is how Jack hiked back up to the van.

Luckily, they had a gift shop at the top where we found some kids clothing. I was glad he didn't have to do the night safari in his underpants! We paid 50Baht a person and hopped on the back of this truck to ride around the back roads of the park for an hour. Jeff and Jack did this when they were here before and saw all kinds of wild elephants, monkeys and deer. We mostly just saw the deer and a few Civets which Kate was really excited about. Jane fell completely asleep during our drive, but Jack loved it, even if we didn't see as much as we were hoping. It was a fun-filled day, but we were all exhausted and ready to get back "home".

Saturday, we took it easy during the morning. Jane and I were the first ones up, and since she was so happy, I thought it would be fun to take her for a little walk. She was hilarious walking up and down the road in front of our cottage. This girl can be quite determined when she wants to get somewhere. I took these pictures because I think kids are cute when they first wake up. And after a night of her kicking and punching Jeff and me (she's a mover in her sleep), I needed to remember how cute she actually is.

This picture, for some reason, reminded me so much of my sister, Joanna. Do we have a picture of Joanna with this same expression somewhere? I haven't started calling Janie "Joanna" yet, like I'm sure I will, eventually, but I do call Jack "Jesse" sometimes. All these J's get to be a little confusing! Isn't my girl sweet? Just like my sister!

We started our day with a nice breakfast and a fun dip in the pool. Jack recently acquired a snorkel and thinks it's the best thing since dishwashers, so we all had fun giving it a try.

We spent the remainder of our trip at a nearby dairy farm, called Chokchai. Chokchai is the company who produces the best tasting Thai milk, which is still not nearly as good as American milks, but we can at least drink it. This place opened itself up to agrotourism about 8 years ago and we'd heard nothing but good things about it. Although the tour was almost completely in Thai, we still managed to understand at least where we should meet our group and a few facts about the cows. Quite a view, eh? This is Jack saying "mooooo".

They cart each tour (of about 80 people) around in wagons pulled by tractors. We watched informative videos, saw the ice cream making process (I think) and then had some time at their cowboy town. It was funny to see cowboys entering a stage with a wai, but they certainly knew how to ride their horses and were great with a whip and lasso. The kids were in awe, and I wanted to cry because of all the good western music they were playing. It was tasteful western music, and reminded me of how I used to be a pretty good fiddler, back in the day.

Across from cowboy town was a whole field of dragon fruit. I'd never thought of how this exotic fruit grew, and certainly didn't imagine them on trees like this, but guess what? These aren't trees! I didn't even notice, but Jeff pointed out that the trunk is actually a big pipe with these growing out of it. I don't really get it, but it was fascinating nonetheless. Jack really likes Dragon fruit. I mostly just like how it looks in a fruit salad (white with tiny black seeds).

We saw a dog show (I really am not a dog lover, so I wasn't too impressed. I wished we'd gotten there earlier when they were doing the sheep show. Way cooler!), then we were onto the best petting zoo I've ever seen. It was SO clean, and you could pet everything, and for 10 baht (about 30 cents), you could buy food to feed them. My favorite was feeding the calves. Jane wanted the bottle, but she set it down about 1 foot away from them and backed away. She was a little hesitant to say the least.

These sheep are a GREAT example of how clean this place was. I've never seen sheep this clean! They look like they are stuffed, they are so pretty! The kids weren't that interested in them, but I couldn't stop touching them! I think that was the highlight of the animals for me!

Jane liked the bunnies a little better since there was more fence between them and her. Plus, random people kept coming up and giving the kids food they could feed them. We stopped buying food at this point.

Jack loved his pony ride, and used all the commands he's practiced while riding Jeff at home. Our kids are prepared for everything! Jane was hilarious with the ponies. At first she didn't want to, so that was fine. Then, she started standing in line until she got to the front, then changed her mind again. We went through this several times until I finally decided she'd have more fun back at the petting zoo. Can we just call her Little Miss Fickle?

Both the kids loved the animal show with a pelican, goats, calves, dogs, and a parrot who could do math. It was actually really well done and the animals seemed extremely well taken care of.

So, you've finally come to the end of our trip! It was a fun-filled two days, and we were happy to head back home. It is funny to think that my kids are learning about cowboys, farm animals, and where milk comes from on a farm in Thailand. Their childhood (at least these two years) is nothing like what I had in mind when they were born. I've had to adjust my ideas of how to raise my children because we live in a different world that I imagined raising them in. When I think of it this way, my "mom-guilt" subsides. But, it sure didn't hurt to give them a taste of what it was like to have your own vehicle, what fresh air feels like, and just enjoying the outdoors! Now that we're back in the city, I can of course appreciate how much I love it here. But, it certainly is a different world.

So, after our trip, we were exhausted, but life goes on. Sunday was very busy, and we were lucky to have some guests come home from church with us! This picture is good of everyone but me (I was saying something I think), but at least we got it. I hate when people leave without a picture because sometimes we never see them again! Rachel and Adam Bushman are here for 4 months with Adam's work. They've been awesome at helping in nursery when they are in town, and we loved visiting with them about their adventures while they are here, and their plans for when they get back to Provo. Carrie is from South Africa and just arrived in Thailand a few weeks ago. She travels 2 1/2 hours each way (3-4 different modes of transportation) to come to church each week. She's young, single, and very independent. She was a huge help in the kitchen and my kids already love her. Jeremy Beck's been here many times. His family (Jack's friends Isaac and Lucas) left for Utah two weeks ago and he'll meet up with them next month. Most people here go "home" for the summer for at least 2 months, so our ward is about 1/4 of the size. We won't even have ONE member of the bishopric here for about a month. I did sharing time on Sunday to about 20 kids total. The small size is fun for a while, but we certainly are spread thin when it comes to manning all stations in this ward! Anyway, it was fun to have friends over and get to hear everyone's story. This ward is truly unique in so many ways, and I love how everyone just takes care of each other. What a blessing to be a part of it!

While we were visiting, Jack was determined to build all the animals in his KFC chicky meal clay set. He did a pretty good job!

For the few who read my blog for their Sunday afternoon activities, I'm sorry it was so late! I was exhausted on Sunday after everyone left and didn't want to sit at the computer. So, now it's taken me way longer! Anyway, thanks for reading and keeping in touch! Please, send me an email if I haven't heard from you in a while. I'd LOVE to know what everyone is up to! Have a fantastic week.

22 June 2008

"May your hats fly as high as your dreams" - Michael Scott

This turned out to be somewhat of a "do less" week, and it was enjoyed by all! We spent one afternoon painting, which the kids always love. I come across these little figurines in the market every once in a while for super cheap, and save them for a rainy day. We had several rainy days here (and I mean RAIN-Y, like don't get stuck outside with the kids or you'll be walking the 1km from the train in 2 ft. of water because if you could actually find a taxi, it would take at least an hour), so this makes for a good afternoon activity. I make my kids strip down and put on aprons. I've lost too many clothes when I've opted to keep them dressed. Plus, they're just so cute when they're naked!

We did very little outside of the normal, everyday stuff, besides our biggest day of the week... Friday! Jack's been talking about his "graduation" day for weeks. Friday is the day that Jeff usually takes Jack to school, but he was excited that all four of us got to ride the tuk-tuk to school together and STAY! Does he look a little bit excited?

In his music class, they started singing the Beatles song I will, to perform for graduation. I've sung this song to him since he was a baby, so he's been excited for me to see him perform it.

The whole event really was well done. I will admit that the word "excessive" came to mind a couple of times, as I felt like the whole event put any of my graduations (where you actually get a REAL diploma) to shame. It's just KINDERGARTEN, right? Well, you can imagine all those parents and teachers that were making such a big deal about it... and I'll admit, I was right there with them! It was just a fun event all together. Jack was so pleased to get up on stage, sing, get his diploma, and he was especially excited about the candy lei I made him instead of doing the flower thing like everyone else. What's a 5 year old boy going to do with flowers anyway? I'll tell you what. My friend, Taka, got roses for all of the children in his class, which was so sweet and beautiful, but Jack immediately came to me and said, "because I'm a boy, I'm going to give my flower to you!". He's learning already.

Jack has made so many dear friends this year. Because IPC only goes up to K2 (5 years), everyone is off to different schools next year. As I've said before, the expat life sure makes for a lot of goodbyes. If you were to ask any of these families where they will be in 1-2 years, most of them won't know because they go where the job takes them! What a life! Many of Jack's friends will return to their home countries or other assignments within the year. Sad thing is, we may not ever see some of them again. Good thing is, we'll have friends all over the world!

Jack and Sasha have gotten especially close lately. I can't remember if I wrote about this, but Jack came home one day and I asked him how he liked his Tae Kwon Do class. He replied, "Me and Sasha were holding hands, but we were hiding them so teacher couldn't see!" while he doubled over with giggles. What a nut.

We spent the rest of the day enjoying friends and the festivities, Jack picked out a new dinosaur book, and we enjoyed an afternoon at Ocean World. It was a fun evening, but we were all EXHAUSTED when we got home.

So, here's a video to share some of our favorite shots of the BIG graduation day! (On a side note: you know what worries me when we make things into such a huge deal? How do we move on from there? Do we celebrate every year we move up a grade? Does it always need to be bigger than the last year? The minimalist inside of me is getting weak knees just thinking about it! Nevertheless, I decided to not think about anything but the fun day at hand, and we all enjoyed ourselves. We're good... for now.)

I took this shot after church today. It was just a fun day altogether. Jack gave a talk about the temple in Primary, Jane loved nursery, as usual, and then enjoyed playing with her many, many boyfriends afterward. Dypu and Nappa took her outside to run for a bit, and she laughed so hard, I thought she would fall over. What a wonderful sound! Too bad I didn't get that on camera!

Overheard at our house:

"Mom, I'm going to have a first job like Daddy". I said, "Oh, that's great, sweetie!"

Jeff came around the corner to ask, "are you going to have your first job at McDonalds too?". (a fact Jeff is very proud of!)

Jack answers, "Yes!" Jeff and I both giggle, and Jack, not knowing what we're laughing about, defensively says, "I know how to fry stuff!".

15 June 2008

Goede reis, George and Mery!

This week has been full! Monday was a big day, as it was the day that our dear friends were leaving for Holland.

They had spent the last week in IDC (Immigration Detention Center), so it was such a happy occasion to see them get out and prepare for their new lives, yet it was sad to say goodbye. While they were in IDC, I went with a few other women in our ward to visit them and take them fresh water, produce, and some other things they can’t get there. I’ve now been to IDC several times to visit the Dhakal family (see here) and take them their regular supply of things from the ward. Although it hurts my heart every time I come through security and first see this family looking through the fences, it was extra hard to see my friend, Mery, behind the fence for the first time. To give you an idea of how this goes, you have to fill out an application, wait 30 min. for visiting hour, check your things, get patted down (more than I ever have been before), they look through everything you’ve brought in for the inmates, then you can go through to a fenced area, where you are on one side, there’s a few feet, then another fence, where they are on the other side. We are pretty much yelling through the fence and empty space, trying to talk over, and ignore everyone else around us. It’s a little bit of a challenge. Jeff has left sometimes with a sore throat for having to talk so loud for so long. So, while Mery and her family were in IDC, four of us went together so she and her husband could come out, as well as Bro. and Sis. Dhakal. This is pretty much the only time men and women get to see each other. They were happy to be back together, and we got to hear about how they are doing and what else they needed. We had told the two families about each other, and were happy that they had found each other and seemed to be helping each other out, despite their cultural differences. The Dhakals are now waiting and we’re all praying they will be accepted by New Zealand soon. If not, they have nowhere else to go. They’ve been in there for more than a year now. That really isn’t a place where anyone should live. It was hard enough on George and Mery for just a week! They both lost weight, and Diran, their son, wouldn’t eat anything but a little bread and the curry their Sri Lankan friends sent in with us for them. So, moving on… it was a happy occasion for me to go to the airport to be able to say a proper goodbye. Not through bars, but with a hug!

They had quite the fan club at the airport to see them off! I found them around 9pm, and got to meet all their Sri Lankan friends. I loved seeing how many good people they had met while living here. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so “white” in my life! When I first arrived, they all just smiled and stared at me, and took LOTS of pictures. I felt like I was getting passed around to get pictures with each different family, sometimes adding or taking away one or two people for another shot. Now I know what Jane feels like! Lucky for you, all those pictures were with their cameras! Here's just some of them.

We have loved this family and are SO happy that they are able to start their new lives in Holland!

Other fun news… we bought a new table this week! Our apartment came furnished, so very little in it is actually ours. They make fantastic furniture here though, and we’ve been working on doing this one since November when we were in Chiang Mai! So, it finally happened, and after many, many calls between this company and Jeff’s friend at work, we finally got it all finished and delivered! We were happy to send this one away with all these “love marks”. Anyone want to guess what those BIG scrapes are from? Think Jane… and teething.

We’re loving having a new shape in our dining area, and when we have company…voila! It has a butterfly leaf and can seat 10!

I mentioned last week about Jack sleeping in his bed. Well, floor bed, in his room. His reward was to go see Kung Fu Panda this weekend. He thought it was the best, and he and Janie were Kung Fu–ing all weekend. I thought it was fun, but hoped it would be as good as Horton Hears a Who. It wasn’t.

The Preens invited us to the British Family Fun fair yesterday and we really had a great time! It was a totally free event, in conjunction with the library’s used book sale. So, we bought some great used children’s books, then enjoyed a fun afternoon doing everything the kids could fit in!

Jack, Jane, and Scarlett spent a lot of time on the huge blow up castle slide. I didn’t get a good picture of them on it, but it was TALL and I was shocked at how effortlessly Jane could go up and down with no fear! I guess she just wanted to keep up with the big kids! They LOVE that, but we realized after we got home, they didn’t get off without injury! The both had some serious friction wounds from playing so hard.

Jack was loving the games. He threw some balls (and he was awesome!) and knocked the coconut off the stand, and guess what he won?

A coconut! What does a little boy do with a big coconut? I know what my boy did. He gave it back, and moved onto the next game!

Meanwhile, this is what Jane found...

Jack was awesome at the darts. He hit 3 balloons with his 3 darts! He was loading up on all kinds of prizes we'll throw out in a week!

And Jane loved...

Jack's favorite was the rock wall. It didn't surprise me he was fascinated by it, but it did surprise both Jeff and me that he really did it! He was an incredible climber (of course, I shouldn't be surprised at that!), but this is different than bookshelves and counter tops. He got about half way up, and then realized how high he was and was done. But, he loved it and did it 2 more times! He was so pleased with himself!

And Jane found another one! Notice the brand on the jailbird's shoes. What is this implying exactly?

Heather and Jim were really hoping to see a real American Cowboy get on the mechanical bull. Jeff wasn't quite up for it, so Jack was a good second! He got a kick out of this at first, but apparently it wasn't thrilling enough, and lost interest before he got bucked off.

Jane's always been one to imitate things so we know what she's talking about. This is her imitating herself in a picture we took a while back. I love the shape of her cheeks and chin. Anybody else just want to eat her up?

Jane is in this position a LOT lately when I go to check on her before I go to bed. I used to move her out of it, but now realize she is pretty comfortable like that. Crazy.

In addition to it being American Father's Day, today was also a special day because Elder Mortensen came back to visit! He and his parents arrived Friday, and we were so happy to see them at church today! We knew he'd be coming back soon, but were so happy it was on a day where we could easily have them over for a meal and a visit. We loved this Elder, and it was fun to catch up with him and get to know his parents who, we weren't surprised to find out, were fantastic! Jack immediately took to Margaret, and told her way more about our family than anyone would ever want to know (kind of how you feel when you read my blog, I'm sure)! He also insisted on playing his violin for us during dinner. Who's going to complain about some nice dinner music? He's been working so hard on his violin and is very pleased to share his new songs!

We felt so honored to be able to have Alex (although it feels weird to call him that) and his parents over during their short stay. He had many amazing experiences here on his mission, and it was fun to hear even more about his favorite memories now that he's been home for a few months. (Anybody else feel like we have SO many photos in this setting? Gotta love that camera timer!)

Although it wasn't a super relaxed Father's Day for my sweet hubby, he was such a great sport about it! He was so helpful with the company, the kids, and he even taught the Elders Quorum lesson today. Can I just say that my husband is amazing? He doesn't get nearly enough credit for all he does. He's a super dad, through and through. He can fix anything, tell the best stories, knows all kinds of random trivia, and has never-ending patience. One thing I've appreciated more now than ever, is his ability to keep his priorities straight. He provides for this family temporally and spiritually. There's no doubt, he takes his role as a father very seriously. What more could a family ask for?

Happy Father's Day to my two wonderful Dads! I love you both and couldn't have hand-picked better Fathers to raise Jeff and me. We both love you dearly.