30 June 2010

Today's triumphs...

Three expat life triumphs happened today...

Expat triumph number one: Overcoming the language barrier.
I went to visit my non English speaking stylist at our neighborhood hair salon. It's now been two years and I have only had three visits where I have walked out with the 'artistic vision' for my hair that I went in with. (On visit number one, I received a very chic bob with three very un-chic tails that hung about three inches longer than the rest of my hair.) So, after the regular head bowing welcome, our usual pantomime of my desired style and an odd Thai/English description on my part, I left the salon today smiling and quite pleased with the tiny dusting of a trim he gave me. Triumph.

Expat triumph number two: Developing ultimate resourcefulness.
My six-year-old daughter has been enjoying working on hand stitching projects. Every couple of days, she picks up her project, sews a bit and then puts it back down for a few days. The outcome is a 'thing' of course (a handkerchief with her artwork on it, a small felted rabbit, a tiny fairy doll...). And, the 'thing' appeals to my four-year-old son. So, he's now taken to an ongoing stitching project as well. We drop my daughter off at school, then hit the local coffee shop for a cup of coffee/cocoa and sit and stitch for a bit (interspersed with some iPodding--he's a wanna-be rock star!). So, he's working on a 4-inch-tall pirate doll and it's turning out adorably... big four-year-old boy stitches and all! Which brings me to my triumph today. The pirate is currently bald and that's not working for a blond four-year-old with a stitching vision. So, as soon as the kids fell asleep tonight, I snuck into my daughter's room and plucked a few blond yarn hairs out of one of her dolls. Tomorrow the pirate will have a full head of hair. Triumph.

Expat triumph number 3: Live local. Eat local.
I had 10 minutes to make lunch before a kid-related melt down was sure to occur (or I was going to pass out from not eating breakfast and running around all morning). Without even thinking I grabbed some coconut milk, lemon grass, shredded ginger, mushrooms, shallots, lime juice and salt. I threw them in a pot and brought them to a bubble. Meanwhile, I took the bamboo rice paddle, popped open the rice cooker (which conveniently always holds a fresh batch of rice), scooped a paddle full into each of three bowls and topped with soup. My daughter added her standard additional large amount of lime juice. I added a generous scoop of pepper flakes from a local market vendor. My son complained that he had too much lemon grass but fished his way to the rice. A couple of years back I never would have guessed that Coconut Lime Soup would be my go-to fast food meal. Triumph.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 85:
This is like a lime flavored sweet-tart candy in a glass. My kids love the no alcohol added version.

1/4 cup coconut cream (or coconut milk)
2 tablespoons of sugar
Juice of 6 limes
Zest of 1 lime
Lime slices for garnish
several ice cubes
Splash of dark rum (optional)

Add the coconut cream, sugar, lime juice and lime zest to a blender. Mix well. Add the ice cubes one at a time until the drink is chilled and slightly slushy. Pour into decorative glasses, add a float of rum (if desired) and a slice of lime.

08 June 2010

I missed Siam

During the months of being confined to our neighborhood due to political unrest manifesting in city-wide political protests, I continued to enjoy what our corner of Bangkok had to offer. Our family dug deep into our time together and continued with a fairly normal existence of creating new flavors in the kitchen and new art for our little home gallery. We went to local pool parties hosted by great friends and sipped coffee at our local coffee house.

But, behind the semblance of normalcy lurked a deep pit in my stomach. First, there was the dark feeling created by living with my mobile phone glued to the palm of my hand in anticipation of a call that came occasionally to pick my daughter up early from school. Protest gatherings and marches were regularly planned for Bangkok's city streets, causing schools to release students early in hopes that they wouldn't get caught in the inevitable traffic jams. Second, there was the gut instinct that the regular security checks on main streets, involving mirrors placed under our car, were a sign of things to come. And, finally, there was the sadness that settled into a lump in my throat when my three year old ducked deep into his car seat as we passed groups of soldiers regularly assembled in public places. I asked him what in particular bothered him and he responded, "I don't want their big guns to hurt us."

As the world now knows, the protests ended with stories of violence told about the 'final fight' of May 19 and pictures published accompanying headlines screaming out 'Bangkok Burning.'***

My heart sank at the first sign of smoke viewed from our home's balcony windows. The air was thick with the smell of tires burning and plumes of black smoke continued through the nights, alerting us each day that dawn did not 'bring a new day' after all. In the early morning prior to the 'final fight', we were eventually relocated by my husband's employer to a different area of the city. Our immediate neighborhood wasn't in danger, but my husband was returning from an out of the country business trip and fears that he wouldn't be able to reach us should we become trapped with a perimeter of conflict around us started to seem like a possibility. From our new 'home', we witnessed the city's destruction-- billows of smoke, excessive out of control fires, crowds running away in fear.

I, like many of Bangkok's residents, have lived with mixed emotions these last few weeks. Over recent discussions with friends, we all acknowledge that the unrest isn't gone, just merely on hold. We're all trying to enjoy the calmness that seems to have returned to the city... for now. We all have expressed deep sadness for the loss of favorite places burned in the turmoil. And, we've all expressed disbelief as to how this could have happened to a city we've grown to love.

This weekend, we stepped out into the heart of the city, for the first time as a family since the protests began on March 14. Hoards of shoppers had returned to the city center as well, ushering back in the opening of favorite shops, restaurants, entertainment and public gathering places. My kids were overjoyed to embrace a favorite toy store, a favorite indoor play area and a favorite restaurant--- all of which had been closed since late March.

"I'm happy Siam is back. I missed it," my three year old said at the end of our family outing, just moments before collapsing into a happy deep sleep in our candy-colored taxi.

*** An excellent recap of the March-May 2010 protests, including a timeline, can be found here.