30 December 2010

You'll never look at a straw the same way again.

Happy New Year!!! In my two previous posts, you've seen a few of Bangkok's crazy and beautiful Christmas decorations. Below are a few that bridge the Christmas season and the New Year's festivities. One of my favorite artistic endeavors of all time was discovered in one of the Siam shopping centers-- Siam Discovery. Each piece of seasonal artwork throughout the building is made out of multi-colored drinking straws. From life-size Christmas trees and holiday garlands, decorated in twinkling lights, to a suspended graphic treatment of sculptural stars and a giant exclamation of the word YEAH!, the work is absolutely stunning up close. The grandest in scale is featured in the center's entry hall, which consists of an entire wall covered in drinking straws spelling out a welcome greeting. Take a look and then go get yourself a straw, pop it in a cool drink and contemplate how long the artists must have spent creating the displays featured below. Again Happy New Year!

 Entrance to Siam Discovery. The entire wall is covered in drinking straws!

A close-up of the above wall.

More drinking straw art. Suspended from the ceiling, three floors up.

24 December 2010

A golden shoe and a few pretzels too...

Merry Christmas! From the tallest Christmas tree in southeast Asia to a tree made out of golden high-heeled shoes to a tree decorated with pretzels to a giant snow globe that you can step inside of, Bangkok has once again outdone itself with crazy Christmas decor. Here are a few pictures of what the city looks like now....

The largest Christmas tree in southeast Asia, at Bangkok's CentralWorld.
The tree stands an impressive five floors tall.

Everyone needs a tree decorated with pretzels, right?!

Yes, they really are pretzels!

A tree of golden shoes!

A giant snow globe. See the bench? You can step inside and become part of the decor.

The "Happy Skywalk"-- located outside of CentralWorld on the skytrain's elevated walkway. Christmas music blares annually and paper decor flutters overhead. This year, construction from the Zen Department Store (being rebuilt after last Spring's protest fires) competed with the music.

20 December 2010

Through the rabbit hole...

Last year, Bangkok's premier luxury shopping center, Siam Paragon, had some of the oddest Christmas decorations I've ever seen (A cardboard Christmas tree, wearing a sombrero and strumming a ukulele was one of the features). So, I relished the opportunity to go check out what they came up with for the 2010 holiday season. The theme this year has something to do with giant rabbits and while I don't necessarily get the Christmas connection, I think they are pretty cute! Oh, and there's a few flying reindeer thrown in for good measure and a crystal Christmas tree. Take a look...

12 December 2010

Having a baby in Thailand (or, "It's 1 a.m. Where the hell are you taking my baby?!")

Upon moving overseas, I quickly learned rule number one of being a successful expat: NEVER assume anything will be as you expect. Then, I learned rule number two (specifically for Thailand): NOTHING will be the same as it is in your home country no matter how often you hear someone tell you it's the "Same, Same" (a favorite English phrase of locals that foreigners have appropriately tacked on "But Different"). So, it was my own grand mistake upon entering the hospital for the birth of my third child that I a) assumed I knew what to expect and b) that the experience would be similar to the birth of my other two children.

Several readers have inquired what it was like to give birth in Thailand. Let's start by saying that it was a unique experience best summed up by 'Same, same, but different.' I'm relieved to be home with my newborn and starting out his life in Thailand. I love Bangkok and still am amazed that I was able to survive the pregnancy in the tropical heat with the distinct scents of the city. It was a life adventure I'm glad to have had. And, for those interested in a few further details related to our hospital experience (perhaps humorous in retrospect, horrific while happening) read on...

After realizing that I was mere minutes away from the baby's arrival and witnessing a room that was not prepared for this moment with panicked nurses yelling to each other in Thai*, I simultaneously realized there was no doctor 'on call.' The only doctor who was going to birth this child was my own, pre-assigned doctor and no one else would be available to help should she not get there. My doctor was called and I consciously screamed persistently and as loud as I could (so that no one would doubt my need for the doctor to arrive). She came flying in, baby came flying out and I breathed a sigh of relief. Later I learned that she was in her office, a floor below, and left a whirlwind of paper and pens scattered about as she raced to make it to the labour room.

The after care was where the bigger shock came into play. Thailand is a nursery society. Meaning, babies are routinely kept in the hospital's nursery rather than in the room with their parents. All medical evaluation is done in the nursery and parents are generally not encouraged to participate. My husband had the tricky task of navigating the indirect nature of communication in Thailand while insisting that our child not be taken away from us. He went running after the baby each time our son was wheeled to the nursery for "observation"-- which turned out to mean, put the baby in the wheely bassinet and let him sit in the nursery without looking at him. A completely foreign experience for us whose first two newborn children had hospital issued security tags that would set off alarms if taken out of a specific small ward of the hospital! So, you can imagine my horror when I walked out of the bathroom in my private room at 1 a.m. in the morning to see my sleeping child being wheeled out the door by a nurse attempting to take him to the nursery for "observation." (In case you're wondering, I strongly communicated 'no observation'.) In the end, we were fortunate to be able to keep our son with us, even though our wishes were continually challenged. Our son spent mere minutes out of our sight while we were at the hospital. (Tip: if a nurse says she'll bring your child back, she will not and a parent should go racing along side the wheeley bassinet being pushed to the nursery).

And, then there were the moments that I had to roll my eyes and think "only in Thailand." Such as the moment of seeing my child's feet painted with liquid gold. A small container of beautiful gilded artist's paint was applied with a fan shaped paint brush. A lovely process of collecting his foot print until my curious eyes settled on the paint jar's label-- "Not to be used by children. Toxic." (join me in an eye roll if you wish)

Then, there was the moment when my son was in the nursery for a routine medical procedure. We were told he could come right back to the room when finished. The story changed when my husband was observing the procedure and we were told it was the nursery policy to keep him for 'observation'. My husband came to get me so that I could go feed our son and stay with him. When I returned to the nursery, just minutes later, three nurses were clustered around our one-day-old, with mobile phones outstretched, snapping pictures. (another eye roll please)

And, then there was the moment when I was instructed on how to 'bathe' our child. A new parent is not allowed to be discharged until they are taught how to bathe their child. I had to laugh with the instructing nurse (luckily she found the humor in instructing me!) as she showed me the steps to washing our (third!) child. Put a bit of water on with a sponge ("WATCH OUT for the feet! Keep them dry!" the nurse scolded. I have no idea why, but I wanted to be discharged so his feet stayed dry.),  a little soap in his fuzzy (almost non-existent) hair, wipe off with water, dry, dab eyes with dry cotton ball to dry completely, diaper, dress, comb (previously mentioned almost non-existent) hair to create a part(!).

And, there was the moment when we were finally being discharged from the hospital and informed that a nursery staff member, per their policy, would escort us to our waiting car. After a few seconds of awkwardness, I soon realized it was the staff member's job to carry my baby for me. I reached out, gently took my child and left her carrying the massive amount of goody bags the hospital sends you home with. I'm pretty certain I broke their policy.

Perhaps, you'll understand when I say that a true sense of relief washed over me as we finally left the hospital and returned home to begin life as a new family of five.

*Thai that I, most likely incorrectly translated, to be 'Get the $##$@#@% doctor in here NOW! We're $#%#%# freaking out!'

06 December 2010

A four week round up

In the last month, our lives have changed again as we (finally, after 42 weeks of pregnancy!) welcomed our third child to the world. As I write this, I'm surrounded by a hazy bubble of baby goodness. My husband is taking extraordinary care of me-- preparing gourmet meals around the clock and picking up where I left off with shuttling our daughter to and from school, taking our four-year-old out on the town for endless adventure, giving me lots of room to rest and time to bond with our newest darling. A few thoughts on having a baby in Thailand will be included in an upcoming post, but for now I thought a quick round-up of the last four weeks would be worthy of a post. So much celebrating has ensued, it seems appropriate to share a bit of the fun that has been happening at our home in Thailand.

My husband took his final long business trip before starting paternity leave. During this time, I had the kids crafting themselves into a project stupor. Weekend days and after school evenings were spent with glue, scissors, bits and baubles creating ornaments for each of the celebrations mentioned below. Laughter rang loud as they created crazy renditions of the project at hand.

Halloween involved a four-year-old werewolf screaming through the house (who morphed into a spiderman and then a batman before the night was complete) and a fluttery six-year-old butterfly swirling right behind him. In the week leading up to the holiday, a massive squash search occurred. Local markets were stopped at and street vendors pestered. The kids and I lit up each time we placed a new one in our growing collection. Paper mache pumpkins, made with a big mess, sat next to our market finds.

My husband and I have both celebrated our birthdays with nights out in the city, celebrating one another while feasting on Vietnamese food one night and Thai food another.

We enjoyed a long visit from my parents as they made their way to Thailand to welcome their third grandchild, stocked with bags and bags of wonderful goodies 'from home' for us. (I now have a healthy supply of my favorite pastel coated licorice candies. The top shelves of my walk-in closet are towering with with wrapped and ready to go Christmas presents. Our favorite coffee is restocked... and, as I write this, almost again depleted! And, the depleted felt supply in our house has been rejuvenated.) But, most importantly, we are fortunate to have spent the time with my family as we approach a very different holiday season (the first Christmas season to be spent in Bangkok, rather than in the Pacific Northwestern States chilly air with family and friends).

We listened repeatedly to the Loy Krathong song over and over again as we prepared our flower bedecked floats and then pushed them out onto our swimming pool after dark in celebration of one of the biggest and most serene holidays in Thailand. My parents, still visiting, joined in the celebration this year. We spent the morning of Loy Krathong browsing Chatuchak and then hopping over to Or Tor Kor (the Green Market, located next to Chatuchak) to buy our krathong making supplies-- rounds from the banana tree's trunk, banana leaves, orchids, chrysanthemums, joss sticks and candles.

We shared a relaxed Thanksgiving meal complete with what has become my favorite cranberry sauce (see below). This year marked one of my favorite Thanksgiving celebrations to date. We had our four day old newborn in the house, dished up (fantastically delicious food!) buffet style and then lounged around our family room enjoying one another as we dined. My two older kids loved the familiar flavors of the holidays and enjoyed plate after plate.

Somewhere in there, my husband managed to treat my dad to an overnight adventure in Kanchanaburi where they slept in a stilted village over the river, crossed the River Kwai, dined on Thai food in the warm November heat and swam in a waterfall.

And, I enjoyed the final weeks of my pregnancy with my mom by my side getting unlimited manicures and pedicures, going to the theatre, hitting Chatuchak's weekend market a few times and sipping far too many of Starbucks' seasonal red cup drinks (note to self: lay off the peppermint mochas now that you're no longer pregnant).

Then, on one miraculous day, we managed to get to the hospital, survived labour and welcomed our third child into this marvelous world.

Cooking in Thailand, entry no. 92:
Stewed Cranberries
We eat local and fresh ingredients mostly, but on certain days of the year we make an exception. Thanksgiving is one of them. Sure, we opt for the locally raised chicken instead of that frozen rock of a butterball flown in from the States and priced outrageously. But, I just can not fathom celebrating Thanksgiving without cranberries. And, after three Thanksgiving celebrations in Bangkok, I have yet to find any fresh ones. So, our first year here (desperate for a cranberry sauce) I created the following recipe. While I'm sure fresh berries will remain a favorite, I strongly suspect that I'll continue to make this version in tandem. The flavors are intense and now a personal favorite for the holidays.

4 cups of dried cranberries
1 cup of orange juice, freshly squeezed
zest of one orange
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup of water

Place the cranberries into a large bowl, cover with water and wrap tightly with plastic wrap or parchment. Refrigerate overnight (up to three nights). When ready to cook, drain the cranberries from the liquid (reserving the liquid for later use). Place in a heavy bottom saucepan with the remaining ingredients. Over low heat, simmer, for approximately 30 minutes. Stir occasionally and watch closely so that the sauce doesn't scald. Add portions of the reserved liquid, as necessary, to make into your desired consistency.* Serve warm or cold. Place over meats or eat as a side dish.

*I prefer for the sauce to have a bit more liquid so that it takes on a thick gravy-like consistency.