Here to Make Friends

Unlike many a tortured prima donna entering a reality TV showdown, Gloria apparently did come to Thailand to make friends. She couldn’t help it, really – the Thais seem to love love love babies, and it’s probably pretty rare that a farang baby as young as ours ventures from the US all the way to Thailand. Everywhere we’ve been, hotel and restaurant staff have been eager to hold and play with the baby, usually while chanting “cha eh, cha eh,” which we’ve been told is a meaningless baby talk phrase, similar to “goo goo gah gah.” It’s become a common occurrence for the waitstaff at a restaurant to drop off our food and then offer to hold the baby for the duration of our meal – free babysitting, not a bad deal!

Black Canyon Coffee
At Black Canyon Coffee in Chiang Mai

Poon Restaurant
Mr. Poon’s wife insisted on holding Gloria, singing to her, and soothing her to sleep when she was fussy and jet lagged

German couplePoon Restaurant
Baby holders at our guest house (breakfast) and on the beach (lunch)

TreauTreau's daughter
Treau and her daughter, at our guest house in Mae Hong Son, both sang Gloria a chorus of “cha eh”s on our arrival

Guest house neighborAnother neighbor
Once the word got out at our guest house that there was a farang baby about, all of the neighbors wanted to meet her

Fern RestaurantSon and Mum Restaurant
New friends at Fern Restaurant and Son and Mum

Rom JindaGreen curry
Our server at Rom Jinda, and the bowl of green curry that she traded for our first born

Aum VegetarianWe's Restaurant
New friends at Aum Vegetarian and We’s Restaurant, both in Chiang Mai

Our friend M at Pat's
Gloria bidding adieu to her friend M at our guest house, shortly before heading to the airport to start the long journey home

Gloria Highlights, Week 20

Our final week in Thailand was filled with excitement. We made sure to finish up our stay in MHS with the requisite photo shoot at Jongkham Lake and we spent more time volunteering with our Burmese sisters – we even taught them a last-minute crash course in basic accounting. On Thursday evening, we shared some emotional goodbyes. Then we boarded the 30-minute puddle jumper to Chiang Mai on Friday morning – Gloria was a bit fussy on the flight but fortunately it was over in the blink of an eye (if only Gloria knew, she’d be thankful not to be on the MHS->CM bus). Gloria seemed to have mostly recovered from her cold by the time we left Mae Hong Son.

Back in Chiang Mai, we took Gloria to see the sights. We checked out several wats, the famous Chiang Mai Walking Street, the produce market, and a few favorite eating spots. The city was all lit up for the king’s birthday, which made for some fun evening walks and people watching. We took G to visit one of our Burmese friends who is now working in Chiang Mai. Because we couldn’t convince any songthaew drivers to take us to the part of town where she lives, we hailed a tuk-tuk, and Gloria enjoyed the view out the side from her perch in the baby carrier. We rode a songthaew back to the city center, checking off another new transportation experience for Baby G.

We departed Chiang Mai on a red-eye, and had a day-long layover in Seoul. We’ll provide more details about our sojourn into the city in another post. As for Gloria, she was (understandably) super sleepy, and she spent the better part of the day asleep in the baby carrier. We hadn’t planned for the harsh cold of Seoul in December, so to keep Gloria warm we dressed her in two layers of clothing plus her sleep sack before we nestled her into the carrier. It was unorthodox but it worked great. We took the train back to the airport in the afternoon, caught a quick nap in the airport, and then boarded the long-haul flight back to Seattle.

My angel
At the office, shortly before bidding adieu to our Burmese family

Bath time!
Bath time fun in our MHS guest house (we were grateful that they loaned us a basin)

Jongkham Lake
Photo shoot at Jongkham Lake

Riding a tuk-tuk in Chiang Mai
Checking out the view from a tuk-tuk, on the way to visit a friend in Chiang Mai

Naga
Posing with a naga at Wat Chedi Luang

Reclining Buddha What wat?
Touring the wats with mommy and daddy

Breakfast Breakfast
Breakfast at our guest house, on our final day in Chiang Mai

Napping at dinner
Catching a few ZZZs during dinner at Aum Vegetarian before heading to the airport

Sleepy in Seoul
Sleepy in Seoul

Gloria Highlights, Week 19

Our second week in Thailand was a blast. On Wednesday we made our way from Phuket to Mae Hong Son, our home for four months of our sabbatical. We celebrated Thanksgiving with our Burmese friends, and we have spent many hours reconnecting (and cooking) with them.

The whole family has recovered from jet lag, though we have encountered a new nighttime challenge: sleep rolling. The past few nights we have awoken to the sound of a frustrated Globug experiencing an upside-down turtle moment (in reverse). We’re excited that she’s acquiring new skills here in Thailand, but I also hope she gets comfortable sleeping on her tummy soon (or becomes an ambi-roller).

While we have noticed a few small changes in Mae Hong Son since our departure (most notably the closures of our favorite Som Tam and espresso stands), the main difference on this trip is that we are on foot rather than biking everywhere. While it’s not as brutally hot here as it was during our last visit, the days are still around 90 degrees and it’s almost an hour walk to the office where Lauren used to volunteer. Our Globug’s full head of hair has been thinning over the past few weeks, just in time to help keep her a bit cooler during our visit.

We have a few more days to savor here in Mae Hong Son, and then we head to Chiang Mai on Friday afternoon.

Sunbathing
Soaking up some rays during her last day on the beach

Relaxing at Lauren's office Chilling under the mango trees
Lounging at the office where Lauren volunteered for AJWS

Playing in our bed
Gloria made herself at home when we returned to our former guest house

Playing at the FernEnjoying the view from Son and Mum
Taking in the scenery at Fern Restaurant, and Son and Mum

Sunday market
Loving the food stalls at the night market

Storytime with mommy Storytime with daddy
Enjoying The Foot Book, a taste of home

Turkey-less in Thailand

Tonight we had Thanksgiving dinner with our Burmese friends in Mae Hong Son. It was their first time celebrating Thanksgiving (they hadn’t even heard of the holiday until we mentioned it last week), and they were honored to be involved. The menu was quite different from our Thanksgiving in India, as there are no turkeys to be had in these parts. Our main course was “snake” in banana leaves, which took the better part of the day to prepare. We also had a side of papaya pancakes and the full set of accoutrements (including lots of chilies, of course). For dessert we had a ridiculous cake we picked up from a new bakery in town. The sweet shop owners asked if we wanted any writing on the cake (they usually do birthday cakes), so we acquiesced to a “Happy Thanksgiving” flourish.

After our food was all prepared, our Burmese friends asked us if we were going to give a speech before dinner or if we had any traditions on this holiday. So we went upstairs, sat around in a circle, and talked about thanks. Lauren gave a brief history of Thanksgiving and then many of us around the circle talked about what we were thankful for. One of our Burmese friends was thankful that we introduced them to Thanksgiving and shared our holiday with them. We’re thankful that we were able to share Thanksgiving with our small but growing family, and our adopted family here in Mae Hong Son.

Our Burmese Thanksgiving spread
Special Mae Hong Son Thanksgiving dinner

Dessert
Our festive dessert

Our Babe in Thailand

Today we are leaving to help Gloria fulfill her fortune:

Fortune

We fly to Thailand this afternoon, via Seoul. After a night in Chiang Mai we head south to spend a few days on our favorite beach in Southeast Asia, Nai Yang. We are then spending the bulk of our time in Mae Hong Son reconnecting with friends, enjoying the slow pace of life, and gorging on delicious Thai stir friestropical fruits (including mango and sticky rice), and spicy Burmese hill tribe food.

Gloria going to Chiang Mai
Guess where I’m going?

Broken Ethics

As luck would have it, I connected with a friend of ours from Thailand this morning. Matt is in Oslo to launch EarthRights International’s new report, which details how 15 multi-national oil and gas companies are contributing to human rights violations in Burma.

I attended his press conference this morning where he called Norway to task for their investments (~$4.7 billion) in these companies. While Norway has in place a very laudable set of Ethical Guidelines, Matt’s report details how their investments in these companies violate those guidelines. The hope is that the Council on Ethics will act on this information to evaluate whether the companies should be put under observation or potentially even excluded from their fund.

While there has not been a response from the Council quite yet, the report has received a good amount of coverage over the past few hours. Articles have appeared in Bloomberg and The Independent, as well as more traditional Burma-focused press outlets such as the Irrawaddy and Democratic Voice of Burma. For those who speak Norwegian, there is additional content here and here.

It felt great discussing the Burma situation all afternoon and reliving some of my activist days; it also reminded me how much I miss our Burmese friends in Thailand, how complicated the situation is, and  how much work remains before the Burmese can live a life free of human rights violations.

Hanging out at the Litteraturhuset
Hanging out at the Litteraturhuset before Matt’s BBC interview

Lon Hoi Thot

Rating:

A few weeks ago, we discovered a delicious purveyor of Easy Thai near the Sunday Market, next to the Toyota dealership. Of the three small rarn ar harn dtarm sang located there, Lon Hoi Thot is the northernmost one (furthest from the market and directly across from the 7-11). They have an English menu available to foreigners, and of course all of the easy Thai classics are available even if they aren’t listed there. One of the family members, Koi, speaks excellent English and has provided me with a lot of pronunciation tips for ordering Thai food.

All of the food at Lon Hoi Thot is fresh and served very quickly from their two cooking stations. My favorite dish of theirs is gai kratiem prik thai (chicken with garlic and pepper). Lon Hoi Thot adds more garlic and chili to the dish than most places, which makes it the best one I’ve had in Thailand. I also really like their pad prik giang (vegetables in red curry sauce), either gai (with chicken) or jai (with tofu and extra vegetables).

When we took Lauren’s family here for lunch a few weeks ago, their comment after the meal was “is this place open for dinner? We want to come back tonight.” Unfortunately Lon Hoi Thot is only open until 4PM, but I took them on a repeat visit for lunch the next day.

The dishes at Lon Hoi Thot are priced similarly to other food stalls in town (about $1), the quality is very high, and the kratiem prik thai is completely addictive. We had some for lunch both yesterday and today, and I may have to stop by tomorrow (our final day in Mae Hong Son) for one more hit.

UPDATE (12/1/2011): I discovered on our return trip to Mae Hong Son that Lon Hoi Thot is now open for dinner! Oh, and the food remains as delicious as I remember it.

Lon Hoi Thot
Look for the big yellow sign, your smiling hostess Koi (in the glasses), and her mom the amazing chef

The chef at work
Cooking up pad prik giang

Chicken with garlic and pepper
Gai kratiem prik thai kai dao – it’s like crack

Pad prik geang
Pad prik geang kai dao

Pad thai sen yaiPad kra pao
Pad thai sen yai jay and pad kra pao gai

Lauren enjoying pad thai sen yai

Lon Hoi Thot
East side of Khunlumpraphat Road/Hwy 108
Across from the 7-11 and the Sunday Market
Mae Hong Son, Thailand
+66 (0) 5362-0690
Daily: Breakfast, Lunch (8:00AM-4:00PM)

Puzzled in Mae Hong Son

On the first Friday of every month, the ex-pat community in Mae Hong Son organizes a “quiz night,” similar to the trivia nights you find at bars in the US. Janis, the unofficial social coordinator of Mae Hong Son and the driving force behind quiz night, depends on volunteers from the ex-pat community to help run the event.

In an attempt to do our part to help, six weeks ago Lauren and I offered to host a quiz night for our final Friday in Mae Hong Son. There was one condition to our offer – we wanted to have the evening be more puzzle-like, and less pure trivia. Janis said “sure” and we were on the calendar. Of course, although we had almost two months of advance notice, it wasn’t until last weekend that we started writing puzzles, so we spent most of our free time this week preparing material for the event.

We had two 45-minute rounds, separated by a 30-minute intermission. At the beginning of each round we handed out two puzzles, worth 10 points each with a bonus of 2 points for the fastest correct answer. The first round puzzles were:

Intermission was sourced from Peter Sarrett’s puzzle Googolplex used in Microsoft Puzzlehunt 123. The presentation format was an “all play” where Lauren and I would read a movie description and the first team to shout out the correct answer received one point.

Round 2 was slightly more difficult:

  • Is That a Banana – A honeycomb-formatted crossword, with clues referencing Mae Hong Son and Thailand
  • Mae Hong Son Social Network – our creativity highlight of the night, a logic puzzle presented as a Facebook feed

The puzzles are posted here. If you want to try them out, note that a few of the clues require local knowledge of Mae Hong Son. The answers are also posted if you get stumped.

DSC_0224DSC_0223

DSC_0225DSC_0222
Puzzlers at work

The winning team
Team Blink: Coming from behind to tie for first place

Things We Will Miss

  • Easy Thai, especially Rarn P Dam, where Kenny eats lunch every weekday.
  • Super spicy delicious Burmese ethnic minority cuisine.
  • Mango and sticky rice.
  • Now that I mention it, mango with anything. Or mango with nothing.
  • Lychees, rambutans, and mangosteens.
  • Free community yoga twice a week.
  • Riding my bicycle everywhere and never worrying about traffic.
  • The fact that the highway, which runs right behind our apartment, generally has more joggers on it than cars.
  • Our co-workers, who have also become good friends.
  • Swimming in the Nam Pai on hot days.
  • Eating delicious fruits and vegetables every day that come from our own farm.
  • Living the easy life in our peaceful town, nestled in a beautiful valley.
  • Frogs, geckos, roosters, and other fun neighbors. Well, maybe not the roosters so much. They are pretty, but it will be nice to sleep in past 5am.
  • Drawing on our software engineering experience to contribute to the fight for democracy in Burma.

Kenny biking to Nai SoiLake wat

Mango and sticky riceNai Soi

Gorging on fruitThe farm

Coffee, Tea, Etc.

Rating:

When we were on our initial conference call with AJWS and the other SE Asia volunteers, one of the questions asked was, “can I get good coffee?” The response was something to the effect of “this volunteering assignment is a good opportunity to kick your coffee habit.”

While Lauren and I certainly appreciate a good cup of coffee, we also have no problem going coffee-less for months on end. Given that we aren’t in an ex-French colony, we were happy to subsist on tea for our occasional morning beverage. Then we sampled Coffee, Tea, Etc. on the main drag of Mae Hong Son, located in P Nik’s building. Who knew that you could find Seattle-quality cappuccinos in our little provincial town?

The coffee beans used at Coffee, Tea, Etc. are grown locally in Mae Hong Son. They also serve a delicious tea made from Mae Hong Son tea leaves. Gwang, the barista/owner, is a friendly young Thai man who speaks excellent English. Gwang has given us a lot of advice and information during our stay, such as where to make key copies, and the name of my favorite Thai food-to-order stall (Rarn P Dam, located across the street). It’s common for P Dam to deliver breakfast to Gwang, and for Gwang to drop off coffee drinks for P Dam and her husband.

For 30 Baht (under $1), you can enjoy a delicious cappuccino at Coffee, Tea, Etc. with friendly service and free wireless. It turns out that rather than being a place to kick your coffee habit, Mae Hong Son may be a place to develop one.

Lauren enjoying a morning cappuccino
Happy way to start the day

Cappuccino
Our very first cappucino at Coffee, Tea, Etc.

Breakfast
Cross-cultural breakfast: our favorite Thai food with our favorite cappuccino

Coffee, Tea, Etc.
NE Corner of Singhanart Bamrung and Phadit Joncume
Mae Hong Son, Thailand
Daily: 7:00AM-7:00PM