Friday, September 28

Miss Lee saw me naked.

Review and contemplate the diagram below.  This is the layout of the kitchen, master bathroom and balcony.  Can you identify the major, fundamental, design flaw?
You are correct!  As depicted in the photo below, a person standing in the kitchen, can look out the kitchen window and see a person through the bathroom window.  In this image, Timmy has taken the extra step of going outside to the "balcony."  This step is not necessary.  Regardless of whether the lights are on, or off, the person in the bathroom is clearly visible from the kitchen.
Not so secret spy
After I stepped out of the shower and reached for a towel by the bathtub, I looked up, naked as a jaybird, only to see Miss Lee, on the other side of the kitchen window, staring back at me.  Excellent.
His expression indicates I am clearly visible
I simply pretended that I didn't see Miss Lee. I decided in my mind, that the windows are special one-way windows and therefore, I could see her, but she couldn't see me. Then, because I knew that she really could see me, I hid in the bedroom for a long time. I locked the bedroom door and yelled out, "I'm working, and then I'm taking a nap." My laptop was not in the bedroom with me, but Miss Lee is not exactly a brain trust so I doubt she realized that I couldn't work without it.
Balcony / Outdoor hallway to exposed area with railing
Here's the balcony.  It's cozy.  The narrow hallway leads to a space exposed to the elements.  Note the laundry in the lower left corner of the picture.  Who's laundry is that?  It isn't drying.  We are in monsoon season.  It's getting wet every afternoon from the rain.  Is it Miss Lee's underwear and pants?  Why are her clothes hanging out to not-dry on our not-balcony?  If they aren't Miss Lee's clothes, than I really think that the woman who owns these pants and underwear needs to come get them.

I need a nanny

One of the most appealing aspects of my life in Hong Kong was having a full time, live-in, domestic helper.  It is very common in Hong Kong.  When I lived in Hong Kong I didn't know anyone who didn't have a domestic helper.  I assumed that this lifestyle was also common in Bangkok. You know what they say, "when you assume, you make 'A Silly Simpleton of U and ME'."  OK that's not really what they say.  What they really say is "when you assume, you make an 'ASS of U and ME'."  I was trying to come up with something PG Rated because "ass" is a bad word. 

Anyway, I was very excited at the prospect of having affordable full-time babysitting.  Help with cleaning and laundry would be a bonus.  When we arrived, finding a domestic helper was my first objective, even before unpacking.  I determined that:

1) We need a babysitter
2) It is much harder to get a babysitter than I realized because:
  • Thai women don't like to 'nanny'.  I don't know if they don't like to nanny for foreigners specifically, or they don't like to nanny in general.
  • Everyone here is Thai
Undeterred by this speed bump, I was convinced that in a country with such considerable poverty, there must be at least one woman that would be willing to babysit my children.  I realize now, that my theory was seriously flawed.  But, to be fair, moving to a foreign country is not simple and sometimes I concoct plans that are not thoroughly analyzed or rigorously tested.

The Thai women that are willing to nanny are from 'up country'.   These are women from tribes in northernn Thailand.  Tribal people and aren't Thai citizens.  They speak a different language and cannot understand Thai. There are many tribes in the mountains of northern Thailand. They don't have refrigerators, ovens, washing machines, cars, etc. Their understanding of childcare is very different than even the average Thai family here in Bangkok, much less the average western family.

Again, to be fair, I had no idea that the women that are willing to nanny are from tribes that don't wear 'clothes' as we know them.

STRATEGY FOR PROBLEM (but not for the ISSUE because I didn't know about it at the time)
1) I called an agency and said that we would pay a monthly rate, so that she would have a steady salary even if there were days when we didn't need a babysitter.

The agencies aren't reliable and do send tribal women.  The agencies will also send women that have second jobs as 'dancers' (involving a pole).  Apparently the nanny has to pay the agency a fee when they are hired.

The agency sent Miss Lee.  We set her interview up in the evening so that the kids could meet her.  She seemed perfectly nice and everyone liked her.  She said "I can do the cooking, the cleaning, I know the babies, I do everything."  Then she gestured to the our dinner still on the table and said "I can cook everything."  Looking back, I realize that a ten minute interview is not enough when hiring full time help.  Also, I probably should have looked at her resume or reviewed her references.  Here is a photo of Miss Lee
Miss Lee
I wasn't surprised during the interview to find that Miss Lee was very difficult to understand.  We had the same experience in Hong Kong.  English is taught in the schools here, but the students don't have a lot of opportunity to practice.  And more often than not, the teachers themselves, are Thai and have never been to an English speaking country.  I believed that her language issues could be overcome.  After I determined that she was a strong candidate and that we would likely hire her, I carefully enunciated my name for her and I introduced her to the children:

Me: "My name is Virginia Russell"
Miss Lee: "Huuhheeenia  Rooosselll"
Me: "uh, well that's not really it.  I think it might be hard for you to say?"
Miss Lee: "I call you Madame."  That sounded fine to me.
Me: "This is Timmy"
Miss Lee: "Timmeeeee"
Me: "Timmy can you say "Hello" to Miss Lee?"
Timmy: "Hello Miss Lee"
Miss Lee: "Helloh Timmeeee, Sawasdee Kah"
Timmy: "Why is she saying my name like that?"
Me: "She speaks thai, and you will need to help her with her english.  You may need to help her say your name.  Maybe you can learn some thai from her?"
Timmy: "I don't want to do that."  (I ignore all of this, hoping she didn't understand what he said).
Me: "This is Katrina"
Miss Lee: "Kasseeeenah"
Me: "No, it's Katrina"
Miss Lee: "Treeeenaaaah"
Me: "OK, Call her Kat"
Miss Lee: "Gahhfeeld!"
Me: "Garfield?  You mean Garfield that cat?  The cat in the cartooon?"
Miss Lee: "Ya, Ya, Ya, Ya, Gahhfeeld!"
Katrina: "My name is Katrina," said in a total state of confusion, surprise and consternation.  You can call me "Kat."
Miss Lee:  "Yes, Yes, like cat! You cat! Ok Gahhhfeeeld!  I call you Gahhhfeeeld," said with glee.
Katrina: "I'm not Garfield."  Looking at me,  "Does she think my name is Garfield?"
Me: "It's ok Katrina, I'll explain it to her later."
Tim: "So you have worked with children before?  You like children?"
Miss Lee: "Yes, I like.  The baybees.  I thaburie nara nar rah non tah baybeees. And I chit plun kop kah kah kah  Always, yes, kah, sam, sip, sum, kah kop kah."
Tim: "OK, sounds great."

After she left, I asked Tim, "Did you understand what she said?"  "Not a word"

We hired Miss Lee.

Tuesday, September 18

Thailand Taxi Warnings

In the taxis in Thailand, there is a sticker on the passenger's window.  The sticker shows images of things restricted in the taxi. It is the same concept as a sign you might see at a park or beach.  Of course the kids immediately wanted to know what the images were meant to depict. 
No gymnastics allowed in Thailand Taxis

This is a list of my explanations from left to right:

1) No oxen or yak
2) No guns or large steak knives
3) No gymnastics or exercising
4) No big dogs
5) No drinking
6) No durian fruit
7) No smoking

I'm sure that I got #7 correct. 

By the way, there is also a sign in the MRT station that says durian fruit is not allowed.  Durian fruit has an overwhelmingly bad odor.  If you can't bring it on the subway and you can't take it in a taxi, how do you get it home if you don't live close to the fruit market?


Monday, September 17


Buddha Statue(s), so many to choose from

Whomever did the transliteration of the Thai language had absolutely no command of the English language.  For example, how do you think you pronounce "Ayutthaya?"  In Thai, it's pronounced, "Ah-you-tee-ah."  When you read the word "Ayutthaya," do you hear that sound in your head?  The sound my head hears is, "A-yut-thay-a."  We decided to go to Ayutthaya, a city in northern Thailand, and not surprisingly, we had a very difficult time communicating our intended destination.
Ayutthaya has the same type of ruins found in Cambodia at Angkor Wat.  I know nothing about Angkor Wat, other than that it is an important ruin, and Angelina Jolie made Tomb Raider there.  I decided that if Ayutthaya has important, Tomb Raider ruins, then obviously, we needed to go.  I made that decision about one hour before we left.  Consequently, we didn't do much planning.  
We arrived at the train station only to find that all of the trains going to Ayutthaya for the rest of the day were second or third class trains only.  It wasn't just that there were no first class seats available, there were no first class trains - at all - the whole rest of the day.  Tim and I immediately agreed that we should skip the train and take a taxi.  The kids were crushed, they were so excited to take the train.  I gestured to all of the passengers waiting for trains and said, "Katrina, if we sit in second class, we will have to sit right next to all of these people."  Considering every country in the United Nations was well represented in the train station, I thought my point was blatantly clear.  Katrina said "So what?"  I said, "Katrina, honey, I did this after college.  I carried a backpack and took 2nd class trains and I thought it was cool.  Now, I'm older, and I don't think it's cool anymore, I just think it smells bad.  When you are over 21, you can ride any train you want."  Katrina said, "Mom, you don't have to act 42, just because you are 42, you can still be as young as college people."  I said, "You are making a very compelling point, nevertheless, I don't want to sit in between the smell of curry, red chili, durian and tamarind.  Also, I believe in the importance of bathing, and regular hygiene, and some of the people here adhere to a different code of cleanliness."  I thought my speech tied up any loose ends regarding the train versus taxi discussion.

Both kids vehemently disagreed with me and complained bitterly.  Katrina pulled out her trump card, "I'll get car sick" and flat out refused to get in a taxi.  Tim agreed with me and he went to negotiate with a taxi driver.  I took the kids into the train station convenience store.  First, a man walked in with a ski mask on.  It covered his entire face so that only his eyes were visible.  I grabbed both kids and recoiled in fear.  Maybe he was going to pull out a gun and rob the store, or perhaps he was a terrorist?  He wandered over to the drinks, got an orange Fanta soda, then he walked by and said something to us.  Then, he paid and left - in a ski mask - in 90 degree heat.  Next, a man that looked exactly like a Thai version of an Oompaloompa came up and started talking to Timmy and patting Timmy's cheek.  This is a perfect example of why I didn't want to buy a ticket on a third class train.

The most memorable part of our trip to Ayutthaya, a world heritage and UNESCO site, was the one hour taxi ride.  It should have taken over an hour, maybe even two hours, but we took the expressway and I think there must not be a speed limit.  Or maybe the taxi had a jet engine.  I sat in the back, with the kids, without seat belts, while Tim sat in the front, gripping his seat.  We sped past the other cars, sometimes in a lane, sometimes not.  Timmy loved it and said he felt like he was on a roller coaster.  I felt like I was on a roller coaster too, but not the fun roller coaster that Timmy was on.  I felt like I was on a wooden roller coaster, that was built in 1903, with faulty brakes and no seat belts.  I was distracting the kids with an a capella performance of the musical, "The Sound of Music."  I knew Tim was genuinely concerned because he never tried to stop me from singing.  My favorite part of the taxi ride was when we stopped to get gas, and drove up the highway exit ramp, the wrong way, into oncoming traffic. 

When we arrived at Wat Monkhol, in Ayutthaya, Tim hugged us all and quietly said he was grateful that we were all OK.  Then, he paid the taxi driver and told him he could go back to Bangkok.  The driver spoke almost no English and I'm sure he was thoroughly confused and wondered how we would get back.
Possibly Wat Monkhol, I'm not 100% on that, could be a monastery
When we got there Timmy asked, "Are we in Thailand?"  I don't know how many times I will have to explain to him that we are in Thailand, all the time, every day, all day long, even when we sleep.

I explained to the kids that Ayutthaya was once the capital of Thailand.  Now, all that is left, is ancient ruins of the great palace, monasteries and Buddhist temples.  I had done almost four minutes of research on Ayutthaya and that's three minutes more than Tim had done.  When we arrived, we had no idea what we were looking at, and I don't read Thai.  Timmy's questions are unavoidable so I had no choice but to fill in the historical blanks.  Since I really don't know Thai history, there were a lot of blanks to fill.  My version of Ayutthaya's history, heritage and landmarks is fascinating.  I told Timmy that the movie "Indiana Jones" was based on Ayutthaya.  I also told him that there was treasure buried in the temples/shrines/palaces (slightly true) and that although much of the treasure was stolen by Burmese thieves, there was still treasure hidden within the ruins.  I threw in a Burmese King, some monks, elephants and the Emerald Buddha; it was a very interesting tour of the Ayutthaya Wats.
In Thailand, it is very important that you never point at an image of the Buddha, or show the bottom of your feet to the Buddha and you must always be lower than the Buddha's head.  As we approached the first statue, Timmy pointed to the Buddha and said, "Is that the statue we're not supposed to point to?" 
What's it made of?
During the Burma/Siam wars, the Burmese army came in to Ayutthaya on elephants, (true) and destroyed many Buddha statues in the monasteries.  The head from one of the statues, fell to the bottom of a tree and is now encased in the roots.  Timmy and Katrina remembered that we needed to stay below the Buddha's head and insisted that we squat down, in front of the Buddha head encased in the roots.  When the other tourists didn't also squat down on the ground, Katrina loudly said, "They are being very rude and very disrepectful, they are too high!  They have to get down!  I'm going to tell them."  I had to physically restrain her from repreimanding the other tourists.
Stuck in a Jam
The only safe option home was the train - the same train that had no first class seats.  We took a taxi to the train station and bought second class seats.  As we waited, it just so happened that a Buddhist monk sat on the bench next to us.  This wouldn't have been a big deal, except that I had included the Buddhist monks in my version of Ayutthaya history.  This monk had glasses, shoes, a wallet, money and an iphone.  In my version, the monks didn't have anything but the orange outfit and the rope belt, no shoes and definitely no money.  I could see the questions bubbling behind Timmy's eyes.  He pointed at the monk and said, "Is he going on the train?  Is he allowed to do that?  How is he going to do that?  How is he going to buy a ticket?  Where did he get the money?  Does he have underwear on?  Where does he keep his wallet?  Does he have pockets in there?  Why does he need glasses?  Where did he get the glasses?  Did someone give him the glasses?  Why is he wearing socks if he has on flip flops?  To be fair, I had many of the same questions, beginning with the underwear.
When we got on the train, the monk sat directly behind Timmy.  ooops
The train wasn't that bad.  It took forever and stopped in random places for a long time for no apparent reason. 
When we got off the train Timmy asked "Are we in Thailand now?"
Monastery where treasure is buried

Monday, September 10

Satan's Spicy Soup

It was dark outside when we landed in Bangkok and I had lost all sense of time.  It could have been 8:00pm or 3:00am. The airport was so busy it looked like it was 5:00pm.  When we finally arrived at our apartment building, it was 1:00am.   

Regardless of the hour, it felt like it was time for a meal.  We were starving and our food options in the middle of the night were limited.  The only thing that was open was 7Eleven. The only thing that looked appetizing in the Bangkok, 7Eleven at 1:30am was noodles. I chose what I believed to be the most bland, 'safest' flavor of noodles. See photo below. The packaging clearly said "rice vermicelli noodles in clear broth."

I think it was mistranslated or simply missing some key descriptive adjectives, because it was actually rice vermicelli noodles in hot sauce from hell. My stomach will never be the same.

Satan's Spicy Soup

Friday, September 7

What's wrong with this picture?

I'm 'home schooling' my children in Bangkok (to be covered later).  We do a worksheet during Timmy's lesson, where he is supposed to circle the things that are 'wrong' in the picture.  For example, one picture had a fish in a bed.  Another picture showed a bird's nest in a bathtub.  Timmy did an excellent job.  He circled all of the wrong things correctly.

I have created an adult version of "What's Wrong with this Picture?"  Look at the photo below and see if you can find something that is out of place:
I know the answer: Tim isn't wearing his Delta Employee Security Badge
You are correct!  Tim should most definitely not be standing behind the Delta Ticket Counter. 

Now, look at the photo below and see if you can find something 'wrong' with this picture:

I still don't understand why he couldn't upgrade our seats?
You are correct, again!  Yes, that is Tim, still behind the Delta Ticket Counter in Fort Myers, where he definitely should not be.
Look! Here's Tim trying to ignore Katrina while he 'works' at the Delta Ticket Counter checking himself in for his four-flight trip to Bangkok, Thailand.  
Tim was really mad in this picture
In fact, he was behind the counter so long, that three passengers requested assistance with their tickets and check-in.  To be fair, he was at the 'Sky Priority' kiosk.  Fortunately, Tim was able to redirect the passengers to a ticket agent employed by Delta Airlines.  Now, for the real test: 
If you were the President of Delta, or even the VP, or perhaps the Director of TSA, and you saw this picture, how many ticket counter agents would you fire?
A little blurry because it's hard to hold the phone still while laughing
The ticket agent wouldn't issue boarding passes to us because she said we required Visas to travel to Thailand.  She said Delta would be fined if an American boarded a flight without a legitimate visa.  If you are traveling to Thailand, and plan to stay more than 30 consecutive days, you need a Visa.  We were flying to Thailand on August 28th and then departing for Singapore on September 9th.  The ticket agent required an itinerary with a confirmed ticket departing Thailand within 30 days.  We neglected to print our itinerary before arriving at the Fort Myers airport.  Tim was unable to produce evidence of the departure ticket because the Ft. Myers airport WiFi access was unavailable.  That's when Tim became a Delta Ticketing Agent.  Unfortunately, Delta's Internet connection was down as well.  With minutes to spare, Tim purchased four, one-way, fully refundable tickets from Bangkok to Singapore for $800.00 each.  Yes, that's $3200.00, for 4 one-way coach class airline tickets - but we did have proof-positive that we would be leaving Thailand within 30 days. 

Important Thailand Travel Notes:
1) Immigration in Thailand does not check the departure ticket/itinerary as you enter the country.  This is an airline enforced rule.
2) Visas can be purchased at the immigration counter for about $35.00
3) As long as you leave within 30 days after your arrival, you don't need a Visa.  As an American, conceivably you could stay in Thailand for years as long as you exited and reentered the country every 29 days.
4) In the rational world, round trip tickets from Bangkok to Singapore cost about $200.00.
5) The last time Thailand fined an American airline for visa violations was never.


Thursday, September 6

Flight(s) to Bangkok

The person that made our travel arrangements either hates us or doesn't have children. 

The duration of our flights and total travel time was not made clear to me prior to departure.  The first flight from Fort Myers, Florida to Atlanta was 2 hours. The second flight from Atlanta to Minneapolis was 3 hours. The third flight from Minneapolis to Tokyo was 11 hours until we started to travel back in time. We 'encountered a head wind' and after thirty minutes in the air, the flying time increased to 11 hours and 32 minutes. The fourth flight from Tokyo to Bangkok was 7 hours. We were in the airplane for a total of 23 hours excluding the part when we started to travel back in time.  If you include the layovers, our total travel time was technically over 30 hours; mentally and emotionally it felt like three weeks.

Katrina "loved it" because she got to watch 7 movies. Timmy thought it was fun and held up his hands like he was on a roller coaster every time the plane took off or landed. He also loudly asked questions such as "Mom, if an airplane crashed into a ship, what would happen?" Or, "Mom, if the man driving the airplane crashes into another airplane, will he get a ticket from a policeman?" Or, "Mom, who can go faster, a ship, or an airplane?"  Or, "Mom, which has a bigger engine, a ship or an airplane?"  Or, "Mom, if the ship has a bigger engine, why can't it go faster than the airplane?"  Or, "Mom, if the engine falls off, can the airplane still fly?"  Or, "Mom, what if the airplane flies into another airplane?  What happens?  Will they crash?"  I don't think the other passengers appreciated the crash-related line of questions. 

Tim appeared to be moderately uncomfortable and as miserable as all of the other passengers. I spent the entire time trying to figure out what credit cards I needed to sign up for in order to get enough points to get a business class seat on the way home.

A few travel suggestions:  

If you go into the Delta Sky Club, and you decide to take some of the little peanut butter, jelly and honey packets with you on the airplane, rethink your plan.  If the honey breaks in your carry-on luggage, everything will be covered in honey stickiness. 

If you are traveling with your spouse and children, sit in the window seat.  You have to climb over the kids when you get out of your seat and it's so disruptive.  It's so much more convenient for everyone, for your spouse to take them to the bathroom, get a drink of water, wander around, etc. since he is sitting in the aisle seat. 

45 minutes into the flight, go to the bathroom next to the galley and tell the flight attendants who are reapplying lipstick, chatting or doing absolutely nothing, that you have so much respect for them because their job is so difficult.  You will get great service after that.  To be fair, their job is impossible, but it's hard to have a lot of sympathy for them when they're reading "People" magazine and eating the extra cheese plate from the empty seat in First Class. 
On Flight #3 Happily 'trapped' in the Window Seat


Wednesday, September 5

Why can't we find a place to live in Bangkok?

I know you are asking, "What's the problem?  Why can't they find an apartment?  How hard can it be to find a place to live?"  I asked the same question. In a city with a population of 6 million people, why can't we find a place to live?  After endless hours of scouring websites, relocation services, and recommendations from friends, here is a sampling of the results:

1) I really liked this accommodation, as it included toilet paper, not a toilet, but, if we found a toilet, we would have toilet paper.
Bright, sunny room, toiletries included
2) This apartment has the feel of a 'pensione' with direct access to the street life of Bangkok. 
Major Curb Appeal
3) This is the view outside the bedroom window of the apartment in the photo above.  I don't know who the girl in the picture is - maybe she is a guest, maybe she is the owner, or maybe she was just photoshopped into the picture?
A Room with a View
4) This is a picture of the amenities included in the rental price of the apartment above.
Telecommunications & Network Connectivity

5) Of course on the other end of the spectrum, if I had many 000,000,000.00 in my bank account, I could have had this...
Would work in a pinch
 6) I could have suffered through this...
Enough space for visitors
We weren't having any success, so I joined a social property website.  Property owners and renters create profiles similar to Facebook and they can add referrals to the profile. If you have many positive references people are more likely rent their apartments to you.  Obviously, I didn't have any references.  So, I asked a few creative friends to write a referral for me and here is what they came up with:

"I have known Virginia for more than 30 years. We have rented places together and she keeps the rental property so clean. I love renting places with her because does all the cleaning!! She is such a neat and tidy person." 

The only part of that quote that is true is that my name is "Virginia."  Here is another referral from one of my friends:
"I consider Virginia to be one of my most trusted friends. I have been like an aunt to her two fabulous children. I almost delivered her son, Timmy jr, when Virginia's water broke while hiking in the Colorado Mountains together. She is the only woman I would trust with my email password. I went through a tough time last year when my father passed away. Virginia was there for me and even cooked two weeks worth of food for four children and me. She is like a gift from God. Her house is always immaculate and organized and the children are always so well behaved. I wish she would write a book and give her secrets of how she manages so well! I would trust her with my life( which I have many times- especially when driving on the Autobon)."

The only part of that quote that is true, is that she has four children.  Ultimately, the veracity of the referrals isn't so important.  The fact is, after they were posted, renters finally started responding to my emails.
Unfortunately, the social property website proved fruitless.  I began asking every person I have ever met if they knew anyone in Bangkok.  Finally I struck gold; my friend's, cousin's, college, sorority sister, lives in Bangkok and she is the nicest person in Thailand.  She helped us to find a furnished apartment at The Chatrium Residences in Sathorn and she helped us to negotiate an excellent rate.  Here is a picture of the bedroom:
That grey chair is more comfortable than it looks
OK, so it doesn't look exactly like the picture, but we do have that grey chair and the little table.  We also have the TV and the exact same phone you see here in the picture.  I'm not sure I would describe it as "A Remarkable Oasis," but, I would say that's it perfect for us.  The staff is very nice.  They even made a cake for Timmy's birthday and sent a card from "The Chatrium Team."  So, The Chatrium is our new home in Bangkok.