Friday, April 17, 2015

Already done

I'm reading "Bangkok Days" by Lawrence Osborne, and it is possible that no one ever has to write a book about Bangkok again.

Osborne perfectly maps so many classic Thai moments well known to those of us who live in the Kingdom. He becomes known as "Miss Lalant" by Thai workers who can't quite manage "Mister Lawrence," and his seedy drinking buddies call him that too. At one point, he wakes up in a hospital and sees "Miss Lalant" written on his IV drips.

He writes about how Thais are masters of gentle bemusement, especially when confronted by indignant Westerners and their demands. This happens when he and his friend are kicked out of the British Club for nonpayment of dues, for example, or when a French journalist complains about the quality of the room he's been given for free as part of his story on a Hua Hin spa for a Swiss magazine.

Osborne stays in a farang men apartment block, where a university student goes down the hall knocking on doors until someone answers who wants to have sex with her. And then, you know, she gets paid.

It's a completely different sphere from us expat moms. He's probably never argued with an amusement park ticket booth worker to get the "Thai price." And he's probably never gone shopping in Chinatown for Christmas decorations.

I like my experiences better.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Six ways to wear a Hawaiian shirt for Songkran

You either love it or hate it, but it's back again:

That wild, wet Thailand holiday known as Songkran. 

Kids: Good targets. Small but slow-moving 

What started as a gentle bathing of elders' hands has turned into an all-out, country-consuming, three-day water fight.
The school hand-bathing ceremony a few years ago.
Us farangs have two choices: Stay inside for three days, or throw on our Hawaiian shirts and join the fun.

That's what we're planning to do tomorrow night, when we head over to the infamous Silom Road, which has been closed down so people can get crazy with their squirt guns. 

But everywhere I go, I see people wearing their floral-print shirts the exact same way.
  • Buttoned! 
  • Boring! 
  • Same same! 
So here's a few ways you can wear your Songkran uniform for the holiday. We're keeping in mind that it will be blazingly hot and incredibly humid, so we're not looking for lots of layers or accessories. We're keeping things cool and light.

And if you haven't already gotten your 100-baht shirt, don't worry. They're still selling them all over Bangkok. 

Rip It Good

It's so damn hot here that it only makes sense to rip the sleeves off your cheap shirt. I mean, COME ON, it only cost 100 baht.

I love this cool number from the social media flea market app Depop. Seller Phoebe Cuff says the sleeves have slight fraying, which just adds to the tough-girl, ready-to-party vibe. Would also be cute over a cami.

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Here, rolled sleeves maintain the laid-back attitude, along with a drapey tuck into a pair of denim cutoffs.

Image by Mister Mort,, from

And a peek of a red bikini top? Adorable.

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Creative buttoning over a solid top in a coordinating color makes this flirty but sophisticated.

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Punk Songkran: Black beanie, cropped leather jacket, laddered tights and black creepers. Hot in more ways than one. 

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Twist with a twist. Madonna's son playfully sports the Spicoli look on her Instagram feed.

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And ... animals in Hawaiian shirts.

Because it's Songkran.


Image from

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Our morning drive

No one wants to go to Din Daeng in the morning.
The trick to surviving Bangkok traffic is to never expect a clear roadway. Instead, one should always expect the worst of all possible conditions: Your exit will be backed up for 20 minutes and you will be cut off every time you try to change your lane. But you should take a fatalist attitude: Whatever will be, will be.

People on the Long Island Expressway, for example, may approach their morning commute as if they think things are always going to go well. Then, they get angry when they hit traffic, steam impatiently as they sit for 20 minutes and become aggressive when things finally get moving. Why not approach the trip as if you know it's going to be terrible? Then, you won't be surprised when it is. You'll keep your blood pressure down.

This is how I do it in Bangkok.  A lack of traffic is a pleasant surprise. The presence of backups is expected. It allows me to take pictures and think up blog posts. Because I am going so slowly, I can get a good look at a man striding up to a yellow taxi that has just rear-ended his pickup truck. I watch workers piled into the backs of other pickup trucks, battered ones with cages and roofs, their hair whipping in the wind as they are driven to their construction sites. I can remember things I forgot to tell my husband and call him to discuss them. I can notice that the driver who noses in front of me has a license plate frame that says: "The spirit of competition."

A working car. A full tank of gas. A sunny day. Time to dream.

Friday, November 1, 2013

No rain

It's official: The rainy season is over. So says my neighbor's babysitter. Clouds still boil across the horizon, but they just hang out and then create pretty sunsets like this one.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Goat lovers are everywhere

Stella and the young actor from the Anchor Light production

Here's a guest post today from my cousin Debby, a retired school psychologist and raiser of goats. Her email about a film shoot in NYC was so wonderful, I asked her if I could share it.

You can see more pictures of her animals and read about them at Sheep Gate Farm.

Stella has an acting career! A small production company contacted me, they needed a goat and Stella fit the bill. A story of a boy who finds a goat in NYC. We shot the movie in NYC and Queens this weekend. Stella and a boy named Chris were the protagonists for a short Internet film called "Scapegrace". It was done by a small production company, Anchor Light, with talented camera crew and director Kevin Hayden. You can see some of his videos on his website. I will let you know when the movie is released.

Who knew that a goat in the city could cause such a commotion. It was very touching. I heard many, many stories from people who had memories of goats. A 75 yr old man originally from Yugoslavia, stood about 15 ft away, looked at her and shouted to me, "She is 5 or 6 years old".  How do you know? I shouted back. "By the growth of her horns and the hairs on her nose," he replied. He didn't even have to look at her teeth.  My vet isn't that good. Next thing you know we were deep in conversation about the herd of 12 white goats he was in charge of sheepherding at the age of 6 yrs old during WWII. Then the conversation turned to Tito and Stalin and how Tito survived Stalin's intended assassination plot.

There was a young man from the Ukraine you grew up on goats milk and was thrilled to tell me his experiences. A woman from Asia, when she saw the teats with milk, gave me 2 thumbs up with a huge grin, as she passed by. Children in absolute awe. A woman from South America with a cup in hand pleading with me for just a small amount of milk for the baby in her arms. Many people around the world have a very strong belief in the immune enhancing qualities of goat's milk for children. Unfortunately, Stella was tired and would not stand still for me to milk her. People calling out in Spanish, "Leche! Leche!"

A woman passed by with a bicycle and stopped with tears in her eyes, petting Stella and  recalling her childhood farm in Pennsylvania and the goats there and how much she missed them. Another woman followed the pellet droppings in disbelief, like Hanzel and Gretal following the bread crumbs:)

Stella and I were literally mobbed and had to take refuge in the tinted glass van for breaks from the crowds, in between shoots. We arrived the 1st day in NYC at 7 am and by 9 am people had already seen her picture on the internet and were blogging about her. Stella was quite the sensation. A man from the islands stopped and told me he had been in NYC since 1976 and had never seen a goat there. He was grinning from ear to ear. if I had $1 for every passerby that took a picture we would have probably made well over $500
 Day 2 in Queens,  I learned some old time cheese recipes, how to keep weight on her and several other tips from the old timers that  had been raised in Europe with goats. And one very kind man that stayed watching over her for hours until the end of the shoot, worried because I had not brought hay for her to lay down on, so she could rest comfortably. And when he touched her, her eyes closed in pleasure and she was soothed by his touch, as if she could feel, he was someone who really knew goats. Then there was butcher who gave me some delicious dry sausage and the children who hung around all day petting her and laughing.

What an amazing experience; I learned that there remains an intense memory of goats as companion, friend, family member, and supplier of nourishment and joy, that still resonates very deeply within the human psyche.

Stella touched so many people this weekend. I appreciate my babies more than ever.  I am lucky to have them in my backyard!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Scenes from a moving car

We've been back in Bangkok a week and are still getting over our jet lag. I've been up since 3:30 after having a threatening dream involving my old elementary school. Everyone else is still blissfully asleep, including Joe on the new super-comfy mattress from Ikea we bought him after he begged for it for a year.

We decided to get out of town over the weekend with the help of Gary and Nok, who not only gave us free run of their beachside condo in Hua Hin, but loaned us Nok's car to get there and back. We couldn't ask for better relations, right? We got to spend time with little GJ, who is sprouting legs the length of a supermodel's and will turn 2 in December. Nok took us to an amazing seaside restaurant with an open tank full of shellfish, from which diners' dinners were plucked, and which was better than an aquarium for the amount and variety of sea life we could observe in their last moments on earth. GJ didn't like it when I petted a horseshoe crab (yep, they eat them here) or touched the long feeler of a lobster. He grabbed my hand and pulled it out of the tank. So cute! He's watching out for me, just like his dad.

I should have taken pictures, but I was having too much of a good time, plus I had forgotten my camera. A stellar bottle of Napa red provided by Gary and Nok upped our enjoyment factor by about a million.

We hit Black Mountain Water Park on Sunday. On the way home, we were treated to the sight of a convoy of elephants, no doubt heading back from the annual Hua Hin elephant polo tournament. I had to use my crummy cell phone camera.

Just for the heck of it, I grabbed a few shots of trucks loaded with produce.

Leon's fantasy pumpkins?


Then, we were treated to a fabulous sunset out the passenger side windows.

The sun reflected off the standing water in the rice paddies.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Arsenic and rice

Rice is one of the greatest things about Thailand. It is cheap, varied and plentiful. You have your famous Thai jasmine, and you also have black rice, red rice, forbidden rice, and the rice that comes in enormous sacks at Makro, the Thai version of Costco. They should be throwing it off cargo planes into famine-stricken areas instead of making me try to figure out if Leon could get it home by bicycle.

However, the recent Martha Rose Shulman story posted on the New York Times reminded me of something I've forgotten to worry about for months: Arsenic levels in rice!

I eat a lot of rice. Is an arsenic buildup to blame for me no longer being able to hear Leon or Joe? (Joe told me yesterday that my ears don't work. He also said that Dad's face doesn't work.) How about weight gain? I really need something to blame for that, other than my chocolate addiction.

But between googling "home arsenic food test kit" and reviewing the Consumer Reports story of last year, I found out that rice from Thailand is blessedly low on arsenic.

Go, Thailand!

Now let's work on refrigerating those eggs!

Also, Martha, I'm sorry, but a beet green, rice and ricotta pancake just sounds gross.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Some like it hot

Runners trickle in to the finish line. Marathoners started at 3 a.m., half-marathoners at 5 and 10k runners at 5:45.
Running in the heat scares me. I can handle rain, sleet needling into my face, anything short of a blizzard. But here, if I passed out, I'm afraid that an ambulance wouldn't make it through Bangkok traffic before my brain shriveled up from dehydration. And if I'm going to damage my brain, I want it to be doing something fun, like Songkran or Mardi Gras.

But I achieve nothing, especially fitness and weight loss, without deadlines. So I picked a race, put it on the calendar and started logging miles. Then, I traveled, got sick and stopped for awhile. Then I realized the run was a week away. But I decided it was better to reserve my strength and carbo-load. Wasn't it?

Several plates of pasta later, the result was a 12:31 mile over a paltry 4.5-kilometer route, parts of which I had to walk. They gave out nice T-shirts though.

Here's some images from the Standard Chartered Bangkok Marathon, which also featured a half-marathon, a 10k and my "fun run."

The Grand Palace complex near the starting line about 6:30 a.m. Temperature was 80 degrees with 79 percent humidity. And this is the cool season!

Nothing could dampen this group's spirits.

Shiny happy people.

And gods, goddesses, giant insects and aliens.

And balloon animals! 

Sweaty happy people.

And at the end, ye shall pass through the golden arches and collect yourself a free McDonald's sandwich. I've gotten fond of their Samurai Burger myself. Pork + ketchup = yum!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

One week in New York

Loved going home for my sister's surprise party!

An unsuspecting Sue and family en route to the New York Public Library Saturday.


New York Public Library lion
Loosen up, lion. It's a party!

Here’s the teapot that Dad, Benita and I got her. 

Picard's Peter Saenger teapot
The Peter Saenger teapot

Found it at B.J. Spoke Gallery in Huntington. While we were mulling the purchase, we were told it had been on "Star Trek." Sold.


Leon wishes I hadn’t gotten something connected with Patrick Stewart. He thinks I have an unhealthy obsession with him. I think my obsession is totally understandable.

The next day, big pile of shoes at Mom's house: so Thailand! It’s to save the white carpet.

Shoe pile

On Monday, grabbed some pics of fall leaves from the car on the way to the airport, with the sun coming up.

Fall leaves on Long Island

Fall leaves on Long Island

At Newark I went through the full-body scan, got pat down, had my hands swabbed for explosive residue, and was sniffed by a law enforcement dog in the jetway. They’ve had some bad press over there.

Fell asleep, then woke up in time to see beautiful views of the Yukon and Alaska. 

Yukon from 35,000 feet

Brooks Range in Alaska from airplane
Should I be worried that there's less snow in Alaska than in Canada?
On the Tokyo-to-Bangkok leg, after I tilted my seat back, a guy behind me PUSHED IT BACK UP! I got all New York on him (hard to do while wearing a neck roll). It turned out he didn't speak much English and also wasn't particularly aggressive. He just wanted me to wait until he was done eating. I dialed it down, waited. Then reclined all the way. The man spent most of the flight standing in the galley area. 

My Trader Joe’s run: Fruit leather and Larabars. Other goodies: the new Skylanders Giants pack, season three of "Modern Family," clothes, books, a Saeco coffeepot with built-in grinder, and a basketball. Also, running shoes, Glenlivet and fidget toys for church. And finally, Halloween decorations, fake blood and body parts, and a light-up skeleton.

When Thai people go home for visits, what do they haul back in their suitcases?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A wai and a smile

No better place for cats to hang out than at the local spirit house.

Sometimes I test out Thais' legendary tolerance of foreigners. For example, seeing if I can casually jog onto government property. Are there a bunch of guards at the entrance? Yes! Has anyone ever stopped me? No! Am I allowed here? Who knows! 

"Good morning!" one guard calls to me in English. "Good exercise!"

Up before dawn on a recent weekend, I headed out in search of a place free of vehicles, someplace where a woman could wear a pair of jogging shorts and not be thought too weird. I found that place a few blocks away: the Royal Irrigation Department. 

It's on the river. There are no cars. And other people exercise there too: walkers, runners, even some women, although they are in modest leggings.  

At that time of day I have to be careful not to collide with monks on their morning alms rounds. If they touched me, they'd have to purify themselves. Luckily, they're wearing orange. I dodge people setting up food stalls, sweeping the sidewalks, getting on buses. Unpacking goods to sell. It's not even 6 a.m. The unemployment rate here is 0.6 percent. 

I make circuits around the buildings on the quiet roads. Some people stop for a respectful, prayerful wai at the big statute of Rama IV, which is always draped in fresh garlands. Cats wail and screech from within the depths of a warehouse.

Down at the river, there is sometimes a breeze. Barges trundle past. Huge clumps of leafy water hyacinth trap children's lost balls and water bottles. An older man jogs onto the dock. Raises his clasped hands to his forehead in a wai. Jogs around the dock. Wais. Jogs. Wais. Could it be that temple across the river he's honoring? 

I've never seen such a seamless blend of the physical and spiritual.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Diet papaya

Joe was standing at the table eating popcorn yesterday when our property manager Rung came over to look at some water damage. With a grin, Rung watched Joey shoving popcorn in his mouth, then gently patted his stomach. "When you are done, run around the compound," Rung joked. Joe kept eating -- he's used to comments like this. Everyone from cab drivers to train platform police officers likes to poke Joe and squeeze his arms and legs.

Today, I got a gift of papaya from Rung, who has a fruit plantation in the country. "Tell Joey to eat this instead," he said.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

When televisions float

Today, I felt something I have never felt outside in Bangkok before: Cold.

It may have been the three-hour rainstorm that sent most of the Gulf of Thailand cascading over the city. It is the rainiest month in the rainy season:

From Three hundred millimeters is about 12 inches.
But I had a school bus to meet. So I grabbed our biggest umbrella and set off.

I sloshed by Latri, who babysits for the family next door. She was up to her ankles in rainwater, poking around the curb along our little street in search of the drain.

I made it to the klong. The bridge offered a view of a torrent. Downspouts lining the edges gushed rainwater. Debris swirled by. Bottles. Bags. Paper.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Homework club

At my son's school, parents are in the dreamy days where their kids get shipped off to school all day but have not yet brought back any homework. But the homework packet, when it comes, will be a week's worth of misery.
Maybe Joe needs to drink more Peptein.

Homework follows a formula in our house: forty minutes of wailing, fidgeting and dropping of pencils and 10 minutes of working. But this summer, a very wise woman suggested to me a homework club, where the kids gather right after school, in the school, to complete all their homework for the week.

That got me imagining a world where Leon and I didn't have to fight with Joe every night (at least not about homework -- there's always tooth-brushing). We wouldn't have to line up multiple pencils on the table, ready to be knocked off and never seen again. We wouldn't have to choose between getting an assignment done and taking advantage of Bangkok's endless summer with a swim or brutally competitive family soccer game.

So guess who's starting a homework club? But even Joe is enthusiastic. I gave him the choice of being in the homework club or the soccer club, which will be held on the same day. He picked the homework club. He says he wouldn't be able to finish his homework otherwise. Good kid!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Ten things you get at mom's

Motherly love

Grandmotherly love

Free advice

Unlimited coffee/merlot/holy water

Clean laundry

Christmas Tree Shops swag

All your stuff from high school

Toys (circa 1970s-80s)

Garden tomatoes

Free gutter-cleaning opportunities (for sons-in-law only)