Thursday, November 24, 2011

Creativity Soothes

Flood wall along Rama IV

Flood themed painting on a wall near Khao San Road

As I walk along the sandbagged and barricaded streets of Bangkok, I love seeing images like those above. Instead of seeing concrete flood walls as a barrier or a hindrance, some people see them as an opportunity to be creative.

For me personally, when times are tense and everything seems to be going wrong, I always seem to find solace in being creative and expressing myself. My form of expression usually turns to something fiber related, and this time was no exception. 

During the height of the flood, I would sit in my apartment, constantly checking Twitter and other news sources about flood information. Knowing that I needed a break from that, I spun the yarn below. The methodical focus needed to spin the yarn helped me relax and take my mind off everything that was happening.  It's brown, blue and green colors remind me of the river that so drastically changed my life.

I call it "Screw You, Chao Phraya"

Friday, November 11, 2011

Only One Wish

This year, as I released my krathong into the pond at Benjasiri Park I made only one wish, that Thailand would recover quickly from these devastating floods and that one day Eric and I would be able to return to Bangkok. (Ok, I know that is technically two wishes, but math was never my strong suit)

Happy Loy Krathong!! And as the song says:
Each one with this krathong,
As we push away we pray,
We can see a better day

To better days ahead!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Well it's finally happened- I've had my first breakdown/freak-out as an expat in Bangkok. The kind that leaves me crying uncontrollably, unable to move from the couch, cursing everyone and everything, etc. The cause of this breakdown- the fact that we have to leave Bangkok.

Ever since the floods hit Ayutthaya and the Rojana Industrial Park, our future seems to be changing so quickly and nothing seems to be under our control. Eric's company kept changing their mind about what they were going to do with the expats here in Thailand, but finally they've decided to move everyone back to the United States. 

This is not how I imagined our transition back to the US would go. I though we would have plenty of advance warning to prepare, both mentally and logistically. 

I focused so hard on making Bangkok our home, that having it ripped away so quickly makes my heart hurt.

Friday, October 21, 2011


Well, it is starting to sound like the flooding of Bangkok is inevitable and that the only question is how bad will the flooding get. Everyone in Bangkok seems to be in full crisis mode:

Buying stores out of food and water. It is pretty much impossible to find any bottled water in the city. Eric and I stopped at Tesco Lotus in Pattaya before we came back to Bangkok earlier this week, and even they were running low on water. The stores today were packed full of people stocking up on supplies.
It's a bad sign when the overpriced imported foods are almost gone.

Scrambling to find parking for their cars. Our condo parking structure which is usually mostly empty, is packed full of cars. People are even using the elevated expressway as a giant parking structure, which is really hampering the evacuation of some areas in outer Bankgok.
Yes, those are cars PARKED on the expressway.

Building extensive sandbag walls. Last week, very few businesses in Bangkok had sandbags in front of their buildings. Now it seems like they are ALL working to protect their property from the impending flood.
Same wall in front of Silom complex from my last post

I am not too proud to admit that I've also gone crazy this week preparing for the floods. I think it's the inner Girl Scout in me that worries about not being prepared. So during the last few days I've done my best to cover all of my bases:

Stockpile of non-perishable food including dried fruit to prevent scurvy:

ALL the essentials...
Bathtub full of water to use for washing and flushing toilets:


Every possible container filled with boiled tap water:


Purchase a butane stove and plenty of fuel canisters:


I think that my paranoia about not being prepared also stems from the fact that I am now in Bangkok alone. Since the manufacturing plant where Eric works is currently under three meters of water, he is now on a plane back to Wisconsin to help the manufacturing plant there ramp up production. So, I have to deal with the floods on my own, but I think I have enough supplies and support from friends to make it though this. 

This is going to be an interesting weekend I think...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Batten Down the Hatches- Preparing for Floods in Bangkok

Bangkok is currently in preparation mode as flood waters from the north move closer and rain continues to fall. In our neighborhood, life seems to be going on as normal, with a few exceptions:

Shop owners building a concrete wall in front of a shop along Rama IV
Lumpini MRT station with new steel gates on the windows
Pile of sandbags outside the Silom Complex 
Nearly empty shelves at the local grocery store
While things may be deceptively calm here in our neighborhood, we are still contemplating going south to get away from the floods.

In a related note, the manufacturing plant where Eric works is currently under six feet of water. The flood waters broke through levee after levee and inundated the entire industrial park. We are still not sure what that exactly means for us and our stay here in Thailand. Hopefully, we will have some answers soon.

Image from The MacLeod Thaimes
If you are the praying type, please pray for all of the families that have been affected by these floods. Entire cities are currently underwater and the devastation is so immense, it is kind of hard to comprehend. 

If you are looking for up to date news about the flooding in Thailand and you are on Twitter- @RichardBarrow and #ThaiFloodEng are great sources of information.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"Reverse Culture Shock"

Both Eric and I are pretty much a "go with the flow" type of people, so it was little surprise to me that we didn't really experience any culture shock when moving to Thailand just over one year ago. I haven't had any moments that have made me throw up my hands and say "I'm done" or any fits of uncontrollable crying. I am not saying that I won't experience some sort of freak out in the future, but so far I would say I've adjusted fairly well.

So it came as a huge surprise during my recent month long trip back to the United States that I experienced a little bit of reverse culture shock. There were many things that shocked and confused me, but there were also things that I found joy and delight in rediscovering. 

Efficient Bureaucracy
The first time reverse culture shock hit me was when I was waiting in the Immigration and Customs line at the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport. There was an Immigration officer actually directing people into the correct lines! This was so confusing, especially after dealing with the huge lines and mass confusion at immigration in the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok. It was a nice change of pace, but confusing none the less.

Driving a car
One of things that I really missed about being in the United States was the ability to just hop in a car and drive to the grocery store or to visit friends across the state. While I went through the long process of getting my Thai Driver's license, I have yet to actually drive a car in the Land of Smiles. The thought of actually having to navigate a vehicle through traffic composed of taxis lane diving to find the fastest route and motorcycles weaving through the smallest gaps between cars makes me break out in to a nervous sweat. 

So, needless to say, I was very excited about being able to drive again during our visit to the United States. I spent much of the flight worrying that I had forgotten how to drive or that I would accidentally drive on the wrong side of the road. In the end, my fears were unfounded and I enjoyed many hours of driving through Wisconsin and Oregon with my windows down and my favorite music on the radio. It was a great break from my usual car rides in the back seat of an over air conditioned taxi blaring the latest Thai pop songs. 

Sensory Overload
I think this form of reverse culture shock was the most surprising for me, especially since I've been living for the past year in a city of 8 million people. The city constantly assults all of your senses -smell, sound, touch, taste. It is a chaotic mess, but one I've grown accustomed to and have even started to enjoy.

So it came as a huge shock when I wandered into the local Target store and immediately got a headache. The store was so bright and clean and all the signs were in English and there was a buzz of conversation around me and I could understand it ALL!

Living in a country where I don't speak or read the language, I've grown accustomed to blocking out most conversations and ignoring most signs because they are in Thai and obviously don't pertain to me. So it was really overwhelming when I came back to the US and my filters no longer functioned and my brain had to cope with all of this new information.

Plus, I think I was also overwhelmed with happiness at being in a Target store. They really should open one in Bangkok- especially one that carries Western sized clothing and shoes. I would NEVER leave! 

So Many Choices!
Awesome micro-brewed Beer and affordable cheese- need I say more??
Sand Creek + Campfire = Match made in WI heaven 
So many choices....
New Foods!
While shopping for supplies to bring back to Bangkok, I played a fun game of "Find the new food items". The goal was to find as many new types and flavors of snack foods as I could. I think I did pretty well!

Too bad I don't like coconut
Cherry Dr. Pepper desert topping sounds so awful 
Monster marshmallows!!!
Best thing EVER! Should have brought a case back with me.
All in all it was a great trip to see family and friends, enjoy cool weather and eat awesome food. And now that I know about the reverse culture shock, I will be better prepared on our next trip back.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Burmese Lacquerware Workshop

While researching Myanmar for our recent trip, I read that Bagan was famous for it's lacquerware, and at the time I wasn't too excited about it, mostly because I don't collect knick knacks and I don't have many decorative items in my home that are not handmade by me or someone I know.

That all changed when I spotted my first piece of lacquerware being sold outside the first temple we visited in Old Bagan. The bright colors and the smooth black background of the lacquerware just begged to be touched. But even after I discovered how gorgeous lacquerware was, I was still reluctant to buy anything. 

Myinkaba is a small village outside of Old Bagan, and it is here that I finally purchased my first piece of lacquerware. Like many of the other temples in Bagan, there were stalls set up out side the main temple in Myinkaba with craftsmen selling their wares. One gentleman had exquisite lacquerware pieces and we asked if he had a workshop nearby and if we could see how lacquerware was made. He answered "yes" to both questions and led us along a twisted, hilly path through Myinkaba to his family's workshop.

On our way to the lacquerware workshop

Once we arrived at his workshop, the artisan and his sister proceeded to explain the many steps that go into making quality lacquerware. Each piece starts with a bamboo base and is coated with clay to create a waterproof surface. Then the lacquer is applied in thin layers, allowed to completely dry and then another layer is applied. High quality pieces have 8-14 layers of lacquer.

Lacquer waiting to be applied to the bamboo base
Artisan using his fingers to apply the lacquer
Megan listening intently as the laquerware process is explained

After all of the layers are applied, the intricate designs are then carved into the surface and filled in with color. This workshop also uses copper wire and palm tree wood to create beautiful designs on their lacquerware.

Burmese woman carving a beautiful design
Carving tools and a work in progress

After showing us the whole process, the family brought us into their living room/workshop and proceeded to show us a huge variety of different lacquerware pieces from bracelets to huge storage containers, each one more beautiful than the next. The entire family was sitting in the room, and we were offered fruit, candy, and water. After some tough negotiation, we each walked out with 2-3 pieces of beautiful artwork and the knowledge that we helped a family make a living. 

Two happy customers!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Playing Indiana Jones in Bagan

I love watching the Indiana Jones movies (Except that last abomination. Why, Harrison Ford, WHY??) When I was younger I used to pretend that I was an archeologist, digging up buried treasure in the back yard and exploring abandoned buildings. I just knew that I would find some evidence of an ancient civilization or extinct species that they would then name after me. Even though I never made that great discovery, to this day every time I hear the Indiana Jones theme song, it makes me want to go on an adventure!

When Sarah, Megan and I were in the planning stages of our trip to Myanmar, we knew the the one place we HAD to visit was Bagan. This area of Myanmar has over 2,000 ancient Buddhist temples all built between the 11th and 13th century. Most of the temples are original, although some have been rebuilt due to earthquakes. 

Our preferred way to see the temples of Bagan was to rent a bicycle and start before sunrise. This way we not only got to watch the sun rise over the vast fields full of temples, but it was also much cooler and there were fewer touts trying to sell us sand paintings. We would set off from our hotel and randomly choose a dirt path that connected to the main road. This dirt path would lead us through farm fields and past thatch huts to temples both small and large. 

The best part of the temples in Bagan is that we were free to explore and I could live out my dream of being Indiana Jones. We walked around inside and saw the beautiful paintings and we took a tour of the outside and saw the ornate carvings that are still there even after 1000 years! And some of the temples held a super secret surprise- narrow and dark stairs that led to the top of the temple and a birds eye view of the whole area. Stunning!

Temples surrounded by farm fields

Farmer using oxen and a wooden plow

Bagan at Sunset
A young woman selling her wares
Yes, yes we did climb all of those stairs

Many of the temples had similar corner carvings

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Burma- Stepping Back in Time

Knowing Burma's tumultuous past and uncertain present, I wasn't sure what to expect on our trip to Yangon and Bagan. Stepping out of the airport in Yangon, Myanmar (Burma)  feels like stepping back in time. The city is a hodgepodge of crumbling buildings built when Myanmar was a British colony, golden Buddhist temples, and vendors selling everything from betel to Justin Bieber CDs. The streets are filled with bicycles, trishaws and taxi's that are held together with a wish and a prayer.

Since Myanmar doesn't have a lot of visitors (only 200,000 per year compared to 12 million visitors to Thailand every year) it is a perfect country to visit if you love attention. The people we passed on the street were very quick to say hello and ask us where we were from. By the end of the day, my cheeks were sore from returning all those smiles. 

Vendor selling books in front of a crumbling building
Walking the sidewalks of Yangon is a toe-stubbing, ankle turning adventure
Sule Paya
Drinking water station inside Sule Paya
Looks like something from a Jim Henson movie
Bananas waiting for offering at Sule Paya
Looking down Mahabandoola Rd. towards Sule Paya
Workers preparing dough for some deep fried goodness
Celebration at a Hindu temple
Burmese lion guarding the Shwedagon Paya
The Shwedagon Paya is the most important Buddhist temple in Myanmar
LED lights add a modern look to Buddha statues in many Burmese Buddhist temples
This statue depicts the Burmese defeating the British, because nothing says England like green dragons
My favorite statue. It's a Sphinx- like protective statue.
Shwedagon Paya at night ( and in the rain)
Cloths drying on the grass next to a busy road

Ice water station. You pour water over the ice and cold water comes out of the bottom
Street side telephone stations are everywhere. They are a perfect way to make a call on the go
Woman selling betel leaves and cigarettes.