color by numbers

mindless musings of a semi-creative guy

Just because…

Another reason to be thankful for where I live? I took these photos yesterday within an hour’s drive from my house –

Khun DanDam, Khao Yai National Park, Thailand

Khun Dan Dam, just up the mountain a bit from the falls.

dam 2

dam 3

dam 4

Nang Rong Falls, Khao Yai National Park, Thailand

Nang Rong Falls, Khao Yai National Park, Thailand

Thailand is so beautiful.

July 28, 2010 Posted by | Just for Fun, Thailand | Leave a comment

Tasty Tuesday – Khaaw Laam

Today, we took a trip with our new friends/neighbors/Thai family to the edge of Khao Yai National Park.  It was originally a trip to look at shrubbery and flowers for our yard, as they are fellow gardeners and knew the best places with the best prices for us to see… and then it turned into a family outing to the waterfalls about an hour from our neighborhood.  After all, the garden shop was halfway there, so why not just keep driving toward some fun?

Long story short, it was great.  I loved the falls, the scenery, the mountains, our Thai family (yes, I call them family as we’ve connected so well and they have done so much to care for us already), and just everything that we did today.

Another thing I hold in common with them is a love for food.  Yep, the matriarch of the family (3 generations live in one house) enjoys cooking, and all of them very much enjoy eating.  Fabulous, no?  Every time we have a meal together, they bring (or order) us new things to try, as well as remember our favorite foods.  (And, I often return favors with baked goods, knowing they’ll enjoy it!).  Today was no different – as we went from the tree vendors to the falls, our friends told us to pull over so they could buy us a roadside snack.

All along the road (as is the case pretty much anywhere in Thailand) were little stalls and cabana-type structures hawking roasted meats, veggies, fruits, salads, and snacks.  The one we stopped at was selling something called ข้าวหลาม – khaaw laam.  Fortunately for you guys, I remembered to take a photo halfway through munching in the car.

Yes, this is as I was eating it in the car.

It’s really a simple snack – sticky rice roasted over a fire or coals in a piece of hollowed out bamboo.  The rice is usually mixed with some sugar, coconut cream and sometimes black beans (like mine) or sesame before being roasted.  You can eat it hot right when you buy it or take it home, pop in the fridge, and eat it later cold.   Yum.

P.S.  In case you were wondering what we had for our picnic at the waterfall, we had perhaps my favorite meal in Thailand – som tam and roasted chicken.  This combination of food is to Thai picnics what burgers, hot dogs, and potato salad are to American barbecues.

picnic

… and Brook feasted on a couple of chicken feet.  Blergh.

brook chicken foot

July 27, 2010 Posted by | Food, Tasty Tuesdays, Thailand | 1 Comment

I’m back!

It’s been killing me (figuratively, of course) not being able to write anything on here about all that’s gone down in the last two and a half weeks.  Seriously.  So much has changed.

We moved.

No longer residents of Lopburi, Thailand… now citizens of greater Bangkok.  And, it’s wonderful.  Seriously wonderful.  I honestly can’t begin to describe to all of you just how spectacular and refreshing this change of location, change of home, change of lifestyle has been for the two of us.  It is nothing short of a blessing, and that’s really the best way to put it.  After all of the struggles with noise, dirt, mold, allergies, lack of basic conveniences (a flushing toilet, for example), health problems, stress, unfriendly (and rather scary) street, living beside people who wanted absolutely nothing to do with us, etc……. we are now living in a whole new world.

I feel normal again.  Well, as normal as is possible being an American girl living in Thailand, of course.  But really, after living in the country for a year, it does feel normal.  I sometimes wonder now how weird it will feel the first time we return to the States.  Hmmm.

In front of our new house, before going out on my birthday.

In front of our new house, before going out on my birthday.

Anyways, since I don’t have a bunch of pics ready to post online yet (since we just got our internet hooked up in the last day or so), I figured I’d just list off a few of the things I’m really thankful for in our new home.  It’s true, I’m no longer calling where we live our “house”… no, this place is worthy of being called our home.

  • 2 real, self-flushing toilets (yes, we have 2!)
  • a bathtub (a rare find in Thailand)
  • a separate shower area upstairs
  • a patio behind the house where I can do laundry and cook
  • an automatic washing machine, with a big metal rack to dry clothes in the sunshine
  • my own oven/stove (outside to keep the house cooler)
  • a corner lot that actually has a little bit of yard
  • a couch to sit on
  • trees!
  • windows on every single wall (we only had one in Lopburi)
  • complete floors in every room (meaning no broken tiles, no missing chunks of wood)
  • space for visitors (hint, hint!)
  • a corner lot that enable us to be quite visible to neighbors, giving us the opportunity to make friends
  • lots of neighbors that are willing to talk to us
  • loudspeakers that broadcast weekly community announcements, which are always preceded by 5 minutes of 1940’s swanky night club style music, then closed out with more music that sounds like the end of an old-timey radio show
  • birds in our trees
  • quietness
  • the ability to begin sleeping again
  • a functional a/c wall unit in our bedroom and office
  • a functional kitchen nook (one wall of our living room) with cabinets and a countertop!
  • a gracious, friendly landlord
  • no fluorescent tube lighting in the house  🙂  (it’s all cans or circle fluorescents)
  • a corner lot that happens to be where the kids play after school every day
  • a little house-front vegetable stand (that sells flour, too!) in our “village”
  • when riding my bike to the vegetable stand, a few people already call to me by name to say hello
  • being able to actually hear the crickets at night, rather than booming clubs
  • … and so much more!

Now that we’re just about finished with all of the work that goes into setting up a home from nothing (literally, we moved here with clothes, computers, and a few small items), it’s time to get back to language study, meeting new people, and learning just how we can reach out to the community around us.  I can already envision so much good here.  In the past few days, we’ve had 3 women from down the road either walk or ride their bicycles down to chat with us while we did work on our yard.  We’ve had conversations with the older couple who lives across the street, and talked to a lady a few houses down about her plants and what she thinks we should do with our yard.  The kids that play on our street corner finally got up the courage to speak to us and invited Brook to play some badminton, while I brought out fresh chocolate chip cookies to feed them at the beginning of the week… and, they came back this afternoon, rang our bell, and asked if Brook could come out again to play!

Have I mentioned yet how refreshing this change has been?  I’m beyond thankful.

July 24, 2010 Posted by | Just for Fun, Personal, Thailand | 6 Comments

Tasty Tuesday – Lunch Party

Sunday afternoon, my house smelled like both a bakery and an Italian restaurant.  Why?  I spent a good portion of the day baking the cookies I told you about yesterday, as well as making a rich homemade tomato sauce for today’s lunch.  Yum.

After having talked with the teachers about preparing our final meal together and bringing it to them, rather than going out to a local restaurant, I had to figure out just what to make.  Seeing how the Thai palette is not the same as those of us from the States (or much of the Western world, for that matter), I needed to do some polling around to find out what each of the teachers like and dislike.  It seems that most basic Italian food goes over well in Thailand, as they are already accustomed to tomatoes and tomato-based sauces, they enjoy garlic, and pasta has become quite common over the past few decades.  Since I rather enjoy making Italian food, this was no biggie… but, just what would I make?  Lasagna.

A few of the ladies asked if I could make lasagna, and wanted me to make it the way they’ve seen it in pictures – not the way other foreigners have made it, or they way it is prepared in selected Thai restaurants.  They wanted the real stuff, unchaged for Thai tastes.  Little did they know, I LOVE making lasagna (my Nana’s recipe), and I’ve been looking for an excuse to splurge (cheese is expensive, both noodles and ricotta/cottage cheese very hard to find) on this meal for the past year.  Finally, I had a good reason!  (And time to pad the budget a bit, too.)

Since we were gone all day Monday working on our new house, I had to do some of the prep on Sunday – shredding the mozzarella, and peeling/dicing/stewing my own tomatoes with finely minced onion and herbs, since the canned variety isn’t available to me here.  Boy, did it smell good in here.  Having the most time consuming things finished already, I was able to get up early today, finish making the sauce, brown the meat, prep the cheesey layer, then assemble the lasagna for baking.  Check it out.

IMG_1420I gave myself an extra hour for cook time, just in case my wonky oven decided to do anything to ruin my day, and I’m glad I did.  The thicker material of my new dish (found it on sale in BKK – it’s real Corningware!), plus the inconsistent gas in my oven made it take about an extra 25 minutes.  Good thing I learned from past experience, eh?  While that was in the oven, I prepared a simple salad, a tray of veggies to add to the salad, made a dish of fresh garlic butter with parsley, and arranged a couple of thinly sliced baguette on a tray.  It all looked great, smelled great… and made my house about a billion degrees this morning!  But, I didn’t care.  I got to cook, and it worked, so I’m happy.

IMG_1421We sat down to lunch with all but one of our teachers today, and I had to keep focused in order to keep myself from tearing up while we ate.  These women really do work hard for us.  As I said yesterday, they put up with so many people messing up Thai, messing up culturally, asking the exact same questions over and over again… and they still manage to keep a smile on their faces.  They have incredible patience and such willing hearts to help us in learning this language and keep from making fools of ourselves.  Though the year hasn’t been easy, I am incredibly grateful for them and all they’ve invested in both Brook and I.  I really can’t say thank you enough.

Today was really fun.  And… they liked it!  Seriously, most had seconds, and some even went for thirds!  If you’ve ever lived in a foreign country, and if you’ve ever tried to cook for your national friends, you know what kind of accomplishment that is.  I loved listening to them chattering away about how they liked it, and how pretty it was (yes, they noticed my meticulous layering as every slice of lasagna came out of the pan – my momma taught me well!).  Even when unwrapping the tray of bread, another said how impressed she was that I had fanned the slices out so neatly around the cup of butter – it’s those little things that count, ya know?  That’s the kind of stuff that makes it special, and I think they noticed.  I know, I know, I should have taken a picture of everything, but I didn’t remember to do so until it was mostly gone.

I really hope they felt appreciated today, because I would not be where I am without them.

July 6, 2010 Posted by | Food, Tasty Tuesdays | 3 Comments

Leaving something behind

If you follow me either on Facebook or Twitter, I am sure you’ve seen numerous messages regarding our upcoming move to Bangkok later this week. Can you tell we’re excited?! Along with the flurry of good emotions that seem to be flying around right now, there are a few that aren’t so great, too. Moving to Bangkok means leaving Lopburi. And, while this is a very good thing for us, it also means we have to leave some people behind.

By finishing up our first year at the language center here in Lopburi, we’ve moved up a level in our Thai language abilities… so much that we no longer need to study in a designated center, with designated teachers. This means we won’t be seeing the women we’ve come to know and love every day anymore. That, to me, is a little bit sad. These ladies work hard every day to teach all of us foreigners, who have no clue about anything compared to them, how to both speak the Thai language and adapt to the Thai culture. Do you have any idea how much patience they must have to put up with years and years, rounds and rounds, of these non-Thais coming through asking the same questions, making the same stupid mistakes, and all around generally failing at life? 🙂

They are wonderful, and I believe they really don’t hear it enough.

So, what are we going to do about this? We have been told that it is tradition that when each student or family is ready to move on, they take the teachers out for lunch together as a final sort of thank you/farewell party. This, however, is usually rather quick as their lunch break is only about an hour and a half long. It always seems rushed, someone else has to arrange for transportation, another has to decide where they will go and call ahead, and so on. This got me thinking…

Hmmm… I love to cook. These women love to eat. They know I love to cook, and seem to enjoy every time I’ve brought in treats to share with them. I am already finished with my classes and have a whole morning free on Tuesday (the day before Brook’s final exams, thus making us both completely finished at the center). Hmmm… if we were to bring lunch to them at the center, that would free up more time to spend with each other in a quieter setting and take away the stress of transportation. Hmmm…

So, yes, tomorrow I will be blogging about the lunch we shared for Tasty Tuesday. 🙂

But, what does this have to do with today’s post? I’ve decided it would be good for us to leave something other than bellies full of food behind. Some kind of gift that’s not too big, not too small, and has a little bit of heart in it. When thinking about the teachers and what type of things they like, I realized how much they all seem to enjoy decorating their offices with cute stuff… flowers, plants, posters, stickers, cartoon character things, etc. Then, I came across this idea online.  Perfect!  Continue reading

July 5, 2010 Posted by | Just for Fun | 2 Comments

Level One – Done!

Yay!  Yippee!  Yahoo!  I’ve finished my first year of full-time Thai studies at OMF‘s language center here in Lopburi, Thailand.  The day I, at times, never thought would come… yet, at the same time, arrived so quickly!

The craziest thing about this – aside from the fact that I can now read and write a completely foreign script, and speak enough Thai to be mostly independent in everyday life, as well as hold my own in general conversation all in a totally new, totally tone-dependent language – is that it means we’ve been living in Thailand just short of a year already.  We arrived in-country July 29th (crazy enough, my dad’s birthday), last year – 2009.

It’s been a year since we’ve been able to hold onto or see either side of our families in person.  It’s been a year since I’ve eaten cottage cheese (I used to eat it like every day).  It’s been a year since I’ve seen a field of corn or soybeans, seen a proper cow, or witnessed a traffic jam in the suburbs of Chicago.  It’s been a year since I’ve experienced an actual change in seasons.

That’s just crazy.

So, what is it that I’ve spent the last year doing?  Studying.  Lots and lots of studying.  Kinda weird, tough, and humbling to go from being the one teaching others for a few years back to being a student.  And, even at that, being like a pre-schooler.  During the course of my studies at the center here in Lopburi, I’ve gone through 9 learning modules:

  • 1-3 : basic survival Thai (numbers, colors, days of the week, etc.) written in English phonetics.
  • 4 : the writing module, where I learned to read and write the Thai script (because all modules after #4 are completely written in Thai!).
  • 5 : how to carry out certain daily life tasks, with sample conversations on ordering a gas tank, reserving a hotel room, both giving and asking for directions, etc.
  • 6 : Thai family structure, as well as cultural norms and traditions and how they’ve changed through the generations.
  • 7 : easy Gospels unit where I studied 3 Bible storybooks which contained each of Jesus’ parables.
  • 8 : self-study/ module out – I learned about kitchen terminology and Thai food with a woman from our community instead of a teacher at the school.
  • 9 : Christian communications – learning how to use the high royal/religious vocabulary set for prayers, opening/closing church services, how to both read and explain passages from the Bible, how to tell stories for children (I drew the picture cards below to help me tell the Creation story during my exam), tell my own testimony, and explain why I came to Thailand.
IMG_1378

I know there's no Day 7 card - I don't know what God looks like, so I obviously couldn't draw him resting!

After every module, every student has what we call a “check” – a one-hour oral exam with a teacher other than your own, and a language advisor writing down their evaluations as you speak.  Yesterday (Wednesday), I had my final check – Module 9.  It was crazy knowing this would be my last one while in residence at Lopburi.  It went alright, despite the fact that I’d not been able to sleep more than a total of 2.5 hours in the last couple of days, nor was I able to study as a result of some pretty crazy neighbors and their noise.  I guess that means I’ve truly learned the language, right?  If I can still speak it well enough to be understood and pass my exam, while unable to see straight, without studying, and feeling a massive beating headache… I’d say my progress is just dandy.  Yep.

After my final module check, then it was time for the big humdinger – the Year One exam.  Dun dun duuun.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be!  I can’t really give you any details on what it was, or how it was carried out on here though.  The Year One exam needs to be kept secret so every student has an equal chance at displaying their true skill level.  I will tell you though, that it was comprised of both an oral exam and a one-hour writing session.  I actually thought they were both kind of fun.  Yeah, I just said an exam was fun.  And, you’ll just have to take my word for it, since I can’t tell you what I did!  In all seriousness, part of the fun came from the fact that I felt like I’d truly accomplished something.

Is my handwriting neat enough?

Halfway through Mod 9 - is my handwriting neat enough?

Brook doesn’t have his last set of exams (same ones I did) until next Wednesday, the 7th.  So, what am I doing in the meantime?  Packing, chilling, and doing lots of cleaning.  Why?  Because now that we’re finished, we finally get to move out of Lopburi and get our lives started!  But, I’m not going to tell you any more about that yet… you have to wait at least another week until we move, and hopefully get the internet all hooked up at our new house.  🙂  All I’m sayin’ is we’re headed to Bangkok, and I love the house.

July 1, 2010 Posted by | Personal, Thailand | 5 Comments