Saturday, December 08, 2007

My kids are so entertaining

My kids never fail to entertain me. John's been working for a temp company, and the other day I took him to work after lunch (he's close enough to come home for lunch on this assignment) and went back in the afternoon to pick him up after work. As we were driving over, Trea asked where we were going.

"We're going to pick up Daddy," I said.

Slight pause.

"He fall down?"

She also has been watching a lot of Dora, and she wears this little pink backpack all over the house. She keeps asking me where her map is. I'll have to work on that.

We're really enjoying being around all of our family (I even got to see my parents over Thanksgiving). Trea thinks cousin=instant best friend. Luckily she has nice cousins who indulge her for the most part. She's also doing great at church, going to nursery and making friends.

Adia is thisclose to crawling on all fours, and I will miss the inch worm imitation she has done so well. She has six teeth and is such a sweet, easygoing baby. Our friends just had a baby, and looking at the pictures I got incredibly baby hungry. Which is really messed up, since Adia is all of 8 months old. But he just looked so sweet, and I could almost smell that newborn smell . . .


In other news. . .we bought a car. We got a good deal on it, and it seems like a very reliable vehicle. And it fits two carseats. I sound really old now, don't I?

I think we left Thailand just in time. I was just browsing one of my favorite websites about teaching in Thailand, and apparently there's a new Ministry of Education requirement for teachers to get a license. Now you have to complete a 20-hour course on "Thai culture and professional ethics". From what I can gather (and, true to Thai tradition, it's clear as mud) the course is a crash course in Thai culture, manners, language, art and music, and professional behavior. Most of that is useful, but honestly you don't NEED to know anything about Thai art or music to be a successful EFL teacher. And you don't need a formal course to learn what you need to know about the rest - a few good books, a few nice Thai friends, and you'll learn what you need to know. Not to mention the course is over $200 U.S., and appears to be offered by a university in Bangkok on consecutive weekends. So if you live out in the sticks, like we did, you have to travel to Bangkok on two weekends and spring for travel costs and accommodations there. That's not cheap, and you can bet I would be cranky if John were gone for two solid weekends in a row. Training like that would be nearly impossible for someone like me, who is still breastfeeding an infant. I had my teaching schedule worked around Adia's feeding schedule, and she's never had a bottle. There's no way I could leave her for that long.

After you complete the 20-hour course - which would probably be a great source of entertaining Engrish examples - you get to take a test on what you learned. And then you get to pay $30 U.S. to take an exam on "teaching profession knowledge." If I learned anything in my two years of assessment development, it's that writing a good exam is harder than it looks. A poorly written exam will tell you little to nothing about the knowledge of the exam taker. Who wants to bet that this exam was thrown together at the last minute by a handful of employees? Not a good way to measure anything!

I really do respect the efforts of Thailand to raise the bar where teachers are concerned, but I don't think they are going about it the right way. I hope it doesn't completely backfire on them.

I would still love to live abroad as a family again someday, but only if someone else handles the visas!

Saturday, November 03, 2007

I suppose I should post something

We've been back for a few weeks now. The first two weeks were crazy. No one was sleeping well or often, and we were just coping and trying to get adjusted to the time change. We're doing better now. Trea is loving all of her cousins and nursery friends, and all the other little kids in the neighborhood.


We had a great time traveling with John's parents before returning to the States. It was fun to show them why we love Thailand.


This Halloween was Trea's first time trick-or-treating. She got the hang of it really fast, and kept saying things like "I have lots of candy" and "go get candy? go to houses? go to lots of houses?" I think she thinks we've been holding out on her this entire time. People will give you candy, all you have to do is put on a dress and knock! Who knew?


We are excited to see everyone near us; we'll be in touch with y'all soon.


And, of course, pictures of my beautiful girl in her Halloween costume. Aunt Ashley made it for Lonna last year, and this year it was Trea's turn to be Belle. She turns three tomorrow, and I can hardly believe it.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

TIALFTITUS, Part IV (The Conclusion)

Living in Thailand as a farang has given me a small taste of what it is like to be a minority. I don't claim that it is the same as being a minority in the States, but there are some similarities. It’s odd to not be able to find hair products that work for fine hair (Thai hair is coarse) or a facial product without bleach. It's hard to get a decent haircut, because the techniques are different. All the cosmetics are the wrong colors for my skin. Clothes are too small; only a handful of stores carry my size -I’m a ten in the U.S. - and even then the clothes are cut all wrong for me. If you’re Thai and my size, you’re really fat. The shirts that button comfortably on me are also baggy around my waist, and the pants that fit me through the hips need a belt to stay up. We get stared at wherever we go. Many people assume we are rich and don't speak Thai (which is true for me but not for John, and even I can sometimes understand that you are talking about me).

People have asked us why we are going back to the U.S. The simple answer is that John wants to go to grad school, and we miss our families. Totally true. There's also the fact that there is no long term future for us here. English teachers don't get retirement packages and raises every year, there isn't much upward mobility, and we can't put down roots. We're not allowed to own property or businesses, though it's possible with the right lawyer(s) to set things up. We can't send our kids to public schools, even though we pay taxes, and we can't afford the bilingual private schools. None of the schools in Khon Kaen would prepare our kids for an American college. Even the school where John teaches, even though it's good, would not prepare them, and it's only through sixth grade. There are no bilingual high schools that I know of. It's not important to me that my kids go to college, but it's important to me that they have the opportunity to prepare to be successful in college in case THEY want that.

And then there's the visas. We've already had a visa saga. A couple weeks ago Jick, John's boss, went with some of the other teachers to Immigration for visa renewals. They told her the laws are changing and getting dependent visas (which is what Trea and I have) now takes a substantial amount of money in the bank. I've researched it and as near as I can tell, that's only true of retirement visas. For a retirement visa you need a pension of roughly $2,000 a month U.S. or nearly $23,000 sitting in a bank account, either one will qualify you for a retirement visa if you are over 50. I'm not sure if it is true for dependents of work permit holders. The thing is, if it is true, we could never afford it - we don't have anything near $23,000. If it's not true, we'd still be in trouble because this immigration official adamantly believed it to be true, and wouldn't renew our visas, and we'd end up hightailing it to Laos with two small kids and then, since Adia had left the country, she'd need a visa too. It gets expensive.

Immigration status is a tricky thing. John's work permit and visa are tied to his job. If he were to change jobs, it would totally mess with his visa, and Trea's and mine as well. We're lucky his job turned out to be a decent situation because it's nearly impossible to change jobs without leaving the country, from what I've heard, especially now that they've changed the laws again. As for me, I'm in the country legally but I'm not supposed to work. My visa doesn't prohibit working, but I don't have a work permit. I thought the school would get one for me (they have to sponsor it) but they didn't want to spend the time and money when I didn't need it for a visa. Now I only want to work part-time, and it's near impossible to find a school that will get you a work permit for part-time employment (many, many schools will hire you part-time, just not get the work permit). Working illegally gives you no rights. One of my employers didn't pay me all semester. The paperwork got lost and all that. They did pay eventually, but if they hadn't, what was I going to do? Nothing. I couldn't report them without getting arrested and/or deported. I don't like the feeling of being on the wrong side of the law, or of being helpless. I don't want to work full time right now, I want to be with my kids. So, until Thailand figures out whether it really wants farang teachers or not, I'm going home.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Five years!

Today is my fifth wedding anniversary. That's crazy.

We went out and did a little shopping and had a nice dinner to celebrate. I wonder if in 20 years, I'll still feel like I just got married?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Things Change

Yesterday I had a woman tell me I look 19. She wanted to know how old I actually am; I guess I threw her for a loop talking about my (almost) three-year-old.

I get a lot of these oh-you-look-so-young kind of comments. I used to hate it, especially when I was working full time. I hated that how I looked might make people perceive me as less professional or less competent, and I had more than one supervisor/co-worker try to treat me like their child. One of my bosses actually sat John down at an office party and gave him the third degree about his future work plans. It was funny, in a way, and also weird. John resisted the urge to tell him that 1) he wasn't my father and 2) we were already married, so it was too late to change my mind.

The comment yesterday didn't bother me a bit. Somehow the fact that I'm almost 28 with two kids is making me more receptive to being perceived as young. Funny how things change.

TIALFTITUS, Part III

I’m a fairly independent person. Not extremely independent, but I’m certainly capable of doing things on my own. At least in the U.S. I am. Here, I am not as independent, and what independence I have involves far more effort. This is all because of the language barrier. My last post notwithstanding, my Thai is extremely limited. I can have an entire conversation about my kids, because I've heard it all many times, but outside of that topic I'm pretty useless. And my pronunciation, while improved, is still not that good.

I didn’t realize how limiting not speaking the language would be until I was on study abroad here as a student in 2001. I had already been to Guatemala at that point, but at least in Guatemala I spoke a little of the language (though not as well as you might think after four years of studying it. . .I did get proposed to so I must have said something interesting!) It is VERY limiting to not speak the language here. If I can’t find an item I’m looking for in a store, I can’t ask where it is. I can’t ask if they are just out of stock or if they never carry it at all. I want to go buy some fabric but it’s too difficult to explain what I want and how much, unless John can come with me. I also need to get some pants hemmed, but John will have to do that for me as well.

I have to be careful about where I go by myself. If I get lost, I can’t stop and ask for directions. I have never seen a decent map of Khon Kaen, and definitely not one in English, so I don’t just take off and go places. I get really good directions first (and I have to get these from an actual person, instead of just using Mapquest like I do in the States). I try to take the cell phone and I stick to the places I’ve been to before.

It’s strange not to be able to ask simple questions either. I can’t talk to the daycare teachers who take care of Trea and Adia. Normally I’d make small talk at least, but here I just smile. If I really need something, I’ll get John to translate for me, but just for routine things (did she take a good nap? Did she eat a good lunch?) it’s not worth it.

I should say that Adia’s teachers (who used to teach Trea, and live nearby) do talk to me a fair bit, and I to them, and sometimes we even understand each other. As I’ve said before, they are used to toddler gibberish so they’re patient with my attempts to speak Thai!

Worse even than the spoken language is the fact that I’m functionally illiterate. I used to volunteer as a literacy tutor; I worked with a 21-year-old guy who read at a first-grade level (and had passed the Maryland reading exam to graduate from high school, on the first try, but that’s a separate rant). Anything below fifth grade is considered functionally illiterate. Now I know what that’s like. Menus? Can’t read them. Directions for using a cleaning product? I guess, or ask John. Signs listing services and prices? No good to me.

John forgets sometimes what language he’s reading in, and it’s kind of funny. We were walking through the mall a couple months ago and passed a pizza restaurant. He turned to me and said, “We’ve gotta do that soon.” “Do what?” I said. “That pizza deal, the two-for-one special.” It was in Thai, so I had no idea. There are lots of those types of things. You don’t notice until you can’t read.

I also really miss reading for pleasure. I LOVE to read. I was an English major! I can’t wait for libraries. Libraries full of free books in a language I understand. What an incredible resource we have in libraries, and I’ve always taken it for granted. I've been lucky that other farangs here have lent me books, and my mom has sent me some as well. And luckily, we've got Internet and I read a lot of random blogs and forums.

(And in case anyone is wondering why I don't read Thai. . .it's not like I didn't try. There are 44 consonants alone, each a different sound/tone combo, and then there are subconsonants and vowels. There are no spaces between words and no punctuation except periods. It looks like this if you want to see it).

Sunday, September 23, 2007

And miracles shall never cease. . .

The impossible has happened.

I have been complimented on my Thai.

Not once, but FOUR times!

The first time, it was a total stranger. He stopped to admire Adia (totally cute baby that she is), and said, in English, "Lady or. . . .?"

So I responded in Thai, "Girl."
He said, "Where are you going?"
I said, "The university."
And he said, "Oh you speak Thai really well."

As I have said before, it doesn't take much to impress Thais with your efforts to speak their language.

The second time, I was asking my neighbor if I could buy some water (she gets it delivered in bulk, and we buy it from her). Her daughter, who speaks fluent English, was very impressed that I had learned how to say "buy water" since she had last visited.

The third time, Jick complimented me on my pronunciation when I said "we're going home."

The fourth time, Earn told John I was starting to understand a lot more.

So, you see, give me fourteen months in a country and even I can make noticable progress.

Makes me sad to go home now.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Adia



We finally blessed Adia last Sunday. We had a dress made for her from Thai silk (which sounds extravagant but cost less then I would have spent making it in the States). It actually isn't exactly what I described but it's still really cute. I would have done the sewing myself, but I don't have a machine and they don't sell patterns here.
Also, she cut her first tooth. Bottom front, others shortly to follow I'm sure.

Monday, September 03, 2007

TIALFTITUS, Part II

I cooked a lot this weekend. I made chicken and mashed potatoes for dinner Sunday night, plus I made two no-bake cheesecakes (not the cheesecakes my friend Ariana referred to in a comment, but still very tasty). I miss having a real kitchen. I miss having an oven, and all the things you can do with an oven - roast, broil, bake. I miss counter space, and cabinets. I miss having a real, full-size refrigerator and freezer (my refrigerator is shorter than I am, and has a little freezer compartment). It makes it hard to keep an adequate supply of food on hand.

Most of all, I miss having an enclosed kitchen that is really part of the house. Our kitchen, as I believe I have mentioned before, is an afterthought. You go out the back door into the little lean-to type room that is my kitchen. It's tiny. There's open space between the top of the outside wall and the roof. We have a loose wire grill over the open space now, which keeps out the birds, frogs, etc. (which keeps them from pooping on my counter, that was driving me nuts). But bugs can still get in. There are a lot of ants and spiders, and it doesn't matter how clean the kitchen is, they still come. Occasionally a flying insect will land in the food as I am cooking it, and I can't help but think "Flaming DEATH!" (Trea's been watching "A Bug's Life"). It's kind of like camping, without the natural surroundings.

Thing is, I'm not a big fan of camping, so I'm looking forward to a "real" kitchen soon.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Things I am looking forward to in the U.S., Part I

I think this will be a new (and short-lived) series for my blog. It will probably sound like I don't like it here, which is not true. I do like Thailand. Sometimes I love Thailand and wish we weren't going home. And at other times, I wish we were leaving tomorrow.

One of the things I am really, really looking forward to in the U.S. is hot water. We have a little electric hot water heater in the upstairs shower, but that's the only hot water in the house. And unless it's a warm day, the water doesn't get that hot. In the cool season, the water barely gets past lukewarm, and the house is 60 degrees. Not fun, especially for little kids. I'm really looking forward to a long hot shower on a chilly evening, or soaking in a tub full of hot water.

And then there's the hot water from the tap. The only time I wash dishes in hot water is when I boil it on the stove. It's going to be so nice to just turn on a tap and get hot water to wash dishes. (Even better, we might have a dishwasher!) And then there's the laundry. Most things can be washed in cold just fine, but there are a few things I really prefer to wash on warm or hot. I've resorted to boiling certain items of clothing on top of the stove to get them really clean. I'm also looking forward to being able to toss a load of laundry in the dryer, and have it come out ready to wear. It's a pain to have to line-dry everything, especially during the rainy season. It can rain for days on end, and nothing dries very quickly even in the house.

Small things but I'm still excited!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

College in Thailand

I'm almost done with my first (and, for the immediate future, last) semester of teaching college. I like it. It suits me far better than teaching kindergarten. I am fascinated by the English language, and the process of learning language, and I love the challenge of trying to help others master it. Or at least learn to pronounce words ending in "l."


I have realized that there is an entirely different expectation of college students here. I felt, as a college student, that I was an adult, and most of my instructors treated me as one. College students here are still treated like children most of the time. My boss addresses the students as "children" even though I have several students in their early 20s. They don't schedule their own classes; you pick a major, and the university tells you what you will take and when. They don't get homework, unless it's reading, because they "won't do it anyway." It's frustrating to be trying to finish material and run out of time, only to spend the next class period watching them complete a writing assignment they could do at home.


Teachers are accorded a tremendous amount of respect here. Students wai me in the halls (even if they're not my students, they know I'm a teacher because farangs do not just randomly wander the campus). They wai as they enter the classroom, they wai when they leave, they wai before accepting an assignment and they wai after turning in an assignment. It sometimes feels more obsequious than respectful, but that's probably because I'm farang.


At the more traditional of the two universities, the students all stand at the beginning of class and say "Good morning teacher, how are you today?" Then, at the end of the class, they all stand again and say "Thank you teacher, see you again next time." The students are also responsible for unlocking and locking the classroom and erasing the board. This university is very traditional, we don't even wear shoes in the classroom. One of my classes at KKU also does this, but the other two have stopped. I think they can tell it makes me a little uncomfortable.


Universities here also have a lot of control over their students' lives. Students aren't supposed to get married or have kids. I have a student who is married and has a daughter. If I wanted to "turn him in," I could get him kicked out of school just for that. I personally find this ridiculous, and I think a lot of Thais do too.


College students also wear uniforms to class. The boys wear pants, shirts and ties. The women wear skirts and blouses. You couldn't have paid me enough to wear a skirt and dress shoes everyday in college! But they do it, and they don't seem too bothered by it.

You know, I went to a school that told me I could only live in approved housing, and couldn't do a lot of things (drink, smoke, etc) and had a dress code. The thing is, I could choose to go to BYU or I could go to one of a million other schools where no one would care about my life beyond academics. These are government schools that control their students' lives, there isn't an alternative if you want an education.

I have a seperate rant about the curriculum I'm teaching but that will have to wait.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I've been tagged!

My sister Erin tagged me. . .so here goes.

4 Jobs I've Had
Server
Executive Assistant
Test Development Coordinator
English teacher

4 Movies I Love:
Armageddon
What Dreams May Come
The Princess Bride
Beauty and the Beast

4 Places I've Lived:
Maryland
Provo, Utah
Salt Lake City, Utah
Thailand

4 TV Shows I Love:
Grey's Anatomy
The West Wing (we've been watching it on DVD)
Lost
House

4 Things that Make Me Happy:
My family
Good books
Baking
Traveling

4 Books I Love:
The Shadow of the Wind
Ender's Game
The Bonesetter's Daughter
Harry Potter

4 Foods I Love
cheesecake
chocolate chip cookies
chicken fettucine alfredo
baked ziti

4 Vacations I Love:
The Beach
Visiting Family
anywhere I can get a massage
anywhere Trea has fun

I'd Rather Be:
sleeping

2 People to tag:
Ariana
John

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

It's Official

We're coming home in October. We have tickets and today John told his boss. We wanted to give plenty of notice, since it's not easy finding farang teachers. I will tell my boss this afternoon. I'm a little overwhelmed by the idea of having to totally re-establish a household, but excited too. John's parents are coming and we are going to travel with them for ten days before heading back to the U.S. We will be staying with them for the holidays, and using that time to figure out where we want to settle. I'm going to try to blog a lot in the next couple of months so I can get in all my thoughts about Thailand, but I doubt I'll be able to get it all down.

Also, check out John's blog for a link to our family snapshots online. Lots of cute ones!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Growing up

Trea is pretty much potty trained. I say "pretty much" because she's had one accident (in the middle of a tirade) in the last week or so, and she wears underwear all day. She's still wearing a pull up for naps and at night, mostly because we co-sleep and can't deal with the idea of nighttime accidents getting all four of us up!

She's growing up so fast. . . .

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

I know it's shocking, but. . .

Dear Student,

Cheating is not allowed in my class. It's wrong, it's unfair, it circumvents the learning process. . . it's just a bad thing to do. Plagiarism, copying, getting answers in advance of a quiz, these are all forms of cheating. Please don't do them.

If you are going to cheat, please be subtle about it. Passing your quiz paper to your friend across the aisle from you WHILE I AM LOOKING AT YOU is not subtle. Coming into a listening quiz that's half over and scoring a 9/10 on the first half of the quiz - the part you DIDN'T HEAR - is not subtle (and no, I don't believe you are just a lucky guesser and you're still not getting the points). When I give you a writing assignment for homework, don't plagiarize the encyclopedia. Since you can't normally conjugate the past tense (of any verb), it's pretty obvious you copied when you start using words like "undulating" and "topography." It's also not a good idea to use the first website that pops up - chances are I've seen it too.

Again, please don't cheat. If you must cheat, be subtle (look up "plausible" in the dictionary - it might help). It's still wrong, but I'm less likely to be really annoyed by it.

Thanks,
Ajarn Kristen

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Bravely Conquering the Open Roads

Or, more accurately, “cautiously navigating the narrow and crowded sois.” But “conquering the open roads” sounds better.

I’ve learned to drive in Thailand. It’s strange, with the whole driving-on-the-left thing. Also because I think traffic laws in Thailand are a lot like the pirate’s code in Pirates of the Caribbean – they’re more like guidelines than actual rules. Consider the following:

- If you are turning right, you yield the right-of-way to oncoming traffic. Unless you can jump the light faster than the oncoming traffic. Or unless there’s a gap of at least one meter, and you can intimidate oncoming traffic into stopping. Then you and the five cars behind you can all turn right.
- Traffic in a traffic circle moves clockwise. Unless you are a motorcycle, or you don’t see any traffic coming, or you see traffic coming but *think* you can make it in and out of the traffic circle without a collision.
- Turn signals and headlights are primarily for decoration. Especially headlights, although high beams are useful for signaling to other vehicles that they should not pull out in front of you.
- Tapping the brakes is a sign of weakness. Do not tap on the brakes (I am considering disabling the brake lights while I break myself of this bad habit).
- At a four-way stop, the person with the biggest car goes first. Or the person with the most guts. Or whoever can intimidate everyone else into stopping. If you’re a motorcycle, just sail on through without looking around – the cars will mostly likely stop for you. If you aren’t the type to take risks, inch your way out until other vehicles have no choice but to stop for you.
- You know that scene in “Footloose” where they play chicken in the tractors? Yeah, that. On the roads. Every day.


And there are some things that are just understood, it seems. At least by the Thais. I don’t think I understand any of it. From what I’ve observed, lane usage generally goes like this:
1. The far left lane is for motorcycle parking
2. The next lane over is for car parking
3. The lane next to the car parking lane is for songtaews to stop and pick up/drop off passengers
4. The final lane (the far right lane) is for driving.

You can see how this gets complicated for two- and three-lane roads.

Also, expect more lanes to be used if there is a market in the vicinity, or if it is the end of the line for one or more songtaew routes (they tend to accumulate for some reason). And don’t forget, some markets are day markets and others are night markets, so just because the roads are fairly clear at one time of day does not mean they will be that way all the time.

Road construction can also cause problems. I was driving home from work the other day and suddenly there was oncoming traffic in my lane. Why? Because there was construction up ahead, and they had shoved all the traffic over two lanes. There were no cones or signs to warn about this, I just saw cars headed my way and moved over ASAP.

I’m terrified of getting into a serious accident. There are motorbikes everywhere, and while there’s a helmet law that is generally observed for adults, it doesn’t seem to apply for children. That makes no sense! It is scary to see tiny kids – toddlers and babies – being dropped off at daycare on a motorbike, and not even wearing a helmet. But dad or mom has a helmet on. And car seats are rare here – they’re imported so they’re incredibly expensive, like $250 for a good infant carseat. There doesn’t seem to be any real regulation of drivers, either - there’s a child going to John’s school whose mom has epilepsy, and will drive with her baby on her lap. She doesn’t see anything wrong with it at all.

Oh, and there’s a law on the books here that, in the event of a fatality in a car accident, the surviving party is automatically responsible. It doesn’t matter what the other person was doing at the time. The dead person could have driven into a parked car while drunk, and the owner of the parked car would be responsible. Someone has to be responsible and obviously a dead person cannot assume responsibility so. . .there you go. Thai “logic” in action.

There’s also a whole different parking philosophy here. Most places were built with the idea that the majority of people take public transportation or drive motorcycles. As more people acquire cars, there is a real strain on the parking resources in the city. There is NOWHERE that we go where it is really easy to park. Often, when we go shopping, cars are parked perpendicular to all the cars in parking spaces. You just leave your car in neutral, and the wheels straight. Then, if someone needs to get out, they’ll push all the cars in that row forward/back to make room to get out. Most places also have parking attendants around to help. We also leave the car in neutral when it’s parked in front of the house, and our neighbors push it out of the way as needed.

Crazy. That’s all I have to say.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

More about the munchkins

Yesterday Adia was lying on our bed, and Trea walked over to her and started slapping her hand.

"Trea!" I said. "Don't hit Adia!"

Trea looked at me with these big, innocent eyes and said, "I'm giving Adia high fives."

Oh. Well. In that case, since Adia seems to think it's funny. . . .carry on.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Generic Update

Been really busy lately. I'm teaching part-time at two different universities, and really enjoying it most of the time. There's still the occasional student antic that drives me batty, but far fewer than the kindergarteners (who somehow are so much cuter when I say hi to them at school now, than they were when I was with them all day!). John is enjoying teaching kindergarten. Still not his dream job, but a much better fit than the fourth graders from you-know-where that he taught last year.

I'm finding that I really love teaching, and I love the English language. It's fascinating to me that most people master such a complex communication system with minimal effort. I'm not a naturally gifted language teacher, but I'm ok, and I think I could be really good with experience and practice. I teach a variety of majors at KKU, but at Rajamangala I teach English majors. I prefer the English majors as a group, because they're really motivated, but I have some great students in all my classes. And they are endlessly entertaining. One of our first assignments was to write a paragraph introducing yourself to the teacher. One of the students (not mine, another teacher's) included this gem: "Proverb for me is I don't give a ship (sic) about the result." We got a good laugh about that, but where did he learn that???

Trea is also a source of nonstop amusement. Every day we ask "Did you have a good day?" and everyday she replies, "Yep, I hab good day." She's stopped reminding John to "be careful in the bathroom!" (which she did for two months after he broke his arm). When his arm was in the cast she also regularly asked him "Does your elbow hurt? I'll kiss it better." She seemed genuinely surprised that his arm still needed the cast when she had REPEATEDLY kissed it better for him. She talks a mile a minute in Thai, and her English isn't bad either. She's a good big sister and likes to give Adia hugs.

Adia is also growing well. She is a happy baby and has started reaching for toys and other interesting objects. She loves attention!

More soon.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Thoughts for my friend

A good friend of mine recently found out she is expecting her second child. She's excited, and scared, and wondering, I think, how this new little person will fit in her family. It seemed inappropriate to leave a novel as a comment on her blog, but this is MY blog so I can do what I want.


I think all mothers, when they find out they are pregnant with a second child, wonder if they can possibly love this second one like they do their firstborn. Because your firstborn is the only person you've ever felt that incredibly protective, mama-tiger type love for. It's a totally different love than what you feel for your parents, or your spouse, or anyone else. And the truth, for me, is that on the day Adia was born I didn't feel the same about her as I did about Trea. But I was comparing my feelings for a newborn with the relationship I had with my two-and-a-half year old, who talks, and whom I know. Within 24 hours I started to know Adia as well, and within two days I realized that I couldn't imagine not having her.


And it becomes easy to love that baby as much as your firstborn. In fact, if your firstborn is a toddler, there will inevitably be a time when you are cuddling or nursing the baby and the toddler decides that now would be an excellent time to scale the furniture and decorate the walls. . .at which point you will look down at the sweet, innocent baby who is NOT testing your patience, and wonder how you ever could have worried about not loving her.


Not that I've had that happen to me.


Everyone told me I would love my second as much as my first. They were right. What no one mentioned was how incredible it was going to be to watch my kids together. To see Trea try to make sure the baby is covered up (with her blanket), or to watch Trea creep over to a sleeping Adia and tuck her favorite doll under her arm. She wants to feed her (sorry, Trea, Adia cannot eat chocolate-covered pretzels yet) and play with her. She keeps trying to put blocks in Adia's hands, so Adia can play too. And Adia lights up when she hears Trea's voice, and watches her every move. I love that they will have each other. Even after John and I are gone, they will have each other.

To my friend - you're giving your child another person to love, and be loved by. You'll never regret it.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Praew

A little girl we knew died two months ago. She passed away from leukemia ten days after Adia was born. I saw Praew and her mom at the hospital the day I gave birth to Adia, but John wasn’t with me and I don’t speak Thai, so we just exchanged greetings. I didn’t realize how sick she was. She’d been sick since before we knew her, and we never heard that she was really getting worse. John just came home one day and said she had died. She was nine.

Her mom, Teacher Mam, was one of Trea’s nursery teachers when we moved her, and her sister lives across the street. The two of them have helped us with Trea so many times. Now, they take care of the infants and toddlers. I had to leave Adia for a few hours last week to go teach. Teacher Mam and I were alone in the room, and I was nursing Adia. I asked how she was; she responded, but I didn’t understand it. I caught her daughter’s name but that was the only word I understood. A few minutes later another teacher came, and Teacher Mam repeated what she had said.

“She says to tell you that she misses Praew.”

Teacher Mam tried to smile – that Thai smile they do to cover up grief, or pain – but it didn’t quite work. I tried to smile back, and couldn’t quite do it. I looked down at my nursing baby, so healthy and so sweet, and realized that sometimes, my not knowing what to say has nothing to do with not speaking the language.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Censorship

Just so all of you bloggers know, your blogs are being blocked in Thailand. We lost access to all blogs hosted by blogspot a couple of weeks ago - couldn't get to them at home, school, nada.

But, John has found a way around the censors. Ha! Take that, oppressive regime! It's weird to think that I live in a country where these things happen but I guess that is life under a military junta.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Pictures of the vacation












I need a vacation from my vacation. . .

We are back from our vacation. You know, it's a little ambitious to go on vacation with a toddler and a one-month old. Especially in a developing country. And most especially if one of the parents breaks an arm.

Wait a second, maybe I should back up a little. . .

The trip started out great. The school had one of their drivers take us to the train station in a school van (gotta love the chauffeur service). The train ride was uneventful, enjoyable even. And that's saying a lot for an eight-hour trip with a toddler and a baby. Trea loved riding the train, and loved being able to get up and walk around. There were four kids sitting behind us, all between the ages of 8 and 15, and they entertained Trea much of the way down.

Our first night in Bangkok, we stayed in the Twin Towers Hotel and ate dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. Awesome food - nachos, Tuscan chicken salad, and a brownie sundae! All things that are scarce in Khon Kaen, if not non-existent. We even caught the last half-hour of a Law & Order rerun on cable, which is another treat for us.

After we left dinner, we were walking down the street to the mall, and suddenly a huge rat ran off the street and onto the sidewalk. It brushed against Trea's legs before disappearing down an alley. John and I both freaked out; luckily Trea didn't fully realize what had just happened.

Note to self: do not leave small children unattended in Bangkok. Ever. The rats might carry them off.

Wednesday morning things went downhill. Obviously I am not the one with the broken arm, or I wouldn't be typing this much. And it's not actually broken, just fractured. John was getting out of the shower Wednesday morning when he slipped and fell. The hotel called a doctor for us, who recommended he go to the hospital. He came back a few hours later with a half cast and a bunch of meds.

The primary goal of this trip was to get Adia a passport. We had an appointment at the U.S. embassy on the morning of Tuesday, May 8 to fill out the application and submit the necessary documents. Before that, we needed to get the translation of Adia's birth certificate authenticated by the Thai government. The plan, when we left Khon Kaen, was for John to go to the Thai government office the first morning in Bangkok, get the translation authenticated, and then all of us would leave for Hua Hin that afternoon. Since he spent the morning at the hospital, that plan was out. The day before our appointment at the embassy was a national holiday, so no offices would be open. We really had no choice but to get the translation verified before we left Bangkok. Fortunately, we didn't have train tickets to Hua Hin or hotel reservations there. We didn't have hotel reservations in Bangkok either, though.

First we tried to get a room at the hotel where we were staying. We'd booked it through the Internet, and it was a great price. The rate they wanted for a second night, not booked through the Internet, was nearly four times what we had paid. We were simultaneously impressed that we had gotten such a fantastic deal, and bummed that we were not going to stay there another night. We decided to try to make it to Hua Hin after all. So. . .

First, we checked out of the hotel. Took a taxi to the train station, where we stored our luggage. Piled into another taxi to the government office. Got an application to have the translation verified, got copies of our passports made, paid the fee, submitted all our documents, waited. . . .got the translation stamped. Took another taxi to go to eat dinner in Pahurat, the Indian district. Resisted (for the most part) the urge to look at the amazing amount of lace, silk, etc. for sale. Ate Indian food for dinner. Realized at this point that, if we proceeded to Hua Hin, we'd get there very, very late. Took another taxi to the train station, retrieved our luggage, called a hotel. They had room, so we went to find a taxi. One of the taxi drivers tried to tell us that our hotel was full (taxi and tuk-tuk drivers will frequently tell you a hotel or guesthouse is full, so they can take you to a place that will pay them a commission.) John responded, in Thai, that we had just called them and they were NOT full. The driver just laughed, he didn't even look embarrassed.

Note to anyone planning to visit Thailand: don’t believe tuk-tuk and taxi drivers. Some – maybe even most – are honest, but you can’t count on it.

Finally made it to the hotel through a horrific traffic jam, got the kids settled, and crashed. Realized that three months ago would have been a good time to start working out.

The next morning we took a train to Hua Hin. They only had third class seats available, which meant no air con, but with the windows down it was quite nice. The scenery was gorgeous. The rice has already been planted in that area of the country, and rice is the most beautiful, brilliant shade of green I have ever seen. Trea made friends with a boy on the train, and was again generally pretty happy. When we arrived in Hua Hin it was raining. And not just a steady rain. Monsoon rain. John refers to this as raining "elephants and water buffalos" - instead of cats and dogs. The streets were flooded deeply enough that Trea would have trouble crossing, and we’d all get soaked. Luckily Burger King was on the same side of the street as our hotel :). And they had apple pies! The McDonald’s here in Khon Kaen only has corn, taro, or pineapple pies. Corn just doesn’t say “dessert” to me.

Despite the rough start, the next few days were really fun. We spent some time at the beach, which Trea loved. She played in the waves and laughed every time a wave hit her. She played in the sand, and rode a horse with her dad, and had a great time. She loves to swim, at the beach or in the hotel pool, and did so at every opportunity. She made some friends at the beach, but I’m not sure if those kids were really friendly, or just wanted to play with her sand toys.

We also went to a wat (Buddhist temple) where a lot of monkeys live. We got to feed the monkeys corn and bananas and take pictures. Watching the baby monkeys cling to their mothers was really cool. Monkey moms can walk, eat, and climb trees while breastfeeding, because their babies can hold on by themselves. I bet they don’t even wake up to feed their babies. How cool would that be?

See what motherhood does to you? It makes you jealous of monkeys.

Our last full day in Hua Hin, Trea got to feed and ride elephants – or Heffalumps, as she often calls them (she’s been watching Pooh’s Heffalump movie, and now all elephants are Heffalumps). I thought she might be scared so I was really proud of her for riding. For an hour ride, plus a snack and a quick performance by the baby elephants, it was 800 baht for John, 300 for Trea, and 300 for the picture of them both on the elephant. When it came time to pay, John asked how much and the guy said “1500 baht.”

Math has never been my strongest suite (much to my father’s dismay), but he did make sure I know how to add in my head. While John reached for his wallet, I (politely) said, “1500? Isn’t it 1400?”

The guy in charge quickly apologized and said, oh yeah, 1400, oops. Hmmm, wonder how often that’s worked for him? John’s so trusting, he just pays. I’m like my dad – check the receipt, add it up yourself, just to be sure.

Just like with tuk-tuk drivers, most are honest, but you have to watch out. . .but I don’t think it’s really malicious. It’s just that Thais in the tourist industry see farangs spend so much money, they really think it’s no big deal to a farang to part with a little more.

We took a bus back to Bangkok, and the kids slept most of the way. We again spent the night at the Twin Towers, and applied for Adia’s passport the next morning. The American Embassy was nuts – so many people were there, both Thai and American. It’s humbling to realize how many people want to go to America. The embassy in Laos was the same way – lots of people lined up just to apply to for a visa to the U.S.

We took the night train back to Khon Kaen, and Trea thought sleeping on the train was really cool. It helped that she was utterly exhausted, so she slept really soundly.

John and I loved having so much time together as a family. We also loved eating the fantastic fresh seafood, imported farang food, and mangoes and sticky rice. We tried to get Trea to eat the food, but all she wanted was Thai food and ice cream. We shopped in the night market and bought a few things. Most of all we enjoyed showing off our kids, and watching Trea have such an amazing time (I assume Adia was enjoying herself as well, but it’s hard to tell when she still sleeps 18 hours a day).

Too bad Trea won’t remember any of this!

John and I think that The Amazing Race needs to do a REAL family edition. None of this lame stuff about having all-adult teams and staying mostly in the U.S. Travel the world with toddlers! Breastfeed without borders! Detours could include tasks like navigating a busy night market with a stroller while looking for mangoes and sticky rice, and getting a passport picture of a newborn (eyes have to be open, looking straight at the camera, baby can’t be crying. . .timing is everything). It would be entertaining if it wouldn’t be unbelievable unfair to the kids. And it would probably encourage child abuse – not everyone would stop to feed and change their kids with a million dollars on the line.

And John and I are thinking that maybe we should apply for The Amazing Race. After all, if we can do this with two small children and his arm fractured, we could do great under normal circumstances!

All the same, we’re thinking that maybe we’ll save the big vacations for when the kids get a little older. . .at least then they’ll remember it.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Where did the time go?

Our "summer" vacation is almost over! John has to go back to work the second week of May; he doesn't actually start teaching until May 21, but he has to show up for orientation and planning meetings. I go back to work. . .oh, wait, I have to find a job first! I have a few leads though, and I don't think it will be too hard to find something. I just need to work 10-15 hours a week, hopefully in chunks so I can be home to feed the baby most of the time.

This month has been very hot - high of 102 degrees - but overall, not as hot as I expected after hearing everyone talk about April. Maybe it was just unusually mild, I'm not sure. We've had some rain, which cooled things down, and we've actually been able to get out of the house a few times without melting within minutes. We bought Trea a kiddie pool the end of March - the day I had Adia, actually - and she has really enjoyed that.

We decided on Adia Nicole. It's official. Getting the birth certificate was a bit of an adventure (isn't everything here?) One of the bus drivers from the school took John to get it, because this guy - his name is Pi Noi - knows all the ropes and the people who work in the government offices. It was a good thing he took John too, because it was a pretty obscure little place. John went in, and they told him he needed to get our passports translated. They also told him to have Pi Noi take them to the translation service, because they would be more likely to overcharge a farang. So off Pi Noi goes. In the meantime, John sits down and starts studying his Thai-English dictionary. Suddenly the employees are all curious. "Oh, you can read Thai? How long have you lived here? Can you write it?" He says yes, he can write it as well, and they give him the forms to fill out. (Thais love it when you can speak even a little of their language, because so few people bother, but if you can read and write it they think you're even cooler.) Pi Noi came back at this point and said the translation people wanted 400 baht per page for the passports. That's over ten dollars a page! So then the employee at the government office offers to do the translation for 200 baht total. John pays her 200 baht, gets the birth certificate, and gives Pi Noi a hundred baht for his trouble. It pays to speak the local language, people start doing you favors!

We also had to get the birth certificate translated into English for when we go to the U.S. Embassy to get the Consular Report of a U.S. citizen born abroad, and Adia's passport (yes, my one-month-old baby is going to have a passport. Weird.) The translation is kind of cool; the birth certificate notes that she was born on Thursday during the waxing moon, and in the year of the pig. My birth certificate makes no mention of the moon at all, how boring is that?

Interesting side note: Trea was born on a Thursday at 3:43 p.m. Adia was born on a Thursday at 3:45 p.m. Is that strange?

Our girls are doing great. Trea is very protective of Adia. Adia is getting to be a chunk. She was up to 4,350 grams as of Monday (that's 9.5 lbs.)

I bought the first twelve episodes of "Grey's Anatomy" on DVD. Of course they have a case where a woman wants a natural birth, and refuses a C-section, and nearly causes the death of her baby as well as endangering her own life. I get that they have to make the lady who wants a natural birth an unreasonable fanatic, it's TV and that's drama. But I totally object to the fact that she was 8 cm dilated and calmly sitting in bed refusing the c-section, a conversation that lasted 5-6 minutes (probably longer in TV time) and she didn't even have to breath through a contraction. Whatever. Totally unrealistic, even for TV. One, in my experience, 8 cm HURTS and you are not calmly talking to anyone, and two, what woman who wants a natural birth willingly just sits in bed? I'm not buying it.

We are going on vacation on Tuesday; we're taking the train down to Bangkok, staying overnight, then going to a beach about 4 hours south of Bangkok for five days. Then we have to go back to Bangkok for our appointment with the embassy to make Adia an official American citizen and apply for her passport. John's been researching restaurants and he's got places picked out for just about every meal. Italian, Indian, Thai seafood, American. . . all kinds of variety you just don't get in the Isaan.

Speaking of food, I need recipes. I'm trying to expand my options. I recently started making tortillas from scratch, and that's added tacos and wraps to our menu. We also do pasta with alfredo sauce and pasta with marinara sauce. I make several chicken casserole-type dishes, and a lot of breakfast foods. I cook almost entirely with chicken breasts, when I cook meat, mostly because I have no idea what to do with pork intestine or liver and no real desire to learn. I need things I can make on my glorified camp stove (no oven, remember) with basic ingredients. I can get a lot of seasonings but can't get most cheeses. Suggestions, anyone?

Thursday, April 05, 2007

One week update

I can't believe it's been a week already. We've decided on a name - Adia. For now, it's Adia Nicole, but we haven't registered the birth yet and I reserve the right to change my mind about the middle name. I still kind of like Adia Grace. . .Trea actually was the deciding vote. We asked her which name she liked - Adia or Amelia - and she said "Adia." After that, it was Adia this, Adia that, Adia's blanket. . .we really didn't have a choice! She says it very clearly too. As an added bonus, the Thais can say it as well.

We've had a busy week. Sunday, we had a follow up visit at the hospital, and they decided to admit Adia to be treated for jaundice. We spent two nights. Lucky for us, this time they had a private room available. John was able to come and spend a lot of time with me while Trea was at nursery school. She had kind of a hard time with me being gone, but she did pretty well for her age. Adia responded well to the phototherapy treatment. I think they are a little on the cautious side here, but that's ok.

As a side note, John discovered that very few people here know jaundice by its official Thai name. They just call it "yellow eyes" - like we call conjuctivitis pink eye (and they call conjunctivitis "red eye.") They also refer to the phototherapy treatment as "cooking" the baby. John also got to translate lots of breastfeeding advice from various nurses, and learned lots of new terms, which I'm sure will come in handy should he ever be a translator :).

It's really unbelievable how good I feel, considering. I walked over to the school to pick Trea up the other day, and later one of the Thai teachers told John I shouldn't be doing that, that I need to rest. I've also been cautioned against drinking cold water - not sure why, but apparently there will be dire consequences. And there's a long list of vegetables I'm supposed to eat, none of which we recognize. And our next door neighbor told John I should be bringing the baby outside for a few minutes every morning, but I think that may be just an excuse for her to see the baby.

Trea is doing really well with the baby. She seems to be testing her limits a little with us, but she loves Adia. The other day John was changing the baby's diaper, and she was fussing, and Trea kept telling her "Don't cry, baby, cooperate!" She's been told that herself - frequently - and I wasn't sure she understood the word until now. She always wants to make sure the baby is covered up and taken care of. It's very cute. Hopefully it will last!

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Pictures!




At last!

Our new baby finally decided to make an appearance! According to the doctor, she was 16 days late. I personally think the due date was off, perhaps by as much as a week, but it's not important now. I just didn't want to rush her. She's 7 lbs, 15 oz, and a beautiful, healthy baby.

We're still deciding on a name, but right now we're leaning towards Adia Nicole. Our other front-runner is Amelia Grace. . .feel free to cast votes.

Since a variety of people may read this, I decided to do a short version (immediately below) and a detailed version (which follows the short version). I left out what I consider to be the gory details. If anyone actually WANTS all the gory details, feel free to email me. I just didn't want to embarass any of the guys!

Here we go:

The Short Version

I think (looking back) that I was in early labor late Wednesday night/early Thursday morning. I went into active labor Thursday morning sometime between 11 and 11:30 am. Got to labor and delivery at 2:30 pm, baby was born at 3:55 pm. Totally unmedicated labor, just like Trea's. The nurses told John that I must be tough, because Thai women were scared of natural childbirth. John ruined my tough image by admitting that I was only giving birth naturally because I was more scared of epidurals and C-sections! Although, I have to admit this baby hurt more than I remember Trea hurting! I wonder now, if, after watching me yesterday, the nurses and doctor decided that farang women are nuts. C-sections are faster, cleaner and quieter!

I also have to say that I think the nurses were amazed by John. Most Thai men don't go into the labor and delivery room at all; John sat next to me and rubbed my back practically the whole time. Poor guy; in the course of the five hours I was in active labor, he was told to shut up (several times), to talk to me, to count out loud during contractions, to not talk during contractions, to rub my back, not to touch me, to hold my hand, to leave me alone. . . I don't think there was any profanity but I couldn't guarantee it. And he still loves me! There's no way I could do natural birth without him. Way better than a doula.

The hospital staff were great, very supportive and understanding. I decided to only stay one night, because I felt I would be more comfortable at home and I was feeling really good. We were home roughly 24 hours after the baby was born.

Oh, and the total bill for the hospital stay? Less than 4200 baht - or $120. We still need to pay the doctor for prenatal care, but still. . . excellent value here.

The Long Version

We went back to the doctor Wednesday night - not the doctor I'd seen throughout my pregnancy, but his colleague who fills in when he's out of town. At this point he's getting a little anxious, but I'm still barely dilated and the baby's head is at -3 (they judge the position of the baby in stations, and -3 is basically the starting point, as I understand it, and +5 is when the baby is completely out).

Fortunately, the doctor agreed that we could go back to the hospital the following day for more fetal monitoring, and if everything looked good, we could wait until the end of the week before inducing labor.

I started having intermittent contractions that night, nothing regular or very strong. I thought they might be Braxton-Hicks, actually, and at one point they stopped completely. John and I headed to the hospital at about 9 am for monitoring. They monitored me for a while, and while it looked like I was having sporadic, mild contractions, it was nothing serious. So they sent me home with instructions to return to the doctor's clinic in two days.

Now John had dropped me off before parking the car, and he ended up having to park quite a distance from the hospital. He went to get the car while I sat in the foyer of the hospital. This was about 10:30 am. Turns out, it took almost an hour and a half for him to return, because the car battery was dead. Sometime between 11 and 11:30 am, I went into active labor. I was pretty sure it was labor but my first labor was 12 and a half hours, so I figured I would go home and come back that night. I told John on the way home that I thought we'd be back in five or six hours.

Yeah right.

This baby dropped like a rock. We got home at around noon and by 1:30 I told John to make arrangements for Trea to go home from school with our neighbor, and to eat something because I felt like we needed to go back to the hospital. We got back to the hospital about 2:30. They admitted me (John had to answer all the questions, because I don't speak Thai and also because I was pacing the room trying to cope with contractions that were 2 minutes apart). The nurse checked me for dilation and I was 6, almost 7 centimeters. You should have seen her face. It wasn't panic - she was far too experienced for that - but she immediately took me to the delivery room. Usually, everyone labors together in the labor ward, then you go to the delivery room when it's your turn, then to the recovery ward, then to your postpartum room/ward. No time for us to go to the labor room!

They called my doctor (the substitute one) and it turned out he was away from the hospital and not returning until five. I have absolutely no luck with doctors!

Luckily for us, the doctor on call was awesome. She didn't speak a lot of English, but she was totally fine with having John in the room (which is unusual in Thailand) and even let him cut the cord. The labor nurse was also amazing, very supportive, and spoke a fair amount of English. There were other people in the room but I have no idea how many or who they were! It is a teaching hospital so I knew there could be up to ten nursing and/or medical students observing. There weren't that many but later neither John nor I could remember who was there.

By the way, in case anyone is ever in this situation . . . if you say "natural birth" in Thailand, they take you at your word. Many hospitals in the U.S. will continue to offer drugs, sometimes repeatedly. Not so here. And, since the delivery table they usually use isn't at all conducive to natural birth, they threw a mattress on the floor with some pillows. I wanted to be able to deliver on my hands and knees - it was the only comfortable position at that point - so that was perfect. They draped a sheet over my hips and just let me labor with John next to me. When it came time to push, they didn't even coach me - just checked that I was fully dilated and said, "Push if you want to." They monitored the baby once in a while, and a few times they peeked under the sheet to see how things were proceeding, but other than that, the whole lot of them sat across the room quietly chatting. They came running when the baby crowned though - probably because I yelled that the baby was coming. And since they were quick on their feet, the baby was caught in plenty of time. I joked with John later that I have heard of unassisted home birth - giving birth at home without a midwife or doctor - but this was the closest you could come to unassisted hospital birth. They did break my water at my request, because I was almost fully dilated and it hadn't broken yet. Other than that, there were no interventions during labor.

She came out BLUE but pinked up quickly - her Apgar scores were 8 and 10 (it's out of ten, so that was encouraging). They let me try to nurse right away but she wasn't interested and I kind of wanted to get cleaned up - childbirth is messy! The nurse brought her to me less than an hour later though, and she nursed great. They are super supportive of breastfeeding here - always reminding you to try every 2-3 hours, and staying with you until the baby is latched on correctly. I didn't get near this much support in the U.S. The hospital where I had Trea just didn't have the nursing staff to provide that kind of support.

There wasn't a private room available when the time came so I stayed in the postpartum ward with several other women. It really was fine. There wasn't any air con, but the heat wasn't too bad that night. John stayed until 8 pm when the visiting hours ended. It was really funny to see people's reactions. As I've mentioned before, there aren't that many farangs in Khon Kaen. There are even fewer who give birth here. Farangs who give birth in Khon Kaen at the university hospital, instead of the private hospital, are pretty much unheard of. People kept walking over to peer into the baby's bassinet, just to see a farang baby up close. It was kind of fun though, to talk to people and have them tell me how cute the baby is. And there were curtains to pull around the bed if I needed a little privacy:).

Overall it was a very positive experience. Mostly we are just grateful that everything worked out so well. We had wonderful doctors and nurses, plus our fantastic neighbors who were all willing to help take care of Trea. I wish our families could see our precious new addition but that is the only thing I would change!

Well, and maybe next time I will get an epidural . . .we'll see.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

I know you're all thinking I haven't posted because I'm busy with a new baby (that is, if you even think about whether or not I post. . .) Wishful thinking. I haven't posted because there's NOTHING TO POST ABOUT! No baby here. Just one very large, very pregnant woman trying to not get anxious over the fact that the baby isn't here yet.

To make things even more fun, my doctor left town two days ago for a nine-day trip. Wow, glad I spent three months searching for the perfect doctor, so he could be somewhere else when it's time for me to deliver. Oh well. He referred me to a colleague of his, who is also a natural childbirth specialist, and we'll go to see him tonight. Hopefully his English will also be passable - otherwise John will need to brush up on medical terms in a hurry. John thinks we're cursed when it comes to health care providers and pregnancy. The midwife I saw throughout my pregnancy with Trea was unable to deliver her due to other commitments, and now this doctor also had to leave. Someone remind me - should I ever actually consider getting pregnant again - to just choose a group practice already!

We also are having serious concerns about the attitude this baby is displaying. First, being uncooperative through all three ultrasounds, so that we don't even know if it's a boy or a girl. Second, making me sick as a dog for the vast majority of this pregnancy. And now, not even having the courtesy to come in a timely manner! Really, is this the behavior of a sweet, cooperative child? I think not. John is threatening to name the baby "Willowdy" if he/she doesn't show up soon (Willowdy is the name John's mother had picked out for him, had he been a girl, which is one of many reasons why John is glad he is a man.)

In all seriousness, though, all that matters is doing what's best for the baby. If that means staying fat and pregnant a while longer, that's ok. If that means an induction - or even a C-section - that's ok too. I'm still hoping for a natural, uncomplicated birth though. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Nothing much

Nothing much happening here. . . still no baby (I was due yesterday, so anytime now). School is wrapping up. It is very, very hot. Hot weather and being nine months pregnant do not mix in my book!

We did have an interesting experience last week, in that we got into our first car accident here in Thailand. John was making a right-hand turn when a motorcycle traveling the same direction crashed into his side of the car. The motorcycle had been behind us and told us he didn't think we were going to turn, because there was a truck coming, so he tried to go around us. There was plenty of time for John to make the turn, the accident totally wasn't his fault. Still, the unwritten rule here isn't about who's at fault, it's whoever has the most money. Since we were the farangs driving a car, and he was a Thai on a motorbike, we obviously were going to have the priviledge of footing the bill. We've also heard that it's best just to settle it between the two parties involved, and not call the police, so that's what we did. After much discussion (by this time a number of passers-by had accumulated, and all put their two bahts' worth in) the motorcycle driver asked for 1500 baht. About $42. Frankly, we were just glad that he wasn't seriously hurt (he was scraped up a bit) and for that amount he could go to the doctor, get his bike fixedl, and replace his torn pants. We still need to get our car fixed, as the side view mirror is completely wiped out and the driver's side door is banged up, but we'll wait until after the baby is born. I was teasing John, because we asked the mechanic to replace the driver's side view mirror last time we had the car worked on, and he replaced the passenger's side view mirror instead. At least this time there will be no question about which mirror needs replacing!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Visa Saga, Part III and General News

John returned to Bangkok last Friday (usual drill, overnight bus late Thursday night, arrived early Friday morning). We have visas! For all three of us! The funny thing is, it only took about 45 minutes - the Immigration office opened at 8:30 am, and he called at 9:15 to let me know he'd been successful. We were especially relieved that he was able to get mine and Trea's, thus saving us another trip. AND he brought home Subway again!

Saturday we got more good news. Two weeks before, when we'd visited my ob/gyn, he was concerned about the baby's size. He sent me for an ultrasound and the baby was measuring quite a bit smaller than expected, about four weeks behind. Apparently some babies just stop growing for various reasons, and when that happens, it's in the baby's best interest to be born sooner rather than later. That often means a C-section, and a small and sometimes premature baby. After giving birth naturally to an 8-pound baby, I was not eager to have a 4-pound baby via C-section - especially since they do them under general anesthesia here. I would, of course, not hesitate to follow the advice of my doctor, who is wonderful, and do whatever is best for the baby, I'm just saying it wouldn't be my first choice. How strange would it be to go to sleep pregnant and wake up having had a baby? Especially since I was totally aware of everything about Trea's birth?

But, the good news is, the baby had a growth spurt, and at Saturday's appointment I was measuring 35 weeks. I'm officially due three weeks from today, but it's entirely possible that the baby's due date is off a little bit. We're having a kid sometime in the next five weeks, that's for sure.

I've cut back to mornings only at work. . .I do most of my teaching then anyway, and it's nice to have the afternoons off to rest and try to get the house organized for the baby. Mostly rest. It's gotten HOT here and it's only going to get hotter. . .

Funny story about John. The night before he got the visas, I was feeling a little panicked, so I started thinking about "what if" scenarios . . .if we needed to return to the U.S., what options did we have for him to continue studying Thai? University of Wisconsin-Madison offers an M.A. in Southeast Asian Studies, and offers many Thai language classes, including a class on the linguistics of Thai. I showed it to John, and he got all excited when he realized they also teach Pali and Sanskrit. I jokingly accused him of being a language geek. He responded by trying to explain to me that many Thai words originated from Pali and Sanskrit, and if he studied those languages he'd know the origins of a lot of Thai words, blah blah blah. . . he ended up sounding MORE like a language geek, instead of less. But it's fun to watch him get so excited. Kind of like watching my dad talk about abstract mathematics. . . .another topic totally over my head.

Trea recently had a note sent home from the nursery (they send occasional progress reports). Apparently she's had some issues with sharing lately, which is typical for a toddler. What was noteworthy is that she has been refusing to speak English. At all. Her teachers told us that whenever they try to speak English to her, she says "no" in Thai and speaks Thai. With John it's the opposite - if he tries to speak Thai to her she insists on speaking English. She's starting to really distinguish between the two languages, I guess.

Not much else going on. . . just counting down the days until the baby's born, or school's over, whichever happens first!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

I am Trea, hear me roar

John told Trea she was a monkey the other night, which he does on a fairly regular basis. Usually she just giggles, but that night she was indignant. "No! Trea lion!" she told him. And then she roared for emphasis.

Heaven help the man who marries her!

Friday, February 02, 2007

The Visa Saga Continued

John returned to Bangkok today, as stated previously, in an attempt to repair our visa situation. . .alas, it was not to be. He was missing a critical document, a letter from the local Ministry of Education giving authorization for him to have his visa changed. The school is responsible for obtaining documents such as this and they thought they had done everything required, but they overlooked or misinterpreted this particular requirement.

The good news is, it's an easy letter to get, especially since the school recently translated a bunch of materials from Thai to English for the local Ministry of Education. It means John has to go to Bangkok AGAIN, but he also said that the immigration official he talked to was extremely helpful and seemed knowledgeable (two rare qualities among government workers worldwide, and especially in Thai Immigration). The guy even gave John his name and cell phone number, and called the school to let them know exactly what was needed. Also, when John explained that he had a very pregnant wife and a small child in Khon Kaen who also needed visas, the official said to get a doctor's note verifying my due date and he could do the visas without me actually having to go to Bangkok. Not that six hours on a bus with Trea doesn't sound like fun, but after all the amusing times we had on planes during Christmas, it just seems like a bit much. Funny, last time I went to see my doctor I needed a note to let me travel on an international flight, and now I'm going to go ask for a note saying I can't (or at least shouldn't) travel six hours by bus. But such is the nature of pregnancy that the six weeks in between visits actually justifies both notes.

On the bright side, John brought me a Subway club sandwich and a package of Milano cookies from Bangkok, so the trip wasn't a total waste.

So, the question is, as a woman of faith, do I chalk this up to being a) God's way of telling us to go home already or b) a simple matter of there being too much red tape, and not enough attention to detail?

The jury is still out. . .

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Return to Bangkok

It's Thursday night. John is leaving for Bangkok in a couple of hours, to try once again to get his visa. We're hopeful but still partly expecting something to go wrong, or be missing or incomplete. Right now he's in the shower with Trea, singing U2's "Elevation." Trea fills in words when he pauses and joins in for the "El-uh-va-tion!" She loves that song.

I'm 34 weeks and 2 days pregnant. I feel like a large punching bag, this baby can really kick. Trea was five days early, and if this baby were to come five days early I would give birth five weeks from today. So at least it's almost over. I can't wait to NOT be pregnant, and to hold my baby, and find out if it's a boy or a girl. . .

Hopefully I'll have good news tomorrow!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Christmas update and The Visa Saga

We've had an interesting month, so forgive the long post!

First, a quick update on our trip home at Christmas:

It was great! Even with the horrendously long flight, and the reappearance of my "morning sickness," and the jet lag, and a nice stomach virus my family passed around, it was great. It was wonderful to see our families, and we got to visit John's grandma, who is just amazing. Best of all, my brother got married to a woman he's completely in love with, and that means everyone in my family is happily married. I know being married isn't necessary to be happy, but a good marriage is such a wonderful thing, it makes me happy to see all of my siblings happy. And even though we tease my brothers about having married above themselves, I think my sisters-in-law are pretty lucky women. My brothers-in-law too!

Trea was actually really really good on the flights. Take a look at this travel schedule:

Khon Kaen to Bangkok: 55 minute flight
Bangkok: hour and a half layover
Bangkok to Taipei: three hours and 20 minutes
Taipei: roughly 2 hour layover
Taipei to LA: 10 and a half hours flight
LA: stayed overnight
LA to Salt Lake: one hour and 25 minutes

And on the way back, it was LONGER, since we didn't overnight anywhere and the headwinds make the flight from Salt Lake to LA 2 hours, and the flight from LA to Taipei FOURTEEN hours. With a toddler and a pregnant woman. Are we insane or what? We got to immigration in Thailand and a nice immigration official pulled us out of line and stamped our passports himself. I was SO grateful.

Now the only bad part about the trip - other than the flight - was the little glitch we had leaving Thailand. We had thought we had a reentry left on our visas. Turns out we didn't. Oops. It's totally our oversight - we should have double-checked - but in our defense, those last couple weeks before break were crazy, and if you've ever tried to read Thai immigration law it's basically clear as mud. But we thought we'd figured it out. By the time we found out that in fact, we DID need re-entry permits in order to not invalidate our visas, we didn't have the time to get them. So, we came back in on visas-on-arrival, which gave us 30 days. We contacted the school while we were still in the States and they said, it's not really a big deal, you just have to go to Laos and get new non-immigrant visas. Ok, fine. We'd wanted to see Laos anyway.

The first weekend we're home we head up to Laos. It's only a 2 1/2 hour drive to the border. We parked the car, got on a bus, and 15 minutes later we're across the Mekong and in Laos. Of course Trea attracts even more attention there than she does in Khon Kaen. The taxi driver who took us into Vientiane even bought her a snack and carried her into the hotel for us, while we got our luggage. We got there on a Sunday afternoon, so we just walked around and had some dinner (French influence is alive and well in Vientiane, since Laos was a French colony, and we really enjoyed the bread and cheese that were available). The city is quite beautiful too, wide open streets, French colonial architecture - it was a good city for walking in.

Monday morning we headed to the Thai embassy, where we turned in our applications for visas. About half an hour later, John is called up to the window and told to go talk to the agent he turned in his paperwork to. This man informs him that he needs a letter from the school, addressed to the embassy, explaining why he needs the visa. We go back to the hotel, and John heads out to find a phone to make an international call. Long story short, the school contacts the embassy to find out what exactly is needed, and it turns out that it's not a letter at all, but a criminal background check. This was a bit frustrating, since we had heard there was a new rule requiring background checks and had specifically asked if John needed one. We were told no. But, since they were asking for it now, we didn't have much choice. We applied for 60-day tourist visas and headed back for Thailand.

Now, after checking with our embassy, there are a couple different kinds of background checks. You can get a state background check, but some states require that you apply for that in person. You can also get an FBI check. According to the website of the U.S. Embassy in Thailand, you go to the embassy, get the fingerprint cards, and then go to Thai Immigration to be fingerprinted. Then the prints are sent to the U.S., where it takes 8-10 weeks plus mailing time to get a response. Best part of all this is, if you have no record, they simply stamp the back of the fingerprint card with "No record found" and send it back. That's going to look really official to the Thais!

In any case, after many calls to the Thai embassy in Vientiane and Thai Immigration, and not getting any answer at all, we decide we'd better apply for a criminal record check from Utah and the FBI check as well. John went to Bangkok Thursday night on an overnight bus and arrived early Friday morning (it's about six hours by bus). Turns out the embassy is closed that day. He went to Thai immigration anyway, with a fingerprint card he'd printed out from the FBI's website, only to be told, "We don't do fingerprints. But we'll give you your visa if you have all your paperwork from the school."

Huh?

They proceed to tell him that he doesn't need a criminal background check, just the papers from the school (there's a zillion things they need - letters explaining why the school is employing him, his salary and duties, how many other farangs are employed at the school, copies of each page of his passport, etc., plus it all has to be stamped with the school stamp and signed).

Of course John didn't have all that with him, because he'd thought there was absolutely no way he was getting a visa this trip, and they wouldn't let us fax the paperwork because then the school stamp wouldn't be in blue ink.

Right.

So, right now the plan is for John to go back to Bangkok next week, paperwork in hand, and see if in fact he can get a visa. We're fully prepared for them to tell him he needs a criminal background check first, but it's worth a shot. At least then he can ask WHICH check they want. We can extend our visas for 30 days without leaving the country, which is good since the baby is due four days before the visas expire! Worst case scenario, we'll go home in April. If we can possibly fix this we'd like to stay, but it wouldn't be the end of the world to go home. We never planned on settling here permanently.

It will be interesting to see how this affects teachers in Thailand in general, though. There are already a lot of teachers working illegally because so many schools are unwilling to go through the process of helping their teachers get work permits, teacher's licenses and visas. The Thai government is instituting a lot of rules limiting the number of tourist visas you can have, though, and that will make it harder for many farangs to stay in-country (a lot of farangs just do "border hops" every month and get a new tourist visa, or they do a visa run every 90 days and get a new 60-day tourist visa and then extend for 30 days). Apparently the U.S. is one of the more time-consuming countries from which to obtain a criminal background check, but I've heard it's difficult for Brits and Australians if they can't apply for it in person. If Thailand begins requiring recent background checks for visa renewals - and there's rumors to that effect - the teaching industry here will really take a hit.

I'm just glad we weren't dead set on staying - there are teachers here who are married to Thai women but can't get visas just based on that, and they need their teaching jobs and non-immigrant visas to stay with their wives. We'll be fine either way. I'm a believer in God's hand in all things - if we're meant to stay it will work out. If not, I believe it's because there's a reason for us to go home at this time. We really enjoy being here but we have great families back in the States and we miss them a lot, too.

We'll keep everyone updated!