Friday, November 27, 2009

Burmese Border

When we got back to Bangkok from Hong Kong last Sunday, I went for a run and then spent far too much time unpacking and repacking.  On Monday morning at 5 am, I left for a work trip up to Mae Sot, which is a town on the Thai-Burma border.  The beginning of the trip was a bit dull, but later on, I had the opportunity to visit the Mae La camp for Burmese refugees, most of whom are from the Karen ethic minority.  It was amazing.  There’s some really incredible doctoring done with limited resources at the malaria and antenatal clinics there.

In between playing with some cute kids and observing the doctor, I spent some time in the SCBU (Special Care Baby Unit), where there were teeny tiny babies, some of whom were born at 28 weeks and weighed around 1.2 kilos.  In the West, they would be kept in incubators until they were large and strong enough to be exposed to the elements of the real world.  In the camp, however, they are surrounded by hot water bottles and covered with layers of thick wool blankets as they sleep beside their mother on woven mats in a wall-less building.

My mom is going to start knitting sweaters, hats, and socks for the little ones who need the extra warmth.

The kids at the camp loved hamming it up for the camera (and then eager scrambling to see the results) and didn't really understand that closer is not necessarily better...

They were so fun to hang out with even though we didn't have languages in common.  After a tentative initial interaction, one very sweet, shy little girl warmed to me and became my shadow for the next few hours.  Her 2-year-old sister has been an in-patient at the clinic since infancy because she was born with situs inversus, which means that her heart and intestines are in the wrong place.  I met the family during the doctor's rounds and was amazed at how small the toddler was for a 2 year old and, yet, how alert and interactive and seemingly normal she was despite her fairly significant congenital abnormality.  I can only imagine how the middle sister, my shadow, must feel, spending all day everyday at the clinic and maybe not getting the attention she might have if her little sister were healthy.

I realize it is a bit strange for me to go from one post about shopping and living it up in Hong Kong to another about spending time in a refugee camp.  I feel guilty about traveling and buying frivolous things when girls like this are spending their entire lives fenced in with limited resources, no legal identification, and a future that is so unknown.

The visit reminded me how much I want to practice medicine, especially in a setting like Mae La.  What an impact the single doctor working at the clinic was making.  Though she was trained as a pediatrician, she was also attending to adult patients with typhus and malaria, and serving as an ER doc, as well.  I think I would love the variety, the interesting diseases, and that do-gooder glow that comes from working selflessly to help others.


So much to catch up on.  Hong Kong was great.  I hit the ground running (or maybe skipping and jumping up and clicking my heels together a la Charlie Chaplin is more accurate) and was so giddy that T asked what I had done with his girlfriend.  We filled the weekend with dinners at old school swanky Cipriani’s and Classified@the Press Room, a cute Italian deli.  We had drinks in the Long Kwai Fong area, at Hong Kong Brew House which had Oregon beer (T was ecstatic) and the freezing vodka room at Balalaika for a shot of Grazovka, at a tiny pub on Staunton Street, and at Club 71, a cool, low-key bar named after a huge protest march held on July 1, 2003.  It's filled with lefty memorabilia and propaganda and I later learned that Lonely Planet describes it as a "counter-culture nerve centre".

The words written on the heads: Here Is Hope
At Club 71, we were joined by some friends, one of whom displayed his enormous tattoo-in-progress:


We had meals at the Flying Pan and Taco Loco--both considered mandatory by T.  And we did loads of shopping. I scored big!  A pair of tall black riding boots (finally!), some of my favorite and simply sexy underwear, black flats, a pretty dress, and a new pair of glasses.  Oh, and my first red lipstick!

Mac Lipstick in Dubbonet

Consumerism at its finest!  T is usually a bigger purchaser than I when we shop, but this time, he only bought a t-shirt at Lane Crawford and a Bottega Veneta wallet that he’s had his eye on for years.  We both left happy.

I packed everything I needed and was happy with my choices.  The only things that could have been improved, I think, are the Nine West pointy-toed black heels I wore with my LBD to Cipriani’s.  I've had them for years and they feel a bit too officey for date nights, plus the heels have been repaired so many times that they've started to make a weird clacking noise when I walk.  It kind of detracts from the quietly sophisticated look I'm going for...

(Note to self: Buy some hot new black heels!)

And just for laughs, here is one of the better finds in my international search for funny/bizarre English-language t-shirts:


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Field Day for Freud

Last night I dreamed that T and I had decided to get married.  (We've had the talk before, so it's not so far from reality.)  I wanted something lowkey and simple and kind of divorced myself from the planning process since I didn't think much planning needed to be done.  The day came and when I arrived at the site, I found that T's mom had gone over the top in preparations.  Not only was everything decorated and froofy, but there were throngs and throngs of T's relatives wandering about--many of whom he didn't know.  I was tormented, torn between just wanting to get married that day and not offending T's mom by postponing the whole thing since no one from my family had been invited.  T told me it was OK if we put the whole thing off, that his mom would deal.  The rest of the dream I spent wandering through old hotels and rolling hills, mostly alone, but sometimes I would run into old friends and have a beer and chat for a bit.

And then I woke up.                                                        

 (Taken on our trip to Italy last spring)

 Analysis: Clearly I have some issues with T's mom wanting to be all up in our biznazz.  I'm not ready for marriage yet.  I miss my family and feel guilty that they aren't more involved in my life since we live so far apart.  And taking long solo walks in pastoral landscapes is cathartic.


I'm off to Hong Kong tomorrow.  I can't wait!  Last night before bed, I spent an hour or so trying on clothes and deciding what to pack.  It will be about 20 degrees cooler there than here during the day and even chillier at night, so I'm already bracing myself and bringing a lot of layers!  (Scarves!  Boots!  How I've missed you!)

I spoke to T last night before I went to sleep and he was under the covers in his hotel bed wearing his work shirt and a very thick hooded sweatshirt.  And he was still freezing.  Wish I could have been there to warm him up!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Fly to Me!

 Since living abroad, I have made do with whatever clothing I can get here and whatever I can stock up on during my twice-a-year trips back to the US.  Now, after reading endless blogs, I am inspired to dip my toe into the world of online shopping.  This Vera Wang necklace from Kohl's is the first siren I noticed seductively calling my name:

I think I could wear all black and get a bit of that elusive rockstar look.  Baby steps.

Wish List and Happiness

Though these Bensimon sneaks were showcased more than a year ago at Refinery 29 and again last spring on fashion blogs, I want them now.  Oh, so Parisian chic.  I'm going to look for some in Hong Kong this weekend.  Otherwise, I'll wait until I'm in New York next month.

I love the fruit vendors of Bangkok.  All pieces are cut perfectly and presented in a bag with a long toothpick.  Happiness.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Me, Myself, and I

This weekend, I was unusually OK with being left to fend for myself.  Most times when T says he needs to work on Saturday and spends ALL day Sunday golfing, I feel abandoned and neglected and bored and grumpy.  I think, perhaps, now that we're on an even keel, it feels more comfortable to be apart and miss each other a bit.  Even a bit nice.

On Saturday, after sleeping in and going for brunch at Crepes&Co, I met up with E to see "The September Issue" and then do 30 minutes of (unsuccessful) power-shopping afterward.  I was surprised that the editors highlighted in the movie were not as glamorous and "edgy" as the models they styled.  The clothes worn by the staff at American Vogue were fairly ordinary; their hair was largely unkempt; and nearly all who were interviewed had some serious smoking wrinkles around their mouths.  There was no plastic surgery to be seen.  It was shocking, but very refreshing and hopeful to see that these queens of fashion have opted to age gracefully.

Shopping options in Bangkok are slim.  There is a plethora of shops stocking overly-embellished, too short dresses that have weird mixes of fabrics and far too many ruffles for any woman not wanting to look like she's about to attend her 5-year-old friend's birthday party.  There are few places to get basics and none offer pieces that are of truly good quality.  There's Zara and Mango and Promod and Forever XXI for simple tanks and other less over-the-top pieces, but their cotton stretches after a single wash and the seams aren't sewn with durability in mind.  I have heard that Gap will open at the beginning of next year and I am psyched for that, even though it will mean crazy marked-up t-shirts due to the fact that it will be considered an imported brand (but many of their pieces are made in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia!  Oh, the injustice!).

T and E have tried to get me to dress "outside the box".  That means they think I should wear more Thai designers and styles, like Fly Now, one of E's favorites.  Whenever I try their suggestions, though, I feel like I'm playing dress-up and could never imagine wearing the wildly patterned or oddly cut pieces in real life, let alone step outside of the safety of a dressing room.  While no one would look at me in my current wardrobe and say, "Damn, she's really edgy!", they would say that I am classy and understated, which, to me, is sometimes preferable.  However, there are some days when I really wish I had the clothes and courage to dress like a rockstar.  This is a problem since there's no distinction in my closet between play clothes and work clothes.  Everything has that professional, tucked-in look.  Ugh.  I need a personal shopper.

And a personal packer.  My current preoccupation: What to pack for Hong Kong this weekend.  Our days will be spent shopping (T loves looking at and sometimes buying designer goods), while our nights will be spent at hip or schnazzy restaurants and bars.  We're going to Cipriani's for dinner on Friday night and somewhere new on Saturday night.  We'll also probably meet up with some of T's old friends for drinks.  But my packing/"wears" phenomenon lingers and haunts me.  I utz every time I have to pack for a trip to any fashionable city.  I want to look hip.  I want to feel confident.  I want to be comfortable.  I just don't have the right tools to make it all happen together.  Maybe I'll find some good pieces on this trip.  (Hope springs eternal...)

Moving on...
On Saturday night, we went to my boss's place for a housewarming party.  I love the people I work with and I think T is starting to see why.  It's like being part of one, big, functional family.  I had my first taste of Pimm's Cup, which I loved.  Being an American, it was new to me.  It's a punch with a bit of Pimm's, lemon juice, simple syrup, and diced cucumber and mint.  Kind of like British sangria, I guess.  It was light and delicious!  With the encouragement of my boss, I joined some co-workers jumping on the trampoline, which I'd been eying all night.  Once on, that childhood fearlessness quickly melted away and I recalled all of the accounts I've ever heard about trampoline injuries.  I threw in the towel fairly quickly.

I was super lazy on Sunday, only leaving the apartment to get a Starbucks and go to the grocery store (twice--arg!) in preparation for dinner.  I made an excellent meal, redeeming myself after my mediocre couscous/veg/chicken salad last Sunday (which T still claims he liked, but I don't believe him).

Main: broiled chicken breasts that had been marinated in olive oil, honey, and cumin
Side: stuffing with sausage
Salad: spinach/mint salad with grated apple and slivered almonds 
Condiment: Ginger/Fig preserves

True to form, T made a sandwich out of all of it.  I would consider him a foodie in spite of the fact that he seems to think everything tastes better in sandwich form.  It's endearing.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Run Like the Wind

On Wednesday, I met E for our usually scheduled run.  After my rant about finding girlfriends in Bangkok, hanging out with E reminded me that I do have friends --or at least one-- here, ones who are smart and interesting and non-judgmental.  We had planned to meet at our usual place in the park, but ended up missing each other.  We ran 7.5K on our own before we bumped into each other.  With conversation flowing easily, we kept up the pace and before we knew it, we'd completed 15K!  The first solo kilometers, I was listening to a hilarious Moth Podcast told by Joan Juliet Buck, the former editor-in-chief of Paris Vogue.  These podcasts are unscripted anecdotes told by random people in NYC and are a bit like an open-mic night.  Buck's story had me laughing aloud and running a bit faster.   It set the mood for the rest of the run. 

After the run and showers, we hit up Govinda, an Italian vegetarian restaurant where we have become regulars.  We don't even have to order; the waiters already know what we want.  We talked about why women are so competitive with each other.  E thinks it's professional ambition and territoriality that spills over into social contexts.  I'm not so sure I buy that since this competition seems to rear its ugly head early in development (hello, middle school queen bees!), before careers are even a glimmer in a girl's eye. 


Another day at home.  I emailed my boss to see if there is anything he needs me to do.  He emailed back almost immediately, thanking me for checking in and telling me that everything is under control.  I'm not yet sure how I'll spend the day.

No progress on the running mix yet.  T spent an hour last night going through his music, playing me snippets from albums, trying to get me hooked.  He would turn a song on and then, while sitting in a chair by the stereo, he'd mime a running, pumping his arms, wiping sweat from his brow, all to the beat of the song.  He'd then look to me, as I was sitting across the room cracking up, for song approval, nodding his head in encouragement.  It was very sweet and funny, but his music is more loungey and much better suited for background party tunes.  Nothing made me want to jump up and dance.  I think music that's more pop-py is the way to go for a running mix.  My current power songs --Beyonce ("Put a Ring on It") and Feist ("1234") and Ting Tings ("That's Not My Name")-- once did the trick beautifully, but after hundreds of listens, have lost their power.

I was suppose to go to a new friend's birthday party the other night, but got the date wrong, so I'm thinking of baking her some cookies I know she loves: my great Auntie Bess's mandelbrot.  I brought them to her place for Yom Kippur break fast and her kids actually fought over the last one.  I was proud.  I'm waiting for our lovely, twice/week maid to leave before I start making a mess.  The mandelbrot is pretty easy to make.  It's like biscotti, which is one of my mom's specialties, but with a 1/4 cup more oil and with chocolate chips.

Auntie Bess's Mandelbrot
3 eggs
1c sugar
1 tsp baking power
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 c raisins
 1/2 c chopped nuts
1 c chocolate chips
3 c flour
1 c oil

Mix the eggs, sugar, baking powder, salt, and vanilla.  
Add the raisins, nuts, and chocolate chips.  
Add the flour, mix well.  
Add the oil.  
Make into a workable dough.  
On an ungreased cookie sheet, form into four logs.  
Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.  
Bake at 350 for 25 minutes or until lightly browned.  
Cool for 15 minutes. 
Transfer to a cutting board and, with a serrated knife, cut into bars.  
Arrange bars on the cookie sheet and return to oven for 15 minutes.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Calling Cool Chicas

Today, is another lazy day.  I am willing myself not to eat chocolate while I bum around the apartment.  I've been off my usual running schedule for a couple of months and am trying to get back into shape.  Yesterday, I managed to do more than 10K without too much trouble, which was incredibly relieving.  I chalk it up to the fact that I had a running buddy to keep me company.  Runs seem to be so much easier when there's someone to talk with.  "This American Life" podcasts use to keep me entertained and distracted enough, but now, they barely get me through 5K.  I'm hoping that with a new running mix --I've been listening to the same one for more than a year and it just doesn't do the trick anymore-- I'll be back in the game.

Yesterday's run got me thinking about friendships between single and non-single ladies.  I'm beginning to realize that they can be fraught with difficulties that may not be immediately apparent.  There is the issue of division of time.  Single friends want girls' nights out, weekends away, etc., while non-single friends need to make time for their honeys.  Someone is bound to feel neglected and resentful.  And then there's is jealousy, which is poisonous and corrosive and ultimately makes me run for the hills.  Why is there so much subversive competition between women?

Finding lasting friends in Bangkok has been a huge feat that I have yet to accomplish.  I am a bit older than the transient newcomers who arrive with fresh excitement for life in a foreign city and a drive to instantaneously create a social life for themselves.  I played that role three-and-a-half years ago.  I was out most nights at networking events at the hippest new bars; I was dancing the night away at clubs; I was going on dates; and I was putting myself out there with fervor!  I eventually got burned out around the time I began dating T, a year after I arrived.  Never having been much of a drinker and with a propensity to being a morning person and a runner, I just wasn't cut-out for the party girl persona.  I ahve tried friendships with girls who have carried on the hard-drinking, hard-partying girls, but they're just not people I click with. 

I'm a bit younger than the trailing spouses, newlyweds, and mothers and, given where we are in our lives, I find it difficult to relate to them.  Let it be known that I have tried.  I've gone to their bookclubs and networking meetings, but so far, it's been a no-go, folks.  I yearn for my college or grad school girls who are smart, snarky, empowered, ambitious, healthy, down-to-earth, and would choose girls' nights of dinner and wine or an indie flick or even a game night over dancing to pounding nnnsss-nnnsss music at clubs where conversation is totally out of the question.  I realize I sound like an old fuddy-duddy.  And I'm embracing it.

Where are these women?  They must exist somewhere in Bangkok.

In the meantime, I will remind myself to enjoy life as it is now (easy since it happens to be quite good).  And remind myself that if I were in the US, I probably wouldn't live somewhere where I could see this almost every evening from my balcony:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hiding Under a Rock

I was in hibernation mode today.  In the not-so-distant past, before work became busy, I would spend many a day holed up in the apartment.  T would come home after work and ask if I'd been outside at all.  It sounds a bit pathetic, but most days I really enjoyed not having anything to do.

Last week, I tied up the projects I have been working on and while I wait for the next one to land on my desk, I'm hanging out at home.  I hate the idea of pretending to be busy at the office when there's nothing to do and I'm fortunate enough to work in an environment where the only expectation is that you get your work done --however and wherever you'd like.  It's an excellent gig.

Today was a lazy, self-indulgent day of reading blogs for inspiration; trying to get into a new book (The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga); having a saucy lunch at home with T; meeting my friend, L, for a run; and now making plans to bake before T gets home from a networking event that I was happy to miss.  I have a feeling that the next few days will have a similar rhythm, which is fine by me.  There may even be some sleeping in and massages.  Luxury.

First Day of the Rest of My Life

Growing up, on the first day of school every year, my dad use to say that to me as he walked me to the end of the driveway.  He'd usually quote some long-dead poet and then, with his hand on my shoulder, he'd say it and send me off.  While it was predictable and corny, it was comforting.  Fresh start.

I set up this blog about a year ago and have utzed about how to begin, which raised a lot of questions that have remained unanswered.  Mostly, I wonder for whom I am writing this.  For me?  For the anonymous web surfer who stumbles upon it?  For travelers looking for information on Bangkok?  Hopefully, as I grow into the blogger I aspire to be, I will fulfill the reading desires of any and all.  And, enjoy myself in the process.

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