Thailand


My sister’s family has a wonderful maid/nanny who is very well paid in terms of her peers. She is sweet, friendly, intelligent, hard-working – and she knows how to stay out of your way, which is important, I came to realize when she spends the greater part of each day in the same apartment with you. I am not criticizing my sister for hiring help, in fact, I didn’t meet a single family in Bangkok who didn’t have at least one hired nanny or maid. Besides which, I appreciated p’Pa’s work every day that she was there, and especially on the days she was not. It was heavenly to have a squeaky clean bathroom and all my clothes laundered and ironed for me.

But consider the lay-out of Sue’s apartment: The front door accessed the main part of the house and in the main part of the house every room was outfitted with a air-conditioning unit.

The side door opened directly into the kitchen, the muddy room, the laundry room, the maid’s room and the maid’s toilet. There was a locking door between the kitchen and front door (which my sister’s family never locked). None of the maid’s quarters, not even the kitchen, was air-conditioned. There was no air conditioner back there at all – but it was still where all the ironing was done. (This is also why Sue and Joss rarely cook at home – when you reach a certain income level, Thai culture presumes a cook.) The back part of the apartment is where the maid is supposed to be. The front part is where the family is supposed to be.

Furthermore, the maid’s room, barely larger than Sue’s walk-in closet, did not have a regular door, but sliding GLASS doors. That’s the kind of status maids have in Thai culture – they get limited amenities and no privacy.

So, whenever I was sitting out in the air-conditioned living room reading Wolf Hall with my feet up – or knitting while watching the last few episodes of Lost, I felt slightly guilty whenever p’Pa passed by with her cleaning supplies. It was worse when we’d be eating a couple of kilos of peeled rambutan – that she’d peeled for us and served before slipping back to her area.

And worse, she was there 4 1/2 days a week to clean and watch Noi naa – but she herself had TWO CHILDREN. Two babies who until recently lived with their grandmother in a town north of Bangkok. I’m guessing that when her kids were younger, she saw her kids once a month – actually I’m hoping that’s the case, in reality it was probably far less. (Now, her kids are older, and the 12-year son lives in Bangkok with her and her husband and goes to school. The 8-year old daughter is still north with grandma.)

Also, I had difficulty with the lack of privacy issue. If you have a full-time maid, no matter how discreet you are or they are, THEY KNOW YOUR BUSINESS. Heck, they do your dirty laundry. Which is why my sister won’t even consider cloth menstrual pads – I mean, where would Sue even keep the dirty ones? There’s not many hiding spots in a house where the maid puts everything away for you. The maid knows exactly how much you drink, how late you sleep in, how you treat your husband, and how short your temper really can be.

No thank you.

With those thoughts on my mind, it’s no wonder that I completely lost myself in Kathryn Stockett’s novel The Help. Granted, the Thai culture of servitude is different from the American history of slavery-cum-servants, but there are common threads when dealing with mistresses and servants.

Told from the perspective of three women in Jackson, Mississippi during Martin Luther King’s glory (jeee-sus, that means black people were routinely getting lynched in my lifetime… *shivers*), this story reads like a memoir, but has the tension of a mystery thriller. Because two of the women are black and hired servants, and the third woman is white and wealthy – you get a gripping flux between the perspectives of both sides.

Damn, it was so dangerous in those days. I mean, the kind of danger a slave risked by learning to read kind of danger (does everybody know that the traditional punishment for a slave caught reading was the loss of a finger – for the first offense?)

Above all, this book is about the power of WRITING and the value of struggling to think things through, despite the pain you risk.

Stockett says that there is one line in the book that she truly prizes:

“Wasn’t that the point of the book? For women to realize, We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I’d thought.”

She wrote this book in memory of her family’s own domestic servant, Demetrie, who died when the author was sixteen years old.


Sometime during the trip...


I’m going to have to pause before I even begin and make myself a cup of tea. I can hardly keep my eyes open. Christian went down for a nap an hour ago at 4 pm – I hope he’s not thinking he’s going to sleep for the night.

Because last night, after a moment of fatal hubris when I thought we were already past the jetlag, Christian woke up at 1 am and then stayed up until 7 am. I made flax muffins and let him play in the kitchen for two of those six hours, but the rest of the time (besides taking him to pee/poo EIGHT TIMES) was me sincerely trying to get him to sleep.
To be continued…

Can you see how much Christian loves his cousin?


Backtrack and update on jetlag status:
1st night – slept 16 hours straight through and woke up at 4 pm.
2nd night – awake 1 am – 7 am. sleep until 9 am.
3rd night – baby stirs fitfully from 1:30 am – 2:30 am. needs to be taken to pee, but never fully wakes.
4th night – baby wakes to pee around 3 am. continues sleeping.

Dare I say, that I think the worst is past? Whew – just thinking about that second night is making my hands shake and boobs ache (baby nurses a lot when he’s jetlagged!)

Christian on a tuk-tuk ride.

The moral of the story is
that there is always a price to pay for a 14-hour time difference, but that jetlag is over before you know it.
Totally worth it (although I might not have said that after night two).

Last day in Bkk - no matter how I dressed Christian, he somehow always matched his cousin.

Jackfruit - the one that looks like giant kernels of corn, but tastes like banana with citrus undertones. Mouthfeel: calamari without breading.


When I tell people that I’m going to be away for five weeks, I get a lot of head shaking and incredulous looks – but listen, one) a 20-flight is a loooo-oong ride for a 2-year old, so I’d better make it worth it; and two) five weeks feels like hardly anytime at all at the end of it all.
Now that I have five days before I leave, I’m thinking about all the things I want to fit in or experience ONE MORE TIME before I go. Tonight I got the pad thai and mussel omelet crossed off my list and yesterday I finally tried that famous duck noodle soup – but there are so. many. more. things. Massages for instance, I’ve only had two (granted, one was two hours long); more fresh jackfruit and durian for another; and yes, I want to go back to chattachuk for a fourth and final time this weekend (I found my favorite t-shirt stall last weekend! A real chattachuk achievement to be able to repeat find). And I need to get back to Chidlom Central, a regular mall, to buy more wooden Plan toys (they are 40% cheaper here since Plan is a Thai toy company – we’re getting Christian the double story garage for his birthday).

Fresh vegetable juice stands have become popular. We often get one with carrot, beet, and apple to start the day.


I laugh when people wonder about how much I reveal about my life. There is so much that gets unsaid – even stuff that I want to write about – or that I’ve already written in my head – that I’ll never have time to put down.

Buying veggies early on in the trip. When Sue saw this picture, she said, "That's strange, a photo makes it look SO FOREIGN."


For instance, my sister took me to a fabulous birthday brunch at the Shangri-la hotel this weekend. It was all-you-could-eat cuisine from around the world. I ate my way through a mountain of raw oysters on the half shell, and then tried a plate of chocolate desserts while Christian alternated between watching the barges passing on the Chao Praya River and the clown in the kids’ room.
The next day we went to see a fantastic traditional puppet show (rod puppets – each puppet requires three puppeteers).
Yesterday, Christian and I went with Joss’s cousins (the two kids and wife) up the river on a riverboat taxi to Wat Arun, or Temple of the Dawn.
Today, we all were treated to a delicious brunch at Crepes and Co by aforementioned cousins.
All of these deserve their own post.
And then I’ve been meaning to do a craft post, a protest-destruction post, a massage post, etc, etc.

In the hospital room the morning after Leela's birth. I think Songbae actually read all those pages before Noi naa nodded off.


But in the end, it’s more important to spend the actual face time with family, right? Even family from my brother-in-law’s side.
We are enjoying the company of the cousins (with two kids and they’ve already been traveling in India for three months) and grandparents (en route to England, Italy, and Greece). Clearly, both sides of the family have a thing about traveling.

The whole sofa. This is the sofa where Christian and I slept. Joss, Songbae, and Noi naa were on the floor between the sofa and Sue's bed.


Christian, in particular, is really riding the family vibe and joyfully greeted Noi naa’s grandma and granddad this morning (a little to Noi naa’s dismay, I think). He loves the cousins also, who’ve often been swimming and eating with us.

Joss taking a turn with the kids in the garden at Crepes & Co, this morning.


But, he will be happy to see his own Daddy, sister, and grandparents very shortly!

Sometimes we are unpleasantly startled by a reflection of our own behavior in our children (like when they repeat a cuss word! at the appropriate moment!) and other times we have to give ourselves a pat on the back for passing along exemplary behavior.

A couple days ago, I caught Christian and Noi naa in the middle of a very serious nursing session. They were each nursing their respective “babies.”

Noi naa is letting Christian nurse her prize doll Annabelle, while she nurses Minnie Mouse.


I like how Noi naa is resting back on a triangle pillow and how her feet are up.


Christian nursing lying down, except instead of reading like I do, he's playing with a matchbox car.


They were at it for a while - SO CUTE!!

We visited the city zoo this past weekend.

Joss and Noinee watching the pygmy hippo.


Sharing an ice cream like good cousins do.


One of the men in the Kenyan Dancers show explained that the elephants had been moved due to the protests, “They were crying when they heard the fighting.”

Watching the show - we were delighted to run into some friends there.


Instead of peacocks and mallards, there were monitor lizards about, and catfish in the river with gaping mouths the size of dinner plates.

It’s been raining here.
The rain brings out the millipedes. They’re as thick as my thumb and longer than my hand.
Christian likes to watch them, like he watches snails at home. These guys are quicker, but just as hypnotizing.

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