Wednesday, December 31, 2008

From Monkeys to Elephants

Elephants are very large. Even so, it took two elephants to carry my ginormous family. Bart, Shay and Ainsley took the first elephant. Aidan, Kyra and I then climbed the platform to board the second, an 18-year-old gal named Pinky.



An elephant is bigger than a minivan, but less comfortable. I sat in the middle of a bench that was strapped to the elephant’s back, with Kyra and Aidan on either side of me. The bench bounced with every plodding step, sending me crashing backwards into the metal seatback.

About five minutes into the ride, the elephant driver hopped off to take a picture with our camera. Then he ran ahead to take pictures of Bart’s elephant and another elephant, ridden by our friends Scott and Sonia. Meanwhile, Pinky kept walking, without a driver… right toward a steep, narrow hill.

Keep in mind that I’ve never ridden an elephant before. So I’m perched up here with a guide who has abandoned his post, wondering if my elephant knows how to get down the hill by herself. She did, but if you look closely at the photos, you’ll see that I’m replaying in my mind’s eye those grainy videos you sometimes see on the evening news, titled something like “Elephant Goes Berserk, Attacks Crowd in Toledo!”



The guide eventually climbed back up, and we tried to converse, but his English wasn’t much better than my Thai. He pointed out various sites along the way: a temple (I think), an elephant graveyard (I think), his house (I think…). Then the elephants all pulled over to the side of the road and the drivers produced small boxes of overpriced elephant necklaces. I said no, but Bart said yes (always the sucker), so then I had to say yes, too. We paid about 30USD for three little necklaces for the kids. I consoled myself with the thought that perhaps Pinky would get an extra scoop of elephant chow that night thanks to our infusion of cash.



The biggest hit of the journey? Well, when my kids are along for the ride, you can probably guess: elephant elimination. That’s right. We discovered that elephant poop is about the size of a bowling ball, and when an elephant needs to pee, it’ll create a small lake. Trust me when I tell you this is almost as funny as monkey sex (oh, I can already see the google hits I’m going to get off of this one…).

Toward the end of the ride, Shay climbed up front with his driver. Than the driver jumped off, leaving Shay alone on the elephant’s neck for awhile. He seemed to handle his time alone steering the elephant better than I.

On the way home, I asked Aidan if he remembered the elephant’s name. “Pinky,” he answered. “I’m always going to remember her name was Pinky, even when we’re back in Bangkok.”



Monday, December 29, 2008

A Christmas Article

Better late than never, for your reading pleasure. Stumble it, digg it... you know the drill.

Back in Beijing

When we left Bangkok on Saturday evening, the temperature was in the 80s. When we touched down at 2 a.m. in Beijing, the temperature was 21 degrees, and a cloud of coal dust enveloped us. Cough, gasp, brrrr.

Thailand was better than good. Here we are, the happy family, appropriately posed in front of Monkey Island.



Monkey Island was closed - because it was the windy season, the fishermen weren't taking tourists out. But we did get to feed the monkeys outside of a temple in the Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park. The guide warned us not to get too close, as the monkeys will bite and scratch. So the kids threw bananas from a safe distance. That is, they thought they were safe, but the alpha male decided to sneak up behind them. I was still in the van, and I saw this huge monkey sneaking up, so I said, "Hey! Watch out for the huge monkey!" Bart turned around just as the monkey drew up even with Kyra - it was about as big as her, and it was trying to get the banana out of her hand. When Bart turned and saw this, he jumped and shouted "Holy S@#t!" The monkey fled. The kids all stared at Bart and committed the phrase to memory.





So I guess you could say the most memorable thing about the monkeys was the new vocab. That, or the fact that Shay got an eyeful of the alpha male mounting another monkey. He was, shall we say, uproariously amused.


Here we are, post monkey feeding, in front of the temple.






More to come from me later. But for now, I'm off to feed my family. Because the days of fresh coconut curry and lime soda, brought to me at my table and cleared away by someone else, are over.

Sigh.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas from Thailand

We're celebrating Christmas here on the beach at Dolphin Bay. Not very orthodox, but oh-so-fun. We're all sunburned and sand-covered. Tomorrow we leave for an overnight stay in Bangkok, and then home to Beijing.

I'll have a lot to say when I'm not being charged by the minute for internet access, so I'll probably update you in bits and pieces upon return.

For now:
There's a big water slide in one of the resort's pools, and the boys have been having a blast sliding down, over and over and over. Kyra has no fear of the water, so we have to keep a close watch on her. There is a kiddie wading pool, and while she's happy there, she's also fond of tossing toys in the big pool and then leaning over to fish them out. Scary!

She was afraid of the water at the beach until yesterday. This made for a nice break, as we could sit in our beach chairs and not worry about her wading in. But now she loves it, waves and all. It isn't deep, so she goes in waist high and lets the waves hit her. Or she plays "coconut football:" She tosses a coconut into the waves and waits for the waves to send it back to her.

We couldn't go to Monkey Island - it's the windy season, so they don't take tourists out on the water. But we did feed the monkeys in the National Park. Cute, in a way - but it's not much different from feeding rats. They're nasty little scavengers, and they dig through trash cans until tourists show up bearing bananas.

We also did an elephant trek. Pictures to come once I return home and can download them.

Today it is about 30 degrees Celsius here at Dolphin Bay. I hear it's 6 degrees Celsius in Beijing, so I'm not particularly excited about returning home on Saturday. We'll have to start over again, saving our pennies, so we can take a vacation like this again in the future. The kids are loving the pool and the ocean and the ice cream bar. I'm loving their happy little smiles.

After the girls wake from their naps, we'll take them for one last swim in the pool, one last stroll down the beach and one last Thai dinner in the open air restaurant (complete with local dogs snoozing under the tables - someone alert the Health Department!). Tomorrow we'll check out and drive back to Bangkok - about 3 hours away. We'll probably spend the afternoon poolside at the Conrad Bangkok - it has, I think, the most beautiful pool I've ever seen.

We have a late flight out on Saturday, so we'll either try to see a site in Bangkok, or more likely just get in one last swim and pick up some souvenirs. Our plane lands back in Beijing at 1 a.m.

And then I'll be back, with stories and photos, to make you all jealous.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Thailand, Here We Come...

So we're doing it. After many fits and starts and near disasters, we are apparently getting on a plane, Thailand-bound, on Wednesday morning. The family members who were supposed to meet us there won't be able to, but it looks like we're going anyway... if we can find the swimsuits and floaties and sunblock and suitcases and passports and... you get the idea.

Lots to report but little time to do it. And so many strange moments have come and gone this week, but I've had no camera to record them. Like, for example, this morning's trip to the car wash. It is so cold that the water freezes on the ground of the car wash, but the men and women who work there just slide around on the ice, washing cars all day long without so much as a lip chatter. Good times!

And there was yesterday's trek to the Chinese Catholic Cathedral. An odd experience: exactly the same, and yet completely different. Stations of the cross with Chinese captions, for example. I tried to take it all in so I could report back, but you know how it is: four kids + one church service = mom too frazzled to look around.

We'll be back on the 28th, and hopefully the clean air and sunshine will cure us all of our nasty Beijing coughs. I doubt we'll have internet access, so don't expect much from me until then. In case I don't manage to post between now and then, I'll take this opportunity to wish you all the merriest of holidays. I hope you all get everything you want this Christmas. As for me? I already have everything I could possibly want.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Greed and Giving

Shay is in greed mode now that the holidays are approaching. He keeps telling me what one thing he just can’t live without, and he’s been writing elaborate letters to Santa, even though he isn’t really a believer anymore. He’s hedging his bets, just in case.

I have to say, however, that the desire to acquire is settling down to a dull ache – as opposed to stateside, where we were bombarded with advertising from every angle until we had to have it all.

Both boys have actually impressed me with their selflessness this season. First off, Aidan’s little friend Otto turned 6 last week, and Aidan was invited to Otto’s party. Otto’s mother told me not to bring a present, as Aidan had already given Otto such a nice gift at school.

“Oh, you must mean Jayden,” I told her, knowing full well that we hadn’t yet gone shopping. But no – both she and Otto insisted it was Aidan. So I went home and asked him about it. Turns out, it was Aidan. See, for his own birthday, a relative had sent Aidan a really nice gift, one he was looking forward to using, but had set aside for a rainy day. Aidan decided that if he liked the gift so much, Otto would surely love it. So he brought it to school and asked the teacher’s assistant to help him wrap it up for Otto. You’d think the teacher’s assistant would have questioned him about this, but she didn’t. So it turns out that Aidan wrapped up his own favorite thing and gave it to someone else. When I explained to him that he couldn’t ask for it back, I expected tears, but he was quite pleased with himself for coming up with and carrying out such a plan.

Then there’s Shay. Some neighbors of ours are active at a nearby orphanage that takes in disabled Chinese orphans in the hope of fixing them up for adoptive families. The neighbors decided to hold a fundraiser for the orphanage. They’re hoping to raise enough money to help one little baby boy with a cleft lip and another who is critically ill and needs major heart surgery. We were invited, and Shay decided he wanted to donate some money to the cause. I told him I’d match his contribution, and he scraped together 38 RMB (a bit over $5) from his allowance. So I rounded it up and gave him 100 RMB. He was so proud of himself when he put his 100 RMB in the donation box – even prouder when the family members made a point of thanking him. They gave him a little paper ornament with a picture of the boy who needs heart surgery, and he keeps the ornament in his room.

Yesterday he came home and asked if we could do another matching funds donation. It seems the Roots n Shoots kids at his school are holding a fund raiser for a local animal shelter. 50 RMB covers the expenses for one dog for two weeks, and if you donate 50-100 RMB, you can basically “adopt” a dog and bring its picture home. Shay had 56 RMB he was saving to buy Christmas presents, but he decided he’d rather do this. So I gave him another 50 RMB, and he was able to sponsor a dog for a whole month. He chose “Hootch,” a rather unfortunate looking little dog, and now we have Hootch’s picture up on Shay’s shelf next to the little boy’s picture.

I’m actually rather proud of him. I asked if he was sure he wanted to give all of his present money – I suggested he might want to keep a bit of it, but he said this was more important. This from the kid who only last week was telling me he would actually DIE if he didn’t get this particular Lego doohickey that he desperately wants.

The cynical part of me thinks he just wants to impress Santa and ensure a place on his “good kid list.” But he hasn’t once mentioned Santa in connection with his good deeds. And I’m impressed with the way he – and Aidan – thought about what they could do to help someone else, and then went and did it.

Let’s just hope Shay doesn’t try to talk me into matching funds so he can get his Lego set next…

Friday, December 5, 2008

Brrrrr…

Someone told me it hit 19 degrees Fahrenheit yesterday, and I believe it. I was running errands all over town, and every time I stepped from the car, a blast of dusty Arctic wind slapped me in the face. Shay was home from school, coughing, so at bus time, I bundled up to go pick up Aidan. I briefly considered driving to the bus stop – it was that cold. But instead I put on my wool coat, scarf, hat, mittens and insulated shoes (no socks, though). All of this over jeans, t-shirt and sweater. I grabbed my tea and headed down to the front gate.

The 10-minute walk there wasn’t so bad. But on the return trip, I was headed into the wind with a 5-year-old straggler. I kept pleading with him to please go faster, please. But the wind seemed to slow him down even more than usual. About half way home, he pulled his scooter to the side of the road and refused to go further, crying that he was too cold. I eventually lured him home with promises of hot cocoa and marshmallows. By the time we returned home, I couldn’t feel my legs under my jeans and my cheeks burned red.

Sometimes, you know, just sometimes, I really miss my old life back in Los Angeles.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Quick Little Update

November was NaPoBloMo, or some such thing - basically, if you participated, you were supposed to update your blog Every Single Day in November.

As you might have noticed, I did not participate.

But here it is, December 1st, and I should probably write something just so you know I'm still here.

Thanksgiving came and went. We played football - there were lots of teams, including one all female team (yours truly was a stand-out talent). My team played against the Marines. It wasn't even a contest. We beat them by so many points, I lost track. I myself got over three touchdowns. What's that? You don't believe me? Well, it's my blog, so I can tell the story any way I want, and I say I'm a natural wide receiver. Those Marines went home crying from the shame of it all.

After the Turkey Bowl, we had dinner with Bart's boss and all of the Marines. Lots of food. Lots of inappropriate video games, too. Apparently, Marines like to shoot things, even on their days off. My boys were captivated, and I had to shoo them out of the TV room several times.

We had another celebration at our house on Saturday with a few friends. We had a great time - especially Casey, who managed to steal almost an entire ham that our friend left within reach of his doggy teeth. If he could talk, I'm pretty sure he'd say it was The. Best. Thanksgiving. Ever. (Woof. Burp.)

The big news for December is that we're planning a family beach vacation. We're supposed to meet up with my in-laws and one bro-in-law at a beach resort in Thailand. Swimming pools, fruity drinks, scuba diving, pad thai, monkeys...

Of course, the other big news for December is that the international airport in Thailand has been closed - taken over completely by protesters. They want the government to dissolve itself. I just want a fruity drink under an umbrella. Who wins? The in-laws are supposed to get on a plane to Asia within the next couple of days, but we still don't know if we'll be able to hook up with them in Thailand. We've been SO excited about the idea of getting out of here for awhile. And now we're... well, less than thrilled.

Big week ahead for me, with meetings at the Embassy, holiday packages to mail, more holiday shopping to do, and all sorts o stuff.

So that's it for now. I hope that was enough of an update, because it's late and I'm off to bed.

Fingers crossed I get my fruity drink in December...
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