31 January 2014

And breathe

So things have calmed down considerably since the "excitement" of Tuesday.  Leon's visit is getting closer and I'm busy sprucing up the old house so he can stay there. How lucky is that! 

But I guess our big news is we are now a two bike family.  We've thought long and hard about it and decided it was for the best for several reasons.  One of those was that we needed a bigger engine to do longer trips and this Yamaha Nuovo has a 135cc engine.  It's brown and black and looks really pretty, though Mr John's helmet doesn't really go with it - which he doesn't think is an issue, go figure!  So look out everyone, here we come!

That's all for today folks. Exhaustion has set in....

29 January 2014

Immigration, don't get me started..

Well, it finally happened - I've turned into a lush*!  Mr John came home yesterday afternoon to find me on my third vodka after the most traumatising day.  Before I left work last year I used to joke that, in my retirement, Mr John would either come home from school to find me in a cocktail frock with a tray of hors d'ouvres (having had all day to prepare) or would find me laying on the couch with empty vodka bottles around me.  Yesterday was more the latter.

Lush - a heavy drinker, especially a habitual one
But back to my traumatising day.  I have a type "O" visa for 12 months.  This type of visa lets you be in the country but not work.  When I got it, and on every website (including the official Thai immigration site) it tells you that with this visa you just have to report every 90 days to the immigration office. 

So the date stamp in my passport, which was put in there when we arrived back from Australia last October, said 28 January.  Naturally, wanting to do the right thing, I put "visit immigration" on my "to do" list for yesterday - in amongst coffee and getting a screw put back in my sunglasses as I'm not sure the safety pin that's currently there gives the right image!  Reporting was first on my list, so off I went.

Mr John had done this a few days ago and advised it was a simple process, see the lady at the small desk who puts a slip of paper in your passport with the next reporting date on it.  Hmmm no lady at the desk.  Man behind the counter beckons me over.  No problem.  Hand him my passport at the page where it clearly shows 28 January.  He then explains to me, in limited English, that I have to leave Thailand today.  What???  This is not on my "to do" list and I instantly start to panic.  He then also says I could get another visa if a have a copy of all my documents, including our marriage certificate.

By this time, I'm not really taking in what he's saying but there is clearly a huge problem.  Get back on the bike and head to Mr John's school.  Send him a text, is he free?  No response.  Remembering the "copies of documents" statement I head back to the house and start madly photocopying.  I never realised how many pages a passport contains, it seemed to take forever.  Whilst constantly hitting the "Copy" button on the printer and sobbing silently, I'm also messaging our friend Kob to see if he's able to come and speak with Immigration Man.  Thanks the Gods for Kob.  He agrees to meet me and Mr John (who has a break between classes) at 12:15. 

As soon as I see Mr John outside the school gates I start sobbing uncontrollably.  He calms me down and off we head, back to Immigration.  My day just gets better as they're on their lunch break - the office is closed 12:00 - 13:00.  And all the time I'm thinking - there's more of the day gone, what bus do I get on, where do I go, how do I get there?  So Mr John has to head back to school for his next lesson and I explain to Kob what's happened so far.  When the office re-opens, he speaks to Immigration Man in Thai, obviously, to find out what's really going on.

He takes me for coffee (Kob, not Immigration Man) so he can explain that it's only a little problem and we can fix it (and gives me extra napkins to dry my eyes!).  I still, even now, don't really know why but my visa only allows me to stay a maximum of 90 days in the Kingdom before I have to leave - even though I can come straight back in.  Kob explained we had two choices - he could drive me to the Cambodian border "which is only an hour away" he said - only an hour!  It would cost 1000 baht to get my visa stamped and have another 90 days here.  The other option, if I had copies of all our documents, was to get a visa that linked to Mr John's.  This would cost 1900 baht.  I spoke with Mr John and we agreed linking my visa to his would be best in the long run.  Disaster averted - I finally calm down and get practical.  Kob is still a little worried as sometimes officials change there mind about things but (and I'm sure it was the look on my face) he didn't think it would be a problem for us.

We go back to Immigration, I had over all my photocopying which started out on single pages but ended up being "back to back" as I was running out of paper at home.  Everything seems to be OK, Kob is doing the talking (in a very quiet, respectful way).  We take a seat.  We get called back over to the counter by Immigration Woman.  At this point I have the originals in a plastic wallet and they have the photocopies. 

Having been told the cost, I have put 2000 baht in the wallet with the originals.  We are asked for the originals, which I hand over again.  She opens them and......... there's the cash.  Suddenly I panic - does she realise this is the fee money or does she think I'm trying to bribe them?  Fortunately it was the former as she didn't bat an eyelid but asked for the photo.  Photo?  What photo?  OK, so now we have to take a trip and get a passport sized photo for the visa.  Although yet another stumbling block, I'm starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel - if they want a photo, it must be OK?

Off we head, in Kobs van, to the first shop which had a 30 minute wait so on to the next one and 15 minutes later I have four photos in my hand.  Back to Immigration and six hours after I'd first stepped through the door without my shoes (you have to leave them outside) we leave their office with the right visa and no further reporting until April.  I'm exhausted, emotionally and physically drained.  Kob drops me off at our house and I hit the vodka.

If I've said it once I must have said it a thousand times - I have no idea what we'd do without our friend Pii Kob. In Thai "Pii" means brother and conveys to the person your speaking to the relationship, the fondness you have for them.  This is a more acceptable way of showing your affection here than randomly hugging people, which is not the way it's done in Thailand.  If it wasn't for the respect I have for Thai people, I would have picked him up, spun him round and given him a big kiss when we left Immigration - I was so grateful.  Big deep breath and on with life...

27 January 2014

Stuff and things

Can you spot the error?
My days seem to be all over the shop at the moment.  Maybe this is what happens to you when you don't have work to fill your day?  Our weekend has been pretty low key, you know, the usual rounds of coffee, cake, bit of eating out.  Most of our time is being spent planning for our first international visitor.  We're both really excited that Leon is coming to visit and are just sorry it's only eleven days.  He and Mr John first met when they were three years old.

We've planned a weekend in Bangkok when he arrives followed by three days here with me whilst Mr John works.  Then they are both off to Koh Chang for a "lads" long weekend (can you call it that when they're both of a certain age?).  Then we all have a day together before he leaves.  It'll be off to Pu Nim at Khlung to sample the local delights - I hope he doesn't get river sick... So you see, it'll be pretty action packed but we think there's enough down time for him so he at least goes back feeling like he's had a holiday.

Meanwhile, here in Thailand, the Bangkok shutdown continues.  This Sunday, February 2nd, is election day.  Now, if you're not going to be in your home town on that day (maybe because of work or holiday) you can vote early.   The protestors have already started picketing polling stations, both in the capital and in the provinces, and in some cases have chained the doors shut.  The pictures on TV are still very interesting (though the language barrier continues) and we were a little concerned about being in Bangkok a week on Friday, but there are distinct areas where the protestors are camping out (and which we intend to avoid) so I don't think there'll be any issues over our safety. 

If you interested in reading about the situation I would suggest the Bangkok Post website.  It's the best place I've found, so far, to read about what's happening in the country.

And tomorrow, I'm off to the immigration office as I have to report every 90 days that I'm still in the country (as do all non-nationals).  It's my first trip so I'm hoping they won't reject me!  Mr John says it's a quick, painless visit.

23 January 2014

Night Market

Taken about 6pm
We headed off to the night market last night to savour the culinary delights of Chanthaburi.  This was, in part, a fact-finding mission before the arrival of our friend Leon in a couple of weeks time.  We have been meaning to go for a while now but a pending visit sure focuses the mind.

Before I tell you about it though, I must tell you about the TV channels we have - stay with it, there is a link here! I've mentioned before that we have some 93 channels that came as a package with our Internet and of those, 18 are in English.  One of those channels is BBC Lifestyle and it's chock full of foodie programs.

Mr John and I watch these, mostly when he's just got home from work and prior to going for our tea.  This has varying effects on us and our reference to it varies from food porn to a form of self harm.  Picture the beef wellington - beef is nigh on impossible to find here plus we have no oven.  So even though I now have all the time in the world to prepare these types of meals my access to ingredients is nearly as limited as my cooking facilities.

Lately, the aforementioned channel has been showing Rick Steins' tour of South East Asia.  So I had this vision of amazing street food with copious quantities of fresh ingredients and inviting smells and tastes.  Well, the reality didn't quite live up to the fantasy.

I don't think the language barrier helped as we couldn't really ask what things were - though we do have a limited range of words for meats, fish and eggs.  I should point out though that one of the stall holders spoke good basic English, which helped.  A lot of things were on a stick (as one of my nephews likes to say) though no satay sauce in sight and a lot of things were deep fried.  Some stalls had photos of their dishes which looked really unappetising and we were a little sorry we hadn't had tea at our corner shop.

Whilst the experience was different, I'm not sure we'll be rushing back for food anytime soon.  Mr John thought it was a very different experience to the night market in Chiang Mai (north of the country) which he really enjoyed.  We do know where China Town is now though and that's our next plan for a food adventure.

20 January 2014

Road Trip

Gosh, I really don't know where the time went last week.  Mr John was having a well earned beer after work on Friday when I realised what day it was and that I hadn't published anything.  The joys of not working.

Wicus and Mr John enjoying a coffee
We headed off on Saturday to Laem Sing with our friend Wicus.  It was a beautiful day, as they have been lately, though a bit breezy.  We decided to get breakfast, (well brunch really) before heading off, at the Vietnamese place near the Cathedral. 

We really enjoyed the food but decided, with hindsight, that we probably should have headed straight to the beach as none of us were hungry enough to enjoy a seafood lunch.  Shocking.

Last time I wrote, I tried to describe my limited facility cooking situation.  Well, I impressed myself on Saturday evening with a delicious (even though I say so myself) pasta meal.  I only have one gas ring, so you have to boil the pasta first, keep it in the pot to stay warm and then add the "sauce" later.

Even more exciting than dinner is the progress of a lime tree I bought at the New Year markets.  It already had a lime on it and I've been finding the right spot for it at home, you know not too much sun, and I can't believe I not only have new growth but also flowers.  Whoop, whoop! 

Of course, the primary function of the tree is to freshen up my vodka, but if the crop is good enough, some might manage to make it into the cooking

15 January 2014

Limited facility cooking

So I keep mentioning the fact that I only have limited facility cooking.  I thought I ought to share with you some things that I can do.  Mr John is a lover of dessert.  In fact, we often joke that the reason we are together is because on our first "official" date (which was my mate Ali's wedding) I couldn't finish my lovely dessert and gave half to Mr John.  He knew then I was the girl for him!!

I mentioned on Friday that we had had crepe cake.  If you're interested in making it, there's a fabulous recipe on Things for Boys.  It's a chocolate amaretto crepe cake and I'm going to try making it - probably for a special occasion, so I may not report back on this for a few months.  What appeals to me is that you don't have to make the whole thing all in one go.

Anyway, in the interests of keeping Mr John happy, I've taken to making jelly here.  I don't think I've ever made him jelly in the 10 years plus we've been together but I don't have an oven, dairy products are thin on the ground here and simple things like a decent mixing bowl, blender or hand whisk are sadly missing from my kitchen repertoire!

 One of the things you can't do over here is drink water from the tap.  It's pretty inexpensive to buy and it's easy to remember when it comes to drinking a glass or even making tea or coffee.  Harder, though not impossible, to remember is to use the bottles when you're cooking - and that includes boiling something like pasta!  So I've had to get a bit creative and as you can see, I've used our teapot as a mixing bowl. 

I should point out Mr John loves his tea and pretty much insisted on getting a teapot when we first arrived - for his loose leaves!!

We don't have any pretty serving dishes.  We have two proper glasses (for drinks) and a small selection of plastic plates and bowls (a couple of which have been given to us) so I bought disposable glasses to serve the jelly.  I must confess, that we haven't disposed of them.  They're quite firm and so I have been washing them out and re-using them!

I managed to find some "squirty" cream - you know, the sort that comes in a can - at Tesco Lotus.  I'm not normally in favour of this, but as I mentioned, dairy products are thin on the ground and a little expensive but I got a can as a treat for Mr John...marriage still solid!!

13 January 2014

How exciting

We've had a lovely weekend even though Mr John is showing signs of having a cold - hopefully this won't develop into man flu!  We were sitting at Tom's on Friday night waiting for our dinner, when his Dad came ambling up to me carrying a rose from the garden. 

He gave it to me all smiles - which was lovely, as I'd only been saying to Mr John earlier how he hardly ever speaks!  He then ambled back (he's not a well man) to the garden and returned with one for Mr John!!  Not only did we get these gorgeous roses but we were given the plastic "vase" as well.

Saturday was Childrens Day and there were, apparently, festivals on all over town.  Well, we must have got out of the house too late because we didn't see any.  Wat Mai, probably the biggest temple complex in town, had chairs out but there was nothing happening at the time. 

It is Teachers Day on Thursday (could there be any more festivals?) so apparently there will be no classes on but there's some sort of interschool sports day on.  As is the case at the current school, Mr John has no information on what's happening.  At his old school he was (along with the other foreign teachers) invited to the sports day and took part in the tug of war whilst wearing a skirt.  I know, he has no photos but I have seen one picture and, don't panic, the short pink "skirt" was worn over his shorts. 

Today's big news is the shut down of Bangkok.  Yes the political scene is still very active here at the moment.  The current government has called a general election for February 2nd but those opposing the government still aren't happy that the current Prime Minister has not stepped down.  The anti-government protesters have closed seven major intersections in Bangkok (since dawn) and say that it's likely to stay that way until the end of this month or the PM resigns.  I have a Thai TV channel on this morning and whilst I understand next to none of the commentary, the pictures are fascinating.  It's amazing seeing no traffic on Bangkok's roads which are usually ridiculously busy.

Whilst I don't wish to dismiss anyone's political views, our main concern is for our friend Leon who's coming to visit February 7th.  We are going up to Bangkok to meet his flight and spend the weekend there, doing some sight-seeing.  At the moment, the trains continue to operate and the airport taxi drivers have special stickers on their cars (to show demonstrators they're carrying tourists) so that they'll be allowed through the blockades.  Well, that's alright then!!!  Fingers crossed it'll all be sorted by the time Leon arrives.

10 January 2014

Coffee Lover

On the crossroad near Timeless is this coffee shop.  We'd seen it on the way to the Hang Out and have been saying for ages we ought to try it out.  So last weekend we did.  The owner is a Thai lady who spent quite a while living near Las Vegas, so her English is pretty good.

The coffee was ok.  Mr John liked his, I would have liked my latte to be hotter, but the taste was fine.  Inside is really attractive, air-conditioned and there are some very comfortable seats including a big sofa.  We didn't indulge in any cakes, but I'm sure I saw them putting together a crepe cake whilst we were there.

Now if you've never had a crepe cake - you've missed out.  I had a slice at Doi Chaang a while back (they haven't had any since) and Mr John definitely had cake envy!  Thin pancakes / crepes are layered with cream and if you're lucky you get a strawberry coulis.  It looks a bit random and doesn't sound right but oh my goodness....

Our winter seems to be over as the warm days are back and I'm considering a trip to the pool.

08 January 2014

Crafty !!

I have two incredibly talented nieces when it comes to arts and crafts.  Amongst other things, one specialises in sewing, knitting and cooking, the other in card and glass making along with baking.  They really put me to shame (though I like to think they got their talents from me ;-)).  I like to dabble in creative things and really enjoy scrap-booking, sewing and watercolours.  I have brought everything with me except my sewing machine - so I do keep myself busy.  My scrap booking is coming along although I have to confess I have still not finished our 2004 big holiday book.  I blame the previous constraints of working but cannot believe it will be 10 years ago this October.  Well, that focuses the mind!  Best crack on with that.

I've also in the past encouraged my cousins (on Mr John's side) to get creative and when they were younger, they came to stay with us and I got them into mini-scrap booking.  Anyway, on a visit to us in 2012, cousin Abi returned the favour and bought me a kit to make a star. 

I loved the look of it but was coming to Thailand on holiday that Christmas and knew we were testing the country out to move here, so I put it to one side.  When it came time here to put up the Christmas decs out came the kit which I'd kept especially for the event.  And in order to remind my nieces that I too can be a bit creative, here's the process.

There's actually two stars in this pack, one large and one small.  It also says it is for ages 7-15 so about the right level for me!  A word to the wise, if you do give this to a seven year old be prepared for a lot of helping as you need to cut out a lot of stars!  The instructions are pictorial.

Now I'm a visual person so I thought, brilliant.  Until I got part way through and realised I was meant to be putting clear sticky dots on the points of the star as I was going (and that the white sheets they were on weren't just to keep the paper from being damaged).  I kept wondering the benefits of just showing a star point ....

It kept me quite for ages and I enjoyed listening to my iPod as I spent a very productive two days - yes I know, but you'd be surprised!  I was however, thrilled to bits with the finished product and it looked amazing in our new home. 

Thanks Abi x 

06 January 2014

It's all go here!

Look at the back suspension!!
I forgot to mention the New Year market that was on by the lake.  They spent days setting it up.  The people and traffic were unbelievable and the number of stalls amazing.  There's a road that runs perpendicular to the lake and goes past the stadium (that reminds me, I must update the map page) and it was all market stalls selling everything from clothes, bedding, CDs etc., etc. and there was the obligatory bingo, fishing and coconut shy type games so you could win enormous (not very well made) cuddly toys. 

We had enjoyed an afternoon coffee, watching the stall sellers set up but decided it was time to get home and think about dinner.  Off we went, traffic was pretty heavy so I suggested an alternative way home to Mr John.  He took the advice and we were doing really well until we got to the "T" intersection - it was blocked off!  By this time, more and more cars were coming up the street and you can imagine the chaos that ensued. 

I could hear this marching band playing and so got off the bike to take a look.  We didn't know it at the time, but we had hit the King Taksin day parade.  It was quite a spectacle and there were a number of bands.  We had no idea this was going to be on, so I think we were lucky to see it.  Mr John however was cursing the delay - I think he was itching to get his hands on a beer!!

This weekends weather has been much more in keeping with the expected.  For the past two weeks we've had some really cold (for us) weather.  Very cold winds and Mr John even went out in his jeans on New Year.  We'd taken to long sleeve sweatshirts both in the morning and evening - something I never thought we'd do living here!. 

I know we have nothing to complain about and are hoping that all our friends in the UK are coping with the bad weather - fortunately none of them are flooded.  We also hope our friends on the American east coast are keeping warm and not spending too much time out in the snow - did you know Boston had about 18" / 45cms? 

03 January 2014

Happy New Year!

Mr John and Pii Kob enjoying a celebratory cigar!
Well I hope you've all recovered from the New Year festivities.  We have, well, just about.  Mr John had to go back to school today and I didn't even hear him leave!  We saw the arrival of 2014 at The Hang Out and had a fabulous time there. 

Before arriving here though, we went and had dinner at The Craze House.  They serve really good cocktails and have a moderate selection of western food.  Last time we were here was with our friend Groy and I must say it was easier going with her.  We'd had dinner, during which time I'd had a bottle of water (though Mr John had a small jug of beer), and were ready for some fun cocktails.  Mr John asked for the drinks menu but unfortunately was given the bill instead.  We could understand the confusion, so paid the bill thinking we could get cocktails after.  We were wrong! 

It was quite busy and the bar staff only recognised orders coming from the servers and so they didn't pay any attention to us.  Mr John managed to attract the attention of one server and so we ordered our drinks.  Some five minutes later he came back to tell Mr John they'd run out of the ingredients, so he ordered a different cocktail.  For some reason, his not being available meant I didn't get mine either.  Never mind....a further five minutes later (though by this time it felt like thirty minutes - remember, I still haven't had a drink and it's gone 9pm on NYE) they informed us that his second choice wasn't available either and still I haven't had my drink!  So we gave up and headed to The Hang Out.  Mr John, to try and redeem the situation, called into the 7 - 11 store and bought a bottle of red wine, just for me! 

I must say, the whole drink situation detracted somewhat from the awesome food we'd had.  As you'll see in the photo above, I had lamb chops.  I should point out there were three of them but I'd already demolished the first one when I remembered I ought to be documenting the event!!  I must also own up to having food envy.  Mr John's fish and chips were gorgeous and I particularly liked the tartare sauce - I've put it on my wish list for next time!

Wishing you all a happy, healthy and wealthy New Year!