Monday, January 29, 2007

Did anyone see my will power?

Oooh, dear, I’ve been very, very naughty. I’ve been out partying and destroying goodness only knows how many brain cells, which, frankly, I can’t afford to lose.

On Friday night we took some friends out to down and dingy Bangkok – enough said, I think. And Saturday night we were invited to Burns Night at a local hotel with some Scottish (and other English) friends.

I know that the Scots know how to party, and I was frankly a little bit scared, so I was forewarned. I really did think I was in control; I thought I was fine. ‘Do you like whisky?’ Gordon on my right, asked. ‘I do’ I said, ‘but the problem I have with it is that it so often comes out at the end of the night when you’re resistance is low.’ IT WASN’T LIKE I WASN’T AWARE OF IT.

It wasn’t as though someone sneaked it out in surprise maneuver designed to fool everyone. I KNEW IT WAS COMING. And guess what? My resistance was in my BOOTS. Or it would’ve been if we wore boots in Bangkok, but as it is, we wear sandals, which means my resistance must’ve slipped out between my toes!

The Burns Night celebrations were just fab: my first time eating haggis (yummy), lovely poetry from Robbie Burns and bagpipes but then the white wine ran out. So husband, being helpful, brought me a gin and tonic: my favourite tipple. Husband went home (perhaps he took my willpower with him?) and my friend C and I moved down the after party in the basement pub, where I continued with gin, as I really don’t think mixing your poisons is a good idea.

So when did the whisky appear? I don’t know, but damn, it was fine malt, even out of a plastic cup. I crept (staggered) home at 5am (with C). I did wake her up when I got out of the cab, but she confirmed today that she has no memory of the drive home, so we can only assume she went straight back to sleep. I slept for the whole of Sunday, and Sunday night and still feel a bit hungover today. Roll on tomorrow – oh, and never again.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Who cares?

I went off to the Fatima Centre today which is a charity in Bangkok run by the Good Shepherd Sisters' Mission. The congregation of the Good Shepherd Sisters began in the French Revolution and since their inception they have helped society’s most deprived and rejected and in Thailand most of their work involves women and children. I went with the women’s group that I’m a member of.

We had a talk from Sister Louise who came to Thailand from her training in France in 1965, with a few pounds in her pocket. She and two other sisters from Burma and Sri Lanka (I think) set up a house to begin to support women in need. From those modest beginnings the work is now a really large affair. She grew up speaking Gallic, her English is fluent, she learned French during her training and I heard her speak Thai on the phone and to her staff today. She appears to be a kind of CEO of this huge and amazing social project. One of the things that I was most impressed with was her categorical belief that the girls and women should have dignity, self respect and not be ashamed. I think they are really succeeding from what I saw today, there’s no apology in the training or work that they are doing. We saw some of the handicrafts that they were making and they were of a really high quality. I’m sure she’d hate that I’m gushing, but she was the most astonishing woman. She’s not salaried and they were selling marmalade to support themselves: she made me feel ashamed of my desire for ‘stuff’.

I haven’t done many trips like this before because I felt self conscious about being ‘an expat wife’ and doing the ‘charidee thang’. Expat wives have a reputation. Sure, I expect some do spend all day drinking, sleep with their driver and have nothing to discuss except their maids and children, but all of us? It’s not really very likely, is it? Anyway, this year I decided I couldn’t give a stuff how it looks, and I’m going to get on and do all the stuff I didn’t do last year because I didn’t want to be seen to be a regular ‘expat wife’.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

JazzRat


I am simply too pooped to write today. I've spent all day studying Dreamweaver and Photoshop and my brain is crying out in pain. They are too gargantuan and it hurts.

Instead I will leave you with JazzRat who we saw in a jazz bar in Bangkok before Christmas. He just couldn't get enough of the music.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Uncle Paper and oesophageal reflux

There are lots of things to love about living in Thailand (in truth, there are plenty of things to loathe too, but today I’m looking at these little quirks with fondness, if you like. When I come ranting on my blog about these things in later weeks, when I’m not being so polite, please DON’T remind me of this: I may punch you on the nose).

One of the things I love is that some elements of Thai life remind me of growing up in Britain in the 1970s. I suppose this may be because this is considered to be a developing culture. (I think this is supposed to mean that the UK is developed? I have some problems with this, but this isn’t the time). One of the things to get me completely over excited is free gifts. Companies here still have decent budgets for quality promotional material and as a result there are plenty of freebies. The way this is administered varies, but the more complex it is, the more enticing I find it. If you spend a sufficient amount of money in a shop or during promotional periods, you might be handed your receipt and told ‘coupon’. This used to be a mystery, and I curse myself for the freebies I must’ve missed. Eventually we worked out that you could exchange your receipt for a coupon which would reveal a prize, or a % off your next purchase. Quite often the exchange area would be three floors away, hidden away and nigh on impossible to find, but this is all part of the adventure. The coupon wouldn’t be simple either, you’d have to scratch the box to reveal the prize – or maybe you had to tear the perforations off to disclose it.

If you spend enough in some places you are rewarded there and then with a ‘gift’ and you are invited to register for the VIP programme, where you fill in your details. Yeah, yeah, you cynics say, it’s just for direct marketing – I’m all for that because yes they send literature through the post, but they also send you free things. Starbucks sent husband a diary for his birthday in April last year! How exciting? I know it was April but it’s still a free gift. It doesn’t matter that we spent an astronomical amount on a picture from a gallery: when the gallery sent us a free mug when they moved premises I could barely contain my excitement. I still get a warm glow when I take down their mug from my shelf to make a cup of tea.

Of course, there’s more than a bit of nostalgia to be had here by way of explanation. My Dad is a doctor and two or three times a year he went off to conferences, usually heavily sponsored by a variety of drug companies. Wherever there was a pharmaceutical company promoting their drugs, there were freebies to be had. Whenever Dad came home he’d be armed with a free plastic bag, or sometimes, true excitement, a vinyl bag with a promotional tag on it. The bags would be full to bursting with diaries, notepads, pencils, pens, brandishing guarantees that their drug is best for combating oesophageal reflux.

I’ve never quite got over the thrill of Dad turning out the contents of his bags. The strongest individual memory I have was the day he came home with some erasers. These were no ordinary erasers: they were shaped like the tablet they were promoting. They were perfect, scaled up versions of the tablet, but cast in rubbery eraser material. It even had the name of the drug imprinted on its body. I’d never seen anything like it. I held one in the palm of my hand; it was smooth and perfect. I lost it eventually; I still grieve for that eraser.

I’ve always had a thing for paper products: In Dad’s office one of his drawers was crammed full of these drug company diaries and notebooks – the fact that the diaries were out of date was immaterial to me. They signified grownupness, the adult world; they were somewhere I could write the imaginary appointments of my future adult. I loved everything about them. My childhood friend, C, had an Uncle Paper whose occasional visits would cause great anticipation because he always brought boxes of off cut paper: I was so envious that I didn’t have an Uncle Paper. Sometimes I got some booty from his box: I discovered if I ran the paper through my mum’s sewing machine I’d get proper, professional perforations and I could create real forms, with tear-off sections.

And really I still haven’t grown out of stationery. I have a guillotine, a cutting mat and a laminator but I used to be an art student, so I can go some way to persuading husband that I need these things. I’ve got two things on my wish list now: what I’d like next is one of those heating machines that seals plastic bags, and then perhaps a binding machine.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Technical difficulties

Mmm, having some technical difficulties with posting this on my profile.
I rather thought the whole process had been a little too straightforward up to now.

Women's Groups

As I was leaving the UK for Bangkok I thought a lot about friends: who I was leaving behind, how I normally made new friends and how to make them in the abnormal situation that I was going to be in when I moved to Thailand.

I’ve always felt I wasn’t very good at making friends; part of me thinks that this is simply the comparison I feel between my sister and me – she’s incredibly extrovert, outgoing and fun and everyone loves her instantly. She celebrated a big birthday a couple of years ago, and when I asked her who was coming she told me ‘just the close friends that have helped me through the last couple of years.’ I swear she had about 30 people there. It’s not that I’m exactly a shrinking violet, but by comparison, she makes me feel a bit like I am. And I quite like small groups; I’m just not a big group kind of person.

I have a good friend in the UK who I met when our daughters were at nursery school together. She’d just returned from many years as an expat in SE Asia, and I remember watching her with immense admiration as she worked the mums in the playground – not in a nasty, manipulative kind of way, but with a friendly, confident approach. We talked about it years later (we ‘worked’ the school library together, where, in between playing librarians with the children, we gossiped) and she gave me some valuable advice on being an expat. She told me coming home to the UK is as hard, if not harder than going out to the foreign posting, because everyone already has their groups of friends and infiltrating them is much more difficult. In an expat environment, she said, there are lots of groups set up to facilitate extending relationships and because everyone is in the same position, everyone is up for making friends.

This worried me a bit – not being a group kind of person. I didn’t really fancy a women’s group. Why should I have anything in common with them just because I’m British, female and my husband’s job has brought me to Bangkok? So although I joined, I remained aloof and joined in only when it suited me.

There was a lovely woman who lived downstairs from me that I met in the lift one day shortly after we’d moved in: once she’d discovered I was an expat virgin as well as new to Bangkok, she organised me, took me shopping, showed me how to do stuff, and answered all my stupid questions without judgment. She’d been in Bangkok for 4½ years, Singapore before that, and the Middle East before Singapore so she knew about being new. But she wasn’t offering friendship in the going out for coffee, pottering around the shops kind of way that I think women want/need. What she was offering was support and orientation and frankly, in those early days, it was exactly what I needed.

After a couple of weeks this lovely woman had introduced me to another newbie from my apartment block, and we had become great friends. She’d come to Bangkok at the same time as me and we pottered about, gossiped and didn’t need the women’s group. Or so I thought. I’d been here about 8 months when my friend – let’s be honest, my only friend – came to see me and told me her husband had lost his job and they were relocating back to the UK.

Before she’d even left for the UK I had to start going back to the Women’s Group coffee mornings again. It was much against my desire, but I figured if I went, someone like me might also go. Certainly if I didn’t go and they did, I wouldn’t meet them. And so that’s where I am now, joining in (a new experience for me!) and meeting different people. I didn't leave it there either, I watch the (English language) newspapers for other activities where I can meet people who have similar creative interests to me which extends my group of friends even further.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Cyperspace Penpal


I've spent weeks, no months, thinking about making my own blog. I've spent those same months reading about other people's lives on their blogs, and wondering why I'm not doing for myself. And now I’m here, I can’t quite work out what I’m going to write about. I'm also a bit techie phobic and worried about being too stupid to understand what to do!

It's a bit primary school, but I’ve come over all embarrassed about what anyone might think about what I say. Either I write privately (in a diary, in a notebook, or even in a word doc) or I write here and I don’t care what anyone thinks. What I’m writing is for me, but I have to wonder 'why am I doing it publicly?'

Perhaps it's because I’ve enjoyed the blogs that I read regularly so I feel I should write one myself. I often write long emails home (I live in Bangkok, but am English) to friends and family, and maybe sometimes I wonder if it would be nice to write vaguely about life, what I’ve done, and what I think to a cyberspace penpal, rather than to an actual person. I like that, that’s what I’m doing: that way it doesn't much matter if anyone looks at this or not.