Ever since we arrived, we've been trying to get a cell phone, but something always comes up to keep us from getting a cell phone. Thursday morning, we finally had a chunk of time before we were to move out of our hotel at 11:00 a.m., so we decided to get a phone. There is a mall (called The Mall...very original, I know) within walking distance of the hotel that apparently has everything in it, and everyone had already been there, so we decided to go there to get our phones. We were advised to take the shortcut and that we would see the shortcut because there is a sign that says "Mall."
So we get a simple map from the hotel front desk and are on our way. We walk, walk, and walk, past a stinky canal, over a bridge with very steep stairs, broken and narrow sidewalks, and brave the traffic, but see no sign for The Mall. Finally, my husband stops and asks a Thai woman in his broken Thai. There is a lot of gesturing for a few minutes. Finally, she probably decides we are too dumb to find it and proceeds to walk us at least half a mile to The Mall and only leaves us when we are right in front of it. Luckily, we know how to say "thank you" in Thai, which we do profusely.
By this time, it is 9:45 in the morning (we started out around 9:00), but we notice that the entrance to The Mall is still locked (with a padlock, no less). My husband thinks it will open at 10, at which point he thinks we can just go in and quickly get a cheap phone, then return to the hotel to pack and move. By 10:10, I'm thinking the mall won't open until at least 10:30. We find a person who can speak English, and he confirms that it's open at 10:30. So we leave without having gotten a phone.
On the way back, we find the shortcut. It takes us only about 10-15 minutes of walking, but it requires taking our lives into our own hands. We walk on a ramp with traffic coming behind us, no sidewalk, and a six-year-old who is still confused about which way to look when crossing the street back in the U.S., let alone here. There are motorcycles zipping by us. I'm sure we were on the ramp for only a few minutes, but it feels like an eternity. I've never prayed so much in my life. The dirty sidewalk of the very busy main street never looked so good when we finally get there.
When we first arrived, we were advised to get on the house hunting thing because we would have lots of competition due to all the other teachers arriving and also looking for housing, so we decided on Tuesday, our second day here, to do exactly that. It was apparently the first day of the rainy season, according to my friend Amy in the States (I had no clue, not having watched television or read the newspapers in over a month).
When we initially went out with the realtor in the afternoon, it was fine, but by the time we were looking at our third house, it was POURING. By the time we were to return to the hotel, there were several inches of water on the streets (up side to this - everyone drove considerably slower and stopped weaving in and out of traffic!). Our realtor drove us to a taxi station, which is basically a roadside stand that has covering, hoping to have one of the drivers get us back to the hotel. They all refused to even budge from their chairs. The realtor had to drive us around for several minutes around many blocks until she found a taxi driver that was willing to work in the rain.
Of course, it hasn't rained since then, now that we know how to time our outings to prevent the same situation from happening again. Overall, the weather here has been pretty pleasant. It hasn't been very hot at all, and the humidity has been tolerable. I'd dare say that, in the five days we've been here, I've sweated less than any day in D.C. in the week before we left. And while it's been overcast every day, it hasn't felt gloomy or dark. When the sun actually came out yesterday (Friday), it almost felt too bright!
Speaking of taxis, they are everywhere here. There are the traditional taxis, taxis that look similar to tuk tuks, and water taxis. A teacher told us that she was advised to be sure to keep her mouth closed if she ever takes a water taxi because of the typhoid. My husband calls them "typhoid taxis."
There are three animals here that, should you ever be bitten by any of them, require an immediate trip to the hospital and treatment for rabies. The three animals are bats, monkeys, and soi (meaning street) dogs (but my brain always thinks "vegetarian hot dogs" whenever someone mentions them). [Luckily, there are no bats or monkeys where we are.
There also are king cobras lurking about that we should watch out for.
My son has been spending time at the school day care with other teachers' children while we run our errands. One of the teachers was talking to the day care provider about giving her toddler healthier foods. The day care provider responded, "I know about healthy, I have fried chicken for the children."
Health care here is very good and very affordable. The teachers at the school, as well as their children, are provided health insurance, but the spouses are required to pay for theirs. There is a teacher whose husband decided not buy insurance because health care is so cheap. He was in an accident once that hurt him pretty badly - he was scraped up everywhere and possibly broke some bones. So he went to the hospital, where he made a bet with his doctor that his bones weren't broken. In an effort to prove him wrong, the doctor performed every test under the sun. The guy basically received a very thorough physical exam. The total cost for all those tests? About $25. And in the end, the doctor owed this guy $10 because he lost the bet! Only in Thailand!
According to a former colleague who's married to a Thai woman, children of ex-pats, especially the boys, get very spoiled here from all the attention they get from the locals. A teacher friend who's been here for a year confirmed this. His little girls are like celebrities in this area, where farang people (foreigners) are not as common outside the school. Going down the street, people will point and giggle. People here will just come up to the farang children and touch them on the cheeks and arms. They will also grab the children for photos without asking! My son, being half Asian, has only had his cheeks stroked and touched a couple of times, for which I'm grateful, although he's been offered things such as food and toys. He's not as "exotic-looking" as the blond, blue-eyed children.
The locals don't usually give me a second glance because I look like "one of them." It is only when they realize I'm with my husband, who is Caucasian, that they do a double-take. Then I can feel their eyes following us, checking us out, trying to figure out what our story is. I haven't experienced this type of scrutiny since the mid-1990s!