Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Weekend of Firsts and Celebrations

This weekend was a busy one! On Friday night, we got to eat our first burgers in Thailand! It was every bit as delicious as we have been imaging all these months (yes, finding and eating American and western food is now a bigger deal than eating Thai or other Asian foods).

The place is called Amp Saloon. It looks every bit like a saloon as one can imagine. Inside, it was crude and rustic, with a few battered tables and chairs, but also cozy corner spots of low coffee tables surrounded by rickety, but comfortable, chairs and couches. There also was a pool table and a mechanical riding horse for kids in the middle of the room. The wall decorations were eclectic, ranging from hub caps to portraits of Che Guevara. In the background, "real" American music -- Journey, Sting, Cranberries -- played. Notice they also do tattoos.

Next door, the restaurant also has a store connected to it selling everything from t-shirts to wacky, random things, such as...well, you can see a little bit for yourself here.

We started out with two appetizers: hot wings that looked more like drumsticks and another dish called larb, which tasted way better than it sounds. It is basically a minced meat (I think we got pork) mixed with spices, mint, and other herbs, and fried with chili peppers. Then the six of us each got a Smoky Burger -- a burger bigger than the size of my hand with cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and a tangy barbeque sauce. YUM. All the burgers could be made with pork or beef. Over beer, we enjoyed the American food and western ambiance, and hung out and chatted with our friends while our kids played. A sweet way to start the weekend.

Saturday night, my husband and I got a chance to go out on our first date night since arriving here. It was also an early celebration of my upcoming birthday....The big 4-0!! Yikes!! Meanwhile, our son was at another family's house for his first on-his-own sleepover. That also meant that we got a whole night to ourselves for the first time in about four years!!

Getting ready for a night out and going out for the night here is a bit different from when we did it in the U.S. in several ways:
1) Because I still don't have a hair dryer here, I dried my hair by sitting in front of our fan.
2) Even though I normally don't wear makeup on a daily basis, I would usually wear it for a night out. Here, however, I didn't because I didn't want to look like my face had melted before we even got to dinner. I don't know what I was worried about, though, because taxi drivers and restaurants here usually have their air conditioners on full blast even when it's cool and pleasant outside.
3) Whereas we would just get in our car and drive to our destination for the night in the U.S., here, we had to get on our scooter to get to the main street and hire a taxi. So there I was, trying to navigate getting and sitting on the scooter and walking on the uneven sidewalks in my nice dress and heels. Then there were all the people staring at us in our dressy clothes as we passed on our scooter and walked down the streets. In our area, everyone usually dresses very casually and it's rare to see someone dressed up. Closer to downtown and in downtown Bangkok, however, dressing up is more a way of daily life.

On our way to dinner, we saw Christmas trees and decorations already up and lit in all their glory. We also saw a convoy of BMW police cars and a limo. Everyone stopped to let the convoy pass. We were wondering what that was about when we saw the words "Royal Police" on the BMWs, so it must've been someone from the royal family passing us.

It was wonderful to be out and about in the city on a Saturday night and be part of the liveliness of it all. It reminded me a lot of New York City with its vibrancy. We thoroughly enjoyed our dinner at an Italian restaurant on Sukhumvit Road. Aside from another nerve-wracking taxi ride home (we kept telling the driver to slow down, and he kept apologizing without ever slowing down), it was just like date night back at home.

The restaurant:

First course was a delicious salad with prosciutto, feta cheese, and pine nuts drizzled with a vinaigrette dressing and served in a bread bowl.

Bread sticks...literally:

For the main course, my husband had the most delicious braised beef brisket, and I had risotto with porcini mushrooms and prawns that was pretty good, but I've had better in the U.S.

Desserts were tiramisu and hazelnut ice cream. Both were yummy!

In the meantime, my son had a blast playing with his friends Saturday night, staying up chatting and watching movies. Perhaps too much fun...When he was brought home mid-morning on Sunday, he started crying because he didn't want to come home! But we enjoyed our Sunday morning sans kid too. I woke up early as I'm used to doing with my son being an early bird, listening for him, then remembering that we were alone and had the luxury to stay in bed! It was a dream (hehe) to be able to stay in bed until 8:00, something we have not done since my son was born.

This weekend also was Loy Krathong Festival. Some believe the festival celebrates the goddess of water, while others believe it is Brahmin in origin. In any event, during the celebration, small floating rafts (the translation for "loy krathong") made with banana leaves, lotus flowers, lit candles, and incense are floated down a body of water, carrying away the owners' bad luck and sins.

The most famous of this festival takes place in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where the Yi Peng Festival also takes place at the same time. The festivities include parades, rituals and ceremonies, concerts, food, and other types of merry-making. Lanterns are launched into the sky. The pictures show this to be an amazing event (friends who went came home with breathtaking pictures just like this):

Many teachers at the school were able to get their act together early enough that they were able to go up there for the weekend to witness this awesome event for themselves. Since we weren't (definitely next year!), we enjoyed the local celebrations here instead.

In his Thai class, my son made a floating raft of his own so he could participate during the festival. He then came home and showed me how to fold and make the "lotus flowers" on his float.

Because the ones made in school were made with styrofoam, which takes a long time to break down, one of the American teachers, also a mom, decided to make some krathongs that are environmentally friendly. So Saturday afternoon, a few of us got together with our boys and held a krathong-making party!

It was a blast. We first walked around the neighborhood to scavenge for various types of leaves and flowers. With the huge variety of plants and flowers that bloom year-round here in Thailand, we had no shortage of choices. We gathered blades of grass and vines to tie with, used spaghetti noodles as sticks, and long leaves as wraps. The mom who came up with this idea also baked some rings out of dough as the base, and we brought rice cakes to attach to the rings to help them float. It's amazing how creative one can get without all the usual store-bought supplies that we are used to having in the U.S.!

The boys, ranging from ages 3 to 9, were all so creative in making their krathongs. And they all really got into it, sharing ideas and admiring each others' handiwork.

The finds from our "scavenge hunt":

My son making his krathong:

Everybody's handiwork...with the Thai flag in the background, which is appropriate. So beautiful!

This (Sunday) evening, at sundown, the Loy Krathong festivities began at the lake in our development. There were dancing performances and vendors selling food and drinks, toys, flowers, and krathongs. Very festive!

It was a beautiful evening with a full moon over the lake.

My son and his friend solemnly launched their krathongs. There also was a fireworks show to be held, but we did not stay for it since there is school tomorrow. Watching the krathongs being launched peacefully into the water was a perfect end to the beautiful evening.

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