Loi Kratong 2012

 Happy post-Loi Kratong! What a wonderful experience we had that evening. One of the things I admire most about Thai culture is their desire to laugh off their troubles and disagreements, and not let anger or resentment fester. Accidents are met with smiles or chuckles or a joke, instead of anger and shouting or snapping. I find that they don't like to hold grudges or harbor resentment, and really like to find satisfaction in the way things already are. On last full moon of November an amazing celebration is held that encourages just such feelings, and we got to be a part of it for the first time ever.

Loi actually means "float" and Kratong is the pretty flower arrangement that is set with one candle to honor Buddha and three sticks of incense, lit and set on the nearest body of water or river. Its meant to honor the river goddess, and if you wish, you can release it to her along with any bad feelings, guilt, or good wishes. I don't know much about the holiday, except it is HUGE in Bangkok-every park and standing room along the Chao Praya are packed with people setting afloat their kratong. Its a beautiful sight to see, and very uplifting if you choose to participate.

Little P was very excited to join the festivities, as I had found him a Thai outfit to wear, and they had a fantastic workshop in school that day where each student made their own kratong. I picked up a shirt for Nate as well, and then an EXTREMELY generous neighbor gave me one of her old outfits too. You KNOW how much I love dress-up, right?

So we went out together for a fantastic thai feast at our favorite restaurant, Suda, and walked around the corner to lovely Benjakiti Park (where I run every morning). The moon was just starting to peek out of the clouds, and there were dozens of tables of kratongs for sale along the way. Most made from banana tree and leaves, others from bread. Children were playing with sparklers, and the water was already spotted with tiny little lights.

My favorite moment was actually when Little P held the kratong he had made and prepared to set it afloat. He's been suffering terrible nightmares this week, so he asked the river goddess to take his bad dreams away. I was so impressed that he took the celebration seriously, and understood its meaning. Not bad for a boy who farted audibly about two minutes later...

We set out a family one as well, and then sat back to enjoy the serenity and feel like we had released some of our problems and worries to the water. I think its just amazing that this culture takes any opportunity to increase positive feelings and release the negative. I wish I could take some of that back home to the States and spread it around, because now I realize how quick we are to judge each other, snap at another person, or not control our tempers. It seems like many Americans take pride in holding a grudge, or like to state to the world that they never forget those who cross them. There is little encouragement to forgive, to use kindness to pave over stressful times, or to laugh and make light of problems.

I'm guilty of all this too, I confess. But since coming to this city I have felt such gentleness and happiness becoming more of my nature, and have embraced it. This place, as chaotic as it is, may actually be bringing peace to me.

So there you have it, all our transgressions and anger, floating away-along with a few fingernail clippings from Nate and a few baht, because that is supposed to help somehow.

So to all our friends and family, we wish you lots of peace this holiday season! I hope you set your troubles aside and embrace the Thai in you. Love your family, be grateful for what you have, and be glad of who you are inside. That's really all that counts.

Thankful Thursday; Dharma Drop Edition

When I first came up with the idea of surprising family and friends back home with a Buddha, it began with a short list of people. People who were thoughtful, yet quirky enough to get a chuckle from it. The list started to grow after we arrived in Bangkok, and in hindsight I wanted to thank so many people who had shown us kindness over the years, or extended a hand of help, or performed a random act of kindness. The friends out in Washington State who let us take over their lives for a week, the neighbors who quickly became part of our family, the best friends who NEVER forget a birthday, the list goes and goes....
After all, its easier to remember those who have wronged or slighted us. However, its just my nature to think more about the people who have brought happiness to me. Its how I survive. The small things, no matter how small, have made all the difference. Sometimes I feel like a dope when I say something kind about someone, and am told "I can't believe you are so nice, after what she/he did/said" and to be totally honest I probably forgot. The bad stuff always gets shelved in the back of my mind and forgotten, but the good stuff? I like to think back on it all the time. That box of veggies that used to mysteriously appear on my doorstep or the day I discovered someone had powerwashed the crud off my deck? Still reliving those days.
All. the. time.
So here I am, on Dharma Drop number eight or nine, and have made barely a dent in my list of future recipients. So for all the people who have been so kind I am deeply thankful. I'm thankful that at my age the list of people I still owe a hug or favor is big, really big. And I really really hope I get to repay everyone on that list someway, somehow. And trust me, there is little chance I'm going to leave anyone out, though it make take years.
Take this week, for instance. I'm sending an elephant teapot to this woman who has a vast collection in her restaurant. We moved to a little seaside community some time ago, and parked our butts in her breakfast shop one sunday and became dear friends. She sincerely cared for us and our family, was always there to lift our spirits and offer help. And was just a genuine good person, a bright spot when times were dark. So this one goes to her, so she may know we have not forgotten her caring nature.

VERY Old Bowls, So They Say

So, you heard all about the Marine Corps Birthday Ball, and my not-so-horrible dress fiasco. But did I tell you about an excursion we went on to the monk bowl workshop? Nope. Upstaged and passed-over by dress, wine and fluff as usual!
Well, we did. And this is one of those experiences that I wish the boys were a weeeee bit older to be able to understand what was happening before their eyes. There are so many practices, skills, and services that have disappeared from the planet with time. Progression of society, whatever. There are no monk bowl craftsmen anymore, since you can go to Big C (the equivalent of Walmart or Target) and get a cheap plastic bowl to donate your alms in.
There is just one shop left. So they say. In all of Bangkok. And that's where we went one Saturday morning with a CLO tour, led by a wonderful volunteer. (I really hope to do that someday myself!)
We departed on foot from the Giant Swing and after two turns found ourselves walking single-file down a very narrow street. Little houses flanked either side of this village, their doorways wide open and the people inside watching tv or doing their daily chores. No one seemed too concerned that a troop of 12 farangs were strolling by suddenly. Even though I would barely call this soi and alley, it was still wide enough for a motorcycle or skooter to slowly go by every now and then.
The shop was small and unassuming. We knew we had reached it by the huge pile of bowls, or Bart, stacked outside in wait of being polished. If you're curious about the shop, you can visit the website here: which has a little explanation if how the village came to be and how the bart are made. Little P is such a hands-on kid, before we could stop him, he was seated on a stool and tapping one of the bowls with an awl of some kind.
She also showed him how to tap the outside with a little hammer to make the patterns you find on the more ornamental bowls. We were actually having so much fun watching him, that all the available bowls were sold out before we had a chance to pick one!

I was glad we watched and waited, however, as the salesman discussed the bowls with one of the people on our tour. She had taken her bowl out of the bag and was happily examining it. "How old?" she asked. There was a long pause, and the man answered, "very old." She was hoping for something much more specific, so after much pestering he finally told her it was VERY old, 100 years old, in fact.

The funny thing is that you can't really tell if he was telling the truth at all, as you can laquer the old bowls or repolish them to look like new. However, I am pretty certain that if we stopped by that shop this weekend we would find a whole new batch of "VERY old" bowls. But that's just the sceptic in me.

Natezilla, on the other hand, wanted no part of the photo opportunity. And it was treacherously close to nap time. So we begged him to cooperate and bribed him with a lollipop to check out this dude. And that's the best we got.

Happy Birthday To the US Marine Corps

Also subtitled "My Dress Drama" which wasn't exactly a drama, but more a learning experience. I have to admit that a year ago a few DS wives who had been posted overseas introduced me to the nearly worldwide Embassy event of the Marine Corps birthday ball, and ever since I had been overjoyed and eagerly anticipating it. I absolutely adore dressing up (hate makeup) and wearing beautiful things, and I also love showing off my handsome arm candy of a husband. He, being the wonderful man that he is, also has no objection to dancing the night away with me and good friends!

Add to that the possibility of having clothes custom-made for us in this amazing city? I was lost, totally and hopelessly lost, to the chance of having my dream gown made. Just for moi. So as soon as we settled in, I started looking for a dressmaker. And when I found her, I began the uncomfortable dealings of negotiating price, design, and fabric with her and settled on this:
Okay, so maybe I am no Kate Beckinsale, but I've been running my sweet ass off nearly five times a week in this crazy humidity and heat, and I wasn't afraid to show off. The only problem was that Miss Dressmaker might have misunderstood my request to cover up an old shoulder tattoo.
Because somehow I ended up with this:
And the back looked very stiff and bridal partyish like this:
So, I smilingly paid for the gown, took it home, cried like a baby, and then bought a cheap backup dress. Silly, I know. But somehow "vavavavoom" had translated into something completely frumpalicious. And I am TERRIBLE about asking things to be changed. And Miss Dressmaker was so visibly delighted with her work that I couldn't possibly bring it back and go all farang on her.
So I took matters into my own hands.
But not right away.
The prospect of taking scissors to an expensive dress made me feel ill, so I did put it off for almost a week. Until the day of the Ball, to be honest. So around the time other attendees were getting their hair done and getting their nails polished, I was staring at the inner workings of a formal gown, chewing on my lip, and praying I didn't screw up too badly.
Long story short, I removed the "poof", took in the bunchy breast, and rid the dress of its awful bridesmaid back by making it come down in a nice 'v.' And then our amazing nanny took one look at it, and stated that I need some kind of pin and accent to finish the look, and she was completely right. Lo and behold, I happened to have some old thrift-store brooch that was perfect.
And there you have it. A beautiful evening, with wonderful people, and our superb Marines. I'm already looking forward to next year.
Perhaps I might buy something off the rack next time.