A Travellerspoint blog

March 2009

Gettin' ghosty...

semi-overcast 35 °C

March 22nd, 2009 – 1:44 pm

Went to the noodle shop round the corner with my work buddies for lunch the other day. Hot and humid and raucous with all the office workers on break, the fans struggling mightily but barely making a dent. I’ve been getting by most lunch times with pointing to pictures on menus or gesticulating wildly at items being dished out up front. It’s been working so far. But not today!

No menus, no pictures, no public dishing out to point at. And one can’t very well flip through her Lonely Planet Thai phrasebook looking for “can I have a bowl of noodles” when there’s a whole restaurant devoted to them. My eyes beseeched the Thai work buddies.

“OK, do you want thick, medium or thin noodles?”
“Medium” (seemed safe)
“Egg noodles or rice?”
“Fried, boiled, or in soup?”
“In soup”
“Beef broth or fish broth”
“Pork pieces or fish pieces in the soup?”
"OK, she'll bring you chilies and fish sauce and sugar so you can season it how you like."

<my order is communicated to the sweating and harried server in rapid-fire Thai>

Uh yeah, there is noooo way the old LP would have prepared me to handle that little exchange on my own. The “pork pieces” were in fact sad little grey balls of processed pork smashed into globes. Wielding my chopsticks like a pro, I deftly transferred the slippery little suckers into Mim’s noodle bowl as payment for her translation services. I need to sign up for Thai lessons STAT!

Whilst happily slurping noodles and sipping on iced coconut juice, our meandering lunchtime conversation moved towards ghosts. It appears we have to move an upcoming event we were hosting to a different hotel because the one we have chosen is haunted. A gas cylinder in a nearby apartment exploded ten years ago, killing pretty much an entire block of people on the street. They’re pissed. They’re not going away and they’re concentrating their ghosty malevolence on the hotel. Explains why we got such a good rate.

Like other parts of Asia that I’ve been to, people here take their ghosts very seriously. There are different categories of ghosts and then different individual kinds of ghosts within those categories. It’s all very complicated. Everyone at the table told a spooky ghost story they’ve heard or that had happened to someone they knew. It was my turn. Hmmmm…not having a story to tell but not wanting to scoff, I said I could believe in their existence but I’d never seen one.

“Oh, well you just need to visit one of our tsunami reconstruction projects then! There are ghosts everywhere!,” my friend grimly informs me.

My buddy goes on to explain how directly after the tsunami, the fancy tourist hotels in many areas were used as makeshift morgues, with hundreds upon hundreds of bodies just laid out on the floor in rows. With everything in chaos and nowhere to take the bodies, loved ones stayed on those posh marble floors for days. In the tropical heat. We all shuddered.

And then it kind of dawned on me. I’ve talked about “the tsunami” tons. It was a tragic touchstone in my work at the Canadian Red Cross and I spent lots of time telling donors and reporters about our work in “the tsunami-effected areas”.

But this was the first time it was really made real for me. It wasn’t just some heartbreaking but essentially abstract event that happened a world away, but a very real thing that killed thousands upon thousands of people here, decimated the livelihoods of many, and had implications for this country and the entire region that are still felt to this day.

Our noodle slurping got pretty quiet after that. I finished my coconut juice and we went back to the office and into the blessed air-con.

Posted by DenaAllen 02:40 Archived in Thailand Tagged living_abroad Comments (2)

The best that money can buy...

My first encounter with private health care -- BKK style!

semi-overcast 34 °C

March 10th, 2009 – 8:07 pm


Let’s get one thing straight. I come from Saskatchewan, the birthplace of Medicare. I believe in universal health care, warts and all.

That being said, my Calgary buddies watched me effectively lose my cotton pickin’ mind just before I left trying to get a routine health check done in a city with a chronic shortage of doctors (for the non-Cowtown folks…I made FOUR visits and spent a total of EIGHT HOURS sitting in nasty medicentre waiting rooms for one damn piece of paper. Effing ridiculous. Jyly will always hold a special place in my heart for smuggling in a booze-filled flask and hanging with me on about the 7th hour when I was about to go UFC on the front desk staff…nothing like little people with their little circles of power. I digress…)

What I’m trying to say is that my last experience with our much-vaunted universal health care system almost resulted in grievous bodily harm. I was a woman on the edge. Let’s compare that with today’s trip to Samitivej Sukhumvit hospital in Bangkok for a routine immunization shot…

There were valets at the front roundabout. Valets my friends. Having no car to park, one gentleman opened my taxi door while another swept in with a sunshade umbrella and escorted me to the front doors and into the air-con. Oh yeah, similarities to the Mount Royal Medicentre abound. ??!!

Having spent about 1.3 seconds standing around looking confused, the resident multilingual “Expatriate Relations” lady sat me down, helped me fill out the registration forms and offered me a beverage. Upon learning that I was brand spanking new in Bangkok, she gave me the contact details of a local women’s group and presented me with her card and the invitation for a coffee and a chat if I was ever so inclined. After inquiring into my marital status (single my darlings, single), she cheerily informed me that the monthly Chamber of Commerce events were the best place to pick up men. Mental note. There was also a “Japanese Relations” desk for our Nihonjin friends. Not sure if they also dispensed dating advice.

After stopping at the marble countertop of the registration desk for a quick webcam picture for my file, I was ushered into a waiting room that most resembled the lobby of a five-star hotel. Plush sofas, complimentary copies of the Bangkok Post, bottled water and coffee on offer. Bellhops wheeling patients in chairs (perhaps they were orderlies? I swear they were dressed in the khaki and gold braid of bellhops). Totally surreal. The only thing that bore any resemblance to my experiences of medical facilities at home were the nurses’ desperately ugly shoes. I felt comforted with this last observation. The world was still on its axis.

And the actual medical services? My appointment was bang on time. The doctor was friendly and efficient. The nurses smiled and apologized for the “small pain” of the immunization needle. The cashier desk lady offered me a mint after processing my bill. And of course the valet called me a taxi while his colleague shaded me from the sun.

The bill for one Japanese encephalitis shot including doctor’s visit in this temple of premier medical service? $40 CAD. I paid $160 CAD for the previous immunization in the series at the Calgary Travel Clinic. No one offered me a hot beverage.

I could get used to this. But shhhhhhh! Don’t tell Tommy Douglas’s ghost I said that…




Posted by DenaAllen 20:59 Archived in Thailand Tagged living_abroad Comments (4)

This is how it all starts...

Jet lag, street shopping & the new J-O-B

overcast 30 °C

February 28th, 2009 – 3:08 am


Wow, my sleep patterns are truly cracked out. Aaaah, the joys of jet lag…

Here’s the primer people…I think most of you should know by now but I accepted a communications gig with an international development organization and have moved to Bangkok, Thailand. It was a total whirlwind getting out of Calgary and Regina but mad love to everyone who helped me and showered me with love and support as I dashed out the door (you know who you are you fantabulous folks!)


I promised everyone I would stay in touch and a blog seems like the best way to do it. I can’t promise coherent narration. Or the lack of sentence fragments. But I can promise that you’ll hear the real deal of my experiences over here as I adjust to life in one of the craziest cities on the planet.

Disclaimer: Family and friends with delicate sensibilities, please take note…this blog will undoubtedly get salty at points. There will probably be swearing. If you’re not up for this no worries, let me know if you’d like to be removed from the blog update list and I can send out a sufficiently sanitized and Disney-ed up version every few months ;)

Praying for sleep now…

March 1, 2009 - 12:43 pm

So my organization has put me up for the short-term in a long-term hotel. It’s great and I am very comfortable here. But there are a few things that make me laff…

My favourite thing about this suite is that I have a phone mounted to the wall on one side of the toilet and an ashtray mounted on the other. Hypothetically speaking I could yak on the phone and puff away like a house on fire whilst taking a sh*t. Not that I would ever do such a thing of course but the mere fact that I could brings a smile to my face.

I’m presently doing battle with a cockroach of impressive size who is far faster than both me and my shoe (please note, roaches just come with the territory in the tropics, doesn’t matter how nice a place you’re in, the humidity breeds them). I’m losing.

The taxi tout who is perennially parked outside my hotel has taken a noticeable shine to me. Already on my second day here he is “dying for love of me”. Oh my. I think I made the mistake of walking past him in my Lululemon pants on the way to the hotel gym. Yargh.


There are no bikes here. The humble bicycle is a popular and efficient mode of transport pretty much all over Asia. But not here. How come? Is it the kamikaze traffic and raging pollution?

Oh my, it’s started already. I have an insatiable urge to binge shop on Hello Kitty crap. I had to hold myself back from buying HK hair barrettes on the street today. I don’t wear barrettes. I haven’t since about the 5th grade. And certainly not hot pink sparkly ones with Kitty’s marshmallow moon face plastered all over them. The urge persists nonetheless.
My first day at the new job tomorrow! Eeeeek! I hope it’s like home and they give you a few days to settle in…


March 2nd, 2009 – 6:31 pm

So today was my first day at the office and wow – I sure got an introduction! After running the round of desks to shake hands and say hi and try to commit everyone’s name to memory, we all marched into a staff meeting and were promptly informed that we needed to slash our overall budget for the next fiscal year by 20%. I have no idea what my communications budget is but apparently I need to cut a fifth off of it. Rather somber intro to the org…but everyone seemed really friendly!

And somewhat incongruously, this was followed by a whirlwind tour of apartments. Rather spendy apartments in Sukhumvit, one of Bangkok’s trendiest neighbourhoods. My real estate agent pulled up in an over A/C’d sedan whose interior boasted lots of leather and varnished wood and came complete with a chauffeur-hatted driver. Uh, yeah. The suites she showed me were HUGE and nice but in this really hard to describe kinda 80s opulence meets I-have-a-sinking-feeling-that-is-illegally-sourced-teak kinda way…hmmmm. She quite seriously asked me if I would be having a live-in maid or whether I would just get someone in a few days a week…because if it was the former I really should only consider a suite that had a separate entrance to the maid’s quarters. I nearly choked. I tried to explain that I really, really didn’t need four bedrooms and perhaps we could look for something smaller and perhaps a bit more, um, modern? Stay tuned.



I have become obsessed with sun-dried beef dipped in sweet chili sauce.

I made my first friend today. She’s Thai, young, sarcastic and whip smart. She works with me (well, actually I’m her boss. Gulp. I’ve never been anyone’s boss before). She introduced me to her favourite juice/smoothie street vendor. Fruit and veggies piled high and blenders always on the go. 3 minutes and about $1.25 later and it was now my favourite street juice cart.

Posted by DenaAllen 19:05 Archived in Thailand Comments (9)

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