Keepin' it real · New Zealand · Thailand · Travelogue · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 1054: And the answer is…

Thanks to everyone who played my little bingo game the other day. Here’s the answer card: the pink markers are on things that have happened on this trip (i.e. since December 31) and the blue markers indicate which things actually happened on the day in question. Take a look and see how you did.

Today was a very relaxed day at home; this evening we all went to the night market. We bought enough things that I’m a bit concerned about how we’re going to get it all home with us. I may have to start stuffing small souvenirs into the guitar. Don’t worry, I’ll tie some dental floss around each one so they’re easy to fish out later.

family fun · Thailand · Travelogue

Day 1053: Elephants!

This is a guest post by E:

I personally think it was great. And what made it great is all the things we did with the elephants:

  • We fed the elephants. They came right past the fence and I could hug them. One even let me put the banana right in its mouth!
  • We got to walk with the elephants. We saw them putting mud on themselves (that’s what they do to stay cool. I’d do it if I was an elephant.)
  • We bathed the elephants. They put our trunks around us. I got to bathe the baby elephant a bit.
  • We saw a newborn elephant—it was just born last night at 11.
  • I got kissed by an elephant!

And now, me again:

E has loved elephants pretty much all her life. Maybe it’s because one of her nicknames is “Elliephant,” or because her favourite stuffie (bought with her own Chanuka money when she was four) is an elephant. Anyhow, her love of elephants is what put—and kept—Thailand on our bucket list. We all enjoyed today’s outing, but it was really for her.

These elephants were gentle, curious, and affectionate. They were happy to hug us, and one of them even gave kisses with her trunk—it felt a bit like a weak vacuum hose.

We hiked through the bush to a waterfall—very slowly. I’m talking bumper-to-bumper trunk-to-tail traffic. We got into the river with the elephants for a “wash” that I’m pretty sure was for our benefit rather than the elephants’, but they didn’t seem to mind it. Some of them playfully sprayed us with their trunks or nudged our shoulders out of their way.

Our guides were from the Karen hill tribe (pronounced Kah-REN,) and they told us about their people and their relationship with the elephants, how they take care of them, and how they train them. The guide in charge said that he is the seventh generation of mahouts in his family. It was obvious that he loves the elephants, and they love him back: one of them (the baby) played tag with him and generally hung around for extra hugs. It was kind of like someone’s pet dog.

Lunch was beautifully presented, with individual portions wrapped up in banana leaves. Everyone ate something (it helped that Mr. December told the guides ahead of time that E loves fries—she unwrapped one banana leaf to find a pile of fries just for her.)

It was a long day—ten hours including the drive there and back—and we’re all tired, but it was possibly the best day of the trip so far. Especially for E, for whom today was a dream come true.

Jewy goodness · Thailand · Travelogue · what's cookin' · Worldschooling

Day 1052: Sharp Knives

In my experience, any activity that starts with handing sharp knives to children is going to be seriously fun; by that measure (and every other,) today’s fruit carving class did not disappoint.

We met our teacher in the old city, at a table in the outdoor communal dining area of a hotel. She had us carving in minutes: tomato roses were first, followed by carrot and pumpkin butterflies, cucumber leaves, and finally, elaborate watermelon flowers.

K absolutely loved the activity. N refused to touch a single fruit or vegetable (the teacher kindly didn’t charge us for him.) R enjoyed it immensely until she got too hot and went to lie down on a bench. E worked alongside K to the very end, although she was in tears once or twice because the watermelon flower was too difficult for her. I had to remind her that she’s the youngest by several years, and it’s impressive that she was able to do all the other carvings.

Mr. December enjoyed the class far more than either of us expected. He usually hates doing any kind of art or craft project, but somehow fruit carving was different. He worked very diligently on his watermelon flower and was heard to remark that he felt “ready for the big time. When’s the next competition?”

K, E, and I went to Shabbat dinner at the local Chabad House. There had to have been a hundred people there, all crammed in at long tables. We chatted with the people seated near us: an Israeli family on vacation, and a mother and two teenage daughters from New York. The food was exactly what I’ve come to expect: Challah, Israeli salads (tehina, eggplant salad, etc,) fish, and then chicken, potatoes, and rice. I’m fairly certain that they serve the exact same menu in Chabad houses all over the world. There was plenty of singing, all the traditional songs known by Jews the world over. The songs, the language, the food—all of it felt like home, which was a very welcome feeling in a place where everything is foreign and strange to us. The girls both enjoyed it; we might go again next week.

Thailand · Travelogue · well *I* think it's funny... · Worldschooling

Day 1051: When the going gets tough, the tough get hummus

New Zealand and Singapore spoiled us, being English-speaking countries with mostly Western cultural habits. I think everyone is feeling the strangeness of this place, and tempers are fraying because of it.

Our Air BnB host brought us breakfast this morning: Pad Thai (very mild, sauce on the side,) fried chicken legs, papaya, dragonfruit, tiny bananas, and a variety of desserts. It was my first time trying Pad Thai (yes, I’m a bit of a picky eater myself) but I set an example for my kids by eating it even though it wasn’t my favourite. At least R and Mr. December loved it and gobbled it up.

The rest of us spent the day feeling a little food-deprived, so to improve morale I took us to an Israeli restaurant for dinner. A little schnitzel, hummus, and pita really went a long way towards improving everyone’s mood.

Instead of me telling you about today’s little frustrations, we’re going to play a worldschooling bingo game: can you guess which four things happened today?

Thailand · Travelogue · what's cookin'

Day 1050: Welcome to Thailand

We’ve arrived safely in Chiang Mai after a mostly uneventful flight (except that the flight itself was apparently an event, as it was Air Asia’s inaugural flight into the Chiang Mai airport. What does that mean? They showered us with gifts.)

Our Air BnB is a lovely old house with four big bedrooms and huge beds. Our hosts greeted us with smiles, open arms, sweet coconut rice, and the best tasting mango I’ve had in a long time. This homestay includes breakfast, so it’s Pad Thai for us in the morning (I asked for some bread as well, for the unadventurous among us.)

The kids are all pretty exhausted, and so am I. Our bodies are still on New Zealand time and some of us didn’t sleep very well last night either. It was one of those evenings that was a bit rough, which is understandable—change is hard and not being able to read any of the signs around or understand what anyone is saying is unsettling, to say the least. I’m sure all will be well in a few days.

family fun · New Zealand · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 1049: Singapore

Too tired for words tonight, so I’ll just list what we did and give you some cool pics to enjoy.

  • Up early (jet lag.)
  • Went down to the Merlion statue and played with forced perspective (see pics)
  • ArtScience museum: lots of interactive fun. Bit of sensory overload (all the music and swirling colours… started to feel like when I was concussed.)
  • Lunch at an enormous food court in a very fancy mall, where E and N found popcorn chicken and fries at the only kiosk that wasn’t Chinese food.
  • Public transit with K and R back to the hotel (had to buy a subway card because I couldn’t tap the same VISA card for more than one passenger.)
  • Brief rest at hotel.
  • Walked (6 minutes) to Singapore Museum. I was fascinated. Girls were bored. Eventually Mr. December joined us and I went through the rest of the museum with him while the girls went to the cafe.
  • Back to the hotel. Dinner at Subway (again.) R and Mr. December went to Chinatown for dinner and sightseeing.
  • Packing. Again.
bikes planes and automobiles · fame and shame · New Zealand · Travelogue

Day 1048: Air New Zealand

Well, that was the best flight I’ve taken in years—or maybe ever. Air Canada could stand to learn a few things from Air New Zealand.

We tried this new seating option I’d never heard of called SkyCouch┬«. Basically the seats have built-in leg rests that can be brought all the way up to create a flat surface all the way to the back of the seats in front of you. I’d never heard of it before I booked this flight, but it wasn’t expensive to upgrade (because there were already three of us in a row; for a single person to book the whole SkyCouch you’d have to pay for the three seats.) I figured it was worth a try.

I have to say, the SkyCouch was well worth the money. Some of us (including me) have difficulty sitting with our feet down for long periods of time, so being able to sit with our feet up in our usual contorted postures was a major relief.

But enough about the couch. We need to talk about the food.

The flight was 9 hours long, so we were fed both lunch and dinner. For lunch we had the choice of a chicken tagine served over couscous or a pepper beef stirfry over rice. I got the tagine, and holy moly—it tasted amazing. If you told me it was actually from a nice restaurant, I’d have believed you. Mr. December chose the beef and was similarly impressed. And the brownie we got for dessert was excellent. Dinner wasn’t quite as good as lunch, but it was still a vast improvement over the usual airplane food. Oh, and wine or spirits were included in the complimentary beverage service.

Speaking of complimentary, there was a set of earbuds on everyone’s seat for us to keep (and they were blue! My favourite!) They also provided earplugs and eye masks on request.

Now, the service… wow. Are Kiwis just the sweetest, most laid-back people in the world, or what? Every crew member was genuinely kind and helpful. When E said she was hungry, the flight attendant (a sweet guy who looked a bit like a teddy bear) brought cookies and chips for all six of us; then he looked around at the other passengers, returned to the galley, and came back with a tray of snacks for everyone. They came through the cabin with water at least once an hour. Whatever we needed, the crew found a way to make it happen for us: E was extra picky today and our guy cheerfully went and brought extra buns, desserts, and snacks to keep her tummy happy when the kids’ meal just didn’t cut it.

Air Canada, if you’re listening—time to step up your game. Until you do, I’m flying Air New Zealand any chance I get.

Pic of me, K, and E cuddled together on our SkyCouch.
crafty · Kids · New Zealand · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 1047: Not What it Looks Like

Warning: this post contains graphic photos of gnarly wounds… that are fake. If you’d rather not see them anyhow, look away now.

We almost skipped Auckland completely. I’m sure it’s nice and all, but Mr. December and I couldn’t find any attractions that seemed unique to Auckland. There was a tower (not as tall as the CN tower,) a harbour (like so many other cities,) dolphin watching (did that in Akaroa)… the list goes on. But then—I found the one thing we hadn’t done or seen anywhere else: Weta Workshop.

Weta is an SFX company that does the effects, prosthetics, animatronics, and world-building for all kinds of movies. We took the tour. We got to see things like how animatronics work, how artists sculpt new creatures, the making of chain mail (out of plastic,) and what those scary creatures actually feel like. The whole thing was hands-on and interactive. We all loved it.

I had signed up—along with K and R—for a workshop after the tour. E was well below the age cutoff, but they let her come in and watch as we learned to create fake wounds. E came in handy, actually—I used her as a model for my work. K and R got really, really into it, and the results were quite impressive. So impressive, in fact, that three people inquired about what had happened—one of whom was a nurse, who assured R that her wound looked very realistic.

Against my better judgment (I took no part in it, I promise!) Mr. December and the kids called the grandparents and showed them the fake injuries while narrating a tale of woe and injury. They believed it until they saw that four of us had wounds and they all looked kind of similar.

NEWS FLASH: E ate something substantial that wasn’t French fries!

(Sun bursts through the clouds, chorus of angels sings.)

I flat-out refused to buy her French fries for dinner. Instead, I offered her shawarma, which she really liked when we were in Galapagos; she accepted a Turkish flatbread full of chicken shawarma (“And nothing else!”) and wolfed it down, only coming up for air and to tell me how excellent the food was. I’m going to call that a food win!

Pic of E

Tomorrow morning we fly to Singapore. I don’t know how we’ll be feeling when we get there or what the time difference is, so don’t panic if I don’t post tomorrow.

Keepin' it real · Kids · New Zealand · snarky · Travelogue · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 1046: This isn’t rocket science.

You’d think we’d be great at packing by now, but apparently not (given how many questions I get.) I’m hoping this Q&A post will help my family do their ONE job better.

Q: Will you help me pack?
A: That depends what you mean by “help.” If you mean, will I pack all your stuff for you, that’s gonna be a hard NO. I have other things to do, like submitting our Singapore entry cards for approval.

Q: I’m so overwhelmed! How do I even start?
A: Most experts agree that the best way to get started is to PUT DOWN YOUR PHONE (or Kobo.) Then you might consider picking up all the clothes in your room and separating them into dirty and clean piles.

Q: I think these clothes smell funny. Will you wash them for me?
A: No. I offered to wash everyone’s clothes once yesterday and once today. If you missed it, you missed it.

Q: Where’s my ________?
A: Beats me, but research has shown that your best chance of finding it would be if you picked up everything else that’s yours and put it away in some kind of container. Sort of like… packing.

Q: Did you see the crazy TikTok I sent you about the flooding in Auckland?
A: I glanced at it. Rest assured, I’ve confirmed that tomorrow’s tour of the Special Effects company’s workshops is still on. Our plans are unchanged.

Q: Can we just watch one music video on YouTube before I start packing?
A: Okay, fine.

Q: Can we watch another?
A: Sure, why not?

Q: Another?
A: I guess so. But I think you’re abusing the Q&A format.

Q: One more video?
A: Nope. You need to pack.

Q: Can’t I just do it tomorrow morning?
A: Hard no. That plan never ends well. Do it now.

Q: Wait, where are you going?
A: I’m going to sit in a recliner and watch Derry Girls. I’m done packing.

New Zealand · Travelogue · whine and cheese

Day 1045: When it Rains…

First off, it’s not very often that the post number corresponds to the time that I’m writing and posting it, so… yeah. Day 1045 at 10:45!

The title—When it Rains—was not meant metaphorically. It was raining when we woke up, it rained all day, it rained as we lit candles and ate challah, and it’s still raining now.

We got rained out of our tour of a gold mine, but nobody called us about it until we were halfway there (it’s an hour and twenty minutes away from here.) We actually didn’t get the message until we arrived in Waihi because our big red van has no handsfree phone technology. At that point it would have been silly to just turn around and go home, so we did the interactive exhibit on mining. I wouldn’t have driven three hours round trip just for that exhibit, but we were already there, so we might as well enjoy it. The kids seemed to like it.

An aside: there’s a thing that all the attractions here seem to do: they give the kids a clipboard with some questions that are answered in the exhibit, and if the kids turn it in with the correct answers at the end, they get some kind of treat. On the one hand, why is everything about candy? On the other hand, it’s so nice to wander through an exhibit at my own pace without my kids whining about wanting to leave.

As you can imagine, driving—on the left, in the rain, with a bunch of cars stuck behind me—was kind of exhausting. I came home, went to bed, and got a solid three hours of sleep with the window open and the sound of the rain serving as white noise.

At one point the rain was drowned out by someone shouting “Eema! Eema! Look!” (this was when I started to regret sleeping with the window open.) I stepped out onto the balcony to see R and Mr. December… dripping wet… dancing… in the rain. R, who has anxiety about the weather and refuses to leave the house when it’s raining, was dancing in the rain. I still don’t know how or why that happened. I didn’t want to say anything to jinx it either, so I silently went and got some towels for when they finally came in.

The kids took care of braiding and baking the challah and we gathered to light candles, make kiddush, and eat the challah. Then, just as after the Shabbat dinners of my childhood, we all decamped to the TV room and watched a sitcom (Derry Girls season 3 had me busting a gut. I love Sister Michael.)

Tomorrow is our last day here; Sunday morning we drive into Auckland. But first… packing. Again.