lundi 31 janvier 2011
After having seen the movie "Chok-Dee" about a French former inmate who moves to Thailand to learn Thai boxing and turn his life around and ends up being a star, Alain wanted to see real Thai boxing. He was embarassed to mention it to the others, but I went ahead and mentionned it. My sister had never been to a match either, so she was up for it.

She found out where the matches are held and when, so we had the option of Tuesday night, Friday night (Christmas eve), or Saturday night (Christmas night). The tickets ranged between 1000 and 2000 Baht (about 30 and 60$ for ringside seats).

We were recommended to go with the ringside seats, so that we wouldn't be squished in the standing-room only section with all the Thai men betting and drinking. So Alain, Dad, Leah, and I bought ringside tickets for Christmas eve, starting at 6:30 and finishing at 10:30.

We arrived and were shown to our seats, front row. There was a match of western-style boxing, then the Thai boxing started.
It was quite interesting.

They arrive with their brightly decorated shorts, red or blue, with a ring of flowers around their neck, feet protection, gloves, and bands around their heads and upper arms.
Each match began with the fighters going around the ring in a sort-of dance to the drum music, honoring their teachers and each other, as well as a warm-up. Here is a video I found on Youtube of the Wai Khru (not mine).

(By the way, the music you hear is what they played for each round. As the rounds advanced, the music got faster and faster.)

After that, they removed the ring of flowers and the thing on their head, and the rounds began. It was, if I remember correctly, five rounds of three minutes each.

One poor guy got knocked out and they took him, still dead to the world, off the stage in a stretcher.

<-- They had an exhibition round, where it was more of the old-style costumes and fighting (lots more jumping up in the air) that was only a few minutes.
The match ended around 10:30 pm, and we left to find a taxi.

Alain and I both bought authentic silk Thai boxing shorts. Mine is purple with Muaythai written on the front, and Alain's are blue. No, no way am I posting pictures.

Certainly a Christmas Eve to remember.
jeudi 27 janvier 2011
In March, right after my exams, I am going back to the US for two weeks, alone (without the Frenchman that is). (And he keeps saying "How do I KNOW you are going to be staying with your parents and not some ex-boyfriend?" Trust me dear, my parents would not cover for me if I was staying with an ex-boyfriend)

It will be my first time back since December 2008.
I must say, I am really starting to miss the United States.
Don't have much planned, mostly shopping and relaxing.

But I keep having this reoccuring dream.

I am at my parents's house in Colorado, and I am packing my suitcase, getting ready to take the plane the next day to come back to France, when all of a sudden I realize...

I haven't had a single bagel in the whole two weeks I have been back!!!


I wake up in a cold sweat and realize that I have not yet left for the US, I still have my exams to live through, and I will surely go to the grocery (yay, Safeway!) my first day back to stock up on Macaroni & Cheese, Starburst, and bagels.

It is very strange, I know.
It's not like I have been super bagel-deprived anyway. Had my fill of bagels while in Thailand (By the way, I'm still sore over the fact that my sister, in Thailand, leads a more American life than I do in France) and can get them regularly at Bagel Story in Aix (about 1.50€ a bagel but still). I can even make them for goodness sake.

So I'm guessing it is not the bagels themselves that are causing these dreams.
I have had this same dream about 3 times now, so it is definitely bugging me.

I guess it must just be a feeling of going back for such a short time, wanting to get my full Americaness in before I leave again for an indefinite amount of time.
lundi 24 janvier 2011
I am heading back up to Strasbourg for a week-long preparation seminar for my exams in March.

I just wanted to leave all my dear readers with this picture from Thailand.

My favorite is the one on the top right.
mardi 18 janvier 2011
While I was gone in Thailand, my office went through an internal rearrangement. Now, instead of being in the biggest room overlooking the square with two other people, I am all by myself in the meeting room, which overlooks the inner courtyard of the building.

Our office is the entire first (that is, second to you Americans), and it does a complete circle around the inner courtyard and staircase.

I often went there to escape the accordionists, but as I didn't have my computer nor desk there, it was mainly just to read in quiet.

(view from the entrance of closet door on left, my alcove, and door to toilets/kitchen/rest of the office)
Before, the alcove was used as a hide-all with a screen in front hiding an old air conditioning unit, some ladders, and two old broken cupboards. Where is all that stuff now you ask? Who cares! Didn't you hear me when I said "I have my own office!!!"?
When the opportunity to move came around, I immediately thought of this spot. Actually, I had thought of it before, but didn't dare suggest it.
When discussing how to arrange my desk in the meeting room, I suggested the small alcove (which I had previously measured just in case).
My desk would fit perfectly, and we would be able to keep the big table there.
The only problem is that the phone and Internet connection are on the other side of the door. Oh well.
(picture from my desk of printer, entrance, heating/ac unit, and coat rack. Windows overlook the inner courtyard)
Before leaving for Christmas, I packed up all my belongings and put them in the closet in the left in this picture, so that the movers could easily dismantle my desk. I hung this picture up. It is a wedding gift, "Chateau en Provence". The colors go perfectly.

When I came back, it was quite a mess and took me about a day to straighten everything out. But now I have: my own entrance, my own heating/air conditioning unit (which becomes an issue when women share office space with men), my own printer, easy access to the kitchen and toilets, a cupboard for all my books and folders, and, most of all


I never thought I would say this, but it is almost too quiet. I feel somewhat isolated. Good think I am an Engineer and thus anti-social by nature, but still.

I bought a sound card and speakers for my computer so that I can listen to music quietly while I work.

It took me a bit to get used to being in this new space. I had spent almost 3 years where I was before, (started February 4, 2008). Started humming to myself "Nobody likes me, everybody hates me...."

So if you come in the building and hear someone bouncing off the walls saying "Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!" It is probably yours truly. But all in all, I think the move will be good for me. I also need to gain some independence and confidence.

(And I'm already thinking of it as "Megan's Office" not the "meeting room".)

Oh, and what has happened to its usage as an actual meeting room you wonder? There will be a smaller table put in my boss's office (the biggest room where the three of us once were), and this table is being kept where it is. If there is a company-wide meeting, it will be in MY OFFICE, and if they ever need to use and me to be ELSEWHERE, I'll have to go elsewhere. (Though hopefully not near the accordionists nor in the toilets.)

PS The police of Aix will be quite glad I moved too. I called them every single time the accordionists, or their sister/daughter violinist played, which was pretty much every day.
Everybody wins!

PPS Come to think of it, I think I am the opposite of claustrophobic. I like small, enclosed spaces. I especially hate the feeling that someone can sneak up on me. This should be perfect for me.
lundi 17 janvier 2011
On the Wednesday before Christmas, my sister Leah and her husband Larry held a Christmas party for her work colleagues and their friends.

That morning, she ran all around Bangkok looking for a Santa suit, and finally found one made out of a cheap red felt in Chinatown.

She set up a kids destruction (or play, whichever you prefer) in the hallway outside their apartment, to try to keep them out from under foot. There were about 10 kids there, all boys. Geez.

We met with her friends, colleagues, and their families and had a nice evening.

Dad was stuck with playing Santa Claus (I think he drew the short stick). He went over to the neighbor's to change, then came in, wishing everyone Merry Christmas. The older kids looked sceptical, but brightened right up when he started handing out gifts.
(<- "Santa" and Toby. Not sure if Toby knew who Santa actually was)
dimanche 16 janvier 2011
spending 4 hours in a gymnasium on a Saturday morning to watch your husband's 3 minute karate competition.

Alain has been itching to get back into doing karate competitions.

He signed up for the Departmental (13) competition, which you just have to participate in order to be able to go to the Regionals (Provence), before the finals in Paris.

He had to sign up and get a doctor's okay.

We arrived at the Salle de Sport in the north of Marseille (not a great area). The weigh-in was at 8:30, and then the competition started around 9. He was in the category over 18 years old, less than 67 kg.

They started with the women competitors (a grand total of 6), followed by an open competition, children, and then finally his category.

I brought my Kindle ebook (which I am liking more and more) and sat up in the stands, as far away as I could get from the other spectators (hey, I wasn't there to be social). This worked until a huge group of Marseillais sat right in front of me. I moved. Around 12:30, I saw Alain put on his blue belt, hand and feet protectors. Another half an hour later, and it was his competition. (sorry for the terrible pictures).

After that, we went home. Next time, when he tells me I really don't have to come, I'll take him up on it. Unless it's the finals in Paris.

vendredi 14 janvier 2011
The second week of our trip to Thailand (sorry, these are not in order, I'm just writing as they come) we went to the beach town of Hua Hin for two days. It was about a two hour drive from Bangkok. Friends of friends of Leah and Larry had lent us their beach(ish) condo for two days, free of charge. It had four bedrooms and was in a complex near the beach.

We all piled in the van, got on the road at the crack of noon, and got there a little after lunch.

We had lunch in town, then went to find the condo. Only had to make one U-turn, and we found it. It was in a gated complex, rows of three-story townhouses around the biggest pool I have ever seen.

(picture taken from the balcony of our bedroom)

It continued on for about 200 meters to the right.

Alain, Leah, and I went swimming while Toby ran around spraying everyone with the water gun.

The water was fantastic, BUT

the pool was tiled, and a lot of the tiles were broken or missing. Ever touch a broken tile? Yep. Sharp as broken glass.

I was trying to get out of the pool and sliced my big toe. Both Alain and Leah also cut themselves badly. I was bleeding all over the place, and had to squish back to the townhouse and clean myself up.

After that, I refused to go back in. I like my limbs.

Then I noticed the sign "Be A Ware of loose and broken tiles." I'll say. At least a fourth of the tiles were either missing or broken.

I'm guessing they tiled the pool a long time ago when the complex was built, and haven't bothered to replace the tiles or remove all the tiles and put something more swimmer-friendly like concrete. I'm sure in the US the pool would be condemned.

lundi 10 janvier 2011
Guess I should come out of my hole and say that we made it back to France, and into 2011.
We had a great time in Thailand, for which I shall dedicate several posts.

First off, I am going to start with the flights, there and back.
Let me preface this by the past two times we have gone to see my family (in Colorado, 2006, 2008) the trips have been hellacious.
Christmas 2006
Christmas 2008
After these above two trips Alain sternly informed me "Never again are we going to your parents' in Colorado for Christmas. Unpredictable weather plus overbooked flights plus two or more connections is a no-can do." He commented that we had a 100% Christmas travel problem rate, which was not looking good. I argued that it was only a 50% rate, as the return trips for those two trips went well, but he said it was the overall trip that counts. I disagreed.

After much arguing, begging, and pleading, I got him to agree to go to Thailand this year, as it will be our last opportunity to go, as my sister and her family are leaving this year. He is not the best of travelers. He was worried that the plane would crash, that he would catch some horrible tropical disease, that he wouldn't be able to get his work done on time, etc.

Anyway, we were scheduled to leave from Marseille on Friday afternoon December 17th, to Munich, then to Bangkok.
When we tried to check in, we were informed that the flights to/from Germany were experiencing delays due to bad weather in Germany. They weren't sure when our flight would leave. We were scheduled for a three-hour layover in Munich, so we had a little leeway, but not too much. There was some confusion as well, because there were two flights Marseille-Munich scheduled about 2 hours apart, and almost the same numbers 2556 and 2558. We decided to wait until we found out whether there was actually going to BE a flight that day before surrendering our luggage. However, due to the similarities of the flight numbers, we almost missed the last check-in for our flight. We were forced to check-in, without being sure we would get out on Friday. I guess if you have to be stuck somewhere, it is better to be stuck at home, but when you have a squirrely traveling companion, it is best to get them en route so that they no longer have a choice of whether they will go or not. At least if we were stuck in Munich we would be almost forced to go on, but if we were stuck in Marseille for a day or two, I would have had that much more trouble to get him on the plane.

We checked in, went through security (next to the noisy Russian on his cellphone for 30 minutes), and got in the puddle-jumper, leaving about 2 hours later than scheduled. It was not the most reassuring plane for bad weather. They tried to stuff the passengers from both flights onto the one plane. I think they succeeded for the most part.

We got to Munich and went through passport control. They saw in my passport that I had been out of the US for awhile, so asked what I was doing here (in Europe). Don't arrest me, it's his fault. I showed him my carte de sejour (luckily I brought it with me), which I guess was acceptable. Alain went through next and was told "I guess you don't need a carte de sejour."
It turns out that our flight to Bangkok was delayed as well. I was hoping we would have some seats around us empty, but no such luck. We were seated in the middle 4-wide row of the huge plane. I was next to some German women who wouldn't shut up. After the meal I asked if they could please lower their voices as it was 1 a.m. and most everyone around was sleeping. They got all huffy and did not.

We arrived on Saturday, around 3 in the afternoon. It was quite a thermal shock, going from the blizzards of Germany to the heat of Bangkok. We got off and followed the hordes to customs. While filling out the customs form I saw the indication "Visa Number". Oh drat. Honey, um, I hope we don't actually need a visa.... Was a bit nervous that we would be sent back to France (for which Alain would never forgive me and I am sure we would never be going anywhere for Christmas again, or maybe just ever.) I guess tourists don't have a problem though because we were waved through without any problems. My sister was there waiting for us, and our luggage even came through!

Our return flight was on New Year's Eve. As I generally despise New Year's, missing this did not bother me.

We were scheduled to leave for the airport at around 9 p.m. for our flight at 11:50 pm. A little before we left, my brother-in-law Larry got a phone call from a buddy (Orlando) of his (whose wife works with my sister Leah). She is American and he is from the Dominican Republic. Her parents, brother and sister-in-law were in town for the holidays, and I guess he needed to get out of the house. In response to the question of what we were going for New Year's Larry told him that an airport run was scheduled and jokingly said he could come along if he had nothing better to do. Orlando accepted (I guess he REALLY needed to get away from his in-laws), so a little after 9, Alain, Larry, Mom, Dad, Orlando, and I piled into Larry's van, and we drove to the airport. It was a bit weird saying goodbye to family with a complete stranger there, but he moved away a bit to give us some privacy.

After our goodbyes, we went through passport control again (on a tourist visa must leave the country within 30 days or else there is a fine), then security, then went to the gate. The plane left a little before midnight, and was still in the ascent at midnight. They didn't make an announcement, or pass around champagne, or anything. No chatty Germans this time, for which I was thankful. I took two sleeping pills, put on my sleep mask and ear plugs, and managed to sleep a bit. On planes, I prefer to put my head forward, either on the tray or else against the back of the seat in front. However, as the person in front put their seat back (and we were in Economy) I couldn't lie straight, so had to lie in a neck-twisting position. Got off the plane (in Frankfurt this time) at 5 a.m. with a stiff neck.

Again through passport control and security, but no customs. I was worried that we should have picked up our luggage then re-checked it, but it made it to Marseille, so I guess not.

We were wandering around the Frankfurt airport, waiting for a damn coffee shop to open, when Alain ran into a former PhD student (Ivan) of his. Ivan is French-American and finished his thesis in October, then moved to Chicago for a post-doc position. He went to Budapest to see his girlfriend for the holidays, and was on his way back to Chicago. Very strange. Ivan didn't have much time before his flight, so they didn't chat long.

We got our flight to Marseille at around 8:30, getting back to Marseille at 10. We got our suitcase and were about to exit the secure area when a controller stopped us. He asked whether we were coming from Bangkok. We looked at each other and said yes. He asked if we had anything to declare. Um, no? He let us go. Alain was terrified that when leaving Bangkok we would get arrested for drugs that someone slipped in our suitcase and that we would be throw into Thai jail for 20 years. When we were stopped, the thought briefly crossed my mind. Noooo!! I'm an American!!! My sister works for the Embassy!!!

We weren't as exhausted coming back from Thailand as we were going. New Year's dinner was moved to the 2nd, at our request. I thought we would be too tired the day we arrived, but it turns out that we were somewhat awake. It always seems easier to adjust going from east to west than west to east (unless you cross the international date line). I wonder why that is?

Anyway, it was our best Christmas travel experience yet.

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