Thailand, Part Three: Bangkok

A one hour flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok got us to the capital city in the late morning and we wasted no time in exploring.  After getting settled in our hotel and grabbing a quick lunch, we set off to explore our hotel’s neighborhood of Sukhumivit – known to be a popular area for expats and teeming with shopping malls, hotels, and restaurants.

We chose this particular area and hotel due to its proximity to both the Skytrain and subway system.  Accustomed to the intricate maze of public transportation in NYC, I figured Mr. S and I would easily take to Bangkok’s more modern Skytrain and subways.  And we did.  Eventually.  Once we figured out how to pay.

To purchase tickets for the Skytrain, one must know which stop they are heading to.  That was easy enough, so Mr. S and I queued up for the ticket machine.  “Notes and coins” it said.  Good, because we had no coins.  Not good, because the machine kept spitting out our 100 baht bill.  We decided perhaps it would be better to wait in the line for the man behind the window.  When it was our turn, we played a short game of charades to indicate that we’d like two tickets to our destination.  We knew our fare would be a total of 84 baht so we handed the smiling man our 100 baht bill and he returned to us a handful of coins, which we assumed was our change of 16 baht.  We didn’t get tickets, but we presumed that since we paid the man directly, we could just enter through the side handicap gate attached to his little window.  So off we went, boarded the train, arrived at our destination, got off the train, and then…couldn’t exit the train station.  We looked to others around us for a clue and everyone had a ticket to put into the turnstile which would then open.  But we had no tickets.  We weren’t given tickets.  A very polite officer saw our confused faces, smiled at us, then wordlessly escorted us to the station’s window.  Again, the game of charades, except this time we didn’t know how to mime “We paid already but we didn’t get tickets.” In her broken English (and always, everyone, with a kind smile), the attendant said, “You pay now.”

“No, no we paid already.  We paid 100 baht and got change back, but no tickets,” I protested.  After fruitless miming and hand signals, I decided to pull out the coins we received as evidence of my claim.  Mr. S says he figured it out before I did…but I didn’t realize our faux pas until I saw that it required both of my hands to hold all the change I pulled from my wallet…  The first man in the window didn’t give us 16 baht in change.  He gave us 100 baht in coins so we could go back to the “Coins only” machine.  Ohhhhhh….. “Ok, yes, we pay now.”

The second time we had to take the Skytrain, Mr. S and I were ready.  Again, we had no coins (the “Notes and coins” machine was broken and just the “Coins only” machines were available).  We tagged teamed to cut down on our wait time so I stood on the machine line while Mr. S lined up at the window to get change.  We thought we were so smart, so Bangkok Skytrain savvy until Mr. S returned to me from the window with two tickets and 16 baht in change in his hands.  We’ll never know the secret to Skytrain success, but the moral of the story is to always have a ticket and always count your change.

So the Skytrain took us to the meeting spot of our first activity in Bangkok –  a guided night tuk tuk tour,  visiting some of the city’s landmarks via the infamous motorcycle tuk tuk.  Stops included  Klong San night market (to sample some street food), Wat Prayoon (where we got a glimpse of some monks in training), the Giant Swing, Wat Pho’s grounds, the 24 hour flower market, dinner at a local Pad Thai restaurant, and finally ending in Chinatown for dessert.  From living in NYC, I know that tourist attractions look and feel very different in the night time vs. the day time, so even though we didn’t have full access to some of the temples, it was still a really cool experience to be able to wander the grounds at night.

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Our view from our tuk tuk and some of our tour group friends up ahead.

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Wat Prayoon

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The flower market, open 24 hours a day.

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Thailand, Part Two: Chiang Mai

If Koh Samui was the part of our vacation where we didn’t do much, Chiang Mai was the part of our vacation where we did it all.

Upon our arrival, we immediately noticed the smoky haze that seemed to blanket all of Chiang Mai.  Turns out we were visiting during the time of year that neighboring farmers were burning off their crops.  We also noticed the moderate temperature – I mean, still hot, but not unbearable in long pants and sleeved shirts.

We checked into our hotel, U Chiang Mai, in the middle of the Old City and spent the rest of our afternoon touring the Wats (aka temples) that were in walking distance from our digs.  We had read in our tour book that one must be appropriately dressed when entering the temples, so that meant no shorts, short skirts, or sleeveless shirts.  I’d also recommend sandals or easy to remove shoes since most temples require you to leave your shoes at the door.

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Inside Wat Chedi Luang

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Thailand, Part One: Koh Samui

So I’ve been MIA around here.  Again.  Typical.  But, I’ve got some fun stuff to share, so hopefully you’ll give me a pass for being absent.  Somewhat recently, Mr. S and I returned from our twelve night honeymoon in Thailand, which included stops at Koh Samui, Chiang Mai, and Bangkok.

Our vacation of a lifetime started with a crap load of flying.  Awesome for me because I have an affinity for airplane food (it’s just like those TV dinners my parents never bought me as a kid no matter how much I begged) but terrible for Mr. S, who has an irrational fear of flying.  When we started making gigantic payments for our wedding, we opened a Chase Sapphire Preferred card to take advantage of the points system.  Our hope was that we’d rack up enough points to afford “Premium Economy” seats for the long leg of our journey to Bangkok.  I’ve been flying to and from the Philippines since I was a kid, always on economy, except for that one single, solitary, never-again-to-be-repeated, unicorn of a time that we flew premium economy.  Holy Jesus, it was heavenly.  There were foot rests, menus, space to stand and take a short stroll around the cabin, plushier blankets, bigger pillows with real fabric pillow cases (not that rough, disposable paper crap they give you in economy), and midnight servings of instant ramen.  I could have flown three times around the world in premium economy without complaint.

While I’ve been flying across the International Date Line since I was in diapers, prior to our mini-moon vacation to Mexico, Mr. S had never left the country.  And since I knew he wasn’t a fan of the friendly skies, I wanted to make his maiden long haul trip as comfortable as possible.  After all, his experience flying to Thailand would dictate how willing he was to make future trips to the Philippines – something I hope we do regularly in the future.  Plus, it was our honeymoon, and if ever there was a time to warrant splurging on an upgraded airplane seat, this was it.

Alas, homeownership has a way of unfairly robbing you of your disposable income, and when it came time to book our flights, we just couldn’t justify the $4,000 upgrade to premium economy when we had no kitchen, no walls, and no plumbing in our new house.  (I couldn’t even bring myself to look at how much business class seats cost.  Who are these people in business class?!  Why don’t they just buy their own plane and let the rest of us have a chance?!)

So it was economy class for us, and with our Chase Sapphire points, we paid a grand total of $700 for two tickets on Cathay Pacific to Bangkok by way of Hong Kong.  I guess it’s been a while since I’ve flown Cathay Pacific, but we were more than pleasantly surprised – the seats were roomy, the individual entertainment options plentiful, and we did get menus and late night cup o’ noodles. #winning

After our 22 hour journey to Bangkok, we boarded yet another airplane – this time a one and half hour domestic flight to Koh Samui.  The domestic carrier we used was Bangkok Airways and we waited two hours in their lovely free airport lounge complete with Wi-Fi and Thai snacks.

The airport in Koh Samui was rustic – a collection of thatched roof huts and open air waiting rooms.  We had a bit of a Mr. President and First Lady moment when disembarking the airplane via the long metal staircase.  Prior to leaving the USA, we arranged for an airport transfer to our hotel because after 26 hours of traveling, we didn’t want to have to think too much once we got to our destination.

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The numbers don’t lie

Shortly after we booked the wedding reception venue for our date in December I got a FaceTime call from my dad. My dad loves cell phone technology and will FaceTime at any opportunity he gets.

“Hi! Your mom wants to talk to you.”
My mom on the other hand is terrible with cell phones. She has an iPhone solely to take pictures and post to Facebook while on the go. Because of this I ended up FaceTiming with her nose.
“It’s a bad date!!! You picked a bad date!!! You have to change it!!!”
It took me a while to figure out that it was her nose I was looking at.
“What are you talking about??”
“The numerology of your wedding date! It’s a bad number! You have to change it to November!!”
Surely someone else can explain the concept of the auspicious date much better than I can, but essentially the auspicious date refers to the luckiest or best date to do anything — get married, buy a house, etc.  Depending on one’s culture the auspicious date can be determined in a number of ways, including numerology. While I knew this was a thing in the Chinese culture, this was the first time I was hearing about it in my own. I knew my mom dabbled in numerology from time to time, but more so just for kicks. The numbers never played a part in selecting other milestone moments in our family’s life, so imagine my surprise when this was suddenly a big deal.
I tried to get a better understanding of the situation. “How are you coming up with this? Are you sure you have our right birth dates? And who is your source? Because if it’s Uncle R, he’s not really an expert. Mr. S and I don’t really believe in that stuff anyway so we should be fine.”
The nose spoke frantically, “NOOO!! Your number signifies hardship and struggle!! Do you really want your wedding to start off that way?!? Move it to November!!”
Was she being serious??
“November costs $3,000 extra!”
“Well if you ask me, that is a cheap price to pay for starting your marriage with the perfect number!!”
Well then. “I don’t trust your source. I will find my own.”
And with that I went to my authority on all things big and small – Google. Turns out there are lots of resources to explain numerology and how to select an auspicious wedding date. I happened upon one that was decorated with rainbows and butterflies and included an auspicious wedding date calculator. Obviously, the accountant in me felt right at home.
I entered our birth dates and wedding date into the little calculator which spit out this result: 6. That meant absolutely nothing to me, so good thing it had an explanation:
 

A personal year, month or day of 6 is a number of family, responsibility and the home. Of all the numbers in numerology this number is the most auspicious number for creating a home with someone, settling down and perhaps having a family too if that is important to you. Try to have a 6 in the personal date numbers of both the bride and groom when picking a date for a wedding. In Tarot’s Major Arcana The Lovers is card number 6.

I zoned in on the key words — family, creating a home, lovers. Looked good to me! In addition to all that, it told me that Mr. S and I have the same personal day and personal month numbers despite us having different birth dates. Again, meaningless to me, but matching numbers had to be a good sign!

I sent my findings to my mom expecting her to come back with a reason why my numerology website (which could have been published by My Little Pony for all I knew) was a bunch of bull.
“Did you see what I sent you? It says our date is fine!”
“Ok.”
I was silent for a few seconds, not really sure what was going on. 15 minutes ago her flared nostrils were telling me my future marriage was a future disaster and now all I was getting was an “Ok”??  If this was some reverse psychology shizz I wasn’t falling for it.
“Great, December Xth it is! Bye!”
The numerology thing never came up again. Maybe during the time I was Googling she realized she had a mathematical error. Maybe she decided that My Little Pony was a better source than my Uncle R. I’ll never know. And as long as we get to keep our bargain date, I don’t really care!

Mawiage. Mawiage is what bwings us togethahh todayyy.

The Princess Bride is my favorite movie. When I was younger we had it on Beta Max. And then one day Beta Max became obsolete and replaced by VHS and I could no longer watch The Princess Bride whenever I wanted. It sucked.

Anyway, this post isn’t about my favorite movies. It is yet again about the wedding. Bride brain…bride brain…bride braaaiiiin!!! Imagine I said that like a bride zombie, because really that’s what I’ve become.

Getting married in the Catholic Church was a given. Mr. S and I both grew up Catholic and have received all of our sacraments to date. Plus, I really like the tradition of getting married in church and repeating the vows that have married so many generations before us. So it shouldn’t be a problem, right? Riiiiighhhtt…
To be married in the Catholic Church, one must be “a Catholic in good standing.” I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, but considering Mr. S and I didn’t attend church on a regular basis, weren’t officially part of any parish, and have been living together in sin, I felt there was a good chance that we were actually “Catholics in very bad standing.” Throw into the mix that we are having our reception in Brooklyn and want the church to be relatively close to our reception location. This criterion pretty much narrowed the options down to one church. One.
I emailed the church rectory asking if they allowed non-parishioners to wed there, and the priest himself replied back saying that he does make exceptions. Allelujia! He added that before meeting we should attend mass at the church to see if we like the look and acoustics. The look and acoustics? They seemed like pretty odd details for a priest to point out, but I agreed that attending mass made sense.
I’ve seen lots of churches in my life of all different types, and I’ve never been in one where I said, “Ugh, gross.” Needless to say, I didn’t have any strong feelings about what the church should look like as long as there was an aisle for me to walk down. Maybe my low expectations contributed to my reaction, but when we walked into St. C, I got the feeling…similar to what a bride feels when she finds the dress, I had a feeling of this is the church where we are going to get married.
The church is on the smaller side, which I love. I grew up attending a larger church where it felt like half the church was empty most weekends. St. C is done in a gothic style with dark wood, columns, and large stained glass windows throughout and behind the altar. This was a HUGE bonus to me. I was never a fan of saying my vows directly under a crucifix of a dying Jesus, but resigned myself to this fate since that’s how most churches decorate their altar. But with stained glass windows…I could already picture us being bathed in colored sunlight as we stood at the altar professing our everlasting love.* Princess Buttercup, eat your heart out.
My anxiety levels were up when we arrived the following week for our meeting with Father E — this church was seemingly perfect for our wedding and what if he refused us for all the reasons that make us bad Catholics in bad standing?! We didn’t even have a good excuse! Maybe we tell him that yes we live together, but we sleep in two separate twin beds? My dad goes to mass everyday…does that count for anything? Yes, I actually entertained all of these options, but in the end I decided that we couldn’t lie to a priest. My co-worker had the best advice: Don’t lie, but don’t embellish either.
It turns out we had nothing to worry about. Father E is quite possibly the hippest priest I’ve ever met. He took great pride in telling us how he conducts his weddings so that the bride and groom get the perfect photo ops and was totally understanding about the co-habitating part, noting that rent in NYC is expensive.  Preach on Father, preach on! He even used curse words and the middle finger when telling us stories of his childhood. Mr. S and I were shocked! After the fantastic storytelling, Father E took down our information, asked us to provide baptismal certificates, and gave us information on Pre-Cana. He let us know that once Pre-Cana is complete, we could discuss further logistics of the day.
That pretty much sealed the deal. Up until this point, we were planning an elaborate party: reception venue, catering, flowers, music, etc. Now that we actually found someone to marry us, our little shindig is officially a wedding!
* Reality check – that sunlight bit probably won’t happen as we are getting married on a December evening. We will probably be holding flashlights up there.

An URB wedding

Planning a wedding. The thought makes me giddy and nauseous all at the same time. On the one hand, I love to plan, and I love to be pretty and surrounded by pretty things. Oh, and I also love Mr. S. On the other hand, our wedding is a BIG MOTHER TRUCKING DEAL. Why?

  1. I am an only child. No other siblings to get “do-overs” with, 
  2. I am a girl. Weddings are always bigger deals for girls than boys. 
  3. Mr. S and I have been together for 13 years. We have a lot of “shared” people. 

And so, the pressure is on, along with all the options, decisions, and expectations to consider. Every time one decision is made, another one rears its ugly head before I can even think of congratulating myself on a job well done.

When are you getting married? Where will you have it? Picked a date! Booked the venue!

What about the church? Oh right, ok, booked the church!

What about the photographer? Yes – so important! Picked out a photographer!

And the videographer? Um…

And florist? Um…

And an aisle runner? And then before you know it, you’re bald and cooking the books in the budget tab of your wedding spreadsheet.

Mr. S and I are barely three months into this endeavor and this has happened to me more times than I can count. The budget tab in our wedding spreadsheet resembles a Sudoku puzzle – change one number here, and another number somewhere else must also change. And why? Because all the wedding gods tell you that the first part of wedding planning is making a budget. And the second part of wedding planning is sticking to it.

Those close to me will tell you that I have no problem spending money (really, it just seems to spend itself). But the wedding budget…I could never get my head around spending all that money on one day. And that argument about memories for a lifetime? I’m pretty sure we will have memories for a lifetime no matter how much money we spend.* And after reading various wedding blogs and attending a few weddings myself, I was convinced that having the wedding of our dreams did not equate to sacrificing a down payment on a future home.

From the beginning, Mr. S and I had very similar ideas of what we wanted for our wedding – fun, cozy, informal but still special, and very dancy. Surely we can evoke those feelings on the big day without spending ridiculous amounts of money? And so I set out to research/obsess what those feelings would realistically cost us.

The budget started arbitrarily at $25,000 – tented backyard wedding at my parent’s house, barefoot bride, iPod DJ, pour your own drinks, etc. That budget evaporated once I saw that a tent and dance floor alone would cost $25,000. Not to mention our family members are not hippies and would be digging holes into my parent’s backyard with their stiletto heels. Ok, maybe I was being a bit naive… bump it up to $40,000. And while we’re at it, let’s move it to NYC. What, you need $100,000 to have a wedding for 150+ guests in Manhattan? Uh ok, let’s back it up to Brooklyn and call it a deal.

Fear not, Mr. S and I are not starting off our marriage in debt – actually we are because we both have student loans…but at least not in debt on account of our wedding. The issue wasn’t that the money isn’t there, more so is the money really necessary? And what I soon found out was yes, yes it is.

So there you have it – step one of wedding planning. We’re already a little iffy on step two.

*And just in case that’s not true, I doubled the budget allocated to the photographer.

My deep, dark, and dirty secret: I’m not a wedding dress virgin

I’ve already worn a wedding dress. And Mr. S was there — in a tux. No, I wasn’t a runaway bride – I was a Sweet 16 debutante.Mr. S and I started dating in the year 2000, coincidentally also the year of my 16th birthday. Sweet 16 parties are (or were?) pretty normal where we’re from, ranging the full spectrum from Knights of Columbus halls to hotel ballrooms. Guess where I fell on that spectrum.I fully own up to this. My parents graciously offered me a trip to Europe, a new car, or a Sweet 16 party. I chose the party. Looking back at my high school self, I have to admit I was pretty savvy. I knew that Europe would always be there. I knew that even if a new car wasn’t in the works, a used one would be, and I could deal with that (my dad was the sole driver in our household before I got my license. He couldn’t wait to get me on the road). But a Sweet 16?? A girl only turns 16 once in her lifetime. To me, the choice was obvious.

Things moved quickly from there (with the help of my mother who has an inclination towards the extravagant). We had a family friend at the Sheraton who could give us a deal on the ballroom and catering. We hired a balloon guy to do gorgeous balloon centerpieces. My uncles wanted an excuse to wear their tuxedos. There was talk of family flying in from the Philippines to attend. We hired a choreographer for the group dance. Wait, what?

The Filipino equivalent of a Sweet 16 is called a “Debut” (pronounced “deh-boo”) and occurs on the celebrant’s 18th birthday. Part of a traditional debut is a group dance – a complicated choreographed dance of classical styles (waltz, cha-cha, etc.) performed by the celebrant, her chosen partner, and as many couples of her friends that her little heart desires. I chose 8 couples. 8 x 2 = 16, duh. And guess who was in that group of poor souls forced to rehearse the waltz for 3 weeks straight in my uncle’s basement? Mr. S!!! Actually, those rehearsals happened very early on in our relationship — our first dates if you will. My other deep, dark, and dirty secret: I forced Mr. S to date me by enslaving him to my Sweet 16 ensemble. Don’t feel bad for him because he loved it.

So you can see where this is going: big ballroom Sweet 16 gala. What’s a girl to wear? My aunt called my mom from the Philippines with the news that she could have my dress made in the Philippines. Awesome! Not awesome. The dress arrived and it didn’t fit. And it was too short. I am only 4’11” and three-quarters – how can anything be too short on me?? So the dress was deported back to the Philippines and my mom and I shopped for a dress Stateside. I really don’t know how it happened…but one day we found ourselves in the bridal section of an evening wear store, and somehow I put on an ivory ball gown with floral detailing, and then we bought it, and then I owned a wedding dress at 15 years old. To our credit, we didn’t buy a veil. Not to our credit, we did buy a tiara.

But the story doesn’t end there…no, no, no! Because that Philippines dress came back with a vengeance. Serious alterations were made and the dress came back, fit like a glove, and looked like a million bucks. It was pink and gold (fitting with our theme – major plus), poufy, and custom. So I’d be a two dress Sweet 16er, no big deal. …Or would I be a three dress Sweet 16er? Because that wedding dress and that pink cupcake dress were really big, and how was I supposed to dance all night in that?? And so a third dress was bought – a simple light pink column sheath dress with pink beading.

My Sweet 16 was everything I could have imagined it to be and more…it was pink and gold and over the top with 140 guests, singing and dancing DJs, photographer and videographer*, sky-high balloon arrangements, plated dinners in the main hotel ballroom, three dress changes, and 30 minutes of choreographed dancing entertainment. And it is not what I want for our wedding. When we set out on this wedding planning adventure, I knew only two things: no hotel ballroom and no poufy dress. Something about it reminds me of being a kid and of our relationship when we were kids. And we’re not kids anymore, we’re full-fledged almost-but-not-yet 30 year old grown-ups.

When I think about it now, it’s crazy how long Mr. S and I have been together…how we have been able to grow up but not grow apart over 13 years.

So there you have it. My deep, dark, and dirty secret. I’m not a wedding dress virgin. Mr. S has assured me he will still marry me despite my indiscretion.

* One thing I learned from my Sweet 16 – the value of a videographer. We watched that video over and over so many times that my mother memorized it.

I am going to be a bald bride

Let’s face it, I’m a bad blogger.  I go off into the world and have all these fantastic /mundane experiences and never report back to you, my devoted readers.  For that, I apologize.  And to make it up to you, here’s a doozie of a blog post for you – Mr. S and I are engaged!
::: Trumpets, confetti, disco ball lighting :::
Mr. S proposed yesterday at Mama and Papa Rice Ball’s home in NJ, along with Pops (Mr. S’s dad), and Bro J and Bro J’s girlfriend, A.  I should have seen the signs earlier, but didn’t really get what was going on until Mr. S started making a speech about how much he loves me and wants to love me forever.  At least, I think that’s what he said…my ears stopped working at some point.  Only then did I realize that we were toasting champagne glasses at 11:00 am on a Sunday and why Mr. S requested we have breakfast with our parents (although in my defense – if someone told you “Hey, let’s go to Denny’s for breakfast,” would you be expecting a diamond ring at the end of it?)
Since he put a ring on it, I’ve been through a range of emotions… excitement, awe, disbelief, excitement again and then…anxiety.   Well-meaning friends and family want to know where, when, who, how, etc.  And the type A planner in me wants to get started right away and give them the answers – date, venue, family, friends, dress, shoes, hair, make-up, flowers, rings, music etc.  Cue anxiety.  Where do I even start?!?! OMG my hair is going to fall out.  OMG I am going to be a bald bride.
This whole range of emotion took about 4 hours to cycle through.  My solution:  F it.  I am going to F it and not think about anything wedding related for one week.  But, Urban Rice Ball, what will you be doing with yourself for one whole week?!  How can you abstain from the planning process?!  It will be hard, I’m not going to try and kid myself.  I’ve had to stop myself a few times already from googling, “I’m engaged, now what?”   I’ve found admiring my new ring and calling Mr. S “my fiancé” as often as I can helps to pass the time…  Here, maybe it will help you pass the time as well.
Edit: Since the time of writing to the time of posting, I admit to registering to theknot.com.  Also, Mr. S wants it noted that he did not propose at Denny’s.