March 18, 2019

Book Review: Embroideries by Marjane Sartrapi

From the best–selling author of Persepolis comes this gloriously entertaining and enlightening look into the sex lives of Iranian women. Embroideries gathers together Marjane’s tough–talking grandmother, stoic mother, glamorous and eccentric aunt and their friends and neighbors for an afternoon of tea drinking and talking. Naturally, the subject turns to love, sex and the vagaries of men.

As the afternoon progresses, these vibrant women share their secrets, their regrets and their often outrageous stories about, among other things, how to fake one’s virginity, how to escape an arranged marriage, how to enjoy the miracles of plastic surgery and how to delight in being a mistress. By turns revealing and hilarious, these are stories about the lengths to which some women will go to find a man, keep a man or, most important, keep up appearances.

Full of surprises, this introduction to the private lives of some fascinating women, whose life stories and lovers will strike us as at once deeply familiar and profoundly different from our own, is sure to bring smiles of recognition to the faces of women everywhere—and to teach us all a thing or two.

I loved Persepolis but just recently came across Embroideries.  Raunchy, funny, and eye-opening, it details a gathering of Marjane Satrapi’s female relatives wherein they gossip and divulge scandalous secrets, calling them “embroideries.”  Centering around unhappy marriages, duplicitous spouses and, of course, sex, I laughed out loud multiple times while reading this.  It reminded me of getting together with my sister and aunties and having similar (but not quite as detailed) blush-inducing conversations about family secrets. 

March 12, 2019

A Guide to Bangkok's Chinatown

One of the most colorful and chaotic places in Bangkok is Chinatown.  If you are seeking the heart of Bangkok’s street food scene – this is the place you need to be. 

But it’s not for the faint of heart.  It is noisy.  It is very crowded.  

And it’s also where you can find the best food anywhere in Bangkok at awesome budget prices.  

If you’re debating between going to Chatachuk Market or Chinatown, Chinatown is the clear winner for me.  In addition to all the food you could ever want or need, Chinatown also sells a lot of the same STUFF that Chatachuk Market carries.  

The easiest way to get to Chinatown is to take the Chao Praya Express Boat to pier number five or Ratchawong.  For tips on how to use the Bangkok ferry system, see my blog post.  As you exit the pier onto Ratchawong Road, turn right and walk until you reach Yaowarat Road.  Turn right again to enter the heart of Chinatown.  

Try not to go on a Monday.  Mondays are street cleaning days in Bangkok.  Less than half of street vendors will be operating. 

Set aside a couple hours to explore to your heart’s – and your stomach’s -content.  Bring your appetite, good walking shoes, cleansing wipes for eating on the go – and for those with less-than-ironclad stomachs, a preventative dose of an anti-diarrheal medication.

There are places to sit down and order but I found I gravitated towards the street carts, some of which were stationary, others which were just passing through, as its vendors were constantly on the move.  I tried everything I could – dishes I didn’t even know the name of.  I advise you to do the same.  If something interests you, try it before the cart passes you by.  You might not see it again.  

The sights, the smells, the bounty and variety of deliciousness.  Everything was a delightful surprise.  

Chinatown made the down and dirty foodie in me extremely happy – this is what I imagined when I thought about Bangkok’s food scene. 

How to Use the Bangkok Metro for Sightseeing

Bangkok’s super efficient, fast and affordable metro system is the tourist's best friend.

I only had a taste of Bangkok’s traffic congestion before I made a vow to use every means at my disposal to avoid sitting in traffic.  One of those means is Bangkok’s metro, which is comprised of three separate systems. One of them is called the BTS, which is Bangkok skytrain, a metro system that has routes above the city. The other is the MRT. And the third one is the ARL, which is the airport link, used primarily To travel to and from the airport.

During my three days in Bangkok I used the metro system, sometimes in conjunction with the public ferry system, every single day, even for my day trip to Ayutthaya.  

The metro system is only useful if your hotel is in the following areas: Silom, Sukhumvit, Siam.  I chose my hotel in the Sukhumvit  area partially because their website stated that it was 5 to 10 minutes walk from a BTS sky train stop.  This was incredibly useful to me. I was able to go to all of Bangkok’s  top sites, as well as to the Hua Lampang train station for my day trip to Ayutthaya, in addition to going to the airport for my flight to Hat Yai.

If this is your first time in Bangkok, you’ll likely be going to the following sites: Wat Arun, grand Palace, what pho and Chinatown.  The fastest way to get to these sites will involve using the public ferry system, in addition to the metro. Please see my blog post about how to use the Bangkok ferry system.

The metro stations are modern, sleek and on par with subway systems in New York and Paris and London. Although the metro system doesn’t cover the entirety of Bangkok, it is still a fast and inexpensive way to get from point to point.  

The subway cars are clean and air conditioned.  All signage is in English and Thai, ideal for tourists. I never got lost. All announcements for upcoming stops are also in English and in Thai.  As with other metro systems, to figure out which train to take, first determine the direction you are going. That means the last station on that line signifies which direction you want.

If you’re going to be in Bangkok for at least a couple of days I suggest buying a rabbit card you have to purchase it from a station office it is 100 baht to buy the card and with a minimum hundred baht worth of rides so the minimum that you can purchase is 200 baht total. You can always add more rides as you go along. For three days in Bangkok, including a day trip to Ayutthaya and a one-way trip to the airport, I used almost 400 baht worth of trips .  

To use the rabbit card, just tap it on the turnstile to enter the station and it will briefly flash how much money you have left on your card on the screen and then it will let uou in.  You again have to top your rabbit card on the turnstile to exit the station. At that time it will tell you the screen how much money you have left in your card.

You can also buy individual tickets for each trip.  But I found that having a rabbit card was the fastest way.

The rabbit card only works for at the Skytrain. Although the sky train has an app for your phone, you can only purchase or put money on the card by going up to the window available at any and every station.

If you want to go to an area that’s only accessible by the MRT, or if you want to reach the Hua Lamphong train station, you’re going to have to use the MRT.  The MRT does not use the rabbit card.  To transfer from Skytrain to the MRT you were going to have to go to a window at the MRT station and purchase a token just tell the teller at the window the MRT station you want to go to and they will calculate your fair and program the token to contain that fair. You tap the token on the turnstile as you enter the station and then as you leave the station you insert the token and the turnstile will swallow it before letting you out.

If you plan on taking the metro system to the airport, you will probably use a combination of the Skytrain the MRT and the ARL so you will use the rabbit card for the BTS SkyTrain, Purchase a token to use the MRT, and then purchase another token to use the ARL which is the airport link.  

When I first got into Bangkok I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to use the public transportation and so I hailed a taxi to take me from the airport to my hotel in Sukhumvit.  It took two very frustrating hours.  Three days later, to go from my hotel to the airport I decided to brave the public transportation and it was pretty easy. From my hotel to the airport it took about an hour. I would advise using public transportation to go to the airport only if you have light or carry-on luggage. You will likely have to take your luggage up and or down stairs. There are elevators at the stations, however, they seem to be only Available for the infirm or people in wheelchairs. There are escalators but they are not available at every station.

Furthermore if you are traveling during weekday commute hours in the morning or in the afternoon the metro will be very crowded and trains will be over full.

However I found that the ride from my hotel to the airport was much easier and much more stress-free than the ride from the airport to my hotel in the beginning of my trip. It was well worth it. And cost me a little over five United States dollars.

If you take a taxi either to or from the airport keep in mind that not only will you have to pay the metered fair even if you’re sitting on traffic but you also have to pay the highway tolls and there will be several of them.   A taxi to or from the airport could cost upwards of 500 baht. Not to mention hours of your time.

There are a couple of apps that you can use to help you navigate the Bangkok Metro system.  There’s the BTS metro and the BTS Skytrain apps. I found, however, that all I really needed was a download of the metro system map and knowledge of the nearest station to my destinations.  I never waited more than 10 minutes for a train.The metro system is pretty regular and reliable.

How to Sightsee in Bangkok on the Ferry

One of my surprising discoveries from my recent trip to Thailand was how much I enjoyed riding the ferry boats down the Chao Praya River in Bangkok.  Perhaps it had to do with the fact that it took me TWO HOURS to get from the airport to my hotel via taxi. Maybe the taxi driver was metaphorically taking me for a ride or maybe the traffic really is that bad (or a combination of both) but it just sucked what little energy I had after almost 20 hours of traveling.  I was so disgusted with the whole experience that I would have done anything to avoid sitting in Bangkok traffic ever again.  And in fact for my 3 days there, I never did again - turning to nonvehicular modes of transportation.

 If this is your first time to Bangkok, as it was mine, chances are you’re going to be going to the following sites: Wat Arun, Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and Chinatown.  The good news is, these are all reachable by Bangkok’s public ferry system which traverses the Chao Praya river.  Even better news is that each ride should cost you no more than 20 baht, or less than one US dollar.  Best news of all, it is a lot faster than taking a taxi, about 15 minutes tops from the central pier.  As a bonus, the ferry is a refreshing way to see Bangkok, especially on a really hot day.

First, take Bangkok’s Skytrain to the Saphan Taksin stop.  For a more detailed video on Bangkok’s metro system, see my blog post on the subject.  Follow the signs to the #1 or # 2 exit which lead towards the dock, which is below the station.  Sathorn Taksin is the central pier for the ferries and boats.  Every other pier has a number.

You may be confused about where to buy your ticket. Follow the sign to the Chao Praya Express Boat.  There will be touts who will lead you to an official looking window.  This is not where you want to go – it is 300 plus baht for a ticket and it is for the hop on, hop off boat.  

You want to go to a desk on the side.  Each ticket should be about 20 baht one way.  Confirm that you are on the right boat for your stop. I usually just asked, “Grand Palace?” or “Chinatown?” or on the way back “Sathorn Taksin?” and they should nod or say yes to confirm that you are going the right way.

Numerous boats and ferries stop at Sathorn Taksin. In general, to go to any of the major tourist sites - Wat Arun, Wat Pho, Grand Palace and Chinatown – you want to take boats with orange, green or gold flags or no flags at all.  Because I was unused to where I was going, I always confirmed with ferry personnel that I could reach my particular destination by standing in the right line.

For Wat Arun, you want to get off at pier number eight.  For Grand Palace and Wat Pho, you want to get off at pier number 9.  For Chinatown, you want to get off at pier number five, Ratchawong .  I will be making a more detailed video about Chinatown, so see the link in my description if you want more information.

For my first full day of sightseeing, I saw Wat Arun first, then caught another ferry at the same dock, which took me to Grand Palace and Wat Pho, then caught the ferry back to Saphon Taksin.  You can also take the ferry first to Grand Palace and Wat Pho and then catch a ferry to Wat Arun from a different pier for 4 baht. 

In addition to knowing the number pier you for your destination, the personnel on the ferry also yell out the landmarks that are coming up to alert you in case you want to disembark.  

The ferry boats going to tourist spots can fill up and you might have to stand.  

In general, however, I would take cruising down the Chao Praya river anytime over having to sit in Bangkok traffic.

March 11, 2019

Book Review: Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini

A short, powerful, illustrated book written by beloved novelist Khaled Hosseini in response to the current refugee crisis, Sea Prayer is composed in the form of a letter, from a father to his son, on the eve of their journey. Watching over his sleeping son, the father reflects on the dangerous sea-crossing that lies before them. It is also a vivid portrait of their life in Homs, Syria, before the war, and of that city’s swift transformation from a home into a deadly war zone. 

Impelled to write this story by the haunting image of young Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy whose body washed upon the beach in Turkey in September 2015, Hosseini hopes to pay tribute to the millions of families, like Kurdi’s, who have been splintered and forced from home by war and persecution, and he will donate author proceeds from this book to the UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) and The Khaled Hosseini Foundation to help fund lifesaving relief efforts to help refugees around the globe. 
Sea Prayer is heartbreakingly beautiful. Hosseini paints simple and indelible images with his words, accompanied by Dan Williams watercolor illustrations.  Told from the point of view of a Syrian refugee father, who recounts his family’s idyllic life before the bombs fell, the decimation, and the terrible aftermath. His fears and hopes for his son, against terrible odds, are universal.  Read it as a gift to yourself then gift it to someone else.  All proceeds go to help refugees.  
“I look at your profile
in the glow of this three-quarter moon
my boy, your eyelashes like calligraphy,
closed in guileless sleep.
 I said to you
‘Hold my hand.
Nothing bad will happen.’”

March 4, 2019

Book Review: Little Darlings by Melanie Golding

Publication Date: April 30, 2019

Source: Vine

A new mother becomes convinced that her children are not her own…

Lauren, a new mother, is exhausted by the demands of her twin boys. Since coming home from the hospital, she rarely leaves the house. But it isn't only new motherhood keeping her there. Lauren knows someone is watching them and someone wants her babies. It started with an incident at the hospital and an emergency call in the middle of the night. No one believes her -- not her husband, not the police -- until one day in the park when everything changes. Is Lauren mad or does she know something no one else does?

The most affecting passages in Little Darlings come early on - when Lauren is struggling as a brand new mom, bone-tired, sleep-deprived, and getting little help from her husband.  I just wanted to somehow enter the story and relieve her for a few hours so that she could sleep and regain some of her energy. Every mother will see themselves in Lauren, not only in the first few months after giving birth but in the sheer horror and panic surrounding every mother's worst fear - what if someone took my baby when I wasn't looking?

"Come away, O human child/To the waters and the wild" - The Stolen Child by W.B. Yeats

Little Darlings is taut with suspense, as the novel expertly straddles the line between post-partum depression and folktales about changelings - fairy creatures who take the place of stolen human babies.  In one chapter, I am sure that the fairies stole Morgan and Riley but in the next I am equally convinced that physically and emotionally strung Lauren is in the middle of a psychotic episode.  In which camp does the ending finally fall? - I'll leave it to you to find out.  

"...Morgan didn't look like Morgan, not exactly. Riley didn't either, something about the way his lip curled.

"And then she knew, with a terrible certainty. It wasn't Morgan and Riley, not anymore. Something else was looking at her, out of the eyes of her babies. 


"She stared at the babies, and as she did, a smell of rotting river-weed filled her nostrils.  The twins had been changed."