Thursday, February 28, 2008

Lizards in Lumphini

If I didn't know they are just lizards, I would think they were crocodiles. This morning in an hour we encountered no less than seven or eight of these crawling reptiles at Lumphini Park, one of which measured a good five feet. Honestly, they are such an extraordinary sight and a staple of Lumphini because of its artifical lake, that the city of Bangkok should advertise them into a wilderness watching attraction, like the city of San Francisco does at Pier 39 with the sea lions. How's that for eco-tourism?

Anyway. Cousins to the Komodo Dragon, the largest living reptile, the monitor lizards are carnivorous creatures. I understand the ones in Lumphini feed mainly on fish. Not to worry though, they won't go after anybody's toes. However, I wouldn't let my girls run after the big guys. Too scary.
As we went out riding our bicycles in Lumphini, we spotted our first lizard by the big playground. Monitor lizards being water reptiles, it was just coming out of the sewers. Certainly they are not picky when it comes to food. This tiny fellow was striped yellow and greyish brown and appeared to be very shy. This prompted my girls to chase him away. It kept hissing and sticking out its tongue at this annoyance. I wouldn't want the big brother to come after me.

On the small island on the lake, that's where we saw the biggest specimens. Boy were they impressive. Shy too, but not quite as much as the smaller guy. If you walk in Lumphini, just head towards the water, that's where you'll find them.

The other animals we encountered, apart from the numerous birds and mosquitoes (hello itchies), were a family of turtles sunbathing on a concrete bench on the lake. I was glad to learn that the lizard doesn't eat the turtles, at least as a regular diet. By then, the combination of sun and heat reduced my girls to two whimpy whiny little girls and the sight of the turtles did not even get a "wow". Only "I want to go home", which we promptly did. So long turtles, we'll be back to pedal on the ducky boats next week.

Finding a Pediatric Dentist in Bangkok

Twisted balloon animals are all the craze in pediatric dentist practices in Bangkok. You get one (or two or four) regardless of good or bad behavior just for showing up. However, the quality of the balloon twisting does not correlate with the quality of patient care. Here’s our quest to find a reliable pediatric dentist in Bangkok.

Five days ago, my 2.6 year old took a hard fall in Singapore on the marble floor of the Grand Hyatt Hotel lobby. She scored pretty high on the scale of tooth injuries: one chipped tooth, one fractured tooth (up to the pulp), both shaky and the fractured tooth pushed upwards in the gum. There. I just couldn’t leave it at that. We saw a dentist as soon as possible in Singapore. Mt Elizabeth Medical Center has a pediatric dentistry practice and Dr. Elizabeth Tan was one of the nicest dentists for children I’ve seen. She knew exactly how to communicate with my little girl, how to get her to keep her mouth open, how to stand still during the x-ray. Plus, the room where we were was full of toys and objects screaming for attention. The advice Dr. Tan gave was to wait a few days for the swelling to disappear, then reconstruct the tooth with a filling with maybe a baby root canal. That night, we flew to Bangkok.

Bangkok is great but as far as western medicine goes, Singapore is better equipped. Nobody I knew had heard of pediatric dentists in Bangkok. Wondering where to turn, I sent a call for help on the listserv of the Golden Gate Mothers Group, the mothers group that I belong to in San Francisco. The response was incredibly helpful. San Francisco moms called my dentist’s office in San Francisco, two dentist moms searched for contacts in Thailand, one called her dad in Germany who called a friend in Thailand, two called friends in Bangkok and Singapore and last but definitely not least, a GGMG mom who is a pediatric dentist (Dr. Nancy Hsieh) sent me a long distance consultation after I sent her an X-ray by email. Isn't that amazing?

Apart from smaller dental practices, the options for foreigners in Bangkok are limited: Bangkok Nursing Home, Samitivej Hospital, Bangkok Hospital or Bumrungrad Hospital. They all provide western-standards health care. I booked an appointment at Bumrungrad because I'd been there last year and it was nice. However I ruled out limiting my research to its Dental Practice after my visit. Although the dentist was nice, the facilities were basic, he didn't know how to speak to my two-year old and assessed the damages without looking at an X-ray.

I didn't feel comfortable, so I booked an appointment at DC-One, a dental clinic three doors down from where I used to live as a teenager on Yen Akard. It came recommended by the wife of a UN employee whose four children attend the International School of Bangkok. Well I was happy I did that because this time, it felt like the dentist knew what she was talking about and she was very thorough. It may look more like an internet cafe than a dental clinic, but it's got all the equipment including (in the kids room) a tri-dimensional ceiling mural repreenting spationauts and stars.
Now the verdict is to wait for the broken tooth to come down "out" of the gum, to wait for the swelling to subside, and then eventually do a baby root canal and a filling. Phew. I'll never step in my daughter's shoes again.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Lumphini Park and Playgrounds

Lumphini Park is a welcome oasis in fast-paced concrete-built Bangkok. Nowhere else can somebody relax under Banyan or sugar palm trees on lush green grass listening to sirens blaring and cars racing outside the park's walls. Its 140 acres used to be on Royal property and were donated in 1925 to create the kingdom's first public park. It's still Bangkok's biggest public park and a favorite hangout for locals. You'll see anything there from jogging businessmen in the morning hours to bodybuilders pumping iron in scorching heats, from slow-moving taichi ladies to cycling gardeners going around the park.
We decided to head over there for the playgrounds as I didn't know where to find good playgrounds anywhere else. Dotted with two new metro stations, one skytrain station and surrounded by major thoroughfares in the center of town, Lumphini Park is easy to reach. Once inside, it would be useful to have a map but if you sort of keep going straight around the park, you'll eventually reach a point of interest.

Entering at the corner of Wireless and Rama IV, we took a right and from far spotted bright yellow and red structures. This playground, complete with small climbing wall, slides, see-saw horsies and swings, got all my daughters' attention until they saw adults exercising on machines all around us. From there on, we hopped from one machine to the next, slowly making our way to the Chinese Pavillion which is across from a big building site now.

Sitting around a picnic table were seven old ladies performing what looked like Chinese praying rites, striking bells and chanting low, bowing in front of robed images. As we got closer to observe their ritual, a woman walked by us and saw our girls. She stopped and speaking in Chinese, took out a wooden Chinese drum (the sort you see in dancing lion parades) of a plastic bag. Holding a stick, she invited my girls to play on her drum which they happily did. After five minutes, they got tired and handed the drum sticks back. The woman walked away. End of drum episode.

Even with hats and a bottle of cold water, my daughters were starting to seriously melt away under an overcast sky. Lured by the sound of music, we reached a covered structure with a couple learning salsa dancing. What an odd sight that was. The teacher, an elderly man, was gracefully swaying to drum beats while his partner, an attractive young woman moved around with the grace of a garden dwarf. We didn't stay long though because another playground was calling us, the biggest in the park. On our way there, we were lucky enough to spot a giant monitor lizzard lazying the day away by the lake's edges. As soon as I got nearer for a shot, he smoothly slipped into the murky waters of the lake and swam away, his crocodile-like rugged spine protruding above the surface. I reassured my girls on the fact that they were not going to be eaten alive by this mini dragon. We hurried to the next playground. I couldn't help showing off on the monkey bars, much to the dismay of my younger one. After all, adults too enjoy playgrounds! It was about time to leave and we traveled from closed restroom to closed restroom until it became clear the only option was to rush back home with the metro. Some guys offered my girls a much welcomed glass of icy water at the exit of the park and it temporarily restored their spirits. I gave up my initial idea of gong for a drink at the Robinson Department store of Dusit Thani Hotel. Off we went.

We purchased our 17B metro tokens and proceeded underground in civilized air-conditioned tunnels. Out at the Khlong Toei Station, I took the shortcut via the railway to go back home and as we walked past shanty houses, got looks and questions from the residents who couldn't believe they were seeing westerners in their slum.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Singapore Zoo

"Mommy, the monkey are not in cages. Is it dangerous?" asked my four-year-old. The Singapore Zoo, opened in 1973, is a model zoo in the world when it comes to "open zoo" concepts. Instead of enclosing animals in cages or behind bars, they are separated from the public by water ditches, shrubs, moats and the like. Of course, certain animals such as the Siberian tiger are best enjoyed from behind a thick glass wall.

As soon as we came in, we rented a rolling cart to lug the children around. Set on 28 acres, the Singapore zoo is a large territory for children to navigate and I needed mine to be able to enjoy all the animals.

We started off on the left route, going past swinging monkeys in trees above us and sleeping crocodiles on river beds below our feet. Just the lush green of vines and trees towering above us was thrilling. It is quite amazing that a city the importance and size of Singapore retains rainforests and vast expanses of nature like that. You'd never see that in Bangkok for instance, where the city authorities are too busy chopping down trees to make way for car bridges.

We were particularly excited by the variety of monkeys and snakes. You see the monkeys a few feet away, maybe peeling bananas on a raised wooden bed, or clinging to the power lines to get across the path above pedestrians. It is quite extraordinary to see them roaming freely and so close. My youngest one was particularly fascinated by a baby Orang Utang gripping his mother who was literally running around and up the trees. "Look! A baby monkey!" she said, pointing at the baby. She wouldn't bulge during five minutes.
One of the highlights of the visit was an Asian elephants show that drew crowds from all over the zoo. Five Asian elephants, the largest living animals on earth, performed all sorts of drills and tricks associated with both the Asian culture (pulling logs into water ways and pushing them down the stream) and their natural ability to have fun (sliding their trainers down their trunks, blowing water up in the air like whales, knocking hats off someone's head and putting them back).
Now, my girls' real favorite thing - and it's sad to say - was the playground! I have to admit that their water park features water canoons, jets springing everywhere, fountains flowing on a soft ground. The heat was by means scorching but at 85 Farenheit, children need to be refreshed. My little one also really liked the slides, a clever device using plastic rolls instead of a simple metallic sheet to slide children down.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Celebrate French Crepes Day!


Crepes Day, a.k.a. La Chandeleur, officially took place in France last Sunday but today being Mardi-Gras, you can still pretend it's crepes day. For those of you unaware of this eggy gallic tradition, the Chandeleur is celebrated throughout France in early February with savory buckwheat (galettes) and sweet wheat crepes (crepes).

The all time favorite is the crepe complete: egg, ham and cheese. You accompany your crepes with apple cider (not the kind for babies, the kind with alcohol) or buttermilk. Remember: buckwheat is savory, wheat is sweet, not the other way round.

Here are two links to crepes recipes: Chocolate and Zucchini for the savory galette recipe, and Famous French Desserts for the sweet crepes recipe.