Posted in elementary, dear madeline, ex-pat confidential, madeline vs BKK, preschooler attacks!

madeline’s schools in bangkok

I've almost entirely abandoned my other blog, but today I managed to finish up a draft that I started many months ago. I thought that I'd cross-post it over here as it's a good fit and I figure that if someone is going to stumble across this blog looking for info on moving to Bangkok with young kids, this post about schools may be useful! Here it is:

Things I Liked about Living in Thailand, Part 2

The schools that Madeline went to!

We arrived in Thailand a few weeks after Madeline turned three years old, and she started preschool about a month later. She was a year too young to start Pre-K at the International School Bangkok, which was the school in our community, but when Chris and I were on our house-hunting trip in May 2007, we toured one nearby preschool, the Early Learning Centre (Country School location out in Nonthaburi). It was the only preschool that we'd looked at, but we have no regrets about not checking out other schools because ELC was pretty darn perfect. 

I can't say enough good things about ELC and the experiences that Madeline had there. The classrooms are bright and cozy, with the walls usually decorated with photographs of the little students hard at work at something. The playground has a shaded place for playing and a green space for running around, and the softest and whitest sand that I've ever seen. Madeline probably brought home a kilogram of it over two years, hitch-hiking in her shoes and, inexplicably, in her hair. The little library in K. Pum's office has a better variety of books than one would probably except for such a small space. Madeline had classes with specialist teachers for art, movement, and music. I hadn't heard of the Reggio Emilia philosophy before Madeline started attending ELC, but after a couple of months of watching her class's study of bears unfold, it looked like a wonderful and inquisitive way for small children to approach learning. 

The school puts on a few events throughout the year, but the one that is the biggest deal is the annual charity art auction. The four classrooms and the art studio would be invaded by the parents of eighty-odd students, all bidding on the large group paintings/collages/sculptures that each class had worked on throughout the year. I was usually outbid on my favourite pieces by the parents of Madeline's classmates – the art auction is very competitive – but each year I managed to come home with a piece that her class made, and they are still hanging up in our home. I'm not talking about finger-paintings, either – under the direction of the art teacher, the small children create some really cool pieces. We have a piece that Madeline's class made when she was three, and it looks like they painting textured paper, tore it up into strips, and then put it back together to look like an underwater scene. From her K2 class when she was four, I have a large picture of flowers that are made from a collage of seeds. 

This school is a great community unto itself. It's where Madeline made her friends, and it's where I met my friends for our time in BKK as well. Her teachers (who were dear and compassionate people) were always out on the playground before class and at dismissal, so it was never hard to ask about what her class had been doing. I helped out with reading and cooking in the classroom, and other parents were welcomed into the class to help out similarly. This place meant a lot to me for my first two years overseas, and I think that I was sadder than Madeline was on her last day of school at ELC. 

Then, Madeline started kindergarten at International School Bangkok (about ten times bigger). Gosh, it was different. It was big, it felt impersonal, and navigating the parking lot was hectic. We were a bit overwhelmed on the first day, but now that kindergarten is over, we miss ISB a lot.

I wouldn't be being honest if I didn't say that we chose this school for Madeline because it was a ten minute walk (on clean, dog-free sidewalks) from our apartment in Nichada Thani. As the school year wore on, it became obvious that it had other things going for it, as well. Their playground equipment was fabulous and first-world-quality (not always the case in Nichada or in BKK in general), the elementary library was well-stocked and the librarian was an awesome individual, the school had a great level of communication with parents and had so many opportunities for parents to volunteer in the classroom (Actually, a lot of these things became more apparent after Madeline started school here in Saigon, where she doesn't have equipment in the school yard, the library only welcomes parents on Tuesdays for two hours, and parents generally aren't encouraged to help out). Madeline only spent one year at ISB, but she has so many good memories of her time there. 

There were a few things that were mildly irritating, like the reminders that the school's worked closely with the US Embassy for security advisory purposes (why not other embassies as well?), and how the extracurricular events seemed to take over the whole community (like the time that my kids and I were trying to walk to the store and their parent volunteers for a race were hassling us over using the public bike lane for our tricyles). This stuff I could live with, though, and if we had the chance to enroll Madeline at ISB again in the future, I'd leave in a heartbeat. 

NB: If anyone wants to read Things I Liked About Living in Thailand, Part 1, here's the link. It's about the compound where we lived!



Posted in elementary, dear madeline, ex-pat confidential, madeline vs BKK, saigon, baby, school daze

january’s theme: too busy to post

Today, at the first toddler playgroup of the year, I was expecting to exchange "Happy New Year"s with the other parents, so the excited "Oh my gosh, I can't believe how fabulous that Villa Market you had in BKK is!" from one of the moms that I am friendly with caught me off-guard. And it was funny to me – I can remember when I was extremely frustrated with grocery shopping in Bangkok and Villa seemed anything but fabulous, but now, having a Villa Market nearby would seriously make my year. I miss being able to buy edamame and sweet potato fries (and frankly, a whole lot of familiar comfort food) for my kids. Grocery shopping in Saigon means that I am confronted with whole aisles of MSG packages and I've been to three different shops looking for whole wheat flour and haven't found it yet. I am very homesick nostalgic for my former life in Thailand these days … 

Madeline's class wasn't assigned any homework over the break, and she vehemently refused to have anything to do with practicing math, no matter how many times her dad bugged her about it. "I don't have any homework ! I am on a holiday!" she would tell us, sharply. I usually laughed when they were having a row over homework, because she spent so much of the break from school reading – reading signs, websites,  and subtitles (in Toy Story 3, our latest DVD purchase) – and I guess she never thought about the practice that she was getting! (And I can't begin to express how amazed I am that I have a child who can REA !)

I am also amazed, this evening, at what some of my fellow foreigners in Saigon try to get away with. We have a web-community here, "Nguyen's List", if you will, and today there was a post from someone who  would be delighted to sell a second-hand Maclaren Triumph baby stroller for $230 USD, which is plenty more than what they cost brand-new. I am somewhat tempted to post that I am giving away a second-hand Mac Triumph for free, just to stop someone from being taken advantage of. Sigh.

I'd write more but my husband is newly addicted to Angry Birds and playing it right next to me!


Posted in madeline vs BKK, sometimes parents just don't understand

do real gingerbread men wear dresses?

This past weekend, I was sitting at the little table with the girls with the playdough out. I was rolling out a large piece of purple for no real reason other than to keep my hands busy, when Madeline passed me a smallish green plastic gingerbread person cookie cutter. "Could you make me a gingerbread girl, Mom?" she asked. 

"Why do think this one makes a girl?" I asked, absentmindedly. 

Madeline rolled her eyes and sighed. "She's wearing a dress."

"Ah," I said, pressing the cookie cutter into a flattened blob of purple dough."Well, sometimes men wear dresses, too." Now Madeline's eyes are wide. "Especially in Thailand,"  I continued. "Many of the pretty ladies we saw there were really Ladyboys." 

I passed her a purple playdough figure. "Here's your Gingerbread Ladyboy!" I'm not sure if she believed me, but isn't playdough more fun when it comes with lessons in cultural awareness?

Posted in Idle Chatter, madeline vs BKK

hello friday

Seeing as I still don't have my MacBook back from the repair place, I've found myself with some extra time on my hands over these last FOUR weeks (I am soooo ready for the stand-off b/w the military and the anti-gov't protesters to be over here, but I digress … ). My sister is visiting for the week, so hanging out with her has been awesome. Madeline has total crazy-love for her auntie and they've bonded over pedicures, popsicles, and baking batches of oatmeal cookies. The toddler is warming up to Auntie Uncle Dwight. Sadie cheerfully shared her board books and they played with Little People together yesterday, but the funniest shared adventure between Dwight and Sadie happened last night.

Sadie woke up around 9:15 when I was grabbing a quick shower before bed. As soon as I heard her wails, I turned the water off, speed-towelled, threw my pajamas on, and went in to settle her. She was worked up a lot more than usual. After she was sleeping in the dim light of the Ocean Wonders Aquarium again, I knocked on Dwight's door to confirm plans for today. At the end of our chat, she sheepishly admitted that she went in to see Sadie when she first woke up. She figured that if she kept the lights off, Sadie wouldn't notice who was patting her. Regardless, I guess that Sadie wasn't happy with that and started to cry harder. So, Dwight picked her up and tried to calm her, but Sadie still cried harder. So, my sister then decided that the situation just wasn't going to improve; she popped Sadie back in her crib and slunk out the door, leaving the scene of the crime as if nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened. And I honestly had no idea, but now realize why Sadie was more worked up than usual.

Other things from this MacBook-less week? My friend Kari introduced me to the TG/Thai Airways market in the Lard Prao area of Bangkok. For reasons that I cannot explain, there is a lot North American children's clothing there. The tees from The Children's Place that I bought there actually were tagged for sale in Canada. There was also lots of Gap Kids/Baby Gap and Old Navy. I bought a few things for the girls to grow into and be packed up with the rest of our personal effects in June for the move. I can always find something else to fill up my suitcase with this summer.

I've also been spending some of those extra hours at the house of a friend of mine here, cuddling and feeding one of the FOUR babies that she brought home from the hospital last weekend. You would not believe how much my arm had to be twisted to volunteer … kidding, of course :)  I love staring at those squishy little faces, but I am sort of surprised that I let myself out of their home without any of those oh-I-want-another-baby feelings. Sadie is still a baby, anyways, right?

Posted in madeline vs BKK, sadie the sequel

may i present our newest legal resident

Today, when Sadie happened to be sixteen months and two days old, we finally closed the long-stay visa process that we started in Hanoi, Vietnam at the end of last April. It doesn't normally take ten months. The type of visa that we have needs to be applied for from outside of Thailand, so that's why we went to Vietnam. Secured her single-entry visa, re-entered Thailand, and Chris's company was the liason for the rest of the paperwork to have a long-stay visa for her approved. We thought that things have gone swimmgingly until we were at the Qantas check-in counter in Melbourne in July, when the error was caught. For some reason, Sadie's visa had already expired. 

The good news was that Thai immigration figured that the date on Sadie's visa was a typing error, so she was able to re-enter Thailand. The bad news that we got after we were home was that it was actually a different error, and we'd have to re-start the visa application process all over again, down to having to apply from another country. I'll admit it – I was livid and stayed rather angry about having to start over again for several months. We secured Sadie her second single-entry visa in London over the Christmas holidays (when my rage had given way to acceptance), and thankfully, all of the pieces of the puzzle that came after fell into place they way they needed to. 

There were a few tense moments yesterday when I was unable to communicate to the id photo staff that I wanted the date stamped on the back of the four ID photos that I needed to submit, but I guess that wasn't important, in the end. 

Posted in are you smarter than a kindergartener?, madeline vs BKK

low maintenance pet

After several months of attempting to convince Madeline that it's a sign of good luck to have a gecko in one's bedroom (instead of a reason to shriek in teror), we have success. The tiny little gecko who has been hanging out behind her chest of drawers for the past five days or so has been named "Squiggly" and Madeline gives me updates throughout the day about whether her new pet is hiding, peeking out from behind the chest of drawers, or basking in the heat atop the furniture. 

I have no idea, honestly, if geckos are viewed as a sign of good fortune in this culture. It was just the quickest thing that I could think of to put a positive spin on a renegade reptile. 

Posted in Little Person Updates, madeline vs BKK, Parenting

requiem for a twelve-month molar

Tomorrow, I'm afraid, will be the last day that Madeline looks forward to visiting the dentist. After Thursday's cavity-fixing (which sounded pretty gruesome, the way the pediatric dentist described it to us), I can't help but think that we'll either be restraining her in the big chair or else looking for a practice with sedation services for our future visits. Darn. I am trying to optimistic that she won't freak out and not make a big deal out of the visit. I'm sort of thinking that it would be worthwhile to dig out our copy of our Dora-the-Explorer-visits-the-dentist (which I normally really like, much as I cringe over the cartoon) because it shows her getting a filling, but I am not sure that the bedside manner of the medical practitioners that we've run into in Thailand are as easy-breezy as Dora's dentist. 

Prior to Madeline's appointment, she'll be out for the first half the day to attend a birthday party at the Funarium. I've never taken my kids there yet, but I'm curious about this new-to-Bangkok indoor playground. The reviews that I've heard thus far as quite postive – it's well-maintained and clean.