Diary of a Globetrotting Family
Chile excitement, tech problems, kiddo differences, Hua Hin night markets, and a beach surprise for Aster
Excited for chiles? Wow, I did not expect that from a certain 11-year-old. But as we settled into Hua Hin, Thailand, the four of us tackled more technical difficulties and got to know the beachside town’s incredible night markets. And one afternoon as we checked out the beach, Aster found herself somewhere she did not expect to be.
More technical difficulties
In Da Nang, Vietnam, we had just replaced my laptop’s kaput display. The next day, Connor pulled the tablet out of his backpack and opened the cover. Then his eyes got really wide.
“Mama? Daddy?” he said. “My screen is cracking.”
He wasn’t kidding. Held vertically, the screen near the left edge wasn’t just cracked, it was fragmenting into tiny pieces. Longer cracks radiated across the glass as well, as if someone had been drawing lightning bolts with a nail.
Had the damp air in Hue gotten inside the glass and messed up the display? (We’d read about humidity messing with tablet glass.) Connor is typically very careful with his tablet. As we talked through possible drops or knocks, he was confident nothing like that had happened.
At first, we tucked the tablet away. We’d just dealt with the cost of fixing my laptop, and we had another tablet Connor could use. Once we got to Singapore, after LEGOLAND Malaysia, we’d run the tablet to an Apple Store and see what our options were.
Perhaps the culprit had to do with something about how he packed his backpack. The backpack Connor uses used to be mine. Part of why we like this pack is the padded pockets in a rear, separate tech pocket. Going through his backpack together, we pulled out everything, from t-shirts to hair ties, journal to bum bag.
One potential culprit could have been the folding travel chess set, which Connor keeps in the front compartment of his backpack. Could that have pressed on the tablet in such a way that pressure cracked the screen? However, all of Connor’s clothes were in the main compartment. That put a lot of squishy padding between the chess set at the front and the tablet at the back.
We ruled out the chess set. And everything else, from the small top pocket to the main compartment to the tech pockets. Then we remembered one last little area.
The culprit’s time
On the back of the backpack, there’s a zippered secret pocket. When I used this backpack, I might tuck my wallet and keys in there. Connor didn’t use it much.
We opened it and pulled out the small rectangular block of a travel alarm clock he used to use. After the alarm kept getting set to various times in the midnight hour, we had told Connor he had to take a break from using it. He’d kept it, though—in the backpack’s secret compartment.
That compartment, and the clock inside, could smash right up against something in the tech pocket. Under the right amount of pressure, it could press hard enough to crack tablet glass.
We looked at the tablet again. Elementary: Where the tablet sat in the pocket pressed right against the clock.
In Singapore, the Apple Store tech looked over the tablet, checked a few things over, and said that replacing the display would cost around US$300. However, they’d have to ship it out, and we would not have enough time in Singapore for that to work.
Returning to Thailand and arriving in Hua Hin, Jodie researched possible places. If it came down to it, we could work with an Apple Store in Bangkok.
But what if we didn’t need to?
Thank goodness for Google Translate
A couple of days later, I got into a Grab and headed about 20 minutes north of our Hua Hin apartment. From the main road, the driver turned left. We passed small shops, a pedestrian overpass under construction, and a few cafes. Next to a laundromat, I got out and made my way into a wee Hua Hin tech repair service that Jodie had found on Google.
Thanks to Google Translate and a calculator, we talked through the tablet, about what it needed, and the cost.
“It’ll take about three hours,” said the tech—or, at least, the tech’s words translated from Thai script into English on his phone.
And the cost?
They tapped it out on a calculator, and I converted the baht amount to USD on my phone.
I told them I planned to head to a coffee shop while they did the work.
The tech nodded and did some tapping on his phone.
“I will drive you.”
About three hours, an excellent americano, a slice of oreo cake, a banana chocolate smoothie, and quite a bit of completed work later, I hopped on the back of the owner’s motorbike. Back at the shop, he handed over the tablet with its new, pristine, uncracked, perfectly functioning display.
I returned to the apartment in triumph, and Connor gave me a big thank-you hug. Well, he did in spirit, anyway. But he was grateful that we had gotten the tablet repaired.
As for that travel alarm clock?
It seems to have gotten left behind somewhere.
A tale of two children
Between the two seven-story buildings where we’re staying in Hua Hin, Thailand, run two parallel, multi-level pools, each as long as a football field, with a walkway in between and a pirate ship at one end. From the upper levels of both sides and both ends of the pools, gentle waterfalls cascade down to a sort of boxy plunge pool, bordered by rocks on top of a short wall that separates the plunge pool from the lower pool beyond.
The water in the plunge pool foams and gurgles from the falls. This area, it turns out, is the preferred home to the giggly, wandering water creature.
Water creature and fire creature
One Sunday afternoon, Aster and I went down to the pool together, to try out the pool for the first time. However, we were not just going to pick any ole spot. The splash area in front of the pirate ship was turned off for some reason, so that was out. The angle of the sun had one side of the pool in shade, and the other in full brightness. We dipped our big toes into the dark water and shivered. The sunny pools were still a touch chilly, but at least warmed by full sunlight. In the lower pool, by the waterfalls and the boxy, rock-lined pool, we jumped in.
“You’re a fire creature,” said Aster. “I’m a water creature. You’re trying to catch me and make me your pet.”
With a nod, I began sneaking around the pool, keeping my shoulders submerged while acting like I was trying to slowly take her by surprise. She danced in the water, moving around in slow circles and making gentle splashes as she ran her fingertips through the surface of the blue pool.
Near enough to grab her, I gave a fiery roar, bent my knees, and launched out of the water toward her. She zipped off to the side, out of reach, as I slammed my arms closed. But all I captured was my orange-shirted torso. The water creature dashed through the pool as I lunged forward again.
She raised her arms and waggled her fingers. “My water jets have knocked out your fire blasts.”
“You will be my pet!” I called. “You will never leave!”
Aster clambered over the rocks separating the lower pool from the plunge pool, then she hid behind a large rock.
“You don’t see me,” she said.
I leaped toward the rocks and swung my hands toward her.
“From my home,” she said, “a thousand water creatures surround you and knock out your flames.”
Doused and dripping, the fire creature stared at the water creature. “It was wrong of me to try to take you,” I said. “I realize you’re where you belong. I’m sorry. Can we be friends instead?”
With a nod, the water creature came down from the plunge pool to the main pool. Then a dad and daughter splashed around, giggled in the sun, and explored the splash pad and the pirate ship.
The blind wrestler
A little later that same day, while Aster hung out with Jodie back at the room, Connor and I got into the pool and immediately started dunking each other.
We had this entire sunny blue rectangle to ourselves. Good thing too. As my son and I wrestled, sparred, and tumbled about the water, we sent splashes soaring. Now and again, when Connor and I would catch a breath, I’d take a moment and notice how the pool had become a stormy sea.
Then we’d be right back at it.
Connor jumped on my back and wrapped his legs around my ribs, snug as the hip straps on my backpack. “What are you gonna do now?” he called, as he gave me a couple of thumps near the shoulder blades.
“Carry your baby in an ergo,” I said, “only you don’t realize then that they’ll never stop wanting to be on your back.”
I leaped backward and sent both of us splashing into the water. He came up laughing and spluttering. Then I whipped around and jumped onto his back, knowing the water’s buoyancy would support my weight on him.
“My turn to be on your back, kid!”
He laughed and tried to splash, then whirled around from side to side, though that got even more difficult as my fingertips made pokes in just the right parts of his ribcage.
I climbed down, and we faced each other. “Close your eyes,” said Connor, “and see if you can get me.”
We traded off back and forth like this for a few turns. At first, I could easily get Connor, though he had a hard time finding me when it was his turn to close his eyes. In between bouts, I’d talk with him about breathing, about being quiet, about listening. Soon, eyes closed, he began to observe better. Next thing I knew, nowhere in the pool was safe. But then again, what with all the laughing, everywhere was.
When Connor was a toddler, jellyfish fascinated him. He talked about them all the time. It turns out he thought jellyfish were made of jelly.
Fast forward to one afternoon in Hua Hin. Sitting around our table in the main room, Connor pulled the lid off a small tub of yogurt and stirred it with a spoon.
“Oh wow,” he said, excitement bubbling in his voice. “Little chiles!”
My eyes widened. At last. The moment I’d been waiting for all his life. From all the hot sauces sniffed, chile peppers discussed, and even the occasional teeny, almost atomic, taste of something spicy. From becoming spicy-curious in Chiang Mai, a couple of months later, here we were, back in Thailand, and Connor was excited to encounter—and tuck into—something spicy!
But just as quickly, my eyes narrowed. Sure, chiles show up all over the place in Thailand. But in a small tub of yogurt?
“Wait.” I held up my hands. “What did you say, son?”
“What did you think I said, Daddy?”
“I thought you were excited about there being little chiles in your yogurt.”
Connor arched an eyebrow and shook his head. Then he held up his spoon, which was covered in a bit of white yogurt (coconut flavored), and was completely absent of telltale green or red chile chunks. However, little pale, translucent cubes glimmered in the overhead light.
“Little jellies,” said Connor. “I like the little jellies.”
Oh. I guess we’re not there yet. But a spicy-loving dad can hope.
The surprise ride
The man stopped on the sand, and so did what was next to him. Aster hadn’t noticed. Head down as she patted out wet sand pancakes and “sand delight,” it was only when I called her name that she looked up. Once she saw what was next to the man, Aster immediately stood, staring, as if unsure what was in front of her was real.
“Would she like a ride?” said the man.
“It’s fine with me if it is with her,” I replied.
Aster nodded quickly, clambered forward, and the man helped her up into the saddle of a shimmering, stately, black and brown horse.
Along the gentle sea
This particular Hua Hin beach is just a few minutes down a side street from our back gate. We had taken a pause in the afternoon to get outside a bit and figure out where the beach was. Passing by resorts, we crossed the end of the blacktop as it gave way to sand. The narrow beach is compressed between the sea and a stone wall, about a couple of meters tall. Empty sand stretched to the north and south. A few people wandered about.
After exploring for a bit, Jodie and Connor made their way back to our apartment. Aster wanted to stay for a while longer, so she could splash in the surf and make more sand cakes.
But winding up on horseback? That was not something any of us had expected.
As we made our slow way north along the Hua Hin beach, the gentle, pale green waves swished quietly up the shore. Little globules of sand dotted the caramel brown sand just up from the waterline, like pea-sized bits of pie dough. Among the piles of rubbly sand, pale, small crabs darted along and dived back into their holes as hoofprints fell. Now and again we passed washed-up jellyfish the size of dinner plates, though thankfully their tentacles were long gone.
I tried to ask the man the horse’s name, but I don’t think he understood me.
“I would name this horse Hoofprints,” said Aster. She took one hand off the rein and pointed down. “Because it leaves hoofprints in the sand.”
As we walked, I mostly watched Aster. A confident ease came over her, as if she were John Wayne’s great-granddaughter, and she rode tall horses on Thai beaches every day. Aster surveyed the world around her, the Hua Hin resorts and the sand, the waves and the calm, green sea, out toward the eastern horizon.
“How are you feeling up there, dear heart?” I asked.
“You know Daddy, I usually think I want to run my own pet shop when I grow up,” she replied. “But now I wonder if I also want to help people learn to ride horses.”
Long view from horseback
From Huatulco to Hua Hin, we travel like this not only because we love it, but because we see it as a way to help the kids learn about the world, themselves, and their place in it. I’m always learning more about my children. Above all, I love how they learn more about what they like, what they can do, and how much bigger the world is than they ever thought.
Aster connects with animals in ways I don’t understand. Her ease, enthusiasm, and care come together. She knows she has a lot to learn about animals too—but she knows she loves them deeply. From horseback, she talked with confidence and certainty, and she enjoyed the feeling.
Will Aster run her own pet shop someday? Or teach people to ride horses? I do not know. At eight, she doesn’t need to write business plans yet. But she’s thinking about the possibilities before her as she both enjoys childhood and heads ever steadily toward the adult she’ll one day become.
Today, she learned that not only could she see up and down the beach from horseback. She could see into her future, too.
February summer night
“You look like you’re dressed for warm weather,” said Jodie’s mom over FaceTime, on a Saturday morning just shy of mid-February.
We certainly were. I typically wear a buttoned short-sleeve shirt over a quick-dry t-shirt, with long pants. Jodie was in a tank top and skirt. Our outfits are perfect for Hua Hin. Jodie’s parents, by contrast, are in Colorado, which has been in the throes of a ridiculously chilly winter.
So perhaps that’s why, as we wandered into the Hua Hin Tamarind Night Market last night, I felt even more appreciative of spending February in a beach town in Thailand.
Now, sitting down the next day, Sunday, to talk about our reflections on the night markets here, I keep thinking of that conversation. Or chatting with my mom over FaceTime earlier today, as she told me about potential snow heading to Roanoke, VA, my hometown, that night.
Yet for our Saturday night, we wandered a few minutes north under a clear, balmy, early night sky. A couple of stars peeked out to the left of the tall Holiday Inn just west of the train station.
The only cold I was thinking about was the chill of a freshly blended mango smoothie.
Tentacled corn dog
Coming into the open-air market, we took a moment to decide where we wanted to go. Before us, hundreds of people sat at four-person tables. To our right, a guitar and vocal duo were sending out chords and harmonies. We went left, along the outer perimeter of the market, and passed gelato, wine, shellfish, crab fried rice, fried chicken, sausages, and green papaya salad.
By the way, that was a much-abridged list.
The kids snagged some chicken skewers. Jodie and I kicked off our night’s strategy of picking out dishes we would share from a few places we’d had our eyes on: Korean-style fried chicken (with a wee cup of cubed pickled daikon radish), mini-loaf pan mac and cheese (topped with bacon and fresh oregano), and grilled egg squids on a stick. From a distance, the squids look a bit like corn dogs, if corn dogs had waggly little baby tentacles.
There’s no way around a simple truth: I love being here. Especially when it’s winter back in the US.
Jodie, the kids, and I have enjoyed many things about winters in western Oregon. The temperate climate typically would have us warm and snug in hand-knit wool sweaters, in a cozy home. Eugene typically gets its winter precipitation in rain, not snow. But in Thailand, February is full of summer nights. As much as I love every sweater Jodie has ever made me, I’m not missing my sweaters so much that I would trade sitting at an outdoor market near the beach for wondering if a winter weather warning would see an ice storm that shuts down the city and totals one of our cars.
A different view of winter
The kids went to get crepes folded into cones and filled with ice cream. I ordered a mango yogurt smoothie to split with Jodie. The four of us wandered back down the street. As we passed by other travelers, snippets of different languages floated by. French. Russian. Maybe Swedish or German.
At home in Eugene, for us winter has been all about hunkering down in the house, cooking up hearty dishes, keeping the kettle on a near-constant boil, and snuggling under blankets to take in a family movie or show while rain thuds down in streaks on the window behind the family room couch. In Thailand, we bask in clear, balmy nights. Grill smoke and wok steam rise from dozens of food stalls. There’s music, conversation, an atmosphere of people—many of them families with wee children—enjoying an evening out.
Sure, this is technically winter in this hemisphere. I’m also well aware that later in the year, Thailand will get much hotter, and we’ll likely be glad we’re elsewhere.
For now though, on a Saturday night in February, our family is out and about, bellies full of street food made right in front of us. We are together, chatting, laughing, and warm, inside and out. It’s a different view of winter, but it’s one we are loving.