Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Battles Ensue...

We left the USA exactly one month ago.  Since that time, the usual crazy pace of our life has continued and we've had some battles on different fronts.  The most entertaining and humorous, by far, was the Battle of Monkey Island....

Monkey Island
Our family's favorite vacation spot (outside the US) is a beach about a 4-hour drive from Bangkok, Thailand.  We've been going there for years, and it's the home of many fond memories for our family and many friends who have accompanied us there over the years.  On our way back to East Asia, we stopped off in Thailand and got to enjoy several days on the beach.  This year, the adventure to Monkey Island stood out....

fishing boat w Monkey Island in the background
....As the two kayaks cut through the rough water, the sun beat down upon the backs of the 6 Joseph family members.  After half an hour of paddling, the kayaks had covered the 2.74 km to the shallow waters just off the coast of the small island known as Monkey Island.  This small, uninhabited island is aptly named due to the huge number of wild monkeys that roam the beaches of the picturesque landscape.  It isn't uncommon to see small fishing boats draw near for the passengers to catch a glimpse of the monkeys, many of whom are mothers with small ones clinging to their stomachs, who flood the beaches at the sight or sound of an approaching craft.

This day was like any other.  When the monkeys heard the sound of human banter as the boats approached, the monkeys swarmed out from the tree line.  The two kayaks slowly paddled toward the shore--the plan being to disembark for a short time and hand-deliver the bunch of bananas that had been hauled across the open water on the back of one of the kayaks.

As the bottom of the kayaks touched the sandy shore, all mayhem commenced.  As Kevin started tossing bananas, Karis hopped out of the first canoe, much to the monkeys' delight.  It seemed as if they assumed that she, too, was armed with bananas to throw.  Before she knew what hit her, a large monkey lunged and landed on her shoulder, clinging to the life jacket she wore before he slipped off and into the shallow water.  At the same time that her shrieks could be heard, the second kayak where Eli was perched, also came under attack.  As Eli was standing to his feet to brace the boat in the waves, a small group of monkeys approached at a rapid pace, with several jumping into the water and swimming while others lunged directly onto the boat.  Eli, obviously having watched too many Star Wars movies, instinctively took a Jedi stance, his oar as a double-bladed light saber, and started swinging.  Before Ashley could back paddle enough to get the kayak out of the danger zone, Eli smacked two monkeys with the end of his oar, sending the monkeys a short distance away (not harmed!).  In the meantime, Kevin came to Karis' rescue, also using his oar as a weapon to ward off the monkey onslaught.  The remaining bananas were quickly launched onto the shore (thankful for Kevin's good throwing arm) as the two kayaks and 6 Josephs paddled like mad for open water, leaving a few monkeys still hoping for more bananas onboard, following behind.

By the time we got to safe water and caught our breath, the peels of laughter could surely have been heard on the far shore.  The memories of the monkey attack, of Eli and his Jedi moves, of Kevin on the attack to save his daughter, and of Noah and Hudson simply egging on the whole adventure with their yelling, left us with memories that will not soon be forgotten.  And we consider the Battle of Monkey Island a "win" for the Joseph family (mainly because we escaped without any teeth marks on our bodies to show for it)...

I'll stop the drama there, as that was the highlight of the excitement.  I should probably add that we found out later that they fishermen have stopped allowing boats to get close enough to actually physically encounter the monkeys.  They now stop in the open water and throw the fruit on shore.  Apparently there were too many tourists getting physically assaulted by the increasingly aggressive primates.  Oh, and I'm also intentionally leaving out the conclusion of the kayak outing--being that the water had gotten so rough that we were unable to paddle against the current to get all the way back to our hotel's starting point!  We ended up paddling to shore, getting of the boats, and walking them through waist-deep water a full mile down the shore to get to our starting point.  It was a little humbling, but also ended up being more of a full-body workout than we'd intended!  (Man, were our quads sore the next day from the walk through the water!)

Eli and Hud in their snow fort
Battle on the Homefront
So now we're back in our home city and I'm sitting in my nook (my favorite spot in our home), sitting with a throw blanket over me as I watch the snow swirl all around from our 8th-floor window.  It's beautiful.  And cold!  We had one of our 15 bags that was seriously delayed (we got it a full month after it went missing!) that contained all the kids winter boots, their winter gloves and hats, and a few winter coats finally show up, and are we ever grateful!  The kids spent the first 5 days back playing in the snow in their tennis shoes, and they had to come warm up more than once and wait for the ice to thaw out enough for them to not crack when they were on their feet!

Unfortunately, the bags that I so delight in being able to unpack quickly and put away (in order to clear our small home from excess clutter) are still stacked around our entry way and at the foot of our beds, waiting for our big move.  Our landlord sold our apartment that we've been renting for the past 2 years, so we've had an amazingly hectic last week and a half of apartment hunting and packing up as much as we can.  We were anticipating the hunt to be challenging, but I don't think I realized just how far off my expectations were...

Literally the morning we arrived back in town, my sweet husband hit the pavement and didn't stop for about 5 days straight.  He had already been looking on-line and having three friends in town do some leg work to see what was available, and we were discouraged by the responses we were getting.  We were thrilled when we found an apartment about 100 yards away from the one we're currently in, slightly larger than our current 140 square meters (about 1500 sq ft) and in decent condition, and with a landlord who seemed great (willing to let us paint the walls and keep our cat!).  So then began the approval-seeking regiment, and it all fell apart.  In spite of the fact that it didn't make any sense logically to us, we were not permitted to rent that apartment.  After multiple appeals, including me baking cookies and going with Kevin and the landlord to beg, we were still denied and finally gave up.
Joseph boys and their snowman

So the hunt continued, and it was then that we started branching out in widening our search and I saw how different I am than the majority of people who live around me.  Most of the apartments that we looked at had hardly ANY furniture.  The bedrooms had no beds, only rugs on the ground for sleeping.  The kitchens were so small that there literally wasn't a single cabinet for storing food; people here only buy what they need for one day at a time (which is probably why people look at me like I'm crazy and mutter about how much stuff I buy whenever I'm in line at the check-out, placing enough groceries for a family of 6 for at least half a week on the counter!).  Most of the kitchen sinks had no hot water.  The bathrooms were only equipped with a shower head, which was usually inches away from the toilet, making a shower spray water throughout the entire small bathroom area whenever it's used.  And people here don't need (or want) much space!  When Kevin was looking on-line, out of the hundreds of available apartments in our immediate area (within walking distance of our current apartment), almost all of the apartments were under 900 sq. ft.  I got the same response from each of the half a dozen real estate agents who were helping us hunt for apartments when I made the request for an apartment with two bathrooms--a pause and then a blank look.  I think they were trying to figure out if I was serious!  In our week and a half of hunting, there wasn't a single one around.  And there was only one that was as large as our current apartment (the one we couldn't get permission to stay in!).

So as we were getting down to the wire, Kevin was desperately calling places he found that were supposed to be for sale only, not rent.  In doing so, he connected with a realtor who happened to know about an apartment in our current complex (where we knew we had permission to continue living).  He told us on the way over that it was "quite simple," which made us a little nervous.  But I'll have to say that his description is pretty accurate!  Long story short is that we've now got a lease signed, almost all the paperwork we need to officially live there, and the remodeling guy is on his way over now to drop off the materials he'll need this next week.  Kevin and I have both wrestled with the thought of paying to remodel an apartment that we're renting, but there were a few basic things that we determined we just couldn't live without (like a kitchen sink, for example!).  Oh, and there are no handles on any of the doors.  And two of them don't even close because the doorframes are falling apart.

It's still kind of fresh, so I won't go into too many details for fear that I'll take on an overly-pessimistic tone, but our interaction with the landlord in the whole process was terribly disappointing.  She went from dropping the monthly rental price a bit in order to help pay for the necessary remodeling, to then meeting with us and the remodel guy to input her opinion on every single thing.  She had all these extra things she thought needed to be done--like painting the ceiling (which is one of the few things in the place that actually looks really good!) and adding a kitchen door (which I did NOT want in order to keep it feeling more open)--that she was insisting we have done, mentioning that she planned to help pay for the renovations.  By the time it was all done and the bill came in, we proposed to her that she cover a very small amount (about 15%) of the cost--to which she flatly refused!  She has no intention of paying a dime.  So Kevin and I went back through the list of things that could be changed and decided to go with the bare minimum.  It will be interesting to see if she cares enough to go ahead and pay to have the other "extras" done that she had wanted, but I'm sorry to say that it's sure left us with a crummy feeling about our relationship with our new landlord.  :(

The renovations should take a week, and then we'll have movers come to get the big furniture moved over and start living in our new place!  The kids are excited to be in a place so close to where we've been that's familiar, and I'm measuring like crazy trying to figure out how to squeeze in more furniture than we're "supposed" to have, according to the cultural norms around us!

One funny cultural interaction that happened this week was regarding family relationships and how those are viewed.  When I first met our landlord, she told me she had 3 kids.  I thought this was unusual, as most of the people around here of her ethnicity only have 2, but didn't think much of it.  The next day, I met another woman, claiming to be the landlord!  It turns out that the first lady was actually the real landlord's "older sister," which could mean any number of familial relations (like a cousin, aunt, etc.).  And the original lady only has one kid, whereas our landlord has 2.  But since they live together and are family, they answer 3 kids when you ask them how many they have!  I was trying to imagine the response I'd get in Dallas if I told people that I have 11 children (10 boys and one girl), actually including my four, my sister's four, and my brother's three!  A slightly different view on family...