We haven’t talked much about what would traditionally be called “education” so I thought I would do a quick post on the subject. In a nutshell, things are going very well. In terms of her education, this will be a GREAT year for Jette.
An old windmill in the middle of the city
The bike trip down the Rhine provided a perfect context and structure for a detailed, experiential look at European history and culture. Following the river on bikes meant that we really experienced the lands we passed through. Hills, valleys, plains, fields, forests, wind, and sea. Endless fields of corn, tiny hamlets, big cities – we saw, heard, felt, and even smelled it all. Just as importantly, we experienced the subtle and sometimes not so subtle differences from place to place. We saw cultures change with landscape, and patterns of human settlement and development defined by geography. The river is the perfect vehicle for understanding human settlement patterns. Rivers are, after all, the cradle of human culture. Every hour of every day provided opportunities for us to explore that story. In the end, Jette wrote her own Story of the Rhine. Of course she did a good amount of math, art and science along the way too. Travel is one of the best teachers, particularly when you are focused on the endless learning opportunities it presents.
Jette with her notebook and some of her books.
As we transitioned from our European bicycle trip to our Asian adventure, we’ve added more “book work.” We’re not following any particular curriculum, we’ve created our own. It’s an odd approach that mixes elements of unschooling, Montessori, and classical education (think trivium – grammar, logic, rhetoric).
With the latter, we’ve found that The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer is a great resource. We’ve also been using her The Story of the World texts and teaching guides. Jette is currently on Volume 1: Ancient Times: From the Earliest Nomads to the Last Roman Emperor. By the end of the trip she should have completed Volume 2:The Middle Ages: From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of the Renaissance and Volume 3: Early Modern Times, which will have given her a survey of world history from ancient times to today. I’m a firm believer in the importance of the study of History. All things are interrelated, and History is the “great conversation” that puts it all in perspective (connections anyone?). As part of this work, she is writing a summary of each chapter and a brief biographical sketch of each key historical figure. There is also map work. All of these things go into her binder, so by the end of the trip she will have a survey of world history, penned in her own hand, complete with maps, illustrations, and key biographies. Pretty cool. She’s also doing related reading beyond the main text. For example, as part of her ancient history studies, she read the Mary Pope Osborne version of Homer’s Odyssey, Tales from the Odyssey.
In the Montessori philosophy, Jette is in the Second Plane of Development, where among other things, abstract thinking and reasoning really begins. In the classical model this is the Logic stage. Along these lines, Jette recently completed two books of logic problems and has just started to study formal logic with the text Traditional Logic I. It is fairly advanced, so we’ll see if it proves to be accessible to her.
On the Math front, she’s almost finished with the math workbooks her school so kindly provided, and has been diligently working her way through 5th Grade math on Khan Academy (KA is awesome!).
She been doing some additional writing and even a bit of Shakespeare memorization.
While not necessarily of the “book” variety, our travels are unimaginably rich with learning experiences. Right now we are sitting in a little cafe in the historic district of Penang, a UNESCO World Heritage site rich with history and cultural flavor. We see, smell, taste and hear the intersection of British Colonial, Indian, Malay, Chinese and indigenous cultures every day. Today the Thaipusam festival is in full swing and Chinese New Year is just around the corner. We ordered breakfast speaking in Bahasa Malaysia (“Minta satu ayam, tiga roti cani, dua teh tarik. Terima kasih”) On Tuesday we head to Sumatra, where we will see first hand the source of the smoky haze that choked us and chased us out of Singapore. We might even get a peek at the rainforest before it vanishes and the orangutan before they are extinct.
We are learning a lot.
It has been a good year so far and we are thankful.
We’ve been in Penang for about a week. First, we stayed at a cute little place in an old shophouse that had been converted to a hotel. It was right in the middle of the old colonial historic district in Georgetown. It was a perfect location for exploring that area. Then we moved to a serviced apartment in an upscale, “suburban” neighborhood called Tanjung Tokong.
The first apartment was not so great, so we found another one on Airbnb and checked in yesterday. It is great. This neighborhood is between Georgetown and the popular beach enclave of Batu Feringghi. It’s a good base for exploring the island and offers many conveniences in terms of food, shopping, and entertainment. It is also much less touristy than historic Geogetown.
Anyway here’s a video we shot yesterday showing the apartment and our lunch. Enoy!
More catch-up posts coming soon, but right now we are headed to the Spice Gardens…
(Edit 1/19/2016 – Kanchanaburi video added)
As usual, we are WAAAAAAAY behind on blog posts. It has been weeks since we have had a good internet connection. Every hotel, every cafe, every connection we have found has been slow. Downloads have been slow and upload have been so slow that so far it has taken me dozens of hours and more than 30 sessions to get the photos and videos for this post uploaded! (
I am still trying to get a video uploaded, but will go ahead and publish the post and hope that I can add the video later. I’ve been linking to other people YouTube videos for some things because it is almost impossible for us to upload big video files on these slow connections). Since we last posted, we’ve gone from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Taman Negara National Park, to Cameron Highlands, to Penang. We have lots to blog about, but before we cover the past couple weeks, we have to go further back in time to the holidays….
As we mentioned in our New Year’s post, my parents (a.k.a. Grams and Grandad) came to visit for the holidays. It was fantastic. Before they arrived they mentioned that they weren’t too keen on spending too much time in the big cities, so we were planning to spend just a day or two in Bangkok and then head off somewhere smaller. But once they arrived and experienced Bangkok I think they were a little bit blown away. Grandad in particular seems to have fallen in love with the place. I can understand why – it’s one of the great cities of world, and one of my favorites too. While they were here we stayed at the Silom City Hotel. We’ve spent so much time there it seems like a home away from home. Super friendly staff and it is very conveniently located in the popular Silom neighborhood, right next to the great street food market on Soi 20. Yum!
On their first day in Bangkok Jette took them to one of her favorite spots – the Red Cross Snake Farm where, among other things, we got to see them milk venom from cobras for use in creating anti-venom. If you’ve been reading the blog, you already know about this place.
Milking a cobra
Red Cross Snake Farm
The next day Jette took them to KidZania. KidZania is at the Siam Paragon shopping center which is one of the largest shopping centers in Asia. For those accustomed to N. American malls is difficult to describe. Grams said it made Dallas’ Northpark Center look like a 7-Eleven. Paragon is one of the largest malls in Asia with 10 floors and more than 4.3 million square feet of luxury and high-end retail. In addition to KidZania, there is a 15 screen movie theater, a massive aquarium (Asia’s largest), a huge gourmet grocery store, and a bowling alley. There are Lamborghini, Lotus, Aston Martin, Bentley, Porsche, Jaguar, Spyker, Maserati, and BMW showrooms, and an incredible selection of dozens of restaurants. Forget what you know about mall food courts! Oh yeah, there is also a whole floor dedicated to “edutainment & exploration” featuring music, dance, computer, arts, language and cooking schools for kids.
Fun at KidZania
The sheer scale of it and the number of people is hard to describe. Here’s a video I stumbled across on YouTube that gives you a peek at the restaurants in the main food area on one floor of Paragon. As you can see, it is busy, and it is like this almost every day!
It is interesting to see how some of the mega-malls in Asia have become lifestyle centers that offer much more than “just shopping”. In some cases they have become what whole retail/entertainment districts or neighborhoods used to be.
Ok enough about malls. A little more about food, LOL! We ate at our favorite breakfast spot in Bangkok – a lot! I’m not going to name it here as it isn’t yet overrun with tourists and we don’t want it to be. They have delicious roti with green curry and crispy egg dishes with Penang curry gai (chicken curry with peanut) or pad kaprow moo (stir-fried basil and pork) that are to die for. Great Thai tea and coffee drinks too.
Best breakfast in Bangkok
One weekend we visited the massive, wild and crazy Jatuchak Market (a.k.a. Chatuchak Market) that sells everything under the sun. It is billed as the largest weekend market in the world, with over 8,000 market stalls and 200,000+ shoppers every weekend. Wow! While the ladies dove into the market Grandad and I opted for a Thai massage and coffee in the mall next door. Smart men we are!
At Jatuchak Market
Fresh coconut water
It is hard to see the scale in this photo, but this dog was HUGE!
Flip flop city
Grams getting custom flip-flops made.
Fartin’ Style is always a fine choice too, LOL!
We had lots of fun in Bangkok, but after a few days it was time to pack up and head to Kanchanaburi. We booked a Taxi for the two-hour trip for about $65 USD. Thirteen bucks a person isn’t bad for door-to-door service.
Packing the taxi for Kanchanaburi
Bangkok to Kanchanburi
Kanchanaburi is about 125 km West of Bangkok and is perhaps best known to foreigners as being the place where the Japanese built “The Bridge on the River Kwai” and the “Japanese Death Railway” with slave and POW labor and a very high toll in human lives. Like all tales of war, a great tragedy.
Bridge on the River Kwai
We did visit the bridge, but spent most of our time in Kanchanaburi just relaxing and enjoying the opportunity to visit with each other. Our hotel was a simple, modern little compound outside of town and right on the river. It was a perfect place to slow down after the bustle of Bangkok and enjoy some quiet time. It didn’t hurt that the cook at the little restaurant was amazing. Oh my gosh was the food good! You just can’t escape great food in this country. The restaurant was an open-air deck and lawn overlooking the river. You won’t believe how many fish were in the river:
Kanvela Resort Hotel
Jette al fresco
The restaurant by the river
We never could figure out what this sign said, but this was the night they served a bunch of Southern Thai specialties that were DELICIOUS!
As usual, Jette made friends with all the local dogs and cats. They really do seem to be drawn to her. At the hotel restaurant there was a mommy cat with two kittens. One was nicknamed “Two-Face” and came over to Jette every time we were there.
Jette and Two-Face
In town, we crossed paths with some friendly pooches…
Jette and Puggly
After a couple of days in Kanchanburi, we hired another minivan and headed to Ayutthaya. Minivans are all over Thailand and are a common way for people to get around locally within a city and for cross-country trips.
Have minivan, will travel.
Kanchanaburi to Ayutthaya
Ayutthaya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which basically means it is a unique and pretty cool place. Around 1700 some claim it was the largest city in the world! Here’s how UNESCO summarizes its history:
The Historic City of Ayutthaya, founded in 1350, was the second capital of the Siamese Kingdom. It flourished from the 14th to the 18th centuries, during which time it grew to be one of the world’s largest and most cosmopolitan urban areas and a center of global diplomacy and commerce. Ayutthaya was strategically located on an island surrounded by three rivers connecting the city to the sea. This site was chosen because it was located above the tidal bore of the Gulf of Siam as it existed at that time, thus preventing attack of the city by the sea-going warships of other nations. The location also helped to protect the city from seasonal flooding.
The city was attacked and razed by the Burmese army in 1767 who burned the city to the ground and forced the inhabitants to abandon the city. The city was never rebuilt in the same location and remains known today as an extensive archaeological site.
Today it is known for its Buddhist temple ruins. There are a variety of ruins sprinkled around town. We explored the Wat Mahathat temple complex.
The trees in the temple have beautiful, exposed roots.
Jette next to the famous Buddha head at Wat Mahathat, Ayutthaya, Thailand.
All Buddhist temples are sacred sites to Thai people. Whether active temples or historic ruins, they are considered sacred sites. Visitors are expected to dress and behave appropriately.
Attention, stupid tourists: This is a sacred site.
Sadly this depiction is all too true.
There are large numbers of very disrespectful tourists. Here’s a typical mode of dress at the temples:
Trashy European tourists inside the temple. Selfie-stick and butt cheeks. I suppose they are lucky the Thai people are so tolerant!
The old city of Ayutthaya is surrounded by a moat-like canal. So, after exploring the temple complex, we hopped in one of the funny tuk-tuks and found a spot to hire a boat to take us around the loop. Then we found dinner on a floating restaurant.
Ayutthaya Canal Loop
A large monitor lizard in the canal. This guy was 5-6 feet long,
Typical canal scene.
A couple of times during our stay in Ayutthaya, Jette had a chance to test out the pool on the roof of the hotel :-).
Testing out the hotel pool.
After Ayutthaya, it was back to Bangkok for Christmas. Santa brought Jette some goodies, as did Grams and Grandad. There were bracelets, Goldfish crackers, Kit Kats, a travel pillow, and a couple of pens from Santa. One of the pens has a laser pointer built in – perfect for playing with cats! Grams and Grandad gave jette a really cool shirt with a cute dog on it.
Christmas in Bangkok
Dog shirt from Grams and Grandad.
On Christmas morning we chowed down at our favorite breakfast place again, yum!
Crispy egg with pad krapow moo and iced coco. If only you could taste it…so yummy!
That evening we went for drinks at Moon Bar – one of Bangkok’s famous “sky bars.” Sixty-one stories above the city, Moon Bar and Vertigo Restaurant are on the roof of the Banyan Tree Hotel. The views are amazing and it really underscores that fact that Bangkok is a BIG city. When you are down in the “valleys” between the buildings, the sheer numbers of tall buildings and scale of the city isn’t so apparent. When you get up, way up, and can see city spread to the horizon in all directions it is pretty amazing.
Moon Bar, Bangkok.
The gang at Moon Bar
High-altitude selfies are fun. The dark arc in the background is Prapadaeng, a large area known as the “lungs of Bangkok.” It is an almost undeveloped jungle area in the middle of the city!
Mila and Jette. 61 stories up at Moon Bar, Bangkok.
On the roof at the Vertigo Restaurant and Moon Bar, Bangkok.
We spent the next week exploring Bangkok, eating ourselves silly, and generally having lots of fun.
Fun in Chinatown
I won’t bore you with play-by-play descriptions of everything, but I will highlight the Thai Cooking Class we took. It wasn’t quite as good as the one that we took with Yui in Chiang Mai, but it was fun and we still learned a lot. The cooking school was in the Silom area, just a few blocks from our hotel, which was really convenient.
Getting ready for cooking class
One of the first things we did was grab baskets and walk over to the “wet market” on Soi 20 to shop for and learn about ingredients.
On the way to the market
A view of the wet market on Soi 20.
Talking about Pandan leaf.
Lots of chicken feet.
Talking about coconuts, coconut cream and coconut milk.
Talking about various fruit and veggies.
Cooks on a mission.
Fresh coconut milk for the walk back.
Baskets full, we walked back to the school and started cooking. First on the list was making the curry paste for Penang Curry from scratch.
Curry paste demonstration.
Taking notes during the demonstration.
Ingredients for Penang curry paste.
Working the mortar and pestle.
Curry paste coming together.
Once we had our paste made, we switched to dessert and started on the Mango Sticky Rice (yum!) which would need some time to steam. Irin, our instructor, chose Jette to be her assistant for this step.
Jette cooking the pandan and coconut cream for the Mango Sticky Rice.
With the rice prepped, we switched back to the Penang Curry. With our paste made and other ingredients prepped, it only took a few minutes in the wok.
Ready to make Penang Curry.
Curry on the fire.
Papaya Salad – look at the roses we carved from tomatoes
Headed home with leftovers
Thank you Grams and Grandad for a wonderful visit!
We had so much fun!
As Waco mentioned in his previous post, we’ve just arrived in Malaysia, but we wanted to go back in time to early December. Here is a map that shows the path we took north.
Our overnight train from Chumpon back north to Bangkok once again landed us “home” in Bangkok. This time, we decided to try a different hotel in a different part of town, Bobae. The hotel was right on a water taxi line on Khlong Mahanak (Mahanak Canal). We ended up using the water taxi quite a bit and enjoying many aspects of it. Water taxis are not touristy; we were typically the only non-Thais on the boats. It was convenient; the taxi stop was about a minute walk from our hotel’s front door. It was adventuresome; the boats never stopped for more than a few seconds to let people off and on, so you had to be quick or else you’d end up IN the canal. There was no traffic on the canal. Bangkok traffic is awful; it’s gridlock every day and a very short distance ride in a cab can take a painfully long time. And finally, the fares were extremely affordable at just 10 baht, or about 28 cents per person.
We also used the BTS system, which is one of Bangkok’s mass transit train systems, and liked it quite a bit. It was much more orderly, clean and easy to use than the NYC subway which we used for a decade when we lived in New York City. It’s an unfair comparison (5 million NYC daily riders vs. 750,000 Bangkok daily riders), but still worth noting.
Standing in front of our hotel on the canal
Waiting on the platform for a water taxi
Another day, another water taxi
Same view at night
There was a large fruit market nearby and we walked by jack fruit vendors with huge piles of huge fruit almost every day. We also peeked into nearby Bobae tower, an incredible wholesale apparel operation with thousands of vendors with worldwide sales.
These look like durian, but are actually jackfruit
No durian sign in a cab (they stink!!!)
A Bobae neighborhood rooster
We tried not to be concerned about all of the babies and toddlers we would see on bikes and scooters everywhere. It’s just the way things are done here, but I admit I did have to hold my breath every time a scene like this occurred right in front of me. Hold on tight, baby!
Baby on board
We stumbled across a sweet cafe one day. The woman who owned it was the grand-daughter of the original owner and had filled it with kitschy 1950’s vintage pieces all displayed in Chinese style apothecary cabinets. She was proud to point out the original sign with hand-painted Mickey Mouse cartoons. She also volunteered to take a family photo of us in her shop. We couldn’t resist the rare opportunity to have an actual photo of the three of us together in one shot!
Rare family photo
Very old cafe signage
We couldn’t come to a new neighborhood and not expect to meet a sweet dog, could we? Here is Jette at the local laundry spot meeting the owner’s dog.
Our laundry spot
Happy girl, happy dog
This new neighborhood had a lot of manufacturing style family businesses and we enjoyed seeing the small scale of each one; most appeared busy and successful.
Door fabricator displaying samples
Manufacturing shop in the neighborhood
Great example of 1960’s modernist architecture near our hotel
We didn’t buy anything here, but had fun browsing
Beautiful Bonsai Trees
Chinese noodles from a popular tiny 4-table restaurant
Shipping these home for our front yard
We took in the “Bike for Dad” celebration.
Excited about “Bike for Dad”
“Bike for Dad” lights
Festive “Bike for Dad” street
There was a vendor selling these intriguing sweets which we had to try. They ended up being sweet bean treats and were definitely more beautiful than tasty to our palate.
Bikes for rent (Jette misses riding one!)
Jette temporarily turned into a vampire
One of Bangkok’s amazing topiary-filled medians
Just had to get a photo of this gorgeous cafe space
We discovered a breakfast spot about a 15 minute walk from the hotel and immediately became regulars. We don’t really know the English language translation for the name of this place, but it’s a Thai fusion restaurant of sorts. It has a few incredible dishes that all three of us craved. Firstly, they make delicious, icy, Thai milk tea and serve it in frosty mugs. Their iced coffee drinks are fantastic as well. They serve hot, fresh, flaky, fluffy roti with spicy green chicken curry which is Jette’s favorite; the flavors and textures are an addictive combination. They have a signature dish that is difficult to describe, but very easy to eat. It starts with a layer of rice, topped with a crisped egg that has been fried in such a way that it barely resembles egg, yet is just light as air and crispy. Then, they top it all with a scoop of spicy “pad krapow moo” and then we make it disappear.
Walking to breakfast one morning
Best breakfast spot in Bangkok!
We love it here
Iced Latte heaven
Iced Cappucino heaven
Jette loved the roti with green curry
Popular egg dish
Crispy egg on rice
We also were within walking distance from a very famous pad thai restaurant called Thipsamai. Going there was amazing, not just because of the delicious food, but for the entertainment value. The cooking took place on the street and there was so much action from everyone involved in making the hundreds of dishes of food they must make every night. The line snaked around forever and the atmosphere was lively. There was fresh, delicious orange juice and a street vendor selling steamed coconut sweets for dessert after dinner; a closed loop system. Dinner, drinks and dessert all within a stone’s throw!
Line at Thipsamai
We worked quite a bit with Jette finding new cafes for a change of scenery. She accomplished quite a bit of writing and read a significant amount of ancient history.
Coconut desserts after dinner
One more math workbook finished!
We discovered a new dining destination called Food Loft at one of the nicer department stores, Central Chidlom. Basically, a quiet, comfortable dining space set apart from kiosk-style, small restaurant kitchens that were able to prepare almost any dish anyone could desire. One of the kiosks had a northern Thai dish called Khao Soi for Waco. Another had a grilled salmon dish that Jette liked and a third had Indian food for me. On days when the noise, heat and grit of the city would have exhausted us, we would find ourselves wanting to escape to the luxury of our comfort foods in the Food Loft’s soft chairs and plentiful air conditioning. We definitely felt pampered there; it’s funny how simple true luxury really is. It all just depends on your perspective.
The holiday spirit was alive and well in Bangkok. Jette and I had to engage in some photo silliness.
Sparkly snowmen inspire silliness
A holiday display we liked
In case you didn’t know, Jette is permitted a “seasonal doughnut”, meaning one per season, or about four doughnuts a year. How did she spot the Dunkin Donuts?! Check “summer” and “fall” off her list. She made sure to hold back on her “winter” doughnut in case she wants to enjoy two at the same time when “spring” rolls around. Cheeky monkey!
Just before mid-December, we switched back to our familiar neighborhood, Silom and awaited the arrival of some very special visitors…
Nob Cafe back in the Silom neighborhood
A cute display in the boutique portion of Nob Cafe
I say “next stop”, but we’ve actually just arrived!
I’m working on an catch-up post to fill you in on the past couple weeks, but internet has been spotty and we’re exhausted, so it will have to wait until tomorrow. We only got a few hours sleep last night. We were up at 5 a.m. for an early taxi to the airport and arrived in KL this afternoon. It’s too soon for us to pass judgement. We need some sleep and time to explore a bit. I can say that it has changed a lot in the 20+ years since i was last here!
In the meantime, here’s a travel video I found on YouTube that will give you a brief introduction to Kuala Lumpur: