Monday, February 19, 2024

Work (and Family) Trip to Thailand

Sometimes, the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) provides trainings overseas, and I was delighted to participate in one of those in Bangkok, Thailand. I'd traveled to Thailand once before but I was so young I didn't remember. Now, I had the opportunity to spend a week there and we decided to make a family trip of it.

I took a course on Propaganda and Disinformation, which is typically tailored very specifically to Public Diplomacy (PD) Officers but this year was opened up to more reporting officers (our catch-all term for Political and Economic Officers) interested in collaborating with PD on these issues. I learned a lot from the instructors, guest speakers, and the other students. To my delight, many local staff joined for the course. In my opinion, officers and specialists and local staff and EFM (Eligible Family Members, or family members of Foreign Service personnel) employees are kept separate unnecessarily far too often.

After my training each day, I got to spend time with M and S exploring the city a bit. I loved the cultural vibrancy as we went many places with no English (and communicated extensively with gestures) and stumbled across beautiful temples and shrines everywhere, such as Erawan Shrine (pictured above). The cost of living was incredibly affordable compared to Dubai, and I was stunned to find myself regularly purchasing fresh, substantial meals during my lunch break for about one dollar. I bought several clothing items, too, including the very stereotypical touristy elephant pants.

My favorite place we visited was Chatuchak Market, the best street market I think I've ever experienced in my life. It's only open on the weekend, so I'm glad we got to Bangkok early enough before my training to go. The market's scale was enormous, and it felt like you could find almost anything there. We stumbled on a sprawling fine art section, and if our suitcases weren't so full I don't think I would've been able to resist buying one of the many stunning paintings or sculptures we saw. People recommended we go early to beat the crowds, and that's exactly what we did.

We tried the famous coconut ice cream, which I found so refreshing in the heat. I also had the spiciest food of my life at a street stall where each skewer of vegetables, fish, or meat cost 10 Thai baht (less than 30 cents). It was so good I devoured all five of my skewers even though my mouth felt like it was on fire. We didn't take S's stroller because so many blogs online said the metro and the street market were not doable with a stroller but I'm here to tell you that all those other blogs are wrong. M and I both felt our excursion was stroller-friendly and even saw a few other families with strollers. Especially if you have a sturdy stroller like we do, I think it would've been worth it especially so we could have used the stroller fan for S and had a place to put his backpack.

I enjoyed some cultural activities in the evenings as well, including a private Muay Thai (Thai martial art sometimes described as Thai boxing) class outdoors that got my heart racing while M and S cheered me on. The instructor was kind enough to let S put on the kid gloves, which he loved. I also took a tour that included trying on traditional Thai clothes, of which there are apparently many different kinds. I happened to find a top and sash that matched my existing outfit perfectly (the first photo of this post). I also took a lotus folding lesson and learned that folding lotus petals properly and beautifully without ripping the petals off the bud is a lot harder than it looks! Here I snapped a photo of three different styles I did: sunflower style, peony style, and star style. Lastly, I got more massages in a week than I have in months and discovered a new love of the Thai style of massage (which is usually clothed, without oil, and has more muscle stretching than a Western standard massage).

We also met up with some of my A-100 colleagues, and it was so good to see them again. One of the most fun things about being in the Foreign Service is bumping into people all over the place (and for some a different part of the world every single time you see each other). So having seen some old friends and made some new ones in my training, we wrapped up our Bangkok trip energized and rejuvenated to come back home. (I will say, the older I get the more I miss my pillow and my bed when I'm gone.) I feel so grateful for this opportunity, for the supportive leadership that allowed me to take it, and for the chance to spend some extra time with my family. (And I certainly hope that's not the last time I get to visit Thailand!)

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