Preview: Hi-So Wedding Part 2

Saturday evening we went to the Siam Society to attend the wedding of one of Tawn’s former United colleagues to her Malaysian groom.  The bride’s father is a police colonel, quite well connected, so the guest of honor was none other than the mayor of Bangkok.  Lots of nice pictures to share, but I need to get Tawn to help caption them all.  Stay tuned for more details.


On another note, Tawn, Tod and I went to watch the Jennifer Lopez, Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman movie “An Unfinished Life.”  We quite enjoyed it.  The story was good, the acting very strong, and the scenery beautiful.


Finally, I received a request from a friend to remove the picture of him and his partner from this blog because they could face career, political, and criminal repercussions based on where they live and the laws of that country.  I honored that request, a bit disappointed in myself for not having considered the ramifications of my posting the picture in the first place, but also thankful for the opportunity to be reminded that while times have changed by and large, there are still many miles left in the journey toward equal rights for all people.

Bella Napoli

The second module of my Thai lesson is quickly winding down, the final examination occurring on Tuesday.  Hard to believe that another twenty days of instruction are almost complete.  There is a lot of vocabulary to learn this weekend: body parts, the names of the months, and prepositions.


“The hand is on the arm.  The arm is beside the body.  The body is in front of the house.  The house was purchased in November.”


Picture 1: Union Language School is located on the seventh floor of the Church of Christ in Thailand’s building near the Ratchatevi Skytrain station.


Or, as comedian Eddie Izzard pointed out in his “Dressed to Kill” concert, you learn the most bloody useless phrases (“The cat is on the chair,” “The monkey is in the tree”) and then you have a heck of a time using them.  Partial transcript of the funny parts:


 


And I learnt French at school, up to the age of 16, and then I just kept talking it endlessly after that. And at school, the first page I ever learnt in French was full of things that are quite difficult to get into conversation, things like “the mouse is underneath the table” – la souris est en dessous la table. Just slip that when you’re buying a ticket to Paris: “Le train à Paris, oui? C’est ici? C’est maintenant? Cinq minutes… la souris est en dessous la table…”


The other line was, “the cat is on the chair” – le chat est sur la chaise – slightly more easy to fit in; and “the monkey is on the branch” – “le singe est sur la branche.” Very difficult to get into a conversation! Not a lot of jungle in France… monkeys thin on the ground… thin in the air… just generally pretty trim!


And yes, so it just wasn’t working. 


In the end, the only way I could get that line into a conversation was I had to go to France with a cat, a mouse, a monkey, a table and a chair, and wander around heavily wooded areas. “Come on, come on! Someone’s coming, someone’s coming! Quick, positions! Les positions, maintenant! Boulot, boulot! Tout de suite! Vas-y! Vas-y!


 “Bonjour!”


“Eh, bonjour. Qu’est-ce qui se passe?”


“Bonjour, je suis Anglais, je suis ici en vacances. C’est très belle ici, les couleurs, les bois, très belle.”  


( inhaling ) “Tu est un travesti?”


“Oui, je suis un travesti, mais pas un travesti typical. Je suis un travesti executive… Un travesti d’action!”


“Très bien…”


“Mais, la souris est en dessous la table, le chat est sur la chaise et le singe est… est… le singe est disparu.”


Anyhow… the highlight of the week was a trip to Bella Napoli restaurant with my classmates and teachers.  We’re experiencing some splintering in the group as different students decide whether or not to continue with the program, so we decided to get together while we’re still all at ULS.  Actually, along the way, our group has reduced from 13 students to seven, with only four of us continuing to module 3.


So on Thursday evening the lot of us, including our current teacher, our teacher from module 1, and everybody’s spouses or faan (girl- or boyfriends), met up at this charming little Italian pizzeria on Sukhumvit Soi 31 that Guido, our Italian classmate, had proclaimed to be the most authentically Italian restaurant he’s found in Bangkok.  Tawn and I had been twice before and really enjoyed the food and atmosphere.  Picture 2: Chris, Carlos, Yoichi, and Damon.


We were an international lot: Americans, Thai, Japanese, Italian, British, Israeli, and Bolivian.  Damon and his wife are a British couple with two daughters, 4 and 8 years old.  His wife teaches at an International School in Bangkok, along with the girlfriend of Guido, an Italian who towers over the rest of us and has lived for a long time in Britain.  Yoichi and Chihiro are the Japanese students about whom I wrote a few entries ago, when with uncharacteristic directness, Chihiro asked Yoichi whether he likes boys or girls.  Chihiro is here living with her Japanese-speaking Thai boyfriend.  Yoichi is in the computer technology industry and… we don’t know why he is here, except to drink sake and smoke.  Tim (also known as Vladimir or Kim) is the Israeli of Russian heritage who asked lots and lots of questions in Module one and decided to repeat it instead of continuing to module two with the rest of us.  Carlos is the young, lanky Bolivian who studies martial arts and has previously lived in Japan and China on his quest for new experiences.  Kari, along with her husband Ron who is several modules ahead of us, is here from Texas as a Christian missionary.  Everyone has their different reasons for being here.  Picture 3 from left: Khruu Lakkana, Khruu Phimjai, Kari (in red), Tim, Yoichi (partially hidden by), Carlos, Damon, Chihiro, Guido, Guido’s girlfriend (whose name I forget), and me.  Damon’s camera-shy wife Carole is hiding behind me.  Picture 4: Ron and Kari Harmon.


   


Picture 5: Guido and his girlfriend.  Picture 6: Kari and Chihiro.  Picture 7 from left: Kim, Chris, Khruu Phimjai, Guido, Chihiro, Carlos, Damon, Yoichi, Khruu Lakkana, Tawn, and Kari.


The food was good and the company more so, and I was very suprirsed that, all things considered, our Thai conversation was pretty good.  Of course, it was pidgin Thai, but for only two months of study, it was impressive.  Tawn and the other spouses had a good time, although he was the only one of the lot who actually understood the Thai conversation.


After dinner, we combined our two tables and the fun began.  The post-dinner conversation mirrored our classroom conversation, often deviating from the curriculum, the Thai language (or at least Thai grammar), and largely based on teasing one-another.  Numerous jokes about Yoichi’s supposed substance abuse. 


Things ended with Khruu Lakkana, who taught us in module one, singing the elephant song (“chang, chang, chang, chang, chang, nong khuey hen chang ruplau?” – elephant, elephant, elephant, elephant, elephanht, brogther have you ever seen an elephant?)  The song, of course, includes acting out of the different parts of an elepant: ears, trunk, and tusks – pictured here.


The biggest mystery of the night was why Khruu Phimjai didn’t get who Tawn was.  She kept asking questions of him like, “Where do you live?”  Tawn replied that he lived on Soi Asoke.  Khruu Phimjai said, “Oh, that’s near where Chris lives.”  Everyone else got it, but she seemed to not understand that Tawn was a feen, not a phueng (friend).  Oh well, so it goes in Bangkok.


Nescafe Rally

Odd sight on the way to work today.  Walking along Soi Asoke, which is a major thoroughfare into the heart of the city, there was a promotional stunt occurring for Nescafe instant coffee.  Both sides of the street were lined with people wearing Nescafe t-shirts, holding placards and signs, and chanting pro-Nescafe slogans.  There were groups of people, four to a group, wearing a single large shirt between them, with a banner hanging on the front.  It really looked like a political rally or something, and stretched over about three blocks.


Given the number of cars just sitting there, inching into town, visibility for the brand was high.


If only I had brought my camera with me!


Related in an unrelated way, once of the students at class announced that she had heard that there will be a large rally at Lumpini Park on February 4th, organized by opponents of Prime Minister Thaksin.  She said – although I have not found any verification of this story searching online – that at a similar rally last year several people were shot.  Might be worth grabbing the camera, going for a look-see, and staying clear of anyone with a gun.

Chicken Stock Part II

Sunday, Tawn went to his parents and spent a few hours with them, eating dinner and visiting.  One topic of discussion was Tawn’s mother’s upcoming birthday (Tuesday the 24th) and what to do to celebrate.  After dinner, Tawn’s mother told him that if she couldn’t have both her sons with her to celebrate, then she would just as soon not celebrate at all.


This is a positive sign.  Now if I can just get my father-in-law feeling that way!


Sunday evening I reduced the stock to about half its original volume, making it easier to store.  I can add water later and reconstitute it.  Half of it went into the freezer, and the other half was used to cook chicken and mushroom risotto Monday night, accompanied by a mixed greens salad with balsamic vinaigrette and tomoato-mango salsa.  Very tasty.  I also prepared some broccoli, which I steamed in the rice cooker.  Being a rice cooker, I am used to the “set it and forget it” way of cooking.  It didn’t occur to me that brocolli really shouldn’t be forgotten while steaming.  By the time I remembered, it was Midwest-style.  Tasty, as I had steamed it with sliced garlic and Tawn tossed it with EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) and salt.  But really soft.


Reminds me of a time when Tawn and I took my grandparents to a Thai restaurant in Kansas City and my Grandmother Schultz, who passed away last July, complained afterwards that the vegetables were raw.  Of course they were cooked, but just to al dente not mush.

Chicken Stock for the Soul

On Saturday Tawn and I did some shopping and finally purchased a stock pot and saucepan – two items that didn’t get moved over from the US because the ones I had there weren’t really of enough quality to be worth moving.  For our first three months here, we had only a skillet.  Tawn tried to boil water and make noodles in the skillet but it was largely a mess and smally successful.


So at the new Index Living Mall on Tong Lor (sort of an IKEA but a bit more human-scale) we reviewed our options.  The local brand, Seagull (and an even cheaper competitor, Zebra) makes aluminum pots and pans that have thin bottoms and are at risk of scorching your food when used on these old-style cast iron electric burners that are slow to heat up and slow to cool down. 


A higher end line, Bella Classico by Meyer, has nicer stainless steel pots and pans but they only sell in sets, not open stock.  There was a nice set of three saucepans, a saute pan and a stock pot for B5500 – about US$135.  A bit pricier than we wanted.


So we decided to go ahead and suffer the inexpensive Seagull ware and headed to the register with a large stock pot and a medium sized saucepan.   The wait was long because the price sticker on the stock pot was incorrect – we were charged only B300 instead of B899.  Catching the mistake resulted in four different people being needed to refund the original charge.  While waiting, I was browsing the Index catalog and noticed that the same set of Bella Classico cookware that we had looked at was listed as being on sale for only B2900, even though no signs were up at the display.


Tawn pointed that out to the manager and she checked into it, confirmed that the price was in fact correct, and started the second correction to our charge as we decided to swap out our two Seagull pans for the nicer set.


To celebrate our new stock pot, last night I made about 12 quarts of chicken stock, staying up until 1:20 am to do it.  The pot isn’t large enough to do it all in one batch, so I went ahead and made two.  On Monday night, we’ll have chicken and pea risotto so it should all be worth the effort.  Plus, freeze some.  Or, freeze lots.


Picture time.  I failed to get these pictures balanced and included with last Sunday’s posting  about seafood at Pim’s.  So here they are today.  You can scroll down to read the related story if you haven’t already.


Upper left: Pim’s mother-in-law prepares the river prawns – truly as large as I had claimed!  Upper right: Tara bonding with her only farang friend.  Lower: Arm, Tara, Pim, and Uncle Tawn.  Click for larger views.


   



Yesterday I also spent some time chatting with Otto down in Singapore.  Always nice to hear from friends and it sounds like he is finding some time to continue his drawing.  While a mild mannered (well, maybe not so) school teacher during the day, he is an accomplished comic strip artist.  His first book, Sir Fong, recounts his experiences as a new teacher.  Born in the year of the Monkey, the title character is in the shape of a monkey.  The students, who during Otto’s first year of teaching were all born in the year of the Rabbit, are aptly drawn as cute minimalist bunnies that as all teachers will tell you, bare their hidden fangs when you aren’t looking. 


It sounds like Otto’s sequel to Sir Fong is pretty much completed and he is working on a third project that will branch out thematically from the first.  I suggested that a good title for the sequel would be “To Sir Fong With Love” and he laughed a lot so perhaps in a few months or years I’ll be able to proudly claim some hand in contributing to great literature!



Yesterday morning while working around the house, we heard chanting and singing.  Opening our sliding glass door and stepping out onto the balcony we saw that there was some religious temple – decidedly not Buddhist – going on behind the neighboring office tower.  The commotion ended with a very large string of firecrackers being ignited: rat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat-bang!


So far Sunday has been pretty low key: a trip to Carrefour to load up on bottled water and attendance at yoga.  Tawn’s back at his parents’ for dinner and to play with the puppies, and I’m writing this blog entry.


 

Friday evening has arrived.  A planned dinner party to celebrate Ja’s birthday was cancelled because of some odd breakdown in communication.  Tawn made all of the basic arrangements with friends but had to confirm details today.  Since his friends couldn’t get hold of him on Thursday (busy day for Tawn) they panicked and decided they’d best cancel the dinner.


Not sure I really understand why a group of college-educated people were unable to organize making a reservation at a restaurant, but perhaps there is more to it than that.


Tail lights


I’ve been meaning to share this story for a few weeks:


The back-story is that with significant restrictions imposed on Teak wood logging operations in the past few years because of over-logging, literally tens of thousands of Thai elephants have been put out of work.  Their kwanchang (literally, “elephant guide”) who are their lifelong companions, cannot afford the expense of feeding them but of course you can’t just flush an elephant down the toilet like an unwanted goldfish.


So the kwanchang bring their elephants to the big city, looking for any way to earn a baht.  On a weekend down at Siam Square, it is not unusual to see a few elephants, with tourists posing for pictures and paying a hundred baht for the opportunity.  While I don’t have any elephant pictures, they are amazing creatures, and I really respect the kwanchang for their dedication to their pachyderm companions. 


Anyhow, one evening shortly after returning from the United States, we were driving north on Soi Asoke, stuck in traffic, and I noticed a pair of elephants walking down the sidewalk into town.  There was a mother and her calf, who couldn’t have been more than a meter and a half high. 


As the elephants passed us, I noticed one of those Velcro strap-on flashing red lights that bicyclists use strapped to the tail of the mother elephant.  Now, it isn’t unusual for the kwanchang to tie a string of compact discs hanging from the back of the elephant to serve as defacto reflectors, but this was the first time I have ever seen a literal tail light!


Khun Yoichi


Shocking cross-cultural news that may shock and offend some readers of this blog.  As Thai language classes have continued, I’ve come to know two of my Japanese classmates better:


Yoichi is one month younger than me and as he’s studied Thai a bit before, he’s been at the head of the class for the whole time we’ve been studying at Union Language School.  The curve is leveling a bit, though.  He’s a nice guy, funny sense of humor, and into Kickboxing, Judo, and other martial arts.  He’s fairly fluent in English, but we use a lot Thai to communicate. 


Chihiro is a few years younger than me and comes across as your typically shy, demure Japanese woman.  She wears colorful “ethnic” skirts, Birkenstock-type sandals, and large necklaces made of polished stones.  Her reticence is probably more a perception on my part because she does not speak much English, so our communication is cobbled together using Thai, English, Japanese and Gesture. 


Chihiro’s boyfriend, whom she met while working in Japan, is Thai.  And as we’ve talked, we’ve discovered that we have that in common.  Yoichi, on the other hand, is a bit of an enigma.  He’s developed the reputation in class as a heavy drinker, one that may not be accurate but when constructing sentences we’ll say thing like “What did Khun Yoichi do last night?  Khun Yoichi drank sake mak-mak (a lot)!” to practice our Thai.  Out of classroom conversation, we know that he doesn’t have a faan, the gender-neutral word used to describe a non-married significant other. 


Anyhow, on Tuesday after class, Chihiro, Yoichi and I were walking from school to the SkyTrain station.  Along the way, Chihiro asked me (in English), “Your faan, is she from Bangkok?” 


I confirmed that my faan is from Bangkok, but is a he, not a she.  This didn’t seem to phase her and we chatted a bit.  Yoichi made some comment about mai mee faan (I don’t have a faan) and so Chihiro asked him – in Thai – whether he liked boys or girls.


Shocking!  While in the US this would be seen as a pretty forward question, when you look at it in the context of Japanese society, the idea of a woman asking a man whom she has only known as a classmate for a few weeks a question like this is just about unbelievable. 


Yoichi’s joking response – a pretty quick comeback, considering it was in Thai – was that he likes khatoey (Thai lady-boys).  Assuming that he was joking, the question remains unanswered.  Running the scenario by Masakazu, a Japanese friend who lives with his partner here in BKK, he theorizes that if Yoichi were straight, he would have had every incentive to say so and little incentive not to. 


Does it matter?  Not at all.  But it is interesting to watch how cultural norms dissolve when they’re placed in a different environment.


Skype Away


I’ve been experimenting with Skype, the voice over internet phone service, and so far I’m quite happy with it.  Only about another half-dozen friends are currently on it (that I know of – let me know if you’re on it, too!) but I’ve found it useful for dialing out.  Some key features:



  • Software is free to download and works like any other IM service.  You need a headset with microphone to talk – these plug into your computer.
  • Voice calls from one Skype user to another are free.  Calls outside the Skype network are charged at various rates generally competitive with local calls.  For example, when I call a number in the US, I’m paying about 1.7 cents a minute.  Very reasonable.
  • I’ve set up a local number in the US (in the Kansas City area code since most of my family is there) that people can dial and the call connects to me online through Skype.  If I’m online I can answer.  It not, the call goes to voicemail.  This service costs about $12 a year.
  • The quality is quite good, especially compared to direct dialing into/out of Thailand.  When Tawn and I were calling twice a day during the 14 months we were apart, prices were closer to 20 cents a minute and calls regularly got dropped or suffered from static.  I’ve had less of a problem with Skype.  Although some evenings when internet traffic is heavy, I’ve had a few calls get dropped.

Anyhow, that’s my testimonial.  All of you need to get on Skype.  It’s the wave of the future.

Seafood at Pim’s

It is barely Monday evening and already I feel like it’s been a long week.  This probably has more to do with how much or how little rest I got this weekend than anything else.


Sunday was the day of activity for me.  Tawn was feeling under the weather, so he slept in.  But I got up and at 10:00 was at a local spa to take a 90-minute yoga class.  The instructor was a compact Thai woman (reminding me of Edna from the Pixar movie The Incredibles but with a leotard and no glasses) who worked us into a sweat very quickly, reminding me that I really do need to attend yoga classes more frequently. 


I returned home to pick up Tawn and then we went to his friend Pim’s condo for grilled seafood.  Star of the grill were the giant river prawns.  These creatures, minus the extraneous spines, antennae, etc. are about eight inches long.  The cook cleaned them, split them lengthwise, and then grilled them.  They were incredibly good – especially the “custard” in the head area.  Not sure what this is actually called, but it is a fatty substance similar in taste and texture to the marrow in osso bucco bones.


One of the women there also prepared a raw shrimp in a manner similar to the crab in my previous posting.  She pulled out the meat, put a green chili sauce and lime juice on it, then ate it.  I tried some.  It was tasty and the texture was still very soft and chewy – probably because it takes a while for the acid in the lime juice to actually cook the flesh.  See, I’m taking all sorts of gastronomic risks.  That reminds me, I really need to follow up on health insurance offerings for expats in Thailand.


Pim’s husband, Arm, is an avid wine drinker with accomplished taste buds and a wallet to match.  The group (about eight of us, mostly his friends) went through five or six bottles of wine, mostly whites, but concluding with a very nice Australian cabernet sauvignon that took a good half hour to breathe once poured.  But once it opened up, it really opened up.


After Pim’s husband and friends left, Tawn, Pim and I visited and played with her five month old baby, Tara.  It took about an hour, but Tara finally decided she wanted to hang out with me.  After that, we became inseparable friends.  She’s the first child on her block to have a farang to play with. 


So by the time we headed home at 4:00, Tawn and I were pretty exhausted.  But that wasn’t the end of our day!  We had dinner scheduled with Jum and Scott.  Jum was one of Tawn’s colleagues at United Airlines.  She and Scott were married in December, the weekend Tawn and I were in Korea.  I hadn’t met Scott before, but he is an American who has lived here two years, teaching secondary school.


So we met Jum and Scott at Bella Napoli, an Italian restaurant that Guido (I kid you not),  my Italian classmate, recommended on Sukhumvit Soi 31.  Specializing in pizza, it is the kind of restaurant that, the minute you walk through the door, you know it’s authentic.  The wood-burning oven is right behind the main dining room, providing a clear view of your pizza’s progress from creation to consumption.


It was nice to meet Scott and see Jum again.  One thing that meeting Scott reinforces for me is that I need to keep up with my Thai studies.  While he’s lived here two years, since he’s worked full time (in a 9-5 type job, not a flexible one like mine) he hasn’t learned much more Thai than I already have.  If I were to get a regular office job, it would be very hard to make much progress on learning Thai.


Of course, the fates like to mess with me.  No sooner had I arrived at that realization than this morning I receive an email from Suyoung Yuu, with whom I’ve worked at various film festivals.  Suyoung now works in international marketing for Intel corporation, based in Beijing.  And it seems that there is an opening in their small Bangkok office for a marketing position that would support Southeast Asia.  So she wanted to make me aware of the position.


In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I’m aware that my manager does read this blog from time to time.


The idea of settling into a job that would provide me with a work visa is attractive from the standpoint of helping secure my ability to stay here longer-term.  At the same time, the flexibility and earning power I enjoy with my current job is hard to match.


But that doesn’t really explain why it feels like a long week already…


In an effort to prepare for my Thai midterm tomorrow, I’ve been copying all of my notes into a new set of notebooks.  This serves to organize the notes, as I’m separating them into one book for vocabulary and another for phrases and grammar.  It also serves to help me review my learning.  So my hand is severely cramped as I’m been doing too much writing the past few days.  On top of it, I encountered a pair of words – duaygan and diawgan – that are stumping me.  They both mean “together” but they are not interchangeable.  And despite my teacher’s repeated explanations (in Thai) I’m still not clear what the difference is between them.


So this has given me a headache.


But enough Thai for the moment.  I still have quite a bit of work to do for my job, so I’ll focus on that first.