World’s Fastest Indian

Perhaps we’re a bit behind the times here in Thailand.  This weekend, Tod and I (Tawn was at his parents’ hosue) caught a film that was part of the first New Zealand Film Festival.  The film, “The World’s Fastest Indian” was a bit of a surprise to me.  I hadn’t heard of it before and it appears that it opened in the US in February and enjoyed a modestly successful run. 

Who knows, perhaps all of you in the States have already watched this film and nobody bothered to mention it to me.

Anyhow, this true story is set in 1962 New Zealand.  Burt Munro, a quirky pensioner with a penchant for speed, takes a 1920 Indian motorcycle and without resources other than his own obsession and a Kiwi mentality, spends his retirement rebuilding the bike and following his dream to go to Speed Week at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. 

He is under-funded, without the support of a team and faces incredible odds.  Along the way from New Zealand to Utah Burt is helped by an incredible collection of people: his next-door neighbor’s son who believes in Burt even as his parents don’t, a local Kiwi motorcycle gang who beat him in a race along the beach, two initially-perplexed American immigration officials, a drag queen motel clerk in Hollywood, a Salvadoran used car dealer, a Native American elder, and a welding torch wielding widow. 

Won over by Burt’s determination, humility, and sincerity, they all contribute to his journey and not only does he make it to Bonneville, he sets a national land speed record, not once, but again and again.

The film is magnificent: the story is compelling and well-written; the acting is top-rate; the cinemaphotography is skilled.  Tod and I agreed that it was one of the most enjoyable films we’ve seen in a long while.  Best of all, it is an inspiring story about following your passions and overcoming obstacles with perserverence and a willingness to make sacrafices.

If you didn’t get a chance to see it, add it to your Netflix list.  Totally suitable for all ages above, say, ten.


Days Without DSL

So about two months ago Tawn and I decided to take advantage of a promotion offered by his American Express card: we could arrange to use the card for automatic bill paymet of our home telephone and DSL service, our mobile phone service, and a few other companies.  In exchange, we received some sort of fantastic deal.  I can’t remember the details of the deal, but perhaps it was a percent or two off the bill?

It seemed like a fantastic idea: fewer payments to make each month and greater oversight of expenses.  Until our home phone and DSL was turned off because of non-payment.  Unlike utility companies in the US, you don’t get a second warning or any sort of a notice.  You just wake up to find your DSL dead and a recording on your phone saying, in Thai and English, to please contact your telephone service provider.  Of course, you can’t very well use your home phone to contact them.

The first opportunity we had to get down to the enormous Telephone of Thailand (TOT) headquarters on Sukhumvit was first thing Saturday morning.  The bill payment office is in Building 1, which is at the back of this huge complex, quite literally a 5-minute walk back from the street.  Thankfully the payment center was well air conditioned and in just a few minutes, after confirming that we were indeed signed up for the American Express automatic bill payment plan (beginning with the next bill, of course), our debts were paid and we were promised that our service would be restored the same day.

Interestingly, although TOT doesn’t give any additional warnings or notices like a utility in the US would, TOT also didn’t charge any sort of penalty or reconnection fee, which I would expect from a utility in the US.

So on Sunday morning I once again find myself with DSL.


Sunday Morning in May

Sunday morning.  While the rain clouds gather outside and I talk on Skype to my mother, Tawn reads a guidebook in preparation for his upcoming trip to Italy with his parents.  Not in the picture: a large-sized Starbucks San Francisco city mug with cafe au lait topped with a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Actually, the interesting thing with this photo is that Tawn got these glasses when we lived in San Jose, but I’ve never seen him wear them.  Then this morning while settling down to read the book, he pulled them out, polished the lenses and put them on.  When I commented, he claims that he wears them all the time at the office when he is working on the computer.  I didn’t know.  But doesn’t he look sharp in glasses?

This turns out to be one of the most spectacularly relaxing, low key Sundays since I moved here.

After finishing talking with my Mom and messaging with Big Michael in Hong Kong and Tod, Tawn and I watched “Red Doors”, director Georgia Lee’s story of a Chinese American family splintering as the patriarch retires, ponders various methods of suicide, and finally runs away to a monastery. 

His three daughters, a high schooler passive-aggressively tormenting a fellow student with dangerous pranks to show her affection; a medical student who falls for a female movie star who is spending time at her hospital to research an upcoming part; and a over-worked hyper-ambitious thirty something who is torn between her fiancee and an ex-boyfriend who reminds her of the artistic passions she set aside in order to meet her parents’ expectations of a “good” career.

The movie’s characters are complex and realistic and the story and story-telling are reminiscent of “Eat, Drink, Man, Woman,” one of director Ang Lee’s earlier films.

A more thorough review is here on the SF Int’l Asian American Film Festival website.  The movie’s official website lists information about its release schedule: it was picked up by a distributor and will open in New York on September 8th.  It is an enjoyable, well-writen and well-made film and is worth catching.

After the movie we headed out to Soi Thong Lor (also known as Sukhumvit 55) and stopped for roasted duck and barbeque pork over rice with wonton soup.  Very casual and tasty.  Then we bought khaw nieaw mamuang (sticky rice and mango) and went to one of the three Starbucks on Thong Lor. 

We spent the next two hours reading (Tawn, his Rick Steves’ Italy guide book and me, the May 8th New Yorker magazine) and studying Thai.  Slowly, slowly, slowly I see signs of progress.  Well, maybe one sign… or two.

Afterwards we headed to the grocery store and then home where I prepared a light dinner of a tossed green salad with pulled rotisserie chicken, boiled egg and tomato.  Yummy.  Tawn went over to his parents’ to finalize some plans for their trip and I went for a leg massage at our corner massage parlour. 

What a relaxing Sunday.


Kind of Like An Island

In my previous post I mentioned that our street, Soi Asoke, had flooded for the first time this year and proclaimed that rainy season had arrived.  Today my proclamation was confirmed.

Like many great things in nature, this one proceeded in incremental steps, lulling you into a false sense of security that there was still time before anything really happened.

As early as seven o’clock this morning, the signs were there.  On my way to school, I noticed that the air was a bit cooler than it had been over the past few mornings and there was a breeze in the air.  The air was humid and the sky very overcast, different than it had been as of late.  But the clouds were only a light grey, nothing dark and brooding, no signs of immediate threat.

Throughout the morning, depending upon what window I looked out of, the view told me a different story: South, getting darker and gloomier; East, it looked as though it was already raining – but on closer inspection, the windows have tinting on them; North, I could see bright sunlight shining on the neighborhoods near Soi Ari.

At noontime, walking out of class, the temperatures remained moderate and the air was so humid that I felt like I would drown if I breathed in too deeply.  And while the clouds were darker, they still did not have that threatening, thunderstorm quality that I associate with Summer afternoon storms in the Midwest.  Still, no rain.

All afternoon, looking up from my computer, still a smooth dark overcast and still no rain.

Then, about five-thirty I looked out.  It was still light, but all of the buildings more than a block away from me were lost in the thick haze.  If it had been San Francisco, I would have thought it was fog.  As I stepped outside, I realized the rain had arrived.  Solid, steady, warm, thick drops of rain.  In the pool at the neighboring condo, a young lady continued swimming, the rain having no effect on her.

Within the hour, Soi Asoke was flooded.  I did not realize how bad it would be and, grabbing a large umbrella, headed downstairs to meet Tawn for dinner.  The water along the curb was more than 20cm (about 9 inches) deep.  I kept to the high ground along the store fronts, taking care to avoid sliding on the slippery tiles.

Less than a block away, were soi 21/1 enters into Asoke, I reached the shore of my island.  The water was closer to 30cm deep, the sidewalk were under water, and the passing vehicles were kicking up wakes that a squirrel could waterski on.

Turning around, I headed back to the higher ground on my island – my apartment – and called Tawn to tell him I would not be joining him.

Oddly, once I returned home the rain began to lessen but the thunder and lightening commenced.  For about twenty minutes we had a very intense light and sound display, nature’s version of “shock and awe”.  No power outages, thankfully.


In other, drier news, I went to the General Post Office a few days ago.  While there is a branch located over on soi 23, by the gelato shop, they don’t have a very wide selection of stamps.  Especially for my nieces, whom I write regularly, I’m trying to provide a wide variety of stamps.  Thailand hasn’t gone to self-adhesive stamps yet and produces some very colourful stamps, many of which are inspired by Buddhist art.  Here are some examples.

Bicycling at the Floating Market

Thanon Asoke flooded today for the first time since November.  I hereby proclaim rainy season officially arrived.

Luckily I was not in Khrungthep to experience this.  Instead I was 70 km away in Ratchaburi province along the banks of the Mae Klong River on a full-day bicycle tour with Spice Roads.  As nobody I know here seems willing to ride a bike in Thailand (and I want to point out that the fear of the heat just hasn’t played out on either of my trips – it is a lot cooler on a bicycle than it is hanging out in the city), I was on my own, tagging onto a trip arranged for four German tourists.

More accurately, one of the fellow riders is a German expat who is working in Thailand for BMW.  I spoke briefly with his American-born wife while we waited at their condominium.  While she did not join the ride, she told me that they had gone on other trips with Spice Roads.  After a brief wait her husband (the expat), his seventy-year-old mother, and a French-German couple who were visiting them joined us in the van.  All were fit and except for the mother, able to speak English fluently.

My high school German classes came in handy as I was able to converse a little with the mother and was able to follow bits and pieces of the mostly-German conversation.  Danke, Herr McHan!

Traffic was light thanks to the three-day weekend and in less than ninety minutes we had arrived in Damnoensaduak, home of the nearest major floating market.  To say that it is a tourist trap is an under-statement.  In fact, arriving at about 8:15-8:30 any locals who had shopped were already back at home, replaced by bus- and vanloads of tourists.

We didn’t spend very long at the market, maybe thirty minutes.  There are a number of halls and areas adjacent to the khlong – canals – where you can buy food, clothes, and souvenirs without having to hire a boat.  There are also several thoughtful scenic viewpoints built out over the water to enable the easier photographing of the market.  Left: A family of tourists in matching blue hats.

Our group bought some phonlamaay – fruits – and sampled them all.  I purchased some khanom khrung, the small half-moon rice flour pancakes that some of you may recall from the Thai Buddhist temple in Berkeley.

After this we walked across the street to another khlong and found ourselves in a much quieter area with only a few tourists who had wandered away from the main market and were exploring.  It was here that a lazy Damnoensaduak spent its Sunday morning, sitting on porches and sala – verandas – along the khlong.  The khlong are just like any street, with electric poles and sidewalks and addresses on the houses.  Only the street is water and the cars are boats.  Above: a quiet klong on the other side of town.

We boarded a long-tail boat that had been previously arranged and took off through the khlong.  After just a few minutes of passing other long tail boats carrying tourists, we headed into a tributary and thirty minutes after that were spilled into the Mae Klang river, a wide and slow body of water not unlike the Missouri.  Left: Along the way we stopped for fuel at a khlong-side store where petrol is dispensed from a steel pitcher with the help of an oversized funnel. 


We continued past houses and wat – temples – some small and others grand.  People ran errands or sat on their porches watching life go by, swam in the water to cool off or washed clothes.



Above: Beautiful houses along the river.  The one on the right is a more traditional Burmese style house.

After an hour we turned from the Mae Klang back into a khlong leading to the town of Samut Songkhram.  This is where we disembarked, walking a block from the water to Wat Amphawan Chetiyaram, which was constructed by the princess mother Somdet Phra Amarintharamat and was the birthplace of King Phra Phutta Lertla, Rama II.  It contains beautifully-restored murals of the Buddha’s life and behind the main Buddha image is a picture of Khrunthep in the mid-1700s. 

Back at the van, our bicycles were pulled off the racks and waiting for us.  We spent a few minutes adjusting seats, slathering on sunscreen (even though the sky was mostly cloudy) and strapping on helmets.  Then we took off along one of the roads heading several kilometers to a river where we had to wait for a small ferry to take us across to Wat Bang Kae Noi.  As this is the beginning of Buddhist Lent, many temples we encountered were having special events with gatherings of locals, food, and music to celebrate the ordination of the neen, or novice monks.  Above: Orchid farm

Inside Wat Bang Kae Noi’s main chapel the walls are covered with teak wood panels engraved with the story of Buddha’s enlightenment.  Above the main Buddha image is a giant bodhi tree, carved out of teak – even the individual leaves!  It is very beautiful.

From there we cycled through coconut and banana plantations until we arrived at Wat Bang King, on the grounds of the final battle between the Thai and Burmese armies.  The main chapel has been overtaken by a huge bodhi tree and another banyan tree and over the centuries their roots have completely overwhelmed the structure such that the building itself doesn’t really exist anymore but is now within the trees.  The chapel is still in use and it is a very auspicious place for merit making.

A few more kilometers down the road through more banana, coconut and now some pomelo and lychee plantations, we stopped at the house at one plantation – just a small shack, really – and asked if we could buy a few pomelo.  The lady peeled them for us and we ate the fruit right there as her husband husked coconuts out front and the grandfather of the house lazed about on a hammock, laughing at this group of farang.

Above: Our tour group – the 70-year old German mother in the center.


Twenty minutes later we arrived at a restaurant that had a large terrace overlooking the Mae Klong, taking advantage of the cooling breezes.  Our guide ordered a variety of delicious dishes, including a fried snakefish served in a tamarind sauce.  Right: Roosters in the restaurant parking lot.



Above: an emaciated local dog along the riverbank below the restaurant.  The purple marks are a medicine used for sores, not vandalism as I had feared.  We threw some leftover food to him.  Notice the thousands of broken clay charcoal braziers that make up the river bank.

After a brief rest we resumed our ride, taking the final ten kilometers at an easy pace, stopping by one of the few Catholic churches in the area, the Church of the Virgin Mary or Asanawihan Maephrabangkerd.  It is very French Gothic in style and faces the Mae Klong river. 

There are very few churches in Thailand, Christians making up less than 1% of the population, but some of the churches are very beautiful, undoubtedly continuing the Thai tradition of building beautiful places of worship.  Even the mosques, relatively unadorned per the Koran’s instructions, still feature beautiful architecture.

In front of the church there several young models posed on a bench for a photo shoot.  The makeup artist, a khatoey, took great interest in the farang bicyclists. 


Above: What hi-so magazine will these models appear in?

At this point we were nearly back at the floating market, having ridden a complete circle.  The market was quiet, nearly all the tourists having left to return to Bangkok.  We met up with our van, cooled down as the bikes were loaded onto the racks, and then climbed in for our ride back to Bangkok.

Throughout the day I had had the opportunity to talk more with the guide, a 15-year veteran of the Royal Thai Navy, who goes biking regularly with his friends to explore Bangkok and the surrounding areas.  He invited me to join them and made some recommendations for gear.  So it looks like I’m establishing some links to the bicycling community in Bangkok.  Now all I need is a bicycle!


National Buttermilk Biscuit Day (USA)

Important – Mark Your Calendars!  May 14th is National Buttermilk Biscuit Day in the United States.

For those of you who have lived with me and woken up on a Saturday morning to hot coffee and my freshly-baked buttermilk biscuits (Anita, Colleen, Nina, Stephanie, Tawn?) you’ll know what I’m talking about.  I miss baking with a passion, living now without a source for buttermilk and, worse yet, no oven!

So I encourage each of you to go out on Sunday (or better yet, make your own – see recipe below) and eat a Buttermilk Biscuit for me.  Really.  Jam and butter, please.

Chris’ Buttermilk Biscuits – makes about 10

2 c. flour

1 T. baking powder

1 t. baking soda

1/2 t. salt

1/4 c. vegetable shortening (such as Crisco)

1 T. butter, cold

3/4 c. buttermilk


Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.  Mix dry ingredients in a bowl then cut in shortening and butter, forming pea-size chunks.  Make a well in the center of the bowl and pour in buttermilk.  Mix with a fork until dough pulls together but is still slightly sticky.  On a well-floured board, knead dough five times, folding dough over on itself each time.  Take care not to overwork the dough as this makes for tough biscuits. 

Pat dough to a height of one inch.  Use a biscuit cutter or a wine glass (about 2″ diameter) to cut biscuits – push straight down, don’t twist the cutter.  Place biscuits on an ungreased cookie sheet, preferably aluminum, and bake in over for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.  Serve in a basket or bowl lined with a clean dish towel to retain the heat.


Living in another country can make you hungry for things that you wouldn’t necessarily eat at home very often.  Case in point: Tawn and I were both craving barbeque ribs, specifically the “knife and fork” ribs at Houston’s restaurant.  (Owned, interestingly, by the Hillstone Restaurant Group.  I normally don’t like chain restaurants, but they do a good job with the food and ambience.)

So Tawn and I went to the only place in Bangkok that I know of that serves ribs: Tony Roma’s.  There are two full-service locations in Bangkok, so we ate at the Siam Paragon location.  Really, why shouldn’t we spend as much time at this mega mall as possible?  That’s where all the other fashionistas are, after all.  (Tawn is a fashionista, right?) 

So we shared a platter of St. Louis style ribs, a half BBQ chicken, and some grilled sausages.  A lot of food!  But after having been quite conscientious about my dining habits over the past month a little splurge was okay.  After having been exposed to both Kansas City and Texas style barbeque, I’ll have to say that I find Tony Roma’s meats to be lacking in depth: no smoky flavor, just a lot of sauce.  But the meat was good quality and cooked to perfect tenderness while still being moist.  So points there.  And the service was really good.  And we really, really wanted some ribs, so it hit the spot. 

If you’ve ever been confused about the difference between babyback ribs, St. Louis ribs, spareribs, etc. here is a great site from the Ribman to explain it all.

While eating dinner, I reminisced that the last time I ate at a Tony Roma’s was in San Bernadino, California while I was attending school at University of California, Riverside in 1999.  As soon as I said “1999” I realized that, no, it had actually been 1989.  Which then got me to thinking that I am only two years away from my 20-year High School reunion.  That would be Adrian C. Wilcox High School in Santa Clara, CA.  Here is the Wikipedia article on the school along with the official website.  Could it really be 20 years?

After dinner we went to watch Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible: 3.  Thrills, explosions, cartoonish plot twists… what more could you expect?  An evening’s entertainment.

Car Broke

Wednesday evening I stopped by Tawn’s office and we were going to take the car to a 7:30 pm yoga class.  But when Tawn tried to start the car, it wouldn’t.  Lights were okay, so it wasn’t a battery issue.  We walked to yoga and the next day Tawn called a mechanic to come look at it.  Fortunately, it is only 200 baht for a house call.  How about that?

The bad news is that the problem couldn’t be fixed at the office so the car was towed to the garage.  Here’s the challenge:

  • First, I’m not a car expert.  Despite my father’s best efforts and certain disappointment, getting my fingernails greasy while doing car repairs on our old 1967 Ford Fairlane was never much to my liking.  While I probably know a little bit more than Tawn about the inner workings of a car, it certainly isn’t a whole lot more so we’re making decisions in the dark. 
  • Second, the language barrier poses some problems.  When a Thai mechanic explains the problems in Thai to someone who doesn’t have a lot of technical knowledge about cars, who then tries to translate this information into English… well, it doesn’t work very well. 
  • Third, this mechanic is one that Tawn’s father has used for years so there might be some of the cultural propensity to respect the opinion of someone more experienced and senior than you, and to not challenge it too much.

So right now we’re having work done on the car: possibly the starter motor (related to the original problem) along with a leaky shock absorber and possibly a leaky seal or other problem with (maybe?) the drive shaft?  See how much the three factors conspire to create utter confusion?

It looks like the work will be finished today (Saturday) since yesterday was another holiday (Wan Visakha Bucha – the day and month of the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and death).  The total cost should be around 20,000 baht – US$550, the same as our monthly rent! – and while we don’t know the final cost Tawn was told the price includes a 10% discount as a long term customer. 

Confused?  So am I. 

Well, that’s part of the fun of living in another country, right?  Actually, I think this should be okay, though.  We haven’t done a lot of maintenance work on the car over the last year or two and it is at about ten years so is probably ready for a bit of work.  Since I don’t want to deal with buying another car if we can get a few more years out of this once, even 20,000 baht is a good investment.

Speaking Thai

I’m pleased to report that even though this week was the brief summer break enjoyed by Union Language School students, I did do some studying.  Not as much as I could have, but more than none.  Tod was kind enough to meet me three afternoons to spend about two hours speaking and, mostly, proofing my reading skills.  He’s a good teacher and places a lot of emphasis on correct pronunciation.  For any tonal language, that’s a must and I don’t get as much reinforcement from the teachers at ULS as I’d like to.

Going to Hong Kong

Tawn’s trip to Italy with his parents has been finalized.  This morning he is meeting his father at the Emirates ticket office – conveniently just a half-block up the street from us (hey, Khun Sudha, please stop by for a cup of joe) – to purchase the tickets.  To help plan the trip, I ordered two of Rick Steves’ guides to Italy.  His “Europe Through the Back Door” series is really useful and when Jenn, Kevin, my mother and I went to Italy several summers ago we found his guide books to be very useful.

I have to tell you, I was really impressed with and DHL.  I placed the order for the two books early Friday morning local time in the US and selected express shipping (US$46 for a US$27 order!) because the next fastest option while twenty dollars less expensive would have taken nine business days.  On Monday morning when I returned from lunch, the clerk at the front desk of our condo building gave me my box from Amazon. 

At first, I thought it might have been shipped from a distribution center in Singapore or elsewhere in Asia.  But I double checked the shipping label and, sure enough, the books were actually shipped from the United States: New Castle, Delaware. 

That’s right: it took less than 60 hours from the time I placed the order until the books were in my hands, 14,059 km (8736 miles) away – according to the Great Circle Mapper – pretty impressive.  

Isn’t the world just shrinking incredibly?

So, back to the story (you’re probably wondering what all this has to do with Hong Kong, aren’t you?):

The travel books arrived and I poured through them placing sticky notes on various pages, underlining things, and pulling together six sample itineraries for Tawn’s trip.  Tawn then translated them and created a PowerPoint presentation complete with pictures from each of the cities they might visit.  Then he sat down with his parents on Friday and did the presentation, guiding them through their options.

I thought the whole thing was funny as Tawn didn’t anticipate his “client’s” short attention span: his father didn’t want to wait for the entire presentation so instead hijacked the meeting agenda.  But that’s okay; they nailed down a plan finally!

So now that they will be out of town for eleven days, I’m going to fly over to Hong Kong to visit friends.  I’ll stay with Chris, Tehlin and their son Sam.  While there, I hope to have a chance to see Big Michael, Edward, and another Chris and his partner, Antony.  Anyone else going to be in Hong Kong June 1-6?  Should be a lot of fun and a chance to eat some good dim sum again.


Speaking of Tawn’s family, here’s a picture of the extended clan at his Uncle’s funeral last fall.  Tawn was the one taking the picture, so he’s not in it.  But I’ve noted Tawn’s mother and father on the photo in the lower left corner.


Theme: Sunsets

Thursday or Friday evening past, we had a fantastic sunset.  For several minutes the entire western sky was this incredible shade of orange, which reflected an orange glow onto the rest of the city.  It only lasted a few minutes, though.  Just long enough for me to snap these pictures:

Above: view looking east with the sunset reflected on the buildings

Below: Looking southwest with the sunset reflected in the neighboring office building

Sunday evening Tawn and I went to the Siam Apex cinema, one of these old single-screen 1,200-seat theatres in the Siam Square area, to watch “Always: Sunset on Third Street.” 

Set in 1958 Tokyo, Japan, this story is based on a popular manga (cartoon books) series about the intersecting lives of locals who live in a neighborhood near the under-construction Tokyo Tower.

(Plot description borrowed from Variety magazine)

The story follows rural schoolgirl Mutsuko, who arrives from the provinces to begin her first job with Suzuki Auto. Initially impressed by meeting company “president” Norifumi Suzuki, Mutsuko is shocked to discover her workplace is actually a shabby auto repair shop in Tokyo’s down-at-heel Yuhi district.

Suzuki is a bad-tempered employer but Mutsuko is welcomed by his wife, Tomoe and their impish 5-year-old son, Ippei.  One of Ippei’s favorite haunts is a five-and-dime store managed by struggling serial writer Ryunosuke Chagawa.

When alluring newcomer Hiromi opens a sake bar in the area, she gathers clientele quickly but also finds herself lumbered with Junnosuke, the orphaned offspring of the bar’s previous owner.  Drunk, and smitten by Hiromi, Chogawa accepts custodianship of the boy.

The computer graphic effects are high quality, recreating the postwar era beautifully.  The cinemaphotography and set design are also the stars of the story.  One of the most telling sequences is when the Suzuki household becomes the first to have television and the entire neighborhood shows up to watch the first broadcast.  The broadcast is of a professional wresting match and on screen the several dozen locals are suddenly enveloped by the picture as if they were at the actual fight, conveying well the sense that watching a TV for the first time must have created.

All in all, while the plot jumps along in compressed and contrived ways (it was a manga after all) there are some really touching scenes.  Well worth checking out if it gets to a cinema near you or if you have Netflix.  The soundtrack was also gorgeous.  If you have broadband access go to the movie’s official site – while it is in Japanese, the main page plays some of the theme music when it loads.  This English language site has a more detailed description and stills from the film but none of the beautiful music.


Road Trip to Ayutthaya

The past few mornings as I’ve been walking down the street, I notice there are still large puddles of water on the roads and the air is unusually clean.  This leads me to believe that I’ve slept through some rainy nights.

This morning at about six o’clock (hok mong chaaw in Thai) a very loud clap of thunder woke me up.  Looking outside, the skies were ovecast but becoming light.  No sign of lightning, but we were treated to ongoing barritone rumbles of thunder.

The morning remained overcast and damp but not much cooler.  Rainy season must be getting closer if it hasn’t already arrived.

Yestereday we drove up to Ayutthaya to visit my former classmates Ron and Kari.  They’re Baptist missionaries from Texas, assigned to help set up Baptist churches in the central Thailand area.  Considering the country is about 95% Buddhist and 4% Muslim, that doesn’t leave them a lot to work with.  So they have their work cut out for them.

Located about 90 km north of Bangkok, Ayutthaya was the second capital of the Kingdom of Siam, from 1350 to 1767 A.D.  By the late 1600s it was one of the largest cities in Asia with a million inhabitants.  The accounts of European visitors from the time described it as an incredibly beautiful city.  The city today has about 80,000 residents and is mainly a tourist destination.  The central part of the city is an island that contains several historical parks, containing the ruins of the palace buildings.  These are large brick structures, walls and chedis (pagodas) and Buddha statues, many of which are headless after the Burmese ransacked the city in 1767. 

The ruins are interesting, but they are more awe-inspiring when you put them into context: the Grand Palace in Bangkok was modeled directly on the palace in Ayutthaya, so if you mentally superimpose that colorful, glittering architecture over the footprint of the ruins you can get an idea of how incredible they must have been.

We drove up to Ayutthaya with Jack and Eddy, Tawn’s friends.  Jack’s parents own property about 20 km oustide the city which includes a restored northern Thai-style house.  It is truly a beautiful complex, located alongside a khlong (canal) that allows for great breezes in the warm Central Thailand afternoons.

We originally were going to pick up Jack and Eddy at 8:30, but Eddy protested that it was too early so we settled on 9:00.  Then we were delayed by traffic (Jack lives in the Northwest suburbs of Bangkok) and didn’t arrive until about 9:40.  By that point Jack and Eddy were too hungry to travel so we went to a noodle shop in his village (which I’d describe as a housing development with lots of shops).

The noodle shop was funny because it is in a residential neighborhood typical of Bangkok: row upon row of similar-looking houses but in front of one of the them the owner had converted his carpark into a small noodle stand.  The “kitchen” is actually a thatched hut that would seem more appropriate on an island.  Concrete tables and benches are scattered throughout the garden with tall trees keeping them shaded.  Each day from 9:30 – 17:00 they serve up noodles.


Above: Eddy, Jack and Tawn.  Kwiaythiaw lek phiseet (“Special” small rice noodles with fishballs, pork patty, and wonton).  Noodle Hut set up in the front yard of a row house.

So it was 11:00 before we finally hit the road.  Fortunately there is a new tollway that leads most of the way to Ayutthaya so we made good time.  First we overshot the city to drop Jack and Eddy off at Jack’s parents’ house.  It is really out in the countryside.  The Thai style house is back in a garden behind the main house.



Here’s a 55-second video I shot providing a 360-degree view of the main courtyard between the different houses.  The first building is a main living space, glassed in with aircon.  The second building is a sala, or pavillion, that overlooks the river and is open on all sides to catch the breeze.  The third building has been set up as a wet bar and small kitchen, so you can entertain easily.  The final building is a guest bedroom that is actually newer construction but was done in the same style.  It can be open to the outside or closed up and have aircon turned on.

After dropping Jack and Eddy off, we backtracked to Ayutthaya, getting a bit turned around on the roads but eventually finding our way to the highway.  We arrived at Ron and Kari’s place about 1:00.

The afternoon was spent eating at a riverside restaurant on the south side of the island and then driving around to see different areas of the city, visiting the whole while.  The restaurant served really good grilled river prawns – very large! – that were so tasty.  We also had a nice tamarind-flavored hot and sour soup, stir-fried brocolli, and a chicken som tum salad.  The open dining room was above the river and well-shaded so we enjoyed the breeze and several bottles of ice-cold Coca Cola. 

Along the river there were groups of locals – mostly children but not exclusively – who were playing in the river, diving off small docks, and trying to beat the heat.

One of our stops was at a current temple right along the river that features fish feading as a way to make merit.  You buy three little bags of fish pellets for 10 baht (US$ 0.30) and then go to a little pier – there are hundreds if not thousands of fish swimming alongside the pier just waiting to be fed.  Left: Tawn (with umbrella), Kari and Ron feed the fish in the Chao Praya River.

Behind the main building of the temple is an ancient chedi and some very nice opportunities for pictures in the late afternoon sun.



(Above L-to-R: Buddha statue in front of a 20 metre (65 feet)  chedi, modern temple building glittering in the afternoon sun.)

At the end of the afternoon we stopped at Wat Monkhonbohpit to visit the talat (local market) behind it.  Jack’s mother called to request that Tawn pick up some “three taste mangos” – basically, candied mangos that are bitter, sweet and sour all at once.

The storm clouds to the northeast of us looked threatening and just as we finished up and got into the car the first sprinkles started to hit our windshield.  Just before this, I snapped this impressive picture of some of the old palace ruins backdropped by the dark clouds.

We dropped Ron and Kari back off at their house and then took a shortcut to the highway, winding our way back to Jack’s parents’ house in the rain.

Below: Interesting ruin at Wat Monkhonbohpit where a Buddha image has been overcome by the roots of a huge tree.  The image itself is about 1 meter (3.1 feet) high.


I’ve been tinkering with the look and feel of this blog, just to freshen it up a bit.  Don’t think I’m done quite yet.  But then I haven’t a large degree of HTML programming accumen so I think all the really cool things I could do are beyond my imagination.

Today was the last day of class for my second try of Thai Language Module 3.  I’ve completed a total of 80 days of instruction in Thai over the past six months, which suddenly seems like a lot less than four months.  I guess I’m not counting weekends, am I?

Anyhow, I did alright on the final exam but clearly need to speak the language a lot more in order to build strength in vocabulary and grammar.  After a lot of debate (mostly internal dialogue and some complaining to friends) I decided to sign up for Module 4.  If I quit now, I’m only halfway through learning to read and write, a tenuous position at best. 

To celebrate the final day of class, I made spinach hummus with toasted pita slices and brought them to class.  The students and teachers are a voracious bunch and pounced on it along with a super-large sugar cookie (think pizza-sized) covered with slices of fresh tropical fruit that one of my fellow students, Brenda, cooked.  She has an oven.  I envy her.  She’s offered to let me come over and use it.  I just may do that.

The spinach hummus was really good with cumin and garam masala and lots of garlic in it.