Emphasis on ASEAN films in Bangkok Film Fest

BIFF 5 This evening is the opening night of the Bangkok International Film Festival.  An event sponsored by the Tourism Authority, it has historically been disorganized and a bit of an embarassment, even when over funded like it was last yer.  (Kind of like the new airport, huh?)  This year’s festival was delayed six months as they did a major reshuffle, fired their mostly farang and Los Angeles-based organizers, and tried to go native. 


The programming looks to be a bit better, but the disorganization is still there.  On Monday evening at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, the festival’s director handed out press materials and spoke briefly, spending most of his time fielding some harsh barbs from the audience, including a few questions that I thought were a bit over the top and, thankfully, appeared not to come from real journalists.


One example was an apparantly inebriated British man who criticized the Tourism Authority for choosing the SF World Cinema at Central World Plaza, one of Khrungthep’s newest of our ubiquitous multiplex cinemas, over somewhere “more culturally appropriate”.  I could scarcely contain myself as I wanted him to explain what he thought a more culturally appropriate venue would be?  Khrungthep has no “traditionally Thai” multi-screen movie theatres.  I don’t even know what that would be!


Anyhow, the press materials included schedules of the films and a list of ten highlighted films out of the 130 or so being screened.  Oddly, they have no program guide that lists the movies and provides synopses of them.  You have to go to the website for that.  Talk about the surest way to not reach an audience.


The good news is that there are 18 films from the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries and another 26 from elsewhere in Asia.  There is also a “Thai Panorama” featuring 10 recent Thai films, a few of which I’m not sure are really that deserving.


I’m partnering with the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival to attend the Bangkok Film Festival as one of SFIAAFF’s “associate” programmers.  Yes, I actually get an industry badge and admission to three free screenings a day.  Woo-hoo!  Exhibition and Festival Director Chi-hui and Assistant Director Taro selected some films from the schdule that they’ve asked me to view as they’ll likely not get a chance to see these films at Toronto, Cannes, Rotterdam or other larger festivals. 




In conjunction with their requests and my own browsing, here are some of the films I’ll see which look promising.  If you’re a ready here in Khrungthep, may I suggest you consider catching one or more of them?  All of the films are at SF World Cinema in Central World Plaza.  Tickets are on sale at the cinema box office and seats are assigned.


Three Days Three Days to Forever – (Indonesia) Riri Riza’s thoroughly modern road trip movie.  Yusuf and his cousin Ambar spend a wild night out just before heading out of town for a relative’s wedding.  When the pair passes out overnight and Ambar misses her flight, the two head off on a three-day road trip.  Little do they realize those three days will have a lasting impact on their lives.  20 July at 14:00 and 23 July at 18:00.






The Rebel The Rebel – (Vietnam) Charlie Nguyen historical drama and romance set in 1920s Vietnam.  Under colonial French rule, rebellions emerge all over the country.  A French-cultured undercover elite falls in love with the daughter of a rebel leader.  21 July at 19:30, 23 July at 15:30.







Before We Fall Before We Fall in Love Again – (Malaysia)  James Lee tells the story of Chang, whose wife Ling Yue has been missing for a month with no clues left behind.  One day a man named Tong shows up and claims to be Ling Yue’s lover.  Tong is looking for her, too.  In a turn of events both men form an uneasy alliance in order to find Ling Yue.  24 July at 20:30 and 26 July at 17:40.





Love Conquers Love Conquers All – (Malaysia) Ten Chui Mui directs this drama set in the pre-mobile phone 80s.  It is the story of Ah Ping, who arrives in KL from her hometown.  Bored and alone in a strange place, she finds herself mysteriously drawn to the predatory John, both physically and emotionally.  27 July at 14:20 and 28 July at 14:30.






Love for Share Love for Share – (Indonesia) This comedy-drama about the consequences of polygamy.  Shifting techniques, director Nia Dinata tells the stories of three wives from vastly different backgrounds; one thin thread connects the women.  Successful doctor Salma must reconcile her devotion to Islam with her discontent; living in an overcrowded slum, Siti resents being a third bride and forms a tight bond with wife Dwi; and the self-involved Ming vows to make it work to her advantage.  24 July at 20:30 and 16 July at 17:40.



Kala Kala – (Indonesia) Director Joko Anwar tells this drama about a nameless country in a state of chaos as natural disasters, corruption and street justice are on the rise.  A cop named Eros is investigating the case of five men who were killed by a mob.  A journalist named Janus is also covering the story.  The two are quickly drawn into a labyrinth of mysteries and murders.  25 July at 17:20 and 27 July at 16:40.





Dancing Bells Dancing Bells – (Malaysia) Director Deepak Kumaran Menon tells the story of 11 year-old Uma, a little girl living in KL’s Little India, who wants to dance.  But first her mother must save enough money from her flower stall to buy her a pair of chalangdai – dancing bells.  Menon’s beautifully naturalistic second feature was shot entirely on location using neighborhood amateurs, revealing a minority community under stress in the shadows of developing Malaysia.




Pao Pao’s Story – (Vietnam) Set in the breath-taking landscape of the mountainous provinces of Vietname, director Quang Hai Ngo tells the story of a Hmong tribe girl named Pao.  She was raised by her stepmother after her real mother left when she was little.  One day after her stepmother dies in an accident, Pao begins to track down her birth mother.  But her journey turns out to disclose an unsealed sentimental drama of the family in the past.





Looking for a Thai rabbit to flake coconut

DSCF9902 I make meusli.  And in a country where coconuts are such a bountiful product, I’ve grown tired of having to buy imported shredded coconut to add to it.  Despite the prevelence of coconuts, I have yet to see shredded (flaked) coconut for baking and making cereals. 

At the talad – market – I can find fresh coconut milk, in which the coconut ends up in pieces as fine as snowflakes before being pressed to extract the liquid.  Snowflakes are too fine for my needs.

At first I looked for a gradtai – rabbit – a bench-like contraption (often artistically designed to look like a rabbit) with a sharp blade protuding like buck teeth on which you scrape the halved coconut.  Well-patinaed gradtai are collectors’ items and Tawn has indicated an interest in having one around the house.

Regardless of its decorative value, I want a gradtai to scrape coconuts.  Kobfa and I mentioned this to Ajarn Yai last week and it resulted in an after school trip to the local talad because she insisted that we could find the right implement to scrape coconut. 

DSCF9905 In addition to finding a tiikuudmapraaw – literarly “coconut scraper” (left) of which Ajarn Yai insisted to buy two, one for Tawn and one for me (she still doesn’t quite get it despite multiple explanations in both Thai and English), we found a vendor who sells gradtai. 

But these gradtai were functional ones, plain wooden benches with no visual relationship to a rabbit.  I called Tawn on my mobile phone and asked if he wanted a plain gradtai.  Silly me for even asking; of course he didn’t.

I drove back last week with two tiikuudmapraaw and a hulled coconut that Khruu Somchai had harvested from a tree near at the school.  Ajarn Yai was worried that it was a young coconut, which has a lot of liquid inside and only a thin lining of meat.  That coconut is still sitting, whole, on my counter because I lack a way to open it.

This week as the school day was concluding, Ajarn Yai insisted I wait a few extra minutes because Khruu Somchai and Khruu Darunee were at the market buying a mature coconut for me.  Ajarn Yai had been worried all week that young coconut just isn’t the right thing for me.  When they returned, everyone took turns husking the coconut.  

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DSCF9918 The coconuts you see at markets in the west are just a small part of the whole coconut – you wouldn’t believe how thick a husk is!  What person thousands of years ago thought it would be worth the effort to rip apart a coconut and see if there was something to eat inside?

I drove back from Bangkhonthii this week with a hulled and halved mature coconut.  This morning I used one of my tiikuudmapraaw to scrape the coconut, making beautiful flakes – loads of them! – that I toasted in the oven on the balcony.   Coconut cream pie, anyone?


A weekend of showtunes

DSCF9759 Sorry for no update for a few days.  It isn’t that there wasn’t anything happening.  Rather, I wanted to leave the entry about the end of the English teaching at Bangkhonthiinai at the top of the page for a few extra days since many of my readers don’t subscribe to my blog and instead stop by from time to time to read it.

But five days is long enough, so let’s get back to blogging!

Saturday was a Khun Nui day.  Tawn’s father was out for a school reunion and so Tawn’s mother was home free.  After baking homemade buttermilk biscuits (right) for breakfast we drove over and picked her up.

Condo Remodel Progress

Our first stop was the new condominium to show it to Khun Nui and also to see what progress had been made in the remodel.

DSCF9770 It seems that a lot of stuff is happening quite quickly, and that isn’t necessarily a good thing.  We were surprised to see that the two bathroom doors, which had been pulled out along with a section of wall around them, have been rebuilt, left.

The good news: they’re moving quickly.  More good news: one of the doors is in the correct place. 

Some not-so-good news: the other door was moved the wrong direction by several inches.  Some more not-so-good news: they weren’t supposed to re-use the old doors in the first place as we have two new doors waiting to be picked up.

So it looks like the construction this week will begin with two steps back.



Rough Neighborhood

DSCF9761 Some more bad news about the new neighborhood comes from Daily News, a local Thai-language newspaper: a 1.2-meter (4 foot) freshwater crocodile fell out of the back of a speeding black pickup truck in front of the Kasikorn Bank branch on Soi Thong Lor, one block over from our street. 

No details on the truck such as license plate number and it seems the truck was unaware that it had lost its cargo, assuming that the cargo was intentional in the first place.

Can you imagine what the driver must have said when he got back home and looked in the back of the truck: “Well, dang it… where did that crocodile go?  I could just swear I put him in here.”


In the afternoon we went for lunch with Khun Nui before she headed home in advance of Khun Sudha’s planned return.  Above, Tawn gives his mother a sniff-kiss.  A sniff-kiss is a Very Thai display of affection.


Somehow, Someday, Somewhere

Kobfa called Saturday afternoon to ask if we were interested in joining him for a Broadway showtunes concert sponsored by the Musicals Society of Bangkok (who knew that existed?) as a fundraiser for Thai Red Cross.  He had just found out about it from a friend who had attended the night before.  An internet search turned up only one entry about the event from the Stock Exchange of Thailand’s own website.  I didn’t even know there was an auditorium at the SET.


It seems that this is the third or fourth annual concert that the Musicals Society has put on and we’ll certainly have to look it up next year.  The two highlight performers were Suruj Predarat and Teeranai Na Nongkai, who it seems are perennial favorites.  Khun Suruj is young, only 33, but has a marvelous baritone and excellent control.  Khun Teeranai is a mezzo-soprano with a clear voice.  Both have done a lot of stage work.

The selection of musical numbers was broad from well-known numbers like As If We Never Said Goodbye from Sunset Boulevard and I Have Love / One Hand, One Heart from West Side Story, to lesser known pieces such as She Touched Me from Drat! The Cat! and Penny In My Pocket, which was written for but cut from Hello Dolly.

Princess Somsawaree was in attendance and showed up late so things started almost thirty minutes late.  The concert was fantastic, though, and the Princess was an enthusiastic audience member, leading the applause at the end of each number.

DSCF9800 When you have a royal family member in attendance at an event, a special seat is set up in a prime location which, I think, would make it quite unfortunate if, as that family member, you wanted to attend with a friend or loved one.  You end up sitting all alone.  Right, the Princess is seated in the midst of the small (350 seats maybe?) but very modern auditorium.

As the Princess arrived and entered the auditorium, her anthem was played and the audience stood up.  Each member of the royal family has their own anthem that was written by His Majesty the King, a very prolific composer and musician. 

A very good call on Kobfa’s part to suggest this event; we had a fantastic time.


Tell Me on a Sunday

I had a surprise planned for Tawn on Sunday afternoon.  I wouldn’t tell him what it was or where we were going.  All I would tell him was how to dress.  Before heading to the surprise, we met up with some friends for dim sum at the Windsor Hotel on Sukhumvit 20.  Ben’s family owns the hotel and he’s the General Manager, so it was very nice that he made the arrangements for us.  Needless to say, the staff was extremely attentive.

After dim sum we took a taxi to The Esplanade, a new shopping “artsy” shopping center on Ratchadapisek that is owned by the same group that owns Paragon and The Emporium.  The Esplanade has the full size Ratchadalai Theatre in it and this is where we watched Fah Jarod Sai (“Where the Sky Meets the Sand”), the musical adaptation of a popular pair of Thai language books by Sopak Suwan.

DSCF9835 The story line is tremendously complex and the musical (at nearly three hours in two acts) tries to tackle nearly all of it.  In general, it is set in Arabia where half-French, half-Arab orphan Michelle is tricked into being abducted into the King’s harem.  The penalty for deceiving the King is death, but King Ahmed is so enraptured by Michelle beauty that he falls in love with her. 

Just then, a coup is staged and the King is left for dead.  Shariff, the King’s son, fights off the villains and barely escapes with his life – and Michelle – into the desert.  All of this is the first twenty minutes of the musical!

Most of the story is about their time in the desert in which their contemptuous relationship (think Bogart and Hepburn in African Queen) slowly develops into respect, appreciation, and then love.

In the end, on the verge of death they are found by guards for the King, who is turns out did not perish after all and who is encamped in the desert plotting his return.  Shariff leads the assassination attempt on the coup leader and, after some misunderstanding with his father, who is still in love with Michelle, all ends happily with Michelle and Shariff marrying and having a grandson for King Ahmed.

The story is complex and the sets are elaborate, but on the whole the musical does not deliver.  The songs are enjoyable but nothing is particularly memorable.  The cast is chock-a-block with well-known TV and film actors, most of whom haven’t the training or experience to effectively sing a stage musical. 


Homemade Sunday Dinner

I concluded Sunday for Tawn with a homemade dinner.  First, using some of the extra whole wheat pizza dough I had made last week, I made a vegetarian pizza.  Since Sandelion commented recently on wanting to see more food pics, I took lots of pictures of the cooking process:

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Then for dessert (since Tops Supermarket had a special on US imported cherries at 199 baht for 500 grams, about $6.00/pound) I made a cherry pie.  Notice the latticework crust!

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What a lovely weekend, eh?


English teaching at Bangkhonthiinai to end

DSCF5416 For nearly a year, I have been driving 100 km every Wednesday to volunteer as an English teacher in Bangkhonthiinai, a tiny town in the province of Samut Songkhram.  At the end of August, the volunteer English program will come to an end.

This volunteer work started when I was on a bicycle tour of the Damnoen Saduak floating market last July.  At the end of the tour we rode through a small country school.  The children ran out to see the farang who were riding through, and I ended up chatting with the Ajarn Yai – head teacher.

When she found out that I was living in Thailand, she asked if I wanted to come volunteer.  As they say, ask and you shall receive.  About a month later I started the first of what I thought might just be a few weeks of volunteering.  A year later, I’ve had one class of ten sixth graders graduate, and have watched these young people grow.  Also, I’ve had the opportunity to see the generosity and friendliness of “real” Thais – those who are not living in the big city or in touristy areas.

Along the way, Kobfa has been my regular partner in crime.  Ken and Markus have attended helped out regularly.  And we’ve had plenty of visitors, too: Pat was here from Kansas City, Aaron made the early morning trip to the school, and my entire family plus a few other friends made the trip one day in December.  Below, some of the guests the school has had:

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The main reason for the volunteer program ending is that Ajarn Yai has done such a successful job at Bangkhonthiinai that she is being promoted, and as of September will be an official evaluator, overseeing performance of schools throughout the country.

As she moves on, it is unclear who will replace her or when that replacement will be named.  The school’s resources have been very limited and the five teachers stretched thin.  This was a unique situation in that Ajarn Yai speaks English fairly well and is very sold on the importance of her students learning English.  That is not the case for most country school directors.

Additionally, there have been many questions from higher up in the office of education, asking about work permits and background checks for these farang teaching at her school.  She has shielded us from these questions, insisting that we are her friends who are just stopping by and “helping” at the school, not teaching.

To avoid the possibility of the program turning sour after she leaves, bad feelings arising through misunderstandings or bureaucratic requirements, she feels it is best to bring the program to a happy conclusion.  We will stop teaching on August 22nd, and if I understand correctly, there will be a formal farewell party on September 15th.

If you haven’t had a chance to be a part of this experience, you have seven more weeks.  Take the opportunity soon!


Raintree remodel underway; OSHA violations found

DSCF9755 Monday afternoon, Tawn and I stopped by the Raintree Villa juristic office to drop off the official plans, the timetable for construction activities, and a list of how many contractors would be working each week, and to pay a hefty security deposit in case construction causes damage to the property.

The next day Khun Guang, our contractor, and his team were hard at work.  By the time we stopped by Thursday morning, an amazing amount of work had already been completed.  All if it was demolition work, which of course is by its very nature easier and faster to do.

I recall that sensation I had, the first time I boarded a plane to leave the United States (spring 1996 to Singapore).  When the plane was taking off, I thought, “Well, there’s no turning back now.” 

I had that same feeling yesterday morning when I walked into the condo.

Right: Looking down from another unit at our unit – the one with no window coverings, no furniture, nothing.  


Left: Before any remodeling started; Right: After a day and a half, the wall is gone, as is the floor.  It doesn’t look that much larger, though, does it?

DSCF9600   DSCF9728

Below: Tawn looks at where the vanity and mirror once were.  The doorway between the bathroom and the bedroom has been removed and will be moved to the right about 10 cm.

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Above: All the tile has been removed in the bathroom.  The bathtub has not been removed yet because Khun Guang wanted to be 100% certain we were 100% certain about removing it.  We are; it will be gone soon.  The door between the bathroom and the living area is being moved to the left about 20 cm, necessitating some rewiring of the switches.  By mid-afternoon, the workers were already reframing the door.

Speaking of workers, who is doing the work?  Today it was one man doing most of the reframing of the door, joined by his wife and – incongruously to those of you who are familiar with the concept of occupational safety – their three-year old daughter.  I don’t think she is working, but she’s definitely around plenty of hazards.  Below, she covers her ears as daddy makes a racket with a hammer and chisel.



Above: The Mirror Crack’dBelow: Looking back towards the kitchen, I examine the first load of bricks that will be used to reconstruct the walls around the doors into the bathroom.


Curious to look at a few of the units that are for rent, just to compare how they are laid out and furnished, we stopped by the juristic office.  It turns out that the man who runs the convenience store is essentially a rental agent for several properties.  He turned out to be quite the gossipy old queen and was telling Tawn the dish on all the neighbors.  It turns out that he is responsible for the unit next to us, a 34 square meter (340 square feet) studio that is owned by someone from Hong Kong and is rented out by some Latvian super model.

We’re actually interested in that adjacent property, with the idea of eventually expanding the condo to be about 105 square meters, which is how the corner units are arranged on the top floor of the building.  The Convenience Queen (that’s what I’m going to call him, or CQ for short – remember that for future posts) told us he thinks that if the owner wanted to seel, it would go for about 2.2 million baht.  Things to keep in mind for the future.

Well, the adventure is started.  No turning back now.  The real question is, how long until it is finished?  Aye, there’s the rub.


What if it turns out your condo isn’t in an urban oasis after all?

There are a tremendous number of condominiums (condominia?) being built here in Khrungthep.  It seems that not a single day passes without some new project being announced.  They are sprouting up faster than, well… things that sprout up very quickly, there being a lack of things that sprout up quickly in the Big Mango to which I can compare the condos.

DSCF9715 One of these new condominiums is Wind Sukhumvit 23, located just a block over from our current apartment at the corner of two small sois that form part of the Green Line, the maze-like connection of sois that can take you from Asoke to Ekkamai without ever touching Sukhumvit.

Wind is built on the intriguing premise that if you include light and air wells into the design of your building, then each unit can have true cross-ventilation simply by opening windows at either end of the unit.  It is an idea that has worked well in New York, San Francisco, Hong Kong, London, … so many cities around the world … that I’m surprised it is seen as a novel concept here.  Given the high heat and the high price of electricity, I think it is a brilliant idea.

You can see the construction of Wind in the picture to the left.  It is the plot of land with the red crane on it.  There is a new serviced apartment being built to the right of it, of which about five stories are already complete.  As an interesting bit of trivia, the next building to the right of the serviced apartment (it is obscured in this picture by the large condo tower in the front right of the picture), is the Khrungthep headquarters of the Shinawatra Silk Company.  Does the name sound familiar?  That’s right, it is owned by the extended family of ousted Prime Minister and coup sufferer, Thaksin Shinawatra.  The family’s initial fortune was made in silk and textiles.

Wind Sukhumvit 23 is a very good location.  At the corner of Soi 23 and Soi 21/2, it is just 500 meters (10-12 minutes’ walk) from the Skytrain and MRTA Subway station.  There are several small restaurants and services nearby, in fact the foot massage parlor and small open-air restaurant Tawn and I frequent are just on the next corner over.  And the location is central between Sukhumvit and Phetchaburi, close to the Rama IX expressway. 

It is the nature of these small sois, with their uneven sidewalks, gnarled trees, and series of well-gated private residences and very open chophouses, that I find a very attractive part of Khrungthep.  Which was why, when I saw the brochure that the Wind Sukhumvit 23 sales office is handing out, I just had to write a blog entry.

Below is the illustration from the brochure.  Pay particularly attention to the area around the base of the condominium.

Wind Condo 2

When I saw this illustration, I couldn’t contain my laughter.  When I see models of these new condominiums, the area surrounding the actual property development is usually covered with that felt-like faux grass.  Sure, it is a convenient shorthand instead of building models of all the surrounding buildings, and it is really just a teeny-tiny step from reality to… how shall we say it, marketing reality. 

But in this illustration it appears that Wind is surrounded not by grass, but by lush trees – a veritable urban oasis.  Soi 23 does have some trees, yes, but those trees are all interspersed with buildings.  This seems to be more than a teeny-tiny step away from reality.  More like a few long strides.

The slide from reality to marketing continues when you look at the street on which Wind is situated.  In the brochure, the condominium (and the lush oasis) face a wide boulevard with a palm tree-planted median.  Below is a picture of that location, taken from what would be the lower left-hand corner of the illustration, if they had included the cross-soi.


Wide boulevard?  Palm-planted median?  Puh-leeze.  It is a small soi (as all of them around here are) with just a single lane in each direction and no room for parking.  There is no median to speak of.  Quite the stretch from reality, in my opinion.

Oh, well, that’s how they sell condos here.

I can just see it, though: one morning about eighteen months from now, a new condo owner will wake up and step out onto the balcony of her well-ventilated unit to enjoy her morning coffee and to take in the view of the surrounding neighborhood.  She has a thought of something she saw last night while sorting through a pile of papers.  Yes, it was the sales brochure for this very condo, scribbled with notes.  She retrieves it from the kitchen table, stepping back onto the balcony to flip through it.  Coming to the illustration of the building, she compares it to the reality she sees around her, and lets out a little laugh.


Should insurers or patients and their doctors decide about masectomies?

Note: Apologies in advance to non-US readers as the following entry is very US-centric.

Michael Moore’s recent documentary Sicko hopes to ignite a much-needed debate over the failing health care system in the United States.  One example of changes that the health care (and particularly, the health insurance) industry are making is the “drive-through masectomy“.

This is a highly charged moniker so perhaps it is more responsible to call it by its medical name, an outpatient masectomy.  A masectomy, the full or partial removal of one or both breasts, is a common procedure for dealing with breast cancer.  The recovery from the procedure can be full of pain and discomfort and requires careful follow-up by the patient.

There have been occasions when some health insurance companies in the United States have proposed making this a mandatory outpatient procedure, not providing the option of a hospital stay.  There is plenty evidence that masectomies can be done safely as outpatient procedures, but the question is whether the decision to do it as an outpatient procedure should rest with the patient and doctor, or with the insurer.  Dr. Sidney M. Schwab writes about this debate on his blog.

For the past decade, Congress has tried to get involved in this debate and there have been several bills introduced over the years.  This January, new versions of these bills were introduced as S. 459 and H.R. 119, the Breast Cancer Patient Protection Acts of 2007.

Reading through the text of the bills, the main point of them is that health insurers shall not restrict any benefits in association with a hospital stay for a masectomy or lumpectomy to less than 48 hours, nor for a lymph node dissection for the treatment of breast cancer to less than 24 hours.

Importantly, the next paragraph of the bill states that “Nothing in this section shall be construed as requiring the provision of inpatient coverage if the attending physician and patient determine that either a shorter period of hospital stay, or outpatient treatment, is medically appropriate”

I’m generally not in favor of Congress legislating too broadly; I have a “less is more” Libertarian streak.  But this is legislation I am in favor of: it preserves the right of patients and their doctors in making the decision of how to best treat breast cancer, rather than having those decisions made by insurers based on what is financially expedient.

Would you like to lend your support?

Thomas Jefferson was quoted as saying “We in America do not have government by the majority.  We have government by the majority who participate.”  You can participate easily by contacting your Respresentative and Senators on this piece of legislation.  Here’s how to do it:

  • Contact your Representative by visiting the U.S. House of Representatives website and entering your postal zip code.  Let him or her know that you would like them to support H.R. 119, the Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act of 2007.
  • Contact your Senator by visiting the U.S. Senate website and selecting the name of your state of residence from the drop-down menu at the top of the screen.  Let him or her know that you would like them to support S. 459, the Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act of 2007.

All Representatives’ and Senators’ websites have the ability to receive letters from you directly; you don’t even have to buy a stamp.  Take two or three minutes today to let your voice be heard and, in so doing, let democracy ring


Attempt to recreate Zachary’s Pizza tasty but not spot-on

Zachary Pizza Zachary’s Chicago Pizza is a Berkeley, California institution.  The lines at their College Avenue and Solano Avenue locations can be long as they take no reservations, but the wait is worth it.  Their “stuffed” pizza – different from Chicago deep dish in that the ingredients are stuffed between two layers of dough in a deep dish pan and then chunky tomato sauce covers the top of the pizza – is something right out of heaven, especially their mushroom and spinach pizza.  (right)

Chicago natives and deep dish purists will grouse that Zachary’s isn’t “real” Chicago deep dish pizza.  To them I say, “Fine.”  I’m not concerned about the authenticity of Zachary’s; I’m concerned about how good their pies taste.

DSCF9697-1 On Monday I got a hankering for a mushroom and spinach stuffed pizza so decided to create one.  I started with homemade honey whole wheat pizza dough.  Zachary’s does not use the whole wheat dough for their regular pizzas, although the option is available for their “Good Health” chicken breast and spinach pizza. 

Unsure whether they pre-cook their spinach and mushrooms (both give off a lot of liquid when cooked and I didn’t want a soggy crust) I went ahead and pre-cooked then drained the ingredients.

DSCF9701-1 Assembling the pizza was fairly easy, using a small spring form pan that I normally reserve for cheesecakes.  The dough was nice and thin on the bottom layer.  I added a generous portion of mozzarella cheese and the drained spinach and mushrooms.  A second layer of dough was added, also rolled thin.  There was a problem that as I tried to pinch the two layers of dough around the top, I wound up with a much thicker crust than I wanted.

DSCF9702-1 The pie was topped with thick, chunky tomato sauce, made by simmering a can of crushed tomatoes with oregano, basil and a touch of cayenne pepper until it was reduced to a thick sauce.

Thirty minutes in a 200 C oven produced a nice golden crust and an internal temperature of 70 C.  After letting the pie set for about five minutes, I opened the spring form pan.  Et voila, it looked a lot like the real thing!

DSCF9705-1 But the truth is in the taste, right?  So Tawn and I dug in and put this pie to the test.  As I had feared, the crust at the top edges of the pie was indeed too thick.  But the flavor was a very close match to the original and it was very satisfying. 

Next time, though, I’m not going to pre-cook the spinach: it became stringy and tough in the second cooking. 

Right: The finished product, fresh from the oven.

Thankfully, I had extra dough left over that I put in the freezer, so I can try this recipe again sometime soon and see if it can be improved upon.


When expats read about other expats

The expat experience can be interesting because every expat brings their own unique lens to life in a new place.  Recently, I’ve really enjoyed reading entires from my friend Peter.  Peter was born in Guandong, China and moved to the United States, giving him a lengthy grounding in US culture.  Beginning in the early 1990s, Peter started working overseas with stints in Bangkok, Singapore and a pair in Japan.  Last year he headed on another overseas assignment, this time in Suzhou, China – located between Shanghai and Nanjing on the lower stretches of the Yangtze River.

His writings are fascinating because he balances a mixture of insider knowledge – he is native Chinese, after all – with outsider distance.  Recently, his writings have covered a wide range of topics: 

  • p1040880 He’s wondered why Japanese words seem to get adopted into English (we all know yakitori, gyoza, udon, tempurasushi and sake) but Chinese words do not.  Quick, what’s the Chinese name for sweet-and-sour pork?
  • He’s compared the successful attempts by citizens of Austin, Texas (his last home in the US) to keep Wal-Mart out, with the scramble by developers to build luxury condominia within sight of the newest Suzhou Wal-Mart.
  • He’s mused on why the guards at his complex give him luxury treatment when arriving by sedan but ignore him when he passes through the gates on foot.

I invite you to visit his website and share in his adventures.  Additionally, Peter has been joined in Suzhou by his 27-year old friend Jason, an Ohio native who had never previously traveled abroad.  Jason has his own website up and running and is documenting his own experiences as an expat.  Between the two, it makes for a fascinating read.


Rainy days in Bangkhonthiinai lead to reduced attendance

Because of conferences, teaching at Bangkhonthiinai this past week was postponed until Friday instead of the usual Wednesday.  Ken and Kobfa joined me and it was raining the entire drive down and continued to drizzle, nonstop, the entire day.

DSCF9668 When it rains in the jungle, Ajarn Yai explained, many students stay home.  Don’t you just wish you could do that for work, too?  Out of our fifteen first to third graders, only six showed up.  A teacher to student ratio of 1:2 isn’t too bad, is it?

With three teachers all attending regularly, we’re really making some progress with the students, especially the fifth and sixth graders.  There are a few hopeless cases and we’re not spending a whole lot of time with them.  But there are some of the children, especially some of the boys (who usually are slower than the girls) who are really making progress. 

One of the things I really like about the schools here is that they reinforce the idea of community: everyone pitches in.  The gusting rain was making the covered walkways wet, so two of the third grade girls grabbed mops and were drying the boards, right.

The attendance of our afternoon class, the fourth through fifth graders, was much better: about 22 of 25.  We spent a lot of time practicing questions and answers.  There is some challenge in students distinguishing between “How are you?” and “What are you?”  Through in the other pronouns of “I”, “he” and “she” and confusion reigns.

We concluded the day with a game of bingo, using single-syllable words with the vowel “a” that some of the students can actually read.  Below: Khruu Somchai observes his fourth and fifth grade boys.