The last few pieces before the work really begins

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Above: A handyman uses a scrap piece of marble (from a bathroom shelf that was improperly installed) to make a beautiful entry to the condo.

Yesterday, a friend who works with our designer told Tawn to brace himself: if he thinks the remodel has been a challenge thus far, wait until the last few days and the follow-up after we move in.  This, Eddy assures us, is much more work because the contractor already has his mind on the next project and will drag his feet on getting the details finished.

Certainly, we’ve found that to be the case already.  Light fixtures installed in the wrong places, small bits of tile along the edges of counters being left out and just filled in with grout, incorrect door handles installed.

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Some of it is just the normal stuff one encounters when hiring people to work in your home.  But some of it is sheer… Thainess.  Tawn specifically explained to the electricians which fixtures went where, but we come in later and things are just put up wherever – and some fixtures have been installed in places where no instruction has been given.

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Above: The master electrician hangs one of our lighting fixtures for Tawn to evaluate.  We originally were going to do recessed lighting, but there is only 6 cm (2.5 inches) of space above the ceiling.

Below: Tawn measures the height of the chandelier in the living room.  With the extension on, it is way too low.  Our designer is working with a supplier to cut the extension bar and put new threads in it.

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It looks like we’ll have minimal access to the condo this weekend and will probably not be moving anything in, as originally planned.  However, since Tawn’s parents are out of town in Germany this week, we can go ahead and move boxes of things for which there will be no immediate storage at the new condo, over to store at their place.

This works out pretty well, because we won’t have bookshelves built yet, for example.  Tawn has also decided that all the decorating items need to be out of the condo at first and then he can evaluate them and bring them in, piece by piece.

Below: All the closet doors have been removed and fabric panels are being installed in the fronts of them to soften the room.  You can see that we’ll have a good amount of storage.  Still some question about what to do with that air conditioning screen, which doesn’t really screen the air con at all!

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Above: The marble bathroom countertop has been cut and is ready to be installed.  Below: The day before, this door had a second lock – a deadbolt – installed in it.  This is one of those “Thai things” as bedrooms here usually have a full deadbolt.  It seemed impractical and ugly so I raised a fuss.  They were able to fill the hole pretty nicely and instead installed this handle that has an unobtrusive privacy lock.  

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Bicycle rides and weddings

Sometime Tuesday evening, my left trapezius muscle got a kink in it.  Now, I’m unable to lean my head towards my left shoulder at all.  Movement towards the right shoulder is still good, however.  Don’t know why it happened nor what caused it.  I had just returned home from dinner with Tawn and a few minutes later I became aware of a tightness along the back of my shoulder and the left side of my neck.

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Sunday evening we attended the wedding of one of Tawn’s former United Airlines colleagues, Som-O.  Her nickname means “pomelo” in Thai.  As part of the wedding favors, guests were given these nice canvas shopping bags with a silkscreened caricature of Som-O and her husband, Paun, in which we carried home pomelos and oranges.  Clever, huh?

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The wedding was held at the Police Officer’s Club up near Don Meuang since Som-O’s father is a retired police colonel.  The reception was very large, probably 1,000 guests or so, and there were all sorts of tables set up around the perimeter of the room serving different tasty Thai food as well as a few western and Japanese foods.  Very nicely done.  Som-O is a professional wedding planner, so of course every detail was well attended to.

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Tawn had a good time catching up with his former colleagues.  Some of them he is still very close to, while others have drifted away over time.  Many of them are still flying for various airlines and some rejoined United when UA reopened its flight attendant base in Bangkok a year ago.

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In the morning before the wedding, Markus and I drove out to Minburi and rode 35+ kilometers.  It was a great day for riding, partially overcast and breezy.  Along the way we picked up some followers, a group of boys who were riding their bicycles and decided they wanted to race us.  After a kilometer or so, they tired and gave up.  We also rode past a large Islamic wedding being held at one of the villager’s houses along a khlong, and stopped for beef noodles at a small halal restaurant before returning home.  The area east of the city, out near the airport, has a large Muslim population and makes an interesting contrast to Khrungthep as a whole.  In more than one area, you have a wat (temple) on one side of the street and a mosque on the other.  Above: Workers prepare a rice paddy for planting. 

Below: Short video of the tail end of an obstacle we encountered while riding:

Morning in the Big Mango: a queue of motorcycle taxis wait for customers outside the Sukhumvit subway station and Asoke Skytrain station, next to the small Asoke market.  Amidst the yellow-vested taxi drivers, can you spot a trio of saffron-robed monks sitting on plastic stools and collecting alms from the morning shoppers?

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A room with a view: Twenty-some stories above the ground, three window washers dangle as they ensure the occupants of our neighboring office tower have a clear view.  In the distance is the forest of construction cranes erecting the four towers of the Millennium Condominiums, on Sukhumvit 16-18 overlooking the Queen Sirikit Convention Centre.

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Finally, a sign of the coming move: On Saturday our sofa and ottoman were picked up by workmen to be measured for slip-covers.  This was our compromise position.  Tawn didn’t want a leather sofa in the new house but I didn’t want to buy a new sofa just two years after getting this one.

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To be a foodie or not to be?

Sandelion wrote an entry in which she brought up the issue of foodies versus non-foodies.  At the heart of her post was the question, “What’s the big deal about food?”  I found this to be an interesting question and so wrote the following response.  I’m curious to hear from my readers.  What do you think is the big deal about food, or – if you’re someone who thinks the Food Network is a waste of cable bandwidth – why do you think that food is no big deal?

Here’s the response I wrote to Sandy:

Everybody has their own tastes (no pun intended): some consider food merely nourishment and others consider it something more.  Truth be told, there was a guy I once went on a date with who ranted about how he couldn’t believe that some people made such a big deal about food, being able to remember meals they ate years before.  I didn’t call him for a second date.

I put food on the same level as art, music and literature.  You can listen to a bubblegum pop song with a catchy beat, you can put up a hotel room painting, or you can read a trashy dimestore romance novel – there’s nothing wrong with that.  But there are also pieces of music that truly move the soul, paintings and sculpture that seems to have been created by something beyond human hands, and literature that puts you in the lives of people who are so much like yourself and yet so completely different.  When you experience those things, it is as if you have the opportunity to know what is divine within humanity.

The thing about food that sets it apart from those other creative forms is two-fold:

The first is that food connects us as people.  In almost every culture, the sharing of food is at its root.  Meals are eaten in celebration and in mourning, in welcoming guests and in recalling homelands left behind.  Meals are most often shared (that’s why it is so hard to cook for one!) and so the act of preapring and sharing a meal more complex than hunting down an annimal and eating the raw flesh from its body, is an act one that ties us to our humanity.  It is the thing that sets us apart from the animals.

The second is that food – cuisine – is something that is at its heart, a lesson in detachment.  Clothes, art, DVDs, music, books, and most everything else involves having something, something that can last over time.  Fashions change, but you still have the clothes.  You watch the movie, listen to the song, or read the novel, but you can still own the DVD, CD, or book and see, listen, or read it again and again.  But food by its nature, decays.  The meal, and all the artistry that goes into preparing it, must be consumed immediately and then it is gone.  You can make it again, but it is never the same meal.  To fully enjoy it, you must be present in the moment.  In that sense, it reminds me of the sand mandalas that Tibetan Buddhist monks make.  They are tremendously beautiful creations but also tremendously impermanent ones.  As soon as they are completed, they are swept away.

So that is what I enjoy about food and why eating is such an important experience for me. 

 

Fascinating topic, isn’t it?

 

Taking Fu to the Floating Market

You know it is a small, digital and virtual world when you start receiving guests who are friends of friends, when all the parties have met through the internet and, in the case of the friend and the friend of the friend, they’ve never met in person!

So it was this week as I had a visitor who was recommended to contact me by Curry.  After completing five years studying in Hiroshima, Japan, Fu was traveling around Asia on his way back home to southern Malaysia.  Nice guy and this is his first visit to Thailand.

Originally, Curry had recommended Fu contact me so I could take him to Pad Thai Ari.  This ended up not being part of the plan as Fu was in his final days in the country and was interested in seeing the floating market.  There are several floating markets but the only one that runs every day is the one in Damnoen Saduak (“convenient pathway”) which is near the school in Bangkhonthiinai.

I met Fu at 6:30 so we could beat the crowds and we arrived at the market just after 8:00.  Things were still cool and uncrowded and I negotiated a two-hour ride in a dugout boat.  Tawn suggested that I use this negotiation technique: after rejecting the original quote out of hand, I was to say “phom mai bpen muu” – I am not a pig, a reference to the slang term of someone who is an easy mark.

The lady running the boat tours thought that was funny and decreased the price a bit.

The two hours were nice, the occasional annoying buzz of a long tail boat (which are powered by old Toyota pickup engines) breaking the otherwise tranquil nature of life along the canal.  Of course “life along the canal” means people who sell tacky souvenirs from shops in front of their homes.  Each shop is the same as the next, some selling vaguely “Thai” souvenirs and others selling things that are totally incongruous.

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Above: Sampling some khanom khrug – a rice flour pancake that is a little sweet and a little savory at the same time.  Below: Along the way, I purchased a few bottles of local honey from this lady and her young daughter.

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Above: Even Thais come to see the floating market!

By the time we were wrapping up after 10:00, the Russian tourists had arrived by the boatload and things were less pleasant.  It was a good time to be finishing.

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After taking some pictures from the shore, we headed to Bangkhonthiinai for a quick visit.  I wasn’t sure if the school was back in session after their winter break, but everyone was there (except for the now-retired Ajarn Yai) and so we spent about an hour with the children, practicing basic questions and answers.  Hopefully a good experience for Fu.

Of course, the grapevine works quickly and by that evening I had a call from Ajarn Yai, pretty much along the lines of, “You came to Samut Songkhram and didn’t call me?”

Oh, you can’t win.


 

In other news, our contractor Khun Guang assures us that we’ll have access to the house next Friday.  Still some fixturing after that, but only small things.  That should give us two weeks to get moved in.  Below: Tawn test-drives some mattresses.

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Chris hit by credit card fraud

Credit Card It took two years to happen, but almost as if to welcome me into my third year in Bangkok, I was bitten by my first case of credit card fraud.  When I woke up this morning, I had a voicemail on Skype from my credit card company asking me to call them to verify some purchases.  When I called in there were several purchases from high name fashion and cosmetic stores – the companies were based in France but I’ll assume the charges were made here in Thailand – totalling about $4,500 on Monday.

Who got the number?  Hard to know for certain but I haven’t used the card in several days nor have any charges appeared until after I used it at the Food Hall at Zen department store at Central World Plaza yesterday evening.  My guess is that there is some scam going on with the ladies working the check-out lines there.

I’m not certain whether I should lodge a complaint with their management or even inform the police.  I do want to go back to Central World and see if the names on the list of charges correspond with shops there.  Even to talk to the store managers and make them aware of the fraudulent activity.

Thankfully, Chase was on the job and spotted the unusual charges.  Bless those spending algorithms.