Skytrain extension progresses

P1020779 Last Sunday after completing a 30-km ride around Benjakiti Park with Markus (fifteen times around the 2-km bike path) but before heading home, I rode out to Sukhumvit 101, near the very edge of the province of Khrungthep. 

The week before I had driven to a vendor’s showroom out in that neighborhood and had wanted to take pictures of the progress of the Skytrain extension, but there was nowhere convenient to stop.  On a Sunday morning and with a bicycle, it was easier to stop and document the construction. 

The Skytrain, the nearly seven-year old elevated rail system, along with the underground MRTA system, have provided a lot of relief to Khrungthep commuters.  Prior to these transit systems opening, traffic was really a mess.

The good news is that the system is expanding: an extension across the Chao Phraya River is nearly done, the airport line will be finished late next year, and two new MRTA lines extending north and to the west into Thonburi are slated to begin construction soon.  There is also an extension down Sukhumvit, the city’s main northwest-southeast artery, that will run from the current terminus at On Nut all the way to the provincial border at Bang Na.

Above: The construction of Punnawithi Station, which is referenced as “Sukhumvit 101” on this master transit plan map.  Note the equipment they use to hoist the preformed concrete viaduct pieces into place using the hanging cables.  After a section is done, it is rolled forward to the next pillar.

Below: From a pedestrian bridge just south of the future Punnawithi Station, I was able to look north (back towards On Nut, Thong Lo, Asoke, and Siam) along Sukhumvit:


Below: And then south towards Bang Na and the provincial border.


It is very exciting to see this progressing.  Still another two years or so until it is completed, but it should help reduce traffic significantly.

Amazing Race, Khrungthep

On the subject of traffic and the effects of transit, yesterday evening Tawn and I conducted a little test.  We left our condo on Sukhumvit 53 (Thong Lo station on the map linked to above) and headed to an event at Lumpini Night Bazaar (Lumpini station on the map).  It was 5:50 on Sunday afternoon and Tawn wanted to drive, but I felt traffic would be heavy.

So we agreed (amicably) that I would take transit and he would drive.  As we walked out the front door of the condo and Tawn headed for the car park, I hailed a motorcycle taxi.  Two minutes later I was standing on the platform of Thong Lor station while Tawn was still making his way out to the main street.

At 6:12 I exited Lumpini station, having made the connection from Skytrain to MRTA at Asoke station.  An easy five minutes’ walk later I was at the BEC Tero Hall in the Night Bazaar.  I called Tawn: he was stuck on Sukhumvit headed towards Asoke.

At 6:45 Tawn arrived, having caved into the traffic and parked at his father’s office on Sukhumvit Soi 12 and taken a motorcycle taxi the rest of the way.  The motorcycle taxi cost him 80 baht and my transit cost me less than 50.

Conclusion: Let’s get those transit projects built!


Letter to Dear Abby

Dear Khun Abby,

I am a farang (foreigner) living as an ex-pat in Bangkok, Thailand with my Thai partner of nearly eight years.  In the time we’ve been together, I’ve made a lot of effort to try to understand the Thai culture, including learning to speak, read and write the language, and be aware of and sensitive to the customs, manners, etiquette and social expectations of Thais. 

While I know that it can take a lifetime to really learn another culture, I think I’ve done a pretty good job learning and applying what I’ve learned.  I base this on “Thais tell Thais” feedback, where other Thais have complimented my partner on my manners, appropriate behavior, etc.

But this isn’t about me, Khun Abby.  Living here, I’ve met many other farang, both in relationships and looking for relationships.  Many of them have had success in learning the culture, too, and make a lot of effort to be sensitive to Thai expectations.  But there are also many times when I observe some of them do things that are taboo, impolite, or unrefined by Thai standards.

At first, I thought this was just haughty arrogance on my part.  “I’m better than they are” type of thinking.  But the “Thais tell Thais” network suggests there is more to it than that.  The Thais in our social group comment on some of the things they do.  Even their own partners comment about it in a “oh, well, what can you do?” sort of way.

Some of the things are pretty minor – table manners, for example – while others are a bit more important and involve language use and interpersonal communication.  But all these actions reflect on them and, in a society that values the concept of “face” so highly, the actions reflect on their partners and potential partners.

Khun Abby, what do I do – or do I do anything – to make other farang aware of these standards, manners and expectations?  I know that they have the best of intentions and aren’t doing these things on purpose, but I also know that I’ll come across as either prissy or a know-it-all if I try to gently mention these things. 

“Let a Thai tell them,” you say?  Maybe, except that one of the tantamount aspects of Thai culture is not to cause others to lose face, so it is better just to smile away the conflict than to confront it.

Thank you for any advice you can provide.

Khap khun khrap,

Caring in Khrunghtep


The child of a perfectionist

P1020837 I’m the child of a perfectionist.  As many children of perfectionists will tell you, we have to struggle throughout our adult lives to escape our own perfectionism, learning – and learning to believe – the mantra that there are many correct ways to do something. 

That said, I think I’ve come a long way to addressing my perfectionism and have become much more accepting others’ ways of doing things.

I live with someone – have committed to spending my life with that someone, in fact – who is still struggling with his perfectionism.  In his case (I’ll not reveal his name in order to protect his identity, so let’s just call him “B”), I playfully like to call it his obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Emphasis on the word “playfully”, if you’re reading this, B.

Our new condo has a shortage of storage at the moment, because there are two bookshelves and an office armoire that have yet to arrive.  We’d like to install a china cabinet, too, but that’s another matter.  In the meantime we have things stored in boxes and some extra kitchen items stored in a bedroom closet.

It is very important to B that these be organized, regardless of for how short a time they’ll be there.  Which is how we ended up with the organized cabinet that is pictured above.

What’s really neat about it – this is something I just love about B – is the little drawing and inventory he did.  Here it is in more detail:


Isn’t it cute?


Baking gingerbread cookies and souffles

A recent purchase at Playground’s design and arts bookstore was The Best Make-Ahead Recipe Cookbook from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine.  I’m a big fan of CI magazine and the companion show on US public television, America’s Test Kitchen, because the editors are detailed and yet no-nonsense and they talk about technique, mechanics, and the science behind what’s happening in the recipes.

The premise behind the cookbook is the idea that modern-day cooks haven’t the time to prepare full meals from scratch each and every time the clock strikes breakfast, lunch or dinner.  So they tested their recipes to determine how to create ones that could be prepared in advance and come out of a few days in the refrigerator or even a few weeks in the freezer, looking and tasting as good as (or better than) their freshly-made counterparts.

Individual chocolate souffles was one recipe that piqued my interest as I think souffles are a fantastic dessert but am hampered by what I perceived to be the amount of last-minute time needed in the kitchen.  I’d rather be out enjoying my guests’ company than whipping up egg whites.

On Friday evening I prepared the recipe and put the individual souffles, tightly wrapped in plastic and aluminum foil, in the freezer.  Trying something different and playful, I used a combination of Illy Caffe cappuccino cups along with traditional ramekins.

Starting at the top left and working across and down: Whip the egg yolks and sugar to create a pale, frothy mixture.  Melt the chocolate over a bain-marie, a water bathFold the eggs into the chocolate mixture.  Stir to combine.  Spoon into prepared ramekins.  The finished product, ready to wrap and freeze.

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But how would they turn out after two nights in the freezer?  Roka came over on Sunday to help me make gingerbread cookies and Tawn had two friends over to listen to one’s relationship troubles, so I had a ready audience of guinea pigs.

Fifteen minutes in a 180-degree C oven was enough to bring the souffles to modest heights, hampered by their lack of paper collars to help the climb.  But they were evenly cooked and very tasty.  Plus, they look cute in the cups!


Below, Tawn, Pim and Prince enjoy their “cups” of souffle.



P1020810 Roka (left)makes for an excellent co-chef.  She is knowledgable and passionate about cooking, is able to provide good insights and helpful suggestions, and it very willing to pitch in above and beyond the “just tell me what to do” level.

What was originally just an evening making gingerbread cookies turned into a whole lot more.  I had some recipes I was meaning to try and since the cookie dough needs to chill in the refrigerator, we had some time on our hands. 

The additional menu items included an Ecuadorean potato soup called locro de papas which is flavored with anatto seed oil (easy to make at home) and fish cakes with paprika-lemon mayonnaise made from cod.

The gingerbread was a new thing for both of us, so we used a Martha Stewart recipe for “easy” gingerbread.  It was fairly easy but for the life of me it seemed really dry.  Also, we had not found a person-shaped cookie cutter so we used biscuit cutters and a hand-made template for the profile of a house. 


Above: fish cakes with paprika-lemon mayonnaise.  Below: Decorating the cookies with our makeshift pastry bag.

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Below: Our finished cookies.  Can you spot the Wat Phra Gaew cookie – the Temple of the Emerald Buddha?  This may not be the most appropriate image to put on a cookie, but it seemed to go with the theme of gingerbread houses. 

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You know you’ve really moved in when…

Each person has their own way of defining the moment when they know that they’ve really moved in to a new place.  For me, it is when I first fire up my oven and bake some biscuits.  Always from scratch and, whenever available, from buttermilk.

This morning as Tawn and I waited to the handyman and the contractor’s son to come over and fix some things, I whipped up a batch of biscuits.

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Above, from left: Taken from the balcony looking in, I cut-in the shortening; mixing in the buttermilk just until the dough starts to come together; kneading just a half-dozen times to create flaky layers but not make the dough tough; cutting the biscuits – pushing straight down and not turning the cutter so the sides of the biscuits do not seal and can rise properly.  Below: Ready to go into the convection oven.


Below: And, just out of the oven…



Above: Gentle breezes, swaying palms, French-press coffee and hot biscuits with pomelo marmelade from the Oriental Hotel Shop.  Below: We’re still figuring out how we want to arrange the drop-leaf dining table.  Tawn and our designer have proposed putting it in this arrangement but when the leaves are dropped it looks awkward to me.  Also, when the china cabinet is installed behind me, there won’t be room for this arrangements.



Elsewhere in the news, I stopped by Markus and Tam’s apartment on Friday to borrow their internet connection.  Their unit is on the 24th floor of a building on Sukhumvit Soi 10 and has a good view of both the park and Queen Sirikit Convention Centre as well as the Asoke and Sukhumvit junction.  There was some spectacular light effects when I looked towards the Silom/Sathorn area:


One more week until DSL is up and running.  In the meantime, I’m becoming fast friends with the staff at the Starbucks on Soi 49 near Sumitivej Hospital, which has multiple power outlets in the store.


Coming to you live from Raintree Villa

… and we pick up right where we left off, except 3.5 km to the southeast down Sukhumvit Road.

It is Tuesday evening and I’m using a “borrowed” weak wifi connection that someone has here in the building.  Hopefully DSL will be up and running in the next week or so.  Meanwhile, there is a daily trip to Starbucks for some high-speed internet connection and a latte.

The move was smooth, all things considered.  Sunday night was our first night in the place and other than being woken up in the middle of the night to the sound of a pack of soi dogs barking loudly and sounding very dangerous, it was comfortable.

I’ll tell you the story through pictures taken over the course of the Thursday through Tuesday period:




Above: Installing spray foam insulation to fill the gap in the concrete wall where the stove hood vents to the balcony.  Below: The hole, before and after.

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Above: Organizing herbs and spices on the pull-out spice rack drawer.  What seemed like a good use of space may be a little inconvenient in my middle age as I try to bend over and read the fine print on label jars all the way on the bottom shelf!  Below: More storage, this time in the bathroom.  Make note of the not-yet-installed toilet paper dispenser sitting on the marble shelf over the toilet.  More about that in a moment…





Above: A design feature I have not previously shared with you is our faux fireplace.  It will not give off any heat (that’s kind of unnecessary here, really) but will provide a place to hide the DVD player and stereo system and run the wires through the wall in case we put a TV above it.  The handyman pictured here, his face hidden to protect his identity, was responsible for this next fun discovery…

Below: … the incorrectly installed toilet paper dispenser.  This guy has worked with our contractor on many projects and yet even though I specifically showed how I wanted it installed, the dispenser ended up ninety degrees off kilter.



Below: Our mattress arrived on Friday, a good two weeks before the bed frame will be finished.  Shockingly, this is the deepest mattress (the highest mattress?) that I’ve ever seen.  It is so tall it barely needs a frame.



Above: Returning to Asoke Place on Friday afternoon after moving some things to Raintree Villa, I was reminded why I’m so happy to be leaving Asoke.  Look at the crazy traffic at 4:00 in the afternoon.  And none of these cars is moving when I took the picture.



Saturday morning, Tawn waits in the Asoke Place apartment for the movers to arrive.



Above: During a shopping trip to the housewares section of Central Chidlom department store, I see a special Winnie the Pooh toilet sheet that proclaims – without any trace of irony – that underneath the lid is a “Pooh Splash Zone”.

Below: Halfway through the move on Saturday, Tawn waits for the movers to arrive with more of our things.  The small bedroom was eventually filled halfway with boxes.  By Tuesday evening there are only six boxes left to sort through.




The move has largely taken place and all that is left is the cleaning out of a few items in the old apartment and the official moving in into the condo.  I met Tawn at the condo, waiting outside the front door, just before the appointed auspicious time of 8:30 am.  Tawn was carrying a Buddha image selected for him from his father, along with garlands and incense.

In an interesting mixture of animism, Brahmanism, Hinduism, and Buddhism (and a pinch of plain old superstition), we opened the front door and announced to the spirit of the dwelling that we were asking permission to move in.  Then, holding the Buddha statue, we prayed that by following the teachings and lessons of Buddha we would have a harmonious and happy life in the house.  We entered, then placed the image on the mantle of the fireplace, adding jasmine garlands and lighting incense.


We then went back to the front of the building where the condo’s spirit house is located.  This is where the spirit (spirits?) of the land that were displaced in the construction of the building live.  We lit incense there and offered garlands to the spirits.  The spirit houses often contain images from Brhamanist and Hindu belief systems.




Sunday afternoon we took a break from the unpacking and met up with Otto, who was in town from Singapore with his partner Han.  Otto, you may recall, is the teacher at Singapore’s prestigious Raffles Institute prep school who made waves a few months ago when he came out of the closet as a gay man in an open letter to his colleagues.  Needless to say, the last few months have been a roller coaster ride for both him and his partner and it was nice to see them.


Above: Rather artistic shot as Tawn and Otto ride the escalator at Playground shopping centre on Thong Lor.  Below: Tawn and Otto pose at Starbucks in a picture designed mostly to capture the mirror, which Tawn thinks would look good in the front hallway.



Below: Sunday evening after several hours of moving the last few items out of the apartment, I’m ready to say goodbye and head out the door.  Lights out!



Above: Driving back to the new condo on some of the back sois, we passed this lovely compound that has an elaborate front gate.  Thais seem to really like their elaborate metal gates.

Below: Sunday dinner was at Grand Ramen restaurant on Thong Lor (which is Sukhumvit Soi 55, for those of you playing along at home).  This is a very good ramen restaurant that caters to the Japanese expats.  At four tables sat four Japanese salarymen, each at the same corner seat at each table so they looked like schoolboys sitting in a row.  Each read the newspaper, drank beer, are noodles, and watched the football game on the television.  The pork tonkatsu ramen was very tasty!  Oishi des ne!




Monday Morning

Monday was our first morning in the new place.  Most important of all, the coffee machine was plugged in and I was able to heat milk for the coffee on the new induction stove.  No more microwave here.

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Finally, since it is now just after midnight, I’d like to wish His Majesty King Bhumibol, Rama IX a very happy 80th Birthday.  May this man, who has been an inspiration and source of pride for his subjects, enjoy a long and healthy life.  Below, a mother and daughter sign their birthday wishes in a greeting book at the Sukhumvit subway station, one of hundreds set up at various public points through the Kingdom.



Last Entry from Asoke Place

Sunday morning, 7:31 am – the Asoke Place apartment is largely empty, the sound of Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald echoing like the sound system in a tuna can factory.  I’m sitting cross-legged on a Jim Thompson floor rug, next to the DSL router as Tawn gets ready to head to his parents’ house.  His aunt, who is versed in these things, decided that the auspicious time to “move in” (officially) is 8:30 am this morning.  Tawn’s father has selected a Buddha image to give him (as his father gave him one when he moved into his first house) and we need to officially move it into the house.

I’ll be riding my bicycle over to the new place, since it needs to be moved anyhow and Sunday mornings are a nice time to ride.  Hopefully, that will symbolically set the habit of bicycling more as the mid-Sukhumvit area has many small sois that are bicycle friendly.

The major part of the move was completed yesterday, although we did spend Saturday night here.  Our contractor’s son and three of his friends did our move, two loads in a pickup truck to Tawn’s parents for storage and one load to Raintree Villa.

Things moved pretty smoothly, nothing was broken.  We’ve found a few more challenges: the height of the half-shelves in the bedroom cabinets is several inches too short to hang clothes.  Chalk this up to a design flaw that we’ll have to find a way to correct after we move in.

It is feeling cozy, though.  I’ll have pictures for you in a few more days.

So, for the final time from Asoke Place, this is Chris signing out.