Khun Abhisit at the FCCT

Another week has been zipping by – I can’t believe it is Thursday already!  What happened to the days of my childhood when weeks were agonizingly long and time passed by like molasses in January?

These past three days have all been about work with several projects competing for my attention.  It is difficult when all of your internal customers are convinced that their project is the number-one priority.  At least it provides a bit of job security.

Here are some pictures taken over the last week that I haven’t had an opportunity to share yet:

Our condo has two balconies.  The one facing the southwest is small and functional, enough room to set up laundry racks but nothing very special as it just hangs from the side of the building.

The other balcony faces the northeast and is one of four building corners that overlook the pool and deck area.  Being by the pool is very nice.  There is the sound of swimmers, children playing in the afternoon, and at least one mother tutors her child in English by the pool. 

P1030208 The balcony also is shaded by several palm trees and Tawn has set about turning it into a cozy place for outdoor dining and relaxation. 

He’s added this concrete console that I think looks a bit overbearing, but that serves as a nice place to put plants, candles, and plates of food. 

There is a marble-topped cafe table with a pair of chairs, and we’ll eventually add a ceiling fan and light so that on breeze-less evenings we can still sit in comfort outdoors.

So far we haven’t had too much of a problem with mosquitos.  Hopefully it stays that way.

 

We live along a small soi that is actually surprisingly busy in one direction because it serves as a shortcut to bypass the Sukhumvit – Thong Lo intersection.  This can be a little frustrating but since the street is small, traffic moves pretty slowly and doesn’t make a lot of noise.  Unlike as Asoke Place, we don’t have a lot of traffic-related dust.  There, even though we were on the 25th floor, it only took a few hours of the windows being open to have a heavier, sooty type of dust coating things, probably due to the busses and trucks on the busy street below.

Soi 53 is very walkable, although I enjoy taking the motorcycle taxis up and down the soi for the feel of the wind in my hair.  Along the way there are many interesting condos, houses, spas and restaurants. 

P1030213 The most interesting of them is this private residence in a North Asian style that I have not decided on yet.  Is it more Chinese, Korean or Japanese in style? 

Located on the corner of Soi Sukhumvit 53 and Soi Thonglor 5, there is no signage indicating what it is or who lives there.  At first I thought it was a consulate or embassy, but if it were, it would have a sign.  It is a very nice looking house, though.

 

 

P1030226 Tuesday evening I went to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club for a speech and question-and-answer session by Abhisit Vejjajiva, the head of the Democratic Party of Thailand. 

The oldest of Thailand’s political parties (61 years), the Democrats are the main rivals against the PPP (People Power Party), which is basically the now-disbanded Thai Rak Thai party that was run by deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Khun Abhisit is only 43 years old, UK born and mostly educated there, and represents a new generation of Thai politicians, a generation that claims to be a break from the corrupt politics of the past. 

P1030225 It was very interesting listening to him: unlike most politicians I’ve heard (from any country) he is very articulate, has a specific plan of action for his party, and when asked even very pointed questions, he actually answers directly.

Whether or not he’ll have the opportunity to become the next Prime Minister is an open question.  Various polls show the PPP poised to take a majority in the new legislature and thus able to form their own government.

But Thai politics are nothing if not full of surprises.  So we’ll just have to wait and see how things turn out.  There is more that I’ll write about the upcoming election (this Sunday, December 23) that will mark the Kingdom’s return to democracy, over the next few days.

Finally, here’s a shot taken just after sunset from the lobby of the FCCT, looking east along Phloenchit/Sukhumvit towards the Central Chidlom department store.  This was a time exposure taken for three seconds.  The sun had actually already set but over three seconds, there was enough light to make it look as bright as it does in this picture.

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Of fabulous women, real and otherwise

Kiri Te Kanawa Monday night Tawn and I went with Ken, Brian and Sean to watch famed soprano Dame Kiri Te Kanawa perform at the Thailand Cultural Centre.  This was billed as her “farewell tour recital” which I can’t decide whether it means that this is a recital in preparation for the tour or perhaps just the tour itself.

I’ve never seen Dame Kiri perform before but was captivated by her incredible voice.  It was a simple recital: Dame Kiri and her pianist, center stage.  She peformed six sets of songs and two encores, starting with German operas, moving through French, doing a few more contemporary songs such as “Scarborough Fair”, and then moving to the Italian operas.

Dame Kiri’s voice, and her control of it, is amazing.  Unamplified, the audience was leaning forward breathlessly to catch each and every subtle rise and fall of her voice.  It was just a lovely experience.

 

P1020916 That was our experience this week with a fabulous and real (by birth) woman.  Sunday night we spent some time in the world of fabulous not-so-real woman, although in all fairness some of them are in the process of becoming women.  The event: Miss AC/DC 2007!  This year’s tag line: Same Thing in Reverse.  The Thai version was a bit racier, translating as “Taking Turns Receiving and Giving”.

In its seventh year, Miss AC/DC has its roots deep in a strong subculture within the gay Thai community: transgendered and, particularly, transsexual people.  Best described as the Miss Universe pageant with fake breasts and estrogen, it is a much better reflection of the gay community in Bangkok than the November pride week.  Pride week is a feeble collection of events sponsored by the mostly farang owners of the bars and other businesses in the Silom gay ghetto.

Miss AC/DC on the other hand, was organized, supported, and attended by locals, many of whom probably don’t show their faces on Silom at all.  It felt so much more like a representative picture of the community and, as such, was great fun.  Nonetheless, there seems to be a bit of a divide within the event:

There are the transsexual participants, people who were born men but identify as women, many of whom are taking steps towards gender reassignment surgery.  For example, a number of contestants had had breast implant surgery and filled out their evening gowns au natural. 

Then there are the drag queens, people who are dressing as women for the fun of the event, but who maintain their identity as men on a daily basis.  The choice of Miss AC/DC 2006 apparently caused some controversy precisely because she wasn’t woman enough, whereas many of the other previous winners seemed to put their inner woman on the outside.

Anyhow, that aside, it was an evening filled with a lot of talent, creativity, and fun.  Here are the pictures and the stories that go with them.  Click on pictures to see larger versions.

Each audience member receives a ballot – I’m not sure how or what our votes count for, because there was a panel of some twenty judges.  Before the show the contestants are mingling with guests in the foyer of the BEC Tero Hall (a large concert/event hall at Suan Lumpini Night Bazaar) showing off their costumes and posing for pictures.  Here is Tawn with some of the contestants.  Clockwise from upper left: Miss Canada (the only farang contestant), Miss Greece, Miss Zimbabwe, and the recipient of our votes, Miss Vietnam. 

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Also posted in the foyer were the profiles of the contestants, most of which had “before and after” pictures showing them in their everyday and as a woman looks.  There were some eighty contestants, but here is a sampling, most of whom I think participated as drag queens rather than transsexuals:

Bangladesh   Lithuania

Miss Bangladesh and Miss Lithuania

Mauritius  Oman

Miss Mauritius and Miss Oman

Russia  Zambia

Miss Russia and Miss Zambia  Below, Miss Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe

This was a professional production, held in a large hall with all of the trappings of any major pageant.  Filming was being done for the DVD (last year’s was on sale in the lobby) and the event was projected onto screens throughout the hall so people sitting further back could see every detail.

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Thanks to Suchai, whose group of friends is very closely involved with the Miss AC/DC organization, we scored front row tickets across from the press section.  Note where Tawn is sitting in the picture below.

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The opening piece, a full on Broadway style musical number with hired dancers (these are not the contestants performing) was a political satire using an old patriotic song, performers dressed as female military members a la the Women’s Auxiliary Corps of World War II, ending with the soldiers holding up the constitution – a very clever commentary on the coup and other recent political events, below.

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Then the evening’s contestants paraded onstage in their fanciful and creative costumes:

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Above: Miss Czech Republic is her diamond dress, Miss Denmark in her award-winning costume walks with Miss Dominican Republic.  Below from left to right: Miss Norway, Miss Egypt, Miss England (dress inspired by My Fair Lady), Miss Jamaica, Miss Zimbabwe, Miss China, Miss Zambia (red hair), Miss Singapore, Miss Spain (red dress, back row), and Miss Curacoa (yellow feathers).

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P1030020 Left: Miss Jamaica, Miss Hong Kong, Miss Finland, and Miss Peru.

Below: In the center of the picture, Miss Netherlands (tulip dress with windmill) and Miss Burma.

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The best costume award was won by Miss Russia, who came out as a series of matrioshka nesting dolls in an arrangement of fishing wire and two assistants that was brilliantly clever.  How much money and how many hours were spent on these ideas?

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Also quite well done was Miss Laos, whose puffy plaid dress flipped down in the midst of her runway walk to reveal and elegant canary yellow number.

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The second phase of the event was an evening gown contest, which gave the contestants an excuse to wear yet another fantastic outfit.  Here is a sample of the types of dresses we saw, some of which were truly beautiful and, on some of the contestants, very elegant.

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The number of participants was whittled to a final ten who then performed in the talent portion of the pageant.  Miss Vietnam rode her unicycle, Miss Czech Republic did a gymnastics routine, and Miss Jamaica sang with a resonant and powerful voice.

As the judges’ votes were tallied, Miss AC/DC 2006 (who had been Miss USA) performed a cheerleading routine with what must be an organized cheer squad.  They were very good and other than being gay and Thai, would have fit in at almost any college football game in the United States.

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Finally, some five and a half hours after it started, the final five contestants were lined up on stage and the runner-up awards were given.  Our choice, Miss Vietnam, came in second to this year’s Miss AC/DC, Miss Jamaica!

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It was a long evening and a lot of fun.  Who knows if we’ll have the energy to do the whole thing again next year, but it was one of the most interesting glimpses into gay Thai culture that I’ve seen so far.  In fact, Ken, Tawn and I were discussing what a fascinating documentary could be made about the pageant and the lives of the various participants.  Who is there for which reasons, whose family members know (and support) them in this event, what about the trans vs. drag debate, etc…

 

Nong Ryeroam ma jag meuang Paris (Ryeroam comes from Paris)

P1020912 Saturday afternoon we hosted our first meal.  Granted, Roka came over a week ago and we baked cookies, made soup, and ate some food.  But that wasn’t an official meal, just cooks eating their cooking.

Right: The marble mantle has been installed and is decorated for the party.

Saturday was our first official meal with invited guests, a champagne brunch to enjoy the bottle that Ryeroam had asked Ken and Suchai to bring to us as a housewarming, after they visited him in Paris in September.  Since Ryeroam was in town to collect his grandmother and take her to the US for his graduation next week, it was the perfect time to open the bottle.

Ryeroam and I met through airliners.net, a website for aviation enthusiasts, which is also how I met Ken and a score of other people.  He lives with his partner in Paris, although in the time I’ve known him he has lived in Mexico City as well as Buenos Aires, all the while working on his degree in the United States.  It is a global village, I tell you.

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Above from left: Chris, Ryeroam, Suchai, Ken and Tawn.

The menu was pretty simple and easy to prepare:

Individual spinach, mushroom and pine nut quiches

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Mixed green salad with tomatoes

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Homemade buttermilk biscuits (not pictured)

Assorted desserts from The Landmark Hotel

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To wash it all down, we enjoyed a bottle of Laurent-Perrier brut non-vintage Champagne and a bottle of Vallformosa methode Champagnoise sparkling wine from Spain

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I had also prepared a cherry pie, not knowing that Suchai was going to bring desserts.  Needless to say, there was no room for the pie.

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The condo really sparkles when we have guests.  There are just a lot of nice spaces and it is a lot of fun to entertain.  The kitchen is sufficiently large, although we’re short on plates, bowls and glasses.  Once we have a small china cabinet we’ll round out our collection of dinnerware so we can match.

 

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:

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

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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:

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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!

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

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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. 

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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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