Critical Mass Recap

Friday evening I pumped up my bicycle’s tires, changed the batteries in my head and tail lights, strapped on my helmet and started pedaling down Sukhumvit Road towards Siam Square.  The last Friday of the month is payday in Thailand, jokingly called a national holiday.  The roads are packed more than usual as everyone goes out to celebrate having money again.

P1050389 It took me nearly thirty minutes to ride the six kilometers, weaving through traffic, riding a few very short stretches (slowly!) on the sidewalk, and ultimately arriving at Siam Discovery Centre just before 6:30.  There I found more than a hundred bicycles parked on the sidewalk, a hundred bicyclists milling about, with more arriving every minute.

Not recognizing anyone, I stood about taking in the scene.  As has happened before with Thai bicycling events, the locals are very friendly.  The ones less confident about their English just smile and nod, and within a couple of minutes I was engaged in conversation with a married couple.  The wife had done her undergraduate degree in Ann Arbor, Michigan, while the husband had been a high school exchange student in – are you ready for this? – Moscow, Idaho.

Oh, and especially interesting, the couple cornered the reporter from the independent TV station (public broadcasting) and had her interview me – in Thai!  Talk about a challenge.  Don’t know if I made the evening news or not.

About 6:45 the now 200+ people saddled up and we headed out on our ride through the city.  The route was less than 20 kilometers and with such a large group we were not moving very fast, covering the route in about two hours.

Throughout the ride I continued to make new friends, some farang who joined the group and some Thais.  There really is a vibrant bicycling community here, which you wouldn’t necessarily realize.

This was the first time a Critical Mass ride has been undertaken in Bangkok and it had its own Thai flavor, combined with just some “inexperience” in what elements have made CM rides successful in other cities.

BKK Critical Mass Eng Unlike the leaderless rides at other CMs where the people at the front of the group sort of create the group’s direction on an ad hoc basis, this ride had a route map, police had been informed, and there was one man at the front wearing his bambo pith helmet – I believe he is the founder of the Thai Cycling Club – who was leading the way.

Also, there were some things that could have been done to keep the group together.  We were regularly split up by traffic lights and lost much of the group in the first twenty minutes.  Had there been some “safety monitors” who would block traffic in an intersection and let the group get through, it would have been a bit more effective.

But, hey, it was the first time and there isn’t a right or wrong way to do a ride.  Thai cyclists can make it their own.

One realization I had, though, is that non-cyclists have a lot of misconceptions about bicycling in this city.  “The traffic!” they say, ignoring the fact that the traffic largely isn’t moving and that on a bicycle, it is easy to get around larger vehicles stuck in a jam.  “The heat!” they say, fogetting that when you are riding, you create your own cooling breeze.  “The danger!” they say, not realizing that Thai drivers are the most patient, accommodating, and polite anywhere in the world.  Not a honked horn, not a waved fist, not a foul word.

Can’t wait until next month’s ride!


Khrungthep on Foot

It is a sunny and surprisingly cool Friday morning.  As of 8:30 it was 25 C / 77 F, which for late February really is a cool start for us.  As a very pink sun crawled above the hazy horizon, I drove Tawn to the airport where he is meeting some of his colleagues for a weekend business trip in Bali.  Not a bad place to have a business trip, if you ask me.

This week has been mostly about some work projects, one in particular that has taken a large amount of time and as it involves a lot of typing and document formatting, is threatening to give me carpal tunnel syndrome.  To spare my wrists, I did take a few breaks and got out and about.  Such interesting things to see when you’re exploring on foot.


A Tale of Narrow Sois

P1050331 As nearly all of the city was once rice paddies, the narrow khlong – canals – eventually were paved over and made into streets.  To this day, these small streets (alleys?) called soi are still narrow and twist and turn, making a rabbit’s warren of choke points for vehicular traffic.  Just in the course of two outings I observed several nose-to-nose confrontations between vehicles that had no room to pass.

Right, in Lad Prao Soi 19 there is a dog leg in the middle of the dead-end soi, construction of a new condo on one side, and cars parked all along the soi.  The dog leg is sharp and, for drivers, makes for two consecutive blind corners.  As I was walking into the soi there were two vehicles coming in that encountered two vehicles coming out.  Interestingly, neither group backed up to a suitably wide passing spot.  Instead, they inched past each other in a very slow and intricate dance right at the corner, missing each other by maybe the width of a hand.  No horns, P1050367 now waved fists.  Just smiles and nods.

Things were not as equal when the red Thong Lor shuttle bus, which loops up and down the street connecting Khlong San Saeb with Sukhumvit Road, encountered oncoming cars in Thong Lor Soi 1, left

The heavy duty Mercedes bus ended up the victor, forcing the taxi to pull into a restaurant’s car park (left side of picture) and the Honda Jazz and several cars behind it to back up into Sukhumvit 53, about ten meters behind.  Still no horn honking but the bus driver wasn’t being very magnanimous about his victory.


Sights along Lad Prao

Lad Prao is a long, wide road on the north side of the city, stretching from the area around the Chatuchak Weekend Marked and Phaholyothin Road junction all the way across town to Ramkamhaeng Road in the northeastern quadrant of the city.  Francois bought a condo there in a new lowrise development (with the blue banner on the side of it in the first picture above) on Lad Prao Soi 19.  It is convenient, all of a three-minute walk from the subway station and then a eight-stop ride to Sukhumvit.

P1050345 Walking around the neighborhood, I came to an intersection around Soi 7 where some interesting construction work is underway. 

A khlong flows under the soi right where it enters the main street.  It appears that a proper drainage channel is being built under the soi.  What I found fascinating is the dam being used to hold back the khlong while construction progresses, which is made of sticks and stones.  Additionally, it looks like the worker in the pink shirt, the one leveling the freshly poured concrete, is in there barefoot.


P1050347 At the same corner there is an old, gnarled tree right at the intersection.  Underneath it has been built a shrine including a spirit house (almost completely covered in garlands), a herd of zebra, and fresh offerings of flowers, incense and drinks. 

While I know the tradition of spirit houses grows out of animist beliefs that have mixed with Brahman and Hindu ones over the years, I’m still curious about this particular shrine.  Was this the shrine set up for a larger plot of land that has since been subdivided and developed?  Even though the country is 95%+ Theravada Buddhist, those beliefs are overlaid onto many other ones, forming an interesting collage of beliefs.  As it has been explained to me, you never know for certain which beliefs are the right ones so why not be safe by subscribing to all of them?  Very pragmatic.  Very Thai.


Here’s the pie shop, where’s the barber’s?

P1050365 Just recently a new, small restaurant opened on Thong Lor 1.  The Witch Pie Factory is associated with the Witch’s Tavern, a pub further down Thong Lor.  I am assuming that this is in fact the place they make the pies served at the pub and decided to make the most of the space by including a retail and restaurant front end there, too.

It is a cute place with a bright blue exterior and room for a little cafe-style seating out front.  Since it sits right on the soi that had the bus-car confrontation mentioned above, I’m not sure I’d want to be sitting outdoors watching that while eating my pie.

P1050363 On Wednesday, Vic, Ken and Francois joined me for lunch there.  Ken wittily referenced Sweeney Todd and asked whether there was a barber shop upstairs.  Without a doubt, these are the British-style pies we’re talking about: individual meat pies that, along with a small side salad are meant to make a meal.

The interior really is cute, too.  The walls are tiled with large, tidy white tiles with dark blue accents that remind me of bagel shops in Melbourne.  There is a large mirror on one wall, reflecting the elegant and wholly out of place chandelier and an avantgarde painting on the opposing wall.

There is a loft area that has comfortable chairs, a cozy place for a spot of tea and a slice of something sweeter for dessert.  The downstairs has a long counter and then a half-dozen rustic looking wood tables and benches.  The fresh baked pied are neatly arranged on the marble counter under glass and the selections include several types of quiche and Thai inspired pies (Massaman beef curry, anyone?) in addition to the more traditional chicken and mushroom, and pork and mashed peas pies.


Above: Ken reviews the menu while Vic discusses his choices with one of the friendly workers.

P1050361 I decided to try the chicken and mushroom pie along with a slice of the tomato quiche.  Both were very tasty and the salad, while a little skimpy, was fresh and of good quality.

Given that pie pastry isn’t necessarily the healthiest source of carbohydrates in the world, at least there was a salad at all!

Being in a pie shop, one couldn’t very well not have pie for dessert.  So I tried their coconut cream pie which is made with slices of fresh young coconut meat that had such a refreshing and delicate flavor. 

To top it off, the pies are quite reasonably priced.  Including the salad, most pies are only between 70-100 baht.  Pricier than a plate of rice and two sides, but then also harder to find.  Plus the place is so cute, I’ll pay an extra 20 baht just for atmosphere!  No doubt you’ll be able to find me at least once a week at The Witch Pie Factory.

Next entry: how I’ve started swimming every day in order to burn off those pies!


Gratuitous cute photos

I’m very excited because my Grandfather has recently learned how to attach photos to his weekly email epistles.  This may not sound like a big deal, but I’m impressed that in his 80s, he still tackles new technological challenges.  He’s had a computer for a decade now, recently upgraded to a new Mac, and every week we receive an email that details the goings on of him and my Grandmother.  I can only hope that in 50 years, I’ll be so active and so embracing of new technologies.

So here are the photos of my grandparents with my youngest niece, Ava.  She turns two years old next week.


Grandpa and Ava IMG_0006

Cute, eh?


รักแห่งสยาม on YouTube

lovesiamdn20mz4 Thanks to Ongkun for pointing out that Rak Haeng Siam is now available (illegally!) on YouTube at  Original version, I believe, taken from the recently released VCD and DVD and posted in thirty segments, you can just link from one to the next.  No subtitles, either, so a good chance to practice your Thai.  But for you adventureous types, you can watch the whole thing on your monitor.


DSCF0208 Last August, when I wrapped up my volunteer English teaching at Bangkhonthiinai School in Samut Songkhram province, I provided each of the students with a business card containing my contact information, encouraging them to write.

The next few months were very silent.

Then, Khruu Somchai introduced the sixth graders to the mismatched computers in the school’s computer lab.  Shortly thereafter, I started receiving emails from some of the sixth graders. 

At first, they were in Thai.

พวกเราคิดถึงคุณครูมากๆคะ ถ้ามีโอกาศกรุณาส่งกลับมาด้วยนะคะ (ส่งเป็นภาษาไทยนะคะ)

We miss teacher very much.  If you have an opportunity, please write back. (Write in Thai, please.) 

And other messages like that.


Since my computer doesn’t have Thai on it (and since it is my employer’s computer, the Windows disk that I need to install the Thai language capabilities is in Houston, Texas) I have to use a virtual Thai keyboard.  That makes for some really slow typing on my part.

Finally, I sent the following message to the sixth graders:  Translations in italics, below.


ถ้าหนูอยากจะฝึกเขียนภาษาอังกฤษ หนูควรจะเขียน e-mail ให้ครูเป็นภาษาอังกฤษ เขียนผิดก็ได้ครูอ่านรู้เรื่อง เหมือนกับเด็กฝึกหัดเดินต้องมีล้มบ้าง แต่ก็จะเดินเก่งได้ในที่สุด  เหมือนกับหนูที่ต้องฝึกเขียนอังกฤษบอยๆ ครูเชื่อว่าหนูจะต้องเก่งแน่นอน


So from now on, I will write to you in English.  And you can practice writing English to me, too.


Best regards,


Teacher Chris

I hope that you will continue practice writing English [after you graduate].  If you want to practice writing English, you should write your emails to me in English.  Even if you write incorrectly I will still understand.  Just like a child practicing walking must sometimes fall but will walk well in the end so, too, you must pracice writing English regularly.  I believe that you will certainly become good [at writing].


Of the three sixth graders to whom I sent that message, one has stopped writing, one has continued writing in Thai, and a third – the class president – is actually making an effort to include some English.  Here’s a sample:

how  are you way teacher  com on  school one ครั้ง because we
 go out from
Bang khonteenai school we

It is kind of funny how she ran out of English and switched to Thai.  The first Thai word is “time”.  To encourage her, my responses have been a combination of correcting her English, encouraging her (in English) to continue practicing, and then adding a little bit of news in Thai so she doesn’t get overwhelmed by an entire email in English. 

A week ago, my email inbox showed messages from two new students: the fifth graders are now in the computer lab, too!  One of them pre-emptively explained that she wants to write in English but isn’t ready yet.

Curiously, only the girls seem to be interested in writing the emails.  None from the boys.  I sent an email response to the pair of fifth graders and asked whether the boys were scared of computers or the girls are just more clever.  Nothing like a little bit of a rivalry.


When a Critical Mass is Reached

After writing Thursday’s post about Rak Haeng Siam, a post which I had been writing in my mind for nearly two months, turning over thoughts and thinking about turns of phrase, I’ve found it difficult to write another post.  It’s that silence that comes after you’ve said everything you have to say.  It leaves me feeling empty and expended.

Maybe also it is because the weekend was a quiet one.  Tawn was under the weather and I was pressed into service as a nurse, so there wasn’t anything to stimulate a new entry.


BKK Critical Mass Eng One thought, though: this coming Friday will be the first Critical Mass ride in Khrungthep.  For those of you unfamiliar with this movement, it started in San Francisco in the early 1990s as a monthly group bicycle ride to celebrate bicycling and remind other users of the streets that bicyclists have a right to the roads, too.  It has no organizers, usually no defined route, and the group just goes where it goes.

While some have seen it as a protest and some riders choose to be very confrontational with motorists, it is generally meant to be more of an awareness-raising opportunity as well as an opportunity to enjoy bicycling on the streets in numbers large enough to provide safety.

Even though there isn’t an organizer, someone on the Thai Cycling Club web board posted an entry announcing the event.  And there are graphics in both Thai and English, so clearly someone has put a little effort into it. 


BKK Crititcal Mass Thai Color

In any case, I’m looking forward to this Friday evening and a chance to celebrate Leap Year and to see the City of Angels from my bicycle seat.


Rak Haeng Siam Resonates

poster2am0 I’ve been sitting on this entry for two months, waiting for the right opportunity to write it.  This entry is about the Thai movie Rak Haeng Siam (Love of Siam), a drama/romance/coming of age story that was a bit of a surprise hit here in Thailand back in November and December.  As with all movies here, it came and went quickly and – with the exception of a “Director’s Cut” that has been sold out for weeks in advance exclusively at the House RCA cinema – it is out of the consciousness of most Thai moviegoers.

The movie really struck a chord with some moviegoers, particularly the gay men, as it told a story that we rarely see: that of teenagers who are wrestling with their sexual identities.  After watching the 200-minute director’s version of the film on Monday, I’m ready to write about this movie.  Apologies in advance if this post is lengthy.


Love of Siam is two stories: that of the friendship and budding love of two secondary school boys, and that of the disintegration of one of the boy’s family, the result of the disappearance of his older sister on a family trip to Chiang Mai a few years earlier.

It is a notable film on many counts:

  • As a drama, it is a rarity in Thai cinema, filled as it is with audiences who prefer dumb comedies, ghost stories, and dumb comedic ghost stories. 
  • At two-and-a-half hours in length, the film is almost twice the length of the average Thai film, pushing the attention span of most Thai moviegoers. 
  • As a film that treats the gay characters in the story sympathetically, it stands apart from the frequent depiction of gays in Thai culture as either transsexuals, effeminate queens, or effeminate transsexual queens. 
  • As a depiction of a family of Thai Christians, it is probably the first Thai film ever to have a Christmas nativity scene.
  • Finally, it addresses issues of teenage gays – something that is rarely addressed in the cinema of any country.


The Main Storyline

love of siam 9 There are several subplots but the basic story follows the fortunes of two childhood friends, Mew and Tong, who are neighbors in their primary school years.  Tong and his parents move away after Tong’s sister Tang goes missing on a trip to Chiang Mai, leading his father into an alcoholic depression and his family into disintegration.  Mew and Tong cross paths again during their senior year in secondary school.  This meeting rekindles old feelings and the two are left to sort out what these feelings mean, especially against the conflict of Tong’s family situation.

If you want to read the plot in greater detail, I’ve included it at the bottom of this entry.  Hopefully, you’ll have the opportunity to watch the movie for yourself.  I’m under the impression that the director is actively seeking distribution internationally and I’m sure it will play in at least some film festivals and maybe art cinemas in some of the larger cities.


Impact in Thailand

This film was a modest success – number one opening week, number two the second week, and then falling off from there.  As the director’s third commercial film, and a huge departure from the more mainstream films he did before, it caught everyone by surprise.  The advertising – both the poster and the trailer – didn’t play up the gay aspect of the story, to which the director later admitted that they wanted to get a bigger audience than they would have had they been as up front about the plot.

Here’s the trailer.  Even though it is in Thai, I think you’ll agree after watching it that it leaves the orientation of the main characters’ love in question.

There was a great deal of talk on message boards and elsewhere in Thailand about this film.  Equally loud were those who were moved by the film and those who felt duped by it.

10861439_gal For some of the audience, particularly the gay men, this film spoke to their experiences in a way that nothing else they’ve ever seen has.  One of Kobfa’s friends sobbed through the entire film, his family experience (minus the missing sister) is so close to the one depicted in the movie.  Tawn said afterwards that it was filled with touchstones of his coming-of-age experience: hanging out at Siam Square; sharing an ice cream sundae at Swenson’s with the guy he had a crush on; having chaste affairs in which holding hands for a few moments was as intimate as things would get.

Judging by the crowds at the different screenings I attended, there is a new generation of young gay men in their secondary school and university years, who are growing up with at least this one image of their experience being shown in the media.  Someone who looks like them, some life that looks similar to their own, now is validated in the popular culture.  It exists!  They exist!


The Impact on Me

Of course, the story has greater relevance than just in Thailand.  While I grew up in a completely different culture, the film still resonates deeply with me.  I recall the crushes I had in secondary school, the boys my age for whom I had feelings that I couldn’t find the words for.  “Respect”, “admiration”… these were the impotent ways in which I tried to rationalize what I felt.

I remember taking a field trip with one of the school organizations and in a hotel room with three other students, shared a bed with one of the boys I felt so strongly about.  Lying just a matter of inches away and wanting so badly to reach out to him, but not being able to – that memory jumped back to life when watching this movie, a memory so vivid of an emotion so strong: feeling love but not being able to name it.

To this day, whenever I see young people including my friends’ children and my own two nieces, I wonder if they will be able to grow up feeling confident enough, loved enough, to be whoever they are and to feel love for whomever they do, without feeling afraid and unable to name it.  It is one thing to love someone in an unrequited fashion – a theme addressed in a subplot of the movie – and quite another thing to have a love that may be shared but be unable to speak it, possibly even unable to know the words necessary to describe it to yourself let alone to the person for whom you feel those feelings.

Watching Love of Siam was particularly powerful for me, because I didn’t grow up with any reference points or role models on which to base my feelings.  Despite having grown up in the San Francisco Bay Area, I don’t have any recollection of seeing a gay person or a gay character anywhere, anytime before I graduated from secondary school.  Certainly, by the point when I was beginning to recognize that I was different from most of the boys, I didn’t have the vocabulary available to me to understand those differences.  To that standpoint, I am envious of the gay boys growing up in Khrungthep.  At least now they have Love of Siam to help put words to those feelings, if indeed they were in need of a vocabulary – which I suspect they aren’t.

I know there have been some other films (including a German one, I recall) that addressed gay teens in the storyline.  But surely in a world where many people are underrepresented, gay teens are highest among those, since they cut across both sexes and all religions, races and countries.  Hopefully for more young people who are struggling with who they are, there will be images that positively validate that they are okay.  (I’m sure the fundamentalists will love that.  Glad I’m not running for elective office.)


For those of you unfamiliar with the movie, wanting more details, or realizing that you might never get a chance to see it, I offer you a more detailed plot summary.  Warning: This contains spoilers.

The Plot in Greater Detail – Warning: Spoilers

love of siam 02 Mew (below right) is the child who is picked on at school, his classmates having already identified him as likely being gay even in his primary school years.  Artistic and musically inclined, Mew’s grandmother is his best friend and she teaches him to play a song that his grandfather used to play on the piano for her, and tells him that she hopes that someday he will love someone so much that he writes a song for them.

Tong (below left) and his sister are Mew’s upstairs neighbors.  At first, Mew shies away from them, but then one day at school Tong comes to Mew’s defense when he is cornered in a toilet by tormentors, clubbing the bullies with a plunger pulled from one of the toilet stalls.  As a result, Tong winds up with a black eye and a bloody nose.

love of siam 03  love of siam 06

A friendship develops between the two boys and after Tong’s family goes to Chiang Mai on holiday, Tong returns with a gift for Mew, a wooden Christmas doll composed of several pieces.  Following a family tradition started by his father, Tong hides the different parts giving Mew written clues to find them.  Alas, when they arrive at the location of the last part – the doll’s nose – the tree in which it has been hidden has been pruned and the branches are being carted away.  Nonetheless, the doll takes pride of place on Mew’s desk.

While on the family trip, Tong’s sister Tang receives permission to spend a few extra days in Chiang Mai with her friends.  When the extra days comes and go and there is no word from her, Tong’s parents return north to search for her, not returning in time for Tong’s Catholic school Christmas pageant.  Tong’s  parents ask him to stay at Mew’s for a few nights while they search for Tang.

During these few nights, Tong prays for his sister each night before going to bed, sleeping next to Mew.  His eyes wet with tears, Tong turns to Mew for comfort that everything will be all right.

LOS 14 In the weeks that follow, Mew is Tong’s support as there is still no sign of Tang.  As the months pass, Tong’s family begins to disintegrate as his parents blame each other for allowing Tang to stay with her friends.  Tong’s father begins to drink heavily and ends the ritual of mealtime prayers, having lost his faith.

Finally, Tong’s family moves away from the neighborhood, leaving Mew heartbroken at the loss of his friend.

(As a side note, this is where the opening credit roll.  See – it is a long movie!)


Flash forward about five years.  Both boys are in different secondary school.  Tong’s family situation has continued to get worse, his father now lying about all day, drinking whisky and not eating any food.  Tong looks to be a typical – read, “straight” – teenager with a perfect girlfriend that the other boys envy, but he doesn’t seem much interested in their relationship, to her chagrin.

Across town, Mew’s grandmother has long since passed on.  He has become a gifted musician and is the singer and songwriter for a band of classmates called August (he is third from the left in the lower left-hand picture).  Mew is also the object of an unrequited crush from Ying (below right – with pictures of Mew all over her walls), the girl who now lives in the house where Tong once lived.

LOS 11  10861441_gal

Mew and Tong meet unexpectedly at Siam Square (below – Mew is left and Tong is right), an outdoor shopping area that is ground zero for Khrungthep’s youth culture.  They exchange phone numbers and begin hanging out together, rekindling their childhood friendship and – for Mew – rekindling stronger feelings that inspire him to begin writing new songs.

LOS 17 LOS 12


(Side note – the above scene, along with two or three others in the Director’s Cut, were shot in the box office lobby of the lovely Scala Cinema, a classic 1960s theatre about which I wrote in this entry.)

Mew’s band is assigned a new manager, June, who is the spitting image of Tong’s lost sister, Tang.  Tong and his mother conspire to hire June to play the role of Tang, in an effort to rouse Tong’s father out of his depression.  For a time this seems to work and everyone is happy again.

10862656_gal 10861461_gal

At a party to celebrate Tang’s homecoming, Mew’s band performs a new song – Gan Le Gan (essentially, “You and I Together”) with the opening line sung with Mew looking directly at Tong (a look not unnoticed by June – above right with Tong), “If I’m telling you that this song was written for you, would you believe me?”  After the party, Mew and Tong share a kiss in the backyard that is seen by Tong’s mother.  In the director’ version of this film, there is a shot of a few minutes later when Tong escorts Mew to a waiting taxi.  They are reluctant to say goodnight to each other, in the love-struck sort of way that you would expect from any two people who had just shared their first, oh so innocent kiss.

LOS 13 Worrying about her son, Tong’s mother forbids him from seeing Mew.  But Tong leaves home one night anyhow, leaving his phone and spending the night at Mew’s. 

Unable to get hold of Tong and spending the night driving around searching for him, Tong’s mother is further worried.  The next day she visits Mew and confronts him, explaining that Mew’s lifestyle is not what she has in the cards for Tong.  Mew insists they are just friends, but complies with her wishes.  Mew’s secret admirer Ying overhears this conversation and is heartbroken.

Tong keeps trying to get hold of Mew but Mew won’t answer his calls.  At the same time, Tong’s girlfriend pressures him about his inattentiveness while his family situation turns bad again as his father is diagnosed with severe medical problems brought on by his drinking. 

10862650_gal Ying consoles Tong after his friends ask him whether the reason he isn’t seeing his girlfriend is because he’s gay.  While they are together, he sees another of the Christmas dolls and Ying convinces the toy shop owner to give her only the nose piece, left.

Tong finds himself caught on all sides and in a scene where he and his mother are cheerlessly decorating a Christmas tree, he asks her in not so many words to let him make his own choice, represented by two decorations – one of a woman and the other of a man.  “Just choose one!” she shouts.  “But whatever one I choose, you won’t be happy with me!” he replies.  She tells him that whatever choice he makes is okay.

June makes plans to leave the family, the unfolding story still leaving some question as to whether she might not in fact be the missing daughter.  She leaves a note to Tong’s mother, telling her that they’ll be all right.

Having cut himself off from Tong, Mew finds his well of songwriting inspiration has dried up and his band members are on the verge of mutiny, about to replace him with a backup singer. 

Tong agrees to meet his girlfriend for a date in Siam Square on Christmas Eve.  Mew and his band are performing a concert there and when Tong sees Mew on a video screen and hears him start to sing the song Gan Le Gan, he realizes what he has to do. 

10861437_gal  love of siam 8

He apologizes to his girlfriend and tells her that he can’t be her boyfriend anymore.  Then he runs to the concern, meeting Ying there, to watch.  Mew sees them in the crowd.

After the concert, Tong approaches Mew to give him a Christmas present – the missing nose piece from the wooden doll that Mew still has on his desk.  Tong tells Mew that he can’t be his boyfriend, but that he will always love him.  With that, they part ways.  

The movie ends with Mew at home, putting the final piece onto the doll, crying, wiping his eyes, and saying “thank you” out loud.



The ending was good, if a little disappointing as I was cheering for Mew and Tong to end up together.  Talking with friends, the general consensus was that Tong – despite his mother telling him he could choose for himself – still felt the pressure of family obligations over his feelings for Mew.  Leaving us all to wonder… could there be a Rak Haeng Siam 2?


Sunday Chardonnay

We hosted brunch on Sunday for a small group: just four guests plus ourselves.  Our table seats six (or eight with great intimacy) so the invitation list was judiciously selected and I had to take care not to mention the brunch to those not invited, for fear of upsetting them.

We could invite larger groups but I find if we have more than the six or tight eight, the party has to become a buffet where people are sitting on the couch and elsewhere to eat.  That is an unwieldy thing to do, limiting the menu options and increasing the work for the hosts.  I like brunch to be an easy, fun affair.

We invited Ken and Chai, Roka and Doug, the same group who joined for Christmas Eve dinner at Bacco Italian restaurant.  The conversation had been lively, ranging across myriad topics and especially literature and travel, so I wanted to resurrect the spirit of that evening but in an afternoon setting.

The menu was mostly make-ahead:

  • 24-hour omelet from Cook’s Illustrated “The Best Make-Ahead Recipe” cookbook
  • Mixed greens salad with sesame dressing
  • Steamed artichokes with balsamic mayonnaise sauce
  • Mixed breads
  • Chunky lemon meringue pie from Sunset Magazine


The 24-hour omelet is similar to a strata, but with less bread, and is combined in a dish and refrigerated overnight so all the work is done in advance.  I managed to not follow the recipe carefully and had to do a little improvisation halfway through, resulting in a little drier, breadier dish than it is supposed to be.

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Top: Ingredients are assembled including buttered sandwich bread, eggs, cheese, roasted green chilies, minced onion, and milk.  I managed to forget the milk so after assembly had to mix two more eggs and some milk together and pour it on top of the dish, poking holes with a fork so it would soak into the bread.  Ultimately, too many eggs and not enough milk.  I’ll follow the recipe correctly next time.

Above left and right: The dish right after assembly and then the dish after a night soaking in the refrigerator.

Below: The finished product, crispy and cheesy and puffed up and golden brown.  And some cookies behind it for the guests to take home.


Chunky Lemon Meringue Pie

Sunset magazine is a staple of my childhood and young adulthood living in the Western United States (“Living in the West” is their tagline) and I continue to subscribe to it because it captures a lifestyle and way of living that is appealing to me.  This lifestyle is exemplified by the patio, and outdoor space that in most Western US states you can spend much of your time throughout the year, entertaining, barbecueing, having drinks, etc.

The recipe for chunky lemon meringue pie caught my eye because I like lemon meringue but often feel the lemon filling is a bit monotone when it comes to texture.  The idea of macerating very thinly sliced lemons for twenty-four hours until they became edible was an interesting twist. 

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Sadly, lemons in Thailand (imported from somewhere despite our abundance of home grown limes) don’t seem to be the same as lemons in the US and despite my best efforts to slice them as thin as possible, the pie ended up a little too chunky and a little too tart, even with two cups of sugar added! 

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Also, the recipe didn’t specify the doneness the lemon filling should be at before removing it from the oven, only a time and temperature.  When I pulled it out, it was still a little soft in the center, but I rationalized that since there was another 25 minutes to cook once the meringue was added, maybe it would set up during that time.  In fact, I should have cooked it until it was more set, maybe with only the slightest of jiggles in the center.

Below left: Before baking.  Below right: After baking.

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P1050300 The result of this not-set center was that when the pie was served, it all just kind of collapsed.  Right is a shot of the best looking slice and it is nothing to write home about.

You can see how the center of the pie has oozed out and not held its shape, so the meringue, when being cut, didn’t have any support underneath and crushed into nothingness.


The meringue was also interesting because the recipe called for adding both brown and white sugars, resulting in a tan colored meringue that was visually less appealing than the usual contrast between the bright white interior and the browned exterior.

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Despite the challenges, the look was impressive after it was all finished, below.


So the cooking of the brunch proved to be much less interesting than the brunch itself.  We still had leftover flowers from the photo shoot, so decoration was very easy.  The conversation ran smoothly and we had an enjoyable time all the way until the guests left about three hours later.  The two bottles of Chardonnay were tasty, one from Napa and the other from the Santa Cruz Mountains and they were so different, despite being grown just 100 miles apart, and gave the afternoon sort of a hazy quality that Anita and Colleen (two of my roommates in San Francisco) liked to as Chardonnay Sunday.

appassionata The entertainment for the day came from Chai , for whom coming to eat at my house must be torture.  He had never seen a whole artichoke nor had any idea what to do with it.  When I was growing up, since I grew up just 30 miles from the artichoke capital of the world, we would steam artichokes and eat them with melted butter for dinner.

Chai just looked at the thistle as if I were a crazy man for even suggesting that he try it.

Below we have a picture of Ken pointing to one of the leaves of the choke, trying to convince Chai that it is in fact edible.  I think he tried one leaf and that was enough.


Also, once the chunky lemon pie arrived he was busily scraping out the chunky pieces and saying to Tawn, in Thai, that he had never eaten something like that before – so bitter and so many pieces you couldn’t chew.  I promised him that next time I’ll stick with more standard food! 

Now, before anyone pulls out the Miss Manners book and talks about being a good guest, let me just say in Chai’s defense that I like having friends who will be appreciative of the work I’ve put into the meal but will also share with me their honest thoughts.  That helps me improve my cooking and choose foods that are appropriate for my diverse group of guests.

P1050284 Finally, while we were setting up for the party, Tawn asked me to take a picture of him with his favorite guru, Ina Garten.  For any of you who don’t know, Garten is a contemporary of Martha Stewart with a series of cookbooks and a TV show on the Food Network. 

The difference that I perceive between Garten and Stewart is that Stewart is more about meticulous perfection, whereas Garten is willing to take shortcuts (frozen pastry dough, for example) so long as the quality remains high.  As she points out, if you can’t have fun at your own parties because you’re busy running around, then there’s no point in having parties.

Garten started out with a store called Barefoot Contessa in East Hampton, NY.  I became familiar with the store (which was shown in early scenes in the 2003 Nancy Meyers’ film starring Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson, Something’s Gotta Give) the two years I worked as an operations manager at the Hampton International Film Festival.  Sadly, the store closed in 2004 although the brand lives on through cookbooks.

Anyhow, I’d debate that Tawn is probably more Martha Stewart and I am more Ina Garten, but at least we agree on the ideals of simplicity and enjoyment when entertaining.  And one of these days we’ll actually achieve those ideals! 

The Elle Ultimatum

P1050215 Following up on the Elle Decoration (which Vic, being a gay man of few stereotypically gay characteristics, misunderstood as a Spanish language publication called El Decoration) photo shoot Friday, first let me thank all of you for your comments and feedback.  The “banishment” to the balcony – as I humorously referred to is – worked out okay as it ultimately allowed both Tawn and I to both maintain our respective values and priorities.  There was also an opportunity the following morning for a good follow-up conversation and, as these types of situations provide, we were able to better understand each other afterwards, right.

Still, I’m thankful that I was out and about instead of at home for the photo shoot, as it was every bit as much of a stressful mess as I had imagined.  I’ve never done photo shoots but I have experience with film and video shoots, and I know that especially for interior shots there is one area of perfection surrounded by a whirlwind of chaos just outside the camera’s field of view.

So it was with our condo.  Tawn had spent the better part of Thursday arranging the entire place so that it was neat, tidy, and decorated to the nines.

First though, doing another flashback, on Wednesday our contractor delivered the replacement bookshelves.  You may recall that in December I wrote about the china cabinets that arrived according to a design change that I had unwittingly agreed to.  Upon their arrival, we discovered that these cabinets were not only not the design that I wanted – my mistake because I had agreed to their change – but they were also not built to the dimensions that Tawn and the designer, Ble, had agreed to.  Each dimension – height, width, and depth – was incorrect.  I had a vision in my mind of a cross eyed carpenter with coke bottle bottom glasses trying to read the tape measure as he reinterpreted the designer’s dimensions.

Ble was not happy and the contractor, with whom he works on most his projects, had to rebuild the cabinets for us at his own cost.

The new cabinets arrived this Wednesday.  This time the cabinets were of the correct dimension and, as you’ll see from the picture below they seem to fit the space much more nicely.  The new one is on the right.


The new cabinets also contain an interior light, which was part of the design but had been omitted in the original shelves.  These still aren’t bookshelves, although we’ve agreed to mostly place books in them, but they look a lot nicer than the previous ones.


Thus ready for the photo shoot, Tawn had prepared everything with the expectation that the designer would arrive with a few additional props, maybe move a few things around, and then the photographer would take the pictures and go.

Ah, but nothing is that easy.  For starters, Ble arrived with his assistant Eddy, and several large pieces of furniture including two porcelain Chinese stools, a large steamer trunk, and two large bedside lamps.

Below right, Ble looks on as Eddy and another assistant move pieces around according to his direction.

Tawn’s tidy setting was quickly untidied and descended into chaos as pieces were arranged.  Our bedside lamps, out.  New bedside lamps, in, below left.

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The photographer was tasked by the editor with shooting twelve different scenes.  In a small place like ours – only 68 square meters – that’s quite a challenge.  Instead of shooting whole rooms, many of these shots were tightly composed – of a bedside table with decorations, for example.

Ble was a perfectionist for details, below.  The bed was not made neatly enough and the original tea arrangement Tawn set out was not what he had in mind so he switched the tray.

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Tawn had asked his mother to come over (she has never seen the place before) and to bring two of his dogs, in case the photographer wanted some dogs to dress a scene.  Which is kind of funny, considering that his dogs are so skittish that they would come out blurred in an exposure at even the fasted shutter speed.

Left, Khun Nui surveys the scene as shots are taken in the bedroom.  Right, now that Khun Chris has left the balcony, the dogs are banished there instead.

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Above: Ble takes a break as Eddy makes calls.  The photographer’s case is on the kitchen floor and a section of the counter that won’t be in any pictures is packed with things.

Below left: The photographer’s assistant takes a meter reading for the bathroom shot.  Right: What the photographer sees, a mirror image of the shot.

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After several hours of shooting, seven shots were complete with five to go.  Eventually, the team moved to the living room where the table had been set for a tea party.  The theme of the April issue will be “throwing a party” and my understanding is that each house that is being shot is decorated with a party theme.  The picture below gives you an idea of how chaotic things are just for one perfect picture.


The final shots were taken in the kitchen area.  Tawn had pitched the story of this house as “A Baker’s House… Inspired by San Francisco” or something to that affect.  I had baked a double batch of cookie dough, rolled it into logs and stored them in the refrigerator as Tawn could actually bake cookies for the shoot.  The final shot below is of one showing him in his apron – ever the baker – pulling some cookies out of the oven for his guests.



New babies

P1050209 Among Tawn’s close group of friends, about half are straight girls and the other half are gay boys.  Most of the girls have married and as of this week have three of the five have had their first child. 

The boys are having an interesting time adjusting to their friends’ procreativity.  Tawn wonders how this will affect the long-term dynamics of the group.

For example, at the hospital on Friday to see Saa and Job’s new baby boy Jae Jae (right) delivered by c-section on Valentine’s Day – Eddy and Jack were more interested in discussing the latest gossip about the pornographic pictures portraying Hong Kong superstar Edison Chen while everyone else was talking about the delivery and how long it will take Saa to recover.  Talk about being in different galaxies.


Clockwise from Tawn: Mon, me, Saa (in blue), Dao, Eddy, Jaa, and Jack.  Job (the father) was taking the picture.

P1050196 Tawn imagines that we’ll have family get-togethers where he and I will dote on the children.  I imagine that we’ll get together every Saturday and I’ll teach the children English (although all their parents speak it well) and English children’s songs.  Maybe one day we’ll have children of our own to go with theirs.

In addition to Saa’s Valentine’s birth, Jaa and her husband Tuk gave birth to a daughter just a month ago.   

On the left is a picture of me with little Nam Ing and her mother Jaa.  She’s so precious and was very low key.  No crying, no fussing, and completely happy to be held by whomever.  She had the hiccups, though, which was immensely funny as they seemed just as strong as an adult’s hiccups, so she bounced whenever she hiccupped.