Caught up in the PAD march

Despite Prime Minister Samak’s being removed from his post by the courts, despite former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra being convicted in absentia and sentenced to two years in prison for tax evasion, the anti-government People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) continues its protests. 

It seems they will only be satisfied when the current government is disrupted and new elections are called – assuming they were sincere when PAD leaders recently dropped their demands for a parliament that was contained a majority of appointees, resulting in a government that would be (ironically, given their name) not democratic.

Another big PAD rally and march occurred today, heading down Phloenchit/Sukhumvit Road from Siam Square to Phrom Phong.  (Come to think about it, this could be called the Mall to Mall March.)  Originally, the march was to terminate at the British Embassy on Wittahyu Road but it looks like they kept on going, stopping only once heavy rains commenced.

As I left my Thai language class with Khruu Kitiya, the head of the protest was just arriving at the Asoke Skytrain station.  Caught up in the excitement (and lack of policemen in their mob control gear) I decided to risk life and limb to bring you, my readers, the story.

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Above, the head of the marchers, underneath the Asoke Skytrain station heading into the Asoke-Sukhumvit intersection.  The crowd looked to be about 5,000 – 10,000 strong but the rains about thirty minutes later cut that to just a few thousand.

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Above, looking from Asoke station eastwards towards Phrom Phong station (where Emporium mall is located).  By the time the crowd had passed the intersection – a good fifteen minutes – the traffic backed up on Asoke reached a solid two kilometers to Phetchaburi Road and beyond.

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Above, a close-up from the previous vantage point, showing the crowds already down several blocks,

After taking the train into town to pay my electricity bill, I stopped at Emporium on the way back for a bite to eat, where I caught up with a rain storm and about two thousand remaining PAD members, who sought shelter beneath the Phrom Phrong station, stopping traffic on both sides of the street, below.

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Security guards at the BTS Skytrain and the Emporium mall watched nervously, hoping that crowds would not turn against them.  All in all, the demonstration was very peaceful – other than causing massive gridlock in a city that already has terrible congestion.

Above: Here’s ninety seconds of footage I edited together so you could get a fuller sense of the scope of the protest.

 

Message from a Big Person

In the past few years, I’ve read a lot about how the proliferation of media – especially online – is balkanizing us.  Instead of giving us access to more information and a broader range of perspectives, we are self-selecting sources of information and groups of people who mirror our already-held beliefs and values.

News of this disturbs me because I think one of the greatest strengths of globalization and the internet is their ability to break down barriers and make us more understanding of others’ concerns, feelings, values and perspectives.  On an increasingly interconnected planet, we need to understand each other more, not less.

My experiences on Xanga have sometimes illustrated this balkanization: some people seem really unwilling to hear different perspectives and their responses are more defensive (or offensive, really!) than thoughtful, more attagonistic than trying to understand.

That’s why I want to acknowledge that in the entry I wrote two weeks ago about California’s proposition 8, in the midst of a lot of back and forth, there were several people who really rose above the fray and were able to disagree and debate ideas without resorting to insults and invectives.

Several people contacted me privately and had many encouraging words.  Some of them agreed with my position that proposition 8 is wrong and should be defeated.  Others disagreed with me but shared messages of respect and appreciation for the opportunity to have a dialogue on the issue.  And others shared with me how their opinion had changed because of the opportunity to hear other perspectives.  Here is one such message:

I have been thumbing through your site and am really blown away.  My wife and I have never really given major thought to the whole gay marriage (sorry if that sounded so blunt).  I do like to think that I am an open minded person, and my wife as well.  She is a very religious person but day by day living here in California acceptance and new ideas are always around us, and in the same subject we asked ourselves tonight that if we were on y’alls end of the stick and someone told us that we could not get married even though we love each other, and ultimately it is an expression legally of how we feel about each other… I also have really been intrigued with a lot of your other writings and would like to add you as a friend.  I wanted to send you this message to ask you if that would be alright, since I did come onto your site and threw a lot of bigotry out in the first couple of lines. I would like to apologize for not being open to the subject for debate from the get go, the proposition does not affect me or do me any harm, I know that you should be able to express yourself just as my wife and I do. Thank you for replying to my silly posts and I would love to hear more from you.

It take a mighty big person to be open to new ideas, to challenge his or her own beliefs, and to evolve his or her world view.  Speaking from my own perspective, I know exactly how hard being open-minded is.  Many times I fail despite my attempts.  So I have tremendous respect for people who are big enough and confident enough to recognize the opportunity to learn and grow from others.

To all of you who participated in that discussion, or who have otherwise promoted civilized, thoughtful debate in the virtual and real worlds, thank you for your contribution to dialogue and understanding.  And thank you for being a big person.

 

My first attempt at making pasta

Each foodie, each weekend kitchen warrior who has dreams of being a chef, has recipe equivalents of the Himalaya mountains.  Recipes that seems so intimidating and so difficult that we can only wonder if we will ever have the skill and the will necessary to tackle them.

Also, we can only wonder whether the people who share our kitchen will let us make as much of a mess as we might need to, in order to reach these culinary heights.

P1100764 For me, pasta is one of those summits.  Maybe not an Everest or K2, but certainly my Nanda Devi.  I know what you’re thinking: how hard can a dish with only three ingredients be?  Flour, a little salt, and eggs.  Maybe a splash of water if the eggs were small. 

But for years, I have wanted to try making my own pasta.  Would it really be as good as they say homemade pasta is? 

The opportunity finally came about when, after years of accumulating points through my business travels, my employer finally discontinued corporate membership in the American Express Rewards program.  Unsure what to do with the points and not wanting to redeem them for gift cheques, which carry half the value of gift certificates, I opted for a Williams Sonoma gift card.

Thankfully, Bruce was coming for a visit and was going to be traveling well short of the three-bag check-in limit.  So he kindly agreed to lug the extra fifteen pounds of pasta roller attachments I ordered for my trusty Kitchen Aid stand mixer.

Unfortunately, we did not have the opportunity to mess up the kitchen, er… make pasta, while Bruce was here.  So I had to scale the culinary heights on my own.

For those of you without the patience to watch the YouTube version of this adventure, here’s the story:

Using the mixer, I whipped up the dough easily enough.  You combine the ingredient in the bowl, stir them with the paddle attachment for thirty seconds until they come together.  Then you knead them with the dough hook for about two minutes followed by another two minutes of hand kneading.  Then the dough sits for about twenty minutes.

Things that surprised me:

  • Unlike with pastry dough, flour is not your enemy.  In fact, you want the dough to be a bit dry so that it doesn’t gum up the rollers or cutters.
  • Pastry dough is very forgiving.  The first patch I cut was too soft and the cut fettucine clumped back together when piled in little nests.  No worries: I just pressed the noodles back together and started the rolling process again.
  • It was a little less of a mess than I expected, but you need lots of room (and lots of wax paper) to stretch out the dough and the cut noodles.  Maybe that’s what the dining table is for?  Or the clothes drying racks?

The rolling was easy enough.  You started at the widest setting and passed the dough through several times, folding it in thirds between each pass.

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The net effect of this is to further knead the dough, making a smooth, pliable and very resilient dough.  After about five passes, I turned the knob to the next smaller setting and sent the dough through two more times, this time without folding the dough between passes.

I continued the process until we reached the fifth setting (having started at the first setting).  According to the recipe in the manual, fettucine should be at the fourth or fifth setting.  In the end, I think it could have gone to the sixth setting without any problem.

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Switching to the wide cutting attachment, the dough sliced easily enough.  As mentioned before, the fresher dough stuck together after cutting.  But the pieces I allowed to air dry for a bit before cutting stayed in lovely separate strands.  Again, unlike pastry dough, a little drying is a good thing.

After creating some fresh pesto (large bunches of basil are about US$ 0.20 here!), I boiled the noodles.  Fresh pasta cooks fast!  In three minutes or so, I was draining the noodles and stirring in the pesto.  Topping the pasta was a fillet of salmon, baked in parchment paper with a simple salt and pepper seasoning.

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So the obvious question: was it worth it?

Well, the pasta was delicious and it had a texture that was much nicer than any dried pasta.  I don’t know if I would spend the hour preparing fresh pasta for the everyday weeknight dinner.  But since fresh pasta can store refrigerated in an airtight container for a few days, I could easily make a double or triple batch on the weekend and save it for the weeknights.

Also, I’ve very curious to try ravioli and lasagna with the fresh pasta, both of which I think will be amazing.  Stay tuned for that.

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As a dessert, I pulled together a farmer style peach pie.  I confess, I used frozen pastry dough and peaches.  But it was delicious!

 

Traditional Thai Margaritas

P1100761 Late in the week, we received a call from Biing, who had finally arrived from Taiwan with his mother and brother.  It has been only about half a year since Biing arrived from New York with Sally and Malcolm.  Nice to have him return so soon.

After meeting for dinner, we decided to go for a drink at one of the hotels with a view.  A little pricey, yes, but a nice experience.  But then Tawn noticed that Biing was wearing flip flops, a no-no in nice hotels’ dress codes.

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So we switched plans and went to the hotel next to his, ending up at the most incongruous of restaurants: Senor Pico.  This grand-daddy of Krungthep’s Mexican restaurants was almost completely empty except for a band of Latinas playing upbeat music that seemed forlorn in such a large and empty space.

We tucked into a corner table away from the racket and enjoyed a small pitcher of very strong margaritas.  Biing shared many thoughtful gifts with us, including a bottle of cashew fruit liqueur from South America. 

After a nice visit, we dropped Biing at his hotel.  He and his family will continue their journey around Thailand and we’ll hopefully see him on the return leg.

Yet another guest!

 

“I am a Muslim”

Zakiah I think a number of you read Zakiah’s (ZSA_MD) blog, but if you don’t, I’d encourage you to stop by.  Not only does she write beautiful poetry and share stories of her fascinating childhood in India, she speaks eloquently about her beliefs as a Muslim. 

Most of my Muslim friends are not very devout, so I rarely get to hear them talk about their beliefs and how their beliefs measure up against the way they are represented in the western media.

Recently, Zakiah gave a speech in the community where she spent her career as a doctor, and in it she talks about the misconceptions surrounding Islam and, particularly, the term “jihad”.

I encourage you to stop by and read excerpts of that speech which is included in her entry here.

 

Health & Cuisine

As a public relations professional, Tawn keeps up his contacts with editors and reporters at various publications.  These contacts are invaluable to help his clients receive coverage and attract press attention when media events are held.

Not only do these contacts scratch Tawn’s back: he also has the opportunity to scratch theirs.  Especially with the lifestyle media, there is always a desire to find new stories, new people to profile, new angles to cover.

Health 1 This summer, the editor of Elle Decoration suggested that the food editor of Health & Cuisine magazine give Tawn a call.  Tawn has written for Elle and our condo was featured in an issue earlier this year.  The editor of Health & Cuisine was looking for people to profile in his “Men’s Cooking” column.

Tawn not only provided some suggestions of names but also offered up his own, since in the PR business, some self-publicity helps build your personal brand and makes you more valuable to clients.

After two rounds of having our condo photographed, I was not too keen on yet another shoot and another layer of publicity.  Tawn assured me, though, that the story would remain focused just on his professional profile and on a particular recipe he would prepare.

In the week heading up to the shoot, Tawn scrambled to perfect a recipe for salmon en papillote – salmon baked in a parchment paper pouch – as well as a recipe for an accompanying cous cous salad.  We ate a lot of salmon and cous cous that week.

The photographer and his assistant showed up on a Thursday, which was a Buddhist holiday in Thailand.  They worked quickly and within ninety minutes, the shoot was done.

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After the shoot was over, the editorial assistant was chatting with Tawn about our kitchen remodel.  Before I knew it, they were excitedly pouring through our drawers, looking at the different kitchen tools I have.

The assistant explained that they also have a “Cooking Tools” column and were running out of tools about which to write.  Would I mind if they borrowed some of them for upcoming issues?

A couple of months later, I’m still without those tools.  Tawn tells me they have been returned by the magazine editor and are sitting at his office.  Maybe one day they will be returned to my kitchen drawers.

Two months after the shoot, our issue came out with a mango and dragon fruit tart on the cover. 

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The pictures turned out quite nice, I think.  Much better than my picture of the photo shoot, below.  The article basically reads as follows.  Let me know if you want the recipes.

Urban Dweller’s Kitchen: Salmon Cooked in Paper

Urban living is marked by a busy schedule and a hectic routine, not leaving much time to focus on yourself and your well-being.  But Khun Tawn is one of those people who doesn’t let the fast-paced life of an urban professional overwhelm him.

“I think cooking is a happiness that comes from sharing good things with others, hearing their delight when they try my food really adds spice to my life.”

The selected menu today is Salmon en Papillote with French cooking technique using a parchment paper pouch to trap the aroma and keep the fish moist.  The side is cous cous salad with Mediterranean ingredients, something light and easy to modify with different ingredients of your choosing.  Most importantly, these two dishes are simple.  Just like Khun Tawn says, you can easily make them right after you wake up.

We can see that everyone has twenty-four hours a day of crazy urban living, but at the end of the day it is all about the choices we make: work crazy or care about your health.

 

Here’s my photo from the shoot:

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What about those kitchen tools that went missing?  Well, near the back of the same issue I found a familiar picture (left).  Then the following month, I checked the issue and found yet another one (right).  As near as I can tell, there is one left.

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Do you know what they are?

 

Patrapa and Suriyon’s Wedding

P1100721 With all this recent talk about same-sex marriage, I thought I’d go old-school and write about different-sex… er, “traditional” marriage.  You know, the kind with a man and a woman. 

Last Saturday Tawn and I attended the wedding of his university friend Patrapa and her groom Suriyon.  To avoid any confusion here in a Saturday Night Live skit sort of way, the bride is “Pat” and the groom is “Yon”. 

Pat studied her postgraduate degree in the US, just like Tawn.  In fact, she came and visited us in San Francisco but I was out of town on business. 

Unlike every other Thai wedding we’ve been to, this was a Catholic wedding.  For once, I felt more familiar with the ceremony than 95% of the guests.  Quite a turn of events!

We started with the church service at 1:00 at the beautiful Assumption Cathedral, located on the same soi as the Oriental Hotel, around the corner from the old French embassy, in the Bangrak district.  This was the first part of the city to have a paved road – Thanon Charoen Khrung (“New Road”) – and during the early 1900’s was the European quarter.

The cathedral is beautiful, done in clean lines with a brick facade.  The interior is every bit as colorful as the Grand Palace but instead of Buddhist and Brahman mosaics there are paintings of Christ, Mary, and the saints.

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There is no air conditioning but all the side windows are open-air and there was an army of fans agitating the heat.  With the natural rainy season breeze, it was actually very pleasant.

Since it was an afternoon wedding, Tawn wore white and a hat.  Sharp, huh?

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When we arrived at the church, we ran into many friends including one of Pat’s bridesmaids, whose daughter was a flower girl.  Doesn’t she look look just like her mother?

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The service was, interestingly enough, conducted in English.  As near as I can tell, this is the lingua franca of this church.  Some instructions (the Catholic calisthenics – stand, sit, kneel, stand, kneel, sit, stand, sit again…) were given in Thai along with some explanation such as the ritual of holy communion. 

Other than that, though, I was in much better shape, thanks to my Jesuit education, than most of my fellow attendees.  Listening to the responses of the participants, it is safe to say that very few of them are Catholic.

P1100685 I was thinking about the language issue and all of the Catholic weddings I’ve attended in the past twelve years or so have been in English plus another language: Ryan and Sabrina had a Cantonese-speaking priest and Liliana and Earl had a trilingual service (Tagalog, Spanish and English), for example.

Proof of the Catholic Church’s ability to insinuate itself into cultures around the world, I suppose.

Based on the number of photographers and videographers in the picture above, you might think this wedding was a big deal.  And you would be correct.  It seems that Pat’s father is a bit of a puu yai – “big person” – and was, among other things, a high ranking official in the finance ministry.  In fact, that evening, the host of the reception was His Majesty the King’s personal secretary, who handles all of his charitable activities.

Chalk another one up for our “hi-so” social life.  Ha ha…

As the bride and groom walked down the aisle and out the church, everyone showered them with rose petals as the press corps snapped pictures and shot footage.

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That evening, we returned to Thanon Charoen Khrung for the reception, held in the ballroom of the venerable Oriental Hotel.  On the way, we picked up another university friend, Fluck, who lives with his partner Bobby a few blocks away from us.

Jumping out of the car, who did we run into in front of the hotel?  Otto and Han, fresh in from Singapore, meeting with several other friends.  They were a bit surprised as were we!  Thankfully, I was able to meet up with them a few days later.

DSCN0417 The reception was amazing.  More than a thousand guests with a live jazz band including a wonderful female vocalist who sang all the standards.  Later on, the emcee joined in the singing, with his beautiful baritone voice. 

Right: Me and Tawn at the evening reception.  Blurry picture courtesy of Ko.  Time to get her a new camera, Santa.

The spread of food was bottomless: tables set around the room’s perimeter offered everything from made-to-order Thai food to western roasts to soups, Japanese tempura and sushi, and Chinese dim sum.  The center of the room was dotted with tables overflowing with appetizers and desserts.  Waiters circulated like ferries on the Chao Phraya River, gracefully weaving around the guests, picking up your empty plates and glasses and discreetly handing you new ones.

While there we ran into six or seven other university classmates, several of whom I’ve met before.  They are all very nice people, many of them with adorable young children in tow.

About ten o’clock we left the reception and headed to Silom Road to meet up with a group of friends who were celebrating one friend’s impending departure.  After drinks, we returned to the Oriental to meet in the Bamboo Bar with a professional colleague of Tawn’s, an expat American who after twelve years in Japan came to Thailand to manage a retail group that has the rights to the Barbara Barry, Martha Stewart Living and Thomasville brands.  There’s an interesting story I could share about our relationship with the Martha Stewart store, but I won’t.

This was the most social of evenings we’ve had in a long time.  By the time we pulled into home at 1:00, we were exhausted.