Trip to the Black Pearl Phuket

A weekend on the beach in Phuket.  What a nice way to get away.  Our good fortune was that Tawn’s cousin Fon won a voucher for a free three-day, two-night stay at the Black Pearl, a three-unit condo on Mai Khao Beach in Phuket.  Since the condo is not particularly young child friendly – unsafe edges everywhere – Fon generously gave the voucher to us.

After a few scheduling hiccups, we coordinated with Ben, Jason and Kobfa to join us for a weekend getaway at this beautiful property.

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This is only the second time I’ve been to Phuket.  Previously, I didn’t hold the highest opinion of the island because on our first visit we stayed in Patong, the heavily touristy area that, despite its pretty beach, reflects all the excesses and undesirable aspects of tourism.

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The Black Pearl is located on Mai Khao (“white tree” – i.e. birch) Beach on the north tip of the island, at least a forty minute drive away from the tourist resorts of Patong and the main town of Phuket.  In fact, Black Pearl is on an isolated stretch of beach with no other development immediately around it. 

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There are three owners, friends with each other, of this three-unit condo complex.  Two units are on the main floor with master bedrooms on the back side of the top floor.  The third unit is entirely on the front part of the top floor.  Above is a picture of the outdoors dining area for our unit.  This place is gorgeous and was a lot more enjoyable than some five-star resort because it felt like home and was many times more private.

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The infinity-edge pool on the main floor, overlooking the beach.

We arrived on Friday night about 7:00 and drove down to Phuket town to meet up with Stuart and Piyawat, who moved to Phuket a half year ago.  We had an amazing dinner at an Italian restaurant.  This meal deserves its own entry which I’ll add soon.

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Saturday we lounged around the house all day.  Biscuits, bacon and eggs in the morning with lots of coffee.  Sunning, swimming, walks on the beach, listening to music and enjoying the perfect weather and cooling breezes.

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There is a caretaker family that lives on the ground floor.  They are very friendly and helpful.  You can send the maid to the market with some money and she’ll buy food and prepare all sorts of Thai food.  We went with her, selecting the food ourselves for a grand seafood feast.  Above, the maid, Tawn and Kobfa select veggies.

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Fresh (and huge) prawns.  These were ridiculously inexpensive.

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Fresh fish anyone?  We ended up buying a few red snappers from another vendor and stuffing them with herbs and grilling them in a coat of coarse salt.   

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In the kitchen, Tawn puts the finishing touches on the Tom Yum Goong (spicy shrimp soup).  The maid did most of the work and then left him to adjust the seasoning.  It was really tasty.

While the cooking was going on, we enjoyed a most amazing sunset, shown here in three pictures each taken about ten minutes apart.

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In the final picture, you can just make out the lights of shrimp boats on the horizon.

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The maid’s husband did the grilling, including these gorgeous shrimp, a few large squid, and the salt-crusted fish.  The homemade nam chim chili dipping sauce was fantastic!

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Sitting around the table before digging in to our seafood feast: Jason and Ben, Kobfa, Chris and Tawn, Piyawat and Stuart, and Noi, one of the owners of our unit.  Noi and his partner Pat came down for the weekend and stayed in the upstairs unit which is owned by a friend of theirs.  Very nice couple and they joined us for dinner and then for Sunday brunch, too.

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Noi and Pat playing with their “guard” dog Sing.  Their two dogs were former strays and both look and act very vicious when you first see them.  About ten seconds later they are your new best friends, very friendly and well-behaved.

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Sunday morning we awoke to the sound of rain.  It was overcast and drizzly until about 9:00 after which the sun broke through and we had another beautiful day.

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Jason looks on as Tawn does some yoga.  Tawn thinks he resembles an embryo in this pose.  He has one of the most flexible bodies and is able to do poses I would never be able to do no matter how much I practiced.

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Harking back to the attempt at Parmesan Biscuits a few weeks ago, I made a modified recipe that turned out much better.  I’m going to make one more attempt at it and once I’ve perfected the recipe, will share it in a sperate entry.  They biscuits had smoked salmon and arugula again.  Very tasty.

I’ll do a few more entries about some of the other things we did while in Phuket.  Needless to say, it was a relaxing weekend.  If you are planning a trip to Thailand, especially in a group of 4-6 people, I’d strongly recommend that you consider staying at the Black Pearl.  If you do contact them, please let them know that you heard about it from Tawn and Chris.  

 

Quick Quick Danger

New Singapore band Quick Quick Danger describe themselves as “powerpop laced with phaaaaat electronic beats, 80’s inspired synthesizers and witty dueling vocals.” 

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Their first four tracks, two of which are downloadable for free, are catchy, including this cover of Jay Sean’s “Down”.  Now, this might now appeal to all of you, but if you like powerpop laced with phaaaat electronic beats and 80’s inspired synths, then you might enjoy checking it out.

They are on MySpace and Facebook, too.  Thanks to Angry Asian Man Phil Yu for writing about QQD first.

 

Bagels – Attemps 1 and 2

bagel1.gif My desire to understand different foods and dishes by learning how to make them is an unquenchable thirst.  Not a week goes by without the thought of, “Oh, I wonder how you make that?”  In the back of my mind right now, I’m wondering how to make French fries, homemade corned beef (for Reuben sandwiches, of course) and fork-and-knife baby back ribs.  Last week the question was about bagels, so I set off to try and make them.

I’ve been to New York countless times and eaten a good number of tasty bagels.  Still, I wouldn’t claim to be an expert of what, exactly, makes for a good bagel.  I started out Googling “what makes a good bagel” and found this interesting NY Times article that explores good bagels in each of the boroughs.  I also searched a number of different “authentic” bagel recipes in order to see what the common ingredients and techniques are.

Once I felt like I had a good basic understanding of what a bagel should be and how to achieve that ideal, I promptly did exactly the wrong thing.  I started to improvise.  This is my failing both as a cook and as a good student.  Instead of learning (and mastering) the fundamentals, I rush into the improvisation.  The problem, of course, is that one cannot effectively improvise if you don’t know the fundamentals.  But that has never stopped me!

 

First Batch

“Ugh!” I thought, “I don’t want to spend a lot of time kneading the dough.  Why don’t I just ditch the bagel recipe I have and use a basic white bread recipe from the “Kneadlessly Simple” book of kneadless breads?”

Anyone else would have recognized that as the recipe for disaster that it turned out to be.  I, however, just had to try.  As such, my first batch of bagels fell flat… literally.

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Everything seemed to be okay at the start.  The dough did a cold rise overnight, sitting in a bowl beneath my bedroom air conditioner.  In the morning I measured out three-ounce balls (referencing the NY Times article that suggested that bagels were probably better back in the day that three ounces were the standard serving size instead of today’s four-ounce and larger sizes).

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The dough shaped into nice, bagel-looking rounds and puffed up beautifully in the second rise.  The problem is, the dough was too hydrated.  In other words, too wet.  So they stuck not only to each other but also to the oiled parchment paper.

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By the time I pulled them off and put them in the pot of gently boiling water, they were mangled and deflated.  Their surfaces, instead of forming a nice smooth skin, were cragly.  Undaunted, I finished boiling them and then threw them on a tray and into the oven.

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The end result was, as I mentioned before, sort of flat.  They tasted great and had a nice chewy texture.  More like a bialy, actually, but without the onion.  But they were ugly and didn’t have the qualities that one expects in a bagel.  Namely, looking like a bagel.

 

Second Batch

Never one to shy away from failure, I decided to try again the next day, this time – gasp! – following a recipe.  It was titled “Authentic Jewish Bagels” so I felt like it could be trusted.  Since I didn’t want to feed an army, I did cut the recipe in half.

This time, I did the kneading by hand instead of trying a kneadless method, although I think the kneadless method could still work.  The dough came out with a much lower hydration, which was good.

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In case you are curious how to make the holes, I use the “hole-centric” method.  You flatten the center of the ball slightly and then work your finger through the dough to make a hole.  You then spin the dough around your finger a few times and it forms a nice bagel shape.

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Despite the drier dough, I took no chances.  These babies were put on a well-floured board.  They still didn’t have quite as smooth an exterior as I wanted but over the next thirty minutes, they rose nicely.

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Back to the boiling pot.  This time I didn’t have any troubles handling the bagels so when they went into the pot, they remained inflated and even puffed up some more.  After about one minute on each side, I quickly drained them on a dish towel then put them into the oven.

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The end results of attempt one (on the left) and attempt two (on the right).  As you can see, the second attempt was much better.  With the humid weather here in Thailand, they crispness of the crust quickly gave way to a softer texture, but they were still very nice.

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The ultimate test was to toast them and use them in a curried chicken salad and spinach sandwich.  There’s still some work to be done to get the bagels a little chewier, but I’m very happy with the way they turned out nonetheless.

 

Cycling to Recycle

Throughout the year the Thailand Cycling Club conducts many different charity events.  They collect and repair old bicycles, donating them to underprivileged children.  They raise money for various causes.  And they help recycle pull tabs from aluminum cans into artificial limbs and crutches for those without arms and legs.

After getting my bike rack fixed and taking my bicycle in for a much-needed service, I was ready to accept my friend Poom’s invitation to join TCC on this annual trek to bring the hundreds of thousands of pull tabs they’ve collected up to BCM – Bangkok Can Manufacturing – the largest maker of aluminum cans in the kingdom and one of the main drivers of the “pull tabs to limbs” charity.

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The meeting point was Suan Rot Fai (Railway Park), built on the old executive golf course for the State Railways of Thailand.  There were about 150 riders.  In addition to each of us carrying a pink back pack full of tabs, many riders were carting additional tabs using any means necessary, including this cart fashioned from PVC pipe.

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Me with my sporty pink back pack.  Notice that I’ve decided, despite the political unrest pitting the Yellow Shirts (royalists) against the Red Shirts (republicans), to go ahead and wear my yellow jersey this morning.  Hope I don’t get beaten up!

We set off from the park just after the national anthem was played at 8 am, as it is in public places all over the country.

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The route north took us past the old airport, Don Meuang, along a wide road that had light traffic and, unfortunately, not much shade.  On the 30-km route in the morning, the weather was still relatively cool and a little breezy, so the lack of shade wasn’t much of a problem.  Above, we make a stop at a petrol station to use the facilities.

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Poom figures we should wait at the “point assembly”.

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When we arrived at BCM’s factory (which is located across the street from one of the country’s largest indigenous beverage companies, Green Spot), the staff had chests of ice cold beverages for us including plenty of water.

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Above, our haul of pull tabs being piled up in the BCM parking lot. 

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A display in their lobby shows the products made from the recycled tabs and, presumably, cans.  I’m a little confused.  I’ve long believed that the tabs are made from a different metal than the cans themselves.  A little research on Snopes.com debunks this myth, explaining that the tabs are also aluminum and that the extra work to remove the tabs and handle them separately is wasted effort.

Nonetheless, the charity is being organized by the can manufacturing company, so I would think they must know what they are talking about when it comes to cans.  I will continue to set aside my pull tabs while recycling the rest of the can as normal.

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Instead the conference room with the air con at full blast, we watched a video presentation about BCM and then had some dignitaries speak.  An official presentation of the pull tabs was made by some representatives of the TCC.  Then it was time for entertainment.  After the group sang an a capella version of the royal anthem (that’s HM the King on the portrait they’re holding), a young man who is the recipient of two artificial legs made through this recycling program spoke to us.  He expressed how much having these artificial limbs had improved his quality of life.  Then he put on his guitar and, strapping a pick on his handless left arm, led us through a popular song about having courage.  Snippet in the video below.

Afterwards, the group posed for pictures.

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At this point we were all set to roll out for lunch at nearby restaurants along the Rangsit Canal.  Unfortunately, we discovered that Poom’s rear tire had a flat.  So while the rest of the group road ahead, Poom and I stayed to repair the flat with the help of two other riders.  While he was carrying a patch kit, we were fortunate that there are more expert riders who carry larger pumps and better equipment.

After lunch we started our route back.  Riding through the town of Rangsit, two khatoey on the back of a motor bike called out to me, “Farang lor jang leuy!” as they sped by.

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Because it is rainy season and we’ve received a lot of precipitation, some of our route along the canal was flooded.  It took us a little longer to head home than it did to ride to the plant in the first place.  To top it off, I had to take a few breaks on the way back to cool down as the sun was really beating down by that point.

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Nonetheless, it was a wonderful ride and a very worthwhile cause.  Lots of fun!

 

Balloon Art World Challenge

Recently, the Balloon Art World Challenge was held at Central World Plaza.  One evening while we were there, I snapped some pictures.  Pretty creative work, I think.

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A large green dragon chases a samurai.

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Japanese dolls.

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Chinese lions and a lucky dragon.

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Marilyn by Warhol.

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Another dragon takes over the stage.

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Model wearing a balloon dress.

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Tawn and Piyawat.

 

My Parents’ Response

Most of you (some 200+) had already read the final installment in my coming out saga by the time my parents left a comment.  Instead of pointing you back to that entry, I’d like to share their comment with you here.  My mother wrote it:

1970-12-01Me and my parents in December 1970

“It’s my turn to respond. The thought that one of our children would have this sexual orientation was the farthest thing from our minds when you sat down to tell us. Your readers need to know, however, that our Christian beliefs led us to understand that if we are to follow the teachings of our faith, we must love each person in our lives for who they are, not because they fit some pre-condition that allows them to be loved or not to be loved.

 

“When you came out to us, while unexpected, it was not something to reject you for, but to realize that we had a journey to take together…you needed to continue your self discovery; we needed to discover how, as your parents, to support you while allowing you the space for your own discoveries. Once Dad and I became comfortable with our place in this journey, we were then able to take a stand with the rest of the family and invite them to join us or go their own way.

 

“You shared several things I didn’t know, but am happy that you felt comfortable sharing them. We would have been devastated if you had followed through with that suicide attempt. I wasn’t totally oblivious to a struggle going on with you, but probably chalked it up to being a teenager. Could we have helped if we had known what you were experiencing? I don’t know. Our individual road sometimes needs people helping us along the way other than our parents…hard to take as a parent, but we are too close to the situation most of the time for objectivity. Fortunately, you made choices that led you to a full life, including seeking out people to walk with you.

 

Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for the opportunity to add my ten cents worth.”

I was going to ask them to guest author an entry, but they beat me to it by commenting.

The Agonies of My Thule Bicycle Rack

A few weeks ago I wrote about my participation in Car Free Day 2009.  Some 5,000 cyclists came together for the event.  On my way back from the event, my rear wheel punctured a few blocks from home.  I didn’t have a spare tube handy and needed to go to the bike shop to buy one.  Since I’ve had the bicycle for three years and haven’t yet brought it in for service, I figured I would kill two proverbial birds with one stone.

All I had to do was repair the broken parts on my Thule bicycle rack.

You may recall that in February, Peter, Stuart and I went for a bike ride in Minburi, east of Krungthep, and our ride unexpectedly doubled in length when the bicycle rack failed on the way home.  Tawn drove out in a taxi and took the car and rack home while the three of us rode the extra thirty kilometers back.

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The rack, made by Swedish manufacturer Thule, is the model shown above.  It is adjustable, attaches to the rear of your car, and – according to the picture – can hold three bicycles.  In reality, the plastic pieces that hold the metal arms perpendicular bent under the weight of our three bicycles, causing the rack to collapse and the bicycle tires to drag on the road.

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Here’s a closer view of the schematics showing how the metal arms assemble using this plastic disc to hold them.  The arrows indicate the edge that failed.

Not wanting to throw out an otherwise usable (and expensive) piece of equipment, I started the process of finding replacement parts.  Unable initially to find a local number, I tried the North America customer service number, which connected me with someone in Quebec.  He searched for the model number and said it wasn’t in their database.  After taking my email address so he could do more research, Thierry responded a few days later that he couldn’t locate any information for that model.  Dead end.

Asking around at a few local bicycle shops, I learned that Thule actually had a company store in the Central World Plaza mall.  Sure enough, it was an emporium of racks.  Speaking with the person working there, he confirmed that such a replacement part did exist in the system, but it could take more than four months to receive from Sweden.  He told me this in a way that suggested he wasn’t keen to actually order it.

That seemed a bit ludicrous.  I returned to the Thule website and found an email address for a regional sales manager in SE Asia.  After a returned email – “This address not valid.” – I tried the Thule global customer service address.  A few days later a response finally arrived.  It was the form of a carbon copy of a message to another regional sales manager and the person in charge of the local store, gently admonishing them for making it so difficult for me to get the replacement part.

As the regional manager promised, the part was waiting for me four weeks later at the local shop.  The cost – about US$ 4.00 per part.

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The old part still in place.  Note the damage in the lower left side.

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Comparison of the new part, left, and the old part.  Interesting to notice that they actually changed the structural design of the part.  I wonder if this is just a different manufacturing process or a response to a design flaw?

Even thought I received the spare parts several months ago, there hadn’t been a need to transport my bicycle anywhere by car since then.  Now that I had a need, I finally got myself into gear and ten minutes later had changed the parts.

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New parts installed, bicycle with flat rear tire loaded up for the drive to the shop.

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A snail demonstrating the speed at which I would have traveled if I had not had the bicycle rack repaired and had had to walk the bike to the shop instead!

$60 later, my bicycle has been cleaned up, tuned up, had the cables, chain, brakes and sprockets replaced, and is ready to ride again.  And I have a working rack once more.