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.

 

Coming Out – Final Chapter

Continued from Chapter 3

“I have to tell you something. And I want to you know that if I didn’t love you so much, I wouldn’t share this with you…”

I don’t remember who responded first. In my memory, it is as if my parents spoke simultaneously, when they said – in reference to the third college I was already attending – “Oh, we thought you were going to tell us you wanted to change schools again.” As if that would have been the most devastating news I could have shared. No, nothing that important.

I grew up in a very religious family, one where there was no discussion of homosexuality and one where we didn’t know anyone who was gay.  Because of that and because of the conflicts I had had with my father, I didn’t know exactly what to expect.  My worst fears and expectations never materialized.  At that moment – well, after the statement about changing schools – my parents said exactly the right things. They told me that their biggest concern was that I was happy and they would love me and accept me for whomever I was. Truly, I couldn’t have asked for anything more supportive than that.

To this day, I don’t know the full story of what my parents’ feelings and reactions were. Each of them has shared a little bit with me about the other’s reaction, but I’ve never asked in detail. I’m sure for them that it was a shock, something they probably didn’t see coming, and something that they had to struggle with in order to arrive at a full understanding.

For both my parents, with their strong roots in the Christian faith, praying and soul-searching was probably necessary. For my father, a consummate perfectionist and the type of person who spends a half-dozen years researching cars before finally buying a new one, a lot of reading and research was necessary for him to understand what all this really meant. Continue reading

Coming Out – Chapter 3

Continued from Chapter 2

In the space of the next few days, I turned a lot of thoughts over in my head. In the form of this relationship, I had found a vessel to carry me away from the uncertainty and anguish of my high school years. Now, I felt like I had been thrown off the side of the ship and had no land in sight. How long could I stay afloat?

After much deliberation, I came to a stark realization that if I were going to continue living, I had to come to terms with who I really was. There could be no more lies, there could be no more hoping for the right girl. The problem was I didn’t know how to find my way towards the door of a closet from which I desperately needed to escape.

I decided to quit UC Riverside and move back home. In fact, I still have the list of pros and cons I used to help me make this decision. In the next few weeks, I canceled my tuition for the autumn term, sublet my apartment lease, arranged to transfer my job and applied for school at Santa Clara University, a small Jesuit school a few miles from my parents’ home.

For all the pros and cons, there was one primary reason I chose to move back. Continue reading

Coming Out – Chapter 2

Continued from Chapter 1

During the final two years of high school, I had my first concrete thoughts of myself as a possible homosexual. As I started dating girls and gaining an adolescent awareness of my sexuality, it became clearer to me that while I had feelings for those girls, the feelings were not the same as the thoughts I was having about other boys. This recognition did not just suddenly shift into focus but was something that I realized over time. 

It is the same feeling as when you are putting together a picture puzzle and you manage to fit two pieces together, but deep down you know that the fit isn’t exact.  You’ve forced it.  Slowly, I recognized that the fit wasn’t right, that I was forcing it.  And this recognition was filled with self-hatred.  I remember thinking, maybe I am like that but even if I am, I would certainly never act on it!

It is hard to convey the anguish I felt, a sense of disappointment in myself that was so great that I came very close to committing suicide. Reflecting back on this time of my life, it is a little embarrassing to share. It seems so over-dramatic and is such a poor example of the person I’ve become. But at that time, the pain of self-hatred, of fear of being different, consumed me to such a great degree that I thought that ending my life might be the only option. Continue reading

Coming Out – Chapter 1

Introduction here

Coming out in seventh grade?  I can scarcely imagine coming out in my early teens, but it seems that more and more young people in America are recognizing and vocalizing their sexual identity at an ever-earlier age.  The NY Times Sunday Magazine did an in-depth story on this interesting phenomenon in late September.

The author of the article, who is also gay, had a hard time believing that people as young as 12 and 13 could possibly be self-aware enough to recognize their attraction to people of the same sex.  But, as he pointed out, he was engaging in a double standard. When 12 and 13 year-olds express their interest in members of the opposite sex, we don’t think anything about this is odd.  Why then would we think that someone that young couldn’t recognize their attraction to someone of the same sex?

Certainly, at that age I was starting to recognize those attractions in myself, even though I lacked the language to describe them.  Young people these days have a much more positive image of gays and lesbians thanks to increased visibility in the media and the powerful influence of the internet and social networking sites.

If you asked me at what age I first knew I was gay, Continue reading

Who Am I?

“Who am I?”  Meg, a DC-based blogger whose entries I always look forward to, took up the challenge from another blogger a few months back and wrote an entry answering that question.  Finding it an interesting challenge, I sat down and drafted my own answer to the question, “Who am I?”  I’ve never posted the response, but it led me to an interesting observation.  My being gay plays a much larger role in defining who I am than I expected.

2009-10-09Had you asked me before how big a part of my life being gay is, I would have said that it is just a part of who I am, not the whole thing.  While that is still true, I realize that the experience of struggling to come to terms with that aspect of myself has influenced many areas of my life and much of how I look at the world.

Instead of being just one aspect of my life, something that can be neatly segregated from the rest in the way that a divided cafeteria tray keeps the jell-o salad away from the enchilada casserole, my gayness is a theme that underlies my life, much in the same way that the saltiness of fish sauce provides a critical but subtle note of flavor in nearly all Thai dishes.

Sexual orientation as condiment?  It is either a brilliant metaphor or a crass one; I’ll let you decide.  Regardless, because it is such an underlying aspect of my life, I want to share a story with you.  I want to tell you my coming out story.

Coming out stories are something of a currency within the gay culture.  Being attracted to someone of the same sex, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily the criterion that makes for a cohesive community.  But the nearly universal experience of recognizing your difference and then blindly finding a path through the darkness to the closet door is a common theme for all of us, whether gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered.

Another blogger to whom I subscribe recently wrote that he doesn’t see why gay people need to announce that they are gay.  From his perspective, straight people don’t announce they are straight.  Why can’t we all be who we are, without having to share it with the world?  While I agree with his goal – universal acceptance – I disagree with his premise that straight people don’t announce they are straight.  There are markers aplenty that send the message that you are straight, from wedding rings to photos of your spouse on your cubicle wall.  When you are in the closet, you have to use fake markers or deception in order to avoid sending out unintended messages.  It can be stressful and tiring to constantly undertake such subterfuge.

Over the next few days, I’ll share my coming out story in the course of four chapters.  People who read this blog who know me personally have heard some parts of this story.  Few, I suspect, have heard the whole thing.  Among other readers, these next four chapters may provoke a wide range of feelings and reactions.  Some readers have had very little exposure to gay people.  Others have different attitudes than I about the rightness of homosexuality.  Others are still, to one degree or another, in the closet.  I look forward to discussing your feelings and reactions and invite you to share them.

Meanwhile, thank you for indulging me as I share this story and take a short break for cooking, travel and Thai culture entries.

Part 1 of the story begins here.

Crispy Parmesan Biscuits with Smoked Salmon

About a month ago, Gary wrote an entry which documented another of W’s culinary exploits.  The recipe in question was Crispy Parmesan Biscuits served with lemon butter, smoked salmon and rocket (arugula).  The photos turned out wonderfully (no surprise there) and since I’m a biscuit man, I decided to try the recipe.

When it comes to biscuits, there are many schools of thought.  I was raised on a rolled, buttermilk baking powder biscuit.  But I enjoy exploring other types.  This Food Network recipe is also has buttermilk and baking soda, but uses butter and olive oil instead of shortening, also has some corn meal in it, and is formed as a drop biscuit.  Different textures, to be sure.  It also has a hefty 5.5 ounces of grated Parmesan cheese!

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The precooked biscuits, with flecks of green onion, looked appetizing.  I wasn’t sure how large to make them.  I also didn’t know how much they would spread out so I baked them in two batches instead of one.  As it turns out, they don’t spread so much as they puff up, so fitting them more tightly on the tray would have been fine.

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Fresh out of the oven, they had a lovely, cheesy smell.  I let them cool on a rack, as instructed, before slicing and making the little sandwiches.  While they cooled, I prepared the lemon butter, combining a healthy dose of lemon jest with softened butter.

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The finished product, probably a little skimpy on the rocket and the salmon.  They look great, but I have to tell you, they were a mess.  The biscuits are very crumbly because of the use of liquid fat and butter instead of a solid shortening.  Shortening = flakiness, butter = flavor + light crumble, oil = fine crumb.  Also, the biscuits themselves were oily to the point of being greasy.  I followed the recipe precisely, but wanted to stop and wash my hands after every few bites, they were so oily.

The flavor combination was excellent, though.  Parmesan and buttermilk, the zest of the lemon, fatty smokiness the salmon, bitter crunch of the rocket.  Wanting to perfect this, or at least get a heck of a lot better, I’m going to revisit this recipe in the next few weeks.  I’ll start instead with my biscuit recipe, and substitute in some of the ideas from the Food Network’s recipe and see if we can get something that has the same flavor profile but with more structure.

Stay tuned for the results of that…