Chris’ Fashion Blog

Since Tawn blogs about fashion I thought that maybe I should try it, too.  I’ll take a “man on the street” perspective.  After all, if we’re to believe the stereotypes, should I be really keen on fashion? 

Here is Exhibit A in my new project: a man waiting on the Skytrain platform with a gold shoulder bag that has a built in boom box.  Well, more like a boomette box.

P1220114

Is that not just the height of fashion?  I tell you, if I thought I could pull off that look, you just know I would.  Sadly, I look dorky even with just an iPod.

 

Two New Blogrings

How useful do you find blogrings?  Over the past four-plus years, I’ve met a lot of people with similar interests that way.  From Foreign Film Buffs to I’m Addicted to NPR to Confessions of a Foodie, I’ve found blogrings to be a fun way to meet other Xangans.

Search Blogrings

One Xangan whom I recently met, Amanda, is new to Xanga.  After years of blogging on other services and being frustrated with the attitudes and manners of people she met there, she decided to come to Xanga.  Commenting on one of her first posts, I shared the names of several fellow Xangans whose writing I really enjoy.  I also told her that one of my favorite things about Xanga is the sense of connection and community that I’ve found here.

In order to connect with more people, Amanda decided to start two blogrings.  The first one is called AAA Blogring for Newcomers.  While designed as a place for new Xangans to meet other new Xangans, you certainly don’t have to be new to Xanga to join.  (Heck, I’m a member of Thai People and I’m not Thai!) 

Her second blogring is called UK 50+.  Targeting bloggers of a certain age who live in the United Kingdom, of course everyone is welcome.  If you are wise beyond your years, a speaker of the Queen’s English, or simply think that cookies should be called biscuits (sorry, stereotypes…) you will fit in at the UK 50+ blogring very nicely!

I’ve joined both blogrings and invite you to join them, too.

 

Phranakhorn Neighborhood

In the past few weeks I’ve had to take several trips into the “old city”, the part of Krungthep (Bangkok) that is on or adjacent to Rattanakosin Island.  Located at a bend in the Chao Phraya River, Rattanakosin Island was created when King Rama I moved the capital of Siam from the west side of the river in Thonburi to the more defensible west side.  He ordered a canal dug running roughly north-to-south and thus turned this portion of the west bank into an island.

Many of the most famous sights in Krungthep – the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, for example – are located on Rattanakosin Island.  Of course you would be hard pressed to know it is an island as the roads cross the narrow canal so quickly and subtly that you just transition from one congested part of the city to another.  But, yes indeed, you are on an island.

Squeezed between Rattanakosin Island and Yaowarat (Chinatown) is the Phranakhorn neighborhood.  This is the location of the Old Siam shopping center, which houses three stories of shops specializing mostly in silk.  The alleys radiating through this neighborhood (especially the three blocks of Soi Sampheng) are a treasure trove of adventures, especially if you like shopping for fabrics and associated knickknacks.

Here are some photos I took in and around the neighborhood:

P1220188

At one of the intersections on the edge of Chinatown, a surprisingly traffic-free moment.  That changed about two seconds later as the light going the other way turned green.  I think the light reflecting off the building created an interesting pattern.

P1220253

A typical corner in the Phranakhorn neighborhood.  You see traditional four-story shop houses alongside more modern structures.  Busses of many colors (the blue and red busses are not air conditioned) crowd the streets.

P1220250

The car park at Old Siam (which I previously didn’t realize they had!) offered some hazy views of famous sights in the old city.  Here are the roofs of the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

P1220257

Turning almost 180 degrees, you can see Wat Saket, known as the Golden Mount, perched atop the only hill in the greater metropolitan area.  This man-made hill came into being early in the 19th century when King Rama III commissioned the construction of a massive chedi (pagoda).  Unfortunately, it collapsed.  King Rama IV had the remains built into a hill with another chedi (the present one) built on top.

For years before the advent of skyscrapers, Golden Mount was the highest point in Krungthep and visitors would visit to take in the commanding view of the city and to enjoy the breezes.

P1220240

In the evening, driving back from the old city, this picture was taken just as the light turned green around the corner from the Hualamphong train station.

I hope you enjoyed the mini-tour.

 

Third Attempt at Macarons

Last May I learned how to make French macarons, the delicate sandwich cookies that are mostly meringue and almond flour.  The first attempt, while being a fun party as our friend Pat tried to teach us, didn’t turn out all that well.  The second attempt was better and I made a funny video in the process.  The third attempt this past Sunday finally encountered some success.

This time I used a different recipe, one that does not involve making an Italian meringue and then folding it into the almond flour mixture.  This helped a great deal because Italian meringues are a pain in the neck to make.

P1220306 P1220313

As you can see from the uncooked macarons on the left, they were much thicker and didn’t spread.  I attribute this to having left the egg whites in the refrigerator, uncovered, for two days before using them.  This allowed more water to evaporate and allowed for a more substantial whipped egg whites.  This means that the batter didn’t spread and so the cookies were thicker.

The finished macarons, right, have the signature “foot” around the base, caused when they rise.  This happened because I turned the air conditioning on well before starting baking, reducing the humidity in my condo.  This allowed the batter surface to form a dry skin within an hour so as the cookie baked the solid surface lifted and created the foot.

The other thing that turned out right: I let the cookies cool on the parchment.  That way, the bottoms of the cookies, which are very delicate, didn’t crush and expose the semi-hollow interior.  That’s another key step.

P1220317

They also had a nice sheen to them.  I’m not sure what caused that – probably the drying before baking.  This is a green tea macaron (no artificial coloring) with a passion fruit buttercream filling (a little artificial coloring).  The buttercream didn’t end up as thick as I’d like, so there’s still one more thing I have to master.

Still, I’m glad I have found a less labor-intensive way to make these and have mastered them.

 

God has given you the face of a lucky man – Epilogue Added

Epilogue Below – Tawn had an interesting experience on Monday as the same man approached him.  Read below the original entry for the rest of this funny story.

Original entry Sunday February 7:

Guru%20Pitka “God has given you the face of a man blessed with good luck and happiness,” the Indian man said to me as I sat in Starbucks.  “It is this face that called me to you.  I am a yoga holy man and God wanted me to speak with you.”

I swear, the strangest things happen to me.

Friday afternoon, after meeting briefly with my accountant to hand off some documents, I was sipping a coffee in the Ploenchit Center Starbucks.  There were no other customers in the glass-walled store, unusual given that it was the lunch hour and the store is located in the midst of the business district.

An Indian man, dressed in a long-sleeved shirt and jeans and looking as much like a computer programmer as anything else, came up to me.  This was not the first time I had been approached by foreigners while drinking my coffee.  Fifteen minutes earlier, a British couple, retired and wearing their safari shorts and hats, asked me if I knew where they could find free wi-fi.  My aura must radiate the words “ask me”.

So when the Indian man approached me, I figured he, too must have a question needing answering.

“God has given you the face of a man blessed with good luck and happiness,” the Indian man said to me.  Instinctively, I thought about where my wallet and passport were and made sure I had a clear line-of-sight to my messenger bag. 

“It is this face that called me to you,”  he explained. ” I am a yoga holy man traveling on a journey and God wanted me to speak with you.”

Skeptical, I listed to him, curious how this scam would unfold.  He explained that he was a yoga practitioner from India, showed me a picture of his guru, and told me that my face radiated happiness and good fortune.  He proceeded to explain that despite this good fortune and happiness, that I thought too much and became needlessly engrossed in my thoughts.  Oh, and I am sometimes too direct and honest with my friends.

He asked my name.  “David,” I lied.  Where are you from?  “Canada,” I lied again.

“I will prove to you that God has sent me to you,” he said, pulling out several small sheets of paper and a pen.  I noticed that instead of selecting just a single sheet upon which to write, he kept them stacked.

“I am going to write something on this piece of paper and then I will give it to you to hold.”  He scribbled on the paper then folded it into a ball.  Handing it to me, he instructed me to hold it in my clenched fist.

“What God has told me to write on that paper is known only to me.  You do not know it, right?”  Penn and Teller would have loved this set-up, I thought.  Sure, I agreed.

Putting another sheet of paper on top of the stack he asked me my father’s name.  “George,” I lied.  And your father’s father’s name?  “George,” I repeated.  They have the same name?  “Yes, my father is named after his father.”  Lying is a sin but I wasn’t about to tell him any personal information.  Plus, this was getting fun.

He wrote “George” and “George” on the paper then asked to see my palm, the one which had the ball of paper clenched inside it.  He traced one line and explained that that was my life line and I would have a long life.  I placed the ball of paper on the table.  “Please, hold the paper tight.”

“Think of a number, a single digit number,” he continued.  “One,” I responded as he wrote the answer on the paper.  “Are you married?  Do you have a wife?” he asked.  “Yes, I am married but I don’t have a wife.”  A look of confusion before he asked what I meant.

“I am married.  I have a husband.”

“Why did you do that?” he asked, trying to processes this information.  “You mean, a boyfriend?”

“No, I mean a husband.  Where I’m from, it is legal for two men to marry.”

Regathering his senses, he asked me to think of the type of flower that my… he stumbled for a word… the person you love likes the most.  “Orchid,” I said.  “He likes orchids.”  Orchids was added to the list.

“Let me see your palm again.”  He traced another line while clumsily holding my hand in his.  “This is your love line.  You will have a long and happy marriage.”  He instructed me to close my fist again.

“David,” he said, “God has sent me to you.  We are building a yoga school in India and I am traveling and he has blessed you with the face of a lucky man which is why I was able to find you.  What are the odds of us finding each other in this crowded place?”

I responded skeptically.  “The odds are pretty good considering you were looking for an easy mark and I was sitting by myself in an empty coffee shop.”

He looked hurt.  “You do not believe me?  I will show you that God has sent me to you.  Open the piece of paper in your hand and look at it.”

I opened the piece of paper and, of course, written upon it were “George”, “George”, “1”, and “Orchid”. 

“See?!” he exclaimed, “It is a miracle!”

“Let me see the paper you just wrote on.”  He handed it to me.  Of course, they were a perfect match.  That’s what happens when you use pressure-sensitive paper.  He had performed an elementary sleight-of-hand and swapped the piece of paper that was already in my hand for the one that had been below the list he was writing while he “read” my palm.

Tiring of the charade, I called his bluff.  Explaining his technique and telling him he must think I’m quite stupid to fall for a cheap parlor trick, I wished him well as I stood up and gathered my stuff.  As I walked away, I patted my pocket and looked in my bag, just to make sure his sleight-of-hand didn’t include pick-pocketing.  My wallet and passport were still there.

Another blog-worthy event in my life.

Epilgoue – Februrary 8

Monday after lunch Tawn stopped by the same Starbucks for coffee.  While sitting there, he was approached by the same Indian man who started in with the same line.

“Oh, it is good to see you again!”  Tawn cut him off.  When the man looked confused, Tawn continued, “Don’t you remember me?  You came and spoke with me last week and told me about my good luck.  How are things going with your yoga ashram?”

This continued for a few moments with the man caught off-guard.  Tawn explained the whole thing – “You even did a magic trick to prove that God had sent you to me.  Don’t you remember?” – as if he had actually been there. 

Finally, the man said, “Oh, yes – I had forgotten you because you didn’t make a donation to our ashram.”  When the man asked Tawn if he would donate to the ashram, Tawn declined.  The Indian man countered by offering to tell him more good luck.

“Oh, you told me everything last time!”  Tawn exclaimed.  “You told me about all the bad luck I had had and all the good luck, too!”

The man asked if he could sit down.  Tawn responded that the man was welcome to sit down but that he had an appointment to go to.  With that, Tawn stood up, said goodbye and walked away, leaving the Indian man standing there speechless.

 

Materialism, Violence and Monks

Materialism is widely decried as a negative trait, something that stains us as people and harms our society.  Buddhism is not alone in teaching that materialism is undesirable; all major religions and philosophies arrive at the same conclusion.  The Buddhist take is that materialism fosters a sense of attachment to something in the material realm.  Since the underlying principle of Buddhism is that of impermanence – all things are transitory – that sense of attachment can only create suffering in the long run.

P1220260

Of course, it is one thing to look at materialism from a philosophical perspective and quite another to avoid being materialistic!  I greatly admire the saffron-robed monks whom you see on the streets and around the temples here in Thailand.  They take a vow of poverty and generally live very simple lives.

As with any religion, of course, there are those who do not seem to follow the teachings as closely as they might.  At a recent trip to MBK, a bazaar-like mall with hundreds of little stalls, I was surprised to see a few monks shopping.  At a bookstore, one monk was handing money from his wallet to the female cashier – a double no-no in Buddhist teachings!

Of course, there is some question whether these “monks” are actual monks.  I know that when traveling in Singapore and KL I have seen saffron-robed monks who are collecting cash alms on the streets.  Again, a no-no.  It seems that there is not a mechanism in place to authenticate those who claim to be monks.

Negative Depictions of Monks

In a related issue, there is a movie finally coming out here in Thailand called Nak Prok (“Shadow of the Naga”) that will serve as a test case for Thailand’s new film rating system.  You see, one thing Thailand’s censors (officially known as the Ministry of Culture) particularly don’t like, it is the negative depiction of Buddhism.  (Thanks to Wise Kwai for writing about this.)

Consider the case of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Syndromes and a Century, which was heavily censored because of scenes showing, among other things, a monk playing a guitar.  (Yet another no-no in the rules that monks must follow.)  The full-length, uncensored version of the movie has never shown in Thailand nor is it available on DVD.

Nak Prok takes things to an even higher level.  The film made its premier at the Toronto Int’l Film Festival in 2008 but has been sitting on a shelf here in Thailand ever since.  The story is about a gang of thieves who bury their loot on the grounds of a monastery.  When they return to dig it up a few years later, they discover that a temple has been build on top of it.  They ordain as monks – forcing the head monk at gunpoint to ordain them – in order to recover the loot.

The film depicts monks holding guns, a gun being held to the head of the senior monk, and the thieves behave in unseemly ways while in monks’ robes, including raping a woman.  If this film doesn’t push the censors’ buttons, what will?


(Sorry, no English subtitles but I think you’ll get the gist of it anyhow!)

Actually, it looks like an interesting and emotionally-charged movie.  We’ll see if it gets the highest restriction – restricting audiences below the age of 20 – or if it gets banned outright.  We take our depiction of religion very seriously here, as you can tell.

In fact, it occurs to me as writing this that the Ministry of Culture may very well choose to censor this entry!  Let’s hope not…

Market on Wheels

Continuing with the topic of food in Thailand, let’s consider how people buy their produce.  Certainly, there are western-style supermarkets in Krungthep (Bangkok) and other major cities.  Each neighborhood also has its traditional fresh market where vendors line the sidewalks or stalls in a designated area.  But perhaps the most interesting way is to have the produce market come to you.

P1220128

A common site are the independent vendors who drive produce trucks.  These modified pickups are packed with vegetables and fruit – many vendors specialize in just fruit – and drive around the small sois (alleys), selling their wares.  Usually the husband drives and the wife sits in the truck bed, conducting business just as if she were in a small shop – albeit a shop with very little room to move!

The trucks sometimes park at convenient locations near groups of shops or restaurants.  Other times, they just cruise slowly up and down the sois.  Quite often they are equipped with a loudspeaker and either the husband or the wife will make their pitch in the nonstop patter of a sideshow busker along the boardwalk.  “We have apples, fresh apples from China.  Get them for only five baht a piece – buy ten, get two free.  Fresh corn from Samut Phrakan, get it today…”

Even in our neighborhood, which is filled with the house compounds of old-money families and medium-rise condos, these truck-back vendors still seem to make a living.  Every morning, I hear the garbled pitch broadcast from the loudspeaker, at first in the distance and eventually nearing, passing, and then fading away.  One wonders how many more years those sounds will still be able to be heard here in the city.  Seeing that they’ve lasted this long, I would suspect they will be here for many years to come.