How Does Your Partner View Your Virtual Friends?

Virtual friends: How do they stack up in the pecking order of friendships?  Are they real?  This is a topic that has probably been discussed a thousand times on Xanga but I don’t know if we’ve ever discussed what our partners, spouses, boyfriends/girlfriends think about it.  This comes to mind because I recently had a conversation with another Xangan and this person’s significant other is very uncomfortable with the idea of this person having these virtual friends with whom details of his or her life is shared.

I’ll be the first to admit, back in 1997 I dated a guy who liked to spend time on ICQ, the first internet-wide instant messaging service, and I was perplexed and somewhat dismissive of the “friends” he claimed to have made online.  When he moved to Los Angeles I had the opportunity to meet one of them, and he and his partner did seem to be genuinely nice people.  Still, I was suspicious of how well you could really know someone with whom you only interacted in a chat environment.  This, of course, was before blogs really started.


When I started blogging five years ago, I did it just to keep family and friends informed of my experiences moving to Thailand.  The idea of making new friends through the blog never crossed my mind.  Over time, though, I did start making online friends and eventually had the opportunity to meet several people in person.  Initially, they were friends of people I already knew in real life.  Then, they were people who were traveling in Bangkok so we would meet for coffee or a meal or I would be visiting somewhere and would make the time to meet them. 

I even traveled a few hundred miles out of my way two summers ago to visit the famous Dr. Zakiah and her family.  When I was flying on the prop plane from St. Louis up to Quincy, the thought crossed my mind, “Her family must think she’s nuts, inviting some guy flying all the way from Bangkok to stay in her house!”  But if they did think those thoughts, they kept them well hidden and were so wonderfully welcoming.

Over the years, Tawn has met many of these Xanga friends and he has found that they usually turn out to be warm, thoughtful, stable individuals.  Nobody longing to break up our marriage and tempt me away.  Nobody frightening.  Nobody trying too hard to insinuate themselves into our lives in an overly-familiar way.  So I’ve come to take for granted that he has no worries about my virtual friends and in fact has come to enjoy the company of many of them.

What about you and your partner, spouse, etc?  How does he or she view your virtual friendships?


Additional reading: entry on The Change Blog about building positive virtual friendships.


Recovery and Donuts

September 28, 2010 will go down in the history of Krungthep (Bangkok) as the day when the scars from May’s political violence truly began to heal for the Big Mango’s shoppers.  It will also go down as a red-letter day in the spreading influence of American fast food and the subsequent spreading of Thai waistlines. 

To the first point, Central World Plaza, the largest of the buildings that were badly damaged in the fires set by angry protesters after their leaders surrendered to police on May 19, reopened today.

While about 70% of the mall reopened today, the 70% that suffered no damage in the attacks, the remaining portion depicted above is expected to be rebuilt and open next August.  The portion opening today includes the Isetan department store, the 15-screen SFX World Cinema, and the grocery store.

Central World

Can a mall’s reopening indicate political healing?  Of course not.  That was just a banal attempt to hook your attention as a reader.  Under the surface, the issues and power struggles remain, yet to be resolved.  But for those of us who live here, whose lives were disrupted by the political events of April and May, the opening of Central World Plaza is another sign of life getting back to normal.


In other news – and possibly an attempt to draw away some attention from Central World’s reopening – the first Krispy Kreme doughnut franchise in Thailand opened today at the Siam Paragon mall, just down the street from Central World.  Doughnuts have been popular in Thailand for at least a few years, as evidenced by countless Dunkin’ Donut and Mister Donut outlets.  Last year, a Malaysian chain called Daddy Donut entered the market and they even have a mobile donut truck that sets up in different locations to sell donuts to hapless passersby.

Nonetheless, there is no lack of hoopla surrounding the opening of this first Thai Krispy Kreme.  If you want my opinion, I think the fad won’t last.  The Hong Kong locations of Krispy Kreme only lasted a few years before they closed and I don’t think the Bangkok crowd, which is quite fickle with its fads, will turn Krispy Kreme into an overwhelming success.

The big question is this: What’s the big deal?  Thai culture has so many fantastic desserts and snacks and they are inexpensive, readily at hand, and perhaps slightly healthier than a doughnut.  As I notice the Thai high school and university students in their uniforms, bigger, taller, and heftier than their counterparts were even a half-decade ago, starting to approach the bodily proportions of their peers in the American Midwest, I can’t help but wish the influence of Western style fast food chains would wane.

So here’s to progress, as it were.  A reopened mall and a new fast food shop.  Bangkok, you’ve come a long way.


Fire and Light Part 2

While I eventually stopped burning rubber cement to illuminate my photos, my interest in light, movement, and extended exposure didn’t wane.  For some shots, it was a matter of holding the camera steady by hand, without the use of a tripod, just long enough for a slight sense of motion.  For other shots, a tripod was still necessary.


This photo is actually upside down.  It is the reflection in the mirrored ceiling of the pedestrian tunnel that connects the two concourses of Terminal 1 at Chicago O’Hare International Airport.  The focus is on the reflection rather than the neon tubes of the light sculpture.


Christmas lights in suburban Kansas City.  I printed this up and used it for handmade holiday cards one year.  Same effect as the Golden Gate Bridge photo in the previous entry, except I was rotating the tripod almost the entire time.


This photo was shot at a county fair in Oregon the summer of 1988.  I was there as part of a family reunion on my mother’s side and there was a fair near the town we stayed in.


A Flying Tigers B-747 takes off on runway 1R at San Francisco International Airport.  Instead of moving the camera, as I did in the Golden Gate Bridge and Christmas photos, the camera remained fixed on the tripod while the plane moved.  The Flying Tigers logo is visible because the plane pulled into position at the threshold of the runway and stopped for about fifteen seconds before releasing the brakes and taking off.  The red dots above the line of the fence are from the strobe light on top of the plane, which blinked as the plane taxied.


In March 2001, I shot this photo of Tawn on top of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.  This was a handheld shot with an exposure of about 1/15th of a second.  I used a flash so that the image of Tawn would be fixed and sharp but the background and the railings would have a sense of movement.


That same evening I took this picture at the base of the Eiffel Tower.  Thousands of strobe lights were flashing at 8:00 pm and I shot the exposure at about a half-second handheld while the strobes fired.  This picture captures exactly how this first trip to Paris felt for me.   


I even experimented a bit with extended exposures in Bangkok before I moved here.  This photo was taken in the same alley I visited for last month’s entry about the Old Market in Yaoworat.  This picture from that entry must have been taken within a dozen meters of the above picture.  Funny that some seven or more years later – probably closer to nine! – I went back to the same alley and took more pictures.  I particularly liked how the sky was still purple in the background.


This shot was taken the same evening in the same area, along the main road that cuts through Yaoworat (Chinatown).  I found it fascinating because the neon signs look like something out of the sixties or seventies, so I added a slight sepia tint to the photo.  I also liked that I captured someone else photographing the same view.

As I responded to one comment in the previous post, my current point-and-shoot camera, a Panasonic Lumix LX3, has a lot of manual controls.  I should experiment with it a bit and see what sort of extended exposures I can take.  Maybe moving to digital hasn’t cost me the opportunity to explore my artistic side.


Fire and Light Part 1

In high school I started learning about photography, buying a Minolta 35mm SLR camera and learning the techniques of exposure, composition, focus, etc. from a few friends who were very skilled.  In those days, of course, there was the expense of buying film and paying for developing and it wasn’t unusual for a roll to produce only one or two interesting images.

One of my interests was extended exposures: leaving the shutter open for a longer than normal length of time in order to capture multiple layers of light or a sense of motion.  This is a tricky technique because more often than not the pictures don’t turn out very well.  Additionally, a tripod is a must because taking these pictures by hand will result in too much blurring. 

As I was pouring through the scanned images from those years, I thought I would share a few with you. 


This shot was taken from the Marin Headlands just north of the Golden Gate Bridge.  Taking an extended exposure (manually locking the shutter in the open position so the frame of film was exposed for probably 20 seconds or so), I rotated the head of the tripod to produce this streaked effect.  Basically, I took the photo of the bridge, unmoving, for about 15 seconds and then slow rotated the tripod to the left for another 3-4 seconds to create the streaks.


A few steps away from where I took the bridge picture is a set of old concrete bunkers, part of the extensive fortifications that lined the Marin Headlands.  Working with my partner in crime, Denise, we did a series of these extended exposures, some lasting a few minutes, that featured multiple exposures of us in different positions in the frame.  This took some planning and the roll was filled with failures.

The technique involved having the model stand or sit in one location and then the photographer would fire a hand-held flash at them to get the exposure.  Then we would move to another location and repeat.  We also set a small, controlled fire inside one of the buildings, putting a strip of rubber cement on a piece of foil and then lighting it.  While the flame looks large in the picture, that is only because of the cumulative effect of the extended exposure.  In reality, it was a very small flame.


This photo features me and didn’t make use of the fire.  We did another series at the Rodin Sculpture Garden in Stanford, setting a little rubber cement fire in front of the “Gates of Hell” sculpture to create an interesting effect or flames and shadows.  Unfortunately, campus security arrived before we could get a decent exposure.


This photo was the interesting result from an evening shoot taken at the beach.  Denise brought a trumpet with her, something I don’t think she could play but it made for an interesting prop.  We took this photo nearly an hour after sunset and to our eyes the sky was fully dark.  But over the course of an exposure that lasted about two minutes, the faint light in the west built up, adding this dusk effect.  To get the lines, I used a flashlight to trace Denise as she posed with the trumpet.  The brighter spots are when the light was pointed directly at the camera and thus created a stronger exposure.


This final shot was made the same year, using my high school friend Allen as a model.  It was taken in a parking lot of the Anaheim Marriott Hotel and it was only a few seconds long, since there was a fair amount of ambient light.  He was holding a book of matches that he had ignited.  I liked the shadow that it produced and there was something Buddha-like in the pose and then the opening in the wall behind him was an interesting contrast.

Lest you worry about all of the use of fire, rest assured I wasn’t a pyromaniac.  Everything was done with a great deal of thought to safety.  Fire was just an interesting medium because with an extended exposure, it provides very dramatic light for the picture.

I’ll share some more tomorrow.


Weeknight Roast Chicken

By Wednesday night, the leftovers were finished.  The black bean chili was gone.  The braised pork in star anise and ginger was gone.  The refrigerator was looking bare and it was time to cook again.  Wanting the warmth of a homemade meal without too much hassle, I opted for weeknight roast chicken.

What makes it perfect for the weeknight?  For starters, it doesn’t use a whole chicken but instead uses pieces.  This cuts down on a whole lot of roasting time.  Additionally, I can make a double batch just about as easily as I make a single batch, so I can get plenty of leftovers – leftovers that can be repurposed into other dishes!

The first step when you walk into the door is to get your chicken ready.  There are a variety of ways you can do this depending upon how much effort you want to put into it.  My favorite way is to take a couple of cups of buttermilk, a tablespoon of salt, and a couple of hearty dashes of cayenne pepper and mix them together in a plastic zipper bag.  Dump in the chicken, shake it up so the chicken is completely coated, and then set it aside to marinate.  If the buttermilk brine is too much work, just sprinkle both sides of the chicken pieces generously with salt and set in a bowl to give the salt a chance to work its magic. 


Turn the oven on to about 350 F / 180 C.  While it is heating, prepare some root veggies.  I had some potatoes, carrots, and Japanese pumpkin on hand.  Other tubers or root veggies would be fine, too.  No need to peel potatoes and carrots if you don’t want to – a good scrub of the exterior is fine.  Now, when it comes roast chicken with root veggies, the veggies are the things that can take some time.  A shortcut, if you want to take it, is to boil a pan of water with some salt in it and parboil (pre-cook by boiling) the veggies.  The softer things (pumpkin) only need a few minutes then pull them out.  Potatoes need more time and carrots could use eight minutes or so.


Put the parboiled veggies in a bowl or save yourself the washing and put them directly into a baking dish.  This is a good time to throw in some sliced onions and/or some whole cloves of garlic, if you would like.  Add a generous pour of extra virgin olive oil, another sprinkling of salt, several turns of the pepper mill, and then you can add some herbs, too.  Rosemary makes the kitchen smell marvelous and some thyme (I happened to have fresh on hand) is really nice, too.  Stir the veggies a few times so they are coated with the oil, salt, etc.

If you haven’t parboiled the veggies, you should go ahead and put the dish into the oven and give them about fifteen minutes head start on the chicken, covered with aluminum foil.

If you marinated the chicken, take it out of the buttermilk, rinse the pieces off, and pat dry with paper towels.  If you didn’t use the buttermilk, you can just pat dry with the towels.  Add some fresh ground pepper and a drizzle of the olive oil, and then place on top of the veggies with the skin side of the chicken facing up, and bake, covered with foil, for about twenty minutes.  After twenty minutes, remove the foil and continue cooking until the chicken is nicely browned, about another twenty to twenty-five minutes.


Check the veggies with a knife – they should be cooked to the tenderness you like.  I like mine to still have a little firmness to them but not too much.  Check the chicken with a thermometer – you’re looking for an internal temperature of 165 F.  Pull the dish out and let it rest for about five minutes before serving.  There you have it – a healthy and easy weeknight dinner.


Scooting Along in Spandex

Few of us have bodyfat percentages in the low single digits, ripped abs, and toned glutes that look even better in spandex than they do naked.  So believe me when I say this entry isn’t intended to poke fun at someone who is a bit flabby in the nether regions.  It is about something that is wrong, something I saw as I was walking down the street Sunday morning.  Wrong in terms of “that’s not how a foreigner should be dressing in Bangkok.”

As I was walking from the Skytrain station towards Sukhumvit Soi 2, a farang (westerner) woman went zipping by me on a microscooter – you know, one of those skateboard-like vehicles with a tall handle.  My first thought was, oh, what an interesting way to get around.  When I noticed what she was wearing I quickly reached for my camera.  It’s a bit hard to see the scooter as she’s blocking it, but I think this picture tells the story pretty fully:


What’s wrong here?  As evidenced by the glances the woman is getting from the Thai women, what’s she’s wearing isn’t really… street-appropriate, shall we say.  Unless you are a street walker, which I assume she’s not.  Much too sheer and revealing for running out and about on a Sunday morning in Bangkok.  Even if she was on the way to the gym (she stopped at the Starbucks around the corner, if you must know), some cover-up is called for.  This isn’t the type of culture that goes for bare shoulders and revealing, tight-fitting outfits.

Enough said.


Braised Pork with Star Anise and Ginger

There’s a new restaurant in the neighborhood, one about which I’m excited to write just as soon as I can get some pictures of their food.  Eating there, I enjoyed a Burmese style stewed pork dish that was resplendent with ginger and it got me thinking about stewed pork.  Since we were in the midst of some drizzly weather that seemed stew appropriate, I sought out some recipes and settled on one for braised pork with star anise and ginger.


Star anise is one of my favorite spices, its evocative aroma reminding me of a big bowl of Vietnamese phở even if the actual dish in which I’m smelling it is unrelated, like this stew. 

I took chunks of boneless pork butt (which is actually the shoulder – go figure) and after browning them, simmered them for a few hours in a mixture of ginger, garlic, soy sauce, stock, a little bit of vermouth, and honey with a few star anise and a cinnamon stick thrown in.  Once the pork was so tender it fell apart with a nudge, I added some bok choy and let that cook for about five minutes before serving it with a nice scoop of organic jasmine rice.  What a delicious meal.  For those of you who don’t like pork, this recipe would go wonderfully with beef, lamb, or even chicken.


Mexican Black Bean Chili with Red Cabbage and Apple Slaw

Last week our weather was a little cool.  Well, relatively speaking.  Several days were overcast and drizzly all day long, more Seattle-looking than our usually rainy season weather which owes more to Midwestern summer thunderstorms than anything else.  It seemed an appropriate time to cook some warm, hearty comfort food, so I dug up a recipe for Mexican Black Bean Chili and made it in a Monday night meal along with some buttermilk cornbread muffins and a tasty red cabbage and apple slaw.


Beans are super-healthy, incredibly inexpensive, and easy to use.  Make a large batch and freeze up the extras so you can thaw them out and make a fast and easy weeknight dinner like this one.  This chili uses chopped onions and peppers (I added some carrots, too, as I had some on hand), and plenty of cumin, lime juice, chopped cilantro, and dried chipotle pepper to add a nice kick.  One thing I add that isn’t in the recipe is a few tablespoons of cornmeal.  I add then to the aromatics as they are sauteeing in a little bit of oil.  This creates a roux that thickens the chili and adds a nice flavor, too.

To garnish, I used a little leftover homemade salsa and avocado cilantro lime cream sauce from fish tacos a few nights earlier.


The slaw is a nice alternative to the usual green cabbage slaw.  Not only does this offer more vitamins, it also has more flavor.  The recipe is based loosely on the one from Blue Smoke BBQ but I play around with it.  For starters, I leave the peel on the apples (more fiber and flavor) and slice them thin instead of chunks, which adds more visual interest to the dish.  Additionally, I play around with their dressing recipe, reducing the mayonnaise, using apple cider vinegar for their white balsamic, leaving out the chilies, and adding some nigella seed.  Sitting alongside a cornbread muffin, I think it is quite pretty.


The combination makes for a very tasty and very healthful meal.  To top it off, chili is one of those dishes that benefits from a night or two in the refrigerator, so it made even nicer leftovers later in the week!


Your Action Needed to Overturn Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

For my friends in America, a brief request for your action:

The big Senate vote on repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, which will actually be a vote on invoking cloture on the Defense Authorization bill that contains it, will be on Tuesday.  Some senators who once supported DADT repeal are starting to flip-flop, making the outcome of the vote uncertain. 

Please take the time to contact your senators and let them know that it is time to repeal this discriminatory policy that serves only to undermine our soldiers and diminish troops readiness at a time when we can least afford it.  Military and defense leaders agree that DADT serves no rational purpose.

Thanks for making your voice heard and please share the news with your friends and neighbors.

Tawn’s 35th Birthday

This weekend, Tawn turned 35 years old.  Hard to believe that this is the eleventh of his birthdays I’ve celebrated.  Because it fell on Friday, we had a couple of days to celebrate this (what he considered to be a milestone) event.

Tawn and I first met in January 2000 while I was en route to Thailand on holiday.  We stayed in touch over that year, with him visiting me in San Francisco several times.  In September 2000, I returned for another visit, to help him celebrate the quarter-century mark in his life.  The evening of his birthday, we gathered with his friends in a riverside restaurant somewhere on the outskirts of the city.

A shot from Tawn’s 25th birthday.

At the time, I remember it being a loud, difficult to follow gathering as his friends were gossiping in Thai and having a good time.  While most of them had studied overseas and all of them spoke English, I was for the most part on my own.  Having just met most of his friends, I was struggling to keep up with who was who, what they did, where they knew Tawn from, etc.

Now, a decade later, most of these same people are still in Tawn’s life and most of them were able to come over Thursday night for dinner.

Four of the people from the previous shot are in this picture.  Can you tell which ones?

The friends and their husbands and children filled the house with laughter and energy.  The two children (we were missing two who stayed home), ages 2 1/2 and 3, were exploring a house that is largely “do not touch!” and there are two more children who will be born before year’s end.  Nowadays, I know who everyone is, what they do, and how they know Tawn.  It is still hard to follow the conversations, though, since the gossip is filled with inside stories, slang, and multiple layers of simultaneous conversation.

When it came time to blow out the candles, Uncle Tawn was helped by two of our friends’ children, 3-year old Nam Ing and 2-1/2 year old JJ.  Nam Ing is the spitting image of her mother, who is standing in the group shot above.  JJ is tremendously shy, although he goes to an international preschool and has a surprisingly extensive English vocabulary when he works up the nerve to use it. 

After the party, Tawn described how much he enjoys having these friends together as they are like family to him.  I keep hoping we’ll see more of them and their children, having these images of weekly get-togethers where the children learn English from their Uncle Chris as we play games and draw and learn “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider” and other songs.  We’ll see how that develops in the years to come.

Funny video above of Nam Ing and JJ “helping” blowing out Uncle Tawn’s birthday cake candles.

Friday evening we went with another group of friends to Soul Food Mahanakorn, a new restaurant that opened in our neighborhood just over a week ago.  I’m very excited to write about this restaurant but need to go back on an occasion when I can really focus on photographing the food.  Another of Tawn’s friends stopped by during the day with some homemade baked goods, including these peppermint frosted cupcakes that spelled out “Happy Birthday Tawn”.  The restaurant staff arranged them on some serving boards for us.

Saturday morning we received a call from my parents, who wished Tawn and happy birthday and chatted with him for twenty minutes or so.  I think Tawn, who enjoys the attention of others, felt a little overwhelmed about all the attention he received this weekend.  Of  course, next year should really be the year to celebrate as according to the Chinese culture (Tawn’s father’s side of the family is of Chinese heritage), birthdays that mark the completion of the 12-year zodiac cycles are the real milestones.  I guess there’s a few months left to plan that.