My blog receives an ever-increasing quantity of spam comments. The comments are usually incoherent, sometimes just text copied from my entry, and always include a link to whatever site the commenter is trying to promote. These comments take a lot of time to delete and are annoying. This seems like a problem that Xanga should be able to help us solve or, at least, manage.
What current options exist to help me deal with this spam? I could enable the sign-in lock feature, but many of the commenters set up a Xanga profile before commenting. I could enable friends lock, but that restricts people who want to view my blog without signing up for Xanga and sending me a friend request. My grandparents, for example.
I’ve thought of two potential solutions that Xanga could implement:
Introduce a feature, similar to YouTube’s and other blogging sites’, where comments must first be approved before being posted. This moderation would make it easier to quickly delete spam comments.
Alternatively, any comments that contain a link in them (or, alternatively, comments that contain a link and are from someone without a Xanga username or with a relatively new Xanga username) are flagged as potential spam and are sent to a spam folder, much in the same way that email providers flag potential spam.
What do you think? Have you had a problem with spam comments on your site? How do you think it should be dealt with?
Time to take a break from the trio of dessert entries and provide a few updates on life here in Bangkok. Lots of odds and ends going on that are worth mentioning.
The sun sets on Bangkok and on my job at Ricoh.
As I shared in early December, I was provided with notice that my job of 13 years is coming to an end. My last day is February 15 and there have been many late night conference calls (my employer is in the US) as I try to train my colleagues and, starting next Wednesday, my replacement. They always knew there was a lot of work I did that they were unaware of. Now they are coming to see just how big a load they will have to carry. Still, I have no illusions that they will find a way to make it work.
The job hunt has been a slow process. I wasn’t able to start until after the new year, thanks to so many people being out of the office over the holidays and businesses not making hiring decisions at that time. Thankfully, I have a severance package that will cover me through May, so there isn’t a lot of pressure to rush into anything.
I have been working my network, following up on a half-dozen job prospects. Networks are important anywhere in the world, but especially here in Thailand. All my life, I’ve worked at places where I knew someone already. I’m convinced that you have a better understanding of a workplace if you already have a connection there. These job prospects have not yet blossomed into offers, and some of them look unlikely. Soon, I will broaden the search to include companies where I have no direct connections.
Left, the TAWN C. advertisement in the first issue of Vogue Thailand, released a few days ago. Right, an outfit from the Holiday 2012 collection.
After a modest December (for the entire department store, not just us), Tawn’s business picked up dramatically in January. He continues to design beautiful clothing and build his customer base. Last week another journalist visited our home to interview him and there have been murmurs of interest from stores in Singapore and Malaysia about possible overseas expansion. Of course, all of that is potential for the future. The focus right now is on developing the existing business and, of course, producing brilliant designs.
This week, our personal assistant of six months quit. He had let us know that he wanted to move back to the countryside but had agreed to work through the end of February. On Tuesday, the day after his monthly salary was paid, we discovered a bag left with the guards downstairs containing his laptop, keys, etc. No note, no explanation, and he has not responded to any phone calls or emails since. The fact that he was didn’t work the final four days of the month for which he had already been paid doesn’t much bother me. Instead, I am disappointed that he didn’t have the professionalism or courtesy to talk to us in person. Of course, he has lost us as a reference despite having been a good employee.
Doris and I flash the initials of a Xangan friend we have in common. A Xanga gang sign, if you will.
Ever since the middle of November, we have had a nearly nonstop stream of visitors from around the globe. While this results in us eating out quite a bit more than we usually do (making my weight loss goals harder to attain), it is a pleasure to see old friends and meet new ones. Most recently, Doris (aka snowjunky8) and her partner visited us from Amsterdam by way of Beijing. We’ve known each other for several years, connected through many mutual Xangans and friends in the independent film and film festival industries. We had never met in person, though, so that was a treat.
One of the funny things about knowing people through Xanga is that they feel like they know Tawn, at least in a general way. Of course, since Tawn isn’t on Xanga (well, he started blogging several years ago and that lasted about two weeks), he doesn’t know anything about the Xangans with whom I interact. This produces interesting situations where we meet someone from Xanga and they feel like they know Tawn, but he has a bit of a “who are you?” sensation. Of course, he’s always nice to strangers and is every bit as pleasant in real life as I make him seem on this blog, but I have to laugh when these situations arise.
There is plenty else going on – a friend’s father passed away, another friend’s new restaurant project is about to open, and a third friend raised funds to send an underprivileged youth to university – but that’s enough updating now. I hope you and yours are in good health and doing well.
Widely considered Bangkok’s finest French restaurant, Le Beaulieu serves dishes that would be at home in Paris. It also charges prices that are simply beyond my budget. But when I want un petit goût of that French sophistication without landing in the poorhouse, I stop by the Le Beaulieu cafe and purchase a few cannelés.
Cannelés, a pastry from Bordeaux with a dark, richly caramelized crust and a soft, almost custardy center, are painstaking to make. They require copper molds that are lined with beeswax and butter before being filled with a crêpe-like batter that has rested up to 48 hours. The two-step baking process begins with an extremely hot oven that is later lowered to a more reasonable temperature in order to produce the distinctive crust. Done right, the results are heavenly. Done wrong, they resemble either a burned brick or an eggy sponge.
The cannelés at Le Beaulieu have the ideal texture, the right amount of caramelization on the exterior that makes for a complex flavor without tasting burnt. Served with a tasty espresso drink from Malongo, a family-owned coffee firm from Nice, I can afford to have that French cafe experience without having to survive on crumbs alone.
As dessert for a barbecue with friends last weekend, I baked a kaffir lime cheesecake. Kaffir lime, a member of the citrus family whose fruit and leaves are an essential part of Thai, Indonesian, Laotian, and Malaysian cuisines, is an unusual flavoring for cheesecake. It is very aromatic but also astringent, a quality that I thought would go well with the richness of cheesecake.
To impart the flavor, you boil cream with whole kaffir lime leaves and then let it simmer for about twenty minutes as the cream reduces. The sweet, almost lemony scent is distinctive and you cannot successfully substitute regular limes for kaffir limes. Most Asian markets sell kaffir lime leaves, which freeze well.
The end result was fantastic. The recipe, which I based on this one (but used two eggs instead of one as I think the author wrote the incorrect number), produced a substantial but not overly-heavy cake, rich enough to be a dessert while not leaving you feeling like you ate a brick. Deviating from the recipe, I made a sour cream glaze with kaffir lime zest and sugar. I will definitely make this one again.
While in Hong Kong, Gary took us to a fantastic 1960s style restaurant called Sunning. The menu was full of classics including Baked Alaska. This being only the second time I have had the dessert, I was taken by the over-the-top nature of the dish and decided that when I returned to Bangkok, I would try preparing it.
The version prepared at Sunning Restaurant is beautiful, nicely shaped, like something right out of a Betty Crocker cookbook or Better Homes and Gardens magazine.
The whole video experience is here – pardon the less-than-stellar audio quality.
Baked Alaska is a single layer of cake with ice cream on top – quite a thick layer of it, ideally domed. The whole dessert is then coated with meringue, which provides insulation when the dessert is then placed in a very hot oven for a few minutes to brown the exterior.
Instead of the traditional pistachio ice cream, I opted for alternating layers of macadamia nut and mango sherbet. For some contrast, I also added crushed raspberries. The kitchen was quite warm when I was molding the ice cream into a stainless steel bowl, so instead of neat layers, there were gaps, air pockets, and swirls. Unmolding the ice cream from the bowl was a challenge the next day. Lining it with plastic wrap did not help.
The most showy versions include setting the dessert alight with some brandy. That was a bit too much to accomplish this first time. The most important thing is that the birthday boy and all the guests enjoyed the dessert. Next time, I will work on improving my technique.
Just like the surprise return of a critically-acclaimed but unpopular television series, my attempts at urban gardening are back for another season. The story of a green-thumbed underdog trying to coax vegetables to grow in a balcony planter under the hot and humid Thailand sun had a well-documented first season. This season’s theme is “hot and humid tomatoes”. The soil is more fertile and the vines better supported, but will the plants yield any fruit? Tune in to find out!
I ended last season (which, because of my south-facing balcony, is roughly November through April) realizing that my soil had too much clay in it and that I was growing tomato varieties ill-suited to the heat and humidity of Thailand. Tomatoes like hot weather but most varieties require relatively cooler nighttime temperatures so the fertilized blossoms set.
To address the first issue, I ended last season by creating two compost bins, filling them with the remaining soil from the first season’s plants, and adding kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, and eggshells every week. The earthworms bred like rabbits and by December, I had a much better quality of soil.
To remove the clods, stones, and other debris, though, I needed a dirt sifter. Dragging my personal assistant to the port-side wood working district, we arranged for a local carpenter to build a sifter using some chicken wire I purchased at the hardware store and some scrap wood from a packing crate. The sifter worked perfectly and over the course of a few mornings, I removed the larger objects from the soil while amending it with ground coconut husks (perfect for aerating the water and helping to retain moisture) and steer manure.
To address the second issue, tomato blossoms not setting, I ordered the “Tropical Hot and Humid” seed collection from TomatoFest.com. Among the varieties I received are, from left, Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter, the Hawaiian Currant, and the Arkansas Marvel. They are all heirloom varieties and all are supposed to do well under tropical conditions.
Season two is well underway with the first blossoms starting to appear on a variety called Anahu, left, and the Hawaiian Currant, right. Last weekend I transplanted seedlings for the Mortgage Lifter and Arkansas Marvel, and planted seeds for another three varieties including the delicious sounding Chocolate Stripes.
We will see what happens and whether the improved soil and more carefully selected varieties will be sufficient to make my garden a productive one this season. Otherwise, I may just have to give up and be content with herbs.
On New Year’s Day, Tawn’s university friends gathered for what I hope will be an annual tradition: New Year’s Tea. Our host, Bim, prepared scones and a variety of snacks. I prepared the tea sandwiches. Everyone had a good time.
Bim’s scones. This was her first time making them and she experimented with a few different sizes. The larger ones were more delicate although the small ones were tasty, too.
My two types of tea sandwiches. Finding bread that was soft but would hold up to the cutting was a challenge. The bread on the left is also made with black glutinous rice, which explains the small specks.
Making the spreads. On the left, a watercress compound butter. On the right, a green olive and parsley tapenade.
Partially made sandwiches. On the left, the watercress butter is covered with cucumber slices. On the right, the olive and parsley tapenade is covered with provolone cheese. Round cheese does not work so well on square bread.
Friends and baby pose with a lovely spread of afternoon snacks.
As good fortune and careful scheduling would have it, the return leg of my Hong Kong trip was aboard THAI Airways’ new Airbus A380. The A380, affectionately known as the Whale Jet because of its profile, is the world’s largest passenger jet, eclipsing the venerable Boeing 747’s floor space by almost half.
The first A380 went into service in October 2007 with Singapore Airlines after lengthy production delays. These delays produced a roll-over effect and THAI Airways, the ninth operator of the type, just received its first aircraft this past September. (Only 92 aircraft delivered in five years…) Initially, THAI used the airplane for Singapore and Hong Kong flights before adding Frankfurt and Tokyo.
Unlike the Boeing 747, which has only a upper deck for only part of the length of the aircraft, the Airbus A380 has a full upper deck. This means that airport receiving regular A380 service need to have passenger jet bridges that can reach doors on both the upper and lower deck. In Hong Kong, one jet bridge is used for each level, although in many airports there are two lower level jet bridges and one upper level.
Most airlines reserve the upper deck for First and/or Business Class passengers. In THAI’s configuration, there is a small economy class cabin on the upper deck, the final eight rows of the plane. When you book your flight online and choose your seat assignment, the small upper deck cabin is not visible. Knowing that those seats existed, I had to visit a THAI ticket office and request an upstairs seat. Above, a view of this economy class cabin, which has a pair of exits in the middle of it, making for some generous leg room.
I was able to secure the last available window seat, the one you see on the left-hand side of the picture with the bin open next to it. One of the nice things about the upper deck is that there are small storage bins underneath the windows to supplement the overhead bins. This makes it easy to store small bags out of the way, freeing up your leg room while keeping items close at hand.
A look forward past the economy class cabin into the large business class cabin. Two interesting things I observed: there is a small security camera in each of the bulkheads, allowing crew members to see what is happening in each cabin, even if the curtains are closed. Also the overhead bins above the center seats have a different shape in business class than they do in economy. Usually, a single design is used in most aircraft.
Another nice feature of the A380 is the tail-mounted camera. You can watch the view on your seat back monitor. Unfortunately, there appeared to be some dirt (bird poop?) on the lens, making the view a bit less enjoyable. I have been on other airplanes that have cameras located under the fuselage looking forward or down, but this tail camera seems to be a consistent feature of the A380.
Taxiing to the runway, you can see a Russian made cargo jet and on the mountain behind, the tower from the Nong Ping 360 gondola. Here’s the view from the gondola at just about that tower, as I wrote about in this entry.
The view of the New Territories about a minute after takeoff. I lived in Hong Kong in 1998-99, not long after the new airport opened. In those days, there was significantly less development in this part of Hong Kong. Nowadays, there are clusters of high rise buildings everywhere as the city continues to grow, mostly vertically.
Inflight dining: chicken and greens served over egg noodles. There was also a salad of chicken and mixed vegetables and a panna cotta with berry coulis for dessert. The food was decent.
As a comparison, here is the food we were served out of Bangkok, a Penang curry with chicken and bitter melon. It was very tasty, actually so much so that if they served it from a restaurant, I would seek it out. Also interesting that the service out of Bangkok had sturdier dishes for the main course as opposed to the aluminum ones out of Hong Kong. The salad was a so-so shrimp salad and the dessert was a mediocre chocolate mousse.
If you would like to see highlights of the entire trip, include a tour through the business class and first class cabins upon landing, please view the six-minute video above. Coincidentally, on my way out the business class cabin, I was recognized by one of the flight attendants, a friend of one of Tawn’s friends.
Another video covering my flight from Bangkok to Hong Kong aboard a Boeing B777-200, is located here.
In this final shot from the gate in Bangkok, you can see that there are three passenger jet bridges attached to the plane, two on the lower level and one on the upper level. They have to be very careful as the bridge are close to each other.
Here is a view of the two forward bridges taken from the window on the upper deck bridge. I hope you enjoyed the trip!
Yesterday was my mother’s birthday, so this morning (because of the time zone difference) Tawn and I called her. As my parents age, I realize that they will not be around forever. This, combined with listening to the drama-filled stories of friends about their families, makes me appreciate what good parents I have.
While not perfect, they have been supportive and encouraging throughout my life. When I was a child, they set regular routines and clear expectations of behavior. While punishments were not harsh or unreasonable, breaking the rules has predictable consequences. Raised in the American Midwest before starting a family in California, my parents instilled typically conservative, Midwestern values that they summed up with time-worn sayings: If something is worth doing, it is worth doing right. A penny saved is a penny earned. Waste not, want not.
There were times when this conservative approach to life chaffed. When I wanted a particular new toy or didn’t have the popular brand of jeans and was reduced to wearing Toughskins, I didn’t appreciate their thrift. But when it came time for college and they paid for the tuition so I didn’t have to take on student debt, I saw the wisdom of their ways.
To this day, my parents lend supportive ears. When I face challenging times, they listen, nod with understanding, and wait to be asked for their opinions. Even when invited, their opinions are conservative, rarely intruding very far across the “you should do” line. Instead, they acknowledge that life can be tough at times and then generally encourage me to tough it out.
One thing I most appreciate about my parents is that our family is free of any psychological games. As I listen to other people talk about their families, I can see behaviors and actions that could keep a psychologist in business for decades. My parents raised us without using guilt or goading, without projecting their own aspirations on their children, and without seeing us as competition for their spouse’s affections. Drama was something reserved for the television and our viewing of that was tightly restricted.
Perhaps such a life, like the rolling fields of Kansas, is a bit boring by some accounts. But it also provided a steady, stable environment in which to grow and – another of my parents’ sayings – to reach my full, God-given potential.
Twice during my trip to Hong Kong, I enjoyed dim sum at Tim Ho Wan, the (world’s least expensive) Michelin-starred restaurant founded by former Four Seasons Chef Mak Kwai Pui. The first time was at the original Mongkok hole-in-the-wall location, which closes the end of January to move across Kowloon at Olympian City. The second time was on my final morning at the newer location one floor below the Airport Express check-in lobby at the International Finance Centre.
The crowd that gathers (and waits for hours) outside the original Tim Ho Wan location. I am sure that the neighboring shopkeepers are thrilled that this crowd will soon go away, as I suspect few of the dim sum customers, many of whom are non-locals, shop at the neighboring businesses.
The inside of the shop seats perhaps two dozen people. That was part of its charm, but what was a hidden treasure has spawned three branches, each much larger. It seems that the magic of the hard to find gem of a restaurant is gone, replaced by the desire to cash in on the popularity.
Above, a full house within five minutes of starting service for the day, with another full round of customers waiting outside.
One of the nice things about Hong Kong is the Airport Express train. What makes it so nice is that for most airlines, you can check in up to 24 hours before your flight. The agents tag and collect your luggage, leaving you free to roam the city until it is time to head to the airport, unencumbered by heavy bags.
I checked in for my flight at 8:00 am, more than five hours early. Ten minutes later I was downstairs in front of the restaurant, the first person to arrive. I opened my iPad and settled in for a wait. Slowly, other customers arrived and formed a queue behind me. At 8:50, Gary, Rudy, and the other Xangans arrived so we were the first seated and snagged a nice table with great lighting.
While there are some folks who complain that the food at the branches isn’t as good as the original, I think they are carping mostly to make themselves sound superior. The food at the branches continues to be very high quality and the additional seats means that the wait is shorter.
As I observed, having arrived early, the kitchen staff is still making everything by hand and that quality and attention to detail is clear when you eat the food.
As we finished our meal and I headed to catch the train to the airport, the crowd had grown even larger. As you can see, it is a first or last stop for some people who are going to or coming from the airport. A very convenient location and perfect if you have a long layover and crave some world-class dim sum!