Happy Birthday Alex

Alex There are many interesting Xangans out there and Alex (Roadlesstaken) is one of the more creative ones.  He has a lot of subscribers and has worked with them to compile an interesting series of video entries called Xanga Secrets (watch Volume VIII here).

The thing is, Alex is celebrating his birthday on March 1st.  For some reason, he sounds a bit bummed out about turning – gasp! – 24.  I can’t imagine why, seeing as how he isn’t even old enough yet to get a discount on his car insurance. 

Last week he sent out a call asking Xangans to help lift his spirits by giving him a shoutout to help him remember his birthday, seeing as how in his old age he has already forgotten how he spent birthday number 23.

So here it is, Alex, my birthday shout out to you:

Alex's Site

If you would like to help make his birthday memorable, feel free to drop by his site and wish him a happy birthday.  If you think it is a bit of a desperate ploy to grab attention, that’s okay, too.  (Just kidding Alex…)

December Odds and Ends

As the month nears its end, I feel like there are a lot of things to catch up on.  All these little bloggable odds and ends that, thanks to a busy schedule and pneumonia, I fell behind on sharing with you.

First off, I baked a really nice loaf of sandwich bread.  This one was made with some dried milk, an ingredient I was surprised to find in my local market.  It makes a really nice texture for sandwiches, even though I usually prefer a more rustic loaf.

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A few months ago, in an attempt to make the Annex more comfortable as a living space, we purchased a TV and then a DVD player.  Since our DVD collection spans the globe, we needed a DVD player that can play discs from all regional zones.  The initial one we purchased, despite the salesman’s promises, couldn’t.  When we brought it back to the store for him to unlock it, we discovered that something else was wrong and it wasn’t playing any discs at all!

He gave us the display model as a loaner while he ordered a replacement.  A few weeks later he said the new DVD player had arrived so I brought the display model in for a swap.

 

In what has to be the perfect example of Thai problem solving, the salesman used a hair dryer (from a display in the store, nonetheless) to carefully remove the manufacturer’s label on the display model and on the newly ordered DVD player.  He then swapped the labels so I went home with the new DVD player that had the display model’s label and serial number on it.  He then shipped back the display model with the new player’s label on it back to the manufacturer.

You following this?  Kind of crazy, huh?  I least I now have a DVD player that works and can play discs from all regional zones.

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It’s time for another edition of “Overloaded Vehicles of Thailand.”

 

This week’s entry in the motorbike category is shown above, with no less than six milk crates and two additional boxes strapped onto the back of his bike.  I can only imagine how poorly this bike handles with such a high center of gravity.

 

In the truck category we have this pickup truck which is overloaded in such a silly manner, it ceases to be funny.  What is in the boxes?  Lay’s potato chips.  So the truck isn’t overloaded by weight, necessarily, just size.

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December 5th was His Majesty the King’s 82nd birthday.  Yellow is the color normally associated with His Majesty, as he was born on a Monday, the day associated with the color yellow.  However, in the recent political tumult in Thailand, the royalists appropriated yellow and are now known as the “yellow shirts.”  Because of this, yellow is too partisan a color to wear to celebrate the King’s birthday.  It seems that this year, pink was decided upon.

 

A concert at Tokyo department store at MBK shopping center.  Note the prevalence of pink.  The two-letter script that looks like “WO” in English is the Thai word for “father” – HMTK is affectionately referred to as the father of the nation.  Father’s day coincides with his birthday.

 

Here’s a closeup of the crowd watching the concern.  I’ve never seen these LED signs before but I guess they are kind of a grown-up version of Lite Brite.  I take it from these signs that the artist who is performing is known as Dan.

 

On the walkway from MBK shopping center to Siam Discovery, I saw something I have never seen before in Thailand and hope to never see again: mimes.

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Speaking of things you’ve never seen before. take a look at this picture and see if you can tell me what about it you’ve never seen before.

 

Scroll down for the answer…

Me wearing brown shoes.  After some prodding from Tawn (and an amazing find of wide shoe sizes from Clarks, something else I’ve never seen in Thailand) I caved in and bought a brown pair of shoes.  I have not owned brown shoes since maybe high school.  In university I did have a pair of blue Doc Martens but other than that, my leather shoes (with the exception of sneakers) have been black.  No confusion, no fuss, no trouble matching the belt.

You may not fully appreciate how earth-shattering this news is, but you should know that snowballs are starting to feel like they have a fighting chance in hell.

Coming to you live from Raintree Villa

… and we pick up right where we left off, except 3.5 km to the southeast down Sukhumvit Road.

It is Tuesday evening and I’m using a “borrowed” weak wifi connection that someone has here in the building.  Hopefully DSL will be up and running in the next week or so.  Meanwhile, there is a daily trip to Starbucks for some high-speed internet connection and a latte.

The move was smooth, all things considered.  Sunday night was our first night in the place and other than being woken up in the middle of the night to the sound of a pack of soi dogs barking loudly and sounding very dangerous, it was comfortable.

I’ll tell you the story through pictures taken over the course of the Thursday through Tuesday period:

 

Thursday

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Above: Installing spray foam insulation to fill the gap in the concrete wall where the stove hood vents to the balcony.  Below: The hole, before and after.

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Above: Organizing herbs and spices on the pull-out spice rack drawer.  What seemed like a good use of space may be a little inconvenient in my middle age as I try to bend over and read the fine print on label jars all the way on the bottom shelf!  Below: More storage, this time in the bathroom.  Make note of the not-yet-installed toilet paper dispenser sitting on the marble shelf over the toilet.  More about that in a moment…

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Friday

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Above: A design feature I have not previously shared with you is our faux fireplace.  It will not give off any heat (that’s kind of unnecessary here, really) but will provide a place to hide the DVD player and stereo system and run the wires through the wall in case we put a TV above it.  The handyman pictured here, his face hidden to protect his identity, was responsible for this next fun discovery…

Below: … the incorrectly installed toilet paper dispenser.  This guy has worked with our contractor on many projects and yet even though I specifically showed how I wanted it installed, the dispenser ended up ninety degrees off kilter.

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Below: Our mattress arrived on Friday, a good two weeks before the bed frame will be finished.  Shockingly, this is the deepest mattress (the highest mattress?) that I’ve ever seen.  It is so tall it barely needs a frame.

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Above: Returning to Asoke Place on Friday afternoon after moving some things to Raintree Villa, I was reminded why I’m so happy to be leaving Asoke.  Look at the crazy traffic at 4:00 in the afternoon.  And none of these cars is moving when I took the picture.

 

Saturday

Saturday morning, Tawn waits in the Asoke Place apartment for the movers to arrive.

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Above: During a shopping trip to the housewares section of Central Chidlom department store, I see a special Winnie the Pooh toilet sheet that proclaims – without any trace of irony – that underneath the lid is a “Pooh Splash Zone”.

Below: Halfway through the move on Saturday, Tawn waits for the movers to arrive with more of our things.  The small bedroom was eventually filled halfway with boxes.  By Tuesday evening there are only six boxes left to sort through.

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Sunday

The move has largely taken place and all that is left is the cleaning out of a few items in the old apartment and the official moving in into the condo.  I met Tawn at the condo, waiting outside the front door, just before the appointed auspicious time of 8:30 am.  Tawn was carrying a Buddha image selected for him from his father, along with garlands and incense.

In an interesting mixture of animism, Brahmanism, Hinduism, and Buddhism (and a pinch of plain old superstition), we opened the front door and announced to the spirit of the dwelling that we were asking permission to move in.  Then, holding the Buddha statue, we prayed that by following the teachings and lessons of Buddha we would have a harmonious and happy life in the house.  We entered, then placed the image on the mantle of the fireplace, adding jasmine garlands and lighting incense.

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We then went back to the front of the building where the condo’s spirit house is located.  This is where the spirit (spirits?) of the land that were displaced in the construction of the building live.  We lit incense there and offered garlands to the spirits.  The spirit houses often contain images from Brhamanist and Hindu belief systems.

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Sunday afternoon we took a break from the unpacking and met up with Otto, who was in town from Singapore with his partner Han.  Otto, you may recall, is the teacher at Singapore’s prestigious Raffles Institute prep school who made waves a few months ago when he came out of the closet as a gay man in an open letter to his colleagues.  Needless to say, the last few months have been a roller coaster ride for both him and his partner and it was nice to see them.

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Above: Rather artistic shot as Tawn and Otto ride the escalator at Playground shopping centre on Thong Lor.  Below: Tawn and Otto pose at Starbucks in a picture designed mostly to capture the mirror, which Tawn thinks would look good in the front hallway.

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Below: Sunday evening after several hours of moving the last few items out of the apartment, I’m ready to say goodbye and head out the door.  Lights out!

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Above: Driving back to the new condo on some of the back sois, we passed this lovely compound that has an elaborate front gate.  Thais seem to really like their elaborate metal gates.

Below: Sunday dinner was at Grand Ramen restaurant on Thong Lor (which is Sukhumvit Soi 55, for those of you playing along at home).  This is a very good ramen restaurant that caters to the Japanese expats.  At four tables sat four Japanese salarymen, each at the same corner seat at each table so they looked like schoolboys sitting in a row.  Each read the newspaper, drank beer, are noodles, and watched the football game on the television.  The pork tonkatsu ramen was very tasty!  Oishi des ne!

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Monday Morning

Monday was our first morning in the new place.  Most important of all, the coffee machine was plugged in and I was able to heat milk for the coffee on the new induction stove.  No more microwave here.

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Finally, since it is now just after midnight, I’d like to wish His Majesty King Bhumibol, Rama IX a very happy 80th Birthday.  May this man, who has been an inspiration and source of pride for his subjects, enjoy a long and healthy life.  Below, a mother and daughter sign their birthday wishes in a greeting book at the Sukhumvit subway station, one of hundreds set up at various public points through the Kingdom.

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And the party continues

Tam’s birthday is on November 17th, and it has become a bit of a tradition that we do a combined birthday celebration.  This year we opted for something small, since I’m still feeling under the weather with this allergy-cold thing and Tawn and I have been busy packing boxes getting ready for our move.

Dinner was at Baan Rabiangnam (River Tree House) the restaurant owned by Pete.  Pete is the current boyfriend of Tam’s ex, Frederick.  Pete’s very nice riverside restaurant is in Nonthaburi, just north of Khrungthep, in an old house that used to be his grandmother’s.  While a bit hard to get to if you don’t know the way, it is always busy with a regular and loyal clientelle and the kitchen turns out solid, tasty traditional Thai food.

Joining us for dinner were Markus and Tam, Tam’s sister Pune, his childhood friend Issara, and Markus’ friends Tim and Daniel, who were in from Singapore.

Markus tried to “surprise” us with dessert – a plate of ice cream scoops decorated with candles – but was up and down checking with Pete and was practically bouncing with anticipation, so much so that there wasn’t much of a surprise to it.  Nonetheless, it was a nice gesture and we enjoyed the evening.

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Above left: Tawn and Tam.  Above right: Pune and Issara.  Below: Tam and Markus.

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Above: Pretend to be surprised, everybody!  We were singing “Happy Birthday” so loud that it wasn’t until later that we found out the restaurant actually played a recorded version of this song at the same time.  Below: Birthday boys pose for pictures from multiple directions.

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Above: The restaurant has a tradition that if you tip more than 50 baht, you get to bang a gong.  Here, Daniel holds the gong while Tim prepares to give it a whack.  Reminiscent of the 1971 T-Rex song, which many readers may better know by the 1985 cover recorded by super group Power Station.

 

Another year for me and a new Beaujolais for everyone

Two big days: November 15th and 16th.  Here’s just some of the reasons why:

November 16

This year, November 16th is my 37th birthday, and I’m reveling in my continuously decreasing number of grey hairs.  The number is decreasing only because my overall hair count is decreasing.  As a percentage of total hair, the grey hairs are gaining the majority.

Tawn took the morning off work and we were up shortly after six for a taxi ride to the old city, to Wat Mahanparam.  Just down the street from the Democracy Monument, this temple is in the neighborhood where Tawn’s father and siblings lived when they first moved from Buriram province when Khun Sudha was in his teens.

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Above: Stopping for coffee and steamed buns before catching a taxi.  Below: An unusually elaborate altar set up by the taxi driver on his dashboard, to provide him with protection as he navigates the streets of Khrungthep.

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The temple parking lot was filling quickly as it is used as a car park on weekdays, local workers renting out spaces and providing temple coffers with additional funds.  Inside the compound, though, things were very quiet.  We lit incense and candles, offering prayers and placing gold leaf on statues of the Buddha and venerated monks.

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Then we proceeded inside the wihaan, the main Buddha image hall.  After we paid respects to the Buddha statue, we went over to a monk and explained that we had come to receive a birthday blessing.  This is done as a short ceremony where the monk chants, then you chant, then the monk chants some more.  For your convenience, there is a laminated sheet where you can follow along on your part of the chant should you not have memorized it in your childhood.  I could read the card, but not quickly enough to keep up, so I let Tawn do the chanting for me.

We were splashed with holy water – thus the laminated cards – and I poured holy water from a small container over my fingers as the monk said a blessing.

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Afterwards, we chatted for a few minutes with the monk, who was maybe thirty years old.  He was curious where I was from and whether I lived in Khrungthep and wanted to practice his English.  We learned that he is also from Buriram province although his Issan accent is so heavy that I didn’t catch that at first.

Below: Posing outside the wihaan where pre-made donation buckets are available.  They contain soap, toothpaste, an umbrella, robes, and other things the monks can use.  Since most of the urban temple have all the supplies they need, these buckets are cellophane wrapped and are just reused.  You place your money in the donation box, “give” the bucket to the monk, and the the bucket is eventually brought back around to be used again.  A rather practical solution.

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Above: A stray cat with a gnarled ear and blue eyes seems to match the window frames of the temple building.  Below: A beautiful orange Vespa parked by the side of the road.

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Afterwards we walked down the street and stopped by a Chinese temple and then walked through the neighborhood, seeing a local ice house, vendors who sell various Vietnamese foods (this area has many Vietnamese immigrants and families with Vietnamese roots), and then continued up to the Democracy Monument to catch a taxi home.

Below: A rare daytime shot of a traffic-free traffic circle in which the Democracy Monument sits.  Hopefully, Thailand will return to being a democracy on December 23rd, when the elections are scheduled to be held.

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So now you know why November 16th was important.  But what about the 15th?

 

November 15

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In addition to being the birthday of my ex-girlfriend Sandy, the only girlfriend (yes, you read that right – girlfriend) with whom I’m still in touch, November 15th this year had an oenophilic significance.  

Each year in France, the third Thursday in November is a day as highly anticipated as, say, the season finale of American Idol is in the United States.  The reason for this feverish anticipation is that at the stroke of midnight, that year’s Beaujolais Nouveau is released.  Beaujolais Nouveau is a light-bodied red wine made from Gamay grapes in the Beaujolais region of France, just north of Lyon.

In 1951, The French government granted the region permission to release their annual vintages one month ahead of the other regions, creating a public relations opportunity not to be missed.  Beaujolais Nouveau is fermented for only a few weeks after the grapes are harvested and it is most definitely not a wine for the cellars.  Instead, it is best enjoyed in its first few months after being bottled.

P1010867 On Thursday night, the Plaza Athenee Hotel held a party to celebrate the release of this year’s vintage, complete with extensive all-you-can-eat French entrees and desserts and non-stop refilling of your glass.  It turned out to be a fantastic value as the entrees were very lavish, including stuffed quail eggs, pan-seared foie gras on toasts, escargots en croute, a wide selection of French cheese and saucisson, and crepes.

Tawn and I were joined by Russ, Roka and Brian and had a fantastic time, eating and drinking for more than two hours before we finally reached our fill.  Mark the calendars for next year!

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Above: Tawn and the Chocolate Factory, Chris with little chevre (goat cheese) and endive “ice cream cones”.  Below: Afterwards, Tawn and Brian were too tired and too full to leave the hotel.

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Below: A short video showing the scene last night at the Plaza Athenee. About 45 seconds long.

 

My 35th Birthday

The morning of my 35th birthday got off to an early start as my parents called to wake me up at 6:30 and wish me a happy birthday.  It was nice to hear from them.  I think my father was a bit impressed that he had successfully dialed international long distance (“so many numbers!”) and we had a nice conversation.

We had originally planned to get up a bit earlier and after the phone call we rose, got cleaned up, and headed to a local wat or temple.  Actually, it wasn’t all that local.  We took the Skytrain to the other side of town, to a wat located behind the Century Park Hotel (Paul will remember this hotel). 

Part of Thai Buddhist tradition is the concept of “making merit“.  This can be done anytime, but it is customary to do it on your birthday and on other significant occassions.  

So we went to the wat and I donated a bucket full of possessions that the monks can use such as toothpaste, soap, rice, water, etc.  Then I receive a lengthy blessing (in Pali, the Sanskrit-derived language used by monks for religious ceremonies, complete with a spashing with holy water.

This particular wat is located in the midst of a community market and, despite being located almost smack-dab beneath an expressway, is still an example of the central role the temple plays in the community’s life.  In another hall at the temple, preparations were being made for a funeral.  Another area holds a school.  And another is where young men prepare to enter the monkhood as novices, for a day, several weeks, months, or even a lifetime – as all Thai Buddhist men are expected to do at some point.

My 35th birthday falls at an especially auspicioius time: last night was the full moon and today is the final day of the Loy Krathong festival.  Quoting from the Tourism Authority website:

“Loi Krathong” is traditionally performed on the full moon night of the twelfth lunar month, which usually falls on some day in November. The floating of a ‘Krathong’ – a banana–leaf cup – is intended to float away ill fortune as well as to express apologies to Khongkha or Ganga, the River Goddess. Some believe that the ritual is meant to worship the Buddha’s footprint on the bank of the Narmada River, while others say that it is to pay respect to Phra Uppakhut, one of the Lord Buddha’s great disciples.

We’ll go down to Chulalangkorn University (Tawn’s alma matta) this evening, where there is a large lake on the campus, to place our own krathong in the water and cleanse ourselves of any ill fortune.  This is as big a celebration as New Year’s Eve is in the States, so I’ll try to get some pictures of it.