Friends and Xangans and Xangan Friends

In the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to meet several Xangan friends. In addition to meeting Jason (Wangium) for dinner at Nopalito in San Francisco, I met with Andy (ungrandvoyage) in Mountain View, and Kenny (kenpcho – not really active anymore) in Cosa Mesa. I’ve known all of them for some time and had met them before.

P1230653

While in Los Angeles, I also had to opportunity to have brunch with Gary (currypuffy – to my right) and Jimmy (Rm2046 – to my left), along with their friends William and Chris. Wonderful brunch at 3 Square Cafe in Venice Beach and I appreciate them making the time to see me. Sadly, Jimmy has been AWOL from Xanga for two years.

P1230571-001

After several years of knowing and just missing each other on my travels to the Bay Area, Kevin (Devilgaysianboi) and I finally had the chance to meet while I was in Southern California. He’s every bit as nice as he comes across on his blog. 

There are still plenty of Xangans I haven’t yet me whom I hope I’ll someday meet. These include, but are not limited to, the two Megs (Passionflwr86 and TheCheshireGrins), Val (murisopsis), Sheldon (brooklyn2028), Vivek (Dezinerdreams), Ben (bengozen), Alex (Roadlesstaken), Aaron (kunhuo42) and of course Matt (the appropriately-handled ElusiveWords). Well, I still have my whole life ahead of me, right?

P1230002

Of course, the trip wasn’t all Xangans. I also met with my high school friends (including their children and nephews, some of whom are pictured above). It was the seven-year-old (in the Groucho Marx glasses) who spurred me to finally cave in and buy a smart phone. During dim sum, the children were playing with their parents’ smart phones. Joaquin asked if he could borrow my phone. I fished out my inexpensive, old Nokia candy-bar phone. He looked at it for a moment, looked at me, and then said, “No, Uncle Chris, your real phone!”

I went to the Apple store that afternoon.

P1230689 IMG_6117

This US trip was also the visit of babies, several of whom have been born in the last six months and all of whom I was pleased to spend time with. None of them starting a Xanga account yet, but at the rate that young people are adapting to technology, I expect they should be ready to blog by kindergartern. 

P1230774

No sooner had I returned to Bangkok than another pair of Xangans (well, former Xangans – how long can you be away before we give up hope that you will blog again?) came for a visit. Aaron (toypetfishes – the middle of the picture), who was the one who introduced me to Xanga more than seven years ago, and Tae (sagicaprio – between me and Aaron), shown here at brunch along with Tawn and our mutual friend Louis.

I’m amazed how many people from Xanga I’ve had the chance to meet in real life – 32, based on a quick count from my friends and subscribers list. That doesn’t include about a dozen relatives or friends I already knew who post (or used to post) on Xanga. Pretty successful for a social networking site, no?

 

Xangans in Bangkok

While it wasn’t an official Xanga meetup, I managed to meet a trio of Xangans here in Bangkok over the last week, none of whom I’ve ever met in person.

A week ago Friday, both Rudy (@rudyhou) and Andrew (@stepaside_loser) were in town from Indonesia and Australia, respectively. It was a coincidence that both were here at the same time and presented a nice opportunity for us to gather for dinner at Soulfood Mahanakorn followed by some dessert at a street vendor nearby.

P1220859-Obscured

From left: Me, Tawn, Andrew (who requested that his identity be obscured), Rudy, and Rudy’s friend Sam. Sam isn’t a Xangan but is still a nice fellow! Very nice meeting everyone.

P1220963

Now, another Xangan whom I knew lived in Bangkok but had managed to forget is Marlar (@I_love_Burma). We had been in touch several months ago and it wasn’t until another Xangan, who is coming to visit her in a few weeks, messaged me to see if I’d be in town, that I remember that Marlar actually still lives here! I invited her to the impromptu meet up two Fridays ago but she couldn’t make it, so we instead met for lunch yesterday.

See? It really is a small Xangan world!

Now, I’ll be seeing Rudy again, along with three or four (or more) other Xangans in Hong Kong on December 28-29. If you will be in that neck of the woods, let me know and you’re welcome to join the meet-up.

 

Andy and Sugi – The Wedding

Last Sunday fellow Xangan Andy was married to Sugi at the King Kamehameha Country Club on Maui. I shared one picture a few days ago, but let me share a few more for my family and friends who know the couple.

P1000426

Beautiful view of the wedding site, which offered a sweeping vista from one end of the Maui neck to the other.

P1000438

The flower girl (Sugi’s niece Taylor) and ring bearer (Andy’s nephew Cayden) needed a little encouragement.

P1000451

The bride is escorted by her father, Mike. As soon as she started down the aisle, tears started flowing. And lest you think that Andy is some tough guy, he started crying, too.

P1000468

Sugi and Andy exchange rings. A Shinto priest from the temple close to Sugi’s family’s house in Pa’ia performed the ceremony.

P1000482

Sealing the deal with a kiss. The flower girl, Taylor, is barefoot because she said her shoes hurt her feet.

P1000498

The newlywed couple walk down the aisle.

P1000508

The bride’s sister and matron of honor, Jessica, escorted by the groom’s best man Travis. The flower girl is Taylor, Jessica’s three-year old daughter.

P1000518

The bride’s mother and father. Beautiful Japanese-themed dress and cloak!

P1000526

The bride and her nearly 95-year old grandfather, who was the hit of the party.

P1000542

The couple immediately after the ceremony!

P1000424

Tawn poses with the flower girl while she still had her sandals on!

P1000573 - 001

Andy W (obscured by request), Kenny, me, Tawn, Sugi, Andy, Fei, and Travis. Fei and Travis went to high school in Omaha with Andy.

P1000556

The groom and bride address the guests. I was the emcee for the event and, with only a short while to practice, had to introduce all the out of town guests and family members!

P1000571

The beautiful wedding cake. They went for a small cake because the main desserts were pie including my favorite macadamia nut cream pie!

P1000603 P1000624

Tawn and I pose with one of the cutest children at the wedding, Chinasa. The friend of Sugi’s college roommate, Chinasa was this perfectly calm one-year old who didn’t mind everybody holding her. No fussing, no crying. But she kept a poker face the whole time and was slow to smile!

It was a beautiful wedding – one of the nicest I’ve been to – and we were really glad we made the effort to fly over to be a part of it. Congratulations to Andy and Sugi and may you have many happy years together!

 

Meeting Janet for Tea

P1140429

Near the end of our trip to Los Angeles, Tawn and I drove south to Oceanside, CA to spend the night visiting some friends.  Along the way we stopped in beautiful San Juan Capistrano, a small town on the south side of Orange County, to visit Janet, a fellow Xangan who keeps us enthralled with her photos.

P1140431

San Juan Capistrano is a mission town, home to one of the 21 missions and settlements founded by Father Junipero Serra and his band of merry Franciscan friars.  At the heart of the town is a railway station, at which Amtrak and commuter trains regularly call.  On the left side of the tracks is the old town area, Los Rios, where several antique shops and tea rooms are located.

P1140423

Antique shower from Paris, filled with rocks and sitting in the garden of the tea house.

P1140422

In her entry on the meeting, Janet has more pictures including a better one of the three of us.  The tea shop was very cute, though, with all sorts of fussily elegant cups, saucers, tea pots, and creamers, hilariously mismatched.

P1140424

Their scones were very nice with locally made preserves and fresh cream.  Was it clotted cream though?  Not sure.  Anyhow, it was a pleasant visit and I’ve glad we had the chance to meet Janet in person after several years of knowing her virtually.

Tags: @slmret

 

Jason and Daniel Visit – Part 2

Later in the week, Tawn and I had a second opportunity to visit with Jason and Daniel, taking them to see a Thai market.  Wet markets (in other words, those that sell meat and produce) are often one of the best ways to get a really good look at the culture of a place you are visiting.  We chose the modern, clean, and convenient to get to Marketing Organization for Farmers market, known by its Thai initials “Or Tor Gor”.

Kamphaeng Phet

Or Tor Gor market is located across the street from the Chatuchak (“JJ”) Weekend Market, immediately outside exit 3 of the Kamphaeng Phet subway station and a short walk from the Mo Chit Skytrain station.  It is open every day of the year and remains busy until the afternoon, so unlike some markets that are most active at the crack of dawn, you can catch a few winks and still see Or Tor Gor in action.

Here are some of the sights we saw:

P1080774

There are loads of fruit and vegetable vendors, selling both locally grown and imported varieties.  Even though it is a few months before the height of the mango season, many vendors had a large selection of fragrant “Flower Water” mangoes.

P1080762

Dried fruit is an excellent way to bring a taste of your trip home with you.  Here, Jason and Daniel consider the different offerings including mango (lighter yellow) and papaya (orange).

P1080767

Curries are one of the staples of Thai cuisine, but even most Thais who cook at home will rarely go to the trouble to grind their own curry paste.  (Although I would like to try and make my own curry paste one of these days.)  Instead, they purchase freshly made curry paste from the local market, available in many varieties.  Tell the vendor what kind of curry you want to make and she’ll tell you what vegetables, herbs, and meats you need to buy and in what quantities.

P1080747

This market also has a significant cooked food section so you can buy your meal here and when you return home all you have to do is make some rice.  This vendor is selling curries.  By my count, approximately twenty different types of curry!  Some use the same type of curry paste but are varied by protein and whether or not they use coconut milk.  If you’ve ever tried a “jungle curry” at your local Thai restaurant, that is a curry made without coconut milk.

P1080752

Lots of snacky items available, too.  Here, Tawn and Daniel discuss the different flavors of shrimp chips available for purchase.  You can buy these cooked (as you see here) or in small uncooked discs that you fry in oil at home.  I can’t imagine the benefit of frying them yourself so much better to buy them precooked.

P1080766

Thailand is home to inexpensive, high-quality seafood and Or Tor Gor market is a good place to buy it.  Above is a tray of small crabs, the type which are brined then crushed and added to one variety of som tam – green papaya salad.

P1080768

Fresh scallops are another plentiful item.  When buying them in the US, I’m used to seeing only the white adductor muscle and not the attached roe.  Here they are sold still in the shell with all the bits still attached.

P1080771

Another popular sea food item is the giant river prawn.  These beasts usually have a body about nine inches in length (not including the antennae) and are perfect for grilling.  Here, a vendor stacks prawns for display.

P1080777

Or Tor Gor market also has several flower vendors, including some who specialize in garlands.  These hand-made flower arrangements are used for worship, placing them on Buddha statues and at shrines, as well as for honoring elders, guests, teachers, and other people of respect.

P1080780

This type of garland is especially fragrant.  It will last for several days and each evening the room will smell of jasmine.

P1080742

Another prepared food vendor sells stir-fries and other dishes that are eaten with rice.  Thus their Thai name, gap khao, which means “with rice”.  In the steamer in the foreground of the picture is an interesting dish called hor mok.  It is made with a mixture of flaked fish and red curry, steamed in a leaf cup until it has a mousse like texture, then topped with some coconut cream.  Tawn made this for me on one of his first trips to San Francisco after we met, making do with the ingredients he could find at the time.

P1080794

For our breakfast (it was going on 11:00) we settled on four dishes with rice.  From the lower right, clockwise: green curry with fish cake, bitter eggplant and basil; pork belly and boiled eggs in soy sauce; eggplant fried in ground pork and basil; and pumpkin served with scrambled egg.  Very tasty.

P1080796

Finally, after two days of trying we succeeded in getting a picture of the four of us together.  This one was taken by a young lady who was sitting at the adjacent table waiting for her food to be delivered.  Not only does it show you our handsome mugs but you can also get a good idea of what the market looks like with many of the prepared food vendors in the background.

Again, it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to finally meet Jason and Daniel in person and a treat to be able to spend some time with them while they were in town.  Hopefully, the next time we meet it will be in Tokyo!

Happy new year to all of you!

Jason and Daniel Visit – Part 1

This time of year, when the weather is nasty further north in the hemisphere and the weather is more bearable down here near the equator, Tawn and I find ourselves with an endless stream of visitors.  We were fortunate this week to have a pair of unexpected, but very welcome visitors: Jason and his husband Daniel.  Jason and I have known each other for a number of years through Xanga but this is the first time we’ve met in person.

The first day we met, I spent several hours playing tour guide, taking them through the city on a few different modes of transportation and then on to the tourist sites of the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Reclining Buddha.  This is something like the “Seven Modes of Transport” tour I did with some recent guests, but with some refinements.  Here are some pictures we took along the way:

P1080675

We began our multi-modal journey at the Art Deco style Hua Lamphong railway station, located on the edge of the old city.  The misters along the roof were going full-blast, trying to cool down what was a sunny and warm day.  Our journey through the city by rail was only twenty minutes long but it gave us a chance to view a different side of Bangkok life.

P1080680

The train cars are not air conditioned and are older than any of the three of us.  Here, Jason and Daniel wait for the train to pull out of the station.

P1080686

At one of the stops along the way, I noticed these shoes, sheets, clothes, and chilies that were being dried in the sun.  It reminds me of that long-lost Tennessee Williams play, “Chili on a Hot Tin Roof”.

P1080688-1

Some of what you see along the train tracks verges on squalor and sadness.  This man was squatting barefoot on a wooden shack, a guitar at his side and a vacant expression in his eyes.

P1080691

From the train we transferred to a canal taxi, racing through the polluted khlong to the end of the line, which is adjacent to the Golden Mount.  From there we squeezed into a tuk tuk, a three-wheeled taxi, and weaved through the traffic to Thammasat University, located on the banks of the Chao Phraya River.  A short walk down the street from the university was this hidden soi – an alley of antique shop houses that has been roofed in.  It is well-ventilated and almost looks like something out of the French Quarter in New Orleans, minus the picture of His Majesty the King.

P1080696

After lunch we walked a bit further down the street to the Grand Palace.  Here are Daniel and Jason in front of a trio of buildings in Wat Phra Gaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.  This is His Majesty’s personal temple and is the only temple in Thailand that does not have monks’ residences on site. 

The three structures in the background are, from left to right, a Sri Lankan style chedi (or stupa) that contains relics of the Buddha; a Lanna (Northern Thai/Laotian kingdom) style library that houses Buddhist scriptures written on palm leaves; and a Khmer (Cambodian) style hall that contains statues of the eight previous kings in the Chakri dynasty.  A rehabilitation of the last building was just completed in the previous few days and workers were taking down the last of the scaffolding.

P1080705-1

The exterior of the Royal Chapel of the Emerald Buddha is decorated with a row of garuda – a mythical half-man, half-bird that holds in its claws a naga – the multi-headed serpent that sheltered Prince Siddhartha from the elements as he meditated for forty days before gaining enlightenment and becoming the Buddha.  (Which means, “the enlightened one”.) 

P1080702

I was trying to be artsy with this photo, taking a picture of the reflection of a wihan – a Buddha statue hall – in the mirrored mosaic tiles of the Chapel of the Emerald Buddha.  My attempts to focus on the reflection failed but I think the result is still interesting.

P1080697

A common theme that we observed, which I hadn’t been aware of previously, is how much Chinese statuary there is on the grounds of the temple.  This is a fine example of a traditional Chinese gate, carved in miniature, with the Buddhist scripture library in the background.  Throughout the complex we saw warriors, pagodas, gates, lions, and other sculptures in the Chinese style.

P1080730

Later in the afternoon we walked down the street to Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha.  This temple is dotted with dozens of chedis large and small, which contain relics of various major and minor members of the royal family stretching back more than 200 years.  I cropped this photo from a larger one as I thought it made for an interesting silhouette.

Sure enough, as is always the case, on the way there a half-dozen different people intercepted us and tried to tell us that the temple was closed.  (It is open every day until at least 6:00 pm – actually, I think it is staying open until 9:00 pm these days.)  This is a classic Bangkok scam.  Do not trust strangers who approach you.

P1080720-1

Daniel and Jason in front of the Reclining Buddha, which is 46 meters long and 15 meters high.  In answer to a frequent question, the statue was built first and then the hall was built around it.

P1080723

A popular activity is to donate 20 baht for a cup of small coins, and to drop them into a row of alms bowls, reciting a prayer or giving thanks for a specific blessing as you drop each coin.  This picture of Daniel and Jason turned out very nicely, I think.  Nice lighting and composition.

P1080724

This temple is one that tourists tend to miss large portions of.  They see the giant reclining Buddha statue and then depart.  It is a very large temple, though, and has many areas well worth a look.  As we wandered around the quieter portions of the temple, we came across a gardener who was trimming some bushes.  His son was conked out nearby, taking a nap on the utility cart.  How I wish I could sleep so easily!

P1080731

After a warm afternoon touring we decided to bypass the long queue for the river taxi and instead hire our own long-tail boat.  A little hard bargaining (and a willingness to walk away when my desired price wasn’t met) resulted in the dock manager coming back to me as we sat drinking our water and finally accepting my price.  What a nice way to catch a breeze and work our way downriver.

That evening Tawn joined as the four of us had dinner at Soul Food Mahanakorn.  Of course we were so caught up in conversation that we forgot to take a picture together! 

Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow…

 

Food in Hong Kong: Isola Bar and Grill

After the Korean lunch, I took the MTR over to IFC.  IFC is the International Finance Centre, a large multi-use complex built atop the Hong Kong Airport Express station.  There are two office towers, a hotel, and a nice mall in the complex and it could be a model for the development that might happen around Bangkok’s Airport Express terminal at Makkasan station in the future.  While at IFC, I dined at Isola Bar and Grill.

Isola Bar and Grill is a two-story restaurant adjacent to the Lane Crawford department store.  It has a fantastic outdoor dining deck offering sweeping views of the harbour and West Kowloon waterfront and Thursday was a perfect day for sitting out there.  The restaurant was suggested by Angel, a Xangan from Vancouver who comes to Hong Kong frequently on work.

P1070045

Since I had just had lunch and he was flying out in a few hours back to Vancouver, neither Angel nor I was in the mood for a full meal so we settled instead for dessert.  Thus, this entry isn’t a fair review of Isola.

P1070042

My hazelnut creme brulee with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  It was okay but I found the hazelnut flavor to be kind of muddy.

P1070044

Angel had a chocolate cake that, if I’m not mistaken, had ground nuts in it.  It was the tastier of the two desserts.

The service was passable, the dessert was passable, so not much to say there.  The view was sweeping, though, and the company pleasant, so that made the appointment well worthwhile.