Friday, November 30, 2012

Rain, Rain, Rain...And More Rain

A Buche de Noel that graced our holiday table  nearly 20 years ago. Time intensive, but delightful.

Torrential rain is sweeping over the area I live in California; the rise and fall of each wave as it passes somewhat reminiscent of a drum roll on the roof that's thankfully keeping me dry this morning, and dry is what I intend to stay today. It reminds me of the heavy downpours I've been caught in and watched from indoors while in Thailand, but those are usually much warmer!

Thailand has been having unseasonable rains, too, and I felt bad for the Loy Krathong revelers who were rained on while observing the holiday - even if it is a time many Thai honor Phra Mae Khongkha, the Goddess of Water. Somewhat fitting they'd get wet while doing so, but still...

It looks like we're in for several days of rain, and forewarned of that I stopped at the store yesterday and stocked up on supplies to begin Christmas preparations, something I take great pleasure in, even if the obligatory nature of those duties are occasionally overwhelming as they've increased over the years.

There will be close to two dozen relatives here in your humble host's home for nearly a week at Christmas - some just for the daytime gatherings and some staying through, sleeping throughout the place wherever they can find room for an inflatable bed, sofa, or, lacking that, a simple pallet in catawampus fashion on the floor.

So, I'm off into the kitchen today to begin prep work and the baking that serves as my "basket weaving"; my thinking time, when I can just put my mind into neutral and listen to the music of the season, the percussion on the roof and the occasional rumble of thunder in the distance as the house fills with the smell of vanilla, caramel and cinnamon.

Have a wonderful weekend - unless you've made other plans.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Just My Two Satang, But This Seemed Silly...

A vertical panorama of some of the trees along Beach Road, as they looked earlier this year. 

One of my favorite walks when I'm in Pattaya has long been the uninterrupted path along Beach Road, upgraded to a paved walkway a few years back. It's somewhere along about a four kilometer  (2.5 mile) walk, depending on where you start and stop.

Earlier in the morning and early evening are my favorite times, but if it isn't too hot later in the morning or afternoon would usually work, too.

Until recently, I hear.

Some time back the city of Pattaya began another of their well-intentioned but inexplicable public work projects: "trimming" the trees along Beach Road.

When I first heard about it I figured they'd just be clearing dead fronds from the palm trees or perhaps some of the lower-hanging branches that can be inconvenient for those who regularly use the walkway, but that wasn't it; they hacked almost all of the shade trees down completely, leaving precious little shade anywhere along the way. Many palms remain, but they don't give you much shelter from the sun.

Photo from a post on the Thai Visa Forums

I haven't seen it yet myself, but I'm not looking forward to it. The best picture I could find to illustrate the decimation was one posted on the Thai Visa forum, a site I thank for use of the image and freely recommend as a reasonably sane place to ask questions, do research for a Thailand trip and discuss all topics Thai.  The link is now in the reference section to the right.

I've heard several opinions as to why they essentially clear-cut the area, and those tended to lean toward security. Evidently the closed circuit television camera (CCTV) viewpoints were being blocked, as was the light from the streetlights along the way, but it would seem to me that it would have been a much better idea to just lower the level of the lights, move the CCTV points or simply trim the branches that blocked the cameras.

It'll take decades for the trees to grow back again, even if clearer heads do prevail in the future.  One of the less pleasant aspects of "Amazing Thailand," I'd say.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Happy Loy Krathong 2012/2555

Loy Krathong at the Dusit Zoo

Where I sit this morning it's Wednesday, November 28th - but in Thailand it's already late in the evening, and many of the traditional Loy Krathong festivities will be winding down.

The full moon of this 12th month of the lunar calendar is now  high in the skies of Thailand as cold rain begins to sweep over California.

The weather reports are showing some areas may be getting rained on in Bangkok and other regions of Thailand, too, but it's bound to be warmer, and I'd much rather be there.

It's been a while since I was able to participate in the Loy Krathong festival(s) in Thailand, but it's nice to think that some things continue, despite the march of time and what sometimes passes for social progress.

We've covered Loy Krathong a couple of times before (in both 2010 and 2011, if you want to look) so I won't drag you through the history of it again, but you won't have any trouble doing a search for it; Wikipedia has a nice page, in English, anyway.

Krathong for sale in Bangkok

Wherever you are on this big blue marble I hope you'll consider taking a moment to reflect on how we're using/abusing the finite resources available to us here, and perhaps join in with the Thai (and myself) in making both an amends and a wish that we'll do better in the year ahead.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Night Photos, Part 23 - Day-Night Spots: Salt & Pepper And Le Bordeaux

Salt & Pepper, on Day-Night 2 in Pattaya

A couple of weeks ago you saw some available light night photos in Part 22 of that series, taken on a walk around Pattaya one evening.  The colors and tones longer exposures tend to produce interest me, and as unpredictable as the technology can be it's often a surprise to see what pops up in the viewfinder after the exposure. Sometimes when I think it's unlikely I'd get anything out of the effort (mainly due to my unsteady hand holding the camera) the better images appear. Go figure.

The Day-Night area is a quieter spot at night than some in the vicinity, and there are several reasonably-priced (and nice) places to stay - such as Baan Dok Mai, a place we've looked at a couple of times already. It's on Day-Night 3. I've also had the Mosaik apartments recommended, but can't speak of them from personal experience other than seeing the outsides. They're above both of the restaurants mentioned today.

The top panorama is three images of the Salt and Pepper restaurant, stitched together. Salt and Pepper is a casual, homey spot owned for many years by a Pakistani man named Mr. Zee and his Thai wife, who seem to be there from dawn to dark. As a side note I understand she lost a sister and a couple of nieces in the same auto accident in the first part of October, which is quite sad. I must remember to pass along condolences when I'm there next trip.

A friend had suggested lunch there a few years ago, and that was my first visit. They make a pretty darned good cheeseburger and  other Western items, but their basic Thai food is very good, too, and that's what I've usually had there at dinner time. It's also a fine place to sit and have a cool one in the afternoon and watch the world going by. Inexpensive, as well.

Le Bordeaux restaurant, Day-Night Soi 2, Pattaya

The picture above of Le Bordeaux is two images, blended together, and I only have comments from people I know about the quality and pricing of the place... and I'm told it's nice. Le Bordeaux is a French-style restaurant, also on Day-Night 2, right near Salt and Pepper. If you can read French you can click on their name and open their web site.  It's a little "Hi-so" for my usual travels there, but I may try it next trip. If you've got two satang to add about either place, feel free to leave a comment.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Christmas Decorating 2012

Now that Thanksgiving has faded to being a series of leftovers in people's refrigerators, Christmas looms on the horizon. Black Friday mutated and now we have Cyber Monday, where shoppers in the U.S. alone are expected to spend about four billion (that's with a B) U.S. dollars online today, at least 20% more than they did last year.  Incredible.

I'm not much of a shopper, but I do enjoy the holidays... and I decorate the place to the nines. A dear friend once told me the place "looked like Santa's whorehouse," but he had too many Grinch genes, I think.

The boxes above are most of what awaited me this morning after I dragged them down from the attic over the weekend, and that's what I launched into instead of writing a post. My apologies. I'll make another stab at it tomorrow.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday? No, Thank you... Is There Any Pie Left?

Big Fun (NOT) at Wal-Mart on Black Friday

Over the years, the day after Thanksgiving has been one of the biggest retail shopping days of the year. The idea was that it ended the red in on the ledgers and put businesses "into the black" as people began to shop for the 4th quarter holidays - i.e. Christmas, Hanukkah, etc. The title of biggest shopping day was passed to December 26th some years back; what you in the UK would call Boxing Day. People here go for enormous quantities of half-off merchandise on the 26th.

Risking life and limb to save $5.00

As more and more money was to be made, the boundaries began to be stretched, and somewhere along the line the whole idea mutated like an uncontrolled and untreated tumor. The stores began to open earlier and earlier on Friday morning, and the lines outside at 0-dark-30 began to stretch around the building.

Then the lines became queues and crushes, and then people started to die in the rush to get through the doors when they finally opened at 05:00 or whenever the floodgates were opened. Some stores this year were actually open on Thanksgiving.

No, I was here first. Gimme.

I stood in line seven or eight years ago - when things were foolish but not dangerous - for a PC monitor - and saved nearly 70% off of the regular price - but nothing since then. It was unpleasant... and needless, really. Twenty years ago I used to get up early (that's normal for me, anyway), find a bench in a large mall to sit in and just watch the hordes hurry from store to store, free from the need to participate. THAT was fun. Now I'd have to check to make sure my insurance covered such folly.

For those of you who will be out shopping this weekend - good luck! Today I slept in a couple of hours later than usual, and have nothing whatsoever planned. I'm staying in, watching a few movies I've had lined up to see and grazing on leftovers from yesterdays bacchanalia.

By the way, today's images were all pulled from the internet. See you again on Monday!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

It's Thanksgiving For the USA, But Pull Up A Chair...

Normally I don't have the luxury of time to stop and take a pre-feast photo, but here's one from a smaller gathering in 2002. It's much the same each year.

Today is Thanksgiving in the USA, a holiday that's unfortunately all too often buried beneath an armload of newspaper advertising supplements for Black Friday, one of the biggest retail shopping days of the year. Tomorrow morning (meaning before dawn) a couple of people will probably be trampled to death in the crush to get a pair of UGGS, those somewhat dorky looking boot slippers or some other frivolity.  Sometimes makes me want to pack up and move to New Zealand, truth be known.

Again this year I'll be hosting my family here, roasting a 20+ pound turkey and making a few of the other traditional dishes. My siblings will add to the over-abundance of the overall feast, and by sundown I expect to still be full enough that we'll be asking each other if there's room for pumpkin pie yet, or if we should watch a movie or fire up the X-Box and wait a while still.

Today's post is a near repeat of the post from this same day last year. My thoughts on the holiday and what I think it ought to represent aren't much different today than they were a year ago, other than they've aged and (hopefully) mellowed a bit more. 

So... here again is the piece from one of my all-time favorite columnists, Jon Carroll. To my way of thinking it neatly ties the whole bundle up with a bow, and has become part of my annual tradition; a somewhat calm port before the storm of  The Holidays officially begins.  I hope it means something to you, too. 

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Thank you for reading my stuff here. 


A Song of Thanks; A Grat Etude

by Jon Carroll, copyright held by the San Francisco Chronicle

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. It is comfortably free of the strident religious and/or militaristic overtones that give the other holidays their soft emanations of uneasiness.

At Christmas, for instance, we are required to deal with the divinity of Jesus -- I know some of you folks have made up your minds about that one, but not me -- and on the Fourth of July we must wrestle with the question of whether all those simulated aerial bombardments represent the most useful form of nationalism available.

At Thanksgiving, all we have to worry about is whether we can wholeheartedly support (a) roasted turkey, (b) friends and (c) gratitude. My opinions on these matters are unambiguous; I am in favor of them all. I understand that there's another story attached to Thanksgiving, all about a meal that may not have happened at all and certainly didn't happen on the fourth Thursday of November. 

The implication of the school-pageant version of Thanksgiving is that everything was just swell between the Pilgrims and the Indians. That's not true, and things got a lot worse before they got marginally better. But Thanksgiving isn't about that -- it's a harvest festival. We can attach some dopey Squanto-give-corn narrative to it, but it's really about how once more the earth has been fruitful and all the crops are safely in the barn. Thus, for me, the thrill of Thanksgiving is undiminished by caveats, codicils or carps. That alone is something to be thankful for.

Thanksgiving provides a formal context in which to consider the instances of kindness that have enlightened our lives, the moments of grace that have gotten us through when all seemed lost. These are fine and sentimental subjects for contemplation.

First, there are the public personalities, artists and entertainers and philosophers, who have been there when they were needed, whether they knew it or not. Let us think kind thoughts about Nancy Pelosi and Helen Mirren, Barbara Lee and Frank Gore, Al Gore and David Milch, David Simon and Mikhail Baryshnikov, Tom Stoppard and Keith Olbermann, Jennifer Egan and Peter Carey, Van Morrison and Clarence Fountain, Don Asmussen and Judith Martin, Duncan Black and Joshua Micah Marshall, Dan Savage and Masi Oka -- this is my partial list; feel free to create your own.

And the teachers, the men and women who took the time to fire a passion for the abstract, to give us each a visceral sense of the continuity of history and the adventure of the future. Our society seems determined to denigrate its teachers -- at its peril, and at ours. This is their day as well.

Even closer. Companions. We all learned about good sex from somebody, and that person deserves a moment. Somebody taught us some hard lesson of life, told us something for our own good, and that willingness to risk conflict for friendship is worth a pause this day. And somebody sat with us through one long night, and listened to our crazy talk and turned it toward sanity; that person has earned this moment too.

And a moment for old friends now estranged, victims of the flux of alliances and changing perceptions. There was something there once, and that something is worth honoring as well.

Our parents, of course, and our children; our grandparents and our grandchildren. We are caught in the dance of life with them and, however tedious that dance can sometimes seem, it is the music of our lives. To deny it is to deny our heritage and our legacy.

And thanks, too, for all the past Thanksgivings, and for all the people we shared them with. Thanks for the time the turkey fell on the floor during the carving process; for the time Uncle Benny was persuaded to sing "Peg o' My Heart"; for the time two strangers fell in love, and two lovers fell asleep, in front of the fire, even before the pumpkin pie.

And the final bead on the string is for this very Thanksgiving, this particular Thursday, and the people with whom we will be sharing it. Whoever they are and whatever the circumstances that have brought us together, we will today be celebrating with them the gift of life and the persistence of charity in a world that seems bent on ending one and denying the other.

Thanks. A lot.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A (Brief) Musical Interlude While Housekeeping

The Summer palace of King Rama Vi, (known as Maruekhathaiyawan Palace) is on the Western edge of the Gulf of Thailand, between Hua Hin and Cha-Am.

The palace is an airy, sprawling set of beautifully crafted buildings made of blonde teak wood, all connected by long open walkways. Designed with a royal flair by a designer from Italy it was constructed in 1923, but still looks new today - despite it being right on the beach and vulnerable to the salt air. It's obviously been meticulously kept up.

I'll try to get to a proper report about it soon, but what made me think of it today were the solid rosewood wind chimes outside my window this morning as they stirred in the wind, striking notes that reminded me of the ranat (wooden xylophones) and other instruments I heard played there one afternoon. The tone bars of the ranat are often made from rosewood, you see. There's a short clip of the musicians below.

It's raining off and on this morning and it's a little cool to have the windows open, but I've left them ajar so I'll hear the chimes singing amid the gusts of wind as I scurry around, preparing my house for Thanksgiving visitors tomorrow.

Here's wishing you a day just as fine as the one I'm having.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Wat Tham Kong Pen: An Isaan Oddity (2)

The main "drum cave" area

Candles and incense, lit
before prayer
The grounds of Wat Tham Kong Pen are unlike those of many other temples. There aren't formal walls or tiled walkways, except in the area called the "drum cave", called that because they'd found a large drum just inside of it way back when - or so I was told.  My Northeastern friend isn't as educated as some of my other friends, but what he lacks in that and English skills he makes up for with a good heart.

In the grand scheme of things it wasn't really all that important to know, anyway; just being there and having the opportunity to share such a peaceful spot was enough for me. Feel free to Google the place if you want to learn more.  Remember that spelling while transliterating can vary widely, and I've also seen it spelled "tham khong phen" and "thum klong paen".

My friend referred to the area as "fah-lest" (forest), and there were more trees than brush, I noticed; the welcome breeze making them sing softly as they moved overhead. It made an almost eerie whispering sound when you were standing inside the main part of the cave area, and the large gong added a harmony of sorts.

The allegedly ancient drum, next to the "rubbing gong"

The gongs (in the photo above) were intended to be touched. Most of you have made a glass "sing" by running your fingertip around the lip of it, and the raised circular center of these gongs responded the same way if you moved the palm of your hand around the sides of them, and the soft, undulating tone would reverberate around the large open area of the cave.

The alter, seen between overhanging boulders in the drum cave

Detail of offerings left by visitors

My friend naturally stopped to light a candle and incense as he bowed his head reverently in prayer for a few minutes, as did I.  When I raised my head and opened my eyes he was smiling at me and said "good". "Life is good," I replied "we need to say thank you." He nodded his head in agreement, and we walked outside to look around.

Another view of the main image area

Nearby there were several other small areas with a Buddha statue, each also having offerings in front of them - some larger, like the one below, some only a couple of feet tall, tucked into a crevice in the rocks. We didn't see any other visitors stop at them, but my friend did at a couple, while I stood at a distance and left him in peace.

Since we weren't in any hurry that afternoon we went back inside the museum to look around and learn a little more about the Venerable Luang Pu Khao Analayo.

Detail from a finely done oil portrait of the man

He was born Khao Koratha into a farming family in the the village of Ban Bo Cha Nang Nong Kaeo in Ubon Ratchathani province on December 28, 1888, where he went to school, married, and fathered seven children.

Another oil painting of Luang Pu Khao Analayo on display. I don't know the story behind it, sorry to say.

After relocating a few times during his lifetime, he eventually ended up (in 1958) at Wat Tham Klong Phane, in the Nong Bua Lam Phu District of the Udonthani Province. There he worshiped and taught until his death at the age of 95 years and five months on May 16, 1983.

Much like at Madame Tussauds, this statue was quite realistic

We asked our ride to wait down along the road a ways so we could walk and get a better look at some of the unusual architecture, as you'll see below.

Aside from the bell tower that began yesterday's post, most of the buildings in the area were built incorporated with the surrounding boulders and massive stone walls, such as the one below:

Here's a view of it from the left side, showing the rock it sits beneath:

Well, I suppose I've kept you here long enough today. If you're in the area (there's a map in yesterday's post, too) I'd say it'd be worth the hour or so drive there to see the place, if for no other reason than the rock formations and the buildings set into them.  I enjoyed my visit.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Wat Tham Kong Pen: An Isaan Oddity (1)

A bell tower atop a rocky perch at Than Kong Pen

A monk heads up to the
museum area
The wat known as Than Kong Pen sits quietly within a hillside in Nong Bua Lamphu province, nestled into a massive wall of sandstone boulders that loom over and around it.

It was, by far, one of the more peaceful temples I've seen so far in Isaan; the tranquil surroundings almost daring you to make a sound, and other than the soft prayers of the faithful and the gentle rise and fall of a tone from a large gong all was quiet inside.

My friend's cousin had driven us out one afternoon to see this unusual area, where buildings were constructed to fit the space left under and around the huge stone formations, and it was a beautiful, breezy time to walk about and take it all in.

We got out of the vehicle and walked a ways while Bot drove on ahead so we could enjoy the soft rustle of the leaves as we moved down the road and got a better look at this practical but odd looking way of building.

Looking up at the museum from the lower parking level

There's a museum on the grounds, containing one of those surprisingly realistic statues of the meditation master Luang Pu Khao Analayo (December 28, 1888 to May 16, 1983) who lived there from 1958 until his passing. You climb a short stairway up to the museum through a carefully groomed garden area that was alive with colorful butterflies the day I was there.

Thai butterfly - I believe of the swallowtail variety

Nong Bua Lamphu province is West of Udonthani and North of Khon Kaen provinces, as you can see in the map below.

Tomorrow we'll finish with Wat Tham Kong Pen and I'll share more about the interior and grounds.

Another butterfly stops at a pincushion plant at Wat Tham Kong Pen

Friday, November 16, 2012

Twinkies To Thailand

A 10-pack of Twinkies. Get 'em before they're gone.

Since I hail from fairly humble beginnings a Hostess cream-filled Twinkie was a rare treat, but as a small child I sure loved them. I know there are folks who grew up with their own regional junk foods, but Twinkies - and a few other Hostess baked goods - have stayed high on my list of Worst Guilty Pleasures to Consume. Dolly Madison cakes? Little Debbie cupcakes?  Feh.  Pale substitutes, at best. Hostess Cupcakes, Hostess Snoballs, HoHos and Ding-Dongs... now those were  superb junk foods.

It was joked about for years that the cream-injected sponge cake bars had a half life, and were so far removed from anything natural that they'd keep on your shelf for decades, but that was, unfortunately, merely an entertaining urban myth.

News today that the Continental Baking Company was rather abruptly throwing in the towel after 87 years has started a somewhat frenzied run on their more popular products as people learned that CBC's 33 factories across the USA are ceasing production immediately. Labor disputes are being blamed for the decision, but it's a shame that something couldn't have been worked out. The company had filed for bankruptcy protection in January.

When I read the news this morning I stopped and emailed the article to my friend in Thailand, and that, my friends, is my segue to the story of him and these soon to be gone forever treats. For privacy's sake I'll call him Top today.

Five years ago we were chatting online about some remodeling he was planning for his home. It was late in the evening there, and Top was in his office, so he was able to chat via a camera he had at his desk.

All of a sudden he stopped, looked directly into the camera and got that "I'm serious about this" look on his face; a look I rarely see, so I waited to see what was coming.  I suppose it more was more where it was coming from, and not what it was that surprised me - because it came from far left field, as we in the U.S. would say about the unexpected. I was expecting to be asked for a loan for the remodel (he's borrowed money a couple of times and always repaid it per our agreement), but that wasn't it at all.

"What are these Twinkies?" he asked, emphasizing the name.

It's probably just as well I didn't have a camera, because he was using the look that said he wouldn't have appreciated my initial surprise that gave way almost immediately to a laugh I could just barely hide.  "What?" I asked.

No change of expression. "I would like to try these Twinkies."

I was somewhat at a loss. I did my best to give him a thumbnail description of the cakes without editorializing too much, and he seemed to get that they were tasty if you liked that sort of thing, but that they were, without a doubt, in the same category as donuts, McDonald's burgers and other artery clogging items.

Although the originals had a
banana flavored filling, flavored varieties
never did much for me.
"I'll bring you some," I promised, and a month or so later I did just that.  Figuring he'd deem them far too sweet I only took one 10-pack box, knowing that the younger folks he worked with would probably like them, even if his more traditional Thai palate didn't.

The day after I landed and we'd had our usual Arrival Day dinner he took the box into work with him. When I talked to him at lunchtime I asked if he'd shared them with his co-workers. He said that evidently his co-workers were a little more "worldly" than he, because he'd left the box on his desk when he'd gone to the lavatory, shortly after arriving, and returned to see the box open and empty.  "All," he said, sounding surprised "they eat all."  This time we both laughed, and I told him they probably did him a favor by eating them for him.

I've taken him a couple of boxes each trip since. One he opens, taking several out for himself - he does like them, but isn't much for sweets - and the others he takes to share with his friends and co-workers.  Today I sent him the unhappy news that the supply was rapidly drying up.

This afternoon I boxed up what you see in today's pictures, walked them up to the post office and airmailed them to my friend.  I sure wish I was flying them there myself, but I'm guessing that he'll come up with some other off the wall item I can take when I go next Spring.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Slow Down And At Least Acknowledge The Roses

A mini Christmas fern (vesicularia) covers a water-filled planter in Bangkok. I walked right by it on the way by the first time.

Most visitors to a foreign country are on a schedule. I know many of you in other countries have the luxury of far more paid holidays than we in the USA are able to eke out, but even so you have lodging, meals and other expenses to travel; things that can quickly add up in whatever currency you use on a daily basis, so some of us pack our days to their limits.  That said, the most precious commodity most of us deal in while away from home is time, and anyone who travels is wiser for making the best use of it.

A Thai salvinia floats gracefully atop the surface of a planter near Chantaburi

I acknowledge the two main schools of thought about holidays - being on the go or barely going anywhere - and there are pluses and minuses to both.  I tend to regularly overbook myself, and often rue the decision. Why I keep doing it it beyond me, but I'll bet many of you'd agree with my best guess: I don't want to miss anything.

Some decades back, when my parents were on a cruise through the Panama Canal with my maternal grandmother they'd heard (after my grandmother's bedtime) that the best viewing of the canal transfers would be just past dawn the next morning. They rose early and went up to watch, but didn't want to wake my grandmother up so early.  When they were heading back to their cabin to wake her and go to breakfast, there she was in the corridor, a ship steward on either side of her to help her along after noticing her teetering along on her own.  Her reply to their "why?" question was simple: "I didn't want to miss anything."

Now, I've thought of that at least a hundred times since hearing the story, and it's been a reference point I've revisited many times while traveling.  What you may or may not agree with is what I tend to value most when immersed in a different culture, and that's the details of life as lived by the people where I'm visiting.

Water splashed by a bird bathing next to it decorates a hydrangea. I missed the bird, but I got this view.

Some might consider it a waste, but I'm fine visiting and re-visiting some of the same tourist haunts with assorted newbies. That's because I can appreciate the details I've walked past on other visits. I've been to the Grand Palace at least five times, but I find something new to appreciate each trip.  With such an overabundance of detail it's almost impossible not to find something new to stop and appreciate.

I know we haven't addressed the Grand Palace just yet, but we will in the next couple of weeks - it's been covered on so many other blogs that it hasn't been all that high up on my own list. Besides, it's been closed, you see (just joking there - the "Grand Palace closed today" is one of the more common scams perpetrated on tourists).

One small sliver of the detail waiting for you to stop and appreciate

Organized tours are more than sufficient for some folks, but I encourage friends visiting abroad to leave some slack to return to places they're herded past that strike a special note for them. I consider myself blessed to have been able to return to Thailand many times, giving myself multiple chances to stop and smell the roses, so to speak.

Regardless of the time you've allotted to visiting Thailand, I urge you to do what many of us find so abhorrent - miss a few things - and move about slowly enough to appreciate and absorb all the detailed beauty of the land that you can.

To this traveler's way of thinking, getting lost while attempting to take a bus ride, stopping to watch what people buy for breakfast outside the BTS station, the clumsy conversation with a local while wandering the night flower market while purchasing a bouquet for your room: those are the memories that will stick with you far longer than what you bought at Siam Paragon before being herded onto a bus and driven off to the next brief scheduled stop.

Just something to consider when planning your next trip.

Even a quiet canal in Amphawa will reveal a story... if you stop long enough to watch it happen. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The 700 Club

A fountain in a Bangkok garden

Today's post is the 700th here.  Now, I freely admit some aren't much more than place holders, and I've missed my share of days when I've been out of town, but 700 is still worthy of mention, I think.  Those 700 posts have included just a few dozen shy of 2,000 photos, and those have been the most enjoyable part of putting the posts together.

I know I could probably have done a post most every day - posts can be prepared in advance and scheduled to auto-post in the future - but everyone's time is valuable and to merely post filler pinched from the internet having nothing to do with Thailand doesn't show much respect for you regulars, so I choose not to... with rare exceptions, and today's is one of them.

So... that makes me a member of the "700 Club", the way I see it.

By the 700 club I most certainly don't mean to imply any affiliation with the religious program of the same name, but I sincerely doubt any fans of that mindless pap reads this, anyway. If you do, I have one piece of advice regarding your association with those folks: RUN!  Turn off the television and back away.

Since I like to include a story of some sort as often as possible, let me share my favorite story about Pat Robertson (then main host of The 700 Club) and Jerry Falwell, even if it does qualify for the "Outside of Thailand" label.

On September 13th, 2001 - two days after what's become known as 9/11 - Robertson had Falwell on the show. The clip below speaks for itself:

There was a stiff breeze shortly after this was broadcast - from the frantic backpedaling - but I personally didn't believe a bit of it. It was like a Saturday Night Live comedy sketch gone horribly wrong, but it obviously wasn't meant to be humorous.

So to recap: the blog is now a member of the 700 club, but not The 700 Club.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Another Common Snack: Khanom Thung Tag

One of the more common snacks you'll see if you venture away from the main tourist traffic areas is khanom thung tag.

As you can see in the clip above, batter made with coconut milk and flour is spread into the bottom and up the sides of a well-heated heavy skillet designed primarily for this dessert.  Depending on where you are in the country (or, indeed, where the cook is from) they'll then add a few simple ingredients to the coconut that's almost always used, fold the shell shut, scoop it up and put it onto a rack to cool slightly before it's ready to eat.

The clip was taken at the night festival in Laem Sing, and the coconut was young and moist. I've also seen it made with colored and more dry coconut and other things.

The black sesame seeds and the sprinkling of sugar weren't really necessary (in my opinion, anyway) but it certainly added to the overall sweetness of the treat.  They were soft, warm, sweet and gooey.  Magnificent.

If you see them being sold from a cart somewhere and haven't already tried them, do so - even if you're not particularly hungry and think you won't be able to finish it. you do. They're truly delicious.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Night Photos, Part 22: A Late Evening Walk In Pattaya

A panoramic shot of the shore along Beach Road in Pattaya, from an angle you don't often see.

Other than the festival night shots at Laem Singh there hasn't been an installment of the Night Photos series since June. Popular consensus is that you've been spared long enough. Well, popular with me, anyway, and since I've been running for close to three years on faith that what I find interesting you'll at least find tolerable here's another batch of long-exposure night shots - all taken around the Beach Road area of Pattaya one evening.

The Oriental Star restaurant glows brightly onto the water of Pattaya Bay

I liked the colors on the water and the blurring of the tiny waves in the top shot. It's a view of Beach Road you don't see photos of very often.

Speaking of Beach Road, there's always a vast assortment of ladies of the night, lady boys, transsexuals  transgender, tran-most-anything along the walkway there, some deeper into the shadows than others.  There were some actually "working" behind me on the beach under cover of darkness. It's one of the few times I've felt compelled to keep a closer eye on my camera and wallet.

It's not even fair to call them "rented admirers" as I've been told it's strictly business along there, for the most part. Nothing against it - work is work - but the World's Oldest Profession can be a trying one, I've learned from those who've made a living at it (on one level or another).

Male, female and in-between prostitutes along Beach Road.

On side streets things can be quieter, but from the beach you need to be alert and sometimes spry to get across Beach Road. Despite traffic signals installed to make it somewhat safer for pedestrians to cross, rumor has it locals can still collect a bounty on tourists. Or so it seems, if you're trying to get across.

Looking North from the curb on Beach Road, Pattaya

And why would you cross the road?  Why, to get to the other side, naturally. Restaurants, beer bars, open air clubs, tailors, opticians, massage storefronts, go go clubs and businesses of all stripes catering to the visitor line beach road and the side streets nearby.

Business lights can give things a warm glow late in the evening

As the weather begins to chill where I am it's easy to daydream of lazy afternoons along the beach and leisurely dinners in small, cozy eateries on the side streets of Thailand.  Not difficult at all to admit I miss it.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Fug Tong, Fut Thong - Either Way, Say It Carefully

Kabocha Squash (Family Cucurbitaceae, Genus Curcurbita, Maxima species) in Chantanaburi province.

Autumn is the season you see the most squash varieties for sale here in the USA. Carving Halloween pumpkins and pumpkin pies may use up the biggest percentage of our total output here, but that's just a guess on my part. Personally, I'd rather have the pie than the mess from carving one just to put outdoors; seems like a waste of food to me.  Nevertheless, I've carved them out like the one below, shown here with a flash and illuminated by a couple of tea light candles.

I'm using this example because of a running joke about frogs I have with a Thai friend. The jack-o-lantern was my neighbors.

In addition to the orange, smooth skinned pumpkins there are quite a few other varieties available here, including the one up top that you're likely to see stacked up on tables in the Thai countryside in the first few months of the calendar year. Those are Kabocha Squash, of the Cucurbitaceae family, genus Curcurbita, Maxima species. 

This Thai Kabocha variety (transliterated as fak thong, fut tong, fug thong - take your pick) hold an especially long time and are a favorite addition to many Thai dishes: soups, vegetable dishes and desserts.  I've rarely met a gourd I didn't like, so I've enjoyed all of the above at different times. In the US you sometimes hear it referred to as a Japanese pumpkin, but I think most produce folks would agree that Kabocha squash is the most common name for it here, too.

Most of my Thai friends pronounce it something closer to "fut tong", and one told me the story of being led by his hosts around a produce market in Manila while attending a seminar in the Philippines and coming across these very gourds there.  When he pointed at them and said it out loud in Thai to identify them, his "hi-so" (high society level) hosts heard the word "fut" as something very different: as an English vulgarism meaning intercourse, also beginning with "F". You get the idea.

There were audible gasps from the Filipinos and my friend said he could tell his face was a warm red as he explained what he'd really said and tried to smooth over the misunderstanding.  He blushed again relating the story... but I got a laugh out of it.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

No, Size Isn't Everything, But Still...

A Micro 7-Eleven

On this last trip I saw a 7-Eleven store that may well be the record holder for being the smallest in all of Thailand. Located in the Mo Chit BTS station - as of today the Northern end of the Sukhumvit line, near the Jatujak Weekend Market - you might miss it if you blinked while walking by.

It was late in the evening, and I was on my way back to my room in Nonthaburi. The cheapest way to do that was to take the BTS to the end of the line and then catch a taxi for the rest of the ride.  Since it was such a gorgeously balmy evening I stopped to wander around the station before heading down to street level and my ride "home".

The sliding door was next to the candy shelf

Normally it's pretty frantic in the station when I'm passing through to or from the weekend market, but - as many stations can be after the evening commute - it was relatively peaceful and inviting. I was ready for something to drink, and was pleased to see the familiar orange and green stripes flanking the 7-11 logo, but something seemed odd about the place at my very first glance: it looked very small.

It was.

Upon stepping inside I was almost immediately nose to nose with a guy cleaning the soda dispensing machine.  As you can see by the photos, this place wasn't much over nine feet deep, at best - and maybe 15 feet long, tops.  There was almost more space behind the register than there was in front of it for the customers to queue up. Not being fond of being packed like a sardine I shuddered to think what it must be like during busy times.

Looking to the left, just inside the door

As you can see in the picture above there was just barely room for one person to get down to the magazine rack and the drinks further down the refrigerated case. My wide angle lens really couldn't do the place justice, and even one additional customer made it impossible to get a decent view of it, so these will have to do.  If you're in the station sometime, check it out.

At lease there isn't much floor to keep mopped.