Monthly Archives: July 2005

Gang Gari – Yellow Curry

You may remember me sharing you pictures last week of the Massaman Curry that I ate for lunch. I bought this at Seri Center where I quite often go at the weekend. This week I bought gang gari gai otherwise known as Chicken Yellow Curry.You might be interested to note that “gari” is actually a Tamil word which gave us the English word “curry”. Like before, I ordered this meal with a roti. A few readers pointed out that I should really call it a “Parantha” as roti is a single layer and is cooked without oil. That might be true, but Thai people still call it “roti”!

The main ingredients include: coconut milk, potatoes, onion, palm sugar, fish sauce and deep-fried shallots. You could also add cherry tomatoes which I quite like to do in my curries. The meat here can either be chicken or beef. The ingredients for the yellow curry paste include: red spur chilies, roasted shallots, roasted garlic, galangal, ginger, lemon grass, coriander seeds, roasted cumin, curry powder, salt and shrimp paste. This curry has a sidedish of cucumber relish which I told you about last time.

ลอยกระทง (Loy Krathong)

I was sitting on my back deck the other evening, reviewing my “Thai For Beginners” text (constant review of even the basics is essential if one is not immersed in the language). The sun had gone down about an hour ago, but it was still very warm out. The book was at my 10 o’clock, my writing tablet was directly in front of me, and there was an ice-cold bottle of Heineken sitting at my one o’clock. It wasn’t a dinky little bottle, either. It was one of those big ones you get if you order a bottle for your table at any restaurant in Thailand (Heineken does in a pinch if you can’t get your hands on a Chang!) Half of the bottle was gone, and the porchlight shone through the green bottle, casting an emerald glow on my studies. 🙂

My wife, Pon, was standing on the edge of the deck at my six o’clock (out of view, of course). She had just returned home from her ESL (English as a Second Language) class. A couple of weeks prior, she had discovered a cache of old fireworks out in my workshop. The stash consisted of firecrackers, roman candles, sparklers, and things that shoot straight up into the heavens with a whirrr when you light ’em. They had been out there in the shop collecting dust and spider webs for about three years, so I was kind hesitant to let Pon set them off. We finally agreed to let her just light the sparklers. I figured that if the accelerant in these things had gone unstable over the years, at least they had little chance of doing any damage if they went south, so to speak.


Pon had really taken to those sparklers, and she lit up a few every night when she got home from school. That is what she was doing on this particular evening as I sat at the table writing out my exercises. The half-consumed bottle of beer, coupled with the 4-mile run I had just completed an hour earlier, had put me in a very mellow and introspective mood. I was finding myself looking up and around my yard, more than I was looking down at my studies.

As Pon lit her third sparkler, I got a whiff of the strong gunpowder-y smell. I turned to look at my wife, who was standing in the shadows, out of reach of the porchlight. The light from the sparks cast her face in a yellow-orange glow. She was softly singing a song. I could not hear the words of the song, but I knew that a) I had heard it many times before; and b) it was, of course, a Thai song. All of these sensory inputs; the beer, the gunpowder smell, the lights, and the warm evening, the singing, instantly took me back to last year’s Loy Krathong in Pon’s village of Bahn Bong Chang.

Loy Krathong probably needs no introduction with this group of readers, but just a brief description for the uninitiated. This is how it is described in the 1999 printing of the Dorling Kindersley Travel Guide for Thailand.

One of Thailand’s best-loved national festivals. Pays homage to the goddess of rivers and waterways, Mae Khongkha. In the evening, people gather at rivers, lakes, and ponds to float krathongs.

A Thai lady floating a krathong.

Now, I had been in Thailand during Loy Krathong before, but never had I spent the holiday way off the beaten track, with no farang (I can only assume) for miles. I had never seen another pale face while there, even when we went to the fairly large outdoor market that is only about 20 km outside of Chiang Rai. Pon had told me, on my first visit to her village, that many of the schoolchildren in that little hamlet had never actually seen a farang in the flesh. This little fact, which was kind of hard to believe, was corroborated whenever I went for a nightly run at the elementary school that is adjacent to Pon’s parents’ house. I had no sooner completed a lap around the grounds, when I was followed by about 8-10 boys (and some girls on bikes). Quite an oddity I must’ve been. After two weeks of nightly runs, and the same gaggle of kids following my footfall, my flattery at being a spectacle wore off a bit (for those people who fantasize of being famous, and being observed constantly, think twice. While my situation was nothing like that, I got the feeling that this must be what the paparazzi become like after awhile. Being famous probably isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. I loved those little kids, and never showed even a hint of annoyance, but a quiet run to myself at the end of the day is like therapy to me. Quiet and lonely it never was in Bahn Bong Chang).

Anyways, I digress. It doesn’t take a geography whiz to realize that Chiang Rai is kind of landlocked. Oh sure, there is a big river going by, and a small pond dots the landscape here and there. But for the majority of the people living in the countryside, there is no body of water in which to float your krathong. At least I never saw anything to prove otherwise. What they did have, however, was something else that floated in another way entirely. Here it is:

air krathong!!

Forgive the blurriness; I tried to find the right setting on my digital camera, but it wasn’t happening. What you’re seeing is a group of people that have a large plastic silo-shaped balloon. The balloon is open at the bottom just like the hot air balloon that people ride in. These guys hold the balloon over an open flame and fill it with hot air. They then release it and it floats way way way up in the sky, with the fire trapped inside! It looks really cool. Especially if it floats past the full moon (which is always in the sky during Loy Krathong).

full moon in Bahn Bong Chang
This picture was actually taken in Bahn Bong Chang on Loy Krathong. The moon is behind a tree.

Pon and I rode her father’s motorcycle to the wat to watch everybody light off fireworks, and to see them raise those balloons. Unfortunately, there were a couple of people who had imbibed a bit too much of the local spirits. They took to shooting roman candles off at each other and into the crowds. There were also a couple of close calls with some boomers, which we call M-80s in the US. One, I think, even singed the hair off of my lower leg! So we hopped on the scooter and went back to Pon’s house to light sparklers (thus the impetus for me writing this particular entry in the first place).

Loy Krathong at Bahn Bong Chang
Back at Pon’s house in Bahn Bong Chang.

It truly was a great evening. Everybody obviously enjoyed themselves immensely. I liken it to the 4th of July here in the States, but with a bit of a religious twist to it. Earlier in the day, we had accompanied Pon’s father to an altar. He took a cooked chicked and a bottle of the village homebrew (akin to moonshine, I think). He put the chicken on the alter, along with a cup of the alcohol. He said some words and we prayed. Later on in the evening, Pon lit a row of candles in front of a small Buddha image in the house. Then we went to sleep with the sounds of boomers in the distance.

Buddha by candlelight

Isn’t it amazing how just a few sensory cues can send you vividly back to such wonderful memories. I could close my eyes on my deck the other evening and almost relive last year’s Loy Krathong as if it were happening all over again. I hope this entry evokes memories of your own speical Loy Krathong. Enjoy.

Vultures at Wat Saket

Many tourists visiting Bangkok have been to Wat Saket and the nearby Golden Mount. But, how many know details of its gruesome past? In a later blog, I will tell you about the elaborate ceremonies for the funeral and cremation of Thai people. However, in the old days, for the poor people, there was no such ceremony. They were taken to Wat Saket which was built especially for the cremations that were prohibited inside the walled city. For example, people who died a violent death, by epidemics, by suicide or by accidents.

The following is a narrative of a visit to this temple by Carl Bock in a book called “Temples and Elephants” which was first published in 1884. A little word of warning, although I have abbreviated and toned down much of the grisly details, it might not be a good idea to read this while you are eating your breakfast!

The first time I visited Wat Saket, as I entered the grounds, I met two Siamese coolies, carrying, on a bamboo stretcher, the dead body of a native pauper or criminal, followed by a couple of dozen of Siamese, some of them monks.

One or two of the group were dressed in white clothes, the national colour of mourning, with heads completely shaven in token of grief. The bearers of the corpse and the monks were the only persons directly interested in the last scene of all in the unknown history of the dead man. But, high up in the air hovered a dark group of aerial beings, who were to take a very active part in the proceedings. Circling directly over the heads of the corpse-bearers was a flight of vultures, eagerly watching the scene. When the coolies reached the selected spot they cast the dead man’s body on the ground, and the next moment the air was darkened by the ghastly, greedy vultures, as they swooped down and stood in a semicircle around the body.

During a moment’s delay, while an official, after sharpening a huge knife, approached the body, the vultures became impatient, hustling and fighting each other for a front place; once or twice they came quite close to me, and I had to keep them off with my stick. Then the official stooped down and cut the body open. The sight of the blood and entrails was too much for the filthy vultures, which began to flap their wings. A monk then advanced and chanted a few words, holding a fan and pipe in his left hand, and in his right a piece of bamboo which he touched the body.

No sooner had he uttered his last words than the vultures seemed to know their time had come, and, with a frantic rush and a horrible scream, swept forward and hopped and fluttered round the mangled corpse, each trying to get his full share of the feast. Not more than ten minutes had been occupied in this horrible feast, when the vultures retired a few feet, and the human “butcher” came forward a second time and cut the back open, followed again by the monk who performed the same actions as before. There was then a second feast for the vultures.

Eight minutes later and little remained except the head and the bones, which were collected together by the attending friends, whom I left gathering a few sticks with which to burn them.

National Thai Language Day…whuh?

Did anyone know that yesterday was “National Thai Language Day”?

Has speaking Thai become ‘uncool’?
by Veenarat Laohapakakul

Do you realise that yesterday, July 29, was another important occasion for Thailand? It was “National Thai Language Day”. It might seem amusing to some that Thailand marks such a day on its calendar, but it does provide us with a stark reminder to reflect on how we are using the language. In a world where English has become the lingua franca, a growing number of Thais, especially Bangkokians, don’t really seem to care if they speak or write Thai properly, and even more alarmingly, they don’t seem to appreciate the ability to do so anymore.

Shhh. I’m actually in my computer class right now so I won’t be writing a lot of comment just yet. I just want to post a link so everyone can read it.

Feel free to start your discussion!

McDonald’s in Thailand

I don’t really make a habit of going to McDonald’s in Thailand. I know a lot of tourists do. I usually stay away, partly because the price is a little expensive and also because there is so much good Thai food here at a fraction of the price. It is funny really, because back home McDonald’s is somewhere you go for a cheap meal when you go out. However, in Thailand it is almost the opposite. As it costs more, it is prestigious to be seen in McDonalds! Actually, KFC is a lot more popular here in Thailand compared to McDonalds. But still, you will quite often see the place packed.

When I was backpacking across Asia, I made a note in my diary of the price of a cheeseburger in every country that I visited. I thought it would be interesting to compare. So, I did a bit of a McDonalds Tour of the World! From Pushkin Square in Moscow and on to Beijing and finally Bangkok. That was back in the early 1990’s when there wasn’t many around. But, now there are hundreds in each country.

I know we get quite a few students visiting our blogs who are doing projects on comparing cost of living and lifestyles between two different countries. So, today I will give you a rundown of a menu at McDonalds so that you can compare to your homecountry. However, the size of portions might vary. I believe the Big Mac here is a lot bigger than the one in the UK for some reason. Anyway, at present, US$1 is about 40 baht.

Cheeseburger (29 baht), hamburger (19 baht), Pork Burger (19 baht), Pepper Chicken burger (19 baht), Big Mac (60 baht), Filet-O-Fish (48 baht), McChicken (48 baht), Samurai Pork Burger (48 baht), Double Cheeseburger (60 baht), Crispy McD 2pcs (63 baht), Spicy McD 2 (63 baht), McNugget 6 pieces (39 baht), McSalad Shaker (32 baht), McFries regular size (19 baht), Coke small size (19 baht), McFloat (19 baht), Cone (9 baht), Pies (19 baht)and Sundae (19 baht).

If you are learning Thai, you might be interested in the conversations my students wrote a year or so ago:

You will find menus, conversations and a lot more!