Daily Archives: July 26, 2005

Khanom Thian

I was hurriedly walking to school this morning in a very un-Thai manner. I could see it was about to rain again and I had neglected to bring my umbrella. I was so deep in thought about whether I would make it in time that I didn’t notice at first someone shouting out my name. “Ri-chaaard. Ri-chaaaard,” someone was shouting with the emphasis firmly on the second syllable. Had to be a Thai person. When I turned around I was surprised to be confronted with the sight of Wirat cycling towards me.

Now, my regular readers might remember this person as my local “khanom krok” lady. She is the one that never stopped talking and was always trying to be more than my friend. Bascially, her ex-husband had abandoned both her and her newborn child 15 years ago and now she wanted me to marry her. Of course I was flattered but then I later found out that she was proposing to just about anyone who would listen! Not that I minded my little chats with her. And, actually, I kind of missed her as she has not been selling khanom krok around here for several months now. We had all been wondering where she had got to. And then, here she was, cycling down Sukhumwit Road out of the blue.

Naturally, I shouted out to her “bai nai ma” meaning “where have you been?” She stopped and soon brought me up-to-date. She said that she had been disappointed with slow sales at the top of my soi so she now sells something different in Samrong! She then reached into a couple of large plastic bags and brought out some Thai desserts wrapped in banana leaves. “I now sell khanom thien, (ขนม เทียน )” she told me. “Here, try some, no charge!” She then proceeded to give me two bags full of these desserts. In one bag she put a marker made from a sliver of banana leaf. She told me “This one sai-kem with the marker and the other sai-waang. You might find the sai-kem one a little spicy.” If you didn’t know, “kem” means salty and “waang” means sweet.

I thanked her and wished her good luck by saying ‘chok dee”. I made a mental note to try and find out where she had set up her new stall. Samrong is about 10-15 minutes away by car. At school I decided to give away some of the desserts to other teachers. There was too much for me to eat alone. And anyway, it is Thai custom to share food around like this. I soon discovered that Thai people prefer the salted version much more than the sweet one which surprised me. I always thought Thai people had a sweet tooth. But, after I tried it, I could see what they meant. I like the “sai-kem” one much better too.

My helpful teacher went on to say that you can tell the difference between them even before you unwrap them from the banana leaves. All you have to do is squeeze them slightly. The softer one is “sai-waang”. In the picture at the top, it is “sai-kem” on the left and “sai-waang” on the right. The common ingredients between these two are white sticky-rice flour, black sticky-rice flour, palm sugar and fragrant water.

The salted one then has: mung bean, chopped red onion, crushed pepper, sugar, salt and oil. The sweet one has: shredded coconut, and palm sugar. As you can see from the faded colour of the banana leaves in the picture, the final product is cooked in a steamer for about 15 minutes and served when cold. As far as I can understand, these desserts are Chinese in origin and are used in a festival to honour dead ancestors.

They certainly have an interesting taste. But to be honest, I really miss my fresh piping hot khanom krok. I think tomorrow I will walk down to Paknam market to see if I can find anyone selling this coconut pudding.

My reasons for studying Thai

“Why do you want to study this language?” seems to the first questions asked by the language class teachers in the first lesson. My then 12-year old son’s reason for studying French was to keep the elder sister company. But then he ended up studying it for 4 years in Alliance Française and left with a DELF diploma, after his sister retired after 2 semesters.

There are many reasons and the main one is that I like personal challenges, but not the type in business and work. Having spent more than 25 years in work is enough for me as a challenge. I too like puzzle and code. My collection of books includes “Da Vinci Code” and “Rule of Four” which I bought in HaadYai.

In many of my trips to Thailand, I felt depressed to be beaten by these Thai Codes of writing. If someone could break “The Rosetta Stone” http://www.ancientegypt.co.uk/writing/rosetta.html, I should be able to beat the Thai Scripts with modern technology, the Internet. There’s how I bump into www.learningthai.com and end up signing up for Thai Class.

Another reason is that I would like to do some volunteering works in Thailand. Having done some works in volunteering organization in Malaysia, I lost my faith in organized volunteering organization which tends to carry to much fat. The most recent case in Singapore is a classic example. http://www.petitiononline.com/nkfs/petition.html

I was approached by a pastor friend who runs an orphanage in Chiangmai. But since I am a GONE-again Christian for reading beyond the Bible and books sanctioned by the Vatican, I think it is not right for me to tell Bible stories which I personally do not believe. Teaching English to primary school kids in Thailand seems to be a good option.

The question about my reasons for learning Thai was asked by KitjarNaBangsar when I joined his Thai aficionados group for lunch 2 weeks ago. It is strange to have 2 Malaysians brought together by a Farang in Thailand, thanks to Richard. I was bombarded by so many questions that I have no time to reciprocate the courtesy accorded. The consolation is NOW I know Kitjar’s reason.

While we, non-native speakers, struggle to learn Thai, there are Thais giving up Thai Language. I had a manager in Kuala Lumpur/Singapore who is a Chinese Thai from Chinatown in Bangkok. After completing his secondary school, he headed for Singapore to study in the university and continue to work his way up in Singapore. Now he is big shot in a US Multinational company overseeing ASEAN business. He was married to a Malaysian and had some kids. Once, I met his family and commented that the kids are lucky to have the chance to learn all the languages and dialects of the parents. His reply is “It (Thai) is a useless language”. Economically, he may be right. But with Language, comes the culture and teachings (I don’t mean the teaching of knowledge and skills that we learn in school but the teaching at home on how to be a good person). Singapore kids are really smart – I once ask a cute 9-year old boy “Boy, what is your name? He replied “My father is XXX”. XXX was a rich and famous person who once owned an Internet company listed in SGX.

My Learning Thai Experience

My Learning Thai Experience

Every Monday night is my night out with Kru Da (Teacher Da) and my wonderful Thai friends. Surely, this is the only day of the week, when I can indulge in speaking, reading and writing Thai.

I have been learning Thai since 2003, and since then, I have learnt to speak Thai with a Bangkok (Krungthep Maha Nakorn) accent. You will not believe it, but when I was in Krungthep about two months ago, only a few people suspected I was not a Thai. In fact, I spoke Thai to almost anyone on the bus, taxi, song thaew and even the express boat.

At times, I was so tempted to take advantage of my language advantage, for instance of not paying entrance fees at Wat Pho, Vimarnmek Palace or even at Muang Boran (Ancient City at Samut Prakan). But, then, I was with my parents, and we were like tourists, with my knapsack and my totting camera. Seriously, I felt bad about cheating a Buddhist Temple, or even the Royal Household Bureau —- it will eat up on my karmic points, which I may not have enough!

But why learn Thai? I have been asked this question many times before. A lot of things with me, begins with an academic interest. Besides my official career, I have taken a keen interest on Southern Thai Studies. Currently, I am in the process of writing and completing my dissertation on an economic project in Southern Thailand. Of course, this have meant, research stints in Bangkok. Isn’t it only useful to learn to know the local language?

Yet, sometimes it takes much more to learn a completely new language. I have been fascinated with Thailand for a long time. I feel, Thailand and her people are very captivating.

But deep down, there is also the other driving force —a friendship with Vaninda, a Thai-Chinese girl from Assumption University. We first met in 2002 in Krungthep during a business event, but Vanida was so unlike other Thai people, she was well read, highly cultured and surprisingly appreciative of the arts. We have kept in touch, and when I am in Krungthep, I will try to make time for Vanida. Surely, the dinner and movie date with Vanida at Siam Square would be forever edged in my mind.

Well, in order to communicate with Vanida, I pushed myself to learn Thai harder. Although she could speak English and Teochiu rather fluently, nothing beats the way to a girl’s heart by speaking and understanding her own language, right? On my subsequent visits to Krungthep, she was surprise on my ability to speak Thai. But, somehow life is not always a bed of roses. How sad……………

Today, I see my ability to speak Thai as something unique. For sure, other than my Thai group of friends, I would have little chances to speak Thai in Kuala Lumpur. Sometimes, there is the need to speak Thai at Wat Chetawan or at a Thai restaurant in Malaysia, but that’s about it.

Perhaps, I can be a little optimistic. Who knows a Vanida or any other Thai girl, with her charming eyes, a good heart and of mutual academic qualities will come my way. Can I afford to be a little hopeful in life? Maybe I should, right? Chaiyo

PS: Please also check out http://www.kitjar.blogspot.com for a complete version of this post.

Pom Rak Plieng Thai!

Sawasdee Krab Took Kon,

Welcome to my first official ‘regular Monday blog’ ..sorry no ribbon cutting or cake, this one is low budget but the best things are free right?

One thing I love from Thailand is Thai music and not just traditional music with classical instruments but quite a range of tastes’ in Thai songs. Today I thought I’d share some of my likes and why ‘Pom rak plieng Thai’ or I love Thai music!

It’s only been about a year since I started experimenting with Thai music. Today I have roughly about 212 Thai music CD’s, VCD and movies (yes those are my actual CD’s in the pic at top) compared to only about 30 CD’s of western style music. When I do something I do it all out sometimes y’know.

When I discovered the website for learning Thai from Richards school in Samut Prakarn I also found links for listening to samples of a wide selection of popular Thai songs. From that website I found a link to buy music I heard. This was so cool!

My motto? “Have credit card, have internet access, will shop!” 😛

Now I have a weird sense of knowing what I will like or not when it comes to music it all depends on how it looks. If the CD or band looks cool or appeals to me visually then usually I will like it. I have a 98% success rating on almost every Thai CD I have. I’ll get back to you on the 2% not so good later.

My first time to order I picked out music by 3 bands and bought the CD and VCD of each album, so that 6 CD/VCD all total. The samples all sounded good so I whipped out the plastic and ‘presto!’ A new vice was born. 😀

I could have bought more because each CD was so cheap! They were only about $8.50 US each including the shipping! Thai friends tell me I’m nuts to spend that much when a CD in Thailand usually only costs about 215 Baht or about $4-5 US but then I tell them how much an American CD costs here ($16-$22) and they are really shocked!

After I ordered my stuff for two weeks I was on pins and needles waiting for it to come in then finally..they arrived! I LOVE to get stuff so when I got my CD’s I was like a little kid at Christmas haha.

I was so excited to open the box and finally hold in my hand what I had ordered ….

Continue reading

A Journalist’s Bangkok

Having long been a regular reader of this site ever since Mr Stevesuphan first began his blogging exploits months ago and having been encouraged by that same Mr Steve to “quit writing under all those darned fake names (I confess to having used the occasional and varied nom de plume) and try writing a blog a’ yer’ own!” I thought I’d give it a go.

By way of a disclaimer, I am sure Stevesuphan would like to absolve himself completely of responsibility for the content of this blog or any in the future that are written by me!

I have been living here in Bangkok, the land of silicone noses and hi-so poses (final tip of the hat to Mr Steve), for close to three years and have spent the majority of that working in the media, mostly as a print journalist.

I thought it might be interesting then to send out the occasional blog about a bit of Thai media, be it books, films, Thailand in the news (this will be a great fountain wonderful stuff) and as in this opener, tear a page out of my trusty velvet-embossed BKK journalist’s notebook.

That is a thick book as I spent a considerable bit of time as a writer for a lifestyle publication geared towards businesspeople and in that time I met some people and had some experiences that, barring something horribly unforeseen, I’ll likely never forget. From a social studies perspective perhaps nobody was more interesting than the photographers who went with me on every story to take photos of every primary source I interviewed for a story.

If sources were unlucky enough to be the subject of a profile piece they were obligated, after I had filled up my tape, to get their picture taken enough times to fill several thick catalogues, with the photographer telling them how beautiful they are the entire time he spent clicking away. “1, 2, 3, Su-way maak na khrap”. This once got us an odd look from a rather prominent female MP who grew a bit frustrated at being told to smile a little wider and not to look so frumpy for the lens!

Another source who probably didn’t enjoy his Cecille B. Demille moment with our photographers was the president of a rather massive Japanese auto-parts company’s Thai branch. The bare hint of a smile that was forming at the corners of his lips when the photograph session began, was slowly overtaken by a disapproving scowl by the time the photographer adjusted the poor man’s tie and told him to tuck in his shirt for the final time.

In a photograph face-off with a Khao San Road tourist.

I enjoyed the company of one photographer especially, we’ll call him Phom. Prior to every interview Phom would ask me how long it would take me to finish, and he would use this information to determine how long he had to take a nap. Having concluded a long and exhausting tour of a government IT project on one occasion, I was forced to wander the building that was by now mostly empty in search of my photographer friend. Both the source and I assumed that Phom had left early until we found him in a darkened corridor (further inquiries revealed that he had turned out the light himself ) sprawled out asleep on some small benches from which he had fashioned himself a bed of sorts.

Phom left journalism for good recently, having found himself a plum PR photography job for better money at another firm. I’m sure that one of our trips, this one to an air-conditioning manufacturer, helped ease the pain of parting for him. The head honcho of this air-conditioning company said that I would have permission to tour the plant to get a better idea of their production processes. Since my article was on an industry analysis, big-picture kind of thing, and also since I was somewhat pressed for time, I passed. He then suggested that Phom go to take photos of the whole works and so he did.

One hour later the interview is finished, I’m having a glass of ice-water, a cup of coffee, sharing some fruit and chatting pleasantly with the head of the company and in comes Phom, or the ghost of Phom as I thought at the time, pale, ashen-faced and sweating profusely after having had spent the past hour in the non-too-cool climes of that factory.

I had intended on writing about a recent excellent book English translation of a Thai novel that I had recently, but so it goes. That’ll be for the next time around. Look forward to hearing any feedback!