Daily Archives: September 4, 2005

Chicken and yellow rice

There used to be a guy at the top of our soi selling khao mun gai. I used to go there quite often to buy my chicken and rice. He was always quite friendly and was keen to practice his English with me. Then, one day, he was no longer there any more. As this was at the height of the “bird flu” scare I guessed he closed his stall because of dwindling customers. Or, maybe he just wheeled it elsewhere because of the fierce competition from the “chicken guy”. This is the muslim man I told you about before who sells fried chicken which not only tastes better than KFC but is also half the price.

Nearly a year has passed now and most people are not so worried about bird flu. You do hear reports about it in the newspapers every now and then, but people tend to ingore it now. After all, it would seem that the majority of people that have died had direct contact with the birds. Either they reared chickens or they were a butcher. So, I was quite excited last week to see a new food shop open around the corner. This not only sold khao mun gai, but also another of my favourites, khao mok gai. It is owned by a muslim family. Their daughter used to be one of my students.

This dish is similiar to the chicken and rice I told you about before. However, the rice in this meal has been coloured yellow with the use of turmeric. To cook khao mok gai, you fry some garlic in a pan until golden brown. You then stir in the rice, curry powder, salt and chicken pieces. You then transfer this mixture to an electric rice cooker. You add the chicken stock and cook for about 20 minutes. Quite simple really.

You don’t really need to be able to read Thai to buy food on the streets. You can usually work out what they are selling by looking at the ingredients in the glass display cabinet. However, it wouldn’t hurt if you could read! In this picture, the top line says khao mun gai tod and khao mun gai. The first one is fried chicken (tod means fried) and the second one is boiled. The second line says khao mok gai tod and khao mok gai. The last line is obviously telling you that a normal plate is only 20 baht (50 cents) and a bit of extra meat (called piset in Thai) is 25 baht.

Shivering…. a status symbol?

I’m a relative newcomer to Thai culture and the Thai way of life, so, as I have observed my own reactions and opinions, I don’t dare to be outspoken and critical yet. Maybe I am mistaken, maybe I haven’t grasped enough of a certain aspect of a different lifestyle, maybe my impressions are misleading – I’d better just keep an open eye (or two). So often I just read others’ writings and opinions, and try to form my views. There are quite a few things that I would have the same opinion about, but I just don’t feel “qualified” to venture that far….

There is one topic though that I think I know a lot about: Asian air conditioning 🙂 Being the rare farang who can survive the scorching tropical hot season without the constant thermal manipulation of my body, I have grown rather cynical about the issue…. Even if I just have to go to a 7-Eleven store for a few minutes, I feel vapour is precipitating in my lungs both when entering and when leaving, and I start coughing heavily: my asthma just goes crazy. I have never had aircon in my apartment or guesthouse room, I prefer lukewarm showers and plenty of icecream for the purpose of cooling down a bit. And I thanked all the gods when using aircon in schools was prohibited during the SARS epidemics in Taiwan – incidentally, the hottest recorded summer ever in the country.

I can clearly recall my first encounter with the Asian fascination with shivering: the hellish experience (uhm, isn’t hell expected to be HOT, though?) of an overnight coach ride to the south, and those two days spent recovering in Ko Phi Phi, coughing, with a runny nose, sore throat and all the trimmings…. I had been caught completely off-guard (as we have absolutely no aircon buses or public transport over here), in my light trousers and t-shirt, not quite understanding why the steward was handing out blankets – what, blankets in August?! You guys must be joking! And as the hours passed, inexperienced farangs lined up for extra blankets, while Thais were sleeping happily, covered in blankets from head to toe, wearing pullovers and socks, yet visibly cold…. and when they woke up, they enjoyed their cokes with an iceberg, while the farangs were dying for a cup of hot tea. I learnt the lesson thoroughly: now I don’t travel anywhere without warm trousers, a pair of socks, a pullover, a bandanna (to minimise the effect of the freezing tornado on my ears), AND an extra blanket or sleeping bag of my own…. but often not even all this can save me from having a sore throat. My mother was laughing at me when we were first travelling together and I boarded a night coach with all that arctic equipment…. but now she has learnt too, after two days of intense coughing in Chiang Mai….

A Thai friend of mine, an architect, shed some light on the issue a few years ago. She has no aircon at her home in Prachachuen, way to expensive to pay the bills, she says, so she sleeps sweating in 35-40 degrees, under a fan…. and as the opposite extreme, she has to endure constant 18-degree temperatures during the day in the office near Siam square. It is automatic, can’t be adjusted, and is considered elegant: she says the company wouldn’t be taken seriously by potential upper-class customers if they didn’t have nice cold offices, and employees enjoy being cold anyway, after being so hot at home all the time. What the…. ?! I mean, over here, where offices sometimes have aircon, the standard temperature would be nice and pleasant 23-25 degrees – same as with the heating during the winter. People don’t like to be cold here. Thais seem to enjoy shivering, at least “mentally” if not physically – it seems to give them a sense of status: “I don’t have to be hot any more, now I can work in a nice cold office, wow!” The colder, the more elegant, simply put. My Thai boyfriend, brought up in small village in Loei, commented that he doesn’t like cold, although he thought he should. He was kind of ashamed of not being able to put up with freezing temperatures, as it was a sign of his simple, poor background. Is this healthy? Is this normal? And…. isn’t this crazy?!

I was quite proud of myself when I figured out a way to survive my days at school: aircon can be a discipline method. I know this is not taiwan-blogs, but I guess it would work with Thai kids as well if you happen to have an aircon classroom. The trick is simple: I have NEVER seen kids (especially those aged 6-10) shut up and listen attentively as quickly and nicely as when I threatened to switch off the aircon in the classroom, the pretext being that it was way too noisy to manage a bunch of messy, noisy, naughty children. They could not possibly imagine a harsher punishment. Of course it can’t be overdone, but it works miracles, they would do everything for the right to shiver. It was amazing to see their aircon lives: jumping from a cold apartment to a cold car or schoolbus, into a cold classroom, cold shopping mall, cold fastfood restaurant – and as a result, at the age of six or seven, sweating and complaining if it was above 30, and they had to be forced to go out to the playground and have some fresh air between two lessons of reading and writing. Urban Thailand is heading this way…. it seems to be a waste of money, by the way. About two years ago I read about a Thai government initiative to allow officials to take off their jackets at work and have slightly higher temperatures in the offices: I have no idea how it went down with the public, if anybody has taken up the issue of the huge electricity bills for excessive cold. And somehow it feels dangerous to me if a generation or social class is increasingly brought up not to be able to withstand weather as it is, living their lives at a constant artificial 20 degrees…. Parallel with white skin, shivering seems to become a status symbol, to break completely with the lives of previous generations and other social classes still toiling on the rice paddies, hot and tanned.

99 Things Not to Miss in Thailand – Part I

I lifted this list from the Thai Airway’s in-flight magazine Sawasdee from October 2004. I’m going to paraphrase some, copy other, and interject here and there. It won’t be the exact re-type of the articles, but you’ll get all the good bits from it.

And of course, being 99 items in all, I will be doing this in installment of 20 at a time. Also, this list is not a ranking. #1 on this list doesn’t mean #1 not to miss.

So here goes.

1. World’s famous Thai smile

2. Boutique hotels

3. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep in Chiangmai :: Do you know that this is the temple featured in Rambo III?

4. Venice of the East :: Back in the days, Bangkok was called just that because of all the canals that connected the city. You can rent a long tail boat on Chao Phraya river for canaling excursion, or head south for some kayaking down Mae Klong River in Samut Songkram.

5. Kid’s Vacation :: Where else on earth would you call to see if the baby elephant and its mahout are ready to take care of your kids for the next hour or three?

6. Pier-side cafes along Chao Phraya river :: Pull up the plastic chairs at local casual restuarants along the river is a great alternative to the 5-star joints of the Oriental and Shangri-La hotels. Kaloang has great seafood, Silver Spoon and Poh Tha Tien are good and cheap with sunset view, River Bar is trendy, and Good View and Baan Klang Naam way out of town.

7. Mae Hong Son :: The misty valley and green hills of Mae Hong Son was once only accessible by elephants. Now a hub for caving, rafting, natural hot springs, and elephant trekking.

8. Contemporary art scene in Bangkok and Chiangmai

9. Traditional Thai incense sticks and candles

10. The hills of northern Thailand :: A few of the countless trekking options include a visit to an unspoiled hill-tribe village, a home stay on an isolated river or a nature hike to study the history of exotic Himalayan flowers that thrive on remote Thai mountaintops.

11. Pachyderm Paradise :: 2 great ways to really get to know your Heffalumps. Live a live of a mahout at the 3-day course offered by the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre in Lampang, learning to take care of the elephants and stay in simple bungalow. Or upscale your accommodation at a similar program at the elegant Anantara Resort in Chiang Saen.

12. Jazz in Hua Hin :: Check out Hua Hin Jazz Festival, and Jazz Alley, a stretch in Petkasem Road to the railway station.

13. Fusion Food :: Thai-Western dishes at the Kalapapruek originated from the palace recipes where the very first fusion Thai food was born. For more upscale fusion food, try A Matter of Taste, Glow, and Maha Naga.

14. World class luxuary hotels and resorts

15. Jim Thompson House :: In the heart of Bangkok lies this traditional Thai teak wood house in a lush, almost jungle like garden. I went there last year. It was amazing.

16. The Similans islands :: Clear warm water and spectacular coral reef. Protected under Thailand’s large national park system, the 9 islands are refreshingly underdeveloped and only one offers accommodation.

17. Spas :: Great fusion of Western style spa treatment with a touch of Thai.

18. Night cruise down Chao Phraya River :: Nothing like seeing the Grand Palace and Wat Arun all lit up at night from the river.

19. Rooftop Dining :: 2 hightest rooftop restuarants in the world await you at 200-meters up at Vertigo (seafood and steaks), and even higher Sirocco (Mediterranean)atop the Bangkok Dome over looking the river . Also at the Dome, the whisky bar Distil and Italian joint Mezzaluna.

20. Sales! Sales! Sales! :: Nobody EVER pays retail in Thailand. There IS always a sale in the department stores. Always!

You like all of that? 79 more coming your way! Keep reading.