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*Breaking news* Thai player in national scrabble championship finals

20-year old Bangkok college student Panupol Sujjayakorn is playing in the 2005 National Scrabble Championship finals today (24th August)against 31-year old Dave Wiegand from Portland, Oregon. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, ESPN will be taping the finals for telecast in the fall. As of 12:45 PDT, the finalists had finished three of the five games. Sujjayakorn won the first and second games and Wiegand won the third game. The winner of the best-of-five finals wins a $25,000 first prize.
In 2003 Panupol won the World Scrabble Championship held in Malaysia. According to the Wall Street Journal, the National Scrabble Championship has never been won by a non-North American.

*** update ***
Wiegand defeated Panupol in the final two games of the series to win the championship. The final scores were 338-467, 349-463, 501-364, 441-371, and 529-331. Words played in the finals include SABERING, FLORINS, COGWAY, GAYETY, TANKING, RUSTLED, ENDOSTEA and EARLOBE; all played by Panupol. Wiegand’s plays include HUGEOUS, SCABIES, EULACHON, TINSTOENE, TAPERING, OVERKEEN, DYADIC, LENSMEN, REENTERS, and PARTING.

As the second prize winner, Panupol takes home $10,000 which he reportedly will use to fly to London in a few months to defend his world championship title.

Interestingly, the article in the Wall Street Journal noted that Panupol does not speak very good English. The journalist went on to speculate whether this is actually an advantage in Scrabble training because Panupol does not concern himself with the meanings or contexts of words, he just memorizes them and categorises them in terms of probabilities and Scrabble strategy.

What made him truly Thai?

A lot of popular Thai celebrities are half Thai, including actresses, models, singers, musicians, and athletes. The first year that I lived in Thailand, two international celebrities, who were both half Thai, visited the country. The Thai media made a very big deal out of these visits and the country was obviously proud of its “Thai children” who had achieved international success. I was talking to a coworker about one of these celebrities (a very well known athlete), who was half American/ half Thai. My coworker told me that when she lived in L.A. she used to go to the Thai temple and she often saw this guy at the temple before he became very, very famous. She went on to say that he was “truly Thai.” I found this very curious and asked how she could say that he was truly Thai when his father was American, he had never lived in Thailand, and he could barely speak the Thai language. I asked her, “What made him truly Thai?” She answered, “he feared his mother.”

Rice & the gi diet

I am trying to lose weight. According to this book I just bought, my BMI needs to go down from 27.3 to about 24.8. I’m not in the health risk zone, but I’m definitely not at my ideal weight. So this book about the Gi diet is pretty straightforward, had lots of recipes, and has a chart that groups foods into red, yellow, or green. I’ve already started excercising regularly for a few months now so if I follow the guidelines in this book, I should be losing a pound a week. It all sounds do-able until…oh jeez, jasmine rice is in the red group!

Rice in any Thai person’s home has to be jasmine rice. I have probably been eating Jasmine rice since I had teeth. It is just unheard of to buy any other type of rice. I had a roommate in college who bought American rice. My mother came to visit, saw this American rice in the cupboard and had an absolute fit. “What is this doing in here? You bought this? You eat this?” I swore to her that I never once ate a single grain of that inferior rice.

Jasmine rice is distinctive, it has a softer texture than other rice and has just the right amount of stickiness to it. Its taste blends perfectly with the flavors of Thai curries, soups or stir-fries. My favorite thing about jasmine rice is the smell. It has such a soft, pleasing smell. It is one of those smells that makes a house feel like a home. I have gone without Jasmine rice before. When I was a student, I spent 3 months as an exchange student in Japan. Japanese people think that Japanese rice is the best in the world. I like Japanese rice and I think it is perfect for sushi, but it is not the best in the world. The Japanese are just, unfortunately, a little misguided because Thai rice is the best in the world.

So Step 2 of this Gi diet is to “clear out the cupboards” of all red- and yellow-light products. I have an unopened 5kg bag of jasmine rice in my cupboard which I guess is going to be donated to the local homeless shelter. I have already bought some basmati rice, which is a green light product (along with wild, brown, and long grain rice). Of course I will never completely eliminate jasmine rice from my diet, but I really want to get into shape so I think that jasmine rice will have to take on a less familiar role in my life. This is worse than the day I realized I had become lactose intolerant. Sad, sad day.

Make it spicy

My British husband really likes spicy food. When we were dating, we went to Thailand for a holiday and met some of my friends for dinner. He told one of my friends that he wanted to order spicy shrimp salad and my friend said, “You know it is going to be pretty spicy.” He replied, “Oh, I love it spicy.” So my friend, with a smirk on his face, said to the waiter, “He likes it spicy so make it spicy.” When the salad came, it was very spicy, but my husband ate it and enjoyed it. I was eating it too and after 3 bites had tears streaming down my face prompting another friend, sitting at the other end of the table, to shout, “Hey! I know that you have missed us, but there is no need to get over emotional na ja!”

Back in England, there was a Thai restaurant that we used to frequent. There was a time when my husband and I were both suffering from colds and when we are ill, we love to eat tom yum soup. We would order tom yum at this restaurant and ask them to make it spicy. At the end of the meal, as we left the restaurant the manager always asked how it was and my husband always answered, “not spicy enough”. Each time we went, the chef made our tum yum a little spicier and each time, my husband said at the end “not spicy enough”. Finally, one time the waitress went to the kitchen to get our soup and I heard her say, “Are you sure…?” The chef replied “just bring it out to him”. As the waitress walked by the manager, he looked at the tray she was carrying and said “Oi, have a pitcher of water on hand for them!” The waitress brought the soup over and said, “Okay, this time it is spicy for sure”. I looked down at the bowls and the top of the soup was covered with a thick layer of red. I turned around and saw the chef standing, with his arms crossed, at the door of the kitchen watching us. My husband grinned. He loved the soup. When we left, he said, “Perfect!”

Dad’s Thailand, my Thailand

“My dad would buy scary looking fruit with spikes and needles”

Thai people call me a dek meung nok, which means a foriegn country child. My parents lived in Chicago when I was born. At the time, they were undecided about whether I would be raised in Thailand or as a Dek Nok in America. (They ended up raising me in America, I lived in Thailand for a few years during my twenties, and now I live in the middle of England with my British husband) They decided to register me with both a Thai name and an English name. My Thai name (Nalisra) was registered as my first name and my English name (Lisa) as my middle name. Mom and dad would never call me by my first name. As a rule, Thai parents do not use their child’s given name. Instead, they use a ‘play name’. They try to dissuade evil spirits from taking their child by using a name like ‘pig’ or ‘fatty’ or ‘rat’. I never had a Thai play name, I guess my parents thought using my foreign name was enough to dissuade evil spirits that might be tempted to take me.

My parents shared Thailand with me through their stories. Most of dad’s stories were about the river…the time he nearly drowned in the river as a toddler, how he used to play in the river until it was banned after a neighborhood man was eaten by a crocodile, and about all of his favorite food stalls near the river side that he would stop at just before or after travelling on the river ferry. Food was a popular story theme for my dad. On my childhood visits to Thailand, dad would hit the market to buy scary looking fruit (with spikes and needles) then he would seek out his favorite hoy tod stall that was across the river from his university. My father’s years in Bangkok were mostly occupied by studies (he was in med school) and food. When he left in the 1960s, Thailand was beginning to change, largely from the impact of the Vietnam war.

Thirty years later, I moved to Bangkok, living and working there for over 3 years. My Bangkok was very different to my father’s. I travelled to work by car, driving an hour in the morning to travel about 10 miles along Petchburi Road and an hour and a half in the evenings to return along Sukhumvit Road, doubling the travelling time in the rainy season. Like my father, my friends and I sought refuge through food. Dad’s beloved market food stalls were still there and provided daily meals, chicken and rice, bamee noodles or pad thai for 35 baht; but in the evenings my friends and I could sometimes be found at a sophisticated Europen restaurant where we paid 500-800 baht per head for dinner before hitting a Thai discoteque or karaoke bar into the late hours of the evening. On the weekends, we would hit to the road, escaping Bangkok along the multi tiered expressways to visit coastal towns where we bought live crab off the beach and, on every street, golden mangoes appeared in March/April, piled high alongside sweet, sticky rice.

So many things about Thailand has changed since my parents left. At least some things, a passion for food and life, will never change.