February 2009 Archives

Watching Friends Perform Live


One of the things I love about Thailand is the amount of live music and shows that I get to see. Sometimes it's a band playing at a restaurant, or perhaps it's karaoke at a village festival, or maybe it's a children's troop performing a dance routine. Not all of it is great talent, but it is always performed with zest and fun and huge smiles, so it's easy to forgive the off-key notes and asynchronous dance steps.

I was in Pattaya last night and as we strolled down the infamous Walking Street (think Bourbon Street on steroids) I was amazed at how many bands were performing in the bars. And they were all quite good, whether they were playing Thai love songs or Bob Marley or the Rolling Stones or hip hop cover songs. Even the Thai Elvis wasn't bad.

But live performances are even better when I know the people who are performing. I have always loved watching my friends in band concerts or in stage plays or dance recitals. When I know the person on stage and I know their normal everyday personality, and then I see them become someone else for a few minutes, it sends chills down my spine. Especially when they forget the crowd in front of them and it's just them and their bass or their dance or their script. They tilt their head back a bit and close their eyes and pour their soul into their art. It brings me close to tears every time.

This week I was lucky enough to experience this not once but twice. The reason for being in Pattaya last night was to watch my friend Jay give a singing concert at a fundraiser. (Jay is the "male voice" for the ITS4Thai website, by the way.) We thought it would be a small affair at a piano bar, but in fact it was in the street in front of the bar and hundreds of Thais and farang were in attendance. Jay's performance was great, and the songs he picked (none of which I knew) really highlighted his talent.

And then this evening I went to hear an ex-student of mine named Yossiri play bass in his band at Central World. He said that it was a hard-rock band, but the music they played was surprisingly melodic and downright bouncy at times. Again, I loved being in the crowd and watching someone I know pour his passion out for an appreciative audience.

Yossiri sent me a link to his band's You Tube video from this show. It's not very high quality, but you can still make him out playing bass on the right side of the stage. Feel free to check it out!

Good Drinking Water from Sprinkle


The Thai Government says that tap water in Bangkok is safe to drink, and as far as I know, I have never had any trouble with it. But I have always tended to stick to bottled water for my drinking and my cooking. But buying plastic jug after plastic jug of water that will end up in a landfill somewhere is not very environmentally responsible thing to do.

So for a long time, we have been filling up empty jugs with water at water stations like this one. They are all over Bangkok, and for only 1 baht per liter (10 cents per gallon), you can have supposedly clean, filtered water.

But it was a hassle to remember to take the empty jugs to the gas station, fill them up, then lug them back to the house. And who knows how safe the water really is?

So now we are getting Sprinkle water from a company called M Water. They started us off with three 5-gallon containers of water and 24 coupons redeemable for full containers. Every week, we put the empties outside our door with the appropriate number of coupons, and they stop by to collect and replace them with full ones.

The price is a little bit more than the water stations, but the free delivery and quality assurances make it a great deal in my opinion.

Sprinkle Water
Delivered by M Water Co.
136/2 Moo 9 Vibhavadee-Rangsit Road
Sikun, Don Muang, Bangkok
Sales Tel: 02-712-7272

For my long bike ride this weekend, I decided to try a route recommended by someone on The Klong Cyclist website. The site said that there was a good walkway along the Saen Sap Canal that would take me to a few lakes in the Seri Thai area. Then, on the way home I could take some back roads behind Ramkamhaeng and avoid the busy roads in this area.

I decided to do an afternoon ride this time, and unfortunately that meant that I didn't get to explore as much as I would have liked to, as I ran out of daylight. But on the other hand, I didn't have to get out of bed at the crack of dawn!

The pathway along the Saen Sap canal turned out to be a great one. It's about 2 meters wide and goes for about 4 kilometers on both sides of the canal, from Ramkamhaeng Soi 29 to Soi 107. And other than a few stray dogs and small children, it was mostly obstacle-free. It also gave me a chance to see some interesting life along the canal, including lots of temples, including an Islamic mosque and a Buddhist temple almost next door to each other. Not to mention, it is much more peaceful than riding on Ramkamhaeng!

Eventually I made my way over to Seri Thai road (which runs parallel to Ramkamhaeng and the Saen Sap Canal) and to an area called Buengkum. There are a few small lakes that are all linked together, and a very nice city park around some of them called Seri Thai Park. Here is what the information sign said about the park:

The park was open for public use in 1987. It was the flood prevention project initiated by His Majesty the King Rama IX. Once known as Bueng Kum or Beung Tathong, the vast public reservoir was renamed to Seri Thai Park in honor for the Seri Thai or Free Thai movement on the occasion of the 52nd anniversary of the end of World War II. The park covers an area of 350 rai (about 140 acres). One part of which is allocated for the Creation of Bangkok Forest Park as a commemoration to His Majesty the King Rama IX's 50th reigning anniversary. The forest park consist of 3 parts, namely Thaimisuk, Rom Sai, and Charoenkan, all of which are partly planted with perennial plants and partially allocated for flower and fruit tree gardens, with both Thai and foreign species, as well as an island pavilion.

I then headed over to find the back roads off of Ramkamhaeng Soi 118. But before I did, I stopped for some dinner. The first thing on the recommended menu at the restaurant where I stopped was grapaow blaa, which I read as gapraow blah, or basil fish, and which sounded delicious! But instead, the grapow blaa came -- a bowl of fish stomachs!

So let's review the Thai language lesson of the day: gRa-paow = basil, ga-pRaow = bag or stomach.

The full name of the dish was gapraow blah nam daeng. The nam daeng part means "red liquid/sauce", and since I wasn't familiar with this term, I really had no idea what I was getting. But it turned out to be pretty good. The fish stomachs actually don't have much taste, and the "red liquid" is really a thick brown gravy with mushrooms. A handful of shredded crab and some green onion was thrown on top. Not bad at all!

But after that mistake, it didn't get much better. The sun was going down, and I proceeded to get myself lost down the labyrinth of Ramkamhaeng Soi 118. I ended up having to backtrack out to the main road and head home. (And busy Ramkamhaeng is not a very fun road to bike on!) But I'll definitely try this route again and see if I can figure out how to take the back roads next time.

Some pictures from the ride can be viewed here, and here is a map of my 48-kilometer route:

View Larger Map

I am very happy to report that after a short hiatus, the ITS4Thai Language website is finally growing again. Yesterday, we released the brand-new Conversation Course 2. This course is the same format as the first online Conversation Course that we have been offering since last year, but covers the following new topics:

  • Small Talk: Conversations about living in Thailand and learning the Thai language.
  • Entertainment: Useful words and phrases for going out, and for watching TV and movies.
  • Business Around Town: Going to the gym, the spa, the post office, and getting a haircut.
  • Time Chapter 2: These lessons build on the time lessons in the first course and cover being on time, setting time for meetings, and expiration dates.
  • Eating Chapter 2: These lessons build on the eating lessons in the first course and cover different types of meat, vegetarian food, breakfast, and late-night snacks.
  • Adjectives: This course also includes some vocabulary lessons which teaches about 70 very common and very useful adjectives.

The 40-lesson Conversation Course 2 has the same low price as the first one: US$14.99 or 499 Thai Baht and it can be purchased on the ITS4Thai website. Just log in at http://www.its4thai.com and go to the "Courses" page.

Yesterday, we invited our students who have gone through previous courses on our site to try the new course, and the response has been great. I am very glad to see that a lot of people are still using ITS4Thai to learn the Thai language.

Noodle Soup without the Noodles (Gao Lao)


This year I have been doing my best to follow a new diet to lose a few inches off my middle. The main key to this diet is to avoid grains as much as possible. That's a pretty big change for me, as it means no rice, no noodles, no Au Bon Pain croissants, and no beer. I'm not sure which of those I miss the most.

But even though it's been hard to stick to the diet, it has definitely made a positive difference in the way I look and feel, so I am going to keep it up for now.

One of my favorite Thai foods (or, food that is available in Thailand) has always been noodle soup. Since I am not eating noodles now, I just get the soup, with pork and veggies. The pork is often moo daeng (red pork) and the veggie is a bitter, green leaf that tastes similar to spinach. The way I ordered it today was gao lao sai moo daeng.

The soup also has green onions, roasted garlic, and small bits of a pickled vegetable (maybe cabbage?). Add the usual table condiments little pepper, some vinegar with pickled chilis, some red chili powder, and fish sauce, and you have a gourmet meal:

This was my lunch today, and set me back 40 baht (a bit over US$1), including a bottle of Pepsi.

Washington's "Snub" of Bangkok

Hillary Clinton is traveling through Asia this week in her first over seas trip as the Secretary of State. She has been in Indonesia for the past couple of days, but Thailand isn't on her list of places to visit. Apparently, someone at the Bangkok Post got their feelings hurt over this "snub".

In an editorial published a few days ago in the Post entitled So what are friends for? an unnamed author states:

The Barack Obama presidency starts what it promises will be a new foreign policy era this week. Top officials and envoys are off to Europe and South Asia. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton begins her term with a trip to Asia that brings mixed reactions. On one hand, Mrs Clinton is clearly showing how important this region has become. On the other, the decision to visit Indonesia but ignore close US friends and allies is confusing...
Many in Thailand, which has 175 years of rock-solid support and harmony with the US, feel the new leadership in Washington is turning its back on an old friend. Singaporeans and Filipinos have said much the same. The new administration maintains it truly wants to focus on our region. It is important to include wary countries like Indonesia in the dialogue. But it is vital not to ignore old and trusted friends.

Those last two sentences almost sounds like the author is jealous of Indonesia! I wonder what makes Indonesia "wary" while Thailand is "trusted". In fact, I'd go so far to say that it is the other way around, at least in the eyes of the U.S. State Department. So why might Thailand not be on the top of the list of important allies in Asia? Clinton gave the answer when she showed the State Department's view of Indonesia by saying:

Indonesia is one of Asia's most dynamic nations, where human energy and aspiration combine to help lead the country to a free and fair system of elections, a free press, a robust civil society, and a prominent role for women in the Indonesian Government. We will support Indonesia and other countries in the region that are actively promoting shared values.

So when Thailand is "actively promoting shared values" like a "free and fair system of elections" instead of coups and mob rule, a free press instead of an environment where people fight over control of the media, and the protection of human rights instead of setting immigrants adrift on the ocean without food or water, then we'll talk about being trustworthy.

In my last post, I mentioned the small Italian restaurant in Phuket called La Gaetana that Piyawat and I both enjoyed very much. When I got back to Bangkok I looked it up online, and I see that people have been raving about it for quite some time.

So what was so great about it? For starters, the moment you walk into the small shophouse-sized restaurant, you know you are in a special place. The decorations are vaguely home-style Italian, with lots of warm deep colors, and lots of quirky, unique details. The dining area has only 6 tables, so right away you know that chances are good that the food will be prepared with care.

We were waited on by the Italian owner and chief of the restaurant who did an excellent job explaining the specials of the day, the various appetizers and the wines. We ordered a carafe of the Italian house wine, but the table next to us ordered a bottle and we were treated to a grand sommelier show as the owner opened the bottle and decanted the wine for them with great flair. I think that his performance alone is a great reason to upgrade to a full bottle next time!

The food was excellent and the service was amazingly attentive, yet not overbearing. And for desert, the creme brulee (with another table show of caramelizing the sugar on top) was out of this world. Piyawat ordered the tiramisu, and the owner delivered it and signed his name in the powdered chocolate on the plate with a long cinnamon stick. While that might seem completely over the top, it really was quite fitting as his personality and high standards are stamped on every aspect of the restaurant.

So while Phuket might not be my favorite place in the world, I can hardly wait to go back to La Gaetana!

La Gaetana
352 Phuket Road
Muang Phuket Thailand 83000
Tel: 07-625-0523
Closed on Wednesday
Reservations Recommended

Test-Run Weekend in Phuket

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Of all of the areas in Thailand, I have to say that I like the South the least. Perhaps it's because I am not really a beach person. I'll take the mountains and waterfalls of the north, or the rice fields and rivers of the central and northeastern any day over sand, sun, and salty surf in the South. It seems that in Thailand, the beaches are the most likely places to be over developed. The good parts about the natural scene are over-shadowed by drunk, sunburned tourists and pushy trinket vendors.

And yet, it looks like I'll be spending a lot of my time for the foreseeable future in the capital of Thai beach tourism: the southern island of Phuket. So this is a classic "Is the glass half-full or half-empty?" problem. Phuket is a popular tourist spot for a reason. The beaches are beautiful and all western conveniences are within reach. But what would it be like to live there?

Piyawat and I just spent a three-day weekend there to check things out, both for possible business opportunities with Piyawat's friends June and Jug, but also to look around with the frame of mind of possibly living there, and not just vacationing. If there's one thing I've learned is that there's a big difference between living somewhere and just visiting.

And I have to admit that for most of the trip I was having trouble imaging myself living on the island. But we did find pockets of peace and small havens where I could forget where I was. We had fun playing with June and Jug's 1 and 2 year olds at their house down a quiet soi. The village of Nai Harn seems like another good place to get away from the hordes. And we found an incredibly good Italian restaurant in Phuket City. (If nothing else, Phuket seems to have a lot of excellent restaurants.)

I am now back in Bangkok and sitting in traffic again and breathing in bus fumes instead of sea breezes. I dream of getting my scuba certification again and heading back out to the Andaman Islands to visit the coral, the fish, and the manta rays. I think maybe my time in Phuket won't be too bad, as long as I stay away from the beaches on the west side (Patong and the K's: Kata, Karon, and Kamala).

So, a new chapter of my life looks like it's right around the corner and at the moment I am still not completely sure what that new life will be like. Only time will tell. But for now, I have a couple of months to make plans and to prepare myself for what is ahead.

Checking Resolutions After Two Weeks


Now that I have been back in Bangkok for two weeks, I wanted to see how I was doing on my New New Year Resolutions (the one from Chinese New Year, that is). I have to admit, these resolutions are not earth-shattering or even very interesting, but here they are:

Every day I want to: exercise, follow my diet, and study Thai.

Every day or two I want to: write a blog post.

Let's see how I did for the first two weeks:

  • Exercise every day: In the last 14 days, I exercised 12 times. Score: 85% Not Bad.

  • Follow my Diet: I think I did pretty well on this one. I only remember two days that I totally went off it (beers after one long bike ride and lots of fruit at the floating market). So I'll give myself a score of: 85% Not Bad.

  • Study Thai: Just in case you think that I am rockin' in the self-discipline department, I only studied Thai 4 out of the last 14 days. Score: <30% FAIL.

  • And for writing blog posts on "most" days, I posted 10 entries for the last 14 days. Score: Not Bad.

All in all, I'm pretty happy. I can actually see some of the inches melting off my middle, which is good. But I don't speak Thai any better, which is bad. So there's room for improvement!

However, the improvement will probably have to wait a couple of days, as we're heading to Phuket tomorrow. The main purpose of the trip is to look into some business opportunities, and part of the trip is to use a free hotel voucher I won in a raffle last year. But I am sure we will fit some quality beach time in there somewhere.

Valentines Decorations at Muse Thong Lo 10

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About a week ago I was walking along Thong Lo Soi 10, and noticed that the club Muse still had Christmas decorations out in front of the building. The decorations consisted of a big glass pyramid with flashing white lights that represented a Christmas tree, four smaller brightly lit trees, and several very bright white reindeer prancing around. It was very eye-catching, very modern, and very Western.

At the time, I thought it was funny that they still had Christmas decorations up over a month after Christmas, but I guess they were just waiting for the right time to present this:

Yup, a 15-foot flashing red heart with a swarm of mandolin-playing cherubs flying around. And again, the only thing Thai about this place is the clientele!

To celebrate the Monday holiday of Macha Bucha, I journeyed to Nakorn Pathom with Piyawat's family. Our first stop was a floating restaurant on the Nakorn Chaisi River in Samphran. The specialty of the house (as far as we are concerned) is the giant grilled river prawns served with a spicy green chili dip:

Next on our tour was a visit to the Don Wai Floating Market. The place was absolutely packed with shoppers, who were mostly there to take advantage of the low veggie prices and large variety of Thai snacks for sale. One of the most interesting stalls was selling many different kinds of bananas:

I knew that there were many banana varieties, but I have never seen them all together in one place: some large, some small, some all stuck together in one big clump. It's too bad I don't actually like to eat bananas.

This is a nice day-trip if you are looking to get out of the city, as it is only about 30 kilometers to the west of Bangkok. Here's how you get there

View Larger Map

Sunday Bike Ride to Phra Pradang

It's Sunday, so that means it's time for another long bike ride with Chris. The main point of today's ride (other than the usual exercise and exploration) was to visit the home of my friends Stephen and Jit in Phra Pradang before they head back to the US this week.

Ronald McDonald gave us a good luck wai as we started our ride at J-Avenue on Thong Lo and headed towards the Chao Phraya River. We then turned to the south and rode along the river on Thanon Rot Fai Gao (Old Train Road) to the Sanphawut Pier, and then crossed over to Phra Pradang on a ferry.

We then made our way over to the small community that Jit's family has lived in for generations, and had a very nice chat with them. On this trip to Thailand, Steve and Jit did a "Holy Tour" of India and visited where Buddha was born, where he died, and where he gave particular sermons. They then went on a Buddhist tour of Laos. And Jit even ordained as a nun for a while. So it was very interesting to hear of their adventures over the past several weeks.

After our chat, we were feeling pretty good, so we decided to take the long way home: Through Pra Pradang, down Rat Burana to Charoen Nakorn, then over the river at Sapan Taksin and then Sathorn to Rama 4 and back to the Thong Lo area. It was a total of almost exactly 50 kilometers. Whew! The good news is that I feel much better after this week's ride than last weeks, so maybe my exercise regimen is starting to pay off.

I just uploaded some pictures from the ride that I snapped with my iPhone (like this one of Steve and Jit), and here is a Google Map of our route with a few pictures I took along the way:

View Larger Map

New Year, New Look

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Welcome to the new look of SGTowns.com. This morning I upgraded to the newest version of Moveable Type, the Content Management System that runs this website. I decided to junk the old "look and feel" and upgrade to the default look that comes with the CMS.

As I said a few days ago, I have been looking forward to this new year for a new start in life. And so far, it has been going very well. I feel like I am back on track and back doing the things that are truly important to me. So it's fitting that the online version of my life is getting an new upgrade too, both in the way it looks up front, as well as a behind the scenes improvement to a better publishing platform.

Although I have to say that I am not in love with the new red look or with the reorganized columns, so I will try to tweak it as I have time. But for now, I have spent most of the day backing up the old version of the site, installing the new version and setting everything up to run smoothly, including:

  • Fixing the RSS Feeds: If you follow this site in a Feed Reader (like the highly recommended Google Reader or NetNewsWire), please change your feed to http://www.sgtowns.com/atom.xml
  • Fixing the Notifications: If you get email notifications whenever this site is updated, hopefully that is now working and you will get an email with this post.

sgtowns.com.old.sm.jpgWith all these changes, the new version should give me some additional functionality that will make visiting this site easier and maybe even more fun. For example, you can now reply to individual comments, and you can subscribe to comments on a post so that you can see if anyone else commented after you.

All of the journal content from the old site should still be here somewhere, but let me know if anything doesn't seem to be working as usual. My photo albums are not up at the moment, but I will see if I can't get those back online next week.

So... we'll say goodbye to the old blue look shown on the right. I almost feel like I am waving good bye to a friend. Many hours were spent in its creation and modification, and it served me well over the years. But technology marches on and we have to run to keep up.

The 30 Km Bike Ride That Became 60 Km

It has been a long time since I rode my bike. So long in fact, that when I got it out this morning to join Chris on a long ride out in the countryside, there was a thick layer of dust over the bike and lock and helmet.

But I was excited to get out of the city and explore the rice fields again. Around 5 AM I woke up without an alarm and jumped out of bed. By 6 I was eating a quick breakfast at Mc Donalds at J-Avenue and waiting for Chris to come by and pick me up. He finally showed up with his friend Peter who lives in Shanghai, and the three of us headed off towards the airport with our three bikes on a car rack.

We started our bike tour at a wat just north of the airport, and made a lesurely 32 km route through the rice fields as the sun was rising. The air was fairly cool, and the roads were mostly empty, so it was a very enjoyable ride. Neither Peter nor I had done much riding recently, so we begged Chris to take it slow and easy, which he did. By the time we got back to our parked car at the wat, I was tired but not completely exhausted.

We loaded up the bikes again on the rack on the back of the car, and headed home. But unfortunately, we only made it a few miles when the rack broke! We were stuck 30 kilometers from home with no way to get all of the bikes back, other than to ride them.

So that's what we did. About 10 kilometers into the trip my legs were starting to cramp up a bit and so we found a nice little restaurant that had a seating area on the roof where we could relax. We ended up ordering several plates of delicious Thai food and a few Thai beers, and I definitely felt better after that.

We eventually made it home, after a few more breaks, including one stop at a truck parked on the side of the road selling fresh-squeezed sugar cane juice. In this picture that Chris took, you can see a very unflattering photo of a very tired me enjoying my sugar cane!

But all in all, it was a great adventure and I loved every bit of it (except for the aching legs). Here is a Google Map of the two routes we took. If you'd like to see some pictures from the ride, then click on the "View Larger Map" link and then click on the pins. A little box will pop up with a picture that was taken at that very location!

View Larger Map

You can also view some more pictures taken by Chris and myself during our adventure.

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This page is an archive of entries from February 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

January 2009 is the previous archive.

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