Sunday, December 15, 2013

“You call it liver. I call it karma.” (But it was worse)

As we left the Kim Hotel in Saigon, standing where our alley meets the street, one of the young women who works there hugged Leslie – and patted her on the bottom. Sweet.
Wat in Chiang Mai
Easy flight to Bangkok on Vietnam Airlines, good seats that got better when we moved to an empty row, then a stressful taxi deal that was a small screwing. Got to the Drop Inn on Sukhumvit Soi 20, checked in, and moved rooms to escape cigarette smoke. The Drop Inn is as close as we get to a splurge - $44/night.
Ladies of the night in bar across the soi from our hotel

We caught the bus to Tops where I had pork fried with chilies and a handful of basil leaves, and then a generous plate of mango with sticky rice and coconut milk (let the good times roll!) and Leslie ended up with rice, noodles and (oops) chicken gizzards and livers with chilies – “He said it was chicken; he just didn’t tell me which parts.” It’s been two weeks since we’ve had a salad and Tops has a salad bar, so we got salad to take back to our room for dinner. Shared a Beer Chang on the little patio in front of the hotel. Salad in the room. Listening to Brandi Carlile, REM, 10,000 Maniacs, and so on on the computer jukebox. Even when the travel is easy, it’s tiring for us.
Sick tourist in Bangkok

Leslie talking that trash: “Pure tabaccy” and “That’s the way I roll.” Where does this stuff come from? I don’t know.

Little bitty waitress at "chicken street" stand 
In recent days there have been demonstrations against the current Prime Minister in Thailand. A number of government offices have been occupied, streets closed down, and some violence (five people killed so far). This fits with our last few visits to Thailand. The last time we were here the police raided some guys making bombs about a kilometer from where we were staying. One of the bomb-makers ran out of the apartment and threw a grenade at the police. Oops, it hit a pole and bounced right back at the guy, blowing him to smithereens. The time before demonstrators shut down the Bangkok airport for several days. We were on the first plane (literally) into the reopened Bangkok airport. This time the street we’re staying on (Sukhumvit, Soi 20) has been all or partially shut down several times. And I just remembered that a long time ago we stayed with an army officer who was part of a coup d’ etat while we were at his house (he was gone for several days, needless to say).
Grilled chicken, something like laab, sticky rice, peanuts from Indian guy

We made yet another expedition to the amulet market near Thamasat University – red 25 bus through Chinatown, through Indiatown, past Wat Phra Keo and then the crowds near the market. While we were waiting for the bus back, a woman brought me a chair (Leslie already sitting down). Basically It is one loooooong bus ride back to Sukhumvit. Hot, noxious road air, but actually good times with Leslie. Every time we’ve been on a crowded bus, someone has given their seat to Leslie. I, on the other hand, am never offered a seat.

Very nice moment: Bangkok buses all have a driver and a person who circulates through the crowd, collecting fares. On one bus there was a sick toddler asleep at the front of the bus – the fare collector’s child. Apparently fare collectors make very little money… One of the passengers gave the collector 50 baht for the child. Lot of nice people here.
Sick child on the bus

We ate at “chicken street” one night. This was where we were, sitting on stools along the sidewalk when Leslie made a famous comment re a rat running by less than 3 feet away – “But it’s going the other way.” No rats this time, but an awesome cat circulating.

As I said in an earlier post, we seem to be mostly repeating ourselves on this trip, going where we’ve been before, eating tried and true things… Oceans of memories memories memories memories….oceans… of memories… together.
Monk's laundry at wat in Chiang Mai

We flew to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. Staying at the Roong Ruang Hotel near Tha Pae Gate. Made a songtaew run to the Central Airport Plaza, which sounds like, why would anyone go there? Unless you’d been there, to the food court where there isn’t a word of English on any sign and where there in khao soi to end all khao sois… red curry soup, noodles, fried thingies, chicken and add lime juice, chili oil, shredded cabbage, holy basil, shallot, sour vegetable, and whatnot. Another bowl please. On the way out, pick up – you guessed it – mango and sticky rice with coconut milk. On the way out, commenting on foods available at one place. Leslie says, “Blobs and squiggles.”
Buddha image at wat in Chiang Mai

On the way back to the Tha Pae Gate we were packed into a songtaew (pickup truck with benches in the bed and a canopy over) and there was an Englishman in his 70s or 80s sitting across from us. We were talking about this and that. Noticing he was wearing a wedding ring, Leslie asked about his wife. He said she had died 20 years ago and he said some things about her to Leslie that couldn’t hear.

Settled in to Chiang Mai, enjoying the smaller (than Bangkok) city with wats all around. As before, true that a big effort to get to the more famous ones hardly worth it as several lovely wats are a 5 minutes slow walk from our hotel.

These are the days.
Roong Ruang Hotel (old section) in Chiang Mai

Leslie connected with a woman at the hotel desk, Nan, and we’ve gone from having to stay in the older section for four days to one night in the newer section to three nights in the newer section and one elsewhere to all four nights right here in the very comfortable and quiet room. The old section is something from days gone by with old-fashion doors, kind of uncomfortable beds, kind of a dank atmosphere, kind of moldy, kind of cool. The way this hotel worked out was when we got to Chiang Mai I hiked all around inquiring about rooms, and in the sweaty end, the Roong Ruang, even the old section, was the best I could find. So after I did that part, Leslie took care of negotiations. Pretty good teamwork.
At Erawan shrine

We’ve gone to the Airport Plaza every day for lunch – 20 baht ($.64) songtaew ride. Sometimes downstairs in the people’s food court, perched on stools, getting down on khao soi, and sometimes upstairs in the more upscale area (where seats have backs and menus have English subtitles – but prices are still good. One day upstairs we had chicken panang, pork satay, cucumber salad, and rice all for less than $3 USD. A brilliant lunch for $1.50 each. I’ve gotten mango, sticky rice and coconut milk every day. Bliss.

Tomorrow we fly to Bangkok. Hope we can get past the demonstrations. Two weeks left in the Asia part of the trip. These are the days.
Beer with ICE in Bangkok, peanuts from Indian man

Every evening in Chiang Mai and Bangkok we’ve sat outside and had a beer together – “happy hour.” I’ve been to more malls and 7-11s in Asia and drunk more beer this trip than in the past 10 years. The mall food court scene is basically street vendors moved inside with cleaner dishes. 7-11s in SEA are unlike 7-11s in the US – prices are good and they have more stuff. Beer is Chang.

Things we’ve eaten in Thailand so far this time around (it's extravagant and cheap):
Here it is - mango with sticky rice and coconut milk
• Mango with sticky rice and coconut milk almost every day for me
• Pad Thai, vegetarian and with shrimp (little dried ones and fresh)
• Pad see eu
• Krapow, chicken and pork versions
• Green curry
• Panaeng curry
• Red curry, several variations
Woman vending panaeng and satay at mall 
• Masaman curry
• Khao soi – a lot
• Satay, several kinds
• Grilled chicken, several different – some as good as what we used to get in the Shell station parking lot way down Sukhumvit a long time ago
• Gyoza
• Mushrooms wrapped in ham and grilled
• Fried bananas – 10 baht buys a lot
• Jook (like congee with tons of garlic)
• Laab, several kinds
• Tom kha
• Tom yum
• Chiang Mai sausage
• Western salad from several salad bars
• Chicken fried with basil and garlic; also pork the same way
• Peanuts fried with citrus leaves and garlic
• Papaya salad
• Chicken with ginger – ginger not as a flavoring, but a vegetable
• Khanom jeen nam ngiaw – this is a spicy stew with clabbered blood – a detail I didn’t know about – not good. At first I thought the blood was liver. Leslie said, “You call it liver. I call it karma.”

• Several things I don’t know the name of; things I’ve forgotten

Rugged stuff - blood on right side of bowl
Bangkok: at this point in the trip everything is a big effort. Basically we’re just being in BK, eating fabulous food, having “happy hour” every evening on the porch of the hotel… 50 years on… 

Malls. Really, who would have ever thought I’d go to a mall, much less know something about several!. Here is the deal on mall food in Bangkok: They have collections of vendors who, in days gone by, would have been street vendors. So the food is as good and authentic as you can get from a street food perspective. They are air-conditioned (not an insignificant factor in Bangkok). Most have chairs with backs. Clean restrooms with toilet paper. Here are some malls on or near Sukhumvit Road:
Great food - khao soi

Siam Paragon: A huge upscale mall with the greatest food court ever. SP was the world’s most instagrammed location in 2013. Really a fabulous and extravagant place.
Tops: A much smaller place up the road from our hotel. Good grocery store, nice inexpensive food court and okay salad bar.
Big C on Rama IV: The people’s mall. Today we had masaman curry, sticky rice, and laab for 100 baht (less than $1.50 each). Some of the food at Big C requires culling and discarding of less desirable parts, but well worth it to us.
MBK: Huge, cheap discount mall. We had a poor experience at food court there.
Emporium: Upscale with hard to find and not so great food court (but when you think about it, so much better than anything in the states), but the best salad bar we’ve found.

Erawan Shrine to Lord Brahma

At Erawan Shrine
We visited the Erawan shrine to Lord Brahma today (Sunday). Many people there, heavy clouds of incense, traditional music, classic Thai dancers, flowers, and worshipers. From my book on culture and health beliefs and practices: Many Thais and Laotians practice a mix of Theravada Buddhism and Brahmanism or Phram. The practice of both, as well as belief in spirits is seen in the relatively common approach to shrines: Inside the home is reserved for the Buddhist shrine; while outside may be found a spirit (Phi) house (small house or shrine on top of a pole or column). Offerings of food are to spirits, while offerings of flowers are to Phram.

A poem from Michael Montague:
Up Lad; thews that lie and cumber
Sunlit pallets never thrive;
Morns a bed and daylight slumber
Were not meant for man alive.
Clay lies still, but Bloods a rover
Breath’s a ware that will not keep
Up lad; when the journey’s over
There’ll be time enough to sleep
A.E Housman

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