The Best of Thai and the Worst of Thai (Part 5)

The Internet

It sucks. That’s really all I should have to say, except that it angers me so much that I want to rant about it for a few hundred more words.

Part of the issue is that I left Silicon Valley, a region that would decline into a self-entitled meltdown if the connection speeds diminished to anything lower than seven megabits per second. Interestingly enough, I read this article about how Silicon Valley Internet speeds are too slow. The article talked about how fed up companies like Google and Netflix are over their measly average of 9.8 megabits per second. I laughed, thinking, Wow, theirs comes in MEGAbits?

It’s not just land Internet service either. Whereas in the Bay Area I was shocked when I didn’t get LTE, here in Thailand 4G is merely a privilege of the Bangkok elite. Everywhere else we’re barely in 3G land, but judging the connection speeds, I doubt the ITU-R’s standards for 3G get taken seriously. For example, around the school where I work, I get five bars of 3G service, but I can’t load my Facebook news feed to save my life. And it isn’t too cheap: unlimited 3G connection for 30 days costs a 400 baht ($12).

What is cheap is my apartment building’s Wi-Fi service. That’s right. I don’t pay an ISP directly. I pay 150 baht ($5) per device to connect to one of the building’s four Wi-Fi networks. Then I pray that the connection stays stable and adequately fast for more than a couple hours at a time. If it rains, forget about it. No Internet unless it’s a sunny day.

In part I think the slow connectivity of this country is a bandwidth issue. There are definitely peak hours when everyone’s 3G slows down and our home Wi-Fi lags.

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If you attempt to browse to a forbidden URL, this image pops up. The main design of Internet censorship in Thailand is to protect citizens from inadvertently reading criticism of the royal family and government–a crime punishable by imprisonment. But it also serves other convenient censorship purposes.

Then, there’s licensing restrictions and Thailand’s Internet censorship at play. In order to avoid the dreaded green cock blocker (in some cases, literally, as porn is forbidden here), as well as bypass copyright protection measures by the likes of Netflix and Spotify, I’ve got to use a VPN. So not only is my connection slow to begin with, but by the time it’s bounced off a U.S.-based server, loaded content from the source server, and pinged back to me, it’s a miracle I can stream or download any content. So if you think you’re a bigger “Game of Thrones” fan than me, try outlasting my patience while streaming season 6 next year.

Note: for a really interesting and accurate read about how the Thais have taken to social media, check this out.

Cost of Living

I have this colleague who at every turn seems unable to talk about Thailand in anything other than the most sardonic terms. He is in no way charmed by the culture, food, architecture, or anything else that makes this country uniquely Thailand. When I asked him why he lives in such a “ridiculous” country, he answered that he’s here for the climate and the cost of living. And really, those are the main reasons any Westerner lives here.

It’s not really why I moved here, but I do enjoy the cost of living. For example, I like that the rent and utilities for my apartment average about $200 per month. I like that my mobile phone costs me no more than $30 a month—that includes data usage. My motorbike needs a refill every 10 days at the staggering price of $2.50. Newer and better furnished than in America, cinemas cost half what I’m used to paying: a movie date with popcorn and a soda costs me around $12. The average meal in an air-conditioned, farang-friendly restaurant runs about $5, with Thai-centric restaurants running more like $3 a plate, and street vendors charging around $1.

An income of around $1,000 per month covers the modest living expenses of two people, plus platinum-level group health insurance premiums, all with enough headroom to hit up the bar or club every other weekend. Beer: $2.50 for a tall one. Jack and Coke: $6. Bottle service: $65 for a bottle of Smirnoff Vodka and 1 set of mixers.

There are consequences for this kind of easy living. Or more accurately, there are questionable causes. One side effect of a low cost of living is that sex is cheap (if your standards are low enough, you can get laid for as little as $25). That draws all kinds of weirdos looking to objectify the already downtrodden women of Thailand. Moreover, much of the cheapness of living stems from an overly subsidized economy and an undereducated middle class. But of course, those are topics best saved for other rants…

The Best of Thai and the Worst of Thai (Part 4)

Two unrelated topics.

Language

Obviously language barriers would be a given while living in a foreign country that doesn’t speak English. But Thailand has fortified that barrier to dimension that I think might be somewhat unique.

The height of the barrier comes a horrendous lack of English proficiency across the board. I don’t mean to sound like an arrogant American here; I would never expect people whose native language isn’t English to accommodate me. However, English, it must be said, is the lingua franca of our time. It’s the language of ASEAN, the language of tourism, and the language of business. And it’s not as though I live in some Podunk village far away from any city; I live in Thailand’s fifth most popular city for tourism. Businesses that advertise in English hardly employ English-speaking workers. Among the few that can string together a few words of English, seldom can they do so in a comprehensible and sensible fashion.

Keep in mind that in order to work in the tourism industry—namely hotels—a Thai person needs to hold a bachelor’s degree in Hotel Management, Tourism Management, Hospitality Management, or something along those lines. One would think that such a program would include classes in the international language. But the inadequacy of most hotel employees to resolve simple matters of dispute, due completely to a lack of proficiency in English, belies the lack of such crucial training in Thailand’s tourism-focused university programs.

As a result, Thai English is laden with a myriad of laughable mispronunciations that oftentimes confuse the native speaker. And when the native speaker pronounces these words naturally, it confounds most Thais. An acquaintance and colleague of mine told a fun anecdote that I think epitomizes what I’m talking about. In Bangkok, one of the train lines is called BTS Skytrain, known as BTS by most residents and visitors. Most taxi drivers know where the nearest BTS station is. So you’d think that when my friend climbed into a taxi one day and said, “B.T.S.” (each letter equally pronounced in tone and volume), that would be sufficient to communicate where he wanted to go. But no. He had to adjust his speech to give the final S an elongated, falling tone: “B.T.eeeeeeeeeess!” Then the driver nodded.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t expect the average street stall owner to speak even rudimentary English. But when I walk into a KFC—an American fast food company—I would expect to be able to order in English without causing mass confusion. But such is often not the case.

As an educator, the frustration isn’t simply one of inconvenience, either. I’m concerned that, among Asian countries, Thailand ranks at the bottom, despite the fact that it spends 20% of its national budget on education, with heavy measures bolstering ESL programs. But that’s another article entirely.

The width of the language barrier is the Thai language. I’ve made slow but gradual efforts toward learning the language here. My girlfriend has been a good instructor when she can be. But when I try out my Thai in practical situations, often Thais don’t understand me, or even worse, pretend not to understand me. It’s a strategy of avoiding dealing with the minute requests of foreigners by acting as though we can’t speak their magical language.

It’s hard enough making sense of the various tones that can change the meaning of an utterance. Supposedly there are 5 tones, and when I know which tone to use, I can pronounce an exaggerated version and impress my girlfriend and her friends. But hearing them is a different story. Once you string words next to each other, the tones aren’t so easy to recognize, as dipthongs between words alter them slightly.

And forget about reading any of it: the Thai alphabet is its own hieroglyphics—44 letters divided into different classes of consonants and different lengths of vowels, the mixture of which determines the tone. For example, if you find a long vowel with a middle consonant, you end up with a middle tone. But if you find a low consonant with a short vowel, you get a falling tone. Confused? Me too.

Art & Architecture

Despite all my frustrations with language, I must admit that the Thais have developed and guarded something sacredly unique to their culture. There is nothing on earth quite like Thai culture. It’s a little bit Indian, a little bit Chinese, and a little bit wacky. It feels almost banal to say that the art and architecture in Thailand are absolutely stunning. I’m almost waiting for someone to go, “duh!”

But honestly, it doesn’t matter how frustrated I get with the idiosyncratic annoyances of Thai people, or how depressed I get watching retiree expats drink themselves into oblivion. A simple journey to a Thai temple, a night out at a culture show, or an afternoon at the floating market or some other “touristy” but “Thailandy” attraction can redeem it all.

I love the way that temple roofs glisten in the sun. I love the contrasts of deep blues, heavy reds, profound purples, tranquil greens, and shimmering gold. I love the mysterious sculptures of naga or demons or bodhisattvas or Hindu deities, the ornateness of bargeboards and gables, the undulating, serpentine lamyong, and the conspicuously towering chedi and prang. I experience a borrowed nostalgia when I see old, teak-wooden houses, with their intricate carvings and elegantly sloped angles.

Many buildings in Thailand are both structurally provocative, and decoratively alluring. From far away, traditional Thai architecture imposes itself beautifully on the passerby, and mesmerizes the viewer with its strong angles, sharp edges, and sparkling aesthetic. But it also entices a closer look, which reveals immaculate detail of the most remarkable craftsmanship. Gold-plated and jewel-encrusted elaborate sculptures; mirror, polished stone, or porcelain mosaic work; dazzlingly complicated wooden carving; the art of the facade is always stunning.

I honestly can’t get enough of it.

But talking about architecture really doesn’t do it justice. Here’s what I can’t put adequately into words:

Grand Palace:

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A chedi or, more commonly, stupa. Probably the most famous in Thailand, as it’s situated in the Grand Palace compound in Bangkok
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Notice the intricacy of the gold sculpting, interspersed with colored glass tiles.
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A close-up of some more detailing.
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In this picture, you can see the lamyung protruding from the corners of the gables.
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A side shot of Wat Phra Kaew, the most significant temple in Thailand, as it’s the royal temple. Here you can see the lamyung on the corners of the steeply sloped tiered rooftop. The whole building is bathed in gold and porcelain.

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Wat Arun:

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This central prang represents Mount Meru, belying Thai Buddhism’s strong appropriation of Hindu mythology. Aesthetically, it owes its iridescence to it’s intricate porcelain work, which reflects off the morning sun.
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A corner prang at Wat Arun.

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And more…

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Another chedi, at Wat Pho
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Sculptures depicting yoga positions at Wat Pho
Sanctuary of Truth
The Sanctuary of Truth in Pattaya, made entirely of wood, even its fasteners.
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A closeup of the woodwork at the Sanctuary of Truth

Even simple, traditional wooden houses have elegant slopes, detailed paneling, and a rustic intrigue:

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Surprise! From Thai Immigration: Certifying my Diploma

Here’s a fun personal update regarding Thai visas. When I’ve finished what I’m about to describe, I’ll revise this article to serve any American expats in Thailand. Until that time, if you see this little italicized intro, take the following info with a grain of hasn’t-been-tested-yet salt.

As of about 2 weeks ago, Thailand Immigration has decided that too many bozos with Mickey Mouse degrees have infiltrated their country. So they want all those applying for a Non-Immigrant B Visa (particularly for teaching) to provide a certified copy of their university diploma. For any other nationality but American, this is as simple as turning up to one’s own embassy and getting them to stamp it. Not so with America. The U.S. Embassy will not certify academic documents. They make this fact very clear on their website. They even go so far as to explain that they stopped providing this service in 1983. (I have a slight journalistic urge to investigate what lawsuit nearly happened back then to cause the headache I now have.)

So if you’re an American teaching in Thailand, or if you’re an American who needs a certified copy of your diploma for any other reason, here’s what you need to do (I’ve also provided links to clarify the various steps. These links only apply to my circumstance. Naturally, you’ll need to search for your university, state and nearest embassy/consulate.):

  1. Notarize the copy of your diploma. Many universities have a notary service available through the registrar’s office. In my case, UC Berkeley has someone come in twice a month, and the registrar is the one who makes the sworn statement that gets notarized. You should check with your university to see if and how they provide this service.
  2. Authorize the notary. Send the document to the Secretary of State in the state where your university is located. Essentially, this step involves the secretary of state’s office verifying that the notary public is valid. Usually you have to send a cover letter explaining what country you want to use the document in, so that they can apply the correct stamp/seal to it.
  3. Get a U.S. State Department Seal. This means you have to send the document to the U.S. State Department to have them authorize it. There are two types of authorization: Apostille and Certification. The former is useful for any country that signed the Hague Convention. Thailand is not a Hague nation, so the latter is your only option here. (Basically, the apostille guarantees that the document is legal in all Hague nations. For more exciting reading about the Hague Convention and Apostilles, just Google them.) This step is incredibly important because most Thai Embassies or Consulates in the U.S. will not legalize your documents without a State Department seal.
  4. Legalize the document in Thailand. The last step is to send the document to the Thai embassy or consulate nearest your university. They will legalize the document for you.

There might be a fifth step, which is to have the document sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Thailand. I’m assuming this is unnecessary for now, and plan to bring my consulate-stamped document to immigration and see what they say.

If any American expats in Thailand happen to be reading this, and can add or correct with a certain amount of confidence any of the above, please do so in the comment section.

Please also note that my sources, which I trust, inform me that an affidavit will not suffice, but maybe that depends on the immigration officer you get and the mood they’re in that day.

Once I’ve succeeded in renewing my visa, I’ll update this article to reflect my actual experience.

The Best of Thai and the Worst of Thai (Part 3)

This time, I think I’ll start with the positive, and end with the negative:

Simplicity

When dealing with the various bureaucracies of Thailand, things can be anything but simple. But overall, daily life is rather easy. People come and go as they please. They arrive when they feel like it, and no one seems bothered by it. There’s a general attitude called “Mai Bpen Rai”, which means “No problem.” It’s this lackadaisical attitude that can both frustrate and charm the foreigner. I choose to focus on the latter.

While I’m tempted to complain about the lack of work ethic among Thais when it inconveniences me, I have to admit it’s a breath of fresh air when I’ve grown up where the Puritan work ethic pumps through everyone’s veins. In America, we don’t know how to relax, enjoy life, take a holiday, laugh, party, and just forget we have a job. We take ourselves too seriously. Our happiness factor compared to the rest of the developed world is, well, sad. So Thailand—and really every tropical, developing country I’ve ever visited—demonstrates a refreshing opposite to the insanity of corporate America.

Here’s an example to illustrate my point. The most common Saturday ritual in America is running errands. People run from the post office to the dry cleaner to Target to the grocery store to the second grocery store with the cheaper produce to the supermarket that has everything they couldn’t find at the other two markets. And that’s a light Saturday. The ones with birthday parties and weddings are just hell on earth.

I tried to teach my students the word “errand.” I asked them, “You know how on Saturdays you or your parents have to go to all these different businesses around town just to keep up with life?” Blink, blink. Huh? “What I mean is, you know how you have to go to pick up your laundry, go to the post office, and go shopping on Saturdays?” Oh, I love shopping!

I quickly realized that they aren’t the only ones whose families don’t cram all their important routine scutwork into one day of the week. I don’t either, anymore. If I dropped off clothes at the laundry service earlier this week, I pick it up on my way home. I literally pass it by. I don’t really need food in the house because it’s just as cheap to eat out. But if I do, the market is right next door, and there’s a supermarket within a reasonable driving distance away—with a post office, stationary shop, coffee shop, music store, and a whole host of other random vendors inside. The point is that I said goodbye to errands the day I arrived here. It’s just one way life here is just designed to lay back and take it easy. Mai Bpen Rai! Mai Bpen fucking Rai!

Slow the Fuck Down, Thailand!

I already wrote a lengthy article explaining all the reasons why driving in Thailand is dangerous and annoying. But since I’m on the topic of things that annoy me, it’s worth restating: I fucking hate the way people drive here.

For such a simple, laid-back culture, it’s amazing that everyone is in such a damn hurry the minute they straddle an engine. I can’t get a restaurant worker to look up from her Line conversation on her phone without yelling, “Nong krap!” (Girl!); I can’t buy coffee without it taking a mai-bpen-rai hour-and-a-half; the men of this country are usually glued to benches or bamboo platforms. But put any of these sloths on a motorbike, and I just can’t move fast enough for them.

For example, I might be filtering through traffic when I come upon a frightfully narrow gap between a coach bus and a parked car. In that split-second hesitation in which I’ve slowed my bike by a whopping 3 km/h, the jerk-off behind me decides to whip around me and steal my opportunity.

When I’m making a right into a driveway (that’s equivalent to a left in America), I’ve trained myself to check my mirrors. That’s because on a nearly monthly basis I’ve almost hit someone overtaking me even though my directional indicated my intent to turn.

Plus, apparently any time is a good time to pull out onto a major thoroughfare from a side street. It’s like they’re thinking as they inch out in front of fast-moving traffic, “Eh, they’ll slow down for me.” I should note that they often do this even though there’s enough space behind me to fit the royal family’s motorcade.

Add to this the jigsaw-puzzled paving, with ditches, bumps, and drains more plentiful than asphalt paint, and it’s like driving a death-race obstacle course.

Seriously, Thailand, improve your roads, or at least chill the fuck out while you’re on them.

The Best of Thai and the Worst of Thai (Part 2)

The Customer Comes First…after this show finish, ok?

Here’s a common experience: I wake up on a Saturday and I really want Tom Yum soup. I know there’s a place just down the road that serves it tasty and quite cheap. So I get up, get showered and dressed, hop on my motorbike, and head over to the restaurant that will most assuredly satisfy my craving. After all, if I craved something in the U.S., it was just a matter of getting out the door, and within the hour my craving would be quelled.

Not so easy in Thailand. As I approach the restaurant, it becomes visibly obvious that they’re closed. They’re usually open at this time, but, for whatever reason, not today. Sometimes they have a sign indicating (in Thai) that they’ve gone back to their hometown for the week and they’ll be back on such-and-such date. Sometimes they don’t leave any information at all.

Such is a symptom of a low work ethic in Thailand. In some respects it’s admirable. It’s exactly why I, and many other foreigners, came here—the laid-back, tropical life. But in other respects it’s not only frustrating, but also economically suicidal. I almost always forget about such restaurants for weeks on end. My girlfriend and I volley back and forth the classic, “Where do you want to eat?” – “I don’t know. Where do you want to eat?” But we fail to remember the place that recently dissed us with their arbitrary closing.

Eating in Thailand is often achieved on impulse. If you want that tasty coconut ice cream over sweet sticky rice, you have to grab it when you happen to pass by the vendor. If you want some Panang curry, you’ll have to keep your eyes ever watchful for its cameo in the random restaurant’s menu.

Once you get into the restaurant you like, it’s not always a pleasant experience. One thing the Thais are pretty bad at is customer service. Whether it’s table service, hotel reception, call centers, travel bookings, or any other segment of the service industry, they just don’t have high standards. Foreigners often note the irony of the nickname “Land of Smiles,” given the lack thereof on the faces of customer service reps in a myriad of businesses.

It isn’t just a language barrier, either—though that’s a huge part of it. It’s also just a lack of attentiveness to the customer. Employees sit around talking, texting, checking Facebook, and watching Thai dramas or movies (with Thai subtitles) while almost completely ignoring their customers. Unlike in the U.S., where servers are almost obnoxiously ever-present, here you’ve got to wave your arms and shout, “Nong krap!” (Boy!/Girl!) to get any kind of service. But once you get their attention, there is the hint of a smile, along with the usual Thai-style friendliness—that deferential courtesy upon which their culture is built. And that’s a pleasant, charming touch.

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R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Wai: the act of placing one’s palms together in a prayer-like fashion, and bowing slightly.

Why do the Thais wai? It’s a show of respect. Sure it’s a way of indicating social position—a gesture recognizing that one is addressing a person of a higher status. The higher the hands, the more superior the addressee. Everything egalitarian in me should resist such blatant deference to decorum. But, goddamnit, I just love the wai.

The level of common respect in society is a charming and wonderful thing, even if it’s simply a formality—maybe even a copout at times. When foreigners receive a wai, I cannot help but wonder if it’s merely a show, a gilded gloss to impress visitors with a unique and flattering culture. But I also couldn’t care less if such were the case. It’s just plain nice, and I like it.

I particularly like it as a teacher. After hearing so many horror stories of how horrid American and European students can be toward their teachers, it certainly seems a luxury to be greeted with propriety and politesse.

I don’t get so much of it from my current students in the international school, where even the Thai students have learned the blundering insolence of their Western peers. But even in a school that would embarrass Thailand for it’s lack of etiquette, my students are compliant, charming, and reverent. Contrast this with my experience in a fully Thai private school, and it’s almost unbelievable. Students would kneel before me, barely bold enough to lift their eyes to meet mine. They called me “master,” and would wai profusely, nearly apologizing verbally for their impudent interruption. I almost hated it. Almost. Too bad the average teacher’s pay in Thailand doesn’t reflect this level of regard.

Respect and politeness are ingrained even in the Thai language. For starters, there’s this whole other language for royal situations. But even at a practical level, a respectful Thai places a polite particle—krap* for men and ka for women—at the end of every sentence or question. We’re such dickheads in the U.S., we use the most polite aspects of the English language to ridicule people, and call it “sarcasm.” So again, I like the wais, and I like saying krap at the end of every thing. Sometimes I just say krap as an ellipsis for what I mean to say, because I can’t remember the actual phrase. It usually works.

*For those of you at the kiddie table that are humored by the word krap, it’s pronounced more like “cup.”

The Best of Thai and the Worst of Thai (Part 1)

One year. I’ve been in Thailand for one year now. So to celebrate I’d talk about some of the things I like and dislike about living here. After I finished the following complaints and praises, I tried to organize them, to fit them into some logical sequence or structure. But after hours of trying to make things fit, I nearly lost my mind. So some of these positive-negative pairings fit nicely together. Others are just random. Hopefully, though, they’re all entertaining…

Regularity

The first time I visited this country, a friend warned me to watch out for the street food, then proceeded to recount a very bad experience she’d had with street food in Cambodia. It’s no secret that health codes don’t apply in this part of the world. And when you have a grossly undereducated population, many of whom, for lack of a better option to earn a living, end up owning their own food stalls, you get all kinds of ignorance with regards to microbes. Add to that the lack of allergies among the Thais—and thus a lack of awareness about cross-contamination—and there are plenty of ways to make a routinely amazing Thai meal a “memorable” affair.

When I first got here, I was pretty brave. I was eager to try everything, and wasn’t going to let the “myths” about street food deter me from eating cheap and delicious food from the street and the market. But I started to notice a routine developing within a week of arriving: I’d get some kind of digestive abnormality about once every two weeks. It has rarely been anything major—things just don’t pass through quite right, to put it as politely as I can. In fact only once did I get seriously sick, throwing up all day into the following morning. And it was my own fault, as we had been to a Thai barbecue place where you cook your own food.

It’s little more than a nuisance. Although it’s seldom very painful, it can be quite alarming when you’re in the middle of teaching a bunch of naughty 14-year-olds about the past continuous tense, and then mid-sentence you have to say, “Um…be good! I’ll be right back!”

So now, I keep a steady supply of digestive medication, stuff for cramps, pains, indigestion, and most importantly diarrhea. The episodes have become less routine—say, only once a month on average. Some of you might try to be positive and say, “Hey, sounds like you’re developing an immunity!” Nope. Not really. I’ve cut way back on my street and market food consumption, and am very careful about who I buy food from. If it’s not popular, no way! If there are numerous flies, next please. And if I don’t see them cook it, no thanks. I’ve begun eating Western food more routinely, too. Yep, I’ve become the ugly American, eating pizza and KFC in a land where Pad Thai and Tom Yum originated. But at least I’m making fewer toilet runs.

Eat your heart out

So why do I put myself through this “regular” torture?I mean, c’mon…have you tried Thai food? Thailand is so famous for its cuisine, it’s almost a given that food would be on my list of likes.

If you live in America and you regularly eat Thai food; if you love Thai food to the extent that whenever someone suggests it your mouth waters; if you think that Thai food must be the straight from heaven’s cafés; imagine the best Thai food you’ve ever had, and double its flavor. That’s how good it is here.

Here are some of my favorite dishes:

There’s really no way to describe either Panang or Massaman curry. You just have to try them to know what I mean. But take my word for it: every time I see one of them on the menu at a restaurant, I order it.

What excels the Pad Thai in Thailand above any you’ll find in the United States is its freshness and uniqueness of ingredients. Generally, American Pad Thai is too sweet, with too much tamarind. Frankly, I rarely ever see Pad Thai vendors add more than a pinch of it, if any.

Som Tam, or Green Papaya Salad, comes in many varieties. I usually go for the standard Som Tam Thai, as the other variations include ingredients I’m not brave enough to try (like raw blue crab).

Pad Ga Prao tastes better than it sounds in English: minced pork or chicken, fried with chillies, garlic, and Thai basil. But trust me, it’s delicious. A bit of Pad Ga Prao over white rice with a fried egg on top equals easy, heavenly meal.

Finally, Kao Mon Gai, or chicken over rice, is one of Thailand’s simplest but most delicious plates. It’s essentially boiled chicken over rice. But the key to this dish is the way the rice is prepared: cooked with the chicken stock left over from the boiling of the chicken. And Kao Mon Gai sauce–tangy, sweet, and spicy– is really where the magic happens. This dish always comes with a bowl of chicken broth, a necessary bonus to an already perfect meal.

But it isn’t just the “classic” Thai dishes that make my mouth water. Thailand has a unique way of cooking certain things that, if I mention them, you might say, “Yeah, so? We got that in America, too.” For example: barbecue chicken. It’s nothing like barbecue chicken in America. They cook it over wood coals for about an hour, yielding a delicious smoked flavor. “Wait, that sounds like rotisserie chicken!” Well, with rotisserie chicken we’re getting a little closer to the flavor. I don’t know—just get your ass over here and try it for yourself.

Fried chicken has a similar sounds-familiar-but-somehow-unique quality to it. You might think, “How special can fried chicken be?” Again, I don’t know what they do—maybe it’s the quality of the meat, maybe it’s the oils, maybe it’s the preparation—but it’s different in a subtle and savory way. Plus, they serve it with sweet chili sauce, so beat that, America!

And while we’re on the topic of American fried chicken, I’ve eaten more KFC in my first year in Thailand than I ever had in my 30 years in the U.S. So they’ve got a special formula there, too—local spices, and crack, probably.

One of my favorite pastimes is to head over to the seafood market in Naklua. You can order up as much shrimp, crab, crawfish, scallops, oysters, clams, mussels, and squid as you want, fresh from that day’s catch. Then you can bring it over to a big mesquite grill, where they barbecue your seafood for you. And it’s cheap, too. For 300 baht ($10), you can order 1 kg of shrimp. Grilling the shrimp costs you a staggering 30 baht ($1).

Finally, Thai barbecue is a unique experience. At these outdoor restaurants, the tables have a coal pit in the middle. Over the coals they place a tin, which looks a bit like a sombrero. The middle dome has long thin slits in it to let the heat pass through for cooking meat. The rim of the “hat” acts like a moat for broth, where vegetables and seafood are cooked. These places are buffet-style, so you can eat your heart out.

Alright, now I’m getting hungry talking about all this food. I’m gonna go eat some Tom Yum with shrimp. Sniff you chumps later…

I’m baaaaaaaack!

Hello, hello, hello!

One hello for every month I’ve been silent. I’ve been on an unannounced hiatus from blogging. I’d love to give some magical, marvelous explanation for the non-activity. I’d love to say I was off in some monastery for three months meditating with monks. I’d love to say I was high on life chillin’ with Thai locals. I’d love to say that I was on some walking tour in some untapped national forest getting my mind blown by all sorts of flora and fauna.

Honestly, I’ve just been busy and unmotivated. I had planned this amazing 10-post article leading up to my one-year anniversary in Thailand on September 9th. But I failed at getting that out in time. That’s right: one year. Thirteen months now. It’s hard for me to believe. It’s all gone by so fast. And in settling I’ve lost a bit of my spirit of adventure. At least my bank account has. Anyway, the novelty has worn off for me a bit, and I’m sure that’s been reflected in some of my latter posts. The sharp decline in readership during my last few posts have been alarmingly telling with regards to reader interest.

So I’m changing strategy. Quality over quantity. Rather than posting frequently, I’ll be posting as I feel true inspiration. It’ll make writing more enjoyable for me, and reading more enjoyable for you.

Here’s what you can look forward to in the immediate future. I did write have some articles some time ago that I’m still keen on publishing. I just need to spiff them up a bit. I also still have that serial article I referred to above. In fact, now that I’m in its revision phase, I’m quite excited about it. After a barrage of buffed backlog, you can look forward to earnestly inspired writing on a probably infrequent timetable. That’s fancy talk for “I’ll write again when I damn please.”

Check back again soon for the first serial article! It’s good to be back!