Food Surprise of the Day

On our way back from our weekend in the beach resort of Pattaya on the Gulf of Thailand we stopped for lunch at a great open air restaurant. The five of us sat down at a sturdy wooden table with heavy wood benches with carved backs. Soon after sitting down we heard a loud banging right nearby. We looked over and saw a man whacking away with great force on bamboo sticks using a very heavy mallet. This was splitting the bamboo open lengthwise and after he had done several in this way, he gathered them up and carried them off to somewhere else in the restaurant. I was puzzled and wondered whether he was splitting the wood to be used as firewood for cooking some of the food. 

I took a picture of the bamboo sticks that had not yet been split open. 

And this is a picture of our Bamboo Man, on a break from his wood splitting chores.

I asked Wit what this was all about with the bamboo and he laughed and said I would see. Soon he got up and brought over two bamboo sticks that had been freshly split. "Look," he said, as he pulled the first one open into two pieces. There was sticky rice inside! What a surprise! The bamboo sticks were part of a Thai dish! I pulled off the end of the plug of rice with my fork and put it on my plate. Delicious. It contained the sticky rice, some black beans, sugar, and coconut milk; all sealed at the end with a banana leaf.
When the second bamboo stick was opened it revealed a much darker color to the rice. This was because that batch had an added ingredient of paddy seeds, the rougher rice before it is milled into white rice, called black rice by the Thais. 
I asked whether the rice was cured for some time inside the bamboo and was told, "No, eaten right away." But when I later found the video that follows, I learned that the rice is baked inside the bamboo. You'll note they say in the video that banana leaves are no longer used to seal the ends. But the bambook sticks we enjoyed were sealed with the banana leaves.

This dish is called Khao Larm and I never saw it on the menu of any Thai restaurants in the US. So this was definitely my Food Surprise of the Day!

Wit told me that it costs 100 Baht, a little over 3 USD, for either three sticks or five sticks, depending upon the diameter, and thus capacity, of the bamboo.

As you will see, there seems to be a variety of ways to spell the name of this dish. 

Picture of the Day

Here it is! Two schoolboys posing for their picture near their school in Bangkok, Thailand at the end of the day.

Here's the name of their school.

This school is less than half a mile from the DPU campus where I'm staying. I went out for a walk in the late afternoon and happened to arrive just as the kids were being let out at the end of their school day. This was a very orderly process. The kids were all lined up in their school yard, by class or grade, I suppose. Then one at a time a batch of kids would be released, with the busy street out front blocked for traffic, so they could cross. You can see the kids lined up in the next picture if you look carefully.

I stood and watched as hundreds of kids were released in this way. The kids were orderly, looked happy, and were going about their business. Most of them wore uniforms with white shirts and dark pants or skirts. But there were a small portion who wore what looked like Boy Scout uniforms to me. These fascinated me the most. I took a lot of pictures, but didn't get any real good ones of those uniforms. Finally I gave up and went on down the street to an open market, bought and ate some food and then headed back toward the DPU Place Hotel.

A bit after I passed the school again, I looked to my right and saw the two boys in my picture. One of them was wearing the uniform that interested me. They were sitting and I thought maybe I could get a decent picture this time. I lifted up my camera and as I did, the larger boy saw what I was doing. He brightened up and smiled in approval, catching my eye with a little nod. I took the picture and immediately walked over to the boys and showed it to them. They were both excited and the larger boy said, "Thank you!" with a nod and an endearing look of genuine pleasure at having been selected for a photograph.

It was a very pleasurable connection with an innocent boy living his life in this unique world. 

I have since confirmed that I was seeing Boy Scout uniforms, or more properly uniforms of The National Scout Organization of Thailand, which was founded in Thailand in 1911, brought back from Great Britain by King Rama VI, who studied there. Thailand was only the third or fourth country in the world to establish Souting, open to boys and girls.

"Although Scouting is part of the school program, especially for grades 6-8, it is not actually mandatory. Options do exist for participation in other youth programs, such as the Thai Red Cross; however, the vast majority of Thai youth participate in Scouting. Scouts wear their Scout uniforms to school once a week, though which day of the week is set by the local schools.

So it seems like I might have been fortunate in picking the right day to pass by this school. I will add that I did see some young girls wearing uniforms that included the Red Cross emblem and other girls were wearing blue scouting uniforms. I was very active as a Boy Scout as a youngster and I'm pleased to learn that these children are getting the same fine training that I received as a boy, as did my brother and my father! 

To this day, I can quickly recite this one I learned, as well as taught to others, in Scouting.
A Boy Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. Thai scouting teaches similar good values, although there are some differences in wording. 

One profound difference I discovered was the Motto. In the US, our Boy Scout motto was Be Prepared, one that still has an impact on me whenever I pack for a trip. But the Scout Motto in Thailand is quite dramatic, Better to die than lie. Oh my, a nation that teaches its youngsters such a principle in the school system is quite marvelous! 

How to Use a Toothpick

Before coming to Thailand, I had not seen or used a toothpick in a very long time. Some American restaurants offer them at the cash register for when you go to leave after your meal. But in Thailand they are on every table, as ubiquitous as the salt and pepper shakers on tables back in the US. Sometimes each toothpick is individually wrapped, sometimes a dispenser has a hole that will let several bare toothpicks out at once and you pick the one you want. Here is the former method from the Cafe at the DPU Place Hotel in Bangkok. 

So I started using them, figuring my dentist would approve. A properly aimed toothpick does about the same job as flossing, at least for the spot it can reach.

After a few days of using these tools again, I made a discovery. There is a proper way to use a toothpick in Thailand. I made this discovery while having lunch one day inside a mall in a fairly crowded food court area. I looked up and three people in various parts of the room had finished their meal and had started in with their toothpicks. I didn't take a picture, so you're just gonna have to trust me here.

You don't just open your mouth, stick the toothpick inside and start picking away! Only a crass American would do that. All three of the people I observed were using the exact same technique. I have seen it other times since, so it must be right. Here it is, in hopes of educating the folks back home to be a little more sophisticated.
  1. Grab or unwrap a toothpick and hold it in your dominant hand. For me, that's the right hand. For my brother, it would probably be his left hand.
  2. Okay, don't get ahead of me here. Do not open your mouth! Not yet.
  3. Take your non-dominant hand and hold it, palm toward your lips, in front of your mouth a few inches away. This is a little privacy curtain that will hide your possibly disgusting open mouth from the outside world.
  4. With that hand in place and always in place, open your mouth and then insert the toothpick with your dominant hand.
  5. Start poking around, seeking out and dislodging particles of food that have gotten stuck in the various crevasses in your teeth. Keep that vision blocking hand in front at all times!
  6. Don't stop until you've got it all. 
  7. Then close your mouth, and ONLY after it is closed, put down both hands and discard the used tool.
  8. You're done.

Now in the Midwest where I grew up, it was not unusual to see a guy walking along with a toothpick dangled out of the corner of his mouth, like a cigarette, ready to be used at the first sign of a piece of food discovered in the wrong place with his tongue. I have NOT seen this in Thailand and I'm pretty sure it would not be considered a proper practice.

Okay, do you wanna see a nice Thai lunch? Well here is one, from the same table as the toothpicks shown above. Notice the little pouch that has been opened up to reveal its contents. What that is inside is shrimp Pad Thai. Back home when you order Pad Thai, you get a yummy pile of noodles and eggs on a plate. Here the noodles are contained in a lovely little pouch, a thin tortilla-like wrapping. The soup is a spicy shrimp coconut milk soup. There were a lot of shrimp, nine between the two dishes. Orange juice to wash it all down. Simple, delicious, healthy. Cost - 176 Baht, about $5.50 US. 

Keep Those Batteries Charged

An important part of my daily routine has become the charging of batteries for the devices that help me stay in touch with my friends, and document the sights and sounds of this new world I'm exploring. My Chromebook, cell phone, videocam, and GPS watch all need to be regularly recharged, often more than one time in a day.

Yesterday, on Halloween, this occurred to me and I thought about writing a post about it. And then life showed how important this chore really is. Somehow my cell phone battery had gone flat as I was doing my morning emails. I discovered this as I was thinking about going out to get some lunch. I put the phone on charge, thinking it would be fully charged again when I got back from eating. But then, I didn't really want to go out without my phone, which is now mostly used as a camera, so I waited a bit and then took the phone with me. It had some charge on it, but less than 20% of capacity.

I went off to a lovely lunch at the Cafe that is run by my hotel, DPU Hotel. The Cafe is entered by going up stairs that are behind these glass windows. To the left you can see stairs that lead from the street to a landing where these windows are, then a left turn takes you up another set of stairs to a patio open to the sky and then to the actual door to the Cafe itself.

Below is a view of the inside of those windows, looking out onto the street. Up from the left side of this image runs the staircase that leads to the restaurant. The windows create an enclosed area on your way to the Cafe, but the stairs to that landing and the second flight of stairs to the Cafe are actually open to the outside air and sky. It's a nice covered area on your way to or from the restaurant.

I had my lunch, snapping a number of pictures of the inside of the restaurant and my food as I ate. Not a lot of pictures, but enough to run the battery on my phone flat again! Oh well, I was headed back to my room and would give it a full charge this time.

As I came down the stairs toward the landing behind the windows, I noticed quite a commotion in the very top left corner of the windows. A bird had flown in to the entranceway and ended up behind those windows. It could see out the windows to where it wanted to go, but as it flapped its wings to go there, it only banged itself against the glass. It seemed to be trapped!

The trap was only an apparency of course, like many traps in life. If it turned to its right, it could fly parallel to the windows for ten feet or so and then out into the open air. But it was entirely focused on flying straight ahead and that led to a lot of flapping of wings while banging hard into the glass. It dropped to the floor and banged up against the windows in the corner down there, just the same.

A woman came down the stairs from the restaurant, carrying a closed umbrella. We commiserated about the plight of the bird and she trying to send it in a more fruitful direction with some brushes from her umbrella, but to no avail. Finally I told her I would go get some help from the hotel staff and she thanked me, as I headed down the stairs and in the nearby back door of the hotel.

When I returned with the front desk clerk, the woman and the bird were both gone. It had been sprung from its trap somehow. 

My cell phone, an HTC One S, takes amazingly good photographs considering its small size and easy portability and I've used it to take hundreds of pictures in Thailand so far. It's always with me to grab an image in the moment. But with no charge on the battery, it will take exactly zero photographs, and that's what I got in this close encounter with a bird in distress.

When I got back to my room, I put the phone on charge and then did a Google Image search for "owls of Bangkok, Thailand" and almost immediately identified the bird as a Brown Hawk-Owl (Ninox scutulata)

Image from

Another one here:

As described at Wikipedia, its eyes were very large and verrrrrryy yellow, staring up at me from the floor, as it swiveled its head nearly all the way around!

If my phone battery had been charged, I could have gotten some amazing close-ups of the owl. The above images show a bird with a vertical shape. Our trapped owl looked very different, as it had its large wings fully unfurled, making it look very short and very very wide. I still have its image in my mind but a description with words is the best that I can do here.

Keep those batteries charged!!!

Self Portrait in Front of DPU Place Hotel

I've been enjoying my stay at this 4-star hotel on the campus of Dhurakij Pundit University. It is run by the students who are studying hotel management and tourism. One-half  block away is a nice quarter mile track, where I can get in my daily two mile walk. The campus has beautiful landscaping with ponds, streams, waterfalls, and a large variety of trees, all properly labeled with their biological names. 

The Rooster Crows at the Break of Dawn

My first morning in Thailand I woke to the sound of a rooster crowing outside my hotel window and, yes, it was the break of dawn, light just beginning to appear.

Again a Dylan line popped into my mind. I had always liked the line, though I don't recall ever waking to such a sound. I grew up in a small town where folks didn't keep chickens in their yards. Here I was in the second largest Thai city, Chiang Mai, but much closer to the actual source of food in people's lives. 

Rare as this sound at dawn had been in my life, it was repeated at the break of dawn for my first five days in Thailand, at two different hotels in two different towns, Chiang Mai and Lampang. I was rather enjoying this way of beginning a day, but it was not repeated in Singburi or Bangkok. And as I learned much later, this sound is nearly a universal sound in developing countries.

Don't Think Twice, It's All Right 

by Bob Dylan

It ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
It don’t matter, anyhow
An’ it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
If you don’t know by now
When your rooster crows at the break of dawn
Look out your window and I’ll be gone
You’re the reason I’m trav’lin’ on
Don’t think twice, it’s all right

Read more:

Dogs Run Free

If Dogs Run Free

by Bob Dylan

If dogs run free, then why not we
Across the swooping plain?
My ears hear a symphony
Of two mules, trains and rain
The best is always yet to come
That’s what they explain to me
Just do your thing, you’ll be king
If dogs run free

Read more:

When I first arrived in Thailand, one of the first things I noticed was there were dogs running free, something you never see in California any more, where nearly every dog is on a leash. The Dylan song immediately popped into my head and when I looked up the lyrics, the first verse seemed very appropriate to my new adventure in Thailand. 

So here I am, doing my thing, king in my own little world, but now located in an entirely new country and culture for me. We're definitely not in Kansas any more and I quickly felt the need for a platform where I can tell my friends around the world about this amazing new phase in my life.

You Don't See Redheads Very Often in Thailand!

This big boy was in front of the gym at Dhurakij Pundit University, right next to the quarter mile track while I was walking two miles on the track. He didn't budge when I came over to get his picture, even though I talked to him as I was taking two pictures. Later I did see him get up slowly and move to a new spot about two feet away. So Big Red was free, no leash, but not doing much running. Still, I decided he belonged here.

When I was in college I had a full beard, which was dark blonde with some of this red mixed in.