Thailand, Fall 2008
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
The trip to Pattaya was uneventful and I arrived at Rudi's at about 4:30. My regular room was waiting for me so I unpacked then went down to hang out with my Teutonic host. I've described Rudi's house with my previous trip journals but this time, I've included some photos that partially capture the magnificence of the place. What the photos don't tell you is that all of the floors on the ground floor are marble, including the staircase, and the upper floors are teak as are all of the kitchen cabinets and other wooden furniture.
We sat on the back porch and sipped aperitifs as the sun set they made our way to a small German restaurant for dinner. We'd eaten there on my previous visit and I remembered the food fondly. Alas, today's meal was adequate at best. I had the Zigeunershitzel, or veal cutlet in the gypsy style. The meat itself was ok, but just ok. The sauce was overly sour and the overall flavor was not pleasing. Rudi ordered the same thing and agreed.
The restaurant was located on Pattaya's infamous Walking Street directly across from a Katoey bar with the ersatz ladies plying the worlds oldest profession to eager and unsuspecting (at least one supposes they were unsuspecting) western tourists and military guys on R&R. It was amusing to watch. After dinner, we strolled Walking Street and ducked into a couple of the bars with genetically appropriate, scantily clad females doing a bored shuffle, or what passes for dancing here.
Barry arrived the next morning and the days since have been spend in a largely repetitious combination of sleeping in, getting up and going out for brunch, coming back here to work on the computer, go out for dinner, then, perhaps, another trip to Walking Street to watch the parade of locals and tourists. There are several open-air teverns with seats facing the street and it's really interesting to watch. It's kind of like an adult oriented Disneyland. There are street vendors of every size and age from four-year-olds selling bouquets of roses to old men hawking fake rolexes. On the side streets are lots of food vendor carts where they cook their goodies on charcoal grills. My favorite is a patty of sticky rice on a stick that has been brushed with fake butter and grilled. Probably a heart attack on a stick but it tastes really good.
The daily routine was broken slightly by my cooking dinner a couple of nights ago. I made a German dinner consisting of bratwurst from the local market; hot potato salad; cole slaw with cabbage, carrots, and apple in a white wine vinaigrette; and sliced apples.
An interesting side note concerns the potato salad I made for dinner. It is a recipe I've always referred to as German potato salad. Rudi informs me that the potato salad in Germany, at least in his experience, is like the kind we see most often in the U.S. with lots of mayonnaise. My version has no mayo, has cooked rather than raw onions (I hate raw onions but love cooked ones), and includes crisp bacon. It's seasoned with white pepper, a little salt, and apple cider vinegar. The dish is one that is always popular so I often take it to potlucks. It's a terrific recipe and one of my favorite dishes. Perhaps I'll post it some time. Of course that means writing down the quantities I usually measure by eye. Hmm, maybe I'll start a favorite recipes section of this web site. Just one more thing to do in my ever decreasing amount of free time.
Another break in the routine here is that Rudi's two daughters Jessica, 6, and Isabella, 4, joined us for Sunday brunch then stayed to play with whoever would play with them at any given moment, including me. Usually, I have no interest in spending time with children but the girls were playful and included me in their little games. Jessica loves rock-paper-sissors and played with anyone willing to join her. Isabella liked to run up, step on my feet, then speed away giggling. I gave chace once or twice much to her delight.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Today is Monday and there are only a couple of more days before I return to America. Barry and Rudi will assist me to arrange transportation to the airport. My flight leaves at 6:50am on Thursday morning (that's right, Thanksgiving day) and the airport is an hour and a half away. I have to be there by about 4:00am because, believe it or not, there will be long lines at that hour. That means I have to leave here by 2:30am at the very latest. Forget about sleep Wednesday night.
I'm cooking again tonight; this time the centerpiece will be my version of pasta alla carbonara. The original recipe used spaghetti or linguini but I prefer rottini, fusilli, or callentani both because they are easier to eat but hold more of the sauce. Other favorites are radiatori (like little radiators) and girandole. I'm not as crazy about penne and similar shapes because they don't seem to cook as evenly, of course, maybe it's the chef.
My version of Carbonara has a lot of thinly sliced onions sweated in butter until they just start to turn golden. I sometimes also add smoked salmon, a variation inspired by something I had in Florence, Italy many years ago. I looked for smoked salmon here but could not find any. I also had a bit of a time locating parmesian in block rather than in green shaker cans (ugh!). I substituted fresh shitake mushrooms for the standard white mushrooms or crimini mushrooms (agaricus bisporus) seen in the markets in the U.S. By the way, portobello mushrooms are the large mature version of the crimini, not a separate type of mushroom at all.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Ok, it's now Tuesday afternoon. Last night we were joined by Bob and his long time girlfriend Da. I met them several years ago in Bangkok. The girls ate Thai food they made and the guys ate my carbonara. It was a hit. Afterwards Bob, Da, Rudi, Thyda and I want out for foot massages. Barry stayed home to relax with a drink and watch a little TV. Dispite my promises to myself to have more massages on this trip, I have had only one full body massage and no foot massages until this one. Well, I should have skipped this one. Despite telling my masseuse to be gentle (bow bow), I got a relaxing massage that almost lulled me to sleep only to be brought full wakefulness by an agonizing pain as she used wooden implements of torture to press hard between and into the ends of my toes. She also contorted me in ways nobody but a circus performer should be bent, all while digging her elbow so deeply into muscles that I almost cried out in pain. I know I'm a woose (I had to look up how to spell woose) when it comes to pain but she was so rough my muscles still hurt today. Rudi, on the other hand, who likes a really hard massage kept having to tell his masseuse to be harder and was disappointed because it was too light. I told him we should have switched.
This morning, I went with Barry to have lunch with another friend of his, John, an American who lives here in Pattaya. He has no job and little to do during the day so he walks everywhere, even distances most of us would not even consider. He said he's lost 40 pounds doing it. Not a bad idea. To quote him: "Everything is in walking distance if you have enough time."
On the way back, my motorcycle (well, technically, Rudi's motorcycle) stopped running while we were sitting at a stop light and I assumed it was out of gas. I pushed it to the side of the road and told Barry to go on. I would push it to the gas station a few blocks away. Little did I know that those blocks were uphill and how heavy this bike gets when being pushed uphill. I think it is even heaver than my 750 back home. To add another straw to the camel, it was hot and humid (when is it not?). I was huffing and puffing and had to stop several times to catch my breath. When I was about two thirds of the way there, a motorcycle taxi driver offered to push me the rest of the way. I gave him a nice tip and filled up the gas. I was surprised at how little gas it took and surprised again to find that the bike still wouldn't start. It was only then that I noticed that I had inadvertently flicked the kill switch to the off position which is what caused the bike to stop running. If I had only stopped and used my head I could have avoided the miserable uphill push.
Pushing the bike reminded me of an incident that happened during my second year in college. The campus was situated at the top of a steep hill with beautiful views of the valley. I was taking organic chemistry as an evening course because it was the only time I could fit it in. On the night of a big test, perhaps the final exam, my motorcycle died at the bottom of the hill; I don't remember why. I knew that if I left it there, it wouldn't be there when I returned, even if it was locked so I pushed it to the top on a climb that was challenging even when merely walking. I arrived a little late to class completely breathless and exhausted but still aced the test.
This evening, Rudi sent me an email link to an article that the PAD, a radical political group trying to oust the popularly elected government, had stormed the Savarnabumi airport and occupied it. Needless to say, though I'll say it anyway, the airport is closed. I went to the United Airlines web site to check on my itinerary only to discover that United completely screwed up my return flights. Instead of a reversal of my initial trip (Eugene to San Francisco to Tokyo/Narita to Bangkok) they had me scheduled Bangkok to Los Angeles to Las Vegas to San Francisco to Eugene. To top it off, there was an eight hour layover in LAX (oh joy) and my flight from San Francisco to Eugene would depart SFO over eleven hours prior to my arrival there.
I called United customer service (thank heavens for Skype) and was able to get mostly back on my original flights. The final leg of SFO to Eugene was a couple of hours later but that's ok. What’s not ok is that they discarded my carefully selected seat assignments and have me stuffed against the window. I'm a big guy and always try to get aisle seats, which is what I had reserved. I think window seats are fine for young people who want to watch hours of nothing to see while flying over the ocean, but I don't want to be jammed against the window. On the other hand, its better than a middle seat squashed between two people who, if my current streak of luck holds, would have been bigger than I am. At least I'm confirmed on these flights. That is if they actually reopen the airport and let us leave.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
I called United again this morning and they told me that my flight is scheduled for on-time departure but to keep checking for breaking news. I am not hopeful.
Things are not getting better at the airport and now the PAD have taken over the old Bangkok airport (Don Muang) so no flights can be rerouted through there either. I won’t go into the strange and highly corrupt politics of Thailand but nobody, it seams, wants to do anything to get the protesters out of the airports. The protesters want the Prime Minister to resign and say they won't leave until he does. He refuses to resign so the siege goes on as I and thousands of others are stuck here.
I contacted United and they put me on my original flights departing on Saturday morning, the 29th. I don't have much hope that the airports will be open by then but who knows, maybe they will.
Because tonight and early tomorrow morning was supposed to be the end of my trip, I will close this chapter and add another for the remainder of my stay.