my new car

The overnight bus departs from Sarakham at 9:15 and arrives at Bangkok sometime after three in the morning. We took the “VIP” bus which costs another forty or fifty baht, yet is great value for the money since you get a hot meal, a bottle of water, and comfortable seating.
We stayed at Nam’s aunt’s house in Lad Prao and set out the next morning in search of a used car. Surprisingly, this was fun. I shocked a couple of dealers by showing them evidence of past accidents on their cars, so I guess the average Thai buyer is about as knowledgeable as the average American buyer. There was a lot less smooth talk than I expected, though. Of all the dealers we talked to, only one followed up with a phone call the next day. Altogether, there was little pressure to immediately commit to anything, which made for a nice experience. What made it even nicer was the car I decided on:

Love at first sight
That’s a Nissan Cefiro with a 3-liter V6 engine (which is important, since almost all of those imported into Thailand only have a 2-liter engine. Too wimpy.). As of writing this, there are only two others for sale in the whole country that I can find, and only one in black (I don’t care that it shows dirt and I don’t care that it absorbs heat, I like black cars). It’s slightly modified with aero kit and alloy seventeens, and it looks absolutely stunning in person. The sound system is crap, which is just how I wanted it since I like doing that part myself. I can’t believe I have to wait another two weeks to drive it!
Now all I need to do is bring it out here to the rice fields and build a car port for it.

Bangkok Bombing Update

The Australian is reporting that the New Years bombings in the capitol were the work of Jemaah Islamiah. Originally the focus of investigation seemed to be on the former (Thaksin’s) regime; now they seem to be coming to the conclusion everyone else came to thirty seconds after the explosions: Muslim separatists from the south (Religion of Peace reprazent!)
Full story here.
I went to a local carnival yesterday (which I hope to write about soon) and was surprised to find so few people in attendance. Asking around this morning, it seems many people are afraid to go to big events now because of bombs. That’s just fucked. I, myself, think there is a 0% chance of that kind of shit happening here, and the fear response is just what the baby killers want… Fuck that.

Shave and a Haircut

I have found "my" new barber shop. I had a hard time finding a good place here at first; I made the mistake of trying beauty salons when really all I wanted was a barber shop. I had the same problem in Japan, and come to think of it, Japan was really horrible in this regard because if you walk into the wrong place, you might end up being there for hours (literally – my longest "stay" in a "fashionable" place was OVER 3 HOURS!). This is because they take service to a ridiculous level and serve you coffee before and maybe after your cut, plus sometimes take up to an hour for a simple hair cut (I once got so angry at the guy for taking so long and being so precise that I waited until he was done and told him to take off another 0.75 millimeters all around)! The funny thing is, a shave and a haircut is about all you can get in Japanese beauty salons.

Here in Thailand you can get a manicure, a pedicure, a massage, a facial pack, etc., etc., and so forth. Interestingly enough, however, you cannot get a handjob from an old lady like you can in Korea (or so I’ve heard).

So like I was saying, I found my new place here. Since it’s a men’s only barber shop, it’s no nonsense and offers none of the extras I mentioned above, but it’s fast. I sit down in one of the two chairs and walk out freshly shorn in fifteen minutes. Nothing new here, I found similar shops in Japan that I frequented. The difference is in the price – I was shocked when I found out. It costs me 40 baht ($1.10 US) for a shave and a haircut in Thailand.

Ganked

I haven’t read a newspaper since I stepped off the airplane last October, simply because I think it’s an obsolete format for news. As it turns out, not many people I meet around here read the newspaper, either. News around these parts travels by word of mouth, quicker than you might imagine.

The other day I was shocked to hear that a policeman in a nearby town had been beaten to death by a local gang. The cop, who was in his fifties and off duty at the time, had asked a group of around 20 youths to keep it down at a restaurant. They responded by rushing his table and stomping his head, which may or may not have killed him outright. The thing is, they didn’t stop at that. They threw the man into the back of a pickup and sped off down the road. There were witnesses who called the police, but no one could identify the youths or the victim, and the police pursued the issue no further at the time.

One full day later, the family of the victim contacts the police to file a missing person report, and the police put two and two together. They suddenly realize one of their own has been assaulted and is missing, and a search effort is started… The desecrated and bullet-ridden body of the victim is soon discovered dumped over a nearby bridge. It is presumed that the perpetrators, having gone through the victim’s pockets, suddenly realized he was a cop and panicked, dumping the body in an obvious place.

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In any other country I’ve been in, this story would have ended in pretty much the same way. The perpetrators would have been hunted down in a massive police effort to avenge one of their brethren. But there’s a Thai twist to all of this. The police are singularly unsuccesful at apprehending even a single suspect out of the 20 or so reported, so the family decides to take things into their own hands, in the only way they know how. They bring the body of the fallen officer to a kind of spirit medium, a ghost talker mystic who not only claims to be able to speak with the fallen, but to be able to influence events in the real world. The seance is performed and the fallen officer is successfully contacted.

The next day, two of the attackers suddenly turn themselves in. The rest are being rounded up by the police, now that they have some place to start.

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My mother in law told us this story two days ago. Yesterday, she attended the funeral for the policeman, who turned out to be an old family friend.

This is all very new to me, but none of the Thais who heard this story thought there was anything strange about it.

We are all made of stars

Not much to report here this week except that we had another barbecue today. I’m pretty sure I’m going to make this into a weekly thing, just because it kicks so much ass. Among other things, I cut up whole chickens and marinate them in soy sauce, sesame oil, fresh ground ginger, and a bit of sugar, then grill them at high temp. This caramelizes the sugar and makes the outside crispy and the inside tender and juicy. Most Thais just do not understand this flavor. That is, they cannot appreciate it because they either say it is salty (which it is on the outside), or does not taste Thai. This makes me sad.

 

Something that really tripped me out this evening was drinking beer and watching the stars with this farmer dude. I told him he was lucky to be able to see the stars so clearly every night, unlike in the city. He was all like, the stars are there no matter where you travel, right? I told him they are there, but you can’t see them because it’s too bright in the city and the sky isn’t clear like this. Homeboy had no idea what the hell I was talking about. This made me very happy.

I saw the sign

As I said in my last post, the cows in my backyard were a sign, and who the hell am I to ignore a sign?

Either God or the cows were telling me to have a barbecue.
So I fired up my brand new GhettoGrill and much meat was consumed, and all was good with the world: T-bones (from NZ, frozen), pork ribs, fresh (still wriggling) prawns, hulihuli chicken (at least as I remember it), and assorted extras, including pumpkin, which as you can see above, I cared little about.
By the way, it was one of the most pleasant evenings I’ve ever experienced here, with a cool (everyone else said “cold”) breeze.

Cows in my backyard update

There are more cows in my backyard!

The sound of bells means the cows have come for a visit.
I haven’t seen them since the last time I wrote about it, mostly because they usually stay on the far side of the irrigation ditch that separates our back wall from a dirt road running parallel to it, about 200 meters away. BTW, I love that old tree in the photo above as I have no idea what kind of tree it is, or even an inkling as to how old it is.
This time, there was a dog herding them around, butI couldn’t get a clear photo of it.

This one came to graze right under my balcony.
This must be a sign.

Thai New Years Food

Let me be honest with you: As much as I love Japanese food, I hate osechi ryori. It is – oh, how diplomatically can I put this – really boring and expensive (if you buy it rather than have it made for you by your grandmother/aunt/mother-in-law), which I’m sure you’ll agree is a horrible combination of traits for food. This is why I was so happy to wake up to what I found on our table this morning:

The makings for “khanom chin”
That’s a bowl of sliced pineapple in the middle (think of it as the center of a compass). To it’s West: Ground shrimp meal. NW: Limes. Further NW: Sauce for the steamed fish (shown in photos below). N/NE (at top of table): A fully prepared bowl of khanom chin. NE: The “soup” base, coconut milk with pork bits submerged and out of sight. E/NE: A ladle on a plate, yo. E: Sliced ginger. Further E: Rice noodles. S/SE: A bowl of sliced garlic and chilies soaked in nampla. SW: Another fully prepared bowl of khanom chin.
So how does the fusion of all those flavors taste? Do they work together, or move awkwardly in opposing directions?
Well, let me explain it like this:

Khanom chin: Like toshikoshi soba on steroids
It was sooooooooooooo good. It’s like sweet, savory fire sliding down your throat and warming your entire body from the inside out. Seriously. It’s so good, I thought up a new year’s resolution on the spot: More foodblogging. I’ve even started a new category in its honor: Food.
Oh, by the way, khanom chin is served room temperature, and it wouldn’t taste good any other way, I suspect. Chilling it would suppress the (delicious) funk, and warming it would overstate the spicy and sweet components.

Steamed Nile Tilapia
The other main dish on the menu today was steamed fish, simple and sweet.

All dressed up!
The sauce was sweet and peanut-based. The sweetness of the Chinese cabbage and lettuce brought out the meaty taste of the fish and was nicely accented with fresh mint and coriander leaves.

It tasted just as good as it looks.
I guess I was somewhat disappointed to find out that this isn’t typical new year’s fare, and that in fact there really is no such thing here. I guess I’m just going to have to insist on it being a tradition in this household!

Bangkok Bombings

Just a quick note: We came back from Bangkok a day early and are back safe in Isan, so were fortunate enough to avoid the bombings.
I got a touch of the stomach flu or something but am toughing it out and watching the news.
Be safe, everyone.
UPDATE:
More bombs exploded just after midnight. There were reports that a bomb either exploded or was found to be a false alarm at Buddy Bar on Khao Sarn Road (this area, and this bar, always full of foreigners, might have been the most politically significant target).
This map from the BBC site shows the confirmed explosion locations before midnight.
bkk-bombings-map.gif

Weather Revelation

I am shocked.
It’s COLD outside. I’m in Thailand, and it’s COLD outside. Granted, I was standing on my veranda in my boxers, but it’s genuinely cold! In Thailand!
I’m so happy, I could cry! But I think I’ll take a midnight shower and bask in the shivering COLDNESS instead (this weather will only last until February, apparently).
OK, this still doesn’t explain why some people on the street are wearing winter parkas (!), or why there are earmuffs and wool scarves (!!) on sale at the department stores (it’s cold enough for me to use a warm blanket at night – perhaps for the first time, here – but I’m pretty sure I’ll never need anything warmer than long sleeve shirts during the day).
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Ha ha, I just took a shower and I’m freezing my ass off! In Thailand!
This is like the best day of my life.