Treasures from Japan – Part 1

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I hereby deem this the Ultimate Japanese New Years Variety Pack! From top left, clockwise: oshiruko (sweet red bean soup), shoga-yu (hot ginger drink), amazake (sweet sake w/curds), matsutake soup packets (awesome with instant noodles), and Aquarius drink powder (for the following day’s hangover). Thanks, Taro!

I am looking into getting my hands on equipment to pound our own mochi with from next year.

 

Hi-so in Sarakham – New Sermthai Complex, Maha Sarakham

Lunch @ Oishi Ramen
Lunch @ Oishi Ramen
New SF Cinema has 5 or 6 theaters, 2 in SONY 3D
Some famous Thai TV dude
Some famous Thai TV dude

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Three years ago, when we moved into this house, many people doubted my choice of location. I simply told them that it would be a few years until this became the new center of Maha Sarakham. Our house was one of the first up around here and, back then, was surrounded by nothing. Now there are hundreds of houses that have sprung up all around us, a new Big C supercenter, dozens of new stores and restaurants, and as of today, a huge new shopping mall.

The oldest shopping center/minimall in Mahasarakham is Sermthai plaza, located next to the canal in the old downtown district – this year is its 55th year of operation. It was built by a very wealthy family who were some of the original settlers here, when it was literally a jungle. I knew when we bought this house that the land originally belonged to this family. It made sense that if they were going to invest in big projects, the area around our house was the logical place to do it. Sure, some swampy land had to be filled in, but landfill is cheap for rich people who can shuffle dirt from worthless pieces of land to valuable ones. So I stand vindicated today, because they have just opened the largest mall in a 60 kilometer radius just across the street from the back entrance to my neighborhood – a five or ten minute walk. Hopefully, this further increases the land value of this area. Thank you, rich people, for sharing the wealth with us peasants – and thank you for making a decent ramen shop ten minutes from my house.

Walking around the new Sermthai Complex on opening day, two things really stand out:

Maha Sarakham really is the definition of a university town. I have heard there are ten thousand teachers at the various schools and universities here, and I’m guessing the number of students may be ten times that. Many businesses really attract a crowd by offering student memberships and discounts, and many businesses just close during long holiday periods – two whole months during the summer break – because the population of the city is seemingly cut by half as students go back home. For certain businesses that depend on students for income, the long breaks simply are not sustainable. Dormitory room rates near the universities discount their rates by half during these periods. So this new mall will hopefully be a great place to visit during the long school breaks.

Also, people watching at the new Sermthai today was just a study in contrast – I’ve never seen so many low-so people in such a hi-so place (I count myself as an honorary low-so person); like Beverly Hillbillies on some grand scale, set in SE Asia. Awesome.

Mystery LONDON Building

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When driving around Khon Kaen with Tong, we spotted what looks very much like a Japanese-style love hotel near Khon Kaen university. It’s kind of in the middle of nowhere, just like a Japanese love hotel. I need to ask someone who lives in KK.

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UPDATE 12/23/2012: A coworker from KK has told me this is a karaoke joint.

Maeng Da – Giant Water Bug (Lethocerus indicus)

This big guy was attracted to the lights we leave on at night in our pavilion. I found him in a weakened state under our Japanese-style table in the morning. This is an extremely important food source in many Asian countries because of its strong odor, which it uses to attract mates and is used as a potent flavoring in various dipping sauces. This insect is also eaten whole in Thailand, usually deep fried and then stripped of legs and carapace.

Because of the perceived sexual behavior of this bug (just sitting around attracting females with its scent), the term maeng da has been adapted in Thai slang to mean something like a pimp or useless man who mooches off of women.

No, I did not eat it.

Fish references for Thailand

Fish and Fish Dishes of Laos is my go-to book on any freshwater creatures I see/catch/cook/eat here in SE Asia. It was written by famed British diplomat and historian, Alan Davidson, who included recipes used by the royal cook for the king of Laos. I only have a reprint of this book, which suits me just fine, since I’d feel guilty carrying around an original in the trunk of my car with a short bush pole and a battered old tackle box. I will find the original someday in a used book store in downtown Vientiane, I can just feel it.

I recently found a link to a related e-book (free) that might turn out to be interesting: The Fresh-Water Fishes of Siam, or Thailand. It was published posthumously by Hugh M. Smith, an American ichthyologist and powerful administrator in the Bureau of Fisheries, who spent time in Thailand as adviser to the Thailand fishery service from 1923-1935. I’ve only read a few random pages so far, and it’s pretty interesting.

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There are a couple more items I wanted to write about here, but my daughter is insisting that giving her my full attention is more important than going full fish nerd here at this particular time… Ah, well, it is her birthday, after all.