Friday, December 04, 2009

Ethical Dilemma

OK, you've just finished a six-hour bus trip and your bladder is about to burst. Yes, the whites of your eyes have already turned yellow. The moment the bus pulls into the station, you make a mad dash to the restrooms, and this scene greets you:

The charge for using the restroom is two baht (six cents).

You only have a 100-baht note ($3.50) in your pocket, and certainly need change, because the taxi is going to cost you 85 baht.

The only one in sight who can give you change is the attendant who is fast asleep. She's probably a working mom with three kids and two jobs and has just pulled an all-night shift somewhere cleaning someone's office.

Remember, your bladder is bursting. You are mere milliseconds from wet underwear.

OK, you Ethical Giants out there, what do you do?
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Friday, September 18, 2009

Unexpected and Amazing

Every night I "power-walk" around the school gymnasium for a half hour to keep the old ticker going. One of the things I enjoy while walking is listening to a Podcast of some of my favorite speakers.

Last night I was listening to one of Charles Swindoll's better broadcasts where he tells the story of Mephibosheth. This incident is embedded in the story of King David's life in the Bible. "M" was a handicapped son of a royal rival family which had earlier fled the palace, fearing assasination. There are literally dozens of analogies between this man's story and the story of a gracious God who helps people who have no hope. A perfect picture of "grace."

Swindoll was at his most eloquent in his teaching of this point, and just as he reached a climax, I heard the strong melody and harmony--then the words in English-- of "Amazing Grace." But it was not on my earphones. It was being boomed over the loudspeaker in the gymnasium area, where hundreds of Thai kids were noisily enjoying evening sports and exercise.

The music was even louder than my little iPod earphones, and I stopped in my tracks. The combination of hearing 'M's' story and this traditional gospel hymn being publicly broadcast--in remote northeast Thailand, no less--left me a bit stunned.

I felt like shouting to the crowd: "Hey everybody! Stop and listen! Do you know what those words are all about??" I wanted to tell them about John Newton, the composer, who had once commanded England's slave ships filled with hopeless souls bound for a life of servitude in the New World--until God changed his heart and turned him 180 degrees. I wanted to tell them about a shepherd Who looks for lost sheep on the dark mountain when all hope of rescue is gone.

I will, in time, one by one...

The throngs of students unwittingly carried on with their basketball, volleyball, weightlifting, breakdancing and fencing practice throughout the song, no one lifting an ear nor eyebrow to the profound words and music that permeated the air around them. I have no idea who or for what reason the hymn was sent over the university campus P.A. system.

Regardless, I know at least one person caught the full impact.


Below, watch and listen to the history and words of "Amazing Grace,"
as told and sung by a possible descendant of John Newton's slave-prisoners...

You can read the about Mephibosheth and his story here.

The Spirit vs. the Letter of the "Law"

From the back, it's a photo of my Thai barber doing his
"law" magic on the customer seated in front of him.

Interestingly, the word for "handsome" in the Thai language is pronounced "law." When I first started going to this guy for haircuts six years ago, I noticed after every haircut, he pronounced "law" with a big smile as I stepped down from the barber chair. After a couple times I went home and checked my dictionary and immediately decided this guy was a GOOD barber. You don't get compliments like that every day, so might as well soak it in once a month at haircut time. It was a good working relationship. The more energetic the "law" sounded, the bigger the tip.


About six months into my new customer-barber mutual appreciation sessions, I showed up at the shop to get my mane trimmed, and took notice of another customer already in the chair. He was about 80 years old, very thin--almost emaciated, a dark wrinkled face that that would make a Chinese Shar-Pei jealous, hardly a tooth in his head, and a few whisps of white hair on a mostly bald head--which, for some reason, he was having trimmed.

Sure enough, at the end of his haircut, this shriveled geriatric hobbled down from the chair, and the barber started beaming. Instinctively, I knew what was coming next. He would utter....that....word....

I can barely think about it now. It was like watching a slow-motion slasher movie. I stared in horror at my barber brandishing a straight razor in the air and slowly opening his cavernous maw. The slow-motion "Nooooooooo" reeled through my mind as I imagined myself, arms outstretched and flailing, lunging at the barber to shut his mouth.

But before my thoughts could turn to deeds, that guttural sound slowly spilled out like a river of lukewarm lava-- "LAW."

Adding insult to injury, he gushed it out twice. "LAW, LAW."

Soaking it all in, of course, the near-toothless farmer grinned and paid his 50 baht, plus a generous tip. Bigger than my tips. Of course they were bigger. He had more reason show his gratitude.

Yeah, I still get my haircuts there, but no more do I trust a single word from this traitor, particularly his discourses on the "law."


P.S. After my epiphany, I then started asking other questions to myself, such as: "If I was 'law' AFTER the haircut, what was I BEFORE the haircut?" The suspicion about The Truth continues to mount.
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Friday, August 28, 2009

The Strange Tastes of Thailand 2

In addition to ice cream-in-a-bun-sprinkled-with-corn, there are plenty more strange tastes to be found in Thailand.

Bag on left: garlic soft-shelled crab flavored potato chips
Bag on right: hot chili squid flavored potato chips


The clever big snack companies (Lays, Pringles, etc.) have done a spectacular job catering to local tastes. The above pictures shows two pretty normal looking bags of potato chips--until you take a closer look at the small picture and read the Thai. For people who live hundreds of miles inland from the sea, it's remarkable that all seafood ranks high on their list of "most desirable flavors." It's even more remarkable (to me) that many of the creatures we think of as saltwater, ocean-going creatures are also found in fresh water ponds hundreds of miles inland such as shrimp, crab, clams and mussels.

Here we go with another snack to spice up
your all-night slumber party!

Last night I dropped by the local bakery which has the normal looking stuff--cookies, brownies, cakes-- along with a number of Thai oddities. I bought what looked like a normal sweet bun filled with something (I expected Bavarian cream of course). When I got home and cut it open (I've long learned not to bite first) out poured warm, translucent mayonnaise and shredded pork, which has the consistency of very coarse cotton candy.

Looks innocent, heh?

Mayonnaise and pork from a bakery? Yup. A cold cooked hot dog wiener buried in what looks like a Danish pastry is pretty popular too. So be careful when you buy that Danish to go with your morning coffee. You may end up looking for the ketchup for dipping your Danish hot dog.

Sorry, all breakfast pastry chow hounds in the West.
That's a wiener buried in that Danish
(with a little ketchup tossed on top).

And the adventure goes on. . . .

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Strange Tastes of Thailand

One of the exciting things about living in a new culture is the chance to sample never-before-imagined combinations of food and flavors. Now, here's a popular yoghurt from the 7-11 convenience store here in Thakhonyang village. It's made by a Thai-Japanese company (CP-Meiji), but tailored for the Thai palate.

The flavors tossed into the yoghurt? Corn, red beans, and lotus seeds. Don't knock it (or gag) 'til you've tried it!

Reminds me of my first week teaching in Thailand.

I noticed that the college's canteen had a little ice-cream kiosk, and I hadn't sampled it yet. Picturing a little sundae dish piled high with vanilla ice cream (and maybe a spurt of chocolate syrup with nuts sprinkled on top) I used my fledgling Thai to place my order.

"Ow ice cream krahp!"

My eyes widened as the vendor-lady pulled out a hot dog bun. Yes, a hot dog bun. Then loaded two scoops of semi-hard vanilla ice-cream into it, and sprinkled the whole affair with cooked corn kernels and a few peanuts!

Well, couldn't complain, it only cost me 10 baht (30 cents) and all of the components appeared edible. Never to waste a penny or a baht, I tried it. Not bad! Not my first choice, either.

Photo from

That same year, I was part of a review panel for hiring a new vocational college president in a nearby province. We were served lunch midway through the day, and for the drinks they served what looked and tasted exactly like warm canned creamed corn (but just a little soupier).

What is it with the CORN?

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Supernatural Thailand

By Patrick Winn (Source:

"Despite its modernity and deeply entrenched Buddhism, Thailand remains under superstition’s sway. Astrologers double as celebrities. Protective amulets purportedly worn by car wreck survivors sell for big money. Even the highly educated turn to fortune tellers for advice on love and money.

"But these old-world beliefs also guide much bigger decisions in Thailand. Many within the ruling class of politicians, protest leaders and military chiefs seek supernatural guidance for rulings of national importance. Even armed coups have been scheduled — to the minute — for auspicious times on the astrological calendar.

“It’s very embedded in the culture,” said Chris Baker, a Bangkok-based author and Thai political expert who has studied the role of supernaturalism in Thailand. “Most people don’t really question it. It’s like asking (Western politicians) if they believe in the Virgin Mary.”

"Thai astrology often directs the timing of political endeavors. When deputy agriculture minister Supachai Phosu took office in May, employees born under the sign of the dog — the astrological rival to his sign, the monkey — were ordered to stay away from ministry headquarters. On his first day, his staffers were told to avoid wearing purple, red or orange and the minister stepped into his office at precisely 7:09 a.m., which carried some starry significance."

Rituals are also used to ward off bad fortune or enemies. After a 2006 coup to oust former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra proved unpopular, the coup generals and their wives conducted a two-hour chanting rite and allowed monks to loop a long sacred thread around their heads.

Less hygienic was the good-fortune ritual led by Sondhi Limthongkul, the powerful leader of a pro-establishment street movement — commonly called the “yellow shirts” — that helped topple the government late last year. On live TV, he announced that female followers had smeared maxi pads stained with menstrual blood on the monument of a 19th-century Thai king — all to supernaturally protect his faithful from enemy attacks.

In the eyes of some, Sondhi’s mysticism was vindicated in April when assassins dumped more than 100 bullets in his personal minivan. He survived the ambush. And now the amulets supposedly worn by Sondhi are advertised as “soaked in blood” talismans in Bangkok’s streets.

[To see original article, click title.]

Friday, June 26, 2009

Quiz: Name the Object

Answer posted below (as of July 10)

A very common object in Isaan. But a complete mystery to the outsider. It's handmade from an Asian hardwood, carved from one piece of wood. It folds into a fairly compact form in order to toss into your backpack or farmer's satchel.

Your best guess? Please put your guess in the comment section. After some of my readers take their best shot, I'll add another picture which will reveal all.

Answer, July 10

And behind the our answer-photo which will.... put an end to your sleepless nights!

A pillow, of course! Some of you came close, for example...

  • a seat = pillow for the derriere
  • a bed = pillow for the entire body, a sleep-related object, etc.

Surprisingly, a pillow made from Thai hardwood is quite comfortable, given it's perfect contour for the back of the head, and perfect height from the flat surface it sits on. I actually fell asleep on it.

Definitely better than a standard Japanese pillow--which is like laying your head on a bag of noisy, rolling marbles.

My Personal Encounter With a Cobra

I've heard that the area where I live has a very high concentration of Cobra snakes, including the King Cobra, which is reputedly one of the most venomous of snakes. One species of the King Cobra can actually spit blinding venom into the eyes of its victim up to 10 meters (30 feet) away with remarkable accuracy. I've heard reports of it happening to local farmers in my area. No thanks. Fortunately near my home, I have never had the joy of meeting one of these reptiles. Instead, I had to travel about 600 miles to a southern island (Koh Lanta) for my own personal encounter.

I was with a group of friends who decided to hike to a popular cave in the jungle, led by a local Muslim farmer-guide. After a great adventure through a cave system with battery-powered headlamps, we started hiking back to the main farm at dusk. I wanted to get some photos without people in it, so I hung back a bit, until the party ahead was out of sight, and began shooting pictures.

In just a few moments I heard something in the underbrush about 1.5 meters (5 feet) off to the left side of the trail, going in the opposite direction. Realizing I might be facing an opportunity for a good shot of some wildlife, I did an about-turn and followed the sound. It picked up speed, and so did I. Of course, I was thinking naively that I'd be catching a photo of maybe a lizard, a rodent, or some other fairly benign animal.

Suddenly, the sound in the underbrush ceased as the object of my attention crossed the trail about 1 meter (3 feet) directly in front of me. It was a quite long snake--about 2 meters (6 feet) in length. I had the good fortune to have my camera ready, and shot the above picture. The snake's midsection is very prominent, and the head can be seen on the far left of the picture between leaves which surround it on three sides.

Happy with my prize photo, I turned around and rushed back up to the group which was beginning to wonder where I was. I showed the picture on the LCD screen of my camera to our guide and asked him what kind of snake he supposed it was. Immediate recognition in his eyes. He pointed to the red marking on the back of the hooded head (I hadn't noticed any of the tell-tale sure markings of a Cobra) and then he exclaimed: "Oh! You very lucky foreigner!"

I thought, "He must be admiring my luck for getting such a great photo!"

But then he added--"Lucky you not die! BIG Cobra!!"

Realizing I had chased this thing for 30 feet down a forest trail, and then to have it cut me off by crossing my path a few feet in front of me (and thankfully continuing on it's journey), suddenly left my knees turning a bit weak. I had been chasing sure death. Had I accidentally cornered it next to a stone, or even stepped on it's tail (shudder) in my open sandals, my hiking buddies might have been prying my camera from my cold, dead fingers in the jungle.

"Hey look at this last picture on his camera! It's something with fangs! Cool!"

Oh, talk about Babe in the Woods. Or better yet, the Bible reminds us, "The Lord preserves the simple." Guilty as charged.
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Friday, January 16, 2009

Tasty Time in Thailand

Burst of color in JD's Garden Restaurant

Tonight I outdid myself in the kitchen. I created this unique, healthy dish, and it turned out so good, I decided to write it down and share it with you. I could probably lose more weight if I didn't like my own cooking so much. High-society calls this "Fusion Cuisine," in East meets West. I call it "Time-To-Use-Everything-In-The-Fridge-Night."

Thai-Polynesian-French Chicken Over Rice

(Or, "Around the World Chicken")


1 tbsp fresh black pepper (unground, still green)
2 large cloves, fresh garlic
1 leaf Thai herb (your choice)
1 orange, peeled, cut into 1/2 segments (the Polynesian part)
1 cup cubed fresh pineapple (the Polynesian part)
1/4 tsp cinnamon (the Polynesian part, optional)
1 diced tomato (optional)
1 diced onion
1 chicken leg, 1 chicken thigh
2 cups cooked rice
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp oyster sauce (the Thai part)
1/3 cup red wine (the French part)


1. Start rice in a rice cooker
2. In a mill or blender, finely chop garlic, fresh black pepper and Thai herb; set aside
3. Put a teaspoon of the garlic/pepper/herb mixture in a skillet with ollive oil and heat just before oil smokes. In this mixture, brown both sides of chicken
4. Remove chicken and saute onion in chicken drippings and olive oil
5. Put chicken in microwave for 2-3 minutes to insure the inside is cooked thoroughly

6. Combine chicken with pineapple, sauteed onion, orange, and rest of garlic/black pepper/Thai herb mixture in skillet and simmer on low.
7. After 5 minutes add red wine and oyster sauce.
8. Simmer for 15 more minutes. Just before turning off heat, add diced tomato (optional).
9. Serve chicken and sauce mixture over rice.

Best served hot on a picnic table right outside your kitchen door amidst tropical flowers blooming in your garden in January (picture from my garden). Makes enough for two. Call up a skinny Thai student or teacher to share with you. However, be prepared for a mild complaint about combining sweet tastes with chicken--until they try it. Then, you'll have to pull 'em off of it to get your share.

Toughing it out in Thailand,