Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Quests for Authenticity

Read my Lips - This is Teochew Food (Lick my Lips).

overcast 31 °C
I had a fried carrot cake today from Lau Goh in the Zion Riverside hawker centre, which is one of the six top hawker centres that mentioned the most in official tourist literature. 'Lau' is old in Chinese - an affectionate yet respectful title given to someone. Mr. Goh is deaf (all right, hearing impaired) and so he relies on reading the customers' lips for his order. If that fails, you simply point at the large menu on his counter. Besides, there's only two dishes in the menu - black and white fried carrot cake. In fact, they are the same except for the two different sauces. The black sauce is the sweeter soy sauce. I prefer the white sauce, which is also soy sauce, just more salty than sweet. This is how the carrot cakes are sold throughout the hawker centre in the island - just the black and white variety.

Although some places (such as Holland Village Hawker Centre) may put extra stuff like cockles in.
Mr. Goh's fried carrot cake is quite good. To me it's a 8/10. The one in Food Republic in Vivo City is even better, it deserves a 9/10. It has a mysterious ingredient that Chinese call wok chi.
I'm a sucker for fried carrot cake, it brings back memories of growing up in Cholon - the "Chinatown" in Saigon (former Ho-Chi-Minh City). Most people who fled Saigon before the 1990's still call this city Saigon. Atta loves fried carrot cakes too, and nostalgia doesn't play a part in her case. It's just tasty. In the mid 1970's, the fried carrot cakes in Saigon were sold in stands on street curb at the corner outside Chinese restaurants (many old-styled Chinese restaurants in SE Asia are wrapped around city corners). I don't know if these fried carrot cake folks have now moved into food courts or such thing. The last time I visited Ho-Chi-Minh City was more than 10 years ago, and things are changing there as fast as China (actually almost in lock-steps).

Even though HK is an (Asian) food heaven, fried carrot cake is hard to come by. It shouldn't come as a surprise. HK local cuisine is dominated by Cantonese food. To be exact the cuisine from Guangzhou - the capital city of Guangdong province. For one thing, HK people commonly speak Guangzhou dialect (or what we call Cantonese), which they don't consider a dialect, but a official language of the province of Guangdong. They refer other dialects within Guangdong such as Teochew as "village dialect". There's a tinge of elitism in that term.

Actually Teochew people (also Teochiu, and many more other spellings just to confuse the bejesus out of foreigners) comes from a city called Chaozhou (zhou by the way is the closest thing to a prefacture in Japan. It could also be a provincial capital city: Fuzhou, Hangzhou, Zhengzhou, etc). So it's not really a 'village' as both places end with zhou. Chaozhou is a city quite close to the Gangdong-Fujian border, and just north of Shantou (also better known as Swatow). This proximity explains why the Chaozhou dialect sounds more like Hokkien than Cantonese. I can understand a bit of Hokkien dialect from a Teochew heritage on my mother's side. When I grew up in Vietnam, a Hokkien family lived below us, and I could hear and understand some of what they say, especially their family squabbles that coming to us loud and clear. That was the closest thing to attending a Chaozhou Opera (a traditional art form that dated over 500 years old. Predate Beijing Opera for about 3 centuries). My last trip to Haifeng in China made me realised that most of the natives living in the coast in Gangdong speak a variation of this dialect. This is the first time I realised how widespread this Teochew (and its variations) are spoken in Gangdong, far from being a dialect spoken by only a county-level city. And how numerous and important are the Teochew people in Guangzhou in terms of its cultural, historical and even economic influence on Guangzhou.

While the people from the hinterland of Guangzhou provides the shapes for HK food, Singaporean food's influence coming from a more diverse and watery source. It came from the people living on the Chinese southeast shore as far north as Hokkien people in Fujian, down to Teochew people in Guangdong, and all the way down south in Hainan Island. This is because during the political and economic turmoils in China in the last few centuries, the SE coastal Chinese sailed south to SE Asian to look for livelihoods and peace.

The Singaporean food evolved from these Chinese migrants. Hokkien people gives us Hokkien noodles. Hainan chicken comes from people of Hainan Island. But don't expect to order a Hainan chicken the next time you visit the lovely island. So I was told, as this is a dish invented by Hainamese migrants in the Malaysian Peninsula, not Hainanese locals in China (just as Chinese fortune cookies weren't invented in China, but by immigrants in California -maybe Japanese, maybe Chinese, the matter hasn't been settled). And last but not least, fried carrot cakes are brought into Singapore by Teochew. There's no argument here.

Fried carrot cake (not to confuse with the western carrot cake that you eat as dessert) isn't common in Sydney either. Only one restaurant (as far as I know) sells this Teochew fried carrot cake - it's the biggest yum cha place right next to Cabramatta station. And it's quite good too, and earns a rating of 8.5/10 from me. The Cantonese food had been the main influence in Sydney until 1990's when Mainland Chinese food begun to spring up in places like Ashfield, and then spread to Burwood in Sydney. Singaporean food hasn't really taken hold in Syndey. There is one Singaporean restaurant in Burwood (opposite the station), but can't say its business is swell. A few dishes are quite nice. Its Hainan chicken tastes as good as its presentation (7.5/10).

After trying the dim sim in Sdyney - Daniel (A Singaporean colleague who came to Sydney to work) - commented that Sydney yum cha outclassed Singapore ones by miles. I wasn't surprise by this because yum cha is a Cantonese tradition, and some of the best HK dim dim chefs migrated to Australia during the 1980's and 90's, while Cantonese influence in Singapore is minimal. Sydney has some of the best Cantonese restuarants in the world outside HK. If Atta's dad says it is, you can bet it's true. I had tried the dim sim in Singapore, yep, I would stick to the Singaporean local food.
The reason why this Cabramatta's yum cha restaurant sells possibly the only Teochew food in Sydney is because most Chinese living in this suburb come from SE Asia, and majority of them are actually Teochew (espacially Chinese from Loas and Cambodia where virtually ALL are Teochew). Oh, by the way, Cabramatta probably sells some of the best Vietnamese food in Asia outside Vietnam. (Cabra is a Vietnamese ethnic enclave in Sydney).

Speaking of Vietnamese cuisine in Asia, the three months we stayed in HK, we searched high and low for Vietnamese restaurants (Atta's fave past-time - looking for great food, and developed a critical tastebuds for it. I think it runs in the family). The problem with Vietnamese restaurants (or other national cuisine) in HK is that it lacks a thing calls authenticity. The Saigon chain store of Vietnmese restaurant isn't too bad. I tried out the one in Causeway Bay on Hennessy Rd in Wanchai, and it's authentic. The waitress there looked Vietnamese and so I decided to order the menu in Vietnamese, and she understood me. I imagine the cook would be Vietnamese too.
About a dozen doors from Saigon but in another block is Pho Tai. We actually tried this restaurant first. There were good number of customers. The interior decoration looks better than Saigon, quite swanky in fact. I always suspicious of good-looking restaurants because they might just rely on their looks to attract customers (all looks and no skills). Right next to our table is a large magazine writeup by some English food critic on the wall. The title of the article is Pho Real. I said to Atta, this title is an endorsement of its authenticity. I ordered a pho tai, the restaurant's namesake. Afterwards, I said to Atta, the article should be renamed to Pho Fake or Get Real. No, none of the staff looked Vietnamese, and I didn't even try to order in Vienamese.

Another HK's Vietnamese restaurant we tried was Nha Trang (name of a southern coastal city, now a tourist beach resort) locates in Hopewell Centre in Wanchai. Although the food here caters for local HK tastes, but it isn't bad. There's also a fusion element of Cantonese and Vietnamese. Definitely worth a try if you're nearby.

I also had tried a few Vietnamese restaurants in Singapore, but decided to stop putting myself through the misery, not one had even up to scratch. As for Western food, their prices are doing a good enough jobs of stop me from entering (Everything Western seems like they are converted from British Sterling. I had a coffee in Great World City opposite Zion River hawker centre. It was average tasting, and the shop's decor was decent, but not wowing me in any way, when the bill came, it was $11.5 SGD/AUD. It was my first week in Singapore, and I was naive enough not to look at the prices because I was thinking to myself how much can a coffee cost? As it turned, an arm, a leg, and a pound of flesh). In general, HK's food standard is higher than those in Singapore, for all national cuisines.

The reason why Vietnamese restaurants in Asia isn't as authentic in general is because these countries aren't the Land of Immigrants, which Australia is (as are the English-speaking New Worlds of USA, NZ, and Canada). In Australia, you know Vietnamese restaurants are run by Vietnamese, not Russians. And pizzeria are operated by Italian, not Thai. No Indian restaurateur is crazy enough to cook Greek food and compete with the Greeks, in short, there's no ethnic food turf wars. In general, ethnic restaurants are catered for their fellow countrymen anyway. You just possibly can't get away from cheating their own people on authenticity, and in general they demand authenticity.

Of course the variety of fresh food in Australia as cooking ingredients also make Sydney food so great whatever the national dishes happen to be.

Things aren't always like this in Sydney. Asian immigration to Australia didn't happen until the 60's because of the White Australia Policy. The number of immigrant are very small then. This is understandable. You don't go from zero to 100,000 in one decade. One of the earliest Asian who came to Sydney were HK migrants. Because HK was part of the British Commonwealth, that made it easier to migrate to Australia. The Vietnamese refugees, c'est moi, landed in Sydney in the 80's. The Asian restaurants with any significant number were run by HK migrants. There is no other Asian restaurants like Indian, Thai, Japanese, Korean or Vietnamese to speak of. But funny enough, there was a Burmese restaurant of all Asian restaurants! It's the only Burmese restaurant in Australia. How do I know that? I worked there while I was still studying high school on Friday and Saturday nights, at first as kitchen hand, and then later as waiter. According to the Burmese cook, there were a total of 35 Burmese living in Sydney then. He knew them all.

Before the 90's, the Cantonese food in HK restaurants are catered to Western tastes buds. That's how we explained the foreign and disgusting tastes of those dishes. It takes great talents to cook food that managed to taste that bad. E.g. ingredients like bamboo shoots - that's not used very often in Cantonese food, were used liberally. Also, strange and many canned veggies were also used as raw ingredients. Nearly all the customers were white Australian and they all dined Chinese food with forks and spoons, and rice on plates. In fact, all these HK restuarants' food tasted so similar to each other, yet so different from the authentic HK tastes that I wonder if they all graduated from the HK School of Cooking Lousy Chow for Non-Chinese.

That was how the Chinese restaurants then. By 1990's they have all but disappeared from the city everywhere, died of a Natural Selection of Good Tastes process. The extinction of those pretend-Chinese restaurants suggests that I'm not as picky as anyone else. My taste bud is Mr. Average. These days the only places you can still find this type of Australianised Chinese restaurants would be in some remote outback towns with a population of less than 3,000, where the typical things on the menu include the usual suspects: Beef with Black Bean Sauce, Lemon Chicken, or Sweet and Sour Pork and Fried Rice (or flied lice). The waitstaff is usually a white kid. Judging by the large and increasing number of white Australians who patronised the authentic Chinese restaurants these days (whether it be Cantonese or otherwise), one has to conclude those revolting 'Westernised' tastes were the Chinese idea of Westerner's taste buds. But it's also possible that white Australians have learnt to eat or acquired the Asian taste buds. The Anglo-Australian now dine East Asian food with chopsticks and rice bowls (and most hold chopsticks correctly compare to some Asians - I'm guilty as charged. It was learnt correctly in the beginning. A bad habit is hard to break).

I'm actually surprise by how unauthentic Vietnamese food is in Singapore as much as I'm surprise by the number of times I heard Vietnamese being spoken in Singapore - not just in touristy places and large shopping malls, but also in suburban MRT, buses, or simply on the streets, and some of the most unlikely places.

The same can be said about the Western food in Asia, not so authentic, they taste Asian. With the exception of Japanese food, which are quite authentic (and very popular throughout Asia). Perhaps because most of the Japanese restaurants (actually ALL) are Japanese franchises that spread throughout SE Asia, and Japanese make sure they are measured up to their standard (that sounds like Japanese) - the reason why they are so popular.

Paris suffered this Asian food taste authenticity the most, which was quite a shock because we think of Paris as the food connoisseur of Europe. Apparently, not Asian food. We went to Paris' "Chinatown" to check out their food, thinking we were going to get a feast. Firstly, there were few Chinese restaurants. Secondly, all restaurants selling Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai food ALL in one restaurant. I don't think they hired three or four chefs from different nationalities. They just have one - I suspect either Chinese or Vietnamese - to cook the lots. Never mind the taste authenticity, at this point in time, we just hoped for good taste, and we were sorely disappointed. We tried one more the next day so as not to jump the gun. Well, I think you know the result. They reminded me terribly of those Sydney's suburban Chinese-lookalike, but taste-dislike restaurants in the 1980's. Eating Asian food in Paris made me felt like buying LV knock-off handbags in China. Perhaps Paris was low on Asian population. Or that the French are simply not interested in trying anything else?

A UK colleague who travelled to Paris regularly told me that London do have much better food and restaurants than Paris. Sacre bleu! C'est impossible!!! Even the French restaurant which highly regarded by a highly regarded travel book (I won't name names) was all right, not worth the tons of ink that praises it. I grew up in Vietnam and I had developed a love for French food along with Chinese and Vietnamese food. Maybe the hype is simply hard to measure up.

There was some Chinese restaurants outside Chinatown, in fact near our hotel in Montmartre, it was not bad (7/10). But the way it sells it wasn't too classy. Most of the food was pre-cooked and leave it on tray like some cheap smorgasbord in Sydney. The food was charged by weight...well, we're not impressed. Surprisingly, Frankfurt - a city to France neighbouring country - has quite a number of decent Chinese restaurants. Perhaps the cold Frankfurt weather also worked me up to an appetite. Rome has also better Chinese restaurants than Paris. But that was 10 years ago, perhaps things have changed since. Perhaps, this explains why Olivier - Atta's French boss in Bahrain (a former French chef) - has not such a hot opinion about Chinese food.

Our taste buds is one part of our body that benefits alot when we travel overseas. Singaporean (ok, make that Chinese) love to eat and this guy is a testimony to this. He writes a blog ( to document all his food samplings in Singapore, and I intend to try out at least some of his recommendations.

Monday, 13 July 2009

The Dos and Don'ts in Bangkok Public Transport

Sign Language: Lost in Translation. No Bull.

semi-overcast 32 °C
The public transport in Bangkok is average for Asia. The mass transport of MRT and Skytrain covers the modern part of the city (the East side). To get to the old city - the Western side where all the tourist destinations are concentrated - you have to take either tuk-tuk or taxi. The taxi is reasonably cheap and has air-condition. Always make sure the meter is on. Although the cab is cheap, the heavy traffic can be frustrating. To get to Chaophrya where most of the major sights locate from the nearest MRT, it can easily take half an hour to 45 mins, even if it only a few kilometres.

Bangkok SkyTrain Signs
Sign in Bangkok Skyt

The two signs on the right in the above photo is universal. You can see it in all MRT's in the world for the priority seats next to the door (even if it looks a little cute and cartoonish). The two on the left is unique to Bangkok MRT. The extreme left one is a figure of a Buddhist monk. This shows their reverence in Thailand. The second picture from the left makes good logo for Unicef. I remember growing up in Asia, and children should give up their seats to adults as good manners. Adults don't even celebrate children's birthdays. How the times has changed. No doubt largely because of Western influence.

I spotted this rows of warning signs on the back window of a cab I was on.
taxi warning signs
The following 3 photos are closeups of the above signs. Let's take a close looks at this no-no signs.

The left and right signs are pretty standard No Smoking and No Alcohol signs that commonly seen everywhere.

The middle is No Durian sign. This sign is frequently seen in SE Asia. This is probably one fruit where you either love its intensely strong aroma or you totally get revolt by it. I love it, and Etta runs away from it. This is worse than second hand smoke as far as smell goes. HK people describe its smell as cat pooh; others say it smell like wet fart. In general, people born in cold climate find its stench unbearable. Only this fruit demand such attention. It isn't called the King of
Fruit for nothing.

From right to left.

No Pet sign. If you going to give a dog a ride, you'll have to wind down the window for the dog to stick his head out of the window. They don't like to open their windows.

No Sex sign. I guess it's too distracting for the driver, and it ruins the upholstery. Maybe it's a No Massage sign. Massage is very popular in Bangkok.

No Rifles. They don't want a free rider. I guess handguns are ok. How else would you know? Is the taxi driver going to frisk every passenger? Maybe install an X-ray machine?

warning signs at taxi window, Bangkok, ThailandNo Bull sign? No bull! It looks like a bull. Use your imagination. I asked the cab driver to shed some light on this sign, he laughed. I don't know if he laughed at my ignorance, at this sign, or at his inability to explain or simply at the whole situation. In an attempt to explain, he made some hand gestures that leave even more to the imagination. With his limited English he said 'buddy' while he gesticulated more mystery. I'm thinking a No Rodeo sign. Think cowboy, think Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain. The name of this movie is way less subtle than this sign. Three cheers to the obscure art of obfuscation. Someone could commit that act and not knowing it.
You won't see these signs in all cabs. I think only one company of cabs carry these signs (I could be wrong). According to a cab-driver I talked to, there are as many as 30 taxi companies operating on the streets of Bangkok. This fierce competition keep the fare low, but is also probably part of the cause for the traffic congestion on the road which keeps the metres ticking in idle mode all the time. Each company is easily identified by their colour, as are the tuk-tuks. As a result, the public traffic on Bangkok roads are anything but dull. This photo was taken on Sukumvit Rd, Bangkok.

warning signs at taxi window, Bangkok, Thailand

The following photo shows a No Durian sign in Singapore buses, as well as a No Littering sign. The fine for littering is a stiff  $1000. No wonder Singapore is so clean.
The following is the Singapore's Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay. Some people say it looks like the eye of a fly. Most locals simply call it The Durians.
The Durians, Esplanade, Singapore

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Back to Bangkok

Something has never Changed.

semi-overcast 31 °C
Unlike Pattaya, Bangkok haven't changed the slightest since my last visit about 6 years ago, especially around the Grand Palace area. To my surprise, another thing that hasn't changed.
As I stopped to look at a map around the Grand Palace area, a Thai man approached me and introduced himself as a lecturer in a university nearby. He also indicated a Thai man with him is a tourist police. I decided to listen as it may be official business. He first introduced to me some tourist sites such as the giant standing Buddha (the fist time I heard), and I should pay a visit to a temple with a "Lucky Buddha" as he scribbled all over my map. Finally he said I should visit the "Exports Centre", and a jewellery store. As this point, I struck with flashback of something very similar in my last visit here.

The only difference was, in the last time, there was no mention of a "Exports Centre", only a jewellery store. I was quite adventurous then (or another word for naive), and let their tuk-tuk drove me to a temple where I was greeted by a Thai who spoke with reasonably fluent English. He was friendly and gave us a guided tour around the temple, which was not in any way impressive nor historical. After asking where I came from, he said he too worked in Sydney before. In fact was able to tell me something that showed that he worked there before. In short, he was quite a smooth operator. After the temple tour, their tuk-tuk drove us to the Royal Lapidary. We were shown around the workshop and the watched the jewellers at work. The size and the set up of the place convinced me that this was legitimate and established business premise, and the fact that I was able to use credit card to do purchases had eased my concern, so much so that I ended up with a pair of ruby and opal rings.

It was the research I did online after I got back home that made me regretted the purchase with a vengeance. The few internet sites I read had little or no positive things to say about Royal Lapidary (I noticed there are considerably more web pages devoted to this notorious tourist destination. The overall tone is still predominately negative). I felt so disheartened about the purchase after the "research" that I decided to hide them away and tried to forget the whole thing. Last year, before I left Sydney for a few years overseas trip, I decided to to sell them at whatever price, even if it meant a big loss. I got a valuation from jewellers in Sydney and to my total pleasant surprise, the two gemstone rings had appreciated by 50% in value! Maybe the rings are simply cheap when I bought them, or the sales pitch that these gemstones increase in value over time because demand outstrips supply is simply true. As an investment (the reason of my purchase), doing way better than the stock market.
This is NOT, I repeat, NOT an endorsement of Royal Lapidary (nor defending their unorthodox selling method). Even if their merchandise is authentic, and may or may not be cheap, the way they go about it is doing harm to their reputation.

It is not really scam in the sense that they're selling fakes or inferior products with greatly inflated prices (The gem valuer in Sydney told me that the ruby ring is of good quality and design and the opal one is of okay quality). They just simply employ very questionable "marketing techniques".
I guess they are desperately trying to get traffic into their doors. It would be a standard practise if they just hand out some pamphlets on the streets in tourist spots or stands on the airport, but instead they are deploying these dodgy, and off-putting tactics. They are in sore need of some good marketing courses.

What I surprise was after all these years, little had changed. With the rampant official corruption in Thailand, I guess this won't changed any time soon.

The best things to do with any kind of touts is simply walk away, and beware of any Thai offering friendly tourist advice. And ah yes, beware of everything you read on the Internet. Some can be written in anger.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Pattaya Day 6 - Sanctuary of Truth

{* Sanctuary of Truth *}

If you expect that this is a place with a history, you'll be disappointed. It couldn't have a history as it hadn't even completed. It had been building since the 1980s, and work was still being carried out when we were there. By the look of it, it will at least take another decade to finish it (the guide suggested 2025). I guess our tickets would help to build it.

Without reading too much on it (I like surprise), I imagine it was similar to Wat Phra Yai that I visited 3 months ago (you can read my article here). It turned out they have nothing in common, and had to say it's a pleasant surprise.

Sanctuary of Truth, Prasat satchamtham, Pattaya, Thailand
Construction work being carried out
Apart from being something that built for the tourists, it's hard to classify as a temple or a museum or simply a work of art. I say it's a bit of all three.

Considering Thailand is the Land of the Wats, tourists easily mistaken to think that any touristy place in Thailand is going to temple.

The Thai name for Sanctuary of Truth is Prasat Satchantham (you might see other way of writing its name. Commonly Prasat Sut Ja-Tum. This is a typical problem with transliteration). The name 'Prasat' is translated as 'Castle', not 'temple'. One shouldn't expect it to be a wat.

Instead of "Sanctuary of Truth", maybe it should be opted for the literal translation of "Castle of Philosophy", which sounds like something coming out of Harry Potter or Lord of the Ring.

Whatever it is, it's a showcase of the masterful craftsmanship of its carpenters, for the whole place is built out of wood. This is quite unique in Thailand. I have traversed the length of Thailand from Phuket in the south to Changmai in the north, I had yet seen anything like this. The organic nature of wood making this structure much more "spiritual". I was told that no nails or glue were used to put the pieces together (this is similar to most Chinese ancient architecture. Only dovetailing and other established traditional interlocking structures that evolved over many centuries).

For those who's dead set on only looking at historical buildings, this would be a let down. For those who don't mind just admiring the skills and the stunning visual impact the building has on its observer, and enjoy looking at the numerous exquisitely carved wooden sculptures, and reliefs. It's a feast for the eyes. This wowed me as it's so unexpected such project exist in Pattaya, given some of its culturally tarnish image.

Like Angkor Wat where it has many stories of Buddha are part of the structure of the building. Speaking of Amgkor Wat, I don't believe the similarities between the two are coincidental. This structure has a strong influence of Khemer architecture. Like the strong pyramidal shape of the whole building (which in turn originated in Hindu architecture).

Sanctuary of Truth, Prasat satchamtham, Pattaya, Thailand
Strong pyramidal shape. It rises an impressive 105 metres

There's the four-head "reliefs" that reminiscent of the similar architecture in Angkor Thom. You can read my travel diary to Siem Reap here.

Sanctuary of Truth, Prasat satchamtham, Pattaya, Thailand
Four faces in Sanctuary of Truth

Four giant stone faces of Avalokiteshvara, Angkor Thom, Cambodia
Four giant stone faces of Avalokiteshvara, Angkor Thom, Cambodia

While it has strong influence from the the Khmer architecture. It actually has 4 gopuras, each represents the religious representations of Thai, Cambodia, Hindu and Chinese.

Yes, it's a place that one would describe as a tourist trap with the many touristy sideshows. I don't mind at all. Seeing this building worth my whole trip. Some of us may enjoy the sideshows, especially for the kiddies.

{* Animal rides *}

There's the buggy ride as well as elephant ride.

{* Dolphin Show *}

This show is definitely came out of the left field. Of course, a zoologist ignoramus like myself would expect a bottlenose dolphin sprung out of water. It turned out to be nothing I have seen before. And what's more it performed in a river. Since this place is so close to the ocean, the water would be estuarine (a mix of sea and fresh water).

{* Thai Traditional Dance *}

The Traditional Thai dance, which was included in the ticket was nice enough until a couple of machete wielding guys starred to go at each other. Like the dolphin show, this part of the Thai martial art didn't fit in too well with the place. I left before the performance ended. The machete seemed too much of a close shave to me (I use electric shaver).

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Friday, 3 July 2009

Pattaya Day 5 - Buddhist Lent Street Parade

It was 3 July. As I'm not a Yank, so I didn't take any note of it (as the eve of the American Independence Day). In Thailand, 3 July is an important day for Thai people (at least for this year. The day will be different every year as this day isn't based on the Gregorian calendar). I didn't realise that until I saw a colourful street parade appeared on Beach Road at about 5 pm. The busy traffic was halted, and the parade moved westwards towards Walking Street not far from where I stood, which was opposite the beach.

Of course, the passing colourful floats didn't tell me much. If anything, I was puzzled by what the parade was all about until I saw a pupil holding the sign that explained it all.

school girl in a parade holding the sign "Buddhist Lent"
Very informative for farange like me
The parade consisted of city workers, school kids, residents and it was quite a long parade. The different floats were judged in term of its representation.

candle float in a Buddhist Lent in 2009, Pattaya, Thailand
This candle float won the first prize

The Lent marks the 3-months period where monks go back to their own temples to meditate and to do study. Worshippers would present gift to the monks - candles and whatnots - as a way to earn merit.

This was a nice pleasant surprise.

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Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Pattaya - Part Two...Ya! Party Ya !

Pattaya:  Part Two Ya!    Pattaya:  Party Ya!

semi-overcast 31 °C
Nice to be back. One of the things I missed about Pattaya is the banana crepe. Both Etta and myself love this terrific dessert. Its allure lies in its simplicity. There are other crepes with different fillings like raisin, palm seeds and cashew nuts. But banana is our cup of tea.

Street vendor selling Thai banana crepes, Pattaya, Thailand
 Thai banana crepes with a dollop of butter onto the pan
Street vendor selling Thai banana crepes, Pattaya, Thailand
Nearly all done, turning off the pan

Banana slices are wrapped in a flour dough, lightly fried on a flat round iron plate in butter for a few minutes until it browns. Nestlé carnation milk is dripped onto it, and sugar added (which we always insist to skip it - there're enough sugar in the banana and the condensed milk). Fantastic to eat hot off the frying plate. I don't know how many of these stands there are in Pattaya, the one we enjoy run by a middle-aged Thai lady outside a 7-Eleven store (as seen in the photo background) on Second Road not far from where we stayed (Fraser Resort). See for google map below for location (from memory).

Thai street vendor selling crepes, Pattaya, Thailand
This crepe stand locates on Beach Road right across
the beach (as seen from the background).
But I haven't tried her cooking. 
Thai street vendor selling crepes, Pattaya, Thailand
From this photo, she only had banana filling.
I think they're the best. I go banana with bananas.

Other thing I missed are cockles and especially the rose apples. Sure I can get these in Singapore, but they are about 4.5 times more expensive. More importantly the convenience of getting them. Fruit stands are dotted around Beach Road every 30 metres or so. The fruit are packed neatly in the glass cases on ice, making them impossible to resist especially on sunny days.

Itinerant street vendor selling fruit on a mobile phone, Pattaya, Thailand
Itinerant street vendor selling fruit is busy on a mobile phone
Their business is on wheels, so they tend to move around

Cockles are common in SE Asia cooking. For someone grew up in Vietnam, the memories of eating it would warm the cockles of my heart. Before the Vietnamese brought them into the Cabra markets, you can't find them anywhere in Sydney. Even now, you won't find them on any menu of any restaurants in Sydney (don't know about other states of Australia). Pipis are Sydney's cockles. Pipis are larger but not as tasty as cockles.

Shops' neon signs in Walking Street, Pattaya, Thailand
Shops' neon signs on Walking Street
Gogo bar in Walking Street, Pattaya, Thailand
Gogo bar on Walking Street

The streets are quiet especially before 4 pm when Pattaya just wakes up from its nightlife hangovers. Fraser Resort locates on Pattaya City Walk, close to where all the "actions" are. It's near the southern end of Pattaya Beach, and a stone throw from the Walking Street.

Pattaya City Walk sign, Thailand

Open bar stand around Pattaya City Walk area, Thailand
Open bar stand around Pattaya City Walk area, Thailand
Open bar stands around Pattaya City Walk area

You'll find that people there refers street names that are different from the google maps' official names
(click to enlarge)

Even in this low season, this area comes alive after 9 pm with neon light blazing, blinking at you alluringly with its bright colourful (but mostly red) eyes. Pattaya City Walk is right next to some odd sounding official street name like Pattaya Soi 13, better known as Pattayaland Soi 1, the gogo bars central (rivalled only by those in Walking Street).

Kitten Club, a gogo bar at Pattayaland Soi 2, Pattaya, Thailand
Kitten Club, a gogo bar at Pattayaland Soi 2
A kaleidoscope of dazzling neons searing the wide-open eyes

And only two lanes ("soi" in Thai) away is, you've guessed it, Pattayaland 2, and a even smaller lane that runs off Pattayaland Soi 2 is Pattyaland Soi 3 with its other end connects to THE gay venue of Boyztown. While gay bars are scattered around this area, Boyztown is the heart.

Boyztown sign, Pattaya, Thailand
The arch of a raised eyebrow, beckoning "C'mon boyz..."

Its Boyztown logo suspended high in the sky as if to beckon with an raised eyebrow to the pedestrians walking unsuspectingly on Second Road. Some people refer to the the whole area from Pattayaland Soi 1 to Pattayaland Soi 3 to as Boyztown as gay boy bars are interspersed between girly bars in Pattayaland soi 1 and soi 2. As I walked past these sois, I would be chatted up by all sorts. Girls in cosplay as maids and nurses, and boys. Although I'm only passer-by and had never intended to become their customer, I don't mind it at all as the touts in Pattaya isn't aggressive. In fact, sex workers here are mild mannered and friendly. Perhaps the government tourism agency have had given them a stern talk about aggressive touts that would annoy tourists.

Despite its close proximity to the Pattayaland Sois, Pattaya City Walk is set up as a respectable soi. In Asian countries like Thailand, the respectable and the not-so (or socially so-so) can rub shoulders against one another (Such contrast are less likely , but not unheard of in the West. Back in my hometown of Sydney, Kings cross comes to mind). A wat - Thai Buddhist temple - is located not far from the crepes street vendor, at the corner of all this worldly affair of the flesh. But then, isn't Buddhism about tolerance and compassion?

Opposite Fraser Resort is an open-air restaurant that has traditional Thai dance performance every night, and it's officially opened tonight by Her Highness Princess (The King's daughter-in-law). I'm somewhat disappointed to have missed to grace her presence because of my departure tonight for Bangkok

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