10 Things You Might Not Know About Thailand

10 interesting things you might not know about Thailand, but realized:

coffee stand (its served in a plastic bag with a straw)

coffee stand (it’s served in a plastic bag with a straw)

1) You are given straws with nearly all drinks, even bottled water! No matter if you get bottled water at a food cart, order a drink or bottle of juice, you are given a straw with it. I’ve thrown away so many plastic bags with straws because I’d buy, say, two bottles of water or coconut juice and two straws accompany it in the bag.

2) The taxis are pink. Most taxis here are pink. It is really cute.

3) Food carts are Thai fast food. Although there are fast food chains, you just don’t see as many here. They are in much fewer quantity than anywhere else in the world I’ve ever been. The locals and expats simply eat from food carts on the street as Americans would eat fast food. It’s much better, in my opinion.

4) A thai massage includes rubbing down your whole chest, breasts (if woman) and all. Ok, in all honesty I haven’t been back to get another massage since the one experience; and I’m simply assuming they’re all the same. But, yeah, laying in awkward silence on a firm table , without even eye covers, I, for all intents and purposes, basically had this girl fondle my breasts. Pretty awkward.

5) If you don’t already, you’ll love young coconut meat and mangos. You can get them at food carts or wherever you look. Both taste so good and fresh here unlike elsewhere in the US or Europe.

6) There’s not a subway or train that connects the whole city of Bangkok. There is a train and subway line (BTS and MRT), but neither are very long and connect only the main touristy and commercial areas of town in a short X-like shape. Though it is convenient, you could ride the longest track from one end to the other in well under an hour -probably more like 20 minutes. However, I’m told an expansion is in the works and will be completed in a couple years (too long to take for something so crucial, in my opinion, because Bangkok has a serious traffic problem! That 20 minute train ride could easily take you 2 hours by car).

singing lady

singing lady

7) Most young people do not speak English (like they do in many other foreign countries). I came here expecting a majority of young people to have a basic knowledge of English, having learned it in school. However, I am hard-pressed to find English speaking people here, young or otherwise.

8) There’s much poverty, but not as many bums as you might expect. Having recently been to Seattle, a city with a strikingly large amount of bums, I half-expected to see near as many in a city like Bangkok. However, I rarely see bums sitting around or begging for money. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are bums, just not as many as I expected to see. There aren’t many and they’re seen only in the majorly touristy areas -near markets, etc. And I suspect it’s because many, who would otherwise be bums, enter the realm of theft and scamming instead. However, maybe most Thais are just hard workers (which has actually been my typical observation of them). Interestingly the bums I do see come in one of 3 or 4 varieties: 1) a typically gaunt woman with one or two small, dirty children, 2) a maimed man, without an eye or appendage, or perhaps another deformation, laying flat out on his stomach on the ground holding out a tin cup, in the middle of the sidewalk, with people stepping over and around him and a faint sense, for instance, that there’s actually a folded leg hidden from sight in the pants, 3) a random man or woman singing into a makeshift microphone attached to some box-like amplification contraption strapped to their chest (horrible singing, by the way), and 4) a random, dirty homeless person simply sitting by the sidewalk -although, perhaps these types just resting there because they show no clear sign of begging.

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9) Foreigners get charged more for everything, period, hands-down, and without fail. (even for things you’d think were objective and set, like a hotel room) This facet of Thailand (I can presently only speak for Bangkok but am told it’s similar elsewhere) is something that really bothers me. And I can even go so far as to say that it often disgusts and angers me. In a way, it’s a system that works and follows more closely a pure laissez faire economy. But still, it angers me when I’m charged 200 baht for a cab ride that should me 46, simply because the driver refuses to turn on the meter; or when I’m quoted 1500 baht or a mani-pedi, for which a Thai girl would be charged 200; or when I’m quoted a monthly rent of 85,000 baht for the same place a Thai person currently pays 38,000. (These are all actual anecdotes of my experience here.)

10) Eggs and bacon aren’t really breakfast foods, but rice is. And you can eat rice at any time of day or night, for meal, snack or else-wise. Moreover, there are so many various things made out of rice: noodles, crepes, desserts, drinks, and many others.  Eggs are used in dishes at any time of day; but they’re more typically an accompaniment to other things and usually not the main, stand-out protein. This is great for me because I love eggs and could stick one on almost anything. And as for bacon, they do have it here (and it’s thin and crispy like in America, unlike some Eastern European places I encountered who seemed not to know what proper bacon is and how to cook it.) Yet here, bacon is used more simply as pork in dishes.

I’ll add to this list as other interesting things arise.

Hyde and Seek Gastro Bar & Restaurant

Lately, here in Bangkok, I’ve been feeling a bit lost in my purpose for being here, like I’ve forgotten my direction. So I decided to resume something I like doing and go out to eat good food and then write about it. So I’ll start with the best of what I’ve eaten in Bangkok thus far:

Hyde and Seek Gastro Bar and Restaurant
IMG_0362After reading some reviews I came to this place, as it was called ‘the hip place’ to go and to be seen. I wasn’t sure exactly what that would look like in a city like Bangkok, so I thought I’d check it out. Maybe Sunday night wasn’t the best time to do so as it’s a rather slow night in Bangkok. On this occasion there were a few ‘falangs’ (white or western foreigners) of the older white man varietal sitting outside eating casually, perhaps a bit sloppily as one seemed all too comfortable in the big comfy chairs without shoes and eating cheese from a plate he held in one had as he jerked about talking to another man sitting across the low table, laid-back smoking a cigar. There were a couple other people outside around the front as well. Inside there was a couple and two other small parties.

I opted to sit inside the clean, modern, cool interior. I sat at the long empty bar rather than the high tables behind the bar, a bad choice I came to realize because the bar chairs are so low that you could literally fall backwards, drunkenly or otherwise, by thinking that the mock-backs are high enough to prop up against, giving this false sense of comfort when you actually have to sit upright as if they are bar stools.

However, the food was better than expected. In what I’ve determined as a non-foodie city like Bangkok, I have come to lower my expectations of what to expect. Yet Hyde and Seek was perhaps the closest thing I could find to home. The food is classified as ‘International’ but it was more like American. The menu and many options had the kind of written-on-a-blackboard, farm-to-table kind of feel.

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I opted for the pork belly and tuna tartare. I asked for the tuna first and then the pork belly. But, surprisingly, they ended up bringing the pork belly first, shortly after the bread (two brown wheat rolls, nicely average size, with tasty clarified butter). The pork belly was great, like a nice piece of southern pulled pork. It was a nice size square cut of pork cooked fork tender, with a well paired, slightly creamy sauce. The fat of the belly was meltingly good, rather than chunky or obtrusive, and I ate all of it first and happily as the tartare sat to its side. (They offered to take away the pork while I ate the tartare, reheat the pork, and return it to me later, but I thought this rather unappealing as I don’t trust they’d not simply microwave it -as I saw a restaurant do with my samosas earlier in the day- and I didn’t want them to ruin the texture.)

So I had the tuna tartare second. It was composed of fresh deep red tuna, chopped in a rather minced fashion, laid out amply in a crescent, garnished with radishes and a bit of decorative sauce. Though quite a bit less flavorful by comparison to the pork belly, it retained the flavor of medium fatty tuna (not so buttery and rich as fatty tuna, but meaty nonetheless). Though I had one of the small rolls with the meal, I wouldn’t really call it a meal. Before ordering, I asked the bartender if the tuna dish was large, as I had planned to get a salad as well. She responded that it was rather large. And though the dish wasn’t fine-dining-petite, per-say, it was not large; and I wished I’d have gotten the salad as well. What I ended up with was two plates of meat, as neither had accompaniments, and two rolls. Some green vegetables would have been welcome.

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I was also recommended the ‘Secret Window’ cocktail by the bartender based on telling her I like drinks with whiskey or vodka, that are perhaps sour and not too sweet. This bartender spoke English well though the others there did not very well. Because the drink shared a name with a Johnny Depp movie, I acquiesced. It was composed of Gentleman’s Jack whiskey, dark chocolate liqueur, vanilla, bitters, and garnished with a large pretty piece of sugar Carmel on top. It was a tasty enough drink, though I’d not likely get another.

In all, food was rather expensive, though having paid near this for much lesser food, I was fine with doing so and actually left a tip (which is not necessarily required in Thailand because most places slap on a gratuity percentage, -and also I’m pretty sure the two other bartenders were talking about me the whole time -though unclear whether good or bad, which in a different mood could have swayed my decision to leave an additional tip). Also, the doorman asked if I had a reservation when I arrived, which I thought was rather pretentious as the restaurant was at least 75-80% empty. Yet I’m sure it’s simply what he was told to do as he led me amiably to my seat of choice. All in all, I’d recommend this restaurant as good quality food in Bangkok and would return. Though nothing further screamed my name to come back and eat it, I know that what I’d eat if I came back would probably be a solid choice.

Jacco Gardner @ Mississippi Studios, Portland

IMG_1079Before coming to Portland I had perused the music venues and artists playing here. Despite staying at the Jupiter Hotel, which has a music venue playing Ha Ha Tonka (an unforgivable name, in my book, that I simply cannot get past in their decision to choose it), I decided to go see Jacco Gardner, a band that plays what I’d like to call New-Age Psychedelic Indie Rock. I don’t know, it was something about his face, one of those faces I speak about that is just interesting to me and I like instinctually.

I always think of people’s faces in the manner in which I’d paint them, the color palate, angle, and scope. Well, I’d decided mentally that I’d paint him like a Rembrandt or Vermeer, realistic, with contesting darks and yellow reds. (maybe the fact that he’s from the Netherlands had something to do with this, but once I saw  him in his beige coat and hat after the show, I knew this was definitely a right choice.)

At Mississippi Studios, Portland

Jacco Gardner, at Mississippi Studios, Portland

The throw-back psychedelic tunes reminded me of the music of my father’s years, the ’60’s music I listened to in my late teens and early twenties. Later , Jacco told me that he was influenced by Pink Floyd. Yes, there was that as well as a bit of The Doors, Led Zeppelin, The Velvet Underground, and many other ’60’s greats. And I’m sure that is why there were so many older, ex-hippies at the show. Not dirty or degenerate hippies, but the kind that developed into something more streamlined, or else, still had a hippie flair, just clean and worn more as occasional attire.

Jacco and band are from the Netherlands. And perhaps some of their cultural leanings and laxities influence the manifestation of their trippy sound. The idiosyncrasy I like most  about them is their insistence on incorporating a projector screen playing black and white movies and various other random visuals to accompany the music. It lends a touch of art to what they are doing. And after spending several hours after the show hanging out with the band, I do believe that Jacco is an artist at heart and is doing this out of genuine need for self expression, not for girls, money, or even fame.

The band is Dutch. And thought they all spoke proper English, to each other they spoke mostly Dutch, and somehow it lent a brother camaraderie to their union. They are clearly a band just starting in the industry, especially in the states; and so, you can feel the tense energy, self-consciousness, and awareness of the audience that they possess. On stage, even, you could feel their apprehension, their eyes searching through the crowd to gauge how well they performed. And they seemed genuinely gratified when the crowd cheered or whistled. They are a band waiting for recognition and a big break.

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The audience of older hippies, along with ample young to middle age hipsters, either stood staunchly or swayed gently with the music. There was not much movement or excitement going on in general. The venue, Mississippi Studios, is a rather bohemian palce, which set the ambiance for them nicely. Large Persian rugs haphazardly adorned the floor. Chandeliers and curtains hung to further the bohemian ambiance.

After the show was over, we all clapped and then the band came off the stage, pensively, awkwardly bowing backwards, and moved through the crowd  and settled at the back corner of the room. After a slight hesitation the crowd simply dispersed, meekly eyeing the band as they passed by and out. Though some stood around talking before leaving, most of the crowd simply left; and the lights were risen.

After coming back in from outside, calling a cab to no avail, I decided to look at the wares they were selling at the front, now, near the now-empty ticket stand. Jacco was now standing there behind the table of things, greeting people who came up to buy something, or simply to say that they enjoyed the show.

He is a rather shy, awkward person, which makes him both genuine and interesting. He does not appear to have fun on stage or seem to laugh too easily. I suppose he performs more for his own self-validation than for anything else, to hear his own voice, and see his self, tangibly, in existence. He seemed to have a mind capable of understanding and engaging others around him. In brief, he had a depth if consciousness that was not blatantly apparent, but sensed in his quiet thoughtfulness.

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I came to hang out with the band by way of a girl petting a cat there in the building, who I started talking to about my own cats. She, with her quirky afghan, full-length peasant skirt, and little black hat, had another face I particularly liked, something like Winona Rider, but nicer and more genuine. She was honestly one of the nicest, most gentle people I’ve met.

I thought she just randomly takes her cat around and holds it like some do their toy dogs. I thought that’s just what some Portlanders do (which would be awesome). But the cat lives in the bar/music venue and just travels around, being held and petted by random people.

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So while I was taking to her, a freelance photographer of the band was talking to her boyfriend, a quirky fellow dressed preppily in all black, who also had a gentle, introspective, and appealing face and genuine,self-aware demeanor. So we eventually all started talking, as the photographer was very friendly and talkative, and convinced me to stay around for a bit to hang out because she said after I explained my travel plans: “You’re leaving tomorrow! You have to stay and hang out! It’s your only night here in Portland.”  And that was true. Meeting people is meeting a city. So I stayed, which I’m happy I did because I met some genuinely nice and cool people.

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As she and Jacco skateboarded through empty streets as we were leaving, it felt as if the city were ours, or else we had some secret knowledge about the place or about people in general. Yet, it was late on a Monday night, when normal people are sleeping and prepared to go to work in the morning, so perhaps simply that societal abnormality, along with openness to experience, led an unlikely mix of people to share a random Monday night in Portland.

Unicorn Bar – Capitol Hill – Seattle

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The Unicorn is a cool bar in the Capitol Hill area of Seattle. I would suggest going simply for the ambience, if not for food and drinks. I randomly sat beside the owner, Paul. We spoke about the place, as I complimented the unique decor. He said they wanted a circus type theme. I’d say it’s like Betsy Johnson as much as circus, but I see where they were going. And I happen to really love it. Along with the EMP, it is a place of my own heart and a redeeming feature of Seattle for me.

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I was aimlessly walking around, with the vague intention of going to a Russian restaurant for dumplings (I couldn’t find that place, as it was quite inconspicuous; and I didn’t see it until I was walking back home), when I passed Unicorn and it spoke to me. So I ended up there. And I’m really glad that I did because I met Paul and the former chef, Josh, who made the menu.

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Paul was able to acquire for me a half order each of the Unicorn balls (fried ginger and jalapeño pork balls with bento ginger aioli) and Narwhal Balls (potato, swiss cheese and caraway, with harissa mayonnaise). In the Unicorn Balls, the taste of the spicy and ginger, with the pork, reminded me of something like a lamb pakora. The texture was meaty, yet not too chunky or flaky. The Narwhal Balls were delicious as well. The swiss melted beautifully with the potatoes; and the caraway was a nice touch. Both were fried in a rather light, crispy batter. All-in-all their tastiness made me contemplate the prospect of a love for fried bar foods. (I am from the south, after all, and southerners do love things fried!) And I regret that I didn’t take better photos to do them more justice.

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I also tried the original corn-dog -the house specialty, in tune with their carnival theme. It was rather good for a corn-dog, a good size, though I couldn’t eat it all after the balls. The batter was great. It tasted like sweet, moist cornbread. And the hotdog, which they make, along with the batter, in-house, was not so bad itself.

I actually had a long conversation about making sausages with Josh and Paul. Josh, with an exhaustive sausage making book in hand at the bar, now works for a specialty sausage store in Pike Place Market. And Paul, an interesting and worldly Brit who also maintains a day job, says that this place is more like a hobby for him.

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We share a fondness for occasional indulgence and excess when it comes to food, and apparently decor as well, we spoke about that and of travel in different countries of the world. He said he stops by the place typically every afternoon, but leaves when the bands start -something I came to later understand, as this evening the band on roster was a death metal group. As the noise level increased to a roar, and many goth, grunge, and hipsters filed in, I, feeling to old to be hip, decided to go home and get some rest.

Passing this interesting painting on my long walk home, I was left only to ponder how things kindred to my own heart seem to find me, or either I simply seek them out, things I would not otherwise encounter if not for my wandering.