Lunar New Year

They have told me not to pay attention
To the importance that they give a name,
For it does not matter the intention
As the identity will be the same.
Ownership comes with specification
To the ones who had first called it as so,
No longer belonging to that nation,
Letting the imperialism grow.
When you go off to the celebration,
Discuss why you go to dance and sing.
Does it matter that the iteration
Of a country is part of the ringing?
So I would like to raise my glass in cheer
To this great holiday, Lunar New Year.

Chinese versus Lunar

I am probably making a bigger deal about this than I should, but there is something about Chinese New Year that bugs me. It is a day that is celebrated all over the world, and it is based upon the waxing and waning of the moon. It is so popular that people in Thailand even celebrate the Chinese New Year, and I am sure that there are other countries in Southeast Asia that celebrate it as well. But South Korea does not celebrate the Chinese New Year. They have their own celebration on the same day that focuses also on the waxing and waning of the moon, but they call it Lunar New Year instead.

All of these countries get excited about this day, and it is often considered one of the biggest holidays of the year. They decorate the malls, and have many places where you can get your picture taken to prove that you were alive when it became the Year of the Bull. So my problem comes from the fact that it is called Chinese New Year in countries that are not even China. I get the fact that some holidays are specific to certain countries, and the celebration of them should hold the title of the country that they come from. But this is a holiday that is based upon legends that are shared by many of the countries of this region and is based upon a single day in February that changes with the moon. I agree with Korea that the title of the day should be Lunar New Year and not Chinese New Year.

I am pretty sure that it is a big party in China every year on this holiday. Though I have not experienced the same level of excitement associated with it in Thailand, I think part of my experience might be because the current state of the world which has probably toned down the celebrations in China as well. The point being is that there is no one holiday that is celebrated around the world that has the same kind of association with it. We don’t call it America’s Christmas even though there might be a few people who think that this is a more appropriate name. It isn’t the Celtic Halloween even though this is the place where it originated. We don’t even call it the Vatican’s Easter even though the history of this event has been distorted throughout the years and does not look like what it did when they first celebrated it.

I have no qualms with China continuing to call the day Chinese New Year either. I am just surprised that countries that wish to retain the autonomy and their own culture are so willing to give into the pressure of calling it the same thing even though that has nothing to do with the way they celebrate it. When it comes down to it, I believe it is a great holiday to celebrate, and I enjoy seeing people come together to ring in the New Year. I just hope in the future they look towards the day and recognize it as a part of their own culture and not some import from a different part of the world.

Sorry about the rant, but I hope you had a wonderful Lunar New Year, and that you find luck and happiness in the Year of the Bull.

The Sushi Attraction

One of my favorite things about getting out of the house and traveling is trying amazing food from all around the world. There are some really great places to eat in my neighborhood, but there is something special about trying places in other neighborhoods and countries. Heading to downtown Bangkok gives me this opportunity to try other worldly cuisine. Of course, there are many Thai restaurants downtown, but I probably have the better examples in my neighborhood that is not toned down to meet the tastebuds of millions of tourists who visit this city every year. Rather, I like to look for the other world cuisines that are not as present in my neighborhood, and one of the types of foods I always look for is a good sushi restaurant.

This is something that is harder to find in Southeast Asia than you would think. There are a couple of places I have found outside of Japan that are able to do this dish well, and one of the better ones happens to be off of the Phrom Phong BTS station down Soi 39. It is a small place with only six tables, but it does a great job of getting fresh fish and creating artistic bites to eat. It is by far the best sushi restaurant I have found in Bangkok so far. It does not rival the places that fill up during lunch time in Japan, but it would do really well in that country and hold its own against the people that created this cuisine in the first place.

My favorite part of eating sushi, besides the taste, is the presentation. I am not one of those people that take pictures of their food very often, and maybe I should be better at doing that considering I write a blog about my travels around the world. I know that people want to see those pictures, but usually when I go out to a restaurant, I am so excited to eat that when my food comes, I forget to pull out my phone and take a picture. But when I ate at Masu Maki, it was really easy to remember that this was something that I should do. They did such a beautiful job of presentation that I had to take a picture in order to remember it. I won’t give you the picture of what it looks like after I have finished because it isn’t as pretty, but when this gets placed in front of you, it is easy to get excited by what you are about to eat.

It is a great place to eat sushi in Bangkok, and if you have any other suggestions, please let me know because I love to find hidden gems like Masu Maki, especially when it comes to sushi.

Eternal Summer’s Version of Christmas

It is that time of the year again where the night sky is lit up with tiny lights and images of people bundled up against the cold get plastered on the side of every established business. Songs about melting snowmen and chestnuts roasting over a fire play over the lobbies of hotels and speakers at gas station all around the world. Kids bundle up in new pajamas as they make their lists for toys that they would love to have from the jolly fat man from the north, and parents fight holiday crowds and their bankbooks to make those dreams come true.

It is truly a magical time of the year.

I will admit that when I was younger that this was my favorite time of the year, and probably contributes a lot to my love of snowy days. One of my fondest memories growing up involved a Christmas Eve blizzard that trapped us in our house on Christmas day. I was very young at the time and I always thought that it had to snow on Christmas Eve and the light flurry of flakes that fell that evening as I walked outside in my new Christmas pajamas to pick up the night edition of the paper confirmed this belief. It started out innocent enough, but when I woke up on Christmas morning there was a big surprise of a couple of feet of snow that had not been on the ground before. I don’t remember at all what I got that Christmas because the snow was the greatest gift we could have ever recieved.

I have since grown up and after many brown Colorado Christmases, I now know that snow on Christmas Eve is not a guarantee. In fact, there are many places in the world where seeing snow on Christmas would be considered crazy. Some of the more memorable ones I have spent in recent years have come while I have been on the other side of the globe in Australia and New Zealand. It was a strange feeling enjoying the holiday in a place where I knew that it would never get cold.

I am soon discovering that this year will also be one of those years that will not have a chance of feeling like the picturesque holiday season. It won’t be completely bad because Thailand loves to celebrate this holiday just like any other country in the world. The malls are packed with people and deals, and they tend to pump Christmas carols everywhere you go. The stores also try to outcompete each other to show who can make the brightest of all of the holiday light shows. I wasn’t expecting it much, but I did feel that magical spirit start to bubble up inside of me while I walked around downtown and viewed all of the Christmas displays wherever I went.

The only difference is that I will never feel that cold that I so cherish this time of the year. I won’t even feel a cool breeze that might hint at a chilly Christmas evening. The closest I will be able to get will be to turn my air conditioning on high so I can bundle up under a blanket and watch some Christmas movie where they get to experience a white event. Despite this small problem, it will feel more like Christmas than a lot of places around the world. There will still be the people taking the time to spend with each other, the children excited about the arrival of Santa Claus, and the endless celebration that takes place during the month of December.

I know I am looking forward to it either way, and I hope that wherever you find yourself this holiday season that you are able to make the most out of this month as well. Have a great holiday season, and I will let you know about what is happening in the land of eternal summer as I enjoy mine.

Black Friday

Ever since I have moved overseas, Thanksgiving Day does not mean as much to me. It is not that I do not appreciate the holiday. It is just that the holiday is a very American experience and other places in the world do not celebrate it or even acknowledge its existence. Because of this, I have had to work on the past six Thanksgiving Days, and after the sixth time, it is hard to get excited about this day.

It fills me with sadness when I recognize this fact because for a long time it had become my favorite holiday. It was the one day where we stripped away all of the pretentious behavior of our daily routines, and get together with family to share a delicious meal and make memories. There was also the looming consuming beast of Christmas looming right around the corner, but we could put that aside for a moment to just enjoy being with the people we love. I know that other countries have holidays that are comparable to this, but it is hard to get into the spirit of them when they jump out at me from nowhere and I am expected to understand the traditions of these days. The traditions of my past are the ones that stick with me and which I yearn for every year around this time.

There are other Americans at the schools I have taught at that help to keep this tradition alive. I have had one Thanksgiving dinner already and I will be experiencing another one this weekend, and I appreciate that people take the time to make sure that this holiday makes it across the ocean. But since I have moved to Asia, I have started a new tradition that makes me just as happy. It involves the day after Thanksgiving which in the United States is one of my least favorite days of the year. It is not because I am working off my turkey coma or I am depressed because I find myself without my family again. It is because I believe that this day brings out the worst of Americans as they push and shove to get crazy deals on crap that they really don’t need. It is fodder for the television news broadcasts and every year it gets just a little worse. Hopefully, with Covid ravaging the land, people will take it a little easier this year, but the current state of things has proven that many people would not let this tradition pass them by no matter what danger may loom in a crowded room.

The way I have avoided the pain of this day is to take in the meal that I usually miss because I have been stuck at work during Thanksgiving day. I have had the fortune to have the next day off, and the Asian countries though they ramp up the shopping experience during Black Friday, it is no where near the insanity that can be found in the United States. The restaurants are still open and this is a great day to hop from one to the next as I indulge in a little bite at each one. It allows me to get out there and see a bit of the holiday spirit as it takes over the community while not fighting with people over a bunch of stuff that doesn’t really matter in the long run. This is the tradition I would like to see take off for this holiday. We need to step back from this idea that stuff will make Christmas perfect and look back at the holiday we have just enjoyed. It is about family, and all holidays should take Thanksgiving’s tradition to heart. This is what my new tradition would be about because you do not go out to spend money on people, but you meet up with them at various restaurants to enjoy their company.

I hope you all found yourself in a wonderful spot on this holiday and that you are taking the precautions to be safe during the next month. Be thankful for those people you have in your life no matter where they may be.

Toby’s – A Breakfast Story

The French toast with a side of bacon

I recently talked about my staycation to downtown Bangkok being like a greatest hits album where I didn’t take any pictures because I have been to all the places I went to before. Therefore, it was pointless to take pictures because I was already so familiar with these places. But there was one place that I do want to talk about, Toby’s. I have never been here for dinner, and I have heard that they have some amazing Italian food, but I have been here a couple of times for breakfast, and it might be one of the best places for breakfast that I have ever been to.

How do I describe it? To go back to the analogy of a greatest hits album, there is always one song on it that stands out above all the rest. Yes, you still love all of the songs on the album, but there is the one song that everybody gravitates to. It is that band’s best of their best. It is the “Satisfaction”, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or “Joker” on the album. And this is what Toby’s is.

Toby’s is a small restaurant on Sukhumvit Soi 38 and you really have to have your eyes open to see the place or you can easily drive past it. But there are hints that you are close. There is usually a group of people gathered outside waiting to get one of the few tables the place has. Cars are collected on this sleepy street near to the entrance of the place. And your stomach will start growling because it knows the treat that it is about to experience.

The bacon platter with eggs done over medium

And yes, this place is worth searching for when you are hunting down a good brunch. The food is fresh and obviously prepared there. Most of the time, the dishes come with a selection of fresh fruit, unless you get the bacon platter (yes, they have a platter dedicated totally to different kinds of bacon), and this still comes with a bacon jam that I would recommend smearing all over the two eggs that come with the dish. But the best dish that they have for breakfast has to be the French toast. I have always enjoyed this dish and I have had some amazing versions of it, but the one here is made with crumpled corn flakes that gives it a crunchy coating that is so good. And instead of topping it with butter, they give you a scoop of vanilla ice cream that makes this entre more of a dessert that you will come back to time and time again.

It was the perfect spot to complete my greatest hits tour. It filled me up with the great food that this city has to offer before sending me back home and the reality of life. I will come back again someday, but for now this was a great way to enjoy a weekend in Bangkok.

Vacation’s Greatest Hits

It hit me last night at dinner that I had only taken one picture during this trip. Usually I am looking for great moments as I experience them, but I never even really thought about pulling out my phone and taking some pictures. It took me a moment to think about why this was, but it came to me as I took another delicious piece of sushi to dip into my soy sauce and wasabi mixture. I had done all of this before.

Don’t get me wrong. It is really nice to get out of my usual routine and go some place where I usually don’t hang out, but going twelve kilometers away to where the big building I usually see in the distance is not really getting away. It is more like making things a little more convenient for me as I go to the places where I really like to go in this city. And that is exactly what I did. I had bar-b-q at the Smokin’ Pug, lunch at Dim Ti Fung, and dinner at my favorite sushi place downtown. I did nothing new on this little excursion. Does that mean that I am getting into a rut and I can’t find anything exciting in life anymore? Should I blame it on Covid and the fact that my options have been limited? Should I push myself in the future to make sure I make the most out of every moment in my life?

Does it really matter if I am still enjoying myself?

I compare it to a concert I went to during my high school years at Red Rocks Amphitheater. Steve Miller had dusted off his guitar and took it on tour that summer, and considering my love for Classic Rock at the time, I just had to see him. It was a great show, and I had a lot of fun singing along to all of the songs that I was extremely familiar with. But there was nothing profound about what I saw there. He played every song off of his Greatest Hits album, and even hit a few songs that was on his other Greatest Hits album that not as many people listen to, but they still know the songs. He played for an hour and afterwards, I was always able to say that I saw the Steve Miller Band once in my lifetime.

Does the fact that he did not push the boundaries mean that it was a bad show? I don’t think so. These are the songs that people cherish, and it makes them happy to hear them. They go to the concert to hear those songs, and they would be disappointed if he decided to play some deep tracks instead. Yes, I do not claim it to be one of the best concerts I have ever seen, but it was still a good time, and I do have a couple of fond memories from the night. The same goes for this trip downtown. No, I will not be raving about my experience for years to come. I won’t even have pictures to look back as mementos. I did not do anything spectacular, but that does not mean that it wasn’t worth my time. Sometimes, it is okay to go back to those comforts, and enjoy the experience without worrying about taking a dozen pictures in the meantime.

It might not be the best trip, but I still had a good time, and I will walk away with a couple of fond memories from the experience.

I guess that is what the greatest hits are all about.

When People Leave Downtown, That’s the Time To Go

Travel during the times of Covid-19 is tough. Everybody knows that making those trips that you have always wanted to go on, and seeing those countries that you have always wanted to see has to be put on hold for a little while until we can work this thing out. But that does not mean that travel is gone altogether. It just means that those epic trips need to be replaced by simpler excursions to check out that part of the world where you live. Luckily, I found myself in a place that I did not know a lot about, and this gave me the opportunity to dig in deep into the country I reside, Thailand. And considering that it has been over a hundred days since there has been a new case of the disease originating within the country, it means that a lot of places are now available for us.

This weekend was the best weekend to get out of my hood and check out a different part of the city of Bangkok. The reason being is the government declared it to be a four day weekend to make up for the lost holiday week of Songkron that was supposed to happen way back in April. Because of this new holiday, many people have packed up their cars and headed to the various beach resorts in the country. I, on the other hand, took the other approach. I went to the place where nobody would be. I didn’t feel like fighting the crowds amongst the sand and surf, or jostle for a place at one of the bars or restaurants in Thailand’s most famous tourist spots. I instead decided to go downtown to enjoy the open streets and reduction of traffic.

It was a great choice. I now have access to some of the best restaurants this country has to offer, and I don’t have to wait to get a seat at any of them. I was also able to find a really great deal at one of the premiere hotels in one of the premiere spots downtown that allowed me comfort without breaking my bank account. I am also going to get to enjoy a relaxing weekend while checking out parts of the downtown area that I have not seen yet. It was an easy choice to make and so far, it has paid off. Granted, it is a quick little jaunt, but what more could I ask for a weekend? I am not stuck in a long line of traffic, hoping to grab a moment in a place that is overcrowded because everybody had the same idea to vacation in the same place at the same time. Instead, I go where I know where they will not be and suddenly find the place to myself.

I am starting to think this is how I should spend every holiday weekend. It is by far the best way to experience a part of the country I have not seen yet.

 

A Note about Travel Now – Siam Summer

I have struggled with whether I should be writing this blog about the time I have spent in downtown Bangkok right now. There are many countries in the world that are still under lockdown and many place are only starting to open their doors back to the world to see what it is like out there. A bunch of uncertainty hangs in the air about what will happen next and whether it is safe to go out and enjoy life again. Bangkok is also going through this. They just happen to be a little ahead of other countries with getting back to a daily hustle and bustle, yet there is still a long way to go. There have been a lot of question bouncing around the back of my mind as I wonder who stayed in this place before us, whether the places I have been going to have been taking it seriously, and why do some people believe they are above common safety reason by walking around without a mask. It makes me wonder if we are safe by doing this.

Then I think about the other side of it. Why am I living overseas? I am here to experience other cultures, and travel and see the world. It is the main reason that we made this choice, and if I spend all of that time in a little house looking out at my mango tree and waiting for a soi dog to walk down my street, I am not really living the life that I wanted to. I know that there are many people out there thinking the same way as they spend another day in quarantine, and it would not matter where I was in the world, but I would have to go through the same kind of experience of staying indoors. Though some people might believe otherwise, this is not a problem that is isolated to one country; it is a worldwide problem. It is just some countries did a better job of handling the problem than others, and if I am living in one of those countries, should I take advantage of it?

Thailand is one of those countries that did a great job of containing this virus. It is not completely under control yet. There are still cases popping up daily, but they are so minor, the biggest spike being 17 people one day in the last couple of week with it usually being under five people daily, that it would seem silly to keep a population of people at bay. Like I have been talking about in my last posts, it is not completely opened up yet, but there are opportunities out there, and as long as I take reasonable precautions, I can enjoy my time out here, and still feel safe.

But this is not the worry that I have while writing this blog. My thought is about all of those people who are reading this still stuck at home while I am out there enjoying life again. I know that I have a lot of readers in America and they have been going in and out of quarantine. I understand your suffering because just like many other people in the world, I have gone through the same experience. It was not fun, and the walls of my place started to beat down upon me and I felt like I would never leave that place. But the time I spent in near isolation paid off as the causes of the disease died down and Thailand is now a safer place to live in. Yes, there are a couple of inconveniences. I have to wear a mask when I go out and I have to be aware of my proximity to other people. They ask that I check in as I go into stores so if there is an outbreak they can contact me about the way I have been exposed, but this is a minor problem compared to the bigger ones that could happen if I contract the disease. It is then that I become a danger to other people, and I do not know if I could have that responsibility on my conscience.

This whole summer has been great to see Thailand without all of the tourists. I have been lucky that way, despite the fact that things were not always open the way that they usually are. I know people are suffering right now, but it is nice to see that things are starting to turn around for them, and the economy is starting to pick up again. But know that just like you, it has not been an easy journey, and they is still a long way to go to fully recover from this. But they understand that everything is very fragile right now, and another outbreak could cause everybody to revert back to the devastating lifestyle we had to endure earlier this year. I hope that never happens, but I am also doing my part to prevent this for coming back as well.

I guess the reason that I wrote about my travels this summer was not to cause you frustration and anger because somebody was able to do something that you were not, but instead I wished to give you hope and inspiration that if you do the right thing, that travel could be in your life again as well. It may not look the way that you had thought it would, and many opportunities might not be available to you, but make the most out of the situation, and you will still find that life can be rewarding. Just know that it will happen again someday, but until then, do you part to help mitigate the problem and you will enjoy that reward even more when you finally achieve it.

Road Trip – Siam Summer

For those of you that get to talk to me from time to time, you have probably heard me complain about the troubles I have been having trying to purchase a car in Thailand. There is a lot of paperwork, and they seem to change the rules every time I reach that point where I can actually obtain the paperwork that they needed a week earlier. But I have finally caught up with the rules, and have now purchased a slightly used Ford Focus. I know it is not the most luxurious car, but it works for what I need it for, getting back and forth to work, and the occasional trip out of Bangkok. Considering I paid for it on Friday, and I don’t have to be back at work until August 10th, there is only one thing left to do, road trip.

I got up early this morning to take to the highways of Thailand and make my way down south to visit the fabled city of Phuket (pronounced Poo Ket (yes, I made the joke as well the first time I saw the name of this city)). I know that when you look at a map, Thailand does not look that big, but it stretches a lot further than you would imagine. A drive from Bangkok to Phuket, takes over twelve hours, and even though I could make it in one day, I decided to break the trip up into two.

As soon as I made it out of Bangkok, I noticed that the stress of driving in Thailand reduced dramatically, and it has been fun being out on the open road again. It is one of the things I miss the most about America. The ability to get into the car and drive aimlessly into the long stretches of road allows for endless tales to be told and adventures to be had. There is something romantic about seeing the landscape change from the typical things you see on a normal day to experiencing new climates, people, and places. The only problem with it is that the first day on the road does not have the great stories to tell that you would hope for on a road trip. It usually takes until you stay at various places that the stories start to unwind.

The typical parking lot found at rest stops in Thailand

I did visit many roadside rest stops. They are all over the place in Thailand, and it does not matter which one you stop at, they are all the same. You will find a 7-11, an Amazon coffee shop, and some type of American fast food chain, usually a KFC even though I have seen the occasional Subway. The fill-up is quick and they send you back on the road. They do have a building set off in the back corner dedicated to bathrooms, and it threw me off the first time I had to pee in stalls that were installed outside in the back of that building. But I got used to it, and it is a good use of space, plus it helps with the smell that they tend to generate.

The mustache lets me know that this bathroom is for me

They do try to distinguish the various stops with different statues you will find decorating the big slabs of concrete. Most of the time it is comic versions of children holding up signs, but every once in awhile, you come across something a little more creative. I enjoyed to Japanese cats outside the bathrooms the best. The one with the pink bow on the head indicated the women’s bathroom, and the one with the mustache was for the men.

It wasn’t the most exciting day being stuck in a car with the biggest form of entertainment being the rest stops I found along the way, but it is possibility for adventure that kept me excited and looking forward to the ticking kilometers I saw on my speedometer. I know that there will be exciting moments to share with you over the next couple of days, so I hope you join me as I share what the Phuket region of Thailand has to offer somebody with a car and hopefully you can get something out of the posts as well.

Until tomorrow.