Whatever Floats Your Kratong

Last night was full of new experiences. First, Sarah and I went to celebrate Loy Kratong. Held on the full moon night of the twelfth lunar month, it's one of the Thais' (my students' anyway) favorite festivals. People gather along the river and lakes to float baskets (kratongs) made of banana leaves, flowers, candles and incense in appreciation of the Goddess of Water for providing life. The act also symbolizes letting go of the negative and starting anew, or sending misfortune away, or really anything you want as the Thais are pretty ambiguous about the exact meaning. They're also hopeless romantics, so it's turned into a pseudo-Valentine's Day as well. It's believed that if a couple releases one together, they will remain blissfully in love for the next year.

Sarah and I bought the environmentally friendly kratongs made out of bread rather than banana leaves, so instead of our troubles drifting away, they were annihilated by fish. It was a funny sight, the two kratongs bobbing furiously in the water at first and then within seconds reduced to a sad sight of two candles and some flowers floating like junk in the water. I'm not sure what it means for the year ahead but am hoping the end result is the same.

I'm willing to bet the river thinks being polluted is not an appropriate thanks. Pictures taken the day after would probably show a very different image. But doesn't it look sweet now?

Our new and improved selves then headed to a karaoke club, where friends had rented a room and were passionately belting out Sinatra's “My Way” when we arrived. I had never been to an Asian-style karaoke room. You order dinner and sit around a table serenading each other. It's a fun alternative to a regular night out on the town ... although I'm sure others wouldn't mind if that was my first and last time. My rendition of Bonnie Tyler's “Total Eclipse of the Heart” met with polite smiles ... “and okay, who's next?”


Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope you're stuffing yourselves silly and enjoying some time off. I, myself, had to work today. What? Thanksgiving isn't a recognized holiday in Thailand? I did, however, feast on turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie at Bobby's, my school's cafeteria. They break out red-and-white tablecloths and bouquets of roses to make the American teachers feel a little closer to home (or romantic, I'm not sure which). Anyway, the meal was actually quite tasty. Not home, mind you, but I will be inquiring about their cornbread recipe. I detected a dash of cinnamon. Mmm...


Pom Pui (Fat Belly)

Given that food has played such a huge role in my cultural experience so far, I haven't given it its rightful attention on this blog. Where to start, though. People have asked me how the Thai food here compares to that in Atlanta's Thai restaurants, and that's a tough question to answer. I'm not sure if the dishes I'm eating here aren't on the menus there or if I just didn't know to order them, but they seem very different than what I remember. Basics like Pad Thai seem pretty comparable, a notch above here, but I rarely order that. One thing I can't get enough of now is som tom (spicy papaya salad), which makes an appearance on almost every table here. Fried catfish topped with mango salad is another spicy fave (I no longer have to say “mai pet”!). And then there's fried rice with pineapple, seafood and shredded pork that's served inside a carved pineapple for an exotic presentation. There's such a variety here, I could try something new every night and not eat the same meal for weeks. The other night I ordered something with one of the best combination of flavors I've tasted: a plate of dark leaves, peanuts, something crunchy, and diced lime, ginger and onions. You pile the toppings onto a leaf and top it with a sweet sauce. Next time you're in a Thai restaurant, ask if they have “me om come”--you won't be disappointed. I also often make meals or snacks out of the vendor-peddled treats along my street: tamarinds covered with chili powder, grilled corn, noodles, sticky rice, fried chicken, roasted peanuts, freshly squeezed OJ, papaya, guava, and sundry other edibles. Of course, not everything I eat does it for my taste buds. I bought a cookie from a vendor on the way home from work the other night. It looked so good, all fluffy and soft and covered with sugar. Well, it tasted like fish. No kidding.

One of my favorite "30 baht" stands. I usually get the "lop muu", a combination of pork, mint and onions.


Picturesque Penang

Just got back from Penang and I'm still daydreaming of all the good food I devoured. There's a large Indian population there and Indian food happens to be one of my faves so I feasted the entire trip. I had never tried Indian sweets before and discovered they are quite addictive. Allan and I stayed in Georgetown, the capital of the island and old part of town with colonial-style buildings and tattered tile sidewalks. It seems like it has seen better, more lively days (not too much of a nightlife that we could find). I'd like to get a glimpse of what it was like during the '60s/'70s when the GIs were there and it was the place to be. Here are some of the highlights of the trip:

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion
Dubbed "Le Maison Bleu", this Hakka merchant's mansion is a flamboyant sight. It's also a study in feng shui and sits on a "dragon's throne" with Penang Hill behind and the water in front.

Kik Lok Si Temple
Another colorful piece of Penang, this is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia.

Penang Hill
Unfortunately, Allan and I didn't reach the top until after dark so we missed the sunset. It still offered a magnificent view of the island all lit up below. My camera couldn't capture that so well, so here are the rather amusing boys who rode in the railcar with us.