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A Few Of My Favorite Things




It’s all too easy living here in the Land of Smiles, to occasionally get caught up in negativity. There are times when some aspect of Thai society is frustrating enough to try the patience of Job. But, I wouldn’t have left my home, and come half way around the world if I didn’t truly love this place, despite an occasional trip down the rabbit hole. And I know many of the visitors to Stick’s site feel the same way.

So as the New Year has arrived with hopefully peace, prosperity, good health and happiness for all, I thought I would take the time and count my blessings and make a list of a few of the simple things I do love about my life in Thailand. Here they are, in no particular order. Cue Julie Andrews!

1. The “cool season” has arrived, and although the Thais are bundled up like Eskimos, I love it! I do like warm weather as much as the next guy, but it is delightfully refreshing to get up at 5:00 in the morning and not be sweating! These nights are what I refer to as “good sleeping weather” It’s time to turn off the a/c, open the windows, and take a deep breath! Of course this is Lampang, not Bangkok, so I can actually take a deep breathe and not start hacking!

2. Anyone who managed to wade through “How it all began” may recall that it was Thai food that inspired my first visit to Thailand back in 1998. After living here for three years, I have grown to love many new Thai dishes, while the allure of a few things that Thais delight in still elude me. Nam Pla (fish sauce) unfortunately will never be high on my list. I suppose if I had been weaned on the stuff I would love it as much as the Thais. But for now I think I’ll just continue to say mai khap khun.

I can rarely say no to a meal of Gai Yang, Som Tam and sticky rice.

While you can get all of these dishes anywhere in Thailand, it’s the regional variations that makes dinner exciting. There’s a Gai Yang vendor down the road who cooks his chicken “Issan style”, which is just the way I like it with crispy skin and succulent meat. Som Tom is one of those ubiquitous dishes that everyone makes just a little differently. Personally I like mine with a lot of lime juice and garlic and with enough chilies to “bite back” a bit, without completely numbing my taste buds. That’s where the sticky rice comes in to save the day and cool things off.

Thailand is truly blessed with some of the most delicious fruit imaginable. The climate and soil support an amazing abundance and variety of the stuff. Almost every Thai who has even a “postage stamp” sized plot of land has fruit trees growing. Our yard is not very large, but we have papaya, guava, jackfruit, lime, pomegranate, Chinese gooseberry, mango, banana and coconut trees growing. It will be a few years before we get any coconuts, but it will be worth the wait!

I can still remember the first fresh coconut I ever had. Wow, that was an eye opener! Up until then I had always thought of coconuts as the small hard brown balls I had seen in the supermarket. I didn’t know at the time that those were mature coconuts, suitable for shredding into the stuff one would use to top a cake, or in Thailand to make coconut milk from. The small amount of liquid inside is not very tasty. A fresh, green coconut is another story altogether. The juice inside is sweet and refreshing, and the soft flesh is fit for the gods! I remember lying on a beach in Phuket and watching a coconut vendor trim and open a coconut with consummate skill. After she had handed it to me and I had my first taste of the nectar within, I thought I had died and gone to heaven! Hey what can I say? It is the simple things in life that can be the most rewarding! Needless to say I water and fertilize my coconut trees diligently, waiting for the day when I can finally pick my own!

I can also remember eating my first mangosteen (mang-khoot) On the outside this purplish-brown fruit doesn’t look like much. But inside is a pale segmented flesh that is extraordinary. It is juicy, with a sweet-tart favor that is unique. The Thais refer to it as the “Queen of fruits”, and now I know why. I’ve heard that some people make wine from the fruit. I’ve searched but haven’t found any yet! It’s not the season for them now, but if you’ve never had one before, don’t pass it by when they appear in the market later in the year.

3. Speaking of markets, another wonderful thing about The Land of Smiles is the markets. I never get tired of shopping at a local market. The vegetables and fruit are always fresher than what you can find in Big C or Lotus, and I enjoy supporting local vendors, many of whom my wife and I have gotten to know over the years.

Now that we have a 15 month old boy, we like to bring him along when we shop. There are so many colorful things fro him to see, and the vendors always make a fuss over him and give him a snack.

4. Thai music, from my very first visit, made a lasting impression on me. I remember chatting with my future wife on ICQ while listening to Radio No Problem. Tata Young was just a fresh faced girl back then when Chan Rak Thur was a hit, and I fell in love with that song. I may be a lot older, and she may be a sexy little vixen now, but I still like her! While some Thai pop music is just a tad syrupy for me, there are many performers who I just adore, such as Marsha, Mai, Bird, Beau, Christina and of course Carabao! Some languages work well with pop music and others don’t. While I don’t speak Spanish, Spanish songs, especially pop songs just sound “right”, for me at least, Thai just sounds “right” as well, so even if I only understand a few words here and there, I still enjoy it.

Perhaps it’s because my wife is from Buriram, and I’ve spent a lot of time there, but I really enjoy Mor Lam music. To me its Thai blues, soul and country and Western all rolled into one! This is the music of people who work hard, have hard lives and is a way to express the joys and sorrows of everyday life. I can’t remember the name of the “soap opera” that was on channel 3 a few years ago. It was the one about a girl who was separated from her mother who was a Mor Lam superstar. This girl, who had a blind father, became a star herself. Eventually the whole family is reunited. The show was a real tear-jerker to be sure, but it featured some of these concert extravaganzas with dozens of beautiful dancers in extraordinary costumes. Someday I have to see one of those performances!

While I’m on the subject of music, one thing you’ve got to love about the Thais is that they aren’t afraid to sing…whether they actually have a good singing voice or not! I think that’s great! Life is too short not to have fun, and when it comes to sanook, the Thai people do know how to have a good time! I do occasionally wish that they would lower the volume a notch or two. Some of my neighbors, who are wonderful people, only have one volume level when they start singing karaoke, and that’s enough to loosen dental fillings!

5. For some, one Thai wat is pretty much the same as another, and can pretty much take them or leave them. I enjoy visiting them all, from modest to sumptuous. I never fail to walk away without a real feeling of serenity. I wish I had more time to sit there and meditate. Oh well, perhaps in my “golden years” Thai temples are the only place I know where you can go inside and seek enlightenment, and go outside to seek a winning lottery ticket! Recently I received a call that a nearby wat would like me to help some interested monks with their English. I’m looking forward to the experience!

6. Most of what is presented on Thai television is pretty dreadful. But that’s not the case with the commercials. Yes that’s right, the adverts! Many of them are quite clever and some are hysterically funny. Best of all, most feature attractive girls! (more on that topic later!) I can’t help but wonder though, do the women in the shampoo ads actually exist, or is it all done with smoke and mirrors? Barring the extremely unlikely possibility of meeting one of these models, I guess I’ll never know.

7. Thai silk may not be as “fine” as other varieties, but the Thais wear it well. I find traditional Thai clothing, especially here in the north, very attractive. My wife and I have had some silk clothing made here over the years, and when we’ve worn it back in the U.S. we have received lots of oohs and ahs, especially my wife, who frankly looks a hell of a lot better than I do. Now that we’re living here, I find the weather much to warm to wear it very often, except during the “cool season”.

8. Loy Kratong has to be the most beautiful celebration I’ve experienced anywhere on the planet. Up here in the North it is an especially popular holiday. Is there anything more romantic than going out under the full moon to float your tiny flower vessel, laden with candles and incense, while over head the sky is filled with thousands of glowing fire balloons? Here in Lampang we also have a parade which alone is worth a special trip here.

Loy Kratong may be a serene and laid back holiday, but Songkran is just plain party time! Again here in Lampang people get seriously into getting wet (and getting you wet) without getting too crazy. Last year I rode my bicycle through town and had the time of my life.

Unfortunately my only way to take pictures was to put my camera in a plastic bag. This year I’ve bought an actual underwater camera case, so I hope to show you all some good photos! There aren’t a whole lot of farangs living here, so my presence was greeted with genuine smiles. (also a drink or two or three!…and a couple of kisses)

10. Which brings me to the last but not least item on my list today…Thai women. It’s hardly a surprise to Stick’s readers that Thai women are some of the most beautiful on the planet. For many, that’s reason enough to visit The Land of Smiles. For many it’s reason enough to live here. I live far, far away from the bars and massage parlors, but I still see dozens of absolutely gorgeous young ladies just going through the course of the day. I may be happily married, but I haven’t gone blind. The day I stop looking is the day they lay me six feet under! And I don’t have to look far. They are as close as the local noodle shop or Big C. Whether you believe in a deity or not, some force of nature was right on the money to create such perfection! (at least in my humble opinion!)

This list could go on and on. Despite some aspects of Thai society that sometimes want me to bang my head against the wall, all in all, it’s a mighty fine place to be!

Post script: Yesterday I had to go up to Chiang Mai Immigration for my 90 day paperwork. I’ve mentioned before what a contrast this office is compared to the one in Bangkok. It’s usually easy in, easy out without officials who are pushed to the limit taking it all out on you. But I was shocked to see the improvements they’ve made since my last visit. There were actually enough chairs to sit on, and comfortable ones to boot! And even better was an information and help desk, staffed by a couple of lovely college-aged women, to assist in filling out forms and answering questions. They even surveyed my opinion to ask how the office could better serve me! Is this a sign of better things to come? Who knows? But I sure is a great way to start the New Year!

Unfortunately my only way to take pictures was to put my camera in a plastic bag. This year I’ve bought an actual underwater camera case, so I hope to show you all some good photos! There aren’t a whole lot of farangs living here, so my presence was greeted with genuine smiles. (also a drink or two or three!…and a couple of kisses)

10. Which brings me to the last but not least item on my list today…Thai women. It’s hardly a surprise to the Stick’s readers that Thai women are some of the most beautiful on the planet. For many, that’s reason enough to visit The Land of Smiles. For many it’s reason enough to live here. I live far, far away from the bars and massage parlors, but I still see dozens of absolutely gorgeous young ladies just going through the course of the day. I may be happily married, but I haven’t gone blind. The day I stop looking is the day they lay me six feet under! And I don’t have to look far. They are as close as the local noodle shop or Big C. Whether you believe in a deity or not, some force of nature was right on the money to create such perfection! (at least in my humble opinion!)

This list could go on and on. Despite some aspects of Thai society that sometimes want me bang my head against the wall, all in all, it’s a mighty fine place to be!

Post script: Yesterday I had to go up to Chiang Mai Immigration for my 90 day paperwork. I’ve mentioned before what a contrast this office is compared to the one in Bangkok. It’s usually easy in, easy out without officials who are pushed to the limit taking it all out on you. But I was shocked to see the improvements they’ve made since my last visit. There were actually enough chairs to sit on, and comfortable ones to boot! And even better was an information and help desk, staffed by a couple of lovely college aged young women, to assist in filling out forms and answering questions. They even surveyed my opinion to ask how the office could better serve me! Is this a sign of better things to come? Who knows? But I sure is a great way to start the New Year!

Stickman's thoughts:

I have always felt that in life the most important thing is to be happy, to be genuinely happy. And you seem to be someone who has achieved that. Well done!