Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Thai Birthday

What do you get when you take a dead fish, put it in a jar with a heap of salt, set in in the sun for a few months, and add some chilis?

Thailand's favorite condiment, of course.

Fish sauce has been one of those ever-present little problems since I arrived in Thailand five months ago, especially for someone like me who tries not to eat anything made from an animal. Asking a Thai cook to withhold fish sauce is like asking a porcupine to calculate the radius of Jupiter. After such a request, the cook is likely to spit in your food. It's that simple. It's also the reason I currently eat fish sauce multiple times a day.  

Oyster sauce and eggs are in the same boat as fish sauce. Basically, learn this before coming to Thailand: you are going to ingest fish sauce, oyster sauce, and eggs whether you like it (slash realize it) or not. Unless you cook all your own food, or take up extended spiritual fasting, you will be eating these things the very day you arrive in Thailand. 

Of all the food I have photographed in Thailand, this is my favorite picture

The saving grace is that fish sauce is quite flavorful. Despite its rotten, petrified, brownish-black appearance, it adds a ton of flavor to anything it's added to. The same goes for oyster sauce - its black and generally unpleasant disposition is quickly dispersed after a quick taste. In fact, my favorite dish in Thailand is ข้าวผัดผัก (kao pahd pak), or stir-fried vegetables in oyster sauce with rice. 

Still, I'd rather go without than with.

All this leads to another, more merrier, topic; my birthday. Well...I couldn't think of a proper transition to this topic, so let me rephrase - in other news, yesterday was my birthday! 

It was not filled with parties, alcohol, or balloons, but rather it was a relaxing day that I spent mostly to myself. When I say mostly, I mean a few hours in the morning. I went to swim for the majority of the morning (the walk to the Interzone pool takes about 30 minutes each way, after all) then came back and ate some kao pahd pak for lunch at yee sip hah baht.

 And yes, this is the first time in my life I have been able to swim outdoors on my birthday. Win. When I was done swimming, my friend Zeta called me and asked if I could come to his room. He had just finished a home theater in his dorm so we watched Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix while eating popcorn and a brand of snack similar to Bugles. 

We also ate sa-lee, a type of Thai pear. Later that day, Zeta took me to a Birthday dinner at a popular place called MK Restaurant. MK specializes in Sukiyaki, meaning there's a big pot of boiling broth at each table and you order raw foods a la carte to add to the pot. But this was a special MK - all you can eat. In fact, everything on the menu was included in the 'all you can eat' promotion, including drinks, desserts, and everything in between. 

This is what the vegetable plates look like (I did not take this picture, courtesy of

By the end of the meal, we had ordered four plates of vegetables, ten plates of tofu(!), salmon, fish tofu, din sum, iced thai tea, coconut ice cream, cream soda shaved ice, and another Thai desert that looks like a small red fruit covered in ice shavings. Don't worry - I didn't eat any fish or din sum

There is another spectacular component of this restaurant - the servers, managers, and hostesses all participate in a synchronized dance once every hour or two! Here is a like to youtube where you can watch them dance (I did not want to record them myself, it would have been awkward!)

I was so full after that meal that I felt sick, but it was absolutely worth it. The food was delicious! We were even given a nutrition summary of our meal, printed right under the receipt. 

As you can see on the date at the top, it is year 2553 in Thailand

Despite the fact that the buffet was 299B per person (roughly $10), it was totally worth it, and Zeta paid since it was my Birthday (Thanks again Zeta!!). He also bought me a banana bread cake!

Something to note about buffets in Thailand, should you ever happen to chance upon one, is that they follow the slogan 'all you can eat, pay what you left', meaning eat as much as you want, but if there is any food left at your table when you leave, you pay the menu price for it. That is certainly a good practice if you ask me. I don't know that there is any better way to reduce food waste at a buffet than to make the customer pay for what was left on the table. This is especially commendable given the starvation rate in Thailand. Take note, America. 

After dinner we watched Step Up 2 in Zeta's room, then I went back to my dorm and went to sleep. It was a great birthday.

On another note, I have run into a relatively irksome problem of not being able to clean the carpet in my room. Since I do not have access to a vacuum cleaner, I have had to be creative in finding a way to vacuum my carpet. Carpet in Thailand is so sparce, you see, that there are barely any tools available to aid anyone who wishes to have clean carpet. So I bought a tough, bristly, short-haired broom for around $2 at the mall and hauled it back to my dorm. Interestingly enough, it worked wonders. I can tell a huge difference in the appearance of my carpet (albeit at a highly labor-intensive price). Moral of the story: if you ever come to Thailand and need to clean your carpet, I will hide my manual vacuuming broom (codename MVB) in a remote cave near the sea and let you know the location should you ever need it. 

PS - I miss dryers. Hand-washing laundry and hanging it to dry is no fun :(

At long last, it is now the cool season, meaning the rainy season is GONE! The weather forecasters are quite apt at season naming, judging from the fact that it rained nearly every day for the five month duration of the rainy season (which officially started the day I arrived in Thailand, lol) and suddenly stopped the very day the rainy season officially ended. It has been nothing but sunny and mild since the first day of the cool season. One day the high dropped below 80F, and the Thais broke out their winter jackets, scarves, and gloves lol. That is about as cool as it gets, however, and it only lasts for a couple of weeks. The weather starts warming up around the beginning of December, and the average high is above 90F by the end of December. I'm going to enjoy the mild weather while it lasts!

Oh! The funniest thing happened the other day. I learned that walking on the left side of the road (with the flow of the traffic) stresses Thai people out. It's true! There is a little alleyway that leads to my neighborhood, and one day last week I was walking to the swimming pool and a lady walking my way stopped me and started speaking to me in rapid Thai. I understood something about a car, a road, and death, but beyond that I was clueless. Did she want me to push her out in front of a car? I didn't understand, and I told her so. She proceeded into a full-scale reenactment of a pedestrian being hit by a car, and it was obvious that she wanted me to walk against the flow of traffic so I could see cars coming my way. She was so concerned for my safety that she took five minutes out of her day to play charades with a farang. I wish I had a cookie to give her for the entertainment ^_^

There's a little summary of what has been happening here in Thailand, hope you enjoyed!


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