A Travellerspoint blog

Tableware in Asia

Things I'm learning on airlines and in eateries

I'm sorry that I haven't blogged since Sunday. I began work at General Motors Thailand early Monday morning and the days have been very full. Commuting eats up 3 hours a day. I lament not having more time to explore after work, but I love looking out at the countryside while my driver masterfully avoids hitting water buffalo, scooters, huge buses transporting workers into the industrial zone and monks. Yes, I did say, "Monks".

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The monks are up very early in the morning seeking food donations from the hotels in the city and strolling the shoulders of the road looking for a complimentary breakfast from village folks. I see them on my ride to work. I hope to discuss more about them later.

Whoops! I am off-track . . . This is supposed to be a short blog discussing Asian table culture.

Funny, I have been eating take-out Thai food in U.S. for years and have always used chopsticks. Guess what? The Thai folks don't use chopsticks they prefer a large spoon and a fork to shove the already bite-size morsels onto the spoon. Knives are not usually offered because the soups, curries and stews are prepared so that no sawing is necessary. Sensible.

Last year I discovered that chopsticks in China are wooden or plastic. However, after departing Shanghai and working in Seoul the following week I could not find a single pair of wooden or plastic chopsticks in S. Korea. It seems that a Korean king some time ago was worried about being poisoned. Thereby, he refused to eat with anything except sterling silver chopsticks that would oxidize quickly (it was hoped) when coming into contact with poison alerting him that treachery was afoot. Whether this is truly a workable solution to mitigate the risk I can't guarantee. And so, the people of Korea heard that the royal family only ate with silver chopsticks and a trend was launched. The peons could not afford silver chopsticks but Korea has plenty of steel and to this day everyone uses stainless steel chopsticks in that country. On my flight from Detroit I ordered an Asian meal and the Delta flight attendant brought me wooden chopsticks. 15 hours later after boarding Korean Airlines for Bangkok at Incheon International, S. Korea, dinner turned out to be kim chee with bibimbop (Korean stew). Yup, you guessed it. Stainless steel chopsticks.

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So, you see, these kings are very influential. In Thailand it was King Mongkut, Rama IV, (remember Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The King and I"?) striving to be Western by introducing the fork and spoon. Until then Thais ate with their right hand. No more. Why be sensible and use something as wonderful a your hand to scoop up your grub? If the King wants to complicate things, go for it and try something new requiring more coordination! (More on influential kings and their odd notions later this week when I discuss the Fanta pop I'm seeing on all of the Buddhist shrines.)

In Thailand each time I order Pad Thai or Tom Yum or Gang Ga- Ree the waiter or my hostess at General Motors will look at me with a concerned, wrinkled brow and ask, "Can you eat spicy?" When I tell her, "Absolutely!", she continues to look concerned and orders extra water for the table -- just in case old "round eyes" keels over from too much heat.

Over the past three days I have developed a theory regarding all of the folded toilet paper that our mothers cautioned us to fold and pack in our duffels when we went camping or to stuff in our luggage when we traveled to undeveloped areas of the world. I think that many of these packets have been stolen from our luggage by TSA and are being sold on the black market to Thai restaurants. Honestly, haven't these people every heard of a proper napkin?. Even at the cafeteria at General Motors they offer toilet paper scraps for napkins. Tonight I ate at a rather fine, outdoor restaurant. The food was good and the prices were hardly budget. My annoyance with these horrible, tissue excuses for napkins was re-ignited. Thank goodness that Thais no longer eat with their right hand. There is absolutely no way these flimsy tissues could possibly clean up fingers dripping with coconut milk and lime juice! At least the restaurant had beautifully designed dispensers to set alongside the candle and the wine goblet. Geesh!

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I have grown fascinated by bus art and Fanta red pop placed on Buddhist roadside shrines. I keep clicking photos and hope to have a collection amassed by the end of this week. Also, I am thrilled to be in Thailand for one of their most beloved national holidays, The Queen's Birthday or Mother's Day, this Friday. My students tipped me off that the queen will be televised on Thursday and Friday evening. Can't wait!!!

Posted by MaryCWright 08:59 Archived in Thailand Tagged chopsticks Comments (3)

Sunday morning - August 7

Pattaya is recovering from Saturday night.

My jetlagged self stayed awake until 3AM! I awoke at noon with the hotel maid knocking at my door. I cruised out on the strip of Pattaya Beach to see who had survived the parties the night before. This town is wild. There seem to be lots of Russian, Australian and German tourists here for the hot weather, beaches, beer and . . . massages and sex?

I came across two Russians beating their hangovers with a fish massage on the street. Happy to pose for my camera.
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Last night before returning to my hotel I walked through the night market. The most interesting vendors sell fruit and food. I am learning more about these amazing-looking fruits. My photo from the most beautiful market stall shows many fruits. Here we go (sorry, folks, it's a cell phone camera):

TOP: Toorian (durian), Longkorng (longsat), Farang (guava), (Saparot (pineapple}
2nd ROW: Lam Yai (longan), Gair-ow Mang Gorn (dragon fruit), Poot-Sah (jujube)
1st ROW: Mangkoot (mangosteen), Ngor (rambutan), garombola (star fruit)
Kluey (banana)

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Credit goes to patient vendor who explained all of these to me. Of course, I had to purchase an assortment to have in my hotel room. I'm always wanting a snack when I get home after work.

Today was the day I tried a songchaew or, in English, a baht bus. It costs 10 baht (0.35 USD) to climb aboard. There are hundreds in Pattaya -- not very many tuk-tuks.

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In Pattaya songthaew are blue and travel the circuit -- down the beach and up the inland road. Two main thoroughfares run north/south and are connected by small alley-like lanes called "soi". Outdoor cafes and beer gardens are everywhere on these two streets. Also, lots of tattoo parlors, my favorite being named "House of Pain". Wow, what culture the US Navy has brought to SE Asia!

I am going to collect photos of my favorite street signs. Do you think that this tailor makes good wizard capes?

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This banner was posted at the entrance of my hotel. Gee! So glad I am here this week. My glands are tingling.

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COMMON GROUND WITH THE REST OF THE WORLD"S PARENTS: This evening I ate dinner at an outdoor cafe with a great street scene for entertainment. Next to me were a couple with a toddler. The iPad has definitely made it possible for parents to have an uninterrupted conversation. Just prop it up in front of the highchair, hand the baby a sippy cup and let "Baby Einstein" rip. Right, Elie?

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Posted by MaryCWright 04:28 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand pattaya songthaew Comments (0)

First day in Thailand

Arriving BKK and finding my way to Pattaya

Fortunate to consult in remote places both last year and for the remainder of 2011, I will be enjoying a wonderful adventure in Asia for the next two weeks. After traveling to Shanghai and Incheon, S. Korea, last December followed by Melbourne, Australia, in January, I wondered if my international assignments might have ended. Good news arrived a few weeks ago with the request to consult in Rayong, Thailand.

I arrived in Bangkok last night connecting through S. Korea. After an easy layover in Incheon I enjoyed flying down the Korean Peninsula, turning south and looking down on southeastern China. As the flight approached Hong Kong a great electrical storm was brewing on the port side of the aircraft (SE), Later today Gordon reported that a typhoon was moving into the eastern coast of China. Gratefully, my flight was eventless as were immigration and customs operations.

After traveling 24 hours the Bangkok airport hotel was a welcome sight. Convenient and beautiful, the Novotel has lush gardens surrounding the swimming pool. Upon checking in I showered and climbed in bed in an attempt to shift my jet-lagged brain into the Thai timezone. This morning I awoke, toured the lovely hotel grounds and took a quick swim.
My morning swim in the airport hotel (Bangkok)

My morning swim in the airport hotel (Bangkok)


Buddhist temple at Bangkok airport

Buddhist temple at Bangkok airport

Traveling in Asia this past year has made me aware of the dated infrastructure of airports and transportation in the US. The airports in Shanghai, Incheon/Seoul and Bangkok are very new, green, hi-tech and blessed with inexpensive and exciting public transportation -- mag-lev, trains, subways, AC buses running on natural gas. And, all are cheap!

This morning I turned down a private car in order to drive down the coast to Pattaya in a 200 Baht (7.00 USD), first-class, air-conditioned bus for the 100-minute drive. Pattaya is a seaside resort city in Rayong, Thailand. The bus trip was fun, efficient, luxurious and helped assuage my guilt regarding the carbon-footprint I am accumulating with long-distance air travel. There is so much to see along the roadside, I particularly liked the model homes on stilts ready for installation in your nearest river or rice field.
For sale:  Pre-fab Thai river houses on stilts

For sale: Pre-fab Thai river houses on stilts

Although Rayong hosts an immense industrial area of Thailand with large logistics and supply chain organizations running freight from the Rayong port to large manufacturing facilities inland, the city where I will be lodging, Pattaya, is hardly industrial. Pattaya is located on Thailand's eastern seaboard. Its beaches on the Bay of Bangkok (Gulf of Thailand) are brimming with resorts, family vacationers, sex trade operators and Thai massages specialists. Amazing contrasts!

In Thailand no matter what the business may be -- fancy resort, international airport or a longan juice stand on the side of the expressway -- all have Buddhist shrines of one sort or another. I photographed one sited in the front garden of my hotel as you pass the security house at the entrance. Notice the strange votives.
Buddhist shrine

Buddhist shrine


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In fact, no Gideon Bibles in the night stand of the hotels here! But you will find "The Tales of Buddha", instead.

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Tomorrow (Sunday) will be a day to explore before beginning work on Monday. I'll explain a songthaew (baht bus) after I experience it for the first time.

Posted by MaryCWright 12:04 Archived in Thailand Comments (3)

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