Category Archives: asia

Thai coffee worth the taste

There is a new generation of coffee aficionados in Thailand growing and spreading the value of single origin, organic, Arabica coffee.  It’s a transformation and business opportunity in the making.  Only discriminating coffee lovers need apply.

One of many unique drip coffee houses in Bangkok, Gallery Drip Coffee at the BACC (Bangkok Arts & Cultural Center).

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Time off

It will make a dandy post topic, time off.  And I promise a talking point on this subject soon.  

Unfortunately, this week’s title is due to catching unwanted downtime, along with a tad of unpreparedness.  There is no good excuse for not doing something you’ve committed to do.  So if you check this blog with any frequency, then I’m honored and thankful.  And I also apologize for skipping a week, due to time off.

P.S. I’ve started wearing a tie while writing posts, invested in a new hairstyle, and had 30+ years of wrinkles removed from my forehead.

A new pesky pet

It greeted me New Year’s day, 2018, by nagging me non-stop.

At the garment factory I frequent, a couple of Indian boys visit periodically at the request of their employer (our customer) to perform random quality inspections.  With them, they bring their own eating utensils, including plates.  They are strict vegetarians and won’t eat off of dishes that have ever served dead animal, even if the remnants have been thoroughly washed off.  They also lightly sweep in front of them as they walk so as not to kill any insects.  It’s part of their religious culture and belief.

Who willingly exterminates such cute creatures?

Not to be critical, but the custom and practice aren’t logical.  I could be wrong if the washed plate still harbors negative energy from a piece of flesh that was once there, doing the eater harm (which seems over-the-top far-fetched).  But the practice of sweeping insects from your footpath to avoid squashing them is like saying “I only care about that which I can see, not what I cannot see.”   Science is showing us that the overwhelming majority of life forms are smaller than we can visually detect.  Therefore, this sect of religion must believe that the value of life is dependent on size.  But then again, religious beliefs tend to evolve with scientific discoveries.

Anyway, I digress.  Although I think it’s quite pointless and even silly, to sweep insects from your walking path, I have become softer on the outright massacre of nuisance insects.  Oh, I still annihilate, without regret, groups of small ants that appear in the kitchen, or another part of my home.  But it must be the books I’ve been reading about the connectivity of all sentient beings, that I now tend to leave the errant spider or housefly alone.  I do my best to prevent them spinning webs inside the house or landing on my food, so I shoo them away rather than squash them without thought.

The housefly has followed humans around the globe.

However, the menace who joined my household last week on New Years Day tested my newfound anti-assassination resolve because it seemed particularly attracted to me.  No amount of shooing kept it from landing on my exposed skin.  But I over-exaggerate.  It did give me a short break from every 15-20 shoos.  I tried coaxing it out of the balcony door or the windows but it would not leave.  The weather is pleasant outdoors.  I leave the apartment at every opportunity, so why was the fly so insistent on staying in my small enclosed habitat?  Hmm,…I guess that is why they are called houseflies.  They’ve been following humans around the globe for thousands of years.  They pester us on every continent from the Arctic Circle to the Equator.

Yesterday, after six days in its new digs, my new unwanted pet must have called a few of its cousins.  That kind of turned the corner for me.  Yes, they are sentient beings, but they also carry pathogens.  So I twisted a hand towel and snapped them out.  It took a while and I considered it an exercise in delicacy.  I did my best to scare them away without inflicting pain (I think).  But one remained.  I presume it was the original from one week ago as it had the same pesty insistence.  I thought about leaving it alone, knowing its average lifespan is only 15-30 days; nevertheless, I went about swatting at it with a renewed vigor.  I don’t think I killed it so it appears to have finally left.

Because the temperature is warm, the screen-less balcony door and window stay open when I’m at home.  So sure, one, or more, of those pesky flying insects will invade my apartment soon.  So only time will tell if my restraint will show a newer, softer, and kinder Freddie Spaghetti insect killing machine.

Gestalt-less

I first ran across the word gestalt in my early 20’s reading an Ayn Rand book.  I may have tripped over the term a couple of times since, not sure.  The last time of note though was from the surgeon who performed my delicate ‘foot in mouth’ transplant (actually leg in mouth).

Pain can be a welcome feeling.  It tells us when, and where, corrective action needs to happen.  During the time I submitted to a couple of surgical operations, each involving trach holes and feeding tubes, it was important that I was able to describe the pain.  The surgeon told me that I was unique among his patients in that I distinguish pain with gestalt.  When I asked him what he meant, he said, that unlike most patients, I could explain in detail, the pain composition of an area of discomfort.  Maybe that was his way of telling me I was making a mountain out of molehills.

Fast forward to last week.  For the past 10 days, I’ve had a low, dull thud of sensitivity when eating cold or hot coming from, I thought, a tooth with an old cantilever crown.  As a rule, cantilever crowns are not made anymore.  Since I’ve got to be more careful than normal about what is done in my mouth, I contacted a dental clinic in Asia where I had been before, as well as the Maxillofacial specialist in NYC.  Long and short, after several back & forth between the two specialists, it was determined from my description that a root canal was likely necessary and using the old crown was doubtful.  The evening prior to my appointment with the local Endondonist, I realized I pegged the wrong tooth.  I don’t think it was referred pain or radiating discomfort.  I simply misdiagnosed the sensitivity’s origin.  After a more professional analysis, my last minute realization was correct.  I didn’t need a root canal and the cantilever bridge didn’t need to be messed with.  After the appointment yesterday I felt relieved to come away with a composite surfacing over the sensitive area.  Yet at the same time, I was nagged by a sense of gestalt-lessness.  Could I, after a couple of months of meditation practice, be losing my sense of pain origin?  Could I have lost gestalt? (note to serious reader: this is parched satire)

Well-known gestalt image.

Having a gestalt view has its advantages, especially looking at units like a family, business, organization, or even a country. Groups (of people) act as living, breathing entities, with unique characteristics, distinct from the individuals who make them up.  This perspective works similarly when looking inwardly, to our own bodies.

Hmm,…I’m feeling gestalt-less.  I’d better get cracking and do something about that.

How is your gestalt?


Sweet Thais

In more ways than one.

As a generalization, the Thai people are more outwardly sweet than most cultures.  It’s evident in the way they greet others, including their own, by folding their hands while slightly bowing their heads.  They are typically smiling, pleasant, and respectful.  Compared to other societies, the sweetness of the Thai people stands out.  The Land of Smiles, while it may be an outward appearance, is one of the many charms of Thailand.

One of the other attractions is the distinctiveness of their food.  But, and it’s a big but, over the past couple of generations, Thai’s have embraced the use of sugar in most of their meals.  Almost every prepared dish has sugar as an added ingredient.  Even sautéed vegetables are sugared.  Most savory dishes have added sugar.  It’s a phenomenon.

These buckets of sugars (and msg) are at the ready for all Thai street food.

When I see young school-age Thai folk, it’s evident that a large chunk does not appear in ideal physical condition.  A bulk of them look out of shape, with more extra weight in the wrong places than young people should have, especially youthful Asians.  If I didn’t know better, I’d predict that Thailand is headed for a health crisis in the next few generations.

Out of interest, I took several Thai cooking courses at different Bangkok schools.  In each, the students prepare and eat their individual dishes.  In each, I declared that I  wanted to cook without sugar.  I was the oddball out in every workshop.  In one class, six students were grouped together to prepare a dish, but I was castigated on my own due to my sugarless request.  The chef in that school tasted the sugar-free chili paste, peanut sauce, and Tom Yam soup I had prepared and liked them all.  Of course, she could have been fibbing to be polite.  But then again she admitted she had eliminated sugar from her diet the prior year to slim down.  An instructor in another school disclosed that her sister, a doctor, recommended that she stop cooking with sugar because it was unhealthy.  (Hmm,…yet she continues to instruct cooking with sugar).

Pad Thai Noodles, may be prepared with a double dose of sweetness.

When I ask Thai chefs/cooks why they add sugar to most dishes, the answer almost uniformly is “it makes the food tastes better.”  Really?  Adding sweetness to already flavorful food so it tastes even better?  Couldn’t that be considered a form of crafty trickery?

As a fan of Thai food, it’s more than a little disconcerting to know that sugar is being added to most dishes.   To be clear, I’m not referring to desserts and sweet treats, of which, as in most cultures these days, there are plenty.  In Thai dishes, sugar is added to main meal dishes, those that typically don’t have, or need, added sugar.  Popular dishes such as Pad Thai and green papaya salad, (Som Tum) — both have added sugar.  Peanut sauce used for sauteés — added sugar.   Stir-fried vegetables — added sugar.  Savory soups — added sugar.

Stir-fried vegetables with sugar. Really?

The Thai food on the street is damn tasty.  But to order a dish with no sugar is a challenge.  When I do, the smile is replaced by forehead wrinkles.  If sugar is left out, the tendency is to add more msg, Maggie seasoning, and/or honey.  It’s become reflexive to add processed flavoring to the food.  There are so many natural spices available that adding a tablespoon or two of sugar and msg seems like overkill.  And indeed it might be.

Smart people who study cognitive neuroscience know that sugar is a deceptive drug and acts on the brain the same way that cocaine, opioids, and for that matter, any other pleasure substance does.  The more we have, the more we want, and the more it takes to satisfy us.  Credible researchers have shown that the world’s consumption of sugar has grown almost exponentially over the last few hundred years.  Concerning evolution, that means we’ve just started gorging (overdosing?) on sweetness.  During that same time, we’ve seen a parallel increase in lifestyle diseases, as well as epigenetic disorders (which we now know are hereditary).

In a savory dish, it can be hard to detect the addition of a teaspoon of white sugar.  Sure the dish tastes good.  Everyone in the world loves a subtle touch of sweetness.  We gobble down good tasting food without a second thought.  But if we are to believe an extensive body of recent evidence showing that processed sugar in our diet promotes toxicity and has detrimental long-term health effects, then it may be prudent to pay attention.  All foods have natural trace amounts of sugars.  So if food can’t stand on its own without the added sweetness, then the results may eventually turn slightly sour.

In the ideal world, we’d see a revolution in Thailand with the elimination of sugar as a key ingredient.  But given that won’t happen anytime soon, the Thai’s will stay double sweet.

Not to pick on Thais, this sign on 23rd Street in Manhattan last week says it all.

Travel while you can

But don’t fret, you’ll still be able to travel later.  It will just be more crowded.

In the year 1500, the world population is estimated to have been less than 500 million.  It took 300 years for that figure to double to one billion.  In 1960, the world pop was three billion.  By the year 2000, 40 years later, it had doubled to six billion.  You could call that explosive humping.  Today we are at 7.5 billion.  The rate of growth has eased a fraction, but still, given current trajectory, simple math puts us around 10 billion by 2050, a short 30 plus years from now.

When I first visited Cancun, Mexico, and Phuket, Thailand decades ago, they were beach outposts, minus the proliferation of high-rise hotels and the antiseptic feeling of an overrun tourist destination.  Similar outposts are fast being built to attract newer avid travelers.  And they will come.  Most major airports around the world are bursting at capacity, thick with worm-hole lines to check-in, security, customs, and immigration, while short of gates for arriving planes.  Many flights are delayed for takeoff because of congestion at the destination airport.  When I flew out of LAX in April, as we were sitting on the runway approach going nowhere, the pilot announced that we were number 12 in line and it would be another 20 minutes or so before takeoff.  As we turned the corner to liftoff, there were another 12 behind us.  

Chang Mai, Thailand

There are may places in the world, like the Inca trail between Aguas Calientes and Manchu Picchu, in the Andes of Peru, a typically four-day hike, that was independently treck-able not long ago. Because of its mushroomed popularity, the only way now to hike the old stone path built by the Incas a millennium ago is with a guided group tour. (It is still a spectacular hike)  

Not only will we be adding another 30% to the world’s population over the next generation, but consider also that two most populated countries, China and India, together more than 1/3 of the world’s pop, have been experiencing highly dynamic economic growth during the last decade resulting in hundreds of millions rising out of poverty and joining the middle class.  Tens of millions in these two countries are now financially wealthy.  These millions with new money will eventually be looking for destination feathers to stick in their travel hats.

A couple of generations ago, those who traveled wrote letters, books, or passed their travel exploits by word of mouth.  Today we have instant information streaming at our fingertips for virtually every spot on earth, complete with photos and detailed instructions how to get there.

Instant gratification for all

By adding up the following:

  • the earth’s ballooning population of homo sapiens resulting from our relatively recent insatiable urge for planting human seeds 
  • instant access to information about anywhere
  • significantly improved infrastructures coupled with more developed trade relations among most countries
  • the swelling class boom in China and India and their eventual yearn to spend,

and a solid long-term business may be owning a hostel or hotel in a lazy, soon to be overrun, tourist ghetto.

The day the new Dubai airport opened it was already too small.

It’s just an observation

When I was younger, one of the jokes my then 80-year old grandmother delightedly told me was:  A woman was just waking up from an operation in the hospital recovery room, still drowsy from the anesthesia.  She lifted her head slightly and looked around the room.  There were two men dressed in white standing against the wall talking to each other.  After a few minutes, one of them walked over to her bed, lifted the covers, looked her up and down, then returned and continued talking to the other man.  A minute or so later, the second guy approached her bed and did the same thing.  As he lifted the covers, she said, “hey, what am I here for, an operation or observation?”  The guy said, “I don’t know lady, we’re just the painters.”

Call me simple-minded, but the joke still gives me a mild kick.  (As an aside, in high school, two of the many jobs I had were 1) as a porter in a hospital, where I swabbed the deck of the main parts of the hospital, including the recovery room, and 2) as a painter.  I never had such an observation.)

There are different reasons for being observant.  When my brother and I rode bicycles across part of the country, he would observe things that passed me by.  Our attentions drifted on different aspects of the trip.  Various observations, different perspectives, and neither right or wrong.  They just are.  No conclusions were drawn.

How Sweet? Way too sweet.

Not to overdo posts about the country where I’m living, but I’ve observed something that does not require lifting any blankets.  Observation: a significant portion of young Chinese children, especially girls, need to wear eye glasses.

Requiring glasses to see well early in life sure seems like a genetic defect.  It’s not natural.  Some have drawn the conclusion that the unusually high percent of myopia is due to the social environment of studying too much and being indoors.  That theory doesn’t float my logic boat.

already needing glasses?

The author of Deep Nutrition, mentioned in a post a few weeks ago, makes a convincing case that the two most widely used toxic food ingredients — sugar and vegetable oil, are having damaging effects on not only us but also our offsprings.

Most of us have heard that processed sugars are not good, but we still eat sweet stuff in humungous amounts.  The Chinese have kicked Western habits into high gear and have started to sweeten everything, to a sickening degree.  And, they use massive amounts of vegetable oil as a staple kitchen item.  These oils have been used now for decades.  Vegetable and seed oils are sold in every mini-market in 3-liter containers.  They cook everything in this oil, including sugar.

I try to steer clear of these oils but it’s damn difficult. It’s used to cook everything.

The production of vegetable and seed oils requires about 20 different processes including the use of high heat and deodorization, which alters the molecular makeup.  Consistent consumption of these toxic oils, the author argues, negatively affects our chromosomal makeup.  (Oils from olive, coconut, and peanut are extracted without heat.)

I’m not making a connection here.  It’s just an observation, with a dash of logic.  But then again, I’m just the painter lady.

This “original” buttermilk “let the taste return to nature” is hardly natural.  The store clerk told me it had no sugar but it was so sweet I had to throw away.