1 July 2009
Never Serve Noodles at a Funeral
More than once I have heard my mom say: "Two things happen when you become a widow--you get sick and horrible old men will hit on you."
Fortunately, I have been spared both of those catastrophes. Nevertheless, suddenly living alone has been an adventure. Yippee! I have a lot of closet space now! But I often wonder if a ghost is sharing my condo. It still seems so odd not to have Nut around that I suppose I almost see him out of the corner of my eye.
During my numerous travels outside of Thailand over the past few years I always phoned home. More often than not Nut would say that he had been sleeping with the lights on "for safety reasons." He often placed pillows along the bottom of the bedroom door to keep the ghosts out.
Actually a famous luk tung (country music from Thailand's Northeastern rice belt) singer did herself in just beyond that door, leaving a stain on the carpet in the shape of Vermont, which is how I got the place for next to nothing. I removed the carpet and have not heard a peep from her since.
Most Thai people are very superstitious, and some of the most interesting superstitions involve death and ghosts. Did you know, for example, that if a black cat jumps over a coffin the corpse will return to life? Tears on a coffin will create a huge ocean that the dead must cross to get to heaven, so take tissues to a funeral.
You will see ghosts if your bed points West.
Noodles are never served at a funeral, particularly if the departed died in a grizzly accident. If noodles are served, there will be more accidents resulting in more funerals.
It is also important to remember that the dead don't know they are dead until they hear the monks chanting.
You have probably noticed "spirit houses" outside homes, apartment buildings and office high-rises throughout Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. These have nothing to do with Buddhism. They are erected to give spirits a dwelling of their own--not unlike building a house for the dog you do not want indoors.
Bye Bye Bangkok Pride. In just 942 words Fridae.com nailed the lid on what they considered the coffin containing almost a decade of Pride events in Thailand. While there were things in the story that were hard to disagree with, they took a lot of short cuts that made a number of people unhappy, beginning with me. I was the founding co-Chairman of Bangkok Pride, and gave it the better part of two years of my life.
The story reduced the very complex history and problems of Pride events in Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket down to seventeen paragraphs. What was the point of dredging up history and leaving people who worked tirelessly to build community feeling maligned?
Fridae.com, a gay website based in Singapore, makes a lot of its money selling sexy underwear and putting on large parties for (mostly) Asian guys who you would most like to see in the underwear they sell. The odd thing is, Friday is no longer allowed to produce any of their events in Singapore, so they do this in Thailand, their gracious host. Needless to say, there are no Pride organizations in Singapore (that I have been heard of, at least) and any kind of gay festival or parade would end badly for its participants.
What angered me and apparently a number of other people unhappy? If I could indulge myself in the same history-in-under-1000 words technique as the author I would rewrite the story in a single paragraph:
"Bangkok Pride is gone and the death of all three of Thailand's Pride events is unnoticed and unmourned. These began as a fun Thai party in Bangkok, then the greedy business people took it away from the Thais in a bloodless coup. Eventually nobody could get along with each other anywhere. Thai community groups tried to establish a Pride-like event in Chiang Mai but it was sabotaged by factions that felt they were left out (actually, an old queen who loved to steal the spotlight). There probably should not have been Pride events in the first place because there are no 'out' movie stars or politicians waving rainbow flags."
Not bad for a guy who can't write a supermarket shopping list under 500 words.
In the next edition of this e-missive will give my own version Pride in Thailand. Let's call it: Didn't Your Mother Tell You Never to Volunteer for Anything, You Idiot?
Not long ago my sister sent me a photo of my father with Richard Nixon. Oh joy! I am not quite sure where do display something like that that. The ugly truth is, that we were all Republicans back then in those years before our enlightenments. I was President of the Teenage Republicans of Mendocino County in the mid-sixties. Nixon actually invited me to his inauguration and signed the invitation himself. And let's not even discuss membership in the John Birch Society of adolescents using assumed names.
All of those right wing ideals were shed when I went away to University and mom got so tired of the war in Vietnam that she decided to physically block door to the draft registration office in the local post office.
I have probably already admitted in this episodic tirade that I really admired Barry Goldwater and would probably vote for him again. On the other hand, at fifteen I had "thing" for George Murphy, a former B-movie hoofer, who I had met along his campaign trail. He had the bluest eyes I this fifteen-year-old mass of hormones had ever seen. Alas, he literally slept through one entire term in the United States Senate. More movie stars were yet to come along the same trail, but that's another story. Never vote for anyone wearing tap shoes or cowboy boots.
If you have read this blog for long you know my politics have changed quite a bit since the late sixties. I have not done any Obama-bashing yet, but the honeymoon is over. He made a lot of promises when he was running for office. Although I hope I will be wrong, I think Mr. Obama is destined to be remembered as a huge disappointment, but time will tell.
As you undoubtedly know, on June 17th Mr. Obama signed legislation granting a whopping two new benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. As it turns out, the Obama administration said they could not grant most benefits (including health care!) to same-sex partners of federal employees because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
During his 2008 campaign, Senator Obama promised he would work to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act. Now, a California gay couple is challenging the DOMA in Federal court. This is the same DOMA that President Obama claims to be against even though this administration is currently defending it in court with an offensive brief that he still won't apologize for. In the DOJ brief, they compared same-sex marriage to a marriage between an uncle and a niece. Or between two children. We're talking about the Obama administration's Justice Department. The brief the DOJ presented defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in federal court was not just wrong. It was offensive. The New York Times called it "disturbing" in its lead editorial.
The Obama administration didn't even bother to work with groups like Lambda Legal to see if they could work around DOMA to extend health care benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. Homosexuals will not be useful to Obama's administration for another three years.
I hope you'll take a minute to sign a petition asking President Obama and Attorney General Holder to withdraw and renounce the offensive DOJ brief. Maybe Mr. Obama will understand that we are watching and that we will not forget empty promises. To sign the petition yourself click here.
Where to Eat: Guilin
Guilin is a picturesque, sparkling clean town in Southwestern China. Much to my regret, few foreigners bother to go there. I do not quite remember why I went there in the first place, but I enjoyed the incomparable scenic beauty, the shopping, and river boat trip to Yangshou. However, I have returned over and over for the food. Guilin has some of the best food in the world.
Guilinese are fairly affluent and they appreciate great food, so restaurants always seem to be full. The local cuisine borrows heavily from neighboring Hunan, where cooking is dominated by chilies, garlic and smoky flavors, and Guangdong, known for its subtle Cantonese cooking. The result is a balance between spicy, sweet, salty and sour, and dishes that rely heavily on the freshest vegetables, pickled vegetables, young bamboo, chilies, and mushrooms and pine nuts from the surrounding forests.
Soup City is a great place to begin your culinary adventures in Guilin. While I found none of the soups very interesting, the menu is full of "country cooking" that is both sturdy and sensual. A good choice is the fatty pork in thick gravy, topped with glutinous rice then steamed in a basket. Although homely, it is extravagantly rich. My all time favorite there is pork simmered with pickled baby bamboo and red chilies. It is just spicy enough to boost the richness of the other ingredients. You will find Soup City on Zhengyang, Guilin's walking street? behind the Sheraton Hotel.
Guilin Good Luck Restaurant is directly across the street. The fare there is lighter but no less complex. There is a lot of seafood on the menu as well as many Cantonese dishes. Start off with the lightly smoked Ly River fish steamed with chilies and pickled vegetables in length of hollow bamboo; a zingy combination of sour, spicy and smoky flavors. Follow this with extraordinary mashed potatoes covered with spicy meat sauce and meat balls in oyster sauce hot pot. If you make arrangements a day in advance you can dine in a private room.
Guilin's most unusual food is probably at McFound Restaurant at the foot of Fu Bu Mountain. Cooking here is traditional, yet light and nutritious. I suggest starting with a sensational salad of fresh tomato, pineapple and white raisins that is served nearly frozen. Dumplings are my weakness and there is a terrific selection on the menu. I chose something that sounded unusual and ended up with a plate of egg dumplings filled with sweet bean paste that came to the table scorching hot and sprinkled with sugar. These are almost like a sensational hot doughnut that is so light it collapses in your mouth. The menu is in both Mandarin and English.
Guilin's real culinary star is Taste Made which deserves a star of some kind for its contemporary take on traditional Guilinese cooking. The food is colorful and dramatic. On the three visits I made to Taste Made, every one of the dishes I tried were sensational, from simple soups to steamed fish, to dumplings. However, the dish I still dream about is an iron pot filled beef sirloin baked with thick, chewy glutinous rice. Taste Made is on East Lijiang Road 19 opposite the Plaza Hotel. English menu. Reservations advised: 588-0098 http://www.wdzz.com.cn
Don't leave Guilin without at lease one bowl of mifen, the local noodle-and-sauce dish. People eat mifen at all times of the day and night, so it makes a great breakfast oe snack. The noodles are made fresh daily and topped with a thick gravy. You can then add your own condiments to your taste--peanuts, scalions, picked vegetables, fermented tofu, thin slices of meat, and more. There are probably hundreds of Mifen shops around Guilin. However, the acknowledged Queen of Mifen is Qiu Ling Rice Noodle Restaurant. Any taxi driver will know the place.
More Fascinating Thai Superstitions
If a gecko sings as you are about to step outdoors, it would be safer to stay at home. If a gecko falls in front of you, you are about to meet your soul-mate.
Never, never, never sing in the kitchen or you will end up with an old husband. (I'm not sure if this still holds true if you already have an old husband.) On the other hand, if you eat the last piece of food on the plate you will end up with a handsome boyfriend.
Eating chicken feet leads to adultery (which probably explains a national pandemic of chicken-feet-eating).
If you stack dirty plates one on top of the other you will be a mistress but never a wife.
It is bad luck to have your hair cut on Wednesdays. Same goes if you cut your finger nails at night.
Never empty a rice cooker. I could not find a good reason why, but you always have to leave just a little bit in the pot. If you cook rice every day it's not a problem. If eat rice only once a week, please ignore this superstition.
You can see the departed on the third day following death by bending over and looking behind you between your legs. Try doing thatin heels, girl.