Sunday, 17 May 2009

Bangkok musings

The days have passed, as ever, and I have omitted to post. I guess I was enjoying myself too much! 

The atmosphere is so different to when I was last here. The economic crisis and the political unrest in Thailand have affected the economy, people's moods, everything. It is so sad to see such majestic hotels with just a 20% occupancy rate. I so hope that things will pick up here soon. The minimum wage here is so very low, and losing jobs really does signify life on the streets.

Here's a grouping of some of the things I have been enjoying  - and thinking - here in Bangkok.


Of course, food is one of the most interesting things about going abroad. But in England at least, there is a plethora of fantastic Thai restaurants. What is harder to find is Thai fruit.

I suppose that, living in a cosmopolitan city like London, it is ultimately quite rare to taste a completely new food. When did you last taste something new?
This trip I tasted my first Mangosteen and I was so excited. This fruit is virtually unknown outside Thailand, and contains delicate sweet white fruit eaten in sections. Mangosteens have a very distinctive flavour much richer than that of lychees. Delicious.

The below fruit is called a Rambutan, derived from the word 'Rambut', meaning hair. Inside the spiky rind is a lychee-like fruit with a white, translucent flesh. 

I have seen and tasted Dragon fruit before, but they are so beautiful I felt compelled to include them here. Unfortunately, their taste is much less exciting than their appearance would suggest: watery, not very sweet and a bit boring, like an unripe watermelon.

There are so many others, but I didn't get the chance to taste them all. Hopefully next time!

Anyone for dried cuttlefish?

Another thing I love to do when I go abroad is visit the local supermarket. It's so fun perusing aisles of food you haven't seen before! One of the things I found the strangest was the huge array of seafood flavoured crisps/chips and of dried fish!


It is amazing that all of this food is prepared on the street and yet I have never heard of a person who has been ill eating in Thailand. It is a testament to how clean people are, which is hard to be on a main street. The smells in the streets are so strong, certainly not what we are used to. But the food is amazing. It's not uncommon to see a businessman or celebrity eating next to a stallholder. I think that's great. 

I can't imagine how people can cook outside, without air conditioning, in this heat. Thais are just really industrious and hard working. This is probably largely due to the fact that there is no social security to pick them up from the streets if they don't have an income. And yet, faced with this harsh reality and a hard life of work, Thais still have a real love and devotion to their King. Photos of him are everywhere and every Monday Thais dress in yellow to honour King Rama. The streets become flooded with yellow. To me all of this is remarkable. I obviously think that more should and can be done for people here. I live in country in which there is no great love for the Queen, even by those who staunchly support the monarchy. Perhaps we are just too spoilt? I can't relate, but I can appreciate.

Israelis in Bangkok

A little background: I was born in Israel to Israeli parents. In our hotel Dad and I met some Israeli friends who also live in London and together, we decided to celebrate Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) at Chabad (a Jewish outreach organisation with centres all over the world). What we found astounded us!

Israelis all have to serve in the army as part of the country's conscription policy. Girls serve for two years and boys for three. People serve in divisions that correlate with their skills or interests. The smartest can serve in a field that is relevant to their vocation: my mum, now a doctor, trained as a nurse. In the army people forge friendships that they will maintain throughout their life; people generally want to serve. Yet at at the end, they feel a certain resentment. They go in huge numbers to places like Thailand and India, often for over a year, rebel, take drugs, let loose. It has seriously become a rite of passage. 

And, at Chabad in Bangkok, we met lots of these travellers. Girls travelling for months on their own. They were really lovely, but they also seemed so lost. What was interesting is that the whole area has been transformed into a mini Tel Aviv. Falaffel, hommous, pitta, Israeli coffee and Jewish food, Thai people selling you things in Hebrew (!). We sat in a cafe with Israeli music blaring out - so very surreal. And it is in such places that Israeli travellers hang out, with other Israelis, where they feel a strong sense of identity: where they feel at home. I found it interesting and poignant that they should want to recreate that so far away.

Eating falaffel in Bangkok - who would have thought!


Don't be fooled: corporations have been here for a long time. I'm currently reading 'Fast Food Nation', so McDonald's is very much on my mind, and for all the wrong reasons. With all the delicious fresh food around I can't think why anyone would eat at McDonald's. I certainly didn't. But I did find this Ronald McDonald quite humorous. In Thailand a curteous greeting includes placing hands together as though in prayer and bowing slightly. Those smarmy corporate heads thought they'd have Ronald adopt this pose. What haven't they thought of to lure in the masses and market McDonald's as a 'trusted friend'? Fast food Nation is appalling me, page by page.

I'm so sad to be leaving tomorrow! It's been great having a break, being away from the stress of everything. I leave you with a beautiful orchid, a Thai flower. See you in London!


Pearl said...

oh vanessa - thanks for sharing such incredible photos! i always hear that asian countries have some of the best fruit; i know that when i was in taiwan, i was constantly eating apples all day! and ooh! you know that spiky hairy pink ball that you mentioned? i saw it in a grocery store in san diego. but i didn't try it; i thought it was a sea creature at first.
and yes, dragonfruit look better than they taste... i was pretty disappointed too, when i first tried it; it wasn't bad, just nothing outstanding, when compared with the other plethora of fruits available.

i hope you have a safe flight back and that you had a wonderful trip!

The Adventuresome Road to Where? said...

What an amazing holiday! The pictures are beautiful. Several times I ordered a rambutan dessert at my favorite Thai restaurant in Chicago and had no idea what it was! It's nice to learn it's a fruit!

Anonymous said...

I love Mangosteens-unfortuntly we cannot find them here in the US. If you get ripe Dragon fruit it is quite tasty-seems like you are having fun. enjoy yourself.


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