Life's vagaries explained through football, food, travel and canines.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Biblioteca in the Age of Barnes and Noble

Right up there with certain breakfasts, English language bookshops here are in short supply. And books here are frighteningly expensive--10 USD for a crummy paperback. Book buying is not subject to willpower and never has been for me. My thought process being something like this: "Books--educational--preeeetttyyyy--eeeeeenteresting--do I have enough money?---Ah, but it's a book. It is like kale for my brain and kale is so good for you." Cha-ching.

Since my embarkation on expatriate existence, I have found myself slowly re-buying books of Suya past--books that I am simply can't live without. The Great Gatsby, I am looking at you. The road to hell is paved with copies of the Essential Hemingway. I have been known to buy a certain fashion magazine once or twice as well and that all adds up.

A friend in the know happily recommended the library. The Neilson Hays Library to be exact-- an English language library founded in 1869 by the Ladies' Bazaar Association to serve the needs of the English-speaking community. That's the reign of Chulalongkorn or Rama V, for those of you playing the home game. It's in a beautiful tranquil period building complete with leather chairs and white walls.

I joined the library in true harried New Yorker fashion, stomping in a half hour before closing time and racing around frantically trying to remember what I wanted. All of their books are arranged in wood and glass cabinets which don't lend themselves to frantic farang whipping them open to get at the goods. And they have a great little collection of books, enough fiction to last me out my days here in Bangkok. And when the librarian told me the fine for returning a book late, we both broke out in laughter: 5 baht a day.

I am ashamed to say that I had forgotten about libraries. Why hadn't someone thought about this before?, I caught myself thinking. What a revolutionary idea! And I now wonder what it's like growing up with Amazon and Barnes and Noble and the act of buying and possessing a book so much a part of the charm. When we were children, we were allowed to buy a book pretty rarely. And I read so fast that I probably finished the thing shortly after dinner.

But at the library, I could take out as many books as I wanted. And I did, especially in summer. Stacks and hauls of books checked out with the heavy clunk of the machine that stamped the due dates. When I was 8 or 9, I must have drunk gallons of lemonade working my way through all of the Nancy Drew mysteries.

A more recent library memory was in Brooklyn, where I had likewise lugged home a trove of books. After a bad breakup and months of letting everything pile up around me to the point of becoming my own archaeological site, I dragged the books back to Grand Army Plaza, after hours, and dumped them in the book drop, like a wise guy or a criminal and never ever went back to face the fine. I have a feeling it was more than 5 baht a day.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

In Case of Emergency

Now if I could only remember where it is....

"Axis of Evil" Hair Care Products

Possible taglines for this range?

"Look like you just stepped out of a dictatorship!"

"Because democracy isn't worth it."

"Gee, your hair smells like totalitarianism."

Taken in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Thursday, August 16, 2007

You Deserve A Break Today: McD Breakfast Finally Arrives

Ah Bangkok, city of a thousand temples and more than a few hangovers. It is true. And one of Western civilizations greatest inventions--the breakfast sandwich-- doesn't exist here. Locals prefer little brown bottles of something to perk them up, get them over the hump and on with the day. I, for one, have usually had enough of bottles the morning after, unless it's an opaque white plastic one containing ibuprofen.

Living in a complex region like Southeast Asia, one is constantly making comparisons among the countries here and one thing that often comes up after cheap massage, GDP, literacy rates, foreign ownership laws and what time bars close, is the elusive fast food breakfast. So far, Singapore and Malaysia were beating the pants off of Thailand in this regard. (And they both have TOPSHOP.)

Rumor had it that Burger King in BK serves some kind of eggy approximation but I only learned that information today after making my own discovery which for the grease-needing expats in this town is SUPER SIZED.

You get Mc Donald's breakfast here now.

The McThai Bfast FAQ.

Where are the select locations that I can get jiggy with my hashbrowns?

So far, only at Amarin Tower, The Mall Ngamwongwan, Robinson Sukhumvit and Center One. But I have not spied those dreaded little words "for a limited time only"--lovers of the Shamrock Shake know what I am talking about, so hopefully McBfast is here to stay.
Do they come if you choose the McDelivery option?

This I am not sure about--when you McDeliver, does it go to a central computer and locate the McD nearest you which then completes the order? For first time users, you may want to go to the above branches. Also, the lovely staff is not quite versed in the menu and this morning, I got a Sausage (cough) Burger instead of the Sausage and Egg Burger that my being was crying out for. A mix up in your order? In Thailand? I can hear you thinking, Surely, she jests...

Sausage and Egg Burger?!--Put down the crack pipe, Suya--everyone knows that a McMuffin requires a muffin.

Sure, you and I know that. But as the locals like to remind you that this is thai-LAND and all things must contain sugar (see also Coffee). Therefore muffin means "sugary soft cake found at 7-11" and not a suitable base for my breakfast meat, cheese and egg.

Okay, well then, how was it?

Honestly not bad at all. But you may be assuming I chewed. Also on the flyer of happiness, I see something called the Big Breakfast--for a mere 79 THB, you get a hashbrown, scrambled eggs, a sausage patty, and what LOOKS to be two English muffins. Some assembly required.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Lovin' From The Oven (Home on the Range)

I live in an enormous apartment which I share with J, my lovely and considerate roommate and we each have our own suites with attached baths and balconies and the walls are so thick that late night entries and movie watching are inaudible.

Though my new digs have the square footage that my old ones did not--the range, in particular, was a bit of a challenge. But first, I must mention traditionally Thais cooked outside with coals in clay pots (you still see this frequently) and now are generally okay with a combination stove top, camp stove, (electric---shudder) hot plate type set up at home, since they eat out or buy food outside and well, it's a tropical country. Who in their right mind needs an oven?

Enter the spolied farang: me. I did have an oven, which is more than most people have or feel like they need in these parts. But this range was a real antique. Italian in origin--it read "Fratelli Onofri" in faded black on the front, I believe it may have dated from the Mussolini era (though I have no chance to take it Antiques Roadshow and prove that). It exuded an gassy smell which was oh-so-unappetizing and the burners left lots to be desired. And the oven--it worked, but there was no discernible way to control the temperature so you could attempt to bake, but would have to be super vigilant or things would turn to blackened crisp before you could say deus ex machina.

The building manager whisked Mussolini away to an undisclosed location, after I had requested a new range, and promised to rehabilitate him. But there is no solution for a hardened despot made of steel. He came back polished yet still inefficient.

In January, my mother and aunt showed up and were appalled by Mussolini's lack of BTU cooking power. Indian ladies are serious about their cookers--oh they may use a pan that came free with a box of Bisquick or a bent knife bought as a present by a romance-challenged husband, but you better believe they insist on their firepower. And frankly, men from my culture are so fussy about their food (Woe betide the new bride who tries to use Minute Rice in the name of expediency instead of Basmati!) that one bad meal later, an order would be quickly put in to Sears for something state of the art and guaranteed not to scorch the daal.

So unaware of the first attempt to scare Mussolini straight, my mother and aunt promptly fired off a few choice words at the building manager (who is also Indian, thereby invoking the Indian lady god-given right to yell at the culturally same) saying that the burners were so weak that it was impossible to even make TEA. And if there is no TEA, you see, it's actually impossible to say what would happen because there has always been and always will be TEA. You may just as well serve everyone purple Kool-Aid and elope.

None of the consternation solved the problem though and I went around Bangkok searching for a range. I need to roast birds and vegetables. I need to indulge my inner Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms. Everyone I know knows I go through this phase every once in a while, doing things like reading biographies of Emily Dickinson and making fruit crisps. I promise to not get that severe.

But the real thing is that roasting things in an oven is a way to guarantee yourself a really nice tasty dinner with essentially minimum effort (beat up the meat, season and grease, slam in roasting pan, cook) while you yourself have a lot of free time.

Ranges here are hard to come by and expensive, but that great boon of the Internet--craigslist-- proved serendipitous with a posting for my new but secondhand gloriously powerful stainless range which I snapped up as soon as I could.

Incidentally, this range is also an Italian, though I am loath to sully it by comparing it another Italian politician. They simply aren't as reliable. And besides which, the Elba is clearly a woman-- strong, powerful and easy on the eyes, don't you think?