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Posts Tagged ‘thailand’

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Photo: Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP/Getty Images
Chef Jay Fai in Thailand wears a wool cap and safety goggles to ward off the heat from the charcoal fires in the alley where she cooks all of her restaurant’s meals. She won a Michelin star for her high-quality food.

Quality can be found anywhere, as this National Public Radio (NPR) story about a chef in a Thailand alley shows.

Michael Sullivan writes, “Bangkok is legendary for its fun and its food. Especially its street food. And one vendor’s is so good, it has earned a Michelin star for the second year running.

“Raan Jay Fai is a small, seven-table joint in Old Bangkok that’d be easy to miss if it weren’t for the line. There’s always a line.

“You can try to make a reservation, but the place — named after its chef/owner, a local legend — is usually booked a month or two out. Signing up for the walk-in list is the best bet for many, especially tourists. But you need to get there early.

” ‘I got here at 7:30 [a.m.],’ says 24-year old Kashmira Velji, from Austin, Texas, who was determined to try Jay Fai after viewing the chef’s star turn on the recent Netflix special Street Food. Never mind that the restaurant doesn’t open for lunch until 2 p.m. …

” ‘I’ve never had anything like this before,’ Velji says between bites. … ‘Our first bites were very intense. We kind of just stayed silent and were in shock at how good it tastes.’

“Suparat Tretachayakorn — a doctor — isn’t shocked at all. He’s a regular. And the crab omelette is one of his go-to dishes. … He and his friends have also ordered Jay Fai’s famous tom yum soup, and half a dozen other dishes. Tom yum is a Thai staple — made with shrimp, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, chilies, garlic and mushrooms — and it’s found almost everywhere. But that doesn’t mean it’s always good.

” ‘Actually, I don’t normally order tom yum because I know that I’m going to be disappointed at most places,’ he says. …

“It’s another of her signature dishes. One that’s got the visitor from Austin, Velji, baffled. In a good way.

” ‘It tastes just like the soup, but it’s dry,’ she says. “It’s exactly the same flavors of the tom yum soup, but instead of slurping it, I’m chewing it and I’m still getting all those sour, spicy flavors’ …

“Part of the fun [is] watching the maestro at work. The 74-year-old Jay Fai cooks everything herself — over two blazing charcoal fires, in the alley next to the busy street. …

” ‘It’s faster to cook when using charcoal, to stir-fry vegetables,’ Jay Fai says. … Jay Fai is a perfectionist — so much so that she doesn’t let anyone else on her staff do the cooking. That’s another reason why it takes so long to get your food here — even with reservations.

” ‘They can’t do it. This is very hard to do,’ she says. ‘It’s not that I don’t want them to do it, I do. But even when they watch me, they can’t remember anything.’ …

“About that Michelin star: When she got the first phone call, she kind of blew them off. By accident.

” ‘I was confused,’ she says. ‘They said they wanted to invite me to an event, a gala dinner, and I said, “Oh, my, a gala dinner, no thank you. I don’t want to go. What would I wear?” ‘…

” ‘To be honest, it was the high point of my life. If I die now, if anything happens now, I’m OK with it. I’ll die peacefully.’ ”

More at NPR, here.

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Oh, I do love kindhearted stealth projects. This worldwide campaign promotes reading. Chayanit Itthipongmaetee filed a report about it at KhaosodEnglish in Thailand.

“ ‘A Little Prince’ was hiding at BTS Siam [Bangkok Transportation System, or Skytrain]. A ‘Cat in the Rain’ was discovered at BTS Sala Daeng. …

“Fairies hid copies of these books and more in public places [in early August] as a local launch of The Book Fairies project, an international initiative in which people leave texts for others to discover in cities around the world. After readers finish a book, they are supposed to pass it on to others.

“One of the Bangkok book fairies said she learned about the book-drop project a few days before attending Saturday’s TedxBangkok. At the event held inside the KBank Siam Pic-Ganesha Theatre, she sneakily dropped five copies of best-selling memoir ‘Tuesdays with Morrie.’

“ ‘I was really excited for my first book drop, hiding one book at a time, mostly on breaks throughout the event,’ said the woman. …

“She was delighted to hear from one of her book beneficiaries a day later.

“ ‘Dear #bookfairies, I found this at #TEDxBangkok and took it home with me. I don’t know who you are but thank you for passing it on,’ wrote Facebook user Awm Has Standards. …

“Asked what kind of books she wants Thais to read more, the Bangkok book fairy said it would be literary publications for youths.

“ ‘This might sound strange, but I would love to recommend everyone to read English children’s books. … They are doors to creativity, language learning and life lessons. With or without pictures, the exciting stories for children always allow you to be free with your imagination and color them wild. They are also a good start for those who want to practice English.’

“The Book Fairies campaign was originally launched March 8 on International Women’s Day. The campaign became world-famous when British activist and actress Emma Watson, best known as Hermione Granger in the ‘Harry Potter’ film franchise, left copies of books with feminist themes around cities such as London, Paris and New York.”

More here.

Photo: The Book Fairies Thailand / Facebook

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The American Refugee Committee, or ARC, is a wonderful nonprofit that periodically sends me news from its headquarters in Minneapolis. Recently, I learned about its Welcome Home blog, which reports on the organization’s Changemaker initiatives, including this music collaboration in Thailand’s Dong Yang Refugee Camp.

“Every year,” writes ARC, “we hold a global ideas competition with our staff around the world. We love seeing the inspiring, new ideas that are submitted.

“This year, we were excited to see one of these ideas come to life in Thailand. Facilitated by ARC and Playing for Change, an organization using music to connect people around the world, this Changemaker idea brought together kids in Dong Yang refugee camp for a two day music workshop including creative, visual arts projects and music lessons.

“For young kids stuck inside the confines of a refugee camp, the workshop provided a much-needed creative outlet. One participating staff member remarked, ‘The participants so thoroughly enjoyed the activity and lost track of time while participating because they were so involved.’

“A group from Minneapolis had the chance to travel to Dong Yang to participate in the workshop and production of a music video.” More at blogspot.

Here’s hoping that the two days will lead to a lot more for these children.

Photo: American Refugee Committee

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Here’s an interesting start-up by a couple of entrepreneurs who love to eat. The two women decided to build a business around helping travelers find truly authentic cooking.

According to Aashi Vel and Steph Lawrence’s website, “Traveling Spoon believes in creating meaningful travel. We are passionate about food, and believe that by connecting people with authentic food experiences in people’s homes around the world we can help facilitate meaningful travel experiences for travelers and hosts worldwide.

“To help you experience local cuisine while traveling, Traveling Spoon offers in-home meals with our hosts. In addition, we also offer in-home cooking classes as well as market tours as an extra add-on to many of the meal experiences. All of our hosts have been vetted to ensure a safe and delightful culinary experience.

“Traveling Spoon currently offers home dining experiences in over 35 cities throughout Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam, and more countries are coming soon!” More here.

I have no doubt that Traveling Spoon is also boosting international understanding. What a good way to use an MBA! Business school is not all about becoming an investment banker, as Suzanne and Erik would tell you.

Photo: Traveling Spoon
Traveling Spoon founders Aashi Vel and Steph Lawrence met at the Haas School of Business.

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A new exhibit organized by the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York demonstrates the power of design to make life better for disadvantaged people.

“This is a design show about remaking the world … And that’s thrilling,” writes Michael Kimmelman, “whether it’s happening in Cupertino, Calif., or Uganda, where H.I.V. infects hundreds of people a day, and the latest news cellphone-wise has been the design and distribution of a text-messaging system that spreads health care information.

“In Kibera, an area of Nairobi, Kenya, and one of the densest slums in Africa, the challenge was different. Traditional wood and charcoal fires cause rampant respiratory disease there. Refuse fills the streets. So a Nairobian architect designed a community cooker, fueled by refuse residents collect in return for time using the ovens.

“From cellphones and cookers to cities: in Thailand, a public program called Baan Mankong Community Upgrading has, for the last eight years, been improving conditions in hundreds of that country’s 5,500 slums, bringing residents together with government and nongovernment agencies to design safer, cleaner places to live.”

Read more in the NY Times.

You will also enjoy reading about slum (favela) painting in Brazil and what a new coat of paint can do for building residents’ skills while lifting their spirits.

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Some years ago, the John Adams family biographer Paul Nagel introduced me to physician/poet Norbert Hirschhorn. Paul told me that Bert was on the team that helped save thousands of lives in Third World countries simply by distributing water to which sugar and electrolytes had been added. (A National Institutes of Health paper references Bert’s 1973 research on “oral glucose electrolyte solution for all children with acute gastroenteritis” here.)

A special NY Times science supplement on Sept. 27, 2011, “Small Fixes,” reminded me of Bert and the notion that small innovations can have a huge impact.

Among the great stories in the supplement. is this one about Thailand’s success fighting cervical cancer with vinegar.

It turns out that precancerous spots on the cervix turn white when brushed with vinegar. “They can then be immediately frozen off with a metal probe cooled by a tank of carbon dioxide, available from any Coca-Cola bottling plant.” The complete procedure, which can be handled by a nurse in one visit, has been used widely in Thailand, where there are a lot of nurses in rural areas.

In Brighton, Massachusetts, Harvard’s George Whitesides founded Diagnositcs for All to commercialize his inventions, including a tiny piece of paper that substitutes for a traditional blood test for liver damage. Costing less than a penny, “it requires a single drop of blood, takes 15 minutes and can be read by an untrained eye: If a round spot the size of a sesame seed on the paper changes to pink from purple, the patient is probably in danger.” Read the Times article.

Amy Smith at MIT is another one who thinks big by thinking small. Read about her Charcoal Project, which saves trees in poor countries by using vegetable waste to make briquettes for fuel.

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We read a lot of mysteries in our house. We especially like stories set in places we don’t know much about, although my husband enjoyed the Qiu Xiaolong books because he had lived in Shanghai himself.

I just finished a mystery by James Church (pseudonym for an author who is a “former Western intelligence officer”). He writes about North Korea. Since hardly anyone ever goes there, I tend to accept Church’s descriptions as better informed than your average Joe’s. And I find that whenever there’s a news story about that isolated country, it seems to mesh with the murder mysteries. The series starts with The Corpse in the Koryo.

Eliot Pattison’s Tibetan series, starting with The Skull Mantra, was a great hit with me — son John, too, until he got tired of exotic locales and started reading business books (snore). Pattison now alternates writing Tibetan mysteries with writing mysteries about pre-Revolution America and Indians. I heard him say at a book reading in Porter Square that he finds similarities in the spiritual beliefs and practices of Tibetan Buddhists and American Indians.

The wacky Colin Cotterill writes a series set in Laos, stating with The Coroner’s Lunch. We love his style and his unique characters. I’m just starting his new series, set in Thailand and featuring a malapropism of George W. Bush at the start of each chapter.

S.J. Rozan’s detective Lydia Chin operates mostly in New York’s Chinatown, but she does get to Hong Kong, and you can pick up a lot of Chinese culture from her. That series starts with China Trade.

Good novelists do a lot of research. You can get the flavor of a culture without going anywhere.

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