Friday, January 15, 2016

The 1 and Only Secret to a Great Photoshoot with Kids

Ever since Noah came along, we have made it a point to capture some precious memories of our family with random photoshoots, timed over certain milestones of our kids' development.

Looking back at this journey, I cannot help but feel blessed to have met many talented photographers and make-up artists along the way, who have not only frozen many priceless moments into beautiful pictures, but made the process of shooting with our little kids extremely enjoyable.

After 6 separate shoots over the course of 4 years and 2 kids, I realised the key to having a successful photoshoot with little kids is really very simple: 

LET YOUR KIDS DICTATE EVERYTHING

Yes, your clothes are important, the mum's make-up is also crucial, but you and I both know that this is really about the kids. If they need to laugh, they laugh, if they need to cry or sleep, or even fight, there is basically nothing much you can do about it. Rather than be stressed over not being able to coax a smile out of your kid, why not go with the flow?

Let me show you a personal favourite from every one of my shoots in chronological order to illustrate my point (disclaimer: these might not necessarily be crowd favourites, but I personally LOVE them to bits).

Noah obviously tiring towards the end of his 5-month shoot. Photo credit: Ohtography

 A priceless expression from Noah at 8 months caught by the camera of Michel Tay.

Noah just being himself with his favourite toy and books at 15 months. Photo credit: Ohtography

Ellie stealing a yawn 2 weeks after her birth. Photo credit: Ohtography

3 months later, Ellie obviously still hasn't had enough sleep. Photo credit: One Eye Click

During Ellie's birthday shoot, Noah basically controlled the entire outdoor shoot with his refusal to let the bubble toy go. Photo credit: Ohtography

Ellie littered her 1st birthday party with her laughters and cries, this was one of her happier moments.
Photo credit: Romans Wong

So as you can see, it's perfectly fine that they do not sport the cute smile they are capable of, or refuses to let go of an overused prop. Every other expression comes from them too. 

The best pictures are not the ones you planned to take, but ones that are the most real.


Thursday, January 7, 2016

Totti Coffee Shop@Tops Marketplace Udomsuk: My favourite cafe in Bangkok

Bangkok is a city growing with cafes sprawling all over the metropolis. Big boys like Starbucks, CBTL and Au Bon Pain aside, local names like Casa Lapin, Rocket, Amatissimo and Roast (to name a few) are also impressing locals, expats and tourists with their coffee and execution of their interior decoration.

I am no coffee connoisseur. Even though I think I can differentiate a good cup of coffee from a bad one, there is still a long way to go before I can sieve out different tones in a cuppa with a single sip, or identify the type and source of beans with a whiff of the aroma. However, I am so pleased in finding the humble-looking Totti Coffee Shop on my way to work that I am officially declaring here that it is my favourite cafe in Bangkok.

Totti Coffee Shop on the outside

Tops Marketplace Udomsuk has always been a peculiar little neighbourhood community mall for me. Firstly, it's not even along Udomsuk Road. It's actually along Suan Luang R.9 Road slightly beyond Udomsuk (after crossing an overpass). Secondly, Tops Supermarket aside, nothing seemed to work there. Shops opened and closed over the years, until Totti trotted along.

Comfortable interior

I got the opportunity to enjoy their coffee more regularly after they changed their operating hours a few months ago to 7am-6pm in order to cater for the morning working crowd. It was actually pretty difficult for me to initially to point a finger to why Totti attracted me so much. Maybe it's the cosy feel, the good-looking baristas (lol), the proximity, and the extremely satisfying coffee almost everytime.

Another shot of the interior

Latte brewed with a blend of beans from Brazil, Ethiopia and Thailand

However, after a chat with owners Nueng and Thor yesterday, I have a clearer picture now. Thor was born in a family of coffee roasters, and his family runs an older style coffee joint in a local market downtown (also called Totti coffee). That's why even in his busy schedule as a national ice hockey player and coach, his love for coffee did not deter him from opening 2 of his own branches outside town. Unlike his family's coffee joint, which serves stronger coffee (more similar to those you get at Amazon and Inthanin at the petrol kiosks) that will give you a slap in the face with a sip, Thor uses his own blend of beans carefully chosen to give his customers a aromatic but lighter, smoother cuppa.

Thor's wife Nueng, a proper barista herself, in action
Tadaa.... done!

What I like most about Totti is the fact that it has not forgotten its Thai origins. Aside of using Thai coffee beans for many of his concoctions, he is still incorporating condensed milk into his sweetened iced coffee selections in order to maintain a touch of tradition in his otherwise premium cup of coffee. Tell international chains to give you condensed milk and you are more likely to be eyeballed by the baristas as if you committed a crime. If you are not into condensed milk, just let them know and they are more than happy to cater to your needs (note: all hot coffee will be made with fresh milk unless otherwise requested). They are even ready to make a unique blend specially for you on the spot if exclusivity is what you crave.

Another variation of their Latte made with only beans from Doi Chang. I prefer this version as it's less acidic.

If there is anything insufficient, I guess it will be the lack of excellent food choices currently at Totti Coffee. They do have some croissants and puffs but none leave an impression. Thor and Nueng told me that this is something they are going to rectify in the near future, so let's see what they can come up with.

Thor and me, in front of the first cafe that welcomes my "Wah Lau Eh!" Stamp of Approval

So there you go, my favourite cafe in Bangkok, hands down. It is a little out of the way, but if you are already in the Udomsuk (aka Sukhumvit 103) or the King Rama 9 Park area, it is probably worth it to pop over to grab a cuppa to know what I am talking about.

My personal recommendations will be the Latte for hot coffee, and the Bangkok Blend (sweetened with condensed milk, you could ask them to make it less sweet) for a really satisfying iced coffee.


stranger in bangkok

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Thailand Winter Getaway Series 2015: Sunrise and Sunset on Doi Patang, Chiang Rai

It's that time of the year again, when I sleep without air-conditioning and wake up feeling totally blessed by the cool dry breeze blowing into my apartment. It's also a reminder that I have to do my customary annual post/s to beef up my Thailand Winter Getaway Series.

The stars have aligned this year to allow me to go to Chiang Rai for a charity trip with the Singapore-Thai Chamber of Commerce. Even though the schedule was pretty tight, as we often had to make distributions at villages in the early mornings before breakfast and even at night after dinner in the pitch-dark under a night sky FULL of stars, I cannot help but admire how beautiful Chiang Rai really is.

The usual captivating view during our drives.
As we drove through the mountains from village to village, the scenery reminded me a lot of South Africa, while to others, Switzerland.

So of course, even though it was a charity trip and a lot of work had to be done, our team took the opportunity to admire the sunrise and sunset when we were staying for a night on Doi Patang. When we arrived, it was already evening, and sunset happened right outside our rooms. We literally watched the sun disappear into the mountains, changing colour from deep yellow, orange then finally red in a space of 15 to 20 minutes.

The beginning of the end
My camera cannot do the view justice, but I hope you understand what I am trying to portray anyway

The following morning, at 5.15am, we began a short ascent up Doi Patang to experience sunrise, and boy was it an experience of a lifetime. We were basically above a sea of clouds awaiting the morning sun to pop out, and the entire atmosphere was just amazing.

My comrades looking like they were sitting on the moon
Above a sea of clouds. Photo credit:onghq

Following this experience, I do have a few things for you to take note of if you are considering a winter getaway in Chiang Rai.

1. Be well-equipped

It will be cold. Especially in December and January. Temperatures can easily drop to around 10degC or even less in the mountains. You will be waking up at 5am in the morning to start your journey up, so not only will it be cold, it will also be windy. It helps to be well-prepared for the cold.

It will be pitch dark during your ascent, so some good hand-held lighting is crucial for a safe climb.

Lastly, you need to be confident of every step you take, whether its during the ascent or descent, and trust me, the way down is a little more exciting than the way up. I was nursing a twisted ankle and wore leather shoes, so I had to be extra careful every step I took. The right footwear is absolutely crucial for such an expedition.

The careful descent. Photo credit: strikingjacqpot

2. Be mentally prepared

Even though the sun rises and sets everyday, it does not necessarily mean you will get to enjoy it. The sea of clouds do not form everyday. Sometimes, it will rain, and the terrains will get too challenging to overcome unless you are really very fit and used to such treks. We were lucky we got to enjoy the best of both worlds, but my advice is to be mentally prepared, especially if things do not work out. There is still a lot to savour in Chiang Rai and you can always go again.

Finally, I want to emphasize the fact that this does NOT have to be a winter getaway. You could do this anytime if you are in Chiang Rai. I just happened to be here during winter, when the chill gives it a whole different feeling compared to other times of the year.

Till next year folks, enjoy winter while it lasts!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Stranger's Bangkok Rediscovery: 3 Tips for visiting ArtBox@The Em District

Before the cool winter winds start blowing by the end of this week (my prediction), I have used some of my rare "me" time to bring you my verdict of the much-hyped ArtBox, a mobile pop-up weekend night bazaar that gets its name because of its unique use of containers as their stalls.

Get down Exit 6 at Phrom Phong BTS Station, walk past Benjasiri Park, keep left and you won't miss this.
Everything made from containers, thus Art Box!
And of course, ArtBox is renowned for attracting high quality vendors, many whom are still on their notoriously-long waiting list eager to showcase their products. I was thus really looking forward to a feast for all my senses.

Product-wise, most of the stalls were selling clothes and ladies' accessories. I am a bit old now to be interested in purchasing clothes off the streets especially if I am not given the chance to try them, so in this aspect, most stalls did not attract me at all. Of course there were some stalls that sold interesting items like camera straps, wooden cutlery or home decoration products which were slightly more interesting for this old man, but I would have liked to see more.

Fashionable camera straps and leather camera casings.

Full of street fashion like this one

I would actually recommend you to check out the artists available though. There were numerous stalls with artists offering to draw your portrait, and they all specialise in different techniques, for example they could draw with pencil, markers, water colours etc., and portray you according to their personal artistic styles. It could be amusing to get a portrait drawn, but do be prepared to wait, as they need to spend 30 minutes per portrait on the average, so you might need to wait up to a couple of hours for your final product on a busy day.

One of the many groups of friendly artists on show.

Things got crazier when it came to the food, which took up at least half of the stalls. Aside of container stalls, there were many food trucks parked all over the place as well, so do stroll around if you want to see all available items before starting your meal.

Fried squid much larger than your face.

A plump lady using a machine to mash up everything inside a single orange and sells it as Juice on the Rock.
One of the funkiest looking grass jelly I have ever seen.
One of the cocktail trucks, with the most attractive female drink-vendor at Art Box.
You could shoot your friend with one of these Bloody drinks.
As ArtBox is partly catered for tourists, you can also find many stalls selling typical traditional Thai dishes like Tom Yum Soup, grilled meat skewers and Pad Thai. In spite of the dazzling array of choices, I couldn't make up my mind, so I decided to go on a mission looking for the most handsome chef at ArtBox to cook me dinner. So here comes my tips while visiting ArtBox @ The Em District:

1. The most handsome chef (according to the Stranger in Bangkok):

Tadaa! Good taste? Flawless hair despite his work!

He's at a yellow food truck named Answer Cheeze, which serves a yummilicious cheese sandwich.

2. Come late, and hungry

As the temperatures have not dropped to Bangkok's usual 'wintry' depths yet, ArtBox is significantly cooler later into the night. I suggest 8.30pm onwards, and hungry, because food might just about be the most interesting thing here.

3. Come after you have used the toilet

The toilets at ArtBox are mobile toilet trucks, those that you have to pay and even guys have to queue for, and are probably not very clean. So as much as possible please use the toilet before entering ArtBox.

There are more than enough seats for you to make yourselves comfortable in the accompaniment of live music.

Verdict:

Considering it's a stone's throw from Phrom Phong BTS Station this month, ArtBox has never been more accessible. I was slightly disappointed myself by the slight lack of size and stalls, but probably that's because it was a bit warm (having just come back from Chiang Rai didn't help) and that I was all alone. So if you are reading this, I feel that this month's ArtBox is definitely worth a visit, especially if the temperature drops by the end of this week.

Note: ArtBox @ The Em District will be open every Friday to Sunday this month from 5pm till late.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

How to Stay Motivated at Work: Maybe it's more than just money?

If you are reading this, may I ask you a question?

Why are you waking up before the sun rises, going to work at least 5 days a week and possibly arrive home when the sky is just as dark as the moment you woke up?

Let's face it. Most of us work primarily for the the income our work generates, so that we can give enough to our families and ourselves. But to a large extent, the things we do at work are usually not directly related to the money we bring home at the end of the month, so if work becomes simply doing enough to reach payday, it will be very hard for us to stay motivated for a long period of time.

There is no perfect job in the world, but every job has its worth and value-adding element to the society. There are people who stay motivated because they are passionate about what they do, others stay motivated because they are so good at their craft that it will be a disservice to their customers/supporters if they stop. What about you?

What I do in Thailand predominantly revolves around importing small hand-held agricultural equipment and their spare parts and distributing them throughout the country. Truth be told, I have absolutely no love for the products I sell. I do enjoy the process of building the company from scratch and putting the system in place for it to run smoothly within the relatively short period of time I have been in Thailand, but the 1 thing I have found that will always keep me going is this:People.

I appreciate my co-workers, every one of them. I would not be living a comfortable life in a foreign country if they did not commit themselves to helping me. Many of my colleagues were doing odd jobs on the streets like driving motorcycle taxis before joining me. Over the years, I have seen colleagues recover from 2 bouts of pneumonia and acute appendicitis without needing to pay a single cent, all because they can enjoy the benefits of Thailand's social security as they are working for a properly-registered company. I have also seen another colleague blossom from a bell-boy at a hotel into a successful sales manager owning 2 family cars. My colleagues motivate me, to keep going, to grow the company even more to make everyone's life better.

My customers inspire me. I came in as a foreigner holding the distribution rights to a couple of brands which were not popular here. They had no obligation to support me, but many of them did. Today, some of my customers have become much better off because of this belief and trust in me and my products. For them, I cannot stop.

Preparing lunch for toddlers at a children's home

My company's charity work motivates me. In the last 4 years, we have contributed to many charity projects, including building a road that provides improved accessibility to a poor remote village and the building of toilets and playgrounds for schools in rural Thailand. I have seen for myself how such small contributions can make big differences to the lives of people who are not as lucky as us. This drives me to work harder, so that we can do even more for them year after year.

To a job well done.

Your source of motivation might not be the same as mine, but I feel that the only way to push through the difficult times at work is to find some meaning from what you actually do everyday at work. Good luck looking for it.



Monday, October 19, 2015

Bangkok Life Hacks: Free WiFi!

If you have been living in Bangkok for a long time now, does data connectivity give you constant headaches? If so, maybe there need not be any headaches at all? Let me explain.

According to my understanding, post-paid dataplans in Thailand usually come with limited high-speed data. For example, if you signed up for a package with 3GB of high-speed data, once you reach the limit, your data will continue to run. Good news is, you will not be charged for unlimited additional data usage, bad news is, this data is no longer high-speed. You will be given access to much lower-speed data with speeds closer to 512kbps, yes, so slow you might pull your hair out waiting for something to happen.

We all want to agree with this, but come on, give me my WiFi!!

How then, do you go around the problem and survive a full month with high-speed data? Firstly, you might want to call your telco's hotline. They might have a top-up package that will give you more high-speed access at a reasonable price.

A second way is to use this life-hack and see how far it can bring you.

If you still do not know, most reasonable postpaid data plans in Thailand already come with unlimited access to WiFi hotspots all over the country. TrueMove boasts that it currently has 100,000 such hotspots country-wide! This means that once you are in the vicinity of a hotspot provided by your telco, you are just a step away from disabling your dataplan and gaining access to unlimited, stable, high-speed WiFi. These hotspots are available in most indoor spaces like community malls, cafes, shopping centres and department stores.

How then, do we access this free WiFi then? Simple, just dial a number to receive your username and password (usually permanent for your mobile number), log-in and you are good to go! Here are the detailed instructions from the 3 main telcos in Thailand:

  1. AIS  
  2. TrueMove 
  3. dtac 
  4. AIS and dtac users can use 3BB hotspots too
Remember, you can use the same method to connect your laptops and other devices as well, or even share with your friends when they are in need. Just remember that one code can only be used for one device at any time!

Need more Bangkok life hacks? Leave me a message!


Disclaimer: The information above is accurate to 19th October 2015. The Stranger in Bangkok does not take any responsibility if any of the mentioned telcos make changes to their dataplans and packages.



Monday, October 12, 2015

Ping's Hotpot: The Best Hotpot/Steamboat Restaurant in Bangkok for Soup Lovers

I used to live for 2 years right opposite Seacon Square along Srinakarin Road. Before Centralworld appeared, Seacon Square was the largest mall by floor area in Bangkok, and is patronized by locals from all walks of life in eastern Bangkok. Aside of its sheer size, one other aspect of the mall stunned me. Last I counted, there were no less than 11 hotpot/bbq buffet restaurants its top floor, with more than half of them completely full half the time. I later found out that the famous MK Restaurant has a whopping 422 branches across Thailand, which is more than double that of the number of outlets McDonald's currently has(!!).

We finally found a hotpot that we truly love.
Even though Thailand is well and truly a hotpot-crazy nation, with well-established brands locally (MK, Sukishi, Shabu-shi etc.) and internationally (Coca), I personally have found it difficult to eat at any of the big names, because a soup-lover like me cannot bring myself to enjoy steamboats with starting soup-bases which are almost as bland as water. Some are better than others, but on the whole, the focus of the local consumers seem to be their dips and the familiarity of the highly-advertised local brand images.

However, after 6 years, I am happy to say that I have finally found a restaurant that serves hotpot like it should be. Ping's Hotpot is located right beside Ping's Thai Teochew Seafood Restaurant in Pathumwan Princess Hotel, which I earlier reviewed on my blog to serve arguably the most delicious fish maw soup in Bangkok. I was told that the original soup base used for the hotpot is the exact one used to make their famous fish maw soup, so that's a good starting point. Ping's serves 4 other soups, the Teochew Herbal, Mongolian Spicy Herbal and 2 versions of Tom Yum, clear and milky. If you ask me, if you are here for the first time, you absolutely have to go for the original soup base, and probably the Tom Yum with coconut milk, just because you are in Thailand.

The original soup base on the left, and milky tom yum on the right, bubbling away.

Like its sister restaurant, Ping's Hotpot focuses on bringing out the best in quality ingredients. I especially enjoyed their assorted meatballs made in-house, as well as their seafood set, which included premium fish like salmon, cod and 2 incredibly sweet and succulent scallops.

My wife and I finished all these!

Wide range of sauces available, together with minced scallions, chilli padi and garlic. If you are not sure, just ask the helpful wait-staff to help you make a standard dip, which is what I usually do.

If what you just read is not tempting enough, let the Stranger in Bangkok tell you a secret that's not on the menu. If you have finished all your food but still have some soup left, there is actually a way to conveniently finish every last drop.

Order the boiled rice/ khaotom set!

In fact, I am almost embarrassed to admit this is my favourite part of the entire meal. With the remaining soup (preferably the original soup base), the meticulous waiter will require a few minutes to incorporate the ingredients above and turn it into the tastiest porridge you would have eaten in a long time.

A shot of the shimmering egg yolk before it's carefully beaten into the porridge.

Tadaa... the perfect ending to a satisfying meal. The porridge set costs 140THB and gives you 4 rice bowls of porridge.

I think I will need to end here. It has been an utter mistake writing this in the middle of an afternoon in which I do not have the time and resources to have a proper lunch. Time to grab a bite.




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