Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Remembering our journey into parenthood

It's a boy!
Just like how I rushed out a post at Changi Airport before my Stranger in Greece honeymoon series, I can't help but do this before my beloved son makes his grand entrance into this world tomorrow.

Li Li and I spent quite a bit of time discussing whether we should commemorate this milestone in our lives by taking maternity pictures. This exercise is quite common in Singapore and good maternity/newborn photographers can be found everywhere, with standards high and prices competitive. This is not so in Thailand though. Most of my friends whom I asked either did not know of any photographers skilled in this area or told me, " I wish I did it". Li Li's extensive online research did not yield many favourable results too, until we found Oh. When we finally decided to take a series of maternity pictures, we had to go with her.

Chatting with Baby in Bangkok
The photo-session was simply-put, more like an enjoyable weekend activity with a group of good friends. We had an absolutely brilliant and relaxing (I bet they didn't feel that relaxed) time with Oh,  make-up artiste Penn and young Friend (yes, her name is Friend), Oh's niece. We chatted about everything under the sun, joking and laughing, taking some pictures in the process.

What impressed me the most was the team's insistence to capitalize on the best angles and lighting to take great pictures. We had spent almost 2 hours in the studio, but Oh saw the excellent evening sun and invited us to the garden of her condominium to complete the photoshoot, and the short stint out in the open resulted in our favourite group of photos from the entire series.

The photos turned out great
Becoming a father is nerve-wrecking. It's a world of unknowns to me. So much of me has changed since I became the Stranger in Bangkok more than 2 years ago, but after tomorrow, my evolution would be complete. I do not know how overwhelmed I will be by the new added responsibility, but I hope I can make use of tools like this blog to invite everyone to share the most unforgettable parts of my journey with me.

Could be my favourite picture of the lot, I love the lighting

Please pray for us, that whatever's gonna happen tomorrow will be a success, and both mother and child will be safe and sound ok? Thank you very much, watch this space!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Absolutely Tom Yum-med!

Tom Yam Goong
This has to be the most random blogpost I have ever written. Probably inspired by my increasingly enjoyable TES Lunch Feasts, I am going to write about Thailand's signature dish - the internationally acclaimed Tom Yum Soup. However, if you haven't been to Thailand (or remain a typical tourist even after several visits), your impression of this dish might be stuck with that of the picture above- a red, spicy, sour shrimp broth sometimes thickened with coconut milk. There's nothing wrong with this particular version, but having had authentic Thai food for 2.5 years now, I realised that Tom Yum Soup is just a general name. It's more than meets the eye. It can be anything and everything!

If you think about the signature dishes of the main international cuisines, few are as versatile as its Thai counterpart. Here's to remember some of the different Tom Yum (something) Soups I have tasted over the last 30 months:

Tom Yum Beef
Tom Yum Frog
Tom Yum Chicken
Tom Yum Chicken Egg
Tom Yum Duck Egg
The very popular Tom Yum Seafood
How would I miss out Tom Yum Pork

Tom Yum smoked dried fish soup!

Last but not least, Tom Yum Sardines Soup!

It's simply amazing how versatile Tom Yum Soup can be. Aside of throwing anything you like inside, the taste of the soup ranges from spicy, non-spicy, sour, non-sour, sweet, creamy (with coconut milk), clear.... not every version is tasty, but whatever you can think of, name it and you have it.

I have not even started on how Tom Yum flavour has successfully infused into other foods like instant noodles, potato chips, salads, fried seaweed (Japanese food), pastas, pizzas (Italian food), movies (yes there's a movie called Tom Yum Goong)..... It's just mind-boggling when I started to brainstorm about Tom Yum related items. Lame as it is, I had to write this post.....

Forget the Phad Thai (which is not very easy to find in non-tourist places) or pineapple rice (I have not seen this dish served even once in Bangkok before). If there is one dish that you have to taste to understand the culture of Thai people, some might argue that it should be papaya salad, but for me, it absolutely has to be Tom Yum Soup!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Happy New Year - thoughts on my time in Thailand

Happy 2012 to everyone! According to the Thai calendar, this is the year 2555, which is pronounced in Thai as Song-Ha-Ha-Ha. Everyone is hoping to laugh their way through the year, but if you ask me, it is highly unlikely to be a peaceful year here in the Land of Smiles. But it's always good to hope isn't it, and let's all continue to laugh when we can....

A lot has happened since my last Xmas post, business has picked up, Li Li's family has come and gone. We are now waiting for my own family to arrive for the Chinese New Year before our baby is born (and life will never be the same again). It is difficult to realise that I have been here for 2.5 years now, spanning over 4 calendar years.

There has to be a reason why Thailand is still the 3rd most visited country in the world and the most visited one in Asia despite all the instability and disasters. Sometimes it's unbelievable to think that tourists from every corner of the globe will voluntarily risk their lives to visit Thailand when they know that there are riots/floods/tsunamis. As I work with and interact with Thai people everyday, I start to understand why.

Much has been said about the Thai people's comparative laziness and lack of professionalism (and quite a bit of corruption) compared to where I came from (Singapore). I am not going to argue against that as I have had my fair share of related problems since I have been here, but I would like to flip the coin over and point everyone to the positives.

I have always told my friends that Thai people might not be the most driven, but they most certainly work for job satisfaction. In most of the banks/restaurants/eateries I frequent through my time here, the service staff have largely remained the same over the years, and because of this I could build a long-lasting camaraderie with them and enjoy every visit. In Singapore, most people treat similar jobs as temporary stepping stones as they bide their time before a "better" opportunity arises, resulting in high turnover of service staff which then leads to poor training and less-than-perfect service. If Thai people are happy with their job, they would rather earn 10% less and remain. On the other hand, if they are upset with their job, they will simply disappear the next day as they are resilient and resourceful. Even if the next job does not come soon, they can earn their living grilling meatballs along the streets or making dessert drinks and selling them at coffeeshops.

At major malls (in Thailand), personnel are hired to clean toilets every 20minutes (just a guess, but most toilets are squeaky clean all the time anyway). Ladies who clear the dishes at food courts frequently don uniforms that make them look like nurses in a private hospital. Smartly-dressed men hold glass doors open for every customer at every entrance of the mall. There is one thing in common - they always have a smile on their faces and greet every customer like a friend. Just imagine, you are not feeling very good but still have to go meet someone at a restaurant for dinner. You get greeted with a huge smile by the person giving you the carpark pass (and parking's often free!), only to be greeted again with the same enthusiasm at the mall entrance, and then again at the toilet. Wouldn't your day just get a wee bit better already? In Singapore and Malaysia, people holding the same jobs are more often and not, grumpy and bitter, as if the whole world has given up on them. If everyone can just take pride in their job and perform their duties (even if they don't enjoy it) with a bit of enthusiasm and dignity, the world will surely become a more beautiful place.

I am not good with words. I have a lot more to say but I don't seem to be able to express my respect for Thai people properly, so I think it's better to stop for now.

Last night, TES Power Equipment held our 2012 new year dinner. These are the people who have made my life so satisfying in Thailand. They are the ones who fought with me during the floods to protect the company's resources while their own homes faced uncertain prospects. They deserve every credit I give them, and I believe they enjoyed themselves last night.

Keng and Naa

Rit winning my gift for the second year running

After a lot of coaxing, they finally started singing

To many more years of success at TES!
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