Monthly Archives: May 2012

Bangkok Nights

So I’m with the daughter sitting in a bar in the PatPong Market in Bangkok. The PatPong is a well-known night market selling just about everything you can think of. It’s a bustling side street off Silom Road—the main thoroughfare of that part of Bangkok. We’ve had a great time—we’ve bought a few t-shirts, a wallet, a handbag and a couple of watches, and thought we’d have a quiet drink before we find somewhere to eat.

The little bar is called EXtra Time and constantly plays soccer matches—some connection there—on a huge plasma TV hanging on the wall over the bar. It’s a nice bar—quite classy really with solid timber tables and benches, a nice stone floor and a slightly Spanish look about it. A few guys come and go; don’t prop up the bar drinking, but that’s not a bad thing. There’s obviously a rear exit and most guys seem to leave that way. We order a couple of Singha beers and they arrive nice and cold with chilled glasses and bowl of peanuts.

The owner is a Londoner and is what my mother would have referred to as a spiv which the Urban Dictionary defines as ‘someone who deals in black market goods of questionable authenticity’—quite appropriate for the PatPong Market.

He meanders over to our table, ‘everyfin’ awright my darlin, anyfin’ else I can get ya?’ My daughter, Australian to the core, needs a translation. Yes thank you, everything is fine, and could we have a couple more Singhas. ‘Course you can sweet-art, anyfin you want jus ask.’

We finish our beers, bid goodnight to the spiv, and step out into the market where we’re once more assailed by the noise of people, carts and traffic on Silom Road.

We find a nice little restaurant with a lovely outdoor eating area; order Tom Yum Soup and share a main with rice and another Singha, and wander happily back to our hotel where we enjoy a nightcap at the bar. We both agree it was a very pleasant evening—so much so that we decide we’ll do the same tomorrow.

Fast forward 24 hours.

Back in EXtra time, the spiv is nowhere to be seen. So we order the beers from the nice bar girl who is wearing a very short skirt and very high heels. She puts two nice ice cold beers on our table and leaves. Excuse me miss—could we have a couple of glasses and the peanuts would be nice too. ‘Sorry?’ A couple of glasses and a bowl of peanuts. ‘Peanuts??’ We got glasses and peanuts last night. ‘I no peanuts.’ Fine, but could we please have a couple of glasses for the beer. ‘You want more beer?’

At this point we’ve started drinking from the bottle in desperation, when from the rear exit the spiv looms into view, ‘everyfin’ awright my darlin?’  Well no, you see last night we got glasses and a bowl of peanuts with our beer and tonight we just got … ‘don’t you worry my darlin’ you don wanna be arskin’ her, she don’t know, I’ll sort it for ya’. OK.

Two chilled glasses and two more beers, ‘I won charge you for them my darlin’ appear on our table and seconds later a bowl of peanuts. Nice. The spiv turns and says something in Thai to the bar girl who looks somewhat annoyed, then she turns and bends over to pick up her bag.

OH MY GOD!!! Did you see … what?? Did you see … she’s wearing, she’s not wearing, she’s not wearing—UNDERWEAR!!

She’s not wearing underwear. I look somewhere else. At the TV—yes, still soccer. At the bar—spiv is moving bottles around—well that all seems very ordinary. Maybe I imagined it.

Then I look at the sign: EXtra time. I did wonder why the X was a capital. I look closer, and at this point I realise the X is not a letter—it’s a pair of crossed female legs with um, er, um, no underwear. I’m in a brothel!  Was I blind last night?

I turn to the daughter. Did you know? ‘Yup.’ What! Why didn’t you tell me? ‘I thought you knew.’ How would I know? ‘Well ….’ No never mind—drink up, we’re leaving.

Back at the hotel we’re both hysterical with laughter. Me—because I’m gob-smacked and obviously quite dim, and never take any notice of my surroundings, and my daughter because I’m gob-smacked and obviously quite dim, and never take any notice of my surroundings. It is some months later that I learn that the PatPong area is one of the biggest red light districts in Bangkok.

The next night we have a drink in the comfort of the hotel bar. Cheers!

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D-i-Y Camping

After two days of enduring no kitchen facilities because our floor was being ripped up, the tiles are finally laid. They’re gorgeous. They’re Italian stone and cost a fortune—never mind the laying. I could stand and look at them forever.

But I can’t walk on them. They are in various stages of bedding (not in the Biblical sense of course); curing (who knows what that means), grouting, and sealing. If you count that, it equates to four night of not walking on tiles. So, beautiful tiles notwithstanding, we have encamped in the lounge room.

Our house is designed such that the front door is in the middle—well slightly to the right. Off the entrance to the right are the lounge and dining rooms, while to the left are the bedrooms and bathrooms, and behind the entrance and hallway is the kitchen/family room.

Picture this. We cannot walk on the tiles. So we cannot walk on the entrance, hallway, kitchen and family room floors. Ergo, we cannot get into the kitchen, bathroom, or en-suite. This has made leg-crossing a whole new experience as, in order to get to a bathroom, we have go out onto the verandah via the sliding door—can’t use the front door as that opens into the entrance, down the front steps, past the garage, up the side of the house, around the back and into the flat. But first requesting permission from the tenants—luckily they are son and D-i-L so they won’t refuse … one hopes. After which we return by the same route.

That’s fine you might think—but we are old and you know what that means. That’s right—4am bathroom wake-up. So out we go, in the dark, dressed for the Antarctic (it’s minus whatever in the early hours), stumble around outside, wake the dogs, wake the family, do whatever, and stumble back. 

In the lounge we have an airbed, doona and pillows; my entire work wardrobe is hanging in the dining room, and part of the kitchen is on the dining room table. It’s like living in a two room house—no, it is living in a two room house—with an outside privy.

The dogs have been banished to the great outdoors for the duration. They are unimpressed. Samson, aka Destructo Dog, has ripped up three sleeping bags, one sheepskin cover, and chewed the handle off a pair of secateurs in protest. Gracie, The Princess, has that ‘I’ve found a pea in my bed’ expression on her face.

I can see this is going to be the longest four days of everyone’s life.

Sport versus the Arts

As a former student of the Canberra School of Music (CSM) I am saddened at the restructure of the Australian National University (ANU) School of Music. The ANU and its music school have had a somewhat turbulent relationship ever since the CSM became part of the ANU in 1992.

The ANU is identified as an elite university, and indeed it attracts some of the best people in their field as research academics. But I believe it has never considered its music school as vital, or important, as for example the sciences, where it has recently funded further construction of science buildings to the tune of some 60 million dollars.

Aside from the university’s attitude to the music school, the Australian culture also plays a major role in the music school’s current situation.

Australians love sport. Any sport—they play it, they watch it (in fact the vast majority watch rather than play), they read about it, they talk about it, and the most popular pay TV channel is—yes, you’re right—the sports channel. In extra-curricular school activities, sport is way ahead of anything else and youngsters from the age of five can play cricket, hockey, tennis, soccer, and various rugby codes up and down the country.

We have an elite Institute of Sport where the very best athletes of all time (so they tell us)  can run, jump, walk, swim, throw shot putts and javelins, turn cartwheels and twirl ribbons to their heart’s content, and all funded by government. It may surprise you to know that these elite athletes study at this Institute at our expense. They do not pay a HECS as do other students of higher education.

This elite institution has not been targeted for restructure. Coaches here have not been told their jobs will be spilled and they will have to reapply for them—ten less than there were originally. Though that may not be such a problem—they could initiate a program whereby the athletes could be coached online. That would be interesting, and certainly no more difficult than teaching someone to play a violin on line.

Should the Institute of Sport be treated like the ANU School of Music there would be an outcry. Newspapers would be inundated with protestations and the media would give it full coverage until someone, somewhere, decided it wasn’t such a good idea after all and things would return to the status quo.

Media too has its role. How many pages in your daily newspaper are devoted to sport? How many are devoted to the arts? It’s not rocket science to work out which is more important.

I feel for the students at the ANU School of Music whose face-to-face teaching will be seriously reduced, and it’s already only around one hour a week. And what will happen to the youth programs that take Canberra’s very talented youngsters and mentor them through to scholarship standard, giving them a head start on their instrument of choice?

Perhaps they will form an ANU School of Music Rugby Team instead.

D-i-Y 2 : Kitchen

It’s a lovely Friday—the sun is shining, the birds are singing—at least I think they are; I can’t quite hear them over the sound of the dogs barking. But best of all—it’s my day off! Yeah!

I have a hair appointment and then will attempt to run the gauntlet of the Mall—dodging pensioners with walkers and yummy-mummies with amazingly designed futuristic push-chairs. Should I survive this task I will return home to Pack Up The Kitchen in readiness for the workmen.

Packing up the kitchen is daunting. I haven’t seen the back of the shelves of my pantry for quite some time and dog only knows what’s under the kitchen sink. Well I work, and I write, and I do … other stuff, and housework is not my forte. If it were I’d be called Martha Stewart.

I’m organised. I have numerous boxes, duct tape, old tea-towels, newspaper, butchers paper, bubble-wrap for the glassware, and a large black felt-tip pen—told you I was organised. Martha, eat your heart out.

I’m so organised I’ve got rid of the OH so I can toss stuff out without being subject to the Spanish Inquisition as to why I’m tossing it when it’s perfectly good and serviceable (never mind it’s chipped and hasn’t been used in 20 years) and why don’t we store (hoard) it in the garage. For what? Armageddon?

I pick up a box. It’s flat. OK—I can do this. Twenty minutes, half a roll of duct tape, and one broken nail (dammit) later, I have a box. Obviously I should have studied engineering instead of business.

But now I’m on a roll. Wrapping the plates in butchers paper is a cinch and I lower them carefully into the box which has been lined with an old tea-towel (Martha, I’m channeling you). I even manage to close the box properly; seal it nicely with the duct tape, and write ‘good plates’ with the black pen. I smile to myself and lift the box. Jeez! OK—lift slowly. Lord it’s heavy. I stagger to the spare room and place it gingerly on the floor—wow—broke out in a sweat there. Shut up Martha!

The rest of the boxes go much the same way only this time half the heavy stuff and half plastic. I’m a quick learner.

Next is the pantry. I’m not quite sure why I have four unopened and out-of-date bottles of soy sauce. And when did I buy two packets of ginger shortbread and more importantly, why? Oh and look, there’s that Christmas pudding from last year—no wait, from 2010—oops. At least I have enough plastic wrap to last until Armageddon.

Under the sink is not as bad as I expected. I have found an unopened box of dishwasher tablets (cross them off the shopping list); three new scrubbing sponges, and five rubber gloves—left hand only. Now if I really were Martha I could do something with those.

Four hours; all the boxes (I now have a Masters in box folding); three bags of rubbish and another broken nail (dammit), and I am done.

The exciting thing is that when the workmen are done, I will have to put it all back.

Has anyone seen that bottle of red I left on the dresser?

Bionic Eye

For some months now I’ve been cleaning a spot off my glasses that doesn’t want to budge. I try squinting—no, that doesn’t work either. Perhaps, the OH suggests, you should see the optometrist. Know all.

A week later I am diagnosed with a cataract and referred to a specialist who recommends a lens implant. I have worn glasses for myopia since my early teens and the lens implant will also (allegedly) correct my short-sightedness, allowing me to be glasses free for the first time in memory. I am not convinced.

The staff at the facility are very helpful and considerate—with the exception of the receptionist who has a face like a cat’s bum. Well, not really like a cat’s bum, but she has that pursed, sour expression, and an attitude that goes with it. She takes my file then hands it back to me almost immediately ‘it’s next door for the booking—we are only diagnostic.’ Well I knew that Missy. The fact that there is a huge sign saying ‘Diagnostic’ over the desk is a dead give-away. I slink away; file clutched to my chest, and enter the surgical area.

A week later I’m back for the surgery. I make my way slowly to the desk, and sure enough it’s Cat’s Bum. Does the woman never leave? And would it kill her to smile? Well, apparently it would—she purses her lips even harder and squints (squints!) at my file. ‘Through there’, and she points to door marked Procedures. Now I’m not generally one to fret but a door marked Procedures seems ominous—especially when someone is going to poke about and stick needles in your eye.

A nurse comes along and we have a nice little chat, and she sticks a large coloured dot over my left eye; ‘wouldn’t want to do the wrong one now would we’. I have no answer to that. Fifteen minutes later I’m strapped to a gurney while a very nice anaesthetist chats away, and once we discover we’re both dog lovers we’re firm friends. At least I hope we are as she’s the one with the needle.

A mild sedative is inserted into the back of the hand so we’re all happily in the twilight zone by the time the needle approaches. Some patients sleep through the entire procedure while others drift awake part way through. As a drifter the only sensation felt was the pressure of the surgeon’s hand on my forehead and water running down the left side of my face.

Then it’s drapes off, wheeled out, and up you get. The actual procedure takes about 30 minutes.

Results can be amazing.

In my case I tossed the glasses within 48 hours—it was a liberating moment!

D-i-Y

There is a toilet in my spare room.

Not a functioning one you understand—it just sits there in the corner. At the moment it’s providing a useful function as a spare seat for visitors of which there have been a few of late as we have recently passed a significant milestone.

That’s right. After many years of peaceful wedded bliss where changing a light globe required three quotes and written contract with an electrician, the OH has become Tim the Tool Man, and no, I haven’t divorced the OH and married an American actor—tempting though it sometimes seems.

Hence the toilet in my spare room, which in time will hopefully move to its permanent resting place in the en suite. Let me tell you about the en suite.

The house, nice enough, was built circa 1970 and its functionality, apart from the kitchen which is my domain, shows its age. The en suite although still operational, has a toilet which flushes of its own accord though not always when you push the button; a shower head which collapses at the critical path of the showering process, and a hand basin. No nice storage area or under sink facility–just well, a hand basin.

The Director of Household Operations (that would be me) has oft requested various upgrading in the en suite region however this has always been postponed until such time as:

  • the tiles fall off the shower recess
  • wet rot (or is it dry rot? I don’t know, some rot or other) sets in
  • hell freezes over.

With the tiles falling off the wall an imminent possibility (and not due to my hosing down the walls constantly every day until the tiles bulge), and little else to do of an evening after numerous years of marriage, we set about determining what we need, and armed with our list of Vogue essentials we trek to the bathroom stores.

Sale prices not withstanding—cost being a factor as hell has not quite frozen at this point—the OH decides the first step is Understanding Bathroom Replacement 101 and has undertaken the ultimate in D-i-Y training. He’s attended a two hour Saturday introduction session at Bunnings.

This session, in reality, enables the participant to recognise the difference between a hammer and a spanner, but in the mind of the OH he is now totally capable of replacing the en suite. Oh Joy.

So there the toilet sits; dual flush, small and quiet. While in my bedroom sits the vanity unit—white, modern, nice storage space and with two side cupboards—the shower contraption has to be made to measure and will arrive shortly, so we’re told.

Fast forward three weeks.

The shower tiles have finally fallen off the wall, though this was due more to the en suite flood when removing the shower head than anything else. The bedroom carpet will be replaced when the en suite is finished; a new door installed, and the bedroom walls painted.

As a Bunnings trained D-i-Y expert the OH has facilitated the quotation process, and written contracts with a plumber, tiler, building handyman, carpet layer and painter have all been signed and sealed, and all should be completed within the next four months.

The bathroom is next on his list.

If anyone has a spare room for rent please call me.

Pizza!

Pizza for dinner! And who doesn’t love a pizza …

Well me apparently. I’m un-Australian—a traitor, and all because I hate pineapple on pizza—oh, and egg.

Hey guys, here’s this great idea. Let’s get a pastry base; cover it with tomato and herbs; toss some shredded salami, ham and mushrooms on top and then—ta-da pineapple … oh yeah.

Why not mango, there’s a quintessential Aussie fruit; nectar of the Gods and all that. Or banana, another Aussie icon grown in abundance on the far north coast, but no, it has to be pineapple.

I blame Hawaii. The Hawaiian Ham and Pineapple is the most popular pizza in Australia and accounts for 15% of all pizza sales.

Italians consider the Hawaiian to be a German invention similar to the Toast Hawaiian which, believe it or not, is a slice of bread, a slice of ham, a full ring of pineapple, and a large spoon of cranberries topped with cheese and grilled from the top until the cheese melts—gourmet  indeed.

Despite its German inference the first Hawaiian pizza was allegedly created in 1962 in Ontario, Canada by Sam Panopoulous, co-owner with his brother Nick, of the Satellite Restaurant. Based on the popularity of the Hawaiian, the brothers later created the Hawaiian Burger which probably accounts for the pineapple inclusion there as well.

Come to think of it, why is it that pizza places, serving up the Italian equivalent of the Aussie meat pie, always seem to be owned by Greeks. Why aren’t they owned by Italians? Asians own Asian restaurants, Indians own Indian restaurants so why don’t Italians own pizza restaurants.

Ancient Greeks covered their flat bread with oils, herbs and cheese, while the Romans topped a sheet of pastry with cheese, honey and bay leaves. Modern pizza originated inItalywith the inclusion of tomato and in 1889 cheese appeared as a topping. Then America stepped in with their New York base—thin and crispy; while Chicago, not to be outdone, came up with the deep-dish. The original Chicago has a three inch base and acts as a bowl for the tomato, cheese and other fillings. The stuffed crust is a variation of the Chicago.

The list of pizza choices at my local take-way reads like travel itinerary. Mexicana, New York, Portuguese Chicken, Indian Tandoori, Louisiana, Provençal Beef, Thai Seafood—the  destinations are endless. You can travel the world while waiting in line.

But never mind the exotic just give me a ham and pineapple, with egg—and don’t forget the BBQ sauce.