Today I had some business to attend to in Bangkok, so rather than driving I took the minivan which goes to Victory Monument.

Victory Monument was the scene of some of the worst destruction at the end of the recent Red Shirt protests. The high level walkway passes Center One, a rather down-market shopping mall that I’ve never been tempted even to enter. Now I never will: the building has been reduced to a smoke-blackened concrete carcass, its floors deep with rubble and detritus. That was shocking enough.

I then took the skytrain that passed Siam Square, where the damage wasn’t so obvious, and a few shops have reopened. However, on foot I could see the interior of one of the cinemas there (Siam) had been totally destroyed, a dark mass of twisted metal. I couldn’t see into the two adjacent cinemas (Lido and Scala), but from press photos I knew that they were in a similar state. This cluster of old independent cinemas was a bit of a treasure, showing films that weren’t handled by the large chains. And now it’s gone forever.

What I saw at Central World, what used to be Asia’s second largest shopping mall was even more shocking:

Central World, Bangkok, destroyed

The mall is anchored by two department stores, Isetan (which appeared from the outside to be relatively undamaged) and Zen, which has been totally destroyed.

Zen department store, Bangkok, destroyed

It’s distressing enough to see such destruction; it must feel so much worse for many Thais.


The recent Red Shirt protests attracted a handful of Western supporters, most notably an Australian (or Irish Australian as he prefers to be styled), (David) Purcel Conor, who made inflammatory speeches to the assembled rabble, but in English (a language that few of the audience would have understood). In court he made the most diplomatic of statements:

“This country has no authority over me. I’m not under Thai law. I’m only obeying international law. I’m head of the red gang.”

I’m sure that won him a lot of kudos with the judge.

And then there was the English lout, Jeff Savage. He made a highly articulate statement to a media crew (available on YouTube for those who wish to search):

“We’re gonna smash the fucking Central Plaza to shit. We’re gonna steal everything out of it and burn the fucker down. Trust me, get pictures of that fucker. We’re gonna loot everything, gold, watches, everything, and then we’re gonna burn it to the ground.”

And so it came to pass.

This is interesting because it seems to confirm the belief that the arson and ransacking that followed the end of the Red Shirts protests in central Bangkok was premeditated, rather than being an emotional response to events. (In fact, there are plenty of other, uncorroborated reports that the destruction was preplanned.)

Whilst I have little doubt that the Aussie and the Brit deserve to be thrown out of Thailand for good, I find the response of the Thai authorities a little disturbing. (The Pattaya police have suggested that the death penalty is in order.) It appears that Purcel and Savage are being kept in chains, whilst the Red Shirt leaders, who have, admittedly, been arrested, are living a comfortable lifestyle at what appears to be a pleasant resort – sans chains.

There appears to be a clear message to foreigners here: stay the hell out of Thai politics, or you’ll be f**k’dt dealt with severely.


Once a year I wear a long-sleeved shirt. It’s the day that I have to renew my visa. The renewal is always at the whim of the immigration officials, so it’s best to look smart and act humble/polite. Of course, I also dress up because I won’t want to be confused with the flotsam and jetsam of Western society (society?) that wash up on Thailand’s shore.

The day started with a visit to the government bank where I’ve deposited a substantial sum of money to secure my visa. I simply needed two letters from them, one to show that I’d transferred money from abroad, and the other that I’d invested said substantial sum in a fixed term account. To make things easier I brought copies of last year’s letters. But nothing here is easy…

To start with, there were about 20 university students in the queue ahead of me who were opening accounts. Their tight shirts, stretched across their breasts and gaping at the gaps, were quite a distraction, as were their tight, short skirts. Heaven forfend that any one of them should ever have to bend over.

After waiting about 20 minutes one of the staff approached me to determine my business. She took my documents and spend ten minutes in a discussion with three colleagues about what needed to be done, to no avail.

Then my turn in the queue arrived, so I had to explain everything again to someone else.

To cut a long (and tedious) story short, I eventually got my letters having spend an hour on business that should have taken but a few minutes.

In the afternoon I went to the Immigration office. Hurrah! There was no queue. Less Hurrah! The official had never encountered my type of visa before and didn’t have a clue what to do. She made numerous ‘phone calls and eventually gave me the necessary stamps.

So, here I am, legal for another year.


Andrew Zimmern is a minor American TV personality who’s primarily known for travelling around the world and eating strange food for the camera. (He’s also a chef, author and teacher.) Admittedly, when he visited Swansea market in Wales he didn’t exactly impress me with his boldness. To quote from a supposedly authoritative TV guide (the atrocious punctuation and misspellings are all from the original):

“In Swansea, Wales, the hometown of the poet Dillon Thomas, Andrew visits the Swansea Market and reveals bones, heart, kidneys and pluck used in recipes. The market also has wild game such as partridge, wild pheasant and pigeon. Joined by Carol Watts, Andrew tries a dish called faggo consisting of pig heart, liver and fatty meat as well as cockles, a type of mollusk, laverbread, toast with seaweed paste, and whelks, a sea snail served with pepper, vinegar and sea salt.”

Anyway, he was a bit more adventurous recently and visited Isaan in the north east of Thailand. Unfortunately, he belied his reputation as a man who will eat anything. Whilst he was happy to chow down on roasted rat, dung beetles, grasshoppers, raw (still warm) calf liver and silk worm grubs, he baulked at raw cow placenta and the partially digested contents of a cow’s stomach.

However, the food that produced in him the greatest revulsion was pizza, with fake cheese, fake seafood and fake hot dog. Earlier in the week I had a pizza from Pizza Hut with a similar fake cheese (possibly the same recipe as was used in the USA by Domino’s [Polydimethylsiloxane – yummmy!]) The base was impossibly sweet, and the imitation crab sticks impossibly vile. However, I managed to force down a few slices. Perhaps Travel Channel should ditch the overweight balding guy and employ another overweight balding guy (i.e. me).


03. June 2010 · 1 comment · Categories: Recipes

I was interested in food and cooking from a very young age. I had one of the best teachers (my mother), and have been a disciple of the likes of Elizabeth David and Delia Smith. This has taught me a great deal, such as when you fry onions and garlic you should put the onions in first, and only when they have softened add the garlic. The garlic should never brown, since it will become bitter.

Learning about Thai food makes me question such dogma. Many dishes start with cooking the garlic in hot oil until it’s golden (see, for example, Het Phat Tao-huu – Stir-fried Mushrooms with Tofu). It doesn’t taste bitter, and similarly fried garlic is often used here as a garnish on all sorts of food.

Similarly, in the West we eschew raw onion – it’s a crude taste which makes one’s breath smell bad. (Only in America, land of the hamburger, is raw onion considered food for non-philistines. Thank you, Ray Kroc.) However, with Thai food onion is often added right at the end and is little more than warmed through. See for example Muu Phat Khing – Stir-fried Pork with Ginger
– where the onion is only cooked for a couple of minutes at most.

I just wonder how much of what we’re taught about food preparation is true, and how much is just articles of faith?


In Tesco-Lotus (as in most supermarkets) there’s a quick checkout – no more than 10 items, and baskets only – not that the rules are enforced. It’s most convenient to take through a basket of 15 or 20 items, as I have done many times. And unlike the UK, there won’t be anyone behind me in the queue quietly tutting disapproval. The checkout staff certainly won’t comment or refuse service. Admittedly, I’ve never had the cojones to take a trolley through the confined spaces of the quick checkout, but I’ve seen in done on many an occasion.

Thailand is not a free market economy, with many items subject to retail price controls – items such as oil, fish sauce, sugar, rice, condensed milk, flour (and non-food items such as fuel, school uniforms, medicines and music CDs). Whenever there is in impending price rise the shelves of Tesco-Lotus are stripped bare. Today it was oil that was in demand. People with baskets piled high with the stuff were queuing at the quick checkout. Now, Tesco-Lotus imposes a limit of three bottles of oil per customer under these circumstances. So, what do the checkout staff do? They ring up three bottles of oil, then accept payment before ringing up the next three bottles. And so on. Thus a single customer can (as happened with a customer in front of me in the queue) equate to 8 transactions.

Thailand: a country of non-confrontational scofflaws.