Thai people love pandas. Ever since Lin Ping was born in Chiang Mai Zoo just over a year ago they’ve become a national obsession. There’s a TV channel that broadcasts live from Lin Ping’s cage 24/7. Elephants have been painted like pandas. And their image is everywhere from advertising posters to T-shirts to tableware.

Panda elephants in Ayutthaya

A couple of weeks ago a friend’s mother was shopping at a local market and spotted some unusual looking fish – they looked like pandas, with white body, black around the eyes, and further black splodges on the body. Enchanted she bought one to add to her fish tank.

Her family was a little skeptical: there’s no such thing as a panda-fish. How right they were. A few days later the paint started to come off to reveal … a bog-standard goldfish!


In England local government imposes stupid regimes upon its subjugates. They are required to separate their refuse into various categories such as paper, food waste, metal, glass and, if they’re lucky, the authorities will arrange an occasional collection at whatever interval most successfully ensures that the food waste is thoroughly putrid and attracting a suitable number of flies and maggots. Woe betide the man or woman who fails strictly to obey its ordinances, for he or she will be deserving of the full penalty of the law.

Things in Thailand are a bit more relaxed. My maid has trained me to put my used glass bottles, cans and cardboard in a particular cupboard. She then takes this away each week to sell to supplement her modest income.

Yesterday I gave her an old computer, monitor and scanner that I no longer needed. She was pleased.

And today I needed to get rid of a couple of electric heaters. (It sounds crazy having electric heaters in Thailand, but in parts of the north they are useful for a few nights each year.) And there was an old lamp and motorcycle helmet. As soon as I’d turned my back one of the security guards (and older chap who is really friendly and smiles a lot) was approaching. He asked if I was throwing the things out. Five minutes later they’d gone.

(Normally my thrown out things disappear overnight, so it was a bit of a novelty to be asked.)

In England it’s only the tired slogans of the hair-shirted environmentalists that are efficiently recycled. Here in Thailand it’s a way of life.


OK, pop quiz, which of the two in the video is one of the top-rated hip-hop dancers in the world, and which is a classically trained ballet dancer?


It may not be the most difficult question in the world, but Alex Wong is an incredible talent. (He’s the Asian one, in case you hadn’t guessed.) A former Principal Soloist at Miami City Ballet, he quit his job to compete in “So You Think You Can Dance”. (That’s an American TV competition for dancers who have to demonstrate skill in a wide variety of styles, from ballroom to krump, from contemporary to African jazz. It’s been one of my favourite programmes for a while now. There’s rarely an episode where I’m not teary eyed, at least once. The skill, power and emotional value of the performances are almost beyond belief.)

For Alex, every performance for him in the show has been superlative. Then, during rehearsal earlier in the week, he severed his Achilles tendon. He’s out of the show.

Icarus soared too close to the sun once more.

And it sucks.


I’m pretty sure that Billie Holiday had other things on her mind when she sang Strange Fruit. But then I guess she never encountered sapodilla (in Thai, ละมุด [pronounced “la-mut”] – and for my Latin readers, it’s Manilkara zapota).


The fruit, it is believed, originated in central America and was brought to SE Asia by the Portuguese.

It contains four or so inedible seeds, and the flesh is a strange brown colour. The texture is slightly sandy – rather like an over-ripe pear – and the taste is sweet with a slight hint of acid. It also has a distinctive smell, rather fermented. Some say it smells like malt, but I think it smells like liquor.


And lest anyone suspect that I have shown any disrespect to Billie Holiday, here are a few interesting (to me at least) facts about her song:

  • The original poem was written by an American Jew who subsequently adopted two sons of the Rosenbergs, murdered (the Rosenbergs, that is) by the American establishment for disagreeing with its fascistical politics.
  • Holiday had great trouble getting the song recorded, and eventually (in seach of a record company) performed an a cappella version to Billy Crystal’s uncle. He (the uncle, that is) was brought to tears by the performance. (And who wouldn’t be?) He was eventually able to arrange for a special release of the song.
  • In 1999 Time magazine declared it the “song of the century”.


I doubt you’ll find sapodilla in a supermarket near you any time soon, but if you do, give it a try.

Durian is not the only fruit.


According to AFP:

“The US House of Representatives on Thursday overwhelmingly backed a symbolic resolution urging Thailand’s political crisis be resolved peacefully and through democratic means.

“Lawmakers voted 411-4 in favor (sic) of the measure, which also calls on all parties in Thailand to “work assiduously to settle their differences” based on a five-point reconciliation plan crafted by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.”

Huh? Why is a bunch of over-privileged, geriatric Americans who probably couldn’t even point to Thailand on a map voting on this matter? For those of us who live here and try closely to follow politics the issues are far from clear-cut.

Doesn’t the US of A have enough problems of its own to keep them busy? Aren’t the financial crisis, woeful healthcare, rampant drug abuse, failing educational system, out-of-control credit (coupled with the lowest savings rate of any developed country), social inequality and illegal immigration enough to fill the time of the Honorable (sic) representatives? Oh, and then there’s the small matter of an oil leak somewhere or other.

And frankly, it’s rarely a good thing for Uncle Sam to take an interest in a foreign country. Think of Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Colombia, Cuba, Haiti, Guatemala, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Panama, Grenada, Nicaragua, Venezuela Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Angola, Somalia, Libya and all the others. And let’s not forget the greatest war crimes of all time: Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Bow your head in shame, bald eagle. And stay the hell away from my backyard.