Angkor Hot!

Oh, my, the days of travel without children! We do so much! The last three days have been very full, fulfilling and diverse…

Wednesday we did the cooking class in Bangkok at Baipai – what a delectable experience that was. We learned the relative merits of tapioca over corn flour, how to make our own fresh coconut milk, and a particular favourite, how to make tom kah gai, the world’s best soup. We were taught to slap your mashed fish mix to make puffy fish cakes (Stuart, oddly, apparently didn’t do enough slapping…), that the predominant flavour to emphasise in tom kah gai (chicken galangal soup) is sour (the others being sweet, salty & spicy) and you don’t even have to cook the chilies, just bash them a little and pop them in at the end, and that the best way to check if your oil is hot enough for deep frying in the wok is to put a wooden skewer in and wait for bubbles. Oh, and we ate… mmmmm.

A classic Bangkok Bladerunner-esque cab ride along the raised tollways back to the Novotel Suvarnabhumi landed us in style on the biggest bed we have ever had the pleasure to enjoy. I think it was nearly twice as big as our king back home, and we slept like angels in the so-called city of.

Yesterday was the surreal meeting with our fellow tourists of the National Geographic Expedition which we are now enjoying, with an early flight to Siem Reap, gateway to Angkor Wat. Siem Reap itself is a bizarre American outpost with an army of smiling Cambodians providing for our every need. The Grand Hotel D’Angkor, built by the French in 1929 and refurbished and upgraded in 1998, is a palatial and gracious remnant of the recent colonial past, overlayed with the intense consumerism (and associated prices) of the current predominance of American clientele. But as is always the case with Americans (and I can say whatever I want about this, since I am/have been one), they are all so nice. And as for those on our tour, they are well-travelled, mostly quite socially conscious and very interesting people. Mind you, most of them are also well over 65, and I’m pretty sure some are pushing 85. Stuart, Jodi and I are the novelties on the trip, but as usual, everyone is delighted to see us traveling with Ma and Dad, and indeed it is a pleasure and a privilege to all be together (we just miss Rhett & Shari!).

We’ve visited Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, the Bayon and today, a silk farm and artisan’s collective, and it has all been predictably gorgeous and inspiring, except for the crowds. We are not only traveling in a serious horde ourselves, everywhere we turn, we encounter ourselves exponentially. This does, unfortunately, have the effect of dampening our meditative capacity at these ancient ruins, but the temples are sufficiently incredible to sustain us. We do look forward to embarking on the boat tomorrow, in hopes of a bit more reflective space…

As for Cambodian (or Khmer) food, we finally had a beautiful meal of it today at Viloth’s in town. The green papaya salad was a perfect balance of sour and salty that we so adore (though it could have used more spice, as everything here is devoid of chili to please the westerners), the Amok fish (in coconut milk, lemon grass, basil and coriander) was an amazingly creamy yet delicate flavour sensation, and the Laab (minced pork, lemon grass, lemon, peanuts and coriander) was just completely out of this world – heaven. Tonight who knows how the food will be, but it is meant to be Khmer, whilst being enchanted by a performance of the celestial apsara dancers. I hope I find myself in about an hour exclaiming “nih ch’ngain nah” (this is delicious!).

Bangkok Chinois

One night in Bangkok makes the… Mama and Daddy relax!! Missing the kids at the moment is not so pathological as the anticipatory dread I experienced pre-departure (anybody suprised by this?). Phew. So, on to the blogging…

Bangkok is pretty fabulous, with the heat, the smells, the crowds and the ultra-delicious food everywhere. With the time difference, we were up at 6am for a bit of reading before brekky (how utterly luxurious in itself) and out onto Yaowarat Rd by 9am. A short stroll through lane after lane of markets led us to the Chao Praya River, where we hopped on a boat up to the Grand Palace. Of course, we had no intention of visiting said palace, but it was a lovely stroll through countless stalls and markets just behind the palace. After some glorious produce markets, we passed through the colourful flower market, before finding ourselves in retail central. When that grew tedious, we started to graze, landing eventually back in Chinatown for some pork buns, dumplings and wontons. Mmmm.

Fish, fried, dried or fermented, is definitely a local favourite, and the smell of naam plaa (fish sauce) is growing on us by the minute. Of course, although we’ve resisted most of the retail therapy, we have weakened over one or two irresistible items for the much-missed brood…

We’re currently sheltering from the 45% humidity in the heat of the afternoon before venturing out for a Singha, som tam & gaeng kiaow on the River later this afternoon/evening… Tomorrow we’re booked in for a half-day cooking class before joining the National Geographic folks at the Novotel Suvarnabhumi by the new airport of the same name. It’s pretty rough, I tell ya’. And we’re just the people to appreciate it.

SE Asia or bust

It’s been nine years, three kids, one vasectomy, two degrees, countless hairstyles, two overseas moves and a couple of breakdowns since our last extended childless adventure o/s, and it’s time. We’ve been looking forward to this since Dad offered it a few months back, maybe even since around 2001? But now that it’s upon us, I can’t believe how hard it actually is to go. The kids are despondent, our friends and auntie & uncle are all set for support, and we really need a holiday, but ouch, this is hard. I just really wish we were taking the kids. I’m sure I’ll change my mind?

So the trip is 3 weeks for Stuart, 4 for me. Two weeks from Angkor to Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) then Hanoi with my generous Ma and Pa and sister Jodes, then hopefully to Hoi An for about 5 days on our own (if it’s flooded, we’ll reroute…), finally to Saigon again, where Stuart will head home to lovely chaotic kiddles and I’ll stay on for a week for research. I do have the best research ever, being forced to hang out with people while they shop and/or eat and talk about food, family, memory and imagination. Tough gig.

One glitch though – Stuart was told on Friday that he has to go to Singapore for a meeting on his way to Bangkok, meaning he’s leaving in about an hour, whereas I leave at 1pm tomorrow, so we’re hooking up in the Bangkok airport. Not only is this unfortunate for the whole ‘first exciting/scary long trip away from wee ones’ bonding on the plane, it means I have to be the one to drop kids off at school in the morning without him, whilst they dissolve (and I… ?) and I march valiantly away to get a cab to the airport alone. I know that some folks will be thinking, “yeah, but at least you’re going overseas together(ish)”, but the physical act of leaving the creatures I grew is the single thing I am dreading most, and now, I’m on my own.

Okay, off to a jaw-clenching sleep before the dreaded separation, followed by, I’m sure, an amazing holiday. Hopefully the next post will be a bit more exciting…

Social rhymes with show-all (at least assonantly)…

I’m thinking a lot at the moment about stitching my identities together, some of which have frayed edges and others which sport bias(ed) bindings. In this cyber-real unreality of the uber-E, where ‘e’ is for ‘eccentric’ and ‘eclectic’, my careful stitches sometimes appear as pure pastiche. And isn’t it fascinating that when one finally mends the online schisms, puts that personality that used to make so much sense back into one eager little portal, how schisms show up as schizoid – we aren’t meant to put all our selves back together again. Identities are so fractured, so multiple, that to force them back into one mould simply breaks it. So what the hell am I talking about? Well, it’s this:

I really like having a blog for my musings, a wiki for food reviewing with friends, RSS feeds for journal alerts and blog updates (especially food blogs), email for the banal dailies, websites for designing online curricula, social bookmarking for online convenience and bibliographic trails, online data storage to tame my version-control issues, and social networking for making links (both academic and otherwise).

I have to go to a meeting. I’ll be back. x