The ANA lounge I'm in at Narita is one of several at the airport,
and I believe it's not even the nicest one, but it surpasses Air Canada's
Maple Leaf Lounge. The noodle bar does as advertised offer complimentary
noodles made to offer in just a couple of minutes; the buffet has a good
mix of Japanese and Western foods, and a well-stocked beer fridge.
They also have a wider selection of newspapers than Air Canada does;
I've taken an IHT and Asahi to read later on in my trip.
The noodles were good comfort food, as were the inari and chicken mayo
maki sushi. I found myself a comfortable niche with a sofa, electrical
outlet, view of the TV wall (sumo, golf and CNN) and tried hiding to see
how long it would take the wait staff to notice my plate was empty and
clear it: about two minutes.
It would be hard to leave this place if I weren't heading to Bangkok,
where I am expecting that all this non-Thai food and non-Thai service,
as good as it is, will be like a bad dream remembered later in the day.
Sat 21 Nov 2009 15:08:00 EST
The flight from Narita to Bangkok in economy class at the back of a
Thai Air 747 was not too uncomfortable, though nothing like what I
was getting used to. My seatmate had a much better seat though, and
I have to remember to ask for it next time. It was a window seat
just where the fuselage narrows so that three seats won't fit any
more on the sides, so you get two seats and a nice area beside the
window where you can stretch out or put your stuff.
I caught up on watching the two most recent episodes of House, MD
and then did some coding and web design for most of the rest of
the six-hour flight. Apple's advertised seven-hour battery life
for this new MacBook Pro seems pretty accurate; I had a good two
hours' worth of charge at the end of the flight.
Ravee met me at the airport and drove me to meet Amnuay at his
favourite pad thai place, where he had taken me the last night
I was in Bangkok in June, and the food was as good as I remembered.
I could feel unused taste buds slowly reawakening as they were bathed
in one sauce after another.
We moved from there to Chinatown for dessert. I was pretty tired at
that point, but enjoyed a rice pudding with unidentified fruit,
intermediate to a chickpea and a green seedless grape in most
respects. I tried one of the fruit and passed on the rest, uncertain
about the effect of its salicylate content on my allergies.
I checked in at the four-star Monthien Riverside hotel, stretched
out on my king-size bed, played with all the bedside remote controls
for the room and began the first of several naps that would constitute
my jet-lagged sleep for the night.
The next morning, as arranged, I called Amnuay at 11:00 to tell him
I was up, waking him in the process. He came to pick me up a couple
of hours later, and we went to eat at the Talay Thai Seafood Market,
a large commercial market about 50 km (?) west of Bangkok in Samut
Sakhon. We walked up and down the retail section looking at a very
wide selection of live and freshly caught fish, squid, crabs,
molluscs and limulids while Sew and Yao (sp?) chose what looked
best and walked it over to a stall that would cook whatever you
brought them. We had fish pancakes (Thai satsuma age), fish fried
rice, boiled crab, very large prawns, deep fried fish with a fruit
chutney, and curried crab, all with sauces/seasonings that brought
out the best of the flavour of the seafood. When our stomachs were
completely full (the three Thai iced teas helped), we drove back
Amnuay said he needed a haircut, and I looked like I needed one too.
I declined, but accepted the rest of a spa treatment: shampoo, manicure,
pedicure and ear cleaning. I've always wanted to have my ears done,
ever since I first read of the process; now I have to find a place
to have it done back home. The rest of the experience was relaxing
and rejuvenating: it was nice to just lie back and feel this and that
getting clipped or cleaned. When I get back home, I must see if Kristen
would like a spa day too. :)
Nawapadol then took me to see a show, I think it would be not exaggerating
to call it a spectacular, called Siam Niramit. Inspired by a local
entrepreneur's love of Vegas shows, this features a large cast
(and an elephant) reenacting Thai history and culture on what is
reportedly the tallest (and close to widest) stage in the world,
complete with a river large enough to float boats on, aerial effects,
trapdoors, etc. Each scene was introduced in English and Thai, with
projected translations in Chinese, Japanese and Russian; the scenes
themselves were nonverbal but communicated well. Truth be told, both
Nawapadol and I fell asleep a few times, but only because it was dark,
comfortable, and we were both exhausted.
We joined everyone at a place called the Waterside Resort Restaurant
in what I thought was near the river, but after looking at the map
I realize it's possible to make any place look like it's near the
river when your city is at one metre above sea level: all the seating
was on interconnected piers over a large pond. The food was the usual
fabulous selection of things I wish I could name; Amnuay seemed amused
that Ravee, Nawapadol and I were equally delighted with the free
high-speed WiFi, as the photos indicate.
Got back to the hotel not too late, maybe 1:00 A.M., worked until
3:00 and then took a series of one-hour jet-lagged naps.
Sun 22 Nov 2009 01:54:43 EST
I got up early this morning, after about six hours' sleep, feeling
tired, which is a step up from exhausted. I Skyped the family to
say good night, then went downstairs to see what the hotel breakfast
buffet was like. Breakfast customs differ so much from country to
country, I'm always curious to learn new ones. As far as I can tell
for example, my hosts eat two big meals a day and snack in between.
The hotel buffet had a combination of Western and Indian dishes, without
much that my uneducated eye could identify as Thai. I enjoyed some
saffron rice with tandoori chicken, and had some bacon so my stomach
would think it was breakfast.
Ravee came to pick me up and we went to the Jatujak Weekend Market,
which bills itself as the largest market of its kind in the world,
and it's easy to believe it. There is no particular overall order
to it, just one stall after another as far as the eye can see.
Sometimes it seems like sheer coincidence will throw together a
bunch of similarly themed stores. I was happy to be able to pick
up a good supply of gifts to take back home, which I will refrain
from listing here to maintain a surprise.
We called Amnuay to see if he was done with his radio interview and
could still go to the beach, and as I write this, we're waiting for
someone to unblock his car so that we can get going.
Sun 22 Nov 2009 08:53:58 EST
We headed south out of Bangkok in search of more food and more
relaxation, listening to cowboy music. The city is vast, but but
not boundless, and eventually gives way to aquaculture farms (Bangkok
itself is only one metre above sea level), and then to a curious
landscape I recognize from photographs, with small lush green
mountains scattered across the countryside.
When we got to Bangbaet, we stopped to buy some sticky rice cooked
steamed in bamboo and fish pancakes from street vendors before
continuing to the beach, where we bought chicken cooked in bamboo,
steamed fish and squid. We sat in deck chairs under beach
umbrellas along a not too busy stretch of what must have been at least
a kilometre of beach, deck chairs and beach umbrellas. Vendors
trickled by steadily but were not aggressive. Kids splashed in
the shallows of the Gulf of Thailand, and thrill seekers sat astride
"banana boats": long inflated tubes with handholds for six, pulled
back and forth in the water by motorboats intent on dislodging their
Amnuay describes the chicken with typically accurate hyperbole as the
best in the universe. I'll see if I can describe part of why it's
true. You pick up a chunk, dip it in the sauce and take a bite.
The first tastes to hit your mouth are a volatile citrus note, sweetness,
umami, and a bit of heat from the sauce. Then the taste of the chicken
and its marinade hit you. The chicken has also been cooked in bamboo,
so that it's juicy on the inside and ever so slightly charred on the
outside. As you keep chewing, the fattiness of the skin and the
bitterness of the charring emerge to complete the picture.
This dish is not available anywhere else, which puzzled me when I first
heard about it. As I sat on the beach enjoying the breeze, the company
and the fine food, I came to understand that the food was a product of
the environment, and it would be difficult for anyone who had experienced
living, cooking and eating at the beach to transplant themselves to the
big city , nor would there be any good reason to do so.
After yet another Thai iced tea (I must be up to ten or so in two
days) we drove back to town to Amnuay's favourite massage parlor
for the best Thai massage in town. It being my first experience
with Thai massage, and my having slept through at least two thirds
of the two-hour massage, I can't definitively confirm this, but it
was definitely a superb experience.
Amnuay then wanted to go out for a big meal, but I had reached my
limit for a weekend of fun and gastronomic adventure. I told him
I'd be happy to hang out for a few more hours anywhere he liked,
so we went to a restaurant at the top of the Baiyoke 1 tower,
with a beautiful view of the entire city. We had drinks, snacks,
and talked about Scrabble. About midnight we went back to my hotel,
where I helped Ravee and Nawapadol configure event coverage for their
youth Scrabble event next weekend, then said goodbye, packed and had
two hours' sleep before Amnuay picked me up for my onward flight.
I got to BKK well in advance of my flight so that Amnuay could avoid
rush hour traffic, intending to sleep at the Thai Air lounge, but was
deterred from this by the availability of surprisingly good food.
I should clarify: it was no surprise that the food was good; it was
just that it looked pretty basic (chicken rolls and pork buns), but
it tasted marvellous. So I ate and worked online instead of sleeping.
I passed out briefly on the two-hour flight to Singapore, and ate
a reasonable in-flight Thai Air meal (chicken and rice). Michael
Tang met me at SGP, and fed me spicy chicken curry noodles while
we waited to pick up Leslie Charles from Trinidad and Mark Nyman
from England. He sent us with a driver to Johor Bahru and stayed
to meet other players.
Mon 23 Nov 2009 19:48:44 EST
The trip to Johor Bahru was uneventful, I think less than 45 minutes;
the causeway itself is shorter than I thought it would be, and the
border crossing rapid and efficient. The Zon Regency Hotel does not
have a very good reputation among players, and I'll refrain from
writing much about it here until I find something nice to say. I was
however able to get twelve much-needed hours of sleep last night,
and am looking forward to breakfast, meeting whichever players and
staff have arrived so far, and beginning to set up for the event.