My Story on Billy Cobham’s Thailand Debut

I’ve got a story in today’s International Herald Tribune/Thai Day (Thai Day is a Siam-specific IHT section) — it’s a review of drumming legend Billy Cobham‘s first-ever concert in Thailand. The story’s not (yet?) online, sadly. If you’re reading this from the Kingdom, pick up a copy of the paper; for those of you outside Thailand, well, you’re outta luck. But here’s my lede:

When the drummer for the opening act launched into his manic solo Tuesday night at the Thailand Cultural Center, he may well have felt intimidated by his proximity to greatness. That’s because not far away – lounging backstage, perhaps, or seated serenely in the wings — drumming legend Billy Cobham was in the house. When Cobham later took the stage and struck up his band for what would be his inaugural Thailand performance, he displayed not only his staggering percussive genius but also his subtle aptitude for marshaling disparate sounds from around the globe.

Hua Hin

Hua Hin, Thailand

I’m happy to tell you that my spirits, which had been slowly and quite unfortunately depleted by the demands of Bangkok life during the hot season, were rejuvenated markedly this past weekend. That’s because I spent a few days at a delightful little beach resort outside Hua Hin. Here are some pics. Yes, I am well aware of the fact that I live an extraordinarily difficult life. I’m doing my best to cope. That’s all I can say.

Hua Hin, Thailand
The view

Hua Hin, Thailand
The beach

Hua Hin, Thailand
The flora

Prawns Wrapped in Bacon
The food (prawns wrapped in bacon)


Mango with Sticky Rice

It just so happens that one of Bangkok’s most famous mango with sticky rice (Khao Niaow Ma Muang in Thai) stands is less than 100 meters from where I’m staying. I am a lucky man. Here’re some pics. You get your order to go and then mix up the ingredients — in addition to the mango, you’ve got your cream and some peanuts, all packaged up dainty-like. A dessert — nay, meal — like this will set you back about 80 Baht (roughly US $2), which is expensive for BKK street food. But oh it’s worth it. Take my word: it is worth it.

UPDATE: I sampled this fine dish yet again yesterday, and the price is actually 60 Baht (about $1.50). In addition, Bangkok expert John E. writes in pointing out that you don’t actually get peanuts to sprinkle on top. Instead, I looked closely at what comes in the package (see the far left of the second image below) and they appear to be — wait for it — Rice Crispies. Seriously. Some mango with sticky rice recipes make reference to topping the dish off with sesame seeds, but I like the idea of Rice Crispies much better.



The Best (and only) Creperie in Bangkok

Crepes & Co, Bangkok

Get thee to Gridskipper and check out my gustatory musings on Bangkok’s Crepes & Co.


Notes from Indonesia

Me looking silly in Jakarta

So. Jakarta. My notes from that portion of the trip are long overdue. Here’s what I’ve got:

Why I went
People have asked me why I decided to visit Jakarta — since Indonesia, apart from Bali, is not a typical Southeast Asian tourist destination. Well, first of all, I was close. I was in Kuala Lumpur at the time, and it was only a quick flight to Jakarta. Second, it was cheap – the round-trip flight, on the low-cost carrier Air Asia, was only about US $100. And third, I didn’t want to miss out on a chance to visit the world’s most populous Muslim nation. (In fact, Indonesia is not only home to more Muslims than any other state, but it’s got the world’s fourth largest population after China, India, and the US.) As war continues in Iraq and conflict — figurative if not always physical — between the West and the Islamic world rages, I wanted to see, first-hand, what an enormous, dynamic Muslim nation was really like.

And what was it like?
It’s easier to say what it wasn’t like, actually. There were no anti-Western riots in the streets. I perceived no hostility when I told Indonesians I was from America. (It was the same case in Malaysia, another majority-Muslim nation — indeed, the world over, my experience has been that while people tend to dislike American foreign policy, they usually like American citizens.) Given the manner in which the Islamic world figures in news stories that appear in the Western media today, it can be tempting to assume that many Muslims harbor a deep-seated hatred of the West, and that militant Islamic fanaticism is much more common than it is.

Seeing Muslims go about their daily lives — the simple act of eating with Indonesians, of chatting with them, of seeing women in headscarves consumed with laughter and men drinking coffee together and telling jokes — served as a counterpoint to my image of life in the Islamic world, as hard as that is for me to admit. People go about their lives in Indonesia, of course, just like they do everywhere else in the world. Indonesia is a nation of over 220 million people; while extremists no doubt exist there, my feeling was that that the vast, vast majority of citizens were apolitical.

While I was in Jakarta, I met up with a friend of a friend who’s an American Foreign Service Officer there. Part of her job is to interview Indonesians who’re applying for visas to study in the US. One of her questions, she said, is what these applicants would like Americans to know about Indonesians. Nine of ten respond along the same lines: “I want them to know we’re not terrorists.”

How not to be a sucker in a drug-smuggling scheme
Anyone who’s familiar with the Schapelle Corby case – or the dreadful movie “Brokedown Palace,” for that matter – will recognize the potential peril I faced in checking in for my flight from Kuala Lumpur to Jakarta. As I was waiting in line, a young woman – perhaps 25, clean-cut, and attractive – tapped me on the shoulder. Her friend, she said, was 15 kilograms over the limit for checked bags. Would I mind taking a bag for them, the woman asked, since I had only a small backpack and no luggage to check?

I politely declined.

The woman walked away. They didn’t look like drug dealers’ girlfriends, and that was one reason I was suspicious. I consider myself to be a good Samaritan, but carrying a bag into a Indonesia for two complete strangers is not something with which I feel even relatively comfortable.

People doing nothing
I observed something in Jakarta that I’d yet to see on this sojourn – and that, in fact, I hadn’t seen since my days in South America’s developing nations: people doing nothing. Men and women on the side of the street. Simply sitting there. In the middle of the day. All day long. Perhaps it was due to Indonesia’s high unemployment rate?

Tourists as novelties
It’d also been a while since I’d been in a place where people routinely approach me and ask to take photos with me. Part of it, no matter where I travel, is due to the fact that I’m tall and conspicuous. But there also seemed to be very few tourists in Jakarta, so seeing someone like me walking down the street was a rarity. In addition to the image at the top of this post, here’s another one — I was at the top of the Monumen Nacional when a father asked to take a photo of me with his child. Unfortunately the pic didn’t come out very well (but don’t miss the kid’s jaunty red sunglasses):


Stray Cats
There were stray cats everywhere in Jakarta. One evening I returned to my hotel room at midnight and found one feasting on a fellow guest’s room service leftovers. The cat didn’t live in the hotel. And my room was on the fourth floor. An enterprising feline, indeed:


Cartoon wars
Okay. Now this is bizarre. I didn’t know much about Indonesia’s ongoing conflict with separatists in the province of Papua. So when the Australian government accepted a boatload of Papuan asylum seekers during my time in Jakarta, I was surprised at the Indonesian government ‘s resultant anger. One local paper, in fact, ran a cartoon depicting Aussie Prime Minister John Howard and his Foreign Affairs Minister as copulating dingos. Not to be outdone, an Australian paper struck back with a canine version of a similar cartoon. It shows Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono mounting a Papuan. Wow.

More pics
Here’re the rest of my photos from Jakarta, though I regret that they’re neither numerous nor particularly exciting.