Tuesday, 22 May 2012


Tammy likes bagels. Wait, let me rephrase that - Tammy LOVES bagels. When we went to Taipei some years ago, the crazy woman dragged me to the local McDonald’s three mornings in a row. Why? Because it has bagels on its breakfast menu! On this trip to Bangkok with Tammy, I was armed and ready.

BKK Bagel Bakery has a good selection of bagels and spreads. I opted for Sea Salt Bagel (THB35) and Scallion Cream Cheese (THB30), which added up to only S$2.62 or USD2.08!

The perfect spot for a bagel and coffee before the morning meeting.

 Or a leisurely breakfast.

BKK Bagel Bakery
518/3 Maneeya Center, Ploenchit Road, Bangkok 10330
(Next to the Chidlom BTS station)
Tel: +66 2 2548157
Opening hours: Monday-Friday, 8:30am - 6:30pm and Saturday, 8:30am to noon
Read the CNNGo article

Monday, 21 May 2012


This was the day I almost died of heat stroke.

We explored the Grand Palace on a ridiculously hot day. Constructed in 1782, the palace complex is made up of so many temples, halls, pavilions and courtyards, making it difficult to navigate. Why would the early kings and queens need a ridiculous 218,400 square metres (2,351,000 square feet) of space, I wonder?

The first thing that struck me upon entering its premises was how everything shimmers and glitters under the morning sun – 简直就是金碧辉煌嘛! Each building is different and every single one covered in gold, stained glass or jewel-like tiles. Stunning.

Despite the heat, you should not hope to gain entrance to the Grand Palace in tube tops and skimpy attires. The palace grounds and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha within are sacred and you should respect the strict dress code. So read up about it before you travel.

Everywhere we turned there were tour groups from different countries, accompanied by their bawling guides, all trying to speak in different languages, all at the same time.

Would I go back again? Well, yes, if the weather is less harsh and if I'm accompanied by a guide. The palace grounds and its fascinating architectures certainly deserve more than just a brisk walk-through.


It's always such a pleasure to catch up with my old friends in Bangkok, especially Khun Kai and Tan-Tan who spent the weekend was us. Tan-Tan is so cool now!  When I last saw Tan-Tan, he was probably 7 or 8 years old – then a naughty boy with too much energy to spare. Now a teenager, he has transformed from a prancing monkey into a young gentleman.  After Tammy and I shopped out of control in the weekend market, it was Tan-Tan who lended his muscles.

I've always wanted to visit Jim Thompson House. If you've never heard of Jim Thompson (只能用“一生传奇”来形容他吧) he was an American who arrived in Bangkok after WWII, fell in love with Thailand, and made it his permanent home. The hand-woven silk industry captured Jim Thompson’s attention and he decided to devote himself to reviving the long-neglected craft. Jim Thompson and the Thai silk industry attained worldwide recognition after his silk found its way into the 1956 musical film “The King and I”.

The Jim Thompson House combines of six teak buildings, which represents the best in traditional Thai architecture. Even though the House was built in 1959, most of the houses were at least two centuries old. Jim Thompson had purchased them from different parts of the country - some from as far away as the old capital of Ayudya – dismantled and brought to the present site.

You can tell that Jim Thompson was a quirky designer and decorator. For instance, in his dining table was formed by joining two intricately crafted mahjong tables.  Burmese drums were inverted to function as table lamp stands.  He reversed all the walls in his drawing room to bring the beautifully carved panels to the interior.

If you’re ever in Bangkok, it would be worthwhile to take the 40-minute guided tour of the Jim Thompson House. For only THB100, you’ll learn how the house adhered to the customs of early builders, why the house is above ground level, why the doors inside the house is slanted, the fascinating stories behind his vast collection of art pieces and antiques. You’ll also come face to face with a 17th century Buddha from the Ayudya period, as well as a 19th century Mouse House.

This photo is from http://sparklette.net/

On March 26, 1967, Jim Thompson disappeared while on a holiday to the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. Not a single valid clue turned up as to what might have happened to him. He was 61 years of age.

Jim Thompson House
Soi Kasemsan 2, opposite the National Stadium on Rama I Road,
6/1 Soi Kasemsan 2, Rama 1 Road
+66 2 216 7368
Opening Hours: 9am – 5pm (last guided tour at 5pm)
How to get there: Take exit 1 from the BTS National Stadium Station, turn right into Soi Kasemsan 2 and continue walking all the way to the very end. The museum will be on your left-hand side.


This is probably my 5th or 6th trip to Bangkok but I have to say that each visit is always better than before.  It was also not my first time at Chatuchak (JJ) weekend market but I manage to enjoy myself every single time.  Sure the weather was hotter than ever before but Tammy and I loved every minute we spent in the City of Smiles. 

We made plans to arrive into Suvarnabhumi Airport on Friday morning and booked ourselves a car to the hotel.  The ride cost us THB1,200 inclusive toll fees.

Our hotel is simply fantastic!  I thought they might be exaggerating when I read on the hotel website that they were just next to the Nana BTS Station but there weren't kidding.  The hotel's back entrance is literally a few steps from the escalator leading up to the BTS.  What's more, the hotel feels brand new, the guest room we had was spacious and equipped with a mini bar, safe, bath robes and slippers and hair dryer.  The room rate included daily breakfast for two and Internet.  For a total of 4 nights, we paid about THB9,200 (S$368 / USD 289) for a twin-bedded room.  Great value for money.

On8 Sukhumvit
Nana Skytrain Station
162 Sukhumvit Road at Sukhumvit Soi 8
Bangkok 10110
Tel: +662 2548866

I do think that the aromatherapy body massage just 2 lanes away is worth trying.

King and I Spa Massage
Sukhumvit Soi 12, Bangkok
Tel: +66 2 2525248

And then there's authentic Thai food at Cabbages and Condoms
10 Sukhumvit Soi 12, Bangkok
Tel: +66 2 2294610
Read NY Times article

Although I suspect that the food is laden with fish sauce - despite the fact that the waiter who served us was kind of a snob who fawns upon caucasian customers - even though we were told they had run out of Mango and Sticky Rice, we did like the food at:

Ban Khun Mae Thai Restaurant
458/6-9 Siam Square Soi 8, Rama 1 Road,
Patumwan District, Bangkok 10330
Tel: +66 2 2501952 - 3

This is just a quick run down.  Follow my Bangkok adventures in my next few posts.

Thursday, 10 May 2012


This 1950’s tea set was my grandmother’s gift to my mother on her wedding day. I unwrapped only a few pieces for the photograph but the complete set is meant to serve six people, so there are 23 pieces in all.

I once mentioned to a friend that the set is Narumi but I was wrong. It was produced by Seyei, Nagoya. Is the set worth any value in the market today? I'm not sure.  Anyhow, I don't intend to part with it.

In 2005, when we were packing to move into our new apartment, my mother decided that she had no practical use for the tea set and wanted to throw it away, but I rescued it from its impending fate.  Some girls take over their mother’s wedding dress. I’ll have my mother’s wedding tea set.  It's a romantic notion.

A few days before the move, my aunt swung by in her car and asked if there were any small things of value we might want to hand-carry to the new apartment. She probably meant cash or jewelry but the first thing that went into the car was my precious tea set. Silly? That’s me, ever the sentimental fool.

Why did my mother decide to part with her wedding gift? Frills and laces mean nothing to Mum, who has always been a frugal, hardworking and down-to-earth individual. She was only 10 when her father was taken away during the Japanese Occupation. He never came home. My grandmother gave up a life of luxury - servants, chauffer, gramophone and a house with a courtyard - started working to make ends meet while Mum learnt to clean, wash and cook.  I suppose if you had to live a hand to mouth existence, you wouldn't have bothered whether your plate was fine bone china, would you?

Even till today my mother would opt for practicality over pretty, preferring stainless steel cooking pots over Corningware; enamel-coated tin plates instead porcelain. A guest who once stopped by at our place for lunch commented that our family ate out of  狗盘子 (dog dishes). Mum felt the least insulted by the remark. Her motto is: “不管是瓷盘还是钢盘,可以耐久久的就是好盘啦!” (“Whatever serves its purpose!") We’re still using the same stainless steel dishes today and everything tastes great because, even at age 79, Mum is a fabulous cook.

Mum doesn’t remember her own birthday. During the war years not many people had time for birthday celebrations. Her IC indicates only her year of birth: 1932 but in reality Mum faked her age to get a job. She was only 15 (even though the legal age for employment then was 16) when she started working in a factory. For all her years of sacrifices, my grandmother must have felt that her only daughter deserved something beautiful on her wedding day. I can only imagine the love and sentiments behind my late grandmother’s choice of gift. Unfortunately, my mother wasn’t too wild about imported crockery from Japan.

Does it mean that my mother hate the Japanese? No, she rarely laments about the past. She even vacationed in Tokyo (twice) and couldn’t stop singing praises for its people, the food and how orderly and clean the city is. Cleanliness means a lot to Mum. Our home is spotless at all times and anything left on the desk or table top would be cleared almost immediately. There are times when I haven’t quite finished breakfast but she was ready to remove the bottle of marmalade from right under my nose! I once tried to place framed photos of the family on top of the TV console and two days later they’ve disappeared into the drawer! Mum detests clutter, fearing that things might become misplaced or lost. Although I get into heated arguments about it with her sometimes, I think I understand the psychic behind Mum’s desire for order and tidiness- and her fear of loss. Could it be, unbeknownst even to herself - having lived through the chaos of the war and having lost someone so dear at such a young age - left some invisible scarring on her mind?

As an early Mother’s Day celebration we all went out for dim sum today (I’ll be in Bangkok on Mother’s Day weekend). As usual Mum raised some protest when I suggested going out to lunch, “That would be expensive.  You really ought to save the money for something more useful!"  Then she looked thoughtful for a few minutes and said, “What I really need is a pair of new dentures!” That sent me into peals of laughter but that’s my mother, always the practical one.

As I carefully took the tea set out of its carton, Mum sat beside me, lovingly stroking and admiring each piece. “They are beautiful aren’t they?” she said. “Feel how light this tea cup is!” Yet she couldn’t resist adding, “Your grandmother was such a spendthrift!”

Saturday, 5 May 2012


Auntie Shan and Uncle Yuan made a cute couple.  They knew my parents since way back in the 1950’s when they attended night school together. During the WWII many kids had to quit school and would continue their education through night classes when they started life as working adults. And it was through the night school that these four young people found Happily Ever After.  I have old photos of the couples double dating in Cameron Highlands and Fraser Hill. I don’t know which couple got married first. All I know is that the friendship between them became so strong that when the opportunity arose, we all moved into the same apartment block to become neighbours.

Our families lived right next to each other.  Their son, A., and I were inseparable playmates until we were teenagers.  Then we decided that we were too cool for each other.  :)  A. embarked on a career with a local bank, got married and moved away from the neighborhood.  No matter, our parents remained close friends.

Sometime around the year 2000, several things happened all at once: Doctors found a tumor inside Auntie Shan’s head. It cannot be operated on. And then we received Notice to vacate our then 30-year old apartments and allocated new ones. We can’t be neighbors anymore! Auntie Shan passed away not long after she moved into her new home.

After we had settled into our current apartment in 2005, Auntie Shan appeared in my dreams – twice. In the first dream I was in our old apartment when I heard a knock on the front door. I opened it and there she was wanting to be let in. Strangely enough I was shaking even though I had known her since I was a kid. I tried to close the door on her but she stretched out her right arm to prevent the door from shutting. Then she made her request, “阿芬,” she rasped, “给我一瓶枇杷膏,可以吗? (Fun, can you give me a bottle of Pipa Gao?)”

(Usually when I get to this point in my story, the friend / relative / whoever I’m telling it to would explode into uncontrollable laughter and I would protest indignantly, “You may think its hilarious now but I was terrified.”)

On her second visit I was sleeping in my own bed and in my dream Auntie Shan drifted into my bedroom and placed a cold palm on my thigh. I remember feeling more annoyed than afraid. She told me, “叫你的妈妈把那些碟子还给我吧! (Ask your mother to return the plates to me!)” The following morning I said to my mother as casually I possibly could, “阿姨叫你把碟子还给她啦!” Imagine my surprise when Mum asked “是她说送给我的呢!要我还吗? 怎么还? (But they were gifts from her to me!  Now she expects me to return them?  How?)”

Creepy, yo?


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