Sunday, February 11, 2007

Food Poisoning

Meat StandIt finally happened. I've been laid up since Friday afternoon with a pretty decent case of food poisoning. I guess that is to be expected when there is so much inexpensive and tasty food being prepared and consumed right on the street. I've thought many times that none of these places would be allowed in the US because of health department regulations. It is really amazing to see the cooking pots and even the cups, bowls and plates being scrubbed out right on the sidewalk with the rinse water poured directly into the storm sewar. I guess it's surprising that more people don't get sick.

BUT WAIT! I didn't eat anything off the street Friday. As a matter of fact, I was reasonably busy Friday and I ate very little at all. Hmmmm, let's see if we can reconstruct the day and figure out exactly where the problem lay.

Fruit StandI had my normal "breakfast smoothie" made by Suporn at about 8:00 AM. This is a simple dish made from fresh fruit, usually pinapple or bannana mixed in the blender with ice and milk enough to make it about the same consistency as a milk shake. It's not as fancy as the Smoothie King drinks we have at home, but I have one most every morning and I am pretty sure that it can't result in food poisoning.

After taking care of some normal morning stuff, I headed out to scope out some new places to take Brenda shopping. She has a thing for local items that are unusual for us, so I got her a book for her birthday that has pictures and explainantions of Thai cultural items both decorative/artsy and functional. As the second part of her gift I intended to take her shopping at places that might be likely to have some of these items, but first I needed to find the places. I found them, and while I was out, I had a burger... actually two cheeseburgers, fries and a coke at about 12:00 at the McDonalds at the Amarin Plaza, just down the street from the Erawan Shrine.

Boiled EggsI eat out roughly once a day here. I like Thai food, but I am used to eating it once or twice a month, and having it once a day here is way more than I am ready for. So I usually eat lunch out, and usually at a hamburger or pizza place. If they had Taco Bell, I'd eat there too. So I eat out alot, usually in KFC, Pizza Factory, Burger King or McDonalds. Helps keep my unsophisticated palate satisfied. But by 4:00 PM my palate had gone on strike and I was headed for an evening, night and morning peppered with multiple trips to the bathroom, cold sweats and aching joints. Miserable was what it was.

RonaldNow I don't want to say that my McDonalds sandwich purchased and consumed at the Amarin Plaza Mcdonalds was the cause of my lost weekend, but it is the only thing I consumed except for a fresh fruit smoothie that day, so you be the judge.

So what people told me before I came here is still true. The street food is safe, cheap and good. Too bad they didn't tell me to watch out for Ronald.


Monday, February 05, 2007

More About Driving

Wait... wait....I don’t drive every day here. Maybe if I did I would get used to it sooner. One interesting side affect of driving on the wrong side of the road is that it’s not just the stuff outside of the car that is wrong sided.

You can spot one of us newbies in the parking lot as we habitually head for the “driver’s side” to unlock the door. Once we realize we are on the wrong side of the car, we have to pretend that we are being courteous by opening the door for our wives. In the unfortunate event that we are alone, we have to either put our package on the passenger seat, or if we don’t have a package, we have to pretend to look for something under the seat and then smile as if to say “finally found that darn thing.”

Once out of the parking lot, you’d think that things would go a little smoother. Well, maybe. If you approach intersections slowly, you are not only driving like every other Bangkokian, but you allow yourself extra time to make sure you look right, not left for that approaching traffic. But extra time is not the only thing you need as you transition to left side driving. Everything that is on the left in your car is on the right in mine. And all on the right is… well you can guess.

It doesn’t seem like a big thing and some of it isn’t. The console with the gear selector is on your left here. No big deal. You always have plenty of time to find it and put the car in gear while you recover your dignity after opening the wrong side of the car to get in. But Blinkers are real interesting.

You use your blinkers a lot to alert other cars to your intent and to give motorcyclists who split lanes on both sides of every lane at least a small chance of surviving the day. But if you drive on the right, your blinkers are on the left side of your steering wheel and the the windshield wiper controls are on the right. So while my head is on a swivel and I am trying to find the right road and make sure no one is splitting a lane in the direction I want to turn, I reach to signal my turn and there go the wipers (swoosh.) Just turn them off right? Nope, too much going on. The car is still moving and bikes are still lane splitting, the turn is approaching and now the wipers are “swooshing” on a perfectly clear day and I am sure that everyone in Bangkok has received an instant message on their cell phones to tell them to “Look, another farang tryng to drive.”

Hit the GapToday after I turned on my wipers therby signalling my turn, I entered a parking lot and rolled down my window to get the parking pass I said “sawadee krap” to the attendant as the wipes went "swoosh." He smiled and said “sawadee krap” (swoosh.) As I (swoosh) drove away from the (swoosh) booth I could not for the life of me(swoosh) find the off position (swoosh) for those wipers. I did manage to find the(swoosh)(skreek) position that (swoosh)(skreek) turns on the (swoosh)(skreek) back window wiper (swoosh)(skreek). I finally gave up until (swoosh)(skreek) I got the car parked (swoosh)(skreek). As I looked around I saw five (swoosh)(skree… there it is) people looking at my car and smiling. I felt like such an idiot. My consolation is that the only way they would know is if they had at some point done the same thing themselves. Well, at least that’s what I am telling myself.

The picture here is a typical turn. This one happens to be a U turn but it is the same for any right hand turn here. Wait for a gap and then hit it. The amazing thing is that this happens millions of times every day and you almost never hear a horn in Bangkok. Everyone just waits.