Kuay Jap Noodles - A new restaurant in Phuket Town

Last weekend, after a little drive around Sirey Island to the east of Phuket town - where I finally got to see the reclining Buddha (the other times I have been there the temple had been closed) - we were heading home and I had half a mind to cook some pasta, but we passed a new looking noodle shop which looked interesting. Most noodle shops look the same, rather basic and cheap with plastic chairs and questionable hygiene (don't look too close - a good motto for Thailand!).

The Kuay Jap Champ Suphan noodle shop is in the Sam Kong area in the north of Phuket Town, just half a kilometer east of the Tesco Lotus store on the way into town. It has been open about 6 months they told us, somehow we'd not noticed before. Or maybe we were in the mood for Kuay Jap which is a kind of noodle soup made with rolled up thick noodles, crispy pork, "moo daeng" (roast red pork) and (unless you ask them NOT to include it) things like liver, heart, intestines, congealed blood.. aka "offal". If you are an ex vegetarian like me, some meaty things are still considered inedible - so if you don't want all the bits, just say "Mai Sai Kruang Nai".

Kuay Jap noodle shop

This noodle shop makes an effort. The place has a little style, the tables are wood, not plastic, there are decorations, and it is clean! This is no local backstreet noodle stall, it's much nicer and yet.. it's still cheap. We paid 210 Baht for 4 dishes and 5 drinks. I had a delicious Kuay Jap with the Moo Grob ("crispy pork") and the Moo Daeng plus some egg; my wife had the full monty with all the bits, and our kids had Khao Moo Daeng - red pork on rice with a kind of sauce/gravy. Very tasty.

My Kuay Jap

I do love a bit of moo grob! Crispy pork.. like porky scratchings/hog lumps in a soup. I think we will go again tomorrow!

Update 2011 - they have opened a 2nd branch in Kathu, opposite the entrance road to the Prince of Songkhla University, we have tried this one too - just as tasty.. and it's close to our house. Bonus!


(above) Kuay Jap Champsuphan noodle shop in Kathu near the Prince of Songkhla University (PSU) - it's just a couple of hundred meters from another favourite local restaurant of ours called The Big Chicken. It's much easier to find good local food when you are not in a tourist area!

Update 2015 - The original location at Sam Kong is now closed. The one in Kathu is still there.

Cross-Cultural Relationships...Answer to a Question

To Jonathan Krone,

Normally I would send you in search of the plentiful literature published on this topic, but coming from a “cross-cultural expert and professional,” I am intrigued that you are asking me to clarify.  With my muse having taken leave of late, perhaps on the day, this will have to suffice as motivation to write.

“So how do Thai express affection?”  On the surface that question would appear simple enough.  With Thailand’s world renowned reputation as a destination for sex tourism, some might assume they are a highly sexual and affectionate people.  Traditionally, however, any public display of affection is frowned upon.  With the notable exception of Bangkok and some tourist destinations, that tradition continues today.  Villagers by necessity are very subtile and creative, in the signals of interest they send to one another.  Right now, looking out my window, are some thirty villagers involved in harvesting our neighbor’s rice.  No doubt there will be stolen glances, teasing remarks, intentional bumps and the sharing of food, going on as a subtext to the job at hand. 

Other than me and my wife, one will never see villagers here, holding hands, hugging or kissing.  Even when they go off to Bangkok for work, it is difficult to overcome their internalized reluctance to display affection.  Bangkok is, however, where many romances are begun or nurtured, away from the prying eyes of the village.  The younger generation is changing but not all approve of that change.  Around here, if two young people are found to have had sex, there will either be a forced marriage or the boys family will have to pay a fine to appease the girls parents and exonerate her reputation.  At the same time the family may not blink an eye if she went off to work in the nightlight, yet sent money home for the family.  Unable to touch in public their humor is at times, however, quite raunchy.  Such are the contradictions of Thai life.  Pragmatic, with nothing being definitively black or white.

I met my wife in Bangkok so we were free of village constraints, yet it was our time in Hawaii that helped her to modify her beliefs and behavior.  Observing people wearing almost nothing in public, all age groups showing affection and touching and nobody paying any attention was an eye opener, for her.  Being me, a little shock therapy is always fun.  I remember grabbing my wife on a walk through the park.  After a groping and passionate kiss, I held her close and asked her to look around.  No one was gawking at us and there were no disapproving looks.  We were all but invisible to others and as this began to sink in, she kissed me back.

My wife was open to change and responded on a deep emotional level to social touching, from my parents and the friends she made along the way.  I am not a scientist making a proclamation of the universality, or necessity, of human touch.  People who touch more, are not necessarily better or kinder people.  It did, however, make a difference in my wife’s life and development, as a more open and caring person.  It is heart-wrenching to think that someone with such a capacity for caring and warmth, was denied that within her own family. 

I would like to take credit, for all that my wife has become, but that would be silly.  At best all I have done is provide reinforcement and a safe environment in which she could explore the world and find herself.  As a work in progress, together we continue to work through some of the residual cultural fears than cling tenaciously to her subconscious.  But then again, who among us has no issues at all?  I just know that I am a very lucky man, that she puts up with me, while I get to witness her growth and exploration of life.

I might reiterate at this time, that we have a rather unique lifestyle here, which is not focused on integration into the cultural norm.  My wife participates in customs that she enjoys or appear beneficial to others, while not making our own lives uncomfortable or disavowing our own values.  If it entails loud drunkenness that often deteriorates into violence, then some way is found to meet our obligations with a minimum of participation.  Many customs that are seen by most as obligatory, like the big wedding or housewarming party, have been avoided by us.  In that regard we are not the best example of cross-cultural integration.  We could be seen as providing an alternative lifestyle model that others may or may not approve of.

I seem to have wondered off topic here, which is not unusual for me.  I am hopeful that Mr. Krone, as a cross-cultural expert, will be able to extract or extrapolate answers to his questions from my muddled reply.

Phuket Thai Hua Museum

I have said it before and will say it again - I like Phuket Town, especially the old part of town which comprises a few blocks around Phang Nga Road, Thalang Road, Krabi Road and Dibuk Road. The narrow roads and turn of the century architecture combined with the old Chinese shops make a welcome break from the busier parts of town, and if you come from the tourist beaches it's like another world. Yes, you are in the real Phuket, which is what this blog tries to show!

The Phuket Thai Hua Museum is found on Krabi road, a block North and half a block west of the traffic circle near the market. Krabi road is pretty quiet, most of the buildings are of the "Sino-Portugese" style and life itself seems slightly old fashioned in this part of town.

Old Chinese shop in old Phuket Town

Watermelons for sale in old Phuket Town

The museum has been open a couple of years, and still has a museum-in-progress feeling. It has been used for art exhibitions too. The building dates back to 1934 when it was established as the Phuket Thai Hua School, a Thai-Chinese language school mostly for the families of local families of Chinese origin (there are many due to the arrival of many Chinese in the 19th century in the tin mining boom years). The Thai Hua School moved to a new larger home on the edge of town in the 1990's. We know people whose kids study there and the Chinese language is still part of the curriculum.

Phuket Thai Hua Museum Entrance

Phuket Thai Hua Museum Building

Inside the front gates, the car park is decorated with photos of the old school.

Thai Hua Museum Carpark

When my daughter and I arrived, there were loads of guys with fancy cameras all over the place. With my little Canon Powershot I felt quite inadequate! I asked a guy what was going on. Turns out to be a photo assignment for Canon. I looked closer, yep they all had Canon cameras. A model was posing for photos inside the museum. Well, even with a Powershot you can snap a nice photo!

Model photoshoot inside Phuket Thai Hua Museum

My daughter and I then wandered around the rooms of the old school. Some still with old school desks, lots of photos on the walls of past students. I did feel a sense of history, and we even met a former student sitting in her old classroom. She told us she had been at the school in the 1970's, and her mother had been to the same school before her.

Former student in Phuket Thai Hua Museum

My daughter checking out the old school photos

One room was full of old school books. The Chinese connection is clear! There was a wall full of little reading books ranging from Snoopy to what looked like "Why China is the best country in the world" type books! There were also old Chinese dictionaries and such. We did consider the Thai Hua school for our daughter some years ago, thinking Chinese would be a useful skill if they decide to take over the world, but in the end we opted for a school that teaches more in English.

Chinese books on display at Phuket Thai Hua Museum

Chinese book on display at Phuket Thai Hua Museum

As I say, the museum is still growing, but it's certainly worth a visit. Phuket has plenty of history and culture, but you are not going to find it in Patong Beach! The brochure I picked up says it's open every day except Monday. If you are in Phuket Town, have a look. If you are a backpacker and stay at the Old Town Hostel, no excuses, it's about 1 minute down the road!

(update 2011) - the museum has been renovated and there is more to see now, but there is also an entry fee of 200 Baht per person :)

New blog post about the Thai Hua Museum

Inside the Phuket Thai Hua Museum

Cross-Cultural Relationships ...

Of late, my posts have trended toward the tame and even pretty.  So perhaps it is time to get controversial and take on a touchy subject.  How does one shed a rational light on something so personal and often discussed in such emotionally charged language?

In an ideal world it shouldn’t matter what others think.  People being what they are, however, tend to comment shamelessly and impose their views on others.  Ranging from idle gossip to hateful prejudice, it is not always possible to avoid or ignore.  From farangs, one often hears the proverbial questions about why young Thai women choose old, fat, balding Western men.  From Thais it is more apt to be about why farang men like such dark, unattractive, unsophisticated, low class women.  As with most things it all depends on ones perspective which is affected by personal bias and cultural reference.

Some label Thai women, gold-diggers who are only out for the money.  We have all heard the horror stories of men who lost everything in a naive bid to buy love.  On the other extreme, are those who have some fanciful notion that Asian women are somehow uniquely feminine, domestic and docile.  Good luck with that one.  There are a goodly number of very successful relationships that dwell in the middle ground.  Founded on love, respect, understanding and shared interests, a good relationship is only made richer by differences where bad ones are only made worse.

I understand that no matter what one says, people always have a long, well prepared dissertation about how their situation is different and unique.  The acknowledged uniqueness of each relationship is, however, framed by cultural stereotypes and constraints.  There is a history and often scars, that individuals bring with them.  In addition, Farang-Thai relationships will often evolve differently based on location.  His country or hers, big city or village, it all makes a difference.  Appearances are all important in how you are viewed and treated by others.  The perceived simplicity of a different culture, often belies the complex undercurrents lurking below the surface, when you enter a cross-cultural relationship.

On the long drive to town or sitting at our dining room table taking in the views, the wife and I have discussed this subject from time to time.  After spending time with other women she readily acknowledges that, at least in our village, a large percentage of women are fixated on money.  She doubts that they hold or even comprehend her notions of love, romance and a caring relationship.  This is irrespective of the Farang question.  If a man has little or no money, in general they want nothing to do with him.  The one exception being, if he is particularly diligent and hardworking.  They will stay with a man who is doing his best to provide for his family, even if they are not comfortable or well off.  Those perceived as slackers or layabouts, are kicked to the curb unceremoniously.

I don’t imagine there are many cultures, where we admire women who choose the poorest or least productive men available.  Yet when they are pragmatic and look for someone who can provide for them and their extended family, which is the norm in Thailand, they are labeled as only out for the money.  It hardly seems fair to hold such double standards or to think it is all directed toward fleecing the foreigner.

After a failed relationship and perhaps a child or two to care for, some women take to prostitution.  That is a very broad and all inclusive term that includes a multitude of subgroups that I will not go into at this time.  Sitting on the floor in a hovel, with a crying child, the realities of the profession are overshadowed by the image of some neighbor wearing nice clothes and living in a big house with no financial worries.  No longer a virgin, what difference does it make if I sell it for the good of my family, is a common argument.  Only a small percentage of women are able to bring themselves to act on this rational.  An even smaller percentage gravitate toward Western men, with most seeking out other Asian men, with less perceived stigma.  My wife was surprised to hear from a village woman, that she had been approached to go “work” in the nightlife.  The procurer’s line was that Malaysian men prefer older women in their forties.  The realities of the situation seemed to escape her as all she could think about was the money.  I think my wife managed to talk her out of it but who knows.

Going back to the Vietnam era, there is a long standing stereotype of Isaan women and Western men, as the US military was based in that area.  Fair or not it has become a firmly entrenched cultural stereotype.  I have even known farangs who would not consider dating or marrying Isaan women simply because they didn’t want to be tarred with that label.  They saw it as detrimental to their career or social standing with clients and friends.  That was completely irrespective of the girl’s actual socioeconomic status.  Interestingly one of the pluses of choosing some Western men, is their naiveté in regard to Thai culture, prejudices and values.  Also, their often loudly declared lack of interest in what other people think, especially the locals.

In general men seem rather clueless about women so it is no big surprise that they can get it so very wrong in a potentially mine filled, cross-cultural relationship.  They often think one grand gesture will suffice to prove their love for all time.  Not realizing they are simply setting a precedent by which all future gestures will be ranked.  It is never a one time item checked off a list as, “completed”.  Women have a different perspective from men on this.  Throughout a relationship they thrive on the knowledge that they are desirable, appreciated and sought after by their man.  That does not require grand gestures but rather regular or frequent ones.  Small thoughtful gifts, acts or even comments are often all that is needed to reassure the heart.

Rural Thai families are often, economical at best, in their display of affection for loved ones.  Romantic love, as portrayed in the movies, is not the norm in village life.  Living as they do, in such close quarters, affection or romance is often limited, quiet and brief, in an attempt to keep it hidden from prying eyes.  As with my own wife, hugs and kisses, were not something she experienced from her own parents.  Thankfully, physical warmth and affection is something that she has grown to value and now gives freely, to friends and family.  Unfortunately some women cling to what they have known and find it difficult to find that kinder gentler person that lives within.

While some Western men are able to get away with blatant disregard for the local culture they somehow don’t draw a correlation to how they are treated in return.  Though I prefer to understand things in depth, I can see the appeal of not knowing and not having to deal with that knowledge.  Brings to mind the notion of, ignorance is bliss.  Knowing and understanding what the locals are all about does not mean one has to be, just like them.  As they say, knowledge is power.  Maybe not the power to change things, but the power to navigate the waters more smoothly and efficiently.

Clearly there is no simple formula for a successful cross-cultural relationship, and no one answer for the whys and hows of choosing a partner wisely.  On some level I think we deserve what we get and typically would do the same things and make the same choices again and again.  There are always signs but seldom the ability to read them.  In the end it come down to the choices we make and how well we deal with what follows.

Loy Krathong 2015 - 25th November 2015

Loy Krathong is a very old festival which takes place on the full moon of the 12th lunar month (so the date is different every year). In 2015 the date will be November 25th. Loy Krathong is largely about giving thanks to the goddess of water, though may be based on an old Hindu festival. There are many links between Buddhism and Hinduism, being that the Buddha was born in India. The festival is not huge in Phuket compared to Chiang Mai for example, but nevertheless it seems that everyone does it!

Does what exactly? Well, aside from a bit of a party, you have to "Loy" (float) your Krathong - a few years ago I wrote about How To Make A Krathong. There are also beauty contests and who-can-make-the-best-krathong contests. The story below is based on our Loy Krathong evening in 2008.

Despite the weather, we headed out in the evening to Bang Wad Reservoir which is only a few kilometers from our home. The reservoir is Phuket's largest fresh water supply, so a good place to give thanks. The evening has been wet. Yes, we had been "blessed" with plenty of water. Of course, everyone waited until the rain had stopped, so it was rather crowded and also muddy underfoot. We had several Krathongs to float - one made by my wife, one made by her sister and one made by my daughter at school. There were hundreds of Krathongs in the water and hundreds more people wanting to float away all their bad luck.

Floating Krathongs at Bang Wad Reservoir

Krathongs in the water, Loy Krathong

Near the water were some food stalls. We did not hang around. It was crowded and muddy... and getting late. I think next year we'll go somewhere quiet for Loy Krathong.

Food Stalls at Bang Wad Reservoir for Loy Krathong

Noodle Stall at Bang Wad Reservoir for Loy Krathong

At the reservoir we bought some "kom fai". These are lanterns made of paper with a lump of solid fuel built into the base. Simple design. All you need to do is light the fuel, let the hot air rise and watch them go. People were doing it at the reservoir.

Kom Fai

Letting the Kom Fai fly!

At home we found that lighting the fuel was not so easy with a bit of a breeze. One of the lanterns took off and then landed again in the garden next door.. then took off again and got stuck in their TV aerial. I thought the burning fuel would burn their TV cable, but the lantern blew off to safety in the end. We sent 4 lanterns off into the night sky to become stars (so I told the kids!)

Kom Fai

(above) burning fuel heating the air in the Kom Fai

Letting go of the Loy Krathong Lantern

(above) Once the fuel really starts to burn, the air heats up and you can slowly release your lantern... These things are getting to be a bit controversial, since they burn out and then the frame, often made of metal, falls down to litter the land or the sea.

Kom Fai Lantern heading towards the full moon

More Thai Village Life ...

Abrupt, unexpected, unannounced, yet oh so welcome.  From hot and wet, to cool and breezy.  It took a few days but even the heavy morning ground fog has reappeared.  Overnight it feels as if we are back into the depths of last year’s winter, Chiang Rai style.  The first stiff breeze brought out children and their kites.  We had our annual fishing day at a local catchment area in the fields, with a much lower turnout, as many found it too cold.  Taking advantage of the beautiful weather I took the motorbike for a little outing, to the boarder town of Chiang Khong.  The harvest has started in earnest as the fields seemed to turn from green to yellow, almost overnight. 
Last night was Loy Krathong and where many flock to the rivers to enjoy the crowds, we stayed home.  It was a lovely evening, however.  Friends and neighbors, old and young, gather pond-side under a full moon and clear skies.  The children played with sparklers but nothing loud or explosive.  Off in the distance one could see larger fireworks from three neighboring villages.  As the sky darkened we released a couple dozen paper lanterns (Khom Loy) into the heavens.  The slow, lumbering path to the stars is mesmerizing and to avert ones gaze is no easy task.  Later, all and sundry, drifted to the water’s edge, to float their Krathongs on the still, reflective surface of the pond.

As happens in a village, many more people arrived than were invited.  Our house is known as a “dry zone” and generally “G” rated so those looking for a free drink or entertainment went elsewhere.  I noticed a couple of older gentlemen who were unfamiliar to my gaze.  They spent some time standing together, talking and watching the evening activities.  My wife later informed me that they were there to checkout her mother.  One was playing matchmaker to the other as he had recently lost his wife and was in the market for a replacement.  Apparently the matchmaker had proposed sizing up the mother-in-law.

This of course was not the first time this particular mating ritual has played out.  Once she even got to the wedding day with guests and all, only to have a misunderstanding over the agreed upon bride price and called the whole thing off.  Obviously that wasn’t the end it but this is not the time for that story.

I spent the evening, sitting off to the side with my friend Jubby, talking and watching the evening events as it gradually grew cold enough to begin turning uncomfortable.  The cold temperature, and it being a school night, meant he packed up his family and got them home at a reasonable hour.  The last guests didn’t linger long and even helped us clean up a bit.

Jubby and I made plans for a morning start for a much needed bike ride on the nearby trails.  As I sit here writing, the fog is beginning to lift but my wife has requested that we delay our ride until noon.  Today is the final day of the most recent wake and our village requires the presence of at least one family member from each household.  If my wife pays her respects this morning, then she might be able to give the procession to the crematorium a miss this afternoon.

So that is village life over the last few days, but life doesn’t stop there.  Tomorrow we have an appointment to get Cookie’s “oven” fixed so that we won’t have to worry about her baking a batch of little Cookies and having them running around our house, causing havoc.  One Cookie is more than enough sweetness for us.  While she is busy at the vet, we will have a cab fitted to the back of our truck as she is rapidly outgrowing the backseat.  We have opted for the low profile, removable type cab, so the truck can still be used as a truck if need be.  Quiet yet eventful, there is always something going on in our remote little house in the field.

Thai Street Food - Fruit Stalls

I seem to recall growing up in England that a pineapple was regarded as a valuable item... wow, tropical fruit! And things like mangos and papayas were just words. Even the humble banana was a special treat. Maybe my memories are hazy, but fruit in England meant apples and pears, plums and maybe peaches. Oranges were not uncommon, and there were always satsumas at Christmas time! There were raspberries in season, and we often went blackberry picking.

The words "tropical fruit" brought to mind jungles, far away places, unreachable lands. This was 30 years ago. Holidays to a place like Thailand were all but unheard of. A few brave backpackers maybe, when backpacking was still an adventure!

Fruit stall in Phuket

What is "Street food"? Well, I mean anything that is not a restaurant really - simple roadside stalls, sometimes with wheels or built onto the side of motorbikes. Temporary noodle joints that open in the evening outside shops that have closed for the day. Hawkers carrying baskets of snacks, grilled chicken by the roadside, motorbikes with kitchens as the sidecar.

And fruit stalls are everywhere, even in the main beach areas of Phuket. Mostly they are mobile. Honda Wave mopeds retrofitted with ice filled glass displays full of fruity goodness. On the photos on this page you can see watermelon, mango, papaya, pineapple, guava, canteloupe, coconuts, pomelo, rose apple... missing are things like mangosteen, durian, rambutan - all of which are pretty common.

Fruit stand in Thailand

Feeling fruity? A portion of whichever fruit you want is normally about 10 Baht. Great at breakfast time, or any time. I am a fan of rose apples (called cham-poo in Thai). I don't think I ever saw them before coming here. I also like a bit of papaya now and then. If you never had mangosteen before.. try it. If you never had durian before, you can feel thankful! Ah, go on, try it... try it all!

My Sunset Formula ...

A touch of rain to cleanse the canvas of dust and grime.  Some lingering clouds for contrast and color.  Ideally a reflective surface or perhaps some silhouetted object.  A nice comfy chair and a canine companion or splashing fish.   If you’re lucky, maybe even a flock of birds flying south for the winter.  By all means, come early and stay late. 

The best action comes before the horizon is reached, with a cloud taking center stage, or often long after the star performer has left the building.  Only then are the shy yet dramatic colors, allowed to display their peacock swagger with the preceding glare leaving no room for others on the stage. 

I am drawn by the bands and strands of soft-hued colors.  Often only appearing to the steadfast and loyal, who refrain from rushing headlong for the exit when the headlining main event has vanished from sight.  Fight that urge to be productive and move on hurriedly to the next task.

Being in the midst of much needed chores, one often misses a chance to record a particularly dramatic or colorful event.  That was the case recently but yesterday, feeling under the weather, I took full advantage of my illness to indulge my laziness and take in the sunset without interruption.  Rewards are not exclusively for the fast paced movers and shakers of the world.  Taking the time to turn off the noise and tune-in to the natural world around you, is often the best medicine and reward enough for any man.

If all else fails just wait for the next day to arrive and it may just surprise you with something like this.

More Visitors ...

Our most recent visitors have come and gone. Anticipation of their arrival was too quickly followed by a lamented departure. Our feeble attempts at hospitality were overshadowed by their graciousness as guests. Late seventies and a zest for life that would put people half their age to shame. Interested in everything, eagerly clicking away with their cameras. Easy to please, as well as tolerant and accepting of me, though we no doubt hold vastly different values and beliefs. These family friends have been so giving and caring to my parents in their time of need. Nothing we could have done, would have been adequate to repay our debt of gratitude. Yet in the end, we feel as if we took away more from their visit than we were able to give.

Their path to our door was far from direct. Ranging from Bhutan to Luang Prabang, we were a not insignificant detour, at the end of their journeys before returning to Hawaii. We crowded in as many nearby locations and scenes as time and weather would allow. Many of which I have previously shared with you in these pages. The four wheel drive was allowed to express itself and proudly wore the coat of mud that came from taking us to our many destinations.

As we prepared to leave for the airport there was just time enough for all to gather around the computer and Skype my father. I’m sure it was a thrill to hear the voices of his friends, coming from his youngest son’s home, on the far side of the world. No doubt their reunion in Hawaii will be filled with stories and pictures that will bring untold joy to my father. Sadly my mother is no longer able to share in such things as her reality varies so greatly from ours these days. Even with the best of care, dementia of any form, is a cruel, drawn out and inhumane way to leave this world.

Today things are back to normal around here. The wife and I took our dog menagerie for a stroll to the dam and washed the mud from our truck while watching a truly beautiful sunset, of desert hues. Other than our walk today, I have included views from on top of nearby Doi Yao and a couple of butterflies that had our guests eagerly clicking away in an attempt to capture their beauty.