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My albino armpits

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whitening deodorantI had to buy some deodorant yesterday.

But here in Asia, a fair complexion is considered more desirable than tanned or brown skin.

So most deodorants claim they also have whitening power.

Am I now going to end up with bleached armpits?

I’m not sure whether I really want that…

Written by Thorsten

October 15, 2009 at 3:26 am

Lifestyles of the rich and famous on a budget

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One of the nice things about being in Asia is that prices are so much lower here than at home.

You can treat yourself to a really nice hotel, to great restaurants and all sorts of other luxurious indulgences that won’t bust your vacation budget.

Want massage?

Of course, one of the big things here in Thailand are massages.

Wherever you go, you’ll hear someone asking “Mister, want massage?”

And depending on the neighbourhood, you can get a massage for just about any part of your body that you can imagine…

But that whole scene is actually pretty depressing and not what I’d want to support in Thailand.

Taking a Takashi in Thailand

What I tried instead, was something a little more sophisticated: a Takashi facial massage.

This Japanese chain has just opened a new, luxurious branch in one of the downtown shopping centers here.

And they have great opening bargains that I just couldn’t pass by…

The equivalent of six Euros bought me 45 minutes of what it must feel like to be Brad Pitt. Or Madonna. Or whoever else regularly has their face cleansed, creamed and caressed professionally.

According to the Takashi flier, the treatment I got consisted of

  • Complete cleansing
  • Steaming / removing blackheads and impurities
  • Massage in Takashi style
  • Nourishing treatment

I have no idea whether all of these were actually performed on me because I had my eyes closed and just gave in to the pampering. Whatever it all was, it was very enjoyable.

I noticed that the lady who was in charge of my face spent a lot of time massaging my chin and cheeks during my treatment.

I don’t know if that’s always part of the deal.

But my suspicion was that the lady may have found the fact interesting that I have a beard and most of her Asian customers don’t.

Generally speaking, I was extremely surprised how many men were in that place getting facial treatments.

And they weren’t the “pretty boys” or particularly effeminate types.

From what I could see, most of them were just average guys. Sort of like “Joe the Plumber” enjoying a facial massage.

I guess we guys have come a long way since the days of Old Spice and Aqua Velva.

Written by Thorsten

October 29, 2008 at 6:31 am

Lunch at the palace

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Entrance to Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall Lunch at a royal palace is something pretty unusual for me. But on my last day in Bangkok, Dusit Palace is really where I had my lunch.

O.K. – so it wasn’t exactly a 15 course state lunch with the Royals at one of the palace’s banquet halls. Lunch on the palace porchIt was a modest snack at a nice little restaurant next to the Moorish-looking Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall.

The place caters mainly to the employees working in the different museums housed in the palace complex.

But still: for me, eating at this little restaurant was lunch at Dusit Palace! Sitting there on the restaurant’s porch, looking out into the lush royal gardens, I felt just a little blue-blooded.

I didn’t even mind that Thailand’s King Bhumibol hasn’t been seen at this palace for ages. I still enjoyed my lunch – even without him.

Caught in the rain

Rain drenches the palace gardensA tropical thunder storm began, just as I’d finished my meal. Mother Nature really opened the flood gates. It was quite a spectacle.

The pouring rain forced me to sit under the roof of that porch much longer than I’d planned. There was just no getting away without getting totally soaked.

After almost an hour of torrential rain, the palace gardens, the paths and roads were ankle-deep under water. The earth and the gutters just couldn’t absorb that much water in such a short time.

Royal presenceHere\'s what\'s for lunch at the palace restaurant

Should the Thai king, by any chance, ever visit Dusit Palace and suddenly get hungry, I could definitely recommend this little restaurant.

He should just make sure he doesn’t go to the big tourist eating joint at the main entrance – that has absolutely no charm whatsoever.

But at this small place next to Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall, he’d be able to chat with the locals, meet his staff, so to speak. I could recommend the rice with prawn with chilies and hot basil leaves stir fry. At 85 Thai Baht (1,65 Euro or 2.60 US Dollars), this dish wouldn’t even leave a dent in his the royal budget.

A youthful Thai king is depicted on the five-baht-pieceWhen the rain finally let up, I asked for the check and paid what I owed.

And when the waitress brought my change, I realized that King Bhumibol was there with me after all…

Written by Thorsten

June 11, 2008 at 8:09 am

Lost in transportation

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My friendly taxi driver in Bangkok Taking a taxi in Thailand isn’t easy if you’re a foreigner who doesn’t speak the language. This morning, I wanted to take a taxi to Vimanmek Mansion for some sightseeing.

The place was recommended in Thai Airways’ in-flight magazine as one of the lesser-known, yet worth-while sights in Bangkok. “Famous as the world’s largest teakwood building, Vimanmek Mansion is set in spacious green gardens…” it said in the magazine. Reason enough for me to go there.

Off the beaten track…

The first taxi I got into didn’t know what the hell I was talking about when I told him I wanted to go to Vimanmek Mansion. I showed him the page from the Thai Airways magazine, which I’d cleverly torn our and saved, but that didn’t help either.Article from the Thai Airways in-flight magazine

My taxi driver couldn’t read the name Vimanmek because the Thais have a different alphabet. And the picture in the text didn’t look like anything he recognized.

So after some shrugging, smiling and friendly explanations (I presume) in Thai, he pulled over and let me out of his car.

Same, same

In the next taxi, things got off to a familiar start. This time, however, the driver called someone on his cell phone and then handed it to me.

I guess the person on the other end was supposed to be able to understand me and then explain to the driver where I wanted to go.

So in the friendliest and most arti-cu-la-ted way I could, I told the person on the other end: “I would like to go to Vimanmek Mansion.”

I heard a click and the line went dead.

But my taxi driver had his heart set on getting me to my destination, so he made another call. Again, he gave me the phone and once again, I tried to explain what I wanted to the stranger on the other end “Vimanmek Mansion. I want to go to Vimanmek Mansion.”

But I just got passed on to someone else. “Vimanmek Mansion. I would like to go to Vimanmek,” I told him, but his response in Thai was beyond me. “Vimanmek. I want to go to Vimanmek,” I said one more time. He hung up.

Frustration turns to puzzlement

I was almost ready to get out of the taxi in the hope that another driver might know this place, but my driver had already pulled up to a hotel and gotten the attention of the livered employee standing in front of it.

Article from the Thai Airways in-flight magazineThe driver showed him my article from the Thai Airways magazine and luckily, this hotel employee was able to read English. He said something to my taxi driver in Thai, who then laughed out loud.

I can only guess that what he then said must have been something like: “Oh, you want to go to Vimanmek! Why didn’t you just say so? Vimanmek Mansion, ha ha, Vimanmek Mansion!”

But wasn’t that what I’d said all along?

I still haven’t figured out why episodes like this one happen so often when Westerners try to pronounce Asian words.

It’s always the same story: The Asians we address just look at us as though we’re speaking gibberish. We try to say the word again and again, until finally someone understands what we’re trying to say.

And then they repeat what we’ve said just the way we’ve said it (at least it always seems that way to me). But to our Asian counterparts, the way we said it must have been absolutely incomprehensible.

Maybe it’s the tonal thing – that we Westerners just can’t get the tonality of the words right. All we hear is the pronunciation, not the pitch or melody of the word.

Vimanmek, I want to go to VimanmekVimanmek Mansion in Bangkok

By the way: if you’re ever in Bangkok and thinking about visiting Vimanmek Mansion, go! It’s worth it.

But you may want to ask a Thai to write it down for you in Thai script before you get on a taxi.

Where’s the mens-ladies room?

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All to be catered for - article in Thailands DAILY XPRESS Universities in Thailand are going to offer separate dorms and restrooms for male cross-dressers and trans-gender students. At least that’s what the country’s DAILY XPRESS reports in an article this weekend.

Male cross-dressers have long had problems using lavatories: fellow students do not welcome them in either men’s or women’s facilities.

The paper quotes the Thai Deputy Minister of Education, Boonlue Prasertsopha, as saying that the schools will also change rules, allowing these students to attend classes in women’s clothing.

According to a ministry study, more cross-dressing and transgender students are attending universities in Thailand. The largest enrolments are found in Chiang Mai, in the North of the country, and in Khon Kaen and Prince of Songkhla Universities.

Paving the way for tolerance

Although this whole story may seem somewhat bizzare or amusing at first sight, it’s really astounding testimony to Thai tolerance. It’s amazing how alternative lifestyles are gaining acceptance in this country.

There’s even an annual “Miss Tiffany’s” beauty peagant for cross-dressers and transgenders. It’s broadcast live on national television. Some 15 million Thais are said to tune in to watch the show.

Somehow, Australia’s Dame Edna and Germany’s Lilo Wanders don’t quite compare.

Hopefully unrelated

Another story published in another Thai paper this weekend also reports about an interesting development in the field of university education: students will be able to learn the traditional art of kick-boxing at some Thai universities.

I hope there’s no connection between these two stories.

Fifteen bucks for business

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Swift service in the business lounge I have Frequent Traveller status with the German carrier Lufthansa and Star Alliance. That means I can get into the business lounge at any German airport, even if I only have an economy ticket.

The sad thing is that this doesn’t work at airports abroad, where I often have long waits for connecting flights.

If I wanted to get into a business lounge in Bangkok, Hanoi or Beijing without actually having booked a business flight, I’d have to have a gold card – unfortunately, my frequent traveller card is just silver.

Always hoping to get lucky

Nevertheless, I always try to get into the lounges with my silver card, hoping that somewhere, some time the locals might not know or care and just let me sit in those plush chairs and enjoy the free booze they serve in business lounges…

When I got to the lounge at the airport in an unnamed Asian city today, I was the only guest. The lady at the reception politely informed me that my silver card wasn’t enough to enter the lounge. As if I hadn’t known…

But then she suggested that I could talk to her boss – there might be a chance I could pay some money to get into the lounge.cushy chairs in the airport\'s business lounge

I thought that sounded like a good idea since I had more than one and a half hours to kill before my plane was due to depart.

The supervisor suggested I pay fifteen US Dollars.

That’s a sizeable sum in this unnamed Asian country.

After I gave her the cash, she happily put it into her wallet. Or was it the company wallet? Anyway: there were no witnesses. And I didn’t get a receipt.

Am I being too suspicious?

So let’s think of a more positive version of this episode. Who am I to suspect these people of any wrongdoing anyway?!

Let’s just look at this story from another point of view: the lady bent the rules to make my last hour in her country as pleasant as possible. She was friendly and helpful.

And for me it was nice to sit in a cushy chair and have access to the internet, instead of having to sit on the metal chairs in the general waiting area at the flight gate.

And who really cares about the fifteen bucks…

Written by Thorsten

June 8, 2008 at 4:19 am

Hot dinner in Hanoi

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Cha Ca at Cha Ca La Vong in Hanoi In Hanoi, there are some eating places you go to because of the decor and others that you go to despite the decor. Cha Ca La Vong is one of the latter kind.

Cha Ca La Vong in HanoiThe place is any decorator’s nightmare with its neon lights, green walls and wobbly tables and chairs.

But – oh – the food! The food is absolutely scrumptious!

And the best thing is that they only serve one dish. So you won’t be spending hours studying the menu, trying to decide what to get.

At Cha Ca La Vong, there’s only “Cha Ca” – the signature fish dish. It’s so popular that it’s even lent its name to the street that the restaurant is on.

Know where to look, or you’ll walk right by it

Cha Ca La Vong has been run by the same family for generations. It’s located in a rickety old house in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. There’s no flashy sign, no line of people, no attractive exterior that’ll draw you to this traditional restaurant.

If you aren’t aware of what’s inside this shabby house, you’ll never notice it or think of going in.

Luckily, a friend had told me about it, so we stepped inside, climbed up the narrow wooden stairs to the left of the entrance, and made our way to the first floor.

Upstairs, one of the waiters showed us to our seats and placed a little laminated card in front of us. It told us that the only dish at this restaurant – Cha Ca – would cost us 90 000 Vietnamese Dong each – roughly € 3,50 or about $ 5,00.

After we’d managed to communicate that that price was just within our financial limits, we were on.

You’ve got to know how to Cha Ca

Cha Ca at Cha Ca La Vong in HanoiThe waiter brought a clay oven filled with red hot charcoal to our table. He put a pan with sizzling hot oil and some pieces of fish on top of the oven.

In addition, we got some cold rice noodles in a bowl, some peanuts, a small plate with dill and Vietnamese herbs and a bowl with spring onions.

Next, the waiter threw some of the spring onions and herbs into the pan. The combination of frying fish, Asian spices, herbs and spring onions smelled great.A bowl of Cha Ca at Cha Ca La Vong in Hanoi

Unfortunately, we were clueless as to what should happen next: Should we take the frying pan off the grill at some point? Or should we also put the noodles and peanuts into the pan?

No, no, our waiter signalled, and demonstrated how it’s done: you put some of the cold rice noodles in your bowl, add some pieces of fried fish from the pan, sprinkle with some peanuts and add the fresh herbs.

The pan\'s empty - no more Cha Ca at Cha Ca La Vong in HanoiThe resulting combination was unbelievably delicious!

“This is the best dinner we’ve had in Vietnam”, my friend said.

I think it didn’t take us longer than fifteen minutes to clear that pan.

If you can’t stand the heat, don’t order the Cha Ca

But as soon we were no longer busy chowing down, we suddenly became aware of the fact that there was this extremely hot grill sitting right in front of us on our table. A grill with burning charcoal and a pan full of hot oil. A grill on a wooden table, in a wooden house, in the middle of the maze that is Hanoi’s Old Quarter.

How far to the next fire extinguisher in case the oil caught fire? How long would it take fire fighters to get here in case of an emergency? Kind of unpleasant thoughts.Ha Noi Beer to extinguish the fire

We felt pretty relieved when the waiter finally took away that charcoal grill and just left us with our beers. And the bill…

Written by Thorsten

June 6, 2008 at 8:51 am

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