Saturday, 28 February 2009

My 60th birthday today...

I stopped counting birthdays a long time ago. At my age they're not something I'm particularly eager to commemorate. But with Olwen, me and the kids currently located on three separate continents, it's nice to be remembered by them, also to receive the very many greetings from friends, colleagues and assorted relations that have come my way via snailmail, phone, sms, e-mail and Facebook. Clearly, many people place much greater value on sixty years as a milestone than do I.

Brother Nick called me earlier to offer his and Frankie's greeting, with the admission that he never thought I'd make it to sixty. Forty years ago, if truth be known, neither did. Anyway, I did and if any of you read this - I thank you all for remembering that, which if left to me, I'd probably not bother to celebrate. X

I had a huge surprise from work where I was presented with a fantastic new camera lens and super-sized signed card by my boss and colleagues. With typical foresight, Olwen had hidden a present, a couple of Tommy Bahama shirts in a spare cupboard that she directed me to by phone this morning. They make me look svelte and dangerous (one of the buttons popping-off could take your eye out).

Lucy sent me her own dissonant video version of the traditional birthday song which made me laugh and want to hug her. And she had filmed Baan Bophut's rhythmically challenged kitchen and waiting staff performing the same piece accompanied by their own discordant clapping, which made me want to cry. How do they do that?

I've been invited out to dinner by a good friend tonight. She turned a deaf ear to my lame excuses, for which, more in the spirit of the day now, after writing this, I'm grateful and looking forward to. Nothing la-di-da, we've agreed to meet at the Boston Bar, one of the few places left in Dubai where I can still enjoy a cigar.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

The Siam Sunray - Thai tourism's own economic rescue remedy...

Turning to booze for inspiration, Thailand's tourism authority and its hotel association (THA) have launched a national cocktail to boost the country's visitor numbers, which have shown a steady decrease since the military coup of 2006. As one would expect, the closure and occupation of Bangkok's two airports that stranded 300,000 travelers for over a week late last year acted to hasten the decline.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) hopes to reverse the trend with its new national drink - the Siam Sunray - which it describe at its rollout last week as 'Thailand in a glass: the new punch in Thai tourism'. In its announcement launching the Siam Sunray TAT expressed the hope the new cocktail will help revitalise the allure of Thailand and become "a part of global cosmopolitan culture" - in the same way that, it claims, the Singapore Sling, Cuban Mojito, New York's Manhattan and, I may add, my own Doha leg-opener, have become.

"Successful signature drinks are one way to fast track holiday destinations on to the world tourism map, and can contribute some added identity to the local food and beverage scene in the hospitality and tourism industry," slurred the TAT spokesperson.

Although I like to imagine a special TAT committee stumbling serendipitously upon the cocktail concept and the Sunray recipe while drowning their misery at falling tourist numbers in a backstreet bar somewhere, the recipe was created by Surasakdi Pantaisong. He was the winner of the 2008 Bar Tender Championship hosted by the TAT and THA at Siam Paragon in September 2008.

If you want to try this at home rather than wait until you can try Tik's version, here's the official recipe.

Siam Sunray recipe
30-40 ml. of Smirnoff vodka
30 ml. of coconut liqueur
15 ml. of syrup
¼ cm. of Thai chilli pepper
3 slices of young ginger
1 Kaffir lime leaf
3 slivers of lemon grass
3 drops of lime juice
Soda water

Crush the small Thai chilli pepper, young ginger, Kaffir lime leaf, and lemon grass together in a shaker to bring out the aroma and flavour of the Thai herbs.
Add syrup, lime juice and Smirnoff and shake well.
Strain into a glass with ice; top up with soda water; garnish with chilli, lemon grass and a slice of lime.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Kathoey - ladyboys: Thailand's third gender...

Kathoey, a Thai word of Khmer origin, refers to a male to female transgender person or effeminate, cross-dressing gay. Nearly all katoeys dress as women and many that can afford it will undergo hormone treatment and surgical procedures such as genital reassignment, Adam’s apple reductions and breast implants to cultivate their feminine appearance. Kathoeys are (very) often indistinguishable from women and there are numerous tales of the unsuspecting westerner who hooks up with a kathoey in the mistaken belief that their glamorous companion is female.

Frequently attracted to the entertainment, restaurant, retail and fashion trades, popular work for kathoeys includes traditionally feminine occupations in cabarets and bar shows, hair & beauty salons, and fashion houses - or as prostitutes, although not all. An attractive, if occasionally stubbly, ladyboy works in the plumbing department of our local hardware store.
Kathoeys are usually extremely glamorous and wear stunning outfits. Many Thai singers, models and movie stars are kathoeys. There are several national beauty contests for kathoey, and the winners are often posted side-by-side with winners of female beauty pageants.

Tanyarat Jirapatpakorn was crowned Miss International Queen 2007 at the transsexual beauty pageant in Pattaya, here flanked by the runners up from Philippines (L) and Brazil (R)

Nong Toom is probably the best-known kathoey in Thailand. She is a former Muay Thai champion and has also worked as a model and actress. As a young boy, she was aware of her gender-identity and at the age of 16 was already dressing as a woman and taking hormones. After a short period as a Buddhist monk, she started to train as a boxer, and eventually joined a boxing camp in Chonburi. Her goal was to make enough money to support her poor parents and to pay for a sex-change operation. After retiring from the professional ring, Nong Toom underwent gender reassignment surgery and her life was portrayed in the 2003 film 'Beautiful Boxer'.

After a night out in Chaweng, with perhaps a visit to Christy's Cabaret, it might seem that Thailand has more than its fair share of ladyboys, but this is not the case. Thailand is the most open society in Asia, and with its ready acceptance of all ways of life, sexual lifestyles that may stray from the orthodox formula are not hidden from view as in most other countries. The elemental Buddhist principal, that of tolerance, also plays its part in the acceptance and visibility of kathoeys in Thai society. Many devotees believe that being born with such ambiguous sexuality is a result of bad karma and the outcome of wrongdoing in a former life for which they are now expiating their sins. It follows that kathoeys are due pity rather than censure; acceptance rather than dismissal from normal social intercourse.

Legal recognition of Kathoeys' status in society is not so charitable and they suffer considerable discrimination. Even after gender reassignment Kathoeys are not allowed to describe themselves as female and their passport, among other important documents, must show their birth gender. Should they fall foul of the law, kathoeys' lives become doubly difficult as they will be sent to an all male prison. Some families, too, appear to have an ambiguous attitude about having transgender offspring, often disowning them.

Official acceptance is glacially slow, but a government funded education authority has permitted a high school in rural north eastern Thailand to set the ball rolling by building a toilet for kathoeys. The Kampang School in Isarn recently conducted a survey among their students which revealed that nearly 260 students considered themselves kathoeys. Accordingly, the school decided to create a unisex toilet for their student-ladies of the third gender.

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