The Displaced Nation

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Travel author Janet Brown channels Alice in Wonderland’s “tone deaf” adventures

SPECIAL TREAT FOR TDN READERS: JANET BROWN, author of the travel gem Tone Deaf in Bangkok, has kindly agreed to “come in” and respond to your comments and questions. 

As you may have noticed, The Displaced Nation has gone Alice-in-Wonderland mad since around the first of June. To take just a few examples:

And now, to top that all off, the extraordinary travel writer Janet Brown is paying us a visit. Brown could almost be a stand-in for the Lewis Carroll heroine herself, having published a book on travel to and life in Thailand called Tone Deaf in Bangkok, to much acclaim.

“Tone deaf” — it puts one in mind of poor Alice’s plea to the Mouse, “I didn’t mean it…But you’re so easily offended, you know!”

But if Brown sees herself as tone deaf, her readers regard her as anything but. Here is a sampling of her reader reviews on Amazon:

It has been ages since I have loved a piece of travel literature…, and so when I read TONE DEAF IN BANGKOK, I was thrilled. This is a good travel book, and it is a good book, period.

I am not a traveler, nor do I typically read travel books. Shame on me, I know, but here’s the thing: … The author brought Bangkok to life in a way that made me want to go there, yes, but it was her own story that captivated me and kept me turning the pages. Now I’d read anything Janet Brown writes!

Janet Brown’s TONE DEAF IN BANGKOK is a travelogue, to be sure. Yet it is more, so much more. It’s also an investigation into how dislocated we can become by ourselves, by our priorities and by all that we demand of the cultures in which we live. … That she has a gift for spotting the universal in the exotic makes this collection all the more profound.

Janet Brown has graciously agreed to answer some of my Alice-related questions. After that, dear reader, I urge you to chime in!

Before we go down the rabbit-hole, can you tell me a little bit more about your background?
My parents turned me into a gypsy before I was two, by taking me on their journey by jeep from New York City to Alaska when the 49th state was still a territory and the Alcan Highway was still an unpaved trail into the frozen north. I have wandered ever since, most recently in Southeast Asia with Bangkok as my home, writing down the stories I encounter as I explore. My books include:

Maybe because I’m so steeped in Alice-of-Wonderland lore this month, I think of you as Alice Personified. To what extent can you relate to Alice’s sense of disorientation? Going back not just to the first time you went to Thailand but also when your family dragged you to Alaska…
I was 18 months old when my family moved to Alaska from Manhattan. I coped with any displacement issues by making my mother read my favorite book over and over again — a truly saccharine Little Golden Book called The New Baby. The main character had the same name as I so that was the big attraction — all about me!  My mother swears she can still recite it verbatim after having two martinis.

Alice came to mind constantly in my first months in Bangkok — and frequently thereafter. I knew I’d gone through the looking glass — or had entered the postcard — and asked myself often if that experience had been as painful for Alice as it often was for me.

Can you describe your worst “Pool of Tears” moment in Bangkok, where you wished you hadn’t decided on living there?
I’ve tried to make light of that time when I wrote about it in Tone Deaf in Bangkok, but it nearly demolished me. When the manager of my apartment turned me into Ryan’s Daughter by listening in on my phone calls and then entertaining the neighborhood with highly embroidered versions of my life — and when people fell silent when I walked down the street and began gabbling excitedly after I’d passed — I felt as though my life had been stolen from me and I shut down to the point of hypothermia. If my students hadn’t helped me find a new neighborhood, I would have gone home a gibbering mess.

Thailand is renowned for its distinctive cuisine. Was there anything that carried an “Eat me” label that you felt hesitant about at first, but then discovered you loved?
I’ve written about durian in Tone Deaf, how I thought its smell in the market was sewer gas and then how I was forced to taste it, with happy results. Fried grasshoppers were another thing I didn’t warm to at first sight and then liked as much as I do popcorn — they have much the same crunch and texture.

By the same token, were there any foods that you thought might be good but then didn’t acquire a taste for? (For Alice, of course, that was the Duchess’s over-peppered soup.)
One night I stopped to buy green papaya salad from a food cart to take home for supper. There was something in a little plastic bag that looked like a sort of relish, so I bought that, too.When I opened it at home a smell of rot filled the air, but remembering the delightful surprise that durian had proved to be, I took a generous spoonful. It was pla ra — fermented fish, a Northeastern Thailand culinary staple that is meant to be added and mixed judiciously with the salad, not eaten like peanut butter. There wasn’t enough toothpaste in the world to rid my mouth of that thoroughly foul taste.

As already mentioned, Alice finds it’s easy to offend the creatures in Wonderland without even trying. Why did you choose the expression “tone deaf” for the title of your book on Bangkok? 
“Tone deaf” can be taken quite literally. Thai is a tonal language with five different tones giving meaning to every word. Use the wrong tone and at best you’re incomprehensible, at worst shocking. The most common mistake for foreigners is to tell someone their baby is beautiful, while actually announcing that the infant is bad luck. Another pitfall is confusing the word “near” with the word for “far” — they are the same sound, differentiated by a crucial tone.

But travelers to Thailand can also be “tone deaf” when it comes to figuring out the Thais’ communication style. As a Thai-American friend has observed, the important things are what remain unsaid. “You looked so beautiful yesterday” probably means today you resemble dogfood and ought to go home and rectify that at once. Subtlety is the hallmark of Thai communication, and is often expressed through a quirk of an eyebrow or a famous Thai smile, which has at least one hundred different meanings — including disdain or outright menace.

Describe the biggest faux pas you’ve made since settling in Bangkok.
Oh, how to choose — it’s impossible not to make faux pas every second because Thai etiquette is demanding and complex. The one that makes me cringe most is in my first week when I set off on my first solo bus ride. I was clutching a twenty-baht note, which like all bank notes in Thailand bears the countenance of the King. He is revered to the point of near godhood in his kingdom and his picture is always elevated to the highest spot in a room — nothing is above the King. But I was fresh off the boat and when I dropped my money and it was caught in a little breeze, I put out my foot (the lowest and most ignominious part of the body) and stepped on the picture of the King’s face to secure my bus fare. I was too clueless to pick up on the ripples of horror that this caused others at the bus stop, but now I writhe when I remember this.

“Off with her head!” as the chief royal in Alice’s story is wont to proclaim. Actually, never mind your head. Your mention of your foot makes me think of how physically awkward Alice feels around the creatures in Wonderland. As a farang in Bangkok, do you often feel self conscious?
I’m short and dark in a family of pale-skinned people, so I was used to being an anomaly from early childhood. In Bangkok, if I dressed like a Thai woman and wore sunglasses and walked slowly, I felt as though I blended in. But one day I walked down a quiet street on my way to a class, and someone looked up and said, “Look at the foreigner.” “How did she know?” I asked my class of teenage girls. “Your hair,” they said. “No, lots of Thai women have dyed their hair brown,” I replied — to which they responded: “Your nose.” It was my big American nose that gave me away every time — and since I hate pain and surgery, I just had to accept that.

Have you tweaked your personal style at all so as to fit in better? 
Yes — I adopted the conservative “Don’t show your bare shoulders” school of dressing that prevailed in Bangkok when I first arrived and slowed my pace to that of the women around me. I learned to keep my facial expression as bland as I possibly could to achieve the quiet Thai “public face,” and I ironed everything, including my Levis. Now women are much more casual in the way they dress but I’m still stuck in the cultural mores of the 90s. To foreign women who live here now, my introductory years in Bangkok seem like fiction — things have changed so drastically in the past 16 years.

Time for a quote from the Cheshire Cat: “…we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.” Can you relate?
Riding on the back of a motorcycle taxi down a crowded city sidewalk, buying a glass of Shiraz to take with my popcorn into a movie theater, being drenched to the bone during Thai New Year’s — this is actually the most difficult question you’ve asked so far because at this point it all seems normal.

If you were to hold your own Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in Bangkok, whom would you invite, and why?
Anais Nin, because she would love the unbridled hedonism of this place, Evelyn Waugh because he would satirize the expat scene so well, Ho Chi Minh because he could help put together the revolution that is needed here, Emily Hahn because she has always been my role model since I first read her when I was twelve, and Elvis because in Bangkok he is still the king.

Alice becomes aware that Wonderland is turning her into a different person, unrecognizable to the one she used to be. Has your identity has shifted in fundamental ways since living in Bangkok?
This is a very complex question — I’ve written one book about it and am working on a second one, Almost Home. I’m always drawn back to the US because my children are there. Seeing them for two weeks a year doesn’t work for me. Once I get back to the US this time around, I’ll return here but plan to spend the bulk of my time near family in the Pacific Northwest. I won’t know how much I’ve been changed by this recent incarnation in Bangkok until then. Ask me again in several months.

Can you offer any advice for newcomers to Bangkok, who aren’t sure who they are any more?
Tone Deaf in Bangkok and my next book, Almost Home, are where I directly address the challenges of feeling like an Alice in Thailand. In addition, the recently published Lost and Found Bangkok, for which I wrote the text, may be helpful for newcomers. It’s a book in which five different photographers — two American men, two Thai men (both from Bangkok), and one Taiwanese-American woman — show the city they live in. New arrivals can look at the photos and see some great places to get lost — and find out who they are — in this Wonderland-like city.

img: Janet Brown with friends at an all-you-can-eat DIY barbecue at a huge restaurant under a bridge in Bangkok, by Will Yaryan.

STAY TUNED for Monday’s post on the problems one can anticipate in trying out one’s humor on Wonderland’s inhabitants…

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40 responses to “Travel author Janet Brown channels Alice in Wonderland’s “tone deaf” adventures

  1. ML Awanohara June 10, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    Thanks so much, Janet, for agreeing to engage with us like this. I for one have thoroughly enjoyed it and hope you’ve had fun, too.

    There’s something I’ve been dying to ask you, so thought I would jump in first.

    With your ability to spin tales of what life is like in Bangkok — a Wonderland city if there ever was one! — you remind me not only of Alice but of Lewis Carroll. Thus I wasn’t surprised to learn that in addition to Tone Deaf in Bangkok, you’d penned a children’s book retelling the Ramayana story and the picture book B is for Bangkok.

    Had you ever thought of turning your formidable travel writing talents to fiction? A Thai version of Harry Potter, or some such?

  2. Piglet in Portugal June 10, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    Hi Janet
    I have really enjoyed reading your interview; it made me realise how fascinating the Thai culture is- I want to know more so Yes, I will be buying your book!
    I am a real foodie so my question/request is.
    Please share one simple recipe that a “westerner” would enjoy and where the ingredients would be readily available. ie not grasshoppers :)
    Kind regards
    PiP

  3. Janet Brown June 11, 2011 at 12:53 am

    Thank you for inviting me to your teaparty, ML–it’s a fabulous occasion!
    And thank you for your lovely compliments about my writing–no plans for a novel at this stage, but maybe when senility kicks in and I have delusions about my abilities…

  4. Janet Brown June 11, 2011 at 1:06 am

    Piglet, I am dying to visit your house in Portugal someday!
    Probably my favorite easy-to-make Thai dish is fried rice–here’s a link to a recipe by a woman who is my Thai food guru–
    http://www.nanciemcdermott.com/recipes/thaifriedrice.htm
    She has adapted this so it can be enjoyed anywhere in the world–fresh limes and fish sauce are crucial however–and avoiding canned anything is wise as well. Buy the best rice you can find–even if you can’t get jasmine rice from Thailand! Fresh is the key to Thai cooking–and chile peppers, which Portugal introduced to Thailand, by the way.

    • Piglet in Portugal June 11, 2011 at 3:25 am

      Hi Janet,
      I think Portugal would be very “tame” compared to Thailand LOL :)
      The recipe you linked to sounds delicious. I’ve printed it off and am going to try; not to sure about the fish sauce, but I see there is a salt substitute so should be fine!
      ML I grow chillies, but like you I am not a great lover of really hot spicy food. I went to an award winning Thai restaurant in Lyon(France) last year and they let me try all the sauces until I found one that was not too hot.
      They were Thai and had a real passion for the food they cooked and wanted my first experience to be perfect!
      PiP

  5. Susumu June 11, 2011 at 1:25 am

    Hi, Janet. I was interested in your comment about the Thais’ communication style. Can foreigners understand what goes on in Thai politics and why? The know-it-all Singapore leader Lee Kuan Yew once surprised when he said something to the effect that Thai politics is so unfathomable that Singapore doesn’t even try to figure it out. (I have respect for LKY and don’t say “know-it-all” too adversarially.)

    Still, the times may be a-changing. I’ve heard people say that what’s been happening in the last several years — basically the fight between the government and former PM Thaksin — is amenable to a fairly clearcut analysis.

    What is your sense, without getting into details? What is the fight about and will the Thais bury the hatchet and move forward without Uncle Ho’s help? And btw, are the Thais easier to read than they use to be?

    • ML Awanohara June 11, 2011 at 11:40 am

      @Susumu @Janet
      The last time I paid attention to Thai politics, back when I was living in Asia, Thailand was known for its bloodless coups that took place in 24 hours max — or as one Thai expert once said, he would be told of the coup by his cook when she was serving the soup, and it would be over by dessert. But it sounds like something altogether more interesting is taking place now. Janet, does this have anything to do with the thing you mentioned in one of our exchanges — about people standing up for the need to reduce the gap between rich and poor? (hmmmm… I wish we had a little more of that going on over here, in the US of A!)

      • Janet Brown June 12, 2011 at 7:37 am

        I think you’re right–and many people are still outraged that a democratically elected Prime Minister was ousted by a coup–and two more democratically elected successors to that PM were forced to step down–one because of the demonstrators who shut down the Kingdom by occupying Bangkok’s international airport and the other for hosting a TV cooking show while in office. The current PM was appointed–not elected–and is facing an election now. Interesting is a pallid word for what may follow the elections–if nothing else the horsetrading behind the scenes will be worthy of Macchiavelli and company.

    • Janet Brown June 12, 2011 at 7:07 am

      Thai politics is best discussed over a meal and a cold beer–and my feeling is Lee Kuan Yew was right! I myself am not that good a chess player or fortune-teller. I can only wish the Kingdom peaceful change. (Sorry–this is a sidestep answer–if you’re ever in Bangkok, let’s have dinner and speculate with the best of them–)

  6. ML Awanohara June 11, 2011 at 1:45 am

    Actually, Piglet’s comment on food reminded me of my own first trip to Bangkok, where I had trouble enjoying the local cuisine because of how firey it was. I would order the food for farangs, but it was still too spicy. In the end I had to survive on rice, peanuts and fruit (I loved the papaya, so cooling, and the pomelo, so sweet — but could never screw up the courage to try durian).

    Tell me, why do people in hot climates favor hot, as in spicy, foods? Does it make them sweat and feel cooler? (English people always mock the American habit of iced tea in the summer pointing out that a hot cup of tea has an immediate cooling effect.) And do you have to like spice to live in Thailand longer term?

    • Kym Hamer June 11, 2011 at 1:30 pm

      The comments about food in Thailand bring to mind how amazing the subtleties are between the flavours you experience in the different countries throughout the region. While I haven’t travelled to all of these places, I do miss being able to experience the differences between Thai, Malaysian, Indonesian, Vietnamese and even Sri Lankan cuisine in Melbourne – and don’t get me started on Chinese regional cooking! You can stumble on some gems in London – and the availability of regional Indian food here is mind-blowing – but in Melbourne, I was definitely spoiled for choice!

      • ML Awanohara June 11, 2011 at 4:29 pm

        @Kym
        I recall that when you and I discussed Thai food on my personal blog, Been There, Done That, Seen the Elephant, I mentioned my surprise at having discovered that one of the greatest pioneers in introducing authentic Thai food (not the fusion version) to Westerners (mostly in Oz and the UK) is the chef David Thompson, from Sydney. He has apparently written THE definitive book on Thai cooking, which comes triple and quadruple recommended by Chowhound types not just for its recipes but also for its exploration of Thailand’s history and culture.

        Thinking about it all again today, it strikes me that David Thompson could be the culinary equivalent of Jim Thompson, who figured out how to market Thai silk to Westerners. As mentioned in my TDN bio, I have a soft spot for Jim Thompson, who hailed from the same part of the world I did (Greenville, Delaware).

        (Say, is there something about men named Thompson that makes them so attracted to Thailand?! Maybe the alliteration…)

      • Janet Brown June 12, 2011 at 7:22 am

        So true, Kym–Asia is definitely not a culinary monolith. And in Thailand, the food changes dramatically in different regions–Central Thai being the food found in most Thai restaurants abroad, Northeastern represented by papaya salad and sticky rice and grilled chicken, Northern by khao soi (a noodle dish t5hat is heavenly–try it if you can!) and Southern which is the hottest of all regions, with strong Indian influences (like a version of chicken biryani, called khao moke gai.)

      • Kate Allison June 12, 2011 at 9:57 am

        Aww, Kym, don’t tease me about the variety and availability of Indian food in London! It’s one thing I miss horribly in the US, although it does seem to be catching on, slowly.
        @ML – I think the reason some English mock iced tea is because they haven’t tried it and it sounds – well – a bit too American. But it’s wonderful stuff, as is iced coffee. And you don’t like spicy food? Bang goes my idea of meeting for lunch at the Brick Lane Curry House!

      • ML Awanohara June 12, 2011 at 12:12 pm

        @Kate
        Hadn’t seen yours about iced coffee — just now gave it the thumbs up in one of our threads below. And not to worry, I can survive what passes for spicy in this country — or find workarounds. For some reason, I found it near impossible to do so in Bangkok! There’s spicy…and then there’s spicy… But I love Janet’s suggestions for trying the foods from some of the other regions. Must go back!!!

    • Janet Brown June 12, 2011 at 7:15 am

      Yes, a Thai friend told that chile makes you sweat and the evaporation of that cools you off. My puzzlement is why people in hot climates eat such heavily sweetened desserts–anybody have an answer for me?

      And no, I have friends who avoid fiery food, some of them Thai. There are so many other wonderful spices and foodstuff that add flavor–tamarind is a flavor I’m going to miss in the states, and really, really fresh lemongrass. I’ll be able to buy fish sauce and Thai chile, thank heaven. But not good pomelo–misery!!!!!

      • Kate Allison June 12, 2011 at 9:46 am

        I have no idea why cloyingly sweet desserts proliferate in hot countries, but I’m so glad they do! Gulab jamun…my absolute favorite dessert. It provides such a wonderful contrast to the spice and heat of an Indian meal. Maybe that’s the reason – the contrast?

      • ML Awanohara June 12, 2011 at 12:05 pm

        @Janet
        Pomelo — I never knew how extraordinary citrus could taste until I had my first pomelo in Bangkok. I still mourn its loss — and unlike you, have only been to Thailand a couple of times.

        @Janet @Kate
        No, I’m not a fan of cloyingly sweet Southeast Asian (& South Asian) desserts, though I must admit, I’ve never tried gulab jamun — isn’t that like warm donut balls floating in syrup? I suppose there’s always a first…

        What I have become a fan of in recent years — since living in Tokyo and now NYC, both of which should be considered hardship assignments during the summer — is Thai iced coffee, which I think of as a kind of dessert. I’m sure that health nuts wouldn’t approve of the combination of sweetened condensed milk and strong caffeine, but it’s one of the best shots in the arm out there for getting through oppressive heat waves. It also works well after a spicy meal.

        Oh, and let’s not forget mango sticky rice! I presume that’s a traditional Thai dessert, though I’ve actually only had it in Japan and the US. Fresh mango, glutinous rice, and sweetened coconut milk — it’s the ultimate comfort food. Just heaven!

  7. Janet Brown June 12, 2011 at 7:29 am

    Interesting that David Thompson has come into this discussion–he has two encyclopedic cookbooks (Thai Food and Thai Street Food) that are invaluable resources for anyone interested in the varied cuisines of Thailand.–and he created a huge amount of controversy last year when he opened a Thai restaurant in Bangkok. The thought that a foreigner could be an expert on Thai food and cookery enraged many Thai foodies. My friend Chawadee, the self-styled Bangkok Glutton, has a great piece about that at http://bangkokglutton.com/2010/10/04/the-taste-of-envy-ii/

  8. Janet Brown June 12, 2011 at 7:40 am

    I love this conversation–sorry I sometimes put my replies in the wrong place–and haven’t yet mastered the art of writing @Name.

    • Kate Allison June 12, 2011 at 10:20 am

      Hi Janet
      Well, you had me at ‘glass of Shiraz to take with my popcorn’. How very civilized! I can’t see it catching on here, somehow :(

      Your experiences with local delicacies are interesting. I guess every country has a flavor that to truly appreciate you (maybe) have to be a native of said country. Something I just can’t bring myself to like in the US is root beer; I’d never come across it before as a flavor, but as it smells like a popular British antiseptic cream called Germolene, it’s probably unsurprising I’m not keen.

      Going back to the Cheshire Cat question, about things being mad (motorbikes on sidewalks, Shiraz in movie theaters) and it all being a matter of perspective – my question to you is: What things in America do you now think are mad, which you may have perceived as normal when you were living there?

      • Janet Brown June 12, 2011 at 9:14 pm

        The politics of course, although I never thought they were normal; the truly awful food in supermarkets (slimy “fresh” chicken), the way casual dressing has become slovenly, the way spoken obscenity has become casual–more on this list once I return, I’m sure.

        What is a British delicacy that other countries find revolting–besides marmite?

      • Kate Allison June 12, 2011 at 11:03 pm

        Ha, well, Marmite is the flavor I had in mind. For the most part, there isn’t much to dislike. Room temperature beer gets a few thumbs down by the rest of the world, though.

  9. Janet Brown June 12, 2011 at 9:29 pm

    @ML–mango sticky rice is sheer bliss, isn’t it? it’s one of the dishes I make when I’m back in the states with Philippine mangoes and sticky rice I steam at home (luckily in the neighborhood I live in there are stores that sell sticky rice steaming baskets and the pots too. It’s easy to do, so long as you soak the rice overnight.)

    There are counters here in Bangkok with Indian desserts, looking like Elizabethan sweetmeats with layers of gold or silver leaf on top, but I don’t have the palate for them–on the other hand, a really good Thai iced coffee with the condensed milk and the palm sugar and strong, filtered coffee with lots of ice is fabulous–and hard to find in Bangkok now. Health consciousness seeping in, perhaps, as well as Starbucks and of course that hellish invention, Nescafe.

    Where do you go for Thai in NYC? I had not much luck when I was there a few years ago.

    • ML Awanohara June 13, 2011 at 7:14 pm

      I haven’t had much luck with Thai in NYC either, apart from one place introduced to me by a guy who used to work for me (his father is Chinese Thai): Pam Real Thai — on 49th, just off 9th Ave on the SW corner. Super fresh ingredients, and I always discover some new dishes to try.

      Overall, though, Thai seems to have gone the same way as Chinese and Indian, whether in NYC or in London: there’s a standard menu (which of course includes pad thai for those of us who don’t like spicy) with next to no variation. I guess they don’t think we Westerners are up to the task of discriminating among various regional flavors? :-(

      • Janet Brown June 14, 2011 at 9:13 am

        Once when I was back in the states, I saw a menu in a Thai restaurant window that said they had hoy taud–a mussel oyster pancake/omelette that’s very hard to find in the U.S. I burst in through the door, exultant until the owner said, “We don’t make it anymore. Nobody ordered it because they didn’t know what it was.” I stopped crying in a matter of days…

  10. Janet Brown June 12, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    Oh on the subject of caffeine–Thai iced tea with that zing of tamarind beats my country’s version hands down–don’t you think, Kate?

  11. Mark Wiens June 12, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    I highly enjoyed reading this article Janet!
    I can relate to a few of your cultural answers about living in Thailand, particularly dropping the 20 baht note and stopping it with your foot.
    As for food, so glad to hear that you like Durian! I think it’s the smell followed by the texture that turns many away, but the flavor is just too good after actually sampling it! A few weeks ago, my friend was on an air conditioned bus with a durian, the tout smelled it out and asked the entire bus who had the durian. A little old lady, ratted him out, pointing to him in the middle of the bus. He got kicked out.
    Little things like this keep life so entertaining in Bangkok!

    • Janet Brown June 12, 2011 at 10:51 pm

      Mark, I was at Aor Tor Kor with a friend where she bought some durian, peeled and sliced, to take home. it was wrapped in saran and in a light plastic bag, which the subway guard could see through to the contents. We were barred from entry–but put the plastic bag in a larger cloth bag that held books, went to another entrance and on to our subway car–no problem at all, and no odor either.

      It strikes me as odd that no durian is allowed on many varieties of public transport but a durian-eater is allowed entrance, even as the fruit’s fragrance escapes from every pore.

      (For anyone interested in Thai food, Mark has a fantastic e-book which you can preview at http://www.eatingthaifood.com/ )

  12. Janet Brown June 12, 2011 at 10:57 pm

    For those of us who are addicted to printed books, a portable and comprehensive guide to Thai food is Bangkok”s Top 50 Street Food Stalls. It includes photos and a terrific food glossary–even if you aren’t in Thailand, this book can make your neighborhood Thai restaurant a lot more fun!

  13. Janet Brown June 12, 2011 at 11:43 pm

    @Kate–room-temperature beer is the winner! In Bkk we put ice cubes in our beer to circumvent the heat–probably would be ejected from a British pub for that, true?

    • Kate Allison June 13, 2011 at 5:57 am

      Probably! Although an Italian friend in Rome puts ice in his red wine, which to me seems a sensible idea – I don’t like tepid wine, either, be it red or white. I suspect that with modern central heating and so on, the temperature of ‘room temperature’ is higher than it was when it was first decreed that red wine and ale should be served at room temp.

      • Janet Brown June 13, 2011 at 9:44 am

        @Kate–In Penang they serve red wine chilled to the point that holding the glass gave me hypothermia. It was a grisly moment–and ice cubes would be like being a child with a glass of watered-down wine.

  14. Suzy Guese June 13, 2011 at 12:56 am

    I haven’t read Janet’s book, but this interview certainly intrigues me to do so, fried grasshoppers aside. I love the insight about language in Thailand and the tones. Americans need to learn a thing or two about tone when speaking.

    • Janet Brown June 13, 2011 at 9:39 am

      It’s hard for us to divorce emotion from tones–and it’s hard for Thai speakers of English to divorce themselves from the middle tone and put some emotional tones where they’re needed. Are you in Thailand, Suzy? Sounds as though you may have learned a thing or two about tones yourself!

  15. Janet Brown June 14, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    @ML–I just looked up your restaurant recommendation and was amazed by its menu! Wow–you have the chance to sample Southern Thai food (oxtail soup for example), Northeastern, and out of the ordinary Central Thai choices–will they do a branch in Seattle???

    For those who haven’t been there, here’s their menu (if you’re in NYC)
    http://www.menupages.com/restaurants/pam-real-thai-food/menu

    • ML Awanohara June 14, 2011 at 11:21 pm

      @Janet — Great to get your recommendations on Pam Real Thai. You’ve made me want to go back and sample some more! @Kate — should we consider meeting there next time you’re in town, or is your heart set on Brick Lane Curry House?

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