Monday, June 20, 2011

Pad Thai

      Today we dressed formally to go to the Royal Palace to visit the Royal  Chitralada Project which is basically an experimental agricultural project sponsored by King Bumiphol (Rama IX – the descendant of King Rama IV from “The King and I”).  In order to help struggling farmers, he has a demonstration farm with innovative projects like cultivating different strains of rice and using the rice husks to produce solid fuel like charcoal, pasteurizing milk and making products from it such as powdered milk, and beekeeping to make honey and beeswax candles used in Buddhist ceremonies.  Prior to touring the facility we saw a propaganda film about the brilliance, genius, and enlightened leadership of the king (I’m not saying that the king isn’t brilliant and enlightened, but this film was pretty heavy-handed with the royal praise). 

      King Bumiphol does seem to be a pretty good guy but the political situation here is complex and sketchy.  There is a big election coming up on July 3 which I will discuss in detail later, but there are intriguing undercurrents going on.  The political situation is complicated by the fact that, even though the king is officially supposed to stay out of politics, he is supported by the “Yellow Shirt” party currently in power – but lese majeste laws forbid anyone from criticizing the king or any member of the royal family.  Therefore, discussing what could happen if the “Red Shirt” party – which does not support the king – wins the election gets a little bit risky.  Anyway, the Royal Family is a huge presence in Bangkok.  It’s difficult to walk down any street without seeing a huge photo or some other image of the King displayed on almost every block.

                                                                The King and I
                        Mushroom cultivation and the Royal Agricultural lab in the palace compound
                                     Experimental farming
                               Rice processing at the palace

      After lunch we were special guests of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where the Director General of the Department of American and South Pacific Affairs had a roundtable discussion with us about Thai/U.S. diplomacy, which dates back to Andrew Jackson’s presidency.  Then we had a session with the regional Director of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which is sort of a loose European Union type of organization.  Both of these government officials were optimistic about the Obama administration giving more emphasis to Southeast Asia and discussed issues that affect both the U.S. and ASEAN nations such as human rights, copyright infringement, education, etc.

Waiting to talk to the Thai Foreign Minister

Outside the Foreign Ministry office

      The best part of the day, however, was Thai cooking school!  We were given a very professional cooking lesson at the Suan Dusit International Culinary School where we prepared Pad Thai shrimp and a dessert made out of water chestnuts which soaked in grenadine, coated in tapioca flour, boiled, and served with coconut milk and syrup.  My cooking partner Shannon and I kind of screwed up the Pad Thai, but the dessert was good and it was fun.  After we cooked the meal we had to present it in true Thai fashion by artistically arranging banana blossoms, limes, and other garnishes on the dish.

The first several photos below are from a dinner cruise some of the other teachers and I took a few nights ago.

Entertainment during the dinner cruise to see the lighted monuments of Bangkok
Demonstration at Susan Dusit cooking school in Bangkok

The chef's demonstration of what we MIGHT accomplish at cooking school

Unfortunately, this is NOT what I cooked at Thai cooking school

                         Chef's attire is really unflattering

Our finished Phad Thai was "OK"