North Face Khao Yai Trail Race

I hafta tell you all, I was a pretty decent wife to begin with, but my sacrifice this past weekend basically assured my position in the stratosphere of wifely superstardom. For the second time this year, I hauled myself out of bed in the wee hours to cheer at one of T-bone’s races. Neither the fact that this race involved spending a weekend with 15 of our friends in a gorgeous national park nor the fact that I still owe Todd approximately 10hrs of cheering time should detract from the enormity of this sacrifice.

Anything for you, dear.

The race took place in Khao Yai (literally: “big mountain”) national park, an area 2.5 hrs north of Bangkok. The race was put on by North Face, and the main focus of the event was a 100km trail race. North Face also, however, kindly provided a few events for mere mortals: 10, 25, and 50km distances. All the runners from our group signed up for the 10km event, except Cheerleader Michelle, who chose to race the 25km. Cheerleader Michelle has so much energy, though, that 25km to her is like 5km to the average person. Here is a quick visual of her unparalleled perkiness as she heaves our friend Sean into the air:

“So basically you just get your spirit fingers going…”

“and BAM! You start to fly. So easy.”

I wasn’t quite a good enough wife to show up for the start of the race, but I did roll in before the finish. My fellow Super-(almost)Wife Jaime joined me on the sidelines, and we took it upon ourselves to make up for the cheering deficit that seems to be a feature of races in Thailand.

So excited that I’m unexpectedly giving birth.

The start that later became the finish.

Things got pretty exciting pretty quick: would the organizers manage to find the finish line tape before the first runner blasted through? Would the van cruising down the race course realize its mistake before blocking the finish line? Would the children’s dance troupe safely cross the course without getting trampled? And how much swag could spectators safely snag?

And would Todd (with Josh) be able to hide from his wife’s camera behind a bit of safety tape? Negatory.

These were the important questions that we pondered as we waited for the runners. It didn’t take long – first up was Todd’s little running buddy and student, Alex, who showed the adults how its done by coming in 12th in a field of 500. The teachers pushed their aging joints to the max, and while they didn’t quite catch Alex, they posted some very respectable times.

Eli finishing strong. You know that when both the object AND the background are blurry, you have achieved photographic mastery.

Lisa hammers it home. This gal actually takes decent photos, and she was not giving my point’n’click ANY eye contact.

First up after the race was a little breakfast – Pad Thai and fried rice. I don’t know about you, but immediately after I race, fat and spice are two of the last things I feel like eating. Mind over bladder matter, I guess…

Fish sauce and sugar sound pretty awesome, on the other hand.

Meagan, Ali, Therese, and Kim wait for the sweat to dry.

Two fun perks of races in Thailand are the Thai massages offered after the race.

And the inevitable elephants.

All in all, a good morning spent eating Pad Thai and screaming at runners. Such a good wife. Here’s hoping that next year my ankles will work and I, too, can dodge banana-mongers, vans, and child dancers on a gorgeous course.

A Week of Indian Food: Day 2 – the Thali

Like chai, the thali is a long-standing Indian tradition. Thali means “plate” in Hindi, and what a plate it is. Essentially, it’s comprised of a mound of rice on a steel plate surrounded by a variety of dishes. Depending on the region and the price, it could include any number of things. A cheap northern thali might include a few chappati (flat bread), some dhal (lentil stew), and a cooked vegetable. Southern thalis are more likely to include rice, sambar (spicy lentil/tomato soup), and coconut-based curries.

We ate several thalis in India, but unfortunately I only took photos of one. Todd ordered this in a Jaipur restaurant, and it is on the fancier end of the thali spectrum.

Taadaa!

Taadaa!

It includes rice, naan, roti (flat bread), dhal, malai kofta (potato-cheese dumpling), a paneer (soft-cheese) curry, pappadum (a lentil crisp), raita (yogurt and cucumber), a vat of salty, spicy pickle, and gulab jamun (deep-fried milk ball soaked in syrup). Oh, and intriguingly enough, an entire bowl of purple onions.

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Some restaurants will continue re-filling your dishes until you beg them to stop, but at this particular joint, Todd had to make do with the original portions. Poor boy. He really didn’t get enough food.

A Fine Feeding Frenzy

There are many activities in Thailand/South East Asia that struck me as slightly bizarre when we still lived in Canada, but now seem quite normal. These include the habit of using a spoon and fork (but no knife) with meals, Thai women’s general disdain for the act of leg-shaving, and the widespread popularity of flesh eating fish in massage parlours. This last one is what I want to focus on today.

I remember reading an article in National Geographic before we left home. It featured de-mining efforts in Cambodia, and for some reason, one of the featured photographs was of two tourists indulging in a fish massage as they were serenaded by a war amputee. A strange mental image. While the article detailed Cambodia’s de-mining efforts with great pathos, I was riveted by the fish suckled to tourist flesh. After arriving here, however, I’ve discovered that it is a common tourist activity. Furthermore, I knew it was only a matter of time before Todd caved in and tried it. Fish massage has T-bone written all over it, because:

A) He loves eating strange things. In this case, it’s the fish that are eating “strange things,” but that’s good enough for him.

B) For some inexplicable reason, he actually enjoys the eerie feeling of ants crawling on his arms. From here it is a short skip and a hop to enjoying fish mowing down on his legs.

We visited Asiatique – a hot spot for upscale market items, eateries, and lady-boy cabaret shows – one evening, and when he saw the feisty fish frolicking there, he dove right in. He tried to convince me to join him, but I prefer to keep my epidermis where it belongs, thank-you-very-much.

The process began with a gentle scrub – probably to loosen the skin so the fish could get a better latch.*

 

He started off with a quick wash:

“How much should I scrub off?” “2 or 3 layers should do it.”

Prepping the main course…

Because maybe you needed a closer view…

And then it was off to the races!

 

 

So pumped.

“Hi little guys! You are just like birds of the sea!”

The armada amasses and then latches on.

So much food. So little time.

Totally blissed out. Todd loves feeding the hungry.

And one last close up. Check out the fish between his toes.

Turns out that National Geographic didn’t exaggerate – it was a totally riveting process. I’m still a little icked out, but T-bone is dreaming of his fish friends’ next meal…

* I might be making this up.

Foodie Friday: The Miraculous Mangosteen

(Hmmm. When it comes to ‘Foodie Friday’ posts, I often seem to find myself stuck in Superlative Land. You’ll have to bear with me once more, though, because it is impossible to describe mangosteens without using superlatives.)

The “Queen of Fruits” is so miraculously perfect that it deserves its own post.* It is only when I moved to Thailand that I met this fruit ‘vis-a-vis’ as the French say, but it has been nothing but pure love since then.  I was originally sceptical of this fabled perfection, however, because:

A) The Durian is called the “King of Fruits,” and I have never smelled anything so revolting – think onions mixed with teenage-boy B.O. (Making me actually taste it would require a force-feeding adventure). Royalty designations just don’t do it for me.

B) Todd was really excited to eat mangosteen again. Todd, however, gets excited by mixed congee, mysterious lumps from the market, and low-quality carbohydrates. His culinary instincts are sporadic at best.

Plus, they look like strange lumps – not exactly flaunting their perfection.

As soon as I tasted one, though, I knew I that all the stories were true. It is the perfect fruit. There aren’t really adequate words to describe its flavour, but I will try: imagine the most beautiful flower you can think of, then imagine that beauty in the form of a flavour. Voila, the mangosteen.

They look pretty unassuming on the outside:

Giving you a fuller picture of the “strange lump” spectrum

Who cares about the outside, though? I never judge a book by its cover. All I’m into is innards.

And these innards are worth gettin’ into.

The fruit itself is arranged in a flower formation, and each section has a big seed in the middle. The sections are sort of like skinny-fat people: they’re mostly bone, but the flesh they do have is soft and flabby.

Never has flabby been so tasty

Getting to those innards can be tough. Todd once slit open his hand in his anxiety to hit mangosteen paydirt. I am forever indebted to fellow Bangkokian blogger mishvo for alerting me to the fact that mangosteens can actually be peeled. Who knew? I believe that this knowledge has already saved T-bone’s life several times over.

Although plastic bags may yet claim him

Sometimes, mangosteens go bad. It is tragic when perfection is corrupted.

The mangosteen on the right is sporting some mould, while the one on the left has a few mushy neon blemishes.

Pulpy, woody, rotting, stinking, tragicness.

But because of the amazingness of the good fruit, we keep tearing into them, rotten or not.

Awkward self portrait. Dang it, T-Bone! Why are you always working when I need a photographer?!

And a more successful portrait of someone enjoying mangosteen.

Sadly, mangosteen season is drawing to a close. Leave me a comment if you have suggestions on how to fill the void that it is leaving in my culinary life.

* Also, I was too lazy to scout out more new and bizarre fruit.

Off to the Races!

This weekend, a group of teachers and students from Todd’s school participated in a road race at one of Bangkok’s many unique, extremely fertile parks. Sadly, I am still gimped, so I didn’t get to run, but I decided to go along as a cheerleader: I have hauled Todd out of bed on many early mornings to cheer at my races (“Come on, Toddy! You get to wake up extra early and stand in the cold and the rain for multiple hours! Doesn’t that sound like fun?!”), so I owed him one.

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Gurrrl, this doesn’t even begin to cover what you owe me.

The race was put on by the Bangkok British international school, and I didn’t know what to expect – probably a few awkward clusters of high schoolers running around. Instead, it turned out to be a full-fledged, well organized road race, complete with sponsors and prizes. The distances were a little interesting – gotta love that classic 9.4 km distance – but other than that, it was a standard race.

Except for the bag drop in a railway (??) car

In total, there were almost 800 runners. I think every farang in Bangkok made an appearance.

Because apparently digging pain is the farang way

This being Asia, however, there were a few additional treats, such as the spunky lady leading warm-up exercises. In other races that I have attended, most runners are super serious, lost in their own worlds doing things like “stretches” and “strides,” but in Bangkok, people do group warm-ups, and they do it Gangnam Style.

Ahh. Nothing like some group exercises to get the blood moving!

After a quick trip to the ol’ hong nam (bathroom), and a quick scan of the swag tables that several sponsors were setting up, T-bone and his buddies were ready to race.

These broads are FIERCE

I wandered around the sewage scented parking lot for a bit (I’ve never been to a race that smelled so…aromatic), then decided to wait out on the course to cheer and snap photos. I can say from experience that no photos are more flattering than those that are taken as you hurtle your aching, gasping body towards the finish line. I was hoping that Bangkok’s heat and humidity would make the photos that much more attractive – I’m not one to disappoint a good teacher.

First up in the 5km was Li’l Buddy David, who was trying to maul the small children beating him to the finish line

Next up in the 5km was Lisa, who confirmed that running in a humid, sewage-scented park was a different ballgame than the treadmill at the gym

And in the 9.4 km, it’s our very own T-bone, who is looking waaay too perky. If you’re smiling, it means you’re not working!

And it’s Michelle and her muscles in the 9.4km. Lookin’ like the killer gym teacher that she is.

And right behind Michelle, we have Kim. She is looking confused, because David went in to high-5 her, but I shoved him out of the way because he was blocking my shot. Nothing gets in the way of my photographic dedication.

There didn’t seem to be any other spectators out on the course, so I was a one-woman freakshow cheering for everyone who passed by me. Some people seemed to appreciate this, but a few small child racers burrowed their faces into their parents shorts with fright. Those Brits organized a good race, but clearly they needed a dose of North American-style loud, obnoxious cheerleading to soften those stiff upper lips. Always happy to help.

After the race, all the runners mowed down on the interesting sandwich combos provided by the race organizers, and helped themselves to “face refresher spray” provided by one of the sponsors.

I love this photo. You can just hear the lady saying “What do you think this is?!?! A build-your-own sandwich joint?! Get out of my face, chicken legs!!”

All in all, it was a great day at the races, and a good chance for me to tick off 1 of the ten billion early morning support crew moments that I owe Todd.

Running rockstars