Thursday, April 23, 2009

Confronted by Barking Deer Intestine Hash and Bangkok Unrest (But at Least the Mangoes are in Season)

It's been a few eventful and interesting weeks since I've had a chance to blog.

First of all, I was invited by Bob Morikawa, from Floresta (, to assist in a survey in neighboring Burma and Cambodia. We were accompanied by Kim Roberts, a Floresta intern currently based at UHDP and Jamlong, one of UHDP's co-directors.

I’ve looked forward to one day visiting this corner of Burma since arriving in Thailand 15 years ago. And I wasn’t disappointed.

The road to Chiang Tung from the border town of Thakhilek wasn't bad although little other infrastructure exists in the region. My estimate is that less than 10 percent of the population in the region is connected to the electrical grid.

However, we observed that thousands of households are powered by cheap Chinese-made micro-hydro generators that can produce 1-5 kilowatts of electricity. With roughly 3-5 households connected to each generator, there is enough juice to illuminate a few light bulbs and operate a TV or radio in each home. Apart from a generator, basically all that's needed is an adequate amount of falling water; quite plentiful in this mountainous region.

It was in one of those micro-hydro powered homes that we were treated to a fine Lahu meal. Wherever I've been, local food is usually quite interesting. All in all, there's very little that I've found to be unappetizing or inedible. Sometimes the main concern is whether certain foods have been cooked adequately. One such example is larb dip, a raw pork salad that's fairly popular in northern Thailand.

The most memorable dish served by our Lahu hosts was a delicacy made from barking deer (Muntiacus muntjak) intestine and contents. Unlike other species of deer in the region which are now rare due to over hunting, the diminutive barking deer is still rather common. Served as a
condiment, although the well-cooked barking deer dish was somewhat bitter it was made more flavorful with a strong dose of aromatic prickly ash (Zanthoxylum rhetsa) seed. Not bad.

Further south in Cambodia, Bob and I enjoyed getting to know Khmer cuisine, somewhat similar to Thai. However, the presence of baguettes in many street food stalls in Phnom Penh is evidence of France’s culinary influence.

Speaking of local food, one of my perverse thrills is to peruse English versions of menus. Many times menu entries apparently fail to capture the full meaning of the original item. Not that I’d do any better should I attempt should I attempt to translate an English menu into Thai or Khmer. However, on this trip, the Lost in Translation winner was “Fried Rat With Ingredients.”

Following the trip to Burma and Cambodia, our family had planned a low-cost getaway to Bangkok during the Thai New Year. This holiday is a lot of fun if you like getting dosed with cold water and having your face smeared with powder. However, for our family, that sort of activity is fun for about five minutes. Then we’re ready to hide like cats until the last slosh of water has dried.

Since Chiang Mai is epicenter of Thai New Year water madness, we decided that we’d indulge in a large air conditioned room at the Bangkok Christian Guesthouse, take in the weekend market and do a bit of sightseeing during lulls in the water battles.
And now, in (hopefully) the last few weeks of the hot, dry season, a number of mangoes are ripening in the tree in our garden. Just the thing to tide us over until the rainy season begins.

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