Friday, August 30, 2013

Order or talk

Is it just me or do you, dear reader, think as well that its quite rude to talk to someone on the phone while at the same time trying to order your caramel macchiato iced latte grande soymilk no cream?

Not only that it isn't actually working (even if you think you are good at multitasking) and confuses both the person  you are talking to and the barista, it's quite annoying for those waiting in line.

Another observation is that those being that impolite are just unable to manage a simple situation like this - and cover it by pretending to be very busy and important.

If you cannot manage the time it takes to order a coffee you better think about your skills at all instead of letting everyone know what loser you are.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

You can't stay here

Recently we were walking on the skywalk between Central World and Chitlom when suddenly security guards showed up and pushed all pedestrians to the exits. We made it through the shutter before they pulled it down and secured the whole area. We weren't even allowed to stand near the railing to have a look whats going on down on the street.
Then, some minutes later, I realised what happens. Members of the royal family were passing by in a convoy, and while the shut down is also for security reasons, the reason we couldn't stay above the street they were driving is that nobody is allowed to be above the king or members of his family. You can see how serious this is when the prime minister is usually on her knees when attending a royal audience.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Thailand Research Expo: What I expected and what I got.

When I heard about the Thailand Research Expo taking place in the Centara Grand Convention Center, I as a science podcaster was quite excited. There aren't many opportunities to see Thai science in action, and the even announced some cool robots. A quick look at the website left me in the unknown since everything was in Thai language. But that didn't frustrate me much, and so we spent the Sunday morning there.

First we had to fill a form that was all in Thai and of course to leave a copy of our passport. Then we got a nice bag and the catalogue - all in Thai as well. To say it right from the beginning: 90 percent of information provided there was in Thai, and people in the stalls barely spoke English (with few exceptions).

I am not really expecting people speaking English in any local event, at a food fair, or fashion, or music events. But the language of science is English, like it or not. Also, with the (maybe) coming AEC it is important to show off your research skills and share knowledge with other countries. If I weren't an investor searching for opportunities in Thailand, I would have turned away after a few minutes. It clearly said this research is for Thais only.

But I am not giving up that easy, and so we went looking for the bright side of the fair. And we found some gems indeed.
One university was showing a system of automated sliding doors for outside train stations. You may have seen them at Siam already - only those are locked and not in operation. The model I was shown at least worked after a reset of the system.

Then there was another University showing how they grow bacteria on sponges to extract colour pigments. OR those building robots that can respond to moves they detect through a camera (what isn't to complicated anymore to achieve with the kinect system).
There was a demonstration of a water and flood management system for BAngkok (at least I guessed it from the model that was displayed).

Some guys showed a high speed train concept based on electric conductors.

Not sure if this was meant for the new train infrastructure budget the government proposed recently.

Quite amazing was a chat with a leading scientist of another university who is doing assessments and problem solving in environment pollution cases. They actually developed solutions for ground water contamination in remote villages, illegal waste dump in ponds near housings or even oil spills. The problem was that even if they found a solution, they couldnt really scaled it up because there wasn't sufficient funding.

As I said, a few gemstones. Bu the majority of stalls were either without anything to display beside thick printed reports or, even worse, agricultural products. And I am not talking about some break through research in rice production. I am talking about yet another body lotion from some OTOP shop, some healthy juice, cream or pills.
As if Thailand wants to promote itself as a agricultural and backwards oriented country (I thought thats Laos USP). I somehow had the feeling that at least some of the "vendors" were there because they had to be. Since it was organised by the National Research Council of Thailand (no English version), I wouldn't be too surprised if it was mandatory for some institutions to be there. As it probably was for the many students swarming around. There were a lot of presentations and sessions in some of the other rooms, and a few had actually English titles.

So my conclusion: As most of the times when a event is government related, don't expect too much. It's not made to impress visitors but to show off to superiors and get some nice more pages in the yearly report.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Street food: The holy grail for expats

In Thailand we have two kinds of censorship: The one that is written as law by the government, and the unwritten laws in the expat community. One of these laws is to never ever criticise street food. This holy grail is untouchable. There is no opinion about it. It is the essence of Bangkok, the USP. Its everything.

Street food

Ok, let me brake the law. Coconuts Bangkok wrote an article "Why Bangkok streetfood sucks" and it fulfilled its purpose: a lot of comments, tweets, shares and retweets. (Some call it linkbait, what still triggers kind of a public debate. Although I agree it is an easy way to start a debate, like dogs in public parks. And all of them complaining about the bait of course taking it).

Lets start with a selection of comments from there:

You've had 2 1/2 years of going to the wrong street vendors, now you think you know everything and have been all around. I don't like MSG either but the rest of your blog is blissful ignorance


Seriously dude, are you having a bad day or something.. while I agree with a lot of what you're saying, it's the seething tone with which you say it that makes you sound like an ass.


Have lived on thai street food for the last 15 years when in Bangkok, I can safely attest to the sheer stupidity of the article/op ed piece. Yes, you should go to the mall and farang restaurants and be a tourist like the rest of the chumps.


What an absolute pile of shit. I've lived in SE Asia for 10 years and have never got sick from eating street food. Ice-T? WTF??? This writer is an idiot.

First of all, the tone is amazing. I thoughts that happens only at Thai visa.

Now, lets take a deeper look. What did the author say?

It’s almost never organic, and it certainly doesn’t deserve to be called “artisanal".
Of course its not organic, and nobody expect to be. Not a good idea to expect the best food for 30 Baht.

If it contains meat, it will be the cheapest meat money can buy, meat made from animals that have endured a lifetime of sheer hell before being slaughtered, chopped into little pieces and deep-fried in two-month-old palm oil for your dubious “pleasure.”
The cheap meat part is true as it is for most western processed food. So not much difference what you get for 2 USD in the US or on a Thai street. But: Deep fried food is indeed not healthy at all, and palm oil isn't it as well (beside the environmental issues. Yet, its is yummy.

And it’s dangerous. Where there is street food, there are rats and even worse vermin. The product has often been sitting out in the searing Bangkok heat all day before it reaches your tender insides.

It is, and it isn't. Street food vendors are smart: They know when its time to cook and to sell. So most of the food sells quite fast. And at least deep frying or BBQing it kills a lot of bacterias. So it depends on the vendor, how popular he is, how long the raw food is exposed to the heat (its just a scientific fact that bacteria growth is related to temperature). It doesn't really matter if you never got sick from it (you just may not remember it, in particular when you are a believer..)

Sometimes, to cut costs, vendors wash plates and silverware in khlong water. We all know what goes in the khlongs – and it ain’t dish soap.
Shit happens, even in five star hotels. I dont think that is a common practise. So this isn't really a valuable argument against street food.

But street food tastes so good,” I hear you whimper. “Don’t trash street food, it tastes so good.” To that, I give you three letters: ‘M’, ‘S’ and ‘G’.

Again, yes and no. All kind of soups are indeed made more tasty with some MSG (as they are with salt or Maggi). Grilled stuff gets most of the taste form spices, and that makes it so special. Stir fried dishes have a lot of different sauces, and they may contain MSG, but are strong enough to give it a certain taste on their own.

And what’s so great about sitting on shitty plastic furniture, inhaling fumes and listening to engine noise while you eat, anyway? Most annoying of all, street food stalls make it a nightmare to navigate the Bangkok sidewalks...

Like it or not. I am not a fan of some Hi-Class chinese restaurant decorations either.

The poor only eat street food because they have to. They would love to be able to eat good, honest cooking that shows respect to its ingredients.

So now we come to the core of street food. It is not a cooking competition, and it is not a contestant line up for the Top-Chef. It is fast food. Cheap fast food. Not just for the poor. Average street food is 40-60 baht. If you work in a shopping mall, your salary is about 9000-12000 Baht. Two meals a day is about 100 baht at least, makes it 2500-3000 baht for food. What people do is saving money on food. Thats how they can afford a ice-coffee-shake after. Or the new iPhone.
They are actually able to eat better, but not everyday (not talking about the construction workers and other way poorer people. They cant even afford some of the street food).

But: It wouldn't sell if it is not tasty. It is NOT made for expats. It is made for average Thai people, and needs to fit their taste. And while the sellers are always proud of their food, they don't really care if a falang like it or not.

The majority of office workers and sales people in Bangkok indeed like to eat in a clean, air-conditioned environment. That's why most street food is sold in a bag. And that's why food courts are getting more and more successful (I am talking about the street-food-like courts). So over time we will see a decrease of food stalls.

Street food isn't nothing Bangkok has invented, although it may have a certain variety in it, and it is quite visible. All Asian countries have it, and the food is sometimes good and sometimes bad, like in any other restaurant. To say street food sucks is a wrong as to praise it as the only real source of food.

Side note: I know what I am talking about, because I set up and ran a street food stall in Laos. The biggest problem was to get the ingredients in a certain quality for a good price. I sold sandwiches with Lao sausage and papaya salad for 2 USD, and had a very small profit margin.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Future meat will come from a lab - and that's a good thing

Pig Slaughter

Have you ever killed an animal and ate it after? No? Why not?

I wrote an article about meat consumption on my German blog, please find below the translation. It is not a German issue, it is a worldwide issue.

The Germans are a nation of meat eaters. 13kg/person/year beef is already a lot with the Americans with 42 still lie far over it (but we lead with the pigs). But no matter, the question is how long can we afford meat consumption?

Worldwide, we are talking about 63 million tonnes of beef, 99 million tons of pig, goat 12 milion tons and 83 million tons of chicken. China alone has increased in the last 20 years of his beef consumption from 2 to about 10 kg per person per year. One can only imagine what it looks like when Brazil, India and Africa to grow even further, plus Southeast Asia.

To bring it to the point: We will run out of cattle and pigs eventually. And even if not, the consequences will be unbearable. Once there is methane, which is emitted from cattle and has a significant impact on climate change. On the other hand, indirect consequences, such as a study of Austria shows:

A major leverage point for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions of pork production is the facilitation of European animal feed. The Majority of vital protein plants: such as soybean are currently produced in and imported from areas where de-forestation leads to major climatic and environmental impacts. For this reason the soybean production makes up to 80% of the greenhouse gas emissions of Austrian AMA pork meat. - See more at: # sthash.aLuwVGdB.dpuf

Soy is not the solution. A vegetarian day as call it the Green Party in Germany is helpful, in fact, but not in form of law (though I think the outcry kind of funny, since substantial parts of Germany are based on the Catholicism that asks for a meatless day ).

The solution is not yet on the supermarket shelves, but doable. None other than Sergey Brin has financed it, and Professor Mark Post has achieved it: The first meat from the lab.

Now of course real men will start crying an whining, it was not real meat. Well, let's see:

If real meat only comes from real animals, then real men should be able to kill an animal. Have you ever killed a pig, cow or chicken? Who would be willing to do this for the food supplies on a regular basis?

"The lab's meat is not high quality." What would have to prove, since you can control very well in the laboratory, which "good" ingredients in what concentration exists. But it rather raises the question of how high quality the meat we eat is rightnow. 50 percent ground beef, which is produced in the food industry from Pink Slime aka meat waste. The cheap meat from Aldi and Co. comes from mass production. Sausage is NOT made out of beef, and IKEA Meatballs not either.

Lab meat is the only solution we have. All the money that is used for the military budget should immediately be given to this research.

It's probably an attitude question of whether one would eat lab meat or not. Those who have left the cave in the spirit never real, will probably always find arguments against it. Until, as Professor Post, lab meat is much cheaper, because the other meat is supplied with an environmental levy.

Jamie Oliver has shown it in his show times how to do it. The killing of a chicken today.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Fresh coffee every morning - not these Nespresso capsules

It's not that I am old fashioned. It's because fashion comes with an insane price. I had a Senseo coffee machine (the one with the pads), mainly because I was able to buy organic coffee pads and there was a refill solution. The new machines from Nescafe and others not only don't have this, they are are an environmental nightmare.

Each cup of Nespresso coffee produces aluminum waste, the main material of the capsule. There is 1g of aluminum in one capsule (including the cover) compared to about 13g for a soft drink can. Recycling aluminum represents energy savings of up to 95% in comparison with the production of primary aluminum.[33] To begin with, Nestlé did not implement recycling programs outside of a few parts of Switzerland....A minority of capsules are recycled: Nestle states a current rate of 50% in Switzerland and Germany, but only 2% in France.

For sure they don't have it an Asia (although your local recycling guy who gets the plastic bottles might be interested in). Nestle in particular, doesn't really care about energy, environment or organic coffee. They are a good example of green wahsing. One quote from Coffeehabitat: "I’m not sure if people who already find preparing a cup of coffee from whole beans too much effort are the best candidates to recycle the capsules."

Indeed, what the capsule maker are doing is educating us in the wrong direction. It is NOT good to use these products, even if they try to tell us.

So, whats the plan? I use the Italian Coffeemaker as seen above. It is cheap and lasts long. I grind fresh beans or buy excellent ground Arabica, planted and roasted in Asia. We do have awesome coffee here, there is just no need to be to lazy for making a cup of good coffee without harming the environment.