Learning a language from riding the subway

The best way to learn a new language quickly and for free: ride the subway!! I discovered this trick when I was in Berlin in October, 2001. It was my second trip to Germany but my first in nearly ten years. I didn't speak any German, nor did I have any idea even how to pronounce much. But I took the S-Bahn and the U-Bahn, and as we arrived at every station I listened to the announcement and looked at the corresponding name of the station. It's amazing how much you can learn by riding the public transport in one week. Not only did I learn the words for "exit", "left", and "right" but also how to pronounce a lot of place names in German.

So of course this trip, I've been listening very closely, first on the MTR in Hong Kong, and now on the Skytrain in Bangkok. And it really helps! I still can't speak any Cantonese, and my Thai doesn't even have "left" and "right" yet, but just hearing the way the sounds are strung together, and putting those sounds to a station stop, it really helps me understand the language a little better. Now if only there were a Skytrain station named, "Do you have sticky rice and mango on your menu?" I'd be all set!

Thai massage and the worrier

Nearly everyone I've ever spoken to who's been to Thailand says, "Oh! When you go, you've got to get a Thai massage, they're AMAZING and like only five dollars!!!" So while we were in Hong Kong, as my feet swelled and hurt from so much walking and my backache strengthened from lugging my camera around all day, I told myself to be patient, to wait for Thai massage in Bangkok. All would be put right. Today we finally found a spot and asked for foot massage and Thai massage – nearly two hours of massage for 300 baht each, or ~US$7. You'd think I would have enjoyed it. You'd think I would be happy now. But no, if there's anyone who's such an over-thinker/worrier that she'd worry during a massage, that would be me!!

First, I've noticed I've been getting lots of little bruises on my arms and legs during the trip, which happens to me whenever I don't pay enough attention to what I'm eating. Plus I just bruise easily no matter what. So when the masseuse went to town on my feet and legs for the foot massage, all I could think was, "Oh no! I'm going to get more bruises!" This concern distracted me for quite some time, until she massaged near my kneecap, which prompted a string of "kneecap dislocation" scenarios in my brain, all ending with me in a strange Thai hospital having my kneecap re-located, while screaming in pain and trying to explain to Jason where I'd saved the electronic receipt for our travel health insurance on my laptop.

Then we moved from foot massage into another room for Thai massage. Again with the pain, again with my worries about bruises, until she started pushing and pulling my limbs. As she pressed the sides of my skull I thought about something I read once about how you can kill someone by pushing on the soft spot near their temple. What if she pushed there, by accident? How qualified was she, really, if they only charged $7?!

As she worked around the vertebrae of my neck, all I could think was: my neck is small! What if it's smaller than she realizes and she accidentally breaks it and I'm dead here on the mat while Jason is happily massaged and relaxed next door?! When she pulled my toe to crack it, I thought it might break. When she bent my back, I thought I'd pulled a stomach muscle. I was certain she'd torn my hamstring when she yanked me forward, but it managed to snap back into place when she released me. I just kept thinking about how I'd never run again, maybe never even walk! All because I was greedy for a Thai massage…

When it was over, she folded her hands and did a wai, a Thai bow, and thanked me. Amazingly I could still move. Even more amazingly, Jason was all smiles. "That was good," he said, as we made our way to the exit. I didn't say anything at all.

Learning to cook like a local

Though it was our first day in Bangkok, we dove right into the action by heading to the Baipai Cooking School for a half-day of Thai cooking classes. A friend of Jason's from Minneapolis recommended Baipai and I whole-heartedly second her recommendation! It was simply a wonderful experience.

As you can see on their web site, they offer five different schedules. I picked today because it featured my favorite Thai dish (at least favorite Thai dish eaten in America): fish cakes, or tod man pla, plus the old standby pad thai. The cooking school picked us up at our hotel, and soon we were donning our aprons and headed into the kitchen to learn how to cook Thai food!

Tab Tim Grobb, or Water Chestnuts in Coconut MilkOur first item was a dessert (because it had to chill) called tab tim grobb or "water chestnuts in coconut milk". Our translator and guide Mona told us it literally meant "crunchy ruby" in Thai due to the dessert's lovely red color and crispy texture. It was easy to prepare, and we learned how to prepare fresh coconut milk (see this photo of me using a traditional Thai "rabbit" for coconut grating). Grating and milking fresh coconut is very time consuming though, so unless I hire some prep cooks for my home kitchen, I'll be using the canned stuff.

Jason making Tod Man PlaNext we prepared tod man pla, aka Fish Cake or "Deep fried oily fish." The best part of making this was slapping the fish mixture into the bowl to incorporate all the ingredients. In this photo you can see Jason using his hands to mix it all together. No photos of the slapping, it required serious concentration to keep it from flying out of the bowl and splattering around the kitchen!

My tod man plaAfter we finished each dish, we took a break to sit down and eat it. We ate so much I was very full by the end of class. Here in the photo you can see my tod man pla. It was yummy! Also, I learned you can substitute other meats for the fish, like chicken or pork. I definitely plan to make this when I return home.

Ingredients for Tom Kah Gai soupAfter fish cakes, it was on to tom kah gai, or "chicken 'n galangal in coconut milk soup," another one of my favorites! I learned that this soup is all about the galangal, tom kah means "boiling galangal" and then you add gai (chicken) or some other meat or fish to it. Galangal is related to ginger and you can see it with the crazy stalks in this photo of all the ingredients for the soup.

My tom kah gaiHere's my completed tom kah gai at my station. One of the great things about this class was that we each had our own station. So after Nam and Mona demonstrated how to prepare each dish (and gave us a sample!), we went to our stations and did it ourselves. There's nothing like doing it yourself to really learn how to make something.

Guay Taew Pad ThaiOur final dish was the familiar "pad thai" or guay taew pad thai (noodle stir-fry Thai style). It, like everything we learned today, was straight-forward and simple. The complex flavors and depth of Thai food belie the ease with which it can be prepared, at least the dishes we learned today! In this photo you can see chef Nam — having cooked the noodles until they absorbed all the liquid — adding the eggs in the side of the wok. Once they're cooked, you fold the noodles back on top, and then incorporate the remaining ingredients. The result was the best pad thai I've ever tasted!

My guay taew pad thaiAfter we finished cooking our pad thai, we returned upstairs to eat it and to enjoy our now-chilled and ready to consume dessert of "crunchy ruby." And like that, our lovely class was over. 😦 I didn't even manage to take a single picture of the facilities or our gracious hostess/guide/translator Mona.

My tab tim grobb, or water chestnuts in coconut milkIt was a great class. Not only did I learn how to prepare some traditional Thai dishes, I also learned about new ingredients and I'm now inspired to incorporate some of the new flavors into the more traditional "American" dishes I like to prepare. And I can't wait to locate and buy Thai ingredients back home and recreate these meals again for dinner. My only wish? That I could go back every day for cooking classes at Baipai!

Baipai Cooking School
Bangkok, Thailand

As of Nov. 15, 2005, half-day class was 1,400 baht, or ~US$34, including transportation to and from hotel

Adios Hong Kong

We're off tomorrow morning for Bangkok so two parting photos of buddhas for you from Hong Kong until I post again. First, from yesterday's walk along Hollywood Road in Hong Kong:

On the street in Hong Kong

Then a self-portrait from today's trip to Lantau Island to visit the Po Lin Monastery and its awesome Big Buddha:

Big Buddha

We’ve got so much blog we don’t know where to put it all

cover of new yorker with you've got blogIt's hard to believe, but five years ago today Rebecca Mead's article You've Got Blog, How to put your business, your boyfriend, and your life on-line was published in the New Yorker. My how times have changed! Though the magazine uses the word 'blog' regularly now, Rebecca's article was the first about blogs for the magazine, and the first mention of the b-word in its pages.

The article was also a really big deal for me. Of course, you wouldn't know it from what I wrote at the time:

I'm only going to mention this once, right now: there's an article in this week's New Yorker (November 13, 2000, the cartoon edition), p.102. I'm in it.

That's because I was horrified by the article. When I'd spoken so freely to Rebecca about my life, I'd somehow assumed it was just background material because my understanding was that she'd be writing about our company, Pyra. When I opened the magazine and saw the first line, my heart sunk. I guess I was just embarrassed, or something. It just seemed so dumb and cheesy that an article that (in my mind) was supposed to be about blogs — important stuff! — was about — ick! — love instead!

It took a long time before I realized how good the article really was, how Rebecca had taken something obscure and geeky and placed it in a context every reader could understand. And after all this time, I don't think many other articles have come as close to getting to the heart of what blogging is about (or at least was about at that time).

A lot has changed in the five years since Rebecca wrote "You've Got Blog." Pretty much everyone knows what a blog is now, and most people are probably sick of hearing about them. Pyra was bought by Google, who now own Blogger. Neither Ev nor I nor any of the people who were involved in Blogger when Rebecca came to visit our offices in San Francisco are involved in the product anymore. Most of us don't even blog very consistently these days. And I don't think any of us qualify as "A-list" bloggers anymore — there certainly are no more shrines to Pyra!

And my life too has changed. I started another company and then left it. I left blogs and technology and I spent time working as a cook on Nantucket. Then I sort of came back to it, cooking less and less but never really diving back into tech. And Jason and I spent time in Paris, moved back east, spent more time in Paris, and moved around the east coast. Blogging grew and grew as my direct involvement in all things blog diminished, especially here on megnut.com.

I write a lot less these days, and rarely about such personal topics the way I did when Rebecca was reading. But there's something I've wanted to share for a while now, something I thought some of you might like to know, especially those who came to this site because of "You've Got Blog." Extra-especially those who wrote some of the nicest emails I've ever received in the history of this site, and those who wrote with words of support and encouragement about my relationship with Jason. I found one tonight that said simply, "Hope you two last a lifetime." 🙂

So for everyone who's been reading for five years, I just wanted you to know: a few months ago Jason and I got engaged. We're going to be married early next year. I guess we finally mastered the techniques for having an analog relationship as well.

The joy of the morning swim

Morning swimThe hotel we're staying at in Kowloon has a lovely pool on its roof with views across the harbor to Hong Kong. And for whatever jet-lag-related reason I don't understand, we've been waking up around 6:30 AM every morning. So we've taken to heading to the pool for a nice morning swim. And it's lovely! I love swimming, and there's something especially nice about starting the morning that way [insert possible crazy explanation here about a new day being a rebirth and pool being like cozy womb, etc. etc. etc.]

Afterwards, we head downstairs for our complimentary morning breakfast buffet which is amazing. I've been eating a huge plate of tropical fruits every morning while I enjoy a nice strong cup of coffee and read the South China Morning Post. Looking across the water at the skyscrapers, watching the boats pass, enjoying my meal and my dining companion's company, it's been the nicest way to start the day of any vacation I can recall.

Mango mania ensues

After yesterday morning's post, I went on a mango splurge day, or as I'll forever remember it, "Day of Five Mango Happiness" (to give it a phony Chinese translation spin). First I had a huge plate of mangos for breakfast. Then at lunch we all shared two mango desserts (more on that meal to come). Then while walking around Soho we stopped at a mishmash snack stand — mishmash because in addition to the Nepalese dumplings we had, they offered fish and chips, hamburgers, pizzas, and assorted other things — where I had a mango lassi. Finally atop the Peak, we enjoyed ice cream cones, and what flavor did I order? MANGO! Mango ice cream rules, and when I get home to the USA and get an ice cream maker and find a good place to buy mangos, I'm going to make mango ice cream! Can I squeeze in six mangos today, our final day in Hong Kong? Is today perhaps "Mango Ultimate Happiness Day"?! We shall see, my friends, we shall see…

The mango queen

Mango puddingJason has a nice write up of our tasty dim sum lunch yesterday at Spring Moon in the Peninsula Hotel, Soup dumplings, part 2. He mentions that I had mango pudding for dessert, which I did. And it was so yummy! I've turned into something of a mango fanatic this trip. When I lived in Mexico I tried many times to enjoy mangos, but I never did. And since that time (which admittedly was a long time ago!) I've never tried mangos again, until day one of the breakfast buffet at the hotel. But now I'm mango loco. I have a huge plate of them every morning. And when I read about mango pudding, I knew I'd have to try it.

I've never had mango pudding before, so I can't honestly say it's the best mango pudding in the world, as Arthur claims. But it was perfect, as perfect as I could imagine mango pudding to be. There were small chunks of mango mixed in with the lightly sweet creamy yellow pudding. The pudding was smooth and it captured that distinct tang of mango, so the aftertaste on the tongue was a feeling of being refreshed rather than drubbed by sugar. It encapsulated all that I love in a dessert: a sweet light finish to a meal rather than a sugary over-the-top "I'm so full now I'll burst" termination. I might have to have it again today. Apparently you can order it in the cafe in the lobby!

Delicious portable beverage drinking

Those who know me in real life know that I don't drink much beyond water, coffee with soy milk, and wine. OK, and some juice (orange or V8) in the morning. But I usually stick to water throughout the day because I don't like all the sugary drinks we have in the US everywhere, like sodas, or juice drinks like Sobe that are still full of sugar. So yay! for Hong Kong, where I've found two yummy drinks while out and about to accompany my water guzzling.

Malted soy milkFirst is Malted Soy Milk, which boaz recommended in Jason's thread about our trip. I spotted it when we stopped for bread snacks near the Star Ferry. Since I love soy milk, and I love malted milk, I figured malted soy milk would be perfect for me. And it was! It was a tasty sweet little treat, and I plan to have it again.

MUJI cafe au laitThen yesterday we headed to Mong Kok to check out the MUJI, and boy what a MUJI! It had food (freeze-dried!) and drinks even! So after stocking up on MUJIlicious items like demitasse spoons, a 3D acrylic snowflake, a lovely eggplant-colored scarf, and some simple items of clothing, we topped off the basket with drinks! Jason got a fizzy apple juice, which I didn't try but he said was, "interesting." And I got this MUJI cafe au lait. It was amazingly tasty, and I gulped it down in about two seconds after leaving the store. MUJI, please come to NYC, and bring your delicious bounty of drinks with you!!!

Flickr cooking

My friend Leslie's done a great thing with Flickr that I haven't seen before: she's created a little cookbook for a specific meal. She's got a vegetarian dinner with recipes. It's a set of photos for, "stuffed eggplant and apple cherry crisp, including step by step instructions and recipes. (see last two photos for dessert recipe)." You click your way through the photostream as you prepare the meal. Genius! I love this idea, especially as a way to communicate basic cooking skills to beginners! Or to demonstrate a technique that's always hard to communicate through words alone (or even pencil drawings), like trussing a chicken. I'm going to try to document my meals in this way when I get back to the US of A and start cooking again.