Expat@Large

Slow Brown Toast

Posted in toast by expatatlarge on October 6, 2011

My current brother in-law has taken to home sliced bread for his toast.  He likes my sister to slice the bread [as if he’d do it – women’s work!] as thick as will fit into the toaster, if not thicker.  She has taken to grilling the toast in the stove.  She has to keep an eye on it but she is, as usual, fussing around with a million distractions [where does E@L get it from?], so she keeps the the heat down a bit.  She re-aligns the bread every so often to ensure that it is evenly done on both sides.  When it is ready she brings it out, butters it, jams it and delivers it to his highness.  His highness is not there this morning but the sister had now got into a habit.

E@L was watching this. 

“That’s how they make kaya toast,” he said.  His sister looked interested.

“Oh, the famous kaya toast! [She reads this blog]  They grill it?” she asked

“Yes, just they way you do, sorta, except the grill is underneath.  With kaya toast though, they slice it through the middle.”

“What do you mean?”

So E@L took one of the thick freshly toasted slices and showed her how to cut it horizontally.  He had never done this before, only watched in fascination a hundred times. OK it was not so fascinating after the six or seventh time, but you get the idea.  He has seen it done, but never tried for himself. Using something resembling a bread knife [E@L’s mum has a collection of mostly absolutely crap knives.  However, this was the one they advertised about forty years ago on TV, saying it would never go blunt – they sawed the end of a shoe and then sliced a tomato.  They were right, it is still sharp.  Great design, bad business plan.  Where is the inbuilt obsolesence?] he was able to manage the horizontal slice easily.  Might open a kaya toast place in Geelong?  He showed her how they spread the jam (he used her quince jam, fruit from her own tree, she make) on one inner side and how they dobbed on the butter in strategic places on the other.  

He placed the two halves together and cut them in half.  He passed one half to his sister and she bit into it.

“Oh my God,” she said.  “It’s crunchy on both sides.”

The reallization of this hit E@L.  Of course, that is one of the great things about kaya butter toast.  It is not soggy.  He has been obsessed with toast-racks to let the temperature drop a bit to keep his toast from producing condensation on the cutting board or the plate and going soggy underneath from the moisture.  He loves crunchy toast.  Kaya toast is crunchy, he considered this revelation again, on both sides.  

He needs to buy unsliced bred and cut it thick to make his own at home from now on.   What a dolt.

Just need to borrow some stockings for the kopi.

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E@L typed this at a Ya Kun Kaya Toast outlet in Funan Centre on a new Logitech Bluetooth keyboard on the Motorola Xoom. Once you get the correct keyboard settings (!) it works fine. It was designed for the iPad, but you know what?  Fuck tethering.

E@L

Smile

Posted in taxis, toast by expatatlarge on September 23, 2011

E@L has had enormous problems with the incompetence and insanity of taxi-drivers: To quote Mark Twain in his recently released unexpurgated diary, “All over the world there seems to be a prejudice against the cab driver.” And he (E@L not Twain) has taken and given some shit to kopi vendors. You may have noted these themes over the years. So many years. Taxis. Toast. Tired.

OK, listen, E@L hasn’t read Twain’s Diary, or even purchased it in 3D (i.e. a real book) or electronically, he merely saw it in a bookshop and randomly opened it and the first thing he read, sorry he lies, the second things he read was that quote. IKYN. Had to laugh. Wouldn’t read about it. Well, yes we know you are reading about it at the moment, but E@L mean that rhetorically. So he typed/Swyped(tm) it into his PDA (why don’t we call them that anymore?) / smart-phone for your considered delectation.

For those who are now puzzling, the first thing E@L read was something about how foolhardy we humans are to believe that we are nice creatures or that we don’t lie to ourselves about a host of crucial things. We are pricks of the highest order, he maintains. And there are lots of other bitter, old-man, depressing shit, wonderfully written of course, which the photo E@L took of in order to transcribe it here didn’t turn out, and when you’re in a bookstore you really shouldn’t take photos of the pages in a book and then retake them if they don’t turn out, as his didn’t, because you don’t want to be kicked out, right? You don’t want to be recognized next time you try to go in, and get blocked by the security guard and told you are not welcome in their store, or just watched suspiciously as you browse (spooky eyes over shoulder feeling), or have to hand in your camera-phone just in case, sort of thing. So you, faithful readers, you don’t get the transcript of the philosophical bit that E@L felt like copying out for you (or himself) here today/tonight.

You. The awake/observant/returning ones, you know. E@L has had enormous difficulty with staff in certain kopi shops. Exhibit A, Exhibit B, etc… Follow the internal links, you lazy bastards.

You know, kopi, Malaysian archipelago stuff, the sock coffee, strained through a pair of clean (one hopes! – ho ho, made that joke up) stockings, sometimes ostentatiously poured from jug to jug over arm-stretched distances with an accuracy that doesn’t really impress because you know they’ve been doing it for years. Or is that the tea? Teh tarik, pulled tea. Fuck.

Meanwhile back in reality-land, kopi is a deadly thick, spoon dissolving, GORD-inducing, grit-your-teeth, morning pick-me-up-and-throw-me-upwards-through-the-roof-like-I-was-Ironman caffeine boost, sweetened with both condensed milk and evaporated milk (when done properly) to a point where it nearly isn’t black any more, a drink that E@L loves. Craves like heron. His favorite birds.

Think of it as very runny Vegemite, with caffeine. Not the taste of Vegemite, OK, nothing salty or necessarily horrible, although some people can’t abide kopi and purchase multi-million machines to hiss out a bitter thimble full of, what, they call that coffee, in seeking to appease some status anxiety fad that, essentially, George Clooney and other Hollow-wood LA ostentatious pricks are responsible for, just as some people, such as Amanda Palmer might not like Vegemite and prefer to place stuff like “jelly” and peanut butter on their toast, but a taste like concentrated… coffee No, no, no, we refer to Vegemite in the sense of love it or hate it, not as a drink. And for once, it is not cancer on the toast we are in discussion about today. It’s just that they’re both black.

Now we are on about kopi and eating toast with kaya jam and butter. And a specially prepared toast it is.

The toast has to be um, not really toasted, but slowly desiccated. E@L may have blogged about this before, he remembers vaguely (everything he remembers is vague these days) reminding readers of the first short story in Beckett’s “More Prick Than Kicks,” something about a lobster and Dante. (Let me know if you need more information. Or a link.) The toasting process is completely different from traditional bread toasting methods (i.e. E@L’s). The toast-cooking auntie (usually, but sometimes a pasty-faced student male) places two thickish slices of brown bread on the low heat griller, waits, turns them over on the low heat griller, not once but twice. Take your time. This is an art-form. Only slightly browned, with the lines from the heating element faintly outlined.

The kopi is already in the cup, on the table, but the toast will be a while.

It is toast-dried to a crunchiness that when sliced horizontally, i.e. though the middle of the toast, through the thinnest dimension, they slice it horizontally with toast flat on the bench, they lean on it with a slight pressure to hold it still and with a long flat, round ended knife split it in two, quite clever really, that it is so crisp you would think it is almost ready to fall apart. Almost, but not quite. Because there is a hint of softness yet in the middle. A simmering warmth. A large dollop of sweet Kaya jam (basically sugar held together with some green colored coconut and egg(!)) picked up on the bread knife is spread across the inside of the halved slice with a single sweep that creates a uniform thickness. Three pats of frozen butter, with one positioned centrally so that when the slices are placed together ready to be cut transversely the knife goes through the middle of the butter in order to reveal its full cream (it’s often Western Star butter, E@L notes, from the district of Victoria, Australia, not Hong Kong, where he was born – you can run but you can’t fucking hide) yellow richness. Both of the pieces of toast are sliced at the same time – one crust snipped off first at some places – and placed on a rectangular plate that they carry out to your table and take away your brown block with a number on it, but leave the used plates and cups from the previous person or persons at the table.

By the time you have the toast in front of you, the kopi is almost gone. You can’t get up to order another cup, as when you get back the toast on the table will be cold. You want the toast to still have some calorific memory of its toasting, the butter just starting to melt. Warm still, the crunchy toast brittle snapping between your teeth, the kaya sweet and the butter both warm and melting, yet cold and firm in the middle as well, oh my god. To solve this issue, you order an upsize cup, 30c extra and nearly double the amount. There’ll still be plenty left – fuck it’s hot, you’ve got to let it cool down – when the toast arrives.

Or you could get it all to take away if you still worked in the office upstairs, but you don’t, you are stuck in fucking Tampines, but do not place the brown paper bag inside a plastic bag as the toast will sweat and become sad and soggy.

So anyway, E@L was in Harbourfront Center today to open a bank account for Super Maid Joyce (who is now signed under his name) and set up a gyro to pay her levy, and he visited his old local, the BF Wang’s on level 1. It has been nearly six months since the Great Tampines Disruption. Even so, the lad behind the cash register, the same lad who took his order when he was in Singapore, when he was at the office and when he had missed breakfast, each morning looked at E@L with a smile and said, “Welcome back, sir!” and called, “Kopi upsize, kaya butter toast,” and clicked it all into the register before E@L could smile back and offer him a $5 note, something different from the fistfuls of coins he used to fob off on them in an effort to return the three thousand dollars in 5c pieces blocking the doorway to his spare room to general circulation. (If E@L came home with fewer coins than he went out with, he’d punch the air! These small victories, as someone said recently. Was it Obama?)

The skinny girl is still there, the one with the hair that falls over her face. She has got a new style, bobbed, but it still falls over her face because she leans over each milk-prepared cup as she pours in the kopi and a splash of hot water, and she stirs with such an earnest ferocity, such professional velocity, that she has developed a kyphosis. She’s a shoo-in for a Gold Medal in the Kopi Stirring at the KL Olympics, coming soon, watch this space. She’s there at Wang’s for life, and happy with the prospect. Doubt that her health plan will cover the spinal surgery she’ll required later in life (cervical spondylosis, you can almost watch it evolve in real time). E@L always wanted to tell her to straighten up – good posture, my young lady, good posture!

She doesn’t look up at E@L. He didn’t get to catch her eye, but she recognizes him all right. He could tell by the way she ignores him. She still hates E@L from the time he asked for a small(!) cup, and not an upsize and she looked at him because she had already poured the upsize, which is Not What He Ordered, but he was in one of his weird moods (before he had his foot pain more or less sorted with thousands of dollars of drugs, perhaps) and he was pissed that she got the order wrong and then he insisted on a small cup, so she had to pour the large one into a small cup and throw the rest out, and, seriously, why the fuck didn’t he just take the fucking upsize one, what a fucking dickhead he can be, Christ he hates himself sometimes, which makes two. Twain was right, we are all shitful people. Sometimes.

But the register guy recognized him. And he smiled. And that nice man brightened E@L’s day.

The taxi-driver home, man, he was a total cunt.

E@L

A Long Post on Toast

Posted in butter, holidays, I hate dietitians, reminiscence, toast, vegemite by expatatlarge on January 5, 2011

A friend of mine who grew up alongside a samovar has only one way to describe water proper for tea: “A mad boil.” In the same forceful way she never says rolls or toast must be hot, or very hot. They must be “hot-hot-hot!”
M.F.K. Fisher. How To Boil Water, in How To Cook A Wolf, 1942.

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Toast is the national dish of Australia.
David Byrne, line on the Stop Making Sense album cover, 1984.

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When we were children, each year my exhausted widowed mother allowed us to give her some time to recuperate. She drove us to the gardens of Ballarat. There, under the shade of oak trees that tracked the west shore of Lake Wendouree, we waited. Imperious black swans (there were lots of them, predictably) would clamber awkwardly onto the lip of lake and waddle hilariously, so we we thought, towards the wooden green-painted benches om which we sat. They would nip at the (untoasted) bread that we were told to hold to them in our fingers, if not nip at our fingers themselves. Such of the latter incidents were not funny at all. Innocent as young children, somewhat wiser as we aged (eventually my sister refused to come), the elegant slide of the swans in the lake thrilled us. But when they responded to our bread-goading and came close, the fun turned to fright and we squealed loudly. If we got nipped, we cried loudly instead. Those flapping black wings would balloon out as they chased us for a few steps, screaming swan screams, and we’d scream along with them.

My uncle and my aunt drove down to pick us up by the lake, and there we’d enjoy a family picnic lunch well away from the lake-shore. It took two hours for them to drive us back to the former gold-mining town of Tarnagulla. We left a relieved (no pun intended) mum for her/our two week holiday (Lord knows what she did, must ask) and began our summer-stretched treat amongst the wonders of a small town with nothing in it, in the middle of a dry patch of mining-exhausted Australian bush. We’d push each other on the metal-chained swing (squeak, squeak), or we’d play “hidie” amongst the stumps, hunt kangaroos (it was not ‘roo territory) or pretend to bowl and bat on the cricket pitch in the middle of the square town oval. This was approached by treading across a small wooden bridge (I think there is another word for this – anyway, I was not supposed to cross by myself, my sister or someone older had to supervise) which took us across the deep storm drain that ran past the tennis courts. We’d pull sweet pink and red peppercorns from the tree and try to burst them. Hundreds of things that could kids do to amuse themselves while their auntie drank tea and nibbled on orange cake with the neighbours, her cousin and family. We learned to play tennis in those courts with Paul McNamee, who went on to win the Wimbledon Doubles, several times I think. I went on to write this blog. I think I fell in love with the neighbour’s daughter, my 2nd (3rd? 4th?) cousin. When she married and went away, I was one devastated 7 year old.

And we’d have breakfast. Being who I am, even then, I slept in late. After those arduous days of going for walks to the haberdashery to buy some pins, or finding someone else roughly my own age to play with, like the butcher’s rough son one year, or crunching through the bush we were not allowed to into – because of the hidden old mining shafts – we’d be worn out. So I was tired, but still I’d try to stay up as late as possible (hey, it was a frackin’ holiday) trying to start a conversation with my taciturn uncle, looking at my late father’s stamp collection (he was born in this house), at my grandfather’s four-pronged shoe tool/rest (he was a cobbler), anything – and so I’d sleep in late next morning. And when eventually I got to the table for breakfast, I’d begin to sulk.

Why? Damn! I’d mumble. The toast was cold. Sliced from a fresh loaf – fresh two days ago, perfect – it had been sitting between the curved metal prongs of the toast-rack for maybe 20 minutes. One hour? Who knew when my relatives rose?

When I buttered it, the sensation was all wrong. The toast had dried out. It was like buttering sawed timber. And mixed on the cold toast with my Uncle’s own honey (not a gross euphemism, he was an apiarist) the butter went all white and scary, not at all appetizing. Toast should be crunchy, but not this HARD, I thought. The correct amount of butter, applied at the correct time to the correctly hot toast, makes the crunchiness CORRECT! I sulked and complained softly, but I ate it.

As I risked puncturing my delicate palate on the shards – an talthin lith thith or the thime (I practiced for that eventuality) – I was mildly chastised and given to consider the sin of my tendency to snuggle back down into the blankets for just a few minutes, and then falling asleep again, once the call to our breakfast table was made. No doubt it was an unspoken opinion that I was a big-city sook, a a snobby little brat, spoiled by those Catholics (my mum’s family) from the Western District.

What the hell, beloved Presbyterian Auntie and Uncle! Good toast is important to me! Why can’t you just not start toasting the bread UNTIL it becomes apparent that I am getting up. Why can’t you just slice the loaf and toast some MORE? Why can’t…

What do you mean you are not my slaves?

“Eat your toast,” young man!

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Some diet book I had glanced at before deciding to burn it along with several other works of “fiction” in a pyre in my HDB’s void-space, offered the most stupid advice to toast eaters I have ever heard . The authors suggested waiting for the toast to get cold ON PURPOSE before spreading ones preferred fat – mono-saturated dairy product (unpreferred) or polyunsaturated oil blended with water (preferred, until they discovered trans-fats) – upon its finely crusted COLD surface. That way, as less butter/substitute would melt into the toast’s interior, less fat would be required for the purpose of rendering the surface slippery and 0.743 calories would be knocked off the day’s total.

WHAT?

These deluded dietitians must harbour some weird view of the world in which (they believe) people put butter on toast in order to scientifically deliver a regulated dose of fat for their carefully planned daily consumption.

Butter is not “a dose of fat”. It’s a sublime aesthetic experience (until it goes rancid – errrghh), part visual (buttercup yellow, buttercup why don’t you fill me up) part aromatic (smells like teen butter) part textural (goes down like a hot knife through butter).

It is semi-mystical in the way its creamy smoothness fills the mouth with richness and feelings of home, of safety, of… churned milk… and in the way IT MELTS INTO HOT TOAST! And melt it should, somewhat randomly, somewhat predictably. Here just a sheen on the surface, there, at the ends of each butter-knife (not table-knife!) stroke, a small accumulation, one that will soon produce a burst of taste and texture from under its covering of your favorite jam, preserve (jelly? that’s for trifles) or Vegemite. [Mine’s either ginger marmalade or the strawberry jam I received for Christmas from The Ex’s mum. Vegemite goes on the second slice of course.]

One of the unmeasurable joys of life (and joy is generally unmeasurable, except in certain circumstances, unstatable here in mixed company) is to scrape a buttery butter-knife across crunchy freshly toasted toast. Slide, crackle, slide. Ooh, aah.

This experience is what we call buttering something. Watch Peter Russell-Clarke slide a second healthy dollop onto this piece of banana bread…

This was an Australian (duh!) ad in the mid 80’s. Apart from the “Butter, it’s only natural”, tagline here, there was another he used – and truer words were never spoken – Only Butter Butters.

Fuck dietitians, those joy-of-eating ignorati… Epic epicurean FAIL.

~~~~~~~~~~

But…

What happens if, when the toaster snaps and ejects your evenly-(you half-toasted it first, then turned it round and upside down for the final run)-browned sourdough into the kitchen stratosphere, you lay those hot hot hot slices down directly on a plate?

Laying newly toasted hot toast down? OMG, you heathen!

“Why, what happens?” she asks innocently.

Condensation, young lady! CON-DEN-SAYSHUN! The radiant heat from the hot toast allows for more water vapour in its immediate vicinity. When it is lain on the plate, in that small area of atmosphere there is nowhere for hot toast’s vapour to go, except to the unheated surface of your Royal Doulton, where it cools and reaches the dew-point. There is a minor tropical rainforest effect, hot air meets cold air, and vapour condenses into mist (clouds) and rain. Like on the outside of a beer glass, on the warm inside of a car-window on a cold, rainy day.

Condensation. 1) Water is on the plate. 2) Toast is on the plate. 3) Toast, perforce, gets wet and soggy. 4) OMG! Did I call you a heathen before? Let’s say I just called you one again.

So what are the lessons we have learned so far?

a: Cold toast = bad. Butter doesn’t BUTTER.

b: Hot toast = bad if treated without due diligence. Goes soggy if laid down on plate.

What to do? Don’t sleep in, get up frackin’ earlier, my Auntie would no doubt advise us, though perhaps with other words.

Or take her excellent example and use a TOAST RACK!

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Izzy has been holidaying in E@LGHQ these last few days. She’s back from Holland for the weeks of Christmas and New Year. (It’s 1am now, she’s just piped up with, “I feel like doing something – let’s go out!” No. I am going to sleep now, this is not Hong Kong and I am not young 40 anymore. She’s put on Kreutzer Sonata loudly instead.)

On Tuesday morning she gave me a Christmas present, which was a nice surprise, seeing as how we’re both atheists. No, it was not what you’re thinking, although it was in a box.

It was a lovely ceramic toast-rack. “You’re always going on about toast,” she explained. No, I’m n…

Ain’t that nice.

Now, instead of letting my toast rest on the top of the stove (on left) for 20 seconds or so, I can let it stand in the toast-rack – it will be still be hot enough, crunchy but not dessicated, even after I pour my filtered coffee into a cup, when I BUTTER it.

This was why the toast-rack was invented. For wankers like

E@L

(and my Auntie Ethel, RIP.)

Coffee, Breakfast, Thailand – more of the same

Posted in breakfast, coffee, internet, Thailand, toast by expatatlarge on August 20, 2010

E@L was in a “coffee” shop in a place slightly to the left of the middle of nowhere, the town of Phrae, in the province of Phrae. E@L has been up in this area before: Phitsanulok, Nan. Driving here is mountain, valley and river, mountains, valley and river, etc… Not that impressed with the valleys. The mountain are fantastic except that E@L has slept through most of the drives.

E@L has essentially given up on Thai coffee, on coffee in general in fact, and he is drinking a ‘jasmine’ green tea as he drafts this post with the morning sun over his shoulder (left, or was it right?). The slim, fawning waitress had initially poured condensed milk into the mix of tea and hot water she offered, and he sent it back perfunctorily. He was in a perfunctorial mood again. She deferentially delivered (she was now in a typically Thai deferential mood) the fresh cup which on first taste seemed to contain no jasmine. It was mostly green tea. Not completely. About 40% of the cup was sugar syrup, streaky clear stuff that spiraled through the tea, slowly diffusing. This sucrose vortex would be enough to upset his endocrinologist no end, who was on a quest to stave off E@L from metabolic syndrome – i.e diabetes, if E@L ever told him.

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Coffee, tea, can they ever be right? Toast, breakfast in general, ditto.

Breakfast – the coffee was fine, breakfast coffee usually is because it’s not espresso – was missing just a few things last week in the Sheraton Krabi Resort (closer to Ao Nang actually). E@L noticed the absence of a prepared fruit salad. He had to chop his fruit up on his plate at the table, clinkety clink, must annoy the people nearby. E@L is nothing if not considerate. And there were cinnamon bagels but no Philly cream cheese. WTF? Not that E@L should be eating bagels – see above re: metabolic syndrome. Wholemeal or whole grain toast with their low glycaemic indices are fair game, and they were both present, so OK.

Fecking idiots who put their bread onto the circling treads of the toaster’s tray and then stand in front of the toaster, blocking other people from inserting their carbohydrates, those feckwets were ALSO milling, like litigious movie lawyers outside movie hospitals.

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But, Krabi? That was LAST week, this is THIS week. Having jumped (via taxi) from Suvarbumi to Don Muaeng (the old international airport in Bangkok) E@L Nokked up to the Central/Northern provinces of Thailand. Two demos, two deals, but who is one to puff oneself up?

Uttaradit, Phrae (see above), and now Phitsanulok. E@L mused that you know you’ve been in some shitholes* of late when you consider Phitsanulok a respite, a haven of sophistication, a safe port in the northern storms which have flooded heavily and stirred up Dengue fever epidemics in the previous few weeks (Google it). No-one’s ever heard of any of these places, have they? No-one of any importance E@L means, of course.

Breakfast in Phitsanulok is a different story to the Sheraton’s minor glitches (and aren’t all unhappy breakfast stories unique?) Even before E@L arrived from his room, a plate had been placed for him at his assumed chair, opposite his more punctual colleague. On the plate was the plaster imitation of a circular fried egg, two precisely aligned steamed sausages of uncertain – perhaps porcine – provenance, two slices of white bread glued together with butter substitute, and two triangles of long-simmered (now cold) “ham”. E@L was fortunate and foresightful enough to bring with him two bananas, two tubs of yoghurt and an apple. E@L eschewed the chilled still life and passed his coupon to another colleague, one who had slept elsewhere. (500Bht was excessive, he felt.)

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Five THOUSAND Bht a night at the Sheraton, with cable internet an extra 530Bht for 24hrs. Last night in Phitsanulok, a reasonable room (OK, the toilet door kept locking whenever it closed, but so does Izzy’s old one at E@LGHQ – you learn to live with it, or she did anyway) was 500Bht, and yet the WiFi was free.

The internet seems to get cheaper the lower you go in hotel stars. Weird.

E@L will be writing a note of severe castigation to the Sheraton HQ, where heads will asymmetrically roll (as heads are wont to do – anyone remember Polanski’s McB… Scottish Play?).

It is totally indefensible to charge the amount they do. There is no excuse he will accept, nothing they can say that will convince him that such a charge in necessary. He will never accept this insulting financial infringement again!

Exception: tonight. E@L is paying 600Bht to present you with this electronic missive in a 3,300Bht room at The Landmark – awesome breakfast BTW!

Life can be weird and E@L is not always consistent.

E@L

* not that E@L cannot tell these small(ish) Thai towns apart anymore; they all look desperate, distant, hungry and the same.

(Does this post make ANY sense?)