What is an American Jew doing in a Catholic university in a Buddhist country? Pretty much what I do wherever I am – eat.
In an echo of my former academic life, I have been involved with Assumption University, one of the largest private universities in Bangkok, for several years as an international advisor in their PhD program in organization development. In that role I primarily serve as a dissertation chair for their PhD students. I am here to help my most recent student — “Thip” is the simplified version of her name for tongue-tied farang (Thai for “foreigner”) like me — finish her dissertation and present her final orals in early May.
Of the several Assumption campuses located throughout SE Asia, including at least two in Bangkok, I am located at the original campus in the Hua Mak area of northeastern Bangkok. Its definitely not a tourist area, unless there is an international soccer match at the stadium nearby. The neighborhood is mixed — lots of old run down looking buildings, plus new townhouses and luxury high rises. Thailand’s largest university, Ramkaehueng, borders the sports complex, where the soccer stadium is located.
It is a bustling neighborhood of students, locals, plus a number of international faculty and students at both Assumption and Ramkaehueng. That means that I can sort of get by knowing only three words in Thai (in addition to farang, “kap khun kop” and “sawadee kop,” male forms for thank you and hello).
The Assumption campus is embedded in the neighborhood. Its small (a much larger, newer and more opulent campus is in the suburbs near the new airport), long and narrow. A good portion of the campus is taken up by lush tropical gardens surrounding a lake, plus a fountain and a Thai temple. The rest of the campus contains modern, high rise buildings, weathered by the hot, humid tropical climate. Its an interesting effect as I walk from the utilitarian, charm less residence tower past run down, low rise buildings onto the campus, then through the gardens skirting the lake, to the building where I meet Thip most days to go over her drafts.
By early afternoon we are finished for the day. Then I stop and have lunch at one of the many small, simple restaurants near by. One of my favorites is an excellent Chinese restaurant (I think its called Fuli — I’ll check next time I’m there, probably later today) that would hold its own against many in the North American Mecca of Chinese food, the San Gabriel Valley (SGV) outside of Los Angeles .
Yesterday I had Shanghainese style soup dumplings plus a dish I have only found at Chung King and Chengdu Taste in the SGV, water boiled fish slices (see photo at the top of this post). Its better than it sounds — fillets of white fish poached in a fiery hot broth of chiles, cabbage and sichuan peppercorns that numbed my lips and tongue so that I was able to handle the ferocious broth. It was probably a bit much for lunch. I felt it the rest of the day.
That’s not all I do, or the only place I eat. I’ll tell you more in the next day or two. Right now, its time for lunch….