Here are ten things that I learned on my summer vacation to Thailand:
1. In Mae Salong, I discovered that there is such a thing as black chicken. The color is natural from the breed, and it tastes like the regular chicken does here: fresh and delicious without all the hormones and stuff pumped into it.
2. Mae Salong has a large Chinese immigrant population -- one of the few places in Thailand where Mandarin is spoken. It used to be a major grower of opium (located in the Golden Triangle), but now the fields are filled with oolong tea leaves. What I didn't know is how much oolong tea leaves resemble ficus leaves (albeit ridged).
3. In Bangkok and everywhere else in Thailand, I learned that 7-11's are ubiquitous. The company, which was bought out by a Japanese firm in 1991, has 6,000 stores in this country -- half of which are in Bangkok. The company plans to have over 50,000 outlets here within the next decade.
5. In a little-known town in Nan province, we stayed with three sisters and ate whatever they cooked up. It was here I learned how difficult net fishing is. Sure looks easy enough - toss a circular net with weights attached to the bottom into a pond, then slowly pull it out by an attached rope, dredging up whatever fish get ensnared. I went with one of our hosts, Ginda, to give it a try, but ended up providing only comic relief. When she netted a frog, it was like finding caviar -- Ginda knocked the poor fella out with about a dozen whacks to the noggin. The regular fish are gutted and cleaned before being thrown into a wok with hot oil, but the frog was chopped up, innards, eyeballs and all, and tossed in. It was then mixed with fiery tom yam paste, garlic, ginger, and basil. I was loathe to taste it, but managed to select the pieces that looked most like the leg. This was the basis for our dinner that night:
6. I saw and tasted my first rose apple, or mountain apple (champoo) in Sukhothai, although they are popular throughout the country. Tastes a little like a regular apple, but softer and sweeter.
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7. Saw chicken heads at stands all over Bangkok and elsewhere. I didn't try any. Nor did I partake in any fried cockroaches or crickets, the former sold live in plastic bags at some markets (which I first saw in Phitsanulok).
8. My wife picked up this tube of Colgate while in China, which is watermelon-flavored even though it doesn't say so and the image on the tube isn't of that fruit. I didn't know toothpaste could taste so good; turns out it is sold in the States as a children's flavor.
9. On a stopover in Helsinki, Finland, I found out that very large white asparagus is in season. I also tasted white clover honey that is totally white, and discovered that lingonberry comes in powder form and tastes great over yogurt. Also: Bagel & reindeer is a popular sandwich at the airport (and slices of reindeer salami look just like Hebrew National beef salami).
10. Finally, I learned that flying over Southern Greenland can make you feel like an astronaut looking down on the moon.