The Poet’s Birthday – Burn’s Supper in Bangkok

January 26, 2009

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Robert Burns, the portrait at the entrance of the hall

About 100 diners, mostly Scots and their friends, had gathered in the Amari Watergate Hotel in Bangkok to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, Scotlands national bard and its most famous poet. Every year thousands of Scots people worldwide celebrate the life of this great man. This year’s 250th celebration was of course very special.

That was also true in Thailand. The Bangkok St. Andrew’s Society and its chieftain, John McTaggert, had invited to an evening of celebration, and a celebration it was. Our friend Rab Thomas had gathered a group of friends and we were the lucky ones to join in.

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“250 years in ice”

The members of the Bangkok St. Andrew’s Society had ample opportunity to show their talents. At past Burn’s Suppers in Jakarta, a Robert Burns impersonator was invited. Though his presentation of the poems and hymns was very professional, it somehow deterred the members of the local society to take the recitations on to themselves.

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Mike Brooks did the piping

There is obviously no shortage of talent in Bangkok. The Selkirk Grace was spoken by Willie Christie. When the haggis was presented and stirred, Mike Brooks spoke the address to the haggis. Duncan Niven gave ‘the Immortal Memory’, John McTaggert the ‘toast to the Lassies’, and Louise Blackwood ‘the Lassies Response’. All the speeches were presented in a very witty, pithy, funny, sardonic and enthusiastic way. It was such a pleasure to listen to them.

Also the haggis with tatties and neeps was very good. I enjoyed again the wonderful Scottish cheeses. The wine came from Australia and was quite decent. It belonged to the, what I call, “industrial wine” category. There is no harm in drinking it, just the brand name never sticks.

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After dinner we went all outside to bid farewell to the British Ambassador, made a circle, held hands and sang together “Auld Lang Syne” („old long since“). I recognized the song immediately, because its German version (“Nehmt Abschied Brueder”/ farewell brothers) is very well known in my native lands.

I vividly remember when as a boy I first heard the song from our kitchen window. A group of pilgrims had gathered in front of our house in a circle and sang “farewell brothers”, before boarding their buses to take them home.

When we held hands in Bangkok and sang Burn’s song, the magic also worked on us. It is a powerful song, even in German, though the German text is quite different from the English or the Scottish version. What I did not know is that the song was written by Robert Burns. In life learning never ends.

When Robert Burns died at the tender age of 37 in 1796 he left behind 13 children from 5 women. That’s quite an achievement. Obviously Burns loved women and ‘love’ was one of his favourite themes. This is why I present to you Eddie Reader and her version of “My love is like a red red rose”.

Cheers to Robert Burns. See you next year at the Burn’s Supper.


Scottish Delight: St. Andrews Ball 2008, Bangkok

December 13, 2008

Our first social function here in Bangkok was the attendance of the St. Andrews ball in the Amari Watergate Hotel on Saturday 22th November. Wherever we live in Asia, we join the Scottish St. Andrews and the Irish St. Patrick’s Society. The Bangkok St. Andrews Society was established in 1890 by a small group of expatriate Scots to celebrate among others Scottish culture.

A special reunion awaited us in Bangkok, a reunion we were ardently looking forward to. Our good old friend Rab Thomas whom we met many years ago in Jakarta has settled down in Thailand. It was a tremendous pleasure to meet him again. The ball was the right occasion for this reunion.

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Rab Thomas and his partner Basha

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One of the Pipe bands

It was a lovely evening. About 280 people sat around large tables with delicious food. Entertained by pipe bands, dance performances and so on, we made new friends. At our table there were quite a few Thailand veterans. To listen to their stories was very informative and entertaining, especially for newcomers to Bangkok like us.

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A traditional Haggis dish entree

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The main course

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Also Scotsmen have a sweet tooth

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The surprise of the evening: Scottish cheeses

Have you ever heard about Scottish cheeses? Do the names ‘Loch Arthur’, ‘Howgate’, ‘Dunlope’ or ‘Strathkinnes’ ring a bell? Well, then you should rush to get to know them; there is not only whisky in Scotland (by the way “Famous Grouse” was served in lavish quantities). Scottish cheeses are the world’s best kept secret, I would say. Each of them was wonderful and deserved a special mention.

On www.taste-of-scotland.com the above cheeses are describes as follows:

Loch Arthur: traditional farmhouse organic cheddar from Loch Arthur near Dumfries.

Howgate: Established artisan farmhouse cheesemaker, originally from Howgate near Edinburgh, now in Dundee, pioneered the making in Scotland of continental cheeses including Howgate Brie, Camembert and Pentland. Other cheeses include St Andrews, Bishop Kennedy, Strathkinness and Howgate Highland Cream Cheese.

Dunlop: resembles Scottish cheddar with soft texture. Mostly creamery-made in blocks on Arran and Islay but also traditionally in Ayrshire (Burns), near Dumfries and at Perth (Gowrie).

Strathkinness: award winning Scottish version of Gruyere, nearly 50 gallons of milk goes into a cheese! Matured 6-12 months. Limited availability.

These four cheeses are only a select few; there are many more to explore. Please visit the above webpage for more information including sources where you can oder them.

PS 1: Needless to say that the evening ended in wonderful harmony. We went home utterly satisfied. We will definetely come back next year.

PS 2: Wines were also served of course but it was a mass produced wine not worth mentioning.