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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bamako May Be Hot, Dusty, Expensive & Polluted, But They Sure Make Some Good Chow

Party time in Bamako

Roland, who is always clamoring to go see nothing but filth, decay, degradation and abject misery-- that and all that is offered on the seamy side of life-- says Bamako is the worst city he's ever been to. He agrees with the guide books that say to use the airport to get to Mali and then head straight for Djenne, Dogon Country and Timbuktou. He's turned off in Bamako seeing people suddenly squatting down on the side of a busy street and moving their bowels. He's turned off seeing children playing in sewage and women "washing" their dishes in the city's open sewers. He's turned off to the dry, dusty 100 degree weather-- in the "cool season"-- filtered through a curtain of smelly, deadly exhaust fumes. He's turned off to being over-charged for water. Malians pay 300 CFA; last night the hotel charged him 2,000. (Normally tourists can get a bottle for something between 400 and 1,000 CFA but the high end hotels tend to be shameless cash vacuums, like in so many cities around the world.)

Neither of us is a big mosquito fan-- though we've both given up fighting that scourge-- and we're not partial to the stench this town has to offer. And neither of us is happy to be ripped off if we try changing dollars in a hotel or even a bank. By chance we stumbled into a Lebanese supermarket and they gave us 450 CFA/dollar (no commission) instead of the 400/dollar (plus a 2% commission) others offer. If you're counting, that means $100 in the hotel would get you 39,200 CFA instead of 45,000.

On the other hand, Roland seems happy enough taking taxi rides down back streets filled with decaying colonial buildings that remind him of Vietnam and Cambodia and we both love the fantastic authentic African cuisine. The expensive hotels all serve way over-priced crappy, boring French food. Two people would be lucky to get away for less than $70 for dinner at our hotel (without wine). But last night we had dinner at Le San Toro, a restaurant owned by an ex-minister of culture and tourism in a part of town called the Hippodrome (on Avenue Al Quds). The food is traditional Malian, as are the decor and music. I can't say enough good things about the food which was not only spectacularly delicious but also very healthfully prepared. It's also pretty inexpensive, a fraction of what you'd pay in the hotel joints. And the decor and the art is breathtaking. On top of that the live kora music we heard during dinner was excellent as well.

Speaking of food, it has been easier in Mali to eat well as a vegetarian than in most countries. Everywhere is was a synch explaining that I don't eat meat and instead getting a nice fresh heaping plate of cous cous or millet or fonio with veggies. Last night at Le San Toro I ordered a vegetarian plate and it included cous cous, a huge variety of vegetables, beans and bananas. It was so good I can't wait to go back! Roland had a goat stew, disappointed there was no gazelle or zebra on the menu-- nor even camel. I do have to admit, though, that I'm looking forward to having lunch at Guy Savoy, one of my favorite restaurants in Paris, in a few days.

Monday, December 29, 2008

How Safe Is Mali For American Tourists?

Roland at the Djenne market

After spending some time in Dakar and Bamako I posted about how I found both cities very safe for tourists. Now that I've traveled around Mali a bit I thought I'd expand the idea to assure tourists that the whole country-- or at least the places tourists go-- is, if not like Disneyland or Dollyland, a safe choice for an exciting adventure trip.

Roland and I were traipsing around Sanga last week-- a place so foreign to the American experience that one would have to be on another planet to find something more exotic-- when we ran into a gaggle of American Peace Corp volunteers on holiday. They're stationed around West Africa, mostly Mali and Burkina Faso I gathered, and the State Department and U.S. Embassy in Bamako have decreed that no Peace Corp volunteers are allowed to venture north of some imaginary line (like around Mopti, I think), which means no Timbuktou. They said it is too dangerous because of Tuareg bandits on the roads-- and that the local airlines, C.A.M. and M.A.E., are too dangerous (i.e., non-compliant with FAA guidelines) for Americans to fly on-- so that their employees could not go to the northern two-thirds of the country.

We spent a few days in Timbuktu, which gets bad-mouthed by most tourists as not worth the trip. They're wrong. Timbuktou is fascinating and exotic and if it doesn't live up to your dreams of the 13th century or to Paul Bowles' Sheltering Sky, get real and open up to what actually is being offered there. As for danger... there's nothing remotely dangerous, other than a difficult road getting there, the bad exhaust fumes from motorbikes in town and the fucking mosquitos (we've just given up on not being bitten; it's not possible. Just learn to love the Malarone.)

We were waiting for a couple hours for the ferry to take us across the Niger on the way to Timbuktou and the settlement there is a Bella one. Until 1973's epoch drought nearly wiped out the Tuareg's camels and herds, the Bella had been their slaves. In 1973, basically because the Tuareg couldn't feed them anymore, they emancipated them-- although I have heard that there are still some small services that many of them still render to their former masters (like when there is a wedding or something). Anyway, this Bella settlement was all festive and bustling like all the villages we visited in Mali, when a couple of pickup trucks filled with Tuaregs pulled up to the bank of the river. Suddenly things got much quieter. Many of the little children seemed to disappear. It reminded me of a scene from Star Wars when some alien warrior people dropped by a space cafe. Anyway, the Tuaregs were pretty well-armed with swords and daggers and God knows what else and they don't seem to smile much; no chatty bonjours and they certainly don't ask you for a Bic or an empty water bottle or candy. The Tuareg War ended in the mid-90's though and they seem to be peaceable enough (except around Kidal) and way in the northern Sahara where Mali, Algeria and Mauretania share vast trackless wastes. In Timbuktou, they were certainly easy enough to get along with.

In fact, one of our most memorable adventures was when our guide, Mohammed, took us out into the desert one night to meet some Tuaregs who had just come from Araouane to trade for millet. They were also open to trade for the stuff we no longer needed-- mostly stuff Roland had picked up at the 99 cent store before coming here-- like a pair of cheap extra sunglasses-- as well as my REI walking sticks, half a dozen cans of sardines, shaving kits from Air France, a t-shirt, a roll of toilet paper, organic mosquito repellent that seems to attract mosquitos, etc. We got some nice Tuareg "silver" bracelets, a pipe and an agate necklace-- and had a long Tuareg tea ceremony before this whole thing got started... all by the light of the moon and stars. The Tuareg basically live their lives by the light of the moon and the stars.

I mentioned the other day that Mali is a Muslim country in the context of how Muslim countries are normally safe places to travel. Like I've been saying, Mali certainly seems safe enough, but it doesn't actually seem all that Muslim. Women aren't covered up and are everywhere and seem to play leadership roles in society. I've seen more women covered head to toe in London than in Bamako. And the dancing... well, to say some of it is erotic doesn't even begin to suggest how a Muslim fundie cleric would react. The dour Tuaregs seem to take it more seriously than most.

A couple weeks ago I went to a wedding celebration out in the sticks. For some reason I had imagined it would be something like one I went to in a small village-- real small: two family compounds-- in Afghanistan in 1969. There were no women at that one-- no bride, no groom's mother... no, it wasn't a forerunner of a No On 8 reform in pre-Taliban Afghanistan. The women were kept in strictest purdah and although I was living in the house for months and the groom was my best friend, I never did meet his new wife. Instead of women, the entertainment at the Afghan wedding was dancing boys-- really, really young ones-- with some kohl and cheap jewlery. My friend's grandfather grabbed one, quite forcibly, and raped him behind a building while the festivities proceeded. Afterwards the disheveled boy straightened his outfit and got back into the dance, looking mighty pissed off.

Mah Kouyate in the middle with no headgear

The Malian festivities were nothing like that-- a fully integrated affair with raucous joy, lots of music and dancing, mostly led by women. Almost all the local celebrities who were made a big fuss over were women-- including celebrated singer Mah Kouyate, who now lives in Burkina Faso and made the trip all the way to Mali-- and the only male celebrity other than a famous drummer who was playing, was some local version of Liberace who fancied himself the m.c.

But below the surface, Malian women have some big problems to contend with-- even if you don't consider polygamy a problem in and of itself. In every Dogon village we visitted there is a "special" women's house where women are kept while they're menstruating. They're considered impure; it's very primitive but I gather it's just an animist Dogon thing and not prevelant in general Malian society. Everyone tells me that as soon as a Malian man marries he's out looking for as much side action as he can find and that the women are pretty pissed off. They're also pregnant a lot. Almost every woman we see has an infant strapped to he back as she goes about her arduous life. Men here hate condoms. One guy we met in Dogon country-- although he's from Segou and has been to NYC-- says he would never use a condom because it would make him unable to perform up to par. And, yes, AIDS is a gigantic problem here.

Anyway, if you're now forewarned about the dangers of sex here, consider the road travel-- or any travel. We didn't let the knowledge that a hippo can break apart a pinasse ruin our wonderful day of floating down the Niger and Bani rivers near Mopti visiting Bozo fishing villages. Some tourists took the 3 day boat trip-- two nights camping along the shore-- from Bamako to Timbuktu. We drove from Sanga in Dogon country after 3 days there. Simply put, the road from Sanga to Douentza, halfway from Dogon to Timbuktou, has to be the worst road on earth. People talk about how bad the Timbuktou road itself is-- and it's rutted washboard and uncomfortable and we broke down in the desert twice-- but it is nothing compared to the Sanga road, which is just various sized boulders that you drive over while praying.

Roland fears Tupolov planes the way I fear sharks and crocodiles but he was willing to pay anything to get on one to get out of Timbuktou without having to get back on the terrible road again. I might mention that the road from Bamako in the west to Gao in the east, which covers much of the populated parts of the country, is a decent 2 lane paved road. The airlines were a little lax and dicey but we made it fine and who cares if there was no security whatsoever and if the stewardess returned some guy's spear as soon as we took off?

UPDATE: Some Wassoulu music from Sali Sidibe

Monday, December 22, 2008

How Safe Is It For Americans To Visit Dakar In Senegal And Bamako In Mali?

Mali feels very safe all the time

Conventional wisdom is that Bamako is uber-safe and Dakar is infested with pickpockets... but otherwise pretty safe. First Dakar: you can certainly feel confident about walking down a dark street in the middle of the night without being molested. The people are outgoing and friendly and respectful. The vibe is extremely amiable and for the week I was there I never ran into anyone who had experienced any pickpockets or who had heard of any-- other than in old guide books. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist, but I sure never saw anything to indicate that it does. I should mention, though, that unemployment is high-- like around 60%-- and that on the surface, aside from lottery ticket sellers, it looks like the main job in Dakar is private security guide.

Obviously you don't throw caution to the wind and run around with a fat wallet sticking out of your back pocket. In fact, I've been wearing a money belt under my arm in lieu of a wallet. I guess I would rate Dakar as very safe for tourists of all ages-- except for the mosquitos. You can't avoid them-- not in Senegal and not in Mali. Ex-pats I spoke to in both countries have told me that they can't take the poisons that western medicine prescribes and that most bites don't result in malaria-- or even Dengue Fever-- and that when you get it you rest and eat well for a week and then you're fine. Healthy people don't die from malaria any more than they die from the flu. Personally, I'm still taking the accursed Maladon.

I'm pretty cautious about what I eat and drink-- including in the U.S.-- and I found Dakar and Bamako safe foodwise as well. I pretty much don't eat in dodgy-looking places and stick to bottled water-- including for bushing my teeth. It's hot as hell here and it's important to keep well hydrated. I met a French woman who lives in Bamako 5 years and says she drinks the water here and has never had a problem.

As for the safety factor in Bamako, as "scary" and foreign as it looks, it would be far harder to imagine a crime against a person here than it would be in L.A. or NYC. On the other hand, you could step into an open trench or an uncovered manhole. And for those who define "safety" as breathing air instead of exhaust funes... well, there's a real problem. Someone e-mailed me and asked me if there is any danger from lions or other predators. I think the Malians ate them all. There are a lot of birds and I hear there's a huge herd of elephants between Dogon country and Timbuktu-- and some hippos (which the Malians are wisely quite afraid of)-- but the only wild animals in Bamako are in the zoo. I've walked all over the city, including to really remote areas without paved roads or the blessings of any kind of modernity, and the only vibe is friendly, friendly, friendly. People are unimaginably poor but this is a Moslem country and the level of personal ethics is very high.

I might also add, there are American flags everywhere and people walk around with Obama t-shirts! This has got to be one of the safest cities for tourists I've ever visited anywhere.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Bassekou-- Master Of The Ngoni-- Rocks The House

Thursday I went out to Quizambougou to watch Bassekou Kouyate finish recording his second album, a follow-up to his amazing debut, Segu Blue. Like the first one, the new songs were being recorded at the famed Studio Bogolan across the way from Mali K7, Ali Farka Toure's foundation. (Ali Farka's son, in fact, played his father's guitar on Bassekou's new album.)

Bassekou isn't well known in the U.S. yet-- he's never been to our side of the Atlantic-- but he's a real star in Africa and Europe, wildly popular in Mali and recognized as the best ngoni player in the world. The ngoni is kind of a cross between a banjo and a guitar and what Bassekou does with it is pure magic. The music I heard in the studio seemlessly combined the two goals Bassekou set out to accomplish with his new album: respect for Mali's rich musical tradition in which he is steeped, and an opportunity to explore the directions his own muse is drawing him. His first album Segu Blue is pretty amazing too.

I did my best to persuade him to come play in the U.S. and made a fun suggestion to help him gain some recognition there. If he follows my advice you'll recognize it instantly when you hear the album.

I had an opportunity to meet two musical legends at the studio-- BBC presenter/musicologist/producer Lucy Duran, who is probably best known in the U.S. as the producer of President Obama's favorite album, Kulanjan by Taj Mahal and Malian kora master Toumani Diabate. (I might add that the ngoni player on that album was, of course, Bassekou.) Anyway, Lucy is the most credible producer of West Africa music anywhere, speaking the local languages and having worked on Toumani's own records as well as with Kasse Mady Diabate and with Yasmin Levy. The sound engineer she and Bassekou were working with was Jerry Boys, one of the world's best-- a guy who recorded everyone (literally) from the Beatles, Stones, Pink Floyd, and REM to Ry Cooder, Buena Vista Social Club and Ali Farka Toure! (I recall him working with Everything But the Girl when I worked at Sire.)

Anyway, the studio was packed with TV, radio and print jounalists, as well as photographers from the record label and the media. It's like everyone in Mali who loves music-- and in Mali that means everyone-- is eagerly awaiting the new Bassekou record. The happy citizens of Bamako didn't have to wait for the release to hear some of the new material. Friday night Basselou was onstage at the French Cultural Center doing a full-fledged concert. You think I went?

It was only about a mile from my hotel so I walked over early. Bassekou had told me his sons have an ngoni band and asked me to show up in time to hear them. I'm glad I did; you can see their influences and they were pretty good.

Bassekou with his band at CCF in Dakar

But it was Bassekou's nine piece extravaganza that well could have been the best live performance I had ever seen in my whole life-- and I've been seeing concerts since the early 60's and haven't missed too many artists. The first time I was in Africa was in 1969 and I was hanging out with Jimi Hendrix in Essaouira (in Morocco). The first time I had seen Jimi play was years before that at the Cafe Au Go Go when he was the guitar player in the Night Hawks, backing up John Hammond, Jr. I don't say this lightly: Bassekou Kouyate is the Jimi Hendrix of the ngoni.

I don't know how to describe the concert without losing the essense of what the music did for everyone involved-- both on and off the stage. Let me tell you, though, as magnificent as the recorded versions of his songs are, the live show is what makes it so amazing. The concert defined hot. When those syncopated rythms get going, there is no resisting their power. Mali is the birthplace of the blues-- and the blues is still very much alive and vibrant here-- and it is the ancestral home of rock'n'roll in every imaginable way. Bassekou has that coursing through his blood and he knows exactly how to convey it to the audience.

And the dancing was as good as the music! Absolutely breathtaking! Truthfully, I can't remember the last time music compelled me to jump out of my seat and dance in the aisle. Last night it did. If Bassekou and his band wind up on Leno or Oprah, they'll open America up to its own musical roots-- and I'll bet Bassekou will become a real superstar in the U.S.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

First Day In Mali

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Ahhhh... Mali, land of my dreams; well that might be a little exaggeration but ever since I was a kid I always wanted to go to Timbuktu. And after I read Paul Bowles The Sheltering Sky I knew for sure I would travel to that city someday (even though I have a feeling it was set in Gao, not Timbuktu; just a guess). A few years ago Roland and I drove to the end of the road in Morocco, Mahamid, where there is nothing but flies and sand dunes and a guy and his son willing to take you out into the desert on camel. And a big blue sign that says something to the effect of "Timbuktu 52 days (by camel)." We decided to go with the guy and his son for a jaunt into the Sahara... but not all the way to Mali.

Today I finally arrived. Senegal does not prepare you at all-- except that they share a language (French) and a currency (CFA). The weather in Dakar was very pleasant, around 80 by day with a nice breeze off the ocean and high 60s/low 70s at night. Bamako isn't an inferno, but close enough. It's hot and dusty. And Dakar is almost like Europe in comparison. In Dakar you can't open your eyes without seeing at least one white face-- 25,000 Frenchmen live there and at least as many Lebanese Armenians. Here I haven't seen any white people since I arrived. I sat next to a French anthropologist on the 90 minute plane ride from Dakar and she told me there are about 2,000 French residents and the same number of Lebanese. I also ran into quite a few missionaries and missionary children on the plane and in the airport, including a huge guy and his huger wife and two huge children who are stationed way in the interior in a small town I had never heard of. He said he's from Iowa but he was born here-- his parents having been missionaries too-- and has lived here all his life, although goes back to Iowa every few years to visit.

So far-- and I know this is unrelated to everything else I'm about to experience in Mali-- the infrastructure is superb. The highway from the airport was excellent, far better than Dakar's in everyway, although where the Dakar 'burbs looked pretty well off and even glitzy, the Bamako 'burbs could have been almost anywhere in the Third World. I kept flashing back to Pakistan.

I'm staying at the Hotel Salam and OMG! It is really top of the line, not just top of the line for a dumpy place but really nice for anywhere. The hotel in Dakar, the Sokhamon, was small (31 rooms) and boutequey with a certain charm but hobbled with amateur management. This place is impeccable. I might add that the price for a single is CFA 90,000 but that I had made a reservation online and it was only CFA 50,000. It's hard to translate that into dollars because that exchange rate for the dollar is absurd and if you change your money into Euros and then buy CFA with Euros, the difference-- in your favor-- is a lot.

OK, I went to sleep after I wrote that last paragraph-- my Internet time having expired-- and today is... hot and dusty and humid. The hotel computers-- fancy as they look-- aren't working so I walked a mile or so to a market area and found an internet cafe which is in pretty good shape and cheaper than the hotel's (of course). The town is very spread out-- opposite of extremely compact Dakar. People here seem less outgoing and exuberent than in Senegal, where everyone was ready to party at any time. People seem more shy and stand-offish here. There are a plethora of "guides" who have overcome this. The hotel is still nice the morning after but below the spit and polish... well, I should temper my gushing enthusiasm a little-- although the food in their restaurant was excellent and there is wonderful Malian music in every public space.


And what a day! A travel tip for this part of the world: be sure to print out your confirmed reservations for everything. None of the hotels or airlines have had records of my reservations. OK, that was today's travel tip.

What an amazing place Bamako is! Forget what I said about it reminding me of backwater Pakistan; that was just the fancy superficial sights! You can't imagine what this is like once you get out of the modern business/tourist ghetto. I keep imagining that Dogon country is going to be the most primtive place I've ever been to. The back allies of Bamako... well it makes Pakistan look like NYC!

But this place is the most pro-American place I've been to since Clinton was president. And it's more than just the predictable pictures of Obama everywhere. There are USA decals and stickers and flag symbols in taxis and all over the place. I saw more albinos than white people but there are a couple thousand French people living here. Still, it seems like it is the U.S. that has captured the imagination of the people. Feels good after years and years of everyone hating America everywhere cause the fucking rednecks, fascists and greedheads got Bush into office!

Anyway, I was all over town today. Taxis are cheap; anyplace in town costs either 1,000, 1,500 or 2,000; depending on a combination of distance, your bargaining skills and how willing you are to whore out some Obama stories. After a full day-- including the discovery of a fantastic Moroccan restaurant called La Rose des Sables, just down the street from the Chinese Embassy. One warning: "vegetarian" doesn't necessarily mean "no meat," only that there are vegetables in the dish.

The highlight of the day though was a trip to the studio where Mali's greatest muscian, Bassekou is recording his follow-up LP. This guy is great and what an amazing band he's put together. I'll do a post on that once I can upload some pics and music and after I see the live concert tomorrow night.

Monday, December 15, 2008

You Can't Always Count On The Guide Books

Especially not in remote places that don't warrant frequent updates. For this trip, I'm using a Lonely Planet for Senegal and a Bradt for Mali. They're both out of date... in terms of everything. One made the extremely sensible suggestion that travelers to this part of the world change currency at Charles de Gaulle since flights inevitably arrive after the airport money changer is gone. The good news is that the countries around here-- particularly Senegal and Mali-- use the same currency: CFA which is fixed to the Euro. The bad news is that you haven't been able to buy CFA at the Parisian airport in at least 7 years. If you arrive after midnight and you're lucky, a friendly resident you meet on the plane will drive you to town. Otherwise you can always ask the taxi driver to wait while you get the front desk to change money, which, of course, is a terrible place to change money since the hotels see changing money as a big profit center for themselves.

Also in these rapidly changing, even explosive, countries, guide books can't possibly keep up with all the new hotels and restaurants opening. The Sokhamon isn't mentioned in any guide books I've seen. I suspect when it is, the price will go up. As for restaurants, I tried the Lonely Planet's most highly recommended Senegalese restaurant, Keur N'Deye, and it was nothing to write home about-- just a simple adequate meal. This afternoon I went to another of their banner recommendations, La Forchette, which they insist has the best lunch deal in town. It may but it's being renovated so I'll have to take their word for it. Another traveler told me about Le Sarraut a few blocks away and it was unbelievable. I had a local fish, thiof, prepared in a Senegalese vegetable and herb sauce with some kind of amazing potato soufle. I want to go back and eat more there!

Meanwhile, I'm certain the 6 Dutch women I mentioned in my last post planned everything according to the book and they got all their paperwork in order and all, of course, and then accompanied their three 4WD fixed up vehicles to Dakar on a freighter from Antwerp. They've been trying to get the authorities to let them have their vehicles-- and all their possessions-- ever since. It's such a bummer and if their didn't have such abundant inner resources, I'm sure this would ruin their whole trip. But I see them everyday and they are still keeping their spirits up as they work their way through a Kafkaesque bureaucracy which is determined to relieve them of as much as can possibly be extorted.

Dusk is falling and I just noticed my first malarial mosquitos buzzing around the business center so I'm going to have to finish this another time while I seek shelter.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

First Day In Senegal

My Air France flight from L.A. to Paris was an hour early-- and there's an adequate lounge at De Gaulle with free computer use (Macs, no less)-- but... what lady luck giveth... So, the flight to Dakar was delayed by 4 hours or so. Traveling on a flight-- in this case two-- with a flat bed makes a tremendous difference. I slept a lot on both flights. Still, I arrived in Dakar around 1 AM and the airport was a typical confusion. No need to rush through customs since it took an hour for my bag to come trundling down the conveyor belt.

Luckily for me I noticed on the plane that a young family was split up because of my seat so I offered to trade. I said luckily because my new seat was next to a Montreal guy who's been living in Dakar for a decade. Not only did he offer a wealth of valuable information, his wife and friend picked him (and me) up at the airport. It makes a big differance-- especially in a strange unfamiliar country at 2AM.

I'm staying at a chic boutique hotel, Sokhamon, on the sea in a posh part of town that seems to be a government quarter. There are upscale highrises and gated villas all around and up the street is the National Assembly. The town seems pretty cosmopolitan at first glance and not inordinately foreign for anyone used to Third World cities. It's my first day in Sub-Saharan Africa ever but I feel pretty much at home. It also feels quite safe.

The weather is warm but not hot and if not for the need to sleep with the blanket over my head as protection from at least one persistent mosquito-- who buzzed in my ear all night, eager, no doubt, to give me malaria-- the room would have been quite pleasant.

When I woke up, at 3 in the afternoon, the malarial mosquitos had taken off and I haven't noticed any of the dengue fever (AKA, bonebrake fever) mosquitos on patrol. The malaria guys only do evenings and nights. I wish I had brought some bug spray. I did bring Purell and when I unpacked I noticed it had spilled all over my pack.

The hotel is tranquil and artsy and a little on the posh side, at least attitude-wise. It's around 100 bucks a night, same as the 5 star hotels like gigantic Le Meridien. I tend to prefer smaller more personable, relaxed places. This place has a buiness center with a computer and free Internet access; what more could anyone ask for?

I spent the afternoon and early evening walking around with a friend of a friend from The Gambia. We've been corresponding online for a month or so and it was kind of like meeting a long lost friend. He showed me around town and helped me get a hang for directions and stuff. Tonight I'm going to a live music club called Just For You.


Incredible band, great music; good food. And I met 6 awesome Dutch women driving 3 jeeps across Africa. All during the night, different local musical luminaries got up onstage and performed as guests of Orchestra Baobab. There were some magical moments and it felt very special.

UPDATE: NY Times Goes To Listen To The Pulse Of Dakar

December 6, 2009- I missed Thiossane when I was in Dakar last year but today's NY Times has the lowdown on Youssou N'Dour's nightclub. They point out, correctly, that Dakar is one the most dynamic and "most musically vibrant cities in Africa," only lightly touched by music tourism but rich with its own musical heritage, like mbalax, and "distinct takes on hip-hop, salsa, reggae and jazz." And when N'Dour hits the stage "an ecstatic roar explodes, and soon several hundred bodies are dancing madly. With its fast-driving, interweaving traditional sabar drummers-- rounded out by guitar, bass, keyboards and a rock drum kit-- the opening number, “Less Wakhoul,” is pure mbalax, the propulsive, percussive, melodic pop music that Mr. N’Dour popularized starting in the 1970s and that remains the dominant sound emitted from Senegalese radios."

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Thai Court Ousts Prime Minister Over Election Fraud-- Airport Siege Ends

With 300,000 tourists stranded in Thailand-- and the economy losing at least $2 billion-- Thailand's Constitutional Court banned Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat from office for 5 years. Flights to and, more importantly, from Bangkok's two airports will resume Thursday.

Somchai, the brother-in-law of crooked billionaire/fugitive and ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra, was booted out of office over election fraud. Thaksin's party, the People Power Party (PPP) was disbanded. Somchai, whose illegitimate right-wing government had fled to Chiang Mai, agreed to the terms of the court ruling.

This CNN report was a little premature in it's gloom and doom:

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Shit Happens-- Even In Happy Go Lucky Thailand: Bangkok Airports Closed Down

Thailand's welcome mat rolled back in

Last night Roland drove his friend to LAX. His friend bought a home and a business and is moving abroad, to a smiley, peaceful country we visit all the time: Thailand. When they got to the airport they were informed that there are no flights being allowed into Bangkok and that both its airports are closed. There are rumors of a military coup as protesters seem to have forced the government to have fled to Chiang Mai way in the north. Protesters say they will keep the airports closed down until the government resigns. The government says it won't resign. Government supporters are threatening violence.
Thailand’s tourism minister, Weerasak Kohsurat, said the government would soon begin flying thousands of stranded tourists out of the country using military bases near the Thai capital.

Tourists would be flown by Thai Airways to Singapore or Malaysia for connecting flights, The Associated Press reported.

Government officials also said Thursday they would allow commercial airlines to use one of the military airports, U-Tapao.

Used by the United States military during the Vietnam War, U-Tapao can handle only a fraction of the daily average of 100,000 passengers who flew in and out of Suvarnabhumi International Airport last year.

U-Tapao’s terminal has the capacity to hold 400 people and the parking lot has about 100 spaces. The airport is about 120 miles from Bangkok, a two-hour drive.

There have been a couple of explosions and some gunfire at the main international airport and a few injuries, and thousands of stranded tourists. Normally, Thailand is one of my favorite places to go for a vacation. Reports from stranded tourists all seem to agree on one point: the airlines are hopelessly unhelpful. Tourists seem unsympathetic with the protesters-- or at least with their choice of tactics. I'm sure glad we picked nice peaceful Mali this year. Meanwhile, Roland's friend was offered a flight to Taiwan and one night free in a hotel and the best wishes of the airline that the airports will be open by Saturday. It could be worse; he could have been in Mumbai.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I Would Rate Mumbai, India As A Safe City To Visit Although It Wasn't Today

Gates of India on the right, Taj Mahal Hotel on the left

The first time I was in Mumbai, then called Bombay, was 1970 and I was so happy to be in India after driving for months and months and months across a far less hospitable western and central Asia. I was on my way to Goa in my trusty VW van. I only stayed in a hotel once in the whole 2 years I was on the Indian subcontinent and it was at the very end of the trip. In Bombay I slept in my van right at the Gates of India in the shadow of a hotel I came to stay at many times years later, the Taj, sight of some of the worst of today's violence. It usually gets rated as Mumbai's most luxurious and prestigious hotel. Last time I was there Roland was taking a shower when there was a power blackout. There was no electricity, of course, and something very odd happened. The water in the shower turned to sewage. [A similar thing, although it was thankfully a sink and not a shower and there was no contact, happened to me at New Orleans' best hotel, the Windsor Court, but they gave me a coupon for two free nights to assuage their embarrassment. The Taj knew no embarrassment and we were forced to walk up and down countless flights of stairs several times.]

Today Islamic terrorists dealt a severe blow to India's tourism industry by attacking the Taj, the Oberoi and several other top of the line tourist spots, killing an unspecified number of people-- looks like over 100-- and holding others hostage. The situation is still fluid as I write. Americans and Brits were especially sought out among the hostages and then shot.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Getting Ready For Senegal

I'm getting ready for my trip to Senegal and Mali. It was a bit of a hassle getting the Mali visa-- which sat on the desk of someone at the DC Embassy for a few weeks-- but there's no need for a visa for Senegal. The Malians charge $131. The Malians also insist on a Yellow Fever vacination so after unsuccessfully pleading with a doctor to just give me the form that says I got one without actually shooting me up with whatever poisons the vacination is made from, I did get the shot. And I made reservations to rent a 4WD vehicle and a driver and made some reservations for hotels and a flight from Dakar to Bamako and I'm very busy running around buying food bars and hand wipes and silk sheets and an ergonomic backpack for my trek in the Dogon Country. But a friend sent me some music from Senegal today that I thought listening to that would be an even better way to get ready for my trip.

I'm a fan of Malian music, especially of Ali Farka Touré, the bluesman who died a couple years ago. And I have an intro from a friend to meet Bassekou Kouyate whose music sounds great. But I don't know anything about the music of Senegal, other than the world-renowned music of Youssou N'Dour, of course. Djele Lankandia Cissoko plays Kora music from Casamance. It really appeals to me and I'm hoping I can find some live music like this in Dakar.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Wireless Service Coming To Delta

I've often mentioned that Delta is the worst of all the awful domestic carriers. I try to avoid flying that airline when there is an alternative going to the same destination. I even stopped using my American Express card and using my Master Card instead, the former hooked up to Delta and the latter to the less venal American. It seems like all the news we get from the airline industry these days is bad news. Earlier in the week I wrote about the heinous, anti-democratic rich-people-to-the-front-of-the-line-please Fly Clear program. And we've all been experiencing how the airlines are nickeling and diming us all to death with fees for everything. I'm certain pay toilets on board are next-- and I'll bet Delta leads the way.

Still, to be fair, Delta is actually leading the way on something awesome for a change-- albeit a new way of squeezing more money out of travelers. According to today's Washington Post wireless Internet starts this fall! Actually it'll only be on 133 MD88/90 planes this fall. The rest of the fleet won't be ready 'til next summer. "The service will be available to customers for a flat fee of $9.95 on flights of three hours or less and $12.95 on flights of more than three hours."

UPDATE: Meanwhile, JetBlue Is Charging For A Pillow

I just saw a Jet Blue executive, CEO Jeff Barger, making the unique, if twisted, case that his company's decision to start charging $7 for a pillow and a blanket was a great bargain. Apparently those pillows and blankets we've all been using on planes were filthy and germ-ridden and only laundered every few weeks. The $7 ones are fresh and clean and you get to take it with you... if you have room in your costly checked luggage.

The new issue of Time points out that Southwest is the "one major airline that is bucking the trend of increasing fees... [and] still doesn't charge for checked bags (up to two), nonalcoholic drinks, blankets or making a change to your flight." On the other end of the spectrum, USAirways "broke new ground last week by starting to charge for all beverages: $2 for a soft drink (or even a bottle of water); $1 for coffee or tea. Checked bags cost $15 and $25; flight changes are $150."

Monday, August 04, 2008

Where on Earth will YOU vote?

I could have voted in Fez

Right now, as I mentioned, I'm planning a trip to Djenne, Mopti, le pays Dogon and Timbuktu; that's all Mali. And a lot of it is relatively inaccessible without a camel-- or, thankfully, a 4WD. I planned my trip after the election. If I wasn't actively working for some many candidates, I didn't have to. Voting from abroad is way easier now than it used to be when McCain was young and you had to vote with cuneiform. Cheap joke; but when I was around 20 I was living in Afghanistan and I had to ride a horse down from the mountains to vote in the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. It's a lot easier today.

This morning I got a message from an Obama-related group called VoteFromAbroad via Facebook. They lay out the simple steps of how you can vote from anywhere in the world... even Mali or Afghanistan. They even have a YouTube:

Friday, July 04, 2008


Short answer: very, very safe. If you're looking for trouble-- in Mexico City or anywhere else-- you can surely find it. But all the hype about Mexico City being a dangerous place for American tourists seemed to me to be completely unfounded. I had a quasi-revelation while I was there about why. There's a subway stop at the airport. It costs 25 American cents to go anywhere in the city. I took it to my hotel and it was simple and clean and took 25 minutes. A taxi takes between an hour and an hour and forty-five minutes... depending on congestion caused by road building. And taxis cost... well, that's where the hype comes in. It's an oft repeated truism in Mexico City that if you take a "street cab" you could be kidnapped and held for ransom. It has happened-- only not to tourists. It has happened to rich and upper middle class Mexicans. There appears to be a ring of kidnappers in cahoots with some elements of the police who kidnap rich Mexicans and ransom them. The game doesn't work on tourists.

I took street taxis around Mexico City frequently. No problems whatsoever, although the fine folks at the hotel, especially the door staff, were adamant it was dangerous. A metered "street taxi" from my hotel to the great restaurants in the Polanco district costs around $3. The hotel cars that are always being pushed charge $20 for the same ride and the SITIO cabs the hotels claim are safe also try getting away-- no meters-- with $20. Those numbers explain the hyped up danger stories. The motive is very significant profit. The American ex-pats I spoke to in Mexico City laughed about it. They all take street cabs.

No matter where I travel, the employees at the upper end hotels always tell me "it's too far to walk." It never is. In Mexico City they also claimed it was too dangerous for me and my two robust friends to walk from Paseo de la Reforma to a market about a mile away. The walk brought us away from the architecturally stunning Reforma and into the "real" day-to-day Mexico City. Dangerous? Not even a little.

Last week I mentioned I was going to go to El Museo Dolores Olmedo in Xochimilco. It took almost an hour by subway and then a little train ride (25 cents on each). It costs $4.50 to get in, although they accepted my L.A. County Museum of Art membership card as a substitute and they accepted a teacher's ID from a friend. (All 3 museums I went to happily accepted the L.A. museum card for free entry.) Anyway, Dolores Olmedo, who died 6 years ago, was Diego Rivera's patron (and longtime lover-- and, rumor has it, also Frida Kahlo's lover, if more briefly). Her gorgeous, magical estate in the middle of the city-- although it certainly seems like you're far from any city-- has been turned into an art museum specializing in the works of Rivera and, to a lesser, but still significant, extent, Kahlo. I had been to Mexico City many times before but had never gone there before. I'm sure I'll be back... every time I visit Mexico City.

The Tamayo Museum in Chapultepec Park was a huge disappointment. I remember it as a spectacular building housing an even more spectacular collection of Tamayo art. The building is still super. The art... no. There were no Tamayos. Instead there were 4 absolutely wretched exhibitions that had to be justified with long explanations because they were so obviously mediocre. The first one we wandered into was 3 rooms of photos of toilet paper and urine by a radical Brazilian named Artur Barrio. A few years ago I decided to stop being a member of the Museum of Contemporary Art in L.A. because the work grasped at trying to be art and instead was just a bunch of ugly intellectual polemics. Barrio's work was far worse than anything I ever saw at MOCA.

Canadian photographer Jeff Wall had an exhibition that wasn't offensive at all-- nor was it remotely interesting. It just filled some space with big, well-lit photos. Swedish photographer Henrik Hakansson also had a huge exhibition. It could have been called "Snapshots from my dull trip to Chiapas."
Pablo Pijnappel I would have voted to pass on but my two companions are Dutch and they were fascinated by his Dutch last name. We gave his unremarkable video a minute before leaving, a minute more than it was worth. Almost any random YouTube clip would have been more interesting and artistic.

El Museo de Arte Moderno has a kick-ass sculpture garden

Fortunately I then remembered that across the street, still in Chapultepec, was one of the western hemisphere's greatest modern art museums, the Museo de Arte Moderno. There were plenty of Tamayos, of course, as well as a spectacular sampling of Mexico's greatest contemporary artists: Rivera and Kahlo of course, and Siqueiros, Gerzco, Orozco, Galan, Costa, Carrington, etc. Between the permanent collection and the unbelievable sculpture garden, it is easy to while away a day at this beautiful oasis. We also saw a career retrospective of Remedios Varo Uranga. At first I thought the work was by some hippie in the 60s who was smoking a lot of Acapulco gold. Then I realized she was born in 1908 and had a vision way ahead of the trends. Definitely worth checking out.

The other day I mentioned I had gone to the culinary apex of Mexico City, Izote. The following night my friends wanted to eat on the roof of their hotel, the Best Western Majestic, which has a great view of the Zocolo and the National Palace but extremely mediocre food. We made up for it the following night when I got the fantastic concierge at the Embassy Suites to recommend something as good as Izote. He did: Pompano. It's not far from Izote in Polanco and, like it, it offers a modern-- and healthful-- delicious take on Mexican cooking. It's a seafood restaurant and the sampler of 3 cerviches was, simply put, the best cerviche I had ever tasted. Everything each of us ate was spectacular and I can't recommend this place too highly. It's at #42 Moliere in the old Jewish section of town (and not far from a fully functioning synagogue at Eugenio Sue).


The good news is that prices are going down on hotels and tourist-related things. The bad news is that Mexico is rated about as likely as Pakistan to disintegrate! The U.S. Joint Forces Command warns that Mexico's "government, its politicians, police and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained assault and press by criminal gangs and drug cartels. How that internal conflict turns out over the next several years will have a major impact on the stability of the Mexican state. Any descent by Mexico into chaos would demand an American response based on the serious implications for homeland security alone."

Saturday, June 28, 2008


Djenne-- Growin' a beard so I can get in here

For several years I would wake up in the back on my VW van, crawl into the front seat and start driving wherever I wanted to go and stay for as long as I wanted to. I was just telling some friends of mine how much I loved discovering Peshawar, after too many months in Afghanistan, by just driving through the Khyber Pass til I found something that looked inviting. I loved the stately horse drawn cabs. All the horses had bright red plumes. And I never saw so many weapons for sales in one place in my life. It would be an NRA member's wet dream. (Well, not this week; I understand the Taliban has it surrounded and it may fall. It would be like the U.S. losing St. Louis or Denver.) Anyway, I'm in the middle of planning a trip to Senegal and Mali. Literally in the middle; I started planning 5 months ago and I'm leaving 5 months from now. Long gone are the days I just hop into the front seat and drive through a pass to see what I find on the other side. As part of my long drawn out preparations for Mali I've grown a beard and I'm taking Muslim lessons so I can get into the great mosque in Djenne, which was closed to non-Muslims in 1996 after a French fashion photographer from Vogue took inappropriate pictures-- soft core porn in the locals' eyes-- in the holiest house of worship in the country. Sometimes you just have to plan.

But not this week. I just got to Mexico City and it was as last minute as I can imagine travel these days. Toon, my best friend from my days in Amsterdam, e-mailed me on Wednesday and said he and his wife, Mieke, would be celebrating his birthday in Mexico City. I said I'd meet them and an hour later had found a good fare on Alaska Air and a decent deal at the Embassy Suites, which Trip Advisor rated as the #1 hotel in town. And here I am.

First off, it is hardly the best hotel in town. It basically is just a gussied up... Embassy Suites. The Four Seasons, which offers rooms at the same rate if you insist ($150/night), is way better. But the Embassy Suites is good enough and I'm perfectly happy here, despite the fact that the wireless connection is slow and costs $11/day and I hate being ripped off. I asked the concierge to make a reservation for me at Izote, one of the best restaurants in town, if you're looking for modern innovative Mexico cuisine, rather than lard and stuff that'll stuff your arteries up. This place was unpretentious and simple in ambiance and... well, I want to eat there every meal, every day. Chef /owner Patricia Quintana is a genius-- and a genius, it turns out who trained under my favorite chef in the word, Paul Bocuse. The hotel told me it was unsafe to take a normal taxi from Reforma to Polanco but that they would send me in the hotel car. That wound up costing $20. I laughed at myself for getting hustled and walked halfway back and then took a mini bus the rest of the way-- it started raining-- for 25 cents.

Oh, and speaking of raining, the one preparation I did make was to check the weather. Since it's been in the high 90s and low 100s in the L.A. area lately and Mexico City is further south, I had no intention of bringing a jacket. So I checked the Google and noticed it is quite cold-- as well as rainy. Sometimes you just gotta plan, even if just a little. Right?

When I was on the plane I asked the Mexican stewardess how to get to Reforma and she said everyone takes a taxi but that the subway was just as fast, a fifteenth the price and convenient and clean and safe and all that. I took her advice and it was just as she said. And it left me off a few blocks from the hotel. As I started walking towards it I discovered something I never had noticed before: Mexico City is the gayest city in the world. In fact, there were no straight people. I had left the Insurgentes metro stop and was walking down Amberes. It was just a colorful jumble of gays and lesbians. Then I figured I must be in the middle of an event. And although, it turns out that this is Gay Pride Weekend, that was in another part of town and this just turned out to be a neighborhood that's pretty festive all the time. I mean I knew Acapulco and Puerta Vallarta are gay havens but I always remember Mexico City as kind of staid and a bit uptight. Things sure have changed! Tomorrow: the Dolores Olmedo Museum in Xochimilco.

Saturday, February 02, 2008


Hard to Leave the Big Easy

I’m continuing to depressurize. Trying to reintegrate right and left brains. Weaning myself off of Pimm’s cups and Ramos fizzes and Sazeracs. Occasionally shaking from gumbo withdrawal.

Of course, I already miss New Orleans, and it’s only been a couple of days since I left. I actually began to pine for the city as I pulled away from the French Quarter and headed for Louis Armstrong Airport. (And if that name ain’t a promise of good times as you arrive in town and an invitation to melancholy as you leave, I don’t know what is.)

Carnival is in full swing, dressed in the traditional green, gold and purple of Mardi Gras, and heading for its ecstatic culmination next Tuesday. (The green stands for faith, the gold for power, and the purple for justice – so decreed by the membership of the New Orleans social club the Krewe of Rex over a century ago.)

Showing up for the first few days of what amounts to a week and a half of increasing dementia allows one to avoid the massive crush of yahoos and loonies looking to get completely plastered and heedlessly bare body parts by the end of the celebration. At the start, the numbers are smaller and the behavior more civilized. Nonetheless, the spirit of revelry was in the air this past weekend. Yes, there were some remnants of what a couple of locals warily/bitterly called “that weather incident.” The French Market is being renovated and, the promise of renewal aside, its husk is a sad sight. The Lower Ninth Ward is still largely a mess.

But the people are still warm and welcoming. Construction is happening throughout the town. The Quarter and Magazine Street in the Garden District are pretty much back to speed. New businesses are opening – and a few storm-devastated old businesses are reopening. The restaurants – from the familiar and classic to the recently spawned – were, as expected, producing the delectable regional cuisine that has inspired watering mouths and rave reviews - nay, poetry! - for decades.

Certainly, the music-- particularly at the clubs on Frenchmen Street in the Marigny-- was superb and rollicking and wistful and even hopeful, just like the residents who stayed or returned, and endured.

Last Friday night, pianist Ellis Marsalis-- patriarch of the renowned musical clan-- had his small ensemble cooking on the standards as usual at Snug Harbor. At d.b.a. (the New Orleans branch of the New York City/East Village brew pub), the weekend schedule was top-notch and delightfully indigenous with torchy blues-rock chanteuse Ingrid Lucia doing the early evening show on Friday, followed by some rousing frenzy from the folk-rockin’ Zydepunks; jazz crooner John Boutte and band opening the Saturday bill, with a wild R&B/Tex-Mex-fueled late show from the roots-rockin’ Iguanas; and retro le jazz hot singer/cutie-pie Linnzi Zaorski playing a happy-hour set on Sunday, with the Washboard Chaz Blues Trio wrapping up the night.

There is no greater ambassador for genuine New Orleans jazz in this day and age than the terrific, tradition-wise singer-trumpeter Kermit Ruffins, who, with his band the Barbecue Swingers, done tore up the Blue Nile on Saturday night. Very few artists can turn a club into a carnival at will. Kermit is one of them. And Monday night’s jam session at Ray’s Boom Boom Room, led by drummer/DJ Bob French, was a wonderful, improv-heavy ramble through Tim Pan Alley and the Great American Songbook.

It would be a mistake to forget the fabulous band that played Saturday night’s annual costume ball hosted by a New Orleans artist of note. The group’s horns-and-all cover of the Beatles’ “Got to Get You Into My Life,” done-- no lie-- Parliament/Funkadelic-style, almost shook the filled-to-the-rafters warehouse apart. Nor should I neglect to mention the amazing Sunday night all-45 rpm vintage-soul-and-rockabilly DJ set at the Saint bar in the Garden District. And the melodies that waft from legendary venues, hot spots and dives as you walk past or are produced by street performers that are far too accomplished to be relegated to passing the hat.

This is on top of the parades (raining beads and doubloons on fervent crowds of onlookers) by the krewes that roll through the area on the early weekend. And the yearly Krewe of Barkus dog parade through the Quarter, with the 2008 theme “Indiana Bones & the Raiders of the Lost Bark”-- complete with canine fashion plates and their owners in Indy fedoras, pushing along lovingly-forged Arks of the Covenant on wheels.

My last evening in town featured an orgy of exquisitely delicious food shared with three friends Uptown at Jacques-Imo’s restaurant-- cornbread muffins, stuffed shrimp, fried green tomatoes, onion rings, succulent glazed duck, blackened redfish, collard greens, and strawberry shortcake, washed down with Abita’s Mardi Gras Bock. We topped it off with nightcaps at La Crepe Nanou, where we talked music and the beauty of Southern Louisiana with Vicki and Debbi Peterson of the Bangles who were in town for a couple of shows.

Like Vicki and Debbi, I harbor an inordinate amount of love for the city of New Orleans. Call it what you will: Nola, the Big Easy, the Crescent City, the City That Care Forgot. Its socio-economic problems and precarious, post-Katrina condition notwithstanding, it’s like no other place in America-- a cultural cauldron rich with history, art, music, culinary delights, and the joy of living. I encourage everyone to visit and drop a little cash there. The Jazz & Heritage Festival is coming up in the spring-- and, judging from schedule, it looks like it’s gonna be one to remember. So go. Or visit some other time. Help the regeneration of this national treasure. You will be repaid a thousand times over with peak experiences that will linger in your memory long after you return to your everyday biz.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


When I arrived in India for the first time, in 1969, I immediately gave up my dependence on drugs. I've been-- excuse the expression-- "clean" ever since. The trip to India, through India and back to Europe from India took a little over 2 years. I saw a lot and I missed a lot. I've been back to India 3 times since, most recently just over a week ago. My trip was actually to Thailand and Myanmar and I was just stopping in New Delhi for about 10 days before and after. I had no business, no appointments, no agenda, no pressure. So I went out of my way to really spend some quality time at the best sites in Delhi, sites I had seen in the past but never really immersed myself in.

I spent a whole day at Lal Qila (the Red Fort), for example, a place I probably gave an hour to previously. And I'd go spend another day there without a second thought. I also spent some time at Old Delhi's other stunning-- equally stunning-- tourist attraction: Jama Masjid, India's largest mosque. The Moghul Emporer Shah Jahan started it in 1650 and the red sandstone and marble house of worship-- not far from his palace-- look six years to complete. It's truly awe-inspiring and I guess that was the point. We sure don't build 'em like that any more!

I had heard about a Sufi poet and saint, Hazrat Sarmad being buried in a tomb at the Jama Masjid. He was actually a Jewish Armenian from Persia who converted to Islam-- perhaps to Christianity for a spell before that-- and became a peerless Sufi mystic of great renown in his day (1590-1661). Somewhere along the way he fell head over heels in love (ishq) with a young Hindu boy, Abhai Chand-- so head over heels, in fact, that he renounced all worldly possessions-- including his clothes-- and became a naked fakir. This (nudity) wasn't that weird in India but the Moghuls weren't into it and Sarmad was pals with Dara Shikoh, the heir to Shah Jahan's throne. That didn't work out and when Aurangzeb staged a coup and took over the joint it was hard times for Dara Shikoh's friends. He had Sarmad beheaded for blasphemy (although historians have always sensed some politics in the mix).

I decided to go visit and pay my respects. I didn't have my camera so the picture above is of me in front of an entirely different tomb, Humayun's, which is in New Delhi, not even Old Delhi, although it's just as old. I stopped there on my way to another tomb the Hazrat Nizamuddin Darga, which is very much a lively scene in an living medieval community and in front of which-- and the reason I went-- qawwali singers do their thing in the evenings. I love that music and the video below in front of the darga should give you an idea of what it's like. Anyway, back to Samad; I never did get to take any photos and it was very difficult to find, since everyone claims to know where everything is, even if they don't. And even when I found it... well, how do you know he's really in there anyway? And if he is, is his head?


Don't try it... but there are some useful tips... about art galleries and sitar shopping. They agree with me that Swagath, though not in the center of town, is worth the trip for a delicious south Indian (especially otherwise unavailable Mangalorean) seafood meal.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


I've been visiting Thailand for nearly 30 years now. It's a lot easier to find great food in Bangkok now than it was when I first started going but, ironically, the very first Thai restaurant I ever fell in love with, is still my absolute favorite: Bussaracum. When I first found it, in the 80s, it was in a beautiful free-standing traditional house. It's where I learned what Royal Court cuisine is and how different it is from the 99.9% of other Thai restaurants. A few visits later it moved to the elegant Dusit Thani Hotel, now home to a runner-up Royal Court cuisine restaurant, Benjarong, and then soon after to the ground floor of an office building between Silom and Sathorn, right down the street from the Hindu temple complex at Silom and Pan Road.

[UPDATE: Bussaracum Moved To Sukhumvit 55

I've been visiting them for years and years and through three changes of address. Next time I'm in Bangkok-- in a couple of months-- I'll be at the new location too.]

The restaurant is a special event kind of place with incredible and unique dishes on the menu. By Thai standards it's moderately expensive, though not over the top like the restaurants at the big hotels or the exclusively tourist places like the Blue Elephant. But the 7-day a week buffet lunch is the absolute best deal in town. The food is stunning-- pretty much the same stuff you get on the menu-- and the price (240 baht, which is like $7.30) is mind-bogglingly low. Everyday they offer a different assortment of dishes. And everyday the assortment is very wide. I'm a picky eater. I never had a problem finding lots of delicious, relatively healthful food to eat.

With the exception of an international seafood buffet lunch at Lord Jim's in the Oriental Hotel (expensive by even western standards but really excellent), I had lunch at Bussaracum every single day I was in Bangkok-- and that was nearly a month. Normally I love going around and trying all the good places in Bangkok-- and that was my intention when I first arrived in early December. I've written about the best Thai restaurants in the past and I was eager to get back to Patara, for example. Unfortunately when I got to it, it was just a big hole in the earth. They're supposed to be re-opening in the Sukumvit area... soon.

I always have my first meal in Thailand at Bussaracum and, as usual, it was so delicious that when I found Patara demolished on day 2, I went back to Bussaracum. Every dish they were offering was different. That's when it dawned on me that it didn't make sense to eat anywhere else. The food is the best and so are the prices low (for quality food) that it's actually mind-blowing. Everyday was a wonderful culinary experience. Each day there were 5 or 6 tables laden with food: salads, soup, appetizers, desserts and main courses in chafing dishes. I was thrilled when I realized that aside from the white rice and fried rice, they also have brown rice.

Like I said, each day there were different choices. Over the course of the month, the offerings included this list. I eat fruits, vegetables and seafood but I'm including the meat dishes as well so you can get a good idea of the variety and breadth of their meals.

-Deep-fried shrimps
-Deep-fried Chinese sausage wrapped in omelet
-Deep-fried wonton
-Minced shrimp on toast
-Fried breaded Thai sausage
-Deep-fried crabmeat with minced pork
-Spicy sour sausage salad
-Spicy tuna fish salad
-Cowslip creeper flower spicy salad with shrimp
-Soy bean dip with vegetable
-Fish balls in green curry
-Stir-fried grilled pork with chili paste
-Baked glass noodle with pork
-Fried boiled egg in tamarind sauce
-Fried pork cake
-Fried filet of fish with celery
-Stir-fried bean sprouts with pork
-Stir-fried pork with basil leaves & long beans
-Deep-fried minced vegetables wrapped in bean curd pastry
-Spicy minced duck salad
-Grilled pork neck spicy salad
-Grilled duck in red curry
-Steamed crabmeat curry
-Deep-fried filet of seabass with chili sauce
-Fried mixed vegetables
-Clear soup
-Deep-fried breaded marinated chicken
-Deep-fried breaded marinated chicken
-Stir-fried pork with basil leaves & eggplant
-Stir-fried Tuna fish with chili
-Chili paste dip with yellow eggplant & omelet
-Fried rice with tamarind chili paste
-Deep-fried filet of fish with celery
-Stir-fried pork with cashew nuts
-Stir-fried spring onion with pork liver in oyster sauce
-Stir-fried long bean with squids
-Stir-fried pork with black pepper sauce
-Spicy crabmeat salad
-Spicy pork sausage salad
-Spicy squid salad with lemongrass
-Vegetable spice-dip with shrimp
-Thai noodles with curry fish sauce southern style
-Catfish in green curry
-Pork in red curry Northern style
-Baked pork with vegetables in brown sauce
-Fried pork with garlic & peppers
-Steamed mushroom curry
-Stir-fried fish fillet with celery
-Fried pork with sweet pepper
-Stir-fried vegetables with crispy pork
-Spicy-dip fried rice with salty egg
-Barbecued marinated pork on skewers
-Variety choice of salad with ham
-Thick curry with chicken
-Shang Hai noodle soup
-Deep-fried eggroll wrapped with carrots and peas
-Spicy grilled catfish salad 
-Thai noodles with chicken curry sauce
-Grilled pork in curry sauce
-Stir-fried white lettuce with shrimp balls
-Stir-fried Shanghai noodles with pork and basil
-Minced shrimps & pork in mashed taro
-Pork leg in spicy soup
-Fish & banana bud cake
-Tamarind soup with Sesbania flower
-Fried glass noodles with salty egg
-Asparagus & carrots in oyster sauce
-Deep-fried minced vegetable wrapped in bean curd pastry-Baked glass noodle with pork
-Stir-fried squash with carrot
-Sweetened lotus stem custard
-Stir-fried bean sprouts with crispy pork & soft beancurd
-Spicy lotus stem salad with shrimps & chicken
-Baked chicken with vegetable in brown sauce
-Tuna fish curry with Thai noodles
-Chicken leg in soya soup
-Stir-fried chicken with bamboo shoots in chili paste
-Stir-fried squid in chili paste
-Chicken wings in soya soup
-Traditional Thai noodles with coconut milk sauce
-Lotus stems in coconut milk with mackerel
-Mackerel in thick curry
-Chicken wings soup with pickled lime
-Three kinds of mushrooms in oyster sauce
-Stir-fried chicken with lemongrass
-Quail egg salad
-Deep-fried crabmeat & minced pork sausage
-Dried shrimp spice-dip with vegetables
-Baked shrimp with glass noodles
-Steamed squid curry
-Stir-fried Taiwanese vegetable with oyster sauce
-Papaya salad with coconut cream rice
-Spicy straw mushrooms salad
-Deep-fried breaded fish balls
-Deep-fried bean curd
-Stir-fried pork balls in curry with bamboo shoots
-Noodle soup with pork
-Deep-fried breaded fish sausage
-Spicy wing bean salad with mint leaves 
-Stir-fried macaroni with crabmeat
-Fried rice with pork
-Lotus seeds with coconut cream
-Stir-fried pork with oyster sauce
-Spicy chicken breast salad
-Thai noodles with peanut curry sauce
-Grilled pork in green curry
-Roasted chicken in red curry
-Stir-fried squids and green bean in chili paste
-Pork noodle soup
-Pork spare rib spicy soup
-Fried boiled egg in tamarind sauce
-Thai noodles/ fish curry sauce
-Steamed fish
-Spice-dip fried rice with salty egg
-Spicy squid salad
-Thick fish curry
-White bean sauce dip with vegetables
-Northern-style spice dip with mince pork & tomato
-Bitter squash salad with minced pork and shrimp
-White mushroom salad
-Ground pork & pork skin salad with peanut
-Fried spicy noodles
-Stir-fried kale with salty fish
-Chinese sausage salad
-Bussaracum spice-dip with salty egg & crispy catfish
-Stir-fried cauliflower & carrot with oyster sauce
-Pork ball green curry
-Chinese herbal leave salad with pork & shrimps
-Spicy shrimp balls salad
-Vegetable spice-dip with fried pork
-Fish ball green curry
-Fried Cha-om in tamarind soup
-Shang Hai noodle soup with pork
-Fried glass noodle with pork
-Stir-fried pork spare with chili paste
-Deep-fried sun dried pork
-Pork noodle in bitter squash soup
-Fried pork with chili
-Ginger, shrimps, pork & chicken salad
-Crab meat & minced pork sausage
-Deep-fried chicken with cumin
-Fried noodle
-Sweetened coconut in coconut milk
-Fried mackerel salad
-Fish’s maw, crispy squid and peanut salad
-Chicken green curry
-Deep-fried E-San sausage
-Pork cake brochette with lemongrass
-Spicy-dip with salty egg & crispy catfish
-Broccoli, mushroom & carrot with oyster sauce
-Crispy yellow noodle with pork in gravy sauce
-Pork noodle soup
-Tuna in brown sauce
-Stir-fried pork stuffed pepper
-Steamed chicken curry with coconut milk
-Thick curry with chicken
-Mussel salad with lemongrass
-Traditional Thai vegetable soup
-Egg noodle soup with roasted pork
-Eggroll with minced pork and green peas
-Stir-fried pork spare ribs with chili paste
-Sweetened tapioca with corn kernels & young coconut
-Mango salad with anchovies
-Minced pork & corn cake
-Stuffed squid with minced pork in green curry
-Spicy lemongrass salad
-Spicy sausage salad
-Fish balls green curry
-Three kinds of vegetable in brown sauce
-Fish’s maw, crispy squid and peanuts salad
-Crispy chicken salad with lemongrass
-Pork leg in brown sauce
-Drunken pork with coconut sprout
-Spice dip young peppercorn with omelet
-Sweet crispy noodles
-Mussel salad
-Stir-fried squid with chili paste
-Fried noodles with chicken
-Steamed crabmeat with coconut curry
-Stir-fried chicken with yellow chili & bamboo shoots
-Fried squash with egg, pork and shrimp
-Spicy cockles salad with Lemongrass
-Cockles salad
-Stuffed chicken wings in thick curry
-Omelet with pork & vegetables
-Fried rice with ham
-Fried soft bean curd
-Minced shrimp on toast
-Stir-fried lettuce with shrimp balls
-Pork skin salad with deep-fried rice balls
-Spicy mushroom salad
-Spice dip & boiled egg
-Shrimp sauce dip with vegetables
-Chicken in pandanus leaves
-Sweet & sour fish
-Stir-fried chicken & mushrooms in chili paste
-Pork masaman curry
-Minced pork stuffed chicken legs
-Rice balls
-Spicy mixed salad
-Chicken sausage & pork salad
-Fried rice with pineapple
-Stir-fried pork in green curry sauce
-Spicy minced chicken salad
-Combination mixed spicy salad
-Baked chicken with vegetables
-Shrimp-stuffed fish cakes
-Yellow chicken curry
-Stir-fried crabmeat with curry powder
-Stir-fried chicken with cashew nuts
-Fried beef with oyster sauce
-Fried pork with basil leaves
-Fried pork cake
-Stir-fried grilled pork with curry paste
-Stir-fried young kale with oyster sauce
-Finger crab salad
-Minced pork, bean curd & bean sprout wrapped in large noodle
-Spicy seafood salad
-Stuffed minced pork & condiments in tapioca balls
-Stir-fried kale in oyster sauce
-Filet of fish in green curry
-Spicy crispy chicken salad
-Fried chicken with garlic & pepper
-Stir-fried pork with chili paste & mushroom
-Sweetened taro in coconut milk
-Crabmeat & pork sausage
-Boiled egg spicy salad
-Spicy morning glory Salad with shrimps
-Tuna salad with lemongrass
-Salty fish dip with vegetables
-Stewed chicken legs
-Mushroom & fish cake
-Fried chicken salad
-Spicy Tuna fish salad
-Crispy rice with minced pork dip
-Spice dip with green mango & Thai omelet
-Stewed duck noodle soup
-Stir-fried asparagus with crispy pork
-Sticky rice
-Stir-fried chicken with soya bean sauce
-Fried fish with basil leave
-Tamarind spice dip with omelet
-Chicken in red curry with green melon
-Fried rice with crabmeat
-Stir-fried Taiwanese vegetable
-Pork noodle soup
-Cowslip creeper flower in tamarind soup with shrimps
-Deep-fried fish in tamarind sauce & fresh ginger
-Deep-fried catfish salad with lemongrass
-Fried pork with pineapple
-Chicken curry puff
-Fried chicken with lemongrass
-Stir-fried chicken with chili paste
-Fried pork with basil leaves
-Chicken fried rice
-Spicy soft bean curd
-Fried Cantonese vegetable with oyster sauce
-Deep-fried spring rolls
-Fried potato Thai style
-Pork salad with eggplant and lemongrass
-Salty egg dip with vegetables
-Stir-fried squid with basil leaves
-Fried macaroni with chicken
-Fried kale with oyster sauce
-Stir-fried squash with pork & egg
-Fried rice with crabmeat
-Stir-fried chicken with fresh ginger
-Sesbania flower salad with shrimps
-Spice dip young peppercorn with Thai omelet
-Fish balls in wonton pastry
-Spicy black mushroom salad
-Shrimps dip with vegetables
-Spicy lemongrass salad
-Stuffed crescents with mung bean fillings
-Fried chicken with condiments
-Chieng Mai sausage salad
-Grilled pork in green curry
-Masaman chicken curry
-Steamed fish curry
-Stir-fried kale with crispy pork
-Sweet and sour chicken
-Fried fish balls with chili paste
-Pork in red curry
-Fried mixed vegetables
-Stir-fried bitter squash leaves with oyster sauce
-Stir-fried fish in brawn sauce
-Stir-fried cabbage with oyster sauce
-Three kinds of mushroom salad
-Spicy Shang Hai noodle salad
-Chicken noodle soup
-Fried fish & mushroom cake
-Stuffed sweet pepper with pork in brawn sauce
-Fried fish cake
-Deep-fried bean curd
-Stir-fried chicken & long bean with chili paste
-Fried egg topping with green peas & minced pork sauce
-Squids in green curry
-Fish balls noodle soup
-minced shrimp and pork in mashed taro
-Spicy fresh ginger salad with pork, chickens & shrimps
-Gravy noodle with pork
-Gravy noodle with chicken
-Steamed fish with ginger
-Stuffed bitter squash with pork in brawn sauce
-Cauliflower & broccoli with oyster sauce
-Kale & Chinese sausage fried rice
-Stir-fried squid with basil leaves
-Papaya salad
-Stir-fried pork spare ribs with chili paste
-Fried squids with curry powder
-Stir-fried chicken with basil leaves & coconut sprout
-Egg noodle with roasted pork
-Egg noodle with pork
-Egg noodle with chicken
-Boiled egg salad
-Deep-fried taro with black bean
-Deep-fried fish with chili paste
-Fried steamed fish in chili sauce
-Shrimp paste dip with vegetables & fried fish
-Sour soup with pork, potato & basil leaves
-Stir-fried mixed vegetables
-Grilled pork with spicy dip
-Flower tempura
-Stir-fried chicken with chili
-Fried chicken in pandanus leaves
-Green salad
-Salty fish & kale fried rice
-Fried fish cake with glass noodle
-Egg custard
-Steamed fish with plum
-Stir-fried roasted duck with chili & basil leaves
-Combinations of jelly
-Crispy rice cups
-Spicy fish balls salad
-Drunken pork with bamboo shoots
-Stuffed chicken wings with pork
-Deep-fried chicken with cumin
-Green mango salad
-Spicy dip fresh chili with deep-fried pork skin
-Deep-fried catfish with chili paste
-Baked pork with honey
-Steamed fish curry with fresh bamboo shoots
-Deep-fried breaded mackerel
-Stir-fried pickled vegetable with crispy pork
-Yellow noodle soup with chicken
-Stir-fried pork with chili
-Stir-fried pork balls with chili
-Deep-fried vegetable spring rolls with condiments
-Fried eggs topping with minced pork & green pea
-Fried rice with egg
-Fried Cha-om spicy salad
-Steamed mussels curry
-Three kinds of mock ark shells
-Stir-fried tuna fish with chili sauce
-Boiled quail eggs salad
-Deep-fried breaded fish balls
-Fried mackerel Hor d’ oeuvres with lemongrass
-Stir-fried fillet with celery
-Pork curry with morning glory
-Pork skin salad with deep-fried rice balls
-Fried fish spice dip with boiled eggs
-Baked chicken legs with kale
-Fried noodle Thai style
-Stir-fried vegetables with crabmeat
-Egg bean curd with minced pork, carrot & green peas
-Chicken fried rice
-Fish spice dip with boiled egg
-Spicy sausage salad
-Spicy chopped duck salad
-Grilled pork salad with kale
-Spicy mushroom salad
-Spicy squid salad with Lemongrass
-Spicy lemongrass salad
-Spicy catfish salad with green mango
-Spicy crabmeat salad
-Glass noodle salad
-Mussels salad with lemongrass
-Spicy shrimp balls salad
-Spicy Shang Hai noodle salad
-Glass noodle salad with shrimps, pork & chicken
-Grilled pork salad with lemongrass & eggplants
-Spicy coconut sprout salad
-Spicy banana bud salad
-Crispy chicken salad with lemongrass
-Spicy wing bean salad
-Grilled pork with spice dip
-Fried fish salad
-Spicy mussels salad
-Stir-fried chicken with long bean in chili paste
-Stir-fried pork with long bean in chili paste
-Stir-fried chicken & bamboo shoots with chili
-Stir-fried chicken & long bean in chili paste
-Stir-fried squids with chili paste
-Steamed Seabass with lime sauce
-Stir-fried fish balls with yellow chili
-Stir-fried catfish with yellow chili
-Minced pork in cucumber soup
-Fish stuffed bell peppers in dry curry
-Rice pastry with minced pork
-Spicy bean sprout salad
-Vietnamese pancake
-Deep-fried wanton pastry
-Tuna fish in dried curry
-Ham dips with vegetables
-Deep-fried breaded crab finger
-Pork & chicken sausage salad
-Chicken cake
-Pan-fried chicken with lemongrass, garlic & chili
-Deep-fried pork with salty fish
-Steamed Seabass in herb soup
-Grill fish spicy dip with boiled egg
-Cowslip creeper flower salad with shrimps
-Deep-fried eggroll wrapped with carrots & peas
-Spicy minced pork salad
-Stewed pork soup
-Royal Thai sweet crispy noodle
-Spicy-dip with salty egg
-Fish balls in green curry
-Deep-fried filet of fish in tamarind sauce
-Heaven dish
-Stir-fried pork with long bean in chili paste
-Deep-fried whole banana wrapped with soft sticky rice mixed
-Chicken in thick yellow curry
-Chicken wing in brown sauce
-Fried fish cake
-Stir-fried kale with salty fish in oyster sauce
-Crabmeat fried rice
-Steamed jasmine rice
-Minced pork toast
-Crispy cup with crispy noodles
-Deep fried spring rolls
-Deep-fried catfish with garlic & pepper in chili paste
-Deep-fried minced pork with salty egg
-Asparagus, baby corn & carrot in oyster sauce
-Deep-fried taro
-Spicy seafood salad
-Finger crab in wonton pastry
-Pork in thick curry
-Spicy glass noodle salad
-Shrimp paste dip with green mango & omelet
-Green curry with chicken
-Spicy chicken soup with mushroom
-Fried egg in brown sauce with minced pork & green peas
-Fried fish cake
-Fried chicken with cashew nuts
-Deep-fried filet of Seabass with black pepper
-Vegetarian fried rice
-Thai noodle with mushroom curry sauce
-Egg noodle with mock roasted pork
-Stir-fried vegetarian glass noodle
-Pineapple fried rice
-Crispy rice with vegetarian sauce dip
Deep-fried banana bud
-Spicy white mushroom salad
-Spicy black mushroom salad
-Soy bean dip with vegetables
-Mock baked pork with kale in brown sauce
-Steamed vegetarian curry
-Stir-fried green bean with chili paste
-Stir-fried Macaroni
-Deep-fried pumpkin stick
-Spicy pomelo salad
-Soft bean curd in thick curry
-Bean curd in soy bean soup
-Stir-fried vegetable in soy bean sauce
-Spicy mushroom salad
-Bean curd yellow curry
-Stir-fried asparagus with crispy pork
-Pan-fried Seabass with lemongrass, garlic & chili
-Stir-fried chicken with fresh chili
-Filet of Seabass in green curry
-Spicy chicken soup in coconut milk
-Spicy anchovy, chicken & crispy pork salad
-Chicken with cashew nuts
-Steamed egg with tomatoes and garlic
-Squid with curry powder
-Sun dried shrimp spice-dip with vegetables
-Salad with pork sausage
-Stir-fried pork with basil leaves & eggplant
-Bean curd with minced pork
-Sea food fried rice
-Fried fish fillet in red curry
-Deep fried fish spicy salad
-Stir-fried chicken with bamboo shoots in chili paste
-Bean curd and seaweed soup
-Bake squid with glass noodle
-Stir-fried sausages with oyster sauce
-Fried rice with egg and kale
-Mango salad with crispy fish
-Stir-fried spicy sour sausage
-Vietnamese pancake soup
-Mango salad with shrimp
-Fish ball in red curry
-Spicy mango dip and crispy catfish
-Stir-fried bean curd
-Dauk kae-flower stuffed with minced shrimp and pork
-Shark fin soup
-Chicken, crispy fish & pork salad
-Crispy fried squid
-Fried fish chili curry
-Pork spare ribs in thick curry
-Stir-fried cabbage, broccoli and carrots with pork
-Mackerel Fish in dried curry

And although I stuck to the delicious fresh fruits-- including some I had never had before-- for dessert, Roland tried everything-- and liked most of it. Here are some of the desserts over the course of the month (plus ice cream):
-Pandanus flavored taro in sweetened coconut milk
-Apple Salad
-Rainbow jelly
-Chinese dumplings, filled with minced bean
-Sweetened white potato in coconut milk
-Dates in syrup
-Sweetened tapioca in coconut milk & sesame seeds
-Pandanus rice and Thai melon in sweetened coconut
-Steamed coconut pudding
-Taro custard
-Palm fruit in syrup
-Sweetened taro
-Palm fruit in syrup
-Mixed fruit compote
-Mock Fruits
-Two-tone layer cake
-Steamed tapioca cake
-Candied banana
-Coconut jelly
-Grass jelly and palm fruit in syrup with crushed ice
-Colorful Thai desserts
-Tapioca pearl in sweetened coconut and longan
-Black glutinous rice pudding with taro
-Coffee jelly
-Mock fruits jelly
-Sweetened tapioca with corn kernels & young coconut
-Sweetened water chestnut with coconut flavor
-Potato in palm sugar syrup
-Sweetened black beans in coconut milk
-Water chestnut, palmfruit & lentils in syrup
-Sweet tapioca & coconut with pandanus flavor
-Fruit juice jelly
-Sweetened tapioca
-Fruits jelly
-Sweet-mixed banana with coconut
-Sticky rice with custard topping
-Tapioca & pumpkin in coconut milk
-Black bean jelly
-Guava salad
-Fruit salad Thai style
-Coconut balls in coconut milk
-Glutinous rice fingers
-Job’s tears in sweetened coconut syrup
-Job’s tears with lotus seeds in sweetened coconut syrup
-Sweetened Ruby chestnut in coconut milk
-Sweetened pumpkin in coconut milk
-Sweet steamed pumpkin
-Sweet steamed banana
-Ruby in syrup
-Sweetened banana in coconut milk
-Jackfruit in syrup
-Green tea jelly
-Sticky rice topping with sugar & coconut
-Traditional Thai dessert with ice & syrup
-Chamomile jelly
-Watermelon jelly
-Rambutan in syrup
-Palm sugar rice balls
-Traditional Thai dessert stuffed sweet coconut
-Steamed melon cake
-Pineapple juice jelly
-Glutinous rice finger
-Mango sherbet
-Pandanus coconut jelly
-Sweetened tapioca in coconut milk
-Three colors rice balls
-Basil seeds jelly
-Black glutinous rice pudding with taro and coconut milk
-Rice balls with poached egg in coconut milk
-Taro balls in coconut milk
-Rice balls with young coconut flesh
-Mock ark shells in coconut cream
-Corn pudding
-Rice pudding with longan
-Mung beans pudding
-Sweetened hornnut in coconut milk
-Longan jelly
-Steamed butterfly pea cake
-Steamed pandanus tapioca pearl cake
-Steamed taro cake
-Sweet golden net
-Sweetened pumpkin
-Taro custard
-Sweetened taro with coconut flavor
-Sweet potato in coconut milk
-Sweetened sticky rice in bamboo
-Sweetened Durian with sticky rice
-Coconut custard
-Sweetened palm fruit with coconut flavor
-Rice balls in coconut milk
-Wild mangosteen in syrup
-Carrot custard
-Sweet soft sticky rice
-Mung bean Thai custard
-Steamed coconut milk cake
-Glutinous rice fingers in coconut cream
-Rice pudding with longan
-Mung beans cake
-Pineapple in syrup
-Custard Salee fruit
-"Five Thai Treats" in coconut milk
-Taro, potato & pumpkin in coconut milk
-Tapioca pearls in coconut cream
-Pandanus fingers & Thai melon with crushed ice
-Sweetened tapioca pearl with corn kernels
-Steamed sweetened coconut milk with water chestnut
-Steamed tapioca pearl
-Sticky rice pudding with longon
-Wood Apple (Kathorn) in syrup with crushed ice
-Mangl Mangluck Jelly

UPDATE: July, 2009

I found the new Bussarucum, way down Suhkumvit and then up Thong Lo. It wasn't hard to find at all. It's in the back of a Chinese restaurant owned by the same folks. They still have the all-you-can eat buffet lunch for about $7 and it's pretty good. I couldn't not try it again but... I'll be sticking with Rasayana here on out.

UPDATE: November, 2011

Last trip to Bangkok I pretty much ate all my meals at Rasayana, which is both delicious and healthy and has a peaceful vibe. But it's far from where I stay. Had Bussarucum been back in the old neighborhood, I can tell you for 100% I would have eaten there a few times at least. And today I got an e-mail from them telling me that they HAVE moved back to the old neighborhood. I must have eaten in this restaurant in half a dozen locations over the years. But now I can't wait to go back. The new address is 1 Sri Wiang Road (off Soi Pramuan, which is between Silom and Sathorn). It's perfect for walking from where we stay on the river. And here's the map: