May 112017

Chang and Eng, famous conjoined twins, were born on this date in 1811.  Because they were born in the kingdom of Siam (later Thailand) they were known in the West as the “Siamese twins,” and that name, for many decades, was given to their condition in general. Obviously, though, being conjoined is not unique to SE Asians, so the term “Siamese” has been dropped to avoid ethnocentrism. Chang and Eng were born in the province of Samutsongkram, near Bangkok, in the old kingdom of Siam, so it is historically correct to call them Siamese and not Thai. Their father was Chinese, and their mother was half-Chinese and half-Malay. Because of their Chinese heritage, they were known locally as the “Chinese Twins.” They were joined in a way which nowadays would make it routine to separate them soon after birth. They had separate circulatory systems as well as independent organs, with the slight exception of their livers which were functionally separate but biologically fused.

In 1829, Robert Hunter, a Scottish merchant who lived in Bangkok, saw the twins swimming and realized their potential. He paid their parents to permit him to exhibit their sons as a curiosity on a world tour. When their contract with Hunter was over, Chang and Eng went into business for themselves. In 1839, while visiting Wilkesboro, North Carolina, the brothers were attracted to the area and bought a 110-acre (0.45 km2) farm in nearby Traphill.

Determined to live as normal a life they could, Chang and Eng settled on their small plantation and bought slaves to do the work they could not do themselves. They became naturalized U.S. citizens, adopting the name “Bunker,” and married local women on April 13th 1843. Chang married Adelaide Yates (1823-1917), while Eng married her sister, Sarah Anne (1822-1892). The couples shared a bed built for four in their Traphill home. Chang and Adelaide had twelve children, and Eng and Sarah had ten. After a number of years, the sisters began to get into disputes with one another, so separate households were set up west of Mount Airy, North Carolina in the town of White Plains. The brothers alternately spent three days at each home.

During the American Civil War, Chang’s son Christopher and Eng’s son Stephen both served in the Confederate army. The twins lost most of their money with the defeat of the Confederacy and became very bitter. They returned to public exhibitions, but this time they had little success.

In 1870, Chang suffered a stroke and his health declined over the next four years. He also began drinking heavily (Chang’s drinking did not affect Eng as they did not share a circulatory system). Despite his brother’s ailing condition, Eng remained in good health. Shortly before his death, Chang was injured after falling from a carriage. He then developed a severe case of bronchitis. On January 17, 1874, Chang died while the brothers were asleep. Eng awoke to find his brother dead and cried, “Then I am going”. A doctor was summoned to perform an emergency separation, but he was too late. Eng died approximately three hours later. At the time of Eng’s death doctors attributed it to shock induced by the fear of impending death. But modern specialists discount this claim, and cannot determine his cause of death at this point.

Thai cuisine is becoming increasingly well known in the West because of a dramatic increase in the number of restaurants in the past 20 years.  They do all tend to serve much the same dishes, however, which is fine, but a bit limiting. Go to Thailand and you will find much more variety, and a greater diversity of ingredients. This website gives a fairly good sense of the greater diversity and authenticity within Thailand and historically:  One recipe from the site that comes from a 19th century cookbook is for tom kha bpet. You’ll find tom kha on menus in Thai restaurants in the West, but now it is a chicken and coconut soup.  Originally tom kha bpet was sliced duck or chicken which was poached, whole or jointed,  in coconut milk with galangal, and served with a spicy chile-garlic sauce. Here I will give you the sauce recipe only. It should not tax your cooking skills too much to figure out how to poach a chicken in coconut milk and galangal. You can find galangal at Asian markets in the West, but make sure you use young galangal.

For the sauce you need coriander roots, Thai garlic, Thai chiles, and Thai shallots. Good luck finding them in the West. I could find them sometimes in ethnic markets in Yunnan, but I’ve never seen them in the West. You want the long Thai chiles, not the tiny devil-hot ones.

Thai Charred Chile-Garlic Sauce


15 dried long Thai chiles
10 Thai shallots, unpeeled
45 gm Thai garlic, peeled
1 tbsp fermented shrimp paste
12 gm coriander root
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp Thai fish sauce
6 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp palm sugar


Over a hot grill, preferably using wood charcoal, lightly char the chiles, shallots, garlic and shrimp paste.  Keep an eagle eye on the ingredients, turning them often to avoid burning.

Peel the shallots, and either in a mortar and pestle (preferable), or in a food processor, grind all the charred ingredients together to make  a paste.

Add the fish sauce, lime juice, and palm sugar and stir to mix everything thoroughly.

Serve as a dipping sauce for sliced chicken or duck.

Jul 292015


International Tiger Day, also known as Global Tiger Day, is an annual celebration to raise awareness for tiger conservation, held annually on 29 July. It was created in 2010 at the Saint Petersburg Tiger Summit. The goal of the day is to promote a global system for protecting the natural habitats of tigers and to raise public awareness and support for tiger conservation issues. For more information go to:


The tiger (Panthera tigris) is the largest cat species, reaching a total body length of up to 3.38 m (11.1 ft) and can weigh up to 388.7 kg (857 lb) in the wild. Its most recognizable feature is a pattern of dark vertical stripes on reddish-orange fur with a lighter underside. The species is classified in the genus Panthera with the lion, leopard, jaguar and snow leopard. Tigers are apex predators (top of the food chain), primarily preying on ungulates such as deer and bovids. They are territorial and generally solitary but social animals, meaning that they are usually solitary but have some social traits. Adult males are usually fiercely territorial but on occasion will allow other males to enter their territory provided they are submissive. Females often have somewhat overlapping territories. Tigers require large contiguous areas of habitat that support their prey needs. This, coupled with the fact that they are indigenous to some of the more densely populated places on Earth, has caused significant conflicts with humans.


Tigers once ranged widely across Asia, from Turkey in the west to the eastern coast of Russia. Over the past 100 years, they have lost 93% of their historic range, and have been eliminated from southwest and central Asia, from the islands of Java and Bali, and from large areas of Southeast and Eastern Asia. Today, they range from the Siberian taiga to open grasslands and tropical mangrove swamps. The remaining six tiger subspecies have been classified as endangered by IUCN. The global population in the wild is estimated to number between 3,062 and 3,948 individuals, down from around 100,000 at the start of the 20th century, with most remaining populations occurring in small pockets isolated from each other, of which about 2,000 exist on the Indian subcontinent. Major reasons for population decline include habitat destruction, habitat fragmentation, and poaching. The extent of area occupied by tigers is estimated at less than 1,184,911 km2 (457,497 sq mi), a 41% decline from the area estimated in the mid-1990s.


Tigers are among the most recognizable and popular of the world’s megafauna. They have featured prominently in ancient legends and folklore, and continue to be depicted in modern films, advertizing, and literature. They appear on many flags, coats of arms, and as mascots for sporting teams. The tiger is the national animal of Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Malaysia and South Korea.

tiger4  tiger3

Of great importance in Chinese culture, the Tiger is one of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals. Also in various Chinese art and martial art, the tiger is depicted as an earth symbol and equal rival of the Chinese dragon – the two representing matter and spirit respectively. The White Tiger (Chinese: 白虎; pinyin: Bái Hǔ) is one of the Four Symbols of the Chinese constellations. It is sometimes called the White Tiger of the West (西方白虎), and it represents the west and the autumn season.

The tiger replaces the lion as king of the beasts in cultures of eastern Asia, representing royalty, fearlessness and wrath. In Chinese children stories, it is often said that the stripes on a tiger’s forehead represent the character 王 (“king”).


Some Asian cultures that celebrated tiger worship in the past still practice forms of it. In the suburbs of Kunming, where I live in China, there is a tourist attraction where the tiger worship of the Yi minority is displayed for tourists. This takes place in Solar Calendar Square (complete with a growling tiger statue, five meters high). In Chuxiong there is a similar attraction. A tiger totem ritual is presented for tourists; the ritual portrays the Yi belief that the tiger set the entire world in motion. A tiger dance is also performed at such places explaining the history of the Yi and their worship of tigers.

Along with these tourist attractions that display historical practices of the Yi, there is also archeological evidence for tiger worship in Yunnan. Tigers were found depicted on small stones. These stones were pierced and worn as amulets, suggesting that the tiger had a certain power of protection for its wearer. The Queen Mother deity of the west, Hsi Wang Mu, sometimes possessed the tail of a tiger in her depictions and, like the tiger, was associated with the mountains . The tiger was also a deity for both the Tungus and the Black Pottery people.

In many parts of Vietnam, the tiger is a revered creature. Some villages have a tiger temple. Tigers are admired for their great strength, ferocity and grace. The tiger is also considered a guardian deity. Tiger statutes are usually seen at the entrance of temples and palaces, keeping evil spirits from entering those places.


The tiger is associated with the Hindu deities Shiva and Durga. In Pokhara, Nepal the tiger festival is known as Bagh Jatra. Celebrants dance disguised as tigers and are “hunted”. The Warli of Maharashtra in India worship Waghia the lord of tigers in the form of a shapeless stone.

The slang for “so-so” in Kunming dialect is 马马虎虎 (horse horse tiger tiger). Don’t ask me why.


For a recipe I have chosen a Thai dish of sliced barbecued steak with a hot dipping sauce known as Crying Tiger. I’ve had it several times in Kunming cooked by Dai chefs. It’s easy enough to make as long as you follow the recipe for the dipping sauce precisely. You might find powdered roast rice difficult to find, but it’s easy to make. Scatter raw rice grains in a dryheavy skillet and toast them over medium heat, stirring constantly, until they take on color. Then grind them to a powder in a food processor or blender. Here’s an authentic recipe.

You can serve the steak hot with rice, or cold over salad greens with a little of the sauce on the greens.