30 January, 2010

They shall be as happy as they're fair -- Nancy Chan and Arnaud Cadilhon

Today, I had the honour of being a witness to my younger brother Arnaud's wedding with Nancy Chan.

Unusually clear and pleasant weather in Hong Kong for the winter season. A simple registration ceremony at the government office followed by Champagne in the small park outside. Arnaud and Nancy's close friends had been invited and Nancy's mother was the other witness to the wedding.

Nancy and her mother being strict vegans, we were all treated to a deliciously healthly lunch of vegetarian dim sum at Lok Cha tea room inside the Hong Kong botanical garden.
Great Chinese tea selection and elaborate selection of vegan food.

It was a great afternoon. Funny seeing my brother Arnaud with a ring at his finger; he's never worn jewelry before.

The Fairy Queen
Henry Purcell, English Baroque Soloists and John Eliot Gardiner, Archiv Produktion

29 January, 2010

Don't worry that it's not good enough

Friday of last week I was invited to a karaoke session by my forestry colleague Sverre Tvinnereim. The event was specially organized for his younger brother Erlend visiting Thailand from Europe. Erlend happens to be a professional classical tenor so we were all expecting a great evening of good raucous singing.

We went to my favourite karaoke joint in town: R&B karaoke. It has a selection of private rooms decorated in the most outrageous styles, a great sound system in all rooms, a relatively easy-to-use programme for selecting songs, a good selection of songs featuring original clips and recordings with the lead dubbed out so one gets to sing with the original band in the background, respectable cocktails and very good food.

The only room left for us on that Friday evening was called "The bed". It's a small room for two to five people but it has no seats; just a very large bed taking most of the space in the room. Nonetheless, Tina, Juejan, Sverre, Erlend and I had a great time romping and singing on the bed until past midnight.


The karaoke is usually reviled in the West. I must admit that having been trained as a classical musician, I also could not understand why people would want to plagiarize artists by singing their popular songs in public while making a fool of oneself in front of other people. But then I tried it myself.

Karaoke is big in Asia. It is a social entertainment that brings people together, whether friends, family or even work colleagues. It comes from Japan but has since spread around most of East Asia, taking different forms. In the Philippines, it's a community thing: the karaoke machine is in a big room and everybody gets to see and listen to the singer; the crowd joins in singing and dancing. In most other countries, one rents out a private room of a size that's appropriate to the group of singers. One drinks a lot while at karaoke. However, in most private-room karaoke places, one usually only gets snacks or fruits to eat. Only in Thailand have I encountered karaoke outlets where proper food is also on the menu.

At work, I am also a committee member of the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific Staff Association, or RAPSA. RAPSA organizes fun events for all the staff in the office who have paid their subscription fee. Last autumn, the committee decided we would go for a karaoke evening. So a group of us went first to try out several karaoke outlets in order to judge the venue, selection of songs, food, drink, and price. We unanimously decided R&B karaoke was the best we knew of in Bangkok. On the night of the event, 25 staff members turned up: Thai, Indian, Sri Lankan, Spanish, Norwegian, Samoan, French, Filipino, etc. We had a great time sharing the food, selecting songs for each other to sing, socializing with new staff we had not yet met, and discovering the hidden talents of some of our colleagues.

Thus in a work environment, karaoke can be a very fun tool to wind down with colleagues while also enjoying some food, drink and music. Whether one sings right is not the issue, it is primarily meant as an opportunity to get together and share good times.

Photo: © Thanomkwan R.

The Carpenters, Gold greatest hits, A&M

The show is over, say goodbye

My furniture's been packed two days ago. I actually felt sick all that day, probably from the stress of moving. When I found myself all alone in the empty appartment, my gut knot itself up, just like when one has stage fright; I'd been very happy for the past four years in that Bangkok riverside appartment.

Last Sunday the private concert I was preparing with Brittany, Ema and Jonathan went very well. Despite Brittany being very sick that evening, she performed wonderfully. We had a good audience of around 60 people and a baby, most of them my friends and colleagues who had come to say goodbye. We enjoyed the delicious food of the British Club, cocktails and wine, and the four of us entertained our guests with a programme of French Renaissance chansons all featuring some kind of food or agricultural item.

I had also organized a competition for the audience: people had to spot the items in the songs that could be eaten or drunk. At the end of the show, I compared their list with my master list so as to attribute the three prizes I had prepared. There was heated argument whether blood, ants or bees could be eaten or not. In the end, Pascal Butel got the third prize: a bottle of Bombay Saphire gin. Marie-France and Jean-Philippe Thouard won the second prize: a large chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. And France and Hugo Hörndli mustered the longest list of edible items to win the first prize: half a Spanich chorizo. We all had great fun.

Take a bow
Madonna, Bedtime stories, Warner Bros

21 January, 2010

We were young and restless, we needed to unwind

One week to go before the movers come to pack all my things.

I'm in the process of getting rid of all the food and wine I had stored and cannot ship out. But as I'm really selfish, I don't want to be giving it or selling it away without enjoying it. So I've invited my friends and colleagues for pot-luck dinners. Depending on the number of people who have confirmed they would come and their dietary requirements, everybody gets to share some item from my fridge, freezer or store room, accompanied by some fine wine from my "cellar".

Last night, Regan Suzuki accepted the pot-luck invitation - and it looked like she didn't like the entrée of canned maquerel in tomato sauce...
But she brought two of her friends with her: Bryan Hugill and Tui, two young entrepreneurs who are developing an organic farm in the East of Thailand in Sisaket Province. They wanted to discuss issues linked to marketing and ways to promote and add value to their products.

What struck me was that these two young educated professionals had decided to take over the management of the farm on the land owned by Tui's parents. They were in the process of nurturing a small agro-enterprise: Raitong organics farm.
1. They had a business plan for the year to come with forecasts of costs and sales - Tui even acknowledged she would not be able to pay herself a salary yet this year;
2. They had identified their customer base of organic restaurants in Bangkok, with a strategy to continue delivering the best produce to them while possibly expanding to supply export markets;
3. They were engaged in capacity building of their neighbours with a vision to encourage organic practices so that a whole village community could be certified as organic and benefit from higher prices;
4. They had identified and contacted the support agencies that could help them in tackling the hurdles of certification, in this case Green Net/Earthnet Foundation;
5. They were engaged in a process of further human resources development as Tui was applying for scholarships for higher education.

The lesson I learned: the young are still interested in the agricultural sector. It gives them the opportunity to put into practice their entrepreneurial drive, to fulfil a broader vision of contributing to long-term environmental and social sustainability and to take pride in the quality of their products.

It was very rewarding to see my own motivations embodied in others.

If you also believe youth still has a role in agriculture and that young people can make a valid contribution to the policy debate on food and agriculture, visit the Young Professionals' Platform for Agricultural Research for Development.

Summer of '69
Brian Adams, So far so good, A&M

15 January, 2010

Take me out tonight -- Bangkok

One evening I was having dinner with colleagues from all over the world in a small Thai restaurant in Bangkok when Angela Lentisco asked me what was my favourite restaurant in town. I replied that I had no one favourite restaurant in town. It depended on the type of food and atmosphere I wanted.

So here I'd like to compile my favourite eating places in Bangkok where there is both good food and good live music. This actually follows up on a request from Lalitha Houtman for new places in town where one can enjoy both food and live music.

Vino di Zanotti
Sala Daeng Road
Into a small lane across from Zanotti restaurant, which is on Sala Daeng Road. Italian wine bar with a live jazz band most evenings. I go there for the thin-crusted Roman style pizzas. Huge antipasti platters are also very good for large groups. I usually sit outside under the rotating fans and look at the open kitchen where the cooks flip the pizza dough in the air and tend to the oven. Introduced there on my first week in town by my colleague Tetsuji Nakata. Been my pizza joint ever since.

Sheraton Grande Living Room
Another Italian, another jazz place. I usually go there if I have a Sunday brunch appointment. Loads of antipasti; fresh pasta; drink-all-you-can detox fresh fruit juices; 10 metres of display of cakes, mousses, chocolate, pancakes, gelati if you have a sweet tooth like me. International artists playing jazz. Interesting to note that the local crowd usually goes there for the food and not so much for the music, so the seats closest to the artists are usually free. But best to book in advance. Other food styles available too.

Mango Tree
OP Garden, Soi 36, Charoen Krung Road
Thai food haute cuisine, served Western style. The menu changes every month according to products in season. Quiet trio playing bossa nova. Beautiful setting in an old house next to the French Embassy; choice of air-con seats inside or outside in the courtyard. Great for fine dining. Introduced there by my colleague Pawadee C.

Senor Pico
Rembrandt Hotel, Sukhumvit Soi 18
Thirst-quenching cocktails, big portions of Mexican food, live band playing latin music (Cuban salsa and chacha last night) every night except Mondays, even a dance floor to make justice to the music. Senor Pico had been recommended to me by Lalitha Houtman (for the music and dancing opportunity) and Michael Riggs (for the food). I went there with a Spanish colleague who wanted to dance salsa; Angela and I had a great time dancing.

Vientiane Kitchen
Sukhumvit Soi 36.
Fiery Northeastern Thai and Lao food. Enormous nipa hut setting; choice of table or straw mat sitting. There's a live show most evenings of Isaan folk music. With some numbers of traditional music and dancing.

The Brewery
Corner of Narathiwat and Rama III roads.
A completely different experience from the others. Cabaret show in the early evening followed by raucous Thai pop until late. Locally brewed German-style draught beer: lager, white or dark. A place to go to with lots of friends to let loose. International food, the Thai food is good and the deep fried pig trotters are delicious.

The one black spot in all this food and music scene in Bangkok is the vicinity of the Thailand Cultural Centre (TCC). It is the national centre for cultural activities with the biggest concert hall in town putting up operas, concerts, musicals, traditional music and theatre. But there is absolutely no decent restaurant inside or around it; don't even think of finding Champagne at the interval. There are Thai street food joints nearby. Respectable and convenient for a quick eat before the show. But definitely not your idea of fine dining before or after a great concert, as is usually possible in more enlightened cities.

There Is A Light That Never Goes Out
Steven Morrissey, Live at Earls Court, Sanctuary

13 January, 2010

Wiki wiki, stop picking on me - Wikipedia

My colleagues Andrew Shepherd and Carlos Dasilva in Rome believe in the power of the Wikipedia.
They have identified that page hits to FAO's Agro-industries and Infrastructure Division website coming from Wikipedia articles were relatively high and thus encouraged colleagues to create new wikipedia articles or modifiy existing ones by adding references and links to FAO's websites and online publications.

Visits to AGS website in January 2009 as the result of inserting pages or links into Wikipedia.
Agricultural marketing 64
Contract farming 43
Food 39
Food industry 39
Wholesale marketing 12
Corporate farming 11
Food marketing 11
Post-harvest handling 9

So I've now made my first contribution to Wikipedia by creating the French version of the article on Profesionnal association: "Interprofession", which very conveniently links to the French version of FAO's agricultural marketing group website and to our latest publication on commodity associations in developing countries, in French. Let's see if the magic will work as well from the French Wikipédia.

Lesson learned: if you want people to visit your website, write an article of encyclopedic nature on Wikipedia and reference your work and websites there.
Does it really work? I'll follow up with Andrew and Carlos in a few months to see if hits to our French website have increased.

Of course, I've been told another way of getting visitors to a website is to get other websites to create links to the targeted site. Supposedly, Google algorithms pick that up to rank their search results. Noticed the number of URLs to my Division's work on this post? ;-)

Wikipedia logo: © Wikipedia

Stupid cupid, stop picking on me
Connie Francis, The best of/ Millenium collection, Sba

12 January, 2010

One way ticket, one way ticket

I've got a one-way ticket to fly out of Bangkok on 12 February so I've now got only one more month in Bangkok.
Still need to pack, say goodbye to friends and colleagues, practice for and sing in two small performances of a vocal quartet, use up 6 days of leave, finish four publications, and write up my hand-over report for work.

That's what you get when you buy lots of beautiful stuff to decorate your home, lead a busy social life, and take all the interesting work opportunities that arise. I could have stuck strictly to my terms of reference at work and spent my time sleeping, reading or watching TV at home after work.

But instead I chose to gain as much valuable work experience as I could, travelling extensively in the Asian region. I also kept expanding my musical choral repertoire and got the extraordinary opportunity to participate in professional opera productions, while making new friends and enjoying myself along the way.

So no regrets. I'll probably be taking some unfinished work with me during the 6 days of leave I still have to take and back with me to my next destination to finish off later.
One of the things I'll miss most here: the soothing and luminous view of the Chao Phraya River from my office desk.

One way ticket
Boney M. Greatest Hits, Sony

11 January, 2010

We had a band and we tried real hard

During my four years in Bangkok, after leaving work, I was usually spending evenings singing with various groups and choirs active in town. In particular, I was a member of the choir of the Bangkok Music Society (BMS), the Bangkok Opera Foundation, Nuni Productions and a small group called In Nomine Musicae (INM).

I had lots of fun. This being Thailand, there was always food involved in the process, either on stage or backstage.

Backstage first: the chorus' changing rooms on Bangkok Opera nights is known to be full with things to eat, which members have always contributed voluntarily. There are always sandwiches and cake for the choir at BMS rehearsals and concert nights. After INM rehearsals, Sarah always invites all singers up into her appartment to sample cheese, crackers, wine and cocktails prepared by her husband Paul. There's more than just music involved when singing with these groups.

Onstage, I seem to have been connected to food in several of the opera productions I participated in. I was the drunken uncle in Madama Butterfly (BKK Opera); the whole cast was having a raucous tea party in Il Campanello (Nuni); we had Champagne and oysters for Mac's wedding in the Three-Penny Opera (also Nuni). The last two opera productions I was involved with were an orgy of food and drink. In Bangkok Opera's Thaïs, I brought the bread on stage in the monk's monastery and we had our frugal dinner on stage during the first act. Then we all turned into party revellers in the second act and had a literal orgy on stage with wine, wine and more wine. In Puccini's La Bohême (Bangkok Opera) the director Darren Royston asked me to be the Maître D' in the Café Momus scene. Have you ever tried to keep a respectable catering establishment running with chorus, principles, children's chorus, a baby, a fairy, a clown, two cancan dancers, and four dogs all romping on stage and all calling for their table to be served?
I really enjoyed that.

Now the tempo has calmed down. With three other friends from the various singing groups, we're preparing a programme of French Renaissance songs for a small private concert for friends and colleagues on 26 January. Once again, there's food not too far behind. Indeed, there's cake and tea at all afternoon rehearsals for Ema, Brittany and Jonathan. I've also constructed the programme around food an agriculture so there's mention of something you can eat or drink in all the songs. I wish bon appétit to all who will join this concert at the end of the month.

Summer of '69
Brian Adams, So far so good, A&M

07 January, 2010

I'll hide these tears I hope you'll never see

Working in an international organization, one gets to meet lots of people from around the world. My boss Andrew Shepherd in Rome usually says participants of regional workshops held in Africa are very quick to report the problems they are facing. On the other hand, he views Asians as much more reserved about pronouncing a judgment on their situation. They are masters at poker face.

This tendency makes it particularly tricky for marketing experts to understand customers and consumers in Asia because they will be reluctant to voice too much criticism or even to give any opinion at all. Peter Batt from Curtin University of Technology says he never uses a ranking scale with an odd number of ranks when working in Asia because a great majority of respondents then tick the middle rank. It is very difficult to get any trend from a data base where "average" is the most common entry.

The same poker face problem arises when trying to analyse participants' feedback surveys about a training session, workshop or conference (organizing meetings is one significant part of my work here). If the components of the event are ranked from 1 to 4 on an inverted scale with 1 being "excellent", 2 "very good", 3 "good" and 4 "fair", you seldom get responses below 3.

Rian Beise-Zee from the Asian Institute of Technology goes as far as saying that any respondent ticking 2 or "very good" is already showing dissatisfaction! Rian contends that we have to interpret in detail the variation of responses in the very narrow range of 1 and 2. I'd like to illustrate this with the participants' feedback from a large regional meeting I organized in Asia recently.

The Regional agro-industries forum for Asia and the Pacific was held in Yangling, China in November 2009. At the closing plenary, we asked participants to give oral feedback on how they had liked the meeting. The comments we received on the technical programme were excellent; there was relatively more negative oral feedback on the networking and consultation side of the event.

Now let's take a look at the results from the anonymous feedback questionnaires that participants completed before leaving the event. Without going into complicated statistical methods, the average ranking for the elements of the technical programme on the inverted scale 1 to 4 where 1 is "excellent" and 2 is "very good" are:
A - 1.677
B - 1.921
C - 1.875
D - 1.711
E - 1.938
F - 2.015
G - 1.935
H - 1.656
I - 1.825
J - 1.762
K - 1.65

By the looks of it, participants are very happy with the technical programme with all averages except one being between "excellent" and "very good". The last element K is actually the overall quality of the programme, which gets the best average. Success! Hiphip! Hurray! :-))

But if we follow Rian's advice to look more into the relative variation of responses in the narrow range of the more positive rankings, one does get a more nuanced picture. I've plotted the average of each element as a star on a horizontal scale ranging from 2 to 1.
I think it is quite clear here that the forum participants did not have such a good impression of elements E, F and G of the technical programme. So perhaps we organizers need to ponder how we could improve these components of the forum. I'm still struggling to come with a good visual representation of these results, which will allow me to report back to the participants. I'd be grateful for any feedback on this matter.

Advice telling me to cool down and to stop being paranoid also welcome.

Crying in the rain
Originally by The Everly Brothers, but I like better the version by:
A-ha, East of the sun West of the moon, Warner Bros

05 January, 2010

I'm hungry like the wolf

Have you ever felt the feeling while hard at work that you're suddenly craving for something to eat? When you're working from home, it's easy to pop into the kitchen and dig something out of the fridge. But many of us working in large organizations will probably stay hungry and stuck on their chair till the next break or we will have to go off towards the cafetaria, snack machine or onto the street to the nearest grocery store or café.

Not so at FAO's Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific!

It's incredible how Thais seem to be snacking or eating mini portions of cooked dishes at any time of the day or night. Most of my Thai colleagues have something on their desk to snack on and share with others. Many bring a lunch box to eat breakfast or lunch in the office. Many also buy their dinner during the day and carry it home as take-away to heat up; if you're hungry, you can always eat the content of the doggy bag and buy another meal on the street before you leave for home in the evening. A standard greeting in Thai (as in most of Asia) translates as "have you eaten yet?" Great distress is shown if your reply is negative...

So very fittingly for an office of the Food and Agriculture Organization, there is food to share somewhere on each one of the five floors of the building.

On my storey (4th floor), I'm extremely lucky to have as one of my office neighbours Mrs Tig A. who bakes a cake if not two every week. If there's no home-baked cake, there's fruit or some other pastry she bought from a trusted supplier on her desk and I'm invited to help myself virtually each time I pass in front of her. It's great! I share my own recipes with her. We're currently discussing the pros and cons of chocolate mousse as a topping for cupcakes as she was inspired by my Christmas log cake last month, which I covered up with dark chocolate mousse.

On the second floor, there is a pantry with biscuits, tea, coffee and hot water. However, these are to be served for official gatherings in the meeting room 207. Anyway, there's much more appetizing food just below so I doubt anybody ever thought of picking any food there.

The real treasure trove is to be found on the 1st or ground floor. The store unit has a platter of fruits on display all the time; Registry likewise; the big finance unit office also has fruits to share; Personnel has a platter of something to eat at the front of the office, just in front of Mrs Toh V. but they also have a kettle, microwave oven and things to put into both hidden behind the corner and the desk of Mrs Arunee P.

The best for last: Cashier's office. One gets one's cheques and cash there but that is not why I'm blogging about it. Cashier is the place people congregate into to have a chat among themselves (indeed, not necessarily with the two charming cashiers Mrs Kasarin S. or Ms Orathai V.). The first thing one finds when entering Cashier is a desk and a chair. The desk is full of food for anyone to pick. There's also a Nespresso coffee machine!

Some days Orathai will bring her bread machine and one finds freshly baked bread at Cashier.

I think it's much friendlier than any dull room with a coin coffee-and-tea machine like those we usually find in European office buildings.

I sincerely believe the sharing of food among us creates bonds and friendships that go beyond the work relationship and help strengthen the work community. There's always a place to find food and company in our Office.

By the way, we also have a canteen serving food from 7.00 to 16.00. I eat breakfast there every morning; but I always stop by Cashier right afterwards.

Hungry like the wolf
Duran Duran, EMI UK

03 January, 2010

... Sing on sing on

I've started a blog!
In October 2008 I followed a course organized by FAO on knowledge sharing organized by Gauri Salokhe at FAO and with Nancy White as lead facilitator. That is where I found out that there were people out there who were genuinely interested in what I had to share about the food I prepare and eat, the music I do and listen to, and the stories I tell about my work and life. Throughout the course, at the end, and later on, Gauri kept encouraging me to start a blog. Done.

I've never been a fan of photos or phone calls. I prefer observing people, chatting with them in person or reading what they have to say. Then writing and crafting a story that interprets what I have observed and read. Perhaps the blog is the medium for me.

In this blog, I wish to tell stories about:
1) people who enjoy their working life with some connection to food, agriculture, fisheries, rural development, etc.;
2) people who take the time lovingly to prepare and share their food and drink with others;
3) people who share their love of music making and listening - this is another part of my life from which I get lots of satisfaction and new friends;
4) generally speaking, people who live to eat and enjoy life as it comes.

If music be the food of love... The title of my blog captures the main subject matters I will be musing about.

The title of all my posts will refer to lyrics of a song I like. My readers will get an idea of my musical tastes. At the bottom of each post, the reader will find some references to trace the song.

This blog is dedicated to my father Yves Cadilhon. He loves to eat. He's always held a particular affection for rural folk and those connected to them. He's always trying to tell us a story or sing us a song - we encourage the former but discourage the latter.

If music be the food of love.
Henry Purcell. Alfred Deller. Vanguard Classics