Periodical Elements of Knowledge

September 4, 2014 – Day 360

Today we have an example of two nuggets of information from the Kingdom of Thailand. One I can explain, the other I had explained to me.


In the August 2014 edition of WIRED magazine (page 079 for those of you playing along at home), there is a sidebar inforgraphic entitled “The Quantified Selfie”.

This articlelette (hmmm…what is the proper name for a small article…articleito? articleish?) highlights the top five cities where people use the most tags when posting selfies on Instagram.

(Weird Aside: Take a time machine and go back to 2004 and try to explain to someone the phrase “…where people use the most tags when posting selfies on Instagram…” and see how far you get.)

Researcher Lev Manovich analyzed 3,200 selfies taken during one week in December of 2013. Bangkok is number five on the list (Moscow, Sao Paulo, New York round out spots four through two and Berlin takes the top place) and it is not overly surprising that the number one tag used by selfie-takers in the capital of Thailand is “Bangkok”. Other tags used by folks taking pictures of themselves in Bangkok include “me” (#3), “goodnight” (#5), and “thaiuprising” (#8).

What a non-Thai might find curious is what clocks in at number ten on the tag list. It is “555”. Why would a string of the same numerical digit repeated three times be so popular?

For the answer, one has to know how to count to five in Thai. For me, this is as far as my counting skills have taken me so I know that the number five in Thai is pronounced “ha”. This means that when someone writes “555”, it is pronounced “ha ha ha”, like a laugh. Therefore, when a person tags a photo with “555”, they are laughing, so I’m guessing that the picture being shared is funny.

The three fives are quicker to tap out that “LOL” or “ROTFL”, so I like it.

BTW, here’s what happens when a selfie goes wrong…

Selfie Fail

Selfie Fail

Feel free to 555 along with our photographic ineptitude.

No Place to Cut the Cheese

One of the things about living in Thailand that drives my lovely wife up the wall is the lack of cheese in markets. A correction, it is the lack of affordable cheese. There is cheese in supermarkets, but it is all imported. There appears to be no domestic makers of cheese. My lovely wife enjoys cheese as she incorporates the dairy product in all manner of her cooking output. However, if she wants to buy cheese in Bangkok, she has to take out a loan of pawn some jewelry (okay, that’s hyperbole, but the point is…cheese is expensive in the Kingdom).

So how do we satisfy our cheese tooth here in Thailand? The short answer is we import it ourselves. The longer answer is that when we go back to the United States, we go to a supermarket, buy large amounts of cheese blocks, freeze them, fly back to Thailand with the cheese in our suitcases (where the underbelly of the plane keeps the cheese frosty), and then when we arrive back in Bangkok, we place the frozen blocks in our freezer. Then we have cheddar and mozzarella to our heart’s delight until the supply runs out.

That’s all well and good, but why is there no cheese produced in Thailand? That was a question I have had for the past 300 days, but my latest copy of National Geographic may have provided me with the answer. On page 52 of the September 2014 issue, in an article entitled “The Evolution of Diet”, writer Ann Gibbons pens this…

All humans digest mother’s milk as infants, but until cattle began domesticated 10,000 years ago, weaned children no longer needed to digest milk. As a result, they stopped making the enzyme lactase, which breaks down the lactose into simple sugars. After humans began herding cattle, it became tremendously advantageous to digest milk, and lactose tolerance evolved independently among cattle herders in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

I did not know this. I was not aware that before the domestication of cattle, all humans – after weaning – were lactose intolerant. Being able to drink milk past infancy, according to Gibbons, is a trait that evolved in certain populations around the globe. So what about the patchwork of humanity that did not tame cows? Gibbons continues with…

Groups not dependent on cattle, such as the Chinese and the Thai, the Pima Indians of the American Southwest, and the Bantu of West Africa, remain lactose intolerant.

Maybe that is the answer. Perhaps the reason cheese is not produced in Thailand is because there is no domestic audience for it. If few native people in the Kingdom can eat cheese, why make it?


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