A tribute to Ying


We recently spent a week in Thailand before moving on to Hong Kong for the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists’ Annual Congress. I have to warn you that this post contains minimal woodworking, but there might be something towards the end that interests spoon carvers. However, I think that our woodwork is often inspired by a range of different things, not only the work of grand masters. It is my wish that this post will illustrate what I mean by the aforementioned statement.

It is amazing how a trip to a foreign country can inspire new ideas for the shop even without trying to find it. What struck me most was how the Thai people live close to nature and use everything it provides them with to the fullest. The best example of this is their use of the humble coconut. Literally every part of it is used and often for a number of different tasks. I will elaborate on this later.

Let’s first take a tour around the island of Koh Samui. I bought a stunning painting of the Buddha from this artist.


Yes we did have many Happy Hours during our 1 week stay.


There are so many perfect beaches it is difficult to know which one to enjoy.


These are called “long-tail boats”. I took this photo one evening without a tripod so it is not perfect, but it has a few things going for it. At the very least it captures a little bit of the long-tail’s romance, I hope.


I think it is now time to plunge into the main reason for writing this post. We attended a full day cooking class with a true artisan by the name of Ying. She first took us to the local market. We bought all we needed for the day’s cooking and was able to ask all those questions a westerner might harbour regarding some fairly challenging produce.


Such as frogs …


… and chicken feet, which are actually both on the milder end of the (weird) scale as far as my palate goes.


Here you can see how the wife is sweating like the proverbial “Gypsy with a mortgage” If you venture outside the comfort of your airconditioned hotel room in 35º celsius with > 80% humidity this is bound to happen. Now add to that a sizzling Panang curry and that Gypsy needs psychotherapy.


Ying explained how one should open up a Coconut.


We did the final bit of “shopping” in Ying’s back garden.


During the perambulations around her beautiful garden, we came across this pile of coconut shells. Ying’s father turns these into charcoal for cooking food. The soft fibrous outer layer is used in upholstery.


The best shells are turned into these beautiful small bowls, which got me thinking …


Our festive cooking stations.


Here we are preparing curry paste from scratch. With all this effort in the mentioned weather conditions, that proverbial “Gypsy” is now needing chemical restraint.


While the girls continued to pound away at the paste I was summoned to harvest coconut meat from the shells. Ying’s Dad built this delightful coconut shredding stool, for lack of a better term.


Our ingredients.


The food we cooked.


Two days after our cooking class we nipped back to Ying’s place to ask if we could buy a few of those coconut shells destined to become charcoal. Ying would have nothing of it and said we could have as many as we want. In the picture below you can see the fruits of our shell smuggling efforts back in my shop in Windhoek. I want to turn these into a set of 18 lights for our beach house. You will have to wait to see the final product. I am pretty sure my friend Jonathan White (The Bench Blog) will need anxiolytics (having heard about my intentions), given my trackrecord with electricity and how he feels about it. Jonathan, you know whom to call. Special price, only for you!!


In the meantime I made this spoon out of a shell that did not survive the journey intact. It has a Witpeer handle and seems to be a very respectable cooking utensil.


I plan to also do a slotted spoon and a soup spoon with the shells below.


In conclusion, I would like to thank Ying for her incredible hospitality and the wealth of knowledge she imparted during our day together. She also inspired several new projects that I cannot wait to get stuck into. Relax Jonathan relax!!

10 thoughts on “A tribute to Ying”

  1. Damm. You know how they say never to go to the grocery store when you are hungry? Well, they didn’t warn me about reading JE NE SAIS QUOI WOODWORKING while hungry. Man, that food looks delicious!

    I was sitting here reading the post and thinking that I need to go to Gerhard’s house for dinner. Then I read a little further and discovered that he is going to attempt to do electrical work on his own. Oh well, it was good knowing you buddy! Too bad I couldn’t get there in time…

    As I saw all the coconut shells, all I could think about was Monty Python and the Holy Grail. You know, that scene in which they are all skipping along in the country side clip-clopping the shells together to make the sound of horses? Well, of course the next image to enter my head was of Gerhard doing this around his shop. If your patients catch you doing this, business might soon dry up!

    In all seriousness though, I’m glad to hear that you had a good time.

    All the best,


    p.s. don’t cut the red wire!!!

    1. Jonathan

      You had me laughing out loud in my consultation room (all by myself) between patients. That might do more damage that running around with coconut shells in my shop. That Monty Python movie is one of my all time favourites. My kids can act out the entire script at will. They hardly ever go an hour without quoting from it or their (and my) other favourite Austin Powers.

      What you do not know yet is that you will be my advisor/supervisor for the lights project. Remember that at least I will not be able to sue you, because I will have passed on!, be no more!, ceased to be!, expired and gone to meet ‘is maker!

      ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed ‘im to the perch ‘e’d be pushing up the daisies!
      ‘Is metabolic processes are now ‘istory! ‘E’s off the twig!
      ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisibile!!

      You say red wire what … oops!!

  2. Had a good chuckle reading it too 🙂 Monty Python’s holy grail is one of our all time favourite movies. Own it in vhs and dvd 🙂
    Curious to learn how you fasten the shell to the handle, glue?

    Jonathan, he is not dead, he is just sleeping…. (Love that sketch)

    Bob, whose sister once got bite by a moose

    1. Yes Bob

      I actually shaped the area of the handle that meets the shell carefully with a curved card scraper so that it conformed to both the up and down, as well as the side to side curvature. Then I used slow-setting epoxy to fill in the very small gaps and two short self-tapping screws.

      Both Jonathan and I are keen to hear your thoughts on a question he had regarding the saw nuts on my Tyzack (my previous post).

      A moose is a relative of a horse isn’t it?
      Gerhard who does not want to be bitten by a horse.

      1. ooohh I think you may have missed my last joke My sister got bite by a moose once, was an actual line (written display liked captions in a Monty movie. Care to guess which one? 🙂

        Is a moose a relative of a horse? I don’t know but they can be bigger than horses and totally wreck your car on the highways when hitting one… Those and deers are living road hazard on many of our roads. In the Newfoundland province, where they probably have the biggest moose population, a popular joke is that a Newfie driver license is your moose hunting permit, since you are bound to hit them on the roads 🙂

        Bob, who never hit any but had quite a few close calls

        1. You’re right, I did. Also realised that Jonathan used another line about the migrating coconuts. One of my other favourites is “bla bla bla your mother was a hamster and your father smells of elderberries!! (in a ridiculous French accent). Here is a clip

          We have the same thing here, with all sorts of wildlife on the roads, very dangerous driving at night.

  3. How do they get those shells so clean? Do they sand it or what?
    And Gerhard, don’t let the (more accomodating) colour of the blue wire fool you!

    1. Frank

      I use the spindle sander my father built for the outsides and curved card scrapers for the insides. It takes a while, but well worth the effort. What you are left with is a very hardwearing dark brown shell.

      I will post photos of the other spoons once finished and hope to work on your next post today. It looks like another winner.


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