Tiltshift Thailand

Here is a really neat tiltshift video that makes Thailand look like a toyland:

Toy Thailand from joerg on Vimeo.

Pet Funerals in Buddhist Temples

Even though the current political situation has still enough serious topics to blog about, I feel that this rather refreshing tidbit is well-worthy of attention too.

Most of the cremated animals are of course dogs and cats, but even turtles, rabbits, monkey and fish (!) had the honor of receiving a funeral at Wat Klong Toey Nai in Bangkok.

An average funeral costs 1800 baht, but there are of course “deluxe options” available – and the temple is also offering free cremations for those who can not afford to pay.

The Washington Post wrote:

The monk chanted, asking Jiraporn and her family to repeat after him: “This life cycle is completed. We pray that Bai Toey be born in the next life blessed with prosperity and good health, in a better form, like one of a human.”

Thai Political Lexicon Part I (note: satire warning!)

Here are a few items in the Thai political lexicon which might confuse newcomers to the Kingdom. On the left is the Thai version rendered into English and on the right is the actual meaning:

Checks and balances: stuffing the bureaucracy so full of social conservatives who owe their positions to patronage that no meaningful political reform is possible.

Enemies of the state (© Abhisit Vejjajiva): pro-democracy demonstrators. Used to be ‘Communists’ or anyone else deemed inconvenient or disruptive.

Unity: obeying the establishment without question.

Reconciliation: see ‘Unity.’

Setting up a committee to scrutinize the legislation: we made a mistake by hastily cobbling together some populist nonsense and now we would like to forget all about it by burying it for a year.

We hope the Cambodian legal system will abide by international standards: We hope the Cambodian legal system is better than the Thai legal system.

Happy Christmas: it is you foreigners who cause all the trouble, are seeking to undermine the Thai state, are probably Communists as well.

The Patience of a Boddhisattva

Driving in to the office this morning, we were met by a stream of motor cyclists driving against the traffic over the bridge on Ratchadaphisek Road – police roadblock I surmised with characteristic acuity.

So it proved, therefore: a gang of cops was hanging around at the other end of the bridge ready to nab (for, as some allege, revenue-raising purposes in the run-up to the New Year festivities) motor cyclists illegally using the bridge. They have been there quite often, recently, making this quite a risky short cut but one which plenty of people still seem to be ready to take.

In addition to this, in the course of a single seven km journey, we had the woman walking right across the front of the car without looking anywhere but to the front, the car (a Honda Jazz) pulling out right in front of us and very nearly provoking a crash, the usual Mercedes weaving backwards and forwards through the traffic and taxis illegally waiting by the side of the road for a fare and causing tailbacks.

This is all quite common, if not normal.

How to Ride in a Taxi in Bangkok

When it is raining and in the rush hour and taxis are very scarce, coming and standing two paces in front of me after I have been waiting for twenty five minutes is going to cause an argument. Do you think I can’t see you? Do you?

Even though it might save you a few steps, try to avoid standing on the very corner of a busy soi to flag down the taxi and then in very leisurely fashion get in – by stopping there, the taxi is making a large number of other people wait and might provoke an accident. Despite the enormous effort involved, walk a few more steps away from the junction to avoid this problem.

At the end of the journey, you will be expected to pay some money. Plan ahead for this or else you might find the taxi inconveniencing other people by clogging up the traffic. The taxi driver will help you by turning on the meter so you can have a good idea how much you will have to pay at the end. It is not really necessary to wait until the taxi driver has stopped before starting to look for some money and then counting out the fare to the exact baht in 25 satang coins.

The taxi driver does not want to take eight teenage boys 200 metres down the road. Walk.

Whether getting in or getting out, hurry up.

How to Use a Lift

Here are some handy tips for Bangkokians called upon to use the lift (or elevator, if you must):

  1. The lift moves in a predictable pattern – either up or down. There is rarely any need to be surprised when the door opens and it is your turn to get on or off.
  2. If you really need to talk on the telephone in a loud or annoying voice, perhaps you could postpone your trip until you have finished your call. Alternatively, if your call is of the type ‘where are you?” I’m in the lift, where are you?” “I’m in the office, have you had lunch yet?” etc then perhaps you can cancel the call entirely or break it into two parts: first, “I’m getting into the lift now, I’ll call you when I get out” and then “I’m out of the lift now.” “Really?” “Yes, really,” etc.
  3. Watch the progress of the lift and when it arrives at your stop, be ready to walk in or out like an adult – in that way, there will be no need to play with the buttons or make people wait. In fact, there is never any need to play with the buttons. If another passenger is approaching at a snail’s pace, let the doors close on him or her – eventually that person will realise that walking at a snail’s pace comes with a penalty attached.
  4. It is neither big nor clever to make everybody else wait while you hold the door open for your friend to pop into the toilet, complete a pointless conversation or knit a scarf.

Non-Violent Police “Crackdown” on Protesters

+ + + another not-from-John post + + +

According to Thai Politico the police plans to dissolve the protesters with soft measures including:

  • cut of food, water & electricity
  • play constant loud music through giant sound systems
  • stage numerous fake raids to keep the PAD guards on constant alert
  • “psychological warfare” by going from door to door in Bangkok and telling people that they should call relatives and friends back who are protesting at the airport (according to The Nation)

Now, mind you, this comes from a Thai newspaper…

More On Thai Taxi Drivers

As most people know, many taxi drivers are from the Isaan region in the northeast of Thailand It is known as the poorest part of the Kingdom, largely because of the lack of natural resources and because the fertility of most of the land is low – there is a big salt pan which sits beneath the surface and is to blame for this.

The result is that for generations a tradition has developed which sees Isan people travel for work – most commonly coming to Bangkok. Hence, the taxi drivers.

Thai speakers can identify them immediately by their distinctive accent but there are other clues too. The first of these is a predilection for luktung (Thai country music) that is manifested by listening to the radio station that specialises in it (called Radio Luktung – the clue is in the name) or else listening to the kind of CD on which every song begins with a woman singing ‘oooooeeey’ and then going on to bemoan all the terrible things that have happened.

There are some similarities with American country music before it got all Christian and right wing, when it used to have at least an occasional element of protest about how rubbish everything was and they rather suspected it might be something to do with the bosses.

Well, Isan people do suffer from some measure of prejudice which attaches to most people who are poor or contribute to migrant labour. This is partly mitigated by the fact that nearly all Thai people are related to at least one Isan resident, because the people themselves are usually presented in a non-threatening manner and because Thais seem to have the same reverent attitude towards the farming village as the true home of the people that is called in Japanese furusato.

Of course, that does not mean that most people not fairly keen to get off the farm as soon as possible.

Thai Taxi drivers

Taxi drivers and the taxis they drive assume an important role in my life – just as they do for many Bangkok residents.

Careful planning goes into where to stand to snag a cab and, more importantly, when. Go at the wrong time -after 7:15 in the morning on Ladprao Road, for example, leads to a lengthy and frustrating delay, which is made worse by the suspicion with which it is necessary to treat other potential passengers – most people seem to have no interest in establishing and biding by any kind of queueing system.

So, a person has to keep a wary eye on taxi thieves. This is all very stressful. It is not much better when inside the taxi – there are so many different types of drivers and different degrees of dilapidation afflicting the vehicles that it is always a surprise how it all turns out – the one thing that does remain constant is the need for the patience of a Bodhisattva to manage to arrive at work in a calm and constructive mood.

My personal favourites are the old and slightly seedy guys who hang around the supermarket I occasionally stop at on the way home. They have some of the oldest and smelliest taxis around and I wonder whether they keep their cars off the road because they do not have the necessary full license. The good thing is the guys there all know where I live and can take me home without any need for conversation.

However, there have been the occasionally dodgy moments – one very old guy suddenly stopped the car just after turning into the soi when a deluge of rain fell.

He was both pale and sweating profusely. I did wonder whether he was going to die.

“Mai sabai?” I asked, testing the limits of my Thai.

“Mai sabai,” he confirmed but then rallied sufficiently to take me the rest of the way.

What if the worst had come to the worst? What is the protocol. I can’t just get out and leave him there.

Thai Culture 101: “I am Jesus”-Shirt wearing Buddhists

Thai society has been deeply affected recently by the Royal Funeral granted to HM the King’s eldest sister, Princess Galyani Vadhana (some spellings vary). This has been the first royal funeral for a number of years – the first in any case since I have been in Thailand.

Any public event involving the royal family or the monarchy as an institution will certainly draw a large amount of public interest – although it seems to me (I could be wrong) that the habit of wearing black clothes is not very deeply embedded – funeral ceremonies I have known for non-royal Thai people have usually lasted five or seven days and, for those expected to turn up more than once, there can be a problem in finding sufficient amounts of black clothes to keep going – wearing the same clothes every day in a tropical climate is not really practical and, in any case, others will notice if the same uniform is paraded on a daily basis.

Consequently, after a couple of days, in my observation, some people – kids especially – turn up wearing clothes, t-shirts really, that are not always entirely suitable as viewed from a western perspective. I remember at one such occurrence a kid of perhaps eight or nine kneeling down and chanting in proper Buddhist style while wearing a black t-shirt saying ‘I am Jesus.’

This is perhaps part of a larger phenomenon spreading across East Asia in which people wear t-shirts with slogans they probably do not understand – I have lost count of the number of respectable matrons wearing t-shirts extolling The Exploited, a short-lived punk band whose best known song (F*** ***, w******!) is commemorated on the shirt fronts concerned. My recent favourite – being worn by the woman who works on the big fruit stall towards the end of soi 62 – said, in black as well, said ‘If I’ve said something once, I probably haven’t said it often enough.’

Four Hours Commute? Mai Pen Rai

Thais are the world’s most committed commuters, at least according to a new survey by the Robert Walters Recruitment Consultancy. One third of Thais are, apparently, willing to endure a two hour journey each way to go to and from work, rather more than anyone else, even the Chinese who are noted for their diligence and ambition.

I am not sure whether this survey takes into account the amount of traffic in Bangkok, which makes a considerable difference to the amount of time it takes to go anywhere. When I was going out to Salaya, it regularly took two hours each way – daughter was attending St John’s at the time so wife would drop me off at Mo Chit station on her way to Din Daeng and I would catch the skytrain to Victory Monument and then a 515 Euro-bus (i.e. with air conditioning) took me out to Salaya. Leaving at seven in the morning, I could arrive at just after nine, which was OK. On the way home, to avoid traffic (and because the only way I could get email was to wait until everyone else went home) I would catch the return 515 around half six, get back to Mo Chit an hour later and then the final taxi would be another 30-60 minutes, depending on the weather, day of the week, incalculable factors and so forth. From my office now, it is just 7 km home but, unless I can choose the right time, it can take up to two hours to get home.

Previously, I used the time to get into book reviewing and got free books to read on the bus every day (mostly here) and it wasn’t too bad, especially since our house was being rebuilt and five people were crowded into a poky place on soi 5 which I was glad to stay away from most of the time. However, for those for whom it is not possible, it is necessary either to sleep (a common pastime) or to develop the patience of a Bodhisattva.

This weekend, once again, we are threatened by violence. Smile.

Painting Elephants

Ever seen painting elephants? In Thailand and other parts of Asia it’s becoming more and more common. And their paintings go for quiet some money – hundreds of dollars. Many starving artists would wish for that.

You can see a whole painting elephants gallery here.

Shocking Pink Millipede Is One of Top 10 New Species in the Whole Wide World

Good news on the poisonous pink millipede front as the Shocking Pink millipede (Desmoxytes purpurosea) has been named as one of the Top 10 New Species of the Year, by no less than the International Institute for Species Exploration (IISE), which is based in prestigious Arizona State University.

According to the Bangkok Post, “It rated third on the list, after the ”sleeper ray with a name that sucks, Electrolux addisoni”, and a ”75-million-year-old giant duck-billed dinosaur”.

There is not, on the whole, a great deal of wildlife to be seen in Bangkok and a shocking pink millipede adds to the spice of life – although I doubt they will last for long as apparently there is already a US$30 bounty on the head of each one (US$0.03 per pair of feet, presumably). There are the endless soi dogs, of course, and these days the rise of Bangkok’s middle class has given rise to a series of pet shops with cute names (Dee Dog, for example and Dog Idol), from which may be seen emerging sad middle-aged women with extravagant hairdos and tiny dogs wrapped in blankets or clothes or some such stuff as replacements for the children who have left home. There are the squirrels who can be seen travelling from one side of the road to the other by the power lines or telephone lines. There are a few hardy fish in the klongs (people still fish for them though, usually using small wooden fishing rods shaped like the stock of a rifle) and more rats than we really need. One thing it is very difficult to see is the Siamese cat – there is one cat down the road which looks a bit like a Siamese cat but not the kind which are so familiar in the west. Perhaps they are hiding somewhere.

It may be a sign of rapidly enveloping middle age that I have become at least vaguely interested in what kinds of birds are roosting in the balcony outside my bedroom. Not interested enough to open the curtains and look, mind, but interested enough to wonder about them.

How To Humiliate A Thai Policeman (Hello Kitty)

Thai policemen can be tough guys.

Even the police has trouble keeping it’s own policemen under control.

Acting chief of the Crime Suppression Division in Bangkok, Pongpat Chayaphan had to come up with measures that would stop police officers in Bangkok from breaking the law – small things like littering, showing up late to work or parking in the wrong spot.

He tried several things, but finally called “Hello Kitty” for help – a popular cartoon character for young girls, the face of a sweet cat.

The plan is simple: a police-officer who gets caught breaking a rule while at work has to wear these pink-colored Hello Kitty armbands. That’s not exactly what a macho-guy policeman wants to do – it’s kind of like putting an Hells Angels rocker in a pink tootoo.

“This new twist is expected to make them feel guilt and shame and prevent them from repeating the offense, no matter how minor,” Pongpat Chayaphan said. “Kitty is a cute icon for young girls. It’s not something macho police officers want covering their biceps.”

Source: New York Times

Bangkoks Weirdest Bakery

Ok, this one goes almost without words. This guy is making pastries that look like body parts and dead people.
I guess it’s some kind of baking art, maybe inspired by Body Worlds Exhibition from Gunther von Hagen.
But this Bangkok baker (near Ratchaburi) is actually taking it a step further. Instead of just being able to look at dead bodies, you can actually eat them (well, at least the pastries that look like bodies)…
Talk of a publicity stunt, hm? I guess this baker was doing good even before he pulled that off (to create this kind of bakery, you need lots of skills) – but with all the media attention he got by creating those, his business must be running high 🙂