After a relatively quiet birthday celebration, followed by a weekend of mostly silence, on Monday morning at 9.39 (exactly?) the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) will make another final push to take down the reigning Thai government. See protest map here.
Bangkok Post: Mr Suthep declared on Friday night that demonstrators would “blow the final whistle” on Monday to seize power from the Yingluck administration.
The former Democrat MP said he would not prolong the protest any longer and that Monday’s outcome would make clear whether the demonstrators “win or lose”.
As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t have a horse in this race (how could I). But, I do have an interest in what keeps driving the Thai people from both sides of the political divide to repeatedly take to the streets to maim, burn, and kill their own countrymen and women.
Christopher: What is driving the political turmoil, in my view, is a breakdown of this ancient kreng jai system that has until now been the bedrock of the political establishment. The patronage system, the pee/nong—older and younger person system and the automatic deference to rank, uniform and position were built from the stone and cement of kreng jai. Even voting has been fenced in by the unwritten rules of deference.
It’s an interesting view (and one I feel has merit).
I found the concept of Kreng Jai (and sometimes Greng Jai) difficult to wrap my head around so spent weeks researching the subject. The results of that exercise can be read at Thai Culture: Understanding Kreng Jai.
That post is chockfull of useful Kreng Jai phrases but the one I say most often is ไม่ต้องเกรงใจ /mâi dtông kreng jai/, which means “no need to kreng jai (me)”. Try it. It saves time and aggro.
Thai Protests 2013-2014: Who to Follow on Twitter…
Yes, the Thai protests are STILL going on. I was hoping they’d be over by now, but oh no. Seriously? I hope this protest is finished before I complete writing this post! Anyway… similar to Staying Safe in Thailand: Streetwise Advice + Twitter, I wanted to share a bunch of twitter people for you to follow in this latest Thai kerfluffle.
If you only have time for one twitter account it’d have to be Richard Barrow’s.
Need a break from Thai politics? Here a toilet, everywhere a toilet…
The internet is going crazy over protests in Bangkok this week (condolences to Nick Nostitz). But as I’m in Chiang mai and far removed from the action, I thought I’d write about something way different: Squat toilets and bum guns.
Japan was where I first experienced squat toilets, along with a more relaxed attitude towards potty privacy and getting naked. When I was around five years old I witnessed a pantless toddler pooping on the side of the road, right where everyone could see.
My parents were strict on potty training especially so I found the revelation both unexpected and enlightening. The memory stayed all these years, I guess mostly because pooing where I come from is produced behind closed doors.
Now that I’m all grown up (heh) my interest in toilet culture has evolved to taking quick snaps (yeah for the iPhone): Borneo’s squat toilets (where I’ve been tempted to keep the door open to stop from gagging), Italy’s spring-loaded seats (designed to keep the lids up – clearly a man’s world), ancient toilets carved out of wood, squat toilets on trains even, and loads of toilets in between.
Squat toilets and bum guns…
Using squat toilets as a kid is easy because you are close to the ground. But, when you learn (or relearn in my case) to squat as an adult, balancing skills need plenty of practice.
After a long hiatus from squatting I moved to Borneo where squat toilets abounded. To keep my balance, in the beginning I’d lean my head against the wall (if it’d reach), but soon I was pooing like a pro.
And while I’ve always appreciated that squat toilets are good exercise for the legs especially, I never took to the bum gun.
The closet I’ve come to using the gun was on a trip to Cambodia. After touring Siem Reap’s ancient monuments in the baking heat for hours, I was desperate for relief. And there it was. Dangling next to me. The bum gun. Tempting (almost). But there are potty rules against that too.
Guys can be uber religious about their dedication to using the bum gun. Try it sometimes. Mention a preference for toilet paper and even the most well-mannered expat male who’s enamoured with the gun will growl (whereas women tend to keep quiet about the subject).
I’ve always protested that while Thailand’s water purification is supposedly fine, the security of the pipes leading water to my tender parts was in doubt. I mean, we all know what kind of sludge flows along the klongs and drains of Thailand. Right? Just the thought of the stink getting near my bits … yuk.
Thailand Guru: While it has been reported that tap water exceeds world standards for drinking water in many parts of the city, and the Metropolitan Water Works Authority has made a strong effort to exceed World Health Organization standards by 1999, in some places the water that comes out of the tap is still questionable, usually as regards the pipe network that carries the water to some old places.
But in writing this post I had to face facts. It couldn’t possibly be the water I objected to, because to cool off I throw water sans disinfectant soap on my face. And that’s not all. I also wash fruit and veg in water straight from the tap. Oh dear.
So I’ve now decided that my prejudice comes down to a few key facts:
ONE: Using a high powered gun on my bum while teetering on a slippery porcelain squat toilet with my back to a door (that may or may not be lockable) would clench my bum so tight a decent poo would be almost impossible unless I had help from tainted food.
TWO: I rarely (ever) use a public toilet for number two so it’s not going to happen anyway (except for the previously mentioned assistance).
Ok, that doesn’t stop me from using bum guns at home but it doesn’t happen here either, so I’ll add a number THREE: I’m not coordinated enough to use a bum gun without drenching myself along with the floors and walls and anything else within reach. So there you go.
But… the real reason for this post is this bit of news:
Coconuts Bangkok: In recognition of the proud tradition that was yesterday’s “World Toilet Day,” Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health did its duty by dumping data from its research of public toilets in Thailand, which concludes the highest concentration of fecal matter can be found on the ole’ bum gun. Ewwww.
I don’t know how reliable the Ministry of Public Health’s research is but after reading about fecal matter as well as this Reddit post about bum guns, I’m even more convinced to stick with YAAY for squat toilets and EWWW EWWW EWWW for bum guns.
If you’ve never experienced Loy Krathong, it’s a must. As far as Thai festivals go Loy Krathong is right up there with Songkran. And if you do it right you’ll have loads of fun. But, right or wrong, you’ll also have to deal with hordes of people. Yeah. And that means traffic.
For Loy Krathong this year I’m in Chiang mai, which is known to get crazy (people and traffic-wise). When chatting with Mia from Learn2SpeakThai she advised:
If you go to the war zone for Loy Krathong festival, be safe!!
I never found out what “be safe!!” meant because I decided to pare down the holiday to a quiet float in a backyard pond instead. No matter. I’ll be in Chiang mai for the dual Yee Ping and Loi Krathong Festivals next year. This year has been too busy, too frantic, too, too… you know.
After reading the Bangkok Post article, Loy Krathong round-up, I dropped by Tescos for a new style of Krathong. One made of bread.
Krathong Creations Then: A krathong is made of a slice of banana trunk decorated with folded banana leaves and fowers. Joss sticks and candles are put in the centre. Men get to show of their manliness by chopping down banana trees.
Krathong Creations Now: We float pre-made krathongs of various materials, tangible and intangible. There are virtual versions on websites and smartphone applications you can float guilt-free.
People release bread krathongs in the hope that fish will eat them. This is two birds with one krathong – paying respect to Phra Mae Khongka and feeding fish for extra merit. If you’re afraid that a fish may get a piece of bread stuck in its throat, there are krathongs made of waffle cones that are probably easier for them to eat.
Even after not being fed for four days, the fish were curious about the bread Krathong but weren’t biting.
Not wanting to make a mess of the pond, I pulled the Krathong back out. Does that still count as paying respect?
Wow… that’s a hard question. I would say yes. IMO, it doesn’t matter how long you leave the krathong floating in the river. It’s more the prayer (the appreciation and apology to the river) and your intention to pay respect (expressed by floating the boat onto the river, or in your case, the fishpond) that matter :)
I tried looking for an article about bread floats for you because I don’t know much about it myself. Unfortunately, it turned to be the worst type of krathong possible in terms of damaging the environment. That was a total surprise. I would’ve thought it was one of the best materials to make a krathong out of. You can read about it here: กระทงขนมปัง เหมาะสมจะนำมาใช้ลอย จริงหรือครับ.
Thanks Yuki! I needed to know about damaging the environment for next year. This year I was only floating the Krathong in a fishpond, but if I hadn’t pulled mine out, there would have been a mushy mess to clean up. A big “Oooops” about the prayer and apologies bit though. Brb…
My appreciation for helping out with this post goes to Thai Skype Teachers Yuki (PickUp Thai) and Mia (Learn2SpeakThai). Happy Loy Krathong!
There’s a new Amazing Thailand ad making the rounds of Facebook and twitter that actually lives up to its name. Even jaded, longtime expats are raving about the fast paced overview of the Thai experience. It certainly rekindled my excitement for living here.
The video looked like a total BLAST to put together so I contacted Daniel for a few words:
Daniel B Fraser: The commercial was a wild, whirlwind trip through amazing corners and experiences that make Thailand special. From midnight spontaneous filming in Chinatown in the rain, to a series of transport shots over a single day and self-shot scenes in a Bangkok taxi, it was truly an experience of a lifetime.
The concept was based somewhat on my weekly TV show on Thai PBS, and I was lucky to have almost total freedom on how each scene would be shot. No fixed script, just real experiences.
In northern Thailand we were shooting at 6am in early September – which is truly one of the best places – and best times – to be anywhere in the world. While the rice paddy shots look quiet and serene, to be fair we had a crew of 30 people plus 10 guests and clients from the studio and TAT, so in fact we were a massive crew. In a single day we re-created Phi Tha Khon Festival on location in Loei, as well as went white-water rafting (yes that’s actually me), and a dozen temples and forest paths in Chiang Mai. Most days were 18+ hours due to my own tight schedule and other filming obligations with Thai PBS. The crew were amazingly accommodating and I can’t thank them enough.
In the far south we had truly military-like precision logistics. Support boats, early morning access to quiet corners in national parks, and the team and director were truly brilliant at being in the right place at the right time. There is nothing fake here – there was no script – and almost everything was a single take in order to come across raw and natural. The final scene running across the beach is the exception, we did that over 25 times (nearly killed me) as the sand was so deep and dry it was near impossible to run properly:)
All up, the people I met, the crew, the locations, the planning and the fast-track into amazing Thai experiences, it all truly made for a lifetime adventure in a country that I feel only gets better!
There are some fun behind-the-scenes shots from my facebook pages back to Jan 22-24 that you can find: FB: Daniel B Frazer
Daniel, thanks for taking time out of your busy day to reply (I know you are back-to-back busy). Except for having to run back and forth across the beach, sounds like you did indeed have a fabulous time putting together this dynamic ad! I’ve given up on jumping out of planes but now I just might go for a bit of white-water rafting… we’ll see.
Hey, hey, it’s Christmas! This being December and all, and discovering free time before hauling my be-hinie off to other lands, I spent a day waggling my camera at the ten Bangkok temples listed in Joe Cummings and Dan White’sBuddhist Temples of Thailand.
Buddhist Temples of Thailand: A Visual Journey Through Thailand’s 40 Most Historic Wats – the first illustrated title to cover the key temples in all of the kingdom’s regions – explores the Buddhist temple’s historical position in Thai culture and the dynamic role it continues to play in everyday life. Thailand’s best-known sites and rare gems, such as Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok and Wat Phumin in Nan, are brought to life through expert text and more than 200 commissioned photographs.
There isn’t a record for hitting the most Thai temples in one day, is there? There should be, because I’m writing this the day after and I’m STILL shagged out.
It turned out to be quite a day. Even though I’ve managed to see quite a few temples during the time I’ve lived in Bangkok, some were new to me (and there were a few I mistakenly thought I’d seen before, but hadn’t). Wat Benchamabophit (the Marble Temple) and Wat Saket I intend to see again. Only much slower, next time.
What I learned from the experience:
All of the Bangkok maps I have at my disposal (including Google Maps) are wrong.
Ten Bangkok temples in one day are one too many (you only get credit for nine).
Warning. The locations are not exact. When I presented the map to my taxi driver he laughed and asked for the names of the temples instead. He was right. I still don’t know where Wat Dusitaram is exactly (the blue pin is only a sort of location).
I’m not a fan of the Gangnam Style craze that’s been hitting the internet lately. I enjoy Hip Hop but Gangnam is way over annoying. Just like Rap, it makes me want to bop someone.
At the end of September Gangnam Style hit the local Thai news with ‘Gangnam Style’ dance comp leads to teen violence [typically, the BKK Post has taken this article offline. Grrrr]. And then it went global: ‘Gangnam Style’ Dance-Off Ends in Shoot-Out. Sure. I can see how that could happen. Gangnam Style gets me riled up too.
Then yesterday, right when I was struggling to wake up, the Bangkok Post came out with another Gangnam Style article:
Bangkok Post: Navy ‘Gangnam Style’ makes choppy waves: A senior naval officer has apologised to some of his colleagues and superiors who were unhappy with the “Gangnam Style” video he helped produce.
Not being a Gangnam fan, I normally wouldn’t bother watching a Gangnam video but the mention of a powerful public figure having to apologise for what is basically a Thai trait (having fun), got my attention. And so I did.
I don’t know about you but I thought the video was GREAT! Ok. I’ll admit that I had to turn the sound off partway through, but I felt that the presentation was well done, and fun to watch.
Another thought that came to me was that Thailand worries way too much about criticism coming their way. Remember the Bare Breasted Ladies of Songkran? Same same?
It being morning and having things to do, I wandered off. But then this article came across my twitter, dragging me back:
Forced to apologize? That kind of got my expat goat. I mean, by apologising, isn’t Vice Admiral Tharathorn Kajitsuwan coming across as a wimp? Wouldn’t a public apology be a huge loss of face for both him and his men?
Then I thought of เกรงใจ /kreng jai/. It’s a Thai thing. Some bigwigs started grumbling about the disrespect shown to the Thai Navel uniform, making their displeasure known up and down the chain of command, and so the admiral felt compelled to kowtow.
Wanting a Thai take on the situation, I contacted Kaewmala of Thai Women Talks. Kaewmala agreed on the kreng jai angle but went further:
Kaewmala: You can say that but it’s more nuanced. It’s authority, hierarchy (respect for elders), face, etc.
Apology is the only choice available given high-level displeasure. However, I don’t see it as weak. He said “Everybody [in the video] was willing to dance and looked very happy. But if anyone feels discontented or sees it as inappropriate, I apologise.” Culturally appropriate to apologize but he wasn’t groveling.
IMO some people just place more importance on authority, dignity and sanctity of traditions (in this case represented by the uniform). Others give less importance to authority, tradition and the sacredness thereof, and more to liberty & freedom. These views always clash.
Kaewmala also pointed out that in a classy, not a knee-jerk way, the admiral was basically saying that yes, he was apologising IF anyone was offended. But if they were offended, then they obviously have a stick up their batooties. Something like that (I’m paraphrasing here).
Good. Then that’s sorted. Thanks Kaewmala!
Yes. Thais DO sing and Dance!…
One of my objections to the forced apology for the Navel video was because, in my opinion, singing and dancing were not going against the Thai grain. Thais love to have fun. It’s in everything they do. And do correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe it’s a Thainess sort of thing.
For years we’ve been treated with YouTube videos of Thai men and women singing and dancing in uniform. But until the Gangnam Style episode, I hadn’t thought to count the grumblers. So, just how many are there against having fun? Below are a few videos (some quite well-known, others not so much). Check out the YouTube ratings for each one.
As a tourist to Thailand I enjoyed experiencing a country so very different from where I was living at the time, Brunei Darussalam. Being able to buy booze without leaving the country was also an attraction.
But when I finally moved to Thailand I switched from a carefree tourist mindset to expat mode. The country around me, previously a kaleidoscope of sounds, smells, and clashing colours, started to come into focus.
Along with the focus came questions. Like, why do Thai taxis have those dangly bits hanging from their mirrors? And why do beggars crawl face first along the sidewalk? And why are Thai police uniforms so darn tight?
When I asked other expats their answer was always the illuminating (not) “I dunno”. Being me, I needed more, so I started my own search into the why’s of Thailand. Hit and miss, the answers to a few Thai quirks are discussed in posts on WLT.
You really can’t miss it as the presentation is well placed.
It’s a small exhibition with larger than life-sized photos from Very Thai.
I wasn’t the only one curious, a stream of viewers kept popping in front of my camera.
Many found it easy to walk along the exhibition slowly, savoring the eyecandy as they went.
This photo was my favourite eyecandy of all.
While there it came to me that the photos from the exhibition would be the perfect backdrop for smartphone snappers in Thailand. Because, except for in grocery stores (where it’s off-limits to take photos of veggies) you’ll find people posing in front of just about anything. And I still don’t know why that is.
To get all the lastest news about Very Bangkok and Very Thai, follow Philip on Facebook at VeryThaiBook or on twitter @verybangkok, or bookmark his website: Very Thai.
Sidenote: the editor of Very Thai is Alex Kerr. You might remember the review I wrote of Alex’s excellent Bangkok Found awhile back. And seriously, if you want to know more about Thailand, you couldn’t go wrong with both Very Thai and Bangkok Found on your bookshelf.
Beautiful temples are dotted all around Thailand. As a fan of Khmer style temples especially, it’s been my aim to visit each and every one (and I’m counting on Joe’s book to show the way).
During a baking hot trip to Buriram, the ancient Khmer temple at Phimai Historical Park was a must-see.
Pssst: No, I don’t know the gal in the photo. I needed a photo of the sign to jog my memory. She didn’t move fast enough.
wikipedia: The Phimai historical park (Thai: ปราสาทหินพิมาย) protects one of the most important Khmer temples of Thailand. It is located in the town of Phimai, Nakhon Ratchasima province.
The temple marks one end of the Ancient Khmer Highway from Angkor. As the enclosed area of 1020x580m is comparable with that of Angkor Wat, Phimai must have been an important city in the Khmer empire. Most buildings are from the late 11th to the late 12th century, built in the Baphuon, Bayon and Angkor Wat style.
After admiring the main part of the temple area I veered off to a quiet part of the grounds. That’s where I discovered a wall decorated with modern graffiti.
But graffiti isn’t new to me, even on ancient monuments (Pompeii comes to mind). It was the carefully stacked rocks that caught my curiosity.
Along the entire wall marched varied piles. Some tall. Some squat. All had graffiti at their feet. Many of the scratchings include รัก /rák/ (love).
Nearby the wall was a tree shading a part of the lawn. Under the tree I found even more stacks of rocks. No graffiti. There was nowhere to write.
Almost a thousand years ago, the walled city of Phimai (ancient Vimayapura) (Siribhadra and Moore 1997:232) was a major center of the polity of Angkor, which dominated much of mainland Southeast Asia from the ninth to the fifteenth centuries A.D.
To create the stacks and etch on the walls, large slabs were stripped from sandstone blocks carved and fitted over a thousand years ago. It’s awful to think about really. But, I’d still like to know why. Why stack rocks?
Googling for answers specific to Thailand, I found this article: Rock Stacking in Koh Lipe, Thailand
gokatayama.org (no longer online): The art of rock stacking has different meanings in various cultures. While in Koh Lipe, Thailand I witnessed an entire island dedicated to stacking rocks. In Thailand, people visit this island off the coast of Koh Lipe and stack up the rocks and make a wish.
Curious. Does anyone know the significance of the rock stacking at this particular Khmer temple? Do the rocks represent the person of their desires? Or just desire?
Last year reports started appearing about the much loved Doraeman cat cartoon invading the murals on a Thai Wat:
YARPNEWS (no longer online): For the uninitiated, Doraemon is a blue, earless robot cat from the 24th Century. The character first appeared in Manga comics in 1969 and has since starred in TV, films, musicals and video games. He was even called the ‘Cuddliest hero in Asia’ by Time Magazine.
Fester LIVE Udon Thani: A TEMPLE in Suphan Buri province has become a national sensation after an unusual character was spotted hiding in its wall paintings: the Japanese cartoon character Doraemon.
Noticing Doraemon’s huge popularity with Thai schoolchildren, artist Rakkiat Lertjitsakun added the sky-blue robotic cat to murals at Wat Samp Pa Siew in Muang district.
Temple abbot Phra Maha-anan, who hadn’t noticed Doraemon’s presence in the murals until he was told about them by a Khao Sod reporter, said he wasn’t angry at all. Mr Rakkiat was just trying to help today’s children learn about good and evil and heaven and hell, he said.
Things calmed down until this week, when the Wat decided to get into the amulet market:
Bangkok Post: A 700-year old temple in Suphan Buri’s Muang district has made headlines again by issuing issuing amulets of a god holding an iPad and of a famous Japanese cartoon character wearing a Thai headdress, and distributing them to visitors as souvenirs, reports said.
Bangkok Post: UPHAN BURIA temple which uses imagery featuring Japanese cartoon character Doraemon on some of its souvenirs has been warned it may be violating copyrights. Wat Sampasiew in Muang district of Suphan Buri produces locket pins featuring Doraemon which it gives away free to visitors.
But Wisarut Inyaem, director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s (TAT) Suphan Buri office, has urged the temple to avoid violating the intellectual property of Fujiko Pro, the creator of Doraemon, and iPad developer Apple Corp.
Call me cynical, but I don’t believe there’s a whole lot Fujiko Pro can legally do about Doraemon’s copyright in Thailand. Ripped off designs, software, movies and music are sold openly on Thai streets, in malls, pretty much everywhere. A couple of times a year there’s a big kerfluffle in the news, products are taken off the shelves, but days (hours sometimes) later it’s business as usual.
What Fujiko Pro could do is educate the Temple abbot about the rules of international copyright. How difficult could that be?
Doraemon at Wat Sampasiew…
In 2011, right before the floods hit, I stopped by Wat Sampa Siw. Yeah. I know. I’m lax about sharing my adventures in Thailand and elsewhere. I get to have all the fun and you mostly get nadda from me. My bad. But don’t thank me for finally sharing these photos – thank Kaewmala. Yesterday, when I mentioned the zillions of Doraemon photos I had, she sort of guilted into me it. See?
Anyway, I’ll start you off with this [apologies] awful video I took. But seriously? One of these days I’ll invest in a tripod that works. Tips on make and model are welcome.
In the video, except for the obvious Doraemon shouting ห้ามจับภาพ /hâam jàp pâap/ (heh hehhhh), the cat cartoons can’t be seen. And even though I had my face right close to the mural, I still had difficulties locating the cartoons. Everyone did. But soon a novice monk stepped in to point out the hidden Doraemons.
There are more hidden Doraemons than I’ve shared here. But, after staring at mural photos for an hour, I once again lost sight of that darn cat. I took a fair number of photos both before and after the novice monk rescued me, so Doraemon could be hiding most anywhere.
The young man to the right is the novice monk who saved the day. To the left, a senior monk who just happened to nod “yes” to my camera waggle. Don’t let the stern faces fool you. Both laughed at my antics but sobered up as soon as my camera came into play.
Temple paintings Thailand…
Artist Rakkiat Lertjitsakun: “Inserting hidden messages into temple paintings is an age old tradition,” explained Rakkiat. “Years ago they would hide depictions of sex in the murals; nowadays it’s a blue cartoon robot cat.”
Whenever I visit a Wat with paintings (not all have them), I look for the fun scenes. Some characters are humorous while others are quite risque. Over the years I’ve amassed a growing collection and one day I’ll share them in a post. Remind me if I forget.
Below are a few I found at Wat Sampa Siw. This is the first time I’ve come across a blood spattered scene in a Thai mural but not a first for male and female body parts (body parts are a fav with Thai mural artists).
The guy enjoying his nap has an actual name:
thai-language.com: Choo Chok – ชูชก /choo-chók/ is a greedy Brahman character in the story of ‘เวชสันดรชาดก’ /wâyt săn don chaa-dòk/ who finally died from eating too much.
Thai people like to call someone who eat a lot or eat too much as “choo chok”, it’s not a compliment though.
Btw: If you are in Bangkok right this minute, you can just make the last day of the Doraemon Fair at Terminal 21. From what I gather, it’s a celebration marking the 100 years before Doraemon is to be born.