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Very Thai Photo Exhibition: Bangkok

Very Thai Photo Exhibition: Bangkok

Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture…

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.

Then I found Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture, by Philip Cornwel-Smith. Very Thai answered many of my “why” questions, and some I hadn’t thought of yet.

These days, when a new expat breezes into Thailand, I don’t arrive at their housewarming party with the obligatory bottle of wine and chocolates. I gift them with a copy of Very Thai instead.

Very Thai Photo Exhibition…

On Sunday I jumped into a taxi to view the Very Thai Exhibition in front of ZEN in Bangkok.

Very Thai Photo Exhibition: Bangkok

You really can’t miss it as the presentation is well placed.

Very Thai Photo Exhibition: Bangkok

It’s a small exhibition with larger than life-sized photos from Very Thai.

Very Thai Photo Exhibition: Bangkok

I wasn’t the only one curious, a stream of viewers kept popping in front of my camera.

Very Thai Photo Exhibition: Bangkok

Many found it easy to walk along the exhibition slowly, savoring the eyecandy as they went.

Very Thai Photo Exhibition: Bangkok

This photo was my favourite eyecandy of all.

Very Thai Photo Exhibition: Bangkok

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.

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National Museum Volunteers Annual Lecture Series: Jan-Feb 2012

National Museum Volunteers Annual Lecture Series

National Museum Volunteers Annual Lecture Series…

Last year was my first chance to attend the lectures about Thailand, Thai history, and culture arranged by the National Museum Volunteers. Along with many events, their Annual Lecture Series was postponed due to the Thai floods. But, now that the new year is upon us, the series has been rescheduled.

Lectures from Jan 19th through to Feb 9th, 2012…

National Museum Volunteers Annual Lecture SeriesThe Thai Hybrid: 19 January 9.30am
Philip Cornwel-Smith
(author of bestseller ‘Very Thai’)

Thai popular culture brims with quirky hybrids of handmade and hi-tech, indigenous and import. Some traditionalists worry that today’s adoption of foreign novelty dilutes Thainess, yet Thai history has been distinguished throughout by cultural fusion. Appropriation seen in popular culture reveals Thainess as a process that is eclectic, creative and relentlessly hybrid.

National Museum Volunteers Annual Lecture SeriesIntroduction to Thai Ceremonies & Observances: 19 January 11.00am
Venerable Kantasilo

A talk by American born Buddhist monk, Venerable Kantasilo, will aim to explain national Buddhist observances and ceremonies that take place over a one year period, providing answers to the many questions foreigners are likely to have pertaining to the significance of such practices in Thailand.

National Museum Volunteers Annual Lecture SeriesContemporary Thai Politics: Six Realities We Cannot Duck: 26 January 9.30
Michael J. Montesano

Michael J. Montesano, a visiting research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, will tell the audience how keeping track of Thailand’s confusing politics is easy as long as one remembers six basic truths. He will also talk about how these “truths” conceal paradoxes and ironies that must also be grasped if one really wants to make sense of where Thailand is heading.

National Museum Volunteers Annual Lecture SeriesOn the Floral Road to Siam: 26 January, 11.00am
Sakul Intakul, floral artist

The talk will be given by renowned floral artist Sakul Intakul, an engineer turned floral artist who is well known for interpreting spiritual ideas through sculptural plant installations. His portfolio includes Royal commissions for the HM the Queen and total floral conceptual design for Bvlgari Hotels and Resorts in Bali; he is also the author of several books on floral art.

National Museum Volunteers Annual Lecture SeriesRoyal Thai Cremation Ceremonies: 2 February, 9.30am
Mr Chakrarot Chitrabongs, NMV patron

This lecture will trace the origins of the royal cremation practice since the founding of Bangkok as a new capital city during the reign of King Rama I, whose mission was to revive the old Siamese traditions of the former capital city of Ayudhya that had been utterly devastated by warfare. In their turn, the Kings of Chakri have developed this ancient tradition, introducing changes and technological innovations until it appears as it does today. The purpose of the lecture is to describe to the audience the background information for a thorough understanding of the symbolism linked to traditional beliefs and practices, so that they can follow and understand the ongoing preparations of the ceremony in the various stages up to the actual event. The lecture will be illustrated with photographs that date back to the period that photography itself had been introduced into Siam.

National Museum Volunteers Annual Lecture SeriesRamakien – Introduction: 2 February, 11.00am
Stephanie Strasser

Stephanie Strasser, an NMV member who spent her early childhood in Bangkok and who returned to Thailand recently, sought to find out more about the famous Wat Phra Kaew rubbings, eventually finding herself immersed in the world of the Ramakien. Her lecture is a summary of a wonderful story of love and war where gods are reborn on earth to battle demons and where flying monkeys have magical powers.

National Museum Volunteers Annual Lecture SeriesLet’s go Wat Hopping: 9 February, 9.30am
Joyce Meer & Bill Lipsey

NMV members Joyce Meer and Bill Lipsey will be going Wat Hopping, sharing with the audience their passion and insights on What’s a Wat after having explored more than 100 Buddhist temples throughout Thailand, some relatively unknown.

National Museum Volunteers Annual Lecture SeriesInvoking the Land Gods; Understanding the Thai Spirit House: 9 February, 11.00am
Marisa Cranfill

Marisa Cranfill, one of Thailand’s foremost (non-Thai) experts on Thai spirit houses will give a fascinating talk entitled Invoking the Land Gods; Understanding the Thai Spirit House. Cranfill will explain that the Thais’ relationship with the land god is a very personal one because it affects their daily life. “You give the land god what it likes and it will give back good things. It is like a bargain.”

Bangkok National Museum
Na Phrathat Rd,
Phra Nakorn District,
Bangkok 10200

My schedule continues to be crazy but if I’m in Bangkok I’ll be attending a few talks listed in the National Museum Volunteers Annual Lecture Series.

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Himmapan’s Year End Seminar in Bangkok

Himmapan Year End Seminar

The Himmapan year end seminar…

This is so very wrong, as it should have been a WOW already… When researching Singha beer, I came across Himmapan, a beautiful resource put together by Mr. Yongkiat Karnchanapayap, Mr. Yongkiat, Ms. Onuma Chintanasatit and Mr. Vytot Upatising.

After finding their site I was going to WOW you with how the Singha logo connects with the Himmapan forest. And as some might not know anything about the Himmapan Forest, I was going to WOW you with that too.

I even contacted Yongkiat Karnchanapayap to see what else they were up to, and he pointed me to the beautiful work shown on their Facebook page: Himmapan. Another WOW.

But this year has been strange so all I can do is apologise to Yongkiat, his gang, and you. And while I’m at it, I’ll light a candle for 2011.

Now, as a Himmapan Facebook fan I get updates. So far they’ve had one popular seminar and are planning for another. And if you are into the beautiful art of Himmapan (more on that later), then please sign up for their end of year seminar. But you’d better be quick as it looks like standing room only (and the free t-shirts are already a toss up).

If you do go, please tell Yongkiat that I sent you. And that I really really really would love it if they created a set of Himmapan coffee mugs.

And please tell him that I still have a post in the wings about the Himmapan Forest and Singha and prancing tigers with goats bodies and all.

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How Do YOU Say Worcestershire?

How Do YOU Say Worchestershire

How Do YOU Say Worchestershire: Wooster, Wooder, or…

Writing a lighthearted piece about a Thai Worcestershire sauce was a bit of unexpected fun. For me, anyway. And from the comments, I’m not the only one who found it interesting that the western Worchestershire is a fish sauce of sorts, while the Thai version is not.

But whenever a mention of Worchestershire (properly spelt Worcestershire) comes into it, the conversation often turns to the pronunciation of the name, not the taste of the sauce.

foodhistory.com: The pronunciation of “Worcestershire” provides almost endless speculation, controversy, and amusement. The three syllables have variations with enthusiastic proponents, as follows:

First syllable — “wuh” or “woo.”
Second syllable — “stah,” “shtah,” “stuh,” “shtuh,” “sturr,” or “shturr.”
Third syllable — “sha,” “sheer,” “shuh,” “shurr,” or no third syllable at all.

How-to-learn-any-language.com: I learned “worchestershistershire sauce” which may have just been a comical tongue twister. It was shorted to “worchestershire sauce”. If you want to sound educated, don’t choose either of these two pronunciations.

At Uncyclopedia.wikia.com we are told that not everyone can work their tongues around the actual name (tongue-in-cheek, for sure).

Uncyclopedia.wikia.com: It is a well known fact that Amercians are the only ones who can pronounce Worcestershire Sauce properly. Any average person will say “wuh-ster”, but Americans know better and say “war-ses-ter-shi-re”. No one knows the explanation for this phenomenon.

But then again, they misspelt Americans, so…

And since I don’t know, I decided see if anyone else did. I asked friends from all around to send recordings of themselves saying Worcestershire Sauce. And they did. So what you’ll hear below are voices from: America, England, Hungary, Republic of Ireland, South Africa, Switzerland and Thailand. In alphabetical order. Thanks all!

First up, Thailand…

Khun Gung is from Bangkok, Thailand. She does understand a bit of English, but she is not comfortable speaking (and I so sympathise). Since she does not read English, I asked K Gung to read from the Thai version, วูสเตอร์ /wôot-dtêr/, instead.

You already know my good friend Khun Phairoh, who also hails from Bangkok. She went to uni in Canada and speaks fluent English (it comes in handy with stubborn Thai learners such as myself). But as K Gung already set the pace with the Thai version, I asked K Phairoh to read from the same (วูสเตอร์ซอส /wôot-dtêr sót/).

Khun Narisa also comes from Bangkok and is fluent in English as well. I asked K Narisa to first read from the Thai version (วูสเตอร์ซอส /wôot-dtêr sót/), followed by the western version (Worcestershire Sauce). Or the other way around (I can’t tell).

In our Skype conversation we went further into the subject of sauces in Thailand. For your listening pleasure I’ve extracted both ซอส ไก่งวง /sót gài nguang/ sauce turkey (chicken + trunk, remember?) and ซอส เปรี้ยว /sót bprîeow/ sauce sour/acidic.

Worchestershire from the west…

Alex Szecsenyi is a design buddy from Melbourne, Australia. Born in Hungary, Alex emigrated to Australia when he was four. When he can, Lx visits Thailand with dear Jay (send thanks Jay’s way as her programming savvy saves my coding butt). If you want to see what Lx gets up to, check out The Graphic Post. In the audio below is Lx’s version of Worcestershire.

Amy Praphantanathorn formerly taught English in Bangkok (that’s when I met her). Amy is now back home in California with her Thai husband Golf and their son Adian. A guest writer on WLT, Amy can also be found at Expat Women in Thailand (no longer online). Amy’s first audio is the pronunciation of Worcestershire. In the second, her explanation.

Christopher was born in London, England. He’s lived all over the world but still retains most of his proper British accent. Chris doesn’t have a website as he’s far too busy looking at rocks, writing about rocks, and not bringing rocks home.

Claudio Sennhauser was born in Wangen, Switzerland. He writes at Claudio Sennhauser and has a humongous twitter following at @DemoWell. Claudio first gives us his English version of Worcestershire, followed by the Swiss.

The softspoken David Airey is a logo designer from the Republic of Ireland. He writes at two popular sites, David Airey and Logo Design Love. Along with Jay Wickham (Lx’s better half), the three of us are said to tilt at windmills. David wraps both Worcestershire and Worcestershire Sauce in one audio file.

Jill Schulman from Netanya, Israel, is another design friend. When she’s not raising her beautiful family, Jill can be found at JSD Creative. In the first audio file we hear the Hebrew version of Worcestershire. In the second is Worcestershire in English. And her explanation makes three.

Paul Garrigan is another voice from the Republic of Ireland. And while not a designer, he works in the communication industry as a writer. Paul is found all over the Internet but his home is at paulgarrigan.com. In the two audios below Paul first gives the common pronunciation of Worcestershire, followed by the official version.

Texan Tom Stephan is a talented blend of writer/designer. Sometimes protected, sometimes not, Tom tweets at @dyer9380. First up is Tom’s deep pronunciation, second is his explanation.

We don’t often think of English as tonal, but when you listen through the audio files there is a noticeable up and down. With Thai being a tonal language, I was tempted to add the transliteration to each pronunciation above. But, as I’m cacca at transliteration – it’s the reason this lazy butt was forced to learn how to read Thai script – I’ll leave it to those who’d like to give it a go. Any takers?

Before I close this out, I’d like to thank everyone who sent in their sound files. Listening to the various accents pronouncing different versions of Worcestershire was an interesting exercise.

Ah. And before I forget, sweet Loi Krathong wishes to all.

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Worchestershire: A Fish Sauce by Any Other Name

Worcestershire: A Fish Sauce by Any Other Name

Worchestershire Sauce, fish sauce and Villa Market…

After not sleeping for days, and with no food in the house, I headed to Villa to stock up. Now, when I’m that tired the little things in life often strike me as hilariously funny. Do you suffer from the same?

WorcestershireSo there I was in the condiments aisle at Villa Market, facing a row of Worchestershire Sauce, Formula 1 and Formula 2, made in Thailand.

They cracked me up. Totally.

So I grabbed ALL of the versions of Worchestershire Sauce (five bottles) with a vague thought of writing a post about the coming American holiday, Thanksgiving. Just like I did last year.

Why Thanksgiving? Stick around and you’ll soon see just how thin that connection is.

Except for liking the taste, I didn’t know a lot about Worchestershire Sauce. So to write this post I first needed to google. And surprise! Worchestershire Sauce is made with fermented anchovies. So Worchestershire is a fish sauce. How strange.

If you don’t know already, fish sauce, called น้ำปลา /náam bplaa/ (water fish) in Thailand, is a constant in the Thai diet. And for good reason. Take away the fish sauce and you take away a big part of what makes Thai food great. I know, because after imagining how fish sauce was made (gross – and I was wrong) I tried doing away with it in Thai cooking. It was a bad move. A bland move. So I added fish sauce back again.

So ok. Fair enough. Worchestershire is a fish sauce. But now that I’m sitting here with five bottles of the stuff, I also needed to find out where the original Worchestershire came from.

wikipeidia: Worcestershire sauce (pronounced /ˈwʊstərʃərsɔːs/ WOOS-tər-shər-saws), or Worcester sauce (/ˈwʊstərsɔːs/ WOOS-tər-saws) is a fermented liquid condiment, primarily used to flavour meat and fish dishes.

A fermented fish sauce called garum was a staple of Greco-Roman cuisine and of the Mediterranean economy of the Roman Empire, and the use of some similar fermented anchovy sauces in Europe, can be traced back to the 17th century. The Worcestershire variety became popular in the 1840s and is a legacy of the British rule of the Indian sub-continent. Theories vary concerning its discovery or invention.

According to historian and Herald for Wales, Major Francis Jones, 1908–1993, the introduction of the recipe can be attributed to Captain Henry Lewis Edwardes 1788-1866. Edwardes, originally of Rhyd-y-gors, Carmarthenshire, was a veteran of the Napoleonic wars and held the position of Deputy-Lieutenant of Carmarthenshire. He is believed to have brought the recipe home after travels in India.

The rest of the wiki article goes on to say that Thailand also has a Lea & Perrins Original Worcestershire Sauce, imported from England. But that is not so. There is no Lea & Perrins on the label and the sauce is produced in Thailand, not England. And really, WHY would Thailand have their own version of fish sauce produced in the UK? That’s like taking coals to Newcastle. Something like that.

More fun Worchestershire facts: In 1981 the U. S. Department of the Army spent $6000 to prepare a 17-page manual on how to buy Worcestershire sauce.

Anyway… on the Thai bottle of Worchestershire it states ‘Original Gy-Nguang Brand’. In Thai that translates to ‘Original Turkey Brand’, not ‘Original Lea & Perrins’. Yes. Turkey. So now do you see how nicely this post is tying in with Thanksgiving?

Translating the Thai script:
วูสเตอร์ซอส /wôot-dtêr sót/ wootdter sauce
ซอสเปรี้ยว /sót bprîeow/ sauce sour
ตราไก่งวง /dtraa gài nguang/ brand turkey

When I turned the bottle around, I found that the Thai Worcestershire company has a website: www.gy-nguang.com


I also found so much more…

About GY-NGUANG Worcester Sauce: Worcester Sauce “Gy-Nguang” brand has begun to be manufactured and distributed in Thailand since 1917 by M.L. Ngeab Dinakara who is the formula owner. At the beginning, M.L. Ngeab has served as a royal servant in Bang Khunprom Palace of Somdej Chao Fa Boripathsukhumpan, Krom Phranakorn Swanworapinit.

Questions. I now had even more questions…


Q: How is the difference of ingredients between Gy-Nguang Worcester Sauce & another famous imported Worcestershire Sauce?

A: Gy-Nguang Worcester Sauce doesn’t be put any Anchovy fish as one of its ingredient.

What? No fish?

Gy-Nguang Worcester Sauce is made of Fermented vinegar, Dark Sticky Soy Sauce, Brown Sugar, Salt, Dry Chili and Spices (Mace, Cayenne Pepper, Ginger, Nutmeg, Black pepper, Licorice, Cloves, Parsley, Cinnamon, Lemon peel and Garlic).

I guess not.

Q: Why don’t some people (especially foreigners who live in Thailand) dare to buy Gy-Nguang Worcester Sauce to use for their cooking at homes or restaurants when they first find it in the supermarket?

A: It is because most of foreigners always think that the best quality and taste of Worcestershire Sauce’s real taste should be only the brand as be imported from the big country only and they are not sure for Thai product quality before they try to buy it for their first tasting. That means they are missing the good product from Thailand, and also, they don’t know they are missing for their cost saving a lot. Thai product as Gy-Nguang Worcester Sauce as cheap in cost and good for tasting!

Gy-Nguang Worcester Sauce does cost less than western brands. At Villa Market, Gy-Nguang’s Formula 1 costs 63 baht and Formula 2 is 52 baht. Compared to Lea & Perrins, at 130 baht. But as for the taste… well… let’s see.

The Worchestershire / Wootdter taste test…

Sunday morning, when tidying up this post, I realised that I hadn’t even cracked open the five bottles for a comparison lick. So I did. And whooh. Yeah. Whooh. Two of the sauces were fabulous. One was bland. And after tasting the final two I had to wash my mouth out with chocolate.

Gy-Nguang Worcester Sauce Formula 1: Bangkok, Thailand
Curious about the comments re: foreigners, I started with Gy-Nguang’s Formula 1. Nice. Very. This sauce has a rich balance of flavours. I like.

Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce: Worcester, England
This was the second sauce in the trial. Again, the flavours are nicely balanced.

Gy-Nguang Worcester Sauce Formula 2 Bangkok, Thailand
This sauce was a bit of a disappointment as the flavours were watered down. The taste was pleasant, but it was just not as rich as the first two. I’d definitely use this sauce for a light fish dish instead of a heavy meat meal.

Heinz Worcestershire Sauce: Pennsylvania, USA
Blech. How horrible. The taste is overly acidic, without a range of flavours (a blessing, as I can’t imagine what a full range of horrible would taste like). This sauce was a shocker as the H.J. Heinz Company bought Lea & Perrins. So, why?

French’s Worcestershire Sauce: Somewhere, USA
Once again, blech. Just like the Heinz version, this sauce is absolutely horrible. Acidic. The only difference between the two is an overabundance of cloves.

I also found an Australian version that wasn’t included in the taste test (sorry guys – maybe later): Holbrooks Worcestershire Sauce.

Historical pond-swapping: Lea & Perrins (British) was first bought out by HP Foods (British), and then by Heinz (American). In 1926 French’s (American) was bought by Coleman (British). In 1938 Colman merged with Reckitt & Sons (British). Then, in 2000, Reckitt & Colman merged with Benckiser to become Reckitt Benckiser, located in Slough, Berkshire (UK). Btw: It’s pronounced Slough as in plough, not as in cough – and Berkshire is pronounced Barkshur. And what a load of pond-swapping that is.

If you made it all the way to here you might be wondering which Worchestershire Sauce won out in the end. Correct?

Well, my first choice is Gy-Nguang’s Worcester Sauce Formula 1. Why? Because as mentioned on their site, it really is a tasty product. Well done Thailand :-)

And as for Heinz and French’s, my mouth has really nasty things to say in their direction.

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Traditional Thai Puppet Theater: Joe Louis

Traditional Thai Puppet Theater

When googling goes wrong…

Before I head out into Thailand, I learn what I can about my target subject. It usually works a charm, but this time my googling ended with a FAIL.

You see, finding outdated(?) information about the Joe Louis Thai Puppet Theatre set my heart on a traditional puppet show with… well… why don’t I just tell you what happened…

The Joe Louis Thai puppet theatre in Suan Lum Night Bazaar…

After visiting the workplace and home of a Thai puppeteer (post still to come), I started researching live puppet shows. It didn’t take long to suss that the top billing in Bangkok went to the Joe Louis Thai Puppet Theatre.

Hun Lakorn Lek (Joe Louis), Sakorn Natasilp Troupe: In 1996, the Commission for National Culture nominated Sakorn for the title of National Artist (Performing Arts Category: Small Theatrical Puppetry). This nomination was made in the name of His Majesty the King, in whose name the honorific title of National Artist was bestowed.

This recognition enabled Sakorn and his children to raise enough money to open a small puppet theatre near their home in Nontaburi province. The theater was called the Joe Louis Theater. In May 2002, the theater was moved to its present and more central location at the Suan Lum Night Bazaar in Bangkok.

Right away my research fell flat. Why? For starters, because the information on TAT’s website (Thai Tourism), led me to believe that…

A visit to the theatre also includes an opportunity to witness the painstaking process of crafting a Thai traditional mask known as the Hua Khon, as taught by venerable artist Joe Louis to his students.

Before the performance starts, Joe Louis staff will take guests on a “Joe Louis Cultural Tour” featuring the “Puppet Gallery”, an exhibition on the history of Hun Lakhon Lek puppets and the theatre, puppet- making demonstration and the art of controlling the puppet.

And this video only reinforced it…

Wanting to know more (and because the theatre’s online ticket purchasing didn’t work), I contacted them via email. Nothing. Nadda. No reply. Darn. I do know better (I should have called instead).

No matter. After reading the below instructions from yet another website extolling the magnificent extras, I did what was suggested. I arrived early.

Thaizer.com: Arriving early enables visitors to go on a tour of the theatre and see how the puppets are made and witness a demonstration of how they are manipulated in the performance.

So there I was at Suan Lum Night Bazaar, all set for a fabulous traditional Thai puppet experience. Early. Yet ten minutes after getting in a line of two, I’m still behind a lady all upset about Thai double pricing.

Thai price: 400 baht
Expat price: 900 baht

Some expats resent the double pricing, but I can’t be bothered getting fussed (especially if a show/event it worth it). If I don’t want to pay double, I don’t go. Simple. For instance, I wouldn’t pay OTT to see a few fish at Siam Ocean World, but traditional puppets (for me) do have a pull.

Traditional Thai Puppet TheaterAlso, I was looking at it this way: 900 baht included an evening of Thai traditional puppetry, with a cultural tour showing how the masks are made, and how the puppets are manipulated. All with a bit of history thrown in. Nice.

Ticket finally in hand, I asked the staff where to go next. To, you know, attend the promised traditional mask making demonstration and cultural tour.

But the staff did not know what I was on about. Were they new hires? I don’t know. But I asked the same question in many ways, receiving the same answer. Nadda. Never heard of it. Not an option.

So, with time to waste, I wandered around the bazaar. And wandered, and wandered, and wandered, until it was almost time for the show. Once back in the theatre, I drifted around the ground floor, enjoying the puppets behind glass. That over with (and nothing else to do), I headed upstairs to my seat.

The light dimmed, and videos of the puppets came on. One on each side of the stage.

Darn. Compared to expectations due to my failed google abilities – a traditional Thai puppet making experience – getting videos instead was disappointing.

(see what I mean?)

But when the traditional Thai puppet dancers finally came out, I was chuffed. Immensely. The talented dancers wove in and out, three to a puppet. It was a wonderful/superb/exciting/wickedly fabulous presentation. And the performing puppeteers dancing with the traditional Thai puppets were just as promised. Amazing.

If pressed to share a preference between the puppet shows I’ve seen in my travels and these, the traditional Thai puppets would be it. No contest.

But… At the Joe Louis theatre, there are only a handful of traditional dances. The rest of the time is taken up by the story of Joe Louis’ life, as well as puppets created in the likeness of two western rock singers. And as I was there for the traditional Thai puppets, I felt that the unexpected extras took up too much time. I wanted the other puppets back.

Traditional Thai Puppet Theater And here’s another thing… perhaps minor…

When you are not being educated about Joe’s life, the disturbingly lifelike, life-sized puppet of the long dead puppeteer is left sitting on the side of the stage. In a wheelchair.

It was a bit macabre for my tastes, especially when my attention was (at times) drawn away from middle stage (where all of the action was going on), to the Joe Louis puppet moving his wheelchair around.

The show finished with a dancing, singing, Micheal Jackson puppet. And one other (who was that women?)

Note: Others in the audience raved about Micheal Jackson and what’s her name, so that section of the performance was not a loss for many (most?) And perhaps, just me. Did anyone here see the show? If so, what did you think?

Awhile later I discussed the show with a friend who had attended with (I believe) Joe Louis’s son gracing the stage. There, Joe’s son explained that he wanted to put his personal mark on the show by modernising the performance. Hence, the additional puppets: Joe Louis in a wheelchair, Micheal Jackson, and she who has not been named.

Fair enough. He’s had a lifetime of tradition and now wants to move on. And hey, maybe parts of Thailand would prefer to move on too?

Soooooooooo… I guess my next project will focus on finding traditional Thai puppets. On their own.

Only this time, I’ll do a better job of researching.

Wish me luck? Or even… help point the way?

Joe Louis Thai puppet resources…

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Zebras, Questions, and the Chao Mae Tiger Shrine


Zebras and tigers and chickens with questions…

Agree or disagree, but I believe that I live in one of the most interesting cities in the world – Bangkok – in one of the most curious of countries in the world – Thailand.

Living here is just like being 3 years old again. Why? Because my most often used word now is why.

  • Why aren’t there seat belts in the back of taxis?
  • Why are Thai vowels under, over, behind, and in front of consonants?
  • Why is alcohol sold at Villa Market all day, but elsewhere, not?
  • Why am I given a 10% tourist discount at Central, when I am not?
  • Why can’t I find a decent electrician, plumber, or carpenter?
  • Why are zebras everywhere?

And while I have found some answers, tracking down zebras wasn’t as easy as I thought it should be.

I assumed that it would be a simple question to answer. But Khun Phairo (my Thai teacher and very good friend) didn’t know. And my regular taxi driver, Khun Pisout, didn’t know either. Very Thai’s index even came up a blank.

Months later, Khun Phairo came in waving Guru (a Bangkok Post insert). Inside was the treasured answer. Sort of.

The article was arranged in a quiz layout. A question is asked, you pick one of three answers (with two being so far off they are not funny). That sort of thing.

The question was, “what is the significance of zebra statues at spirit houses?”

Animals are an important icon in Buddhism to remind people about their relation to the natural world.

There is an interesting theory about why the zebra is the chosen statue around some Thai spirit houses. It’s believed that because a pedestrian zebra crossing is technically a ‘safe zone’ on the road, placing the statue at shrines can bring the same sort of protection to an individual.

It is alleged that a monk told one truck driver to deploy zebra statues to ensure a safe path to success, and over time other Thais began placing similar statues.

The safe zone theory makes sense as zebra crossings are all over the place in the UK and Thailand too. Warning: While I would brave a zebra crossing over there (the UK), I would not brave one here. Not on my life.

ChickensIn Thailand, herds of zebras are mostly found along busy highways, but I came across zebras at a shrine for King Taksin, which is located along a river in Chachoengsao Province (ฉะเชิงเทรา).

Fair enough, as water can be dangerous too.

My question at พระสถูปพระเจ้าตากสิน (prá sà-tòop prá jâo dtàak-sĭn), King Taksin’s shrine, was: “Why all the chickens?”

Poker-faced Khun Pisout shot back:

Because we didn’t have any ducks.

Ooooooooo kaaaaaay… :-D

Chao Mae Tiger Shrine…

A short while back I wrote about Bangkok’s Fertility Shrine, Chao Mae Tuptim. And if you remember, Chao Mae (or ‘jâo mâe’) in Thai means: goddess (female guardian spirit, or angel).

In my hunt for zebras, we three – Khun Phairo, Khun Pisout and me – visited ศาลเจ้าแม่เสือ (săan-jâo-mâe sĕua), which is the shrine of the Tiger Goddess.

ศาล เจ้า แม่ เสือ
săan-jâo-mâe sĕua
shrine goddess tiger

ZebrasThe shrine is located along a busy highway, where every so often you will hear the honking of cars going past. When I asked why, I was told that the drivers are letting the Tiger Goddess know that they are there. It is sort of in the hopes that she will safeguard them on the road.

I assumed that the drivers were keeping their hands on the wheel while honking, but I did not ask (next time).

Wrapped in a crocheted shawl with gold beads dangling down, the Tiger Goddess reminded me of the big bad wolf after he had eaten granny.

But I was not there for the goddess. I was tracking down zebras to photograph for this post. And opportunities to cross a new why off my list being what they are, I went for it.

The question I asked was this: “Why are there more zebras than tigers at a tiger shrine?”

Now, Khun Phairo did not know for sure, so she asked one of the worshippers at the shrine. The women came back with “Nadda. Nothing. Not a clue”, then went back to lighting joss sticks.

So Khun Phairo offered up a plausible answer:

The Chao Mae Tiger Shrine is on a busy highway. There is no pedestrian overpass, so locals might have lost their lives crossing over and back. With each loss, near miss, or wishful thinking/hoping, a new zebra was added. And so on.

Khun Phairos’s suggestion is logical, and makes total sense to me. What do you think?

Religion and superstitions and such…

Now, I am not a religious person. Nor am I – knock on wood – superstitious. But I do have a grand time in Thailand with superstitions. They are a way of life out here and not easily avoided, so I might as well have fun, right?

I totally enjoy teasing Khun Phairo about Thai ghosts and spirits and what not, and she delights in kidding me right back.

Ok, sometimes she gets scared, so I do watch what I say (it is all in good fun, and I like to keep it that way).

Recently, we started keeping score. She comes up with a for instance, I prove it wrong. I come up with a similar instance from the home country, she raises her eyebrows in response. Each time she learns something and I do too. A win win.

For instance… during our visit to the Chao Mae Tiger shrine, I went to step over what I thought were hundreds of zebras for sale. You know, to get the perfect photo?

A gasp from Khun Phairo halted my foot midair and I pulled back to get the explanation. Just like stepping on a baht note that is blowing away, you never, ever step over the religious icons placed around a shrine. And I knew that.

But these were everywhere. Spilling onto the sidewalk, trampling on the grass, threatening to overrun the road even. And my bad, my plan was to purchase a zebra to donate to the shrine. Or put on my balcony. Either one.

Joss sticksConcerned for her own safety – Khun Phairo swears that since I am a foreigner the goddess won’t think ill of me, but for her… well, well – she started waiing in the direction of the Tiger Goddess to ask for forgiveness.

Then, not wanting to take any chances on the long road trip ahead of us, she grabbed a handful of joss sticks to seal the bargain.

Only, they would not light.

Again and again she tried, but they would not light.

Waiing deeply, Khun Phairo asked the Tiger Goddess to help her light the joss sticks.


Up they went in a bonfire of flames.

Honk, honk. Khun Phairo one. Cat nil…




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2010 Bangkok International Tattoo Convention

Bangkok International Tattoo Convention

Bangkoks very first International Tattoo Convention…

If you are anywhere near Bangkok and are into tattoo too, then I guarantee 100% that you will not see me at the convention. Not that I don’t like tattoos (on other people), but because I’ve had my fill of crowds this week. And crowds, there will be!

If you do end up going, please come back and tell me all about it. In return, I’ll tell you all about my tattoo experience at Wat Bang Phra (วัดบางพระ).

Bangkok International Tattoo Convention
Impact Muang Thong Thani Hall 9
Friday 15 – Sunday 17
11am – 8pm

Single entry: 500 baht
Multiple entry: 1,200 baht

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Happy New Ears to You too Prudential

Ears to You Prudential

Prudential is all ears in Bangkok…

In your taxi treks around Bangkok, have you come across the Prudential ears marketing campaign? Ever?

EarsI have (obviously).

And before this goes any further, I have a confession to make.

Not knowing how to tackle the mystery, but still wanting to know why, I sent the photo (left) to a guy with a serious talent for getting to the guts of any story.

My blogging buddy Talen, from Thailand Land of Smiles.

He wasn’t having any of it. Not any of my begging. My pleading. My promises of blog loyalty forever and ever.

“Just ask your readers”, says I.

Nope. Nadda. Nothing.

But the more I explained to Talen what little I knew about marketing in SE Asia, the more that subject caught my fancy.

Happy New EarAnd now, more curious than ever, I decided to go for it myself.

I certainly thought the ad eye-catching, so I asked a few Thais what they though about Prudential’s ears. I did not receive a “this is too weird for me” reaction. I received a no-nonsense, “it is a marketing campaign”, type of response instead.

Darn. As that was not enough to fill a post, I headed out googling.

Google gave me even more of the Prudential ear theme:

The ‘Happy New Ear – Direct Mailer’ marketing campaign, launched with the opening of the PRU Call Centre by Prudential, won Silver Award in the Collateral Alternative Media category at the Thai Direct Marketer Association (TDMA) 2007 awards. Prudential was the only life insurer to win.

Happy New Ear? Hmmm?

You won’t find a lot of information about Prudential’s PRU Call Centre laying around, but at least I found that much.

And thinking… if feet aren’t a popular marketing body part in SE Asia, then out of the overused others – eyes and noses and pearly whites – ears really are a safe bet.


The Prudential ad in English…

Translating modern Thai has not been a priority for me (regular Thai is tough enough), so my Thai teacher translated the ad instead.

(and bless her heart, she is always willing to teach me a thing or two)

Along the top right of the ear:

ทุก ปัญหา คลี่ คลาย ได้ ด้วย การฝัง
túk bpan-hăa klêe klaai dâai dûay gaan-făng
All problems can be solved with listening.

And along the bottom of the ad:

พรูเด็น เชียล ประกัน ชีวิต รับ ฟัง แล้ว เข้า ใจ คุณ
proo den chian bprà-gan chee-wít ráp fang láew kâo jai kun
Prudential Life Assurance are willing to listen and understand you.

Prudential does not stop there with the ears. 2Bangkok has had a newspaper ad with the below blurb:

Prudential Life Assurance – If no one listens to you, we do.

Prudential’s ears on YouTube…

You don’t have to understand Thai to understand these Prudential ear ads on YouTube:

So there you go. The ears have it.
(is that bad, or what?)

Happy New Ears everyone.

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Thai Turkeys for Thanksgiving

Thai Thanksgiving Turkeys

Surprise! Thailand has turkeys too…

Unbelievable. There we were, my long suffering Thai teacher and me, arriving at Wát Chà-lĕrm Prágìat (วัด เฉลิม พระเกียรติ์).

And there they were. White turkeys. Two.

At first I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I mean, turkeys in Thailand? But I do know what turkeys are supposed to look like, so there was no avoiding that.

I had my first real turkey experience back in my 20’s, when I leased a house in the hills of Virginia. A house which just happened to come with a 100 acre hunting camp. And it wasn’t just any hunting camp. It was a turkey hunting camp. With wild turkeys.

When I first arrived at the camp it was mostly just me, my Ruger, and all those turkeys. Somewhere.

Occasionally an old man would watch me through binoculars (but he didn’t count).

And sometimes the guys would stop by for a huge pot of Texas chili and a shooting competition, but mostly for the beer.

Thai Thanksgiving TurkeysEarly in the mornings, toting a Ruger souped-up with a magnum cylinder (rifles were for sissies), I would head into the woods in search of those promised turkeys.

I shot up a lot of cans and more than a few branches off trees, but that was it.

Sigh. For my year there, I had the pleasure of advice and turkey lore from the local hunters, but no turkeys. Not a one.

After the year was out, I came away with a few important turkey facts: Wild turkeys are crafty, careful, and clever; domesticated turkeys are not. And if you have any doubts, drop by a turkey farm to see what I mean.

Getting back to the wat… with a Thanksgiving post in mind, I was snapping turkeys just as dense as their North American counterparts (the domesticated version, obviously).

The two white turkeys would wander around in confused circles. I would follow. Snap. For each gobble, gobble, gobble, I would snap, snap, snap.

They eventually hide their wattles under the monk’s quarters.

Not wanting to take photos of rabbits just yet, I went in search of my Thai teacher. It wasn’t much of a search as her fondness for making merit makes her an easy find.

What about those Thai turkeys…

Chicken trunkTurkeys in Thailand are known as gài nguang (ไก่งวง). Gài nguang = chicken, trunk = chicken with a trunk (and not the traveling kind).

Curious, I looked up nguang (งวง) on T2E and found lom nguang (ลมงวง), which is Thai for tornado. Lom nguang = air, trunk = air with a trunk… hmmm…

When I asked Rikker about nguang (ไก่งวง), he shot back this sage advice:

And watch your tones. If you mispronounce it as ง่วง ngûang, it turns into ‘sleepy chicken’. Must be all the tryptophan!

Still curious, I googled to find that turkeys are not unknown to Thailand, and that expats living here are especially prone to raising them.

Thai turkeys are reputedly tough (not as luscious as the butterballs you might be used to). But if you still want to have a go at tough Thai turkey farm of your own, contact these people:

Animal Husbandry Research Center Tubgwang
A. Meung Saraburi 18000
Tel. (036) 357-362

อ.เมือง จ.สระบุรี 18000
โทร. (036) 357-362

Wát Chà-lerm Prágìat…

When you visit Wát Chà-lĕrm Prágìat, you get a mix of history thrown in. Using the bricks of a 17th century fortress built by King Narai of Ayuthaya (you can still see what is left of the fort around the grounds), King Rama III built the wat to honour his mother.

Thailandforvisitors.com (no longer online): The temple consists of a large ubosot (ordination hall), flanked by two smaller wiharns (prayer halls). All three buildings feature roofs with gables richly decorated using colored porcelain, giving them a Chinese flavor that was popular at the time.

The doors and window shutters are decorated with rather simple but elegant designs on black lacquer. Inside the ubosot there are pictures of the current royal family on their many visits to the temple.

The doors and shutters do indeed have elegant designs. Some of the most attractive I’ve seen actually. King Rama III was born in the year of the rabbit, so the shutters are decorated with rabbits. I didn’t discover the reason, but the doors have an intricate dragon design.

And even more mysterious, along the walls are beautifully coloured fish eating fish. The fish must have something to do with the Chinese influence, but what?

Thai Wat rabbits dragons fish

Let there be animals…

RabbitsThe monks quarters at Wát Chà-lĕrm Prágìat are tree-covered, which I’m told is quite unusual for modern wats.

And all through the shade of those trees, I found animals.

They were hopping, squawking, eating, and sleeping. And facing down nosy rabbits.

After 20 minutes with the wat’s menagerie, I came away with two useless facts: Rabbits are sneered at by chickens, guinea hens, and peacocks; Thai turkeys are antisocial too.

Btw: If you are interested, the photos of this wat will be slooooooowly going up under Wat Chalerm Phrakiat on my photoblog.

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