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Tag: Why?

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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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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A Toad Trip: Friendly Frogs Draw Tourists to Temple

Wat Frogs

Wats are full of turkeys and frogs, and sometimes storks too…

Wat catsIf you are an animal lover, one of the first things you notice in Thailand are the decaying dogs laying around scenic Wats.

Their scabby bodies make my heart hurt. Yours too?

Disregarding the sickly canine and healthy cats – why is that? – Wats are wonderful places to find animals; if not actual wildlife.

Amongst the shady trees at Wat Chalerm Pragiat (วัด เฉลิม พระเกียรติ์), I counted turkeys, rabbits, guinea fowl, chickens, and peacocks: Thai Turkeys for Thanksgiving.

There’s even a fruit bat Wat in Chachoengsao Province (I’ve been, so expect a post sometime soon): The Bat Temple.

The reason I said, if not wildlife, is because this post was supposed to be about the Openbilled Stork Temple at Wat Phai Lom (วัดไผ่ล้อม).

Wat catsTo explain… Reading Richard’s instructions to the temple, I planned out my day. Then, loading into Khun Pissout’s taxi, Khun Phairo, Chris(tine) (a newcomer to Thailand), and myself drove quite a ways to the stork temple.

But instead of hearing thousands of storks circling above, only stragglers were to be found.

Why? Two months before the storks were due to arrive, the Thai government sprayed poison throughout the protected grounds. Why? The bird flu. Sigh… So I’ll just have to head back to Wat Phai Lom next year…

Storks were still showing up in ones and twos, but they’d leave the very same day. Sad.

Frog, frogs and more frogs…

Done out of my grand stork adventure – the lost photo opportunities were a grrrrrrrrr – I looked for a replacement. Logical, or no.

Storks eat frogs, so here you have it. A close enough fit:

Phuketgazette: Friendly Frogs Draw Tourists to Temple: Phrakhrupradit Kijjarak, 46, the abbot of Wat Rachpraditthan in Phra Nakhon Sri Ayudhaya District, said the temple’s frog community started out with two baby golden frogs that appeared in the lotus pond around the end of Buddhist lent in October..

The day after the story of the frogs was published in the Thai press, around 500 tourists came to pet the animals.

As the story was first published in the Thai press, I’m guessing that tourists = Thais. Now, as people go Thais are pretty small (shooting envy their way), but I still can’t imagine how 500 people of any size crammed into this quiet strip of tiling at Wat Rachpraditthan (วัดราชประดิษฐาน). Can you?

Please excuse the driving in that video. I haven’t found my way around the knobs on the camera, so sometimes I’m zooming out when I should be zooming in.

Not knowing what type of frogs they were (and always wanting to know WHY?), I put the question to Hugh from Retire2Thailand.com. Hugh lives surrounded by a garden in Chiang Mai, which is closer to wildlife than most parts of Bangkok (where I am).

I did some reading on the frog farms and a very popular frog to raise here, and the one that might be in your picture could be the r.catesbeiana variety, or the introduced American Bullfrog. But that has a lot of green coloration in it. They also raise the r.tigerina and r. rugulose or tiger frogs. But they look really different from your picture.

In the market they tie the frogs together at the waist, about four or five to a bundle. They tie them so tight that I think it breaks their backs. I bought a bundle once thinking that I could release them. One couldn’t walk at all and the others were so injured that they just floated on the water.

I’ve eaten them too. They taste OK though and the Thais eat the whole body whereas the Americans, and French of course, seem to eat only the legs.

Wat Frogs

I use to eat “fried frog skins” (หนัง กบ ทอด – năng gòp tôt). They peel the skin off the frog and deep fry it like a potato chip. They come out exactly in the shape of a frog. But those were during my drinking days. Since I stopped that, potato chips are enough for me now.

The Asian Giant Toad (a close relative?) can be around 4″ – 8″ long and really fat like the one in your picture. I have seen (with my eyes) a cobra eating one. If you have a lot around your house you may also have cobras since that is what they like to eat. I don’t know anything else that eats them.

I sometimes find them in my shoes in the morning.

Here’s a list of things found (so far) in my shoes:

  • Toads (คางคก – kaang-kók)
  • Bull frogs (อึ่งอ่าง – èung-àang)
    The ones that sound like a herd of cows coming down the road in the rainy season.
  • House geckos (จิ้งจก – jîng-jòk)
  • House gecko eggs (ไข่จิ้งจก – kài jîng-jòk)
  • Scorpions (แมงป่อง – maeng bpòng)
  • Centipedes (ตะขาบ – dtà-kàap)
  • Millipedes (กิ้งกือ – gîng-geu)
  • Earth worms (ไส้เดือน – sâi deuan)
  • Cockroaches (แมลงสาบ – má-laeng sàap)
  • Spiders (แมงมุม – maeng mum)

Advice: Always shake your shoes out in the morning because you’ll never know what went in there the night before.

And now I know even more about Hugh. He has roomy shoes.

Like Hugh mentioned, in Thailand frogs are called กบ (gòp). At ObOb Farm, they are also known as dinner. If you click on that link, be sure to scroll down to see hundreds of the beautiful creatures.

Note: Frog photos will be going up at: Catherine Wentworth: Photography: Frogs. And no worries, I won’t post the many barbecued frogs in my collection. Not there anyway.

Wat Frogs

Wat Frogs

Wat Frogs

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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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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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Bangkok’s Fertility (Penis) Shrine: Chao Mae Tuptim

Chao Mae Tuptim Penis Shrine

Sightseeing around Bangkok…

Last month a friend emailed to say, “I’M COMING TO BANGKOK!”

I emailed back, “Whooh! WHEN?”

A mere two days after his arrival, David had already paddled up the floating market, tussled for eight hours with tigers, then dropped a krathong into the klong. And more.

Which got me wondering…

… just what unique experience can I thrill David with now?

The Grand Palace, the Golden Buddha, Wat Po… the… the… the…

Wait! How about going off the beaten path to…

…the Chao Mae Tuptim Shrine?

Sightseeing at the Nai Lert Park Lingam shrine…

Piling into Khun Pisout’s taxi, we were driven past the security guards and onto the grounds of the Nai Lert Park Hotel (formerly a Hilton, it is now a Swissôtel).

Walking from the bright sunshine of the Nai Lert Park Hotel into Nai Lert Park, it took a minute for our eyes to get used to the patchy shade.

Chao Mae Tuptim Shrine Soon enough, the expected forest of mushroom shapes sprouted from the dark.

Only, they are not mushrooms. They are penises. Ribbon wrapped, flower topped penises.

There. I’ve said it twice now. How brave of me.

The first time I visited the Lingam shrine at Nai Lert Park, I was with my Canadian buddy Lynn. And I wasn’t the only one sporting embarrassed smiles whenever penis was repeated. Which was often.

By the time David arrived, I was mostly immune. And mostly brave.

Penis, the word I could barely speak on my first visit to the shrine, now felt natural enough to say out loud. And as David and I stood sharing perspectives, there was no tittering, no embarrassed smiles even. Oh my.

Chao Mae Tuptim ShrineIn middle of the park is the real reason for the shrine. The goddess: Chao Mae Tuptim.

To get a photo of the wooden carving depicting the goddess, I stepped up on the platform, then leaned forward to peer through the narrow door of the spirit house.

As it is fairly dark inside the house, I took along a flashlight, but an ordinary camera flash will do (my thanks for that tip goes to thaiwebsites.com).

At the entry of the park is a metal sign:

The origins of Chao Mae Tuptim are obscure. It can only be recalled that a spirit house was built by Nai Lert for the Spirit who was believed to reside in the large Sai (Ficus) tree.

The basic offerings are fragrant wreaths of snow-white jasmine flowers, incense sticks, pink and white lotus buds.

Chao Mae Tuptim has received yet another less conventional kind of gift, phallic in shape, both small and large, stylized and highly realistic. Over the years they have been brought by the thousands, and today fill the area around the shrine.

Confronted by the extraordinary display the shrine has automatically been concluded to be dedicated to fertility.

Questions, I have questions…

Taking the mention of obscure as a challenge, I compiled a list:

  • The goddess of the shrine is known as Chao Mae Tuptim.
  • Chao Mae Tuptim’s background is unknown.
  • Nai Lert built a spirit house for Chao Mae Tiptim.
  • The original offerings were: Jasmine flowers, lotus buds, and incense.
  • The lingam (phallic) offerings changed the focus of the shrine.

The list brought up these questions:

  • Who is Nai Lert?
  • Who is Chao Mae Tuptim?
  • Who decided that the tree spirit was Chao Mae Tuptim?
  • Why were the lingam’s brought to the shrine?

More questions were added as I went along, but I will leave them for now.

Who is Chao Mae Tuptim?…

Finally! Yeah, I finally get to quote from one of my books on spirit houses.

Spiritual Abodes in Thailand: According to one account, she (Chao Mae Tuptim) was originally a Chinese deity who lived on an island in the South China Sea… and was particularly revered by seafarers.

When people from that region, mostly Techew and Hainanese, began migrating to Thailand in large numbers, some who lived near bodies of water erected shrines in her honour.

So I now have three additional pieces of information:

  • Chao Mae Tuptim is a Chinese deity.
  • She protects fishermen and sailors.
  • There is more than one Chao Mae Tuptim shrine.

The book goes on to mention a different Chao Mae Tuptim shrine in Bangkok. Located on the Chao Phraya River in the Samsen district, the shrine was built in 1842 by the Teochews (แต้จิ๋ว), a Chinese ethnic group. The book also maintains that it is possibly the first Chao Mae Tuptim shrine in Bangkok.

Chao Mae Tuptim ShrineCurious to see what another goddess shrine would look like, I went looking. In the photo to the right is the Chao Mae Tiptum shrine located next to the Thonburi bridge. And as it is also deemed to be the first Chao Mae Tiptum shrine built in Bangkok, they are most likely one and the same.

The difference? The credit for building this shrine goes to another Chinese ethnic group, the Hainanese (ไหหลำ).

During my visit, I was informed that the building was not really a shrine or a temple. It was more of a residence for the spirit; a sanctuary. Confusing.

ศาล (săan) shrine; spirit house
ศาลา (săa-laa) pavilion; wayside shelter; hall
ศาล เจ้า (săan jâo) shrine; joss house; place of worship

What’s up with Chao Mae Tiptum and penises?…

Chao Mae Tuptim ShrineOn my visit to the Chao Mae Tiptum shrine (the one near the Thonburi bridge), I took care to notice the offerings: Flowers, fruit, incense, and a bottle of cooking oil. But no penises.

Legend has it that until a worshiper become pregnant after making a request of the goddess at Nai Lert Park, the typical offerings were fairly similar: Jasmine flowers, lotus buds and incense.

The unknown women, at an unknown time, left a phallic offering as a thank you for the birth of her child. And when word got around about the successful pregnancy, those hoping for children followed suit, but others stuck to the original plan. With a twist.

William Warren’s Bangkok: Most people, at least my farang friends, assumed it [the phallic offerings] had something to do with sex, probably a desire for children, but those who actually came with offerings assured me this was not the case.

The spirit’s powers were far broader, they said; in addition to helping the barren and impotent, she could grant all kinds of wishes, though in return she had a marked preference for phallic objects.

Spiritual Abodes in Thailand: Research suggests that the majority of requests relate to more mundane matters such as winning the lottery, relief from illness and making a profit in business.

So while Chao Mae Tiptum is not a fertility goddess, at this particular spirit house she acquired a hankering for lingams. But, those bringing the lingams are not necessarily aiming at becoming fertile, and those wanting favours do not always bring lingams. Sure. That makes sense.

Still on the lookout for more, I discovered that apart from the Chao Mae Tiptum at Nai Lert Park, the closest place of worship with lingam type offerings (ศิวะ ลึงค์) in Thailand is Phra Nang (พระ นาง) in Krabi (which also has a fisherman’s focus).

ศิวะ (sì-wá) Shiva
ลึงค์ (leung) penis
พระ (prá) title used for a revered person
นาง (naang) woman; lady

If you a lingam fan and are up for a bit of travel, head to Japan. There you will find the Tagata Jinja shrine and (given the right time) the Kanamara Matsuri festival.

Mâe Yâa-naang or Jâo Mâe Táp-tim, what’s in a name?…

In southern Thailand, the goddess in question is known as Mâe Yâa-naang (เเม่ ย่านาง), which loosely translates to Mother(ing) Guardian Spirit. She is also known as Mâe Yâa-naang Reua (แม่ ย่านาง เรือ), which I’m guessing means Mother Goddess of Seafarers.

But in central Thailand (where I live), she is known as Chao Mae Tuptim (เจ้า แม่ ทับทิม).

Using my transliteration style of choice, Thai2english.com gives us Jâo Mâe Táp-tim. And to make the name easier to pronounce, I will stick to that version.

Jâo Mâe Táp-tim could mean Red Mother Goddess in Thai.

เจ้า แม่ (jâo mâe) goddess; female guardian spirit; angel
ทับทิม (táp-tim) ruby; ruby red; pomegranate

Chao Mae Tuptim ShrineBut to find out who she is, what I really need is the Chinese name for the goddess.

At the Thonburi bridge Jâo Mâe Táp-tim sanctum, I was told that the name above the door was the Chinese name for the goddess, but in Thai script. Supposedly, it is a transliteration of the Chinese spoken with a Hainanese (ไหหลำ) accent.

The full Thai script is: ศาลเจ้า จุ้ยไบเนี้ยว
ศาลเจ้า (săan jâo) means place of worship in Thai.
จุ้ยไบเนี้ยว (jûi-bai-niêo) is the Chinese name for Jâo Mâe Táp-tim.

Asking around, no one at the temple knew the actual Chinese (Hainanese?) name for the goddess, so I continued on with my quest.

And this is where google comes in handy (where previously it had failed). Or where I thought it had failed.

Googling ศาล เจ้า จุ้ยไบเนี้ยว (săan jâo jûi-bai-niêo) connected me with the official name of the Thonburi shrine: สาม เสน เทียง โหว เต๋ง (săam săyn tiang wŏh dtăyng). The name niggled me to go back to a discarded wikipedia page. Discarded, because at the time I felt the information was not a good fit (and hey, I’m new at all of this!)

And no wonder I had wandered off the page. I mean, just look at all of the different names for the Chinese goddess!

Mazu (goddess): Māzǔ, Ma-tsu, Má-chó, Matsu, Mother-Ancestor, Elder Lady Mazu, Heavenly Empress, Heavenly Queen, Heavenly Princess Consort, Grandmother, Heavenly Holy Mother, Princess of Supernatural Favour, Protector of the Empire and the Brilliantly Outstanding Heavenly Princess, Holy Mother of Heaven Above, Heavenly Empress, Holy Mother in Heaven.

And not a single Red Mother Goddess amongst the lot.

What was the deciding factor? This bit… (the bit I missed)

In Thailand, there are a lot of Mazu temples too, especially in cities near the sea such as Bangkok, Chonburi, Pattani, and Phuket. There are 3 shrines as Gew Leng Thong, –>> Sam San Tian Hew Geng, Keng Jew Hui Guan.

So Sam San Tian Hew Geng is Săam Săyn Tiang Wŏh Dtăyng (have I mentioned just how much I dislike the uncertainty of transliteration?)

I now give you the real Jâo Mâe Táp-tim – Mazu…

Apparently, Lin Moniang (the goddess Mazu) was born in 960 AD (พ.ศ. ๑๕๐๓), on the island of Meizhou, Fujian.

There are many legends going around – google if you need to fill a few hours – but they all note that Mazu had powers from a young age: second sight, saving people from drowning, fighting dragons even.

But most of all, the legends agree that Mazu’s abilities focused on seafarers (not fertility).

… Indigenous goddess of the sea who protects fishermen and sailors, and is invoked as the goddess who protects East Asians who are associated with the ocean.

And this part mostly answers the red issue:

She wore red garments while standing on the shore to guide fishing boats home, even in the most dangerous and harsh weather.

So there you have it. Jâo Mâe Táp-tim is the Chinese goddess Mazu.


Now, here’s the kicker…

After days of research and running around Bangkok, and with this post already written, I went back to the Jâo Mâe Táp-tim shrine on Thonburi to get special permission to photograph the shrine.

An hour into the visit, the manager arrived. Perfect. So my outstanding question was put to him: Do you know the meaning of the transliteration over the temple doors? Yes. Well, mostly yes.

จุ้ย (jûi) is water
ไบ (bai) did not know
เนี้ยว (niêo) being female

จุ้ยไบเนี้ยว (jûi-bai-niêo) Water Goddess

Rikker from Thai 101 helped too. He located the alternative name for the southern goddess (mentioned above), and discovered two more ways that the Thais are spelling the Chinese name: จุ้ย โพ เนี้ บว (jûi poh niêo bà-wá) and จ้อ โป๋ (jôr bo). And I thought transliteration was confusing… Thanks Rikker!

Hindsight: There are a number of things I could have done to shorten my research time. But would it have been as fun? Nahhh…

And I still have questions to answer…

  • Who is Nai Lert?
  • Who decided that the tree spirit was Chao Mae Tuptim?
  • And hey, what’s up with all those penises in Thailand?

And as this post is long enough already, the remaining questions will have to wait for another day.

Directions to the Nai Lert Park…

Getting the the Nai Lert Park in Bangkok is easy, especially if you go via taxi. Head to the Swissôtel Nai Lert Park Hotel on 2 Wireless Road. At the hotel entrance you will be stopped by a guard. Politely inform him of your intentions, then park either in the hotel parking on your right, or take a left and park closer to the shrine.

If you are arriving via foot, then Richard Barrow’s directions work just fine: Chitlom BTS station >> exit sky train via Central Chitlom department store >> once outside the store, turn left >> turn left on Soi Somkid >> turn right into Swissôtel Nai Lert Park Hotel >> turn left once you are past the hotel guards.

And if you are arriving by boat, please let me know how it goes.

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What’s This About Songkran?

Songkran 2009

Red Shirt riots aside, just what IS สงกรานต์ (Songkran)…

One of the benefits of writing posts for WLT is being inspired to look up the many details I don’t know about Thailand and its culture. And while I realise that Songkran is officially over (isn’t it?) my previous post needed a trim. And besides, the Red Shirts have muffed up my posting schedule anyway, so why not go for broke?

Songkran 13

Before this year, my knowledge of Songkran was limited to opinions from irritated expats as well as Thais, and travel articles. Apparently, all that exuberance surrounded by the throwing of water can get to be a bit too much for some, but not all.

Songkran 8

But whether you enjoy the festivities or not, there is no getting around the dangers of Songkran. And no, I’m not talking riots, burning buses, and flying bullets.

Take a speeding motorcycle overloaded with occupants, a truck armed with water throwing maniacs wielding hoses (any of whom are most likely three sheets to the wind), and there you have it, a hard and fast recipe for six feet under.

The history of Sankhara, Sankranti, Sangkan, Songkran, Songgran…

Paraphrasing from Chiangmai-Changrai.com: Academics believe that Songkran came to Thailand via the pre-Buddhist Dtai’s (some are hanging around Vietnam even today).

The word Songkran comes from the Pali language, which evolved from Sankranti to Sangkan, and depending on your spelling preference, to Songkran or Songgran.

For the Thai people, Songkran signifies the movement of the sun from Aries to Taurus; a window in time between the rice harvest being over and the rains to come.

And although Thais celebrate the Western New Year in January, Songkran is traditionally the Thai New Year. So instead of saying “Happy New Year”, in Thailand one says สุขสันต์วันสงกรานต์ (Happy Songkran Day).

Songkran guns

In Songkran’s distant past, it was customary for the younger generation to pay respects to their elders by the gentle pouring of scented water over expecting shoulders. That was then and this is now. And now, buckets, water pistols, and hoses are added to the mix.

Songkran 2

In the name of warding off evil, an elder would anoint faces and body parts with a white powder or paste carried around in a silver bowl. Today, the ritual has evolved into a modern free for all: silver bowls have been replaced with coloured plastic bowls of choice; teens to young children join in as well.

Songkran 3

Most expats living in Thailand know about the merit-making attached to releasing birds and fish. But what I didn’t know until I started poking around was the common sense behind the ritual.

Songkran is not only hottest time of the year in Thailand, it is also the driest. When the water dries up, locals gather the flopping fish from the shrinking ponds. The larger fish are eaten immediately, but the smaller fish are cared for until they can be released back into the water, gaining merit for the villagers along the way.

Songkran Chedi

Another ritual practiced during Songkran is the making of sand chedis at the Thai temples. Thais used to believe that worshipers visiting temples carried sand away on their feet. As an act of merit-making, during Songkran Thais bring sand to the temples from nearby rivers to form into temporary chedis. Some chedis are decorated with flags and flowers, while others are left plain. After Songkran, the sand from the chedis is used to replace the sand supposedly lost over the past year.

And as Songkran is so much more – cooking, cleaning, string tying, Buddha washing – please drop by the informative resources below:

Songkran resources…

Until Songkran next year, enjoy…

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