Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Johnny Cash

Today I left the studio early with my design staff - five plus me - for an outing to downtown Bangkok to visit the Thailand Creative and Design Center, known affectionately and in the interest of brevity as the TCDC. It is basically a world class resource and research center located on the top floor, which it shares with a multiplex cinema, of an upscale mall chock full of big name designer shops and a top flight department store. I had planned it as both a project research exercise and a bonding experience plus just something to break their routine. I took a cab into work this morning so I could join them in the company van to downtown.

On the way we stopped for lunch at a place that my team leader and frequent interpreter Sani knew and had selected. She had warned me that it was "not modern" and very local, which of course was fine with me. The place was indeed rustic as are many Thai restaurants. This one had unfinished wooden tables and chairs and had a thatched roof and no walls. The menu was varied: noodles with beef or noodles with pork - but you could opt for thick noodles or thin noodles. No one had the thick noodles. And they were out of beef so everyone had pork except Ann, who is Muslim and doesn't eat pork. So she had a vegetarian version. Of course the noodles were delicious. They come in a large soup bowl drowned in broth with pieces of meat, greens and some meatball like things. Mine came farang style (for foreigners) - not too spicy hot and very well seasoned. And here's the cool part - for the full time we were there they were playing classic Johnny Cash songs. It was a surreal experience - I was in another world and right at home.  And so was my Thai staff, whether they realized it or not. Brilliant, I loved it.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


 Wat Yai Chai Mongkol

Ayutthaya, according to the Lonely Planet Guide to Thailand (p. 195), "was the capital of Siam [Thailand] for 417 years between 1350 and 1767... At its peak it controlled an area larger than England and France combined, and was a melting pot of culture, art and trade. Its glorious reign ended in1767 when the invading Burmese army sacked the city looting most of its treasures." While its glory days are long past the city is still famous for its impressive ruins and still active Buddhist temples. In 1991 Ayutthaya was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site. It's located a little ways north of where I live, about 45 km form here which made for an easy drive last Sunday.

My sister Marguerite had mentioned it to me when she learned I was moving to Thailand saying it was one of the most amazing places she had ever seen  - and she's travelled a lot and been to many cool places. So that got my attention. It was also highly recommended by a Thai friend of hers with whom she had put me in contact. I casually mentioned it to my friend and work colleague Dao and she recruited a friend of hers, Goong, to arrange an outing. Goong, a friend from their college days, is an English and History major (and currently studying law) and between her knowledge of Thai history and Buddhism, was the perfect person to lead the excursion. She put together an extensive itinerary that kept us busy and enthralled for the entire long day.

Ayutthaya is truly an amazing and beautiful place. Here are some more images from there:

Reclining Buddha at Wat Yai Chai Mongkol

 Also at Wat Yai Chai Mongkol

Huge Buddha at Wat Phananchoeng. If you look closely you can see two guys standing on the lap area and furling in the saffron bolts of fabric. that will give you some idea of the scale. By the way, Wat means temple.

Traaditional Thai house at Chawsampraya Museum. Unfortunately it was closed so we only saw it from the outside.

Elephants! The whole day wasn't taken with wats and ruins of old palaces.

I did an uber-touristy thing and rode one:

Kluaymai, my elephant, says thank you for the excellent tip!

Then it was time for lunch at the Floating Market, how do I describe this? - a series of platforms floating on a lagoon. On the outside periphery were numerous food stalls with an amazing variety of Thai foods. We purchased food coupons and indulged in a variety of tasty treats from the typical satay (grilled chicken with peanut sauce but served with bite sized "pillows' of crunchy noodles to deep fried flowers that varied in taste between slightly bitter and almost sweet by way of egg battered fried oyster, green papaya salad and coconut ice cream for dessert.  Unfortunately I was too busy eating to think about documenting everything in pictures. Sorry. Here are some views of the place:

There was also a show: a traditional Thai story complete with music and singing, acted out on the water. I am going to pass on describing the story in detail but it involved love and betrayal and magic and a happy ending. How can you beat that? Dao and Goong explained it to me but there is no doubt that the Thai audience was very familiar with it.

Other Floating Market images:

After lunch we visited another historical wat: Wat Na Phra Men (which translates to temple in front of the crematorium - not a recent or current crematorium though)
This Buddha is over 1,000 years old.

The Wat  Phra Mahathat was built in 1374 during the reign of King Borom Rachathirat I:

It is not known how this Buddha head came to be embedded in the roots of this tree. 

We went on to visit the Wat Phra Sri Sanphet, which featured 3 stupas from the late 14th cent. Here are two of them:

A stupa is a mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics, typically the remains of a Buddha or saint, used by Buddhists as a place of worship. These were built to honor certain kings of Ayutthaya. 

Our last stop of the day and the most spectacular (Goong saving the best - and her personal favorite - for last) was the Wat Chaiwattanaram, which was built in 1630 by King Prasat Thong to honor his mother.

We watched the day turn to night at this magical place.

We drove back and finished the long day with dinner at the excellent Suan Thip Thai restaurant that is located next to my apartment building. It was a good finish to a spectacular day. I was tired and exhilarated.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


Sawat dee krap. (hello in Thai)

Here's a city side view (as opposed to the river view) from my balcony:

I got my first Thai haircut in today at one of the many places at the nearby mall (Central Chaeng Wattana). Of course my friend Dao recommended the one I selelected. I managed to communicate, in English (not Thai unfortunately, I'm a long way from that) what I wanted and was pleased with the result. I had my car washed while I ran my other errands there, also a first. And I bought an external hard drive that didn't work on my computer (not yet anyway, I haven't given up).

Then I went grocery shopping.

Alcohol, other than beer, is highly taxed here so I've not been drinking wine (call me cheap). I bought two bottles last weekend and haven't tried either yet. I've actually consumed very little beer as well. But I decided to splurge and get a single malt scotch (McCallan 12 year) as well as a few more beers to replenish my small stock and other more mundane groceries at the Topps Market at Central. By the time I worked my way to the cash register it was 2:15 PM and I could no longer buy the alcohol. There is a law, to me mysterious, that you can't buy alcohol between 2 PM and 5 PM. I've been told it's to keep students from buying alcohol and getting drunk after school and/or conversely so government employees don't drink in the afternoon. Both reasons seem slightly bogus to me so I hope there's a better explanation. Then again many places have strange laws regarding alcohol. I recall a convenience store clerk in Georgia freaking out that I had opened and consumed half of a non-acoholic beer that I was getting ready to pay for because it happened to be Sunday afternoon. It had been a hot hike and I wanted something non-sweet and non-caffenated to quench my thirst. The 0.05% of alcohol it contained was enough to put it on the forbidden list. But just on Sunday.

My housekeeper, Khun Malee fixed enough food yesterday that I didn't eat out today but enjoyed her good cooking. She lives across the river and comes over in her own boat every weekday. I'm not sure whether she paddles or has a small motor. She cooks Thai food of course and sometimes brings traditional desserts that she makes at home and sometimes sells (or at least has in the past). I gave her a raise last week because she has been doing such a good job of taking care of the condo and me.

Khun Malee's house is one of these across the river. I'm not sure which one. I haven't been able to find out what the name of the trees with the orange blossoms are either. No one I know knows. The trees are ubiquitous and beautiful.

I watched France play Uruguay today (tivo'd it). It was a boring game unfortunately. Tomorrow US vs. England promises to be more interesting. At least I hope it will be.

Sunset was nice here today.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Big Smile

The World Cup starts tomorrow!

(Actually today in this part of the world)


Sunday, June 6, 2010


Saturday I made my first trip into downtown Bangkok. My friend from work Dao took me to the huge outdoor market called Chatuchak. The place is massive and labyrinthine and has all sorts of merchandise: clothes, plants, food, antiques, jewelry, textiles, crafts, artwork, pets, plants and much more. And did I mention food? If you saw something you wanted it was best to buy it on the spot because the chances of finding your way back to it again were minimal.

It was hot and crowded and a lot of fun. We spent 3 hours there and I don't think we saw 25% of it. Here are some random images from there.

Street performers


Lots of food available, to eat and to take home

Group encouraging people to forego the use of plastic shopping bags

You could find just about anything there if you had enough time.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Not in Chattanooga anymore..

I know this may not make much sense given that I've been here 3 weeks but last Monday I was driving back from Central Chaengwattana, my local upscale shopping mall. Central is the name of the anchor department store and Chaengwattana is the main road that it's on. Anyway, I'm headed home in the middle of traffic and I realize - I'm in Asia. OK I know intellectually that I've been in Asia almost three weeks (at that time) but this was like a slight shift of consciousness. I am in Asia - I'm here. I'm not visiting. This is my world now. And you know what? That was pretty cool with me. No big deal, no added sense of excitement, no sense of dread. Just that I am here and it's different and it's Asia. Specifically Thailand of course, but definitely Asia.

The images were all taken in downtown Bangkok at the time of my interview visit in early March. They are a street sign near Lumpini Park, a temple seen from the river at night, me in front of the  statue of Rama VI at Lumpini Park , and one of the protector shrines of the type seen at nearly all buildings here.