Thursday, July 29, 2010

Not in Kansas anymore...

Last Sunday I made my first visit to a movie theatre in Thailand, the SFX Cinema complex at the Central Chaeng Watana mall. I have seen several movies since I've been here but all have been DVDs or from the movie channels I get with my TV package. The film I went to see was Inception which I had read good things about. I was entertained but not really impressed by the film. Conceptually it explored some interesting ideas but had so many "action sequences" that went on for so long  that I almost got bored. Special effects can only take you so far. The best thing about the movie was what happened right before the start, after endless previews and commercials: everybody stood up for a short - maybe two to three minutes - film of the King of Thailand, showing historical grainy footage, mostly black and white with no sound other then music and a few words in Thai as subtitles, which of course I couldn't read. Most of the images showed him and sometimes members of his family engaged in civic activities. The Thais love their king - he is very well respected and considered above politics - and I assume this film goes on before every commercial showing. It was a strange experience. 

Then today, while listening to the Thai radio station that broadcasts news in English every 7 AM, I learned that a new version featuring the Thai king was in the making, due to be completed by his birthday in early December. It is also slated to be shown in all public theaters prior to the main feature. So now when you come to visit and if we go to the movies, you won't be surprised. .

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Yoga class - Bangkok

 Today I went to my second vinyasa class at Elements studio in downtown Bangkok. The traffic in Bangkok can be nightmarish but not so bad on a Saturday morning before 10. I have about a 45 minute drive from my apartment in Nonthaburi, north of Bangkok, even without heavy traffic.  It's a little bit of a hike but the studio is very conveniently located near the expressway I take into town and there's parking in the building so that helps. There are studios in my neck of the woods but their schedules don't seem to match with mine - most of the classes at convenient times are Hot Yoga, Bikram based if not slight variations. I don't mind sweating but hot (typical hot classes are conducted at 105 degrees Fahrenheit) is not my thing. So I had seen this place on the internet and then met someone who takes classes there who highly recommended it. So that clinched it for me.

Bottom line: I like the place. The studio is on the 23rd floor of a building and they have two practice rooms. The one we were in is very nice, fairly large with large windows on three sides that were open; the walls are white and the ceiling, also white, medium high. It has nice dark wood floors. It is quiet and conducive to practice. There are no other buildings close by so there is plenty of light. The room is not air-conditioned and it's always warm in Bangkok - mid 80s to mid 90s this time of year but towards the lower part of that range at that time in the morning. There is one floor fan which helps with air circulation and last Saturday there was a nice breeze blowing. This morning it was slightly overcast and so cooler - relatively speaking - outside but more humid and there was no breeze so I sweated a lot more this time although the class seemed less vigorous. The class last week had about 16 students with plenty of room to spread out. This week there were 12, a blend of Westerners and Asians (at least of one of whom was not Thai). Studio staff and students are friendly. It's also very clean with lockers and showers. The class was an hour and a half and the individual class cost is $15.63. There are packages that take the cost per class much lower but I can't get there often enough to take advantage of them due to time limits - for example 30 classes over 3 months.

The teacher is a Westerner, a Canadian named Mark, probably in his early 30s. He has good energy and is humorous in an understated way. He gives good adjustments and leads a strenuous class - at least for me. Some of the variations on the asanas that he suggests are almost beyond my reach, which is good. It's nice to be pushed in a class, especially when you're only taking one a week. It gives me direction for expanding my home practice and tells me what I need to work on. Last week's class was based loosely on the Ashtanga primary series which I am partial to. I haven't practiced a full Primary series since April 10 when I hurt my ankle - since recovered - but I haven't had the urge (or discipline) to do a full primary at home. This was by no means a full primary but enough of one, with some side trips into second and third series variations (at least I was told some were third series, I've never come close to the third series), that I was sore the next day. I haven't been sore from yoga in a long time. It felt strangely good because I knew I had worked areas that needed attention. This week's class was focused on hip openers, primarily external rotation, better in a sense for me - I have more trouble with internal rotation. I'm sure I will experience some soreness or stiffness tomorrow. I sweated profusely and felt energized and mindful at the end. And that's carried through the day. It was that kind of class. I'll certainly go back.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Aa Haan (food)

Thai food is great, Thais are real foodies so there's a lot of emphasis put on good food and eating and  many other ethnic foods are available in the area including western (European, American) cuisine. My housekeeper is an excellent cook and she cooks at least 5 dinners during the week and often an extra dish for the weekend. This evening I had dinner with two friends at a nearby restaurant on the river. The place was casual, open air, almost rustic. I was worried I'd be hot but it was very pleasant with fans blowing and a breeze off the river keeping the temperature down. The food was excellent. We had a traditional tom yom soup with sea bass and mushrooms, a typical Thai salad with some type of green bean and a little meat and shrimp that was beautifully seasoned - tangy and almost but not quite sweet. We had what I would describe as shrimp croquettes (but cut into triangles) with a dried seaweed garnish that wasn't fishy at all (as seaweed can sometimes be). it came with a clear sweetish sauce for dipping that complemented the shrimp very well. We had fried sea bass - the whole fish, fried, and it came with a very spicy fish sauce. I was warned to go "ni noi" - just a little and a little did go a long way but it also enhanced the fish. We also ordered (and we're getting into overkill here) what I can only describe as a fried tofu stew. I know, I was skeptical too when I saw the description on the menu. But when it came the sauce was rich and dark and meaty and there were vegetables as well as the excellent and perfectly textured tofu, which looked like sliced italian sausages, and had a nice balance of being slightly crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. The spices and flavor were definitely of Chinese influence. None of us touched (or needed to) the small dish of beautiful but dangerous chopped chillies that came with the meal. Well, we certainly over-ordered for three people but managed to consume most of it. We waddled back to the car, stuffed and promising not to eat for a week.