July 2006 Archives

Last week, one reader asked how my intensive Thai Language lessons at Union Language school were going. Yesterday was Day 30 of the 120 day program, and I have to say that the first quarter was really outstanding.

I think that I already knew 80% of the vocabulary that has been taught so far, but only about 20% of the grammar. A great example can be seen in one of my personal triumphs last week. I figured out how to say, "Bob and Sue put their bottle of water in the same refrigerator." I more or less knew all of the words to this sentence, but not the grammar, which goes something like, Mr. Bob and Ms. Sue put water one bottle of they put in cabinet cold same.

Tones are another big area that this intensive class is helping me improve. I have always struggled with whether or not a word is "high tone" or "rising tone" (for example). But in this class, there is a lot of review and a lot of repeating ourselves over and over again, with a lot of teacher corrections. This can be extremely tedious at times, but it really helps the material stick to my teflon brain.

I also really do like the textbook that Union uses. It was developed 30+ years ago (the pages still say copyright 1973) but it has been very well thought out. We learn "just enough" new material each day that builds on the "just enough" material from the day before.

However, the downside is the fact that the class starts at 8 AM every day. I hated the occasional 8 AM class when I was a university student, so I guess not much has changed since then. Four hours a day is a bit much for me too. As I said, the repetition is very helpful, but maybe a small reduction might be in order.

I recently found out that there are two other Thai language schools in Bangkok that use the exact same text book. These schools were founded by ex-Union teachers who didn't like the strictness that comes along with working for a school run by Christian Missionaries. So they "borrowed" the class content on their way out the door and started their own schools. (At least that's the story I heard.)

The good thing about these schools is that they have afternoon classes, and one of them even has a two-hour and three-hour per day version of the courses. I'll have to check them out this week and make a decision where to study "Module 3" that starts in two weeks. All I know is that two- or three-hour afternoon lessons sound a lot better than four hours in the early morning!

Half-Way There: Phitsanulok

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It's now official, I have been to half of the 76 provinces in Thailand. This weekend, Phitsanulok was #38 for me. This province is located at the junction of northern, central, and northeastern Thailand. Or as the TAT office calls it, "Lower Northern Thailand."

And, as usual, I had a great time checking out a new place. Phitsanulok itself is your basic provincial capital (they are all mostly the same, actually) but it has had an interesting history over the last 700 years, including some recent events that bear mention.

First of all, it is the home of what is considered one of the most beautiful Buddha images in Thailand. The image is called Phra Buddha Chinnarat and is housed Wat Phra Sri Rattana Mahathat on the banks of the Nan River. And after visiting it, I have to agree, it's one of the most beautiful I have seen. It's only moderately sized, but the details such as the naga heads on each side of the Buddha make it a worth a viewing.

Another interesting site in Phitsanulok province is Phu Hin Rong Kla National Park. In the 1970s and 80s, this area was a stronghold of the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT). The Thai military had some major battles with the CPT in the 1980s, and after the Communists were defeated, the area was turned into a national park.

There is a small museum at the Visitor's Center that explains a little bit about what happened in these battles, and luckily some of it is in English. But even without the history, the park has a few natural attractions that made me glad I drove the 130 kilometers (80 miles) out from Phitsanulok city.

First of all, the park is on top of a mountain, so there are great views of the countryside below. There are also some very strange rock formations. On one tall cliff, the bare rock at the top of the cliff is covered in rock semicircles that are about 6 inches in diameter. It is as if someone left a bunch of soccer balls on the top of the mountain that turned to stone as they melted into the rock face.

So, that's the report from Province #38 of my list of Thai provinces. I wonder what secrets the second 38 hold for me.

A Woman in a Fish Hook Dress

In October of 2003, Piyawat and I made a road trip to Kuala Lumphur, Malaysia. Over the course of two weeks, we put almost exactly 4-megameters on his Honda City. (That's about 2,500 miles, but it's much more fun to say "megameter".)

One of the coolest spots we visited was Wat Suan Mokkhaphalaram in Nakorn Si Thammarat. In one room of the temple complex, there was an amazing collection of paintings from all kinds of different religious traditions: Buddhist, Christian, Taoist, etc.

Last December, someone found my website and emailed me the following:

I have been searching for close to three years now (on and off, obviously - I'm not possessed ;) for an image of a painting in that temple that I read about in a book about feminist perspectives on Buddhism:

"At Wat Suan Mokkh, in Thailand, there's a painting of a sexy lady, her miniskirt adorned with scary barbed hooks as she slyly displays a fishing rod: she's warning of dangerous female intentions."

Do you possibly have a picture of this mural? Would you know where I could find an image of this mural?

This email has stuck in my head all this time, and when I heard a friend of mine was visiting the temple, I asked her to take a picture of the woman with the fish hook dress. She did, and sent it to me. Now, my quest is complete and I can present to you a "warning of dangerous female intentions."


The Search for Funky Thong Lo

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My time as a TV Star didn't end at Au Bon Pain last night. The next stop was Sukumvit Soi 38, my favorite place to eat great Thai street food. At this location they filmed me taking pictures of the various stalls and the food they have on display.

And then our last stop was the Colosseum, just off of Soi 38. The Colosseum is a two-story beer hall that serves Thai food and has a great stage show that starts at 8:00 PM. The stage show is complete with a house band, surprisingly talented singers and dancers, and a few kratoey (ladyboys) thrown into the mix for comic relief. On the wall on one side of the stage is a huge mock-up of Mount Rushmore, complete with 20-foot tall faces of Washington, Roosevelt, Jefferson, and Lincoln. On the the other side of the stage is a 20-foot tall Thai version with equally important (I'm assuming) Thai Prime Ministers.

Here, the TV crew wanted to film me walking in to the Colosseum, sitting down, ordering a beer, and enjoying the show. I didn't want to walk in alone though! I can just here the voiceover now: "And here is the friendless foreigner, who, after taking pictures of street vendors all alone, goes to the nightclub to drown his sorrows."

Luckily, I saw four of my students from the University. I asked one of them if they wanted to be a TV star, and he agreed. But it turned out that he was much more nervous than I was. By this point, I was very comfortable in front of the camera. (Plus, the beers with dinner helped relax me a bit.)

So they filmed the two of us walking into the building, and then followed us with bright lights shining on us all the way through the crowd and to our seat. The band was playing but no one was watching them, for sure. They all wanted to know who the farang and his Thai friend were.

When it was all over, the crew interviewed me again and asked me if I thought that this part of Thong Lo was funky. I had to say yes, it doesn't get much more funky than the Colosseum. If a Thai version of Mount Rushmore isn't funky, I don't know what is!

I am sitting at Au Bon Pain at J Avenue, typing on my iBook much like I do many days. But today is different. Today I have a big video camera in my face filming my every move. Thanks to this, I am getting a lot of strange looks from the customers who walk by.

"Who is the farang? Is he a model? (He's really not all that handsome!) Is he a famous person? (I've never seen him before!)"

Nope, it's just me. Stuart G. Towns. Singaporean TV Star!

This all started several months ago. A Singaporean TV producer was searching for information on Thong Lo and found my website. She contacted me to ask me a few question about how "funky" I thought the area was. I told her straight up that the area has a very low "funk" quotient, in my opinion. It's comfortable and pleasant, but it's not terribly funky.

But she and her film crew are here this week anyway to show Singporeans how cool Thong Lo is. They have spent the afternoon with me: Interviewing me on camera in my apartment about what I think of Thong Lo. What makes it special? Why do you live here? Is it the epicenter of creativity in Bangkok?

Then, we filmed me doing various things in my apartment.

"OK, look at the TV. Pick up the remote. Change channels. Stop! Smile at something on the TV. Now read your magazine. Look up at the TV every now and then."

"OK, step out onto your balcony. Look left. Step forward and look right. Admire the building next door. Now look back to the left and SMILE!"

"Lay on the bed. Look seductive. Make love to the camera. Make love I said!"

(Ok, so I made up that last one.)

Then we went out to the street to film me getting on my motorcycle and driving off into the sunset. Then a few shots of me driving past my condo. And then the most fun of all, the camera man got on a motorcycle taxi and we did a tracking shot, with him yelling at his driver "raew raew (fast fast!) now cha cha (slow slow!)"

And now we are a few shots of me typing on the iBook outside of Au Bon Pain. Luckily it is relatively cool tonight with a nice breeze blowing through. Hopefully I'm not looking as sweaty as I usually do when I'm outside in Bangkok. They told me to just sit here and update my blog. So of course I have to write about them!

I have to admit I was a little bit nervous today before all of this started. As we talked in one of my IT classes once, I don't mind cameras in public places like elevators and shopping malls. I have nothing to hide. But having a team of professionals record my every move and my every word to be played again for an audience makes me feel a little strange.

But as it tuns out, there was no need to be nervous; it's been a very fun afternoon and evening. Being in front of the camera is not so bad after all. Or maybe it's just that I enjoy everyone around me wondering why I am so special!

BTS Skytrain to run more trains


On Monday through Friday mornings I take the Sky Train to my Thai Language classes. The two-line mass-transit system is very popular, but I didn't realize just how popular it is until I took it during the morning rush hour.

It seems that most of the people on the morning train take busses from the suburbs (like Bang Na) to the end-of-the-line station at On Nut. So the train is jam packed full at the very first station. By the time it gets to me a few stations later, it's even more full. To get on you have to push your way in. I've heard that trains in Japan or India are like this, but I've never seen it in Thailand until now.

So, needless to say I was very excited to see a headline yesterday on The Nation website that read, "BTS Skytrain to run more trains". The first line of the article reads, "Operators of the BTS Skytrain plan to increase services from next Monday to reduce overcrowding during peak hours." Great!

But then the article goes on to say that currently morning rush hour trains now come every 2.4 minutes. That's the good thing, you actually don't have to wait very long for the next packed train. But, according to the article, soon the trains will come every 2.33 minutes. Wow, from 2.4 to 2.33 minutes! According to my calculations, 0.07 minutes is 4.2 seconds.

Maybe it's just me, but somehow I don't see that making much of a difference in my morning commute...

(The full article is BTS Skytrain to run more trains)

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This page is an archive of entries from July 2006 listed from newest to oldest.

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