Recently in Bangkok Category

Watching Friends Perform Live

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One of the things I love about Thailand is the amount of live music and shows that I get to see. Sometimes it's a band playing at a restaurant, or perhaps it's karaoke at a village festival, or maybe it's a children's troop performing a dance routine. Not all of it is great talent, but it is always performed with zest and fun and huge smiles, so it's easy to forgive the off-key notes and asynchronous dance steps.

I was in Pattaya last night and as we strolled down the infamous Walking Street (think Bourbon Street on steroids) I was amazed at how many bands were performing in the bars. And they were all quite good, whether they were playing Thai love songs or Bob Marley or the Rolling Stones or hip hop cover songs. Even the Thai Elvis wasn't bad.

But live performances are even better when I know the people who are performing. I have always loved watching my friends in band concerts or in stage plays or dance recitals. When I know the person on stage and I know their normal everyday personality, and then I see them become someone else for a few minutes, it sends chills down my spine. Especially when they forget the crowd in front of them and it's just them and their bass or their dance or their script. They tilt their head back a bit and close their eyes and pour their soul into their art. It brings me close to tears every time.

This week I was lucky enough to experience this not once but twice. The reason for being in Pattaya last night was to watch my friend Jay give a singing concert at a fundraiser. (Jay is the "male voice" for the ITS4Thai website, by the way.) We thought it would be a small affair at a piano bar, but in fact it was in the street in front of the bar and hundreds of Thais and farang were in attendance. Jay's performance was great, and the songs he picked (none of which I knew) really highlighted his talent.

And then this evening I went to hear an ex-student of mine named Yossiri play bass in his band at Central World. He said that it was a hard-rock band, but the music they played was surprisingly melodic and downright bouncy at times. Again, I loved being in the crowd and watching someone I know pour his passion out for an appreciative audience.

Yossiri sent me a link to his band's You Tube video from this show. It's not very high quality, but you can still make him out playing bass on the right side of the stage. Feel free to check it out!

Valentines Decorations at Muse Thong Lo 10

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About a week ago I was walking along Thong Lo Soi 10, and noticed that the club Muse still had Christmas decorations out in front of the building. The decorations consisted of a big glass pyramid with flashing white lights that represented a Christmas tree, four smaller brightly lit trees, and several very bright white reindeer prancing around. It was very eye-catching, very modern, and very Western.

At the time, I thought it was funny that they still had Christmas decorations up over a month after Christmas, but I guess they were just waiting for the right time to present this:


Yup, a 15-foot flashing red heart with a swarm of mandolin-playing cherubs flying around. And again, the only thing Thai about this place is the clientele!

The 30 Km Bike Ride That Became 60 Km

It has been a long time since I rode my bike. So long in fact, that when I got it out this morning to join Chris on a long ride out in the countryside, there was a thick layer of dust over the bike and lock and helmet.

But I was excited to get out of the city and explore the rice fields again. Around 5 AM I woke up without an alarm and jumped out of bed. By 6 I was eating a quick breakfast at Mc Donalds at J-Avenue and waiting for Chris to come by and pick me up. He finally showed up with his friend Peter who lives in Shanghai, and the three of us headed off towards the airport with our three bikes on a car rack.

We started our bike tour at a wat just north of the airport, and made a lesurely 32 km route through the rice fields as the sun was rising. The air was fairly cool, and the roads were mostly empty, so it was a very enjoyable ride. Neither Peter nor I had done much riding recently, so we begged Chris to take it slow and easy, which he did. By the time we got back to our parked car at the wat, I was tired but not completely exhausted.

We loaded up the bikes again on the rack on the back of the car, and headed home. But unfortunately, we only made it a few miles when the rack broke! We were stuck 30 kilometers from home with no way to get all of the bikes back, other than to ride them.

So that's what we did. About 10 kilometers into the trip my legs were starting to cramp up a bit and so we found a nice little restaurant that had a seating area on the roof where we could relax. We ended up ordering several plates of delicious Thai food and a few Thai beers, and I definitely felt better after that.

We eventually made it home, after a few more breaks, including one stop at a truck parked on the side of the road selling fresh-squeezed sugar cane juice. In this picture that Chris took, you can see a very unflattering photo of a very tired me enjoying my sugar cane!

But all in all, it was a great adventure and I loved every bit of it (except for the aching legs). Here is a Google Map of the two routes we took. If you'd like to see some pictures from the ride, then click on the "View Larger Map" link and then click on the pins. A little box will pop up with a picture that was taken at that very location!


View Larger Map


You can also view some more pictures taken by Chris and myself during our adventure.

Colorful Politics and Colorful Taxis

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One adjective I could use to describe Bangkok is "colorful". That word has a lot of meanings, but in this case I am actually talking about all of the different colors one sees as they walk around town.

For example, Thai people like to wear certain colored shirts on certain days to show their support for some person or group. Yellow shirts represent the King. Light blue shirts represent the Queen. Many people wore black every day for weeks after the King's sister died earlier this year. And now in the current political deadlock, we have the yellow-shirt wearing anti-government PAD vs the red-shirt wearing pro-government DADD.

Speaking of PAD vs DADD, it seems like all I have been thinking about lately is politics, and it hasn't been looking very good this past week. If I am not clicking refresh on the websites I mentioned in the last post to see what is going on with the mess in Thailand, I am reading reports about a woman from Alaska who aspires to be one 72-year-old heartbeat away from one of the most important jobs in the world.

These two political situations are both very "colorful", but not necessarily in a good way. So let's talk about something less polarizing, but still very colorful: Bangkok Taxis.

As anyone who has been in Bangkok know, the meter taxis that cruise the streets of Bangkok are very colorful. When I first moved here, there were two kinds of two-toned taxis: red/blue and yellow/green. A couple of years ago, the spectrum exploded and now we have orange, pink, blue, green, red, and purple taxis.

But what I didn't realize until I read it in the weekly BK magazine this morning is that each of the different colored taxis come from different companies. And some people think that some colors are better than others. One person was quoted in BK as saying that the green colored taxis were their favorite, as they are always clean and have white cloth covering the interiors.

Now that I think about it, I think he is right. But I have never really noticed before that some colors were better than others. Although I try to always take a bright mono-colored taxi because they are usually newer and cleaner than the old-fashioned two-tone cabs. But I never noticed the difference between, say, hot pink and orange (taxis).

Perhaps I should start taking notes? Or has anyone reading this page have an opinion aout which color is best? There are so many taxis on the streets these days, I would definitely be willing to wait an extra minute or two for the "right color".

Or, should I just follow the advice of another BK reader who said, "I love the pink ones! How could you possibly feel threatened by a guy who drives a pink car for a living?"

For More Information on Thai Protests

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Although I always enjoy trying to figure out what the heck is going on with the circus that is Thai politics, the truth is that I still really have very little insight into what is happening in the current situation. As I have said before, one of my least favorite things about living in Thailand is the lack of information, the lack of reported facts, and the lack of reputable analysis that is available in English.

However, over the past few days, I have found myself hitting refresh continuously on a handful of websites that have kept me up-to-date with what is going on. If you are interested in the latest news and punditry on the current protests in Bangkok, I'd recommend the following:


The Bangkok Post newspaper's special section with updates on the latest news articles.

Bangkok Pundit Blog. Although the author tends to be a bit pro-Taksin for my tastes sometimes, he seems to have good insight into what is going on behind the scenes. I assume the author is Thai

New Mandala. An intellectual look at current events in SE Asia, written by foreigners.

Absolutely Bangkok Another blog (written by a farang?) that has some interesting insights as well.


Oh and by the way, things are still "life as usual" for most of the city. The trains were full of people heading to work this morning, and so far the protests haven't really affected day-to-day life, other than making people worry about what the future will hold.

Work Permits for Beggars, Part 2

This is a follow-up to the Work Permits for Beggars post that I wrote yesterday. I was compelled to write it after reading someone else's take on the situation.

I have been thinking more about the proposed law to deal with homeless beggars on the streets of Bangkok. It seems to me that the point is not to make sure that all homeless people have ID cards and work permits. Hopefully the government knows that this is impossible. Some of these people can barely keep up with their clothes, let alone ID documents.

I think the main point of the law is to crack down on the exploitation of others. As I said yesterday, I have heard that some beggars are put on the streets and forced to beg by others who simply take the majority of the money collected. This is especially evident around Siam and MBK, where I see the same beggars year after year, except that every year or so they get a new baby to hold or a new puppy dog all in the hopes of eliciting sympathy from Thai shoppers or farang tourists.

I don't know the details about Thai law on this subject, but perhaps they are closing a loophole or getting this kind of language in the code of law so that they can go after those who exploit others for their own gain in this way. I think that these people are who the law is directed at, not at the elderly or the physically or mentally disabled that I see on the streets every day.

At least I hope that is the case.

Work Permits for Beggars

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Like most big cities in the world, Bangkok has its share of people begging on the streets. It seems to be focused in the Silom/Sukumvit business district, and although it is not as big a problem as other cities (San Francisco, I'm looking at you), it seems to me like I have been seeing more and more begging this year than before.

I have heard rumors that many of the beggars are actually Cambodian or Burmese. Other rumors say that the people are placed on the street by individuals who use them to make money for themselves. I don't have any proof to back up these rumors, but they seem entirely possible to me.

In any case, there was an interesting article in the Bangkok Post today that said that a new law is being drafted that will require beggars to register with the government, so that the government can make sure that they are "qualified" to beg, with qualifications including being disabled, or elderly with no children to take care of them. (There are a few heartbreaking old grandmas, and a few guys who have terribly distorted bodies from who knows what malady who beg for money near my office. Very sad.)

The article, called "Qualified people only may apply", was written by Anucha Charoenpo and is reprinted here:


Being a beggar will not be so easy anymore if draft legislation approved by the cabinet yesterday becomes law. The bill proposed by the Human Security and Social Development Ministry sets conditions for people who want to be beggars.

They must provide proof they are underprivileged, disabled, homeless or elderly without children to care for them. And this will be a reserved occupation, exclusively for Thais who must carry ID cards.

Would-be professional beggars will have to report to local administration organisations for approval and work permits.

Local agencies will be responsible for controlling beggars in their jurisdictions, while the Social Development and Welfare Department will have special centres to help them and programmes to care for them.

Those who force other people to beg, or exploit them, will be liable to criminal punishment, deputy government spokeswoman Suparat Nakboonnam said.

Passing the legislation into law would help the authorities get rid of the large number of foreign beggars in the country, she said. The bill will soon be handed to the government whips and then go to parliament for approval.

If passed, it will replace the 1941 Begging Control Act, which is outdated and begging for a makeover, Ms Suparat said.


So if this bill passes, does that mean there's going to be a round-up of beggars who do not meet the requirements of the job? Or will this just be another ignored, unenforced Thai law?

Last Friday, I was interviewed by a reporter from the Daily Express, a new newspaper in Bangkok that published by the Nation Group. The interview was about our Learn Thai Language website, ITS4Thai, and as far as I could tell, it went pretty well. Although I have to admit that he completely stumped me with one fairly simple question. After rambling on and on for about five minutes, I finally came up with a good answer. I'll be ready the next time I am asked, though!

The resulting article is running in today's paper, but I thought I'd reprint the full text here.


Log on to learn thai

Published on May 5, 2008

New site offers foreigners the chance to learn the Thai language online

By Pongphon Sarnsamak

Daily Xpress

An American computer engineer has developed an interactive Thai-language tutor for tourists heading here.

It was 38-year-old Stuart Towns' own efforts at learning the language that led to the Web-based learning idea.

It's simple to use and all it takes is your own time.

"I was inspired by learning Thai myself," Towns says. "It can be difficult for most foreigners. My friends and I found it hard, even though we were living here," he adds.

Lost in translation

Back in 2003, Towns was finding it hard to communicate with the locals - he couldn't order food, buy a bus ticket or find his way back home. He got lost in translation, a lot.

So, Towns bought a book and then started taking lessons. None of this worked.

"Many others have trouble with books and lessons, too. The biggest problem is tones. It takes us a long time to hear and pronounce the tones."

Using his extensive background in computer engineering with some of the biggest dotcoms around, he set to work with friends to set up its4thai.com.

The site provides multimedia learning, presenting interactive vocabulary and grammar exercises and audio clips spoken by native speakers. Games help with practice in different settings.

The site keeps track of a student's progress and tailors exercises to reflect needs.

"In the long term computers will become teachers, and that's why we are going there. We want the computer to be able to look at what the student knows, and help them fill in the blanks. No site or program I have ever seen does this well," Towns says.

xtra

Matter of course

>> its4thai courses cost between Bt199 and Bt499.

>> The cheapest option gives students access to 30 words a lesson.

>> The Bt499 option provides unlimited access in 60 lessons.

>> New users get 10 free lessons.


The original article can be accessed on the Daily Express website.

In anticipation of another long bike ride tomorrow with Chris, I rented a bike from a bike tour company here in Bangkok called Spice Roads. From the looks of their website, they have a lot of interesting tours, from one-day bike tours through Bangkok, to 12 days from Hanoi, Vietnam to Luang Prabang, Laos. I would love to do something like that some day.

They also have bikes to rent, for 400 baht per day. That seemed a bit steep to me, but I I figured that it was cheaper than buying my own bike. I thought that maybe I should wait to see if I am really serious about this biking thing before I shell out a few hundred dollars.

So I reserved a bike at the Spice Roads website and went by to pick it up today. I rode it home (about 5 kilometers or so) and I have to say I was very disappointed in the bike. It was pretty beat up and the gears were not working very well.

I had plans later in the day to meet Chris at Pro Bike near Lumpinee Park to do a little window shopping -- just to see what they had available. Well, to make a long story short, due to the prospects of a long ride tomorrow on an old bike in bad shape, I am now the proud owner of a brand new Trek mountain bike.

I think it was a decent deal, from what I can tell. I got a bike, helmet, pump, water bottle, lock, gloves, bell, extra inner tube, and a digital odometer for 12,300 baht (US$390). Now I don't have any excuses for not getting out on the roads and exploring Bangkok on bike!

My Annual Hospital Visit

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I woke up Monday morning feeling a lot better than I was expecting. I was just a little stiff after the 38 mile bike ride, but it wasn't too bad. Surprisingly, my shoulders and wrists were more tender than my legs.

So the bike ride wasn't able to slow me down today, but I found something else that did: my annual case of food poisoning. I don't know how I got it, as I only ate at my favorite food shops yesterday, but by 7 PM I was running to the hong nam every half hour, and by 9 PM I was getting a second look at my dinner.

It's always the ah-chian that makes me finally make up my mind to go to the hospital. (It sounds better when you say it in Thai, doesn't it?) And again, the only good thing about getting food poisoning in Thailand is that I spent 20 minutes at the hospital and US$20 and I was on the way home to rest.

On the way home, I was feeling pretty miserable, and was a bit angry at myself for complaining about such a "little thing" like a stomach bug. What if I was really sick? Something more than a 20 minute / $20 problem?

I guess it was just a good reminder that the human body is quite fragile, really. Lately, I have been getting caught up in my 6 handwritten pages of "things to do" at my company and forget how tenuous everything really is.

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Bangkok category.

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