Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year 2554!

It's 07:00 on the morning of New Year's Eve where I sit writing this, but as it's 21:00 in the Land of Smiles I'm sure the party is in full swing throughout the country. Somewhere around 66 million people are awaiting what some of my friends there call "the countdown" that will signal the beginning of the year 2011 - or 2554 by the Thai calendar.

There will be much hooting and hollering as midnight approaches and fireworks begin lighting the sky above the crowds, bursting in colorful floral patterns and popping with those concussive blasts you can almost feel in your chest. Ground level fireworks will also bloom, but hopefully not in areas too crowded with holiday revelers.

In Mexico there are common fireworks known as buscapies that I had the fun of playing around with years ago; small cylindrical items most of us would recognize as a bottle rocket or very small skyrocket without the usual launching stick to help guide them on they way skyward. There they're ignited and dropped to the ground where they shoot sparks (and sometimes whistle) as they rocket their way randomly around amidst folk, skittering around amidst people's feet. In fact, buscapie translates to "it looks for feet" - and most anywhere they're used there's shouting and laughter and third degree burns.

Wherever you are and whoever you're with on this final day of 2010/2553 I hope you can pause to reflect back on the year drawing to a close, and that when you do you're able to say to yourself "it's been a great year"! If you can't say that this year be comforted that Life usually gives us a "do over" and make next year a better one. It truly is - as they say there - "up to yooouuu"!

Happy New Year, everyone!

[The images today were found on the internet]

Thursday, December 30, 2010

MORE Monkey Business: Lopburi #2

There was an email yesterday evening wondering if there were any more photos of the monkeys in Lopburi, as they were planning a trip through there. How's this for fast service?

The ruins of Prang Sam Yot sit in a large square open area smack in the middle of a business area, somewhat cat-a-corner across a busy intersection from the active temple. As I mentioned yesterday, you can't go anywhere there without seeing a monkey.

The last photo today may give you the impression that there was about to be a monkey BBQ, but strangely enough I saw hundreds of them skittering along and around the ball of snakes that passes for Thai electrical wiring without getting electrocuted. My guess is it was learned behavior after seeing some who were a bit too curious.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

More Monkey Business: Lopburi #1

There's not a great deal to the smaller set of temple ruins at Prang Sam Yot in Lopburi - meaning others have more historical interest - but as these are actually in the town of Lopburi they're certainly easier to get to and usually have more monkeys "than Carters has little liver pills", as my grandfather used to say. The area around it is home to hundreds of them. In addition to seeing them clambering around on the ruins themselves you'll also see more than you can count on parked cars, shop fronts, signs, power lines, telephone poles... everywhere.

These were filmed one morning around 09:00 on a trip up into Isaan. Across the intersection from the ruins is another functioning temple where dozens of faithful were making merit that morning - and shooing away more monkeys - who were mainly looking for food, but also things to play with, such as cameras, hats, purses, that sort of thing.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Thai Smiles, Part 24: More Random Smiles

As the Christmas holidays draw to a close - as observed by my family, anyway - I'm finally digging out from beneath the wrapping paper, getting back to somewhat normal food and beginning to clear up some of the festive mess generated when 20 people gather together here for four days. It's not completely back to normal here, but the number of folks still staying overnight is down to five plus day visitors so I'm able to punch out a post of sorts today as I'd said I would do.

Readers have been kind enough to say they've liked the "Thai Smiles" series, so - taking the easier, softer way - here today are another few assorted smiles while I recover from a major sugar crash.

The top photo today is half of a couple I talked with at Jatujak weekend market one day. The two guys had just bought the new dog that day and were on their way home, as pleased as any new "parents" can be. I've joked with friends that while both subjects in the picture are "cute puppies" I suspect the one on the right would overall be less needy maintenance-wise!

Although the guy below wasn't really smiling I thought he had nice eyes, so I'm including it.

In the previous post from the series (on the 23rd) there was a group of kids in a park in Udonthani taken after they'd seen me taking the shot of the two kids below. Since they kind of go together I'm posting it today.

The last photo is of a friend's cousin up in Isaan. Since kids are the best subjects it seemed like a fitting close for today.

Friday, December 24, 2010

My Christmas Wish For You

There are several major holidays observed around the world as the year draws to a close, with Christmas and Hanukkah leading the pack in the Western world - but there are many, many other holidays and festivals that have significant meaning to people around the globe.

Most Muslims observed Eid-al-Adha near the end of November, many of African descent will begin the days of Kwanzaa on the 26th of this month, and the Japanese will soon begin preparations for their New Year, known there as Omisoka (not to mention the Lunar New Year in late January or early February, celebrated by my Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean friends) .

In addition to these there are holidays best known to those who either live in or hail from a certain area, such as St Nicholas Day (in Northern Europe), or Las Posadas (throughout Mexico) or even Hogmanay - a Scottish New Year celebration.

I've shared in past posts that I don't affiliate myself with any organized religion but I do consider myself a spiritual being, and some parts of the December holidays have the pleasant side effect of re-charging my emotional and mental batteries: such as the feeling of well-being many of us get from being with friends and family, the opportunity to do for others more than usual and the comfort of familiar decorations, music, dishes and treats - to name a few.

I was raised with Christmas, and again this year my home will be the gathering place for 20+ people to celebrate it. That means tomorrow my usual "solo" days will end for four or five days, and that's going to eliminate the time necessary to put together and write posts. So, I'm going to put the blog on a mini-vacation and wish you all the best of whatever holiday you observe. If all goes well, I'll be back with new posts by the 28th.

As my Christmas e-card I'll leave you today with the video up top that I created to share what I've considered for years to be the most beautiful and serene recording ever made of "Silent Night", although since my niece and nephew were singing with the group when this concert was recorded I'm a little partial. Leave the religious sentiment out of it if you wish (I do) and it's still a gorgeous rendition.

Happy holidays, all! See you in a few days.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thai Smiles, Part 23: More Friends

The Christmas season can - in some cases - bring out the best in people here in the USA. Not always, but far more often than other times of year you'll encounter people in traffic giving you a break, folks holding a door open for you, that sort of thing. There are even more folks willing to let a smile cross their faces. These are admittedly small "Christmas miracles", but we gratefully accept what's offered, right?

I'm certainly not saying the good people of Thailand live life without a worry or care, but I continue to admire their ability to keep a better grip on their "mai pen rai" (nevermind, don't worry about it) attitude, and I am again (finally) beginning to count the days until I'm immersed in it once more.

Here today are more smiling examples of shared friendship and camaraderie I've observed. The school kids up top were also shown in a different pose in "Friends" back on September 26th, but I also liked this shot well enough to repeat the same subjects. I defy anyone to look at this photo and not smile to themselves.

The kids above were playing some version of "tag" when I was wandering around in the large city park in central Udonthani one afternoon, and after taking a picture of two of them the others ran over to get in on it, too.

The two guys below were leading a less-than-charmed life when I first met them but had bonded together for friendship and emotional support, as co-workers doing challenging or unpleasant work sometimes do. I've lost track of them now but they were most generous in sharing about their existence away from home, and I hope to run across them again some time for an update.

If anyone reading this knows of their whereabouts, please leave a comment for me. In the interest of their privacy I won't publish it, but I'd appreciate it.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Night Skyline Clip From The Le Bua Hotel

This clip was taken from a suite on the 65th floor of the Le Bua State Tower Hotel back in October of last year. You can see the Saphan Taksin bridge crossing the Chao Phraya river at the beginning and then it pans to the left, looking towards the Gulf of Thailand. That annoying scraping sound is my lens cap on the balcony railing, sorry!

The Le Bua is far more money than I'm comfortable paying for to stay myself - even during strained tourist times such as these - but I was there visiting a niece and her new husband who were honeymooning their way through Asia and happened to come through Bangkok while I was in town.

Having been bumped up two classes by the hotel (after a registration problem) their suite was absolutely amazing. Not only was there the living room and dining room you'd expect with a suite, there a second bedroom with its own full bath and a completely stocked kitchen and laundry area with a full-sized washer and dryer. I took this clip from one of their three balconies. One of these days I'll post pictures of the place.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

MBK Mall Christmas #2

With Christmas just a few days away I find myself waist deep in prep work, so today's offering is another shot of the MBK Mall holiday lights one night a couple of years ago. See you back here tomorrow.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Remembering "The First Time"

The runways of Don Muang Airport are in the upper left hand corner of this shot, taken in 2003

Our Japan Air Lines flight arrived at the "old" Don Muang airport in Bangkok right on schedule at 23:40 local time, 21 hours after we'd taken off from San Francisco International to start our journey. My friend Eric had already made this 8,000 mile journey once before, and I was so glad to have him along with me on my first trip into Asia. Being detail-oriented can be a good thing when traveling into a completely foreign land, and I was so slack-jawed (and jet lagged) that I just wandered along beside him, gazing around as though I'd landed on the moon instead of Thailand.

Despite the cautionary tales I’d read online and heard from others we breezed right through our Immigration procedures - having our passports stamped and receiving our visas good for the standard 30-day tourist visit. Our luggage arrived soon after we got to the claim area, snaking through the crowd on one of those twisting, turning lengths of plates that parade the bags around and around. I was traveling relatively light, but I did have gifts for a few friends there; something I've continued to do each trip since. It doesn't take much to show you've thought of someone, and it makes points with people there the same as it would anywhere.

We walked through customs in the “Nothing to Declare” line, along with a good 75% of the rest of the folks on our plane. All earlier apprehensions about electronics, cameras, my laptop and the overall bother of a “rummage-through-your-bags-just-for-the-hell-of-it” session drifted away as we pushed out carts out through the arriving passenger area of Terminal One to the main arrival gate.

I was so happy to see my friend standing at one side to greet us that when I spotted him in the waiting crowd I nearly veered my luggage cart directly over to him behind the low barrier at the edge of the queue to say hello. Just as well I didn’t as there were people with their own carts all around me and I probably would have crippled someone with mine in the process.

My friend had stayed late at his job not far from the airport to come meet us near midnight rather than make his usual two hour commute back to his home, saying he wanted to make sure we weren't taken advantage of by the taxi drivers. He seemed a little out of his element here but I understood why when I found out it was his first trip to the international terminal too – such is the nature of English/Thai communications! Here was a living example of what I’d read about Thai hospitality.

Eric and I pushed our baggage carts out through the terminal doors and felt the wall of warm, humid air hit us. It was past midnight, but the temperature was still in the mid-80s Fahrenheit - and the humidity was so high it made the air feel heavy.

At the curb outside our "host" flagged down a taxi to get us to the Asia Hotel where we’ll be for six nights. We had a difficult time explaining to him that a total of 7 pieces of luggage large and small plus four people was going to be a stretch in a small taxi, and unfortunately put him in the embarrassing situation of having to wave the driver off after he'd parked for us. We went back into the terminal lobby and rented a minibus to take us and our junk to the hotel at a cost of Bt1,000 - about $33USD today.

The young man behind the counter at the rental agency was as close to a kathoey as I’d seen so far. Kathoeys are are an accepted part of Thai society that we'll cover properly another time, but basically the term covers a wide variety of males considered to be the third sex: many gay, some transvestites, some living as females, some making a medical transformation to “become” female - Thailand being one of a few countries fairly liberal in performing that procedure, assuming you can pay for it. This young man had a beautiful face - with skin many women would kill for - framed by long silky black hair that he repeatedly swept out of his face with long, carefully manicured and clear-lacquered nails, eyeing the two of us “white” guys and our Thai friend, giving him a “how the hell did you rate TWO?” look that my friend missed but I caught and smiled about most of the way to the van.

Once the luggage was safely loaded into the van and we were seated inside we finally had a chance to look around us and enjoy the ride out of the airport complex and onto the nearly-deserted, elevated toll expressway to the hotel. From as high up as it was it gave us a great panoramic view of the downtown skyline and night sky.

My body was howling for sleep by that point but my excitement hadn't flagged a bit as I yawned, gazed out at this new place and smiled out the window with satisfaction.

I'd made it. I was finally in Thailand!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Panorama: Christmas At Central Plaza Mall, Pattaya

Here today is a panorama photo of the large Christmas tree in Central Plaza (aka "Big C") Mall at the Northern end of Second Road in Pattaya, near the Dolphin Roundabout intersection.

There's another panorama image here from the other direction, taken on a different trip at a different time of year. In that one I was in front of the movie theaters you can see on the top floor of today's image.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Hotel Tips #2: Room Safes

As comedian Lenny Bruce commented 50 years ago*, we all tend to be a little protective of our "stuff" - photographs, cell phones, jewelry, our toothbrushes - the collected things we value, for whatever reason. When we travel we're told to protect certain things, too: primarily our passport, traveler's checks, cash, etc.

Every hotel cautions you that you're basically on your own unless you allow them to check your belongings into their safe deposit box at the registration desk, and that's advice everyone would be wise to heed, to a degree - but there's often another option available: the room safe. Many hotels and guest houses provide these, and some have only room safes and no safe keeping at the front desk. Booking sites will tell you what's available 98% of the time.

The example up top today is what you'll see referred to as an "electronic" safe, and from my experience these are by far the most common. I have stayed in one place where you locked the safe with a key you carried with you, but for me that's just one more thing to drop onto the walkway in Jatujak Market while pulling something else out of my pocket, hear drop with a clink down into a squat toilet (don't think too much about that one) or otherwise lose along the way.

Electronic room safes all work in much the same way. When you check into your room you'll find them open and unlocked, with instructions on how to set your own code number to lock and unlock them. Usually that's a matter of pushing a few buttons and then testing it to make sure it works as advertised. I do that after I've looked around the room and out the window, but before I unpack - just in case there's a problem with it that can't be solved quickly and I need to change rooms - which has happened only once. Naturally, that was an earlier trip and I had already unpacked everything. I was not pleased.

Naturally, pick a code you'll find easy to remember and think of someplace you can write it down, perhaps as part of a phone number in case someone else sees it, and try it a couple of times just to get the hang of using it.

On at least three occasions I've had problems with room safes, although two of them were of my own doing. Not following the instructions has caused me to make them inoperable two times, causing me to call the front desk and ask them for help. On one occasion they merely sent the bell boy up (which didn't make me feel too "secure") and another time the manager on duty came up with a witness to key in a master number that cleared the mechanism (that was better). One time I'd set the code and locked the safe to test it, only to find that it wouldn't open again. That time the battery was low enough that it didn't have enough of a charge to open, and that again required a technician to clear up.

Some places (such as the Asia Hotel) have larger dimension electronic safes. The photo up top is one of theirs, and it's large enough to hold a 15" screen laptop. Most are smaller than this, however - so if size is important to you (no cheap jokes here from me today) you may want to think twice about bringing something too large that will need securing, or contact the hotel before booking it and ask for the safe dimensions. I now travel with a netbook that'll fit into any room safe, and find that they're easier to travel with overall.

So... what should you put into your room safe? There are a few standard things I'd suggest: your passport, your traveler's checks, your excess cash and your usual wallet or pocketbook items that you'd carry at home but don't need at a local's market in Hua Hin. In fact, it's always best to only bring what you'll truly need while on holiday and leave your department and grocery store cards at home. That goes for gas, library and other ID cards, too. All you're going to need is your ATM card, the credit card you usually use (and one extra, just in case of an account problem) and maybe your driver's license as an identification card if you don't plan to carry your passport around with you - and that's a separate debate for another post on day to day safety.

Some of you will be planning to bring a guest back to your room, and unless you personally know the person and would trust them to be alone in your home, use the safe to secure anything you wouldn't want to get away before bringing someone back. This avoids two things: opening the safe with a relative stranger in your room, and insulting someone's integrity by doing so. That would cause someone to "lose face", and would sour things. Trust me.

When leaving for any extended period of time - and this is purely a personal call here, depending on your comfort level - put your valuables into the safe and lock them up. When I prepare to leave my room I make sure things like my extra photo memory cards, my netbook, flash drives, camera, MP3 player and other small shiny objects are put into the safe. I only carry the bare basics with me when I go out.

Housekeeping and other hotel staff have never been a problem for me anywhere in Thailand, but it's not wise to leave temptation out and about, in my opinion. Besides, rooms can be broken into and doors and windows can be jimmied. Why take foolish chances?

It's there, it's easy, and it's free. Use the safe.

* As he's done many times during his career George Carlin borrowed this routine idea from LB, but it was his routine originally.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Thai Smiles, Part 22: Laughing On The Khlong Taxi

While going through photos to prepare another post I ran across this image, taken one morning on a walk in the Ratchathewi area. I'll never know what these two guys were so robustly laughing about while speeding up the khlong aboard this water taxi, but they sure were getting a kick out of it, whatever it was.

The light on the water at the bow is in better focus than they guys themselves (hey, it was just past dawn - give me a break!) but I managed to sharpen it up a bit for the detail cropped out and posted below.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Hotel Tips #1: Mini-Bars

Basic mini bar set-up - at the Asia Hotel, Bangkok

This series is primarily for those who have not yet visited Thailand and "newbies", so seasoned visitors may wish to look back through some of the older posts they may have missed in the past. I'd suggest you try the "Stories" link in the right hand column, but I'm admittedly partial to my own writings!

Visiting Thailand (or any new country you've choosen to explore) can be an adventure. This series will hopefully help you avoid "re-creating the wheel" as we'd say in the US, which means learning from the mistakes and experience of others. I'll try to cover some of the basics that may save you precious time - and all vacation time is precious. First up today are the hotel mini-bars that have been a problem for some friends on their first visits there.

As you enter almost any chain hotel room in Thailand you're bound to notice a mini-bar set up of one form or another; if there's a mini-refrigerator it's usually close to it. This is also true in a high percentage of independent hotels and guest houses, but they're all basically the same: liquor, glasses and a few snacks. The picture up top is a set-up at the Asia Hotel in Bangkok. Usually your refrigerator will also be nearly full with sodas, beer, "label" waters like Evian, chocolate bars and the likes. Trust me - you'll rarely have room for much of anything of your own.

Before you launch into the things on display (or in the refrigerator), be advised that the only things that are available for you without a charge are the napkins and stirring sticks (and the plastic bags the "sanitized" glasses are in - which can actually come in handy). You'll find a price list for everything else, and since the mark-up on things varies by what the market will allow, you're wise to check it out before raiding the supplies. I don't overly skimp when I'm on vacation, but I don't want to pay three or four times as much for something I can buy myself at the 7-Eleven store a block away.

I don't drink alcohol and prefer to stock my own water and snacks so I usually ask the bell boy (or whoever it is who helps me to my room) to ask housekeeping to remove it. You can request this at registration when you're checking in, but you'll more than likely have to call again to remind them to do it. Housekeeping will give probably give you a puzzled look when they arrive, but they'll do it. It's something outside of their normal duties, so I thank them and tip them for coming to haul it away.

I've never stayed anywhere - nor would I want to - that didn't provide you with two free bottles of drinking water on a daily basis, so don't send those away, naturally - but everything else you'll be able to buy within a block or two from where you're staying for a fraction of the cost, and you get to be as safe or adventurous as you like with your selections.

If you're going to be staying at one place for more than a few days I recommend buying a larger bottle (or two) of water at a nearby store when you're returning from your first trip out. They're available in gallon/multi-liter sizes, usually with a carrying handle at the top, and you can use it for drinking, making tea or coffee in your room, washing off fruit and vegetables you purchase on the street, brushing your teeth if the hotel recommends not using your tap water, etc.

I'm repeating an image below from an earlier post about the Regency Park hotel, because their mini-bar set is a little different and included an additional selection of items:

It's actually more of a selection of "extras"; the sodas, beer and alcohol were in the small refrigerator below. You can see, however, the printed price list to the left of the basket - and again, everything here but their own branded bags of nuts (and maybe the map) can be found within a block for far less.

For those of you who - ahem - "entertain" guests in your room you may want to have some of the above items pre-purchased and available to offer them, and be aware that they may wish to help themselves, and in the case of name liquors that can get expensive.

By keeping some fruit and other snacks on hand you're also likely to eat a little healthier when you're just too tired out to go anywhere and want to just stay in. If space and weight in your luggage allow, bring a favorite regional favorite along with you. Sometimes the comfort of a familiar thing from home really hits the spot.

[As a PS - I got to thinking after posting this that I'd forgotten to mention that if you use a basic beverage from the refrigerator (say, a Coke) and you time it right, you can replace it with one from the 7-Eleven before the next housekeeping visit and avoid the overcharged item. I also should have mentioned that if housekeeping takes the items away for you it saves them inventorying them on a daily basis, so it's actually a help to them, too.]

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Traffic At MBK

Another over-booked day for me. My apologies to those who prefer to read rather than look, but I don't have a story for you today. Let's shoot for tomorrow.

Meanwhile, here's a shot of the commute traffic at the "festive" MBK intersection at Christmas time. Although the lights of Santa in his sleigh being pulled by a reindeer (near the center of the image) are stationary they may still seem to have the lead in rush hour traffic there some days!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas In San Francisco

As it often can be during the normal course of the Christmas holidays I'm overbooked and trying to do three things in two places at the same time. For those of you who observe Christmas-Hannukah-Kwanzaa-Saturnalia-Whatever with family and friends I'm sure you understand what I mean! For those of you who don't (or can't) take advantage of this opportunity - my sincere sympathies. It's the time of year when I re-charge my emotional and mental batteries, and I really love it - despite the frantic moments that are often a part of the process.

Again today I don't have the luxury of enough time to write a proper post and will again share a photo with you - this time one taken yesterday in San Francisco of the artificial tree Neiman-Marcus has put up in the rotunda area of their store on Union Square. It's four stories tall and is quite a sight from the top, looking down into to the ground level. This is another "stitched" panorama shot, made from five images taken with available light.

Union Square itself is decorated and has its own tree, several stories tall. You can see the top of it (there's a red star on top) through the window, just to the left of the N-M tree.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Night Photos, Part 12: Christmas At MBK Mall

Although Christmas isn't widely observed throughout Thailand, there's no avoiding it in shopping malls and many retail stores... and MBK (Mah Boon Krong) Mall is no exception. This image of the front corner (two images together) gives you some idea of how big the complex is.

There will be no post for Monday the 13th

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Night Photos, Part 11: Jomtien Beach Area

Here's another batch of night photos - this time from the little soi that runs parallel to the sand and beach promenade along Dongtan beach in Jomtien. If you were walking along towards the "rainbow" area of the beach you'd walk along this part of the soi. It's in the area you'd see the Bondi, Tui's Place and other shops.

I should add as a precautionary warning that there are repeated news stories in the local media of various types of troubles along the beach at night - especially later into the wee small hours of the morning - so for those of you who find it necessary to go reeling around in the dark along the shore after over-consuming alcohol, you've been warned.

I like the shot above of the young man walking along the beach with the last of the sunset behind him. Although it was much darker to the naked eye, the longer camera exosure caught it.

I've never eaten at The Grill House - part of it is visible in the photo above - has anyone else? If so, leave a comment and let us know what you thought of it, will you? These pictures were taken close to Christmastime, so I expect there were extra lights on display.

The photos were taken just as the last colors of sunset were fading from the night sky and were illuminated by the lights along the soi. I think this last one is probably my favorite of the batch, as it shows a nice balance of natural and electric light and color.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Bug & Bee Restaurant - Bangkok

Grilled chicken salad in a crispy fried crepe bowl

Down below the Sala Daeng BTS station on the "even" soi side of Silom Road you'll find an interesting place for lunch, a snack - or just a spot to have a cool drink and people watch. I've eaten there four or five times over the past few years, and will stop in there again next trip, probably. They've expanded past the initial flagship location on Silom, and now have seven more outlets in Bangkok.

I've only had one meal that was a slight disappointment (the grilled chicken crepe in orange miso sauce, below; C10 on the menu just above the YouTube clip) - but they can't all be gems, and there wasn't someone there I could speak with at the time to resolve the issue.

Bug and Bee isn't really a Thai restaurant, but they do serve some Thai-style food. Owners Andrew and Tony are from Hong Kong, and classify the place as a "fusion of Thai and Chinese." Almost every entrée on the menu uses crepes as one of the ingredients, and they're prepared fresh for each order.

The dish I've enjoyed a couple of times is their chicken salad (up top today), and that's been perfect each time. The creamy dressing has just a bit of spice to it, and the crispy fried crepe "dish" is a nice ending to the dish, having picked up some flavor from the salad.

As you'd have a right to expect from a fresh crepe house, the desserts can be fantastic - don't cheat yourself out of one!

Ham and cheese rolls - an appetizer at Bug and Bee

They tend to draw a younger, college-aged crowd, and many who seem to be "family," for those of you who know what that means. The ground floor tends to get a bit crowded, but if you're looking for some quiet space there's usually space to sit on the floors above. If you sit by the window you have a nice vantage point for the street life below.

There's a YouTube clip at the very end of today's post that will give you an idea of what the front of the shop and interior look like since I seem to only have photos of the food I've ordered there, sorry to say. It's lively, fun, and worth a visit.

The Bug and Bee website is here

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Camaraderie On Soi Twilight

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines camaraderie as "a spirit of friendly good fellowship," and the the Thai tend to have that in abundance. Quite a while back we saw how they can find sanuk (fun) in almost everything, including unpleasant work. Sanuk, you'll remember, fun; again, if it isn't sanuk it's not worth doing. Today's post is an example of thamngan sanuk, or finding enjoyment in your work.

The night workers of Bangkok have an often-challenging job: making folks they otherwise may well not normally find attractive, pleasant and/or personable feel both welcome and desired. Touts are tasked with getting customers to come into their clubs, restaurants or massage venues instead of the one next door or two doors down - sometimes by whatever means necessary. In English we might say "by hook or by crook". Clubs are often so much the same there's nothing to make one stand out from another. In the Soi Cowboy area the story's much the same, only the gender of the dancers inside is different.

However, here today are a couple of examples of how people doing what must many nights be somewhat tedious - not to mention thankless - jobs manage to keep spirits up while "on the clock", so to speak.

The tout outside of the club at the top banters with a co-worker who has arrived a little past starting time. By the way he playfully swats at the behind of the person passing by to the left he probably knows him. People do change clubs, but once entrenched in this nocturnal working life (and the quick money that can be made) they tend to stay as long as they can. Please note I said "quick", and not necessarily "easy" money, but that's a topic for another day.

The guys below - one from Dicks Cafe, the other from Bonny Massage chit-chat while waiting for their next possible customer to wander by.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

It Was 30 Years Ago Today...

I honestly WILL try do another post today that isn't a repeat, but as today marks the 30th anniversary of John Lennon's senseless murder I've been thinking of him a lot today - and wanted to post again the story and clip from April of a musician in Bangkok sharing the idea and sentiment of Lennon's beautiful anthem of hope and peace, "Imagine".

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


The humidity was high that night, and I was nearly the only one walking North along Thanon Phaya Thai as I trudged along back to the Asia Hotel, where a shower and sleep waited to welcome me.

I'd been walking for hours. I'd left the hotel when hunger crept over me around 18:00 and walked the half mile to the intersection of Phaya Thai and Rama 1, where I stopped to watch the afternoon commute traffic, now in full force. Walking around the elevated walkway I could see brake lights stretched out like garlands of ruby-red flowers in all four directions, with hundreds of cyclists buzzing between and around them, like bees.

Finally having my fill of that I made my way over Rama 1 and into MBK Mall, where I went to one of the food courts and had a small sandwich-type "wrap" for dinner from an Egyptian place I'd eaten at previously. I meandered through the area around the food court afterwards, trying to remember what souvenirs I'd already purchased for nieces and nephews back home. Realizing I didn't want to be carrying a bag with me the rest of the evening I abandoned that and made my way downstairs again to the elevated walkway level and exited the mall, past the somewhat weary-looking uniformed guard stationed at the entrance/exit.

After being in the air conditioned mall it seemed even warmer and more humid than it was an hour before, and if I hadn't reminded myself of the precious little time I had left in the Kingdom I may well have gone back to my room and piddled the evening away watching the National Georgraphic channel on TV. As it was, I sucked it up and made my way over to the National Stadium BTS station and took the short ride to Sala Daeng.

After a few hours weaving my way through the crowds at the sidewalk stalls along Silom Road, perusing the Patpong Night Market and stopping for ice cream on Soi Twilight to sit and watch the usual parade there I abandoned my thoughts of doing an interview and decided to call it a night. It was already nearly 21:30, and I had a fair distance of walking ahead of me if I wasn't going to take a taxi. Taxis are fine, but I find I don't see nearly as many interesting things from the back seat of one as I can on foot. I did take the BTS back to National Stadium, but decided to walk the half mile again back to the hotel.

Sweaty, sticky and exhausted I walked the bridge over khlong (canal) Mahah Nak and down along the sidewalk past shop after shop, their rolling metal front doors long since rolled down and locked. It was dark, but not so dark I couldn't see the odd rat scuttering about here and there in the semi-shadows. Down about a hundred yards, within 30 meters of my destination sat five women outside a massage shop, nearly the only thing open between the khlong and the hotel.

Despite my efforts to be invisible I suppose I wasn't all that difficult to miss - the Big Pink Guy who's almost the only pedestrian in sight. The light from the lonely storefront spilled out onto the street and one of the women was squinting in my direction - probably trying to see if I was in any way a potential customer. The instant she actually saw me she cupped her hand by her mouth and called out a greeting every tourist has heard a thousand times if they've heard it once: "Massage!"

The interesting thing about this siren call isn't that they say it, it's how they say it. The single word is often stretched out for two or three seconds, into what could almost be a complete sentence. That, and the way one person will often set the rest of their companions off; somewhat like a group of cats, sensing their provider is arriving to feed them. It's actually musical, in an odd way. Because of the distance I still was from the shop, their drawn-out howling was comical as it echoed off the buildings and overpasses around them, and I had to laugh.

"Mah-S-A-A-A-A-A-a-a-a-a-ge," she called out, bringing the others to attention and beginning the chorus of caterwauling that would continue until I got close enough to smile, shake my head and say "mai ow" (I don't want). Several of them continued to speak to me as I walked past, at least 20 feet away. "Welcome - massaaaage?" "Hello, mister. Masssaaaage?"

I continued the short distance to the hotel entrance, inside and up to my room, but as I stood at the window before retiring for the night I could still hear them in my head, calling out "Masssaaaaage".

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Stop Work AGAIN??

A dear friend in Thailand doesn't say he's taking a day off from work, he says "stop work today".

Today I stop work. I'm nowhere close to being a religious person, but I do love Christmas - and today there are two holiday gatherings I've been looking forward to that will keep me away from the keyboard here. Back tomorrow.

PS - some of you might recognize the photo today as one I'd cropped down and allowed a forum I participate on to use as a banner picture... now you can see the full image. Thai oranges are usually greenish even when ripe - and (since you can peel them) they're another safe-for-farang-stomachs street snack - and delicious.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Night Panorama - Lady Bar, Pattaya

I received an email from a reader who asked why I didn't have more posts about the "Girly Bars" in the more colorful nightlife areas of Bangkok and Pattaya. I replied to point out the obvious (I'm not interested in them) but they had a point - so in the interest of impartiality I'll make a visit or two on my next trip there.

The photo today is a combination of two areas: night photography and panorama - or software-stitched - pictures. I haven't had many successful tries at this, so I was pleased that this one came out.

The location is a hostess bar on Walking Street in Pattaya, which is section several blocks long that's closed off to vehicular traffic after sundown. We'll cover it properly another time, but it begins at the southern end of Beach Road, where it makes its 90 degree left turn up to 2nd Road.

As you can see, it was still relatively early on in the evening - an evening that would last for another six hours or so until closing time. The women behind the bar are all available as company and are waiting patiently for men to come in to buy them a drink, pay the "off fee" and take them out somewhere else.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Same Same, But Different! Part 7: Thai Comedians

Note Udom is a Thai comedian who does observational stand-up comedy much like you'd see performers do in Western countries. In the clip above he's sharing about his girlfriend wanting to break up with him, and speaks of many of the same points you may well have heard or experienced in a past relationship yourself. I know I've gotten the "let's just be friends" line!

The translated English subtitles for his routine were done - quite well, I've been told - by a member who posts as aanon on the Thai language forum at, another site worth a visit.

There are other clips available on YouTube, but this seemed like the best example of "same same, but different!" Same thoughts, same emotions, different language.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Keeping A Cool Heart # 2

A thundercloud grows above Thailand like unchecked anger

[In part one about keeping your cool while in Thailand we covered the concept of "face" and the possible consequences of losing one's temper. If you missed that you might want to read it first; today's post may make more sense if you do.]

With notepad in hand I set out again one evening to talk with more club workers; part of an on-going gathering of facts and stories for a work in progress. I'd had more of a dinner than normal and was feeling overly-full and uncomfortable, but being on task I made my way to the club area of Pattaya. The clubs open at different times, but many are open by 20:00 / 8:00pm and as it was then 20:15 I knew some of the workers would be trickling in. Places are often quieter customer- and music-wise earlier, too, and that makes it easier to try to hold a conversation - my reason for being there.

I hadn't been into the A-Bomb club for a while, and since some workers tend to change clubs like you and I would change shaving cartridges I figured there may be some new people on stage doing the one-knee shuffle, that poor excuse for dancing most guys adopt into their routine.

Approaching the door I was - naturally - approached by the club's touts, opening the door and inviting me inside. Prominently displayed to the right side of the door was a sign with the international "No Smoking" symbol. I don't smoke - haven't for a long, long time - and since I'm always hoping I might be sitting inside for an hour or more interviewing I tend to shy away from anyplace where my eyes will be stinging within the first 15 minutes from tobacco smoke. Smoking in all clubs is now against the law, but it's something many club owners play fast and loose with, for a variety of reasons. Point in fact, prostitution's illegal, too - but the right money on the right palms can do wonders in this land of mai pen rai.

"No smoking inside?" I asked the door guys, pointing to the sign. "Really?" "No smoking! No smoking!" they both chirped in unison, and as I already had a hand on my back pushing me gently inside I figured I'd give it a try. I followed the mamasan, who led me to a table and took my order for a bottle of water. As he walked away, two other farang customers were seated by one of the doormen to my left, both of whom immediately took out their cigarettes and lit up.

"Excuse me," I said to them pleasantly "There's no smoking in here." One of them ignored me, the other scowled and made a "Psshhh" sound, as if to say "Piss on you, mate!" I weighed my options for a couple of minutes but just as I was quietly gathering up my things to leave, the mamasan came back, twisting the top off of my bottle of water before setting it down next to a glass of ice in front of me. I called him back and said "I'm not going to stay if you're going to let these guys smoke in here," and motioned in their direction. Now they were both scowling at me, and I got up to leave. "Wait! Check bin!" said the mamasan. "For what?" I said, surprised. "For water you ordered," he said, matter-of-factly.

"Well," I began, still cool but irritated "First of all, I never even touched the bottle - and second, I was told there was no smoking in here, ching ching (for sure)." I headed quietly for the door while the mamasan ran off towards the back of the club and then hurried back after me, followed by who I assumed was the guy in charge that evening. "Hey!" he called out to me, as I stepped through the doorway back outside and down onto the side of the soi. I didn't run off, but stood there to explain to him my reason for leaving.

"You must pay for water," he said. "I didn't touch the water," I said "And you put two smokers not three feet away from me in your non-smoking club." Now I was getting more than irritated, and after another "Must pay!" I leaned in towards him and repeated slowly but emphatically "I didn't touch the water. Your door guys assured me this is a non-smoking club, and then one of them sat two smokers right next to me." "Have to pay," he insisted. That's where I started to get a little steamed. I asked him to come up onto the sidewalk with me and tapped forcefully on the "NO SMOKING" sign.

"What does this say?" I asked him, a little louder than I intended to, but so it goes. "Must pay!" he replied, ignoring my question. "Fine," I said. "Call the tourist police and we'll discuss it." "What?" He was also getting a little upset. "Call the tourist police, and let's see if they want me to pay for the water I didn't touch." By now my heart was pounding and I was upset - and probably red in the face, to boot. The manager paused for a moment to think, tucked my tab into his pocket and then said "OK, go," and I stepped back down into the street and walked away.

I could see he knew I was right, but it certainly didn't feel right. In fact, there was no satisfaction to the win whatsoever. I went a few more steps, stopped to cool off a bit and then turned to go back to the club, taking a little more out of my pocket funds than would cover the tab, folding it up and palming it in my hand. The doorman who'd seated the smokers wasn't smiling this time, but he opened the door for me, and I - knowing I may well be putting my safety at risk by doing so - went inside, looking for the manager.

He was at the back of the club again, but moved quickly toward me, as if he expected trouble. I held up my hand as if to say "wait, hold on a minute" and he slowed down, still looking stern but also a bit puzzled. He stopped right in front of me and I held out the folded bills, handing them to him, saying "Khor toat (I'm sorry) - I was rude to you, and I did not wish to cheat you. I was upset because of the smoking and I just wanted to leave."

The manager glanced over at the two men who were still puffing away, but now hooting at what they imagined was going to be an addition to the evening's show: me being dragged off to a back room somewhere. I could see him frowning at them, but when he turned back to face me, the frown was gone. He pulled my tab from his shirt pocket and handed it and my cash to one of the waiters who had come over to us, probably as back-up.

"Thank you," he said quietly. "Thank you." "No, it was my fault. I'm sorry," I said. "I'll see you another time." "Good!" he said "Come back another night." He'd saved face and I'd made my amends, so I turned and left.

I left the club and walked down the street to a different place, and this time it did feel right.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

It Takes A (Global) Village - Thank You

A random visitor map image, showing a partial day last month

There's a proverb that is usually attributed to one African tribe or another that goes "It takes a village to raise a child." I've recently seen it credited to the Nigerian Igbo proverb "Ora na azu nwa", which means it takes the whole community or village to raise a child, but the origin isn't as important here as the thought is.

Bao-Bao's Blog has always been (and always will be) a community effort, and I'll explain how: almost everything I've learned about Thailand has been through the shared thoughts and experiences of those I've come in contact with - here, there, via the printed media and through the labyrinth of the World Wide Web. If it were just myself sitting on my duff and anonymously spouting thoughts as fact it wouldn't have lasted the 10-plus months it's been stumbling along, and I'm grateful for everything I've had the pleasure and privilege to learn from everyone, met or as yet un-met.

This includes those of you who stop in and read my stuff here, and especially those who drop me an email or leave a comment to clarify or share your own experiences and thoughts - and although Thanksgiving has already passed, I wanted to stop and offer my personal thanks to you all.

Regardless of whether you've actually participated or not, I know you're out there... I've seen the numbers. I don't actively track visitor information, but Google itself (hosts and owners of Blogspot) has tracked basic numbers since June 1st, and I'm both humbled and amazed. Since June 1st there have been very close to 30,000 pageloads on this blog, and that's an average of over 150 per day. While that's peanuts to a commercial site, it's a heck of a lot to me. I have no idea what the totals would be if I could see back to the first post in the middle of March.

Depending on the time of day you're reading this, you're quite likely keeping company with a dozen or so others from around the globe. There are at least 50 who return to look in every day - from England, Canada, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, France, Japan, Singapore, Norway, Sweden, the Philippines, the USA and, of course, Thailand.

The blog has regular readers from places I'd never have expected - like the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa, the Grand Canary Islands, Iraq, Nepal, Maldive, Qatar and Kazakhstan. I've put a list of countries I've noted so far at the end of today's post, but I add new countries to it every time I look at the listings. There are also those who defy identification - such as military and "middle of nowhere" visitors that appear near no recognizable places. I welcome them all.

This was never intended to be anything more than a (probably short-lived) place to share about a country, culture and people that I've come to love - but I'm grateful for all of you, every day. Thanks for making this worth the ongoing effort.

Bangla Desh
Bosnia And Herzegovina
Channel Islands (UK Dep)
Czech Republic
Hong Kong
Iran, Islamic Republic of
Korea, Republic of
Lao People's Democratic Republic
Maldive (Republic of)
New Zealand
Puerto Rico
Republic of Mauritius
Russian Federation
Saudi Arabia
South Africa
Spain (Grand Canary Islands)
St Vincent / Grenadines
United Arab Emirates
United Kingdom
United States