Friday, December 30, 2011

Looking Back Over 500+ Posts At Year's End

The end of a calendar year is often a time of reflection for me, and since the blog has recently passed a minor milestone - today's is the 508th post - I thought it also deserved a pause to say thanks to you who have read my stuff, and to those who've participated in a positive or otherwise constructive way as I've bumbled along here for the past 22 months or so.

Also, I thought I'd share replies to combined questions and observations from emails I've received over this past twelve months as a year-end wrap up.

First off - yes, I've noticed folks elsewhere on the web with more spare time than sense have sometimes taken me to task for nothing more than being graced with enough emotion to see past the world of sex tourism in Thailand, but thankfully many of you regulars appreciate a wider scope of life in Thailand, as I do - and I'm content with that. There are already plenty of sites recycling photos found on the web as their bread and butter, as far as I'm concerned - sometimes with photos having nothing to do with Thailand most of the time.

I don't personally have a problem with most R- or X-rated curmudgeon wannabe bloggers. One of them evidently looks in here every so often to lift an idea, re-word it and post it. Imitation is a form of flattery, I suppose, but I can say with a clear conscience that what's appeared here has been the unembellished truth written by yours truly, unless I've noted otherwise.

It also probably bears repeating that while I freely admit I appreciate a fine male form - much as some of you enjoy seeing photos of those of the opposite sex - I don't feel a need to post lewd photos to build a readership or any other such thing. Again, I'm not playing the game of search engine optimization or any other such ramp-up for a business for me... it's just a hobby that I hope will entertain, and in doing so also help. Maybe even educate; no day's a waste if we learn something new.

Speaking of photos, I've been asked why I use a watermark on 99% of photos I've taken here.  The answer is pretty simple, really: while there's no real way to stop people with no scruples from stealing a photo to use for their own sites (usually for profit) the watermark slows most of them down.  Although my attorney friends who practice this kind of law would do any necessary pit bull work for me for free they advised the mumbo-jumbo under "The Standard Legalese" - and the watermark, too.  The watermark was too large, though, and I adjusted it earlier this year.

In that same folder are the requests for more pictures of the trade workers I've interviewed over the years. Most "night workers" don't want to be identified as such, and as I mentioned in the first post back in March of last year this is - first and foremost - a blog to share my observations and experiences of times in Thailand overall.

As a side note I'll offer that seeing someone visiting or working in a Gay establishment is no more of an indication that the person themself is gay than seeing someone in an auto repair shop and assuming they're a mechanic.  For example: a major percentage of go go boys in any given club in Bangkok are heterosexual.

There.  That's enough from me for this year.  I wish all of you a safe and sane New Year's Eve, and wherever it is you are for what many of my Thai friends call "countdown". I hope you can look back over this year with few regrets - and look forward to 2012 with hope and a heart full of realistic, healthy goals.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Another Few Days Away

As Stan Freburg said - "That's Christmas with a PURPOSE."

Most of you know that I'm close with both my related and extended family, and the holidays are always a good reason to gather together and "talk story" as the Hawaiian branch would say. That's precisely what I'm doing for the next few days.  I hope you had a good Christmas or are still having a good Hanukkah.  We do both.

It wasn't my intent to post until Friday, but a member of a forum mentioned the story that ran here in September about the unfortunate life of one Go Go boy so I thought I'd say welcome to any new visitors.

I plan to be back posting on Friday.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

My 2011 Christmas Wish For You

Last year I posted the above clip of a choral group singing "Silent Night," and that's what I'll share with you again this year - for a few reasons.

First and foremost: if you leave the religion-specific references out of it it expresses a sentiment that's all too often left behind in the world today, and it needs repeating, I think.

Secondly, it's the most breathtakingly beautiful rendition I've ever heard of the song. If you know of another, leave us the performer's name in the comments section and I'll check it out.

Third, a niece and nephew of mine are among the voices of the large chorale singing this particular version, and since it's my playhouse I'm taking the opportunity to be a bit proud of them both. Nice job.

Here's wishing you all a peaceful and meaningful holiday season. Back in a few days.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Day The Kid Got His Peaches

Christmas lights near Siam Paragon, Bangkok

[A couple of decades ago I read an article with a lesson to it that's stuck with me over the years, and in the spirit of the Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa holidays I thought I'd share it with you today. It was written by a man named Al Martinez, and had been reprinted in my local paper from another in Los Angeles. If you can make the time in your hectic holiday schedule I hope you'll stop and read it. It's worth the time.]

The Day The Kid Got His Peaches

It happened one Christmas Eve a long time ago in a place called Oakland, California, on a newspaper called the Tribune with a city editor named Alfred P. Reck.

I was working swing shift on general assignment, writing the story of a boy who was dying of leukemia and whose greatest wish was for fresh peaches. It was a story that, in the tradition of 1950s journalism, would be milked for every sob we could squeeze from it, because everyone loved a good cry at Christmas. We knew how to play a tear-jerker in those days, and I was full of the kind of passions that could make a sailor weep.

I remember it was about 11 p.m. and pouring rain outside when I began putting the piece together for the next day’s editions. Deadline was an hour away, but an hour is a lifetime when you’re young and fast and never get tired.

Then the telephone rang. It was Al Reck calling, as he always did at night, and he’d had a few under his belt. Reck was a drinking man. With diabetes and epilepsy, hard liquor was about the last thing he ought to be messing with. But you didn’t tell Al what he ought or ought not to do.

He was essentially a gentle man who rarely raised his voice, but you knew he was the city editor, and in those days the city editor was the law and word in the newsroom. But there was more than fear and tradition at work for Al. We respected him immensely, not only for his abilities as a newsman, but for his humanity. Al was sensitive both to our needs and the needs of those whose names and faces appeared in the pages of the Oakland Tribune.

“What’s up?” he asked me that Christmas eve in a voice as soft and slurred as a summer breeze. He already knew what was up because, during 25 years on the city desk, Reck somehow always knew what was up, but he wanted to hear it from the man handling the story. I told him about the kid dying of leukemia and about the peaches and about how there simply were no fresh peaches, but it still made a good piece. We had art, and a hole on Page One.

Al listened for a moment and then said, “How long’s he got?”  “Not long,” I said. “His doctor says maybe a day or two.” There was a long silence and then Al said, “Get the kid his peaches."

“I’ve called all over,” I said. “None of the produce places in the Bay Area have fresh peaches. They’re just plain out of season. It’s winter.”  "Not everywhere. Call Australia.”  “Al,” I began to argue, “it’s after 11 and I have no idea...” “Call Australia,” he said, and then hung up. If Al said call Australia, I would call Australia.

I don’t quite remember who I telephoned, newspapers maybe and agricultural associations, but I ended up finding fresh peaches and an airline that would fly them to the San Francisco Bay Area before the end of Christmas Day. There was only one problem. Customs wouldn’t clear them. They were an agricultural product and would be hung up at San Francisco International at least for a day, and possibly forever.

Reck called again. He listened to the problem and told me to telephone the secretary of agriculture and have him clear the peaches when they arrived. “It’s close to midnight,” I argued. “His office is closed.” “Take this number down,” Reck said. “It’s his home. Tell him I told you to call.” It was axiomatic among the admirers of Al Reck that he knew everyone and everyone knew him, from cops on the street to government leaders in their Georgetown estates. No one knew how Al knew them or why, but he did. I called the secretary and he said he’d have the peaches cleared when they arrived and give Al Reck his best.

“All right,” Al said on his third and final call to me, “now arrange for one of the photographers to meet the plane and take the peaches over to the boy’s house.” He had been drinking steadily throughout the evening, and the slurring had become almost impossible to understand. By then it was a few minutes past midnight, and just a heartbeat and a half to the final deadline. “Al,” I said “if I don’t start writing this now I’ll never get the story in the paper.”

I won’t forget this moment.

“I didn’t say get the story,” Reck replied gently. “I said get the kid his peaches.”

If there is a flashpoint in our lives to which we can refer later, moments that shape our attitudes and effect our futures, that was mine. Alfred Pierce Reck had defined for me the importance of what we do, lifting it beyond newsprint and deadline to a level of humanity that transcends job. He understood not only what we did but what we were supposed to do. I didn’t say get the story. I said get the kid his peaches.

The boy got his peaches and the story made the home edition, and and I received a lesson in journalism more important than any I’ve learned since.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Dusit Zoo - Bangkok

A white tiger in the Dusit Zoo, Bangkok

Located in the Dusit neighborhood of Bangkok, a little ways behind Parliment House you'll find Khao Din Park, home of the most popular zoo in Thailand - the Dusit Zoo.  The name Parliment House may sound familiar to some of you who followed the social unrest a year or so ago as a number of large public demonstrations were held in the large open area in front of it.

The Dusit Zoo is part of the Royal Zoological Park Organization, which also maintains zoos in Chiang Mai, Nakhon Ratchasima, Nongkla in addition to the Khao Khiao "open" zoo. Having not been to any of the others so far my guess is that the Dusit is the most popular because of it's easy access to so many people. As of now the zoo's been open for 65 years.

The grounds cover around 47 acres (118 rai), and there's a lot to see.  There's a tram train that'll ride you around the place for an overall view, or you can pick up a map when you buy your entrance ticket.  Fees for the Thai are 50Bt for adults and 10Bt for kids. As is often the case farang pay a little more than that: 100Bt for adults, 50Bt for kids.

The organization estimates an average of 2.5 million visitors come to the zoo each year to see over 1,500 animals, birds and reptiles.

A map showing features of the zoo

There are the normal souvenir shops, restaurants, exhibits and informational displays - even a 7-Eleven, should memory serve.  There are demonstrations and shows and plenty of places to sit, rest and people-watch.  Naturally there are all manner of school field trips going on during the months when the weather's likely to cooperate and schools are open.

While my friend and I were strolling around one time three school girls came up to me and asked if they could interview me. [As an aside for those of you who haven't been places where students are often learning English any time you're around students in Thailand you're likely to have them come up and ask to speak with you. It's nice to be of help, and frankly sometimes it's more attention than I get back home some days!]  They asked me about a dozen questions - why am I in Thailand, what kind of work do I do, what did I like best about the zoo - and one videotaped me and the girl with the microphone, while a third girl took notes on a clipboard.

The zoo is open from 08:00 to 18:00, and can be reached by BTS, taxi, or bus. I've gone the entire way by taxi once, but usually I'll take the BTS to the Victory Monument stop (noted in blue on the map below) where it's easy to catch a taxi to take me the rest of the way. If you want to try the taxi route you can print the Thai map at the end of today's post that's gotten me there once.

Once I went by bus with someone who knew the routes. If you can find your way that way you can take bus 18, 28 or 108, or 528, 515, 539 or 542 if you want one with air-con.

Somewhere I have more photos of the place, but maybe not. If I find them I'll do another post.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cookies - And Christmas In Pattayaland, Soi 3

A night short of Christmas lights on a tree in Pattayaland, Soi 3

Because I have an extensive family - some blood relations and a lot of others I've grown close to over the years - I tend to do a lot of baking during the Christmas holidays. This year is no different, and there are somewhere between 400 and 500 finished and waiting to distribute over the next week or so.

In the interest of keeping them fresh I hold most of them in the freezer over the week or so of days I'm baking them. Today and tomorrow will be decorating days, and then I can finish putting the finishing touches on things before the holidays themselves. Some of the local family will join in today an lend a hand spreading icing and sprinkling colored sugar decor on as many as I can get them to do, and then the rest will be done by yours truly later today.

I suspect that the X-Box Santa dropped off early will curtail some of the help from the younger ones today, but then icing never could hold a candle to a grenade launcher and sporting games. Ah, well... it's Christmas.

Back tomorrow.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Suntans: More Than "Black" And White

A farang on the beach, basted and broiling.

Sitting under an umbrella on the beach in Thailand some months ago I watched  an older man in a Speedo (something that probably ought to be a felony in and of itself) getting a foot massage from a younger Thai man.  Well, if truth be known I was actually observing the younger man more than the older one, but that was primarily to see if I could get a hook on the relationship between the two. The farang appeared to be in his late sixties, the Thai in his mid-twenties.

They seemed to know each other somehow, but since I resisted the opportunity to eavesdrop I couldn't do more than speculate.  From the disinterested look on the young man's face my guess is that the music coming through my ear buds trumped what little they were talking about, anyway.  He looked longingly at the shade from the umbrellas all around him as he toiled away in the direct sun of mid-day.

His customer seemed to know the people who ran the chair concession where he'd rented his lounge recliner for the day, and they apparently recognized or knew him, too. At least, one would hope they knew each other as he'd reach out and grab at any of them who didn't give him a wide enough berth to be more than an arm's reach away. Most of it seemed to be in good fun, but some of them either made faces or rolled their eyes as they passed out of his range of view.

When the massage was done the man handed his masseur a bottle of tanning oil, motioning for the kid to oil him up for his next spin at Carcinoma Roulette.  I couldn't help but notice that it didn't so much resemble an oiling up as it did a basting; the man was already darker than most roasted fowl you'd see served at a family gathering.   "At least his family could save burial expenses and just have him made into an ottoman after he's gone," I thought to myself  "He's pretty close to leather now."  If he were a third his size he probably have passed for a kahlua pig at a Hawaiian luau. Still, to each their own.

Having been born with enough of a beautiful tone an acquaintance stays in the shade at the beach

I've never quite understood the obsession with sunbathing, myself.  Part of that probably comes from my inability to do anything myself other than sunburn and peel time and again, but if you look that up it's really nothing more than damaging your DNA and your skin attempting to repair the damage by shedding itself.  I don't try to emulate the pasty look of the "Goth" youth of today, but I respect the power of the sun - especially in the tropics. To put it another way: SPF-50 is my friend.

Now, before you Snow Birds who migrate to sunnier climes from places where the weather takes a colder turn from oh, say, October through March get upset, let me say I fully understand not wishing to live in a country that's somewhat like a blast freezer for a quarter of the year.

A lack of sunshine has been proven to have detrimental effects on humans, too - both mental and physical.  Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a legitimate condition - I know someone who deals with it each year. When I was in Seattle a month ago I saw a surprisingly large selection of light fixtures and lamps designed to provide artificial sun for both that and to help adjust people's internal circadian clocks. However, 20 minutes beneath artificial sun per day is (pardon the pun) light years away from day after day of sunbathing.

Many Asian cultures view darker skin as being less desirable than lighter skin, and folks go to great pains to avoid the sun.  Walk through the personal grooming aisle where the creams and lotions are on display the next time you're in a store in Thailand - or Japan, or China, or Vietnam - and you're going to see more skin-lightening products than you can shake a stick at.  If a Thai (male or female) is to wear any make-up on their face you're not going to see them using anything  that would darken their skin.

You're also likely to see a similar phenomenon in many Latin America countries, too.  One dear friend, born in the Southern part of Mexico has the most gorgeous dark skin of anyone I know, but when he was a child and the family was invited to, say, a wedding, he was left behind at home because he was too moreno (dark) and they were ashamed of him.  Go figure.

A handful of years back I read on one forum or another an anecdote from a farang man who'd left his boyfriend in Bangkok while he went for the first time to some beach resort for a week, staying stretched out in the sun most days; getting a deep tan he was rather pleased with.  Thinking "now I'm the grandest tiger in the jungle" while coming back to Bangkok he was a bit shocked when his boyfriend greeted him with "Why you do this?  Now you black... I ashamed you!"  It took him a couple of minutes to realize that to make himself darker (many Thai would say "black" when they mean tanned or darker) seemed like a completely irrational act to most Thai.

I suppose that for aesthetic reasons it's merely a matter of cultural preference, but for health reasons it makes more sense to avoid being one of the walking lobsters you're likely to run across at the Grand Palace along about three o'clock in the afternoon.  Sunscreens are available so you don't need to bring a bottle or tube with you, but if you have a specific brand you prefer just seal it in a bag to avoid a leak and bring it along.

And - more importantly - use it. It beats having a doctor carving bits off of you in another decade.  Just my two satang on it.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Strolling Into The Tawan Muscle Boy Club

There was going to be a little more of a story to go with the above clip today, but life threw a curve ball and it didn't happen, sorry to say. Face facts: most of those who'll be interested in seeing it couldn't care less about the story, anyway.

The gist of it had to do with trying to get back to my room after picking up some lantern puzzles at a sidewalk stall of sorts on Suriwongse Road (that January 24, 2011 story is HERE).  I'd cut down the side soi where Tawan and the Mango Tree restaurant are to get myself back to Silom and the Sala Daeng BTS and was drawn into the club by the door tout.

I'd been taking a video to show the soi anyway, and evidently the tout didn't care that the red light was obviously on because he looked directly at it and still called me in. There's not much to the clip since I shut the camera off after I sat down. I rarely visit the club unless I'm taking a newbie there, but I sat for a drink and then went on my way.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thai Smiles, Part 43: Hauy Phong Orphanage Boys

Talking about the upcoming party with some of the boys at Hauy Phong

A few days ago I made a pitch for donations to the Pattaya Street Kids Project's holiday party at the Hauy Phong Children's Home.

Some of the approximately 400 boys (and girls, on the other side of the road) who would appreciate your help

Although the party is coming up soon there's still time to make a donation. For the relatively insignificant sum of $4US / 2.5GBP / 120 Baht you can defray the cost of one child for this yearly event. I don't smoke and I don't know what they cost where you live, but that's less than a pack of cigarettes here in the US - and it's a far better use of the cash.  These are children who haven't much more than the clothes on their backs, and they really put their hearts into this day-long event.

Having lunch at Hauy Phong

You can make donations in a number of ways (see their site HERE) but I've always found PayPal to be the easiest.

The photos today were taken when I was last at the home a couple of days before one of these parties. I just noticed today that while I was taking the photo below of the boy sweeping up leaves Don was taking a photo of two boys who - as of today - are smiling out at you on the PSKSP home page. Just an interesting coincidence I thought worth pointing out.

Give a thought to donating, folks.  Note on your donation that you'd like the money to go to the Hauy Phong holiday party, and that's where it will go.  100% of it.

A boy "rakes" leaves while Don takes a photo of two others

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Night BBQ In Udonthani Clip

Some of you may have read portions of the 28-part series "Isaan Oddysey" that ran from February 22nd through May 19th of this year, when I'd hired a friend with his own guide business to accompany me for a week-long road trip up through Isaan to Udonthani.

One evening in Udonthani we ended up at a large outdoor BBQ place, the name of which I didn't note and have long since forgotten. It was across the road from the runways at the airport there, although that's not much of a selling point, I suppose. If you want to read that piece of the saga and see photos from that night, the link to it is here. I really enjoyed it, despite the occasional noise from overhead.

I took a few video clips that evening, and here's one of them showing some of the area where you'd select your ingredients to cook at your table, and some of the band that played a generous amount of more traditional Isaan music in addition to this song. If you follow it to YouTube you can see it in HD, if you have the web speed for that.

As the evening progressed and the music became more "Isaan-centric" more and more of the locals got up to dance, and the irresistible rhythm was impossible for many in the crowd to resist. It was wonderful.

These times out among the locals are some of my fondest recollections of my Thailand visits, and I encourage you to try experiencing them yourself when you go - or when you're there again.

It's well worth the time.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

REAL Holiday Spirit(s)

If anyone up on the roof of the liquor store needs a little something to keep warm, it's just below them.

In 1958 my brother came home with a 45RPM of Stan Freberg's "Green Chri$tma$", a satirical and gently cynical poke at the commercial maelstrom that is the holiday season. In my opinion, it's never been equaled:

Now, I'm a lover of novelty records; I have cases of vinyl to attest to it, but Freberg's nearly seven minute saga still reigns supreme when it come to Christmas records for me. The public loved it, and the radio stations took the heat from Coke, Viceroy cigarettes and the other products that were speared.

The religious story of Christmas is still a central point of the holidays for many followers of the Christian faith around the globe, but once it became a means of making money l-o-n-g ago, all bets were off as far as the world of commerce was concerned.  If I were a deeply religious person that might offend me, but I'm not, so it doesn't. The whole idea of "peace on earth, good will towards men" is a sound one that I do my best to honor, but it shouldn't be restricted to the month of December, in my opinion.

This isn't intended to be a rant of any kind, but I thought I'd share Freberg's superb holiday cheer with you today.  As I said, there are many other Christmas novelty recordings; Freberg himself tried a follow up - "Christmas Dragnet" - which has its moments, but "Green Chri$tma$" still reigns supreme, and is just as relevant today as it was 53 years ago.

"Christmas Dragnet" is below.  I hope you enjoy both of them.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Working The Family Business

A boy helps his father glaze mortars for their shop

My guess is some of you grew up in a family that ran a business of one sort or another, as I did.  While it's not always an ideal situation it's often a good way to learn some healthy work habits. My family's business gave us all an opportunity to learn the meaning of dedication and endurance in addition to hard work, and while we didn't all go on to own successful businesses of our own later in life, some of us did; and that early experience has been a leg up in the business world we all appreciated later on, even if not right at the time!

Girl packaging Q-Tips for her family to sell
My best friend grew up picking coffee on the family farm in the South Pacific, as did his parents - and grandparents.  The difference was that earlier generations tended to stick close to home (my friend's mother lives five miles from the house she was born in) and the more current ones tend to strike out on their own for other places and other careers.  Today 90% of the high school seniors from that area leave their home island and head off to college or work elsewhere, as my friend did.

While many of the families I've met outside of the cities in Thailand - especially the farmers - are happy to have their children stay and help plant, harvest and keep the place going, it's seemed that traditions are being altered, as they often will be in any developing culture or country, and education and other jobs away from home are becoming less of an exception. One friend there grew up with his parents selling food from a cart near a factory, and now he's working a lucrative job in the electronics field.

Those with a healthy work ethic can be seen getting an education while still being an active part of the family business, regardless of what that is.  While a farming family may not have the income to pay for advanced schooling past the basic government education, where there's a will there's often a way.  One farmer's son I've known many years found a way to take out student loans and put himself through school, and now has a job that now only allows him more of the life he'd dreamed of but also the opportunity to help his family during slim times.  That family bond is usually strong in Thailand, and I think that's a good thing.

Partners working in their motorcycle repair shop

We're deliberately leaving the Fast Money workers out of the mix today, and just taking a look at a few regular folks - the people you may walk by and not notice while out and about; the everyday Joes and Janes.  I have a great deal of admiration for these folks, especially those bonded by blood or friendship who can make a go of things.  There, as here, I tend to be more inclined to pay a little more to help support a family establishment than a corporate one, be that a food cart, a cobbler or seamstress on the sidewalk or some other small, hole-in-the-wall business.

It reminds me of where I came from, and it makes me feel good to think that I might be helping someone rather like myself out.  It seems to work best if we pass it on.

A man working in an electronics repair shop in Pattaya

Friday, December 9, 2011

Taking The Day Off

My apologies to the regulars - I'm grossly overbooked for the next few days.

This guy's in charge until I'm back on Monday.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Helping Some Kids Have A Happier Holiday

PSKSP founder Don and some of the Hauy Phong residents. After being involved with the home for so long the kids know him.

Located about 40Km outside of Pattaya, the Hauy Phong Children's Home is home to somewhere around 400 boys and girls between 4 and 17 years of age. Some are orphans by the classic definition, some are runaways and some are children who've been rescued from bad family situations, from life on the streets, or from the horrific world of sex trafficking. There are also cases of their families simply not being able to keep them properly. Originally a correctional facility of sorts it's now a part of Thailand's Department for the Prevention of Human Trafficking.

Here they're gathered together in a safe place, protected by the watchful eyes of an attentive and caring staff and able to have a childhood free of the unfortunate experiences they endured before arriving here. The boys live on one side of the highway that divides the extensive grounds, and the girls live on the other. Being a government organization they're not affiliated with any outside religious organization, so these children are left to live their lives as Buddhist - as over 90% of the country does. Personally I like that.

One of the dormitory buildings - six or seven, I believe - at Hauy Phong

The afternoon these photos were taken I'd gone along with Don, the founder of the Pattaya Street Kids Project to sit on the sidelines and observe while the folks who were involved wrapped up plans for the upcoming 2011 Holiday Party - one of the biggest events of the year for these kids. I'll post again about the home, but today it's all about brightening the kid's lives for this one special day.

Some of the "clean up" crew stopped for pictures before we left.

When we rolled in there were kids bustling about everywhere around the grounds. Some of them were having lunch, some were finished and were back on task, sweeping up leaves throughout the grounds in preparation for both the party and a visit by some local monks. As handy as everyday Thai brooms can be, they're not rakes - and there were enormous areas they were making tidy. Still, the kids happily went about their work.

Their annual holiday party is a full day of food and fun, many of the activities planned and organized by the kids themselves - right down to meal suggestions. While the lunch I saw the three pictured below eating looked like a healthy, balanced meal - and they hardly wasted a spoonful - for this one day they discuss and make a request for a special dish as a treat; something the everyday budget can't be stretched for, such as hot dogs or fried chicken. That's where some of the additional funding from PSKSP comes into play.

Along with the games and meals there's a dance that goes late into the evening. Last year the favored number was "Kung Fu Fighting", and I was told the dance floor filled each time it was played. It probably had to do with a renewed interest in the song after it was used in the Kung Fu Panda movie. I considered inserting the original song video here, but I'm not that cruel.

Each of the kids receive at least a couple of gifts, too - and for many they're most likely the only presents they've gotten the entire year. It's no small wonder why it's such a popular event. Sometimes a family member comes to visit them that day, and they, too, receive a bundle of food to take home.

Food packages are assembled for the big day

The party will be coming up soon, and here's where you can help: sponsorship cost per child is a mere 2.5GBP, or just under $4USD. That's just a bit more than many reading this are likely to spend on a latte today, and less than a fast food lunch.

The link to a page with their PayPal account is HERE. Please consider making a donation and note that the funds are for the Hauy Phong party.  They'll get it to the right place.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Bangkok Art And Cultural Centre Exhibits

Yesterday's post about the BACC (the Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre) showed you the front and what some of the insides look like.  Today you'll see some of the exhibits that were on display one time when I had my camera and the presence of mind to take pictures.

One grouping featured penguins, a bird almost unheard of in Thailand other than in a zoo. With a second computerized movie featuring them just out a couple of weeks I'd guess it might be a nice exhibit to have there now, but these were there a couple of years ago.

The panels exhibit - done with input from many different people - filled a large area, and depicted a wide variety of topics.  Since the museum is a very public place I doubt any of them were directly disrespectful or in violation of Thai law, but there were definitely protest statements among them; some featured familiar faces adorned with a Hitler-type mustache and swastikas.  Not being able to read Thai I'm going to err on the side of caution - or cowardice, depending on your level of generosity today.

The second panel below reflected some political unrest, but in light of the flooding recently it's timely now, too.

If you or someone you know are the artists represented here today and would like credit or the images of your work taken down simply email me at the address to the right and I'll be happy to comply.  Please let me know something to identify your ownership.

The building itself is a work of art. If you didn't see the examples yesterday, take a look.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Bangkok Art And Cultural Centre

The Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre from a spot by the National Stadium BTS station. It's linked to by walkway to the 3rd floor entrance

Sitting in the midst of as frantic a commercial shopping area a tourist is ever likely to visit in Bangkok is a spot where you can escape both the crowds and the heat of the day: the Bangkok Art and Cultural Center, located across from the MBK and Siam Discovery shopping malls at the large Pathumwan intersection.

It's open every day but Monday from 10:00am to 9:00pm and - other than the occasional special event or concert - admission and all of the exhibits are free. I owe a good friend a tip of the hat for this one, as he was the first person I knew to talk about it. I've been there a few different trips, and since the exhibits are displayed on a rotating basis there's always a lot to see.

With its simple artistic rounded front and gracefully curved interior that reminded me somewhat of the Guggenheim museum in New York City it looked a little out of place amid the rest of the massive commercial gorillas that surround (and loom over) it, but as I paused to gaze out of the windows while wandering the halls there that seemed like a good thing, really; it reminded me of the calm you hear about that occurs in the eye of a hurricane, where all around you is raging out of control and yet you're able to stand unaffected.

A different view of the "MBK Intersection" from the June 18th post last year

I don't remember how many levels there are to explore at the center (seven, I think - and pardon my dropping back to the Western spelling) but there's plenty of exhibit space.  At least one level had spaces partitioned by glass walls to separate the works but still allow an open and spacious feel to the area, and there were a couple of larger exhibit halls, too.

Looking down the open central area from a higher floor

As I'd usually hope a museum or gallery to be, it was quiet throughout.  No piped music or informational recorded loops going to distract from the tranquility of the place.  There are a number of spots to sit and discuss the works, and people were sitting and talking quietly among themselves.  One man appeared to be deep in thought - or perhaps just waiting for someone he'd arrived with - but he was seated in the same chair the entire time I was visiting one afternoon. In fact, I've just noticed - if you look closely to the left in the panorama shot above you can see him, too.

The center is easy to get to, as well.  As I mentioned above it's right at the National Stadium BTS station, but it's also accessable by bus (their web site says you can use the 15, 16, 21, 25, 29, 34, 36, 40, 47, 48, 50, 54, 73, 79, 93, 141, 159, 204 and the air-con 508 lines) and if you're a canal boat traveler you can get off at the Sapan Hua-Chang landing and be about a football field away from the front doors.

If you've been shopping in the malls in Bangkok you're likely to have seen the buildings, but maybe never gone in. I wouldn't want to drag a double handful of shopping bags along with me, but I highly recommend you make a stop there to visit some time. It's a fantastic way to miss the heat of mid-day. Go shopping afterwards.

Next time: pictures of some of the exhibits.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Happy Birthday To His Majesty

The King and Queen (from some years back) addressing a crowd

On July 25th of this year I did a post about His Royal Highness King Bhumibol Adulyadej (also known as King Rama IX) as a younger man, using some pictures I'd taken at a large photo exhibit in Rama II park in Amphawa.  The King is 84 today, and while his health has waned over the last couple of years the love and admiration the Thai hold for him hasn't faded a bit.

The Pan Pacific Hotel's birthday greeting a couple of years ago

Rarely leaving the hospital where he's been cared for since what official sources called a respiratory illness landed him there in September 2009 HRH was taken today to his home, where he made a televised appeal from a balcony for unity among the Thai... on what most would assume he meant to be on a variety of levels.

As I write and post this it's late in the evening of his day there, but here's hoping his wish for his land - and his people - comes true.

Press photo of His Royal Hignhess, taken today

Friday, December 2, 2011

Thai Smiles, Part 42: A Resort "Family"

I nicknamed these employees The 3 Musketeers

One of the nice things about less formal lodging is the opportunity to visit with the people involved with where you're staying.  While the Hiltons and Meridians are lovely places they're really not nearly as conducive to casual conversations with the folks that own them - or work there, for that matter.  I know of one friend who met their partner while staying at a smaller guest house over a decade ago, and they're still happily sharing life together. In fact, they've got their 12th anniversary coming up soon.

I had the opportunity to stay at a small, family-owned and family-run Thai resort last year, and it was a pleasure I'd gladly repeat. There wasn't a uniformed attendant in sight as we crossed the footbridge from the parking area, and I unwittingly walked right into their home when we arrived, thinking it was the registration area.  It was, to a certain extent; the wife came out through a doorway of what was their living room, smiled and greeted me.  All I had to say was "check in" and she said "Yes", turned back through the doorway and returned a minute later with two keys, one for me and one for my friend. My friend had reserved the rooms in advance, but still it was nice to not have to stop, fill out a form and hand someone a credit card. I learned afterwards that they rarely get farang here.

The wife did a lot of the cooking in the open kitchen just a few yards away from the open (but well covered) dining area, the sons did some of the serving, and there were a few regulars on staff who did a variety of odd jobs on the grounds: gardening, some construction, basic housekeeping, fishing and the likes.  In fact, the first day they were stacking and cementing cinder blocks for a small building in progress, and I thought they were just there for that until I saw them later that day doing other things.

As I expected, the owner's children were pleased to see someone check in who could speak some English and whenever their rounds brought them near me they'd greet me and try out a phrase they remembered, often getting it wrong but happy to hear it back correctly.  They'd giggle and repeat it a couple of times before moving along with whatever it was they were doing.

Stopping by in the dining room to practice some English

The owner to the left above didn't speak much English at all, and the guys up top spoke none whatsoever, but clowning around is as universal as a smile and we managed to amuse each other.  When I got my camera out to take a picture the owner laughed, jiggled one side of his chest with this hand and said something in Thai to my friend, who translated "He says now he's fat and has boobs like a woman!"  I told him I've seen farang in far worse shape on the beach, and when the man heard that translated back he laughed again, nodding his head.

Since I was there for a while you'll undoubtedly see some of these people here again. Welcoming, gracious and polite they personified so much of what makes Thailand such a wonderful place to explore.  I love my morning walks in the city, but these days away from the Big Mango are often the highlights of my trips there.

Metalwork one day, painting the next, fishing the third - it didn't seem to matter as long as it was sanuk.