Wednesday, September 29, 2010

This Could Be Anywhere

This charming scene of adolescent girls is reminiscent of young females around the world. Meeting in a public place, chatting about "girl issues," putting on make-up, hoping the boys will notice, in short, just hanging out together. Photo taken at Victory Monument in downtown Bangkok.

Monday, September 27, 2010

I Give Up!

Although I consider myself open-minded regarding differences in cultural norms, and make an attempt to observe and respect the culture and history of any country I visit, I have been perplexed by one particular aspect of Thai people. There is an overriding urge by Thais to correct a person's behavior whether it is requested or not. I first encountered this when my decisions regarding the maintenance of our yard and the resident plantings therein was apparently considered sadly incompetent by our housekeeper. I had arrived home from school and upon entering the yard had the distinct feeling that something was amiss, although I could not quite determine what that was. As I slowly wandered around the yard, I suddenly stopped in my tracks and gazed in shock at what once was a 15 foot tall tree. In its place was a seven foot stump.

The next-door maid had come over during my investigation. I pointed at the chopped arbor and said to her in English, which she could not understand, something along the lines of "What in the hell happened to my tree?" Obviously understanding my rising stress level and assuming it had something to do with the severed trunk that I was indicating with ever increasing grand gestures, she said--and I'm paraphrasing here as I didn't understand most of what she was telling me--that our housekeeper, Pim, who had been on the job less than a month, had done it. With what? I wanted to know. We had no saw. Through pantomime, I thought she told me she had chopped it off with a kitchen knife, which must have taken hours. That was the end of our conversation until Kat got home, and then the holes in the conversation were filled.

"Why had Pim done it?"
"Because it was ugly."
"But she didn't ask us before doing it!"
"Don't worry, it will grow back and be much nicer looking."
"But she should have asked first."
"Really? Why?"
"Because it's our tree."
"Oh, you mean you are upset?"
"Okay, I will tell her."
"No, no, don't tell her we are upset, just ask her to talk to us first before doing it again."
"Okay, but it WAS ugly."

I later had to stop contracting two gardeners who would come every two weeks to cut the grass and trim various bushes and plots of greenery. I would always walk them around the yard each time they came and point out the plants that needed trimming. At first I figured that was all I needed to say. However, after the very first time they worked on the yard, I discovered to my surprise that not only did they trim what I had pointed out, they added just about every other plant in the yard to the list that in their minds needed cutting back. I explained to them that I only wanted those things trimmed that I had mentioned, and nothing else. Seems simple enough, right? After three failed tries, I finally figured out that the best thing to do was to tell them what I didn't want trimmed. That didn't work, either. I began to be known in the neighborhood as the funny farong who had a strange obsession with his plants.

At one point I had to have a large tree limb removed because it had grown into the lamp shade on the front gate and was threatening to break it. Afterward, I nurtured a tiny growth that had sprouted beneath the cut, hoping to coax it into a graceful arch over the gate to fill the space lost with the removal of one of the main branches. A month later, just as the new branch had grown to about a foot in length, it was casually removed by the rental agent who had stopped by to chat. I watched in shocked surprise as he slowly twisted the young limb until it broke off, then crumpled it into a ball and tossed it unceremoniously into the street. I was speechless.

The embattled limb

Twice more, although I remained ever vigilant, and reminded the visiting gardeners that whatever they did, they were not to cut off the next new sprout, it came off after I had gone inside the house. At one point I ran into
the yard screaming "Stop! Mai daht! Don't cut the branch!" (They have not been asked back.) I finally hired a man whose sole job it was to cut the grass, nothing more. All was well until he brought an underling with him who promptly snipped off the beautiful arching branch.

So, I give up. I have no idea why Thais are compelled to trim someone else's greenery, but it is apparently deeply ingrained and beyond my control or reasoning power. Kat simply shrugs with a bemused look and says I shouldn't try to figure it out. I concede the battle of the branch.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Back Streets

If one sticks to the main tourist streets in Bangkok, opportunities for richer cultural experiences are lost. Of course, one must be careful, and use discretion with personal safety in mind no matter which city is explored. In the heart of Bangkok's "old city" is the famous Banglumpoo district, and its main thoroughfare, Khaosan Road where masses of tourists and backpackers flock in the search for cheap accommodations, food, souvenirs, drinks, and other substances, although the atmosphere itself can be mind altering.

I don't often travel to Khaosan Road, as the tourist scene is usually too noisy and crowded, but once in a while--generally annually--I venture there to buy an item I know can be found at one of the stalls when I can't find it anywhere else, or if in search of souvenirs to take back as gifts and I don't want to face the crush of the huge weekend market at Jatujak. But, once there, I don't linger. I head to the side streets where the "Bohemian" Bangkok exists. Sitting at a sidewalk cafe, sipping a beer and watching people is an enjoyable way for me to pass the time before I must get back into a taxi and face the long ride home.

Wandering down the tiny connecting alleyways, one may find little "hole in the wall" bars and food stalls, dimly lit by bare overhanging bulbs. One such establishment is "Happy Bar" which lives up to its name. Nothing fancy, just friendly owners and patrons. Below are examples of the urban artwork seen on the walls outside the bar.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Thai Market

This scene can be duplicated a thousand times across the country. This market is under the BTS ("Skytrain") station at Victory Monument in Bangkok. Scores of shops and small eateries vie for the visitors' money. In this photo are the bustling shops that draw customers every day near one of the city's most traveled spots. Enjoy the walk through the market!

You never have to worry about finding a place to eat!

Stop and have your fortune read!

The corn man

The sweet candied fruit stall

Scene as you descend from the skytrain at Victory Monument

Monday, September 6, 2010

Moose at the Beach?

It isn't often that one sees a "Moose Crossing" sign anywhere outside of northern climes, but here's one found in the seaside resort city of Pattaya in Thailand. There are lots of Europeans and North Americans who have retired in Pattaya, and thousands more lured here mainly by the sex trade in this Thai "Sin City." The area where this sign is located has many Norwegian and Russian residents, with at least one who has a sense of humor. I wouldn't mind a bit of the northern autumn weather right now to go along with it!