Friday, November 25, 2011

Random Scenes

While sorting through recent random shots taken as I go to work, take walks, or run errands, I came across a cross section of scenes that give a glimpse into the life we now have in Thailand for most of each year. Although they at first seemed so different and exotic, now that they are part of our everyday life, they seem normal. Despite their familiarity, I still view them as exotic and wonderfully unique; I would never take them for granted. These scenes help illustrate Thai life, but their counterparts exist in every land around the globe, showing peeks into various cultures. Here are some scenes from our neighborhood, and a few from just beyond.

The jack fruit man, Ramkhamhaeng Road

A quiet scene near Saen Saep klong (canal)

Traditional ox cart for carrying timber, near Jomtien beach

Night guard, Summakorn Village, Soi 36

Spirit House detail, Ramkhamhaeng Road

A job I do not want. Summakorn Village, Saphan Sung

A popular food stall at the weekend open air market, Summakorn Village

Many Thais keep birds. This one is just off Ramkhamhaeng Road.

Water buffalo wallow at the entrance to our school.

Negotiating the recent flood on Ban Ma klong near Ramkhamhaeng Road

Begging on Sukhumvit Road, downtown Bangkok

Lost in translation: restaurant near Jomtien.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Bangkok Chinatown Prowl

One of the most fascinating areas of Bangkok is Chinatown. Unlike in many of the world's great cities, Chinatown is not simply a section of the city in which Chinese culture and immigrants tend to congregate: Thai history is closely linked to China and Chinese culture, thus Chinese Thais make up a significant proportion of the population. Chinatown thus is an exciting, colorful, energy-laden blend of Thai and Chinese (with a sprinkling of Indian) food, fabrics, hardware, electrical parts, and anything imaginable in the tiny dark alleyways, including items you never knew you needed. If one cannot find something anywhere else in Bangkok, the directions are simple: Go to Yaowarat Road and ask someone. Chances are, you will be directed to it posthaste.

My long time friend Jeff Harper and I went on a flood intermission, roaming another area of this amazing city on one of our occasional photo shoots. Accompanying us was first time Thailand visitor Peter Stiehle. A word of caution for anyone wishing to wander the non-commercial back alleys of Chinatown. Don't. If you must stray off the main shopping road, go with someone who knows the area, speaks Thai, and recognizes the potential dangers of poking your nose in places you shouldn't or don't know you shouldn't, especially after dark. Ask us about one of the reasons why sometime, preferably over a beer at Saxophone Pub.

Newly constructed flood walls protecting store fronts create another place to sit and chat with friends.

I'm glad I didn't want a key chain or necklace. I'd still be there deciding.
A typical Chinatown scene: Finding a spot to have some lunch and check messages during a shopping break.

Inside a Chinese Buddhist temple grounds, a crematorium and entrance gate frame a distant building's zig zagging stairs.

Chinese dog statuettes guard an old offering site outside the temple.

Still life study on a wall adjacent to the temple

Entryway to the temple

Decorated temple rooftop and captive birds lend an air of authentic charm.

Lanterns can be found in every corner of a Chinese temple

Commerce doesn't end after dark. Loading merchandise for motorbike delivery.

A lonely wall down a small back street

Lately, boats are a hot commodity in Bangkok
I don't know, this scene just seemed to scream "CHINATOWN"

This food stall is just outside one of Thailand's six gazillion 7-11 ("se-WEN") convenience stores

A small shop closing up for the night
Beautiful old architecture is found throughout Chinatown. At night they are enhanced by the glow of street lights.
This little shop was jammed with goods, typical of "Mom and Pop" establishments found in abundance.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Helping Kids Learn

Two weeks ago, Kat, I and friends Miho and Police met a wonderful young lady (nicknamed Bang ["Powder"]) who is studying to be a teacher. She and her extended family live in a poor community near a major klong (canal) in Bangkok not far from our home. As of this writing, every one of their homes has taken on flood water. Despite this, every weekend, twenty children gather on a raised dirt platform with no roof, sit at rickety tables and study Thai language, math, history and English. They cross the water on planks to get to the "school."

We joined them yesterday and had a wonderful time, although the excitement of foreigners showing up pretty much killed the math problem-solving momentum, and created an ongoing distraction during the English lesson. We have offered to help with their English learning each week. Miho also teaches them a bit of Japanese. If you would like to volunteer an hour a week teaching English, just let me know and we will make a rotating schedule.

Bang and one of the future students!
A fund raiser has been started to build a small, simple enclosed building that will house a library for the children (They have no books). Books in English and Thai may be donated, along with notebooks, calculators and pencils. We are also seeking cash donations to build the library. For those in Thailand, donations may be made to us at school, or by other means, such as bank fund transfer. If from North America or other regions, you may send donations to me. If you would like to donate funds, contact me at or by Facebook message and I will send you the address.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Flooded Community

Another walk brought friends and me to the other side of our development, to a klong-side community that has existed for over a century. As we walked, people smiled and waved, stopping to chat, and inviting us to see their flood defenses (Some worked, some did not). It was quite a dichotomy; leaving the dry middle class mooban and stepping literally only a few meters away through a door in the wall that divides it from a poor mooban in which everyone was dealing with the flood. It was sobering to think of how "we" (the "haves") have been anxiously wondering whether or not we will get any flood waters, and our neighbors (the "have nots") have been in it for at least two weeks, and expect it to get deeper. Our neighbors along the klong seem to be handling it better than any of us would, or will.

Working when you can, with what you can, on whatever you can build above the water.

Wooden planks across piled sand bags form a temporary walkway from homes to the main
elevated concrete walkway along the klong.

Potting plants will have to wait for a while!

Normally a quiet place to sit and chat with neighbors, it is now a place which offers 
visitors a subject for photos.

The only place that remains dry is the community mosque 
(I have always wondered where the calls to prayer were coming from). 
These men greeted us and asked us--the two of us who are male of course--to have tea.

It's a guy thing.

Vacationing in the 'Hood

When consulting a calendar as a holiday approaches, many expats cast a wide net, traveling to exotic destinations that cost a fraction of what they would if commencing from one's home country. We are no exception: we have had the good fortune of experiencing various cultures and geographic locales of Southeast Asia, booking flights to rather short hops that take us to interesting places. Lately, as the slow flood waters approach and surround Bangkok, we have remained in our home, and as default, have struck out on very different kinds of trips, all within walking distance from our house. What we have discovered is that we have unique and exotic places right in our own neighborhood. Let me take you on a walking tour of communities that are within a few minutes of our house, but which we had not discovered until recently. I have compiled a visual tour of two ramblings near Sammakorn Village. We did not know how little we knew about our own neighborhood.

Cats and "aungs," rain water containers for the dry season,
two mainstays of any Thai country village. Country life can be found tucked away
in one of the world's great bustling cities.

We walked into this extended family's world quite by accident and were invited to celebrate Eid al Adha with them. What a delightful morning we had! This young woman is studying to be a teacher. We had much to talk about. 

These teens so wanted to have their photo taken, but were too shy to ask. 
So I asked them! Their faces tell you their reply.

There are many instances where time seems to stand still. 
This was one of those moments.

This man was very proud of his fighting rooster, which he was bathing.

Young children who we thought came to see the visitors, 
but in reality wanted the candy we brought!

These cattle were not for milking. Little did we--or they--know that two of 
them would be sacrificed at the mosque as part of the Eid celebration.
The meat was distributed to families in the community.

Few people are as popular as the snow cone man!

Only a few hundred yards away from one of Bangkok's busiest thoroughfares 
are peaceful country scenes.