Suvarnabhumi Videos – Parts 1 and 2 of 4

Well, I shot more than 260 minutes of video footage on Saturday.  All of it on a Sony DVD Handycam. 


As I’ve been thinking about getting a video camera, I was glad to have the opportunity to try a DVD camera.  Now I know that I’d never buy one!  The theory they operate on is that you’re going to do all your editing in the camera, not on your computer.  Because in order to use the DVD in your computer, you have to first “finalise” it.  Which means that the information is encoded in such a way that you can’t just easily pull the files off and edit them on your PC.


Thankfully, I found a nifty and inexpensive bit of software called Xilisoft DVD Ripper that allows you to extract the files from the DVD and convert them into AVI files (and other file types) that you can edit on your computer.


What a slow, painful process.  I added at least six hours to my overal editing processes because of this problem.


Anyhow, after getting over that obstacle I was able to edit two of the four segments that I’ll make.  The first two are here:


Part 1 – Orient Thai flight from Don Muang to Suvarnabhumi Airport


Run time: 7:21


Part 2 – Domestic arrivals at Suvarnabhumi + Exterior terminal footage


Run time: 3:47


Security Breach at Suvarnabhumi

Yesterday was the series of test flights at the new Bangkok airport, Suvarnabhumi (silent “i” at the end).  It was a lot of fun and I’ve compiled an extensive trip report on airliners.net.


The highlights, though:


The trip over was like a big party.  Everyone was decked out in their yellow shirts in honor of the King.  Goodie bags were handed out with souvenirs.  People clapped and sang on the flight.  As the Thais like to say, it was sanuk maak maak!*


 


Architecturally, the airport is modern, efficient, and utterly soulless.  It is lacking any design flourishes that would identify it as being in Thailand.  You could be in Seoul, Hong Kong, or Charles DeGaulle and not know it.  That said, given the well-worn state of affairs at the existing airport, a modernisation is long overdue.


 


The building itself is gracefully designed and near the main terminal there are expansive gardens that add a nice visual effect.  You can stroll in them, which is pleasant, but you have to work your way down the equivalent of about seven stories.


 


Security was interesting.  I entered and exited the building at various levels (arrival, departures, car park, etc.).  At some entrances there was a contingent of guards checking all bags and scanning everyone with a metal detector.  At other entrances there was a sole rent-a-cop on a folding chair, napping.


 


Even more intertest is that I was able to work my way to the tarmac through a emergency fire exit stairwell that had been propped open.  Then I went walking around the tarmac for about ten minutes, taking pictures, without anyone stopping me or challenging me.  Along the way, I passed one person in a security uniform, and stopped another person who was wearing an Airports of Thailand PLC shirt to ask him to take my picture.


 


 


There has been much speculation whther the September 28 opening day can be met.  From my observations, it is evident that the airport is ready to handle airplanes.  Jetways work, moving sidewalks work, etc.  The systems themselves – well, this wasn’t a full-scale test so it is hard to say.  But come September 28, it is safe to say that there will be many, many unfinished things in the building.  Shops, eateries, airlines’ offices – they will all be in a state of chaotic disarray.  Note to self: don’t fly anywhere until at least the second week of October!


 

American Ribs and the Lost School of Khongthiinai

Thursday was another fourth day in a long week.  I had been doing a lot of document creation and while a lot was being accomplished, by Thursday afternoon I was mentally exhausted.  Tawn’s week had been similarly long.  So when he called to say he was wrapping up and ready to head home, I answered his typical query of “what should we do for dinner?” with a simple answer: “I have a surprise for you.”


Tawn hates/loves surprises.


The surprise was a trip to the Great American Rib Company on Sukhumvit Soi 36, near Thong Lor Skytrain station.  After an overpriced and under-flavored trip to Tony Roma’s a few months ago for a barbeque fix, I vowed to just suffer along without any barbeque.  But then a couple we know from Texas, Ron and Kari, were in town from Ayutthaya over July 4th and ate at the Great American Rib Company and were very positive about it.  And this from a pair of Texans!


Sure enough, when we pulled up there was a large outdoor seating area under large trees, long tables with benches just like the Salt Lick outside of Austin. 


The menu was loaded with lots of choices and so we settled for the 1/2 Platter Great American Feast: 1/2 BBQ chicken, 1/2 rack of ribs, large mound of pulled pork shoulder, slices of pastramied pork tenderloin, BBQ beans, slaw, potato salad, and curly fries.  It was way too much to eat and we took a large portion of food back home.


What can I say about it?  Well, the smokey flavor is authentic so you know it isn’t just being thrown on the fire, and the dry rub marinade for the ribs adds a nice depth to them.  There is too much sauce slathered on everything and I’ll have to remember to ask for the sauce on the side next time.  This is perhaps an accommodation of Thai tastes, which go for heavy sauce. 


The chicken was moist and flavorful, the pulled shoulder had a nice tangy vinegar sauce but it had a tomato base so I think it can be classified as authentic Carolina pig.  The pastramied tenderloin was sliced thin and served with a horseradish sauce.  Although an odd choice, not falling into the usual canon of BBQ meats, it was flavorful but very dry. 


For dessert, they offer an authentic deep dish apple pie.  It was deep, the crust was good, and the apples were sliced thick and still had a tender crunch.  However, the filling had so much flour, sugar, cinnamon and other spices that it was overly sweet and a bit pasty.  I’m of the school that all you need is apples, just a little sugar and a little Chinese 5-spice and you have yourself a pie.


Still, it was a nice treat.  They also have pecan pie which looked like what I expect except they don’t go to the expense of using whole pecan halves, settling instead for broken pieces.  Also there is a lemon meringue pie which I’ll have to try one of these days.


I’m going to ask Brad and Silvia if they would like to go here on one of their final nights in Bangkok, since Brad misses KC barbque and I think they don’t find it in Italy.


 


Rongrian Bangkhonthiinai


Two weeks ago while on a Spiceroads cycling trip with Brad and Silvia, we came across a small, 4-room primary school in the midst of the banana plantations in Samut Songkhram province, 60km or so southwest of Khrungthep.  Chatting with the principal, she asked if I’d be interested in volunteering to help teach English to her sixty students.


I left with her email address and a promise to contact her.  Unfortunately, the emails I sent did not seem to make it.  Feeling that this was an opportunity not to be passed up, I made plans with Tod to drive down to Samut Songkhram today to find the school.


Armed with a general road atlas and a sense of direction, or perhaps a road atlas and a general sense of direction, we set off on the journey.  Both proved useful and we took a side road that indicated the way to a wat (temple) that seemed to be roughly in the right location.  In Thailand, nearly every side road leads to a wat and nearly every wat has a school next door.


The hunch was right and we found the school.  Pulling up into the parking lot, a grass field where we were the only car, there were several children who looked out and waved hello.  We made our way around the side of the building and found one of the teachers whom I had met when I first went to the school.  He seemed happy to see us, but there didn’t seem to be a lot of shock and surprise.  They must have farang driving out of the jungle to volunteer all the time!


We spent nearly ninety minute there, Tod doing most of the translating as the English-speaking principal was away at another school attending meetings.  What we established was that we’ll come back to teach next Thursday and work out a specific schedule from there.  We also spent some time looking through the English language curriculum as well as the test that sixth grade students must pass at the end of their studies relative to English proficiency.


Not sure yet exactly what we’ll do, but since we’ll be there just once a week I think the emphasis will be on speaking skills rather than writing or grammar.  I do have some ideas in mind for how we can make this work, but a lot of logistical questions will be answered once we actually get in there and start volunteering.


Most importantly, though, I think this is a very valuable way to contribute back to the country.


More details as we move forward with this adventure.


 


Short Flight Tomorrow


Tomorrow is my test flight from Bangkok’s old Don Meuang International Airport to the brand new and not yet open Suvarnabhumi International Airport. 


I’ll write and post a trip report to Airliners.net as quickly thereafter as I can.


 

Jones Beach Air Show

Sadly, I cannot give credit for this picture.  It was attached to an email my father sent me and tracing the email chain back, there is no indication of the source of the photo.  Suffice it to say that it was professionally done and that the photographer deserves a round of applause. 


The picture was taken at the Jones Beach Air Show in May and there were many amazing photos in the series of acrobatic and military planes flying over the New York City skyline.  Of course, the sight of military jets flying over the Big Apple has an ominous feeling since 11 September 2001, but the photos themselves were fantastic.


Third day back at work after my week off to play tour guide.  Brad and Silvia are in the south on Koh Pha-Ngan, an island near Koh Samui.  Sounds like they are having fun after going through some memorable but not entirely pleasant experiences while trekking up in the north.  Their description of it sounded more like a death march on the Thailand-Burma Railway!


Yesterday I had my first regularly-scheduled meeting with my tutor.  We spent three hours working together, reviewing the sentence structures and grammar I learned (or, more accurately, was exposed to) two modules ago.  Instead of reviewing them in the phoenetic language that was used at that time, I’m using written Thai this time.  It improves my reading and writing skills and I can more readily associate what I read with the written materials I see in my life, such as newspapers and books.


I think that in the long run, I’ll get just as much out of these sessions with much less time than I spent at Union Language School.


 

Lies and Alibis

In the midst of editing and posting video footage for this blog, somehow this weekend there was still time to catch two movies.  Both were very good although in very different ways.


The Alibi (Also known as “Lies and Alibis”) 


This US-made film is, oddly, being released internationally before its US release, supposedly to build momentum.  Starring Steve Coogan (“Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story”) and Rebecca Romijn (X Men series), it needs no added momentum, but with a plot that is tough to describe in a single sentence (think “The Usual Suspects”) it may have to work a bit harder to find its audience.


Ray Elliot (Coogan) is a former con man, now running a consultancy that supplies alibis for philandering clients.  When he agrees to provide an alibi for a major client’s soon-to-be-married son, he and the son switch identities for the weekend.  Unfortunately for Ray, the son accidentally kills his girlfriend during some “role play turned rough.”


Not only does Ray have to scramble to clear his name, he also has to deal with the hit man hired by his client, the murdered girl’s jealous boyfriend (John Leguizamo), and a mysterious crime figure known as The Mormon (Sam Elliot) who coerces Ray to work for him in order to catch Ray’s former boss, the mysterious and elusive Jack, on whose head an Arabian sultan has placed a $5 million price tag.


To extricate himself from these circumstances, Ray goes against his better instincts and starts to rely upon Lola (Romijn), a newly hired employee for whom he is starting to rethink his cynical opinion about love.


The film has a noir-ish look and feel and Coogan is as calm and collected as Cary Grant while the plot twists and turns and characters cross and double-cross each other.  It leaves you guessing until the very end and is an enjoyable ride.


 


The Last Days of Sophie Scholl


The second film of the weekend was much heavier material.  Based on recently-uncovered historical documents and interviews with witnesses, relatives, and friends, this docu-drama tells the story of the final six days of the live of Sophie Scholl, a student member of the White Rose resistance against the Nazi regime.  In February 1943, Sophie (played by the brilliant Julia Jentsch) and her brother (Fabian Hinrichs) were arrested for distributing anti-Nazi leaflets at Munich University.


Over the next few days she initially denies any involvement, sparring with the Gestapo interrogator (Alexander Held) and nearly winning her release.  Damning evidence is found in their apartment and, after reading her brother’s signed confession, she proudly admits her own part in the resistance.


The really amazing part of the film comes in the two days of interrogation in which she and the Gestapo officer debate the means and ideals of the Nazi government.  For his part, the officer is interested in the letter of the law with no regard to who wrote it.  But in his eyes for just a brief second, you can sense a glimmer of doubt in his convictions.  The officer offers Sophie a chance to spare her life by renouncing her ideals, which she refuses.  More amazing, these scenes are based on the actual transcripts of her interrogation, found in East Germany.


The director, Marc Rothemund, does a fantastic job of stripping away the barriers and making a film in which the actors are laid bare; their performance are all the film needs.  As most of the film takes place in the interrogation rooms, it is a static film.  But, as the Hollywood Reporter noted, “the static is filled with electricity.”


The film has come and gone most everywhere in the world, but if you have not yet seen it, I would encourage you to rent it.  It is an amazingly-acted story of conviction and courage, the important type of film that causes us to ask ourselves, for which beliefs would we exhibit similar courage.


 

Kanchanaburi: Tigers and Pigs and Monkeys (Oh My!)

Kanchanaburi is the third largest province in Thailand and is located approximately 130 kilometers west-northwest of Khrungthep.  Myanmar (Burma) borders it on the west.  In north and west Kanchanaburi the terrain is mostly high plains and mountains with the Thanon Thongchai Range forming the natural border between Thailand and Myanmar.


It is from this range that the Kwai Noi and Kwai Yai rivers form. As a result, several of Thailand’s largest waterfalls are found in this area.


We stayed in the eponymous provincial capital at the charming Pong-Phen Guesthouse.  Situated where the Kwai Noi and Kwai Yai rivers merge to become the Mae Klong, this is where the famous Bridge over the River Kwai is situated, immortalized in the movie starring Alec Guinness.


Arriving in Kanchanaburi about ten in the morning, we stopped by the Tourism Authority office to get a local map, guidebook, and a list of accommodations.  Pong-Phen (left) was the first guesthouse we checked out and satisfied with its cleanliness and reasonable rates (500 baht a night – approximately US$13.50) we checked in and unloaded our bags.


 


One of the attractions of the area is the natural beauty, so we drove up to Erawan Waterfall, located 65 km north in the Amphoe (district) of Sri Sawat.  Situated in the 550 square km Erawan National Park, the waterfall is composed of seven distinct tiers, or stages.  Right: At the first stage of the waterfall, Brad climbed out on a fallen tree.


The highest stage of the waterfall is just over 2 km away from the trailhead.  Several of the stages feature clear blue pools that are well-suited for swimming, complete with fish to nibble at your toes!


One of the observations I made while visiting the waterfall was the difference between Thai and farang visitors’ dress: Thais who chose to swim or play in the water were always much more modestly attired than the farang, usually wearing t-shirts and shorts even for swimming.


At the fourth stage we found a relatively quiet pool with one high waterfall and two local boys who were swimming around and splashing about, a Thai Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer.  A group of monks who were visiting the park arrived and took a dip in the pool, their robes wrapped to still cover from their upper belly to their ankles.  One monk didn’t swim and instead walked along a rock ledge above a smaller waterfall, contemplating the scenery and talking with the boys.  Above: Can you spot Huck?



By early afternoon we were waterfalled out so returned to the car, driving back down the mountain to Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno Forest Monastery – the “Tiger Temple.”  Racing to get there before the gates closed at 5:00, I managed to overshoot it by 20 km because the sign didn’t face the direction I was driving from!  We arrived with thirty minutes to spare, just ahead of some threatening clouds.


The Tiger Temple was established by Abbot Pra Acharn Phoosit several years ago when a nearly-dead tiger cub whose parents had been shot by poachers, was brought to the monastery by local villagers.  The Abbot welcomed the orphaned tiger out of compassion and nursed him back to health. 


Over time, other tiger cubs were found and brought to the monastery.  A facility was built to properly care for these tigers, who didn’t have enough instinct to survive in the wild as hunters.  The facility was expanded to include other wildlife and a master plan is in place to build a world-class “New Home for Tigers” that will allow for the next generation to be raised with minimal human contact in the hopes that they can be returned to the wild.


The project is fascinating and ambitious – more information at www.tigertemple.org.


One of my classmates at ULS had volunteered for a week at the Tiger Temple and had told me that it was very much worth a visit, especially in the late afternoon.  Carlos said that most visitors had already left but that this was the time when the tigers were brought to the canyon area to exercise and that visitors could join the Abbot and the workers when the tigers were walked back up to their cages.


So we arrived late and were rushing down to the canyon, where we found a group of about thirty tourists, fifteen employees, the Abbot, and about ten tigers. 


Everyone was waiting to get pictures with the tigers when the storm finally arrived in the tropical manner: sudden and intense. 


The tourists started to open large shade umbrellas but the employees stopped them, explaining that the tigers are spooked by umbrellas.


We stood in the pouring rain as the employees chained the tigers to restrain them and then we were allowed to open the umbrellas.  We stood in the rain for about thirty minutes, waiting. 


I took some photos and video and subsequently discovered that my camera no longer functions properly; some buttons including the zoom no longer work in the picture-taking mode.  Strangely, though, they work in the photo-reviewing mode.


As the rain subsided, the Abbot instructed the employees to prepare the tigers to be walked back to the cages.  We were told that we could follow along well behind the final tiger and that if we wanted to take a picture with the tiger, an employee would take us up alongside the tiger.  The procedure was pretty strict, understandably:


The employee holds your hand and you jog to catch up to the tiger, who is walking with the Abbot and two handlers.  You then place your hand on the tiger’s side, so she knows you are a friend.  Then one of the employees jogs ahead and takes some pictures of you.


Brad and Silvia (and just about all the other people) didn’t want to take the picture, although I’m not sure why.  I figured that if I had come all this way and endured the rain – especially after having taken pictures with elephants the day before – I might as well add another animal to my list!


Nor surprisingly, the tiger felt like a big, wet cat.  A big, wet cat with very powerful haunches and an incredibly graceful stride!


Afterwards, we spent a few minutes watching as the employees fed all the other animals, first spreading small food pellets for the smaller critters and then smashing large squash for the larger animals.  The collection of animals ranged from water buffalo, regular cows, wild boars, and deer to birds of all sorts, all of which roamed free and seemed quite used to having humans around. 


While none seemed “tame,” they wandered up to you to get food, quite unconcerned about your presence.  The monk on the right was playing with the wild boar’s bristles, which were very thick and spaced widely apart along his spine.  The monk was standing them straight up, making a sort of mohawk effect which he thought was pretty funny. 


The boar, eating the food pellets, didn’t seem to mind at all.


Our feet were mud-caked by the time we made it to the car, the last visitors to leave.  A quick rinse in the washrooms and we were on our way back to Kanchanaburi. 


That evening we indulged in 90-minute massages and then a much-delayed Indian meal.  Forty minutes after ordering nothing had arrived in this ten-seat restaurant.  Finally, I asked the waitress (in Thai) why it was taking so long.  At first I thought I had misunderstood her answer: “The cook has gone home.”


When the food finally arrived, another lady explained in more detail that the cook, who is Malaysian, had returned to her hometown for a visit and that in her absence it was taking longer than usual to prepare the food.


Right: View from the guesthouse terrace as the sun sets over the river Kwai.


 


One of the nice things about Kanchanaburi is that its more mountainous elevation results in cooler nighttime weather.  A gentle breeze and temperatures around 25 C made for a very nice evening.


 


Friday – The Bridge Over the River Kwai


The next morning we did the in- and near-town attractions: a visit to the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre, a small world-class museum that provides detailed insight into the history of the construction of the railway during World War II. 


This 415-km railway was constructed by around 240,000 conscripted Asian labourers (mostly from Malaya, Burma, and Java) and 60,000 Allied prisoners of war.  Of these, more than 13,000 POWs and an untold number, estimated at around 100,000 Asians, perished in the harsh, disease-infested working conditions.


From there we drove the short distance to the famous Bridge over the River Kwai.  The original bridge was of course damaged by Allied bombing near the end of the war, but the bridge was rebuild and portions of the railway are still used occasionally.  We walked out part way across the bridge, which was the point where I discovered that my camera was no longer functioning normally.  At the same time the memory card on Brad and Silvia’s camera had a malfunction. 


So after a 90-minute diversion into town to locate a photo shop and get some help, their pictures had been recovered and burned onto a CD and a new memory card had been purchased.  A big THANK YOU to the staff at Studio Photo Express who went out of their way to help us.  If you’re ever in Kanchanaburi and need prints made, want to purchase photo supplies, or want to take wedding portraits, please give them a call at 03-462-0061.  They’re located on the main street (route 232) near the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre.


Pushing noon, we drove to our last stop: the Monkey School.  This hopelessly kitschy tourist trap was actually a lot of fun.  Located at the end of a dirt and gravel track, the school actually trains monkeys to help farmers pick coconuts.  As an added source of income, they conduct shows for tourists to demonstrate the monkeys’ skills.


   


There are several infant monkeys that are very friendly and like playing with strangers.  Of course, they are wild animals, but these particular ones are even-tempered.  We had a fun time with them, especially Brad, who had a sandal, his hat, and his sunglasses stolen by one monkey, who then proceeded to search through his pockets and grabbed Brad’s MP3 player!  Thief!


We hit the road home later than expected and as a result arrived near Khrungthep in time to hit the Friday afternoon rush hour.  Thankfully, we made it back by 6:00 so Brad and Silvia had an hour to rest before taking the taxi to the airport, on their way to Chiang Mai.


 


So there you have it!  My coverage of Brad and Silvia’s visit will be limited for the next two weeks as they’ll be traveling on their own.  I’ll post any updates I receive, though, and if anyone needs to get hold of them they are carrying one of my phones, so contact me and I’ll pass along the message.