Crepes and Magic Mirrors

Saturday morning started out on a bit of an odd note: Tawn and I stepped into the elevator heading to brunch, where there were already two passengers – a caucasian man and a Thai man, both older than me.  As the door closer, the caucasian man looked at us and said, “Wait a minute, you’re Chris…” then looking at Tawn, “and you must be Tawn.”


Tawn looks at me.  I look at him.  There is a moment of silence.


“Yes,” I responded, “we are.  I’m sorry but have we met?”


The man introduced himself and his friend and then explained that he had been on youtube.com and had searched on “Asoke Place” – the name of our condo complex – and received one hit, the short video clip I made about the painters rapelling down the side of the building to the tune of Mission: Impossible.


Once you view one video, you have the option to see the other videos a particular person has posted, so he proceeded to browse through my videos and now recognises Tawn and me.  Our fifteen minutes of fame.


After that little surprise we took a cab over to Crepes & Co – a cute little restaurant on Sukhumvit Soi 21 – where we met Tod, Pun, Markus and Tam for brunch.  The occassion was that we had tickets for the matinee of Tawipop: The Musical.  I’d put a link there, but there isn’t really much to link to that is in English!  Right: In the outdoor terrace area at Crepes & Co.


Tawipop is a Broadway-style musical, completely in Thai.  It tells the story of Manijan, a busy young Bangkok professional with an unhappy boyfriend, nagging friends, and all the pressures of modern life.  On her way home, stuck in traffic, her mobile phone battery dies.  She parks the car and walks along a busy street, looking for a phone booth. 


She is strangely drawn to an antique shop, where a white-haired, stooped old man says that he has been waiting for her. 


In the shop is a beautiful mirror that seems to be calling to her.  Attracted to it, she purchases it and brings it home to her modern condo.  That evening, the mirror comes to life and she is drawn through it, finding herself back in the reign of Rama V (late 1800s). 


There she meets Luang Thep, a man from a noble family whose house contains the same mirror, only about 140 years earlier.  Over a series of trips through the mirror, she falls in love with Luang Thep and finds a way to be of help, using her skills at English and French to assist with neogitations with farang warships that want access to Siam’s waterways.


Her best friends are strangely unquestioning about this when she tells them, aided by a history book that mysteriously falls off her bookshelf, opening to a page that shows her photo and tells of her history in the time of Rama V.


Each time she travels through the mirror, it cracks further.  At one point she realizes that she will be able to make only a few more trips through the mirror before it breaks.  She tells Luang Thep that she will go back to see her mother and ask her permission to stay in the past.


When she passes through the mirror to return to the present, it shatters and Luang Thep fears that he has lost her forever.  Caught in a strange place between the past and the present, Manijan is able to see her mother and talk with her, and her mother gives her her blessing to return to the past, where she will be happiest with her true love.


So Manijan is able to step back out of this in-between place and into the past, where Luang Thep is waiting with open arms.


All in all, it is a pretty accomplished musical.  Good production values, good singing, etc.  It has been geared so strongly for a Thai audience that even if it were translated into another language, it probably would not do much business abroad without a significant reworking.  But it was an enjoyable afternoon.


 

Thongchai Srisukprasert

There is a Thai artist named Thongchai Srisukprasert who has gained a fair amount of popularity for his arcylic and mixed-media paintings that are mostly abstract expressions of spiritual and religious themes.  He is a professor at Silpakorn University, Thailand’s premiere arts school.


I came across a series of nice greeting cards printed with his works on the cover.  They are really nicely-made, good quality paper, so I use them for the archival letters I write to my nieces.  Two of his works are below.  Left is Elephant in Universe.  Right is Universe in Elephant.  More of his works here and here.


 




 


Friday evening Tawn was home about 7:00 and so I prepared a nice, simple dinner of linguine with homemade pesto sauce and a ragout of tomatoes, olives and Italian sausage.  The was accompanied by a simple rocket salad dressed with balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, a small rustic baguette, and a bottle of 2001 Chateau la Tour Labrit Bordeaux.  For dessert we had Duc de Praslin Belgian dark chocolates followed by a sip of Amour en Cage Liqueur de Cerise de Terre – Ground Cherry Liqueur from Quebec, a gift from a friend in Montreal (who has some fantastic pictures of Spain in his flickr account, by the way).



 






Interesting picture from my drive up to Bangkhonthii this week.  Sitting at a stop light in a worn and faded tuk-tuk are a pair of monks, on their way to somewhere.  It makes for an interesting contrast as tuk-tuks in Bangkok are usually gaudily bright.


 


 

Throw the Child Over Your Shoulder

For being rainy season, we’ve had very little rain this past week.  I’m itching for a good storm to cool things down.


After the trip to the floating market and the biking this weekend (video below) Tawn and I went to a wedding on Sunday night.  One of his colleagues was getting married, the fourth “hi-so” (high society) wedding we’ve been to since I moved here. 


The wedding was held at the Hyatt Erawan Hotel, in a fantastically decorated ballroom.  The cocktail reception included small dishes of Thai and western food and cute little desserts.  The towering cake stood at the end of a runways and there was all sorts of ceremony including an honor guard of sword-carrying soldiers in their sharp white uniforms. 


Tawn’s colleague is an alumni of the same high school that Tawn went to, although a few years later than he.  Invited as guests were several of the khruu (teachers) from the school.  Tawn spent a lot of time chatting with them including one lady who he later told me had employed corporal punishment when he misbehaved.  She looks so friendly and harmless, though.  Who could imagine her whacking the back of Tawn’s legs with a ruler?  Ah, but it is always the ones you least suspect, right?


We spent most of the time visiting with Tawn’s colleagues, many of whom I know through visits to the office, weddings, and the trip to Seoul last December.  One of his colleagues, Mon, with whom he also went to school, just recently left the company and is getting ready for her wedding December 30.  Her fiancee, Ross, was in town and accompanied her to the wedding. 


After their wedding, Mon will move to London to join Ross.  Anticipating that a reception or some other ceremony will be held there in the Spring, Tawn is talking about making a trip over there to support Mon – kind of like being the ambassador for the Thai friends.  So all of you in the UK and Europe take note – we may be heading your direction the first half of 2007.


Above: Mon and Ross are on the right of the picture, nearly cropped out by an over zealous photographer.


After the wedding the weather was perfect so we visited the Erawan Shrine just outside the hotel.  This is a large spirit house, which is mistakenly referred to as the “Four-Faced Buddha.”  Not a Buddha at all, the statue in the shrine is Brhama or Phra Phrom.  People visit here day and night to ask for good fortune or to repay wishes that have been granted.


Amphawa Floating Market Video

 


Wedding Video

Erawan Shrine Video


Electricity?  What Electricity?


A few weeks ago I purchased a floor fan, one of those that oscillate back and forth (wildly, like characters in a song by The Smiths*) in the hopes that I can decrease our electricity bill by using only the fan during the day.  Since I’m just sitting in front of the computer working, there is no need for it to be 24 or 25 C (75-77 F).  Usually the temperature works up to about 29 or 30 C (84-86 F) but with the fan it is pleasant enough.


On Saturday around noon, our friend Jack stopped by as he was going to Amphawa with us.  I had the fan blowing but no air on.  This shouldn’t have been a problem because when we visited Jack’s house in Ayuthaya his mother only had a fan going, too.  However, apparantly the lack of air led Jack to comment about it to Tawn.  The rumour is now running around Tawn’s circle of friends that he is too stingy to let me have air.


*Tremendously interesting side note: while Googling for the Smiths Fan Club I came across the Yeardley Smith Fan Club.  Yeardley Smith, as you may or may not konw, is the voice of Lisa Simpson on the show The Simpsons.

And Finally, Throwing the Child Over Your Shoulder


Wednesday was my third day teaching at Bangkhonthii.  There is one young stuent in the Grade 1-3 section who is from a broken home, lives with his grandfather, and has all of the behavioural issues you would expect.  He is very bright but is so starved for attention that he acts up in order to get it.


Finally, after many attempts to keep him involved and focused, he stole the cap off a bottle of glue from another student.  When I questioned him about it (this occurred in front of me) he denied having the cap.  So I led him out of the room, telling him we were going to go see the principal.


He dragged his feet and squirmed to avoid this death march, so I finally picked him up, threw him over my shoulder and carried him down the hall.


Thankfully, parental lawsuits are much less common in Thailand!


Thirty minutes later, he was returned to the classroom with a glue bottle cap in his hand, an apology to the student from whom he stole it, and an apology to me.


We’ll see what next week holds in store.  One thing is for certain, the children view me differently now.  Hopefully not in a negative way, but there is no doubt both a cultural context as well as a “this is how children view farang teachers” context that I’m not fully aware of.


The rest of the children did seem relaxed and not aprehensive about me afterwards, so I think they don’t see it as a Rambo-esque move on my part.

The Weekend of Samut Songkhram

The third-smallest province in Thailand, Samut Songkhram, is increasingly becoming the centre of my world.


Markus and Tam have two friends visiting town this weekend, not together but separately.  Jon is one of Markus’ college classmates and now lives in San Francisco with his wife.  David is a former New Yorker who has lived and worked in Hong Kong for the past six years. 


After deciding that a road trip out of Khrungthep might be a nice event for them, Markus was looking for suggestions of destinations.  I mentioned the nighttime floating market at Amphawa, the less-touristy counterpart to the early morning Damnoen Saduak floating market.  That sounded appealing, so Tawn made arrangements to hire a van and driver (1500 for eight hours, not including gasoline and tolls).


We set off about 1:30 Saturday afternoon, Tawn, his friend Jack, and I.  After picking up Markus, Tam, Pune (Tam’s sister), David and Jon we hit the expressway and two hours and eighty-plus kilometers later were in Amphawa, which is about 15 kilometers downstream from Bangkhonthii.  Parking on the far side of the Mae Klong river at a temple, we took a ferry across to the town itself. 


Right: Picture of Tawn and Pune.  Below: Tawn and me.



The floating market and its surrounding street stalls are notable for a number of reasons:


♦ Unlike Damnoen Saduak, where you generally rent a boat and float among the vendors, (although you can rent a boat at Amphawa if you wish) several sections of the main canal in the small town of Amphawa are lined with wide concrete steps leading down to the water.  About ten steps down to the water, they remind me of nothing so much as the seating in the Alcatraz Prison exercise yard.  Bonus question: can you spot Tawn in this picture?  Hint: he’s the only one in orange.


♦ The vendors have their boats pulled up alongside the steps and you can go down to buy food.  In some cases the vendor has someone working the steps to collect money and deliver food.  In other cases, money and food are passed from person to person in the crowd, the way that one buys a hot dog at an American football stadium.


Some vendors had a plastic basket on the end of a long bamboo pole, and would use it to reach the people sitting further away.  Left: notice the vendor with the “basket on a stick” in the yellow shirt, center.


 


♦ On both the water and the two surrounding streets, the many vendors offer a wide variety of (mostly) foods as well as a few other items.  There are no fake Louis Vuitton bags.  The selection of items is widely varied – very few people sell the same things, so browsing is quite interesting.


♦ The crowd – and it was crowded because Saturday was Mother’s Day (the Queen’s Birthday) here in Thailand – was almost completely Thai with very few foreigners.  The vendors were thusly organized, so as a tourist you felt more like you were being treated just like the Thai visitors.


♦ There is a very nice temple and park nearby that celebrates the birth of King Rama II, who was born in Amphawa.  It includes a restored traditional Thai house that is done up with antiques from the Rama II era.  This adds to the variety of things to do and see in the area, making for a full afternoon and evening.


♦ There are rental boats that can take you to see the fire flies (hing hoy in Thai – ask a Thai person to say “fire flies” three times fast) in the nearby tidal marshes.  Unfortunately, our boat arrangements were canceled by the boat operator who apparently received a better offer so had left well before we were scheduled to depart.


While we were disappointed not to be able to go see the fire flies, we had a fun time overall.  I’ll add this to the “take the guests to see” list.


All of us on the steps next to the khlong (canal).  From left to right: David (in blue), Jon, Markus, Pune, Tam, Chris, and Tawn.



 


It was so nice, why don’t we go there again?


Jon is a cyclist, so Markus had made arrangements with me to go biking on Sunday morning.  Before we had planned to go to Samut Songkhram on Saturday for the floating market, I had already considered going there for biking on Sunday.


We went ahead with the plan and did a 31-km circuit, using the schoolin Bangkhonthii as the starting point.  We travelled back down to Amphawa along the main road, crossed the bridge to the west bank, and then worked out way back up. 


Along the way we stopped at the Siamese Cat Centre, two of the more historically-significant temples, and then crossed back over the Mae Khlong River at the Catholic church.  It took about two hours of riding to do the circuit as Jon’s rental bike kept slipping gears except when it was in first.


It was a gorgeous day for biking, temperatures were pretty cool and there was a really pleasant breeze.  Hopefully we’ll have an opportunity to do that ride again in the future and explore some of the smaller side roads that cut through the coconut and banana plantations.


 

Back to Bangkhonthii

Yesterday marked my second day teaching at Bangkhonthii School.  The students were excited for my return and the door outside my classroom has been decorated with my name.  One student made a good luck charm, a small wooden ball with a face drawn on it, for me.


With the older class (grades 4-6) we started working on first, second and third person statements.  (“I have a blue ball.  You have a red ball.  She has a green ball.”)  We also reviewed vocabularly, practised standing to introduce ourselves and say our age, and then played animal bingo.


With the younger class (gardes 1-3) we reviewed our fruits, spelling from last week’s homework, and colours.  We also briefly introduced first person statements.  Then we went outside for an elaborate game:


Each student carried an articifical fruit that I had brought with me – some of which (the grapes) are a bit worse for wear… but they’re so fun to squeeze!  Then, one by one, we named the fruit and then wrote the name in big letters on the court.  After each student had their fruit’s name written, we reviewed them then played a memory game:


Forming two teams, each team would nominate one person to play.  I picked a fruit then they had to run and find the name.  The first person to reach it would earn a point.  It was a close fought contest, but the girls eeked ahead and won, 7-5.  Another teach helped with the score keeping.


So next week I will return with more fun and games and more lessons to learn.  I’m hoping to get the grade 4-6 group to a point where, near the end of their school year, they can do some sort of exchange with their counterparts at the primary school where my sister teaches.  We’ll see about that as we get a little further along.


 

Laptop Obituary

This afternoon at 2:30 my six-year old IBM laptop passed into eternal slumber.  Her declining health had started to worsen significantly in the past two months: first a crash once every two weeks, then more frequently, until yesterday there were three consecutive crashes while trying to create a PDF file.


I was able to briefly revive her after those crashes, but it was touch and go all morning, a disturbingly human rattle coming from somewhere inside as if she was literally falling to pieces.


My laptop is survived by her primary user (me) and frequently-backed up data in an external hard drive.  A few recently added fonts and programs may have been lost, as was the document that was left uncompleted by her demise.


My employer is making arrangements for another laptop to be sent from the United States.  In the meantime, I will be working from Tawn’s computer.


In lieu of flowers, do a kind deed for your computer and back up your data today.


 

Parades and Music Videos

Sunday morning, Markus and I woke up really early (while Tawn and Tam both remained fast asleep under their respective covers!) and headed to the old city, Ko Ratanakosin (Ratanakosin Island) to do some bike riding.


This is where the Grand Palace and Wat Pho are located, usually quite congested with traffic and narrow, winding streets.  So we figured a Sunday morning about 7:00 would be a good time to see the sights without risking our lives.


We should have looked at the social calendar, though!  Right after finding parking and getting on the bikes, we encountered a parade of middle school students.  Tawn provided some much-needed context after I returned home, but it seems that this Middle School is under royal patronage and the parade was their particular way to celebrate the King’s 60th anniversary on the throne.


The parade was quite long – maybe the length of five or six city blocks – and was broken into units by each class of students.  Markus and I rode back along the parade to see the whole thing.  Passing one class, one of the boys called out to me, waving something in his hand.  So I rode over to see what he was handing out.  Condoms!  This must be the safer sex club, as opposed to the badminton club or drama club?!  Very strange.


Here’s a short video of the parade:



Afterwards, as we kept riding, we encountered a graduation ceremony at Thammasat University and the finish line of a marathon!  So traffic was a mess and we were definitely a bit unsure in the midst of well-trafficked city streets.


Reflecting on the experience after the fact, it would probably be a good idea to try again another morning.  That many activities surely contributed to higher-than-normal levels of Sunday morning traffic.  Next ride, though, will be in the countryside!

Also, from last week at Bangkhonthii School, here’s a short video of their music practice in the afternoon:


Visiting Khun Maae (Tawn’s Mom)

On Friday morning Brad and Silvia returned from Koh Samui, nearing the end of their three weeks in Thailand.  After spending the morning and early afternoon shopping, I took them over to Tawn’s parents’ house so Tawn’s mother could spend some time speaking Italian with Silvia.


It was a lot of fun.  English, Thai, Italian all mixed together.  Tawn’s mother went through her vacation photos with them, explaining it all in Italian.


Afterwards, I took Brad and Svilia out for barbeque at Great American Rib Company on Sukhumvit Soi 36.  BBQ is something that Brad misses from the United States and can’t get in Italy.  They had a good time with it.


To cap the night, we went to Vertigo, the bar atop the Banyan Tree hotel and had lychee martinis while taking in the view of a rain-cleaned Bangkok skyline.  The weather was absolutely perfect: a cool breeze was blowing.


As a side note, Tawn has seven dogs at his parents’ house.  They are small and loud.  Thought I’d share a brief clip with you:


Roongrian Bangkhontii – Day 1

Today was my first day teaching at Bang Khonthii Primary School, a 60-student facility in the Bang Khonthii Amphoe (roughly, “county”) of Samut Songkhram province about 80 km southwest of Khrungthep.


About three weeks ago I visited the school while on a Spiceroads bicycle tour and started speaking with the Ajarn Yai (literally, “big teacher” – the principle) and she asked if I’d like to volunteer and teach her children English. 


It sounded like a good opportunity, so last week I headed back to the school to sign up.


This morning I left home at 6:30 to ensure I’d be there before class started at 8:30.  Nervousness and anticipation were rampant as I didn’t know exactly what to expect.  Ajarn Yai was very happy to see me and she and her staff were quite accommodating.  After some discussion about where the students are in their English studies, I went ahead and started teaching the first class.


Perhaps I thought one of the teachers would remain in the classroom with me, but I was pretty much just thrown right in!  The first group was the combined grades 4-6.  Originally, I thought these were the students from grades 1-3 but it wasn’t until I walked into that classroom after lunch that I realized my mistake!


Each class is about 20 students with the remaining 20 in a combined preschool/ kindergarten.  The older children were pretty knowledgeable with their English as I started with very basic things, colours, numbers, etc. and worked to more complicated things.  Now that I know where they are, I think I’ll try some more challenging activities in weeks ahead.  We enjoyed a fun round of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” in which I threw them off by pointing to body parts in a different order.  We also started to learn “The Itsty-Bitsy Spider,” which they already know in Thai.


Perhaps you can see now how I thought these were the younger children.  Had I known their grade, maybe I wouldn’t have done the singing.  But they had fun.


After lunch, which the school provided (gread pad thai and chicken with rice) and I ate with Ajarn Yai in the office/teacher’s area, I taught the younger children.  We spent about an hour learning and spelling different fruits.  Their writing is very good, quite neat.  We then did our own round of “Head, Shoulders…” and then decided it was time for some recess and went out to play “Red Rover, Red Rover.”  There’s a slightly different version in Thai so I had to teach them the new way. 



They added a uniquely Thai twist to it, nonetheless: When one time dwindled down to a single remaining student (in other words, the game was over by a traditional definition) several students from the other side ran over to join him so the game would continue.


Every Thursday is music lesson day.  In following weeks I’ll go there on Wednesday instead so as not to disrupt the schedule.  However, since I was here, after lunch I sat in for a while as grades 4-6 practiced playing music using traditional southern Thai-style instruments that are made out of bamboo.  The name escapes me at the moment, but they sound a lot like a xylophone, but a xylophone with a note being struck repeatedly in quick succession.


All in all, it was tremendously fun.  I have a lot of work to do to prepare for next week: each class is 2.5 hours long so there’s a lot of time to fill and like all young people, attention spans are short.  If you know any ESL teachers or early primary school teachers in the US please let me know – I could use some lesson plan ideas!


As a positive aside, my Thai is going to improve really rapidly by doing this, since none of the teachers speaks any significant amount of English and Ajarn Yai, while speaking some English, pushes me to speak in Thai most of the time.  On top of it, especially with the younger grades, I have to use Thai for the instructions because they don’t know the words yet in English!