Beautiful Scala Cinema a point of history

Khrungthep has no shortages of new cinemas: every mall has one and all of them feature digital sound, stadium seating, and all of the amenities you would expect from any megaplex cinema in the United States.  In fact, there is a shortage of grand old cinemas here even though the city used to be full of them.

DSCF0019 These days there are just three cinemas, all owned by the Tansacha family as part of the Apex Cinemas, that are holdovers from the days before multiplexes.  Of those, the Siam and the Scala are the two “grand” cinemas whereas the Lido is a series of three smaller auditoriums.

The Scala opened in 1967 in Siam Square.  In those days, Siam Square was the only shopping center in Khrungthep, and today it is still the hub of shopping in the city, around which has sprung up an impressive (and seemingly endless) number of malls including MBK, Siam Discovery, Siam Center, and Paragon.

DSCF0024 The 900-seat Scala has one of the most beautiful lobbies: it is done in a Moorish style, featuring twin grand staircases, a large chandelier, and a sculptural relief along one of the ways.  It also features a hand-painted movie poster – one of the last in the Kingdom.  It is changed every few weeks to advertise whatever big picture is coming out soon.

Best of all, the Scala along with its Apex Cinema siblings show a combination of foreign and art films.  This weekend, Todd and I went to see Paris j’taime and well as Woody Allen’s Scoop.  Not only does the Scala offer one of the largest cinemas, but the tickets are cheaper than at the malls (100 baht versus 120 to 160) and good seats are available even at showtime.


Avatar doesn’t capture it, says Tawn

Tawn returned home from his company trip to Beijing on Monday evening.  The flight was supposed to arrive about 9:35 but Tawn SMS’d from Beijing saying they were sitting on the tarmac and would probably arrive about 10:15.  Checking the THAI Airways site before leaving home, they were showing an on-time arrival which I knew wasn’t possible.

Sure enough, the flight was delayed.  Initially it was showing a 12:15 am arrival and eventually that was pushed to 12:50.  Normally I’d be thrilled to spend three hours at the airport but Suvarnabhumi at night isn’t very interesting.  To top it off, the two observation areas have been closed ostensibly for remodel.

This morning when Tawn took a look at my Simpsons entry, he was amused and said his avatar is a striking similarity to him, but that the stubble-headed me doesn’t quite capture my essence.  We went back in and he selected the completely bald head.  Comparative thoughts?  New one is on the right.

Chris Simpsons Avatar-1  Chris Simpsons Avatar-2


Joining the Simpsons fray

Well, I wanted to resist the marketing and not write anything about The Simpsons Movie.  But then Sheldon posted a picture of his Simpsons avatar and being a Simpsons fan, I thought it would be funny to see what Tawn and I would look like as Simpsons characters.  Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Tawn Simpsons Avatar-1  Chris Simpsons Avatar-1  

The picture I based the characters on:



Polygamy makes for an interesting movie topic

Oh, the film festival is almost over.  Thank goodness.  As much as I enjoy watching films, the films I’ve watched have been about 40% “ho-hum”, 30% “okay” and 30% “oh, that was pleasant”.  It is hard to say if it is just the selection of films I saw or a reflection of the festival’s programming.

Love for Share One film that really caught my attention was Nia Dinata’s Love for Share.  About polygamy in Indonesia, the three loosely interconnected stories tell of three women from three different backgrounds and places in life.  Yet all three are tied together by the common experience of being one of their husbands’ multiple wives.  The first story is about a doctor who must reconcile her devotion to her religion and her only son with her discontent at her husband’s many surprises.  The second story takes place in an over-crowded slum as the new third wife chafes at her situation and forms a tight bond with the second wife.  The final story is of a self-involved young waitress who vows to make her status as a second wife work to her advantage.

While Dinata stakes out an anti-polygamy perspective, the film is surprising in that it doesn’t come to quite so clear-cut an opinion, reflecting the complexities and intricacies of feelings, circumstances, and relationships.

One more day and three more films to go.

This evening I stopped by the opening night event for Justin’s photo exhibition at Tamarind Cafe.  His photos are really nice and he had done a couple of blow-ups (2 meters wide) highlighting two of his most stunning pictures.  They look really good in the restaurant.  It was nice to visit with him and also with Roka and Ryan, who were there to lend their support.


Luminous photos this Friday at Tamarind Cafe

The Bangkok International Film Festival is going well – I’m twelve or thirteen films into it and have several more to go.  There’s still plenty going on in town besides movies.  One of those things of note is a photo exhibition by a friend:
Justin - Contemplation Justin Brooks, British expat, English teacher and talented photographer, will have his works displayed at Gallery F-Stop (located at Tamarind Cafe, the tasty vegetarian east-west fusion restaurant on Sukhumvit Soi 20) beginning this Friday, 27 July.  In fact, there is an open invitation to the opening night party, starting at 6:00 pm.
Justin does a lot of work in black and white, creating beautiful textures and using a strong hand in controlling light exposure to create luminous photos.  These are two of his photos as a sample and hope those of you in Khrungthep will take the opportunity to see them all at Tamarind Cafe.
Justin - Patterns

Other Views
Here is two interesting photos I took, one on the way to class on Monday of a monk riding on the back of a motorbike, the other of a celebrity ping pong tournement between two sets of radio station DJs at Central World Plaza mall on Tuesday evening.

Remodel shows little physical progress

DSCF9955 After attending the homeowner association meeting (see below) we went upstairs to take a look at the progress on the remodel.  As expected, there wasn’t a whole lot accomplished this week. 

Right: An interesting moth on our front door.  An auspicious sign?

Below: The widening of the living room wall had been completed, making the entire wall flush with the structural beam along the ceiling.  The electrical outlet and the door frame going into the master bedroom still have to be pulled forward, but that will be easily accomplished later on.  Additionally, the wall extension between the main entry hall and the living room has been completed, creating more of a visual separation between the two spaces.


Good news on the bathroom doors which, you may recall, were incorrectly installed when we visited last week.  Both have been pulled out and the correct doors have been put in, instead.  Also, the door leading into the master bedroom from the bath has been moved to the left as it was supposed to be.

Below left: Last week Tawn and his mother inspected the door that was taken out and then put back in in the exact same place, not moved to the left as per the blueprints.  Below right: This week we see that the door was taken out, replaced with the new wood door frame, and was moved to the left about 20 cm (8 inches).  

DSCF9770  DSCF9963

DSCF9970 The hardwood floors (we chose ash) are on order and should be installed this coming week.  There is a question over which pattern to use: our designer, Ble, wants us to use a herringbone pattern but I’m inclined towards a standard brick pattern.

Left: Sunday morning we had breakfast at Tamarind Cafe, the vegetarian restaurant on Sukhumvit Soi 20, and went through the draft architectural plans in details to come up with a list of questions and concerns for Ble. 

Afterwards, we went to his shop on Sukhumvit 23 and spent almost two hours pouring through the plans.  At this point, he has enough information to draw up “final” plans and send them to the contractor for a price estimate.

Yes, this may seem a little strange to only be getting to final plans now, considering that we’ve gutted the house already.  But that’s the way it is done here, or so I’m told.  And the areas gutted are all changes we know we are going to make one way or another. 

You’ll notice in some pictures that the kitchen has not been gutted.  That’s because we’re not certain if we can afford to do the kitchen remodel at this time.  The remodel itself wouldn’t be too bad, but the remodel plus new appliances could be very pricey.

Below: Tawn at Ble’s shop, filled with things that he would love to have in the house.


We’ll work it out somehow, right?  (crossed fingers)


Homeowner association scandal: 1 million baht stolen!

This weekend I took some time out from watching films to attend to condominium issues.  Saturday morning there was a homeowner’s association meeting at Raintree Villa.  Wanting to do our civic duty, Tawn and I showed up for this meeting.  We even had an item we wanted on the agenda: a request to consider installing bicycle parking racks in the car park.

What we didn’t realize was that this meeting had been called to address one particular point of business: the embezzlement of about one million baht (about US$31,500 at the ever-worsening exchange rates) over the past year by the complex’s manager.

Scandal!  Below, Tawn and I wait for the meeting to start.  The plastic chairs say “Wat Pasi Ekkamai” on the back and were borrowed from the temple near Tawn’s parents’ house.  Interestingly, “pasi” means “tax” or “duty” so I’m curious whether the temple was built from taxes.  Interesting name.  Can’t quite imagine the First Church of the Value Added Tax on some street corner. 

DSCF9952 The property management company, Plus Properties, was there to report on the investigation and to request help from the home owners in gathering further evidence.  It seems that the manager had not always been issuing receipts for water payments and and was using fake receipts for home owner association payments. 

There was a lot of debate amongst meeting participants about Plus Properties’ responsibility for this embezzlement because it seems that the on-site manager had had little oversight and that few checks existed to balance her actions.  Originally there had been two on-site managers, each of whom checked and balanced the other.  But due to cost-cutting, one of the positions was eliminated.  From what I gather, the home owner association’s board had agreed to that change.

Anyhow, reviewing the data that was provided, our unit does not have any outstanding balances and it appears that the former owner was diligent about collecting receipts for her payments.  Good news.



Festival mixes disorganization with decent programming

DSCF9934 The Bangkok International Film Festival got off to a start Friday after a glitzy and glamorous Thursday night gala opening.  Some of the highlight films are attracting a large crowd, but many of the screenings I’ve attended have been maybe 10-20% full.  Considering that only about 30 of the 120+ films have Thai subtitles, it is no wonder that attendance among locals is light.

Right: Central World Plaza decked out for the festival.


How are the films?

What I’ve seen so far has been a mixed bag with some nice highlights:

  • Indonesian Riri Riza’s road trip movie, Three Days to Forever, was an interesting story of a young man and woman, cousins, taking a three day drive to attend her sister’s wedding.  Along the way, they undergo several formative experiences.  It didn’t delve as deeply into some of the issues of generational expectations and intercultural conflict as I would have liked, instead hinting at them and then moving on.  Overall, a nicely made movie.
  • Charlie Nguyen helmed Vietnam’s bigest budget picture to date, The Rebel, which is a martial arts-heavy period action drama set in the 1920s.  This film is unique not only because of its budget but also because its director, producer and primary cast are all Vietnamese-Americans.  Regardless of the heritage of the talent, it is a very slick looking piece with well-choreographed fight sequences.  The downfall of The Rebel is its reliance on action over story development, which is a shame given that the story – a French-educated Vietnamese intelligence agent defects to help the anti-French rebels after torturing the rebel leaders daughter who was caught during an assasination of a French official – has so much potential.  Current heaththrob Johnny Nguyen and former heartthrob Dustin Nguyen star.
  • Mukhsin Malaysian director Yasmin Ahmad made a lovely teenage coming-of-age film Mukshin (right).  Ten-year old Orked comes from a “bohemian” family and she does not fit in with the local children.  During school break, she meets twelve-year old Mukshin, an orphan who lives with his aunt, and they strike up an intense friendship.  Their very different social circumstances begin to insinuate themselves into their friendship.  Beautifully shot and well-acted, Ahmad gets the most out of this story and her actors.
  • Chinese director Liu Hao illustrated the importance of having a good script in a poorly-conceived and absurdly boring The Basement.  It starts with what could be an interesting premise: a lady and her boyfriend, with whom she’s disatisfied, catch an intruder in the basement television studio in which they’re working.  The captured man switches places with his captors, psychologically, as he begins to exert enormous control over them, causing them to examine their relationship and ultimately reignite their passion.  Thanks to a poor script, it takes an hour just to get to the point where the intruder enters the story and then once captured, the psychological trading of places is just not believable.  Quick, there’s another person with a half-baked idea: get them a digital video camera and they’ll make a movie!

I don’t mean to sound harsh about it, but this democratization of movie making – a byproduct of lower entry costs to potential filmmakers – makes the necessity of having a good story to tell even clearer. 


Above: Live music and displays of Thai handicrafts are part of the expenses that the Tourism Authority’s film festival budget supports, doing little to improve the quality of the festival itself.


So how’s the festival?

As for the festival itself, there are some aspects that are really going well.  The programming is stronger than in past years and there seems to be no shortage of money being thrown at the festival by the Tourism Authority, its main sponsor.

DSCF9947 There are lots of beautiful signs, splashy graphics, and swanky soirees.  The mall in which the festival is being held is all decked out for the event.

But the actual operation of the festival is disorganized: of the seven programs I’ve attended, four have had technical interruptions including two film breaks where the audience was treated to watching the film jam and melt on-screen.  Always a crowd pleaser.

All of the movies are being shown with the same twenty-plus minutes of previews and advertisements that the cinema places on their commercial movies.  This is something I’ve never experienced at another festival and it is very annoying.  On the positive side, I can show up twenty minutes late and still be able to catch a few ads before the feature starts.

Three times I’ve been stopped while exiting shows and asked to complete a survey.  Each time I’ve done so and on the third time included my name and email and offered to provide free consulting for next year’s festival.  It is such a shame that many other festivals have to work so hard to get funds, but manage to pull off a nice festival nonetheless.  And then here is this well-funded festival that can’t seem to use the money to actually run the festival.


Above: Unrelated to the festival, Central World Mall was also sponsoring some sort of Hello Kitty event.  You could enter your name to win this Hello Kitty Honda Jazz.  Now how cool is that?


Gross National Happiness: another way to measure growth

Thursday evening there was a panel discussion at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club on the topic of Gross National Happiness.  Featured speakers included Lyonpo Jigmi Thinley, Home Minister of the Kingdom of Bhutan, pictured second from the right in the picture below.

Gross National Happiness is the idea that if happiness is the most important thing to the people, then it is the responsibility of the state to facilitate it.  Instead of using traditional measurements of growth or progress that focus only on economic measurements, GNH takes a different approach that turns on the belief that the most profound needs of human beings are not physical or material.


King Jigme Singye Wangchuck coined the term in 1972 and it has been a guiding principle of the Bhutanese government ever since.  Gross National Happiness is built upon four pillars:

  • Sustainable and equitable social economic development
  • Conservation of the environment
  • Promotion and preservation of culture
  • Good governance

Criticisms about GNH include that it relies on solely subjective measurements.  His Excellency the Home Minister conceded that this was the case and explained that there are efforts in the international GNH movement to develop indices that more objectively measure it.

More importantly, he said, GNH is not meant to be a measurement.  Instead, it is meant to be a destination or an objective towards which the government works on behalf of the people.  It guides decisions rather than being a measurable result of decisions already made.

It is an interesting concept, don’t you think?  What if we did find some way to guide development and progress rather than just unrelenting growth driven by the economic gains of a minority of people?