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. 

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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.

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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.

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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?

  

Emphasis on ASEAN films in Bangkok Film Fest

BIFF 5 This evening is the opening night of the Bangkok International Film Festival.  An event sponsored by the Tourism Authority, it has historically been disorganized and a bit of an embarassment, even when over funded like it was last yer.  (Kind of like the new airport, huh?)  This year’s festival was delayed six months as they did a major reshuffle, fired their mostly farang and Los Angeles-based organizers, and tried to go native. 

 

The programming looks to be a bit better, but the disorganization is still there.  On Monday evening at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, the festival’s director handed out press materials and spoke briefly, spending most of his time fielding some harsh barbs from the audience, including a few questions that I thought were a bit over the top and, thankfully, appeared not to come from real journalists.

 

One example was an apparantly inebriated British man who criticized the Tourism Authority for choosing the SF World Cinema at Central World Plaza, one of Khrungthep’s newest of our ubiquitous multiplex cinemas, over somewhere “more culturally appropriate”.  I could scarcely contain myself as I wanted him to explain what he thought a more culturally appropriate venue would be?  Khrungthep has no “traditionally Thai” multi-screen movie theatres.  I don’t even know what that would be!

 

Anyhow, the press materials included schedules of the films and a list of ten highlighted films out of the 130 or so being screened.  Oddly, they have no program guide that lists the movies and provides synopses of them.  You have to go to the website for that.  Talk about the surest way to not reach an audience.

 

The good news is that there are 18 films from the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries and another 26 from elsewhere in Asia.  There is also a “Thai Panorama” featuring 10 recent Thai films, a few of which I’m not sure are really that deserving.

 

I’m partnering with the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival to attend the Bangkok Film Festival as one of SFIAAFF’s “associate” programmers.  Yes, I actually get an industry badge and admission to three free screenings a day.  Woo-hoo!  Exhibition and Festival Director Chi-hui and Assistant Director Taro selected some films from the schdule that they’ve asked me to view as they’ll likely not get a chance to see these films at Toronto, Cannes, Rotterdam or other larger festivals. 

 

Recommendations

 

In conjunction with their requests and my own browsing, here are some of the films I’ll see which look promising.  If you’re a ready here in Khrungthep, may I suggest you consider catching one or more of them?  All of the films are at SF World Cinema in Central World Plaza.  Tickets are on sale at the cinema box office and seats are assigned.

 

Three Days Three Days to Forever – (Indonesia) Riri Riza’s thoroughly modern road trip movie.  Yusuf and his cousin Ambar spend a wild night out just before heading out of town for a relative’s wedding.  When the pair passes out overnight and Ambar misses her flight, the two head off on a three-day road trip.  Little do they realize those three days will have a lasting impact on their lives.  20 July at 14:00 and 23 July at 18:00.

 

 

 

 

 

The Rebel The Rebel – (Vietnam) Charlie Nguyen historical drama and romance set in 1920s Vietnam.  Under colonial French rule, rebellions emerge all over the country.  A French-cultured undercover elite falls in love with the daughter of a rebel leader.  21 July at 19:30, 23 July at 15:30.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before We Fall Before We Fall in Love Again – (Malaysia)  James Lee tells the story of Chang, whose wife Ling Yue has been missing for a month with no clues left behind.  One day a man named Tong shows up and claims to be Ling Yue’s lover.  Tong is looking for her, too.  In a turn of events both men form an uneasy alliance in order to find Ling Yue.  24 July at 20:30 and 26 July at 17:40.

 

 

 

 

Love Conquers Love Conquers All – (Malaysia) Ten Chui Mui directs this drama set in the pre-mobile phone 80s.  It is the story of Ah Ping, who arrives in KL from her hometown.  Bored and alone in a strange place, she finds herself mysteriously drawn to the predatory John, both physically and emotionally.  27 July at 14:20 and 28 July at 14:30.

 

 

 

 

 

Love for Share Love for Share – (Indonesia) This comedy-drama about the consequences of polygamy.  Shifting techniques, director Nia Dinata tells the stories of three wives from vastly different backgrounds; one thin thread connects the women.  Successful doctor Salma must reconcile her devotion to Islam with her discontent; living in an overcrowded slum, Siti resents being a third bride and forms a tight bond with wife Dwi; and the self-involved Ming vows to make it work to her advantage.  24 July at 20:30 and 16 July at 17:40.

 

 

Kala Kala – (Indonesia) Director Joko Anwar tells this drama about a nameless country in a state of chaos as natural disasters, corruption and street justice are on the rise.  A cop named Eros is investigating the case of five men who were killed by a mob.  A journalist named Janus is also covering the story.  The two are quickly drawn into a labyrinth of mysteries and murders.  25 July at 17:20 and 27 July at 16:40.

 

 

 

  

Dancing Bells Dancing Bells – (Malaysia) Director Deepak Kumaran Menon tells the story of 11 year-old Uma, a little girl living in KL’s Little India, who wants to dance.  But first her mother must save enough money from her flower stall to buy her a pair of chalangdai – dancing bells.  Menon’s beautifully naturalistic second feature was shot entirely on location using neighborhood amateurs, revealing a minority community under stress in the shadows of developing Malaysia.

 

 

 

Pao Pao’s Story – (Vietnam) Set in the breath-taking landscape of the mountainous provinces of Vietname, director Quang Hai Ngo tells the story of a Hmong tribe girl named Pao.  She was raised by her stepmother after her real mother left when she was little.  One day after her stepmother dies in an accident, Pao begins to track down her birth mother.  But her journey turns out to disclose an unsealed sentimental drama of the family in the past.

 

 

 

 

Looking for a Thai rabbit to flake coconut

DSCF9902 I make meusli.  And in a country where coconuts are such a bountiful product, I’ve grown tired of having to buy imported shredded coconut to add to it.  Despite the prevelence of coconuts, I have yet to see shredded (flaked) coconut for baking and making cereals. 

At the talad – market – I can find fresh coconut milk, in which the coconut ends up in pieces as fine as snowflakes before being pressed to extract the liquid.  Snowflakes are too fine for my needs.

At first I looked for a gradtai – rabbit – a bench-like contraption (often artistically designed to look like a rabbit) with a sharp blade protuding like buck teeth on which you scrape the halved coconut.  Well-patinaed gradtai are collectors’ items and Tawn has indicated an interest in having one around the house.

Regardless of its decorative value, I want a gradtai to scrape coconuts.  Kobfa and I mentioned this to Ajarn Yai last week and it resulted in an after school trip to the local talad because she insisted that we could find the right implement to scrape coconut. 

DSCF9905 In addition to finding a tiikuudmapraaw – literarly “coconut scraper” (left) of which Ajarn Yai insisted to buy two, one for Tawn and one for me (she still doesn’t quite get it despite multiple explanations in both Thai and English), we found a vendor who sells gradtai. 

But these gradtai were functional ones, plain wooden benches with no visual relationship to a rabbit.  I called Tawn on my mobile phone and asked if he wanted a plain gradtai.  Silly me for even asking; of course he didn’t.

I drove back last week with two tiikuudmapraaw and a hulled coconut that Khruu Somchai had harvested from a tree near at the school.  Ajarn Yai was worried that it was a young coconut, which has a lot of liquid inside and only a thin lining of meat.  That coconut is still sitting, whole, on my counter because I lack a way to open it.

This week as the school day was concluding, Ajarn Yai insisted I wait a few extra minutes because Khruu Somchai and Khruu Darunee were at the market buying a mature coconut for me.  Ajarn Yai had been worried all week that young coconut just isn’t the right thing for me.  When they returned, everyone took turns husking the coconut.  

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DSCF9918 The coconuts you see at markets in the west are just a small part of the whole coconut – you wouldn’t believe how thick a husk is!  What person thousands of years ago thought it would be worth the effort to rip apart a coconut and see if there was something to eat inside?

I drove back from Bangkhonthii this week with a hulled and halved mature coconut.  This morning I used one of my tiikuudmapraaw to scrape the coconut, making beautiful flakes – loads of them! – that I toasted in the oven on the balcony.   Coconut cream pie, anyone?

 

A weekend of showtunes

DSCF9759 Sorry for no update for a few days.  It isn’t that there wasn’t anything happening.  Rather, I wanted to leave the entry about the end of the English teaching at Bangkhonthiinai at the top of the page for a few extra days since many of my readers don’t subscribe to my blog and instead stop by from time to time to read it.

But five days is long enough, so let’s get back to blogging!

Saturday was a Khun Nui day.  Tawn’s father was out for a school reunion and so Tawn’s mother was home free.  After baking homemade buttermilk biscuits (right) for breakfast we drove over and picked her up.

Condo Remodel Progress

Our first stop was the new condominium to show it to Khun Nui and also to see what progress had been made in the remodel.

DSCF9770 It seems that a lot of stuff is happening quite quickly, and that isn’t necessarily a good thing.  We were surprised to see that the two bathroom doors, which had been pulled out along with a section of wall around them, have been rebuilt, left.

The good news: they’re moving quickly.  More good news: one of the doors is in the correct place. 

Some not-so-good news: the other door was moved the wrong direction by several inches.  Some more not-so-good news: they weren’t supposed to re-use the old doors in the first place as we have two new doors waiting to be picked up.

So it looks like the construction this week will begin with two steps back.

 

 

Rough Neighborhood

DSCF9761 Some more bad news about the new neighborhood comes from Daily News, a local Thai-language newspaper: a 1.2-meter (4 foot) freshwater crocodile fell out of the back of a speeding black pickup truck in front of the Kasikorn Bank branch on Soi Thong Lor, one block over from our street. 

No details on the truck such as license plate number and it seems the truck was unaware that it had lost its cargo, assuming that the cargo was intentional in the first place.

Can you imagine what the driver must have said when he got back home and looked in the back of the truck: “Well, dang it… where did that crocodile go?  I could just swear I put him in here.”

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In the afternoon we went for lunch with Khun Nui before she headed home in advance of Khun Sudha’s planned return.  Above, Tawn gives his mother a sniff-kiss.  A sniff-kiss is a Very Thai display of affection.


 

Somehow, Someday, Somewhere

Kobfa called Saturday afternoon to ask if we were interested in joining him for a Broadway showtunes concert sponsored by the Musicals Society of Bangkok (who knew that existed?) as a fundraiser for Thai Red Cross.  He had just found out about it from a friend who had attended the night before.  An internet search turned up only one entry about the event from the Stock Exchange of Thailand’s own website.  I didn’t even know there was an auditorium at the SET.

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It seems that this is the third or fourth annual concert that the Musicals Society has put on and we’ll certainly have to look it up next year.  The two highlight performers were Suruj Predarat and Teeranai Na Nongkai, who it seems are perennial favorites.  Khun Suruj is young, only 33, but has a marvelous baritone and excellent control.  Khun Teeranai is a mezzo-soprano with a clear voice.  Both have done a lot of stage work.

The selection of musical numbers was broad from well-known numbers like As If We Never Said Goodbye from Sunset Boulevard and I Have Love / One Hand, One Heart from West Side Story, to lesser known pieces such as She Touched Me from Drat! The Cat! and Penny In My Pocket, which was written for but cut from Hello Dolly.

Princess Somsawaree was in attendance and showed up late so things started almost thirty minutes late.  The concert was fantastic, though, and the Princess was an enthusiastic audience member, leading the applause at the end of each number.

DSCF9800 When you have a royal family member in attendance at an event, a special seat is set up in a prime location which, I think, would make it quite unfortunate if, as that family member, you wanted to attend with a friend or loved one.  You end up sitting all alone.  Right, the Princess is seated in the midst of the small (350 seats maybe?) but very modern auditorium.

As the Princess arrived and entered the auditorium, her anthem was played and the audience stood up.  Each member of the royal family has their own anthem that was written by His Majesty the King, a very prolific composer and musician. 

A very good call on Kobfa’s part to suggest this event; we had a fantastic time.


 

Tell Me on a Sunday

I had a surprise planned for Tawn on Sunday afternoon.  I wouldn’t tell him what it was or where we were going.  All I would tell him was how to dress.  Before heading to the surprise, we met up with some friends for dim sum at the Windsor Hotel on Sukhumvit 20.  Ben’s family owns the hotel and he’s the General Manager, so it was very nice that he made the arrangements for us.  Needless to say, the staff was extremely attentive.

After dim sum we took a taxi to The Esplanade, a new shopping “artsy” shopping center on Ratchadapisek that is owned by the same group that owns Paragon and The Emporium.  The Esplanade has the full size Ratchadalai Theatre in it and this is where we watched Fah Jarod Sai (“Where the Sky Meets the Sand”), the musical adaptation of a popular pair of Thai language books by Sopak Suwan.

DSCF9835 The story line is tremendously complex and the musical (at nearly three hours in two acts) tries to tackle nearly all of it.  In general, it is set in Arabia where half-French, half-Arab orphan Michelle is tricked into being abducted into the King’s harem.  The penalty for deceiving the King is death, but King Ahmed is so enraptured by Michelle beauty that he falls in love with her. 

Just then, a coup is staged and the King is left for dead.  Shariff, the King’s son, fights off the villains and barely escapes with his life – and Michelle – into the desert.  All of this is the first twenty minutes of the musical!

Most of the story is about their time in the desert in which their contemptuous relationship (think Bogart and Hepburn in African Queen) slowly develops into respect, appreciation, and then love.

In the end, on the verge of death they are found by guards for the King, who is turns out did not perish after all and who is encamped in the desert plotting his return.  Shariff leads the assassination attempt on the coup leader and, after some misunderstanding with his father, who is still in love with Michelle, all ends happily with Michelle and Shariff marrying and having a grandson for King Ahmed.

The story is complex and the sets are elaborate, but on the whole the musical does not deliver.  The songs are enjoyable but nothing is particularly memorable.  The cast is chock-a-block with well-known TV and film actors, most of whom haven’t the training or experience to effectively sing a stage musical. 


 

Homemade Sunday Dinner

I concluded Sunday for Tawn with a homemade dinner.  First, using some of the extra whole wheat pizza dough I had made last week, I made a vegetarian pizza.  Since Sandelion commented recently on wanting to see more food pics, I took lots of pictures of the cooking process:

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Then for dessert (since Tops Supermarket had a special on US imported cherries at 199 baht for 500 grams, about $6.00/pound) I made a cherry pie.  Notice the latticework crust!

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What a lovely weekend, eh?

 

English teaching at Bangkhonthiinai to end

DSCF5416 For nearly a year, I have been driving 100 km every Wednesday to volunteer as an English teacher in Bangkhonthiinai, a tiny town in the province of Samut Songkhram.  At the end of August, the volunteer English program will come to an end.

This volunteer work started when I was on a bicycle tour of the Damnoen Saduak floating market last July.  At the end of the tour we rode through a small country school.  The children ran out to see the farang who were riding through, and I ended up chatting with the Ajarn Yai – head teacher.

When she found out that I was living in Thailand, she asked if I wanted to come volunteer.  As they say, ask and you shall receive.  About a month later I started the first of what I thought might just be a few weeks of volunteering.  A year later, I’ve had one class of ten sixth graders graduate, and have watched these young people grow.  Also, I’ve had the opportunity to see the generosity and friendliness of “real” Thais – those who are not living in the big city or in touristy areas.

Along the way, Kobfa has been my regular partner in crime.  Ken and Markus have attended helped out regularly.  And we’ve had plenty of visitors, too: Pat was here from Kansas City, Aaron made the early morning trip to the school, and my entire family plus a few other friends made the trip one day in December.  Below, some of the guests the school has had:

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The main reason for the volunteer program ending is that Ajarn Yai has done such a successful job at Bangkhonthiinai that she is being promoted, and as of September will be an official evaluator, overseeing performance of schools throughout the country.

As she moves on, it is unclear who will replace her or when that replacement will be named.  The school’s resources have been very limited and the five teachers stretched thin.  This was a unique situation in that Ajarn Yai speaks English fairly well and is very sold on the importance of her students learning English.  That is not the case for most country school directors.

Additionally, there have been many questions from higher up in the office of education, asking about work permits and background checks for these farang teaching at her school.  She has shielded us from these questions, insisting that we are her friends who are just stopping by and “helping” at the school, not teaching.

To avoid the possibility of the program turning sour after she leaves, bad feelings arising through misunderstandings or bureaucratic requirements, she feels it is best to bring the program to a happy conclusion.  We will stop teaching on August 22nd, and if I understand correctly, there will be a formal farewell party on September 15th.

If you haven’t had a chance to be a part of this experience, you have seven more weeks.  Take the opportunity soon!