Real Perspective

Adjacent to the Surasak Skytrain station, there is an abandoned, partially-finished building that is a casualty of the 1997 Asian economic crisis.  At a prime location, for whatever reason nobody has stepped in to finish the building which was already being fitted out with duct work for ventilation – meaning all the structural work was complete.

The building is usually subjected to various graffiti.  Recently, though, I noticed that an entire floor’s worth of graffiti had been painted over and there was a new bit of word art.



Depending on where you stand, the parts of the word come together.  Perhaps the underlying message is that you have to have the right perspective in order to discern what is real.

Learning About Thai Ghosts

Thais love ghost stories.  It is a popular genre for films, TV shows, and comic books.  There was even an animated family film that came out last year in which the popular ghosts were the good guys, taking on a bunch of evil spirits intent on taking over the human world.  Here’s the poster for that (right).

If you polls,  in excess of ninety percent of Thais will tell you they believe in ghosts and spirits.  And by “believe”, I don’t mean casual belief.  I mean, dead serious I-can-tell-you-my-own-first-hand-experience-with-a-ghost belief.  Whether you share their beliefs or not, Thai ghost-lore is an interesting lens through which to view the culture.

This ad for Sylvania lightbulbs plays off the ghost theme, with the premise that things aren’t as scary in the light.  Thai advertising is often very clever and Thai ad design firms win lots of awards internationally.  This ad won the Silver Lotus Award at Adfest 2009 – the Asia Pacific Advertising Festival.  You’ll probably want to watch it once (it’s only 47 seconds) then read my explanation below and then watch it one more time.

In the video you see the following ghosts:

Kra-Sui – This female apparition often wanders around at night in a white gown, but she is just a detached head and internal organs, usually with a brightly beating heart (which you see in the last two seconds of the ad after the lights are switched off).  She is a particularly troublesome type of ghost and insatiably hungry.  In the old days, bathrooms were detached latrines often located some distance from the house out near the rice paddies.  The Kra-Sui, which eats excrement, was said to hang around these outhouses.  Certainly, more than one young child was afraid to go to the toilet in the middle of the night out of fear of the Kra-Sui.

Kra Hung – This ghost appears, usually as a woman, with feathers and a tail like a bird.  Kind of similar to a vampire, I understand that Kra Hung eats internal organs.

Banana Ghost – Again in the old days, rural houses often had a small area of banana trees growing near the house.  When children would want to go out and play after dinner, they would be warned away from the banana grove by tales of the banana ghost, a nymph-like spirit that would haunt the trees.

Jackfruit Ghost – The English translation is incorrect here, although it attempts to convey the cultural message of the jackfruit ghost.  When the boy asks, “Is that a jackfruit ghost?” the father actually answers, “No – a person.”  The lost joke is that in the old days, prostitutes used to ply their wares in the trees along roads and parks, trees that often included jackfruit trees.  When children would point out one of the ladies of the night and ask who she was, the answer from the unable-to-explain-prostitution parent would be, “That’s a ghost.”

Blue Ghost – The blue ghost is normally a woman, not a man, and isn’t blue in a “Blue Man Group” sort of way.  Instead, it is just the name for another type of beautiful but frightening female ghost who dines on human flesh.  Tracing how these ghost tales came about, it isn’t surprising that attractive, unmarried village women of a certain age might have been whispered to be blue ghosts or Kra-Sui.

Tall Ghost – To return after death as this ghost, as tall as a palm tree, gaunt in appearance and with a mouth only as large as a needle’s point, was the punishment for children who spoke ill of or abused their parents.  Roaming the countryside the tall ghost would plead in a sorrowful voice that sounds like the wind blowing through the trees, for people to make merit for them so they could be released from their sins.

Thais love certainly love their ghosts!

The most famous Thai ghost, one not featured in this ad, is Nang Nak.  Set in ancient Siam, Nang Nak is the young wife of a handsome villager who goes off with the army to battle the Burmese.  She dies during childbirth but, longing for her husband to return, she and her infant’s spirit continue to inhabit their home. 

When her husband Mak returns, he is initially unable to tell that anything is amiss, although to all the villagers the decay of the house is evident.  The villagers try to warn Mak but Nang Nak takes her revenge on them. 

Eventually, Mak discovers that his wife is a ghost – she drops something through the floorboards when preparing dinner and reflexively reaches for it, her arm stretching supernaturally to retrieve the item from the ground below the house.  With the help of the village monks, Nang Nak’s spirit is eventually released so she can go to the next life.

The story of Nang Nak has been made into countless movies (including one that got some overseas play by director Nonzee Nimitbutr, a still from which is pictured above), an opera (which we watched about five years ago), and there were recently two different musicals based on the story playing simultaneously here in Krungthep. 

Want to know even more about Thai ghosts?  Check out this interesting entry (which I found after writing my own entry!) on the Paknam Web forum.

 

Pity the Poor Wine Drinkers in Thailand

Tawn and I are wine drinkers.  I wouldn’t call ourselves “aficionados” and there’s a lot we don’t know about wine, but we enjoy a nice bottle and have a small wine cellar at home and like to explore different varietals and vintners.  Sadly, though, the tropical paradise of Thailand is no paradise for wine drinkers’ wallets. 

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Wine, extremely little of which is produced locally, faces a hefty import duty on top of which the government places an even heftier excise tax, since wine is, in their judgement, a luxury good.  Beer and cheap Mekong whisky, however, apparently are not.

Recently I was commenting longingly on a post by Gary in which he dined at a “wine-centric” place in Glendale called Palate Food + Wine.  They had these wonderful wines at very reasonable prices – $9 here, $17 there – and that was after restaurant markup.  In my comment, I complained about our 300% duties here in Thailand.  That got me curious: what, exactly, are the duties, taxes and tariffs on wines here in Thailand? 

A little research and I found a USDA Foreign Agricultural Service Global Agricultural Information Network Report about wine in Thailand.  This is the US Department of Agriculture’s effort to educate US based producers on export opportunities.  Here is what I learned about the duty, tariff and tax burden on imported wines:

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That’s a 390% effective duty, tariff and tax burden!  Outrageous!  If there is any good news out of all of this, Free Trade Agreements signed with Australia and New Zealand are moving their tariffs (currently 24% and 18%, respectively) to zero over the next half-dozen years.  But that is only the tariffs, not the excise tax, etc.

Is it any wonder that when I’m back in the US (not to mention visiting Australia), I try to have wine with every meal?

 

Is the Competition Really That Loud?

An advertising campaign by LG pasted on the Skytrain platforms touts their new beltless washing machine.  The key benefit: it is significantly quieter than the competition.  As you can see, the LG Inverter DD operates at only 50 decibels whereas the competition’s belt-driven washers operate at horrifying 58 decibels.

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The problem is, the graphics they use to illustrate these relative levels of sound are very misleading.  Here are some average decibel levels for various types of activity,

10 dB – Normal breathing
30 dB – Whisper
40 dB – Stream, refrigerator humming
50-65 dB – Normal conversation
60-65 dB – Laughter
70 dB – Vacuum cleaner, hair dryer
75 dB – Dishwasher, washing machine
80 dB – Garbage disposal, city traffic
85-90 dB – Lawnmower
100 dB – Train, garbage truck
110 dB – Jackhammer, power saw
120 dB – Thunderclap

Not sure what LG is exactly depicting in the 58 dB picture – looks like road work to me – but it seems pretty clear that 58 dB isn’t nearly as loud as road work would be.  And the 50 dB picture – someone sitting in a library – probably isn’t accurate, either.  A library would probably be closer to 35-40 dB.

Note that prolonged exposure to any noise about 90 dB can cause gradual hearing loss.

 

Raising the Sidewalks of Krungthep

As layer upon layer of asphalt gets added to the streets, the distance between the road surface and the footpaths steadily diminishes.  Once the torrential showers of rainy season arrive, this means ever more flooding that dampens the ankles of residents.  The Bangkok Metropolitan Authority, in all their wisdom, is addressing this issue by raising the sidewalks.  In the case of Sathorn Road, a main business artery, sidewalks have increased by about a foot (30 cm).

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Here you see a raised section abutting a section of the footpath that is at the old height.  The new section actually gains additional elevation behind the fence.  The green metal poles are a new addition, too, designed to prevent motorized vehicles (except motorcycles, I suppose) from driving on the footpaths.  They are still wide enough to allow street vendors’ carts to enter, though.

The problem is – and you can probably anticipate this as it is common to metropolitan governments the world over – the construction crew responsible for raising the footpaths isn’t responsible for raising any of the objects along the footpaths such as street lamps, signs and bus stops.

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The net effect is that bus stop seats that used to be at a comfortable sitting height are now at a squat.  Sure enough, another contractor is following the first one, tearing up the new pavers (which, a first for Krungthep, are actually on a cement base rather than just floating on a layer of sand and dirt), then digging out and raising the benches, shelters, signs, etc.

If I didn’t know better, I would think this inefficiency was an intentional way to spread a little largess.  Wait a minute…  would they do that?  Nah…

 

Video – Our Wedding Ceremony

3810387085_7a25877a5e_b This may be of limited interest, but some people have enquired about video from our wedding ceremony.  I’ve edited it together along with some pictures from our more than nine years together. 

The audio isn’t perfect – why didn’t I think to pack lavalier mics for everyone and a mixer? – but you’ll get the sense of what a humble, midwestern civil ceremony looks like.

The vows we exchanged were our own, the same ones we used for our commitment ceremony in September, 2004.  Very cool that the justice agreed to use them.

Warning: Shocking footage of a same-sex couple enjoying equal rights. 

 

 

Trish Offers Us a Discount on Teal Lotus Outfits

Many of you may recall my good friend Trish, a stylish woman from Kansas City, who has visited us here in Thailand twice, most recently in November 2008.  The purpose of that visit was to put the pieces together for her new company, Teal Lotus.  Teal Lotus creates custom made 100% Thai silk woman’s wear in designs that are classic, timeless and flattering to women of all ages and body types.

The inspiration for her company came with Trish’s first visit to Thailand in 2006.  While here, Trish had some outfits custom made based on her own designs.  They turned out wonderfully and when she wore them, she received frequent compliments and inquiries about where she bought them.  Trish quickly spotted a business opportunity and set about creating Teal Lotus.

Part of that process included working with dressmakers here in Krungthep, refining designs and creating patterns that could be easily modified for each customer’s unique measurements.  One thing Trish insisted on: Teal Lotus garments would carry only one size – yours.

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Above: Trish, flanked by her assistant Bulan, discuss measurements with a local dressmaker.

In addition to negotiating with dressmakers and addressing production and logistics questions, Trish had to source the silk.  She was very particular about both the quality and the variety of colors she wanted.  We eventually located a factory that met her specifications in Nakhon Ratchasima province.  The owner walked us through the entire production process and was happy to let me take photos.

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Since returning home ten months ago, Trish set up her website, TealLotus.com, and started filling orders for customers.  While back in Kansas City this summer, I did a photo shoot for her to get pictures of several different outfits modeled by friends and family members, including my sister and grandmother.



The purpose of the shoot was so Trish could pull together an advertisement (pictured below) in a local Kansas City magazine.

 

While taking the pictures, I mentioned to Trish that when I originally wrote about her visit to Thailand last November, I received several inquiries from readers about the availability of Teal Lotus outfits.  Because of this interest, I asked Trish whether she would be willing to offer a promotional discount to readers of my blog.  Of course she said yes.

So, dear readers, here is my own form of economic stimulus, well-timed since the holidays (and all the parties that the holidays bring about) are coming soon.  Please feel free to visit Trish’s site at TealLotus.com.  If you see anything that you would like to order, please send me a message before you complete the order and I’ll be happy to share the code for a 20% discount with you.

Remember, each Teal Lotus garment is custom made to your exact measurements (or the exact measurements of the special lady for whom you are buying it), ensuring a flattering fit.  And each garment is made from 100% Thai silk, the most beautiful silk in the world.

If you have any questions, please let me know.