Land Use in Central Thailand

Why is traffic in Bangkok so bad?  This is a persistent question that has been at the back of my mind for the more than five years I’ve lived here.  As someone interested in urban design and land use, I always wonder: Is this traffic inevitable or could it have been avoided? 

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How does this…

While bicycling on the outskirts of the city last Sunday, I realized that part of the answer lies in looking at the historical land use patterns and how long, thin rice paddies that cut between canals have led to a network of roads that are insufficient to handle Bangkok’s more than six million residents.

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Turn into this…

While this realization is the result of consuming other people’s writing and observations and digesting them, it wasn’t until I was riding through an area that is actively undergoing the transformation from rice paddies to development that it became clear to me.

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And, eventually, become this?

The result is this six-minute video project, which I hope you’ll find interesting.

 

Chatuchak Weekend Market T-Shirts

One of the big tourist attractions in Bangkok is the Chatuchak (sometimes “Jatujak” or “JJ”) Weekend Market.  Open only on Saturdays and Sundays, this modern-day bazaar features thousands of vendors selling just about everything under the sun. 

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Last weekend we went there with a visiting friend to eat at Foon Talob, the popular fried chicken and green papaya salad restaurant.  (You can read an entry about Foon Talob here.)  Sadly, I think the chicken wasn’t as good as usual, somewhat greasy and soggy.  After the chicken, though, we did some shopping – something I almost never get involved in as shopping isn’t my thing and hot, crowded shopping is even less my thing.

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One thing that caught my eye were some of the t-shirt designs available at several shops.  I don’t know if all of these are unique to the vendors or if they are bought from some other source.  Generally, Chatuchak creates an opportunity for small designers to sell their own merchandise.  Sometimes, though, the vendors are simply selling products designed and produced by other people.

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This one, of a large foam monster seeking his “Number One” hand, made me laugh.  Who thinks of these things?

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This one I actually bought for 150 baht – about $5.  I like the way the elephants are drawn and the idea of using a giraffe to lift the elephant is funny.

 

Tawn’s Fashions – Voyage to Mercury Collection

As I think I have mentioned, my husband Tawn reverted to part-time work several months ago in order to return to school.  He is studying fashion design, something that has long been an interest of his and he is now exploring whether it could be more than an interest.  Family members and friends have been asking what he has been up to in his studies, so now that his semester midterms are over, he has graciously given me permission to share his progress with all of you.

The assignment in his “Collections 1” class was to create a fall collection of six looks that were strongly influenced by 1960s silhouettes and futurism and based on an astrological theme – the planet corresponding to your sign.  For the midterms, Tawn needed to share a mood board, technical drawings, illustrations, and a sketch book.  What follows are a look at the mood board, illustrations, and the six outfits.

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The sketch book, not shown here, is a tool the designer uses to capture ideas and inspirations as he or she goes about daily activities.  That gets translated into a mood board, the purpose of which is to communicate colors, pictures, fabrics, textures that will inform the collection. 

Tawn’s sign is associated with the planet Mercury, and as he viewed the planet he was inspired to look at “futuristic” as it was seen during the 1960s.  His influences included the famous model Twiggy, fabrics in neutrals such as black and white, with soft touches from tassels, silk, and feathers.

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This is the illustration that shows the overall theme of the collection.  You can see there are a variety of jackets, blouses, and an evening dress.  The purpose of the illustration is to communicate the larger vision of the project in a more concrete way.

As part of the project, he had to identify who he was designing for.  Who is the woman who would buy his clothes?  This was easy for him to understand because as a public relations professional, he is used to defining target audiences for his clients’ campaigns.  In this case, the target woman was an urban professional in her 30s living in London.

Since a collection should tell a story, Tawn created an imaginary story of two women taking a voyage to Mercury with side trips to Uranus and Pluto.  These were analogies to the experiences his target customer would have – working a long day in an office and then having to go out for dinner or a night on the town, wearing outfits that could effortlessly be adapted to the different environments.

Six outfits emerged from this story:

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Outfit Number One – This is the outfit that Twiggy would wear while traveling to Mercury.  The pencil pants provide comfort while the jacket provides structure.  The key piece is the bell-sleeved jacked with a texture that is similar to coarse salt to add visual interest.  The one-shoulder blouse provides a modern look and glamor that is revealed when the jacket is removed.  The scarf has a signature print that appears throughout the collection, suggestive of the hidden life that may lie underneath Mercury’s cold and dry exterior.

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Outfit Number Two – For women who have to go out to work and meetings, they need something that looks elegant and formal – clean cut lines with a black jacket and pencil skirt.  The blouse, done in the signature print, is very 60s secretarial with a feminine bow.  The jacket sleeves, while smaller than the ones on the first outfit, still have a distinctive bell shape.  The look is accessorised with a dark green stingray belt and dark green jade bracelets.

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Outfit Number Three – The bell shape theme continues but expands to the entire shoulder of a wool jacket gathering in pleats around the waist.  It is a gradient from white to light gray around the waist and then back to white at the hem.  The one-piece dress underneath is a comfortable but well structured Cashmere wool with a three-quarter length sleeve.  The accessory is a dark green jade breastplate necklace.

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Outfit Number Four – The look becomes more relaxed, something she would wear for Sunday brunch before heading out to an afternoon excursion.  The knit sweater has a shawl-like collar, bulky and comfortable.  The top is similar to the one-piece dress in the previous outfit but with a wide collar that shows the tops of the shoulders.

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Outfit Number Five – This is the transition to evening wear, a cocktail dress that sees the one-shoulder dress return with an integrated single-sleeve mesh blouse.  The wool jacket is inspired by Jackie O, lined with silk and decorated with the salt texture but done in medium to dark gray. 

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Outfit Number Six – The final look is a formal evening dress, called “Fly Me to Mercury”.  Decorated with ostrich feather epaulets as well as ostrich feathers on the lower portion of the skirt, this dress is elegant with small pleats on the torso that spread out to follow the silhouette of the body.  Long gloves and the signature print scarf complete the look.

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The final two illustrations were additional graphics Tawn created to present to his class.  He wanted to convey the collection in a lighthearted way, playing off the idea of paper dolls from the 1960s. 

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The story is of his muses, Twiggy and Emily, taking a voyage to Mercury.  He could see this concept being used in a magazine photo shoot, a whimsical way to present the collection.

So that is what Tawn has been up to.  Now, if we can scrape up $2,000 or so, he could actually make prototypes of these outfits.   Well, we’ll wait until his pattern-making class is complete! 

Kiosk and TCDC

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On the top floor of the Emporium shopping center, next to the Phrom Phong BTS Skytrain station, is the Thailand Creative and Design Center.  TCDC was formed in 2003 and is a 4000 square meter (40,000+ square feet) design knowledge hub offering an extensive design library, materials and multimedia resource center, exhibition galleries, workshops, and lectures.  It is a pretty nifty thing to have and it is well-used by our creative professionals and university students.  Tawn has been using it to do some of his fashion design studies, in fact.

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TCDC is also home to a cute cafe, Kiosk, owned by friends of ours.  It has good drinks and food, a place for live music, and a nice atmosphere in which to hang out.  Not a plug for them, just explaining where Tawn and I were for an hour or so last weekend.

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Chocolate chip muffin.

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Apple strudel.

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While we enjoyed our snacks and coffee, Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1958 film Vertigo played silently on a screen in the background with English subtitles.  We engaged another customer, a Thai man in his 50s, in conversation as he used to live in the US as was trying to figure out which of film it was.

It was nice to see scenes of my native San Francisco, albeit from a dozen years before I was born.

SQ Flight Status

In other news, I am picking up some guests this morning who are arriving from Singapore.  When I went to view their flight status on Singapore Airlines’ website, I was amazed to see that SQ considers themselves delayed even one minute after schedule.  Don’t most airlines give themselves a 15-minute window?

 

Bicycle Taxi = BIXI

Urban planning, public transportation, and bicycling – three of my interests that are rolled into one in a Montreal-based bicycle sharing program called BIXI, short for BIcycle taXI.  BIXI was introduced in June 2009, quickly growing to 5,000 bicycles.  The one-millionth ride was taken in the first five months.  Perhaps this is a model that we will see gain traction in other cities?

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Already, BIXI has expanded into Melbourne, Australia and Minneapolis, Minnesota – and London, England and Boston, Massachusetts are supposed to be online this summer.  A system in parts of Washington, DC is scheduled to be on the way, too.  Other cities around the world are installing similar systems.

There is a bicycle rental program here in Bangkok, but it is only in the touristy section of the old city, designed for sightseeing, not transportation.  I do ride my bicycle here, but since there are few places to park, I ride it mostly for exercise and not errands.

Bicycling is an ideal way to get around for many of the errands we run or even for some of the distances we commute.  Much of the year, the weather is fine, and bicycling is faster than walking.  But one of the biggest obstacles is that we don’t want to lug our bicycle all over the place, especially if we need to travel by bus, train, or car for portions of the journey.

Bicycle sharing programs eliminate the hassle.  By providing a bicycle when and where you need it, you can easily integrate a bicycle into your overall transportation options.  The system allows you to take a bicycle from wherever you are and leave it wherever you are going, without having to worry about bringing it back to your point of origin.  A subscription program lets you rent a bike on the fly, free for the first thirty minutes, or you can pay as you go.

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The bicycles are durable and designed to keep you from getting messy – chain guards and fenders keep the oil and puddles off you.  A handy basket lets you carry your belongings with you and even pick up a bag of groceries or other small items.

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Best of all, in my opinion, is their convenience.  This map of most of Montreal shows how densely located the BIXI bike stations are.  They are everywhere – usually within a block of where you are!  Especially when tied into transit systems like bus and train lines and large car parks, the bike sharing system makes it easy to switch to a secondary mode of travel, one that is better for you and for our environment.

If you would like more information about BIXI, you can click here.  For more information about bicycle sharing systems in general, here is the Wikipedia article.  Sorry if this sounds like a marketing brochure – I just think BIXI sounds like a cool idea that should be the standard rather than the exception in more cities.

 

Lost? Just Don’t Blow Your Nose

P1210031.JPGI’m a closet shopper.  Everyone thinks Tawn is the shopper in this family but sometimes I find something that I think is really cool and I’ll buy it.  So it was while we were in Taipei and stopped by a branch of Muji, the Japanese “no brand, high quality” store that is kind of like the Gap meets IKEA but better.

What caught my eye?  These exciting Muji cotton handkerchiefs here that are printed with maps of London, New York, Tokyo and Kyoto.  Each city has both a present-day map as well as a map of the old city, usually from the mid-1800s.

Almost all my handkerchiefs come from Muji, ever since I first discovered the store in Hong Kong years ago.  Their handkerchiefs are of good quality, durable, reasonable priced, and come in a variety of colors and patterns that, while conservative, give me a little room to express myself.

Of course, the fact that I carry a handkerchief at all probably puts me into a category all my own.  There seem to be few men anymore who carry handkerchiefs.  Truly, though, how can a gentleman not carry one with him?  You never know when there will be a spill to clean up, a person in tears, a wound that needs staunching.  Plus, these map handkerchiefs would make for cool tray liners during a party.  I’m not sure they’ll go into my handkerchief drawer but may instead end up in the linen closet.

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More on Muji.  Muji describes itself as follows:

“Muji is not a brand.  Muji does not make products of individuality or fashion nor does Muji reflect the popularity of its name in its prices.  Muji creates products with a view toward global consumption in the future.  That means that we do not create products that lure customers into believing that ‘this is the best’ or ‘I must have this.’  We would like our customers to feel the rational sense of satisfaction that comes not with ‘this is the best,’ but with ‘this is enough.’  ‘Best’ becomes ‘enough.'”

In the Wikipedia entry about Muji, the consumer goods retail chain is distinguished by its design minimalism, emphasis on recycling, avoidance of waste in production and packaging, and no-logo or “no-brand” policy.  Really, it captures a lot of what I think of as the hallmarks of the Japanese design aesthetic.

 

What is Design?

Two weekends ago Ben and Jason met us for breakfast and then stopped by the condo to interview Tawn.  I recently mentioned their art cafe, Kiosk, located at TCDC – the Thailand Creative and Design Centre.  Jason is creating a series of short videos in which various Thais are asked about design.  The resulting clips will be edited together to show at the cafe.

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After reviewing the questions and setting the lighting (don’t you like our professional stage lighting?) the ten-minute interview began.  Questions including things like “What is design?” and “Should designer items command a higher price?”  It was interesting to hear Tawn’s thoughts on these issues.

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Had I not been busy taking pictures, I would have made note of Tawn’s responses.  Maybe once they have a finished product I can get a copy to share with you.

The lead-off question is an interesting one, though.  What is design?  As an example, we have two fans in our house.  The first one, which we bought a year ago, is made by Hatari and is a typical plastic fan.  The second one, which Tawn bought last week, is handmade by a small shop in the old part of Krungthep.

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The plastic fan is slightly larger than the metal one but they both operate at multiple speeds and oscillate.

So what is “design” in the context of these fans?

I look at design as being the intersection of form and function.  Something that is very functional but completely unattractive is every bit as much a failure as something that is very beautiful but utterly useless.

The blades of the metal fan aren’t optimally curved so after about 10 feet, the air flow just dies out.  The plastic fan has blades that have an ideal curve to them and moves air nicely throughout the room.

The metal fan has a nice “old-fashioned” esthetic to its design with oscillation gears visible in the rear.  The plastic fan, while its lines are clean and modern, isn’t as beautiful.

So which has the better design?  For me, sitting at home working on a warm day and trying to save money by not running the air con, the plastic fan wins.  It looks okay and works wonderfully.  Considering that it is out of my line of sight when it is running, that’s the winning design.

With the metal fan, I appreciate it just as much when it is off, since it doesn’t do a very effective job moving the air.  And I save a few baht’s worth of electricity when it is off, too.

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Sunday evening I made a simple dinner of homemade ham and bell pepper pizza, mixed green salad with tomatoes and shaved parmesan, and pan-fried orangi mushrooms with balsamic vinegar.