Bangkok … Bananas!

Many cities in Asia try to trumpet their lively arts scene, positioning themselves as cities of culture on the pages of tour guidebooks and travel magazines.  The Big Mango is no exception.  Last week the Ministry of Culture launched the first “Bangkok … Bananas!!” contemporary arts festival.

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Above, a crowd gathers to watch a stage performance while a sculpture titled “Alien” watches them.

It was a combination of everything from live performance to sculpture installations to cinema screenings.  Interestingly, it was geared heavily towards Thais – i.e. no Thai subtitles on films or at live events. 

It is great that Thais are getting more exposure to their own contemporary arts scene, something that is sorely lacking here.  But I think that, given the drop off of tourists (arrivals down some 30% year-over-year) caused by both the global economy and the ongoing political unrest here, Bangkok … Bananas!! is the type of event that could draw tourists.  The only thing is, you have to tell them about it and you have to make sure it is accessible.

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Nearly a full moon over Siam Paragon mall, site of many of the Bangkok … Bananas!! events.

In true Bangkok fashion, the setting for most of these art events was the shopping district – where Rama I and Ratchaprasong roads meet.  In fact, most of the staged events took place in the two public plazas located between three of the largest malls: Siam Discovery, Siam Center and Siam Paragon.

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The best event, in my opinion, was the series of nightly film screenings.  These were done outdoors with a screen set up between two malls.  This is reminiscent of the history of Thai motion picture exhibition, which used to be done from the back of a truck that would travel from town to town, setting up the screen and showing the movies, the sound coming from a speaker on the top of the truck.

In fact, there was a restored movie truck, repainted with the name and claims of an old pharmaceutical company, as these were the usual sponsors of these village screenings.  Harking back to the old days, they had a classic Thai silent film one night, with veteran voiceover actors providing the dialogue live from a table at the rear of the plaza.

All of this was great fun, but largely unintelligble to me.  All the more sad because several of the films they showed were true classics of Thai cinema, films that are rarely seen and are not available on DVD. 

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Of special interest to me were the projectors.  My first job was in a cinema and I spent 13 years working for the AMC Theatres chain.  So I was thrilled to see two classic 35mm projectors and watch the projectionists do changeovers at the end of the reels.

 

Loi Khrathong 2008

Sorry for the delay in entry.  We are up in Burriram province right now, in the northeast of the country about six hours by car.

This evening is the cremation ceremony for His Majesty the King’s sister, Princess Galiana Vadhana, who passed away in January.  The highly formal ceremony, with its roots in Brahminism and Buddhism, started yesterday.  The entire nation is watching or, in many cases, participating. 

Temples across the country are holding a simultaneous ceremony with monks at these temples leading chanting for the late princess.  Subjects are placing sandalwood flowers in a replica of the royal pyre that will be lit this evening in Khrungthep’s Sanam Luang, the parade ground adjacent to the Grand Palace.

Everywhere we go, the televisions are playing pool coverage of the events.  It is unlike anything the country has seen since the passing of his mother in 1995.  Something that exceeds the grandeur of Princess Diana’s funeral in both scope and breadth.

I won’t write about it any more here but there are photos available here at 2bangkok.com.

Last Wednesday we celebrated Loi Krathong at Brent’s riverside house.  I’ve written about this holiday before here and there’s additional information here, so won’t go into a lot of detail about it now.

Here’s a two-minute video of it:

P1110698 We arrived to find that Phrae, the niece of Brent’s maid, was there in traditional Thai costume.  Right, she introduces Matthew to Trish.

Matthew is an American who with his partner Sean, operate a jewelry design company called MCL Designs.  They sell at Nieman-Marcus and Bloomingdales and, coincidentally, they may be in Kansas City on business soon.  That’s where Trish lives, so perhaps they will have the opportunity to meet again there. 

Matthew and Sean spoke extensively with Trish, examining her business model and offering suggestions and thoughts.  It turned out to be a very useful evening for her.  Can you write off a dinner party at someone else’s house?

Loi Krathong occurs on the twelfth full moon of the lunar year, which usually falls in the middle of November.  I was able to get a nice picture of the State Tower with its golden dome shining beneath the full moon.

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There was a nice group of people present and we had the opportunity to make some new acquaintances.  From left to right, Brent, Matthew, Anne (a bag designer – she and Tawn had a lot to talk about!), Sean, Trish and Tawn.  The Shangri-La Hotel stands in the background.

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In addition to the fine pasta dinner we were treated to a splendid view of the fireworks.  The Oriental, Peninsula and Shangi-La hotels coordinate a fireworks display, launched from three barges in the middle of the river.  Because of our angle, my pictures didn’t get as full a view as I’d like, but you get the idea:

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Above, the Peninsula Hotel and the riverfront are blinded by a pair of explosions.  Below, the barge in front of the Shangri-La Hotel.

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There was a lot of smoke blowing downriver, which I think makes photographing fireworks difficult.

Afterwards, we headed down to the river, took a short cruise on the Peninsula’s shuttle, then launched our krathong – the rafts filled with a candle, incense and flowers.  Below, Trish, Phrae and Tawn light the candles and incense.

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Below, about to launch the krathong.  Don’t fall into the Chao Phraya River!

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It was a very fun evening and, I hope, a memorable one for Trish.