Siam history and controversy….

I have the privilege of owning a piece of video contraband here, and just finished watching it again to pass the time on a dull Thursday night. I purchased a copy of the movie “Anna and the King,” on my first trip to Singapore a few years ago, as it is a title you will not find in stores anywhere in Thailand. It was banned from being released and distributed here, and was even filmed in neighboring Malaysia, though the story centers around an interesting story in Thai history. I pulled it out last night, but didn’t get very far into the movie because it was just to late. So, i sat down a bit earlier and picked up watching it again as I’d not seen it in a while. I think it’s a great movie, with stunning cinematography, costumes, and a fine acting performance from Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat.

Now, you might be wondering why if it was such a good movie, then why is it banned here, right? This very topic led to a disagreement here last night between me and he who must be obeyed so i’ll tread as carefully as possible to explain. The subject matter of the movie deals with a depiction of the life of the Thai royal family in the late 1800’s and how they employed a British teacher to educate the children and wives. The movie is a remake of the the original Broadway production of “The King and I,” which opened in New York City, 1951. I’ve seen snippets of the original movie as well, and it does portray the revered King in a negative light so i can understand why Thais would have a problem with it. It is forbidden by law in Thailand to say, do, or act negatively towards any member of the Royal family and they take this very very VERY seriously here. Sooo…..in my own good interest I’ve no more to say on “that” subject other than if you do a little research you will see the current King is a very good man, who has done so very much for the benefit of his people during his reign here.

Now, back to the movie. I must say that every time i watch this movie it warms my heart all over again towards the place I now have the privilege to call home. The characters in the film are very human, and the story is easily grasped and accepted by the western mind. I really like the “look” of the movie and the attention to detail that was given to sets and costumes. They even recreated an entire replica of the royal palace to be as accurate in the historical detail as possible. However, it was pointed out to me by someone I love last night why a movie like this doesn’t sit well with the local people here. When people from a foreign culture take the liberty of embellishing certain highly important aspects of Thai culture, it can be perceived as disrespectful if we add our own spin on things. I watched the movie again tonight with this in mind, and i can see it from their side. The actions of the character of Anna would see justified and logical in certain situations to a western mind, but to the eyes of a Thai person she would definitely seem criminally disrespectful. Furthermore, there seems to be some underlying implication of a subtle romance between Anna and the King which i think is wrong. So, I can see the other side of the issue and though the movie did take some creative liberties a bit to far, I still think it is a good film. It is neat to watch as a Thai period piece, as the names of the young characters in the film are the same names of some of the most prestigious University’s Thailand has to offer now in the present. The movie has a fabulous score and soundtrack and reminds me of the rich history this country has to offer. It helps to serve as a gentle reminder as to why i first fell in love with this crazy place years ago. If you haven’t seen it, get yourself a copy.
Here’s hoping everyone has had a productive week, and if not…the weekend is a day away! Till next time!

American Psycho….

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I went to another location today for the gym after work that i used to visit previously, and i’m happy to say it was a much more pleasant experience. There was so much more room and space to move around, and there were no show ponies prancing about the gym constantly glancing at themselves in the mirrors. So I had a nice stress free gym session and I was listening to Cuppatea, which one of my favorite podcasts (internet radio shows for the uninitiated) on my ipod. It seems the crazies are at it again, because he was talking about the recent tragic death of the actor Heath Ledger and how upset he was that the crazed Rev. Phelps from Kansas and his clan are planning to picket Ledger’s funeral. I listened to Shirley Phelps being interviewed and to hear her justify her hatred and bigotry with her so called warped “Christianity” stirred up thoughts I have not had to think about in such a long time. Living in Thailand can be like living in Oz over the rainbow, cause Shirley honey your voice is not in Kansas anymore. Her hate seemed so alien to hear after being away from such things for so long. Not only that, but it seemed just arrogant and ignorant. Heath Ledger was an actor. He was happily married by all accounts and had a 2 year old, who will have to deal with the memory of these haters if they turn up to protest at his funeral. Now, The Phelps woman knows that he is not gay, but thinks he will go to hell anyway cause he starred in a movie sympathetic to the love shared between to closeted gay men. So….some how this woman…..this family…..this church has made the jump from going to hell cause your gay to going to hell because you act gay. Did i miss a step here? Is that anywhere in scripture?

 

How can a whole family be insane? Keep in mind, these are the same wackos that picket the funerals of soldiers when they return from the war to be buried at home. Are they just nutz? When does free speech cross the line? However, in retrospect, were not the Manson family a crazy bunch of psychos in their time as well. What could possibly be driving these people? I honestly don’t understand them, and i know enough about the bible to know that God is anything but Hate. I also wonder why more “Christians” don’t stand up to these people. Surely Christians in the US realize what a terrible message these people are portraying, and yet other Christian groups sit on their hands and let the hate continue. How many times have i heard people say how they wonder why the moderate muslims don’t sort their own people out, right? I mean if you don’t want your set of spiritual beliefs thought negatively about, then why not deal with these bad seeds internally. It seems to me that their hate and craziness has reached a point where someone needs to step up to the plate and sort it out some how. Its simply not enough to cross your arms and say “Oh, but i don’t agree with them!” It doesn’t make me angry though…..It just makes me sad! Anyways, i hope they aren’t able to carry out their sinister scheme, as i’ve heard other rumors on the net that Ledger will be put to rest in his home town of Perth, Australia. Something tells me the Phelps clan wouldn’t be welcomed Down Under!!!

Happy Australia Day!!!

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Oi! Oi! Oi!…..Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Have you ever heard someone shout that before? If so then you’ve obviously had the pleasure of an Australian’s company or perhaps even visited the “Land Down Under.” Today is Australia National Day and in honor of their country’s national holiday I thought i would write and reflect on the time I got to spend there a few years ago. It was just before Christmas in December of 2004 that was given the opportunity to board a plane late one evening in Bangkok bound for the lovely country of Australia. My best friend here in Thailand is from Melbourne, Australia and so in 2004 he invited me to fly home with him to visit his friends and family for the Christmas holidays. We flew first to the city of Brisbane and spent a few days there first to visit with another Australian friend living there. The weather was cool and it had been several years since i’d had the chance to smell the fresh air such as they have in the northern Australia state of Queensland. The first day there we set out to the butcher shop and bought a large amount of fresh cut steaks and seafood. Then the first night there I was treated to a warm welcome to Australia BBQ dinner at our friend’s home. We grilled out and sat around the pool sipping uncountable cans of Victoria bitter beer. It was such a special evening and though I hadn’t consumed that much red meat in years, it was a memorable night. We drove up and visited the famous Gold Coast with its long stretches of beautiful beaches, and managed a trip to the casino while we were there as well.

We then flew to Melbourne the day before Christmas Eve i think, and I wasn’t expecting to be as warm as I was getting off the plane. I was a tad worried at first as we stayed in the home of my friend’s Ex and discovered there was no air conditioner once we arrived. However, one of those famous Melbourne cold snaps came that night and i was laying in the bed shivering by the time the next morning arrives. The city of Melbourne was truly a beautiful city to visit and explore. It has a kind of San Francisco feel to it, as their are rolling hills throughout the city. The second day there we had to visit Liagon Street for one of the most delicious Lattes I’ve ever had in my life. I also got to experience a trip down to Philip Island, where we went to view the march of the penguins as they came in from their day at sea. It was a good experience, but i’ve honestly never been so very cold in my life…but at least the penguins were comfortable.

Another reason this trip is so very memorable is that when we woke up the morning of Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) we were shocked by some tragic news. It was December 26 in 2004. It was quite scary for us to hear that our adopted home of Thailand had been affected by this terrible natural disaster, so we quickly tried to get on the phone and internet to get in contact with our friends and loved ones in Thailand and beyond. My mother had emailed me about 4 times on that day, as my family wasn’t sure if I had been affected or not. I manged to contact my friends in Thailand and no one close to me was lost, but the memory of the tragedy stayed even till now.

However, I was treated so warmly by those spent time with and met in Australia and will carry the memory of the first of hopefully more trips down under for a life time. So i dedicate this entry to my dearest friend in the world. Thanks for always being there, all the drinks, and for introducing me to Kath and Kim! I want to wish all my Australian friends i have had the chance to know a very very happy Australia Day no matter where in the world your travels have taken you!

Why ask Why???

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Well here we are at another Thursday, and though I should be looking forward to laying in the bed late into the morning , I am not. I’ve got to get up early Saturday morning and take a taxi to the Bangkok suburbs where the university is located, where i’m doing my Masters. I’m really not looking forward to it, but i don’t want this post to degenerate into a whine and complain session. So I’ll save my graduate school problems for another later post, since i’m going to try my best to keep them interesting.

This post is probably going to come out sound terribly random, but I thought it might be a way to clear my head about some things i’ve been thinking about this week. I remember when i was a little boy, and I used to drive my mother crazy with one simple word. Why? No, not why did i drive her crazy with that word, but “why” is the word i’m talking about. As far back as i can remember, I’ve always had the desire to question things. I wanted to know “why” i couldn’t do that, or “why” i couldn’t go there. Naturally, being the frustrated parent the response was often times “Because i said so.” However, this answer, of course, never satisfied me. I never lost this desire to know why, and as i grew into a teen the need to know “why” grew with me. I remember my first job at a restaurant called Long John Silvers. Please, don’t cringe if you know it….I was only a teenager ok? Anyways, I got into a huge argument with a manager there once because of my “why” questioning. I was told to do something and instead of just simply obeying i kept asking why i had to do it. However, instead of explaining “why” the manager in question shouted at me and told me to just do what i was told…I didn’t work there much longer after that.

It wasn’t until I entered my university that my habit of asking “why” was encouraged. I was surrounded by others every day that asked why in a multitude of topics across the board of various subject matters. I thrived in that environment, and thus i encourage my own students today to question and keep questioning till they get an answer that satisfies their curiosity. However, I wonder sometimes about people. I guess it is natural to assume that everyone’s thoughts progress and evolve the same way as our own. I guess it could be my own selfish thinking in a way, as i wonder daily why others don’t question things in the world around them. Why don’t other people stand up and question more? Why do we accept things at face value when they are told to us? Why accept information without checking facts? So very many “why” questions pop into my head daily as i progress through the constant routines that comprise my life. Is there a segment of the population that doesn’t desire to know things? There has to be right? I see people every day that just go along with that status quo, and never ever think to question their lot in life. However, still….those i wonder why? is that a random enough chain of thought for you to digest? Sorry if so, but just wanted to throw that out there and see if anyone relates. Hope everyone is having a good week and just remember…the weekend is almost here!

Good Manners Are Not Universal….

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Happy Tuesday to everyone out there, and thanks so much for stopping by. There, I got the pleasantries out of the way cause this is going to be a bit of a rant. However, I will try my best to be as objective as possible but if your looking for happy thoughts then this isn’t the post for you.

So I was at the gym today finishing my workout and having a shower in the tiny locker room this “trendy” gym offers its members. It was not crowded as i like to go early to avoid the crowds, and was standing in front of the very long mirror and bank of hair dryers getting ready to leave. My stuff was on the counter in front of me and i was occupying the space in front of one of the hair dryers members can use as they primp themselves to leave. I was half way through getting ready and had already applied a bit of hair product, when this Thai guy walks up…reaches across me and grabs the hair dryer out from in front me. No excuse me, no “are you using this?”…nothing. He just picks it up from my stuff and starts using it himself as if I hadn’t been standing there at all. I froze and glared at him as hard as i could, but got no reaction at all…so i huffed/laughed in disbelief and stormed away to use another hairdryer down the counter as we were the only 2 using the facilities at the time.

Now, the reason i bring it up here is that it’s not the first time this has happened to me there. This exact scenario has played out about 4 or 5 times where Thai guys will just reach across you to take what’s in front of you. This got me thinking today about people and their manners here in Bangkok, or should I say the lack of. I realize this post might bring on a bit of heat, but be reminded these are just my observations. There are so many Thai guidebooks about how to correctly observe cultural manners and how not to be polite in Thailand. We learn not to touch another on the head. We learn never to point at anything or touch anything with our feet because it is considered rude. These things were the first things i learned when i moved here and It is hard for me to even accept rude behavior, since growing up in the south we live and breathe good manners. Southern culture in the US is intertwined with good manners and polite behavior is a sign of good upbringing and education. You’d think, or obviously wish in my case, that some other manners would be a universal common ground and that polite behavior would be the same regardless of the border one crossed. However, this is not always the case in Thailand. Case in point:

  • I have observed over the years that many Thai people will often not wait for people coming off a train or out of an elevator before they attempt to push their way in or on. I have been on public transportation here many times and you prepare like a linebacker waiting for the “hut, hut” to charge out the opening doors of trains and elevators so that you can actually get off without being run over in the mad dash to get on.
  • Escalators are another area where good manners seem to not be universal, as Thai people will often stop right at the bottom/top of the escalator to decide where on the floor they need to go or fish the latest and trendiest phone from their pocket or purse. I cannot count the times over the years where I have unavoidably bumbled into someone coming off escalators because they can’t be bothered to move to the side or out of the way.
  • Line or Que jumping is probably the one that makes me the most angry on a daily basis as Thais (especially, if not almost exclusively female Thais) are very bad about jumping line if your patiently waiting your turn to be served. I have even seen a Thai short film before where someone had taken hidden cameras around the city and filmed people constantly jumping in front of others waiting in line, so its obviously not just me. I don’t get this one either! Its not like you can’t see others standing there waiting there turn at the register or whatever. Furthermore, and even worse is that if you “say” something about it more often than not you will get an offended dumb stricken look, like you are some crazed person with anger management problems. Guess i will never work it out.
  • Finally, last but not least is the army of sales staff you will find in any major department store all the way down to the 7-11 on the corner. Now i know what your thinking…how can you complain about a store having enough help to service everyone, right? No…hear me out first. You go to browse clothes, electronics, even personal items like underwear and stuff, at which point a little dollied up staff member will begin to shadow you constantly. Now at home if store staff does this we know it means they think its cause you might be a thief, but not here. Here every shopping experience is plagued by over eager sales staff who follow you constantly pointing out things they like that you should buy for yourself. Ask “Do you have this red shirt in size large,” and get back “Noooo, we have green one in small size only….very nice for you sir.” Now imagine that every single time you go shopping for anything at all. You can’t turn around and say…”I’m just looking thanks,” which should be their cue to walk away….No, they will then begin to point out things to you that they think you need or would like to have. However, with this one i usually either pretend to be on the phone when shopping in department stores, or actually call up another friend who knows whats up and will talk to me till i’m done….however, don’t get me started about cell phones in certain public places like trains and restaurants…ugh!

There, i’m done with my complaining for the day and really before you send angry emails remember that i “do” realize I live here as a guest, and I am usually quite light hearted about these kind of circumstances in reality when these things happen to me. You learn to accept the good with the bad, and one positive thing I’ve learned to do over the years is to let things go. I don’t go to sleep upset minor things, but more often than not have a inner chuckle at bad behavior. Because remember I was raised right! Have a great week and talk to you soon.

Dazed and Confused in Bangkok…

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Is there anyone in the world that suffers from being scatterbrained? I went out to try and spend a productive afternoon here in Bangkok by going off to do a bit of shopping with a movie treat for myself to finish off my weekend. I used to do this a lot more often than I do these days, but I’m the kind of person that doesn’t mind heading off to the movies alone. I enjoy it just as much with or without company, but I know there are folks out there that might think it strange. Anyways…..see…..scatterbrained. Now back to my original story. I had a mental list of things i wanted to take care of while I was out and about this afternoon, but guess how many i accomplished? I’d intended to purchase a nice desk chair for a couple of weeks now, so i headed off to look at those first. However, i wandered around looking at different ones, and I just couldn’t bring myself to a decision. So I walked away undecided yet again, and headed off to see what movies were playing. There were 3 different movies on that i actually wanted to see, but i just couldn’t commit myself to it once i got there to the rotating time display board showing when movies were playing. So i wandered around the shopping center aimlessly for a good long while, accomplishing nothing productive and finally decided to come back home. Absolutely nothing accomplished, besides bumping into my Ex for a quick hello chat, a pinch, and off i went. I do this quite often and at the very least, i’ve another friend in Bangkok that says he suffers from the same thing when he goes out to the shopping centers here. It’s like you go out with a purpose in mind, or list of things to do but once you are there your mind just goes to mush. Is it old age? Maybe this is why older people make lists when they go shopping…maybe it’s time for Tom to start carrying “to do” lists when i go out in public.

I hope everyone enjoys what’s left of their Sunday where ever you are in the world, and hope the week ahead treats you kindly. Oh, and a big big thanks to Mr. Tigger over at the Tiggercast for saying such nice things about my new blog on his podcast. He produces and stars in his own podcast that i listen to regularly, so make sure you go check him out. Talk to you later in the week and thanks for stopping by!

Suki Shabu, huh?

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Have you ever seen the movie “Lost in Translation,” with Bill Murray? I’m a huge Bill Murray fan, as his dry sense of humor is quite close to my own. There is a scene in the movie near the end of the film where he and his co-star are sitting in a Japanese restaurant together, and then waitress brings their food to their table. However, they are presented with two plates of raw meat for their dining pleasure. The next day the two friends meet up, and Bill Murray’s character talks about what a bad lunch they had together the previous day. He then says, “What kind of a restaurant makes you cook your own food anyway,” which is one of my favorite lines in the movie. The reason for this is that they had gone to a sukiyaki restaurant, which is a very popular type of restaurant all over Thailand as well.

So, today for lunch we went to a new sukiyaki restaurant near our condo. Normally i avoid this type of restaurant like the plague, but my other half really really likes it so I just went with it today so he could enjoy. There are many in Thailand with names like Shabushi or MK Suki, which seems to be the most popular of this variety of dining. You go in and are seated at a table with a hotpot in the middle, in which there may or may not be some less than fresh looking water waiting. The hotpot is then turned on and you order veggies, poultry, beef, pork, fish, or seafood. Your food then quickly arrives at the table, but don’t think you are going to get to start eating just cause you’ve now got your food. Oh no! The food all comes to the table raw. Yes thats right, you are paying to sit in a restaurant where you are expected to sit and cook your own food. All the food goes into the hotpot and you wait for your boiled food to be done. Then you pick it out with chopsticks and its finally time to eat. There are usually 2 or 3 different types of dipping sauces to use, and you can order a side of rice to go with your boiled meat. I bet your mouth is watering already right? I’ve never met a Thai person that didn’t absolutely love this type of dining experience, but i normally go out of my way to give it a miss.

I couldn’t believe it when i first came here and was taken to a suki restaurant. A place like this would never make it back home in the west as raw meat, open flames, and super hot boiling water would be a good combination for a lawsuit at home. Just to many accidents waiting to happen. Plus like Bill said, who wants to pay to go out to eat and cook your own food. However, I do occasionally agree to go to make the better half happy. He seemed very pleased with our lunch today and asked me if i thought it was better than another place we’d been too. “Yeah i guess so,” I said trying to lie since the truth would be that its all boiled food to me so i can’t tell the difference. That was the most interesting thing I did today, as I didn’t make it out to grad school today to meet my professor. Hope everyone is enjoying your weekend, and i’m off now to dive into World of Warcraft. Talk to you tomorrow!