Elephant’s Leg


SIX OF THE BEST: THAI MOVIES

With late April marking the anniversary of my move to Thailand, and with this year marking my sixth anniversary, I have decided to compile a series of “Six of the Best” features encompassing my hobbies and interests, which I have enjoyed during my time here. I will start with films made in, or set in, Thailand. The list is in chronological order of the year of production.

1. MUAY THAI CHAIYA (2007)

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The first Thai film I saw after moving here remains one of my favourites. I watched Muay Thai Chaiya (simply Chaiya/ไชยา in Thai) almost as a token – “I’m in Thailand so I should watch a Thai film” – but I had a similar experience to when I watched Fight Club for the first time. Expecting a simple beat-’em-up, I was given so much more. Chaiya is, on the surface, a martial arts movie, but its narrative charts the coming of age and moral corruption of three pugilistic brothers as they move from the idyllic southern district of the film’s title to ’70s Bangkok to chase big bucks in the ring.

The three brothers’ fates take differing turns; one’s boxing career is cut short through injury, another pursues legitimate championship aspirations, and the third is drawn into Bangkok’s lucrative but increasingly dangerous underground fighting circuit. Organised crime influences all three, and their competing egos and influences make for a blood-soaked morality play of love triangles, sibling rivalries and childhood bonds. Chaiya culminates in an absurdly violent climax that some of Japan’s more notorious splatterhouse directors would be proud of, yet it is testament to director Kongkiat Khomsiri’s work that it somehow doesn’t come across as unrealistic. (Kongkiat would later direct another of my favourites, Slice – see next entry).

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BALI HAIS AND LOWS – 5 DAYS IN INDONESIA’S TOURIST HAVEN
Balinese Hindu architecture

Balinese Hindu architecture

Last month I travelled to Bali, Indonesia, in what was primarily a social visit, as I have a friend who lives and works there. It hadn’t really occurred to me to visit Bali before, being that is an uber-touristy destination, but I figured that I would see more than beaches and bars with the combination of a local friend and my own inquisitive style of travelling. And so it was. As expected, the main tourist area of Kuta didn’t hold my attention, but some other parts of the island – unfortunately time constraints limited me to the south – were charming.

My thoughts on what I saw of Bali are as follows. It is not a chronological travelogue; more like a scrapbook of impressions and recommendations. Continue reading



RUNGSAN AND THE REWARD FOR HONESTY

Rungsan and Jamie

“Hey, where you go?” “How much you pay?” “Meter not work.” Phrases that are all-too familiar for anybody who has been to  Bangkok, beginning as soon as you leave the arrivals area of the airport and following you all along downtown,  around the visitor attractions and surrounding your hotel.  Yes, it’s the hawking call of the notorious Bangkok taxi driver.

There are an estimated 60,000 of them in the city, and to be fair, the majority of them are reasonable enough. It’s just the majority of them do not congregate at the airport, the tourist traps, the nightspots, the malls and the big hotels. It is the unscrupulous few who dominate these places, who can spot a freshly arrived holidaymaker at a hundred paces, who can speak enough English to negotiate a con, and who foster the negative image many visitors take home of the corrupt cabbie.

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THE THAI SMILE: LOST IN BANGKOK, FOUND IN KO SICHANG

Ko Sichang offers Thai countryside atmosphere and attitudes by the sea

Thailand’s image needs all the help it can get right now. Last month’s dramatic footage of bomb sites and gun fights across Bangkok played out internationally and many countries have yet to lift their travel warnings to the erstwhile Land of Smiles.

For sure, confidence has been rocked, and even beyond the photos of war on the streets, the reputation of Thai people as gentle, benevolent Buddhists has been tarnished by displays of downright ugly behaviour during such fractious times.

Whether the protesters promising – and almost succeeding – to turn Bangkok into a “sea of fire”, or their opponents cheering and swearing as the death toll neared a hundred, there was precious little positive humanity on display.

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A SPRITELY WAY TO GET LOST IN TRANSLATION

The Lord did there confound the ordering of Sprite of all the earth

I’m learning Thai, but my abilities remain limited, so I’d never criticise a Thai person’s attempts at English.

Still, brand names are the same in both languages, and even allowing for phonetic differences, there’s no way you can get them so spectacularly and repeatedly wrong as in the conversation below, unless there’s something spectacularly wrong with the listener. Is there?

I was at the drinks stand of a Bangkok food court. The vendor stood in front of a double glass door fridge. I appraised his wares, and the lingual fun began.

The conversation was a mix of my limited Thai and his limited English, but for simplicity’s sake I have transcribed it in English only. But even allowing for language differences, there’s no way such a simple transaction should have been anywhere near as protracted. Sprite is Sprite, whether in English or Thai, written or spoken.

Me: Sprite, please.

Him: Bottled water?

Me: No, Sprite, please.

(He reaches for a bottle of Minute Maid orange juice.)

Me: No, Sprite.

Him: No have.

Me: Yes, you have (pointing at the Sprite in the fridge).

(He reaches for the orange juice again.)

Me: No, down.

(He reaches two shelves down, passes the Sprite, and goes for the bottled water again.)

Me: No, up.

(He reaches two shelves up and goes for the orange juice again.)

Me: No!

(He looks at me as if I’m stupid.)

Me: Sprite. Suh-prite? Spuh-rite?

(He continues to just look at me.)

Me: There! (Pointing again).

(He reluctantly opens the fridge again and we begin to repeat the up-down routine.)

Me: No, up. No, down. Right. Right. No, go right! Yes! That one!

Him: (Looking at me like I’m really stupid) Oh, you want Sprite.

Me: *Sigh*

(Note: As Thai for “bottled water” is “nam plao” and “orange juice” is “nam som”, there’s no possibly way he could have confused either with “Sprite”, whether in sound or appearance!)



CATCHING UP: LEARNING THAI

thaiscriptI picked up bits and pieces of Thai simply by virtue of living here and going about my daily business, but it wasn’t until January that I started formal classes. I’d struggled to find one that was both affordable and fit into my timetable. However after a few months of searching, I found one almost opposite where I live! For a set annual fee, I can have unlimited lessons and can schedule them as I see fit. I try to go three times a week, but always manage at least once.

I realise I may not be here forever, and that Thai is irrelevant elsewhere, but of course it is valuable within the country. I haven’t reached a great standard but definitely certain aspects of my life are now easier, and I can read Thai script, which is great for monolingual signs and menus.

If anybody is interested in learning Thai, I recommend the school I attend for both price, convenience and format – the classes are informal and fun and conducted by Thais who are fluent in English. It also offers Japanese, Chinese and English classes. Unfortunately it doesn’t have a website, but the contact details are as follows:

Cambridge Language Centre, 8 Phahon Yothin Road Soi 29, Chatuchak, Bangkok 10900. Tel 02 513 4137



MISS THAILAND 2009 REINFORCES PALE SKIN PREJUDICE
Thai beauty

Thai beauty

Thai people have brown skin. Well, there are different ethnic groups within Thailand, but generally speaking, the average Thai person has light to medium brown skin. I state the obvious merely because it is seemingly something the Thai media likes to avoid.

If you had never been to Thailand and only watched the majority of Thai movies, TV shows or music videos, and look at the advertising at subway stations, in magazines, and so on, you’d be forgiven for thinking Thais were a light-skinned race. Creamy, white complexions, sometimes even with rosy cheeks, represent a tiny minority in real life, but the great majority of the media’s idea of what Thais (should) look like. Pale skin is absolutely considered to be – and promoted as – attractive, and in many cases is actually a prerequisite to success. It doesn’t need me to point out how unfair this is, when skin colour is entirely a matter of birth – and something that cannot be changed, regardless of what the enormous market for sinister skin-whitening lotions will tell you.

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CATCHING UP: PROFESSIONAL LIFE
Bangkok Post

Bangkok Post

The first item on the agenda is to fill in the gaps between September 2008 and September 2009, before I will start writing about more timely stuff, as and when it happens. I will be concise, because 12 months is a long time to chronicle, and will perhaps return to certain points in more detail at a later date.

I work for the Bangkok Post, the leading English-language newspaper in Thailand. I edit the stories, which are mostly written by Thai reporters. They write in English, to varying standards, but require native speakers to polish their work to native quality. It’s essentially the same role as a sub-editor on any newspaper back home, but with the added task of dealing with non-native English. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s difficult, but it’s a rewarding job with nice hours on a publication that has a good reputation and a nationwide readership. In that regard, it’s the best job I’ve had so far.

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