A Travellerspoint blog

Sundry snaps


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I'm joining the tour to Laos this evening and I don't know how much blogging I'll be doing in the next couple of weeks.

Here are some photos which I don't have the time to link to any narrative.

Escalators at MBK
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Siam Paragon Centre
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Walkway to MBK Centre
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Chao Praya and the Peninsula Hotel from Saphan Thaksin
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Traffic outside Chatuchak Park
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Puppies on sale at Chatuchak Market
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Food stall on Thanon Sukhumvit
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Small child encouraging a dependency culture, Sanam Luang
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Kites in Sanam Luang
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Posted by Wardsan 01:16 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Muay Thai

Thai boxing


View Asia 2008 on Wardsan's travel map.

Every evening there are muay thai shows in Bangkok, in either Rajadamnern or Lumphini Stadium. Yesterday I went to Rajadamnern with a couple of people I had met on the museum tour earlier in the day, Dominic and Catherine. There is a dual pricing arrangement – much, much more for foreigners – and the tickets for farang cost 1000, 1500 or 2000 baht. For B1,000 you get to be in a cage at the top. Like being an English football fan in the 1980s. Most go there.

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We plumped for the intermediate tickets, closer to the action but not ring-side. B1500 is getting on for £25, which is very steep. There were 8 or 10 bouts on the programme at weights from 48 to 55 Kg.

The stadium is like a small covered bullring or theatre in the round. Aside from a ring of neon ads around the top of the walls, the only lighting is straight down on to the ring, like a snooker table. Very theatrical.

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The boxers can punch – they wear boxing gloves – and kick with foot or knee. Only the groin is out of bounds, and that not strictly, it seems. The kids who started the bill couldn’t generate much power with punches and they mainly kicked to the side of the torso. The older guys could pack a punch too. There were at least three knockouts. At every contact, sections of the crowd exclaimed in unison – something like “Eee!” with a sforzando in the middle of the syllable. While those of us unfamiliar with the sport could easily see the kicks and punches, the crowd particularly appreciated the closer work, when the fighters were clinched, kneeing each other in the ribs.

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The urgency of the action is amplified by the house quartet: two drums, cymbals and oboe. They play during each three-minute round and also during the warm-ups.

When the fighters enter the ring they are wearing noose-shaped head-dresses. Studiously ignoring the other, they pray at each corner and then conduct a stylised and not entirely graceful warm-up dance.

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Then each goes back to his corner, where his trainer prays over his head and removes the headgear.

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Many of them keep amulets tied around their upper arms for luck.

The fighters were in fantastic shape. Most were built like light middleweights, although one very impressive fighter, who maintained an obvious calmness in the middle of the exchanges, was relatively scrawny.

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All had overdeveloped abs from all the kicking (the knee is usually raised well before the foot strikes). And all were hard as nails, never showing any pain and always dashing immediately back into the fray after being hit.

The enthusiasm of the crowd was connected to the betting action. The upper and intermediate tiers were filled with tic tac signals both before the bouts and between rounds, and most of the crowd was laying bets. The trading in contingent claims was frantic. Gambling is illegal in Thailand, but pretty much everybody does it, apparently.

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Posted by Wardsan 11:51 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

On the definition of poverty

Like any middle-income country, Thailand has very high income and wealth inequality. This is also expressed geographically. Bangkok has about 15% of the population and 90% of the wealth of the country. So, like all cities in the history of civilisation, Bangkok is richer than the country surrounding it.

So let’s guess that Bangkok has income per head of $15,000 compared to the Thai average $8,000 (purchasing power parity basis, from the CIA website). Even allowing for the large regional income disparities in Italy (income per head $30,000-35,000), Bangkok should be poorer than, say, Naples.

No doubt it is, if you look at the proportion of households with fridges, for example. But (central) Bangkok seems much richer than (central) Naples.

This is partly due to the relative absence of visible poverty. The number of beggars is also about the same as in London, for example.

It also has plenty to do with rubbish: littering is an offence in Bangkok and a norm in Naples. In Bangkok, an army of street cleaners sweeps the streets; in Naples the Camorra dumps the nation’s spazzatura on to the streets.

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Thirdly, it has something to do with the building stock. Most edifices in Naples appear decayed and there’s little completed new build, in the centre at least. Buildings, shacks apart, don’t appear decayed in Bangkok, and all the tall buildings - of which there are many - have sprouted in the last 20 years.

As usual, I don’t know whether to give to beggars or not. You get feelgood (and Buddhist merit) by giving. On the other hand, unemployment is officially 2% in Thailand and there are plenty of economic niches available: selling lottery tickets, for example. Furthermore, children are trafficked from Cambodia to be put to begging here. They don’t get to keep their revenues.

Posted by Wardsan 08:45 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Khao San Road

This is a photo of a lampshade stall on Soi Rambuttri. It's not much to the point, but I really like it.

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On Monday I moved about 3 miles west from Siam Square to Banglamphu, the backpacker centre of Southeast Asia. Banglamphu is attractive and repellent. Repellent, because it’s entirely full of westerners and locals catering to backpackers’ needs (perhaps not every need – Soi Cowboy off Thanon Sukhumvit is where westerners have gone to pay for sex since a joint servicing GIs opened in the Vietnam War). It’s a neon city, selling cheap clothes, massages and all kinds of food and drink.

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All the bars have televisions showing a Hollywood movie or European or British football. Banglamphu has nothing to do with Thai culture. And I don’t particularly want to be tattooed, have my hair braided, have a facial of any kind or knit my own cereal.

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On the other hand, I wrote this while drinking a beer in a bar playing acceptable low-key western dance music; and after five days of rice for breakfast, lunch and supper it was a welcome toss-up between a pizza and some kosher food. The pizza won. It was bad, but at least it wasn’t made from a variety of grass.

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Furthermore, not least wherever the Chinese have settled - which is almost everywhere - there have always been foreign enclaves. The name we foreigners give the Thai capital city comes from the name Chinese traders gave to their village on the banks of the Chao Praya. Bangkok meant something to do with plum trees. When General Thaksin moved his capital from ruined Ayutthiya, in the eighteenth century, he moved it to Thonburi on the west bank. His successor Rama I moved it across the river to Rattanakosin and renamed it Krung Thep, City of Angels. That is the abbreviated form: the full name has another 100 syllables. Large parts of Thailand have in the past been controlled by regional powers from what are now Burma, Laos and Cambodia, as well as controlling in their turn Laos, Cambodia and much of Malaysia. There have been Burmese and Lao here for a long time. So the 'authentic' Thai Bangkok has never existed. Khao San Road is just the 21st century version.

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The beer, by the way, is ordinary. This is a problem, because I haven’t had a drop of wine since trying to drown out sociopathic-Frenchmen-induced sorrows on the flight. Neither Singha nor Chang are dry enough. This is more noticeable at the bottom of the glass: it’s probably 28 degrees right now and my dregs are warm. Leo is just about acceptable. Lao Beer is supposed to be the best in the scrotum of Southeast Asia (er, is there a better term for the Indochinese bulge?), so that is a reason to look forward to Luang Prabang.

Many of the customers’ faces are East Asian. I think I remember reading that the largest source of tourists in Thailand is Japan, and it would not be surprising given their population, income and propensity to travel. There are also an increasing number of Indians, so the standard of cricket is bound to be rising (there are some cricket matches in Bangkok). But second to the Japanese, I think, are the Brits - about 750,000 of us last year. But the angrit (apologies to Celtic nations, but the term is inclusive) are only about a quarter of the Europeans here, and I have heard plenty of German, French and Dutch, and some Danish, Finnish, Russian and Italian. We are all farang. As in the Middle East, we are all associated with a Germanic tribe that took over a small part of what is now France in the fifth century AD. Their leader was called Clovis and he is traditionally counted the first king of France.

Posted by Wardsan 08:31 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Wai

The traditional Thai salve/vale/mea culpa is the wai, made by placing the palms together in front of the thorax with the fingers pointing skyward. (The same gesture is a nop in Laos.) A small accompanying bow seems to be common, although not obligatory. Change the height of the hands and it changes the status of the wai: there's the rub.

It’s charming to be waied after a short conversation or transaction (I may sound all memsahib, but it really is the most charming greeting gesture I can think of). While in the retail paradise of Siam Square, I didn’t generally respond, usually because I had my hands full. But the guidebooks say you should reciprocate. More recently I have responded; it has felt a little forced and I’ve got it over with as quickly as possible. But it gets a little easier.

Posted by Wardsan 23:25 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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