Category Archives: Bangkok

An urban elephant, a street dog, a hawker, minorities, buses, durians, lottery (huay), monarchy, motosai, phuangmalai, Gucci, pollution, sanuk (fun), nana, sky train, sounds, street food, tam boon (merit making), taxis, touts, uniforms, traffic..

The Bangkok of the typical mind’s eye is a sleazy, illegal, exotic, out of the ordinary place that never sleeps. Most foreign accounts of Bangkok play to this image, or on the contrary, to an ornamented description of the city as spectacularly dazzling as the gilded mosaics of the Grand Palace, which forms the ideal Land of Smiles postcard.

In truth, Bangkok doesn’t require such seedy embellishments or historical imagery when its reality is already so uniquely remarkable.

So, how to sum up the energy that this city radiates? Rather than focusing on the must-visit attractions and monuments, maybe a few photos of the people and dynamics that make Bangkok tick will really convey a sense of what Krung-thep-maha-nakorn-boworn-ratana-kosin-mahintar- ayudhya-amaha-dilok-pop-nopa-ratana-rajthani-burirom-udom-rajniwes-mahasat-arn-amorn-pimarn- avatar-satit- sakattiya-visanukam is all about.

So what do an urban elephant, a street dog, a hawker, minorities, Africans, Arabs, buses, durians, the huay (lottery), the monarchy, motosai (motorbike taxis), phuangmalai (flower garland), pollution, sanuk (fun), Soi Nana, the Sky Train, Gucci, street food, tam boon (merit making), taxis, touts, uniforms and traffic all have in common? Well they reflect through Niall’s eyes an attempt to echo the madness, enthusiasm, sounds, smells, tastes and creative energy that shines from this incredible city.

The elephant…. An eccentric sight …. Enjoying a cool beer on the sidewalk when one of these huge animals appears from around the corner. It’s depressing to see this highly intelligent and self aware mammal being led around noisy, polluted streets by a mahout handing out bananas for money, Thais seeing the feeding of elephants as a form of merit making, with extra money coming from photographs taken for thoughtless tourists.  Of course, uncontrolled logging in the mountainous Thai border areas has meant less work for the elephants, less food supplies, with owners claiming they have no choice but to roam the streets of Bangkok begging with bananas.

The street-wise (soi) dog, or mad dog, is almost always to be found lazing way in the burning midday sun outside a 7 – Eleven, or a temple. With looks only a mother could love they are not certainly not pretty, invariably have a dreadful skin disease, and have almost zero hair. But this is part of their allure… By night they roam Bangkok’s polluted streets, relying on food from ‘merit making’ locals.

Whether its balloons, squeaky toys, floor mops, silly masks, fruit, food, coffee, ice cream, or cold drinks, just about everything under the sun, the hawkers provide sound and smell to the commotion that is Bangkok.

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Filed under Bangkok, Beauty, Dog, Flowers, Food, Inspirational, Smell, Thailand, Travel

Building a woman from a man for US$6,325

Staying with the marketing theme, this time with an advertising twist, here is another interesting sex-related oddity (well at least I think it is) – The “sex change” 变性倾向, for those of you who feel like women trapped in a man’s body, or who feel like men trapped in a woman’s body: Gender identity disorder, as it’s referred to in the medical world.

So there I was the other morning, lying on my Bangkok [http://wp.me/p15Yzr-12 (or Krung thep maha nakorn boworn ratana kosin mahintar ayudhya amaha dilok pop nopa ratana rajthani burirom udom rajniwes mahasat arn amorn pimarn avatar satit sakattiya visanukam) hotel room bed when a copy of the Bangkok Post newspaper quietly slips under my door.

Building a woman from a man for US$6,325 - Bangkok Post Saturday July 24 2008 army chief urged to act

The Bangkok Post, Saturday July 24 2008 – “Army chief urged to act”

Glossing over the front page, muttering to myself not much has changed since my last trip back in January, with talk of a military takeover and all that…., when my eyes set upon the banner advertisement at the bottom of the page: “Sex change  1,625 us$”

Bangkok Post Saturday July 24 2008 - Army chief urged to act  - sex change anyone?

The Bangkok Post, Saturday July 24 2008 – “Army chief urged to act” and by the anyone want a sex change?

Building a woman from a man for US$6325 Sex change Kathoey Thailand

Not exactly the kind of advertisement you’d find of the front page of the Irish Times, the Financial Times, or Washington Post (well perhaps on Singapore’s Straits Times), but then this is Thailand and even for such an eminent newspaper as the Bangkok Post advertising sex change operations just adds to the endless clichés, quirks and idiosyncrasies associated with life in this teeming, chaotic metropolis of ten millions.

The advertisement would appear to support the perception by a casual observer (i.e. me) that kathoey, or transgenders (“the third sex”),  are  fully accepted by Thai society.  Previously, an enlightened (sic) Thai friend and former colleague,  explaining the Thai Buddhist principles with respect to tolerance and Karma, declared “being a kathoey is the result of wrongdoing in past lives”, which therefore vindicates the consideration that kathoey are deserving of pity rather than blame.

Hmm…. well, such a mind-set may be true if you look at the ever smiling drag queens working in Bangkok’s famous cabaret shows, and the more traditional female occupations such as make-up artist and hair-stylist.  However, I’d be in doubt about how such sentiments would play out in my native Ireland where its ok to be gay, but tough to be trans!

Yet, in truth the road to normal acceptance by society can be rougher than a poorly-honed breast enlargement (“silicone implants ranging from  1,125 us$, mammoplasty with Mentor/ES prosthesises included” as per the advertisement).  It is very unlikely you will meet a kathoey with a job in a bank, school, corporation, or in government.  They face many social and legal obstacles:  Legal recognition is non-existent, and they are not permitted to change their legal sex.  Trouble can also occur in relation to access to amenities such as toilets [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7529227.stm], while a wayward kathoey still has to stay in an all-male prison if convicted of a criminal offence.

So about that advertisement….. What sort of English reading / speaking foreign “woman” trapped in a man’s body would, after reading the Bangkok Post advert, be motivated to pick up the phone to dial 02 2545888? A cross-dresser already taking hormones?  Nah, likely someone who wants to meet the drop-dead gorgeous Miss Tiffany Universe 2007… only to find out that Khun Tanyarat is actually a guy!

Now that’s a misleading advertisement if there was ever one.

Note: My calculator informs me the total cost of untrapping the woman from within the man is 6,325  us$ and counting!

Building a woman from a man for US$6,325 - The famous Calypso Ladyboy Cabaret show in Bangkok

The famous Calypso Ladyboy Cabaret show in Bangkok

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Filed under Bangkok, Beauty, Culture, Extravagence, Thailand, tolerance

JC come back and we’ll play a different tune

JC come back and we ll play a different tune

Those who knew JC, and who should have known better, didn’t pursue him, they left him alone. They said JC has gone away to Thailand with his buddy J, wait for another day, he’ll come home. That was in 1996. J never came home. I took charge of his funeral in Bangkok.

JC was all about reassuring the people who knew him “I’ll see you soon” … “I’m going away to find a place to stay, I’m going to dance on the Moon” … “One of these days when I change my ways, I’ll come back home”.

I have finally deciphered JC. His purpose of being in Thailand is to be a nobody in the way of a terminal alcoholic. Such a role is too stressful back in his utopia of origin up North. Blind to the fact that it is his addiction and its consequences that are making him miserable, JC falsely believes that the drink is the only source of comfort and security available to him in a cruel, cruel world.

You see JC has been telling me for three years that he is perfectly aware he has a drinking problem, that he does not intend to let it get out of hand, and that he will be taking steps to control it. He has been adamant that he can and will deal with it by himself rather than seeking any kind of professional or support group help.

Yet, as an alcoholic JC still doesn’t understand the nature of his alcohol addiction and still supposes his recovery to be merely a matter of will power. He doesn’t have the courage to ask for help from others for what he feels he ought to be able to do by himself.

In Thailand JC always has a cheap bottle he can turn to, and he has been turning every day… Long hard drinking.

The bottle doesn’t take effect the way it used to and he’s hurting in old familiar ways. It has let him down and JC has gone beyond the point of no return. He has lost his self-esteem and just can’t find the will to stop.

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Filed under Adversity, Bangkok, Character, Dreamland, Fiction, Friend, Health, Thailand, tolerance